March 2: Israel’s Shin Beit security service successfully averted a terrorist bombing outrage in Tel Aviv on March 1 but failed to prevent a second strike the next day, when the same bombers blew up a taxi van on the Wadi Ara North-South Highway, killing one Israeli and wounding 9, including one of their number. DEBKAfile’s experts on terrorism maintain the Shin Beit erred by handling the surveillance operation from first to last on its own, without calling in the police. But rapport between the two services has been poor ever since two previous terrorist attacks in which the police were caught off guard and let the bombers slip through their fingers to Palestinian Authority areas.
March 3: Israeli prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon is pondering two options in regard to the Palestinian uprising, either an immediate hard hammer-blow against Palestinian terror – for which he was elected – or biding his time until after the March 27 Arab Summit in Amman, so as to deny Yasser Arafat the high ground of the victim and avoid providing Arab rulers with a pretext to step in. His consultations with Binyamin Eliezer, whom Labor designated defense minister in Sharon’s unity government, the chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz and defense chiefs have been going on non-stop over the weekend.
One result has been to beef up counter terrorism defenses inside Israel’s cities and along the borders with the Palestinian Authority – which did not prevent today’s explosion in the resort town of Netanya, the third terrorist bombing attack in three days.
Gen. Mofaz favors strong action without further delay, arguing the Palestinian Authority has no intention of curbing the violence. Arafat’s man in Ramallah, the Tanzim chief Marwan Margouti, welcomed all initiatives, whether by an individual or organization, as “fitting in with our comprehensive strategy”. Mohamed Dahlan’s preventive security service laboratories in Gaza are turning out cell phone bombs detonated by punching the “send” button and handing them out for general distribution to any Palestinian group wishing to mount a bomb-attack.
March 4: DEBKAfile‘s military sources outline Israel’s military options for quelling Palestinian violence.
The first is a limited, ready to go, operational plan:
Special Forces units – General Command, Golani, Givati, Nahal, Duchifat and Shaldag – will carry out short in-and-out forays into Palestinian Authority areas, with orders to destroy Palestinian command quarters, bases, terrorist command hideouts and arms caches and degrade, extinguish or isolate Palestinian military capabilities. The Israeli units will exit A Areas immediately after accomplishing their missions. While the response to escalating Palestinian terrorism will be tough, Israeli troops will refrain from occupying Palestinian Authority areas – at least until the Arab summit is over in Amman later this month.
The second, under extreme Palestinian provocation or assaults against strategic targets, would be more comprehensive and consist of:
— Broad Israeli military drives into Palestinian areas for containing fierce attacks, improving military positions or eliminating a Palestinian strategic advantage, are possible in three possible areas:
a) The Ramallah district to disengage the Palestinian threat from Highway 443 heading into Jerusalem and from Israel’s international airport at Lod..
b) The northern West Bank: 1. to create a buffer between those Palestinian towns and the important Israeli town of Kfar Saba and Israel Arab populations. 2. To keep Israel’s Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal highway clear. 3. To prevent Palestinian control over the main eastern route running from Kfar Saba through A Areas to the Jordan Rift Valley and to keep the main north-south Jordan Rift Valley Highway open against shooting and bomb attacks. Those routes are vital for the rapid transfer of troops in the event of regional flare-ups on Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria, or Syria, Iraq and Jordan.
Israel has dug a deep trench around the Palestinian town of Jericho that controls the Jordan Rift Valley highway to prevent Palestinian bombers and snipers from terrorizing highway traffic. Our information is that Jenin and other Palestinian West Bank towns are due for similar trenches.
c) Three select points in the Gaza Strip: one, the northern suburbs of Gaza City in response to a concentrated Palestinian Katyusha rocket attack or terrorist strike against Ashkelon and Ashdod power stations and ports; two, a repeat of the cutoff of Gaza City off from the rest of the Strip; three, occupation of the southern environs of Rafah and Khan Yunis, to halt intense Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlements, cut off Palestinians access to the Egyptian frontier and stifle the traffic of arms and trained men smuggled into the Strip from Sinai, which may or not be run by elements of the Egyptian army.
March 5: DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources reveal Bush officials are worried by Syrian ruler Beshar Assad’s vagueness when pressed by US secretary of state Colin Powell on:-
1. The stoppage of contraband Iraqi oil through Syria.
2. The status of his military collaboration with Iraq and why Iraqi intelligence and air defense officers are present in Damascus.
3. His intentions regarding the six Iraqi armored divisions near the Jordanian frontier.
4. The purpose of the reorganization and re-equipment of Syrian forces.
According to the latest information reaching Washington, Syrian chief of staff Gen. Ali Aslan’s plans to split Syria’s full armored divisions into small combat platoons and rearm them with new, inexpensive anti-tank and anti-air weapons, including missiles, capable of slowing down an Israeli advance and inflicting heavy casualties.
5. Whether he will continue to supply to the Lebanese Hizballah group with long-range 60-70km Katyusha rockets and the training in their use at Syrian Lebanese Bekaa valley facilities.
March 5: Six Egged intercity buses disappear and are feared stolen by terrorists.
March 6: March 5, Israeli army tank and armored infantry units moved into “A Areas” under Palestinian jurisdiction in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
A senior Israeli military source informed DEBKAfile: “IDF forces are taking up tank positions in accordance with operational requirements.” Senior military sources said: “The Palestinians must understand that there is a territorial price for their confrontation,” and: “In the Gaza Strip the Palestinians have stockpiled large quantities of smuggled explosives and ammunition” – an indirect way of disclosing that dumps had been blown up. A “senior military source” also admitted the Israeli army was “broadening the peripheries of the Gaza Strip settlements to augment the settlers’ security.” He added: “Not a single centimeter of settlement land can be given up.”
By last night, Israeli armored had advanced on Palestinian areas at the following points: In the West Bank – the Al Khader-Beit Sahur sector bordering on Bethlehem, the Bitunia sector bordering on Ramallah and the Tulcarm-Jenin sector in the north. In the Gaza Strip – the Khan Yunis-Rafah sector opposite the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the south, the route linking Rafah to the Mediterranean coast to bisect the Gaza Strip; Gaza City’s southern fringes opposite the Netzarim settlement.
None of these actions met with resistance. Israel has begun calling up fresh army reserves.
March 7: Following on Israeli military advances into Palestinian areas yesterday, the Israel army carried out its largest operation yet against Palestinian territory. Armored units entered Palestinian “A” Area north of Ramallah and threw a blockade around Bir Zeit, a Hamas stronghold and one of Tanzim chief Marwan Bargouti’s operations command centers. Deep trenches were dug round Bir Zeit and the nearby Surda village in “B” Area to cut both off from access to Ramallah – similar to the trench dug earlier to encircle Jericho.
Later in the day, the Sharon unity government of 27 ministers and 30 deputy ministers was presented and sworn in by the Knesset. Some of the last minute appointments were surprising. To correct his government’s slide towards the Oslo faction, he named two Likud hawks to head internal security and police ministry, MK Uzi Landau minister and former deputy Shin Beit chief MK Gideon Ezra his No. 2. A veteran of Israel’s national public and parliamentary scene, Landau is conspicuous for his honesty and integrity. Neither will be constrained from taking a strong hand against Palestinian violence by the ideology or self-interest that inhibited some members of the Barak government. The two will also strengthen the hawkish wing in Sharon’s inner cabinet.
March 7: On the day the late Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter was named deputy defense minister, a Jerusalem magistrate issued a 103-page decision giving weight to some of the wildest conspiracy theories surrounding the late prime minister’s assassination on Nov. 4, 1995. In response to a request from Shin Bet agent Avishai Raviv, who is on trial for neglecting to alert his superiors to the right-wing extremist Yigael Amir’s assassination plot, Justice Shulamit Dotan ordered the Shin Beit to open its secret files and show whether or not its heads had received advance warning of the threat against the prime minister’s life.