American War on Terror Scoops up Campaign against Arafat; Next Stage – to Cut Him off from Fresh Fighting Strength and Weapons
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon stepped onto controversial ground last week when he got together with three leading Palestinian officials for the first time since he took office last year. This raised a storm of criticism – or praise – depending which publication and politician were sounding off. Some speculated that American pressure had forced him into a dialogue with the Palestinians and an unwilling consideration of ways to activate the moribund Tenet ceasefire accord and the Mitchell recommendations for peace negotiations. The right-wing tourism minister, Benny Alon, warned Sharon against pursuing this dangerous course of action. There were also persistent reports that Washington was insisting on Israel easing the closures and restrictions imposed on Palestinian centers. They were all tightened in advance of Sharon’s trip to Washington to prevent the Palestinians unleashing a wave of terror to thwart the visit, as has happened before.
debkafile‘s political sources maintain that both these speculations are totally false.
The Sharon-Palestinian encounter was arranged two months ago, but neither side was in a hurry for it to take place. Then, last week, both decided that it was worthwhile holding before the Israeli prime minister goes off to Washington to meet President George W. Bush on Thursday, February 7.
Sharon calculated that meeting Palestinian leaders would sit well with US opinion and soften his hard line image. The Palestinians saw their date with Sharon as an instrument for driving a chink in the steel wall Bush has thrown up against them.
This thinking also produced the article appearing over Yasser Arafat’s byline in the New York Times of Sunday, February 2, in which the Palestinian leader avows his commitment to peace and disapproval of terrorism, an article that left a deep impression in Israel.
Ariel Sharon, in an exclusive TV Channel 2 interview, faced an aggressive, almost hysterical, demand from interviewer Oshrat Kotler to explain why he finds nothing good to say about Arafat’s article and, in general, where he thinks he is leading the country?
Washington was much less impressed by Arafat’s venture into journalism. The president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, repeated her sharp criticism of Arafat for his failure to put down Palestinian terror and saw nothing amiss in keeping him under siege in Ramallah. She, like the rest of the Bush team knows very well, as debkafile has discovered, that Arafat did not write the New York Times article. It was put together by Ms. Hanan Ashrawi, public relations officer of the Arab League, together with its secretary general, Amr Mussa, with help from the European Union’s foreign policy executive, Javier Solana. Arafat may not have even seen the final format, although he knew it was to be published.
Information also reached Washington on what really passed between Sharon and the Palestinian trio, AbuAla, Abu Mazen and Mohammed Rashid (See also separate item on this page). According to our sources,Sharon reiterated his standing demand for a cessation of Palestinian terror and stressed that, there being no possibility of discussing a final-status peace agreement at this stage, it would be best to focus on interim arrangements.
The Americans were also informed that the three Palestinian representatives fell out among themselves an every issue. This highlighted the profound internal divisions and confusion besetting the Palestinian leadership since Arafat was placed under siege two months ago.
But Washington’s policy-makers were inclined to shrug off the entire episode, above all, because they are fully occupied in putting together the next stage of the Bush strategy against the “axis of evil” – Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the primary supplier of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction to both countries and Syria, and the subsidiary axis of the Hizballah, al Qaeda fighters sheltering in Lebanon and Syria, the Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – all based in Damascus. Arafat’s Fatah, Tanzim, al Aqsa Brigades and presidential guard, Force 17, have not been formally listed, but they are already being treated in Washington as though they have been.
Perhaps his severe scolding by the TV interviewer kept Sharon from getting around to explaining that the Israeli navy and air force have been integrated with Turkey and Germany in the US- led operation to seal off the terrorists’ smuggling routes that were exposed when Karine-A was seized a month ago.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the United States is finishing building new bases and the deployment of the units required for throwing a naval and air blockade around the eastern Mediterranean shoreline, the east coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf and its approaches and the Red Sea.
It is designed interalia to seal off the routes for transferring Palestinian, Hizballah and al Qaeda fighting strength from Lebanon and the Persian Gulf to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as choking off the Palestinians’ supplies of such war materials as guns, explosives, rockets and mortars from Lebanon, the Balkans, Iran and the Persian Gulf. Israel is taking part in the air and naval siege under preparation by the United States, Turkey, Oman and Jordan, as well as joining Jordan in sealing the overland routes across their countries and Palestinian areas against the passage of terrorists and illegal arms.
All of this leaves Arafat high and dry in Ramallah in the foreseeable future.
The next stage of the US-Israeli strategy for containing Palestinian terrorism will cut him off from the wherewithal for building up, replenishing and arming his militias and terror groups. In the Oval Office next Wednesday, Sharon and Bush will get down to the third stage.