Evolution of Secret US-EU-Saudi-Israel Understanding

debkafile ‘s Washington, Riyadh, Paris and Jerusalem sources reveal that one key element in the complex set of understandings was tied up in the talks held in the White House between President George W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s last Tuesday, June 26. Another was finalized Friday, June 29, with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, for which secretary of state Colin Powell flew to Paris especially. The European role was confirmed in exchanges over the last month between President Bush and the European leaders, UK premier Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac.
Israel foreign minister Shimon Peres, with Sharon’s approval, played an active part in brokering the US-European diplomatic moves.
Some of the secret deal’s key provisions as pieced together by debkafile:
1. Israel undertakes not to launch a full-scale offensive against the Palestinian Authority or bring about its collapse.
2. Israel promise to abide by its policy of military restraint in Palestinian-ruled areas
3. A large international observer force made up of up to 200 American monitors will function under a joint US-European command in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and borderlands between Palestinian areas and Israel, taking up position in the first half of September. Under discussion now is a decision to provide the monitors with weapons and APCs for effective combat versus terrorists. Construction and ground-clearing operations have been in progress in the border areas for some weeks to prepare localities for observer positions.
4. Israel will have a free hand to fend off external threats around its borders and farther afield – from the Hizballah, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
5. The US and European powers will back Israel up in such actions when coordinated in advance.
6. If the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat throws in the towel at some point, Israel and the Palestinians will go back to full security coordination, this time with the international observer force and its European element participating.
7. In that eventuality, the international observers will go into Palestinian Authority areas to monitor the collection of illegal weapons, such as mortars and Katyusha rockets.
8. Israel will restrict the type and quantities of weapons in the hands of settlers. The international observers will be allowed to enter Jewish settlements to verify adherence to those restrictions and ensure that settlers are not organizing for anti-Palestinian operations.
9. The US, the EU and Israel will jointly monitor the funds and economic aid flowing month by month to the Palestinian Authority.
While no aid reaches the Palestinians officially from any of the three, an under-the-counter arrangement via Germany, authorized by the US and Israel, makes sufficient moneys available to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat.
Israel’s Side of the Bargain
According to debkafile‘s sources in Washington and Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has effectively renounced wholesale military moves against Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Talk of operational plans for opening two broad military fronts – from Gaza to Hebron and from Bethlehem to Jenin – was no more than a smokescreen for concealing negotiations on the new understanding.
By accepting its terms, Ariel Sharon becomes the first Israeli prime minister to cede Israel’s right to address its political and security problems with the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority to armed international observers posted inside the country. For this concession, adamantly resisted by all his predecessors, he was awarded a free hand for the Israel Defense Forces to deal with external enemies, should Arafat’s intifada backers, the Lebanese Hizballah, Syria, Iraq or Iran, threaten to expand the confrontation into a Middle East war.
This policy reversal is momentous. It means, in the view of debkafile‘s analysts, that the Israeli government no longer regards Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terrorism as a strategic threat. Sharon believes that by re-directing Israel’s armed forces’ energies against external perils, he will not only cut Arafat off from his strategic lifeline, but also arrest the Palestinian uprising’s slide into regional war.
The prime minister was guided to one of the most crucial strategic policy switches an Israeli leader has ever effected, by two considerations: One, the United States consent to promote Israel to leading regional military power status, a change which will be reflected in its military and economic standing in the Middle East and beyond, to Europe and the Indian subcontinent. (Read separate item on US considerations.)
The other consideration was the failure of four months of intense American and European diplomatic efforts to cut Syrian president Bashar Assad away from his military and economic ties with Saddam Hussein and abandon his role as chief military conduit for the Hizballah. The last to try his hand was President Chirac, when Assad visited Paris last week. He too was firmly rebuffed.
Sharon concluded that the peril hanging over Israel from the potential Syrian-Iraqi-Hizballah-Iran alignment far outweighed the unsupported Palestinian threat.
That peril is already on the move. Since January, as debkafile was first to report, Arafat has been gradually smuggling Hizballah cells and agents from Lebanon and through the Sinai peninsula into the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In recent weeks, Hizballah radicals have penetrated Israel Arab communities with Arafat’s encouragement. Furthermore, Iraqi divisions have advanced in two directions – north and west.
Sharon is convinced that forgoing a general offensive against the Palestinians is all to the good in the military senses, sure that it relieves Israel’s armed forces of a mind-set that calls for a grinding effort and the overextension of their resources on the Palestinian front, at the expense of the country’s security needs on other fronts.
For example, Sharon is certain that, were it not for excessive military focus on the campaign against the Palestinians, the IDF would have forestalled the Hizballah’s massive deployment along Israel’s northern frontier in good time. The new understanding, in Sharon’s view, will free up military resources for the proper handling of the Hizballah.
Already, Sunday morning, a senior army officer advised the Lebanese militants to recognize that the rules of the game in the region have changed. And indeed, on Friday, an Israeli air blitz was administered to Hizballah positions directly after their missile attack on Israeli positions on Shaaba farms, in which two Israeli troops were injured.
While Ariel Sharon’s military thinking always tended to the regional, the risks inside the country today are planted deeper than ever before, affecting the personal security of every Israeli, be he settler, farmer or Tel Aviv teenager. The two questions he faces are: Will the IDF, given the new ceasefire restraints, be capable, in combination with international monitors, of containing the Palestinian machine of terror? And will Israel be able to sever Arafat’s external sources of support, fighting strength and weapons supplies?
There are other questions, such as what guarantees have the US and Europeans offered for their continuing secret collaboration with Israel not being switched off and diverted to the Palestinians? Another is: How will Sharon’s secret deal, when its import is fully grasped, go down in the country? Cries of rage will certainly go up from some quarters, but the prime minister is already some weeks into the process of inuring the country to a “ceasefire regime” under which terrorist strikes continue while the army is tied down to preventive pinpoint action and returning fire under direct threat.
His policy switch is supported by the pro-Oslo wing of the national unity government led by Shimon Peres and much of the entrenched political establishment. The country as a whole has still to have its say.
The US-Saudi Deal
The Bush administration has broken fresh ground by coupling US-Saudi oil links with Israeli military strength and so building a cornerstone for its Middle East policy. The colossal flop of President Clinton’s approach to Yasser Arafat, which he freely admits in an interview run in Newsweek’s July 2 issue, taught president Bush a lesson: To avoid at all costs placing his political fate in the hands of the Palestinian leader. Added to this was the administration’s failure in its first five months in office to put together a working policy on Iraq and Syria acceptable to the Europeans, Russia and China. The new Bush Middle East orientation therefore sidelines the Palestinian option in favor of centering the combination of Saudi oil and Israeli military strength.
These policy blocks were positioned after weeks of discussions between vice president Richard Cheney’s representatives and the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, which led to accord on a combined strategy oil policy and pricing on world markets. Both labored under a sense of urgency because of an approaching threat from two quarters to seize control of the oil market – Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Iraq, by diverting massive quantities of oil from the UN-controlled Food for Oil program to smuggling routes, has maneuvered himself into position for throwing world prices into chaos and destabilizing OPEC production levels. Putin has put his hand on the oil lever, making it the mainstay of his regime. Since the Iraqi and Russian rulers play ball in military and diplomatic matters, the Americans, joined by the Saudis, decided to take the oil market in hand before they moved in together.
The US and Saudi Arabia agreed that Arafat’s intifada and his alliance with Saddam Hussein gave Iraq a powerful tool for applying the oil weapon. They also agreed that Arafat’s dream of a Baghdad-Damascus-Hizballah-Gaza axis potentially imperiled Middle East and Persian Gulf stability.
These assumptions led them to an agreed central guideline: to delimit the intifada and dwarf Arafat. It was reached in intense and secretly conducted contacts amid reports of Saudi anger over the Bush Administration’s alleged pro-Israel bias at the Palestinians’ expense and indignation over the Khobar Tower indictments. The secretary of state and Abdullah tied up the last ends in Paris on June 29.
But before this, Saudi Arabia’s epic shift in orientation began to surface in a rare interview the Saudi Crown Prince granted the influential British Financial Times on June 26, in which he came out in favor of an international force to monitor the Israel-Palestinian ceasefire and touched on Israel’s place in Middle East peacemaking.
Abdullah advocated the international force to prevent terrorist operations continuing and plunging the region into full-scale war.
On the question of peace, he said: “Any serious peace plan requires the support of the Kingdom. We are also the one qualified to persuade all concerned to come to the peace table.”
This is the first time any Saudi ruler has undertaken to deal directly with and therefore recognize Israel as a state, a commitment implicit in the phrase persuade all concerned. Coming from Abdullah this acceptance is doubly meaningful and surprising. Not only does he administer the kingdom’s affairs for the ailing monarch, Fahd, but he is close to its ultra-conservative religious establishment and therefore likely to be less yielding on the Israel question than his more liberal brothers.
Having obtained Saudi understanding for the new strategy, the United States went ahead with new forms of military collaboration with Israel. In mid-June, the largest-scale air force ever staged in the Middle East took place over Turkey, with tens of US, Turkish and Israeli fighters, gunships and reconnaissance craft taking part.
The exercise, first disclosed by debkafile, relayed a clear message to Syria and Iraq that should either or both decide to go to war or engage in any kind of belligerence, the Israeli air force would have free use of Turkish air bases to strike at both and a combined US-Israeli-Turkish force stood ready to prevent any counter-strike against that base by missile or air bombardment.
The exercise also brought the permanent presence of Israeli warplanes and bombers in Turkish bases into the open. None of the parties concerned have bothered to conceal the advancing construction of one of the largest training and firing range installations in the world in South Turkey for the use of all three air forces.
In addition, debkafile‘s sources report from Washington that in last week’s interview with Sharon, President Bush assured him that the $800m promised Israel for its unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon 13 months ago would be delivered. The US president also offered to ease up on US bans on sales of sophisticated Israeli weapons systems and military technologiesto third countries. This is believed to refer to the sale of the advanced Israeli Phalcon airborne reconnaissance system to India, a year after the Clinton administration blocked its sale to China.
debkafile‘s military sources report that India is seeking 5-6 such systems in a transaction worth more than $7 billion, a much needed revenue for Israel’s growing balance of payments deficit.

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