A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending July 10, 2008
Iraqi firms buying Israeli products “exposed”
4 July: Leaflets naming Iraqi firms doing business with Israeli exporters have been circulated in Iraq for the purpose of stopping the trade, which now amounts to between $800 and a million a year. debkafile‘s sources report that the leaflets are circulated anonymously. Some sources calculate that Tehran is behind the anti-Israel campaign in Iraq in reprisal for the international sanctions imposed on Iran. Others suggest that rival international exporters are bidding aggressively to replace Israeli companies in the Iraqi market.
Damascus court secretly sentences alleged Israeli spy to 20 years
4 July: debkafile intelligence sources report that Jamal Hassan Neba’a was sentenced to 20 years in jail this week by Syria’s Supreme Court for State Security on the charge of spying for the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency. He was arrested in Damascus on July 23, 2006, eleven days into the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hizballah and sentenced under Clause 265 of the State Security Law which also provides the death sentence for espionage.
Unlike Tehran, which this week published the trial of the alleged Israel spy Ali Ashtari, 43, and the death verdict handed down by its Revolutionary Court, Syria kept the spy case under wraps.
According to our intelligence source, Syria’s trial was closely coordinated with Tehran, a further indication of the close ties between them.
Tehran expands threat of Strait of Hormuz closure
5 July: Chief of staff Maj. Gen. Hasan Firuzabadi said Saturday, July, 5, Iran’s strategy is to keep the Strait of Hormuz in “southern Iran” open, but “if the country’s interests are jeopardized in the region, we will not let any ship pass through.”
debkafile‘s military sources report that this statement enlarges on earlier threats. Iran’s “strategic interests in the region” could extend to attacks on Syria, Hizballah or Hamas.
It is in keeping with Iran’s refusal to give up uranium enrichment in its reply to the six-power proposals for ending the nuclear standoff. The latest drumbeat from Tehran also posed a fresh challenge to Washington after Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned on July 2 that the US would not let Iran block the strategic waterway.
debkafile‘s Iranian sources add: Tehran is demonstrating that it was not intimidated by the implied threats of an imminent US and/or Israel attack on its nuclear facilities, nor deterred by sanctions from continuing to enrich uranium.
US top soldier requests demonstration of Israel’s Heron UAV
5 July: debkafile‘s military sources reveal that, during his two-day visit to Israel, Adm. Mike Mullen Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed interest in the Israel Aviations Industries’ long-range Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, which support IDF’s counter-terror and counter-missile operations in the Gaza Strip.
The demonstration took place on June 29 at the forward Israeli UAV base near its main operating arena in the South.
Our military sources describe the Heron as capable, in addition to intelligence-gathering and communications support, of delivering missiles (which Israel has never admitted). It is rated one the best unmanned aerial vehicles in the world for strategic and theater reconnaissance and electronic counter-measures. It has performed well on loan to Turkey for its campaign against Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq.
Hizballah-sponsored Galilee group claims “Israel girl soldier” from Tiberias held hostage 5 years
6 July: Is this an Israeli version of Ingrid Betancourt’s long agony as the hostage of Colombian terrorists?
An unnamed man, professing to be chief of the Galilee Liberation Brigades, claimed Sunday, June 6, to have carried out the last two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem – the bulldozer rampage and the yeshiva massacre. He then said his group has been holding an Israeli girl soldier from Tiberias hostage for five years and promised a video-tape soon to prove it.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources identify the hostage as Dana Bennett, 18, who disappeared after her late-night shift as a waitress in Tiberias on Aug. 1, 2003, and was never heard of since.
Our counter-terror sources have insisted since July 2003, when Cpl, Oleg Shaikhet, 20, was kidnapped and murdered a week before Dana Bennett’s disappearance, that the Galilee Liberation Brigades were a serious terrorist menace. Then, as now, after the latest Jerusalem attacks, the authorities maintain they have no knowledge of the group.
Red Mosque anniversary marked by suicide bombing killing 11 Pakistani policemen
6 July: Thousands of Islamic extremists gathered for the occasion calling for President Pervez Musharraf’s hanging in revenge for last year’s bloody siege of the radical mosque in Islamabad. Fifteen minutes after they dispersed, the 50-strong security contingent was targeted by a suicide bomber. At least 11 policemen were confirmed dead and more than 30 wounded in the blast. The siege in which 100 people were killed sparked a wave of suicide attacks across Pakistan which left more than 1,000 people dead.
Iran, Syria sign new intelligence cooperation accord
6 July: Under the intelligence cooperation agreement Iran and Syria signed secretly on June 27, thousands of Syrian intelligence and police officers will receive special training in Iran, debkafile‘s intelligence sources report. It was signed at the end of an unpublicized five-day visit to Tehran of Syria’s clandestine and security service chiefs headed by Gen. Fouad Sultan, superintendent of internal security. The accord concluded is a crucial element in the deepening strategic relationship between Tehran and Damascus.
It punctures the contention by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and prime minister Ehud Olmert, accepted also by Washington, that the Syrian regime is on its way to desert its close alliance with Tehran.
While secretly bolstering his partnership with Iran, Assad has no trouble spreading the illusion of his willingness for a turn to the West.
Secret US-Iranian Dialogue Brings Oil Prices down
8 July: Oil prices suddenly slumped Tuesday, July 8 under the impact of the secret American-Iranian talks embarked on last month to solve burning issues by diplomatic engagement. They have yielded certain ad hoc understandings, one setting a ceiling on the price of oil.
Neither nation has sheathed its military option in the volatile climate generated by hard-line elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which are dead against deals with Washington.
Monday, July 8, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet announced an American, British, Bahraini Gulf exercise to practice procedures for protecting maritime fuel infrastructures.
The ball was picked up by the Revolutionary Guards which launched a retaliatory naval maneuver the next day.
Tuesday, too, nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman, former chief scientist of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in the New York Times that all of Iran’s activities, especially in uranium enrichment, are evidence that its “near-term ability to make nuclear weapons is gathering strength.”
Once Iran begins enriching uranium to weapons grade on an assembly-line basis, he said “it could transfer this material to groups such as Hizballah and Hamas.”
Egypt pushes for Gaza truce extension to the West Bank
9 July: Egyptian FM Gheit said Israel must reopen the Gaza crossings and halt its counter-terror operations against suicide and other bombers on West Bank.
Israeli forces have meanwhile launched a crackdown on Hamas’ bid to take control of the West Bank after dominating the Gaza Strip. One force shut down the main business mall of Nablus and bakeries and other businesses owned by Hamas and providing it with income.
Cairo persuaded Barak to reverse the Gaza crossings closure after Palestinians fired a mortar and snipers aimed at Israel farm hands. After the crossings were opened, another mortar round landed outside Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha followed by two Qassam missiles.
Angry Israelis took matters in their own hands and prevented fuel trucks from entering Gaza through the Nahal Oz crossing.
Two Israeli Bedouin brothers indicted as al Qaeda spies
Two residents of the Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel, Omar and Taher Abu Skhut, aged 20 and 21, went on trial before the Beersheba district court charged with joining al Qaeda through the Internet and passing classified information on Israeli targets for attack. In early 2006, they started passing information to al Qaeda through the Internet on the locations and security measures at Israeli military camps, Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers, one of the tallest and busiest high-rise commercial buildings in the country, and Ben-Gurion international airport. They found easy points of entry to Israel through the West Bank for al Qaeda teams of terrorists coming from Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Iran‘s TV announces second batch of ballistic missile tests
10 July: Iran test-fired more long-range ballistic missiles in the Gulf Thursday, July 10, the day after its launch of 10 missiles including the Shehab-3, which is capable of delivering a one-ton payload at a distance of 2,000 kilometers and reaching Tel Aviv. The second round was announced on Day Three of the Great Prophet III war games.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the 20 missiles of assorted ranges tested so far (including the Fajar and Zelzal series) were put on show to convince the United States and Israel that Iran has enough missiles and launchers to keep on firing on consecutive days.
This was more bluster than real. In fact, only one 2,000-range Shehab-3 was actually test-fired. Accentuating Gulf waters as the location of the second day’s tests, instead of an inland desert location like the first, raises the threat level. It was Tehran’s answer to the bland comments delivered Wednesday by US assistant secretary William Burns that Washington is not nearing a military confrontation with Iran and that Tehran’s response to the latest six-power incentives package makes it possible to keep diplomacy going.
Iran clearly prefers to continue talking from a position of strength and flexed military muscles.
Tuesday, the senior IRGC Navy cleric threatened to strike back at Tel Aviv at once if the US attacks Iran.
US officials and presidential candidates respond
July 9-10: White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday. “The Iranians should stop the development of ballistic missiles, which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon, immediately.”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged the US will defend its interests and its allies. The US has enhanced its security presence in the Gulf and “we take our obligations to held our allies defend themselves very seriously and no one should be confused about that.”
Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama said the missile tests showed the US needs to pursue direct and aggressive diplomacy backed by “tougher sanctions.” His rival Senator John McCain said the missile firings mean “Iran continues to threaten the security of their neighbors.” But he was sure that European allies are ready to impose financial and trade sanctions that “can be effective in modifying Iranian behavior.”