In the '70s and '80s Yasser Arafat's PLO found an especially attractive venue in Europe. The continent was light on security and fat in the wallet. Recall the most spectacular act of Palestinian terrorism, commemorated now in Steven Spielberg's Munich, when the Black September group kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympiad? Arafat said he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with radicals such as Black September. But, he said, the only way for him to gain control in the political arena was to build his prestige. The best way to do that, he argued, was by helping him enhance his patronage networks, i.e. by giving him more money so he could put more armed gunmen on salary who would, of course, eventually run operations, like those in Europe, which Arafat disclaimed.
Europeans would be wise to remember what Arafat's shell game cost them because right now, leaders all over Europe are being reminded of what can happen when you try to de-fund Palestinian terrorists. The argument will look something like this: The "moderate" and responsible wing of Hamas that wants to "fix potholes" needs to be empowered to take on its radical members who only want to kill nice Europeans. It's a protection racket. Damascus and Beirut are serving as rehearsal spaces for what might happen if the European Union stops signing checks.
(3) Iran is Syria's only ally in the world, but Tehran has a price for siding with a virtual pariah state. They want a nuclear program and Syria can help. The United States was frustrated when Europe decided it wanted to negotiate with Iran: After all, the good-cop bad-cop routine only goes so far when what's really called for is joint action. The United States initially believed that even after the Europeans had failed at negotiations their pride would never allow them to admit they were wrong. In fact, the opposite happened. It was only once the Europeans started to deal with the Iranians in depth that they really saw how bad the Iranians were. Now, the Europeans and the United States see eye to eye: It is doubtful that anyone in the international community, except Syria and Hezbollah, is willing to accept an Iranian nuclear bomb. Syria is lobbying for the program and, again, making its case to Europe. Remember that Damascus burned the very same day Iran was reported to the U.N. Security Council.
The Muhammad cartoon conflict, as silly as it sounds, is about our war for freedom and liberty and our way of life. Unlike the peoples who live under authoritarian regimes, the citizens of liberal democracies don't have to observe redlines, subjects that are too controversial to touch, whether they're about the state or religion. We can talk about anything, pursue ideas anywhere they take us, even into blasphemy. But the response to the cartoons is also about the real war, the one that involves, among others, Syria, Iran and Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute and based in Beirut.