- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel's intelligence services are urging Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to send Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into exile, saying it could create even greater political and military chaos.

"Chairman Arafat can do much more damage abroad than where he is under siege," a senior Israeli security source said. "He will go all over the world presenting himself as a pacifist, and some leaders will believe him."

Mr. Sharon, who has said Israel is now fighting a "war" for its own existence, blames Mr. Arafat for the onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombings and shooting attacks.

He has openly said he regrets giving assurances to the United States that the Palestinian leader would not be harmed.

Yesterday, Mr. Sharon even offered Mr. Arafat a one-way ticket into exile.

But every time the Cabinet has met to discuss Israel's response and the prospect of getting rid of Mr. Arafat, Mr. Sharon has faced the unanimous opposition of the heads of Israel's foreign intelligence service, Mossad; the domestic arm, Shin Bet; and military intelligence.

It is an irony of the worsening conflict that Israel intelligence services, which have spent decades clamping down on Palestinian groups and targeting militants, should now be urging that Mr. Arafat, the ultimate symbol of the Palestinian revolution, be allowed to remain in Israeli-controlled territory.

Labor Party members of the coalition Cabinet also object to plans to expel Mr. Arafat and have threatened to bring down the government if their wishes are ignored.

America is also urging Israel not to take such a drastic step.

According to the security sources, the purpose of large-scale army incursions into the West Banwk in an operation called Protective Wall was to round up as many of the senior militants as possible.

The army started with Ramallah, even though many of the suicide bombers came from other towns and refugee camps in the West Bank, because it is the effective capital of the West Bank and many of the "brains" of the militant movements live there.

Israel has raised the stakes in its operation by seeking out senior militants, such as Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the Tanzim militia, who had previously been left untouched.

The security source claimed that many senior wanted men were holed up in Mr. Arafat's besieged headquarters and in the nearby headquarters of the Preventive Security intelligence agency headed by Jibril Rajoub.

"We will not leave without those men," the security source said. "This is an operation that will not take days or weeks, but maybe months."

Apart from the political damage that Mr. Arafat's eviction may cause to Israel, there is a wider strategic problem for Israel's intelligence chiefs: However bad Mr. Arafat may be, the alternatives are worse, and Israel will have very little control over who becomes the next Palestinian leader.

As long as Mr. Arafat was alive, the security source said, no Palestinian would dare take his place.

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