Sharon’s Bid to Prop Up Abu Mazen Fails
Mahmoud Abbas knew his vow was hollow when he promised the March 1 London conference on Palestinian Reforms a 100 percent effort to prevent the recurrence of attacks like the February 25 Tel Aviv suicide bombing that killed five Israelis. He therefore tossed the ball to Israel, saying that without direct talks and progress towards a state there would be a return to violence.
That statement contained three major fallacies: One, the Palestinians do not possess the most rudimentary institutions for statehood. Two, Palestinian violence never stopped; nor was the Sharm el Sheikh ceasefire really observed. Three, even if progress were made in direct talks, Abbas is incapable of preventing violence.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that Saturday, February 26, a day after the Tel Aviv suicide attack, Abu Mazen dispatched his newly-appointed interior security minister, Gen. Nasser Yousef, to the bomber’s home district of Tulkarm on the West Bank to report on the security situation there.
His findings were shocking. He found nary a reliable security force or even a commander for Abu Mazen to rely on. The preventive security service was an empty shell. Tawfiq Tirawi’s intelligence agency and Bashir Nafa’s special forces were by now indistinguishable from the terrorist coalition ruling the sector, tightly associated with al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and other radical Palestinian terrorist fronts. Tulkarm was only one example. The West Bank at large is devoid of forces capable of fighting terror, imposing law and order or even protecting Abu Mazen in person.
In Jenin, a rampant hotbed of terror, the new minister was greeted with shots in the air by members of the ruling Fatah’s Al Aqsa Brigades. Their chieftain Zecharia Zbeidi told General Nasser he was not wanted in Jenin.
Coasting on hot air, Abbas declared in London he would end “armed chaos,” a pledge that impressed world leaders as a sign of new hope for Middle East peace.
But as things stand now, the new US security coordinator, Lt. Gen. William Ward, will have nothing to coordinate. Palestinian security and even policing capabilities will have to built from scratch. In the meantime, Palestinian terrorists are not letting the grass grow under their feet.
Conscious of his weakness, Abu Mazen, before he left for London, quietly asked Israeli prime minister Sharon and defense minister Mofaz through his intermediaries for permission to let two Palestinian Badr Force battalions cross in from Jordan and deploy on the West Bank.
Revealing this, debkafile‘s sources add that the units are comprised of young recruits aged 18-27 from Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, who are now in intensive military training. Sharon and Mofaz consulted Israel’s generals, who held up their hands in horror at the prospect of another 1,600 hostile Palestinians entering the West Bank in addition to the thousands of gunmen running loose in the guise of “security” officers. Since they had not been screened, there was no way of knowing which side the Jordanian Palestinian troops would join. Even scarier, Iraqi insurgents or even al Qaeda combatants may well have infiltrated the Badr battalions and be eager to seize the rare chance of setting up bases in the lawless Palestinian West Bank.
Israel’s answer was therefore a firm no.
Abu Mazen came up with another idea.
He requested Israel’s permission to import two high-profile Palestinian hard-liners. The relocation of Palestinian general Mohammed Jihad from Jordan to the West Bank would render him assistance in whipping the security forces into shape. Jihad lives in Amman because he refused live in the West Bank after the Palestinians signed the Oslo interim peace accords with Israel in 1993. The other request was for Abu Maher Renam, head of the PLO organizational department in Tunis and a former ally of radical Farouk Kaddoumi, to be allowed to enter the West Bank to take charge of the July 17 Palestinian legislative election.
Both of these extremists are undesirables as far as Israel is concerned.
In any case, Sharon is in no longer in a hurry to accommodate Abu Mazen, who since he took the reins of government on Arafat’s death has talked the talk but he has not walked the walk. Israeli intelligence experts have warned the Israeli prime minister that the more he tries to help Abu Mazen, the less things will change in the West Bank and terrorism will only increase.
This prognosis is unfolding day by day.
Two days, after the climactic Tel Aviv bombing, a remote-controlled car bomb packed with hundreds of kilos of explosives was fortunately discovered parked at the roadside near the settlement of Mevo Dotan in the West Bank, waiting for an Israeli bus to pass. The terrorists behind the attempt to kill dozens of Israelis were captured after a massive manhunt. The car was detonated safely in a huge cloud of flame.
The night before the London conference, Palestinian gunmen ambushed and wounded two Israelis on security patrol near Menorah, not far from the Israeli city of Modiin. Security officials believe the terrorists originally planned a nocturnal raid in Menorah. Only a week earlier, three terrorist squads were intercepted – two in the Jerusalem area — on their way to carry out suicide bombings or shootings.
On March 1, Israeli military forces discovered and blew up an explosives laboratory in the village of al-Amoun near the West Bank city of Jenin. The laboratory contained equipment for the production of Qassam missile launchers. One missile was ready for testing. This was not the first Qassam workshop found in the West Bank, evidence that Palestinian terrorists are preparing to turn the West Bank into a second Gaza Strip – only this time, instead of small Negev towns like Sderot the cities of Israel’s heartland are to be targeted.
The laboratory was buried seven meters deep under a metal workshop. It also served as a store for pile of explosives, sacks of fertilizer – raw material for bombs – and seven pipe bombs.
In the Gaza Strip, two bombs weighing 40 kilos each were found in time at the Karni goods crossing into Israel, which the Sharon government had reopened after two deadly terrorist attacks, as one of several goodwill gestures to prop up Abu Mazen’s authority.
None of this reality was visible at the London conference; nor did it intrude on the smooth speeches delivered there by its host, British prime ministerTony Blair, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice or UN secretary Kofi Annan.
But the attacks – most thwarted by luck or efficient Israeli counter-terror action – caught Sharon and Mofaz unawares. The fresh offensive put a stop to their attempts to contain the damage to their dealings with Abu Mazen by pointing the finger at Islamic Jihad as being responsible for the resurgence of terrorist operations. Truth is the organization is no longer an independent entity, having been swallowed up by the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah. But it was a convenient stratagem for salvaging Abu Mazen’s pacific image as long as the attacks emanated from the Tulkarm or Jenin hotbeds. The ambush on the green line near Modiin no longer fit the case.
Sharon’s attempts to prop up Yasser Arafat’s successor have collapsed, and Blair and Rice have now stepped in to keep Abu Mazen afloat. Sharon will have to decide whether he should bother to toss him a new life preserver.