A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 14, 2008

Egypt gears up for border showdown with Hamas


8 Feb. Friday, Feb. 8, Egyptian troops manning the Gaza-Sinai border were given extra security after Hamas threatened to attack them and stage kidnappings, if 15 of their gunmen were not released. The Egyptians were told to stay together in armed groups of three and posted snipers on the rooftops on their side of the divided Gazan town of Rafah.

The escalation of Palestinian violence from Gaza has created an explosive situation on its Israel and Egyptian borders. Friday, terrorist groups fired 30 missiles at Israeli civilians, targeting Ashkelon as well as Sderot and its neighbors. At least 10 people suffered shock and minor injuries. The damage was heavy.

Hamas threatens to retaliate against Egyptian forces in Sinai.

The 15 armed Palestinians arrested in the Egyptian peninsula crossed from Gaza after Hamas blew up the wall separating Gaza from Sinai 12 days ago and set off a general exodus. More armed bands are suspected at large on the Egyptian-Israeli border poised for incursions.


Intelligence received of suicide bombers heading for attack sends southern Israel on highest alert level Sunday night


10 Feb. The targeted area includes the towns of Beersheba and Kiryat Gath and the Lachish region.


Prominent US Congressman Tom Lantos has died


11 Feb. Tom Lantos died of cancer of the esophagus at the age of 80 at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland. The only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and was a strong supporter of Israel in the House.

During a long and distinguished career as both hawk and social liberal, Tom Lantos was Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2007 and senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He passed away during his 14th term in office.

Born in Budapest to Jewish parents, the future congressman was sent to a Nazi labor camp in 1944 but escaped. Three years later, he came to the US on an academic scholarship.

A supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq at first, he criticized the Bush administration’s Iraq policies from 2006 and its troop surge strategy. In his California district, Lantos supported a socially liberal agenda.

He performed many delicate diplomatic missions for both Democrat and Republican administrations. In 2004, he was among the first American lawmakers to visit Libya in decades and reported back it was time for US overtures to normalize relations with Tripoli.

He also carried informal messages between US administrations and Israel governments and Bashar Assad in Damascus. In 2007, Lantos was in the delegation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which held talks with Syrian president in 2007.

Married his childhood sweetheart Annette, the couple has two daughters, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Barak: IDF told to prepare for large-scale army assault on Gaza


11 Feb. Defense minister Ehud Barak told a Knesset panel that he had directed the Israeli army command to prepare for a possible major assault in Gaza and its results, but also to put forward alternative options.

He faced rising clamor for a strategic ground action to deal with the Palestinian missile and terrorist offensive buffeting Israeli civilians from Gaza, since an 8-year old and his brother were gravely injured by one of the 39 missiles which struck Sderot and its environs in the space of 48 hours. One of young Osher Twito’s crushed legs was amputated. Many of the citizens remaining in Sderot stormed Jerusalem to protest the government’s inaction in the face of their heavily damaged homes, smashed greenhouses in neighboring villages and farmers targeted by Palestinian snipers.

Backed now by ministers and lawmakers, Sderot and its neighboring communities are threatening a wave of protest actions.


Israel may sell Turkey an Ofek spy satellite in a deal worth $300m


Our military sources disclose that arms transactions were the key topic in Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak’s talks in Ankara and prime minister Ehud Olmert’s meetings in Berlin. Israel has ordered from Germany 3 more Dolphin submarines to double its navy’s fleet of this type of sub which, according to foreign sources, is capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

If Barak ties up the satellite deal with his hosts in Ankara, Turkey will be the second Middle East country in possession of a military surveillance satellite. The deal has been approved by Washington. Both the US and Israel are anxious to build up military ties with Turkey to draw its government away from Iran.

In his talks with political and military leaders in Ankara, the Israeli defense minister also discussed the ongoing Turkish mediation effort between Israel and Syria.


New Hamas tactics greet Israeli force in Gaza early Tuesday


12 Feb. debkafile‘s military sources report that the Golani brigade, armored forces and reservists raiding Hamas’ missile and terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday, Feb. 12, had their first taste of Hamas tactics for blocking a major incursion. Driving forward in the northern, central and southern sectors, the Israeli force encountered Hamas opposition on all three fronts from mortars and Qassam missiles designed for the battlefield with a cutoff range of 1 km. The attacks were well-coordinated by a single command. Hamas had apparently decided to jump the gun on its blocking tactics in order to thwart a potential Israeli plan to seize bridgeheads inside Gaza ahead of substantial ground action.

The government’s nod for a major ground operation to stamp out the Palestinian missile offensive has been held up again


Israeli generals impatient with government foot-dragging on Gaza missile operation


12 Feb. debkafile‘s military sources report that the tone – even more than the actual words – heard from chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashenazi, air force chief Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy and other generals Monday, Feb. 11, betrayed frustration with the too-little, too-late policies pursued by the government. They were fed up with being held back from effective ground action to stamp out Palestinian missiles and terror at source in Gaza.

A former defense minister Moshe Arens said: It is unthinkable to place children on Israel’s front line; that’s a job for soldiers.

Ashkenazi told members of the IDF high command Monday night: “The army stands ready to deepen and expand its operations (in Gaza) as needed in accordance with the decisions reached.” He was tossing the ball back to the decision-makers.

Countering the government’s implied lack of faith in the IDF, Ashkenazi told the officers: “I have confidence in you and am certain the military will carry out its missions.”

The OC Southern Command (which includes the Gaza Strip) Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant described the situation as “a pressure cooker about to explode at any moment.”

The military intelligence research division head Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz said: “Israel’s security and strategic situation in 2008 is more difficult and complicated than in 2007. Hizballah has trebled its rocket stocks and extended their range as far as Tel Aviv.”

debkafile‘s military sources: Uniformed IDF generals came as close to criticizing the government as conceivable in Israel’s democracy.


Israel denies hand in Mughniyeh death


13 Feb. The PMO in Jerusalem rejected attempts to tie Israel to the bomb explosion in Damascus Tuesday, Feb. 12 which killed Hizballah’s master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh.

debkafile‘s military and counter-terror sources report: Israel has elevated the alert on its Lebanese and Syrian borders, at airlines, embassies and Jewish institutions world wide. Security has been stepped up for prominent Israeli and Jewish figures and kidnap warnings issued to traveling Israelis.


Major coup in war on terror: Notorious Hizballah terrorist hostage-taker Imad Mughniyeh killed in Damascus


13 Feb. Hizballah’s supreme commander and plotter of major anti-US and anti-Israel terror operations in the last 25 years died, aged 46, in a car bomb explosion in Damascus on Feb. 12.

On Aug. 5, 2006, debkafile described Mughniyeh as the only undercover agent in the Middle East who enjoys the complete personal trust of both Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. In recent years he has liaised between them.

The elusive Mughniyeh was infamous for suicide bombings of US Marine and French Beirut headquarters in Beirut in 1982, the US embassy bombing and attack on Israeli command center in Tyre in 1983 and brutal kidnappings Westerners in Beirut.

Before 9/11 he topped the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.

The dead terrorist’s association with Tehran and its violent overseas exploits went back twenty years. Mughniyeh was held responsible for the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, in which more than a hundred people died. He planned the kidnap and murder of three Israeli soldiers eight years ago and his hand is believed behind the abduction of two Israeli reservists in 2006.


Israel’s army chief orders IDF land, sea and air forces to prepare to defend the country’s northern borders and interests


14 Feb. Defense minister Ehud Barak said the entire national defense system is fully prepared and alert as heavy Israeli reinforcements, including homeland defense units, were rushed Thursday to northern Israel.

debkafile‘s military sources report that these unprecedented steps followed a stream of incoming intelligence updates reporting that Iran, Syria and Hizballah had decided not to let Imad Mughniyeh’s death pass without an immediate response.

Jerusalem has denied Hizballah and Iranian allegations of responsibility for the death of the Lebanese master terrorist. But Tehran, Damascus, and the Hizballah leadership are convinced that Israel’s Mossad planted the small bomb in the master terrorist’s Mitsubishi Pajero. Wednesday night, Hizballah’s top leaders went to ground. Hassan Nasrallah did not attend the funeral Thursday but broadcast his eulogy by video.


Nasrallah: If Israel wants open war, so be it


14 Feb. “The blood of our slain commander will lead to Israel's demise,” said the Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah in a diatribe broadcast at the funeral of the group’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh Thursday, Feb. 18. “I say for the whole world to hear that our war will extend everywhere without restraints. The Lebanon War is not over; there is no ceasefire.”

Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew in especially to pay his government’s respects to the dead commander. Earlier, thousands converged on Martyr’s Square to mark three years since the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri, in a demonstration of strength by the pro-Western government. Speakers with one voice blamed Syria and Hizballah for Lebanon’s woes.


Iraqi radical Shiite leader mourns Mugniyeh


14 Feb. The Iraq's Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr Thursday condemned the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh and declaring three days of mourning in all Sadrist offices. debkafile reports they were friends. Mughniyeh provided the infrastructure and training to make Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia a formidable military force.

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