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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Israeli press brands siege 'a fiasco'
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat wants Israel to leave all Palestinian cities
Almost all of Israel's newspapers see the army's sudden pull-back from Yasser Arafat's besieged Ramallah headquarters as a victory for the isolated Palestinian leader.

They also judged it a rare misreading by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of the US mood.

"Al-Muqata'ah pull-out hands Arafat a rare victory," said the English-language version of Ha'aretz, using the Arabic term for the Palestinian leader's compound.


The punitive operation that started out as a glorious move ended as a joke, with the Palestinians splitting their sides laughing

Hemi Shalev, Maariv

"Caving in," was how Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharanot put it.

Mass-circulation daily Maariv used similar language, reporting that "Israel caved in and the fugitives escaped".

All the papers featured large photos of a beaming Yasser Arafat surrounded by supporters and flashing the V-for-victory sign as he emerged from his battered headquarters.

Only the Jerusalem Post limited itself to the more impartial: "Siege lifted; some fugitives escape."

Writing in Maariv, Hemi Shalev said Mr Sharon did well to "hop on a plane to Russia" as Mr Arafat emerged.

"Sharon is leaving behind a colossal fiasco, the most resounding since the beginning of his term in office.

"The punitive operation that started out as a glorious move ended as a joke, with the Palestinians splitting their sides laughing," Shalev wrote.

White House anger

Commentators were unanimous in the view that the siege was halted due to US pressure, as Washington continues with its efforts to rally support for action against Iraq.


The love affair ended as soon as the Israeli moves became incompatible with the administration's plans

Military analyst Alex Fishman

For Nahum Barne writing in Yediot Aharonot, Mr Sharon "failed to anticipate the pressure under which the US administration has been acting" in terms of the Iraq offensive.

"The error in not anticipating the White House anger is all his [Sharon's]," he said.

But military analyst Alex Fishman, writing in the same paper, said the affair was a "serious mistake, not a defeat".

Mr Sharon's "having been able to lead the administration to embrace common interests with Israel in the past 18 months caused him to become delirious.

"He did not realise that the other party in this 'love story' was a cold lover, impelled by global interests.

"The love affair ended as soon as the Israeli moves became incompatible with the administration's plans," according to Mr Fishman.

"The bottom line is that the Al-Muqata'ah affair is no reason for national mourning.

"Arafat did not score a crushing victory either. He came out of the rubble, flashed a V to the cameras, and went back to the rubble. A hollow victory."

Bad timing

An analysis piece in The Jerusalem Post said it was a case of bad timing, not bad strategy.


Israel had with its own two hands, made the irrelevant Arafat into a very relevant persona

Hamodia

"The conflict with the US on this issue was about tactics and timing, not overall strategy. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, Arafat and his corrupt circle are indeed irrelevant."

But the Israeli Government and army chiefs had missed the implications of the Bush administration's intense focus on Iraq.

"Having challenged the UN to take its responsibility seriously on Iraq, this was not the time for the US to cast a veto to protect Israel in the Security Council," the piece said.

It added that Mr Arafat had been handed a renewed opportunity to rally flagging support by the Israeli actions.

But ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia was in unforgiving mood, writing that "when a state carries out a strategic move without any analytical foresight beyond its nose, friends come and bash it on its head. This week, Israel managed to infuriate the US president."

Israel's move on Mr Arafat "was completely out of tune with the strategic move the West - led by Washington - has started to spearhead".

In addition to upsetting the US, Israel had "with its own two hands, made the irrelevant Arafat into a very relevant persona," the paper said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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30 Sep 02 | Middle East
29 Sep 02 | Middle East
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