Failed Erez Assault Tied to Karbala-Baghdad Massacre

A major Palestinian attack averted in the nick of time in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, March 2, was designed as a link in the bloody terror chain connecting Karbala, Baghdad, Basra, Quetta and Israel’s largest city. Not by chance, they all occurred on the same day, marking the onset of a sweeping new terrorist offensive, launched simultaneously in three countries by a Palestinian-al Qaeda alliance backed by Tehran and Damascus.
The Tel Aviv and Basra hits failed. In Iran and Pakistan, more than 340 Shiites were murdered and untold harm wrought to Iraq’s prospects for the immediate future.
Four days later, Israel was confronted by a newly-aggravated threat: mixed units of suicide killers armed with guns and explosive-packed vehicles set up by the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades of Arafat’s Fatah, Hamas and the Jihad Islami which had struck up a partnership for this offensive. This new type of unit, designed to rack up the casualty toll, was seen for the first time early Saturday, March 5 at Erez, the main Gaza crossing point into Israel.
Four days earlier, the same format sowed mass death in Karbala and Baghdad among Shiite worshippers.
At Erez, two jeeps painted in IDF colors with Hebrew notices affixed to the front, driven by terrorists in Israeli uniforms, and a civilian taxi were used for an assault on the Israeli guard post. One jeep tried to rush the post, its driver shooting. Israeli troops shot back without hesitating and killed the driver. The second jeep then began hurling forward, this one packed with explosives. This vehicle, instead of exploding when it reached the Israeli position, was detonated by the exchange of fire as it passed the Palestinian security liaison post, killing at least three Palestinian officers and injuring some 20. The taxi driven by another suicide killer also exploded prematurely. The first jeep was meant to have cleared the way for the second jeep to reach the Israeli side before it detonated, but the unexpectedly rapid fire from the Israeli post upset the plan. The taxi, also loaded with explosives, was supposed to have used the smoke and confusion of the first blast to detonate alongside the rescue teams tending the wounded, so doubling or tripling the death toll.
The episode ended with no Israeli casualties. The three Palestinian terrorist groups warned that it was only the beginning of their new combined offensive.
In Iraq, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources estimate that between 600 and 800 operatives activated the elaborate intelligence and logistics machine that mounted the Ashura attacks in Baghdad and Karbala – a much broader infrastructure than the one supporting the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
The Erez attack was a message to Israel that the Palestinians would use terror to sabotage Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s proposals to unilaterally cut them off and arbitrarily evacuate settlements. Under such deadly assaults, Israeli troops will not be able to pull back from the Gaza Strip or remove settlements. The men in Ramallah are saying in effect: if we are not fit partners for peace talks, we are your adversaries in war – not that this changes much.
In a way, the terrorists have jumped the gun on President George W. Bush. He rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip for fear of sparking Palestinian violence synchronized with an upsurge of attacks in Iraq and other parts of the world in the course of his re-election campaign. Sharon was forced to put his plan on ice until 2005 when discussions would resume. The three-man White House-State Department team due in Jerusalem for a second round of talks in two months is coming to make sure that Israel does not take Washington by surprise with unexpected moves. While Israeli and American emissaries flew back and forth with “clarifications,” al Qaeda and the Palestinians struck.
Sharon is meanwhile effectively stalled in his initiatives. The measures announced this week are no more than reversible face-savers. One is the appointment of an official to draw up a resettlement-cum-compensation blueprint for Gaza Strip settlers to be evacuated. Another is the dispatch of foreign minister Silvan Shalom to Cairo next Thursday to seek Egyptian cooperation for securing the Philadelphi road running along the Israel-Egyptian border through the southern tip of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s withdrawal. The latter is an empty exercise given the foreign minister’s opposition to Sharon’s disengagement-withdrawal proposals and Egypt’s longstanding objections to replanting its feet in the Gaza quagmire. The last month has seen a succession of proposed caretakers for the territory after Israel leaves – NATO, Europe, the UK (joint British-Palestinian security bases), the Egyptians (who never mourned its loss in the 1967 war) – none too enthusiastic.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, in any case, has more immediate fish to fry.
The foreign ministers of the 22-member Arafat League who met in Cairo last week were unable to agree on an agenda to put before the Arab summit due to convene in Tunis on March 29, leaving the entire conference up in the air. All the ministers lined up in opposing the Bush administration’s Greater Middle East initiative for bringing political and economic reform to the region, although in different degrees. What bound them all was the demand for Washington to impose an Israeli-Palestinian peace solution first before expecting any progress on its larger democracy plan.
The trouble, as reported by debkafile‘s sources, is that the Arab foreign ministers were also sorely divided on the desired formula and framework for solving the Palestinian-Israel dispute.
Ali Maher of Egypt led the faction that favored acceptance of the Bailin-Abd Rabbo Geneva Accords although it was never accepted by the Israeli government. Saud al Faisal of Saudi Arabia led the faction urging a return to Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace plan as adopted by the 2002 Beirut summit plus certain amendments to update the document on the outcome of the Iraq War. Riyadh in other words would like to see the United States censured by the Arab world for invading Iraq. Syrian minister Farouk Shar’a made it clear that Damascus vetoed a priori any changes in the Saudi peace text.
The Egyptian president, when he meets President Bush at Crawford on April 12, for exhaustive talks on the region and global terror, risks facing the US president empty-handed. He may lack solid Arab backing if the Arab summit fails to materialize or reach agreement. He has therefore turned to Europe for help. In Paris he obtained from French president Jacques Chirac a statement endorsing the Arab demand to place an Israel-Palestinian solution ahead of the Greater Middle East democracy plan. He hopes for a similar statement from British premier Tony Blair.
The unacknowledged engine driving this diplomatic flurry is a bid by the Americans and Europeans to mend their fences and reach some sort of common strategy for Iraq, Syria, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict – an extremely tall order that is also bound up with the Bush campaign. Mubarak and Sharon are attempting to maneuver their way through the ups and downs of this ploy without much success. Both are scrambling frantically for a modicum of international legitimacy for their respective postures. But the uncertainty and controversy clouding the next steps in the region far from generating understanding have created fertile soil for the upsurge of terror.

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