The spasm of terrorism across the Middle East this past week has triggered the same response in nearly every country: Local security services are working closely with the CIA and other security units to crack the terrorist infrastructure.
In Saudi Arabia, where al-Qaida car bombers killed 34 people, the Interior Ministry is finally moving aggressively to arrest suspects. Saudi spokesman Adel Jubeir described the intelligence liaison Sunday on Fox News, saying that the Americans are "helping us with the investigation. They're providing support to us. They're sharing whatever information they have. They're sharing their expertise."
In Morocco, this kind of intelligence liaison with the CIA has existed for generations. It didn't prevent the suicide bombings Friday by al-Qaida operatives in Casablanca that killed 42 people. But the Moroccans, cooperating with the CIA, have already identified eight of the 14 suicide bombers.
Even Syria and Lebanon have joined the intelligence-sharing network. The Lebanese army announced Friday that, in collaboration with Syrian military intelligence, they had arrested nine members of a cell that was planning rocket attacks against the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
So what is missing from this process of intelligence cooperation? Sadly, it's the tangled relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, where a continuing diplomatic standoff is allowing terrorists to operate almost at will, as in last weekend's three suicide bombings, which included an attack on an Israeli bus that killed seven and wounded 20.
A Palestinian security crackdown against such terrorists is, in fact, the first step envisioned in the famous "road map" for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That's what makes Israeli dickering and delay over the road map so counterproductive. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is only retarding a process that could bring greater security to Israel.
According to the road map released April 30 by the U.S. State Department, the key step in Phase I is that "Palestinians and Israelis resume security cooperation based on the Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services."
This "Tenet Plan" is named after CIA director George Tenet, who has been building secret alliances against al-Qaida with the intelligence agencies of most Arab countries. The idea is to help the Palestinians build a modern and efficient security organization that can monitor and ultimately destroy the terrorist cells that Yasser Arafat has winked at or privately sponsored for decades.
According to the road map, this "rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus (would begin) sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror. . . . This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption."
What would be needed for the Palestinians to embrace such a security crackdown? Here again, the road map is specific: The Israeli government should take "no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians . . . (or) destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure."
It's all there, in black and white -- and blood red. But instead of implementing the road map's slow but steady progress toward intelligence cooperation, Sharon is today watching angrily as the Palestinian terrorism against his people continues. One can understand the anger, but not the policy.
The Israelis cannot crack the nut of Palestinian terrorism by themselves. If that were possible, they would have succeeded years ago. But the fact is that that they need a cooperative Palestinian partner. They now have an opportunity to forge that security partnership with the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. That's why resisting the road map doesn't make sense for the Israelis.
The Arab states, having learned the value of intelligence liaison with the United States, must now lean on the Palestinian government to join them. At the same time, the Bush administration must convince the Sharon government to accept the road map as the best route to Israeli security.
America, Israel and the Palestinians know where they must go in stopping terrorism, and they have a detailed map how to get there. There's really no excuse for not seizing this opportunity to create a structure that can save lives.
Washington Post Writers Group