Top Gaza General Leads Combined Palestinian Force in Rafah Crossing Assault

A ton and a half of high explosives smashed into the Israeli military compound at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, injuring 11 Israeli soldiers, four critically. The mighty explosion erupted from a secret 800-meter long tunnel, the longest the Palestinians have dug so far. The charge was divided into three parts – each placed under one of the structures of the Israeli position. The triple blast, detonated by two suicide bombers, was followed by long salvos of Palestinian mortar and gunfire to make sure there were no survivors and to impede rescue operations. At least two terrorists dived into the damaged buildings on a killing rampage among the wounded. One was killed. More bomb traps waylaid rescue teams rushing to the scene.
By then dark had fallen, adding to the havoc. But one man remained trapped under the debris. Homeland front and engineering unit experts were brought in to raise the heavy blocks and bring him out, as helicopters and drones hovered overhead to secure them.
Ongoing Palestinian fire crossed the border to Kerem Shalom whose residents rushed for shelter from the flying anti-tank missiles. In a single week, Palestinian terrorists have carried out 42 attacks in the Gaza Strip and against Israeli locations outside.
But debkafile‘s military sources report that the strike against the Rafah crossing was no run-of-the-mill Palestinian terror attack such as Israel has endured for decades, but a meticulously-planned military operation in which a battalion-scale force was deployed. The border crossing into Egypt was chosen by planners aiming at a number of targets:
1. Israeli soldiers.
2. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and remove settlements.
3. Prospective Israel-Egyptian security collaboration.
4. Mahmoud Abbas’ chances of succeeding Arafat in the January 9 election. His near-murder in Gaza City last month did not frighten him off
5. Sharon’s new coalition government and its commitment to his disengagement plan as an element in a future accommodation.
6. US president George W. Bush’s Palestinian policy.
For weeks, Israeli forces in the southern Gaza Strip had been braced for a tunnel blast at the Rafah crossing, the only exit point for Palestinians living there. The troops closed the crossing to hunt for an underground passage and warn the Palestinians that an attack at this sensitive point would hurt them by halting their regular traffic between Gaza and Sinai and Egypt.
But then world media images of suffering Palestinian women and children denied access to their homes on the other side of the border had their effect. The certain warnings by Israeli officers that a bombing attack was in the works went unheeded. Under the threat of “a human catastrophe,” Israel reopened the crossing with no guarantee of non-attack demanded from the Palestinian Authority, its presidential candidate, prime minister or other officials – or even from local Palestinian commanders who commune regularly with Egyptian and British intelligence officers.
General Mussa Arafat, who knows the exact location and function of every smuggling tunnel from Sinai was not warned off; neither was Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman who spends hours talking to Hamas and Jihad Islami leaders asked to mediate. The gateway to Egypt swung open to Palestinian traffic unconditionally.
From that moment, the countdown began for the strike against the Israeli military position at Rafath. It ended Sunday night, December 12 in the largest military assault mounted so far in the four-year Palestinian war.
No single terrorist group, whether Hamas or Fatah, would have been capable of an action on this scale, nor would their operatives have commanded the logistical, intelligence and financial resources to carry it through. Who orchestrated the assault and timed the explosions and the mortar fire?
This question jars harshly amid the new wave of optimism over the prospects of peace and the apparent decline in terrorist attacks gripping top-level Israeli politicians. The fact that Palestinian fighting elements are constantly improving methods, regrouping and learning from past mistakes is damped down by the euphoric atmosphere generated by the impending entry of dovish Labor to the Sharon coalition and the high hopes riding on Mahmoud Abbas’ expected election.
But Sunday night, all the Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip proved they could work together under a single commander. debkafile‘s military sources name him as 62-year old Khan Younes-based Palestinian brigadier general Saib Ajez, a veteran officer of the moribund commando-trained Palestinian Liberation Army and the best tactical brain the Palestinians have. He has 20,000 men under arms at his disposal. The rank and file are members of the Palestinian General Security Service, but their disciplined hard core is made up of Fatah, Hamas and Jihad Islami units in Rafah, Deir el Balah and Khan Younes. This unified force Ajez deployed last May to repulse the IDF’s first offensive against the smuggling tunnels of Rafah.
The attack is his way of saying that, even if Abbas is elected in the West Bank, Suleiman continues his conversations in Cairo, Sharon builds a new government and pulls every last Israeli out of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian war will not be touched. It will go on in Gaza, inevitably ignite the West Bank and, even if the Israeli army quits every last inch of Palestinian-claimed land, subterranean passages burrowed under the borders and security fences will carry Palestinian warfare into Israel’s heartland.
General Ajez has no interest in a cushy job in the future Abbas administration or pats on the back from Brussels. He has undertaken the mission of carrying out Yasser Arafat’s legacy. Therefore, while peace diplomacy may begin in Jerusalem, Cairo and Ramallah, the Palestinians dedicated to violence are determined to bomb the palaver into silence – exactly as they have done before. They are sure they will have the last word.

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