Arafat was not guilty

The following April 4 Haaretz article, translated from Hebrew, confirms that the second Intifada, started in 2000, was not the work of Arafat but was provoked and stoked by Israeli intelligence:

Arafat was not guilty

Two new revelations by heads of the GSS and the security establishment

By Yossi Ben-Ari

On 1 March the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies awarded the Tshetshik Prize for outstanding writing in the field of security. The event in Tel Aviv University allowed the attendees to hear the world-view of Avi Dichter and former generals Ami Ayalon and Yaakov Amidror. The theories of all three are worthy of extensive study, but here I will deal only with the analyses – “historical”, but very relevant to the present day…  – of two speakers on the panel.

Dichter, the head of the General Security Service (GSS) in the five years of the Second Intifada, surprised all when he related that the interrogations of the many Palestinians who were arrested after the outbreak of the events in September 2000 clarified once and for all that Yasser Arafat was not behind the events, which had erupted spontaneously on the ground.

I was reminded of an article by Akiva Eldar (Haaretz, 13 February 2006), that quoted from the words of senior security officials who claimed that “the disturbances on the ground were not planned and that there it was not a plan from Arafat’s drawer that set them in motion.” Thus said Yuval Diskin, the deputy chief of the GSS then and its chief today; Dr. Matti Stienberg, special advisor to the GSS chief then; the head of Military Intelligence at that time, Gen. (Res.) Amos Malka; Col. (Res.) Ephraim Lavi, head of the Palestinian section in Military Intelligence/Research.

At that time Eldar also mentioned the writer of these lines, and he was right: an investigation that I conducted at the request of one of the intelligence services in November 2000, revealed that in the information that was at the disposal of the [intelligence] community in Israel in the month that preceded the events there had not been found any signs of advance planning for the violence by Arafat (who was himself surprised by it), or by others in the Palestinian camp. On the contrary, over the course of the two days after the outbreak of violence, Arafat tried to bring about calm, from fear of losing control. Only after he understood that imposing a calm would be likely to bring about a civil war, the collapse of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, the destruction of the security forces and his own demise, did he chose to “ride the tiger”.

Despite their importance, these findings were distributed almost exclusively within the intelligence community and were not presented to policy-makers. It is astonishing to see that Dichter is among those who believed this: if the most central figures who were operating in the intelligence community then (the chiefs of Military Intelligence and the GSS) were of that opinion, how was it that the “intelligence conception” and the strategic outlook took shape in exactly the opposite direction? How was it that the stewards of intelligence believed one thing, and were compelled to agree something different and to act accordingly? Was there a “pre-conception” that was merely waiting for an opportunity to be implemented?

Regarding the second discussion: another former GSS chief, Ami Ayalon, responded hotly to what he perceived as the attempt by Gen. (Res.) Amidror “to scare the public”. With surprising frankness Ayalon related that in the course of his 38 years of service he, like his comrades, “specialized” in that work – how to intensify the perception of threat, in order to get a bigger budget. That insight was indeed manifest in the background of the security discourse in Israel, but it was particularly striking to hear such detailed words from the mouth of one who was the commander of a branch, a senior member of the General Staff and the head of the GSS, particularly because it raises the distressing thought that what is going on today in those establishments is not necessarily different.

How is all this relevant to the present day? The security establishment in Israel has been conducting itself with relative restraint in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, the internal suspense in the Palestinian arena, which has not yet taken shape, and the deep rift between the positions of the Hamas leadership and that of the government of Israel, are likely to cause the situation to deteriorate to new state of tension. As is usual in our region, tension and lack of clarity create an opening for excessive influence of the security forces.

So it must be hoped that a development like that will not be used in order to reinforce an exaggerated perception of the threat that lurks at our door, with the ratification of the budget for 2006; nor for an additional expansion of the security establishment’s influence on the creation of Israeli policy in the Palestinian sphere. The shaping and advancing of incorrect pre-conceptions in a situation of limited visibility is a distinct possibility. In order to reduce the chances, we still need strong nerves, patience, insight and much responsibility on the part of all involved. For after all, we still have a national duty to understand the events of 2000, before, God forbid, we are forced to open a new account.

The author is a brigadier in the reserves, and a former senior member of the intelligence community.

Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall