3 February: A bizarre feature of the Israeli general election held on January 28 was – and still is – the almost obsessive media preoccupation with the losers, chiefly Labor and left-wing Meretz, and virtually no objective studies of the winner. No one asks how Ariel Sharon’s Likud managed to pull off a victory despite his government’s far from flawless performance. No one wants to know what the country can expect from his next administration.
Likud campaign managers, on instructions from Sharon, refrained from entering into a pre-election surplus vote distribution deal with Shas, even at the price of losing three to five mandates that would have brought Likud’s win of 38 seats in the 120-member Knesset well past the 40 mark. The prime minister was beckoning to Labor and the No.2 list, Lapid’s anti-religious Shinui (Change), that he was ready to ditch Likud’s traditional alliance with Shas in order to tempt these two secular parties into his national unity government coalition.
In any case, Sharon wants no more truck with the photo-ops with Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, forced on the last half a dozen Israeli prime ministers and the requirement to obtain his nod before every fateful national decision. He is after bigger game, a place in history as the determining voice in where Israel goes next and a role in Washington’s design for a new Middle East.
The Likud leader will face opposition in his own party to the rising star of a newcomer, defense minister Shaul Mofaz. DEBKAfile‘s political analysts believe that the fate of Mofaz will determine three key developments:
1. The Sharon government’s posture on the “road map” for a Palestinian settlement.
2. Israel’s post-Saddam role in the Middle East after US military action that could trigger a war with Syria and the Hizballah.
3. Sharon’s successor as Likud leader. The 75-year old veteran’s eye has seemingly fallen on Mofaz – both as favorite in government and potential successor. This choice has aroused ire in the prime minister’s immediate circle, especially his chief of staff Dov Weissglass; it ties in with the tussle taking place under the surface in Jerusalem over the Middle East Quintet’s “road map” to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The White House has given Israel time to offer its comments until a government is set up. Sharon’s comments will be shaped by the outcome of this contest.
Weissglass belongs to an important political faction which favors the Quintet’s “road map” formula offering the Palestinians independent statehood in three years. This faction hopes the formula would restore the Intifada-tarnished honor of the 1993 Oslo peace framework accords. Its members believe Sharon can be talked into accepting the signature of the “irrelevant” Arafat to a US-sponsored Israel-Palestinian “road map” accord, because he appreciates that without his signature, it will be unacceptable to any Palestinian.
The most obdurate opponent to the pro-Oslo faction and its goals is Shaul Mofaz.
As defense minister, Mofaz has broken ground carefully skirted by his Labor predecessor, Binyamin Ben Eliezer. Last month, he ordered Israeli forces to enter Gaza City, a town of 300,000 Palestinians, and destroy 100 weapons workshops, after a Qassam rocket barrage descended on locations in southern Israel. Earlier, Mofaz ordered the first Israeli raid of a Palestinian bank – an institution based in al Azariya near Jerusalem, owned by the Jordanian-Palestinian financier Abdul Majid Shuman.The equivalent of $10,000 earmarked for the Hamas’s terrorist campaign was impounded.
4 February: With the approach of American military action against Iraq, the United States and its war allies, including Israel, have gone on top alert to steel themselves against a multi-pronged mega-terror offensive assault.
According to debkafile‘s exclusive counter-terror and intelligence sources, six entities have come together to prepare this offensive, operating both together and independently. They are:
1. Iraqi military intelligence, or rather the dread Unit 999, which is an arm of the super-secret Fedayeen Saddam (Saddam’s Martyrs), commanded by the Iraqi ruler’s eldest son, Uday.
2. Al Qaeda’s top men.
3. Iraqi and Al Qaeda sleeper cells planted in the United States, Europe, the Persian Gulf and Israel.
4. Palestinian terrorists operating on West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian terror groups and militias based in Damascus.
5. Hizballah security and intelligence bodies working in harness with al Qaeda.
6. Hizballah leaders and high officers under instructions from Tehran to open a second anti-American front from Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East, in support of Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly and debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources reveal exclusively that the al Qaeda cells rolled up in the last three weeks in the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany – some plotting chemical attacks, some actually caught with the poisonous ricin in their possession – started their journeys to target in two places: Chechnya and Algeria.
Those same sources report too that interrogation of the dozens of terrorist suspects in custody revealed that Iraq and Saudi intelligence agents continue to provide the terror cells with operational intelligence, while Saudi institutions and bodies are al Qaeda’s primary source of funds and manpower.
The “smoking gun'” link between Iraq and al Qaeda is readily available to Secretary of State Colin Powell for use in his presentation before the UN Security Council on Wednesday, February 5. However, Washington is not yet prepared to expose Saudi complicity in the terror conspiracy.
The consensus of our experts is that the terror cells picked up in Europe before they went into action constituted the first wave of a multi-pronged offensive which Baghdad and al Qaeda planned to unfold in stages with the approach and onset of American military action against Iraq.
Wave One was to have struck European capitals and major cities with chemical toxins, such as ricin, and assassinations of prominent political and military figures. The 28-man Pakistani al Qaeda group captured last week in northern Italy plotted the murder of the British chief of staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, during a visit he paid to NATO’s Naples Headquarters.
Wave Two is destined for Israel. Al Qaeda cells assigned to carry out mega-attacks are already present, planted in Palestinian-controlled territory or secreted into Israeli towns from abroad.
Wave Three in the Persian Gulf is scheduled to come next and consist of attacks against US forces in the region and large-scale targets like aircraft carriers, warships and oil tankers.
Wave Four will aim for American cities and strategic installations and send hit teams against leading political, military, social and religious personalities.