Hamas & the Islamists
A roadmap to peace?
Arafat: Then & now
Checkpoints & closure
People in the news
by Ghazi Hamad
AN UNCONVENTIONAL war is being waged in the occupied Palestinian territories combining the most sophisticated hi-tech methods with more traditional intelligence. In the past few months this war has been concentrated in Gaza, most visibly through the reinstatement of Israel's assassination policy.
By analyzing recent assassinations and gathering testimonies from those who survived, coupled with information leaked or disclosed in the Israeli press, it is possible to sketch a scenario for the preparation, planning and execution of an assassination. Parts of the following scenario come from public statements by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons following the assassination of a number of activists by Israeli authorities.
An 'assassination council' was formed a couple of months ago under the leadership of the Israeli army command, according to the Israeli media. The primary responsibility of the unit is to determine the timing and method of assassination of any given target. It is headed by the Israeli commander-in-chief, Moshe Ya'alon, and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, and reports to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The process begins with the gathering of data, focusing on the place of residency of the target and his movements, especially daily routines. Many military and security services participate in this process, first and foremost the Shabak, which relies primarily on a network of collaborators.
Intelligence information is gathered in three ways: by collaborators, unmanned planes, and mobile phone technology.
General information mostly comes from collaborators, particularly if the target is a prominent political personality whose movements are public. In the case of someone already wanted and underground, the task of collaborators is often too difficult. Unmanned planes, meanwhile, broadcast around-the-clock images of the vehicle and home of a wanted activist. Armed with this information, the Shabak will use mobile phone technology to identify a window of opportunity in a target's daily.
This information is then placed on the table at the "operation room" and the security services for final ratification. The process is usually swift: for those on Israel's target list, a death sentence has been predetermined.
In the West Bank, assassinations have mostly been executed by special forces or by placing bombs in cars and public phone booths. In Gaza, the situation is different, and an assassination depends completely upon the Israeli air force for implementation. An assassination is usually carried out by Apache helicopter, often with the participation of F-16's for cover, and sometimes by the planes themselves.
Unmanned planes project pictures of the target, his movements and then pinpoint his car. Phone calls of the activist are intercepted and his location is determined through his cell phone signal and the photos. Many times collaborators confirm these reports.
Once it is known that the activist has left his home or gotten into his car, the aircraft take off. Targeted cars are sometimes sprayed with a laminated substance that aids their identification from above.
After the target is hit - the photos are directly transmitted to the "operation room" - the aircraft hover in the sky for a while to make absolutely sure that the deed has been completed and that there are no survivors. If there are, more missiles are launched even if people have gathered around the place of the attack. As long as the aerial photos show that the target is still alive, or if a target's cell phone still sends a signal, the operation continues.
Testimonies of survivors and prisoners confirm that the cell phone is the main reason behind the success of the Israeli intelligence services in locating their targets. Israel is able to identify the voiceprint, the unique sound pattern every voice makes, of individuals, and are able to monitor the Palestinian mobile phone network, Jawwal. Many prisoners also claim that during interrogation, their Israeli interrogators had showed them a list of all the phone calls they had made.
A PalTel engineer, who does not want his name published, confirms that the Israeli authorities have the ability to "extract the voiceprint of any given Palestinian and then track his phone calls whether by land line or cell phone." Disguising a voice is futile, and turning off a phone will not prevent its location being determined. Even when closed, electricity is always stored in the phone - it preserves the memory and program - and there is always a connection between the phone and service provider.
Palestinian prisoners also say that the Israeli authorities use a database, "Faraza", that allows them to record simultaneously key words such as "weapons", "explosives," "martyrs" etc, or calls using code words such as "groom" - the codeword for one about to carry out an operation, "Russian apple" - the codeword for ammunition, and other terms known to be used by the resistance factions.
The overwhelming majority of assassinations have been successful, but the few occasions that they failed seem to lend credence to the theory that the targets' cell phones had been crucial in identifying them.
A few months ago, Israeli occupation forces tried to assassinate Izzedin Al Qassam Brigade member Raed Attar. While on the road between Rafah and Khan Younis, Attar's phone rang, and a young woman apologized for calling the wrong number. Almost instantly, Attar and his companions heard Apache helicopters overhead. They immediately jumped from the car and, crucially, threw the cell phone. They hid in an orchard while the Apaches circled the area. At that moment, two boys on bicycles passed the orchard and were misidentified as the targets. The pilot fired his missiles, killing both on the spot. While the incident is not conclusive, many maintain that it was because Attar threw his phone that he escaped unharmed.
-Published September 24, 2003©Palestine Report