25 May: Pakistan’s nuclear-capable Ghauri missile, the first of a test series lasting till Tuesday, flew 900 miles, far enough to reach deep inside India. Announcing the launch, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf told a religious gathering in Islamabad marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed: The missile showed “total accuracy”. It hit the target, he said, intoning Allah-o-Akbar, three times.
He also declared: “We don’t want war, but we are ready for war.”
From Manali, in the Himalayan foothills, Vajpayee urged world governments to press Pakistan to crack down on cross-border terrorism, saying India had waited far too long for Pakistan to act. India and Pakistan are on a war footing, with more than 1 million troops glaring at each other across their border, since the December attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi. May 14, tensions shot up again when Islamic bands struck the Kaluchak Indian army camp in Kashmir, killing 34 people, mostly soldiers’ wives and children. Since then, cross-border shelling has killed dozens in divided Kashmir, sending hundreds fleeing from their homes.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, the concerned Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin both turned to Musharref with a demand to ease tensions. Bush demanded that the Pakistani leader keep his January promise to crack down on Islamic militants staging attacks in Kashmir. Putin invited Musharraf and Vajpayee to a peace conference next month in Moscow. China’s foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan phoned his Indian counterpart to urge the “highest degree of restraint”.
DEBKAfile reports from its sources in New Delhi that Indian intelligence has been directed by the prime minister to scour the Middle East and the Persian Gulf for every scrap of information linking Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein with the Pakistani president, and Iraqi military intelligence with Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence agency. These findings, the Indian government intends to put before the US government as a lever for forcing Musharraf to clamp down on Muslim extremists operating in Kashmir. DEBKAfile‘s sources quotes Indian circles as alleging that hundreds of al Qaeda Arab fighters are among those assailants.
If that does not work, India will resort to military action.
25 May: US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin began their four-day summit at the Kremlin on a high note Friday, May 24, with the ceremonial signing of a reciprocal nuclear reduction pact. However, stormy waters lie ahead of the two leaders as they move to St. Petersburg, Saturday, May 25, and get down to brass tacks. Iran is not the only issue seriously at odds between them.
DEBKAfile‘s China team reports that, in early April 2002, the major Russian state armaments concern Rosoboroneksport approved assistance to China by the Russian aerospace-defense industry in building up the required military equipment for a possible Taiwan operation.
Systems recently sold include two US$200 million Altair Research and Production Association Federal State Unitary Enterprise Rif S-300F ship borne air defense systems for heavy cruisers, the naval counterpart of the S-300 surface to air missile system (SAM) that has a tactical ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has recently ordered US$400 million S-300 systems. The choice of the S-300F by the PLA Army Navy (PLAN) may indicate that it intends to develop a class of 10,000 ton plus missile cruisers by 2005, possibly in tandem with the development of a class of large aircraft carriers for power projection throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Russian sources indicate that China’s indigenous shipbuilding industry is advancing towards the building of units geared towards a near-term Taiwan invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently formed a new Almaz-Antey air defense concern that will include Altair and twenty other air defense related designers and manufacturers.
27 May: An impressive array of diplomats claim structural reforms of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat’s baton will be the cure-all for Palestinian terror: US secretary of state Colin Powell, European Union foreign affairs executive Javier Solana, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, Arafat’s close financial adviser Muhammed Rashid and Ariel Sharon’s new chef de bureau Dov Weisglass.
All the Palestinian leader is required to do is to pick out the reform proposals he likes. As long as he agrees to try them on for size, no one stops him from sending suicide killers against Israelis. In the last two weeks, Arafat has felt free to ignite a new cycle of violence, with the help this time of a new breed of killer – the super-terrorist.
These experts in violence Arafat kept in reserve for the low period following Israel’s large-scale military operation to smash Palestinian terrorist strongholds on the West Bank.
DEBKAfile‘s intelligence sources report that these super-terror cells have come to Arafat’s aid from overseas, sent by Iraqi military intelligence, which maintains bases in the West Bank, and by Imad Mughniyeh, the Lebanese-Palestinian-Iranian terror master, currently employed by al Qaeda. Their contact man on the West Bank on behalf of Arafat is Tawfiq Tirawi, chief of Palestinian general intelligence and commander of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
The IDF is under constant fire from the Israeli media wanting to know why daily counter-terror operations in Palestinian towns do not prevent the terrorists from stealing out of those same towns to hit Israeli crowd centers. According to DEBKAfile‘s terror experts, the answer is not to be found with the generals, but the politicians and their wooly attitude to terror and its instigators.
US president George W. Bush, for instance, admits quite frankly that he does not like Yasser Arafat, yet he instructs his secretary of state to push ahead with a reform program designed to empower Arafat anew as head of the Palestinian Authority.
DEBKAfile‘s political and Palestinian sources report exclusively that a secret American team this week began a quiet visit to Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas, assigned by Powell to submit recommendations on the reforms required. Made up of research aides to senior congressmen and state department officials, the team is led by Alan Makovsky, aide to Tom Lantos of California, senior Democratic member of the House foreign relations committee. The group is to perform the spadework for visits to the region by Powell or CIA director George Tenet.
Now that Al Hayat has given the game away, it is easier to see why president Bush and Colin Powell talk about the Middle East dispute of late in abstruse, equivocal language. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon seems to have mastered the craft. With one hand, he launched Operation Defensive Shield in April to punch a hole in the Palestinians’ terror strongholds; with the other, he is deploying Weisglass to try and unlock the peace process, with the help of former business dealings with Arafat’s financial sidekick Muhammed Rashid.
Arafat, behind his act as a broken man hard hit by Israeli military might, could well be laughing up his sleeve at the efforts of Bush, Sharon, Powell, Peres and the Saudi crown prince Abdullah, to throw him a life belt labeled “reforms”, without holding him back from – or even making him accountable for – the suicidal massacres he is engineering against Israelis.
28 May: Shortly after blasting off Tuesday, May 28, from the Palmachim Air force Base on the Mediterranean coast, Israel’s next-generation home-made spy satellite Ofek-5 was emitting its first radio signals while climbing to its planned orbit of about 500 km. In three days, the satellite’s all-weather, day-and-night cameras are scheduled to start sending back film in color from space. The 300-kilo satellite was boosted aloft by the locally developed Shavit rocket and will complete a circuit around earth every one and a half hours.
Many of the Ofek-5’s features are secret; four are unique:
1. Its orbital “detuning” ability at great speed and flexibility in obedience to ground signals. This means that inclination orbits can be adjusted in response to special war contingencies.
2. The exceptionally high resolution of its telescopic cameras, which can produce imagery of objects as small as one meter across from an altitude of 600 km.
3. The integration of all the new satellite’s systems, including the telescopic cameras, the transmitter, sensors and the auxiliary engines, all products of Israel’s military industries, El-Op, Raphael and Elisra, in a very light and compact unit at the low cost of INS.60 million ($12 million)
4. The high orbital insertion accuracy displayed by the Shavit four-stage launch vehicle, known overseas as the Jericho, bespeaks a ballistic rocket with a range of up to 7,000 km.
Ofek-5 restores a key Israeli surveillance vehicle missing since its predecessor Ofek-3 burned up in the atmosphere a year ago after four years in the sky. Its sophisticated equipment provides Israel with an invaluable eye in the sky for monitoring the region at an acutely critical period of advanced nuclear missile weaponry activity.
On May 5, Iran launched a nuclear-capable Shehab-3, while Pakistan has just completed a ballistic missile test series.
The launching of Ofek-5 by Shavit demonstrates that Israel is determined to preserve its vital edge in missiles, space and intelligence.