A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending May 22, 2008

Would Obama come to terms with Iran as a nuclear power?


16 May: US president George W. Bush’s denunciation of those who would negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” put the Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama, on the spot. Minutes after the words were spoken, Obama shot back saying: “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists.”

According to debkafile‘s political sources, Bush was furious when he found out that both Obama and Hillary Clinton had sent representatives to solicit campaign supporters in Israel and retaliated in his Knesset speech.

Clinton’s lobbyist was ex-ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and Obama’s were Dennis Ross, formerly of the US state department and ex-special Middle east envoy, and Dan Kurtzer, another former ambassador to Israel.

Ross and Kurtzer promised Israel had nothing to fear from Barack Obama as president, or his offer to meet the leaders of Iran and Syria face to face. They insisted the offer did not apply to Palestinian terrorists like Hamas.

The sensitivity of the Obama campaign to this issue prompted Ross and Kurtzer to leave the Knesset visitors’ gallery before the end of Bush speech to brief the senator on the passages denouncing would-be negotiators with “terrorists and radicals” in the context of those who appeased Hitler in 1939. They urged him to respond strongly without delay.

Obama took their advice. He wrote an e-mail to reporters saying: “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists…”

But he omitted reference to his attitude towards “the world’s leading sponsor of terror” Iran.


Command vessel USS Mount Whitney posted opposite Lebanon


17 May: debkafile‘s military sources report that Saturday, May 17, the USS Mount Whitney, considered the US Navy’s most advanced command, control, communications, computer and intelligence vessel, took up position opposite Lebanese shores for an “unscheduled mission.”

The Sixth Fleet spokesman Lt. Patrick Foughty said the ship would be there “to support additional communication requirements for our ships already underway.”

debkafile‘s sources add that the USS Cole missile destroyer arrived in that sector last week, while the USS Harry Truman carrier strike group began cruising in the Mediterranean around Greece, whence the aircraft on its decks can reach Syrian and Lebanese skies.


Senior minister speaks out against Olmert government restraint on Gaza attacks


17 May: Internal security minister Avi Dichter said in a radio interview Saturday, May 17, that no accommodations for Gaza would work without effective deterrence. Today, Israeli towns and villages had become “sitting ducks” for Palestinian missiles and rockets. Present operations do not serve as adequate deterrence and must be reassessed.

debkafile‘s political sources report that Dichter’s take on the Gaza Strip is supported by a number of fellow ministers, sections of the military command and the general public, but he is fighting an uphill battle against prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Livni, who put their trust in indirect engagement with Hamas for an informal ceasefire.


Ex-Israeli AF chief: Thousands of missiles may hit Israel population in future war


17 May: Outgoing Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy said in a radio interview Saturday, May 17, that Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and possibly Iran have thousands of missiles of all types poised to attack Israeli civilians in a potential war.

In the 2006 Lebanon War, the Air Force intercepted a pilot-less aircraft in time (to prevent it landing). Hamas’ arsenal compares with that of Hizballah, consisting of missiles, rockets and guns of all types, including anti-air weapons. He said Israeli aircraft over Gaza have not been “critically affected” until now but are under constant fire.

The ex-commander went on to say: “One cannot shut one’s eyes to Iran… Their rhetoric with regard to Israel is very precise. But there is no issue of significance that has no operational solution.


Olmert and Barak finally opt for truce rather than military operation in Gaza


18 May: debkafile‘s military and Middle East sources report that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak will inform Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak at their meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday, May 19, that the kidnapped Israel soldier Gilead Shalit must be included in the ceasefire deal.

Israel and Hamas have been using Egypt’s good office to negotiate a ceasefire.

Without consulting the security cabinet, our military sources reveal that Olmert and Barak have finally come down in favor of a truce with Hamas instead of a substantial military operation to eliminate the Palestinian fundamentalists’ war machine and wipe out the missiles plaguing their Israeli neighbors.

Hamas has quickly countered by raising its price for the soldier it snatched two years ago, namely more jailed terrorists “with blood on their hands” Israel has offered 72 of these hardened murderers and held back on the 280 terrorists on Hamas’ list.


New poll gives Olmert-Barak duo 21 percent rating for dealing with Gaza violence


18 May: The poll found 51 percent of the sample canvassed in favor of fighting Hamas; 39 percent preferred an accommodation. Only 31 percent trusted PM Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak to deal with the Palestinian missile offensive from Gaza; 21 percent did not; 34 percent were skeptical.


US sources: Washington urged Israel to seize opportunity to clobber Iran-backed Hizballah


18 May: debkafile‘s US sources disclose that Saturday, May 10, Washington gave Israel the go-ahead to attack Hizballah during its takeover of Beirut and knock out its capabilities in the south. The IDF was given the chance to punch a hole through one of the four hostile fronts ranged against Israel and so give pause to the second hostile force, Hamas in Gaza. Behind the bonhomie of the Bush visit, US officials took Israeli leaders to task for giving Iran’s surrogate a clear run in Lebanon.


Six more arrested in Jerusalem Arab arms trafficking ring


19 May: Jerusalem police have rounded up another 6 Palestinians at the Shufat camp of northern Jerusalem in a second sweep for illicit weapons and explosives. Shufat’s 10,000 inhabitants bear Israeli resident’s IDs with social benefits. In the first raid of the camp on May 5, debkafile disclosed that large quantities of pistols, hand grenades, stun grenades, ammo and military equipment as well as LAW anti-tank rockets were impounded and 7 suspects arrested.


US Congressional delegation are guests of Israeli Knesset Monday


19 May: Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “I don’t know what would be gained by a military strike on Iran other than to strengthen its president and increase the price of oil. But nothing should be taken off the table.”


Osama bin Laden attacks Hizballah’s Nasrallah and Shiite Iran


20 May: Examination of the full text of the al Qaeda leader’s second audio-taped message in three days, aired On May 18, shows him exploiting the Palestinian issue to fan the flames of the Sunni-Shiite dispute raging in Iraq and Lebanon – and to carry it over to the Gaza Strip.

Arab leaders are “agents of crusaders,” and “wolves,” who have stopped taking instructions from Islam and take them from the United States. The only Arab leader bin Laden singles out for mention by name is Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, who is sadi to have claimed [in starting the 2006 Lebanon War] that he had enough resources, such as money and combatants, to fight Israel. “But the truth is the opposite.” Al Qaeda’s leader asks: “If he were honest and had enough resources, why then did he not support the fight to liberate Palestine?”

The Sunni terrorist chief went on to lambast Shiite Iran for its efforts to dominate the Middle East.

debkafile‘s terror experts note that, without admitting as much, Osama bin Laden has fetched up in the same corner as the United States, Israel and Sunni Arab governments in opposing Iran’s attempts to dominate Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.


Former US VP Al Gore awarded Dan David Prize in Jerusalem for his work on saving the environment


20 May: He will donate $1m prize to environmental research and protection groups.


Gaza truce talks could lead to a Palestinian unity government


20 May: debkafile‘s Middle East source report that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak consented to Cairo accompanying an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, if it holds up, with progress toward patching up the feud between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. A shared Palestinian government would be the goal, with ministerial portfolios assigned to nonpolitical technocrats.

Abbas’ condition for going along with the plan is the handover to his presidential guard of responsibility for the reopened Rafah border crossing to Sinai and the southern part of the divided Rafah border town.

debkafile‘s Israel military sources warn therefore that the evolving truce regime will not only lead to the end of Hamas’ isolation and the Israel-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, but give its war planners a shot in the arm, space for building up its war machine and time to top up its seizure of Gaza by gaining control of the West Bank.


Olmert, Assad stage peace stunt to stave off political woes


21 May: The onset of indirect Israel-Syrian peace talks in Istanbul with Turkish mediation was announced simultaneously Wednesday, May 21, in Jerusalem, Damascus and Ankara.

debkafile‘s Middle East and Washington sources report Bush administration heads are angry enough with Ehud Olmert over the move to consider canceling his Washington visit next month.

The heads of Golan communities issued a statement Wednesday night accusing PM Olmert of acting against the national interest and placing Israel in danger.

Both the Israeli and Syrian leaders are reported to have pounced on the peace track at very short notice to offset their gathering woes.

Olmert is beset by suspicions of taking bribes, fraud and money laundering. Assad, for his part, sought to cover his mortification at being shut out of the Lebanese inter-factional accord in Doha Wednesday morning, from which Hassan Nasrallah emerged as Lebanon’s strongman at Syria’s expense.

By trumpeting his peace moves with Israel, the Syrian president hinted to Nasrallah that if the talks go well, Hizballah’s legitimacy as a “resistance” force against Israel will be nullified and the group can be disarmed.


New suspicion of money laundering disclosed against PM Olmert


21 May: Wednesday night, May 21, the court gag order was lifted from all the subjects investigated by the police in connection with prime minister Ehud Olmert’s receipt of envelopes stuffed with cash from American financier Morris Talanksy during his terms as minister and mayor of Jerusalem. Suspicions of money laundering and misappropriation of funds emerged from disks removed from his confidential assistant Shula Zaken’s computer.

The prime minister undergoes a second round of police questioning Friday, May 23. Talansky will testify at a pre-trial hearing Sunday, May 25.

debkafile adds: Several no-confidence motions and demands for the prime minister’s suspension for the duration of the investigation hang over the Knesset summer session which began Monday.


Lebanese Doha accord swings Lebanon’s balance of power to Iran-backed Hizballah


21 May: Heads of the pro-government majority factions and the Hizballah-led opposition signed an agreement in the Qatar capital early Wednesday, May 21. A president, lacking since last November, will be elected immediately and a new government formed with 11 ministries out of 16 for the Hizballah bloc (veto power). Hizballah’s armed militia won formal national acceptance and the right to possess and independent weapons arsenal.

Our Middle East sources term the Doha deal is a walkover for Hizballah and the most resounding strategic debacle the West and Israel have experienced since Hamas’ forcible takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2005.


Palestinian suicide truck packed with 4.5 tons explosives – most powerful ever – blows up outside Gaza-Israel crossing


22 May: debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that a truck bomb containing 4.5 tons of explosives is the most powerful ever used against Israel – even in the darkest days of the Palestinian terrorist campaign, exploded early Thursday, May 22, on the Gaza side of the border, 50 meters short of the Erez crossing. It caused no Israeli casualties, but wrecked the border terminal, blasted a big hole in the border wall and shattered windows in Israel buildings. The truck bomb was followed by a group of Palestinian gunmen in a jeep.

A second bomb vehicle heading out of northern Gaza was struck by the Israeli air force.

Mortar fire was directed simultaneously at the Sufa crossing to the south. The Palestinians kept up a hail of gunfire, which was returned by Israeli soldiers.

Jihad Islami and a Fatah faction claimed the attacks.

Overnight, Hamas announced that the truce talks taking place in Egypt for an informal ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip had ended without results. The Hamas negotiators returned to Damascus.

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