A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending April 1, 2010
March 26, 2010 Briefs
• There were 57 US deaths in Afghanistan in Jan-Feb – double the same period last year.
• Two Qassam missiles fired from Gaza early Saturday.
• At least 42 killed, 65 injured in large-scale terrorist attack in Khalis, north of Baghdad.
• US CENTCOM chief Gen. Petraeus calls Gen. Ashkenazi to deny he said US soldiers' lives were imperiled by Israeli policy. He said comments attributed to him in his testimony to a Senate panel were taken out of context.
• Netanyahu convenes inner cabinet Friday on deepening impasse with Obama administration. He returned from Washington Thursday night.
An Israeli major and sergeant killed in Hamas cross-border attack
26 March: A Hamas cross-border attack on Israeli forces outside Kissufim Friday, March 26, killed an officer, Maj. Eliraz Peretz, Dep. Commander of Golani 12 battalion, from Eli, and 1st Sgt. Ilan Seviatkovsky from Ofrah. The incident began when Palestinian gunmen from Gaza planted explosives on the border fence. When the Golani unit led by Maj. Peretz gave pursuit into the Strip, followed by tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, they were targeted by a waiting terrorist force which opened fire from the southern town of Khan Younes with anti-tank weapons and bombs. The major and Sgt. Siviatsky died in the exchange.
Two Israeli soldiers were also injured in the fighting. Hamas and Jihad Islami both claimed responsibility for the attack.
debkafile reports: Around 15 Qassem missiles have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the last two weeks with border tension persistently rising. Chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi, who visited the troops in the southern region with Passover greetings, warned them to be ready for further incidents.
March 27, 2010 Briefs
• Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak returns home after undergoing surgery at a German hospital.
• Two-thirds of US House representatives sign bipartisan letter supporting Israel to Secretary of State Clinton. The 327 lawmakers demand Obama administration commitment to Israeli security.
New report exposes Gaza's hidden economic boom
27 March: UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon and European Union foreign executive Catherine Ashton were the last foreign visitors to depict the Gaza Strip with great pathos as starving, homeless and hopeless – and all because of the Israeli embargo. A new Egyptian report cited by debkafile exposes the Palestinian territory's hidden economic boom, engendered by the huge "tunnel industry" which fills the markets with luxuries and enriches the Hamas rulers.
More than 1,000 tunnels, some broad enough for loaded trucks, channel a large array of basic and luxury goods to the Palestinian markets and shops of Gaza, with a work force of up to 25,000. The latest hit is the new Gold Market which draws huge crowds of shoppers.
Local UNWRA personnel and Hamas share a vested interested in presenting a distorted picture of profound poverty, a fraudulent picture exposed now by the Egyptian report.
For instance, the oversupply of building materials has in fact depressed the market price of iron per ton from $1066 in 2008 to $533 in March 2010; cement has dropped even more steeply, from just over a thousand dollars then to $240 today, because of an overabundance. The failure to restore the buildings damaged in Israel's operation Cast Lead in 2009 is unrelated to Israel's ineffectual embargo. In fact, Israeli restrictions bring the Hamas rulers a tidy profit from the duty tax they impose on every item "imported" via the tunnels, which keeps them in silk ties but also in power.
Their other main source of income is, unbelievably, the $50 million Israel deposits in shekel notes in Gazan banks every month and which Hamas spends on building more and better tunnels for more high-end goods and weapons, which are then used for attacking Israel – in one of the craziest cycles to be found even in the Middle East.
March 28, 2010 Briefs
• Israeli C-of-Staff Ashkenazi tells Gaza border forces to be on the ready for more incidents. He toured the Golani units which lost two combatants in a Hamas attack Friday.
• NYT: UN inspectors search for two more secret nuclear enrichment sites in Iran.
• Netanyahu: We see Palestinian line continuing to harden, no let-up. We won't give up dialogue with Americans in effort to restart peace talks.
• Israeli Arabs arrested lobbing firebombs at passing cars on Galilee roads.
• President Obama arrives unannounced in Kabul, Afghanistan, to delver speech to US troops, meet Karzai.
• Bank of Israel raises interest rate by one-quarter percent to 1.5%.
• Obama's aide Axelrod: No snub was intended to Netanyahu. This was a working meeting among friends not about formalities. Netanyahu repudiates aides' anti-Obama remarks as not representing his views.
US researchers postulate Israeli tactical nuclear strike on Iran
28 March: Scenarios of a potential Israeli attack on Iran – usually without US assent – abound in Washington in the last 24 hours. They contrast sharply with the impression Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is conveying that he and President Barack Obama were of one mind on Iran when they met last week, but differed on concessions to Palestinian demands for restarting peace talks.
Two CSIS researchers, Anthony Cordesman and American-Jordanian Abdullah Toqan, proposed on March 26 that Israel, lacking a one-off capability for striking Iran, will resort to tactical nuclear weapons. "Ballistic missiles or submarine-launched cruise missiles [such as those with which Israeli Dolphin submarines are armed] could serve for Israeli tactical nuclear strikes without interference from Iranian air defenses," they found.
In their last report in July 2009, the two concluded that Israel would not need to hit scores of targets to cripple Iran's nuclear bomb program: Seven to nine would suffice. This report was widely circulated in Tehran.
The next day, March 27, the New York Times revealed: "… international inspectors and Western intelligence agencies say they suspect that Tehran is preparing to build [two] more sites," six months after its secret enrichment plant was discovered in Qom.
Then, Sunday, March 28, the same daily followed up with a scenario report captioned: "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran" based on a simulation exercise conducted last December. Its main point is that if Israel goes ahead with this attack, using a refueling base set up in the Saudi desert without Saudi knowledge, Washington will essentially tell its leaders they have "made a mess," and instruct them "to sit in a corner while the United States tries to clean things up."
March 29, 2010 Briefs
• A Qassam missile from Gaza exploded in the Eshkol district as families celebrated Seder Monday night.
• Russian FM Lavrov accuses "foreign elements" of a hand in Moscow metro bombing.
• After three days, South Korea finally accuses the North of floating a mine that sank its naval ship with 46 crew members still missing.
• The Passover-Easter alert on Israel's borders net a record 51 attempted infiltrators on Egyptian-Israeli border. West Bank is sealed for holiday season.
• Barak: Palestinians will again pay the price if they try and disturb Israel's equilibrium
Putin: We will destroy those responsible for Moscow Metro blasts
29 March: Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin promised to destroy the attackers responsible for setting off explosions at two Moscow subway stations early Monday, killing at least 39 people and injuring scores. Two female suicide bombers hit the two central Moscow underground rail stations in coordinated attacks during the early Monday rush hour of March 29. The first exploded in the second car of the train at the Lyubyanka station under the Federal Security Services headquarters near the Kremlin, killing 25 people on the train and the platform. Thirty minutes later, the second blast killed 12 at the Kultury Park station near the famous Gorky Park. Two died of their wounds later. The bombers are said to have triggered blasts of 2-3 kilos of explosives strapped to their bodies.
One of the North Caucasian al Qaeda affiliates, powerful among Islamist rebels, is held responsible by Russian security authorities for attack the Moscow, subway system, the second busiest after Tokyo.
March 30, 2010 Briefs
• Thousands of Israeli Arabs rally for Day of the Land Tuesday, some parading Hizballah flags and placards depicting its leader. They heard radical anti-Israel speeches from their Knesset members and were supported by Palestinian sympathizers in the Gaza Strip.
• Pakistan reports its fighter jets killed 26 Taliban in NW tribal Orakzai region Tuesday. Orakzai was the stronghold of Taliban's Hakimullah Mehsud, believed killed by US drone attack January.
Sanctions taboo at G8 as US seeks dialogue with Iran's Guards
30 March: The G8 ministers meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, agreed to leave the door open to dialogue with Iran after they were discreetly informed that the Obama administration had launched a secret bid to engage Iran's radical Revolutionary Guards in nuclear talks, as first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 436 on March 12. The ministers went on to reaffirm the need for appropriate and strong steps against Iran without, however, mentioning sanctions or any other practical action for bring Tehran to heel on its nuclear bomb program.
They avoided antagonizing the Islamic Republic after they learned that US messengers had been sent out to meet IRGC representatives with an advantageous offer, three weeks before US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel blew up into a major crisis over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem.
March 31, 2010 Briefs
• Mullen reports significant Iranian weapons shipments to Kandahar, the coming US target in Afghanistan. He said Iran's influence in Afghanistan is "all too often negative".
• Russian police hunt for two women and a man seen with two female suicide bombers before they hit Moscow subway. They are described as of "Slavic appearance" – in contrast to Chechen Black Widows.
• Israel opens Temple Mount Wednesday to pilgrims, visitors, worshippers of all faiths.
• Obama says he hoped for sanctions this spring, but left the door open to Iran for talks.
• Sarkozy in Washington said time had come for a decision – as he has said for two years.
• Two suicide bombings in S. Russian Dagestan Wednesday kill 12 – mostly policemen.
India in armed drones acquisitions race with Pakistan
31 March: Indian defense ministry circles reveal a huge order of three types of armed unmanned aerial vehicles they have placed with Israel for deployment on the Indian-Pakistan border in readiness for the possible supply of American drones, including armed Predators, for which Pakistan is pushing hard.
New Delhi seeks to counter their potential threat with Israeli Heron MALE, Searcher-II and Harpy killer drones, and is ready for a large transaction running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Our military sources report that the Israeli drones' reconnaissance and targeting features are sought by India for its response should the Americans decide to let Pakistan have drones capable of firing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. New Delhi made its order urgent after learning that Washington may deliver drones to Islamabad much sooner than Indian intelligence had foreseen.
Together with the drones, India also ordered from Israel advanced ground control systems and data terminals for their operation.