Why did Ariel Sharon decide to target a suspected Islamic Jihad terrorist training camp inside Syrian borders rather than ones existing within Palestinian territory?
The targets inside the Palestinian areas are a little more difficult to identify. They are mostly individuals and cells that are underground at times. Israelis have excellent intelligence inside the Palestinian territories and they’ve managed to capture many of the leaders of these Islamic Jihad cells, but it’s not like they have formal training bases there. The Palestinian areas are not large enough – and so the training camp that Israel says it hit was northwest of Damascus. However, it is a murky, but serious infrastructure in the Palestinian areas, particularly in the West Bank.
What was the typical reaction of people you spoke with on the street?
Israelis basically say the attack was justified. But, what is interesting about this attack was that it was the first time in 30 years, since the last Yom Kippur War in 1973, that the Israeli army has bombed Syrian soil. One of the reasons that Syria does not have a strong military option in terms of responding to the Israeli air strike, is that back in 1982, about 4 days into the Lebanese invasion, the Syrian air force and the Israeli air force engaged one another. Israelis had actually gone there to stop Syrians from putting anti-aircraft missiles on Lebanese soil. They bombed those sites, and then engaged the Syrian air force. Within 24 hours, 80 Syrian planes had been shot down. That pretty much destroyed the Syrian air force. It is now made up of very old, aging MIG fighter jets, and Soviet planes. So Syria is not really in a position to directly respond militarily to Israel. That is why we see it operating in the way that it does in terms of sponsoring terror groups, because they can’t confront Israel head on.
How are other Arab nations reacting to the Israeli strike in Syria? Are they helping to de-escalate the tension?
I would not say that things are particularly different or more tense in the region because of this. Perhaps the one place that is slightly more tense, but again is not likely to escalate into a wider conflict — is on the Lebanese-Israeli northern border. There was some shooting up there Monday. While there is a lot of talk right now about "was this the right thing for Israel to do," while there will be a lot of hand wringing at the United Nations, it is not likely to escalate into a wider war, mostly because the Arab countries that surround Israel just don’t have the strength to confront Israel head on in a military conflict.
What does the average Israeli think will bring about peace? Do they believe Sharon is doing enough?
I think both sides are quite despondent. Neither side thinks that the road map is the answer — they don’t believe the road map even exists anymore. They see the Americans backing away, and not pressuring Israel to do what it is supposed to do according to the first stage of the road map. All the pressure right now is on the new Palestinian government to crack down on the infrastructure of groups carrying out terror attacks. So the Americans are pretty much taking the Israeli side in the current conflict and saying that the Palestinians must be the ones to act first. Ariel Sharon is still popular however, because the Israelis don’t really see an option in terms of negotiating with the Palestinians right now. But both sides are really pessimistic, and they really don’t know who to turn to for help.
From your experience, does the average Palestinian believe that homicide bombings are preventing them from achieving statehood?
According to the polls, these bombings are still a popular form of fighting the occupation. They believe that Israel must return to the 1967 borders — that that is the only way to take the wind out of the terrorists' sails.
Israel is building up new West Bank settlements and creating separation fences – this goes against the “road map” plan. Why are they doing this?
Most Israelis believe Israel should abandon the settlements and pull out of the West Bank and Gaza, but the government policy is to continue to expand. They are not feeling any pressure from the United States right now to conform to the road map, so they are going ahead with what they see as being in their interest — which is building this fence and building it around settlements which will eventually make that territory part of Israel. The Palestinians say that this is clear and simply a land grab — that it is creating a situation where it is pre-determining future borders if there is going to be a two-state solution.
Do the Palestinians have any peaceful recourse to prevent the settlements and separation fences?
They started a campaign to draw attention to the fence; they call it the "Apartheid Wall," and they also compare it to the Berlin Wall. They use this sort of hyperbole to describe it — but in general, other than protesting to the Americans, there is no particular recourse. The Israelis are just in a superior position of power. They can pretty much do what they please.