Secret Fatah-Hizballah alliance manifested in Hebron
Seventeen Israelis have died in two major Palestinian acts of terror in the last six days, confronting Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fresh top team with their first stiff challenge. The men who will have to come up with answers are defense minister Shaul Mofaz, foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mofaz’s successor as chief of staff, Lt. General Moshe Yaalon.
Sunday, November 10, Palestinian gunmen shot five Israelis in cold blood, including a mother and two small sons, at Kibbutz Metzer inside Israel. In response, Israeli forces stormed into two northern West Bank Palestinian cities, Tulkarm and Nablus, for what were described officially as “toothcomb” operations to uproot terrorists in their lairs. The inference was of a resolute decision to come to grips at long last with the hard core of the Palestinian terrorist machine, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, run by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.
The IDF momentum was brutally interrupted on Friday night, November 15, by a meticulously planned, surprise Palestinian assault on Jewish worshippers making their way home to the Hebron suburb of Kiryat Arba from prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs. The Biblical tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah, this shrine is shared by Jews and Muslims under an accord reached after the 1967 war.
Striking from several directions at the route known as Worshippers’ Lane, the assailants were able to kill 12 Israelis, among them the Judea Brigades commander, Col. Dror Weinberg, 38, the highest ranking Israeli military casualty in the two-year conflict with the Palestinians. He is survived by his wife and five children. Killed in addition were 3 soldiers, 5 border police commandos and three civilians, members of the Kiryat Arba volunteer preparedness team, all of whom rushed to the aid of the trapped worshippers. The first IDF finding was that the attack was staged on Jewish worshippers to lure Israeli security forces into a trap.
The Israeli counter-attack against the Palestinian assailants killed three members of the team of 8 to 10 estimated to have carried out the massacre. The rest got away, melting into the 130,000-strong Palestinian population of this southern West Bank city or escaping to surrounding villages.
debkafile‘s military experts note that, this time, the attack was no “ordinary” terrorist assault or suicide strike of the type all too familiar to every Israeli, but a close-quarters combat engagement in dense urban terrain.
While the Israeli force acted with exceptional bravery, it was admittedly taken by surprise by the high level of training, preparedness, resourcefulness and speed, and firepower encountered in this instance, never before displayed by a Palestinian killer team.
The setback to Israel is all the more galling considering that the Hizballah trainer who prepared the operation and gave the Palestinian team its new capabilities has been in Israeli hands for five months. He is Fawzi Ayoub, a Lebanese Hizballah officer, who has given nothing away so far to his Israeli interrogators.
Ayoub entered Israel as a Canadian tourist at the end of last year, quickly going to ground on the West Bank where the Shin Beit lost sight of him. He turned up in July when the IDF tore down the large, imposing Hebron police building that housed various terrorist commands. Ayoub was found among the ruins, identified and taken into Israeli custody.
It later transpired that he had been hidden and activated as super planner and trainer of Palestinian combat men by the former head of the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security service on the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, at a time when some Israeli officials maintained relations of trust with him.
According to debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources, Ayoub is only one of an unknown number of Hizballah officers attached to Palestinian West Bank units under a clandestine collaboration pact Yasser Arafat concluded with the Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah last year. The Lebanese group undertook to provide officers, trainers for such skills as marksmanship, the manufacture of explosives, missiles and launchers, and also wholesale supplies of weapons. Arafat’s side of the deal was to open up the West Bank to the Hizballah as the vehicle of Iranian influence. (The arms came from Iran, as was discovered last January when the Karin-A arms smuggling vessel was apprehended on the Red Sea.) The Hizballah presence came in the form of a senior resident officer at every Palestinian population center, assigned to set up a military machine and a political infrastructure.
The smuggling of the Shiite Islamic Revolution across the Lebanese-Israeli frontier into Palestinian areas and Israeli Arab communities brought with it a trickle of al Qaeda operatives who arrived with their Hizballah protectors. To counter-balance this Shiite influx, Arafat allowed Iraqi agents to operate on the West Bank, entering clandestinely through Jordan.
These penetrations occurred during the terms of two Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak – up until February 2002- and the incumbent Ariel Sharon, both of whom were at pains to keep these developments from the public. Fawzi Ayoub’s name was not released for publication until October 30. Both Israeli leaders knew that their hand would have been forced had they aired Arafat’s maneuvers to upgrade his fighting forces by integrating the most dangerous and skilled forces in the terror trade in the Palestinian movement. They could not have avoided direct action to put an end to Yasser Arafat’s reign or a tough military strike against his Lebanese partners, the Hizballah. However, Barak’s commitment to President Clinton, and Sharon’s promise to President Bush to refrain from both these courses of action, held their hands, leaving Israelis to live amid endless Palestinian carnage as best they can.
Arafat’s deal with the Hizballah and his importation of a paramilitary expert of Ayoub’s caliber explains the high price of the Friday night massacre in Hebron.
Jihad Islami’s claim of responsibility for the attack is baseless, although some of its operatives may have been co-opted. The masterminds are to be found at the highest level of the Palestinian hierarchy. The Hebron murders signal a new phase of the conflict, presaged by the Seder night massacre at the Netanya Park Hotel on March 27. debkafile reported then and ever since that Arafat is now confronting Israel with a restructured, recharged enemy, a composite of Palestinians, Hizballah, al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence. This amalgamated menace made its first appearance in Hebron.
It will reappear with increasing frequency as the US offensive against Iraq draws near.
This story was picked up by National Post, Canada, November 17, 2002