Washington and Israel: Arafat’s Pursuit of War May Be Unstoppable
Ministers attended Israel’s security cabinet session in Jerusalem on Sunday did not argue with the grim evaluations offered by security and intelligence chiefs: No international or Arab force appears capable of stopping Arafat’s headlong pursuit of a Middle East war; he means to carry on his military and terrorist offensive against Israel whatever the consequences.
Those evaluations cover the Bush administration’s decision to break off contact with the Palestinian leader, regarding him as having lost touch with reality. That was also why the US did not demur when prime minister Ariel Sharon informed Washington of the coming F-16 fighter jet raids of Palestinian military targets on Friday and Saturday, according to debkafile‘s Washington sources. Sharon understood this response as tacit assent to stepping up the military pressure on the Palestinians, although the break-off point was not stated. Meanwhile the security cabinet authorized the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister to take any necessary military action without reconvening.
In weekend telephone conversations, US officials told their Israeli counterparts that all their efforts to persuade Egyptian. Saudi and Gulf leaders to exercise their influence on Arafat were unsuccessful. Some of the answers they received, especially in Riyadh, were that the Palestinian leader was in a state of euphoria and listened to no one. Some Gulf leaders reported back that the answer they received from Arafat was that he was in the process of redoubling his campaign of violence because the Israelis showed signs of breaking down.
Deputy Chief of Staff Brig.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon supports the impression gained from Arafat. Lecturing before a military forum Sunday, Yaalon stressed that the Palestinians, as well as Arab leaders, see in Israel a strong military power with sophisticated weaponry. But they regard Israeli society as pampered and self-indulgent. The Palestinians accordingly concentrate heavily on terrorist attacks against civilians.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources, summing up the events of the last few days, warn that if the Arab world, led by Egypt and the Saudis, does not hurry up and launch a determined effort to arrest the deterioration, it will be increasingly difficult to halt the slide into a regional war. The new Arab League Secretary, former Egyptian foreign minister Amer Moussa, threw regional fuel on the local fire in his first appearance before the Arab League’s monitoring committee of nine foreign ministers in Cairo Saturday. “For years we talked about the peace process;” he said, “Now we’re back to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Such radical talk in the Arab League quickly filters down to the Arab street, translated in a flash to rallying cries for jihad and mass anti-Israel disturbances in Arab cities. Arab regimes, especially those of uncertain stability, face the hard options of taking their lead from the street or suppressing the outcry by force.