A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Jan. 27, 2011

January 21, 2011 Briefs
• Druze leader Jumblatt swings his support behind Hizballah candidate for prime minister to replace Saad Hariri.
• Working at speed, the STL to hold its first public hearing on Hariri murder case Feb. 7.
• Thousands in anti-government protests in Jordan over soaring food prices, economic hardship. They were staged by Islamists, left, trade unions.
• Member of French FM's party injured in Gaza when Palestinian mob pelted them with shoes, rocks and eggs. FM Michele Alliot-Marie earlier called Hamas' kidnap of the Israeli soldier a war crime. This was later denied. Alliot-Marie left Israel after visiting missile-battered Sderot.


Obama will not apply veto against UN condemnation ofIsraeli settlements


22 Jan. President Barack Obama is about to withhold the US veto from a Palestinian-Arab motion due to be tabled at the UN Security Council condemning Israel for its settlement policy in the West Bank and Jerusalem, debkafile's Washington sources report. If he does, he will be the first US president to let an anti-Israel motion go through the Security Council. Jerusalem would see this step as encouraging the Palestinians and hostile Arab states to continue to use the UN Security Council to undermine Israel's legitimacy and recognize a unilateral Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders without negotiations.
Washington's latest proposal to work on security arrangements first and so ease the path to a deal on borders would be negated by its UN veto because a motion against settlements would a priori dictate eventual borders between the Palestinian state and Israel.


Nuclear talks with Iran end in impasse with no new date


22 Jan. The world powers' bid to address the controversy over Iran's nuclear program by diplomacy has ended in impasse. Saturday, Jan. 22, EU foreign policy executive Catherine Ashton who led the team of six powers said Iran had come to the talks with pre-conditions but the door was still open. Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili demanded international recognition of his country's right to uranium enrichment. The rehashed enriched uranium swap plan was rejected. The foreign team was described as angry and frustrated.
On the first day, Friday, Ashton physically blocked the exit of the conference chamber to prevent the Iranian delegate from walking out. He finally agreed to stay another day in response to her pleas but refused to change his position.
In London, Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair issued the strongest call yet from any Western statesman to take the gloves off with Iran.
"The fact is they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they'll carry on doing it unless they are met by the requisite determination and if necessary, force."
From his experience as Middle East peace envoy, Blair said, "…the impact and the influence of Iran is everywhere. It is negative, destabilizing, it is supportive of terrorist groups and it is doing everything it can to impede progress in the Middle East process."
Blair 's critical remarks were directed equally at the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem, which closely aligns its Iran policy with that of Washington. debkafile's sources report that opponents of military force against Iran have lately gained ground in Israel's top military and intelligence ranks.


Jan. 23, 2011 Briefs
• Turkish premier dismisses Turkel report as of no value or credibility.
• Egyptian justice minister: Christmas bomber who killed 23 Copts was a Palestinian linked to Al Qaeda's Army of Islam. debkafile: Gaza-based Army of Islam took part in Israeli soldier's kidnap four years ago.
• Israeli cabinet approves (21:5) recommendations of 20-50% tax rate for new gas and oil findings in addition to 12.5% royalties. Payment goes into force after the investments recouped.
• Spreading popular demos in Arab capitals citing Tunisia's uprising.


Iranian warships coming to Mediterranean and Red Seas


23 Jan. Less than 24 hours after the breakdown of its nuclear dialogue with the six world powers in Istanbul, Iran announced plans Sunday, Jan. 23, to send a fleet of warships, including a home-made destroyer, on operational and intelligence-gathering missions to the Red Sea and on to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. debkafile's military sources: Parts of the fleet will in fact be deployed in the three waters around Israel's southern and western shores. Tehran is taking advantage of the lack of military and diplomatic momentum on the part of US and Israel for a naval thrust to expand its range of operations and encroach on their areas of control on the high seas.


Israeli probe: Naval blockade of Gaza, interception of flotilla were legal


23 Jan. Despite the regrettable loss of life, Israeli soldiers acted professionally, with restraint and purely in self-defense against the violent resistance they encountered aboard the Turkish Mavis Marmora on May 31, 2010. Their interception of a flotilla aiming to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal under international law and so is Israel's naval blockade on Gaza. The nine deaths were caused as a result of hostile Turkish IHH action against the Israeli boarding team.
These were thea key findings of a commission of inquiry appointed by the Israeli government after the deaths of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish American aboard the Turkish vessel. It was headed by retired Israeli judge Yaacov Turkel and included Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord David Trimble and Canadian former judge advocate general Kenneth W. Watkin.
The commission criticized the government for failing to adequately prepare the IDF for the presence of the hostile IHH group.


Jan 24, 2011 Briefs
• Bank of Israel raises interest by 0.25% to 2.25%.
• Palestinians fire on Israeli patrol from Gaza near Kisufim. No casualties.
• Iranian FM Salehi holds talks in Damascus with heads of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP-General Command.
• Lebanese demonstrators block roads, fire guns, burn tires against Syrian Mejid Megati's appointment as premier.


Jan. 25, 2011 Briefs
• Several Lebanese towns saw stormy protests Tuesday against Iran's "puppet".
• Israel's Military Intelligence chief Brig. Kochavi: Iran's nuclear program and military strength remain untouched by sanctions. A year or two from ordering uranium enrichment upgraded to 90 pc, Iran will have a nuclear bomb ready for delivery. The Bushehr reactor which should open today is convertible to military purposes, said Kochavi.
• In 2009, Palestinians rejected Livni's offer to annex Israeli Arab towns, villages to Palestinian state. On offer were Baq'a al Garbiya, Wadi Iron towns and Beit Safafa – Jerusalem.
• Egyptian police scuffle with anti-government protesters in central Cairo, using water cannon in one place and beating protesters.
• Angry protests against Al Jazeera leaks spread to other West Bank cities Tuesday.
• Israeli archeologists uncover another section of 2,000-year old drainage channel linking the Western Wall plaza with the City of David. It also served Jews escaping from Roman conquerors in 70 C.E. Jerusalem Mayor Barkat said no tunneling took place under Temple Mount or Muslim sites.


Russian probe: Moscow airport bomber was a lone man – not a female


25 Jan. The Russian investigators of the explosion which killed 35 people and injured 180 at Moscow's main airport Monday, Jan. 24, are certain it was not carried out by a female but by a single male suicide bomber, 30-40 years old, heavily-built and most likely of European appearance. The Russian government has launched a criminal probe into the security lapse that made it possible for the bomber to walk in from outside without being checked into the international terminal where arriving passengers are met and blow up his uncased charge.
His three or more accomplices who witnessed the act were then able to leave the scene unchallenged and are now the targets of an extensive manhunt.
No group has thus far claimed the attack although it is generally attributed to radical Islamists from one of the Caucasian republics.
Russia needs Israeli-style airport security, said president Dmitry Medvedev when he reprimanded FBS senior officials.


Figurehead PM rounds off Iran's grab for Lebanon


25 Jan. The two days Iran's new foreign minister Ali Salehi spent in Damascus from Saturday night, Jan. 22, were enough to keep Syrian president Bashar Assad in place for Tehran's final steps in its grab for Lebanon: installing Najib Mikati at the head of a puppet government, debkafile reports. Assad tried earlier to prevent Lebanon falling wholly under Tehran's sway but Salehi arrived to pull him round.
The designated Lebanese prime minister is committed to disqualify the Hariri tribunal as his first order of business. Pro-West Saad Hariri's supporters rallied Tuesday against Iran's takeover while the US, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia stood aside.
By a single stroke, therefore, Tehran has checked one of President Barack Obama's most critical Middle East policy moves, one which hinged on support for the Hariri tribunal and the strengthening of a pro-West administration in Beirut. Tehran accomplished this two days after fatally stalling the world powers' attempt to bring Iran around to a diplomatic resolution of its drive toward a nuclear bomb.


Cairo shock: Egyptians riot against Mubarak


25 Jan. More than 100,000 turned out Tuesday, Jan. 25 in central Cairo and other Egyptian cities for stormy demonstrations such as Egypt has not seen for decades. Airing many grievances, they called on President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in power.
Officials said three people had been killed in clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and policemen using tear gas, water cannon and night sticks – two demonstrators and a policeman.
debkafile's Cairo sources report that the organizers plan to keep their protest going non-stop and absorbing all the non-religious opposition elements in the country. So far the Islamic parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood have ordered their followers to stay out. If this order is change, the Mubarak regime will be in trouble.


Cairo sources: Mubarak's son Gemal flees to London with family


26 Jan. Egyptian and Arabic internet sites are reporting that Hosni Mubarak's son and chosen successor as Egyptian president secretly took himself and family out of the country Tuesday, Jan. 25, by way of the military airfield in West Cairo at the peak of anti-government riots in Egyptian cities.
If it is confirmed, Gemal Mubarak's defection would attest to deep fissures in the 82-year old president's regime, the reverse of the prevailing view in the West and Israel that the regime is stable enough to weather the storm. Twitter also carried an unconfirmed report that Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's first lady, was identified by airport workers on arrival at Heathrow airport, London. No source was cited.
Wednesday, the Egyptian pound fell sharply against the US dollar and the stock market tumbled more than 4 percent.


At least 1,000 opposition activists arrested in Egypt


26 Jan. Hundreds of opposition activists are arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez in an attempt to quell the stormy anti-government demonstrations which began sweeping Egyptian cities Tuesday, Jan. 25, before they get out of hand. After nightfall Wednesday, hundreds braved the ban on street protests and gatherings and took to the streets of Cairo and Suez.


Egyptian army on standby as protests escalate


26 Jan. Anti-government violence escalated in Egyptian cities Wednesday night, Jan. 26 even after President Hosni Mubarak deployed a million security officers and had at least 2,500 activists arrested. Four people were killed in clashes. In Suez, police opened fire on protesters for the first time leaving scores of wounded. Western sources told debkafile the situation swung out of control after rioters broke through police lines and torched government buildings. Four armored divisions are on emergency standby. In Cairo, 500 journalists, including foreign correspondents, are locked in the press association building and not allowed to report.


Jan. 27, 2011 Briefs
• Maj.Gen. Yoav Galant may be disqualified from assuming post of IDF Chief of Staff. The State Comptroller found him untruthful in the dispute over his alleged appropriation of land for his home in Moshav Amikam.
• Netanyahu summons intelligence and army chiefs to a special conference on security Thursday.
• Seven killed in Egyptian anti-government protesters clashes with the police since Tuesday.
• Thursday, anti-government demos moved into their third day across Egypt. Rioters burned down one police station, mobbed a second to demand release of detained relatives. In Cairo, morning demonstrators clashed with police. The unrest spreads across the Suez Canal into Sinai for the first time.
• A car bomb kills 80 people at a Shiite funeral tent in a Baghdad cemetery Thursday.
• Cairo stock exchange closed Thursday when stocks went into free fall.
• Lebanon's PM-designate opens coalition talks with party leaders including ousted PM Hariri Thursday. Miqati also met US ambassador Maura Connelly.
• Fearing demonstrations, Syria bans programs allowing access to Facebook Chat from cellphones.
• Several countries mark International Memorial Day for Holocaust Victims Thursday. In Israel, several national events take place with participation of foreign diplomats.
• The Domodedovo transport police chief and two deputies sacked for security lapse which let a suicide bomber kill 35 and injure 180.


Egyptian defense minister fails in bid for US backing


27 Jan. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has sent his defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in secret to Washington to ask for US backing for his embattled regime against the street protest movement which gained in violence on its second day, Wednesday, Jan. 26. debkafile's Washington sources report that in secret meetings, Tantawi warned top US officials that without a crackdown on the protesters, the regime was doomed. The Egyptian army is on emergency standby.
Tantawi also warned that the radical Muslim Brotherhood, which has stood aside from the opposition protests, was merely biding its time for the right moment to step in and take over. He asked the Obama administration for an urgent airlift of advanced riot control equipment.
Slogans of "US out" and "Death to the US" have begun to appear on anti-Mubarak placards.

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