The millions of television viewers who witnessed the impressive opening of Geneva-2 in the Swiss town of Montreux on Jan. 22, a conference billed as the ultimate diplomatic platform for bringing peace to Syria, were given no hint that it was a put-up job. Meanwhile, Thursday, the conference broke up in disarray.
They saw the world’s top diplomats, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rubbing shoulders at this major event with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallam, and in deep conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as some 30 foreign ministers were milling about under the cameras.
In fact, DEBKA Weekly's sources reveal, they were acting out their parts in a Bolshoi-scale production staged inimitably by Moscow as an exercise in misdirection.
The real action had moved secretly to an alternative venue. A senior intelligence official was shocked by disbelief into wondering how Kerry and Lavrov could have agreed to be part of a public piece of deception on this scale. He called it "the biggest diplomatic fraud in a decade."
On Jan. 21, debkafile disclosed that an Iranian delegation had secretly arrived in Switzerland for the conference, although Ban Ki-moon had cancelled his invitation to Tehran at Washington’s insistence. The delegation put up at a hotel far from the conference venue to avoid attracting attention.
This story was not picked up by any world media. All they covered were the opening session in Montreux, interviews with delegates, especially the Syrian opposition, and reports by the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on his daily shuttle between the Syrian government and opposition delegations, who were persuaded to sit in the same room, but not to talk.
Oddly enough, the august gathering of foreign ministers never seemed to hold any full-dress sessions.
Iran admitted through the back-door for a decisive role
Brahimi and the two Syrian delegations knew they were acting out a charade.
The real deliberations had moved in secret to the Swiss capital Bern. There a different panel got down to the real nitty gritty of the Syrian dispute. Representation there was whittled down sharply to senior US, Russian, Iranian, Syrian government and Syrian opposition representatives, whose identity was kept under close wraps, along with the existence of this alternative forum.
DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources were able nonetheless to penetrate the information blackout and discovered the identities of the two Syrian delegation leaders:
The government team is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad.
Every so often Makdad returns to Geneva for a few hours and talks to journalists, so that his absence remains unnoticed.
The Syrian opposition delegation is headed by one of Assad's oldest rivals, Michel Kilo.
By the ruse of splitting the conference into the public Geneva-2 and secret Bern-1, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov have achieved several goals:
1. The UN and Secretary Ban Ki-moon were detached from the bargaining over a ceasefire in Syria.
2. Britain, France and Germany Washington and Moscow are also removed from essential policy-making for Syria’s future, although they are still in the room for the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
3. Uninvited too were Mid East Arab teams: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE.
4. Iran arrived through the back door to a seat alongside Washington and Moscow at the top table for decision-makers.
Tehran holds the keys in Damascus to peace and war
The Iranians were given full honors in Bern when the two superpowers saw they would never resolve the Syrian conflict without Tehran’s cooperation in two areas:
a) Only the Iranians have direct access through Al Qods Brigades Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani to President Bashar Assad’s inner circle of generals in Damascus. This circle is headed by Assad's most trusted general, his younger brother, Maher al-Assad, who commands the Syrian Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division.
It has become clear to the Americans and Russians that this inner circle is the only address in Damascus today for important decisions. Assad is almost a hostage in his palace. Access to that circle of generals is available only through Soleimani. This puts Iran in the driver’s seat in Bern.
b). Tehran’s second high military card is Hizballah, which defers to no one else. It is entirely up to Iran to decide whether all or part of these Shiite fighters withdraws from the Syrian battlefield and returns home to Lebanon. Since Hizballah’s role has become pivotal to the Syria army’s performance in key sectors of the war, Tehran possesses more leverage than any other foreign power over Assad and his inner circle.
Finding a contender for Assad’s run for president
DEBKA Weekly's sources say that it was at the initiative of Washington and Moscow that Iran persuaded Assad to run for another term as president in the June election, the first vote set to take place under the new constitution approved by national referendum on Feb. 26, 2012, in the middle of the civil war.
Two years ago, Assad never imagined that the constitution he wrote himself would serve the US and Russia as their main tool of diplomacy for his country’s future.
This constitution prohibits a once-man race for the presidency. There must be at least two contenders for the election to be legal.
Assad and his generals much prefer to choose the second contender to make sure he poses no challenge to Assad’s return to the office of president. But the US, Russian and Iranian negotiators at Bern are haggling intensely over a contender on whom they can all agree. They haven’t hit on one yet.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan arrived in Tehran Wednesday Jan. 29 to launch yet another grand foreign policy swivel. - again promising a “breakthrough.”
But this time, he needed an urgent shift for hauling his standing at home out of an all-time slump.
His low rating was reflected in the plunge of the Turkish lira Monday to a record low of $0.4185, part of the wider reverses of emerging-market currencies, but also thanks to worries about the uncertain political situation in Ankara.
Tuesday, Erdogan suddenly sounded more like his old self.
He convened a central bank extraordinary policy meeting to evaluate the slide and shoot a big gun for strengthening the currency. It raised the official interest from 4.5 to 10 percent. But this missed its aim to be more or less shrugged off by the financial markets. But the Turkish prime minister was meanwhile haring off to fire another gun: he laid out for his parliamentary party a grandiose new foreign policy roadmap that hinged on his forthcoming, groundbreaking visit to Tehran.
Erdogan conjured up before his audience the vision of a mighty new alliance of the two non-Arab Middle East powers towering over Arab Muslim Middle East affairs and history.
For starters, the two powers would scoop up the Syrian question and run with it. After all, he explained, the international community had shown nothing but “inaction” in the face of the Assad regime’s “brutality against civilians.”
Tehran visit marks end of Turkish-US cooperation for Syria
Ankara would persevere in its “humanitarian policies” on Syria, Erdogan pledged: “We’ll go on defending the rights of the oppressed, in the face of pressure and all-out sabotage,” he said, “We’ll continue to carry aid to the oppressed [in Syria], bearing our responsibility as a great country, notwithstanding treachery and acts of sabotage… Syria faces a heavy test. As brothers of Syria, we will put our stamp on history with a test of our will,” Erdogan declared.
It doesn’t take a political scientist to catch the Turkish prime minister’s drift. His pejorative darts were bitterly aimed at one target: the Obama administration in Washington.
Erdogan planned to take Turkey’s “stamp on history” into his own hands in his Tehran visit.
His meetings Wednesday and Thursday (Jan. 29-30) with Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani would mark the first step: the cut-off of Turkish cooperation on the Syrian question with the US and Western European governments.
Conjoined Turkish-Iranian policies would produce a stunning formula to fly past Washington, overtake the international Geneva 2 conference and end the Syrian war while keeping Bashar Assad in power - no doubt with Moscow’s quiet approval.
Erdogan’s henchmen have violated sanctions for years
Deeply anxious about the potential for fallout on nuclear diplomacy posed by Turkish prime minister’s rush into Iranian arms, Washington sent him a grave warning:
“What we are working towards is the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution with the Iranians in which they demonstrate that their nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” said David Cohen, US Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
“Iran is not open for business… Businesses interested in engaging in Iran really should hold off. The day may come when Iran is open for business, but the day is not today,” Cohen added.
This put Erdogan on notice that he risked an open breach with the Obama administration if he dared use his Tehran visit to sign a strategic-economic pact with Iran without heeding the US and European sanctions still in force against Iran.
However, this warning came well after the fact, in the light of the latest corruption scandal rocking Ankara. Exposed was a massive “gas-for-gold” sanctions-busting scheme involving high-level Turkish officials, including Erdogan’s family members and key Turkish businessmen, which put in Iran’s coffers around $13 billion in Turkish gold between 2012 and 2013.
Tehran is not averse to scoring against Washington
Tehran also has it in for Washington and Brussels over Syria:
1. Although Iran continues to turn a smiling face towards the West, the smile is half-frozen since the Obama administration blocked Tehran’s invitation to this week’s Geneve-2 conference on Syria. Last week, President Hassan Rouhani’s genial manner at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos was reserved.
And, according to DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources, Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would not be averse to going along with Erdogan’s plans - up to a point. Although Iran was admitted to the back door of Geneva-2, by being co-opted to the secret sessions taking place away from the world’s eyes in another Swiss city, Bern (see the lead article in this issue), its leaders took offense at being treated almost as Washington’s guilty secret, instead of being hailed at center stage.
They took this half snub as America’s retreat from the recognition conferred on Iran as a paramount Middle East power, as part of the understandings leading up to the conclusion of the interim nuclear accord last November.
(See DEBKA Weekly 619 of January 17: The Middle East Changes Hands: January 16, 2014 – The Day Iran Was Anointed Regional Power).
Erdogan can’t contain his fury with Washington
Tehran deduced from this episode that the Obama administration has no qualms about hedging on a major strategic deal with Iran – even in the early stages of implementation. Iran resolved to show Washington that it can’t achieve its goals in the Middle East without cutting the Shiite Republic in on the Syrian equation.
2. Erdogan is spitting mad over what he conceives as US conspiracies against him. He believes the Obama administration has been pulling strings to engineer his overthrow as Turkish prime minister in favor of President Abdullah Gul.
His henchmen also accuse the Obama administration, albeit not publicly, of the leaks that exposed the corruption scandals in Ankara: For years, sanctions-busting business deals with Iran went through the Turkish state-owned Halkbank used as the main channel for the clandestine financial and economic ties between Turkey and Iran.
In Erdogan’s circle of supporters, the White House is accused of having two motives for its alleged conspiracies:
a) To undermine and discredit the Turkish prime minister and his inner circle - personally and politically.
b) To torpedo any possible rapprochement between Tehran and Ankara.
Erdogan and Rouhani cook up Syria peace plan excluding US
Our sources report that the Erdogan administration turned to Tehran for an urgent resolution of the Syrian conflict that bypassed Washington after realizing that Bashar Assad was there to stay and that war would continue to flood Turkey with hordes of destitute Syrian refugees.
In secret meetings over the past month between their emissaries - with Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan making frequent trips to Iran - the following points were agreed:.
1. Tehran and Ankara would sabotage what they perceived as Washington’s plans to exploit Shiite-Sunni rivalries in the Middle East, by leading a new Shiite-Sunni bloc with its own policies for resolving regional disputes keeping America out. Moscow and Beijing were expected to climb aboard this new Middle East vehicle.
2. For starters, the alliance would offer an alternative solution for ending the Syrian war and leave Geneva-2 and its Western sponsors behind in the dust.
3. The Turkish-Iranian remedy would be built around the recruitment of all the Turkey-based segments of the Syrian opposition and leaders of the million Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey for a huge effort to negotiate peace and reconciliation with the Assad regime.
Enlisting rebel leaders on the spot for fence-mending with Assad
The Americans and Europeans would be left stuck trying to hold together a bunch of fractious opposition factions living in exile – some outside the Middle East - while Turkey and Iran would focus on welding together the active Syrian rebel forces based on the Turkish-Syrian border - far from the international halls of diplomacy – and persuading them to embark on their first steps towards healing their feud with Bashar Assad. This process would aim to expunge US influence in the Syrian refugee community.
4. Tehran would reimburse Ankara for this service with first pick for Turkish companies before Western firms of lucrative contracts for work in Iran, just as soon as its markets were opened up by the relaxation of US and European sanctions.
As soon as the ban on Iranian oil exports is lifted, Tehran promises to revive the old idea of pipelines laid across Turkey to carry Iranian oil to European markets.
5. Ankara and Iran agreed to kept their pact secret, mainly because some of the action entailed flies in the face of the international accords Iran has signed for curbing its nuclear program and UN-mandated sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic.
In a moment of realism, the Obama administration sized up the prospects of diplomacy bringing surcease to the Syrian crisis as dim, reversed its policy of non-intervention and is about to reach inside Syria in pursuit of its goals for 2014.
The prospects of the Syrian peace talks – Geneva-2 – ending the three-year civil war which has reduced Syria to a tragic ruin are close to nil. Even in the unlikely event of the warring sides reaching limited areas of agreement on measures for easing the conflict, those agreements will be apt to break down before they get underway, judging from what happened in the first instance.
Earlier this week, Syrian government and opposition delegations, having been persuaded to sit in the same room, agreed let UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi know that Damascus had agreed to let women and children leave the besieged areas of Homs.
But it never worked out. Syrian army commanders in Homs refused to let them go, maintaining that their escape would break the siege they were tightening on rebel-held terrain and open the door for humanitarian aid to enter.
It appears that either the Syrian ruler deceived the conference, or his local commanders, reluctant to jeopardize their near-victory over the Homs rebels, disobeyed an order from Damascus.
Syria’s chemical arsenal is removed at snail’s pace
The elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal, though approved, is in a similar scrappy state.
Assad agreed to dismantle this arsenal to comply with a US-Russian deal reached last summer. But implementation has been more stop than go.
Tuesday, Jan. 28, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern to the Syrian government about its lagging “behind schedule.” It was “imperative,” he said, for Damascus “to intensify its efforts.”
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources have repeatedly refuted the “optimistic” reports emanating from various Western sources, which purported rapid progress in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.
This is finally admitted to be far from the truth. Only 35 kilos out of an estimated total of 1,300 kilos of poison substances held by the Syrian army have been removed so far.
Stepping into this standoff, Washington disclosed Monday Jan. 27 the resumption of deliveries of US “non-lethal aid” to the Syrian opposition.
This may have been a gesture of gratitude for the consent of certain opposition groups to turn up at the Geneva-2 conference; It was almost certainly intended to put the squeeze on the Assad regime to be more forthcoming with concessions for easing battle conditions in parts of Syria.
At the same time, the disclosure compounded the confusion surrounding the Obama administration’s policies for Syria. Official communiqués have varied between qualifying US aid to the Syrian rebels as “non-lethal” and admitting to consignments of light arms and anti-tank – though not anti-aircraft – missiles.
Three rebel militias chosen for US military aid
The weapons were to come mainly from Jordan; other sources were left vague.
Neither did the administration disclose which Syrian rebel factions were the beneficiaries of this aid, whatever form it took.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources have procured this information. We are able therefore to clarify here for the first time which rebel organizations have been chosen as recipients, the types of the weapons supplied and their route of delivery:
Three Syrian rebel organizations were selected by the Obama administration for the receipt of US hardware:
One is the Syria Revolutionaries Front - formed in December 2013 by 14 Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades. The FSA itself was virtually eclipsed in recent weeks by the new Islamic Front established by Saudi intelligence.
After a series of clashes, the Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front made peace. Their brittle coalition is spearheaded by Jamal Maarouf, head of the Syria Martyrs Brigade, a member of the SRF which is based in Jabal al-Zawiya, in the northern province of Idlib.
One of Washington’s objects for arming this group is the vague hope of reaching terms with the Saudi royal family for coordinating their policies for Syria.
Fostering a US-backed military presence in the Syrian capital
The second recipient of US military aid is Jaish al-Mujahideen, an unallied rebel militia operating mainly in northern Syria, which has taken up arms against various Al Qaeda units in recent weeks.
The third recipient is a group of militias which are concentrated mainly in the Damascus area and around the Qalamoun Mountains northwest of the Syrian capital.
Of the three, this is perhaps the most important one right now for Washington.
In view of the successful Russian-Iranian buttress for sustaining the Assad presidency, backed now by a nascent Iranian-Turkish pact (see separate article), Obama administration strategists considered it was high time for the US to foster an armed presence in or around Damascus as the counterweight to Russian, Iranian, Turkish and Hizballah’s bastions in the Syrian capital.
To this end, the White House agreed to send arms to rebel militias still holding out around Damascus and to the handful of fighters still battling for survival in the Qalamoun Mountains these last three months.
In military terms, Washington hopes the newly-armed rebels will be able to turn the tide of battle in the Qalamoun sector by routing the Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite forces fighting there.
These rebels have therefore been provided with second-generation anti-tank missiles, mainly US-made AT-3 Saggers, a wire-guided missile with a range of 4 km.
Iraq’s prime minister is suddenly amenable to US requests
Since the quantities of US weapons flowing into Syria are fairly large, our military sources report they are being moved in along three supply routes via Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.
Turkey was dropped after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan personally vetoed the transfer of US arms to Syrian rebels via his territory, in keeping with his new foreign policy venture which hinges on breaking away from Washington and setting up an alliance between Ankara and Tehran. (See the separate item)
Iraq is an interesting addition to the roster of helpful routes for the transfer of US military equipment to Syrian rebels. Ordinarily, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be expected to turn the Americans down. But his personal and military situation is so low, due to his helplessness in the face of surging al Qaeda terrorist activity backed by indigenous Sunni tribes, that he won’t deny any Washington request in the hope of the US eventually coming to his aid.
The radical Islamist Ansar Bait al-Maqdis ("Supporters of the Jerusalem Temple") took responsibility last month for 11 terrorist attacks in Egypt since December 24. They killed 28 people, including 26 Egyptian soldiers and members of the security forces.
This organization’s main target now is not the Temple in Jerusalem but the Egyptian military as will be seen by its attacks:
* A police compound in Mansoura was bombed Dec. 24, 2013, claiming at least 16 lives, including 14 police officers.
* Two Grad missiles were launched against Israel’s southernmost town of Eilat on Jan. 20, 2014, without causing damage or casualties.
* An attack on an Egyptian police checkpoint at Beni Suef on Jan. 23 left 5 police officers dead.
* Five bomb blasts hit Greater Cairo on Jan. 24 and 25, four occurring the day before the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and the fifth coming on the day itself.
* Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took responsibility for shooting down an Egyptian military helicopter over Sinai on Jan 25 killing five soldiers
* The group also claimed the assassination of an aide to Interior Minister Gen. Mohamed Al-Saied. Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s long tribal reach from Sinai across borders
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis consists of no more than 10,000 armed men, a drop in the ocean compared with the Egypt’s powerful army of around a third of a million soldiers.
Led by Abdallah Al-Ashqar, it operates out of the remote Jabal Halal in central Sinai, known in anti-terror circles as the “Tora Bora” of Sinai. Counterterrorism experts have wondered how this comparatively small band of terrorists managed within a short period to turn itself into a major menace for Egyptian military and security targets spread across wide distances and, moreover, capable of putting at risk the shipping transiting the Suez Canal day by day with a third of the world's oil supplies.
This group has also managed to put Israel and its armed forces in the position of hostage to Egyptian counter-terror offensives for cutting it down.
DEBKA Weekly's counterterrorism sources have come up with five answers:
1. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis maintains the bulk of its fighting strength in Jabal Halal and the small northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. The Bedouin tribes which are its backbone, some of whom subscribe to radical Salafism and are affiliated to al Qaeda, have long arms, which reach across national borders to members sprinkled widely across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
Bedouin tribal terrorists – here, there and everywhere
Mainland Egypt - and Cairo in particular – is home to many Tarabin tribesmen from Sinai. In two months of counter-terror operations, the Egyptian army killed 20 terrorist commanders, most of them Tarabin. Their kinsmen who lived in Cairo did not need to travel far to avenge their deaths.
2. A large concentration of these tribesmen is to be found in the big Suez Canal coastal cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. Over the years, they moved in from Sinai as cheap labor and gradually took over technical tasks related to the canal’s operating systems as well as maritime jobs as pilots on tugs and cargo vessels.
Readily available to Ansar Bait al-Maqadis, therefore, is good field intelligence plus handy vehicles for speeding them to their targets and getting them away before Egyptian security forces reach the scene.
3. Ansar Bait al-Maqdis has set up its logistical headquarters in Gaza which is ruled by the Palestinian Hamas. New estimates place 1,200 fighters in this enclave.
4. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has throughout its history maintained an underground arm known as the “secret apparatus.” After the Brothers rose to power in 2012, they assigned two top leaders, Deputy Head and treasurer Khairat el-Shater and Interim Leader Ezzat Khairat al-Mahmoud with reorganizing this apparatus for two alternative tasks.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s “secret apparatus” spearheaded form Sinai
One was to defend the Muslim Brotherhood regime from external enemies as a sort of IMuslim presidential guard, independent of the national army and intelligence.
The other was to prepare the secret apparatus as the underground for an armed struggle to restore the Brotherhood to power in the event of its ouster by the army
DEBKA Weekly's intelligence and counterterrorism sources report that El-Shater and Ezzat agreed that if their movement was overthrown, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and its Sinai strongholds would spearhead the resistance.
Some security officials in Cairo say this group was Al-Shater's brainchild, for which he supplied the funding and arms to get it started up. They also assert that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian offspring, Hamas was directed to establish operational links with the new Sinai-based armed terrorist group and keep it supplied with its every logistical and intelligence need.
5. Ideological and operational ties have developed between Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the ultra-radical Al-Gama'a al-Isalmiyya, tightening especially in the two years since the latter staged rampant demonstrations against the US and Israeli Embassies in Cairo.
Al Gama’a is also credited with taking part in the attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi which left four Americans dead including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It is well connected with every radical jihadist organization, whether al Qaeda, Libyan extremists or Hamas. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – and the Muslim Brotherhood – have therefore found this group to be a useful vehicle for expanding its operations into the heart of Egypt.
Ukraine's embattled president Viktor Yanukovych announced Thursday, Jan. 30 that he is taking sick leave as the country's political crisis rages on without any sign of a resolution. A statement on his website said he was suffering from an acute respiratory disease and a high fever.
There was no indication of how long he might be indisposed or whether he was still working.
For two months, Yanukovych has been confronted with raging protesters fighting for him to step down, early elections and other demands.
Wednesday, Jan. 29, apparently aware of the president’s imminent withdrawal from Kiev, Moscow warned that the financial package promised by President Vladimir Putin would be withheld until the former Soviet nation formed a new government.
The statement came from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a cabinet meeting in Moscow. He said Russians would honor their financial and energy packages with Ukraine only when “we understand what sort of government there will be, who will be working in it and what rules they will stick to.”
Tuesday, just a few hours earlier, President Putin stated that Russia would honor its commitments to Ukraine for the benefit of the ordinary people – whether the opposition came to power or not.
Anxiety in Moscow to avoid another Orange Revolution
That was before Yanukovych removed himself from the capital – at least temporarily.
Clearly, there were people in Moscow who lost no time in whisking away the safety net Putin offered Kiev in December of $15 bn worth of loans and gas at a large discount to reward the Ukraine president for rejecting integration with Europe in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Those elements were intent on saving Moscow from the error Putin committed exactly ten years ago when he personally staked that same Viktor Yanukovych to win office. Moscow then sank substantial funds and political clout in getting him elected in a rigged runoff election, which triggered the Orange Revolution and resulted in an ignominious comedown for Russian policy towards its close neighbor.
Moscow has no wish to see a second Orange Revolution in Kiev and repeat Putin’s earlier defeat. The Russians don’t care much either way if Yanukovych stays in power or goes.
Russia’s affinity for dabbling in the affairs of the Ukraine from a distance is conventionally explained in Moscow and Washington by two motivations:
1. From the strategic military perspective, Moscow needs access to Ukraine and the Black Sea for controlling the Caucasus and Central Asia.
2. On economic grounds, Ukraine has high value as the mainline hub for the transportation of Russian gas to Europe. Moreover, Western Ukraine uniquely houses three gas terminals which store large quantities of gas. There is no facility of this size anywhere else in Europe. Control of this vast reserve confers enormous power to its owner over the flow of gas to Europe.
Europe loses interest, lets the Ukrainians fight it out
However, DEBKA Weekly’s Ukraine watchers detect the waning of strategic considerations in the violent clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-EU adherents of late. Ukraine is still important to Russia but Moscow is losing interest in Europe and leaning more towards relations with Iran and interests in the Persian Gulf.
The Europeans too are drawing back from their earlier passion for helping the opposition stage a second Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. This cooling-off was in evidence when German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to plans drawn up in Brussels for imposing sanctions against the Kiev government. This European reluctance for extreme measures against the Ukraine government will no doubt influence the Obama administration’s initial threat of sanctions too.
One of the theories bandied about in Moscow and in some Western capitals is that certain Western intelligence agencies began stirring up the trouble in Kiev in order to cut the ground from under Putin’s feet and cause him to lose face in time for the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi on February 7.
Such eagerness to reduce the Russian president as a world leader also appears to have ebbed.
Even if there was a kernel of truth to this theory, Washington, Brussels, Berlin and Moscow have lost faith and interest in the Kiev unrest.
They are content for now to let the Ukrainians fight it out among themselves.
January 23, 2014 Briefs
January 24, 2014 Briefs
Abbas turns to Moscow, dumps US-led peacemaking
24 Jan. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas launched his “diplomatic intifada” against Israel and exit from the Kerry peace initiative Thursday, Jan. 23, from Moscow. His talks with Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev marked his breakaway from the peace track with Israel, four months before it was due to expire, and signaled his bid to replace it with Russian backing for a Palestinian state.
Abbas’s defection caught both Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin - and their intelligence agencies – napping.
January 25, 2014 Briefs
Israel re-evaluates Syrian war neutrality over al Qaeda 30,000-strong buildup
25 Jan. In a special briefing to foreign correspondents Friday, Jan. 24, a high-ranking Israeli intelligence officer reported that Israel is rethinking its strategy of neutrality in the Syrian civil war following the buildup of more than 30,000 al Qaeda-linked fighters there. Many are massed closed to its borders and openly threaten to turn their sights on Israel after toppling Assad. debkafile: To fight this terrorist army, the IDF would have to study US combat tactics in Afghanistan, rewrite its war doctrine and build large commando units for protracted warfare. But Israel would have to decide if it was worth doing when its intervention would ease the pressure on the Assad regime and its Iranian and Hizballah allies.
January 26, 2014 Briefs
Secret Iranian team in Beirut to counter suicide attacks, upgrade HIzballah intelligence
26 Jan. debkafile Exclusive: Iran has undertaken to urgently rebuild Hizballah’s intelligence and security mechanisms following the ravages inflicted by suicide attacks on its strongholds in Beirut and the Beqaa valley since joining the Syrian war. A secret Iranian Al Qods-Ministry of Intelligence team assigned to the task arrived secretly in Beirut last week, after a top-level Iranian-Hizballah conference concluded that the Lebanese group’s security and intelligence can’t take much more battering without folding. The Iranians will also build Hizballah’s fighting units in Syria a new field intelligence arm.
January 27, 2014 Briefs
El-Sisi as president takes on four major security challenges
27 Jan. Egypt’s Defense Minister and strongman Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi Monday, Jan. 27, promoted himself to field marshal and resigned as defense minister, before announcing his run for the presidency in a still unscheduled vote before parliamentary elections. The new constitution substantially reduced presidential powers by removing the army from executive jurisdiction. However, El-Sisi made his choice because the standing of head of state is unmatched at home and in foreign relations. As president, he must shoulder four huge security tasks: Eradicating Muslim Brotherhood influence, subduing Sinai-based terror, dealing with Hamas-ruled Gaza as a subversive force and resolving the Nile water disputge.
January 28, 2014 Briefs
US and Israeli buffer zones under Syrian rebel control designed to contain al Qaeda advances
28 Jan. The Obama administration announced Tuesday, Jan. 28, the supply to selected Syrian rebel militias of American light weapons including anti-tank – but not anti-air – rockets. And Friday, Jan. 24, an IDF intelligence officer revealed Israel was “rethinking” its Syria neutrality policy, in view of the 30,000 al Qaeda fighters massed on its Syrian border. debkafile: These disclosures amount to a shift in US and Israeli non-intervention policies in Syria. It leads to a plan for two security buffers in southern Syria to block Al Qaeda’s path to the Israel and Jordanian borders. As part of this US plan, the two zones will eventually merge to form a safe haven for the Syrian opposition under US, Israeli and Jordanian protection.
January 29, 2014 Briefs
Minister apologizes for criticizing Netanyahu on settlement issue
29 Jan. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reasserted his authority by forcing pro-settlement Jewish Home party leader and Minister of Industry and Trade Naftali Bennett to apologize Wednesday, Jan. 29, for offending him, under threat of dismissal. But Bennett did not back down. In another setback to Netanyahu’s credibility, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro denied that the framework document Secretary John Kerry was about to present was an “American document” as Netanyahu claimed, stressing that it reflected Israeli-Palestinian points of agreement. This was followed by the Military Intelligence chief’s revelation of “170,000 rockets threatening Israel” opening the prime minister to being asked why Israel never intervened to stop this accumulation.
According to debkafile’s sources, the prime minister faces a rising tide of criticism within his government and party when word gets out that he is willing to give up Arab suburbs of Jerusalem to a Palestinian state.
January 30, 2014 Briefs