A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending March 25, 2010

March 19, 2010 Briefs
• Former Iranian VP Hossein Marashi arrested in Tehran for protesting political arrests. He is close ally of ex-president Hashem Rafsanjani.
• Israeli air force strikes back against Gaza's Dahaniya airport injuring 11 people Friday night.
• Rash of Palestinian stone-throwing incidents Friday in Jerusalem, West Bank, Israeli roads.
• Clinton calls Israeli proposals to ease tension with US "useful and productive".
US administration would continue talks with Israel.
• India wants to question US citizen David Headley, guilty of scouting targets for Mumbai terror attack which killed 166. Headley cooperated with the FBI against promise he would not be extradited to India.
• Fifth and Sixth Qassam missiles in two days fired from Gaza Friday. No one hurt. One exploded outside Sderot, one near Karni.
• ME Quartet calls for restart of talks for creating Palestinian state within 24 months.
• The Moscow meeting condemned Israel for adding Jewish housing in east Jerusalem.
• Former US secretary of state Colin Powell says tough sanctions will not interrupt Iran's nuclear drive.

Putin's Bushehr pledge slaps Obama's Iran policy

19 March: Russia's decision to finish and activate Iran's atomic reactor in Bushehr by summer – despite prime minister Vladimir Putin's promises to President Barak Obama and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – hit secretary of state Hillary Clinton when she arrived in Moscow, Thursday, March 18. This was the second contretemps of her trip after she failed to bring Russia aboard on tough sanctions for Iran – any more than defense secretary Robert Gates did in Riyadh earlier this week. It left a question hanging over President Barack Obama's pledge Wednesday of "aggressive sanctions" against Iran.
debkafile's intelligence sources report that, far from being a strictly civilian plant, the Bushehr reactor's activation will make a real contribution to Iran's military nuclear program by providing such by-products as plutonium extracted from spent fuel rods.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is due to return to Jerusalem Sunday, March 21, to continue his effort to get proximity talks started.

March 20, 2010 Briefs
• Mild 3.6 magnitude earthquake in northern Israel Saturday night causes no harm. The epicenter north was a point north of the Sea of Galilee.
• Palestinian youth dies after Israeli military breaks up disturbance outside Nablus, West Bank.
• Another Qassam missile fired from Gaza to Ashkelon region.
• UN secretary Ban arrives in Ramallah Saturday ahead of visit to Israel.
• Obama says offer of dialogue with Iran still sands – in message for Iran's New Year.

Palestinian terrorists ape Taliban-style motorbike attacks

20 March: Al Qaeda fighters from Iraq and Pakistan have infiltrated Gaza through the tunnels and taught Palestinian extremists how to conduct motor-cycle-mounted attacks by RPG, debkafile reports. Friday night, March 19, three pairs of motorbike riders crashed through Gaza's border fence and opened RPG and automatic fire on Israeli soldiers stationed near the Israeli village of Kfar Azza. They missed and swerved back unharmed.
This was the second attack of this kind in two days by Palestinian gunmen, believed to belong to the al Qaeda-linked groupings spreading through southern Gaza, aping the tactics of two forces: Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has established special motorbike units and the Afghan Taliban.
The last three days have seen a rising level of Qassam missile attacks from Gaza. The most serious killed a Thai farm worker at the border village of Netiv Ha'asara on Thursday.

Obama recalls bomb kits to bar Israeli strike on Iran

20 March: Shortly after the US-Israel row over new homes in East Jerusalem flared, US president Barack Obama ordered a consignment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions- JDAM already on its way to Israel to be diverted to the US Air Force base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. This step in mid-March was a pointer to a US arms embargo for preventing Israel attacking Iran's nuclear sites.
US military sources describe the consignment as consisting of 387 JDAM kits for attachment to the warheads of 2,000-pound BLU-109/MK-84 or the 1,000-pound BLU-110/MK-83 bunker-busters for their conversion into smart bombs.
On March 13, debkafile disclosed that the Obama administration was pondering withholding from Israel military hardware that could be used for an Israeli attack on Iran.
The pair of Israeli Gulfstream Vs converted to spy planes sighted over Budapest on March 17 may have been Israel's signal of its concern over the White House measures for keeping the means of attacking Iran out of its hands. The long-haul flights, demonstrating the Israel Air Force's ability to cover the distance to Iran, took the aircraft over Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania as well as Hungary.

March 21, 2010 Briefs
• Qassam fire from Gaza picks up pace as UN secretary visits the enclave Sunday.
• Indian Navy successfully test-fires supersonic anti-ship cruise missile developed by Indian-Russian venture. With 290 km range, top speed of Mach 2.9 it is three times faster than US Tomahawk.
• Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC opens annual conference in Washington with 7,000 guests.
• Israeli PM and Secretary Clinton are guest speakers Monday.
• Israeli troops shoot dead two Palestinians attacking soldier.
• Slight improvement in Israel's jobless figure, half a percent decline to190,000.
• Israel cabinet approves NIS 800 m (app. $200 m) to fund development in 12 Arab, Druze, Bedouin, Circassian villages and towns.
• Netanyahu takes off for AIPAC conference in Washington Sunday after seeing US envoy Mitchell in Jerusalem. He gave ground to US demands to discuss core issues in indirect talks with Palestinians, free hundreds of convicted Fatah terrorists. Refused to freeze E. Jerusalem construction but suspended Jewish acquisitions in Arab areas.

Abbas avoids US envoy Mitchell

21 March: The "sprained ankle" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas suffered from slipping over at home was very much diplomatically motivated, debkafile's Middle East sources report. It was his pretext to stay out of the way of the US president's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, when he arrived in the region March 20 fired up to restart Palestinian-Israeli proximity peace talks. He prefers to bide his time until the White House delivers a softened Israeli government on his doorstep.
Abbas may also duck the Arab summit opening this week after Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi decided to invite Abbas' rival, the Damascus-based hardline Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, at the head of a large delegation.

March 22, 2010 Briefs
• New president of Israel's Washington lobby AIPAC is Lee Rosenberg from Chicago, friend and campaign aide of president Obama. Rosenberg is on "first name terms" with top presidential advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
• Israeli Air Force struck a Gaza tunnel before dawn Monday.
• Iraq's electoral monitors reject PM Maliki's request for vote recount in his almost neck-and-neck race against Iyad Allawi.
• Representatives of Hezb-e-Islami arrive in Kabul for peace talks with Afghan president Karzai. This group is one of the three including Taliban fighting the US in Afghanistan.
• Iranian police detain grandson of top opposition supporter ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Israeli soldier killed by friendly fire in Gaza battle

22 March: The firefight flared Monday, March 22, when Palestinian infiltrators were sighted already inside Israel in the Kissufim sector. An Israeli tank force opened fire and when the Palestinians fled back into the Gaza Strip, gave pursuit. A Golani infantry unit mistook the tank force for the fleeing Palestinian gunmen and fired, killing one of the tank crew, Sgt. Gabriel Cepic, 21, from Zichron Yaacov.
A colonel was appointed to head the inquiry into the incident.
debkafile's military sources report this was the third time in five days that Palestinian intruders were able to creep through the border fence. The intrusions and several Qassam missile attacks occurred during the visits of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and European Union foreign affairs executive Catherin Ashton to the Gaza Strip, yet both slammed Israel and paid no heed to the Palestinian cross-border violence.

Britain to expel Israeli diplomat over Dubai passport affair

23 March: Although admitting it has no proof of Israeli official culpability, the British government has expelled an Israeli diplomat, claiming an Israeli security arm cloned 15 British passports used by the suspected assassins of Hamas' Mahmound Mabhouh in Dubai on Jan. 19. Jerusalem is treating the decision as a deliberately unfriendly act in keeping with London's overall Middle East policies.
Our intelligence sources point out that the British passports could have been copied at any international airport. Furthermore, the British consulate in Jerusalem is staffed entirely by Palestinians who could easily have got hold of the passports held by Britons or dual citizens in Israel and forged them for their own purposes.
It should be noted in this regard that the British prime minister and foreign secretary have repeatedly promised to amend the law which has allowed private individuals to file war crimes charges against Israelis in British courts. No other foreigners have ever been targeted for this treatment, the threat of which caused opposition leader Tzipi Livni to cancel her London visit to London as well as top Israeli officers warned they could be arrested at Heathrow airport.
In January, minister of justice Jack Straw stepped in to postpone the requisite legislation indefinitely. Neither the prime minister nor foreign secretary demurred.

Abbas: No talks until 2,000 terrorists freed

23 March: The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made US presidential envoy George Mitchell go and find him in Amman, only to lay down a fresh prohibitive condition for indirect peace talks to begin: Israel must first open its prison doors to free 2,000 Palestinian terrorists, twice the number demanded by Hamas for handing over kidnapped soldier Gilead Shalilt. He knew quite well that even for the soldier, Israel had refused to hand over to Hamas 323 hard-core prisoners on the Abbas list, because letting them go free would set Israel's counter-terror gains back by decades.
And so another Mitchell mission ran aground.
Our sources report that Palestinian delaying tactics aim at using the Obama administration's willingness to squeeze Israel for more before committing themselves to talks. Netanyahu told the AIPAC conference that Israel had ceded plenty for peace talks and it was time the Palestinians to starting giving something too.
A year ago, the US president declared Jerusalem was Israel's capital, never to be divided. Today, he is pushing Israel to settle for a repartitioned Jerusalem to provide a future Palestinian state with a capital.
The Israeli strategy of adapting to changing US policies and interests without solid bedrock of its own principles is untenable and bound to break down whenever it comes to the crunch.

Israel under veiled US threat of diplomatic isolation

24 March: At his high-stakes meeting with President Barack Obama March 24, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a strong impression that the White House was behind London's decision to expel an Israeli diplomat over unproven passport allegations, to underline the president's threat of isolation. This was to punish him for telling the AIPAC annual conference the day before that Jerusalem is no settlement but Israel's capital.
The president made it clear what he expected of Israel on Jerusalem, West Bank settlements and Iran and where he drew the line. As the tension rose in the Oval Office, Netanyahu asked to consult privately with his staff and after an hour, asked to see Obama again. A second 35-minute conversation followed without a breakthrough.
In the Middle East, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Palestinians stood ready to exploit the US-Israel rift and Israel's loss of its American shield.

Netanyahu flies home amid crisis with Obama

25 March: US president Barack Obama kept on turning the screw on Israeli minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday, March 24, after their harsh conversation in the White House Tuesday: Netanyahu was told bluntly to issue a White House-dictated public pledge to eschew further construction in East Jerusalem, or face a presidential notice condemning Israel and holding its government responsible for the failure to restart indirect Israel-Palestinian talks.
Reporting this, debkafile's Washington sources add that Netanyahu's public renunciation was required to cover also the large Jewish suburbs of the city and remain in force for the duration of negotiations. He must also pledge further concessions to the Palestinians. The president said he intended formulating in detail for the first time the shape of the settlement the US government sought for solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
This would be tantamount to a US diktat and put the lid on negotiations, direct or indirect, because Israel would be dragged to the table in handcuffs to face an Arab partner who would accept nothing less than the terms Washington imposed in advance on Israel.
Such a notice would put a clamp on the close dialogue which has historically characterized US-Israeli ties to the detriment of Israel's international standing.

March 25, 2010 Briefs
• Netanyahu arrives home from Washington amid grave impasse with Obama administration. The inner cabinet is called into session Friday.
• The Washington Post: The US president treated Netanyahu like an unsavory third world dictator.
• Obama steps back from stiff sanctions against Iran to buy Russian, Chinese support for mild penalties. debkafile: This violates a presidential commitment to Israel to pursue tough sanctions – even unilaterally if necessary.
• Osama bin Laden threatens Americans taken prisoner by al Qaeda will be killed if Khali Sheik Mohammed is executed. The threat came in a new audiotape aired Thursday by al Jazeera TV.
• Israel switches to Summer Time after Thursday midnight.

Obama is going after regime change in… Israel

25 March: All the fine words about America's friendship and strategic support for Israel melted away in the flames of the rift between the Obama administration and Israel which burst out in the open during the Israeli prime minister's visit to Washington. President Barack Obama made it brutally clear that the Netanyahu government is an obstacle to his goals in the Middle East and he brooks no recalcitrance. He therefore has no qualms about seeking regime change in Jerusalem – even ahead of Tehran.
Common ground between Washington and Jerusalem has shrunk exponentially in the current administration fourteen months in office.
Netanyahu's options have narrowed to three:
1. Resignation and a snap election, campaigning on the sure fire issues of Jerusalem and Iran.
2. A unilateral attack on Iran to restore Israel's fortunes in the region.
3. Doing nothing, an option proving counter-productive against the British expulsion of the Mossad representative at the London embassy in London, by encouraging other governments to follow the UK's lead.

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