A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending June 26, 2008

Uproar, military alerts, oil price surge over apparent Israeli air drill for Iran attack


20 June: debkafile‘s military sources report that an oil price surge of 5 percent to $135.92 was triggered by the report leaked by US government officials of an Israeli air force drill over Greece for an apparent strike against Iran, Friday, June 20. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a war alert in the Revolutionary Guards and armed forces, with the Israeli and US Gulf forces following suit.

Tehran made no immediate comment.

The most extreme reaction came from the UN nuclear watchdog’s director Mohamad ElBaradei, who threatened to resign if there was a military strike on Iran, warning such an attack would turn the region into a “fireball.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Ivanov maintained that neither Israel nor the United States had produced proof that Iran was developing nuclear weapons and said the issue must be dealt with by diplomacy and talks with Tehran.

The American UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad agreed. While stating the view that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable,” he stressed:

“We're in the phase of diplomacy; we want a diplomatic settlement of this issue. The ball is frankly in Iran's court.”


Israel‘s large-scale air maneuver did not simulate possible Iran strike


21 June: debkafile‘s Western military sources do not believe that if Israel does attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, it will resort to the old-fashioned aerial blitz tactic employed in 1981 for bombing Iraq’s Osirak reactor. They therefore challenge the US officials’ conclusion that Israel’s aerial exercise in conjunction with the Greek Air Force over Crete in early June was in fact a rehearsal for Iran.

Our military experts argue it would be sheer recklessness for Israel to send so large a part of its air fleet for a repeat of the Israeli attack on Iraq without first demolishing Iran’s air defenses. In the attack on Syria, Israel electronically disarmed the Russian-made air defense batteries guarding its reactor. The same systems protect Iran’s nuclear sites. It must be assumed that Iran and the Russian manufacturers learned a lesson or two from the way Israel silenced the batteries in Syria, although Israel will have added new gadgetry too.

Israel will therefore prefer to use large numbers of missiles to demolish Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some may be delivered by air from a distance outside the range of Iranian fighter craft (most of which are outdated and in bad shape), others from Dolphin submarines. That way, the Israeli Air Force will keep back sufficient aircraft to protect the home front which can expect reprisals from Syria and Iran’s terrorist stooges, Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In this sense, the decision to strike Iran’s nuclear sites is tightly bound up with preventive action against the menaces closer to home, Hamas at the very least.


Barack Obama defends Israel’s concern about Iran's “extraordinary threat”


21 June: The US Democratic presidential contender made this comment about the reported Israeli air rehearsal for a possible attack on Iran: “Without access to the actual detailed intelligence, I want to be careful about characterizing what was done and whether it was appropriate or not.” But, said Senator Barack Obama, the Jewish state was right to be concerned about the anti-Israel comments of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and about Tehran’s support for Hizballah and Hamas. “And so there is no doubt that Iran poses an extraordinary threat to Israel and Israel is always justified in making decisions that will provide for its security.”


Gaza truce faces increasing Israeli domestic fire


22 June: Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin reported the influx of smuggled arms from Sinai to Gaza and Palestinian combat training had been stepped up in the first 72 hours of the Israel-Hamas truce. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah had suffered a grave setback from the deal.

Justice minister Prof. Daniel Friedman called the Israel-Hamas truce deal “a first-class strategic blunder” and evidence of governmental mayhem.

In tones of “I told you so,” Israel’s military intelligence (AMAN) director, Brig. Amos Yadlin reported Sunday, June 22, that the Gaza truce had fulfilled all Hamas goals:

It had ended the siege to which it had been subjected, opened the door to its international recognition and allowed it to continue building up its war arsenal.

In his briefing to the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee, Brig. Yadlin warned that the Palestinian fundamentalists were advancing on their next objectives a year after their seizure of Gaza, the takeover of the West Bank followed by the whole of Israel.


Sarkozy says there can be no peace without freezing Jewish settlement


23 June: Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French president to pay a state visit to Israel in 12 years, delivered an address to the Knesset session on June 23 that was friendly in tone but tough in content: He stressed that a lasting Middle East peace required a halt on Israeli settlement “on Palestinian land,” and a solution of the refugee problem.

Neither could there be peace if Palestinians do not combat terrorism, he said. Any peace deal must recognize Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.

“I am more convinced than ever that the security of Israel will only be truly guaranteed with the birth of a second state, a Palestinian state.”

The French president backed a proposal put forward by an Israeli minister for a law that would offer Jews to leave their West Bank homes in exchange for compensation and relocation.

Sarkozy also told the Knesset France would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.


Israel High Court dismisses Shalit family’s petition to keep Gaza crossings closed against soldier’s release


23 June: The High Court in Jerusalem ruled Monday, June 23, in favor of the government, deciding not to intervene in its decision to accept a ceasefire with Hamas and reopen the Gaza crossings without making the deal contingent on an exchange of prisoners. The three judges dismissed the petition filed by the parents of Cpl Gilead Shalit to keep the crossings shut until the soldier, snatched two years ago from the Israeli side of the Gaza border, was released.

With regard to the two soldiers abducted by Hizballah two years ago, the military command has asked the chief chaplain, Brig. Avi Ronsky, to examine all the intelligence data available and determine whether to declare Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown.


Mossad Chief Empowered to Prepare Groundwork for Iran Strike


23 June: Meir Dagan, whose term of office as head of Israel’s external intelligence service, Mossad, Prime Minister Ehud Olmet extended June 22 by a year to the end of 2009, directed the intelligence-gathering effort for the attack on Syria’s North Korean plutonium reactor Sept. 6, 2007. He may now be entrusted with the most vital mission ever laid on this 60-year old clandestine service: the undercover groundwork for contending with the greatest existential threat faced by the Jewish state: a nuclear-armed Iran.

The operation against Syria’s plutonium reactor last year was one of the most complex operations ever performed by the Mossad. For the Israeli raiders to put the facility out of commission and lift out the evidence of a working nuclear collaboration between Syria, Iran and North Korea, they needed precise data on the facility’s inner and outer defenses. It had to include the air defense systems in place across Syria, the whereabouts of the materials and equipment the Israeli team was assigned to appropriate from the site and transfer to the United States, and the nature and numbers of the Syrian, Iranian and North Korean personnel present.

It was not until April 2008, seven months later, that the US Central Intelligence Agency released news of the operation in Washington, providing graphics attesting to the depth of Mossad’s penetration of the of the most secret and well-protected facility in Syria.

Examination of those visuals attested to one or more agents having been planted solidly enough in the Syrian nuclear project to have photographed the different stages of the reactor’s construction and the North Korean equipment installed there – a feat which drew the respect of Dagan’s undercover colleagues in the West.


Three Palestinian missiles rip through Gaza truce Tuesday


24 June: debkafile‘s military sources report powerful explosions rocked Sderot Tuesday, June 24, for the first time in the six days since the Israel-Hamas truce went into effect. One injured civilian and three shock victims were treated. They were claimed by the Iran-backed Jihad Islami, which vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its operatives, one a senior operations planner, in the West Bank town of Nablus earlier in the day. They were killed by troops of the crack Duvdevan unit troops while resisting arrest.

Our sources report that both the Jihad Islami and Hamas have taken violent action to demonstrate that the Gaza truce does not tie their hands on the West Bank.

Hamas’ military wing claimed the shooting attack on five Israel hikers in a wadi north of Ramallah last Friday, June 20, in which three were injured. Monday after midnight, a mortar shell was fired from Gaza at the Karni goods crossing.


Rice presses for a US diplomatic presence in Tehran


24 June: debkafile‘s Washington sources report that by establishing a US interests section in Tehran, 27 years after relations were severed with the Revolutionary Republic, the Bush administration hopes to wash its hands of any Israeli plan to strike Iran’s nuclear sites this year.

Behind the step are US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and her former deputy Nicholas Burns. Monday, June 23, on her way to a conference in Berlin of donors to the Palestinian Civil Police Force, she spoke of opening a US interests section in Tehran similar to the one maintained in Cuba. She said: “We do have the station in Dubai where [Iranians] can get visas, but we know that it's difficult for Iranians sometimes to get to Dubai. We want more Iranians visiting the United States. We are determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people.”

Regarding the likelihood of an Israeli go-it-alone attack on Iran, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said in a broadcast:

“I think if they [Israel] are to do anything, the most likely period is after our elections and before the inauguration of the next President.”


Ehud Olmert to be replaced as PM by his party before Sept. 25


25 June: The two ruling parties, Kadima and Labor, reached an eleventh hour agreement before dawn, June 25 for the former to set in motion the procedures for a leadership primary to meet the deadline three months hence. A general election was postponed to some time in spring 2009. The deal paved the way for the two parties to merge in time to run as a united bloc. It effectively forestalled the Likud-led opposition Knesset dissolution vote Wednesday, June 25 and its support by Labor members, which would have brought the government down.

The Labor leader, defense minister Ehud Barak, was saved from certain downfall for refusing to quit the Olmert government in the face of popular and party demands. He has now maneuvered himself into front position if this merger comes off. The leading Kadima prime ministerial candidates, both of whom are bound to retain Barak as defense minister, are foreign minister Tzipi Livni and transport minister Shaul Mofaz.

The two big losers are the prime minister – his own party has shown him the door – and opposition Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, former and would-be prime minister. Likud faces serious rethinking about the quality of its leadership in view of Netanyahu’s failure to spearhead a fighting campaign to unseat Israel’s most unpopular government ever.


Syrians play hide and seek with UN nuclear inspectors


26 June: debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that the International Atomic Energy Agency team which inspected the El Kibar site bombed by Israel last September, returned to Vienna Wednesday with soil and building materials samples gathered secretly without Syrian knowledge.

During their four days in the country, Olli Heinonen, IAEA deputy director and leading negotiator with the Iranian authorities interviewed Syrian army officers and men presented by Damascus as having been employed at the facility. They denied it was a nuclear reactor and that they possessed nuclear credentials themselves. But, according to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, the inspectors countered with their own list of officers, scientists and technicians – not only Syrians, but also Iranians and North Koreans employed in building the facility – to which Damascus denied them access.

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