A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending May 20, 2009

Washington threatens to evacuate three US bases over Qatar's pro-Iran policy


May 15: The Obama administration has secretly warned Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani that he risks losing the three big American bases located in the emirate if he persists in promoting Iran's radicalizing influence over Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

An American military withdrawal from the emirate, especially the big Al Odeid air base and Central Command headquarters, would be a crushing blow to Al Thani. It would leave Qatar and the rest of the Gulf unprotected in any military conflagration in the region over Iran's nuclear program.

It alarmed Emir al Thani enough for him to takes steps, one of which was to direct the news editors of al Jazeera TV station, which he owns, to moderate the anti-American line of its English and Arabic language broadcasts.


May 15 Briefs


·        Egyptian security officers uncover big arms cache near Israeli border in Sinai. It contained 260 rockets, 40 mines, 50 mortar shells, anti-air missiles. They were bound for Hamas in Gaza Strip.

·        Pope winds up five-day visit to Israel, Palestinian territories Friday noon.

·        Tony Blair to US Congress: Neither Israelis nor Palestinians want to resume peace talks.

·        They must be pushed. Israel will never accept a Palestinian state without a stability guarantee.

·        US Federal court refuses Palestinian Authority appeal against $116 m compensation for couple stabbed to death in 1996 terror attack.


US upholds Israel's nuclear position as long as Iran enriches uranium


16 May: This statement by a senior American official in Vienna paves the way for an Israeli request to extend the 40-year old “ambiguity” arrangement approved by Obama's predecessors for its nuclear program.

The senior US official, addressing preparatory talks for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in 2010, made it clear that US arms control negotiator Rose Gottermoelle did not break new ground last week when she urged presumed atomic powers India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea to join the nuclear non-proliferation pact.


Jordan's Abdullah appoints his 9-year son crown prince, sacks Hazme


17 May: Jordan's King Abdullah II has been hyperactive on the Palestinian issue in the last few days to draw attention from a highly controversial decree which has taken Amman by storm: the appointment of his 9-year old son, Hussein, as crown prince, after summarily sacking from the post his 27-year old half-brother Prince Hazme, son of King Hussein and US-born Queen Noor, who lives in America.

This decision has aroused a major to-do in the royal court as well as opposition in Jordan's government and military elite. They fear Abdullah's his appointment of a young child as first in line to the throne will plunge the kingdom into a period of instability. They also accuse him of breaking a deathbed promise to his father.

When King Hussein knew he was dying of cancer in 1999, he pulled the post of crown prince from his brother, Prince Hassan, and passed it to his own son, Abdullah, against a pledge to appoint Prince Hamze next in line to the throne.


May 17 Briefs


·        Hatred of Jews intensifies among Israeli Arab community, according to a new poll. Increased numbers – 40% – deny Holocaust and the Jews' right to a state.

·        Israel registers 3.4 percent negative growth in first quarter. Exports drop 48 percent as recession begins to bite.

·        Netanyahu to visit Sarkozy in Paris in two weeks.

·        Al-Shabab militia captures key Jowhar town north of Mogadishu from Somali government troops.

·        Netanyahu arrives in Washington for talks with Obama Monday. He will also meet Gates, Clinton, Jones and national American-Jewish leaders.

·        First women elected to Kuwait parliament. Sunni parties lose 10 of 21 seats, Shiite minority doubles representation to nine.

·        Egypt finds half-ton Hamas weapons cache near Gaza border – second Egyptian haul in a week.

·        Peres meets Jordan's Abdullah in Amman.

·        Arab League Secy Amr Musa: Main ME concern is nuclear Israel not Iran.


US-Israel summit shadowed by Obama's soft stand on Iranian enrichment


18 May: debkafile's Washington sources report that the gap between US president Barack Obama and Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Iran was wider even than on the Palestinian issue. Overshadowing their outwardly easy conversation was the US president's growing inclination to meet Iran halfway on uranium enrichment. He is seriously considering taking up the Anglo-German proposal for an international monitoring mechanism strict enough to preclude Iran's attainment of weapons-grade enriched uranium after being advised by US intelligence and nuclear experts that this is feasible.

Israeli intelligence and military experts take the opposite view. They believe the Anglo-German plan gives Iran the perfect cover for concealing its race for a nuclear bomb, a misgiving shared by the political and military establishments of the moderate Arab governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

It is their view that if Obama adopts this plan, Iran can be sure of arriving at a nuclear weapon capability by the end of 2010, after winning six clear months for moving forward.


No agreement on Iran, Palestinians in Obama-Netanyahu talks


18 May: US president Barak Obama stood by his demand for a Palestinian state while Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu continued to avoid this formula in their talks at the White House Monday, May 18, their first since both took office.

The US president called on Israel to stick to the road map as “ratified at Annapolis” (which Netanyahu has rejected) and stop settlement activity. The Palestinians must fight terror. Obama pledged US involvement in peace talks as a strong partner.

Netanyahu said he was ready to start talks with the Palestinians immediately. He wanted the Palestinians to rule themselves, but peace means they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state with the right to defend itself and live in security.

Both agreed that Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be constructively involved in the Israel-Palestinian peace track and do more to develop relations with Israel at the outset.


Nasrallah places his Hizballah on war preparedness


18 May: During a videotaped speech haranguing Israel for staging threatening military maneuvers, Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah Monday night, May 18, ordered a call-up of reserves and placed his terrorist militia on war preparedness.

Our military sources reported that Hizballah was exploiting the alleged flight of suspected Israeli spies from Lebanon across the border into Israel to wind up border tension.

On May 18, Elie al-Hayek, 49, a mathematics professor from Qleia, who walks on crutches, fled to Israel with his wife and three children after being accused of spying for Israel along with 13 other Lebanese nationals. Hizballah's Al Manar TV claimed that two more suspected spies escaped Monday and several last week. Beirut has lodged a complaint with UNIFIL headquarters at Naqoura and demanded the escapees' extradition.

The spy mania gripping Beirut is exploited by the different parties campaigning for election on June 7.


US Treasury targets Syria-based al Qaeda facilitator for Iraq


18 May: Damascus has ordered Syrian intelligence to permit Saad Uwayyid Ubayd Mujil al Shammari aka Abu Khalaf – named by Washington as the senior leader of al Qaeda's Syria-based support network – to step up the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq to 20-30 a month.

Abu Khalaf is a threat to “the safety of Coalition forces and the stability of Iraq,” said Stuart Levey, US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial intelligence.

In the early stages of his diplomatic exchanges with Washington, Syrian president Bashar Assad ordered the al Qaeda facilitator to slow down the traffic of foreign al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq. But when US presidential envoys started visiting Damascus on a regular footing, he lifted these restraints. As a result, al Qaeda reactivated its smuggling route for suicide bombers, weapons and explosives through the Euphrates River into Iraq's Anbar province.

In April, therefore, the US military death toll in Iraq shot up to 18 – double the March figure.

Special US Marine forces patrol the river by boat to intercept them. On May 1, a patrol was ambushed in Anbar by al Qaeda suicide killers, who left two US marines and a seaman dead after a firefight.

Assad is not expected to heed the renewed US sanctions over his backing for terrorists. Since last year, Abu Khalaf has also been recruiting North Africans for al Qaeda's Iraq networks.


Diskin: Hamas will not give Mid East peace a chance, can be toppled


19 May: US president Barack Obama's planned Middle East initiative is a non-starter as long as the extremist Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, said Shin Bet (internal security agency) director Yuval Diskin Tuesday, May 19.

Until Egyptian special forces clamped down on smuggling through Sinai, Hamas had managed in four months to smuggle 46 anti-air missiles, 330 mortars, 37 short-range ground missiles and 17 tons of explosives into Gaza. It is aiming for missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv, 63 kilometers away, although there is no evidence it has succeeded.”

In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum forbade the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations with the “Zionist enemy.”


Israeli air force hits Hamas-Gaza hard amid Lebanon border tensions


20 May: In response to a twin Qassam missile attack from Gaza Tuesday, May 19, the Israeli Air Force went into action early Wednesday against a range of Hamas positions in Rafah, Khan Younes, Zeitun and Tufah suburbs of Gaza city and, Deir Balakh.

debkafile's military sources also that several Sinai-Gaza smuggling tunnels, missile foundries and three Hamas command posts in Gaza City were struck in Israel's most extensive Gaza raid since its major offensive ended in January. The Palestinians reported casualties.

Tuesday night, the Palestinians fired a twin Qassam volley at Sderot. One missile injured a man and damaged his home.

After Sderot was hit, defense minister Ehud Barak and Netanyahu decided on powerful aerial retaliation.

This was all the more necessary as Hamas was deemed to be testing the new Israeli government's military reflexes and resolve. Another factor was the Hizballah leader's decision of May 18 to raise border tension with Israel ahead of Lebanon's June 7 election.


Senators call on Obama to take into account the risks Israel runs from a peace accord


20 May: Seventy-six US senators have called on President Barack Obama to continue to support Israel and “take into account the risks it will face in any peace agreement,” Tuesday, May 19, after meeting Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

In a letter signed by 76 of 100 senators, Obama is told that “without a doubt, our two governments will agree on some issues and disagree on others, but the United States' friendship with Israel requires that we work closely together as we recommit ourselves to our historic role of a trusted friend and active mediator.

“We must also continue to insist on the absolute Palestinian commitment to ending terrorist violence and to building the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side, in peace with the Jewish state of Israel,” they wrote.


Israel has no adequate interceptor for Iran's new long-range missile


20 May: debkafile's military sources report that Israel, the US and Europe were floored by Iran's successful launch Wednesday, May 20, of a two-stage, solid-fueled 2,000-kilometer range missile, but most of all by the accuracy of its aim in destroying its target, as proudly claimed by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

US missile tracking systems confirmed the Iranian President's boast of Sejil-2's precision. Sounds of concern came from the Obama administration.

Western military sources say Iran is at least two or three years ahead of Israel's missile defenses.

The Arrow 2 anti-missile missile system is no match for the Sejil, while Arrow 3 which would be, is still under development.

Iran's feat comes at a critical time for its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal of at least 10-12 nuclear warheads. It obviates the strategic value of any understandings reached by President Obama and prime minister Netanyahu on Iran's nuclear and missile programs.


Israel marks annual Jerusalem Day


21 May: At a national ceremony for the soldiers who died in the Battle for Jerusalem in 1967, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared at the Ammunition Hill Memorial site: “I say here what I said in the United States this week: Jerusalem will never be divided and it will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty.”

President Shimon Peres said: “Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other nation except for the Jewish people.”

Under foreign rule, Jews were denied access to their holy places. Today, members of all faiths are free to worship at their shrines in Israel's capital.

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