Wed, 18 Oct 2000

The terrorist twist

The brazen attack on a warship, USS Cole, at the port of Aden in Yemen last week appears to bear the hallmark of a terrorist operation, although the political signature of the suspected suicide bombers has not been deciphered.

Tragic as the loss of the lives of 17 U.S. military sailors was, the latest flare-up of utter ferocity in the historic Israeli-Palestinian war may complicate not only the search for clues but also the process of bringing the unidentified perpetrators to book.

It was while making comments on the current brinkmanship in West Asia that the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, first took note of what the American naval officials described as an external blast that damaged a portion of the guided-missile destroyer.

The Taliban, of course, is hardly a factor of real significance to the West Asian mosaic of militancy at present. The current phase of the Jewish-Palestinian war has not also been defined by any official activism by Saudi Arabia, and this is an aspect that could arguably suit the alleged anti-American purposes of a militant dissident of that country. In any case, the U.S. military has had the mortification of an explosion at one of its facilities in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1990s.

However, more to the point now are the reports of competing claims by obscure or new outfits -- "Mohammad's Army" and "Islamic Deterrence Forces" -- about their having targeted a U.S. warship at this time. In the absence of a proper establishment of the identities of these groups, the investigative spotlight may be turned on the entire gamut of anti-U.S. groups and interests.

On a different plane, the international efforts to roll back the spiralling religious-political passions in West Asia need to be intensified at this juncture. The U.S. is taking the lead once again and there is a point in Mr. Clinton's assertion that Israel's vision of "a final peace" with "true security" and the hopes of the Palestinians for sovereign statehood were in the first place made possible only by negotiations and not war.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi