A thought-provoking revelation is in store for Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to President Clinton in Washington this week. He will certainly be made aware of a secret, 11-page congressional report on terrorism and warfare, drawn up under the chairmanship of New Jersey congressman Jim Saxton. At the heart of the report is a warning about a military pact drawn up between Yasser Arafat and the Syrian government toward the end of last year, threatening hostilities against Israel. One of the key clauses of the Damascus pact says that Arafat's police, as well as his "terrorist armed elements are to be trained" to ignite "the Israel interior in case of an escalation in the north." The report describes Arafat's rapid construction of a chain of deep "command centers, ammunition and weapons storage areas, well-fortified to even withstand Israeli bombing and shelling. The PA is accumulating large stockpiles of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including missiles - all forbidden by the Oslo accords."
Security experts in Israel were already aware of Arafat's importing of vast quantities of cement from Israel into Gaza, ostensibly for constructing housing and hospitals. They will now find disturbing confirmation of their suspicion that what the PLO chief was really up to was building a four-story-deep HQ bunker complex under the ground. To ensure close cooperation between Arafat and the Syrians, as laid down in the Damascus pact, joint offices have been opened in Beirut and Gaza. But the HQ is in Damascus, already functioning with the blessing of President Assad.
When we contacted Saxton's Washington office, we were told by his chief spokesman: "The situation has become more serious since the report was written. The Syrians have begun distributing weapons in the refugee camps (in southern Lebanon). At the PA's request they have launched intensive training of PLO anti-aircraft units." The purpose is to train these Palestinian units in the (imminent) use of the growing flow of such heavy weapons, now secretly entering Gaza. These cadres will then be infiltrated into Gaza, where they will take command of the local Palestinian units (Arafat's "police" and "security forces"). Even more startling news came from the head of the group that prepared Saxton's report: "Syrian military/intelligence teams will be infiltrated into the PA area, granted Palestinian identity documents, and serve as military attaches for training Palestinian forces."
At the same time, the Syrians deploying their own intelligence personnel in Gaza and in the Palestinian autonomy in Judea and Samaria. These Syrian personnel control Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, under PLO protection. Together with the PA, the Syrians are, as the congressional report phrases it, setting up a fresh team to "employ ruthless means" to eradicate any remnants of the General Security service's networks. This is intended to "further harm Israel's ability to prevent and fight terrorism."
In fact, so close is the cooperation between Damascus and the PA that trusted Syrian units have been ordered "to gather intelligence data about Israel, identify and designate targets in the deep Israeli rear, and detect any preparations for war. In the event of an eruption of violence in Lebanon or on the Syrian border," the report makes clear, "the Syrian-controlled teams will coordinate and lead the Palestinian contribution to the war effort." And "it is conceivable that the Syrian teams, along with the Palestinians they directly control, will ultimately conduct special operations inside Israel in case of a war."
The Saxton report is, of course, based on US intelligence data, including satellites and other electronic military activity. It would be surprising if much of this information were not already known to the GSS. The report will surely add weight to the seriousness of the liaison between the Syrians and Arafat, and their aggressive intentions. Advanced weapons have been smuggled for some time into Gaza by sea, despite efforts by the Israeli navy to blockade the area. Additional arms have been gotten to the PA across the border with Egypt. There is clearly concern in our cabinet about the buildup of Arafat's - let's call a spade a spade - military force.
Despite his new "super-dove" image, David Levy was sufficiently alarmed to announce recently that 30 plane-loads of weapons have been flown from Iran to Damascus. The announcement forced US officials to admit that they have known about this for some time. European intelligence sources revealed this week that accompanying the Iranian-supplied hardware on the planes were training specialists from Iran. The weapons, including advanced rockets capable of reaching the Haifa area from Lebanon, were sent on to Hizbullah and other terrorists training in the southern part of the country and in the Bekaa Valley. There is little doubt that many of these tools of war are fast making their way to Arafat. But the PLO chief has protested that the speed with which his army is being equipped is too slow for him.
Which is why he is pressing the prime minister as hard as he can to complete arrangements for building a seaport in Gaza and an airport in the Dahaniya area - both to function independently of Israeli inspection. Arafat is also pressing for quick implementation of safe passage for Palestinians and their goods between Gaza and the West Bank. It would not be stretching cynicism too far to understand why this is so important to him. How else can he get the weapons detailed above into the hands of his fighters in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and other points close to Jerusalem and other Jewish areas?
One heartily hopes that Binyamin Netanyahu, now in Washington, will not repeat the total surrender that characterized the Hebron agreement. But his prevarications over the past few weeks bode ill. His already shaky approach to withstanding Syria's demands for total withdrawal from the Golan - an area irretrievably linked to the security zone in Lebanon - has been further weakened by Internal Security Minister Kuhaleni's suggestion that an "international force" be allowed to run things up on the Heights. Has no one told Kuhaleni that one useless force is already stationed there?
Comments Saxton in his report, entitled Approaching the New Circle of Arab-Israeli Fighting: "The Clinton administration continues to apply pressure on Jerusalem to make additional concessions to Mr. Arafat, while ignoring the concurrent developments in the Middle East. Instead of pressuring the democratically-elected government of Israel to deviate from the policies it was elected for, the US should concentrate on helping Israel meet the growing threat of war."
Hello Messrs. Netanyahu and Clinton: Are you there?
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