A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Jan. 22, 2009

No US guarantee to stop arms flow to Gaza


16 Jan. The Memorandum of Understanding – MOU – signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni Friday, Jan. 16, provided a US commitment of “the resources, wherewithal and technology” necessary to “inhibit the ability of Hamas to rearm” – but no guarantees to stop the flow.

At a joint news conference – the outgoing secretary of state's last at the State Department – Rice said: “This we see as part of a broader international effort on the information sharing on how to deal with weapons shipments.” She cited Iran as a primary Hamas supplier.

Hamas, as its politburo chief Khalad Meshaal declared at the Doha meeting of radical Middle East leaders called by the Emir of Qatar Friday, is adamantly opposed to accepting Israel's conditions.

On the cabinet's agenda is an Egyptian proposal for a unilateral Israeli ceasefire which Jerusalem is anxious to achieve before Barack Obama's inauguration next Tuesday, even though Operation Cast Lead has not yet achieved its objectives of ending Hamas rocket fire and its rearming.


Israeli forces begin leaving Gaza after Hamas joins ceasefire


18 Jan. Sunday, Jan. 18, Hamas leader Mussa Abu Marzuk in Damascus declared an immediate ceasefire on behalf of all the Palestinian organizations conditional on Israel's withdrawal from Gaza within a week. The Israeli security cabinet approved a unilateral halt in fire in the Gaza Strip from 0200 hours while leaving Operation Cast Lead forces in Gaza for a few days to test Hamas' response.

Meanwhile, although prime minister Ehud Olmert assured the nation that all the operation's goals had been reached, Hamas promised to keep on fighting and shooting rockets, while neither Washington nor Cairo guaranteed action to end the flow of weapons to Gaza.

Sunday, a large group of European leaders from the UK, France, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic descended on Jerusalem. The plan they developed with Egypt provides a $1.6 billion aid package for the Gaza Strip's reconstruction. The millions of tons of cement and supplies will be shipped to Israeli ports and delivered through the Gaza crossings over a period of years. Israel, they believe, will not be able to refuse to reopen the crossings, thereby bringing its embargo of the Gaza Strip to an end.


Gas well struck opposite Haifa coast Israel's biggest energy find


18 Jan. The announcement by the well's operator, American Noble Energy's president, Charles Davidson Sunday, Jan. 18, caused the Tel Aviv stock market to jump 4 percent, boosted by the shares of Delek Drilling which gained 80 percent and of Isramco Negev-2 by 120 percent.

Tests confirmed that the 5,500 meters deep Tamar-1 reservoir, off the Mediterranean coast of Haifa, contains at least 88 billion cu.m of gas. Davidson said the strata were of a promising thickness and quality in three separate places. Yitzhak Tshuva, of Delek said the find could solve Israel's energy problems for decades to come and reduce its dependence on outside sources.


Israeli motorist suffers critical head injuries from West Bank drive-by shooting


19 Jan: The victim's wife grabbed the wheel when their car came under attack north of Ramallah and drove them to safety while calling for help. A helicopter flew him to hospital where is condition is still grave.


Arab summit at Kuwait sets up $2 bn fund for Gaza's reconstruction


19 Jan. Egypt and Saudi Arabia made the allocation of funds for Gaza conditional on Hamas burying the hatchet with Palestinian leader Abu Mazen. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has taken the lead in moves for Palestinian reconciliation and an end to Israel's embargo of Gaza.


Gaza war's outcome determined in first 4 minutes


19 Jan. The Israel Air Force demolished two key Hamas war systems in the first 4 minutes of its massive offensive on Gaza Saturday morning, Dec. 27: six mosques in Gaza City holding the terrorists' biggest weapons arsenals and scores of “beehives” containing launchers primed for automatic multiple launches of hundreds of powerful rockets rigged for precision-targeting Israeli town centers.

Israel's aerial offensive knocked out 80 percent of these rockets and saved its southern cities. Left with only inferior projectiles, 98 percent of the hundreds of missiles the Palestinian terrorists managed to fire in the 22-day war missed their targets.

As to the extreme destruction wrought in Gaza and the high number of casualties, Israel commanders described combat conditions as the most complicated and perilous they had ever faced: Every second apartment building was booby-trapped and every third building concealed arms caches. Weapons were concealed under children's beds and in basements. Instead of fighting out in the open, Hamas gunmen mostly avoided engaging Israeli troops, relying on these death traps.

Monday, Jan. 19, the second day of the ceasefire, the second-echelon Hamas leaders emerged from their fortified bunkers after three weeks underground, claiming they had vanquished the Israeli enemy. The top leaders remained invisible. The homeless people picking their way through the rubble for their broken possessions were not exactly welcoming.


Israeli politicians turn from war to campaigning for Feb. 10 election


19 Jan. Channel 2 television poll places opposition Likud in the lead with 31 seats (out of 120), ruling Kadima – 23, Labour – 15, Israel Beitenu 13, Shas 12.

Likud's Netanyahu claims 36% as favorite for prime minister, trailed by Kadima's Livni – 21% and Labor's Barak – 14%.


US-Egyptian Red Sea hunt for Iranian ship carrying 60 tons of arms for Hamas


20 Jan. US and Egyptian warships were scouring the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea Tuesday, Jan. 20 to waylay an Iranian freighter they had been informed was loaded with an estimated 60 tons of arms to replenish Hamas' depleted war stocks which had set out from the Iranian Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas on Jan. 17.

The ship changed its name in mid-voyage from Iran-Hedayat to Famagustus registered to Panama, thus arousing suspicion. The captain is under orders to unload his cargo at a smugglers cove on the southeastern coast of Sinai, to be picked up by armed Bedouin gangs and moved to El Arish in northern Sinai. From there the contraband rockets were to be slipped gradually into the Gaza Strip.

It consists of 50 Fajr rockets whose range is 50-75 km, scores of heavy Grad rockets, new, improved launchers whose angle of fire can be precisely adjusted, tons of high-quality explosives, submachine guns, rifles and pistols and armor-piercing missiles and shells (of types used successfully by Hizballah against Israeli tanks in 2006).

The shipment, the largest Tehran has ever consigned to the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, includes also a large number of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, equipment for assembling roadside bombs and advanced communications and night vision gear.


First post-ceasefire Palestinian gun, mortar fire from Gaza Tuesday


20 Jan. Israeli patrols along the Israel-Gaza border fence came under fire from Gaza three times Tuesday, Jan. 20, two days after the Gaza ceasefire was declared first by Israel then Hamas. Eight mortar rounds were fired next across the border, harming no one. Israel responded with air strikes against the mortar squads.

debkafile's military sources report the Palestinian attacks began shortly after the withdrawal of small Israeli units left at vantage points for a few hours to guard against renewed Palestinian rocket launches. The bulk of the Israeli army left the Gaza Strip earlier this week.

Jerusalem exercised military restraint to give the ceasefire a chance to take hold although past experience with Hamas has shown that a single firing is usually the harbinger of a general assault.


UN secretary – first international figure to visit Hamas-ruled Gaza


20 Jan. Israeli's foreign minister Tzipi Livni refrained from receiving UN secretary Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem Tuesday, Jan 20, over his decision to visit Gaza. He met the foreign ministry's director-general instead.

While amending the purpose of his trip later to calling on UN institutions in the war-damaged Strip, debkafile reports the UN Secretary cannot prevent its Hamas rulers and their radical backers from claiming their regime has won international recognition in the wake of the Israeli offensive.


Israel's supreme court allows two Israel-Arab parties stand for election


21 Jan. All 9 supreme court justices allowed the United Arab List's appeal, while the Balad appeal was granted 8:1.

The court rulings reversed a decision by the Central Elections Committee to disqualify the two parties because they “support armed struggle against Israel and their political platform aims to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The ruling Kadima and Labor factions supported the proposal to ban the two parties sponsored by the opposition Israel Beitenu and National Union. The last party outlawed in Israel was Rabbi Meir Cahane's Kach in the 1980s for advocating the transfer of Arab citizens out of the country.


US anti-piracy task force to intercept Iranian arms ship for Hamas


21 Jan. The USS San Antonio amphibian warship, heading the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 patrolling the Gulf of Aden for pirates, has been assigned with hunting down the Iranian cargo vessel carrying 60 tons of rockets and other arms for smuggling into Gaza. Its beat in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea covers the routes of Iranian arms smugglers for Hamas.

Massed on the San Antonio's decks is a helicopter detachment, a “surgical team” for dealing with small speedboats trying to hem the ship in and boarding teams with their own small boats and helicopters. US marine and coast guard units make up the interception force.

Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni flew to Brussels Wednesday, Jan. 21, to discuss adding the European Union to the understanding she signed with the US last Friday for ending the flow of smuggled Iranian weapons to Gaza. Egypt and Israel are negotiating Cairo's end of the operation.


Last Israeli soldier quits Gaza early Wednesday


21 Jan. The last Israeli soldier exited the Gaza Strip Wednesday, Jan. 21, four days after a unilateral ceasefire ended a 22-day IDF offensive against Hamas. Ten soldiers were killed, dozens injured – more than 30 remain in hospital. During the fighting, Hamas fired 600 rockets and missiles. More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, of whom 500 were terrorist fighters. (A Palestinian doctor at Shifa hospital in Gaza City confided to the Italian Corriere della Sera Thursday that the true death toll was no more than 500-600 and Hamas had inflated the casualty figures.)

The reservists on emergency call-up orders were released. The regular army is on standby with tanks at border positions on alert in case of resumed Hamas aggression. They are armed with new rules of engagement compared with their directives prior to Operation Cast Lead.

Gaza operation commander Gen. Yoav Galant, addressing a parade marking the end of the operation complimented the units fighting in Gaza for successfully coordinating operations among the air force, navy, ground forces, tanks, engineering and Shin Bet intelligence.

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