The Karine-A Affair: “Ship of Terror”
On January 3, 2002, Israel captured the Karine-A, a 4,000-ton freighter carrying more than 50 tons of arms destined for Arafat’s PA in Gaza. It was the most substantial arms-smuggling incident connected to the Palestinians to date. The capture was a daring and complicated mission by Israeli navy commandos, air force pilots, and the intelligence community in the Red Sea between Sudan and Saudi Arabia about 500 kilometers from Israel’s shores and was carried out in a professional, precise, coordinated operation without any casualties.
The inventory of the weapons suggested that most of the cargo was Iranian in origin and included both short- and long-range Katyusha rockets, Sagger guided antitank missiles, light antitank weapons (lAws), mortars, mines, explosives, sniper rifles, bullets, and other weapons.
The ship’s captain identified himself as both a longtime member of Arafat’s Fatah and a naval adviser to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Transport and disclosed his instructions were first to collect arms at a specified point off of Iran’s coast and then to sail north through the Red Sea and Suez Canal and transfer them to three small boats that were supposed to “unload in Gaza.” Israel noted that there was no doubt that the attempt to smuggle the arms was planned, financed, and carried out by the most senior echelons of the PA.
Palestinian officials denied any link of the PA to the ship and dismissed the announcement as propaganda timed to undermine Arafat and to sabotage the efforts of U.S. special envoy Zinni. The Israelis regarded the smuggling attempt as part of policy among senior officials in the PA and as confirmation of the PA’s intention to continue its policy of terror and violence, to escalate it over time, and to make the attacks more deadly, as well as deeper inside Israel.
Colin Powell, in mid-February, said that Arafat had accepted responsibility for the shipment of arms. “He [Arafat] wrote me a letter three days ago on the Karine-A, accepting responsibility—not personal responsibility, but as chairman of the Palestinian Authority.”The Saudi Plan In February 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah launched a peace initiative that quickly became a focus of discussion and diplomacy.
Abdullah’s plan was initially “leaked” in an interview and later presented to the Arab League at a summit meeting for its endorsement. The proposal gained the support of the Arab league but only after modifications of the original ideas. Abdullah suggested that the Arab states would be prepared to normalize relations with Israel if Israel met certain conditions.
It called for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, remove the remaining Israeli troops from Lebanon, and recognize the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It reiterated the Arab stand on UN Security Council Resolution 242 and related resolutions and proposals. The fact that it was Saudi Arabia that proposed it was innovative since the kingdom rarely made public policy initiatives of this ilk.
Israel was pressed to consider the Saudi initiative that was adopted by the Arab league even though Israel believed that the plan had many problems in that it demanded very tangible concessions from Israel but offered only vague promises of rewards. Nevertheless, Israel did not reject the Saudi plan, as it wanted to see negotiations resume and the Saudi initiative was a plausible starting point.Negotiations did not resume, however, and the security situation remained unacceptable as Israeli casualties from the intifada continued to grow.