Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

in association with Access/Middle East
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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June 11, 2003

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In-Depth Issue:

Rantisi is Head of the Military Wing of Hamas - Felix Frisch (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew)
    The Israeli security services said Tuesday that Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi has been serving as the head of the military wing of Hamas since the elimination of the two previous heads, and he is the one who drafts Hamas' policy of terrorist attacks.
    "His name comes up repeatedly in investigations," said a security source. "Since the destruction of the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, the Gaza leadership has been activating the cadres and Rantisi is the one who leads them. He is in contact with the Hamas leadership based in Syria."
    The security services believe Hamas had made a strategic decision to block the implementation of the road map and return to widespread attacks against Israeli targets.
    The decision to strike at Rantisi was made on Sunday in the wake of the attack on an IDF outpost in Gaza in which 4 soldiers were killed.
    "Of the 53 warnings of planned attacks this week, nearly half come from Hamas," said a security source.
    The General Security Service (Shabak) said Rantisi was responsible for the launching of Qassam rockets, attacks on settlements, bomb attacks against Israeli armored vehicles, and attempted attacks on Israeli vessels.
    Rantisi was also accused of recruiting groups of Israeli Arabs into the ranks of Hamas.
    Security sources said that despite Hamas declarations about a separation between its military and political wings, in the case of Rantisi, "in practice, the military leadership answers to the 'political leadership.' The political leadership of a terrorist organization plans, directs, and sets policy, including in the military sphere."

    See also Strike Against Hamas Leader Protects Road Map (Israel Defense Forces)
    The Hamas leadership has made a strategic decision to undermine the "Road Map," and ruin any chance of dialogue which may lead to a cease-fire and political negotiations.
    Since 1993, Hamas has dispatched 113 suicide bombers, 72 of them since September 2000. As a result, 227 Israelis were killed and 1,393 were wounded.
    See also Background Information on Rantisi (IDF Spokesperson)

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News Resources - North America and Europe:

  • Bush Scolds Israel For Attack
    In an apparent "adjustment" to its doctrine that a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, the White House Tuesday said President Bush was "deeply troubled" by Israel's attack on a senior Hamas leader. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in bombings and shootings in the past 32 months. (AP/CBS News)
  • Iran Agrees Iraq Hid Arms
    An Iranian government official with ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says, "Yes, we agree with the Americans. Our intelligence indicated that Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction and was hiding them from the UN." (Washington Times)
  • Chalabi: Saddam Alive and Bent on Revenge
    Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi told the Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday that Saddam Hussein has been spotted north of Baghdad. He has $1.3 billion in cash taken from the Central Bank on March 18, and "He will pay a bounty for every American soldier killed in Iraq now," Chalabi said. (AP/Washington Times)
  • News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:

  • Palestinians Rocket Sderot; IDF Kills Launch Crew Terrorists
    Palestinians fired six Qassam rockets on Sderot Tuesday, with five landing in city neighborhoods. Five Israelis were treated for shock. IDF helicopter pilots spotted the vehicle transporting those who had fired the rockets, and attacked it, killing three. Three more Qassam rockets were fired on Sderot Wednesday morning. Overnight Tuesday, there were exchanges of fire along the Israeli-Egyptian border between IDF soldiers and Palestinians. (Ha'aretz)
  • Sharon: Attempt on Rantisi Does Not Signal Policy Shift
    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday, "Our policy remains the same. The IDF will continue to work against terrorism in every place." Sharon ordered aides to turn over intelligence to U.S. officials to back accusations that Rantisi, the public face of Hamas, had been coordinating attacks on Israelis. "This information is intended to show that Rantisi was not just a ticking bomb but a factory of ticking bombs," a senior Israeli security source said. (Ha'aretz)
  • Sharon, U.S. Reach Deal on Building in Territories - Aluf Benn, Nadav Shragai, and Moshe Reinfeld
    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reached a new agreement with the American administration, under which no construction will be permitted in existing settlements "except within the area circumscribed by existing construction." Israel also promised not to build any new settlements and not to expropriate any Palestinian land for construction purposes. In exchange, Washington agreed to remove the settlements from the framework of its road map and to conduct separate talks on this issue. (Ha'aretz)
  • Mofaz: Arafat May Be Expelled Soon - Gideon Alon
    Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday: "My opinion in the past was that we should deport Arafat....At this moment, it would not be right to do so, but it is very possible that in the very near future, there will be no choice but to do so." Mofaz said Arafat is making every effort to foil the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement and the reforms that Abu Mazen is trying to effect. Arafat still controls some of the PA security services, he noted.
        Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, head of Military Intelligence's research division, said new warnings of planned attacks keep pouring in, most of them involving organizations affiliated with Fatah, the faction to which both Arafat and Abbas belong. Kuperwasser noted that Abbas initially refused to condemn Sunday's attack in Gaza, which killed four soldiers. Even after he was pressured into doing so, his condemnation was not reported by any of the Palestinian media and was evidently purely for external consumption, he said. Brigadier General Eli Yaffe, head of the General Staff's Operations Directorate, said that in the 40 days since Abu Mazen's government was established, there has been no change in the level of terrorist activity. (Ha'aretz)
  • Putin Meets with U.S. Jewish Leaders in Moscow
    President Vladimir Putin boasted of a flourishing Jewish community in Russia during a wide-ranging meeting with American Jewish leaders on Tuesday. Putin and his U.S. guests also discussed cooperation between Russian and U.S. Jews, Middle East peace efforts, and ending U.S. trade restrictions. Among those who attended the meetings were Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Ronald Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund; James Tisch, chairman of the United Jewish Communities; and Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress. (AP/Ha'aretz)
        See also Seeking Better Ties to America, Putin Says He´┐Żll Keep Eye on Iran (JTA)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • We, Too, Are Deeply Troubled - Editorial
    As one of the senior leaders of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi is a senior terrorist. He has for years been involved in all aspects of Hamas's terrorist infrastructure. Rantisi incites Muslims to become suicide bombers. He raises funds for weapons. He mobilizes operatives to strike. And after each successful bombing he acts as a terrorist spokesman and apologist. He is responsible for the indoctrination of large swathes of Palestinian society to believe that the murder of Jews is moral and just. We were unaware the U.S. believes that Hamas is an organization worthy of protecting.
        While it is clear that anyone in any way related to al Qaeda is a terrorist, we are told that there is a distinction between "political" and "military" wings of the terrorist organizations that are mainly dedicated to killing Israelis. The only thing "political" about a killer like Rantisi is that he orders others to do the dirty work for him. Like Bush, we too are deeply troubled by Tuesday's attempt to take out a mass murderer of our fellow citizens. We are troubled because Rantisi has lived to murder another day. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Rantisi - Why Now? - Herb Keinon
    Why now? Because Rantisi drove into Israel's crosshairs, because he pledged to kill more Jews, because intelligence information indicated he was serious about carrying out his pledge, and because he said he could not accept the road map. Had Sharon dispatched the helicopter gunships to destroy the road map, would he also be sending in troops to dismantle outposts? (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Target is a Fierce Foe of Israel - Charles A. Radin (Boston Globe)
        For a critical view of the Rantisi attack, see Avoiding Escalation - Editorial
    The IDF action against Rantisi could damage the fragile political process that began last week. Israel's duty is to avoid actions that renew the cycle of escalating violence and enable the new Palestinian leadership to make its mission a reality. (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:  

    Can Iran's Nuclear Program be Stopped? - Ze'ev Schiff (Ha'aretz)

    • Iran has between 18 months and two years to cross the point of no return and then a little while longer until it is manufacturing weapons at a reasonable rate. Iran's goal, therefore, is to create international foot-dragging on the issue, to gain time; to create the impression that there's room for negotiation and, at the same time, to accelerate the nuclear development.
    • There are elements in the U.S., particularly in the State Department, who are sending a message of having given up the possibility of preventing the development. This is a poor strategic approach that will only increase the determination of the North Koreans and accelerate the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
    • There is still time to move against the Iranian nuclear plans, whether through the Security Council or with other means. According to nuclear experts, it is also technically possible.
    • Iran claims it wants to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes. There's no economic logic to this, of course, since the country has enormous reserves of petroleum and gas.
    • The Iranians appear to be nervous ahead of the Vienna meeting of the IAEA board of governors on June 16: It's clear to them that if suspicions about their activities deepen, this will strengthen those in Washington who are demanding the issue be brought to the Security Council.

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