A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending August 25, 2005

Abu Mazen emissary to Hizballah


12 August: Thursday, Aug 11, Mahmoud Abbas’ envoy, Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah central committee, was closeted in talks in south Lebanon with Hizballah regional commander Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, according to debkafile‘s Exclusive sources. They met the day after Washington called on the new Lebanese government to deploy troops on the Israeli border to displace the Hizballah. Zaki and Qaouk discussed ways of preserving the frameworks of Hizballah and the S. Lebanese Palestinian militias in the face of US pressure to disarm and dismantle. He later declared Lebanese Palestinian “right of return” would start in Gaza.


Egyptian police report a ton of explosives found at an el Arish farm in N. Sinai


15 August: They detain a man working for a Palestinian farmer with two others in connection with Sharm el-Sheikh July bombing. Earlier, debkafile exclusively named the Palestinian who led al Qaeda bomb teams against Taba and Sharm el Sheikh as Iyad Said Salah. This Palestinian, who lived in the northern Sinai town of El Arish, figures in a confidential Egyptian intelligence summary as the ringleader of two serial Qaeda attacks in Sinai: the Taba blasts that left 32 dead last October and the bombing strikes at Sharm al Sheikh on July 27 that killed 64.

That summary of its investigations into the attacks was circulated to anti-terror authorities in the United States, Israel and the UK and made three points, all of which quickly proved fallacious:

1. The network was local and anti-Egyptian.

2. It had no links outside Sinai, namely with al Qaeda or its Iraq commander, Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

3. The threat had been eliminated by the Egyptian roundup of terrorist teams operating in Sinai.

Monday, Aug. 15, an explosive device planted against a multinational force vehicle at the al Jora air base in northern Sinai slightly injured two Canadian women sergeants of the force. This attack demonstrated a) that the Egyptians had not liquidated the al Qaeda networks in Sinai and b) the Egyptian networks were not local but part of an international jihadist ring that went after Americans, Israelis, Britons and other foreigners.


Hamas new military force designed by Ahmed Jabara, 46, from Gaza, aka Abu Obeida


15 August: Our intelligence sources report that Ahmed Jabara is the man behind the quiet reshaping of Hamas into the leading Palestinian military force in the Gaza Strip.

The new force was first seen going through its paces last Thursday, August 11, in a “victory parade” celebrating Israel’s pull-back from the Gaza Strip


Was This Huge Army Really Necessary?


17 August: Wednesday, August 17, was the first day the 8,500 Jewish inhabitants of the Gaza Strip faced forcible expulsion from their homes and the dismantling of their communities. On that day too, the massed divisions of troops and police officers quickly saw that there were too many of them for the task ahead. The uniformed men had braced for violent resistance. Instead they were greeted with prayers, laments, outpourings of bitter outrage and chorused recitations of Psalms.

The soldiers must have asked themselves: What happened to the “violent extremists? And why were 40,000 combat troops called up to evict a few thousand civilians, half children?

Police commissioner Karadi confessed his surprise at the sparse violence in most places. All the communities evacuated Wednesday (aside form Kfar Darom and Gadid which have been left till later) were ready for the troops with Torah Scrolls, hugs and children in their parents’ arms, hardly the behavior of a dangerous enemy.

There are three possible motives behind the decision to deploy excessive force:

1. The IDF is ignorant of civilian life, especially in Gush Katif – illogical.

2. Poor intelligence – impossible since the soldiers operate the year round in this enclave and know every home and grain of sand.

3. This leaves the third premise, that the operation’s military planners were under orders from their superiors to deploy a colossal force for reasons of their own, which was to continue the campaign waged for months to discredit and demonize the substantial opposition to the prime minister’s evacuation plans. Inflating the size of the force magnified the threat of disorders.


Israel shamed by brutal desecration of synagogues


18 Aug. The copious tears of sympathy most Israelis shed this week over the plight of Israeli families thrown out of their homes in Gaza made way Thursday, Aug 18, for shocked outrage. The sight of forcible evacuations and the desecration of synagogues, elderly men in prayer shawls, rabbis, youths and women holding babies dragged out of a house of worship, reached deep into tragic ancestral memories. The fact that the storm troops were Israel Defense Forces soldiers and police officers made the outrage witnessed live on television screens around the world even more insupportable.

While the so-called left fringe applauded “the settlers'” comeuppance, the majority of Israelis condemned the Sharon government for the senseless brutality of the orders it handed the troops.


Zarqawi masterminded the Aqaba-Eilat rocket attack


19 August: debkafile‘s exclusive sources report: The multiple Katyusha rocket attack Friday on Jordan’s Aqaba port, US naval shipping docked there and the twin Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat was the work of a Jordanian al Qaeda team controlled by Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

The coordinated attack was directed at three targets:

1. Two US warships, a carrier and a destroyer in Aqaba. The rocket missed the vessels and struck a warehouse on a nearby pier damaging one ship but no US marines or sailors hurt. Both ships have put out to sea.

2. Another rocket exploded on the Emir Haya base parade ground during drill practice and killed at least one Jordanian soldier and wounded several.

3. The Katyusha aimed at Eilat landed on a road outside the airport, exploded partially and injured one Israeli.

debkafile‘s Eilat sources report Israeli and Jordanian security are cooperating in the investigation


The Acid Libel


19 August: The tale of the acid attack by disorderly evacuation resisters against Israeli troops and police was born on the spur of the moment amid the noise and clamor of the evacuation of Kfar Darom synagogue in the Gaza Strip Thursday, Aug 18.

It was picked up without any sort of investigation with suspicious speed.

While the activists were still being handed down from the synagogue roof, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen Dan Harel and Israeli police commissioner Moshe Karadi stood below. With shocked faces, they announced that the roof holdouts had poured acid and seriously injured the special border police unit members.

Live broadcasts from the scene reportedly hysterically that six ambulances had rushed the injured police officers to hospital.

Defense minister Shaul Mofaz announced he had asked the state attorney to file serious charges against the alleged acid-throwers.

Chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz then declared that, as long as he was in uniform, none of the disorderly individuals who had raised a hand against a soldier or policeman in Kfar Darom would be accepted by the IDF.

By this time, the acid-in-the-synagogue story was being lapped up by the international media.

None heeded the denials issued by the Beersheba Sorocca hospital, which treated the 75 policemen – none of which suffered acid burns or any other serious injury.


New opinion poll shows 10% fall in Israeli popular support for government disengagement/evacuation policy


20 Aug. The Gaza evacuations in action are cited by the Maagar Mochot pollsters as eroding majority backing in the general public – from its pro-policy peak of 56% a month ago to 46% in the second half of August. Opposition remained steady at 42%, while 54% stated greater sympathy for the evacuees than before. In choosing Likud premiership candidate, 34% opted for prime minister Ariel Sharon, 15% for contender Netanyahu and 51% wanted neither or were undecided.


debkafile Exclusive: Jordan’s King Abdullah warns Israel against unilateral Gaza-type steps on the West Bank


21 Aug. In notes to US president Bush and Israeli PM Sharon over the weekend, the king warned that any further steps, such as Israeli withdrawals from West Bank territory, would be deemed violations of the 1995 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty – if coordinated only with Washington and the Palestinians. He stressed Jordan would not put up with an Israel-Palestinian settlement that failed to address Jordan’s sovereignty, its interests in the Jordan river basin and the border crossings and in shared strategic issues, such as security and water resources.

debkafile adds: the Jordanian warning was prompted by deep concern over the side-effects of the expulsion of Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

In particular –

1. The king took the words of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice last week, when she said: Everyone empathizes with what the Israelis are facing, but it cannot be Gaza only – to mean that Washington will squeeze Israel for further withdrawals in favor of the Palestinians without consulting Jordan.

2. Amman fears Washington may make Israel forego control of the Jordan River border crossings too, should a precedent be set on the Gaza-Egyptian border. Jordan refuses to hear of Palestinians controlling the bridges and the Jordan River valley.

3. Jordan’s king is adamantly opposed to Israel granting the Palestinians free passage from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, lest a land bridge be formed between Gaza and the Jordanian Palestinian community, which already includes 350,000 Gazan refugees.

4. Amman sees Egypt assuming a command role in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli pull-out, and will not countenance Cairo extending its domain to the West Bank, the Hashemite throne’s historic and traditional back yard.


Al Qaeda’s Triple Warning to Israel


21 August: At an urgent weekend consultation, US, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli intelligence and counter-terror officials concluded that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terror teams now pose an imminent threat to Israel. Egypt and Israel put their sea and air ports and essential installations on high terror alert. Washington quietly barred US diplomats and military officers from Aqaba, all of Jordan south of Amman up to the Saudi border, the Jordan River bridge crossings between Israel and Hashemite kingdom, the southern Israeli highway to the Red Sea port of Eilat.

Zarqawi’s men are obviously in command of free routes between Iraq, Jordan, Sinai and parts of Israel’s southern and eastern Negev, helped by local gangs of gunrunners.

Another alarming development on the terror front is inferred from the titles appearing on Web site communiques: Zarqawi’s followers in Iraq call themselves “Al Qaeda’s Forces in the Land of the Two Rivers.” The attacks in Jordan and Sinai are claimed by “Al Qaeda in Egypt and the Levant.” The al Qaeda branch just set up in the Gaza Strip is referred to as “Jihad Brigades in the Border Districts.”

These titles are the names of the regional commands into which Zarqawi has divided the fronts of his terrorist offensive for synchronized operations.

Friday, Aug 19, the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades of the al Qaeda Organization in the Levant and Egypt, announced its “fighters” had fired three Katyusha rockets at “US vessels in Jordan and at (Israel’s) Eilat port… before returning safely to base.”

After warning the Americans to “expect even more stinging attacks”, the group stated: “The Zionists are always a legitimate target. We bombed you at Taba and will soon reach Tel Aviv.”


Kurdish-Shiite deal over Sunni heads for Iraqi charter


22 August: debkafile reports: The deal was negotiated by the Kurdish President Jalal Talabani and Shiite senior cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani and will be submitted to parliamentary vote in time to beat the second deadline on Monday.

The Sunni representatives refuse to endorse the deal, while liberal, secular Shiites are totally against its provisions.

debkafile‘s sources report that both sides gave ground. The Kurds agreed to forgo self-determination (secession) and postpone till 2007 the settling of Kirkuk’s status. The Shiites, under heavy US pressure, accepted the Sharia’s definition as the main source of Iraqi law – not the only source. They also waived equal federal standing with Kurdistan.

Kurds and Shiite lawmakers control parliament, but the Sunnis control three provinces of Anbar, Nineveh and Salaheddin and could defeat the new charter in the October referendum.


debkafile Exclusive: Egyptian generals take charge of Gaza Strip


22 August: A high-ranking 100-man Egyptian military delegation has taken de facto charge of Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and is handling talks with Hamas to avert an outbreak of terrorist violence. debkafile‘s military sources report General Ibrahim Shukri heads the team of three Egyptian generals and several colonels and majors. The same general also led the probe of the October 15, 2004 al Qaeda Taba bombings. His appointment betokens Cairo’s anxiety over the threat of al Qaeda terror infiltration of the Gaza Strip.

Our sources add that General Shukri is coordinating all Palestinian operations directly with Israel’s Shin Beit HQ, including the deployment of 24 battalions in evacuated territory.

A second Egyptian general, Muhammed Ibrahim, is in close communication with the Hamas to guard against wildcat action including gunfire on Israeli targets. General Mustafa Bakri has taken practical command of Palestinian security and intelligence units in Gaza. The other members of the Egyptian team have divided Gaza into sectors and assumed command of the Palestinian battalions. They have installed their own communications and logistics networks in the Egyptian embassy building in Gaza.

The high-powered Egyptian military presence has all but edged Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his ministers out of the game. Israeli officers in dialogue with Palestinian opposite numbers check first with the Egyptian officers for their approval of agreements.

Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia visit to Damascus Sunday, Aug 21, was ordered by Gen. Bakri. He was told to persuade Syrian president Bashar Assad to force the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashal to let the Israeli pullout go through without interference.


Jordan is helped by hidden US Navy cameras to capture al Qaeda rocket ringleader


23 Aug. Four days after rockets were fired from Aqaba at US ships, a Jordanian base and Eilat, Tuesday, Aug. 23, Jordan said its security forces had bagged the attack’s ringleader, Muhammed al Sihili, a Syrian national who lives with his family in Amman, and uncovered the lead to al Qaeda’s Iraq commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Sihili’s two sons are also among those in custody and an Iraqi called Abu Hamid, who liaised between the Jordanian network and Iraq.

A Zarqawi Internet communique issued Tuesday claims responsibility for the attacks and stresses Eilat was targeted as well as US warships in Aqaba.

debkafile‘s sources also reveal that the terrorists first tried to stage their attack three days earlier, last Tuesday, August 16, the day the USS Ashland and USS Kearsarge put into Aqaba port. They drove up to the quay’s entrance in two cars with their rocket launchers primed to fire at the vessels at point blank range and sink them with the hundreds of Marines and sailors aboard. All Qaeda meant this to be a suicide operation. However the US Navy, having drawn its lesson from the al Qaeda speedboat attack that crippled the USS Cole in Aden five years ago, now keeps each warship protected by a well-guarded “sterile” ring. Security cameras record every movement near the ships on shore and in the water. The terrorists disguised as “port personnel” were turned away at the protected zones. They gave up and tried again the following Friday. Then too they missed the US warships, killed one Jordanian soldier and firing a rocket that fell short of Eilat air port. By then, film of their first try was available and handed to Jordanian intelligence, enabling the pursuit to lay hands quickly on the al Qaeda team of terrorists.


Two Egyptian policemen killed in an al Qaeda bomb attack in Sinai. Disaffected Bedouin are aiding the Islamist terrorists


24 Aug. The Egyptian vehicle, which hit a powerful roadside device or mine August 24, was part of the Sinai pursuit team hunting al Qaeda terrorists in the Hasana region, 75 km south of the coastal town of El Arish. Al Qaeda last struck ten days ago, when one of its explosive devices injured two women sergeants, members of the US-led multinational force in Sinai.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that the investigation of the Aug. 19 rocket attacks on Aqaba and Eilat disclosed that they were executed by the Sinai networks, namely one of the teams run by Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Egypt thereupon built up its Sinai pursuit force to 4,000 men and equipped the units with armored carriers, armored mobile artillery and helicopters. But the force quickly ran into a major problem. The 1.2 million indigenous Sinai Bedouin are in a state of mutiny against the Mubarak regime in Cairo – and his security services in particular – to the point of being willing to aid and abet any anti-Egyptian force including al Qaeda. In consequence, American and Israeli terror experts define security in Sinai as out of control.

They look askance at Ariel Sharon’s unheeding determination to put through the military protocol with Egypt and rely on Egyptian border guards units to police the strategic Gaza-Egyptian border and Philadelphi border route. Intelligence sources warn that, having lost control of security in Sinai, the Egyptians can by no reckoning be counted on as a bulwark against the free flow across those key borders of human terrorist traffic and weapons from Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

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