|Israel Resource Review
||18th August, 2002
"Put Arafat on Trial"
Alan M. Dershowitz
Professor, Harvard Law School
The rule of law requires that murderers be brought to justice.
Yasser Arafat is a cold-blooded, premeditated murderer.
It would seem to follow that he should be brought to trial.
The incontrovertible evidence of Arafat's complicity in murder goes back to 1973, when Palestinian terrorists invaded a diplomatic reception at the Saudi Arabian embassy at Khartoum, Sudan and kidnapped two American diplomats and a Belgian diplomat.
The U.S. National Security Agency intercepted a communication between Yasser Arafat in Beirut and Khalil al-Wazir in the Khartoum office of al-Fatah.
According to James Welch, an American security agent who over- heard the intercept, Arafat was directly involved in the operation, which was code-named Nahr al-Bard, Cold River.
The U.S. government has hard evidence that when the Americans refused the demands of the Palestinian terrorists--to free Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Robert Kennedy--Yasser Arafat personally ordered the murder of the three diplomats, one of whom was then the highest ranking African-American in the foreign service.
The diplomats were taken to the basement of the embassy and tortured to death so brutally that "authorities couldn't tell which was black and which was white."
Arafat took credit for these murders during a private dinner with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu two months later.
The dinner was attended by General Ion Mihai Pacepa, a high-ranking Romanian intelligence officer who later defected to the United States.
Pacepa wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year in which he stated that "Arafat excitedly bragged about his Khartoum operation."
According to General Pacepa, Arafat also claimed credit for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
These are just some of the thousands of victims--American, Israeli, and others--of the godfather of Palestinian terrorism.
Arafat, like Osama bin Laden, has also targeted Jews, just because they are Jews.
These targets have included people at prayer in synagogues throughout Europe as well as children in nurseries and school buses.
His killing continues up to the present time, as do his false denials.
One can only imagine how many innocent civilians would have been killed by the boatload of Iranian arms captured by the Israelis earlier this year.
As General Pacepa wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Yasser Arafat remains the same bloody terrorist I knew so well during my years at the top of Romania's Foreign Intelligence Service."
This conclusion has been confirmed by many documents discovered by the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Defensive Shield.
Any experienced prosecutor, given access to the evidence--some of which is currently secreted in American, Israeli, and European intelligence files--could present an open-and-shut first-degree murder case against Yasser Arafat.
In considering the various options available to Israel--exile of Arafat, continued negotiation with him, and even targeted assassination--scant consideration has been given to the most obvious legal option: arresting Arafat for murder and placing him on trial in a public courtroom with lawyers and witnesses of his choice.
The reason this option has not been seriously considered is the practical fear that a trial of Arafat would cause more terrorism and more hostage-taking by Palestinians determined to free him. In addition, putting him on trial could make him a martyr among Palestinians, and perhaps even among some Europeans.
In the end, the Israeli government must make the tough decision whether or not to bring Arafat to trial, weighing the claims of public accountability against the practical difficulties of achieving justice. Were I an Israeli, I would recommend a public trial, despite the risks.
The world should see the hard evidence that terrorism has become the tactic of choice for the Palestinian Authority and that Yasser Arafat is personally responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians.
This is especially important today, when so many Europeans and American academics seem unwilling to see Arafat as a racist murderer.
Whether or not Israel chooses this option, one conclusion remains crystal clear: a fair and open trial of Yasser Arafat on charges of first-degree murder would definitely produce a verdict of guilty.
Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is the author of numerous books, most recently Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (Yale University Press, September 2002).
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Don't Confuse us with Facts -
How Israeli Military Intelligence Botched Assessments of Arafat
Intelligence Correspondent, Ha'aretz
is a vindication of our work, during the years 1994-1996. d.b.]
During a cabinet meeting in 1994, then head of Military Intelligence Major
General Uri Saguy, presented a "personal memorandum." The Israel Defense
Forces MI chief has the right to present such a document, which expresses
his personal opinion, as opposed to a formal paper obligating Military
Intelligence as a whole.
"The personal memorandum," recalls Saguy, "discussed the Lebanonization of
the Gaza Strip. This was in the aftermath of the first attempted suicide
strikes; the first was a horrendous explosion at the Netzarim junction. I
felt that cabinet ministers weren't thrilled about [my] statements. They
didn't want to hear an evaluation holding that it [Netzarim] was a suicide
attack. I had the feeling that it was as though they were saying `you're
ruining our peace process.' I explained to them that my job was to paint a
picture of the situation. They wanted to shatter the mirror, to shoot the
messenger - me. My job wasn't prophesy; it was to understand what happened,
and predict what could occur. In this respect, the analysis was precise.
True, we didn't hazard a guess about the scope of the violent eruption and
its date; but we pointed to the process."
The fact that the Military Intelligence chief had to formulate his
evaluation as his own personal opinion is telling. At the time, the research
division under his command submitted other, sometimes contradictory, views.
In other words, it is clear that it was not only Israel's political
leadership that was held hostage by the chimerical conception that an era of
peace with the Palestinian Authority had begun: MI and the Shin Bet security
service had trouble liberating themselves from the same feeling. The
intelligence officials were not always willing to let facts disturb a rosy
perception of reality.
In an interview with the Intelligence Heritage Center journal in January
2002, at a time when he was in the running for IDF chief of staff, Moshe
Ya'alon indicated that after 1996, Military Intelligence kept tabs on
incitement and terror in the PA as a way of monitoring the stability of the
peace process. Ya'alon, who replaced Saguy and became chief in 1995, said
that after 1996 an "indicating sign" used by MI to monitor the level of
Arafat's commitment to the Oslo process, and of his disavowal of terror, was
"incitement in the Palestinian media."
But some Knesset members and government ministers who asked MI officials in
1994-95 to assess Arafat's frequently militant appearances and his hellfire
declarations calling for violence and Jihad, were told that the PA leader's
incendiary rhetoric had to be understood in a relatively harmless context.
Arafat, the MKs and ministers were told, appeared in forums comprised of
veteran PLO members, and liked to reminisce with them about the past. Thus,
no conclusions should be drawn about his public appearances - they were
mostly rhetoric. An analysis composed by the MI research division in the
summer of 1995 concluded: "No firm evidence can be found to demonstrate that
Arafat is not showing a commitment to the [Oslo] agreement and the peace
process with Israel."
This IDF Military Intelligence analysis drove then MK Benny Begin to write a
critical letter in August 1995 to the new MI head, Ya'alon. "The author's
statements are so groundless," Begin wrote, "that they lead to a regrettable
conclusion: The author's interpretation is seriously misguided by his
[political] outlook. I want to alert you about the gravity of the
encroachment of such a trend in MI's research division. I am, of course,
conscious that it could be claimed that this letter is misguided on account
of my own outlook, and that it is a blatant effort to stifle free expression
among MI researchers. Nonetheless, I will venture the comment that no
reasonable person can accept the lamentable analysis presented in this [MI]
Ya'alon's response to Begin had a tone of censure: "Your comments constitute
political intervention in work undertaken by MI officers," he wrote.
Begin didn't give up. A month later, the MK wrote another memorandum, this
time to the head of the MI research division, Brigadier General Ya'akov
Amidror. Begin wrote: "Your hypothesis that Arafat's declarations are a kind
of harmless reminiscence [of the kind] indulged in by Palmach [elite
commando] veterans is now contradicted by four events that have occurred in
a short period of time - these are clear incendiary statements advocating
violence against Israel; and in the case of the final incident they were
delivered to a young audience . . . [Arafat's] statements are systematic and
consistent; and, given the proliferation of such declarations, the research
division would be wise to develop an alternative model. In MI idiom, this
model would say: `It cannot be ruled out, and there is a certain
probability, that two years after signing the Oslo I accord, Arafat is a
sworn enemy of Israel.' (This is sensitive material, not for quotation, and
based on public information which has fortuitously reached MI.)"
Using biting irony and sarcastic parenthetical asides, Begin hinted at a
writing style that can be found in MI research division reports. Division
officers, who want their superiors to read their reports and want to deliver
warning messages, tend to use parentheses and asterisks to emphasize that
their analyses are founded on classified materials - hoping to pique
In order to substantiate his contentions about faulty MI and Shin Bet
assessments of Arafat's speeches and media statements made by top PA
officials, Begin relied partly on recordings furnished to him in 1994-96 by
Brigadier General (res.) Yigal Carmon and the journalist, David Bedein.
Carmon, today president of the Middle East Media Research Institute,
embarked at the time on a private crusade, closely monitoring reports that
circulated in Palestinian and Arab media. A former senior officer of MI's
504 unit, who subsequently served as an anti-terror adviser to prime
ministers, Carmon operated as a one-man intelligence force, and relentlessly
tracked down recordings. He handled a network of informants in PA areas, and
paid each dozens, or hundreds, of shekels for a single tape.
Taking exception to the MI evaluation, Begin and Carmon argued that public
declarations made by Arafat and his associates contradicted the spirit of
the Oslo accords and reflected their genuine intentions. One of the most
revealing recordings, whose contents were made public, preserved a speech
delivered by Arafat in Johannesburg in May 1994. The tape recording
documented a militant address formulated in Arafat's old, incendiary style.
At one stage, Arafat likened the Oslo accord to the prophet Mohammed's
Hudaybiya truce accord with the Quraysh tribe - Mohammed, the PA leader
reminded his audience, signed the agreement with the intention of violating
it once his power consolidated. The Johannesburg tape recording surfaced in
Israel without the help of Israeli security officials.
"It's true, we didn't have the Johannesburg speech," admits Colonel (res.)
Dr. Eran Lerman, today director of the American Jewish Committee's Middle
East office, and then the deputy (in charge of assessment) to the head of
Military Intelligence's research division.
For the first time since September 1993, evidence flattened the euphoria
that had gripped the nation's political leadership, intelligence community
and public. Tape recorded evidence undermined the assumption that a new dawn
had broken in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Military Intelligence's lack of diligence in obtaining information about
Arafat's public appearances, compared to Carmon's relentless activity,
angered then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. At a meeting of the Knesset's
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Rabin asked MI delegates: Why can't
you obtain such material? Why didn't Military Intelligence manage to get its
hands on the tape recordings, instead of learning about them from MK Begin,
or the media?
In interviews with Ha'aretz, members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee, along with politicians who served as ministers under the Barak
and Rabin governments, explain that intelligence officials were lax about
attaining such tape recordings because MI and the Shin Bet went along with
the prevailing theory of the time: They believed that Arafat had chosen
peace, and given up on terror.
But former MI officials furnish a different explanation. They claim that any
materials that could be obtained outside the cloak-and-dagger realm of
classified information simply weren't considered important. "It's true,"
Lerman says. "MI followed an approach whereby material culled from public
sources was regarded as unimportant."
Agreement at Cairo
Whatever its reasons, Military Intelligence drew peculiar conclusions
regarding another of Arafat's militant public appearances. In September
1995, about three months after Arafat issued a call for jihad and sacrifice
in a speech in the Gaza Strip, MI decided that "Arafat is not inciting
murder; his statements do not suggest that Jews should be killed now."
At the time, autumn 1995, Israel's government and its intelligence community
(represented by the Shin Bet) were mediating secret contacts between the
Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Shin Bet officials, lead by Yisrael Hasson,
the head of the security service's Jerusalem and West Bank desk, met in
prison with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
"I knew about these meetings," recalls then public security minister Moshe
Shahal. "In my capacity as the official responsible for the Prisons Service,
I sent my assistant Moshe Sasson to attend the meetings. As far as I know,
the Shin Bet was involved at the government's request, in an effort to help
them [the PA and Hamas] formulate an agreement."
Yet no report of the Shin Bet's involvement in this mediation effort was
ever supplied to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Ha'aretz's questions to the Shin Bet regarding the security service's
participation in the Oslo process efforts, and its analyses of the peace
process, drew no response.
In December 1995, about a month after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, PA
officials met with Hamas delegates in Cairo to work out an agreement. The
meeting was preceded by pressure imposed by Israel and senior PA officials
following lethal terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad
during the year. The Cairo meeting concluded with a joint PA-Hamas
statement; among other things, it announced that "Hamas does not pursue a
goal of embarrassing the PA."
Carmon supplied information about the Cairo meeting to Begin and other
right-wing politicians. In his analysis, sides at the meeting forged an
agreement whereby Hamas operatives would refrain from terror activity on PA
territory, yet would carry out strikes everywhere else, with the tacit
consent of the Palestinian Authority. This interpretation was based on
drafts of the agreement that in 1995 were relayed at Arafat's initiative by
the PA to Hamas, and which were published openly in Arabic-language
newspapers. Also, Carmon and Begin relied on an interpretation by Salim
al-Zanun, Palestinian National Council president, and Arafat's delegate to
the talks with Hamas.
The PA's draft agreements from October 1995 basically included only one
reservation about terror activity against Israel: No public declaration was
to be made about such activity. Hamas and Islamic Jihad could continue
terror attacks on condition that they could not claim responsibility for
them. In other words, there was at the time reason to suspect that a
division of labor had been outlined under the Cairo agreement. The PLO and
the PA would engage in diplomatic negotiations with Israel and promote the
peace process on the Oslo track; concurrently, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would
continue to use militant, violent means.
If this interpretation of the Cairo understanding is correct, its
implication is that the PLO had not desisted from the "dual track approach"
it had followed since 1974, despite its promises and obligations under the
Oslo accords. It would simultaneously use diplomatic means and the "armed
struggle" in order to liberate the homeland.
Despite assertions made to the contrary by Ya'alon in his interview with the
Intelligence Heritage Center journal, Israel's intelligence community
hesitated and equivocated. At first, it was not even willing to confirm the
assumption that an agreement had been forged in Cairo. "That's a question of
interpretation," said then Shin Bet head Carmi Gillon, who appeared before
the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in January 1996. Some two
months later, in March 1996, Arafat himself confirmed at a press conference
attended by Meretz ministers Yossi Sarid and Yair Tzaban: "It's true, we
reached an agreement. There was a dialogue in Cairo, and it was acceptable
to Prime Minister Rabin." The PA chairman was proud of the agreement, and
claimed "it was agreed that they will end their terror activity, and support
the peace process and the Oslo accord."
The intelligence community was hard-pressed to present a cogent analysis of
the contents of the Cairo agreement. Its reports were characterized by
vague, inconclusive formulations. In early 1996, MI chief Ya'alon said
ambiguously that it could be inferred from the PLO-Hamas talks in Cairo that
Hamas will not perpetrate terror attacks, but other interpretations could
also be made.
Finally, with the benefit of hindsight, following a brutal series of Hamas
terror attacks in February-March 1996 on buses in Jerusalem and at Dizengoff
Center in Tel Aviv, Amidror mustered the courage needed to issue clear,
forthright statements to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"The understanding reached by PLO representatives with Hamas delegates in
December 1995 did not become an official agreement, but it is what has
effectively guided the Palestinian Authority's and Hamas' subsequent
behavior. Under this framework, Hamas implicitly promised not to launch
attacks against Israel and Israelis from territories under PA control . . .
Arafat has subsequently done almost nothing to crack down on Hamas' and
Islamic Jihad's operational infrastructure."
Clouds of confusion
For all its clarity, Amidror's interpretation did not become definitive. In
April 1996, then IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak sent a letter to
Labor MK Nissim Zvili which scrambled interpretations anew. Shahak (whose
view reflected Military Intelligence's conclusions, IDF sources say)
determined that it was Hamas which proposed a draft agreement which
implicitly condoned terror operations conducted by it on lands not
controlled by the Palestinian Authority. "But Palestinian Authority
delegates did not accept this proposal," Shahak wrote.
This new interpretation of the Cairo meeting reflects the confusion that
clouded Israel's intelligence and security community. Despite the fact that
the Shin Bet and MI had information about contacts and draft agreements
between the PA and Hamas, Israel's intelligence community failed to deliver
a consistent, perceptible warning about the dangers posed by the formula "no
terror on, or launched from, PA territory." Intelligence officials did not
alert Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to the gravity of the
situation - that Israel would have to prepare for the possibility that
extremist Palestinian organizations would continue to carry out acts of
terror, so long as their operatives did not depart from lands under PA
control. Instead of delivering this warning, intelligence officials hemmed
and hawed. Even in surveys presented to the Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee in May 1996, Mossad and Shin Bet officials stammered out obscure
conclusions, finding it hard to say clearly what had happened at the Cairo
Dr. Shmuel Even, who served as assessment advisor to the head of MI's
research division, objects to attributing too much significance to analyses
of the Cairo meeting. "We didn't view the agreement as a departure from
Arafat's behavior pattern, whose essence we pointed to all along. The
[Cairo] agreement accorded with what we had always believed: Arafat had no
intention of disarming [Hamas], either because he viewed the organization as
part of the Palestinian people and wanted to avoid civil war, or because he
wanted to use it as a whip to be unleashed against Israel, in order to
promote strategic goals."
Other MI experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that the
intelligence community found it hard to absorb the possibility that the
Cairo agreement symbolized the beginning of the end of the logic of Oslo, of
the assumption that Arafat had abandoned the use of terror.
The bitter experience of trying to mediate an internal Palestinian agreement
did not stop Israel's intelligence community from trying again. During the
first few months of 1996, Israeli intelligence officials, this time from MI,
once again found themselves dabbling in internal Palestinian matters. This
time around, the goal was to secure changes in the Palestinian covenant,
which had been promised by the PLO. Once again, the Israeli effort fell
short. The Palestinian National Council met in April 1996, and failed to
adopt the formulas which had been worked out with Israel's government; the
covenant was not amended. Neither MI nor the Shin Bet warned about the
possibility that Arafat and his associates would dupe Israel's government,
and not incorporate revisions in the covenant as promised.
Alarmed by this sequence of events, Begin fired off letters in June 1996 to
the heads of MI, the Shin Bet and the Mossad. He wrote: "As in the case of
the Palestinian covenant which was not annulled or revised, the Cairo
agreement also expresses deep, long-term intentions harbored by Arafat and
the PLO." Begin's letters were never answered.
Begin, who has refused to give interviews since he left the Knesset in 1999,
wrote in the preface to his book "Sad Story" (published in 2000): "This is
a sad story. Those who appear in it did not know, or did not want to know,
or knew but didn't understand, or refused to understand, or understood and
refused to say." Begin's criticism is aimed not only at political leaders
like Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, who initiated and guided
the Oslo peace process. The barbs are also directed against Israel's
MK Yossi Sarid also believes that MI tends to slant its assessments in line
with prevailing political perceptions. The Oslo period is no exception, he
believes: Intelligence has been slanted with respect to virtually every
major, transformative event in Israel's history.
"Generally, the intelligence community and MI, in particular, have fallen in
line with stands taken by the government," Sarid observes. "My thesis is
that since 1967, the intelligence community has been mistaken each time it
has tried to formulate a strategic estimate. Regrettably, Israel's
intelligence services have been increasingly politicized. I didn't hear
statements such as `you can't do business with Arafat,' or `he's not built
for peace agreements,' from the intelligence community."
"We did not operate to placate the government," says Saguy. "Military
Intelligence reached suppositions about what might possibly occur; it could
not know what would occur. We said that terror would grow stronger as the
[peace] process advanced. That perception went against the grain of the
The crucial question is whether MI grasped the dangers at the start of the
peace process. Did it perceive that Arafat might not have abandoned the use
of terror; and if so, did MI issue warnings?
"Yes," says Saguy. "Our view was correct. We said that Arafat represented
the pragmatic stream in the Palestinian camp, as opposed to Hamas - but
should Arafat share interests with Hamas, he would support the organization.
We consistently emphasized that should Arafat not attain his goals, the
militant Palestinian stream would come to the fore."
In March 1997, following a terror attack at Cafe Apropos in Tel Aviv, MI
identified what was called at the time a "green light" to terror. "We
identified information," says Even, "which linked Arafat to the terror
attack. Arafat gave the green light. Before then, there were terror attacks
that did not advance his interests, and which he did not initiate. Apropos
was the first time we saw clearly that Arafat was encouraging and initiating
lethal attacks inside Israel to promote his political goals. Negotiations
with the Netanyahu government for a third-phase withdrawal were stuck, and
Arafat hoped to improve his position via the use of terror."
This statement suggests that before March 1997, MI operated in a cloud, and
could not believe that there were links between Arafat and terror attacks.
Military Intelligence has yet to carry out an in-house investigation of its
early Oslo estimates, like probes of misbegotten intelligence analyses that
were conducted after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
This piece ran in Ha'aretz on 16 August, 2002
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