A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending December 8, 2005
A Palestinian vessel opened fire on an Israeli naval boat
3 December: Return Israeli fire sank the Palestinian vessel.
debkafile adds: The incident fits in with the general free-for-all reigning on the Gaza Strip since Israel pulled out. Terrorists and war materiel flow in from every direction. The US-brokered Israel-Palestinian-Egyptian accords which enabled the reopening of the international Rafah crossing – supposedly monitored by European inspectors – exist only on paper. Israel has lost security control over the crossing, while Egyptian police border guards place no limits on Palestinian smuggling through the Philadelphi border strip they are committed to guard. The Israeli navy reports increasing smuggling attempts of terrorists and weapons by sea into the Gaza Strip.
In the three-and-half months since Israel withdrew from Gaza, attacks against Israel from this territory is reverting to the status quo ante: The IDF counts 22 explosive devices, 8 intercepted infiltrations to Israel, 75 shooting attacks and at least 170 missile and mortar salvos.
Iraq Sinks into the Gap between US Strategy and Reality
1. The 160,000 US troops fighting in Iraq are already below the strength needed to attain victory. Yet the Pentagon is under pressure for a further drawdown of US forces in 2006.
2. The US president’s predictions of Iraqi military numbers are statistically correct when the units fighting alongside US forces are counted. There are many more Iraqi battalions in combat than a year ago. But those battalions are sorely deficient: they lack their own regional commands, heavy weaponry, air support in the form of warplanes and helicopters, and, above all, a reliable intelligence branch. For all these resources, the Iraqi army remains totally dependent on the Americans. It will take years to fill in these blanks.
3. The Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda have deeply penetrated Iraqi security forces at all levels – from field units up to staff commands and government ministries in the capital.
4. But the most formidable impediment may be the chasm between the political goals set by President Bush for Iraq’s future – a unified democratic country – and the reality evolving on the ground.
Whereas Bush correctly lauds the impressive milestones of elections and a referendum on the road to democracy, this process goes one way and a contrary process of Iraq’s fragmentation into three independent entities, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish, is pulling the country in the opposition direction. Each community puts its own agenda way ahead of the requirements of a unified Iraq. Only this week, debkafile‘s sources learned that President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, during his acclaimed visit to Tehran last week secretly signed an agreement for the oil pumped in the fields of Kurdistan near the northern city of Kirkuk to be piped 500km to Iran’s southern refineries at Abadan.
Four Months’ Grace before Iran Takes up Its Nuclear Bomb Option
3 December: AMAN commander Brig. Aharon Zeevi Wednesday Nov. 30 in his briefing to the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee warned that if international pressure on Iran fails to bring forth results by March 2006, the world powers might as well give up, because by then it will be too late: Iran will have attained the capability to manufacture a nuclear bomb. The general was saying in so many words that Iran is no more than four months away from a nuclear weapons option.
debkafile reveals that an Iranian laptop which the CIA got hold of recently and handed to Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA contained a set of instructions in Chinese on how to build miniature nuclear warheads that can be fitted onto surface missiles. Furthermore, Iran has begun production on a new ground-to-ground Ghadar missile whose range is estimated at 2,500-3,000 km compared with the Shehab-3’s 1,800km.
The Arrow anti-missile system Israeli developed with US assistance was successfully tested against a mock Shehab-3 Friday, Dec. 1. But debkafile‘s military experts say it is not up to tackling the Ghadar. According to American intelligence experts, the Chinese miniature missile technology may well be tailored to this new missile.
This Iranian short cut to a nuclear warhead was probably what Gen. Zeevi had in mind. None of the diplomacy swirling around Iran’s nuclear plans is actually connecting to the destination which counts, the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. Their nuclear plans therefore continue apace and unchecked.
Al Qaeda sends Imad Mughniyeh to recruit Palestinian bombers to strike Israel
4 December: The reputable Lebanese Shiite weekly Shiraa which opposes Hizballah carries three important revelations in its coming issue:
1. Osama bin Laden’s organization has set up an operations command base in Lebanon.
2. Imad Mughniyeh, the long-sought Hizballah terrorist and hostage-taker, is touring Palestinian refugee camps in the south, especially Ain Hilwa, for talks on al Qaeda’s behalf with sympathetic Palestinian leaders.
3. A large CIA-FBI team has arrived in Lebanon to find out what what Mughniyeh is up to in southern Lebanon.
Shiraa reports that the terrorist chief also met with Jemal Suleiman, head of the Palestinian Ansar Allah, as well as Abu Mahujayn, Shehada Jawahr and Khaled Safayn, leaders of Palestinian militias in the Bureij camp of Beirut and Tripoli. They all traveled to the south for the meetings.
debkafile adds: The visiting US intelligence team is seeking to find out if al Qaeda’s south Lebanon base is synchronized with its new center in the Gaza Strip for a mega-attack in Israel.
A Palestinian Suicide Bombing Catches Israel’s Electioneering Leaders Unawares
5 December: The Palestinian Jihad Islami suicide bombing that left 5 Israelis dead and 55 injured outside Netanya’s Sharon shopping mall caught the Sharon government and Israel’s security chiefs by surprise. debkafile‘s exclusive sources reveal that Israeli security forces guided by the Shin Beit believed they had wiped out a dangerous Jihad Islami cell in Jenin in weeks of raids and roundups. However, they missed one last bomb team, a dispatcher and a suicide bomber equipped with a explosive device, who eluded the dragnet.
Gideon Ezra, minister of internal security, up to his ears preparing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s campaign for reelection in March at the head of the new Kadima party, was caught in an unfortunate slip of the tongue. He said: “We know that the terrorists are concentrated in northern Samaria.”
Israeli bases and civilians were withdrawn from Northern Samaria three months ago together with the Gaza Strip. As he fights an election, Sharon does not need questions asked about the timeliness and wisdom of pulling Israel counter-terror forces out of a region teeming with terrorists.
The same question is being asked insistently about the Gaza Strip – especially by the missile-battered Israelis who live within range of Palestinian launch-crews in the Western Negev. Day by day, they see Israeli airplanes and artillery bombing empty sand dunes and buildings while the missiles keeping coming. It has also not escaped the notice of Israel’s intelligence chiefs that al Qaeda has moved from Sinai into the gaping security vacuum of Gaza. Even party leaders expect their campaign to occasion a terrorist spectacular at some point.
Yet a flock of American and European officials are due in Jerusalem in the next few days to force Israel to open a land link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They also want the Gaza crossings to Israeli kept open in all circumstances. The Palestinians may therefore count on getting a convenient passage safe from Israel’s scrutiny to link the Palestinian and Islamic terrorist bases in Gaza to their strongholds in northern Samaria.
In this atmosphere, it was not surprising to find the security forces responding sluggishly to the unexpected emergency of a deadly explosion in Netanya. An inquiry has been launched to find out whether the local police were justified in refraining from shooting the bomber when he was in their sights.
Likud chairman defects to prime minister Sharon’s Kadima
7 December: Tsahi Henegbi was been promised a placing in the top ten Knesset candidates. He moved over after the police announced charges would be brought against him before the March 28 elections on allegations of favoring party candidates for jobs while serving as minister for the environment and perjury.
Since Sharon walked out of Likud and created Kadima, both his former party and the opposition Labor have been sliding in opinion polls against the new grouping. Both are shedding top members to Sharon’s determined headhunters. More Laborites indicate they may follow him. The new leader Amir Peretz’s strong social and dovish agendas and star-studded apolitical team lost some of their luster this week under the impact of the Palestinian suicide attack in Netanya and deaths of five Israelis. National security returned to the forefront of national consciousness.
Somehow, the prime minister has so far avoided being held accountable for the rising level of poverty and the new threats to national security posed by Israel’s pull-out from Gaza and the northern West Bank. His son, Omri Sharon, has likewise avoided losing his seat in parliament or his pivotal role in Sharon’s campaign strategy after being convicted in court of corrupt practices. Like Hanegbi, he argues that current laws are illogical and impracticable.
The easy migration of former partisan stalwarts around opposing groupings bespeaks the advancing disintegration of Israel’s traditional party system and mores and a transition to one-man bands. In Kadima – and Labor to a lesser extent – the top men share out power among themselves and their cronies without recourse to party institutions or any democratic process.
The al Qaeda operative reported killed in Pakistan is alive
7 December: On Dec.3, Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf declared his 200 percent certainty that Egyptian-born Abu Hamza Rabia was killed. Headline stories in the world media proclaimed he was in a house in Isory village, North Waziristan near the Afghan border, when it was hit by two missiles shot from CIA pilotless Hellfire planes.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Rabia was somewhere else at the time of the attack. A month ago, on Nov. 5, he was in a building with his family in the same region when it was struck from US drones. Rabia’s wife and 11-year old daughter were killed. He escaped with a broken leg and has been fleeing from village to village ever since.
Intelligence circles involved in counter-terror activity were skeptical from the first about the report which maintained that five al Qaeda operatives died in the attack. It later transpired that the victims were two sons of the house aged 17 and 8. Their father Haji Mohammad Siddiq claimed no “foreigners” were living in his house or those of his neighbors.
It is not Al Qaeda’s practice to confirm or deny the loss of senior operatives, but Tuesday, Dec. 6, the terror group publicly contradicted the announcement of Rabia’s death, asserting “he continues to carry out his war duties.”
Palestinian prepare to load Qassam missiles with chemical warheads
8 December: Israelis living in targeted areas around the Gaza Strip were warned Thursday for the first time not to approach fallen missiles.
Palestinian missile fire continued Thursday, this time from the southern Gazan town of Khan Younes. One exploded at Moshav Yesha, causing no casualties. Israeli aerial and artillery strikes continue against missile sites.