A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Sept. 11, 2008

Russian units raid Georgian airfields for use in potential Israeli strike against Iran – US intelligence


5 Sept. The Russians raided two Georgian airfields, which Tbilisi had allowed Israel to use for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Under a secret agreement with Georgia, the airfields were earmarked for use by Israeli fighter-bombers taking off to strike Iran, in return for training and arms supplies for the Georgian army.

debkafile‘s intelligence sources report that flying from S. Georgia over the Caspian Sea to Iran would sharply trim the flying time for Israeli fighter-bombers to 3.5 hours.

Northern Iran and the Tehran region, where most of the nuclear facilities are concentrated, would be within range, with no need to request US permission to pass through Iraq air space.

Russian Special Forces also raided other Israeli facilities in southern Georgia and captured Israeli spy drones and other military equipment. debkafile adds: If the Russians got hold of an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle complete with sophisticated electronic reconnaissance equipment, they will have secured some of the IDF’s most secret devices for spying on Iran and Syria.

When this happened before, Russian military engineers quickly dismantled the equipment, studied it and passed the technology on to Tehran and Damascus.


Pakistan “suspends” main supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan


6 Sept. debkafile reports that the blockage of the main Torkham fuel route to NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 6, was a warning from Islamabad that no more US ground incursions would be tolerated.

The vital route was shut to 20 supply trucks, including fuel tankers, two days after a US helicopter-borne commando attack on Taliban-al Qaeda sanctuaries left 20 dead at a village in South Waziristan, one mile inside northwest Pakistani territory.

Facing an enraged public, the Pakistan government used the escalating terrorist attacks in the Khyber tribal region as a pretext for “temporarily suspending” traffic through the route to Kabul, through which NATO receives 70 percent of its supplies.

The US command has resorted to stepped up unilateral action on Pakistani soil after failing to enlist the Pakistani army for an effective crackdown on the terrorist sanctuaries from which Taliban and al Qaeda plague Afghanistan.


Police recommend indicting PM Ehud Olmert on corruption charges


7 Sept. The Israeli police has recommended bringing criminal charges against Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on two cases of corruption pre-dating his present incumbency.

It is up to Attorney General Menahem Maziz to decide on an indictment.

The most severe charges of bribe-taking, fraud, breach of trust and money laundering refer to his receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the US financier Morris Talansky over 15 years, often in cash envelopes.

In the second case, Olmert is alleged to have fraudulently double-billed public organizations for his foreign trips and used the surplus funds to pay for his and his family’s trips abroad.

More investigations are still pending. The prime minister claims he is innocent of wrongdoing and will fight his case in court.

The prime minister’s lawyers said that many past cases which grabbed headlines were inflated by the police and boiled down to very little when they came to court.

Olmert has already resigned as prime minister and stands ready to hand over to his successor after he or she wins the Kadima party primary on Sept. 17.


Iran’s army, Revolutionary Guards begin three days of war games Monday


7 Sept. Iran's armed forces will begin three days of war games on Monday involving anti-aircraft defense systems, Iranian media said on Sunday.

The exercises will be held amid persistent speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West and Israel say are part of a clandestine bid to build atomic bombs, despite Tehran's denials.

The ISNA news agency said both Iran's Revolutionary Guards and its regular army would take part in the drills.


Iran’s al Qods, Hizballah secretly integrate rocket and commando units


7 Sept. debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources disclose that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards delegation slipped into Beirut last week to sign a secret accord with Hizballah leaders for the integration and operational merger of their missile-rocket and commando units.

This may not have been news to US vice president Dick Cheney, when he “revealed” Saturday, Sept. 6, that Russia had sold advanced weapons to Syria and Iran, some of which had been channeled to Lebanon and Iraq.

The new accord enables the two terrorist machines to fight Israeli under a unified command controlled from Tehran.

Israel’s policy-making levels appear oblivious to the takeover of key elements of Hizballah’s fighting machine against Israel by the al Qods commander, Ghasem Suleimani.


Al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahri blasts Iran, ridicules Hizballah


8 Sept. Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman Zawahri, accused Iran of cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and the Shiites for failing to wage a jihad against the Crusader occupier. The Arab news channel Al-Jazeera aired excerpts of the hour-and-a-half video Monday, Sept. 8, marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Zawahri mocked Hizballah and its leaders for claiming victory in the war against Israel in 2006, saying that the outcome had benefited Israel.

“The most bizarre and astounding thing is that Hassan Nasrallah celebrates a victory every year. What victory?” he said. “Retreating 30 miles backwards? Allowing 15,000 Crusaders to become a buffer between them and the Zionists?”

The video called for more jihad to liberate Palestine and denounced the positions adopted by the Muslim and Arab states against the siege imposed on the Palestinians.

Al Jazeera described the Zawahir video as a compilation of old and new material.


US denies an envoy will take part in indirect Israel-Syrian talks


8 Sept. The denial came from the US embassy official in Tel Aviv in response to a report from French sources that the next round of indirect Israel-Syrian talks in Turkey would be supervised by a senior US official. Robert Wood of the State Department commented: “Overall, what we’d like to see out of Syria is for it to play a much more productive role in the region. It hasn’t until now.”

debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s aides have been pumping out stories to disguise the failure of his talks in Damascus to achieve a breakthrough on a French role in promoting the Turkish-brokered talks and in diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear impasse.


US-Russian naval rivalries heat up over Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf seas


8 Sept. debkafile‘s military sources report Washington is testing the Turkish government’s response to the permanent anchoring of US warships at either of the two Georgian ports of Poti or Batumi. This would be quid pro quo for Moscow’s interest in bases in Iranian Azerbaijan and the Persian Gulf.

Monday, Sept. 8, a NATO delegation was due in Georgia to evaluate damage to military structure following the five-day war with Russia last month. This is a further irritant for Moscow after the highly sophisticated American command vessel USS Mount Whitney docked in Poti Saturday.

Our sources report that the US anticipates a protracted period of tension with Russia for the following reasons:

1. US and NATO vessels will need safe coastal berths when the approaching winter storms strike the Black Sea. Turkey will come under increasing pressure from Moscow to block the waterway to NATO vessels or forfeit its top trading partner, Russia, which is already blocking Turkish exports on one pretext or another.

2. Washington will seek a permanent Black Sea presence to counterweight the Russian fleet.


Saakashvili stands by demand for Russians withdrawal from breakaway regions


9 Sept. The Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s response to the updated ceasefire deal French president Nicolas Sarkozy brought from Moscow Tuesday, Sept. 9, was that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were inseparable parts of his country.

The Russians, “should get the hell out of the territories they control,” he told the European delegation led by the French president.

Moscow shot back later: Russian will keep 7,600 soldiers in the breakaway regions after withdrawal from the rest of Georgia.

In Moscow, president Dmitry Medvedev Monday offered to pull Russian troops out of Georgia, including the buffer zones – though not South Ossetia and Abkhazia – within a month, after at least 200 European Union observers were deployed there by Oct. 1 to monitor the pullout.

debkafile‘s sources note that French president Nicolas Sarkozy failed to persuade the Russian president to stand by the first ceasefire stipulation to return to the positions held prior to the Aug. 7 conflict. Tuesday, Moscow and the two regions agreed to formally establish diplomatic relations.


Two Israel Air Force airmen killed Wednesday in Cobra helicopter crash in N. Israel


10 Sept. The pilot was Maj. (Res.) Shai Danur, 35, father of five, from Rosh Ha’ayin. The navigator's name has not been released.

The helicopter on a training mission went down Wednesday, Sept. 10, near Kibbutz Ginegar in the Jezreel Valley, apparently due to a technical failure. The IAF has launched an inquiry into the crash, the worst aviation accident since the 2006 Lebanon War, and grounded the Cobra fleet. The craft crashed ten minutes after takeoff, bursting into flames. The fire and exploding ordnance delayed the approach of rescue teams. A second Cobra helicopter on the exercise landed safely nearby.

Witnesses reported that while it was in flight, the back rotor disconnected from the helicopter, after which it dropped to the ground, exploding on contact.

The Cobra helicopters made by Bell, Fort Worth, Texas, have been in service with the IAF for decades.


NATO’s Afghan strategy to be applied in Pakistan – US military chief


10 Sept. The day before the seventh anniversary of al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on the US, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said of the war which followed those attacks: “I’m not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can.”

Mullen was the first high-ranking American officer to admit frankly that the United States is not winning the war on terror, or beating al Qaeda and Taliban.

debkafile‘s military and counter-terror sources: America has reached an impasse in its war on terror, with no winning strategy for defeating al Qaeda and Taliban, either in Afghanistan or Pakistan. President George W. Bush’s reported signature in July on new military orders authorizing US ground action on both sides of the border without permission from Pakistan provides for a more aggressive campaign against the two groups, but comes a year too late to easily reverse the tide of war. With time on their side, Taliban and al Qaeda have deepened their grip on the tribal population hosting their havens and established logistical bases outside the targeted tribal areas in new areas of control inside Pakistan proper.

American steps are bitterly dogged by their failure to capture Osama bin Laden. Notwithstanding successes in Iraq, al Qaeda’s wings have not been clipped and its cells are active on the Indian subcontinent and in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There are indications that al Qaeda has developed a capability for massive attacks by means of radioactive or “dirty” bombs.


Polls close the gap between Livni and Mofaz a week before Kadima chooses Olmert’s successor


11 Sept: Foreign minister – 39.6 percent; Transport minister Shaul Mofaz – 35.3 percent. They are trailed by Avi Dichter – 8.1 percent and Meir Sheetrit – 8.6 percent.

A large number, 10 percent are undecided.

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