A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 21, 2005:

No Abbas Pledge to Fight Terror – Despite Palestinian Karni Attack


15 January: This time, Israel turned aside from its standard knee-jerk response of massive military punishment and targeted assassinations to Palestinian terrorist outrages – at least for the moment. Instead, prime minister Ariel Sharon resorted to diplomatic retaliation: he ordered preparations for a meeting with new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas broken off, government contacts with the new Palestinian administration cut, support for European economic aid to reach the Palestinians withdrawn, and the Gaza Strip sealed off from its vital supplies of food and medicines.

Sharon’s messages to allies stressed that enough Palestinian Authority armed personnel served on its side of the Karni border terminal to have detained the truck loaded with 150 kilos of explosives before it blew a hole through the wall to the Israeli side. Three suicide bombers then burst in shooting and hurling grenades, leaving 6 airport-border authority personnel dead and 5 injured.

Three of the victims were breadwinners from Sderot, the small Israeli town battered almost daily by Palestinian Qassam missiles from the Gaza Strip where jobs are scarce.

The prime minister is not expected to withstand the pressure to retract the punitive measures for more than a few days as he forges ahead with his new Labor partner to carry out the controversial withdrawals from Gaza and the northern West Bank, in the face of expert assessments that they will expose 46 Israeli Negev locations to missile attack.

Combined with the pullback from the northern West Back, disengagement would place the entire national power supply – from Ashkelon and from Hadera – under Palestinian bombs, guns and missiles, together with the densely populated central Israeli towns of Hadera, Kfar Saba and their environs.

This week too, Israel’s supreme court suspended the security barrier route, after it was revised once by a previous court ruling, defending north Jerusalem against incursions from Ramallah.

After the Sharon disengagement plan goes through, therefore, parts of Jerusalem, seat of Israeli government and parliament, will be as wide open to direct attack from adjacent Palestinian areas as Sderot is at present.


Al Qaeda Renews Violent Duel with Fatah over Lebanese Palestinian Camp


16 January: Saturday, March 2003, Abu Mohammed Al Masri, or Farouq al-Masri was killed in the South Lebanese Ein Hilweh Palestinian camp by an exploding Mercedes. The murder was claimed by an unknown group calling itself Youth of the Armed Palestinian Struggle, although Lebanese and Palestinian authorities tried to pin it on the Israeli Mossad, claiming an Israeli reconnaissance aircraft had hovered overhead.

“Al Masri” was quickly identified by Lebanese intelligence as Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, a Palestinian from Nablus and undercover chief of al Qaeda forces in south Lebanon. He headed a group of Islamist fundamentalist Palestinians calling itself Esbat Al Ansar (League of Partisans) which had been fighting Fatah for control of the teeming Ein Hilweh camp (estimated population of 60,000).

Some 20 months later, on January 15, 2005, an unusual al Qaeda communique appeared on various jihadist websites claiming ironclad proof that “our brother Muhammed Al Masri” was assassinated by a conspiracy of Lebanese domestic security service and the Fatah’s Ein Hilweh command. The statement warned his blood would be avenged by action against the entire Fatah command and leadership hierarchy in Lebanon.

They note that the al Qaeda communique is unprecedented because –

  1. Osama bin Laden’s organization has never before publicly announced an inquiry into the death or capture of any of its people.
  2. Al Qaeda has never openly admitted to operating in Lebanon, nor was Al Masri ever named as one of its own. This was also the organization’s first claim of a foothold in a Palestinian refugee camp anywhere.
  3. Al Qaeda has never before sworn to avenge the loss of any of its top men; nor threatened openly to liquidate the leaders of a fellow terrorist or Muslim organization.

The statement is therefore taken as a declaration of war by the global jihadist al Qaeda on the Palestinian Fatah for control of Ein Hilweh. It was issued the day the new Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in. He faces the challenge of asserting his leadership over all parts of the Fatah movement. Failure to do so will seriously undermine his authority and destabilize his regime.



New US “Intel Snipers” Fielded in Iraq, IDF Undercover Unit in Gaza


19 January: The major US offensives waged in the Iraqi towns of Najef last June-July and Fallujah last November brought a stern lesson home to American counter-terror strategists. It is that broad-based, large-scale operations to subdue entire towns in order to eradicate terrorist hotbeds – even if successful – do not achieve their principal objective of cutting down the scale of violence emanating from those terrorists. In fact, they often drive the enemy into creating improved operational frameworks in new places.

A similar dilemma confronts the IDF from surging Palestinian cross-border attacks from the Gaza Strip – mostly against civilian targets – and the constant terrorist threat poised from the West Bank against Israel’s heartland. But the IDF has tried this exercise time and time again, capturing and withdrawing from one Palestinian hotbed town after another, only to find the terrorist threat reverting before long to the status quo ante.

Just as Ayatollah Ali Sistani was recruited to scotch radical Shiite terror, the Americans, the Europeans and the Israelis contrived the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), a Palestinian leader committed to an anti-violence platform. But this Palestinian horse is not made of the same stuff as the Shiite cleric; he lacks his charisma, political guile and exalted religious standing.

As a result, Palestinian terrorists – and not only Hamas – are mocking his pleas to accept a regime of calm and order and are redoubling their attacks on Israeli targets. The front they have formed exhibits enhanced military skills and maintains a debilitating round-the-clock shelling and missile barrage against Israeli civilians.

The newly-employed American and Israeli counter-terror tactics have some fundamentally common features, as debkafile‘s military experts point out.

In Iraq, the US army has deployed for the first time a 42nd Infantry Division unit known as “Intel Snipers”, i.e. sniper-trained soldiers of the division’s 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment. They are armed with newly-issued M-14 rifles which have never been surpassed as a marksman’s weapon.

Some 1,000 km to the west, Israel has belatedly deployed for full-scale operations behind enemy lines in the Gaza Strip the same kind of elite unit, the IDF’s Shimshon Battalion 92, reinforced by scores of intelligence snipers trained to target small terrorist units.

The American Intel Snipers will also be charged with sterilizing the vicinity of US bases, command posts and convoys of hostile threats.

The Shimshon Battalion’s missions in the Gaza Strip are somewhat similar. Based in the Israeli location of Netzarim, this unit’s undercover missions cover the northern part of the Gaza Strip. They include guarding Israeli communities, detentions of wanted and suspected terrorists, and the liquidation of enemy assailants and bombers before they strike. Shimshon’s troops are on hand to abort recoilless rocket grenade attacks and Qassam missile launchings.

However, debkafile‘s military experts note that effective though these units are, they need to be left long enough in the field to carry out their missions. The Israeli unit’s full-scale operation was cut short after three days before its full weight was thrown against Palestinian fire power. In Iraq, the intel snipers were not deployed soon enough; fielded too close to election-day, they have not yet been able to embark on a serious effort to cope with the surging violence.

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