Arafat’s New Enclave
“Israel’s position is clear,” Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz told the media after his three-hour meeting with Palestinian interior security minister Mohammed Dahlan on Sunday, July 6. “The Palestinian Authority has assumed responsibility for terror prevention in the areas turned over by Israel. Its next obligation is to dismantle terrorist organizations.”
In answer to a question, Mofaz said Yasser Arafat had more than once attempted to obstruct Abu Mazen; in general his actions were not constructive.
The Israeli defense chief insists of late that his job is to hold down security. By this assertion he lets it be known that the diplomatic-political arena belongs to prime minister Ariel Sharon. It may also be inferred that the two areas do not necessarily overlap at all times. Indeed they are apt to clash. This was demonstrated at the Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, July 6, in which the ministers were divided over the norms for releasing Palestinian prisoners detained or convicted for terror. This clash brought Sharon close to a rare defeat in his own cabinet. Since he cannot afford to confront Washington or the Palestinians with such snags – and even tougher concessions to the Palestinians are in the pipeline – the Israeli prime minister is clearly heading for a government reshuffle that will replace his troublesome coalition partners with the more amenable opposition Labor party headed by Oslo Accord architect Shimon Peres –
as debkafile reported previously. Even the release of Palestinian terrorists guilty of murdering Israelis will then go through far more smoothly.
Mofaz has Sharon’s promise to retain the defense ministry on the understanding that he keeps out of politics.
This division of labor and objectives is beginning to produce a creature resembling Dr. Dolittle’s pushmepullyou, whose two heads faced in opposite directions. The controversy also helps muddy the state of the Palestinian ceasefire as it enters its second week. To this end, debkafile reports from its military sources, Dahlan thrust the Palestinian prisoners issue to the top of his agenda with Mofaz, terming it his Number One problem in grappling with terrorism. The Israeli defense countered that Problem Number One was Arafat.
The latest Israeli intelligence updates, which were put before Dahlan, reveals Arafat as applying the last touches to his takeover of most of the northern West Bank, setting up an enclave encompassing Nablus and its Balata refugee camp, Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya. The string of ambush murders on local highways and security fence work teams, as well as attempted suicide attacks in Israel, which coincided with the onset of the Palestinian ceasefire, were far from being the last flutter of random al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades loners, as suggested. In fact they were the first forays to emanate from bases in Arafat’s solid new terror enclave.
Work on the enclave began months ago. On April 26, when Arafat appointed Hussein al-Sheikh as the Fatah’s West bank secretary general, he also secretly named him treasurer for bankrolling continuing terrorist operations by the Fatah-Tanzim, the al Aqsa Brigades, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami. According to the intelligence data Mofaz put before Dahlan, Arafat has meanwhile put al Sheikh in command of these units and bearer of his orders to them.
A new terror region under the sole authority of Arafat has therefore been cut out in the heart of the US-Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire zone. It operates under the immunity from targeted attack and liquidations extended by the ceasefire although the groups under his command have never signed on.
When Dahlan complained about the low-key Palestinian prisoner release and demanded rapid Israeli pullbacks from Ramallah and Hebron, the Israeli minister said that first the Palestinian Authority must uphold its commitments to clear terrorists out of Qalqilya and the other West Bank terrorist strongholds threatening central Israel. To this the Palestinian minister had no answer. Later Sunday night, the Palestinian Authority claimed lamely to have foiled to Gaza Strip-based terrorist attacks against Israeli targets – information which Israeli forces did not confirm.
The fact of the matter is that Dahlan and Mahmoud Abbas consistently avoid butting heads directly with Arafat. Now the Palestinian ministers have been maneuvered into an acute quandary. Until a short while ago, Hussein al-Sheikh was Dahlan’s man on the West Bank, whom he set up at great expense and effort to supplant the Tanzim’s West Bank secretary, Marwan Barghouti, who is on trial in Israel for multiple murder. Arafat by hijacking his hireling and turning him into a private ticking bomb has made it impossible for Dahlan to take action against al-Sheikh without becoming a laughing stock on the West Bank. Dahlan tried to win him back, only to be rebuffed sharply.
In a nutshell therefore, chances are dim for Dahlan to break up either the Hamas-Jihad Islami terror machine in the Gaza Strip or the Arafat triangle on the West Bank. So what is the point of a virtually indiscriminate policy on the release of Palestinian terrorists? The answer offered by Sharon and Shinui leader, justice minister, Tommy Lapid, is that without extra ballast to firm up their support base, the Palestinian leaders will fall and bring the peace process down with them. But even Dahlan understands that the wholesale discharge of terrorists will contribute to the standing of Arafat and al-Sheikh rather than the new Palestinian leaders – which is why he dropped the issue by the end of his conversation with Mofaz.
Both clearly understood that the ceasefire and arguments over prisoners will be blown to the winds as soon as Arafat gives the signal for his new terrorist enclave to go into all-out action.