The CIA and Yasser Arafat -- US has been sending cryptic messages to Israel that Washington might tolerate Arafat's demise

Stratfor Intelligence

Week of September 23, 2003

Will Arafat remain an American friend forever? Quietly, the United States has been sending cryptic messages to Israel that Washington might tolerate Arafat's demise. But the messages stress that Israel must act quickly and efficiently as it did in the 1967 war. As one former senior U.S. intelligence official said, this operation must take no longer than four days and completely destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.

"I see Bush looking away for three days, maybe four at most, while Israel destroys the PA," the intelligence official said. "After that, Bush will respond harshly."

Yasser Arafat, the terrorist with nine lives, has just acquired another one.

After overseeing a terrorist machine that since 2000 has killed more than 1,000 people, including U.S. nationals, Arafat has been deemed by the United States as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. At the same time, Arafat's safety has become a key element in U.S. policy in the region.

In short, Arafat has enjoyed a status unlike that of any other U.S. adversary in the area.

The irony is that the administration has equated Arafat with Sharon. Sharon, who has followed every U.S. dictate, has been seen as a bloodthirsty tyrant similar to Arafat who can't make peace but can't win a war.

"Arafat and Sharon are both the same," a senior U.S. State Department official said. "They are interested in power only. So, it's no surprise that they are willing to sacrifice every one of their people to stay in power."

How did the administration come to compare a bloodthirsty terrorist with the democratically elected head of a key U.S. ally?

What does Arafat provide the United States that justifies its efforts to protect the Palestinian Authority chairman?

Arafat has long enjoyed a lobby at Foggy Bottom and at the CIA. Since President Gerald Ford's administration, Arafat has been seen as somebody who could get things done -- whether this meant facilitating an intelligence exchange between Washington and the CIA or maintaining quiet during the 1991 Gulf war. In short, Arafat was the godfather of terrorism and he allies with virtually every rogue regime in the Middle East.

In 1975 Israel had extracted a pledge from the United States that Washington would not negotiate with Arafat or the PLO.

Privately, the CIA maintained ties to Arafat. But successive U.S. administrations would not formally talk to the PLO.

Ironically, Israel changed the status quo in 1992 when it engaged in back-channel negotiations with Arafat and the PLO. That led to the 1993 Oslo agreement for a five-year plan of Palestinian self-rule followed by efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state. The Oslo plan formalized U.S. ties with Arafat and led to a huge increase in direct funding to the PLO leader.

Western intelligence sources said the United States has strengthened intelligence and security ties with Arafat and his security forces.

Washington poured hundreds of millions of dollars to boost Arafat's power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, allowing him to purchase advanced security equipment and to train an elite bodyguard unit. Much of the U.S. money simply went into Arafat's pockets.

The height of U.S. aid to Arafat came in 2000 when the Clinton administration sought to conclude a peace deal between Israel and the PA.

Arafat was quietly promised billions of dollars in U.S. and international aid to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem, sources said. But Arafat refused the U.S. peace plan and launched a war that soon will enter its fourth year.

But even during the Israeli-Palestinian war, Arafat kept receiving U.S. aid. Intelligence sources estimate that the Clinton and Bush administrations have relayed hundreds of millions of dollars to Arafat since 2000 even as his terrorist machine killed American citizens.

Much of the U.S. money has come from a special CIA fund concealed from Congress. Other funds came in the form of U.S. security aid to the PA that ended up in Arafat's pocket.

This time, the intelligence sources said, the U.S. motive for financing Arafat was not for his intelligence cooperation. For years, the CIA-PA intelligence exchange went through such Palestinian security officers as General Intelligence chief Amin Al Hindi and current PA Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan.

The main reason for the U.S. aid to Arafat, the sources said, is to protect American interests in the Middle East. The CIA assessed that a desperate Arafat could facilitate Islamic attacks on U.S. facilities both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as throughout the Middle East.

Despite harsh U.S. criticism of Arafat, American diplomats and CIA officers have not been killed in the PA areas over the last three years.

"The United States does not support either the elimination or the exile of Mr. Arafat," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "It is not our position and the Israeli government knows this. There would be rage in the Arab world and the Muslim world. And I don't see this moving forward the roadmap."

Officials said the Bush administration has deemed Arafat's well being an issue of U.S. national security. They said the administration has pledged to Arab allies such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that Washington would prevent Israel from expelling or harming Arafat.

The United States exercised this policy on Sept. 13 when it prevented Israel's military from capturing Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

Officials said Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were alarmed by the Israeli entry into Ramallah on Sept. 11. An Israeli military force had captured a PA ministry about 300 meters from Arafat's headquarters and established a command post for the capture of the Muqata'a.

Powell and Rice sent Israel a message, the officials said, that the United States would regard any move to exile Arafat as harmful to Washington's interests in the Middle East, including the roadmap for a Palestinian state. At the same time, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer met Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and warned of an international backlash to Arafat's exile.

The U.S. pressure worked and by Sept. 13 Mofaz ordered the withdrawal of the Israeli military force from Ramallah. At the same time, Powell telephoned PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath and pledged that Washington will continue to ensure that Arafat is not harmed.