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

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says an effort must be made to keep the Gaza crossings open


24 March: She called FM foreign minister Tzipi Livni, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas Friday with this request.

Livni said Israel is receptive to the issue within the limits of its security considerations.

Last week Israel briefly opened the Karni crossing for essential foods and medicines to reach Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, despite Israeli intelligence warnings of Palestinian terror threats to blow up the facility and its personnel. At the same time, there is no bar to supplies reaching Gaza from Egypt.


Tehran recruits Iraq’s radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and Syria for a regional project of subversion


25 March: They have started planting a pro-Tehran clandestine front spanning a region from East Afghanistan through Iraq to the Palestinian areas. On a recent visit to Damascus, debkafile‘s Middle East sources disclose, the Iraqi Shiite cleric convened the heads of 10 Palestinian terrorist groups based in Syria to discuss the project. He then met each separately to hand out their assignments and tell them how to communicate with their Iraqi guerrilla contacts. The Shiite radical informed the Palestinian terrorist leaders that Iran and Syria are working together to form a united front of Islamic groups combining Shiite and Sunni extremist sects to wage war in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.


Tehran is cashing in on Hamas election victory and the US predicament in Iraq


25 March: A high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer expressed this view when he met an intelligence chief in a West European capital last Tuesday, March 21, debkafile‘s intelligence and Iranian sources reveal. As Iran involves itself increasingly in Iraq, he said, American and Israeli military options for striking its nuclear installations correspondingly shrink.

Tehran is also investing in constructing a military-intelligence network in Afghanistan on the Iraq model, the same Iranian officer disclosed. It will penetrate and work through local Afghan anti-American groups and seek to isolate the Karzai regime in preparation for its eventual downfall.


Voter Apathy Threatens Israel with Political Instability


27 March: With 48 hours to go before the polling stations open for Israel’s 17th Knesset election, one-third of the 120 parliamentary seats were undecided. A sampling of 21-28-year olds said they do not regard a single party leader, whether Kadima’s acting prime minister Ehud Olmert or opposition leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu (a former Likud prime minister) and Amir Peretz of Labor, worth the candle.

If they voted at all, many younger voters said, it would be for fringe parties like Green Leaf (which is campaigning to legalize marijuana), the environmentalist Greens or the Senior Citizens.

This uncertainty about outcome so close to balloting is rooted in four elements:

1. None of the three parties has produce a platform or a leader with appeal for the average voter.

2. The ruling Kadima’s electioneering tactic has misfired and caused the party to slump in the polls. It hinged on a pledge to embrace the legacy of its founder, the ailing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s. But his successor, Olmert is short of the stature to fill the large mantle bequeathed him. Moreover, the electorate has strong reservations about that legacy.

3. Netanyahu, finance minister under Sharon, is bitterly blamed for creating a whole new underclass in the name of rescuing the national economy from the ruin generated by five years of Palestinian terrorist warfare.

4. Peretz is the only one of the top three who has made some attempt to empathize with the average voter, or rather the working man. His Labor has therefore edged past Likud to hover at around 20, although not fast enough to put him ahead of Kadima.

5. Since the largest section of absentee voters is made up of freshly-demobilized members of the Israeli military, most of whom still serve as reservists, their experiences in uniform will have contributed overwhelmingly to their repugnance for elected authority of any stripe – especially their deployment for dragging settlers from the homes in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip.


Baghdad provincial governor Hussein al-Tahan halts cooperation with US forces


27 March: Iraqi’s ruling Shiite alliance demanded US forces return control of security to Iraqis. Officials in Baghdad backed radical cleric Moqtada Sadr’s charge that US troops massacred worshippers in the Mustafa mosque near Baghdad’s Sadr City and demanded an inquiry. The US military said Iraqi troops, with US advisers, only returned fire aimed by Sadr’s Mehdi Army militiamen during a raid to arrest terrorists. They said 16 people were killed in the exchange, but no mosque was entered or damaged.

debkafile reported Sunday that this incident plus a US raid of an interior ministry prison bunker holding foreign prisoners would raise tensions between the Shiite- dominated government of Ibrahim Jaafari government and the Americans. The ruling Shiite Alliance Party appears to be closing ranks behind its member, the radical Sadr’s faction.


The Arab Summit Is Marked by the Prominence of Absentees


25 March: The collective absenteeism is explained by debkafile‘s Middle East sources by weakened Arab League leverage in the region’s most pressing issues:

2. No Arab leader feels comfortable associating publicly with Sudan’s government as long as the Darfur conflict rages. The general Arab hands-off attitude was expressed in a lukewarm draft resolution presented to the summit, which falls short of Sudan’s demand for support in rejecting outright the deployment of international peacekeepers.

The Darfur-Chad issue affects three interested parties:

Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, who is after control of Chad’s natural oil and uranium resources.

Israel, which has sent Chad’s rulers military and intelligence aid to support their effort to retain independent control of those resources, especially the uranium mines, against inroads by Libyan and other Arab forces.

France. French companies hold mining and development concessions for Chad’s mineral resources. Its uranium deposits are France’s main reserves for its nuclear industry and force de frappe.

3. On Iraq, Arab leaders had hoped that the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis would finally agree on a national unity government in time for the Khartoum summit. This would have enabled the meeting to support the new administration and endorse the political process the Americans are promoting in Iraq.

4. The Lebanese question is similarly unsettled. Here, too, the heads of the Arab world had hoped for the problematic pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud to be gone by this time.

5. Hamas’s rise to power in the Palestinian Authority has caused as much discomfiture to Arab rulers as the Iraq and Lebanese crises. Saudi king Abdullah, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and North African rulers were therefore easily persuaded by Bush officials to withhold an invitation to the summit from Hamas.


The Israeli voter begrudged Ehud Olmert the power to unilaterally draw Israel’s borders


28 March: Because his Kadima gained less than one quarter of the Knesset sets, incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert will have to give away more portfolios than he would have liked and water down his programs to buy partners. For starters, Labor will expect to be accommodated with a strong say on the economy and the ultra-religious parties with benefits – not to mention obstacles to giving away land.

On the morning of election-day, Olmert had one Palestinian answer to the call he made in his victory speech to Mahmoud Abbas to join Israel in talks and concessions for the sake of peace and a Palestinian state. The first Palestinian Katyusha rocket and Grad missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip. Supplied by Iran, they were aimed at Israel’s key port, oil terminal and power station at Ashkelon, causing damage, albeit no casualties.

Abbas has no control over the groups firing the missiles, including the al Aqsa Brigades of his own Fatah. His authority has slumped further since Hamas won the Palestinian election against his Fatah. A new Palestinian government won the confidence of the legislative council on Israel’s election-day. It was presented by Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh, who warned Israel that pursuit of Olmert’s unilateral “convergence” policy (concentrating West Bank settlements in blocs) would be resisted by Hamas and the Palestinians by force of arms.


The first missiles and rocket of Iranian manufacture in Palestinian hands struck targets in Ashkelon Tuesday morning


28 March: Two missiles and a 122mm Katyusha rocket struck the military installation at the Ashkelon oil port and terminal of the Ashkelon-Eilat pipeline, causing damage but no casualties. debkafile‘s military sources report the weapons were smuggled into the Gaza Strip through Egyptian Sinai following Israel’s pullout from the territory last year. Israel’s security authorities kept the attack under close wraps in the course of the day’s polling for the Knesset.

It was the second Palestinian hit of a strategic target near Ashkelon after the big power station compound was damaged last month.


The Moussaoui Testimony, the German BND chief, al Qaeda, Hamas and Israel


28 March: The new Moussaoui trial testimony uncovered two astonishing new details:

1. He said he talked with an al Qaeda operative in 1999 about why the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center failed to bring the towers down. This revelation sheds light on the long view al Qaeda’s takes in its operational planning and its patient adherence to its objectives.

In July 2000, debkafile – then new on the Internet – reported that that the 1993 New York Trade Center plotters had made calculations to determine precisely the placing of the bomb truck against one of the buttresses of the building in the underground parking area and the amount of explosives required. Osama bin Laden made the calculations in person. He intended the blast to force one tower to lean inward and crash into the second one. This did not happen. Our counter-terror sources reported at the time that al Qaeda was bound to try again; its planners would not give up after one failure but would persevere in finding a more effective weapon for achieving its end of knocking the twin towers down: hijacked airliners piloted by suicidal fanatics.

And indeed, the fundamentalist group’s leaders spent eight years setting up the second attempt.

This is a valuable lesson for the future.

2. The second disclosure in Moussaoui’s testimony is that the British shoe bomber was his confederate in the plot to attack the White House. It is worth recalling that Richard Reid received his training for preparing explosives, concealing them in his sneakers and detonating them in the Gaza Strip between July and September. His instructor was a Hamas operative called Nabil Akal, in whose home he lodged.


Palestinians are manufacturing new multiple-rocket launchers with Palestinian Authority funding


30 March: The broad program involving all the armed Palestinian organizations is close to producing a facsimile of the Russian-made Grad, renamed Quds-3, supplied by Iran, which can simultaneously fire 10 rockets from a truck to a distance of 18-30 km. The system weighs 13 tons and enables a crew of 7-10 Palestinians firing from the Gaza Strip to hit not only the Israeli port of Ashkelon, but Ashdod to the north too, as well as the towns of Netivot and Ofakim to the east.

The system was proudly displayed to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas when he visited the Gaza Strip last week.

debkafile‘s military sources: The new 122mm rocket, test-fired against Ashkelon on Israel’s election-day, Tuesday, March 28, weighs 66 kilos and carries 17 kilos of explosives. It was developed in Palestinian workshops in the Gaza Strip on instructions from Iranian instructors using the Russian-Made Grad and BM21 Katyusha as their model. Several dozen rockets are already in stock, substantially upgrading the Palestinian war arsenal with a heavy artillery system and extending its long-range assault capability. The product currently produce is wire-operated. The crew pulls back some 60 meters from the launcher and releases the rockets by pulling the wire.

A ten-rocket volley has a far better chance of hitting an Israeli target than the hit-or-miss, primitive Qassam missiles fired daily from the Gaza Strip.

Our military experts point out that, as the Americans discovered in Iraq, sophisticated weaponry, including drones and electronic surveillance, offers no solution to countering roadside bombs and rockets fired on the ground. The Palestinians have concluded that, even if the Israeli air force knocks out some of their Quds-3 rocket systems, they will still be left with enough launchers to cause heavy Israeli casualties and damage in the towns within range of Gaza.

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