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ARAFAT'S DEPARTURE

IDF Chief Of Staff Moshe Ya’alon: ‘Opportunity For Peace If New And Responsible Palestinian Leadership Will Honor Its Commitments’

‘Reformists Ready For A Deal With Israel, But Terrorists Want To Continue Anarchy’

Yasser Arafat

The official news that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will not be taken off his life-support system was taken in stride by Israel. When Arafat was flown to Paris in serious condition last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instructed his cabinet ministers to clam up, in light of the delicate situation. Jerusalem has been in a ‘wait and see’ mode - not wanting to be accused of intervening in the Palestinians’ internal affairs. The IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon did refer to what he called a new Middle East crossroad when he briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

The Israel Defense Forces are ready to cope with all scenarios after the death of Yasser Arafat. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon says the demise of Arafat may lead to a new Middle East crossroads.

If a responsible and effective Palestinian leadership takes control, it could lead to new peace opportunities. But, General Ya’alon said this would mean the new leaders would have to keep the Palestinian commitment to halt the terrorism against Israel. And he added, if the Palestinians took this course, Israel would have to reciprocate. At present, the Palestinians were preparing for the day after Arafat. The Chief of Staff foresees a match-up between the ‘reformers’, who are ready to cut a peace deal with Israel, and the ‘anarchists’ who will try to carry on the terrorism. For the time being anyway, the terror groups would be ready to toe the line of the Palestinian Authority lead by Abu Mazen and Abu Ala. But there was no way of knowing for how long because Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades wanted to continue the terrorism.

Gen. Yaalon

General Ya’alon made clear the IDF was ready to cope with all scenarios and would carry on its counter-terror campaign. In any case, the Palestinians were not preparing for Arafat’s funeral, nor was Israel. Meanwhile, the international media continue to stream to Arafat’s headquarters, the Mukata in Ramalla where the Palestinian may likely be buried. What is clear is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not agree that Arafat be buried in the Israeli capital. Justice Minister Tommy Lapid did break the Israeli ‘blackout’ by declaring: ‘Arafat will not be buried in Jerusalem where Jewish kings were buried, not terrorists!’

One other spin-off is that Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has decided not to resign although he warned he would if Prime Minister Sharon refused to hold a national referendum on the Gaza withdrawal. Netanyahu now says he will not quit the cabinet because of the new situation created by Arafat’s demise. Sharon says he will not budge on his decision not to go for a referendum and he is determined to carry out the withdrawal next year on schedule. The National Religious Party has decided to quit the government over the issue. This means that Sharon has now lost his majority in Israel’s parliament and depends upon the opposition Labor party to implement the withdrawal. The NRP pullout has brought an early election one step closer.

The Chief of Staff also referred to the pilotless drone launched by Hizballah in south Lebanon and which flew over the northern Israeli town of Nahariya for some 5 minutes this week. Although the IDF was aware that Hizballah had acquired the drones, it had not gone on a combat footing to shoot it down. General Ya’alon declared this hole will now be plugged. The drone was supplied by Iran and possibly launched with Iranian help. The small aircraft is equipped with a camera and can carry a load of about 90 pounds which could include explosives.

In any case, Israel holds the sovereign state of Lebanon responsible for hosting the terrorist organization. Then the Chief of Staff made this point; Israeli planes will continue to fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon as long as hostile activity emanates from Lebanese territory. General Ya’alon recalled that when the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, it halted the reconnaissance flights. However, several months later when Hizballah abducted and killed 3 IDF soldiers, the IDF resumed the over-flights.

Finally, the Chief of Staff received wall-to-wall support from committee members for his dismissal of Brigadier General Shmuel Zackai from the IDF. Zackai, a highly regarded divisional commander in the heart of the fighting in the Gaza Strip, had himself resigned his position after failing a lie-detector test about leaking to the media. Fifteen other senior officers also took the test and were found to be telling the truth. Brigadier Zackai categorically denied doing anything wrong but General Ya’alon referred to other cases of the senior officer not telling the truth. Therefore, the Chief of Staff concluded that he had no choice but to dismiss Zackai from the IDF.

David Essing

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