by DEBKAfile, 23 March 2002

"In the light of the mounting opposition to the Iraqi operation US Vice President Richard Cheney encountered in his 11-nation Middle East-Gulf, the White House is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military, intelligence and political sources to have fitted new goals around the Iraqi scenario, including also solutions to the acute Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the long-festering Kurdish national issue and the Ethiopian-Somali border conflict – all primary engines of terror.

This expanded geopolitical-cum-military agenda calls for carefully synchronized multiple military strikes on several fronts. The immediate consequence of the revised plan of action is a six-to-eight week delay in the US military offensive against Baghdad – from early April to the second half of May or early June.

The postponement was decided during Cheney’s penultimate Middle East stop in Jerusalem on March 18-19, before he set off for Ankara. While the Palestinian issue appeared to dominate the visit, in reality most of the vice president’s 48-hour stay was taken up by highly confidential conferences between him and President George W. Bush, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of state Colin Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA director George Tenet.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly ’s sources, Cheney’s foremost argument for the postponement was that broadening the campaign’s objectives to solve chronic conflicts that keep the region permanently on the boil, could rally its European and Middle East opponents round to supporting the strike against Saddam. The necessary delay could be used profitably to win more allied support.

But with or without such support, the Bush team is determined to press ahead with its multi-pronged program for removing Saddam and eradicating terror clusters embedded in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

In Washington’s sights are the Hizballah (harbored in Lebanon with tacit Syrian sanction) the new al-Qaeda bases established in south Lebanon (and tolerated by the Beirut government); the clandestine al Qaeda presence in the Gulf region, including Yemen (which collaborates with US but also secretly leaves the Islamic extremists be); Saudi Arabia (which secretly harbors al Qaeda partisans and openly refuses to collaborate with the US counter-terror drive); Abu Dhabi (a sanctuary for the lawless of every stripe); the al Qaeda cells harbored in Somalia and Sudan (notwithstanding Khartoum’s gesture of handing over an activist this week).

As for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he is deemed a write-off. Washington will make sure he is removed from the Palestinian Authority and replaced with an acceptable Palestinian leader or leaders. The United States, the vice president explained, intended casting the kingdom of Jordan and its army in the role of security patron over the West Bank province of the Palestinian state-to-be."