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.
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.