- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

It started with stones and Palestinian mortar barrages are now commonplace. The drift toward another war is unmistakable. The Palestinians have concluded that an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza is a mirage that barely shimmers on the horizon. Iraqi agents are telling their Palestinian interlocutors that they are now like the French resistance fighting Nazi occupation in World War II and that total liberation should now be the objective.

Hints of weapons of mass destruction presumably biological and chemical agents and the means to deliver them are dropped with alarming frequency. Iranian liaison agents with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas are also proselytizing about the liberation of Palestine "from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."

Eighty percent of Palestinians now support violence, according to a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy. This week, tens of thousands of Palestinians marked the anniversary of Nakba the "day of catastrophe," which is what they call the creation of the State of Israel by firing automatic weapons into the air.

Hamas´ suicide bombers are parading openly in Gaza with dummy explosives strapped to their waists. Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin appears regularly on the Arab world´s top-rated television network Al Jazeera to say the destruction of the Israeli state must be the objective of all Arabs.

Moderate Arab governments primarily Egypt and Jordan, the only two that have signed peace treaties with Israel are still sticking their necks out for negotiations and a peaceful settlement. They both know that the streets of their capitals favor Iraq´s Saddam Hussein over their own leaders. And if the region explodes, public opinion would insist they join the fray. Hedging its bets, Saudi Arabia signed in mid-April a security cooperation pact with Iran. Iranian President Mohammed Khatami on a recent visit to Moscow signed an expanded strategic cooperation pact with Russia that calls for the transfer of Russian ballistic missile technology. North Korea is also supplying missile components to Iran.

Egyptian media editorials are mocking Arab League governments (i.e., their own) for failing to stop Israeli attacks. "Have the Arabs already forgotten the resolutions taken in their recent summit to confront the escalating stances of Israel?" the state-owned Al Akhbar daily asked. "Sharon throws the gloves of defiance in your faces. What are you going to do, Arabs?"

Iran, not an Arab nation, is doing plenty. It has supplied Hezbollah with scores Israeli intelligence says hundreds of short-range (40-mile) missiles that are fitted with conventional explosives. But these could easily be converted to "chem-bio" agents.

Radical Palestinian groups meeting in Tehran recently said they have received backing from 30 Muslim countries, including Egypt and Jordan, for a general Palestinian uprising. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "is threatening to stop the Intifada in 100 days," said Abdullah Ramadan Shalah," head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. "But I would like to tell him that the people of Palestine will fight for 100 years." Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shi´ite Muslim Hezbollah, told delegates, "we have an exceptional historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project."

Growing anti-Israel hostility amid an escalation of violence in the Middle East is driving moderates and radicals ever closer. There was even talk in the Tehran conference corridors of an Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz the West´s oil lifeline out of the Gulf in the next regional conflict. At the close of the conference, the delegates chanted, "God is Great. Death to America. Death to Israel."

In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel in late April, Egypt´s President Hosni Mubarak seemed reconciled to another war to clear the air, much the way his predecessor Anwar Sadat advocated "shock therapy" for the region six months before the October 1973 Yom Kippur war. "If the talks really turned to war, the Americans would get involved and prevent an all-out war from happening," Mr. Mubarak said. "Yet as bad as war is, at least you know what you are dealing with. Worse than open war is this terror, which can strike anywhere and at any time."

In March 1973, Sadat told this reporter that "war is inevitable and we are mobilizing everyone and everything for the final battle." I responded, trying to get to the bottom of his thinking, "but everyone knows Israel can defeat Egypt with one hand tied behind its back." This off-the-record dialogue then ensued:

Sadat: "Tell me how many Vietcong were killed in the Tet offensive in Vietnam?"

Me: "About 45,000."

Sadat: "That´s right and you wrote they didn´t reach a single one of their military objectives."

Me: "I did."

Sadat: "But President Johnson felt compelled to abdicate a few weeks later by declaring he would not run for re-election. So where was the defeat for Hanoi?"

Without waiting for my response, Sadat continued.

Sadat: "And tell me, how many North Vietnamese troops were killed in last year´s Easter offensive ?"

Me: "Intelligence estimated about 70,000".

Sadat: "That´s right. And you again wrote that Hanoi didn´t reach a single one of their objectives. Well, guess what I read in today´s Al Ahram. I read the last American soldier left Vietnam yesterday. So where was the defeat for Hanoi?"

Me: "Are you suggesting with these two analogies that the purpose of resuming hostilities against Israel would not be to inflict maximum damage against Israeli forces but perhaps the other way around?"

Sadat: "You are beginning to understand."

Me: "Because if the tide of battle were to swing against you, Saudi Arabia would trigger the oil embargo against the West which would force the U.S. to impose a cease-fire around a new balance of power in the Mideast."

Sadat: "You´ve finally understood."

We then went back on the record. History doesn´t necessarily repeat itself. But Mr. Sharon knows that the perception of Israel the Invincible has changed in the Arab world and Iran to Israel the Vincible. Mr. Sharon may have concluded that the time is at hand to create new facts on the ground e.g., a quick military defeat of Syria and the end of its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the forced withdrawal of the Palestinian Authority from Gaza to restore the image of invincibility.

Such a scenario is considered plausible in Egypt, hence Egypt´s pledge of assistance to Syria this month in the event of an Israeli attack. Mr. Sharon, spurning Foreign Minister Shimon Peres´ peace endeavors, warned Palestinian militants that he had given the Israeli military "freedom beyond imagining" to fight the "terrorists." "There are things we will tell the public about, there are things we will deny and there are things that will remain hidden forever," Mr. Sharon blurted out in early May, presumably in an unguarded moment.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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