By Munir K. Nasser
Chief correspondent, Washington, DC
A senior Israeli official warned in Washington that the Palestinian Intifada could trigger a regional war against Israel, in which Iran, Iraq and Syria could be involved.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh accused Palestinian President Yasser Arafat of changing his position from “negotiation to confrontation …gives a cause to all the lunatics in the region to drive the region to another broad-scale confrontation."
He claimed that Iraq has moved five divisions toward its border with Jordan to threaten Israel and that Iran and Syria have boosted support for “terrorist groups,” including Hizbollah.
Speaking to an audience of diplomats, academics and US officials at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Sneh said the Palestinians are escalating the confrontation into a war of attrition, replacing protest demonstrations by guerrilla tactics, using automatic rifles near settlements and army bases or along the old "green line" of Israel's 1948-1967 borders.
Sneh said that, with Syria and Iran supporting guerrilla organizations like Hizbollah in south Lebanon, Arafat could be setting the stage for a wider conflict by giving an excuse for military adventures.
“He is waiting for Israel's mistake which will give him the pretext to invite in this international force to protect the Palestinians. The trouble is that by doing so he gives the go-ahead to all the fanatics in our region to be active -- the dark forces -- and even to drive the region to another full-scale confrontation, and here lies the danger,'' he added.
Sneh warned that Palestinians are waging a media war against Israel saying "this is a CNN war — the aim is to put Israel in a corner, to bring in an international force to protect the Palestinians." He added that "Arafat wants to drag us into a trap — one missile misses a window and hits an Arab family or, God forbid, a hospital. To reach our goal, we have to be cautious, not adventurous."
Sneh also said that, because of the recent weeks of violence, any negotiated deal with the Palestinians would now have to include stronger security guarantees for the Israelis. The senior officer said Arafat was making a mistake if he thought that by escalating the violence he could win an offer better than the one Barak was willing to consider in July.
Sneh was indirectly critical of the Clinton administration policy of appeasement toward Iran and Iraq.
“I have to warn that appeasement policy toward Iran, toward Iraq, toward all the extremists in the Arab world would not serve the interests of America,'' he said, adding that Iraq was “quite clearly outside the cage'' because the UN sanctions regime is losing its impact and because UN weapons inspectors have not visited the country for about two years.
Sneh called on the United States to "rebuild a moderate front, a strategic configuration of those states committed to the peace process, and to oppose fundamentalism and extremism."
He said Israel and the US are discussing the possibility of a wider war and are exchanging intelligence information that could warn of major troop movements in the region.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)