A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending Jan. 24, 2008

An Israeli long-range nuclear-capable missile tested Thursday with a new engine


18 Jan. The launch of the dual-stage missile from the Palmahim base Thursday, Jan. 17, achieved a breakthrough in the testing of a new propulsion system.

Western military experts report that the new system can propel the missile to any point on earth – an intercontinental capability owned only by the US, Russia, China and France.

Western military sources sum up the test as demonstrating that, while Iran was still in the development stage of its ballistic missiles, Israel had raced ahead and left the Islamic Republic standing.


Washington lines up with Moscow’s soft diplomacy on Iran, Nicholas Burns drops out


19 Jan. Nicholas Burns’s retirement as US undersecretary for political affairs Friday, Jan. 18, and his replacement by US ambassador to Moscow William Burns, take the Bush administration’s strategy on Iran’s nuclear activities a stage closer to Moscow’s line of soft diplomacy.

The outgoing Nicholas Burns, in the No. 3 State Department spot, held the Iran portfolio and led the Bush administration’s drive for tough sanctions at the UN Security Council. debkafile‘s Moscow sources note that President George W. Bush has in recent months taken strides towards closing the gap with the Kremlin on Iran. The two presidents began working together quietly in October 2007, on the shared understanding that affirmative tactics were preferable to tough penalties for weaning Tehran away from uranium enrichment, even temporarily.

This course reverses the policy pursued by Nicholas Burns.


Hamas fires 17 missiles into Israel early Saturday after UN Secretary calls for Gaza violence to stop


19 Jan. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed Friday night, Jan. 18, to Palestinians for “an immediate cessation” of sniper and rocket attacks and for “maximum restraint” by the Israeli military.

The UN secretary’s appeal came four days after Hamas and its allies fired 165 Qassam, 76 mortar rounds and one Katyusha rocket at Israeli civilian locations. Israeli operations to quell the attacks left 30 Palestinians dead, but failed to halt them. Ban Ki-moon stepped in only when Israel closed the border crossings into the Gaza Strip and cut fuel supplies.

Friday night, the Israeli air force bombed empty Hamas ministry and military buildings in Gaza. A woman was killed at a wedding taking place near the ministry building and 50 people injured. Prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak dodged heavy pressure for effective military action to stop the nightmarish attacks when they toured the dwindling population Thursday.

debkafile‘s military sources report: Two Gaza organizations are using mobile missile units mounted on mini-vans Taliban style: Hamas and the al Qaeda-linked Fatah al Islam, which has recently deployed in the Strip.


Minister sharply disparages Israeli army action in Gaza, jabs prime minister


20 Jan. Internal security minister Avi Dichter warned the Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, Jan. 20, that without a new kind of military deterrence to halt the Palestinian missile offensive from Gaza, Sderot would break down. He asked why the chief of staff was absent from the session.

“Current tactics in Gaza are making no difference at all,” he said. Gazan [Russian] roulette against civilians is no strategy. There has to be a different kind of deterrence to stop the missiles, mortars and snipers coming at the rate of dozens a day. “And if there is no other choice, let the Gazans pay the price and let there be ghost towns there, not here.”


Advance tips of al Qaeda plots dog Musharraf’s Europe visit


21 Jan. Our counter-terror sources report that the tip-offs reaching European capitals ahead of the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s eight-day visit came from Western intelligence agencies operating under cover in Pakistan. They were referred to Britain, France and Belgium and resulted in Spain rounding up 14 mostly Pakistani terrorist suspects on Jan. 20.

debkafile‘s sources add: The detentions providec a glimpse of the fact that, whereas until recently al Qaeda operated in Spain and France through jihadis of North African origin or under orders from the al Qaeda Organization of the Maghreb, today, Osama bin Laden’s organization has been able to establish a second terrorist network in Western Europe, from the Indian subcontinental countries of India, Bangladesh, Kashmir and Pakistan.


New Israeli polar satellite launched aboard Indian rocket


21 Jan. debkafile‘s military sources: The 300-kilogram Tecsar is the most advanced of Israel’s satellites. It is the first to be equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that allows its camera to take high-resolution pictures of small targets in cloudy or foggy weather at any point on earth.

It was launched from India because the Sriharikota space station in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh is positioned for boosting a satellite into polar orbit. Our military sources report that with Tecsar aloft, Israel will have complementary access for the tracking Iranian’s nuclear and military activities provided by its Ofek spy series.

This was India’s second commercial mission on behalf of a foreign country and was acclaimed in New Delhi as an “important milestone” for India’s space program.


Israel and Egypt believe Hamas faked Gaza power crisis to cover coming onslaught on Rafah terminal


21 Jan. In fact, Gaza gets 75 percent of its electricity directly from Israel and 5 percent from Egypt. Only a small proportion is locally supplied. Israeli and Egyptian military sources suspect that Hamas drummed up an international outcry to justify its impending operation to smash through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza to Egyptian Sinai and seize control of the border, thus terminating the international blockade of the terrorist-rule Gaza Strip.

Israel’s electricity corporation workers keep Gaza supplied with power often themselves under the Palestinian missile fire on Israeli civilian locations.

No independent organizations confirm the Hamas claim of a humanitarian crisis and hospital deaths for lack of electricity. Gaza also has adequate stocks of basic foods, medicines and fuels, although there are some shortages.


In a polemical assault on Israel as a Jewish state, Saudi Prince offers peace plan for “Arab Jews”


21 Jan. Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the US and UK, again touted the 2002 Saudi peace initiative requiring full Israeli withdrawal from “occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land” in return for “full normalization of relations.” But Turki added a refinement: If Israel signed a comprehensive peace, “one can imagine the integration of Israel into the Arab geographical entity. We will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews rather than simply as Israelis.”

debkafile‘s political sources note that this influential Saudi prince is keeping up the relentless Arab assault on the Zionist ideal of a sovereign Jewish state in its ancestral homeland.

Furthering his vision of an Arabized Israel, the Saudi prince holds out the promise of: “Exchange visits by people of both Israel and the rest of the Arab countries would take place.”


Bolton: Military action to stop Iran acquiring an atomic bomb is left to Israel


22 Jan. At a lecture in Israel, Jan. 22, the former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said: “One can say with some assurance that in the next year the use of force by the United States is highly unlikely” – especially since a US intelligence report claimed Iran had suspended a nuclear program in 2003. He estimated that further UN sanctions would be ineffective in stopping Iran’s military program.

“This increases the pressure on Israel… If you are worried about an Iran with nuclear weapons and an extreme theological regime in power, the time to take the plan of action is before Iran acquires the weapons,” he said, explaining: “The calculus in the region changes dramatically once Iran has nuclear capability, meaning the preemptive use of force or the overthrow of the Iranian regime has to come before they get the weapon.”

Once Tehran has the weapon, said Bolton, there is a risk of retaliation with nuclear capability “and that’s why Israel is in danger – it is a very small country and two or three nuclear weapons (and) there is no more country.”

Bolton was of the view that Iran’s response “will be a lot more measured than people think.”


Israel is developing an interceptor for short-range ballistic threats


22 Jan. Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the US Raytheon, which developed the Patriot, are working on a cost-effective system that can intercept middle to long-range, low-cost rockets and missiles threatening civilian populations, like the Hizballah’s Katyusha rockets. Expected to be deployed not before 2012, the system dubbed “Stunner,” was unveiled by Rafael on Jan. 22. The Stunner will be part of multi-layer missile interceptor system for defending Israel against short-range ballistic tactical threats, along with the Iron Dome which is two years from completion and the heavy-duty Arrow.


As trucks bring Gaza fuel, medicines and food from Israel – Palestinians fire 17 missiles Tuesday at Israeli targets


22 Jan. No casualties were reported in Sderot where 10 Qassam missiles exploded or S. Ashkelon which took two hits Tuesday, Jan. 22. Gaza’s power station is working again, powered by Israeli fuel.

Monday night, defense minister Ehud Barak caved in to outside pressures and gave a “one-time” order to resume the heavy fuel and medicines deliveries to the Gaza Strip after two days’ shutdown over a hail of 40-50 missiles a day. Neither the foreign ministry nor the army spokesman was geared to fend off the impact of Hamas’ telegenic darkness-in-Gaza, humanitarian crisis stunts. By the time they protested that Israel under heavy missile fire was feeding Gaza 75 percent of its electricity and its hospitals (unlike those in Arab countries) were caring for dozens of Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip, no one was listening.


Hamas threatens mass march to smash through Israel’s Erez crossing for “return to Ashkelon”


24 Jan. Hamas PM Ismail Haniya’s adviser Ahdmad Yousef announced Thursday, Jan. 24, that the terrorist organization’s next step after overrunning Egyptian northern Sinai was a march by half a million Palestinians from Gaza through the blocked Erez crossing to Israel to “recover their towns,” like Ashkelon.


Mubarak pulls border forces out of N. Sinai, Washington evacuates US MFO unit from El Arish


24 Jan. Announcing that Egypt would not expel the hundreds of thousands of Gazan Palestinians who continue to crossed the broken border fence into N. Sinai, President Hosni Mubarak redeployed his special border force to points south of El Arish. This left under the control of Hamas-led Palestinian terrorist organizations and al Qaeda a northern Sinai enclave roughly twice the area of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

American forces and equipment withdrew from the Multi-force Organization base at Al Gura northeast of al Arish after the Egyptian high command was informed that Hamas had begun moving some of its elite units to its new stronghold.

Israeli officials continue to treat the crisis as Egypt’s problem. But senior military sources told debkafile that by demolishing the 10-km concrete barrier dividing the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Sinai, Hamas has acquired a new stronghold outside Israel’s military reach while their missiles and guns retain access to Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip.

They wonder why defense minister Ehud Barak has not cut short his attendance at the Economic Forum in Switzerland when the blockade he ordered on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip – but for fuel and other necessities – had become futile.


Hamas Sinai coup glorified at counter-Annapolis conference in Damascus


24 Jan. US and Israeli intelligence sources report that the Hamas coup in North Sinai was timed for the opening Wednesday, Jan. 23 of the Iran-Syrian-sponsored Palestinian National Congress in Damascus, called to discredit Mahmoud Abbas’ diplomatic track with Israel under the US aegis. The hard-line Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal opened the event with a speech glorifying his Gazan brothers’ feat as the greatest Palestinian achievement in years.

He declared that an “end to the occupation” in all parts of Palestine must take precedence over Palestinian statehood – a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s two-state thesis.

When US officials warned Hosni Mubarak to act expeditiously to restore border security and save Washington’s Palestinian strategy, the Egyptian president replied that his main worry was not the Palestinian issue but his own opposition adopting Hamas tactics and stir up trouble in his cities.


In first of two Palestinian attacks Thursday, an Israeli border guard was murdered by Fatah gunmen in Jerusalem


His female partner was left in serious condition with chest wounds from an attack by Fatah gunmen on their checkpoint outside Shuafat on the old road to Pisgat Zeev, Jerusalem, Thursday night Jan. 24. The two terrorists escaped. Large Israeli forces arrived on the scene and started a manhunt.

At Gush Etzion, southeast of Jerusalem, two Palestinian gunmen clad in Israeli security guards uniforms burst into the Makor Haim yeshiva armed with guns and knives. Two Israelis sustained light-to moderate stab wounds. One of the instructors snatched the gunman’s pistol and killed him in a struggle. Another instructor shot the second gunman dead.

Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades “Struggle and Return Platoons” claimed the Jerusalem attack and removing the slain border guard’s weapon.

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