A Palestinian Suicide Bombing Catches Israel’s Electioneering Leaders Unawares

The Palestinian Jihad Islami suicide bombing that left 5 Israelis dead and 55 injured outside Netanya’s Sharon shopping mall caught the Sharon government and Israel’s security chiefs by surprise. debkafile‘s exclusive sources reveal that Israeli security forces guided by the Shin Beit believed they had wiped out a dangerous Jihad Islami cell in Jenin in weeks of raids and roundups. However, they missed one last bomb team, a dispatcher and a suicide bomber equipped with a explosive device, who eluded the dragnet. Netanya was therefore not alerted to the danger and the local police were just carrying out routine patrols.
Caught napping, the Israeli government responded predictably by imposing a closure on the northern West Bank’s villages, including the killer’s village of Ilar north east of Tulkarm, and shut down the Gaza Strip’s exits to Israel, barring the Karni goods crossing. A comprehensive offensive to hunt down the Jihad Islami’s operatives and leaders was promised, a repeat of the pledge given after the Oct. 26 suicide attack on the open-air market of Hadera, just south of the coastal town of Netanya, which killed six Israelis.
Gideon Ezra, minister of internal security, up to his ears preparing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s campaign for reelection in March at the head of the new Kadima party, was caught in an unfortunate slip of the tongue. He said: “We know that the terrorists are concentrated in northern Samaria.”
Israeli bases and civilians were withdrawn from Northern Samaria three months ago together with the Gaza Strip. As he fights an election, Sharon does not need this reminder, which can only raise questions about the timeliness and wisdom of pulling Israel counter-terror forces out of a region admittedly teeming with terrorists.
The same question is being asked insistently about the Gaza Strip – especially by the missile-battered Israelis who live within range of Palestinian launch-crews in the Western Negev. Day by day, they see Israeli airplanes and artillery bombing empty sand dunes and buildings while the missiles keeping coming. It has also not escaped the notice of Israel’s intelligence chiefs that al Qaeda has moved from Sinai into the gaping security vacuum of Gaza. Even party leaders expect their campaign to occasion a terrorist spectacular at some point.
Yet a flock of American and European officials are due in Jerusalem in the next few days to force Israel to open a land link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, without bothering about security measures. They also want the Gaza crossings to Israeli kept open in all circumstances. The Palestinians may therefore count on getting a convenient passage safe from Israel’s scrutiny to link the Palestinian and Islamic terrorist bases in Gaza to their strongholds in northern Samaria.
Defense minister Shaul Mofaz, himself fighting in a leadership primary to fill Sharon’s evacuated shoes as head of Likud, has meanwhile declared that targeted assassinations would be resumed in the Gaza Strip against terrorist leaders and Qassam missile crews.
For the umpteenth time, Abu Mazen was put on notice to crack down on Palestinian terrorists – notwithstanding his automatic refusal to do any such thing. This time, the chorus was joined by a new voice: election hopeful, Labor’s new broom Amir Peretz, collected all the party’s retired generals and defense chiefs for their first photo op as a “shadow’ administration. All posed eagerly on the mark.
In this atmosphere, it was not surprising to find the security forces responding sluggishly to the unexpected emergency of a deadly explosion in Netanya. The Magen David emergency service was as fast and efficient as ever. But an inquiry has been launched to find out whether the local police were justified in refraining from shooting the bomber when he was in their sights.
When a police patrol was alerted by a bystander to a shifty-looking character heading for the Sharon mall with his hand in a big bag, a policewoman jumped out of the vehicle and gave chase. She saw that the bomber had been grabbed by the mall’s security guard, Haim Amram, 26, from Netanya, to keep him away from the entrance. She shouted to Amram to pull the Palestinian’s hand out of the bag and screamed to the crowd to stand back. She was too late. The killer detonated his bomb. Amram took the full force of the blast and, with four bystanders, died on the spot.
The policewoman’s gun was out and so were the weapons of two more policemen at the scene, but none were fired.

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