Advanced Israel Defensive Preparations for New War Escalation
“If that is President Bashar Assad’s opinion of the Jews, then let me tell all the Middle East peace makers and seekers: Don’t waste your time. Go home and find something more useful to do.”
Those words were uttered yesterday by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the 74-year old Archbishop of Paris, celebrated for his outspokenness, his Jewish roots, which he has never forgotten – his mother died in Auschwitz – and his closeness to the pontiff. Lustiger, a member of the papal entourage in Syria, has been called the “Pope’s man in Paris”. He can be presumed to have reflected his “boss”‘s views on their host’s vicious anti-Jewish and anti-Israel invective in welcoming the Pope to Damascus.
Lustiger’s opinion of Assad is even more apt for Yasser Arafat, who is in the middle of a jihad against the Jewish state and faith, a closed door against which every international and Israeli peace-seeker has battered unavailingly – from the UN Secretary and his emissaries, President Clinton and EU leaders, Shimon Peres, opposition leader Yossi Sarid, Oslo partisan Yossi Beilin and even hawkish Ariel Sharon through his personal envoy, Omri Sharon.
The repercussions from Israel’s theatrical disclosure on May 7 of the capture of a Lebanese smugglers ship laden with a very extensive weapons cargo for the Palestinian Authority cued an alarming sequence of events. Prime minister Ariel Sharon, in a rare foreign correspondents briefing Tuesday, warned of “a very dangerous development” in the Middle East. He also revealed that the San Torini when seized was on its third arms smuggling run. Defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said: “I think that quite soon we will be passing beyond the stage of the mortar bombs”. The same day, a “senior Israeli officer” told a radio interviewer that Palestinian mortars, more than 100 of which have been aimed at Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip, have reached the West Bank.
Those disclosures, together with the rows of gleaming weapons laid out neatly for the cameras against the background of the San Torini, such as Katyusha rockets – the Lebanese Hizballah’s favorite weapon against Israeli settlements in the north, S-7 anti-air missiles and long lines of mines, were intended to give Israelis an inkling of what may be in store – and not only for the Gaza Strip and its environs. It required no flight of imagination to understand that Palestinian combat forces, reinforced by the hardware slipped through in previous deliveries, are moving ever closer to Israel’s heartland. To bring it in range, they have been secreting heavy weapons into the West Bank.
On top of that, came the call-up of elements of the home front reserves, followed by the disclosure of an Israeli civil aviation directive, issued to civilian pilots calling in at Ben Gurion airport, to maintain an altitude of 2100 meters when flying over the West Bank, namely out of range of the S-7 missiles known to have reached Palestinian hands. Other precautionary measures were added for flights coming in to land and taking off.
What all this means, is that Israel’s defense authorities are seriously preparing for extreme contingencies such as Palestinian missile attacks on the main international airfield or airliners in flight; mortar or Katyusha rocket attacks – not on a Gaza Strip settlement, but on a main Jerusalem Street, a Kfar Saba suburb, shopping centers in Hadera and Modi’in, and any other part of the Tel Aviv conurbation.Areas of the country that have not so far felt the sharp edge of the war launched by the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seven months ago will suddenly wake up. Life in Greater Tel Aviv will change – men in uniform will fill the streets instead of shoppers, public shelters will be opened, emergency wards set up in hospitals, commerce will suffer and night revelers will stay home, abandoning the bright lights to cruising police, fire fighters and troops.
The Sharon government will find itself under hysterical pressure at home to wipe the enemy out once and for all and terminate the frightening emergency – why else was he elected? Sharon, with his back to the wall, will have no option but to throw all the resources at the Israeli armed forces’ command into the fray.