Since March 29, Day One of Israel’s current military operation in West Bank cities, Yasser Arafat has been confined to two rooms of his once splendid government compound in Ramallah, sharing the small space with 45 people. No bathroom or kitchen – one toilet.
Sometimes the phones work, sometimes not. Food is delivered by Israel through the Red Cross. Its variety is severely limited by the lack of cooking facilities and the Palestinian leader’s insistence on what he considers health food.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources reveal that Arafat and party subsist on tinned tuna, fresh vegetables and fruit from the market and pita bread. Every day, 500 bottles of water are delivered – both for drinking and ablutions. Arafat peers out of the window to see that no one tampers with his supplies.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly can also reveal that Arafat’s confinement has become the focus of an intriguing counterintelligence operation.
Two days after invading Israeli troops forced him to retire to the last two rooms of his quarters, some fifty pro-Palestinian peace activists, most European, dodged past Israeli tanks and soldiers and marched into the building. With them were TV camera crews who recorded the hugs and kisses exchanged between Arafat and his well-wishers.
Some hours later, about twenty visitors left the building. Around thirty stayed behind to share the Palestinian leader’s “isolation”
The Israeli army was attacked on all sides for allowing its cordon to be pierced by a bunch of peaceniks. However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, the lapse was deliberate. Many of the peace activists remaining with Arafat are in fact intelligence agents, British, German, French, Swiss, South African and Spanish. Some also serve the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Their mission is dual: to monitor Arafat’s movements and outside contacts, while also ensuring the Palestinian leader against a sudden attempt by Israeli soldiers to remove him by force. The arrangement was approved by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli intelligence chiefs at the request of Central Agency Director George Tenet who passed through briefly, shortly after Arafat was confined.
Arafat has almost certainly caught on to his “peace campaigners'” true function, but is most probably playing along with the charade.
At the stroke of midnight, Arafat habitually sits down in his room for what he calls breakfast. A night owl, he sleeps little and works through the night, hitting his peak at 3 a.m.
Sharing the same room with Arafat are four close associates: Nabil Abu Rdainah, his political adviser and right-hand man, Tawfik Tirawi, the Palestinian intelligence chief and supreme commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – designated by the United States a terror group — Hajj Ismail, the police chief of the West Bank, and Ahmad Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian and the man behind last year’s assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi as well as the dispatch of car bombs to the streets of Jerusalem.
All four live, work and sleep in Arafat’s 7X10 meter room.
Forty-six people -16 Palestinian – most top terror chiefs on Israel’s wanted list – and 30 peace activists-agents – are crammed into the second room, which is just as small as the first.
They are all aware that Israeli soldiers closely monitor every spoken word and movement through the walls, ceiling and floor – posted above, below and to the sides of the two-room apartment.
Arafat shares his midnight repast with two people – a Palestinian and a European, carefully selected by the Palestinian leader and Abu Rdainah. Both then rejoin the others. Arafat has not left his room since the siege began.
Every day at noon, the foreign visitors, the Palestinians and Israeli troops play out a daily ritual. One of the Europeans walks down a long corridor toward an Israeli officer and three soldiers waiting with rifles at the ready. He or she carries Arafat’s shopping list and two large, black plastic garbage bags with trash collected from the two rooms over the past 24 hours.
Without a word, the list is handed to the officer and the garbage bags left on the floor.
The officer examines the list and nods. The European returns to his room.
So strong is the mutual distrust that neither side takes any chances. The groceries and water are brought straight to Arafat’s room and carefully tested; the garbage bags are removed to a yard outside the building and Israel forensic and intelligence specialists sift through the trash for secret messages.
The biggest surprise from the close surveillance to which the Palestinian leader is subjected is his state of health. Aside from a moderate blood pressure condition, the 73-old Palestinian leader is as fit as a fiddle. The only medicines Israel has been asked to deliver are standard blood pressure tablets and mild Israeli Cartia aspirin.
At the time of the Camp David summit in 2000, some intelligence sources leaked word to the international media that Arafat suffered from a rare degenerative condition akin to Parkinson’s Disease, and had no more than two years left to live. His trembling lips and shaking hands, apparently the legacy of injuries suffered when his plane crash-landed in the Libyan Desert in the 1980s, supported the diagnosis. When he was first confined, his personal physician in Amman claimed his patient’s life would be at risk if he were not permitted to leave Israel-blockaded Ramallah for regular treatment.
Now it turns out that, aside from slight hypertension, there is nothing wrong with him at all. In private, his trademark tremor is absent.