No Turning Back From Bush's Mid-East Speech
30 June 2002
The Middle East is waiting with bated breath for the follow-up steps to President George W. Bushs landmark Middle East policy speech last Monday, June 23.
No climb-downs are likely on any side.
At the G-8 Summit in Canada last Wednesday, June 25, Bush said (if Arafat dug his heels in) he did not rule out military action against him. He did not specify by whom, whether America, Israel or, under a US plan outlined in the past in DEBKAfile, by Egyptian and Jordanian security forces taking charge, respectively, of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Since last Monday, Arafat is clearly cornered; he has been given his marching orders and, for the first time in his political life, there is no wriggling out. US official sources were quoted Sunday, June 30, as saying there will be no more contact between the administration and Arafat; For us hes history. He can either go quietly, or continue doing what he has done for the last 57 years: wage terror against Israel.
The Palestinian suicide campaign has slowed down in the last eight days - but not at Arafats behest, but because Israeli forces are slicing through Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank to finish the frequently interrupted task of destroying terrorist bases. They are rounding up wanted terrorists and their controllers, destroying manufacturing facilities for bomb belts and explosives, often apprehending would-be human bombs as they leave base. The British-built fortress complex, symbol of the Palestinian Authoritys control of the Hebron area, was blown up early Saturday, June 29, removing an important terrorist stronghold and hideout in the southern West Bank.
Still, successive terror alerts keep Israeli security on their toes in one town after another. Saturday night, June 29, police, alerted to a terrorist on the loose, closed the religious quarters of N. Jerusalem to traffic, cleared synagogues and urged people over loudspeakers to stay home. The target was believed to be Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party.
Sunday morning, June 30, the Jerusalem alert was still in force when intercity rail traffic was disrupted by a remote-controlled explosion on a track south of Tel Aviv, which left four people in shock but did little damage. Later Sunday, 27 Palestinians were found packed in two Red Crescent ambulances driving through Ramallah, ten of them wanted terrorists.
As for Bush, every leader in the region, still stunned by his unequivocal bluntness, is watching for the slightest weakening in his demand for Palestinian regime change.
First, Irans hardline spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his terror chiefs, who are working day and night to convert the Hizballah-controlled areas of Lebanon into Irans forward line and second-strike base in case of a US or Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear and weapons of mass destruction industries.
Then, Saudi crown prince Abdullah, mention of whom Bush omitted from his speech after he was caught out extending financial and logistical assistance to al Qaeda and his peace proposals exposed as a feature of his phony façade of moderation.
Saddam Hussein will have interpreted Bushs tough stance on Arafat as a signal that time is getting short for him to decide whether to pre-empt an American offensive by striking at US forces in the Middle East, at Washingtons allies, Israel and Jordan, and trying to save the Palestinian leader or wait for the American hammer to fall.
Bashar Assad in Damascus and the Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon are keeping a wary eye on the White House. The Syrian President was told his double game was no longer acceptable; he must decide between cracking down on the terrorist organizations in his country, including al Qaeda, or expect American retribution.
The Hizballah chief responded to the Bush ultimatum with typical manipulative ploys.
Nasrallah commands one of the most sophisticated and dangerous intelligence services in the world, its undercover offshoots branching out across the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Africa and South America. The competence of Hizballah intelligence derives from its mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh, Khameneis senior terrorist controller and operations officer in the al Qaeda high command. It takes its orders from officers of Khameneis private intelligence service and from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards military intelligence arm.
DEBKAfile s intelligence sources find it hard to credit the case against the man identified only as Nissim who was indicted in Israel last week as a Hizballah spy. An undercover agency of the caliber of Hizballah intelligence would scarcely give its agents directives over open international telephone lines or send them out to buy a map of Tel Aviv, available in any Beirut store.
Last week, the Hizballah in an effort to fend off an Israeli or American attack, reported progress in prisoner exchange negotiations with Israel, suddenly willing to discuss the handover of the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers, as well as discussing the fate of Elhanan Tannenboim, the Israeli civilian kidnapped in the same period, October 2000.
A day later, Israel released the information that a senior Hizballah operative had been captured in the Hebron government complex and Washington had been briefed.
Since January 2001, DEBKAfile has repeatedly reported the presence of senior Hizballah officers on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the battle of Jenin last April, we revealed that al Qaeda as well as Hizballah terrorists, were ranged against the IDF on the Palestinian side. More recently, we exposed the freedom with which al Qaeda fighters are able to move between Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and the Palestinian refugee camps of south Lebanon, with logistical and intelligence aid from the Hizballah.
Now, everyone is saying much of this openly.
Indeed, Sunday, June 30, the Washington Post reported that proof of Hizballah-al Qaeda links had reached US intelligence. Later Sunday, in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, the US presidents national security adviser Condaleezza Rice admitted that the Hizballah-Iran connection and Hizballah- al Al Qaeda links were worrying. She stressed the importance of a Palestinian Authority being capable of blocking off Hizballah-Iranian influence from spreading through Palestinian areas, but stressed there were already signs of this happening.
This abundance of openness, disclosures and leaks since the Bush speech can be seen as feelers by the US, Israel and the Hizballah to test the ground, before moving forward to the next steps. That there is no going back was quickly understood by secretary of state Colin Powell, who turned away publicly from his separate path and fell in solidly behind the president.