US and Israeli Special Forces Try to Head Off Arafat’s Next Terror Offensive
Four men are now in Israel’s sights. Two – Yasser Arafat and Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi – are under siege in Ramallah.
The other two – Fatah-Tanzim militia chief Marwan Barghouti and Rashid Abu Shbak, deputy to Gaza preventative security chief Mohammed Dahlan – are running for their lives with Israeli intelligence services on their heels.
These manhunts take time. Palestinian bombmaker Yahya Ayyash was not caught in a day, while the world’s most wanted fugitive, al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, and his senior lieutenant, the notorious Imad Mughniyeh, continue to elude the most intensive pursuits.
A senior Israeli security source, asking to remain anonymous, told the Washington Post that Israel’s biggest mistake in the past 18 months of the Intifada was to show too much respect for the Palestinian Authority’s top executives. They were awarded VIP passes, weapons, their entree to the White House, money, territory, an airport, a seaport, health services and jobs.
Israel was repaid with lynching, explosives belts and a widening culture of suicide bombings.
Back in October 2000, debkafilewas the first to carry the transcript of a telephone conversation between Arafat and Barghouti, in which the Palestinian leader told the militia chief, “Kill – kill as many Jews as you can.”
Several days later, debkafilerevealed that Tirawi, the intelligence chief, had taken charge of the terror offensive on the Modi’in-Jerusalem highway, and that he and Barghouti had split up the terror orbit between them – the Ramallah-Jerusalem highway for Barghouti; the Modi’in-Jerusalem Route 443 for Tirawi.
Dahlan is the equal of any of the other four terror chiefs. debkafilewas again the first publication to take a close look at the Gaza security chief’s exploits in the long months of the Palestinian confrontation. An innovator, with a good scientific brain – if terrorism can be termed a science – it was Dahlan who first applied cellular telephones to triggering car bombs and explosive devices. He created the Palestinian “military industries”, that manufacture mortars and rockets. Most recently, Dahlan orchestrated the bomb-blasts that destroyed two Merkava-3 tanks.
Arafat also entrusted him with welcoming Hizbollah arrivals in the Gaza Strip.
All the same, not he but his deputy, Abu Shbak is the object of Israeli pursuit.
The Gaza terror executive has drawn an immunity card against a promise to the Americans and Israelis to kept the Gaza Strip calm as long as battles rage in the West Bank.
Overnight, bombings, infiltrations and shooting attacks have tapered off in the territory he controls. An unseen hand has miraculously silenced every rifle barrel and explosive. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have melted into the background, and talk of dialogue with their leaders instead of Arafat’s Fatah has dried up.
Dahlan believes that after the Israeli army cleanses the West Bank of terrorists, his big chance will come to take over that territory too. He has promised that he will bring tranquility there, like the Gaza Strip.
In more than half the world, meanwhile, Israeli is being condemned for its operation to purge terror. UN secretary general Kofi Annan and leaders in Europe, China and Japan, backed by vocal media, demand an immediate halt to Israel’s counter-terror offensive. On the other hand, the US leaders — President George W. Bush, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and secretary of state Colin Powell – sing a different tune. They are quietly supported by German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian president Vladimir Putin and British prime minister Tony Blair, who thus indirectly sanction the Israel action.
Arguments heard from opposition groups in Israel, contending that the Sharon government is taking on the whole world by continuing its offensive, are treated by the Israeli majority as self-serving rather than representing the true situation. Some Israeli media, for example, distorted US secretary of state Colin Powell’s latest message. He was represented as voicing a strong opinion against Arafat’s removal. All he said in fact, was that the Palestinian leader must not be forcibly deported. If Arafat chose to leave voluntarily, it would be perfectly acceptable to Washington.
One of his comments struck a note of hostility to the Palestinian leader: If Arafat moves somewhere else, he warned sternly, he will keep on doing there what he has been doing here. The implication was that those doings would not become more salutary if transplanted. Clearly, the US secretary of state is under no illusion about Arafat continuing his war of terror against Israel and the Jewish people wherever he goes.
To make sure the war situation does not zoom out of control, Washington has posted two very senior officers in the Israel-Palestinian arena: CIA chief George Tenet has been shuttling between Israel and other Middle East capitals, while former Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni remains in place even after he failed to secure a ceasefire.
Furthermore, debkafile reports that members of American special forces units have been spotted in undercover action for the first time. Sporting US special forces combat gear and weapons, they were seen moving against suspected terrorists during the battle around the monasteries and churches of Bethlehem on Wednesday, April 2.
When the moment came to extricate US and European citizens – some held hostage by Palestinian militants – US armored cars drove up through the streets of Bethlehem and well-armed American “security men” alighted to pick them up. Israel tanks, helicopters and drones provided cover for the five-hour operation to rescue all the foreign civilians stranded or held hostage in Bethlehem.
That was not their primary mission. debkafile ‘s military sources report that the US commando contingent is present for an undercover assignment that could determine the outcome of the entire Israeli military operation to root out the terrorist menace. Even Barghouti, Tirawi and Abu Shbak are secondary targets, belonging to the past. A new threat is posed by the foreign crack force Arafat has been able to smuggle into the country from Lebanon. It is made up of highly-trained fighters – Palestinian, Hizballah and al Qaeda. This group has been designated the special target of the US contingent.
This seek-and- destroy mission is underway in deep secrecy. But when it is over, Arafat’s latest threat will be exposed as having posed one of the most decisive confrontations of the global war against terror. US and Israeli commandos are now focusing all their strength on the effort to catch the infiltrators before they can do their worst.
President Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Arafat and Middle Eastern leaders have all suspended their next moves pending the outcome of this clash. Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld are defending the combined operation against critics the world over – some inside Israel too – so as to give Sharon and the US contingent the time it needs to complete its mission.