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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

What Exactly Does Israel Have on Yasser Arafat?

Filed under: Al-Qaeda and Global Jihad, Hamas, Palestinians
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 3, No. 6     September 30, 2003

  • As of late September 2003, according to the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Zeevi-Farkash, orders for terrorist attacks were actually coming directly from Arafat’s headquarters.

  • As early as 1997, Arafat authorized Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks; he formed an umbrella group together with these Islamists organizations called the “Nationalist and Islamic Forces” that coordinated attacks against Israel, during the recent intifada, under the leadership of Fatah.

  • Arafat finances suicide bombings; he has paid operatives, while his office has funded explosive materials, manufactured locally or imported from abroad, like in the case of Iran.

  • Arafat actually commands the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has taken a leading role in shooting incidents and bombing attacks against Israeli civilians. As the mastermind of the second Palestinian intifada of September 2000, according to Palestinian sources, his influence over the scope and timing of the violence is extensive and even decisive.


Orders for Terrorist Attacks Come from Arafat’s HQ

Yasser Arafat’s record of not fighting terror was a cause of concern and consternation for the Israeli military soon after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. When Arafat entered the Gaza Strip in 1994, he already smuggled two PLO operatives with their weapons inside his Mercedes limousine.1 In 1998, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, then head of military intelligence, noted: “Sadly, I cannot say that at any point since it entered the territory, in May 1994, that the Palestinian Authority acted decisively and in a clear-cut way against the terrorist operational capability of Hamas, as well as Islamic Jihad.”2

On September 28, 2003, military intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash disclosed that orders for terrorist attacks are still emanating from Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah compound. While not saying that Arafat himself is ordering terrorist attacks, it is extremely unlikely that these communications for operations against Israelis would be permitted without Arafat’s knowledge and approval.3

The international community has been debating the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to remove Arafat. A broad international consensus has arisen that Arafat is an obstacle to peace. Even France’s President Jacques Chirac recently said, “Arafat is responsible for the failure, for all the failures, because he always wanted a little more.”4 Nonetheless, it is far less accepted that Arafat, in fact, is personally responsible for much of the ongoing terrorism.

It is imperative that Israel’s moves against Arafat be seen against the backdrop of cumulative acts that he has committed, and not just omissions in complying with his commitments to fight terrorism. Should Israel actually move against Arafat, let us understand the reasons for such action:


Arafat Authorized Hamas and Islamic Jihad Attacks

  • During March 9-13, 1997 (and perhaps earlier), Arafat met personally in Gaza with the leaders of Hamas and other militant groups, and gave them the “green light” to resume terrorist attacks. Following those meetings, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak told Israel Radio on March 23, 1997: “Organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have an understanding from the Palestinian Authority to carry out attacks.” After the outbreak of the violence in September 2000, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah coordinated together under the umbrella of the “Nationalist and Islamic Forces,” led by Fatah.


Arafat Finances Suicide Bombings

  • In a memorandum captured in Operation Defensive Shield, the Secretary-General of the Fatah office in Tulkarm requested that Arafat provide $2,000 to each of 15 specifically named “Fighting Brethren” of the Tanzim military wing of Fatah. According to Israeli military sources, each of the “fighters” was involved in the planning or execution of suicide attacks. With his own signature in Arabic, Arafat authorized the payment of $800 to each of the “fighters” on April 5, 2001.


Arafat Finances Terrorist Attacks

  • On September 19, 2001, Arafat personally approved a request for payment of $600 to three people including Ra’ad Karmi, commander of the Tanzim in Tulkarm, who was personally involved in at least 25 shooting attacks against Israelis. Arafat funded Karmi even though Israel had placed Karmi on its “most-wanted” list just three months earlier.5On the same day, Arafat approved payment to Amar Qadan, a member of his own Force-17 “Presidential Guard,” who was involved in terrorist operations.


  • A second request was faxed to Arafat to fund 12 more terrorists. According to Colonel Miri Eisin of the IDF Intelligence Branch, “Every single one of them was on our wanted list…these are Tanzim members, which is Arafat’s own party.”6 Arafat knew well that these individuals were involved in terrorism. Nevertheless, on January 7, 2002, “Arafat himself – in his handwriting, with his signature…agreed to pay the money.”7


  • On January 17, 2002, two and a half weeks later, a Palestinian killed six Israelis and wounded twenty-six at a bat-mitzvah party in Hadera, initiated and planned by one of those on Arafat’s list – Mansur Saleh Sharim, who was already responsible for the deaths of at least three Israelis. Senior Fatah figures in Israeli custody, like Marwan Barghouti, admitted subsequently that Arafat approved funding for Fatah operatives with the knowledge that it would be used to finance terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.8 


Arafat Commands the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades

  • While some draw a distinction between Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestinians refute such assertions. The leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Tulkarm told USA Today in March 2002: “The truth is, we are Fatah, but we didn’t operate under the name of Fatah….We are the armed wing of the organization. We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasser Arafat himself.9

  • In the early months of 2002, the number of attacks by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, including suicide bombings, exceeded those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. On September 16, 2001, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades requested payment to cover expenses for “production of explosive charges” from Arafat’s financial confidante, Fuad Shubaki, who, as the head of the Palestinian Authority’s “Armed Forces Financial Directorate,” was also the mastermind behind the Karine-A weapons ship delivery from Iran. That ship also carried huge amounts of C-4 explosives that could only be used for bombing attacks against Israel.

Arafat has been a participant in, and supreme commander of, many of the Palestinians’ terror activities. He has knowingly funded terrorists, both before and after they committed crimes. He has authorized plans for terror actions. What Israel has put together on Arafat’s involvement in terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg; these are only the connections that have been documented in captured materials. As the mastermind of the entire September 2000 intifada, his impact has been far more widespread.10 Even though he had committed at Oslo to “put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict…and strive to live in peaceful coexistence, mutual dignity and security,”11 Arafat’s actions over the past decade have proven the opposite.

On September 19, 2003, the UN General Assembly met in Emergency Special Session and adopted a resolution demanding that Israel “desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected President of the Palestinian Authority.” The UN resolution derives its legal basis from international humanitarian law in general, and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention). But if Arafat is not just a civilian heading a government, but is actually directing and financing military activities and terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, he loses any protection afforded him by international law.

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1. Ehud Ya’ari, “The Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation: Toward a Divorce,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 30, 2002.
2. Maariv, 16 April 1998.
3. Israeli TV, Channel 2, 28 September 2003.
4. =16&sbSubContrassID=0
5. Briefing by Minister Dan Meridor and Colonel Miri Eisin of the IDF Intelligence Corps, Foreign Ministry Website, National Media Center, April 4, 2002;
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. “Senior Fatah Leaders Describe Arafat’s Link to Terrorism,” communicated by Israeli Security Sources, May 2, 2003. See
9. Matthew Kalman, USA Today, March 14, 2002.
10. In describing the roots of the recent intifada, one of Arafat’s advisors, Mahmood Nofal, explains that Arafat is a master of timing, that he very much orchestrated the violence, and that it did not erupt spontaneously: [The intifada] “is not a mass movement separate from the Authority or which started spontaneously. The opposite is true; it began on the basis of a decision from the highest echelons of the Authority before it turned into a popular movement.”


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Eli Kazhdan is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as foreign policy advisor to Minister Natan Sharansky. This Jerusalem Issue Brief was prepared with the assistance of David Keyes.