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.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 8, 2004
In the last five months, Israel's central intelligence agency has undergone a metamorphosis in typically deep hush. Once fabled for planting its agents anywhere and everywhere where important military or diplomatic happenings were played out, the Israeli Mossad has retired from the business of espionage and turned itself into a body devoted to special operations.
To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. Many Mossad overseas stations have been shut down or re-staffed according to the new guidelines. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive intelligence sources, Mossad aspires to match its past excellence as a gatherer of intelligence by providing equally first-rate operations units, possibly unique in scale, whose broad mission is to secure and protect Israel's vital interests around the world and preserve the Jewish state against existential perils.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 3, 2004
It looks like the Israeli media are going to have Ariel Sharon to kick around a bit longer. Justice Dalia Dorner, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, ruled on Wednesday, March 3, the day she retired from the bench, that the next general election should take place on schedule in November 2007. A loophole in the relevant statute had been interpreted as bringing the date forward by one year and Justice Dorner had been asked to adjudicate the controversy. The decision was a blow to the hyenas of the Israeli press who tore into the prime minister over what they called a bombshell discovery that he had once conducted business down on his farm with the former father-in-law of Elhanan Tennenbaum, the rogue reserve officer at the center of a prisoner swap with Lebanon`s Hizballah terrorists. When the hard facts were picked out of the inferences, the bombshell proved no better than a nine-hour wonder.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 27, 2004
Israel's first dip into Palestinian terrorist bank accounts Wednesday, February 25, raised a storm in international banking circles greater than if Israeli troops had pushed into Bethlehem to avenge two recent Jerusalem bus blasts in which 18 Israelis and a foreign worker died. Washington slapped the Sharon government's wrist, claiming its action in downtown Ramallah could destabilize the Palestinian banking system and should have been coordinated with Palestinian financial authorities, namely the pro-US finance minister Salim Fayad. Israel responded that six months of painstaking intelligence-gathering had gone into pinpointing more that 400 accounts held by Palestinian terrorist groups and funded mostly by Syria, Iran and the Hizballah. Advance notice would have jeopardized the operation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 24, 2004
The Labor leader Shimon Peres undertook the February 23 Washington trip when he met Sharon Thursday night, February 19. Three US officials, Stephen Hadley, William Burns and Elliot Abrams, had just been briefed by Sharon in Jerusalem on his evacuation proposals and were to report to President George W. Bush Saturday, February 21.
This was unquestionably his most important assignment. Sharon thereby placed on the shoulders of the opposition leader and long-time antagonist the task of setting up the prime minister's next visit to the White House. According to debkafile's sources, Peres's high-powered diplomatic round has laid bare the quiet shakeup going forward in Sharon's top team, the possible precursor of a government reshuffle. One of the first heads to roll is expected to be that of Dov Weisglass.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 8, 2004
Israel finds itself pulled simultaneously in two opposite directions. Its newly-appointed director of national security, Giora Eiland, warned the Munich security conference Sunday, February 8, that the Palestinians' failure to join Israel in the US-backed road map to peace would leave Jerusalem no alterative other than to initiate unilateral disengagement that would lead to a decision to begin a process of separation between the two peoples. Eiland has been assigned with fleshing out Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's plan for pulling the two peoples apart. But at the same forum, Jordan's king Abdullah called for a US-led international alliance to use "some heavy-handedness" to bring Israel and the Palestinians together at the negotiating table. Both directions, debkafile's political sources find, are equally unrealistic. First, the Bush administration has more urgent business on its mind these days than a peace plan that goes on and on and never arrives.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 16, 2004
At its wits' end to pierce the thicket of rhetoric emanating from Damascus and Jerusalem, the White House has plucked the veteran Middle East hand, Edward P. Djerejian, from academia for a fresh initiative to try and decode the conflicting signals broadcast by the Assad regime on whether or not and under what conditions they are prepared to resume peace talks. It has been a month since Assad gave his seemingly groundbreaking interview to the New York Times and two weeks since he visited Ankara and hinted to Turkish leaders that if it were up to him, he would resume peace talks with Israel immediately. Wednesday, January 14, Damascus rejected Israeli president Moshe Katsav's public invitation to Assad to put his money where his mouth is and come to Jerusalem.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 15, 2004
Every war has its own life-and-death-stories, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception. On Wednesday, January 14, 22-year-old Reem Al-Reyashi, a mother of two, blew herself up at the Erez Crossing from the Gaza Strip to Israel, murdering four Israelis and injuring ten.
She left behind the grieving families of 1st Sgt Tsur Or, 20, from Rishon Lezion, Corp. Andrey Kegles, 19, from Nahariya and Border Guard 1st Sgt. Vladimir Trostinsky, 22, from Rehovot, and Gal Shapira, 29, from Ashkelon.
Meanwhile, many thousands of Gazans are prevented from reaching their much needed jobs in Israel. The crossing has been closed to men and goods until further notice.
The suicide-killer's own death was succeeded hours later by a stream of wild rumors that ran round the Gaza Strip. debkafile's Palestinian and counter-terror sources have obtained a rare glimpse into the life and human background of the first Hamas female suicide bomber.
One of the stories Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the suicide bomber's husband Ziyad Awad put about is that Reem hobbled up to the Erez terminal on crutches and so fooled the Israeli security officials into taking pity on her as a cripple. In Israeli accounts of the bombing, no crutches were mentioned, only a metal plate which the dead woman claimed was planted in her leg and accounted for the scanner's beeps.
So what happened to the crutches?
Reem may have thrown them away after coming up with what she thought was a better cover story - the metal plate. Or else, the crutches might have contained the explosives she detonated and were pulverized in the blast.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 12, 2004
"Mr Ariel Sharon's government is not only a master at spin doctoring but also, on levels not seen before in Israel, uses leaks to the media as a main instrument of government," a senior official in Jerusalem told debkafile. "Every policy move has a leaking process that is prepared ahead in a highly professional manner."
Leakage has become a way of political life in Israel, with three main sources: the offices of the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the defense minister.
The prime minister's office. Here the job is handled by Sharon's chef de bureau, Dov Weisglass. News leaked by him at, say, 6pm will be on the main television news at 8 or 9pm, and published in the next morning's newspapers. Sometimes the leak will be to the newspapers or radio first.
The leaks are strictly conditional: the material has to broadcast or published in full, with no words missing. This ensures that Weisglass achieves the result he wants.
He and his able young assistants are in constant contact with a group of journalists, known as " the privileged ones" to the rest of the press, and to the diplomatic and financial community. In other words, people who want to understand the prime minister's thoughts know which journalists they should pay attention to.
If the issue is very sensitive, Sharon himself joins the briefing process. He handles such contacts carefully, and only favors a few journalists. But he often likes to take charge on Fridays in order to control what is published over the weekend. A senior official who knows how the machine works in other capitals says that he can't remember any other head of government having such a deep, personal and direct involvement with the press.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 10, 2004
Update January 12: Turkish Cypriots form a new government led by Mehmet Ali Talat's Republican Turkish party which favors UN's reunification plan Greek Cypriots and others may remain skeptical, but debkafile's intelligence sources believe Turkey to be genuinely committed to a speedy settlement of the decades-old division of Cyprus. Speed is of the essence because Cyprus is due to join the European Union this May: if the division is healed, and a federation formed, the whole island will join; if Turkey's protege, Northern Cyprus, continues to hold out against the federal plan, only the internationally recognized government of Greek Cyprus will join the EU, and the northern Turkish third, which Turkey alone recognizes and supports, will be more isolated than ever.
debkafile's confidence is based on the secret talks that took place this week between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, and Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, who was in Ankara for a 3-day state visit. Erdogan told Assad that the Turkish leadership had decided to force Rauf Denktash, the long-time Turkish Cypriot leader, to go along with the plan first put forward by the UN's secretary-general Kofi Annan in November 2002. This envisages a federation of two constituent parts, with a rotating presidency. Last March talks on this plan collapsed after Denktash held out against it.
But Northern Cyprus is entirely dependent on Turkish support, and on the 30,000 Turkish troops that have been stationed there for the 30 years since Turkey invaded the island in 1974. According to debkafile's sources, Erdogan told Assad that Turkey has decided to withdraw this occupying army after Cyprus joins the EU, thus forcing Denktash's hand. And, indeed, Turkey has good reason to do so. It is itself an applicant to join the EU at some point, and furthering a peace in Cyprus will advance its case.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 31, 2003
Obtaining satellite photographs of Israel nowadays is just a matter of placing a credit card order with one of the international consortia marketing images from outer space. A paying customer can obtain photos with a resolution of between 80 cm and one meter, good enough to spot a tank or an infantry squad guarding a Golan Heights hilltop. The real problem is real-time. According to debkafile's intelligence sources, US and Israeli intelligence discovered in a joint investigation that Arab armed forces recently began buying up reams of satellite photos of Israel. That was the point at which the US government entered the picture, debkafile's sources report from Washington, with a decision to restrict Arab and Muslim access to satellite photos of strategic value.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 29, 2003
The Syrian-Israel diplomatic track has been reduced to mathematical polemic before taking any other shape. Ariel Sharon told his cabinet in Jerusalem that any Israeli response to Syrian president Bashar Assad's call for fresh negotiations must begin at zero percent, ie on a slate wiped clean of all failed diplomatic efforts from the past. Assad says 80 percent of the issues on any future agenda are not negotiable as they were settled in previous talks. The gap appears unbridgeable except by negotiation - ergo, impasse. This week Washington decided to discover what it was about.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2003
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled his much-awaited policy program Thursday, 18 December, under the heading: A Program of Separation. It came with a warning to the Palestinians that he won't wait forever for them to come round. No sooner had the words left his mouth when it was attacked from almost ever direction. Israeli right-wing and pro-settlement leaders declared those steps threatened "the destruction of Zionism." The doves were cynical. Opposition Labor leaders said the plan was just talk. The most displeasure came from the White House. US officials from the president down had warned Israel against any unilateral measures that would make it harder to create a Palestinian state and reiterated Washington's commitment to a negotiated settlement between the two sides on the basis of the US-backed road map. In any case, debkafile's Washington sources revealed, White House contacts reminded Sharon he had promised not to make waves as long as the Bush administration had its hands full in Iraq.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 17, 2003
This week, Israel's Iranian-born defense minister Shaul Mofaz made the unique gesture of answering questions from listeners in Iran - in their own language - in a live broadcast over Israel Radio's Farsi-language service. The questions came thick and fast. In answer to one, he promised everything would be done to protect the environment against radioactive fallout should Israeli forces destroy Iran's nuclear capability.
Shaul Mofaz was only six when his family emigrated from Iran to Israel. His knowledge of Farsi is rudimentary at best. But that didn't stop the Israeli defense chief from getting his message across to a stream of callers from the Islamic Republic who appealed to him for help on Israel Radio's Farsi service this week.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 14, 2003
Syrian president Bashar Assad is due to begin a state visit to Athens Monday, December 15. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Athens sources report that Greek foreign minister Georges Papandreou entertains high hopes of a sparkling diplomatic breakthrough from the visit, bright enough to eclipse the Greek's drab performance as former European Union president. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
What Papandreou is trying to set up is a summit between Assad and Israeli minister Ariel Sharon. He sold the plan to Greek prime minister Costas Simitis: "This is our big chance to stage a dramatic turnabout in relations between Damascus and Jerusalem," said Papandreou. "What if Assad and Sharon should start talking in Athens?" Simitis embraced the plan with enthusiasm.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 13, 2003
debkafile's political sources state positively that Sharon does not - and never did have - a detailed plan for unilateral action. His deputy, Industry Minister Ehud Olmert, went out on a limb when he told an interviewer a week ago that Israel must now face up to unilateral withdrawal from large parts of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and sections of Jerusalem. Olmert was generally reported to be articulating Sharon's ideas. He now finds himself politically isolated for talking through his hat. So what was Sharon up to? This week, he confided to his close advisers, according to our sources, that he realizes fully that any Israeli unilateral steps in its conflict with the Palestinians would be of extremely short-lived value.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 4, 2003
By great good fortune, a Palestinian plot to blow up a large comprehensive school in the small town of Yokneam east of Haifa was foiled. Israeli intelligence was forewarned of the plot by a Palestinian terrorist picked up in an earlier raid. The entire region north of Tel Aviv abutting the West Bank was placed on the highest terror alert Wednesday, December 3, until the pair of would-be suicide bombers was found cowering in a mosque. The attack was meant to be spectacular. It was timed to show up the real value of any truce worked out by 13 Palestinian terrorist groups' representatives who began their conference in Cairo Thursday, December 4, under Egyptian government aegis. Pinning the blame on Jihad Islami was a form of cover-up to which Israeli officials also lent a hand. What was the point?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 26, 2003
The unpublicized decision by Jordan's king Abdullah and his prime minister Faisal al-Fayez to grant passports to 150,000 Palestinians from Gaza living in the Hashemite Kingdom could reduce to irrelevance the celebrations surrounding a welter of private alternative "peace accords" and their rationale: Prime minister Ariel Sharon's alleged failure to come up with any political solution for the conflict with the Palestinians. Amman's decision is reported exclusively by debkafile's Palestinian and Washington sources. It is said to be the opening move in a novel Sharon initiative backed by the Bush administration to cut through to an acceptable peace formula on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 24, 2003
While agreeing to hand over several hundred Lebanese prisoners, Israel has adamantly refused to release Kuntar. The Hizballah have just as firmly labeled him the sine qua non for the deal. Officials in Sharon's bureau while dropping veiled hints are keeping the bargaining cards very close to their chests. All the same, debkafile's intelligence sources have discovered that the German go-between has been handed a fresh offer: Nahariya murderer Kuntar for the Israeli Azzam Azzam, who has been languishing in an Egyptian jail since 1997 when he was convicted of spying for Israel.