DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 7, 2004
Billed as a unilateral disengagement blueprint for removing Israel's civilian and military presence from the Gaza Strip, the diluted outline approved by the Israeli government Sunday, June 6, by 14 ministers to 7, actually opens an increasingly important back door for Egypt to establish an undercover presence in the West Bank as well as Gaza. Broadly, it initiates a joint US-backed Israeli-Egyptian effort to isolate Yasser Arafat and dismantle the vehicles he provides for Iran, the Hizballah and al Qaeda to penetrate Palestinian terrorist and security agencies. For the present, all three partners share an interest in this objective. However, not all the top levels of Israel's military and intelligence are of one mind about the efficacy and prudence of this strategy. The positive view holds that the vanguard of Egyptian agents already present in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is making a welcome contribution to the effort to bring down the level of Palestinian terror against Israelis.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 6, 2004
All the politicians who count for anything are looking actively past the Sharon era and well past the prime minister's office's farcical attempts to sack the two anti-disengagement National Union ministers who didn't want to go. Transport minister Avigdor Lieberman was handed his pink slip in good time Friday, June 5, while exercising in the gym; tourism minister Benny Eilon made himself scarce to avoid accepting the letter 48 hours ahead of the cabinet meeting. He promises to be there and vote against the prime minister's disengagement plan. If kept out, he will fight his dismissal through the courts. A hectic scramble for post-Sharon positions is running parallel to the wheeling and dealing over the formulations to be presented to the crucial cabinet vote on Sunday, June 6.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 1, 2004
Yasser Arafat is hopping mad with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for trying to go behind his back and revive the Palestinian preventive security services of the Gaza Strip and West Bank under their former chiefs, respectively Muhammed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip and, with rather less authority on the West Bank, Jibril Rajib, Arafat's very own national security adviser. This time round, Mubarak and his intelligence minister, General Omar Suleiman, want the two powerful services created under the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords to function under Cairo's control. The pair of Palestinian security men, at daggers drawn for years, have been ordered to present themselves in the Egyptian capital for a reconciliation and briefing. (Only recently, Jibril remarked, "Everyone knows Dahlan is an Israeli agent.")
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 28, 2004
How did the twice-elected Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon get into his present fix? debkafile's political analysts examine the underlying causes leading up to the impasse as Sharon's second term as prime ministers seems to be petering out. 1. The Likud membership's rejection of his unilateral disengagement initiative - later endorsed by President George W. Bush - was the symptom of a deeper malaise, the Likud leader's alienation from his party and its payback for his cavalier treatment of the party rank and file since he took office. However, the root cause of Sharon's downfall now is his failure to come to grips with Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian terrorist chief may be credited with bringing down three Israeli prime ministers, Labor's Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak and Likud's Netanyahu who served between the two. Had the late Yitzhak Rabin survived, he might too have fallen victim to Arafat's machinations. Sharon recognized the danger and had him isolated, but was never able to make the "irrelevant" label stick. He missed one chance after another of getting rid of him.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 24, 2004
Most of the Palestinian armed terrorists based in Gaza Strip's Rafah fled north to Khan Younes during the May 22-23 weekend pause in the large-scale Israeli operation launched seven days ago. Some even dropped their weapons in their haste to get out. The IDF buildup of infantry and armor in and around Rafah Sunday night, May 23, was effected to take advantage of the unusual scarcity of armed terrorists in the town and make sure it stayed that way. The plan now is to keep Rafah encircled and its streets clear of armed men, much like the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus. There, large Israeli contingents are deployed on the perimeters, poised to stage incursions in response to intelligence alerts of terrorist operations in the making. This formula has cut down terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in recent months. The difference in respect to Rafah will be that the surrounding IDF troops will be on the alert for intelligence on the location of tunnels. Raids will then be staged to blow them up.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 23, 2004
Israel's Rafah Operation, now in its sixth day, differs substantially from the 2002 Jenin battle in its strategic and existential scope. This time it is not just about the Palestinians and Israel, or even short-term security. The IDF is fighting in Rafah against the Palestinian appetite for expansion, the drive to extend its claim on the Gaza Strip to include the Israel-Egyptian border zone abutting on Sinai.
This internationally recognized frontier was embodied in the peace treaty the two countries achieved after Egypt renounced war. Demolishing everything this accord stands for is the underlying objective of the Palestinian smuggling tunnel system and their constant harassment of Israeli border patrols securing the Philadelphi border route. Documents Israeli troops found at the outset of Operation Rainbow expose Palestinian determination to push Israel out of its positions on this international border and sabotage a key clause in the first peace accord Israel signed with an Arab nation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 19, 2004
Israel's large-scale Israel military operation in Rafah, which was launched Tuesday, May 18, in the terrorist hotbed of Tel Sultan, did not start out on the Philadelphi Route marking the Egyptian-Gazan-Israeli international border. It began attacking the lawless core of the entire Rafah frontier region where illegal trafficking has run out of control. The tunnels running transversely under the border from Egyptian Sinai into Rafah have sprouted an extensive multimillion crime racket capable of placing quantities of illegal high-powered weapons in the hands of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and reaching destinations across the Middle East. The tunnels also carry from Sinai, where Egyptian border control is lax, the usual contraband including drugs and prostitutes. In the absence of legitimate jobs, Rafah inhabitants, including those who fled their homes ahead of the Israeli advance, make their living from the tunnels and are paid well for the use of their homes as exits or as havens for terrorists.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 16, 2004
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The gap between Israeli politics and security was never so strikingly articulated as Saturday night, May 15, after Israel lost 13 servicemen in action between Tuesday and Friday. While an estimated 100,000-150,000 (depending on who is asked) rallied in Tel Aviv in favor of quitting the Gaza Strip, a full IDF armored division supplemented by artillery battalions were making last preparations to go into the Gaza Strip to clean out the Palestinian terrorist strongholds daily harassing the Israeli-controlled Gaza-Israel-Egyptian border sector. This border splits Rafah's urban area down the middle between Palestinian and Egyptian controlled areas. The border itself is controlled by Israel under its peace agreement with Egypt and its 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. While the left-wing organizers of the demonstration counted noses to prove they outnumbered the Likud members who rejected the prime minister's disengagement proposals, the prime minister Ariel Sharon himself was closeted with defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon. They were tying up the last ends of the coming military drive into Palestinian Rafah, its refugee camps and the fringes of the Philadelphi route. Rather than pulling up stakes in the Gaza Strip, Israel forces were thus preparing to take back 18 percent of the territory that was turned over to Palestinian control in 1994.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 13, 2004
Eleven Israeli servicemen died in action in two fatal incidents in the Gaza Strip in 36 hours: six were killed by a roadside bomb on mission to destroy Palestinian weapons workshops in Gaza's teeming Zeitoun neighborhood, five troops, a highly trained team, were killed while searching for Palestinian arms-smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi strip in Rafah. The combination of two deadly attacks and painful loss of life force Israelis to look straight at a grim reality they has been ducking for almost four years. Quite simply, the country is at war. Suddenly, its television screens are filled with rumbling convoys of tank carriers and buses packed with soldiers in full combat gear heading for the front line.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 11, 2004
Six Israeli members of the Givati infantry brigade's engineers platoon were killed Tuesday, May 11 when their armored personnel carrier was blown up by a roadside bomb at the end of an operation to demolish rockets and arms manufacturing facilities in Gaza City's Zeitoun district. The bomb detonated the 130 kilos of explosives in the Israeli vehicle. Masked Islamic Jihad and Hamas gunmen snatched the fragmented bodies, paraded them through Gaza streets, firing off victory salvos, and then announced they were open for negotiation for their return. Israeli troop reinforcements thereupon streamed into the city and began house to house searches for their comrades' remains, announcing they would stay until they were recovered. The Red Cross was instructed to demand the bodies of the fallen men. The atrocity Israel and its servicemen confronted that day in Gaza City cannot be divorced from previous deadly events:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 6, 2004
True to the Israeli military doctrine of striking hard and fast, defense minister Shaul Mofaz placed both feet down at the front of the race to succeed a politically weakened Ariel Sharon. The prime minister and Likud leader barely had time to weigh the consequences of his party's stunning rejection of a disengagement plan denigrated by its critics as rewarding more than three years of Palestinian terror rather than a peace move, when Mofaz emerged as the new voice of reason. In his characteristically flat tone of delivery, Mofaz said Monday, May 3, there has to be a new proposal that "takes into account national security and the will of Likud's rank-and-file". He was the first mover on the post-referendum succession chessboard. He also presented himself as a solid bridge between Sharon and the party faithless.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 3, 2004
On Sunday, May 2, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon lost his party. A majority of the 200,000-strong Likud membership turned their backs on him. Only 40 percent bothered to take part in the party referendum on his unilateral disengagement plan and its concomitant pledge to uproot 7,500 Jews from their Gaza Strip homes and four West Bank locations. Even among that minority, his plan was defeated by a crushing two-digit proportion. His closest crony, deputy premier, minister of commerce and industry Ehud Olmert, who hired a bus to go round the balloting booths, traveled alone. No one except for a couple of reporters wanted to ride with him. If Sharon and Olmert honestly expect to get up the morning after and carry on the fight for their plan as though has changed, they had better think again. Sharon has not only lost face in a small section of the public; he has been stripped of at least six attributes that are essential for continuing his drive:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 20, 2004
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has produced a new master plan which he presented this week to the Hamas leadership group appointed to succeed Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the second Hamas leader Israel killed in less than a month. Their identities are a closely-kept secret on the orders of supreme Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus. debkafile's counter-terror sources have the names of the five new leaders: two well-known figures, Ismail Haniya and Mahmoud Al-Zahar, Said Siyam who recently succeeded al-Zahar as spokesman, Nazar Rayan and Yunes al-Assal. According to debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources, Nasrallah's basic premise is this: Israeli leaders must not be allowed to dictate the timetable of their pullout. It must be forced on them before they are ready and so award the Palestinians a victory. He reminded his Hamas allies of the Israeli troop withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000 which, instead of being an orderly retreat under the cover of Lebanese military units, became an uncontrolled rout.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 18, 2004
It is no coincidence that the March 17 attack on Israel's Mediterranean port at Ashdod liked the foiled Amman mega-strike was orchestrated from Damascus. debkafile's terror experts have become convinced that the mega-strike hanging over Israel's head may indeed emanate from the Syrian capital rather than the Gaza Strip. A second common factor is noted by our analysts between the foiled al Qaeda-Hizballah attack in Amman and the most recent terrorist attacks against Israel: a dangerous gap in anti-terror defenses, which has been heavily overshadowed by the precision of the strikes that wiped out two Hamas leaders. What it means is that the Hizballah, al Qaeda and the Palestinians have learned how to smuggle explosives and war materials undetected through well-secured crossing points and borders.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 28, 2004
It is not surprising that Israel's Mossad and military intelligence service - Aman - are furious over the fault-finding of a parliamentary subcommittee probing Israeli secret services` performance in the Iraq War. They have never faced open criticism before. But they also rebut some of the points as being made more for the sake of settling personal accounts than to seriously scrutinize where Israel's secret services got it wrong in the Iraq War. A conflict of orientation and objectives stands out in some of the assertions appearing in the published section of the sub committee's report, such as: "The military and political echelons are responsible for an intelligence foul-up regarding Iraq and Libya." On Libya, the panel found Israeli intelligence wanting in failing to pick up on Muammar Qaddafi's race for a nuclear weapon. That criticism, at least, is simply refuted. debkafile's intelligence sources assert: A. Israeli intelligence knew about Libya's nuclear program in fine detail. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon twice - in 2002 and 2003 - warned of the danger of Libya beating Iran to a nuclear bomb.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 23, 2004
Just 30 hours after the Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed by an Israeli missile in Gaza City, the radical Abdel Aziz Rantisi, 57-year old pediatrician, declared himself successor. Several members of the Hamas leadership were quick to put in that the appointment was provisional and necessary to close the gap left by the departed leader. Rantisi's claim that he was the deputy head of the Shura Council and therefore automatically next in line for the leadership is deceptive, especially considering that Yassin never accepted his pretensions to the succession. In any case, Yassin was never head of the Shura Council. Indeed his leadership of the Hamas movement was never formalized under any public title at all, contrary to the impression Rantisi is trying to convey. Finally, the Shura Council is not the movement's supreme authority; nor does it select Hamas leaders.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 23, 2004
The same mistakes that set the scene for the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin are now tying the hands of his organization for carrying out its sworn revenge mega-strike against his Israeli killers. The funeral procession that accompanied his coffin to burial on Monday March 22 was not quite as impressive or frenetic as Hamas leaders would have liked. The Arab world saw more impressive turnouts after the deaths of Egypt's Gemal Abdul Nasser in 1972, Syria's Hafez Assad in 2000 and King Hussein of Jordan a year later. Aziz Rantissi, senior Hamas spokesman and candidate to succeed the dead sheikh, would have preferred to delay the funeral until later in the week to gain time for staging a full-dress Palestinian national event and preparing some spin on the succession struggle. However, Ismail Hanya rushed the preparations forward and the result was a plain plywood box carried aloft without much ceremony and a foreshortened funeral, over before the masses could rally on the streets of the Arab world to voice their anger at the assassination.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 22, 2004
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has fired the Israel-Palestinian war up to a new plane. The targeted assassination of Hamas founder, leader and moving spirit, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Monday, March 22, was the prime minister's thunderous reply to the critics who argue that his disengagement strategy would hand the Gaza Strip over to Hamas control. It signals his determination to purge Gaza of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists ahead its evacuation. Yassin's death is but the precursor to liquidating the violent movement he founded in 1987, to "cleanse" Middle East of Jewish sovereignty and replace it with an Islamic republic. This cleanout of Hamas strength will take time. Until it is done, Israel cannot pull out of the Gaza Strip or even begin the process of disengagement. Sharon's action was addressed in particular to Washington. He was irked by the sharp message he received from the White House this week, which debkafile's political sources reveal here for the first time:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 15, 2004
This Palestinian terror attack was different, marking more than one deadly departure. For the first time in the 42 months of their terrorist offensive against Israel, Palestinian bombers overcame the fence enclosing Gaza Strip and emerged for an assault that was meant to be more than a bloodbath; they were to cripple a strategic Israeli target 55 kilometers away, the important, busy Ashdod seaport on the Mediterranean through which most of its container traffic passes. But the two teenagers assigned jointly by Arafat's Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas missed their main objective, the port's dangerous toxic materials stores. Ashdod was consequently only just spared Israel's first mega-terror chemical attack.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 10, 2004
More than seven years after his arrest in Cairo as an Israeli spy, Israeli Druze Azzam Azzam is coming home. debkafile's exclusive sources in Cairo have learned that his 15-year sentence with hard labor at the Limantorah prison south of Cairo is about to be commuted by order of President Hosni Mubarak. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was given the tidings in a message in which Mubarak explained that he "wanted to clear his desk ahead of important Middle East events" developing over the next few months. The Egyptian leader did not go into details. But Israel believes that before his talks with President George W. Bush on April 12, Mubarak wants to show the U.S. administration that Sharon isn`t the only one willing to bend on matters of principle.