A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 7, 2008

Egyptian security forces in Sinai detain first mixed Palestinian-al Qaeda team for attacks on Israel


1 Feb. Detained Friday, Feb. 1, they were carrying explosives for attacks on Israelis in Sinai and across border.

Ten were described as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, two from “the Gulf”, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources identify these two as Saudi members of al Qaeda, eight as belonging to Hamas’ military arm and the remaining two as Jihad Islami. This is the first proof of operational links in the Gaza Strip and Middle East between the Palestinian Hamas and its allies, including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, and al Qaeda.


An Israeli military patrol ambushed near the divided Israeli-Lebanese border village of Ghajar


3 Feb. Sunday night, Feb. 3, a routine Israeli military border patrol came under gunfire outside the village. The soldiers fired back. The Lebanese reported two dead on their side of the border. There were no Israeli casualties. It is not clear which Lebanese organization staged the attack – whether Palestinian, al Qaeda, which is known to have a strong presence in the Palestinian Ain Hilwah camp near Sidon in South Lebanon. Hamas too is engaged in building a base in this camp and has begun cooperating with al Qaeda.


Shin Bet chief reports: Masses of high-quality weaponry roll into Gaza through the breached Sinai border


3 Feb. The domestic security agency’s director, Yuval Diskin, warned the Israeli cabinet Sunday, Feb. 3, that the Palestinians exploited the chaos on the Gaza-Sinai border to smuggle in quantities of long-range rockets, anti-tank and anti-air rockets and high explosives for missiles. Hundreds of Palestinian terrorists have headed south into Sinai. According to Western intelligence sources, they are spread out along the 220-km Israeli border.

Diskin also reported that many Palestinian terrorists returning from Iran, Syria or Egypt used the border mayhem to gain entry to Gaza. Among them were members of various terrorist organizations who trained in Iran and other places and who arrived with fresh combat skills.

When Egyptian border police failed to stem the Palestinian surge out of Gaza last week, senior Israeli officers applied for permission to send up three combat helicopters, which they said would have been enough to stem the mass exit and the smuggling in of long-range rockets and returning terrorists.. But permission was withheld.


Barak rescues Olmert from free-fall over damning Lebanon War report


Feb. 3 Ehud Barak announced Sunday, Feb. 3, that he intends to stay on as defense minister and keep his Labor party in the government coalition. He was reminded of his pledge before joining the government last year to quit if the Lebanon War probe panned the government or force an early election. Sunday, he did neither – only to be greeted with jubilation in the prime minister’s office and hoots of derision from politician figures across the spectrum from left to right, including his own party, and broad sections of the public.

Barak explained that he was staying on in view of the security challenges facing the nation – Gaza, Hizballah, Syria, Iran, rehabilitating the military and peace negotiations.

A group of army reservists who have been demonstrating against the government are planning more popular protest rallies to promote their demand for the prime minister to take responsibility for his role in the botched Lebanon War.


North African al Qaeda warns Israeli ambassador: “You won’t escape us again”


5 Feb. Abu Moussab al Wadoud, chief of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, issued a warning Tuesday, Feb. 5 to Israeli ambassador to Mauritania Boaz Bismut: “Prepare for something bad to happen to you…You won’t get away this time…”

He linked the attack to a time “when the accursed Jews are harming our brothers in Palestine with a criminal siege of Gaza.”

This is the first overt link between North African al Qaeda and the Palestinians of Gaza. Israeli and North African security quarters fear that the warning augurs further attacks by the Islamist terrorists on Israeli and Jewish institutions in North Africa. The statement’s final sentence runs: “You in Palestine should know that our heart in the faraway Maghreb beats strongly and we will not rest until we uproot the Jews from the land that belongs to you.”

The foreign office in Jerusalem is doing its utmost to keep a functioning Israeli diplomatic presence in the Mauritanian capital, or at least the ambassador. The embassy’s closure and severance of diplomatic relations between Israel and an Arab nation would be a victory for the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources in North Africa report that while the attack may have been the work of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the gunmen may also have been sent by local Islamist parties. A week ago, they all signed a petition handed to president Cheikh Abdallahi Sidi Mohamed Ould demanding that Mauritania as a member of the Arab League cut off of its diplomatic relations with Israel because of its siege against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.


Israel on high terror alert after double suicide attack in Dimona Monday


5 Feb. Special security measures were imposed Tuesday, Feb. 5, in southern Israel, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where police guards at crowd centers were reinforced.

A pair of Palestinian suicide bombers murdered Lyubov Razdolsky, 73, and injured 48 people, including her husband, who is in critical condition, in the first suicide attack suffered by the southern Israeli town Dimona. A police officer shot the second bomber dead before he could detonate his charge.

It was also the first Palestinian suicide attack inside Israel since January 2007. The dead woman was an eminent physicist as was her husband before they retired.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report the conviction of security authorities that more terrorist teams have slipped across the wide-open Egyptian border from Sinai since Hamas smashed the Gaza border fence nearly two weeks ago.

Fatah's al Aqsa Brigades held a news conference in Gaza to claim responsibility for the attack and disclose that the two killers came from Gaza and entered Israel through Sinai.

debkafile‘s military sources: Israel’s secret nuclear center is located outside Dimona, a Negev town situated south of the West Bank and east of the Egyptian border.


In a coordinated U-turn, US and Russia both treat Iran’s space launch as attesting to a nuclear weapons program


6 Feb. Wednesday, Feb. 6, Moscow followed Washington in voicing concern that the launch of Iran’s Safir-1 space rocket Monday, Feb. 4, attested to the existence of a nuclear weapons program. The Kremlin had clearly abandoned its persistent denial of evidence that Tehran is developing a nuclear bomb.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, the White House spokeswoman said Iran’s “space” missile was cause for worry. Such technology, she said, is the same as that needed to deliver a nuclear bomb.

Wednesday, Feb. 6, Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Losyukov commented that Monday’s test launch raises suspicions over Tehran’s possible desire to create a nuclear weapon.

debkafile‘s Washington and Moscow sources report: The statements from the two capitals indicate that Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin have settled their dispute over harsh sanctions against Iran and decided to continue to cooperate and put the controversial NIE behind them.


Israel ministers asked to endorse buildup of Egyptian Sinai contingents – after the fact


6 Feb. Our Middle East sources report that prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni have covertly given Cairo the go-ahead to at least double its 750-man Sinai police force. Our military sources report that Egypt raised the number of troops on its borders with Gaza and Israel to 2,350, Sunday and Monday, whereas the cabinet ministers were asked for their approval Wednesday, Feb. 6. Neither did the prime minister refer the decision to parliament, although it was taken in breach of the Sinai demilitarization provision of the 1982 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.


Israeli Government Stalls as Hamas Escalates


6 Feb: Vacillation or dithering was the original sin committed by the Olmert government in the Lebanon War and the primary cause of its inconclusive outcome, according to the panel set up to examine what went wrong.

The same deficiency dogs the government’s handling of Hamas in Gaza. The belligerence of Hamas and its terrorist allies’ escalates unchallenged and the fundamentalist Palestinian rulers of Gaza go from strength to strength.

Shutting the stable door after the horse bolted, Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, and their spokesmen, have decided a barrier must go up along the border with Egypt.

Shortly before the Dimona attack, a “senior Israeli military officer” warned: “Some 200,000 Israelis in the towns of Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Ashdod and Eilat are about to join Sderot and the Gaza Strip’s other neighbors as targets of the current Palestinian short-range offensive.”

debkafile‘s Middle East military sources report that the current short-range missile offensive, combined with suicide attacks, is part of the strategy developed by Iran and Syria for defeating – and if possible destroying – the Jewish state.

It is to be followed by longer-range rockets, the first of which were transferred to Gaza this week, and finally ballistic missiles. Meanwhile Hamas plans to take over the West Bank. Short-range missiles will then be pointed at Israel’s civilian population from four directions.


In abrupt turnaround, Egypt threatens anyone breaching Gaza border


7 Feb. An angry Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Thursday, Feb. 7: “Anyone who breaches the border will have their legs broken.” Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began swarming into Egyptian Sinai two weeks ago after Hamas smashed the border fences.

He reproached Hamas for firing rockets into Israel – thereby provoking the Israel blockade of Gaza – as “a laughable caricature.” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum advised the Egyptian minister to stop making threats.


Hamas expands missile targeting area as Israel forces hit back in N. Gaza. Barak threatens harsher military action


7 Feb. Seventeen Palestinian missiles were fired by midday Thursday, Feb. 7, after Israeli Golani tank and engineering units with helicopter cover drove into northern Gaza in another bid to stem Palestinian cross-border missile attacks. They have since pulled back, while the missiles kept coming and Hamas broadened its targeting radius.

debkafile‘s military sources report: Israel defense minister Ehud Barak has more than once threatened firmer and broader military action to stop the missile blitz from Gaza. But so far has kept the military on a tight leash.

Seven armed Palestinians were killed in the first stage of the raid.

According to our sources, the IDF’s primary mission now is to keep the heat up on Hamas after an expanded Egyptian force restored control of the Gaza-Sinai border. Hamas leaders are intended to be cowed by the reconstituted Israel-Egyptian blockade. For now, there is no sign of this happening.

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