A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Jan 7, 2010

Iran's opposition leader Mousavi ready to die

01 Jan. Forty-eight hours after he went missing, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi issued a pledge over the Internet of this willingness to sacrifice his life in defense of the people's rights. Iran was in serious crisis, he said, and condemned the authorities' bloody crackdown against protesters. A day earlier, tanks, armored cars and Revolutionary Guards special units took up positions in central Tehran. Neither Mousavi nor Medhi Karroubi have been seen since they went missing.
The anti-government reformists go in fear of their lives since Mousavi's nephew was shot dead Monday and after hardline supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's spokesmen called for their execution.
The brutal crackdown on pro-reform protesters in Tehran has not so far galvanized the United States, Britain, France or Germany into an all-out drive to find out what has happened to Iran's missing opposition leaders or take up the cause of the thousands of political prisoners facing savage abuse and death in Iran's jails.
It is business as usual in relations between the West and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

January 2, 2010 Briefs

  • Tehran threatens to produce nuclear fuel itself if West spurns Iran's counterproposal for swapping enriched uranium. Mottaki gave the West until the end of January to take it or leave it.
  • Israel air force bombs Gaza tunnels early Saturday after Palestinian Grad attack on Netivot. Warplanes struck smuggling tunnels in south, terrorist infiltration tunnels in the north.
  • Police arrest Somali man trying to murder Danish Muhammad cartoonist. Acting for al Qaeda, he was shot breaking into Kurt Westergaard's home armed with an axe and knife.

US Anti-Terror Authorities Missed Writing on the Wall

02 Jan. US intelligence missed pointers to the botched attempt to blow up a US airliner in the failed attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, deputy interior minister and commander of the Saudi anti-terror campaign in Yemen five months ago.
Like the Nigerian bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, the Saudi minister's would-be assassin, Abdullah Hassan Tali' al-Asiri (al Qaeda-styled Abu Khair), who did not survive the attack, used explosives hidden in his underwear. He won an audience with the prince by posing as an informant, the same trick used by the Taliban suicide bomber to penetrate a US base and kill 7 CIA agents and a US soldier last month.
President Obama cannot expect serious brainstorming from his intelligence and homeland security chiefs because their mindset is inhibited by their refusal to call a would-be mass-murderer an illegal or enemy combatant or terrorist – only a "suspect." He was given every chance to find a lawyer and avoid interrogation about his accessories or handlers.

January 3, 2010 Briefs

  • Iran holds large-scale military exercise next month to practice "defensive capabilities" against a possible enemy offensive.
  • Gaza Palestinians escalate attacks on Israel: An Israeli border patrol came under fire near Karni crossing Sunday. Second mortar round in two days misses Kerem Shalom.
  • Saudi Arabia in talks with Iran to free Osama bin Laden's daughter.
  • FM Liberman tells Israeli envoys to stop kowtowing to foreign governments.

Obama eases up on Iran sanctions, aided by Israeli restraint

03 Jan. The Obama administration keeps on finding more ways of avoiding tough action against Iran's nuclear program, whether sanctions with teeth or an Israeli military strike: Unnamed administration strategists now say that estimates of Iran's nuclear progress are based on a "longer time frame" of 18 months to two or three years to… breakout."
debkafile's experts confute the new estimate's basic assumptions:
1. Domestic unrest and political infighting have made Iran's leaders "particularly vulnerable to strong and immediate new sanctions" which appear to have caused their drive to produce nuclear fuel to "falter.
debkafile: The most up-to-date intelligence finds Iran's top officials racing at top speed toward their nuclear weapons goal.
2. The White House wants to focus new sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
debkafile: This tactic would sweeten sanctions by letting the Islamic regime and its top echelon off the hook.
3. Iran's bomb-development effort was seriously derailed by the exposure three months ago of the country's secret enrichment plant near Qom.
debkafile: This and other assumptions contradict the estimates offered just three months ago by Glyn Davies, the US Permanent Representative at the IAEA. On Sept 9, he said: "Iran is now either very near or in possession already of sufficient low enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade. Iran is moving closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity."
4. Washington's revised policy review for Iran banks heavily on Israel's reported willingness to hold off military action and accept the new sanctions strategy.
debkafile reported on Dec. 19: Obama has won from Binyamin Netanyahu another year for diplomacy.

January 4, 2010 Briefs

  • Five troops are first NATO military deaths in Afghanistan in the New Year.
  • Four US troops were killed in a roadside explosion in Kandahar, one Briton in Helmand blast.
  • PM Liberman to Tony Blair: US two-year deadline for peace accord is unrealistic.

The US cannot afford a new Yemen front or rely on its president

04 Jan. US official spokesmen have stepped up their rhetoric against al Qaeda in Yemen but do not have the manpower resources to open another anti-terror warfront in addition to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and to a lesser degree Somalia, debkafile's Washington sources report.
Washington has a problem with the Yemen president: For ten years, Salah has conducted a dual policy, posing as America's faithful ally in the war on al Qaeda while maintaining close back-door ties with al Qaeda in Yemen. His revolving door for captured terrorists accounts for al Qaeda's mounting strength in the country.
In the last of his three speeches on the subject on Saturday, Jan. 2, President Obama fingered al Qaeda in Yemen as the authors of the attempt after its organization, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's claim of responsibility. Now, he must follow through with a form of retaliation, even though by now the Islamist terrorists' have abandoned their known hideouts and gone to ground in one of the four Yemen provinces which they partly control: Abyan, Baida, Shabwa and Hadramout,.
For months, Yemeni armed forces have been staggering from one defeat to another against the Houthi rebels in the north, further undermined by the pullout of Saudi troops last week. An even more menacing insurgency led by the Southern Engine movement is fighting to separate southern Yemen from the North and declare independence from the strategic Red Sea port of Aden.

January 5, 2010 Briefs

  • One Palestinian killed, 5 injured in Israeli air strike against missile team east of Khan Younes in southern Gaza Strip Tuesday night.
  • Palestinian PM Fayyad stages big West Bank bonfire of Israeli products to "purify" future Palestinian state.
  • In fourth foiled terror incident in 24 hours, a knife-armed Palestinian was detained in Jerusalem's Old City Tuesday. He came from Nablus to attack Israelis like another Palestinian with a knife and a firebomb stopped earlier at the West Bank-Jerusalem crossing at Kalandia. Another Palestinian was disarmed before he could use his knife to stab Israeli soldiers and police security the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Monday night, three Palestinians from Hebron were halted at Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem.
  • The German mediator acting for the release of Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit picked up Hamas' reply to Israel's proposal in Gaza.
  • UK prosecutor-general Baroness Patricia Scotland is in Israel to discuss the problematic detention of Israeli visitors to Britain as alleged war criminals. She offered no solutions.
  • Travelers to US from 14 "terror-prone" lands face full body pat-downs, carryon luggage checks, random screening.
  • New instructions include Syria, Iran, Cuba, Sudan as "terror sponsors" also Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.

Obama: We failed to connect the dots or act promptly

05 Jan. US president Barack Obama, in a speech after meeting top security chiefs, Tuesday, Jan. 5, said: We had enough information to foresee and prevent the attempted bombing [of the Northwest airliner] on Christmas day." He said "elements of our intelligence knew that Umar Abdulmutalleb had traveled to Yemen and linked up with extremists there" and we knew this group was working with an individual whom we now know as Abdulmutalleb to attack America. But although agents and analysts with access to trained professionals had the intelligence it was not fully analyzed or leveraged to put the suspect on the no fly list. "I will not accept this. We have to do better and we must do it quickly." Obama declared.
The president announced that additional Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo Bay would not be sent back to Yemen at this time. "But Gitmo will be shut in a manner that "keeps the American people safe and secure."
He then commented: "Don't lets forget Guantanamo was the reason that al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula [which took responsibility for the failed Delta airliner attack] was formed."

January 6, 2010 Briefs

  • US federal grand jury in Detroit indicts Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on federal charges that include attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder. The term terror does not appear in the indictment.
  • An Egyptian soldier killed, 9 injured, in firefight at Gaza-Sinai border town of Rafah. Hamas protestors attacked Egyptians for building iron wall on border and delaying aid convoy. Pro-Palestinian activists, Egyptian security police injured in rock-throwing scuffles at Sinai's El Arish port. The activists attacked the checkpoint when part of their 200-truck aid convoy was barred from the Gaza Strip. It was led by the left-wing UK activist George Galloway.
  • Yemen claims arrest of three wounded al Qaeda fighters at a hospital, including high-profile Ahmed al-Hanaq. Tuesday, US, UK, French embassies reactivated in Sanaa without opening hours for public.

Obama finally forswears tough sanctions on Iran. Jerusalem is silent

06 Jan. Amid the ado of the failed airliner bombing, the Obama administration has finally given up on its sanctions strategy against Iran. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton stated on Jan. 4: "The Obama administration wants to keep the door to dialogue open with Iran," and then let Iran completely off the American hook by saying: "…although the United States has avoided using the term deadline, it cannot wait indefinitely to hear form Iran."
Her words explicitly backtracked on statements by other senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser James Jones, in recent interviews that Tehran's deadline for responding to international proposals expired on Dec. 31. debkafile's Iranian sources report that Tehran sees Washington as so eager to reach the negotiating table that it is falling back from effective penalties step by step, including an embargo on refined oils and benzene, and even willing to forgive Iran's failure to meet a highly publicized international deadline.
In Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government persists in clinging to the Obama administration's coattails on the Iranian nuclear menace, keeping up the pretence that sanctions are still a viable option.

January 7, 2010 Briefs

  • After day-long mortar fire from Gaza, Palestinian anti-tank fire was aimed at an Israeli patrol near Nahal Oz. No casualties. Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed after Gaza mortars pounded crossing and Israel's Eshkol farm region from early Thursday.
  • Barak: Still room for diplomacy on Iranian nuclear program, but Israel expects a time limit. No option is off the table. A nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize Middle East.

New Egyptian-Saudi peace plan to be presented to Obama Friday

07 Jan. Egypt's minister of intelligence Omar Suleiman and foreign minister Ahmad Abul Gheit are due in Washington Friday, Jan. 7, to present US president Barack Obama with a new Egyptian-Saudi proposal for reviving Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. At its core is a presidential letter of guarantee for Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, underwriting a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on pre-1967 borders with adjustments called for by demographic changes in the interim years. Obama will also be called upon to limit territorial swaps between Israel and the Palestinians to a minimum and support East Jerusalem's status as capital of a future Palestinian state.
Our sources explain that the US presidential letter would be addressed to the Palestinians. It would not ask Israel to sign off on it or freeze construction in the settlements or Jerusalem – only to renew negotiations.

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