A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending Jan. 11, 2007

Frontrunner as Israel’s next chief of staff is Maj.-Gen Benny Gantz, head of IDF Ground Wing and former OC Northern Command


5 January: Most other plausible replacements for Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz are eliminated by expected cautionary notices from the Vinograd commission which is probing the mismanagement of the Lebanon War last summer. They include Halutz, his deputy, Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, the new OC Northern Command, Maj.-Gen Gad Eisenkott, who was wartime chief of operations, as well as the air force and navy chiefs. They are all under fire for the way they handled their war and pre-war responsibilities – all except General Gantz.

Preliminary conclusions reached by the inquiry panel, according to debkafile‘s military sources, find that Gantz and the previous chief of staff General (res.) Moshe Yaalon – who was questioned at length this week – both duly performed their functions of preparing the armed forces for war.

The findings of the Vinograd commission will also direct a strong light on the government heads’ performance in the Lebanon war.


Bush Headed to Stake His All on Iraq Victory


6 January: President George W. Bush is poised to stake every US resource to hand on a no-holds-barred military operation all the way to victory in Iraq, after first bringing Baghdad under control. The chips should all be lined up by the time he goes public next week on his new strategy for Iraq.

debkafile‘s military and Washington sources report that the new Bush policy will brook no look-in for Iran, Syria or Hizballah in Iraq’s affairs. To this end, the US president’s shakeup moves into forward position the toughest and most hawkish US military leaders.

Adm. William J. Fallon (picture), 62, hitherto supreme commander in the Pacific theater, takes over from Gen. John Abizaid as commander of the US central command which is in charge of the US fronts in Iraq, Afghanistan and against global terrorism. The admiral specializes in deploying large-scale navy, air and Marines forces simultaneously in different arenas. He commands a veritable buildup, the second in four months, in the Persian Gulf and other waters opposite Iran. The USS John C. Stennis strike group is heading for the Persian Gulf with a mighty air arm of 9-10 fighter-bomber squadrons. Saturday, some sources reported that the USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group was heading in the same direction.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will succeed Gen. George Casey in command of American forces in Iraq. Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles, in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The appointment of Ryan Crocker to replace Zamay Khalilzad as US ambassador to Baghdad further supplements the all-or-nothing scenario.

Israel might face extreme danger should Tehran and Damascus target the Jewish state in retaliation for US strikes. They may also direct their fire on American locations in Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and its fleet in the eastern Mediterranean.


Three US Norfolk-based amphibious assault ships set out


7 January: They are part of the USS Bataan Strike group carrying 2,000 Marines and equipped to insert forces ashore by helicopter, landing craft and amphibious vehicles. The USS Oak Hill is designed to assist distressed vessels.

debkafile‘s military sources add that another three warships are due to sail out of Norfolk for the Gulf this week with marine personnel aboard. This will bring to more than 20,000 the complement of sailors, marines and pilots either heading for the Gulf region like the USS John C. Stennis strike group, or already present like the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Boxer.


Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan enlists Al Qaeda-linked Army of Islam for Mahmoud Abbas’ war against Hamas


7 January: debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal that Abu Mazen’s lieutenant, Mohammed Dahlan, has hired an al Qaeda group to reinforce the Fatah war against Hamas. On Dec.28, Hamas special forces’ gunmen inadvertently killed Mohammed and Ashraf Durmush. The Durmush clansmen – aka the Army of Islam – retaliated by stepping up their attacks on Hamas targets, including the home of foreign minister Mahmoud A-Zahar. Last week, Dahlan paid over a hefty sum to buy the services of the Durmush, who had a score to settle against Hamas anyway. And anyway, Fatah had proved itself incapable of overpowering Hamas in the Gaza Strip without help.

The Dahlan-Army of Islam deal was cut in the same week that the Bush administration decided to ask Congress for another $86m to support the “security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas,” ahead of Condoleezza Rice’s Middle East tour.

debkafile reveals:

1. The Durmush clan is an al Qaeda cell, which calls itself variously The Army of Islam, Al Qaeda-Palestine, The Holy Jihad Brigade, and Fatah-Brigades of the Islamic Sword.

2. Any moneys the Americans, Israelis and Egyptians render for propping up Abbas will be end up in Palestinian al Qaeda pockets.


Iran’s supreme rule Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 68, appeared on state TV Monday after suffering a cerebral stroke last Wednesday Jan. 3


8 January: He has since recovered consciousness. According to our Tehran sources, after neurosurgeons diagnosed extensive brain damage, two foreign teams of specialists were rushed over from Germany and Switzerland Friday. By Saturday, they had stabilized his condition enough to put him before TV cameras and refute widespread rumors of his death. Our Tehran sources report the aged, scholarly Ayatollah Mohammed Reza Mahdavi Khani, an apolitical figure, was appointed temporary stand-in for the supreme ruler.


US forces in Somalia launch biggest anti-al Qaeda crackdown since the Afghanistan 2001 invasion


9 January: Our military sources report that the US Central Command has massed substantial naval, air and marine strength around Somali shores, led by The USS Eisenhower carrier which is patrolling the water between Ras Kamboni on the Somali-Kenyan border and Kismayo port. They are tightening the noose trapping the embattled al Qaeda and Islamic Courts fugitives in their last positions, after being driven south into southern Somalia from Mogadishu.

The AC-130 gunship strikes from US air bases in Kenya were launched Monday night, Jan. 8, when a combined Ethiopian-Somali military onslaught failed to resolve the battle with the Islamists and casualties were mounting steeply on both sides. The US warships now engaged in the Somali campaign, the first direct American military intervention in the country since the disastrous 1992-4 “Black Hawk Down” mission, include the guided missile destroyers USS Ramage and USS Bunker Hill, as well as German naval units stationed in Kenyan ports. They are blasting the Islamist concentrations from the sea.


Baghdad Battle No. 2 Has Begun


10 January: Joint US-Iraqi forces were deep into their biggest operation to subdue the Iraqi capital forty-eight hours before US president George W. Bush formally unveiled his new Iraq plan. The operation started out against “terrorist hideouts” in and around the Sunni stronghold of Haifa Street. Some 50 insurgents and jihadists were reported killed while fighting back with mortar and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

The second battle in four years for Baghdad, a city of nine million inhabitants, places American armed forces in active combat on three anti-al Qaeda fronts: Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

debkafile‘s military sources report that in Baghdad, one US brigade is fighting alongside two Iraqi brigades, supported by tanks, warplanes and helicopters, to purge and control Haifa Street and take over two important Tigris bridges, Tamuz and Jumhuriya, which link the northern and southern Baghdad districts. Despite heavy losses, the Baathist Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda are putting up heavy resistance; the battle is still at its outset.

debkafile‘s military sources say the next US-backed Iraqi missions are:

To throw a steel ring around Baghdad in an effort to seal it off from the rest of Iraq, block its roads and entrances to incoming insurgent reinforcements and cut off their routes of escape; head into the Shiite strongholds of the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia; and take on Sunni insurgent bastions in the Baghdad district of Dura.

The Americans hope Sadr will order his militiamen to stand down and not forcibly block their ingress to the Shiite suburbs. Before taking on the combined Iraqi-US strength, the radical Shiite leader will want clear guarantees from Tehran for a steady supply of military assistance for a protracted engagement.

Given these imponderables, debkafile‘s military sources estimate that the second battle for Baghdad will take at least two or three months, if not longer. This estimate matches President Bush’s most probable timeline for the dispatch of another 20,000 US troops to Baghdad and the need to spread the “surge” over several months until early April, 2007.


President Bush’s new Iraq plan highlights security in Baghdad and vows “to seek out and destroy” networks in Iran and Syria attacking US forces


10 January: debkafile: This vow does not limit US military operations to Iraqi territory. Bush stated: “I recently ordered the deployment of additional carrier strike group in the region. We will…deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.”

This indicates that the US expects Iran and Syria to retaliate with missile attacks on US targets across the Middle East and against “friends” such as Turkey, the Arab emirates and Israel. However, Israel did not rate a mention in the speech.


Senior US diplomat tells BBC that Abdullah Mohammed Fazul survived Monday’s US air strike over S. Somalia


11 January: US ambassador Michael Ranneberger denied earlier reports that al Qaeda’s commander in East Africa, wanted for the 1998 embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and many other attacks, was killed in the American air strike. He also denied civilians had been killed or injured in the action. Kenya intelligence sources say that Fazul’s wife and the wife of another wanted al Qaeda operative, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, had been arrested in Kenya after fleeing the beleaguered al Qaeda-Islamist hideout at Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia.

The confusion arises from the poor communications in the remote area where the heads of the Islamic Courts and al Qaeda fugitives are embattled.


Kurdish sources report five helicopters carried US forces to pre-dawn raid of Iranian consulate in N. Iraqi town of Irbil


11 January: The troops used loudspeakers to call out to the consulate staff in Farsi and Arabic not to resist “or else they would be killed.” Five Iranian diplomatic staff members were detained and documents and computers impounded.

Tehran has strongly protested this breach of its sovereign territory and summoned the Swiss ambassador who represents US interests in Iran and the Iraqi ambassador to demand the immediate release of the Iranian diplomats.

Later Thursday, Jan. 11, Tehran reported three large explosions shaking the southern town of Khorramshahr north of the oil port of Abadan on the Shatt al-Arb waterway.

debkafile: Khorramshahr, which faces the Iraqi town of Basra, is one of the key towns from which Iran delivers smuggled fighters, weapons and explosives to its Shiite supporters in Iraq. Our sources also report that some hours before President George W. Bush’s policy speech, a series of explosions were heard in Iranian Balochistan. Tehran imposed a blackout on the incident.

These statements and events tie in closely with the new Iraq strategy announced by the US president of confronting Iran and Syria for “allowing networks to use their territory to attack US forces.”


Olmert meets Chinese president Hu Jintao Thursday at end of his official visit to China


11 January: In his talks with the Chinese president and prime minister Wen Jiabao, the Israeli prime minister emphasized that Iran’s program is both an existential threat to Israel and a global menace. Beijing was the Israeli prime minister’s last way station in his tour to persuade permanent UN Security Council members to take tough action against the Islamic Republic.

However, like Russia, China is opposed to Iran’s nuclear activities, but prefers to address it through negotiation, in contrast to the United States and some European governments. The Israeli prime minister argued that by threatening Middle East stability, the Islamic Republic also jeopardizes the stability of China’s supply of oil.

His Beijing talks were expected to lead to increased bilateral trade which now stands at more than $3bn per year. But China’s key trade links in the Middle East today are with Iran. The day before Olmert’s arrival in Beijing, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani left. The Israeli prime minister could do with some diplomatic momentum to ease his embarrassments at home. According to a television report, he could face a police probe on suspicion of improperly favoring cronies in his former public jobs. For Olmert, the trip to Beijing was also a sentimental journey. His grandparents belonged to a group of Russian Jews who settled in northern China at the turn of the last century to escape Russian pogroms.

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