Early yesterday afternoon (Israel time), on a tense day in the territories marked by (among other things) the attack on the Jordan Valley Hamra settlement in the Jordan Valley, Mossad head Ephraim Halevy was sitting in a Washington office, watching his U.S. counterpart, CIA director George Tenet, testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Halevy, waiting in the American capital for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to arrive, doesn't need a TV set to learn what Tenet is thinking.
While Tenet was speaking at Capitol Hill about the Karine A weapons ship affair, and about Iranian assistance to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the IDF tracked down a truck filled with fresh fruit and vegetables - and Kassam rockets. Just like the fruits-and-veg, the rockets were destined to go from the village to the city.
Like most successful diplomatic and military initiatives, the capture of the truck was grounded on solid intelligence work - not thanks to Tenet or Halevy, but rather to the Shin Bet security service and IDF intelligence.
Another friend of Tenet's, who also frequently visits Washington, is Major General Giora Eiland, the head of the IDF's Plans and Policy Directorate. Last November, Eiland delivered a lecture in Washington that stressed how precise intelligence work is vitally important during the conflict with the Palestinians.
Eiland told his listeners the IDF has adapted drones for such intelligence work, using pilotless planes originally designed to identify things like tanks. A silent drone, which flies at high altitudes without attracting much attention, is capable of keeping tabs on "a Palestinian who travels in Tul Karm with two bombs in his car," Eiland explained. "The moment this man gives the bombs to two suicide strikers, who intend to carry out attacks in Israel, they are liable to elude us. Our task is to strike the man [who is transporting the bombs], and only him, without causing damage to the area around him and before he passes the bombs along. And this is to be done on the main street in Tul Karm at peak traffic time."
With the help of reliable information about the identity of a terror gang leader, the car he uses, and when he travels alone, a precise assassination can be executed. In dozens of such killings, Eiland said in his lecture, only four innocent Palestinians have been killed, other than the terrorist targets. The four victims happened to be in the area by unlucky coincidence.
Eiland was diplomatic in his speech, and he didn't draw a comparison between this statistic and the mass damage and tragic side effects caused by U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.
Following prior reports about the stockpiling of Kassam rockets on the West Bank, and in view of other security developments yesterday, reports of the capture of the rocket-loaded truck were greeted with some indifference. It was a case of "if the missile isn't fired, then it's not so bad." But in fact the capture of several such rockets yesterday helped Israel to gain precious time, and (for the time being) to refrain from deploying a military operation that could embarrass Sharon in Washington.
By conveying missiles in a truck, not in an ambulance, Hamas indicates it has responded seriously to (largely exaggerated) complaints about medical vehicles being delayed at IDF checkpoints. In 1995, a terrorist group used ambulances to move from Gaza to Tul Karm.
In Tul Karm they organized themselves, prepared explosives, and moved on to kill Israelis at Beit Lid junction.
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