- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli military officials said that a series of raids against security compounds and refugee camps this month has dramatically reduced the ability of the Palestinians to attack Israeli settlements and installations.

What have been presented as retaliatory strikes following Palestinian suicide attacks were in fact designed to go through a long-prepared shopping list of targets with deadly accuracy, these sources said.

Senior military sources said they believed the Palestinians had planned a second stage of the current intifada that would have seen full-scale military-style raids on key targets in the Palestinian territories and in Israel itself.

These raids, the officials believe, would have been spearheaded by the Palestinian Authority's own forces, which while massively outgunned by those of Israel exceed by about 60 percent the limits under the 1993 Olso agreements.

That threat, the Israelis said, has been effectively eliminated.

"We have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," claimed one Israeli intelligence officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "A major danger that was looming has been averted, and no-one even noticed what we did.

"The Palestinians were unbelievably sloppy and slow in getting their key paperwork and computers and communications equipment out in time," the officer exulted.

In the past month, waves of Israeli F-16 jet fighters, supported by pinpoint targeting of specific offices and individuals from Apache helicopter gunships, have picked off numerous Palestinian security targets.

At the same time, 20,000 Israeli troops forcibly entered and scoured the densely populated, warren-like refugee camps that the Palestinians had believed were "no-go areas" for any invading force and where bomb-making operations and arms caches abounded.

Israeli forces kept casualties to a minimum by simply blasting their way through walls from house to house, though the resulting destruction fed Palestinian anger and produced negative media images.

Israel's hard-line chief of staff, Iranian-born Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, explained at a security conference in December that Israel had been preparing since 2000 for what it saw as an inevitable Palestinian uprising.

A contingency plan, codenamed Operation Justified Vengeance, was drawn up last June to reoccupy all of the West Bank and possibly the Gaza Strip at a likely cost of "hundreds" of Israeli casualties.

While that plan has never been fully implemented, elements of it were employed during the past two weeks in an effort to show the Palestinians that Israel can still control these territories at will.

Israeli military planners have been concerned about a major Palestinian strike against Israel since 1998. It was then that they received intelligence reports that Palestinian Authority policemen were receiving serious training in Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen and Algeria.

"The writing was on the wall from Day One the very arrival of Yasser Arafat in 1994," said Lt.-Col. Gal Luft, now attached to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It was Col. Luft who, as commander in the Rafah region, opened the gate between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to admit Mr. Arafat's black Mercedes Benz in that year.

"We later discovered from intelligence sources that he had hidden four illegal AK-47s in the car and a wanted terrorist leader," he said. "That set the pattern for his security people knowing what game to play."

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