A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Nov. 20, 2008

Four armed Palestinians killed in Israeli air strike after missile fire from Gaza


15 Nov. The terrorists were encouraged to escalate their offensive by the decision Prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi reached Friday night to refrain from fighting back after Ashkelon was hit by 6 Palestinian Grads and Sderot battered by 11 Qassam missiles on Day 10 of the Hamas blitz.

One Sderot 82-year old woman suffered shrapnel wounds, 22 were hospitalized in shock. Since then, the population within range of the Gaza Strip was told to stay in protected sites – when they have them.

Ashkelon town hall opened the public bomb shelters, while the city of Ashdod to the north ordered the shelters prepared. Several ministers as well as opposition leaders are demanding an effective military campaign against the terrorist groups ruling Gaza before it is too late. They say the Gaza truce has become a farce.


Sinai Bedouin revolt continues, 25 Egyptian police killed in clashes


15 Nov. Clashes between insurgent Bedouin and Egyptian border police in central Sinai Friday, Nov. 14, left 25 Egyptians dead. No figures were immediately available on Bedouin casualties. The armed insurrection erupted Saturday, Nov. 7, when Egyptian troops posted at the Nitzana border post opened fire on a suspected drug smugglers’ truck, killing the Bedouin driver.

Hundreds of armed tribesmen in pick-up trucks bent on revenge – mostly Tarabin, Azazme and Tihama members – swarmed to the scene and began shooting up the Egyptian border guards. The Bedouin outbreak assumed the form of an organized uprising when their chief commander handed the Egyptian officers a list of demands.


Al Qaeda says order given for attack “far bigger than 9/11”


16 Nov. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that US president-elect Barack Obama, European and Russian heads of state in Washington for the G20 conference over the weekend were briefed about an early al Qaeda attack.

Obama and his team have been advised that a new al Qaeda strike is highly probable in the United States or against a key US target in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.

On Thursday night, Nov. 14, Central Intelligence Director Gen. Michael Hayden said: “Al Qaeda, operating from its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas, remains the most clear and present danger to the United States.” Every major terrorist threat threads back to the tribal areas, he said. “Whether it is command and control, training, direction, money, capabilities, there is a connection to the FATA (Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.)”

Hayden also mentioned Yemen and Somalia as important al Qaeda theaters of operation.


Four armed Palestinians killed in Israeli air strike after missile fire from Gaza


16 Nov. The Israeli air strike killed armed Palestinians on their way to blow up the Karni crossing through which supplies reach Gaza, Sunday, Nov. 16. The missiles landed outside a kibbutz.

The missile fire contradicts the calming statements from Israeli leaders claiming Hamas wants to maintain the agreed truce. Hamas spokesmen in fact demand the unconditional reopening of all the Gaza crossings by Israel and Egypt without commitments on their part.

The Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group announced Saturday, Nov. 15, that the 120,000 inhabitants of the Mediterranean port town of Ashkelon 15 kilometers from Gaza, were now held hostage. All Israeli military strikes in Gaza would be countered by long-range (25-kilometer) Iran-supplied Grad artillery rocket attacks on the city. “The rules of the game have changed,” said Hamas.


Nine Palestinian missiles fired from Gaza Monday


17 Nov. The first salvo of seven Qassam missiles damaged buildings in the Eshkol farm district Monday, Nov. 17, followed by two in the evening that were aimed at Sderot. There were no casualties. British foreign secretary David Miliband visited Sderot and was shown the damage Palestinian missiles caused since the Gaza truce broke down two weeks ago.


Israeli Arab nursery-school teacher charged with abetting Gaza terrorists


17 Nov. Sumiya Abu Ghanem, 21, a nursery school teaching aide in the Israeli town of Ramle, was charged before the Petach Tikva district court Monday. She was detained a month ago as a result of a joint Border Police-Shin Bet operation. The charges against Abu Ghanem included conspiring to aid the Palestinian Fatah terrorist group in Gaza in a scheme to kidnap an Israeli. She was also asked to help spirit a Palestinian suicide killer into a crowded place in an Israeli town.


Hamas to maintain missile blitz up to Ashdod – until Israel’s February poll


17 Nov. debkafile‘s military sources report that Israeli government leaders have misread the motives behind Hamas’ two-week missile-rocket-mortar assault on Israel as jockeying for better terms when the six-month truce comes up for renewal next month. Their decision to mute Israel’s military response to the ongoing violence stems from their misplaced expectation that the attacks will stop once the truce is in the bag.

Israeli intelligence circles estimate that Hamas will continue escalating the violence at least up until Israel’s general election on Feb. 10, 2009:

1. The 25-kilometer range Grad multiple-launch rockets, which the radical terrorists have vowed to continue firing against the Mediterranean port-town of Ashkelon, will also be directed further north to Ashdod, Israel’s most important port after Haifa. This will keep Hamas at center stage of Israel’s election campaign and demonstrate who really influences the Israeli voter. The rival Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose “peace talks” with Israel came to naught, will be left behind.

2. Hamas calculates that a major Israeli operation in Gaza will be so costly in casualties for the Palestinian population and Israeli troops alike that an international outcry will force the IDF to cut the campaign short without achieving its goals. Israel’s failure to achieve victory will enhance Hamas’ standing in Gaza and the West Bank – just like Hizballah after the 2006 Lebanon war.


Mullen: The US Army has begun practicing traveling out of Iraq and into Afghanistan


18 Nov. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview to AP that the exit routes practiced through Turkey and Jordan would determine “what the challenges might be.” Both governments support the effort.

debkafile‘s military sources report that the US army chief’s statement marks the beginning of the American withdrawal from Iraq. While he is still following the orders of President Bush, Mullen said he was clearly aware of president-elect Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw the US army from Iraq in 16 months.

This development is a negative augur for Israel’s strategic situation; after Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, the door is open for Iran to take control of another Arab nation in its vicinity. The Israel military has made no preparations for the encroaching Iranian presence.


Iran, Syria tauten grip on Lebanon, Tehran woos Christian president


18 Nov. Tehran and Damascus are going all out to get their hooks into Lebanon’s Christian politicians and wean them away from their’ traditional ties with the West. President Michel Suleiman this week accepted an Iranian invitation to visit Tehran Nov. 24-25, while another Lebanese Christian leader, Hizballah’s ally Gen. Michel Aoun, arranged to visit Damascus.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that the Iranians are forging ahead with a campaign to bind the region’s Christian minorities to their Shiite wagon for challenging Sunni domination. Their first quarry is Lebanon’s powerful community.

Although these developments bode ill for Israel too, they were left out of the sweeping 2009 prognosis which the Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj. Amos Yadlin delivered in Tel Aviv Monday, Nov. 17. Neither did he look ahead to the likelihood that Iran would be able to assemble a nuclear weapon early next year. Senior Israeli intelligence circles described the evaluations heard from Yadlin Monday as less attuned to reality than to the estimated positions of the incoming US president Barack Obama’s Middle East team and Olmert-Livni policies. Like them, he omitted to address the agendas which Tehran and Damascus are actively pursuing.


Gaza crossings resealed Tuesday after 9 Palestinian missiles fired from Gaza


18 Nov. The first salvo of seven Qassam missiles damaged buildings in the Eshkol farm district Monday, Nov. 17, followed by two in the evening that were aimed at Sderot. There were no casualties. Still, Israeli allowed 33 truckloads of supplies into Gaza following heavy international pressure and UNWRA renewed food supplies to the population. But fuel shipments are held up for as long as the Palestinians shoot rockets, missiles and mortars into Israel.

In two weeks they have fired 140 projectiles, effectively terminating the informal truce agreed in June and up for renewal next month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern to Israel about the suffering in Gaza under the Israeli blockade. Prime minister Ehud Olmert replied that the correct address for such complaints is Hamas.


Final IAEA report: Syrian site hit by Israel resembled an atomic reactor


19 Nov. The final report of the International Atomic Energy Agency Wednesday, Nov. 19, says the Syrian complex bombed by Israel 14 months ago bore features resembling those of an undeclared nuclear reactor. “Significant” amounts of man-made uranium particles were found in situ. This report will be submitted the nuclear watchdog board meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27-28.

Damascus is accused of failing to produce requested documentation to support its declaration about the nature of the building and refusing follow-up IAEA visits to three other locations suspected of harboring possible evidence linked to Israel’s target.

debkafile was the only publication to report that the Israeli attack targeted more than one Syrian site.

Our military sources stress that the IAEA report attests to one of the most formidable feats of Israel’s external intelligence agency Mossad in conjunction with the US CIA. Syrian president Bashar Assad is now confirmed as having been in the process of building nuclear weapons intended for attacking Israel.


Al Qaeda’s venomous message for Obama


19 Nov. In an audio message released Wednesday, Nov. 19, Ayman al-Zahari, al Qaeda’s No. 2, said US president-elect Barack Obama was not an “honorable black American” like Malcolm X but a “house negro” like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He urged Muslims to keep up attacks on the “criminal” US and criticized Obama for “promising to back Israel.”

Obama’s plan to shift troops to Afghanistan would fail, said Zawahri, in a message appearing on Islamist websites. He added: “A heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you.” The Islamist leader criticized Obama, born to a Muslim Kenyan farther, for what he described as turning his back on his Muslim roots.


Indian navy sinks pirate “mother ship” in Gulf of Aden


19 Nov. Late Tuesday, Nov. 18, after a Thai boat and Iranian cargo vessel were hijacked, the Indian navy’s Tabar stealth frigate fought back and destroyed a pirate vessel loaded with food, diesel and water, with two speed boats in tow. On the deck, were rocket-propelled grenade launchers and guns. The attack took place 285 nautical miles southwest off Salalah, Oman. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that this area would be well off the Somali pirates’ beaten track and cause of concern on another score, their proximity to the Strait of Hormuz.

The Indian navy says it was the third attack the Indian warship had repelled since its anti-piracy mission began in the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 2. On Nov. 11, Indian naval commandos flying a helicopter foiled an attempt to hijack an Indian merchant ship.


Israel chief of staff at NATO


19 Nov. Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, will address NATO military leaders convened in Brussels on IDF’s counter-terror tactics and technology.

He has appointments set up with the US, French, German and Turkish military chiefs.


First US, Russian steps to combat Somali piracy


20 Nov. The US and multinational naval force patrolling the coast off Somali urged merchant vessels Thursday, Nov. 20, to sail with armed guards on board and only on lanes patrolled by warships.

The Russian Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky announced more warships would be sent to the danger zone. US Vice Adm. William Gortney said merchant ships crews were being taught non-violent measures to prevent pirates boarding their vessels, such sharp rudder movements and speed adjustments to throw their speed boats off course.

The Saudi tanker, the biggest ship every hijacked, is being held off the Somali coast with 2 million barrels of crude and a crew of 25, for a $25 million ransom.

A NATO fleet of US, French, British and Danish warships along with Indian, Malaysian and Russian naval vessels are patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters. They were unable to prevent the seizure of the super tanker and three merchant vessels this week.


New polls register seismic Israeli shift to right of center


20 Nov. With 61 days to go to Israel’s general election, at least two opinion polls position the right-of center opposition Likud ahead of its rivals with 32 Knesset seats (out of 120), whereas the ruling Kadima, led by foreign minister Tzipi Livni, would fall to 26, with two-thirds of its former voters dropping out.

Likud leader former PM Binyamin Netanyahu is cashing in on the popular figures he has picked for his top team, such as Benny Begin (son of the iconic Menahem Begin) and ex-chief of staff Moshe Yaalon as disenchanted defectors return to the Likud fold. If the figures hold up on Feb. 10, Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister.

Most strikingly, defense minister Ehud Barak is leading Labor, Israel’s founding party, to virtual eclipse with no more than 8-10 Knesset seats predicted. The party faithful are drifting leftward, boosting Meretz to an estimated seven seats.

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