Iran's supreme ruler to Obama: You change first
21 March: “We will watch and we will judge (the new U.S. administration) … You change, our behavior will change,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme ruler in the northeaster city of Mashhad March 21 to thousands of worshippers, two days after US president Barack Obama offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement.
Tehran's flat rejection was broadcast by the highest authority in the land and the Shiite world to make its position crystal clear.
Spiritual ruler Khamenei said the United States was “hated in the world” and should stop interfering in other countries' affairs. “We haven't seen any change,” he said and went on to enumerate Iran's grievances over 30 years.
World agencies gearing up to thwart upgraded Islamist terror
21 March: Using novel, upgraded tactics, Al Qaeda and fellow Islamist terror groups are outperforming anti-terror agencies in targeted countries. International counter-terror agencies are worried enough to start retooling their counter-measures after viewing terrorist performances in Mumbai on Nov. 2008, killing 172 people, Lahore on March 3, causing 8 fatalities, and the Jordan Valley, shooting dead 2 Israeli policemen.
India, for instance, is overhauling its special forces from top to bottom and preparing to launch the world's first anti-terror satellite RISAT 2, on short-order delivery from Israel.
British intelligence and anti-terror services have embarked on a crash program to secure the G-20 summit opening in London on April 2, fearing the posh hotels hosting the leaders and their retinues will attract a Mumbai-style massacre.
Western terror experts have detected common traits in the recent spate of attacks:
They are maximizing the lethality of their mission;
They commandeer targeted sites at top speed. In Mumbai, they swiftly seized three large hotels, a main train terminus and the Habad Center;
They outgun the local security forces in the first moments of the attack. In Mumbai, the local forces took two days to rally and muster enough firepower to suppress the attack. In Lahore, the terrorists effectively silenced Pakistani security personnel for long enough for them all to escape without a scratch.
They operate long distance, preparing attacks in one country and moving quickly to target.
Israeli-Arab terrorist branch of Hizballah behind failed Haifa massacre
22 March: By a fluke, the Free Galilee Brigades failed to bring off a multiple-casualty bomb attack on the Saturday night crowds at a Haifa shopping mall on March 21. But debkafile's military sources report that security officials fear the shadowy group which has murdered 12 Israelis since 2003, is spreading its wings. The small blast which alerted the Haifa mall's security guards to a white Subaru parked outside the building was rigged to detonate 100 kilos of explosives and ball bearings in several packets hidden in the trunk in a chain reaction. Had it not been detected in time, the casualty count would have run to scores.
The focus on blocking Palestinian terrorist activity from the West Bank has led to the security agencies neglecting the danger from within, despite the spreading influence of radical elements in the Israeli-Arab community and the Lebanese Hizballah's clandestine penetration.
On March 2, 2008, its members went on a shooting rampage on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem leaving 8 Israelis dead.
Israel admits Kuwait's intel chief to Ramallah, Bethlehem – but not to Temple Mount
23 March: Sheikh Ahmad al Fahd al Jabar al Sabah, head of Kuwait's national security service, arrived in Ramallah Monday, March 23, from Jordan through the Allenby Bridge terminus as guest of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He also scheduled appointments with senior Israeli intelligence officials.
But he cut short his visit and left in a huff when Israel denied him permission to pray at the al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount and tour the Church of the Sepulcher in Jerusalem because he insisted on being escorted to these Jerusalem shrines solely by PA officials and security guards.
Israeli authorities suspected that the Kuwaiti visitor and his Palestinian hosts were planning to showcase these visits as part of the banned “Jerusalem – Arab Cultural Capital 2009.”
Israel barred the events which the Palestinian Authority attempted to stage last Saturday.
Sheikh al-Sabah's visit to the Christian Church of the Sepulcher escorted by PA officials would have provided Mahmoud Abbas with grounds to claim the custodianship of Jerusalem's holy sites.
The law banning official Palestinian Authority activity in any part of Israeli territory was endorsed by the PA under the Oslo Framework Accords.
March 23 Briefs
Pakistani police guard killed challenging suicide bomber attacking police intelligence unit in Islamabad.
Four Palestinians killed including senior Fatah official in Mia-Mia camp, S. Lebanon.
President Gul pays first Turkish head of state visit to Baghdad in 30 years.
Obama says US must have exit strategy for Afghanistan.
His envoy Holbrooke said Afghanistan and Pakistan would no longer be treated separately.
A Yemeni man accused of spying for Israel sentenced to death by Yemen's state security court.
He is named Mossad Bassam Abdullah al Haidari, 26.
Netanyahu-Barak pact blurs right-left lines dominates Israel's political dynamic
23 March: Last September, two former Israeli prime ministers who failed to survive full term made common, cross-party cause for a pact which is now coming into its own, say debkafile's political analysts.
Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu, 60, was defeated in 1999 by Labor's Ehud Barak, 65, defense minister in the outgoing government, who was himself unseated a year later.
Six months later, Netanyahu is about to head a new government, retaining Barak in defense. Together they confound the historic Israeli political divide between right and left. The pair sees Israel's main problems as being the global economic meltdown and a nuclear-armed Iran. Netanyahu agrees to line up behind Barak on national security while the latter endorses the prime minister's program to haul the economy out of recession.
Now their joint strategy is close to consummation.
To deal urgently with fast-rising unemployment and business closures, Netanyahu has made his accord with Barak the core of a public consensus that includes the Histadrut Trade Union Federation – a Labor bastion – industrialists, tycoons and welfare organizations and promises Israel a more stable government than Israel has had for the last decade.
Barak carries his Labor into Netanyahu government
24 March: In a stormy session Tuesday night, March 24, Israel's Labor party voted to join the government headed by Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu. Seven Knesset members tried to torpedo the conference in a tempestuous revolt against Labor leader Ehud Barak's partnership accord with Netanyahu. Out of 1,191 members, 57.9 percent backed Barak, 42 percent voted against him.
Continuation of the internal Labor revolt continues could pare Netanyahu's majority down to a bare 60-61 deputies, including Israel Beitenu and Shas, and augur a split in Barak's party.
Still, Netanyahu may opt for presenting this line-up to the president early next week while continuing negotiations with the United Torah Judaism and/or two nationalist parties to build up his government's majority.
He may also seize the moment and join forces with Labor's Barak, the Histadrut Trade Unions Federation secretary Ofer Eini and key business figures, with whom he has already put together an emergency economic rescue plan. He could form a strong centrist national grouping which would leave the Labor rebels and Tzipi Livni's Kadima trailing behind in opposition.
Barak retains defense and gains another five cabinet posts for his colleagues, including agriculture, commerce and industry, social welfare and possibly health, as well as two deputy ministerial positions and the chair of a key parliamentary committee – foreign affairs or finance.
Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to respect all former international agreements. There is no reference to the two-state formula espoused by Kadima.
Monday, Likud and Shas signed their coalition accord, after Israel Beitenu signed on last week assigning foreign affairs to its leader Avigdor Lieberman. Shas came away with four cabinet posts, including interior for its leader Ellie Yishai, housing and the National Lands Authority, as well as a pledge to raise child allowances and allocations for the yeshiva seminaries.
March 24 Briefs
Pakistan intelligence identifies at least 20 young Britons trained by Pakistan Kashmiri terrorists and al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda cells in UK proliferate, all linked to Pakistan.
Threat of chemical, biological and nuclear attacks taken seriously in UK.
Reinforced police force breaks up stone-throwing Israel-Arab crowds protesting right-wing Israel party's “March of Flags” through Umm al Fahm town.
An Israeli officer injured, 13 rioters arrested for disturbing the peace.
Turkish minorities emerge from political isolation
24 March: Numerous minority candidates are on the ballot for this weekend's municipal elections in Turkey. The country may even get its first Jewish mayor.
Yusuf Bahar, 37, businessman and politician, has recently attracted the notice of Turkey's national media – and not just because he has a decent chance this Sunday of becoming mayor of the Princes' Islands, as a candidate for the Democratic Party (DP). He also happens to be Jewish.
A non-Muslim mayor would be new in Turkish history. “I would be the first,” he says.
About 20,000 Jews live on the Bosporus.
Israel: Iran is only months away from building a nuke, has ballistic warhead capability
25 March: Israel's AMAN military intelligence director, Maj. Amos Yadlin informed the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Wednesday, March 25, that Iran is only months away from a capacity to make a nuclear bomb and has attained a warhead capability. Yet Tehran has decided not to cross the threshold for two compelling reasons, outlined by debkafile's military sources:
1. They are waiting to stockpile an arsenal of 10 to 12 bombs and warheads for which they are short of enough enriched uranium.
2. Undeterred by fear of an American or European attack, Iran's leaders are waiting to see what rewards US president Barack Obama has to offer them for improving Washington-Tehran relations. If the American incentives fall short, Tehran will then push forward with its nuclear weapon.
In his briefing, Yadlin avoided pointing out that Obama's projected rewards would be at the expense of Israel's strategic standing or even its military might. This has prompted the sharply conflicting US and Israel intelligence evaluations of the point at which Iran's nuclear bomb program stands now.
While the AMAN chief says the capability is there but not yet fulfilled, the Americans speak of a timeline of 1-5 years or more.
Obama sharpens tone on Israel, calls for two-state solution
25 March: Asked if the rise of a Netanyahu government would make peacemaking more difficult, US president Barack Obama told a televised news conference Wednesday night, March 25: “It's not easier than it was, but I think it's just as necessary.” He added: What we do know is that the status quo is unsustainable, that it is critical for us to advance a two-state solution.
The US president has kicked off a tough campaign on the Israel-Palestinian conflict for three reasons:
1. In the face of Tehran's chilly response to his taped message calling for diplomacy, administration spokesman promised several more gestures. Israel is in his sights.
2. Friday, March 27, Obama will unveil his new strategy for the Afghanistan war that will also embody steps on Iran and the Middle East at large.
3. He has scheduled a major address to the Muslim world from Istanbul on April 7. Part of his speech will be devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
US planes destroyed Gaza-bound arms convoy in Sudan, say Egyptian, Sudanese media. CBS: It was the Israeli Air Force
26 March: Sudanese and Egyptian security officials reported Tuesday, March 24, the day Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir arrived in Cairo, that in January, US Air Force AC 130H gunships from bases in Djibouti destroyed a 17-truck clandestine convoy carrying smuggled arms as it travelled through Sudan to the Egyptian border. All 39 passengers were killed, said those officials. Wednesday night, CBS TV News quoted unidentified officials as claiming the attack was not carried out by American but Israeli aircraft.
No official comment has come from Israel.
Our military sources report that Iran's main arms smuggling route to Hamas runs through Sudan. The weapons are quietly unloaded from Iranian merchant vessels to convoys of trucks or camels at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. After crossing into Egypt, the supplies make their way to the Gulf of Suez where local smugglers' boats move the arms freight across Sinai and deliver them to the Gaza tunnels.
The size of the convoy targeted for air attack, 17 trucks and 39 passengers, is the first tangible eye-opener to Iran's vast weapons-smuggling program for Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.
They are tracked by US and Israeli spy satellites.