Monday, August 31, 2009

The Palestinian Movement, Iran, Hizballah, and arms smuggling

By Barry Rubin

It is because the Middle East’s history—even most recent history—is continually ignored does Western policy tend to go in a cycle, the same mistakes are repeated, and disasters occur predictably.

Consider, for example, the Palestinian Authority's Iran connection and lust for war rather than peace.

Fuad Shubaki, one of Arafat’s closest aides, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Israeli military court for weapons’ smuggling. This is not a new issue and the details are what’s interesting. Shubaki, whose office was practically next to that of the PLO, Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader, financed the shipment of arms on the Karine-A cargo ship—including 50 tons of Katyusha rockets, ammunition, and explosives--which Israeli forces seized in 2002. Shubaki testified he was only carrying out (Arafat’s) orders.

Lessons of the Shubaki case:

--Arafat had forged close relations with the Islamist regime in Iran which was to supply the weapons, showing the cooperation between the Palestinian movement and the Iranians.

--The middle man in the deal was Hizballah special operations’ chief Imad Mugniyah, since assassinated. So Hizballah was brokering Iran-PA relations and the PA was working closely with a terrorist responsible for attacks on Americans and the deaths of U.S. soldiers.

--The large amount of weapons would have greatly escalated the Second Intifada fighting, resulting in thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties. It is a wonderful example of how the Palestinian side tries to foment bloody wars even though it will lose, have its infrastructure destroyed, and suffer so many casualties  (which can then be blamed on Israel).

--The incident persuaded the Bush administration that Arafat was not a partner for peace and thus played a key role in setting U.S. government policy. If the Bush administration is criticized for not doing more on Arab-Israeli negotiations during its term, that was because the White House was convinced that the Palestinians wanted war not peace. The longer-term factor was the U.S. government's viewing Arafat's rejection of compromise peace at the 2000 Camp David summit but the arms' deal with Iran was the decisive event in convincing the Bush administration that it was hopeless trying to work with the PA or broker a peace deal.

--The PA, Fatah, and the PLO is currently run by Arafat’s lieutenants, the same people who were in power in 2002.

--In recent weeks, several leading Fatah officials have spoken about the idea of turning toward an alliance with Iran against, among others, the United States.

--Fatah is now moving into a more radical phase, with its designated next leader being more extreme than Arafat.

--If a Palestinian state were to be established, it might well invite in Hizballah and Iranian forces, import large amounts of arms, and renew the war with Israel.

These are all serious points which must be taken into account--but are only rarely so--in understanding the regional sitaution and the futility of an effort to obtain a comprehensive agreement at this time.

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