A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 2, 2006

Fatah and Hamas brace for armed showdown after breakdown of the Saudi-Egyptian initiative


27 October: The Egyptian formula combined a plan for a Palestinian unity government with terms for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier.

To avert a bloody showdown, their commanders met in Gaza City and Hebron Friday night but failed to agree on a venue for talks.

Our Middle East and intelligence sources disclose: The failed peace initiative was kicked off by a Saudi invitation to Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal. They tried to prevail on him to accept a deal for Hamas and Fatah to set up a national unity government under the incumbent Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh and trade the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit kidnapped by Hamas for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including high-profile convicted terrorists.

Had Meshaal agreed to continue to Cairo to seal the plan at an Arab mini-summit with Saudi, Syrian and Egyptian officials and the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the hard-line Hamas leader would have been granted a private audience with King Abdullah and the Riyadh would have resumed its stipend to his movement. But Meshaal spurned the deal. Instead of traveling to Cairo, he went straight to Damascus Friday, having opted to stick with Tehran rather than switch to the moderate Arab camp. He also announced Shalit would not be freed and cut Hamas loose for an armed showdown with Fatah. Reading the signals, the rival Palestinian forces have called up their troops and are in heightened preparedness for battle in Gaza and the West Bank starting Saturday, Oct. 28.


Israel‘s spy agencies will balk at granting Strategic Threats Minister Lieberman access to secret Iranian nuclear documents


28 October: The Strategic Threats Ministry, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert created for his hoped-for cabinet acquisition, the hawkish Avigdor Lieberman, is a euphemism for the “Iranian nuclear threat.”

The Israeli Beitenu party leader, rolling up his sleeves to start work, has already put his hand in a hornet’s nest by announcing he must first “master the intelligence material” on the Iranian nuclear issue.

No way, say heads of the Mossad, military intelligence- AMAN, the Shin Bet and the undercover bodies in the foreign and defense ministries with one voice; Olmert’s new man had better forget about access to their most closely-guarded secret documents relating to Iran’s nuclear plans, its procurement networks for nuclear materials and technology, ballistic missile know-how, Tehran’s nuclear ties with Russia, and interaction with terrorist organizations. If he insists, the newcomer will get the runaround.

The Israeli prime minister has also, according to our sources, received requests from a number of Western security services, which share intelligence on the nuclear question with Israel, not to permit persons outside their known Israeli contacts access to the shared input. They implied that exposure to others outside this tight circle would have consequences: some of the secret materials made available to their Israeli colleagues might dry up.

Above and beyond the issue of sensitive Iranian nuclear data, Israel’s intelligence chiefs fear Olmert wants Lieberman to act as a political overlord to keep tabs on their work on his behalf. They won’t take this lying down.


US-Led Military Thrust Focuses Heavily on Broad Naval Deployment


30 October: Hundreds of US and allied war ships foregathered in the strategic seas of the Middle East and India in the last days of October 2006 for two primary missions: To prepare for a US-led military strike against Iran which has stepped up its uranium enrichment program with a second centrifuge project – undeterred by the prospect of UN sanctions; and measures to fend off palpable al Qaeda threats to oil targets.

Rather than climbing down, a spokesman in Tehran referred to the war games as “adventurous” and placed its armed forces on high alert.

Also Sunday, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced Iran’s air force chief, Karim Qavami with Brig Gen Capt Ahmad Miqani, on the recommendation of the Revolutionary Guards commander.

In September, the outgoing air force chief, a US-trained pilot, commanded Iran’s military maneuvers which tested a new air defense system, fighter planes and laser-guided bombs. debkafile‘s Iran sources report that Khamenei did not approve of Qavami’s admiration of America’s military capabilities – especially the US air force’s advanced aircraft and equipment.

Saudi Arabia did not join the multinational Bahrain exercise, but instead mustered its entire navy and all its special forces for deployment in dense defensive array around the biggest oil terminal in the world, at Ras Tanura. Riyadh acted in response to tangible intelligence that al Qaeda is preparing to attack its oil installations.

Another major naval concentration is deployed in the Red Sea along Saudi Arabia’s west coast. The oil kingdom has placed its military and fleet at their highest level of preparedness for Al Qaeda-instigated terrorist attacks along this coast, particularly at the ports of Jeddah and Yanbu.


Disengagement from Gaza was the most divisive step in Israel’s history – even more than prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination


31 October: Of the cross-cut canvassed in a poll conducted by the Bridge association, 47.7% named the Gaza withdrawal as the supreme social polarizer as against 38% for the assassination. Politicians were rated by 42.1% as the most divisive element, followed by the media – 39.4% and the rabbis, 9.2%.


Hamas is actively building a regular military division of tens of thousands of well-trained troops armed with sophisticated weaponry


31 October: This warning came from the IDF OC southern command Maj.-Gen Yoav Galant in a briefing to Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee Tuesday, Oct. 31. He described Hamas commando and anti-tank units under training and an organized Hamas weapons industry topped up by massive arms smuggling. The IDF has prepared effective plans to forestall Hamas’ dangerous military enhancement in Gaza, said Gen. Galant. But, he added, the military is waiting for the policy-makers’ signal to go ahead before it is too late.


Israel Air Force warplanes over-fly Hizballah’s reconstructed command centers and fortifications in S. Beirut


31 October: According to debkafile‘s military sources, the low Israeli air passes, about which the Lebanese government complained, recorded Hizballah’s reestablishment in Beirut’s Shiite Dahya district two months after its military centers were flattened in the Lebanon war. Dahya is now a closed military zone closely guarded by Hizballah operatives.

Israeli warplanes also recorded Hizballah’s revived bunker system, foundations for new rocket launchers and rebuilt intelligence and surveillance positions rising day by day along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Similarly, Iranian-Syrian weapons consignments to Hizballah units have been stepped up. They include ground-to-ground missiles, anti-air, anti-tank and shore-to-sea missiles. debkafile‘s military sources confirm that Hizballah has fully re-stocked the arsenal of rockets of the type which blasted northern Israel for 33 days in July and August.

A senior Israeli military source pointed out to debkafile that intelligence-gathering on Hizballah’s recovery, rearming and regrouping for battle is of little use when it is not followed up by action. He disclosed that each time the disturbing data is put before the chief of staff and his superiors in Jerusalem, no one there decides on a response. Neither the Lebanese army nor UNIFIL’s European contingents deployed in S. Lebanon and at sea make any move to stall the illegal influx of war materiel – any more than Israel.


US aircraft carriers USS Eisenhower and USS Enterprise in the Red Sea off the Saudi Arabian coast


1 November: debkafile‘s military sources report: The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and its strike group passed through the Suez Canal on Monday, Oct. 30, and arrived in the Red Sea on Tuesday, Oct. 31. It is now cruising off the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabian coast, together with another aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. The presence of the two US aircraft carriers, and their accompanying strike groups, in a body of water as small as the Red Sea is an extraordinary development.

So far there have been no indications that the USS Eisenhower arrived to replace the USS Enterprise.

US Intelligence director John Negroponte also is in the region. He was in Saudi Arabia over the weekend and in Cairo on Tuesday, and is due to arrive in Israel on Friday, Nov. 3.

Three US aircraft carriers are currently present in the Persian Gulf and regional waters, including the USS Iwo Jima. Accompanying the USS Eisenhower are the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, the guided-missile destroyers USS Rampage and USS Mason and the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine USS Newport.

debkafile‘s military sources report that a fourth US aircraft carrier, the USS Boxer, will arrive on the scene by the beginning of next week, together with its carrier strike group.


The Russian-made antitank missile Metis-M9 is returning to the battle field – this time to the Gaza Strip


1 November: Exclusive to debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources: Early Wednesday morning, Nov. 1, the IDF embarked on a large operation in the Beit Hanun area in northern Gaza to halt the firing of Qassam rockets and eliminate terrorist cells. But the primary purpose is to thwart the new military option Hamas has been using against the IDF – squads that fire antitank missiles, a tactic Hizballah employed during the recent war in Lebanon.

IDF troops exchanged heavy fire with Palestinian gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip. Nine Palestinians were killed and 40 were wounded, the IDF reported.

A few hours after the operation began, IDF brass briefed the security cabinet in Jerusalem on Hamas plans for an impending offensive against Israel, under the guidance of Iranian and Syrian military advisers. According to debkafile‘s military sources, Hamas has given up on Qassam missile fire at Israeli towns and villages as no longer effective and plans to switch to the more lethal tactic of heavy, around-the-clock fire from Gaza into Israel, using antitank missiles, short-range ground-to-ground missiles and artillery fire – similar to what Hizballah used during the Lebanon war – and mortar fire.

The barrage will act as a firewall, Hamas believes, against Israeli military or civilian activity in a 2-km to 4-km buffer zone outside the Gaza security fence. The risk of heavy losses would cause IDF bases and outposts to be evacuated and transform Israel’s populated towns and villages into ghost towns.


Iran announces test-firing of ballistic Shehab-3 missiles in first hours of new military maneuvers


2 November: Several kinds of short-range missiles were also launched in central desert area of Iran early Thursday, Nov. 2.

debkafile‘s military sources report: Iran responded Wednesday night, Nov. 1, to the US-led naval movements and buildup in the in the Red Sea with an announcement by its Revolutionary Guard commander General Rahim Safavi of a big, new naval exercise opening on Nov. 2. Dubbed Great Prophet, the 10-day maneuver will take place in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The RC Air Force would, he said, for the first time test-fire the Shehab-3 armed with “a cluster warhead.”

The Shehab-3 is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and believed to have a range of more than 2,000 km. It can reach Israel and US forces in the Middle East.

Our military experts add: This war game will demonstrate whether or not the Shehab-3 stands up to Iran’s boasts of its capabilities, including its effective deployment in large numbers. If so, it will pose a lethal strategic threat to Israel, US deployments in the Middle East and Iran’s neighbors and Europe. Israel’s Arrow anti-missile missile system, developed for defense against the Shehab, is not capable of fending off an attack by large numbers of multiple-warhead missiles.


First Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from the West Bank


2 November: debkafile‘s military sources: Hamas has begun to fire rockets from the West Bank at Israeli targets. The IDF on Wednesday, Nov. 1, refuted an announcement by the Salah a-Din Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, that on Wednesday morning it had fired a short-range Nasser 1 rocket at the settlement of Migdalim, east of Ariel in Samaria. However, senior officers in Central Command told debkafile‘s military sources that the Palestinians, for the first time, fired an antitank missile at an Israeli settlement, adding that it had been smuggled into the West Bank from the Gaza Strip or the Sinai Peninsula.

According to the officers, Hamas has devoted tremendous resources to opening a second front by firing short-range missiles at Israeli targets from the West Bank, and has already succeeded in stockpiling a “not insignificant” number of such missiles. “The first instance of the firing of such a missile took place early Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., and now it will escalate,” one officer said.

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