A Canadian man in custody in Israel, alleged to be the mastermind behind the sophisticated tactics used in Friday's deadly Hebron attack, claims his mission was to free clerics who are among the most prominent captives in Israeli prisons, sources say.
Friday's attack killed 12. Its tactics, which suggest a new direction for engagements in the bloody Middle East conflict, are the legacy of Fauzi Ayub, 38, a Canadian citizen who has been in Israeli government custody for five months, according to the DEBKAfile Web site.
Mr. Ayub is accused of both orchestrating the tactics used to maximize damage to the Israeli forces and training the men who carried out the attack, according to unnamed military and intelligence sources contacted by the Web site.
Mr. Ayub, however, admitted while in custody to another mission: He came to free three Hezbollah leaders who are currently imprisoned by the Israeli government, sources close to the case told the National Post.
He allegedly named three men: Sheik Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, who were snatched by Israeli commandos in separate operations from their homes in Lebanon, and Jihad Shuman, a Hezbollah activist arrested last year on accusations of planning attacks against Israel.
Sheik Obeid, a prominent Shiite cleric, was seized in 1989 and Sheik Dirani in 1994. Both were taken in connection with a missing Israeli airman, Ron Arad, who was on a 1986 bombing mission when he was forced to parachute from his burning plane into Lebanon.
The sheiks are prominent prisoners who repeatedly are named as examples of Israeli judicial excess, since both men have been held without trial.
In preparation for his operation, Mr. Ayub allegedly ditched his authentic Canadian passport, which he held for four years, and travelled on a bogus U.S. passport to Israel from Greece, sources said.
Once in Israel, Mr. Ayub quickly disappeared in the West Bank.
He was arrested on June 25, allegedly being found in the ruins of the police station in Hebron after Israeli forces toppled the building. He has been in custody since.
Although Canada was officially informed of his capture on July 3, Canadian consular officials did not meet with Mr. Ayub until Nov. 1, shortly before his court appearance.
"Our officials have met with him on three occasions in jail and reviewed some elements of his situation," said Reynald Doiron, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "We are following this case."
A Canadian official was present in the courtroom on Wednesday when Mr. Ayub had his trial postponed until Nov. 21. Judge Zacharia Caspi, of the Tel Aviv district court, said the delay was necessary to allow Mr. Ayub to find a defence lawyer.
Mr. Doiron said Canadian officials could not release details of the case because of a request by Mr. Ayub to have information on his situation released only to his immediate family.
Friday's attack in Hebron is now being re-evaluated by military analysts because it suggests a shift in tactics by opponents of Israel, since the attack resembled conventional warfare more than terrorist tactics.
Described as "meticulously planned," it seems devised to lure military forces into a trap, utilized as many as 10 armed attackers and directed fire in several directions at multiple targets.
The operation started with an attack on Jewish worshippers making their way on foot from the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine in Hebron that is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, to the large Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.
When Israeli forces rushed to the scene of the attack, they were attacked in a second ambush.
When the casualties were assessed, it appears the Palestinian gunmen were targeting soldiers and policemen who were escorting the settlers, not the settlers themselves.
Three armed guards from the Kiryat Arba settlement were the only civilians killed; the remaining nine dead were soldiers and police, including Hebron brigade commander, Colonel Dror Weinberg, 38, the highest-ranking Israeli officer killed during 26 months of open conflict with the Palestinians.
"It wasn't a massacre, it was a battle," said Matan Vilnai, a former Israeli general and a leading member of the opposition Labor Party.
Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the death of a Jihad leader killed last week by Israeli troops.
According to sources contacted by DEBKAfile, however, although carried out by the Islamic Jihad, the brains behind it was Mr. Ayub, who has been described in an Israeli court as a senior operative of Hezbollah, a group staging violent opposition to Israel.
"The setback to Israel is all the more galling considering that the Hezbollah trainer who prepared the operation and gave the Palestinian team its new capabilities has been in Israeli hands for five months. He is Fauzi Ayub, a Lebanese Hezbollah officer, who has given nothing away so far to his Israeli interrogators," says DEBKAfile.
The article refers to Mr. Ayub as the "super planner and trainer of Palestinian combat men."
DEBKAfile, which carries the slogan "we start where the media stop," chronicles military and intelligence affairs relating to the Middle East and claims many international exclusives.