A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending September 10, 2004:

Al Qaeda’s Dread Touch Falls on Moscow, Beslan, Beersheba

4 September: Israeli officials have never admitted to the presence of al Qaeda cells in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, although in December 2001, two and a half months after al Qaeda struck New York and Washington, shoe bomber Richard Reid spent time in the Palestinian Jebalya camp as guest of Hamas leader Nabil Aqal. This is why the Hebron Kawasme cell held responsible for the two Beersheba bus blasts has presented merely as a local Hamas cell.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources recall that exactly the same cell blew up a Haifa bus in March 2003. It then turned out to be linked to both Hizballah and al Qaeda.

debkafile reported on March 6, 2003:

Fifteen Israelis – mostly high school pupils and Haifa university students – were murdered in a powerful blast generated by a Palestinian homicidal suicide while riding on a Haifa bus on Wednesday, March 5. The killer, a Palestinian aged 20 from the West Bank town of Hebron, was identified as Mahmoud Hamdan Selim Kawasme, member of a big Hebron clan and kinsman of a former mayor.

A note found on his body praised to heaven the al Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities in New York, in which more than 3000 people died.

Initially he was described as a member of the Islamic extremist Hamas. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources say the young killer was in fact a disciple of Fawzi Ayoub, the high-ranking Lebanese Hizballah officer who infiltrated Israel as a Canadian tourist at the end of 2001and went to ground in Palestinian-controlled territory. Last July, he was picked up hiding in the rubble of the big Palestinian police headquarters building in Hebron, after it had been torn apart by the IDF, room by room, when the terrorists sheltering there refused to surrender.

Ayoub was one of a group of Hizballah instructors, expert in terrorist techniques, who were imported by Yasser Arafat under a secret pact he forged with Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah before launching his Intifada in September 2000. On orders from Arafat, the Palestinian West Bank Security head, Jibril Rajoub, made arrangements for keeping the group hidden. Ayoub trained dozens of young Palestinians as Hizballah, not Hamas, cadres in Hebron.

The note found on the body of Mahmoud Kawasme, protege of a Hizballah officer, epitomizes the murky operational collaboration that debkafile first exposed two years ago between Arafat’s Palestinian movement, the Lebanese Hizballah and al Qaeda.

The Sharon government has an interest in keeping these dark connections shadowed for as long as possible. For if Israel is menaced not merely by Palestinian terror but by the immensely dangerous Hizballah and al Qaeda which are already burrowing underground to establish a stranglehold on the Gaza Strip, what point is there in going forward with any disengagement plans, much less the removal of the Israeli military presence from that increasingly strategic region? Israel’s peril from evacuated Palestinian territory may be extrapolated from Chechnya’s atrocity against the people of Beslan.

Loss of Ofek-6 Deprives Israel of Second Spy Satellite for Next Two Years

6 September: Israel’s 6th Ofek (Horizon) plummeted to a watery death in the Mediterranean Sea when it was test-fired Monday, September 6, from Palmahim. Malfunction of the third stage of the Israeli-designed Shavit booster was blamed for the loss of the $50m Ofek-6, the latest in the series of spy satellites developed by a consortium led by Israel Aircraft Industries. Satellites are the first layer of Israel’s shield against ballistic missiles, designed to spot incoming threats and alert defensive systems such as the Arrow II missile-killer. They are launched by the same Shavit rocket system as the Ofek. The latest malfunction occurred ten days after Arrow II failed to shoot down a dummy missile designed to perform similarly to the Iranian Shehab-3 intermediate missile in a test-firing off the California coast. These two failures are a grave setback to Israel’s deterrent ability at a dangerous juncture. In the next two-three years, Israel will need all its resources to face Iran’s advancing nuclear threat and burgeoning terrorist offensive. Ofek-6 was intended to give Israel an edge in this contest in three fields:

1. The use of two advanced surveillance satellites instead of one to simultaneously track the two fronts, nuclear and terrorist, Together, the two satellites would have doubled the chances of spotting hostile movements.

The inadequacy of a single satellite in orbit became manifest in the past year when Iran clandestinely fanned its 15 known nuclear installations out across the country, over an area of 636,000 square miles. debkafile‘s military sources reveal some of their locations for the first time.

They are located in the south, at Fasa, Bushehr and Dakhovin, at the tip of the Shatt al-Arb waterway;

In central Iran, at Natanz, Saghand, Tabas, which is close to the Afghan border, Chalus and Neka on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea;

In the north, at Bonab and Tabriz.

The most remote sites have been sunk below ground in enormous bunkers, some of them decoys to deceive watchers in the sky.

European Marksmen-for-Hire in Gaza

8 September: Call him M. He is an Israeli army lieutenant who serving in the special anti-sniper unit posted in the southern Gaza Strip. His job is to spot and eliminate Palestinian snipers. Until last March, his training was adapted to the Palestinian sniper. But then, one morning, there was a change. Through his field glasses, he saw two men with a different look from the Palestinian gunmen he was used to. Both were neatly turned out in well-pressed civilian trousers and new western camouflage jackets. One had long fair hair, a light complexion and moved like a European. The pair talked as they walked, indicating sandbanks until they reached a point 500 meters from his perch atop an IDF position. They then turned back and disappeared behind Palestinian houses.

M. decided this break in Palestinian routine was worth reporting to his superior officer, which he did and put the incident out of his mind.

Around 90 minutes later, he stood up to move to another part of the roof. His right shoulder had been visible over the parapet no more than three or four seconds when he was knocked over by a gunshot before he had time to fire. Another soldier on the roof shot back at once, but the sniper was gone.

In the hospital, M was shown the bullet extracted from his shoulder. It came from an M16 automatic rifle and had been fired from a distance of 500 meters, exactly the point where the pair had turned back from the sandbank opposite M.’s rooftop sights. His comrade told him he had caught a glimpse of the shooter he missed and was sure he was European. “A sniper fast enough to lock onto my shoulder, shoot and disappear – all in the space of a three or four seconds must be a top-line professional marksman,” said M.

His account has been repeated by members of other units serving in the Rafah and Khan Younes sectors of the southern Gaza Strip. They swear they have come across snipers they are sure are not Palestinian but foreigners from northern parts of the world.

debkafile‘s military sources report that in 2003, the IDF confirmed four instances of “foreign” snipers operating in Palestinian ranks. By September, 5 incidents had been registered this year. In one, an Israel soldier died of a direct shot to the head; four were injured in Operation Rainbow in Rafah earlier this year and two more recently. The troops who have come up against these foreigners note their exceptional speed. They fire a single round and duck out of sight, leaving a Palestinian to take over their firing position.

This description, according to debkafile‘s military sources, fits mercenary marksmen. As one Israeli officer put it, “After all they’re in it for the money, not to get killed.” For that reason too, they never stay long in the Gaza Strip – a couple of days and they are gone back across the border into Egypt. Some are thought to enter through the Palestinian gunrunning tunnels from Sinai to Rafah and leave by the same route.

Palestinian terrorist chiefs have been importing marksmen for hire to hit Israeli troops for two or more years.

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