Mystery of the Missing Qassam Missiles – or Arafat’s New Ploy
Since Thursday, August 5 and up until early August 10, not a single Qassam missile landed from the Gaza Strip on the southern Israel towns of Sderot or neighboring West Negev kibbutzim. Their daily nightmare since last year was more or less in abeyance for six days. Suddenly too the stream of anti-Israel invective and threats dried up in the mouths of the ruling Fatah and its al Aqsa Martyrs (Suicides) Brigades, the Hamas, and the other Palestinian purveyors of mass terror. Furthermore, while Israelis argued the rights and wrongs of allowing Palestinian police officers (many of whom moonlight as terrorists) to patrol West Bank streets bearing arms, those officers began were already out fully armed on the streets of Jenin and Qalqilya without waiting for Israeli permission.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources hold up two keys to these mysteries, both held by Yasser Arafat:
A.The most important one is that Arafat has finally vanquished the former Gaza strongman and challenger Mohammed Dahlan and put down his attempted revolt. Far from marking their reconciliation, as widely reported, their expected face-to-face encounter will occasion Arafat’s public declaration of victory for the benefit of the Palestinian people and Arab world and Dahlan’s concession of defeat. The meeting will take place after the terms of surrender are finalized.
B. Arafat has undertaken certain steps to collect the spoils of victory. Since the United States, Britain, Egypt and Israel backed the loser, he wants them to pay the forfeit by accepting a deal on his terms.
He is offering a lull in anti-Israel violence – suddenly, he is capable – in return for which the Americans and Israelis must agree to end his three years of isolation, ostracism and siege and finally begin addressing him. A realistic political trader, he understands that President George W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon face too many obstacles for an abrupt switch of course. He is therefore willing to make do with their representatives or messengers engaging him directly.
To prepare the way for re-engagement, he has instituted two important processes and raised demands.
1. The first is on the Palestinian plane and aims at proving that he, and no one else, is in command of Palestinian affairs. For four years, he generated the anarchy, of which the ordinary Palestinian is heartily sick, as a perfect breeding ground for his suicidal terror campaign against Israel. Now, the time has come for order. He has therefore instructed Palestinian policemen to be deployed in the northern Gaza Strip and to take charge of security in the Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Jebalya sectors from which the Qassam missiles plaguing southern Israel are fired. Mussa Arafat’s men moved in on August 5, whereupon Israeli forces, who had spent more than a month there trying in vain to halt the Qassem barrages, moved out. By this maneuver Arafat made it clear that his hand was behind the Qassam offensive and that he has the power to restart it whenever he likes.
He also put armed Palestinian policemen on the streets of the West Bank terrorist strongholds of Qalqilya and Jenin, making the argument in Israel over what types of weaponry to approve irrelevant.
Arafat’s mouthpieces then went into action with the demand that Israel abolish the standing order for its soldiers to shoot to kill every armed Palestinian seen in public. Lifting that order would enable Palestinian policemen armed with rifles to fan out through West Bank towns. Official Israeli assurances that Palestinian policemen will only be permitted handguns and must be vetted in advance by the Shin Beit are no more than meaningless pacifiers for Israeli fears.
A second demand is for an Israeli pledge that the IDF will cease its incursions into Palestinian towns.
The substantial reduction in West Bank-based Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel owes much to Israeli preventive operations and the roughly one-quarter of the defense barrier Israel’s High Court has allowed to go up. But it stems equally from a deal negotiated by Arafat’s henchmen with local Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades chiefs. For every Palestinian policeman posted on the beat, a Brigades gunman will be withdrawn and rewarded with sizeable “gifts” of thousands of shekels.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources note that Nablus is the real testing stone of Arafat’s suddenly-discovered authority. While much was made of the revolt in the Gaza Strip, Nablus has long been caught up in local rivalries between the city governor and mayor, on the one hand, and the feuding Fatah-al Aqsa gangs of the Casbah and the Balata refugee camp, on the other.
debkafile reveals: Those gangs are working on an improvised super-mortar shell designed to fly over Israel’s defense barrier and strike Israeli targets on the other side. The new weapon, estimated by our military sources as 60-70mm with a range of 2-3 km, was secretly test-fired Saturday night by Abd Saleh Sanakra, Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades chief in the Balata camp.
The Nablus gangs’ fervent determination to keep the terror war against Israel alive impedes all efforts to institute law and order in this largest of West Bank towns. But it does not prevent Arafat’s spokesmen, prime minister Ahmed Qureia, propagandist Saeb Erekat and some Palestinian security organization chiefs, with whom the Americans are directly in touch, from maintaining that the obstacle to a real lull in Palestinian terrorist violence is Israel’s slowness in meeting Palestinian demands.
2. The second process is going forward between the radical Hamas and Egypt. The Damascus-based Hamas executive Khaled Mashal was in Cairo last week for long discussions with Egyptian intelligence minister General Omar Suleiman on guidelines for the Islamic terror group’s operation after Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip. All that has been agreed thus far is that the Hamas will not impede Egyptian efforts to keep the territory calm. Hamas leaders believe they deserve credit for doing more than their bit by accepting constraints without demanding a deal: They have let Mussa Arafat’s security police take control of the northern sector, called off terrorist operations against Israelis, complied with a personal verbal request from Arafat to halt the Qassam barrage against southern Israel, and cooperated with Egypt’s reconciliation efforts.
Egypt, for its part, is keen on keeping Israel calm and confident enough to allow the way to be smoothed towards bringing Yasser Arafat back into the diplomatic process. To this end, Cairo has posted general intelligence units at the Sinai end of the Palestinian gunrunning tunnels.
A lot of this is just going through motions. But even token actions and half-measures for show are having good effects. Palestinian shooting attacks and bombings have dwindled, a hopeful symptom that will persist only as long as Arafat believes he has a chance of regaining recognition. But if not, he has fully retained the option of activating his armed police, suicide squads and new weaponry at any time it suits him.