Without a second military offensive on a scale broader and deeper than April’s Operational Defensive Shield incursions into seven Palestinian West Bank towns, Israeli faces direr perils than ever before, said Israel’s Ephraim Halevy, Mossad, Avi Dichter, Shin Beit and IDF chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, in a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s security cabinet on Wednesday, May 29.
As most Israelis note with deep foreboding, Palestinian suicide terrorism is fast reverting to its pre-Defensive Shield level. Thirty Israelis have died and 181 suffered injury since early May, when Israel forces lifted their sieges over Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah compound and the Bethlehem Church of Nativity and quit all Palestinian West Bank towns.
The security cabinet was convened after a baby and her grandmother died in a blast that placed the central Israeli town of Petach Tikva on the roll of Israeli cities targeted by Palestinian suicide killers. The cabinet was warned by the security chiefs that, in the absence of a second large-scale counter-terror operation, the suicidal violence would get worse, possibly compounded by combined Iraqi-Syrian assaults and Lebanese Hizballah strikes.
So grim was their tone, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, that the ministers present forgot to congratulate the security and defense chiefs on the successful launch Wednesday, May 29, of Israel’s new-generation Ofek-5 spy satellite.
Three-Stage Threat Unfolding
They also heard the term “mega-terror” for the first time.
Mossad director Halevy cited US and Israeli intelligence experts as outlining a three-stage war soon to spring from Arafat’s current suicide offensive against civilians – unless it is forestalled. The second stage in store is “mega-terror”, targeting strategic, military, security, industrial and financial locations in Israel. Even this upgraded form of terror is not the ultimate threat; the third stage predicted is a combined Iraqi, Syrian and Hizballah assault.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources describe these military-intelligence evaluations as deriving from the following discoveries:
1. Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah are stepping up their military coordination.
Most recently, Pakistan joined this radical circle.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources disclose a secret rendezvous in Abu Dhabi last week among Pakistani, Iranian and Iraqi military intelligence officers. The Iranians and Iraqis asked for a rundown of Pakistan's war plans against India (see separate item on Indian and Pakistani war plans). Their interest was piqued by learning that in the event of a frontal war between the two nuclear neighbors, Pakistan will not restrict itself to fighting in Kashmir but strike deep inside India. The avid Iraqi and Syrian interest in Pakistan’s plans to land troops behind enemy lines sounded the alarm in Jerusalem. But worse was to come.
2. Israeli intelligence learned of preparations underway by Iraq, Syria and Hizballah to embark on a nuclear, biological or chemical attack in Israel (see details in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 60, of May 10). It is unclear when this will take place – as a first-strike option, or as a follow-up on a mega-terror attack by international terrorists in conjunction with Palestinians, that will be designed to leave Israel too shocked and debilitated to fight back.
Israeli intelligence is now convinced that the bombing attack at Israel’s main fuel depot in north Tel Aviv on May 23 that ended in a close shave was the first attempted mega-terror operation. The bomb undetected underneath a tanker truck loading up at the depot fortunately produced a low-grade fire that was quickly extinguished before causing a major human and environmental calamity in the most densely populated part of Israel.
It was staged by a hybrid group consisting of an al Qaeda-Hizballah terrorist cell with Syrian military intelligence agents aboard; they were smuggled into Israel by operatives of Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, a radical group that has taken charge of slipping terrorists from Syria and Lebanon into Israel across the Golan Heights or by sea. Intelligence and vehicles with Israeli license plates were laid on by Palestinians of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an arm of Arafat’s Fatah, and by Israeli Arabs.
The method was similar to the one employed by al Qaeda in 1996 to blow up the US Khobar Towers barracks in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, and kill 19 US servicemen. Israeli estimates a casualty toll of 5,000 had Pi Glilot gone up in a huge fireball.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources, this attempt is believed to be the first of three or four major strikes planned by joint al Qaeda-Hizbollah teams for additional strategic targets in Israel.
Furthermore, Israel has gained the impression from the way Iraqi and Syrian armies and Hizballah units in Lebanon were redeployed this week that they are bracing for those strategic attacks and for Israel’s cross-border retaliation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political and military sources report that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon last week notified the US government of the impending “mega-terror” onslaught. He added that Israel’s high military command was under orders to respond with simultaneous attacks deep inside Syria, Iraq and Lebanon with the aim of destroying major sections of those countries’ military and strategic infrastructure.
The following information was contained in Sharon’s missive to Washington:
A. The Israeli-Egyptian Sinai border and the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights frontier have become main thoroughfares for Hizballah and al Qaeda penetrations of Israel. Israeli intelligence has gathered evidence, some through interrogating captured terrorists, that intruders usually reach their jumping-off stations in Sinai and Lebanon by sea.
B. Iraqi military intelligence is using the same routes as the Hizballah and al Qaeda to plant its terror units in Israel and Palestinian areas. Members of the ultra-violent Algerian GIA, that operates under the al Qaeda umbrella, were recently picked for up for the first time in the Gaza Strip.
C. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Israeli security chiefs and top army brass briefed Sharon and defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on the preparations in place for a mega-terror strike in Israel with Yasser Arafat’s full cooperation. He is described as refusing to deal with any business but one, which he calls “military action”, his euphemism for terror operations. Arafat is reported to have broken completely with the non-terrorist ranks of the Palestinian political leadership, communicating only with the al Aqsa Brigades and Tanzim chiefs on operational matters. The diplomatic initiatives under preparation by the United States, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Europe, hold no interest for him.
Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs advised the prime minister and his security cabinet that there is no point in trying to force the Palestinian leader onto any diplomatic track. He is bent single-mindedly on the path of wholesale violence, deaf to every attempt to settle the crisis.
In Washington, nonetheless, a new plan is in the making, in the hope of warding off the next stages of the evil.