U.S. considers international force to enforce ceasefire

Special to World
Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The United States is weighing an international force to stop the Israeli-Palestinian war.

Officials said both the Bush administration and Congress have quietly discussed an effort to recruit at least one division of combat troops that would patrol the West Bank and Gaza Strip and enforce a Palestinian ceasefire with Israel. They said many in the administration and Congress have concluded that a Palestinian state can not be established without an international force that will impose a ceasefire in the region.

"We're not talking about another U.S. military deployment," an official said. "Instead, we're discussing a NATO-type heavily-armed combat force that would be based mostly on troop contributions from Europe. There has been some discussions and positive feedback from some of our European friends."

Officials said congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, have supported the deployment of U.S. troops in the Palestinian areas as part of an international force. They said NATO and the international community would require at least a pool of 30,000 troops, aircraft and armored platforms to form a credible deterrent against Palestinian insurgency groups that operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At any one time, about 10,000 troops would patrol the West Bank and Gaza Strip in cooperation with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A key disagreement, however, regards the purpose of any international mission. Officials said the United States favors a NATO force that would be prepared to act against Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any insurgency group that either endangers the international mission or violates an imposed Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire. European members of NATO were said to favor a largely defensive posture for the proposed force.

The concept for an aggressive international force has been supported by several congressional leaders. They include Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, who has repeatedly urged for an international force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"At some point the United States and its NATO allies and somebody is going to have to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians who want a state to get rid of the terrorists," Lugar said. "I think it's just that simple."

Lugar has been regarded an ally of President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Officials said Lugar reflects the administration's concern that the failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian war threatens the U.S.-led war on terrorism and stabilization of Iraq.

"If we're serious about having a situation of stability, a very direct action, I think, is going to be required," Lugar told the CNN cable network in an interview. "We ought to involve our NATO allies. We ought to involve others in the Middle East. In other words, we need to think through this carefully. But still, the terrorists have to be routed out because they will ruin any possibility for peace in that area."

Another issue would be cooperation by the PA with the international force. Congressional leaders said they want to ensure that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat becomes marginalized or even removed from power to enable his rival, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, to support an all-out campaign against insurgency groups.

"He [Abbas] has got to win a political power struggle with Yasser Arafat because he's holding onto the old way of dealing with Israel," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said." "He doesn't really want a two-state solution. Abbas does. And Abbas has got to make the decision to declare war, politically and militarily, against Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

Officials said the Defense Department and the State Department have been studying the feasibility of a high-powered international force that would impose a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian war and crack down on Palestinian insurgency groups. They said the administration has concluded that Israel and the PA were unable to end the war on their own.

A key issue discussed by the Congress and the administration has been the composition of such a force. The sources said any force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip must contain three rotating divisions, armed with tanks, armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters.

"I mean, it's clear to me you can't have just a straight observer force," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said. "But you have to have some military entity that is going to be able to control the terror. Otherwise, the situation is going to dissolve into nothingness."

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