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.
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 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 December 29, 2003
Last weekend, Ahmed Qureia aka Abu Ala became the second Palestinian prime minister to warn Yasser Arafat he was about to resign. He determined to throw in the sponge after discovering that the Palestinian Authority's coffers were bare. There was nothing left to meet the January 1 payroll for 80,000 public workers and security personnel. In fact the PA has no operating funds at all. Arafat, according to debkafile's Palestinian sources, greeted the threat in stony silence. If Abu Ala quits now, he will have lasted a month and-a-half, compared with the four months his processor survived on the job before being driven out.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 25, 2003
Cairo is still fuming over the "flying shoe ambush" to which Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher was treated when he tried to pray Monday, December 12, at al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Mubarak regards the assault as a spiteful rejoinder from Yasser Arafat for the Egyptian minister's failure to call on him in Ramallah. Since the incident, Palestinian delegations have been rushing to the Egyptian capital to grovel. Cairo entertains a strong suspicion that there was more in the affair that meets the eye. Hints have been dropped that either the two teams had advance knowledge of the attack and orders not to intervene or, worse, Arafat and the Palestinian authorities have abandoned control of al-Aqsa mosque to radical Muslims.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2003
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled his much-awaited policy program Thursday, 18 December, under the heading: A Program of Separation. It came with a warning to the Palestinians that he won't wait forever for them to come round. No sooner had the words left his mouth when it was attacked from almost ever direction. Israeli right-wing and pro-settlement leaders declared those steps threatened "the destruction of Zionism." The doves were cynical. Opposition Labor leaders said the plan was just talk. The most displeasure came from the White House. US officials from the president down had warned Israel against any unilateral measures that would make it harder to create a Palestinian state and reiterated Washington's commitment to a negotiated settlement between the two sides on the basis of the US-backed road map. In any case, debkafile's Washington sources revealed, White House contacts reminded Sharon he had promised not to make waves as long as the Bush administration had its hands full in Iraq.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 9, 2003
The next Hamas suicide bomber can kill without strapping a bomb belt to his body. debkafile's counter-terror sources reveal the new type of explosive going into use after the collapse of the Cairo ceasefire talks as being much smaller and lighter while packing a much larger bang. It is compressed enough to be carried in a small bag or hidden in the killer's clothes. A vest can be soaked in its liquefied form. Improved detonators and timers enable the bomber to start the countdown before he reaches target. By the time he is searched at the entrance to a mall or bus station, the bomb is on timer.