by DEBKAfile 20 April 2002

"By any military standards, the large-scale offensive Israel launched on March 29 against seven Palestinian cities and their satellite villages and camps, is a victory and a resounding Palestinian defeat. All the Palestinian groups, including Yasser Arafat’s Fatah al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, tried desperately to keep the suicide offensive alive – and still do. But the crippling of their terror machine soon showed dramatic dividends: In three weeks, their suicide offensive tapered off conspicuously – down to four, in which 28 Israelis died – mostly bunched together at the tail end of the dread Passover offensive that left 52 Israelis dead in seven days - and triggered the massive Israeli assault.

The operation owes its success to four men: US President George W. Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israeli chief of staff Lt.-Gen Shaul Mofaz and his deputy and designated successor, Maj.-Gen Moshe Yaalon.
Credit for the Palestinian defeat belongs to two individuals and one international organization: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his two leading sponsors, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz and the European Union, notably its foreign affairs executive, Javier Solana, who chose to anchor Europe’s Middle East policy on Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. Both encouraged Arafat to believe he would come out on top in his confrontation with the Israelis. He therefore toughed it out with Israel and the Americans – and lost.

No one stopped Israel’s armed forces from going ahead and crushing Palestinian terrorist strongholds the length and breadth of the West Bank. Although, Gaza Strip Palestinian institutions of government and security were left intact, no one today questions the completeness of Israel’s success, to the extent that Washington, Jordan, Israel itself and to some extent, Egypt, have taken the military achievement and turned it into a fulcrum to advance their plans for a new Middle East.

One caveat and two points are important to note:
1. Israel’s war on terror is not yet over. The Palestinians have not conceded defeat and will keep on trying their suicide tactics, however diminished their capabilities.
2. The effect and long-term consequences of this Israel victory against the Palestinians may be compared to those of its 1948 War of Independence and 1982 Lebanon War, both head-on military clashes with Palestinians.

3. The Battle of Jenin was the decider of this round, as DEBKAfile maintained at the fiercest moment of combat. Had Israel broken off the engagement – or even retreated – the offensive a a whole would have crumbled and Israel faced defeat.

Some parties have labeled this heroic battle – in which both sides fought valiantly – a massacre, and often-tried stratagem for transforming an Arab battlefield defeat into a diplomatic victory - as students of past Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Arab conflicts will quickly recognize. While this ruse has often worked in the past, the chances of the truth outing this time are good, thanks to the United States and its president throwing their wholehearted support behind the Israeli government and its stand. The White House came to appreciate why Arafat needs to be locked up in his Ramallah compound and ended up applauding the outcome of the Jenin battle.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that, for the present, the Bush administration has determined not to let Israel be robbed of the fruits of this victory, but rather to make it a stepping stone for Washington’s next Middle East moves. Whatever the ups and downs in the relationship – and the recriminations heard from time to time – the American people and the Bush government’s backing for Israel and the Sharon government’s objectives is a fact of life to a degree never enjoyed by any previous Israeli government.

There is nothing sentimental about this support. It is predicated on Bush’s fundamental campaign against world terror. The US president has affirmed outright - in deeds and not just words - that Yasser Arafat is an integral part of global terror. This is a historic first that Bush could not duck away from without cutting the moral and ideological ground from under his global war on terror.Condoleezza Rice put the problem succinctly when she said Arafat could not send suicides killers while posing as a man of peace.

After finishing with Arafat, Bush means to start on the Arab leaders who espouse the use of suicides for what the White House has come to call homicidal attacks. He has put Arab rulers, who prefer the term martyrs, on notice to stop glorifying and funding this form of terrorism.

These developments have set the following trends in motion:
1. Up until Operation Defensive Shield, Arab rulers were wont to use the Palestinian problem as a standard pretext for their refusal to cultivate normal relations with Israel. By branding Arafat a terrorist, Washington has stripped this argument away and forced them to confront the hard choice it posed friends and allies after September 11: Either join America’s all-inclusive campaign against terror or support the other side.
2. Torn by this dilemma and the mounting pro-Islamic, pro-Palestinian pressure at home, the Saudis, like other Arab leaders, are bidding for third-party help against Washington’s demands. Understanding that the White House, by its backing for Ariel Sharon, had dealt a death blow to his peace initiative and foreign policy, Crown Prince Abdullah sent his foreign minister Saud al-Faisal to Moscow on Sunday, April 18, for urgent talks with President Vladimir Putin. Abdullah hoped for some good news before he visits the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas on April 24.
DEBKAfile’s Moscow and Gulf sources report that Putin was surprised to hear al Faisal explaining bluntly and agitatedly that the Americans were pushing Riyadh into irrational and radical positions regarding their campaign against terror, so undoing the close affinity binding them as allies for decades. What the Saudis were therefore seeking was an ally or allies to offset American pressure. They could either turn to Russia or to the Iran-Iraq axis. The Saudi foreign minister said his government preferred Moscow and offered to coordinate its oil policies with the Kremlin and buy Russian arms.

Our sources say Putin was not over-impressed by the Saudi minister’s plea. The Putin-Bush political, military and economic pact generated by America’s global war on terror stands out as the most robust feature bar none against the current diplomatic landscape. Al Faisal did not stand a chance of driving a wedge between the two world leaders. The Russian president also knew that the Saudi minister’s did not exactly come with clean hands; Riyadh’s pact with Baghdad and Tehran was no longer an option but an accomplished fact. (Our intelligence newsletter, DEBKA-Net-Weekly, exposed this pact last February.) It is therefore not surprising that Saud al Faisal came away from Moscow empty-handed.

3. A third world power, China, is bent on capitalizing on these shifting trends. President Jiang Zemin and prime minister Zhu Rongji, both of whom are near the end of their terms in office, are making the rounds of Arab and Gulf Emirate capitals and Iran. Posing as the only power siding with the Arab-Muslim camp, the Chinese leaders are offering largesse in the form of military assistance, including Chinese arms, and cooperation in oil strategy.
DEBKAfile ’s sources report that China is buying up shares in oilfields and oil resources, to fill in the projected shortfall between its own oil production and the requirements of its burgeoning economic development. In three to five years’ time, China will be supplying no more than two thirds of its energy consumption from home production. To raise the billions for buying stakes in foreign fields and paying for new pipeline and maritime transport routes, Beijing hopes to sell large quantities of military hardware to Arab states and Iran. Beijing’s new policy turn will have a cooling effect on its relations with Washington relations, as well as with Israel."