That Washington’s plans for Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian regime are quite different from those presented in most of the media was vividly illustrated in an interview US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice gave to Israeli TV Channel 2 on July 11. She made it very clear that the entire Palestinian leadership had to go – and not just Arafat – for the United States to proceed with the presidential vision of a Palestinian state. “One man cannot determine the fate of an entire people,” she said with great emphasis.
This statement directly contradicted published suggestions that Arafat was moving in the right direction in hiring and firing Palestinian Authority officials and calling elections.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern capitals, Arafat cannot last as chairman or even stay in Palestinian-controlled territory for much longer. Even he may be coming to realize that his usual trump card – the resumption of suicide killings in Israeli towns – may not work any longer. Washington and Jerusalem are waiting for one last suicide attack – and then, with a silent nod from the United States, he will be put on a non-Israeli plane waiting outside Israel and carried off, his first stop being Sudan.
He won’t be flying alone. One-way tickets will also be issued to other Palestinian officials directly involved in terrorism as well as to the security chiefs who planned and ordered the attacks to be carried out – especially the suicide murders. In all, between 30 and 40 top Palestinians will join their boss on his way out.
This final step was approved late last month by Washington and Jerusalem, in response to a shower of intelligence information attesting to Arafat’s active ties with the wanted super terrorist Imad Mughniyeh and the Hizballah.
Those ties dated from last year, before a joint project fell flat: the Karin-A arms smuggling ship that was seized by Israeli commandos on the Red Sea with its entire freight of contraband Iranian arms. That was not the first or the last vessel smuggling arms by sea to the Palestinians. The trade-off proposed by Mughniyeh and accepted by Arafat last year was for shipments of Iranian arms to be paid for by the Palestinian leader’s permission to let the Hizballah operate freely in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Operating freely meant the go-ahead for a Hizballah liaison officer to be posted in every Palestinian community, both to set up military cells and to help set up an educational, religious, medical and social welfare infrastructure.
Dozens of Hizballah operatives, members of Mughniyeh’s security and intelligence networks, accordingly poured into the West Bank and Gaza Strip late last year. They were soon organizing and training Palestinian terrorist networks, contributing to the colossal wave of suicide massacres that hit Israel in the second half of February, and introducing extra-powerful explosives into the Palestinian arsenal.
From April, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon imposed a news blackout on the Hizballah presence in Palestinian-controlled areas and ordered the Mossad to iron its cloak, sharpen its daggers and liquidate the intruders. The intelligence agency re-activated its liquidation squads, after a pause of several months, at about the same time as the IDF carried out Operational Defensive Shield in the wake of the Seder massacre in Netanya’s Park Hotel. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, from April until today, around 30 targeted killings have been carried out – most in the West Bank and a few in Israeli Arab communities. The largest number were senior officers in Mughniyeh’s security and intelligence networks.
This was the most painful operational setback the super terrorist had suffered in his quarter of a century career in terrorism.
One of the prime objectives of the long siege of the Hebron government compound in mid-June was the capture of a senior Hizballah operative who had been setting up terrorist networks in this West Bank city. The building was blown up, but not before the Lebanese terrorist was apprehended. He was not the only one. Others were taken in or killed in the Palestinian towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Bethlehem in Israel’s current open-ended counter-terror offensive. It will soon be the turn of the Gaza Strip (as reported in our last issue) for similar terror networks created by Hizballah agents in the territory’s cities and refugee camps to be smashed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources add that at least three or as many as five of the most senior captured Hizballah operatives, including the Hebron-based terrorist leader, were secretly handed over to the Americans and flown to a US-run interrogation center outside the United States. In other cases, US investigators and intelligence officers sat in on Israel interrogations of the Hizballah men. This was the Americans’ first opportunity since the 1980s to access operational personnel directly linked to Mughniyeh.
This sharp downturn in Palestinian-Hizballah fortunes explains the sudden consent of Hizballah officials to enter into negotiations for the release of the Israeli reserve colonel and businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped in October 2000 shortly after the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian war. Mughniyeh ordered Hizbalah secretary-general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to make every effort to gain the release of his men from Israeli custody.
Proof was adduced from interrogating the Hizballah captives that Arafat had in return for weapons granted the Hizballah the freedom of Palestinian-controlled areas and integrated its operatives in Palestinian security agencies ruling the Palestinian street. For Israel and the United States, it was the last straw – and they decided the time had come to end Arafat’s bloody reign and send him into exile.
The exit of Arafat and his minions will leave the Palestinian Authority headless. Word of sweeping reforms and January elections is deceptive. The so-called “Madrid Quartet” of foreign ministers, American, European, Russian and moderate Arab, Egyptian and Saudi, will at their next meeting in New York seek agreement on a supervisory body to monitor and assist the efforts of non-terrorist Palestinian officials and local authorities to administer the different regions and towns ad hoc until a central administration is formed. Its precise nature and areas of jurisdiction may have to wait upon the US campaign against Iraq. America’s geopolitical re-definition of the region will not omit the Palestinians.