To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
For the Palestinians to begin upholding their June 4 Aqaba summit pledges, another strong shove was needed from Washington. It was administered this week in a telephone call from US secretary of state Colin Powell to Palestinian internal security minister Mohamed Dahlan. debkafile‘s Washington sources report Powell as saying in effect: The Hamas everyone is talking about is made up of no more than 500 to 1,000 armed men. If Dahlan can’t get them under control and stop their terrorist activity, “someone else” will take over and finish them off one by one.
A demonstration quickly followed. Early Friday, June 27, a team of the Israeli naval commando Unit 13 raided a Hamas fastness in the southern Gaza Strip, killing three terrorists and capturing another three. The Israeli side lost one fighter, Staff Sgt. Erez Ashkenazi, 21, from Kibbutz Reshafim.
A few hours later, the Palestinian minister dropped his unremitting demands for Israeli and American concessions and resigned himself to finally talking turkey. He agreed to assume Palestinian responsibility for terror prevention in the areas turned over by the Israeli military and promised also to act on Israeli intelligence tip-offs on impending attacks. Whereupon Israel set a date for pulling its troops back from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem, starting Monday, June 30 and reopening its borders to Palestinian traffic.
The deal is far from perfect. The Palestinian commitment defers action to stop Qassam missile and mortar strikes against Israeli locations in the Gaza Strip and southern Israeli to some time in the future. Moreover, there is no timeline for the dismantlement of terrorist organizations promised by Abu Mazan and strenuously demanded by Israel and President George W. Bush. The Abu Mazen-Dahlan team is counting on saving themselves the trouble of breaking up the Hamas, Fatah and Jihad Islami terror groups by accepting the flimsy ceasefire on offer despite its tough conditions.
Yet Israel is pulling back pretty much to the lines it held up until Yasser Arafat’s armed confrontation erupted on September 29, 2000. A trilateral US-Israeli-Palestinian mechanism led by the American CIA is left to monitor the implementation of these accords – even though this recipe failed disastrously once before. The same mechanism collapsed in the hail of bullets the Palestinian liaison officers fired at their Israeli counterparts soon after September 29 while they were on joint patrols and together in their shared liaison headquarters.
Still, the White House is cautiously praising the new arrangements. Powell pronounced them a step forward in the long haul toward a Palestinian state. Backed by the winds of optimism blowing from Washington, the US president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, lands in the region Saturday, June 28, to usher in the new chapter and mark its place in the frame of overall US Middle East planning. Saturday she holds talks with Palestinian leaders followed by meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday.
In the welter of accords, palaver and cautious celebrations, no one is mentioning Yasser Arafat or checking to see how irrelevant he really is to all the new arrangements.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources rectified this omission in its latest issue of June 28.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources reveal that the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat has big plans for the coming period of “calm”. For some weeks, he and his senior aides have been working on preparations for a grand victory march. Among its objectives will be a demonstration that Arafat was clever enough to extort American and Israeli recognition for a Palestinian state by a sustained campaign of terror, that he is not done yet, and that Palestinian prime minister Abbas is a nobody who had the gall to challenge his authority.
Some of the ministers whom Arafat planted in the Abbas cabinet joined in the preparations. The march will reach its climax with Arafat’s arrival in the Gaza Strip. He will be presented as the savior whose brilliant policies brought about the removal of Israel’s military presence from the territory and delivered him from the Israeli siege that kept him trapped in Ramallah from May 2002.
The fact that for the last six months Arafat has been free to travel where he pleased in Palestinian areas or overseas will not be mentioned for fear of marring his appearance of great suffering in the Palestinian cause.
What really kept him confined to his quarters in Ramallah, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources stress, was his obligation to shelter the 180-200 master-terrorists of his own Fatah, Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as well as masterminds of the Popular Fronts, the Hamas and a group of Hizballah agents who were planted on the West Bank. All of them are wanted by Israel for orchestrating major terrorist attacks and murder and live under Arafat personal protection. His presence in the Ramallah headquarters guarantees their safety. Since Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush that he would not harm Arafat in person, the wanted terrorists under his protection are out of Israel’s reach.
This immunity was again demonstrated after the Aqaba summit on June 4 when Sharon gave the US president another promise, this one to restrict the Israeli campaign of targeted assassinations against terrorist activists to members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and “ticking bombs”, meaning suicide terrorists on their way to target with explosives on their person.
Since June 4, senior terrorist commanders, controllers and recruiters have accordingly been immune from Israeli preventive operations.
Word that Israeli troops will soon quit Bethlehem has generated an exodus to this future safe haven of hundreds of wanted Palestinian terrorists from their strongholds all over the West Bank to escape Israeli capture and liquidations. They are now gathering in Bethlehem region of the West Bank abutting Jerusalem which was cleansed of terrorists to stop the Palestinian shooting campaign that long plagued the Jerusalem district of Gilo.
As a result of the immunity won at Aqaba, some of the master terrorists sheltered by Arafat have begun trickling out of the Ramallah headquarters – at first staying close to their havens, but soon moving farther afield to West Bank towns.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts say that these escapees from Arafat’s quarters have three things in common:
1. They make sure to return “home” before dark and stay there till morning.
2. They are handed detailed instructions by Muhamed Damra, Arafat’s chief operations officer, regarding their West Bank destinations, which terror cells to contact and what terror operations to set up until a “ceasefire” goes into effect. That is why all the shooting and suicide attacks in the last few days, most of them thwarted, emanated from the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip.
3. They have been put to work designing a terror campaign in the post-ceasefire period – also from the West Bank. Like Israel’s military withdrawals, it will be executed in stages, the infrastructures restored in the areas evacuated by Israeli troops.
debkafile adds: To make sure the Palestinians and everyone else understands who really calls the shots, Arafat summoned Palestinian security and intelligence officers, including Dahlan, to a conference at his Ramallah headquarters Friday night, June 27, to personally vet every detail of the various accords to be announced next day and make sure all the terror groups had fully coordinated their ceasefire announcements. He also demanded to be shown the intelligence tip-offs Dahlan has begun to receive from the Americans and Israelis on coming terrorist action, on the principle that forewarned is forearmed.
In view of Arafat’s short- and long-term planning, the great effort invested by President Bush, Powell, Rice and the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in the latest diplomatic breakthrough will have three immediate results:
A. Abbas’s prestige will take a nosedive which may well lead him into retirement.
B. The lifting of Israeli military pressure will grant Hamas in the Gaza Strip a chance to regroup and rearm, while Palestinian terrorist activity from the West Bank is sustained.
C. Yasser Arafat will enjoy a revival of prestige in the eyes of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs having demonstrated by the Israeli withdrawal under pressure from Washington that the Americans, the Israelis, Abu Mazen. Dahlan are still dancing to his tune and that terrorism pays. If 33 months of violence brings such rich dividends, then why not go on until Israel is brought to total collapse? Thus far <BDEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 114
A recent opinion poll shows 73 percent Israeli support for the US-brokered accommodations reached with the Palestinians. This is not because the average Israeli does not understand what is going on but because he will do anything for a few days of calm and has given up hope of the Sharon government providing even a short break in the violence. The poll does not represent an optimistic view of the future but the despairing acceptance of the smallest respite in an anguished routine.
To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.