The Cable

Israel's shadow war against Hamas' arms sources

As Israel and Egypt marked 30 years of peace between their countries this week, and the Egyptian and Sudanese presidents held meetings in Cairo Wednesday, CBS News and Israeli media reported Thursday that, back in January, the Israeli Air Force had bombed a convoy of arms in Sudan that was alleged to be headed to Gaza via Egypt.

A Washington think tank expert on the Middle East said, “The Israelis have been complaining about this supply route for a long time. This gives credence to Israeli reports that Iran is trans-shipping weapons through Sudan and Egypt to Hamas. It would be impolitic for the Israelis to do this in Egypt. This is something the Egyptians have worried about: what happens if there is some sort of attack on Israel from Egyptian soil: what kind of action would Israel take?”

He speculated that the Israeli warplanes took off from the southern Israeli air base at Ovda, flew through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, down the Red Sea in between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and across and over into Sudanese air space. They reportedly struck the targeted convoy northwest of the city of Port Sudan, killing some 39 members of the 17-vehicle convoy.

Responding to the media reports Thursday, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t try to dispel the impression that Israel had carried out the operation. “We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places, in places further away, everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence," Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz cited him.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters Thursday that he was not aware of any U.S. involvement in the operation. "I have not been informed that there was any sort of U.S. involvement. I will be happy to refer you to the Pentagon if this is something that would involve military action, but nothing I have seen indicates any U.S. involvement in this incident at all." Sudanese and Egyptian newspaper reports this week said -- apparently erroneously -- that U.S. planes were thought to have carried out the operation, which reportedly killed Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Eritrean members of the convoy.

Don’t be surprised if it wasn’t the only military action taken in the area, another Middle East expert suggested, saying there were rumors of a boat that disappeared in the Red Sea area several weeks ago.

Suppposedly there were some smugglers' boats attacked at the same time as the land attack, the speculation is.

“If Israeli airplanes carried out the attack in Sudan,” CBS’s Dan Raviv wrote, “It would suggest that there is a shadow war against Hamas and its weapons sources that is wider than the Israeli or U.S. government has revealed.”

The Cable

Names: DoD, NSC, Holbrooke deputy, Delhi

Donald Camp, previously the principal deputy assistant secretary for South Asia at the State Department, has been made NSC senior director for South Asia, The Cable hears, and assumed his duties late last week. He and the NSC did not immediately respond to queries. Sources say that for budget reasons the NSC is recently hiring mostly detailees.

Paul Jones, a career foreign service officer, is going to serve in a dual-hatted role, as deputy to U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, as well deputy assistant secretary of state for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last week, The Cable reported that current U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake is going to be named assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia. Meantime, also in the South Asia beat, the Indian press is reporting that Peter Burleigh is to become the charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Delhi.

Joseph McMillan, previously a senior research fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies, has informed colleagues that he has agreed to return to the Pentagon to serve as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, reporting to Sandy Vershbow.