Terrorists Lose Rantisi, But Learn to Beat Border Detectors

All known Gazan leaders of the radical Islamic terrorist group Hamas are either dead or in hiding. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, 57, pediatrician, rhymester of anti-Semitic verse and leader of the most hardline wing of the extremist group, was slain Saturday night, April 17, by Israeli airborne missiles which blew up his Subaru in Gaza City just three weeks after his predecessor, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, died in similar fashion. Before his burial Sunday, accompanied by tens of thousands of frenzied mourners, Hamas’s supreme leader Khaled Mashaal ordered the Gazan branch to appoint a new leader and keep his identity secret. The order came from Damascus. Together with the appointment, the Hamas swore “one hundred revenge attacks” would shake Israel to its core.
The credibility of the threat was limited by the Hamas’s signal failure to “open the gates of hell” and avenge the death of Yassin, or to rope in others, including Mashaal’s external Hamas, Hizballah and al Qaeda, to perform this service on their behalf.
The Islamic group is further handicapped by Israel’s determination to continue cutting down terrorist operatives of all ranks both in the territory and outside – a hint that Mashaal is not immune – and the fact that the Gaza Strip, like the West Bank is sealed tight until after Israel’s national holiday, Independence Day, on April 26. Israeli security forces are on peak alert up and down the country in the face of proliferating terrorist threats from all the Palestinian groups.
Faced with these obstacles, the Hizballah and Al Qaeda tried moving the venue of their joint chemical mega-strike to Amman. They prepared three bomb vehicles packed with poison gas canisters. The gas was to be released by massive explosions. The element of Palestinian revenge for Yassin’s death was embodied in the attachment to the seven-man terrorist team of Azmi Jayoussi from the West Bank town of Jenin.
The entire team has been rounded up, but for Jayoussi, who has so far eluded the long arm of Jordanian security. He is the first Palestinian known to have been integrated in an Al Qaeda hit group. Had the calamitous attack come off, Hamas would have hailed Jayoussi as their dead leader’s great avenger and living proof that their organization’s reach extends beyond the narrow limits of the Gaza Strip.
Jordanian intelligence director Lt.-Gen Saad Kheir may have been exaggerating the potential death toll of 20,000 from this attack, but even one quarter of that number would have outstripped the total of Americans killed on 9/11. Since the death vehicles crossed from Syria into Jordan already rigged for action, there can be no doubt that Syrian president Bashar Assad and the head of his security bodies knew what was going on and may even have abetted in the plot.
After it was foiled, Jordan’s King Abdullah II in telephone calls made his certainty on this point known to President W. Bush, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and finally told Assad he knew what he was up to.
It is no coincidence that the March 17 attack on Israel’s Mediterranean port at Ashdod like the foiled Amman mega-strike was orchestrated from Damascus. debkafile‘s terror experts have become convinced that the mega-strike hanging over Israel’s head may indeed emanate from the Syrian capital rather than the Gaza Strip.
A second common factor is noted by our analysts between the foiled al Qaeda-Hizballah attack in Amman and the most recent terrorist attacks against Israel: a dangerous gap in anti-terror defenses, which has been heavily overshadowed by the precision of the strikes that wiped out two Hamas leaders. What it means is that the Hizballah, al Qaeda and the Palestinians have learned how to smuggle explosive devices and war materials undetected through well-secured crossing points and borders.
They demonstrated this in the way a container carrying armed stowaway terrorists with bomb materials reached Ashdod port from the Gaza Strip after fooling the regulation metal detectors and explosives sniffers that are posted at all Israel’s entrances and exits, including its international airports and gates into sensitive installations. The container passed through the Karni crossing X-ray machine, metal-detector and explosive sniffer without being stopped. Hoping the lapse would go unnoticed, Israeli authorities put about a story of negligence on the part of the guards at the crossing.
However, the same thing happened in Jordan two weeks ago.
Three vehicles loaded with explosives, chemical gas canisters and weapons drove from Syria transited Jordanian border checks and were given a no-bomb clearance mark on their documents. One of the vehicles had traveled 120 km into the kingdom and was approaching Amman when Jordanian security acting on an intelligence tip-off hauled in the truck and passengers who betrayed the plot under questioning.
The story reported itself at the Erez crossing from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, April 17, exactly four and-a-half hours before Rantisi was killed. This time, 20-year old 2nd Sgt. Kfir Ohayon from Eilat paid the price. He was killed and four of his Border Guards mates were injured by a suicide bomber who had accessed the Erez industrial zone with a large bomb. This was the third combined Palestinian attack on the same facility in three months. An exhaustive security overhaul was repeatedly promised. Yet, as this attack demonstrated, the gap exposed in the Ashdod port strike had not been overcome.
The disposal of a terrorist mastermind such as Rantisi, however important for stemming Palestinian violence, could pale compared with the terrorists’ success in bringing the tools of their deadly trade through an unidentified hole in the standard inspection systems that guard ports the world over. The terrorists have clearly developed some way of blinding the detectors, maybe new types of explosive components, metals or detonators.
The sensitivity of regulation walk-through detectors is adjusted to avoid setting off false alarms for small personal objects like keys, coins, belt buckles, small ornaments or pacemakers. They also feature high-speed detection of objects moving up to 15 meters per second. The Karni and Erez crossings are also equipped with an X-Ray scanner. Explosives sniffers are present. Yet individuals and vehicles loaded with explosive devices were able to pass through this battery of gadgets in Gaza, Israel and Jordan without being stopped.
So why not international airports?
For the Ashdod attack, debkafile fingered Hizballah and al Qaeda rather than the Hamas. Since the Saturday strike at Erez, it looks increasingly as though, for the past two months, a group of experts somewhere in the Middle East outside the Gaza Strip, most likely Damascus or Tehran, is carrying out experiments on ways of secreting bombs and toxic chemical substances into Jordan and Israel. They are using Palestinians as unwitting guinea pigs to test the system without giving them the secret.
This gap in Israel’s intelligence guard places in question the assertions by Sharon and his deputy Ehud Olmert that withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will improve Israel’s security and shorten the borders the IDF must defend. It proves that the masters of terror have removed their primary base of operations out of Gaza and Ramallah in good time and relocated in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran. Those places must now be designated the planning centers of major terrorist operations – and not only against Israel. From there too directives go down the line to Gaza.
Encouraged by the lack of a direct US comeback for the violence they are fomenting in Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Hizballah – and even al Qaeda – feel they are safe enough and out of Sharon’s reach in their new lairs, however much trouble they stir up in the Palestinian arena and Gaza Strip in particular. What this means to Israel is that, even ahead of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the lines its army will need to defend to keep the terrorists at bay, have grown longer than ever before.

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