- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 5 …

Yasser Arafat may have a surprise up his sleeve for those who expect him to appoint his deputy Mahmoud Abbas to be prime minister, fulfilling the U.S.-European demands that he start giving up his hold on power in the government of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah's central committee met Monday and told Arafat that Abbas was their first choice. Even rivals such as parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Qurei said they would support Abbas, also known by Abu Mazin. But Arafat fears that Abbas, who is also secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, would be altogether too powerful a figure for comfort — in part because the EU officials who hold the Palestinian Authority's purse strings are pressing the cause of Abbas as a credible negotiating partner. The Bush administration has openly given Abbas, also known as Abu Mazin, its blessing as well. So Arafat is plotting to present a candidate of his own — Nablus businessman Munib al-Masri, close to Arafat since he was used as the middleman in negotiations with Jordan's King Hussein in the Black September fighting in 1970. Chairman of the giant Pedico construction group, which helped build the giant military bases in Saudi Arabia, al-Masri would present no political threat to Arafat. The question is whether the rest of the Fatah leadership has the nerve to stop Arafat's move.


North Korea nuclear threats to the United States may be more than hyperbole. A report submitted to South Korea's National Assembly quotes former Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama stating that, "According to a U.S. document, the last piece of a missile warhead fired by North Korea was found in Alaska." The backpedaling in Anchorage over the report was palpable. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he's never heard of any North Korea debris in Alaska. Ditto for Chris Nelson, the state's missile defense coordinator. Missile Defense Agency spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Lehner said the report probably referred to a 1998 three-stage Taepodong-1 missile test, but Lehner too dismissed the possibility that debris reached the United States, claiming: "It splashed in the water hundreds of miles from Alaska. I've never heard of any piece of a missile landing in Alaska from that test or any other test."


Israel's military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi has told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Iraq's hidden El-Hussein missiles (upgraded Soviet-designed Scuds) have not yet been deployed into the western desert districts from which they could reach Israel. That's the good news. The bad news is that North Korean salesmen are offering an improved and more accurate version of the Scud-B around the Middle East — at bargain prices. The Scud-B has a 180-mile range with a one ton payload, and diplomatic sources say that Pyongyang has offered the new model to Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iran to replace their elderly Soviet-supplied versions.


Iraq fired 39 of the Scuds (with conventional warheads) at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, inflicting little physical damage but big political impact. Uzi Rubin, who was called in by the Defense Ministry and ordered to start Israel's Arrow anti-missile program from scratch on the evening two Scuds landed, has just given a personal briefing on Israel's defenses to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "It took us some time to appreciate that we needed to develop a system program rather than a missile program, based on the 'Green Pine' early warning and fire control radar and the 'Citron Tree' battle management system," he said. The eventual Arrow-2 system, now deployed in Israel alongside the U.S. Patriot batteries, has been designed to intercept the missile as high as possible. As a result, Rubin says he's confident that even chemical warheads won't hurt Israel. "We tested to see whether chemical agents would reach the ground after interception and reached the conclusion that absolutely nothing comes down to the ground. If we can destroy the hostile warhead above the jet stream, which flows from west to east, everything that comes down from the destroyed warhead will enter the jet stream and be blown back to the sender."


Turkish officials say that another casualty of their Parliament's revolt against the U.S. troop deal has been the hopes of a final settlement of Cyprus. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited the Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktasl and newly elected Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos to the Hague next Monday for what Annan calls "a unique chance" for an agreement based on the U.N.-drafted peace plan. But Turkey is too distracted to put much pressure on the obdurate Denktash, and nobody in Ankara is prepared to risk any political capital by trying. So only the southern half of the divided island will join the European Union. But many Turkish-Cypriots are expected to vote with their feet, and try to acquire Cyprus Republic passports — giving them the right to love and work anywhere in the European Union.

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