21 December: DEBKAfile‘s military and counter-terror sources report that EU Commission member Christian Waldrahs has the unhappy distinction of being the first target of an al Qaeda assassination plot executed by a Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades operative against a Western diplomat on Palestinian territory. The masked gunman missed his target, who made off in his bullet-proofed jeep and asked the nearest Israeli military roadblock for help.
DEBKAfile‘s sources report that, starting in November, al Qaeda units in the south Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwa, began funneling funds to the Jenin branch of the al Aqsa Brigades. It was carried over by Mounir Maqdah, commander of an Ein Hilwa Palestinian militia.
Since then, al Qaeda has been badgering Fatah “Martyrs” to start giving value for the money sent them, i,e, to stage terrorist attacks not only against Israelis but also against the Westerners active in Palestinian areas, many of them on humanitarian missions.
Waldrahs is posted in Jenin to manage the EU’s contribution for the reconstruction of the parts of the Palestinian West Bank town destroyed in the IDF’s large-scale counter-terror operation last April. He suddenly discovered that the Palestinians he was aiding, while receiving funds from Europe, were also taking money, as well as operational directives, from the notorious Islamic fundamentalist terror organization.
Determined to check out his discovery, the German diplomat called Saturday afternoon on the Jenin Fatah secretary Kadura, informing no one but his host he was coming. Therefore, only communication between him and al Qaeda could have enabled the assassination plot to be set up at short notice.
Many European officials felt safe and at home in Palestinian West Bank towns. Now they are discovering that those towns, especially Jenin, are about as safe as Chechnya.
December 18: From Powell to Blix:
Before you present your first report on the team’s findings in Iraq to the UN Secretary and Security Council, may I remind you of our prior understandings:
1. You will specify that the December 7 Iraqi arms declaration denying possession of weapons of mass destruction is in fact a rehash of old materials and full of gaps. But you won’t state that Iraq is in breach of Security Council Resolution 1441.
2. You will state that secret data from the United States and the United Kingdom would help the inspectors find the hidden weapons sites.
3. Towards the end of the week, I will try and persuade President Bush to allow you access to certain classified data as a demonstration that effective UN pressure on the White House brings results.
December 20: From Powell to Blix;
09:45 EST: URGENT. What’s going on? My staff tells me that you went on BBC4 radio and complained that you and the UN inspectors do not command resources like the Americans for finding out what the Iraqis are up to – intelligence, satellites and, did I hear correctly? – spies? I happened to be with the President at that moment and saw him blow up. I had to keep on telling him that you would never use that word again. Let’s be absolutely clear on the differences between us: We practice intelligence; spies are what the UN runs!
Your gaffe was major and had instant repercussions. The President picked it up there and then and ordered me to go before the media and state clearly that Baghdad is in material breach of 1441. We all know what that means. It means that the plans I worked on with Kofi Annan to get the war put off till the end of 2003 have gone up in smoke. Whether we like it or not, your report will have to be presented in the first week of January, in time for war to be launched in the second half of the month.
Here’s what happens next. You will gladly accept the intelligence data we hand you, mostly satellite photographs, and take it back with you to Baghdad to help with resumed inspections. However, the photos will be as outdated as the Iraqi document – nothing after 1998. Ten days later, in the first week of January, you will return to New York and announce the Iraqis are not cooperating and are therefore in breach of 1441. FYI, the war will start, with or without your report, on January 16.
December 21: Blix to Powell:
URGENT. Could you not let us have just one or two shots dated 2002 or even 2001?
December 21: Powell to Blix:
What are you talking about? You know we don’t have any new photographs. And we both know where the Iraqis have really hidden their nuclear, chemical and biological materials – in bunkers under their hospitals and schools.
P.S. I almost forgot, Rumsfeld asked me to tell you that the Iragis have just planted around Baghdad and Tirkit whole forests of millions of sharp metal spikes, some as high as 15 cm., to stop us dropping our troops around the two cities. Some of our informants suggest the spikes may be contaminated with lethal chemicals. So when you get back to Baghdad, please see if some of your men can’t sneak through to collect a spike or two and post it to New York.
22 December: Little attention has been paid to the pandemic factor inherent in biological warfare – and its potential for mass population shifts – especially in the Middle East, given the medical, social and economic conditions prevailing in the region. These conditions appear to have persuaded the Iraqi ruler that he holds an unanswerable deterrent. Israel is known to be one of his targets of choice, which is why Washington has undertaken to protect the country against Iraqi reprisal for a US assault on Baghdad.
Fourteen years ago, Saddam launched one of the largest biological and chemical attacks on a civilian population in history, killing an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabjah.
Christine Gosden, head of Medical Genetics at Liverpool University in northwest England, says that 14 years after Saddam’s biological and chemical attacks on Halabjah, its inhabitants are prone to cancer, respiratory disorders, skin rashes and birth defects. Iraq’s genocidal bio-war agents, such as rotavirus, which only kills infants and children, still cause deaths today.
And today, the threat of Iraq again resorting to bio-engineered weapons raises an even broader pandemic peril. Israel has the medical facilities and sanitary conditions to contain an epidemic of smallpox or a similar bio-warfare agent. Not so its neighbors. Furthermore, the movement of oil from and through the Middle East out to Western countries would carry the contamination far and wide. West Bank Palestinians fleeing from contamination by an Iraqi biological attack aimed at Israel, but spreading to their centers, would bring the infection to surrounding countries like Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or even Iran. All the vehicles heading out of the region would carry the contamination with them. Smuggled goods across the borders would have the same effect.
DEBKAfile‘s military source report that in late November, Jordan deployed military units along its frontier with Israel and the West Bank to forestall any such an exodus.
US war planners are taking into account potential war-inducted major population shifts in the Middle East of minorities in flight from war zones or those taking the opportunity to seek greener pastures.
The most dangerous threat comes from the 2-4 million visitors from around the world who make the annual the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina from some 70 countries on all five continents. For
Saddam Hussein and fanatical terrorist groups like al Qaeda, there is no more perfect breeding ground for turning outbreaks of smallpox or anthrax into a world pandemic when millions head for home carrying the blight with them.
The outcome could well be plague and population movements on the scale of the Middle Ages.
25 December: The conference held in Turkey on Tuesday, December 24, between Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Turkish army chief Gen. Hilimi Ozkok, wrapped up the arrangements made by the US, Israel and Turkey for concerted action in the approaching war with Iraq. The operations of their air and missile defenses, as well as their air and naval forces, will be closely synchronized under arrangements that have also made provision against Syria and the Hizballah joining the conflict.
A second key visitor to Turkey Tuesday was Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, whose Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-PUK fighters have been fighting tooth and nail in the past two weeks to fend off the bid by a pro-Saddam force made up of fundamentalist Kurdish Ansar al Islam, al Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence officers, for control of the Halabjah region in northeast Iraq. The pro-Saddam is effectively in control of the Halabjah-Suleimaniyeh highway east of the big oil city of Kirkuk, a circumstance of major strategic implications for the coming turn of events in northern Iraq.
DEBKAfile‘s military sources report that Wednesday, December 25, Talabani is to be joined in Turkey by his former rival and fellow chief of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Democratic Party-KDP. Together with Turkish political and military leaders and US representatives, they will try and hammer out an historic Turkish-Kurdish accord based on a text drafted in Washington.
Its key elements are:
A. The Kurdish autonomous government of northern Iraq will grant 70,000 Turkish troops of the 2nd and 3rd Corps free passage through its territory for the Turkish push towards the big northern Iraqi oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.
B. While transiting this enclave, Turkish troops will show every respect for Kurdish autonomy, thereby also conferring tacit recognition on the part of Ankara.
C. The Turkish contingents will seize control the two oil cities with the support of Iraqi ethnic Turkoman units, who will be said to have risen up against Saddam Hussein’s domination of their region. For the moment, the Kurds will not press claims to Iraqi oilfields.
D. Turkey will then proceed to create an autonomous Turkoman entity stretching from northern to central Iraq up to the approaches to Baghdad.
E. The United States and Turkey will foster political, defensive and economic cooperation between the Kurdish and Turkoman self-governing provinces and guarantee their security. This clause indicates that a portion of North Iraq’s oil revenues will be channeled to the Kurdish province.
According to DEBKAfile‘s military sources, the successful outcome of the three-way parley on this document will open the way for a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq without waiting for the American offensive to begin on other fronts. Gen. Yaalon’s trip to Turkey was intended to buttress the western flank of the Turkish military operation. The Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disclosure in a Channel Two TV interview Tuesday night, December 24, of information that Iraq is hiding some of its chemical and biological weapons in Syria to keep them from UN inspectors – in keeping with the 2002 secret Syrian-Iraqi military pact – was intended as a hands-off warning to Damascus against interfering with the Turkish advance into Iraq.
27 December: Sharon’s main pursuit these days, according to debkafile‘s American and Palestinian sources, is a hush-hush, informal discourse with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the outline of a peace accord for creating a Palestinian state and shaping Israel’s final borders.
This settlement would be part and parcel of the Bush administration’s moves on Iraq and their regional corollary and is based on the US President’s Middle East blueprint of June 25.
The exchanges between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian leader are being carried back and forth by Arafat’s unofficial deputy, veteran PLO diplomat Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen.
Last week, President George W. Bush asked the Middle East Quartet to delay presentation of their “road map”, hoping the secret Sharon-Arab channel would yield positive results.
What is the Israeli prime minister offering? debkafile‘s sources reveal some highlights:
1. A Palestinian state consisting of West Bank Areas A and B. Israel would keep as sovereign territory Areas C plus around 10 percent of the land as well as the Jordan Rift Valley. The Palestinian state would thus rise on little more than 50 percent of the West Bank, leaving Israel just short of half.
2. Israel would likewise retain control of the main latitudinal highways running through the West Bank from the Israeli border in the West to the Jordan River in the East.
3. All the West Bank settlements, like the Jewish communities along these routes would remain in place under Israeli sovereignty.
3. A second road network would be tunneled underground at right angles to the first, providing territorial continuity between Palestinian locations under full Palestinian authority
4. This peace settlement would be implemented over 10 years. It would be contingent on the Palestinians calling off in the first stage all terrorist activity against Israel, disbanding the militias engaged in terror – including the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami and expunging all forms of anti-Israel agitation and incitement from Palestinian education programs and mass media.
5. Jerusalem is not under discussion. As far as Sharon is concerned Jerusalem’s fate is non-negotiable and the city will continue to be the undivided capital of Israel.
Bush and Sharon both seem to believe that this secret interchange can end positively, encouraged by the fact that Arafat sent Abu Mazen back with proposals of his own. They are:
1. The Palestinians must have 65 percent of the West Bank.
2. The West Bank’s lateral routes must also come under Palestinian sovereignty, but may be leased out to Israel for 25 years together with the roadside settlements.
3. The transitional period must be cut down from ten to two years.
4. Like Sharon, Arafat has not raised the Jerusalem issue. Abu Mazen is working on a compromise formula for transferring Temple Mount and some of Jerusalem’s Arab districts to Jordanian control. A joint Palestinian-Jordanian authority would be set up as a formality.
Despite the winds of hope blowing in Washington and Jerusalem, debkafile‘s Palestinian experts say that, outside the secret diplomatic interchange between Sharon and Arafat, nothing has changed in Israel-Palestinian relations. The new defense minister and chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz and Lt. General Moshe Yaalon, are conducting an intense crackdown against the spreading blight of suicidal terror – and especially to forestall the opening up of a second front when America goes to war in Iraq – with initial results. So far in December, three Israelis have died in terrorist attacks compared with 44 in November and 22 in October.
Nonetheless, Arafat and his clique believe Saddam Hussein will come out on top of the conflict with the Americans and that his confrontation with Israel will likewise end in victory.
As long as he cherishes that belief, our experts do not believe the Palestinian leader will sign or endorse any settlement – certainly not one on the minimalist lines offered by Sharon.
29 December: debkafile‘s intelligence and military sources report that Saturday, December 21 – or Sunday, December 22 – directly after his visit to London, Syrian president Bashar Assad traveled again – this time to a secret rendezvous with Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
He brought with him President George W. Bush’s final ultimatum to the Iraqi ruler, delivered into his hands by British premier Tony Blair.
According to sources familiar with this latest gambit, the Bush ultimatum consists of nine main points:
A. Saddam is given a last chance to voluntarily give up his weapons of mass destruction and avert a military showdown with the United States.
B. He must deliver a full, factual and public account of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in his possession, together with a solemn undertaking to hand the forbidden arms over to the UN arms inspectors within two weeks.
C. In return, the United States promises to suspend military preparations for war on Iraq, also –
D. not to treat the Iraqi president’s statement as a casus belli.
E. The United States will guarantee Saddam’s orderly retirement from office and the transfer of power to a new regime
F. With the handover of Iraq’s forbidden arsenal to the UN inspectors, the United States will grant Saddam Hussein and his family safe passage to the destination of their choice in an Arab country.
G. As a token of good faith, the United States postpones until January 1, the dispatch of half the ground, air and naval forces assigned to the war against Iraq – some 50,000 combat troops – to join the strength already posted in the region.
H. The United States does not expect a reply to its ultimatum; nor will it enter into direct or indirect negotiation on its terms. Saddam can take it or leave it.
I. If those terms are not met by New Year’s Day, the United States will order the next batch of fighting men to leave for their war stations in the Persian Gulf. The US campaign on Iraq will be deemed to have been launched.
The Syrian ruler came away from his meeting with Saddam without a reply. However, this week, the Iraqi ruler was unusually forthcoming on the UN inspectors’ requirements. Certain rare concessions appeared to signal his willingness to consider Washington’s terms seriously:
1. One or more of the Iraqi scientists interviewed by UN arms inspectors were allowed to drop hints about a secret Iraqi nuclear project.
2. On Saturday, December 27, Iraq submitted to the inspectors a surprisingly long list – 500 names – of Iraqi scientists employed on missile development and in nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programs.
3. Construction work has speeded up on the compound that has become known as “Saddam City” in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, five vast mansions are under construction in the northern suburbs of Tripoli.
Furthermore, Gulf sources close to Iraqi military intelligence, are again reporting pressure on Saddam from some Arab quarters to step down and go into exile.
On this subject, two views are reported current in Washington by debkafile‘s sources: One, that Saddam has no intention of bowing to the American ultimatum and is generating an atmosphere of compliance to buy time enough to gain himself a free hand.
30 December: The powerful blast that reverberated across eastern and central Lebanon Sunday, December 29, was caused by the explosion of a big surface missile in Hizballah hands and of Iraqi origin. Reporting this, debkafile‘s exclusive military and Lebanese sources reveal that the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group has recently taken delivery of a shipment of surface missiles, presumed to be medium-range, from the Iraqi army. The blast occurred at a Hizballah training camp near a village called Janta in the northeastern section of the Beqaa Valley close to the Syrian frontier. This camp is also used by the group as a testing ground for new weapons, short range missiles and explosive devices. The blast was heard at a distance of 20 km indicating a warhead of one ton at least.
According to our sources, the missile exploded suddenly, catching the Hizballah team handling it unawares and causing a large number of casualties, as indicated by the long line of ambulances and rescue teams reported by witnesses to be racing to the blast scene from northern and central Lebanon. Among them were Syrian military rescue vehicles.
Military sources consulted by debkafile ascribe the missile explosion to three possible causes:
A. One of the recently delivered Iraqi missiles exploded accidentally while being unpacked and stowed in an underground bunker by Hizballah teams.
B. One of the missiles was set up for launching against Israel and exploded prematurely. For the Hizballah, shooting even one missile into northern Israel would have gained the group enormous prestige in its Arab and Muslim milieu.
Our Lebanese sources report that the Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, is leaning hard on the Hizballah secretary general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to open a warfront against Israel in the hope of easing US military pressure on Iraq.
C. The Hizballah was setting the missile up for a practice launch when it blew up. This is unlikely as the Beqaa Valley is not the logical place for testing medium or long range missiles.