Will US General William Ward Succeed Better than the Coordinators and Mediators Before Him?
The Middle East should have had its fill by now of summits, ceasefires, peace talks, diplomatic processes, security coordinators, mediators, demands for confidence-building gestures, concessions, – all burned to a cinder by relentless hostilities. Yet, unlike the skeptical Palestinians, many Israelis are strangely upbeat as yet another round of the same game begins, kicked off by a new referee, Condoleezza Rice.
She not only spent Sunday and Monday, February 6-7, talking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah, but announced the appointment of a new security coordinator, Lt. Gen. William E. (Kip) Ward, present deputy commander of US Ground Forces in Europe.
Tuesday, February 8, the inevitable summit follows at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, scene of more than one Middle East peace flop in the past. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Abu Mazen, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah will come together for a few brief hours, which are not expected to produce much more than a litany of promises, including an endemically fragile ceasefire.
The ringing tones of Rice’s call for a “viable contiguous Palestinian state” with enough land to function in a relationship with Jordan and its other neighbors, had been modified by the time she landed in the Middle East, making way for more diplomatic generalities (“Israel must make hard decisions.”) In the intervening two weeks, she had been briefed on Mahmoud Abbas’s frail hold on Palestinian rule and the diminishing expectations from the Sharm summit. To hedge the bet it has riding on the new Palestinian leader, the Bush administration decided not to send a top official to Sharm.
debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that Lt. Gen William E. (Kip) Ward, the American security coordinator just appointed, is no stranger to international crises and terrorist environments.
In the early 1990s, he served in Somalia as commander of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light) Fort Drum when America sent the Marines in to quell the Somali militias attacking UN peacekeepers. It was only on October 3, 1993, in the big battle in Mogadishu market, that American commanders discovered they were fighting al Qaeda units alongside the Somalis. In February 1994, US forces quit Somalia for good.
After a stint as Assistant Division Commander (Support with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, Ward was attached to the US Embassy in Cairo as chief of military cooperation, an extra-sensitive posting given Egypt’s position as American regional military and intelligence hub.
After holding senior staff positions in the United States, he was appointed early 2000 to Sarajevo as commander of the Stabilisation Force, Operation Joint Forge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On July 18, 2003, “Kip” told visiting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers that the day to day situation in Bosnia is stable and peaceful. “But that is not irreversible. What we need to continue to do in this country is implement those reforms that will make the country more stable.” The Bosnians need to reform their economic and tax systems, the country needs to implement defense reforms and stress the rule of law for all citizens.
By replacing “Bosnians” with Palestinians, he might as well have been talking about the task ahead in Ramallah. It is also important to note that in all the various trouble spots where Ward served with great distinction, terrorism has remained an abiding fact of life. Central and northeast Somalia is still controlled by tribes which allow al Qaeda a springboard for terrorizing the Horn and Eastern Africa. Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia still abound with free-roaming al Qaeda-linked Islamist, Iranian and Saudi terrorist cells and provide corridors for terrorist and criminal gangs from Russia, Albania and East Europe (especially Bulgaria) to access central and West Europe. In Egypt and Jordan, as in Kuwait and in Oman, al Qaeda bands are increasingly audacious in challenging national security forces.
The situation General will encounter in the Palestinian Authority is just as uncontrolled. New PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas proudly claimed Monday to the US secretary of state that he was declaring a ceasefire on behalf of all the Palestinian organizations, adding euphemistically – “but there is still much to do.”
Members of Rice’s party could not hide their skepticism.
The fact is that the night before the Sharm summit, which has been billed as the stage for a mutual ceasefire declaration, not a single Palestinian terrorist group had come out in support of Abbas’ truce initiative – whether the Hamas, the Jihad Islami, the Fatah’s al Aqsa Brigades, or the Palestinian “Fronts.” They were still not willing to discuss more than a lull, reserving a free to resume fire when and where they would. Since Abbas lacks the authority to impose a ceasefire, he can hardly be expected to go all the way and disarm the terrorists. Indeed, even in his own Fatah faction, he is fighting for his political life.
This means that in order to seriously tackle the task of consolidating Palestinian security and intelligence, expanding their counter-terror operations, coordinating with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, the American general must make do with the military staff levels in Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, and Abu Mazen’s bureau in Ramallah.
General Ward will not be the first high-ranking military man Washington has tasked with curing Middle East ills.
At the end of 2001, US Marine General Anthony Zinni arrived on a similar mission. It was short-lived. On March 17, 2002, debkafile wrote that any ceasefire mediated between Arafat and Sharon will be lucky to last long enough to get itself announced because the Israelis and Palestinians have attained a precarious military tie in hostilities. Sure enough, in April 22, the Palestinians launched a major terror offensive, beginning with the Passover Massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya. This triggered the large scale Israeli Defensive Wall counter-terror operation to root out terrorist lairs in the West Bank. Amid the thunder and fury of war, Gen. Zinni quietly left.
A similarly unresolved situation exists today in the Palestinian-Israeli war – tilting in Israel’s disfavor, because the Palestinian terrorist attacks and Qassam missile onslaught in January met no Israeli response. The Palestinian side was thus left with the last word.
And who still remembers the US special mediatory/emissary John Wolfe who several times in 2003 tried his hand fruitlessly at bringing the war to an end? Before him, Senator John Mitchell, former CIA director George Tenet and even Colin Powell came and went, to mention just a few of the would-be American peacemakers..
The trouble is that these missions plant unrealistically high hopes. On the day Rice took off for Europe, throwing out the announcement of General Ward’s appointment, she also left the false impression that the Bush administration was fully re-engaged in the Middle East after a long pause. However, in all her statements and interviews, she stressed that Washington wanted no more than a watching brief for the diplomatic initiative started up by Sharon and Mubarak. The parties must be left to negotiate directly, she insisted. US assistance to the Palestinians would be confined to the security and economic spheres. By clearly defining the terms of US engagement, she also cut down the risk of failure.
Even General Ward’s mission is not unconditional. Abu Mazen has been presented with a tough rite of passage: He must display enough credibility and clout to arrest and put on trial the Palestinian bombers who murdered three American security agents escorting a US diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2003. Washington made this demand repeatedly of Yasser Arafat and was ignored. Abbas will have to rise to meet this demand to pay for further US support.