by DEBKAfile, 13 March 2002

The terror attack Tuesday, March 12, in which six Israelis were killed and seven injured on the Matsuba-Kabri highway of W. Galilee had all the hallmarks of a military-guerrilla action. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report it was a combined operation by al Qaeda militants, newly based in Lebanon, and Iran-backed Hizballah Islamic extremists belonging to a faction associated with the master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. This conclusion is based on the killer squad’s modus operandi and scraps of cloth and equipment left at the scene, after two of its number were shot dead.

Israeli army and police forces, who do not doubt that surviving members of the same or similar teams are still loose, were willing to assert a day later with 80-90 percent certainty that the gunmen were Hizballah from Lebanon.

DEBKAfile ’s military sources enumerate the features supporting this deduction:
A. Site of Attack: The assailants took up positions on a West Galilee hilltop west of Kabri-Shlomi Route 70, and opposite the northern end of Shlomi, behind which rises the Rosh Hanikra ridge on the Lebanese side of the border. Atop that ridge stands a key Hizballah position, one of a string of posts along the Lebanese-Israel frontier. From this vantage point, Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards intelligence spotters spent months 'reading' the habits and contingency procedures of the Israeli villages below. They watched the comings and goings of security forces and their travel time from point to point, familiarized themselves with army and police routines, found the local command center and observed the flight schedules of Israeli air force helicopters.
Since last month, the observation post has been equipped by Iranian intelligence with new electronic surveillance equipment and revolving cameras that record every movement on the Israeli side of the frontier by day or night.

Israeli security forces, apparently impervious to the watchers, behaved with complete openness. Their communications networks operated in clear and the movements of security vehicles were visible day and night.

B. Preparations for Attack: The killer-squad had obviously studied every stone, orchard, ditch, shrub and hollow of the target area, and used the terrain effectively. The litter they left behind indicated they had camped for 36 hours or more in the area. The intruders had signaled their commanders on the other side with the help of such makeshifts as cloth fragments stuck on trees, mirrors and flashlights. Their demeanor before the attack was free and confident, as attested to by a member of Moshav Bezet who encountered two of them earlier in the morning.

C. The Crossing: According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the Hizballa and the Palestinians have come up with a method of passing through Israeli’s electronic fences undetected and without leaving a breach. The Palestinians apparently employed the method near the Kisufim roadblock in the Gaza Strip a few days ago.

D. Form of the Attack: The terrorists mounted a professional military assault. After sniping at the traffic from ambush, part of the team rushed downhill hurling grenades at the crippled vehicles. Still on the hill were two or three gunmen who covered the assault with long-range fire that prevented help approaching the stricken victims. The team therefore must have numbered at least four, probably more.

The killers, upon reaching the road, took time to make sure their victims died, by cold-bloodedly shooting them all – whether dead or wounded - at close range with pistols equipped with silencers. Even then, they did not go before Israeli forces came on the scene, but lay in wait in a ditch. The Israelis, no sooner did they reach the shocking scene of carnage, found themselves under fierce gunfire from the hill. Under its cover, the men in the ditch hurled grenades.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, over the past three weeks, US and Israeli counter-terrorist intelligence authorities have been receiving information of a combined terror offensive against Israel in preparation for the last days of March. Some sources have dubbed it the Passover Terror Offensive. It is being timed to fall on and around three flashpoint dates: the Jewish Seder ceremony on March 27, the opening of the Arab League summit in Beirut the same evening and the Israeli Arab community’s annual Land Day protest events on March 31.

Combined teams are being put together for the offensive from al Qaeda, Hizballah, Lebanon-based Palestinian Fatah and Jihad Islami elements, Fatah-Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades terror militants and Israeli Arab groups. The Lebanese elements have slipped across the frontier into Israel from south Lebanon in the same way as the group that struck in western Galilee Tuesday. They make for prepared hideouts in the West Bank and Israeli Arab locations. The offensive is to be built up in stages reaching a climax on Land Day.

One of the main objectives of Israel’s current all-out offensive against Palestinian towns and camps is to pre-empt this combined terror campaign.

Israeli analysts maintain that the offensive is already underway, beginning with the Palestinian campaign against a row of Israeli military roadblocks. In the strike at the Ein Ariq position southwest of Ramallah on February 19 and the Ophir roadblock north of Jerusalem a week later, Israeli lost 16 men. Israeli intelligence has come to the conclusion that the assaults were planned and executed largely by non-Palestinian terror experts with a high degree of combat training and skill. They were configured not merely to maximize Israeli casualties but also as trial runs for the opening of the Passover offensive.
Those two strikes were followed by a serious of attempts to break through the Maccabim roadblock on the Modiin-Jerusalem highway - more trial runs to establish a route for terrorist squads from Ramallah to reach the town of Modiin and the nearby international airport at Lod.

Israeli intelligence has received additional data on an al Qaeda plan to stage a terror spectacular in Israel on the scale of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. All these reports dovetail alarmingly to indicate two parallel terrorist onslaughts that could be launched simultaneously."