A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Jan. 20, 2011
Military coup puts Tunisian president to flight
14 Jan. Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been overthrown in a military coup. Friday, Jan. 14 he fled his riot-stricken country in the middle of his fifth term as Tunisian president, handing interim authority to Prime Minister Mohammad Ghannoushi. debkafile's sources report Arab regimes were dismayed by the fall of the Tunisian president, the first Arab ruler to be overthrown by street demonstrations and possibly making way for a military coup.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is serving his fourth term as president and despite his advanced age of 82 is contemplating running for a fifth. Jordan's Abdullah II imposed a news blackout on the serious riots which Bedouin tribesmen staged against the throne in the southern town of Maan this week. The Tunisian street protesters' success in winning the army over to their side and overturning the regime may will ignite similar anti-government disturbances in Jordan and other parts of the Arab world.
Jan. 15, 2011 Briefs
• Three American troops shot dead in Iraq – two by Iraqi troops they were training.
• In continuing unrest, 42 killed in Tunisian prison fire at Monastir.
• Tunisian parliament speaker sworn in as acting president asks PM to form coalition government.
• Ousted Tunisian president gains asylum in Saudi Arabia after being turned away by France.
• Iran says two pilotless planes it claims to have downed were US-operated.
• Former Israel NSA Ilan Mizrahi: Iranian nuclear program further along that some Israel intelligence officials accept. It would be grave mistake to assume they will not have a bomb before 2015.
Hizballah races to form an anti-West government before STL indictments
15 Jan. Lebanon's ex-prime minister Saad Hariri arrived home in the middle of a hectic race by Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah to install an alternative pro-Iranian-Syrian government in order to fend off indictments against his top officials for the murder of Saad Hariri's father six years ago. Hizballah believes a bloodless coup through parliament will enable him to invalidate the Special Lebanese Tribunal, whose prosecutor is expected to hand his findings to the pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen momentarily.
Jan. 16, 2011 Briefs
• Three mortar shells fired from Gaza explode harmlessly at Shear Hanegev.
• Tunisian army and presidential guard clash with armed gangs in Tunis.
• Algeria tightens security on its border against infiltrators from troubled Tunisia.
• Netanyahu: Security elements vital in peace accord. Pointing to Tunisia and Lebanon, he warned Israel must protect itself in case accord breaks down.
• Court in Egypt sentences Muslim to death for killing 6 Coptic Christians a year ago.
• New York Times: Israeli tests at Dimona nuclear center crucial in developing malworm that delayed Iran's nuclear program. debkafile extensively covered malworm's progress in eating away at Iran's nuclear bomb development.
Nasrallah on course for anti-West government backed by Assad
16 Jan. Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah, in his first speech on the Lebanese crisis, said Sunday night, Jan. 16 that the "opposition-resistance" camp would form a government without Said Hariri, the prime minister he toppled last week, and "exercise its own national convictions." debkafile: Hizballah's determination to finish the pro-Western Hariri for good is backed by the Syrian president as a means of derailing Obama administration goals for Lebanon.
Jan. 17, 2011 Briefs
• Three Labor cabinet ministers Herzog, Ben-Elliezer and Braverman quit Netanyahu government after Barak split Labor party.
• Barak stays on in defense after founding the new "Independence party" Monday in a step coordinated with PM Netanyahu.
• PM Netanyahu welcomed Barak's step as strengthening the government and country. Now the Palestinians will see no point in waiting for a different government and a better deal. They'll have to settle with us.
Even Mossad can get it wrong. Dagan backtracks on Iran's 2015 nuclear timeline
17 Jan. Outgoing Mossad Director Meir Dagan has revised his earlier prognosis that Iran would not have nuclear weapons before 2015 because of technical obstacles. In his last briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and the Security Committee, Monday, Jan. 17, Dagan said, "The Iranian nuclear challenge will remain significant… the timing will not change the fact that Iran is working towards nuclear military capabilities and in certain scenarios can shorten the timeline." He mentioned North Korea in this context.
Owing to the high prestige enjoyed by the Mossad, Dagan's prognosis was taken almost as gospel with the effect of pulling the rug from under the feet of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their drive to alert the world to the Iranian nuclear threat before it is too late. According to debkafile's sources, Netanyahu took Dagan sternly to task before embarking on damage control.
Defense minister Ehud Barak splits Labor party
17 Jan. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has resigned from Labor and formed a new party called Atzmaut (Independence). Four of the 13 party members have so far followed him. The three other Labor ministers, Yaacov Herzog, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avishai Braverman quit government. Barak introduced the new party Monday, Jan. 17, as "centrist, Zionist and democratic."
By splitting the party, Labor's chairman preempted threats by some of its leading members to take the party out of the coalition. For many months, it was fragmented by squabbles and deep divisions between pro-government and pro-left factions. debkafile's political sources report that Barak acted in lockstep with the prime minister, the leader of Likud, which is Labor's traditional rival. The two have run the government in close harness. His step recalls the action of Moshe Dayan in 1979, who resigned from Labor to take up Likud Prime Minister Menahem Begin's offer of the foreign ministry to promote peace with Egypt.
Most of all, it puts an end to the barrage of demands for an early election spearheaded in recent weeks by Kadima's Tzipi Livni and Haim Ramon along with left-wing factions, including elements of Labor.
The confessed Mossad spy was Majid the IRGC terminator
17 Jan. The young Iranian man who "admitted" on Iranian TV last Tuesday, Jan. 11 that he had acted for the Israeli Mossad in the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud Ali-Mohammadi is revealed in real life by debkafile's Iranian sources as Majid Jamali Fashi, a champion kick boxer and member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' secret reserve unit of brawny sportsmen used to cut down opponents of the regime and break up protest rallies. In the summer of 2009, the young sportsman was employed in the brutal break-up of the mass street rallies protesting the rigged election which gave Ahmadinejad, whom he admires, his second term. He was involved in the murder of the scientist – but on behalf of his own IRGC unit after the professor had thrown his support behind the Iranian opposition.
Jan. 18, 2011 Briefs
• High-ranking Hizballah sources: Time for talking is over, it is time for action now. The other camp wants confrontation, so be it.
• Medvedev in Jericho endorsed a Palestinian state Tuesday. Moscow had recognized independence in 1988, he said and was not changing former Soviet position. His Israel visit postponed by foreign ministry strike.
• Four Palestinian mortar shells form Gaza explode harmlessly in Eshkol district Tuesday.
• IDF tank fire drove off Palestinians planting bomb opposite Kfar Azza.
• Tunisian day-old unity government breaks up as opposition ministers leave. Interim president and PM tried to stem disintegration by resigning from ruling party. Protesters demand new faces.
• Khamenei: No compromise on Iran's nuclear program in multilateral talks. "We are making good progress… and even 100,000 (sanctions) resolutions won't stop nuclear drive".
• Monday, the UN Lebanon Tribunal's prosecutor submitted indictments of Hizballah officials in 2005 Hariri murder.
• Labor MK Peretz: After Barak's breakaway with four members, 8 Labor MKs will rebuild the party. No further splits for now.
Lebanon as state open to UN sanctions if its government flouts Hariri tribunal
18 Jan. The Special Lebanon Court hopes to see the start of the Hariri trial by September/October … "with or without an accused." The SLC registrar stressed that Lebanon is accountable to the tribunal as a state – not a government – meaning liable to Security Council sanctions, say debkafile's sources. The pre-trial judge intends to complete within 6-10 weeks working on the draft indictment submitted to him Monday, Jan. 17 by the SLC prosecutor – much sooner than expected.
Any of the accused defying the court summons will be tried in absentia as debkafile reportedly exclusively first in its weekly edition on Dec. 24, 2010 and again in daily debkafile on Jan. 13.
Barak privately accuses President Peres of plotting his downfall
18 Jan. Defense Minister Ehud Barak who Monday, Jan. 17 resigned as Labor chairman and established a new party with four supporters, has accused President Shimon Peres of plotting his downfall with MK Haim Ramon of the opposition Kadima and Ofer Eini of Labor, debkafile's exclusive sources report.
Early Tuesday, Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud and Atzmaut (Independence) signed a coalition agreement assigning four cabinet portfolios to the new party. Mattan Vilnai is promoted from deputy defense minister to full minister in charge of homeland security, Shalom Simhon, former Agriculture Minister gets Trade, Industry and Employment and MK Orit Noked gets her first ministerial post in agriculture. Barak stays in Defense.
Jan. 19, 2011 Briefs
• Hizballah and allied forces on alert after state of emergency declared Wednesday night.
• IDF completes probe of allegation that Israeli troops killed woman Palestinian demonstrator at Bil'in. Her death was caused by wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment in Ramallah hospital.
• Israel's Green Movement fails to prevent Gen. Galant from taking up top army appointment next month. The High Court rejected petition for delay until land complaint probed.
• Saudi FM says Riyadh has taken its hand off the Lebanese situation.
• A suicide bomber drove an ambulance into an Iraqi training facility in Baquba killing 12 people, wounding more than 50.
• Obama discusses Tunisian, Lebanese crises by phone with Mubarak.
Hizballah's eleventh-hour pullback from siege of UN sites and troops
19 Jan. With minutes to spare, Hizballah called off its plan Wednesday night, Jan. 19, to lay siege to UN offices in Beirut and UNIFIL patrols in the South, debkafile's military sources report. It was planned to blackmail the UN Secretary into reassessing the UN tribunal's indictments of Hizballah officials for the murder of Rafiq Hariri six years ago, after the tribunal warned that the state of Lebanon would be held accountable for flouting its orders, whichever government was in power.
According to some sources, he was deterred by being informed that Ban would have asked the Lebanese government to send troops to relieve the Hizballah siege on UN institutions, failing which he would have called on the UN Security Council to send armed units to Beirut to rescue the beleaguered UN staffers.
This might well have ended in US, French and German marines lifting off the warships opposite Lebanese shores and landing in Beirut.
Hariri challenges Nasrallah, announces bid to lead new government
20 Jan. Lebanon swerved closer to a factional conflagration Thursday night, Jan. 20, after Saad Hariri, whose coalition Hizballah toppled eight days ago, announced he would form a new government. Hassan Nasrallah's supporters warned he was leading Lebanon to disaster. Earlier, Lebanese army units stepped up security for Hariri and government institutions and took up positions at Beirut's intersections ready to ward off any Hizballah takeover attempt.