The following article by terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky was distributed by Bernard J. Shapiro of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies (firstname.lastname@example.org). Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of IRIS or its staff.
Jason and Leiah Elbaum
By Yossef Bodansky
Back in mid-May, an Arab official acknowledged in a private meeting in a Western capital that had Israel not confiscated the disputed land in Jerusalem (the conversation took place before the cancellation), the Arabs would have been compelled to come up with a crisis of their own. In view of the markedly intensification of the Islamist sentiments throughout the politically active circles in the Arab World, the official explained, it has become imperative for all governments and leaderships to demonstrate their strong and steadfast commitment to Islamist anti-Israeli causes or face major disturbances at home. Therefore, the Jerusalem incident was such a welcome development.
Indeed, immediately after the confiscation issue was resolved, the Palestinian Authorities raised the issue of Arab claims for lands in West Jerusalem. On May 28 -- Israel's Jerusalem Day -- Faisal Husseini issued a stern demand that lands, buildings, and other properties in West Jerusalem owned by Arabs (including his own family) before 1948 be now returned to their rightful owners or the PNA as the legal guardian of their rights. Husseini now insists that 70% of Western Jerusalem belongs to Arabs.
Therefore, the severity of the reaction to Israel's recent moves concerning Jerusalem throughout the Arab World, and increasingly the Muslim World as a whole, is not a reflection of whatever actions of the Israeli Government, not that Arab Governments support these moves. Arab Governments use the crisis over Jerusalem as a public manifestation of their realization that a major crisis, leading perhaps to the collapse of the peace process, is inevitable.
Arab Governments, including these most committed to the so-called peace process and with vested interests in better relations with the US, have essentially given up not only on the possibility of genuine peace with Israel, but even on semblance of normalization and non- belligerency. However, the need to placate Washington, especially in order to get more economic aid and weapons, restrains many of these regimes from stating outrightly what they already know and accept. Therefore, there is a growing need in the Arab World for a major crisis that will both serve as a legitimate excuse for the break down of the peace process, and, if properly handled politically and through the Western media, will put the blame and responsibility on Israel.
In the spring of 1995, Arafat and his cronies not only fully realized the prevailing conditions in the territories, but the grim reality finally began to sink in. "We are at the worst period that we have had since 1967," acknowledged Dr. Abd-al-Rahman Hamid, one of the senior officials of the PNA's economic and development system. "The Palestinian Authority is losing its power, and I'm afraid that if this situation continues -- the entire process will collapse within a short time." The main threat facing the PNA is not the collapse of the peace process but the loss of the public support for Arafat and the "solution" he represents. Even an opinion poll conducted in May for the PNA by a Palestinian service concluded that a plurality of Palestinians prefer an Islamic State. "Forty percent believe the Islamic system of government is best, while representative democracy comes in second at 26.2 percent," the survey showed. Most others had no opinion.
Little wonder, therefore, that since mid May, the Palestinian leadership has been at the forefront of the calls for the reversal of the peace process simply because it had failed. Yassir Arafat fired the first shot. In a speech in Gaza he declared that "the self-rule agreement signed with Israel" was nothing but a "failure." Most significant is Arafat's explanation of reason for this "failure." Had they been implemented as demanded by Israel, these agreements would have created an atmosphere of co-existence between Palestinians and Jews. This could not be tolerated, Arafat stressed, because "Israel remains the Palestinians' major enemy, not only now, but also in the future." These sentiments were echoed in a series of statements and leaflets distributed throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza by Arafat's own al-Fatah movement, as well as the Islamists.
Meanwhile, as the crisis over the Israeli plan to confiscate land in Jerusalem unfolded, "moderate" Palestinian leaders such as Faisal Husseini capitalized on the crisis in order to increase the pressure on other Arab Governments to actively support Arafat's disengagement from the peace process. Faisal Husseini threatened Arab Governments with an armed uprising if they did not support the PLO's position. "Yes, there will be an intifada and I say the intifada will not be only in Jerusalem, not only in the occupied lands, but in all of the Middle East," he stated.
The growing militancy of both the Arab population in the territories and the Palestinian Authorities, as well as the virtual collapse of the support for the peace with the Israel among both the Jordanian population and the Parliament, do not happen in a vacuum. These developments are further manifestations of far more profound developments taking place in the Middle East.
A sense of an overall failure of the Arab World as a unified political force is prevailing among all Arab governments and the population. There is a overriding realization that only a dramatic breakout will be able to reverse the current destitute. Significantly, all the recent events considered as expressions of this Arab failure took place in the context of efforts by Arab regimes to cope with Israel.
The recent extension of the NPT is considered by Arab Governments a major failure of Arab political power. These regimes are convinced that the treaty's extension proved to the whole world the strategic inferiority of the entire Arab World -- having proven unable not only to destroy Israel's nuclear deterrence by compelling it to subject itself to stringent international supervision, but also unable to compel the US to support their position.
Meanwhile, the creeping normalization of economic relations with Israel, primarily by several Gulf states, has raised a widespread fear of Israeli economic and technological onslaught into the Arab World. Arab Governments are now convinced that in the aftermath of peace and normalization of political relations, such onslaught will bring with it exposure of the Arab population to Westernization and democratic ideas. Thus, the realization of genuine peace, these regimes argue, might very well influence their own population to seek democracy and liberalization of human rights in their own Arab countries. Such a development would endanger the stability of the current dictatorial regimes in the Arab World.
In sharp contrast, there is growing optimism, self-confidence, and assertiveness among the "rejectionists" -- Syria, Iran, their allies and the terrorist movements they sponsor. Under the clear leadership and guidance of the Islamists, the "rejectionists" are now convinced that crisis and confrontation between Islam and the West has reached the point of explosion. Therefore, Iran and its allies have embarked since the fall of 1994 on intense preparations for an unprecedented world-wide campaign of terrorism to be launched in early 1995. The three principal foci of this campaign are the United States, with special effort going to the conduct of highly lethal spectacular strikes inside the United States, India, and Israel.
The preparations for the escalation of the terrorist assault on Israel peaked in April 1995, when General Ali Duba, the head of Syrian military intelligence and one of Hafiz al-Assad's closest confidants, and Asadallah Asghar, the chief of the Iranian Pasdaran in Lebanon, organized a new unified high command for the Palestinian terrorist movements that will make better use of the vast assets available to them. A Jihad "congress" held in Damascus picked a new 20- member Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) for the new Jihad against Israel, and confirmed Fathi Shqaqi, chief of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as its chairman, and Shaykh Abd-al-Azziz Awdah, chief of the Palestinian HizbAllah, as his deputy. Syrian intelligence built a new headquarters for the Majlis al-Shura in the Syrian town of Daraa, south of Damascus and some 20 miles north of the Jordanian border.
Colonel Munir Makdah, the former protege of Yassir Arafat and chief of his forces in Lebanon and commander of the Companies of the Black 13 September  organization (the reorganization of al-Fatah's forces south of Beirut), was nominated to a senior command position in southern
Lebanon. On April 15, already in his new capacity, inspected the training of 70 suicide-terrorists who are finishing their training course at the Ain-Hilwe camp in southern Lebanon. This new suicide-commando force has already been put under the authority of Palestinian Islamic Jihad's military wing -- Al-Kuwa al-Islamiya al-Mutakila (Fighting Islamic Forces) -- and is being prepared for spectacular operations in both southern Lebanon and the heart of Israel. This new force joins the HizbAllah-Pasdaran reinforcements Iran allocated to the escalation in southern Lebanon, as well as a host of Syrian-controlled Palestinian units now being prepared for deployment into southern Lebanon.
Damascus is fully aware of the strategic ramifications of these preparations for terrorism escalation. The Syrian brinkmanship is intentional. The Syrian military and intelligence high command, the sole support base of the Damascus regime, is adamantly against the so-called peace process in principle (not whatever specific "security arrangements" floated from time to time). Hafiz al-Assad was already told by the inner circle of the military and intelligence elite -- the people closest to him-- that they are against peace. They also warned that they would not support his effort to install his son -- Dr. Bishar al-Assad -- as his successor. Arab officials who have just returned from Damascus stressed that the military and intelligence elite put strong pressure on Assad to adopt extremist positions. They insist that there are rumors at the highest levels in Damascus that Assad was even notified by his closest and most loyal senior officers that "any concession or even gesture toward Israel will indeed endanger his regime."
Therefore, while Assad continues to espouse words or hints of peace for American diplomats and the foreign media, his military and intelligence services -- the sole source of power and endurance of the regime -- actively prepare for war. Since late May, the Syrian High Command has intensified its preparations for a major escalation in southern Lebanon as the beginning of a major regional war. Syrian high officials briefed Arab counterparts that "Israel is leaning towards waging war on Syria and Lebanon to create a new reality for the peace process."
The Syrian briefers presented intelligence information proving that "Israel is preparing to expand again" in Lebanon in order to neutralize the terrorist threat to the Galilee. Damascus, they stated, has already decided that such a move would lead to "a war between Syria and Lebanon on one side and Israel on the other to create a new geo-political reality under which the peace process would again be considered." The high officials briefed Arab counterparts that "the war could spread to the hinterland, meaning attacks on the infrastructures of capitals to create a situation that would transform the course of the peace process into a fait accompli and bring about new resolutions because Israel believes that all the UN and Security Council resolutions and the European and international support for them created borders for Israel and made Syria insist on them in the interest of its security and the recovery of its territory."
Damascus is very serious about this war option, the Arab officials stressed. They pointed out that "the possibility of Israel intensifying and expanding its attacks on Lebanon to pave the way for that war" was raised during a mid May in Damascus meeting between the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and Syrian President Hafiz al- Assad and Vice President Abd-al-Halim Khaddam.
The Syrian contemplation of a regional war are all the more realistic and threatening because they fit so closely with the strategic designs of Iran -- Syria's closest strategic ally. Tehran is convinced that because the tension between Iran and the US is growing, war is virtually inevitable. In late April, Muhsin Reza'i -- the very influential and authoritative Chief of the Revolutionary Guards -- warned that the US campaign to isolate Iran is just the beginning of an all out onslaught on the Islamic Republic. "All the evidence show that the United States is preparing for an all out war against Iran," he explained. Reza'i stressed that Iran might seize the initiative and launch a preemptive strike against the US. "The Americans continue their provocations but we have not said our last word to them.... One day we will launch a decisive offensive against them and commanders of the [Iranian] Armed Forces should be ready." In mid May, in the aftermath of an emergency session of the High Council of National Defense in which the prospects of war with the US were discussed, Iran's President, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani reiterated the threat of war. "A military confrontation with the US is inevitable, considering that all indications point out that Washington is preparing for war," he said.
Iranian sources warn that the internal dynamics inside Tehran make the present situation extremely explosive. "The Clinton embargo has come at the worst moment for Iran," a senior Iranian analyst told Amir Taheri. "Iran feels more vulnerable than ever. This is why it might find its back to the wall with a choice either to fight or to surrender. Because surrender is not easy for a revolutionary regime, it might be forced to fight, regardless of the consequences." Moreover, having just received 4-6 launchers and several up-graded NoDong-1 SSMs (which range of 1,300-1,500 kms can reach Israel), Tehran feels very confident in its ability to deter both American and Israeli preemptive strikes.
Meanwhile, there is a growing anticipation in the Arab World for a major clash between Iran and the United States. Having repeatedly learned that economic sanctions are insufficient to cripple governments, the US must be using the embargo as an excuse for confronting Iran militarily. A prominent Lebanese analyst considers the new US embargo the prelude to "something big" in the region. A Palestinian analyst points out to recent US warnings about the Iranian threat to shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. "Such statements would not have been made early on had there not been a prior American plan to prepare to deal a blow to Iran aimed at weakening the current regime and ending its regional military ascendancy."
Arab regimes are fully aware of these regional dynamics and determine their real policies toward the so-called peace process accordingly. Arab regimes have to chose between risking popular uprising -- Faisal Husseini's intifada -- and adopting militant Islamist policies that are already popular among their people. What they risk is the death of the so-called peace process, some conflict with Washington that, the Arabs point out, has already proven its anti-Arab position on the NPT, the call for the transfer of the Embassy to Jerusalem, the recent 'UN vote' law, as well as its anti-Iran stand. Afterall, as discussed above, Arab governments have been recently looking for an excuse for a crisis with Israel -- the crisis they sought to instigate from the question of land confiscation in Jersualem -- in order to enhance their own stability and even survival. Given this overall posture, Arab governments -- including Cairo, Amman, and those maintaining some contacts with Israel -- will not go out of their way to preserve the peace process. Faced with popular Islamist militancy they may even join a war with Israel led by Iran and Syria.
This grim reality need not, of course, influence in any way Rabin's and Peres's determination to unilaterally withdraw from Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights as soon as possible.
He is currently the Director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional warfare for the U.S. Congress, as well as a contributing editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy. He has written widely for such specialized journals as Jane's Defense Weekly and Global Affairs. Bodansky has contributed chapters and essays to the International Military & Defense Encyclopedia among other books, and has lectured widely to professional audiences in the defense, intelligence and security fields in the United States, Europe and Asia.
He was a visiting scholar in the Security Studies Program of John Hopkins University and served as consultant to the U.S Departments of Defense and State prior to assuming his current post.
Bodansky is a recognized authority on terrorism worldwide, as well as an expert on guerilla and unconventional warfare and all aspects of the military affairs of Russia/The Soviet Union and the Third World.
Yossef Bodansky joined the Freeman Center as its World Terrorism Analyst in 1994.