A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

3 August: Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has quietly assembled a new, trusted team to assist in the charting of Israel’s Middle East role in the post-Saddam, post-Arafat era. Sharon’s planning, a closely guarded secret not shared with his own ministers, is tightly woven into the design for the defeat of global terror which President George W. Bush began plotting after America’s September 11 shock.

Our most credible sources confirm that the campaign is secretly marching forward – precisely according to the game plan Bush conceived and promised the American people in the speeches he delivered in September, October and November 2001. He said then that parts of the war on global terror would go forward in secret and never be known.

Since Sharon has wholly embraced the Bush approach to the war on terror, DEBKAfile can disclose no more than that proactive military initiatives are in progress around Israel’s frontiers – some of them dangerous, as in every war. These steps are initial and risk-laden, but they are intended to culminate in the construction of a new conceptual geo-strategic edifice for the Middle East as a whole.

The reconstruction of Palestinian instruments of governance and security is a key factor in this project, going far beyond the Palestinian arena; it is America’s first experiment in building a modern democracy for a Middle East Muslim society. If the experiment works, it may prove applicable for the autonomous Kurdish, Shi’ite and Turkoman regions America hopes to set up in Iraq – or even, in the best case, radiate farther afield to transform the lives of additional ethnic majorities in the region and affect even the most hidebound Arab regimes.

Washington’s new approach has elicited a new stage in the Palestinian campaign of terror. The remote-controlled bombing by cell phone on Mount Scopus hit a building at the heart of an American enclave on the Hebrew University campus; the Frank Sinatra Student Center abuts on the Barbra Streisand Garden, the Harry S. Truman Institute of Peace and the Nancy Reagan Plaza. The blast was meant to blow up a symbol of the deep strategic collaboration and ideological affinity binding the United States and Israel.

The fine points of such targeting are beyond the capacity of a local Hamas terrorist operative. DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources rather detect the mark of the intelligence and military cooperation already reported in the past between Yasser Arafat, Iraqi military intelligence agents operating in the West Bank and the Hizballah’s terror-cum-intelligence apparatus. The senior coordinator of this coalition for terror is Gen. Tawfiq Tirawi, founder and commander of the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

3 August: Israeli’s deep budget cutbacks, the spreading poverty and agonies of unemployment are profoundly demoralizing – and there is more to come. Critics of the Sharon government, like former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have been encouraged to look forward to is imminent demise.

That is because only half the truth has been told.

America did not finance the 1991 Gulf War alone; it had help from an international coalition, with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Germany and Japan investing heavily in the war effort. But this campaign against Saddam Hussein is financed out of America’s pocket. The $20 b war-against- terror budget allocated by the US congress last week earmarked no more than $200 m for Israel’s needs in that war. Washington expects Israel to find its own war funding. This has forced the government into spending cuts that go ever deeper. One of the most respected of Sharon’s ministers, David Levy, resigned last week in protest against the dangerous widening of an already unhealthy earnings gap in Israeli society.

What Sharon has not confided to that suffering society is that America’s scenario for the region holds the prospect further down the road for Israel’s economic renewal and growth.

Assuming that the US military operation against Iraq goes forward according to plan, winding down at the end of 2002 or early 2003, by spring 2003, the Middle East will be in the throes of a geo-strategic metamorphosis. During the hostilities, Jordan and Israel will provide the United States forces with rear bases, with economic benefits to both. After the conflict dies down, more than 70,000 troops, most American, are scheduled to remain in Iraq to pacify and reconstruct the war-torn country. The new entities will need to be built up from scratch at top speed – requiring such modern utilities as regular water and food supplies, health, medicine, communications and road networks.

American think tanks estimate that post-Saddam Iraq will eat up an annual investment of between $15-20 billion for up to a decade.

Israel is the only country in the region with the technological and manpower resources to undertake the rapid execution of these projects. These are not pipedreams but real plans drafted for American planners in Washington by a task force headed by retired Col. Scott R. Feil, co-director of developing plans for post-conflict Iraq. These plans were submitted to the Senate defense and intelligence committees Thursday, August 1. Their post-war activation would inject new life into the Israeli economy, generating growth after the present tough deprivations and stagnation induced by the 22-month confrontation with the Palestinians.

4 August: The Palestinian terrorist machine molded by Yasser Arafat executed seven terror attacks against Israelis in a single day, no doubt achieving a gruesome world record. Eleven people died – soldiers and civilians, Jews, Arabs, Druzes and two Filipina women. Close to 100 were injured; many will remain invalids. The question on every lip at the end of this black day is this: What is Sharon waiting for? All the Palestinian groups, buoyed up by what is seen as Ariel Sharon’s slack responses, have joined forces for yet another a mighty effort to beat the Israelis – and most of all their armed forces – into the ground.

The current IDF operation in Nablus to flush out terrorists – embarked on after the Hebrew University bombing last Wednesday, which destroyed seven lives – was dubbed “Maybe this time?” Whether a wag in Israel’s high command or an army computer chose the name, it perfectly expresses the spreading frustration in Israel’s defense forces at the nature of the directives coming down from the Sharon government, which are defensive, reactive and unavailing in the face of the constantly escalating Palestinian menace.

Now, Israeli commanders express the hope once again: Maybe this time they will be allowed to reach the hands orchestrating the terror offensive.

Sunday’s seven attacks demonstrated that Israel’s latest deterrent measures are too feeble and too late – by six months, if not a year. The disease is too far advanced to be affected by half-measures.

Sharon ought to have been ready and forestalled this offensive, which has claimed 26 lives since it began 11 days ago. DEBKAfile‘s sources warned repeatedly that the Passover cycle which Arafat, his al Aqsa Martys’ Brigades, the Hamas, Jihad Islami, Hisballah, Iran and Iraq, launched at the end of March, was but the prologue for the current onslaught, while this one is the lead-in to the third wave whose eruption is planned for the moment that the Americans begin marching on Iraq. But the Israeli prime minister was not ready and did not prepare the people.

Sharon has run out of time for dilatory and defensive tactics. They only encourage Palestinian aggression, promote desperation and extremism and will at some point bring about his downfall.

6 August: Last May, the US authorities picked up a suspected al Qaeda terrorist feared to be plotting to build and set off a radiological bomb. Abu Zabaydah, the only senior al Qaeda operative in US hands, revealed that his organization is capable of assembling one. This week, a Stanford International Studies Institute research database recorded 700 cases of smuggled radioactive materials worldwide.

The “dirty bomb” threat must therefore be taken as a tangible one – for Israel like other places.

A special investigation carried out by DEBKAfile staff found that no emergency teams had been set up in Israel to handle this menace. The directors of two leading hospitals in Jerusalem, Prof. Zvi Stern, of Hadassah medical center on Mount Scopus and Professor Yonathan Halevi of Shaarei Tzedek informed us that the Health Ministry had issued no directives or made preparations for a nuclear episode. Dr. Stern: “It takes time to prepare protocols, about six months.”

The Haifa area’s fire brigade chief, Moshe Ribek, admits that his organizations knows “very little” about radioactive threats, while the Ministry of Environment spokesman, Sharon Achdut, said he too had little knowledge of the subject.

Israeli authorities are more familiar with the chemical warfare hazard. Traces of rat poison were discovered after the Jerusalem pedestrian mall bombing on December 1, 2001, in which 11 people died and 173 were injured. However, the substance was distributed too thinly by the extra-powerful blast to cause harm; or may have been incinerated.

Poisonous chemical fertilizers for making chemical bombs have turned up in Palestinian bomb-making factories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the Israeli charge sheet presented in Tel Aviv district court last week against Karam Abas Said, the Hamas operative – who masterminded the devastating Seder night bombing at the Netanya Park Hotel in which 29 Israelis died – contains an admission that the original planning was for a cyanide attack, using two suicide bombers instead of one.

This week, since DEBKAfile embarked on its investigation, Magen David Adom, whose teams were inadequately protected, have received from the Home Front Command 500 “Gold Watch” Level A suits developed in Israel for protection against chemical and biological weapons.

The Israeli police assure us they are properly equipped and briefed to deal with unconventional weapons hazards, but refuse to give out details.

On the threat of bio-terror, our military sources report no evidence that such weapons have reached the Palestinians from Iraqi undercover agents, some of whom may carry them. Such a handover would have to be decided by Saddam in person out of strategic considerations of his own – not merely to help Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians out of a tight corner.

WMD are the Iragi ruler’s option for fighting off an American offensive or punishing US allies. DEBKAfile tried to find out whether Israel has laid in enough smallpox vaccine for the whole population. Health Ministry director general, Dr. Boaz Lev, believes stocks are sufficient for every Israeli to receive one-fifth of the regular dose, which he says would be effective enough. But some of the ministry staff disagrees; they fear that stocks are short and would take months to bring up to the necessary level.

7 August: Israel’s defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer may have started out with a small plan to do down Haim Ramon, his rival for the Labor party leadership, and perhaps steal the Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon’s limelight. He has ended up writing a powerful recipe for Yasser Arafat’s re-accreditation at a time of surging Palestinian terrorism.

The plan offers the discredited Palestinian Authority yet another chance to prove itself capable of cutting down terrorism and violence, starting with the Gaza Strip and perhaps one West Bank town, Bethlehem or Hebron, after Israeli military encirclements are lifted. Tests of this kind Arafat has made a mockery of time and again – as General Anthony Zinni, George Tenet and Colin Powell can attest to in person. This time, Arafat lost no time in grabbing the lifeline the Israeli defense minister handed him, and hauling himself out of the trough in his fortunes to center stage. The Palestinian cabinet was hastily convened Wednesday, August 7 and took up the offer.

A few hours later, the Israel-Palestinian security committee – that proved so useless in the past – reconvened to discuss the details.

The timing for Arafat could not have been more fortuitous.

One day earlier, Tuesday, August 6, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld virtually stamped on the Ben Eliezer plan and the possibility of Arafat ever being an Israeli interlocutor, in the frankest terms. He doubted whether Israel should hand over control of territory to the Palestinian Authority, “which is involved in terrorism”, and went on to say: “My feelings about the so-called occupied territories are that there was a war. Israel urged neighboring states not to get involved once it started. They all jumped in and they lost a lot of real estate to Israel because Israel prevailed in the conflict.”

The US secretary agreed that at some point a Palestinian entity would be established that Israel could accept on grounds of security, but he did not include the Arafat regime in that future. “Maybe it will take some Palestinian expatriates coming back to the region and providing… responsible government,” he remarked.

What the Ben Eliezer Gaza plan has achieved is to turn the clock back to the old days of Ehud Barak’s government dominated by the pro-Oslo camp of Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami who, under Bill Clinton’s baton, acclaimed Yasser Arafat as the one and only peace interlocutor and showered rewards on him of concessions, land, cash and other gifts, each time his terrorists murdered Israelis. That policy gave life to Arafat’s “Al Aqsa Intifada” which no one ventured to stop – until George W. Bush entered the White House and said openly that Arafat is a terrorist.

Arafat and his followers quite openly pledge their support for Saddam Hussein and his “just cause”, exactly as they did in 1991.

But no part of the American and Israeli war against terror seems to have relevance for the Israeli defense minister, who has other fish to fry. His fellow cook is fellow Laborite, foreign minister Shimon Peres, who applauds any step to restore his old Oslo peace partner, Arafat, and revive his regime. Whereas the Rumsfeld statements cast doubt on the legitimacy of a delegation representing that regime being received in Washington, Ben Eliezer has made it kosher.

Sharon remains mum on his defense minister’s machinations. He is evidently counting on the upcoming Iraq campaign to eclipse them – and Arafat too – once and for all, without him having to lift a finger. Arafat is unlikely to give him that much space before his terrorists strike again.

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