A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Feb. 5, 2009

Hamas fires first shore-to-ship C-802 missile


31 Jan. debkafile's military sources reveal a formidable addition to Hamas' arsenal: The missile fired from Gaza out to the Mediterranean last week was not a Qassam as reported but a C-802, but the Iranian shore-to-ship Nur C-802 missile, which is based on the Chinese “Silkworm.”

It was launched by Iranian officers who are training Hamas operatives in its use before delivering a large consignment. With its 120-km range and 165-kilo warhead, the C-802's mission is to break Israel's 40 km blockade of Gaza's waters. This is now the key objective of Tehran and the Palestinian Islamists.

The Israeli Navy's first brush with the C-802 was in the 2006 Lebanon war. On July 14, it was used by Hizballah to cripple the Hanit missile ship opposite Beirut.

Our sources affirm that arms smuggling to Gaza continues by land and sea at the pre-war tempo notwithstanding the brave talk in Jerusalem, Washington and Cairo of a concerted effort to stem the flow.

Since 2006, military experts note, Iran has upgraded the C-802 in an important respect. A new version, of which 1,000 have been delivered to Hizballah, operates without radar. It has the attributes of a cruise missile with small radar reflectivity, a strong anti-jamming capability and the ability to skim as low as 5-7 meters from the water's surface under the targeted ship's radar. Tehran claims 98 percent targeting effectiveness for its updated Nur anti-ship missile.


Ahmadinejad: Iran's Islamic Revolution not limited to its borders


31 Jan. Iran's government spokesman is quoted as saying Saturday, Jan. 31 that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of Khomeini's overthrow of the shah that Iran's Islamic revolution was not limited to its borders. His response to the US president Barack Obama's overtures was a demand that America apologize for 60 years of “crimes against Iran” and its new president carry out a “deep and fundamental change.”


Meshaal urges Iranian students to join Islamist liberation of all Palestine


2 Feb. On the third day of his talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran, Hamas' supreme leader Khaled Meshaal urged Iranian students to join his Islamist movement in helping liberate all of Palestine, secure the return of all Palestinians and retake Jerusalem so that “we can pray together.”

debkafile's Iranian sources disclose the three topics uppermost in Meshaal's talks with Iranian leaders:

1. Tehran is playing tough in Middle East, including Gaza, to intimidate the Obama administration ahead of direct talks.

2. Iran will torpedo Hamas' long-term truce talks in Cairo so as not to grant president Hosni Mubarak any advantages on the Palestinian playing field.

3. Hamas needs urgent injections of military and economic assistance to shore up its rule in the Gaza Strip.

If Tehran holds back, the Palestinian Islamists may turn to Cairo and Riyadh for the proffered Saudi-Egyptian aid package for reconstruction. If Iran delivers, Meshaal will instruct the Hamas delegation to ditch the Egyptians and their proposals.


Israel air raids blow up six Hamas tunnels after Palestinian missile-mortar salvoes


2 Feb. After 14 missiles and mortar rounds were fired into Israel Sunday, Feb. 1, Israel launched air strikes against a Hamas building in central Gaza and six out of roughly 300 smuggling tunnels running under the southern Gazan border corridor with Egypt.

The building was empty after Israel forewarned dwellers by telephone of the coming attack. debkafile's military sources report that although missile, rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel have been building up for the past week , defense minister Ehud Barak stands fast against demands for a major reprisal.

He maintains that the main threat to Israeli security now emanates from Hizballah.


Hizballah terror teams fan out in six countries prompting maximum Israeli alert


2 Feb. The Lebanese Hizballah has deployed terrorist teams in six countries for attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in revenge for the death of its military chief Imad Mughniyeh who it accuses Israel of killing a year ago.

This intelligence prompted the counter-terror bureau in Jerusalem to publish Sunday, Feb. 1, an exceptionally high alert for traveling Israelis to beware of assaults and abductions. Security is also high in Israel and at embassies and Jewish institutions worldwide.

Hizballah also believes it can disrupt Israel's general election on Feb. 10 by assassinating a senior official.

According to our sources, terrorist teams have also been drawn from the covert spy and terror cells Hizballah maintains in other parts of the Middle East as well as Africa and Europe.

Israeli travelers were specifically warned to avoid Arab and Muslim countries – especially Sinai – watch out for unusual occurrences, refuse tempting offers and invitations from strangers, rendezvous with contacts only in public places along with trusted companions and avoid patronizing the same locations, such as hotels and restaurants, with predictable regularity.

Israeli holidaymakers in Sinai were warned to leave at once.


Long-range Grad rocket explodes in central Ashkelon


3 Feb. The Grad rocket from Gaza which exploded in central Ashkelon Tuesday, Feb. 3, damaged vehicles and left three people in shock. A busload of passengers escaped to safety with seconds to spare.


Iran's first spy satellite launch Tuesday signifies nuclear-capable rocket in hand


3 Feb. The launch of Omid (Hope), Iran's first home-made satellite into orbit early Tuesday, Feb. 3, is a breakthrough demonstrating the Islamic Republic has managed to develop long-range, three-stage ballistic rockets propelled by solid fuel and capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Israel and Western officials have been playing down this fast-developing capability while proving helpless to hold back Iran's nuclear weapons program.

debkafile's Iranian sources report the new satellite is designed for tracking, research and tele-communications and carries digital measuring instruments. Iran's top-secret “Military Group” – the team of scientists and technicians working on its clandestine nuclear bomb program – is clearly moving ahead undisturbed by UN sanctions or technical difficulties.


Obama administration gravely concerned by first Iranian satellite


3 Feb. The White House and Pentagon issued strong statements Tuesday, Feb. 3 about the dangers posed by the launch of Iran's first homemade satellite into space. debkafile notes that none of the leading contenders in Israel's Feb. 10 general election, including the defense and foreign ministers – or even prime minister Ehud Olmert – saw fit to react to the event.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said any effort to develop missile delivery capability, continue an illicit nuclear program, threaten Israel and sponsor terror is an “acute concern to this administration.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that Iran poses “a real threat and a growing threat.” debkafile's Washington sources report that the Obama administration is getting fed up with Tehran continually laying down hard facts ahead of any dialogue begins between the two governments.

Our Iranian sources see no sign of Tehran softening its attitudes on nuclear or missile issues ahead of those talks.


Barak loses Gaza truce gamble, Cairo decides to slam Rafah door shut


4 Feb. Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak held off responding to ten days of missile-mortar salvoes from Gaza in the hope of Cairo successfully negotiating a long-term truce deal with Hamas.

debkafile's military sources report that Egypt's announcement Wednesday, Feb. 4, that as of Thursday, its only border crossing with Gaza at Rafah would be closed down for all traffic signaled the breakdown of those negotiations. It followed Cairo's discovery that Hamas was under orders from Tehran to keep the truce talks dragging on aimlessly together with daily missile and mortar fire against Israel. Barak's policy of relying on Egypt for results has been discredited. Hamas is expected to respond to its cutoff from Egypt by stepping up cross-border attacks against Israel.

Wednesday, Christopher Guinness, spokesman of the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNWRA, complained that Hamas police raided its warehouse in Gaza City and stole 3,500 blankets and nearly 500 food packages that were to have been distributed to poor Gaza families. UNWRA demanded their immediate return.


Five days to Israel's poll: Frontrunner Netanyahu is slipping


5 Feb. The man certain to form the next Israeli government after the general election of Feb. 10, Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu, who started out with a handy lead of well over 30 Knesset seats (out of 120), is losing ground to Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Israel Beitenu.

His campaign blunders include his apparent choice of the unpopular Labor leader, Ehud Barak, to carry on as defense minister in the next government. Another is his refusal to name a finance minister for a country worried sick by the slide into serious recession and growing unemployment.

Both those decision deny the voter hope for a much needed change – especially a new defense minister to replace Ehud Barak, whose policies are widely condemned.

He is worried about national security and therefore leans to the right – away from his Labor party. Polling-day falls amid high security alerts on two potential warfronts, Gaza in the South and Lebanon in the north. The gap between this fraught situation and Barak's claims of restored deterrence equals his credibility gap.

His policy of tying Israel's security to Cairo's uncertain good offices instead of letting the military do its job crashed with the ill-fated Egyptian-Hamas negotiations in Cairo for a long-term truce. Day by day, Hamas violates its ceasefire pledge by blasting Israel with missiles and mortars. IDF reprisals are confined to aerial bombardments of empty buildings and sandy expanses in the Gaza Strip.

On top of this unpopular alliance, Netanyahu is unclear on his future policies. It took him until this week to come out with an explicit statement on a key security issue, when he said: “Iran will not acquire nuclear arms. Period.” While promoting an “economic peace” plan for the West Bank, the Likud leader has never come right out and stated his views on George W. Bush's two-state solution of the conflict.

Israeli Beteinu is therefore cutting into Likud's support and threatening to overtake foreign minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima.

But although the right-of-center bloc can count on a Knesset majority, the Likud leader will deny the country stable government if he insists on handing out the key defense and finance portfolios to figures outside that bloc for the sake of “a national unity government.” By linking his Likud to Labor, Netanyahu will reach his second term as prime minister from a position of weakness rather than the strength he started out with.


Israeli naval commandoes board a Lebanese aid ship


5 Feb. After the captain refused to heed the Israeli navy's orders to leave embargoed waters, Israeli seamen boarded the ship and had it towed to Ashdod port. No arms were found on the vessel only a small amount of aid destined for Gaza and a number of Syrian and Lebanese pro-Hamas activists who were taken off for interrogation. They will be sent back to the ship which on no account will be allowed to dock at Gaza.


Barak: More Iranian ships bound for Gaza


5 Feb. Although defense minister Ehud Barak did not confirm that the Iranian ships on their way to the Gaza Strip carry arms for Hamas, debkafile's military sources report that they are in fact arms vessels. Tehran will try and break the blockade on Gaza, encouraged by the failure of the US, Egyptian and Israeli navies to confiscate the arms aboard the Cypriot-flagged arms ships now docked at Limassol. Some are already on the way, expected to enter the Gulf of Suez and waters opposite Gaza over the weekend and try to drop their cargoes of weapons containers off shore. Israeli warships and spy planes are tracking them.

At a special conference Thursday, Feb. 5, prime minister Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and the defense minister agreed the Iranian arms ships must be prevented from unloading their cargoes, even at the cost of a marine clash with Iran. At stake is the entire international effort to stop the Palestinian Islamists rearming.

The Cypriot authorities are unloading the Iranian arms ship of cargo that contravenes the UN Security Council sanctions resolution 1747 which bans Iranian arms exports. DEBKA file's military sources disclosed it was carrying 10 containers of Iranian rockets and other weapons for rearming Hamas in the Gaza Strip in violation of Israel's terms for accepting a Gaza ceasefire last month.

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