A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Nov. 13, 2008

Syria‘s Assad cooks up Mossad-al Qaeda plot to discredit pro-Western Lebanese government


7 Nov. Syrian president Bashar Assad has drawn encouragement to go ahead with a drive to recover his grip on Lebanon from signals coming in from Barack Obama’s team and from the peace overtures of Israeli transitional prime minister Ehud Olmert, debkafile‘s Beirut sources report.

To this end, the Syrian president has concocted an improbable disinformation cocktail which brings together the al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam terrorist organization, Saudi intelligence and the Israeli Mossad. This mix is designed to be explosive enough to discredit the Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri and oust the pro-western government which stands in the way of Syria’s domination of Beirut.

Thursday night, Nov. 6, Syrian state TV displayed mug shots of four Fatah al-Islam terrorists who are charged with bombing Syrian security installations on the Damascus airport road on Sept. 27 at the cost of 17 lives. Shown with them were documents “proving” that a Saudi businessman had bankrolled the attack as the manager of this al Qaeda-linked organization’s bank account.


Israeli air force strikes Qassam team on third day of Palestinian offensive


The Palestinians report casualties. Five missiles exploded in Ashkelon and Sderot Friday night, Nov. 7; five were aimed earlier in the day against Sderot, Shear Hanegev and the Eshkol farm district.


Iran slams Obama’s rejection of its nuclear program


8 Nov. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani Saturday, Nov. 8, forcefully rejected US president-elect Barack Obama’s comment Friday that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was unacceptable and its support for terrorist organizations must cease. “This signifies the same erroneous policy as the past, said Larijani. “If the United States wants to change its standing in the region it should send good signals.”


Gaza clashes escalate amid missile fire


8 Nov. The Israeli air force knocked out a Palestinian missile launcher primed for attack in northern Gaza Saturday night, Nov. 7-8. The Palestinians responded with more missile fire at Ashkelon on the 4th consecutive day of their Gaza missile offensive. No one was hurt. During the day an Israeli patrol near Kissufim was targeted by Palestinian anti-tank missiles and returned the fire.

Earlier, Israeli troops entered the Strip briefly to dismantle explosives attached to the border fence. Friday night, an air strike hit a Palestinian Qassam team after10 missiles exploded in Ashkelon, Sderot, Shear Hanegev and the Eshkol farm district.

Local parents, protesting the government’s failure to deal with the Palestinian missile threat during five months of the six-month informal truce, are concerned Sunday about sending children back to schools, many of which are not properly fortified against missile attack.

There were no casualties or damage but the three-day barrage of more than 50 missiles has again disrupted life in the towns and villages within range of the Gaza Strip.


Iran Challenges Obama by Hiking Tensions on Israel’s Borders


8 Nov. Iran’s rulers calculate that the more trouble they stir up, the sooner incoming US president Barack Obama will come running to Tehran to open a pre-inauguration back-door channel. They are therefore fanning tensions on Israel’s northern and southern borders while putting a damper on the various Middle East peace initiatives. Syria was discouraged from returning to its indirect peace track with Israel and Hamas ordered to boycott Egypt’s bid to patch up the quarrel between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

debkafile‘s exclusive military sources disclose that Iranian agents, aided by Hizballah, are enlisting Palestinian militias in the big Lebanese Ain Hilwa refugee camp near Sidon and other camps for terrorist missions on Israel’s northern border.

In Gaza, Israeli forces last week pre-empted in the nick of time a Hamas cross-border kidnap operation by means of a tunnel leading under the border fence. By Saturday, Nov. 8, therefore, with missiles already flying from Gaza, Tehran had managed to spoil the last Middle East journey to be undertaken by Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.


Rice to pin down Israeli “concessions” for Obama team


9 Nov. Although the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have yielded no agreement on core issues, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has charged a departmental panel with “summarizing” their transcripts and handing them over to the Barack Obama team.

Rice said at the Middle East Quartet meeting in Egypt Sunday, Nov. 9, that she would hand over to her successor “in private” and then “you won't hear any more from me”.

debkafile‘s political sources report that this process means that any thought, hypothesis or suggestion floated in the confidential talks may be pinned down and presented as an Israeli concession for the next administration to pursue as such. Israeli intelligence leaders consistently criticized EhudOlmert and Tzipi Livni for being too forthcoming and free with their ideas, while the Palestinian by contrast stuck to demands.


Middle East Quartet to reconvene in Moscow next spring


9 Nov. The sponsors of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, ended their meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday with a statement of continued support for the parties’ efforts and a pledge to “respect the bilateral and confidential nature of the negotiations.” While Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas promised to keep on negotiating during the run-up to Israel’s election, debkafile reports that the current lull – due to political changes in the US and Israel – is likely to continue until early next year.

No agreement has been reached on the toughest issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and borders between Israel and a potential Palestinian state.

The negotiations have been conducted under a media blackout, eliciting concerned questions in Israel about “how much they have given away in secret.”


IAEA finds man-made uranium traces at Syrian site bombed by Israel


10 Nov. A senior Vienna-based diplomat reported Monday, Nov. 10, that the latest findings are significant enough for the nuclear watchdog to place Syria right after North Korea and Iran on its agenda for further investigation. Last June, UN inspectors collected the soil samples which yielded the uranium traces from al Kibar in northern Syria, where a nuclear reactor under construction was razed by Israel in Sept. 2007.

debkafile‘s sources report that even if the uranium traces found at the bombed site were slight, they are damning because they were clearly man-made – not natural ore – and must have been brought in by an outside source, possibly North Korean visitors.

Syria has ignored recent requests from the IAEA to inspect three military sites suspected of housing nuclear facilities.


State memorial ceremony for late PM Yitzhak Rabin


Nov. 10. Israel held state ceremonies to commemorate the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the national cemetery on Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem and a special Knesset session.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert, addressing the session, laid out his personal political agenda which calls for for immediate and extensive Israeli withdrawals in Jerusalem, West Bank and Golan. Members of his own party, including foreign minister Tzipi Livni, challenged this view as contrary to the Kadima platform.

This was the current Knesset’s closing session. An estimated one-third of the deputies will not return after the Feb. 10, 2009 general election.


West Bank security plunges out of Israel military control


11 Nov. On one day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, there were 30 Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and border police officers on the West Bank, leaving four injured, including two policemen and a military company commander, debkafile‘s military sources report.

The security situation plummeted from last month when, after men of the Lavi Brigade shot dead three Palestinian assailants who were hurling fire bombs, Israel units were prohibited from posting snipers to defend them against Palestinian firebomb ambuscades by prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak.

Seeing the IDF’s hands were tied, the Palestinians pressed their advantage and stepped up their harassment. Senior military sources say OC Central Command, Brig. Gadi Shamni, no longer controls security in Judea and Samaria. Marauding Palestinians have seized the hilltops commanding the territory’s main highways and intersections and bombard every passing Israeli car.


Non-religious Nir Barkat is mayor of Jerusalem


12 Nov. The high-tech entrepreneur carried 50% of the vote, beating the ultra-religious Meir Porush by 9 points. Tel Aviv’s Ron Huldai won a third term in office with 50.69%. Haifa also reelected its sitting mayor Yonah Yahav for a second term. In Beersheba, Yaakov Turner was defeated by his deputy, Rubik Danilevich. In Rishon Lezion, Meir Nitzan was ousted after 25 years as mayor by Dov Tzur.

The national turnout in the Nov. 11 elections for 159 mayors and local council heads was 40%, 23 points less than the last vote.

In many places, young, independents were elected to local councils and the main national parties pushed aside in favor of local interests, such as environment, affordable housing, public transport and education. A quiet grass-roots revolt has begun against the ruling establishments, powered for the first time at low cost by the Internet instead of the old-time apparatchiks. Young students made their mark without money-guzzling PR, pricey advertising and the mainstream media, which ignored them.

Candidates often dumped their party affiliations to form blocs with rival groupings back by local interest groups in order to survive – further weakening the national party machinery.

The kernel of a new political generation was thrown up in a process and expected to gather momentum in the general election of February 10, 2009.


Israeli bank interest slashed by 0.5% to 3% lowest rate ever


12 Nov. Central bank governor Stanley Fischer aims to stimulate lending to small businesses.


Sinai Bedouin in armed revolt against Egypt, snatch general


12 Nov. debkafile‘s military sources reveal that for five days, around 1,000 armed young Bedouin tribesmen have been holding Egyptian positions along the Sinai-Israeli border south of Rafah to siege.

Egyptian General Mohammed Shaarawai and 50 soldiers were taken hostage until the insurrectionists’ demands are met.

The gun battles erupted Saturday, Nov. 11, when Egyptian troops posted at the Nitzana border post opened fire on a suspected drug smugglers’ truck, killing the Bedouin driver. Hundreds of armed tribesmen in pick-up trucks bent on revenge swarmed to the scene and began shooting up the Egyptian border guards.

Three Bedouin were killed and an Egyptian officer and three soldiers injured in a clash that took place Tuesday, Nov. 11 south of Rafah.

Wednesday, the Bedouin offensive assumed the form of an organized uprising when their chief handed the Egyptian officers a list of eight demands for lifting the siege and releasing their captives.


Resumed Gaza terror outcome of Israel’s passivity and over-reliance on Cairo


13 Nov. debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that the Gaza truce is foundering and Hamas running out of control because of the Israeli government’s passive military stance and over-reliance on Egypt to pull its Palestinian chestnuts out of the fire.

Thursday night, Nov. 13, the Palestinians fired five missiles, including two Grads, against Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and Or Haner. Suspense is building up around the Gaza Strip amid fears of a major Palestinian attack on Israeli forces and civilian locations over the weekend.

It was not until Nov. 11, when intelligence was received of a secret tunnel designed to facilitate a large-scale Hamas kidnap operation that a decision was finally taken to blow up the tunnel designed for cross-border abductions, but not to touch Hamas operational HQ. Olmert and Barak are at loggerheads over how to handle the escalating Gaza peril: Olmert believes a large-scale military confrontation with Hamas is inevitable down the road, while Barak wants to hang on to the collapsed truce.

Because of the high border tension, the handing-over ceremony of the Gaza Division command was called off Thursday, Nov. 13.

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