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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Analysis: Impact on the Middle East
The BBC's Jim Muir reflects on US relations with the Middle East in the light of Tuesday's attacks
By the BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran

"Paying the price for its blind support of racist regime" said the headline in Iran's English-language Tehran Times, which often reflects the views of hard-liners here.

"When a government is prepared to go against all internationally-accepted principles in support of a racist and criminal regime, it cannot expect to escape unscathed," it added in its report on the New York and Washington attacks, which it tepidly condemned.

Cairo on Monday
US support for Israel is unpopular throughout the Arab world
"We are sorry for those Americans who have been ignorant of the implications of their government's policies," said another right-wing Iranian paper.

A third added: "America should have known it would reap a dreadful harvest from the storm which has sown crime and bloodshed all over the world. America has been sitting in a glass palace."

Now, the windows of that glass palace have been shattered.

Inevitable connection

And rightly or wrongly, the instinctive assumption of many ordinary people across the region, shared by much of the Iranian press, was that the cataclysmic events in the US must somehow be connected with the crisis in the Middle East.

Images of hundreds of Palestinians spontaneously celebrating must have caused deep revulsion among Americans and many others who were horrified by the suicide hijack attacks and the ensuing carnage.

Like the attacks themselves, assuming that they were indeed the work of Islamic or Arab terrorists - which may not be the case - those images of jubilation carried a message which will almost certainly be ignored.

Rather than prompting a serious attempt to address the question Why?, both are likely to widen the gulf of miscomprehension and drastically envenom the situation.

Cause for celebration

The fact is that for more than five decades, in defiance of countless UN resolutions and of international law, the Palestinians' land has been occupied and their rights ignored by Israel, with full diplomatic cover and open-ended financial and military backing from Washington.

So for many Palestinians, Israel and the US are virtually one and the same thing.

That is why the awesome atrocity triggered jubilation among many ordinary Palestinians. At last, the Palestinians felt, the Americans were getting a taste of the kind of suffering that has been endemic in this distant region, where Washington's policies daily touch millions of lives, unnoticed by the American people.

Palestinian woman in Jerusalem Old City
A Palestinian is fed celebratory sweets in Jerusalem
Palestinian revelry may have been the most eye-catching manifestation, but the general sentiment was widely shared by ordinary Arabs and Muslims throughout the region.

Many said they were genuinely sorry for the victims, but regarded it as inevitable and perhaps even beneficial that the consequences of American policies were finally and painfully coming home.

Vain hopes

But any hopes they might have that the stupendous carnage in US cities might trigger a radical review of Washington's Middle East policies, and the rage, desperation and frustration they have aroused, will almost certainly be badly misplaced.

Much more likely, any such thought will be brushed aside by a new US-led crusade carried out in the name of good against evil, of freedom and democracy against blind fanatical terrorism.

One clear danger is that, under pressure to punish hard and fast, the Americans will lash out in a way that will reap more innocent victims and intensify hatreds and grievances, without getting at the root of the problem.

At the core of the Middle East question, efforts to pacify the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are likely to suffer.

The political casualty

Yasser Arafat, already out on a perilous limb, is the big loser, with the first casualty likely to be his proposed meeting with President Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, positing his people as fellow-victims of Arab terror, may find himself with a much more free hand.

Such is the magnitude of the calamity that Washington's whole Middle East strategy is likely to be diverted into the overriding priority of combating terror, with Israel riding shotgun on the American stagecoach while the Palestinian issue trails behind in the dust.

This new crusade, in which there can be no third way, may put enormous strains on the US' allies in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The Palestinian issue is too close, too real and too emotional for the Arabs to make common cause with Israel, which many of them regard as the root of the problem.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Americas
Mixed response in the Mid-East
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