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BRIT HUME, HOST: The Israeli forces say ? the Israelis say their forces are trying to clean out the terrorist infrastructure to conduct a sweep in Palestinian-controlled areas to stop the suicide bombings. But the bombings show little sign yet of abating. And the question arises whether the Israeli mission is working.

For answers on that, we turn to a man who spent much of his career analyzing such things. He's retired U.S. Army Colonel Patrick Lang, who is an independent consultant these days, but who was a specialist in the Middle East from 1985 to 1994 with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Welcome, sir.


HUME: Talk to me about what the Israelis are trying to accomplish by their military action now, more specifically than they have. They're just talking about cleaning out the infrastructure. What are they doing?

LANG: Well, I think, Brit, that the strategy you see them adopting is in a way born of a kind of despair of handling the situation any other way in that they used to think that these suicide bombings came from the religious groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic jihad, things like that. But increasingly, they see, of course, that Fatah, the supposedly secular group run by Yasser Arafat, is doing this as well through the Al Aqsa Brigades.

HUME: Which is an arm of Fatah.

LANG: That's right. And the Al Aqsa part of the name is specifically religious. It refers to the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. So they have decided that their only choice in the face of this withering threat that they face is to go into the formerly occupied territories and uproot bodily all of the infrastructures of all of these different groups, including Arafat's groups.

HUME: Now you're talking about individuals, then. They've got to capture people, the right people in the right numbers, and put them in jail? Is that what...

LANG: They've been studying these groups for many, many years. And, of course, in the period since Madrid and Oslo, they've had a great deal to do with Yasser Arafat's emerging government.

So they know who these people are and where they live and where they operate and where their installations are. So they believe they have to go in and physically incarcerate or expel these people in order to stop the wave of suicide bombings, which has been so devastating to Israel recently. And I think they'll stay in the West Bank and Gaza doing that until they feel they have sufficiently crippled these people.

HUME: Now, these are the people that are connected to the Palestinian authority, the Yasser Arafat's organization that they're going after in this phase. Am I correct about that?

LANG: Initially they're doing that.

HUME: What about when it gets to the question of the religious organizations? Is there any reason to believe they'll be successful, any more successful there than they've been in the past, trying to find the right people, trying to anticipate who's going to be a suicide bomber and capturing people?

LANG: Well, with Arafat's security apparatus pushed to one side and decapitated more or less, it will be a lot easier for them to go in and go after the individuals in these religious groups that they think are really causing them all this trouble. Incidentally, I don't think this is ? the strategy they have adopted will be effective in the long run.

HUME: Why not?

LANG: Because what is ? what has caused the Israelis to be so desperate, I think, is the fact that in Palestinian society these days ? and I go there quite often and talk to people, I speak Arabic ? is if you go down through the ranks of society, you find that very, very many Palestinians feel that from despair and anger and frustration, a feeling of humiliation, things like that, that they subscribe to the idea of suicide bombings until independence, which they define as creation of their state. So although I think this strategy the Israelis have adopted will work to some degree in the short run, in the long run, they're going to be up against the fact that so many Palestinians feel this way.

HUME: Now, what about this issue of ? you mentioned the Palestinian state. Israel has offered that.

LANG: Yes.

HUME: It was rejected by Arafat. Presumably, Israel at some point is going to offer that again. Now, the question I have is whether that will be enough or whether ? what the people who are engaged in suicide bombings really want is the destruction of the state of Israel.

LANG: Well, the Israelis at this point have said that they believe that after they eradicate this infrastructure that they're concerned about, that after they sit on this situation for some time, a much more peaceful environment will set in, and they will negotiate with those who remain to create the state which they know they must have in order to live successfully in the area for a long period of time. The problem is that feeling against them is so widespread that this will take a very long time. It will be very difficult to do.

HUME: Now, is it your judgment based on having been there that there really is an unlimited supply of people who are willing to go and blow themselves up to do this?

LANG: I had several interesting conversations last year in an around Jerusalem with senior members of Palestinian society who ? and this was early in the year last year ? who assured me that Hezbollah was active, this is the Lebanese group Shiite group that is very adept at suicide bombing. That they were active in Palestine and were proselytizing the young to adopt this as a method of combat against the Israelis.

And one very senior person told me that if the Intifada did not end that the young people would take this up and that there would be a great number of people who would do this. I personally think that there is a very large pool of young people who would sacrifice themselves in this way.

HUME: You talking hundreds, thousands?

LANG: Thousands.

HUME: Thousands.

LANG: Thousands.

HUME: Well, this is something new in world history, isn't it?

LANG: There have been other cultures.

HUME: In these numbers, I mean.

LANG: There have been other cultures.

HUME: Well, kamikazes in World War II.

LANG: The Japanese are a good example, yes.

HUME: Now, do you know an effective way to combat this?

LANG: I don't. I am not going to be so foolish as to propose a solution to the Israelis here. But I would say with regard to our own government that we should be very careful about the fact that there is an ongoing real war here between two groups of people who are not fought out. They are not fought to exhaustion yet.

I think that if we were to introduce our forces between these two groups to try to pacify this situation, as is sometimes suggested, we would inevitably make a target of our troops for one group or the other, in this case the Palestinians, because they already believe that we are on the side of the Israelis. And any little thing that happened would reinforce that. I think they have to get to the kind of situation that the Lebanese got to, of total exhaustion, before they accept it.

HUME: Fought out, their society basically destroyed.

LANG: Yes.

HUME: Colonel Lang, nice to have you, sir.

LANG: It was a pleasure.

HUME: Thank you for being here.

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