A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 19, 2004:

Bush, Sharon, Abu Mazen Start Marching in Step


14 November: The penultimate stage of the US-Iraqi Fallujah offensive and the final laying to rest of Yasser Arafat – though not necessarily of Palestinian terrorism – occurred on the same day, Friday, November 12. The two events prefaced democratic elections in Iraq – and now also for the Palestinians – both in January.

Palestinian voters go the polls on January 9; Iraqis elect a general assembly on January 27.

The apparent assassination bid against Arafat’s designated successor Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen in Gaza two days after the burial does not promise a smooth transition.

If elections do go off as planned, Iraq will attain a parliament with a Shiite majority that will select a government dominated by moderate Shiites under the rod of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

A separate Kurdish administration will then go up in Irbil, one stage before independence. Iraq will thus be effectively partitioned between the two, pressing the Sunni Muslims between them under US military control until they are subdued. After the Fallujah operation ends this week, Sunni leaders will have to decide whether to stick by their decision to boycott the January election and leave their community behind the onward march towards the post-Saddam regime, or claim a role in government.

If Palestinians get their election and Abu Mazen is able to form a stable, normally-functioning government, Israelis and Palestinians can start talking peace on the basis of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan and President Bush’s roadmap. Palestinian terror is not expected to end on the spot, but the terrorists may no longer enjoy free rein from Palestinian government once it is elected.

These trends have begun playing out in practice.

Last week, Israel released INS.140 million (equivalent to $31 million) to the Palestinian Authority, which earmarked a portion for paychecks for the armed Fatah-Tanzim terror operatives who subsequently lent a hand to Palestinian security forces who struggled to control the frenzied throng at Arafat’s burial in Ramallah.

For the first time since 2002, Sharon allowed Palestinian policemen and security men to bear arms in Ramallah during the Arafat burial. Arrangements for Arafat’s funeral were smoothly worked out in joint Israel-Palestinian security discussions for the first time in many months.

Sharon looks like consenting to the 215,000 Palestinians who live (some 60-70,000 eligible voters) in East Jerusalem to take part in Palestinian elections, as they did in 1996.

Abbas, for his part, has –

1. Put together a new team better adapted to government administrative functions than his old cronies from Tunis. He has invited General Nasser Yousef, harsh critic of Arafat’s authoritarian style of government and terrorist tactics, to become interior minister with charge over security and intelligence functions; Prime Minster Ahmed Qureia heads the national security council.

2. He came to an arrangement with the hardline overseas Fatah leader Farouk Kaddoumi, his leading rival for Arafat’s chair and began ceasefire, government-sharing talks with Hamas overseas leaders Khaled Mashal and Musa Abu Marzouk.

Forward movement from these preliminary steps depends on the answers to four questions:

Will Abu Mazan survive? Will Palestinian terror persist? Will the Hizballah, Iran or Syria decide to keep the confrontation alive by opening new warfronts? Will Arab governments, primarily Egypt and Jordan, back Abbas? And will President Bush sell the Europeans his prescription of democratic elections first, peace talks second?


Pro-Arafat Gunmen to Abbas: Next Time We’ll Shoot to Kill


15 November: The 40 gunmen who burst into the Gaza mourning tent shortly after the arrival of Mahmoud Abbas could easily have killed him and gunned down all the mourners packed in the tent. They left him unhurt, killing two security men. They were telling the designated successor to Arafat that next time they will shoot to kill should he step too far out of the bounds set by their dead leader of terror and war. Above all, stay away from Mohammed Dahlan, former Gaza strongman and enemy of the Arafat clan. Dahlan was detailed to set up the security arrangements for Abbas in the Gaza tent. The two men killed were both Dahlan’s bodyguards, a gesture of contempt.

Abbas understands that Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem will have noted that his own Fatah is incapable of looking after the safety of Arafat’s would-be successors. The two-month election campaign could well degenerate from a controlled democratic process to factional warfare. And who can tell which contender will end up at the finishing line on January 9?

The masked gunmen in the mourning tent were clear about their preferences. They shouted: “No to Abu Mazen!” and “No to Dahlan!” but also “Arafat lives!”

Our Palestinian sources report that, earlier in the day, Dahlan had sought to place the Gaza-based Presidential guard, Force 17, in charge of overall security for the mourners’ tent and the Palestinian dignitaries gathering there that evening. He was snubbed by the chiefs of all the local security, intelligence and terrorist groups, including Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees, the umbrella for Gaza’s al Aqsa Brigades. Each chief insisted on his personal bodyguards accompanying him into the tent, with no coordination among them. Mussa Arafat, for instance, is never seen without his 60-70 bodyguards; Gaza Strip general intelligence chief Mohammed Hindi employs between 40 and 50.

Notwithstanding these armies of protectors, a hostile band of gunmen managed to break into the tent, keep up a 10-minute barrage of automatic fire and make a clean getaway. Palestinian sources agree that this brazen demonstration of strength and clean escape could not have been carried off without the connivance of most of the faction chiefs present – which bodes ill for Abu Mazen’s chances of gaining Gaza Strip support for his bid for the presidency.

He seems to be so unpopular in Gaza that its faction chiefs were willing to chance his not coming out of the episode alive.


Holland Is Still Not Saying “al Qaeda” out Loud


15 November: In the Netherlands, mention of al Qaeda by name is still taboo, even after the country was shocked out of its complacency by the ritual murder on November 2 of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street.

But the right-of-center government has come under heavy crossfire – from some quarters for failing to understand and assimilate the Muslim immigrants, but increasingly by parliamentarians and ordinary citizens for its tardiness in the name of Dutch tolerance in tackling the rising jihadist threat.

Jozias van Aartsen, head of the Liberal WD party, accused the cabinet of being naive about Muslim extremism and demanded tougher legal measures to combat the threat. “Dialogue is important” he said, “but not the number one measure. You don’t reach out to extremists with a government information campaign. This murderer is not a poor, lonely immigrant. That is not his profile. The killing was the product of international jihad.” (al Qaeda?)

Other MPs urged the government to control further outbreaks against Muslims to avoid generating a climate conducive to extremist recruitment.

While the debate raged, Queen Beatrix, in a bid to restore social harmony, visited Moroccans at a multicultural youth center. She also voiced her concern over the murder of the great grandson of Theo van Gogh, brother of the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.

The Dutch government has meanwhile put together a new package of new counter-terrorism measures, which expands the scope of the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), increases the number of people under surveillance and permits the deportation of extremist imams and the removal of Dutch nationality from people with dual citizenship who are convicted of terrorist crimes.

The newly-awakened public is now asking why those measures were not enacted two years ago.

The answer came from one of their own.

Last week, NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former Dutch foreign minister, described “a perception gap” on global terror between Europe and the United States, as a result of which Europe lagged behind the US in merging external and internal security to combat terrorism. He urged Europe to catch up. Scheffer was the first foreign statesman to be received by President George W. Bush after his election.


Riddle of Hizballah Drone’s Non-Interception Brought Foreign Submarine to Israeli Waters


16 November: A mystery-submarine’s intrusion into Israeli territorial waters last week provided the sequel for another unfinished tale: the one about Israel’s failure to intercept a Hizballah drone that flew over the northern Israeli town of Nahariya on November 8.

Examination of the images the drone MIrsad-1 carried back to its senders, as shown four days later by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah over al Manar television Friday, November 12, raises serious questions in the minds of debkafile‘s military sources.

The Patriot anti-missile missile battery normally posted in western Galilee to monitor Israel-Lebanese border airspace happened to be removed on that particular day, leaving only an improved Hawk missile battery. The Patriot’s radar would have spotted the Hizballah drone and transmitted the information early enough for it to be downed. Because the Hawk’s radar is incapable of picking up a small flying object, the little invader-craft had at least 12 minutes for leisurely surveillance without fear of being shot down by Israel’s anti-air defenses or air force.

Did the Iranian Revolutionary Guards deployed with Hizballah in south Lebanon, who launched the unmanned aerial vehicle, strike lucky? Or did they know that the Patriot had been removed? If the latter, did they find out about the missing Patriot from cross-border observation or from a tipster on the Israeli side?

That is not the only mystery. The images Nasrallah showed over TV, which he claimed were taken by the November 8 overflight of Mirsad-1 SHOWED A PATRIOT BATTERY PRESENT.

The alternative explanations for this odd fact are of prime intelligence significance.

1. Were the pictures taken by UAVs which entered Israeli skies undetected on dates prior to November 8? If so, the Patriot radar which was present would seem to be as ineffective as the Hawk system’s, or –

2. Did the Iranians or the Hizballah obtain the televised photos from another source, possibly even a private satellite company with a sideline in espionage?

3. Or maybe the information came from a Hizballah spy resident in the district.

Two days later, a foreign submarine ventured 3 miles into Israel’s territorial waters and vanished as soon as it was detected by the Israeli navy.

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