- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

LONDON Israeli intelligence officials believe the time is ripe for the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to be sent into exile, well-placed security sources said over the weekend.
The new intelligence opinion sharply reverses two years of advice to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to try to expel Mr. Arafat.
Israeli intelligence chiefs are studying ways of evicting Mr. Arafat from his headquarters in the town of Ramallah without harming or killing him.
With war looming in Iraq, Israeli officials believe that engineering the removal of Mr. Arafat would be possible amid the upheaval that is likely to follow the demise of Saddam Hussein.
Israel hopes pragmatists will take over the Palestinian leadership.
But prominent intelligence chiefs believe any agreement will only succeed if Israel can reach understandings with radical groups, such as Hamas, with whom it has so far refused to negotiate.
Israel's security agencies Mossad, Shin Bet and military intelligence, have long argued that Mr. Arafat would cause less trouble to Israel by being confined to the West Bank than by traveling around foreign capitals.
But leading voices in the security establishment, including former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who is Mr. Sharon's national security adviser, are known to have changed their minds in recent months.
They now believe Mr. Arafat is so weak and isolated that sending him into exile would give pragmatists a chance to take over the Palestinian leadership, end the two-year uprising and negotiate a political settlement with the Israeli government.
"Arafat today is not the same Arafat of last summer," one security source said. "He has lost a lot of prestige. If he goes into exile now, he will not be able to control things the way he used to. The moderates will then be able to assert themselves."
The new hawkish mood in the Israeli intelligence hierarchy removes one of the main restraints on Mr. Sharon at a time when his government is under renewed pressure to take tough action in response to a succession of gruesome Palestinian attacks.
On Thursday, a Palestinian suicide bomber on board a packed bus killed 11 other persons, many of them teenagers on their way to school. Hamas took responsibility.
The new Israeli foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is planning to challenge Mr. Sharon, openly advocates sending the Palestinian leader into exile, although he said he would not try to reverse Israeli policy ahead of elections.
Security sources said it is unlikely that Mr. Arafat would be sent into exile in the coming weeks, not least because Mr. Sharon has promised President Bush that he will avoid inflaming the region in the buildup to war with Iraq.
"Sharon has given Bush an iron-clad guarantee that no harm would come to Arafat," a senior security source said. "That is not the same as a guarantee that he will not be sent into exile."
Mr. Arafat has said he would rather die a shahid, or martyr, than be thrown out of the Palestinian homeland.


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