Without Arafats help, Netanyahu cant stop terror

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent much of his election campaign deploring the use of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a "subcontractor" against terror. He pledged a new approach to personal security and indicated that Israel would take the anti-terror war into its own hands.

It worked as a campaign strategy. Many Israelis who supported the peace process voted for Likud because they yearned for enhanced protection against violent Arab rejectionists.

Will it work as concrete policy? Does Netanyahu have a realistic alternative to prevent Islamic teenagers seeking martyrdom from blowing themselves up on crowded Israeli buses or streets?

In fact, his options are quite limited. It is extremely unlikely that Israel's security forces will be able to now do what they couldn't do before: to effectively stop terror from Palestinian extremists without Arafat's active assistance.

This is what the heads of Israel's domestic security service, the Shin Bet, reported to Netanyahu shortly after the election. According to Ze'ev Schiff, one of Israel's foremost military and security analysts, the Shin Bet informed Netanyahu that continued cooperation with Palestinian security forces is essential if Israel wants to stop terror.

Writing in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, Schiff noted that "a good part of the [Shin Bet's] recent accomplishments were based on cooperation with the Palestinian services.

"Several of the operations that merited disclosure and were marked as [Shin Bet] achievements were the result of coordination with the Palestinians and under Arafat's explicit command."

It was well-known to the Israel Defense Force, the Shin Bet and the Labor government of Shimon Peres that after the suicide bombings in three Israeli cities earlier this year, Arafat waged a ferocious war against terrorists and their sympathizers.

Arafat risked the opprobrium of civil libertarians and quickly arrested and detained hundreds of Hamas activists. His men uncovered the arms caches of Islamic terrorists, disclosed the link between Iran and Hamas, and worked on a daily basis with Israeli officials to stop potential suicide attackers.

Unfortunately, this intensive effort by Arafat's Palestinian Authority was launched much too late. But it showed that Arafat finally understood the entire peace process would be endangered if he didn't clamp down aggressively on violent Islamic fundamentalists.

Yet Israelis were told little about this during the election campaign, in part because Labor campaign officials decided that linking Peres too closely with Arafat would hurt their candidate's chances.

Now, Netanyahu and the Israeli public are becoming aware that the elaborate, joint security apparatus set up by Peres and Yitzhak Rabin with Arafat cannot be dismantled without increasing peril to Israeli lives. Even if Netanyahu wanted to ignore the advice of his security officials and have Israel go it alone, it is hard to conceive of a practical way to do this.

Some Israelis publicly yearn for the former network of Palestinian informers that used to aid Israel's counter-intelligence efforts during the full-scale occupation. But Israelis with experience in battling terror confess that the network was not all that it was cracked up to be.

For one thing, its best recruits were frequently hung from telephone wires and otherwise brutalized when their "collaboration" with Israel was discovered or suspected by other Palestinians. Most important, that network failed to stop the succession of minor and major terror attacks that afflicted Israel even before the peace process.

Moreover, this network is no longer a viable tool against terror. Setting it up again would require nothing less than the abrogation of the Palestinian self-governing authority and a return to the occupation.

Only a tiny fraction of Israelis — the most extremist Jewish settlers and their rejectionist supporters — would countenance such a regression.

Israel's intelligence community knows there are actions that Netanyahu can take to help in the anti-terror war. He can step up efforts to sever the connection between Syria, Iran and the terrorist groups they support. He can pressure Arafat to do more to dismantle the Hamas infrastructure and to extradite some of the worst terrorists in his prisons.

But whether Arafat is called a subcontractor or a full partner, Netanyahu needs him to continue thwarting would-be murderers.

Furthermore, according to Schiff, "we cannot expect cooperation from the Palestinian Authority in the war against Islamic terrorism if at the same time the agreements it has with Israel are not fulfilled and steamrollered by us.

"Entirely negative responses from the Netanyahu government will certainly crush Palestinian willingness to cooperate in the war against terror."

Thus, if Netanyahu slams the brakes on the peace process too hard, shutting the door on Palestinian hopes, or fails to alleviate the Palestinians' economic pain, the now-dwindling, isolated cells of fundamentalist terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza will be reinvigorated not only by new recruits, but also by the lack of forceful resistance from an official, organized Palestinian government.

The war against terror and the struggle for peace are one and the same. Let us hope Netanyahu stands up to the extremists among his supporters and sustains both.