A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

4 November: This week, two Egyptian TV channels begin running an extravagantly-produced serial based on the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Jewish document judged a forgery by historians. It will be aired nightly during the peak viewing period of the Muslim Ramadan, by the Egyptian channels – Dream TV, a private satellite channel, and the state-run Channel 2.

DEBKAfile‘s Middle East sources report “The Horse without Horseman” was produced by Arab Radio and Television of Saudi Arabia as an epic that was written, directed and played by Egyptians. It portrays the fictional Elders, the purported blueprint for Jewish global domination, as historical fact, and also the guiding principle of Israeli policy. A director of the program says the series “is based on the history of Zionism”.

Calls to cancel the Horse without Horseman, especially from the US government – on the grounds that it stokes hatred, bigotry and racism in a region that already suffers a surfeit of destructive emotions – were rebuffed by Cairo.

Egyptian information minister Safwat el-Sherif declared earlier he could not see what the fuss was about. “Our media policy,” he says, “is to respect all monotheistic religions.”

This righteous assertion might be taken at face value were it not for light shed by a publication that accompanied last month’s seizure of 800 hostages at a Moscow theater by Chechen terrorists. DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources cite articles appearing in the Chechen separatists’ Web site Qoqaz.com at the time of the siege crisis. The site is written in Arabic and preaches adherence to the strict Wahhabist Sunni doctrine, noting the stress it places on Tawhid, the principle of monotheism in its purest form. In the Middle Ages, the North African Muhaddin who came to the aid of Spain’s Muslims in fending off European Christian assaults, fought under the battle cry of Tawhid.

One article, captioned: Guide to the Perplexed on the Killing of Captives, appears in a section called “Jihad News from Caucasian Land”. According to the directives laid down for the treatment of captives, all based on Koranic exegesis, polytheists and People of the Book (Christians and Jews) must be killed out of hand; for them, no pardons or ransoms are tolerated. In Wahhabi eyes, Christians are no better than polytheists for believing in Jesus as the Son of God. Their refusal to recognize the People of the Book as monotheists is not explained. However, uncovering this Wahhabi definition of monotheism also bares the intolerance for non-Islamic faiths concealed behind the Egyptian information minister’s sanctimonious declaration of respect for all “monotheistic” religions.

5 November: Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon announced Tuesday, November 5, he had opted for an early election in January 2003 – reluctantly as the lesser evil, rather than bow to “political extortion”.

This decision touched off a whirlwind of political action before Tuesday afternoon. In a broadcast news conference mobbed by the media, he denounced Labor’s walkout from the unity government last week – which left him with a minority government based on 55 out of 120 seats – as “politically capricious and irresponsible”.

Former Likud prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is Sharon’s foremost challenger for the party leadership. The two will confront each other in the Likud primary whose date will be put forward in view of the early election. Tuesday, Sharon repeated his invitation to Netanyahu to join the government – but advised him to follow the example of Shaul Mofaz’s acceptance of the defense ministry without posing pre-conditions. Netanyahu quickly announced he would serve as foreign minister under Sharon until the general election.

Sharon strongly reiterated his commitment to a national unity coalition government that represented the widest common consensus. He insisted he would not depart either from his government’s basic guidelines, the profound strategic relations he established with Washington and the White House, or the framework of the 2003 budget (that passed its first reading last week).

At first light on Tuesday, Sharon obtained the president’s consent to dissolve the Knesset. He did not resign, nor was he defeated in Monday’s no confidence vote. The government will serve in office for the 90 days required by law until election-day. This Knesset, the 16th, will have seen two foreshortened administrations come and go: the first was led by Labor leader Ehud Barak, whose fall was succeeded by Sharon’s election victory. One of the Likud leader’s first legislative initiatives was to abrogate the law separating the votes for prime minister and party. Next January, the voter will mark a single party ballot. The prime minister will be selected by the party in advance of the election. However, any extreme war eruptions climaxing before election-day could lead to the postponement of the general election, according to the precedent of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

6 November: Egypt, with quiet American encouragement, is engaged in a complicated diplomatic maneuver to persuade the Hamas to halt its suicide-murder attacks on Israelis by setting up meetings in Cairo between PLO representatives and the Damascus-based leaders of the Hamas: Khaled Mash’al and Abu Marzuk. This initiative comes from officials in the US State Department and European Union, led by Colin Powell and Javier Solana.

DEBKAfile‘s political analysts note that both these officials cling against all odds to their dream of persuading Yasser Arafat to one day give up terror. Their latest ploy addresses the Islamic extremes of the Palestinian movement, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami, the idea being that if they are induced to stop their suicidal terror practices, the Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades run by Arafat’s Fatal will follow suit. All these parties are perfectly aware that it is an exercise in futility in the light of Yasser Arafat’s latest pursuit in the privacy of his Ramallah headquarters.

According to DEBKAfile‘s Palestinian sources, while the Palestinian leader misses no opportunity of pointing to his “reforms”, he is in fact deeply engaged in welding the two deadliest arms of his Fatah, along with the remnants of numerous disbanded security services, into a single force. On the face of it, he is meeting Washington’s demand for a single security force.

But this force is not exactly what the Americans had in mind. Its backbone is composed, in fact, of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, declared a terrorist organization last month by President George W. Bush, and the Tanzim militia. The purpose of the merger is to improve the efficiency of Arafat’s mass-murder machine and tighten its links with the Iraqi military intelligence undercover base in Amman, as well as with Iraqi and Palestinian terror groups in Baghdad,

Some Palestinian leaders have taken fright from Arafat’s army venture, fearing its repercussions for the Palestinian people. Those officials believe Arafat’s expanded terror campaign in mid-war will land West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians on the wrong side of the US-Iraq conflict, destroying all their hopes of a future state.

DEBKAfile‘s Palestinian sources report the battle lines over the future of the al Aqsa Brigades are now drawn between two opposing camps:

1. Arafat and his pro-Iraqi lieutenants who remain holed up in his Ramallah quarters since the Israeli siege earlier this year. The most important is Colonel Tawfik Tirawi, the intelligence chief who is the undeclared commander of the al-Aqsa brigades. Arafat is also supported by two ministers whom he named for his new government lineup last week, Samir Rocha, Minister for Jerusalem and Saddam’s paymaster for the families of suicide killers, and Azzam al Ahmad, Housing Minister and Arafat’s unofficial ambassador to Baghdad.

2. Disapproval of Arafat’s new military venture has made strange bedfellows. On the one hand, the radical Fatah leader and foreign minister, Farouk Kaddoumi, who never set foot in Palestinian areas in protest against the 1993 Oslo Accords; on the other, the moderate Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, who has found acceptance in Washington as a prospective Palestinian prime minister to rival Arafat. Both are furious with Arafat for flouting a decision reached by the Fatah Central Committee and its Revolutionary Council to disband the al Aqsa Brigades. Arafat has ignored the ruling bodies of his own organization and made a mockery of them.

Abu Mazen, a political wheeler and dealer rather than terrorist, privately predicts disaster for the Palestinian people if the Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades are not forcibly reined in. But this former official successor to Arafat lacks the muscle to put his wishes into effect and can do nothing, he has told his confidants, until Arafat ceases to be chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen is not prepared for a showdown with Arafat.

A third veteran and long time Arafat loyalist, Sahar Habash, also fears that the al-Aqsa Brigades’ deeds and their manipulation by Iraqi intelligence will drag the Palestinians into the coming war.

For two years, Habash was Arafat’s personal representative in the Intifada Committees that coordinated Fatah terrorist activities with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Now, he has gone over to the anti-Arafat camp led by Kaddoumi and Abu Mazen.

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