A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 16, 2006

Shin Beit rounds up a Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades gang on the point of a mortar blitz on southern Jerusalem


7 March: The Fatah gang was 12 strong; it had deployed in Bethlehem 8 mortars, 0.3 mm machine guns and a stock of shells and ammo. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Israeli security forces stepped in to foil the attack in the nick of time; the hardware was already in position for a coordinated shelling and shooting bombardments of the Gilo and Har Homa districts of the capital which abut on Bethlehem.

On Feb. 22, Shin Beit director Yuval Diskin briefed the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee on the inquiry he launched after a single mortar was found poised to shell Jerusalem from neighboring Beit Jalla. The probe uncovered a large network armed with a variety of heavy weaponry including high trajectory arms. Eight of the mortars turned out to be home-made improvisations. The discovery that Fatah was manufacturing mortar-type weapons on the West Bank was alarming.

The attack’s commander was the al Aqsa Brigades Bethlehem chief Jabar Fuaz Eid Akhras. The plan was for the Beit Jalla mortar to shell Gilo first, then fire off the other seven from Bethlehem, when Israeli security and rescue forces gathered at the scene. Har Homa was to have been the primary target of a massive blitz.


Radical Hamas-Damascus gains control of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood


7 March: Fresh from their triumphal visit to Moscow, Damascus-based leaders of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal and Musa Abu Marzuk have recorded another success. Their proteges, Salem Felaikhat and Jamil Abu Bakr, were elected in secret ballots chief and deputy leader, respectively, of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood. They displaced the General Guide of the movement’s Shura Council, Abdel Majid Zenaibet.

This development places the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, namely Hamas, in control of the Jordanian group. In particular, the hardline Meshaal will be in a position to run both MB-Jordan and Hamas-Gaza from his Damascus politburo office.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources note that this development is causing deep concern in Jordanian and Israeli security quarters alike. Control of the two wings of the extremist movement by a single extremist hand will facilitate the synchronization of its hostile operations on both sides of the River Jordan border which divide the Hashemite kingdom from the West Bank and Israel.


The IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program goes to the Security Council for consideration of possible punitive action


8 March: Tehran has threatened the US with “harm and pain” for pushing the issue to the world body, a threat the White House dismissed as provocative and further isolating Tehran. U.S. delegate Gregory Schulte said “the time has now come for the Security Council to act.” He said the 85 tons of feedstock uranium gas already to hand in Iran could produce enough material for about 10 nuclear weapons if enriched.

debkafile‘s Gulf sources disclose that Tehran accompanied the 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency’s decision Wednesday, March 8, by launching a new, locally-built submarine, the Nahang (whale) in the Persian Gulf. With the capability to carry multipurpose weapons, the sub is especially adapted to Gulf waters. Military experts report Iran also has six Russian-built SSK or SSI Kilo class diesel submarines patrolling the strategic waterway.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would oppose sanctions on Iran because such measures rarely work. He suggested relying on the professional advice of the IAEA. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing called for more negotiations. He objected to Security Council involvement.


Media Consultants Slam Israeli Election Contestants’ Performances


8 March: The electorate is not charmed with any of the would-be prime ministers’ personalities; neither does the public buy their evasions on pressing issues.

Since Ehud Olmert’s takeover, Kadima has been sliding at the rate of one point or more per week. It is still in the lead (37 out of 120 Knesset seats compared with Labor’s 19 and Likud’s 15), but the last two days have been disastrous both for him and his predecessor. The state comptroller Tuesday, March 7, slammed the Sharon government’s bureaucratic inhumanity towards the 10,000 Israelis thrown out of their villages and homes in Gaza’s Gush Katif and the N. West Bank last September, without proper provision of homes, jobs, schools or alternative communal locations.

Faithful to Sharon’s path, Olmert’s first major decision in his new capacity was to order the forcible evacuation of 9 homes in the unauthorized Amon outpost near Ofra on the West Bank. The unbridled brutality of the security forces made this incident a calamity that is leaking into the Kadima campaign through the testimony unfolding this week in hearings held by the parliamentary Amona inquiry commission.

They coincided with the state comptroller’s report on Gush Katif and its sequel. Both revelations place in a poor light the Kadima’s election pledges of continuity against huge portraits of the ailing leader. The rise of a Hamas-led Palestinian government is no asset either.

Netanyahu was not let off lightly either. He was reproved for muddling the voter by failing to state clearly whether he is running for prime minister or leader of the opposition. The former Likud prime minister was advised to go for the latter and appeal to the voter to elect a strong Likud, able to fight the sleaze characterizing Kadima and its leaders’ harmful policies.

Labor’s Peretz was given the opposite advice: he was told to give up his solo appearances because they don’t stand up – even after his photo ops with the King of Morocco, the president of Egypt and the Palestinian chairman. Peretz, the media consultants say, must have the crutch of an impressive lineup of Labor leaders to flank him on the platform. But, please, no left-wingers.

Most of all the experts would love him to shave off his luxuriant moustache – a definite minus for an aspiring prime minister.


Controversy touched off by Israel’s former top soldier, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who asserted Israel alone can neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat for a decade


10 March: The most authoritative statement yet on the feasibility of knocking out Iran’s nuclear installations was not welcomed in Jerusalem or by the international advocates of diplomacy.

Addressing the Hudson Institute in Washington Thursday, Gen. Yaalon said dozens of targets spread across Iran could be struck by means other than an air force attack. Because they are stationary, they can be hit with greater accuracy than Israeli air force attacks on terrorist operatives, who are usually traveling in vehicles.

This was the first explicit reply to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad’s repeated threats to wipe Israel off the map and its nuclear delegate’s warning to inflict “pain and harm” on the United States.

Chief of staff until nine months ago, Yaalon said it would be preferable for other nations to do the job, “but you can’t rule out Israel.”

The general thus contradicted statements by acting prime minister Ehud Olmert and his predecessor Ariel Sharon that Israel cannot deal with the Iranian nuclear threat alone.

He predicted the Iranians could have enough know-how for building a nuclear device within the next six to 18 months and produce one within three to six years.


A Death Designed for Shock Effect


11 March: debkafile‘s Balkan and Russian sources believe that former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was politically cunning and manipulative enough to engineer his death in a way to cause the greatest possible international shock and embarrassment..

The manner of Milosevic’s death opened two fronts:

1. The Russians are on the spot. President Vladimir Putin faced the option of demanding the body be handed over for autopsy or the presence of a Russian pathologist at the post mortem.

It will be recalled that Russian opinion under Boris Yeltsin backed Milosevic in the Balkan Wars as a great Serbian patriot and admired his willingness to defy the Americans and the Europeans and fight a Muslim takeover of the Balkans.

Putin will not be happy about confronting the US and the European Union on this matter..

But Moscow is involved, whether it likes it or not.

Milosevic’s wife, Miryana Markovic, his son Marko, and brother, Borislav, who live in self-imposed exile in Russia, accuse the tribunal of killing the former Serbian ruler.

2. The second front concerns his funeral.

Held in Serbia, it would have to be a state event for a former president. However his widow and son are both wanted in Belgrade on criminal charges, Furthermore, he still has enough supporters at home to disrupt a funeral staged by his pro-Western successors. The War Crimes Tribunal faces an awkward inquiry over the two Serbian deaths in UN custody in less than a week.


debkafile discloses: Assad invites UN Hariri investigator “to tea”


11 March: Serge Brammertz, head of the UN inquiry team delving into the assassination a year ago of Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri arrived in Damascus Thursday, March 9, to take up an unusual invitation. A leading murder suspect, Syrian president Bashar Assad, invited him to the palace for a cup of tea.

This gesture is taken in debkafile‘s Middle East sources as a dramatic U-turn in the president’s adamant refusal to be questioned on the crime, a face-saving surrender to long pressure. He knows that his guest will take the apparent social occasion as the first opportunity to question him, however politely. The president’s example will also tell his subordinate fellow-suspects, including his own brother-in-law, military intelligence overlord


Saudi Arabia promises a Hamas-led Palestinian government will not be short of money


13 March: Saudi media kept a tight lid on the visit to Riyadh of a five-man Hamas delegation headed by Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Meshaal. It took place after the Saudi government turned down a request from US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to cut off aid to a Hamas government, unless its leaders recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and respect previous accords.

At the same time, the visitors were given a red carpet welcome by Muslim Brotherhood websites which are popular with the Saudi public.

debkafile‘s sources report that Monday, March 13, those websites released a religious edict, signed by top Saudi clerical, spiritual and academic leaders. Among them were the noted writer and religious ideologue, Ibrahim Jerallah from Riyadh, and Dr. Ahmed Zaharni, rector of the theology faculty of Medina University. None of these eminent persons would have taken this initiative without the say-so of the royal court.

The edict consists of five parts:

1. All Palestinians must join a Hamas government without prior conditions or quibbling on terms.

2. Zionist efforts to isolate or bend a Hamas-led regime must be thwarted.

3. All armed Palestinian organizations must line up behind a Hamas government.

4. The Palestinian people should not worry about its future but cooperate with a Hamas government.

5. If the Palestinians follow these decrees, the Palestinian Authority will not lack for funds.


Israel will put PFLP leader Ahmed Sadaat on trial for murder of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi four years ago


15 March: The Israeli justice ministry will discuss Thursday whether their case goes before a civil court or a military tribunal.

debkafile adds: Israel reserved the right to put Sadaat and his death squad on trial when it signed the 2002 international accord placing them in a Palestinian jail under US and British supervision. That accord was nullified by the departure of the supervisory teams under Palestinian threats. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas calls their removal from Jericho jail Tuesday “an unforgivable crime.”


The PFLP’s Ahmed Sadaat is the first head of a Palestinian terrorist group Israel has ever detained


15 March: For the first time, too, Israel held the Palestinian Authority to account for breaching its obligations under an international accord it signed.

Another first: Acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert sent a commando force to raid a Palestinian government installation and arrest a top terror chief. Even his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, held an IDF siege force back from detaining the 200 terror chiefs sheltering under Yasser Arafat’s wing in 2002.

Most significantly, the Jericho operation knocked over more than a Palestinian jail; it blew another gaping hole in the largely dysfunctional Palestinian government.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that in some important ways, the ten-hour Jericho siege also signaled the onset of the Palestinian Iraqi era.

1. In Ramallah and Gaza City, neither the Hamas nor any other Palestinian party was capable of assuming the reins of government.

2. This left the field clear for unidentified Palestinian gunmen to go on a rampage, grabbing foreign hostages and setting on fire the British cultural center which also housed European Union headquarters. The major Palestinian terror organizations appeared to have disintegrated into small bands of guerilla-style thugs and criminals on the prowl for trouble, very much like the Iraqi guerrillas in the early days of the Iraqi war.

3. That moment in the summer of 2003 marked the beginning of the full-blown Iraqi guerrilla insurgency. It burgeoned as a result of the gap in governance between Saddam Hussein’s fall and the time it took for the Americans to improvise a form of central government.

4. The same clandestine trans-Middle East logistical forces that feed money, arms and fighting men to the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda units in Iraq will now divert some of those resources to the Palestinian territories..


Hamas will form government without Fatah


16 March: It is set to award ministerial posts to PLFP chief Ahmed Sadaat, who was captured in Jericho, and terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti – both in Israeli jails.

Hamas leaders decided Thursday, March 16, to form a government without the defeated Fatah and its leader, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. They are aware that Abbas is preparing an “ambush” for them and intends to announce the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council and call for new elections in a few months. If Abbas pursues this course, Hamas intends to beat him to the punch: using its majority in the PLC, it will announce new elections for the PA chairmanship. Hamas already has a candidate for the job whom they believe capable of defeating Abbas handily.

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