A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending March 24, 2011
March 18, 2011 Brief
• Security forces break up protests against "Assad family" in half a dozen cities across Syria. They are unprecedented since 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama. At least 7 killed, 150 injured.
• In Damascus, worshippers demonstrated after Friday prayers at the great mosque.
• Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh declares emergency after some 40 killed, 200 injured in protests demonstrations in Sanaa.
• Saudi King Abdullah in rare address to nation promises 60,000 new security jobs, minimum wage rise. He also said all resistance to the throne would be crushed firmly.
• Netanyahu: The military option [against Iran's nuclear threat] is not off the table – preferably led by the US. It won't be easy but it can be done, he said.
Obama says Qaddafi must withdraw forces, but does not demand his departure
18 March: US President Barack Obama Friday, March 18, laid down an ultimatum for Muammar Qaddafi to comply with or else face "military consequences," the key condition being the withdrawal of Libyan troops from three towns including Ajdabiya, which would be tantamount to lifting the siege on Benghazi. He set no deadline for those withdrawals nor did he demand Qaddafi's departure.
Obama spoke 24 hours after the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya, approved a no-fly zone and authorized "all necessary measures to protect civilians." He had meanwhile decided to let the let the Europeans, primarily Britain and France, take the lead in the Libya offensives, on the assumption that they would turn to the United States for support. Only then will the real military operation begin – if the administration so decides.
March 19, 2011 Briefs
• Merkel: Germany will not take part in military action in Libya but assume additional responsibilities in Afghanistan.
• Libya will offer oil contracts to India and China if Western companies to do not return.
Hamas emboldened by Cairo's recognition, strikes Israel with 50-mortar barrage
19 March: Israeli living near Gaza woke up Saturday, March 19, to the most massive mortar attack in years – 50 rounds fired in 15 minutes. Two civilians were injured and substantial damage caused to property. Hamas has unusually claimed responsibility, emboldened by its de facto recognition by the new rulers of Egypt, who are also forging new ties with Syria, and the Netanyahu government's hesitancy and disregard of the changing winds blowing in from Cairo.
The Egyptian military in Cairo also turned a blind eye to at least two or three Iranian arms ships which, prior to Israel's capture of the A.S. Victoria arms ship last week, made it through the Israeli sea blockade and delivered weapons, including C-704 shore-to-sea missiles at El Arish. According to debkafile's Cairo sources, the live wire behind the Egyptian policy U-turn is the new foreign minister Nabil Alaraby. Only two weeks on the job, he has decided to lift the Egyptian-Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip, reopen the Fatah crossing to free passage of people and goods, downgrade relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, and open a new page with Syria.
British and French jets over Libya. US, UK ships fire 112 Tomahawks
19 March: Twenty French fighter jets destroyed a number of tanks in Benghazi Saturday, March 19, in the first shots of the Western-Arab operation authorized by the UN Security Council 1973 against Muammar Qaddafi. They were soon joined by British jet fighters. After the US stated it would not take part in the first action or send troops, a US submarine and UK warships fired 112 Tomahawk missiles at 20 Libyan targets east of Tripoli, among them the Libyan army's supreme command center near the town of Sirte and air defenses. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would provide the coalition operation with support by its "unique assets."
A seaborne missile attack on the Libyan coast was indicated by the arrival in the Mediterranean of the nuclear assault submarine USS Providence last Monday, March 14.
The Libyan ruler last week threatened retaliation against the military and civilian targets of any nations attacking him in Europe and the Middle East. In the last month, he bought up vast quantities of anti-air and other missile systems and sophisticated electronic hardware in order to withstand the offensive against him.
March 20, 2011 Briefs
• Egyptians approve constitution changes by 77 percent vote in referendum.
• US Chief of Staff Mullen: The no-fly zone is effectively in place.
• Tripoli: Up to 94 killed in coalition bombings over Libya.
• 3 B-2 stealth bombers from US drop 40 bombs on Libyan airfield Sunday.
• Obama says US is taking "limited military action" against Libya as part of a "broad coalition".
• Russia called on the France, America, Britain to "stop non-selective use of force" in Libya.
• Qassam missile explodes overnight at Shear Hanegev after 50-round mortar attack Saturday.
• US former VP candidate Sarah Palin arrives in Israel for a visit. She is invited to dine with PM Netanyahu.
Coalition cracks as Qaddafi digs in for guerrilla war
20 March. Sunday, March 20, Muammer Qaddafi announced he was arming a million Libyans to defend the country.
He spoke after Libyan air defense batteries and command centers were blasted by French bombers, 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US and British vessels and 3 American B-2 stealth bombers dropped 40 bombs on a Libyan airfield a the outset of the coalition operation to enforce the no-fly zone. But the claim that Libya's integrated air defense systems were knocked out by Saturday's US-UK-French bombardment was overstated, because Qaddafi had earlier removed his really sophisticated hardware – Russian-made SA-5 missiles which can hit medium or high-flying aircraft and his shoulder-launched K38 Igla9 (SA-18) missiles mounted on Italian Ivaco trucks – to hideouts in the south.
The allies forming the Western-Arab coalition are split over Qaddafi's removal as endgame, while Arab League Secretary Amr Mussa has already criticized the air strikes.
March 21, 2011 Briefs
• Bombers and missiles struck Qaddafi compound in Tripoli a second time Monday night, as well as Sirte. US sources say 12 Tomahawks fired.
• Libya reports many people killed in air strikes.
• At closed-doors Sec Council session on Libya Monday night members say US, UK and France air strikes exceed no-fly zone mandate. Rising criticism in US over involvement in Libya offensive, unclarity of policy and endgame. US Africa Commander Gen. Carter Ham: Assaults grounded Libyan air force, halted ground advance on Benghazi.
• Yemeni ruler asks Saudi FM Saud al-Faisal to mediate between him and opposition. Dozens of Yemen commanders including armored corps chief defect to rebels.
• British military sources say Qaddafi is legitimate target as head of Libyan armed forces. Earlier, US Defense Secy Gates said in London Qaddafi is not on target list.
• Amr Moussa: Arab League opposes aerial bombing in principle.
• Indian foreign minister calls for an end to air strikes against Libya.
Assad blockades disaffected areas to contain spreading protests
21 March. In an effort to contain spreading popular disorders against his regime, Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday, March 21, sent the 4th Armored Division commanded by his younger brother Maher Assad to suppress the three-day uprising in Darra (Deraa). The troops have also severed the South from Damascus and Jabal ad-Duruz where a demonstration is planned for March 26.
White House condemned Syrian violence after 20 demonstrators were killed and 300 wounded by tear gas and live ammunition fire. Poverty-stricken Darra is strategically important because it is situated on the Damascus highway to southern Syria, Jabal ad-Duruz, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
The Syrian army has also laid to siege border regions on the Syrian Golan, the areas adjoining the Lebanese and Israeli borders and the Yarmuk River crossing into Jordan lest anti-Assad disturbances spill over between those sectors and spread further.
March 22, 2011 Briefs
• US Defense officials confirm shots fired when US Marines came in to extract two US pilots whose fighter crashed in Libya Tuesday.
• Six Libyan villagers were killed while coming to assist the pilots.
• The US F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crash-landed due to a suspected malfunction.
• IDF advises Israelis living in Gaza Strip vicinity to stay close to bomb-proof areas Tuesday night after Palestinians fired a missile and mortar shells at Ashkelon.
• Protest demonstrations continue in southern Syria. Mass arrests.
• Striking Egyptian policemen set fire to police communications building next door to the Interior Ministry in Cairo. They are on strike since the uprising.
• Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh offers to step down by end of year.
• Israel's ex-president Moshe Katzav sentenced to 7 years jail, two more suspended, on two counts of rape plus sexual harassment.
• Israeli air force struck a Palestinian team preparing anti-tank missile attack Tuesday on Israeli patrol near Karni border crossing.
The Libya no-fly mission runs down. Just six warplanes aloft
22 March: Four days after the Western-Arab coalition decided Saturday, March 19 to enforce a no fly zone over Libya, only six Western warplanes – American, British, Canadian and French – are in the sky at any one time, debkafile's military sources disclose. The anti-Qaddafi operation has run out of steam, slowed also by the falling-out between Washington, London, Paris over its nature and goals and the fading away of the Arab component.
Both UK premier David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have pinned their political hopes on their success in removing Qaddafi from power in contrast to Washington. But without the Americans, neither possesses the air power nor crews for maintaining the no fly zone.
Nevertheless, in London this week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear that the US will hand over control and command of the Libya operation "within days." So who will pick up the ball?
Gaza escalation boosts Gaza-Israel tension
23 March: Wednesday, March 23, two heavy Grad missiles hit Beersheba (a town of 200,000) and another 7 more mortar rounds exploded in the Eshkol district. debkafile: Hamas and Jihad Islami extremists feel free to shoot heavy missiles and dozens of mortar rounds at civilians in Israeli towns and villages – 56 mortar rounds in three days – bucked up by support from post-Mubarak Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas' pursuit of Palestinian reconciliation and, most of all, by Israeli leaders' hesitancy to shoot them down.
The Palestinians said they were punishing Israel for hitting back at the sources of previous Palestinian attacks. Tuesday, one of four Israeli tank shells accidentally killed three civilians. Israel apologized for civilian deaths, stressing they were inadvertent whereas the Palestinian terrorists of Gaza deliberately targeted Israeli civilians. The leaders of the targeted Israeli cities and villages called loudly for another Cast Lead operation as limited military, responsive action was clearly of no use. Some urged the new chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to lead a campaign to remove Hamas rule, saying it is at least as repressive, belligerent and dangerous to its neighbors as other Arab regimes currently targeted by Western armies.
However, the Netanyahu government has tied itself in knots over the stalled peace process and is afraid to embark on military action.
The bomb blast in central Jerusalem was the work of terrorist pros
23 March: The bomb which exploded Wednesday afternoon, March 23, near the No. 74 bus at Jerusalem's main northern entrance was detonated by remote control. It killed a female tourist and injured 30-40 passers-by and passengers. debkafile's counter-terror sources report that the attack was professionally executed by a team of three to five with local aid from Jerusalem Palestinians. Intelligence and terror experts are certain a terrorist organization activated trained bombers and may do so again.
The 1-2 kilogram device planted in a suitcase was detonated at one of the busiest corners of Jerusalem, clearly picked in advance, with the bomber waiting in a getaway car nearby to detonate the device and drive off toward Arab Jerusalem or the West Bank.
Southwestern Israeli towns and villages have been subjected to non-stop Palestinian missile and mortar attacks from Gaza for most of March – 20 in Wednesday alone. Widening circles of criticism among the public and cabinet ministers are directed against Defense Minister Ehud Barak's nonchalance ("Hamas doesn't want a real escalation any more than we do.") and his influence on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who delayed his trip to Moscow for consultations with security leaders.
March 24, 2011 Briefs
• The woman killed in the terrorist bomb blast in Jerusalem Wednesday is identified as Mary Jane Gardner, a British citizen.
• Palestinian Grads from Gaza land in Ashdod and Ofakim Thursday – both exploding on empty ground.
• Four missiles, one mortar fired from Gaza at Israeli locations.
• Syrian forces shoot dead 100 protesters in another day of anti-Assad rallies in the southern town of Deraa.
Israeli and Saudi leaders in Moscow as Palestinians ramp up missile strikes
24 March. As Russian, Israeli and Saudi leaders discussed in Moscow the ramifications of the Arab uprising and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked in Tel Aviv to Israeli military chiefs, the Palestinian Hamas again ramped up its missile offensive on Israeli cities. Thursday, March 24, heavy Grad missiles hit Ashdod and Ofakim. In Moscow, debkafile's exclusive sources report Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was working to set up a discreet meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi Al-Faisal who share common concerns about Western coalition operations in Libya.