Iran‘s implication in al Qaeda operations surfaces in US statement on senior operative Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi’s capture
27 April: The US Pentagon statement discloses the senior al Qaeda operative was captured by the CIA at an undisclosed location attempting to reach his native Iraq after meeting al Qaeda operatives in Iran. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources say this disclosure points to four significant developments:
1. Iran is again providing al Qaeda members with a path to Iraq from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2002, the Islamic Republic afforded defeated al Qaeda groups an escape route from Afghanistan.
2. Iran is allowing al Qaeda terrorists operating in Iraq to strike from within its borders. Evidence of this, if confirmed by al Hadi, would further exacerbate the military tensions between Washington and Tehran.
3. debkafile‘s sources surmise that he was picked up crossing the Iranian border into Iraq.
4. Word is awaited to clarify if the CIA’s capture of al Hadi was a fluke or the result of a tip-off by an Iraqi informant, whether in Kurdistan or from inside Iran.
US intelligence shortens to 2010 date for Iran to have enough nuclear bomb-grade material
27 April: The original date was 2015. The new one is closer to the Israeli intelligence 2009 estimate, depending on further technical progress in operating a uranium enrichment plant now under construction. According to Pentagon officials, the window has narrowed for Israel to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, which could involve the US in a war against a much tougher opponent than Iraq.
debkafile‘s military sources report the revised US estimate rests on information that the Iranians have overcome the difficulties stalling the operation of the P2 centrifuges at the Natanz plant at the requisite speeds for producing weapons-grade uranium.
Iran must still master the technology for building a bomb or a warhead which can be delivered by air or missile.
All the timelines cited thus far are no more than estimates.
Olmert’s estimate that Iran’s nuclear program is far off and can be halted by diplomacy and sanctions was offered as a bromide to American Jewish leaders, who are nervous of a US-Israeli war against Iran. The reference to an Israeli pre-emptive strike involving the US was a roundabout way of intimating that American military action had moved closer to reality and could involve Israel. The Olmert government would not dream of going it alone against Iran, as did Menahem Begin in 1981, when he ordered the bombing of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.
Abd al Hadi’s Capture Reveals al Qaeda’s Dynamic Hard Core
28 April: The CIA’s capture of one of Osama bin Laden’s most talented operations officers, Abd al Hadi al-Iraq, Abu Abdullah, 45, is a major coup which turns hidden pages in al Qaeda’s arcane bloodstained record.
Picked up last year, presumably while crossing from Iran into his native Iraq, he has undergone exhaustive interrogation, bringing to light his rich experience in charting al Qaeda’s offensive in the West.
Al Hadi was quick to spot the potential of young British Muslims of Pakistani origin. He is now credited with plotting the first direct al Qaeda suicide attack inside Israel on direct orders from Osama bin Laden. As debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reported at the time, two British Muslim bombers were told to blow up the US embassy in Tel Aviv, but instead, on April 30, 2003, they bombed the next door Tel Aviv seafront bar, Mike’s Place, killing three Israelis and injuring 60.
In 2005, he is said to have masterminded the July 7 suicide bombings on the British tube and a bus, leaving 52 dead and hundreds injured.
Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, the Mike’s Place bombers, were headhunted at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London. So too was Richard Reid, the failed shoe bomber serving time in the United States for attempting to blow up an American Airlines plane bound for Miami from Paris in Dec. 2002.
All three spent time at Hamas training camps in the Gaza Strip before they embarked on their missions.
Eytan Kabel resigns from Israeli government, saying he cannot serve under Ehud Olmert, as popular protests spring up
1 May: The country has lost its confidence in the prime minister, said the protesting Labor minister. He must accept responsibility for his failed conduct of the Lebanon War as affirmed by the Lebanon War panel led by Judge Eliahu Winograd in a 250-page report submitted Monday, April 30. If Olmert does not step down, Kabel said, the other /government coalition members must oust him.
debkafile: The fallout from the Lebanon War report is mounting, while Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz, the primary targets of the damning Winograd report, stick to their guns and refuse to quit.
Both their parties, Kadima and Labor, show signs of revolt. Impromptu protests are springing up. Kabel announced he will do his utmost to prevent Labor leadership hopeful Ehud Barak from joining the Olmert government. He had planned to take Peretz’s place as defense minister. A rival contestant, Ami Ayalon, said that Olmert has no choice. He must step down after losing public trust and therefore incapable of leading the recovery of a divided and scared society. He proposes that a new government of reconstruction take charge.
Fugitive Israeli ex-parliamentarian Azmi Beshara faces arrest for treason if he returns
2 May: The head of the Israeli-Arab Balad list, Beshara will be charged with passing information to Hizballah and another foreign intelligence body during last summer’s war. It included guidelines for Hizballah to accurately aim its Katyusha rocket strikes at locations deep inside Israel, including Haifa. He is also alleged to have advised Hizballah on the responses expected from Israel and likely plans to assassinate its leader Hassan Nasrallah. The ex-lawmaker is accused of acting for substantial monetary gain running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, which were illegally smuggled to him through Palestinian channels and money changers. Part of the military charges against Beshara remains sealed by a court gag order.
Iran has released former FBI agent Robert Levinson, 59
3 May: Last seen on the Iranian resort island of Kish March 11, where he was said to be working on a film, Levinson has crossed from Iran into Iraqi Kurdistan, where American representatives awaited him.
The promise to release him was conveyed, according to our sources, by the head of Iran’s national security council, Ali Larijani, during a sudden visit to Baghdad on April 29, when he met secretly with the US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The two officials discussed reciprocal US-Iranian gestures to pave the way for an agreed agenda at the international conference on Iraq’s security opening at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh May 3.
Sources in Tehran report that US forces in Iraq will counter Levinson’s release by setting free one or two of the five Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers they captured in Irbil last January.
Barring the unforeseen, Olmert buys a one-to-four month lease of life by taming revolt in his Kadima
3 May: Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the deputy prime minister who led the field of contenders to take over from Ehud Olmert, was roundly castigated for her weak stand against him. In their interview Tuesday, May 2, she politely advised him to step down, but said she would stay in government. The revolt which sprang up in Olmert’s Kadima party Monday under the shock-impact of the Winograd war panel’s condemnation of the prime minister’s handling of last year’s Lebanon war abruptly melted away. Although his opinion rating is down to zero and 75% of the public polled call on him to step down, Olmert was able to turn the tables by uniting his own party behind him and holding the government coalition together – at least for the short term.
Avigdor Yizthaki, chairman of the Kadima faction and coalition, stepped down from both posts in protest against the prime ministers refusal to accept accountability for the failings of the Lebanon War. Labor minister Eytan Kabel quit the government earlier.
Olmert has survived for the moment, but he is not out of the woods yet. He will be counting the numbers turning out for a mass protest calling him to quit which has been summoned Thursday night in Tel Aviv by the reservists' movement and bereaved families.
Next, the prime minister will be watching the leadership primaries held by his leading coalition partner, Labor, at the end of the month. Amir Peretz expects to be displaced as party leader and defense minister. His successor may opt out of the Olmert government and spell its demise.
Then, too, the Olmert government's handling of the Lebanon War last summer came in for scathing criticism in the interim report submitted Monday, April 30 by the team led by Judge Eliahu Winograd. But no demands were made for heads to roll. The final report due out in August 2007 is expected to be less kind to individual decision-makers. So the prime minister and his government can only count their future in months – not years.
Despite Syrian military border build-up, Israel has no plans to attack but stands ready to ward off a surprise Syrian strike
3 May: Reporting that this message had been relayed from Jerusalem to Damascus, Israeli Ambassador to US Salai Meridor said in Washington Wednesday night that Syria has amassed on Israel’s borders strength and missiles capable of reaching every part of the country.
On April 30, debkafile reported exclusively that Bashar Assad had shifted units from the Iraqi to the Lebanese border shortly after the Winograd panel had slammed the Olmert government for its mishandling of the Lebanon War. Our military sources specified that an infantry brigade had been relocated to beef up the Syrian 14th Commando Division deployed opposite Golan and the sensitive Mt. Hermon- Shabaa Farms sector where the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli borders converge. A source in Israel’s northern command says the stationing of an infantry brigade on the forward line with Israel stiffens Syrian defenses and frees up Syrian command units for operational duties.
A careful watch is trained on these movements to ascertain whether Assad is engaging in mere muscle flexing, or trying to capitalize on the Israeli government’s weakness for a military move on the Golan Heights.