Hamas sets up a government without partners
18 March: The Islamic terror organization which came out of the January general election with a majority in the Palestinian parliament has built a cabinet without partners – and without waiting for Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s approval.
debkafile discloses the key appointments:
Ismail Haniya – prime minister; Mahmoud a-Zahar – foreign minister; Said Siyam from Gaza – interior minister with responsibility for Palestinian security services; Dr. Omar Abdel-Razeq from Salfit, who was in Israeli administration detention until last week – finance ; Dr. Nasser a-Din Shaar from Nablus – education; Abdel Rahim Hanbali from Nablus – agriculture; Dr. Abu Aysha from Nablus – planning; Abdel Jawad from Salfit – minister for Palestinian prisoners; Naif Rajoub from Hebron (brother of Fatah leader Jabril Rajoub) – the key post of minister of holy foundations; and Faraj al Ghoul, from Gaza – justice.
Sons of the Ghoul clan are senior commanders of the Hamas military wing Ezz-e Din al-Qassem Brigades, whose record includes orchestrating and executing some of the deadliest of Hamas’s 60 suicide attacks on Israelis.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources add: Al the ministerial posts are taken by Hamas members – 14 from the Gaza Strip and 10 from the West Bank.
Hizballah is set for a large-scale cross-border attack on Israel from Lebanon
19 March: During a tour of Israel’s northern border positions Sunday, March 19, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz pointed out the Hizballah build-up of troop strength in forward bases armed with missiles and artillery.
Hizballah’s main object appears to be a renewed attempt to repeat last year’s failed operation to abduct Israeli soldiers or civilians. A special command post has been set up to orchestrate the operation. debkafile‘s military sources reveal that for the first time Hizballah’s preparations for an offensive are open and visible. The scale and organization indicate the Shiite terrorists are aiming for a very large-scale kidnap operation inside Israel.
Russian Muslim leaders call for boycott of Israel after Hamas Moscow visit
19 March: The Hamas delegation’s Moscow visit this month – at the invitation of president Vladimir Putin – has produced more fallout. debkafile‘s Moscow sources report that the Israeli ambassador in the Russian capital Arkadi Milman called last week on the Grand Mufti of Moscow Rafael Ain Adin, religious leader of Russia’s 70 million Muslims. The visit was initiated by Putin’s office to provide a counter-balance for the warm welcome Russian officials awarded the Palestinian Islamist terrorist leaders.
Several mullahs denounced the Grand Mufti’s reception of an official Jewish representative of the state of Israel. Over the weekend, the protest movement swelled with demands for an all-Muslim anti-Israel boycott to be spearheaded by the Kremlin.
debkafile‘s sources in Moscow comment that before the Hamas delegation’s official welcome in Moscow, local Muslims never ventured to raise their voices against Israel and its envoys.
Abu Mazen Aligns with Hamas – For Now
20 March: According to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, Fatah official Saib Erekat completed a thick report covering the precise powers and prerogatives of the Palestinian prime minister in the light of the laws, regulations and precedents laid down during the Palestinian Authority’s 12-year history.
It was compiled to boost the authority of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas vis a vis the Hamas prime minister.
A copy was obtained by debkafile. Its key conclusions are that the Palestinian prime minister is charged with executing Palestinian Authority policy, i.e. policy laid down by its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas and deferring to him. The PA chairman is empowered to dismiss a prime minister and any member of his cabinet,declare a constitutional crisis and call a new election.
Informed Israeli sources say that, while decision-making is not Abu Mazen’s strong suit, he holds two main options:
He can decide not to make trouble for the new Hamas government, as Shin Beit director Yuval Diskin expects; or, as acting prime minister Ehud Olmert hopes, he can at some point fabricate a constitutional confrontation to overthrow the Hamas administration, call a new election and reinstate his own Fatah.
For now, it looks as though Diskin is correct. Abbas has found a way of sliding past the obstacle of Hamas’s non-recognition of the PLO’s pre-eminence – and therefore its signature on agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accords: he will put ask the PLO executive to endorse the new cabinet before it is sworn in by the legislature. But the Hamas prime minister-designate will simply throw the ball back to Abbas and tell him to submit his cabinet to the legislature without delay. If Abbas fails to do so, Hamas will bypass him and present its ministers directly to parliament, making the PA chairman redundant.
Olmert orders Karni goods crossing reopened despite Palestinian terrorist threats
20 March: Shin Beit Director Yuval Diskin warned Monday that Karni and the Israelis manning the terminal face a rising threat of terrorist attack. However, American pressure was decisive in changing the acting prime minister’s mind. A day earlier, a meeting in Tel Aviv Sunday, March 19, of US, European, Israeli and Palestinian officials decided to route emergency supplies to the Palestinians through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel via Egypt. Olmert’s new decision keeps Karni open for a few hours one way from Israel to Gaza.
Israeli authorities accused of slow response to lethal bird flu H5N1 outbreak
21 March: debkafile reports: Seven days before Israel’s general election, the army was called in to contain the spread of avian flu, in view of the Olmert government’s ineptitude and slow responses to the outbreak. Since last Thursday, six turkey farms have been struck by H5N1, almost all in the south: Ain Hashlosha, Holit, Nahshonim, Sde Moshe and Sunday, Amioz and Nir Oz. Defense ministry and IDF personnel were mobilized to expedite the slaughter and interment of a million fowls infected or culled within a three-kilometer radius of the infected flocks and to decontaminate the coops. Poultry farmers up and down the country are furiously demanding the government proclaim they are the victims of a natural disaster.
Bush warns Iran he would use military might to protect “our ally Israel”
21 March: “The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That’s a threat, a serious threat to world peace,” said the president after a speech defending the war in Iraq.
On the question of bilateral talks with Iran on Iraq, Bush stressed that the discussion must be limited to Iraq. “Ultimately, Iraq-Iran relations will be negotiated between the Iraqi government and the Iranian government.”
debkafile adds: President Bush’s reference to Iran’s interference in Iraq Monday – and in a speech he delivered on March 13 – followed a top-secret intelligence report on his desk which was first detailed exclusively in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 246 on March 17. The report revealed the infiltration of thousands of trained guerrilla suicide fighters from Iran into Iraq in the second half of February and early March. They are being held ready under cover to strike at US targets upon a signal from Tehran.
West Bank Palestinians indicted for joining Al Qaeda
22 March: Two 19-year old Palestinians from Nablus on the West Bank became the first ever to be indicted for membership of Osama bin Laden’s organization. They were picked up three months ago at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan before they had a chance to carry out their orders to stage attacks in Israel and recruit new members to al Qaeda. The pair was to have carried out a multiple suicide operation at the French Hill pizzeria, starting inside the cafe, followed by a car bomb explosion and an eruption of shooting and grenades against people rushing to the scene. The two Nablus Palestinians were handed their assignment in Jordan by one of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s agents, named in the indictment as Abu Kudma, and the sum of nearly $5,000 for the operation.
Ruling Kadima dives five days before general election, all main opposition parties gain
Acting prime minister Ehud Olmert declared Wednesday that as head of next government he would only accept coalition partners committed to unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.
But, according to two radio polls – the Army Radio’s poll and the Voice of Israel – his Kadima has plunged 20% (9 seats) in a week to 33-34. Labor has jumped by 3 seats to 20; Likud by 1 to 18, Israeli Beitenu by 1 seat to 13, ultra-religious Shas by 1 to 8-9 and anti-evacuation National Union-NRP by 1 to 7. Left-wing Meretz has also jumped slightly by one seat to 5-6. The merged Arab list Raam-Taal is stable at 3-4, as is the Communist Hadash at 3.
The floating vote is still relatively high. According to one expert analysis, if the turnout is similar to the last election, 68%, Kadima could drop to 30 seats or less.
This raises the potential of a Likud-rightwing bloc being in position to challenge a Kadima-Labor bloc to form the next government after next Tuesday – as one of several possible scenarios.
The dark horse is Avigdor Lieberman’s (Russian) Israel Beitenu, which is pulling in the Russian voters (750,000) lost by Kadima. Lieberman is keeping his cards close to his chest.
President Hosni Mubarak summons Syrian and Lebanese leaders to urgent talks in Sharm el-Sheikh
He presided over a discussion between Syrian vice president Farouq a-Shara and Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora.
debkafile reports the Egyptian ruler hopes they can hammer out a solution for the Lebanese crisis that will salvage the Arab summit opening in Khartoum next Tuesday, March 28. Failing a Syrian-Lebanese consensus on what to do about the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud, who refuses to step down, the Arab summit will be stuck for a resolution on the key Lebanon issue.