WASHINGTON The Bush administration's strong support for Israel could hurt its efforts to get Arab and Islamic nations to help stop the al-Qaida terrorist network, some experts believe.
Already, America's position is causing tensions with its Arab allies, and is sure to chill President Bush's hopes of gaining support for strong action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"Basically, most of the world disagrees with the Bush administration," in part because it's unclear that Israeli military action will stop the suicide bombings, said Judith Kipper, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"They see this not as Israel doing homeland defense, but a very long-term and serious political problem," Kipper said.
Egypt and Jordan are worried that anger against Israel could spill over into new protests in their countries. Europeans are pressing for a faster Israeli pullout from the West Bank.
Protesters burn U.S. and Israeli flags during a protest against the recent Israeli incursion and the isolation of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in front of the Israel Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil on Tuesday April 2, 2002. (AP Photo/Adriano Machado-Photoagencia)
In a written appeal to Bush on Tuesday, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt urged him to "take an immediate action that will stop as soon as possible the violent military campaign undertaken by Israel to occupy Palestinian controlled areas," Egypt's Middle East News agency said.
American officials denied Tuesday that their strong support of Israeli military action has hurt relations with Arab countries.
"Most Arab leaders have denounced them (Palestinian suicide bombers)," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a Fox television interview, even as he acknowledged: "There may be some who think it's a wise strategy. But it is not a wise strategy."
The United States has "important, strong relationships with each of the countries there," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker. "And we all want to see a way forward."
But Jordan's prime minister urged the Bush administration to end Israel's siege on Yasser Arafat's headquarters and to force Israel to withdraw all its troops from Palestinian-held areas, the Jordanian news agency Petra said.
Egypt's foreign minister also urged the United States to intervene before the situation gets more dangerous.
Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab nations to sign peace accords with Israel, worry that their citizens' anger could destabilize their governments. They have nevertheless ignored calls to cut off their ties with Israel, central to their good relations with America.
Yet, even if the leaders of Jordan and Egypt and other nations like Saudi Arabia and Yemen still work with the United States, their people may be more likely to support anti-American extremists, said James Lindsay, a Mideast analyst at the Brookings Institution.
"And the more places where (al-Qaida) can go to get aid and comfort, the worse off we are," Lindsay said. "The war on terrorism is not going our way right now."
Fouad Ajami, a Mideast expert at Johns Hopkins University, said the Bush administration should do what it thinks is right without worrying too much about angering Arab allies. He said hostility from Arabs toward the United States would continue regardless of what the United States does.
Bush has said he understands Israel's decision to attack Palestinian areas to try to wipe out suicide bombers, and has called on Arafat to denounce the terror bombings.
U.S. officials have also urged restraint on Israel, and Powell strongly rebutted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's suggestion Tuesday that Arafat should be exiled.
But tens of thousands of Arabs in countries including Egypt and Jordan have held daily street protests since Friday, criticizing their governments for not taking action against Israel and accusing America of giving Israel a green light for its military offensive.
Many Arabs believe the Palestinians are freedom fighters struggling against an expanding and cruel Israeli occupation.
In Yemen, which has worked with America to round up al-Qaida, more than 200 journalists gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to accuse the United States of bias toward Israel.
In Pakistan, militants were trying to turn the widespread support for Palestinians into opposition to President Pervez Musharraf's close ties to America.
And in Turkey, a key American military ally, opposition parties were pressuring the government to call off military exercises planned with Israel and the United States later this year.
The European Union and Russia also have called on Israel to grant Arafat freedom of movement, but Powell made clear the United States believes that decision is up to Israel.
"I hope this will end quickly, but I can't predict when the Israelis will make the judgment that they can withdraw," he said on NBC's "Today."
© 2002 The Associated Press