A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 19, 2009
Iran stocks enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb
20 Feb. The White House expressed concern Friday, Feb. 20 about a new International Atomic Energy Agency report that said Iran recently understated how much uranium it had enriched.
The UN's nuclear watchdog reported Thursday Iran has stocked more than one tonne of low enriched uranium hexafluoride at Natanz alone. If enriched, it could produce more than 20 kilos of fissile material – enough for a bomb. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner spoke Friday of a new enrichment plant capable of housing thousands of centrifuges the Iranians had built at a secret site, confirming long-held suspicions of sites hidden from the UN inspectors.
This week Dr Mohammed ElBaradei, the international nuclear agency's director said: “Iran right now is not providing any access, any clarification with regard to the whole area of the possible military dimension.”
The UN report also disclosed a dome Iran had built to conceal its Arak heavy water reactor, which is the core of a program for processing plutonium for military purposes.
All these developments mean that Iran has reached a “breakout capacity” – a stage that would allow it to produce enough fissile material for a bomb. This crosses a “red line” that for years Israel has said it would not accept.
British Muslims suspected of sending Taliban roadside bombs gadgets
21 Feb. British troops told British foreign secretary David Miliband during visit to Helmand, Afghanistan, that British Muslims were smuggling devices which enable Taliban fighters to detonate roadside bombs by remote control to Afghanistan. They were either sent to sympathizers in the region or carried by volunteers who fly to Pakistan and then make their way across the border.
Three Israelis injured in Katyusha rocket attack on Maalot
21 Feb. One rocket fired from Lebanon early Saturday, Feb. 21, hit a building in the West Galilee Arab Christian town of Mailiyeh, a second fell on the Lebanese side of the border. Three civilians were hit by shrapnel, two suffered shock. Hizballah has denied responsibility for the attack.
Israeli artillery returned the fire emanating, according to Lebanese sources, from al-Qulaila and al-Mansouri, near the Lebanese border town of Naqoura.
New pro-Saudi terrorist group suspected of Katyusha attack from Lebanon
21 Feb. The rocket attack of Saturday, Feb. 21 is attributed by debkafile's counter-terror sources to the “Jihad Movement for Gaza” – a new terrorist organization operating out of the Ain Hilwa refugee camp near the South Lebanese town of Sidon. No organization has taken responsibility for the attack.
This ragtag group of Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi terrorists is headed jointly by Jamail Hamad, a Palestinian Sunni Moslem, and Gandi Suhmurani, a Lebanese Shiite, with funding from Saudi intelligence to buy recruits, weapons, explosives and rockets.
Saudi intelligence has created a militia for challenging Hizballah's sole grip on South Lebanon and Iran's inroads on Lebanon. To win recognition and legitimacy, the Jihad Movement for Gaza is trying to seize the war initiative against Israel and show Hizballah up as all talk and no action.
Iran's first nuclear reactor starts “pilot stage” at Bushehr Wednesday
22 Feb. The preliminary phase of Iran's first reactor, built with Russian help at the southern town of Bushehr, was to be marked by a ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 25. Our sources report that Iranian nuclear teams will first activate the 1,000-MW reactor's sections in sequence with the help of advanced Russian computers flown in to monitor their progress. The head of Iran's nuclear commission, Gholamreza Aghazadeh and the head of Russia's state Rosatom Atomic Corporation, Sergey Kiriyenko will be on hand.
Iranian and Western nuclear experts say this stage is a vital step forward to making the Bushehr reactor operational. Barring hitches, it will be ready for full operation by August 2009.
It was hoped in Washington and Jerusalem that after 10 years of Russian delays, the reactor would never be finished – at least until the US and Russian presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met for the first time on April 2, at the G-20 summit.
Feb 23 Briefs
- Israel forces drive back Hamas bombers trying to plant device on Gaza border fence near Kissufim.
- The air force strikes their getaway vehicle.
- This was Hamas' second attempt to blow up border fence this week.
- The Hague court subpoenas four Lebanese generals suspected of abetting 2005 Rafiq Hariri assassination.
- US pledges $100m aid to Jordan, $900m for Gaza's reconstruction.
- Israel's bank interest slashed by 0.25% to all-time low of 0.75%.
- Netanyahu assures trade unions leader he will pursue a policy of dialogue with labor.
- Clinton visits Israel, Palestinian Authority Monday, March 2
- Northern Israeli town Hatzor Haglilit in shutdown over closure of only place of employment, a fruit cannery.
- Olmert places Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin in charge of Gaza arms smuggling from Egypt. He replaces defense ministry's Amos Gilead suspended by prime minister for derogatory leaks on talks with Cairo. Gilead later asked for interview with Olmert to apologize.
- Taliban announces unilateral ceasefire in Pakistan Bajaur tribal region on Afghan border. It follows ceasefire in NW Pakistani Swat declared after Islamic sharia law was imposed.
Livni blocks unity government on pro-Palestinian pretext, Abbas frees Hamas terrorists
23 Feb. debkafile's military sources report that Sunday, Feb. 22, the Palestinian Authority on orders from chairman Mahmoud Abbas began releasing Hamas terrorists who were detained as part of his commitment to join forces with Israel to combat Palestinian terror.
Abbas did not consult Israel before freeing the first batch of 21 prisoners or the second batch of 41.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas began releasing activists of Abbas' Fatah.
Our sources reveal that, under pressure from Washington, prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni agreed to their transfer to the West Bank in the face of warnings from the military against reopening the Gaza-West Bank corridor for the movement of terrorists.
The Palestinian Fatah and Hamas are on a fast-moving secret track towards a power-sharing accord with Hamas pinning Abbas down to giving up his security ties with the United States and Israel.
Nonetheless, Kadima's leader Tzipi Lilvni tried to force Binyamin Netanyahu to endorse her two-state approach to negotiations with the Palestinians. The prime minister-designate countered that the Olmert-Livni talks with Abbas over many months got nowhere, while the perils posed by Iran and its advance on Israel's borders were existential and much more immediate.
Netanyahu and Livni agreed to meet again although prospects for a unity government have receded.
Ahmadinejad in Djibout extends Iranian foothold to E. Africa
24 Feb. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signed a series of accords with Djibouti president Ismail Omar Guelle Tuesday, Feb. 24, establishing technical and vocational centers in the East African state and supporting development projects. A new protocol opened an Iranian credit line for Djibouti, whose president commended the cooperation between two nations belonging to the “great Islamic Ummah.”
debkafile: Tehran continues its expansionist drive beyond the Middle East to the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Eritrea.
Feb. 24 Briefs
- North Korea prepares to launch a satellite from its NE coast.
- Five US soldiers, an Iraqi policeman, two interpreters fatally shot in separate incidents in Iraq Tuesday in the Mosul region.
- Monday, three US soldiers killed in Diyala north of Baghdad
Netanyahu weighs Nathan Sharansky for foreign minister
24 Feb. After Labor and Kadima leader Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni refused to join his wall-to-wall government, Israel's designated prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu launched negotiations for a centrist government coalition supported by a parliamentary majority of 65 members of the right-of-center and religious parties. Three or four ministers will be drawn from outside political parties: Nathan Sharansky is Netanyahu's choice for the foreign ministry.
Sharansky, a respected world figure whom the Soviet government sentenced to hard labor as a human rights activist and founder of the Jewish Refusenik movement in Moscow, was released in East Germany in 1986 and settled in Israel. He served in various cabinet posts until 2006. Sharanksy has won several bipartisan US honors.
The Likud leader is still in the early stages of lining up his cabinet.
A new Israel killer drone can take out S-300 anti-air missile acquired by Iran
25 Feb. The Israeli air industries first unveiled its new Harop “loiter drone” for taking out ground-to-air missiles before they enter attack mode at the annual Aero-India 2009 air show in Bangalore.
debkafile's military sources report that while Iran has contracted to buy from Russia five S-300 batteries worth $800 m, classified as a game-changer, to defend its nuclear sites against potential aerial attack, India and Turkey are interested in Israel's Harop killer-drone.
Once it penetrates Iranian airspace, the Harop can silence surface-to-air batteries and open the skies to aerial and missile attack. It can travel 1,000 km to patrol an assigned area until a hostile target is exposed. Its 23-kilo warhead then strikes the target before it is activated. The Russian S-300 missile is one such target. The expendable Harop can sustain a mission of several hours over an assigned area. Operated by electro-optical sensors, the drone can detect weapons systems in inert mode, weapons on the move and radar installations switched off to avoid detection.
Obama avoids naming presidential envoy for Iran
25 Feb. Contrary to widespread speculation, veteran diplomat Dennis Ross has been named special adviser to secretary of state Hillary Clinton for counsel on the broad area between Afghanistan and Egypt, according to Washington officials. President Barack Obama has decided not to appoint a special presidential envoy for Iran, a post which Ross had been expected to fill.
debkafile's Washington sources report that Obama is signaling that for the time being the direct open talks with Tehran promised in his campaign are not about to take off.
Feb 25 briefs:
- Since Israel's Jan. 18 ceasefire Hamas managed to smuggle into Gaza anti-air missiles, quantities of Grad rockets, C-4 explosives for missiles.
- No date for completing Iran's reactor at Bushehr from Russian nuclear chief Kirienko.
- Barak: Time is running out fast, even sanctions will not halt Iran's nuclear progress.
- Iran promises “good nuclear news again ” on April 9 (Day 1 of Jewish Passover).
Netanyahu's three candidates for defense
25 Feb. Sources close to prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu' reported Wednesday night, Feb. 25, that his three candidates for defense are in descending order the incumbent Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, or two former chiefs of staff, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima or Moshe Yaalon of Likud.
The final choice depends on the coalition accords still in the making with other parties.
Damascus may heat up Syrian-Lebanese-Israel borders over Hariri tribunal
26 Feb. Washington and Jerusalem are bracing for a flare-up on the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel as the international tribunal prosecuting Rafiq Hariri's assassins starts sittings next Sunday, March 1.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has engineered a delay by insisting on tight security measures for the court. But Washington has refused to postpone its hearings which Syrian president Bashar Assad sees as a ticking bomb for his regime. He may therefore retaliate.
debkafile's military sources report that Israel's armed forces, the four Syrian divisions arrayed along Lebanese and Israeli borders, the Lebanese army, the United Nations peace force and Hizballah are all in a high state of suspense for trouble.
On the surface, hectic US diplomatic activity presages a thaw in relations with Damascus. But when it comes down to brass tacks, Barack Obama is not letting the Syrian president off the hook on longstanding bones of contention: Damascus' support for terrorist groups, its acquisition of nuclear and nonconventional weaponry, interference in Lebanon, ties with Iran and worsening human rights.