Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of November 28, 1996
SINCE the beginning of the year surprisingly large numbers of reinforced iron bars and huge quantities of cement have been flowing into Gaza from Israel, to the deep gratification of those who claimed peace in the vastly overcrowded Strip would lead to prosperity boosted by a massive construction program. But the economy slumped and unemployment rose, causing puzzled frowns. Who was using all that iron and cement?
Suddenly, last Thursday, came the answer -- from Mira Avrech, matriarch of Israel's gossip columnists. Arafat, she revealed, is building a bunker in Gaza, four stories deep. Since the item was just the twittering of a gossip writer the paper didn't run the scoop on its front page. In fact, there was no further mention of it in any of the Hebrew media. Yet had the complacent Hebrew papers taken the trouble to check it out with any Israeli defense or intelligence source, they would have found out that Arafat isn't simply building himself a cozy underground den. Taking a leaf out of Saddam Hussein's book, he is building a chain of command centers, ammunition and weapons-storage areas below the surface of Gaza.
This is the grandiose project to which much of the money sent to the Palestinian Authority by international donors has been channeled. Perhaps Mira Avrech's editors at Yediot Aharonot do not read her column and consequently didn't realize that what their columnist was prattling on about was in fact a powerful scoop.
The indifference and complacency that exists in this country even among so-called strategists and experts, among journalists -- and, it seems, in the government too - - recalls nothing so much as that famous ostrich with its head buried deep in the sand.
It brings to mind the mood in Britain when, in the late 1930s, London papers led by the august Times fed their readers with a diet of Neville Chamberlain-style appeasement of the Nazi regime in Germany, despite Winston Churchill's warnings. If the upper-class Fleet Street journalists of the day felt they had no real reason to distrust Adolf Hitler, that nice gentleman, our Israeli scribes and politicians can ave no such excuse. We would like to refer the "trust Arafat" school of thought to the Lebanon war, when the PLO leader constructed an underground network of buildings in the bowels of Beirut. From there, protected against Israeli artillery and air attacks, he conducted his war against the Jewish state. From there he organized his terrorist onslaught against northern Galilee settlements and towns and plotted one provocative action after another.
Small wonder, then, that this week OC Southern Command Shlomo Yanai sensed the danger immediately when Arafat ordered his threatening blockade of Netzarim. Yanai understood that here was another attempt by the PLO leader to provoke a military confrontation, as he did so successfully last month when the Hasmonean tunnel exit was opened in Jerusalem.The deaths of 15 Israeli soldiers and policemen proved how successful the PLO chief was.
Arafat's agenda is the same as it was a decade and a half ago: warfare against the Jewish
With the instincts of a terrorist he is burrowing underground in Gaza, as he did in Beirut, to protect himself and stockpile the weapons and ordnance he needs to wage a prolonged military campaign. His aim (reiterated less than a week ago) is jihad: to rid the Middle East of Israel then set himself up as president of an independent Palestine state. Is the Netanyahu government blind to what is going on under its collective nose?
AT THE same time Arafat is toying with the prime minister, convinced Netanyahu is anxious to surrender Hebron to him.And indeed over a month ago the Israeli government -- never mind President Clinton -- was so confident this surrender was imminent that both parties were declaring the Hebron knot had been untied and saying that signing was just a formality. Foreign Minister David Levy proudly declared an agreement to be only hours away. The army too was certain of it. Under conditions of great secrecy it had prepared three firm alternative dates on which the withdrawal could take place.
At the last minute Arafat pulled the rug out from under the Americans' and Israelis' feet by unexpectedly flying off to Europe. Netanyahu, still believing an agreement was on the cards, canceled a US trip to Seattle, where he was not only to have addressed the leaders of American Jewry but also to have met with powerful industrialists and money men concerning investment in Israel. Arafat uses one sticking point after another to stall the Hebron agreement. First he declines to allow Israeli troops to go after fleeing terrorists in hot pursuit. Then he gives the thumbs-down sign to the idea that the IDF has the right to enter Palestinian areas to preempt terrorist attacks against Jewish targets.
Next Sunday Binyamin Netanyahu is to visit Europe; but nervous aides are wondering what spanner Arafat is likely to throw into the works in a bid to show who is really master of events in this corner of the Middle East. And all the while the PLO leader goes on building his underground bunker web. Unlike Menachem Begin, who in 1982 determined to uproot Arafat from his underground headquarters, nobody seems to give a fig about what is being constructed in Gaza with Israeli-supplied cement and iron, an hour's drive south of Tel Aviv.
Trembling English journalists and politicians preached "peace in our time" in 1938-9 as the drums
of war thundered. The appeasement at the heart of the Oslo "peace" accords, now focused on
Hebron, soon on Jerusalem, reverberates just as loudly to those who will listen. (c) Jerusalem
Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.