A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Dec. 7 2006

Worsening internal Palestinian crisis threatens Gaza ceasefire collapse


1 December: Friday, the day after Mahmoud Abbas informed Condoleezza Rice in Jericho that negotiations with Hamas had collapsed, he updated the PLO’s executive committee in Ramallah on the stalemate. debkafile reports the widening gulf between Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas brings the Qassam missiles closer to flying from the Gaza Strip a week into the ceasefire as chances of a deal over the kidnapped soldier fade.

Hamas would not take lying down an Abbas decision to fire the Hamas-led government, hold a national referendum or call an early election.


Walter Litvinenko, father of dead Russian ex-spy, says his son wanted to be buried a Muslim


4 December: In an interview to Moscow’s Kommersant he revealed that Alexander was born a Christian Orthodox but had close links to Islamist rebels in Chechnya. The former spy had requested to be buried according to Muslim tradition after converting to Islam on his deathbed.


Syria’s devious weapon for undermining Siniora – al Qaeda infiltrators cross into Lebanon to radicalize Palestinians


4 December: Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert informed the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Monday, Dec. 4, that Israel does not intend attacking Syria. debkafile‘s military sources report that the Olmert government should be doubly concerned by Bashar Asad’s latest gambit, filtering Al Qaeda operatives into Lebanon to foment Palestinian support for Hizballah’s drive to topple the government in Beirut.

On Nov. 27, at the Nahr al Bared camp in the northern Lebanese region of Tripoli, an armed Palestinian faction ceremonially changed its name from Fatah-Intifada to Fatah al-Islam, announcing that the only way to achieve Palestinian goals was “by killing all the Jews and their crusader allies.”

Then, on Nov. 29, at the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Ein al Hilwa near Sidon in the south, heads of the camp’s Jund Al-Sham factions, operational and financial dependants of al Qaeda, decided to open more Palestinian camps to to Palestinian groups from Syria – and “other Arab factions,” such as “al Qaeda”, “the Islamic Army” and “Fatah al-Islam.” These groups, it was decided, could not be excluded from the Palestinian refugee camps of the south or from Burj al Barajne, Sabra and Chatila near Beirut, because they were already ensconced in the north.

In an article published in Dar Al Hayat on Nov. 30, the Lebanese journalist Hassan Haydar asked: “How is it possible for all these armed groups to cross the Syrian-Lebanese border without being spotted by the security apparatus of both sides?”

The question was rhetorical. Syria is transplanting al Qaeda offshoots and affiliates from Syria into Lebanon’s Palestinian camps for three objectives:

1. To remove their incriminating presence ahead of a possible thaw in relations with Washington.

2. To radicalize the Palestinians of Lebanon so that in a civil showdown they will fight alongside the pro-Syrian forces.

3. To radicalize the Palestinian people at large, and so disarm and isolate the moderates – not only in Lebanon, but in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well.


Defense minister and military overruled by prime minister on restrictive rules of engagement against Palestinian terror


4 December: debkafile: Although the Palestinians have fired 15 missiles from Gaza in the seven days of the “ceasefire,” PM Ehud Olmert and FM Tzipi Livni persuaded the security cabinet Sunday, Dec. 3, to forbid the IDF to target Palestinian missile crews – even when they are on the point of firing at Israeli civilian locations. The ban also applies to terrorists planting bombs on the border fence for detonation against military patrols on the Israeli side.

The same cabinet decision ties the IDF’s hands in operations for thwarting suicide attacks from the West Bank lest they jeopardize the notional Gaza “ceasefire.” Preventive detentions and sieges of terrorist safe houses must henceforth be referred to the West Bank or Central Command chiefs. When these havens are surrounded by armed terrorists, the Israeli unit must back off “to avoid needless friction”. Ticking bombs are the only exception when already clad in explosive vests.

Defense minister Amir Peretz and the army chiefs objected to the new rules of engagement in view of the Palestinian violations of the Gaza ceasefire and their unabated smuggling of illegal arms in support of their war preparations.

On the West Bank, all the terrorist factions maintain relentless efforts to mount suicide attacks inside Israel. Easing of the military crackdown on the West Bank, said Peretz, will quickly translate into the resumption of the horrific suicide massacres which plagued Israel in past years. Internal security minister Avi Dichter and infrastructure minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer supported Peretz in the vote against the new rules of engagement but were overruled.

debkafile adds: Visiting European officials lauded these decisions when they met Livni this week in Jerusalem. However, the people of Sderot and army chiefs fear that Israel is giving up precious ground in its war on terror for the sake of patronizing pats on the back from self-serving European leaders. The reckoning will come after they return home.


Gates’ words on Iran imply the Bush administration will disavow its long-held pledge to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons


5 December: debkafile‘s military sources note: Robert Gates assertion presupposed that Iran will not be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Gates spoke in the plural, addressing these messages to Jerusalem: There are no guarantees that the US will prevent an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel and Iran’s nuclear arsenal will contain different types of weapons. These messages slap down the policy laid down by prime minister Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni of absolving Israel of responsibility for handling the Iranian nuclear threat and leaving it to the international community.

debkafile: Israel is confronted with a new harsh reality: The United States, by failing to overcome the Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq, and Israel, by similarly failing to subdue Hizballah in the Lebanon war, will have to pay the price of coming to terms with the nuclear weaponization of the Islamic Republic.

Gates may have been leading up to a fresh White House conception of Persian Gulf strategy. America’s security interests do not warrant any further involvement in the Gulf region and it is not dependent on Arabian oil. So why saddle itself with the protection of region’s oil resources and routes for the sake of China, Japan, India and other Far Eastern nations, who are?

This shift in strategic emphasis will profoundly influence – not only on Israel, but also on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the oil emirates. But they, unlike Israel, have prepared themselves for the past year by opening up alternative sources of weapons and making massive transfers of assets to Asian markets.


Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu: Instead of restraint, Israel should topple the Hamas government


5 December: In a radio interview Tuesday, the former Likud prime minister questioned the current state leadership’s capabilities for preparing Israel’s armed forces for the “next war.” What should be done now, he said, was to wipe out the burgeoning Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and stem the vast stream of weapons entering Gaza.

Instead, the Olmert government was exhibiting weakness by its decision to let eight days of continuous Palestinian ceasefire violations from Gaza go unanswered. In this period, 20 Qassam missiles were fired against Israeli civilian locations.

Amid widening criticism of the government’s decision to accept the Hamas “ceasefire” and its violations, Netanyahu said earlier said that Israel’s restraint had the effect of strengthening Hamas and weakening Palestinian moderates.

Defending the decision, prime minister Ehud Olmert argued to the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Monday that the Israeli military operation had not stopped the Palestinian missile offensive. debkafile adds: This further stung the military whose anti-missile operation in northern Gaza he halted mid-stream.

Olmert also explained that if the ceasefire is allowed to gather momentum it could stimulate diplomatic engagement.


The Iraq Study Group calls for direct talks between Israel and Syria


6 December: Its report, presented to the White House Wednesday, Nov. 6, recommended the talks as part of a revived U.S. commitment to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace “on all fronts.”

“This commitment must include direct talks with, by and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel's right to exist), and Syria,” the report said.

The panel also recommended Washington’s direct engagement of Iran and Syria. A further recommendation for US troops in Iraq to withdraw “from combat roles” by the first quarter of 2008 leaves Jordan and Israel exposed on their eastern fronts to Iraq’s mayhem.

The ISG’s report augurs four significant changes in US foreign policy:

1. The US finds itself unable to prevent or respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, as incoming defense secretary Robert Gates stated bluntly in the Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

2. American forces will be gone from Iraq in just over a year.

3. Washington is about to embark on a fresh Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

4. Direct US-Iran, US-Syria talks are in the offing.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources note that Israel’s leaders, PM Ehud Olmert and FM Tzipi Livni, have not come up with any responses to the Gates statement on Iran and the Baker-Hamilton recommendations – both of which bear fundamentally on Israel’s security in the face of existential dangers.


Robert Gates’ reference to an Israeli nuclear weapon was synchronized with Baker’s exclusion of Israel from a Mid East conference. The Senate confirms Gates in defense by 95-2 vote


7 December: The pair is pursuing a new policy line which sacrifices the traditional US-Israeli alliance for the sake of wooing Iran, Syria and Iraq’s neighbors for help in Iraq. During his senate hearings, Gates confirmed – and indirectly justified – Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon by declaring that Iran wants the power of deterrence against “the nuclear countries surrounding them – Pakistan in the east, Russia in the north, Israel in the west and the United States in the Persian Gulf.”

Israeli vice premier Shimon Peres said Israel, backed by the US, has for decades pursued a policy of nuclear ambiguity as a powerful deterrence “against enemies bent on its destruction, while threatening no other country itself.”

The designated US defense secretary did not consult – or even inform – Israel before a disclosure that violates a long-held confidence between the two governments.

The ISG’s recommendation of a Middle East peace conference would pander to the Arabs and their European backers by pushing for a full Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 war. Israel and its supporters in the United States would have no say – “…a unique opportunity for the US to strike a deal without Jewish pressure,” as one Washington observer put it.

This sort of crude language has not been heard in Washington’s top circles since George Bush the elder was president and James Baker his secretary of state.

The prime minister’s office in Jerusalem responded Thursday, Dec. 7 by asserting that Ehud Olmert was assured during his Washington visit two weeks ago that “there was no linkage between the Iraq issue and Israel.”

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