CIA head George Tenet, and other senior figures in the U.S. intelligence-security establishment, have decided that information supplied by Israel concerning Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's personal involvement in the Karine A weapons ship affair is credible and accurate.
Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, who headed a contingent of Israeli security officials which briefed U.S. counterparts last week in Washington, reports that the Americans no longer have any doubts that Arafat himself personally initiated contacts with Iran, contacts which led to the acquisition of weapons and their being loaded aboard the ship.
All of the pieces in intelligence surveillance of Palestinian arms smuggling came together after the capture of the ship, Kuperwasser reports.
Israeli security sources say that the members of the contingent in Washington presented irrefutable evidence to the U.S. officials, proving that Arafat reached a decision in summer 2001 to change strategic directions, and work to establish a Palestinian-Iranian alliance. This initiative started with contacts beween trusted emissaries representing Arafat and Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. At the end of these contacts, Khamenei decided to overlook his objections to Arafat's willingness to forge compromises with Israel in the Oslo peace process, and increase his country's influence in the PA.
The Iranian ruler decided to exploit an opportunity to change the focus of his country's anti-Israeli activity, moving away from the Lebanon context, and working instead in the Palestinian arena. The Arafat-Khamenei decision, the Israeli security sources say, was reached before September 11; it was implemented despite U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni's visits to the region, Arafat's cease-fire speech on December 16, and the "hudna" proposal for a cease-fire arrangement submitted to Israel's President Moshe Katsav.
The Israeli sources report that contents of the information provided by the Israeli contingent to the U.S. officials totally implicates Arafat in the weapons ship affair. The Israeli contingent in Washington provided a full report on the affair; previously, directly after the ship's capture, incomplete data was furnished to Zinni and the Americans, the sources explain.
A slightly abridged version of the information has been furnished to Egyptian officials (some details were excised, due to concerns about exposing sources). The intelligence information has also persuaded the Egyptians of the veracity of Israel's claims, say the security sources.
Officials in Israel's security establishment believe that the Mubarak regime has grasped that Arafat operated behind Cairo's back, exploiting the use of the Suez Canal, the harbor zone in Alexandria and Egyptian fishing boats, and that he also invited the Iranians (bitter rivals of Egypt on key policy issues) to step up their influence in traditional areas of Egyptian influence. Mubarak won't forgive Arafat for sticking a knife in his back, Israeli security officials believe. The Egyptian president happened to be staying at Sharm a-Sheikh when the Karine A floated into Egyptian-controlled waters.
Israeli officials believe that following the disclosure of the Karine A intelligence findings to various European countries, financial support from them to the PA will be delayed.
Israeli intelligence analysts believe that Arafat made his strategic turn toward Iran after the capture of another weapons ship, which was headed toward Gaza in spring, 2001. Arafat concluded after the incident that he would have problems smuggling arms in the Mediterranean Sea, which is effectively under Israeli intelligence or operational control. His preliminary entreaties with the Iranians met with suspicion; and even when Tehran gave a green light to Arafat's requests, it demanded full payment for arms, refusing to supply weapons for free, as it has done with Hezbollah clients in Southern Lebanon.
Israeli security sources believe that the tone of U.S. statements regarding the weapons boat affair changed last Wednesday, in anticipation of an Israel political-security cabinet meeting. The U.S. officials were concerned that Israel's government might decide to change policies toward the PA as a result of discussions in this meeting - in the end, the strategic discussion wasn't held.
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