A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending July 17, 2008

New Beirut government restored Syrian sway over Lebanon


July 11: The majority bloc headed by the incumbent Fouad Siniora holds 16 portfolios in the new Lebanese government, the opposition led by Hizballah – 11. President Michel Sleiman exercised his prerogative to name three ministers.

The numbers, debkafile‘s Middle East sources note, add up to the radicalization of the new administration and its domination by two terrorist groups.

The pro-Iranian Hizballah-led opposition has gained veto power and Damascus has solidified its grip on Lebanon’s center of power – both through the Shiite-led bloc and through a first-time cabinet member, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – the SSNP, which is dedicated to a Greater Syria.

Tehran and Damascus have succeeded in thrusting aside American and French bids for influence.

The SSNP holds a portfolio in the Lebanese government and a seat in the Syrian parliament at one and the same time, faithful to its Greater Syria ideal which names Lebanon “Western Syria” and the Mediterranean the “Syrian Sea.”


New corruption probe against PM Ehud Olmert


11 July: Following the two-hour police interrogation of prime minister Ehud Olmert at his Jerusalem home, Friday, July 11, the Justice ministry and Police jointly announced their investigation had been widened beyond the Talansky case.

Olmert and his agents are now suspected of fraudulently obtaining the costs of his foreign trips on official business simultaneously from several public bodies and individuals, including the state. After deducting his real travel costs, Olmert’s travel agency would transfer the balance to a special private account from which he paid for his private trips and those of his family.

Olmert was questioned Friday for the third time in a widening corruption scandal that has led his Kadima party to call a primary by September to force him out of office. He is not bound by law to step down before he is indicted.


Galilee Liberation group claims attack on two Israeli police at Jerusalem Old City Gate


12 July: The Galilee Liberation Brigades claimed the latest Palestinian terrorist attack in Jerusalem, in which a gunman shot two Israel Border Police guards at the Old City’s Lions’ Gate just before midnight on July 11 and vanished in the nearby ancient Muslim cemetery. Both, seriously hurt, returned fire but failed to stop him.

Police commissioner Dudi Cohen said he saw no links in the six Palestinian lone-wolf attacks in Jerusalem this year, costing 12 Israeli lives – any more than he did after a lone assailant murdered eight students at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva last March.

The police say the Hizballah-sponsored Galilee Liberation Brigades is non-existent.

Cohen admitted only that none of the assailants have been caught.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources bring five connecting links to police attention:

1. They all occurred in Jerusalem;

2. They were carried out by Palestinian residents of the city.

3. Some clandestine center in Jerusalem is evidently recruiting, directing, arming and guiding these solo killers to target.

4. They are all ready to confront Israeli security forces and die in action, which makes them suicide killers.

5. None of the attacks had advance warning.


Assad pours icy water on Olmert-Sarkozy-Abbas upbeat peace show


13 July: French president Nicolas Sarkozy organized a jovial photo-op with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to launch his Mediterranean union debut in Paris Sunday, July 13, attended by 43 leaders.

The first sour note came from Syrian president Bashar Assad, when he and his foreign minister walked out as Olmert entered to the hall to deliver a speech.

Abbas and Sarkozy beamed their approval of Olmert’s statement and co-chairman Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called on Israel and the Palestinians to work harder for a peace deal to pave the way for a Palestinian state.

Behind the bonhomie, debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that Abbas’ Fatah and its rival, the rejectionist Palestinian Hamas, have never been so close to a peace accord as they are today, largely due to the efforts of Mubarak himself.

Success in this effort would write finis to the US-sponsored Palestinian peace track with Israel.

A senior Abbas adviser, Yasser Abd Rabbo said in Ramallah last Thursday that his faction is seriously considering putting peace talks with Israel on ice.


High military tension over Iranian presence on strategic Lebanese peak


14 July: debkafile‘s military sources report that Israel has placed its military and air forces on its northern borders on high alert after Iran and Syria ignored Jerusalem’s warning that the continued presence of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah officers on the strategic Lebanese Sannine peak could spark a military clash.

Monday, July 14, two days ahead of the prisoner swap with Hizballah, Israel’s army spokesmen disclosed that Iranian officers had assumed command of Hizballah’s fighting units.

Our military sources report that Iranian officers are in command of Hizballah teams atop the 7,800-foot Mt. Sannine peak, whence they can monitor and menace US Sixth Fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean and Israeli Air Force flights, and are attached to Hizballah’s anti-air, surface, and shore-to-ship missile units across Lebanon.


Israeli tourists in Egyptian Sinai exposed to imminent terrorist kidnap threat


15 July: The Jerusalem counter-terror center urges Israelis already there to leave at once.


Labor Federation Secretary warns Israel economy is on verge of catastrophe


15 July: Histadrut Secretary General Ofer Eini reports that he is getting a bleak message in his conversations with employers in the industry and farming sectors. In particular, exporters face ruin and are prepared to fire tens of thousands as the shrinking US dollar cuts into their revenues month after month. The union leader accused the government of sitting on its hands.


Knesset panel urges government to redistribute anti-biochemical warfare masks


15 July: The masks which were recalled two years ago should be handed out urgently to the northern Israeli population, said members of the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Tuesday. By withholding them, the government is guilty of negligence that could cost lives.


US force abandons remote Afghan outpost where nine troops killed


16 July: Hundreds of insurgents broke through the defenses of the small American Combat Outpost at Wanat in the Dara-I-Pech district of Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan Friday and Saturday, July 11 and 12, in one of the biggest battles of the war. Nine US soldiers were killed and 15 injured – the biggest loss of life in a single battle since the start of the Afghan war in 2001. Scores of insurgents also died.

A police official from neighboring Nuristan Province, Ghulam Farooq, reported Hezb-i-Islami militia forces as well as Taliban. Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters were heavily present in the area of the attack.

US figures for attacks in the eastern border area are currently running around 40 per cent higher than last year.


Israeli government confirms prisoner swap against intelligence chiefs’ objections


16 July: The Israeli cabinet voted 22 to 3 for the deal although three security chiefs stated Hizballah cheated on its promised report on the fate of the Israeli navigator Ron Arad, taken prisoner in Lebanon 22 years ago and never heard of since.

They recommended rejecting the swap deal since Hizballah had not kept to its side of the bargain. Three ministers, Zeev Boim, Daniel Friedman and Ronnie Bar-On, voted against the exchange.

Knesset foreign affairs and security committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi criticized the deal, brokered by the UN-appointed mediator Gerhard Konrad, as exposing Israel’s weakness and Hizballah’s strength and resolve.


High US official to attend nuclear talks with Iran, capping secret US-Tehran diplomacy


16 July: The announcement that Under Secretary William Burns will join the meeting the European Union’s Javier Solana holds with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Switzerland this week makes official the secret diplomatic track afoot between Washington and Tehran, first disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly on June 27.

This step distances the Bush administration still further from Israel’s position which demands the curtailment of Iran’s drive for a nuclear bomb by all means, including military action. Israel is left alone in the arena.

The understandings US and Iranian diplomats achieved in their undisclosed talks covered Lebanese political stability under a new national government dominated by Iran and Syria, and Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s restoration to center position on the Middle East stage. Israel has been thrust to the outer edge of US Middle East policy while its mortal enemies are placed at the center.

Israel’s indirect peace talks with Syria are now revealed as a smoke screen for Washington’s pursuit of a secret rapprochement with Tehran and Damascus.


New Hizballah tactic: Missile ambushes for Israel aircraft and ships


16 July: Hizballah marked the conclusion of the prisoner exchange with Israel by launching new tactics consisting of anti-air missile ambushes against Israeli Air Force flights over Lebanon and anti-ship missiles against Israel naval craft cruising off its shores.

Lebanon said Israeli warplanes had flow over the South, Beirut, Jounieh, Dahr al-Baidar, Wednesday and Thursday, while. Israeli warships had entered Lebanese waters.

With the help of Iranian and Syrian military experts, Hizballah has ranged the length of the Lebanese coast a dense line of 1,000 Iranian C-802 anti-ship missiles, which have a range of 120 km.

Hizballah has taken charge of the missiles while handing the Lebanese national army the task of attacking Israeli outposts at the Shaaba Farms enclave and the Mt. Dov slopes of the Hermon range.


Israel buries two returned soldiers at military funerals


17 July: The military funerals at the home towns of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Nahariya and Haifa, returned in coffins by Hizballah Wednesday, were watched by Israelis nationwide in live television broadcasts.

Many thousands attended the funerals along with national leaders. In tearful scenes, they condoled with Karnit Goldwasser, widowed after nine months’ marriage, and the parents and siblings of the two soldiers, who campaigned tirelessly nation- and worldwide for their recovery.

The IDF medical corps confirmed that the two soldiers, whose cross-border abduction two years ago sparked the 33-day 2006 Lebanon War, died of their wounds shortly after their border patrol was ambushed by Hizballah raiders.

Hizballah withheld this information until the critical moment of their handover at the Lebanese-Israel border on Wednesday, when two black coffins were pulled out of a vehicle.

Israel handed over the bodies of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists, as well as five live prisoners in return for the soldiers’ remains. Among them was the notorious Lebanese killer, Samir Kuntar, 29 years into his life sentence for the brutal murder of two children, their father and a policeman in Nahariya.

The exchange approved by the Israeli government has raised much controversy: some critics objected to the release of Kuntar and the boost it gave to Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Hizballah terrorist organization, in Beirut.

Others said that handing live terrorists over for dead soldiers created an unhealthy precedent.


Pentagon proposes selling Israel four littoral combat ships


17 July: The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of its wish to sell Israel shore-hugging combat ships, spare parts, software and other goods and services worth $1.9 billion. Israel has requested the littoral combat ships to patrol its shores, mainly from Lockheed Martin, General Dynamis and Raytheon. The agency statement said: “It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. “


PM Olmert’s attorneys cross-question financier Talansky


17 July: They sought to fault his memory in a previous testimony on the $150 million in envelopes he gave Ehud Olmert. Morris Talanksy insisted to the Jerusalem district court Thursday that he had told the truth. The hearing continues Friday.

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