Wednesday, April 17, 2002
I'm more than a little puzzled by DEBKA's manic spinning of the Barghouti arrest. Here are key excerpts:
At the outset of the Israeli operation on March 29, the fiery Tanzim leader reportedly went into hiding in the West Bank Security Headquarters of Jibril Rajoub at Betunia, near Ramallah. When Israeli stormed the building, Barghouti was not to be found. It was said he had gone to ground in a big bunker under a nearby hill, from which he was running terror operations. The IDF was described as bulldozing the hill - but again, no Barghouti.
That the Tanzim leader was so thoroughly lost defies belief. The Shin Beit, which monitors all telephone traffic going in and out of the West Bank, cannot have missed Barghouti’s telephone interview to the al Jazeera satellite network last week. But knowing where he was, Israel still held off picking him up for one important reason. It had big plans for the Tanzim leader. But first he was allowed to evade and outwit his Israeli pursuers in order to build him up as a legendary figure of the people.
. . .
For the Israeli secret service, the Shin Beit, Barghouti is not only the highest-ranking Palestinian terror activist to fall into their hands, but also the richest source of intelligence on the Palestinian terror machine, from top to bottom.
But he retains choices.
. . .
[I]f, at some point, after the hue and cry over his arrest dies down, he decides to burn Arafat, he will have bought himself a good chance to bid for the succession and a seat at the regional peace conference Sharon has asked the United States to host.
Since only moderate Arab and Palestinian leaders will be invited, Arafat is disqualified.
The data coming from Barghouti – if it does – will strengthen the case that Israel’s Attorney General, Eliyakim Rubinstein declared Monday, April 15, a few hours before Barghouti’s capture, he intends bringing against Arafat as a war criminal.
Later on Monday, Powell said on the plane taking him back to Israel from Damascus that in his view a regional conference could go ahead without Arafat.
In the light of Monday’s rush of events, climaxing with Barghouti’s arrest, a new lineup is taking shape on the Palestinian side of any future peace conference table. Its members are Barghouti, Gaza Strip security chief and strongman Muhamed Dahlan, West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub and veteran Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erikat, with Abu Mazen, Arafat’s official deputy, providing a more venerable presence.
This group would constitute the middle-generation Palestinian team the United States and Israel are hoping will to take over from Arafat’ and his clique.
So let me see if I have this tortured Machiavellian scenario right. Israel arrested Barghouti - after letting him "escape" several times - in order to make him a credible replacement for Arafat after Israel arrests, tries and executes Arafat on war-crimes charges, on information provided by Barghouti himself.
This is crazy in so many ways, I don't know where to begin. So let's just start with this: it sounds like a repeat of the mistake made with Arafat. Israel assumed when it entered into Oslo that Arafat and the PLO could be tamed into doing Israel's bidding in wiping out Hamas. We know what happened instead.