NEWS

War drums sounding across the Middle East

Three Israeli missiles struck a security station 20 meters from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s office within the walled compound yesterday, one day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adopted the Bush doctrine against terror and appeared ready to walk the warpath against the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Arafat. The attacks were carried out hours after another round of missile attacks by Israeli helicopter gunships and warplanes on Monday night against security offices in the West Bank and at the security compound near Arafat’s presidential palace in the Gaza Strip, destroying two of his transport helicopters and injuring 30 Palestinians. Israeli tanks had also reportedly taken strategic positions around Gaza. This escalation of attacks by Israel followed a weekend of suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa that killed 25 Israelis and injured hundreds more. The two sides appeared to be heading toward an all-out war, sounding the war drums across the entire Middle East region. Moments before Sharon convened a special security cabinet meeting on Monday night to explore a military plan against the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Arafat, the Israeli prime minister told his nation in a televised address that war has been declared on us and stressing that Arafat is responsible for everything that is happening here. Arafat has made his strategic choice, a strategy of terrorism, trying to win political gains through murder, allowing the killing of innocent civilians, Sharon said. This view is shared by Boaz Ganor, an Israeli counterterrorism expert who served as a consultant to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared that Arafat never used all of his ability, even some of his ability, against these terrorist organizations, namely the Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon at the Israeli Embassy in Athens, Ganor, who is also director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism at Herzliya, Israel, said that Arafat has the ability to launch or halt terrorist attacks and that he is the chief motivator for the two terrorist organizations. He has a very interesting tactic of threat and persuasion at times when he wanted to halt a terrorist attack, and in other times it was very clear to them that he would turn a blind eye as they would execute any terrorist attacks, Ganor underlined. In explaining his view that Arafat has full knowledge of the attacks that are carried out by members of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, he noted that he has the best intelligence on the activities of these groups compared with that of any other foreign intelligence service. There is no intelligence organization in the world which has better intelligence on the Palestinian arena than Arafat, he claimed. He has more than seven branches of intelligence. He knows everything that is going on. He knows that a leader of Hamas is the brother of one of the heads of his own security, they eat dinner together. He can use his intelligence in order to demolish the military infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He has so many measures that he can use that, at the end of the day, can bring the end of this terrorism in this area. But he doesn’t want to. It is a matter of motivation, not capability. Echoing Sharon’s view, Ganor declared that Arafat has chosen to use violence against Israel anticipating that in return the Israelis would make more concessions to the Palestinian side and would even urge the intervention of the international community. Why does Arafat uses this policy? In my view he believed in the past and he believes today that violence pays, Ganor declared. But he was quick to assign blame to the Israeli side rather than Arafat. By the way, I don’t blame Arafat for that. I blame the Israeli governments. All Israeli governments, from the late Yitzhak Rabin, to Benjamin Netanyahu and until Ehud Barak. In his view all three Israeli leaders followed the same policy of making concessions to the Palestinians only after terrorist attacks, and which led Arafat to believe that violence pays. The late Rabin, Ganor noted, had a policy of promoting peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace process. According to the counterterrorism expert, this meant that terrorist attacks would not threaten the national interests of Palestinians, and that as the Israelis were fighting back this would prolong the peace process and eventually bring more concessions to the Palestinian side, meaning the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. So, violence pays, he remarked. He directed similar criticism toward Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration – in which he served as his consultant – which he described as more dramatic toward the Palestinians. The same happened in 1997 after the Netanyahu government decided to build another neighborhood in Jerusalem when it provoked a so-called Intifada, and after a few months Netanyahu decides to sign an agreement with the Palestinians and immediately violence ceased, Ganor explained. My criticism is that he should have done that without the violence, because after the violence occurred then the message is very clear that violence pays. Ehud Barak’s government also didn’t escape. If we go to the Barak government we see that he has made the same mistake, he said. Barak was coming to Camp David in my view to make almost inconceivable concessions to the Palestinians. Aside from the return of 95 percent of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the recognition of a newborn Palestinian state and the division of Jerusalem into two capitals, Barak, according to Ganor, was ready to make another two concessions to the Palestinians. One was giving to the Palestinians control of the Jordan Valley – that was unacceptable to most because that would bring the border of the newborn Palestinian state to between eight and 10 kilometers from Tel Aviv, he explained. The second inconceivable concession was the permission to have 100,000 Palestinians come and live not in the newborn Palestinian state but in Israel itself. The latter, he said, would endanger the existence of Israel, which already hosts 20 percent of the Palestinian population. But Arafat walked away from that summit meeting without reaching a peace accord. So he went back and immediately provoked this violence against Israel and he was right again. A few weeks later was another meeting in Tampa requested by Barak and he was ready to make more concessions, he declared. Now with Ariel Sharon in power, Ganor sees an administration that will end this cycle of concessions after violent terrorist attacks, and a new, more pragmatic approach to the issues that divide the two sides. Arafat definitely did not anticipate that Barak would fall and Sharon would come to power, he said. This pragmatic Sharon cannot offer Arafat what was already offered by Barak at Camp David and Tampa. But Arafat can never get less than what already has been offered. In Ganor’s view the two sides today are facing three possible scenarios. The best-case scenario is when Arafat calculates all the costs and benefits that he got by provoking this violence, and then with international pressure he decides to stop these attacks and goes back to the negotiating table… (and) to have another agreement, Ganor underlined. But, according to the Israeli expert the most probable-case scenario is the continuation of clashes between the Palestinians and Israelis. In my view Arafat wants this violence to be there, no more or less than what we see today. You can understand from this that he not only has the ability to stop these attacks but also has the ability to retaliate much more modestly, he declared. Ganor noted that Arafat has enough firepower to strike with mortar shells at the heart of Tel Aviv’s suburbs, but he has restrained himself so far from such an action because he knows that Israel would retaliate with full force. He offered as an example the attack on a disco in Tel Aviv in which 15 youngsters were killed on that Saturday night. Sharon wanted to retaliate but a German foreign minister who was in Israel at the time stopped the Israeli attack and warned Arafat that he was endangering his own people and their interests, he said. And we saw after that for a long period of time, for several weeks, that there were no severe attacks on Israel. So if Arafat wants, Arafat can. Ganor’s worst-case scenario is if Arafat decides to use all of the Palestinians’ operational capabilities against Israel, striking at the heart of Israeli cities, forcing Israel to retaliate against him and reconquer the Palestinian Authority territory. I don’t think he wants to, Ganor remarked. This, he predicted, would create a chain reaction with Hezbullah from Lebanon, using long-range missiles to strike against Haifa and the chemical and petrochemical plants in the north of Israel, and in turn Israel would retaliate not only against Lebanon but also Syria, and of course starting a regional war. But Ganor’s concerns rest mainly with another factor – Arafat. In my view, for the first time in history the key for these three possible scenarios is not in the hands of Israel, nor in the hands of the Arab states, but in the hands of Arafat. And I find it very very disturbing to know that the future of this area is in the hands of Arafat, he remarked. According to the Israeli counterterrorism expert, Arafat is responsible for all the terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in his country – a view also shared widely in the Sharon government – although he believes that Israel should refrain from taking any course of action that would lead to the toppling of his regime. If such a change were to come, it should be in a natural process, said Ganor. I believe that it is necessary to have a change in the regime of Palestinians because I believe that Arafat has made up his mind not to sign an agreement with Israel that would end the conflict, he stressed. At the same time, I definitely believe that Israel should do nothing in order to hasten this change because it would only bring difficulties to Israelis. So this should be through a natural process. Asked if Israel has identified any possible successor to Arafat, Ganor said that no such person has appeared, while noting that Israel should not even try to identify any possible successor, or to say who would be better for Israel, because if that person is identified and any connection is made between him and Israel, then it would be difficult for him to gain position. Ganor, though, offered a possible scenario for the post-Arafat era. After Arafat I see a short period of clashes and chaos, which could take a few days, weeks or months, and then there will be a coalition that will be a triangle of three groups: the Tunisians (Fatah-Arafat group), the leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Islamic fundamentalists (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) which could be either inside the coalition or support it from outside. It was not immediately clear if Ganor believed that such a development could either advance or hamper any peace process that could be in progress at the time, but he made clear that in talks it is better to have one person to deal with. Theoretically, having one man to negotiate with is much better, but what if this man is not a partner for a tango? You need two to tango, Ganor remarked.