A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Jan. 13, 2011
North Korea may be setting up a nuclear test on Iran's behalf
1 Jan. US and South Korean intelligence experts strongly suspect that Iranian nuclear specialists visiting North Korea were putting their heads together with their hosts on a joint North Korean-Iranian test, especially since a small Iranian group was taken on a secret side-trip to North Korea's Punggye-ri testing site near the Chinese border for an extensive briefing. One source in Seoul reported the visitors had brought with them to Pyongyang a large sum of money estimated at $150 million.
French intelligence sources believe Tehran and Pyongyang are going straight for a joint nuclear test at the North Korean testing site instead of shipping nuclear items and materials from North Korea to Iran and risking their interception by American forces. This would frustrate the enforcement of international sanctions.
Jan. 2, 2011 Briefs
• Israel will have no more than 10-12 minutes' notice of approaching Iranian missiles. Ashkenazi gave this estimate to a US senator in Nov. 2009, according to Wikileaks. He said he was preparing the army for a major war against Hamas or Hizballah. Iran had 300 Shehab missiles, said Ashkenazi, but Hizballah's rockets were the greater threat.
• Iran claims to have shot down two "Western reconnaissance drones" in Persian Gulf. Revolutionary Guards air chief Amir Ali Hajizadeh did not say when this happened.
• Syria flatly denies Kuwait reports of breakthrough to peace talks with Israel. Also rejects willingness to loosen ties with Iran and Hizballah.
Copts were victims of homegrown Egyptian Islamic terror
2 Jan. The suicide attack on the Coptic Saints Church in Alexandria, northern Egypt, which left 21 dead and 79 injured after New Year's mass, was carried out by a local Egyptian Islamic Jihad extremist, debkafile's counter-terror sources report. In calling for national unity, President Hosni Mubarak stepped away from blaming Al Qaeda, which has been massacring Christians in Iraq. But he also glossed over homegrown terror by calling the attack "a foreign assault."
Egyptian authorities are falling short of dealing with the Al Qaeda offshoots in the Suez Canal cities, the cells entrenched in the Sinai mountains and the smuggling routes using Sinai Bedouin to carry weapons, explosives and reinforcements to Al Qaeda and the Gaza Strip.
Jan. 3, 2011 Briefs
• Medvedev calls off state visit to Israel in two weeks because of Israeli FM staff strike. He would have brought hundreds of Russian businesspeople seeking investment opportunities, journalists.
• Two US soldiers killed in central Iraq Sunday night, the first in 2011.
• Hundreds of protesting Copts pelt Egyptian minister with stones, riot in Cairo. 40 policemen slightly wounded.
• Israel holds military exercise in northern Galilee near Lebanese border Monday.
Two Palestinian staffers at British consulate in Jerusalem in Hamas gun probe
3 Jan. Israel has arrested two Palestinian staffers at the British consulate in East Jerusalem suspected of procuring guns for a Hamas Jerusalem network accused of plotting a rocket attack on the Jerusalem Teddy sports stadium. The network was broken up last November .This is the first time any foreign consular employees in Jerusalem have been apprehended on terror-related charges. London denies any connection with their consular work, but debkafile's sources reports they used CD cars to deliver the guns. Their arrests have got US, French and other consulates in Jerusalem worried about the security and vetting procedures for the many Palestinians they employ.
Jan 4, 2011 Briefs
• Netanyahu formally petitions President Obama to free Jonathan Pollard on humanitarian grounds. Pollard was sentenced to life in 1987 on charges of spying on the US for Israel.
• Punjab Provincial governor Salman Taseer shot dead by one of his police guards at Islamabad market. A prominent PPP member close to President Asif Ali Zardari he opposed radical Islamic legislation.
• Sudan's Omar a-Bashir promises to accept outcome of South's referendum. He landed in southern capital Juba 5 days before vote on secession.
• Netanyahu, Livni phoned Abbas with condolences on death of his father in Damascus.
Widening cracks in Ahmadinejad's grip on power
4 Jan. There are growing indications that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing his second epic struggle to stay in power since 2009 – with his back to the wall. debkafile's exclusive Iranian sources report the president's situation must be dire indeed because Monday night, Jan. 3, he called off at the last minute a secret trip to Beirut by his chef de bureau Rahim Esfandiar Mashaee for putting the last touches on a key power move in Lebanon. He also fired a dozen of his closest advisers.
Jan. 5, 2011 Briefs
• More attacks from Gaza Wednesday: After two mortar shells land in Eshkol district, a missile explodes further north. One Palestinian of a pair approaching the border fence was killed by Israel tank fire.
• Lieberman to EU executive Ashton: If you want us to lift Gaza blockade, Europe must set up a force to stop the flow of illegal weapons to the Palestinian terrorists. They have fired more than 11,000 missiles from Gaza at Israeli civilians.
• Pakistan on high alert for Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's state funeral in Lahore Wednesday.
• After Islamic internet threats, security stepped up at Coptic churches in France, Netherlands, Sweden, Britain, Germany and Canada.
• Families of Carmel fire victims angrily disrupted state memorial ceremony, heckled prime minster's tribute, forced interior minister Elie Yishai to leave. They called on government to assume responsibility for the 44 deaths in last month's wildfire.
UN spurns Beirut's demand to fix sea border after Israel's big gas strike
5 Jan. The UN has turned down Lebanon's demand to intervene in delineating its sea border following Israel's Leviathan gas strike in the Mediterranean, billed as the world's biggest in a decade. Cyprus then announced it had licensed the Texas-based US firm Noble Energy – partners with Israel's Delek Energy group in Leviathan – to explore a 1,250 square-mile island block bordering on Israeli waters.
Turkey, Syria and Lebanon prepare to fight joint Israel-Cypriot exploration ventures – possibly joined by Egypt and Palestinians. debkafile: The collaboration between Jerusalem and Nicosia in the exploration of Mediterranean energy resources is growing stronger. It is spreading into additional strategic spheres, complementing the burgeoning ties between Israel and Greece.
Iran lays Iraqi cornerstone for rebuilding Eastern Front
6 Jan. Jordan's King Abdullah's phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday Jan. 5 dealt only marginally with stalled diplomacy with the Palestinians. He was more concerned about the devastating effect of Iran's advancing domination of Iraq in the face of America's inaction. That day, the anti-US radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr, a close ally of Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah, marched home from Iran, and the new Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi paid his first visit to Baghdad.
Jan. 8, 2011 Briefs
• Two Frenchmen found dead day after they were kidnapped in Niger Friday. They were said killed during a French commando rescue operation.
• Four mortar rounds from Gaza injured three Thai workers at Shear Hanegev kibbutz. A fourth Saturday night exploded on open ground. It was followed by a Qassam missile against Eshkol district.
• Palestinian would-be suicide bomber shot dead at Beqaot, N. Jordan Valley. He jumped out of taxi and rushed towards Israeli soldiers with two pipe bombs.
• Severe terror alert sustained at London transport hubs, including airports.
• Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr calls on people to fight the US, Israel and UK. It was his first public appearance after return to Najef from voluntary exile in Iran.
Palestinian violence surges after Israeli soldier killed in Gaza
8 Jan. Since Friday night, Jan. 7 – when Israeli paratrooper, Sgt. Nadav Rudenberg, 20, from Moshav Ramot Hashavim, died and four others were injured during an ambush from the Gaza Strip – Palestinian terrorists have stepped up attacks in Gaza and the West Bank, debkafile's military sources report.
The Israeli troops were hit as a result of a misdirected mortar shell from their own side, an incident which is under investigation.
Saturday, a Jenin man armed with two pipe bombs was shot trying to rush an Israeli checkpoint in the Jordan Valley. Shouting Allah is Great! He jumped out of a taxi at the Israeli checkpoint at Beqaot in the northern Jordanian Valley and tried to rush the soldiers with two pipe bombs. They called him to stop and shot him when he kept going.
Thursday, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered the release of five Palestinian Hamas terrorists responsible for murdering four Israeli civilians on a road near Bet Haggai on Aug. 31, 2010.
Abbas had pledged not to revive the infamous PA revolving door policy for Palestinian terrorists after Israel handed over security in West Bank cities.
Saturday saw a resumption of missile and mortar attacks on the Gaza Strip front: A volley of four mortar shells hit foreign laborers' lodgings at a kibbutz in the Shear Hanegev district, injuring three of them.
Jan. 9, 2011 Briefs
• Clashes over price riots in Tunisia leave 14 dead.
• An IranAir plane crashed during emergency landing at Orumiyeh northwest of capital killing 77 people on board.
• Millions of South Sudanese vote in referendum expected to confirm the province's secession and creation of new state.
• A Turkish minister calls for formation of Joint Turkish-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.
• Jerusalem district had its first roadside bomb ever Sunday night blowing up against an Israeli Border Guard jeep near New Givon north of city. No one was hurt.
Iran could take a short cut to a nuclear bomb before 2015
9 Jan. The Mossad ex-chief Meir Dagan's estimated timeline of 2015 for Iran to attain a nuclear bomb may well be superseded if Tehran takes advantage of available shorts cuts, debkafile's intelligence sources report. Iran is likely to have hidden still undiscovered uranium enrichment facilities and research labs. It could use allied facilities like those of North Korea to reach its target, or outsource nuclear production like the North Korean plutonium plant in Syria which Israel destroyed in 2007.
All the deadlines predicted for Iran's nuclear programs are therefore problematic.
Jan 10, 2011 Briefs
• Israeli Air Force bombed terror targets in Gaza Strip Sunday night, responding to escalating Palestinian attacks.
• Clinton dismisses Meir Dagan's estimate timeline of 2015 for Iran to have a weapon capability as not so important as international effort to ensure Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. The effort is highlighted by sanctions, she said.
• Shortly before landing in Abu Dhabi Monday, Clinton condemned Israel's demolition of old Shepherd's Hotel in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu refused to ban private Jewish purchases in Jerusalem. He stressed Arabs can buy or rent property in Jewish neighborhoods. debkafile: Shepherd's Hotel was built in the 1930s by the Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini. It was bought in 1985 by US millionaire Moscowitz to build 20 Jewish apartments. The left wing is left intact as a historic relic.
• Israel's Military Intelligence begins enlisting ultra-orthodox men and women, hitherto exempt from service. Most will work in communications or computers.
Iran opens three intelligence fronts against Israel
10 Jan. Monday night, Jan. 10, Tehran launched against Israel a full-scale intelligence onslaught on three fronts: It claimed to have rolled up a Mossad network implicated in the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist last January – putting a young man posing as a Mossad agent on television to "admit" the crime; accused Israel of kidnapping a former deputy defence minster, and invented a new blood libel, claiming Jews were using the blood of Muslim children for the Haman's Ears pastries traditional in the Purim festival.
debkafile: The "agent's" performance was unconvincing, but the blood libel could imperil Iran's 20,000 Jews.
Israel targets new Iran-built command centers in Gaza
10 Jan. The Israeli air strikes in Gaza early Monday, Jan. 10, at "terrorist targets" and "smuggling tunnels", were in fact missions for destroying the new Hamas underground command centers which Iranian Revolutionary Guards engineers are building across the enclave, debkafile's exclusive military sources report. Israel is about to change its Gaza strategy and move away from predictable operations that serve Iran's goals.
Hamas would prefer the command centers to be finished and ready for a major offensive against Israel, but is unable to hold back Iran's Palestinian surrogate, the Jihad Islami from escalating its missile, rocket and other terrorist attacks, thereby prematurely provoking Israel to smash the unfinished command centers. Hamas is too dependent on Tehran to enforce its will.
Jan. 11, 2011 Briefs
• Netanyahu: Iran will not stop nuclear program unless sanctions backed with credible military option. He dismissed Dagan's evaluation that Iran would not have a nuclear capability before 2015 as "just an intelligence estimate".
• The PM warned Hamas and others "shelling and rocketing Israel" they are making "a terrible, terrible mistake".
• An Israeli air strike in Khan Younes, Gaza, killed Jihad Islami's Muhammad Najar and wounded several others. IDF: The dead man died Tuesday evening while preparing a multi-casualty attack inside Israel.
• An Egyptian policeman enters a carriage, kills a Christian Copt, injures 5 on train travelling Tuesday through Minya in S, Egypt.
• Gates: North Korea is becoming direct threat to United States.
• Eshkol district wakes up Tuesday morning to Palestinian missile from Gaza. Monday night a Qassam exploded in same area after three landed in S. Ashkelon. No casualties.
Iran now threatens regional hosts of "Zionist facilities"
11 Jan. Tuesday, Jan. 11, Iran's intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi called his second news conference in two days to pour more abuse on Israel and its spy agency and accuse them of trying to retard "scientific progress in Muslim nations." He displayed weapons allegedly used by "more than 10" suspected Mossad agents against Iran's nuclear scientists and threatened neighbors harboring "Zionist facilities" with "heavy blows."
debkafile's Iranian sources note that although Moslehi did not name those countries, Iranian media have noted Israel's military and intelligence ties with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Qatar, all neighbors of Iran.
Lebanon in crisis: Hizballah quits government. US-French buildup. Israel on standby
12 Jan. With backing from Tehran, Hizballah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun abruptly quit the Lebanese unity government Wednesday, Jan. 12. They struck as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's prosecutor Daniel Bellemare prepared to hand over to the pre-trial judge "within hours or days" indictments naming Hizballah officials in the case of the former premier Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005.
Hizballah is committed to defying those indictments and refusing to hand over its top officials for extradition by the government.
As the US, France and Israel made military and diplomatic preparations to thwart a clash, Obama scheduled a meeting with the Lebanese Prime Minister for Wednesday night, Jan. 12. He also ordered the USS Enterprise carrier and its strike group to deploy opposite Lebanese shores.
On Monday, Jan. 10, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the situation in Lebanon, saying: "I'm deeply worried about the efforts to destabilize Lebanon. We should do everything we can to make sure those warnings are not accurate."
Jan. 13, 2011 Briefs
• Hariri arrives in Ankara from Paris.
• Hizballah tries to form new government under its leadership.
• Obama, Clinton strongly support Hariri, Lebanese tribunal "to put an end to assassinations in Lebanon".
• Lebanese sources report Israeli border troops on war preparedness. Israeli warplanes said overflying Nabatiya, Marjayoun, Baalbek.
• Assad phones Lebanese President Suleiman on crisis. Suleiman earlier asked Hariri government to carry on as caretaker.