Terrorists Shatter Phony Calm in Tel Aviv, Shop for Heavy Weapons
The dark days of Palestinian terror returned to Israel Friday night as a savage reminder that the three-and-a- half months of apparent lull were a pleasant fantasy.
Israeli security forces were not surprised. Throughout the phony calm, between 50 and 60 threatened bombings were constants on their screens. And although the military had drastically cut down on its counter-terror operations and precautions to give the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a chance to rein in Palestinian terror, still ticking bombs from all the Palestinian terrorist organizations were caught almost daily in the West Bank.
The suicide bomber who blew up a crowd waiting to go into The Stage nightclub on Tel Aviv’s beachfront Friday night, February 25, was no lone killer. He was just the first to slip through the Israeli security net after many of his fellows had tried and failed. He murdered at least four people – one woman is still fighting for her life – out for an evening of singsong and karioki. More than 50 were injured. After the Sharm el-Sheikh ceasefire declaration two weeks ago, the club had considered cutting down on its security outlay. With its front blown out, the owners are thinking again. The presence of four guards outside the door deterred the suicide bomber from trying to enter the enclosed space and killing many more people.
In Jerusalem, illusions died earlier after debkafile reported three separate alerts in the last two weeks for suicide bombers on their way from the West Bank to strikes in the capital. All were captured with their bomb belts. The only minister willing to tell the public about the aborted threat was foreign minister Silvan Shalom during an interview to Public Radio, New York.
Tel Aviv and central Israel are now too on elevated terror alert for the coming days.
In the wake of the Tel Aviv attack, the Sharon government faces grave charges that will resonate in its regular session Sunday, February 27.
Rather than heed their own security chiefs’ warnings that Palestinian terrorist groups were about to unleash a fresh onslaught against Israeli civilians, prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz were preoccupied with political maneuvers over the coming withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. To this end, they applied an axe to sack or silence the most effective apolitical critics of the disengagement plan and of the premature lowering of Israel’s counter-terror guard; chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter and military intelligence chief Brigadier Aharon Zeevi are all on their way out.
By common consent, all the Palestinian terrorist groups quickly denied responsibility for the Tel Aviv bomb blast, pointing the finger at the Hizballah. This cry was taken up by the Israeli media quoting both Israeli and Palestinian official sources. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ vow to catch the instigators and bring them to justice belied this claim. It betrayed his knowledge that the killer’s dispatchers are to be found at home. His officers then arrested three suspects. Their release by tomorrow would be par for the course. Abbas has not so far raised a finger to dismantle any of terrorist groups and nothing more is expected from him than symbolic punishment for the instigators.
But Sharon’s office has made it clear that Abbas will be given still more leeway before any drastic military action is undertaken and exchanges with the Palestinians will not be interrupted.
The Hizballah fiction will be hard to sustain. debkafile‘s Lebanese sources report that in the two weeks ago since Lebanese opposition leader Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has sternly forbidden his men to so much as fire a shot in Israel’s direction so as not to give the US or Israel a pretext for hitting his bases or Syria in reprisal for the murder. For once, therefore, the Hizballah did not congratulate Palestinians on their “success” or join Palestinian celebrations in the Gaza Strip.
The most serious allegation leveled against Sharon by informed sources is his failure to respond to a development revealed exclusively by debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources. Instead of cracking down on terrorists, Abu Mazen and his sidekick Mohammed Dahlan have secretly applied to more than 20 world governments with urgent requests for large quantities of heavy weapons. The Israeli government was too busy elsewhere to keep track of this development or to calibrate national security measures and the easing of anti-terror restrictions accordingly.
According to our sources, the countries solicited for arms are primarily in Europe – Britain, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden as well as Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, India and Pakistan. The list of countries not addressed is much shorter: United States and Japan. Palestinian Authority leaders calculated that however many or few respond in the affirmative – which several have – Israel cannot afford to get into a fight with them all.
The list of Palestinian requirements is attached to an innocent-sounding request signed by Mahmoud Abbas for combat equipment to restore and build up Palestinian security forces with all possible speed. He asks the recipients to contribute to the creation of the Palestinian state by allocating outdated items no longer in the use of their armies.
debkafile has seen the list. It is impressive and hardly relevant for a Palestinian state dedicated by international treaty to live in peace with Israel. It includes all types of armored personnel carriers with fixed mortars, jeeps fitted with 107 mm recoilless guns, telescopic rifles, pistols, ammunition, communications and engineering gear, helmets and medical equipment.
The army Abbas is building is designed to absorb the disassembled Palestinian terrorist organizations. For the first time, they will be equipped with heavy arms.
Asked how the shipments would be delivered over Israel’s objections, Abbas and Dahlan pointed out that once the Israelis had pulled back the Gaza Strip and Egyptian border, there would be no one to stop the hardware being unloaded at the reopened Gaza port or coming through northern Sinai past Egyptian patrols.
Shopping for heavy arms is in total contravention of every international accord the Palestinians, including Abu Mazen in person, have ever signed with Israel and every pledge Abbas has made to the Bush administration and other world leaders. Informed security officials are urging the Sharon government to suspend its interchanges with the Palestinian Authority, halt the removal of roadblocks and handover of West Bank towns to Palestinian security control, revert to targeted assassinations and take military action to prevent the delivery of illicit military hardware into dangerous terrorist hands.
In 2001, the Israeli air force and naval commandos intercepted the Karine-A with 50 tons of heavy weapons from Iran bound for the Palestinian Authority. Exposure of this latest underhand intrigue should top the agenda at the London meeting supposedly on Palestinian security reforms opening in London Tuesday. It is a matter of urgent concern for the United States and Middle East Quartet members committed to the road map. Instead, Russian foreign minister frankly admitted Friday, February 25, to supplying the Palestinians with “military machines” and said Moscow was considering sending them APCs since the Palestinian Authority, he ventured to claim, had proved itself in control of security.
A leading Israeli security expert, asked by debkafile, how heavy weapons deliveries would affect Israeli security, explained that Palestinian terrorists would be able to conduct hit and run attacks and military assaults inside Israel and against Israeli military positions and vehicles, national highways and strategic points. They would then escape to sovereign Palestinian territory. In Gaza, Mussa Arafat would have the use of mobile artillery to blitz Israeli towns and villages.
In the expert’s opinion, the IDF would in the end extinguish this peril too, but the cost in lives would be high indeed. The first to pay the price were the victims of Palestinian terror in Tel Aviv Friday night.