Palestinian Terrorists Trample on Sharm Ceasefire
10 February: Not 48 hours after Israeli and Palestinian leaders solemnly united in Sharm el Sheikh on a reciprocal ceasefire, a coalition of Palestinian terrorist groups mocked the occasion by two swift strikes.
Early Thursday, February 10, Hamas mortar crews and Qassam missile launchers unleashed more than 30 rounds against Gush Katif in two hours. Later, Sharon met with his top ministers to discuss the mortar barrage as well as the next batch of gestures for the Palestinians, including the release of another several hundred prisoners. That same morning, 2,000 Palestinian workers and businessmen trooped into Israel from Gaza and the first Israeli roadblocks were lifted.
That night dozens of armed Hamas-Fatah al Aqsa Brigades- Palestinian Fronts-Popular Resistance Committees gang stormed the Palestinian Authority’s central prison in Gaza City. They murdered three inmates and a policeman and released all their comrades from the PA installation.
This two-stroke offensive created new facts:
1. Palestinian terror groups would henceforth dictate the order of events – not Abu Mazen.
2. Whereas under Yasser Arafat, Palestinian diplomacy and hostilities were synchronized, now violence would determine the course of diplomacy.
3. A “de facto ceasefire” gives operational commanders the prerogative to shoot or hold their fire.
4. Palestinian terrorist leaders claim a seat at any future negotiations among the Sharm foursome.
debkafile‘s analysts note that, in the space of a few hours, the Palestinian terrorists turned the clock back to 1995, 1996 and 1997, when the Oslo Peace Accords and the subsequent “peace talks” went forward amid the blasts of Israeli buses blown up by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Sharon has tied himself in knots by attempting to reconcile three incompatible elements: his Gaza pullout scheme, the unchecked violence on the ground and his refusal to appreciate Abu Mazen’s ineffectiveness in quelling it. He cannot have all three. To achieve the first, he will have to face the risks of launching a long overdue large-scale military operation to destroy terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip – the sooner the better. The Palestinian terrorist groups are counting on the Israeli prime minister being tied hand and foot by fear of his fragile partnership with Labor breaking up.
The Iraq Voter Has Opted for a Shiite-Kurdish Coalition in Baghdad
13 February: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s United Iraqi (Shiite) Alliance pulled ahead of in Iraq’s first democratic election, earning 48% and a block of 132 seats in the new national assembly – but not an absolute majority. Iraq’s 8.55 million voters (58% turnout) awarded 25.4% to the United Kurdish List, for second place, followed by interim PM Allawi’s list with a disappointing 14%.
Despite the Sunni boycott, there was a 29% turnout in the Sunni Salah-eddin province.
The Iraqi voter determined that any future regime in Baghdad must be based on a Shiite-Kurdish coalition. No single faction can rule alone.
According to debkafile‘s Baghdad sources, Ambassador John Negroponte is making every effort to keep Iyad Allawi in the job of prime minister. Intense wheeling and dealing is afoot to build him a coalition with Chalabi and supported by the Kurds in order to place four stabilizing blocks in position
One, A Sunni Kurdish president would act as a counterweight to Shiite domination of the assembly and government and might partly melt Sunni Arab hostility to the new regime.
Two, Kurdish support for Allawi would guarantee a pro-American prime minister at the helm of the new government.
Three, Command of the national presidency may slow the Kurds’ pell-mell rush towards an independence.
Four, The incumbent Sunni Muslim Ghazi Yawar, or a member of his clan, would move over from the presidency to the post of national assembly speaker, reserving this important post for a Sunni.
For the moment, Washington’s immediate concerns are:
A. Steady progress in shaping an effective Iraqi army and security force to turn the tide of insurgency and terror and provide a solid prop for stable government. The failure of the UIA to attain an absolute majority in the national assembly is good news as with absolute control of government and legislature the Shiites might have tempted them to pack the high Iraqi command with Shiite officers loyal to Ayatollah Sistani and the prime minister, thereby undoing long months of US endeavor.
B. A similar consideration applies to Iraqi intelligence which is controlled today by the American CIA. Scrapping the top level of Iraqi intelligence in favor of Shiite officers picked for their political allegiances would have dealt a major setback to the painstaking US offensive against terrorism.
Syrian Military Intelligence Eliminates Hariri and Reform Hopes for Lebanon
14 February: The murder of Rafiq Hariri on February 14 was a hammer blow for Washington and set back Bush administration plans to bring democratic reforms to the Middle East. Its impact will be regional in magnitude, affecting the next stage of Iraqi insurgency and the chances of a Palestinian-Israeli accommodation.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, the assassination was staged by Syrian military intelligence headed by General Rostum Ghazala at the end of two years of attempts by the Bush administration to engage Assad by diplomacy.
For the first time in the annals of the Arab-Israeli dispute, Lebanon’s senior opposition politicians are pressing for the government in Beirut to recognize Israel and sign a separate peace treaty with the Jewish state – without reference to Damascus.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that the move was initiated this week by former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Christian Maronite archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, acting on a signal from Washington.
Hariri’s assassination is one up for all the violent forces at work in the Middle East, for Assad as sponsor of terrorism and for the pro-Syrian government in Beirut. It is bound to have a negative effect on the Sharon-Abbas reconciliation strategy and their hopes with American encouragement of bringing Palestinian terrorist groups round to reducing their attacks, much less a truce. The Palestinians will conclude that the gun and the bomb bring results and will stick to this line – especially when convinced that Abu Mazan will never raise a finger to bring them to heel.
In War Crisis, Hizballah, Palestinians, Poised to Line up behind Pro-Syrian Lebanese Government
14 February: Just hours after former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was murdered in a massive car bomb explosion outside the five-star Saint Georges Hotel on Beirut’s seafront Monday, February 14, enraged Lebanese Muslim, Christian, Druse opposition leaders declared the pro-Syrian Karame government illegal, demanded its resignation and pointed the finger of blame at Damascus. First riots erupted in Beirut and Hariri’s home town of Sidon.
Syrian troops were ordered to stay in their barracks for the time being.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources report: If hostilities erupt and the government looks liking falling, these troops, some 13,000, will be called out. The Hizballah and Palestinians will back them alongside pro-government Lebanese troops to shield the Syrian presence in Lebanon against the fury of opposition Christian and Druse militias backed by pro-Hariri Sunni loyalists from the south.
If such a full-blown crisis develops, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will face the dilemma of having to decide which side the Palestinian Authority supports: the anti-US, pro-Syrian coalition, accused of a terrorist act against a leading pro-Western politician, or the opposition forces ranged against that line-up. In the second case, he risks losing even more ground with the Hamas, Jihad Islami, al Aqsa Brigades and Palestinian “Fronts” which will sympathize with the Lebanese factions supporting Damascus. If he opts for the first,, he breaks loose from the reconciliation process begun at Sharm el Sheikh on February 8.
Two Strong-minded Defense Chiefs Purged Ahead of Evacuations
debkafile Special Analysis
16 February: The non-extension of Lt.-General Moshe Ayalon’s tour of duty as Israeli armed forces chief of staff is unprecedented. The one-year extension has always been automatic for every one of his predecessors, a routine that crossed party divisions and assured the country that the army serves the nation as its supreme defender and is above and apart from the political schemes of the government in office.
This virtual sacking hit Israel like a thunderclap after midnight Tuesday, February 15, the more shocking since it followed shortly after the announcement that Shin Beit Director, the second top czar of Israel’s war on Palestinian terror, will also not be asked to stay on when his stint is up in May. Both of these experienced veterans, widely acclaimed for their achievements in cutting down Palestinian terror, are being dropped ahead of the evacuations of Israeli civilians and troops from the Gaza Strip and northern West bank in the coming July. Both have spoken out against the step – each in his professional capacity.
By Wednesday morning, a vocal chorus from the extreme political left to the right had condemned the step as irresponsible. The Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee will be called into urgent session.
An angry tremor ran through the IDF’s high command. The predicted round of new appointments are bound to complicate the run-up to the dangerous and painful withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Many commanders expect the post-disengagement Palestinian territory to turn rapidly into a fast-exploding powder keg.
Yaalon objected strongly to troops having to execute the forcible evictions of evacuees from their homes and this task passed to the police.
Already on the move, DEBKAfile has learned Sharon and Mofaz they have directed Gush Katif, in the southern Gaza Strip, and settlements in the northern part of the territory military areas locked down as a military zone immediately after the cabinet approves their evacuation Sunday, February 20. These orders will bar Israeli civilians from entering the closed zones and require residents to apply for special permits limiting the time they may spend outside their homes. In effect, 10,000 Israeli citizens will be placed under martial law. This cordon sanitaire is aimed at foiling the settlers’ plan to bring tens of thousands of supporters to the Gaza Strip to stop the evacuation by their very presence.
The clampdown will also keep print, photo and television journalists from entering the cordon and forcing them to make do with briefings from the Army Spokesman’s Office. Army camera crews will offer footage recording the pull-outs.
However Israel’s entrepreneurs have gone into action, creating clandestine services for the besieged Israeli communities and their outside contacts, including foreign journalists. Some have built systems for facilitating the rapid movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip and set up deals for procuring the precious permits – all for a hefty fee. Among their customers, debkafile‘s counter-intelligence sources report, are foreign citizens and organizations working undercover for foreign intelligence services in the market for real-time information from the Gaza Strip, a development that could have diplomatic and political fallout for the Israeli government.