Israel’s hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has ordered his intelligence chiefs and defence forces to prepare a secret plan to drive “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians out of the West Bank.
They would be deported to the no-man’s land in southern Lebanon.
The area is a desolate landscape with freezing conditions in winter and broiling temperatures in summer.
There is scant soil to produce food. Water is also scarce in the region.
Sharon has calculated that, if the plan is implemented, it will cause a furore across Europe. But he believes it will be supported by the powerful Jewish lobby in the United States – the only country whose opinion now ultimately matters to the Israeli leader.
Jordanian intelligence chiefs say that the operation – details of which were leaked to them by a “friendly foreign intelligence service” – could start next year, when the United States will be heavily engaged in the Presidential election campaign.
Details of the plan will almost certainly be raised by prime minister Tony Blair with President Bush when he visits London next week.
Blair is not known to be a great fan of Ariel Sharon. Bush, on the other hand, nowadays regards the aged Israeli leader as a powerful instrument to help him win next year’s election.
London based sources with good connections to the Jordanian secret service say Sharon wants the plan ready by the end of the year.
“He seems to be resigned that the roadmap to peace will then be over – and that terror groups will resume their suicide bomber attacks,” said one of the sources.
Sharon believes this will give him “a just excuse” to remove the Palestinians – as they would then pose what he has called “a totally unacceptable threat to the safety of Israel”.
Details of his plan have also been leaked last week to Western intelligence services, including MI6.
King Abdullah II of Jordan revealed his own fear about Israeli intentions on his recent visit to London.
“Driving out Arafat and his Palestinians would lead to an uprising in the Middle East against everything Western,” said a senior Jordanian intelligence officer.
Of immediate concern to Abdullah is that his own tiny kingdom – “a mere pimple on the rump of Arab nationalism” was how one Western intelligence report describes Jordan – could be swept away.
Its Arab neighbours have not forgotten that in 1991, King Abdullah’s late father, King Hussein, lent his support to Saddam.
With the prospect of an influx from the West Bank of Palestinians and the pro-Iraqi sentiments of many Jordanians, who are bitterly opposed to King Abdullah’s acceding to American pressure, the 41-year-old monarch could find himself toppled – or even assassinated.
Gordon Thomas is a writer on intelligence – his many books include :
Gideon’s Spies_The Secret History of Mossad
Robert Maxwell – Israel’s Superspy
Seeds of Fire – China and the Story Behind the Attack on America