A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending December 9, 2011
December 3, 2011 Briefs
• At least 28 killed in Syrian clashes Saturday including 7 soldiers.
• Panetta: I am troubled by the Jewish state's growing isolation in the volatile region. He urged Israeli leaders to do more to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel must also "reach out and mend fences" with Turkey, Egypt.
Panetta rules out Israeli attack on Iran, demands talks with Palestinians
3 Dec. US President Barack Obama declared in ringing tones Wednesday, Nov. 30, "We don't compromise when it comes to Israel's security." Three days later, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a lecture to the Brookings Institute outlined America's demands of Israel: To abstain from attacking Iran and rely on the US; to negotiate with the Palestinians; to reach out to Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and to pursue only goals shared with the US – demands almost synonymous with the Israeli opposition's platform.
The content and tone of the defense secretary's lecture were clearly designed to rebut Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak's comments Thursday, Dec. 1, that as a sovereign state, Israel is bound to determine its own security needs and the ultimate responsibility for its national security rests with the government in Jerusalem and the Israeli Defense Forces – no one else.
Iran goes from "Destroy Israel!" to "Destroy all the Jews!"
3 Dec. Amid international and Israeli controversy over whether or not to attack Iran's nuclear program, the rulers of the Islamic Republic have just "upgraded" their strategic objective of wiping Israel off the map and extended it for the first time to the more ambitious one of annihilating the Jews worldwide. A new book and a film were released for nationwide distribution on orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They draw heavily on the infamous Elders of Zion fiction. Under the title "How Israel should be destroyed," this book was awarded the best book prize at the Khorassan book fair when it was first displayed there on Thursday, Dec. 1. It asserts that the persecution of Jews through the ages – including the Nazi Holocaust – was "just punishment for their crimes."
December 4, 2011 Briefs
• Assad's brother Maher, cousin Rami Makhlouf on new Arab League travel ban list issued Sunday after another day of fierce clashes killed 25 people in Syria.
• From Dec. 15, half of air travel between Syria and Arab League states will be cut unless Damascus complies with AL ultimatum.
• Clinton's criticism of Israel's "anti-democratic legislation" and "discrimination against women" draws extensive fire in Jerusalem as "totally exaggerated". She referred to proposed law limiting foreign government donations to NGOs with political agendas.
• Two ministers said fringe minority attempts to exclude women from public occasions will be stopped. They are nowhere near threatening Israel's "living, breathing liberal democracy".
Iran threatens reprisal outside its borders, also Hormuz blockade
4 Dec. Tehran quickly latched onto US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's warning Friday, Dec. 2 that an Israeli strike at Iran's nuclear facilities would cause unpredictable results. Sunday, Iran issued two threats: to hit back beyond its borders for a US reconnaissance drone which its military claimed to have shot down in the east and to force oil prices to soar to $250 a barrel if an embargo is imposed on its oil experts – a hint at a Strait of Hormuz blockade.
This was a reference to another of the US defense secretary's warning Friday that: "…any disruption of the free flow of commerce through the Persian Gulf is a very grave threat to all of us" and a red line for the US."
In their first statement, the Iranians did not say when the incident happened. However, some confusion set in when NATO command in Afghanistan later said a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft flying over western Afghanistan had been missing since late last week and a US official source said there was no proof of the Iranian claim.
December 5, 2011 Briefs
• Former Saudi intel chief Prince Turki says his country will have to consider possession of weapons of mass destruction after failing to persuade Israel and Iran to abandon theirs. In past reports debkafile revealed Saudis in mid development of a nuclear program after obtaining access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
• Arab League's suspension of Syria goes into effect Monday plus sanctions after Assad regime failed to comply with AL ultimatum.
• One of Israel's two chief rabbis, Shlomo Amar said separate gender seating on buses is not required by Jewish law. He said Secretary Clinton's knowledge on the subject was incomplete.
• Syrian activists in Homs say more than 60 bodies taken to city hospitals Monday. Circumstances of their deaths unclear but they follow a spate of kidnappings.
Israel and Syria braced for regional war between mid-Dec and mid-Jan
5 Dec. The actions and words of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in the last 72 hours were road signs to a regional war, including an attack on Iran, in a time frame between mid-December 2011 and mid-January 2012.
debkafile's Middle East sources point to Syria's military exercise in "war conditions," Netanyahu's war speech, Washington's heavy hand on Jerusalem to desist from attacking Iran and the hide-and-seek maneuvers of US and Russian fleets.
Netanyahu also surprised the political scene by announcing his Likud party would hold elections, including primaries, before January 31, 2012 – two years before schedule and a year before Israel's next general election. As head of one of the most stable and long-lived coalition governments ever to have ruled Israel, he is under no pressing domestic need of a demonstration of leadership at this time. It is believed that he is planning to call a snap general election this summer.
December 6, 2011 Briefs
• Washington and Paris to send their ambassadors back to Damascus.
• Firebombs reported thrown by anti-Putin protesters in downtown Moscow after his party took less than 50% of the vote.
• Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and others arrested as violence mounts.
• Russian foreign ministry says US criticism of Sunday's general election is unacceptable.
• Israeli's Home Front Minister on tour of energy reserve at Haifa oil refineries says anti-missile Iron Dome may be installed there.
• Barak touring Golani's 51st Battalion drill on northern border: Assad's time is over and he will fall. His regime in grip of fear and distress.
• At least 48 killed in suicide attack on Shiite shrine in Afghan capital of Kabul.
• French Total joins Dutch Shell in sanctions against Syria.
Iran's Guards on war footing. Drone's capture US, Israel setback
6 Dec. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has placed the Revolutionary Guards on a war footing fearing an attack by the West and Israel on Iran's nuclear sites, the London Telegraph reported Dec. 6. They have redistributed the Shahab missiles to secret sites ready to launch retaliatory strikes; Guards units are scattered to preset defense lines and air force "rapid reaction units" are ready to respond to enemy air attack. By capturing the top-secret US RQ-170 spy drone, Iran gained a military edge before any overt strike begins.
December 7, 2011 Briefs
• US rejects Assad's claim in an American TV interview that not he but "the Syrian government" gives the army orders (to shoot demonstrators). One can't believe a word that man says, according to US officials.
• Clinton meets Syrian opposition leaders in Geneva, urges them to get their act together.
• Former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev calls for new elections as anti-Putin protesters gather in Moscow for third day.
• Turkey imposes 30% customs duty on products exported to Syria, including oil. Ankara also halts the transit via Syria of its exports to Middle East destinations.
• US Senators Carl Levin and John McCain say there are gaps in US knowledge about Israel's thinking and intentions on a strike against Iran.
• Sen. Levin: "I don't think the administration knows what Israel is going to do. I'm not sure Israel knows what Israel is going to do…Keep the bad guys guessing".
• Former CIA Mid-East expert Bruce Riedel: "Israel has a history of military operations from Baghdad to Tunis without advance notice to Washington".
• Israeli air strikes thwart two missile attacks from Gaza, one by Jhad Islami Tuesday night. Palestinians report one dead, two injured.
• Karzai cancels visit to London to deal with rare sectarian terror offensive.
US diplomatic bid to defuse Syrian trigger for regional war
7 Dec. Tuesday, Dec. 6, the US, France and Britain went into concerted action to contain the Syrian crisis before it detonated a regional conflict and deteriorated into civil strife. At the same time, Syria and its neighbors sharply intensified their war preparations with large-scale war drills, fully expecting diplomacy to fail. In Geneva, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the leaders of Syrian opposition groups that the Obama administration had stepped up its pressure on Assad and now referred to his regime as the "Assad gang."
Last week, a number of Western agents infiltrated Syria from Lebanon and Jordan and entered the embattled cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib in the north, Deir al-Zour and Abu Kemal in the east and Daraa in the south. Their mission was to unite the deeply divided opposition factions and local rebels into a coherent front. The Assad regime chose to turn a blind eye.
Wednesday, Dec. 7, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was due in Beirut to set up a base of operations there after coordinating the American step with Israel's government and military leaders in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Washington and Paris returned their ambassadors to Damascus.
December 8, 2011 Briefs
• Three Grads from Gaza land near Beersheba Thursday night after a Qassam missile exploded outside Sdot Hanegev. Israeli populations within range of the Gaza Strip ordered to stay in sheltered areas.
• An Israeli air strike against a car in Gaza City kills two Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades terrorists, injures five Palestinians Thursday. IDF: The pair had plotted attacks inside Israel from the Egyptian border.
• Israeli military and emergency services conduct home front exercises in past 48 hours in the central cities, eastern Negev and Jerusalem.
• Main Syrian pipeline carrying oil to refinery in restive Homs province was blown up Thursday.
• Jerusalem town engineers shuts contentious Mughrabi bridge to Temple Mount as major fire and public hazard.
US's military restraint on spy drone bolsters Israel's Iran hawks
8 Dec. The Obama administration's decision not to send US commando or air units into Iran to retrieve or destroy the secret RQ-170 stealth drone which fell into Iranian hands has strengthened the Israeli faction advocating a strike on Iran's nuclear installations without waiting for the Americans. Iran is left with the drone's secret stealth technology and knowledge of potential strike targets, forcing a revision of any military plans of operation. The US is perceived as withdrawing even from the covert war against a nuclear Iran.
Iran exhibits captured US stealth drone undamaged. US and Israeli intelligence shocked
8 Dec. Iran exhibited the top-secret US stealth drone RQ-170 Sentinel captured on Sunday, Dec. 4. Its almost perfect condition confirmed Tehran's claim that the UAV was downed by a cyber attack, meaning it was not shot down but brought in undamaged by an electronic warfare ambush.
This is a major debacle for the stealth technology the US uses in its warplanes and the drone technology developed by the US and Israel.
The state of the lost UAV refutes the US military contention that the Sentinel's systems malfunctioned. If this had happened, it would have crashed and either been wrecked or damaged. The condition of the RQ-170 intact obliges the US and Israel to make major changes in plans for a potential strike against Iran's nuclear program.