Shortly before we closed this issue, US President Barack Obama was closeted with his top national security team Thursday night, Aug. 28, for a special discussion on the war on Al Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – IS.
Before them, were updated reports on the crises in Iraq and Syria.
In Iraqi, thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Corps infantrymen, supported by helicopters, main battle tanks and personnel carriers, were described by Iraq Kurdish sources earlier Thursday as moving in and out of Iraq to make sure IS does not try to infiltrate the northern Iranian border.
The sources said the IRGC was joined by the regular Iranian army’s 81st Armored Division, which is experienced in counter-insurgency operations including fighting Iranian Kurds.
Iran’s 81st Division, said the Kurds, were operating near units of the Kurdish Regional Government north of Jawala, a key Iraqi town held by IS fighters. The Iranian Division, armed with both US and Russian-made MBTs was ranged along the border town of Sar E Pole Zahab.
That was Iraq.
The Syrian front saw dramatic action Thursday, when Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is fighting with Syrian rebels on the Golan, captured 43 UNDOF peacekeepers as hostages at the Quneitra crossing, and besieged the Golan positions manned by another 81 international personnel.
(The UN Disengagement Observation Force was established by Security Council resolution 350 (1974) , to supervise the areas of separation and limitation agreed between Israel and Syria for the disengagement of their forces in the Golan.
These areas were overrun by Syrian soldiers and rebels in their long tussle for control of the Quneitra crossing.
Would Obama join Iran if Assad and Nasrallah were part of the deal?
Nusra’s action raised this lingering back-and-forth struggle to the level of a major international crisis (see Hot Points of Aug. 28), involving the US, the UN, Iran, Syria, Israel and the Philippines, whose observers were taken hostage.
The two fast-moving crises in Iraq and Syria may spur President Obama to hurry up and decide what America should do in the coming hours. He must essentially find quick answers for five pressing issues.
1. To expand US military intervention in Iraq and Syria beyond scattered air strikes over northern Iraq. Two days ago, the president authorized US aerial surveillance flights over Syria.
2. Or join forces with Iran to fight Al Qaeda’s IS in Iraq and Syria. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Washington and Tehran pretend to be operating separately against the Islamists. This charade has been exposed.
3. Would the US president accept as part of a pact with Tehran the harnessing of its main allies, Syria and Hizballah, to the fight against the Islamist advance? This might require him to meet face to face with Syrian President Bashar Assad and leader of the Hizballah terrorist group, Hassan Nasrallah.
The White House conference will have been briefed by intelligence agencies that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has taken steps for promoting collaboration with the Obama administration in the war on Al Qaeda.
Khamenei was ready to dump the Al Qods chief as a lure to the US
DEBKA Weekly reveals that he has taken the extreme step of sacking Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigades, Tehran’s prized wizard for “operations” and intelligence-gathering outside Iran.
In Washington, Soleimani is regarded as a “maverick terrorist.”
In his place, Khamenei first set up a council of three generals to overhaul Iran’s regional policy, but then reconsidered and decided to hand the command to Soleimani’s long-serving deputy, Hossein Hamedani, 44, who is seen as energetic, astute and an able navigator of events – in short a rising star.
In the three years he spent in Damascus, he is credited with Assad’s success in surviving the past year.
4. A large question still to be addressed is: How would a US-Iranian pact for fighting Al Qaeda affect the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers? In other words, what concessions would the US be ready to offer Tehran for the sake of the common cause?
The question hanging over all the others is this: Would Obama be willing to enter into a military and intelligence partnership with Iran against Al Qaeda, if this led to the emergence of two rival groupings the Middle East?
One would consist of the US, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Hizballah and possibly Turkey. The other would be led by Saudi Arabia and consist primarily of the UAE, Egypt and Israel.
This week’s events - the UAE-Egyptian bombing attack on a Qatar-sponsored Libyan Islamist militia in Libya (see a separate article) and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire for the Israeli-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip – indicate that the second grouping is already in action.
A major Middle East rift has put Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Qatar on the other. They are fighting it out at various flashpoints across the region. Libya became their first outright military arena on Aug. 18, when 23 Emirate F-16 fighter jets took off from an Egyptian air base and bombed militia forces in Tripoli.
The militia was on the point of seizing control of the Libyan international airport in Tripoli.
DEBKA Weekly‘s military sources reveal that the jets took off from an Egyptian air base at Mersa Matruh, a Mediterranean port 270 km west of Alexandria on the route from the Nile Delta to Libya.
From there, they covered the 1,337-kilometer distance to Libya. Upon entering the Gulf of Sirte, the Emirate jets veered east to Tripoli and dropped their bombs on the Islamic “Dawn of Libya” militia from Misrata.
This group had already seized a foothold at Tripoli international airport from a rival faction from the western town of Zintan, after weeks of fierce fighting. “Dawn” also claimed to have taken more locations in the capital from various rival militias.
Egypt and UAE take on Qatari-funded Islamists in Libya
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammed bin Zayed decided to undertake their first overt military operation against a shared target to settle two scores.
One was to deal a dangerous Islamist militia a punishing setback; the other, say DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, was to teach the young Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a lesson for his policy of funding and arming this and other radical Islamist groups.
Ever since the Arab Spring erupted in early 2011, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE have been engaged in a fair amount of verbal sparring and covert intelligence warfare with Qatar for its championship of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Over Tripoli, their feud exploded into its first frontal military clash under the noses of the West, at about the same time as Israel took on another of Qatar’s pet radicals, the Palestinian fundamentalist Hamas in the Gaza Strip - not only in its own interest, but also on behalf of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
This was in effect the first proxy war between two proactive Middle East rivals.
Since the air strike in Libya was a flop and the Gaza conflict was interrupted by a ceasefire before either side scored a decisive victory, our military and intelligence experts expect the rivalry to spill over into other parts of the region (see separate article on the US & Iran versus Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel).
Washington walks on eggs
A New York Times report, disclosing the joint UAE-Egypt operation on Aug. 26, was the first sign that it aroused the notice of the US administration as well as the tacit acceptance of the partnership which conducted it.
But before the ink on the story was dry, the US State Department backed away from any show of support. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a regular briefing the same day: “We understand there were air strikes undertaken in recent days by the UAE and Egypt in Libya."
Later in the day, the State Department issued a statement saying enigmatically that the comment on Libya was “intended to refer to countries reportedly involved, not speak for them.”
Our intelligence sources say these convoluted comments were born of Cairo and Abu Dhabi’s outrage at The New York Times article. The two Arab governments went through back channels to warn President Barack Obama off from getting involved in their affairs. The tone of their message implied a threat to go public on the Egyptian-Emirates’ discord with Washington, which has so far not reached general awareness, and even possibly to expose the clandestine steps taken in concert by the US and Qatar in the Libyan and Gaza crises.
Qatar is rebuked by Arab foreign ministers
The Qatari controversy with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia surfaced sharply at a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Arab State Members of the International Contact Group on Syrian Affairs which took place in Jeddah Sunday, Aug. 24.
The Saudi News Agency said the ministers discussed the latest developments in Syria and regional and international arenas, in addition to the challenges facing the Middle East. On the table was the spread of extremist and terrorist ideology and the turmoil in some Arab countries that were producing serious repercussions across the region and imperiling international peace and security.
The SNA characterized the gathering as marked by “a congruence of views on the issues at play and a need to tackle them head on.” The statement on “the spread of extremist and terrorist ideology and turmoil" referred directly to the radical Islamist elements which Qatar was accused of propping up in Libya, Syria and Gaza.
But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were not prepared to let Qatar get away with a slap on the wrist.
Wednesday, Aug. 27, a powerful Saudi delegation landed in Doha to administer a dressing-down and deliver a dire warning to the rulers of Qatar. It brought Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Intelligence Chief Prince Khalid bin Bandar and Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef to the emir’s doorstep.
Their visit was described officially as “brief” and “fraternal.”
Brief it was, but hardly fraternal.
The falling-out between two Gulf rulers may affect US counter-IS actions
Formal courtesies were observed. The visitors were met at the airport by a brother of the Qatar ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim, and the Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, and left a few hours later after the ruler gave them lunch.
This was time enough for the three Saudi heavyweights to clarify to their host the risks he incurred by continuing to succor Islamist militias in Libya and Hamas extremists in Gaza.
Last year, Kuwait tried and failed to act as peacemaker between Saudi King Abdullah and Sheikh Tamim. In March, relations deteriorated to the point of the oil kingdom, the UAE and Bahrain, all declaring a diplomatic boycott of Doha.
Last month, Sheikh Tamim flew to Jeddah to visit King Abdullah. But this too failed to bring about an end to the feud.
The falling-out between the two Gulf nations is apt to affect America’s decisions about military action against the Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria – especially if Riyadh and Doha fall to direct military blows.
The UAE-Egyptian air operation against a Qatari Libyan proxy came closer to this pass than ever before.
As pro-Russian rebels expand their insurrection in eastern Ukraine into new territory, and edge ever closer to Crimea, Russia has been sending troops and weapons across the border to bolster what Western and Ukrainian officials have called “a stealth invasion.”
Armored troops and heavy weaponry including tanks and rocket launchers reportedly crossed the border into Southern Ukraine Monday, Aug. 25. This was the third known movement of troops and weapons across the border from Russia and into the new front along the border this week. The already weak Ukrainian forces appeared to be in retreat, with some journalists describing scenes of abandoned vehicles and ammunition.
Pro-Russian rebels move swiftly, head for Crimea
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, the 5,000 Ukrainian troops still in the area have been surrounded by rebels southeast of Donetsk near the border, in towns including Amrovsiivka, Uspenka, Kuteinkove, Starobesheve and Blahodatne (see map).
Having taken the town of Novoazovsk, on the Sea of Azov, Thursday, Aug. 28, the separatists were picking up speed and angling for Mariupol, where there are reports of shelling in residential areas. The pro-Russian fighters already control Starchenkove and Volodarske, northwest of Mariupol and Volnovakha on the Donetsk-Mariupol Highway. Heavy battles also erupted at Donetsk airport.
The rebel attack has been swift, with a surprising shift to the north into Zaporizhia Province, which borders Donetsk and is on the road to Crimea.
Zlatoustivka, Krasna Polyana, Chubarivka and Hulaipole all fell over like skittles as the rebels surged into the province. Rebel-controlled towns inside Zaporizhia now include Osypenko and Berdansk on the coastal motorway, with heavy fighting ongoing in Urzuf and Novopetrika.
The separatists are strongly positioned an hour away from Melitopol, a city often called the “gateway to Crimea” In peaceful summers, tourist traffic through this city is heavy as motorists pass through on their way to the Black Sea resorts.
As they close in on the city of Zaporizhia itself, they seem to be on the cusp of capturing the entire province of Kherson, and with it, a corridor of pro-Russian territory that reaches all the way to Crimea, the strategic Black Sea peninsula which Russia annexed earlier this year.
Moscow’s denials hold little water
While Moscow has repeatedly denied arming or covertly supporting the Ukrainian rebels, DEBKA Weekly’s eyes in the field report otherwise. Russian tanks regularly cross the border - although it is unclear if and how many soldiers are smuggled through. Claims by Ukraine’s security forces that earlier this week they captured ten Russian paratroopers in Dzerkalne, 25 miles south of Donetsk, now appear to be genuine, with the identifies of nine of the men confirmed.
Moscow was caught red-handed this time, but claimed it was an “accidental” mix-up during a routine patrol on the poorly marked boundary. Our sources suggest the paratroopers might not have been aware of the mission themselves, believing they were on a training course.
There are suspicions that Russia will divert Ukrainian forces from the besieged cities of Donetsk and Luhansk to the new front, alongside rumors that a considerable number of Russian troops have been fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas Basin for a week or two.
Ninety-two soldiers wounded in Ukraine are currently being treated at a military hospital in St Petersburg. Russian soldiers killed in action are being buried in Rostov Province, but reporters who attempted to investigate the deaths were warned off the story. Their relatives refused to talk to the media, calling the issue classified.
Troop movements recall Crimea annexation
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded an explanation from Russia's President Vladimir Putin about the reported incursion. The US said it suspected a Russian-led counteroffensive was in progress, while Russia, which has rebuffed suggestions that it is aiding the insurgents, refused to acknowledge any troop movements at all.
But Moscow has demonstrated that Putin will not stand for a rebel defeat. The loss of the largely Russian-speaking eastern section of Ukraine would be a major blow to his prestige and exacerbate his growing discord with the US and Europe.
The Ukraine separatist blitzkrieg recalls Germany’s rapid advance through Europe in World War II, and summons up less distant memories of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, where pro-Putin forces rapidly spread out in the peninsula ahead of its annexation. At the time there were reports, denied then, too, by Russia, that Moscow was arming and egging on the local pro-Russian fighters.
This time around, the separatists started out with some 20,000 troops. A three to fourfold increase in their numbers, apparently out of the blue, would be explained by a Russian helping hand to its to the west.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and negotiators from the P5+1 are due for an early September meeting in Belgium on Iran’s nuclear program, but onlookers shouldn’t expect much in the way of progress towards the hoped-for comprehensive nuclear accord.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s outgoing foreign affairs chief and chair of the talks, is expected to make another stab at testing Iran’s readiness to adjust its nuclear policy and cough up oft-requested data on its military dimension. But Zarif, who has no real say in the matter, will almost certainly wriggle his way out of clear answers to Ashton’s questions, and offer up meaningless platitudes, such as the comment that Tehran has so far lived up to its international obligations, and owns an interest in resolving the nuclear controversy with all possible speed.
Perhaps if Zarif or President Hassan Rouhani were really in charge, Ashton might have managed to obtain a straight answer from the foreign minister. But Zarif knows that his life is at stake if he steps an inch out of the narrow limits dictated him by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards.
The Guards are impatient to go forward with developing the military side of their nuclear program, but understand the wisdom of preserving its deniability and not getting caught red-handed with incriminating evidence. This means UN monitors must continue to be kept out of the Parchin military base, where tests were conducted and holding back from new ones.
Guards ask Beijing for computerized detonator testing hi-tech
Therefore, according to our sources, the Guards are using the slowdown in their program in recent months to shop for technology for the computerized testing of nuclear detonators, a method which UN monitors would find hard to detect.
As part of this effort, three Chinese nuclear experts were guests in Tehran this week, and eight North Korean experts visited Iran in recent months.
Tehran and Beijing have cooperated for many years in nuclear weapon development. Hundreds of nuclear specialists have been assigned to work in Iran’s program. Iran’s nuclear partnership with North Korea is also well established.
But it is not yet known whether Beijing and Pyongyang have agreed to share this particular nuclear technology with Tehran and so enable to the ayatollahs to conduct computerized tests nuclear detonators, without fear of discovery that would put them completely in the wrong at the nuclear talks with the six world powers.
Moderates are brought to heel
In the past month, Foreign Minister Zarif has received two death threats and warned he would lose his job for any deviations at those talks from the hard line dictated by the supreme leader.
The sacking of Zarif just months before the extended late November deadline for a nuclear deal with the six powers would leave his ally, President Rouhani vulnerable to a no-confidence vote in parliament. They can’t miss the unpleasant fates befalling fellow moderates in Tehran, who refused to toe the radical line.
Last week, DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources report, Khamenei’s minions in parliament forced the ouster of the moderate Science Minister Rexa Faraji Dana by a majority vote. The ministers of education and culture also have reason to fear for their jobs.
The browbeating has left its mark on the foreign minister. In recent weeks, he is hanging tough and increasingly rigid in his comments on the nuclear issue. Stressing pointedly that he keeps Khamenei’s office constantly updated on the talks’ progression, the once amiable and easy-mannered foreign minister has adopted a stiff, inflexible manner.
He now threatens that, failing a comprehensive nuclear accord by the next targeted deadline, Iran will ramp up its currently suspended nuclear projects to full strength and renege on all former concessions made under the November 2013 interim accord.
President Rouhani, too, is at times beginning to sound like his radical predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This week, he vowed that nothing would make Tehran budge on its nuclear “rights.”
This effort to pacify Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards had little effect. The supreme leader continues to give him the cold shoulder.
Rouhani, Zarif isolated from Iran’s political elite
With the axe of dismissal hanging over their heads, both Rouhani and Zarif also face increasing isolation in Iran’s political elite. The entire ruling establishment is ranged against them. The radical camp is running a public campaign full blast against nuclear compromise, with the backing of more than half of the deputies in parliament. They pair cannot count on the loyalty of a single important political body, even within their own government.
Even their great champion, Hashemi Rasfanjani, former president and head the Expediency Discernment Council, who has stuck his neck out for the two men, has his own troubles.
He is pointedly ostracized by Khamenei, and his eldest son and beloved daughter, Mehdi and Fatameh, subjected to protracted criminal proceedings. They are accused of working to undermine the foundations of the revolutionary regime and collaborating with the “conspirators,” who protested against the doctoring of the last but one presidential election five years ago.
Mehdi Hashemi’s closed-door trial concluded Tuesday, but no verdict was announced. If convicted of the charges against them, Rafsanjani’s son and daughter could face long prison sentences. Until the trials are over, the hands of their father, the once influential politician, are tied against helping Rouhani.
Relatives persecuted for intimidation
Rouhani is getting the same sort of treatment to make sure he doesn’t stray. His niece was arrested for alleged financial corruption. And he finds himself suspected by innuendo of forging documents and other crimes. Last week, a document made its way around the Majlis alleging he had claimed falsely that he held a PhD when he first ran for parliament.
Overcome with bitter frustration, the president eventually aired his grievances in public speeches. On one occasion, he said he had been wrongly sent into the cold - even by state-run radio and television, which he accused of broadcasting harsh words of censure, while deliberately suppressing his government achievements for the good of the people.
In another speech last week outside Tehran, the president lost his temper and said his opponents should “go to hell.”
Rouhani was reprimanded for these outbursts. He feels additionally cornered by Iran’s lingering economic crisis, for which he is blamed, although it is largely generated by international sanctions. Those sanctions might be eased, if only his hands were not tied against offering minor concessions on Iran’s nuclear program.
IAEA still denied access to Parchin
How far those hands are tied was glaringly evident Saturday, Aug. 23, when his Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan flatly refused IAEA inspectors access to the Parchin military facility, to investigate reports that a nuclear detonator was tested two years ago.
Rouhani’s embarrassment was compounded by his having campaigned for the presidency last year on a pledge to make Iran’s nuclear program transparent. But now, he is not consulted even on a matter as major as inspection of the secret Parchin site.
This has been a sticking point for years in Tehran’s relations with the UN agency – and therefore a major hurdle in the path of a nuclear accord. IAEA head Yukia Amano said in Tehran this week that international inspectors must be allowed into Parchin if they are to determine whether or not Iran’s nuclear program has military components.
With the November deadline for a comprehensive nuclear accord looming, and the anti-concession radicals holding the whip hand in Tehran, the only deal that appears feasible is another extension.
Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araqchi, who heads Iran’s negotiating team tried to put a positive spin on the way things are shaping up, saying “It won’t be a disaster if no accord is reached and sanctions aren’t lifted.”
While Iran was happy to boast about downing an Israeli-made drone over its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, central Iran, on Aug. 23, Revolutionary Guards Air Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh played it safe two days later, when he referred to the UAV as “Israeli-made” but not directly from Israel.
As to the source of the drone, Hajizadeh said he had “some clues.”
He identified it as a Hermes 450 with an operational range of 800 kilometers, whereas the distance between Israel and Iran is 1,100 km.
But this does not rule out the possibility that the Hermes was dispatched by the Jewish state after all, say DEBKA Weekly’s military sources. Israeli intelligence agencies’ drones frequently crisscross the Mid East, Persian Gulf and north and east African airspace.
They are also employed for surveillance over smuggling routes used to shuttle arms, ammunition, experts and technical know-how to their enemies’ arsenals
Hermes 450: both surveillance and assault aircraft
The Hermes 450 boasts a range of video and still cameras that can capture extremely high-resolution color images. Thermal imaging devices allow the cameras to operate in poor visibility and almost any weather condition, including extreme heat, cold, dust and fog.
The aircraft can also pack receivers to intercept radio chatter from air defense systems, cellular, radio and other military communications. Other dedicated payloads identify the radar signatures, locations and nature of various missile and artillery systems, and can neutralize these weapons if necessary.
When outfitted with a system that scrambles air defense systems and blocks frequencies that would call for backup, the UAV is able to preempt the activation of enemy defense systems during air, ground or naval operations.
The Hermes 450 is an aggressive weapon too, and can be equipped with short-range high precision munitions precise enough to target house windows or balconies. Other UAVs include “suicide aircraft,” armed with guided explosives that penetrate openings in target buildings and detonate once inside.
With enough fuel, a Hermes launch need not be within range of target
After the Iranian announcement, various military analysts rushed to suggest that the drone couldn’t have been sent by Israel. A statement from the manufacturer of the Hermes 450, Elbit Systems subsidiary Silver Arrow, claiming the plane has a flight range of 300 km, likely misled some. Because of Israel’s wide-ranging satellite surveillance coverage, other analysts argued there was no need to risk sending a drone armed with classified intelligence systems into Iranian airspace.
But according to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, flight range is an outdated and irrelevant standard of measure. It gauges the distance from which a handler can remotely pilot the plane, control its altitude and other functions. But with enough energy – be it electricity or fuel – a serious player in the intelligence game can activate and control aircrafts from any distance, by using air or satellite relay systems.
Each UAV has a unique electromagnetic signature. Upon completion of a mission and its successful return to base, it serves global superpower spy agencies with enough data to backtrack and reconstruct the vehicle’s flight path and its launching site.
Launching a drone from a foreign-flagged ship is easily within the realm of possibility, such as vessels in the Persian Gulf or Caspian Sea. Even neighboring territory, with or without the knowledge of local authorities, may serve as provisional launching points.
Special combat units are trained to steal into countries that are fairly friendly, but not enough to cooperate in sending foreign drones against their neighbors. These units quietly assemble the drones on the spot and see them off before fading out of the picture.
Drones largely obviate need for ground reconnaissance
Most drones are pre-programmed with a flight plan before even leaving base. Takeoff, flight, surveillance operations -- including taking photographs and picking up signals intelligence (SIGINT) – and the return to destination (often different than the launch site) are all automated.
Our military experts say the Hermes-450 downed over Natanz was actually programmed to wind up its mission with scanning passes over Iran’s air defense batteries. Repeated surveillance passes are commonly carried out over targets Israel and their American and European allies consider Essential Elements of Information (EEI). They serve to map out vulnerable points in enemy defense systems.
The aircraft’s magnetic trail is closely monitored during and after the fact to discover and chart its course and identify breaches in an enemy’s defenses, which are easier for drones to penetrate, and, even more importantly, where flights face the greatest hazards.
This information is stored in the plane’s dedicated payloads. It includes details which are unobtainable by any other method, aside from ground reconnaissance units. It provides its senders with the resources for building tactical operational plans for use in real time.
Iranian defenses are smarter than previously thought
On the debit side, these spy drones run real risks of their powerful electromagnetic signatures making them vulnerable to discovery and destruction, not to mention the possibility of enemies decrypting or even hijacking their signaling codes and so tracking down the UAV’s senders. The EEI so gathered can be decoded for “draining off” the aircraft’s fuel and forcing it to land.
Nonetheless, these intelligence-gathering UAVs are a boon for the acquisition of high quality intelligence in real time for serving armies engaged in tactical field missions.
Iranian media coverage of the downing of the Hermes 450 points to the nature of its mission as being part of long-term preparation for a military operation or a preemptive strike by a superpower or a country with a special interest in the region.
Iran may have gained little information of value from the drone, but its capture illustrates that Tehran’s defense shield is smarter than previously thought, and was able to pin the Hermes down, even without it signaling home base and providing a heat signature to home in on.
Islamic State posts execution of US journalist to deter Obama from further involvement in Iraq war
20 Aug. Iraqi Islamic State terrorists released a video online Tuesday night, Aug. 19, showing the beheading of American photo-journalist James Wright Foley, 40 after threatening to punish the US and Britain for air strikes in Iraq. debkafile: Al Qaeda’s Iraqi wing has been sighted gearing up for a counter-offensive against Peshmerga and the Iraqi army to deter any further US or foreign intervention in the Iraq war, as Iraqi and Kurdish leaders wait tensely for a decision by Barack Obama.
August 22, 2014 Briefs
Hamas executes 18 Palestinians as informers
22 Aug. Hamas executed 18 Palestinians as Israel informers Friday, Aug. 22 – shooting eleven at a police station in Gaza City and seven publicly outside the city’s central mosque. This method was seemingly counseled by Iranian and Hizballah advisers to deter Israel from further targeted liquidations of Hamas’ military chiefs. The gruesome images from Gaza ought to have dispelled Egyptian and Israeli illusions that Hamas, any more than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seeks a political solution of the Gaza conflict. What these Palestinian extremists want is a bloodbath.
August 23, 2014 Briefs
More southern Israeli dwellers head north away from rocket fire
23 Aug. A steady stream of Israelis living next door to the Gaza Strip headed north Saturday, the day after a four-year old boy was killed by falling mortar shrapnel. Community leaders complained that the government has the tools for ending the agony and is not using them. More than 100 Hamas rockets battered southern Israel Saturday.
Will Obama take the fight against IS into Syria?
23 Aug. President Barack Obama must take into account that any decision to extend US military action against the Islamic State to Syria would have the effect of rescuing Bashar Assad’s rule in Damascus from the Islamist peril and strengthening the presence of his Hizballah and Iranian allies in Damascus. debkafile: It would also bear on the security of Israel and Jordan. Considering Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi’s recent undercover contacts with Assad, a US decision may also affect his calculations in hosting diplomacy for an accommodation of the Gaza conflict.
August 24, 2014 Briefs
Hamas gains strategic edge by hitting Israel with attrition
24 Aug. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday, Aug. 24 that Operation Defensive Edge would end “only when quiet returns to southern Israel. Till then, we shall continue to hammer Hamas - for now by air.” debkafile: This approach leaves Hamas with the initiative and advantage of surprise against the IDF. And so, despite its inferiority in numbers and weaponry, the Palestinian Islamists have scored two strategic gains: they have dragged Israel willy-nilly into a war of attrition, and emptied its southern communities of 70 percent of their dwellers in flight from rocket fire.
August 25, 2014 Briefs
Gazan buildings reduced to dust as Israelis flee rockets
25 Aug. Community leaders of 40,000 dwellers of the dozens of kibbutzim, moshavim and small towns adjoining the Gaza Strip spoke out Monday, Aug 25: “The populated front line facing the Gaza Strip is no more.” Some bluntly blamed this fiasco on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and their management of the operation against Hamas. They juxtaposed the untenable situation of Gaza buildings reduced to dust by Israeli air strikes against the disappearance of Negev communities as refugees.
August 26 2014 Briefs
Israel-Hamas truce deal in effect Tuesday 7 p.m.
26 Aug. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi brought Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip to accept an unlimited ceasefire in hostilities in effect from 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26, based on the 2012 deal. Netanyahu did not ask for his ministers’ endorsement, knowing he did not have majority support in the cabinet. During the 50-day conflict, Hamas violated all eleven agreed truces.
The Palestinian group’s patrons, Iran and Hizballah, also encouraged Hamas to accept a ceasefire as part of a tradeoff, in the hope of US recognition of their ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, as the only Middle East figure capable of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - IS.
August 27, 2014 Briefs
The Israeli drone downed by Iran took off from Azerbaijan
27 Aug. Tests by Iranian aviation and intelligence experts indicate that the Israeli Hermes 450 drone downed Aug. 23 over the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility took off from Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Airbase, debkafile reports exclusively. Our sources add that the Hermes 450 boasts a range of video and still cameras that can capture extremely high-resolution color images. Thermal imaging devices allow the cameras to operate in poor visibility and almost any weather condition. Iran has made concerted efforts to stop regular drones from Nakhchivan from spying on its nuclear program, but failed until now.
August 28, 2014 Briefs
Israeli forces caught up in Al Qaeda’s complex toils in both in Golan and Gaza
28 Aug. The battle for Quneitra has no real military importance for the Syrian conflict at large, says debkafile. The Syrian army, helped by Iran and Hizballah, is winning and the rebel side crumbling. However, integrated in the rebel contingents fighting for Quneitra, with US, Israeli and Jordanian backing, are Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front fighters and its Sinai arm, Ansar Beit Al-Madis, which works hand in glove with Israel’s foe, the Palestinian Hamas with which Israel has just ended a 50-day war. When a black Al Qaeda flag flies over Quneitra 200 m from its Golan border, Israel will face a new dilemma, which will take some explaining.