A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending April 2, 2009

Royal Saudi sensation: King Abdullah names Sudairi Prince Nayef second in line


28 March: Riyadh is in uproar over the Saudi King Abdullah's snap decision to promote the interior minister Prince Nayef, 76, his half-brother from the rival Sudairi clan, to second deputy prime minister. This places him in direct line to the throne as the incumbent Crown Prince defense minister Prince Sultan lies on his deathbed. The official appointment took immediate effect.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly has been reporting for months that Sultan was dying of small intestine cancer. While establishing himself as a modernizing reformer in the hidebound oil kingdom, Abdullah held back four years from slotting the conservative Sudairi Prince after Sultan in the line of succession. He had hoped to break the pattern whereby the throne was handed around among the many sons of the dynasty's founder Ibn Saud and start introducing grandsons to the order of succession. His preferred candidate was foreign minister Saud al Faisal. This plan fell through when the prince developed Parkinson's disease.

Nayef is expected to be the most conservative and radical of any Saudi monarch to date. One of the few Saudi princes never to have visited Washington, the Obama administration might find his friendships with Islamic radical institutions useful to open Taliban doors for ending the Afghanistan conflict. For Israel, Nayef is bad news. He is likely to give more backing than the Abdullah did to Hamas and other extremist Palestinian elements.


Military police probe clears Israeli soldiers of alleged violations in Gaza


30 March: Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen Avichai Mandelblit decided March 30 to close the Military Police probe into allegations that Israeli soldiers committed human rights violations and abuses during Operation Cast Lead the IDF against Hamas last January. The advocate general, who launched an investigation in response to glaring headlines in Israeli and world media, discovered that the charges rested purely on hearsay and rumor, blown up to serve an agenda rather than based on real evidence.

The rumors were leaked to the media by the head of the Rabin Pre-military Academy Danny Zamir and aired at an academy conference. Both sources later admitted they had not witnessed any of the incidents they described.

Brig.-Gen Mandelblit said that while the IDF must constantly examine its moral standards, the damage caused the Israeli military's reputation and morale by false allegations was inestimable. It could have been avoided had the complaints been verified before publication.


Obama may meet Assad in Istanbul to dramatize outreach to Muslims


30 March: Turkish prime minister Recip Tayyep Edrogan is leaning hard on the White House for US president Barack Obama to meet Syrian president Bashar Assad. Edrogan says this will dramatize the address Obama plans to deliver from Istanbul on April 7 extending America's hand of peace to Muslims worldwide. It will also telegraph a strong message to the new Netanyah-Barak-Lieberman government that the Obama administration wants Israel to go back to the Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria begun by Ehud Olmert – this time with active US involvement. The White House has neither accepted nor rejected the Turkish premier's initiative, but time for a negative is shrinking.

To lend wings to Obama's outreach to the Muslims, White House circles Monday, March 30, leaked word that Washington helped persuade Israel to cut short its anti-Hamas operation in Gaza in January, to spare the Palestinian fundamentalists from total defeat and lend Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world.


Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claims raid on Pakistan police academy in Lahore


30 March: The Pakistan Taliban leader claimed the brazen attack on the police academy at Lahore and threatened a terrorist attack in Washingdon.

It was part of a series launched in Mumbai in Nov. 2008 which demonstrated the Islamist terrorists' new modus operandi. Using US Seal-type special assault teams, they go for a second front – urban areas well back from the primary battlefields where Pakistani and US-led NATO troops are engaging Taliban and al Qaeda forces. The Lahore attack Monday from five directions resembled the commando-style raid in the same city of three weeks ago, when 14 gunmen, most wearing backpacks containing weapons and explosives, attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team, killing 8 Pakistani police officers.

Al Qaeda, Taliban and other jihadi organizations such as Lashkar e-Taibe, pressed into the current terrorist campaign in South Asia, are moving forward in full cry, steps ahead of the forces dedicated to fighting them.


Iranian nuke biggest peril for Israel and mankind


31 March: Introducing Israel's 32nd government to the Knesset, Tuesday, March 31, Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel faced two major perils on two fronts – the economy and security. Solving both is up to Israel.

Israel seeks peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world, but continues to be threatened by the forces of Islamic extremists.

Netanyahu turned to the Palestinian Authority saying: “If it is really peace that you seek – we can achieve it. We will promote [negotiations] on three tracks, financial, security and diplomatic…”

He added: “We will support a Palestinian mechanism which fights terror. We have no desire to rule over another people. The final accord will allow the Palestinians to rule themselves, barring elements which menace Israel.”

Netanyahu presented his jumbo lineup of 30 cabinet posts including 6 without portfolio and 9 deputy ministers drawn from five parties, Likud, Israel Beitenu, Labor, Shas, Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism, which was endorsed by a majority of 69 to 45 against. A group of five Labor rebels and some ex-ministers of Kadima were absent from the vote.


Netanyahu builds professionals into his new inner military-security cabinet


31 March: Preparing to take over as Israel's 32nd prime minister this week, Binyamin Netanyahy bound 7-8 ministers and senior officials into a powerful new body to assist him in top-level decision-making on military, diplomatic, security and intelligence policy-making and actions. Their input will guide Netanyahu's steps on such critical matters as whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities or the tenor of his government's relations with the Obama administration.

Far from being yes-men, they are all individualists on the security issues in their fields of expertise. The team consists of ex-chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, minister for strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, foreign affairs, Dan Meridor, intelligence and nuclear energy, and Benny Begin, minister without portfolio.

Dr. Uzi Arad, who is in line as Netanyahu's national security adviser, and the heads of Israel's three intelligence arms, Mosad, Shin Bet and AMAN will be attached to the team.


Two Palestinians killed planting a bomb


31 March: Two heavily armed Palestinians were killed, two injured, by an Israeli assault helicopter in the act of planting an large explosive device on the Gaza-Israel border fence near Kissufim.

An Israeli soldier was slightly injured in the engagement.


New Israeli FM disavows Annapolis process, US official reaffirms commitment to two-state solution


01 April: A senior US official accompanying president Barack Obama to the G20 summit in London reaffirmed Washington's commitment to two states Wednesday April 1, in response to a statement from Avigdor Lieberman on his first day as foreign minister. Lieberman stressed that the incoming Netanyahu government was not bound by commitments made at the US-sponsored 2007 Annapolis conference for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and committed only to the Middle East road map.

President Obama called Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday with congratulations on his first day in office and reaffirmed the steadfast US commitment to Israel and its security. In their half-hour conversation, Obama said he looked forward to working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to address issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Arab-Israeli peace.

In his call to the new Israeli prime minister, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin stressed his desire to strengthen ties with Israel and the importance of advancing peace and stability in the Middle East. He invited Netanyahu to visit Moscow.

In an interview to The Atlantic Netanyahu said: Diplomacy and sanctions might work for Iran's nuclear program, but if they don't Israel might be forced to resort to a military strike on the Islamic republic's nuclear installations.


Three Syrian officers suspected in Hariri murder go missing


01 April: Monday, March 30, the international Court prosecuting the four-year old assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, asked Lebanon to transfer its authority in the case, signaling the start of proceedings.

debkafile's intelligence sources disclose that, two weeks before the request was received, three Syrian generals suspected of a role in the murder disappeared from their homes. They went missing shortly after Syrian president Bashar Assad received assurances from UN officials close to the tribunal and French president Nicolas Sarkozy's advisers that the tribunal had decided not to subpoena Assad in person, or his younger brother Maher Assad and brother-in-law Gen. Asif Shawqat, as suspects in the case. But they would demand the extradition of the three missing generals.

Assad has apparently hidden them away, first, too make sure they do not escape and solicit the tribunal's protection as prosecution witnesses able to incriminate the president and the entire Assad clan; second, to have them available to throw them to the wolves and save their own hides.

The international tribunal's next step will be to subpoena four Lebanese generals, incarcerated for four years in Beirut as suspects in the crime at the behest of Damascus. They too are in a position to incriminate figures at the top of the Syrian regime.


Netanyahu schedules April trips to Cairo, Amman, Washington, Moscow


02 March: Binyamin Netanyahu plans to launch his second term as prime minister with a flurry of diplomacy. Trips are scheduled to Cairo and Jordan for talks with president Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, followed by a visit to Washington to meet President Barack Obama and to Moscow for talks with prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu's travel plans demonstrate the high priority he assigns to establishing the credibility of his government and leadership in the international community and mending the damage wrought to Israel's image in recent years. He has put this mission ahead even of an urgent overhaul of the economy.

Netanyahu is considering becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. He has been won over by defense minister Ehud Barak's proposition that strategic cooperation with Cairo, pursued discreetly and at the highest levels, is the true linchpin for Israel's Arab relations.


Israeli teenager dies of axe wounds inflicted by Palestinian terrorist


02 March: One or more Palestinian terrorists rampaged around Bat Ayin, in the West Bank Gush Etzion bloc Thursday, April 2, attacking two Israeli boys with an axe. Shlomo Nativ, 16, died of his wounds, the second, aged 7, suffered a serious skull injury. Residents opened fire on the terrorists who managed to get away. Heavy security reinforcements were rushed to the area. They set up roadblocks and surrounded neighboring Arab villages to search for the killer or killers. All the communities in the area were put on terror alert. The attack occurred on the second day of school holiday for the Passover festival.

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