Why Is Sharon Delaying Taking Decisive Action Against Arafat?

by DEBKAfile

4 August 2002

The Palestinian terrorist machine molded by Yasser Arafat executed seven terror attacks against Israelis in a single day, no doubt achieving a gruesome world record. Eleven people died – soldiers and civilians, Jews, Arabs, Druzes and two Filipina women. Close to 100 were injured; many will remain invalids. The question on every lip at the end of this black day is this: What is Sharon waiting for? All the Palestinian groups, buoyed up by what is seen as Ariel Sharon’s slack responses, have joined forces for yet another a mighty effort to beat the Israelis – and most of all their armed forces - into the ground.

The Israeli prime minister hints to his worried ministers that he is constrained from taking direct action against Yasser Arafat and his staff of terror masters by his understanding with the US president George W. Bush. This may have been true at one time but, according to DEBKAfile’s Washington sources, no longer. The Bush administration has washed its hands of Arafat finally and totally.

The current IDF operation in Nablus to flush out terrorists - embarked on after the Hebrew University bombing last Wednesday, which destroyed seven lives – was dubbed “Maybe this time?” Whether a wag in Israel’s high command or an army computer chose the name, it perfectly expresses the spreading frustration in Israel’s defense forces at the nature of the directives coming down from the Sharon government. Those directives order just the opposite of offensive, proactive action to root out terrorism. The prime minister was elected in February 2002 for his record as a hawkish military strategist and pledge of peace and security. He was held up as the last resort for stamping out Arafat’s terrorism. But his policies have turned out to be defensive, reactive and unavailing in the face of the constantly escalating Palestinian menace.

Now, Israeli commanders express the hope once again: Maybe this time they will be allowed to reach the hands orchestrating the terror offensive? Maybe this time the army will be permitted to root out the blight?

Finding and destroying explosives factories is important. Four were demolished in Nablus in the last 48 hours – including the one that manufactured the bomb which wrecked the Hebrew University Mount Scopus cafeteria. But the troops know that for every one they blow up, two will take their place and ten Israeli military incursions into Nablus will not obliterate terrorism. The IDF and Shin Beit have successfully wiped out the Palestinian operational field command echelon. But the terror machine’s intelligence and funding mechanisms live on, efficiently recruiting fresh volunteers for suicide operations, building explosives plants and purchasing new supplies of weapons and explosives.

The Sharon government, which only last month decided to deport relatives of terrorists and destroy their homes, finds its efforts to deport the first two caught up in Israel’s judicial spider web; terrorists’ family homes are blown up a year or more after their crimes; the business addressed by Sunday’s government session was completely divorced from the carnage that began a country road of Galilee that has never before been touched by terror.

Sunday’s seven attacks demonstrated that these latest deterrent measures are too feeble and too late – by six months, if not a year. The disease is too far advanced to be affected by half-measures.

While the IDF performs faithfully against terrorist activists in the Nablus Casbah, the real enemy dances out of reach, striking in Safed and Jerusalem and Israel’s highways, employing a variety of weapons – suicide killers, explosive devices, drive-by shooters, frogmen.

Sharon ought to have been ready and forestalled this offensive, which has claimed 26 lives since it began 11 days ago. DEBKAfile’s sources warned repeatedly that the Passover cycle which Arafat, his al Aqsa Martys’ Brigades, the Hamas, Jihad Islami, Hisballah, Iran and Iraq, launched at the end of March, was but the prologue for the current onslaught, while this one is the lead-in to the third wave whose eruption is planned for the moment that the Americans begin marching on Iraq.

But the Israeli prime minister was not ready and did not prepare the people. Even now, he has nothing to say to a distraught and traumatized nation. The only appropriate words came from the police commissioner, Shlomo Aharonishki. Confronted with unanswerable questions about the police performance in preventing terrorists reaching their targets, he said: “The whole country is now a front line”.

Sharon has run out of time for dilatory and defensive tactics. They only encourage Palestinian aggression, promote desperation and extremism and will at some point bring about his downfall.