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The major Israeli offensive under way against Arab terrorism opens the West’s second front against world terrorism, according to the military and intelligence sources of DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the private, subscription-based news and intelligence service.
This was the upshot of the hasty interview that took place at the White House Sunday night between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush, attended also by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The key decision of this decidedly unusual encounter of just over one hour was that the next phase of the war against world terrorism would not be launched against Iraq, Somalia or Sudan, but against the Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terror machines.
At the same time, Yasser Arafat was given his last chance to prove himself as Palestinian leader, despite the rising clamor in Israel to get rid of the Palestinian leader as the ultimate root of the terror that left 26 Israelis dead and more than 200 injured in two devastating terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa over the weekend.
What Sharon proposed to Bush – and will almost certainly put before the full-scale Cabinet session scheduled for tonight, will be to assign Israel Defense Forces the task of smashing Palestinian terrorist organs – including the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security and intelligence branches, which answer to Arafat personally. Their targets will include senior Palestinian officers engaged in terrorist activities – people such as Gazan preventive security chief Muhamed Dahlan, the West Bank general intelligence chief Col. Tawfiq Tirawi and the Tanzim militia leader Marwan Barghouti. The immunity they and their following have hitherto enjoyed from Israel attack is to be lifted.
Hezbollah’s turn will come once the operational links between Arafat and the Lebanese Shiite extremists are proven. The IDF is thus free to operate outside Israeli and Palestinian territory.
Washington sources report that these conclusions – plus the need to act promptly, without waiting for a Palestinian crackdown against terrorists – were approved, albeit some only tacitly, by U.S. leaders. They accepted the argument against Arafat’s credibility, given that his past promises in this regard have never been upheld. Sharon also produced intelligence revealing a joint Arafat-Hezbollah plan for an imminent attack on a major Israeli city on a scale comparable in Israeli terms to the World Trade Center atrocity. The only way to avert this strike, he said, was to capture and kill the would-be perpetrators. In other words, Israel may soon find itself at war with the Palestinians, without a formal declaration.
The only real sticking point the Israeli prime minister faced in the White House conference was over the fate of Yasser Arafat. The Americans insisted that he be given one last chance to test his leadership of the Palestinian people by combating terror. This put him on notice to crack down on the Hamas and Jihad Islami groups, with the questions of diplomatic negotiations, achievements and concessions, held in abeyance. Powell’s adviser, Gen. Anthony Zinni, already in the Middle East, will be there to hand out grades on Arafat’s performance. Moreover, U.S. leaders insist on preserving sections of Palestinian Authority not involved in terrorism as a core administration.
Sharon agreed to do his utmost to take U.S. wishes into account in the battle against terrorism, breaking up the terrorist infrastructure without touching Arafat in person. The operational plan Sharon showed Bush was tailored accordingly. However, Arafat’s movements are to be curtailed, as the missile attack on his Gaza helicopters this afternoon demonstrated, in the opening shot of the Israeli offensive.
Sharon’s U.S. visit, before it was curtailed by the latest wave of terror, was prepared by the director of Israeli’s intelligence service, the Shin Beit, Avi Dichter – not by a diplomat or political level official. Sharon went to his conversation with Bush alone and unattended. No one in Jerusalem knows, therefore, what transpired between him and the Bush team. The deep hush imposed by the Israeli prime minister on his dealings with U.S. leaders will no doubt extend to his report to the full-dress Israeli government session tonight, which has been categorized a “defense Cabinet” session, to plug leaks from its deliberations. He will certainly keep certain items up his sleeve, so as to leave himself room for maneuver.
Arafat, according to Palestinian sources, views the ultimatum handed him by the White House as a respite, a license to go on with his “Ramadan Offensive,” the most devastating Palestinian terror blitz against Israel in the 14-month intifada.
For the latest terror cycle, launched to coincide with the arrival of U.S. envoy Zinni Nov. 26, the Palestinian leader called up the operational Hezbollah elements he imported to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with striking results: a conspicuous upgrading of planning and execution and a powerful explosive substance never before used in Palestinian terror operations. The number of casualties was consequently higher, the degree of injury more severe and the bodies of the dead were too damaged to identify without medical scientific testing.
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