The most acute unvoiced threat hovering palpably over the Middle East and the Persian Gulf regions is that of weapons of unconventional warfare.
On the assumption that Israel tops Saddam Hussein’s list of targets for his weapons of mass destruction, prime minister Ariel Sharon summoned intelligence and security chiefs on Wednesday, August 7, for a practical review of the country’s preparations for a mega-attack.
For mega-attack, read nuclear-chemical-biological warfare.
This review was accompanied by the distribution of top-secret protective equipment to Israel’s home front command and its rescue units which operate under the umbrella of the Magen David Adom ambulance service and local fire brigades. The gear is newly developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments authority and Israel Military Industries and includes suits with self-contained de-contamination systems effective against radioactive, chemical and biological pollution.
According to the latest information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism and intelligence sources, the Iraqi leader and his military chiefs are determined to turn biological warfare into Iraq’s instrument of retaliation for a US attack. They have moreover singled Israel out for the world’s first mass biological attack against an entire national population.
Most recently, the men in Baghdad turned the tables on their two primary targets for biological warfare: the US and Israel. Both governments kicked off their prevention campaigns earlier this summer with smallpox vaccinations, embarking on anti-anthrax campaigns only very recently. Now, US and Israeli intelligence experts have received updates revealing Baghdad’s decision this week to reverse the order of its biological retaliation – anthrax would be released first, smallpox reserved for a second strike.
After Israel, the second target of Iraq’s anthrax-laden weapons will be the US military invasion force and troops stationed around its borders in Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan. In the third and decisive stage, Iraq will launch a massive anthrax attack against civilian targets in the United States.
The smallpox virus will be released later.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that US intelligence has received its first data affirming that Iraqi military intelligence was responsible for last year’s anthrax letter outbreak, which affected 22 Americans and killed five. The outbreak was manufactured as a tryout for a more sinister campaign to come. Weaponized anthrax spores, made more virulent in the laboratory than naturally occurring bacteria, were found in letters mailed to US congressional leaders.
This discovery bodes ill for Iraq’s future bio-warfare plans.
US authorities have since laid in massive supplies of antibiotics for the prophylactic treatment of suspected anthrax cases, while rapidly issuing anti-anthrax shots to American troops in the Middle East and the further tens of thousands on their way to the war arena. Israel too is giving its troops anti-anthrax shots. After the armed forces, both governments will immunize their civilian populations against the deadly spores.
In the United States, anti-smallpox vaccinations began in early June for 15,000 public health workers. Most of the tens of thousands of US military personnel in the Middle East have since been vaccinated.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, US military units in Europe, primarily in Germany, began to receive smallpox vaccinations last week, prior to their consignment to the Middle East. Military medical units were the first to feel the needle, followed by mechanized infantry divisions and the 49th armored division now on the way to region.
Israel started vaccinating public service workers and military personnel only at the end of July.
Israeli military intelligence experts have outlined the following WMD scenarios for the benefit of DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
— Iraqi missiles will deliver poisonous chemical and biological agents.
— A bio-terror strike will be carried out in an Israeli town by an Iraqi military intelligence cell hiding up on the West Bank or infiltrating from Jordan. Israeli security agencies have learned that Iraqi agents have been filtering into Palestinian-controlled areas in the last two months. Yasser Arafat’s senior terror operative, Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, who commands the Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, has organized well-protected hideouts for these agents in certain West Bank rural districts. Tirawi is also in regular touch with Iraqi military intelligence cells in Amman through couriers he secretes across the Jordan River border with the help of smugglers’ gangs.
He decided that the Iraqi agents reaching the West Bank would be safer and more mobile if concealed in remote rural areas away from Palestinian towns, almost all of which are occupied or encircled by Israeli troops and tank forces.
According to the latest data in the hands of Israeli and US intelligence – data that was substantiated recently by their opposite numbers in Jordan and Turkey – some of the clandestine Iraqi agents are carrying sprays loaded with anthrax bacteria. Some of the gadgets are the size of transistor radios; others as large as fire extinguishers. Some sources suggest that one or two Iraqi operatives may be armed with radiological – or dirty – bombs primed for activation
Iraqi bio-terror agents are not the only threat on the loose.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources point to a possible attempt to replicate the September 11 attacks in the US by sending hijacked passenger planes as flying bombs against strategic targets.
Such an attempt could be staged to relieve American military pressure on Iraq. A candidate for setting one up would be the arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, whom US intelligence suspects of co-planning the 9/11 attacks, and who has set up his operational quarters in southern Lebanon near Israel’s northern border.
Both the United States and Israel believe Mughniyeh, who straddles the al Qaeda and Iranian terror networks at the highest level and is close also to Baghdad, is deep into the short-term planning of mega-terror attacks in Israel, Turkey or Jordan.
Their twin objective would be to hold off the US offensive against Iraq and celebrate the first anniversary of the September 11 hijack-suicides.
Mughniyeh’s terror legions include al Qaeda fighters who received Iraqi WMD training in northern Iraq.
This week, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed the presence of al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. Almost a year earlier, on September 28, 2001, DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 31 reported the presence of Osama bin Laden’s men in the northern Iraqi-Kurdish towns of Biyar and Tawil, near the Turkish border.
Their trip to northern Iraq was to take intensive training at the hands of Iraqi army experts and instructors in the operation, by three- or four-man squads, of bombs and explosives containing chemical and biological materials.
In previous issues, our sources confirmed that Bin Laden is in possession of radiological devices and the know-how for their delivery.
Most of these al Qaeda WMD trainees are now scattered through central Iraq, south Lebanon, western Europe and the Balkan states of Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia, operating under the orders of Mughniyeh’s central command.
Available to some of those Middle East operatives for terror strikes are light planes, motorized hang gliders and ultra-light aircraft.
Israeli jitters were heightened by an incident on August 2: Two ultra-light private planes were blown off-course into the closed airspace over the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israeli air force jets scrambled to intercept them, forcing the civilian pilots to land in the middle of the desert and have their flying licenses suspended.
Both US and Israeli intelligence are cited by our sources as regarding Israel’s nuclear reactor as high on Saddam’s list of strategic targets in Israel. Its destruction would be sweet revenge for Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
Israel is also keeping a close watch on its coasts, to guard against landings by fast boats lowered from cargo ships in the Mediterranean for attacks against Israel’s high-density central conurbation, the location of its main ports, power plants, refineries and fuel depots. A mere handful of terrorist squads landing by sea could paralyze key utilities and inflict heavy casualties.
Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait are similarly threatened, as are US armed forces units stationed there.