Vol. 14, Issue 643, July 18, 2014
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Gaza Ground Assault Likely
IDF Prepares to Put Many Boots on the Ground as Ceasefire Bids Falter

With a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas increasingly unlikely, the IDF is gearing up for a ground incursion into Gaza. According to DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, this iteration of Operation Protective Edge will, barring last-minute changes in the field, commence by the middle of next week. It will be broad in scale. The Gaza conflict is therefore about to move forward on two tracks – the military and the diplomatic.


Israel air power failed to reach Hamas’ underground war rooms

  • Although the Israeli Air Force hit and destroyed more than 1,500 Hamas military targets in Gaza, the groups’ underground military command center remains intact. (See a separate item in this issue on the IDF’s hesitance to strike the bunker).
  • They wiped out 3,000 rockets, but the terrorist group that rules Gaza still has 6,000 more at its disposal and its arsenal is topped up daily by local production and smuggled supplies through the Sinai Peninsula.
  • In the 10 days of the ongoing conflict, Hamas has launched nearly 2,000 rockets at the Israeli civilian population. The vast majority landed in open areas, except for the 200 or so which exploded near their targets, and at least 150 that were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
  • These rocket salvos are directed from a command and control center buried deep inside Hamas’ underground bunker war room, which is segmented into three compartments: terrorist operations; a command center; and logistics, including the storage of ammunition and other military gear. None of these compartments were damaged by Israel’s air strikes and they continue to function at capacity.


Up to 100,000 reservists may be called up

  • The IDF has so far mobilized 50,000 reservists to fight Hamas in Gaza. Another 20-25,000 soldiers are likely to be called up as the fighting continues – rising to a potential maximum of 100,000 troops if the clashes spread to new fronts on Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.
    The scattered rocket fire into Israel’s north in the past week suggests that Iranian and Syrian-dominated Palestinian organizations may be poised to pounce on Israel from their host-countries of Syria or Lebanon.


Two diplomatic channels run into the sand

  • Egyptian President Fattah El Sisi’s mediation efforts are unlikely to result in a comprehensive or long-term truce, if the opinions of officials in Jerusalem, Gaza and Cairo are any measure. No party involved in mediation, be it regional or international, is truly interested in reaching a deal – they’re all just keen to be seen trying to avert an all-out war. International peace brokers are also wary of any step that might give Hamas a boost.
  • The effort to hammer out a ceasefire is running on two separate tracks, led by Cairo and an Ankara-Doha team. El Sisi’s government has come down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood on its own soil, and it would be pleased to see the brotherhood’s paramilitary variants, Hamas and its Izz-e- din Al Qassam Brigades, dismantled or at least seriously debilitated.
  • The Palestinian Authority and its Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen) share Cairo’s goals. But Hamas understands that no truce will hold water without the participation of the Egyptian military, which is blockading Gaza’s southern border. The Palestinian Islamists are therefore pretending to cooperate with the track led by Egypt, while lending its real support to the Turkish-Qatari channel.
    When the battle is over, Hamas hopes to gain the patronage of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and so it behooves the group to get these countries in on the negotiating game now.
    Neither avenue is expected to bear fruit though, given El Sisi’s close alliance with the Saudi-Gulf bloc and its own fierce rivalry with Turkey and Qatar.


Major powers stay clear of the fray


Notably absent from the web of diplomacy being spun to pin down a suspension of hostilities are major regional and international powers. The US and Saudi Arabia are taking care to stay aloof from the Gaza dispute for their own reasons, and even Egypt’s participation is rather halfhearted. Cairo abstained from referring the conflict to the Arab League, so as to escape any fallout from a diplomatic failure.
Anyway, this veteran group looks more and more like a spent force in the Arab world, scarcely up to the formidable, not to say, impossible, task of brokering peace between Israel and Palestinian extremists.
Iran is the sole exception: As the Vienna nuclear talks with the P5+1 foundered, Tehran issued instructions to Hamas and Jihad Islami to keep the rockets flying against Israel. (See a separate item in this issue on the Vienna talks).


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Rethinking Israel’s Intelligence
A Commando Raid Disrupted by Intelligence Shortfall - Lesson for Israeli Ground Operation

In the early hours of July 13, almost unnoticed, a minor clash on a Gaza beach between an Israeli commando force and Hamas represented a turning-point in their contest.
It was on the fifth day of Operation Protective Edge, when the elite Shayetet 13 unit (comparable to the US Navy SEALs) landed under cover of dark on a mission to seize control of a long-range rocket-launching site near Al Sudaniya, west of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.
The unit ran almost immediately into a series of ambushes and was forced to retreat with four lightly injured men, without reaching the Hamas launchers. Israeli navy ships and air force planes covered their exit with massive fire.
This was the first Israeli ground operation in the current offensive and, by definition, the first by commando fighters. It took place five days after Hamas tried to launch a commando landing on an Israeli shore. They too were gunned down as they came ashore by an IDF shore position which spotted their approach.
It took Israel another five days to mount its commando raid on Gaza – a delay which seemed to betray a problem. Either IDF generals’ reflexes are slower than they are reputed to be, or they were held back by the cumbersome chain of authority directing the military operation – led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – and their insistence on signing off on every action, however small.


Superior intelligence is key to successful ground operation


The Shayetet 13 operation, which gave Hamas tactical points, offered Israel’s war planners three important insights:
1. IDF commanders complained after the fact that the team was sent into harm’s way without being prepared by advance intelligence about what to expect from the enemy when they landed.
2. Hamas proved to be amply prepared to defend its strategic military installations, including the all-important rocket launchers.
3. The Al Sudaniya episode provided Israel’s military leaders with a timely reminder that the key battle for winning the war was still ahead. It would be fought by locating and razing Hamas’ underground command and control bunkers, housing the upper echelons of its political and military structure, the Izz-e-Din Al Qassam Brigades, and applying the same treatment to Gaza’s other armed factions, including Islamic Jihad.
It was brought home to them that none of these objectives is feasible without a very high class of intelligence, far better than the information that left Israeli sea commandos exposed to a Hamas ambush.


Hamas chiefs and command facilities buried safe under Gaza City


The Israeli air force’s precise bombardments of rocket launching sites, arsenals, and production facilities are important both strategically and psychologically. In the process, IDF chiefs have learned not to belittle Hamas’ ability to conduct a war or its acumen in burying its high-ups and command and control systems deep underground, safe from the most determined Israel attempt to shut them down.
Israel’s intelligence agencies have not so far pinpointed the precise location of Hamas’ deeply interred nerve centers, where the directing hands of its military, policy and propaganda efforts are hidden. Those centers are known to be sunk deep under the streets of central Gaza and the Shifa hospital, in the heart of the territory’s densely packed civilian population.
Hamas’ war rooms are described as a large and complex labyrinth of meeting-rooms and command centers, equipped with air conditioning, an independent electricity supply, security and communications links. They are well-stocked with food, drink and sleeping accommodation for the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people hunkered down in this warren.
This underground complex was not slapped together overnight. It needed years and hundreds of workmen to construct.


Iran invested heavily in Hamas’ subterranean stronghold


Many Iranian and Lebanese engineers were employed in the project by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, our sources reveal. Tehran clearly invested a sizeable chunk of money and effort into installing Hamas deep under Gaza, bringing to bear its best intelligence, communications and cyber-warfare skills.
But even as the columns of smoke hang over the Gaza Strip from ten days of Israeli bombardment, its commanders are concerned that Hamas remains almost unscathed, its leaders safe in their bunkers, their military and political arms functioning out of IDF reach and continuing to spew out a stream of propaganda – backing more than a thousand rockets.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources stress that for any attempt to penetrate Hamas’s underground fortress, the IDF must not only be armed with first-rate intelligence, but also dominate the electronic battlefield.
Israeli intelligence agencies’ failure to bring home concrete reconnaissance on the Hamas buried stronghold is noteworthy, particularly given the central location, size and importance of the war room Iranian and Hizballah engineers constructed for the offensive against Israel.
Unfortunately, the various clandestine agencies failed to appreciate that this buried command and control center should have been their top priority target. They are now playing a rushed game of catch up.


Intelligence agencies missed making the Hamas war room their top priority


This lapse partly accounts for Netanyahu and Ya’alon keeping on postponing a decision to put Israeli troops on the ground in the Gaza Strip. They are holding out first for full digital intelligence, known in the business as HUMINT, SIGINT and visual maps of the control bunkers. With this in hand, Israel would be armed with the three essential information folders for going ahead:

  • The Golden File: The locations of rocket launchers and their armament; the names and functions of key combat and support personnel and their communications resources.
  • A window into the counterintelligence systems of Hamas and Jihad Islami.
  • Access to Hamas' communications, encoding and battle management systems.

For now, even with improved intelligence, physically damaging Hamas’s heavily fortified underground war room by bombardment is not a realistic option, especially given is proximity to such sites as the Shifa hospital, which the IDF is under orders to avoid wherever possible.
Israel is also looking ahead to the day after the military phase of the contest with Hamas is over.
Taking out its military infrastructure is vital, but only insofar as the group itself lives on to serve as a negotiating partner to the future of relations with the troublesome enclave. Hamas is the only viable candidate in sight.


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Iran Still Restocking Hamas Rocket Stores
Like in Syria and Iraq, Obama Shuns Clash with Iran over Gaza Crisis
Barack Obama

It doesn’t take an expert to decipher the not-terribly-mysterious question of where Hamas has procured its stock of roughly 10,000 rockets of different types. As Israel and Hamas fight it out, hefty Israeli units – out of sight of TV cameras - are encircling Gaza on all its borders, from the air and the sea, with Egyptian troops to the south forming a barrier between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.
They are there to cut off the Hamas and Jihad Islami arms routes from the outside. Yet somehow, truckloads full of rockets are still making their way in and out of the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that the Gaza-Sinai border is far from sealed and nearly all of the convoys destined for Gaza are making their way through.
Most of the rockets originate in Benghazi, eastern Libya, which has been awash with plundered weapons since NATO backed an uprising for toppling Muammar Qaddafi three years ago.
Iranian and Hizballah agents posing as international weapons dealers snapped up a supply of rockets for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The rockets were - and still are - smuggled by Iranian- Al Qaeda-Bedouin tribal networks through Egypt and Sinai to their destination in the Gaza Strip.
Since the Egyptian and Libyan autocrats, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi, were removed from power in 2011, not a single military or intelligence force in the region, including Israel and Egypt working in harness, have managed to staunch the inflow of contraband weapons, which continues even as the Gaza Strip blazes with combat.


US avoids pulling its weight for staunching Sinai arms smuggling


US, Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence personnel have spent the last two years hashing out a detailed plan for a joint anti-terror command to supervise security and intelligence operations in Sinai, with a view to sanitizing the peninsula as a primary arms smuggling crossroads for Iran, Hizballah, Al Qaeda, Hamas and dozens of other terrorist groups.
The Obama administration pledged funding and advanced monitoring and surveillance equipment to this enterprise. The paperwork still awaits the president’s signature in a National Security Council desk drawer at the White House.
On July 9, US Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, asked about Hamas’ rocket supplier, said that she “didn’t have any information to share.”
She then said she was “not aware” off any Western plans to raise the issue during the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna: “The focus is on the nuclear issue. There’s plenty to discuss on that particular issue.”
Psaki added: “I think it's clear that our concern and our condemnation of the rocket attacks have been consistent. And of course we'd be concerned about the suppliers, but I don't have any more information to share on that."
Dropping the Sinai Counterterrorism Plan into a bottom drawer does not mean that Obama was acting deliberately to help arm Hamas. It’s just that foot-dragging is part of his administration’s modus operandi. Other equally pressing issues related to the Middle East war on terror get the same treatment.


Iran plus allies, Al Qaeda and IS are the winners


To tackle the situation in Iraq, where Islamist groups are surging through the country with unprecedented speed and ferocity, the administration formed a committee with instructions to draw up a US plan of action by September.
It is hard to see the Islamic Caliphate (IS, formerly ISIS) and its Iraqi Sunni tribal partners hanging around and putting their rampage on hold until Obama gets around to formulating and setting his plans in motion.
In Syria, too, Washington has put on hold US plans to provide Syrian rebels with half a billion dollars in assistance. No one in Washington or Syria seems to know if the aid will ever come through.
A joint US-Israeli-Jordanian military effort to establish a rebel enclave in southern Syria, to reach as far as the southern outskirts of Damascus, has also run out of steam. In Washington, Jerusalem and Amman, it’s anyone’s guess as to when or if the scheme will be rebooted.
In every one of these arenas, the winners from Obama’s dilly-dallying are Iran and its allies, Syria and Hizballah. Their Sunni rivals, including Al Qaeda and IS, are also major beneficiaries.
History is repeating itself in Gaza.
US Secretary of State John Kerry originally planned to arrive in the Mid East Tuesday, July 15. But Obama put his foot down and cancelled the trip – even though intelligence had reached Washington of a directive from Tehran to Hamas and Islamic Jihad to keep on shooting rockets into Israel regardless of any truce.
The US president nonetheless decided not to let Kerry make a contribution to the ceasefire effort that Egyptian President Fattah El Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were attempting to push through.


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Netanyahu’s First Major War
Reliance on Air Power and Hasty Ceasefire Fails to Shorten Gaza Conflict

When three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally assumed control of Brother’s Keeper, the June 14 military operation to locate Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.
On July 7, the prime minister also took the helm of Operation Protective Edge, aimed at halting the round-the-clock rocket salvos, more than 100 per day that Hamas has sent into Israel since June 27.
Netanyahu largely keeps his own counsel on military matters, but there is one man who has the prime minister’s ear at all times: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. For more than a month now, the two men have been have effectively been running Israel’s military action against Hamas on their own.
Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen also has some sway on Netanyahu’s thinking, but his influence has lessened since Brother’s Keeper proved a washout.
This disappointment led Netanyahu to turn less to the Shin Bet chief in the first week of the Gaza operation and increasingly to Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel – partly because of the innate dissimilarities between the two operations. Brothers’ Keeper was supposed to uproot Hamas’s political and financial clout on the West Bank, whereas Protective Edge aims to smash the Palestinian Islamists’ military machine in the Gaza Strip.
But it took far too long to find the missing boys’ bodies and, as of this writing, their killers are still at large, although their identities are known.


Netanyahu relied on air power to keep the Gaza campaign brief


By adopting Eshel and Ya’alon as his top advisers, Netanyahu in effect went over the heads of the experienced and talented IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
He also adopted Eshel’s doctrine that air power can accomplish the mission of defeating Hamas in short order. This offered a perfect fit for the prime minister’s demand for a swift and compelling victory over Hamas to make up for the unfinished West Bank operation.
Making the Air Force chief his point man and his choice of advisers accounted, in the view of DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence experts, for Netanyahu’s fundamental tactical blunders in both operations. They were further compounded by his insistence that diplomatic and political considerations were just as important as the military objectives – if not more so.
1. Netanyahu ordered nine IDF brigades, one Border Police Brigade and one Israel Police Brigade mustered for the mission of finding the kidnapped Israeli teenagers and their abductors – a total of 16,000 troops. This was the largest force ever raised in Israel - or anywhere else, for that matter - for a single counter-terror operation.
Yet it fell to civilian volunteers to eventually discover the three bodies partially concealed under rocks in the field of a Palestinian village north of Hebron.


Nuclear Iran and Al Qaeda as issues shunted out of view


Most of the troops have since been pulled out - without however apprehending the killers.
And also without Netanyahu ever telling the Israeli public why it took nearly three weeks to find the teenagers, or why their murderers are still free, a sorry end to an agonizing episode.
Nor has he explained how the military operation meant to crush Hamas in the West Bank morphed into the launch of a Hamas rocket blitz from Gaza against Israel’s population centers.
2. Netanyahu’s tendency to shunt key problems out of view, unattended and unsolved, without an accounting to the Israeli public or media, has grown into a political liability. It is taking its toll in the current crisis in flagging popular trust in his leadership as prime minister.
He has allowed the Iranian nuclear issue, for instance, to drop out of the public discourse without a word of explanation about its outcome.
The Al Qaeda threat closing in on Israel’s borders from the north, south and east is added to the list of undetermined and unspecified issues.
3. For two weeks now, Israelis have been clamoring for an authoritative definition of the Gaza operation’s goals. The prime minister has left this question hanging vaguely in the air, an invitation to members of his own government to publicly air their clashing views on the subject.
As they struggle under the strain of day-and-night rocket attacks, people are additionally burdened by the sense of being left at sea.


The hastily-cobbled ceasefire lasted three hours


Among the politicians making hay from the atmosphere of uncertainty in the prime minister’s office are his coalition partners, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Industry and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, and three members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
The latter three pushed this week to transfer responsibility for conducting the Gaza operation from the inner security and policy committee to the full cabinet. This was tantamount to an internal vote of no-confidence in Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis and a bid to dilute his power to control it – an unheard-of step against a prime minister in mid-battle along Israel’s long history of military conflict.
4. The IDF hit a bad scene on June 13, the fifth day of Operation Defensive Edge, due to an intelligence failure (which is dealt with in a separate article in this issue).
All these setbacks encouraged Netanyahu to clutch at straws – anything for a quick fix.
It was found in Cairo Tuesday, July 14. Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi offered his good offices to mediate the conflict between Israel and Hamas, starting with a ceasefire going into effect the next morning.
So hastily was this plan cobbled together, that President El-Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu neglected to clear it with the key players.
They put it before US Secretary of State John Kerry, but omitted to seek the concurrence of President Barack Obama, Iranian leaders, the heads of the Hamas’ military wing, the Izz e- Din al-Qassam Brigades, or its partner, Islamic Jihad.
Not surprisingly, the 9:00 A.M. ceasefire survived less than three hours.


Obama stays out of Gaza diplomacy – and plays into Iran’s hands


Obama’s reluctance to get involved in yet another Middle East imbroglio is understandable. He carefully whisked Kerry out of the way before he got caught up in another unfortunate venture. The US president was also loath to providing Tehran with another lever for use in the nuclear talks limping along between the six powers and Iran in Vienna. Iran’s patronage of the Palestinian radical groups Hamas and Jihad Islami is no secret.
In fact, Washington was tipped off by intelligence that Iran had ordered Islamic Jihad to keep up the rocket fire and ignore any ceasefire deals, knowing that Hamas would follow suit.
Washington had also been advised that the trickle of rocket fire from Syria and Lebanon into the Golan, Upper Galilee and Western Galilee from Friday, July 11, was orchestrated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-GC, a splinter Palestinian group commanded by Ahmad Jibril, which is essentially an arm of the Iranian Al Qods Brigades and their commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Given the high nuclear stakes, Obama, who has shunned the mix in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, certainly does propose to be sucked into taking Iran on in the Gaza Strip.
And so, with no real backing from his allies, the publicity-shy Netanyahu’s bid for closure of the Gaza war by diplomacy proved an all-too-public failure.


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Nuclear Talks Miss Deadline
Two Years of US-Iran Backchannel Talks Flop. Sanctions Lose Power

The breakdown of the long, frustrating and wearisome nuclear talks, to which six world powers and Iran have clung through thick and thin, will scarcely surprise watchers, certainly not the regular readers of DEBKA Weekly.
This publication consistently reported this past seven months that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had come down against diplomacy and forbidden Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Mohammad Zarif to enter into any substantial negotiations. Both were barred from making concessions on Iran’s nuclear program outside the terms of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), inked November 24, 2013 in Geneva.
This fiasco also marks the bankruptcy of two years of secret back-channel dialogue between the administration of US President Barack Obama and the Iranian supreme leader.
After three days of hemming and hawing with his Iranian counterpart, the only comment US Secretary of State John Kerry was able to muster up July 15 in Vienna was that “tangible progress” had been made in the negotiations and that he would return to Washington to consult with Obama about whether or not to extend the Sunday, July 20, deadline for a final agreement.


Khamenei is dead against nuclear concessions


Kerry’s influence on Washington’s foreign policy is in steep decline. His attempt to keep up the charade that meaningful diplomacy with Tehran still lies ahead was mirrored by Zarif, who implied in an interview with the New York Times Sunday, July 13, that Tehran is prepared for further concessions if Washington does the same.
This was no more than a transparent play for a good press ahead of another aimless talking session.
The hands of Zarif like President Rouhani were tied firmly by Khamenei, when he announced publicly on July 7 that his country must significantly expand its uranium enrichment capacity, if it is to meet its long-term energy needs.
In an unusually detailed speech on Iran’s nuclear program and the challenges it faces, Khamenei conceded that Iran did not need to increase capacity immediately, but made it clear that his government sought the right to carry out industrial-scale enrichment in order to be self-sufficient in nuclear fuel for its research reactors and for the Russian-built power station at Bushehr.
“On the issue of enrichment capacity," Khamenei said, "their [the West's] aim is to make Iran accept 10,000 SWU [Separative Work Units]. Our officials say we need 190,000 SWU. We might not need this [capacity] this year or in the next two or five years, but this is our absolute need and we need to meet this need."


The pro-diplomacy Rouhani and Zarif have outlived their worth


Khamenei used technical language and references to “civilian power” to convey his flat opposition to any restrictions on Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium or sacrifice a single centrifuge. Washington finally took a stand against leaving Iran in possession of 15,000 centrifuges, on the grounds that they would leapfrog its advance to a nuclear bomb.
Despite this major gap, Washington is expected to insist that the back-channel with Tehran is still open and that a deal is still attainable at the formal P5+1 versus Iran forum.
None of this will affect Iran’s supreme leader's adamant rejection of any concessions for the sake of a comprehensive nuclear deal. He will also place Rouhani and Zarif in deep freeze, along with their argument that Iran must pay for the lifting of sanctions to rescue its struggling economy in the coin of a let-up on its nuclear aspirations.
The fact is that he longer needs the two pro-diplomacy figures, whose emergence caused so much optimism and gulled the West into trusting that Tehran was finally amenable to a reasonable deal on its nuclear program.


Iran beats the US at the sanctions game


In an insightful analysis of US-Iran relations and the sanctions regime, Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute think tank, deemed the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations and easing of sanctions a failure.
In a piece entitled “Iran Can Afford to Say No to a Nuclear Deal,” the director of the Iran Security Initiative writes that Tehran has manipulated the Obama administration into lifting some economic restrictions in order to maneuver itself into economic stability and cover its budget deficit.
Iran has learned to live with the new sanctions, Clawson writes: "Having taken the tough measures to adjust to the sanctions shock, Iran is relatively well positioned to resume growth - even if the current sanctions remain in place… The prospects are that if the sanctions remain in place, Iran's economy will grow at about the same pace as the US economy… Iran's solid if unspectacular economic growth looks pretty good, especially in comparison to the mess next door in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The latest deadline is around the corner, and years of back and forth and hush-hush interaction with the Iranians have brought Obama next to no dividends for giving Iran a measure of economic stability and political empowerment.


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HOT POINTS
A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending July 17, 2014

July 11, 2014 Briefs

  • Woman injured by rocket fire on Beersheba
    Friday night, Tel Aviv environs took three rockets without damage or casualties. Iron Dome intercepted all three. A salvo over Beersheba injured two civilians and damaged three houses.
  • The IDF deploys eighth Iron Dome battery
    The eighth Iron Dome missile interceptor battery was deployed Friday after a rush job to complete it by the Defense Ministry and Rafael.
  • Netanyahu: Withdrawal from West Bank would create 20 Gazas
    In his first televised news conference Friday, the prime minister said, when asked about ground action: “We have prepared all the options and there is much more that we can and will do - until Hamas stops shooting missiles and peace is restored."
  • Hamas rocket hits Ashdod fuel station. Eight injured
    A heavy barrage was directed from Gaza early Friday against Rishon Lezion, Rehovot and Ashdod, where a gas station was struck directly, injuring eight people, one seriously. Firefighters moving fast prevented a major fire and explosion. Hamas shot 40 rockets into Israel by 10 a.m.
  • Obama calls Netanyahu, upholds Israel’s right to self-defense
    US President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu early Friday. He said Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas rockets. He expressed concern about “the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm.”


Hamas rockets reach Haifa. Katyushas from Lebanon aimed at Metulla


11 July.
Another half a million Israelis came under rocket attack before dawn Friday, July 11, as Hamas again expanded its rocket radius up to Haifa, north of Tel Aviv and 150 km north of the Gaza Strip. A woman of 70 collapsed and died running for shelter when she heard the Haifa siren. Two Katyusha rockets from Lebanon alerted Metullah, Israel’s northernmost town early Friday. debkafile: It came from a Beqaa village under Hizballah rule. IDF artillery returned the fire. Israeli air strikes continued to pound the Gaza Strip, hitting 200 targets in the last 24 hours.
The air force is seriously restricted in its targeting by avoiding hitting high-rise residential buildings and hospitals, where Hamas and Jihad Islami have stored their longest-range rockets and under which it has housed its command and control bunkers.


July 12, 2014 Briefs

  • More rockets from Lebanon alert Nahariya
    Rocket sirens blared Saturday night in Israel’s northwestern coastal town of Nahariya as well as the border villages of Shlomi and Rosh Haniqra as three rockets from Lebanon exploded. Israeli artillery returned the fire to a point south of the Lebanese port of Tyre. This was the second attack from Lebanon in two days.
  • Hamas launches blanket rocket assault on central Israel
    No casualties or damage immediately reported after Hamas’ blanket blitz across central Israel Saturday night after the Islamists gave Israel one hour’s notice in a Hebrew message. Iron Dome batteries intercepted many of the 10 rockets in mid-air. Sirens were heard in different parts of Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Ramat Hashorn, Petach Tikva, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Or Yehuda and Beit Shemesh.
  • Rocket siren in Jerusalem for 4 landings in West Bank area
    A siren alerted Jerusalem Saturday afternoon to incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip as four rockets landed in Palestinian territory near Hebron. The Palestinian Authority has asked Israel to provide its towns with siren equipment and Arabic translations of the IDF Home Command’s directives for safety procedures against rocket attack.


Israel ramps up Gaza air strikes, tells Gazans to evacuate border areas after Hamas’ blanket rocket blitz


12 July.
The Israeli air force reacted with a heavy carpet bombardment the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip, followed by and IDF notice to 100,000 Palestinians living in the northern Gaza towns of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, Greater Ibsen and Smaller Ibsen to evacuate their homes for their own safety. This was in response to a 10-rocket Hamas salvo against Tel Aviv.


Netanyahu’s exit plan: Let Hamas rule Gaza, leave the IDF in control of West Bank security - with world approval


12 July.
For five days, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon confronted Hamas rockets with nothing but air strikes. IDF ground forces were left out of the action. Instead, in a news conference Friday, July 11, the prime minister seemed to postulate an endgame: The enfeebled Hamas would stay in power in Gaza in exchange for a world mandate for the IDF to retain responsibility for West Bank security.


July 13, 2014 Briefs

  • Egypt agrees to mediate an end of Israel-Hamas conflict
    Cairo has formally undertaken the task of mediator between Israel and Hamas and proposed a ceasefire to go into effect from Tuesday 9 a.m.
  • Three Iron Dome interceptions over central Israel
    Rockets fired from Gaza Strip Sunday afternoon across a long swathe of western Israel from Rishon Lezion up to Haifa including Tel Aviv and its satellite towns, as sirens also blared in Hadera and Netanyahu. None caused casualties or damage.
  • Hamas warns North Gazans not to leave homes
    Thousands of residents in northern Gaza heeded IDF warnings by leaflets to leave their homes temporarily ahead of a major Israeli air operation against rocket launchers and weapons stores maintained by Hamas in residential areas. The IDF calculates that 40 percent of all Hamas-Jihad Islami rockets were fired from northern Gaza. UNWRA in the Gaza Strip opened 10 schools to accommodate the refugees who fled to shelter in the face of Hamas warnings to stay in their homes.
  • Israeli Shayetet 13 commando unit raids Hamas rocket post in Gaza
    A Shayetet 13 sea commando unit early Sunday raided the Hamas position at Sudaniya in northern Gaza from which long-distance rockets were fired into Israel. Four Israeli commandos were slightly injured in the ensuing firefight. Early-morning Palestinian rocket fire focused on the Modiin area in an attempt to hit Ben Gurion International Airport.
  • Ashkelon boy critically injured by falling shrapnel
    Two people were injured, a 16-year old boy seriously, by falling fragments of a rocket intercepted by an Iron Dome missile over Ashkelon Sunday afternoon. More than 90 Israelis have been injured as a result of the Hamas rocket offensive.
  • Palestinian youths pelt Jerusalem police with rocks and firecrackers
    Two police officers on guard at Temple Mount were injured when dozens of Palestinian youths, some masked, pelted their contingent with rocks and firecrackers Sunday. They were pushed back into the mosque and police closed the compound to Jewish visitors.


July 14, 2014 Briefs

  • More rockets from Lebanon explode in Western Galilee
    For the fourth time since Friday, rockets were fired from Lebanon against the Western Galilee. Warning sirens alerted the populations of Nahariya, Shlomi and the local kibbutzim as the rockets exploded on open ground. Israeli artillery hit back at the launchers.
  • Two rockets fired at Golan from Syria
    Rockets from Syria exploded on open ground on the Israeli Golan Monday for the second time in two days.


Israel accepts Egyptian mediation and ceasefire starting Tuesday at 9 a.m., demands removal of Hamas missile stocks from Gaza


14 July.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has accepted President Abdel-Fatah El-Siisi’s proposal to mediate the halt of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas and a ceasefire going into effect Tuesday, July 15 at 9:00 a.m., debkafile reports. The prime minister stressed that Egyptian and Israeli policies towards Hamas remained unchanged, including the blockade of the Gaza, and he would insist that all Hamas rocket stocks in Gaza be dismantled.


The hidden intelligence agendas behind Hamas’ 1,000-rocket barrage and Israel’s 1,500 air strikes


14 July.
As Israel’s Operation Defensive Edge ended its first week on July 14, military and intelligence experts were finding it hard to believe that Hamas had fired 1,000 rockets against Israel at random. They have concluded that Hamas was collecting operational data for itself, Iran and Hizballah to use in future conflicts – both on the weak points of Iron Dome and for guidance systems to lend their future rockets and mortars greater accuracy. Those experts urge Israel to send small special forces teams into the Gaza Strip for covert intelligence-gathering missions that could tip the scales in Israel’s favor.


July 15, 2014 Briefs

  • Netanyahu sacks hawkish Dep. Defense Minister
    A cabinet crisis erupted on the eighth day of the campaign against Hamas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday fired deputy defense minister Danny Danon for his broadsides against acceptance of a ceasefire. Danon accused the prime minister of weakness and pandering to left-wing opinion.
  • Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Gantz: No let-up for Hamas
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz issued a tough message to Hamas in a joint televised appearance Tuesday night after Hamas fired more than 100 rockets against dozens of Israeli locations during the day. Netanyahu said that after Hamas had rejected the Egyptian truce, Israel would broaden the assault on its terrorist infrastructure on all fronts.
    Lt. Gen. Gantz said that, while keeping track of Israel’s Syrian and Lebanese borders, the IDF was most intensively engaged in offensive and defensive action for cutting Hamas down.
  • First Israeli civilian fatality in Gaza operation
    An Israeli civilian, later identified as Dror Khanin, 37, from Beit Aryeh, who was fatally wounded by a Palestinian mortar shell while handing out food and candy to soldiers posted on the Gaza border.
    Magen David Adom paramedics fought to save his life under Palestinian fire, without success. A second volunteer was moderately injured.
  • US and Iran may extend deadline for nuclear accord
    Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Zarif suggested Tuesday that the July 20 deadline for a final nuclear accord may be extended as major gaps remain in the six-power nuclear negotiations ongoing with Iran in Vienna. The US says Iran can’t be allowed to keep 15,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium, or stand by its refusal to convert the Arak reactor to a light water plant unable to produce plutonium for a bomb. The Iranian negotiating team’s hands are tied by the intransigent policies dictated by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Israeli resumes air strikes over Gaza after massive Hamas rocket fire
    After dozens of Hamas rockets hit more than 15 Israeli towns – some twice – in the hours after Israel accepted the Egyptian ceasefire proposal Tuesday morning, the Israeli Air Force was ordered to resume air strikes against Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip six hours later.
  • Libya seeks international aid after losing last air link to world
    A new rocket attack on Tripoli airport Monday killed one person and damaged 12 planes. The country's second-largest airport in Benghazi has been closed for two months. Misrata airport, the only remaining airport with regular international flights, was also closed on Monday.
  • Hamas military chiefs and Jihad Islami reject Egyptian truce bid
    The Israel cabinet approved the Egyptian mediation initiative accepted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before the ceasefire proposed by Cairo goes into effect Tuesday at 9 a.m. Cairo’s proposal was rejected by Hamas’ military chiefs and Jihad Islami, both whom claimed it was published without consulting them. Overnight two rockets were fired at Eilat from Sinai for the first time in the current round of hostilities. Flying shrapnel caused some injuries. Rockets were also fired from Lebanon and Syria.


Unilateral Gaza ceasefire collapses. Israeli air strikes resume after dozens of Palestinians rockets in hours. Tehran orders the shooting to go on


15 July.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the Israeli Air Force to resume strikes over Gaza Tuesday afternoon, six hours after the ceasefire proposed by Egypt, accepted by Israel and rejected by Hamas, was to have gone into effect. During those hours, dozens of Hamas rockets raked town after town and village after village. debkafile: The White House called off US Secretary of State John Kerry’s Cairo visit upon finding Tehran’s hand behind the rockets.
Washington also learned that the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, PFLP-General Command, whose chief Ahmed Jibril has made his organization an operational branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al Qods Brigades, was orchestrating the trickle of rockets from Lebanon and Syria to back the Hamas-Jihad Islami blitz from Gaza.


July 16, 2014 Briefs

  • Israel accepts five-hour UN ceasefire for humanitarian purposes
    Israel has acceded to a UN request for a five-hour ceasefire in its attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip starting Thursday at 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
  • IDF: Forces prepared for ground action
    The army spokesman stated Wednesday night after it was announced that another 8,000 military reservists had been called up that “the forces were being prepared for a ground move.”
  • Israel conducted 105 air strikes over Gaza by early evening
    By early evening Wednesday, Israel had conducted 105 air strikes over the Gaza Strip, Hamas had fired 70 rockets at Israel, of which 43 landed and 23 were intercepted by Iron Dome batteries.
  • Italian Foreign Minister Mogherini urges Hamas to accept ceasefire
    Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini pledged every effort to help resolve the Gaza crisis when she visits Cairo Thursday. After meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday, they held a joint news conference in the Knesset. She urged Hamas to reverse its position on the Cairo ceasefire proposal after visiting rocket-blasted sites in Israel. Netanyahu said Israel sought international support for the demilitarization of Gaza and Hamas rocket stocks removed.
    Italy currently holds the rotating presidency of EU.
  • First Israeli casualty: Dov Khanin, 37, from Beit Aryeh
    Israel suffered its first fatality in the current rocket campaign: Dror Khanin, 37, from Beit Aryeh, was handing out food and candy to soldiers posted on the Gaza border when he was fatally wounded by a mortar shell.


As the Israeli Cabinet delays its decision, Palestinians hammer Tel Aviv with heaviest barrage yet


16 July.
Israel faces a new dilemma after the breakdown of the Gaza truce: Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s expects Israel to lead the way for a knockout blow against Hamas, the Palestinian branch of his archenemy the Muslim Brothers. He would then collect the rewards. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants Cairo to go first. How Israel plays this new game will also affect El-Sisi’s attitude towards the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whom he receives in Cairo Wednesday, July 16. As Hamas and Jihad Islami wait and watch to see how the game plays out, they are doing what comes most natural to them: redoubling the rocket fire.


July 17, 2014 Briefs

  • Israel soldier injured by explosion in Hamas terror tunnel
    An explosive device injured in Israeli soldier during the examination of the tunnel through which Hamas tried to infiltrate terrorists into southern Israel early Thursday.
  • Hamas rocket fire resumed full blast: Israel denies truce deal
    As the five-hour “humanitarian” ceasefire ran out Thursday at 3 p.m. Palestinians resumed their rocket barrage, starting with Ashkelon and Beersheba. In the last hour, a massive barrage set off sirens in a dozen Israeli towns and regions, up to the Hefer Valley in the north and including the Sharon district, Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Netivot, and the southern locations around the Gaza border. Iron Dome intercepted three rockets. No casualties were reported. Israel flatly denied another BBC report claiming that a truce agreed with Hamas would go into effect Friday at 6 a.m.
  • US-EU tightens sanctions vs Russia. Putin warns of boomerang
    The US and EU Wednesday strengthened sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine, accusing Russia of continued support for the Ukraine separatists.
  • Israeli military targeted terrorists in attack that killed 4 children
    Preliminary results of the IDF investigation into the incident, in which four Palestinian children were said to have been killed by Israeli shellfire while playing on a Gaza beach, showed that the strike was aimed at “Hamas terrorist operatives.” It was “the tragic outcome” of the cynical Palestinian practice of hiding military infrastructure behind civilians.


IDF foils major Hamas tunnel terrorist attack on Kibbutz Sufa. IDF ground operation widely predicted


17 July.
A big Hamas commando team aiming for a large-scale terrorist attack in Israel early Thursday, July 17, was hit by the IDF as it came out of a secret tunnel from Gaza near the Sufa crossing. Some were killed; the rest tried to escape through the tunnel. debkafile: The question is why, after 10 days of combat, the IDF has not destroyed the Hamas underground war room for waging the war on Israel and launching rockets. It now appears that an IDF ground operation is closer than ever before, as the only effective measure against tunnel warfare.


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