A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending March 6, 2008

US warships move into E. Mediterranean in case Gaza escalation spills over into Lebanon


29 Feb. Friday, Feb. 29, Egypt’s intelligence minister Omar Suleiman canceled his visit to Israel because of estimates in Cairo that hectic preparations current in Israel and the Gaza Strip augur a steep escalation of cross-border violence.

The US has meanwhile posted naval and marine vessels opposite the shores of Israel and Lebanon in case the fighting spreads to a second front.

These sources point to four significant developments to watch for:

1. The end of the 40 days of mourning for Mughniyeh on March 22-23.

Hizballah is adamant about avenging the death of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh. This Iranian front group is also committed to helping Hamas.

2. Israel is braced for this eventuality and in mid-preparation for its army to turn the tables on a Hizballah assault and carry the war into Lebanon.

US intelligence sources note that last week, the IDF deployed Patriot missile defense batteries around Haifa in case Hizballah unleashes a rocket offensive on the North as in 2005.

3. The quarrel between Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad, which is nearing boiling point, threatens to be fought out in Lebanon, their main bone of contention. Both are sending quantities of arms and ammo to the Lebanese militias under their respective wings.

4. This week, Abdullah persuaded Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s Abdullah to boycott the forthcoming Arab League summit in Damascus. Assad is unlikely to take this slap in the face lying down.


US Congressional panel recognizes the “forgotten” Jewish refugees from Arab lands


29 Feb. The resolution unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday, Feb. 29, recognizes the “over 850,000 Jews put to flight from Arab countries” in 1948 as refugees, no less than their Palestinian counterparts, who they outnumber.

The US president is urged to ensure that when the Middle refugee issue is discussed in international forums, any reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similarly explicit reference to expelled Jewish populations.


Saudi citizens ordered to depart Lebanon with all possible speed


1 March. debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that this unprecedented order from the royal court in Riyadh on March 1 portends an unusual military outbreak in Lebanon. Kuwait quickly followed suit.

Standing by since Friday off the troubled Mediterranean shores of Lebanon, Israel and Gaza is the USS Cole guided missile destroyer opposite Lebanon. It was joined Monday by the USS Nassau amphibious warship and its strike group of six vessels carrying 2,800 marines, flight crews and sailors.


Iran is watching Gaza


2 March. Military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin noted that Iran, Syria and Hizballah are watching the confrontation in the Gaza Strip to see how it turns out as a future reference point for their own course of action against Israel. He reported that the Grad rockets Hamas is shooting at Ashkelon were made in Iran.

debkafile‘s military sources report: All that the Israeli military has done so far is to enter the same strip of land around Beit Hanun and Beit Lahiya inside northern Gazan in which it has operated in previous routine operations, with no effect on the Palestinian missile offensive.


Two Israeli ministers demand serious military crackdown to halting Palestinian missile offensive


2 March. Sunday, March 2, one of four Katyusha rockets fired at Ashkelon exploded next door to the home of internal security minister Avi Dichter, hours after he criticized the current Israeli military operation in Gaza. At the weekly cabinet meeting he reported that instead of 125,000 Israeli civilians under fire, there are now 250,000.

The minister stressed there must be no let-up in operations against terrorists; Palestinian civilians shielding them are themselves terrorists, he said. The internal security minister, transport minister, Shaul Mofaz added his voice to the demand to crack down in earnest on Hamas.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert pledged not to stop Israel’s Gaza assault until the Palestinians halted their missile offensive, but peace talks would go on. He was instantly rebuffed by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who formally suspended all contacts with Israel.


Ofakim is third Israeli town to join Hamas missile targets Sunday


2 March: A Palestinian Katyusha hit Ofakim, a town of 30,000, situated 12-15 km east of Gaza and south of Beersheba, Sunday, March 2.

Defense minister Barak stated that Israel would fight Hamas in Gaza until it was forced to halt its missile-rocket war against Israeli towns and villages. The goal would not be attained in two days and more escalation was to be expected, Barak said. Regarding the Palestinian Authority’s suspension of peace talks, the defense minister said the PA had only itself to blame for the current crisis by letting Hamas terrorists to throw it out of Gaza eight months ago.


Police go on alert in Jerusalem to quell Palestinian riots on behalf of Gaza


3 March. One gang tried to lynch two Israeli municipal inspectors driving through Saladin Street Mon. March 3, on the second day of Palestinian riots. A group of Jewish worshippers was attacked at the Rabbi Shimon Hatzadik tomb. Across the West Bank, an Israeli woman driver and several soldiers were injured by rampaging Palestinians. An Israel motorist extricated himself from a rock-throwing Palestinian mob north of Ramallah by shooting one dead. The IDF is investigating the incident. In Betar, Kalandia and Bethlehem, Palestinians hurling bottle bombs were shot in the legs by Israeli security police.


Senior Israeli minister calls for emergency government


3 March. The hazards Israeli faces are existential, industry and trade minister Eli Yishai maintained Monday, after the prime minister suddenly ordered Israeli ground troops to pull out of the Gaza Strip in mid-operation. He termed Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 Israel’s “biggest mistake in its history.”


Israeli troops abruptly withdraw from Gaza. Seven-story Ashkelon building hit by Katyusha Monday


3 March. debkafile reports: Prime minister Ehud Olmert decided to suddenly pull back Israeli ground and armored units from northern Gaza before dawn Monday before they completed their mission to halt Palestinian fire.

Up until late Sunday night, Qassam rockets continued to explode in Sderot and surrounding villages and Katyusha rockets in Ashkelon at the average rate of 50 per day since Wednesday. The three-day Israeli infantry, tank and air incursion left more than 100 Palestinians dead, most Hamas combatants, some civilians and children. Two Israeli soldiers were killed.

Shortly after Israel’s withdrawal, Monday, March 3, the Palestinians stepped up their missile and rocket attacks. Hamas staged a victory march in Gaza City.

debkafile‘s political sources report that Hamas won useful points in the propaganda war by getting images and footage of Palestinian women and children casualties of Israeli strikes onto TV screens and front pages way ahead of the suffering of Israeli civilians from the gratuitous Hamas blitz.

This eased the way for Washington to lean hard on the prime minister to break off the operation.


Egyptian ambulances “smuggle” Hamas fighters and weapons into Gaza


3 March. Sunday, March 2, Egypt re-opened Gaza’s Rafah crossing for the first time since Hamas blew up the border wall on Jan. 23 for ambulances to collect some 150 wounded Palestinians.

debkafile‘s military sources disclose that 27 ambulances also brought in 15-20 Hamas commando fighters, part of the of the 120-strong group rounded up in Sinai and detained on their return from advanced courses in Iran and Syria. They were permitted to cross back into Gaza with a quantity of weapons and ammunition.

Israel military sources are watching to see if the incoming ambulances are also carrying shoulder-borne anti-air missiles for shooting down Israeli helicopters and drones. The returning Hamas fighters are highly trained for guerilla warfare against conventional armies and a valuable increment for Hamas’ war against Israel.


Ahmadinejad’s Baghdad visit opened way for US-Iran status quo deal on Iraq


4 March: debkafile‘s Washington and Tehran sources report that a quid pro quo is taking shape between the US and Iran: A nuclear deal on the lines of North Korea’s status in return for Tehran’s help for consolidating American gains in Iraq.

The Iranians are counting on the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions against their uranium enrichment approved March 3 being President George W. Bush’s parting shot. Mostly, they are looking ahead to the next US president to approve the North Korean format, which means accepting a Tehran guarantee to freeze its uranium enrichment process, its nuclear bomb program and nuclear-capable ballistic missile project, without demanding their dismantlement.

According to our Washington sources, George W. Bush is keen to hand his successor a relatively stable Iraq, and will therefore play ball with Tehran provided Iran helps preserve the status quo in Iraq, by using its two powerful resources:

1. An extensive clandestine intelligence and military infrastructure across Iraq that will obey Tehran’s orders to pull in its horns.

2. Its hand on the spigot of the flow of weapons, money and extra-powerful roadside bombs to the different anti-US insurgent groups.


Israeli cabinet okays Hamas and Jihad Islami targets for attack


March 5. debkafile‘s military sources disclose that Israel’s security cabinet approved Wednesday, March 5, a series of terrorist targets for early attacks to deter Hamas missile fire on Israel.

1. Chiefs and senior officers of Hamas’ and Jihad Islami’s armed wings.

2. Their senior political officials in the Gaza strip, excluding prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, but including hard-line Mahmoud a-Zahar.

3. Hamas and Jihad institutions, including police stations.

Defense minister Ehud Barak is determined to deny Hamas the ability to create a balance of deterrence with Israel. Therefore, the Israeli operation will persist even under heavy Hamas assaults.


Chemicals for explosives concealed in Palestinian food containers transiting open Israel-Gaza border crossings


5 March. Israel reopened the border crossings Tuesday, March 3, for food and other essential supplies to reach the Gaza population. Wednesday, a load of cans marked “edible oil” was found to contain a chemical substance resembling glue for the manufacture of explosives used in Palestinian missiles fired against Israel. The trucks, like the 100 which crossed into Gaza Tuesday, originated in the West Bank.


Eight Israelis killed, dozens injured, in Palestinian shooting attack at Yeshivat Harav Center in Kiryat Moshe, W. Jerusalem


A Palestinian gunman armed with a Kalashnikov gun and a bomb vest stormed the Yeshiva library Thursday night, March 6, and opened automatic fire in all directions at the scores of seminarists studying there. After several minutes, he was shot dead in an exchange of fire. The killer was identified as a resident of southern Jerusalem, bearer of an Israeli identity card.

Earlier, an Israeli soldier was killed and three injured when their patrol jeep was struck by a roadside bomb outside Kissufim. debkafile reports an average of five of these devices are routinely discovered and defused on the Gaza border fence day by day.

In Sderot, a Qassam rocket set a home ablaze, seriously injuring two occupants. It was the second direct hit to a Sderot home from Gaza Thurs. March 6. The town took 10 Palestinian missiles during the day.

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