A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 18, 2005:

Washington‘s Non-Diplomatic Track for Dealing with Iran‘s Nuclear Program


13 March: The Iranians lost no time in dismissing the US bow to EU incentives diplomacy to get them to give up enrichment for their nuclear weapons program.

Our Tehran sources report that the Iranian leadership fervently believes that America’s decision to go along with the European proposition is a trick to draw the Europeans into coming to terms with Security Council sanctions. US officials have shared with them top-secret evidence that Iran is continuing uranium enrichment at clandestine sites undisclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency. This evidence was laid out to support Washington’s argument that at the end of the day, the Iranian case will have to be referred to the UN Security Council in the coming months.

The list of violations grows longer. The fact is that whatever commitments they may have made in negotiations, the Iranians have never stopped working on projects for testing and improving their uranium enrichment capabilities. Officials in Tehran continue to brandish their fists against the United States, Israel or anyone else whom they fear might attack its nuclear facilities or other targets in the country.

debkafile‘s sources flatly deny the London Sunday Times report alleging that Israel has drawn up a secret plan for a combined air and ground attack on targets in Iran if diplomacy fails to halt its nuclear plans, or that this purported plan was discussed with US officials. But Washington has not gone back on its statement that all options are on the table with regard to Iran, including the military if incentives and UN sanctions are unavailing to halt Iran’s onward march towards a nuclear bomb.

Mindful of the stream of threats coming from Tehran, visiting US troops began their biennial air-defense exercise with Israel Thursday, March 10 with the focus on testing Israel’s Arrow II missile-killer system in conjunction with upgraded US-Patriot batteries.

Both sides described the month-long game codenamed Juniper Cobra as routine. Indeed, the US army spokeswoman Connie Summers declared, “There is absolutely no connection with any event in the region.”

But Israeli security sources said Juniper Cobra would treat Iran’s most advanced Shehab-3 missiles as the main “threat.” Clearly, the drill will not ignore the possibility of an Iranian Shehab-3 missile reaching Israel in the near future armed with a nuclear warhead.

The Arrow is the only system capable of intercepting missiles at atmospheric level. Independent experts estimate its success rate as 95 percent but some doubt whether it would be reliable against a salvo Shahab-3s.


US Intelligence Takeover of West Bank and Gaza Strip


14 March: Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon informed the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, March 13 that unauthorized West Bank outposts would be dismantled “as part of Israel’s commitment to the Middle East roadmap.” The roadmap demands that Israel destroy all outposts erected after March 2001 – but not before the Palestinians “undertake the immediate and unconditional cessation of violence and armed activity against Israelis everywhere” and “effective operations aimed at dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.”

debkafile‘s Washington sources interpret this retracting of Israel’s pre-condition as a signal that Sharon is ready to move on to Stage B of his disengagement plan, namely the removal of unauthorized outposts on the West Bank. So why not, Stage C for other parts of the West Bank, so as to clear the way for progress towards “a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”

Bush has accepts that the destruction of the outposts must be delayed until after the uprooting of 21 thriving Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank. This project will strain every last police, military, political and emotional national resource. More agonizing debate is ahead over those far larger and more emotionally-charged olden Land of Israel locations where at least 250,000 Jews live.

But Bush and his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice are after swift action, treating the Israeli pull-back in the same spirit as their insistence on complete Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon.

The prominence afforded the outpost report and the decision reached by defense minister Shaul Mofaz decision to shorten the Gaza-North West Bank evacuation period from two months to one paradoxically conceals their rationale, which is that the process has been overtaken by events generated by outside forces.

Last week, Lt. Gen William Ward, the newly appointed US security coordinator for Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, secretly moved into heavily guarded offices in central Tel Aviv, according to debkafile‘s exclusive military sources, to become the main channel of communication for those governments with Washington. He took charge of the intelligence pincer already at work – Egyptian-British in the Gaza Strip and CIA-Jordanian on the West Bank. Washington wants Israel to accelerate its withdrawal for three reasons:

1. No one knows how long Abu Mazen will last.

2. The Hamas’ rise could replace him with an unknown and therefore unpredictable figure that could abort Israel’s evacuations.

3. In a show of even-handedness to impress the Arabs, the White House is simultaneously pressing Syrian president Bashar Assad and Israeli prime minister Sharon for withdrawals.


New Holocaust Museum – A Personal Journey in Time


14 March: Two days of ceremonies inaugurating the New Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem take place Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15 and 16. It is part of a challenging project to lend Holocaust remembrance a new sense of relevance for younger people as historic memories fade and the number of actual survivors with personal testimonies declines. The event is attended by a large international gathering of world leaders from 40 countries – ten presidents, six prime ministers and assorted high officials led by UN secretary general Kofi Annan, as well as survivors and scholars. President Bush asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the American delegation.

The new museum established by Yad Vashem – the Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority- and the Israeli government was ten years in the making and occupies four times the area of the former site, which was founded by Israel’s Knesset in 1953.

Innovations include a Child’s Memorial site, a Hall of Remembrance and a Museum of Holocaust-era Art. Most of the $56m cost came from private donations; 15% from the Israeli government.

Designed by world renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the museum is in the form of a gigantic prism carved into and directly through a hollowed-out limestone hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem. The prism ends and the visitor steps out into the brilliant sunshine, onto a vast platform cantilevered out over the Judean Hills, with Jerusalem and its houses and its people and its bustling streets spread out below and brilliant in the light after the dark subterranean depths.


Palestinian Terrorists Capture Strongholds for Revolt against Abu Mazen


16 March: The Palestinian revolt staged against Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) by radical terrorist groups is taboo around Ariel Sharon. The Israeli prime minister and his following have invested too heavily in Abu Mazen’s survival to allow any doubts to creep in that might deflect them from their chosen course of disengagement, starting in Gaza Strip.

Israel is therefore doling out concessions and confidence-building gestures to help Abbas gain his feet. They are also turning at least half a blind eye to the armed strength building up in Palestinian areas by the same forces that are challenging the new Palestinian leader. As time goes by and Abu Mazen proves incapable of a strong hand, the rebels are pulling ahead of the game and have reached the point where he is their hostage.

It is these extremists, heads of 13 Palestinian terrorist groups, who are dictating terms for a ceasefire at the round table free-for-all Abbas and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman have been leading near Cairo since Tuesday, March 15.

They are also holding Palestinian-Israeli negotiations captive.

The agreement reached by new Palestinian interior minister, Nasser Yousef, and Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz to transfer Jericho, followed by Tulkarm and Qalqilya, to Palestinian security control gives local Palestinian terrorist groups free rein to build up their arsenals and war chests for their next violent onslaught and eventual bid to dominate the Palestinian Authority.

The rebel-terrorists groups challenging Abu Mazen fall into two categories:

Gaza Strip – Hamas, Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Fronts and the Popular Committees, especially their armed wings, Abu Rish Brigades and Hizballah cells.

West Bank – Fatah renegades of the Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Fronts and Hizballah.

The northern West Bank has become a virtual rebel stronghold encompassing Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya as well as parts of Ramallah and Jericho. Abu Mazen loyalists like Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan and Nasser Yousef know better than to venture into rebel country – even with their usual heavy bodyguard escort – for risk of being run out of town by volleys of automatic gunfire.

Abbas’ reluctance and shortage of muscle to put down the revolt have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip under two conflicting forms of rule – the Palestinian Authority and the armed rebel terrorist chiefs. The formal negotiations Israeli ministers hold with PA counterparts are of little practical import..

Israel’s military intelligence chief, Major-General Aharon Zeevi called a spade a spade this week in a chat session with viewers of an Arabic-language Israeli website.

He spoke of an “extremely worrying paradox.” The more Sharon and Mofaz cede to the Palestinians, the more intense their preparations for the next wave of violence. Palestinian attacks have dropped in volume but their terror capabilities are greater now than they were under the leadership of the late Hamas leaders Rantisi and Yassin – or even Arafat. By now, they are ready to swing into full-scale action against Israel at 24 or 48 hours notice once given the order. Clinging to the hope that Abu Mazen will deal with the violence could cost Israel dear, the intelligence chief warned.

The general warned that explosive tunnels are primed for detonation in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian terror groups are in the midst of an all-out effort to develop missiles for targeting central Israeli cities – mainly in Jenin and Nablus.

The Zeevi paradox applies to Mofaz’s offer to hand over Jericho, Tulkarm and Qalqilya. “Handover” is a misnomer because there are no Israeli troops in any of those Palestinian towns; they are stationed outside and go in when it is necessary to round up terrorists in active operational mode – a task Abu Mazen keeps on ducking.

Although the revolt against Abbas is the obverse of the armed campaign against Israel and is being waged by the same hands, Israel is doing nothing to crush it or even contain the violence before it is unleashed.

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