by DEBKAfile, 23 January 2002

"DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has ordered his 20,000-man police force to take to the war field – a drastic step that moves his confrontation with Israel into the realm of full-scale belligerence. Militarizing his police force is more than just another blatant violation of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority and allowed it to establish a police force confined to civilian duties; it is their death blow.

Arafat fully comprehends the international, diplomatic and legal consequences of his action. Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority’s secretary, Abdul Rahman, clearly declared all Palestinian accords with Israel null and void.
Throughout his 15-month Intifada, Arafat held back from burning his last bridges to Oslo. By and large, he kept the Palestinian Authority’s police force clear of Palestinian terrorist operations against Israel, aside from logistics support for terror squads.

His final leap into full-scale belligerence was not revealed in the reports of IDF preparations for extremely grave contingencies that have been issuing in the last 24 hours from high-ranking Israeli military officers.  But, DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal, those officers were referring more to the new Palestinian police deployment than to the next threatened terror wave, for which the highest security alert is in force in all parts of Israel.
However, on Monday January 21, a top Palestinian police officer, Gen. Abdel-Razek al-Majaydeh, announced over Iranian television that 'Palestinian forces' would henceforth be taking full and active part in the war against Israel.
This announcement brought Miguel Moratinos, the European Union’s special Middle East envoy, rushing over to Ramallah, to demand an explanation from Arafat of the use to which European funds were being put. Those funds are extended to support a civilian police force – nothing more. He reminded the Palestinian leader that, when he declared his confrontation with Israel in September 2000, Europe froze the subsidy, pending receipt of Arafat’s guarantee that no Palestinian policemen would take part in hostilities against Israel. Payments were then renewed.
Foreseeing a second halt in the wake of his escalation, Arafat has been sending his emissaries round the Arab oil-producing states in the last two weeks, to solicit replacement funds. Saudi Arabia may be contemplating acceding to Arafat’s demands and taking the radical step of shouldering the cost of a military force waging war on Israel. Riyadh will be influenced in its decision by its growing rift with Washington.

DEBKAfile’s military experts note that the Palestinian police force is not an irregular militia like the Tanzim or a terrorist gang like the Aqsa Brigades, but an organized regular corps with a command hierarchy, an operations arm, intelligence, an advanced communications network and considerable mobility. It is equipped with hundreds of vehicles, some armored, donated mainly by the United States, the UK, Germany, France and Italy, as well as being amply armed with automatic weapons, including heavy machine guns.

To enhance the force’s combat capabilities, DEBKAfile’s military sources have no doubt that Arafat will break open the heavy weapons caches he has hidden around the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

For the IDF, this means that, in addition to chasing and pre-empting terrorist squads, it must prepare to face medium-scale battles against a regular military force. Israelis have become inured to hearing about Israeli air force bombardments of empty Palestinian police centers and tank assaults to demolish Palestinian police facilities. Now they will start hearing about aerial bombings of Palestinian police convoys on their way to attack Israeli targets and Israeli tanks flattening Palestinian police positions."