by DEBKAfile 16 March 2002

"First, it depends on the nature of US envoy Anthony Zinni’s brief. If it is, as officially and publicly defined, to convince Palestinians and Israelis to suspend the grim cycle of violence and bloodshed and accept a truce – then the answer is: Not likely.
He might bring Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the point of saying the right words – or even signing a paper. Any such pledge will survive only long enough to be trumpeted by the media - before it is blown away.
The reason? The Palestinians are satisfied they have terrorized Israel to a draw, and are determined to press their advantage by redoubling their onslaught.

DEBKAfile analyses:
Israel’s main feats:
1. The seizure of the Karine-A arms smuggling ship, before the cargo reached Palestinian hands;
2. The capture of all Palestinian towns;
3. Deep incursions into hardline Palestinian terror strongholds sheltering in the refugee camps, to begin the task of rooting out the hardline al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades command centers run by Arafat’s Fatah. Thousands of Palestinian activists were detained and bomb and rocket manufacturing facilities destroyed.
4. Effective intelligence penetration of the most dangerous Tanzim and al Aqsa Brigades terrorist organizations, and the targeted liquidations of 70 percent of the hit and suicide teams poised ready to go.
5. The temporary removal of the Qasam rocket threat hanging over Israel’s Sharon and Shomron areas north of Tel Aviv - and possibly Jerusalem;
6. The shattering of much of the extremist Hamas and Jihad Islami’s operational capability;
7. The Gaza Strip and most of its terror machinery have been sealed off from adjoining Israeli territory;
8. These operations were achieved for a relatively small number of Israeli troop casualties and low collateral damage to civilian life.

Palestinian achievements:
1. A high degree of operational mobility against superior Israeli military strength;
2. Offensives that level both sides of the military playing field, in the face of Israel’s military preponderance. Examples: The two surprise assaults on Israeli military roadblocks at Ein Arik and Ofra; the blowing up of two Israeli Merkava tanks in the Gaza Strip;
3. The ability to constantly restart waves of mass-casualty terror:
4. The preservation of the various Palestinian security forces’ operational frameworks although IDF forces were present in Palestinian towns;
5. The almost uninterrupted flow from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to Palestinian areas of trained guerrilla fighters, arms, explosives and funds;
6. The ongoing Palestinian operational interrelations with outside terrorist groups – Hamas, Jihad Islami, Hizballah, Imad Mughniyeh, al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence.
This deadlock ties in significantly with the broader Middle East scene, chiefly the advancing US military preparations for its offensive against Iraq and the al Qaeda bases going up in Lebanon.
According to the latest intelligence reports, the Iran-backed arch-terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh, turned up in Lebanon last week. One of the joint Iranian-al Qaeda-Hizballah operational chiefs, he is closely connected both with Arafat and Osama bin Laden. In Lebanon, he joins Abu Zubaideh, another top al Qaeda operative, who has settled in the south. Their presence there signals a further upsurge of Middle East violence.

Arab League rulers meanwhile get set for their Beirut summit opening next Wednesday, March 27, which coincided with the onset of the Israeli Arab community’s Land Day - that most years ends in riots, and the Jewish Seder ceremony ushering in the Passover festival. In the current atmosphere, each of these events are potential tinderboxes.

Moreover, DEBKAfile reports from Baghdad the Iraqi leadership’s conviction that the Americans will strike in the first days of April – at latest – with a spearhead operation in the central sector of the front, ie the Jordanian-Iraqi border - in order to break through to Baghdad. US raids from the north and south – from Turkey and Kuwait – will be no more than diversionary actions, in the view of Saddam’s advisers.

All these circumstances combine to harden Arafat’s posture. Anthony Zinni can look forward, at best, to an ad hoc Palestinian consent on limited issues, such as new red lines for combatants should the violence continue to escalate. If Zinni’s mission is purely diplomatic – to sit the parties down and lead them into the Tenet ceasefire framework and the Mitchell peace blueprint – he might as well give up now. The criticism coming from the US state department of Israeli military actions may make good news copy but has little effect on the ground, except for raising Israeli leaders’ blood pressure.

However, the retired Marine general’s mission makes sense, if he is the man on the spot to watch over America’s military and political interests in a very troubled and terror-ridden period, across a region that takes in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinians, the eastern Mediterranean and even Turkey.

Zinni officiated as OC of the US Central Command until the end of 1998, when he handed over to the incumbent General Tommy Franks, who now manages the Afghanistan War. During his stint, the retired general dealt with the upsurge of al Qaeda terror against US targets in Saudi Arabia. He is amply qualified for a military-diplomatic role in the coming Iraq conflict, possibly as a sort of unofficial super-commander of the western flank, under his successor, General Franks. That is why his assignment is open-ended.

When US vice president Richard Cheney arrives for talks with Israeli leaders next week, the ground will have been prepared for him by Zinni, who sat down with Israel’s armed forces chiefs the day he arrived, Thursday, March 14, as well as with political leaders. DEBKAfile’s military sources expect Cheney’s most important interview in Israel to be his encounter with Zinni, where concrete decisions are likely to be taken in the light of the envoy’s updated briefing."