Ailing Arafat Overhauls His High Terror Command

Ten days before President George W. Bush told the Palestinians to remove their leaders if they wanted a state (on June 24), an intelligence report landing on his desk informed him that Arafat had jumped the gun on the presidential statement. Instead of instituting democratic reforms, the Palestinian leader had overhauled and recharged his terror command structure in readiness for a savage terrorist offensive intended to reach also US targets in Israel and the Middle East.
A Washington source, apprised of the report’s contents, told debkafile that rarely had the US president been so furious.
The Palestinian leader’s reshuffle and re-energizing of his personal terrorist operational staff structure were executed in advance of the Bush speech, accompanied by a deadly series of suicide killings in Israel. In remolding his terror command, Arafat had two objectives:
First, to pack it with terror operatives whose personal loyalty to him is above question;
Second, to make sure the different arms of his terror machine are smoothly synchronized.
Another of the report’s disclosures refers to the serious decline in Arafat’s health in recent months. He is said to suffer from prostate cancer requiring surgery, as well as cerebral edema from the blow he received some years ago when his plane made a forced landing. Aware that he needs hospital care, the Palestinian leader has not decided when or where to receive it. After the Bush speech, he dropped an earlier plan to get himself admitted to the American Mayo Clinic, fearing he would be banned from entering the US, even for medical treatment.
Arafat’s medical chart was assembled for the US intelligence report from the list of medicines Israel was asked to provide when his compound in Ramallah was under Israeli siege, and also from the taped conversations he had with his Jordanian physician, Dr. al-Kurd, during that month, when he came from Amman to examine him.
The fact stressed in this intelligence report is that, from the moment he was faced with demands to reform his administration, the Palestinian leader dropped all the top aides that the American and Israeli media cited as would-be candidates for key roles in the reformed government and security services.
Mohamed Dahlan, head of the preventive security apparatus in the Gaza Strip, was axed after he staged an almost royal public appearance in Gaza. When Arafat saw how an army of bodyguards cleared a two-kilometer square “sterile” area, before his Gazan aide marched up to the platform, he decided Dahalan was too ambitious to be trusted.
Dahlan’s opposite number of the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, was likewise sacked for his close ties with Americans and Israelis.
Arafat’s personal financial adviser, Muhammed Rashid, possibly the only individual fully privy to the Palestinian leader’s secret accounts and investments, is out of favor, though not dismissed. Questions were asked in early April when Rashid was not included among the favored few whom the Palestinian leader kept with him throughout the Israeli siege of his quarters. Arafat heard that, while he was trapped, Rashid was going around talking to Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and even cracking jokes about his master’s plight. He became deeply suspicious of the get-togethers Rashid and Dahlan were holding in secret, about which neither reported to him. Arafat’s first thought was that the two were plotting to oust him and, worse, to bankroll their putsch by commandeering his private assets.
As soon as the Israeli tanks pinning him down in Ramallah pulled back, Arafat removed Rashid from access to his bank accounts. He cancelled Rashid’s power of attorney, making his Paris-based wife Suha trustee instead.
The followers of Dahlan, Rajoub and the Fatah West Bank secretary arrested by Israel, Marwan Barghouti, were all sacked.
Arafat thus dropped leading members of his terror guard of recent years and replaced them, by and large, with trusted veterans. The key names are revealed here by debkafile‘s counter-terror and intelligence sources:
Salim Zaanun, 70: The Palestinian National Council chairman, who lives permanently in Amman.
His new task: Management of Arafat’s connections with the Hamas and Jihad Islami commands in Damascus and Lebanon.
Maher Ghanem, 60: Chef de bureau of Palestinian foreign minister Farouk Kadoumi (who never accepted the Oslo 1993 Accords).
His new task: Zaanun’s operational liaison in Damascus with the radical Hamas, Jjhad Islami, and Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
Tayeb Abd a-Rahim, 56 : Palestinian Authority Secretary
His new task: Coordinator between the Gaza Strip and West Bank terror operations of the Hamas, Jihad Islami and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Saher Habash, 75: Head of the multi-group Intifada Committees.
His new task: Supreme coordinator between Salim Zaanun, Maher Ghanem and Tayeb Abd a-Rahim, and the only one reporting directly to Arafat.
Also in charge of Arafat’s most secret terrorist connections, those he maintains with the Lebanese Hizballah.
Feisal Abu Shrah, 65: Commander of Force 17’s terror operations. He is senior to –
Muhamed Damra, 48: Commander of Ramallah contingent of Force 17, Arafat’s personal guard, and the defenses at the Palestinian leaders’ headquarters. Damra is senior officer of the Ramallah government center’s security detail.
His new task: To maintain direct lines of communication between Arafat and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards posted in Lebanon and the Hizballah secretary Hassan Nasrallah.
Damra is also controller of the Hizballah cells operating under cover in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. His direct commander is Saher Habash; he has no access to Arafat.
Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, 49: Arafat’s most trusted terror operative. Pro forma head of general security on the West Bank, Tirawi retains his clandestine duties as chief of the terrorist arm of Arafat’s Fatah organization – al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – and is the senior connecting link between his boss and Iraqi military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad as well as its agents in Amman, Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank.
Rashid Abu Shbak, 42: Officially, Dahlan’s second in command in the Gaza Strip security service.
His new task: Director of the Gaza Strip joint terror operational command shared by Fatah, Force 17, elements of the various Palestinian “security” services, Hamas, the PFLP and the Jihad Islami.
Bush’s move against Arafat and his regime has an unspoken significance: He has virtually lumped them in with his original “axis of evil”, alongside Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Syrian President Bashar Assad is but a step away from joining this black list. When the US president orders military action in the Middle East to go forward, every regional member of this axis will be targeted by American might.
Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, the most dedicated Oslo Peace accord partisan, quickly apprehended the clear diplomatic victory the Bush speech signaled for Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Twenty-four hours after threatening to resign over the government’s decision to build a security fence dividing Israel for Palestinian terror centers, Peres changed course. He joined the majority of ministers in favor of the 215-mile security barrier project, pulling away from the Palestinian nay-sayers and their European backers.
The European reaction to the Bush speech was surprisingly mild, as it was to Israel’s military incursions this week into seven Palestinian West Bank towns and its preparations for a similar anti-terror offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Bush administration and the Sharon government are plainly operating in harness to counter Arafat’s new terror command and its non-Palestinian affiliates and sponsors. The European governments, which have loyally espoused Arafat’s cause for so long, show signs of feeling they are backing a losing side.
Clearly, the US president is now as determined to remove Arafat is he is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and Nasrallah. Bashar Assad still has a last chance.

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