Israel’s eight-day offensive against Hamas in Gaza was dubbed "Pillar of Cloud” by Israel and “Bricks from the Sky” by Hamas. Unbeknownst to anyone outside a tight circle, it was in fact a pillar of smoke and one of the most successful intelligence feats of deception in recent years.
The prime movers who planned and supervised its execution were six spymasters: Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Qatari intelligence chief Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al Thani, Turkish National Intelligence Organization-MIT director Hakan Fidan, Israeli Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Egyptian General Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Mohamed Rafaat.
A senior CIA officer, whose identity is unknown, stepped into a key role in this group in the past two weeks.
What DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources have learned is that the former Central Intelligence Director David Petraeus took part in the preparatory discussions until he resigned on Nov. 9. The two visits he paid to the Middle East – on Sept. 3 to Istanbul and Oct. 31 to Cairo – were related to this operation.
The half dozen masters of clandestine warfare and espionage did not operate in an orderly manner through a formal central command. In direct interchanges over a period of months, they drafted a master plan. Each of the six tried to push the national and intelligence agenda of his own organization, but consensus was ultimately achieved on a common goal: The campaign to stem Iran’s headlong rush for Middle East domination was to be kicked off in Gaza and involve Egypt. It would provide President Barack Obama with the springboard for his next moves targeting Syria and then Iran.
One operation, two coups
Intelligence rather than military brainpower was necessary for the operation because its centerpiece consisted of two internal coups – one in Egypt, one in Gaza – to dislodge pro-Iranian elements from their positions at the helm.
In Egypt, Mohamed Morsi had to be put back on his presidential pedestal after a brief Washington fling with his sworn rival, the Muslim Brotherhood strongman, the millionaire tycoon Khairat al-Shater.
(See DNW 563 of Nov. 2: Who's the Boss in Cairo Today? In a Quiet Coup, Brotherhood Strongman Shater Edges President Morsi Out).
The coup in Gaza was a lot more touch-and-go than the palace changeover in Cairo.
Undercover agents of the intelligence chiefs masterminding the operation had to isolate and then bring down Hamas strongman Mahmoud a-Zahar, who had gained stature from his trips to Tehran and Beirut. (See the first article in this issue).
A-Zahar was on the way to sidelining Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in the movement’s leadership.
The Saudi, Turkish and Qatari clandestine service chiefs undertook to recruit agents among Hamas’ political and military insiders to stage the coup and supply intelligence for the Israeli operation. They too would be fed any useful intelligence gathered by the other six.
On Oct. 23, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, emir of Qatar, arrived in Gaza, the first Arab ruler ever to visit the small Palestinian enclave. His well-publicized visit was crowned with an offer of a half billion dollars to aid Gaza development projects.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals here that Al Thani was essentially on a final scouting expedition before the coup was attempted. Well versed in the arts of toppling much bigger tyrants, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Bashar Assad (still to come) in Syria – in both of which Qatar was and is deeply immersed – its ruler went round shaking hands with all of Hamas’ leading lights, including its military commanders.
He came away with a strong impression, which he made known: Ahmed Jabari was the keystone of the a-Zahar power base. Removing him and his deputy would bring their target tumbling down.
Jabari was also the keystone of Iran’s arch in Gaza
Acting on the Qatari recommendation, the Israeli Air Force made the targeting of Ahmed Jabari on Nov. 14 the opening shot of its eight-day Gaza offensive. Israel had targeted Jabari, an old and ruthless enemy, for six years – and missed. This time, he was caught in a trap rigged with the help of intelligence betrayed from the inside.
The Israeli bid to eliminate his deputy failed; Issa managed to escape the burning car struck by airborne rockets. He then quickly mustered a few hundred loyal fighters of the Ezz e-din Qassam Brigades and anointed himself Jabari’s successor as supreme commander of Hamas’ military wing.
Issa and his following remain in the conspirators’ sights and his days may be numbered.
In another move, Qatari intelligence reinstated the former Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Meshaal, who was deposed in internal elections and lost his Damascus base as a result of the Syrian civil war.
Meshaal was installed in Cairo with the key function of liaison between the coup leaders in Gaza and their confederates in the Egyptian capital who had been entrusted with restoring President Morsi to full authority.
Key figures in the intelligence master-game focusing on Gaza began to surface in Cairo this week. They turned up at the presidential palace table around which the parties haggled over a truce for terminating Israel-Hamas hostilities.
Morsi and Meshaal were prominently present, but so were Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Qatari intelligence chief Jassim al Thani.
Morsi is back in the saddle
Morsi gained enormous prestige in the Middle East, the Arab world and the international arena by pulling off the Gaza truce and began steadying his position as president of Egypt. UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a procession of European foreign ministers appearing by his side on world camera, Wednesday, Nov. 21, lent him added clout and legitimacy. Surprisingly, the MB strongman the millionaire tycoon al-Shater showed exceptional resilience the next day and threw his support behind the president, his rival.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that, like most processes set off by secret internal intrigue, the Gaza and Cairo coups are still young enough to need careful shoring up against possible counter-coups or upheavals. Not all the surprises in store may be salutary.
This is discussed in the next article.