Reprinted from Ha'aretz of 20 October 2000.

IDF FEARS ARAFAT IS PUSHING FOR A
FULL-SCALE REGIONAL WAR

By Amos Harel

The defense establishment is becoming increasingly convinced that Yasser Arafat does not intend to return to the Oslo process. This leaves him with two choices: The first, and the one he apparently prefers at the minute, is controlled violence that will lead in the end to new diplomatic initiatives, but with increased international involvement. The second, which Arafat has not ruled out, is a full-scale regional war.

The hope that Arafat would act forcefully to stop the violence has been revealed as delusional. The populace is pushing him to continue the "Al Aqsa Intifada." He has not yet sent a clear message of commitment to the Sharm understandings, contenting himself with anonymous and nonbinding statements through the Palestinian media. And serious incidents continue to occur.

Furthermore, some of the most dangerous Hamas activists are still not back in Palestinian Authority prisons. IDF officers say that "lifting the closure on the territories at this point would be tantamount to madness," given the intelligence information regarding plans to carry out bomb attacks in major urban centers. Nor is it only Islamic radicals who pose a concern. According to the IDF, many of the latest incidents involved members of Mohammed Dahlan's preventive security apparatus, and both Dahlan and his counterpart in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, are still refusing to meet with Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter.

In Arafat's preferred scenario, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would resemble Kosovo: increasing international involvement, foreign observers and troops, and finally an imposed settlement - which would be better for the Palestinians than what the Americans offered at Camp David. The minute parties other than the Americans are involved, Arafat profits. An Israeli mistake (bombing civilians, a massacre by settlers) or a new, more hesitant American administration would also help.

And if Plan A does not achieve its goals, Arafat would still have the option of a regional conflict. His hope is that once the smoke clears, a Palestinian state will emerge, perhaps with better borders than Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton have offered him.

In the meantime, there are several tactical junctures to be maneuvered. The first is this afternoon, when in Israel's view, the 48 hours allotted for implementing a cease-fire expire (in the Palestinian view, this deadline expired yesterday). Then comes the Arab League summit tomorrow. But the most important will come in the middle of next week, when Israel, finally convinced that Oslo, like Sharm, is a dead letter, will have to decide what to do. For the first time, it will have to consider taking the initiative, rather than merely responding to events.

Despite differences of opinion within the general staff, most of the generals still favor restraint. But continued escalation by Arafat would change their mind. "We cannot become reconciled to a reality of daily attacks," said one. "A war of attrition is the worst scenario ... it would be better to sharpen [the conflict]."

Against this background, a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state - probably sometime between the end of the Arab summit and November 15, which is Palestinian Independence Day - becomes more likely. Ironically, this would also have advantages for Israel: Israel would be seen as justified in taking steps to guarantee its own interests, such as separating more decisively from the Palestinians, seizing key positions, and even annexing part of Area C (that part of the territories still under full Israeli control).

The most worrying scenario is a regional conflict. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been working for restraint, but Iraq, Iran and Hezbollah are working for war. Iraq has already moved a division toward the Jordan border and put its air force on higher alert - exhibitionist steps, but not meaningless - and Hezbollah will do its best to drag Syria into the conflict.



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