Israel holds back on punishment for Palestinian murder of civilian to save Mid East talks
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 24, 2013, 4:24 PM (GMT+02:00)
The Palestinian sniper who Tuesday, Dec. 24, shot dead an Israeli civilian employed by the IDF to repair the damaged Gazan border fence, sent Israeli government and military chiefs into an agony of indecision over how to fight back against surging Palestinian terrorism attacks without derailing ongoing US-sponsored Middle East peace talks. Tuesday afternoon, Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas base in Gaza. This was no more than a relatively mild response. However, Hamas is evacuating its bases in case of further strikes.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had hoped that by refraining from punishing the Palestinian attacks - spreading out from Gaza, across the West Bank, in Jerusalem and inside Israel - he could bring the talks to a successful conclusion. But he was wrong. Like his predecessors, he faild to meet the challenge which defeated them too: How to talk peace with the Palestinians under terrorist aggression.
Netanyahu however finds himself in worse straits due his secretiveness on the extensive concessions he has offered the Palestinians in such sensitive areas as the Jordan Valley as well as the West Bank, under US Secretary of State John Kerry’s bulldozing tactics.
He almost gave the game away by a secret meeting he held with the dovish ultra-religious Torah Judaism (Aguda) Party leaders, suggesting he was planning a government reshuffle to drop pro-settlement factions from his government in favor of a lineup more amenable to concessions.
However, the Palestinians have meanwhile run off with the initiative, seizing it from both Israel and the United States.
As debkafile revealed in an exclusive report earlier Tuesday, a new Palestinian terrorist command center has sprung up in Gaza and Istanbul.
A second batch of convicted Palestinian terrorists is due for release next week, in line with the commitment Israel gave for drawing the Palestinians into the US-sponsored Middle East peace talks now underway. Also underway however is a wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli military and civilian targets, whose figures are on a rising curve since the talks began in July.
Israeli political and military authorities insist there is no guiding hand or organization behind the attacks. They are sticking to this line for fear of derailing the talks before they reach the breakthrough promised in the latter half of January by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
This line is however strongly countered by the figures which intelligence and counterterrorism officials determine are too high to be brushed aside any longer as random.
In the past two months, 4 Israeli soldiers have been killed and 15 attacks conducted against security personnel and civilians, including 6 stabbings. In the course of 2013, Palestinians perpetrated a total of 150 acts of terror - an average of one every two days.
Intelligence officials have finally established that the violence is being deliberately ratcheted up by a single group. It is the hard core of the 1,027 Palestinian terrorist-killers swapped for the release two years ago of Gilead Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
This group consists of 40 of the most hardened killers from among the 230 released terrorists who were expelled to the Gaza Strip and Turkey. They have established a new terrorist command. Intelligence sources have also identified its ringleaders as Saleh Al-Aruri and Amana Muna. Based safely in Istanbul, they are pulling the strings of the new surge of attacks through their strong West Bank connections.
Al-Aruri, former commander of the West Bank military wing of Hamas, was serving a life sentence for multiple murder. He walked free two years ago after 15 years in a cell which he used for recruiting members of the different Palestinian organizations serving time in the same prison.
No one is sure how many confederates he put in place for future operations. debkafile’s intelligence sources have established however that during his two years of freedom in Istanbul, he managed to restore and activate the Hamas terrorist command on the West Bank.
Not only was Turkish intelligence aware of his activities, but local Islamist organizations gave him a helping hand and also funded the anti-Israel violence he was staging from a safe distance.
Israel refrained from protesting to the Ankara government, preferring not to further upset its already rocky relations with the Erdogan government, and far from convinced it would result in Turkish action.
The other ringleader is a woman, Amana Muna, who lured the Israeli youth Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to his death in 2001 in what became known as the “Internet murder.”
A member of Fatah, upon her release two years ago, she was decorated for bravery in person by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
West Bank Palestinians regard Muna as a folk heroine. Both she and Al-Aruri have high credibility in the population and even among PA security personnel, so that their directives may be readily obeyed, whether transmitted directly or through their emissaries.
In operational terms, the new terrorist grouping is not an organized entity in the conventional sense of Palestinian terrorism. This is an asset for the new set-up. Its long arms from Istanbul and the Gaza Strip are hard to pin down; without the cumbersome, strife-ridden administrations typical of Fatah and Hamas, it can operate freely and flexibly on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, over the heads of those organizations’ leaders, organizations, intelligence and armed branches.