A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending Feb. 8, 2007

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Sderot hours after two Qassam missiles fired from Gaza


2 February: Sderot citizens have the right to live in peace, said Bloomberg, during a visit to the missile-battered Israeli town Friday.Unfortunately,” he added, “on the other side of the border people are firing rockets and these rockets kill.” He stressed that Israel should not negotiate with Palestinian organizations who do not abide by the three conditions set by the Middle East Quartet.

The visiting New York Mayor planted a sapling in Sderot, joining the annual Tu Bishvat tree-planting celebrations.

Thursday, the visitor announced Jerusalem’s main Magen David ambulance center and blood bank would be renovated and named after his late father.


Israel’s New Top Soldier May Have to Take on the Politicians before the Enemy


4 February: After taking the reins from Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz on Feb. 14, the incoming chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi faces some hard choices. The flames of a Palestinian civil war engulfing the Gaza Strip pose a multiple threat to Israel which his bosses, the politicians, persist in brushing aside. None of them admits Israel is already deeply enmeshed in the Gaza war.

If the new chief of staff emulates his predecessor, who slavishly obeyed Ariel Sharon, he will go down as the second political appointee in a row to fill the post of top Israeli soldier.

The consequences of Halutz’s meekness were plain to see in the Lebanon War last summer and the breakdown of life, law and order in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s unilateral pullback. But if the new chief of staff stands up to the policy-makers and keeps the country clear of fresh blunders, he will be recognized as a worthy heir of the fine, professional tradition of Israel’s past generals.

Ashkenazi faces his first test in the Gaza Strip.

Israel not only supplies the Fatah side led by Muhammad Dahlan weapons and money to support his battle against Hamas, but also intelligence and logistic backing, thereby sending two messages:

1. If Dahlan cannot finish Hamas, the IDF will go in and do it for him.

2. Even if Fatah under his generalship carries the day, the IDF will have to go into the Gaza Strip to destroy the thousands of missiles Hamas and Jihad Islami have stockpiled for attacking Israel.

debkafile‘s military sources report that IDF preparations to retake sections of the Gaza Strip are in place. In stark contrast to the July-Aug 2006 Lebanon War, which left northern Israel prey to Katyusha attack, the defense ministry and military authorities are planning to evacuate the 100,000 civilians living in Sderot and the towns and villages within missile range of Gaza to get them out of harm’s way of retaliation.

This would be another first; Israel has never before evacuated a large population from a potential war zone.


Diskin: A Palestinian unity government is not necessarily in Israel’s best interest, says Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet chief Monday


5 February: Diskin said Hamas stood to gain most from Mecca, because incorporation in a coalition with Fatah would win international acceptance and economic assistance.

Israel, he said, is disturbed by the presence of at least 10 Palestinian cross-border tunnels in Gaza designed to surreptitiously carry bombers out for attacks on Israeli communities and border positions. He did not recommend an Israeli military operation against Gaza at this time, but in the long term, there might be no choice. “Chaos in the Gaza Strip would not serve Israel's interests,” said the head of Israel’s security service, “because it could produce fresh perils, such as rise of the international jihadist organization (al Qaeda).

He warned of Iran's dangerously deep penetration of the Gaza Strip as Hamas' main arms supplier. Hamas operatives train in Iran for long periods.

Diskin said: “If Egypt can more effectively control the smuggling of war materiel from Sinai to Gaza, the buildup of terrorist strength would be slowed down and the need for us to reoccupy Gaza correspondingly reduced.” Egypt holds the key to this.

In 2006, Palestinian terrorist groups smuggled 28 tons of military standard explosives through the “rabbit warren” under the Philadelphi strip, compared with 6 tons in 2005 when Israeli troops controlled the border enclave.


In first attack since Lebanon War, Hizballah plants bomb-trap on Israeli-Lebanese border


5 February: The four bombs, packed with 15 kilos of explosives each, were discovered and detonated in controlled explosions in a small Israeli enclave south of the Lebanese border opposite Moshav Avivim. The Hizballah operatives who planted them came from bases at Aytarun or Maroun al-Ras six months after a ceasefire ended the Lebanon War. The incident belied assurances from prime minister Ehud Olmert that the war had pushed Hizballah positions back and replaced them with United Nations peacekeepers.

From Sep. 2006, Hizballah forces have been returning to their old village positions and building military fortifications. The have also re-deployed their missiles together with surveillance posts which keep a close watch on IDF and civilian movements across border. Illegal Syrian and Iranian weapons supplies continue undisturbed.

Lebanese military units and UNIFIL troops do not venture into the Hizballah-controlled villages, detain the armed men present there or dismantle their arms caches, notwithstanding their mandate to enforce the UN ceasefire resolution banning these activities. Hizballah has threatened to fire on them if they do.

On Jan 11, debkafile reported an alert declared by the IDF and South Lebanese UN units following intelligence that Syria was urging Hizballah to strike an Israeli target. The shaped bombs planted near Avivim may have been Hizballah’s response.


Chirac’s Tolerance for a Nuclear-Armed Iran Stirs Echoes in Washington


4 February: Last week, French president Jacques Chirac said he was not concerned about the danger of Iran having “…one or perhaps a second bomb…” In a statement he retracted a day later, he said it would be an act of self-destruction for Iran to use a nuclear weapon against another country.

debkafile‘s sources report the French president’s purported “gaffe” was in fact a backhanded admission of a proposition creeping into official quarters in Europe and some in the United States, that a nuclear-armed Iran is inevitable.

His remarks also knocked over the Olmert government’s fundamental policy of shunting responsibility for dealing with Iran’s nuclear armament over to the “international community.” The French president was saying in effect to Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres: Don’t push the problem over to us if you can’t manage it on your own.

In 1974, as French prime minister, Chirac led a big French delegation to Baghdad. Close ties were established with Saddam Hussein, based on the offer to Iraq of French nuclear reactors and technology for building nuclear weapons. Ten years later, the late Menahem Begin ordered the Israeli Air Force to demolish the French-supplied Tamuz reactor and Saddam’s nuclear dream.

Thirty-three years after assisting in the development of a Sunni Muslim nuclear bomb, Chirac is bidding for international acceptance of a Shiite Muslim bomb before bowing out of office.


Riyadh informs Washington that a Palestinian unity government will not honor previous agreements


6 February: Ahead of the Mecca reconciliation summit Tuesday, Feb. 6, Riyadh informed Washington that the Palestinian accord for a coalition government it was brokering will not meet a key Middle East Quartet condition for its recognition: the acceptance of past accords, including peace agreements with Israel. All the same, the US and Europe must lift the international embargo and economic siege imposed on the Hamas government. If they did not, Saudi Arabia would step in with all the funds the new Palestinian administration needs – an approximate annual sum of $1 billion.

The Saudis attached no strings to its economic assistance offer; no demand for Hamas’  to cut off ties with Iran, stop the flow of Iranian weapons and cash to the Gaza Strip, or evacuate of Iranian and Hizballah officers. Hamas therefore stands to come away from Mecca in triumph, with a Saudi-endorsed majority in the new Palestinian government, an assured cash flow from Saudi Arabia as well as Iran, and nothing to stop the continuation of military aid from Tehran and Hizballah as their investment in Hamas preparations for war with Israel.


Iraqi gunmen in uniform kidnap an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad


Amid tight security, archeological dig begins outside Jerusalem’s Moghrabi Gate to prepare for gate’s reconstruction


6 February: After calling for a third intifada and striking policemen, the rabble-rousing Israeli Islamic leader Raed Saleh was handed a court order barring him from entering Jerusalem for ten days. He is leading a call on Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, joined by the Saudi and Jordanian monarchs, to protest the alleged “threat to al Aqsa,” although the dig is on the ground below 60-70 meters distant from the mount where the mosque stands. It is in fact closer to the women’s section of the Western Wall, the Jewish shrine beneath the mount. Police are on guard across the Old City. As a precaution against violent riots, access to the mosques is restricted to Muslims over 45 with Israeli identity cards and barred to all Jews and tourists.

The ramp leading to the Moghrabi Gate, the only point of access for non-Muslim pilgrims and visitors wishing to view the ancient Jewish temples site, was badly damaged four years ago by heavy snow and an earthquake.

Director of the Antiquities Dept Jerusalem district Yuval Baruch reported that Muslim leaders had been informed well in advance of the excavation ahead of construction.


A surprise UN-Lebanese signing establishes the Special Hariri Tribunal. Damascus expected to fight back


7 February: The signing in Beirut Tuesday, Feb. 6, set up an international tribunal to prosecute the alleged killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Feb. 2005.

Syria, whose president Bashar Asad and close family are suspected of a hand in the murder, is unlikely to let the tribunal start work without further acts of violence.

The Siniora government had been prevented from signing by a constitutional stalemate created by the pro-Syrian Lebanese president and parliament speaker. It was overcome by a device concocted by American international law experts hired by the US State Department which obviated the need for ratification.

Asad must either accept exposing his close family and mainstays of his regime to charges of assassination and terror, or suffer harsh UN Security Council sanctions. To ward of both evils, he can either press his bid to overthrow Fouad Siniora’s government or stir up military tensions in the region as a diversion from the prosecution. The bomb-trap Israeli troops discovered and detonated on the Lebanese-Israeli border opposite Avivim on February 5 was one such step.


Lebanese and Israeli troops exchange fire over an Israeli tank unit’s mission to clear bombs


8 February: The mission was completed amid high border tension, after Lebanese troops opened fire Wednesday night, Feb. 7, on the Israel tank, APC, bulldozer unit which crossed into the tiny Israeli enclave between the security fence and Lebanese border. Israel tanks returned fire at Lebanese position. No casualties are reported.

The mission was ordered two days after Hizballah planted four shaped explosives in the enclave, which is situated opposite Moshav Avivim, to trap Israel border patrols. They were safely detonated.

debkafile‘s military sources report: During the day, Wednesday, Israeli gave UNIFIL and the Lebanese army advance notice of the mission. Lebanese officers threatened to fire on the Israeli unit if it crossed the fence, although the enclave is sovereign Israeli territory south of the Blue Line frontier. OC Northern Command Maj.Gen Gady Eisenkott warned that if Israeli soldiers were hurt in the course of cleansing the area of bombs, his unit would return the fire against Lebanese army targets.

Wednesday night, as tension built up, Israel’s Magen David alerted all first aid services in the north in case Lebanese troops or Hizballah went on the offensive.

The four shaped bombs planted Monday, of the type used against US and British soldiers in Iraq, came from forbidden arms caches at new Hizballah positions erected close to the Israeli border in the Aytarun and Maroun al-Ras area, in violation of the UN ceasefire. They have not been dismantled either by the Lebanese army or the UN peacekeepers.

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