DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 6, 2003
Fifteen Israelis - mostly high school pupils and Haifa university students - were murdered in a powerful blast generated by a Palestinian homicidal suicide while riding on a Haifa bus on Wednesday, March 5. Only two had lived to see their 45th year. The killer, a Palestinian aged 20 from the West Bank town of Hebron, was identified as Mahmoud Hamdan Selim Kawasme, member of a big Hebron clan and kinsman of a former mayor. A note found on his body praised to heaven the al Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities in New York, in which more than 3000 people died.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 17, 2003
The Israeli army has plainly stepped up its drive against the Hamas and Jihad Islami in the Gaza Strip and Mt. Hebron in the southern West Bank. Less visibly, in the same arena, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon are locked in a complicated and grim showdown with Syrian president Bashar Assad and Hizballah chairman Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Israel's most implacable Arab foes. Neither side admits what is going on, but Israel's military chiefs are racing to undo a devious plan set in motion by Assad and Nasrallah plan to transform the Gaza Strip and southern West Bank into the southern offshoots of the Syrian-Lebanese northern front against Israel, before the Iraq war fully erupts. They would thus exploit the Palestinian terror campaign to drag Israel into a full-blown regional conflict, without exposing their own territory and power centers to reprisal - or even laying themselves open to be charged as aggressors.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 3, 2003
A bizarre feature of the Israeli general election held on January 28 was - and still is - the almost obsessive media preoccupation with the losers, chiefly Labor and left-wing Meretz, and virtually no objective studies of the winner. No one asks how Ariel Sharon's Likud managed to pull off a victory despite his government's far from flawless performance. No one wants to know what the country can expect from his next administration.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 29, 2003
The Israeli electorate greeted the January 28 general election apathetically, only 68.5 percent bothering to vote for the 120 men and women who will sit in the 16th Knesset. Ariel Sharon's Likud was generally tipped as the big winner. Partial results of 36-38 seats went beyond this expectation. Nonetheless there were a couple of surprises. With half the results counted, the left-wing, dovish Meretz was severely battered, falling from 10 to 7 seats. Its leader, Yossi Sarid, took immediate responsibility for the defeat and resigned. The Labor leader, Amram Mitzna, received the party's worst electoral defeat in its history - from 25 in the outgoing Knesset to 19 - in the ringing tones of a victor: "For me this is a marathon and we've only covered a few kilometers. Our intention is not to join Sharon but to replace him as an alternative government party."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 27, 2003
Israeli politicians complain that the Israeli voter is an enigma; it is hard to know what makes him or her tick. Person-in-the-street responses to media interviews and pollsters are often irrational or downright lies. That may be how 4.8 million eligible voters get back at their politicians, knowing there is nothing more predictable than the gap between a candidate's campaign pledges and his actions the day after the poll. The opinion poll published the day before the Jan. 28 general election shows the prime minister Ariel Sharon's right-of-center Likud continuing to gain - up now from its present 19 seats to 33 (in the 120-member Knesset). About dozen places down, veteran Labor under its new left-of-center Amram Mitzna, is sinking momentarily from 25 to the teens, challenged hard by the upstart anti-religious Shinui (Change) led by former journalist Tommy Lapid. Both are swinging between 16 and 18, providing the only real drama in a lackluster, parochial contest.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 20, 2003
Israel's Labor Party, whose walkout from Ariel Sharon's national unity government on October 31 forced the early election taking place in eight days time, has fallen victim to its own stratagem. The historic party, at the head of which David Ben Gurion founded the state of Israel in 1948, is dying on its feet, a process speeded by its wet firecracker election campaign for the 16th Knesset election. Likud is fast recovering lost ground, reaching 33 at the last sampling, while Labor has sunk to 19. The crosscut of Israelis canvassed are bent on punishing Labor for the sin of breaking up the national unity government in a period of emergency and for its choice of leader.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 8, 2003
Despite headlines to the contrary - and falling opinion ratings, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may not have too much cause for concern over this week's revelations that a long-time friend, South African textile tycoon Cyril Kern, made a low-interest loan to son Gilad Sharon to pay back illegal foreign contributions to the Likud leader's 1999 primaries campaign. Even if Sharon was guilty of wrongdoing - which he is not -- the average Israeli knows that corruption is rampant in Israeli society and is more concerned with Palestinian suicide bombings that have turned life in the Jewish state into a Russian roulette. The bottom line is that Kern, a foreign volunteer who served under Sharon in the War of Independence, has no financial interests in Israel. Kern has no need for any business favors in return for helping a friend he has known for more than 50 years.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 6, 2003
Large American contingents, airborne and heavy mechanized divisions, Marine task forces, aircraft carriers, helicopter fleets and hospital ships are speeding to jumping-off positions around Baghdad. The US is expected to launch the coming war against Iraq with parachute drops on Baghdad, together with commando landings in the city from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. A large-scale force will meanwhile encircle the Iraqi capital, while a mighty tank force dashes north from Kuwait and Qatar, bypassing the southern Iraqi Shiite cities of Najef and Karbala and circumventing the Iraqi army defending Baghdad. Those tanks will join the encircling force. The object of this colossal movement of military strength is to lay Baghdad to siege. This tactic and the consistency of the strength for its execution, debkafile's military sources report, have been taken from the Israeli doctrine of besieging Palestinian West Bank cities in order to lower the level of terror.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 5, 2003
The official announcement that Israel's anti-ballistic missile Arrow 2 system is to be tested Sunday, January 5, in "difficult and unusual flight conditions, in a complex targeting environment", raises questions - especially when US defense officials have come especially to observe the first nearly simultaneous launching of four Arrow missiles, one of them armed. One of those questions is this: How come this multi-billion ballistic missile system, tested-fired 9 times, is only being test-launched in "difficult and unusual conditions" on the eve of war with Iraq? Another is: What are those difficult conditions?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 27, 2002
When he launched the Likud campaign for the January 28 general election on Wednesday, December 25, prime minister Ariel Sharon said cryptically:"I believe peace with the Palestinians is nearer than thought." He went on to promise "I won't let any opportunities get away." Needless to say, this was not what his party wanted to hear. A majority is up in arms about his firm advocacy of a Palestinian state, albeit a limited and demilitarized one. (See also debkafile December 5 "Sharon's Palestinian speech may backfire"). In his latest contribution to the subject, he said a Palestinian state was not his heart's desire, but it was bound to happen. Thus far, he has not confided his Palestinian state plan to any of those ministers. In the meantime, the scandals swirling around vote-selling and corruption allegations occupy the center of Israel's political stage. Sharon obviously has his mind on other things and may even welcome the media's inattention to his main pursuit, which is, according to debkafile's American and Palestinian sources, a hush-hush, informal discourse with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the outline of a peace accord for creating a Palestinian state and shaping Israel's final borders.
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.