Sharon Rescues Arafat
The facility with which Sharon’s backtracked on his 7-day ceasefire demand of Arafat and his acceptance of a Peres-Arafat encounter under fire – raise deep concerns over Israel’s standing in the broad anti-terrorist coalition led by Washington, according debkafile ‘s political analysts.
In the middle of his war of terror against Israel, the Palestinian leader was brought low and his violent methods fortuitously exposed and discredited worldwide by a savage terrorist attack against America. He came begging for a lifeline from… his victims. Inexplicably, Sharon extended it to him by accepting his promise to halt the violence. That promise predictably proved as worthless as the last three he proffered. Nonetheless, weary Israeli troops once again pulled out of Palestinian areas and were ordered to cease offensive action – the while Palestinian shooting attacks continued unabated, even as Arafat solemnly announced his latest “commitment”.
Those attacks were not carried out by the extremist Hamas and Jihad Islami groups, which quickly rejected his stratagem, but by his own Fatah-Tanzim and Palestinian Authority “police” forces, exactly as before. Dozens of grenades hailed on Israeli positions guarding the Israel-Egyptian frontier against arms runners and smugglers; gunfire rattled in Nablus, Gush Etzion, Hebron, Bethlehem, the main West Bank road junction north of Ramallah, and Gaza Strip settlements.
The statement by US President George W. Bush Tuesday that “we have had very positive developments in the Middle East” was far removed from the terrorist violence crashing unabated in Middle East ears.
Yasser Arafat did not even bother to renounce terrorism or his confrontation with Israel. All he promised was an “intense effort” to bring calm. Nonetheless his sleight of hand worked as effectively as ever before and the Israel government buckled.
The difference this time was that the Palestinian leader was truly cornered. Israel had a unique chance to move in for the coup de grace. Arafat would have bid much higher for what he needed at that moment. Like all the Arab leaders in the region, he desperately needed to buy time to find his feet in the up and coming world war declared by the United States against world terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.
This exigency sent the junior Arab rulers, President Bashar Assad of Syria and Jordan’s King Abdullah, rushing to confer Tuesday, September 18, with Saudi rulers in Jeddah and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Sharm El-Sheikh. What they saw in the last 24 hours was a Washington plainly preparing the ground for action against Iraq, a fellow Arab nation and member of the Arab League. The disclosure by US official sources that one of the suicide pilots whose plane struck the World Trade Center in New York last Tuesday had met the Iraqi military intelligence chief in Europe some months earlier was no slip of the tongue. Neither was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s comment that capture of the Saudi millionaire-terrorist Osama Bin Laden would not deal with those who shelter terrorists or his organization. “Clearly the problem is much bigger than Bin Laden,” he noted.
Arab leaders therefore have to face the unpleasant prospect of an unrelenting US-led anti-terror war coming down hard on the terrorist bases and connections thriving unscathed till now in parts of the Arab world.
The US campaign’s first stage may entail the landings of US, British and French forces in Iraq, which Egypt may be called upon to join. In later stages, those troops may be dropped over Lebanon to wipe out the terror- launching bases of the militant Shiite Hizballah, the Palestinian Jihad Islami and the extremist Palestinian “Fronts”, led by George Habash and Ahmed Jibril, going on from there to hit the same targets in Damascus – unless Assad obeys the American ultimatum and rids himself of their presence first.
The only Arab terrorist leader who has bought himself immunity – and done so on the cheap – is Yasser Arafat, courtesy of Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon and his foreign minister Shimon Peres, even though, according to the figures added up by Israeli chief of staff Brig. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, Arafat’s followers have been directly responsible for the deaths of 70 Israelis since last September, while another 90 have died on his direct orders.
Those orders went out to the Palestinian leader’s own “presidential guard” Force 17, the Tanzim-Fatah militiamen, the Islamic Hamas and Jihad Islami and their suicide bombers, the Hizballah cells he imported from Lebanon and the Iraqi military intelligence officers, who specialize in the lynch-murders of Israeli civilians. Those soldiers of terror are as active as they ever were.
Yet Sharon, who two days ago called Yasser Arafat “our Bin Laden”, has wiped the slate clean in time to rescue him from the world’s anti-terrorist wrath.
This act may have suited the American interest in broadening its coalition against Bin Laden.
But where does it leave Israel?
Most of debkafile ‘s political sources believe Israel has missed its footing disastrously on two counts:
1. Instead of exploiting Arafat’s distress and fighting the Palestinian uprising to the finish at last, Israeli leaders chose to step back into his toils. The bloody toll of Arafat’s campaign of terror, of which Mofaz at least keeps careful count, will continue to rise as the Palestinian leader produces one feeble excuse after another to explain why his truce “pledges” are never upheld.
2. Israel, by its show of weakness in the face of guileful terror, may have forfeited the power to determine its role in the coming confrontation, or simply missed the boat. Israelis lining up for their gas masks this week sensed the looming threat of an Iraqi attack that Israel has rendered itself powerless to answer – a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War. By giving Arafat his lifeline, Israel may have seriously compromised its own.