Israel's raid on a Jericho prison exposes the worthlessness of international guarantees, writes Ibrahim Nafie
Last Tuesday Israeli occupation forces raided Jericho's prison. They demolished the building in stages before arresting a group of Palestinian prisoners. This operation took place with the approval of the acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and was ordered by Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz.
The aim was to arrest Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and other Palestinian figures including Fouad Al-Shoubaki, accused of overseeing the funding of the arms deal uncovered by the Israeli navy when it intercepted the boat Karin A on 3 January 2002.
The operation began with the mobilisation of large numbers of armoured vehicles and equipment, including scores of bombshells. Palestinian security personnel responsible for securing the area were stripped of arms and their clothes and left in their underwear.
Occupation forces attacked the building with bulldozers and explosives. After killing two members of the security personnel and injuring another 62 they arrested the PFLP leader and his companions, who were transferred to Israeli detention prisons.
Israel undertook the operation to kidnap a group of Palestinian figures who, in accordance with an international agreement made with late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, were held in a prison guarded by US and British forces. Ahmed Saadat was due to be tried for plotting the assassination of the former Israeli minister of tourism Rahavam Zeevi on 18 October 2001 -- a response to the Israeli assassination of the PFLP secretary-general Abu Ali Mustafa on 27 August 2001. Al-Shoubaki was facing trial for his role in the Karin A arms deal. The agreement with Arafat was reached following Israeli demands that it should detain and try the two men.
On the morning of 14 March the US and British monitors charged with overseeing the Jericho prison were withdrawn. Following their departure Israeli forces began their siege of the prison. The British prime minister said the monitors had been withdrawn for security reasons, i.e. ensure their safety, while US sources said they had informed PA President Mahmoud Abbas of their decision to withdraw monitors a week earlier. Abbas confirmed he had been notified, but said no date for the withdrawal of the monitors had been specified. Washington also hinted it would veto any discussion of the matter in the UN Security Council.
The raid raises many questions about the role of the US and Britain. There can be no doubt that Washington and London were fully aware of what Israel intended to do, and effectively colluded with Tel Aviv. They informed Abbas of their intention to withdraw monitors without informing him when that would take place, though Israel clearly knew. Abbas, who cut short a European tour to return and visit the remains of the prison, confirmed that Israeli forces stormed the area only five minutes after the monitors were withdrawn.
The operation, and the US-British-Israeli coordination that underwrote it, raises fundamental questions about the worth of agreements the PA signs with Israel, as well as the worth of international -- and in particular US -- guarantees. It undermines any negotiating process that seeks to resolve the conflict, confirming that Israel has no intention of abandoning the bullying tactics it has long employed under the political and security cover provided by international powers.
This operation will weaken calls among the Palestinian factions -- not least within Hamas -- for a political solution and will reinforce the arguments of those pushing for armed struggle no matter what the cost.