A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

26 October: NATO, Greek and Israeli navies are scouring three seas – the eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Aegean – for a cargo ship, the 1,600-ton Tonga-flagged Cristi, which is believed to be carrying a band of al Qaeda terrorists to a fresh target.


Greek and Israeli authorities are on high alert.


DEBKAfile‘s maritime and counter-terror sources report that the Cristi , like the Sara, which was detained in Italy carrying suspected Pakistani terrorists, and another suspect vessel, Twillinger,  is owned by the Greek ship-owner, Dimitris Kokkos, and a Pakistani-American, Rifat Muhammed.


Kokkos, who also owned the Palestinian arms-smuggling ship Karine-A captured last January by the Israel Navy, is said to live in Romania. Our investigation reveals that the pair head Nova Spirit Inc., a company registered in Delaware, US, which runs al Qaeda’s shipping operations from the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanza and Nador on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast.


Kokkos and Muhammed both vanished after the true functions of their known fleet of four vessels came to light.


But these ships appear to be only a fraction of the clandestine terrorist naval force prowling the region. Our maritime expert has so far uncovered another at least eight made-over terrorist vessels owned by different Middle East owners, some traced to Syria, which elude discovery by constantly changing flags and identities. They are believed to be bound for terrorist missions on European and Israeli shores, as well as American naval and military targets.


These small, fairly beaten-up, rusty cargo vessels sail out of Constanza for the Mediterranean carrying an innocent cargo and a Romanian crew. At Nador, Morocco, a band of operatives disguised as seamen, who are flown in from Karachi, comes aboard after collecting cash, addresses, instructions and false Pakistani papers on shore. The new “passengers” then take command of the vessel, which the crew is under orders from the owners Muhammed and Kokkos to hand over.


At sea, the ship assumes a new name and flag. Before steaming into a European port, the vessel rendezvous with a second ship and offloads the terrorists, enabling them to infiltrate a European port, masquerading now as distressed stowaway immigrants.


The Karine-A was a sister ship of the Cristi, the Sara and the Twillinger. It therefore provides an unmistakable operational connection between Arafat and his closest aides and the active arms of the Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist organization.


28 October: The assassination early Monday October 28 of USAID staffer Lawrence Foley in Amman was carried out the day after a bomb belt carried by a Palestinian suicide killer murdered three Israeli officers and injured 19 Israelis just outside the town of Ariel on the West Bank.


Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah together with the Islamist Hamas claimed the killings.


DEBKAfile‘s military sources add: The large-scale bombing atrocity in Bali, Indonesia, on December 15, in which 180 mostly Western victims were killed, prompted a strategic decision by Arafat not to let Osama bin Laden steal the world terror show. Six days after Bali, on Monday, October 21, a jeep loaded with explosives and driven by a Palestinian suicider torched an Israeli bus at Karkur Junction, creating a deadly inferno in which 14 trapped passengers were burned alive.


Word of the Chechen hostage-taking siege of close to 800 spectators in a Moscow theater is reported to have galvanized Arafat to a fresh spurt of terror. Israeli defense authorities fixed on Jenin as the designated launch base for that strike, and therefore sent the troops and tanks back to the West Bank town. Their presence may account for the suicides in the Ariel operation of Sunday October 27 coming from Nablus, not Jenin.


The Ariel operation was designed as a mega-terror strike. Its target was a fleet of buses picking up scores of soldiers at the shopping center, hotel and gas station just outside Ariel. The death toll would have been horrendous were it not for the heroic action taken by the late Maj. Tamir Massad, who ran forward and held the terrorist down to stop him igniting his bomb.


According to DEBKAfile‘s military and counter-terror sources, Israel security authorities are beginning to suspect that Arafat may have got hold of the target list drawn up by al Qaeda and its affiliated groups around the world and is adjusting his own terror timeline accordingly. What they fear most is that the two groups will coordinate their campaigns of violence against Israel and bring them to a fresh, simultaneous climax.


Twenty-four hours after the Ariel murders, Monday, October 28, a Palestinian assassin gunned down United States Aid Agency USAID official, Lawrence Foley, outside his home in Amman. DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources report the murder was set up by one of the Palestinian terror cells operating in the Jordanian capital under Iraqi military intelligence controllers.


USAID has been entrusted with overseeing the democratic reform process of the Palestinian government, including the overhaul of its financing and security branches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arafat boycotts USAID and uses Palestinian media to incite against the organization and discredit its activities.


Arafat’s unaltered rationale for striking against USAID has not changed since he launched his Intifada in September 200: Easing the Palestinian population’s wretched lot would lower the level of his reservoir of suicides, many of whom act in a desperate bid to bring succor to their families – whether from Arafat’s coffers, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.


30 October:  Labor’s walkout from the unity government leaves Sharon with a minority government of 55 out of 120 Knesset seats instead of the handy 80 his unity government enjoyed for one year, ten months. But he has prospects. The prime minister achieved his first victory one hour after his government was whittled down when he rallied a majority of 67 Knesset members to carry the 2003 State Budget. His first order of business was to appoint retired chief of staff Shaul Mofaz as defense minister to replace Labor leader Binyamin Ben Eliezer and to court opposition factions to take his government past the parliamentary barrier of 61. His last choice would be an early election. Sharon is determined to last the course until October 28, 2003.


The formal pretext for Ben Eliezer’s decision to quit was his party’s ideological controversy with Sharon’s Likud over funding for Jewish communities across the Green Line in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Labor vowed to vote against the budget at its first reading Wednesday, October 30, unless this clause was slashed. Sharon replied that no minister who voted against could stay.


According to DEBKAfile‘s political sources, Ben Eliezer was persuaded to quit the Sharon government by advisers, the same ones who led former prime minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak to his downfall, who warned him only such high drama could save him from defeat as party leader in the November 19 Labor primaries. His left-wing rivals Haim Ramon and Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna top him by 10 percent. He was also persuaded that to break up the Sharon government he could count on broad support in the European Union and the US State Department, who believe that the fall of the Sharon government would benefit Arafat.


Their view derived from the usual misreading of Arafat’s objectives. Labor in power never did suit his book. A Likud government more convincingly supports the Palestinian leader’s strategy of playing the role of victim. That is why Arafat worked so hard to bring down one Labor-led government after another. His drive to have Israeli ostracized by the international community required an intense effort to break up the Likud-Labor government. DEBKAfile‘s European sources reveal that Arafat developed a campaign against Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank in secret consultations with Javiar Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and Miguel Moratinos, the EU’s Middle East envoy. This blueprint was handed to Ben Eliezer indirectly through Laborites with European connections as an instrument for disarming his rivals. Instead he maneuvered himself out of the second most powerful job in government.


In contrast, the Palestinian leader has come out of these maneuvers with a fresh lease of life.


He is buoyed up by EU support, the political strife in Israel and the delays in the Bush administration’s war plans for Iraq.


His response was typical. On Sunday, October 27, Fatah and al-Aqsa terror masterminds, who take their orders from Arafat, sent two suicide bombers to blow up three Israeli buses packed with soldiers in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Two days later, they dispatched a suicide gunman on a rampage in the settlement of Hermesh north of Tulkarm, killing two young girls and a woman.


In eight days, 20 Israelis lost their lives in three deliberate terrorist attacks, all of them initiated by Arafat.

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