A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending March 22, 2007

UN official John Ging escapes unharmed from a shooting attack in Gaza set up by al Qaeda-Palestine


16 March: No one was injured. John Ging, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza had just crossed the border from Israel when his convoy was blocked by some 50 armed gunmen. They failed to open the door of his armored car. As it escaped, they riddled the vehicle with fourteen bullets. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report this was a failed attempt by Qaeda-Palestine to take the UN official hostage. It was also the largest operation the Gaza-based group has ever carried out in broad daylight.

Monday, March 12, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza, the day after al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman Zuwahri announced that Fatah and Hamas leaders as well as foreigners had become targets. Israeli and Western security circles note the Gaza cell of al Qaeda is escalating its attacks, raising concern about the fate of the British journalist and the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.


Israeli Arabs caught fighting with al Qaeda in Iraq


18 March: Captured in Baghdad Saturday, March 17, were two – some sources say three – Israeli Arabs, who admitted to their American interrogators that came from the northern Israeli village of Majd al Krum near Carmiel, northeast of Haifa. They were taken prisoner fighting in the central Baghdad district of Bab al Moadham, near the notorious insurgent stronghold of Haifa Street, together with Abu Qetada al Falastini, deputy al Qaeda commander in Iraq.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that al Falastini’s real name is Mahmoud al Madi and he hails from the West Bank town of Nablus.

The Israeli Arabs captured with him formed his inner personal command. Ahead of the new US-led security crackdown in Baghdad ordered by President George W. Bush, al Qaeda pulled its top local commanders out of the city and out of range. The Israeli Arabs told their captors that two or three years ago they went to study at fundamentalist Muslim medressas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they were recruited by al Qaeda.


Al Qaeda’s dirty chlorine bomb warfare may well spread from Iraq’s Anbar across the Middle East


18 March: debkafile‘s military and counter-terror sources warn that al Qaeda may well expand its chemical war to other parts of the Middle East. Chlorine is readily available, used widely everywhere to purify water and in industry.

Saturday, March 17, three suicide bombers blew up their chlorine-filled tankers in three of al Qaeda’s hotbeds in the western Iraqi Anbar province: Falluja, Amiria and Ramadi. According to US figures, two Iraqi policemen were killed and 356 victims, including 6 American servicemen, taken to hospital. Unofficially, eight people died and 500 suffered toxic symptoms.

The blast at Albu Issa south of Falluja caused the largest number of casualties. debkafile reports al Qaeda targeted the local Sunni Albu Issa tribe which recently agreed to work with the Baghdad government and US forces to fight al Qaeda and drive them out.


New Palestinian government marks collapse of Olmert-Livni policies


18 March: A horrified outcry rose up across the board, from members of the Olmert government coalition and the opposition alike, as Israelis woke up Sunday, March 18, to face a hostile Palestinian government led by a terrorist organization, godfathered by Saudi Arabia, armed by Iran, and blessed by Western powers.

Exactly a week ago, on March 11, the Israeli prime minister said he was positively reviewing sections of the Saudi Arabian 2002 “peace plan.” That afternoon, Olmert had his second interview with Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah, stressing the importance of “staying in touch with positive Palestinian elements.” This was also Livni’s mantra during her travels to the US and European capitals.

They both fell into the Palestinian trap, effectively sanctioning the seal of moderation with which Abbas and Fatah stamped a Palestinian government dominated by the Hamas terrorists.

Even more dangerously, the two Israeli leaders failed to catch on to the covert Yalta-type understanding reached by Riyadh and Tehran. It was a package: Tehran called off the campaign led by its patsy Hizballah against the anti-Syrian Lebanese government, gaining stronger representation – at Syria’s expense, while the rival Palestinian factions were told in Mecca to share power – at Israel’s expense.

Because Olmert-Livni policies are so closely synchronized with Washington’s, too many of Israel’s vital interests have gone by the board.

Addressing the Washington pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference last week, Olmert and Livni both came out in support of the Bush administration’s military strategy in Iraq. Since that strategy hinges largely on covert Saudi-Iranian diplomacy in Washington’s name, Israeli government spokesmen implicitly gave America a blank check to pay for an Iraq accommodation at Israel’s expense.


Thousands of American and Israeli soldiers test new defenses for WMD-capable missiles in reduced-scale joint Negev exercise


19 March: The units taking part are, according to debkafile‘s military sources, US Marines, Patriot anti-missile missile crews and special units operating defenses against nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. Israel is fielding its Arrow and Patriot anti-ballistic missiles, its air force, special forces and large armored units.

This year’s operation is testing new ways to deal with missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological warheads.

A US embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv described it as “a computer simulation exercise designed to test the interoperability of the air defense system.


Israel Goes through the Motions of a Home Front Drill


19 March: In the more than eight months since the Lebanon conflict ended, the IDF has not carried out a single pro-active operation to offset the line of replenished missiles Hizballah has arrayed on the Litani, to stem the massive Syrian-Iranian infusion of smuggled weapons into Lebanon, to curtail the flow of new weapons into the Gaza Strip, or even to dismantle the stockpile of Qassam surface missiles facing Tel Aviv from the West Bank – thus far only in storage.

Maybe the IDF is being held back by the prime minister and government, but Israel cannot afford a chief of staff who follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who passed the security buck to civilian government.

To restore Israel’s deterrent strength, the IDF will have to prove it is still capable of the daring operations behind enemy lines which kept it at bay. Its chief of staff must also urgently rejuvenate and re-energize the top echelons with fresh talent.

As for defenses against unconventional terrorist attacks or a missile blitz, supposedly drilled Tuesday and Wednesday, the government is sorely derelict – even to the old, nagging problem of providing protected areas for the schoolchildren of Sderot and its neighbors against Palestine missiles attacks, which have never stopped in six years.

Five Qassam missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip, Sunday, March 18, the day the Palestinian unity government was installed

The population of northern Israel is no better protected for the next war than it was for the last, despite the promises the prime minister, defense minister and other cabinet members scattered right and left.


Hamas military wing claims Palestinian sniper shooting from Gaza which injured an Israeli civilian at Karni crossing


19 March: Israeli soldiers and Palestinians exchanged fire after the attack and the border crossing was shut down. The injured man was an electricity company worker who was carrying out repairs on the fuel depot, which supplies the Palestinians population of the Gaza Strip.

debkafile adds: Regardless of the fuel shortages that now threaten the Palestinian populace, Hamas is determined to show the world that its “resistance” operations against Israel will continue under the new unity government.


A tiny Israel-made pilotless plane, carried by an individual soldier, is gathering intelligence for US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan


20 March: The defense electronics firm Elbit Systems says the little Skylark drone, which has a 50 km range and is operated by a crew of two, is operational and deployed in the global war on terror in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is described as suited for “close range, beyond the next hill, counter-terror missions.” Skylark is one of several items of Israeli defense hardware deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is to be unveiled at the Australian International Airshow March 20-25.


Palestinian kidnappers link BBC correspondent’s case with abducted Israeli soldier to boost ransom


21 March: Ten days ago, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was seized by armed men in Gaza (March 12), nine months after Hamas-led Palestinian raiders snatched Israeli corporal Gilead Shalit.

Our counter-terror sources disclose that Montaz Durmush, leader of the Army of Islam (Al Qaeda-Palestine), which is holding both hostages, is using the British journalist as a tool to drive up the price demanded of Israel for Shalit’s freedom.

Neither has been seen since their abduction. Durmush is posting threatening notices to the UK government about Johnston’s fate through a third party to make the British lean on Israel to part with an exorbitant price for the two men’s release.

A team of 20 British agents, most of them from the MI6 secret service, is working in Gaza to make contact with the abductors, or just to obtain a sign of life from Johnston – so far without success.

Neither Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas nor prime minister Ismail Haniyeh are in any position to deliver on their promises to work for Shalit’s early release; they have no influence with the kidnappers and are not in touch with them.


Israel-Jordan tensions flare over discovery of king’s covert support for hard-line Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal


22 March: Israeli officials and army chiefs were taken aback by an intelligence report which exposed Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israel’s partner in peace and the war on terror, as being secretly in league with the Damascus-based radical Khaled Meshaal.

Mutual rancor has since spilled over into acerbic exchanges between Jerusalem and Amman.

March 16, prime minister Ehud Olmert said a precipitate US withdrawal from Iraq would jeopardize or even bring down the regime in Amman. The king riposted that Olmert would do better to deal with his own shaky government than with Jordan’s affairs.

The dispute casts a long shadow on Israel-Jordanian collaboration in the war on Islamist terror. The US president’s security coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, joined by the British and Canadians, is organizing a Jordanian-Palestinian military force to prop up Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah in relation to Hamas.

Tuesday, March 20, the American general reported to Congress in Washington that Hamas commands a well-trained army which is bigger and better equipped by Iran than Abbas’ security forces.

The compilers of the Israeli intelligence report question the consistency of Jordan on the one hand contributing to a military force supposed to bolster Palestinian moderates while at the same time backing Hamas.


The French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle and its task force enter Arabian Sea


22 March: They rendezvoused with the USS John C. Stennis Wed. March 21, for missions in support of Operation Enduring, Freedom and International Security Assistance Forces ISAF for the global war on terror. US and French carriers are sailing and operating in concert opposite Iranian shores for the first time. The Iranian Navy responded to the new arrival the following day by announcing a new series of military exercise in the Persian Gulf.

debkafile‘s military sources disclose that the American-French rendezvous was timed to coincide with the UN Security Council session Wednesday to debate expanded sanctions against Iran for continuing its banned uranium enrichment program.

The Iranians were bowled over by the appearance of the Charles de Gaulle opposite their southern coast, having assumed that Paris took issue with Washington’s tough stand on their nuclear activities and was seeking improved relations with Tehran.

However, Western military circles explain that the French president Jacques Chirac decided before he leaves office in May to repair the bad impression he left in early February when he urged the world – and Israel in particular – to learn to live with “an Iranian nuclear bomb or two.”

Rafale fighter-bombers on the French carrier’s decks will fly missions over Afghanistan alongside US warplanes.

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