DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 23, 2005
Israeli military commentators came up shooting blanks when they took a searching look at the deputy chief of staff and former air force commander, Dan Halutz, who was picked to replace the forcibly retired Moshe Yaalon as Israel's 18th chief of staff. However, the new man will pretty soon find himself embattled with more pressing problems. Even if the planned Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank goes smoothly in the summer, there is a very real threat that Halutz will hardly have time to take a breath before the Palestinians go back to war in the fall, confronting Israel with a changed enemy. Palestinian terror, which died down after Yasser Arafat's death November 11, is set to resume in earnest in late September or early October.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 20, 2005
Israeli prime minister finally managed to elicit two momentous decisions from his cabinet on Sunday, February 20. The hard one was the evacuation of 26 Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, one of the most polarizing in Israel's history. The second decision confirmed by Israeli ministers later in the session approved the southern section of West Bank defense barrier after its route was amended. The revised route encloses 7% of West Bank territory instead of 16% in the original blueprint. When the prime minister told the ministers at the critical voting session that disengagement is an "essential step for the state of Israel's future," he did not share with them certain facts that might have altered the way they voted. Friday, December 11, three days before the well-publicized Sharm el-Sheikh summit of Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, the opposite camp met secretly on ways to disrupt it at a Hizballah base near Hermel in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley. On the agenda: the organization of a fresh terrorist offensive to accompany Israel's withdrawals.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 10, 2005
Not 48 hours after Israeli and Palestinian leaders solemnly united in Sharm el Sheikh on a reciprocal ceasefire, a powerful coalition of Palestinian terrorist groups made a mockery of the occasion by two swift strikes. Their contempt was directed not only at their own elected leader Abu Mazen and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, but also at Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah who endorsed the ceasefire and the meeting. Early Thursday, February 10, Hamas mortar crews and Qassam missile launchers unleashed more than 30 rounds against Gush Katif. The barrage that lasted two hours and was continued later left no casualties, but damaged a house. However, during the night, the terrorists struck again. Dozens of armed Hamas-Fatah al Aqsa Brigades- Palestinian Fronts-Popular Resistance Committees gang pre-empted Israel's prisoner release gesture by storming the Palestinian Authority's central prison in Gaza City. They murdered three inmates and a policeman and released all their comrades from the PA installation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 7, 2005
The Middle East should have had its fill by now of summits, ceasefires, peace talks, diplomatic processes, security coordinators, mediators, demands for confidence-building gestures, concessions, - all burned to a cinder by relentless hostilities. Yet, unlike the skeptical Palestinians, many Israelis are strangely upbeat as yet another round of the same game begins, kicked off by a new referee, Condoleezza Rice.
She not only spent Sunday and Monday, February 6-7, talking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah, but announced the appointment of a new security coordinator, Lt. Gen. William E. (Kip) Ward, present deputy commander of US Ground Forces in Europe. Tuesday, February 8, the inevitable summit follows at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, scene of more than one Middle East peace flop in the past. To hedge the bet it has riding on the new Palestinian leader, the Bush administration decided not to send a top official to Sharm.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 6, 2005
The usefulness of the hastily-called summit next Tuesday at the Egyptian Sinai resort of Sharm al Sheikh is being progressively eroded. By the time it comes round, the event may end up as little more than a photo op for its participants. The Egyptian venue was to have been the stage for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' first tete-a-tete with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon after his election last month. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is hosting the event, accompanied by Jordan's King Abdullah, to give it Arab and regional weight. It is Dichter's intention to go on the record before Sharon and his aides with his professional evaluation of the gravity of the situation. He will voice his conviction that the Sharon government's negotiating strategy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is leading the country into great danger.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 2, 2005
New US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit to the Middle East next week has galvanized the region's leaders into a frenzied round of travel and summit consultations. The centerpiece summit will bring together Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) at Sharm al Sheikh next Tuesday. Jordan's King Abdullah has also been invited. Rice's core message to Jerusalem is clear: she looks to Israel to grant the Palestinians territorial connectivity and all the land they need, along with all the accoutrements of sovereignty such as control of its borders and air and sea ports. To make it so, Israel is expected to continue pulling out of large tracts of the West Bank in addition to its volunteered evacuation of four settlements in the northern part of the territory and pullback from 21 Gush Katif locations in the Gaza Strip.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 29, 2005
An offer of immunity for 300 wanted Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank will be put by Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz before Mahmud Abbas's informal representative Mohammed Dahlan Saturday night, January 29 - according to debkafile's exclusive counter-terror sources. The beneficiaries, members of Hamas, al Aqsa Brigdes, Tanzim, Jihad Islami and the Palestinian Fronts, include also wanted murderers. Israel's provisos are that the men withdraw from active orchestration and execution of terrorist attacks and refrain from crossing into Israel. If caught outside Palestinian territory, they will be put on trial. The Israeli government led by prime minister Sharon and Mofaz is taking Abbas unreservedly on trust although it is not clear on whose behalf he and Dahlan speak - the more so since Friday, January 28, when a landslide municipal election victory was announced for Hamas.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 26, 2005
Under the bewitching spell of a week-long temporary and partial lull in Palestinian terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, the Sharon-Peres government is capitulating to radical conditions for its continuation laid down by the extremist Hamas. Indeed, Israel is in effect negotiating with the Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the Jewish state's destruction. Handling the process through the newly-elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) provides a patina of respectability. Hamas overseas leader Khaled Mashal said bluntly that a ceasefire is not on the cards, only a temporary calm - and that too must be paid for by meeting tough conditions. Abbas faithfully passed the conditions on to Jerusalem. Therefore, notwithstanding his failure to procure a ceasefire from any terrorist group, Israel agreed Tuesday night, January 25, to suspend targeted assassinations of wanted terrorists.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 15, 2005
This time, Israel turned aside from its standard knee-jerk response of massive military punishment and targeted assassinations to Palestinian terrorist outrages - at least for the moment. Instead, prime minister Ariel Sharon resorted to diplomatic retaliation: he ordered preparations for a meeting with new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas broken off, government contacts with the new Palestinian administration cut, support for European economic aid to reach the Palestinians withdrawn, and the Gaza Strip sealed off from its vital supplies of food and medicines. Postponement of a meeting with Abbas was inevitable anyway because of the long list of Israeli concessions he demands to buy his consent to this meeting. This was the comment of the outgoing US secretary of state Colin Powell's comment on Sharon's steps late Friday, January 14: What Sharon did, I hope temporarily, is to say we welcome you, Abbas, but you've got to get these terrorists under control. debkafile's political analysts believe that the key word here is "temporarily." The prime minister is not expected to withstand the pressure to retract the punitive measures he announced Friday for more than a few days.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 5, 2005
The Qassam missiles and mortar shells raining down on Israeli civilian and military targets on both sides of the Gaza border in the last two weeks are beginning to look like the opening shots of a major Palestinian offensive across a broad front. It is clearly timed to peak as the Palestinian election date of January 9 approaches. debkafile's military and Palestinian sources report that orchestration is no longer in the hands of a single extremist group, Hamas. Seven Palestinian terrorist groups have formed an ad hoc coalition with a more far-sighted goal than drawing the Israeli army into an extreme reprisal so as to sabotage the vote and Mahmoud Abbas's election. Their eye is on the election's aftermath. Taking Abbas's win for granted, they are playing on his weakness to keep him running scared and make him too dependent to raise a finger against them.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 4, 2005
The two Lahava Hill outpost's mobile homes adjoining Yitzhar near the West Bank Palestinian town of Nablus were not chosen for evacuation Monday, January 3, on the spur of the moment. debkafile's political sources report that the time and place were selected and prepared days in advance by prime minister Ariel Sharon. He ordered defense minister Shaul Mofaz to carry out the engagement as an object lesson for those who would resist his plan to remove 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four in the northern West Bank starting July. Tuesday, December 4, Sharon received the most explicit warning so far of the perils inherent in his evacuation plan from Israeli Shin Beit intelligence director Avi Dichter, one of the few counter-terrorist executives anywhere with a proven success record. In his annual report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Dichter pointed out that for Israel to withdraw from the Philadelphi route that follows the border with Egypt made no security sense. Without an Israeli military presence there - even if Egypt takes over - Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists will transform southern Israel into a second South Lebanon.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 29, 2004
The passivity of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), frontrunner to succeed Yasser Arafat in January 9 election, in the face of Palestinian violence is noted by Israeli defense chiefs. Last week, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon complained during his welcoming speech for British premier Tony Blair: the Palestinian Authority employs 30,000 security and police officers in the Gaza Strip. Yet they have not taken the slightest step to restrain terrorist attacks on Israel. Sharon and his government are committed not to make waves that might spoil Abbas's run for election. But the relentless mortar and missile assaults on Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip are too egregious to ignore or swallow.All these threats were dealt with at the special conference Sharon called Wednesday, December 29, of national security chiefs - but the resumed small-scale knife attacks by West Bank Palestinians were largely ignored.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 25, 2004
debkafile postulates a fictional scenario and likely consequences. Just imagine if the 7,500 Israeli dwellers of the Gaza Strip decided tomorrow to pack their portable possessions, abandon their homes, schools, synagogues, cemeteries, playgrounds, farms and the lives they built and moved out in unison - without waiting for Ariel Sharon's evacuation axe to fall next year. They would leave their furniture and immovable property to the Israeli government and army to protect. This act would pre-empt prime minister Sharon's disengagement/evacuation pledge to dismantle their villages by September 2005; it would cut short the furious national debate over the rights and wrongs of their case and their passive resistance campaign; even make redundant the behavioral psychology coaching given to police and soldiers to prepare them for the agonizing task of forcible evictions.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 17, 2004
Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon was warned many a time to beware of placing all his major policy eggs in the George W. Bush basket. But from the time he first took office more than three years ago, he never wavered from his bond with the US president. Their friendship was often cited as one of Sharon's prime assets. And until last week, the Bush administration stood behind the prime minister and heartily endorsed his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in stages ending in September 2005. But then the wind blowing in from Washington suddenly turned chill. In the last week, according to debkafile's Washington sources, the White House suddenly spun its sympathies around from Ariel Sharon and his disengagement plan to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Fatah frontrunner in the Palestinian January 9 election, and his sweeping demands for territorial concessions.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 13, 2004
A ton and a half of high explosives smashed into the Israeli military compound at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, injuring 11 Israeli soldiers, four critically. The mighty explosion erupted from a secret 800-meter long tunnel, the longest the Palestinians have dug so far. But debkafile's military sources report that the strike against the Rafah crossing was no run-of-the-mill Palestinian terror attack such as Israel has endured for decades, but a meticulously-planned military operation in which a battalion-scale force was deployed. Sunday night, all the Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip proved they could work together under a single commander. debkafile's military sources name him as 62-year old Khan Younes-based Palestinian brigadier general Saib Ajez, a veteran officer of the moribund commando-trained Palestinian Liberation Army and the best tactical brain the Palestinians have. He has 20,000 men under arms at his disposal
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 11, 2004
Unlike the rough and ready burrows that "import" most Palestinian terrorist manpower, weapons and explosives supplies from Sinai - or the hidden buried bomb craters sunk under Israeli positions - the still unfinished Karni Tunnel was built to last. Clearly designed by competent engineers, plastered reinforced concrete walls run its 300-meter length. Israeli intelligence has known about its existence for six months, but never found its location till this week. Israeli commanders and military planners ordered the hunt because of the acute danger the tunnel represents to all their counter-terror efforts in southwest Israel. Finished, the project would have run 500-600 meters, making it the longest Palestinian tunnel discovered yet. It was to have headed under the electronic security fence marking the Gaza border and come out deep inside Israeli territory.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 28, 2004
Thursday night, November 25, Stephen Hadley, designated national security adviser in the White House, telephoned Mahmoud Abbas - Abu Mazen - the ruling Fatah's sole nominee to succeed Yasser Arafat, and asked him when was the best time for a visit to Ramallah - before or after the January 9 election. After, said Abu Mazen firmly. "Now I had better be left to campaign on my own." Last week, Abbas ducked out of a photo opportunity with US secretary of state Colin Powell for fear of damaging his chances with the Palestinian voter. This week, the incoming US national security adviser consults him on his travel schedule. Ramallah has clearly undergone a metamorphosis in the three weeks since Arafat's departure. Washington is even sympathetic to the new Palestinian leader's reluctance to be seen too close to American or Israeli officials; understanding that his most urgent priority now is to gain endorsement from the Arab world.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 22, 2004
With nine days to deadline for candidates, at least seven or eight contestants are expected to put their names down to run against Mohammed Abbas, best known as Abu Mazen, in the January 9 Palestinian presidential election. Even in his own Fatah, his nomination is not assured. Yet lavish expressions of support are being extended to him on every hand in the West; outgoing US secretary of state Colin Powell came to Jericho especially to meet him Monday, November 22 and through him to "re-engage" Washington's Middle East commitment; he will be followed later this week by a bevy of European foreign ministers, Jack Straw of Britain, Sergei Lavrov of Russia, and Miguel Moratinos of Spain. President George Bush and UK premier Tony Blair have hailed him as the herald of democracy for the Palestinian people, others as guarantor of the Middle East road map. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has offered to pull Israeli troops out of West Bank towns to facilitate the presidential election and shown his approval in other ways.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 15, 2004
Some 40 gunmen opened automatic fire in the Arafat mourning tent in Gaza City Sunday night, November 14, shaking up the assembled gathering only two days after Yasser Arafat was buried in Ramallah. Bursting into the tent shortly after the arrival of Mahmoud Abbas, the man Fatah had just nominated to run for Palestinian president, they could easily have killed him and gunned down all the mourners packed in the tent. As it turned out he was unhurt. Two security men were killed and four injured. debkafile's counter-terror sources reports that this was a deliberate ambush. It was set up by the dead leader's adherents in the Gaza branch of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Their actions were programmed with almost ritual precision to convey certain messages to Arafat's would-be successor.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 14, 2004
The penultimate stage of the US-Iraqi Fallujah offensive and the final laying to rest of Yasser Arafat - though not necessarily of Palestinian terrorism - occurred on the same day, Friday, November 12. The two events prefaced democratic elections in Iraq - and now also for the Palestinians - both in January. Palestinian voters go the polls on January 9; Iraqis elect a general assembly on January 27. In between the two, on January 20, President George W. Bush is to be sworn in for his second term - that is provided the first two events take place on schedule. The apparent assassination attempt staged against Arafat's designated successor Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen in Gaza two days after the burial does not promise a smooth transition. For the Palestinians, Arafat's death has opened the way for regime change by the ballot after four years of crippling, suicidal terror.