A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Sept. 24, 2009

Israeli, Western tourists in India under threat of terrorist attack

18 Sept. The counter-terror center in Jerusalem has warned Israelis travelling in India to attend the Jewish New Year events only at sites with adequate security. It reports information that terrorist groups are seeking out sites popular with Western tourists, including Jewish centers in all parts of India. The Pakistani group which attacked hotels and the Habad center in Mumbai last November, killing 9 Jews and Israelis, is cited. A special warning went out to Habad centers, which play host to Israeli and Jewish tourists, especially on festivals, and this year hired an Israeli security firm to protect their guests. Indian officials report they are liaising with Israel over the threats and have tightened security for tourists in the past year.

September 19 Briefs

·        Chancellor Merkel accepts Israel's self-definition as a Jewish state. Germany's definition as a German state does not prejudice its minorities, she says.

·        A rare gemstone carving depicting Alexander the Great from 4th century BCE found at Tel Dor excavation by Megan Webb of Annapolis, USA.

Obama's anti-Iran missile defense overhaul is fraught with danger

19 Sept. The day US president Barack Obama announced he was abandoning plans for a missile shield and radar position in Poland and the Czech Republic Thursday, Sept. 17, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying in a press interview: “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel.”

Asked about Iran's nuclear program, he went on to say: “Israel is strong, I don't see anyone who could pose an existential threat,” although he did view Iran as a challenge to the whole world.

Asked in private what he meant, Barak shifted slightly by explaining: At this minute, Iran does not threaten Israel's survival.”

Are we to understand from this statement that the Iranian menace has suddenly gone away?

Obama's decision is running into heated opposition in the US capital.

debkafile's Washington sources stress that the Obama administration, like its predecessor, appears to be willing to leave Tehran with the option of crossing the last threshold when its radical rulers see fit, partly in order to cut defense costs at a time of recession.

The But Israel cannot afford this luxury especially after Gen. James Cartwright, US Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman, told Israel exactly where it stands on the United States order of priorities:

First: The US homeland, such as the (hypothetic) narrow strip down the East Coast from Philadelphia to Washington, which we must defend;

Second: US forces around the world;

Third: NATO countries, our allies;

Fourth: Friends like Israel.

This determination ought to act as a wake-up call for Jerusalem.

Medvedev: Israeli officials promised they are not planning to attack Iran

20 Sept. In a CNN interview Sunday, Sept. 20, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said “Israeli colleagues” had told him they are not planning to attack Iran. He confirmed Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had visited Moscow two weeks ago and had also met with him, but asked to keep the visit secret.

When Israeli President [Shimon] Peres was visiting me in Sochi recently, he said something very important for all of us: 'Israel does not plan any strikes on Iran, we are a peaceful country and we will not do this',” according to Medvedev.

debkafile adds: Unless Medvedev's assertion is denied by Jerusalem, Israel has abandoned its military option to pre-empt a nuclear-armed Iran, but its leaders neglected to inform the Israeli public of this radical change of policy.

According to the Kremlin transcript, the Russian president also said: Although Russia has no defense agreement with Iran, “this does not mean we would be indifferent to such an occurrence…”

These words indicate that the Kremlin is not absolutely sure that Israel has indeed abandoned a possible strike against Iran and is holding an implicit threat of Russian military intervention over Israel's head – just in case.

Obama meets Netanyahu, Abbas for a photo-op. His summit with Medvedev is important

20 Sept. As debkafile reported last week, although US president Barack Obama will host Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in New York Tuesday, Sept. 22, Abbas' refusal to relent on his ultimatum for a prolonged settlement construction freeze that would also cover Jerusalem will reduce the tripartite summit to a photo-op.

More importantly, Obama will be meeting Russian president Dmitry Medvedev the next day for his first test of Russian willingness to cooperate for harsh measures against Iran in return for giving up US missile defense deployments in East Europe.

The Iranian issue will continue to be aired two days later at the G20 summit taking place in Pittsburgh on Sept. 25, followed by a Six-Power conference to line up tactics for the talks with Iran which open in Istanbul on Oct. 1.

Afghanistan top commander demands extra US troops to save Afghan mission


21 Sept. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the Afghanistan war, leaked to the US media, that without extra troops within the next year, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in mission failure.”

The White House confirmed Monday, Sept. 21 that the president has seen the general's report but has not received a formal request for more forces.

According to debkafile's Washington sources, if President Barack Obama fails to approve the manpower increment and revised tactics the general is demanding, he might as well start working on an early withdrawal strategy or else risk “a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs and, ultimately, a critical loss of political support, says the general.

Obama faces two hard options: Boost the US military in Afghanistan by tens of thousands of additional US troops, or else engage the Taliban insurgents in negotiations for a timetable for NATO forces to exit the country. The second course would look like a crackup of US positions in a key world arena.

President Obama might dodge both, according to debkafile's military experts, by pulling US troops out of Afghanistan while keeping them close: A ring of US special bases would be installed in neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, or Kyrgyzstan, poised for rapid in-and-out strikes against any strongholds al Qaeda might rebuild in Afghanistan under the wing of a radical Kabul regime.

Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit left the peace process as deadlocked as before

22 Sept. Although US president Barack Obama managed to corral Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into one room at the Waldorf Astoria New York Tuesday, Sept. 22, it was a cold, formal occasion, which in no way hauled the Middle East peace process out of its long stalemate.

Obama went through the motions of inviting the two sides to send teams to Washington next week and asked secretary of state Hillary Clinton to report to him in mid-October on any progress made by envoy George Mitchell in getting negotiations started. But the US president's six months' effort to restart the talks has never taken off for these reasons:

1. He started out with too broad a personal commitment to Middle East peace and found that by demanding a total construction freeze on Israeli settlement construction, he had bitten off more than he could chew.

2. He persuaded Israel to substantially ease up on restrictions for Palestinian movements on the West Bank, including the removal of dozens of roadblocks and cooperation between their security agencies, but failed to talk round any important Arab government into concessions in relations with Israel.

3. He raised Palestinian hopes of major Israeli concessions from Israel too high. They did not materialize and Mahmoud Abbas could not climb down from his high horse and meet Netanyahu without losing face.

Obama's White House has now seen the writing on the wall and, according to debkafile's Washington sources, decided to shelve its all-out effort to get the Middle East process restarted under his aegis.

September 22 Briefs

·        Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni loses race for UNESCO post to Bulgarian ex-minister Irina Bukova.

·        Israel goes one hour back to standard time early Sunday Sept. 27, eve of Yom Kippur.

·        Ahmadinejad says Iran will “cut off the hands of any attackers.”

·        Pentagon delays additional troop request for Afghanistan pending strategy assessment.

·        Ashkenazi: The Goldstone Report must not serve terrorists as license to operate among civilians. As in the past, Israel will not let this happen in the future. He commends high moral standards of Israeli troops.

Dozens of Israeli warplanes fly low over Gaza in show of muscle for Iran

22 Sept. debkafile's military sources report that dozens of low flying Israeli Air Force warplanes coasted over the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for two hours Monday, Sept. 21 in a show of strength unparalleled since 100 IAF jets practiced long-distance flights against Russian-made S-300 anti-missile systems based in Greece in June 2008.

The flights were planned to restore some bite to Israel's deterrent strength against Iran and its proxies, Hizballah and Hamas, which had been badly dented by a spate of ill-judged statements last weekend. Thursday, September 17, defense minister Ehud Barak said Iran was no threat to Israel's existence. He was echoed two days later, by Brig. Tal Rousso, director of operations in the IDF general staff. Sunday, Barak advised the NYT: “The central challenge for the US now was how to handle North Korea's nuclear weapons because that would greatly influence Iran.” It sounded as though Iran was an afterthought.

On Sunday too, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev told the CNN: “My Israeli colleagues assure me they are not planning to attack Iran.” President Shimon Peres was cited as one of those “colleagues.”

The general effect of these statements, which flatly contradicted the policies of every Israeli government and member, was of muddle and loss of focus in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army chief there and then delivered a statement stressing that Israel's military operation against Iran was still very much on the table.

Iran loses its only AWACS as Ahmadinejad threatens the world

23 Sept. Up above a big military parade in Tehran on Tuesday, Sept. 22, as Iranian president declared Iran's armed forces would chop off the hands of any power daring to attack his country, two air force jets collided in mid-airone Iran's only airborne warning and control system (AWACS) for coordinating long-distance aerial operations, debkafile's military and Iranian sources disclose.

As the soldiers marched past, followed by a line of Shehab-3 missiles and an air force fly-past, planned to give Ahmadinejad a dazzling send-off for New York and add steel to his UN Assembly speech, the AWACS' collided with one of escorting planes, a US-made F-5E. Both crashed to the ground in flames. All seven crewmen were killed.

The loss of this airborne control system has left Iran's air force and air and missile defenses without “electronic eyes” for surveillance of the skies around its borders.

September 24 Briefs

·        Special UN Security Council session unanimously adopts resolution calling for nuclear weapons states to disarm. It was tabled by session chairman Barack Obama.

·        UK premier Brown warns Iran, North Korea, the world would consider far tougher sanctions against Iran.

·        Sarkozy accused the two countries of ignoring Security Council resolutions. He said Iran was making a tragic mistake if it thought international community would not respond.

·        US charges Afghanistani man from Colorado with plotting a bombing attack in America.

·        A Qassam missile fired from Gaza early Thursday explodes on open ground near an Eshkol region kibbutz.

Ahmadinejad's flaming diatribe against US and Israel countered by Russian openness to sanctions

24 Sept. The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinjad's excessive oratory, matched by the shuffle of Western delegations led by the US leaving the UN chamber, have been a typical feature of every new UN General Assembly session in the last three years. This time, the Iranian president preceded his speech with press interviews in which he tried to sound more reasonable while refusing to answer questions on his denial of the Holocaust and Iran's nuclear program.

Addressing an almost empty hall, he declared Wednesday, Sept. 23: “American power has reached the end of the road and is paralyzed.” In a typical anti-Semitic diatribe, Ahmadinejad said: “Although they are a miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US.”

When he met President Obama earlier on the sidelines of the UN session, Russian President Dmitry repeated the new Russian position, which states that in principle Russia believes that sanctions rarely lead to productive results, “but in some cases sanctions are inevitable.”

President Obama said that Iran been “violating too many of its international commitments.” He committed himself to negotiating with Iran on the issue, but said serious sanctions were a possibility if Iran failed to respond seriously.”

Netanyahu: The UN's primary mission is to prevent Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons

24 Sept. In an impassioned speech to the UN General Assembly Thursday, Sept 24, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the United Nations' most important mission today is to prevent “the tyrants of Tehran” from acquiring nuclear weapons, because the marriage of religious fanaticism and weapons of mass destruction would endanger the world. Holding up the minutes of the Nazi leaders' 1942 decision to annihilate the Jewish people, Netanyahu said the man who called the Holocaust a lie also pledges to wipe out the state of the Jewish people, making a mockery of the UN Charter.

His statement, “We ask the Palestinians to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people just as we recognize the Palestinian wish for a home of their own,” won applause in the chamber. The prime minister slammed the UN report which held Israel guilty of war crimes in its Gaza operation last January, accusing its authors of “equating terrorists and their victims.” The world body must reject this biased report, he said, before Israel embarks on peace talks with the Palestinians, because “we must be sure the West Bank will never be another Gaza.”

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