"It is illogical to consider a summit every time something happens. What use would a summit be now?" Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (8/03/01)
MID-EAST REALITIES © - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 8/03: The Palestinians and their allies and supporters are extremely ill-prepared for what is happening. Israeli military might remains overwhelming, and political support remains amazingly strong, especially in view of today's situation with Ariel Sharon Prime Minister, the "peace process" undergoing slow and tortuous cremation, and Israel attacking Palestinians in the occupied territories with tanks and gunships heretofore reserved for real warfare between armies. Furthermore when it comes to the crucial USA, the Israelis continue to have overwhelming political support on Capitol Hill, so much so that they could block if need be any attempts by other arms of government to thwart their designs. Even in the midst of all this fury the Israelis are actually formally requesting permanent training facilities for their airforce in the USA and further increases in American monies and supplies! The Palestinians and those who claim to be their allies in the USA still lack even one single professional publication and have nothing that could even be termed a "lobby" of any consequence in Washington.
The Stratfor Intelligence assessment is not all that comprehensive and its gets a few crucial things wrong, at least in terms of emphasis. For instance, Sharon is not being pushed against his will into a war to dismember the Arafat regime and completely terminate the "Oslo peace process". That has been his goal all along both in and out of power and Sharon is craftily making sure the provocations Israel provides are so massive and so constant that Palestinian rage will sooner or later give him the excuse he is waiting for. Sharon has played much the same game before, most notable in the lead-up to the Lebanon War in 1982 -- but the corporate media is remarkably forgetful and naive when it comes to such matters (and Sharon's knows that as well). Most importantly though the Stratfor report also doesn't look ahead at the likely reverberations into the future of what the Israelis and the Americans are doing today; just as it doesn't look back a bit to see how Israeli and American policies brought about today's explosive situation. Most suspicious of all however is that the Stratfor report concludes with a thinly veiled plea to send "international observers" -- which nicely dovetails with precisely what the US Government is arranging allowing it and the Europeans to claim they are doing something, helping let the Arabs of the hook, preventing any moves at the U.N., and in the end the Israelis (with secret American complicity of course) will twist the whole thing into further infiltrating and controlling the Palestinians and ending the Intifada (among the main goals of the CIA in the first place).
Meanwhile, the Israelis have actually announced plans for more home demolitions and assassination attacks in the immediate days ahead and it appears no one is going to do anything serious and real to stop that -- and by the time they might claim they are, as with settlements, the Israelis will have already accomplished most of their goals. The pathetic Arab League isn't even going to meet, though Arafat personally has been running from one ruler to another begging; and Hanan Ashrawi should be terribly ashamed she has let herself be used once again in such a miserable way. But then Arafat has no real credibility with anyone anymore; not even those on his extensive payroll.
"We can fight against Israeli infantrymen, but it will be a lot more difficult to resist tanks, helicopter attacks or shooting coming from the hills which overlook the city", the governor pointed out. Yet in Nablus, as in all West Bank cities and towns, it is difficult to detect any sign of preparations to face a major military offensive. Nothing has been done to replace or even beef up the simple defence of sandbags around Palestinian posts: no concrete shelters, not even any trenches.
Colonel Abdel Hai Abdel al-Wahed, in charge of civilian security for the whole of the West Bank, complains of "a total lack of coordination between the various civilian and police services". A high-ranking West Bank security official told AFP that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority "does not even have a plan taking into account the various scenarios" of an Israeli attack.
When an outright offensive seemed imminent six weeks ago, the National Islamic Forces -- a Palestinian coalition of 13 movements including Arafat's Fatah, as well as Islamic Jihad and Hamas -- called on Nablus residents to prepare Molotov cocktails with which to attack Israeli tanks. Hamas even urged volunteers to prepare explosive belts to be used in suicide attacks against the occupying forces.
Last week, the same coalition distributed flyers calling on the population to "be on alert and ready to defend its land", while giving no guidance or instructions to that effect. The makeshift defence strategy coupled with the calls for mobilisation leave more than one West Bank Palestinian bemused. "I suggest we prepare stocks of stones, it'll be more effective", says a sarcastic refugee from the Dheisheh camp near Bethlehem.
On several occasions Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out an all-out offensive against the Palestinian Authority, because of the international complications it would create for Israel and because it is not in the Jewish state's interest to reoccupy Palestinian urban centres. On this point many Palestinians agree with the hardline Israeli leader, including those directly involved in the conflict that has torn the region apart since last September.
"I am expecting the Israeli army to carry out repeated incursions, to create buffer zones (where it may shoot on sight), to step up assassinations (of Palestinian activists), but not to launch a global offensive", said an anonymous member of the Fatah's armed wing in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
[BBC - Sunday, 29 July]: Officials from around the Arab world have been meeting in Damascus to discuss a revival of the economic boycott against Israel. The move follows widespread Arab anger with Israel for its continued occupation of Arab land and for its handling of the 10-month old conflict with the Palestinians. There have already been calls by religious leaders and Iraq's President Saddam Hussein for a jihad, a holy war, to liberate Palestine. Yet an economic boycott is impractical and unlikely to achieve much, and the Arab world remains reluctant to go to war to help the Palestinians. Ahmed Khazaa, who heads the all-but-defunct Central Office for the Boycott of Israel, said renewing economic sanctions against the Jewish state was a form of peaceful resistance. The office, an offshoot of the Arab League, has not met since 1993, the year the Palestinians signed the Oslo peace agreement with Israel. Many businessmen say businesses are now simply too intertwined to make a secondary boycott - against companies that do business with Israel - effective. And many important Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan - which have peace treaties with Israel - have not even sent representatives to the Arab League meeting. If economic action against Israel is unlikely, full-scale military confrontation is even less probable. The first and most compelling reason for not going to war with Israel is the military equation. Put bluntly, it is not in the Arabs' favour. The Arab states have massive military manpower, but most of their leaders know, in their heart of hearts, that they cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield. Israel's military machine has an enormous, qualitative advantage over the Arabs. Israeli soldiers are better trained and better equipped, factors that have allowed them to defeat their Arab enemies in almost every conflict in Israel's violent, 53-year history. Israel also has access to the weapon of last resort - nuclear warheads, about 200 of them at the last estimate. The Arabs don't. Of course, Arab forces could still inflict a lot of pain on Israel. The prospect of a surprise attack, involving Syrian or Iraqi Scud missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, perhaps spreading poison gas or plague, still frightens Israeli military planners. But the response would be devastating and Arab rulers know it. Israel, if it chose to, could obliterate several Arab cities. There are also economic reasons not to go to war: A full-scale Middle East war would have a catastrophic effect on Arab economies. Already plagued by corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy, they would nose-dive, plunging millions into poverty. This is also why the prospect of waging wholesale economic warfare against Israel has never been taken seriously. Calls by Palestinians for their oil-rich fellow Arabs to stop supplying oil to Israel's ally, the US, have been dismissed with a smile. An Arab oil embargo, although painful in the short term, would prompt the West to look for alternative suppliers and other sources of energy. Ultimately the Gulf states themselves would be the losers, with their oil-dependant economies risking collapse. Finally, Arab rulers are unlikely to risk losing their thrones or presidencies by going to war for the Palestinians. There is plenty of simmering discontent at home in the Arab world, and any ruler who sent his people to war has to take into account that when they came home, probably defeated, they could decide to march on the palace. Only a life-or-death scenario would cause Arab rulers to mobilise their armies and send them to fight Israel. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is serious and it risks escalating. But it has not yet reached the stage where Arab rulers will risk everything to save the Palestinians.
[Stratfor Intelligence Group; Austin, Texas; 31 July 2001]: Amid the violence of the Palestinian intifida, the Israeli government has said it will restrain itself. But in reality, it is poised for a major military strike that would seize portions of the territories and destroy the Palestinian leadership. Israel is exhausting its last options before going to war.
In recent weeks, efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have resumed. The Bush administration has begun to back the notion of deploying international monitors to the West Bank and Gaza. And Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last week that he will stick to the U.S.-brokered cease-fire. But signs indicate Israel has already begun a countdown to a major military intervention in the Palestinian territories. Fourteen Palestinian leaders have been assassinated in the past month; although Israel has not acknowledged responsibility for all of them, it does have a policy of targeted assassinations, and such actions are often the prelude to a conventional military operation. Israeli forces are testing their avenues of ingress into Palestinian-controlled areas and probably gathering tactical intelligence.
The larger diplomatic and political atmosphere indicates the Sharon government is exhausting its last diplomatic options. It has announced the possible call-up of reservists abroad in order to generate international attention. And the Bush administration is scrambling to draw up plans to quickly deploy monitors to head off conflict.
The Israeli government also appears increasingly convinced that it can mount a messy, but ultimately successful, military operation. Arab militaries are weak. Following the assassination campaign, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will likely seal off the territories and surge into so-called Areas A, now held by Palestinian security forces. Subsequent operations would focus on cleaning out leaders and arms caches while securing a foothold in the largest urban areas. Such an operation would destroy the Oslo accords and in effect, though not officially, redraw the Israeli border eastward.
In a conflict, Israel would have the military advantage: The IDF enjoys superiority not only in numbers, training and equipment but also would face split Palestinian forces.
The Israeli military has an active duty force of 172,500 soldiers, with another 425,000 in available reserves. The IDF is the best-equipped force in the region, with advanced capabilities in intelligence and combat systems. The force includes 446 combat aircraft, 3,900 main battle tanks, 133 armed helicopters and a well-outfitted navy used to stop infiltration and arms smuggling.
By comparison, the Palestinian Security Services are a limited paramilitary force. Estimated to number between 35,000 and 40,000, the personnel have had little advanced military training. Nevertheless, many are former members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its militant faction, the Palestinian Liberation Army. Notably, their irregular training is perfectly suited for urban war.
The Palestinians would face disadvantages, however. First among these is the split between the regular security forces and the approximately 1,000 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants. These forces, already divided by different politics and leadership, are already operating in cells that would tax Israeli sweeps.
The PSS has a limited number of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The Palestinians have a total of 400 anti-tank weapons, 50 SA-7 man-portable surface-to-air missiles, 50 light armor vehicles, 60 81mm mortars, 40 ZPU 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns, land mines and hand grenades, according to AFI Research.
Israel's economic advantage also gives it military superiority. Israel's annual defense budget was about $7 billion in fiscal year 2000, backed by $3 billion in aid from the United States. In contrast, the Palestinian Authority spent $500 million in 1999 and $300 million in 1998 on security -- although these figures do not reflect funds spent on weapons smuggled in.
Military assistance from the United States to the PSS totaled only $100 million last year, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The chief targets of an Israeli operation would be five to six major areas now under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
These areas comprise the so-called Areas A, the main urban Palestinian areas, that Israeli forces have increasingly probed in recent weeks. These include Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank as well as most of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government is probably emboldened by the fact that no Arab military is in a position to come to the rescue of the Palestinians. The Egyptian military, the region's largest, has serious problems with readiness, making it difficult for the Egyptian army to even threaten Israel across the Sinai Peninsula. The Syrian military is weak, too.
The IDF would first seek to seal off the territories, blocking refugees and terrorists. Sealing off the Green Line, the legal international border, would consume a significant number of troops backed by limited amounts of armor. Conventional forces would move into the West Bank and Gaza to establish perimeters so special operations forces could sweep for leaders, operatives and weapons caches. Israeli security would have to blunt terrorist attacks.
But such a primarily urban conflict would begin to wield its own logic, threatening to exponentially increase the number of Israeli troops involved. During the first intifada beginning in the late 1980s, the number of Israeli forces deployed in the occupied territories jumped from no more than 20,000 before Dec. 8, 1987, to an estimated 150,000 soldiers by 1990, according to the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs.
In a new operation, Palestinian Security Services as well as militants would quickly devolve to a cell structure in order to conduct operations without being detected. As was the case in the last uprising from 1987 to 1993, Israel would have a hard time achieving a clear-cut victory. Three million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
More recent urban conflicts, such as Russia's battle for Grozny in Chechnya, underscore the fact that tactics and terrain can hamper a modern, well-equipped military. Urban terrain presents a number of dangers; the close proximity of opposing forces results in more brutal, bloodier fighting. Streets channel the movement of both troops and vehicles, leaving advancing forces open to ambush and blunting the advantage of armor. Buildings provide ample opportunities for sniper fire and limit line of sight.
Moreover, the Palestinians have reportedly established arms caches and supply houses throughout Areas A, according to Israeli news reports and think tanks. These warehouses hold ammunition, weapons, food, water and other supplies. To dismantle the Palestinian Authority, Israel would need to destroy these caches. Special operations forces are the likeliest candidates.
But the process would consume valuable time. Each passing day would give the Palestinians opportunities to retrench or escape into neighboring Arab countries. By sustaining a low-level conflict and trapping Israel into occupation, the Palestinians gain an advantage since they can fight only a guerrilla-type war. Israel's aversion to casualties would also weigh heavily on any operation.
Even if Israel achieves the complete destruction of the Palestinian Authority, it would leave these areas lawless. To prevent anarchy, Israel would need to guarantee security, precluding an exit strategy.
Protecting Jewish settlers in the territories would also present a military challenge. An estimated 200,000 settlers are dispersed throughout the West Bank and Gaza territories today. The Israeli government has long used the advancement of settlements as a line of defense. Though these settlements are well-guarded, Israeli politics require the defense forces to protect settlers. But the wide dispersal of settlements would require help from the IDF. Illustrative of the problem, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer recently called for dismantling the farthest outlying settlements so as to avoid straining the military, according to Israeli news reports.
The Sharon government has avoided making any direct threats about reoccupying the territories.
But continued Palestinian attacks against Israelis are undercutting the Israeli government. Going to the peace table now, with terrorist attacks underway, would be seen as rewarding terrorism. Sharon has personally warned that he will not continue to tolerate terrorism.
And Sharon's philosophy predisposes him to seek a dramatic solution. When he masterminded the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s, he sought to break the back of the Palestinian guerrillas there. Sharon has hesitated to send troops into the West Bank and Gaza because he knows the cost Israel paid for the Lebanon campaign.
The Israeli threat is real.
The quick deployment of international monitors is likely the only alternative to conflict.