A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

DEBKAfile Two-Part Analysis on Iraq War Run-up:


A. Iraq May Have 80 WMD-Capable Missiles


5 October: The contrast between the stressful tones emanating from Washington on the war against Iraq and the soothing statements from one Israeli official after another is striking.


Drawing on its latest information, DEBKAfile‘s sources would reverse that order.


Last Tuesday, October 1, defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, said: “The Iraqis are trying to advance a battery or two of mobile missile launchers into H-3. Let’s see if they make it.”


The question is: Where are the Iraqis advancing those batteries from? And who is there to stop them? If that is what they are up to, why does the head of military intelligence say there are no missiles in West Iraq?


If nonetheless Iraqi missiles are deployed somewhere between central and western Iraq in such locations as the H-2 air base or the Tikrit region – and are trying to advance them closer to the Jordanian frontier to the west (400 kilometers from Israel) in order to fire them off – might it not be better to say so?


Israelis were informed Saturday, October 5, that America was sending more improved Patriot anti-missile batteries next week. American Patriots are already deployed in Israel, and so are two Israeli Arrow-2 anti-missile missile emplacements, covering the northern, central and southern regions. So, if no Iraqi missiles are parked within striking distance of Israel, why are extra Patriots being rushed over?


According to DEBKAfile‘s military and American sources, the reason for the evasive, cagey Israeli rhetoric is that US and Israeli intelligence assessors don’t see eye to eye on the sum of Iraqi missile capabilities, or in the way the two countries need to prepare for war.


The file the Americans have built up on the dangers facing Israel is not encouraging.


Some of the data comes from a report published on September 25 by the Heritage Foundation, which is close to the White House and the Pentagon, on the impact of an unconventional Iraqi attack on Tel Aviv. Here are some high points:


1. A warhead with 400 kilograms of the nerve gas sarin and an unprotected population would leave 59,000 casualties.


2. An Iraqi missile filled with botulinum would kill 50,000.


3. One missile carrying 450 kilos of VX nerve gas would kill 43,000 unprotected people.


The masks allocated to every Israeli can protect against biological and chemical agents.


4. The author of the report, Dexter Ingram, believes Iraq needs another six months to two years to become a nuclear power. An Iraqi warhead of one kiloton carried by Baghdad’s al Hussein missiles (which has a range of 650 km) could kill 75,000.


US analysts believe Iraq may have up to 80 such missiles which could be tipped with biological and chemical warheads.


The Iraq dossier that British prime minister Tony Blair laid before parliament last week estimated the number of Al Hussein missiles as 20.


In recent weeks, DEBKAfile‘s military sources estimated Saddam commanded between 35 and 50 missiles of all types, as well as air craft, drones and kamikaze pilots capable of dropping chemical and biological agents over Israel.


B. US Covert War at Crucial Stage


5 October: Our military sources stress that, notwithstanding the domestic and international importance attached to a formal, authorized declaration of war, battle has already been joined on the ground in Iraq. The question exercising Bush’s war planners is this: How long will Saddam Hussein join Washington in the pretense that international diplomacy, focusing now on the UN Security Council, has the power to prevent the outbreak of war. Until now, the charade suited Baghdad for two reasons:


First, although much of northern Iraq has fallen to combined American-Turkish-Iranian forces – and heavy US-UK air raids have blasted most of his air force and air defense commands – Saddam remained firm in the saddle in central and southern Iraq and his army is still holding together.


Second, he has watched the Bush administration cross the Rubicon with no way of retreat and looked forward to the moment that America could no longer pursue a covert war without incurring casualties. That moment may now be at hand.


Our military sources calculate that Bush finds himself tied down by the constraints of protracted political and diplomatic processes that prevent him from admitting to ongoing combat in the field and force him to keep it low key. He dare not throw into the fray substantial air, sea or land forces, even though it is indicated by every tactical consideration.


Last week, Iraq began to exploit this dilemma to military advantage by mounting a counter-attack on the American-led forces outside the strategic H-3 complex of bases in western Iraq. In other words, Saddam started to blunt the edge of the American-led vanguard operation inside the country.


Bush, like the proverbial cork stuck in the neck of a bottle, can either push forward or out – but not stay put.


This situation is fully grasped in Moscow, Paris, and Beijin, none of whose leaders is raising a finger to extricate the Americans from the bottleneck. Sharon in Moscow last week tried his hand at talking President Vladimir Putin round to backing the United States. He was greeted with smiling faces and a firm nyet.


The nearly 2 million inhabitants of Greater Tel Aviv, like the rest of the country, feel entitled to credible information about any potential threats from Iraq. If Israeli officials believe American estimates and figures are exaggerated or wide of the mark, they ought to set the record straight. Their failure to confirm or refute Washington’s evaluations sets up the confusion and fear that overtook Israel in the first Gulf War 11 years ago. Then, too, Israelis were told that the chances of an Iraqi missile attack were very slim – until 39 Scuds hit Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, 8-12 in each salvo – an experience that has left its mark on the national psyche up till the present.


That mark will not be erased by official soft soap.


7 October: Hours after an explosion ripped a gaping hole in the French-owned giant oil tanker Limburg on Sunday, October 6, the various military authorities watching the thick, black plume rising over the Arabian Sea had no doubt it was a copycat attack on the same lines as the ramming of the USS Cole by al Qaeda suiciders in Aden Port. Indeed the ship caught fire on the second anniversary of that attack that cost the lives of 17 sailors – short six days.


The incident immediately pushed global crude prices up by 1.3 percent past the $30 mark. A Gulf shipping executive spoke of a threat to the crude tanker market and predicted a rise in insurance rates.


Yet the French and Yemeni authorities threw cold water on the possibility of a terrorist attack.


According to DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and military experts, the hand of al Qaeda was plain to see from the first: its operatives must have taken to sea in a fast, explosives-packed boat from the Arabian Sea shores of eastern Yemen. Cap Hubert Ardillon, skipper of the two-year old supertanker, and another officer, saw the small vessel approaching fast and impacting shortly before the ship burst into flames. The Nantes-based Euronav spokesman said the Limburg was new and in good condition. To drive a hole 6-8 meters deep through its double hull would have required great force, only possible with the help of a large quantity of explosives.


DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources have no doubt that the holing of the Limburg signaled a revival of the al Qaeda war of terror and its focusing on economic targets in order to shake up oil and financial markets in the West.


Osama bin Laden warned as much – If the recording released by the Arabic satellite TV station al Jazeera Sunday October 6, just after the tanker explosion, is authentic:


“I call on you,” said the voice purporting to be that of the Saudi-born terrorist, ” to understand the lessons of the New York and Washington raids.


…those who follow the movement of the criminal gang at the White House, the agents of the Jews, who are preparing to attack and partition the Islamic world… the youth of Islam… will target key sectors of your economy until you stop your injustice and aggression… whether America escalates or de-escalates this conflict, we will reply in kind…”


The Limburg attack is seen by DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and counter-terror experts as marking five important developments:


1. The first al Qaeda strike against oil interests which hitherto enjoyed immunity as “Allah’s gift to the Arabian and Muslim peoples”.


2. The Limburg attack was deliberately timed and carried out in a way to recall the disabling of the USS Cole two years ago. The Cole was one of the US Navy’s proudest hi-tech vessels, while the Limburg is one of most sophisticated high-security supertankers on the high sea. Successful strikes at the finest products of western military might and technology go down in the world of Muslim extremism as an Islamic triumph over the infidels.


3. For this week’s attack, the terrorists maintained a rear base in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen and operated out of coastal villages; in 1985, the terrorists who struck US embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi maintained a rear base on the Comoro Islands of the African Coast and forward bases closer to target.


Hadhramaut would be hospitable terrain for al Qaeda. It is the ancestral homeland of the bin Laden clan which migrated to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the last century. Many of the local tribesmen, reputed to be skilled mountain fighters, give him their full support.


Yemen is also home to a strong Iraqi military intelligence presence, although both Yemeni and US officials try to keep this dark. There are strong indications of cooperation between Al Qaeda operatives Iraqi agents in advance intelligence and the organization of terrorist activity against American and Western targets.


4. Whether the Limburg loaded up in Kharj (according to the Yemenis) or Saudi Arabia (as the owners report), al Qaeda was targeting the oil interests of a Muslim state which they will denounce as a Washington collaborator. As DEBKAfile was first to report, Tehran has come over to the American side against Baghdad and is helping the Americans round up al Qaeda terrorists still hiding in northern Iran.


5. The terrorists’ latest success must have set some red alarms flashing for American planners of the Iraq war. In its issue of September 27, DEBKA-Net-Weekly referred to one of Saddam Hussein’s contingency plans: Instead of engaging the Americans in a hopeless battleground duel, he may be planning to disrupt Gulf and Middle East oilfields, terminals and seaways with a hail of missiles and an onslaught of seaborne terror. Another of the Iraqi’s ruler’s schemes is reported to be to hit American warships and carriers assembled in the Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf.


As a preventive measure, the US navy is blockading the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, Iraq’s only outlet to the Persian Gulf, to prevent Iraqi naval commandoes from heading out to jumping off points along the Gulf. The fact that Sunday, al Qaeda forces in Yemen struck at a seaborne target which Iraqi commandos are unable to reach is no coincidence, given the operational collaboration fast developing between Baghdad and the Islamic terror network.


9 October: The first serious inter-Palestinian clashes since Yasser Arafat proclaimed his confrontation with Israel two years have not lightened Israel’s security cares and dilemmas. While fighting each other in the Gaza Strip, the two Palestinian factions – his loyalists and the Islamist Hamas – are also vying for primacy as wielder of terror against Israel.


Northern Israel’s police chief, Yaacov Borovsky, warned Wednesday October 9 that the short lull in terrorist strikes from the West Bank into Israel of recent weeks was deceptive and his forces were arrayed for the next bout of violence.


DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources have received information that the Palestinians are busy plotting a whole new vista of anti-Israel violence on three separate levels:


Level 1:  The Palestinian terrorist groups subject to Arafat and his lieutenants have been directed to start using missiles – specifically, shoulder-launched LAW anti-tank missiles and SA-7 air-aircraft Strellas. The security authorities believe their targets may be Ben Gurion international air port, the air industries located there or one of the many military and air bases clustered grouped in the Lod area.


Level 2: Indications are accumulating of a Palestinian plot to shoot down a plane carrying an Israeli VIP – an operation for which precise intelligence is required.


Level 3: Tuesday, October 8, a Red Magen David ambulance was stolen in Hadera, north of Tel Aviv. It was not the first. Several ambulances have gone missing in recent months, transferred to the West bank to be rigged for a large-scale terror attack. Such an attack would be staged by stolen Israeli ambulances packed with hundreds of kilos of explosives and activated by suicide killers or remote control. One or more would creep up after a major terror attack in a town center and explode in the middle of the carnage and rescue efforts. Alternatively, an ambulance could serve Palestinian terrorists as a mobile gun position for firing off in all directions, or to gain entrance to a hospital and detonate amid crowds of patients and medical personnel.


This threat is judged real enough for a decision to fit Magen David ambulances soon with GPS (Global Positioning Systems), for positioning and navigating by satellite, as well as a new, secret type of armor.


As for the widely condemned Khan Younes operation, the Palestinians make no bones about admitting that an inter-faction showdown has begun for control of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad have raised a challenge to Arafat’s authority in the territory.


Some hours after the Israeli incursion, Monday, October 7, masked Hamas killers kidnapped and shot dead the chief of the Palestinian riot police, Col. Rajeh Abu Lehiya, settling accounts with an Arafat operative a year after he gunned down pro-Osama bin Laden Hamas demonstrators. When Palestinian police demanded the handover of the chief suspect in the killing, Emad Akel, the Hamas helped him escape. Four people were killed in the ensuing Hamas-pro-Arafat partisan clashes Monday and Tuesday.


Despite reports of peace talks between the warring sides, the Hamas has made plain its determination to pry loose Arafat’s hold on the Gaza Strip. This extremist Islamic terror group is now bent on gaining full control over the Strip and make it the second – or even first – Islamic terror base in the Middle East, after Hizballah-dominated south Lebanon.


Monday’s IDF Khan Younes operation was the first in a series aimed at diminishing the Hamas domain in the Gaza Strip.


DEBKAfile‘s military experts explain there is no way to hit Hamas and Jihad Islami strongholds in the Gaza Strip without collateral harm to civilians. Quite simply, those groups locate their command posts, operations bases, armories and explosives dumps in residential districts and public institutions, like schools and hospitals, which provide a supportive environment and act as a vital element of their operational logistical system.


In addition to the risk of civilian casualties, a strategic dilemma raised its head this week: Any assault on Hamas strongholds weakens this violent group; it also plays into the hands of Yasser Arafat and his men, at a time when they are deep in the planning of the a/m upsurge of terror.


The question is: Why should Israel help Arafat subdue his enemies in the Gaza Strip?

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