DEBKAfile, 3 December 2001

"According to DEBKAfile’s most reliable sources, the major Israeli offensive   scheduled for the next hours or days to smash the Palestinian terrorist machine, will in fact open America’s second front against world terrorism.
This was the upshot of the hasty interview that took place at the White House Sunday night, December 2, between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush, attended also by US secretary of state Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condaleezza Rice.

The key decision of this decidedly unusual encounter of just over one hour was that the next phase of the war against world terrorism would not be launched against Iraq, Somalia or Sudan, but against the Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite Hizballah terror machines.

At the same time, Yasser Arafat was given his last chance to prove himself as Palestinian leader, despite the rising clamor in Israel to get rid of him as the prime cause of the terror that left 26 Israelis dead and more than 200 injured in the last two devastating terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa, Saturday and Sunday. (NOTE:  Terror toll in the attacks for the last 7 days is 33 dead).

What Sharon proposed to Bush – and will almost certainly put before the full-scale cabinet session scheduled for Monday night, December 3 - will be to assign Israeli Defense Forces the task of smashing Palestinian terrorist organs – including the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security and intelligence branches which answer to Arafat personally. Their targets will include senior Palestinian officers engaged in terrorist activities, like the Gazan preventive security chief Muhamed Dahlan, the West Bank general intelligence chief Col. Tawfiq Tirawi and the Tanzim militia leader Marwan Barghouti. The immunity they and their following have hitherto enjoyed from Israel attack is to be lifted.

The Hizballah’s turn will come once the operational links between Arafat and the Lebanese Shiite extremists are proven. The IDF is thus free to operate outside Israeli and Palestinian territory.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that these conclusions - plus the need to act promptly, without waiting for a Palestinian crackdown against terrorists - were approved, albeit some only tacitly, by US leaders. They accepted the argument against Arafat’s credibility, given that his past promises in this regard have never been upheld. Sharon also produced intelligence revealing a joint Arafat-Hizballah plan for an imminent attack on a major Israeli city on a scale comparable in Israeli terms to the WorldTradeCenter atrocity. The only way to avert this strike, he said, was to capture and kill the would-be perpetrators.

In other words, Israel may soon find itself at war with the Palestinians, without a formal declaration.
The only real sticking point the Israeli prime minister faced in the White House conference was over the fate of Yasser Arafat in person. The Americans insisted that he be given one last chance to test his leadership of the Palestinian people by combating terror. This put him on notice to crack down on the Hamas and Jihad Islami groups, with the questions of diplomatic negotiations, achievements and concessions, held in abeyance. Powell’s adviser, General Anthony Zinni, already in the Middle East, will be there to hand out grades on Arafat’s performance. Moreover, US leaders insist on preserving sections of Palestinian Authority not involved in terrorism as a core administration.

Sharon agreed to do his utmost take US wishes on board the battle against terrorism, breaking up the terrorist infrastructure without touching Arafat in person. The operational plan Sharon showed Bush was tailored accordingly. However, Arafat’s movements are to be restricted, as the missile attack on his Gaza helicopters Monday afternoon demonstrated, in the opening shot of the Israeli offensive.

The “high-placed source” in the prime minister’s party said as much on the homeward bound journey after the White House interview: “We shall crack down on terror in the toughest way possible and do away with the terrorist groups, but at the same time we will do our utmost to avoid war.”  That source may be presumed to have been Sharon himself.

Sharon’s US visit, before it was cut short by the latest wave of terror, was prepared by the director of Israeli’s intelligence service, the Shin Beit, Avi Dichter – not by a diplomat or political level official. Sharon joined Bush alone and unattended. No one in Jerusalem knows therefore what transpired between him and the Bush team. The deep hush imposed by the Israeli prime minister on his dealings with US leaders will no doubt extend to his report to the full-dress Israeli government session Monday night, which has been categorized a “defense cabinet” session, to plug leaks from its deliberations. He will certainly keep certain items up his sleeve, so as to leave himself room for maneuver.

Arafat Thrives on Last-Chance Situations

Arafat, for his part, is inured to being put on notice, maneuvering past last chances and ducking ultimatums. At 72, he has outlived most of the leaders and governments who slapped him down and kept his main instrument of survival, terror, going strong.

According to DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources, Arafat views the ultimatum handed him by the White House as a respite, a license to go on with his “Ramadan Offensive”, the most devastating Palestinian terror blitz against Israel in the 14-month intifada.

The Arafat persona defeats his opposite number by its sheer complexity:

Arafat A is the face he shows the West: It yearns for peace for his long-suffering people which is depicted as caught up in a struggle to attain its legitimate national aspirations. He explains that terrorism is practised solely by the extremists, the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, not by him. But the US, Israel and the world must support him as the only individual capable of persuading these hotheads to change their ways and opt for diplomacy and negotiation ..."

"For the latest terror cycle, launched to coincide with the arrival of US envoy Zinni on November 26, the Palestinian leader called up the operational Hizballah elements he imported to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with striking results: a conspicuous upgrading of planning and execution and a powerful explosive substance never before used in Palestinian terror operations. The number of casualties was consequently higher, the degree of injury more severe and the bodies of the dead were too damaged to identify without forensic tests.

Therefore, if Arafat is exempted from Israel’s major offensive against Palestinian terror, its founder and architect will be left free to rebuild his terror infrastructure anew, as he has often done before.

Arafat’s ... Arab face is turned to the Muslim world, boosted by the advent of Osama bin Laden and his ambition to rival the ex-Saudi terrorist as an historical Islamic hero, comparable to Saladin and Caliph Omar. Both those war leaders conquered Jerusalem. This ambition kept the Palestinian leader from getting on with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian Islamic revolution leader. To challenge bin Laden for the Islamic front line, Arafat has opted for assailing US interests and Western values, as well as Israel, his Palestinian terror network vying with al Qaeda. This ambition is articulated in his broadcast pronouncements in the Arabic language ...

"[Arafat] knows that creating an independent Palestinian democracy is not the way to becoming a world Islamic war hero. What he needs is a military regime sustained by military, or terrorist, elements. To sideline the Palestinian Authority established as the core administration of a future Palestinian state, Arafat raised a hodgepodge of 'security apparatuses', militias like the Tanzim-Fatah, Force 17 and other motley groups to eclipse the PA’s standing.

Leaving the political sections of the Palestinian Authority outside any Israeli war offensive is therefore unrealistic. Arafat himself has done a fairly thorough job of dismantling its powers.

It may be said that the priorities of the US-Israel war plan for Palestinian terror are the reverse of US objectives in Afghanistan. Whereas the latter’s primary goals are to smash the Taliban and al Qaeda and capture their leaders, the former aims to destroy the Palestinian terrorist organization while preserving its top leader. The plan is to separate Arafat from his terror machine. The last chance granted him is therefore based on another illusion: that he will renounce terrorism and join the United States in fighting terror."