A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Oct. 23, 2008

17 Oct. No high priority for Palestinian issue if Obama elected US president


 


The Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has decided not to list the Palestinian issue as a top priority if he wins the Nov. 4 election, debkafile‘s Washington exclusive sources reveal. The Middle East experts on his transition team advised him there was no hurry to address the issue in the early stages of his presidency because the Palestinian side cannot field any leaders authoritative enough to sign a peace accord. Their internal divisions are too profound for such a leader to emerge in the foreseeable future, said those advisers.


Their chief recommendation was to address with high urgency the issues of a nuclear Iran and relations with Syria, according to our sources.


While nothing is being said publicly, debkafile‘s sources report that some of Senator Obama’s advisers have remarked that Presidents Clinton and Bush discovered too late that over-involvement in the Palestinian-Israel dispute led nowhere and in fact caused them to neglect more consequential Middle East business. This misplaced concern hurt their reputation for effectiveness as international statesmen.


By setting the Palestinian question aside, the Democratic candidate if elected will terminate Bush’s 2007 Annapolis initiative and the subsequent on-and-off negotiations with Palestinian leaders conducted by outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert and his would-be successor foreign minister Tzipi Livni. Those talks anyway achieved very little.


 


Russian missiles for Syria may be riposte for US FBX-T radar in Israel


 


18 Oct: debkafile‘s military sources report that a large-scale arms deal for Syria, paid for by Iran, is in advanced negotiation in Moscow and Damascus. It includes fighter-bombers and an assortment of anti-air, anti-missile and anti-tank missiles, as well as substantial upgrades of Syria’s antiquated Russian tanks. Our sources disclose that the S-300PMU-2 and Iskander-E are still on the list under discussions.


In the broader context of its contest with Washington, the Kremlin regards the US radar system installed in the Negev to be an integral part of the US missile shield deployed in the face of Russian protests in Poland and the Czech Republic.


Positioning missile systems at Syrian ports would be part of Russia’s overall military payback for the array of US missile and radar installations in Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, debkafile‘s military sources report, the Kremlin may decide against handing the missiles to the Syrian army but prefer to install them to guard the Mediterranean naval bases Russians are building at the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia.


 


Barak urges kiss of life for moribund Saudi 2002 peace plan


 


19 Oct. Defense minister Ehud Barak proposed in coalition talks with Kadima leader, foreign minister Tzipi Livni serious consideration of the 2002 Saudi plan which offered pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured during the 1967 war: the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan.


“There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan,” he said. “Moderate Arab leaders” share an interest in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, limiting Hizballah’s influence in Lebanon and bringing the Palestinian Hamas under control in the Gaza Strip.


debkafile‘s sources note that much water has passed under Middle East bridges since 2000 when Barak as prime minister engineered Israel’s pullout from its south Lebanese security zone, and 2005, when his successor Ariel Sharon ordered Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, making way for Hamas to move in. “Moderates” no longer dominate regional affairs but a radical coalition of Iran, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami, making Barak’s kiss of death for the Saudi peace plan pointless.


 


Outbreaks by Arab citizens spread as Israeli police stand aside


 


19 Oct. Saturday morning, Oct. 18, two Israeli Arabs broke into a military base, beat up the sentry and stole his gun. Police called it a “criminal” incident.


debkafile‘s security sources report: Mixed and “seam” communities are beset by a rising level of violence involving Israeli Arab citizens. But local police forces tend to react by brushing aside Jewish complaints and even failing to respond to appeals for help against Arab threats, in the interests “communal co-existence.” For lack of a controlling hand, coexistence is crumbling, inter-communal clashes spreading and an Arab uprising emerging.


 


McCain pledges Jerusalem will remain undivided capital of Israel


 


20 Oct. The Republican candidate John McCain promised never to press Israel into concessions that endangered its security.


Sen. Joseph Lieberman noted the trip he and McCain had taken to the Jewish state in March, and stressed that McCain knows the “historic Jewish claim” to the city and “it’s clear he will not be included in efforts to divide Jerusalem.” Lieberman later emphasized McCain’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “as soon as he becomes president.


The Jewish vote in battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, is being courted aggressively by both presidential campaigns.


 


US, Russian military chiefs hold unannounced fence-mending talks


 


21 Oct. The top-secret meeting aimed at putting US-Russian bilateral relations back to their pre-Georgian crisis track. US sources said the meeting which took place at Helsinki on Oct., 21 was requested by Moscow.


While US officials expected the Russian side to raise the issues of Georgia and America’s anti-missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic, debkafile‘s sources anticipated that the American side would broach stepped up Russian nuclear assistance to Iran, especially its commitment to finish the Bushehr reactor by the end of the year, and refusal to go along with sanctions.


Also at issue are Moscow’s massive arms deals with Iran and Syria and the new naval bases the Russians are building at Syrian ports.


 


Arab Websites report Mossad chief assassinated in Amman. Israel sources deny


 


21 Oct. debkafile reports that Arab Internet sites claim that, 10 days ago, Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s Mossad, was targeted by assassins while visiting Amman. Some say an explosion against his convoy left him hurt or even dead and his guards injured. debkafile‘s sources have no knowledge of any visit by Meir Dagan to the Jordanian capital.


One rumor claimed a hit-man or team linked to Hizballah or Iran attacked Dagan to avenge the death of Hizballah military chief Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last February. The Arab world sees Dagan as master of the hidden Israeli hand which reached into Syria to target Mugniyeh and destroyed Syria’s plutonium reactor in September 2007.


 


US intelligence: Iran will be able to build first nuclear bomb by February


 


21 Oct. US intelligence’s amended estimate, that Iran will be ready to build a bomb just one month after the next US president is sworn in, was relayed to the Middle East teams of both presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. It prompted the Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden’s remark in Seattle Sunday, Oct. 19: “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy.” (McCain rebutted that statement Tuesday, Oct. 21 by saying: “America does not need a president that needs to be tested. I’ve been tested. I was aboard the Enterprise off the coast of Cuba. I’ve been there.”)


According to the new US timeline, by late January, 2009, Iran will have accumulated enough low-grade enriched uranium (up to 5%) for its “break-out” to weapons grade (90%) material within a short time. In February, they can move on to start building their first nuclear bomb, for which US intelligence believes Tehran has the personnel, plans and diagrams. The UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna last week asked Tehran to clarify recent complex experiments they conducted in detonating nuclear materials for a weapon, but received no answer.


Israel’s political and military leaders can no longer put off deciding whether to strike Iran’s nuclear installations in the next three months, or take a chance on coordination with the next president.


 


NATO general warns Afghan war effort is wavering


 


21 Oct. US Army General John Craddock, supreme allied commander in Europe, warned that NATO’s operations in Afghanistan are affected by a shortfall of troops and more than 70 caveats on soldiers’ deployment. In a speech in London, Monday, Oct. 20, Craddock said: “The conflict in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means alone.” Good governance, reconstruction and development are essential. For now, NATO members are “wavering” in their political commitment to defeat the Taliban.


debkafile adds: This confirms former statements by British and French commanders that the 8-year Afghan war is unwinnable under present circumstances and that Taliban is gaining ground all the time. More and more tribal leaders in the Kabul region are bidding for Taliban protection for lack of government funding, stability and law and order – even against marauding robbers.


 


Barak orders all Gaza crossings closed from Wednesday


 


21 Oct. A Qassam missile from Gaza exploded in southern Ashkelon Tuesday night, causing no casualties or damage.


Some 50 missiles and mortars have been fired from Gaza since the June ceasefire which expires in December. A comprehensive Palestinian national dialogue organized by Egypt opens in Cairo on Nov. 9.


 


An Israeli Air Force instructor and cadet killed in training plane crash in Negev


 


22 Oct. Reserve Major Mattan Assa, 24, from Yavne, and Private Ilan Carmi, 19, Herzliya, were killed Wednesday, Oct. 22, when their training plane crashed 30 minutes after takeoff from the IAF’s Hatzerim base near Beersheba. The plane, a French-made Fouga Magister, remodeled and renamed Zukit, was on a low-flying exercise. No emergency signal was received by the control tower before the crash.


IAF commander Maj.-Gen Ido Nehushtan has set up a team of inquiry.


 


Israeli motorist injured by Palestinian firebomb near Yakir, West Bank


 


22 Oct. The firebomb cache found on the spot of the incident included a pipe bomb. This marks an escalation of the violence from routine firebomb ambushes.


A Palestinian stopped at Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus carried a pipe bomb and several firebombs.


In Gaza, a Jihad Islami terrorist was killed during mock attack exercise on an IDF position.


 


Early election likely after Tzipi Livni fails in coalition negotiations


 


23 Oct. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni calls on President Shimon Peres next Sunday to inform him that she has not been able to form a viable coalition government. The most probable outcome is an early election.


Only Labor initialed a deal with her Kadima, but its leader, defense minister Ehud Barak, said it is not final. Labor and other potential partners, the ultra-religious Shas and Pensioners, are holding out for substantial extra allocations for large families, senior citizens and healthcare, before signing on. Finance minister Ronnie Bar-On, Livni’s mainstay in their Kadima party, is standing firm against reopening the budget for this purpose.


On the horns of this dilemma, Livni is beset with a revolt in her own party against a minority government, which is all she may be able to scrape together in the time left her. The Olmert government stays on as caretaker until a new government is formed.


 


Palestinian murders Israeli octogenarian, injures border guard in Jerusalem suburb of Gilo


 


23 Oct. The assailant stabbed a Police Border Guardsman who found him loitering around schools on Vardinon Street at the center of the southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. He then set upon 86-year old Avraham Ozri, a local resident, who died of his injuries later in hospital. A bystander wrestled the assailant to the ground after the injured policeman shot him. He was taken into custody.


Riots greeted police and Shin Bet officers who arrived later at the terrorist’s village near the West Bank town of Bethlehem to search for accomplices. Eight Palestinians were injured in clashes and several arrested.

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