A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 30 2006

Palestinian terrorists have switched tactics to beat effective Israel counter-terror measures


1 April: The Fatah al Aqsa Brigades suicide bomber from Hebron murdered Helena and Rafi Halevi, 60, Shaked Laskar, 16, from Kedumim, Re’ut Feldman, 20, from Herzliya Thursday night by turning their own vehicle into a bomb car.

The four Israeli civilians stood no chance of surviving.

For this attack, the killer disguised as a religious Jew mingled with a group of Jewish West Bank residents waiting at Karnei Shomron for a lift to Kedummim in the northern West Bank.

The only eye-witness was Shimon Kav, a motorist from Kedummim, who drove behind the targeted car. He reported that as it approached its destination, the car’s progress became erratic. It finally slowed to a halt outside the gate to Kedummim, blew up and was engulfed in flames. Kav had the impression that the driver had been maneuvering to keep what had become a car bomb from entering the village and carrying out a wholesale massacre.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir al Masri praised the attack as “a natural response to Israeli crimes.”


The “Thousands” of US Mistakes in Iraq and the Next Israeli Government


1 April: During her two-day tour of northwest England, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice protested: “I know we’ve made tactical errors, thousands of them, I’m sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions?”

When statesmen and politicians resort to history to judge their actions, this usually means they are prey to uncertainties, stumped for a way out of a critical impasse and resigned to dumping it in the laps of their successors.

Her remarks raise a number of questions in Israeli minds:

1. If the Bush administration admittedly made thousands of mistakes in Iraq, how many were made in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

2. Since Rice appears to be leaving the Iraq problem to the next heads of the state department, in what shape is she leaving Israel, which is a good deal closer to the calamities in Iraq than the United States of America?

3. Given the” thousands” of American mistakes, why on earth did Israel’s incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert pledge in his victory speech of March 28 to coordinate his Palestinian policies with President George W. Bush, like Ariel Sharon before him? He surely knows that the Bush administration cannot – and not longer even wants to – spend any more time unraveling the Middle East conflict.


British military chiefs believe a US-led strike against Iran is inevitable – the Sunday Telegraph of London.


2 April: The paper reports the prospect will be aired at a secret high-level UK defense ministry meeting Monday.

The US hopes for a multinational military operation to destroy Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb – if Tehran fail to comply with the UN security council demand to freeze uranium enrichment. But British defense chiefs believe that failing international support, the Bush administration would go it alone or with Israel’s assistance.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, British military chiefs believe an attack would be limited to a series of air strikes against nuclear plants rather than a land assault.

At least eight nuclear sites are known within Iran but there are many more secret ones.

The London paper reports Washington fears an Iranian nuclear weapon could be used against Israel or US forces in the region as well as destabilizing the Middle East with Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia opting for nuclear weapons programs.


Russia sets up arms and helicopter co-production industries in Jordan to promote sales to Arab countries


3 April: A little-noticed but highly significant defense exhibition took place in Amman from March 26 to 30 of weapons and equipment designed for special operations forces, security services and anti-terrorism units.

SOFEX 2006 displayed more than 150 items including helicopters transports for special orces, armored vehicles, air defense systems and equipment for storming fortified buildings.

The big surprise was a new, powerful recoilless grenade launcher, RPG – the first product to roll out of the new Russian-Jordanian JRESCO firm based in the northern town of Zarqa. Also unveiled at SOFEX 2006 was a second Russian-Jordanian firm, this one for the manufacture of helicopters ks226, a light craft developed by the Russian emergency situations ministry for security forces patrols, search and rescue operations and firefighting. The Russians undertake to establish alongside their joint plant a center in Jordan for training pilots and maintenance technicians.

A number of transactions were signed at the exhibition.

The training center for helicopter pilots is part of the Putin government’s long-term strategy for promoting Russian sales. Purchasing governments will not longer have to send flight crews and arms experts to Russia for instruction, but can have them trained near home in a familiar Islamic environment.


Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Gaza cell is gearing up for a major terrorist attack against Palestinian target


4 April: The cell, whose penetration of Gaza debkafile first revealed last September, now numbers 10 operatives. Al Qaeda took advantage of Israel’s pull-back to establish itself in the Gaza Strip.

Zarqawi’s agents from Jordan and Egypt are positioning operational cells on the West Bank too, ready for strikes against both Israel and the Hamas-ruled Palestinian Authority.

Al Qaeda has launched a drive to recruit terrorists for operations against the Palestinians and Israel. Volunteers with family ties in the West Bank are sought because they can more easily access the territory for “family reunions.”

Al Qaeda now targets Hamas and Abu Mazen equally. Since taking office, Hamas is perceived as weak for shelving its war option against Israel in favor of an informal truce.


Ehud Olmert’s Kadima looks like offering Labor’s Amir Peretz the defense ministry and retaining the treasury


The allocation of portfolios remains to be cleared in both parties.

Olmert says the cabinet is open to all parties accepting Kadima’s guidelines: to aim for a peace accord with the Palestinians based on the Middle East road map, and unilateral steps coordinated with the international community in the face of a diplomatic stalemate.

debkafile adds: A key consideration for co-opting parties to the government will be the high cost of the social benefits on demand and their impact on the (still unapproved) state budget. Labor will not give up on its election pledge to raise the minimum wage to $1,000; Shas lists stiff demands for large families, the impoverished and its education system; the new Pensioners party wants part of the allowances slashed by the previous government restored, pensions increased, more state-funded medicines and the enactment of a constitutional charter setting out senior citizens’ rights.

According to our sources, Olmert proposes to charge Peretz as defense minister with stumping up the wherewithal to cover expanded social outlay by slashing the $12bn defense appropriation, the largest clause in the state budget.

Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu, in contrast, favors Olmert’s market economy policy rather than a pricy social agenda and would therefore be a low-cost option in budgetary terms – provided this Russian party accepted Kadima’s guidelines on peace strategy.


Palestinian missile crews shelter in six bases embedded in civilian centers


4 April: The abrupt escalation Tuesday, April 4, of Israeli military measures to counter the daily Palestinian missile barrages was prompted by a significant upgrading of Palestinian military skills, longer range and better organization.

debkafile‘s military sources report Palestinians mobile missile crews now shoot from two lines – one in the northern sector, dragging the Qassam missiles to launching sites after learning to cheat Israeli surveillance drones and helicopters, and the second line further south, using longer-range missiles.

All the Palestinian organizations, barring Hamas, are now engaged in the daily barrage of missiles from the Gaza Strip against a widening radius of targets.

Tuesday, April 4, after seven Palestinian missiles exploded inside Israel – one damaging an Ashkelon-Eilat pipeline installation – the IDF finally gave up shelling empty spaces, a futile practice adhered to for more than a year, and turned their artillery on populated areas. A house in Beit Lahiya was shelled, killing two Palestinians and injuring ten.

debkafile‘s military sources say this is just the beginning of the deepening military crisis in the Gaza Strip. Two developments make this deterioration unavoidable.

The Palestinian organizations have established six military-type bases outside the range of IDF artillery and tanks as sanctuaries for the missile launchers. They are all embedded in civil population centers.


A Saudi al Qaeda operative was captured and jailed in Israel ten months ago on his way to an attack.


5 April: Sources in Riyadh report the Saudis seek custody of Abdul Rahman Al-Atwi, 36. If the handover takes place, it will be the first time Israel has ever passed an Islamic terrorist to Saudi Arabia, a country which has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

debkafile‘s counter terror sources reveal how the episode developed – up to the point Wednesday, April 5, when Saudi foreign minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal told a news conference in Riyadh that he had asked the UN and Red Cross to obtain his release.

After apprehending him at the Allenby Bridge crossing last year, Israeli security services questioned Al-Atwi repeatedly to find out if he was a lone wolf or a member of a band of Saudi al Qaeda operatives, some of whom may have made it to the West Bank and Israel. Israel allowed American and Egyptian agents access to the prisoner for questioning.

They found out that Al-Atwi took the ferry from Saudi Arabia to Egypt and went straight to Cairo, where he rented an apartment in the upper middle class Al-Muhandiseen neighborhood. He was to have awaited al Qaeda contact-men in the Egyptian capital for further instructions on an attack. For some reason, the plan was ditched and he was told to get out.

Egyptian security searchers, who reached the apartment shortly after he left, found his cell phone number. A phone call established that he had crossed the Suez Canal at Ismailiya and reached Sinai. The al Qaeda operative eluded an Egyptian security unit detailed to detain him. From Sharm el Sheikh he took a ferry boat to Jordan and disembarked at Aqaba. There, too, he slipped through the fingers of Jordanian security. It is believed that al Qaeda men on the spot secreted him north to the Allenby Bridge crossing, where he was finally captured by Israeli security before he carried out his presumed mission of a terrorist strike against Israel.


New Knesset Member Avi Dichter wants his Kadima party to probe the causes of its disappointing election results


5 April: A win of only 29 mandates places PM Ehud Olmert in a crunch: he must hand out more top positions to coalition partners, leaving less for his own party than was hoped for.

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