DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 19, 2006
The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert will be meeting defense minister Amir Peretz to attempt a meeting of minds before he is due in Washington for his first White House talks on May 23. He can't afford to throw his weight about too much, because it is in Peretz's power to bring the government down by walking out with his Labor party. The prime minister cannot blind himself to the dissonances in the Labor leader first essay in government as head of the national defense establishment. Too many complaints are coming in. And a war on terror is in progress, after all
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 17, 2006
The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert himself laid the ground for his talks with American leaders through a group of friends, mainly from Texas. That group, our sources learn, was asked to pass on to White House officials what the prime minister expects to gain from his first meeting with President Bush. These expectations fall into three main categories:
1. Public presidential acknowledgement of his status as heir to the Ariel Sharon legacy as the administration's trusted ally in Jerusalem.
2. Endorsement for his policy to shun Mahmoud Abbas as negotiating partner as long as he heads the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
This will be complicated by President Bush's insistence on his statement after the meeting stressing the need for preliminary dialogue with the Palestinians to precede every Israeli step - whenever this is possible.
3. The American leader also intends inserting a sentence warning Israel against unilaterally establishing facts with regard to permanent frontiers, except in negotiation with the Palestinians.
At the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his visitor Mahmoud Abbas put their heads together on a joint Russian-Palestinian diplomatic-economic-military initiative.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 6, 2006
Two days before chairing his first cabinet meeting Sunday, May 7 in Jerusalem, the incoming prime minister put up the price of bread by seven percent. This was a slap in the face for his three new coalition partners and, in particular, the new industry, trade and labor minister, Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-religious Shas.
The Sharon government's most notable action was the controversial evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Ehud Olmert proposes a follow-up on the West Bank to "set Israel's final borders" on the East.
His detractors remark that the removal 8,500 Israelis from the Gaza Strip was a wrenching, near-impossible feat and a daunting test of national leadership. They question whether the new prime minister is up to this test which, according to the concept he has outlined, potentially involves removing ten times that number from their West Bank homes and expanding the large settlement blocs. Few credit him with the clout to force his will on a reluctant Knesset (in which his coalition commands 66 out of 120 seats, barring further expansions) - as did Sharon.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 18, 2006
For Israelis, Tuesday, the eve of the last day of Passover, was a day of funerals, mourning for 9 Israelis, foreign workers and tourists who lost their lives when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a busy shopping corner in Tel Aviv on Monday, April 17.
It was the most murderous outrage committed by Palestinian terrorists in 20 months, the first since the Hamas terrorist group took office and a test of the mettle of the incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert.
However, Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Shaul Mofaz decided to abstain from military action, rejecting the advice of military leaders to declare the Hamas government an enemy authority. The generals and security chiefs explained that without this declaration, their hands were tied in fighting off terror, because of the developing situation whereby the terrorist entity ruling the Palestinian Authority was in the process of taking over its official security organs.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 26, 2006
With 48 hours to go before the polling stations open for Israel's 17th Knesset election, 4.5 million voters are holding the three leading party blocs in high suspense.
At the last sampling, one-third of the 120 parliamentary seats were undecided. What most rocked campaign managers back was the frank admission by 21-28-year olds that they do not intend to turn out at all, because they do not regard a single party leader, whether Kadima's acting prime minister Ehud Olmert or opposition leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu (a former Likud prime minister) and Amir Peretz of Labor, worth the candle.
At the last count, Kadima was still ahead with an estimated 33 seats, according to opinion polls. If it falls any further - and is not overtaken by either of its rivals - any government that is put together will be deeply fragmented and therefore short-lived. Israel would then face a period of high political volatility.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 8, 2006
The campaign broadcasts launched by 16 parties Tuesday, March 7, snagged only a 12% on the television rating. The electorate is not charmed by any of the would-be prime ministers' personalities; neither does the public buy their evasions on pressing issues, or the heavy-handed way they have of making butts of rivals. The fuzzy lines of electioneering for the 17th Knesset ballot reflect the contestants' perplexities and failings.
While the media consultants of all three leading contestants - Olmert, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud and Amir Peretz of Labor - publicly enthused over their clients' first TV clips, privately, debkafile's political sources report, they were mercilessly critical.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 6, 2006
Former Shin Beit director Avi Dichter rattled the party's dovecote when he stated Sunday, March 5, that the Middle East road map is dead for lack of negotiating partner on the Palestinian side.
He was commenting on the terrorist group, Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, disarm and honor previous agreements, as it prepares to take over Palestinian government.
He also injected some badly needed security steel into Kadima's sagging campaign for the March 28 general election with a warning to Hamas' designated Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya: "Lead the government onto the road of murder and terror, and you will find yourself again behind bars or even in your old job as the late Sheikh Yasin's chef to bureau.
Both these statements brought an indignant roar from Kadima's No. 2, Shimon Peres, peacenik and architect of the discredited Oslo peace accords with Yasser Arafat.
Hamas has its own problems. In the videotape released Saturday, March 3, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, urged Hamas not to take up its seats in the Palestinian parliament "with the lay people who have sold out Palestine."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 4, 2006
Saturday, Feb. 4, Jerusalem stood back and watched the United States buckle under European pressure and accept Egypt's demand to incorporate the following phrase in the resolution on Iran:
The resolution recognized "that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and... the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."
While the Vienna decision looks like a victory for Western diplomacy, Iran's leaders have lost no time in seizing on it as a license to go full throttle ahead with their illicit uranium enrichment, free of UN spot inspections. Furthermore, they have been given added leverage: before halting their own program, they can demand that the entire Middle East be disarmed - first and foremost Israel.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 1, 2006
Instead of letting litigation take its course and seeking common ground, the Olmert government deployed the toughest police anti-terror units in anti-riot mode to make an example of the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
The brutality of the confrontation for demolishing nine houses was seen by all, hour by our, over live television. Four-fifths of the 250 injured, were protesters, many of them minors, and three parliamentarians who joined them. One-fifth of the injuries were suffered by police officers, who were pelted with stones, mud, paint-filled balloons and eggs.
Most of the injuries - head wounds and broken limbs - were inflicted by police when they stormed the barricaded houses, drove their horses against the demonstrators and laid about them with night sticks, hitting mostly 14-15-year old boys and girls and beating them to the ground.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 29, 2006
A relatively junior intelligence officer has been mandated to establish why Israeli intelligence missed predicting the Islamist terrorist Hamas takeover of Palestinian government by the ballot. Does the remit given him by chief of staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz and military intelligence director Maj-Gen Amos Yadlin give him enough scope to get to the bottom of a monumental lapse?
Hardly. His task has been limited to an internal intelligence probe rather than a broad inquiry. Within this limit, there is no way he can truly explain how Israel came to find itself face to face with a strategic calamity on the scale of the 1973 Yom Kippur War; quite simply, there are too many weighty and relevant questions he is not authorized to articulate. Here are a few:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 23, 2006
Acting Israeli PM Olmert ducked the first major challenge of his tenure as stand-in for Ariel Sharon.
His foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who doubles as justice minister, opted out all the way. In a TV interview Sunday, Jan 22, she dumped the Hamas problem together with the other poser, the Iranian nuclear threat, in the laps of "the international community." On Hamas, minister Livni seemed to be satisfied with the Bush administration's promise to withhold recognition from a Palestinian government with Hamas participation, as delivered by senior US envoys. A similar undertaking came from the European Union's foreign policy executive Javier Solana.
The trouble is that on the Palestinian Hamas, Olmert, like the rest of Sharon's stalwarts in the government and Kadima party, are caught in a dilemma of their own making. Since they executed Israel's pull-out from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has gone from strength to strength.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 15, 2006
There is an innate contradiction between Hamas running for election in the Palestinian legislative council everywhere but Jerusalem, and Israeli permission for Palestinians to cast their ballots in Jerusalem - excluding Hamas. The spectacle of Hamas candidates and activists in Jerusalem being bundled into Israel police cars Sunday, Jan. 15, after the Olmert cabinet's first substantial decision, will only enhance the Islamist terrorists' already rosy prospects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
debkafile's political sources reveal that Olmert in fact picked up and ran with the last significant policy line Ariel Sharon laid down before he was struck by a massive stroke on Jan. 4. It evolved through secret diplomacy in full accord with the Bush administration.
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DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 11, 2006
Ehud Olmert's hand was forced to grant elder statesman Shimon Peres the No.2 position on the Kadima list, a concession the party's founder Ariel Sharon would have blocked had he remained at the helm instead of unconscious in hospital. The list Sharon reportedly sketched out before his massive stroke a week ago placed Peres in 7th place. Kadima also saw Binyamin Netanyahu as a looming threat as his Likud began narrowing the gap between the two parties. Olmert's next setback was a kite flown by Sharon's close advisers and family Wednesday Jan. 11 to place the ailing prime minister in the No. 1 slot of Kadima.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 5, 2006
It soon became evident Wednesday night, Jan. 4, that prime minister Ariel Sharon was very ill indeed. After he went into emergency surgery at Hadassah Ain Karem hospital to drain the blood flooding his brain, his close aides would only say: We are praying for a miracle. Minutes after he was admitted to the hospital, acting prime minister Ehud Olmert assumed his powers. This time there was no hesitation, unlike after his stroke three weeks ago. The rabbis and religious parties added to the sense of crisis by asking the public to pray for him. Everyone began to understand that, even if the operation was a success, Ariel Sharon would not be fit to resume his duties for months - if at all.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 31, 2005
Prime minister Ariel Sharon and his new Kadima party continue to crest the opinion polls. They have for the moment emerged without a scratch from the security mishaps of the past week, even though these incidents accentuate the heightened security perils preying on the country as a result of last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
They were accompanied by the exposure in a damaging press leak of Sharon's state of health as being a lot more serious than given out by his aides after his stroke two weeks ago.
Nonetheless, the latest polls place the prime minister's one-man party Kadima miles ahead of the field with a potential 40-42 seats in the 120-member Knesset (the figures vary from poll to poll), Labor plummeting (from 22) to 16-19, and Likud climbing back to 16 and rising. Shinui (Change)'s respectable 15-mandate representation in the outgoing Knesset has melted away to 1-5. In contrast, the Russian-immigrant Israel Beitenu appears to be prospering - up from 4 to 7.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 21, 2005
Palestinian terror planners are now sending their Qassam missiles after big game: the important port-town of Ashkelon, which lies ten kilometers from the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, where the ruins of the evacuated Israeli locations of Dugit, Elei Sinai and Nisanit have been turned into handy launching sites.
Yet on Wednesday, Dec. 21, prime minister Ariel Sharon, in his first security consultation after leaving hospital, decided that diplomacy would keep Ashkelon safe from Palestinian target practice and that effective military measures could wait.
The same thinking apparently extends to the two al Qaeda cells, one sent by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in person, which took up positioning the Gaza Strip after Israel's pull-out.
Barring a change in these circumstances, Ashkelon appears doomed to suffer the same fate as battered Sderot - if not worse. The question is which Israeli city is next?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2005
Since early December, a branch of Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq has been running a forward base in Gaza City preparatory to in-depth attacks in Israel, according to debkafile's exclusive counter-terror sources. It joins the Al Qaeda-Palestine cell established some weeks ago in the Gaza Strip.
A high-ranking Israeli army officer confided to us: "For years, we fought al Qaeda in unpublicized encounters in remote places far from our borders. Now we have to admit they are here, on our very threshold." The officer went on to warn: "The conjunction of al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist structures confronts Israel with a grave strategic threat."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 5, 2005
The Palestinian Jihad Islami suicide bombing that left 5 Israelis dead and 55 injured outside Netanya's Sharon shopping mall caught the Sharon government and Israel's security chiefs by surprise. debkafile's exclusive sources reveal that Israeli security forces guided by the Shin Beit believed they had wiped out a dangerous Jihad Islami cell in Jenin in weeks of raids and roundups. However, they missed one last bomb team, a dispatcher and a suicide bomber equipped with a explosive device, who eluded the dragnet. Netanya was therefore not alerted to the danger and the local police were just carrying out routine patrols.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 22, 2005
This was the first time the Hizballah had sent a specially-trained motorbike commando unit into action. Its mission was to kidnap Israeli soldiers and bring them to Beirut for a macabre display in Lebanon's Independence Day ceremonies Tuesday, Nov. 22. This was to be an act of defiance against Israel and more particularly the anti-Syrian government. The Lebanese prime minister would not dare send troops against him to free the Israelis - even though their abduction was a brazen contravention of international law. He and his government would then be dismissed by the Lebanese people and the Arab world as nonentities.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 21, 2005
Israel's creaking, turgid political system is breaking up and on the move. The decades-old Likud and Labor parties which have dominated all the national governments are crumbling. Furthermore, the "right' and "left" epithets, always imprecise and simplistic, are losing any significance.
Ariel Sharon's breakaway from Likud, an alliance of parties he himself forged 32 years ago, is the latest symptom of the disintegration. Sharon's new Party of National Responsibility is engaged in a mighty tug-o'-war with Likud over ministers, Knesset ministers and members of party institutions, who are being pulled two ways.
The first meeting of his new list, attended by 12 MKs, he promised to follow the Middle East road map, wage a relentless war on terror and refrain from further disengagements.