A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending December 22, 2011
December 16, 2011 Briefs
• President Barack Obama and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak talked for half an hour in Washington Friday
• At least 3 people killed, 170 injured in clashes between Cairo police and Egyptian demonstrators demanding end of military rule
• Serious suspicions that Qaddafi's death was a war crime raised by chief international Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. He briefed Security Council on his query to NTC head about probing crimes by all parties including rebels. Thursday, Putin accused US Special Forces of killing Qaddafi when US drones attacked his column. Pentagon spokesman called the accusation "ludicrous".
• Syrian crisis Friday morning brings US defense secretary Leon Panetta to Ankara, Syrian VP A-Shara to Moscow.
• Barak approved new IDF joint special operations force for multidisciplinary missions far from Israel's borders. Missions will include counter-terror, anti-smuggling, anti-proliferation. The Corps' tasks will extend joint IDF operations into strategic depth.
Syria deploys Russian shore-to-sea missiles on its coast, Scuds on Turkish border
16 Dec. Expanded Russian military support for the Assad regime was underscored by the deployment Friday, Dec. 16, of advanced Moscow-supplied Yakhont (SSN-26) shore-to-sea missiles along Syria's Mediterranean shore to fend off a potential invasion by sea. Last week, Russia airlifted to Syria 3 million face masks against chemical and biological weapons; and the Admiral Kutznetsov strike group was sent on its way to Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus.
The diplomatic flurry around Syria was accentuated by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's arrival in Ankara Friday morning, to find Turkish armed forces on war preparedness, and Syrian Vice President Farouk A-Shara's landing in Moscow for a crisis conference with Russian leaders.
December 17, 2011 Briefs
• At least 40 people killed by Syrian troops Saturday in Deraa, Idlib and Homs, including 3 children. 2 women and 8 army defectors.
• Obama reaffirms unshakeable commitment to Israel's security to Reform Jewish audience.
• Panetta in Tripoli praises courage of Libyan people. Washington annuls anti-Qaddafi sanctions, unlocks frozen funds.
• North Korea agrees to suspend its enriched-uranium nuclear weapons program, according to South Korean news reports. The US grants North Korea up to 240,000 tonnes of food aid.
US exit from Iraq shrinks Israel's options for striking Iran
17 Dec. Tehran offers to slow uranium enrichment in stages in step with the lifting of sanctions. The Obama administration is listening provided Iran ditches Assad. This exchange of messages was carried by Iraqi PM Nouri al Maliki who visited Washington this week. It was raised in President Barack Obama's talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Friday, Dec. 16 when Barak voiced concern that Iran was again buying time and leeway for completing its nuclear weapon program by false messages of conciliation.
From Tehran's standpoint, the American military departure from Iraq has removed a formidable obstacle in Israel's path to an attack on its nuclear installations: the shield of the US Air Force's control of Iraqi skies.
December 18, 2011 Briefs
• An Iraqi delegation holds "positive" talks in Damascus for ending Syrian violence.
• Syria's main opposition group confers in Tunisia.
• Last American troop convoy rolled out of Iraq to Kuwait early Sunday ending war of nearly nine years.
• Former Czech president Vaclav Havel dies aged 75 after long illness.
Erdogan's illness impacts events around Syria and Iran
18 Dec. Extreme concern was quietly voiced Sunday, Dec. 18, by American and European official circles over the state of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's health – and especially its impact on present and impending events in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, including Iran, debkafile's Western intelligence sources report. Those sources say Erdogan is suffering from Rectosigmoid cancer but are not sure if it has reached an advanced stage and spread to the regional lymph nodes. The prolonged treatment he needs is already affecting policy-making and has sparked the first signs of a power struggle within his ruling AKP party.
Thursday night, Dec. 15, Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul led a top military command council meeting in Ankara to review preparations for war on two possible fronts – Syria and Iran, if Tehran decides to come to Bashar Assad's aid.
On Friday, the Turkish prime minister met US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who flew in from Baghdad.
When Turkish journalists asked after his health, Erdogan replied: "I'm fine and I will be better."
December 19, 2011 Briefs
• Number of Syrian dead Monday rocketed past 100.
• Up to 70 Syrian army deserters gunned down by machinegun fire as they fled the military posts in the northwestern province of Idlib Monday. They were trying to join the opposition Free Syrian Army in Turkey.
• Earlier Syria signed an accord to accept an Arab League monitoring mission.
• Egyptian military accuses Tahrir Square demonstrators of plotting to burn down parliament.
• North Korea test-fired short-range missile off east coast this morning shortly after Jim Jong Il's death announced.
• Egyptian Salafist Nour 35% narrows gap with Muslim Brotherhood's 40%.
• Shalit swap deal completed with release of another 550 jailed Palestinians Sunday night. Their families attacked Israeli soldiers with rocks and bottle bombs.
• A Syrian armored unit defects to the opposition at Abu Kemal on the Iraqi border to the east.
North Korea's power struggle and the Mid-East nuclear race
19 Dec. The sudden death of Kim Jong II confronts the world for the first time since the Cold War with a leaderless nuclear power about which it knows almost nothing. The inevitable power struggle, which could be drawn out for years, may generate greater North Korea involvement in the Middle East nuclear race.
North Korea maintains thriving nuclear, military and technological relations with Iran and Syria. Hundreds of technicians and engineers, including nuclear and missile experts, have worked for years on their nuclear and missile programs.
Some Western agencies have recently come to believe that China has a bigger stake in those Middle East countries than realized and much of the military technology transferred by North Korea to Iran is actually of Chinese origin.
December 20, 2011 Briefs
• UAE: Pipeline for oil exporters to bypass Strait of Hormuz is nearly finished. Iran has threatened to close the strait if attacked.
• Syrian president Assad imposes capital punishment on arms suppliers to rebels.
• Egyptian police, soldiers use guns, teargas, batons to clear Cairo's Tahrir Sq Tuesday, fifth day of anti-military demo.
• Hillary Clinton: Systematic degradation of women dishonors revolution.
• South Sudan president Salva Kiir visits Israel, holds talks with President Peres, PM Netanyahu, FM Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak. Netanyahu discussed repatriation of illegal Sudanese work-seekers flooding into Israel.
Panetta: Iran is just months away from a nuke – a red line for US and Israel
20 Dec. "Despite the efforts to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program, they have reached a point where they can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially less," said US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a CBS interview Tuesday, Dec. 20 marking a radical change in US administration policy. "That's a red line for us and that's a red line, obviously, for the Israelis," he said. Instead of warning Israel against striking Iran, he said: "If we have to do it we will deal with it."
A nuclear weapon in Iran is unacceptable, Panetta stressed, adding he has no indication yet that the Iranians have made the decision to go ahead. However, by referring to "a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel" he reflected the growing conviction among Western and Middle East intelligence experts that Iran has fast-tracked its high-grade uranium enrichment in underground facilities.
This has lead to the realization that the only way to stop a Middle East nuclear race is to cut down Iran's nuclear program.
December 21, 2011 Briefs
• Iran reports five of its technicians kidnapped in Syrian town of Homs.
• The situation on Israel's northern border is unstable and we are monitoring events in Syria -Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Eidan Nehushtan.
• Palestinian Fatah and Hamas agree to form a unity government by the end of January.
• In Afghanistan, five Polish troops killed by a roadside bomb.
Top US Gen: Iran could draw Mid East and US into conflict
21 Dec. Hours after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS that Iran could build a nuclear bomb in a year or less, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, issued a warning: "Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East, the Middle East and others into conflict and a renewed arms race. Don't push it."
The loss of the drone is not the end of US efforts, he said, adding: "America is sharing intelligence with Israel."
He was described as quietly leading the ongoing military planning for an attack against Iran's nuclear weapons if the president gives the order to do so. Gen. Dempsey went on to say: "My biggest worry is they (Iran) will miscalculate our resolve.
There is no guarantee that Israel will give the United States warning if it decides to attack Iran, he said. "We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognize their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them."
December 22, 2011 Briefs
• Baghdad death toll climbs to 67 with hundreds injured as 15 bomb explosions rip through the city Thursday.
• The extremist Hamas may finally gain admittance to the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. This was agreed by rivals Fatah and Hamas in Cairo Thursday, clearing the way for a power-sharing deal and Hamas participation in PLO leadership vote.
• French lower house votes for law imposing heavy penalties on deniers of Turkey's Armenian massacre in World War I. Turkey recalls its ambassador from Paris in protest.
• Former Israel chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi gets a bodyguard against potential Hizballah attempt on his life.
• Arab League reps in Damascus to set up observer mission.
• Israel rejects UK-French-German condemnation of 1,000 new housing units Jerusalem and West Bank.
• Foreign Ministry slams them for risking "loss of credibility and relevance" by failure to deal with Mid East massacres and human rights abuse.
Iran starts building a nuclear weapon: US and Israel tighten cooperation
22 Dec. Iran has embarked on "activities related to possible weaponization," said American sources Thursday, Dec. 22, thereby crossing the Obama administration's red line and leaving a short time before Iran goes nuclear. This accounts for the dramatic reversal of the Obama administration's wait-and-see policy on attacking Iran, as articulated this week by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
The US stealth drone RQ-170 downed by Iran on Dec. 4 was sent to find evidence to support this suspicions against Iran. The US and most probably Israel too then turned to other intelligence resources to find out what Iran was up to. They came up with evidence that Iran has begun assembling components of a nuclear bomb or warhead and this was the subject of the conversation between US President Barack Obama and Defense minister Ehud Barak in Maryland on Dec. 16.
debkafile’s sources report a procession of prominent US officials visiting Israel this week to tighten coordination on their next moves. Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of the US’s Third air Force, was one of those visitors. He came to organize the biggest joint military exercise ever held by the US and Israel.
Tuesday, Dec. 20, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s right-hand, arrived together with Robert Einhorn, a State Department special adviser on nonproliferation. The two came to tie up the diplomatic ends of the decisions reached by President Obama and Defense Minister Barak.