DEBKAfile, 25 November 2001

25 November: What is common to the Afghanistan war, the Lebanese Hizballah, Yasser Arafat’s anti-Israel terror plans and two US guided missile destroyers leaving soon for the Persian Gulf?

One common factor is former US general Anthony Zinni, who is due in the Middle East Monday, November 27, as US secretary Colin Powell’s special adviser on the Palestinian-Israel ceasefire.

The other, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, is an unknown Palestinian called Sultan Abdul Ayan - in free translation, The Man with Two Eyes. Strongman and militia chief in the Ein Hilweh refugee camp southeast of the Lebanese Mediterranean town of Sidon, he is the personal representative of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in Lebanon and takes his orders only from him.

Mr. Two-Eyes also happens to be Arafat’s secret liaison man with the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah and live wire of the deepening ties between the two.

As for the two US warships, they are evidence of Washington’s long memory for the terrorist indignities, which Shiite terrorists heaped on Americans in Beirut in the 1980s.

One ship was named after Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem, who was aboard TWA Flight 847, when it was hijacked from Greece to Beirut in 1985. Stethem was shot and his body dumped on the tarmac. The Lebanese hijackers held 39 other people hostage for 17 days. Stethem was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The second ship was named for Marine Corps Lt. Col William Higgins, kidnapped by Hizballah terrorists in 1988 and brutally put to death.

Both atrocities were plotted by the infamous Hizballah operations officer Imad Mughniyeh, current associate of the ex-Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Sultan Abdul Ayan has been tagged as a man worth watching by the top people on the Bush team running the war against terror, for reasons that are part of why the two US envoys, Zinni and William Burns, are traveling to the Middle East next week, as DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources disclose.

A). Late August, Ayan brokered a deal between Arafat and Nasrallah providing for Hizballah-Palestinian collaboration on three anti-Israel fronts: the Lebanese-Israeli border, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
In addition to firing up the frontier when it suited their shared interest, the Hizballah undertook to impart their expertise in rocket and mortar warfare to Arafat’s men, overseeing wholesale ordnance manufacture in Palestinian workshops around the Gaza Strip and training activists of all the various Palestinian groupings in their use. One project was the new Palestinian home-made rocket called Kasem-1 whose range is up to 5 km, three times that of any mortar.

B). They decided to launch the three fronts simultaneously with spectacular, synchronized barrages against Israeli locations in the Western Negev, Jerusalem and Central Israel, on September 17. Hizballah cells smuggled into the two territories by sea and the Egyptian-Israeli frontier were to have executed the firing.

Last an Israeli military spokesman warned that large stockpiles of light and heavy mortar bombs, missiles and rockets were accumulating on the West Bank, without further explanation.

C).  At the last minute, Arafat and Nasrallah postponed their grand project, overtaken by the suicide attacks in the United States on September 11 and America’s declaration of war on world terrorism. President George W. Bush made it clear that Afghanistan was not America’s final target and that additional terrorists would be targeted. In these circumstances, both Nassrallah and Arafat might have been expected to drop their plan and lie low until the threat passed.

That expectation was totally unrealistic, given the characters of the two men. Nonetheless, various European diplomats acted on this assumption.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw visited Teheran twice – the second time last week; his prime minister Tony Blair whipped round the Middle East twice, European Union diplomats threw together an implausible “peace plan”. It was based on a blueprint cooked up by the Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and Oslo activist Yossi Bailin, whereby the United States, Europe and Israel would recognize a Palestinian state proclaimed by Arafat, in return for the Palestinians halting all war and terror hostilities.

They were all driven by a wish to save Arafat from himself and deliver him from American anti-terror fury. Standing in their way was Ayan and the terror extravaganza he scripted for Arafat and Nasrallah. According to DEBKAfile’s European sources, the British and Italians undertook to dispose of that difficulty.

In Tehran, Straw asked Iranian President Muhamed Khatami (who was busy working on the new military-cum-intelligence collaboration arrangement with the United States, focusing on south Afghanistan) to force the Hizballah leader break off his terror pact with the Palestinian Authority, leave Lebanon and take up political asylum in the Iranian capital. The Hizballah would choose a new political leadership and transform itself into a political party, thereby averting a US anti-terrorist strike against Lebanon and also going back on its consent to augment the Palestinian Authority’s terror resources.

All these maneuvers were designed to isolate Yasser Arafat, rather than attack his inherent determination to stick to the path of terrorism.

In Tehran, DEBKAfile ’s sources learned that Iran’s powerful spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, quickly scotched the Straw-Khatami plan. He ordered Nasrallah to stay in Lebanon and threatened the reformist president Khatami with sabotaging Iranian-American collaboration in Afghanistan.

Mr. Two Eyes meanwhile stepped up his comings and goings between Arafat and Nasrallah.
DEBKAfile ’s intelligence sources report that the two reactivated and advanced their joint project by two steps:

1.  They decided to reschedule the opening of the three combined fronts at an early date.
2.   Arafat authorized the opening of a Hizballah station in the Ein Hilweh refugee camp Ayan’s fief. Senior Hizballah officers were permitted to move in, and recruit and train young Lebanese Palestinians for joint Palestinian-Hizballah anti-Israel operations out of bases in areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

By this act, Arafat and Nasrallah jumped the gun on the American war on terror. Instead of waiting for the United States to open its second front in the Middle East, the pair moved ahead with their combined terrorist front. In the face of the Bush administration’s caution to world leaders to sever their ties with terrorist groups and fight them, Arafat is cementing his relations with a group listed in Washington as a terrorism organization.

To make his intentions perfectly clear, the Palestinian leader last week encouraged two Israeli Arab Knesset members to pay their respects in Ramallah on a senior official of another group on the same American list: Abed- al-Rahim Malukh, deputy secretary-general of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP, which was responsible for assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in October.

What he was saying, in his own special way was that, not only the Palestinians care nothing for America’s wishes, but they were backed to the hilt by Israel’s Arab community.

The Lebanese government read Arafat’s message first. Two weeks ago, shortly after the Hizballah station was inaugurated in Ein Hilweh, the Lebanese army laid siege to the camp, locking in both Hizballah and Palestinian activists.

Zinni and Burns therefore have a dual mission. To twist Arafat’s arm until he accepts a ceasefire and agrees to break off his three-front partnership with the Hizballah.

Ahead of their arrival, the expected orders issued from the Palestinian leader’s bureau to redouble the rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli military, civilians, motorists and locations on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and across the Green Line inside Israel.

If this goes on – and Arafat sticks by his alliance with the Hizballah leader – Washington may well decide to deliver its next anti-terror strike – not against Iraq, Sudan, or Somalia, but hit Hizballah and Palestinian targets in Lebanon, the Palestinian-Hizballah station in Ein Hilweh in the south and/or the Hizballah-Syrian army concentrations in the Beqaa Valley adjoining the Syrian frontier.