THE conflict between Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers has crossed a rubicon of blood that could flow around the world. The assassination in New York City of the Israeli zealot and Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane and the revenge murders of two innocent, elderly Palestinians in the occupied territories demonstrate this. The simple lesson for American officials is that all high-profile Israeli and Jewish figures must be considered at risk of assassination and afforded appropriate protection. Similarly, prominent Arab personalities and communities in the US must be given improved police protection. At border points, US Immigration officers must be even more vigilant in spotting at-risk individuals and those who may pose a threat. At the federal and local levels, these additional security measures will be expensive, but failure to provide them may cost lives and add to the chaos.
In Israel, police face a rapid escalation in murders of unsuspecting Jews and Arabs by fanatics on both sides. Like elements of the PLO and Hamas, the radical Islamic fundamentalist organization which has called for the murders of Jews, some supporters of former parliament member Kahane are screaming for the death of Arabs, who Kahane wanted to evict from Israel.
Prior to the assassination, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had temporarily barred West Bank and Gaza Arabs from Israel. That was a desperate, if pragmatic, act and followed the murders of unarmed Palestinians by gun-packing Jews exacting vigilante ``justice'' for the slayings of unarmed Israelis. This most recent outbreak of sectarian violence follows the riot in Jerusalem in which 21 Palestinian stone-throwers were shot to death by Israeli police.
That incident brought down unanimous United Nations condemnation on Israel, and plunged the already strained relationship between Washington and Jerusalem into its worst period in eight years.
Shamir, himself a former terrorist and organizer of the assassination of a UN diplomat more than 40 years ago, has ordered Israeli security services to prevent further attacks by the crazies on both sides of the conflict. Yasser Arafat and his cronies, who refined terror and made it international less than 25 years ago, also know that the stage is being set for the killing of hundreds of innocents. Unlike Shamir, the PLO chairman has done nothing to reduce the level of violence unless you count his courting of Saddam Hussein.
Arabs in Israel used hammers and knives to avenge the shooting of the Jerusalem 21, but there is reason to believe knives will soon be replaced by guns and even bombs.
Kahane was shot to death by his Arab assailant in New York where guns are easy to get. For Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories, access to guns is difficult but not impossible. Most Israeli Jews are heavily armed.
Arabs and Jews are being radicalized into still more violence. Extremists defile their own religions by claiming they are doing God's work. In Arabic and Hebrew, the thunder of hollow righteousness will be deafening as the body count mounts.
This horror serves the needs of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose short-term mission is to crack the US/Arab alliance which is arrayed against him.
Saddam feeds off the blood of the combatants. Every new Palestinian casualty in Israel buttresses the Iraqi's psycho-war against the leaders of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries who have been demanding that he retreat from Kuwait. Saddam knows that each Palestinian who falls from an Israeli bullet becomes a martyr in the eyes of millions of poor Arabs - those who see him as their hero and disagree with their countries' participation in the grand alliance against Iraq.
Security officials in Israel, the US, and indeed around the world, should see this as a time of maximum danger and take steps to reduce the risk of murders between Arabs and Jews. Such measures are vital to the success of the UN sanctions against Iraq.
Interreligious violence has the potential of shattering along cultural and religious fault lines the anti-Iraq coalition which President Bush has put together. If that happens, the current Mideast crisis may lose its focus on Iraqi aggression and be recast in an old and even more dangerous model: Arab vs. Jew.