DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 27, 2006
On the face of it, conversion to Islam would appear to provide a painless escape device for any hostage who happens to fall into fundamentalist terrorist hands. After all, once free, the hostage can always revert to his real faith or non-faith. It is hard to blame the two Fox News journalists, the American Steve Centanni, 60, and the New Zealander, Olaf Wiig, 36, for taking that path on to buy their way out of an uncertain fate at the hands of Palestinian terrorists - especially as they later reported they were forced to make the gesture at gunpoint.
And, indeed the two journalists were released from 13 days of captivity in Gaza three hours after announcing their conversion on a new videotape released by the kidnappers in Gaza.
Various Palestinian middlemen were used by British agents at the request of the US to bring the Fox journalists home. They worked out a convoluted deal which entailed their public conversion to Islam, an anti-American harangue on air and a six-figure cash ransom paid under the table to their kidnapper, the Palestinian warlord Zakaria Dughmush.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 11, 2006
Maj.-Gen (Ret) Giora Eiland traced the breakdown which allowed a Hamas-led squad overrun an Israeli army post on the Israeli side of the southern Gaza border, kill two soldiers and snatch Corporal Gideon Shalit on June 25, to an "operational" breakdown. Most damningly, Eilat affirmed that the corporal's abduction could have been aborted.
At the same time, General Eiland omitted to asked the three searching questions that might have laid bare the root-causes of the fiasco at Kerem Shalom:
1. Was this a one-time slip-up or a part of a long-running string of lapses?
2. Was it the natural, preordained consequence of the operational directives coming down from the prime minister, the defense minister via IDF chiefs?
3. The Eiland probe should have examined the strategic concepts guiding Israel's top commanders before and after the fall of the Kerem Shalom post.
The scales have fallen from many Israeli eyes in the wake of the Gilead Shalit disaster. People have begun asking hard questions, such as how did Hamas come to take over Palestinian government in the first place. And why is Hamas being permitted to terrorize southern Israeli with Qassam missiles after the Gaza Strip was handed over lock, stock and barrel to full Palestinian control.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 8, 2006
Operation Oaks of Bashan has done nothing to help bring Corporal Gilead Shalit home, 12 days after a Hamas-led assault team attacked an Israeli army post, killed two of his comrades and kidnapped him. The Israeli incursion has also not made enough headway in purging Palestinian gunmen or locating the tunnels favored by Palestinian terrorists for surprise attacks and smuggling.
However, Israeli forces have not limited their offensive to incursions above ground. Special forces are operating deep behind enemy lines.Tuesday, July 4, for instance, an Israeli ambush south of Gaza City targeted and killed Thayasar Roei, liaison officer between Palestinian national security forces and Hamas.
Thursday and Friday, several second-level Hamas operatives were taken from their homes. Hamas may not take its punishment without striking back, possibly by mounting more surprise attacks like the one that captured Gilead Shalit and took Israel unawares on June 25. Israel may also have surprises up its sleeve.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 4, 2006
Israeli and Hamas leaders have been hurling shrill threats right and left since three Palestinian terrorist groups slapped down a deadline to meet their demands over the Israeli hostage, Corp. Gilead Shalit. But the loudest effect is generated by the Bush administration's silence.
In Moscow, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni talked to Russian president Vladimir Putin, then warned that the Gilead Shalit hostage affair could lead to a regional war escalation. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, after his mediation bid collapsed, hurried over to Saudi Arabia for an appeal to King Abdullah to use his influence with Assad - not Hamas - to defuse the situation before it hurtles out of control.
But debkafile's Middle East and military sources calculate that none of the recipients of these appeals is much scared about the prospect of a general Middle East flare-up.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 2, 2006
The ball landed squarely in the Israeli court Saturday night, July 1, after Cairo admitted its bid to negotiate an end to the Gideon Shalit hostage crisis had ended in fiasco six days after his capture. The IDF, whose armored forces are standing 3 km inside the southern Gaza Strip since Wednesday, June 28, and camped on the fringes of its northern sector, are awaiting their next orders. It is up to prime minister Ehud Olmert to tell the troops how to complete their incursion of the territory and approach their confrontation with Hamas.
He is holding emergency conferences with security and military chiefs Saturday night on whether to approach the inevitable clash at once, or in stages; incrementally, or by a blitz operation entailing the reoccupation of all or most of the Gaza Strip.
Casualties on both sides are unavoidable.
debkafile's sources disclose that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his aides derailed their own mediation effort out of hubris, while Mahmoud Abbas is picking up the pieces in the hope of maneuvering Israel into doing his dirty work and toppling the Hamas regime.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 27, 2006
Steely lines of hundreds of tanks, thousands of armored infantry and commandos menaced the Gaza Strip as of Monday night, June 26, from three jumping-off points: the Nahal Oz base opposite Gaza City, Kissufim opposite Deir al Balah and Khan Younes in the south and Sufa opposite Rafah. Made up of the Golani and Givaty armored brigades and special operations units including the elite Sayeret Matkal, they presented a picture of armored might not seen for many years on the world's television screens.
debkafile's military sources predict that an extensive military operation may be hours off rather than days. With every hour that goes by without the Israeli soldier's recovery, the heat mounts for military action. In the 48 hours since he was kidnapped, it looks increasingly as though his Palestinian captors do not intend letting him go in a hurry and are digging in to extort as much military, diplomatic and propaganda capital from the abduction as they can get.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 23, 2006
Israeli Maj.-Gen (Res.) Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a member of the prime minister's Kadima party, said in a state radio interview on June 22: "This is not the finest hour of Israel's national security leadership." Pressed to elaborate on who in particular he meant, the general mentioned prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz.
debkafile's military sources reveal here the five different constraints they have clamped down on counter-terror operations.
This ban appears to be as counter-productive as the others. Air force warplanes are not allowed to carry out raids over the Gaza Strip, only drones and helicopters. Every attempt was made to explain that high-altitude warplanes are armed with advanced electronic instruments and radar, which are tailored for high-precision bombardments - unlike the low-flying hit-or-miss drones and helicopters, which are far more prone to strike civilians by mistake.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 21, 2006
After a week's silence, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had only this to say Tuesday night, June 20, about the plunging security crisis provoked by the unending Palestinian missile offensive against Israeli civilians: "There is no way in the near future of solving the missile problem," he said, "And we (Israel) will reach all those committing terrorism against us."
After two weeks of relentless Palestinian missile and gunfire and attempts to kidnap Israelis, and Israeli targeted attacks on terrorist operatives, the Olmert government has no clue how to handle the crisis. Still worse, the IDF high command seems to be losing its grip on events.
Israeli's security crisis under an inexperienced government is compounded by the breakdown of the chief of staff, Lt-Gen. Dan Halutz's strategic doctrine for fighting terror. In some respects, this failure may be likened to the collapse of Israel's Bar-Lev line of Suez fortifications in the face of Egypt's shock offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 12, 2006
As it turned out, the first leg of the Israeli prime minister's tour was mostly a waste of time; British prime minister Tony Blair declined to hear of his realignment plan for the West Bank, even though Olmert pledged 90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state and a major effort to achieve a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. He also omitted to endorse Olmert's ringing declaration that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
After he returns home, Ehud Olmert will no longer be able to escape a decision to cut the Gordian knot and choose, after more than five years of neglect by one government after another, between saving Sderot by adopting the army's recommendations - at the risk of casualties on both sides - or losing Sderot to a triumphant Hamas. The latter decision would bring about the most significant Israeli withdrawal from sovereign territory since 1948 and give the terrorists who rule the Palestinians a free bite of the Israeli Negev.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 14, 2006
Prof. Abdel al Sather Qassam, university lecturer at Nablus a-Najah University, is a little-known figure to the outside world. However Israeli intelligence rates him as Hamas' senior strategic ideologue and a highly influential voice in the Palestinian terror movement at large.
Last week, he gave a group of leaders of the umbrella terrorist coalition in Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees leader, by video broadcast from Nablus, a stern talking-to with some important new guidelines. One member of his audience was Jemal Semhadana, the PRC chief who was recently appointed commander of the new Hamas security service. Israeli intelligence monitors routinely listened in to the broadcast. debkafile runs the gist of the Hamas professor's briefing - obtained from our intelligence sources - because of his unusual frankness and the relevance of his guidelines for the immediate future.
Hamas Hires Gang Chief to Muscle in on Palestinian Security Forces and Strip Abu Mazen of Real Power
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 23, 2006
Reconciliation gestures notwithstanding, Hamas is methodically peeling off the layers of authority from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
The increasing violence and virulence between the two camps are deceptive; on his home ground, Abu Mazen has been reduced to a nonentity. The standoff between him and Hamas is illusory.
Four developments underline the changes Hamas has already wrought in the structure and direction of Palestinian government since its takeover in February.
The ministers whom prime minister Ismail Haniya appointed in February have not taken up their jobs, except for interior minister Siyam. He, too, rather than tackling the mundane tasks of bringing law and order to the chaotic, crime-ridden streets, is busy consolidating Hamas in the key positions grabbed from the PA's Fatah-dominated security, intelligence and civil services, which Abbas claims to be under his authority.
This is where the notorious crime and terrorist chief Jamal Semhadana comes in.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 18, 2006
For Israelis, Tuesday, the eve of the last day of Passover, was a day of funerals, mourning for 9 Israelis, foreign workers and tourists who lost their lives when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a busy shopping corner in Tel Aviv on Monday, April 17.
It was the most murderous outrage committed by Palestinian terrorists in 20 months, the first since the Hamas terrorist group took office and a test of the mettle of the incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert.
However, Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Shaul Mofaz decided to abstain from military action, rejecting the advice of military leaders to declare the Hamas government an enemy authority. The generals and security chiefs explained that without this declaration, their hands were tied in fighting off terror, because of the developing situation whereby the terrorist entity ruling the Palestinian Authority was in the process of taking over its official security organs.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 10, 2006
The United States and 25-member European Union, the main foreign donors to the Palestinian Authority, have suspended direct payments totaling $500-600 million a year to the Hamas government, as well as to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Washington has cut $400, while redirecting $105 to "augment ongoing humanitarian and democracy-building programs." So the real cutback amounts to $300m. And unknown sum of aid forked out by the European Union "is already in the pipeline." Its disposition is still be decided.
Several loopholes are built into these cutoffs.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 20, 2006
Going against his own Fatah, Abbas has hit on a way of sliding past the obstacle of Hamas's non-recognition of the PLO's pre-eminence - and therefore its signature on agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accords: he will put ask the PLO executive to endorse the new cabinet before it is sworn in by the legislature. This stratagem is designed to throw off Fatah pressure to oust Hamas without delay, while showing Haniya he cannot buck the PLO and repudiate past agreements signed in the name of the Palestinian people.
But the Hamas prime minister-designate is not in the mood to look too closely at these niceties. All he cares about is that Abbas submit his cabinet to the legislature, as we reported last week. If Abbas fails to do so, he will be held accountable for the crisis and Hamas will bypass him and go ahead with presenting its ministers directly to parliament making the PA chairman redundant.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 6, 2006
Former Shin Beit director Avi Dichter rattled the party's dovecote when he stated Sunday, March 5, that the Middle East road map is dead for lack of negotiating partner on the Palestinian side.
He was commenting on the terrorist group, Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, disarm and honor previous agreements, as it prepares to take over Palestinian government.
He also injected some badly needed security steel into Kadima's sagging campaign for the March 28 general election with a warning to Hamas' designated Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya: "Lead the government onto the road of murder and terror, and you will find yourself again behind bars or even in your old job as the late Sheikh Yasin's chef to bureau.
Both these statements brought an indignant roar from Kadima's No. 2, Shimon Peres, peacenik and architect of the discredited Oslo peace accords with Yasser Arafat.
Hamas has its own problems. In the videotape released Saturday, March 3, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, urged Hamas not to take up its seats in the Palestinian parliament "with the lay people who have sold out Palestine."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 19, 2006
Through all the inexorable stages of Hamas' rise to power in the Palestinian Authority, Israel's caretaker prime minister Ehud Olmert was struck with inertia. Now, at this late stage, Olmert's plan of action is as irrelevant as his rhetoric with regard to the real steps he and foreign minister Tzipi Livni have approved to cut the Hamas down to size. Those steps were not choreographed in Jerusalem but in Washington and have little chance of working. But debkafile finds it hard to see Ehud Olmert's setup, or any of his rivals, exercising the vision, courage or independence of mind for an inventive strategy to pre-empt the Hamas menace.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 14, 2006
The United States and Israel are working on ways to destabilize the Hamas-led Palestinian government, the New York Times reported Tuesday, Feb. 14. The plan is said to center largely on money and on Mahmoud Abbas playing his part.
Monday, Feb 13, Abu Mazen took the first step to bring the new plan to fruition. He took advantage of the last session of the outgoing legislative council to enact constitutional laws and approve appointments that boost his powers as president.
Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Olmert government took a complementary step.
The state prosecution filed a Supreme Court document defining Palestinians as citizens of an enemy state. This was in response to petitions to extend Israeli citizenship to the Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs.
The sanctions applied against Saddam Hussein proved ineffectual and the United States ultimately went to war to oust his Baath regime in Baghdad. Hamas, as its leaders say out loud, will not bow to sanctions, which makes the prospect of an Israeli military operation to unseat them more probable than the efficacy of sanctions.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 6, 2006
Hamas leaders are laying down a smoke screen of contradictory statements to lower resistance in the West and Israel to their forthcoming formation of a new Palestinian government. Their spokesmen issue reasonable-sounding statements like Mussa Abu Marzuk, who Monday, Feb. 6, promised to honor previously signed agreements, but then reversed himself with a qualifier - "only if they suit our interests."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 1, 2006
Instead of letting litigation take its course and seeking common ground, the Olmert government deployed the toughest police anti-terror units in anti-riot mode to make an example of the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
The brutality of the confrontation for demolishing nine houses was seen by all, hour by our, over live television. Four-fifths of the 250 injured, were protesters, many of them minors, and three parliamentarians who joined them. One-fifth of the injuries were suffered by police officers, who were pelted with stones, mud, paint-filled balloons and eggs.
Most of the injuries - head wounds and broken limbs - were inflicted by police when they stormed the barricaded houses, drove their horses against the demonstrators and laid about them with night sticks, hitting mostly 14-15-year old boys and girls and beating them to the ground.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 30, 2006
After a series of muddled statements and zigzags, wishful thinking prevailed in London and Brussels after all. The European Union, led by the Middle East Quartet, agreed to release financial aid to a Palestinian government taken over by a terrorist organization.
"We give them three months to assess the situation. We don't want chaos and we want to go on with the peace process," said EU foreign executive, Javier Solana at the end of the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels Monday, 30 Jan.
Hamas, which is responsible for at least 60 bombing attacks on Israelis and countless deaths, did not have to fight too hard or too long for a reversal of the short-lived boycott on funding, sparked by its election victory over Fatah with 74 seats in the 132 Palestinian Legislative Council.
The Islamist terrorists were not required to give up a single principle for the sake of Western aid.