1 June: Three primary causes are driving India and Pakistan towards a major confrontation:
A. The Kashmir dispute above all. The Vajpayee government is under popular and political pressure to teach Pakistan a lesson for what is seen as cross-border Islamic terrorism plaguing Kashmir with backing from Pakistan’s Inter-Service-Intelligence agency. For Pakistan, the escalating combat is a legitimate Muslim Kashmiri national war of liberation against the oppressive Hindi Indian occupiers.
B. DEBKAfile‘s exclusive Asian sources report that both see the US-led war in Afghanistan and its impending offensive against Iraq as carving out an opportunity to settle their fifty-year old conflict once and for all. The Vajpayee government believes its quantitatively superior army – 1.2 million troops against a Pakistani army half that size, and an air force and navy standing in the same quantitative ratio to Pakistan’s – can seize large parts of Pakistan and go on to take out Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, enfeeble the Musharref military government and disarm its army as a threat to Kashmir – or even topple the central government in Islamabad.
The Musharref government believes its superior nuclear weapons, missile technology and guidance systems from China can cut India down to size at last after half a century of trying.
Military experts say that while both nations acquired nuclear weapons in 1998, Pakistan’s arsenal is not thought to contain more than 30-50 nuclear warheads of 20-25 kilotons each, while India has at least three times that number. Whereas Pakistan’s delivery systems are limited to missiles, India’s air force MiG, Jaguar and Mirage planes can deliver nuclear bombs. Both sides are capable of inflicting millions of deaths. But for full strategic effect, Pakistan must exhaust its entire arsenal, while India can hold a portion back in reserve.
The outside powers’ attempts to avert the conflict have been lackadaisical.
The United States: For the Bush administration, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is just as much a worry as that of Saddam Hussein and Iran’s potential, because of the possibility that it may in some circumstances pass into terrorist hands, particularly al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists. It would therefore welcome the elimination of Islamabad’s nuclear option, even if this came about as a result of a full-scale Indo-Pakistani war.
Russia: Most of the Indian army’s weapons systems are made in Russia. Its battle tank is the Russian T-90. A full-scale war would be an economic bonanza for Moscow’s military and heavy industries, which would be called upon to produce massive re-supplies of arms and ammunition. An Indian victory would also strengthen Russia’s standing in Central Asia and South Asia.
The way this and other international crises are going, DEBKAfile‘s military experts do not rule out the possibility of three full-scale wars raging concurrently in the fall months of September and October 2002: between India and Pakistan, the US and Iraq and Israel and the Palestinians.
2 June: In a speech to West Point graduates Sunday, President George W. Bush articulated a shift in his war on global terror. The familiar threats to “rout them out” or “hunt them down wherever they are” were replaced for the first time by a warning to Americans “to be ready for pre-emptive action to defend our liberty and to defend our lives”. Warning of the continuing danger, he said, “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt its plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”
Last week, the former secretary of state George Shultz spoke of a war that is “not just one of hot pursuit, but of hot pre-emption”. Shultz defined terrorists, as distinct from freedom fighters, as practicing “random violence on as large a scale as possible against civilian populations to make their points or get their way,” he said. The battle must be taken to such forces before they strike, he added.
New definitions for the war on terror are all the rage in Washington these days. A semantic barrage is filling an urgent need to clear minds on ways and means of combating terror and, no less urgently, to clear away yesterday’s truisms cluttering up today’s tactical terrain.
Jim Hoagland, senior Washington Post strategic analyst, referring to the war buildup between India and Pakistan, wrote Sunday, June 2: “In two years – the time it has taken to go from Bill Clinton, Israel’s Ehud Barak and Colombia’s Andres Pastrana to Bush, Ariel Sharon and President-elect Alvaro Uribe Velez – key governments have shifted to fighting instead of trying to co-opt and legitimize ‘the hard men’ who organize bombers, shooters and arsonists to force political change through bloodshed.
“The US Air Force and Israel’s Defense Forces have already written out Shultz’s suggested strategy in steel and fire in Afghanistan and on the West bank. Uribe suggests he will do the same against Colombia’s narco-terrorists. And Pakistan, which professes to support America against the “terrorists” of al Qaeda while silently giving tangible support to the “freedom fighters” of Kashmir, has provided India with a golden opportunity to join the club of hot pre-emptors.” In the view of this columnist, India can no longer be deterred from hitting back in Kashmir.
Hoagland has rightly drawn a line between the India-Pakistan conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation as a new spate of Middle East diplomacy fills the airwaves.
Part of this scene is the running argument between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israel’s security leaders, chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz and the Shin Beit director Avi Dichter. Ever since the completion of Operation Defensive Shield a month ago placed Israeli forces outside Palestinian West Bank towns, the IDF has adopted the tactic of short incursions into those towns whenever a fresh batch of terrorists formed up for action – with limited success. Forty terrorist attacks were foiled, but half a dozen slipped through at the cost of 30 Israeli lives. Whenever the troops enter their strongholds, the terrorists freeze. They spring into action again as soon as the IDF withdraws.
Mofaz is pressing for the Israeli army to reoccupy those towns and stay there till Yasser Arafat is gone for good. Dichter wants them on the inside until buffer zones are in place. Sharon and defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer defend the present tactic of sending the army back into Palestinian territory for brief spells – and only on the basis of solid intelligence pinpointing a strike about to take off.
DEBKAfile‘s military analysts argue that Sharon’s formula is far from foolproof; solid intelligence data cannot be guaranteed in advance of every single strike. However, the prime minister is following the Bush lead: preemption, yes; reoccupation, no.
The Clinton way of “co-opting and legitimizing the hard men” is patently history, except for some Eurocrats and parts of Israel’s self-styled peace camp. If the Middle East conference wanted by the State Department ever takes off – DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources reports that September is the earliest time – the Bush agenda is scarcely to “legitimize” Yasser Arafat, but rather to use it as a litmus test of Egyptian and Saudi intentions regarding America’s hot pre-emption of Islamic terror.
The test will come in the form of an economic cooperation program between the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, and Israel. If Crown Prince Abdullah spurns this program, Bush will take it to mean continuing Saudi bad faith in the pursuit of Islamic terror.
As for Egypt, the White House regards the peace plan President Hosni Mubarak is bringing to Washington on June 7 as yet another Clinton-era device to legitimize Arafat and co-opt one of his top terror guns, Muhamed Dahlan to a mock process of reforming the Palestinian Authority.
4 June: CIA director George Tenet knew – even before he talked to Yasser Arafat Tuesday, June 4, on ways of de-terrorizing and reforming the Palestinian tangled security apparatus – that he would be going back to Washington empty-handed.
After five years, Arafat finally signed a Palestinian Authority juridical system into existence, supposedly as an independent arm of authority. In its first ruling, the three-member bench meeting in Ramallah, ordered the release of Ahmed Saadat, who as secretary general of the Damascus-based radical Palestine Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is accused by Israel of engineering the assassination last year of the Israeli minister of tourism Rehavam Zeevi.
Saadat, holed up with Arafat by Israeli troops in Ramallah for more than a month, was sent to a Palestinian prison in Jericho in May in the custody of American and British guards, under a deal Israel and the Palestinians signed for the lifting of the IDF siege around Arafat’s Ramallah compound.
Under this deal, Israel waived its immediate demand for Saadat’s extradition, together with that five other wanted terrorists incarcerated with him.
No sooner had the new “reformed” court handed down its first ruling Monday, June 3, when it was overruled by the Palestinian cabinet on Arafat’s orders.
So much for an independent judiciary. It showed Tenet, if he did not know already, that all the ‘reformed” Palestinian institutions, whether the courts, a security force streamlined from twelve organs – all heavily engaged in terror – to four, or a government whittled down from 32 ministers to 19 or 20, would come out of the overhaul unchanged; Arafat, like all totalitarian rulers, may pay lip service to the trappings of democracy, but he will never loosen his grip on authority or allow anyone to hire or fire appointees in his regime. Neither will be renounce terrorism. DEBKAfile‘s military sources expect the flames of Palestinian terrorism to rise high again as soon as all three US officials shuttling through the Middle East, the State Department’s William Burns, the Pentagon’s Douglas Feith and Tenet, have gone home to make their reports to the White House’s top team.
4 June: America has finally taken off the gloves to Arafat. This time, when CIA director George Tenet called on Yasser Arafat in Ramallah Tuesday, June 4, he gave it to him straight from the shoulder, according to a high-placed DEBKAfile source.
America, he said, expects the Palestinian leader to drop the double game he has been playing for two years, turn away from violence and sack his terror-mongering security chiefs. No other reforms would satisfy. If Arafat refused, Tenet hinted he risked being treated by the US government as a terrorist, standing alone against Israel’s military might.
Aside from Arafat himself, the senior dispensers of terror on the Tenet list are pretty much the same as those DEBKAfile has often named: Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, the West Bank general intelligence chief and secret commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the suicide arm of Arafat’s own Fatah. Another leading light is Muhamed Dahlan, head of Gaza Strip preventive security, who is credited with refining terrorist techniques, one being the use of cell phones to detonate explosives; another, extra-powerful bombs adapted to blowing up Israel’s Chariot tanks.
As to the flood of reports in the last ten days claiming that Dahlan was the preferred candidate to head the security bodies post reforms, some emanated from Israel defense minister and Labor leader Binyamin Ben Eliezer, whose choice he was for the new post and as de facto heir apparent to Arafat. Ben Eliezer laid his arguments in Dahlan’s favor before the CIA director on Monday, June 3 – to no avail. Dahlan is viewed in Washington as an out-and-out terrorist and therefore ineligible for any post in the reformed Palestinian Authority. In any case, the last thing Arafat wants is an heir apparent; he has no intention of stepping aside in the foreseeable future. To emphasize this point, Arafat announced he would head the security force in person, as he has always done. He also flatly turned down the CIA chief’s demands to purge the Palestinian Authority of terrorist chiefs.
Tenet went into his meeting with Arafat furious over another of the Palestinian leader’s actions. Over the last weekend, an official Palestinian Authority delegation, headed by minister of posts Imad Falouji, was dispatched from Ramallah to the Palestinian terrorist summit convened in Tehran under the auspices of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Present were the leaders of all the radical Palestinian groups, including the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, Hamas and Jihad Islami, as well as the Lebanese Hizballah.
The CIA chief took it for granted that, prior to their interview, Arafat had aligned his positions with the most extremist leaders of the Arab-Muslim world – Ayatollah Khamenei, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian president Bashar Asad, all of whom reject any diplomatic transactions with Israel.
Tuesday, June 4, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres put in a panic call to UN secretary general Koffi Anan, calling for something to be done to avert the mega-terror disaster, “before the entire Middle East falls apart”. He was under the impression of a warning delivered a few hours earlier by Israeli army intelligence head, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi, to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, that the Hizballah was planning an imminent series of mass attacks against Israel – both across the border from Lebanon and inside Israel. Zeevi noted that the Hizballah had arrayed thousands of different types of missiles along the frontier, pointing them at Israel’s cities and strategic facilities.
The mega terror threat to Israel, the IDF’s potentially massive retaliation in Lebanon and Syria, as well as the coming US offensive against Baghdad, will dominate the discussions in the White House between the US president and his Egyptian visitor, president Hosni Mubarak, over the weekend and with Ariel Sharon next Monday.