Jewish World Review May 14, 2002 / 3 Sivan, 5762
Thomas H. Lipscomb
There have been many confrontations between Arafat and his hated Israeli "occupiers." But this time, after rejecting the extraordinary opportunity offered by the previous Israeli government under then Prime Minister Ehud Barak to gain 97 percent of the West Bank territories at the 1998 Wye River conference, Arafat's arrogance caused him to lose his balance.
The January attempt to use the freighter Karine A to sneak 50 tons of arms from Iran into PA territory and the unprecedented murder of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavem Zeevi last fall made it impossible for the current Israeli government of Ariel Sharon to consider the past year and a half of Palestinian terrorist attacks "intifada as usual," as Arafat confidently believed it would.
And in this new context, Arafat's use of suicide bombers became excessive and intolerable, bringing down a heavy Israel Defense Force response he had clearly not expected. Surprisingly, observers still fail to understand the magnitude of the success of Sharon's military and political assault on Arafat's PA.
While international observers continued to wring their hands over alleged "war crimes" in Jenin, they missed the point -- again. What was really remarkable was how, once Arafat had been engaged and isolated in Ramallah, his forces were defeated in detail by the IDF with both efficiency and a minimal loss of life. How that happened is worth examining.
Pre-positioned material that had taken years to accumulate in the PA territories has now been destroyed by the IDF. The speed of modern warfare no longer allows anyone the time to declare war and rearm at their leisure. After all the lack of pre-positioned troops and equipment has delayed the pending U.S. offensive against Iraq, just as it did in the Gulf War in 1991.
Since the PA is more of a guerilla force it is helpful to recall that the Viet Cong had to infiltrate all the materials they used in their massive engagement in the Tet Offensive in 1968 over many months, just as Arafat's PA had to. Once it was used up, the Viet Cong were no longer a force to be reckoned with and disappeared.
And unfortunately for Arafat, the PA "civil authority" centers he thought untouchable, like his headquarters at Ramallah where he stockpiled some of his most sophisticated weapons, such as rockets, mines, and heavy weapons, were carefully cleared out by the IDF amid the twittering of Europeaceniks for Israeli desecration of these shrines of democratic government.
Arafat's Palestinians no doubt have still cached some light weapons and ammunition, they can use for hit-and-run raiding and the occasional funeral fusillade. But the days of a significant threat from the PA are over for now. It will take them years to get back to the supply levels they had before Sharon's troops moved in on them.
Perhaps most importantly, detailed records at the PA headquarters in Ramallah and district centers provided invaluable intelligence on PA order of battle and arrangements with collateral organizations such as the Hezbollah and al Qaida. And with th ese records in hand, cadres were located, captured, interrogated and their effectiveness destroyed or severely limited. This now leaves the Israelis free to go after the Syrian-supported Hezbollah and their occupied province of Lebanon with little fear of being outflanked by the PA.
The Palestinians, of course, have been used by Arab powers from the Saudis to the Libyans, Syrians, and Iraqi for 40 years as a way to throw U.S. policy off balance by destabilizing Israel.
But now this option will not be open to Iraq's Saddam Hussein as the American assault opens on his regime.
If Saddam wants to send an explosive missile into Israel he will have to make that decision on his own and take the consequences. He has pretty much lost the option of a more sympathetic explosive package delivered by Arafat[Thomas Lipscomb] , like a teenaged girl carrying a bomb . Now there will only be a limited number of Palestinian martyrs suited up with bombs able to make it to their targets in Israel.
At a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations this spring, two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Gens. John Vessey and John Shalikashvili snorted with derision at the naiveté of questions about the "terrible casualties" being experienced in Bush's "War Against Terror." And, of course, compared to World War II and Vietnam, the U.S. casualties in Bush's campaign in Afghanistan and Sharon's in the PA territories barely total the crash of a commuter airliner.
Ironically, both the Bush Administration's detractors and supporters miss the real nature of this war. It is not the war the Left wishes to view as destroying indigenous Islamic regimes in favor of American globalization. Any products in this region like oil were already totally accessible to global markets well before it began and continue to be.
Nor is it the war the Right hopes will replace tin-pot dictatorships with more democratic governments. America's ally, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, just provided a helpful reminder of that as he neatly reinstalled himself with no opposition.
What the world is seeing is America's first "oriental war." An Antonine emperor of Rome or a British Viceroy of India would recognize it instantly.
It is not necessary to govern Parthia or Afghanistan or Kaffiristan. It is only necessary to make sure Parthia or Afghanistan do not have the power to disturb areas of strategic importance.
Always use local troops like the Northern Alliance or the Israelis for the dirty work, so the locals keep focused on the benefits of imperial alliances and the fruits of provincial politics. Only deploy imperial troops in crushing force when a major threat is encountered. And with a lot of lies, the liberal use of bribery, and a surprisingly few soldiers, it is possible to play this game for centuries.
The Wall Street Journal began to wake up and smell the coffee with an editorial called "The Bush Two Step" in which its editors actually allowed themselves to dare hope what pundits kept calling Bush's "shattered Middle-Eastern policy" might be diabolically clever. There is no better evidence than Secretary of State Colin Powell's so-called "failed trip" to the Middle East. If two of Arafat's suicide bombers had to succeed in killing Israeli civilians, it is hard to imagine a better timing for Israel than while an American secretary of state was waiting patiently to meet with PA President Arafat for "peace negotiations."
What could poor distraught Powell do but turn away for the cameras, more in sorrow than in anger, unable "under the circumstances" to meet with Arafat? And with all that extra time on his hands why shouldn't he head back for another session with Sharon's government to plan on the next "helpful" IDF withdrawal from some Palestinian town they had been over with a fine tooth comb, and the next "unhelpful" pacification of another, with appropriate cooing and tut-tutting dubbed in?
But instead of appropriate howls of cynical laughter, the world press indulged in another analysis of their favorite ongoing soap opera -- "Man of Peace" Powell being undercut by "Man of War" Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon. The Bush policy is no less deceptive than bombing aspirin factories in the Sudan. It is just a heck of a lot more effective.
The essence of understanding "oriental war" is watching what the participants do rather than what they say -- a talent lacking in journalists and intellectuals with a primary talent for arguing over the parsing of political statements only they take seriously.
New York Timesman Thomas Friedman's much-debated "message from Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia," Bush's criticism of Sharon's invasion of the PA territory, and threats against Israel from the European Union and the United Nations have one thing in common: they are all irrelevant. And the more irrelevant they are, the angrier journalists and intellectuals get at being ignored in their observations.
Concerns that Israel might assassinate the imprisoned Arafat in Ramallah show how totally the West misunderstands the nature of oriental war. In this worldview for centuries it was regarded as far more useful to simply blind and castrate an opposing leader and leave him in place as a reminder to his people of their powerlessness. It still is. Arafat was already blind or he wouldn't have blundered into initiating the castration of his own power.
And why ever would the Israelis want to kill him now? Arafat now is a figure of total ridicule to both his enemies and his allies. What better evidence than the casual ease with which both President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah had Sharon agree to release Arafat during a meeting in Crawford, Texas, devoted to weightier matters?
And now, with the cage door of his Ramallah prison wide open, with Arafat "freed" at last, and
his "martyrdom" a hollow joke, Arafat still sits inside, a stunned old man. No one knows more
than he how irrelevant he has become.
Thomas H. Lipscomb is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. An an editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books, he is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.