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Sharon’s Dream

by ALUF BENN

The Prime Minister’s Office ascribes little importance to the diplomatic hurdles America must overcome in the UN Security Council on the path to a war against Iraq. Israel estimates that the date of attack depends only on logistical considerations, when the deployment of U.S. troops is complete, and that the war will begin at the end of February or the beginning of March. No delays or any kind of influence are expected from the coalition negotiations.

The military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq, seeing it as an opportunity to win the war of attrition with the Palestinians. According to their approach removing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from his position will signify Palestinian surrender. Major General Amos Gilad, Coordinator of Government Activities in the West Bank and Gaza, expressed the army’s position Saturday, saying that a U.S.-led attack on Iraq would remove the Iraqi threat, and would be an example for”the removal of other dictators closer to us who use violence and terror.”

Senior IDF officers and those close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such as National Security Advisor Ephraim Halevy, paint a rosy picture of the wonderful future Israel can expect after the war. They envision a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad, the ayatollah in Iran and maybe even Muhammar Gadaffi. Along with these leaders, will disappear terror and weapons of mass destruction.

There is also excitement in the IDF’s planning department over the standoff between the U.S. and its NATO allies. A paper distributed to the army’s upper echelons even spoke of an opportunity to remove the pro-Palestinian Europeans from the Middle East. A senior source said Saturday that the U.S. will punish the Europeans for their back-stabbing on the road to Baghdad, and will no longer ask them for input regarding Israeli concessions.

But the conflict in the Security Council shows that the U.S. is having a hard time controlling the international community, and is still focused on transforming the Middle East into an area under U.S. protection, in which Israel will enjoy privileged status. The conflict centers mainly around Iraq, but is also found in the Palestine-Israel arena. The U.S.’s partners in the “Quartet” – representatives of the EU Russia and the UN – demonstrated their strength Friday when they managed to persuade Arafat to publicly announce his unconditional acceptance of the international “road map” to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as his intention to appoint a Palestinian prime minister. The announcement on the appointment of a prime minister was intended to show the Americans that there is a reason for the insistence of the Europeans, the Russians and the UN to continue to talk with Arafat.

Arafat’s announcement was a huge triumph for Sharon who demanded the appointment of a prime minister with authority in the PA, and he even succeeded in enlisting the Europeans and the UN, Arafat’s main supporters, to pressure the Palestinian leader to change his tactics. The problematic part, from Sharon’s point of view, is in the “road map.” The Europeans want to implement the current draft which Qartet representatives are slated to discuss Monday in London. Sharon, however, wants to make some changes and to limit UN and European influence. Gaining Palestinian agreement to the road map will be more difficult after such amendments are made.

The Prime Minister’s Office will finish Israel’s draft of the road map this week, which will be brought for approval before the new government. Head of the Prime Minister’s Office Dov Weisglass and representatives of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (Military Secretary of the Defense Minister, Brigadier General Michael Herzog) and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Advisor Uzi Arad and Foreign Ministry General Manager Yoav Biran) are working together on the draft.

After the document is completed, Weisglass is due to go to Washington to discuss the special aid package that Israel has requested from the U.S. Weisglass is also likely to meet with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for general policy discussions. Before that, however, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon is due to return to Israel for consultation talks, and Sharon is to meet with representatives of the Congress subcommittee on Middle East affairs, scheduled to arrive in Israel Sunday. All the talks this week, and the London summit on PA reform, make up the Israeli-Palestinian part of the preparations for war on Iraq. Israel expects little from the London talks, since the U.S. promised there would be no progress in the drafting of the road map or in discussions about the aims of reforms within the PA. Within the committee of donors to the PA, the Palestinians will face a hostile front demanding that supervision of the how funds are used be improved. They will also be informed of a reduction in the support they received as compensation for the freezing of tax revenues that Israel collected on their behalf. With the renewal of revenue transfers from the Israeli treasury to the PA, the Palestinians are likely to lose the generous “bridging funds” donated by the EU.

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