Cairo to move Meshaal to Gaza. Assad threatens war on Israel
Egypt's military rulers promised Hamas' political leader Khaled Meshaal to let him transfer his base, command center and residence from troubled Damascus to a new haven in the Gaza Strip as an inducement for signing the Palestinian unity agreement with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah on May 4. This is disclosed for the first time by debkafile's intelligence sources. In Damascus, Bashar Assad's close confidante Rami Makhlouf threatened that Syria would go to war against Israel in reprisal for US and Europe backing for the uprising.
Makhlouf, an international business tycoon, is on the US and EU sanctions lists. In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, May 11, he said: "If there is no stability here, there's no way there will be stability in Israel. No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime."
He advised the US and Europe not to "put a lot of pressure on the president, don't push Syria to do anything it is not happy to do."
The Syrian president is examining two strategic options, he said: "Going to war against Israel, and/or sending weapons shipments to the West Bank and to Israeli Arabs for use in terrorist attacks against Israel.
debkafile's military sources note that Makhlouf, who is a cousin of Bashar Assad, built up his fortune from smuggling Saddam Hussein's underground fighters, weapons and funds from their havens in Syria to Iraq, as well as al Qaeda combatants and leaders to fight Americans into the wartorn country. He therefore has excellent connections with terrorist networks and is very familiar with their requirements for pursuing suicide bombing campaigns.
The tycoon would not have made his remarks to the NYT without the Syrian president's nod. So they may be safely interpreted as a declaration that the Assad regime is holding Israel hostage for its survival against the groundswell of popular disaffection shaking it for more than two months.
Those remarks were also addressed to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, the sources of weapons consignments to Syrian protesters which Damascus believes Saudi Arabia as well as the US and European nations are generating. If that influx is not stopped, therefore, the Syrian government threatens to respond in kind by secreting arms and money into the West Bank and Israeli Arab districts in order to foment an armed uprising against Israel. This step would also undermine another Western interest by menacing Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
According to debkafile's intelligence sources, the transfer of Khaled Meshaal lock, stock and barrel, from Damascus to Gaza serves the diametrically opposite interests of the current Egyptian and Syrian rulers alike. It was agreed between them – out of totally different considerations – during several visits to the Syrian capital by the new Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Murad Muwafi from mid-March to late April:
For Cairo, the relocation of the Hamas epicenter to Gaza is pivotal to Egypt's return to an active role in the Palestinian arena, whereas Damascus sees the strengthened Hamas presence in Gaza as a key instrument for implementing Makhlouf's threats.
Our sources say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to these disruptions with two discreet steps:
1. The defense ministry's political coordinator, Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, was removed from the Israeli-Egyptian military-cum-intelligence track. The formal reason given for his exclusion was the removal from power of Hosni Mubarak's intelligence minister, Gen. Omar Suleiman, with whom Gilad developed strong personal ties. He is now under investigation and partial house arrest in Egypt.
The real reason is that his evaluations and forecasts which formed the basis of Israel's security policy in recent years proved erroneous. The Israeli government must now go back to square one to chart new courses in the face of radical changes around its borders.
2. Gilad's place is taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu's personal political adviser, Yitzhak Molcho, who earlier this week was sent to Cairo for talks with the new intelligence minister, Gen. Muwafi, to explore the new ties between Egypt, Syria and Hamas and find out what Cairo was aiming for by the reshuffle of these relationships.
Molcho returned to home just before Independence Day (Tuesday, May 10) with a very despondent report. The only ray of light he saw was the possibility of Syria and Egypt, each for its own reasons, leaning on Hamas to climb down on its price for setting the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit free nearly five years after he was kidnapped on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.
While Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were putting their heads together on tactics for grappling with the explosive new situation Egypt is helping to put in place in the Gaza Strip, Makhlouf put a message from his masters up front: The real danger to Israel of a military flare-up lies in Damascus which continues to call the Palestinian shots.