US policy in Mideast under scrutiny

Mideast leaders have condemned the attacks, while some Arabs express anger at US policy.

"You have to understand that the bullets that are fired at us, the missiles fired at our homes, and the Apache helicopters that the Israelis use - we know that all these things come from the US, and they are killing Palestinians," says Hani Jubah, a burly street merchant in East Jerusalem.

His stall is around the corner from where some Palestinians celebrated Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These outbursts have created a public-relations pitfall for the Palestinian cause, but they also highlight what may be the central motivation for the attacks: US policy in the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern origins of the attacks remain a matter of speculation, but US officials have identified Saudi militant Osama bin Laden as their main suspect. Authorities in Boston have identified five Arab men as suspects, and have seized a car at Logan Airport containing Arabic-language flight manuals, according to a report in yesterday's Boston Herald.

At the same time, regional leaders from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi have condemned the attacks and sympathized with the victims.

Many Muslims and Arabs have been alarmed by Mr. bin Laden's emergence as a suspect. Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the leading cleric of the majority Sunni sect of Islam, yesterday added his voice to a chorus of outrage. "Islam is a religion which rejects violence and bloodletting," he said in a statement reported by the Egyptian state-run news agency.

But analysts of the Middle East say it is likely that bin Laden acted in concert with other groups and perhaps with the acquiescence of one or more governments. If this scenario proves true, they envision a multitiered US retaliation that would target several entities across the region.

If the attacks on New York and Washington are indeed a reaction to US policy in the Middle East, the next phase of the crisis may presage a widening conflict between the West and the adherents of Islam.

Critics of the idea of a "clash of civilizations" are reluctant to concede that such an era is upon us. Nonetheless, says Middle East scholar Rosemary Hollis, "the likelihood has increased over the past 24 hours." Abdel Monem Said, director of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says the attacks and their aftermath will add "to the existing tension between Islamic countries and the West in general."

Ms. Hollis, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, says she never bought the theory, advanced in the late 1990s by Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington, that global conflicts would arise between different cultures. "Now, I think it has elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy," she says.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other leaders have contributed to the impression that the New York and Washington events constitute "an attack on civilization," as former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark told the BBC yesterday.

In this atmosphere it may be difficult for Americans to consider how their foreign policies may have engendered the sort of malice required to kill thousands of civilians in the space of a few hours, but many people in the Middle East are begging them to do so.

"I'm against hurting innocent people and civilians, we all are, but this is a big message to the US to rethink their position in the Middle East and their policy," says Mr. Jubah, the East Jerusalem vendor.

As the world's only superpower, the US is bound to make some people unhappy at least some of the time. But in this region, sentiments long ago surpassed mere resentment. "There is a growing anti-Americanism in the Middle East as a whole," says Edward Djerejian, a former assistant Secretary of State.

The roots of this anger lie in US political manipulations in the region during the 1950s and 1960s, but it has grown to new heights over the past year, which has witnessed escalating violence between Israel, the main American ally in the Middle East, and the Palestinians.

"The US is the main military supplier of Israel, and Israel is using US equipment to quell a civilian uprising," says Murhaf Jouejati, an expert on Syria at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

For many Arabs and Muslims, the combination of US military support for Israel and its reluctance to mediate in the conflict is an insupportable position. They are angry that their own governments seem powerless to buck the American line.

Iraq has also been a source of rising Arab and Muslim anger. While the US demands Iraq's scrupulous adherence to United Nations resolutions - even at the cost of impoverishing what was once one of the region's most prosperous countries - it appears to apply a different standard toward Israel. The Jewish state has long exhibited a combative reluctance to heed UN resolutions.

The US also styles itself as the world's main promoter of democracy and human rights, but some of its closest friends in the Middle East are not democratic and show little regard for human rights.

That is one reason, as Mr. Djerejian observes, "the leaders in the Gulf countries have become increasingly sensitive and concerned about [the anti-US] phenomenon." The US maintains close ties with several family-run Gulf states to protect US access to oil. Apart from Israel, the region is devoid of democratic government.

"The US wants to control the world. Look at the way they control the Gulf and control the oil there," says Aida Abu al-Hawa, a lingerie saleswoman in East Jerusalem. "And this is a democratic state?" she asks, referring to the US. "This is the greatest of the dictator states."

In a poor part of the sprawling Egyp-tian capital, an elderly Cairene exhibited a quiet satisfaction with the turn of events. "The US just finally got a taste of its own medicine," says Mohammed, refusing to give his family name.

Nicole Gaouette and Philip Smucker contributed to this report.

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