Jenin Battle Will Determine War

The battle raging in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, the most savage and costly in life waged thus far in the counter-terror offensive Israel launched on March 29, will also determine its outcome. It will also decide if Yasser Arafat is doomed to stay locked in his two rooms in Ramallah.
debkafile‘s military sources cannot give full details of the Jenin confrontation, but they report the IDF has thrown its ablest fighting units into the fray. This is an all-out effort to stem the bloodshed and snatch the advantage in a relentless standoff.
If the Palestinians win the day in Jenin, the Israeli army faces defeat at the end of its full-scale assault against their terror strongholds in seven West Bank cities – a failure that will gravely affect the Sharon national unity government’s chances of survival.
Outside forces are already riding on the back of the Israeli ordeal in Jenin. First in line are the Americans. They are turning the screw relentlessly the closer secretary of state Colin Powell advances through Arab capitals towards Jerusalem, ordering Israel to remove its forces from Palestinian territory forthwith and begin lifting its siege on Arafat. Washington is also pushing hard for a US observer or peacemaking force to come in as a buffer between Israeli and Palestinian forces.
If this happens, many of Israel’s dilemmas will be taken out of its hands. It will be spared negotiations with Palestinians on national boundaries, the borders of Jerusalem and the Palestinians right to repatriate 1948 Arab refugees. The internal debate over the Jewish settlements will no longer matter because the foreign observers and peacemakers will simply dismantle them as “obstacles to peace”. The other fateful decisions will be settled by the American government along with the European Union and Arab governments. Israel’s final frontiers will be drawn according to the locations of the foreign observers’ positions. The Israeli government will be relieved of responsibility for anything happening across those frontiers, including decisions to pump terrorists and suicides into Israeli towns.
The Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on Monday, April 8, expanded his national unity government and delivered a fighting speech on the moral justification of Israel’s campaign to root out terrorists and suicides in their lairs. The same night, he began falling back in the face of US demands – Qalqilya and Tulkarm were evacuated within hours and Arafat was permitted to receive his top advisers, Abu Ala, Abu Mazen, Muhamed Dahlan and Saeb Arikat.
This may be no more than a tactical retreat. Tuesday noon, April 9, the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem announced the inner defense cabinet of three (Sharon, defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer and foreign minister Shimon Peres) was dissolved and replaced with the expanded defense forum, including the three new ministers.
debkafile‘s political sources report that the prime minister did not receive the backing he expected from the two Labor ministers. He is therefore counting on the new ministers to support him in the prosecution of measures for bringing the costly Jenin battle to a successful conclusion, while standing up to mounting pressure from Washington.
With the Jenin battle still in the balance, foreign minister Shimon Peres took to the airwaves to say he was worried about its effect on world opinion after the fighting was over – especially of the Palestinian bodies strewn in the streets. Clearly conscious of the effect their dead comrades would have on the world’s TV screens, the Palestinians refused to allow rescue vehicles to remove them. Some media also likened the stand taken by Jihad Islami fighters in Jenin to the last Jewish stand against the Romans at Massada, forgetting that less than two weeks ago members of this fanatical group stormed Israeli cafes with bomb belts strapped round them.
Since the Israeli military thrust into Palestinian cities, the threat of suicide terrorists that poisoned the air has been lifted. However, Tuesday, Israel is again beset by the traumas of rumor and unconfirmed reports.
To all the many worried phone callers, debkafilesays that no reliable information is as yet available on Israeli casualties or missing men in Jenin. We shall release any information as soon as it comes in. The government and army command are strongly advised to scotch the wild rumors and dissipate their demoralizing effect with a timely word from official sources.

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