Feb 23: At 6 am., Israel placed its forces on high missile readiness after being alerted by US intelligence to movements by 6 Iraqi armored divisions deployed close to frontier with Syria. American satellites additionally picked up Iraqi preparations for launching long-range surface missiles. DEBKAfile‘s sources disclose the trigger of this sequence: a warning from a European government, probably Britain, to Iraqi intelligence that Israel would use neutron bombs to pre-empt an Iraqi missile attack on its towns, knocking out Iraqi missile concentrations on the ground, as well the 6 armored divisions poised for an westward advance. Iraqi decision-makers were impressed enough to test American and Israeli reflexes: they pushed ahead with technical preparations for the launching of surface missiles, taking them up to one stage before Saddam’s firing order at 6 pm.
One hour earlier, 2 US Awacs and 4 Hawkeye- A2C spyplanes, and another 36 assorted US and British fighter craft, took off from the Turkish base at Incherlik and from US Navy carriers in the region on a mission to flatten Saddam’s surface missiles the moment the spyplanes reported them operational.
Opposite Syria’s Mediterranean coast, Israeli Air Force craft took off at the same time. As they crossed over the desert, the US and British airborne flotilla ran into fierce anti-air missile fire from batteries emplaced north of the Iraqi oil city of Mosul – altogether 35 missiles were fired. The allied fighters blasted the Iraqi batteries in return but caused very little damage.
A few minutes after 6 pm, everyone started breathing upon learning that the Iraqi surface missiles had become stationary. Israel called off its missile alert at 19.30 hours, as DEBKAfile reported half an hour later.
Feb. 25: According to DEBKAfile‘s US sources, the Bush administration is seriously concerned with Baghdad’s transformation into a hive of radical anti-American and rogue forces, organizations and interests, Russian, Serb, North Korean, Iranian, Chinese and others. Chinese manpower, for instance, is not just helping Iraq build a fiber optics communication network to enhance its air defenses, as was revealed after the US air raid of Baghdad. Washington believes, with good reason, that Beijing is also helping Saddam promote his nuclear bomb and solid-propellant missile projects, just as it aided Pakistan. They estimate Iraq has built 3-4 “hollow” nuclear devices. Pakistan, on top of its rapid advance toward serial production of solid propellant missiles, has just acquired French submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The Bush administration regards Russian-Chinese cooperation in aid to Iraq as the tip of the iceberg of their expanding military partnership.
According to DEBKAfile‘s Moscow informants, in the week of the US air attacks over Baghdad and Mosul, a high level Chinese military delegation headed by vice-chairman of China’s central military council, Zhang Wannian, spent two days in the Russian capital negotiating a huge arms deal for transforming the strategic face of Chinese military strength. For the first time, Moscow is willing to sell its most sophisticated products, the hitherto-withheld TU-22 m3 strategic bombers, nuclear submarines of project ‘949’ and ‘917’ with long-range nuclear cruise missiles and Mig-31 fighters – all of which pose a threat not only to Japan and Taiwan, but to the United States itself. For Washington, breaking up this advancing alliance, starting with its manifestation in joint aid to Baghdad, is a top priority. An ultimatum to this effect was at the center of secretary of state Colin Powell’s 90-minute conversation with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov in Cairo Feb. 24, as a quid pro quo for progress on the national missile shield and other issues.
Feb. 26: In the last days of his tenure, Israel’s caretaker prime minister Ehud Barak crossed the man who defeated him at the polls twenty days ago, Likud leader prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon. Although Palestinian attacks continue unabated, he authorized steps to unfreeze Palestinian tax revenues and measures to relax the bisection of the Gaza Strip, in defiance of Sharon’s refusal of a demand for those steps from visiting US secretary of state Colin Powell. Sharon’s national unity alliance with Labor will be no rose garden was apparent in the scrapping between the incoming prime ministers bureau and that of designated foreign minister Shimon Peres (Labor) over the key policy definition the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s role; the former regards him as “enemy”, the latter as “peace partner”. Sharon has assigned his senior political adviser former director general of the foreign ministry Eitan Ben-Zur to keep a close eye on Peres, who is renowned as a diplomatic subversive.
Feb. 27: Last Word on Powell’s Mid East Trip
— Syrian ruler Beshar Assad turned down US secretary of state Colin Powell’s demand to pull away from his military and strategic pacts and understandings with Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, just as Yasser Arafat had a day earlier when Powell talked to him in Ramallah. Assad stood foursquare behind deals for Syria and Iraq and their armies to lend each other strategic depth, and refused to step back from the burgeoning collaboration between Syrian-Iraqi general commands and deepening coordination between their air force commands. Powell’s failure to draw Assad and Arafat away from their military links with Baghdad is expected to accelerate intensified US military operations against the Saddam regime.
— Powell also tried to get Palestinian-Israeli security coordination back on track to arrest escalating violence on all fronts. One meeting of field officers did take place Sunday night, Feb. 25, but shooting at Israeli army positions and settlements continued interrupted and “extra-large” explosive charges went off on the roads.
— In Ramallah, after a secret conclave of Arafat’s Fatah Revolutionary Committee, Arafat demonstratively sent Azzam Ahmed, his personal envoy to the presidential palace in Baghdad, a personal friend of Saddam Hussein and live wire in bringing about the strategic-military pact between Iraq and the Palestinians, out to the press, although he had never acted as press officer before. This a calculated provocation for Washington and underlined Arafat’s “no” to Powell.
Feb. 28: Russia and Iraqi are accelerating substantial SA-6 anti-air missiles and advanced radar deliveries to Baghdad, according to DEBKAfile‘s military sources, most of them going via military bases in Belarus.To speed up supplies, Saddam Hussein in the last fortnight posted a large military delegation led by Brigadier Saadi Subhi at the Iraqi embassy in Moscow and another, headed by Col. Aedil Hadida, a military engineer specializing in air defenses, in Minsk. Our military sources add that a large group of Russian intelligence officers dressed as civilians is in Baghdad to train Iraqi intelligence officers. They are agents of the SVR, successor to the KGB’s counterintelligence arm, the First Chief Directorate.