by DEBKAfile
1 January 2002

"Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has not been idle since Israel confined him to Ramallah in the wake of the last deadly round of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians a month ago. That torrent of violence also cut the mission of US envoy Anthony Zinni short on December 15. The envoy’s return to the region Thursday, January 3, announced today, is not connected ... with an apparent lull in Palestinian terror activity or a fresh American attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, but rather with the next stage of President George W. Bush war on global terror.

This time, Zinni’s stay will be limited to four days and ... his main mission will be to prepare the visit to the region on January 15 of General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US armed forces.

General Myers will be reviewing US military preparations for possible action in the Middle East. The headquarters of the US 3rd Army, commanded by Lt.-Gen Paul Mikolashek ... was recently moved to Kuwait ...

The retired Marine general’s first visit was the Palestinian leader’s signal to let loose with the violence. This time, he is jumping the gun. Monday night, December 31, a squad of three Palestinians crossed the Gaza Strip into Israel at a point south of Beit Hanoun. They were armed to the teeth with automatic rifles, hand grenades and explosive belts of the type used in suicide bombings and headed for the Israeli town of Shderot four kilometers away. According to unofficial reports, the terrorists’ assignment was to hide in the town school till the children arrived in the morning, take them hostage and then blow themselves up with their hostages.

As it turned out, Israeli special forces intercepted and killed all three as they crossed over.

Their leader was identified as Abu Ahmed Qomsam, 32, from the Jabalya refugee camp, a senior commander of Arafat’s Fatah, its representative on the North Gaza Strip Popular Palestinian Resistance (Intifada) Committee and an expert mortarman – a far cry from his description as an ex-Fatah, anti-Arafat dissident.

In fact those “popular committees” have become the operational backbone of the combined terrorist apparatus, the umbrella organization for joint Fatah, Force 17, the Hamas and Jihad Islami operations, all quietly controlled and funded from Yasser Arafat’s own war chest. When it suits Arafat to make a show of reining in the terror, those committees are presented as unruly extremists. But he maintains a firm hand on them through his faithful henchman, Saher Habash ...

Jabalya is one of the three Gaza Strip locations where Arafat has ordered replacement elements established for the smashed and crippled terrorist infrastructure Israeli security forces destroyed in two months of deep forays into terror bases, as well as by the systematic liquidations and detentions of commanders, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The other two are located in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya – all three now operating as “popular committee” bases.

The Shderot operation was intended to kick off the resumed Palestinian terror campaign inside Israel proper with a mass casualty toll ... But this time, because of its link to the would-be shoe bomber who was subdued aboard the American Airlines plane on December 22, the Jabalya camp was under close scrutiny and the Fatah-led strike foiled.

For the present, the Americans do not need Israel to tell them what is going on in Jabalya or who runs the terror operations from there. Their own sources have pinpointed Arafat as the prime mover.

They are also fully aware that the Palestinian leader, from his Ramallah confinement, is pulling hard at his terrorist wires in the West Bank too. His invitation to Israeli president Katzav to address the Palestinian Assembly and agree on a one-year armistice was not so much an olive branch as a red herring.  The Palestinian leader is working day and night to regroup and revitalize the combined Fatah-Force 17-Tanzim-Hamas-Jihad Islami-Popular Front bases of operations in Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus for renewed action, including suicide strikes everywhere. New commanders have been appointed, provided with war funds and re-armed with extra-powerful explosives, heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank missiles and Katyusha rockets.

This is what Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer was referring to when he accused Arafat of rebuilding a new war machine based on suicide units and mass terror hits.

Monday, January 1, saw a fresh flurry of Israeli military preventive operations in both territories in which 11 suspected terrorists were captured ...

The retired Marines general Zinni will certainly not wish to find himself in the same situation as he did in his first visit, when he had nothing much to do but count Palestinian explosions.  He may keep an eye on the Palestinian-Israeli arena, but his main role will be in the run-up to a decision in Washington as to which source of terror to jump next."  [Emphasis added]