U.S. aid to help put a barrier in Israel Anti-terrorist plan includes electronic 'wall' at West Bank


JERUSALEM - While Israel is seeking equipment from the United States to fight terrorism, only part is actually for the identification and interception of potential terrorists. The bulk is intended for a controversial project to build a high-tech barrier to separate Israel from the West Bank, which the Israelis have largely turned over to the Palestinians.

The project, whose details are now being completed by police, in effect envisions the recreation of a no-man's land at the 1967 dividing line between Israel and the West Bank, but through the use of high-tech monitoring equipment. Fencing would be used only in the most remote or heavily populated areas.

During his 22-hour visit to Israel last week, President Clinton pledged $100 million in anti-terrorist training and equipment, including advanced bomb-detection scanners and sniffers, X-ray systems, bomb-handling robots and heat and radar sensors. But he said nothing about the proposed barrier.

On March 4, after a bombing in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced separation as one of several tough measures against terrorism. Almost immediately, the army sent bulldozers to block some roads between Israel and the West Bank, and posted tanks with night-vision capacity along remote stretches of the divide.

But the government reportedly had trouble coming up with the necessary money for the high-technology portion of the plan. So when Mr. Clinton offered help after the bombings, Israel asked for aid in setting up the barrier.

Israeli and U.S. officials say Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal, who was instructed to design the separation plan, prepared a list for the Americans that included advanced radar for ground observation, night vision instruments, light armored personnel carriers and two helicopters. Israeli reports said that the equipment was valued at $110 million.

The Jerusalem Post said that officials of the State Department's Office of Anti-terrorism Assistance had toured the proposed line to see firsthand what was needed and that Israel was likely to get much of what it wanted.

Crossing would be allowed only at eight to 10 points along the 124-mile divide, and existing roads and paths would be blocked.

From its inception, the plan has had many critics, not least Mr. Peres. Though he publicly endorsed it after the recent wave of bombings, he is said to hold privately that the idea runs counter to the Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Opponents have argued that no barrier would be impregnable, noting that illegal migrants from Mexico continue infiltrating into the United States despite the latest in border equipment. The Israel-West Bank line has many stretches where Israelis and Palestinians live virtually side by side, and Israeli ideology would preclude dividing Jerusalem, leaving many Arabs free to move back and forth.

A fence has already been built around the Gaza Strip, but it has not prevented Palestinians from slipping in or out, or even smuggling stolen cars across. The Palestinian who exploded a bomb and himself in Tel Aviv on March 4 was smuggled in by an Israeli Arab at a time of high alert.

The patchwork of Israeli settlements in the West Bank makes separation all the more complicated, and the Israeli Treasury has argued that maintaining the border and the checkpoints will be costly.

Palestinian political leaders have also assailed separation, as they do the closings imposed on their territories after every crisis.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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