Dr. Dore Gold:
Before I get into the details of the briefing today, I just would like to remind everyone that Israel is facing a conflict that was imposed upon it. This is something we say, but in the-day to-day operations of the IDF today in various cities, sometimes we forget that it is Israel that was ready to reach peace, it is Israel that is determined to reach peace, and the present conflict we are facing is the result of a war that was imposed on us by the Palestinian leadership of Yasser Arafat.
Let me begin first by covering events in the North and then we will move to our current military operations here. As many of you know we have been facing a gradual escalation on the part of Hizbullah against the State of Israel. Today, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is meeting with the special representative of the Secretary General in the region, Terje Larsen, to pass a message to the United Nations that Israel views with gravity the developments that have been going on in the North. As you know, we have not just been facing the usual attacks encountered before in the area of the Shabaa Farms. But now, the Hizbullah attacks have been against Israel proper. Both with anti tank missiles and with the firing of a Katyusha rocket last night. In addition, our Ambassador in the UN Yehuda Lancry, will be meeting today with Secretary General Kofi Annan and passing the same message from Foreign Minister Peres to the Secretary General directly.
I think it is important for us to recall, at a time when many in the international community are concerned with the decisions taken by the UN Security Council, that at least three countries in the Middle East today are violating decisions of the UN Security Council. I have specifically in mind resolutions 1310, 1337 and 1373. The first two resolutions confirmed Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanese territory that was undertaken by the previous Government of Israel under Prime Minister Ehud Barak and established that the ‘blue line’ was a full withdrawal by Israel. Those resolutions also called on the international community to respect the new line that was established. Clearly, that line is not being respected by Hizbullah, and Hizbullah is receiving support of three countries in this region: Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
In addition, since the attacks on the US on September 11, of last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter – Resolution 1373 that established that "all states refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist attacks and should deny them safe haven". So therefore we are dealing with a situation in Northern Israel which, not only is viewed very seriously by the Government of Israel, but is a clear violation of the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
The second issue I would like to raise with you today has to do with our current struggle with the Palestinian Authority. As many of you have also heard, it is our assumption that Fouad Shubaki, the mastermind of the Karine A weapons ship, is probably in the compound of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. It is important for you also to remember that Fouad Shoubaki has been engaged, not only, in contacts with reference to the Karine A, but we know that in August 2001 he visited Baghdad as well and was in contact with authorities there. We also know that in May 2001 there was a very important meeting in Moscow where the general outlines of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Iran were established. This is the background of the individual who have been particularly concerned with. We think of him as Yasser Arafat’s Chief Financial Officer, or perhaps in easier language – his personal bookkeeper. In any event, anything having to do with Fouad Shoubaki and his financial transactions are of particular interest to the State of Israel, and in the following presentation you will get a detailed briefing of new information we have with respect to Fouad Shoubaki.
I will only close with the following observation: We are engaged in a conflict not against the Palestinian people. We are engaged in a conflict against terrorism. Terrorism which has grown in the areas under Yasser Arafat’s jurisdiction which is a complete violation of all the agreements we signed starting with the Oslo Declaration of Principles and all of the implementation agreements that were negotiated thereafter. The purpose of our military operations today is to uproot the terrorism that has grown in those areas.
And it is our hope that once terrorism is uprooted, once the illegal weaponry has been collected and the terrorist infrastructure dismantled, Israel can get on with its original intention – which is reaching peace with security with our neighbors. But that peace can ONLY be reached if security is achieved for the people of Israel first.
Colonel Miri Eisin:
Good afternoon to everybody. I’d like to try and give you a briefing first on some of the things that are going on in the different areas at the moment of the fighting and at the end I’d like to address one specific issue which as was mentioned, will be about Fouad Shoubaki, and of course afterwards you will be able to ask questions.
I will start with Bitouniya – near Ramallah. Right now we are still closing in on Jibril Rajoub’s headquarters in Bitouniya. What we are pinpointing at the moment there are selected terrorists that are within the structure. We believe Jibril Rajoub when he says that he has them there, but we would like to see them with our own eyes. We are talking about terrorists who masterminded different bombing attacks both within Jerusalem and other sites. We are talking about potential suicide bombers who are within the compound — as we don’t know who is within the compound as they refuse to tell us — and we’d like them to come out. There are negotiations going on — we would like to see the people who are in there. We have nothing against the security apparatus, nothing against the people who work in the building itself, but we would like to end the situation there seeing the terrorists themselves that we know are within the building. The negotiations are continuing at the moment and I’ll keeping with that at for now.
In Bethlehem – Bethlehem is probably the place where, at the moment, we are fighting our heaviest. When I say heaviest fighting, we entered into Bethlehem, and we have been surrounding in and around the areas . It’s one of those things that we speak about — hitting the terrorist infrastructure. I’d like to try and explain what we are talking about because when I say ‘terrorist infrastructure’, most people don’t really know what that means.
First of all, when you go in, we have as yet to have found that magic wand that you can wave so that it will be written on a person’s face "I am the terrorist". When you go into a city like Bethlehem, where you know that you have (a) suicide bombers who are already with their bombs who are waiting to get out; and (b), different terrorists who are planning and masterminding, sending out suicide bombers, firing and shooting both at the Gilo area and other areas.
When we are going in now and fighting, the Tanzim fighters there have gone and entered into religious structures and are firing from them. The Chief of Staff personally yesterday gave instructions to the forces that are fighting within Bethlehem to abstain from any firing at religious structures. Bethlehem, obviously, is an important symbol for anybody in the world. And we within the IDF both respect the symbols and have given strict orders regarding firing. The Tanzim have specifically entered into church compounds, into the Silesian compound and other church areas and are firing out of them directly at our forces as we are going on and in. The fighting itself is continuing there. They are throwing pipe bombs at us from out of the church compounds. Its always nice to hear the one side — of us firing against a church compound, yet we have strict orders to abstain as long as we are not under direct attack. While they are firing directly from within those compounds at IDF soldiers.
In the Bethlehem area we are also working in the Dahaisha refugee camp. Specifically from Dahaisha in the last few weeks, three suicide bombers originated.
As I said, when we go in and we try to find the terrorist infrastructure — which is a big word –what we are doing is going and in and finding –
(a) Terrorists that we already know of, who are connected to bombs – meaning that they already have them with them and they want to exit the city, be it Bethlehem or other places to go explode Haifa, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
(b) We are looking for those who are masterminding, who are bringing in those terrorists, who are teaching them, who are the ones who are connecting them to the bombs.
(c) We are trying to find the labs based on pinpoint information that we have, in order to go in and find the labs, take those labs apart, take the different things within them because that’s where they are making the bombs. I’m talking about the human bombs that are walking out, the pipe bombs that are being thrown at us.
(d) And in addition we are trying to find all of the weapons – some of it is part of the weapons that were within the PA.
We are not working in any of the cities against the PA, we are trying to abstain as much as possible from any connection with the Palestinian people. We are not fighting the Palestinian people. We are going in to find the terrorists, the labs, the bombs, to give security to the State of Israel, to every citizen here who deserves not to be blown up when he goes to sit in a restaurant.
When we go in and we do that ,as I’ve said, there isn’t a magic wand. You go in and you have to go house to house, in and around, based as much as you can on pinpoint information to find the different structures of where they are.
At this time, we are working — aside from Ramallah and the Bethlehem area — in the cities of Qalqilya; Tul-Karem and Tubas, Tamun, Taysir – these are areas east of Nablus, and in villages in and around the Nablus area.
We have up until now over 700 detainees and I stress that they are detainees. We have no interest in arresting anybody who hasn’t anything to do with terrorism. We are going for the terrorists. We are doing what is not being done by the PA. And, as I said, when we go in its not written on their forehead that they are terrorists – you have to go in, you have to detain, you have to talk and you release all those who are not part of that. And when we talk about that, we are not talking about facilities that are filling up with people. We are talking about places that we are investigating and letting anybody who is not connected to terrorism, out.
In addition to what is going on at the moment within those different cities in Judea and Samaria, we also have the Northern Border. And in the Northern Border we are already talking about a coalition of terror. Because if Israel is working against the terrorists and the terrorism areas within the different PA cities, Hizbullah and Palestinian groups within Lebanon at the moment have been unprovoked — only connected to the fact that they are all together in the same ‘Jihad’ — firing 107 mm rockets against Kiryat Shmona.
We are a sovereign country, Lebanon is a sovereign country. I do not know of sovereign countries that allow other sovereign countries to fire rockets into the main city on the Northern Border. If Hizbullah fires against the Northern towns, lets the different Palestinians in those areas operate — because if anything is happening in the Southern area of Lebanon, Hizbullah knows of it. Its not without their knowledge. And always remember that in the background, if Hizbullah is doing this in Southern Lebanon, then the Syrians are behind it, and the Iranians are certainly the ones who are giving the input. Just read what Nasrallah says, he says ‘Jihad until the Jews are in the sea’, and they want to be the ones who are shown as leading everything that’s going on, in their way, as they say, in blood and not in negotiations. At the moment, Israel is abstaining from doing anything about that coalition of terror on the Northern front, nothing that we are doing is going to be of our initiative. And as was mentioned before, at the moment other things are being done in different channels.
I’d like to talk a bit about something else. Fouad Shoubaki – he is the Chief Financial Officer for Arafat. He is in the compound at the moment with Arafat and in one of our incursions in and around the Mukata, in the compound itself, we took from his office, from Shoubaki’s office, things that they had meant to destroy. And when I say things they had meant to destroy, they had a reason that they wished to destroy them.
I have a financial report which is from September 2001 — a few weeks after the Twin Towers — and within this financial report what we are talking about is something which bears the letterhead of the Al Aksa Brigade. The document itself, on which we have written ‘The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades’ is a letter to Shoubaki in which they request money. In the end its always a question of money and within the Arabic which you can see, this is the original document itself, and you can see on the sides additional comments in handwritten Arabic that were added by Shoubaki. What they were trying at the time to do within this financial report is to say ‘we need money’, Who? The Al Aksa Martyrs Troops. These troops are part of the Fatah. Fatah is Arafat’s own organization and what they were requesting, the title on the top is that of a financial report of what they need. First of all what they need money is for, for example, is for the ‘Shahid’s (martyrs). Those suicide bombers who go and explode themselves in civilian centers, each needs to be paid, and their families need to be paid. That’s a financial thing that needs to be paid every single month. It costs you. But the main element I’d like to talk about, is the one which here is labled #5 – the cost for various electrical components. What am I talking about? And I am quoting from the exact translation itself : ".the cost for the various electrical components and chemical supplies for the production of charges and bombs. This has been our largest expense. The cost of a prepared bomb being at least 700 NIS. We need about 5-9 bombs a week for our cells in various areas which means 5,000 NIS X 4 weeks = 20,000 NIS".
They are the ones who put it in Israeli Shekels, by the way, not us. You will be given both the originals in Arabic and the translation into English. And these were things that were found within Shoubaki’s office within the compound when we were there at the beginning of the week.
The document adds that ‘we need 3,000 Kalachnikov rounds; we need funds for M16 rounds’ and concludes with "all praise and glory to the supporters of the heroic resistance against the tyrannical occupation. Revolution until victory".
This is to Shoubaki – the chief financial advisor who is the one who is giving the money — not for funds for milk or for education — I’m talking about the components to make charges and bombs and how many bombs we need a week. And we are not talking only about bombs that are pipe bombs, but we are talking about the charges that are supposed to be on the suicide bombers.
I think we would probably call it a terror invoice.
They call it a financial report – I call it a terror invoice; how much does terrorism cost.
You often ask what is that terror infrastructure? Who are we acting against? And I think that for once it’s important to say whom we are acting against. The people themselves, the suicide bombers who want to go commit the attack, those who are trying to transport them, those who are making the bombs, and especially those who are paying them, making sure that they do it, and making sure that their families of course support them and that their mothers send their children to become suicide bombers.
Thank you very much.
Questions and Answers
Q: Is the message that Israel is sending to the UN today in effect telling the UN that Israel from now on, after abstaining until now, will hold Lebanon and Syria responsible for future Hizbullah attacks?
Dr. Dore Gold: I think it would be premature for me to enter into the detail of the letter which is being handed to the Secretary General. But from what we know it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for Hizbullah to initiate attacks against the State of Israel without the backing of the Syrian government and I think our view is well known to many countries in the international community in that regard.
Q: There are thousands of terrorists in the Al Aksa Brigade, Hamas, Jihad, PFLP and the PA itself. They have tens of thousands of weapons. Not to mention the labs that you mentioned. Its something pretty easy to assemble and reassemble – you are running out of time it seems. There’s mounting international pressure including from the US calling on you to get out of there. What is to prevent this operation from being like the previous operation which is you make a dent of some sort in the terror capability and as soon as you get out, they are back almost to 100% strength and the terrorism resumes?
Dr. Dore Gold: Let me emphasize the expression we are using when we are describing our war on terrorism. We are speaking about uprooting the infrastructure of terrorism. This is something which many people do not understand. Many observers of what is going on think terrorism is a spontaneous act. That somebody out of a sense of deprivation, out of a sense of anger, decides one day to strap dynamite to himself and walk into a crowded caf in Jerusalem. Rather, terrorism emanates because there is a vast organizational substructure supporting it and the proof of that substructure is precisely the type of document which we are releasing today which shows the types of organizational support that the Al Aksa Brigades need to conduct suicide bombings in the heart of Jerusalem.
We believe that this organizational structure can be broken. That is the way that terrorism is fought, not only here, but worldwide.
We also believe that the backbone of terror can be broken without harming the innocent Palestinian civilian population. It is very difficult, it requires our using mostly ground forces, and not using the firepower that the State of Israel potentially has, but, it is doable. We will conduct this war in a manner that befits our society and the moral standards for which we stand.
Q: How do you actually deal with the psychological side of this that many would argue, that what is behind it is in fact oppression and occupation. How do you deal with that and the fact that you had a 16 year old girl and you have intellectuals who are fueled or driven to commit these acts of terrorism?
Dr. Dore Gold: First of all, regarding the argument which you hear from many Palestinian spokesmen, that the rage behind the terrorist attacks emanates from so called occupation — By virtue of its implementation of the Oslo agreements in 1993, 94, 95, Hebron and Wye, Israel dismantled its military government over the Palestinian people. It established a Palestinian administration. So that by 1999 and by 2000 when the Camp David summit was held, 98% of the Palestinian people were under Palestinian rule and therefore the argument that the Palestinians were under a brutal military regime, under an occupation, simply does not hold water. It makes good argumentation on CNN but it’s becoming a worn record.
Now, terrorism may emanate, some people think it emanates from despair or poverty, If however terrorism emanated from poverty the center for international terrorism would be the poorest countries in this world like Haiti. There are many nations and many peoples who have certain claims, have certain political demands but not everybody is reverting to suicide bombings. The suicide bombings are the result of the clear organizational effort to brainwash an entire generation of young Palestinians to engage in this kind of self-sacrifice. It’s a terrible shame because the Palestinians themselves have the most talented, young elements in the Arab world today, and this society is being brainwashed to conduct these kinds of acts — and we see that now by the average age of the suicide bombers which is dropping down to those who were recently touched by the educational programs of the PA. The fact that this is occurring is a terrible tragedy.
The way to beat this terrorism in the short term is to break apart this infrastructure that supports it, with intelligence, with finances, with training and with weaponry. The second element when we resume a political process, is to be sure that the incitement that has accompanied this war against Israel, is ended, and that peace be found on a culture of mutual understanding and not deliberate hatred.
Q: You talk about not harming innocent Palestinians; there have been reports about heavy losses on civilian life. Women, including a priest, bodies not being allowed out of morgues to be buried – could you comment on that please?
Dr. Dore Gold: Part of the problem we face, is that institutions that should be non-combatant, that should not be brought into the circle of conflict, are being exploited repeatedly by Palestinian organizations. The most recent case, which was just mentioned to you, was St. Bridget’s church in Bethlehem from which the Tanzim are shooting at Israeli soldiers and throwing pipe bombs on Israeli forces.
Of course, the other cases that have become well known to the Israeli public have been the use of Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances for moving in one recent case, a suicide bomber carrying an explosive belt, and also for moving other forces and other equipment. So many times when events occur which are not events to our liking, they are the result of this kind of abuse of institutions which should be non combatant.
Now with reference to the priest whom you referred to, it is our understanding that he has not been wounded. The priest was in fact not harmed. I understand that there was an issue of two nuns. According to our information the two nuns or perhaps more, are actually at the St. Bridget monastery at the hands of the Tanzim and the Tanzim are demanding to be allowed to come out of that particular monastery. They are ready to come out of there without weapons but they insist that they must take those nuns with them. You might call them hostages. This is the true information and not what was reported during the day.
Colonel Miri Eisin: I am just going to address the last things that were asked about. I think that there is something that consistently comes up against the IDF and I would like to repeat what I mentioned before in my briefing. The IDF at the moment is in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tul-Karem, Qalqilya, Tubas, Tamun, Taysir and additional villages around Nablus. And I would like you to go out now and find the true and exact amount of civilians that have been hurt over the last four days.
The IDF right now has strict orders and instructions about what to do. As I said we have gone in against the terrorist infrastructure. Sadly when we go in it definitely disrupts civil life. We are aware of that. Between 14:00-16:00 today we opened the closure of Ramallah so that people could go out and get food and go back home. And yes, afterwards we tell them to go home, because we are not against everybody, and we don’t want people out on the streets because we are going out to get into all of the different places where we feel we need to go order to fight the terrorist infrastructure. Yes, sadly civilians are hurt, we are very aware of that. As a State we apologize.
I would like to take note that when a suicide bomber sets out, his attack is only against innocent civilians. Israel has gone into these areas and is pinpointing only the terrorists and those responsible, and those are the ones whom we are detaining and we’re releasing those who have nothing to do with it. We are very aware of that fact. The very cynical use of fire engines and ambulances within those areas right now for us is something which makes it virtually impossible to consistently do the right thing. But we at least try. Those are our instructions and at the end it does depend on every single soldier at every single point.
Q: From the fighting in Bethlehem, according to some people I talked to there were Israeli tanks converging from 3 directions and the fighting was on the Square of the Nativity – do you have any details about how many Tanzim fighters are in that area and have they taken shelter in any other churches and are there tanks converging in three directions?
Colonel Miri Eisin: I am not going to give the exact details of an operation which is going on right now. I will address certain things which are going on within Bethlehem. We don’t address things as they unfold. That will be given in detail as they continue.
The Tanzim fighters at the moment, as I said before, have entered into different church areas. We don’t know of them being at the moment within the Church of the Nativity, and obviously as a symbol for Israel, we have strict instructions not to hit it. We have only APC’s within the area itself. The tanks are not within Bethlehem. We are using the tanks mainly on the outskirts of the town. I will abstain from talking directly at the moment about the objectives themselves of how we are acting militarily within the city, while the operation is going on.
Q: (Regarding the Northern border)
Dr. Dore Gold: We have some firing of anti tank missiles on Israeli positions on Har Dov (the Shabaa Farms) as well as mortars. I want to emphasize that although some may draw distinction between the Shabaa Farms and the Galilee, from the standpoint of the UN resolution Israel completely withdrew from Lebanese territory. Therefore the Hizbullah claims that the Shabaa Farms is still an outstanding piece of Lebanese land that has to yet be returned, is inconsistent with the resolutions of the UN Security Council and inconsistent with the judgment of the Secretary General at the time of Israel’s withdrawal.
Q: Sharon this morning offered Arafat a one-way ticket out of where he is. At the start of the operation the intention was to isolate Arafat. Is Israel’s preferred policy now to have him in exile? Are you discussing this matter with other foreign governments including the US?
Dr. Dore Gold: I would rather not expand on what Israel is presently discussing with anybody right now, but I will say this, the Government decision was that Yasser Arafat would be isolated at this time. That was the decision that was taken. Clearly for us, the focus of what we are trying to do is not Yasser Arafat. The focus of what we are trying to do now is to dismantle the vast infrastructure of terrorism that grew in the area under his jurisdiction and in violation of all the agreements that he signed.
Q: Israel is fighting the infrastructure of terrorism, now you show us this letter and show us that the PA is allegedly part of the infrastructure so are you fighting the PA, are you aiming to demolish the PA or do you have any specific targets?
Dr. Dore Gold: One of the problems we have been facing is that official elements in the PA are one way or the other connected and work together with terrorist organizations. We have had cases of Palestinian security personnel who have been involved in Tanzim operations. We have had individuals who have had double hats. During the day they wear the uniform of a Palestinian policeman. At night they may be involved in a terrorist organization. Its our intention to uproot those who are engaged in terrorism. Israel has no interest in dismantling the PA and Israel has no interest in governing Palestinian cities directly. We are interested in uprooting terrorism, we are interested in withdrawing after we achieve a ceasefire and we are interested in the business of making peace and diplomacy once security is achieved.
Q: [Regarding Arafat]
Dr. Dore Gold:There is no question that with organizations like Tanzim and 417 who are directly loyal to Yasser Arafat, engage in terrorism, that Yasser Arafat is part of the problem. But at the same time, Israel is interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians and is interested in working with the PA to that end. But we will identify cases and elements where Palestinian officials are involved in terrorism and we will address them.
Q: Its not clear from the letter, the Al Aksa Brigade asked for the money, did they get the money, was the money spent already, can you elaborate more on this?
Colonel Miri Eisin: On the original you can see in Arabic there are notes in handwriting on the sides and those are additional notes. Think of it — that you get this in your office and you add your additional notes of what you are going to do with it. I don’t know to tell you if that’s Fouad Shoubaki’s writing – I know that somebody received this letter, did something with it. No, I don’t know to tell you whether they paid out the money, but yes we do know that they detonated human bombs against us since September 2001 when this letter was written. We are talking of at least 8 suicide bombers just from the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and we don’t know whether there are additional letters. We are looking now at all this information.
This letter is from September 2001. It was debts incurred. The money issue itself, the money that’s running within the organizations Fatah, etc. — what we have here for the first time is a document which connects directly between terrorist activities – we’re talking about bombs prepared for suicide bombers — and their request for money from an official person within the PA. And not just any person, but Fouad Shoubaki. And these are about debts incurred. Where the money arrived from before? The money itself within the PA comes from several different areas. Fouad Shoubaki is the PA, he gets money from Israel within the agreements themselves, from the international community, from the taxes they take from within, from the Arab world, from different donations. These are different types of monies which comes in there.
Dr. Dore Gold: I just want to clarify a question that was asked previously. We hold Yasser Arafat personally responsible for the violence that the people of Israel are facing. And this invoice of terrorism is just further proof of the charge that the Government of Israel has made against Yasser Arafat at this time.
Q: Regarding the 700 detainees — how many do you know are wanted people?
Colonel Miri Eisin: I will have to check and get back to you. I don’t want to give you something that’s out of my head. I know at this time that some 700 detainees have gone through the camp, I don’t know how many are under more basic investigation.
Q: Is there a direct link of this letter between active terror and Arafat’s closest circle of people, is it clear that he has no political role as far as Israel is concerned? You say you are not trying to dismantle the Palestinian Authority but what kind of PA do you envision working with?
Dr. Dore Gold: We clearly have a problem on our hands. Now that problem is that we are interested that there be a Palestinian self governing authority. We are interested in having a meaningful negotiation with the Palestinians once the violence is put behind us, once there is quiet. But clearly Yasser Arafat is personally involved in the financial transactions in this case of the kinds of terrorism supporting us. We’ve known for the last number of months that the Tanzim, the militia of his Fatah component, of the PLO, along with Force 17, his personal bodyguards. We know that they have both been involved in at least 50% of the attacks against Israelis. If you look over the period of the last month or so, the proportion of Tanzim/Force 17 is greater in relationship to what it was in the past. Because of that role which is clear to us, today we have said that (1) Yasser Arafat is an enemy, that is the decision of the Israeli Government, and, he should be isolated. Where we go from here, we will see once our military operations are finished. But his connection with terrorism is today indisputable.