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‘GOING THE EXTRA MILE’

Israeli Security Cabinet:‘Prepare For War, But Give Palestinian President Abbas A Last Chance’

Palestinian General Musa Arafat:‘Palestinian Security Forces Will Deploy Along Gaza Border To Prevent Qassam Attacks On Israel’

Hizballah And Possibly Syria In Israeli ‘Crosshairs’ After Attacks In The North

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has entered the ‘make or break’ phase. IDF troops and tanks have been ordered ‘on standby’ to silence the mounting Palestinian attacks in and from the Gaza Strip. However, Israel’s security cabinet is taking Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his word - that he sincerely wants to stop the terrorism and get back to the conference table. Either the new Palestinian leader delivers on his pledge or Israeli officials say the IDF will do what it takes to protect the country’s citizens.

Prepare for war but give Mahmoud Abbas a last chance - Israel’s security cabinet has opted for a two-track policy to cope with the current crisis. In the north, Hizballah and possibly Syria will no longer get a ‘free pass’ for exploiting the situation to launch more attacks.

Hamas

Has Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finally stopped talking about ending terrorism and started doing something about it? Israeli officials say before long it should become crystal clear. This is what has apparently transpired. On the eve of the three-day Muslim holiday ‘Id al Adha’, the ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, Israel planned to call off all but ‘ticking bomb’ operations. It would provide a trial period to see if Abbas means business in Gaza.Second, the Palestinian leader realized that his time was up - Sharon’s patience was running out and the Qassam rocket attacks would have to stop.

Palestinian Police

Problem: If Abbas finally sent some of this 30,000 armed security personnel to stop the Qassam launching from the border area of northern Gaza, might the IDF mistake them for terrorists and attack? Abbas was obviously aware that Sharon was about to convene his security cabinet and after the latest deadly suicide bombing IDF tanks were massing on the border. Abbas orders General Musa Arafat to seek an urgent meeting with IDF Gaza commander Brigadier Aviv Kochavi. After Sharon suspended all contacts after the recent Karni suicide bombing, the security cabinet approves the confab.General Arafat seeks IDF guarantees that his forces will not be hit if they move in to take control of Qassam launch areas. ‘It’s a deal’, replies Brigadier Kochavi.

Prospects: This is the big test for President Abbas. Israeli intelligence reports that Abbas has given strict orders to his security forces telling them, they and not Hamas and Islamic Jihad, rule the roost in Gaza. But what happens if the terror organizations disagree that terror harms the Palestinian cause and there is a confrontation? Abbas has repeatedly declared that he will persuade and not coerce the terrorists. Israeli officials say the bottom line will be if Abbas is seen as making ‘a one-hundred percent effort.’The Stakes: Prime Minister Sharon is under immense pressure to stem the Palestinian escalation. Even Labor MKs Danny Yatom and Matan Vilnayie, retired IDF generals, have chided Sharon for not taking action. In Sharon’s Likud party, there are calls to launch a massive ‘Defensive Shield’ operation similar to the West Bank nearly three years ago. But such a move, however justified, would probably write off Mahmoud Abbas and prospects for a dialogue. Moreover, it would probably delay or cancel the upcoming withdrawal from Gaza.

Internal security Minister Gideon Ezra has told IsraCast that the evacuation will not be implemented if the Palestinians continue their attacks. Ezra explains that when Sharon decided on the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the level of terrorism was much lower. And he adds: ‘We are not going to run away in the face of Palestinian attacks!’Sharon’s Predicament: The mounting terrorism has supplied ‘ammunition’ for the PM’s critics in and out of the Likud. The Likud ‘rebels’ are circulating a new petition demanding a national referendum on the withdrawal. If there is no halt to the Palestinian attacks Sharon will be faced with a ‘mission impossible’. The PM will lose any chance of quelling right wing condemnation by bringing the Shas party into the government to balance Sharon’s current dependence on far left and Arab MKs. Shas has made clear it will remain ‘out’ unless there is a Palestinian ‘contribution’ to Israel’s withdrawal. The whole disengagement plan might start to unravel and develop into a farce for many more Israelis. It could lead to the fall of the government and an early election.Bigger Picture: The U.S., in between administrations, has so far been an almost absent partner. However, it can be assumed that President Bush has quietly urged Sharon ‘to go the extra mile’ until Condoleezza Rice can launch a rescue mission. After the inauguration, Washington can be expected to get more actively involved. But Gaza is not the only flashpoint, there are others. A government in Jerusalem cannot overlook its Washington connection with Iran’s nuclear drive now on the front burner. The Prime Minister has briefed U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer on the situation after the security cabinet session.Hizballah & Syria: Hizballah, egged on by Syria and Iran, is exploiting the delicate situation in Gaza to step up infiltrations from Lebanon in the Mount Dov area. Moreover, IDF intelligence says Hizballah is playing a greater role in plotting and funding terrorism in the territories. From Damascus, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters are directing their organizations. To date, the IDF has retaliated with local air and ground fire to the Hizballah provocations on the northern frontier. The security cabinet has now instructed the IDF to put Hizballah squarely ‘in its crosshairs’. In the past, Israel has also viewed Syria as bearing direct responsibility, carrying out an air strike on a terrorist training base near Damascus. Jerusalem is now in a ‘wait and see’ mode. The inaugural celebrations in Washington and Muslim festivities in Gaza over the next few days may be a quiet interlude before very hard choices must be made.

David Essing

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