A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending June 19, 2008

Palestinians start repairing rift, promising Hamas legitimacy


9 June: After two days of talks in Dakar mediated by Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, Palestinian factions Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and fundamentalist Hamas stated in a joint statement Monday, June 9, that an “atmosphere of trust and mutual respect” had been restored.

This step launches further negotiations on the road to ending the rift which erupted when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip a year ago. Abbas then launched US-sponsored peace talks with Israel, which are now expected to taper off.


Islamic interfaith conference cheers extremist preacher al-Qardawi’s partial ban on Jews


9 June: The radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi told the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Mecca that he would only talk to Jews who denounced Zionism. His speech was greeted with the loudest applause of any other speaker.

Iran’s Hashem Rafsanjani accused the US of “greedily trying to control the region’s oil” and said Muslims should resist it.

Saudi Arabia had presented the conference attended by 600 influential Muslim scholars and academics as a religious effort to ease tensions within Islam and between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. But most of the participants found talking to other faiths, especially Jews, problematic. And Riyadh has refused to consider building a Catholic church in Saudi Arabia.


Israeli military welcomes Mofaz’s “red line” for Tehran


9 June: Last week, Deputy Prime minister Shaul Mofaz said Israeli strikes on Iran looked “unavoidable.”

Mofaz has gone public on his bid to take the lead of the Kadima party when prime minister Ehud Olmert is finally forced out by the corruption case him. But the country is in jitters over Iran’s rapid progress towards nuclear armament and genuinely thirsty for a sign of clear action amid the shilly-shallying on major national security threats, including Hizballah, Hamas and the Palestinians, displayed so far by the heads of the Olmert government.

debkafile‘s military sources in the Gulf report that Iran is deep in preparations to sustain an attack. The all Qods commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, they say, has been appointed to spearhead counter-action against the US and Israel, and Tehran has poured huge military and financial resources into the Brigades’ resources for retaliating against a strike against its nuclear installations.

The Israeli Air Force has set up an Iran Command to coordinate operations with the ballistic missiles and air and missile defense brigades which deploy the Arrow and Patriot anti-missile missile systems.


Dodging sanctions


10 June: The president of Iran has ordered the country's leading banks to transfer billions of dollars of assets from Europe to the Central Bank to prevent them being frozen by international sanctions, according to Western diplomats. The funds are being moved through a secret network of “front” companies set up in Gulf states such as Dubai.


Bush is reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran


11 June: US president George W. Bush said on June 11, his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran. On a farewell trip to Europe, Bush added: “We ought to work together, keep focused” regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

debkafile‘s informed sources report that President Bush was also clearly bidding farewell to the option of an American strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shot back by saying: “I tell him… your era has come to an end.

Our Iranian sources report that Tehran is deep in an intensive effort to attain weapons capability by September or October this year, before Bush leaves the White House.


Hamas augments missile offensive with suicide bombers


13 June: debkafile‘s military sources report the Palestinian Hamas has mobilized several suicide bombers for missions to crash the Israeli border and seize Israeli civilian or military locales under the cover of scores of missiles and rockets.

Three attempts Thursday, June 12, were thwarted by Israeli forces. But Hamas’ mounting audacity highlights what many military experts are openly calling the bankruptcy of the static defensive tactics, restricted to the border fence, employed by defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi.

Two weeks ago, scores of Hamas mortar teams began pounding Israeli villages with newly-delivered 120mm shells; armor-plated vehicles have been handed out to suicide bombers for smashing through the border fence on their way to multiple-death operations. debkafile‘s military sources report that several weeks ago, Hamas units began practicing cross-border incursions under the tutelage of Hizballah instructors.


Israel-Hamas truce deal leaves Israeli soldier out, like Lebanon ceasefire


15 June: Commenting on the truce deal shaping up between Israel and Hamas for the Gaza Strip, debkafile‘s military sources note that the Olmert government has given way to Hamas on its two key demands: the incorporation in the package of the Israeli soldier, Gilead Shalit, who was kidnapped two years ago on Israeli soil, and an end to arms smuggling through Sinai for the Hamas war arsenal.

Those sources note the similarity of this case with that of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which halted the Lebanon War two years ago; then too, Israel buckled under outside pressures and failed to obtain the release of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who remain in Hizballah’s hands to this day.


PM Olmert willing to cede Shebaa Farms to UN custody ahead of Golan


16 June: Prime minister Ehud Olmert told US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, that he was willing to evacuate Israeli troops and hand this strategic enclave on the Hermon slopes to United Nations custody as early as July. He has not brought the issue either before the full government or the security cabinet.

Rice took the news to Beirut Monday at the end of her talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Israel’s withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms would expose its vital military positions on the northwestern slopes of Hermon to the Syrian 10th and 14th Divisions.

Handing it to the UN, namely the South Lebanese peacekeeping force, will extend the force’s lackadaisical control over South Lebanon to this strategic sector as well, granting Hizballah freedom of action in a fresh arena.

Our Middle East sources disclose that the Shebaa Farms tactic was initiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy; he sold it to President George W. Bush when they met in Paris Saturday.


Israeli military intelligence: Hizballah stocks tens of thousands of rockets in restored bunker system


17 June: In a briefing to the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee, the head of AMAN’s research division Brig. Yossi Baidatz confirmed debkafile‘s previous reports that Hizballah has stockpiled tens of thousands of rockets in three clusters of fortified tunnels, in numbers far outstripping its pre-Lebanon War 2006 strength.

One cluster was built in the Beqaa Valley to store long-range rockets. A second, in central Lebanon, north of the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway, accommodates medium-range rockets. The third cluster is located in the south, packed with short-range rockets and other systems, including anti-tank artillery and missiles, designed to block an Israeli offensive.

The three clusters are interconnected by sub-tunnels, channels, a fast highway network and an autonomous telecommunications network.


Al Qaeda activist killed in Israeli air strike in Gaza


17 June: Momtaz Dughmush was among the eight Palestinian gunmen killed in three Israeli air force strikes in Gaza Tuesday, June 17, following Hamas bombardments on Monday.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Dughmush was chief of the Qaeda cell attached to the Palestinian hard-line Popular Resistance Committees. He was complicit with Hamas in the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit two years ago in a cross-border raid and the kidnap of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnson last year.


Tehran offers to share its “nuclear experience” with Syria


18 June: The offer came from Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Sayyed Ahmed Moussavi, who stressed in an interview that to boost Iranian-Syrian relations Iran will pass on its “experiences with nuclear power” to Syria. He cited July 7 as the date for their officials to meet.

debkafile‘s military sources say Iran’s willingness to defy its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty by offering a nuclear capability to Syria across the border from Israel brings Tehran’s threat to wipe Israel off the map much closer to home. It is a mark of contempt for Washington and the US-led Western sanctions which failed to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment and nuclear missile warhead projects.


Barak agrees to trade most of Hamas prisoner list for Shalit

18 June: debkafile military sources report that Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak has bowed to Hamas’ insistence on the release of 450 jailed Palestinian terrorists, including scores of men “with blood on their hands” in exchange for the abducted Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.

Hamas’ Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshaal said Wednesday that every single jailed Palestinian on his organization’s list must be handed over without exception.

Military sources in Israel’s Southern Command view the informal truce accord mediated by Egypt as total capitulation by Israel to all Hamas’ demands for no return.


NATO reports 56 Taliban dead in operation outside Kandahar

More than 1,000 Afghan and Canadian NATO troops backed by helicopter gun-ships killed 56 Taliban fighters Thursday, June 19, 23 Wednesday, at the outset of a big operation to root hundreds of insurgents from an area from which they threatened to capture Kandahar.

Two Afghan officers were also killed, as the force pushed into the southern Arghandab region where insurgents have taken over several villages. Some were escapees from last week’s jailbreak in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, which was a Taliban stronghold before the war.

In the southern Lashkar Gah region, four British soldiers were killed Wednesday when their Land Rover ran over an anti-tank mine. The Ministry of Defense in London disclosed the first British female soldier to die in action in Afghanistan was among the dead. She was a member of the Intelligence Corps, while the three men were Special Forces reservists on a reconnaissance mission.


Israel-Hamas ceasefire begins in Gaza amid trepidation


19 June: The Egyptian-brokered informal truce “lull” started Thursday, June 19, at 0600 hours after the Palestinians hurled some 35 missiles and mortar rounds at Israeli locations within range of the Gaza Strip in one day, causing heavy damage. Israeli forces knocked out another Palestinian missile team, killing one member and injuring two, before the sixth-month truce kicked in.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu called the deal a disgrace because it did not apply to the kidnapped Israel soldier, Gilead Shalit’s release, and left Hamas free to rearm undisturbed.

debkafile‘s military sources note that Hamas’ terrorist allies are not bound by the accord. The Iran-backed Jihad Islami has threatened a violent response to any Israeli military action whether in Gaza or the West Bank, where military counter-terror operations keep Palestinian suicide attacks at bay.

The terrorists are not barred from smuggling arms to build up their war arsenal while expecting the blockade to be lifted on Gaza’s crossings to Israel and Sinai.

Senior Israeli officers commented that the longer the ceasefire, the stronger Hamas will emerge and the more dangerous and problematical.


Iranian leaders hail Israel-Hamas ceasefire as another coup

debkafile‘s Iranian sources report that Iran’s top leaders held a special meeting in Tehran Thursday, June 19, hours after the Gaza ceasefire went into force. They congratulated themselves for achieving their second base on a Mediterranean shore after winning control of Lebanon through Hizballah’s takeover of Beirut and its government. Hamas was acclaimed for having tightened its grip on the Gaza Strip and using the Egyptian-brokered six-month truce accord with Israel for its next leap to power on the West Bank.

Iran has tightened its noose around Israel as well as Egypt.

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