Grave Security Lapses Led up to Mike’s Place Attack

The suicide terror attack at the Blues cafe Mike’s Place near the US Embassy in Tel Aviv last Wednesday, April 30, was made possible by grave security lapses – British and Israeli.
British security and intelligence services have paid in the past – and will continue to pay long and dear – for their government’s policy of giving extremist Muslims free rein in the country, a policy dating back to the 1950s. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s activists were the first to be welcomed in the UK, followed by a stream of political dissidents, heads of paramilitary militias and religious extremists on the run from Arab or Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; next came Egyptian Jihad Islami and al Qaeda adherents.
Protests from the Egyptian president, the Saudi royal court and the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem went unheeded. The British responded habitually that by sheltering these elements and letting them run loose, they gained influence in the Arab and Muslim world. In this way, London was for thirty years the most important Islamic center in western Europe, overtaken only very recently by Paris. When Washington pointed out the dangers posed by hosting large concentrations of Muslim extremists and giving them freedom of action, the British had an off-the-record explanation: Their presence facilitated the penetration by the British services of extremist groups and enabled them to nip terrorist outbreaks in the bud.
In the last two years, this “intelligence” argument has lost credibility. Zacharias Moussaoui, the first al Qaeda terrorist to stand trial for the 9/11 outrages, Richard Reid the would-be “shoe bomber” who failed to blow up an American Airlines plane in December 2001 – are only two recent examples of terrorists who openly called the UK home. They were preceded by officers of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, who were made very welcome in Britain and still enjoy British support – even after Palestinians attempted in 1982 to assassinate Israeli ambassador, the late Shlomo Argov, in London. In the seventies, the first Palestinian hijacker of an El Al plane was set free by the British authorities.
Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif were their natural successors.
It is no coincidence that at least three of the most vicious terrorist attacks in the last two years were perpetrated by radical Muslims who worshiped, studied and joined activities centering on the Finsbury Park mosque in northern London ruled by the preacher known as Abu Hamza. Britain’s security service knew about the pair’s links with Islamic extremists but did not place them under surveillance. According to London’s “intelligence” argument, British security on the spot should have been able to uncover the plans afoot there and acted to prevent them. That this did not happen invalidates the argument. It also lays Britain – and not just Israel – itself open to the threat of terror.
In actual fact, these Muslim groups are adept at sealing themselves off from interlopers. Some US terror experts suggest that they have turned the tables on British intelligence. Instead of accessing the militant groups, MI5 and MI6 have themselves been penetrated.
Because of this suspicion, the Americans denied the British any real military or intelligence role in the Afghan War – and only a partial task after it was over. Washington is also aware that even after the al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington, the Afghan Campaign, the global war on terror and the Iraq War, the British government abides by its indulgent asylum policy. And although British forces maintain military control of southern Iraq from Basra, occupying strategic tracts along the Iraq-Iran frontier, prime minister Tony Blair and foreign secretary Jack Straw adhere to London’s traditional pro-Arab stance in the Middle East as though nothing has changed.
While Washington seeks to exploit the momentum for change in the region created by Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, London is intent on wooing the Arab and Muslim governments in order to climb back in their favor. And while the Bush administration puts the Assad regime on notice to stop sponsoring Palestinian terror groups and the Lebanese Hizballah – even before Washington decides on its tactics British government spokesmen have rushed in to assure the Syrians they need not fear American military action.
Because of this policy, there was no point in British security services addressing debkafile‘s weekend revelations that one member of the British terrorist team that attacked the Tel Aviv cafe near the US embassy spent four months in Damascus, joined later by his partner. Both spent time at an al Qaeda training camp in Syria. As long as their government appeases Damascus – Syrian president Bashar Assad was an official guest at 10 Downing Street – which British security official will be brave enough to ask Blair or Straw how their friend permitted an al Qaeda training facility to spring up near Damascus? Given their attitude towards Arafat, what undercover British agent will dare question the links between his terrorist organizations and Osama bin Laden’s network?
Yet in the last two years, three British terrorists linked to al Qaeda gained logistical support and a Palestinian jumping off or training base in the Gaza Strip. There, in 2001, the “shoe bomber” was instructed in the craft of blowing up airliners and in April 2003, Hanif and Khan followed in his explosive footsteps. As regards Reid, intelligence sources have named Muhammed Dahlan – the new internal security minister in Abu Mazen’s government – as being in on Reid’s arrival in the Gaza Strip and having sent underlings to meet him. Palestinian security would scarcely have missed the two British terrorists’ arrival. At best, their plans were known: at worst, the local Palestinian services extended the two British terrorists a helping hand for preparing their operation and moving in and out of Israel. In any case, Fatah and Hamas publicized their role n what was clearly a combined operation.
This is the point at which Israeli and British security must share responsibility for failing to pick up on the terror conspiracy in motion. The Israeli authorities at least know that in the fight against terror there can be no ambivalence. If it is not fought relentlessly, the price will be paid in innocent lives.
Some Israeli media echo the British campaign that glorifies the actions of the “foreign peace activists” who provide armed Palestinians with human shields against Israel counter-terror operations. Their standing in the Palestinian terror movement was manifested when Hamas canonized Rachel Corrie, the 23-year old American activist crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in at Rafah in March, as a holy martyr.
During the first Palestinian uprising in 1987, scores of British pro-Palestinian welfare workers entered the Gaza Strip, most of them Oxfam volunteers. Many converged on the strategic Rafah sector. The few Israeli security experts who took note of their presence remarked that the worst excesses of the uprising erupted in the very areas frequented by the British anti-war activists. The CIA also found this juxtaposition interesting. However, Israeli policy-makers decided at the time to leave the foreign activists alone for the sake of amicable relations with the British government.
Sixteen years later, the “peace activists” are back in the Rafah region close to the Israel-Egyptian frontier and the arms smuggling tunnels. Since they arrived, this sector is fast becoming one of the most militarily sensitive of Israel’s many fighting fronts, no less than the Israel-Lebanese frontier. As the presence of “peace activists” expands, Israeli-Palestinian clashes gain in ferociousness and the death toll rises. Anyone caught in the crossfire is liable to pay with his life, as did the British cameraman James Miller on a pitch-dark night on Friday, April 2.
Hanif and Sharif posed as peace activists to pass between the Gaza Strip and Israel. They took part in a march in Rafah commemorating Corrie’s death. They were therefore not only well connected with Palestinians in the area but must also have had contacts among the anti-war activists, most of whom are from Great Britain. Israeli security, which has taken lightly the potential for trouble posed by the foreign “human shields”, missed this web of connections, a lapse that needs to be urgently corrected.
Another gaping hole in Israeli security was used by the two terrorists when they smuggled unknown explosive substances into Israel for use in their bomb belts. These substances may have passed through Israeli security screening at two border crossings without being detected. Even carried in a Koran, they should have been found. That is one possibility. Even if the belts were smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Sinai through one of the Rafah smuggling tunnels – which the peace activists defend with their lives – how did the two British perpetrators get them out from Gaza into Israel?
It is also possible that the bomb belts or the explosive materials filling them were smuggled into Israel well in advance of the attack in Tel Aviv. Asif and Sharif would then have passed though Israeli checkpoints without carrying explosives. They would have taken delivery of the complete belts in the West Bank or in Israel from the hands of a courier.
This option recalls the 2002 Passover massacre of 29 celebrants at the Park Hotel in the Mediterranean resort town Netanya, staged as debkafile revealed at the time to distract attention from the beaching of a group of terrorists with large quantities of explosives. Some Israeli counter-terror sources date to this event the laying of the groundwork for the partnership-for-terror among al Qaeda, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Arafat’s Fatah.
Bin Laden’s organization is wont to lay its plans carefully and in detail, unlike the Palestinians who improvise as they go along. Since setting up its operational cells in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, al Qaeda has pulled off two attacks – a semi-successful one against Israeli targets in Mombasa and another at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv. Palestinian intelligence was crucial for both. Al Qaeda’s contingency planning also provided for failure. Sharif’s escape from the bombed area after he failed to detonate his belt was clean, indicating that a getaway car and a safe house were prepared in advance in case two live terrorists had to be rushed from the scene before they were caught. This “rescue squad” could only have been Palestinian. Its efficiency and very existence is another serious lapse that must be laid at the door of Israeli security.

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