Sharon of Arafat: from “Irrelevant” to “Bitter Enemy”

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon responded with alacrity to the call voiced Sunday, January 6, by chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz for a re-examination of the strategy governing Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority and its head. Mofaz urged an immediate government review in the light of the alarming quantity of illicit Iranian arms bound for the Palestinian Authority aboard the freighter Israel captured Thursday, evidence that Yasser Arafat and his regime had joined the international terrorist conspiracy led by Hizballah and Iran.
“Had 62 122 mm Katyusha rockets with a range of 20 km reached the Palestinian Authority,” said Mofaz, “they would have threatened population centers deep inside Israel – not to mention the damage caused by two and a half tons of the most advanced type of explosives.”
Sharon promised an early cabinet session to decide the issue. Later, the prime minister appeared with Mofaz and defense minister Binyamin ben Eliezer at a news conference in Eilat naval harbor, after inspecting the rows of menacing weaponry unloaded from the Karine-A that Israeli naval commandos boarded two days earlier in the Red Sea.
Addressing the media, he accused Arafat of underhandedly moderating Palestinian violence in the last few weeks – only to prepare a fresh wave of terror with vastly improved weaponry. “He lied when he called a truce while at the same time taking his campaign of terror up to a new level. Arafat has not only made himself irrelevant, but also Israel’s bitter enemy.”
debkafile notes that, a month ago, Sharon tagged Arafat irrelevant, after which his helicopters and runways were destroyed and he was condemned every since to virtual house arrest in Ramallah. By the same token, naming him enemy – even a self-made one – ought to lead to military and legal consequences. The Israeli government will be convened this week to decide what they are.
Time and time again, the Sharon government like its predecessor has shied away from naming the Palestinian Authority enemy or labeling its uprising belligerence. The Israeli military has been saddled with the task of fighting Palestinian terrorism and aggression with one hand tied behind its back, a predicament Mofaz clearly hopes to unscramble at last.
Israel’s top general had his list ready. He named Adal Mugrabi, head of the Palestinian Authority’s arms procurement department, as the man who purchased the arms ship in Lebanon for $400,000; Fathi Razam, deputy commander of the Palestinian naval police and right hand of top PA officials, as organizer of the arms smuggling operation. The two made the contacts with Iran and the Hizballah.
Fouad Shubaki, the PA’s financial director, organized the finances; Omar Akawi, colonel in the PA’s naval police, to which the 13-man crew also belonged, captained the freighter. Israel was now questioning the crew. Akawi, said the Israeli general, had made a full confession with full details of the arms-running conspiracy.
The crew was flown from to Port Sudan, then to Yemen, Dubai and the Iranian island of Kish, where the weapons cargo was loaded on the Karine-A. The ship was destined to carry the war materiel through the Suez Canal to the Sinai coast, from which it would have been offloaded to smaller vessels for delivery to the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Mofaz referred mysteriously to another stop en route.
debkafile‘s analysts find four significant points in the Karine-A episode:
1. Talk of reviving the diplomatic process or peace negotiations with the Palestinian leader has yet again proved illusive. Arafat declared war on Israel in September 2000, has never wavered from that course and has no intention of doing so, whatever the cost to himself in the region or outside it.
2. Except for the odd exception, all the weapons found in the Karine-A hold are well represented in the Palestinian Authority’s Gaza Strip and West Bank armories – although perhaps in smaller quantities. Stacked there are secret and illegal stores of Katyusha long- and short-range surface rockets, long- and short-range mortar bombs, anti-tank mines, C-4 explosives, Sagger and LAW anti-tank rockets, all made ready to be brought out right after Arafat declared his war of liberation.
3. The loading of the Kareine-A on the Iranian island of Kish confutes the attempts in some Israeli circles to demonstrate that Iran is governed by two divergent forces – a moderate Khatami presidency, which wants to recognize Israel, versus the hard-line spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
4. Everyone, even the blunt-spoken chief of staff, General Mofaz, fights shy of mentioning Egypt’s role. But the Palestinian arms ship could never have passed through theSuez Canal without Egyptian security identifying its cargo. Ever since Libya sabotaged Suez Canal traffic in 1985 by strewing mines in its waters, special detectors along the canal’s banks pick up any weapons and explosives going through. Arafat would never have tried without making prior arrangements with the Egyptian authorities.
This ties in with another question relating to Egypt’s observance of its peace accord with Israel:
Why did Palestinian naval intelligence operatives count on being allowed to unload their arms ship at El Arish, an Egyptian town located on the Mediterranean coast of Sinai? Where is the Egyptian navy? And what about the Egyptian police?
Furthermore, Israel has counted 14 hidden Palestinian tunnels carrying smuggled weapons from Sinai into the Gaza Strip under Rafah and Khan Younes. This has being going on for many months. Why do the Egyptians not block the tunnels at their end? And why does no one offer any protest to Cairo?
General Mofaz should therefore not be overly sanguine in his hopes of a strategic turnaround by the politicians. In all the eight years since Israel signed its 1993 Oslo peace framework accords with the Palestinians, no Israeli government has ever made any strategic decision beyond giving Arafat yet another last chance to mend his ways, after each wave of terrorist attacks.
Sharon did perhaps afford a glimpse of his intentions when he suggested that the arms delivery to the Palestinians might have been intended to dovetail with the thousands of Katyusha rockets the Hizballah points at Israel from Lebanon. One possibility the Israeli prime minister may have in mind is that theUnited States will execute a strike against the Hizballah, while Israel at the same time settles its scores with the Palestinian Authority.

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