More Terror Expected from Iran-Backed Hizballah Bid for Control of Gaza Strip

Hamas-Hebron claimed responsibility for the double suicide attack Tuesday, August 31, on two crowded Beersheba buses, which left 15 Israelis dead and up to 100 injured. The twin blasts hit passengers, passing vehicles and pedestrians on the busy main street of this southern Israeli town, the first such attack inside Israel in six months. The suicide bombers may not have come from Hebron; they could equally have reached Beersheba from the Gaza Strip or infiltrated the Israeli Negev from Egyptian Sinai. The same morning, a Palestinian suicide bomber was apprehended at the Erez crossing on his way from the Gaza Strip to Israel with a new type of explosive hidden in his pants.
Palestinian terror is again rampant in the belief that it has the power to defeat Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan. Ready until recently to assume responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s departure, the Egyptian government has finally backed off. This week, Cairo abandoned its key proviso, that Yasser Arafat reform the Palestinian security machine and cleanse it of terrorists.
These uncertainties have allowed the Gaza Strip to undergo, almost unnoticed, a geopolitical transformation that threatens not only to fill the space left by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fading plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip, but also to make the Palestinian terror war against Israel far more dangerous. The fallout will effect the entire Middle East.
The mise-en-scene for Sharon’s plan was finally shot down last Wednesday, August 25, by the gunmen who ambushed Brig.-Gen. Tareq Abu Rajab, deputy Palestinian General Intelligence chief on his way to his Gaza City office. He survived with chest wounds although two of his bodyguards were killed. Since then, nothing more was heard of this episode.
However, according to an exclusive report reaching debkafile from its military and intelligence sources, the attack set alarm bells jangling in a whole row of military and intelligence situation rooms. The professional watchers in Washington and Jerusalem, to Amman, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo – and finally at Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah – logged the incident as a point of no return. For the attempted murder had nothing to do with the chaos reigning in the Gaza Strip or Palestinian infighting. The hit team’s members were Palestinian Hizballah members activated by Lebanese Shiite terrorist commanders who are stationed permanently in the territory. As soon as he identified the killers, Al-Hindi lost no time in obtaining Arafat’s permission to move the targeted man to an Israeli hospital under heavy guard, safe from a repeat attack.
The incident marked four historical firsts:
1. It was the first Hizballah attack on a senior Palestinian military intelligence figure in a Palestinian-controlled area, the gravest aspect of which was the chain of command which produced it. debkafile‘s sources affirm that the order to kill Rajab did not originate with the local Hizballah base but from higher up at Beirut headquarters, who would not have acted without word from Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. They in turn would have required authority from Tehran.
2. It signifies that Iran and its surrogate Hizballah have stepped out of their supporting role in the Palestinian war against Israel and are ready to challenge the Palestinian Authority for the lead by striking at its main military arm, the General Intelligence Service.
Arafat opened the Gazan door in the first place to the Hizballah and through the Lebanese organization, to Tehran, in July 2000, shortly before the failed Camp David conference sponsored by President Clinton and two months before he launched his terror war against Israel. Until now, the Hizballah operatives attached to the Palestinian warfront were trainers, suppliers of arms (including the Karin-A and Santorini arms ships), intelligence and funding for terrorist operations, especially suicide missions. Hizballah is now moving out of passive mode to the front line.
3. The military threat from the Gaza Strip has increased manifold, radically rewriting the circumstances surrounding the birth of Sharon evacuation plan. All of a sudden, Israel is faced with the Iranian-Hizballah menace at perilously close quarters from the west, and not just from Lebanon in the north or from Iranian ballistic missiles in the east.
4. This week’s events are just the beginning. Hizballah and its Tehran sponsor will want to spread their wings to Palestinian West Bank areas too and then to Israeli Arab communities, where they have already planted sleeper cells. Hizballah`s practice is to expand in stages over years. Its strong suit is the ability to build up strength clandestinely, invisibly and steadily, until it is ready to operate in the open. By then, it is almost impossible to stop, having established itself as an integral feature of the local scene.
Ensconced now in the Gaza Strip, the Lebanese Shiite group will very soon be upgrading the weapons and military professionalism directed against Israel. The primitive, hit-or-miss Qassam, Nasser and al Quds missiles lobbed at Israeli towns in the south can be expected to make way for longer range, more precise ground-to-ground missiles, which pack a more powerful explosive punch, such as those deployed in southern Lebanon.
Our Middle East sources note that the Egyptians have caught on to the radical change in the Gaza Strip’s fortunes and are taking steps. First, they tipped Washington off. Second, they ordered Palestinian security and intelligence chiefs to present themselves in Cairo for urgent consultations on how to contain the Iranian-Hizballah takeover. Third, an Egyptian military delegation is due in Ramallah on September 1 for a conference with the top Palestinian leadership on ways to handle it.
The Israeli prime minister, instead of reassessing his evacuation plan in the light of the new peril, is stepping up the pace of its implementation. He appears to be as unheeding of the dangerous new hands preparing to claw at the southern half of Israel as he is of the criticism leveled against his plan by Israel’s elected institutions and military chiefs. On Monday, August 30, hours before the Beersheba bus blasts, he slapped down his opponents at a security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, declaring: The disengagement plan will be implemented. Period.
The impression in government, Knesset, high army command and police as well as his own Likud is that Sharon, by trampling over all resistance to his plans, is prepared to be seen as less than democratic and stand up to spreading resentment and criticism. The decline in his standing as representative national leader has created a vacuum which the judiciary and legal authorities are exploiting in order to extend their jurisdiction into areas into which they never before ventured. For the first time, on Monday, the attorney general, whose authority is advisory, interfered in a matter of high national security. In a security cabinet discussion on how to halt the Qassam offensive from the Gaza Strip against southern Israeli towns, Sharon said: “It they are shelling us, we should shell them.” No, said Menachem Mazuz. “Shelling civilians would be a war crime.” Sharon retorted: “No one is talking about that.”
The AG did not suggest a war crimes prosecution of the Palestinians organizations shooting surface missiles at civilian targets in Israeli towns.
Supreme Court justice Aharon Barak’s veto on sections of the defense barrier interfering with Palestinian lives has gone unopposed to the point that the court is now determining political and security policies, the province of the executive arm of government. Beersheba, which suffered two suicide bombing attacks on two municipal buses Tuesday, is completely unprotected because of petitions Palestinians have filed with the high court in Jerusalem against building the fence on Mt. Hebron.
Mazuz has gone still further by calling on the Sharon government to take seriously the recommendation of the international court at The Hague to tear the whole fence down as illegal.
Sharon’s particular style of government and his inconsistencies are responsible for these spillovers of authority among the various branches of government and the pervasive sense in the country that important affairs of state including security are slipping out of control.

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