A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Nov. 6, 2008

Israeli archeologist finds 3,000-year old Hebrew text from King David’s time


31 Oct. It was found on a pottery shard during excavations by the Hebrew University of a biblical-era fortress in the Valley of Elah southwest of Jerusalem. Carbon dating established the inscription in the time of King David, a millennium before the Dead Sea Scrolls. The words deciphered in the five lines of text are “judge,” “slave” and “king.” They were clearly written by a trained scribe. The site is the earliest known fortified city found in Israel of the biblical period. The Elah Valley is described in the Bible as the site of the battle between David and Goliath.


Iran tests ways of recovering weapons-grade uranium from spent nuclear fuel


31 Oct. This intelligence assessment, disclosed to AP by a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), indicates that the Iranians are testing ways of using nuclear waste. debkafile‘s sources report that the waste will come from the Bushehr reactor, which the Russians have pledged to finish by the end of the year or March, 2009, at latest and for which they are providing the fuel.

The spent fuel at issue as the source of the enriched uranium is not enough to yield the 30 kilos of weapons grade (90 percent enriched) material for a bomb, but is another step in that direction. debkafile adds that Bushehr could provide enough nuclear waste for rapid production of several bombs or warheads.

In a Kol Israel radio interview this week, Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel and member of Barack Obama’s Middle East team, disclosed that US intelligence now reckons Iran will have between one and three nuclear bombs by the end of 2009.


Lebanon reportedly unmasks “Mossad” network spying also on Syria


1 Nov. The head of a suspected Mossad spy ring was reportedly picked up at his home in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley W. Lebanon after lengthy surveillance in Lebanon and Syria He is not named in the report. They ring is said to have operated since 1980.

According to the report, a search of their Mitsubishi Pajero turned up a long-angle camera for detailed photography of facial features and vehicle number plates. His neighbors reported they had seen his car parked main highways between Shtaura in the Beqaa Valley and the Lebanese-Syrian border terminal at Massena. They said he had been staking out Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian movements. In recent months, he allegedly focused on Hizballah forces and leaders.

A state of the art communications gear was found in the suspected ringleader’s home.

Among his activities, the “agent” is suspected of mapping the high-end Kfar Sousa district of Damascus where Hizballah’s military chief, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed last February.


Netanyahu Reshapes Likud, Builds Shadow Cabinet


1 Nov. Energized by more than two years in opposition, Binyamin Netanyahu plans to contest the February 10, 2009 general election at the head of a remodeled Likud party and a new star-studded leadership. His new assets are Benny Begin, Yair Shamir, Dan Meridor, Moshe Yaalon and Nathan Sharansky. Netanyahu believes that with a strong team, his government can cope with Iran’s nuclear challenge.

While appealing to the pragmatic elements of the Israeli right wing, which two years ago voted for Kadima, Netanyahu will also offer a home to the West Bank’s Jewish communities (pop: 300,000), their supporters and the security hawks, including two generals, one of whom is a kibbutznik. The sons of two Likud founding fathers will give his list a clean image compared with Kadima’s aura of corruption.

By February 10, 2006, when Israel votes for a new parliament, government and prime minster, the next US president will have been in the White House for 20 days and Iran will be assembling its first nuclear bomb or warhead. The newly-elected government in Jerusalem will need all its energy and resources to confront the problems which the outgoing administration has long avoided.


Hizballah goes anti-tank missile shopping in Moscow


2 Nov. A Hizballah mission, which arrived in Moscow Tuesday, Oct. 28, placed orders for 3,000 Russian missiles of different types after being shown around Russian state of the art anti-tank missile factories and treated to a live fire demonstration.

Tehran is footing the bill.

Our sources disclose that the hardware inspected by the Hizballah officers included 9M133 (Nato-coded Spriggan AT-14) which can be launched by helicopter and Kliver, which is an upgraded Kornet-E mounted on vehicles. The Lebanese Shiite terrorist shoppers also placed a large order for RPG-2 rocket-propelled grenades made by Bazalt. In the 2006 Lebanon war, the older RPG-29 used by Hizballah was responsible for most of the hits suffered by Israeli tanks.

Last month, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Moscow to ask Russian leaders to refrain from selling arms to Syria and Iran, countries at war with Israel. Moscow only promised to reconsider weapons sales capable of upsetting the balance of strength in “sensitive regions” and then went right ahead to sign big arms deals with Damascus and Tehran – and now Hizballah.


Turkish defense minister Vecdi Gonul shops for Israeli drones


3 Nov. Turkey’s Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul visited Israel on October 29 and 30 to expedite the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TAF) purchase of 10 Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). He was accompanied by a large delegation and used the visit to discuss regional diplomacy and bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel.


Syria moves more tank-artillery forces south to Israel border


3 Nov. Syrian tanks, artillery and commando units have taken up battle positions in four villages around Hasbaya opposite Mt. Hermon and northern Israel. They moved into the new positions Sunday and Monday, Nov. 2-3, so completing their deployment the full length of the Syrian-Lebanese border. Elements of the Syrian 10th, 12th and 14th Divisions and the 3rd Army – withdrawn last week from the 600-km long Syrian-Iraq border – are now poised opposite Israeli positions holding the disputed Shebaa Farms enclave on Mt. Hermon.

Military sources say that whereas opposite the northeastern Tripoli region, Syrian forces are strung out in small clusters of 2 to 3 tanks one or more kilometers apart, their tank units are massed tightly opposite Mt. Hermon and northern Israel.

Western and Lebanese military observers relate Syria’s military movements to Damascus’ threats, growing more strident Sunday, of “painful punishment” for the US Oct. 26 raid in northern Syria unless Washington apologizes, clarifies its action and pays compensation.

Senior IDF officers are perplexed by the Israeli government’s failure to pursue deterrent action against the Syrian tanks poised in battle array on its border. Instead, the outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert is busy trying to revive indirect talks with Syria before he quits.


America elects its 44th president. A side glance at the Middle East


4 Nov. Many Israelis fear that pro-Arab figures will step out from behind Obama’s Middle East campaign advisers and be installed in key positions in his administration. They recall that his campaign was choreographed by a hard left Chicago group. Aware of this, Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy under Democratic and Republican presidents, and Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel, issued pre-election statements assuring Israel they had nothing to fear from Obama.

However, Rob Malley, who is in close rapport with Syrian president Bashar Assad and the radical Hamas headquarters in Damascus, is still around and acts as Obama’s liaison with Arab leaders, although the candidate claimed earlier to have dropped this controversial figure from his team.

A lesser known fact is that Malley is a personal friend of Dr. Samir Thaki, Syria’s top negotiator in the indirect talks with Israel brokered by Turkey. He played a shadowy but firm role in those talks under Obama’s policy guideline to back Damascus’ push for a complete Israel withdrawal from the Golan. This ultimatum kept the Bush administration from backing those negotiations and explains why Assad preferred to stall until a new US president was elected.

If Israel’s transitional prime minister Ehud Olmert goes along with this line – he is still weighing the option – it would represent Israel’s biggest concession ever to an Arab state and hamper the chances of his successor, foreign minister Tzipi Livni, to lead their Kadima party to victory in Israel’s February 10, 2009 general election.

Israel’s opposition has said it would not be bound by any such concessions. However its endorsement by Obama would represent his first step toward ushering in a Middle East policy based on drawing Damascus out of its alliance with Iran. Israel would then find itself on a collision course with Washington.


Likud leader Netanyahu hails Benny Begin’s return


4 Nov. Binyamin Netanyahu introduced the returning son of legendary party founder the late PM Menahem Begin at a news conference in Tel Aviv Tuesday, Nov. 4. Saturday, Nov. 1, debkafile first revealed Benny Begin’s decision to quit the civil service as a geologist and bid for a place on the Likud list for the Feb. 10 general election.

Asked if he had changed his mind on his issues with Netanyahu, then prime minister, which caused him to quit politics – including the Wye Plantation deal which divided Hebron, Begin replied: There have been two changes since then: Bibi has matured by 10 years and I am 10 years older.

Four right-of-center parties have meanwhile merged to run for election on one list: the National Union, Revival, Homeland and the National Religious Party. Knesset member Arye Eldad (NU/NRP) will not be joining the list but setting up a new right-wing party called Hatikva to draw non-religious Land of Israel adherents.


Palestinians fire Grad rockets at Ashkelon, escalate their massive missile barrage


5 Nov. More than 40 missiles were fired against Israeli towns and villages within range of Gaza all of Wednesday, Nov. 5. Two Grad rockets hit Ashkelon’s main street and industrial zone sending three women into shock. Israel’s emergency services in Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and the villages around Gaza went on alert, but not all the schools within missile range have shelters or fortified classrooms.

The Palestinian barrage followed a battle that erupted Tuesday night when an Israeli armored force crossed into the Gaza Strip to demolish a 250-meter long Hamas tunnel dug from Al Bureij the Israel military position at the Kissufim border, ready for immediate activation as a terror-cum-kidnap device. In the ensuing clash, six Hamas gunmen were killed and 6 IDF soldiers injured. When Hamas let loose mortar fire, an Israeli Air Force helicopter went into action and killed five Palestinian mortar-men.

Israel says its operation was an isolated incident not intended to terminate the six-month Gaza ceasefire which expires December 18.


Hamas transforms Gaza houses into Hizballah-style camouflaged firing positions


5 Nov. The 44 Grad rockets, Qassam missiles and mortar rounds which blasted Israel from Gaza Wednesday, Nov. 5, were fired from houses close to the border fence which Hamas had turned into fortified firing positions. Borrowing Hizballah’s trick from the 2006 Lebanon war, the Hamas firing squads remove the roofs and cover the top floors with camouflage netting easily removed for attacks.

debkafile‘s military analysts report: Two years after the 34-day Hizballah rocket blitz of northern Israel – and five months into an informal truce with Hamas – the IDF is still not coping with this tactic.

Furthermore, Wednesday, the civilian front was again abandoned to a heavy missile bombardment. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources further disclose that an anti-tank missile strike against an IDF patrol south of the Kissufim Gaza crossing last Friday, Oct. 31, was not carried out by Hamas, but an al Qaeda cell located in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younes.

Senior officers of the Southern Command are sharply critical of defense minister Ehud Barak’s soft, ceasefire-at-any-price policy, our sources report. They say Barak hit the wrong note when he stressed Israel’s interest in the truce after Hamas was found to have dug a tunnel Gaza under the Israeli border fence in order to kidnap more Israeli soldiers or civilians. He is encouraging Hamas to initiate more violations and weakening Israel’s hand for recovering its abducted soldier Gilead Shalit.

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