A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives
2 September: DEBKAfile reports that even the limited anti-smallpox vaccination project for 15,000 “first responders” ordered by the Israeli security cabinet on August 21 has not been accomplished, any more than the security fence to protect Israel against terrorist incursions – the subject of another formal government decision. Clearly the health authorities had no bottom-drawer plans prepared for this contingency. The Health Ministry spokesman Idan Hadari promised large-scale vaccinations for hospital and first aid personnel “between Yom Kippur and Succoth” (high Jewish festivals falling between September 16-20). “We are working on this around the clock”, he insisted.
The impression however is of a sluggish operation. So, with a US offensive against Iraq round the corner and speculation about Israel’s vulnerability to unconventional weapons assault from Baghdad, what is holding up a massive protective program?
One answer turned up in DEBKAfile‘s special investigation is the apparent conclusion by Israel’s high command and military intelligence that Saddam’s missile capabilities are so under-developed that he will be reluctant to squander this sparse resource on hitting Tel Aviv, Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona or any of its cities in retaliation for an American offensive. They expect him to save his missiles for far more vital strategic objectives such as US bases in Qatar and Bahrain or the big Saudi oil port of Ras Tanura.
But, according to DEBKAfile analysts, no one can be sure that Iraqi military intelligence units known to have penetrated the West Bank have not armed Palestinian terrorist units with chemical, biological, or even “dirty” nuclear devices, for detonation upon a signal from the presidential palace in Baghdad or Yasser Arafat’s government compound in Ramallah. It is for this threat that Israel must prepare without further delays.
2 September: DEBKAfile‘s military and Palestinian sources have turned up a pivotal through unannounced development: Last week, 300 troops of the Jordanian Army’s Palestinian Al Bader Brigade quietly crossed into the West Bank and took up terror-prevention duties in the Bethlehem-Beit Jala-Beit Sahur area abutting south Jerusalem. Without fuss, these harbingers of the US program for displacing the Palestinian Authority’s terror-tainted security force run by Yasser Arafat swung into action.
The Jordanian crown troops, members of the Bader Brigade of the Jordanian armed forces, known also as the Palestinian Liberation Army, defer directly to the new Palestinian interior minister Gen. Abdel Razzek Yahya and operate in collaboration with US CIA and Israeli liaison officers. They are to take over from the Israeli military units which have for the last three months been holding back local cells of Arafat’s Force 17, Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades from executing terrorist attacks against Israelis.
Their arrival brings to fruition Washington’s master plan – first revealed by DEBKAfile on July 22, 2002 – to transfer security-intelligence control over West Bank Palestinians from Arafat’s Palestinian Authority to the Kingdom of Jordan, a transition to be coordinated closely with Israel.
Shortly after its arrival, the Jordanian-Palestinian contingent was challenged by Arafat’s ultra-violent Al Aqsa Brigade and prepared to defend itself. The next contingent of 500 al Bader troops is due shortly for service in the Hebron region. By the end of this month, the Jordanian Palestinian security force in the West Bank at Gen. Yahya’s disposal should expand to between 2000 and 3000 members, growing by the end of the year to some 5,000. The American reform plan calls for a total of 10,000 to 12,000 Al Bader Brigade troops to take up security positions in the territory by early 2003.
Washington and the 15-nation European Union, the Palestinian Authority’s biggest donor, have had a major falling-out. Whereas a European donors’ meeting in Paris – and later in Elsinore north of Copenhagen – called for a Palestinian state by 2005 and a reformed Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat, the Bush administration demands a new leadership and the breakup of its security force as the prerequisite for Palestinian statehood.
2 September: Informed Arab circles, including high Saudi and Egyptian officials, are wondering what lies behind an order the Syrian president Bashar Assad has just issued to the radical Damascus-based Palestinian “Fronts” to break off all operational ties with Yasser Arafat. DEBKAfile‘s Middle East sources say the directive applies to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front from the Liberation of Palestine; the Hamas and Jihad Islami, both of whom maintain headquarters in the Syrian capital, turned their backs on Arafat some time ago. The Palestinian leader finds himself ostracized, therefore, not only by the Americans and Israelis, but also by Syria and its Palestinian proteges.
Furthermore, a fifth Palestinian group operating out of Damascus, Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front fro the Liberation of Palestinian -General Command, has fallen totally under Iran’s thumb.
Assad’s rationale is not entirely clear. DEBKAfile‘s sources put forward some alternative explanations:
A. He may judge that the Saddam regime’s overthrow will lead to Arafat’s downfall and is moving in to wrest control of the Palestinian camp.
B. His action may emanate from his secret exchanges with the United States in the run-up to the US offensive against Iraq.
DEBKAfile‘s military sources reveal he has consented to the positioning of American electronic warfare and intelligence units along the northern sector of the Syrian-Iraqi frontier opposite Iraq’s Western Desert, where the Americans suspect Saddam maintains some of his missile and special forces units. The Syrian ruler hopes that by this gesture of collaboration he can fend off a US or Israel strike against his own strategic assets.
C. He has found out following a secret visit to Baghdad by Arafat’s personal envoy Azam al Ahmad that the two are preparing to whip up Palestinian turbulence, including suicide attacks, in Jordan and Israel, to coincide with the US attack on Iraq. Assad has told the Damascus-based Palestinian groups stay clear of Arafat and avoid any mayhem he generates lest Syria is drawn into an untimely military clash with the United States or Israel.
4 September: Iran has enlisted Syria, Lebanon, the Hizballah and the Palestinians for its own elaborate war plan to counter the approaching US campaign against Iraq. They are to provoke a massive confrontation with Israel, opening up a second front to hamstring the US offensive. This is revealed exclusively by DEBKAfile‘s Iranian and Middle East sources, in the wake of a secret visit that Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Mohammad Sadr, paid to Syria and Lebanon this week.
The Iranian visitor found the door wide open.
Syria’s Bashar Assad shares Tehran’s conviction that the installment of a pro-American regime in Baghdad is extremely dangerous, a direct threat to the Ayatollahs in Tehran, the Baath regime in Damascus, the freedom of operation of the Syria-based Palestinian terror groups and the very existence of the Lebanese Hizballah, Tehran’s primary arm for overseas operations and intelligence.
The Iranian game plan as revealed to DEBKAfile was charted step by step:
A. Iran’s hardline spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set up a supreme security council to formulate a plan to prevent or foil the American assault on Baghdad. This plan hinged on
the fundamental conception was that were the United States and Israel to decide that war on Iraq bears too high a price, Washington would drop its anti-Saddam offensive.
B. The Iranian planners proposed ordering the Hizballah to launch massive pre-emptive assaults against Israel. Once the Israelis were drawn into military retaliation against Syria, as well as Lebanon, the Americans would suspend their war preparations or, if the campaign had been launched, they would slow down, fearing to risk a large part of the Arab world rushing to the aid of Syria and Lebanon and sending the entire region up in flames.
C. In the middle of last week, Khamenei approved the plan for immediate execution.
D. Deputy foreign minister Sadr was sent to Syria and Lebanon to confer on the plan first with President Assad, the Syrian defense minister and army corps commanders including military intelligence and air force. He also met the heads of the Palestinian terrorist groups operating out of Damascus. Tuesday, September 3, Sadr arrived in Lebanon for a marathon round of talks with Hizballah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah and two senior lieutenants, Hashem Saffi-e-din and Naim Kassem.
All these talks were termed by our sources operational-tactical, requiring also finely-detailed coordination among the various Syrian and Lebanese military and terrorist forces. Sadr gained Assad’s permission to secretly co-opt a delegation of Palestinian leaders and operations officers from Damascus discuss Palestinian integration in the war plan. They huddled with Qadr Nureddin, the Hizballah’s south Lebanon commander and decided to rope in the inmates of the large Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwa – both for military operations against Israel and for a cycle of terrorist strikes against American targets around the Middle East.
According to our sources, the Hizballah are preparing very shortly to launch a fresh wave of anti-Israel military operations to begin in the region of Ajar, a border village straddling the Lebanese-Israeli border, the location of the Jordanian source river, the Wazzani-Hatzbani. The Lebanese will begin diverting the river, Israeli will step in to interfere and the Hizballah will have its pretext for launching a massive assault.
E. DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources reveal too that Iran opened a three-day “Palestinian workshop” on Wednesday, September 4, in Tehran to impart innovative suicidal terror techniques, hinging on Islamic tenets, to invited terrorist operatives. Iranian intelligence experts will lecture on novel methods of target selection and the vulnerabilities of the United States and Israel to terrorism. The chief lecturer at the “Palestinian workshop” will be Abdallah Safi-Id-a-Din, one of the top operations aides of the Iranian-Lebanese master terrorist Imad Murghniyeh, who this year switched his center of operations to south Lebanon.