A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending July 31, 2008

Syrian officers take hand in North Lebanese clashes – against Hizballah


25 July: A ceasefire was scheduled to go into force in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli Friday evening, July 25, after fierce sectarian clashes left six dead and 33 injured.

debkafile‘s military sources report that rocket-propelled grenade and sniper fire was exchanged all day between two districts, the largely Alawite Baal Mohsen and the Sunni Bab Tabbaneh.

The Alawites, members of the sect which dominates the Assad regime in Syria, fought under Syrian military intelligence officers in civilian garb with weapons supplied from Damascus. The anti-Syrian Sunnis were armed by the Lebanese majority bloc led by Saad Hariri. The clashes have been going back and forth for two months with neither side prevailing.

Our sources report the Tripoli battle is a landmark because there Syrian officers have ordered the Alawite fighters to chase Hizballah militiamen out of their district. Damascus is drawing the line against the spread of Hizballah and Iranian influence from Beirut to northern Lebanon, a region it views as exclusive Syrian turf. The Syrians are at the same time working closely with Iran and Hizballah in central and southern Lebanon opposite Israel and the US Sixth Fleet which patrols the eastern Mediterranean.


In secret note, Olmert says Bush has deserted Israel against Iran


26 July: Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert this week shot off a strong secret note to US President George W. Bush, protesting the administration’s strategic steps toward rapprochement with Iran.

Israel was not forewarned, Olmert wrote bitterly, although the administration had violated its understandings with Israel on Iran and Bush’s personal promises to the prime minister earlier this year. If nothing is done to arrest Iran’s progress towards a nuclear bomb, Olmert warned, Iran will have all the components ready for assembly by early 2009, that is, in 6-8 months.

This time line is tighter than the one the prime minister gave the Democratic Senator Barack Obama when he visited Jerusalem Wednesday, July 23.

The US response apparently came in the way American military chiefs brushed off Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, when he presented intelligence updates on the state of Iran’s military nuclear program. He was received with great honor during his week’s working visit, but his hosts declined to address the working theories guiding the IDF with regard to that program.


Islamabad: Israel’s Mossad and Indian intelligence stir up trouble against Pakistan


27 July: Pakistan’s intelligence agency Sunday, July 27, accused the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Israel’s Mossad of working hand in glove. They were blamed for stirring up trouble on the its common border with Afghanistan and planning terrorist activities inside Pakistan in conjunction with Khad (the former Afghan secret service).

debkafile‘s intelligence sources report that Islamabad, beset by accusations from New Delhi and Kabul of fomenting terror in their countries, injected the Israeli agency into the quarrel as an expedient for deflecting their attacks.


Prisoner exchange with Hizballah spurs more terrorist abduction plots


27 July: Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin reported to the cabinet Sunday, July 27, that more and more terrorist groups are laying plans to kidnap Israeli soldiers, since the Lebanese Hizballah gained the release of five imprisoned members in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers two weeks ago.

In Jerusalem, said Diskin, more local Palestinians are embracing religious radicalism and global jihadist ideas, including the practice of terrorism. Heavy armed strength is necessary to secure access to an Arab district like Shoafat. The situation there is even more dangerous than that prevailing in the West Bank town of Jenin. Hamas is also gaining a foothold in the Jerusalem villages of Abu Dis and Azariya.

The Shin Bet director urged the ministers to hurry up and apply penalties for the two terrorist attacks by bulldozers on Jerusalem’s main streets this month and the massacre at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in March. Demolitions of terrorists’ homes and the withdrawal of social benefits from their families have proved effective deterrents in the past.


Fatah retaliates for Gaza mass arrests by detaining Hamas West Bank activists


27 July: Palestinian security forces rounded up dozens of West Bank Hamas activists and associates in Tulkarm Sunday, July 27, including the local mufti. Hamas arrests of the rival Fatah’s operatives in the Gaza Strip increased to 200 Sunday after a bomb explosion outside a Gaza beachside cafe killed five senior Hamas operatives and a young girl Friday night, July 25. Another 18 people were injured.


At least 45 killed in 25 bomb blasts in two Important Indian cities


27 July: Eight roadside bombs in the southern “Silicone Valley” town of Bangalore left two dead Friday, followed Saturday by 17 bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, where the death has risen to 43. At least one hundred were injured.

Both were claimed by the Indian Mujahideen. The bombings were similar in nature, using timers, ammonium nitrate, nuts, bolts and nails. In Ahmedabad, the explosions were coordinated to maximize the deaths, striking the emergency teams responding to the first blasts and then targeting four hospitals.

Officials in New Delhi have accused Pakistan of a hand behind the recent upsurge of well-planned bomb attacks, including this month’s suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Islamabad denies the charge.


Four female suicide bombers target Iraqi Shiites and Kurds Monday


28 July: They killed at least 57 people, wounded nearly 300 in Baghdad and the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

A senior US military official blamed al Qaeda for the attacks in Baghdad, the worst since June 17. Three women detonated their bomb vests in the middle of a procession of Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad. They mingled with pilgrims marching from the Shiite Karradah district to Kazamiyah in northern Baghdad to mark a saint’s day. More than 42 people were killed and 72 injured.

In Kirkuk, 25 peple were killed and 185 wounded by the fourth woman-bomber who blasted a crowd of Kurds. A curfew was clamped down on the multiethnic town.

To combat al Qaeda’s increasing use of female suicide bombers, Iraqi security forces have mobilized 200 women to search female pilgrims near the northern Baghdad shrine of Kazimiyah.


Iran will not step back from nuclear path – supreme ruler


30 July: “If Iran takes one step back, the arrogant powers in the world would take one step forward,” said Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a sermon Wednesday, July 30.

This was taken as an early negative reply to the six powers demand for an answer by August 2, to their proposed incentives for suspending uranium enrichment.

debkafile: Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement will have the effect of breaking up the six-power front against Iran’s nuclear program. This may have been his desired effect. Russia and China are expected to take exception to the harsh economic penalties favored by the US and most of Europe for Tehran’s defiance.

“It is totally wrong and baseless to think that any retreat from our righteous positions would change the policies of the arrogant powers,” he said.


US X-Band radar to detect Iranian missiles, but no involvement in Israel attack


30 July: The United States agreed to link Israel up to two advanced missile detection systems against potential attack by a nuclear-armed Iran, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday night, July 30, at the end of his Washington talks. But US officials made it clear that, while prepared to help Israel defend itself against Iranian missile retaliation, they are determined not to be involved in any Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

debkafile‘s military sources report that Washington would deliver within six months “before the new US administration arrives” in January, a powerful forward-based, transportable X-band FBX-T radar system built by Raytheon Co. By providing early and accurate target-tracing and signature data, this system enlarges the effective battle space of missile interceptors. US officials say it can track an object the size of a baseball from about 4,700 km, and can be launched from air, sea or land.

It would allow the Israeli Arrow anti-missile system to engage an incoming Iranian Shehab-3 ballistic missile about halfway through its estimated 11-minute flight. This would give a potentially targeted Israeli population five minutes to prepare for an Iranian missile hit. This would make up for the deficiency of Arrow’s Green Pine radar, which can detect a missile launch in Iran only after it reenters the atmosphere.

Washington also agreed to grant Israel increased access to the US Defense Support System (DSP) satellites, which spot missile launches and would help Israel cover the first 5.5 minutes of a Shehab-3 firing.

Neither is likely to be forthcoming before the next president enters the White House.


Israel‘s opposition leader calls for new election


31 July: Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu takes issue with the manner of prime minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to leave office, because it sidesteps the voter.

Passing the premiership sideways to a successor, which Olmert’s own Kadima will elect in a primary in two months, is a form of “artificial respiration” for a failed government, he said Thursday, July 31. Olmert, who faces half a dozen investigations for corruption, should have dissolved the Knesset and announced an early election.

In all popular polls, the opposition Likud leads substantially over all other parties, including Kadima under alternative leadership

Wednesday night, Olmert announced in a special broadcast to the nation that he would not run for election in Kadima’s first leadership primary taking place between Sept. 18 and Sept. 24. He intended handing over to the winning candidate, who would then form an alternative government.

He bequeaths his successor a deeply divided cabinet based on a precarious parliamentary majority of four. It faces its first major hurdle over the passage of the 2009 budget. Several politicians have suggested that none of the Kadima candidates – Tzipi Livni, foreign affairs, Shaul Mofaz, transport, Avi Dichter, internal security and Meir Sheetrit, immigration – are up to the task of building a stable alternative government. Therefore, after the months of political turmoil head, Israel may face a snap election in early 2009.

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