A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Dec. 25, 2008

Kidnap, glider attacks in Jerusalem foiled. Two Palestinians arrested


14 Dec. debkafile's counter-terror sources report that two residents of the Jerusalem village of Isawiya, Iyad Abid, 20, and Abdullah Abid, 21, were indicted before Jerusalem district court Sunday, Dec. 14, on charges of plotting a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli Border Guard and army officers on duty in the neighborhood of their village. One plan was to ram a border patrol jeep, use electric shockers to stun the officers and take them hostage against the release of jailed Palestinians, including members of their family.

Isawiya is strategically located close to the Hebrew University, Hadassah hospital which serves the neighborhood, Mount Scopus, French Hill and the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adummim highway. The two accused Palestinians, brothers and Hamas members, also conspired to crash a glider loaded with explosives on the IDF electronic early warning station on Mount Scopus.


Russia considers first Israeli military purchase – spy drones


16 Dec. A $10-12 million transaction for Moscow to purchase Israeli spy drones for the Russian army is in negotiation with Israel's Aerospace Industries'. debkafile's military sources report that the sale, if finally approved by the defense ministry in Tel Aviv, would be Israel's first advanced hardware sale to Russia. It would also mark a reversal of Israeli policy, since the Russian army would almost certainly use the drones in another future round of hostilities with Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

A drone transaction with Moscow would give the Russian army a technological-intelligence edge over Caucasian and Caspian nations, like Georgia and Azerbaijan, and therefore place in doubt their future arms purchases from Israel.


Crowded Sderot shopping center takes direct Qassam hit from Gaza, 12 injured


17 Dec. The 15th missile of Wednesday, Dec. 17, from Gaza, which injured 12 people – three from shrapnel, the rest in shock – exploded in the Sderot supermarket parking area, destroying shops and cars and scattering crowds of panicky Hanukah shoppers.

The attack capped two days of a massive Palestinian missile and mortar barrage against several Israeli towns and villages without an Israeli military response. Only after the Sderot shopping center was ravaged did the Air force go into action against the Palestinians launching missiles from Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. Even then, the Palestinians kept on firing raising the day's quota of missiles to 21.


Olmert's bid to revive Syrian track runs into blank walls


19 Dec. Israeli caretaker prime minister Ehud Olmert has been warned that the trip he booked to Ankara for next Monday will be an exercise in futility. Damascus let it be known Friday. Dec. 19, that acceptance in advance of its “borders document” was the pre-condition for direct peace talk. This six-point document covers Israel's withdrawal – not only from the Golan but also from another slice of territory, the northeastern bank of the Sea of Galilee and Hamat Gader region, which is part of pre-1967 Israel.

This maximalist approach, say debkafile's sources, aims at notifying US president-elect Barack Obama and designated secretary of state Hillary Clinton that Damascus' “borders document” is a take-it-or-leave it proposition. Syrian leaders appear to believe that after he takes office, Obama will assign American partners to the negotiations, who will tilt the talks in Syria's favor.

Opposition Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu said the post-election government he expects to lead next year would not be bound by any “Olmert-Livni concessions to Syria” or abandon the Golan.


US-Russian race to arm Lebanon with heavy weapons


20 Dec. In their race to arm the Lebanese army with heavy weapons, which Israeli diplomacy has failed to deter, the United States and Russia have no way of keeping them out of Hizballah hands; Shiite soldiers make up nearly half the force and Hizballah's hands are on the levers of the Beirut government.

Israel's tardy diplomatic efforts to forestall the flow fell on deaf ears in Moscow and Washington.

David Hale of the state department announced the US package for Lebanon Friday, Dec. 19, while denying Washington was competing with Moscow. He said that in addition to M-50 Supersherman tanks, the US package for Lebanon included “air support capabilities (helicopters) with precision weapons and urban combat gear.”

The US was helping the Lebanese army “to maintain internal security and fighting terrorism in Lebanon,” he said.

debkafile also reveals that a group of Hizballah operatives recently paid a secret visit to Moscow and asked for Russian hardware. Jerusalem is too busy spinning fairy tales about the feasibility of peace with Syria to pay enough attention to the hectic, hostile activity on Israel's northern border.


Israeli government again backs down as Gaza missile war boils over


21 Dec. No military action to stamp out the Palestinian missile blitz against southwestern Israel will be undertaken before “international support” is organized and an attempt to renew the “ceasefire” with Hamas is undertaken. This was the gist of the Israeli cabinet decision Sunday morning as Palestinian missile fire continued.

Schoolchildren were told to stay in their classrooms and forbidden the playground. Magen David Adom's first aid services are on high alert. Hamas leaders have gone into hiding in the smuggling tunnels honeycombing the southern Gaza Strip in case Israel goes back to targeted assassinations.


Iraq orders Iranian exiles to leave ahead of PM Maliki's Tehran visit

22 Dec. Days before Iraqi Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki visits Tehran, his government has told the opposition People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) it is no longer welcome in Iraq and the 3,500 Iranian exiles would be deported..

debkafile reports they have nowhere to go. No government has offered the group asylum although Jordan has supported the PMOI's claim to remove its terrorist listing by the European Union, based on its having laid down arms and renounced violent action in 2001.

From 2003, Ashraf Camp came under US protection after the US military destroyed more than 2,000 tanks, armored personnel carries and other weapons. But the handover of security to the Iraqi government has left the organization in the lurch.


First Palestinian anti-air gun fire against Israel helicopters. Military option still on ice

22 Dec. For the first time in 9 years of Palestinian warfare, anti-air gun fire was directed from the ground against Israeli aircraft, debkafile's military sources report. The guns opened up Sunday night, Dec. 21, against Apache helicopters before they crossed into Gaza air space from Nahal Oz to strike missile crews.

The helicopters returned the fire which came from hideouts in the orchards of northern Gaza.

In line with the government's decision Sunday to seek international backing for a potential military operation Gaza, Israel complained to the UN about the Palestinian missile and mortar attacks from Gaza terrorizing its southwestern population and asserted its right to exercise its military option to defend the population of the targeted region.


Kings Abdullah of Jordan and Saudi Arabia showered $316,000-worth of precious jewelry on Condoleezza Rice

23 Dec. They included an emerald and diamond necklace, ring, bracelet and earrings set from Abdullah II and Queen Rania and a ruby and diamond necklace with matching earrings, bracelet and ring from Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.


US: Russia's S-300 missile sale to Iran is Israel's decision point

23 Dec. An American military intelligence official says Russia's sale of S-300 long-range missiles to Iran presents a “decision point for Israel, since once the anti-aircraft system is in place it could deter any strike” against Iran's nuclear sites.

State department spokesman Robert Wood said Monday, Dec. 22: “We have repeatedly made clear… that we would strongly oppose the sale of S-300.” From Iran, they could reach American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and shift the Middle East military balance of power.

Amid the confusion contrived by Moscow about the state of the consignment, an American source said Tuesday: “The US believes it is taking place.” In Moscow, a “military-diplomatic source in Moscow” said Monday the S-300 systems are being packed up… and expected to be delivered from the defense ministry's warehouses.” The latter statement indicates the missiles going to Iran straight from Russia's own emergency stores and not waiting to come off production lines.


Large-scale missile defense exercise

23 Dec. A big missile defense exercise was conducted Tuesday in the southern Israeli towns of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat, Gedera, Yavne.


Gaza clash impending – Israel air strikes versus Palestinian long-range missiles

24-25 Dec. The fifty or so missiles Hamas sent crashing into Israel Wednesday, Dec. 24, represented only a quarter of its capability of up to 200 missiles per day on a par with Hizballah's barrage against Galilee in the 2006 Lebanon war.

They can reach a distance of 42 km – an area far broader than the strip taking hits from Gaza Wednesday which was delimited by Ashkelon to the north and Netivot to the east. Therefore an outer rim of 30 locations 30 km distant from the Palestinian enclave has now been connected to the Homeland Command's early warning system, including Kiryat Gath, Kiryat Malachi, the Lachish Region and Ashdod.

The Israeli security cabinet meeting Wednesday approved military action to extinguish the escalating Palestinian offensive which Wednesday left a trail of 57 shock victims – half of them children – and wrecked homes, vehicles, shops, workshops and roads. The ministers took into account that Hamas might counter effective Israeli air strikes in Gaza with its long-range missiles.


Tehran deflects Hamas SOS for intervention against an Israeli attack in Gaza

25 Dec. Hamas asked Tehran Dec. 25, for its support by a threat to intervene if Israeli launched an attack on Gaza, debkafile's Iranian sources report. Tehran gave Hamas no promises, saying it was watching to see how Israel's military operation evolved.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert meanwhile strongly urged Gazan Palestinians to stand up to Hamas and stop them shooting missiles to ward off Israel's military operation. He addressed them over al Arabiya television.

In Cairo, foreign minister Tzipi Livni said after talks with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that she did not ask Egypt for permission to embark on military action in the Gaza Strip. This decision was solely Israel's, she said.

Our sources note that the Iranian regime is thinking twice before making any military commitments for deterring Israel. For one thing, they believe it would have the opposite effect and offer Israel vindication for a major campaign.

In southern Lebanon, close to the Israeli border, Lebanese army sappers defused seven Katyusha rockets fitting with timing devices a short time before they were set for launching against Galilee. There is no word who rigged them, but they apparently came out of Hizballah's arsenal.

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