PALESTINIAN TERRORISTS STRIKING FROM SINAI THREATENS REGIONAL WAR
by DEBKAfile, 27 February
"A glimmer of hope hung over the resumed trilateral security mission meeting at the US Ambassadors home in Herzliya Tuesday night, February 26. Present were Israeli Shin Beit director Avi Dichter, IDF General Command Planning Chief, Maj.-Gen Giora Eiland, Palestinian Gaza Strip Preventive Security Head Mohamed Dahlan, Palestinian General Intelligence Chief Muhamed Hindi and American representatives.
The faint hope was that a downturn in violence would be achieved under the influence of the diplomatic flurry of the past 24 hours: US president George W. Bush talked on the phone to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres conversed with French president Jacques Chirac in Paris, and the European Unions foreign affairs executive, Javier Solana, after shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, set off for Jeddah.
But the security committee got nowhere, before breaking up at around midnight.
Eight hours later, on Wednesday morning, the next wave of Palestinian terror was heading out in a completely new direction. A hit squad of three from El Arish, the desert town in Egyptian Sinai, crossed into Israels southern Negev at Mt. Harif, heavily armed with assault rifles, ammunition and the suicides weapon, a bomb belt, and headed for the Ramon Crater. This was the first terrorist infiltration to Israels southern desert area bordering Egypt in 14 years.
The Crater is situation midway between Beersheba and Israels southernmost town of Eilat on the Red Sea. It leads to the biggest cluster of Israeli military bases in southern Israel, as well as to the remote town of Mitzpe Ramon. Those bases include the IDFs Officers School, Tank Training Center, tank Bases and big Air Force facilities. Mitzpe Ramon has a heavy population of army and air force families. All were obvious Palestinian terrorist targets.
However, 12 km inside Israeli territory before reaching the Ramon Crater - the terrorists were spotted by a military patrol. In the exchange of fire, all three were eliminated and two Israeli troops wounded.
This attempt was foiled, but more may follow, heralding, in the judgment of DEBKAfile s military experts, a fresh and serious escalation in Palestinian warfare, comparable to the introduction of mortar- and then rocket- weaponry against Israeli civilian targets.
Israel military sources define Yasser Arafats two objectives as being:
1. The launch of terror attacks from Egyptian soil, in order to drag Egypt unwillingly into the cycle of violence and ignite a regional conflagration.
2. The terrorists may have been heading for an American military installation. According to DEBKAfile s military sources, the United States maintains large reserve depots of tanks, artillery and military personnel in this part of southern Israel, against the contingency of a Middle East war.
Arafat may, therefore, have been hoping to chalk up a triple hit with a single three-man terrorist team: Egypt, a US military target and Israel."