A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives
16 May: However insistent Palestinian calls on their leaders to overhaul their ruling system may be, no single group dares suggest that Yasser Arafat be “reformed” out of his job as Palestinian Number One. He is therefore secure in the knowledge that the only reforms in his governing regime will be orchestrated by himself – or not at all. In the meantime, as a sop to his following in Europe and the Israeli left wing, he issued vague promises to overhaul his institutions.
He issued the opposite signal to his followers. To avoid laying himself open to charges of incitement, the Palestinian leader wrapped this signal round with euphemisms and subliminally inflammatory symbols, confident that references to the Prophet and religious-belligerent motifs would serve to rally his terrorists to fresh efforts. For instance, his stress on the Truce of Hudaybiyeh, first referred to at his Johannesburg mosque speech in 1994, one year after signing the Oslo Peace accords with Israel, when he called on Muslims the world over to join the Palestinian jihad and liberate “our capital”, Jerusalem. That truce, signed by the Prophet Muhammed with the infidels of Quraish, whom he later exterminated, became the precedent for the injunction to Muslims to violate accords they sign with unbelievers as soon as opportune. According to this precept, Arabs view an enemy’s readiness for peace as a weakness to be exploited.
Arafat’s rallying cry for a jihad to liberate Jerusalem was more subtly conveyed at the Legislative Council meeting. He singled out the high priest of the ancient Samaritan community of Nablus for four demonstrative kisses.
The Samaritans, or Shomronim, of whom there are only a few hundred, are divided between the West Bank town of Nablus – at the foot of Mount Gerizim – and the Israeli town of Holon. They recognize no Jewish writings after the Pentateuch, claim to have inhabited the Shomron (Samaria) continuously for 4,000 years, and make the burning of the sacrificial lamb on Mount Gerizim the central rite of their religious calendar. The Nablus community supports the Palestinian cause. Arafat for his part demonstratively joined one historic Samaritan claim by declaring more than once that the Jewish holy mount never was Zion in Jerusalem but in Nablus.
Arafat is not content with invoking Islamic history. Late last month, opposite the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, Israel sank a Hizballah arms ship bound for the Gaza Strip. This vessel was larger than the Karin-A Palestinian arms-running freighter, which was intercepted on the Red Sea in January with 50 tons of smuggled Iranian arms in its holds.
22 May: The word is out in the United States: Al-Qaeda, Hizballah and the Egyptian and Palestinian Islamic Jihad groups are about to strike.
US intelligence has been leaking information, based on fragmentary intercepts of terrorist transmissions, of impending mass-casualty attacks in the United States, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, including the Persian Gulf. DEBKAfile‘s anti-terrorist sources add the Middle East, including US military and civilian targets and Israel, to the list of targets. Underlining US bioterrorism fears, the UN’s World Health Organization earlier this week reversed a long-standing order to destroy the world’s smallpox virus stocks by the end of the year, to allow the manufacture of vaccines and develop treatment for the deadly disease.
DEBKAfile‘s intelligence sources cite spy agencies in the United States, Britain, Russia and Israel as being convinced that sleeper terrorist cells, directly run or supported by the Iranians, Libyans, North Koreans, Syrians and Iraqis, have laid hands on biological weapons, including smallpox. This comes on top of the FBI general warning of threats to the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.
According to our intelligence and counter-terrorism sources, the terror talk emanates from three main sources:
A. Some is linked to the US administration’s efforts to explain away the failure of President George W. Bush and the White House to share with the American public warnings registered in August 2001 of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.
B. Some derives from al-Qaeda disinformation, in view of fear, anxiety and confusion being the terrorist’s most potent weapons.
C. Other threatening data is garnered from the field. It is a lot more specific and pinpointed than A. and B. but the authorities are not releasing the details for fear of burning intelligence sources, sowing popular panic and tying their own hands. But many counter-terrorism experts confide to DEBKAfile that this approach will have to be abandoned in the face of the seriousness and potential scale of the coming wave of terrorist attacks. Governments cannot combat terrorist organizations without matching their exceptional flexibility.
The US administration and its anti-terrorist agencies take into account that terrorists may set off a radiological bomb to contaminate large urban districts, or other nuclear devices. In several countries, authorities are getting set for nuclear terrorist attacks with casualties in the region of 10,000 or 50,000. Such preparations are underway in the main American cities, especially in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. In Britain, London and large cities in the north, such as Leeds and Manchester, are being prepared for nuclear assault, as are Moscow, Tel Aviv and other Israeli coastal cities. European cities, such as Milan, Paris and Berlin, know they could be targeted.
According to the latest intelligence information in US and Israeli hands, several dozen terrorists – if not more – have managed over the past few weeks to infiltrate the United States. Other international terrorist cells have reached Israel. Some were engaged by Israeli troops in close quarters combat in April, in the course of its large-scale counter-terrorist Defensive Shield operation in the West Bank. None survived battle, denying the intelligence authorities crucial information about the composition of those terrorist cells, the nationalities of their members, their weapons and tactics.
DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism conclude from the field investigations that Imad Mughniyeh, the Iranian-Palestinian-Shi’ite Lebanese terror master, is the moving force behind the terror wave in the making. There have been signs that in the last six months, operating out of either Dubai or Iran, he established new terror networks in the Gulf, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, and several central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
These cell members, some carrying European passports, are believed to be on their way from their rear bases towards their assigned targets.
23 May: Wednesday night, Rishon Lezion, the small town south of TeI Aviv was struck by a Palestinian suicide bomber for the second time in ten days. Strollers taking the air in the high street pedestrian mall and groups of chess-players sitting in a corner opposite a park were targeted by the Palestinian terrorist. Two were killed and more than 30 injured.
Less than 12 hours later, the main Israeli fuel depot at Pi Glilot in north Tel Aviv came close to being blown up by a tanker truck, underneath which an attached explosive device was detonated by a cell-phone. The fire was quickly doused by automatic extinguishers, but the scale of the calamity so closely prevented aroused horror and questions.
How did the truck which had parked during the night in Holon just south of Tel Aviv enter the strategic fuel depot without inspection? Why was the official decision to move the tinderbox facility away from the most densely populated part of Israel being held up, although it was taken many months ago?
Miraculously, the bomb that set the tanker truck ablaze at Pi Glilot – an incident that could have killed more people than a radiological bomb blast in central Tel Aviv – did not lead to catastrophe. But Israel’s security authorities are redoubling their demands to move the fuel depot to a safer area. Their top priority now is to find out how Palestinian terrorists were able to target, sabotage and track the fuel tanker undetected along its 15-mile route cutting through Tel Aviv from Holon to Pi Glilot.
This highly-organized operation must have been prepared in fine detail, tracked by terrorist intelligence agents and executed by trained operatives. It was carried out proficiently enough to escape detection by Israeli security forces, including intelligence.
The terrorists must have maintained advance surveillance of the tanker driver, observing where and how he parked his truck and how often he checked his vehicle. Watchers must have logged the driver’s work schedule and habits. They knew what time he usually left for Pi Glilot to take on a load of diesel fuel and how many times a week.
The surveillance team or teams then tailed him all the way from Holon to Pi Glilot, timing the journey and noting delaying factors. They also familiarized themselves with the Pi Glilot security routines for entering and exiting tanker trucks.