Number 17

March 29, 2002

by Gordon Thomas

Two Israeli fighter-bomber squadrons equipped with battlefield tactical nuclear weapons have been placed on "cock-pit standby."

They are based at an airfield in Galilee – minutes only flying time from Syria.

The Golan Heights which borders Syria has also been sown with neutron-type bombs. Designed at Israel’s nuclear facility in the Negev desert, the bombs are designed to 'kill soldiers and leave the infrastructure intact,' was how one Israeli Defence Forces source described the weapons.

This escalation of military preparations follows an urgent report from Mossad chief Efraim Halevy to prime minister, Ariel Sharon, of 'credible intelligence that both Syria and Iraq – who have held lengthy private talks at the Beirut 'summit' this weekend – may be preparing to intervene in the dangerously-out-of-control situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

At the summit both counties were the strongest voices to pledge all-out support for the PLO. Syria, with its massive army of 300,000 ground troops and state of the art aircraft supplied by both Russia and China, has always presented a credible threat to Israel.

The hard-liners who run Syria make no secret it is only a matter of time before the day of reckoning will come between Israel and Syria.

Of equal concern to Israel is Mossad’s intelligence that Saddam has some 100 kamikaze pilots within a few minutes flying time from Israeli cities – and Dimona.

The kamikazes are under the command of Saddam’s son, Qusay.

Mossad believe their aircraft are fitted with bio-chemical weapons.

In the meantime, Mossad has also determined that Yasser Arafat's 'Academy of Atrocity' -- from where the fifteen-year old suicide bomber graduated -- is financed by Iraq. The money is laundered through the Central Bank in Damascus to Athens. From there it is electronically transferred to an account held by the Islamic Red Crescent – the equivalent of the Red Cross – in Gaza City. It is then hand carried to the cells of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs – the deadliest and most secret of extreme Islamic organisations in the Middle East.

It operates as a series of 'martyrdom cells.' Each cell consists of a leader and two or three young men and women – suicide bombers.

After months of intensive religious study – similar to that used by cults in the West to indoctrinate their members – each student is given the title 'shaded al hay' – the living martyr.

Each student is aged from 18 to 32 years. Until recently they were all male. But since the escalation of the suicide bombings, women are admitted. And children as young as eight years are being prepared for death.

More certain, all are deeply religious. The mother of the Academy’s first woman graduate, Wafa Ali Idris, who killed and wounded over 100 in Jerusalem has said: 'My daughter always was well-informed about the political situation.'

Part of the money that Iraq provides is to ensure that her family, like those of every successful suicide bomber, is financially secure for all their life. All the family’s debts are paid off – including those of extended family members. Each immediate family member is given a 'pension' for the rest of their lives.

This varies, but is generally said to be twice the income they received before the suicide bomber struck.

After each successful mission, money is used to distribute copies of the martyr’s tapes to the media and to a number of Islamic organisations throughout the world. A substantial sum is spent on the post-mission party. Hundred of guests congregate at the home of the bomber to offer their congratulations – much as at a wedding.

'The hosts serve juices and food that the bomber specified in his will. Often the mother will ululate in joy over the honour Allah has bestowed on her family,' said Professor Ariel Meran, a world-ranking authority on the mentality of suicide bombers. He is among those who believe that outsiders find it hard to understand martyrdom.

Sheik Ahmed Yassim, the spiritual leader of Hamas whom I interviewed after his release from an Israeli prison in 1997 (a decision designed to ease tension in the region) told me: 'Love of martyrdom is something you have in your heart. You know, just know, this is what Allah wants from you. That Allah wants you to do for him. So Allah selects the martyrs.'

The bulk of the money that Iraq provides is used to finance the suicide bomber instructors. They are reputed to receive salaries equal to that of Arafat’s top aides. The money is thought to be held in secure banks. Mossad and other intelligence agencies are trying to follow the money trail in the hope it can bring them to capture the bombers.

Efraim Halevy has assigned over fifty of his top agents to do this. In all over 100 operatives, drawn from the other Israeli intelligence forces, are hunting the instructors at the Academy of Atrocity.

In the wake of the Passover Massacre, the first detailed picture has emerged of how the bombers are selected.

The selection process is lengthy – sometimes months. For everyone accepted – there are a hundred volunteers. Turned away is anyone who is the sole wage earner in his family, who is married. If two brothers volunteer, only one is chosen.

A lengthy interview with one of the Immams – priests – attached to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs is the next step.

During the preparations, each suicide bomber is repeatedly assured that on the Day of Judgement he will be allowed, on entering Paradise to choose 70 of his relatives to join him there. The first sign a bomber is close to graduation – during which he or she has spent up to nine hours a day in prayers, on long fasts and studying the Koran – is when the bomber is joined by two 'assistants.' Older men steeped in religious dogma, their job is to ensure in those last days the bomber does not waver in his readiness to die. His or her mind is focused on 'the glory' awaiting him in Paradise. Of being finally in the presence of Allah. Of being allowed to meet the Prophet Mohammed.

As the time grows closer to his mission, the 'assistants' move the bomber to a specially prepared room. Its walls are inscribed with verses from the Koran. Between the verses are painted green birds flying in a purple sky – a reminder they carry the soul of martyrs to Allah.

For hours the 'assistants' and bombers pray together.

Then the time has finally come. The bomber places a copy of the Koran in his left breast pocket above his heart. He straps the explosives around his body. The detonator button is taped to his right hand palm.

Close to the target he leaves his 'assistants.' He is now alone, primed to die – to take as many others with him as possible.

At the moment before he presses the button, he reminds himself: 'Allah akbar. Allah is great. All praise to Allah.'

The mother of Wafa Ali Idris, the first woman suicide bomber, has said: 'She died for what she believed in. That is what Allah wanted.'

And the mother of an earlier suicide bomber, Ribbi Kahlout, had this requiem for his dead son: 'If I had known what he would do, I would have taken a knife and cut open my heart and stuffed him deep inside. Then I would have sewn it up right to keep him safe.'

There are many mothers in Israel – Jewish and Arab – who no doubt feel the same today.

Gordon Thomas is a writer on intelligence for a number of leading European newspapers (the Sunday Express, UK; El Mundo, Spain; Welt am Sonntag, Germany). His work is also syndicated internationally by World Wide Syndication. Any use of the above must carry a clear attribution to both Gordon Thomas and Globe-Intel. He is a Contributing Editor to Globe-Intel, an international newsletter devoted to intelligence matters.

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