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The U.S. military is hurriedly stocking up on equipment required for mountain warfare, a sign that the campaign in Afghanistan will indeed include sending ground forces, probably special commando units, into the mountain peaks that serve as a hideout for Osama bin Laden and his men. The assessment of the Israel Defense Forces is that the attack will come at night, with the timing determined by weather and moonlight conditions. The IDF believes the United States to forewarn Israel of the assault some six hours in advance.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is expected to appoint Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe (Boogie) Ayalon to coordinate Israel's activities during the crisis. An alternative, but less likely, candidate for this role is the chief of the IDF's Policy and Planning Directorate, Major General Giora Eiland. When the campaign begins, the Americans will station a senior liaison officer in Israel.

There is no mention of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in the U.S. war plans. Contrary to the impression created in Israel, the Palestinian issue is marginal to the American war effort. The Shin Bet security service did not find any local connection to the list of terrorists who hijacked four U.S. planes on September 11 and bin Laden's main gripe is with the regime in his home country, Saudi Arabia.

The Americans - Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer - succeeded in convincing Ben-Eliezer, a novice in the diplomatic arena, that President George W. Bush would really be very angry if the Israeli government were not to promptly agree to hold a meeting between Arafat and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. While this was indeed on the State Department's wish list, there was never any threat or condition set by the Americans.

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke with Ben-Eliezer, he made no mention at all of Arafat. This was no coincidence: The Pentagon is setting off for war, with or without the Palestinian leader.

In fact, the president's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, pulled the rug out from under the feet of Peres, who is clamoring for the meeting with Arafat, by demanding that the Palestinian leader take more action to enforce the cease-fire he declared. It turns out that Peres, who is lobbying Washington to pressure Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give the go-ahead for a meeting with Arafat, is essentially representing himself and paving the way for Arafat to win an invitation to the White House. (When Arafat was the one playing hard to get with Israel, Bush had vowed not to meet with him until the Palestinian leader agreed to meet with Peres.)

A top Israeli envoy expressed frustration over the disparate directives he is receiving from the two-headed government in Jerusalem: "At four in the afternoon, on the way to an important diplomatic meeting, Peres calls and reminds me that Arafat is a partner for peace. At 4:30, as I'm at the door, the Prime Minister's Bureau reaches me and passes me on to Sharon, who reminds me that Arafat is a terrorist."

Meanwhile, Ben-Eliezer is trying to play it both ways. Personally, he doesn't want to meet with Arafat and doesn't believe that a Peres-Arafat meeting will produce anything positive. On the other hand, and from a political perspective, he cannot afford to oppose the meeting either: Ben-Eliezer fears a confrontation with Peres as long as his contest with Avraham Burg for the leadership of the Labor Party has yet to be decided.