Sharon Offers Israelis Palestinian Tranquilizer against Nuclear Threat

The disclosure that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon opens formal ceasefire talks with the Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abu Ala next Monday, February 10, appears inconsequential and beside the point at a time when one war or more looms over the Middle East, together with other potential horrors.
Friday, February 8, the US State Department advised its citizens to leave Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories for fear of terrorist attack.
US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a mission to woo European support for military action against Iraq, warned that Saddam Hussein still has “two or three handfuls” of the Scud long-range missiles that struck Israel in 1991 and the will to use them. The Pentagon was then reported to be considering cremating the remains of troops who may die in a chemical or biological attack in military action against Iraq.
The British ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, said ominously: We are three minutes before midnight.
Saturday morning, February 8, the Los Angeles Times reported that one factor driving the administration to raise the terror alert to orange, its second highest level, was the fear that al Qaeda has the ability to construct a radioactive, “dirty”, bomb along with chemical weapons, and is preparing to launch it. The information came from counter-terrorist officials in Washington and bears out the discovery reported in debkafile as of eighteen months ago.
One official quoted by the LA Times said: “There has always been a concern about al Qaeda obtaining biological, chemical and radiological weapons. …that is why it was mentioned today. It was not mentioned before in connection with raising the threat level.”
debkafile‘s intelligence and military sources stress once again that, if al Qaeda has this device, so too must Iraq. Wednesday, February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in his demonstration to the UN Security Council of Iraqi weapons violations, that al Qaeda had established a “poison and explosives” training camp 150 km northeast of Baghdad where several hundred al Qaeda operatives were taught by Iraqi intelligence instructors.
Powell did not name the facility. However, our military and counter-terror sources have obtained exclusive information naming the site as a secret Iraqi military installation in the town of Tajdari. The Iraqi Salum air base is situated 17km to the north of this secret base, handy for the clandestine use of Iraqi military intelligence and al Qaeda agents moving in an out of Iraq. Our intelligence sources believe that al Qaeda maintains its stock of radioactive devices at this site.
Yet, despite the steady influx of alarming information, Israeli politics and media are dominated overwhelmingly by speculation about Yasser Arafat’s durability and the prime minister who will replace him as Palestinian leader.
Sharon’s meetings last year with Abu Mazen – which debkafile reported on December 27 -have been resurrected as a “fresh ceasefire initiative”, in which Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abu Ala is to take the lead. The fact that some of these exchanges took place at the home of the US ambassador Dan Kurtzer adds substance to the revived Israel-Palestinian diplomatic initiative.
However untimely and irrelevant, this initiative serves an important purpose for Sharon and the caretaker government he heads until he can set up a new post-election administration. It is a distraction for Israelis, whom the vague and conflicting statements issuing from government and military officials on the dangers posed by the coming war against Iraq have left frightened and at sea. Nothing is spelled out. The official statements indicate confusingly that the chances of Iraqi missiles or aircraft dropping weapons of mass destruction on Tel Aviv are negligible, but Israelis are nonetheless told to hurry up and prepare for the worst.
Air Force commander Maj.-Gen Dan Halutz came out with this enlightening phrase: “Every hit is a hit.” Another general, Amos Gilad, who has been appointed national spokesman for the war, put it this way: “Saddam Hussein is very dangerous for Israel. He can’t launch missiles every day, but we must be prepared for one-time incidents.”
Israelis don’t know what to think. They turn to international media to find out what to Israeli official spokesman are not telling them, that Israel faces potential menaces from – .
1. Saddam Hussein’s aircraft and missiles.
2. Al Qaeda mega-terror, nuclear, chemical or biological.
3. A Palestinian mega-strike alone or in conjunction with Iraqi military intelligence agents.
Instead, Sharon and his chief of staff, Dov Weissglass, spent the weekend pouring out the Palestinian palliative. Saturday, February 8, Weissglass explained over national radio that as soon as the Iraq war was over, Yasser Arafat would fade into the background and be replaced by a Palestinian prime minister who would stop the terrorist offensive forthwith.
This message was addressed to two additional sets of ears. The Bush administration was given to understand that, while the entire region is heading for war, Israel is preparing for peace and deserves a pat on the back. It was also directed at Israeli political parties Shinui (Change) and Labor, who are holding out against Sharon’s invitation to join his government coalition and give his lineup a parliamentary majority. The message to them is that if they don’t make haste, they will miss the peace train he is driving.
Arafat meanwhile is doing his utmost to undermine Sharon’s Palestinian initiative. Rather than preparing to fade into the background, he is firing off warm letters of encouragement to Saddam Hussein with copies to Arab rulers. He is turning a deaf ear to his aides’ advice not to repeat his tragic mistake of the 1991 Gulf War, when he came out in open support of the Iraqi ruler. debkafile‘s intelligence sources add that, with typical brass, Arafat appends to his letters to Saddam a demand for remuneration in lieu of his support.
Arafat’s other main pursuit at his Ramallah headquarters is the plotting of at least one mega-strike in an Israeli city, for execution either by his own Fatah and Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, or else by al Qaeda operatives or Iraqi military intelligence hirelings, both of whom are present in Palestinian regions.
Intelligence data reaching Israel from the last stage of the on-and-off conference of Palestinian groups in Cairo reveals that, instead of accord on a ceasefire – as Egyptian public statements claimed – the subject of discussion was a major Palestinian revenge operation for the large-scale IDF raid of Gaza City last month, that wiped out the Palestinian manufacturing base for Qassem missiles and launchers. Aware of this Palestinian determination, Israel publicly warned the Palestinians against taking advantage of the Iraq War to step up terrorist assaults against Israel, lest they incur severe and harsh Israeli punishment. So much for the soothing reports of ceasefire talks.

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