A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Sept. 18, 2008

Russia lines up with Syria, Iran against America and the West


Sept 12. Moscow announced renovation had begun on the Syrian port of Tartus to provide Russia with its first long-term naval base on the Mediterranean.

As the two naval chiefs talked in Moscow, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki in the Russian capital for talks on the completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant by the end of the year.

debkafile‘s military sources report Russia’s leaders have determined not to declare a Cold War in Europe but to open a second anti-Western front in the Middle East.

In the second half of August, DEBKA file and DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s analysts focused on this re-orientation (Russia’s Second Front: Iran-Syria), whereby Moscow had decided to use its ties with Tehran and Damascus to challenge the United State and the West in the Middle East as well as the Caucasian, the Black Sea and the Caspian region.

In aligning with Tehran and Damascus, Moscow stands not only against America but also Israel. This volatile world region is undergoing cataclysmic changes at a time when Israel is without a fully competent prime minister.


Missile alert is revived on Israel-Gaza border


12 Sept. debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that the leaders of the Iranian-backed Jihad Islami terrorist group in Gaza have warned they will go back to firing missiles at neighboring Israeli towns and villages unless the ruling Hamas stops persecuting them.

Our military sources report that Israeli forces securing the Gaza border went on missile alert Thursday, Sept 11, when Hamas heavies continued their crackdown.

Hamas gunmen are systematically bulldozing the Jihad bases, built over the ruins of the former Israeli Gush Katif villages, and flattening the sites. They have seized control of Jihad mosques in the southern part of the Gaza Strip and are making arrests.


Syrian commandos invade 7 Greater Tripoli villages of N. Lebanon


13 Sept. Two Syrian commando battalions accompanied by reconnaissance and engineering corps units have crossed into Lebanon in the last 48 hours and taken up positions in seven villages, most of them Allawite Muslim, outside Tripoli, debkafile‘s military sources reported Saturday, Sept. 13. They are the vanguard of a large armored force poised on the border.

Damascus has signaled to Washington and Paris: Don’t interfere.

The Syrian incursion coincided with the expected arrival of Russian naval and engineering experts for renovating Tartus, the Syrian port 40 kilometers north of Tripoli, to serve as the Russian fleet’s first permanent Mediterranean base.

Seen from Israel, once Assad’s army completes its advance on Tripoli, he will control the full length of the military supply route for Hizballah from the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus. The Russian presence will add a new and troubling dimension to this development.


Russia, US pull further apart over Iranian nuclear activities


13 Sept. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said Friday a military solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is unacceptable and there is no need for new sanctions. At the same time, Washington has imposed new sanctions on Iran, blacklisting a main shipping line and 18 subsidiaries. The US government accuses the maritime carrier of ferrying contraband nuclear material, which Tehran denies.

Washington sources predict this may be the prelude to more serious actions, such as a naval blockade to choke off Iran’s imports of fuel products.

Moscow continues to support the European Union’s diplomatic drive to trade incentives for Iran’s consent to curb “some of its nuclear activities.”

The nuclear watchdog has asked Tehran to account for 50-60 tons of missing uranium from its main enrichment site at Isfahan. It is enough to produce five or six nuclear bombs and is suspected of having been diverted to secret sites to boost the covert production of weapons-grade uranium.


Terror suspected in Aeroflot crash which killed all 88 people aboard


14 Sept. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report from Moscow that three Jewish families, two Habad students and a Russian general were among the 88 passengers and crew killed in the Aeroflot Boeing 737 crash at Perm, Siberia, Saturday, Sept. 13. The plane was in flight from Moscow.

Russian authorities reported the plane’s sudden disappearance off the radar at the moment cockpit communications shut off. This indicated the craft may have exploded in mid-air. They suspect terrorism as the cause of the crash because –

1. At least five passengers bought tickets but did not turn up for the flight. Security officials are trying to locate their addresses and sifting through the wreckage for unaccompanied luggage.

2. One of the passengers has been identified as Gen. Gennadiy Troshev, a Russian hero who quelled the Chechen rebellion.

3. Our sources name one of the Jewish – or possibly Israeli – families aboard the doomed flight. They have been named as Ephraim Nakhumov, 35, his wife Golda, 24, and their two children, Ilya, aged 7, and Eva, aged four.


Thirty-four people die in Iraq Monday


15 Sept. At least 22 people were killed and 32 wounded by a female suicide bomber who blew herself at a police gathering in Iraq's Diyala province.

The guests were attending an Iftar banquet, when Muslims break their fast during the month of Ramadan, in Balad Ruz, 70km north of Baghdad.

Earlier, two car bombs exploded in central Baghdad, killing 12 people.


In show of bravado, Iran launches “air defense exercises”


Iranian official sources report that the air force drill began Monday, Sept. 15, in half of the country’s 30 provinces. They gave out no details of which provinces or how long the exercise would last. The commander of Iran’s aerial defense, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Mighani said that any enemies attacking the Islamic Republic would regret it.

The exercise was launched on the day the UN nuclear watchdog reported that non-cooperation from Tehran had stalled its efforts to establish whether or not Iran was developing nuclear warheads, enriching uranium for military purposes, testing nuclear explosives or building nuclear-capable missiles.

Tehran is not deterred by sanctions or tempted by international diplomacy to give up its nuclear aspirations, especially since the Georgia conflict with the United States has presented Iran with Russian backing for its nuclear program and opposition to sanctions.

Iran’s defense minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said scornfully Monday: “Threats by the Zionist regime and America against our country are empty” – showing that Tehran feels free to go forward with its nuclear plans.


Gates arrives in Baghdad unannounced


15 Sept. Gates arrived in Baghdad to supervise the handover of the Iraq command from Gen. David Petraeus to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno. Petraeus moves on to lead the Central Command overseeing Middle East, Afghanistan, Horn of Africa.


France wants more sanctions on Iran for stonewalling UN nuclear probe


16 Sept. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that for lack of Tehran’s cooperation, it has made no progress in establishing whether or not Iran is developing nuclear warheads, enriching uranium for military purposes, testing nuclear explosives or building nuclear-capable missiles.

Furthermore, despite three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions, Iran has not stopped nuclear enrichment. At present, 4,800 centrifuges are operating and another 2,000 are getting read to start work in the near future.

debkafile‘s Iranian sources report that the Tehran administration shows more contempt than ever before toward the UN, international diplomacy and potential sanctions, certain that the prospect of a US and Israeli military strike on its nuclear facilities recedes further day by day.

“Threats by the Zionist regime and America against our country are empty,” said defense minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar,”


Ex-PMs Barak and Netanyahu in secret power-sharing talks


16 Sept. Defense minister Ehud Barak of Labor and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud are in advanced negotiations to rotate the premiership between them in order to cut the ground from under Kadima’s winner as leader. The ultra-religious Shas is in on the plan.

This is reported by debkafile‘s political circles.

Barak’s Labor and Netanyahu’s Likud combined with Eli Yishai’s Shas hold more Knesset seats – 43, than Kadima’s 27. They are in a position to prevent the winner of the Kadima primary from automatically taking over from Olmert as head of the incumbent government coalition. Without Labor, Kadima lacks the numbers to form a viable coalition government.

debkafile‘s sources report that Netanyahu and Barak are close to accord on the general principles of their partnership but are still working on details. Netanyahu would go first up until a general election because Barak, who is not a member of Knesset, cannot become prime minister. Barak believes he can use his pact with Netanyahu to push Kadima’s buttons and at the right moment, take the party over and form a left-of-center Labor-Kadima bloc to fight his current partner, head of the right-of-center Likud.


North Korea conducts long-range missile engine ignition test


17 Sept: The test at the new Tongchang-ri site was detected by the U.S. KH-12 spy satellite. The base is located 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the North Korean border with China,


At least 11 killed in bloody Hamas crackdown on Doghmush clan militia in Gaza


16 Sept. The dead included Momtaz Doghmush, head of Army of Islam and co-kidnapper with Hamas of Gilead Shalit, and in infant. Hamas battled the militia for five hours with mortar fire on its base at the Sabra district of Gaza City, losing one of its gunmen.


Sixteen killed in al Qaeda attack on US embassy in Yemen


17 Sept. Eight Yemeni soldiers, six assailants and 2 civilians were killed in an al Qaeda suicide car bombing, RPG rocket and shooting attack on the US embassy in Sanaa, Wednesday, Sept. 17. No embassy staff members were harmed in the five explosions reported by a US official.

In March, al Qaeda mounted a mortar attack which missed the US embassy but injured 13 girls at a nearby school; other attacks targeted the Italian mission and Western tourists. Non-essential US staff were ordered to leave Yemen in April.


Israeli banks hammered on Tel Aviv stock exchange


17 Sept. In Tel Aviv, prices plunged across the board, with the major banks taking an extra beating. The public voted no-confidence in the leading banks (Bank Hapoalim plunged 12.5 percent) and disregarded the finance minister, Ronnie Bar-On’s assurances that the Israeli economy is insulated from the global crisis.

After meeting bank heads Wednesday, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer issued a statement that Israel banks are “relatively well run.”

Economic experts foresee an Israeli recession around the corner. Lehman Brothers is a major player in Israel’s structured-products market and options market. Personal savings schemes, exports to the United States and Europe and foreign investment are also susceptible.

As foreigners employed on Wall Street, Israelis are second only to Canadians.

Thousands have been thrown on the job market. Aside from those recalled by Lehman Brothers after the Barclays buyout, many will return home adding to the pressures on the job market. Israel’s hi-tech industry, second only to the US in annual start-ups, was already facing difficulties before the current crisis, as export orders began drying up.


After her narrow win, Livni’s ability to form government in doubt


18 Sept. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni scraped through to victory in the Kadima party’s first leadership primary Wednesday, Sept. 17.although her win was challenged by transport Shaul Mofaz, one percent behind her (43 to his 42 percent). Early Thursday, Mofaz finally called Livni to congratulate her. Later, he announced he was quitting politics, including the party and government.

The real results differed dramatically from the three TV exit polls which wrongly awarded Livni a landslide victory and were up to 10 percent wide of the mark. Throughout the campaign the foreign minister was a media favorite and inaccurately described as unchallenged successor to Ehud Olmert both as party chair and prime minister.

Kadima comes out of the primary bitterly divided. Livni faces the daunting dual challenges of uniting the party and persuading all the government coalition parties to accept her as prime minister.

Kadima’s two senior partners, Labor and Shas, are already looking at alternatives.

The low Kadima turnout, according to debkafile‘s political analysts, was a public vote of non-confidence in the party. At the Tel Aviv stock exchange Wednesday, another popular vote of no confidence took place – this one again st the economic system ruled by Kadima ministers and the banks.

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