A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending Jan. 10, 2008

Al Qaeda Readies Dual-track Offensive in Iraq and Gaza


5 Jan. Just in time for President George W. Bush’s first – and last – Middle East tour, al Qaeda’s new operational arm, Fatah al-Islam, completed its redeployment from Lebanon on two warfronts: Iraq and the Gaza Strip. Al Qaeda has managed to pull together two fronts for twin campaigns orchestrated by a single commander, Fatah al-slam’s Palestinian chief Shaker al-Abessi, from his new base in Iraq.

With his top command, Abessi accessed Iraq from Syria in the last month, while some 120 rank and file were smuggled into Gaza through Sinai and by sea. They roar through Gaza’s streets in new mini-vans, brandishing the heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons they brought with them. On display are their “Musab Zarqawi” missiles (a replica of the primitive Qassam short-range surface missile wielded by Hamas and Jihad Islami).

A high-placed Israeli military source said: “One would imagine the Taliban in Palestinian form had landed on our southwestern doorstep – the same sort of weapons, methods of operation and hot-eyed fervor.”

An Israeli military officer sees the Gaza Strip descending further into fundamentalist Islamization, bolstered by a flood of al Qaeda’s ideology, propaganda, funds and arms and an influx of Palestinian Al Qaeda adherents in flight from Egyptian Suez Canal cities.

Israel must have been the only country in the world which failed to nip in the bud the buildup of a dangerous terrorist base along its borders from 2005 Today, the Olmert government continues to bury its head in the sand as the terrorist bases gain full-blown military capabilities.

In the past week, the extremist hodge-podge fired 32 missiles into Israel and its first 122mm Katyusha rocket against Ashkelon, a major Israeli city. They pose an unarguable strategic threat to Israel’s southern half as great as the hazard Hizballah presents to the North.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ harassment of US warships in Strait of Hormuz carried 5 messages for Bush


7 Jan. debkafile‘s military and Iranian sources stress that the near-shooting incident Sunday, Jan. 26, in which 5 IRGC speedboats made threatening passes against three US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, was timed precisely by Tehran for the eve of President George W. Bush’s Middle East tour.

1. It was an “in your face” gesture by the IRGC to show the US president they were not scared by being declared a global terrorist organization.

2. The elite Iranian corps was also intent on proving that Iran – not the US navy – was boss of the Strait of Hormuz.

3. A reminder that Iran is able to block the strait at will and throw the world’s oil traffic in disarray.

4. A demonstration to the neighbors that Iran is the region’s leading power, not the US, and that no deals or issues can be finalized without Tehran’s say-so.

5. A warning to the nations hosting Bush not to sign military pacts directed against Iran.


Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ two faces


7 Jan. The disclosure that Fatah’s al Aqsa Brigades is responsible for 32 percent of the Qassam missiles fired against Israeli communities from Gaza and more than 40 percent of the mortar rounds is contained in an internal report the Israeli military command has submitted to the prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak.

The Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in the Gaza Strip takes its orders directly from the movement’s leader, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is holding “peace talks” under US sponsorship. So as not to derail the talks, the Israeli government is hushing up the information.

Abbas’ Fatah’s regression to full-scale terrorism appears to be motivated by fear of losing all credibility on the Palestinian street to the extremist Hamas.

The hush extends to Shin Bet’s findings on the truth about the PA’s purported campaign to suppress terror on the West Bank. Spinning the revolving door, Palestinian security agencies round up Hamas terrorist suspects and political figures only to release them two or three days later.

PA security agencies own at least 40 percent of the explosives and materials for making missiles smuggled into Gaza via Sinai. Fatah agents buy explosives from smugglers in Sinai and rent space in smuggling tunnels.


Palestinians rain 5 missiles down on Sderot Friday, nine Saturday. IDF brigade ends three-day operation in Nablus


7 Jan. Both Palestinian warfronts remained active Friday and Saturday Jan. 4-5 after a grueling week.

Sderot's shopping center and several homes were damaged and cars set ablaze leaving shock victims.

The Golani and armored units, operating in Gaza after the Palestinians fired their first 122mm Katyusha as far as northern Ashkelon Thursday, withdrew Friday.

Thursday night, Israeli air force retaliated against Hamas positions leaving 9 dead. Dep. Defense minister Mattan Vilnai, inspecting the Ashkelon crater Friday, was bombarded by citizens with demands for security measures now that the entire town is within range of Palestinian rockets. Ashkelon, a port-town with national utilities, has a population of 105,000.

On the West Bank, an Israeli army brigade continued to scour the West Bank town of Nablus for the third day, after uncovering the first Palestinian missile fabrication facility in the Casbah. They found several weapons caches, which they blew up and detained 20 terrorists, including members of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas

After the discovery, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu warned that if Israel handed over the West Bank, Hamas stood ready to take over.


Olmert and Abbas agree to negotiators getting down to core issues of the Israel-Palestinian dispute


8 Jan. This decision purports to kick off the final status talks between the teams led by Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian ex-PM Ahmed Qureia on Jerusalem, borders and refugees. debkafile‘s political sources report that the joint statement is no more than a gesture to show the US president George W. Bush some momentum towards his goal of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. But it is not to be inferred that there has been any real progress – even in the Israel-Palestinian talks thus far on current issues. Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that, during the Bush visit, he will not make good on his pledge to take his Israel Beitenu party out of the government if core issues are broached. He will first ask Olmert for clarifications.


Fatah al-Islam claims two attacks on UN and Israel Tuesday, threatens Bush visit


8 Jan. Shaker al-Abessi, leader of al Qaeda’s new operational arm in Iraq and the Gaza Strip, congratulated the teams which blew up a UN vehicle at Rumailah in South Lebanon, injuring two Irish peacekeepers, and fired three Katyusha rockets at the northern Israeli town of Shlomi. The attacks, he said, were a message to the “Crusader Army” and “the Jews,” and he vowed to step them up during the Bush visit to the region. His message appeared on al Qaeda’s main website.

US and Israeli security officers planning the US president’s stay starting have taken terrorists threats seriously enough to rearrange his program. To avoid potential al Qaeda-related or Palestinian anti-air missile attacks, conflicting announcements will be made of his itinerary and mode of travel.


Hamas-Gaza opens fire on Israeli Navy vessels as violence on Israel’s borders mounts ahead of Bush visit


8 Jan. Our military sources report that Tuesday noon, Jan. 8, Hamas gun positions in Rafah and offshore fishing boats opened fire on Israeli Navy vessels patrolling Mediterranean waters off the Gaza Strip. The ships’ guns returned fire. When it continued and Hamas brought in reinforcements, Israeli Air Force helicopters were summoned to stop the shooting. At least one of the Palestinian boats was sunk.


Tardy IDF confirmation: Three Katyusha 107mm rockets from Lebanon hit W. Galilee town Shlomi Monday night


8 Jan. No one was injured. debkafile‘s military sources report the IDF northern command has launched an inquiry to find out how the three rockets hit Shlomi undetected by the military, the police or the emergency services.

Monday, the prime minister’s office submitted a report to the Winograd commission probing the mismanagement of the Lebanon War in which it was claimed that all the deficiencies exposed in the panel’s interim report had been repaired.

At a security forum, meanwhile, defense minister Ehud Barak confirmed debkafile‘s reports that Hizballah is back in its pre-war bunker-fortresses in South Lebanon, had increased its rocket stocks and extended their range to reach many more Israeli towns further south than ever before.

Barak stressed that, notwithstanding the UNIFIL presence, unlimited supplies of missiles and other arms, including anti-air weapons, continue to stream across the Syrian-Lebanon border for Hizballah.

Barak’s data refutes the prime minister’s claims that Israel’s northern defenses are now in good repair, as does the undetected rocket fire from Lebanon.


Bush-Olmert talks leave US and Israel divided on the Palestinians’ claimed “right of return” and Iran nuclear threat


9 Jan. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush spoke to the press Wednesday, Jan. 9, after their talks on Day One of his first visit to Israel as US president.

Bush touched on the “right of return” claimed for Palestinian refugees as an item on the agenda of final-status talks, although Israel has ruled the issue non-negotiable.

Asked whether the NIE report that Iran gave up its covert military program in 2003 did not leave Israel high and dry with the Iranian nuclear threat, Bush repeated his mantra: “Iran was a threat and will be a threat to world peace,” unless the world prevents its acquisition of know-how for building a bomb.

He then added: “I believe we can solve the problem diplomatically” (which no one in the Middle East believes.)

Bush promised to refer the incessant rocket attacks on Sderot to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, when they meet in Ramallah Thursday.

debkafile: The US president knows perfectly well that Abbas is incapable of combating terror on the West Bank, let alone the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Olmert stressed: There will be no peace until Palestinian terror is stopped everywhere. Gaza must be part of the package. Without Gaza, it will be hard to reach any understanding with the Palestinians.

Regarding the unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, Bush commented that Israel undertook to dismantle them four years ago and should do so.

George Bush paid private visits to Bethlehem and Christian sites in Galilee, after which Friday, he continued his Middle East tour to Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Ahead of his arrival, foreign minister Saud al Faisal stressed that while the US president was welcome, the kingdom intended to keep on talking to Tehran.


Bush’s 1,500-strong Secret Service occupies Palestinian government center in Ramallah


10 Jan. The US Secret Service virtually took over the Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in Ramallah, enforcing unheard-of security measures for President George W. Bush’s talks with Mahmoud Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad Thursday, Jan. 10. Compared with US-Israeli security cooperation for the president’s stay in Jerusalem, the US force cut Palestinian security officials out of the loop. Armed with an amazing arsenal of hardware and electronics, they cordoned the Ramallah government center off with a one-kilometer deep “sterile zone” – closed even to the Palestinian presidential guard and the media, except for a pool. Abbas’ office furniture was replaced with American products.

The US president politely refused Abbas’ personal request to lay a wreath at Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah mausoleum.

Top-secret security measures were also enforced in Bethlehem ahead of the president’s visit to the Church of the Nativity.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, angry mobs burned Bush banners and US flags Wednesday, called on West Bank leaders to arrest the US president as a terrorist and war criminal responsible for murdering their “Iraqi brethren,” and denounced Abbas and Fayyad as traitors and American stooges.


Bush expects a signed Middle East peace treaty by the time he leaves office, sharply raps Israel


10 Jan. Addressing the media after his first visit as president to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Jan. 10, US president George W. Bush faced skeptical questions on this point. “We will help, influence the process and nudge it forward, pressure – even if we are a pain,” he said very firmly. “Abbas and PM Olmert must come together and make tough choices. The status quo is unacceptable.”

On a tone of reproof, Bush said: “Israelis should help not hinder the modernization of the Palestinian security forces. To the extent that the Israeli military undermines the Authority – that is something we do not agree with.”

The checkpoints create massive frustration for the Palestinians and security for Israel, said the US president and outlined his view of the object as being “a state that can defend itself internally and give confidence to its neighbors that checkpoints won’t be needed. Abbas can’t assure a future without contiguous territory. There should be no checkpoints in the Palestinian state-to-be so that a state can emerge.”

On Hamas in Gaza, the US president said: “Hamas has delivered nothing but misery and this Ramallah government offers a vision around which people can rally.”

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