A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 4, 2005:

Terrorists Shatter Phony Calm in Tel Aviv, Abbas Shops for Heavy Weapons


26 February. The suicide bomber who murdered five Israelis and injured 50 in a crowd waiting to go into The Stage nightclub on Tel Aviv’s beachfront Friday night, February 25, was no lone killer. He was just the first to slip through the Israeli security net.

By common consent, all the Palestinian terrorist groups denied responsibility, pointing the finger at the Hizballah – as did the Israeli media. Sharon is giving Abbas more leeway before drastic military action is undertaken and is not interrupting their exchanges.

The Hizballah fiction will be hard to sustain. They have been as quiet as mice since Lebanese opposition leader Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, so as to give the US and Israel no pretext for hitting their bases or Syria in reprisal.

But Sharon is accused most of all of failing to put a stop to an undercover maneuver by Abbas and his sidekick Dahlan: an effort to buy heavy weapons from more than 20 world governments including Britain, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden as well as Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, India and Pakistan. For the sake of “building up Palestinian security forces” they have asked for outdated items no longer in the use of their armies: all types of armored personnel carriers with fixed mortars, jeeps fitted with 107 mm recoilless guns, telescopic rifles, pistols, ammunition, communications and engineering gear, helmets and medical equipment.

The army Abbas seeks to build is in actual fact made up of Palestinian terrorist organizations who will be given the incentive of heavy arms for the first time in Palestinian hands. Shopping for heavy arms is in total contravention of every international accord the Palestinians, including Abu Mazen in person, have ever signed with Israel and every pledge Abbas has made to the Bush administration and other world leaders. Informed security officials are urging the Sharon government to suspend its interchanges with the Palestinian Authority, restore tough restrictions, freeze the handover of West Bank towns to Palestinian security control and take military action to prevent the delivery of illicit military hardware into dangerous terrorist hands – as did the IDF four years ago when it boarded the Karine-A carrying 50 tons of contraband heavy weapons from Iran for the Palestinian Authority.

Exposure of this latest underhand intrigue should top the agenda at the London meeting supposedly on Palestinian security reforms opening in London Tuesday. It is a matter of urgent concern for the United States and Middle East Quartet members committed to the road map. A leading Israeli security expert explained that with the new hardware Palestinian terrorists could conduct hit and run attacks and military assaults inside Israel and against Israeli military positions and vehicles, national highways and strategic points, before escaping to sovereign Palestinian territory. In the expert’s opinion, the IDF would in the end extinguish this peril too, but the cost in lives would be high indeed.


Allawi Closes in on Zarqawi on Course for the Premier’s Office in Baghdad


26 February: Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi’s certainty that the Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi is almost within his grasp rests on certain events:

First, in the last two weeks, Iraqi security forces have quietly unearthed Zarqawi’s principal ammunition and explosive caches, depriving his men of weapons to carry on warfare.

Second, Zarqawi has been sighted making his way through the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad in the direction of the Iranian frontier, indicating he is on the run.

Third, Allawi recently closed a three-way deal with the most influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the Tehran leadership for Iran to arrest him if he tries to cross the border and surrender him to Sistani in Najef. There, Zarqawi will stand trial for murdering 182 people and injuring 550 in the 2004 Ashoura massacres he orchestrated in Najef and Karbala.

In addition –

1. Several heads of the Baathist underground guerrilla insurgency, have offered to lay down arms if Baghdad sets up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like Desmond Tutu’s device for South Africa.

2. Allawi believes he can achieve a breakthrough based on the Negroponte understandings which offer full Sunni partnership in the post-election government, a place on the commission drafting the new constitution and claims their participation in the next general elections.

3. Sunni leaders and the Baath underground know a major US-Iraqi offensive against their lairs is in the works.

4. Allawi expects results from his message to Syrian president Bashar Assad with a long list of top Syrian officials, politicians and army officers who are on the take in a big way from Baathist fugitives activating the insurgency in Iraq from their safe base in the country.

Our Iraqi sources note that Allawi expects his momentum for bringing an end to violence in Iraq to propel him far along the road to the prime minister’s office in Baghdad. He believes he can count on substantial Shiite support in the new national assembly and that the Kurds and Turkomen are in his pocket. The high card he is playing is the bid to prove he is the only Iraqi politician capable of drawing the Sunni factions into power-sharing in central government.


Are Europe and Russia Ganging up on America over Iran?


28 February: European officials said Monday February 28 they had no problem with the deal Moscow signed two days earlier to sell Iran nuclear fuel for bringing Iran’s Bushehr reactor on line. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, after talks with EU leaders, urged Americans to take a “more active” role in European diplomatic efforts with Iran.

The minute after Air Force One took off from Europe for Washington last Thursday, February 24, a private plane landed in Paris and the man who stepped out briskly was Iran’s supreme national security council director and senior nuclear negotiator Hasan Rohani. He was taken straight to the Elysee Palace for talks with president Jacques Chirac, then flew to Berlin to meet German foreign minister Joschke Fischer.

The Iranian official took off for home leaving his European hosts with the misapprehension that Iran would forgo uranium enrichment in return for the generous political, security and economic concessions France and Germany (though not Britain, which has little faith in this deal working) were holding out: the latest Airbus, telecommunications equipment as well as the supreme economic perk of WTO membership. The two leaders assured him they could sell the deal to the US president.

Rohani returned to Tehran in time to receive Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Energy Agency, who had been sent to sign the nuclear fuel agreement Moscow had avoided for two years by Putin shortly after his Bratislava summit with Bush. debkafile reported on the day that the Russians not only agreed to let Iran have nuclear fuel rods, but also promised to complete the Bushehr reactor’s core by the end of the year, giving Iran its first functioning nuclear reactor in 2005.

According to debkafile‘s intelligence and Washington sources, the rationale behind this rush of events is simple: The Bush administration has concluded that Iran has already secretly procured sufficient fissile material to make a bomb or warheads for nuclear missiles and the issue of uranium enrichment has become almost irrelevant.

In his talks with European leaders, therefore, Bush did not make a song and dance about uranium enrichment. Instead, he laid stress on their common consent that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. In Bratislava, he declared alongside Putin: “We agreed that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. We agreed that North Korea should not have a nuclear weapon.”

In other words, while the Iranians and Europeans were still bickering over uranium enrichment, the US president was looking ahead to the final stage of the weapon’s manufacture.

The Russian move is also partly motivated by Putin’s increasing concern about being left by the wayside in the Middle East by the Europeans – witness Lavrov’s promise to sell heavy weapons including APCs to the Palestinians. So Putin took advantage of Bush’s position and jumped in fast with its fuel-for-Bushehr deal.


Sharon’s Bid to Prop Up Abu Mazen Fails


2 March: Mahmoud Abbas knew his vow was hollow when he promised the March 1 London conference on Palestinian Reforms a 100 percent effort to prevent the recurrence of attacks like the February 25 Tel Aviv suicide bombing that killed five Israelis. He therefore tossed the ball to Israel, saying that without direct talks and progress towards a state there would be a return to violence.

That statement contained three major fallacies: One, the Palestinians do not possess the most rudimentary institutions for statehood. Two, Palestinian violence never stopped; nor was the Sharm el Sheikh ceasefire really observed. Three, even if progress were made in direct talks, Abbas is incapable of preventing violence.

DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources report that Saturday, February 26, a day after the Tel Aviv suicide attack, Abu Mazen dispatched his newly-appointed interior security minister, Gen. Nasser Yousef, to the bomber’s home district of Tulkarm on the West Bank to report on the security situation there.

His findings were shocking. He found nary a reliable security force or even a commander for Abu Mazen to rely on. The preventive security service was an empty shell. Tawfiq Tirawi’s intelligence agency and Bashir Nafa’s special forces were by now indistinguishable from the terrorist coalition ruling the sector, tightly associated with al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and other radical Palestinian terrorist fronts. Tulkarm was only one example. The West Bank at large is devoid of forces capable of fighting terror, imposing law and order or even protecting Abu Mazen in person.

Conscious of his weakness, Abu Mazen, before he left for London, quietly asked Israeli prime minister Sharon and defense minister Mofaz through his intermediaries for permission to let two Palestinian Badr Force battalions cross in from Jordan and deploy on the West Bank.

Revealing this, DEBKAfile’s sources add that the units are comprised of young recruits aged 18-27 from Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. Israel’s generals held up their hands in horror at the prospect of another 1,600 hostile Palestinians entering the West Bank in addition to the thousands of gunmen running loose in the guise of “security” officers. Since they had not been screened, there was no way of knowing which side they would join. Even scarier, Iraqi insurgents or even al Qaeda combatants may well have infiltrated the Badr battalions and be eager to seize the rare chance of setting up bases in the lawless Palestinian West Bank.

Israel’s answer was therefore a firm no.

In any case, Sharon is in no longer in a hurry to accommodate Abu Mazen, who since he took the reins of government on Arafat’s death has talked the talk but he has not walked the walk.

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