Ashdod Spared Mega-Terror Attack
This Palestinian terror attack was different, marking more than one deadly departure. For the first time in the 42 months of their terrorist offensive against Israel, Palestinian bombers overcame the fence enclosing Gaza Strip and emerged for an assault that was meant to be more than a bloodbath; they were to cripple a strategic Israeli target 55 kilometers away, the important, busy Ashdod seaport on the Mediterranean through which most of its container traffic passes.
But the two teenagers assigned jointly by Arafat’s Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas missed their main objective, the port’s dangerous toxic materials stores. Ashdod was consequently only just spared Israel’s first mega-terror chemical attack.
Exultant Palestinians later brandished prepared placards depicting high flames and dense smoke clouds in their victory parades shortly after the raids. Even without achieving their chemical terror goal, they had reason to celebrate the strategic and psychological point scored – proof that no separation fences, including the one Israel is building on the West Bank, will bar their suicidal terrorists from wreaking death and destruction in Israel.
After the Ashdod blasts, Hamas released a video tape showing the two young suicide killers announcing that their operation marked a new phase in Palestinian warfare. They echoed the threat of more to come made on the recently-released tape of the two British terrorists who attacked Mike’s place in Tel Aviv last year.
Tracing the Ashdod bombers’ movements, debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report a four-man Fatah-Hamas hit team made its way to the Gaza Strip fence opposite Kibbutz Nahal Oz just before dawn on Saturday March 13. Two Hamas operatives armed with AK-47 assault rifles crossed first, intending to be detected by IDF cameras. They were shot dead. But the chase diverted the attention of Israeli troops from the two 17-year old bombers from Jebaliya who meanwhile scaled the fence and disappeared in the dark. Hamas later released an odd statement claiming the two dead Palestinians killed at the Gaza fence were on a mission for “Hamas and another Muslim group”, a code phrase for non-Palestinians, usually Hizballah or al Qaeda, both of which are present in the Gaza Strip and the West bank.
On the Israeli side of the Gaza fence, the two terrorists from Jebaliya were picked up by a waiting car whose driver, the fifth team member, had their bomb belts waiting. The vehicle fitted with real or forged Israeli plates made good time to Ashdod on the empty roads of early Saturday. Israeli investigators have not discovered where the three-man terror team hid up for the 22 hours until they struck on Sunday at 4.30 pm. Local Bedouin may have sheltered them somewhere nearby. When it was time, they headed to the port unnoticed.
What really perplexes Israeli security authorities is: how did one of the terrorists penetrate the fenced port area and its well-secured gate wearing a bomb belt? With this impediment he could hardly have scaled the almost three-meter fence, even with the help of his two team partners, and jumped down inside the port area without detonating the bombs strapped round his waist. Anyway it was broad daylight and an armed patrol would have spotted him. The fact that he got through unseen suggests he must have mingled with the port’s bustling comings and goings, on foot or hidden in a truck.
The second bomber hit an unprotected facility outside the port, possibly because access to the port was too difficult for two.
At this point, their luck ran out. Both were dead before any of them had reached the dangerous materials stores.
The episode laid bare a glaring hole recently opened up in Israeli intelligence in the Gaza Strip and not yet overcome. This hole was also evinced Saturday, March 6, when the first mixed Fatah al Aqsa-Hamas-Jihad Islami gang, using jeeps painted in Israeli military colors and sporting Hebrew signs, surprised the Israeli military guard post at Gaza’s Erez crossing. Their technical preparations and the jeeps driving towards Erez were not picked up by Israeli surveillance drones and aircraft patrolling Gaza’s skies who failed to alert the IDF troops at the crossing.
The same intelligence loophole was apparent in the Israeli retaliatory raid the following day against al Bureij and Nuseirat camps. Although nine armed Hamas men died in the fighting, the operation was based on an outdated premise current in December that Hamas leaders and senior operatives are on the run, afraid to show their faces and close to being compelled by the grievous losses of targeted assassinations into accepting a ceasefire and backing away from terrorism for a while.
However, early January, the fortunes of the jihadist terror group changed abruptly and secretly. Suddenly, it began mounting more complicated and sophisticated terrorist attacks than ever before. This month, while the IDF is being urged by some to redouble its attacks on Hamas so as to purge the Gaza Strip before its handover in the framework of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement proposals, the Islamic group is redoubling its terrorist assaults on Israeli targets.
The Islamic fundamentalist group’s astonishing recovery is laid by debkafile‘s Palestinian and counter-terror sources at the door of Yasser Arafat, who in recent weeks has made Fatah-al Aqsa manpower, logistical means, war materials and funds available for bringing Hamas out of its crisis. One of his motives in reconstituting the fundamentalist group is to set up a barrier against the Gaza Strip’s takeover by his rival Mohammed Dahlan.
The new Fatah-Hamas collaboration was displayed in the joint announcement made very shortly after the Ashdod bombing. The two Gazan bombers were identified as Nabil Massoud and Muhammed Salem, “temporary dwellers” of a Gaza Strip refugee camp, bent on “liberating their former home villages of Abariya and Deir Sneid,” which until 1948 were situated on the sand dunes built over by the city of Ashdod.
Arafat and his Fatah have thus doctored their battle cry, which until now called for an end to Israel’s “1967 occupation of Arab lands,” and taken it to the further extreme of encompassing the borders laid down in the 1947 UN partition resolution. In this way, Fatah has gone far towards an ideological compromise with the radical Hamas, whose declared objective is to expel all Israelis from every part of former Palestine.