A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

5 January: The official announcement that Israel’s anti-ballistic missile Arrow 2 system is to be tested Sunday, January 5, in “difficult and unusual flying conditions, in a complex targeting environment”, raises questions – especially when US defense officials have come especially to observe the first nearly simultaneous launching of four Arrow missiles, one of them armed.

One of those questions is this: How come this multi-billion ballistic missile system, tested-fired 9 times, is only being test-launched in “difficult and unusual conditions” on the eve of war with Iraq?

Another is: What are those difficult conditions?

It is worth remembering, as DEBKAfiles military sources stress, that the two Arrow batteries deployed in central and southern Israel are capable of shooting down 5 to 6 incoming missiles. The Arrow’s big asset lies in its radar. While Green Pine is capable of judging the path of an enemy missile and its target shortly after it takes off – from as far away as 500km – questions exist about its ability to simultaneously track a large number of incoming missiles and calculate the number of warheads needed to intercept them before they hit target. The difference between doubt and certainty is measured in seconds. While Israeli may be the first country with complete anti-missile capability, it has its limits.

To stop this gap in Israel’s anti-ballistic missile defenses, the IDF has deployed all the Patriot and Hawk batteries in its armory, while the Americans have rushed over improved Patriot batteries.

Sunday’s hurried test-launching is being staged to settle a difference of opinion between Israel and American air defense experts. The Israeli side is certain the batteries in place can be safely counted on to defend the country against enemy missile assault; the Americans are less certain and want to see Israel’s assertion stand up to field testing.

6 January: The US is expected to launch the coming war against Iraq with parachute drops on Baghdad, together with commando landings in the city from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

A large-scale force will meanwhile encircle the Iraqi capital, while a mighty tank force dashes north from Kuwait and Qatar, bypassing the southern Iraqi Shiite cities of Najef and Karbala and circumventing the Iraqi army defending Baghdad. Those tanks will join the encircling force.

The object of this colossal movement of military strength is to lay Baghdad to siege.

This tactic and the consistency of the strength for its execution, debkafile‘s military sources report, have been taken from the Israeli doctrine of besieging Palestinian West Bank cities in order to lower the level of terror. The doctrine was initiated by defense minister Shaul Mofaz in his last job as IDF chief of staff and has been carried on by his successor, Lt. General Moshe Yaalon.

For over four months, American military officers have been observing Israeli units at first hand, as they operate against terrorists in Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Ramallah, watching also the IDF method of isolating Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters.

According to our sources, American military planners are transposing the anti-terror tactics they have witnessed on the West Bank as battle plans for the 101st Airborne Division fighters destined for Baghdad. Israeli tank maneuvers under helicopter cover have been studied in Jenin as a model for the 3rd US division’s M1 Abrams main battle tanks to follow, in the streets of the Iraqi capital. This strategy consists essentially of pouring with stunning speed into targeted urban districts large-scale tanks columns armed with heavy firepower, together with armored units under helicopter and drone air cover, as well as crack fighting units, such as paratroops.

According to debkafile‘s military sources, the American strategists were also interested in the second half of the Israeli doctrine, namely the way in which Arafat has been corralled in his Ramallah administration and terror headquarters for more than 10 months, together with 20 to 30 Palestinian terror chieftains who dare not come out from under his protection.

US war leaders are planning to use tanks, drones and crack troops in a similar fashion to beleaguer Saddam Hussein, his family and top staff in the palace or bunker in Baghdad or Tikrit in which they are holed up – for as long as it takes. They see no need to break in and capture him, only to wait patiently outside his gates until he surrenders or agrees to leave the country.

The road of departure is also open to Arafat.

With this tactic accepted in Washington – a source of no little pride in Sharon’s circle – the Israeli prime minister and his inner defense cabinet – Mofaz, foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu and public security minister Uzzi Landau – agreed Sunday night, January 5, not to deport Arafat from Ramallah, despite the cruel provocation of the terror massacre perpetrated a few hours earlier in Tel Aviv.

Two suicide bombers from Nablus, activists of the military wing of Arafat’s Fatah, the al Aasa Martyrs’ Brigades, blew themselves up in a poor Tel Aviv district frequented by migrant workers from East Europe, Thailand, China and West Africa and bus commuters. The killers held their 15-kilo charges, packed with nuts, ball-bearings and shrapnel, high in the air to wreak maximal carnage – 23 dead, more than one hundred injured.

Israelis are being called upon to pay a terrible price. But Sharon remains convinced, as he told injured victims of the Tel Aviv attack whom he visited in hospital Monday, January 5, that though the struggle is protracted and savage, Israel is bound to vanquish the terrorists in the end.

Defense minister Mofaz, coming earlier out from briefing the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, predicted that Arafat would step down, an action that would make way for Israel and the Palestinians to go back to the negotiating table. The dictates of reality, he said, are bringing the moment for a new Palestinian leadership to take over ever closer.

8 January: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud is losing ground over this week’s revelations that a long-time friend, South African textile tycoon Cyril Kern, made a low-interest loan to son Gilad Sharon to pay back illegal foreign contributions to the Likud leader’s 1999 primaries campaign.

Even if Sharon was guilty of wrongdoing – which he is not — the average Israeli knows that corruption is rampant in Israeli society and is more concerned with Palestinian suicide bombings that have turned life in the Jewish state into a Russian roulette.

Sharon’s main opponent in the January 28 ballot, Labor leader Amram Mitzna, has demanded the prime minister resign or make a full public accounting.

By focusing on so-called election scandals, Israeli media are missing the real picture: corruption and a real criminal underworld do exist in Israel but it is all being swept under the table while the dirt is being dished elsewhere.

In the 1990s, elements linked to mafia in Russia and other former states of the Soviet Union tried to penetrate the center of the Israeli political system. But their efforts were largely unsuccessful.

It is now the Palestinians’ turn. Since he and his henchmen returned to the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1993 Oslo accords, Yasser Arafat has been trying to establish links with Israeli businessmen, some of whom hold political office or influence, through his wide-ranging financial interests in Europe and South America and the casino project in Jericho.

A small number of courageous Israelis, such as defense minister Shaul Mofaz and army chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, have managed to block these attempts and keep the Jericho gambling den closed. And here is where there is a big light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite their attempts to buy their way to the top and eagerness on the part of Israeli banks to accept their money, mafia kingpins have failed to achieve political influence in Israel.

Most of the crooked millionaires who came here — Americans, Argentines, Mexicans, Britons, Swiss, Russians, Poles and Palestinians – have left the country and taken their money elsewhere.

By focusing on corruption, Mitzna and Labor secretary general Ofer Pines are running a muckraking campaign of the basest kind. They won’t win; some of the mud they are slinging will end up sticking to them.

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