THE TERRORIST INFRASTRUCTURE

By Steven Emerson

Israel "(IINS) Israel Internet News Service Ltd."

This report is reprinted from the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition

With gruesome predictability, "the enemies of peace" struck again, this time killing 13 innocent shoppers in a downtown Jerusalem market. Since the 1993 Oslo accords were signed, 259 (265 according to IINS statistics) Israelis and four Americans have been killed and more than 5,000 wounded in terrorist attacks--the largest number of Israeli dead from terrorism in any comparable period since the creation of the state 50 years ago.

This wave of violence does not exist in a vacuum. Terrorists need plenty of help to carry out their plans. And they're getting it from Yassir Arafat's Palestinian government--even as the US government and much of the Western press turns a blind eye to activities that make a mockery of the "peace process."

Islamic Infrastructure

The suicide bombers who carried out the Jerusalem attack last Wednesday reportedly came from a well-organized infrastructure of Islamic militants in both Gaza and the West Bank that operates without serious interference from Mr. Arafat's government. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority sometimes encourages and assists the terrorists. According to senior Israeli and Arab intelligence officials, Islamic Jihad and Hamas boast thousands of active members and have acquired hundreds of pounds of deadly explosives, thousands of guns, rapid-propelled grenade launchers, grenades and even antitank missiles. De facto terrorist camps operate throughout Gaza. Meanwhile, rallies where tens of thousands of Palestinians call for "death to Israel" and proclaim "we are all suicide bombers" have become virtually routine in both the West Bank and Gaza. All this is duly reported by the Israeli and Palestinian press, yet it receives virtually no attention in the US.

Even worse, hundreds of known terrorists roam freely through territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, where they continue planning and directing terrorist attacks. The Israeli government reports that several months ago Mr. Arafat himself ordered 120 known terrorists freed from jail. Israeli intelligence officials further claim that some two dozen terrorists responsible for killing or wounding more than 200 Israelis, including the masterminds of suicide bombings, actually serve as paid agents of Mr. Arafat's security forces. Those forces, incidentally, now number 45,000, some 27,000 more than allowed under the Oslo accords. Mr. Arafat has not even tried to hide his support for terrorists, routinely praising Islamic militants to throngs of cheering supporters. In January 1996, before thousands of supporters in Hevron, Mr. Arafat glorified Yecchi Ayyash, the Islamic terrorist known as "the Engineer," a man who had orchestrated the deaths of more than 70 Israelis and two Americans, as a "sacred martyr." A month before, according to a report in the Palestinian press, Mr. Arafat signed an agreement with Hamas stipulating that it could initiate attacks against Israelis from areas not directly under Mr. Arafat's control. And in March of this year, according to the Palestinian newspaper Al Hayat Al Jaddideh, Marwan Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Parliament, openly expressed "condolences" to the "family of Mousa Ghanimat, who became a martyr in Tel-Aviv." Ghanimat was the suicide bomber who killed three women in a Tel-Aviv cafe in March. Members of Parliament erupted in spontaneous applause at this statement.

Mr. Arafat's government has been directly implicated in terrorist attacks on Israelis. In the past month, Israeli police arrested several Palestinian policemen who were on an operation to kill Israelis. Confessions by one of the participants and electronic intercepts show, according to a senior Israeli official, that the men were dispatched in stolen Israeli car and provided with weapons directly by Gen. Ghazi Jabali, commander in chief of the Palestinian police.

In the past four years, report Israeli intelligence sources and the Israeli press, Mr. Arafat has amassed a significant arsenal of illegally acquired weapons, including thousands of semiautomatic weapons, antitank and even antiaircraft missiles. Israeli intelligence officials say that Mr. Arafat has probably acquired Katyusha rockets and SAM-7 antiaircraft missiles. Arms smuggling reportedly continues on an almost daily basis into Palestinian territory from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and from the Mediterranean into Gaza. In the past three weeks, according to a senior Israeli counter-terrorism official, Mr. Arafat's own limousine was used to smuggle pistols into Gaza; Israeli intelligence officials say that nearly every time Mr. Arafat returns by car into Gaza, he packs his diplomatically protected trunk with weapons deliveries. A senior Israeli military official describes an even more brazen act of smuggling: The official says that on a return trip from Jordan earlier this year, Mr. Arafat's second helicopter developed engine trouble and was forced to land in Israel. This official says that the helicopter was brimming with AK-47s.

There is another reason that there have been so many recent acts of terrorism: Israel's once-vaunted intelligence network, which had prevented suicide bombings prior to the Oslo accords, has been systematically destroyed by Mr. Arafat's forces. According to Palestinian and Israeli officials, Palestinian Authority forces have killed, tortured, kidnapped or threatened hundreds of Palestinians who once formed the core of Israel's early-warning system in the Palestinian territories. Even within Israeli cities, says a senior Israeli intelligence official, Palestinian thugs have kidnapped and tortured Israeli Arabs to stop them from giving Israel information on potential terrorist attacks. After the bombing of the Tel-Aviv cafe in March, Israeli intelligence agents identified a squad of terrorists believed to be responsible for that attack and dozens of others. It turned out that the squad had been operating right under the noses of Israeli intelligence but had evaded detection for two years. The cause of this virtually unprecedented Israeli intelligence failure? The Palestinians' destruction of Israel's counter-terrorist intelligence network.

The evidence seems clear that Mr. Arafat's government is complicit in terrorism. Yet what has been the Clinton administration's response? Asked by a reporter if Mr. Arafat was fulfilling the Oslo accords, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns stated on March 3, 1997: "I don't think that one ought to . . . accuse them of not having met their commitments in the Middle East peace process over the last four years; they have, they've met them. They're led by a man who has made a fundamental commitment to peace and they have a number of officials on their side who do everything they can to work in cooperation with the Israeli government as well as the United States. I don't think we have a problem there."

The Clinton administration's unwillingness to believe the worst about Mr. Arafat's government sometimes borders on the ludicrous. Two weeks after the March suicide bombing in Tel-Aviv, Israeli intelligence officials say, they provided the Clinton administration with electronic intercepts purporting to show that Mr. Arafat had given a green light to the Hamas perpetrators. But Mr. Burns once again jumped to Mr. Arafat's defense: "We don't believe it to be true. We have not seen any evidence that Chairman Arafat has given the green light to anyone to incite violence in Jerusalem or the West Bank or the Gaza Strip." And what led the Clinton administration to this conclusion? "We have recent assurances from Chairman Arafat that he stands against violence," Mr. Burns said. Oh.

Brooklyn Arrests

The administration has not even had any harsh words for Mr. Arafat's latest diplomatic initiatives. The chairman of the Palestinian Authority has sent emissaries to Iran and met with the ambassador of Iraq, thus opening ties with two of the leading rogue states of the Middle East. Not only has the administration refused to put pressure on Mr. Arafat, but it also hasn't taken concrete steps to shut down the Islamic terrorist pipeline into the US. The arrest of two suspected suicide bombers in Brooklyn, NY, last week demonstrates that the US government won't shut down front groups that provide support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations from American shores.

When the first suicide bombing in Israel occurred in October 1994, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher declared "war" on international terrorism. But almost three years later, the latest body count in Jerusalem stands as stark testimony to the failure of the US counter-terrorist initiative.

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This report is reprinted from the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition and written by Mr. Steven Emerson, a Washington-based writer specializing in Islamic terrorist networks.

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