A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending March 19, 2009

Moscow signals harder position on nuclear-armed Iran


13 March: A Russian strategic arms control expert, Vladimir Dvorkin, said Thursday, March 12, that Iran could produce an atomic weapon in “one or two years,” allowing Tehran to broaden its support for Hamas and Hizballah. Dvorkin, as head of the strategic arms research center at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and a former general of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, is a highly respected authority in the West.

This was the first time a Russian figure had predicted Iran would be nuclear-capable within so short a period.

Without mentioning Israel, this Russian warning implicitly put the Jewish state on notice, as the only country threatened by Hizballah and Hamas, that time was running out.

It was the second pointer to a tougher Russian stance on Iran's nuclear weapon aspiratoins. On March 10, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted an unnamed Moscow source as stating that “Russia may shelve delivery of its advanced S-300 air defense missile system to Iran” – if so decided at the political level.


France to help develop Saudi, Egyptian, Gulf nuclear programs


13 March: France has injected fresh momentum into the Middle East nuclear race by inviting Gulf nations to take a minority stake in the French nuclear giant Areva (CEPFi.PA), debkafile's military sources report.

After a meeting with French president Nicolas Sarkozy Friday, March 13, the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Moubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, said the two leaders discussed the possible purchase of French military materiel and the issue of energy and nuclear reactors. He also referred to Kuwait and other Gulf countries taking a one-to-five percent stake in the world's biggest builder of nuclear reactors.

Paris has a separate deal with Egypt.

The Bush administration signed contracts for building nuclear power-generating industries with Saudi Arabia (Dec. 2, 2008) and the United Arab Emirates (Jan. 15, 2009).

debkafile: Potential Gulf involvement in the French nuclear industry has four key aspects:

  1. A one-to-five percent stake may only be the starter for more substantial control.

  2. Paris is ready to open its international nuclear establishment for Arab interests to come in by the front door.

  3. The Gulf states can be expected to use this access to win a dominant role in the world's two leading energy markets – oil and nuclear power.

  4. They can also use their access to advanced nuclear technology for creating the infrastructure for developing a military nuclear industry to rival Iran's.


US-born Somalis go missing, feared recruited for jihad


14 March: debkafile's sources in the US Minneapolis-St. Paul area report that the disappearance of dozens of young US-born Somali men in this area since last fall is under investigation by anti-terror authorities concerned they have been recruited to fight with al Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorists to topple the transitional federal government in Mogadishu. Some may return home trained to form America's first homegrown Islamist terrorist cell. The probe, triggered by a group of concerned ex-US military officers, has spread to Somali communities in other parts of America and, according to our sources, Canada too.


March 14 Briefs


·        Nine nations agree to share intelligence on Hamas arms smuggling activity – especially by sea.

·        They are committed to refrain from using force to thwart smuggling.

·        UK denies visa to Hizballah activist notorious for anti-Semitic statements who was invited to lecture at London University.

·        Nasrallah says never in a thousand years will Hizballah recognize Israel's right to exist.

·        Three Palestinian missiles fired from Gaza explode on open ground Saturday.


Two Israeli police officers die of injuries in Jordan Valley shooting


15 March: debkafile's military sources report Israeli and Jordanian army units in a big manhunt on both sides of the border for the gunmen who shot dead two Israeli police officers in an ambush of their van on Highway 90 near Masuah in the Jordan Valley Sunday night, March 15. “The Imad Moughniyeh Martyr's Brigades” claimed the attack in an anonymous call to the French News Agency, but military sources say this is a fabricated name.

The incident is under investigation, including the possibility that the assailants infiltrated from Jordan, a hypothesis borne out by the professional way the attack was carried out, indicating a better standard of military training than displayed in terrorist attacks by West Bank Palestinians.

The perpetrators set their ambush at a bend in the road where conditions force traffic to slow down and waited in a dark spot far from the nearest habitation for a police or military vehicle to pass by.


Al Qaeda: We shot the Israeli policemen near Masuah


16 March: Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the murder of two Israeli policemen Sunday night outside Masuah in the Jordan Valley Sunday night, March 15, debkafile's counter-terror sources reveal.

The claim appeared Monday in a leaflet circulated in Jordan and the West Bank announcing that the shooting of the two Israeli policemen was al Qaeda's first operation “on the West Bank” and there were more to come.

The victims were David Rabinovich, 50 from Rosh Ha'ayin and Yehezkiel Ramzarkar, 42, from Maale Ephraim.

“Our team waylaid the Israeli security vehicle on Highway 90 and killed its passengers,” the leaflet stated.

It also revealed that the killers set out on their mission immediately after Osama bin Laden's last tape was aired by Al Jazeera Saturday, “to carry out his orders.”

It does not specify whether they came from Jordan or the West Bank. Bin Laden stated that, as the Americans start pulling out of Iraq, jihad must be relocated to “the Palestinian territories.”

debkafile's counter-terror sources point to his key phrase as being: “Jordan… is the best and widest front, and from Jordan the second launching will be toward the West Bank.”


March 16 Briefs


·        Ex-president Khatami pulls out of Iran's presidential race leaving Ahmadinejad virtually unchallenged for second term.

·        Eleven people killed in suicide attack in S. Afghanistan's Helmund province.

·        Zardari acts to stem political turmoil in Pakistan.

·        He reinstates sacked judges, reviews of court ruling disqualifying opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from public office.

·        Five killed in Pakistan's North West Frontier by missile fired by sixth drone attack since Obama took office.

·        Israel's top soldier Ashkenazi cuts short Washington visit.

·        Netanyahu's Likud signs first accord for new government coalition with rightist Israel Beitenu. Lieberman is designated foreign minister, Uzi Landau infrastructure, Yitzhak Aharonovich internal security and police.


Prime Minister Olmert: No more concessions to Hamas for Gilead Shalit's release


16 March. Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert explained in a dramatic address to the nation Tuesday night, March 17, why last-ditch negotiations for Gilead Shalit's release after three years in captivity had failed. He said Hamas had spurned Israel's latest offer to release many hundreds of convicted prisoners, including terrorists guilty of murdering many Israelis.

That was it, he said; the list is final. Any more would cross a red line and hazard Israel's national security.

Hamas spokesmen responded: We can wait for Binyamin Netanyahu [the PM-designate who is due to establish a new government within days].

The Palestinian radical group is demanding the freedom of 1,500 convicted terrorists, including 450 hard-case multiple murderers. Israel has offered to free 325 hard-cases, of whom 144 must be exiled to the Gaza Strip or abroad, for fear their presence on the West Bank will re-ignite the Palestinian suicide terror industry which Israeli put down two years ago.

Monday night, when Olmert's envoys to the indirect negotiations, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin and special negotiator for prisoners Ofer Dekel, returned empty-handed, Olmert accused Hamas of hardening its position, reneging on past understandings and raising new, excessive demands. He was taken aback, debkafile revealed, after receiving word from Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that Syrian president Bashar Assad had ordered the extremist Hamas to drop its all-or-nothing ultimatum and lower its demands form 100 to 90 percent. This hope was dashed when put to the test.


Labor's Barak's tempted by Netanyahu's four-portfolio proposition


18 March: Ehud Barak, defense minister and Labor leader, is close to a decision to take his party into Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition government, tempted by his latest offer, according to debkafile's political sources. He is battling fierce opposition inside his party but believes he can swing round the majority of the central committee.

Netanyahu will next week ask the president for more time for coalition negotiations. Although he has ratcheted up a majority of 61-65 Knesset members, Israel's prime minister-in-waiting is very reluctant to lead an administration made up of right-of-center, nationalist and religious parties. To lure Labor, our sources report he is offering that party the ministries of defense, social welfare, pensioners and one without portfolio, two deputy ministers and two powerful parliamentary chairs – Finance and Constitution.


Saudis create anti-Israeli Palestinian “militia” in Gaza to combat Hamas


18 March: debkafile's military sources disclose that Saudi intelligence services are deep in recruitment for a new radical Islamist terrorist militia in the southern Gaza Strip towns of Deir al Balakh, Khan Younes and Rafah, with Egyptian blessing. More than 1,000 Palestinians have joined up in two weeks, poached from the extreme Hamas fringes and the Salafi sects of the South.

Recruiters promise greater militancy against Israel than Hamas and Jihad Islami combined.

The new Gaza group is intended to complement the pro-Saudi organization established in southern Lebanon in January, part of a new Riyadh project to establish a chain of Islamist, Taliban-style fighting cadres under Saudi control for combating the pro-Iranian and al Qaeda terrorist organizations strung across the Middle East. This grand design is the brainchild of the Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin Abdul Aziz.


High Russian official: Moscow is gradually fulfilling S-300 air defense contract with Iran


18 March: According to Western intelligence sources, Moscow keeps on changing its position on delivery of five sophisticated Russian S-300 anti-missile, anti-air missile systems sold to Iran for $800 million for four reasons:

1. Fluctuating levels of tension ahead of the first summit between the Russian and American presidents in London on April 2.

2. US and Israeli intelligence proofs that the Russians started supplying Iran with parts of the S-300 systems at the end of January and during February – despite its promise to Washington to freeze delivery.

3. Dmitry Medvedev is reluctant to have Barack Obama ask him how, in the light of this breach, Washington can trust Moscow to honor agreements.

4. The Kremlin is itself divided on whether to make good on the S-300 contract.

Wednesday, March 18, an unnamed official of Russia's Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation issued another muddled statement.


March 18 Briefs


·        Israel High Court allows demolition of home of first “tractor terrorist” who killed three people in Jerusalem in July 2008.

·        Israeli panel reviews jailed Palestinians' privileges as pressure on Hamas to free Gilead Shalit.

·        Medvedev orders new nuclear arsenal to meet expanded NATO presence around Russian borders.

·        Hamas' Hayman Taha threatens to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to free jailed Palestinians.


Incoming FM Lieberman urges strategic partnership between Israel and Russia


19 March: Tapped as foreign minister in the future Netanyahu government, Avigdor Lieberman says relations between Israeli and Russia “must and can rise to a level of strategic partnership.” In an unusual interview with the Russian Interfax news agency, the leader of the right-of-center Israel Beitenu said Wednesday, March 18: “However paradoxical it may seem, the global economic crisis gives Israel new opportunities to reach the Russian market after many Western companies abandoned it.”

He added: “The same refers to military-technical cooperation. Israel has quite a few things to offer Russia in this sector – from electronic systems for fighter jets to drones.”

Israel Beitenu came third in the February general election.

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