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.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 23, 2004
The deterioration in Arafat's health has caught Sharon unawares. He is currently in full tilt of an assault on government and parliament to hammer home his disengagement plan against massive resistance. The distraction of Arafat's sudden departure from Ramallah threatens to slow down his plans in the short term. A long term threat cannot be ruled out. Established in an Arab or European country, the Palestinian leader would pose a different sort of peril, one that could undermine Sharon's disengagement scheme.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 19, 2004
Notwithstanding his flat nyet to all comers proposing a national referendum to haul his disengagement plan out of its political impasse, Sharon has decided in his mind to go for it after all as a tool for manipulating the Knesset. This is reported by debkafile's political sources. He believes he can use this decision to enhance his chances of obtaining his real objective: a parliamentary mandate. Next Tuesday, October 26, after months of crippling controversy, lawmakers will vote on legislation to authorize the removal of Israeli troops and 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Until now, this plan has been bogged down by pro-settlement opposition which argued that the plan had never been authorized by any elected body and violated the prime minister's own election pledges. Hence, the demand for a referendum or a general election on the issue.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 13, 2004
According to debkafile's Palestinian and intelligence sources, Moussa Arafat`s would-be assassin was his foremost rival, the former Gaza strongman and Palestinian minister, Mohammed Dahlan. The two men spurned Egypt's recent attempts to make peace between them. The failed hit was an open declaration of war between the feuding Gazan kingpins and their followers. It is clear to both and to ordinary Gazans that both are determined to fight to the death, their own and those of their loyalists and whoever gets in the way. The crunch will undoubtedly come before Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon gets his Gaza pullout plan endorsed and in motion.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 12, 2004
Egyptian investigators have only just begun peeling off the layers of an extremely complex and sensitive search for the hands behind the bomb blasts that hit three holiday resorts in Sinai last Thursday, October 7. The peninsula is popular with Israelis, a quarter of a million of whom frequent its beaches, hotels, campsites and mountain trails every year. Of the total of 31 or 32 victims, 12 were Israelis, the largest national group. Not all the bodies found have been identified. One of the targeted sites, Nuweiba on the Red Sea, was discovered Monday, October 11, not to have been struck by suicide bombers but by two booby-trapped cars detonated by remote control. This was confirmed by the two suspicious figures seen making off in the dark by a local guard and a baker who are now helping the Egyptian police put together identikits. Indeed, the Egyptians are puzzled by the discovery that none of the exploding cars bears the presence of a suicide bomber.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 9, 2004
A state of emergency was declared in Cairo Saturday, October 9, two days after al Qaeda suicide car bombers killed at least 33 tourists, most of them Israelis, in three Sinai resorts and demolished the Taba Hilton. Roadblocks were thrown up on the Egyptian capital's thoroughfares and access to the big hotels blocked - both as precautions against further attacks and to facilitate the hunt for suspects. Egyptian sources tell debkafile that the Istanbul bombings last year demonstrated that al Qaeda and its offshoots invest too heavily in the creation of surrogate local networks to use them only once. They immediately followed up their strikes against the Jewish synagogues with a second wave against the British consulate and banks.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 9, 2004
Friday, October 8, on the morning after a terrorist bombing rampage at three idyllic Sinai desert resorts - with two dozen known dead and scores still missing - the first clues have been found to the identities of the hands behind the massacre and their targets. debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources report that the explosives used to tear away the entire frontage of the Taba Hilton and hit the Nueiba oasis campside further south on the Red Sea coast were of Iranian manufacture; the same make as the bombs used in the 1996 Khobar Towers blast and he 2003 Istanbul attacks. Egyptian intelligence investigators are working on the same premise as their Israeli counterparts that a Hizballah cell based in Sinai rigged the four bomb cars and by mid-September had them ready for Thursday's multiple strike.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 6, 2004
Israel's chief of staff Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon made it clear this week that the seven-day IDF offensive to eliminate the Qassam cross-border missile blitz against Israel may well last weeks. He added that even after it was over, Israeli incursions into northern Gaza to destroy missile launchers and their crews would be repeated as often as necessary. Taken together, the two statements betray how little faith Israel's top soldier has in the operation crushing the missile threat, whether because it is a mission impossible or because it stands a good chance of being foreshortened by reason of political constraints. He will not have forgotten the non-completion of last May's Rafah-Khan Younis operation. Its declared missions then were to destroy the tunnel system feeding Palestinian terrorists with a steady flow of smuggled weapons from Egyptian Sinai and to set up a security zone on the Israel-Egyptian border under joint Israeli and Egyptian patrols to cut Palestinian Rafah off from Sinai.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 30, 2004
Forty-eight months into the so-called Palestinian uprising, an Israeli town was hit by 11 primitive missiles in four days and two small children murdered. All the signs point to the fact that neither the Israeli army nor the Sharon government has a clue on how to defeat the homemade Qassam. The Palestinians have achieved four additional victories: 1. Anarchy may prevail in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but there is method to the Palestinian madness. It not only enables Yasser Arafat to exercise complete control in the Gaza Strip but also allows him - as Israel watches helplessly - to use the territory for transforming his four-year old campaign of suicidal terror into a full-scale war.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 27, 2004
Before deporting him to Lebanon in 1991, the late Yitzhak Rabin called Ezz-Eldin Sheikh al-Khalil "the snake's head," singling him out as the terror master who raised and handled Hamas' most accomplished terror operatives, Adnan al Hool and Mohammed Deif. Yasser Arafat used to claim in the early days of the current Palestinian confrontation with Israel that it was not he who pulled the strings of terror but Sheikh al-Khalil from Jordan. Until Sunday, September 25, few Israelis had heard of him as, lacking political ambitions, he kept to the shadows of anonymity and stealth. For two years, the snake's head wielded authority as supreme commander of Hamas's terrorist and suicide operations against Israel, outranked only by Khalid Mashal.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 20, 2004
The missile in the photo with this article is the Luna-2 short-range ground-to-ground missile, known to NATO from Soviet times as FROG-7, which Iran has developed as its Zelzal-2/Mushak-200. In the hands of Iran's Lebanon-based Revolutionary Guards, it has extended the Iranian-Hizballah's missile range due south to Israel's coastal cities of Haifa, Hadera and Netanya. The missile, its launchers and infrastructure are well-hidden in special storehouses in the port town of Sidon in the care of Revolutionary Guards specialist teams. A Lebanese urban center was chosen for their hiding places to reduce the weapon's vulnerability to an Israeli air strike. With Tehran already issuing operational orders to the Palestinian Hamas fundamentalist terrorist group, it is only a question of time before these missiles are transferred to the Gaza Strip, so bringing southern Israel, Tel Aviv and the cities in between, such as Rehovot, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod, within striking range.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 11, 2004
Although the settlement issue is genuinely incendiary, debkafile has been told by its exclusive political sources that much of the fresh heat is sparked by a different factor: word is going round the ministers and top political circles that a decision has been reached by former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a former Likud prime minister himself, to run against Sharon in the next party primaries as candidate for prime minister. After biding his time quietly in the wings for the last couple of years, he now tells his confidants it would be a mistake to postpone a direct challenge any longer. His moment has arrived.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 8, 2004
Call him M. He is an Israeli army lieutenant who serving in the special anti-sniper unit posted in the southern Gaza Strip. His job is to spot and eliminate Palestinian snipers. Until last March, his training was adapted to the Palestinian sniper. But then, one morning, there was a change. Through his field glasses, he saw two men with a different look from the Palestinian gunmen he was used to. Both were neatly turned out in well-pressed civilian trousers and new western camouflage jackets. One had long fair hair, a light complexion and moved like a European. Around 90 minutes later, he stood up to move to another part of the roof. His right shoulder had been visible over the parapet no more than three or four seconds when he was knocked over by a gunshot before he had time to fire.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 7, 2004
Israel's 6th Ofek (Horizon) plummeted to a watery death in the Mediterranean Sea when it was test-fired Monday, September 6, from Palmahim. Malfunction of the third stage of the Israeli-designed Shavit booster was blamed for the loss of the $50m Ofek-6, the latest in the series of spy satellites developed by a consortium led by Israel Aircraft Industries. The first was launched in 1988. Number 5 has been orbiting 300 to 700 kilometers above earth every 90 minutes for two years out of a life span of five. The latest malfunction occurred ten days after Arrow II failed to shoot down a dummy missile designed to perform similarly to the Iranian Shehab-3 intermediate missile in a test-firing off the California coast. These two failures are a grave setback to Israel's deterrent ability at a dangerous juncture. In the next two-three years, Israel will need all its resources to face Iran's advancing nuclear threat and burgeoning terrorist offensive. Ofek-6 was intended to give Israel an edge in this contest.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 28, 2004
Depending on who is arrested and the nature of the charges, the investigation is fraught with a high degree of damage to President George W. Bush's Middle East policy and his core advisory team, eight weeks before he stands for re-election. Already, there are marks of strain in US-Israel relations and Bush's ties with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon are bound to be affected. The harm is visible even before the investigation has determined whether it will lead to a charge of espionage or lesser offenses of improper disclosure or the mishandling of classified materials. An AIPAC official said to the Washington Post:, "Our folks are pretty outraged about this. We've had these kinds of accusations before, and none of them has ever proven to be true."