Israel Plans Massive Military Operation In Gaza Strip and Simultaneous Diplomatic Initiative

by DEBKAfile

6 July 2002

Accelerated diplomatic momentum is in the air, along with the apparent slowdown of Palestinian suicidal terrorist action against Israel. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s two senior envoys, his political adviser Osama el Baz and intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman, arrive Sunday, July 7, for talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has named a high-ranking team to translate President George W. Bush’s new Middle East principles into practice, initiating a plan for enhancing Israel’s security while distributing economic benefits to the Palestinian population not engaged in terrorism. Sharon has directed foreign minister Shimon Peres to start a dialogue with the newly appointed Palestinian ministers of economy Salam Fayeed and interior Abdel Razak al-Yahya.

However, the leaked litany from the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem alleges that Yasser Arafat’s government overhaul is not a genuine reform program but steps for tightening his grip on Palestinian government. He has issued no orders at all to hold back Palestinian terror against Israel. Sharon has therefore urged European Union leaders to withhold subsidies from the Palestinian Authority, as the funds go straight into the hands of groups preparing fresh terrorist campaigns.

DEBKAfile’s political sources can confirm that the common thread running through Arafat’s new appointments is the removal of officials who pose a threat to his rule.

Jibril Rajoub’s dismissal as chief of the West Bank preventive security apparatus has been forced down his throat, but he still retains control of his 4,000-man militia and refuses to take up the Jenin Governorship vacated by his designated successor Zuhair Manasra. Arafat believes he can put down the revolt staged by 600 officers loyal to Jibril by handing round cash. He is not short of funds, whether Arab, European or private, for buying obedience.

Two other would-be challengers to Arafat’s authority, Muhamed Dahlan, Jibril’s opposite number in the Gaza Strip, and Mohamed Rashid, his personal financial adviser, have removed themselves and their families to London under the protection of British security. They, like Jibril, must be asking themselves how they came to fall so hard from positions of such high authority.
Abu Mazen, Arafat’s veteran deputy and official successor, has gone to ground in one of the Persian Gulf emirates. Hundreds of affluent Palestinians have taken advantage of the summer vacation to shut their villas and make tracks for European and American resorts after liquidating their assets in Israeli and Jordanian banks.

According to DEBKAfile ’s political sources, Sharon’s diplomatic performance is as phony as Arafat’s reforms, except that the Israeli prime minister is backed to the hilt from the White House – a prime asset he will never do anything to jeopardize.

According to DEBKAfile’s military and political sources in Washington and Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister’s next move will be a large-scale military counter-terror offensive in the Gaza Strip. This territory was omitted from the broad military operations Israel has been conducting in the West Bank since April. It will aim to uproot the terror infrastructure maintained by the Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the Popular Intifada Committees that coordinate Gaza Strip-based Palestinian operations. Dahlan’s organization faces the same fate as suffered by the command nucleus of Jibril’s preventive security service in Bitunia – another reason why Dahlan has made himself scarce. That Dahlan’s “preventive security” service, its commanders and men, was in fact a front for highly-sophisticated terrorist activity, including the development of such diabolical devices as cell phone-activated bombs, has come to be accepted by Washington.

That force was unique in receiving both CIA training in counter-terrorist techniques from 1996 to 1998 and in super-terror tactics as imparted thereafter by the Lebanese Hizballah. Dahlan’s deputy, Rashid Abu Shbeik, who has taken over the reins of anti-Israel terrorist operations, including the mortar and Qasam missile attacks plaguing Israelis living in and around the Gaza Strip nightly, will now be in the IDF’s sights.

As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in its latest issue (No. 67, July 5), the IDF has also marked down the local paramilitary gangs roaming Palestinian towns in the Gaza Strip. This is a departure from its method of operation in the West Bank. The Gazan gangs, which deal in the smuggling of drugs, weapons and prostitutes, number between 50 and 300 members each and maintain underworld connections in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. They also volunteer their services to Palestinian terrorist groups for free, whether as gunrunners, spies, informers or killers.

Concentrated most heavily in the north Gazan towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lehiya, in Gaza City’s Jabalya refugee camp, in Khan Younis in the south and in the divided town of Rafah, some are as well organized as small militias. Egypt in close coordination with the US and Israel will run its own clean-up operation against the Palestinian gangs at large in Egyptian Rafah and the northern Sinai town of El Arish.

Like the current military operation on the West Bank, so too will the Gaza campaign be open-ended, requiring additional call-ups of reserves. Israel’s prime objective now, with Washington’s tacit blessing, is to acquire strategic control of all Palestinian areas, so as to prevent a second Palestinian front from opening up to the rear of Israeli forces fighting in the coming military operations against Syria and the Hizballah in the north and, potentially, against Iraq in the east. Israel’s military presence will keep open the strategic routes linking the Mediterranean with the Jordan River and eventually the Tigris and Euphrates, as well clearing the way to the Hatzbani and Litani Rivers of Lebanon.

Moreover, while there is no watertight preventive treatment for Palestinian suicide murders in Israeli towns, their scope and impact on the regional situation will be sharply reduced.

Yasser Arafat has thus far weathered the initial damage he sustained from the combined US-Israel swipe. He has begun to steady himself in anticipation of salvation from three directions:
1. A solidarity offensive by the Hizballah, in the form of a missile and rocket barrage the length of the Lebanese-Israel frontier targeting all of northern Israel and reaching into its central heartland. The Lebanese Shiites will accompany their barrage with large-scale terrorist strikes inside Israel and possibly Jordan, the cue for a fresh round of Palestinian suicide massacres in Israel’s town centers and along its highways. The Palestinian leader will order this onslaught although he knows the IDF has enough resources to punish Syria for backing the Hizballah while also keeping its tanks inside Palestinian towns in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
2. US-Iraq hostilities that may well open up – not with an American strike – but with Iraqi pre-emptive action against the US forces poised inside Iraq and in neighboring Jordan for the American offensive against Baghdad. Iraq may also hit US military targets in other parts of the Middle East, including Israel and the Saudi and Gulf Emirates’ oil regions.
3. A mega-terror strike against the United States or Israel – with conventional, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons - that would attain such calamitous proportions as to undo America’s military and political position for the Middle East.

Whatever the surface appearances, therefore, the immediate horizon seems to hold greater promise of conflict than of diplomacy.