A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending March13, 2008

A Jerusalem yeshiva was saved from attack four days before the Yeshivat Harav murders


8 March: debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal that just four days before a Palestinian terrorist murdered eight Mercaz Harav students in Jerusalem on March 6, two Palestinians were frightened away from another Jerusalem yeshiva, Porath Yosef, on March 2. They were challenged by armed security guards on the door and are still at large.

The guards reported to the police that two Palestinians appeared at Porath Yosef demanding entry with a large carton like the one in which Ala Abu Dhaim carried his assault rifle, sidearms and ammo four days later. They claimed they had been commissioned to do some work in the institution. Asked by the guards to open the box, they ran off.

The police dismissed the incident as a misunderstanding and did not raise the alarm. Unaware of danger, Mercaz Harav did not post security guards. After the attack, security agencies had to conclude that one or more Palestinian terror cells are on the loose in Jerusalem and could be targeting any of the hundreds of Jewish religious institutions in the city.

The security services declared an immediate general alert across the country, focusing on Jerusalem, which remains in force. The West Bank was sealed. A spate of Arab violence erupted across the country, Jerusalem and the West Bank in the last ten days.


Jordan bars mourning tent near Amman for killer of Jewish students


8 March: Jordanian authorities prevented the relatives of Ala Abu Dhaim from Jebal Mukaber, who murdered eight Jewish students Thursday in Jerusalem, from setting up a mourning tent near Amman. The Jordanian government earlier condemned the attack.


Sgt. Liran Banai, 20, from Ashkelon dies of his wounds


9 March: Sgt. Banai was critically injured on March 8 by a roadside bomb which killed another member of their routine patrol of the Israeli border outside Kissufim.

Altogether 10 Israelis died last week from Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Hundreds of bombing devices planted by Palestinians are routinely defused on the Gaza-Israel border every month. Some are laid at the rate of five per day.


Al Qaeda claims last month’s kidnap of two Austrian tourists in Tunisia


10 March. In an audio tape aired Monday by al Jazeera, Salah Abu Mohammed who claimed to speak for al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, said the two Austrians had been snatched in “retribution for Western cooperation with Israel. He said the hostages were in good health. “We tell Western tourists that while they seek joy in Tunisia, our brothers are slain in Gaza by the Jews with collaboration of the Western states.”


Turkey‘s army chief warns Pakistan’s nuclear arms could fall into Taliban hands


10 March. Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the Turkish chief of staff said if President Pervez Musharraf lost his grip, Pakistan could fall into Taliban hands and a terrorist organization would gain control of nuclear arms for the first time. Sunday, the two parties in opposition to Musharraf forged a power-sharing alliance to govern Pakistan, vowing to evict him from the presidency. Islamist groups have also stepped up their attacks since the Feb. 18 general election.


Israel places Lebanese, Syrian, Gaza borders, its cities and highways on high terror alert


10 March: The annual intelligence report submitted to the Israeli government Sunday, March 9, predicted grave dangers to Israeli security in the coming year. However, even in the short term, debkafile‘s military and Middle East sources report the Israeli army, police and security forces are on guard for stormy events in the second half of March.

To bring reluctant Arab rulers to the Damascus Arab League summit on the 29th, Syria has quietly slipped the word that the contentious Lebanese issue will be left off the agenda and replaced with the Gaza crisis. This brought the Saudis round. A major escalation by Hamas would bring forth a dramatic summit resolution in support of the Palestinian Hamas.

This summit will for the first time host an Iranian head of state. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad will do their utmost to radicalize the Arab League.

Leaving the Lebanese impasse off the formal agenda does not preclude flare-ups.

According to our military sources, Hizballah is completing its preparations for revenge on Israel, whom it accuses of killing Imad Mughniyeh last month.

Israel’s new national intelligence report affirms that the United States’ declining role in the region has left a vacuum which extremists are determined to fill. Yet Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni are still carefully treading the line drawn by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, whose main preoccupation these days is to keep international crises at bay for the rest of the Bush presidency.

In Jerusalem last week, Rice confided that to achieve a lull in the cross-border violence in Gaza, even concessions to Hamas were acceptable. This stance, which Israel accepted, substantially enhanced the Islamists’ bargaining position.


Israel, Hamas and Egypt agree informally to ceasefire and end of Gaza siege


11 March: Despite Israeli and Hamas denials of an accord, debkafile‘s Middle East sources report Cairo has brokered an informal ceasefire and obtained Israel’s acceptance of a reopened Rafah crossing from Gaza to Sinai. The calm on the Gaza-Israel border went into its third day Monday, March 11.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, when they denied secret talks with Hamas were technically correct. The two sides did not meet; the Egyptians shuttled between them. And since no documents were formally signed, the deal can be repudiated at any time. Hamas promised in return for the reopening of the Rafah crossing –

1. Not to smash the new border wall Egypt is building along the 13 km Philadelphi route.

2. Not to dig new arms smuggling tunnels, while making no promises about existing ones. Israel reserved the freedom to resume military attacks if Hamas goes back to firing missiles or uses the tunnels.

The trouble with this deal, says senior Israeli officers, is that it is too full of holes to last. On the one hand, as long as Hamas and Jihad Islami are not shooting missiles and rockets at Israel, the IDF has no cause to hit back. But Israel has no way of telling if and when Hamas uses the smuggling tunnels to restock on missiles.

Furthermore, by accepting the reopening of the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing, Israel has agreed to the unrestricted passage of members of Palestinian armed groups to and from Tehran, Damascus and Beirut as well as tacitly accepting the end of its siege of Hamas-ruled Gaza.


Top US Middle East commander Adm. William Fallon resigns


11 March: Defense secretary Robert Gates told reporters Tuesday, March 11, that the chief of central command had quit after an Esquire magazine article portrayed him as opposed to White House policy on Iranin particular, against war on Iran over its suspect nuclear program.

debkafile‘s military sources add some background. Adm. Fallon was at loggerheads with the US president and defense secretary over their backing for many of the US Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus’ evaluations of the military situation in Iraq. He considered Petraeus had overstated American military successes in the Iraq war and warned the situation there was volatile and could change rapidly.

His departure comes at a particularly fraught moment for US positions in the areas of his command since 2007 – US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and personal attention to critical developments in Pakistan and Lebanon.


Jihad Islami fires 26 Qassam missiles from Gaza after losing two West Bank chiefs


13 March. Several missiles landed in Sderot causing damage. The salvoes came after five senior Palestinian terror commanders were killed in clashes with Israeli forces

The long-wanted Bethlehem chief Mohammed Shehadeh was killed along with Imad Kemal, Issa Marzoura and the Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades operative Ahmed Balful, by an undercover Israeli force in Bethlehem Wed. March 12.

They were sought for years for orchestrating major mass-murder attacks in Israel between 2001and 2004.

In an earlier encounter, in another part of the West Bank, an Israeli force killed the Jihad Islami’s Tulkarm commander.

debkafile adds: Israel security forces expected Jihad Islami to retaliate with missile fire from Gaza – not just in revenge, but to underline the Hamas demand in ongoing ceasefire negotiations that a truce must apply to the West Bank as well as Gaza. Israel refuses to let its hands be tied in its long and effective counter-terror campaign on the West Bank for as long as the Palestinian Authority ducks its commitments.

Israel’s national high terror alert remains in place. It was imposed seven days ago after 8 students were murdered by a Palestinian gunman at the Jerusalem Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem. Jewish congregations marked the seventh day of their deaths, March 13, with memorial services in Israel and overseas.

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