A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Aug. 20, 2009

Assad slams the door on Obama and talks with Israel


14 Aug. Syrian president Bashar Assad has not changed his spots. After Washington opened the door wide to reconciliation, Assad has abruptly slammed it shut.

Wednesday, Aug. 12, he announced he was off to Tehran next week to congratulate his good friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his reelection as president and further cement their ties.

He left behind him a trail of dashed hopes in Washington. The Obama administration had made a serious bid to detach Assad from his strategic bonds with Iran and make him the keystone for the president's comprehensive Middle East program. His rejection of US mediation in peace talks with Israel was taken as a death blow for President's Obama's plans for Middle East peacemaking. Still, the Syrian track was not dropped by Washington but by Assad.


Iran's regime and opposition on course for deadly showdown


15 Aug. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his hard-line supporters are planning to put opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi on trial for sedition, after he announced Saturday, Aug. 15, the formation of The Green Path of Hope movement to restore the people's stolen rights. debkafile's Iranian sources report that Ahmadinejad is trying to build a puppet government composed of inexperienced, pliant cronies and officials known for their brutality to usher in a takeover of the regime by the Revolutionary Guards.

The two factions are set for a final showdown. The regime hardliners are bent on smashing the opposition by brute force. Their leaders face trials on charges that carry the death sentence, such as sedition.

Sunday, Aug. 13, a third group of 25 protesters against the disputed presidential election goes on trial before the Revolutionary Court. The first two sessions were blasted as travesties of justice and “show trials.”

Although the president has muscled his way past many obstacles, he has been held back from forming a government by bitter factional strife within the regime, which is reflected in the Majlis, parliament, where the majority refuses to accredit his planned lineup. Many conservatives have turned him down after he fired 14 ministers in humiliating circumstances.

Manouchehr Mottaki may be dropped as Foreign Minister as Ahmadinejad and his clique finds him too soft. One candidate for the job is Iran's nuclear negotiator Said Jalili, who is secretary of the National Security Council.


Japan: Secret Syrian-Iranian-NKorean missile-test fails, kills 20 Syrians


15 Aug. Japanese intelligence have learned that in late May, Iran, Syria and North Korea secretly test-launched in Syria a new short-range ballistic missile developed jointly by Pyongyang, Tehran and Damascus as a substitute for the outdated Scuds still in use in their armed forces, debkafile's military sources report. The test was carried out at Syria's southeastern missile-testing site at Jebel Druze – with disastrous results.

One of the missiles strayed 350-400 kilometers west of its projected course, indicating a problem with its guidance system. It exploded in the center of the small town of Manbij north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, killing at least 20 people, injuring 60 and badly damaging the market town. Syrian military authorities closed the area around the stricken town, attributing the disaster to a gas explosion.

The second missile exploded in mid-course in the South 200 kilometers from its launching site.


Armed clashes between Hamas and al Qaeda in Rafah leave 23 dead, 120 injured


15 Aug. Six Hamas combatants including a senior commander and two al Qaeda cell leaders were among the 23 killed in gun battles between Hamas forces and hundreds of members of the al Qaeda offshoot Jund Ansar Allah in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah Friday Aug. 14. Another 120 were injured.

debkafile's military sources report that Hamas special units fired mortars and heavy machine guns into the Ibn Thaymas mosque after the Jund leader, Abdullah al Latif Mussa proclaimed the enclave an al Qaeda emirate.

After storming the mosque, Hamas forces blew up the Jund leader's four-storey home with all its occupants. Mussa and a second al Qaeda cell leader known as “the Syrian” were reported killed.

Our counter-terror sources report that in recent months terrorist groups identified with al Qaeda are spreading out through the southern Gaza Strip, establishing their influence with plentiful cash, weapons and explosives. They accuse Hamas of failing to establish Islamic law in the enclave.


August 17 Briefs


·        Resettling Homesh in N. West Bank worth considering, said Yaalon, one of four ministers who toured Samariya outposts Monday. Also: Israel's withdrawal from Gaza boosted jihadist Islam presence.

·        At least 18 killed, 60 injured, in powerful suicide bomb attack at police station in Nazran, capital of Russian republic of Ingushetia.

·        Israeli forces dismantle hilltop observation post opposite Kfarchouba on Lebanese border. Hizballah disputes Israel's presence in enclave and tried to seize post on July 17.

·        Egyptian policeman is injured on Israeli side of border. The Israeli force opened fire when they hailed him and he cocked his gun.

·        Iran releases on bail French teacher detained as suspect in demonstrations.


Ailing Mubarak bids for Washington's backing for his son as successor


17 Aug. According to debkafile's Washington and intelligence sources, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's trip to Washington this week, his first in four years, was primarily a farewell visit and a bid to assure his son Gemal Mubarak's smooth accession to the presidency.

His arrival was greeted by news comments such as: When Egypt's leader meets…with President Obama, US officials may find themselves caught up in the Egypt's No. 1 guessing game: How much longer can Hosni Mubarak go on?

At the G8 summit in the first week of July he was described as looking “weakened and pale.” He was photographed being helped up the stairs.

A western source in Cairo expects the transition from Mubarak senior to his son to take months. The next presidential election would normally take place in 2011 but Hosni's state of health could force the vote to be brought forward to next year with Gemal running as the ruling NDP's candidate.


Mubarak urges Obama to back an overall Israel-Palestinian peace settlement – in stages


18 Aug. After his White House talks with US president Barack Obama Tuesday, Aug. 18, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak spoke at length about the need for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace ' not temporary solutions.” However, in their closed discussions, the Egyptian leader urged Obama to put the conflict on a back burner for now and focus on the far more urgent issue of Iran's advance toward a nuclear weapon.

The US president listened but held off his answer until the Middle East policy review he has ordered is concluded. There were indications that Mubarak persuaded Obama not to insist on a total freeze on settlement construction on the West Bank. Obama said he saw encouraging signs of a softening of Israel's resistance to his call for a freeze. “There has been movement in the right direction,” he said. “All parties have to take steps to restart serious negotiations,” he said, “including Palestinian efforts to end the incitement of violence against Israel.”

Our sources noted that the US president did not mention Jerusalem in the context of a settlement moratorium.

Mubarak also advised Obama to trust in Netanyahu's good intentions. “I trust him,” said the Egyptian president, “after he pledged to me that his government would be a government of peace.”

debkafile's Washington sources report that it is extremely rare to hear any Arab ruler praise an Israeli leader – certainly in such warm terms.


Mubarak: Peace process must not get hung up on settlement issue


18 Aug. “Concentrate instead on an overall peace deal,” said Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president in a PBS interview Monday night, Aug 17, before meeting US president Barack Obama Tuesday. “Instead of saying stop more settlements, and we heard this many times, now for over 10 years and (they) never come to a stop, what I can say is that we have to consider the whole issue holistically, to negotiate on a final resolution.”

Mubarak said Egypt would not be part of the US “defense umbrella” referred to last month by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton as a response to a nuclear-armed Iran, as it would not allow foreign troops or experts on its land. Additionally, such an umbrella would imply tacit recognition of a regional nuclear power, which he said Cairo was opposed to, whether it was Iran or Israel.


August 19 Briefs


·        Saudis arrest 44 al Qaeda suspects, including one foreigner – state TV.

·        Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Iran on Wednesday to congratulate his counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his re-election.

·        Six US troops killed in southern Afghanistan and six poll workers murdered across the country in line with Taliban's vow to disrupt Thursday election.

·        Knesset holds special session on rising street violence after a dozen murders in two weeks. Reports delivered by justice minister Neeman, internal security minister Aharonovich, police commissioner Cohen.

·        Blackout clamped down on Taliban shooting attack on central Kabul day before Afghanistan's poll.

·        Peres: Medvedev promised to think about our request not to sell Iran anti-air S-300 missiles.

·        Explosive device blows up on Gaza-Israel border fence near Nahal Oz. No one hurt.


Six blasts leave 95 dead, 536 wounded, huge destruction at points across Baghdad


19 Aug. Several large truck bombs detonated across Baghdad and around its heavily fortified Green Zone, Wednesday, Aug. 19, hitting the Iraqi foreign and finance ministries, followed by a mortar barrage.

Buildings were destroyed and windows shattered at the Iraqi parliament and the diplomatic complex inside the Green Zone in the bloodiest terror attacks in Iraq this year.

In one blast, a massive truck bomb close to a checkpoint leading into the Green Zone blew glass shards from shattered windows through busy offices killing and wounding scores of people and posting a major challenge to Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security forces.

Al Qaeda's responsibility for the attack is strongly indicated also by its occurrence on the anniversary of the suicide bombing which killed 22 people at UN headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003 and forced the world organization to shut its Iraq operational center down.

The recent upsurge of attacks in Iraq since US forces exited main urban areas in June has focused mainly on poor Shiite neighborhoods. This one struck at the heart of Iraqi government.


Obama and Netanyahu close to accord on settlement construction – Jerusalem excluded


20 Aug. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Yitzhak Molcho, special adviser to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are tying up the last ends of an understanding on West Bank settlement construction between the Obama administration and Netanyahu.

The understanding rests on these principles:

Israel will maintain a freeze on new settlement construction on the West Bank, barring several hundred projects appearing on a list approved by both sides and excluding all parts of Jerusalem.

Mitchell, who was the live wire in achieving the understanding which will be clinched when he meets Netanyahu in London on Aug. 26, convinced Obama that a showdown with the Israeli prime minister would not be advantageous.

This near-understanding has caused unrest among some Israeli ministers especially on the right wing of government. It prompted deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon to meet the Jewish Leadership Division, the most nationalist faction of the ruling Likud party Wednesday, Aug. 19. He was applauded when he described the opposition Peace Now group and other “Israeli elites” as “viruses” because of their antagonism to settlements and settlers.

“I hold to the position that Jews are at liberty to settle and build in every part of the Land of Israel,” he stated with emphasis, for which he was reprimanded by the prime minister's office.

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