DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal that on Monday, May 6, Israel staged its first large-scale exercise to assess its military alertness and the state of its defenses in the face of a potential Iraqi nuclear, chemical or biological missile attack on the country’s Gush Dan heartland.
The practice took place in the town of Ramla, 16 miles east of Tel Aviv.
The country’s narrowest waist is also its most densely populated region; 1.75 million inhabitants, just over one third of the Jewish population, live, work and shop in Tel Aviv and its cluster of small towns: Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Bnei Berak, Herzliya, Petach Tikva, Ramla, Lod (including Israel’s international Ben Gurion airport), Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon Lezion.
Gush Dan is Israel’s national business and financial center. It is the hub of the national north-south arteries connecting Galilee and Haifa in the north with the southern Negev desert. Two-thirds of Israeli industry, including the key arms, aeronautics, missiles and electronics manufacturing, are located here.
The WMD exercise, held in tight secrecy, was predicated on six premises:
1. That Gush Dan would be the primary target of an Iraqi air and missile assault (as it was in the 1991 Gulf War); 2. That Iraq has acquired a nuclear capability; 3. Israeli intelligence reports Iraq’s arsenal as consisting of a large, state-of-the-art missile force running into hundreds of projectiles – not a few dozen as generally assumed; 4. Israeli intelligence warns that Iraq’s missile raids against Israel and other parts of the Middle East including US targets will not this time be sporadic and irregular like 1991, but heavy blitzes of 15-25 missiles in each barrage. Their object will be maximum casualties and damage; 5. According to Israeli intelligence estimates, Iraq has in recent months sunk many millions of dollars in upgrading its missiles’ navigational and guidance systems, substantially enhancing their targeting accuracy. 6. Israel cites eight nations as Iraq’s suppliers of missile-related parts, components and systems: North Korea, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia and Syria.
They also note that Syrian military intelligence is sharing with its Iraqi opposite number valuable contacts with arms dealers in Europe and South America who can furnish Iraq’s requirements. President Bashar Assad, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly has reported in recent months, has granted Iraq the use of its Mediterranean ports of Latakia, Tartous and Banyas, transit points that enable Iraqi arms shipments to circumvent the US naval blockade on Persian Gulf seaways to Iraq.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, Israel is also gearing up for WMD attack from sources other than Iraq.
Israel’s military sweep in April through the main Palestinian cities of the West Bank in its Defensive Shield Operation uncovered signs of Palestinian stockpiling of weapons-grade chemical and biological substances. In Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and outlying refugee camps, Israeli troops found extra-large bombs containing 200-500 kilos of explosives, hundreds of mines and containers of poisonous chemicals and bacteria. Bombs and explosive devices were discovered loaded with cyanide.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon put the high points of this evidence before President George W. Bush in the one-on-one part of their conversation at the White House on May 7. Later, he handed a detailed report to Vice President Dick Cheney.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, the report covered the documents found with the substances, their wrappings and the information given up by the guards at the secret stores, all of which identified suppliers in Iraq, Syria and Central Asia.
The prohibited materials originating in Central Asia appear to have been smuggled through Turkey via Syria and the Golan Heights into the West Bank. Jordan has been used as an illicit supply route for WMD substances originating in Iraq and Abu Dhabi and smuggled in from Saudi Arabia.
Our military sources report Jordanian, Israeli and American intelligence and special forces have been scouring Jordan over the past two weeks for the Jordanians involved in the WMD smuggling operation into the West Bank.
Al Qaeda Cells
Along with the dossier linking Yasser Arafat to terrorist activity – most of which the Bush administration already had from its own and Israeli sources – Sharon also handed over intelligence data on al Qaeda undercover cells exposed and captured on the West Bank. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, those cells were much more prevalent than just a few here and there; some were in possession of dangerous chemical or biological materials. One senior Israeli security official said to us on condition of anonymity: “If I were to hear the figure of 35 cells, I would not contradict it.” In addition to the non-conventional weaponry they were carrying, he called attention to four points:
A. Those cells did not function in a logistical and command vacuum; there must have been a command hierarchy to activate them.
B. Evidence and cash on the persons of al Qaeda prisoners on the West Bank led to connections with brother-cells in the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Lebanon.
C. Our source points out: “We know how many we have caught; we don’t know how many we have missed or what quantities of poisonous materials are still cached in unknown locations.”
D. Israel suspects that one of the al Qaeda cells still at large in Palestinian-controlled territory or Jordan may be carrying a primitive nuclear device – “one or two radiological or dirty bombs capable of contaminating large areas,” said our senior source.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Amman report that al Qaeda’s undercover presence in the kingdom with possible access to unconventional weaponry were high on the agenda of King Abdullah’s talks with President Bush and Vice President Cheney in Washington Wednesday, May 5. The king arrived in the US capital 12 hours after Sharon, which was no coincidence. (See article further down this issue)
Intelligence data is piling up indicating that the Lebanese Shiite group, Hizballah, has received quantities of chemical warheads for the hundreds of Russian Frog and Iranian Fajr surface missiles Iran shipped over in April via Syria (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in its last Issue No. 59).
Syria’s WMD capabilities – advances in chemical weapons infrastructure and the facilities for manufacturing biological warfare agents – must be added to the Iraqi missile and Palestinian, al Qaeda and Hizballah chemical and biological terror threats against Israel’s main urban centers. Indications are gathering that all these parties are working together on a joint, simultaneous, assault against Israel.
Sharon informed the US president this week that if weapons of mass destruction were introduced in the war against his country, Israel would feel free to retaliate with every means in its arsenal, up to and including nuclear weapons.