A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 9, 2006

The spectacular swarm of sophisticated missiles fired in Iran’s surprise military exercise stuns military planners in the US, Israel and Europe


4 November: Our sources reveal that scores of surface missiles – a record for any war games anywhere – were tested simultaneously at a desert testing site some two hours drive from Tehran Thursday, Nov. 2. Precisely planned, the testing went smoothly. Input has not yet come in about the accuracy of their targeting.

A senior American missile expert told debkafile that the Iranians demonstrated up-to-date missile-launching technology which the West had not known them to possess. They also displayed unfamiliar warheads. But their most startling feat was the successful first test-fire of the long-range Shehab-3 with its cluster of tens of small bomblets, as debkafile revealed Oct. 31. The entire range bore the imprint of new purchases from China.

This Shehab-3, whose 2,000-km range brings Israel, the Middle East and Europe within reach – may be more than a match for any anti-missile missile system in American, Israeli or European arsenals – depending critically on the point of its fragmentation. Some of its features are still an enigma in the West.

If the Shehab-3’s cluster separates close to target, the Israel-US Arrow has a chance to intercept it, but the Americans and Israelis have no defense against the multiple warhead if it separates at a distance.

Another point made by debkafile‘s sources is that the spectacular missile show may have been designed for European consumption as much as to impress the US and Israel. Rather than making a secret of the display, General Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, which staged the exercise, bragged that Iran had proved its ability to strike targets outside the Middle East. Europe, which Tehran sees as susceptible to such threats, was being warned that it would be first in line for a backlash from a US or Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iran announced its war game Wednesday night, Nov. 1, in response to the to the US-led naval movements and buildup in the in the Red Sea (see separate item).

Some of the other missiles tested in the exercise were the Shehab-2, Aolfaqar-73, Fateh-110, Scud B and Zelzal-2.


Syrian FM Walid Mualem threatens to start “countdown to war” with Israel failing progress on peace track


6 November: debkafile cites Mualem’s words in Damascus on Nov. 6, as an explicit threat of war to be launched against Israel at a time of Syria’s choosing.

On Nov. 3, <bDEBKA-Net-Weekly 276b> revealed that on Oct. 30 British PM Tony Blair had sent his senior political adviser Nigel Sheinwald on a secret mission to Damascus.

One of the items in his briefcase was a secret message from Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert: an offer to start peace talks. It was posted through Blair. The Syrian president sent a return message to the British prime minister: Tell Olmert I’m ready to talk.

This move connected with a broader deal: Damascus would break away from its pact with Tehran in return for normal relations with the West. Israel-Syrian talks would kick off this process. Both parties agreed that the Sheinwald mission and the business they discussed would be kept secret.

No sooner had the British emissary flown out of Damascus, when the Syrians leaked word of his visit together with the Syrian president’s rejection of Olmert’s offer to talk, barring a prior Israeli commitment to cede the Golan.

This was not what the Syrian president had told his British visitor. But the Syrian ruler had kept faith with Tehran. He rolled out his usual line of peacespeak to sugar-coat his scheme for a war against Israel with full Iranian military and intelligence backing.


Israel begin pulling troops out of an area on the northern edge of divided Ghajar village


The patch of land was quietly handed to the United Nations Interim Force, UNIFIL which set up positions and checkpoints on the spot. The withdrawal was finalized at UNIFIL headquarters in Ras Naqoura between Lebanese and Israeli army officers and the peace force commander, French General Alain Pellegrini.

Israeli military sources were furious over the secret pullback when its security applications could be grave for the Israeli border population. They said that the UN force cannot be trusted with border security in a strategic area opposite Metullah when it refuses to raise a finger against Hizballah’s barefaced replacement of its former fortifications and lookout posts opposite Israel.

Our political sources report prime minister Ehud Olmert hurried the concession along in secret ahead of his trip to Washington Sunday to meet President George W. Bush. The UN-drawn “blue line” runs through the village, dividing it between Lebanon and Israel although most of its inhabitants have opted for Israeli citizenship.


The IDF’s Successful Beit Hanoun Operation Cannot Turn the Clock Back


7 November: “Operation Autumn Clouds” wound down early Tuesday, 7 Nov. after Israeli forces occupied the northern Gazan town of Beit Hanoun for six days, for the loss of an Israeli soldier. Most of the 58 Palestinians killed were armed Hamas adherents.

In Beit Hanoun, the Givaty Armored Infantry Brigade and smaller units demonstrated a new combat method which Israeli special forces first tested in the Aug.1 raid on Baalbek during the Lebanon War.

The tactic consists of select groups of elite fighters swooping at speed on defined populated urban areas for pinpointed missions. This method is part of the tradition of the select IDF commando units called Sayarot. In Gaza, Givaty applied the same tactic to larger units of up to brigade and battalion strength. The men were protected by a large number of tanks – hence the decision taken after the Lebanon war to continue the manufacture of the Chariot 4. Snipers were scattered across rooftops in the heart of the most densely populated section of Beit Hanoun.

In contrast to the Lebanon war, Israeli forces were thoroughly prepared for the Gaza operation; they received precise intelligence and their performance in battle was first-rate. The general staff and southern command also operated like clockwork.

The IDF was clearly anxious to prove it had pulled itself together from the reverses of the Lebanon war.

That said, Israel faces the same dilemma as did the US in Iraq after its purge of Falujja. It did not take long for Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists to re-establish their strongholds in the ruined city. Sustainability was the problem there and Israel’s war planners also have to accept that, notwithstanding the military success of Operation Autumn Clouds, it has not permanently rid northern Gaza and Beit Hanoun of Hamas, its terrorists and its missile teams.


Israeli police imposes nationwide high terror alert after Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal orders “deeds not words” in response to Beit Hanoun deaths


The “hudna” (informal truce) ended at the end of 2005, “said the hardline Hamas leader in Damascus. “The armed struggle is free to resume.” Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh said suicide attacks would resume and Palestinian unity talks were suspended.

OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant: The artillery salvo which killed 19 Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun Wednesday followed an intelligence report that Palestinian missile launchers were on the point of attacking Ashkelon for the second day in a row. Gaza’s Palestinians kept up their daily Qassam attacks on Israeli civilian locations Wednesday. One of the day’s 10 missiles landed near a children’s home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Another exploded near a bank in central Sderot.

Defense minister Amir Peretz has ordered IDF artillery fire on Gaza halted and the Beit Hanoun episode investigated.

Unrest has spread across the West Bank as well as Gaza as international denunciations of Israel pour in.


The White House intimates to Israeli PM that his scheduled visit to Washington next Monday, Nov. 13, would be untimely


8 November: The Democratic midterm election victory and the defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld coming replacement by Robert Gates will usher in radical Middle East policy changes that will apply also to Israel. For now, policy-making is in a state of flux, and as long as Bush has not got together with Democratic leaders to forge a bipartisan position, there is no point in the prime minister’s visit, it was indicated.

A senior US official told debkafile sources Wednesday night: Olmert would be wise to take note of the president’s remark that he is waiting for the bipartisan Iraq commission headed by ex-secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton to submit their report.

According to this official, the Baker-Hamilton panel is charting drastic changes in administration policy on Israel, whose speedy implementation is recommended as the key to extricating the US from its imbroglio in Iraq.


Three Palestinian terrorist groups are let loose for mass revenge attacks inside Israel – sparking high Israeli terror alert


8 November: They are Hamas, Jihad Islami and the al Aqsa Brigades – a branch of Abbas’ Fatah. The high terror alert declared by the IDF, Shin Beit, Israeli Border Guards and police was prompted by an intelligence warning that the select units on the West Bank of the three Palestinian groups were under orders to launch immediate suicide mega-attacks in Israel in revenge for the 20 Palestinian deaths in Beit Hanoun, N. Gaza Wednesday, Nov. 8. The data speaks of a 24-48-hour timeline, i.e. Thursday or Friday for the strikes, expected to be carried out separately since none of the three Palestinian groups trusts the other.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources can exclusively name the groups and their leaders:

Hamas’ military arm commanded by Ahmed Jabari, assigned the suicide mission to the secret Hamas cell in Hebron trained for suicide and multi-casualty operations. Jihad Islami has roped in for the operation Abu Qassem who commands a number of terrorist cells in the Nablus-Tulkarm-Jenin triangle of the northern West Bank. Fatah-Al Aqsa Brigades claim they have been authorized by the Fatah Central Committee, meaning with the full knowledge of Mahmoud Abbas, to activate the terrorist cells headed by Jamal Tirawi, cousin of Tawfiq Tirawi, chief of Palestinian General Intelligence on the West Bank.

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