Vol. 15, Issue 676, August 28, 2015
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Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani Challenges Tehran
Iran Sends Powerful Zelzal Missiles into Iraq to Recover Fallujah and Ramadi

DEBKA Weekly reveals that Iran suddenly found itself this week fighting on two fronts.
For the first, the stalled offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), Tehran mustered its powerful Zelzal-3B (“earthquake”) solid propellant surface missile for an all-out offensive to finally root the Islamists out of the Iraqi cities of Faluja and Ramadi.
And so, after ISIS successfully parried every Iranian and Iraqi Shiite militia assault to recover those cities, Iraq sees heavy ground-to-ground missiles rolling into the battlefield for the first time since the US invasion of 2003.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that the first batteries crossed in from Iran this week aboard trucks painted to represent civilian vehicles, their military number plates removed. They were delivered to pro-Iranian Shiite militia bases in the western province of Anbar.
These powerful missiles were brought in on the recommendation of Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian front in Iraq, and his deputy, Abu Mahdi, head of the “popular mobilization committee.”
Mahdi poses as an Iraqi Shiite, but is in fact an Iranian general called Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahim, who is charged with establishing a pro-Iranian Shiite army.

Sistani challenges Iraqi Shiite deference to Tehran

But the Iranians are also gravely concerned by another challenge from an unforeseen quarter: the Supreme Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Al Husaini Sistani, has begun leading an opposition movement against Iran. Our sources report that this development brought Al Qods Chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, hastening Thursday, Aug. 27, to the cleric’s seat in the southern Iraqi Shiite shrine city of Najef.
Iran’s deepening intervention in the war on the Islamic State, and growing influence in Baghdad, have opened up a deep new rift at the top of the Shiite camp and among Shiite militias.
The Shiite world’s most venerated religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, 85, has come out forcefully against Tehran and its Iraqi minions.
He was outraged by the favored treatment awarded the Iraqi Shiite militias which bend the knee to Tehran, such as the Badr Brigade, the League of the Sons of the Righteous and the (Iraqi) Hizballah. They won plentiful supplies of Iranian weapons and their leaders were hailed publicly in Baghdad as heroes.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Al-Abadi, and other Shiite leaders were treated to derogatory sneers.
When it was suggested that the Badr Brigade’s chief, Hadi al-Ameri would make a better prime minister than the incumbent, the outraged Sistani stirred into action.

Iraqi Shiites set up anti-Iran militias on Sistani’s fatwa

The Iraqi Shiite leader has a history of disrespect for Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sistani holds that Khamenei is not entitled to use the title of ayatollah and his fatwas have no religious force for any Shiite.
For many years, the clerical establishments of Qom and Najf have vied for supremacy as the world centers of the Shiite faith, each presenting their religious seminaries as the more superior.
The contest between the two establishments has spilled over into world affairs: Sistani is up in arms against Iran’s drive for dominance in Iraq, the Gulf, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. According to his teachings, men of cloth should devote themselves to religious activity and education – not conquests and wars.
The ageing Iraqi cleric ordered two steps for stemming Iranian ascendancy in Baghdad:
1. He issued a fatwa (decree) for the creation of Shiite paramilitary groups as a counterweight for the pro-Iranian militias. Fifteen new groups responded to his call, led by Jund al-Majayer.
But still, the pro-Sistani groups are heavily outnumbered by 45 pro-Iranian militias. More will have to be enlisted, to bring them level, notably from the extensive following of Moqtada al-Sadr, who is anti-Tehran but also cherishes his independence.

Gen. Soleimani rushes to Najef to placate Sistanti

2. Sistani also mobilized his activists to derail the secret plot for turning last week’s protest rallies in Baghdad against corruption and the breakdown of essential services, such as water and electricity, into a movement for toppling the government.
These are the actions that brought Gen. Soleimani running to Najef in the middle of an operation for introducing the Zelzal missiles into service against ISIS. Placating the grand ayatollah was absolutely vital, because the internal Shiite struggle in Iraq between the pro- and anti-Iran camps was gaining momentum and threatening Tehran’s deep stake in Baghdad.
As far as we know, the Iranian general was still waiting Thursday night for an appointment to see the grand ayatollah.

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As Russian Troops Head for Syria…
Putin again Touts Gazprom for Running Israel’s Offshore Gas Exports

President Vladimir Putin has put a fresh offer to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a stake in the development of new Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean and a contract for its national Gazprom to lay the future gas export pipeline to Turkey.
From there, he wants Israeli natural gas to flow through Russian pipelines to Europe.
Putin in a word is pitching for Russian control of Israel’s gas exports. His selling point is linked directly to another Russian strategic step, first revealed here by DEBKA Weekly:
Moscow is about to embark on military intervention in the Syrian war.
The estimated investment for fully developing Israel’s Leviathan, one of the biggest offshore gas discoveries in recent years, is $7-10 billion. A pipeline from Israel to Turkey would come to another roughly $2bn.
It is not the first time that the Russian leader as propositioned Israel on its gas bonanza. In 2012, secret meetings took place between Russian and Israeli gas experts and investors, mostly in London.
Those tentative exchanges were shelved in mid-2014, mainly because the US was furiously opposed to Israel contracting business with Moscow shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine and was penalized with US and European sanctions.
Then, too, relations between the Russian leader and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edrogan were at a low point.

First “Russo-Syrian Military Commission” is born

But this year, from late July and early August, Putin took a fresh look at the fluctuating Middle East map and decided to reassess his strategy. He found the Turkish operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) to be useless, and the arrangement for US air strikes over Syria to be coordinated with Turkish ground action getting nowhere. Indeed, in his view, these faltering steps had allowed ISIS to evolve into a palpable threat to Russia itself.
The signs of Moscow’s intention to take a hand in fighting ISIS in Syria include the creation in recent weeks of the first “Russo-Syrian Military Commission,” designed to supervise Russian forces destined in Syria to put up an effective fight against ISIS – and not just to rescue Bashar Assad from his military straits.
There is also informed speculation that the six Russian MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor aircraft from Moscow which landed Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Mezze Airbase of Damascus international airport, are to be part of the new deployment.

Russian military in Syria - on the spot for securing the gas fields

How does all this tie in with Moscow’s quest for a partnership in Israel’s gas?
Putin maintains that the forthcoming Russian military presence in Syria, including air and naval units, would offer the only credible shield for protecting Israel’s offshore gas fields.
Leviathan has estimated reserves of 22 trillion cubic feet (tcf) or 622 billion cubic meters. The Russians estimate the reserves as quadruple this amount.
As far back as March 2013, when the Russian leader talked to Netanyahu in Israel – and again when they met in Sochi three months later - he pushed the argument that Russian forces alone were competent to secure the gas fields against attack by any of the groups taking part in the Syria conflict, because of their heft in Damascus, which also worked as a deterrent against the Lebanese Hizballah sabotaging the gas fields.
Putin now proposes setting up a joint Russian-Israeli task force. This would be the first instance of Russian-Israeli military cooperation.
This initiative is the counterpart of another Moscow project: a joint Russian-Egyptian task force for securing the Suez Canal and its shipping lanes, which Putin put before Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi during his visit to Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Progress in talk with Turkey as anchor client and pipeline partner

Moscow is aware of the negotiations the Israeli government and the Noble Energy-Delek gas consortium are holding with Turkey on the selfsame issue of an underwater pipeline to carry Leviathan gas under water to the Turkish coast. The field is slated to begin production in 2018 or 2019.
The talks with Turkey are at an advanced stage.
The Erdogan government is willing to cover a large part of the investment. Turkey's overall gas consumption is seven times that of Israel and growing fast, expected to double in the next 20 years. At the moment, Ankara is heavily reliant for its gas on Russia, from whom it purchases 40 billion BCM a year. The Turks are keen to reduce their dependence on Moscow by using Israel as a competitive source.
Gas is also piped in to Turkey from Iran and Azerbaijan as well as high-priced liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Algeria. Ankara has stepped up its purchases from those sources to cut down on gas imports from Gazprom.
The Turkish-Israeli talks are now down to discussing the price per MMBTu (British thermal units in millions) to be charged by Israel.
While markets for Israel’s Mediterranean gas are eagerly awaited in Egypt and Jordan, Turkey is seen as an anchor customer for Leviathan’s product.

Israeli consortium divided over Turkish connection

The Israeli partners of the consortium are keen on going ahead for a deal with Turkey, but the American side, Texas-based Noble Energy, is leery, raising the fear in private parleys that Turkey faces the danger of a radical Islamist revolution, whose leaders might without warning cut off the inflow of Leviathan gas to its premier outlet.
Netanyahu has been enthusiastic about the deal with Ankara, also because it holds out the prospect of better relations with Turkey, on which he places high strategic value. He has picked up hints from the Erdogan regime that this improvement is indeed in prospect.
But Netanyahu is now faced with a new proposition from Moscow. He must take into account that Israel’s acceptance of that proposition would leave Russia in continued domination of Turkey’s sources of gas and its export pipeline to Europe and determine how that suits Israel’s interests.

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The US Quits Sinai Front against ISIS
The US-MFO Exit from Sinai will Expose a Widening Circle of Mid East Waterways

After a well-orchestrated media campaign (including a New York Times leader calling for the US to pull the MFO from Sinai), for preparing the ground, Washington this week presented Israel and Egypt with a detailed blueprint for covering its retreat from the strategic Egyptian peninsula in the face of rising Islamic terrorism
The preamble noted that the danger of Islamic State attack increasingly confronts the 1,600 members of the Sinai Multinational Force and Observers (MFO).
They come from 12 nations and include the Texas Army National Guard Soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment, which is posted near the Sharm El-Sheikh resort town in the South, and a number of US officers based in the northern camp at Gorah near El Arish.
The authors of the plan stress that it has accordingly become necessary to “alter the MFO’s mode of operation.”
Egypt’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy and the policy adviser at Israel’s Defense Ministry, Amos Gilead, took the blueprint when it reached them as advance notice of Washington’s intention to withdraw from the MFO in Sinai as quickly as possible.
Since the US is the largest contributor to the MFO, with its Task Force Sinai comprising 692 military personnel, the inescapable conclusion was that once the Americans were out, the other nationals would soon follow suit and the MFO would be gone for good.

The MFO becomes redundant when treaty restrictions are eased

The US blueprint outlined three practical steps:
1. In the first stage, the force would close down 25 observations posts scattered across Sinai from north to south (see attached map) and evacuate the soldiers manning them. Each of these posts has 6-8 soldiers – some American – who would be easy prey for the Islamists – either to kill or take hostage.
Until now, the Sinai branch of ISIS has refrained from major attacks on the multinational force, possibly to avoid stirring up international support for Egypt’s fight against them in North Sinai.
But there have been incidents. On June 6, the Islamists fired shells towards Gorah airport, which is used by the MFO. There were no casualties. A more serious attack took place three years ago in September 2012, when the Gorah camp was set on fire and three foreign soldiers were injured.
2. The spread-out observation posts were set up originally to monitor the military restrictions imposed on Egypt in Sinai under the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli treaty. But last year Israel relaxed those restrictions to let Cairo introduce a division plus and assault aircraft and helicopters to Sinai, to fight the Islamists terrorists.
The MFO suddenly became redundant.

Replacing MFO observation posts with satellite surveillance

But its observation posts stayed in place and turned their efforts to keeping watch and reporting on the illicit paramilitary forces moving clandestinely around the peninsula, including armed Palestinian groups, various smuggling rings and ISIS.
In their place, Washington is offering the services of US military satellite for surveillance over the entire peninsula.
3. It is a little known fact that one part of the MFO’s American team was stationed on the highly strategic island of Tiran, which is situated in the narrowest part of the Straits of Tiran - an important sea passage for the important ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.
A hostile force on that island, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba, could block Israel’s only southern outlet from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea and out to the Far East.
The tiny 230 sq, km island is part of Egypt’s Ras Muhammad National Park, although the opposing claims to its sovereignty by Egypt and Saudi Arabia have never been resolved.

The US exit will leave Tiran island and vital sea passage unguarded

The American force’s exit from the island of Tiran, along with the rest of the MFO, will leave the essential strait without oversight and the shipping using it unprotected. The Sinai Bedouin, smugglers and ISIS adherents alike, keep track from their speedboats on the ships sailing in and out of the Gulf of Aqaba and using the Suez Canal. By seizing Tiran Island after the American troops’ departure, they would control these strategic straits. The Islamic State would not only strengthen its grip in the Sinai Peninsula, but directly imperil the national security interests of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
The US plans for Sinai, published here for the first time, left Israeli and Egyptian strategists stunned. If Washington goes through with them, the Middle East and, most of all, the Islamist State, would be free to conclude that if the Obama administration declines to stand its ground against 500 ISIS Sinai terrorists, it can hardly be relied on to fight Islamist terror anywhere else.

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Hello, Washington. Is anybody there?
Iraqi Kurds Shop for New Patrons to Fight ISIS after White House Shut Its Door

High-ranking Kurdish officials from Irbil had a pressing question for a group of US policy and intelligence strategists holding a closed-door meeting in Europe this week: Why doesn’t the Obama administration see what is going on in the Middle East?
The question elicited no answer, just a shrug and the unspoken thought: Is President Masoud Barzani of the autonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq all that naïve?
DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Irbil and Washington hear that Barzani buttonholes anyone he meets with influence in the White House or National Security Council to get him an interview with President Barack Obama. The Kurdish leader is convinced that the US President is not apprised by US intelligence on the true state of affairs in the embattled parts of the region and acts out of ignorance. He is certain that, given the chance, he would open Obama’s eyes to the truth – even though seasoned advisers warn him that it wouldn’t work.
Nonetheless, the Kurdish officials tried putting before their American interlocutors at this week’s meeting nine key points and questions they are anxious to bring before President Obama:

Kurds see Erdogan as ISIS instrument

1. They are certain now that the military arm of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is none other than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS.
Otherwise, why would Ankara give so many ISIS volunteers free passage through Turkey to Syria, and why would Turkish banks transfer funds to the jihadi group? And not only funds; the weapons ISIS picks up on international markets pass unhindered through Turkey into Syria and on to Iraq.
Capping all this, the two agents handling the sale of oil pirated by ISIS from fields in Iraq and Syria are – who else but Syria’s Bashar Assad and Turkey’s Erdogan?
2. The Turkish president’s obsession with battling the Kurds is by now common knowledge. So is his scant interest in fighting ISIS, except as a front for his campaign to destroy the Kurdish movement.
3. A representative of the Syrian rebel Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is present at the joint US-Turkish war room located at the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep. His job is to collect a list of ISIS locations as targets for attack. This data sits on a desk and never moves over to the active tray.

Without US support, Kurds’ choices are between Tehran and Ankara

4. The US-led coalition was not stirred into action even when Islamic State forces last August and September reached the outskirts of Irbil. The Kurdish capital was not saved by the Americans, but mostly by the fighters of the PKK – the Kurdish Workers Party, which Erdogan reviles and violently persecutes. Those PKK fighters came down from their Qandil Mountain sanctuaries and fought shoulder to shoulder with the peshmerga. They beat the Islamist horde back, warding off Kurdish genocide, such as ISIS committed in the slaughter and enslavement of their neighbors, the Yazidis.
So what exactly is Washington’s game in not just refusing to let the Kurds have the heavy weapons, missiles and assault helicopters they need to push ISIS back, but twisting the arms of parties in the region willing to provide these tools of war?
5. PKK leaders were smart enough to read the map and quietly relocate their command centers from the Iraqi Qandil mountains to Iran (as DEBKA Weekly 675 revealed last week: Kurdish PKK Command Bolts from Qandil to Give Tehran a Coup.) If nothing changes in Washington, thousands of PKK troops are likely to follower their officers to their new haven in the Islamic Republic.
Irbil will be left with two grim options: placing the peshmerga, like Baghdad, under the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani; or falling subject to the tender mercies of Erdogan, knowing that he will hold the KRG back from fighting ISIS as he does its fraternal communities in Syria and Iraq.

Why is the US hitched to Erdogan’s falling star?

6. By going all-out to win the Turkish president as its collaborator against ISIS, the US is hitching its policy to a wagon about to drown in the sand.
7. After his party failed to build a government coalition, Erdogan flouted every democratic norm by highhandedly calling a snap election, thereby robbing the party with the second largest vote count, the Republican People’s Party, of its prerogative for setting up an alternative government.
8. Every pundit in the region sees the writing on the wall for the Turkish leader: The party he and his Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu lead is widely expected to fall in the November 1 poll far more steeply than it did in the last general election seven months ago.
9. Two scenarios are envisaged for the demise of Erdogan’s rule: He and his family will either be tried for corruption and abuse of power, or they will skip the country to avoid justice. So the Kurds and others wonder what interest America has in staking him.
The American officials at the meeting promised to try and bring the Kurdish case before the president, but advised their representatives not to pin hopes on Obama changing his tune on Erdogan - although of late, their relations have cooled somewhat.

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Iran Is Now in a Hurry
Tehran Ready to Scrap Past Dogma for Quick Solutions to the Syrian Crisis

Tehran is going full tilt ahead with its single-handed drive for ending the Syrian conflict, after giving up on US and Russian partners in a combined effort (as DEBKA Weekly reported on Aug. 21: Tehran Goes Solo on Syria). This week, Iranian officials put two alternative schemes before Western and Arab counterparts in closed-door meetings. Both hinged on international peace conferences, to be held in camera or openly, which were labeled: Formula 6+1 and Formula 5:2.
Formula 6+1 would bring the six Gulf Cooperation Council’s members and Iran together for a parley to proceed under two ground rules:
1. The participants must pledge to keep talking until they close a deal.
2. They must all suspend military, financial and economic assistance to their Syrian proxies for the duration of the talks: This would apply equally to Iran’s flow of cash and arms to the Assad regime and army, and GCC members’ aid to the trained fighters of the various rebel militias.

Tehran pushes its Syrian agenda forward under stress

The Iranians admitted to acting on the Syrian crisis under stress: They have so far coughed up the huge sum of $40 billion for arming the Syrian army, plus their regular subsidy for the Lebanese Hizballah – evidence, incidentally, that years of international sanctions had far from crippled the Iranian economy. They were also frank about the spreading disaffection in Iran against the regime’s Syrian escapade, especially among the intelligentsia in Tehran and other cities. The ayatollahs were having a hard time defending their open-ended support for Bashar Assad.
Iran’s second plan, Formula 5:2, was for another forum, consisting of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, to hash out ways and means for ending the Syrian conflict. Their word would be binding on all five participants, as well as its two subjects: the Assad-Hizballah combination under Iran’s guarantee and the Syrian opposition.
For both schemes, Tehran urged all the parties concerned to dump all the old peace tracks that ran into the sand - Geneva 1 in November 2013, Geneva 2 in January 2014 and the Moscow conference in January 2015. This time round, the outside group would dictate a solution to the Syrian belligerents.

Without Iranian and Muslim partners, no Syrian solution

In Tehran’s view, the big powers’ only chance of pushing their solution through depends on its endorsement by Iran and the key Muslim powers of the region. Without getting them aboard, the plan would fall through.
Tehran is now selling the relevant Middle East players a new motto: Break away from old positions to which you were in thrall, let them go and embrace an entirely new approach to the Syrian issue.
The Iranians say they are willing to practice what they preach. For instance, they have adjusted their dogmatic insistence on keeping Assad in power - come what may - and considering placing him at the head of a new transitional regime as a step on the road toward solving the Syrian crisis.
The Syrian ruler, clear-eyed as ever about his prospects, underscored his confidence that he has the “continuing support of key allies Iran and Russia.” In an interview broadcast Wednesday, Aug. 26, he said, “Russia and Iran did not abandon their friends.”
DEBKA Weekly’s sources can corroborate his trust in Russia for now, but Iran is getting ready to put some distance between Tehran and Damascus.

A suddenly sensitive Tehran

In general, the Iranians have become extremely sensitive to international criticism. They complain of being falsely portrayed by “international propaganda media” as a sinister force in the Syrian conflict. Tehran was wronged, for example, by being blamed for the deadly barrel bombs the Syrian air force drops on rebels and urban districts.
Far from manufacturing these weapons and advising Assad to use them, the Iranians claim that the barrel bombs are made in Syria – not Iran – and Tehran has repeatedly urged Assad and his commanders to stop using them.
The Iranians had another beef with the Americans and Arab figures they met this week: While constantly harping on Iran’s warlike conduct, both, they say, are letting tens of thousands of jihadists cross into Syria to fight the Assad regime.

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A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Aug. 27, 2015

The four rockets fired on Galilee came from the new Iranian terror front on the Golan

21 Aug.
It was the new Iranian-backed network which Thursday, Aug. 20, fired a salvo of four rockets from the Golan into upper Galilee and the Golan. Two days earlier, Israel’s top government and military went on a high level of preparedness in expectation of the first terrorist attack to be orchestrated by Iran from the Syrian and Lebanese borders. Israeli intelligence had received word that Iranian Al Qods and Hizballah officers were building a new terrorist network for mounting large-scale terrorist attacks on Israel from the Syrian border opposite the Golan.

August 22, 2015 briefs

  • Twelve killed, including 3 US contractors, in Kabul attack
    At least 12 people were killed and 66 others wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in Afghanistan's capital Saturday. Three were US contractors.

Another French failure to spot informer as Islamist terrorist

22 Aug. The Moroccan gunman, Ayoub Qahzzani, 26, who injured three passengers on the Amsterdam-Paris fast train Friday, Aug. 21, was yet another Muslim extremist known to French, Spanish and Belgian intelligence who was allowed to commit an act of terror. debkafile: This selfsame scenario has recurred in the three years since the Toulouse Jewish school outrage. The bravery of two US servicemen and other passengers averted a massacre. French anti-terror agencies badly need of an overhaul that enables them to differentiate between inside informers and dangerous terrorists.

August 23, 2015 briefs

  • Ten right-wing Israeli activists banned from West Bank
    The Shin Bet domestic security service explained in an unprecedented statement Sunday why restraining orders had been issued against 10 Jewish right-wing activists, including two minors, banning their access to the West Bank for ten months. These activists must be kept “away from illegal outposts… from which they set out for attacks,” the statement said.
  • Egypt claims air strike killed ISIS ops chief in Sinai
    Egyptian army sources report that the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis operations chief in Sinai, Rashad Abu al-Qassam, was killed in an air strike. The Egyptian bulletins reverted to the group’s original name, although it pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.
  • Turkish troops battle PKK around SE hydroelectric plant
    The Turkish military Sunday struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after an attack that killed a soldier and injured three others who were guarding a hydroelectric plant in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
  • UAE commando frees British hostage in Yemen
    A United Arab Emirate commando force fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has released a British national. No details were released on his identity.
  • British FM reopens British embassy in Tehran
    Four years after Iranian rioters burned and ransacked the British embassy in Iran, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran Sunday to reopen it, while Iran reopened its embassy in London.
  • Nine Palestinians detained for lobbing firebombs at Jerusalem cars
    Nine Palestinians, including four youths, were arrested two weeks ago, accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at a vehicle on Route 20 near Beit Hanina, Jerusalem which wounded two people, and at Jewish homes in the neighborhood.

Israel’s military response to Iran’s rocket salvo was short on deterrence

23 Aug. The four rockets fired from Syria into Israel’s Galilee and Golan Thursday, Aug. 20 were Iran’s way of testing the Israel’s government’s will for military action. Israel’s rhetoric and artillery, missile and aerial counter-strikes Thursday night and Friday left everyone confused, by blaming Iran, Al Qods, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and then attacking Syrian military targets in the Quneitra district. Saturday, Tehran unveiled its new Fateh-313 short-range, surface missile, which is highly accurate at a range of 500 km. This was to tell Israel that its retaliatory action fell short of deterring Iran from the continued pursuit of its policies. Tehran in fact believes from the experience of the past seven years that Israel is highly reluctant to employ military action against Iran.

August 24, 2015 briefs

  • Israel poses tough opening terms for talks with Hamas
    European sources trying to get Israel-Hamas talks underway reported Monday that Israel had posed tough terms for sitting down at the table for ceasefire talks with the radical Palestinian organization which rules the Gaza Strip. Israel’s take-or-leave-it stipulations were that Hamas stop digging tunnels for terrorist attacks and manufacturing rockets and artillery ammo, including mortars.
  • Assad: We must first deal with Israel’s proxies
    Syrian President Bashar Assad commented Monday:”The real tools that Israel is using, which are more important than the recent attacks, are the terrorists in Syria." This was his first response to Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Syrian forces after an Iranian-sponsored rocket attack on Israel’s Galilee and Golan last Thursday. Assad went on to say: "If we want to deal with Israel, we must first deal with its proxies inside Syria."
  • Another Palestinian terror cell rounded up
    A joint Shin Bet-IDF-police investigation led to the detention of a Palestinian terrorist cell in Kafr Bitta in the Nablus district of the West Bank. The cell plagued Israeli road vehicles with fire bombs and rocks, staged disturbances and regularly attacked police and military forces in the area with rocks.
  • Terrorism bureau lists 41 travel warnings for High Holidays
    Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau Monday published 41 warnings for Israelis traveling overseas next month for the High Holidays – none specific or new.Turkey stays on the list, while countries like Beligum, Canada, France and Denmark may be exposed to Islamist terrorist attacks that seek out Israeli and Jewish targets. Another threat comes from the Iran-Hizballah global terror campaign against Israelis and Jews worldwide.
  • ISIS blows up Phoenician temple in Palmyra
    The Islamic State which captured Palmyra in May has blown up the 2,000-year old Baalshamin Temple Sunday, a few days after beheading the town’s 82-year old antiquities director and famed scholar Khaled al-Asaad. The temple which is about 500 meters from Palmyra’s famous Roman amphitheater was dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and rain.
  • Terrorist attack in Nile Delta kills two Egyptian policemen
    A bus carrying Egyptian policemen to work in the Nile Delta province of Baheira, 260 km north of Cairo was struck by a bomb. Two officers were killed and 24 injured. Most terrorist attacks in Egypt target security forces in Sinai.

Kurdish oil is another Netanyahu-Obama head-to-head front

24 Aug.
Israel began importing Iraqi Kurdish oil exactly a year ago, acting at odds with the Obama administration, as debkafile reported at the time. Binyamin Netanyahu and the Barack Obama don’t see to eye to eye - not just on nuclear Iran, but on Middle East policy in general and the autonomous Kurdish republic, in particular. Israel decided to import Kurdish oil - first, because it was cheap at a time of soaring world prices and, second, to provide Kurdistan with revenue to buy the arms withheld by the US for repelling the ISIS advance on Irbil. The Financial Times broke its “discovery” of Israel’s purchase of Kurdish oil Sunday, Aug. 23, on the day that Britain and Iran reopened their respective embassies in Tehran and London.

August 25, 2015 briefs

  • Army Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch named new police commissioner
    Public Security Minister Gilead Ardon’s unexpected decision Tuesday to select an outsider, former division commander army reserve brigadier general Gal Hirsch, 51, as new police commissioner, has raised a storm of protest in high police ranks.Hirsch commanded the Galilee Division in the 2006 Lebanon war, and most recently served as acting commander of the new IDF Depth Division.
  • France should be prepared for more attacks – Hollande
    French President Francois Hollande says his country should be prepared for more attacks such as the thwarted assault on a high-speed train last week.
  • El-Sisi on third visit to Moscow will sign new accords
    Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is one of three Arab rulers visiting Moscow Tuesday to discuss the Syrian crisis with President Vladimir Putin and sign accords. Other visitors were King Abdullah II of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.
  • Minister seeks to ban extremist Muslim groups from Temple Mt
    Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan Tuesday announced steps to ban from Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, two extremist Muslim groups which plague Jewish visitors to the shrine with screaming abuse, curses and pushing.

Abbas tags son Yasser as next Palestinian leader

25 Aug.
After giving up on the Obama administration, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is busy seeking new champions, possibly in Tehran, while shoring up his rule over Palestinian institutions, designing his legacy, and bringing his son Yasser Abbas forward as his successor. Abbas Jr, aged 52, moved to Canada in 1997 and built a business career.

August 26, 2015 briefs

  • Gunmen kill two US troops in Afghanistan base
    wo men wearing Afghan security force uniforms opened fire Wednesday inside a military base in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, killing two US service members of NATO before being shot dead themselves.
  • Russia to help Iran create a satellite observation system
    Two Russian space companies have signed a cooperation agreement with an Iranian corporation, clearing the way for the creation of an Iranian satellite remote-sensing system for gathering information about the Earth's surface, atmosphere and oceans.
  • Saudi king schedules first trip to Washington
    Saudi King Salman will visit Washington on Sept. 5, his first since ascending the throne January, amid concerns about the nuclear deal reached with rival Iran in July.
  • Iran to start “nuclear commercialization” at Arak
    Tehran to start “nuclear commercialization” by importing yellow cake and exporting enriched UF6,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told reporters in the western Iranian town of Hamadan Tuesday.
  • Assad is confident of continuing Iranian, Russian support
    In a Lebanese TV interview Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad commented on the flurry of diplomacy for ending the Syrian war that Russia and Iran did not abandon their friends.

August 27, 2015 briefs

  • Hizballah wins another truce in Zabadani battle
    A 48-hour truce was to begin Thursday morning in the NW Syrian town of Zabadani, under attack by Hizballah and the Syria army without a breakthrough for more than a month. It was agreed with the al-Qaeda affiliated rebel Nusra Front holding the town.
  • debkafile: Saudi fighters intercepted Khobar Towers bomber
    Ahmed al-Mughassi, sought for 20 years for the 1996 Khobar Towers attack that killed 19 US service personnel and wounded 500 people, was not captured in Beirut as first reported. debkafile reveals exclusively that his plane was intercepted by Saudi fighter jets over the Gulf after it took off from Iran and forced it to land in Saudi Arabia. There are no details on how the Saudis found out about the flight.
    n 2006, a US Federal judge ordered Iran to pay $254 million to the victims’ families based on evidence that the truck bomb was assembled at a base in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, operated by Hizbollah and the Revolutionary Guards, and approved by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Netanyahu pays an official visit to Italy
    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin leaves Thursday for Rome for a state visit and talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He will also visit the US, Chinese and Israeli exhibits as the Italian expo2015 fair on technology, agriculture and food.
  • Palestinian axe attack on Israeli soldier in Jerusalem
    A Palestinian axe attack on an Israeli border guardsman at the Jerusalem Old City’s Damascus Gate was followed by a firebomb that burned another border guard patrol jeep to a cinder. He and another guard escaped serious injury. The attacks quickly escalated as Palestinians hurled rocks at the fire engines alerted to extinguish the fire and violent riots erupted in the A-Tur district

Egypt bids for two advanced French copter carriers as counterweight to the Iranian navy

27 Aug.
Egypt is in advanced negotiations with France for two highly advanced French Mistral class assault-cum-helicopter carrier ships that were originally destined for the Russian Navy. debkafile reports this deal, if it goes through, will substantially beef up the regional lineup of the Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli navies. The new vessels would enable it to contest Iranian naval challenges in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and alter the balance of strength between the opposing sides. Saudis and the UAE are covering the bill.

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