A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 5, 2004:

The Palestinian-Israel War Gains a French Dimension

29 October: The circumstances of Yasser Arafat’s exit bound for a Paris hospital aboard a French presidential aircraft indicate that, despite the veteran Palestinian leader’s sinking health, waning popularity and a reputation tainted with rampant corruption, he remains a force capable of sustaining the war of terror.

They also signal the onset of a new stage in that war and the entry of a new lead player: France.

Jockeying for position greeted the first hours after his departure. The former and current Palestinian former and present prime ministers Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia. Abbas announced they would keep Palestinian government running until Arafat’s condition was determined. They were left holding a bag on shaky ground for lack of Arafat’s seal of approval and the threatening stance of the real heavyweights – the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades created by Arafat for the suicide campaign against Israel, the radical Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the bevy of Arafat’s closest advisers and his top terrorist masterminds: Hanni al-Hassan, Saher Habash, Azzam Muhammad, Nabil Abu Rodeina, Ramsi Roh and Force 17 commander Faisal Abu Serah. This group, together with extremist Farouk Kadoumi, the self-exiled deputy chairman of the Fatah executive, will remain in Paris as long as Arafat is confined to hospital. They will try and run Palestinian Authority business from the French capital. Claiming they are relaying orders from Arafat, they will gradually erode the authority of the Abu Mazan-Abu Ala clique.

These candidates do not auger well for the hopes harbored by many Israelis of Arafat’s eclipse automatically opening the way for non-violent Palestinian peace negotiators to step forward – or even a downturn in terrorist attacks. Quite the contrary, the contest promises to jar the entire region and unleash fresh terrorist energy.

From the moment that he was committed to hospital, the French agents watching over him are choosing his visitors. The only ones with a chance of being admitted are his aide Abu Rodeina, private secretary Ramzi Roh, his financial adviser Mohammed Rashid and Azzam Ahmed, who was his contact-man with Iraq’s ex-ruler Saddam Hussein and possibly his wife Suha Arafat.

The Palestinians, Israelis and French are all working on the premise that he will not recover. But the French will keep him “alive” as long as he breathes. Palestinian officials may travel to Paris, put up at smart hotels and report back home that Arafat is coming along well. But it will be hearsay. They will not be allowed to see him. Abu Rodeina will from time to time phone Ramallah and the Gaza Strip with “orders” from the boss. No Palestinian official will dare disobey as long as they are in the dark about his real condition. The current situation is therefore uncertain and extremely volatile. All that can be said for the moment is as follows:

1. Israel may have had little choice, but it has lost points by relinquishing the limited intelligence control it maintained over Arafat’s actions in Ramallah and handing it over to France.

2. France is well seasoned in manipulating foreign political figures, often haven-seekers, to serve its interests. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who lived in exile in a small town near Paris, was flown home in 1979 aboard a French plane to lead the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah.

3. By taking charge of the symbol and inventor of the Palestinian national struggle, the French government has also taken a lead-position in European policymaking on Israel, the Palestinians and the conflict between them. Considering the Chirac government’s warm sympathy for the Arabs and the Palestinian cause and its friendly ties with Iran, Syria and the Hizballah, this is not exactly good news for Israel.

4. Since early 2002, the French President has consistently hindered President George W. Bush’s Middle East policies and posture, especially on Iraq and the Palestinians. Arafat in the care of the French government grants Chirac a sharp new tool for hurting Israel’s interests and crossing Washington.

Bin Laden Videotape Was Hit-and-Run Assault on US Election

30 October: Osama bin Laden crafted his words in the videotaped warning to the American people aired by al Jazeera Arabic TV Friday, October 29, to drop a remote-controlled bomb on the US election 96 hours from the finishing line.

“Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth. Therefore, the reasons are still there to repeat what happened on Sept. 11. Your security is in your own hands and it depends on your policy.”

He admitted for the first time his involvement in the 9/11 attacks and reminded the American voter that three years later he was still at large and a danger to Americans.

All the intelligence agencies involved in the hunt for the elusive bin Laden – American, Indian, Pakistani and Russian – are reported by debkafile‘s counter-terror sources to have narrowed down his hiding places to a point in the Himalayas or Little Pamir, where he will hole up until the spring thaw.

Bin Laden was actually spotted in the flesh just a few days ago – according to debkafile‘s counter terror sources. Between October 17 and October 19, an Indian air force reconnaissance plane picked him up in the Tibet-Laddakh region close to the North-Eastern corner of Pakistan bordering India and China. Additional surveillance aircraft were called in and identified the al Qaeda leader on the move with a 10-vehicle convoy of black Japanese minivans. Four of the vehicles turned up again on October 22 heading east towards the Chinese border. Our sources maintain that the rumored sightings of bin Laden on the Lingzi Thang Plain on the Tibetan border in June may have been true then but are now outdated. In any case, he was not at the time in Pakistani Waziristan or the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The agents hunting the al Qaeda leader are focusing on two regions: Hunza province in the Northern Frontier tip of Indian Kashmir or Little Pamir, where fanatical Tajik tribes have never allowed any Kabul government – whether Taliban or led by Karzai – to secure a foothold. Little Pamir is wedged between Tajikistan where Russian special forces taking part in the bin Laden dragnet are deployed and China.

Sunday, October 24, a senior FBI agent, briefed first in Pakistan, flew from Islamabad to New Delhi to meet Indian security bosses and examine the aerial shots of the bin Laden convoy.

Our intelligence sources report that, after the American agent studied the data and questioned the Indian intelligence officers who saw the terrorist chief leave his minivan several times, he relayed Washington’s request for the Indian government to put its security forces in the North Western region on red alert and round up troops for combing operations in the region before the snowfall.

New Delhi complied the next day and also stepped up its vigilance on the Kagil-Leh Highway and along the Tibetan border.

Tel Aviv Carmel Bombing Tells Abbas to Stand Aside

1 November: Although short of a definitive diagnosis of Yasser Arafat’s mysterious illness, the Palestinian succession struggle has begun to fill the power vacuum.

The Carmel street market bombing Monday, November 1, claimed by the ultra-violent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, is seen by debkafile‘s Palestinian experts as an opening shot in the contest. The camp supporting Arafat sought to demonstrate that no leader as soft on Arafat’s war of terror against Israel as is former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be allowed to step into the ailing leader’s shoes. By striking in the heart of Tel Aviv for the first time in a year, the terror chiefs also left no doubt that while they might exercise a measure of restraint in the battle for the Palestinian succession, there would be no letup in their campaign of violence against Israel.

As part of their campaign to prevent Abu Mazen’s takeover, the ailing leader’s close advisers, from the base they established in Paris, pumped out optimistic reports suggesting he was on the road to a miraculous recovery. This group is led by Arafat’s close aide Nabil Abu Rodeina, his financial adviser Mohammed Rashid and his wife, Suha Arafat. Abu Mazen is struggling to overcome these obstacles. But he will not take any incautious steps, particularly after the Tel Aviv bombing, for fear of bringing down on himself a swarm of Palestinian terrorist chiefs.

His former willingness to engage in diplomatic talks with Israel under Washington’s aegis after the Aqaba June 2003 summit discredited him in their eyes for good.

The incumbent Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is carefully avoiding the fray. When Arafat fell seriously ill, he willingly joined Abbas in attempting to take charge of Palestinian affairs. But when he saw the opposition led by Arafat’s heavies polishing long knives, he stood aside to wait and see who came out on top before committing himself finally to an alliance with Abu Mazen.

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