Powell Refocuses on Tehran-Baghdad-Beirut-Damascus-Ramallah Axis Ahead of Arafat Issue

Two events on Friday, April 12, reshaped US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s conception of his peace mission to the Middle East: his tour of Israel’s tense northern border region, which he termed “an eye opener”; and the suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem that blasted a bus line – just as his helicopter lifted off from the Knesset helipad only a quarter of a mile away, killing six Sabbath Eve market shoppers and injuring 89.
Landing in the Israel-Lebanese border sector, he was greeted by a group of generals past and present like himself: defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, the designated (currently deputy) chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen Gaby Ashkenazi.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the briefings the visitor from Washington received covered the following developments:
A. The Iranian missile and ammo airlift to the Hizballah, which is running from Bandar Abbas via Damascus military airport. Tehran is keeping the Lebanese Shiite group amply re-supplied with the means to keep up the almost daily cross-border barrage into Israel. The offensive was launched two weeks ago, with the 8,000 rockets the Hizballah received from Iran. The Iranian transports are allowed to cross Iraqi airspace and refuel at Iraqi bases.
B. Iran has stuffed Hizballah accounts in Syrian banks with millions of dollars to fund operations.
C. Iranian Revolutionary Guards, several hundred of whom are posted in Lebanon, have helped Hizballah mortar and rocket crews improve their accuracy manifold. The wonder is that there have been no more than half a dozen Israeli casualties.
D. Iraq and Iran are bound by secret military pacts, as are Iraq and Syria. Both have been activated to coordinate the operations of their air and missile forces.
E. Despite their public denials, both Syria and Iran continue their active and direct sponsorship of terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. Ahmed Jibril’s hardline Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestinian – General Command, which is controlled by Syrian military intelligence, has been given free rein to launch Katyusha attacks against and terrorist incursions into Israel from Syrian soil, in unison with Hizballah assaults. Syrian intelligence used terrorist elements in Lebanon last month for a deadly ambush on a main highway in north Galilee, in which seven Israelis were shot dead.
Syria has also become a back door for smuggling Hizballah and al Qaeda fighters into the West Bank through the Golan Heights – as well as weapons and explosives.
In Lebanon, agents run by the senior al Qaeda operations officer, the Iranian-Lebanese terror master Imad Mughniyeh, are busy plotting terrorist strikes against US and Israel targets around he Gulf and Middle East, as part of the overall campaign. Al Qaeda militants transferring from Iraq, Iran and the Gulf to Lebanon are granted free passage through Damascus. They are limited to a 12-hour stay and forbidden to use the Syrian capital’s hotels.
F. Some of the al Qaeda groups, including Kurdish tribesmen, have joined the ranks of the Hizballah and the Palestinian units based in Palestinian refugee camps in south Lebanon.
G. Baghdad regards the Palestinian confrontation with Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Iraq’s first line of defense against a US assault; Iran views Lebanon in similar terms.
Arafat is kept in the picture by his allies – Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Hizballah. When the secretary of state said he had been given an eye opener, Yasser Arafat, understood his allies had been handed a grave caution. From his place of siege in Ramallah, the Palestinian leader therefore produced a lukewarm, equivocal condemnation of terror – not in his voice and without mention of suicide bombers. While the White House spokesman emphasized its condemnation by referring to those terrorists as “homicide bombers”, in the sense of murderers, Arafat regards them as martyrs.
The homicidal-suicidal bombing attacks will therefore go on. Israeli security is back on high alert, especially in Jerusalem, after the few days’ respite granted by Israel’s military operation against Palestinian cities, on guard for trouble as Israel’s Independence Day approaches on Tuesday April 16.
With the same sort of double standard, the Syrian and Iranian governments insist that they are not involved in terror.
debkafile‘s sources report that for the first time Powell may have realized that the rapid war escalation in the Middle East has gone too far to be stopped by words and diplomacy. This acceptance will affect the Bush administration’s determination to avoid its global war on terror bringing Washington into collision with the Arab world, whose leaders told Powell they did not consider Arafat’s suicidal killers to be terrorists and murderers.
It is too soon to tell if Powell’s change of perception is fundamental or subject to the Bush administration’s policy vacillations. For now, Washington appears to have pulled away from the Arab-European efforts to rescue Arafat and his shrinking clique. In the view of debkafile‘s Middle East experts, therefore, whether or not the Powell-Arafat encounter in Ramallah comes off or not is of diminishing consequence given the large picture of events marching forward in the region. Washington has reshuffled its agenda and placed high up the goal of breaking – or at least fracturing – the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Palestinian alignment ranging itself as a forward bulwark against an American attack on Baghdad.
The Palestinian military line was cracked in the middle when Jenin fell to the IDF this week. Now the Hizballah line in Lebanon comes into US focus.

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