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 22, 2005
debkafile's exclusive military sources disclose that Israel and Egypt are in the last stages of drafting protocols that set the time table and arrangements for Israeli military units to abandon the volatile Philadelphi border route cutting Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Armed Egyptian troops will move up to the border and be deployed along their side of the Philadelphi route. General Amos Gilead, diplomatic coordinator in Israel's defense ministry, and the Egyptian General Staff's operations director are working on the final details. Israel therefore is not only evacuating civilians from Gush Katif, but turning over its Gaza border with Egypt to the Palestinians. The new Israel-Egyptian border will thus relocate northward up to the town of Sderot and the western Negev. The final troop withdrawal will follow soon after the evacuations and take place in late August.
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 16, 2005
The non-extension of Lt.-General Moshe Ayalon's tour of duty as Israeli armed forces chief of staff is unprecedented. The one-year extension has always been automatic for every one of his predecessors, a routine that crossed party divisions and assured the country that the army serves the nation as its supreme defender and is above and apart from the political schemes of the government in office. This virtual sacking hit Israel like a thunderclap after midnight Tuesday, February 15, the more shocking since it followed shortly after the announcement that Shin Beit Director, the second top czar of Israel's war on Palestinian terror, will also not be asked to stay on when his stint is up in May. Both of these experienced veterans, widely acclaimed for their achievements in cutting down Palestinian terror, are being dropped ahead of the evacuations of Israeli civilians and troops from the Gaza Strip and northern West bank in the coming July. Both have spoken out against the step - each in his professional capacity. By Wednesday morning, a vocal chorus from the extreme political left to the right had condemned the step as irresponsible. The Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee will be called into urgent session.
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 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 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 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 22, 2004
When is a crime not a crime? May a Holocaust symbol be used to promote any other cause? What is an illegal law? And what is an illegal military order? These questions have been tossed back and forth since the mild-spoken Pinhas Wallerstein, a leading member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council), switched on a national roller coaster on December 19 by calling on all Israelis to resist Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle 26 settlements non-violently "even if it means going to jail." To make their resistance plans work, the settlers' strategists must command large numbers of selfless protesters. Do they have them? And how far are they committed to passive, non-violent resistance?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2004
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Iranian foreign ministry spokesman announced Sunday December 19 that intelligence minister Ali Younessi would "soon" report to the government on an eight-member spy ring that gathered information for Israel. No further information was offered about the identities of the "spies," the nature of the "information" they had gathered or when. debkafile's intelligence sources classify this vague, unverifiable charge as a typical Iranian exercise to cover up a fiasco. (Only recently they claimed to have put unnamed al Qaeda terrorists on trial.) It came two days after DEBKA-Net-Weekly broke the story that Iranian and Iran-sponsored surveillance teams has been discovered hanging about outside Israel's diplomatic missions in the United States, South America, West Europe and the Middle East. Team members rounded up by the American FBI and Egyptian intelligence in the last ten days admitted under interrogation that they were collecting information for Iranian intelligence.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 6, 2004
In the first week of March, a senior Israeli intelligence official visiting Cairo collected a Note from president Hosni Mubarak informing prime minister Ariel Sharon that he had decided to let Azzam Azzam go. He was only waiting for the right moment to free the Israeli Druze textile engineer who was sentenced in 1997 to 15 years in jail on a charge of spying for Israel. Mubarak's decision was first revealed by debkafile on March 11. The Egyptian president took ten months to carry out his promise but when he did it became a symbolic watershed: Just as Azzam's incarceration put up backs in Israel, his release Sunday infuriated the Palestinians who caught the message. Egypt had stopped indulging the Palestinians and their "struggle;" Mubarak was no longer their patron; he had decided to join the Americans and Israelis in an effort to make them set their house in order with no nonsense about Arafat's legacy.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 30, 2004
The Sharon government's permanent crisis peaked again this week over the insufficiency of parliamentary votes to get the 2005 state budget through its first reading Wednesday, December 1. The deadline for its second reading and final enactment is December 31. The acrobatic wheeling and dealing for a majority has accelerated the break-up of national mainstream parties and created incongruous juxtapositions. For instance, the far-left Yahad will vote for a avowedly anti-social budget to help the prime minister last long enough to achieve withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank. The treasury claims there is no money for the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and the jobless, yet it has stumped up the round sum of NIS.290 million (US$65 m) for the Torah Judaism's five votes for the budget. Abstentions by the 11 members of a second ultra-religious opposition party Shas will also cost the public purse. In protest, the four Shinui (Change) ministers and its 15 Knesset members announced they would vote against the budget draft.
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 1, 2004
Although Yasser Arafat's French physicians at the Percy military hospital near Paris have yet to come up with a definitive diagnosis of his condition, the Palestinian succession struggle has begun. The warring factions are acting on the assumption that he will not return to Ramallah and are fighting to fill the power vacuum. This premise is shared by Israel. The Carmel street market bombing Monday, November 1, claimed by the ultra-violent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, is seen by debkafile's Palestinian experts as an opening shot in the contest. The camp supporting Arafat sought to demonstrate that no leader as soft on Arafat's war of terror against Israel as is former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be allowed to step into the ailing leader's shoes.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 27, 2004
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was that close to losing the crucial Knesset vote Tuesday, October 26, on his plan to uproot Israel's civilian and troop presence from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. His comfortable victory of 67 lawmakers to 45 against and 7 abstentions must be credited, above all, to the last-minute switch by his four top ministers from no to yes. Likud's pro-settlement rebels almost wept with disappointment. They were not consoled when Binyamin Netanyahu, finance, Limor Livnat, education, Israeli Katz, agriculture and Danny Naveh, health, followed the lead of the last remaining National Religious Party minister and gave Sharon 14 days to announce a national referendum on the withdrawal of settlements. If not, they promised to step down, making the government's parliamentary situation untenable.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 24, 2004
Even if a Knesset majority favors disengagement, the Likud rebels will fight on. They are preparing steps to topple the Sharon government complete with his disengagement scheme by defeating the 2005 national budget when it comes before parliament in the next week or two. The danger is real. Before the rebellion, the Sharon government rested on a parliamentary minority of 58, which the rebels threaten to shrink. The opposition Labor and Yahad are committed to supporting disengagement. But their safety net is not large enough to spread out under the budget. The 21-member Labor is divided on many of its clauses while Yahad (6) is flat opposed. On the right side of the spectrum, the call by the spiritual leader of ultra-religious Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to oppose disengagement as a danger to national security, is eroding support even outside the 11-member Shas party.