A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 28, 2008

Nasrallah declares Israel “will definitely cease to exist” in next war


22 Feb. The Hizballah leader, in his most vituperative speech against Israel ever, said Friday, Feb. 22: “Arab opposition, including Syria, and popular opposition will eliminate Israel; its armed forces will be defeated and Israel will be left with no army. We will fight as we have never fought before, confronting the Israeli army with of a type of combat it has never before experienced.”

Hassan Nasrallah pledged “Mughniyeh’s blood would not go unpunished, declaring,” He was killed in a pre-emptive Israeli strike, an open war.”

debkafile: On Feb. 20, Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi indicated Hizballah planned to seize on an Israeli ground offensive against Gazan missiles to launch a revenge attack in the north and force Israel to fight on two fronts. He told graduating IDF officers: “It is up to us to achieve a quick victory in every confrontation.”


Heavy storm exposes Russian Syria-based spy ship off Israel shore


22 Feb. debkafile‘s military sources reveal that the Russian Amur 1 Class PM 138 naval boat, caught up in the heavy storm raging across the Middle East and Mediterranean last week, flashed a distress signal Tuesday Feb. 19. The vessel was on its way from a Syrian port to Sevastopol on the Black Sea when it was thrown off course by the high seas. A Greek Navy frigate responded to the call and escorted the PM 138 to the island of Chios.

Certain facts were accidentally disclosed as a result of the storm:

1. Russian naval vessels are spending long periods running into months at the Syrian military bases of Latakia and Tartous.

2. Witnesses in Greece say the vessel, described officially as an auxiliary repair craft, boasted an unusual number of antennas for gathering intelligence. Its mission was clearly to gather information on Israeli military and naval movements while cruising opposite the Israeli coast.


Hizballah probe claims Israel used Palestinians contacts for Mughniyeh hit


23 Feb. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources stress that, above all Hizballah was keen to clear itself of suspicion that Imad Mughniyeh was betrayed by an insider planted by Mossad. Their investigators therefore claimed the Israeli Mossad was led to its quarry by Palestinian operatives with whom he rendezvoused in Beirut and Damascus to coordinate a new wave of terror against Israel. In those meetings, he posed as a senior Iranian intelligence officer called Hajj Radwan.

This information was leaked to the Mossad networks said to be working under cover in Beirut and Damascus, who then tipped Mossad HQ in Tel Aviv. They eventually identified him as the master terrorist hunted by Israel and the US for two and a half decades by a description of his habits and connections. One clincher was the fact that the “Iranian officer” turned up for all his meetings unaccompanied. In this Mughniyeh was unique. No other Middle East terror chief moves without bodyguards, but the Lebanese terror mastermind trusted nothing and no one but total secrecy. For the Mossad, his lone wolf habits were a telltale trademark, say the Hizballah investigators.


Iran steps up Iraq border security on third day of Turkish incursion


24 Feb. debkafile‘s military sources report Tehran has decided to reinforce its frontier with Iraq in order to prevent Kurdish terrorist factions in flight from Turkish troops seeking haven there. debkafile‘s military sources add that nothing has come of early fears of a military clash between the Turkish invaders and the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish pershmerga. So far only a single local brigade has advanced into the Dohuk Province abutting southern Turkey, while staying well clear of the Turkish troops.


France, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia secretly launch first joint war game


25 Feb. debkafile‘s military sources report exclusively that the first Persian Gulf exercise without the US in many years began Feb. 24. It will last ten days. France has contributed 1,500 navy marine and air force personnel to the exercise; the UAE, 1,500 and Qatar 3,000 troops. A number of the advanced French Rafale B and naval units are deployed in the exercise. While Iran is not explicitly targeted, the objectives of the maneuver are to practice repulsing marine landings by sea on the Gulf participants’ shores and missile attacks from the east, i.e. Iran. The joint force is also drilling tactics to defend their oil and gas fields and oil ports. Some of the participating French units will stay on as the vanguard of the 400-strong contingent to permanently man the new French base opposite the Strait of Hormuz.


Obama and Clinton’s senior advisers visit Syrian president Assad


25 Feb. debkafile‘s Middle East sources name them as Zbigniew Brezhinsky, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, who now advises Democratic Senator Barack Obama on foreign policy, and the Iranian-American Hassan Nemazee, one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s principal donors.

Both were in Damascus last week as part of a RAND Corporation delegation. While Nemazee was tight-lipped on his talks with President Bashar Assad, Obama’s adviser stated: “The conversation dealt with recent regional developments, affirming that both sides have a common desire to achieve stability in the region, which would benefit both its people and the USA.”

These words raised new speculation about the Middle East policies of the Senator from Illinois and his attitude toward Israel, in view of Brezhinsky’s portrayal of Assad as a seeker of Middle East stability. This sounds odd to anyone familiar with his record. So, did the adviser represent the presidential contender’s views or just his own?

After Nemazee’s talks with Assad, hard questions were also asked in Jewish and Lebanese circles about Clinton’s commitment to Israel’s security and Lebanon’s stability.


Israeli forces ordered to shoot at legs as last resort for obstructing mass Palestinian charge on Gaza border


25 Feb. Sunday night, Hamas and allied Palestinian terrorist groups mustered their forces for the mass “protest” march along a 40-km line from Rafah terminal in the south to Erez in the north, Monday, Feb. 25. Among them were saboteurs for blowing up the border barrier, a month after Hamas blasted the Gaza-Egyptian wall for one-third of the Palestinian population to surge through to Sinai.

From Tokyo, Olmert authorized all measures short of shooting to kill to defend the border. The Palestinian plan failed to take off.


Iran should have a nuclear weapon by 2010, says Israel’s military intelligence chief


26 Feb. This estimate was put before the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee by Israel’s military intelligence AMAN chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, in his briefing Tuesday, Feb. 26.

He also predicted that Hizballah would time its reprisals for the 40th day of mourning for its military commander Imad Mughniyeh – that is March 22-23, forty days after he was blown up in Damascus.

In the month since Hamas flattened Gaza’s border wall, scores of al Qaeda operatives have stolen into the Gaza Strip and many Palestinian terrorists returning from special courses in Iran and Syria, which taught them how to make explosive devices and build primitive missiles. Among them too were trained snipers.


Israeli High Court endorses plea bargain for ex-president


26 Feb. The High Court endorsed the controversial plea bargain removing rape from the sex allegations leveled against Israeli ex-president Moshe Katzav. If the court trying him accepts the bargain, he will not be liable to jail.

Three members of the five-justice panel dismissed the six petitions against the attorney general for approving the bargain. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch opposed the majority ruling. Seventeen woman’s’ rights and victims groups announced nationwide protest action.


A student killed, 10 injured, in ongoing heavy Palestinian missile-mortar barrage Wednesday


27 Feb. Ronnie Yihya, 47, from Moshav Bitchah, father of 4, was a student at the Sapir College outside Sderot. He was killed and a second student was critically injured by a direct Qassam hit to the campus, Wednesday, Feb. 27. More than 50 missiles and dozens of mortar rounds fired from Gaza in five hours Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 27 crashed into Sderot, Shear Hanegev, the Off Kor factory’s canteen, just after 200 employees had left, and several more civilian locations bordering on the Gaza Strip.

The barrage followed an Israeli airborne rocket attack, which killed 8 members of Hamas’ armed wing, just returned from training in Iran or an Arab country. Palestinian sources reported that three of the seven dead were senior members of the Hamas Qassam Brigades’ missile unit.

Monday, a nine-year old Israel boy was seriously injured by a Qassam rocket which hit a group of children playing in Sderot.


Ashkelon Mayor joins calls for tough military action against Gaza


27 Feb. The mayor, Ronnie Mahtzari, called on the government to remove the gloves for a tough military operation against the savage Palestinian missile offensive on Israeli locations bordering on the Gaza Strip. He said the town is willing to take more missiles, as long as the IDF is allowed to take effective action against the terrorists.

In recent weeks, all parts of Ashkelon, a thriving city of more than 103,000 with a big oil port, have joined the cycle of Hamas missile targets from Gaza. Wednesday, Feb. 27, its Barzilai hospital which serves the entire region was taking in the wounded from Sderot, the Sapir College and the Off Kor factory, when an extended-range Grad missile landed outside its doors. By a stroke of good luck, it did not explode.

This week the infiltration of scores of al Qaeda jihadis to the Gaza Strip was confirmed by Israeli military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the UN Secretary-General’s office. Yet nothing is done.


Some 55 missiles fired – most hitting Ashkelon and Sderot – on second day of massive Palestinian offensive


28 Feb. Ten extended-range Grad or Katyusha rockets blasted several Ashkelon districts, leaving two people injured, 55 shock victims and exploding in the northernmost point in the town reached so far. A house was hit directly, another first. In Sderot, two missiles exploded in the town’s main square and its banking center.

Internal security minister, Avi Dichter, was inspecting the damage to Sapir College when one of his guards was hit in the leg. The Israeli Air Force thereupon took off and attacked a band of Hamas’ armed wing operatives in northern Gaza. Hamana Haya was killed. He was the son of Halil Haya, who is in charge of determining Israeli targets for Hamas missile attacks as well their frequency and concentration.

debkafile‘s military sources report that the wave upon wave of Israeli air force strikes have no marked effect on the Palestinian blitz. Six missile teams were hit Thursday.They fire from Gaza’s school buildings, rooftops, playgrounds and underground pits, using civilians and children as human shields.

Schools opened Thursday morning for classes, although children were not permitted to play outside. Studies resumed at the Sapir College along with the registration of students for the next academic year.

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