From New York Trade Center to Hebron, Haifa and Iraq

Fifteen Israelis – mostly high school pupils and Haifa university students – were murdered in a powerful blast generated by a Palestinian homicidal suicide while riding on a Haifa bus on Wednesday, March 5. Only two had lived to see their 45th year. The killer, a Palestinian aged 20 from the West Bank town of Hebron, was identified as Mahmoud Hamdan Selim Kawasme, member of a big Hebron clan and kinsman of a former mayor.
A note found on his body praised to heaven the al Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities in New York, in which more than 3000 people died.
Initially he was described as a member of the Islamic extremist Hamas. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources say his affiliation is not quite so cut and dried. The young killer was in fact a disciple of Fawzi Ayoub, the high-ranking Lebanese Hizballah officer who infiltrated Israel as a Canadian tourist at the end of 2001and went to ground in Palestinian-controlled territory. Last July, he was picked up hiding in the rubble of the big Palestinian police headquarters building in Hebron, after it had been torn apart by the IDF, room by room, when the terrorists sheltering there refused to surrender.
Ayoub was one of a group of Hizballah instructors, expert in terrorist techniques, who were imported by Yasser Arafat under a secret pact he forged with Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah before launching his Intifada in September 2000. On orders from Arafat, the Palestinian West Bank Security head, Jibril Rajoub, made arrangements for keeping the group hidden. Ayoub spent the time training dozens of young Palestinians as Hizballah, not Hamas, cadres in Hebron.
The high combat skills he imparted to these Palestinian terrorists were evident in the ambush on Worshippers’ Lane on the way to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs carried out on November 16, 2002, in which 12 Israeli army and security officers and men lost their lives. debkafile reported at the time that, although the assailants were identified as Jihad Islami, the attack bore the imprint of Fawzi Ayoub.
The note found on the body of Mahmoud Kawasme, protege of a Hizballah officer, epitomizes the murky operational collaboration that debkafile first exposed two years ago between Arafat’s Palestinian movement, the Lebanese Hizballah and al Qaeda.
The 15 Israelis murdered in the Haifa bus blast were not only victims of Palestinian and Hizballah terror, but also of the final countdown to the American-led offensive against Iraq. debkafile‘s military sources note that as of March 1, that offensive is no more than days off. Israeli intelligence commander Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi said quite plainly on Wednesday, March 5, that the war against Iraq could start in the middle of next week, which would be seven days after the atrocious terrorist attack in Haifa, namely March 12.
These last days will not be easy ones for Israelis. Arafat, scheming away in his Ramallah headquarters, will strive with all his might to mount a spate of horrendous terrorist attacks to prove that Israel’s military stranglehold on Palestinian cities is powerless to prevent him from opening a second front in support of his friend, Saddam Hussein. He will not be the only instigator of violence; Iraqi terrorist cells operating in Jordan and Israel will do their worst, as will the Hizballah and al Qaeda cells, which have been biding their time for this critical moment. All these groups will seek to show their paces together and in competition in the days leading up to the war on Iraq.
The United States and British military buildup within striking distance of Iraq has just about reached the peak necessary for the invasion to begin. According to our military sources, the forces still en route are mainly auxiliary and non-combat troops and the aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz. The Turkish dilemma and question mark hanging over the northern front appear to be nearing resolution.
On Wednesday, March 5, President George W. Bush held his final battle planning conference at the White House. It was attended by the Iraq war commander, General Tommy Franks, and the president’s top strategic team, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, secretary of state Colin Powell and CIA director George Tenet.
The conference took place in the glare of intense diplomatic and publicity hype. The chief UN arms inspector, Hans Blix, granted an unheralded, widely televised news conference at UN headquarters at which he jumped the gun on the report he was scheduled to deliver to the Security Council on Friday, March 7. He credited Iraq with real cooperation for real disarmament. Just a few hours earlier, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany declared after an unscheduled rendezvous in Paris that they would oppose any Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Both Blix and the three anti-war governments were under no illusion by Wednesday that they had the slightest chance of pre-empting American military action against Iraq. The tide of terror is advancing on the Middle East, Israel, the United States and Europe with the same inevitability.

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