A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending June 23, 2005:

Rice’s Twin Middle East Missions Impossible


 


18 June: The US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice undertook tough, some would say impossible, missions in the first stops of her current Middle East tour – Ramallah and Jerusalem. One was a bid for Palestinian cooperation in holding terrorist fire back from Israel’s pullback: the other, to haul Egyptian-Israeli relations out of the mud.


Egypt has gone back on its promised role in securing the Gaza Strip and Philadelphi border strip unless Israel meets new harsh terms that would effectively annul the military clauses of the 1979 Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, under which the Sinai Peninsula was restored to Egypt against an irrevocable pledge that it stayed demilitarized.


Egypt also endorses Palestinian demands for full sovereignty over the land, sea and air space of the Gaza Strip (where terrorists would continue to remain armed and at large) as well as a sovereign Palestinian land link to the West Bank.


By opting out, Egypt would strip Israel’s disengagement plan of the security safeguards built into the process on the strength of Cairo’s pledges. It would also topples the US-British security plan for the CIA and the British secret service MI6 to train and set up new Palestinian security and intelligence bodies for the Gaza Strip.


In Ramallah, Rice knew she was making demands of Palestinian leaders whose authority had been usurped by armed lawless terrorist chiefs and local warlords.


She appealed to Palestinian prime minister Qureia, Abu Ala, for a secure environment in Gaza on the very day that the Palestinian legislative council demanded his resignation, two days after his sumptuous winter villa in Jericho was broken into and thoroughly vandalized by Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades thugs. She knows that Abu Mazen and Abu Ala have as little say on the ground as the Jaafari government has in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. This did not stop her demanding Israeli concessions and “confidence-building” gestures as a lifebelt for the lifeless Palestinian Authority – at least to smooth things over until the evacuation is over.


On the Palestinian side, preparations, training and an injection of weapons are going forward at a hectic pace for a bloodbath planned for the pull-back in Gaza and across the border in Israel. The terrorists intend to put Israeli military, police and intelligence forces under the strain of having to divide their strength between evicting reluctant Jewish evacuees and fending off Palestinian attacks. This Palestinian plan is going forward on a separate planet from Rice’s talks in Ramallah.


debkafile‘s military sources do not rule out a major Israeli military operation to root out the terrorists, destroy their bases and arms caches and break the stranglehold gang chiefs maintain on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has developed advanced technology for an operation of this kind that will not demand substantial ground strength. But Palestinian fire on the pull-back may well bring this operation forward – to be carried out on the spot.


 


I’m not here to predict future events, said Rice when asked if disengagement will take place


 


19 June: At the news briefing Sunday, June 19, the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice would not say if she expected the evacuations to take place. She had clearly come away from her two-day visit without Palestinian consent to cooperate in keeping Israel’s coming evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank free of Palestinian fire. While both Israelis and Palestinians sounded publicly upbeat, Rice saw stalemate. Little is expected of the Sharon-Abbas meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 21, their first since the February summit at Sharm al-Sheik.


Her understanding now is that Abu Mazen is beyond shoring up because his immediate circle is playing ball behind his back with the terrorist elements which hold sway in the Gaza Strip and large tracts of the West Bank. She was therefore forced to accept the view of most members of her team, including General Ward, that there is no way of preventing the removal of Israeli communities coming under Palestinian fire. It is the consensus of American and Israeli security experts that the violence may well spread from the pull-out locations to other parts of the West Bank and the Israel-Lebanese border, potentially igniting a regional flare-up.


 


Victory for Lebanon’s anti-Syrian Opposition Was Predetermined


 


20 June: Saad Hariri declared success for his anti-Syrian opposition alliance shortly after the voting booths of northern Lebanon shut down Sunday night, June 19. He knew before the final tally that he had pocketed the necessary majority of the 128-member parliament in the final round of the four-stage general election. His main rival, Maronite Christian Gen. Michel Aoun, admitted defeat. In the third round of voting a week ago in Central Lebanon, Aoun had given him a nasty shock by picking up an unexpected 21 seats. The returned exile, campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, has become one of the most powerful voices in Lebanon – even after his defeat in the north.


Both rivals now accuse the other of reviving Lebanon’s sectarian and religious animosities for their political ends. Hariri is also accused of using his vast wealth for wholesale vote-buying. There was a rumor that he paid $100 per vote.


debkafile‘s Lebanese experts also wonder how the Sunni Muslim interloper from the south who has a blood reckoning with Damascus managed to sweep the traditionally pro-Syrian north, which is dominated by such Damascus-friendly clans as the Maronite Franjiehs and the Sunni Karamis (Rashid Karami was the pro-Syrian prime minister unseated by the wave of popular protest in Beirut after the Hariri murder.)


The solution lies in the secret event that took place outside the country between rounds three and four of the Lebanese election. Thursday, June 16, the ambassadors or the United States, Britain and France and the UN Secretary’s representative Terje Larsen went into a very private conference in Paris and charted strategy for making sure that the coalition led by Saad Hariri would come out of the poll with a parliamentary majority. Aoun would receive an offer to help install Hariri as prime minister in return for his own appointment as president.


 


Rafsanjani Mulls Quitting Presidential Race


 


21 June: By Monday night, June 20, rumors were swirling around Tehran that Iran’s non-elected strongman, Ayatollah Ali Khameni had found a way of rigging the presidential election which began last Friday, June 17, and culminates in a run-off next Friday, June 24. The favorite, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke of a “tarnished” election after he barely pulled ahead of a contestant who popped up out of the blue, the extremist Tehran mayor Mahmud Ahmadinez. He was not alone. The Guardian Council was forced to allow a recount of 100 randomly selected vote boxes Monday.


debkafile‘s Iranian experts maintain that “spiritual ruler” Khameini would never have left the presidential election to sheer chance.


But why did the spiritual ruler pick the colorless Tehran mayor to humiliate his longtime close friend and adviser Rafsanjani?


It is because most of Khamenei’s close aides – extremist clerics and ambitious Revolutionary Guards commanders – think he is not tough enough. They are urging him to intensify the repression of internal dissent as soon as the elections are over. They warn him that the outgoing president Khatami’s laxity and liberal ways in his eight years in office has brought the country to the verge of civil rebellion. And domestic repression is not the only thing to fear. They want to further harden the Islamic republic’s posture on nuclear weapons and the sponsorship of Islamic terrorism worldwide. They believe the Tehran mayor is a better man for these policies than Rafsanjani, who is regarded in the west as pragmatic and flexible enough to do business with.


The outcome of Friday’s election will indicate whether or not Khamenei accepted his advisers’ counsels.


 


More Russian Advanced Anti-Air Hardware for Syria


 


June 22: When Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Israel in April, he commented half-sarcastically that Russian arms sales to Syria would prevent the Israeli air force from making free of the airspace over the Syrian president’s palace in Damascus. This week, he proved he was in earnest.


debkafile‘s Exclusive military sources report that Moscow took advantage of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget for another sale to Syria in addition to the improved the SA8 missiles already transacted. Damascus will now receive the Pantsyr-S1 air defense system, a mobile weapon designed to defend clusters of buildings such as the president’s palace in Damascus, military command centers and industrial zones against fighter-bomber jets, military helicopters, drones, special ordinance, ballistic and cruise missiles.


The Pantlsur-S1 is also capable of striking moving ground targets like an assault armored commando unit heading for an assault on strategic installations. The United Arab Emirates was the first Middle East country to acquire this Russian-made weapon in 2004.


debkafile‘s military experts add: The Pantsyr-S1 is equipped with 12 57E6 ground-to-air missiles with a range of 1-12km, and two 2A72 30 automatic guns with a 4 km range adaptable to an array of ammunition. The radar fitted on this dual-purpose system can search and track aircraft or missiles at a distance of 30km and destroy them when 24 km away.


Damascus has acquired this sophisticated new system with the obvious intent of protecting its ruling institutions and military hubs from Israeli air attack.


 


What Really Deadlocked the Sharon-Abbas Talks


 


22 June: The meeting Tuesday, June 21, between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas – their first since the February Sharm al-Sheikh summit – went badly, as all the parties admitted. There was an attempt to present the failure as emanating from Sharon’s impossible demand of Abbas to crack down on terrorism, countered by the Palestinian leader’s complaint that he would if he could, but lacks the necessary strength. Israeli Labor spokesmen later criticized Sharon for failing to offer Israeli concessions to buy the embattled Palestinian leader more popular backing.


But, all in all, debkafile‘s Palestinian and intelligence sources claim the published account is misleading. Nothing was settled between the Israeli and Palestinian sides because the interchange was dominated by a flat refusal by Abbas flanked by prime minister Ahmed Qureia and other cabinet ministers to budge on any of the points raised by the Israeli side. Instead they pressed hard on their own. The atmosphere of the talks dropped to freezing before they broke up.


debkafile‘s Palestinian, political and intelligence sources summarize the meeting’s highlights.


The Palestinians lined up behind Egypt’s demands for its deployment on the Philadelphi Strip. Egypt returned the favor.


Egypt has upped its demands and now wants a naval base in Sinai’s El Arish on top of armored personnel carriers, military helicopters and anti-tank missile emplacements to be posted along their border with southern Israel.


The Palestinians want a $3bn international rehousing program for Gaza refugees


but insist on keeping their refugee status.


The Palestinians want the northern West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip handed over to their full sovereignty.

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