A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 12, 2006

Britain followed by Canada and Australia closed its embassy in Jordan indefinitely over security fears.


7 January: Terrorists may be in the final stages of planning attacks against Westerners and places frequented by Westerners,” the Foreign Office Web site said.

debkafile adds: There are growing indications – including the warning issued by al Qaeda’s No. 2, ,Ayman Zawahiri, in the videotape aired by al Jazeera Friday – that terrorist organization is preparing to take advantage of the crisis created by Ariel Sharon’s critical condition to attack a Western ally in the Middle East, including Israel.


The Rice phone call to Olmert indicates Washington is ready to move on


7 January: In her phone call Friday, Jan. 6, to acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, US secretary of state Condoleezza first inquired about the health of ailing prime minister Ariel Sharon, before getting down to brass tacks.

Who have you chosen as your contact man with the Bush administration? she asked. Whom do we call when there is a problem?

The very question carries three messages:

1. The Bush administration realizes the Sharon era is over and is feeling its way towards a different style of relations with the incoming administration in Jerusalem.

2. The Rice telephone call was also a test of the new Israeli leader’s ability to make fast decisions and judgments. She took advantage of Olmert’s being thrown off-balance by the unexpected responsibility thrust on him by his boss’s indisposition to put forward her own candidate as contact-man, the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, Richard Jones.

3. This was a smart move. Olmert, who is a long way from thinking about appointments, could hardly refuse.

debkafile‘s political sources note that if Olmert accepts Ambassador Jones for the long term, he will buy into an arrangement which Sharon shunned: keeping contacts running between Jerusalem and Washington through American emissaries assigned to Israel. He preferred to work through his own representatives, sending them on his business to Washington.

The US secretary seems to have taken a step towards her goal of moving the acting premier away from the Sharon method of communication and channeling his interchanges with Washington in future through Ambassador Jones and the new US military coordinator Maj.-Gen Keith Dayton, who arrived in Israel Friday, Jan. 6.


US security coordinator Maj.Gen. Keith Dayton returns to region


7 January: debkafile‘s political sources say his return was prompted by the rising anarchy in Palestinian areas that threaten the course of a general election in 18 days. In the view of former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt Edward S. Walker, it is no longer a question merely of terror but pure criminal behavior and absence of central government.


Hamas Runs for Election Vowing Never to Talk to Israel or Disarm


8 January: Hamas campaigners, confident of a strong showing in the Jan 25 elections for the Palestinian legislative council, announced in Gaza City Sunday, Jan. 8, that, if elected, they will put an end to any Palestinian talks with Israel. Negotiations with the Zionist entity will only take place through the barrel of a gun, said the man topping the Hamas list, Ismail Haniya.

Abu Mazen succumbed to the Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades revolt against his administration in Rafah, the border town divided between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. He swallowed the conquest of the entire strategic border strip by this lawless group.

In Khan Younes, 7 terrorist factions set up a local vigilante militia to enforce order in the South Gazan region that was formerly the site of Israeli Gush Katif.

An increasing number of independent candidates running for office are turning to Hamas for patronage and campaign funding.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal that 10 radical Jihad Islami leaders headed by Abdallah Shami have passed through the Rafah crossing to Egypt on their way to the Saudi hajj city of Mecca. According to those sources, the group is rendezvousing there with Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders of Tehran’s terrorist cells.

Despite international guarantees, the Rafah crossing has deteriorated into a mainline transit hub whose main function is to ease terrorist movements between the Palestinian Gaza Strip, Sinai, Damascus and Tehran.


Bush forces Hamas down Israel’s throat in Jerusalem. Olmert government is stunned


9 January: Sunday night Jan 8, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice discussed the forthcoming Palestinian elections to the legislative council on the telephone with Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen.

Jerusalem was not briefed, debkafile‘s political sources report.

Twelve hours later, the US consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles visited Abu Mazen’s office in Ramallah with an oral message from President George W. Bush. According to our sources, it was a presidential guarantee that all the Palestinian parties running for election on Jan 25 would be allowed to campaign openly in East Jerusalem, eligible voters in the city would be permitted to cast their votes through local post offices, and the voter slips of all Palestinian parties without exception would be available in the balloting booths.

The Israeli government was not informed of the extraordinary step taken by Bush over its head and in respect of Israeli sovereign territory.

The step has some disturbing implications:

1. The Bush administration took advantage of Ehud Olmert’s having been less than a week in the job of acting prime minister and treated his reluctance to undertake firm decisions – as long as prime minister Ariel Sharon’s condition was uncertain – as a leadership vacuum in Jerusalem.

2. Olmert’s failure to come down decisively on the Jerusalem issue has a serious consequence: Washington’s intercession enables the terrorist Hamas group to fly its green flags and hold rallies on Temple Mount with its standard calls for jihad against Israel.

4. Governing circles in Jerusalem were stunned by the White House action. They asked if Bush wanted Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud to win the March election having awarded him the edge on the Jerusalem issue.


Haddam’s Attacks on Assad Backed from Riyadh and Cairo


9 January: This week, disaffected former Syrian vice president Abdul Khalim Haddam called for a popular uprising to oust president Assad, whom he called a traitor. Speaking to the BBC from Paris, where he lives under French intelligence protection, Haddam said: “Public opinion is very frustrated” and “There is an opposition in Syria which will find its way to leading the people to overthrow him.”

Haddam said the Syrian president should go to prison for his involvement in Hariri’s assassination. He has set up a headquarters at the Georges V Hotel in Paris for an operation to oust the Assad regime. A French security guard detail is posted there by presidential decree.


Iran has crossed the point of no-return to a nuclear weapon


10 January: The cries of outrage over Iran’s bald-faced removal of the seals at its Natanz nuclear facility have a familiar ring. They also evoked little more from the turbaned rulers of Tehran than a cool shrug.

The seals to shut down equipment for making centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium were affixed two years ago by the UN nuclear watchdog’s inspectors at the subterranean Natanz facility.

During this period, Tehran broke one pledge after another and defied every international rebuke, as diplomacy led by France, Britain and Germany, alternated with unfulfilled threats of UN sanctions, to grant the Iranians precious time to forge ahead with its atomic weapons program. Now, belatedly, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director, Dr Mohammed ElBaradei warns that, as well as breaking the international seals at Natanz, Iran will before Wednesday remove seals on two other connected sites.

But the Iranians clearly don’t give a hoot about their EU-3 negotiating partners, the IAEA, the Americans or the Israelis. Because they have used the time afforded them by sterile diplomacy to manipulate their way to their objectives, as debkafile‘s Iranian sources reveal:

1. Thousands of P2 and P1 type centrifuges, developed under cover of the two-year purported suspension, can go into action free of international curbs. The IAEA statement said uranium hexafluoride, a uranium gas – can be fed into cascades of centrifuges to produce low-level nuclear fuel or weapons-grade material. This can happen within a week or two.

2. The intelligence consensus reaching our sources is that within six weeks to two months, the centrifuges will have produced enough enriched uranium to build a single nuclear weapon. Tehran has reached this point of no-return with no real opposition.

The Islamic Republic’s rulers are fairly sure Moscow and Beijing will veto Security Council sanctions. The Russians are motivated by their heavy investments, past and potential, in Iran’s nuclear industry. The Chinese are heavily dependent on Iranian gas and keen to expand their stake in Tehran’s oil industry, partly in order to compete with the Russians.


Olmert Is Losing Ground for Kadima and Government Lead


11 January: Ehud Olmert’s hand was forced to grant elder statesman Shimon Peres the No. 2 position on the Kadima list, a concession the party’s founder Ariel Sharon would have blocked.

Kadima also saw Binyamin Netanyahu as a looming threat as his Likud began narrowing the gap between the two parties. Olmert’s next setback was a kite flown by Sharon’s close advisers and family Wednesday Jan. 11 to place the ailing prime minister in the No. 1 slot of Kadima.

The acting PM suffered two further blows.

1. He was outmaneuvered by the Bush administration on Palestinian elections in E. Jerusalem. Olmert tried telling US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that his government would not allow Hamas to electioneer and place its candidates’ names on voter slips in Jerusalem, but she overruled him, stating Israel could not stop independents from running for election.

Both know that most Hamas and Fatah candidates in Jerusalem are running as independents. Olmert has thus landed himself with having to explain to the Israeli voter how he let the Palestinians backed by Washington divide Jerusalem and how Hamas’ “independent” candidates were allowed to walk off with victory in the Israeli capital

2. Tuesday, Jan. 10, prominently ran a long article captioned Netanyahu stands by in an uncertain Israel. Ex-leader could be heir to his old rival (Ariel Sharon).

This was the second American blow below the belt for Olmert.


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sends a terrorist cell by sea to strike Caesarea or Ashkelon


12 January: Lebanese intelligence services on Sunday, Jan. 8, succeeded in thwarting a terrorist attack against Israel when they seized four al Qaeda operatives near Tripoli. The team was preparing to set off in a boat loaded with weapons and explosives for attacks on the Israeli coast. They told their interrogators that they were to attack the Mediterranean ports of Caesarea or Ashkelon, targeting Israel’s two big power plants.

The thwarted attack fits the warnings from Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin-Laden’s second in command, and al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Musab al-Zarqawi, that al Qaeda was ready for attacks inside Israel.

On Monday, the day after Zarqawi’s threat was issued and the terrorist cell was captured in Tripoli, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said al Qaeda is more of a virtual phenomenon than a real entity. Rather, it is an umbrella organization. Halutz said the Palestinians operatives, after getting paid by organization A, then move over to organization B. Ultimately, we are talking about the same 107-mm. Katyushas, he said.

Halutz’s remarks are typical of airmen who tend to ignore happenings on the ground. DEBKA-file’s counter-terror sources assert authoritatively that Al Qaeda in the Middle East is no virtual entity, but a combat force directed by a central command in Baghdad, Iraq, with branches in at least six other regional countries. This force is successfully confronting the US Army in Iraq and frustrating every effort to subdue it. Zarqawi’s al Qaeda is now offering a challenge to the IDF.

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