]]]]]]]]]]]]]      PLAY THE US HAND WITH ARAFAT     [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                         by Noel Koch                    (1/25/1989)
                 WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/13/1989

     (Mr. Koch formerly headed the Pentagon's counterterrorism 
     program and now runs his own international-security firm.)

     From 1981, when President Reagan promised "swift and effective 
retribution" against terrorism, through last month's bombing of Pan 
American Flight 103, the U.S. has endured a long list of casualties 
from such acts, virtually all of which occurred in or emanated from 
the Mideast.
     Since its beginning the Reagan administration debated with itself 
over how to redress our Mideast relationship, whose terms some view as 
being dictated by Israel.  Little of importance was done to formalize 
this impulse (we did tilt toward Irag in the Iran-Iraq war, thus 
winning Iraq's contempt).  In practice, "redressal" consisted of 
approving, over Israel's objections, sales of weapons to several Arab 
countries.  This momentarily pleased the nations that could afford 
those weapons -- chiefly Saudi Arabia -- but that is all it did.  It 
did not change the political geometry of the Mideast, nor our part of 
     Now, the geometry is changed.
     In a daring 11th-hour improvisation, Secretary of State Shultz 
has let the Palestinian genie out of the U.S. Mideast policy bottle, 
and America's relationship with the region is materially and 
irrevocably altered, whether for better or worse.
     If anything positive is to come of this, we're going to have to
be a lot cleverer about terrorism -- which is central to our Mideast 
concerns -- than we have been to date.  The prospective assassination 
of Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij is an elementary case in point.   What 
Yasser Arafat said, whether he said it, whether he meant it, and even 
whether Mr. Freij is finally assassinated are very nearly irrelevant 
for the simple reason that none of these matters affects available 
U.S. policy choices.
     The fact is that the normally nimble Mr. Freij has made himself 
more useful dead than alive (at least for now) to a variety of 
factions throughout the Mideast.  For the U.S. to take the slightest 
interest in the matter will be to reinforce the lesson we failed to 
learn in Lebanon:  We must not bamboozle ourselves into a lethal 
fecklessness by linking ourselves to circumstances over which we have 
no control.  Let us concern ourselves with what touches directly on 
our interests, and areas in which we may now have leverage.
     Thus far, Mr. Arafat has gotten more than he has given in 
exchange with Mr. Shultz.  True, he renounced terrorism.  But since he 
has never agreed that the violence he directed is terrorism ("We are 
freedom fighters and we are proud of it"), it cannot have caused him 
great inconvenience to renounce it.
     And he has recognized Israel's existence, but that he should have 
been asked to do so at all is far more an exaltation of his own role 
than an affirmation of Israel's right to exist.  Indeed, a world 
rightside-up might find it grotesque that so much importance should be 
assigned to whether Mr. Arafat acknowledges Israel.
     In return for concessions to which we assign far greater 
political weight than does Mr. Arafat, the PLO is invited to the U.S. 
diplomatic table.  We might reasonably ask him to throw a few more 
shekels in the scale to show good will and, indeed, he seems inclined 
to do so.
     He has offered the cooperation of his intelligence services in 
finding out who destroyed Pan Am 103.  One sees that the offer holds 
for Mr. Arafat, among other things, an opportunity to even accounts 
with enemies (or to direct attention away from friends).  Yet, 
disingenuous though it may be, it also provides him a valuable chance 
to demonstrate that he can make a distinction between the business of 
the freedom fighter and that of the terrorist.
     We should encourage his best efforts, and not limit that 
encouragement to the resolution of the Pan Am bombing, in which his 
"findings" may or may not be credible.  Where he can demonstrate 
complete credibility is by helping us clear the books on those 
operations carried out at his personal direction -- such as the 
murders of U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission 
Curtis Moore, and Belgian attache Guy Eld in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1973.  
(No need to withhold the details now; after all, he says himself he is 
"proud" of these actions.)
     He can help by providing us the names of groups and individuals 
graduated from PLO training camps, especially those of the Europeans, 
Africans and Central Americans.  This would enable us to understand 
better the nature and range of the problems we face in confronting 
"freedom fighters" outside the Middle East.  We have some of this 
information from records the Israelis captured at Sidon in the 1982 
Lebanon campaign, but it will be useful to have corollary and 
corroborating data. 
     He can help by reviewing with us the range of training and 
assistance directly provided by Palestinians to other nations.  We
know, for example, that Palestinian pilots have been in Central 
America training Nicaraguan pilots.  But who trained the Palestinians, 
and where else are they operating?  It would be useful for American 
fighters to know in advance the nature of the threat they may confront 
in other parts of the world.
     Finally, he can help by sharing with us his information on 
terrorist groups supported by other Mideastern states.  In this, we 
have a virtual community of interest.  While these groups, such as 
Syria's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command 
or the Libyan-hosted Fatah Revolutionary Council, are happy to murder 
Americans in the service of their hosts, they are no less interested 
in getting rid of Mr. Arafat.
     In case we haven't noticed, we have now aligned ourselves with 
Mr. Arafat.
     The last time we chose sides between warring factions in the 
Middle East, it cost us 241 American Marines.  This time, I believe, 
it cost us 259 on a U.S. airliner and 11 Scots.  For the Marines, we 
got nothing.  If 270 souls are the price of our latest peace-making 
effort, we should require something back in the way of progress.
     Nothing Yasser Arafat does now can heighten further the dangers 
of the step he has already taken.  If he is to continue the march to 
Palestinian statehood, we must try to discover and inspire in him 
those actions that comport with the risks and responsibilities of a 
head of state.
     It will be a difficult transition, dismounting from the tiger of 
terrorism.  Let us be patient and realistic as Mr. Arafat tries to 
feel his way down.  If he does.

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