- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

JENIN, West Bank — Israeli tanks encircled Palestinian cities in the West Bank for the second time in 24 hours last night and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Palestinians would pay a steep price if 11 months of violence didn't end soon.
The tanks were perched on hills surrounding Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, where gunmen have fired at Israeli communities intermittently since fighting erupted in September.
The tanks meant, said officials and analysts, that Israel was seeking to draw Palestinians away from their guerrilla campaign and toward more conventional fighting — the kind of war between armies that the Jewish state is adept at winning.
That strategy was approved by Mr. Sharon's Cabinet at an emergency meeting on Thursday, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 persons in a Jerusalem restaurant, government officials said.
President Bush yesterday called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "clamp down on the suicide bombers and the violence" and he called on Israel to "show restraint."
But he said he had "no new reaction" after Israeli tanks hit Jenin. "My only point is the cycle of violence has got to end in order for any peace process to begin."
National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that "Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory are provocative and undermine efforts to create an atmosphere of calm."
But Mr. Sharon indicated he was committed to the new tactic of entering Palestinian-controlled zones.
"Whoever takes the path of terror will also pay a political price," said Mr. Sharon in a political address yesterday.
"This important message we conveyed this week by closing Orient House, and other Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem and Abu Dis," he said, referring to Israel's seizure last week of Palestinian political and security offices in East Jerusalem.
Analysts said the shift in Israeli strategy comes because it has been unable to halt Palestinian suicide attacks aimed at civilians.
The targeted killings won't stop, officials say. But the new measures are meant to engage Palestinian troops head on in gunbattles and other confrontations, whether by seizing political and security offices, as Israel did on Friday, or by incursions into Palestinian territory, like the one early yesterday in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Israeli leaders hope the policy will force Mr. Arafat to choose between accepting a real cease-fire and watching his regime collapse in stages.
"There's very clearly a new agenda here," said Shlomo Avineri, a Hebrew University political scientist and veteran Middle East analyst.
"Israel wants to turn this into a war on its terms, even if the result spells an end to Arafat's rule in the West Bank and Gaza," he said.
But raising the stakes also carries a gamble: By weakening Mr. Arafat, Israel might unwittingly strengthen Islamic groups once marginal in the West Bank and Gaza. It also risks drawing Arab states into a wider regional war.
Natan Sharansky, Israel's housing minister who has consistently pushed his Cabinet colleagues to take a tougher line with Mr. Arafat, said the government last week approved a series of military measures that would be implemented in stages, depending on Mr. Arafat's response.
Mr. Sharanksy described two streams in the Cabinet — those who still think Israel should strengthen Mr. Arafat while pressuring him to crack down on Islamic militants, and those who advocate chipping away at his authority.
By Thursday's meeting, the more hawkish group had the clear upper hand, he said.
"There is a way to reduce terrorism — if you're willing to go into [Palestinian-controlled] area A with tanks at least for a little while and destroy the infrastructure of the military, the intelligence [branches] and so on," Mr. Sharansky said in an interview Monday.
Another government official described the new strategy as a rewriting of the rules of engagement.
"The idea is for Israel to fight the battles it can win," said the official, who refused to be named. "It's hard for a conventional army to fight guerrillas. But the Palestinians have conventional forces. Every time, we get hit by terrorists, we [will] engage the conventional forces, like in war," the official said.
If so, Jenin was the first arena. Just after midnight dozens of tanks and several bulldozers thundered into the town on the northern tip of the West Bank, tore up a city square near the governor's office and proceeded to the biggest police compound in town.
For more than three hours, bulldozers stabbed at the precinct, a sprawling complex of offices and housing quarters. When they were through, whole walls had been wrecked, concrete rooftops sagged and metal stakes protruded from the rubble.
Mr. Avineri said the Israelis hoped to meet resistance from the regular troops. Instead, a ragtag group of gunmen engaged the Israelis in isolated gunbattles. Four Palestinians were wounded.
Abdullah Hourani, a Palestinian strategic analyst and a former adviser to Mr. Arafat, said Israel could have wrecked the police compound much more efficiently by striking with missiles from helicopters, something the Jewish state has done repeatedly since fighting erupted in September.
But by sending troops in on the ground, Israel was signaling a new approach.

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