DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 24, 2004
Most of the Palestinian armed terrorists based in Gaza Strip's Rafah fled north to Khan Younes during the May 22-23 weekend pause in the large-scale Israeli operation launched seven days ago. Some even dropped their weapons in their haste to get out. The IDF buildup of infantry and armor in and around Rafah Sunday night, May 23, was effected to take advantage of the unusual scarcity of armed terrorists in the town and make sure it stayed that way. The plan now is to keep Rafah encircled and its streets clear of armed men, much like the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus. There, large Israeli contingents are deployed on the perimeters, poised to stage incursions in response to intelligence alerts of terrorist operations in the making. This formula has cut down terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in recent months. The difference in respect to Rafah will be that the surrounding IDF troops will be on the alert for intelligence on the location of tunnels. Raids will then be staged to blow them up.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 23, 2004
Israel's Rafah Operation, now in its sixth day, differs substantially from the 2002 Jenin battle in its strategic and existential scope. This time it is not just about the Palestinians and Israel, or even short-term security. The IDF is fighting in Rafah against the Palestinian appetite for expansion, the drive to extend its claim on the Gaza Strip to include the Israel-Egyptian border zone abutting on Sinai.
This internationally recognized frontier was embodied in the peace treaty the two countries achieved after Egypt renounced war. Demolishing everything this accord stands for is the underlying objective of the Palestinian smuggling tunnel system and their constant harassment of Israeli border patrols securing the Philadelphi border route. Documents Israeli troops found at the outset of Operation Rainbow expose Palestinian determination to push Israel out of its positions on this international border and sabotage a key clause in the first peace accord Israel signed with an Arab nation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 19, 2004
Israel's large-scale Israel military operation in Rafah, which was launched Tuesday, May 18, in the terrorist hotbed of Tel Sultan, did not start out on the Philadelphi Route marking the Egyptian-Gazan-Israeli international border. It began attacking the lawless core of the entire Rafah frontier region where illegal trafficking has run out of control. The tunnels running transversely under the border from Egyptian Sinai into Rafah have sprouted an extensive multimillion crime racket capable of placing quantities of illegal high-powered weapons in the hands of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and reaching destinations across the Middle East. The tunnels also carry from Sinai, where Egyptian border control is lax, the usual contraband including drugs and prostitutes. In the absence of legitimate jobs, Rafah inhabitants, including those who fled their homes ahead of the Israeli advance, make their living from the tunnels and are paid well for the use of their homes as exits or as havens for terrorists.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 16, 2004
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The gap between Israeli politics and security was never so strikingly articulated as Saturday night, May 15, after Israel lost 13 servicemen in action between Tuesday and Friday. While an estimated 100,000-150,000 (depending on who is asked) rallied in Tel Aviv in favor of quitting the Gaza Strip, a full IDF armored division supplemented by artillery battalions were making last preparations to go into the Gaza Strip to clean out the Palestinian terrorist strongholds daily harassing the Israeli-controlled Gaza-Israel-Egyptian border sector. This border splits Rafah's urban area down the middle between Palestinian and Egyptian controlled areas. The border itself is controlled by Israel under its peace agreement with Egypt and its 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. While the left-wing organizers of the demonstration counted noses to prove they outnumbered the Likud members who rejected the prime minister's disengagement proposals, the prime minister Ariel Sharon himself was closeted with defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon. They were tying up the last ends of the coming military drive into Palestinian Rafah, its refugee camps and the fringes of the Philadelphi route. Rather than pulling up stakes in the Gaza Strip, Israel forces were thus preparing to take back 18 percent of the territory that was turned over to Palestinian control in 1994.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 13, 2004
Eleven Israeli servicemen died in action in two fatal incidents in the Gaza Strip in 36 hours: six were killed by a roadside bomb on mission to destroy Palestinian weapons workshops in Gaza's teeming Zeitoun neighborhood, five troops, a highly trained team, were killed while searching for Palestinian arms-smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi strip in Rafah. The combination of two deadly attacks and painful loss of life force Israelis to look straight at a grim reality they has been ducking for almost four years. Quite simply, the country is at war. Suddenly, its television screens are filled with rumbling convoys of tank carriers and buses packed with soldiers in full combat gear heading for the front line.
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 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 27, 2004
No sooner had the tens of thousands of mourners dispersed after the ceremonies and demonstrations of strength marking the death of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last Tuesday, March 22, in an Israeli missile attack, when a thousand Hamas top and middle-ranking activists dived underground. This is reported by debkafile's counter-terror sources. Since then, known Hamas operatives have maintained perfect telephone silence, their relatives are in the dark about their whereabouts and contacts are maintained only through trusted couriers. This situation presented the Hamas command center in Damascus with the problem of communicating urgent instructions to the men on the ground in the Gaza Strip - urgent for two reasons:
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 17, 2004
Even after more than three and-a-half years of escalating violence, the Ashdod Port double suicide attack Sunday, March 14, in which 10 port workers lost their lives, set up a landmark in the annals of Palestinian terror. For it could only have been carried out in one of three ways. Either the Palestinians copycatted an al Qaeda method of operation, or the Palestinians entered into a direct operational partnership with al Qaeda in the US and the Middle East, or Al Qaeda operatives are ensconced in the Gaza Strip to orchestrate and upgrade Palestinian terrorist operations against Israel. A hurriedly-sought Israeli court gag order prevented too many embarrassing details from leaking out before Israeli security officials had fully sized up the shock finding made early Wednesday by a port worker, who pulled a ring fixed to the wall of an incoming container and to his astonishment a secret compartment opened out. Israeli security experts' initial conclusion is that al Qaeda devised the Palestinians' clever Trojan horse use of a shipping container to smuggle the two the suicide bombers into the heavily secured strategic Ashdod Port area on Sunday.
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
Tuesday, March 2, as Khalil al-Zaban, 59, sat down behind the wheel of his car in downtown Gaza City, five men in ski masks approached. One opened a conversation and still talking pulled out a gun and shot al-Zaban in the head. The other four pulled out weapons and continued shooting. Then they all made off. In the hospital, twelve bullets were found in the body. The cold-blooded assassination shocked many Palestinians - not so much in the Gaza Strip where it took place but in Yasser Arafat's Ramallah sanctum. For many years, he and al Zaban was very close. The dead man acted as his personal spokesman and trusted director of the Palestinian News Agency, as well as close companion from the days of Palestinian combat in the 1970s Lebanese civil war until their arrival in Gaza in 1994 from years of Tunisian exile.
To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. In recent years, their friendship cooled, although Arafat awarded al-Zaban a modest budget to put out a small inoffensive weekly on human rights in the Palestinian Authority.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 7, 2004
A major Palestinian attack averted in the nick of time in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, March 2, was designed as a link in the bloody terror chain connecting Karbala, Baghdad, Basra, Quetta and Israel's largest city. Not by chance, they all occurred on the same day, marking the onset of a sweeping new terrorist offensive, launched simultaneously in three countries by a Palestinian-al Qaeda alliance backed by Tehran and Damascus. The Tel Aviv and Basra hits failed. In Iran and Pakistan, more than 340 Shiites were murdered and untold harm wrought to Iraq's prospects for the immediate future. Four days later, Israel was confronted by a newly-aggravated threat: mixed units of suicide killers armed with guns and explosive-packed vehicles set up by the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of Arafat's Fatah, Hamas and the Jihad Islami which had struck up a partnership for this offensive. This new type of unit, designed to rack up the casualty toll, was seen for the first time early Saturday, March 5 at Erez, the main Gaza crossing point into Israel. Four days earlier, the same format sowed mass death in Karbala and Baghdad among Shiite worshippers.
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 22, 2004
Sunday's suicide bombing by Arafat's al Aqsa Brigades of Jerusalem bus No. 14, in which at least 7 Israelis died and 62 were hurt, was not unexpected. It occurred just three weeks after a similar blast aboard a No. 19 bus outside the prime minister's residence in the capital killed 12 Israelis. The wreckage was hauled to Hague and parked outside the international court in time for the Monday, February 23, opening of its hearings on the legality of Israel's unfinished defense barrier. The attack should not have been unexpected because on Wednesday, February 11, Yasser Arafat - as debkafile reported (Enraged Arafat Orders All-out Terror) - issued an explicit order to all Palestinian groups, including his own, to hit Israeli targets with all their strength everywhere in order to sabotage Sharon's unilateral proposals come what may.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 18, 2004
Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) has been engaged in a last ditch attempt to rescue the European aid program to the Palestinians from total cutoff. Palestinian Authority`s coffers, which depend on foreign handouts for 60 percent of their revenues, are depleted. American aid is already lost, since Washington vowed (as debkafile reported exclusively last year) not to give the Palestinians a red cent until they hand over the killers of three CIA security men murdered in a roadside explosion in the Gaza Strip on October 15. Now, the Americans are pushing hard for Europe to follow suit. The European Union is nonetheless continuing to pay the salaries of about 100,000 Palestinian Authority officials and security officers, but it has posed a key proviso: donations will no longer be handed over in cash to the PA - an invitation to the corrupt practices besetting Palestinian government - but transferred directly into the individual payees' banks accounts.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 11, 2004
Yasser Arafat's enraged call for an all-round escalation of Palestinian violence distinguished the Palestinian response to the latest Israeli counter-terror operation in the Gaza Strip from former episodes, according to debkafile's Palestinian experts. He gave an unusually direct order to each and every Palestinian group, faction and organization to launch instant large-scale terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on the scale of the March 2002 massacres which precipitated Israel's comprehensive West Bank Operation Defensive Shield campaign. Prime minister Ahmed Qureia who tried to reach him by telephone from Rome was not put through. Arafat refused to talk to him.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 9, 2004
US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer sharply criticized the Palestinians trial that opened in the Gaza Strip Saturday, February 7, of four men accused of murdering three CIA agents in a roadside bombing last October. He said the trial before a military court should not be held behind closed doors, Washington should have been told in advance and the charge sheet should be tougher - not merely manslaughter but first degree murder. The four suspects clearly appeared confused and terrified in court. debkafile's sources report that this is not surprising since in actual fact none of the four were involved in the murder of the three American agents. They were not even accused of the crime. The charge sheet describes them as planting roadside bombs on a main highway leading into the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing point with Israel, the route followed by the American convoy.