Nothing normally stands in the way of 91-year-old Saudi King Abdullah’s annual three-month summer vacation. But this year, he cut short his vacation in Morocco on June 21 after a month to deal with the pressing matter of Iraq.
And it was just as well that he did. Thursday, June 26, he was driven to summon a National Security meeting to deal with a looming emergency. Saudi air force reconnaissance had discovered Iraqi al Qaeda-linked Sunni fighters of ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – heading for the Saudi border and homing in on the Iraqi-Saudi crossing at Ar Ar.
This should not have been a surprise in a week in which ISIS and its Sunni allies grabbed the Iraqi-Syrian and Iraqi-Jordanian crossings, strategic assets of even greater value that the cities seized in their whirlwind two-week advance (to see full size map click HERE).
The Saudi king lost no time in declaring his armed forces mobilized and on a high state of readiness to defend the kingdom against “terrorist threats.” That was on Thursday, the day before US Secretary of State John Kerry was expected for a visit outside his travel schedule.
Egyptian commandos to fly to Saudi Arabia’s defense
Abdullah took an added precaution against a potential Iraqi Sunni military threat.
On his way home from Morocco, the royal Boeing 747 made an important stop at Cairo airport.
There, the plane’s royal conference room played host to a Saudi-Egyptian summit between the monarch and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
Their discussion of the possible dispatch of Egyptian troops if Saudi Arabia faced an ISIS invasion proved timely. Less than a week later, Egypt was assembling a commando force ready to fly to the defense of the oil kingdom and bolster its borders.
The photograph of that occasion revealed a hidden shift in the Saudi power structure: To the king’s left, sit the Egyptian president and his entourage; to the right, his own retinue, at the center of which is none other than former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, dressed in a formal white robe with gold trim and a black sword tucked in his belt.
For the past year, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources have reported extensively on Bandar’s discord with US President Barack Obama’s administration on how best to handle the war in Syria and the culmination of that row in the Saudi prince’s dismissal on February 19.
Bandar had challenged Obama’s decision to cut off money and arms to radical Sunni militias in Syria, including ISIS. He argued that these groups alone had the ability to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, contend with Iran and cut down the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah’s growing military and political sway in Damascus.
Bandar is vindicated and restored to favor
When Bandar’s advice drew Washington’s ire and American arm-twisting became excessive, the king reacted by dropping the prince as his intelligence chief and senior strategist for Syria.
But in private conversations with Arab and American friends, Bandar was in no doubt that he would soon be vindicated, because his worst-case scenario was rolling out at speed: ISIS was on the march in Iraq and the region was being dragged into a Sunni-Shiite sectarian war. The prince also correctly predicted that the Syrian war’s spillover into Iraq would expose Saudi Arabia’s national security and the royal family to grave peril.
Bandar’s prominence in the Cairo summit indicated he had been restored to royal favor and the king’s inner circle of advisers.
It also suggested that Abdullah was now receptive to the prince’s point of view – even though it put backs up in Washington. He would never have brought Bandar back if his relations with the US president were good.
But most of all, Bandar’s presence behind the royal shoulder attested to Riyadh’s multilayered position vis-a-vis ISIS.
DEBKA Weekly’s experts explain: ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his 3,000 jihadis could not have managed their smash-and-grab progress in Iraq unaided. In fact they were helped by certain Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders and… Saudi intelligence.
What’s good for ISIS in Syria is bad for ISIS in Iraq
Prince Bandar developed direct ties with ISIS in Syria to back the rebel drive against Assad, our military sources report. In Iraq, Saudi ties with ISIS are roundabout through local Sunni tribal liaison. Saudi friendship with those tribes pre-dates the American occupation of Iraq. The custom is for ISIS to relay its operational plans to the Sunni chiefs, who pass them on to the Saudis. No move is made without Riyadh’s approval. The chiefs are also funneling to the jihadis intelligence and arms, many of them brand-new and US-made.
Our sources say that the unwritten Saudi-ISIS pact includes the understanding that those plans must also satisfy the indigenous tribal chiefs’ interests, with the ISIS undertaking to transfer all strategic posts and facilities seized from the Iraqi Army to those tribes.
This deal played out when ISIS soldiers handed over the Baiji oil refineries to the Sunni tribal chiefs after seizing them only a week before.
This war-by-proxy tactic mirrors Saudi Arabia’s strategy in the 1980s, when the princes donated large sums to Osama bin Laden.
As ISIS racked up the victories, it also pulled in more Saudi funds.
However, this ruthless double game, by which the Saudis hoped to defeat the Shiite Iranian drive for domination of the region, may be shattering with the approach of an ISIS force to the Saudi border.
That was not part of the deal Riyadh forged with its Iraqi Sunni allies for Al-Baghdadi’s jihadis. This time, the Saudi army may have to stand up and fight fellow Sunnis, unless they back off.
The stakes of the Iraqi war shot up this week, pulling in one neighbor of the embattled country after another
On Wednesday, Kerry warned Mideast nations against taking new military action in Iraq that might heighten sectarian divisions. That call came too late.
It has been widely reported that Iran has allocated thousands of troops for Iraq to bolster the Shiite Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Baghdad, and safeguard the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala against the oncoming Sunni enemy.
However, DEBKA Weekly reveals exclusively that the Iranian leadership has different plans up its sleeve.
According to our military and Iranian informants, Tehran’s overriding concern amidst the chaos in Iraq is securing its overland route to Syria and access to the Mediterranean (to see full size map click HERE).
This passageway providing Iran with a direct land bridge to its Lebanese ally, Hizballah, has spurred its all-out effort to prop up the embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad with fighting strength and weapons.
Its disruption would seriously jeopardize the strategic gains the Islamic Revolution has made in 34 years.
The land link between Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah in Beirut is the buttress of the Iran-Syria-Beirut bloc.
Even more fundamentally, it hoists the “Shiite Crescent” to pre-eminence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, across a region stretching from Bahrain through Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
It is also the physical manifestation of Islamic Iran’s strategy of exporting its revolutionary ideology to allies as the counterweight to majority Sunni power in the Middle East.
Gen. Soleimani must find a way to keep ISIS from Haditha dam
If the road to Damascus is closed, the crescent may well break up (see map).
The lightning advances made in the last two weeks by the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in northern, western and eastern Iraq, pose a major threat to that road.
Iraq’s Shiite centers are concentrated south of Baghdad in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and the oil port of Basra. To reach Syria, Tehran’s land route must weave through Sunni-overrun regions or the Kurdish areas of Iraq (see map).
Even if Prime Minister al-Maliki manages to hang onto Baghdad against a potential ISIS offensive, the capital will be beleaguered and he will not command enough military force to give Iran safe passage.
Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigades and senior strategist of Iranian military intervention in Syria, was in Baghdad this week to coordinate strategy. He will be shuttling to the Iraqi capital twice a week for three tasks:
1. He will advise Iraqi commanders how best to counter the ISIS surge towards Baghdad and, more germane to Iranian interests, their advance on the Haditha Dam and Lake Qadisiyah.
The earth-filled Qadisiya Dam on the Euphrates River - 9 km wide and 57 meter high - is Iraq’s second largest source of hydroelectric power, second only to the Mosul Dam.
Iran sees ISIS as on a grab for resources rather than Baghdad
Iran is focusing on its land routes and the Haditha Dam in consideration of the military and strategic aspects of the Iraq crisis - in sharp contrast to the American approach. In Baghdad and Irbil this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry attempted the impossible when he struggled for an Iraqi political solution to the conflict.
Tehran’s reading of Iraq is different: They figure that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS are not interested in controlling Baghdad itself. They have their eye on the country’s resources, its oil, water, and transportation hubs – the same strategy ISIS adopted in Syria.
And if they can’t have it all, then the group will settle for partial control.
Just three months ago, on April 15, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources warned that Al Qaeda had undertaken to divert the Euphrates River from its course, disrupting the water supply to Baghdad, the Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, and the surrounding agricultural lands.
Washington has finally taken notice of this water grab. If ISIS and the Sunnis add to Baiji and its oil refineries the Haditha Dam, they will control a majority of Iraq’s water, oil and other fuel supplies.
The Iranian leadership will do all it can to stymie ISIS, as their control of these resources would truly close the corridor to Syria.
Fashioning a Shiite people’s army
2. The Iranians can’t rely on their natural allies, neither the majority Shiite Iraqi Army built and trained by the Americans, nor the local Shiite militias such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. They’ve instructed Soleimani to assemble a popular Shiite force of 50,000-70,000 without delay. If he succeeds, Soleimani will be repeating his Syrian feat in Iran and the country will have built three Middle East armies: Hizballah, the Syrian people’s army (Alawites) and the Iraqi people’s army (Shites).
The Shiite force will be responsible for safeguarding the Shiite Crescent.
3. Iran’s mission to rescue Assad has dragged into its fourth year. Tehran does not expect its task in Iraq to be any shorter or easier. Syria costs Iran some $6 billion a year, and Iran fully expects Iraq to come at a similar price.
ISIS can fund its war with Syria with pirated Iraqi oil. But Iran will have to dig deep into its pockets or find a way from Iraqi oil to bankroll the cost of defending the Green Crescent.
As the world’s major powers debate the finer points of Iran’s weapons program, one crucial aspect of the nuclear equation has been overlooked: the Islamic Republic’s close ties with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.
The two countries have long had a fruitful partnership: Iran supplies North Korea with 80 percent of its annual oil consumption – 7 to 8 million barrels -- free of charge. Iran also pays China an unknown sum to provide North Korea with much-needed wheat and other basic foodstuffs.
In return for this oil and cash, North Korea scratches Iran’s back with the cooperation it needs in three essential fields:.
1. Nuclear development. Iran and North Korean maintain special missions in each other’s capitals. The Iranian mission is invited to attend all stages of North Korea’s nuclear development, including enrichment processes and nuclear tests. Both missions are concerned to ascertain that their collaboration in nuclear and military affairs complies fully with their masters’ wishes.
2. Ballistic missiles. Iran’s ballistic missiles are built around North Korean missile technology. US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Israel, have all brought their concerns about the transfers of this lethal technology transfer before Beijing and Moscow, hoping China and Russia would bring one at least of their allies to heel and terminate their illicit trade – to no avail. China and Russia flatly rejected all appeals and, more than once, made the US pay in political, economic and, occasionally, military coin, for complaining.
Early Iran-North Korean nuclear exchanges were discovered
3. Facilities for nuclear tests. North Korea and Iran have offered each other sites and technology for conducting nuclear tests, as well as trials for missiles and advanced weapons systems. But the 6,400 km distance between them has proved to be an insuperable obstacle to their efficient interaction, because communications across this vast distance would be highly vulnerable to alien intelligence interception, without being detected by either of the partners.
The seeds of the Pyongyang-Tehran partnership were sown in 1998, when the reputedly moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s additional protocol allowing IAEA inspectors to conduct spot inspections.
One year previous, Iran agreed to a two-year suspension of uranium enrichment. At the same time, Khatami gave the Revolutionary Guards the go-ahead to reach out to North Korea and scout out new testing grounds.
And so began a decades long cat-and-mouse game with the US and Israel, who began to closely monitor flights and ships shuttling between Iran and North Korea.
Those efforts bore some fruit: in April 2006, the US Navy intercepted a North Korean ship in the Pacific Ocean carrying radioactive materials that could have been used in the service of a nuclear bomb. In August 2008, the US Navy stopped a ship in the Indian Ocean heading in the opposite direction. Hailing from Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf, the vessel was loaded with nuclear equipment for inspection and upgrades by North Korean experts.
And in May 2012, following a special request from Obama, Malaysia intercepted a North Korean plane on a US intelligence tip that it was carting nuclear equipment to Iran. The Malaysians maintained the plane landed for refueling and the forbidden cargo was found during a routine inspection, while Iran and North Korea stayed mum on the incident.
Israel takes out Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor in Syria
But the grand slam of rigorous surveillance came several years before, in 2007, when Israeli intelligence offered Washington detailed information on ships ferrying components for a plutonium reactor from North Korea to Iran. Iran, Syria and North Korea were using these parts to clandestinely build the Al-Kibar facility in Deir ez-Zor, the culmination of a project for giving Tehran and Pyongyang an implosion-type nuclear weapon using plutonium-239.
An Israeli Air Force strike took out the reactor in September 2007.
Since his election in 2013, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been talking up nuclear negotiations as the way to get rid of the international sanctions weighing down heavily on the Iranian economy. But in parallel, prompted by Israeli intelligence’s discovery of a clandestine trigger test at the military complex of Parchin, the Iranians have been thinking of shifting their nuclear weapons program over to North Korean soil to elude detection.
Iran has so far rebuffed all kinds of pressure to give nuclear inspectors access to the suspect site in Parchin, claiming it is a military base and Tehran is not bound by its agreements with the IAEA to provide such access.
But with the P5+1 talks progressing, albeit slowly, the Revolutionary Guards are turning on the heat for a nuclear explosive trigger device to be tested in North Korea – not just for its reliability, but also to see if it works for a very small nuke contained in the warhead of an Iranian missiles.
Khamenei vetoes transfer of nuclear trigger test to North Korea
Although under heavy Revolutionary Guards pressure to permit this test to be transferred to North Korea, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pushed back three months ago with an order to ditch the plan.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report he had discovered that US and Israel intelligence satellites and drones were able to detect radioactive material in the cargo holds of planes and ships.
It was also feared that the CIA and Israel had planted highly competent networks of saboteurs at Iran’s ports able to prevent the equipment for testing in Korea ever making it out to sea.
Khamenei calculated that a North Korean test was simply not worth the risk. If a suspicious cargo were to be discovered aboard an Iranian ship or plane, this time the Americans could no longer look away and shrug. Israel would force them to put the new evidence before the IAEA board and thence inevitably before the UN Security Council.
There is no guarantee that the supreme leader won’t change course again. And so the X Factor of Iran’s nuclear program, North Korean input, must be taken into account in the bargaining in Vienna between the six powers and Iran, before they settle on a comprehensive accord.
Representatives to the talks on Iran’s nuclear program said last week that the final version of a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was finally being drafted. But DEBKA Weekly’s sources caution that the powers are still far from inking any sort of deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was fairly blunt in his assessment of the situation June 20, when he commented: “We have entered the phase of drafting the agreement, but we can’t say we have agreed on a common thing as we have not reached an understanding over essential subjects.” He stressed that Iran would not relinquish its “rights” in the nuclear realm.
The US and Iran are still at odds about major components of the nuclear program, DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington and Jerusalem report. But Washington and Tehran have begun work on a final version of the pact to keep up appearances and the hope of finding the path to compromise in the process.
Still standing in their way are disputes between US and Iran on Iran’s timeline for building a bomb, the Arak heavy water reactor, the number and type of centrifuges for enriching uranium, and the quantities of future uranium enrichment.
1. The negotiators are at odds over how quickly Iran should be allowed to progress from the nuclear threshold to actually building a bomb, if it decides to do so. Our sources report that US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman last week agreed to let Iran keep the technological means for constructing a bomb within a year, including the necessary amount of enriched uranium.
Israel enraged by the generous US timeline
This concession enraged Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who declared it flies in the face of promises given him by three top US officials, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Netanyahu wasted no time in going on the PR offensive.
In a June 22 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the prime minister said he hoped the Obama administration would not ride to a deal with Iran on the back of their newly-shared interest in countering The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
(See other items in this issue for more on the situation in Iraq).
“A good deal,” he said, “is actually what was negotiated by the United States and President Obama in the case of Syria’s chemical weapons. You haven't solved the problem in Syria between Sunnis and Shiites, but you did remove the bulk of the weapons and soon all of the weapons, and the stockpiles.”
But in the case of Iran, what is being discussed by the international community, he said is “you remove most of the sanctions and Iran gets to keep most of the capabilities, most of the stockpiles, most of the ability to manufacture the means to make nuclear weapons. You removed them.”
Netanyahu: “A monumental mistake”
“What is, I think, being discussed in the case of Iran by the international community is that you remove most of the sanctions and Iran gets to keep most of the capabilities, most of the stockpiles, most of the ability to manufacture the means to make nuclear weapons. That's a terrible mistake.
“I hope it doesn't come to pass because I think this would change history. It would be a monumental mistake. In the context of the world at large and the Middle East as it is today, this would be a tragic, tragic outcome.”
Netanyahu’s concerns focus on the stalemate on several points in the talks leading to Western concessions:
2. Iran has rejected a US demand to convert the in-construction plutonium reactor at Arak into a light water plant unable to produce plutonium for bomb fuel. The Iranians did agree to consider restrictions on plutonium production,, but not a complete stoppage.
3. There is still no US-Iran concurrence on the number and types of enriched uranium-producing centrifuges the Iranians will be permitted to operate. The US is set on a 3,000 limit and the use solely of the older IR 1 models, whereas Iran holds firm on up to 20,000 centrifuges including the newest, super-fast enrichment technology.
Iran inflexible on enriched stocks, Fordo and Parchin
4. The US has accepted Iran’s entire stock of low, 3.5-percent grade enriched uranium, but insists on a cap on future production.
Tehran claims it needs much larger quantities to power the chain of nuclear plants projected for construction by Russia on the model of Bushehr. On June 24, the Islamic Republic announced it expects to sign in late August a transaction with Russia for two 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors, in support of its case that the additional enriched uranium is earmarked for civilian energy, not bombs.
Washington answered that when construction actually began on those reactors, the US would consider expanding the permissible enriched uranium quotas to meet their requirements. But the Iranian delegates insist on enlarged quotas being allowed at once.
5. Tehran has shown no sign of budging on the Fordo underground enrichment plant or accepting US proposals for altering its functions. Fordo must remain in working order, they insist.
6. Iran also rejected a US-International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggestion that international inspectors be allowed to inspect the Parchin military nuclear complex, some 30 kilometers southeast of Tehran, where the Iranians are suspected of conducting nuclear explosive tests.
Despite repeatedly running head first into Iran’s walls, Obama is forging ahead in his attempts to eventually reach an advanced interim deal, failing a comprehensive accord. But given Iranian stubbornness, further progress will likely entail further American concessions and turn Netanyahu’s fears into reality.
(For more on Iran’s position and the fraught domestic debate on the nuclear issue in Iran, see a separate item in this issue).
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this week handed down a secret directive to his country’s energy agency with instructions to prepare for the full resumption of nuclear activity when the P5+1 formally decrees that diplomatic negotiations in Vienna have broken down.
There is still some time for the six powers to eke out a deal with Iran – the talks’ extended deadline is July 20 and a new round of negotiations on a final agreement scheduled to start on July 2. But DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Tehran are not optimistic about a breakthrough, and Iran is carefully plotting its way forward under the radar of its negotiating partners.
The Iranians are looking to Moscow to help expand their nuclear facilities by adding two new reactors to the one at Bushehr.
Nikolai Spassky, Deputy Director General for International Affairs at Russia’s Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom), spent June 24 and 25 in Tehran crafting this deal.
Same number of centrifuges for peaceful energy and bomb
Iran is scrambling to get it in the bag to substantiate its argument in Vienna that to fuel its expanded civilian nuclear program, it must be allowed to retain more than 20,000 operational centrifuges in the first stage and another 50,000 in the second.
The number of centrifuges for producing fuel for eight reactors – including the two prospective Russian plants – just happens to exactly match the number required to enrich uranium up to the 80-90 percent grade for a nuclear bomb.
Our sources say Iran has also been clandestinely coaxing China to extend nuclear cooperation and more trade with an offer to Beijing of a barter deal like its transaction with Russia for $50 billion worth of oil in exchange for goods.
The order from Khamenei’s office to prepare for resumed nuclear operations in full was the cue for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to toe the line: he warned negotiators that if they fail, Iran will revert to the status quo ante, i.e., restart its nuclear program in full.
While preparing to ramp up the centrifuges, Tehran indicated it might agree to an extension of negotiations provided the powers lifted sanctions on bank transfers.
Iran can live with more sanctions – thanks to Rouhani’s repairs
But DEBKA Weekly’s sources report from Tehran that Iran has fortified itself against continued economic sanctions, thanks to President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to repair the economy and build up currency reserves during his first year in office. He has managed to pinch enough pennies to persuade his fellows in government that the country could weather more sanctions without its economy falling apart.
But while presenting a united front to the West, the Iranian leadership is torn by a fierce debate about what – if any – concessions the Islamic Republic should make to the West.
Khamenei, in thrall to hard-line Revolutionary Guards commanders, insists that Iran maintain the capacity to forge on with its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Zarif and his deputy, Abbas Araqchi, are more open to flexibility in the service of a negotiated accord.
Rouhani twice met with Khamenei last month. He urged him to soften his implacable opposition to concessions because the current sanctions are damaging the country’s already declining economy. His words fell on deaf ears.
Frustrated in his entreaties and acting on the advice of his main political mentor, Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani, Rouhani turned to the Iranian media to air his complaints. The pragmatic Rasfanjani is a major power player in the country, as Revolutionary Iran’s fourth president and incumbent chairman of the important Expediency Discernment Council.
Nuclear debate bursts into public domain in Iranian media
So for the first time in the 35-year Islamic revolution, Iran’s television, radio, and newspapers have blossomed with openly-expressed views, analysis and debate on the nuclear issue, although outright mention of the Bomb is carefully avoided. Using cleverly-coded language and unsubtle hints, Iran’s media have for the first time become the public platform for two opposing lines – that of the Khamenei-Revolutionary Guards and that of Rouhani and Rafsajani.
Iran has never witnessed a lively public debate of the kind since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is not without a backlash. Some radical clerics are hinting that Rouhani’s life may be at risk if he carries on his campaign outside the straight and narrow. Ayatollah Shajuni said he ought to be sacked and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi warned him off even contemplating a second term.
Amid this media flurry, our sources say Khamenei rejected a proposal to conduct Iran’s first nuclear test in North Korea. (For more details on this proposal and its rejection, see a separate item in this edition).
The internal debate has not distracted Tehran from its concerns of an ISIS-led Sunni takeover in Iraq.
The Western media was too quick to celebrate reports of US-Iran military cooperation there. Our Tehran sources say nothing has come of the feelers in that direction. This is another cause of concern in Iran for its tattered relationship with the West.
Iranian radicals stir up drive for intervention in Iraq
The mistrust between Iran and the US runs so deep that it should have been clear from the outset that a military alliance was a nonstarter. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari this week declined the offer of Iranian military aid for fear of turning Iraq into an international battleground. The foreign minister, a Kurd, told US Secretary of State John Kerry much the same during his visit to Baghdad.
And so this partnership has been shelved, and along with it any fears that the US would bend to Iran’s will in the nuclear arena for the sake of smooth working relations in Iraq.
(Iran’s dilemmas over intervention in the turbulent affairs of its neighbor are analyzed in a separate article in this issue.) Rouhani opposes military intervention, wary of entangling Iran in a long and costly war. The Revolutionary Guards are busy establishing Shiite guerilla groups, powerfully aided by the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army Shiite militia. But all parties in Tehran, regardless of their politics on other issues, are profoundly troubled by the ISIS surge in Iraq.
Further stirring up the pot was a fatwa issued this week by Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, who decreed that Iran’s Shiites in Iran are duty bound to jihad in Iraq. The government is trying to keep this fatwa under wraps, but the Revolutionary Guards are pushing it into service for a mass recruitment campaign to draw young Iranians into the battle next door.
June 13, 2014 Briefs
June 14, 2014 Briefs
Missing Israeli boys identified along with possible progress in search. Hebron group claims kidnapping
14 June. The names and pictures of the three Israeli boys feared kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists outside Hebron Thursday night, June 12, were released Saturday while the massive search for them was in full momentum. They are Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon; Gil-Ad Sha’ar, 16, from Talmon; and Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad.
No organization has claimed the abduction.
The charred Hyundai Elantra found in the Mt. Hebron village of Dura has been identified as the kidnap car.
June 15, 2014 Briefs
Netanyahu fingers at Hamas for kidnapping
15 June. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the first time laid the blame on Hamas for the kidnapping of three Israeli boys last Thursday and threatened “grave consequences.” The investigation has narrowed down to three local Palestinian clans, Al Jamal, Abu Zaina and Abu Aysha and its ringleaders identified as Salah Arur, from a secret base in Istanbul, Abdul Rahman Raymanat, Mazen Fuka’a and Ibrahim Hamad, who is serving time in a high-security Israeli jail. The man pulling the strings in Hebron and most likely of the operation itself is Yusari al-Jamal.
June 16, 2014 Briefs
Benghazi raid leader is in US custody
17 June. Ahmed Abu Khattala, commander of the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia, who led the 2012 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, has been captured in a secret US Special Operations forces raid in the same Libyan town. The Islamist terrorist, who was the prime mover in the attack which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff, is now in US custody outside Libya.
June 18, 2014 Briefs
Ten IDF brigades grind Hamas down, but no trace of kidnapped boys after six days
18 June. Ten IDF brigades plus special operations units have been mobilized to scour the Hebron district, where the three boys disappeared on June 12, and its population of 300,000 is under curfew. Israel was telling the Palestinians that kidnapping Israelis will never again yield the release of their impirsoned terrorists, only intensify Israel’s determination to crush Hamas’ political, terror, military and financial infrastructures.
June 19, 2014 Briefs
Israeli cyber intelligence draws a blank on teens
19 June Israel's major intelligence agencies have diverted their most sophisticated financial and technological resources to the top-priority task of sweeping the media for a trace of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, now missing for six days. Their failure to pick up any signs of life points away from the direct involvement of a major terrorist organization, and tends more toward an ad-hoc cell with as few as three or four members. Unlike a large organization, a small cell could operate for long periods off the communication grid.
Obama’s “up to 300 military advisers” won’t stop ISIS-Sunni entrenchment in Iraq
19 June. President Obama announced Thursday, June 19, after meeting his national security team, that the US would send up to 300 military advisers to Baghdad and establish joint operations centers in Baghdad and the North. He said that the US would be willing to join inclusive regimes in Syria and Iraq in setting up counterterrorism platforms for regional partners to fight terrorists. debkafile: The level of US military assistance offered by Obama will not deter the ISIS and its Sunni allies from further advances in Iraq.
June 20, 2014 Briefs
June 21, 2014 Briefs
Netanyahu to Obama: IDF on the Jordan is sole security guarantee against ISIS for Israel, Hashemite kingdom and Palestinians
21 June. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu posted notes Friday, June 20, to President Barack Obama, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, debkafile reveals exclusively. They dealt with the rapid advances made by Al Qaeda-related Sunni Islamist fighters westward towards the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian border. Discussing the potential threat to the security of Israel, the Palestinians and Kingdom of Jordan just next door, Netanyahu stressed that the only force in region capable of protecting them from ISIS was the IDF and the Israeli fortifications ranged along the Jordan River border.
June 22, 2014 Briefs
Israeli air force strikes nine Syrian targets after Syrian rocket kills Golan boy
22 June. Israel carried out nine strikes against Syrian military targets after midnight Monday, June 23, in retaliation for a Kornet rocket attack which killed a 14-year old Israeli boy, Muhammad Krakarka from the Galilee village of Arraba. Two others were injured including his father, a defense ministry contractor who was working on the Golan border fence near Tel Hazeka. Israel struck back with air strikes and Spike NLOS anti-tank missiles (Tamuz), against Syrian firing positions from its 90th Brigade command center in Quneitra and three battalions.
debkafile: This was also an opportunity to help Syrian rebels break their standoff with Syria forces in the battle for Quneitra.
June 23, 2014 Briefs
Jordanian jets hit first Al Qaeda-Iraq incursion
23 June. Jordanian air strikes hit ISIS armored contingents Monday night, June 23, as they crossed into the kingdom through the Turaibil border crossing, which they seized Saturday. debkafile reports: The Islamist State of Iraq and Levant’s capture of Rutba – also Saturday – signposted Saudi Arabia as another target. The US and Israel are operating advanced intelligence-gathering measures - military satellites, drones and reconnaissance planes - to keep track of the Islamist fighters’ rapid advance.
June 24, 2014 Briefs
June 25, 2014 Briefs
Gaza rockets aim at Kurdish oil route via Israel. More security for Ashkelon and Eilat depots
25 June. The recent increase in Grad rocket fire on Ashkelon and nearby coastal areas is actually intended to hit the town’s oil port and the Trans-Israel oil pipeline linking it to Eilat, military sources tell Debkafile. Islamic Jihad and Salafists in Gaza, working with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in Sinai, aim to sabotage the new independent Kurdish oil route and ensure that Iran and ISIS retain control of regional oil. With the first oil shipments coming through the Israeli pipes, Israel will become a major conduit for Kurdish oil and one of the players in the Iraqi war.
Oil industry insiders believe that Irbil pays Turkey and Israel a dollar each for every barrel that passes through their territory.
June 26, 2014 Briefs
Iran, Saudis send arms to Iraq as US advisers arrive
26 June. When the first of the 300 military advisers President Barack Obama promised the Iraqi government arrived in Baghdad Wednesday, June 25, Iranian and Saudi Arabian arms shipments were already in full flow to opposing sides in embattled Iraq, debkafile reports. Six countries are now involved in the Iraqi battle arena. Iranian command centers in Damascus and Baghdad are running Syrian and Iraqi military operations against ISIS in sync. A first result: The Syrian air force bombed the Iraqi H-2 airbase to prevent more Saudi air landings with arms for Sunni fighters.
King Abdullah calls up Saudi armed forces
26 June. Thursday, June 26, the day before US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in Riyadh, King Abdullah summoned a National Security Council meeting “upon the current security events in the region, especially in Iraq,” and ordered “all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against terrorist threats.” The Saudi military has been mobilized and placed on high preparedness, after royal reconnaissance flights discovered Iraqi Al Qaeda-linked Sunni fighters (ISIS) heading for the Saudi border to seize the Ar Ar crossing. debkafile: Egyptian commandos are about to fly out to bolster Saudi border defenses.