Middle East Truce Collapses: Sharp Escalation of Violence Predicted


DEBKAfile Intelligence

22 August 2003

Even after witnessing the ravages of the Hamas bombing attack on a Jerusalem bus packed with Israeli families on Tuesday, August 19, the Sharon government held off a decision to inflict all-out military punishment on the Palestinian Islamist terror group.

Washington had particularly requested patience to give the new Palestinian leaders a chance to make good on their commitment to crack down on the terrorists.

The decision to strike a Hamas leader was only taken in the small hours of Thursday, August 21, some 36 hours after the event, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources. It was prompted by the explanation the Palestinian internal security minister, Mohammed Dahlan, offered with a straight face to President Bush’s senior Middle East monitor John Wolf, for the delay in Palestinian Authority action against the Hamas and the Jihad Islami.

He said without blinking that the Palestinian Authority had been held up by “a shortage of motor vehicles”…

When Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon heard this from Wolf, he on the spot ordered defense minister Shaul Mofaz to set up the targeting of a Hamas leader.

Israeli security would have preferred Dr. Aziz Rantissi, the most extreme of the Hamas chiefs who urges his group to keep on expanding its terror operations against Israeli civilians. However, all the group’s senior operatives dived underground in a hurry after the imam from Hebron blew himself up on the Jerusalem bus on its way back from the Western Wall crowded with large ultra-religious families.

The Israeli Air Force had been on alert over the Gaza Strip since the bus blast, filling the skies with dozens of warplanes, Apache and Cobra gunship helicopters and drones. Now, air crews were told to hit the first Hamas leader come in their sights without waiting for further instructions.

Ismail Abu Shanab, number five in the Hamas hierarchy, had the misfortune to surface at the wrong moment. He was killed in his car with his two bodyguards.

Israel’s warplanes continue to patrol the Gaza Strip round the clock.

American and Israeli intelligence sources with long experience of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict predict a lethal, escalating exchange of violence and terror in the ten to twelve days following the breakdown Thursday of the shaky, stuttering truce that had lasted less than two months. The fury will continue for a week to ten days, as Israelis continue to seek out Hamas leaders and their Qassam surface missile manufacturing facilities in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, while the Hamas will attempt to bring off more multi-casualty terrorist attacks and hit Israeli targets and towns with their missiles and mortars, without exposing themselves.

In the meantime, US diplomats will work hard to haul the ceasefire back on its uncertain course.