- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

On Jan. 3, Israel intercepted a Palestinian-owned ship smuggling 50 tons of weaponry from Iran to the Gaza shore via the Red Sea. Given the extraordinary amount of offensive arms and ammunition found ranging from Katyusha rockets to anti-tank missiles, land mines, sniper rifles, mortar shells, and 2.2 tons of high-grade explosives there is no doubt that the masterminds of this act intended to escalate the conflict in the Middle East.

Immediately following the capture of the Karine A freighter, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement claiming no prior knowledge of the attempted delivery of arms, declaring that it is "not involved in this incident and such steps are not part of its policies." Yet the facts surrounding Israel's seizure of the Karine A provide irrefutable evidence regarding Palestinian culpability in the operation. Denial of official Palestinian involvement simply adds to the long list of explicit untruths perpetuated by the PA, and further weakens Yasser Arafat's credibility in the international community.

The claims of the PA leadership are becoming increasingly transparent as the events surrounding the Karine A incident unfold. The captain of the ship, a 25-year member of Mr. Arafat's Fatah organization and Palestinian naval officer, Omar Akawi, publicly admitted that his mission was initiated by the PA, directed by PA operatives and carried out under Palestinian control.

Compelling evidence demonstrates that Mr. Arafat's inner circle was deeply involved in the planning and implementation of this arms deal. Mr. Akawi's primary contact for the mission Adel Mughrabi, chief armaments procurer for the PA purchased the ship in late September after receiving approval from the top echelon of Palestinian officials. Additionally, Fuad Shoubaki, director of finances for Mr. Arafat's general security forces, and Fathi Razem, deputy commander of the Palestinian naval police, both played key roles in the plot.

We should not be surprised by Mr. Arafat's denial of responsibility in this matter, considering his extremely poor track record for telling the truth. In the past 15 months, Mr. Arafat has pledged to abandon violent tactics commensurate with his Sept. 9, 1993, promise to Yitzhak Rabin to "renounce the use of terrorism." On numerous occasions, Mr. Arafat has made specific promises to world dignitaries, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet, that he would disassociate from terrorist elements and bring about a cease-fire. His actions of the past year and a half demonstrate a complete disregard for these commitments and reveal his desire to preserve the use of terror as a strategic option for attaining political goals.

Upon signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinians agreed to maintain only light weaponry for the purpose of sustaining order and fighting terror not participating in it. The PA's actions over the last 15 months, which have included extensive local production of arms and continued attempts to smuggle weapons, are a complete abdication of this obligation and a rejection of the peace process itself.

Not only does the Karine A violate all previously signed agreements between Israel and the PA, but it also reinforces the ever-present problem of accepting Mr. Arafat's words at face value. On Dec. 16, Mr. Arafat publicly denounced terrorism and reaffirmed the "full and immediate cessation of all armed operations." Irrespective of this declaration, the PA continued its covert mission in the Red Sea. Following Mr. Arafat's speech, Karine A Capt. Akawi admitted that he "expected to receive an order to stop …" but he did not.

Clearly, Mr. Arafat's speech of Dec. 16 was aimed at appeasing the international community as opposed to conveying a message to his people to discontinue terrorist operations. Anyone importing weapons of this caliber while speaking the conciliatory "language of peace" is hiding under a criminal facade. This double game of faulty promises and contradictory affirmations will no longer work.

One cannot overlook the severity and implications of the Karine A incident. The decision to smuggle long-range missiles to Gaza clearly demonstrates a strategic change in Palestinian policy, following Mr. Arafat's failure to achieve political gains in the past 15 months. This incident suggests that the PA intended to escalate the conflict and offset the stability of the entire Middle East. Moreover, the PA's collaboration with Hezbollah and Iran signifies a new precedent regarding the penetration of international terrorism into the region.

The PA must make a strategic decision to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist networks and unequivocally eliminate the infiltration of terror in its own ranks. As far as negotiations are concerned, Israel has adopted the Reagan formula of "seeking agreements which are verifiable, equitable, and militarily significant." Mr. Arafat's words are cheap, and Israel will only judge the Palestinians upon their actions.

David Ivry is the ambassador of Israel to the United States.

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