Arafat, Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and terrorism are analyzed in the JCPA Issue Brief.
JCPA LOGO
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

See More Jerusalem Center Studies

Complete
List of
Issue Briefs

 
Institute for Contemporary Affairs
founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 3, No. 7     19 October 2003


Undermining the War on Terrorism: The Role of Yasser Arafat and the Syrian Regime

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad


  • As long as Yasser Arafat remains the sovereign of the Palestinian entity, there is not the slightest chance for real peace. Peace, for Arafat, means one big Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi desert - including Jordan, the West Bank, and Israeli Arabs.

  • The Oct. 4 bombing of a Haifa restaurant that killed 21 people was carried out by Islamic Jihad. Without Syria's support, it would be very difficult for this terror organization to function. The policy is decided in Damascus and the infrastructure in the territories carries out this policy.

  • Israel's retaliatory strike on the Ein Saheb base - an operational terrorist camp 15 kilometers from Damascus - hit no Syrian targets, only the training camp of known terrorist organizations.

  • Syria's main efforts now are designed to cause total failure of the United States in Iraq and to increase terror inside Israel. Syria used to be a base of terror against Jordan and against Turkey; now it serves as one against Iraq. Bashar Assad is continuing a Syrian tradition.

  • The Syrian government claims that its army is incapable of preventing the smuggling of terrorists and weapons through Syria to Iraq. When it comes to the Syrian-Turkish border, however, the Syrian army is very efficient. Why? Because Turkey threatened to destroy Syria if the cross-border terror didn't stop. Turkish methods of persuasion were successful.


The Palestinian Challenge

Israel today faces two main and immediate challenges. First is the Palestinian challenge. As long as Yasser Arafat remains the sovereign of the Palestinian entity, there is not the slightest chance for real peace. He still believes in the combination of terror, as a tool to break our will, and talk of peace. Peace, for Arafat, means one big Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi desert - including Jordan, the West Bank, and Israeli Arabs. He is focusing on a kind of peace that will include the Palestinian "right of return" that, based on demographic trends, will create one big Palestine in the future.

The Abu Mazen government was important in one perspective. Abu Mazen declared openly: "I am excluding terror as a way to convince the Israelis." Such a statement had not been made in a long time. But, in fact, Arafat gave Abu Mazen's government no room to act. For example, when Mohammed Dahlan as Minister of Security gave an order to the security forces, Arafat would issue a contradictory order within minutes. The overwhelming majority of the security forces belong to Arafat, so it was impossible for Dahlan to do anything. As long as Arafat is in power there will be no fundamental change.

Israel gave the Abu Mazen government many concessions. The road was opened from Rafah in the south to the northern part of Gaza, and at the Rafah crossing point with Egypt, the hours were extended to 10 p.m. Israel has encouraged Palestinian employment inside Israel. There was even improvement in the economic situation, according to Palestinian data. The industrial area in Gaza is flourishing; the Karni crossing point was opened, with 800 trucks a day. Israel gave billions of shekels to Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salam Fayad. But even today, a significant part of this money is going directly to Arafat, and it is used to finance terror.

The Palestinian Authority has a security force of 53,000 who are getting salaries. They are doing nothing because they were ordered to do nothing.

Israel's deterrent capability has been strengthened after its effort to get rid of the top leadership of Hamas in Gaza. In the end, we didn't hurt them only because we didn't want to hurt civilians. But the message was clear; since then, the Hamas leadership has been living underground. There is no political leadership in this extremist organization - neither in al-Qaeda, nor in Hamas, nor in the Moslem Brotherhood. There is a top leadership that meets with the operational level to plan horrible and bloody acts of terror against Israelis.

Israel cannot live with a neighbor that believes in terror, encourages terror, and engages in incitement. In the Oct. 4 bombing of a Haifa restaurant that killed 21 people, the woman who committed the suicidal attack was a victim of intensive incitement. Behind this terrorist is an entire infrastructure including civilian charities financing and fueling the terror machine. Israel was pleased to hear that the EU has decided to recognize that the charity channel to Hamas is fueling a pipeline of terror. So far, however, nothing has been done and all these funds are still operating.


Syria's Two Fronts

Israel's second challenge is Syria, which today backs terror on two main fronts. The first front is against Israel through Lebanon, in a way that leaves no fingerprints. The Syrians claim that the terrorist organizations' offices in Damascus are the "political" leadership and not related in any way to terror. But Israel knows for sure that the Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus - supported by the Iranians - is backing the group in the territories with money, training, moral support, political support, and strategic support.

The last horrible terror attack in Haifa was carried out by Islamic Jihad, the only organization that feels free and undeterred, because Islamic Jihad is backed by its headquarters in Damascus. Islamic Jihad's leader, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, speaks freely in Damascus, supporting terror. Without Syria's support, it would be very difficult for this terror organization to function. The policy is decided in Damascus and the infrastructure in the territories carries out this policy, reporting back in order to get more money and support. Palestinians have described to me how Islamic Jihad terrorists walk the streets of Jenin with lots of money. In such a poor town, having such a quantity of money means power. And the money comes from Iran through Damascus.

Syria's second terror front is Iraq, where the Syrians are supporting the same indirect patterns of behavior against the Americans. The Syrian government claims that its army is incapable of preventing the smuggling of terrorists and weapons through Syria to Iraq. When it comes to the Syrian-Turkish border, however, the Syrian army is very efficient. Why? Because Turkey threatened to destroy Syria if the cross-border terror didn't stop. Turkish methods of persuasion were successful. After a long time the Syrians became convinced that the Turks were serious. That is why, after the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, the terror stopped. Israel enjoys the same tranquility on its border with Syria in the Golan Heights. But Syria permits terrorists to use the indirect channel to move through Lebanon and through the border between Syria and Iraq. In this way, Syria supports terror, including elements of al-Qaeda and other extremist Muslim - predominantly Sunni - terrorist organizations.

The top leadership of Hamas is living underground today because they are afraid. On the other hand, Islamic Jihad, with its Syrian and Iranian patrons, feels immune, and that is why Israel decided to send two messages to President Assad. The first was an Israeli air force "visit" over his palace in Latakia in the northern part of Syria, in the form of a fly-by. The second was Israel's retaliatory strike after the Haifa bombing on the Ein Saheb base - an operational terrorist camp 15 kilometers from Damascus. Israel hit no Syrian targets, only the training camp of known terrorist organizations. Israel released Iranian film that clearly showed the importance of Ein Saheb as an operational camp for terrorists.

Syria's main efforts now are designed to cause total failure of the United States in Iraq and to increase terror inside Israel. Syria used to be a base of terror against Jordan and against Turkey; now it serves as one against Iraq. Bashar Assad is continuing a Syrian tradition.

The Syrians, in my opinion, will not change their policy of supporting terror because, for young Assad's regime, support of these organizations is very important. First of all, by supporting HizballahHamas, Islamic Jihad, and Jibril's PFLP-GC, Assad becomes personally immune and secure; they will not touch him. They are using Damascus as a base. Second, there is some kind of ideological affinity here. Third, Bashar Assad is surrounded by old ministers - dinosaurs - like Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas who has been in office since 1972 and hasn't changed his mind about Israel. Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa is another dinosaur. So I see no fundamental change coming unless, as in the case with Turkey, Syria becomes convinced that Israel is very serious about preventing any acts of terror.

Syria is also supporting Iran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is stationed in Lebanon, and there is no excuse for their deployment there. The Iranians, too, are supporting terror inside Israel, mainly through Fatah groups. In January 2003, 23 Israelis were murdered as a direct result of the logistical and direct support of the Revolutionary Guards to Fatah. In addition, Iran has tried to send weapons to Fatah in ships such as the Karine A that carried shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles; katyusha rockets; and additional means and know-how to upgrade terror activity in Israel.

*     *     *

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad is senior advisor to Israel's Minister of Defense. Previously, he served as Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Director of the Research Division for the IDF's Intelligence Branch, and IDF Spokesman. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on October 8, 2003.


Dore Gold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, Baltimore Hebrew University, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) is dedicated to providing a forum for Israeli policy discussion and debate.
To subscribe to the Jerusalem Issue Brief, please send a blank email message to: brief4-subscribe@jcpa.org