A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending July 2, 2009
Netanyahu folds under US pressure, will pull army out of West Bank towns before peace talks
25 June: Despite his pledge to keep security considerations uppermost in his dealings with the Palestinians, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is buckling under pressure from the US administration aimed at softening Israel up ahead of Middle East peace talks.
This pressure turned Netanyahu's first official visits to Rome and Paris sour.
He had hoped to outmaneuver the Obama administration's insistence on a total settlement freeze by winning the support of friendly Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy for a compromise formula that would entail also an early troop pullback from West Bank Palestinian towns.
But he did not reckon on the Obama administration getting there first. So his arrival in Rome and Paris was preceded by Italian and French officials parroting the Washington line on a settlement freeze, including East Jerusalem
Netanyahu's promise to the Italian and French leaders to pull the IDF out of the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Qalqilya, meanwhile went on record, for no gain in either European capital or an Arab quid pro quo. The IDF has also been ordered to reduce to the number of checkpoints on the West Bank to 10 active facilities. All this adds up to the most sweeping redeployment of Israeli security forces since their unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria four years ago as part of Ariel Sharon's disengagement policy.
The Obama administration has thus cornered the Netanyahu government into giving away valuable assets to the Palestinians before negotiations have even begun. This diplomatic dexterity has not been displayed in Washington's dealings with Iran.
Ahmadinejad in fresh attack on Obama shuts door on multilateral nuclear diplomacy
27 June: The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hit back Saturday. June 27, barely 24 hours after US president Barack Obama poured scorn on him and warned that “direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran” would be “affected by the events of the last several weeks.”
The Iranian president repeated his allegation that Obama and leaders of European countries had “insulted the Iranian nations with interference in internal matters” and went on to threaten: “This time the reply by the Iranian nation will be decisive and harsh.”
This was taken by debkafile's sources as a hostile rejoinder to Obama's statement Friday, June 26, alongside German chancellor Angela Merkel, that direct dialogue would be delayed, but the talks “compered by the P5-plus-1 group on Iran's nuclear program would likely continue.” The world, said the US president, needs to recognize that the prospect of Iran with nuclear weapons was a “big problem.”
Tehran appears to be preparing to downgrade its ties – not only with the UK – but with other European states such as France and Germany which condemned the regime's crackdown on the protest movement as “outrageous.”
Washington: Weakened Ahmadinejad may seek military adventures
28 June: Two fundamental conceptions underpinning the Obama administration's Middle East policies have been swept away by the upheaval in Iran. Nuclear negotiations with Iran have become remote – for one, and the premise that progress on the Palestinian peace front is the key to a breakthrough with Iran, is another.
The turmoil in Tehran has demonstrated that any connection between internal unrest in the Islamic republic, its nuclear program and the Israel-Palestinian issue is a mirage.
Sunday, June 28, a number of Washington observers familiar with White House thinking cited insiders as speculating that should Netanyahu venture to defy the US on the settlement construction issue, his coalition government would collapse and he would be pushed out and succeeded by defense minster Ehud Barak.
This approach is believed to be advocated by the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. The main Israeli settlement concentrations cover no more than 1.7 percent of West Bank territory and the marginal expansion for growth would add less than one percent. Clearly, the controversy is more political than territorial.
Where Washington and Jerusalem do agree is that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's diminished status at home and built-in bellicosity may goad him into embarking on a dangerous military adventure against Israel or US targets in Afghanistan or Iraq. In Jerusalem it makes sense for the United Stats to strengthen the informal Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli connection as a bulwark against wild Iranian ideas. This alliance, the brainchild of Barak, has been enthusiastically embraced by the prime minister. Therefore, the White House's presumption that the defense minister can be turned against Netanyahu makes no sense in Israeli terms.
First round in Internet war goes to Iranian intelligence
28 June: Iran's Islamic regime turned the tables against the protesters and used the Internet as a deadly weapon for suppressing their movement.
By Sunday, June 28, the street rallies had petered out.
Part of the reason, debkafile's intelligence sources report, was their organizers' heavy reliance on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other social sites to orchestrate their protest movement. They did not at first appreciate that Iranian intelligence Internet experts, operating from secret headquarters established months ago, were using their communications to shoot them down.
The Iranians set up a system capable of conducting “deep packet inspection” of every type of text and video communication in all parts of Iran. It used keywords to detect within milliseconds feeds of interest by computer or phone – mail, signals or visuals, get a fix on sender and addressee and have them shadowed by field agents.
The day after the presidential poll, the 10 leading service providers were taken over and traffic slowed down.
Tehran was furious with Britain because it was accused of providing the organizers of the dissident movement with London telephone numbers to circumvent the deliberate slowdown of online traffic from inside the country.
Wednesday, June 24, after assessing the damage the Iranian Internet invasion had caused US interests, secretary of defense Robert Gates ordered a special cyber defense system set up to protect the US armed forces' 15,000 Web sites.
June 28 Briefs
· Tear gas in clashes with up to 3,000 protesters in Tehran.
· Clinton: military steps against Honduras president violate democracy.
· President Peres on state visit to Azerbaijan with foreign, trade, infrastructure ministers.
· Cabinet: No truth in reports of imminent prisoner swap deal for Gilead Shalit.
· Pakistan puts $600,000 bounty on head of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsed.
· UK demands immediate release of 8 detained local British embassy employees.
· Opposition leader Mousavi stands by demand for election re-run.
The changing Mossad: Frontrunner for next director is former Air Force chief
29 June: The decision approved Sunday, June 28, to extend Meir Dagan's service as director of Israel's external intelligence service, the Mossad, until the end of 2010 was actually taken last May by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the minister in charge of intelligence Dan Meridor for the sake of an orderly transition. They wanted to be sure the new man was right for the task by giving the retiring and incoming directors time to work in harness for a six-month crossover period. First he would work alongside Dagan with no titles or prior commitments. If he proved worthy, he would be named deputy and future director in May 2010.
Dagan's current deputy “T” was the front runner until he quit in a huff over the long wait for his turn at the helm. The two leading candidates now are former Air Force chief, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Eliezer Shkedy, 52, who created the force's “Iran Command” and prepared the Air and Missiles forces, including the Arrow missile interceptor unit, for a potential war with Iran; and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yediya Yaari, 62, the successful director of Rafael, Israel's Arms Development Authority. As commander of the Israeli Navy in the 1990s, he directed and led several daring undercover missions. He therefore has valuable experience in covert operations behind enemy lines.
Obama thaw on Israeli settlement construction follows Iran setback, Saudi brush-off
30 June: The Obama administration signaled a new mood of compromise on settlement construction just ahead of the key talks in New York between Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak and prime minister's adviser Yitzhak Molcho and US envoy George Mitchell Tuesday, June 30.
The US state department spokesman Ian Kelly said: “We've been working with all the parties to try and come up with… an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations.” He then spoke of some level of flexibility as part of the negotiating process.”
debkafile's political analysts attribute this crack in US president Barack Obama's unswerving push for a total halt on settlement activity on the West Bank to four new developments:
1. The prospect of direct US-Iranian dialogue on the nuclear issue has vanished into the blue yonder and US pressure on Israel is no longer a relevant bargaining chip.
2. Saudi Arabia will in no circumstances reciprocate for Israeli concessions by gestures of its own.
3. Former Bush administration officials are challenging the administration's denial of Bush administration understandings with Israel on settlement expansion to accommodate natural growth.
4. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stuck to his guns and stood up to Obama on the issue.
US troops leave Iraqi cities
30 June: The US handover of towns and cities to Iraqi security personnel was darkened by the deaths of four US soldiers in Baghdad and a bomb-vehicle explosion which killed at least 27 Iraqis in a Kirkuk market in the north.
The Iraq regime signaled its hopes for a new era by holding an auction Tuesday for eight oil and gas fields, Iraq's first major opening to foreign investment in 40 years.
Yet DEBKAfile's military sources stress that unresolved tensions among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds still simmer and may erupt now that 130,000 US troops have withdrawn: Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk and Mosul will be more vulnerable than ever and security in the small towns of Falluja, Ramadi and Baquba may veer out of control under massive, multi-casualty bombing attacks. Few really believe that the 650,000-strong Iraqi military is up to maintaining stability or dealing with a serious insurgency or wave of terror.
The prime minister has attributed the pre-withdrawal spike in violence to al Qaeda and remnants of the Iraqi Baath insurgents, whereas top Iraqi commander Gen. Odierno blamed Iran, which he said “is still supporting, funding and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq.
First US soldier captured in E. Afghanistan as US Marines launch big anti-Taliban offensive in the south
2 July: The US military spokesperson provided no details about the missing US soldier, the first abduction in America's eight-year Afghan war, except to say that he went missing Tuesday, June 30.
News of the capture broke after 4,000 US marines and 650 Afghan troops launched Operation Strike of the Sword against the Taliban heartland in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan Thursday, July 2. They faced little resistance at first. debkafile's military sources report that the Taliban, forewarned of the coming offensive, used the tactics it employs against the Pakistani army, which is to avoid pitched battles with large US or Pakistan forces. This tactic has denied the Pakistani army victory in two months of fighting in the northern Swat Valley.
The American offensive in Helmand is not an in-and-out operation. The troops will stay put, purge the province and hand it over to the central government in Kabul.
However, Afghanistan is short of troops for taking and holding the province, and Afghan security forces have a propensity for squabbling amongst themselves over territory and influence.