A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 12, 2009

Hamas claims 181 Fatah operatives were war spies for Israel, US intelligence


6 Feb. Hamas' internal publications report that an alleged spy ring of 181 Fatah members passed intelligence to the Israeli enemy during last month's hostilities.

Hamas fighters are said to have executed some of the alleged spies during the fighting and shot and injured others. Our sources report that as soon as the fighting wound down on Jan. 20, Hamas security officers did indeed round up scores of Fatah members.

Hamas names Muhammad Habash, brother of the social affairs minister in the Salam Fayad government in Ramallah, as ringleader of the spy network. He is charged with passing secrets which ended up in Israeli hands to the Ramallah-based Palestinian General Intelligence Service, according to the evidence of documents, correspondence and signals.

Hamas specifically names the Palestinian General Intelligence Service to imply US complicity, since US advisers have been training its members and supervising its operations.

Hamas further charges that the Palestinian and Israeli security services have been collaborating for the past year against Hamas. They moved their center of operations to the Gaza Strip just before the flare-up as part of what Hamas calls the “Abu Mazen conspiracy” to take advantage of the fighting to reinstate his Palestinian Authority in Gaza City. The PA was overthrown there by Hamas in 2007.


Security Briefs Feb. 6


– Two Palestinians missiles explode Friday south of Ashkelon and outside a Shaar Hanegev kibbutz. No one was hurt

– Israel forces killed Palestinian terrorist who pulled a grenade on the Gaza border fence Thursday

– Israel expels 18 activists and crew aboard a captured Lebanese aid ship for Gaza

– Olmert's decision to transfer NIS175 ($44m) to Gaza banks was approved by Israeli High Court Friday. Hillary Clinton thanked Israeli PM for the transfer “in support of moderates”


Cyprus will not release banned Iranian arms shipment destined for Hamas


7 Feb. Cypriot divers armed with sensors and infrared gear began exploring the Cypriot-flagged Iranian arms ship docked at Limassol on orders from the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, debkafile's military sources report.The Cypriot official said sending the shipment back is not an “available option.” This would be the first time an Iranian arms ship has been detained and its freight confiscated.

US and British marine experts have joined the search of the vessel.

Friday night, the UN sanctions committee concluded in a special session in New York that the consignment violated UN Security Council Resolution 1747 banning Iranian exports. It acted on a report from Cyprus that initial searches of the concealed parts of the ship had turned up different types of rockets believed destined for Hamas. Half the 60 containers have been examined.


Security briefs Feb. 7


– Likud's Netanyahu in a last-minute switch taps ex-C-of-S Moshe Ayalon for defense, instead of Ehud Barak.

– Cairo: The cash which a Hamas negotiator tried to smuggle into Gaza through Fatah is fraction of the funds Iran is pumping into Gaza.

The $9m plus 2m euros the Egyptians caught Friday were not confiscated but deposited in an in El Arish bank in his name.

– The UN Gaza spokesman demands that Hamas stop looting aid for population and give back huge quantities of plundered food and blankets.


Suicide bomb car kills 4 US soldiers and interpreter in Mosul Monday


8 Feb. A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives near a U.S. patrol in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday, killing four U.S. soldiers and their interpreter.

The attack was the deadliest against U.S. forces in Iraq this year.


Outgoing Israeli government bargains away military success in Gaza


8 Feb: All too quickly Israel's three war leaders – prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni – forgot the goals they set for the three-week military offensive launched against Hamas on Dec. 27, 2008: That Operation Cast Lead would not halt until security prevailed in southern Israel, that the eight-year Palestinian missile offensive be brought to an end and that Hamas never be allowed to rearm for a fresh assault of terror.

Six weeks later, the Islamists terrorists are reaping the spoils of a war they lost.

Jerusalem is feeding Egyptian mediators with concession after concession to keep Hamas at the negotiating table in Cairo and talking about a long-term truce. Frustrated Israeli commanders warn their victory is being traded to buy undreamed-of gains for Hamas, such as the creeping recognition of the Palestinian Islamist group as the Gaza Strip's legitimate ruling power and acceptance of the enclave's status as a forward Iranian base on Israel's southern border. The deal on the table in Cairo would moreover lead to perpetuating the separation between the pro-Western West Bank and the pro-Iranian Gaza Strip, generating a fixed impediment to any discussion of a potential Palestinian state.

Saturday, Feb. 7, defense minister Barak Hamas granted safe passage to Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahar who flew from Gaza to Cairo and on to Damascus, thereby giving Tehran, from which Hamas-Damascus takes direct orders, the last word on all these transactions.


The attack on Caracas synagogue led by rabbi's police guard


9 Feb. Seven Venezuelan police agents and four civilians have been arrested in connection with an attack on a synagogue that sparked international condemnation, investigators said on Sunday.

President Hugo Chavez, whom Jewish groups accuse of encouraging anti-Semitism, referred to the arrests and said the attack was led by a police officer who had worked closely with the rabbi at the synagogue.

Armed men broke into Venezuela's Tiferet synagogue last month, daubed the walls with slogans like “Jews get out” and destroyed religious objects.


Washington, Moscow at Cross-purposes on Nuclear Iran


10 Feb. While US president Barack Obama told the media early Tuesday, Feb. 10, that the US would pursue direct talks with Iran, an official Russian spokesman said his government would complete Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr within three months.

debkafile's sources report that Obama is planning on the dialogue with Tehran beginning in late June. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied by welcoming talks based on mutual respect provided the changes in Washington were “fundamental and not just tactical.”

The three statements hung over Israel's general election Tuesday, as 5.2 million eligible voters turned out to choose a prime minister capable of military action to halt Iran race toward a nuclear bomb.

Despite the talk in Washington and Moscow of eased strains in their relations, the Kremlin has clearly come down on the side of giving the Iranian leaders a strong hand in their coming dialogue with the Obama administration.”

debkafile's military sources disclose that Russia delivered 82 metric tons of nuclear fuel to power the plant in the second half of January. This is enough both to fuel the manufacture of electricity and plutonium.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said earlier that the Bushehr plant was 94.8% complete. Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said it was due to be operational in the first half of 2009.


Israel elects its 18th Knesset


10 Feb. Thirty-three party lists fought up until the last minute to win 5,278,985 eligible votes on February 10, 2009, although no more than 12 will pass the 2 percent threshold. Blustery weather hit the 9,263 balloting stations up and down the country after weeks of drought.

Four figures dominated the campaign: Binyamin Netanyahu and his opposition Likud, foreign minister Tzipi Livni at the head of Kadima; defense minister Ehud Barak and his Labor party and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Israel Beitenu.

The West Bank was sealed to passage until Tuesday midnight in case of Palestinian terrorist attacks. The police and security services were on high alert. As candidate for prime minister, the president will choose the leader of the party that proves best able to form a government coalition. The candidate is given 42 days to put together an administration.


Netanyahu offers Livni 10 portfolios, may form government without Lieberman


12 Feb. debkafile's political sources report that in preliminary talks Wednesday, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu offered Kadima's Tzipi Livni the pick of 10 top portfolios for joining a government led by him. He has refused to consider rotating the premiership between them.

Although final results of the Feb. 10 general election gave the centrist Kadima a slender lead of one seat (28 in the 120-member Knesset) over Likud's 27, Livni cannot muster a majority because both her potential left-wing allies, Labor and Meretz, took a severe beating in the elections. The country shifted to right awarding Netanyahu the support of a bloc of at least 64. President Shimon Peres must therefore assign him the task of forming a new government some time next week.

Rather than leaning on right-wing support, Netanyahu hopes to coax both Livni and Labor leader Ehud Barak to join his administration although both may opt for crossing over to the opposition. He has the ultra-religious Shas' 11 mandates in his pocket as well as the five seats of Torah Judaism.

If Netanyahu can line up all his ducks, he could hypothetically end up with a comfortable majority and a fairly broad-based administration even without Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Israeli Beitenu and the two smaller nationalist parties. For now, the negotiations are still in their early stages. Ten years ago, Netanyahu's first stint as prime minister was cut short by an early election which he lost to Labor's Barak.


US-Syrian talks may set the scene for Obama's dialogue with Iran


12 Feb. US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, visits Damascus next week. Like his predecessors, the senator will ask Assad if he is prepared to sever his strategic ties with Tehran, withdraw backing for terrorist organizations and halt the passage of terrorists, arms and cash from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon. He will also question the Syrian ruler on his intentions with regard to peace talks with Israel. Senator Kerry will also visit Jerusalem.

Assad is keen on good relations with the Obama administration but not enough to meet those demands.

The US is not giving Assad an easy ride. Washington has expedited steps for convening the special international tribunal appointed for bringing the assassins of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 to trial. Monday, Feb. 9, six steel boxes packed with documents amassed by UN prosecutors investigating the case, were secretly flown to The Hague by a French military plane. This step aims at defeating Assad's long, all-out efforts to obstruct the trial lest it implicate his regime.

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