No Abbas Pledge to Fight Terror – Despite Palestinian Karni Attack and Israeli Diplomatic Cutoff

This time, Israel turned aside from its standard knee-jerk response of massive military punishment and targeted assassinations to Palestinian terrorist outrages – at least for the moment. Instead, prime minister Ariel Sharon resorted to diplomatic retaliation: he ordered preparations for a meeting with new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas broken off, government contacts with the new Palestinian administration cut, support for European economic aid to reach the Palestinians withdrawn, and the Gaza Strip sealed off from its vital supplies of food and medicines.
debkafile‘s political sources report that Jerusalem relayed word of these steps to Elliot Abrams, head of the Middle East Desk at the US national security council, and to British premier Tony Blair’s office.
All three crossings at Karni (goods), Erez (people) and Rafah (to Egypt), set up under the 1993 Oslo accords to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, have been attacked since Abbas emerged as the Palestinians’ coming man. These attacks claimed 19 Israeli casualties and cost the 4,000 Palestinians employed at the shared industrial zone of Erez their jobs.
Sharon’s messages to allies stressed that enough Palestinian Authority armed personnel served on its side of the Karni border terminal to have detained the truck loaded with 150 kilos of explosives before it blew a hole through the wall to the Israeli side. Three suicide bombers then burst in shooting and hurling grenades, leaving 6 airport-border authority personnel dead and 5 injured five minutes before they ended their shift, which was extended as an Israeli concession to Palestinian requests. Israeli security guards shot back at the raiders killing all three, whereupon heavy Palestinian mortar and automatic fire opened up on the damaged facility to hinder the evacuation of casualties. The entire facility is now a pile of rubble. Three of the victims were breadwinners from Sderot, the small Israeli town battered almost daily by Palestinian Qassam missiles from the Gaza Strip where jobs are scarce.
The remark tossed off by Abbas might have come from his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He condemned the Karni attack and Israel’s military counter-terror raids in the same breath. His avowed policy of negotiation rather than confrontation with Palestinian terrorists – aimed at best at a temporary ceasefire – is taken to mean he would rather confront Israel than get to grips with the terrorists organizations, even though at least one member of the new front, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is part of his own Fatah.
Postponement of a meeting with Abbas was inevitable anyway because of the long list of Israeli concessions he demands to buy his consent to this meeting.
This was the comment of the outgoing US secretary of state Colin Powell’s comment on Sharon’s steps late Friday, January 14: What Sharon did, I hope temporarily, is to say we welcome you, Abbas, but you’ve got to get these terrorists under control.
debkafile‘s political analysts believe that the key word here is “temporarily.” The prime minister is not expected to withstand the pressure to retract the punitive measures he announced Friday for more than a few days.
They point out that his power-sharing arrangement with the dovish Labor is less than a week old. It was set up for the single purpose of staying in power long enough to execute controversial withdrawals from Gaza and the northern West Bank to which both are committed. Sharon did not consult his new deputy, Labor leader Shimon Peres, before severing ties with the Palestinians, knowing it would not have been approved.
News of the Karni attack caught the new partners deep in debate on “legal” and “democratic” measures for cracking down on opponents to the uprooting of Jewish settlements. Labor minister Haim Ramon proposed field tribunal courts to mete out speedy justice to anti-evacuation activists; Likud justice minister Tsipi Livneh suggested cameras for troops to gather photographic evidence against these activists. Defense minister Shaul Mofaz demanded a more active role for the justice establishment in breaking up the resistance which is expected to be massive.
The meeting had no time to spare to consider this week’s home defense command report to the Knesset interior committee stating that Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would expose 46 Israeli Negev locations to missile attack; combined with the pullback from the northern West Back, disengagement would place the entire national power supply – from Ashkelon and from Hadera – under Palestinian bombs, guns and missiles, together with the densely populated central Israeli towns of Hadera, Kfar Saba and their environs.
This week too, Israel’s supreme court suspended the security barrier route, after it was revised once by a previous court ruling, defending north Jerusalem against incursions from Ramallah.
After the Sharon disengagement plan goes through, therefore, parts of Jerusalem, seat of Israeli government and parliament, will be as wide open to direct attack from adjacent Palestinian areas as Sderot is at present. The pullbacks are set to begin this coming July. Deputy prime minister Peres announced Saturday, July 15, that what he calls euphemistically the “population redistribution” would take eight months.
While Israeli ministers bandied words, the new terror front set up by seven Palestinian terrorist groups – with a heavy increment of security personnel on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll – launched a full-scale military operation at the Karni terminal.
According to debkafile‘s military experts, more than 100 people prepared and participated in the attack. This begs the question: where was Israeli intelligence? Why was there no alert for the Karni attack when less than a month ago, on December 12, the Rafah crossing was blown up and 5 members of the desert reconnaissance brigade killed? As to the Erez crossing, it is under daily assault.
The answer is simple. The IDF is not present in the Gaza Strip at large; it has withdrawn to strategic pockets at the territory’s extremities. An intelligence vacuum has been created inside the Palestinian population which leaves the terrorists free to plot and prepare surprise action and maintain their cross-border mortar and missile offensive undisturbed and undiscovered.
The logical conclusions from this lacuna fall on deaf ears in the present political climate in Jerusalem: Abu Mazen is termed weak and in need of time – or even concessions – before he can deal with the terrorists. All government resources are moreover hell-bent on projects for pulling the settlers out of Gaza and the northern West Bank and disarming resistance at home to these projects. The new Palestinian leader’s virtual rejection of Sharon’s disengagement in his swearing-in speech (“no to interim measures”) in Ramallah on Saturday, January 15, likewise went unheeded.
Nevertheless, these conclusions must be stated:
1. Since Israeli forces have already withdrawn from an active presence in the Gaza Strip, barring northern and southern pockets at Gush Katif, Netzarim and the Philadelphi border with Egypt, why do Sharon, Peres and Ramon keep on harping on the populist pledge “to bring our boys home”?
2. The IDF poised on Gaza’s fringes cannot stop Palestinian terrorists pulling off lethal attacks like the one at Karni or persistent cross-border missile and mortar barrages. So what will happen when the coast is completely clear? An authoritative post-disengagement prognosis was offered on January 4 by Shin Beit domestic intelligence Director Avi Dichter to a Knesset committee: The Gaza Strip will become a second Lebanon, he said, and the northern West Bank a second Gaza.
3. How will this scale of Palestinian warfare be handled by the new Sharon cabinet? Given Arafat’s successor and long-time deputy’s avowed preference for confronting Israel rather than the terrorists, nothing will prevent Gazan hotbeds from spilling over to the West Bank and threatening Israel’s heartland. Will the Sharon government and military command treat a Palestinian blitz against Kfar Saba or Hadera in the same spirit as they do the attacks on tiny beleaguered Sderot?
The new Sharon cabinet is in no mood to answer questions that might penetrate its rose spectacles, despite their cardinal national and economic implications.
A last question applies to Israel’s massive expenditure of clout and cash in Abbas’ election on January 9 and the loud trumpeting of his victory. The ordinary Palestinian knows that Abu Mazen would not have won – at least in the first round – had a true count of the ballots been carried out by the central elections committee. As debkafile reported on the day, hundreds of ballot boxes never reached the counting center in Ramallah.
And indeed, Saturday, January 15, three members of Palestinian central elections committee suddenly resigned, alleging irregularities in the voting and ballot tally procedures. They warned similar violations were planned to prejudge the outcome of the July parliamentary election as well.
But why, if the winner is too weak to deal with the terrorists – as his apologists now contend – invest so heavily in his election?
Palestinian tacticians take this and other Israel government actions unrelated to reality as an Israeli weakness which they intend to exploit. The terrorist groups are unified more than ever before for a sharp escalation of war operations against Israel. At the Karni crossing, they demonstrated an ability to jointly mount a smooth, paramilitary operation. In Arafat’s day, the groups operated separately but were united by a single common goal. Now they are working together – not for one but three objectives: to kill large numbers of Jews as an end in itself – as before – but also for self-aggrandizement and a means of cutting Abbas down prior to getting rid of him.

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