"DEBKAfileís Washington sources report that the White House is holding back till next week the punitive actions against Yasser Arafat decided on at a top-level presidential forum convened by US president George W. Bush on Friday, January 25.
Called to the White House policy review on the Palestinian question were secretary of state Colin Powell, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bush called his advisers to decide not only how to deal with Yasser Arafat, but also how to fit American punitive moves against him into the broader US Middle East-Gulf policy revision currently underway.
Earlier, on Wednesday, January 23, President Bush sent out diplomatic
notes to Jordanian King Abdullah, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Egyptian
president Hosni Mubarak containing the intelligence findings from the Karine-A
arms boat Israel intercepted on the Red Sea on January 3. They included
proof of Arafatís operational, intelligence and terrorist links with the
Iranian leadership, as well as evidence of his Tehran-assisted attempts
to subvert both the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes. Also covered are Arafatís
plans to rain terror blows of unprecedented savagery on Israeli locations
in the next few days. This will be the moment chosen by the Bush administration
to implement the decisions reached on Friday all at once, instead of piecemeal
as first planned.
A sample of what lies ahead was discovered after the suicide bombing Friday morning on the busy pedestrian mall at the Old Tel Aviv Bush Depot, which left 25 Israelis injured, 3 seriously. The street blast was to be only part one the terror plot for Tel Aviv. A second terrorist was picked up on the scene with a Kalashnikov assault gun, standing by for the police, army and rescue teams to come up. Had he not been spotted, he would then have cut them down with far deadlier effect than the suicide bomber.
The US presidential forumís decisions cover severance of relations with Arafat or the Palestinian Authority, shutting down the PLOís office in Washington and adding Arafatís Fatah, its militant arms - the Tanzim and Aqsa Brigades - and his presidential guard, Force 17, to the State Departmentís list of terror organizations. Washington has also ended the Zinni ceasefire mediation mission.
These actions go beyond diplomatic maneuvers on paper. Behind them is Americaís political, economic and intelligence might, which will be brought to bear to crush Arafat and his regime. Palestinians will be restricted from moving freely around the Arab world, just as Arafat is confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah since December 3. The Bush administration has inferred from the Karine-A discoveries that Arafat and his Palestinian Authority are directly menacing its fundamental interests in the Middle East and, if their machinations are not stopped in time, they may result in Egypt being dragged into the Iranian-Iraqi orbit after Syria.
At the end of the meeting, Powell issued a warning to Arafat that the administration holds many more options for action against him. He indicated that if the first set of US sanctions fail to stop the Palestinian terror campaign, the United States will redouble its punishment. The break between the Bush administration and the Palestinian Authority is plainly at hand.
Arafatís response was not long in coming. From Ramallah, a top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, threatened the United States that cutting ties with the Palestinian Authority would 'cause an earthquake in the region that no one will be able to stop.'
The Palestinian threat raised the already spiraling war tension in the region another notch. It is a Palestinian declaration of war - not just against Israel, but against America. Arafat moreover tells the US government that he is capable of plunging the entire region into his showdown with America.
But can he deliver? To touch off a regional earthquake, Arafat needs
the help of Saddam Hussein and Iranís surrogate in Lebanon, the Hizballah.
The next few days will demonstrate the strength of his military pacts with