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Paper No. 822

by B.Raman

I landed in Israel on October 10, 2003, expecting to find a besieged country battered and bled due to repeated terrorist strikes on innocent civilians in different cities by the jihadi terrorists of the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and other similar organisations funded and motivated by the former Saddam Hussein Government of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) of Yasser Arafat.

2. There is no evidence of the terrorists having been trained and armed by these States or even given sanctuary in their territory, but there is no doubt that these States, directly and through the PLO, have been the main financial backers of the jihadi terrorism directed against Israel.  The financial assistance has been in the form of support for the families of the suicide terrorists, rewards for providing assistance to the terrorists and for other tasks undertaken in support of terrorism and  budgetary support for the psychological warfare (PSYWAR) apparatus of the PLO, which appears to be more efficient than its Israeli counterpart.

3. There is another important source of revenue for the PLO and the jihadi terrorists from the smuggling of Chinese goods.  If you want to have an idea of the smugglers' trade, you just take a stroll in the Arab areas of old Jerusalem, particularly around the Al Aqsa mosque. Hundreds of pavement shops which sell practically nothing but Chinese goods.  Cosmetics, leather and sports articles, crockery and cutlery,  imitation watches, electronic goods,  textiles etc etc. You name it and it is there from China.

4. One was told all these Chinese goods are smuggled through Jordan, with a part of the profits earned going into the coffers of the PLO and the jihadi terrorist organisations. The provisions relating to the terrorist funding of the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 are meaningless so far as the jihadi terrorism directed against Israel is concerned just as they are meaningless in respect of Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorism against India.  Where is the question of action against terrorist-funding by UN member-States when some of the member-States themselves such as  Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq (the previous regime) and Pakistan  are funding the jihadi terrorists?

5. The Israeli Government has produced credible documentary evidence in the past about financial assistance given by Yasser Arafat and his PLO to families of suicide terrorists, but the world has chosen to close its eyes to it.  Law has a  concept of accessory  after the crime. He is one who helps the criminals after they have committed the crime by providing them protection, shelter, financial assistance etc.

6. Even though there may not be any evidence of the PLO being an accessory to terrorism before it was committed, there is definitely evidence of its being an accessory after the commission of an act of terrorism.

7. Contrary to my fears of landing in a besieged city when I went to Jerusalem for a week's stay, I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite the repeated masssacres of innocent civilians by the jihadi terrorists, Israel has remained as calm and composed  as India. Normal life has not been allowed to be affected by the acts of the terrorists.  In India, the economy too has not been affected outside Jammu & Kashmir, but in Israel, the effect of terrorism on some sectors of the economy such as tourism is obvious.  Many hotels have an empty look. While group tourists, mainly Jews from other countries visiting their holy land, continue to come, individual tourism has been badly affected.

8. There are security guards everywhere with a hand-held metal detector, but they do their job in as inoffensive a manner as possible. Sometimes, they are even apologetic that they have been forced to do this by the terrorists. They are pleasant to everyone, even foreigners, and the tension which one sometimes finds in the US is remarkably absent in Israel.

9. For the last three years, Israel has been passing through hell with dozens of innocent men, women and children being ruthlessly killed by the suicide bombers.  Even though there are many Arab Muslims living in most cities of Israel, one has rarely come across any instance of mob anger or reprisals against the Arabs.

10. Reprisals there have been, but by the Security Forces and not by  mobs. The interactions of the Israeli Jews with their Arab co-residents of the town have been correct. The Israeli Jews may strongly dislike and fear their Arab co-residents, but they do not outwardly show it.

11. In 1975, the Mizo National Front (MNF), which was fighting against the Government of India for the independence of Mizoram in India's North-East with the assistance of Pakistan, realised the futility of violence and entered into negotiations with the Government of India for a peaceful political solution of the problem.  A final agreement could be reached only in 1985 after long, but intermittent talks.

12. Some intermediaries on behalf of the MNF  had suggested to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister, that she should reach an interim accord with the MNF to enable its leaders and cadres come overground and start their political activities in the State. She rejected their suggestion saying that"either there is a final political solution or no solution. There cannot be an interim solution" She was afraid that the State would lose its flexibility and initiative if it reached an interim accord.

13. That is what has happened in Israel. Its past political leadership reached an interim accord with Yasser Arafat and his PLO and allowed them to come to the occupied territory from exile and set up an interim Palestinian Authority (PA).  The PA has acquired a certain legitimacy in the eyes of the international community even though it has not given up the use of terrorism through surrogates, particularly from the States of the Third World and Europe, and  has been the beneficiary of  financial assistance.  It has got a toe-hold in the territory from which it has been able to sponsor or connive at acts of terrorism in the populated areas of Israel.

14.With the terrorists operating openly from right outside the door of Israel, the country finds that it has no other option but to rely overwhelmingly on its armed forces for its counter-terrorism operations.  The role of the covert operations of the Israeli intelligence agencies, which used to excel in such operations directed against selected overseas targets of the PLO in the past, without anyone---neither the PLO nor other countries---being able to establish the hand of the Israeli intelligence, has been considerably reduced. The leadership role in counter-terrorism has gone from the hands of the Police and the intelligence agencies into the hands of the Armed Forces.

15. The result: Visible and provocative use of military force, which has been adding to the anger and motivation of the Palestinian youth instead of diluting them. What one has been witnessing for the last three years is a clash of two fierce wills--those of the Jews and the Palestinians with no light at the end of the tunnel. Reprisals, counter-reprisals, counter-counter-reprisals---that is the name of the game. It is a fight with no holds barred on both sides.

16. Israel finds itself caught in an unenviable dilemma. If it has Yasser Arafat exiled once again or neutralised, the consequences of the resulting Palestinian, Arab and Islamic anger would be unpredictable and could be serious for the interests of not only Israel, but also the USA, its closest ally.  If it lets him continue to control the territory, his inability or unwillingness to stop  jihadi terrorism against Israel mounted from the territory would result in Israeli civilians continuing to bleed more and more.

17. The international community's efforts to force Israel to continue to talk with the PLO on the so-called American sponsored road map without the PLO helping in the stoppage of jihadi terrorism would only strengthen the hands of the  jihadis, without contributing to the implementation of the road map. In insurgency or terrorism affected situations, the insurgents or terrorists become more amenable to a political solution when they  realise the futility of continued violence. There is no reason to believe that the PLO and its allied organisations  have reached such a stage.

18. Despite all the talk of counter-terrorism co-operation between India and Israel, one was surprised to notice a relative lack of interest in India's problems due to its being the fellow-victim of jihadi terrorism.  Not only the man in the street, but even large sections of intellectuals have very limited knowledge of India and its terrorism-related problems. Nor is there a lively interest in learning from India's counter-terrorism experience, which is more subtle and sophisticated.

19. The interest, wherever one finds it, is confined to the bureaucratic circles. There is a lot more interest in India and its problems and a feeling of solidarity with the people of India in their war against terrorism amongst the Jews of the USA than amongst their co-religionists in Israel. Even the interest in the Hindu religion and Indian culture is confined to the youth. While the grown-up people continue to be fascinated by the West, particularly  the USA, increasing numbers of the young are attracted to the East, particularly India and Thailand.

20. The El Al flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai and Bangkok are packed with very young people. Many of them have visited these countries more than once. Even amongst the older immigrants, those from West Europe and North America evince a greater interest in India than those from Russia and other countries of East Europe for whom the world seems to consist of only two countries---Israel and the US. For them, Richard Perle, a member of the US Defence Policy Advisory Board and one of the so-called neo-conservatives, seems to be a hero, partly because of the role played by the late Senator "scoop" Jackson, his mentor, in facilitating Jewish migration from the erstwhile USSR and partly because of his own perceived role in influencing the hardline policy of the Bush administration towards Saddam Hussein and the PLO. They are in the forefront of the opposition to the road map.

21.It was interesting  to meet some  real Jewish sons of the soil, Jews, who were not migrants from outside, but the offspring of Jewish ancestors who had been living in the holy land long before Israel was born. One of them, a retired Army officer, introduced himself as a Palestinian and not as a Jew. While being grateful to the US for all that it has done for Israel, they are at the same time prepared to take a more critical attitude towards US policies.

22. They publicly support the action taken by the Bush Administration against the Saddam Hussein Government in Iraq, but privately admit that the US committed a major blunder by having removed Saddam from power and practically pushing the country into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists, who had been ruthlessly crushed by Saddam. They also feel that the USA is in a no-win situation in Iraq whatever it may brag about  and that the question is not whether the jihadis would force the US troops to quit Iraq in ignominy, but how soon. One of them said that if the US was intelligent, it would have cried victory after occupying Baghdad and asked the UN to take over and tackle the messy sequel.

23. There is growing interest in Pakistan in Israel. Islamabad's  concerns over India's acquisition of arms and ammunition from Israel and over talks of Indo-Israeli co-operation in counter-terrorism have been receiving attention in Israel. Even those who express sympathy for India's predicament are reluctant to condemn Pakistan openly by name. The proximity of Pakistan to the US and the US perceptions of Pakistan as a force for moderation and modernity do influence the thinking of Israeli  policy-makers.

24. There is considerable concern over reports of Pakistan's clandestine co-operation with North Korea in the nuclear and missile fields and with Iran in the nuclear field, but such concerns have not led to any open expression of hostility towards Pakistan. The recent statements of President Musharraf about the inevitability of normal diplomatic relations with Israel have been noted with satisfaction.

25. Israel has one thing in common with the US. A lucid understanding of its national interests and a calm determination to protect and further them in every way. If it decides---as it, most probably, seems to have already done so--that it is in its national interests to have cordial relations with Pakistan too, it would not allow nostalgic memories of its past good relations with India to come in the way of its policy.

26. To many of my interlocutors, I posed the question: After Arafat who and what? Would the PLO remain united or would it splinter giving way for the Hamas and other similar organisations to emerge on top in the occupied territory? Would this pave the way for the entry into the scene in a big way of Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden?

27. I could not get satisfactory answers, but some points made in reply can be noted.  Even after Arafat, the threat to Israel will not diminish. Arafat is a threat, but not the threat. The PLO as an organisation is the threat to Israel, whoever be its leader and even if the road map is implemented. Israel will, therefore, have to deal with this threat for many years to come. If one day there is a political tussle between the PLO and the Hamas, the latter with its good, clean image in the eyes of the people as an organisation, unsullied by corruption and self-interest, will have an advantage. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )