Is Israel's Very Existence Under Threat?

by DEBKAfile

14 September 2002

US President George W. Bush and his top military and intelligence advisers are clearly convinced by the evidence in their hands that America faces an existential peril.

American intelligence has captured a most somber picture: Russian black marketeers handing over nuclear suitcase.

One piece of evidence is .... the “Palermo Senator” container vessel, detained and searched at sea for four days after radiation traces were detected in its hold on September 9. The fact that the search came up empty does not obviate the danger. It is as acute as ever. It ties in with the solid intelligence the FBI is holding that 40 al Qaeda men are heading for the United States by ship. No one knows what ship, what arms they bear – conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear – or where they are programmed to strike.

US federal agencies have been haunted by the seemingly phantom group ever since they were tipped-off last May that Osama bin Laden’s men was aiming for Santa Catalina, an island 35 km south of Los Angeles. The group may have already stolen into the country or changed direction for another port - London, Haifa or Ashdod. The FBI is giving out little on this affair, fearing to be accused of once again failing to hunt down terrorists on their way to wreak disaster. However since May, whenever a foreign freighter chugs into any American port, the Coast Guard makes sure to bring out Geiger counters before it is cleared for entry.

DEBKAfile ’sWashington sources reveal that the fuss and ado around “Palermo Senator” was the real reason for vice president Richard Cheney being consigned to a secure place on the night of Monday, September 9.

The fear of unconventional weapons of terror stealing into America is only one element of the sense of encompassing peril in store. A nightmarish standoff of the type familiar to movie thriller fans has certainly entered the minds of Washington’s decision-makers. It goes something like this: One morning, a spokesman of the ruling Iraqi Baath Revolutionary Council issues a statement: Iraqi secret agents are in place at two or three key centers in America - or strategic locations in America, Britain and Israel - armed with suitcases containing nuclear devices or deadly viruses, smallpox, anthrax etc. Then comes the ultimatum: Bush is given 12 or 24 hours to go public before the UN General Assembly and revoke his war plans for Iraq, or else an irreversible order goes out to the agents to release the suitcases’ deadly contents. An American pre-emptive blitz of Iraq cities would have the same consequence.

That is only a scenario. However, hard intelligence data reaching Washington raises the distinct possibility of Iraqi agents, or Iraq-trained Palestinian terrorists, being concealed somewhere on the West Bank or hiding in an Israeli Arab community, armed with exactly such suitcases. Their penetration and concealment will have been facilitated by Yasser Arafat and his Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. This danger, raised more than once in DEBKAfile, accounts for the as yet unpublished Israeli government decision to begin inoculating the entire Israeli population against smallpox after the Succoth festival, that is from September 30.

It also explains the chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon’s statement last week that he discerns in the Palestinian terror campaign elements hazardous to Israel’s survival. This assertion brought down on the general’s head a full-blown assault by Israeli left-wing political groups.The chorus of protest came from factions that initiated and carried through the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords with Yasser Arafat, supported by a gallery of media pundits.

The contrast is stark.

The Bush administration fully acknowledges that America is in grave existential peril, even without facing a potential Iraqi military invasion of New York, while Israel’s chief of staff is slammed for the crime of articulating the same warning.

The attacks on him were given academic substance by a political scientist at Beersheba University called Henrietta Dehan, who was invited to appear on a prime time TV newscast Friday night. She proceeded to explain that Israel dare not be drawn into the American move against Iraq for fear of forcing the Arab world to gang up on it and embark on a fresh arms race. The Arabs, she said, have the financial and technological edge in this race. Israel will be safe, this academic insisted, if it stays clear of the American offensive against Iraq.

She found nothing threatening in the Palestinian terror that has blighted Israel for two years, nor the Hizballah whose avowed objective is to destroy Israel. Above all, she saw no danger in the alliance between Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat and their weapons of mass destruction that threaten Israel as much as America. This political scientist had even forgotten that in 1991, Israel was as quiet as a mouse, yet was attacked by Saddam’s missiles.

Mme Dehan’s thesis, broadcast on the eve of a conflict that placed Israel’s survival in danger 29 years ago, is a perfect example of the amnesia and denial afflicting some of the most vocal Israeli politicians, writers and academics. This shrinking group of chronic deniers persists in pointing its finger in the wrong direction to avoiding recognizing that, whatever Israel may or may not do in the war against Saddam Hussein, it faces a tangible threat to its existence which comes from the bitter fruit planted by the accord signed at Oslo nine years ago. Any political scientist worth his or her salt would address the connection and the reality instead of chasing false hares.