JERUSALEM (AP) – U.S. authorities and Israel’s Mossad spy agency are both investigating last week’s twin attacks in Kenya, and both suspect al-Qaida. The largely separate U.S. and Israeli battles against terrorism now overlap in the east African nation and will require a closely coordinated response, analysts said yesterday.

The United States and Israel have backed each other’s fights against terrorism, though the Bush administration has drawn a distinction between the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida and the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians.

In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says it’s all part of a single, worldwide effort against terrorism that has its roots in radical Islam.

The line drawn by the United States blurred yesterday with the suicide bombing at a hotel in Kenya filled with Israelis, and the near simultaneous missile attack that narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane taking off a few miles away in Mombasa.

“The paradigm has now changed dramatically,” said Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel. “The terrorists are busy erasing the boundaries between al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, as the attack in (Kenya) demonstrated.”

A statement attributed to al-Qaida and posted on an Islamic Web site claimed responsibility for the attacks, and U.S. officials said they considered the claim credible.

“We suspect al-Qaida, or one of the organizations that operates under the cover of al-Qaida, is responsible,” said Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli army chief of staff.

If an al-Qaida link is confirmed, it would mark the first time the group has hit an Israeli target, after years of threats by Osama bin Laden. It also suggests al-Qaida is attempting to draw Israel directly into the U.S. war against the group, analysts said.

The chief of research in Israel’s military intelligence, Brig. Gen. Yossi Kupperwasser, said Israel knew terror groups were operating in Kenya but didn’t have specific information pointing to attacks on Israeli targets.

U.S. investigators are also taking part in the Kenya inquiry, said a diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity. Al-Qaida is also blamed for the deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

If Israel openly launches a hunt for al-Qaida members, it could create a backlash in moderate Muslim nations. They could be discouraged from assisting the United States in tracking down al-Qaida members and might be less inclined to support a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

“This is not a case where Israel can strike on its own and retaliate as it did in the past,” said Joseph Alpher, an Israeli policy analyst. “How can Israel be involved without compromising the United States’ ties to moderate Arab states? This is a question that has to be answered.”

“U.S. coordination with Israel will continue to be relatively quiet and not visible,” said Gerald Steinberg, a leading Israeli commentator on diplomacy.

Immediately after the Kenya attacks, Sharon assigned Mossad to lead the investigation, promising a global hunt for terrorists. However, Sharon also places tremendous value on his close relationship with President Bush, and when pressured by the Americans, he has scaled back military operations against the Palestinians.

If Israel locates those responsible for the Kenya attacks, Sharon could face a tough choice. Should Israel strike, or should it lay low to avoid potential harm to the broader U.S. effort?

Israel could calculate that less is more.

If the United States is successful in fighting al-Qaida, and if it topples Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, that could benefit Israel by discouraging Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians and others from supporting militants who attack the Jewish state, analysts said.

To date, Sharon has respected parameters set down by the United States, a pattern that’s likely to continue, analysts said.

Some senior figures in Israel’s security establishment are calling for a powerful Israeli response.

If the Israeli airplane had been downed, it would have created “options that up to now were unacceptable to public opinion,” said Efraim Halevy, director of Israel’s National Security Council and until recently, the head of Mossad.

Halevy didn’t spell out the type of action Israel should take, but implied that the retaliation would be far harsher than anything that’s been done. “It can be assumed the international community would understand, accept and internalize the changes in the rules of the game,” Halevy said Monday at a security conference.

Among Palestinians, there’s a broad consensus that their cause has been hurt by the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and the Kenya attack. Even the most militant Islamic groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, say they don’t want to expand their attacks outside the immediate region.

“We are fighting the Zionist enemy that is occupying the land of Palestine and we have no interest in engaging in battle with anyone else outside the land of Palestine,” said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas leader.

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