(that you may have missed in debkafile Round-the-Clock)

15 February: An Israeli tank was blown up for the first time Thursday night, killing three soldiers. A huge explosion ripped off its turret and split the 65-ton Merkava (Chariot) 3 in two as it charged up the Karni-Netzarim route in the Gaza Strip to reach a civilian bus under Palestinian gunfire.

DEBKAfile‘s military sources advance the theory that a hollow, multi-stage – probably magnetic – charge was used, possibly in combination with a powerful magnetic mine or mines. This form of sabotage has never been seen before in the Middle East. The charge may have been fixed under the turret along the seams of its joins to the tank body and activated by remote control or radio signal. This would explain how the turret was ripped off.

As the tank approached the distressed bus, the smaller charge would have been detonated, releasing a shower of magnetic explosive particles, which adhered to the body of the tank and produced a blast more damaging than an anti-tank missile, especially in combination with a mine exploding underneath the tank. The Israeli Merkava was designed primarily for crew survivability under fire. The charges must have been expertly planted at the best points for penetrating its special “spaced armor”

This was the precisely the method employed by Osama bin Laden’s mujaheddin in the 1980s to sabotage Soviet T-72 tanks in Afghanistan, a technique taught them by their American instructors. Over the years, the method was passed on to al Qaeda terrorists in bin Laden’s training camps, for turning against American tanks.The aggravated Palestinian terror offensive in the week starting Sunday, February 10, betrays a distinct pattern. In the view of DEBKAfile‘s military analysts, the Palestinians are drawing on the tactical expertise of three new elements which are conjoined by a common purpose: al Qaeda escapees from Afghanistan transferred to Lebanon; Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have joined them and Hizballah sabotage experts.

17 February: Israel’s inner security cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon, February 17, faced the bald option between going to war proper against Arafat and his Palestinian Authority or holding off again and living with a savagely spiraling casualty toll – 14 Israelis dead in the last two weeks.

Arafat is activating his two most effective terrorist masters, Muhamed Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority’s chief security officer in the Gaza Strip and Tawfiq Tirawi, West Bank General Intelligence chief the West Bank. While Tirawi runs the Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Dahlan heads its Gazan equivalent, the Saladin Brigades, the military wing of the “Popular Resistance Committees”, in which the Fatah-Tanzim, Popular Front, Hamas and Jihad Islami are grouped.

Tirawi is Arafat’s liaison man with Saddam Hussein’s military intelligence, whereas Dahlan is his channel to the Iran-backed Hizballah and al Qaeda contingents in Lebanon.

Between them, Arafat, Dahlan and Tirawi have parlayed the uprising against Israel into the positions of top dogs of the Muslim terror movement. They have brought together the terrorist groups sponsored by Iraq, Iran, al Qaeda and the Palestinians for a do-or-die confrontation against Israel.

This confrontation accords with the interests of both Tehran and Baghdad, as a vehicle for distancing the threat of an American offensive from their borders.

Arafat is not fighting Israel to improve his bargaining position or win a place of honor in world history. Even if the Oslo faction on Israel’s political left forces the government to sign the most generous peace accord imaginable meeting every last Palestinian condition, Arafat will fight on. He makes no secret of his fidelity to the Prophet Mohammed’s precepts.

When Mohammed could not overcome the Jews of Qureish in the year 628, he signed the Hudiabiya Accords with them – notwithstanding his holy war, explaining to his followers that he would honor his peace pledge only until such time as his army was strong enough to resume the jihad.

That is exactly what the Palestinian leader did before the ink was dry on the 1993 Oslo Accords, frankly admitting as much in Cairo on his way back from the ceremonial signing in the White House. To merit a place of honor in Arab-Muslim history, he knows what he needs to do: to vanquish the Jews or die in the attempt.

17 February: Saturday night, Israeli military sources identified the explosive used to destroy a Merkava-3 tank Thursday, February 14, killing three crewmen, as a super-powerful development of C-4. This is not just a further upgrading of Palestinian warfare, it pins down al Qaeda’s involvement.

On December 31, 2001, DEBKAfile revealed that Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an American Airlines Paris-Miami flight on December 22, spent ten days the previous July in the Gaza Strip Jebalya district, as the guest of the Hamas military arm activist Nabil Aqal. Also revealed was that Aqal received from the Palestinian Authority’s Gaza Strip security chief Mohamed Dahlan a quantity of C-4 explosive spiked according to an al Qaeda formula for boosting its blast effect.

The formula reached the Gaza Strip with the Hizballah cells Arafat imported from Lebanon in the fall of 2000. Aqal handed the deadly substance to Reid.

Nearly two months ago, therefore, Dahlan was known to have manufactured upgraded C-4, the very explosive found in Reid’s shoes and now identified as the substance used to blow up the Merkava tank.

CIA director George Tenet is in Sanaa, Yemen, on a dual mission: to try and bust the al-Qaeda Yemen-Saudi ring, whose activities sparked the FBI general terror alert on February 15; and to wind up the inquiry in the bomb attack that crippled the USS “Cole” in Aden harbor on October 12. 2000. When Tenet reaches Israel at some point in his Middle East tour, Sharon will be able to demonstrate that the explosives used by Dahlan and the Hamas’s Ezz a-Din al-Qassem were not only identical to the shoe bomber’s, but also applied by the al Qaeda squad that blew up the Cole.

That is just one more link in the chain of evidence connecting Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Authority officers under his command to global terror, aimed not just against Israel.

18 February: The Palestinians’ ability to unleash fresh waves of terror strikes every few hours, each clearly focused, indicates a large army of terrorists functioning efficiently in shooting, bombing and suicide squads, according to well-defined tactical directives from a higher command.

Hundreds more provide the logistical and intelligence support required for selecting a vast array of targets, assembling explosives and bomb belts, delivering assault weapons and providing vehicles.

This latest, meticulously prepared terror offensive, employing an estimated 1000 fighting and support personnel, was launched on Wednesday, February 6, the day Sharon flew off to meet President George W. Bush at the White House. To activate this many operatives requires a chain of command, with centers and bases for its officers.

DEBKAfile‘s military sources emphasize that, so far, Israel has never struck those bases or tackled the core of the terror machine. IDF military has been kept down to mostly defensive, partially preventive and punitive assaults.

20 February: Ariel Sharon may not realize how fast Yasser Arafat is advancing on his goal of defeating yet another Israeli prime minister, exactly five years after a Palestinian bus-bombing campaign and strike against Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center forced Shimon Peres to throw in the towel after only a year as prime minister. Ehud Barak was the next prime minister to resign in mid-term under the pressure of Arafat’s Intifada.

All three refrained from calling a spade a spade, ie naming Arafat a master-terrorist. None ventured to touch the 1993 Oslo Peace framework Accords that Arafat, its Palestinian signatory, began violating on Day One.

Sharon was elected a year ago for his hard line views on defense and military prowess. He was Israel’s great white hope for eradicating the Palestinian terror scourge. However, his performance has been marked by indecision, procrastination, fuzzy messages and lack of perceived leadership in the face of the pressures coming from the unwieldy national unity government he insists on preserving. Sharon has refused to face up to mounting Palestinian belligerence and its expanding support base made up of Iran, Iraq, Hizballah and other militants and Islamic extremists of the Arab world and, latterly, al Qaeda.

The Israeli Defense Forces are widely seen as one of the strongest and most effective armies in the world. Yet its commanders and men are increasingly hamstrung by the lack of firm leadership and the government’s refusal to explicitly name the enemy and let them go to war. The outcome is misconceived strategy and faulty tactics. A soldier out in the field may also find himself out on a limb – hence the missteps and disasters of the last 48 hours.

Tuesday night, February 19, an-eight man combat engineering unit took over a roadblock position on the approach road to the Ramallah district, stranded in an isolated, unpopulated area. An hour later, a group of Palestinian Fatah-Tanzim gunmen crept up and shot six men dead at close range, wounding another. The eighth man survived to fetch help.

The IDF’s retaliatory operation later Tuesday night covered much West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, but did not do much to disarm or deter Palestinian terror.

21 February: Israel will create buffer zones buttressed by physical barriers to bring about “security separation” between Israel and Palestinian territory. Demarcation work will begin at once. This was the main message prime minister Ariel Sharon delivered in a rare broadcast address to the nation Thursday night, February 21.

His speech, picked up also by Arab broadcasting stations around the Middle East including al Jazeera, failed to offer the tangible solutions Israelis are demanding to halt the constantly escalating spiral of Palestinian terror. Confining himself to generalities, Sharon declared: “We shall not rest until the terrorist infrastructure is dismantled.”

He firmly refuted the reports that international pressure from anywhere, including Washington, restrains the Israeli armed forces’ hand against Palestinian terrorists. “There are no political curbs on our security forces,” he declared.

Sharon issued a call for national unity in hard times. Denying cracks in Israeli society, he blasted the reservist officers who publicly campaign against service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “providing encouragement for terrorist groups”.

The Israeli prime minister means to continue meeting Palestinian Authority officials. He promised to persist in his efforts to avert escalation of the conflict and its decline into comprehensive war – but no peace negotiations without a total ceasefire.

Responding to the critics who accuse him of having no political program, Sharon proposed an interim accord with the Palestinians based on non-belligerence, once a complete cessation of violence is in place. An immutable proviso of any peace accord will be the demilitarization of Palestinian-ruled territory.

He repeated his readiness for “painful concessions” in return for true peace, but insisted on final borders being predicated on Israel’s security needs and the relationship evolving during the period of the interim agreement.

Sharon, after saying his piece, avoided answering most of the questions put him by correspondents, including these three:

1. After the detention in Nablus of the PFLP murderers of the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi, on Thursday, will Yasser Arafat be freed from his 12-week long confinement in Ramallah and allowed to attend the Arab summit in Beirut at the end of March?

2. Will Israel stand by its original demand for the suspected murderers’ extradition?

3. Which side of the border will the new buffer zones run and how will they affect local inhabitants and the Jewish settlements?

Sharon ignored the first and the third questions, the second, he fudged.

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