DEBKAfile, 26 November, 2001
"Marine Diplomacy enlisted for a Mid East Truce"
26 November: In a sign of the times, retired US Marines General Anthony Zinni has been put in command of American Middle East peace diplomacy for the next two weeks. His landing in the region coincided with the US Marine landing in Afghanistan.
In the last two years, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been subjected to different kinds of peace diplomacy. They all failed - from Clinton’s presidential brand, to the Albright State Department effort and, latterly, the Central Intelligence Agency ceasefire project led by its director George Tenet.
Tenet created a trilateral Israel-Palestinian security coordination
mechanism to oversee a ceasefire with strong CIA representation. That mechanism
never got off the ground any more than the ceasefire itself.
Now, secretary of state, former general Colin Powell, has called in the Marines, attaching to the former soldier two professional diplomats: assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns and senior State Department official Aaron Miller. Their mandate is strictly confined to negotiating a ceasefire, without which Powell has reiterated there is no chance of getting started on the peace blueprint drafted by former Senator George Mitchell, which both sides have accepted.
DEBKAfile’s political analysts do not put General Zinni’s chances
any higher than his predecessors’.
US Marine ventures in the Middle East have never been blessed with good fortune. In 1957, they flew fruitlessly into Lebanon to rescue the country from Muslim-Christians civil warfare in line with the Eisenhower Doctrine; in 1982, they landed in Lebanon again to stop the Israel- Palestinian war and assist in the evacuation of the PLO from the country, only to suffer total disaster when 237 Marines died in a terrorist bombing of their Beirut headquarters. The perpetrator was later discovered to be the Hizballah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who now serves alongside Osama bin Laden at the top of the al Qaeda pyramid.
In the 1991 Gulf war, the Marines were only partially successful. Saddam Hussein occupies the presidential palace in Baghdad to this day.
Now for the first time, the Marines are taking on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
They can hardly be said to have got off on the right foot. Arafat is conspicuously absent on one of his jaunts to see Arab leaders, after loosing a marked upsurge in Palestinian shooting, mortar shelling, rocket fire, explosive charges against Israeli targets as well threats to liquidate prominent Israeli leaders, from the prime minister down.
The team chosen to face ex- general Zinni will be led by Palestine parliamentary speaker Ahmed Qureia, known as Abu Ala, who has no standing at all in the elite leadership circle. Wednesday, Arafat will receive the US envoy in Ramallah and on Thursday and Friday, shunts him off to see the two Palestinian preventive security service chiefs, Jibril Rajoub in the West Bank and Mohamed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip.
According to official leaks to the American media in Washington, these maneuvers are Arafat’s stage props for turning the bargaining with the US envoys to his advantage.
However, according to DEBKAfile’s Palestinian experts, the Palestinian leader has accumulated enough American and Israeli scalps to show his contempt for yet another attempt to tame him and will make sure that Zinni leaves the Middle East as empty-handed as all his predecessors. But that is only part of his strategy. In essence, he is after far bigger game than the ex-marine general. His eye is on the forthcoming Sharon-Bush talks in Washington on December 3 and 4.
He will not have missed the press leaks in Jerusalem citing advice from Israeli army intelligence to the Sharon government to forget about any breakthrough as long as Arafat is active in the arena and mark time until he is gone for good.
Tuesday, November 27, Sharon, flanked by foreign minister Shimon Peres and defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, will meet the US team. He has appointed the tough Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Meir Dagan, an ex-combat officer and counter-terror expert, together with deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon, to lead the Israeli side facing the Americans.
The heads of Israeli intelligence services greeted them on arrival
The point Sharon is driving home by appointing hard-line military and intelligence officers to negotiate with the US diplomats is that the only acceptable item on the agenda is a ceasefire. All other issues are to be left for his own White House discussions with President Bush. That includes the question of if, when and against whom US Marines are to be employed on the ground in the Middle East, in the continuing US war on terror - with or without Israeli Special Forces.
DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that US special forces are standing
by quietly for that contingency in Jordan, Israel, Turkey and aboard 40
US warships present in the eastern Mediterranean for some weeks.
Yasser Arafat knows that the only way he can make his presence felt in the Sharon-Bush talks in Washington is by revving up his campaign of terror to maximum, which he has already begun.