Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Ahmad Saadat in Israeli Custody
I've hesitated to blog about this until a clearer picture emerged. Until yesterday evening, reports were conflicting -- Israel had stormed a Palestinian Authority-controlled prison in Jericho, demanding the surrender of prisoner Ahmad Saadat (a leader of the PFLP, and part of the group that assassinated Israeli Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001). The prison had been under the supervision of British and American guards, who left suddenly yesterday; the circumstances were unclear.
During the process, Saadat reportedly claimed that he'd never surrender. I don't know what persuaded him to change his mind, but he did surrender himself to Israeli authorities, who now have him (and several other Palestinian prisoners) in custody.
A press release from Israel's Foreign Ministry attempts to make everything clear:
Following the violation of agreements by the Palestinian Authority, IDF units entered Jericho on Tuesday, March 14, 2006, to rearrest the terrorists responsible for assassinating Israeli minister Rehavam Ze'evi, as well as other senior terrorists being held in the local PA prison. The prisoners surrendered after a 10-hour siege of the prison.(emphasis and link added)
American and British inspectors, who had been monitoring the implementation of the agreements reached between Israel and the PA on the incarceration of the terrorists, had left the city after the PA violated the agreements and declared its intention to release the murderers. Israel decided to take action only after the terrorists were no longer under the supervision of the international inspectors. The Israeli operation in Jericho was meant solely to ensure that the murderers of an Israeli minister remain behind bars.
In October 2001, terrorists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) shot to death tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi as he left his room in a Jerusalem hotel. The murderers were then harbored by Yasser Arafat in his command compound in Ramallah. During Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, IDF units surrounded the compound and demanded the assassins be brought to justice. Through the mediation of US President George W. Bush, an arrangement was reached whereby US and British wardens would take responsibility for the imprisonment of the murderers in an isolated Palestinian prison facility. The arrangement was approved by Israel's cabinet on April 28, 2002, and the terrorists were transferred to the PA's Jericho prison.
Israel would have preferred to continue this arrangement, but could no longer do so after the American and British wardens were forced to leave the prison. The international monitors could no longer fulfill their functions due to a dangerous deterioration of their personal security and continued Palestinian violations of the agreement. As British Foreign Secretary Straw stated following the IDF operation: "The UK and the US have repeatedly raised our concerns over the security of our monitors with the Palestinian Authority and urged them to meet their obligations under the Ramallah agreement. Unfortunately, there has been no improvement. The Palestinian Authority has consistently failed to meet its obligations."
Public statements by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas left no doubt that the murderers' release was imminent. Following the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, Meshaal repeatedly and publicly demanded that the PFLP terrorists held in Jericho be set free. In addition, Abbas said in an interview to Israel's Channel 10 on February 24 that he had no objection to the murderers' release. These statements by the most senior Palestinian leadership indicated clearly that, following the forced departure of the international wardens, the release of Ze'evi's assassins was about to occur.
It is important to note that Israel made every effort to avoid casualties during the operation, which was planned and carried out with the sole purpose of assuring the continued incarceration of terrorist murderers. At all stages of the operation, care was taken to reduce the risks to bystanders and the prison inmates were allowed to surrender with their safety ensured, even though by doing so, Israel increased the vulnerability of it own forces.
The operation was concluded as soon as the objective was achieved. The willingness of Ze'evi's assassins to surrender to Israeli forces, and their being taken into Israeli custody unharmed, demonstrates how Israel's intentions were clearly understood by all the relevant parties, including the terrorists.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry website has more, including the text of a letter from the British and American consuls regarding PA security breaches:
March 8, 2006Follow the link to see a list of terror attacks for which these six prisoners were responsible.
President, Palestinian Authority
The Palestinian Authority has never fully complied with basic provision of the agreement that established the US and UK Jericho Monitoring Mission. While the six detainees - Fuad Shobaki, Ahmad Sa’adat, Iyad Gholmi, Hamdi Qur’an, Majdi Rmawi, and Basel al-Asmar - are held in continuous custody at the Jericho Prison, the Palestinian Authority has consistently failed to comply with core prevision of the Jericho monitoring arrangement regarding visitors, cell searches, telephone access and correspondence. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority has failed to provide secure conditions for the US and US personnel working gat the Jericho Prison. Repeated demarches by our governments to the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority have not resulted in improved compliance with the Jericho monitoring arrangements. The pending handover of governmental power to a political party that has repeatedly called for the release of the Jericho detainees also calls into question the political sustainability of the monitoring mission.
If the Palestinian Authority would like the US and UK to continue their involvement with the monitoring mission, conditions at the Jericho Prison must be brought into full compliance with the Jericho monitoring arrangements. Alternatively, the Palestinian Authority can come to a new arrangement with the Government of Israel regarding the disposition of the six detainees. Likewise, adequate measures must be put in place to assure the security of the US and UK personnel working at the prison. Regrettably, if the Palestinian Authority does [not] into come into full compliance with the Jericho monitoring arrangement and make substantive improvements to the security of the US and UK personnel working at the prison, or come to a new agreement with the Government of Israel, we will have to terminate our involvement with the Jericho monitoring arrangements and withdraw our monitors with immediate effect.
I hope you understand our concerns and the seriousness with which we take this matter.
Jacob Walles (US Consul General)
John Jenkins (UK Consul General)
Press of this event elsewhere, as one might expect, has been spotty. The BBC, for example, had this to say:
All Palestinian factions called on businesses and schools to close after Ahmed Saadat gave himself up after troops stormed his jail in Jericho.Please note the subtle implications. The US & UK monitors left after "complaining about lax security" (making the monitors sound petulant and childish). Note that Israel had no complaints at all about the actions of the foreign monitors; see above.
The West Bank raid began when UK and US monitors left the Palestinian-run prison complaining about lax security.
Gunmen have released all 11 of the foreigners kidnapped in retaliation.
Two French citizens and a South Korean journalist had been held hostage by Palestinian gunmen overnight, but they have now been handed over to Palestinian police.
The authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain on high alert fearing further anti-Western violence, a day after the British Council cultural centre in Gaza City was set ablaze.
Gunmen have released all 11 of the foreigners kidnapped in retaliation... my, isn't that nice of them! Israel insists that prisoners remain in custody, per international agreement, and takes steps to ensure that prisoners remain in prison. In response, Palestinians take hostages and set cultural centers on fire.
In candor unusual for the BBC (with respect to coverage of Israel, at least), the BBC admits that there might have been some justification for the raid:
The military said Tuesday's prison raid was necessary because several militants had been about to be freed by the Palestinian authorities.I'm not seeing much else in the press about this today, which surprises me. I'd have expected worldwide condemnation of Israel, in league with Palestinian demands... but apparently not this time. (Meryl Yourish has found some fun commentary by AP. It's the usual stuff -- AP quoting Palestinian wild claims without comment, while refusing to quote Israeli officials as well... oh, and emphasizing the Palestinian rioting, and blaming it squarely on Israel. Move on, nothing to see here, just some ordinary AP anti-Israel bias.)
Mr Saadat has been in Palestinian custody since early in 2002 - and was moved to Jericho under international supervision in a deal to lift Israel's siege of Yasser Arafat's Muqataa compound in Ramallah in May of that year.
The following month the Palestinian High Court ordered his release, saying there was no evidence to link him to the Zeevi assassination.
He was elected to parliament earlier this year, and both Mr Abbas and the militant election victors, Hamas, had spoken of releasing him soon.
More AP bias can be found here, if you've acquired a taste for it -- along with a great quote from Palestinian figurehead Mahmoud Abbas:
Abbas cut short a European trip and called the raid an "unforgivable crime" and "an insult to the Palestinian people" as he toured the demolished complex.Time to grow up and learn how to handle insults, buddy.
I might add that, according to James Taranto's Best of the Web, quoting a month-old Jerusalem Post article -- link unavailable, sorry -- Hamas was full of bravado about this, right up until it actually happened:
Hamas Leader Khaled Mashaal said on Friday [Feb. 24] that the new Hamas-led Palestinian parliament would release the assassins of former tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi from the Jerico jail where they have been incarcerated for the past four years. . . .Hmm. Who's angry now?
Asked about Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's warnings against any moves to release the murderers, Mashaal said, "Israel always threatens and makes assurances, but it does not scare us. We will do what our people need whether it angers Israel or not."
I continue to await a Palestinian willing to exert authority and responsibility, at the same time. I will refrain from holding my breath.
UPDATE: Roger Simon gets it:
Not missing a beat to curry favor with his constituents, desperate politician Mahmoud Abbas has called the Israeli raid on the Jericho prison an "unforgivable crime." Hyperventilating a bit there, are we, Mahmoud? Now let's see... Hamas says they are about to free a group of terrorists from that prison, including Ahmed Saadat (secretary general of the notorious PFLP), then the British and American monitors leave the premises, fearing for their own safety, and the Israelis are supposed to do what? Sit on their rear ends? Negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas - a lame duck who was never more than a figurehead in the first place and is now a joke? Talk to Hamas who doesn't even recognize their existence and are terrorists themselves? Let's get serious. Even if this weren't in the midst of an Israeli electoral campaign, the result would be obvious. The people who should really be playing close attention to this are the Iranians - and I would imagine they are. Because it is an example of how the Israelis take action when their interests are threatened. They'll do it again.
Indeed they will. Israel has, on occasion, adopted long-term policies that proved disastrous. But when the time came for immediate action, Israel has always done what needed to be done, and offered apologies as necessary later.
UPDATE II: Gloria Salt has her own cheerfully-worded commentary on this:
The most striking event of the past week was the — how shall I put it? — transitioning of the murderers of Israeli MK Rehavam Ze’evi from a Palestinian prison in Jericho, from which they were about to be sprung, into Israeli custody, where they belong. It’s an interesting story on many levels — the strikingly abrupt departure by the British and American monitors who finally lost patience with the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to uphold its obligation to protect them; the hissy fit thrown by Mahmoud Abbas, which was chutzpadik even for him (accusing the Brits and Americans of reneging on a deal he’d been reneging on since it was inked); the remarkably good timing of the IDF action from the point of view of Olmert’s Kadima party (which begs the question whether the monitors’ departure really was quite as strikingly abrupt as it seemed from the outside); the candy-ass response of the murderers’ PFLP buddies back in the territories (running around grabbing foreigners, making dopey comments to the media, releasing the foreigners and then fading instantly back into the woodwork); the non-response of Hamas to the PFLP mayhem (perhaps an homage to the uselessness of the Fatah police in the days when it was Hamasniks running amok), and more.(Gloria was even kind enough to link to me. It seems only proper to return the favor.)
It really is like the Wild West in Gaza these days, isn't it? (Except that I don't see John Wayne in evidence anywhere, or even Gary Cooper -- too bad, they're badly needed.)
Perhaps, in decades to come, people will make movies about the gunfights and civil anarchy in the Palestinian territories, and call them "Easterns".
UPDATE III: The escalating war of chutzpa continues: Ahmad Saadat is now suing the British Government. Why? For failing to protect him from the Israeli Army! (hat tip: LGF.)