A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 23, 2006

If Islamic militancy is not stopped today, “we’ll go through World War Three tomorrow,” US Middle East chief Gen. John Abizaid warns


18 November: Addressing a Harvard University audience Saturday, Gen. Abizaid compared the rise of militant ideologies such as the force driving al Qaeda to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and said: “If we don’t have guts enough to confront this ideology today, we’ll go through World War Three tomorrow.

If not stopped, said the general, “extremists would gain an advantage to gain a safe haven, to develop weapons of mass destruction, to develop a national place from which to operate. And I think that the dangers associated with that are just too great to comprehend.”


The European “peace initiative” is the logical outcome of previous Israeli policy lapses


18 November: The rule of cause and effect applies naturally to the policies practiced by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni from their first moments in office. The Hamas election victory in the January 24, Palestinian elections, for instance, was preventable. Candidates of the terrorist group that vowed never to recognize Israel or renounce violence were allowed freedom of movement to campaign although the Hamas victory was predicted on this site well in advance.

Now the Olmert government is laboring to turn the clock back by accepting Abbas, a leader stripped of clout by the Palestinian voter.

The Spanish-Italian-French “peace initiative” which aims at deploying a European-dominated peace force on the Gaza-Israel border, is likewise the outcome of Israel’s mistake in accepting UN resolution 1701 which brought European contingents for the first time to control an Arab-Israeli border. To this end, the resolution’s primary clauses – to prevent Hizballah from reestablishing its strength and missiles opposite the Israeli border and block arms smuggling to replenish its arsenals – have gone by the board.

Once ensconced on the Gaza border, the European powers will push next for a West Bank presence and, after that, why not Jerusalem?


Spain, France and Italy push Middle East peace initiative that does not require Hamas government recognition of Israel


18 November: The plan calls for an immediate ceasefire, a Palestinian national unity government, exchange of prisoners, talks between Israeli prime minister and Mahmoud Abbas and an international team of ceasefire monitors.

There is also a European offer to host a new peace conference. debkafile: The three largest European contributors to the expanded UN force in Lebanon are seeking to extend their presence to the Israel-Palestinian front. The European monitors at the Rafah crossing between Egypt Sinai and Gaza have not prevented the smuggling of tons of arms and hundreds of million dollars destined for Hamas fighting forces – largely from Iran.

Senior Israeli officials are not inclined to take the European initiative seriously at this point. The Hamas prime minister said noncommittally it was worth studying.


Blair Set to Open Washington’s Road to Damascus. Next Stop Tehran


18 November: The primary object of the new Spanish-Italian-French Middle East “peace plan” is to insert European military forces into the Gaza Strip after establishing themselves in the expanded UNIFIL in South Lebanon. In furtherance of their goal, the European Union endorsed the UN resolution’s call Friday, Nov. 17, for Israel to pull out of Gaza, although its withdrawal to the UN-approved line was completed in September 2005.

European assertiveness is coming at the expense of the Bush administration’s post-election weakness. Its tenaciously-held premise that the roads to all the region’s woes lead back to the Israel-Palestinian issue is already reflected in these two European steps, the first of a systematic campaign of crushing pressure on Israel to fall into line.

The campaign will peak in the third week of December, when British premier Tony Blair is due to visit Damascus.

As a down-payment for buying Syrian president Bashar Asad’s cooperation on Iraq, Blair will try and coerce Israel to accept talks with Syria for the return of the Golan captured in the 1967 war.


Israeli cabinet crisis sparked by accelerated Palestinian missile offensive. Olmert prepares defense minister’s ouster


20 November: debkafile‘s political sources report prime minister Ehud Olmert is preparing to sack Labor leader Amir Peretz. They expect the post to be offered to the former Labor leader, prime minister, chief of staff Ehud Barak, with ex-Shin Beit director, ex-navy commander Ami Ayalon as his deputy.

Olmert’s hand is now forced by the acute crisis over the government’s failure to subdue the escalating missile attacks from Gaza. It is coupled with criticism from the ministers of his own Kadima as well as Labor members for a cabinet reshuffle to demote Peretz – partly over his incompetence and partly to clear the way for the contest for a new Labor leader.

The prime minister hopes that by bolstering defense with two experienced former generals he will lift his falling popular rating, improve the look of his Kadima party and, above all, prolong his cabinet’s life expectancy. He may not find it plain sailing. Our sources report that Peretz’s Labor backers are spoiling for a fight.


Will the US-UK diplomatic opening to Syria and Iran be cut short by the Gemayel assassination?


21 November: The murder of a prominent anti-Syrian Christian minister, scion of the former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, and the finger of blame pointed at Damascus by the Sunni majority leader Saad Hariri may well trigger bloody strife between the anti-Syrian factions against the pro-Syrian militias led by Hizballah. No one in Beirut doubts Damascus’ hand in the assassination, any more than in the Feb. 2005 murder of Hariri’s father.

The Syrian president may well have gambled on the uncertain US and British position in Iraq and the Bush administration’s post-election weakness for a reckless move to undermine the Siniora government and so save his close relatives from prosecution before an international tribunal. Asad is capable of deciding that this benefit was worth the risk of sparking another Lebanese civil war and sacrificing the chance of a rapprochement with the West when he is assured of Iran’s friendship and support.


Iran, Syria, the Iraqi insurgents, Shiite militias and al Qaeda on the move as Bush ponders next step in Iraq


21 November: Our Middle East sources report that all these elements are using the hiatus in Washington to snatch the initiative. In Jakarta, President George W. Bush said Monday, Nov. 20, “I haven’t made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases.” Before day’s end, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad summoned the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to a weekend summit, demonstrating that Tehran rather than Washington is now making the rules for progress in the Iraq crisis.

Some steps set in motion:

1. Syria and Iraq have agreed to restore diplomatic relations.

2. The Sunnis and Shiites are locked in battle over the domination of Baghdad.

3. The US military and Iraqi army are playing no part in this battle royal. In other words, large sections of the Iraqi capital have slipped out of the control of the Americans and the al Maliki government. This situation prevails also in other main cities.

4. It means time has run out for building and training a competent Iraqi army capable of independent, competent operation.

6. The Iran-Syria partnership continues to strike US interests around the Middle East. In Lebanon, they have activated their pawn, Hizballah, to topple the pro-US anti-Syrian government. In the Palestinian areas, Iran and Syria are pumping in hundreds of military instructors and tens of tons of explosives, missiles and cash to dethrone Mahmoud Abbas, demolish his Palestinian Authority and engage Israel in war.


Lebanese PM Siniora divides Beirut by posting Lebanese forces at key points for funeral of anti-Syrian minister Pierre Gemayel


22 November: They form a security belt in the Christian western districts of Beirut, the Sunni eastern districts and at the presidential palace and government offices. debkafile reports from Beirut that the army will continue to hold these positions after the minister is buried Thursday. They stand ready to ward off attempts by the Shiites of South Beirut to seize centers of government – in keeping with the Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat to topple the anti-Syrian government by a million street demonstrators. The anti-Syrian Christians and Sunnis are braced to resist such attempts, which could tip the country into much-feared civil conflict.

The military deployment effectively divides Beirut in two – the anti-Syrian Christian-Sunni sectors and the pro-Syrian Shiite south.


Israel to Launch Major War Campaign at 11th Hour of Hamas Build-up


November 22: debkafile‘s military sources disclose that Israel’s security cabinet decided Wednesday, Nov. 22, that there is no option but to launch a major offensive against Hamas and its terrorist allies in the Gaza Strip – both to pre-empt their war build-up and reduce Qassam missile attacks, which climbed to 80 in the last ten days.

Our sources note that special forces and Shin Bet units have already stepped up ground operations against the missile crews in the north. These operations will soon evolve into a broader, harsher crackdown in other parts of the territory including the Philadelphi border route.

The prime minister was finally convinced that the time for foot-dragging was over by intelligence data which showed Hamas hectically engaged in constructing state of the art fortifications to withstand deep incursions into the Gaza Strip. They are assisted by dozens of military advisers pouring in from Syria and Lebanon. Israeli generals warned Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz that every day without Israeli counter-action maximizes future IDF casualties. The Qassam salvos are increasing in number and range.

The IDF has switched its counter-missile tactics in the Gaza Strip. Special ground forces backed by Shin Bet units are spearheading strikes against top Hamas missile commanders. Their homes have been turned into fortresses in response.

The new tactic calls for large commando units trained in street combat, who also risk relatively high casualties. It also calls for an Intensive, high-grade intelligence effort to precisely mark the targets and provide details of the protective measures they employ.


Bush in Amman next week for summit talks with Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki and other Arab leaders


23 November: The US president will spend time in the Jordanian capital to demonstrate American support for the Hashemite king Abdullah however badly the situation deteriorates in Iraq.

debkafile‘s political sources report that President Bush has no plans to meet Israeli leaders. The changes in regional strategy under discussion in Washington appear in Jerusalem to ignore the dire threats to Israel’s security, which in some respects are more acute than those facing Jordan given Tehran’s announced intention to destroy the Jewish state. Many Western and Middle East observers see the close rapport developing between Iran, Syria and Iraq and the resumption of Syrian-Iraqi relations as a breakthrough for the Asad regime and a blow to Israel’s strategic standing.


Israel‘s security cabinet met Wednesday in shadow of PM Olmert’s insistence on sacking Peretz as defense minister


22 November: The prime minister and Labor leader are not on speaking terms. The prime minister is confident that the remaining Labor ministers will not quit even if their leader is fired. Under this cloud, the ministers must map out an urgent strategy for grappling with the escalating Hamas missile offensive and prepare for chaos in Lebanon and the exit of the expanded UNIFIL contingents from the South. Army chiefs have been asked to present plans of action to meet threats of intensified missile attacks on Ashkelon and more distant Negev towns. Our military sources report that Hamas’ missile campaign has two objectives: To finally overthrow the PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and to establish the extremist Islamic group’s supremacy on the West Bank for missile bases against Israel’s coastal heartland.

While Israel has hitherto treated the missile offensive as the battle for Sderot, Hamas sees it as a stepping stone to complete domination over all Palestinian territories.


Israel-Hamas combat escalates in northern Gaza Strip


23 November: An Israeli helicopter missile killed two senior Palestinian terrorist commanders in Beit Hanoun. The missile hit the car driven in Beit Hanoun by Pak Abu Kumtzan, chief of Popular Resistance Committees in Northern Gaza and his deputy Mahmoud Bassiouni Thursday night. Two Hamas operatives were also killed by Israeli forces as they laid a roadside bomb near a tank.

Seven Israeli soldiers were injured on third day of anti-missile combat in Gaza Thursday. Three were hurt by a 57-old Palestinian female suicide bomber.

Four Israeli soldiers were earlier wounded by anti-tank rocket fire during counter-missile operations across the N. Gaza Strip Thursday, as Palestinians stepped up anti-tank fire.

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