A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives
10 May: After undergoing several metamorphoses since its formulation by the Quartet, the Middle East road map is shunted aside by Washington because of more pressing issues: US relations with Iran, Syria and Lebanon – a higher priority in the post-Iraq war period than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The spotlight began edging away from the Middle East road map when secretary of state Powell handed Syria a list of 10 demands with ten days to come up with responses. The deadline runs out on Tuesday, May 13. debkafile has listed those demands before. But Powell added an eleventh: Assad must close the books on the longstanding issues of Israelis missing in action, prisoners of war and abducted men. He named the three men missing from the 1982 Sultan Yacoub battle, Yaacov Katz, Zachariah Baumel and Zvi Feldman, the navigator Ron Arad, the men kidnapped by the Hizballah in 2000, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawwad, and the civilian Elhanan Tanenboim, as well as Guy Hever, who disappeared with trace and whose family believes he was abducted to Syria. Powell warned Assad the Middle East had entered a new era and this agonizing business must be put to rest.
If Syria turns a deaf ear, debkafile‘s Washington sources report the four options facing the administration:
A. To leave the ultimatum sword hanging over Assad’s head.
B. To carry out covert or overt military operations against Iraqi and terrorist targets in Syria and Lebanon.
C. To strangle the Assad regime with an economic noose.
D. To instigate regime change in Damascus.
Earlier, to stave off threatened action from Washington, Syria sent out a peace feeler to Jerusalem, offering to separate it from the Palestinian issue, but demanding an international umbrella like the Quintet’s sponsorship of the Middle East road map, the last thing the Israelis and Americans want to see. Hizballah terror would not be on the agenda. US officials warned Israeli prime minister Sharon that a positive response would give Assad a way round American demands for the surrender Saddam’s unconventional weapons and regime leaders and the dismantling of the Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist structures in Syria and Lebanon. Syria would tag Washington’s ultimatum onto the Syrian-Israeli peace agenda and declare it must take its turn on the table. The Israeli prime minister therefore played for time and promised an answer one month hence.
Assad and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizballah leader, hope the Iranian president Muhammed Khatami, visiting Beirut and Damascus from Monday, May 12 to Thursday, May 15, will offer them a lifeline to survive the menace coming from Washington.
Yasser Arafat in Ramallah too is waiting to see what message President Khatami is bearing. But he is not worried. If Iran lets Assad and Nasrallah down and they bow to Washington’s dictates, he will be left in his most coveted role, the last Arab and Muslim leader still openly fighting the United States and the Zionists. He will then redouble his orders for Palestinian terrorists to kill Israelis. As for Abu Mazen, the new Palestinian prime minister, he was forced to receive Powell in Jericho because Ramallah was not safe for the visitor since Arafat has pulled his terrorist centers close to his headquarters. Neither he nor his internal security minister Mohamed Dahlan are willing to put their hands in fire to stop the terror – meaning that the Palestinian reform horse will not run. Without a reformed Palestinian administration, the Middle East road map is a non-starter and Washington had little choice but to suspend it.
12 May: Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen – is endeavoring to earn the job of first Palestinian prime minister by keeping three balls up in the air at once: He wants to prove his “reformist” credentials to Washington and Jerusalem, uphold his Palestinian credibility at home and in the Arab world and beat off Yasser Arafat’s incessant overt and sneak assaults on his standing. It is hard to see how he can succeed.
One of his maneuvers is to show Powell he is willing to meet with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, while at the same time angling behind Arafat’s back for an invitation to Damascus for talks with Syrian president Bashar Assad. He has also sent emissaries to Cairo to open communications with senior Hamas officers. Assad, for his part, might seize on a visit by the US-backed Palestinian prime minister to deflect accusations of fostering terror.
Showing that Washington will not be gulled by these ruses, Powell warned Syria in an interview that it would find itself “on the wrong side of history” if it tried to destabilize postwar Iraq or continued harboring radical Palestinian groups.
According to American sources, the US secretary left his meeting with the Palestinian prime minister in Jericho Sunday afternoon with a sense of failure. Abu Mazen made it clear that he would not confront the Palestinian terrorists head-on but only seek dialogue.
Intelligence sources confirm Palestinian suicide killers were – and remain – poised ready to strike as soon as Israel responded to the American request to lift the blockade on Palestinian areas. Monday morning therefore Israel put back the checkpoints and recalled the 25,000 work permits it had issued a few hours earlier.
Arafat meanwhile chips away at his prime minister’s authority, making “presidential appointments” in the prime minister’s own departments and demanding his 10 percent cut for the “President’s Office” of all amounts conveyed to the Palestinian government, including Israeli transfers to Palestinian finance minister Salim Fayyad and Washington’s pledge of $50 m for creating jobs and alleviating popular hardship. A portion of all the funds reaching him is automatically earmarked for funding the terrorist groups he sponsors, the Fatah-Tanzim and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. But no matter how many Israelis and others die in his campaign of terror, nothing dents the plate-armored personal immunity extended to Arafat by the United States, Europe, Asia and sections of Israeli society, as well as the Sharon government. Counting on this he deliberately let it be known that the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades squad he sent to murder an Israeli motorist on the day Powell began talks with Sharon set out from his own presidential quarters. He is known to harbor 200 terrorist masterminds, controllers and operatives in those quarters.
13 May: For some years now the Israeli Islamic Movement has been known to serve the Palestinian Hamas terrorist group as financial conduit and money launderer. Its fund-raising efforts for the families of Palestinian suicide killers have not gone unnoticed either. Some members have even been caught aiding and abetting these killers, transporting them to and from target areas, providing hideouts and intelligence – in more than one case to the Lebanese Hizballah as well.
So what happened on Tuesday, May 13, to bring out hundreds of Israeli police and Shit Beit agents to in a swoop on the Islamic Movement’s northern offices in Umm al Fahm, not far from the West Bank border, to round up 13 and later another 2 of its leaders, including Sheikh Ra’ed Salah?
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources have two answers:
1. Israeli counter-terror and intelligence authorities believe that one of the Islamic movement’s clandestine cells is hiding Omar Khan Sharif, the failed British suicide bomber whose explosive belt did not work at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv on April 30. His partner’s did, killing 3 Israelis and injuring 60.
According to information reaching Israeli investigators, Hamas planners surmounted the difficulty of getting the British bombers through checkpoints to Palestinian areas by setting up a safe house inside Israel, courtesy of the Islamic Movement or one of its factions, for terrorists unable to go through with their missions.
2. The terrorist financing issue is far from plain sailing. The Hamas group’s primary source of funding is not the Israeli Islamic movement but Saudi Arabia, which is thought to transfer about $50m a year to the Palestinian terror group, 70 percent of which flows directly into its terror chest. The Saudis also send money to the Israeli Islamists. The Tel Aviv bombing oiled by Saudi funds set up for the first time a terror chain leading to the British terrorists who hailed from Derbyshire and Finsbury Park, moved to Damascus at whose medressas they were recruited and trained for their mission, called in at the Gaza Strip’s Hamas branches and wound up in the Israeli Muslims’ safe house.
Israeli security authorities decided to snap this chain of terror before Tel Aviv, Haifa or Jerusalem once again suffer the horrendous fate inflicted on the Saudi capital this week.
13 May: After midnight Monday, May 12, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network struck the United States and Saudi Arabia, displaying high skills in planning, intelligence, mobility and execution with devastating effect.
The terrorists overcame security by having several small teams strike at different points in each estate with ferocious fire and explosive power. While one group killed the guards and smashed the gates, one or more Mercedes packed with explosives and suicide terrorists drove round the other side and rammed the estates’ perimeter walls. The next team drove into the estates through the hole. Once in, vehicles loaded with cans of gasoline as well as explosives blasted high-rise buildings, killing many of their residents and leveling entire streets. Another group of terrorists rode into the damaged compounds and massacred survivors by spraying the interiors of still standing buildings with automatic fire, hand grenades and fuel bombs. Some witnesses heard the firing going on 10 minutes after the explosions. When their ammunition ran out, the killers detonated bomb belts.
After the first-wave assaults, few could have survived the fierce heat and vacuum generated in their apartments by the second-wave gasoline blasts which tore the facades off their buildings and sucked them out – a replay of the al Qaeda tactic first seen seven years ago when a truck bomb crashed into the Khobar Towers housing the US military personnel (with families) securing the oil fields of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Provinces. The unofficial toll then was put at 19 American servicemen killed and 500 injured – some very gravely. To this day, no American or Saudi official has openly attributed that atrocity to al Qaeda.
The suicide assaults came five days after a large-scale al Qaeda-Saudi military shootout in the streets of Riyadh, from which 19 terrorists escaped.
Leaks from Saudi sources showed the incident to have been more dangerous and audacious than first reported: an attempt by Al Qaeda to assassinate the pro-American Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan, third in the line of succession to the throne, and his brother, Interior Minister Prince Naif, who is also in command of internal security in the kingdom. According to debkafile‘s terror experts, this fresh offensive has not been orchestrated by a new al Qaeda leadership as has been claimed; Bin Laden and his veteran lieutenant, the Egyptian Dr. Ayman Zuwahri are still firmly in the saddle.
15 May: When European Union’s foreign affairs executive, Javier Solana, turned up in Riyadh Wednesday, May 13, his purpose was not to condemn the al Qaeda suicide killers’ horrendous triple attacks two days earlier on Riyadh compounds housing many European expatriates – or even to comfort the many European victims in hospital. Brushing all other business aside, Solana, according to debkafile‘s exclusive Middle East sources, presented Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal with his latest brainchild, a plan to force the Middle East road map down unwilling throats by ramming it through the UN Security Council as a mandatory resolution. This would be the panacea for all the region’s ills, a view that would have met with Saudi approval.
Thursday, May 15, after the European bureaucrat had flown out to Damascus, the count was still incomplete of American, European, Australian, Asian and local dead and Riyadh’s hospitals were choked with the injured. The FBI team sent to examine the scenes of the attacks was held up in Germany almost a day waiting for Saudi landing permission. The agents fretted over the loss of valuable data on the ground and leads to the perpetrators that needed to be collected when they were fresh to be of any use.
But Solana avidly promoted his latest scheme to limit “American hegemony” after the Iraq war.
The Security Council must first be called into urgent session to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as a result of Israeli military counter-terror operations. At the end of the debate, the road map will be put to the vote. The US as a signatory can hardly demur or exercise its veto. Neither will Britain oppose the draft for fear of jeopardizing its fence-mending efforts with Europe. Anyway, Tony Blair would rather see the UN assuming a role in the Palestinian conflict than in Iraq.
After adopting the road map resolution, the Security Council create an inspection or monitoring team to supervise its execution. This will meet Yasser Arafat’s long-held ambition for an international body to move into the borderlands between Israel and Palestinian areas. Israel will be compelled to pull out of Palestinian locations and to give up its fight against terrorists.
Solana assured the Saudi foreign minister that he had already obtained French, Russian and German assent to his plan. In Damascus, he saw no difficulty in persuading the Syrian president to jump in as a way of pushing back the heat applied to him from Washington to get rid of his terrorist bases and connections.
The European official’s road map initiative was one of the causes of Powell’s failure on Wednesday May 14 to win Russian president Putin round to Washington’s proposal to lift UN sanctions on Iraq. The US badly needs revenues from Iraqi oil sales to fund reconstruction and the imposition of law and order. Russia and the other governments who opposed the American war on Iraq now see their way to punishing the Bush administration for going ahead anyway as well as holding a lever for sinking US postwar plans by withholding funding and forcing Washington to report back to the Europeans and Security Council for approval of further progress. The powers vested in the security council format of endorsement coupled with an international inspections mechanism will thus be reinstated to bend Washington as well as Jerusalem to their will.