Three days before Spain’s 2004 general election, a massive bomb attack on the Madrid subway killed 191 people. When then-Prime Minister José María Aznar and his government initially pointed the finger at Basque terrorists, the public believed his government was covering up the fact that Islamist militants had exacted revenge for Spain’s decision to send troops to fight alongside the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party—in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.
Given his first-hand experience with how terrorism can shape political reality, Aznar more than any other European official is capable of deep sympathy with Israel. This partly explains why he is now using his name and reputation to found the Friends of Israel Initiative, which includes includes other world leaders, like Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, and Czech playwright and one-time President Vaclav Havel, as founding members. “My conviction,” Aznar told me in a phone interview this week, “is that the best strategy to defend the West is to defend Israel.”
Israel, Aznar said, is not a Middle Eastern country but a Western country in the Middle East—the West’s first line of defense in the battle with Islamist radicals who seek to destroy Western freedom and terrorize whomever tries to stand in their way. “The harm done to Israel is damage done to the West,” Aznar said. “And delegitimizing Israel is a delegitimization of the West.”