The latest intelligence assessments reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly agree that Saddam Hussein has decided to take pre-emptive military action rather than wait for the US hammer to drop. They also detail the horrific arsenal at his disposal for such action. It includes more than 40 nuclear weapons, six to eight of them bombs and nuclear warheads that can be delivered by missile or plane.
In particular, the Iraqi leader has set his sights on hitting US military forces in the Middle East as well as Turkey, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Israel. He is also determined to reach into the United States itself through proxy terrorists run by Iraqi military intelligence. This latest intelligence consensus supersedes the basic presumption previously held by US and Israeli strategists that Saddam would not launch a counter-strike with unconventional weapons unless attacked first – and then only if he felt his life and regime were in jeopardy.
As for the scope of Iraq’s unconventional weaponry, the revised evaluation is the first official confirmation that Saddam possesses up to 40 nuclear devices, probably half of them radiological, or “dirty”, bombs with a limited-radius contamination capability; but also apparently six to eight – and perhaps as many as 10 – nuclear bombs and warheads that can be delivered by fighter-bombers or surface-to-surface missiles. Iraqi experts are said to have been instructed in payload assembly and delivery technology by Russian and Eastern European technicians who manpower companies in Belarus and Croatia and whose services Iraq bought with multi-million dollar fees.
Furthermore, says the updated intelligence assessment, Iraq has laid hands on enough enriched Uranium-235 to build another 20 to 30 nuclear devices.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and military experts are convinced that Saddam is the sole arbiter of his government’s military priorities. After addressing the Iraqi people over television Thursday, August 8, he broke the news of his decision to take pre-emptive action against America and its allies in the region at an emergency session of the country’s military chiefs and senior political officials. He had realized, he explained, that Iraq had the means to circumvent US spy satellites and airplanes and also keep its missiles clear of the Arrow-2 anti-missile batteries Israel had deployed in the Negev and the center for the very purpose of intercepting them. This was possible if Iraq got in its punch against Israel, the United States – or both, powerfully and first – perhaps in days.
Our intelligence sources say Saddam was cagey on specifics, but implied his agents were on their way to set up one or more mega-terror attacks on the scale of the September 11 strikes in New York and Washington. These operatives had gone too far to be recalled, he emphasized. Participants at the meeting came away with the impression that nuclear or biological weapons were to be used. Two revealingly belligerent passages in the Saddam speech were referred to in this respect:
The first related to, without naming, the United States: “The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs, to die in disgraceful failure, taking their schemes back with them, or to dig their own graves after they bring death to themselves on all Arab or Muslim soil against which they perpetrate aggression, including Iraq, the land of Jihad and the banner.”
The second took aim at Israel: “Charge on, charge on, charge on…the beloved chant is raised, as though our men are circumambulating the Qa’ba or returning to the place from which the Prophet Mohammed, the Messenger of Allah, ascended to God on that Blessed Night, after they cleanse the land of Palestine of Zionist desecration.”
Textual analysts employed in intelligence interpret the two phrases as pointing to Israel as the target of the first Iraqi mega attack. The second strike, just as powerful, will be aimed at US military personnel and facilities already in Iraq or posted in Turkey.
Tel Aviv appears to have been singled out for a large-scale strike, as the location of Israel’s main military command center and intelligence facilities in and around the city.
The Iraqis see their primary American targets as being their troop concentrations in the Jordanian air bases at Ar Ruwayshid in the east, Wadi el-Murbah to the north and al-Mafraq in the west, furthest away from the Iraqi border.
The Turkish air base at Incirlik is also high on the Iraqi target list. Over the past weeks, Incirlik has become the main rear base of US and Turkish special forces units operating in the Kurdish and Turkmen areas of northern Iraq, near the oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the United States, Jordan and Turkey have acted on this fresh intelligence input by putting their air forces and missile units on supreme combat alert. No further government directive will be required to launch the warheads against Iraq’s biggest cities should, at some stage, an important American or Israel city come under a catastrophic terrorist attack.
Aware that Israel tops the Saddam list of targets, the authorities in Jerusalem unexpectedly announced on Wednesday, August 14, the distribution to the civilian population of Lugol capsules against iodine radiation, as well as the first round of vaccinations against smallpox for 60,000 to 100,000 military, medical and rescue team personnel, who are most in risk of exposure to the weaponized strain of this otherwise eradicated disease.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s office moreover orchestrated a strategic leak to the media of a plan detailing operational defensive and reactive measures against aerial or missile attacks that the Israeli air force commander had just put before the defense cabinet
As part of the same response, 4,000 American troop reinforcements began landing at Jordan’s Aqaba port on the Red Sea Monday, August 12. They came officially for a three-week joint military exercise. But knowledgeable military sources assure DEBKA-Net-Weekly that their real mission is to secure Jordan’s main highways linking Aqaba to Amman and northern air bases – especially Mafraq – and its road links with Israel to the west.
This mission is vital for forestalling a recently discovered threat. Saddam has plotted follow-up steps for after he launches his first wave of mega-attacks. They entail Iraqi military intelligence units thrusting into Jordan to take over the kingdom’s main roads and open them to a large-scale invasion of Iraqi armored divisions, which will sweep up the Jordanian army and take control of the kingdom. The rush of events will, according to the Baghdad scenario, force King Abdullah to turn his back on the Americans and accept the role of Iraqi puppet ruler. Meanwhile, the Iraqi invasion force will proceed to wipe out the American and Israeli expeditionary forces in Jordan.
Awareness of this Iraqi scenario was at the bottom of the US war command’s decision to rush the extra 4,000 American troops to take control of Jordan’s strategic road links.
Our sources in Amman and the Gulf report that America has quietly sunk about $500 million in the construction, expansion and renovation of Jordan’s military bases, airfields and roads for the use of US troops stationed and transiting the Hashemite kingdom. Washington is also laying out more than $100 million to widen Aqaba port near the Saudi Arabian frontier as a key US military base in the Gulf of Aqaba-Red Sea region.
Saddam’s plan for a mortal blow against Israel ties in with his longstanding understanding with Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader and his terror command led by Colonel Tawfik Tirawi — head of West Bank general security and de facto commander of Arafat’s primary terror arm, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – are reported to be independently organizing a mega terror attack of their own in one of Israel’s major cities. (See also separate article on the internal power struggle in the Palestinian camp.)
In his latest briefing to the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee Tuesday August 13, military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash was uncharacteristically blunt and forthcoming. Arafat’s master plan, he warned, was to have several suicide bombers blow up simultaneously or use a number of car bombs against a single target in order to beat all previous Palestinian records for the number of Israeli casualties inflicted in a single terrorist attack.
Whether or not Saddam’s pre-emptive mega attack will be carried out in collaboration – or synchronously – with the massive Palestinians strike is a question still exercising US counter-terrorism officials, the US Iraq campaign command and Israeli army chiefs. However, the intelligence services of the US, Israel and Jordan believe they have enough data to link the terrorist arm of Iraqi military intelligence to Arafat’s own intelligence organizations and Tirawi’s terrorist arm. Tirawi is known to have his emissaries running back and forth between Ramallah and Amman to nourish his clandestine give-and-take ties with Muhammed Nawis, the senior Iraqi intelligence officer posted in the kingdom.
Jordanian intelligence officials have dubbed Nawis, who operates out of the Iraqi embassy in Amman, “the Iraqi pasha” (Iraqi governor) of Jordan, a mark of his power and broad operational reach. They report he has been able to insert a group of his Palestinian agents into the West Bank, secreting them across the Jordan River bridges with the help of local smugglers. This is confirmed by American and Israeli intelligence. The agents are equipped with nuclear and biological weapons systems after receiving training in their use from their Iraqi controllers. Their orders are to activate those weapons upon a pre-arranged signal.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say the agents could be part of Iraq’s pre-emptive strike plans against Israel, the United States, or both. None of the Palestinian leaders, including Arafat, have been told where they are hiding out – or even the details of their assignments – aside only from Col. Tirawi who enjoys Baghdad’s full trust.