A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Sept. 25, 2008

Mofaz’s “time out” after Livni victory opens up breach in Kadima


19 Sept. Transport minister Shaul Mofaz’s announcement of time out from politics and his public duties after he lost the Kadima leadership primary to foreign minister Tzipi Livni by a single percent has seriously divided the party. His supporters claim he was treated unfairly by the party and media, all of which promoted Livni and impugned his credibility.

Many Mofaz loyalists are uncomfortable with the foreign minister’s views and personality may drift out of the party – some returning to Likud. Kadima which went into the election top-heavy looks like losing the few soldiers (only 74,000 registered voters) it had.

The shrinkage of her party further compounds the already daunting task facing the new Kadima chairwoman in taking over the incumbent government from Ehud Olmert.

By announcing he would not serve in the Knesset or accept a cabinet post, Mofaz, former chief of staff and defense minister, is declaring he does not accept Livni’s leadership. However time-out is not resignation and he may be back.


The death toll of 60, plus 200 injured expected to rise after huge explosion at Islamabad hotel


20 Sept. Many people were trapped in rooms of the burning five-star Marriott Hotel in the Pakistan capital after a suicide bomber detonated a large truck loaded with 600 kilos of explosives at the hotel gate, killing at least 60 people and injuring at least 200 more.

The Marriott, frequented by foreigners and local VIP and the hotel of choice for American officials, is danger of collapse.The ceiling of the banqueting hall crashed down on 500 guests at the Ramadan evening meal. According to some sources, a group of CIA officers just arrived in Islamabad may have been targeted.

A few hours earlier and half a mile away from the Marriott, new Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari pledged to fight terrorism in his first address to parliament. While the ongoing military campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal region is unpopular, Zardari was applauded when he declared Pakistan would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty by “any power” – a reference to the recent US cross-border raids and missile attacks against their sanctuaries in Pakistani tribal lands.


Six-power talks on Iran sanctions in deadlock


20 Sept. Russia, China and Germany refuse to countenance tougher sanctions against Iran notwithstanding the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report from Vienna that its inspections of suspect activities and covert projects were stalled by Tehran’s non-cooperation.

Diplomats for the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, meeting at the State Department Friday, Sept 19, therefore failed to agree on a new round of sanctions ahead of their foreign ministers’ meeting at UN Center next week.

Tuesday, Sept 16, the UN watchdog gave a closed meeting of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency photos and documents proving Iran had tried to refit a long-distance Shehab missile to carry a nuclear payload.


CIA director Hayden confirms “collaboration” which pre-empted Syria’s nuclear weapons plan


20 Sept. CIA director Michael Hayden said the destruction of the Syrian reactor – as a result of intelligence collaboration with a “foreign partner” who first identified the facility’s purpose – spoiled a project “that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Hayden stressed that Al Qaeda was the greatest security threat to the US, quoting Osama bin Laden as saying the acquisition of nuclear weapons is a religious duty.

He also pointed to North Korea and Iran as threats.

debkafile notes: This comment contradicts the US intelligence assessment last year that Iran had discontinued its military nuclear program in 2003.


Israeli intelligence revises estimate: Iran is progressing fast towards a nuclear bomb


21 Sept. The director of research at Israeli military intelligence (AMAN), Brig. Yossi Baidatz, surprised the Israeli cabinet Sunday Sept. 21, with a new appreciation of Iran’s nuclear timetable. Tehran, he disclosed, has already stocked one-third or even half the quantity of enriched uranium needed for a nuclear bomb. He warned the ministers that Iran is dashing at top speed towards a nuclear weapons capability and nothing stands in the way of its headlong advance, including international sanctions.

Separately, former Israeli army chief Lt. Gen (Res.) Moshe Yaalon said in a radio interview that an Israel-Iranian war is unavoidable.

debkafile‘s intelligence sources say AMAN has drastically revised its former evaluation of the Iran’s nuclear progress and intentions. Although Iran has only 4,000 centrifuges producing 4-5-grade uranium, it is fast building up a stock of enough low-grade uranium – 1.5 tons – to convert quickly and simply into weapons grades material – within a year or eighteen months.


Barak, Netanyahu push quietly for Labor-Likud bloc to tackle Iranian nuclear threat


22 Sept. debkafile‘s political sources disclose that Monday night, Sept. 22, Labor’s Ehud Barak and opposition leader Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu continued talking about an alternative to a Livni government. Their plan is for their two parties to face the voter as a single bloc committed to form a broad emergency government after the election for urgently confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.

Aware of the Barak-Netanyahu power-sharing initiative, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said in her acceptance speech she would not waste her own and the public’s time by dragging out the coalition negotiations. If she sees no way forward, she will to go to the country.


Peres entrusts Livni with forming government


22 Sept. President Shimon Peres entrusted new Kadima leader, foreign minister Tzipi Livni with forming a government Monday night, Sept. 22, at the end of 24 hours of consultations with party representatives. He began the round Sunday night after Ehud Olmert tendered his resignation as prime minister to fight corruption charges.

Livni faces tough haggling with all the potential coalition candidates in the 42 days allotted her to form a government. If she throws in the towel, a 90-day countdown begins for a general election.


Syrian masses 10,000 commandos on border to invade N. Lebanon


23 Sept. Damascus is pressing forward with its plan to occupy Greater Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and port. To this end, 10,000 Syrian commando troops have massed at Abboudieh on the Lebanese border ready to follow an advance force which occupied seven villages around the northern city earlier this month, as first disclosed by debkafile on Sept. 20. It is now engaged in building fortifications and paving military road links for the main body of special forces to move in.

Syrian occupation of northern Lebanon will make profound inroads on the strategic position of the United States and Israel in this part of the Middle East, but Washington and Jerusalem have decided to turn a blind eye.


Another vehicular terrorist Qassem Mughrabi injures 23 Israelis in Jerusalem Monday


23 Sept. The terrorist, after crashing his black BMW into a group of soldiers and civilians in downtown Jerusalem Monday night, Sept. 22, was shot dead by Lt. Elad Amer, an artillery officer. The soldiers were walking to the Western Wall for prayers before the New Year festival next week. The killer Qassem Salah Mughrabi came from the southern Jerusalem suburb of Jebel Mukaber.

Defense minister Ehud Barak said the legal obstacles to demolishing the homes of terrorists resident in Jerusalem must be overcome. In seven months, Palestinian terrorists have struck in the capital six times, twice using earthmovers to mow down high street traffic. They left 15 people dead and hundreds injured.

On the West Bank, an Israeli soldier at the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus lost the sight of one eye when a Palestinian woman threw acid on his face.

Military sources report the easing of counter-terror measures for Ramadan has generated a proliferation of Palestinian attacks.


Israeli police and Shin Bet round up Jerusalem-based terrorist gang


24 Sept. The gang of 7 Jerusalem Arab residents and one Palestinian were sought for the murder of two Israeli policemen, Rami Zohari and David Shriki, in two separate terror attacks in the city earlier this year. They were indicted at the Jerusalem district court ten days ago for murder, attempted murder, and gunrunning.

The gang, led by Muhammad Abu-Sneina, was arrested in advanced stages of preparing more murder, kidnap and shooting attacks in and outside Jerusalem, taking advantage of Jerusalemite residents’ freedom to move around the city.

Since early 2007, more and more Jerusalem Arabs are joining the cycle of anti-Jewish terrorist violence. The Shin Bet urges the application of such deterrent measures as destroying a guilty terrorist’s home and sanctions against his family.


More young Israelis choose to stay single, according to new population statistics


24 Sept. Three out of four men aged under 29 men are unmarried, compared with 60 percent of women in the same age group, according to the 2006 annual statistic report published for the New Year. Israel’s total population today is 7,337,000, one fifth of which are Arabs – a proportion which is more or less stable. The Jewish birthrate is slightly up with 2.8 births per woman, while the Arab woman’s average has dropped slightly to 3.9.

In 2006, 44,685 couples wed, while 13,439 divorced.

Tel Aviv is growing in size and density. Some 6,400 people left Jerusalem in 2006 and 2,200 migrated from Haifa, most heading for the Tel Aviv conurbation.


Russia jilts six-power front, stalls sanctions against Iran’s nuclear defiance


24 Sept. Moscow’s actions spoke louder than the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic, anti-American rantings at the UN General Assembly Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Russia backed out of attending the meeting Thursday of the five UN Security Council permanent members’ foreign ministers plus Germany to approve more sanctions against Iran. The Moscow spokesman harshly criticized Washington, saying:

“It would be very desirable for Washington to finally decide what it wants in its relations with Moscow. If it wants to punish Russia, this is one thing. If it agrees we have common interests… that is another. To use the words of Condoleezza Rice, you can’t have it both ways.”

debkafile‘s political sources report that Moscow has just delivered to Iran 29 Tor-M1 missile batteries for deployment at its nuclear sites.

Early Wednesday, Ahmadinejad proclaimed at the UN General Assembly: “The Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse” and “The American empire is reaching the end of its road.”

The only delegates to leave the chamber were the US, Israeli and Georgian ambassadors. There were no other protests or walkouts, only applause.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama condemned the speech. And at the opposite end of the moral spectrum, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner demanded in her UN speech that Iran extradite five ex-officials to stand trial for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The attack killed 85 people, left 150 injured. Among the terrorists accused of the violent attack are ex-president Hashem Rafsanjani and a member of the Lebanese Hizballah.


Peres calls Ahmadinejad a disgrace to his own people


25 Sept. Addressing the UN General Assembly the day after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli and anti-American diatribe, Israeli president Shimon Peres accused him of dredging up the ugliest libel plot ever devised against the Jewish people – the Elders of Zion.

Iran is enriching uranium and building long-range missiles, said Peres. “It has introduced a religion of fear which defies the call of the Lord to respect all human life. Ahmadinejad is a danger to his own people, the region and the world. He is a disgrace to the ancient Iranian people, the values of Islam and the basic principles of the United Nations. “His appearance shames this house.”


John McCain, Barack Obama line up together to back Bush’s rescue effort


25 Sept. Republican and Democratic presidential candidates agreed Wednesday night, Sept. 24,that the financial crisis was close enough to catastrophe to set partisan considerations aside and help President George W. Bush push his $700 billion bailout package through Congress before the markets open Monday. The president addressing the nation later warned: “Our entire economy is in danger. America could slip into widespread financial panic.”

John McCain and Barack Obama suspended their presidential campaign to stay in Washington and focus on the crisis.

Many economists in the West think the $700 billion bailout is not enough to save the day because the crisis is a lot deeper than US economic leaders are saying.

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