A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Nov. 27, 2008

In close sync, Tehran and Damascus dismiss nuclear watchdog findings


21 Nov. Friday, Nov. 21, Tehran denied the International Atomic Energy Agency’s findings that it had enriched enough uranium to make its first nuclear bomb, while Damascus said the watchdog’s report that the Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel had the features of a reactor proved nothing. Inspections also found traces of man-made uranium at the demolished Syrian site.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA said his government could not have stockpiled 630 kg of low-enriched uranium, enough to upgrade into a nuclear weapon, as claimed in the IAEA report, without ejecting UN inspectors and leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

UN officials and Western diplomats replied that the IAEA cannot rule out Iran enriching at another, secret location since Tehran bars snap IAEA inspections anywhere beyond its few declared facilities.

Syria’s nuclear energy chief Ibrahim Othman said the international investigation should be closed. Syria, he said, had stood by its agreement for one visit to the al-Kibar site last June and “we will not allow another visit.


US forecasts: Iran will have makings of 3 A-bombs by end of 2009


22 November: US nuclear experts predict that by the end of 2009, Iran will have stocked enough weapons-grade fuel to build three nuclear bombs.

The first will be ready for assembly by the time Barack Obama is sworn in as US president on January 20, 2009; the second shortly after Israel’s February 10, 2009 general election produces a new prime minister, and the third by the end of the year.

So what happened to the pledges made by the world powers over the years to keep nuclear weapons out of the Islamic Republic’s hands, including declarations by US and Israeli leaders that their military options remained “on the table?”

Next year, Tehran may stage an underground atomic test to show Muslims everywhere what the Shiites can do. That is unless Olmert, Livni, and Barak are moved to fight the strong trend toward a Likud election victory by going belatedly after Iran’s nuclear facilities in the short weeks remaining for the ballot.


Hizballah war exercise under Iranian general integrated with Tehran, Damascus


23 Nov. Hizballah’s military maneuver Saturday, Nov. 22, in an area south of the Litani River barred by the UN gave Iran’s Al Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a chance to personally check on its Lebanese proxy’s ability to draw up battle lines at speed against a potential Israeli tank incursion of the Beqaa Valley.

debkafile‘s military sources also disclose exclusively that the exercise provided Tehran’s first opportunity to test the functioning of the senior staff quarters in Khoramshahr near the Iranian-Iraqi border, which have taken over direct command of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Its maneuver was fully integrated with the military exercises staged across Iran over the week-end and coordinated with Syrian army headquarters in Damascus.

For the first time, all the pro-Iranian military elements on Israel’s borders have now been pulled together for a joint maneuver by a high-ranking Iranian general. As of Nov. 22, therefore, Iran, Syria and Lebanon are tightly meshed into a Tehran-led combined front against any war contingency.

This development seriously upgrades the peril Iran poses to Israel’s security and brings it right up to its back door.


Ehud Barak Holds IDF in Leash against Hamas Missiles, Hizballah Rockets


24 Nov. “To all the warmongers among you I say I am not minister of war but minister of defense.”

This emotional statement was delivered by Ehud Barak Monday, Nov. 24, to his many critics at a briefing session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. He went on to sayIsrael does not rule out any option against a nuclear-armed Iran. “But the less said about this better.”

Barak admitted that during his tenure as “minister of defense” Hizballah had trebled its rocket arsenal to 42,000 and, compared with the 2006 Lebanon war, their range had been extended and they could now reach targets as far south of Lebanon as the Negev capital of Beersheba and even Dimona.

The defense minister maintained it was worth Israel’s while to put up with “the odd missile or two fired by a negligible group” in Gaza for the sake of preserving an informal truce.

But the key question raised by Palestinians’ ballooning missile capabilities is the effect of Barak’s stance on Israel’s deterrent power – not only against the Gaza-based threat but against Hizballah too. The 42,000 rockets Iran has given Hizballah all point in one direction: Israel. By turning the IDF into a paper tiger in the south, he is playing into the hands of Iran, Hizballah and Syria as well as Hamas.


Dying Saudi Crown Prince sparks royal succession battle


24 Nov. Only rarely does the Saudi royal house issue medical bulletins on its rulers. debkafile‘s Saudi experts say that the bare announcement Monday, Nov. 23, that Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, 83 or 85, had left for the United Sates Sunday for “medical checkups” and treatment for cancer indicates that his condition is seen as terminal.

The race for the first-in-line-to-the throne position went into top gear last month. DEBKA-Net-Weekly 370 revealed on Oct. 31that the crown prince had cut short his stay in Geneva after his Swiss and French doctors found they were unable to keep his intestinal cancer condition at bay. Yet Sultan said he would not quit as long as he was alive.

By disclosing his trip to the US, the royal house hopes to force him to step down and make way for a younger crown prince. Sultan has been holding grimly onto the No. 2 post to prevent his half-brother, King Abdullah, 85, from selecting foreign minister Saud a Faisal as his successor so cutting the Sudairi challenger interior minister Prince Nayef and their clan out of the running. The Sudairis fear the Faisals would strip them not only of their claim to the throne but also of their traditional power bases, which include defense, the armed forces and the governate of Mecca.


Bush warns Israel off attacks on Iran, Hamas, Hizballah


25 Nov. debkafile‘s Washington sources report that the farewell White House meeting between President George W. Bush and prime minister Ehud Olmert Monday, Nov. 23, intended to be a farewell between friends, turned into a stormy encounter.

According to our sources, Olmert told Bush that the American initiative to open a line to Hamas via Jordanian king Abdullah had placed his government in an untenable position. It was seen to be failing to fight Hamas’ missile offensive while on the quiet, Washington was using Israeli quiescence to lay the foundations of a negotiating track with Palestinian extremists in Damascus and Gaza.

All the opinion polls agree that Olmert’s Kadima party and its coalition partner, Barak’s Labor, are fighting for their lives in the run-up to Israel’s Feb. 10, 2009 general election, while the right-of-center opposition bloc led by Likud is rising fast, making hay from the government’s weak-kneed military posture in obedience to US pressure.


PM Olmert faces indictment in double-billing air tickets case


26 Nov. Attorney general Menahem Mazuz notified prime minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday, Nov. 25, that pending a hearing, he is considering filing criminal charges against him in the double billing flight tickets affair. The charges include fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records, failure to report income and receiving illegal benefits during his years as a public servant. The prime minister's long-serving aide Ms Shula Zaken faces similar charges.

Olmert, who resigned in the course of the corruption investigations against him, is transitional prime minister until the Feb. 10 general election. He is resisting heavy pressure from his Kadima party to step aside immediately so that his successor as party leader, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, can move into the prime minster's office until polling day.


FBI: Al Qaeda may target New York City subway system over Thanksgiving


26 Nov. Armed guards filled Penn Station after the FBI received a “plausible but unsubstantiated” report that, al Qaeda had discussed attacking the subway systems in an around New York City during the coming holiday season. “Suicide bombers or explosives,” were mentioned in the document issued Tuesday.

On Nov. 16, debkafile's counter-terror sources reported that president-elect Barack Obama and his transition team had received an intelligence briefing warning them that al Qaeda may be plotting a major attack against a US target in America, Europe, North Africa or the Middle East in the early days of his presidency.

On Nov. 14, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 372 disclosed a Directive to All Fighters in Arabia issued by al Qaeda's Yemen headquarters on Nov. 9 presaging a major operation in the United States that will “change the political and economic world” and be “far bigger than 9/11.”


Iran announces more than 5,000 centrifuges working, following space launch of Kavosh-2 (Explorer-2) rocket


26 Nov. Minutes after launching a three-stage rocket carrying a research lab into space on Wednesday, Nov. 26, Iran's nuclear chief announced Iran now had more than 5,000 centrifuges operating at its uranium enrichment plant, flatly defying UN resolutions.

The Explorer launch followed a test-fire earlier this month of a new surface missile, the 2,000-km Sevili. Its special features, as first disclosed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 373 of Nov. 21, point to significant advances in Iran's solid-propellant two-stage missile development. Our military experts note that the same long-range ballistic technology applies equally to putting satellites in space and launching weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Two missile launches in a month indicate that Tehran has put its ballistic missile development into top gear, an extremely troubling development for Washington, Jerusalem and the European nations within range.

Unfortunately, say debkafile's military sources, Israeli leaders appear to have fallen behind the alarming events rushing forward in Iran. Instead of addressing the peril, defense minister Ehad Barak is mired in a huge effort to hold back a military operation in the Gaza Strip, keep his Labor party from crumbling and battling the Hebron Jewish community.


Jerusalem district court raps state for evicting Federmans from Hebron home


26 Nov. Defense minister Ehud Barak has appealed against the Jerusalem district court's ruling Wednesday, Nov. 26 that the state violated international treaties by evicting Noam Federman, his wife and children from their farm between Hebron and Kiryat Arba a month ago and banning him from the West Bank.

The order, said Judge Moshe Drori, was disproportionate and unconstitutional; he asked why 100 troops and border guardsmen were needed to throw a man and his family out of their home in the middle of the night with no advance notice before tractors trashed the building. The incident sparked an upsurge of riots and vandalism by Jewish youths against Israeli forces and Palestinians living nearby. Federman says he will complain to the international war crimes court.


Israelis among scores of Western hostages in Mumbai


27 Nov. The Israeli foreign ministry situation room has been unable to reach dozens of missing Israelis, some of whom were staying at the Chabad center in Mumbai, others at the Trident Oberoi hotel, when al Qaeda gunmen staged coordinated attacks on 11 mostly tourist locations across the city Wednesday, Nov. 26. I

In 24 hours at least 125 people have been killed and 327 injured. An Israeli child with his Indian nanny escaped the Chabad Center early Thursday. Later that night, 9-10 people left the building, but none were identified as Israelis. Neither is the number of Israelis and Jews inside the building known amid the general havoc.

The Islamist terrorists still control the Chabad building as well as the Oberoi and Taj Palace hotels, where large numbers of Western hostages are held. Some escaped during the day. Indian police backed by Indian commando forces have fought their way into some parts of the Taj hotel, parts of which are burning, and discovered many bodies in the rooms.

The gunmen reached Mumbai by rubber dinghies wearing commando uniforms, armed with automatic rifles, grenades and explosives. They are believed to have come from Pakistan in a mother vessel.

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