All sides now committed to escalation
February 6, 2001
Now the real craziness begins. The Palestinians are committed to heating things
up to demonstrate their resolve and their capabilities. The Israelis are committed
to "stopping the violence" which means clamping the boot down on the Palestinians
even more harshly -- and even Shimon Peres has already announced he is eager
to join a Sharon "national unity" government. The Americans are tied to the
Israelis for good or bad; their military forces are on alert and military supplies,
including Patriot missiles, are already flowing into Israel under various covers.
And the Arabs remain too weak, divided, and co-opted to do anything serious;
fearing more than loathing Israel. It's all a powderkeg waiting for ignition;
and the two articles that follow help set the stage for whatever is now to
FEAR SPURS VOTERS INTO ARMS OF SHARON
Palestinian threats help to seal
the prime minister's expected
[The Guardian - Suzanne Goldberg in Jerusalem, Tuesday February 6]:
Palestinian militants said last night that they were poised to attack
targets in Israel on the eve of today's election, which is expected to make
Ariel Sharon the country's next prime minister.
The warning came as Israeli soldiers tried to tighten their grip on the
West Bank and Gaza Strip before the "day of rage" which leaders of Yasser
Arafat's Fatah movement say marks the start of an intensification of the
The army fired rocket-propelled grenades into the Palestinian refugee camp
of Rafah, on the border between Gaza and Egypt, after an Israeli soldier on
his way to vote in the early ballot staged for the army was killed by a
bullet fired from the camp.
Israel also shut down the Palestinian airport in Gaza and the Rafah
crossing to Egypt.
Police reinforcements were moved to the northern towns in Galilee, where a
call for Israeli Arabs to boycott the election could lead to clashes.
With yesterday's opinion polls showing him leading the incumbent prime
minister, Ehud Barak, by as much as 22 points, Mr Sharon could be stepping
into a ready-made confrontation.
Yesterday he was challenged not only by the Fatah militias, which have led
the protests in the West Bank and Gaza, but also by the militant group
Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for at least two car
bombings in Israel in the past four months.
"Our operations will continue and increase. We will carry out powerful
blows against the criminal entity within the coming few days," Islamic
Jihad said in a statement delivered before yesterday's funeral of a bomber
who was shot dead trying to scale the fence sealing off Gaza.
"No barriers, wire fences, or security measures will prevent us from
carrying out painful strikes against the enemy."
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, meanwhile, an important Fatah leader
declared that the Palestinians would give no quarter to Mr Sharon.
Hussein Sheikh, who commands Fatah's militiamen in the West Bank, said:
"The next days and weeks are going to be hard, and the area will witness an
escalation in the field.
"We have declared a general state of emergency and we have orders to
escalate the intifada."
Mr Barak spent the final moments of his campaign yesterday warning Israelis
that the former general Sharon could lead them into a war.
"The Middle East is a powder keg," he wrote in the Yediot Ahronoth,
Israel's best-selling paper.
"We are being called to decide whether to give the match to extremists,
people who are too extreme for Israel. We are being called to decide
whether between us and peace lies another bloody war."
But Israelis seemed to be in no mood to listen. After four months of
bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, people have lost faith not only
in Mr Barak but in the entire seven years of negotiations started by the
assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to research published
yesterday by the Israel Democracy Institute.
An opinion survey carried out last month found that only 22% of Israelis
believed that a peace deal with the Palestinians would end nearly 53 years
of violence. Two years ago the figure was 67%.
"Israelis feel that the track Rabin, and especially Barak, took was leading
to an agreement having many concessions but no end of conflict, and no
solution to problems of personal security," said Ruth Gavison, from the
"Many Israelis feel that what we now have is not a full war, but it is
definitely not peace, and the way Barak is leading could lead into a worse
In his place Israelis are expected to choose a man who says he has no
intention of negotiating with the Palestinians for years, and who last year
called on Mr Barak to crush the uprising by assassinating Gaza's security
How big the turnout will be is another question, however.
In Ramallah Mr Sheikh declared: "If the choice is war, it is better for
Palestinians to deal with Sharon .Sharon has a clear vision. It is better
for us to deal with someone who clearly wants to fight us and have war
rather than deal with someone who raises flag of peace and then wages war."
TENSIONS HIGH AS U.S. PATRIOT MISSILES ARRIVE IN ISRAEL
By Steve Rodan, Middle East Newsline
[TEL AVIV - Middle East Newsline - 6 February]
A U.S. Army brigade carrying Patriot anti-aircraft missiles has
arrived in Israel as both Israeli and Arab military sources reported heightened
The U.S. brigade from the 69th Air Defense Artillery arrived in Haifa and
preparing for an exercise, called Juniper Cobra. The exercise - beginning
and lasting 14 days - is one component of plans to increase U.S.-Israeli defense
coordination amid threats of regional war that could involve Iraq and Syria.
The sources described Israeli, Iraqi and Lebanese military movements over
weekend. In Lebanon, the Hizbullah movement deployed short-range rockets near
the Israeli border.
Arab military sources said Israel and Hizbullah have beefed up their forces
border with Lebanon. On late Sunday, the sources reported intensified Israeli
patrols, deployment of additional tanks as well as fortified military and
For its part, Hizbullah was reported to have brought in new batteries of Katyusha
rockets. These include rockets with a range of 70 kilometers, capable of striking
northern city of Haifa.
In Beirut, Hizbullah deputy chief Naim Kassem said Hizbullah was ready to
Israel. Kassem said Israel was confused and the leadership was under immense
Israeli sources said Iraq continues to bolster its forces near the Syrian
borders. They said nearly two Iraqi divisions are near the Syrian border in
appears to be a move coordinated with the regime in Damascus.
The London-based Sunday Times reported that both the Syrian and Israeli militaries
are on full alert.
The United States has relayed messages to Damascus not to cooperate with
Baghdad's plans to escalate tension. On Sunday, U.S. officials called for
particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian mini-war in the West Bank and Gaza
Israeli military source said the arrival of the Patriot battery does not effectively
strengthen defense capabilities. The Patriot was developed as an anti-aircraft
But since the Gulf war, Raytheon has improved the missile so that it can intercept
But defense sources said the Patriot is simply too slow to intercept the more
advanced missiles being developed by Egypt, Syria and Iran.