A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 24, 2011
Feb. 18, 2011 Briefs
• US vetoes Palestinian bid at UN Security Council to condemn and halt Israel settlements. It was the only opposing vote cast by the 15 members. US ambassador Susan Rice said her government opposes settlements but negotiations only way to solve issues. Palestinians rejected various US compromise drafts.
• Egyptian military play role in hundreds of disappearances, 12 cases of torture in three weeks. They are documented by human rights groups.
• Israel permits Cairo to deploy another 3,000 troops in Sinai.
• Kuwait has first violent demonstrations. Several wounded in clash with security forces.
• At least eight injured during breakup of anti-monarchy protests in Amman. Grenade lobbed from moving car kills at least 2t demonstrators in Ta'iz, Yemen.
• Dozens injured in Manama, after Bahraini army fires live rounds on demonstrators.
Netanyahu lets Egypt build up its Sinai army to 4,000
18 Feb. Without serious aforethought, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak waved through another 3,000 Egyptian troops into North Sinai, raising their number to 4,000 and virtually scrapping the key demilitarization clause of the 1979 peace treaty. No conditions were laid down and no timeline or operational limits set, debkafile's sources report. Israel asked the military rulers in Cairo – directly and through Washington – to deny Iranian warships passage through the Suez Canal – but was ignored.
There is little doubt in the IDF's high command that the Egyptian troops are in Sinai to stay, whereas Israel's forces on the other side of the border are seriously undermanned for dealing with an unforeseen cross-border flare-up. Jerusalem discovered Friday that Egypt is not repairing the damage to the ruptured gas pipeline blown up by Hamas on Feb. 5. The Netanyahu government missed its chance to make consent for the troop deployment contingent on the resupply of gas.
Feb 19, 2011 Briefs
• Protesters return to Manama's Pearl Square after rejecting Bahraini rulers offer to talk.
• Israel's PM voices deep appreciation to US for vetoing Palestinian motion to condemn Israel settlements and reaffirms commitment to peace talks with all its neighbors, including Palestinians.
• At least 84 killed by Libyan security forces in 3 days of worst unrest in Qaddafi's 42 years in power.
Islamic radical preaches jihad from Tahrir Square
19 Feb. In their first week in power, Egypt's new military rulers took two steps that had nothing to do with democratic reform. They allowed Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the radical Sunni preacher exiled by Hosni Mubarak to return home and lead a victory assembly in Tahrir Square Friday night, Feb. 17 with a call to march on Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. From Qatar, al-Qaradawi repeatedly justified suicide bombings against Israelis. The second was permission for two Iranian war ships to transit the Suez Canal.
Voices from the Obama administration have commented since Mubarak was overthrown that a Muslim Brotherhood taking part in the political transition in Egypt might not be a bad thing. In contrast, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has warned that a Muslim role in government would put the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty at risk. In Tahri Square Friday, opposition leaders who tried to mount the platform alongside Brotherhood speakers were thrown off and the radical preacher's sermon won a national platform over state television.
Feb 20, 2011 Briefs
• Protesters reported in control of Libya's second largest town, Benghazi.
• First reports of riots in Iranian town of Tabriz and other cities.
• Clinton condemns Bahraini violence against protesters as “absolutely unacceptable”.
• Netanyahu: Israel takes a grave view of Iran's bid to expand its influence by sending warships through Suez. Israel must enlarge its defense spending to meet new challenge, he said.
• US halts drone attacks on NW Pakistan's Waziristan – report. debkafile: Part of bid to free US diplomat detained for killing two Pakistani assailants. Unconfirmed reports of fresh round of US-Taliban peace talks.
• Massive show of force across China against protesters' bid to stage a Jasmine Revolution.
Cyrenaica rises up against Qaddafi's Tripolitania regime
20 Feb. Around two million Cyrenaican protesters, about one-third of Libya's population which controls part of its oil resources, embarked Sunday, Feb. 20, on a full-scale revolt against Muammar Qaddafi and his affluent ruling Tripolitanian-dominated regime. One third of the country is rising up against the other, as well as fighting to overthrow a dictatorial ruler of 42 years. Not all reports of massacres from West European-based exiles are independently confirmed.
Since last week, heavy battles have been fought in Benghazi, Al Bayda, Al Marj, Tobruk and at least two other two cities. In some places, debkafile's military sources report protesters stormed army bases and seized large quantities of missiles, mortars, heavy machine guns and armored vehicles – and used them. The important Fadil Ben Omar Brigade command base in Benghazi was burnt to the ground.
Cairo connives with Tehran on warships Suez transit
20 Feb. The two Iranian warships transited the Suez Canal and have reached the Mediterranean, Iran state TV announced Sunday, Feb. 20. Cairo is still saying they will sail only Monday.(They finally sailed Tuesday.) debkafile reports Tehran and Cairo have connived in fake delays to obscure the ships’ movements. Egypt's military rulers' permission for their passage was not contingent on an inspection of their freights for banned cargo.
US State Department spokesman P.J Crowley said he was "highly skeptical" of the Syrian claim that the two ships' visit was for training. "If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do. It's not really about the ships. It's about what the ships are carrying, what's their destination, what's the cargo on board, where's it going, to whom and for what benefit," Crowley told a news conference.
He was responding to questions in the wake of debkafile's disclosure that the Kharg was carrying missiles for Hizballah and indicating that the Washington and all UN members were empowered by UN sanctions against Iran to board and search Iranian ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons.
Feb. 21, 2011 Briefs
• Mullen does not think Iran is behind popular protests in Bahrain and other countries although it foments instability.
• Emergency EU ministerial meeting in Brussels on Libyan crisis.
• Italian FM Franco Frattini: If a Muslim emirate rises in Benghazi, Europe must step in.
• debkafile: US and EU prepare Malta facility for evacuating thousands of citizens employed in Libyan oil industry. Airplanes and sea ferries stand ready.
• Saudi Arabia stands ready "with all its capabilities" to shore up Bahrain's ruling family.
• Battles continue in Aden and demonstrations in other parts of Yemen.
Civil War in Libya: Air Force bombs civilians. Pilots, high officials flee to Malta
21 Feb. With no signs of him quitting, Muammar Qaddafi ordered the army to redouble its brutal assaults on the opposition. The Air Force began bombing crowds at random – except for pilots who preferred to defect and fled with their warplanes to Malta – while army tanks and armored vehicles fired live ammunition. The days' casualties were estimated at 600, with 250 in Tripoli.
High officials of his regime and businessmen began fleeing Tripoli aboard Libyan Air Force fighter jets and helicopters which landed Monday at Malta's MIA international airport.
US warships box in Iranian flotilla, delay Suez passage
21 Feb. The delays and uncertainty surrounding the two Iranian warships' transit of the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean are the result of a standoff between them and five US warships deployed in recent days at and around the waterway, debkafile's sources disclose. Friday, Feb. 18, the USS Enterprise carrier, escorted by the USS Leyte Gulf and USNS Arctic cornered the Iranian Navy's Kharg cruiser and Alvand missile destroyer at the Red Sea entrance. The USS Fearsarge reached the Bitter Lake first.
Furthermore, since the first week of February, the USS Kearsarge, another aircraft carrier, was posted in the Great Bitter Lake opposite Ismailia and the canal's main routes with a large contingent of marines aboard.
The USS George Washington carrier and the USS Carl Vinson were additionally deployed in the Gulf of Aden, the latter having been moved from the Pacific.
The Iranian warships therefore found themselves cheek to jowl with a major concentration of America naval might piling up in the Red Sea and Suez and were not sure what would happen if they went forward.
Sunday night, the Canal authorities announced another 48 hours delay shortly after Tehran state TV claimed the warships were already through to the Mediterranean.
Feb. 22, 2011 Briefs
• Qaddafi says he will not leave Libya or step down in speech Tuesday. "I will die here as a martyr" – not step down or give up like other leaders. He said: "The revolution means Muammar Qaddafi has no status or throne to step down from. He is not a president. Power belongs to the people". Qaddafi: What happened in Benghazi was an American plot to establish an Al Qaeda emirate under their control.
• He ordered his army to crush uprising. Armed protesters will face death sentence. The nation must hunt down the small gang of terrorists and rats and hang them.
• Pentagon sources say four Americans captured by Somali pirates have been killed. US naval forces on the way to try to rescue them heard gunshots and on arrival found the four hostages had been killed.
• Iran stops oil activities in Libya will withdraw staff by Thursday.
• Upgraded Arrow-2 missile interceptor successfully tested from US West Coast. The missile hit and destroyed target launched from US Navy vessel over Pacific. The last Arrow test failed in July 2009.
• Egyptian Suez Canal official reports two Iranian warships entered waterway en route to Syria at 0335 GMT Tuesday.
• Official Egyptian news agency MENA reports request for transit said no weapons, nuclear or chemical materials aboard. debkafile: No search conducted.
Qaddafi launches jihad with sea barrage on Benghazi, blocked oil exports
22 Feb. In a long, fiery speech broadcast by Libyan state TV Tuesday, Libya's ruler Col. Muammar Qaddafi declared war on his enemies at home and abroad. He accused the Cyrenaicans of the East of conspiring to establish an Al Qaeda emirate that would bring the Americans over and create the same situation in Libya as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tripoli then announced Libyan oil exports were blocked causing pandemonium in a world market and Libyan warships began pounding Benghazi from the sea.
Saudi Arabia quietly informed Washington that it has enough spare production capacity to cover the loss of Libya's exported 1.8 million barrels a day.
The 22,000-man strong Libyan Air Force with its 13 bases is Muammar Qaddafi's mainstay for survival against massive popular and international dissent. debkafile's military sources report that 44 air transports and a like number of helicopters swiftly lifted loyal tribal militiamen fully armed from the Sahara and dropped them in the streets of Tripoli Monday Feb. 21.
Feb. 23, 2011 Briefs
• Two long-range Grad missiles fired from Gaza Wednesday night – the first in Beersheba since 2009 Cast Lead operation.
• Israeli reacted with air strike in eastern Gaza Strip, injuring three Jihad Islami terrorists.
Earlier Wednesday, Palestinians triggered explosive device against IDF Gaza Strip patrol at Karni crossing, followed by mortar attack. No one hurt. Israeli tanks returned fire. Palestinians report 7 injured. Three mortar rounds then exploded on empty ground in a Shear Hanegev Kibbutz.
• US State Department and EU support sanctions against Qaddafi without specifics or timelines.
• Netanyahu permits 300 Palestinians in flight from Libya to enter Palestinian Authority.
• Saudi king unveils major housing, education aid package for needy and pardons for inmates of debtor prisons.
Qaddafi firms grip. Lull in Tripoli
23 Feb. Muammar Qaddafi succeeded Wednesday, Feb. 23, in firming up his control of Tripoli and southern and western Libya partly by threats and partly thanks to American and European Union failure to put up a military or diplomatic strategy for cutting him down.
debkafile's sources checking Tuesday's reports of a total blockage of Libyan oil exports found that that one quarter of the regular amount of 1.8 million barrels a day was withheld from France and Spain; the rest went out. One senior US official said anonymously that no European air force was capable of enforcing a no-fly zone. If Washington was determined to impose one, it would have to be left to one of the US aircraft carriers posted opposite the Libyan coast. "In the meantime," said the official," there are no such military plans." West Europe's heavy dependence on Libyan oil and gas would have to be taken into account as well as the fear that sanctions might further jack up fuel prices.
Feb. 24, 2011 Briefs
• NATO Secretary: The alliance will not intervene in Libya.
• A Saudi student living in Texas arrested and charged with planning to build bombs for terrorist attacks in the US. Among his targets, the Dallas home of ex-President George W. Bush.
• In another speech Thursday, Qaddafi accused Libyan protesters of destroying the country as fronts of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. He countered criticism of his brutal crackdown by pointing at US tactics against al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Qaddafi again claimed he stopped making decision in 1977 when he handed rule to the people.
• Barrel of Brent crude hits $117 the barrel Thursday, highest in two and a half years.
• Israel Air Force struck Hamas facilities in four-hour string of attacks Wednesday night. Hamas scattered manpower ready for Israeli reprisal after firing Grad missiles at Beersheba and Netivot.
Hamas Iranian-made missiles hit Beersheba as Iranian warships docked in Syrian port
24 Feb. Israel's security leaders ought not to have been surprised when Hamas fired two long-range Iranian-made Grad missiles Wednesday night, Feb. 23 at the Negev cities of Beersheba and Netivot. The attack occurred exactly when Iranian Navy commander Adm. Habibollah Sayyari was due in Syria's Latakia port to attend the welcoming party for the two Iranian warships which made it through the Suez Canal without US or Israeli interference. It also marked a fresh, redoubled Hamas offensive against Israel.
The occupants of the Beersheba home, hit by the first long-range Grad surface missile to reach the Negev city from the Gaza Strip (30 km away) since Israel's Cast Led campaign of 2009, saved themselves by using the seconds between the warning siren and the explosion to take shelter in a bomb-proof room. That was the only part of their home to survive the blast. Eleven shock victims were hospitalized along the battered street.
The town of Netivot was spared by the Grad falling outside the built-up area.
debkafile's military sources report that more aggression from the Gaza Strip is inevitable given the Netanyahu government's feeble or non-response despite the urgent need to shore up Israel's security situation which has been continuously eroded by the turbulence in Arab capitals. Even though it was obvious that Hamas had been strengthened by Hosni Mubarak's fall in Egypt, Israel stood by even when Hamas on Feb. 5 blew up the Egyptian pipeline which conveyed 43 percent of Israel's gas needs. Replacement sources have added close to $400 million a month to Israel's energy bill.