A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending June 23, 2011
June 17, 2011 Briefs
• Syrian security forces kill 16 protesters as thousands demonstrate against Assad regime across country.
• US Marines Corps reservist Lance Corp. Yonathan Melaku is in custody after security alert outside Pentagon.
• Turkish IHH calls off anti-Israel protest flotilla to Gaza.
• All existing Israel-Palestinian agreements, including Oslo Accords, will be voided if PA turns to UN for state recognition. Israeli FM Lieberman said this to visiting EU foreign executive Catherine Ashton.
• Palestinians fire Qassam missile from Gaza Friday night. It exploded harmlessly in Eshkol district.
Lebanon has a radical new government giving Assad his second front
17 June. Lebanon has a new government headed by Najib Mikati, ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah. Formed suddenly on June 13, the 30-minister lineup has earmarked an unprecedented 18 portfolios – including defense and interior – for Hizballah loyalists and pro-Syrian politicians. While fighting the uprising against his rule, Bashar Assad has recaptured Beirut. The appointment of friendly Fayez Ghosn defense minister places the army at the service of Damascus and portends trouble on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Gone is the careful sectarian balancing act which maintained a measure of equilibrium and kept civil war in Lebanon at bay.
The breakthrough was directly spawned by the Syrian uprising: The Shiite Hizballah capitalized on neighboring unrest to grab its largest slice of government ever. Assad set up a second front against his foes in Beirut, added muscle to his military repression at home and signaled the US, Turkey and Europe that attempts to topple his regime risked sparking civil strife and chaos in neighboring Lebanon. The peril of inflaming the entire Levant was meant to deter foreign military intervention in Syria.
June 18, 2011 Briefs
• A 30-round volley fired Saturday at Israel's Kalandia check point between Jerusalem and West Bank which returned fire. Search discovered Palestinian firing position set up on the West Bank side. This was the first shooting attack on a Jerusalem military post in five years.
• Sources in Ankara report ultimatum to Damascus Saturday: Syria has only a few days to get reforms in place before Turkey steps in. On June 9, debkafile revealed Prime Minister Erdogan's decision in principle to send troops into Syria.
• Assad's tank forces in the Syrian border village of Badama saw Turkish helicopters hovering overhead for the first time.
• London advises British citizens to leave Syria at once.
• Washington sources: US looks into international war crimes trial for Assad and Syrian regime heads.
Karzai slams US, links hands with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
18 June. Afghan President Hamid Karzai turned furiously on the United States in a public outburst Saturday, June 18. He accused Washington of carrying on direct talks with the Taliban behind Kabul's back and contaminating the Afghan environment with the chemical pollutants used in NATO war operations. debkafile: Karzai is the third head of a Muslim country, after Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, to take strong exception to US foreign policy and distance himself from the Obama administration. His diatribe was prompted by the suspicion that the US is secretly dealing with the Taliban behind his back and by finding a sympathetic ear in Riyadh for his gripes against Washington along with Pakistan.
A week ago, Karzai visited Islamabad for two days (June 10-11) of long private talks with Pakistan's leaders.
Some informed sources say the Afghan president also saw senior Saudi officials on the quiet. On his return to Kabul he welcomed the Iranian defense minister on his first official visit to Kabul.
Saudi women start driving for the front seat
18 June. The numbers were small, around 40, but Women2Drive towards independence in their male-dominated society was certainly the most motorized protest of the Arab revolt. King Abdullah has begun opening the door of government to women's employment and women drivers were allowed Thursday, June 17, to get away with taking the wheel for a day. But at least one powerful prince, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, and most of the religious establishment hold out strongly against liberal or democratic reform.
June 19, 2011 Briefs
• Israel starts comprehensive five-day home defense exercise Sunday. It is predicated on potential missile attack on every part of the country.
• Syrian tank-backed forces in scorched earth operation against border villages along Turkish border helping refugees with aid and food.
• Israel vows to obstruct anti-Israel flotilla that tries to breach Gaza blockade after Turkey dropped out of expedition.
• Israeli soldiers shot, wounded and detained a Palestinian who climbed the wall of an IDF outpost northeast of Qalqilya shouting Allah is Great and swinging a knife.
• Fatah and Hamas leaders call off Tuesday meeting in Cairo. Abbas wants Salam Fayyad to stay on as future PM. Meshaal objects.
• Israeli Cabinet approves transfer of WZO Settlement Division from Defense Minister Barak to PM Netanyahu. Barak will not longer have veto power over the division's activities.
NATO in final shot to topple Qaddafi
19 June. Early Sunday, June 18, NATO bombers struck an apartment building in Tripoli killing 9 civilians. NATO later admitted civilian casualties caused after its earlier denial. Convinced that NATO's primary goal is the removal of Muammar Qaddafi, departing Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called for a political solution "based on a ceasefire with effective international supervision, cessation of all hostilities and setting a transitional period." He stressed that the "Arab attitude is based on protecting Libya's sovereignty, preventing its division and moving promptly to find a diplomatic solution."
Last week, the head of the African Union South African President Jacob Zuma accused NATO of seeking "regime change" by" political assassinations" through war.
Obama is now being warned that unless Libyan operations end this week or the White House gets congressional mandate, he will be in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Congressmen fear he may expand this role – again without seeking their consent – and be drawn into what Berlusconi has termed the last weeks of the war. The American navy's biggest and mightiest air carrier, USS George HW Bush, is standing ready in the Mediterranean at the head of large US armada.
No compromise in Assad speech – only vow to battle "terrorists"
20 June. In his first address to the nation in two months, Syrian President Bashar Assad accused a "minute" number of "terrorists" backed by "conspirators at home and abroad" of exploiting the legitimate demands for reform to serve longstanding plots to control Syria because of its geo-strategic importance.
While hinting at possible reforms, there was not the slightest suggestion that he might step down or dismiss his brother who has been leading the savage crackdown on the nearly four-month old protest.
He said he had counted 64,000 "common law offenders" in the demonstrations, equal to five army brigades. He also blamed "fundamentalists" – external and internal – for the unrest.
Indeed he spoke in the pained tone of a wronged and misunderstood leader.
The audience of regime dignitaries did not greet him with its usual enthusiasm. Assad's cure for all Syria's ills was "national dialogue" with all sections of society. Syria must deal with its own troubles.
June 21, 2001 Briefs
• Libyan state TV: "A NATO Apache helicopter downed in Majr in Zliten area" – the fifth. NATO spokesman: An "unmanned autonomous helicopter drone" lost contact with command center on a surveillance mission.
• PA chairman Abbas says he is open to negotiations instead of UN move. debkafile first reported this on June 15.
• President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan talked Monday about the Syria situation. The White House: They agreed Syrian government must end violence now and promptly enact meaningful reforms.
• UK air force chief Sir Simon Bryant warns MPs that intense air operations in Afghanistan and Mid East taking toll of equipment and men. Morale among airmen "fragile" – undermined by overwork and defense cuts.
• Libya accused NATO of second attack on civilian targets in two days: Three children were among 15 killed in heavy bombing strike Monday on compound of Qaddafi's friend Khoweidi al-Hamidi at Surman, west of Tripoli. NATO claimed it was a command and control center.
• Obama says Israel and US must assess the new Middle East with fresh eyes. Talking to Jewish donors to his reelection campaign, he called Israel America's closest ally.
Syrian drives refugees back to ghost towns. Palestinians join anti-Assad protest
21 June. The Syrian army went into action Tuesday, June 21, the day after the Assad speech, to drive back to their homes the nearly quarter of a million civilians who fled towns and villages to escape military persecution. This figure contradicts the numbers put out of only a few thousand refugees in flight. debkafile's sources reported sounds of gunfire and explosions coming from the hill refuges of northern Syria, to which Turkeyhas been ferrying food, clean water and medical supplies to the starving and traumatized people.
Syrian President Bashar Assad remained unmoved by the risk of a showdown with the US and Turkey – even after the ominous phone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister and Obama's demand that his regime end the "outrageous" violence now.
For the first time too, Palestinians from the refugee camps around Damascus have thrown their weight behind the anti-Assad opposition.
June 22, 2011 Briefs
• Israeli air force struck a Palestinian smuggling tunnel in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night – reprisal for first missile-mortar attack in four months.
• Two sirens sent Israelis to shelters and fortified rooms Wednesday part of a five day national missile drill. The cabinet met in session in a bomb shelter on the assumption that enemy missiles could now reach any part of the country, including central Israel.
Evacuations of schools and hospitals were also practiced.
• Palestinians lobbed bottle bombs at border police in Silwan, Jerusalem Tuesday night.
• Departing Arab League secy Amr Moussa doubts NATO bombings will force Qaddafi to step down.
Italy's call for immediate halt of Libya war: Qaddafi's gain, NATO's loss
22 June. Three months after the first NATO bombardments in Libya, Italy has called for an immediate halt in hostilities "to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians." debkafile: Since 90 per cent of NATO's air strikes come from bases and command centers in Italy, Rome's pullout badly jolts the entire war effort. The only chance of success depends on US President Barack Obama overcoming stiff congressional resistance to restoring the United States to full participation in the coalition military assault and operations similar to its Tomahawk missile and air bombardment of the first two weeks. This is unlikely to happen.
(debkafile was one of the few publications which consistently reported from the third week of March, 2010, that NATO could not win the Libya war. (March 20: First coalition cracks as Qaddafi digs in for guerilla war. March 24: No fly zone runs down)
After buying British and French commanders' assessment that the war against Qaddafi is unsustainable beyond summer's end, Berlusconi the Italian prime minister decided that mending his fences with Muammar Qaddafi and recovering Libyan oil supplies was the better option.
Three Russian designers of Iran's nuclear plant die in plane crash
23 June. The three scientists who planned, designed, built and operated Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr this year died Tuesday night, June 20, when a Rusaero flight from Moscow crashed at Petrozavodsk in northwest Russia. debkafile reveals they were among the 44 passengers killed. Their loss is a blow to Russia's atomic reactor and energy industries because of their expertise in synchronizing different nuclear systems. Some intelligence sources say that Bushehr's amalgam of systems made it vulnerable to the Stuxnet virus two years ago.
The authorities have ordered an investigation to find out why all three senior nuclear scientists were aboard the same airliner in violation of Russian security regulations which prohibit more than one high-ranking politician, military figure or executive of a sensitive industry taking the same flight.