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June 1998
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Estimate in Israel: Military conflict expected
only with declaration of Palestinian State

By Amos Harel
Ha'aretz Military Correspondent


'Palestinian fighters getting professional'
PA forces said training hard to take on IDF

[From HAARETZ, 1 June 1998]:

Palestinian security forces have recently accelerated and intensified their training in case of a confrontation in the territories against Israel. The Palestinian preparations for potential confrontations, most of which are focused on defensive measures, are becoming increasingly professional: the security bodies are training in the use of formations (such as teams or squads) for defined missions, while civilian bodies are increasing the pace of civil defense training.

Warnings from Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and opposition leader Ehud Barak last week on the danger of confrontations with the Palestinians were based on this information, as well as on the assessments of Military Intelligence concerning the growing chance that the Palestinians will turn to violence if Israel does not implement a second withdrawal.

Mordechai said at the cabinet meeting that "anyone who thinks that if they bring the process to a crisis, there will not be violence is mistaken. I am speaking based on situation assessments and intelligence reports," the minister emphasized. Barak claimed that "we are on the verge of a disaster, and the sheep in the government are remaining silent."

Security establishment officials believe that the Palestinians view clashes of various magnitudes during the coming year as an almost inevitable development. "We know that the Palestinians are training for combat and aspiring to being able to use anti-tank missiles," one high-ranking officer told Ha'aretz. "They are training to fight in formation, and to carry out assignments by means of formations: gaining control of an area of land, holding down a post, taking over one of our positions, attacking a settlement.

"We must take these Palestinian preparations very seriously. In the next clash, if it happens, the Palestinian side will be on a more professional level. Just as we analyze the lessons from the Western Wall tunnel clashes, the other side is doing the same. We will have to be prepared for this," the officer said.

Other sources report "training in military formations, of teams and squads, which is far from the usual training of a police force."

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is holding self-defense courses for civilians. The first group of Shabiba members, the Fatah youth group, recently finished a two-week course in Gaza that included combat training and weapons.

The secretary of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's office, Tayib Abdul Rahim, said at the graduation ceremony that the PA views Israel's threats to re-enter the territories very seriously and it intends to respond when and if that happens. According to PA plans, all members of the Shabiba youth group will undergo similar training.

Defense sources say that this training includes lessons in shooting, hand-to-hand combat and ceremonial drills. This is raising concern in Israel, according to the sources, because it is being done on a massive scale, primarily in Gaza.

The security establishment is also aware of that sniper training is part of the training of Palestinian security forces. In several confrontations, the IDF identified Palestinians carrying Kalashnikov and M-16 assault rifles with telescopic sights. The Palestinians claimed that the telescopic sights were purchased by individuals on a personal basis, but Israel believes that they are part of the military equipment being smuggled into the PA from abroad.

The interim agreements allow the Palestinians 30,000 weapons in the territories. The actual number in their possession today is far greater, but the PA continues to try to smuggle in more weapons. Arafat issued an authorization to smuggle weapons and to purchase them on the black market.

The assessment is that the Palestinians have anti-tank missiles and a large number of land mines, which they will try to place in the path of Israeli tanks should Israel attempt to re-enter and occupy Palestinian cities. They may also have rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). Israel does not have firm confirmation, however, that the Palestinians have mortar shells and heavy machine guns, as was claimed several months ago in Time Magazine.

A security source says that the amassing of weapons "is not being done only for the day the order will go out. It is reasonable to assume that some of the weapons are being smuggled to the territories for the personal use of the Palestinians."

[HAARETZ - 1 June 98 - Translated from Hebrew original]




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