In the course of 2005, the United States crossed the line beyond which a victory against the al Qaeda-backed Iraqi guerrilla insurgents was no longer feasible.
That is one of the conclusions submitted in recent weeks to both Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and King Abdullah II of Jordan by their respective intelligence evaluators. It is based on the presumption that US troop levels in Iraq are about to be wound down rather than topped up.
The two intelligence services were shocked into urgent reassessments of their security strategy when, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal, the communication from Osama bin Laden‘s senior lieutenant Ayman Zawahiri intercepted two months ago, proved to be authentic.
That letter laid out al Qaeda’s next objectives: “The defining point in the global struggle after Iraq will be the Levant, Syria, Jordan and Palestine.”
The factors common to the intelligence evaluations of the two governments are revealed here:
1. In the course of 2006, the Americans will reduce troop levels in Iraq. The total of 140,000 for the December 15 election period will drop below 100,000 during the coming year. This will have a drastic impact on the Middle East military table.
In the first instance, the forces fighting the Americans in Iraq, the Sunni insurgents, al Qaeda and their backers, Iran, Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah will trumpet their great victory and turn without delay to spreading their guerrilla and terror offensive to Iraq’s neighbors and Israel. The first harbingers of the approaching menace are already present in Syria and Jordan and Israel.
2. Jordan and Israel will very soon find themselves in the direct firing line of Abu Musab al Zarqawi‘s bands of terrorists. His penetration of Jordan is deepening, whether through Syria or in conjunction with Jordanian criminal gangs which smuggle fuel, weapons and goods into Iraq. These gangs call on Zarqawi to protect the movements of the smuggled goods to the various regions of Iraq. In the last two weeks, the Zarqawi network has sent offshoots from Sinai into the Gaza Strip with teams poised to enter Israel.
A Qaeda establishes first contacts with Israeli territory
3. American forces are expected to pull back from the wide open spaces of Iraq to the main towns and bases, handing security over to Kurdish units, Shiite militias or Iraqi army and police contingents. None is capable of controlling these broad swathes of territory. Apart from the Kurds, no Iraqi military force can stand up to Sunni insurgent guerrillas or al Qaeda or prevent them from overrunning additional parts of the country.
4. This means that the Sunni-al Qaeda partnership will quickly expand its domains beyond their present limits.
5. There is no let-up in the stream of Arab and foreign fighters pouring into Iraq from around the Muslim world, including Arab countries. Consequently, al Qaeda teams in Iraq are beginning to assume the form and modes of operation of a quasi-military army capable of deep incursions into foreign territory.
Jordan is in the first line of fire.
But al Qaeda has lost no time in advancing on Israel.
A senior Israeli intelligence source disclosed to DEBKA-Net-Weekly that after years of threatening Israel, al Qaeda has for the first time established direct points of contact with Israeli territory. Zarqawi’s men have been making forays from Palestinian-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to test the ground for strikes.
Some of the Iraqi al Qaeda chief’s men were reported to have reached Gaza City last week. There, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, they fixed up an arrangement with Sheikh Khalil Kuka’s faction of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees, which lumps together part-time terrorist who by day serve as Palestinian Authority security officers and fulltime Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades terrorists.
The first consequence of this sinister lineup surfaced on December 5, when the Popular Committee’s Internet website began carrying Zarqawi’s communiques simultaneously with their publication in Iraq.
These bulletins, often 20-30 a day glorifying al Qaeda operations against American and Iraqi forces, have since appeared in Gaza, Rafah and Khan Younes, along with a PRC notice: The Palestinian and Zarqawi’s wars are one and the same.
It is the first time that a Palestinian terror group has ever associated openly with al Qaeda. Israeli security leaders are alarmed not merely by the publicity partnership, but the prospect of the Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades acting as a conduit to carry Zarqawi’s followers from Gaza into Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank alongside central Israel. Israel’s security would then plunge into even more acute straits than Jordan’s.