DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 18, 2002
Israel's election campaign has got off to a murky start. Instead of a national debate on such core issues as Palestinian suicide terror - and how to stop it, peace terms, threats from Iraq, Hizballah and al Qaeda, the recession-wracked economy and acute social afflictions, Israel's news media are engulfed by the daily allegations of election fraud and vote trafficking at last week's contests for the two main parties' parliamentary lists. The loudest and most scandalous charges are leveled against prime minister Ariel Sharon's Likud, although the police, brought in to investigate the charges, are focusing on both Likud and its main adversary Labor. Under the pressure of these allegations, Sharon promised to initiate law reforms to improve voting procedures and impede fraud; after two Likud central committee members were placed under house arrest on suspicion of soliciting bribes, he promised to evict miscreants from the party.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 10, 2002
A distinct tilt from left to left-of-center characterized the parliamentary list Israel's opposition Labor party picked Monday, December 9, to fight the January 28 general election. Labor, under its new leader Amram Mitzna - and a partially revamped top rank - thus signaled its readiness to take on the Israeli voter whom relentless Palestinian terrorism has rendered mistrustful of peace slogans. More subtly, the modified lineup reflected a willingness to heed the prime minister, Likud leader Ariel Sharon's siren call for a post-election national unity government in partnership with its former partner Labor. Sharon reissued this call Tuesday morning, December 10, before the results of the Labor ballot were fully counted. He heard a different tune at the Likud primary on Sunday, December 8.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 9, 2002
On instructions from attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein, the Israeli police have begun investigating the business dealings of former Shin Beit officer Yossi Ginossar with Palestinian leaders, to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation. Ginossar says his business ties with Yasser Arafat's top officials, especially his personal financial adviser Mohammad Rashid, were public knowledge, entailed no illegal actions and were found useful by four Israeli prime ministers. "Muhammad Rashid never dealt in terrorism," Ginossar assured weekend interviewers. The veteran secret agent turned businessman served as unofficial go-between with the Palestinian Authority for the late Itzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. However, Rubinstein advised Ariel Sharon when he succeeded Barak in 2001 to refrain from using Ginossar's services except in extreme matters of life and death, because of a possible conflict of interests.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 5, 2002
Israeli prime minister and Likud leader Ariel Sharon delivered his first major campaign speech Wednesday December 4, declaring that after the January 28 general election he will ask his new government to endorse the Bush peace outline and the creation of a Palestinian state with Yasser Arafat as its "symbolic" head. Sharon offered thereby to honor a terrorist chief with a nominal title - hardly the way to beat terror or uphold his pledge of security to Israeli citizens. As politicians at home blasted his speech, debkafile's Washington sources disclose that National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice also reacted with anger and impatience, saying that the domestic politics of Sharon and his bureau staff would not be allowed to govern American Middle East policies. Interestingly, not a single member of his own Likud was prepared to comment on the speech.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 3, 2002
Monday, December 2, five days after the event, Al Qaeda took formal responsibility for the two attacks against Israeli targets at Kenya's Indian Ocean resort of Mombasa last Thursday, November 28, in which 16 people died - 13 Kenyans and three Israelis. Several hours before al Qaeda posted its admission, three prominent Israeli security figures suddenly found their voices on the dangers posed by al Qaeda and the grave implications as regards Israel's abilities to fight back. For many months, Israeli spokesmen kept quiet about the international fundamentalist terror network's presence in Israel, first exposed by debkafile last April, despite al Qaeda's advancing collaboration with Hizballah in support of Palestinian terrorism.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 30, 2002
The combined US-Israeli-Kenyan investigation team has reached initial conclusions two days after the deadly al Qaeda twin assault on Israeli targets at the Kenyan resort town of Mombasa:
A. Backup teams were posted at both scenes of attack - the hotel and the airport - to take over if the first teams failed to carry the operation through. This is evident from the testimony of witnesses present at the Mombasa Paradise Hotel assault, in which 13 people were killed, three of them Israelis. They reported that, first, one of the bombers leapt forward to blow up the hotel lobby; next, the vehicle that brought him to the hotel crashed into a wall and exploded; then, a light plane flew overhead and dropped explosives on the buildings left standing. This may have been al Qaeda's first air raid. Findings around the airport indicate two missile teams, one posted near one end of the runway and the second, some 5 km from the other end, to cover the eventuality of a change of wind altering the Arkia flight's direction of takeoff. When they saw the plane sending out flares to deflect the heat-seeking missiles and flying out of reach with all 260 passengers safe, the two teams made off.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 30, 2002
The al Qaeda network that carried out the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Daar es Salaam is also responsible for the twin attacks last Thursday, November 28, on the Israeli-owned Mombassa Paradise hotel at Kikamabala, and for the missile strike that missed an Arkia Boeing 757 after it took off from Mombasa airfield for Tel Aviv with 260 passengers aboard. They even had the same commander, Abdullah Mohammed Fazul. The embassy bombings left 224 dead and 5,000 injured. The Mombassa hotel attack killed thirteen people, three of them Israelis - two young boys and the tour guide, and injured 80, including the boys' mother. The missile strike missed its mark.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 25, 2002
A senior source in Israel's northern command warned Sunday, November 24, that Syria is making a bad mistake by fostering the Hizballah and letting Iran strengthen its mastery over the extremist Shiite group. This assertion left a question mark over the Israeli side of the equation - and for good reason. Israel's passivity in contending with the Hizballah is part and parcel of its failure to come to grips with Yasser Arafat and his escalating campaign of terror. Last Thursday, November 21, the day a suicide killer from Bethlehem murdered 11 Israeli women and schoolchildren on a Jerusalem bus in Kiryat Menahem, Hizballah secretary general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a Ramadan address in which he dodged adroitly around admitting his group's involvement in the latest outburst of Palestinian anti-Israel terror. But denying it would have invited awkward questions about his inaction. He therefore hinted at a Hizballah role in the suicide attacks this month at Hermesh, the Karkur Junction, Kibbutz Metzer, Hebron, Kiryat Menahem - and the failed El Al hijacking attempt - which together cost 29 Israeli lives and left hundreds seriously injured.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 20, 2002
Amram Mitzna, 57, avowed dove and advocate of negotiations with the Palestinians - even amid surging terror - was picked as next Labor leader on November 19 in what looked more like a journey down memory lane than a hard-headed, future-oriented primary election. Labor, once considered Israel's natural ruling party, recruited this new face to stem the flight from its ranks and stand up to Ariel Sharon's governing Likud in the January 28 election. Mitzna, mayor of Haifa for past nine years, had the right credentials: a former general, born on a kibbutz, he comes fresh to national politics, never having held a seat in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. He threw his hat in the ring against Binyamin Ben Eliezer, leader of only nine months, a bare three months before the November 19 contest.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 16, 2002
The Palestinian ambush in Hebron that cost the lives of 12 Israelis, most from the security forces - including two senior officers, IDF Col. Dror Weinberg and Border Police Superintendent Samih Suwidan - is bound to have political fallout, occurring as it does two months and one week before Israel's general election. It will intensify the pressure on prime minister Ariel Sharon to remove Yasser Arafat, as the source of the evil. Interestingly, among the international condemnations of the Palestinian attack, nothing had come from the White House by Saturday night. Sharon, his hand no longer held by his unity cabinet partners, is still constrained by Washington's opposition to Arafat's deportation. The corrosive effect of these cross-currents on Sharon's standing versus the electorate is not lost on the Palestinians.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 5, 2002
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon announced Tuesday, November 5, he had opted for an early election - reluctantly as the lesser evil, rather than bow to "political extortion". Later, a parliamentary committee set January 28, 2003 as voting day.
This decision touched off a whirlwind of political action before Tuesday afternoon. In a broadcast news conference mobbed by the media, he denounced Labor's walkout from the unity government last week - which left him with a minority government based on 55 out of 120 seats - as "politically capricious and irresponsible". He also rejected as unacceptable the conditions laid down by the right-wing National Union (7 seats) leader Avigdor Lieberman to his subsequent overtures. Those terms included binding exceptions to a unity government with Labor - now or in a post-election lineup - and to a Palestinian state, as well as an early election.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 2, 2002
Since Labor quit Israel's ruling coalition government, prime minister Ariel Sharon has been widely expected to re-orient to the right for the sake of new ultra-nationalist partners to shore up his minority government of 55 - or else face an early election.
However, debkafile's political analysts note that Sharon's first actions after losing his national unity government last Wednesday, October 31, signal no such policy shift.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 30, 2002
Ariel Sharon shows no sign of knuckling under to the demand from his resigned defense minister, the Labor leader Binyamin Ben Eliezer, for an early election next March or April. Labor's walkout from the unity government leaves Sharon with a minority government of 55 out of 120 Knesset seats instead of the handy 80 his unity government enjoyed for one year, ten months. But he has prospects. The prime minister achieved his first victory one hour after his government was whittled down when he rallied a majority of 67 Knesset members for the passage of the 2003 State Budget against 45 nay voters led by Labor and 2 abstentions.
Winning over the Mahane Leumi-Israel Beitenu and other hawkish factions to take his government past the 61 barrier will be his next order of business.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 20, 2002
The stormy controversy that erupted over a Jewish farm set up near Nablus in memory of Gilead Zar, who died in a terror attack on a West Bank road, bares once again the deep seam running down the middle of Ariel Sharon's national unity government. This seam the prime minister consistently papers over at whatever cost to national assets and his credibility as a consensual leader. This time might be harder than usual, although, if Sharon runs true to form, he will tuck this crisis too out of sight. Although by now, he has perfected his technique of give and take for the sake of specious amity, he knows he has no majority in his own Likud party for accommodating Labor on the settlement and other national issues. This fact he must keep in mind in relation to his rival Binyamin Netanyahu.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 13, 2002
The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington on Monday, October 14, is officially described as being to coordinate the two countries' actions in the coming war against Iraq. However, certain voices, some coming from the Israeli foreign ministry too, are trying hard to force Sharon's talks in the White House into the frame of the What's Next after Saddam debate in Washington. They advise him to settle for a deal on the Palestinian issue with President George W. Bush now, or else face much steeper demands after the war is over.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 9, 2002
The first serious inter-Palestinian clashes since Yasser Arafat proclaimed his confrontation with Israel two years have not lightened Israel's security cares and dilemmas. While fighting each other in the Gaza Strip, the two Palestinian factions - his loyalists and the Islamist Hamas - are also vying for primacy as wielder of terror against Israel.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 5, 2002
The nearly 2 million inhabitants of Greater Tel Aviv, like the rest of the country, feel entitled to credible information about any potential threats from Iraq. If Israeli officials believe American estimates and figures are exaggerated or wide of the mark, they ought to set the record straight. Their failure to confirm or refute Washington's evaluations sets up the confusion and fear that overtook Israel in the first Gulf War 11 years ago. Then, too, Israelis were told that the chances of an Iraqi missile attack were very slim - until 39 Scuds hit Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, 8-12 in each salvo - an experience that has left its mark on the national psyche up till the present.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 5, 2002
In his radio address Saturday, October 5, President George W. Bush further sharpened the options in advance of his major address to the nation Monday, October 7. He said: "If the Iraqi regime persists in its defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 3, 2002
The Israeli writer and novelist David Grossman, in an article published in the New York Times Tuesday, October 1, lays out his theory that Israelis know only the side of their conflict with the Palestinians that Israel chooses to tell itself. He writes: "The story that now reigns nearly unchallenged in the media and political discourse obliterates more than 33 years of roadblocks, thousands of prisoners and untold numbers of deportations and killings of innocent people." Grossman claims that Israelis act as though "there had never been long months of closures, ... no humiliations, no incessant harassment, ... no bulldozing of hundreds of homes, no uprooting of vineyards and olive groves..."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 2, 2002
The British prime minister Tony Blair may have needed a Middle East slogan to get him through this week's Labor conference in Blackpool. But his simplistic message, delivered in a speech on October 1, drew derision in Jerusalem with a tinge of remembered bitterness over Britain's record in this region. The word from government circles in Jerusalem was: The Foreign Office may write whatever speeches it likes for Blair, but we stand by President Bush's Middle East outline.