Unwanted find in the Red Sea

Karine A: Israel's intelligence coup exposes sponsors of terrorism, delays hopes of peace.

January 08, 2002

THE PALESTINIAN Authority denied any connection to the freighter Karine A and its 50 tons of munitions for terrorists. The boat was seized by Israel in the Red Sea last Thursday.

An anonymous U.S. official said there was no known tie to the Palestinian Authority; maybe the arms were for Hezbollah or Hamas. Hezbollah said it knew nothing about it. Iran said it had sent no munitions.

Then Capt. Omar Acawi, from an Israeli jail, granted interviews to Israeli radio and television. He had served as a Palestinian naval officer and traffic adviser. He had been asked by a Palestinian Authority official in Greece to take the Karine A to load arms in Iran and carry them through the Red Sea and Suez Canal to the Gaza coast for the Palestinian Authority. Oops.

The Israelis had known all along who owned the ship, who was aboard, where it loaded arms and for whom. This was an intelligence coup that any security-conscious nation must envy.

The news blew the latest mission of Gen. Anthony Zinni to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinians out of the water. In Israeli eyes, it discredited not only Yasser Arafat but the Palestinian Authority, obliterating a previously careful distinction made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

It provided Mr. Sharon an excuse to delay confidence-building and to revisit Israel's acquiescence to the goal of a Palestinian state.

But the greatest inconvenience was to Washington. The administration has blustered about ending states that abet terrorism. But Iran was always the most visible, and no one in Washington wants war with Iran. It is too big, strong and well-connected.

What Israel laid out on the docks of Eilat was evidence as incontrovertible as it was inconvenient that the Palestinian Authority is equipping itself for terrorism with help from Iran.

The incident shows the need for focused diplomatic-economic persuasion to dissuade Iran from sponsoring terrorism outside its borders. It shows the need for the Palestinian Authority to make a more credible renunciation of terrorism than any to date.

What it fails to do is justify U.S. abandonment of the peace-brokering mission, or of the frustrating need to press restraint on Mr. Sharon. The awkward truths it revealed should be seen as a setback, but nothing more.

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