Four Intelligence Agencies Resolve Church Tug-o’-War

None of the parties to the Church of Nativity settlement in Bethlehem has reason to be proud of the text cooked up by four intelligence agencies – the American CIA, the British MI6, the Vatican’s Opus Dei and the Israeli Shin Beit. It was designed to end Israel’s 36-day siege of the shrine, extricate the terrorists harbored there and remove Israeli forces from Bethlehem after they quit the other six Palestinian cities entered for Operation Defensive Shield.
The four agencies were directed by their masters to clear up the operation’s last loose end before Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon began his meeting Tuesday night with President George W. Bush, so as to free the agenda for other issues.
As a result, 123 individuals were to have left the church, including 39 murderous terrorists directly responsible for hundreds of Israeli deaths and injuries. Thirteen were to be flown to Egypt and wait there for the US administration to talk Italy, or some other government, round to granting them asylum; 26 to the Gaza Strip and the rest go free. At the eleventh hour, however, the Italians stalled, bitter about the “patronizing Anglo-American” who made their arrangements without bothering to consult with Rome or even discuss the details. Italy was not the only country to hold out against being made an asylum for Palestinian terrorists. At this time, no other government has been found to host the 13 Palestinian terrorists.
For three days, the Palestinians announced repeatedly that the deal was in the bag. Each time it sprang a fresh hole – typical of the handiwork of intelligence operatives who never have a complete picture to work with. They drove forward nonetheless, certain that in the final reckoning, the parties would have to sign.
The negotiating process was deliberately injected with dramatic momentum to achieve two objectives:
1. To lend a semblance of plausibility to an impossible transaction.
2. To deflect embarrassing questions from the US, British and Israeli leaders, all sworn enemies of terror, as to the morality of sending 13 hardened terrorists and murderers on a three-year jaunt to Italy – compliments of the CIA.
After recuperating from their ordeal in the church, the group will certainly lose no time in making profitable contact with al Qaeda and Hizballah cells at large in Milan and Florence – or elsewhere – and slip back to the Gaza Strip and West Bank much refreshed.
How will this reflect on Bush and his global war on terror?
And how will it go down for British prime minister Tony Blair and MI6 with the British commandos scouring Afghanistan’s eastern mountains for al Qaeda terrorists in a desperate attempt to prevent their regrouping for a summer assault on Kabul?
Yasser Arafat comes out of this episode as badly or even worse – his Fatah followers and the Hamas have not pulled their punches in accusing him of selling out his own fighting men.
As for Sharon, letting 13 killers assigned by Arafat to stage the bloodiest Palestinian terror and suicide missions against Israeli civilians take off for Italy, will hardly give wings to his arguments for cutting Arafat the arch-terrorist out of future peace negotiations.
Israeli chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, did not directly criticize his political masters when he briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 7. He merely complained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was undergoing “soft internationalization”- thereby meeting a longstanding Palestinian demand.
In the last week, Israel bowed to heavy pressure from Washington and lifted the two sieges left over from Operational Defense Shield – the one on Arafat’s Ramallah compound and the one in Bethlehem. Mofaz’s gripe referred to the way both were resolved. The Israeli tourism minister’s assassins ended up in Anglo-American custody in Jericho, instead of being extradited to Israel for trial, while 13 wanted Palestinian terrorists holed up in the Bethlehem church are to be shipped overseas instead of being brought to justice.
Sharon has made the colossal mistake of giving British intelligence a say in fateful decisions concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict – their presence was permitted in Jericho and again in Bethlehem. That presence, as the two episodes proved, means that Israel is allowing its war on terror slip out of its hands; it is also a license for foreign governments – or their agencies – to decide on the disposition of terrorists guilty of murdering Israelis.
These two precedents are bound to proliferate very quickly; before Israeli knows it, international interference will be a ubiquitous presence at its highest state policy-making level.

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