- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

It is now a week since Israeli forces, reacting to the Passover massacre, isolated PLO leader Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound. Their initial raid accomplished the two obvious objectives and prepared for the third, less obvious, but equally important one.

First, the raiders scoured the compound for the wealth of intelligence information they were sure to find. Second, they began to isolate Mr. Arafat from the outside world by shutting off his telephone lines and electricity. The third objective, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has finally said, is to throw Mr. Arafat out of Israel for good. This is precisely what needs to be done to defuse the flood of terror bombings that threaten Israel with a wider war, and America with a much more difficult war against global terror.

Israel would be better served if Mr. Arafat would die. If there were a way that could have been managed without their being blamed, the Israelis would have done so a year ago. Now, they will have to settle for moving Mr. Arafat out of the West Bank and Gaza out of Israel which will delegitimize him.

If Mr. Arafat remains in Israel, he is allowed to keep close control of his terror operations. His presence gives him the appearance of a leader of a nation, instead of the mere terrorist he is. Every time someone calls him "Mr. Chairman," his prestige is propped up. Without connection to land and troops, it shrinks. So far, the Israelis have shown considerable restraint in not attempting to capture Mr. Arafat. But the danger of this situation resulting in a wider war is very high, and is evident from the reactions of Arab nations, and the ill-advised remarks of Secretary of State Colin Powell. Mr. Powell delivered himself of the wisdom that Mr. Arafat is not a terrorist, and that he should not be deported. Those remarks are so obviously wrong, from both a factual and political standpoint, that there is no apparent explanation for them.

Last week's Arab summit in Beirut, and this week's in Malaysia, provided great opportunities for Muslim nations to condemn terror. Instead, they have condemned Israel, and made plain their support for terrorist nations such as Iraq. At the same time as those proclamations came out, the terrorist organizations were hyperactive, threatening an even greater wave of terror around the world, and beginning their attacks on Israel. Last Monday, Hamas promised a wave of suicide bombings more severe than any before it. Hezbollah is firing missiles into Israel from southern Lebanon, and massing its forces for some sort of attack. All of these actions are meant to warn of wider conflict if Mr. Arafat is harmed.

These warnings are skewed by the fact that these nations and terrorist groups care nothing for the Palestinians. They only want to destroy Israel and damage America at the same time. To those such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and others, Palestinians are nothing more than a useful tool. At the Beirut summit, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah literally kissed and made up with Iraq, heaping praise on the Iraqis for promising not to invade Kuwait again. Iraq, we now know, is providing a sort of terrorist "G.I. Bill," with survivor insurance benefits, housing and scholarships for the families of "successful" i.e., dead terrorist bombers. The fact that Saddam is pouring millions of dollars into the terrorists' hands goes along with Syrian and Iranian support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Saddam and the others care nothing for the Palestinians. They are cannon fodder, nothing more.

Almost two years ago, Israel's then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Mr. Arafat virtually everything he had ever demanded an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Mr. Arafat rejected that offer, igniting his latest "intifada" that has since killed hundreds. Now, despite all its caution, Israel has had to respond to deadly attacks in a way that poses an even deadlier risk.

Mr. Arafat has refused to surrender, and chooses to remain in his darkened office receiving the food and water and visitors the Israelis permit him. Every day, Mr. Arafat renews his plea for martyrdom, which makes any raid on his office too risky. Mr. Arafat could be killed accidentally by an Israeli soldier. Mr. Arafat may kill himself, or be killed by one of his bodyguards at his own order. Most likely is that one of the other terrorist nations such as Iraq, Iran and Syria have their own people among Mr. Arafat's bodyguards. If the Israelis try to seize Mr. Arafat, these paid assassins would kill him and blame it on the Israelis. No one can doubt that such a frame-up would work, regardless of the evidence to refute it.

There are only two alternatives. Least desirable is the one apparently advocated by Mr. Powell: for the Israelis to withdraw from the Ramallah compound. Mr. Arafat can come out to find his terror network decimated by Israeli forces after making full use of the intelligence information they seized. Mr. Arafat would rebuild what has been taken apart much more quickly than Mr. Powell apparently thinks. This will not, even for a short time, reduce the number of terror bombings. If the Israelis take Mr. Powell's meddlesome advice and don't deport Mr. Arafat, the terrorists' short-term setbacks will hardly be noticeable.

In the other case, Israel with or without our help may arrange a negotiated exodus of Mr. Arafat to some Elba. Mr. Sharon's offer to let Mr. Arafat leave in the company of European diplomats is the best alternative. If he can be persuaded to leave without taking any of his terror network with him he can be moved to the obscurity he deserves. He will still be on the world stage, and the terrorists demanding Mr. Arafat's return will have another excuse for blowing themselves up. But they also will not have an active terrorist leader in place in the West Bank.

The simple fact is that Mr. Arafat's presence in Israel is no longer tolerable. Israel has to banish him, and must do so in a way that if any harm comes to him, it is clearly and indisputably not at their hands.


Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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