DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 15, 2005
This time, Israel turned aside from its standard knee-jerk response of massive military punishment and targeted assassinations to Palestinian terrorist outrages - at least for the moment. Instead, prime minister Ariel Sharon resorted to diplomatic retaliation: he ordered preparations for a meeting with new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas broken off, government contacts with the new Palestinian administration cut, support for European economic aid to reach the Palestinians withdrawn, and the Gaza Strip sealed off from its vital supplies of food and medicines. Postponement of a meeting with Abbas was inevitable anyway because of the long list of Israeli concessions he demands to buy his consent to this meeting. This was the comment of the outgoing US secretary of state Colin Powell's comment on Sharon's steps late Friday, January 14: What Sharon did, I hope temporarily, is to say we welcome you, Abbas, but you've got to get these terrorists under control. debkafile's political analysts believe that the key word here is "temporarily." The prime minister is not expected to withstand the pressure to retract the punitive measures he announced Friday for more than a few days.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 4, 2005
The two Lahava Hill outpost's mobile homes adjoining Yitzhar near the West Bank Palestinian town of Nablus were not chosen for evacuation Monday, January 3, on the spur of the moment. debkafile's political sources report that the time and place were selected and prepared days in advance by prime minister Ariel Sharon. He ordered defense minister Shaul Mofaz to carry out the engagement as an object lesson for those who would resist his plan to remove 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four in the northern West Bank starting July. Tuesday, December 4, Sharon received the most explicit warning so far of the perils inherent in his evacuation plan from Israeli Shin Beit intelligence director Avi Dichter, one of the few counter-terrorist executives anywhere with a proven success record. In his annual report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Dichter pointed out that for Israel to withdraw from the Philadelphi route that follows the border with Egypt made no security sense. Without an Israeli military presence there - even if Egypt takes over - Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists will transform southern Israel into a second South Lebanon.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 29, 2004
The passivity of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), frontrunner to succeed Yasser Arafat in January 9 election, in the face of Palestinian violence is noted by Israeli defense chiefs. Last week, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon complained during his welcoming speech for British premier Tony Blair: the Palestinian Authority employs 30,000 security and police officers in the Gaza Strip. Yet they have not taken the slightest step to restrain terrorist attacks on Israel. Sharon and his government are committed not to make waves that might spoil Abbas's run for election. But the relentless mortar and missile assaults on Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip are too egregious to ignore or swallow.All these threats were dealt with at the special conference Sharon called Wednesday, December 29, of national security chiefs - but the resumed small-scale knife attacks by West Bank Palestinians were largely ignored.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 25, 2004
debkafile postulates a fictional scenario and likely consequences. Just imagine if the 7,500 Israeli dwellers of the Gaza Strip decided tomorrow to pack their portable possessions, abandon their homes, schools, synagogues, cemeteries, playgrounds, farms and the lives they built and moved out in unison - without waiting for Ariel Sharon's evacuation axe to fall next year. They would leave their furniture and immovable property to the Israeli government and army to protect. This act would pre-empt prime minister Sharon's disengagement/evacuation pledge to dismantle their villages by September 2005; it would cut short the furious national debate over the rights and wrongs of their case and their passive resistance campaign; even make redundant the behavioral psychology coaching given to police and soldiers to prepare them for the agonizing task of forcible evictions.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 22, 2004
When is a crime not a crime? May a Holocaust symbol be used to promote any other cause? What is an illegal law? And what is an illegal military order? These questions have been tossed back and forth since the mild-spoken Pinhas Wallerstein, a leading member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council), switched on a national roller coaster on December 19 by calling on all Israelis to resist Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle 26 settlements non-violently "even if it means going to jail." To make their resistance plans work, the settlers' strategists must command large numbers of selfless protesters. Do they have them? And how far are they committed to passive, non-violent resistance?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2004
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Iranian foreign ministry spokesman announced Sunday December 19 that intelligence minister Ali Younessi would "soon" report to the government on an eight-member spy ring that gathered information for Israel. No further information was offered about the identities of the "spies," the nature of the "information" they had gathered or when. debkafile's intelligence sources classify this vague, unverifiable charge as a typical Iranian exercise to cover up a fiasco. (Only recently they claimed to have put unnamed al Qaeda terrorists on trial.) It came two days after DEBKA-Net-Weekly broke the story that Iranian and Iran-sponsored surveillance teams has been discovered hanging about outside Israel's diplomatic missions in the United States, South America, West Europe and the Middle East. Team members rounded up by the American FBI and Egyptian intelligence in the last ten days admitted under interrogation that they were collecting information for Iranian intelligence.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 6, 2004
In the first week of March, a senior Israeli intelligence official visiting Cairo collected a Note from president Hosni Mubarak informing prime minister Ariel Sharon that he had decided to let Azzam Azzam go. He was only waiting for the right moment to free the Israeli Druze textile engineer who was sentenced in 1997 to 15 years in jail on a charge of spying for Israel. Mubarak's decision was first revealed by debkafile on March 11. The Egyptian president took ten months to carry out his promise but when he did it became a symbolic watershed: Just as Azzam's incarceration put up backs in Israel, his release Sunday infuriated the Palestinians who caught the message. Egypt had stopped indulging the Palestinians and their "struggle;" Mubarak was no longer their patron; he had decided to join the Americans and Israelis in an effort to make them set their house in order with no nonsense about Arafat's legacy.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 30, 2004
The Sharon government's permanent crisis peaked again this week over the insufficiency of parliamentary votes to get the 2005 state budget through its first reading Wednesday, December 1. The deadline for its second reading and final enactment is December 31. The acrobatic wheeling and dealing for a majority has accelerated the break-up of national mainstream parties and created incongruous juxtapositions. For instance, the far-left Yahad will vote for a avowedly anti-social budget to help the prime minister last long enough to achieve withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank. The treasury claims there is no money for the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and the jobless, yet it has stumped up the round sum of NIS.290 million (US$65 m) for the Torah Judaism's five votes for the budget. Abstentions by the 11 members of a second ultra-religious opposition party Shas will also cost the public purse. In protest, the four Shinui (Change) ministers and its 15 Knesset members announced they would vote against the budget draft.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 28, 2004
Thursday night, November 25, Stephen Hadley, designated national security adviser in the White House, telephoned Mahmoud Abbas - Abu Mazen - the ruling Fatah's sole nominee to succeed Yasser Arafat, and asked him when was the best time for a visit to Ramallah - before or after the January 9 election. After, said Abu Mazen firmly. "Now I had better be left to campaign on my own." Last week, Abbas ducked out of a photo opportunity with US secretary of state Colin Powell for fear of damaging his chances with the Palestinian voter. This week, the incoming US national security adviser consults him on his travel schedule. Ramallah has clearly undergone a metamorphosis in the three weeks since Arafat's departure. Washington is even sympathetic to the new Palestinian leader's reluctance to be seen too close to American or Israeli officials; understanding that his most urgent priority now is to gain endorsement from the Arab world.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 1, 2004
Although Yasser Arafat's French physicians at the Percy military hospital near Paris have yet to come up with a definitive diagnosis of his condition, the Palestinian succession struggle has begun. The warring factions are acting on the assumption that he will not return to Ramallah and are fighting to fill the power vacuum. This premise is shared by Israel. The Carmel street market bombing Monday, November 1, claimed by the ultra-violent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, is seen by debkafile's Palestinian experts as an opening shot in the contest. The camp supporting Arafat sought to demonstrate that no leader as soft on Arafat's war of terror against Israel as is former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be allowed to step into the ailing leader's shoes.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 27, 2004
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was that close to losing the crucial Knesset vote Tuesday, October 26, on his plan to uproot Israel's civilian and troop presence from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. His comfortable victory of 67 lawmakers to 45 against and 7 abstentions must be credited, above all, to the last-minute switch by his four top ministers from no to yes. Likud's pro-settlement rebels almost wept with disappointment. They were not consoled when Binyamin Netanyahu, finance, Limor Livnat, education, Israeli Katz, agriculture and Danny Naveh, health, followed the lead of the last remaining National Religious Party minister and gave Sharon 14 days to announce a national referendum on the withdrawal of settlements. If not, they promised to step down, making the government's parliamentary situation untenable.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 24, 2004
Even if a Knesset majority favors disengagement, the Likud rebels will fight on. They are preparing steps to topple the Sharon government complete with his disengagement scheme by defeating the 2005 national budget when it comes before parliament in the next week or two. The danger is real. Before the rebellion, the Sharon government rested on a parliamentary minority of 58, which the rebels threaten to shrink. The opposition Labor and Yahad are committed to supporting disengagement. But their safety net is not large enough to spread out under the budget. The 21-member Labor is divided on many of its clauses while Yahad (6) is flat opposed. On the right side of the spectrum, the call by the spiritual leader of ultra-religious Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to oppose disengagement as a danger to national security, is eroding support even outside the 11-member Shas party.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 23, 2004
The deterioration in Arafat's health has caught Sharon unawares. He is currently in full tilt of an assault on government and parliament to hammer home his disengagement plan against massive resistance. The distraction of Arafat's sudden departure from Ramallah threatens to slow down his plans in the short term. A long term threat cannot be ruled out. Established in an Arab or European country, the Palestinian leader would pose a different sort of peril, one that could undermine Sharon's disengagement scheme.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 19, 2004
Notwithstanding his flat nyet to all comers proposing a national referendum to haul his disengagement plan out of its political impasse, Sharon has decided in his mind to go for it after all as a tool for manipulating the Knesset. This is reported by debkafile's political sources. He believes he can use this decision to enhance his chances of obtaining his real objective: a parliamentary mandate. Next Tuesday, October 26, after months of crippling controversy, lawmakers will vote on legislation to authorize the removal of Israeli troops and 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Until now, this plan has been bogged down by pro-settlement opposition which argued that the plan had never been authorized by any elected body and violated the prime minister's own election pledges. Hence, the demand for a referendum or a general election on the issue.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 13, 2004
According to debkafile's Palestinian and intelligence sources, Moussa Arafat`s would-be assassin was his foremost rival, the former Gaza strongman and Palestinian minister, Mohammed Dahlan. The two men spurned Egypt's recent attempts to make peace between them. The failed hit was an open declaration of war between the feuding Gazan kingpins and their followers. It is clear to both and to ordinary Gazans that both are determined to fight to the death, their own and those of their loyalists and whoever gets in the way. The crunch will undoubtedly come before Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon gets his Gaza pullout plan endorsed and in motion.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 12, 2004
Egyptian investigators have only just begun peeling off the layers of an extremely complex and sensitive search for the hands behind the bomb blasts that hit three holiday resorts in Sinai last Thursday, October 7. The peninsula is popular with Israelis, a quarter of a million of whom frequent its beaches, hotels, campsites and mountain trails every year. Of the total of 31 or 32 victims, 12 were Israelis, the largest national group. Not all the bodies found have been identified. One of the targeted sites, Nuweiba on the Red Sea, was discovered Monday, October 11, not to have been struck by suicide bombers but by two booby-trapped cars detonated by remote control. This was confirmed by the two suspicious figures seen making off in the dark by a local guard and a baker who are now helping the Egyptian police put together identikits. Indeed, the Egyptians are puzzled by the discovery that none of the exploding cars bears the presence of a suicide bomber.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 9, 2004
A state of emergency was declared in Cairo Saturday, October 9, two days after al Qaeda suicide car bombers killed at least 33 tourists, most of them Israelis, in three Sinai resorts and demolished the Taba Hilton. Roadblocks were thrown up on the Egyptian capital's thoroughfares and access to the big hotels blocked - both as precautions against further attacks and to facilitate the hunt for suspects. Egyptian sources tell debkafile that the Istanbul bombings last year demonstrated that al Qaeda and its offshoots invest too heavily in the creation of surrogate local networks to use them only once. They immediately followed up their strikes against the Jewish synagogues with a second wave against the British consulate and banks.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 9, 2004
Friday, October 8, on the morning after a terrorist bombing rampage at three idyllic Sinai desert resorts - with two dozen known dead and scores still missing - the first clues have been found to the identities of the hands behind the massacre and their targets. debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources report that the explosives used to tear away the entire frontage of the Taba Hilton and hit the Nueiba oasis campside further south on the Red Sea coast were of Iranian manufacture; the same make as the bombs used in the 1996 Khobar Towers blast and he 2003 Istanbul attacks. Egyptian intelligence investigators are working on the same premise as their Israeli counterparts that a Hizballah cell based in Sinai rigged the four bomb cars and by mid-September had them ready for Thursday's multiple strike.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 6, 2004
Israel's chief of staff Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon made it clear this week that the seven-day IDF offensive to eliminate the Qassam cross-border missile blitz against Israel may well last weeks. He added that even after it was over, Israeli incursions into northern Gaza to destroy missile launchers and their crews would be repeated as often as necessary. Taken together, the two statements betray how little faith Israel's top soldier has in the operation crushing the missile threat, whether because it is a mission impossible or because it stands a good chance of being foreshortened by reason of political constraints. He will not have forgotten the non-completion of last May's Rafah-Khan Younis operation. Its declared missions then were to destroy the tunnel system feeding Palestinian terrorists with a steady flow of smuggled weapons from Egyptian Sinai and to set up a security zone on the Israel-Egyptian border under joint Israeli and Egyptian patrols to cut Palestinian Rafah off from Sinai.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 30, 2004
Forty-eight months into the so-called Palestinian uprising, an Israeli town was hit by 11 primitive missiles in four days and two small children murdered. All the signs point to the fact that neither the Israeli army nor the Sharon government has a clue on how to defeat the homemade Qassam. The Palestinians have achieved four additional victories: 1. Anarchy may prevail in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but there is method to the Palestinian madness. It not only enables Yasser Arafat to exercise complete control in the Gaza Strip but also allows him - as Israel watches helplessly - to use the territory for transforming his four-year old campaign of suicidal terror into a full-scale war.