MANY in the Arab world portray Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon virtually the same way the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush portrays Saddam Hussein. The parallels are astounding.
The Bush administration says that Hussein has twice invaded his neighbors - Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Well, Israel has invaded its neighbors three times - Egypt in 1956; Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967; and Lebanon in 1982.
Saddam claimed he was fully justified in his attacks. Iran, under Ayatollah Khomeini, had been urging Iraqi Shiites to overthrow Hussein's secular Baath regime as part of the Iranian leader's insidious scheme to export his Islamic revolution. Kuwait had to be stopped from stealing Iraqi oil from a shared oil field on their border.
Similarly, Israel claimed self-defense in its incursions. Its Arab neighbors employed terrorism, used the Palestinians to subvert the Jewish state, and threatened war. Sharon fought in all three wars and actually planned the 1982 advance into a helpless Lebanon.
The Bush administration says that Hussein continues to develop biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and is seeking to develop nuclear arms. He has at least 20 Scud missiles tucked away, the administration claims, and has promised fierce resistance if attacked.
Sharon, of course, actually has a robust stock of WMD, including an estimated 50 nuclear weapons. He controls the most lethal air force in the region and maintains a large arsenal of both cruise and ballistic missiles. Sharon has made no secret of the fact that Israel will retaliate with "weapons of its own choosing" if attacked.
The Bush administration links Hussein to international terrorism, including a definite connection to al-Qaida. He is also, Bush has said, "a guy who tried to kill my dad."
Israel has been known to hunt down opponents in far-off lands (even Sweden) and kill those on its list of enemies.
Finally, the Bush administration condemns Saddam for violating 16 UN resolutions, thereby flouting the will of the international community.
Well, Israel has flouted even more - over 25 by one count. Only days ago, a UN Security Council resolution, approved with 14 votes to one abstention (the United States), demanded that Israel end its siege of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound. Sharon continued the siege even after receiving a personal message from Bush urging him to end it.
Is it any wonder that Sharon is Hussein for most of the Arab and Islamic world?
There are aphorisms, of course, explaining why some like Sharon and hate Hussein and vice versa:
"Where you stand depends upon where you sit." The United States sits with a strong population devoted to Israel, who have enormous political clout. The Arabs and Palestinians sit next to a hard-line Israel.
"It all depends upon whose ox is being gored." Israel is a U.S. ally that can be counted on to gore Washington's enemies when the chips are down. Israel is goring Palestinians, much to the dismay of Arabs and Muslims.
All this adds up to the United States - because of Israel - having one hell of a time trying to convince the world that it has a righteous case for an assault on Hussein.
Nicholas Berry, director of ForeignPolicyForum.com in Washington, contributed this comment to The St. Petersburg Times.