A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending July 6, 2006

US Fleet revisits Jordan’s Aqaba Port for the first time in 10 months


30 June: Our military sources reveal: A US helicopter carrier escorting military supply vessels put into the Red Sea port Friday, June 29. The US fleet has stayed clear of the Jordanian port since Abu Musab al Zargawi’s rocket attack on American ships at anchor, a Jordanian training facility in Aqaba and the neighboring Israeli port of Eilat on the August 19, 2005. debkafile‘s sources add: Now that Zarqawi is dead, the Americans are anxious to reuse the strategic Red Sea facility and to find out if it is now safe from al Qaeda attacks.


Hamas politburo member Muhammed Nazal: “We shall keep the Israeli soldier alive but not release him without gain”


1 July: his assurance was delivered to the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Jassem Ben Hama al Thaini, when he traveled to Damascus Saturday, July 1, at the request of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. She asked him to tell Syrian president Bashar Asad that he must expel Hamas hardline leader Khaled Meshaal and his command from Damascus.

Asad’s reply: “I don’t meddle in Palestine just as I don’t interfere in Iraq.”

He added he is willing to throw Meshaal out, on one condition: that the Americans and Israelis let him return home.” debkafile adds: Since Meshaal’s family originates in the West Bank village of Silwad, that reply cut short the pressure on Asad to take a hand in the release of Corp. Gideon Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas.

The option of stepping up military pressure on Hamas at the Gaza end was again tossed back in the laps of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz.


Israel opens Karni crossing Sunday for fuel, food and medicine supplies for Gaza Strip, to avert looming humanitarian crisis


1 July: Defense minister Amir Peretz ordered the crossing open for four days to 150 supply trucks a day


Israel’s Reluctant Journey from Hostage Crisis to War Confrontation in Gaza


2 July: The ball landed squarely in the Israeli court Saturday night, July 1, after Cairo admitted its bid to negotiate an end to the Gideon Shalit hostage crisis had ended in fiasco six days after his capture. The IDF, whose armored forces are standing 3 km inside the southern Gaza Strip since Wednesday, June 28, and camped on the fringes of its northern sector, are awaiting their next orders.

Hamas is gearing up for action. Seven Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades factions have rallied to Hamas and are pledged to fight – not with RPGs or roadside bombs but by hurling themselves bodily against incoming Israeli tanks as martyrs.

In an interview Friday, June 30, to the Cairo daily al Ahram, Hosni Mubarak boasted he had brokered a deal with Hamas leaders on terms for the Israeli hostage’s release, but accused Israel of rejecting them. This was the reverse of the real situation. Mubarak had no clearance from Hamas before he went public, but Olmert was willing to listen. debkafile disclosed those terms that same day:

1. Gilead Shalit will be freed and handed to the IDF.

2. Israel will then pull its troops back from the Gaza Strip.

3. The 87 Hamas leaders Israel detained on the West Bank last Thursday, June 29, will be released.

4. Olmert will give Mubarak his personal guarantee to free groups of Palestinian prisoners at a suitable future opportunity as a gesture of goodwill.

After reading Mubarak’s al Ahram interview, Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza blew up. The Damascus-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, ordered the special emissary he sent to Cairo last week (as reported earlier by debkafile) to notify the Egyptian president that Hamas utterly disowns his proposals for a hostage deal.

debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that Abu Mazen has calculated cynically that Olmert is in a fix: he can hardly keep on dragging out Operation Summer Rain any longer, and he will end up destroying the Hamas government on behalf of the Palestinian leader. Our political sources note that Israel’s leaders fell into the disastrous error of putting their trust in the Egyptian ruler instead of entrusting the IDF with a swift, comprehensive offensive to vanquish Hamas.


Israeli intelligence aborts another Palestinian kidnap plan


2 July: Two Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee operatives were captured Sunday on the Israeli side of the Egyptian border preparing to kidnap and murder Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv and trade the remains for Palestinian prisoners. The PRC hired a Fatah-Tanzim squad to kidnap and murder 18-year old Eliahu Asheri a week ago and was one of the three Palestinian terrorist groups claiming the kidnap of Gilead Shalit. The Shin Beit reports that the captured men revealed under interrogation that they had been trained by PRC chief Jemal Semhadan before he was killed in an Israeli targeted assassination and instructed to tape the murders and burials for future bargaining.


Israeli prime minister’s office issues statement rejecting the Palestinian ultimatum for IDF Corp. Gilead Shalit


3 July: “The Israeli government will not bow to blackmail by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas which are ruled by murderous terrorist groups and will not negotiate the release of prisoners,” the Israeli statement says. Moreover, the PA is fully responsible for Gilead Shalit’s safety and his return in good health to his family.”

Monday morning, his Palestinian captors set a deadline for 6 a.m. Tuesday, July 4, for Israel to meet their demands for the release of the Israeli soldier, or else they would “close his case.”


Palestinian captors set 6 a.m. Tuesday, July 4, deadline to meet demands for Israeli soldier Gideon Shalit


3 July: They do not specify the consequences if their demands are not met. But “Military Community 3” issued Monday by Hamas’ armed wing, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Army, contains oblique threats: “If the enemy does not agree to our humanitarian demands, we will regard the case as closed. They add: “… the enemy will bear full responsibility for future consequences.”

Saturday, July 1, the three groups posted demands for the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners including women and minors and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

debkafile adds: Hamas has raised the ante in its war of nerves against Israel.

Hamas views Israel’s mixed responses to the crisis as betraying vacillation and divided resolve. The Palestinians are likewise not impressed by the military steps Israel has pursued in the Gaza Strip since Shalit was taken hostage:

The IDF does not appear to be searching for the missing soldier or trying to bring the abductors under direct military pressure. Jerusalem’s sole targeted actions have been confined to diplomacy and got nowhere. After their limited incursion, Israeli armored forces have been more or less stationary and left the Palestinian military build-up in the Gaza Strip unscathed.

In issuing its ultimatum, Hamas set the pace by proving faster on the draw than Israel in filling the vacuum left by the failed Egyptian mediation.


The German-made Dingo 2 command and mission carrier soon to be sold to Israel has the most superior protection level of its type


3 July: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reversal of the ban imposed by her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder on the sale of these top-notch carriers to Israel was no surprise to informed German and Israeli security circles. Schroeder explained he was holding the sale back to avoid the carriers’ use in IDF operations against Palestinians, especially in areas where he claimed Israel might potentially use chemical weapons. Whether or not he really believed this, the pretext served Schroeder well in building up his anti-American credentials and propping up his coalition with left-wing partners.

Merkel, pro-American with a different take on arms exports to Israel, is expected to reverse the ban without delay.

debkafile‘s military sources report: The DINGO 2, produced by Krauss-Maffei Wegman, which also manufactures the Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 heavy battle tanks, is an upgrade of the DINGO 1 all-protected carrier vehicle transport vehicle introduced into service in the year 2000. Israel’s initial order of 150 vehicles, which has been on hold for a year, is intended to replace its home-made Sufa and Abir. This was decided after several instances in Afghanistan when Dingo carriers struck by mines or rocket-propelled grenades were damaged but the crews escaped unharmed.


No Finger Is Lifted to Slow the Middle East Countdown to War Escalation


July 3: debkafile‘s Middle East and military sources calculate that no world leader called on to help in recovering Israel’s missing soldier to avert a major escalation is much scared about the prospect of a general Middle East flare-up. Russia, indeed, has a vested interest in a regional war. Putin is making good use of the US president George W. Bush’s preoccupations in Iraq, Korea and other parts of the world, to build Syria up as a jumping-off base for Russian penetration of the Middle East.

Saudi King Abdullah is Hamas’s longstanding sponsor, ideologically and financially, in the same way as Riyadh backed the Taliban regime of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He deduced from Mubarak’s peroration its protege, Hamas, is going from strength to strength and that most Palestinians applaud its use of the Israeli hostage to buy the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The Saudi monarch will therefore hold back from trying to drum moderation into Hamas heads. The missing factor in this churning crisis is Washington, where no decision has been taken how to handle the Gilead Shalit kidnap and its harmful ripple effect through the region. As long as the United States stands on the sidelines, there is nothing to arrest the Middle East plunge into perilous waters.


First Qassam missile from Gaza lands in Ashkelon town center Tuesday evening.


4 July: The school building, empty for the summer holidays, was damaged. But children in the playground and parents registering them for the next school year miraculously escaped harm.

debkafile adds: Hamas subcontracted the firing to Jihad Islami. It took the Palestinian missile squads nine months of trying to hit the southern Israel port town of 120,000 to calculate the precise angle of fire for hitting the town center, 10km away. The Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert, attending the US ambassador’s 4 of July reception in Herzliya, called the attack on Ashkelon an unprecedented escalation in the terrorist war.


It’s now over to Israel intelligence for its most daunting operation in the Gaza Strip


4 July: A gigantic sifting through of every file on Palestinian terrorist activity going back six months is underway at Israel’s intelligence agencies, after the communiques issued by Gideon Shalit’s abductors betrayed no clue to his place of concealment.

Ten days after he was kidnapped on the Israeli side of the Gaza border, international diplomacy has petered out without getting close to the kidnappers, and IDF tanks, bulldozers and special forces are gnawing at the edges of the Gaza Strip.

It is therefore over now to Israeli intelligence.

Masses of painstakingly collected minutiae are stored in Shin Bet, Mossad and Amman files covering every aspect of the armed operations of every Palestinian terrorist group and individual in the Gaza Strip this year. It is all being gone through with a tooth comb, just in case an unsuspected lead to the kidnappers is buried there. This nugget could come in the most apparently irrelevant form, an unexplained purchase in a Gaza shop by a known terrorist, an unusual action or contact filed away at the time as unrelated to an ongoing inquiry.

Competent analysts have been drafted in from every department of intelligence to a main sorting center, boosted by experts called up from reserves.

A senior intelligence officer confided to debkafile that this immense operation means other counter-terror intelligence tasks have had to be set aside. It is realized that mobilizing every human and electronic resource and its focus on a single task, the hunting down of the kidnapped soldier’s whereabouts, may force the cutting down of other essential undercover tasks. However, according to our sources, every member of this army of intelligence minds is acutely aware that prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Amir Peretz and the IDF have nowhere to go because they are stumped for hard information to act on. They are therefore eager for success.

The 30th anniversary of Israel’s Entebbe Operation falling on July 4, in which Israeli commandos rescued more than a hundred Jewish hostages hijacked by Palestinians to Uganda, is a timely reminder that it was never Israel’s way to give in meekly to terrorists.


Second Qassam missile hits Ashkelon Wednesday night, 24 hours after the first landed on school


5 July: debkafile‘s military sources are asking whether the Olmert government will finally bring itself to order an extensive military operation to put a stop to the blitz, or stand by the small-scale, fairly static incursion embarked upon in the last eight days. Operation Summer Rain has scarcely scratched the Hamas-led missile offensive against Israeli towns and villages.

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