Ambassador Nimrod Barkan, Special Advisor to the Foreign Minister
Colonel Miri Eisin, of the Intelligence Corps of the IDF National Media Center, Jerusalem,
April 11, 2002
Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Ladies and gentleman, good afternoon. We are happy to welcome Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, upon his arrival in Israel, and we are to a large extent grateful to the United States for taking upon itself this difficult task of trying to restore security and peace here between us and the Palestinians. Let me try to make a few comments concerning the visit, and if you do have any questions, I understand the sequence is that I speak, and then Col. Eisin after me, and then questions will follow both our words.
Arafat feels today empowered vis-a-vis the United States. He feels that he has succeeded in forcing the United States to come down from positions it has held before, and to compromise with positions that he is holding. His sense is that the decision by the Secretary to meet him is a major American concession to him, taking into account the fact that two or three weeks ago, Vice President Cheney put a whole set of conditions to him (which he hasn’t met, as you may know), and now Powell is coming here and meeting him without any preconditions. He has a very strong sense of empowerment over the weak. He also feels that the Americans have no real leverage on him, while he has substantial leverage on them. He feels that he can sabotage American foreign policy in the Middle East, and dictate American policies concerning the Palestinians, due to this ability that he has. He strongly senses that the United States cannot attack Iraq if it so decides, without his consent because he feels he can burn the entire Arab world through a few acts of terrorism against Israelis, and thus force the United States into appeasing him. That’s how he feels, therefore serving the interests of Saddam Hussein. And that is a very difficult position for the United States to start the negotiations with Arafat from. He says that he has leverage with the United States and an ability to threaten American strategic interests in the region.
Israel is today faced with three options:
One option, which of course has been rejected, as you know, by many, is to stay in the territories, to stay in the places we took until there is a major change on the situation.
The second option is just to withdraw, and leave the towns, the town centers and villages which we took for anyone who may want to take them over. It is clear that, if we do that, the entire area that we will evacuate would be immediately taken over by the more extreme elements within Palestinian society. If we are "lucky", the Tanzim will take over, and if we are not lucky, then the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – an organization which is operated from Iran actually – will take over. I don’t think that this is something that any one of you would like to see.
Therefore our position, as stated by the Prime Minister in the Knesset, is one that is also commensurate with the position declared by National Security Adviser, Condoleesa Rice, on the Sunday talk shows: that we do not believe that Israel should withdraw and leave chaos after that. The withdrawal should be coordinated in such a way that Israeli forces will be replaced by a stable force that will enable us to be sure that terrorism will not begin immediately against Israel from the areas that we evacuate. After all, ladies and gentlemen, the meaning of something like that is that Israel would have to reenter all these areas, and that we would reenter the cycle that we have seen, because of the terrorist activities, and that is a sure prescription for disaster. We do not want that.
The third option is really to find some kind of a force that will assure us that there is no terrorism operating against Israel from the territories that we evacuate. We do not know what it is exactly that Secretary Powell is coming to us with, after he is through with the Arab world. It must be clear that the game here is between the United States demanding a declaration of a ceasefire from Arafat, and being satisfied with that – and that, unfortunately, is clearly insufficient, in view of my explanation before about the dangers of evacuation without a replacing authority – or that the United States will demand, as we think is the case, even though we do not know for sure, that Arafat agree to the Zinni plan, as it was reformed and improved to satisfy Palestinian needs, shortly before the Passover massacre, that particular plan to which the President of the United States referred when he said, the day before the massacre, that there is a good chance of achieving a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. For us, not only the acceptance by Arafat of this (version) of the Zinni plan and the declaration that ensues from it, but also the implementation of this particular plan is crucial to our ability to withdraw, in order to provide security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
These are basically my main points, and I would like to make one reference to the situation in Lebanon and then allow Col. Eisin to say her piece.
About the situation on the Israel-Lebanese border. The situation on the Israel-Lebanese border is very tense. Hizbullah is clearly escalating it’s acts of provocation against Israel, trying to drag it into a major confrontation in the northern region. The Hizbullah is operated in this context by the Iranians, and the Syrians clearly do not understand the nature of the warnings in the Israeli diplomatic messages, which have been passed to them both by us and by the United States. Those elements in Syria who detract from the seriousness of the American demand that they harness or reign in the Hizbullah, and detract from the danger of an Israeli reaction are playing a very dangerous game. And it is very, very important that those elements within the Syrian government that fail to understand the seriousness of the situation will reevaluate and restudy the situation, so that things will not go completely out of control for them and they become the pawns of the Hizbullah who is playing a very cruel and manipulative game there for the Iranians.
In conclusion, let me just say the following: The entire episode that we have been going through is a result of the terrorist activities, the suicide bombing, leveled against us. Whole families were obliterated. The one thing that particularly touched me personally was the two latest events. The one, the terrorist attack on Passover, where elderly people were killed, as I was sitting at the Passover table with my 94-year-old mother in law. I didn’t tell them about the massacre, because I didn’t want to spoil the atmosphere, and we knew that old people were murdered there without anything bothering the murderers. And then the following terrorist attack in Haifa where whole families, people my age, with children, the age of my children, went out to do exactly what I did, go out for a Pesach lunch, were killed in cold blood. This was the thing that broke the hearts of many Israelis and made it impossible for us not to carry out a major military move to prevent it. That is why it is so important that we should not have to relive this experience.
Two more points I want to make: we will be able to provide you with details about the abuse of the Palestinian refugee camps, and abuse of the holy places by the Palestinians in the recent conflagration, I think we have a short video to demonstrate that, and with that I conclude and will be open for questions later on.
(Video was not shown, due to technical difficulties.)
Colonel Miri Eisin:
Hello and good afternoon. Today I’m here on April 11th. I’m going to be speaking today only about Jenin. As you know, in military intelligence we have been working extensively on documents. To date, over the last 10 days, we’ve managed to translate and explain around a dozen documents, different documents of different types, which have shown the connection of the Palestinian Authority to terrorism, of Yasser Arafat personally funding terrorism. What I want to try and show today a bit more is the involvement of the Palestinian security apparatus directly in terrorism. I’m going to focus on Jenin, it’s sort of an accident but it is Jenin. I am going to use this as an example.
I want to explain a little bit more in depth the background of where we found the documents and of what we are doing with them. There have been a lot of contentions about the authenticity, and I think you journalists know probably better than me at the moment what the Arafat compound in Ramallah looks like. It is a large round area where there are several dozens of offices; we at the moment are encircling Arafat’s own office, and we entered dozens of offices within the compound, not of Arafat himself. We entered into Fuad Shoubaki’s – the chief financial advisor – we’ve shown many things from his office; and what we captured was in boxes, in files, a lot of things that were being prepared to be destroyed. Only in the last few days have we really started to assimilate more the amounts, the mounds of paper that we found.
In these papers in the last few days, we started finding more things from the office of Tafik Tirawi, he is the head of the general intelligence. The general intelligence is responsible within the Palestinian Authority – as its name, general intelligence, (suggests), as opposed to preventive security, they basically look at all of the different problems within the authority; they tell Tafik Tirawi, who sits in Ramallah. Tafik Tirawi, himself a colonel, is with Arafat at the moment within the compound, and we took out all of his files.
Now, as I said, as an intelligence officer – when you take out the files of a different intelligence, it takes a little time to understand them. They have their own filing system on the one hand, and besides that, what they are looking at isn’t necessarily what we look for. Because of that, we have been assimilating these different documents, and the document that I am going to talk about now is, as an intelligence officer, the kind we always want to find. It’s an intelligence release that an intelligence officer from Jenin wrote to Tafik Tirawi on the 4th of February 2002. Everything that I will explain here is on the IDF site, the original in Arabic and a translation into English. As it is their own intelligence reports, it wasn’t the sort of thing that I pick up, read, and immediately recognize everything in it, because it has all of their different nicknames for their own sources, for their own different things, and it takes us time to understand the connections.
What is amazing in part of these documents, because they are unidentified sources of the general intelligence within this document itself, is the fact that there are names, that I am going to go through now, that were the hardcore of certified terrorists that were fighting in Jenin, until now, including now. As you know, there is still sporadic fighting going on in Jenin, it has not ended completely there. I want to speak about what was in the report, and about the people that the general intelligence found in the reports we are talking about.
Item #1: They describe in this report, on the 4th of February, the fact that the preventive security – this is the general intelligence that is writing about the preventive security’s deputy in command in Jenin – is an Islamic Jihad man, that he informs the people from the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas before they are supposed to be arrested, before any of the other security apparatus; they inform them ahead of time, as soon as they hear an Israeli airplane in the area, to make sure that they should know, that they should get out of the way because maybe the Israelis are looking for them. I’m talking about preventive security, the Palestinian Authority in February informing certified terrorists – I’ll go through the list in a moment; these are names that have been on our lists for a very long time – to make sure that they know.
This is just a portion of the paper itself. All of the underlining that you see there is the original underlining because the report was sent from Jenin to Ramallah. Somebody read it in Ramallah and underlined it, we found it already underlined, informing as I said. The report itself, in the area that we are looking at right now (on screen) with all of the little side lines, is explaining in depth who are the terrorists in Jenin, and it explains the following. As I said, you can read the entire document afterwards on our web site and with the translation; and I am sure that you will take the Arabic and retranslate it, because you won’t accept our translation.
What the general intelligence says is that, in Jenin, the Islamic Jihad, the Hamas, the Fatah and the preventive security are all one. They work together, they understand each other, they run each other, and most of the money and the funding in Jenin, both for the Fatah and the Hamas, and of course for the Islamic Jihad, is coming from Syria, from the heads of the Islamic Jihad. They know that this money comes in and they don’t stop it. (It also says) that, on the 27th of November, 2001, the suicide bomber who exploded in Afula and killed 2 Israelis near a bus station in downtown Afula – that was a joint effort of the Islamic Jihad and the Fatah Tanzim. This is in their general intelligence report, not in ours. Within the report itself it explains, as I said, that the deputy commander of security of the Palestinian Authority, in Jenin, is the one who tells Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim who is about to be arrested, to make sure that they are not arrested; that they knew of the Afula attack ahead of time and did nothing to prevent it.
We talk on three levels when we are talking about terrorism and the fact that the Palestinian Authority from top to bottom, not only allows terrorism, but funds terrorism, initiates terrorism; and in this specific report, it explains that, again, the deputy commander of the preventive security is the one who supplied the weapons to the Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim to do their acts of terror. This is one report.
We’ve gone through dozens of reports. What we’re trying now is, as I said, it is not that we’re holding anything back; I suppose we could just hand it out and say: here, take and translate it yourself. These are not easy to read, they are written in a language of intelligence with their own sources. They talk here in this report specifically about three people who are the leaders in Jenin – this was a report from February 2002 – who are the leaders in Jenin of terrorism. This is about terrorism
The first one is called Sabat Mawari, I do not know what his status is to date, all I can say is that he planned and sent out the suicide bomber on the 16th of July, to Benyamina, at the train station, where two Israelis soldiers were killed. That he planned and sent out the suicide bomber on the 20th of March, all of three weeks ago, where 7 Israelis were killed, 5 of them soldiers, in a bus in Wadi Ara; that was three weeks ago. He himself planned it and he is mentioned, and they know he is a terrorist, and that is what he does.
The second name that is mentioned in this report, and again I do not know his status at present – all of these I’m mentioning were in Jenin over the last two weeks, heading the fighting against us, in the camp, from the civilian area, doing all of the things that you know of: the booby traps, the suicide bombers within the camp itself as we entered into it. The second name is Ali Safuri. Ali Safuri is the second that I am mentioning – the first is Hamas, the second is the Islamic Jihad, Ali Safuri, again, one of the planners of the suicide bomber sent out to Benyamina on the 16th of July. And he sent out the suicide firer – at some stage along the way we decided to differentiate: if you blow yourself up with a bomb, then you are a suicide bomber, but I want to remind you that they have sent out suicide committers, who fire with fire arms, and then are killed themselves; this is also the same idea – they know that they are going to die. And in Hadera on the 28th of October, 4 Israelis were killed when a suicide firer opened fire on Israelis in the middle of downtown Hadera, and both these men were sent by Ali Safuri.
The third name is somebody you may have heard of, because he was killed yesterday, Nusri Tawalbe, who was the head. All I can say is, there is an interview with him, around two months ago – it was shown yesterday on TV, and you can see it on the Channel 2 site, for those here from Channel 2 – in which he says and expresses himself probably better then anything that I need, within the general intelligence report, where he says we’ll stop fighting when all the Jews are back in Poland, Latvia, Russia etc. That’s in his words, not my words.
The report itself was found in Tafik Tirawi’s office, the commander of general intelligence. He himself is with Arafat at the moment in the compound, together with a lot of the other people that I’ve been mentioning from the different documents that we’ve been putting out. I’d like to say, by the way, that we have additional documents; I don’t hold them back, it’s just not ready yet to be put out, because we have to understand them. Documents that connect in a strong way to the Palestinian Authority security apparatus. I’m talking about people within the general intelligence, the people who were supposed to stop the terrorists, with their own reports saying: not only do we do nothing, but we arrested a suicide bomber and let him go and he exploded afterwards. This is in their own reports, more additional things that we will let out.
I have one additional thing that you may have heard on the news already. In Tulkarm today – I remind you that we exited Tulkarm two days ago – in Tulkarm today, we went in and we arrested a woman who was on her way to commit suicide dressed up as a pregnant woman. So let’s talk about cynicism, and how exactly do you define a woman who gets on a bus, and looks like she is pregnant, sits down and explodes. We arrested one such woman today, and these are just some of the things we have stopped.
In Jenin the sporadic firing continues, because the three names that I just mentioned were fighting in Jenin; we don’t know yet what exactly is the fate of all of these terrorists within the camp itself.
Questions and Answers
Q: The question would be probably to both of you. How do you expect the documents that Colonel Eisin has exposed today to impact the decision by Colin Powell or to impact how Mr. Powell views his visit with Mr. Arafat; and who actually presents those documents, have they been presented to Secretary of State Powell?
A: All the documents that we are presenting, and maybe that’s part of why it takes a little bit of time, we certainly are sharing with our American counterparts. I’m talking about counterparts, I don’t work in diplomatic or political circles, I work in the military circles. All of these documents, there is no question about their authenticity, and we have truckloads of documents, it really takes a long time to go through them, and their impact is something that maybe somebody political would be able to talk about.
A: As you know, the administration in Washington has been exposed to the entire collection of Israeli intelligence throughout the last three years. There has been exceptional intelligence cooperation under the Prime Minister’s instructions. It is not that the United States is not aware of who is organizing what, and what this sort of fellows were doing. The remarks of President Bush about Israel’s right to self-defense etc. are clearly a result of this knowledge by the administration. Not only that, may I point out that the Zinni plan, both the first and the second Zinni plan, were based on his understanding that it is the Palestinian Authority that knows and does not stop the terrorists from operating. And he knew very well, by the way, that the Palestinian Authority was privy to all the planning concerning terrorist activities. And that is why we think that it is incumbent upon the Secretary of State to be very well aware of what he has known before, what the Administration has known before, what the President has pointed out before, what General Zinni spoke about before, when he comes to us and asks us for withdrawal. We will not be able to withdraw, if there is a danger of the resumption of terrorism from the cities that we will withdraw from. This would be suicidal for us, and it would be a folly of great magnitude that would only lead to the resumption of the fighting. It would be irresponsible to ask us to withdraw, and I am convinced that the United States is not interested in creating chaos that will lead to further conflagration.
Q: What kind of conditions do you see before the withdrawal concerning forces. Are you talking about American forces, for instance.
A: As you have noticed, I have not yet said what are the exact circumstances that we feel would provide us with sufficient security in order to continue the process of withdrawal. We will of course withdraw from wherever we don’t fear that there is a danger of resumption of terrorism, as we have withdrawn from villages and as we have withdrawn from Tulkarm and Kalkiliya, even though the jury is still out on the wisdom of that withdrawal; that was done only because of pressure by the United States, because we have not yet fully developed our position concerning that. And, surprisingly enough, we plan to present it first to Secretary Powell, and only after that to the press.
Q: How long can Israel hold back from having to respond to the attacks that have been going on there with increasing velocity as you have been talking about? So far you have held back.
A: We are concerned, as I said before, that the responsible authorities in Syria misinterpret the messages that we and the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations of course are giving them concerning the need to rein in the Hizbullah. We do not exactly understand why they misinterpret it, but we are concerned that this is a classic case of perception that blinds the decision makers in Syria and that may lead to a veritable conflagration much bigger than the one that we have seen in the West Bank. We hope that the responsible leadership in the West will realize that there is a real problem there in Syria in understanding the messages that we are trying to convey to them, and we are not convinced that the Syrians are interested in major confrontation. We are concerned that they do not understand that this may lead to a confrontation because they may misinterpret our decision not to react, in ways that are incorrect and misleading. And that of course explains, it goes right to the heart of your question of how long do we intend to wait. We intend to wait until we are certain that the Syrians understand the nature of our message. If we are convinced that the Syrians are there in order to really provoke an all-out war with them, then they know, they will drag us into this and we won’t have a choice. But we want to make sure that we have done everything possible to warn them about the dangers that are looming in the future. And of course a lot depends on what are the actual results of the provocations, the terrorist provocations by the Hizbullah and some of their allies in Lebanon.
I would say that if the results are such that they cost us a lot of human lives, our ability to restrain ourselves would be diminished, and if the confrontation or the shooting by the Hizbullah is restricted to areas where no civilians are being hurt, no soldiers are being hurt, then it is easier for us to restrain ourselves. But I think that the main reason why we are restraining ourselves is our sense that the Syrians don’t understand exactly what is going on. At least we hope that this is the case. And therefore a better message has to be conveyed to the Syrians, and maybe there is a chance to quiet the border, without a need for Israeli reaction or activity to stop the firing against us.
Q: Obviously we don’t expect you to tell us everything that you’re going to tell the Secretary of State. But there must be certain basic principles guiding Israel’s approach to the criteria before withdrawal. And I wonder if you could sketch at least some of those, I mean I would assume for instance, that Israel would not accept an international force, a peace-keeping force. But what about the question of international monitoring, which the Americans have suggested, international monitoring of the cease-fire? What is the situation, now that so many weapons have been confiscated or destroyed by Israel, so many terrorists have been either killed or captured by Israel? What is the order of priorities now in the familiar demands of Israel of Yasser Arafat to disarm, to confiscate illegally held weapons, and lists that we have heard so many times.
A: I wouldn’t call this, by the way, the familiar Israeli demands from Arafat. The demand to live and not to be attacked by terrorists doesn’t constitute for me a familiar demand, but a very basic request, in the relationship between two sides. We are not asking him to become violent, we are asking him to abide by his own commitments to avoid violence. That’s one thing. Secondly, naturally I will not be able to elaborate, I just want to make two points.
First of all, we did not reject the concept of monitors in the past, or when it was raised. We are yet to be convinced how the monitors will supply the security that is needed, or maybe there is some other idea that can be acceptable to us. Another element that I want to point out is that we have not demanded that the Palestinian Authority be dismantled. We do not reject in principle the concept that the Palestinian Authority be recreated, in the sense of its security forces: it’s in existence, it hasn’t been dismantled, but the security forces are certainly not in an operational situation right now, and before, they had been basically operating with the terrorists. As Colonel Eisin said, Tafik Tirawi is part and parcel of the very establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and I can tell you stories – I don’t want to get into Col. Eisin’s territory – of other Palestinian Authority high operatives who cooperated with terrorism, and so it is not impossible to reconstitute the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, provided that they cooperate in the prevention of terrorism. We also understand that there will have to be after the ceasefire, after terrorism is stopped, a political element, the famous political horizon, in which we can aspire to and work until there is no terrorism. So a combination of all these elements, in a gradual way that will assure us that we are not headed into another cycle of vicious terror attacks against Israelis, is possible.
Q: All I wanted to ask is if you have some kind of general, perhaps ballpark assessment of how severely the infrastructure of Palestinian violence has been destroyed or debilitated or neutralized by the last 12 days of operations.
A: First of all I would say that it was hit harshly, and every day we find more explosive labs, as we did today both near Nablus and in Hebron, south of Hebron, and other places we keep finding more explosive labs, more caches of weapons, and the more we go in and enter different houses, buildings, structures to check out – we are going into every single building and every single city that we go into we’re finding more and more. We went into Tulkarm and came out, and two days later there is a suicide bomber with a belt around her, so that means that there are still more there, and that means the longer that we’re in there, the more you can find.
Does it mean that we have to stay there forever? No! But we do feel that if we had several weeks of activity, we would be able to find more. Does that mean twice as much more? I think that we have already found a lot. And we have to (differentiate between) the weapons that we’re finding, the weapons of the Palestinian Authority that have one status, as part of the agreement, and the illegal weapons: all of the explosives, and the explosive labs, and the anti tank weapons and all the different things that of course are way beyond Oslo, that have been smuggled into the areas. I’d say that in the area of Ramallah we’re continuously finding more, we found another cache today in Ramallah, an explosive lab in Rashadiya, which is near Nablus. We’re consistently finding more, but the numbers sound small: 5 handguns, 10 machine guns, a Galil rifle, an explosive lab. But that’s what we are doing. We’re going inch by inch, and if we wanted to go in and destroy Palestinian civil authority, we wouldn’t be doing it the way we are doing it. We’re going in very pinpointed, trying to find the specific places where they are making this. Booby traps and charges are different things that they make also, and in Jenin alone, just within the camp, most of the Jenin camp was booby trapped; that was one of our difficulties, and it is still one of the difficulties of going in there, and it continues to be a problem with the sporadic fire, because not everybody has surrendered within the camp itself.