A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending February 24, 2005:
Lebanon Is on the Brink. Syria Begins Arming its Supporters
19 February: Sparks started flying in Lebanon when the opposition unveiled their “peaceful democratic uprising for independence” and, as revealed by debkafile‘s intelligence sources, Syrian forces began distributing weapons to groups supporting Damascus and the 1.4 million expatriate laborers in the country.
Saturday, February 19, Omar Karame, who succeeded Rafiq Hariri as prime minister, accused the opposition of attempting a coup d’etat.
The belligerent Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned (or threatened) that “popular agitation against Syria’s grip on the country following the killing of Rafiq Hariri could plunge Lebanon into civil war again. Backed solidly from Damascus and Tehran, he exhorted the 100,000 Shiites massed in Beirut to mark the Ashura festival not to forget the real enemy. “Death to Israel!” they roared after him.
The Damascus-backed government in Beirut and its masters has no intention of going quietly. Bashar Assad desperately needs the political and economic benefits he extorts from Lebanon to prop up his regime.
Monday, February 21, presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac meet in Paris will have to decide what to do if Assad orders his Syrian troops in Lebanon to march on Beirut and squash the uprising. Will they dispatch a joint US-French force to repulse the Syrian onslaught?
The Lebanese uprising leaders are planning –
1. Giant rallies to strangle normal life in the capital.
2. A human chain from Hariri’s tomb to government headquarters on the seam-line dividing the Hizballah-dominated southern district from the Christian-controlled West that would aim to paralyze government activity
But they must also keep a tight rein on the uprising so that it does not run out of control and degenerate into a bloodbath and all-out civil strife, and also try and win over the Shiite parliament speaker Nabih Berri, to divide the pro-Syrian community against itself. Splitting the Shiites between Amal and Hizballah would sunder the pro-Syrian front and seriously shake the government.
Above all, the opposition must prove it can get the masses out on the streets for long, sustained rallies.
What Sharon Omitted to Tell Ministers Who Approved Evacuations
20 February: Israeli prime minister finally managed to elicit two momentous decisions from his cabinet on Sunday, February 20. The hard one was the evacuation of 26 Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, one of the most polarizing in Israel’s history. The 8,000 evacuees were given five months notice to accept the payouts on offer and go quietly or wait to be forcibly evicted under an elaborate evacuation plan requiring 6,000 policemen to remove them bodily, backed by several thousand armed soldiers for security.
The second decision approved the southern section of West Bank defense barrier after its route was amended to enclose 7% of West Bank territory instead of 16% in the original blueprint. The Gush Etzion cluster and Maale Adummim are included, the town of Ariel will be excluded, as will the southern Mt. Hebron communities where the fence will follow the pre-1967 route.
The prime minister omitted to share with his ministers certain facts that might have altered the way they voted. debkafile‘s uncovers some of those facts:
Friday, December 11, three days before the Sharm el-Sheikh ceasefire summit, the opposite camp was secretly brought together by the Syrian military intelligence’s Palestinian Desk to work on ways to disrupt the Israeli pullout. Present were in addition to radical Palestinian groups, the Iranian commander of the Revolutionary Guard unit stationed in Syria and Hizballah heads.
One decision was to plant hundreds of explosive charges along Israeli traffic routes to blow up the Israeli units executing the evacuations. Israeli military sources revealed Sunday, February 20, that in the last two weeks, 22 of these bombs, some as large as 70 kilos, were uncovered before they could do any harm. They also decided to step up the flow of smuggled weapons from Egyptian Sinai into the Gaza Strip, especially missiles for shooting down Israeli drones. Hizballah promised to redouble its recruitment of spies and spotters among Israeli Arabs.
In her latest telephone conversation with Mahmoud Abbas, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice repeated three times: Dismantle, dismantle, dismantle. But she told Sharon she does not believe he will go through with it and he has therefore not been invited to the White House. America is standing back from the dispute.
EU foreign affairs executive Javier Solana secret assured Abbas that he need not be impressed by the cool wind blowing from Washington; the EU will step in with a big peace conference after Israel completes its pullback. This will be Abu Mazen’s vehicle for ducking the American demand to dismantle terrorists.
Israeli Troops to Quit Gaza‘s Philadelphi Border Route Too
22 February: debkafile‘s exclusive military sources disclose that Israel-Egyptian protocols will set the time table and arrangements for Israel’s retreat from its volatile Philadelphi border route with Egypt. The new Israel-Egyptian border will relocate northward up to the town of Sderot and the western Negev.
After the troop withdrawal in late August, not a single Israeli – in or out of uniform – will be left in the Gaza Strip.
The key points of the protocols are:
1. Israel will pull its troops back to the international borders demarcated in the Egyptian-Israel 1979 peace accords. This will place Israel behind the pre-1967 lines.
2. Egypt will station three battalions – two commando, one intelligence – on its side of the Gaza border, equipped with armored personnel carriers and mortars and wearing the uniforms and colors of border police so as not to violate the peace accords..
3. Israel will leave behind some of its military installations, including complete fortified positions. Since the Egyptians may not set foot in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian military forces under the command of Moussa Arafat will benefit – the first time the Palestinians have ever acquired Israeli military positions.
The Israeli chief of Staff Lt. General Moshe Yaalon was sacked after he protested against the handover of military positions to an enemy still engaged in combat with Israeli troops and prior to any Palestinian Authority action to disarm terrorists.
4. Israel will lift its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian fleet will take the Israeli navy’s place.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources reveal that Sharon has quietly okayed a deal to buy natural gas pumped by the Palestinian-British Petroleum company off the Gazan shore – a reversal of previous government decisions. With this deal in the bag, the Palestinians are after bigger game; they are demanding concessions to sink wells north of Gaza in Israeli waters off the Ashkelon coast. In their application, the Palestinians report the project has secured $80m in financing from the Athens-based CCC, a company owned by the late Arafat’s financial adviser Mohammed Rashid, who is partner of a candidate for a Palestinian ministerial post, Mohammed Dahlan. In the past, debkafile‘s sources add, Arafat invested in CCC as a backdoor channel for funding Palestinian terrorist organizations. This funding continues.
5. Because so many clauses of the protocols contravene the Israel-Egyptian peace accords, the two governments will exchange letters determining that the new measures are mutually agreed without prejudice to the validity and legitimacy of those peace accords.
Dahlan’s Death Squads Bring a Bit of Iraq to Gaza Strip
February 23, 2005: Gaza’s would-be strongman Mohammed Dahlan has sent his death squads to settle accounts with Palestinian intelligence chief Mussa Arafat’s men.
Wednesday, February 23, those assassins gunned down a Palestinian military intelligence officer and threw his body outside his home. The previous three murders were hushed up by the Palestinian authorities. Captain Mohammed Abu Jarad, 27, died Saturday, February 19 in hail of submachine-gun fire and grenades on his car in Gaza’s Sheikh Daraj neighborhood. His body, riddled with bullets and shrapnel, was dumped in the center of the city for all to see. A day later, masked men grabbed Captain Dihab Hamdu, 33, from his home in Gaza’s Sheikh Reduan district. His corpse was also abandoned in the town center. A third intelligence officer, another captain, was killed in a separate attack but his body has yet been found. Nabil Hamous is the head of Dahlan’s death squads.
All the victims were implicated in clashes between Arafat’s and Dahlan’s forces, as well as in the infamous incident last November in which warning shots were fired over the head of new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) after Yasser Arafat’s death when he visited a tent set up for mourners in Gaza City.
Following that non-fatal shooting, Abu Mazen thought he had brokered a “sulha” among the Gaza Strip’s three warring chiefs: Dahlan, Arafat, who holds multiple jobs as general security commander, head of the Palestinian armed forces in the Gaza Strip and military intelligence chief, and Rashid Abu Shbak, head of the preventive security service. Clearly, the rivals had no intention of abiding by the bargain and have no scruples about defying Abbas’ authority. Mussa Arafat and his followers are expected to respond in kind to Dahlan’s “house-cleaning.”
An Airman as Top Israeli Soldier Will Depend on Deputies to Tackle Terror
23 February: The deputy chief of staff and former air force commander, Dan Halutz, who was picked to replace the forcibly retired Moshe Yaalon as Israel’s 18th chief of staff, will soon be called upon to show his mettle. Palestinian terror, which died down after Yasser Arafat’s death November 11, is set to resume in earnest in late September or early October unless something radical happens.
Sharon and Abbas have set the timeline together.
July 17, the Palestinians hold parliamentary elections which are expected to elevate the Islamic extremist Hamas to the dominant force in “mainstream” Palestinian politics.
That leaves three days until the start of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Hamas and fellow terrorist groups will use the time to decide whether to resume their attacks on the Zionist enemy without delay or wait until late September or early October when the Israeli military and civilian presence will be gone from the Gaza Strip.
Testifying before the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee Tuesday, February 22, Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser, head of the research branch of military intelligence, offered the view that these groups planned to resume their suicide bombings and would “soon take vigorous action to prepare strategic attacks should diplomacy reach a dead end”.
Should Lebanese civil war break out, the Palestinian Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades would have to decide whether to dive in or go through with their secret plan to relocate the entire terrorist administration with all the radical Palestinian organizations lock stock and barrel from Damascus and Beirut to the Gaza Strip and from there to the West Bank.
The door was opened to this transfer by Sharon’s consent to evacuate the tunnel-ridden Philadelphi Corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt. The Israeli public has not been informed of this plan and it is not generally known that Abu Mazen’s endorsement provided the real incentive for Hamas and al-Aqsa Brigades to supposedly stick to a de facto ceasefire.
In view of the predicted resumption of the terror war, Halutz will need experienced ground forces commanders at his side. Major-General Gaby Ashkenazi is in the running to take over as head of military intelligence while Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, until recently OC central command, will most likely move into the position of deputy chief of staff. Should efforts to persuade Ashkenazi to stay on fail, outgoing OC northern command Major-General Benny Ganz will be asked postpone his retirement plans and throw his weight behind the high command.