A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 19, 2009

Israel's PM Office: No truce deal or opened Gaza crossings until Gilead Shalit released


14 Feb. The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem issued its first ever official announcement on Saturday, Feb. 14, the Jewish Sabbath, registering its exceptionally high importance.

The statement said: “No Gaza crossings will be opened unless Gilead Shalit (the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since his June 2006 abduction) is free.” Israel's position as clarified to Egypt is that deals which fail to end Hamas attacks and release its soldier are unacceptable.

By this statement, prime minister Ehud Olmert blew away the spate of reports declaring the imminence of a long-term truce accord. The PMO added that a decision on this issue Sunday would relate also to the outcome of the general election of Tuesday, Feb. 10.

debkafile's political sources note that Barak's Labor dropped to fourth place in the poll while the three lead parties, Kadima, Likud and Israeli Beitenu, pledged to abjure diplomacy of any kind with terrorists.

The Cairo truce talks ran aground, debkafile's high-placed military sources explain, over Egypt's attempt to blend two conflicting drafts into an accord after presenting one to Israel and negotiating a separate one with Hamas. Egyptian mediator Gen. Omar Suleiman advised both to pretend to accept the other's terms and then go their own way. Olmert's move has had the effect of pulling the rug from under defense minister Barak and his policy of leaving key security issues relating to the Gaza Strip in Egypt's hands.


Saudi intelligence chief travels to Damascus in all-out bid to rescue Gaza ceasefire


15 Feb. The Saudi and Egyptian intelligence chiefs launched a dramatic bid Sunday night, Feb. 15, to maneuver Hamas into accepting Egyptian-Israel terms for an extended ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. In an unannounced visit to Damascus, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the head of Saudi intelligence service, told Syrian president Bashar Assad that Riyadh and Cairo would make up their quarrel with him if he coerced Hamas into accepting a truce. Egyptian intelligence Gen. Omar Suleiman, who led the negotiations with Hamas, flew to Riyadh Sunday night to call on King Abdullah. The two spymasters first prepared the ground with their Syrian colleague Gen. Muhammad Nasif, Assad's special intelligence adviser.


Obama backs Israel unity government headed by Netanyahu


15 Feb. US president Barack Obama has bought Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu's program for attacking the Palestinian issue by first building a strong West Bank economy. For its execution, Washington is in favor of Netanyahu forming a unity government in partnership with Kadima's Tzipi Livni and Labor's Ehud Barak.

Our sources also reveal that the White House decided after due deliberation to put the Palestinian peace issue on a back burner in the first year of the Obama presidency. Its top priorities must now be the economy and Afghanistan-Pakistan. The president's national security adviser Gen. James Jones argued that anyway, the Palestinians are split between two rival administrations and the potential Palestinian state is fragmented between the Gaza enclave backed by Iran and the West Bank which is headed by a weak leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The basic conditions for peace diplomacy are therefore lacking.


Nasrallah hints at Hizballah's access to anti-air missiles


16 Feb. Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah declared Monday, Feb. 16 that his terrorist organization is fully entitled to arm itself with every kind of weapon “including anti-air missiles in its struggle against Israel.” For two years, all his speeches have been delivered by video link – never live.

debkafile reported earlier that sophisticated air defense missile batteries capable of attacking Israeli warplanes and helicopters were poised in depots on the Syrian-Lebanese border for delivery to Hizballah. Nasrallah did not confirm or deny that delivery had taken place. Our sources add that Israel recently warned Syria that the delivery of ground-to-air missiles to Hizballah would cross a red line. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said earlier this month that such weapons “would change the strategic balance and force Israel to act.”


UK police arrest three men charged with planning terrorist offensives overseas


16 Feb. They were part of group of 9 British nationals preparing to join an aid convoy to Gaza. The Lancashire police in northern England acted on input from international agencies such as Interpol.

Six suspects were released without charge.

A spokesman for the North West Counter Terrorism Unit said: “We don't arrest people under the Terrorism Act lightly.”

The three vehicles seized, plastered with pro-Palestinian posters, were heading to London to participate in British MP George Galloway's Gaza aid convoy leaving London on Saturday.

The arrests are part of an ongoing intelligence-led investigation by Lancashire police and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit.



Briefs 17-18 Feb:


  • Hamas steals 7 tons of unexploded Israeli ordnance from Gaza operation stored at UN depots.

  • A peak 20,000 Israelis lost their jobs in January. A total of 260,000 layoffs is expected by the end of 2009 as recession bites.

  • The world tennis community up in arms over Dubai's denial of a visa for Israel's Shahar Peer to play in Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship.

  • The Israeli air force strikes 7 Philadelphi smuggling tunnels and and empty Hamas position in Khan Younes in response to Palestinian mortar fire.

Was the late ex-Iranian a US doctor or bio-weapon scientist?


17 Feb. Iranian media this week offered a glimpse into the alleged double life of an Iranian-born American physician as a secret bio-weapons scientist. They report that Dr. Noah McKay (formerly Nasser Talebzadeh Ordoubadi) died in mysterious circumstance Saturday, Feb. 14 aged 53, vaguely accusing “intelligence perpetrators” of causing his death.

The Iranian media claim the real McKay was not only a pioneer of Mid-Body-Quantum medicine as claimed in his American biography but a leading bio-weapon researcher with notable accomplishments in the research of antidotes to toxic weapons.

debkafiles intelligence sources report the Tehran-born scientist was a person of interest to US intelligence agencies from his arrival in America in 1974. They never accused him of passing his biological weapons researches to Tehran because, according to Iranian sources, they lacked evidence that would stand up in court.

Dr. Noah himself alleged he had undercover FBI agents posing as patients at his clinics in Seattle.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 35 months in prison for health care and mail fraud. The Iranian media stress that the more serious charges of money laundering, funding Middle East terrorists and connections with the Russian mafia in Seattle were “never substantiated, proven or confirmed.”

At the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregan, Talebzadeh told his lawyers that his life was in danger but he survived his sentence.

None but Iranian sources report his death, but even they do not say how and where it happened.


Olmert takes reins of Gaza truce process out of Barak's hands


18 Feb. A special cabinet session Wednesday unanimously endorsed prime minister Ehud Olmert's demand that Gilead Shalit's freedom be a pre-condition for any truce arrangements for Gaza and its crossings. Egypt has been brokering a Gaza truce since Israel's three-week military campaign ended in the Gaza Strip last month. Defense minister Barak had led the Israeli side of the talks without making the release of the Israeli soldier, who was kidnapped on the Israeli side of the Gaza border in 2006, a priority.

Olmert has cut him out of the picture capping his demotion by phoning Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak Monday, Feb. 16, to inform him where matters stood, regardless of Hamas protestations that Shalit and the crossings were unrelated.

Olmert has also co-opted Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to key discussions on Gaza – signaling that he is betting on Netanyahu as next prime minister. Monday, Livni instructed Haim Ramon to inform Lieberman of Israel Beitenu that Kadima was ready to accept almost all his terms, including a platform certain to be vetoed by the religious parties, for joining her government. Lieberman later recommended her rival Netanyahu for the post.


Progress in talks on sale of advanced Russian S-300 to Iran


18 Feb. debkafile's military sources report that defense minister Mostafa Najar and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov are making good progress in the talks they began Tuesday, Feb. 17 on the sale of advanced S-300 ground-to-air missiles to Iran. Both sides agreed it was essential to provide Iran's Bushehr reactor with an effective system against air and missile attack. Iran wants to deploy the S-300 at all its nuclear sites.

 In Paris, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei complained Iran “is right now not providing any access, any clarification with regard to the whole area of possible military dimensions.” They are not following the Security Council's request, he said, to allow us to “please clarify this issue.”


A tennis ball-sized camera with 360-degrees range developed for Israeli infantry


18 Feb. One of the hi-tech gadgets the Israeli Defense Forces exhibited at its Southern Command headquarters Tuesday, Feb. 17, was EyeBall, the size of a tennis ball. Tossed into a closed area, it relays a 360-degree picture of its interior in 15 seconds and was one of the gadgets Israeli troops used in last month's Gaza operation to detect the booby traps with which Hamas wired homes, schools and bunkers.

Also used was the tiny EyeDrive, a four-wheel, remote-controlled robot which can go up and down stairs emitting a continuous stream of audio and video surveillance.

Tested for the first time in Gaza was the Matador, a shoulder-launched high-penetration missile with which a single soldier can bring down a fortified building without bulldozers or tanks or drive a hole in a wall without destroying the interior of a building.

The Sky Rider miniature drone, which can be launched by three soldiers, relays images blocked by buildings to a commander's wrist-watch screen. The IDFalso launched a new armored personnel carrier, Tiger (Namer) which provides its crew with high steel protection, behind which they can use its hi-tech weaponry and electronics without exposing themselves to attack.


President Peres admits Gaza disengagement was a mistake


19 Feb. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu garnered the most recommendations from party leaders summoned to president Shimon Peres for their recommendations. Sixty-five out of 120 Knesset members recommended him as candidate for prime minister, ending the suspenseful tie between Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Peres has summoned them both Friday, Feb. 20, ten days after the general election, to persuade them to agree to share power in a national unity government, which was also advised by most of the party leaders.

The exceptions were Labor and Meretz, both of which refused to make any recommendations and announced they had opted for the opposition benches after heavy elections losses.

Earlier, Peres admitted for the first time that Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, one of the most painful episodes in Israel's short history, was a mistake “which will not be repeated.”

Peres, who was vice premier in the government headed by Ariel Sharon which ordered the 2005 evacuation of the Gaza Strip, confessed for the first time that he was wrong to support it. (Israeli troops forcibly evicted 8,500 Israelis living in Gaza communities – many of whom remain homeless to this day – and opened the way for Hamas' takeover.)


Sen. Kerry leads first US Congressional visit to Gaza amid fire exchanges


19 Feb. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, crossed in a UN vehicle through the Israel-Gaza Erez crossing Thursday, Feb. 19, after visiting Sderot. The senator stressed that his Gaza visit did not reflect “any shift whatsoever with respect to Hamas” in the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress.

Over the ruins of the American school blasted in Israel's 22-day offensive last month, Sen. Kerry told a Palestinian lawyer: “Your leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond.”

Kerry's next stop is Damascus on Saturday.

The US lawmakers – Kerry and two congressmen – arrived amid an exchange of fire after the Palestinians fired two rockets and two mortar rounds into Israel. Israeli responded with an air strike against Palestinian border smuggling tunnels. They did not see Hamas leaders.

“What has to change,” said Kerry, “is obviously Hamas's consistent resort to instruments of terror.”

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