About the same time Tuesday, Defense Secretary William Perry was delivering to the Senate Armed Services Committee approximately the same message that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was delivering to President Clinton: Terrorists, operating from safe havens in outlaw states, have reached a level of organization and sophistication that cannot be adequately dealt with by protective measures and the pursuit of individual perpetrators.
Under fire for misjudgments in the Dhahran bombing, Perry said the bombers were not just Saudi Arabian dissidents, but were well organized and had high- quality military explosives and "extensive support from an experienced and well-financed terrorist organization." Netanyahu painted a picture of a new level of terrorism that might extend to chemical, biological, and nuclear devices. As he did before Congress on Wednesday, Netanyahu talked of Libya and Iran as sponsors of terrorism. In the Oval Office, he also talked of Syria as serving at least as a transmission belt for international terrorists.
Netanyahu reportedly urged the president to consider an escalating program of sanctions against Syria as a way of getting President Hafez al-Assad to renounce terrorism. That, he said, would be almost a prerequisite for successful peace negotiations with Syria. Clinton was reportedly noncommittal. But he will soon have to decide whether to impose a trade embargo on Syria under the terms of the Anti-Terrorism Act that he signed in April. That act calls for a ban on financial dealings with "terrorist" states. Syria is so designated, but regulations to implement the law are still being written, and then it will be up to Clinton to determine whether he wants to invoke sanctions against a state the administration has been courting for so long.
Whatever happens on Syria, attention to the state promoters of terrorism is increasing. Twice in recent history have military measures been taken against states held responsible for terrorist acts. One was the bomb dropped in 1986 on Libya, determined by President Reagan to have been behind the bomb attack on a Berlin cafe frequented by American GIs. The other was the air raid on Baghdad ordered by Clinton in 1993 in reprisal for an assassination plot against former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait.
What is beginning to be discussed now, at least by the Israelis, is not only retaliatory strikes against terrorist states, but possible preventive strikes against terrorist arsenals - like the Israeli bombing of the nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981.
*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.