A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending Jan. 25, 2007

US Task Force 16 launched to break up widespread web of Iranian penetration of Iraq


20 January: According to US News and World Report, the special operations force, created to target Iranians trafficking arms to and training Shiite militias – notably Mogtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army – is modeled on Task Force 15, whose mission is to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents. It is formed of SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers and CIA operatives and operates in line with the Bush get-tough policy with the networks operated by Iran and Syria.


Two rival Palestinian rivals meet in Damascus under Iranian-Syrian-Libyan aegis


21 January: debkafile reports that Mahmoud Abbas finally agreed to talk to Khaled Meshaal Sunday night, 24 hours after his first refusal, under the influence of three matchmakers: Iranian national security adviser Ali Larijani, who arrived in Damascus for the purpose, Syrian president Bashar Asad and cousin of Libyan ruler, intelligence chief Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam.

By this about-turn, Abbas upended the effort made by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice earlier this month to keep the Palestinians out of the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah orbit and in the pro-Western Arab camp along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

By his action, he also showed contempt for the understandings he reached with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert following which Israel transferred $100 m in frozen Palestinian revenues to Abbas this week.

The top-level involvement of Libya’s Qaddafi clan in the latest Iranian-Syrian-Palestinian enterprise in Damascus is an ill omen, signifying Qaddafi has decided to hark back to his extremist orientation and work with Iran and Syria.


Moqtada Sadr moves to avert Iraqi-US crackdown on his Mehdi Army militia in Baghdad


21 January: The Sadrist parliamentary bloc of 30 and its six ministers ended their two-month boycott Sunday, Jan. 21, clearing the way for Shiite PM Nouri al-Maliki to muster majority support for the planned US-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad. Moqtada Sadr hoped thereby to save his Mehdi Army militia from being targeted as the source of much of the sectarian violence besetting the capital.

Sheik Mahmoud El Hassani, spokesman of Sadr’s militia, ordered all 20,000 Palestinians living in Iraq to quit the country or face death. He said the Palestinians, for whom Saddam Hussein provided housing and money, had brought their suffering on themselves by joining forces with Sunni extremists and al Qaeda and for killing Shiites in the Saddam era.

Moqtada Sadr has ordered his men to melt into the 2.5 million inhabitants of Sadr City and hide their weapons. His tactic is to keep his powder dry in the coming months until the Iraqi-US forces massing Baghdad pull back. He will then re-activate his militia and send them into battle to take over parts of the capital. He hopes the US and Iraqi forces, seeing the Shiites falling back, will turn their guns on the Sunni insurgents instead.

When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, there were 40,000 Palestinians living in Baghdad, most in the Haifa Street district, today a Sunni insurgent-al Qaeda stronghold. More than half have been driven out and killed.


The USS Stennis carrier with thousands of troops and 80 warplanes aboard is heading for Persian Gulf


21 January: Saturday, Jan 20, the ship picked up 2,500 troops at San Diego. The Stennis Strike Group has still to collect two ships at Hawaii before heading east with a complement of 6,500 US soldiers.


Two bomb blasts in Baghdad kill 7 people, injure 20 Sunday


21 January: The Iraqi interior ministry spokesman reported its police commandoes were dropped by US helicopters Saturday in the Dora district of Baghdad to raid two houses taken over by the Sunni Omar Brigade, an al-Qaeda-linked group. He said 15 insurgents were killed and five captured in the fighting.

debkafile‘s military sources report that the Dora attack, like Friday’s raid in eastern Baghdad which captured three Mehdi Army aides to Moqtada Sadr, is not yet part of the general crackdown on militias for which US forces are being beefed up. They are pinpoint operations carried out on the strength of incoming intelligence.

A brigade of 3,200 members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, part of the buildup, has arrived in Baghdad..


A shakeup of the general staff expected by incoming Israeli chief of staff


22 January: debkafile‘s military sources reveal that Maj. Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, who bowed out of the race for the top slot, is now asking to give up the post of dep. chief of staff. He is eyeing the job of chief of military intelligence, held currently by Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin, an airman like the outgoing chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who quit over the Lebanon war.

Kaplinsky believes he will have better rapport with the new chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi; both are infantry men who served in the Golani Brigade. He sees his move as giving the new man an opening for picking his top team.

Dep. defense minister Ephraim Sneh commented on the Ashkenazi appointment that his mission will be to prepare the army to “win the next round.” This was the first admission from a member of the Olmert government that the first round of the Lebanon conflict was not exactly a victory and that a second round is anticipated.


There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Israeli army – Ex-chief of staff Moshe Yaalon


22 January:, Lt. Gen (ret.) Yaalon stressed that the difficulties of the Lebanon War were the outcome of political and military mismanagement on the part of the prime minister and defense minister. A change of command will put the army on its feet again.

He devoted a large part of his lecture to challenging the proposition that the Israel-Arab dispute was caused by the “Israeli occupation,” or that Israeli concessions for creating a Palestinian state would end the dispute. On the contrary, he argued, this concept thwarts fresh thinking for a solution.

Yaalon said the confrontation with radical Islam has become a clash of civilizations which did not spring from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Al Qaeda was not the product of this conflict and solving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute will not bring stability to the Middle East. The search for a solution now must stop and make way for far-thinking strategic concepts and vision. We have to win this struggle, he said, but there is a long way to go.

Regarding the threat from Iran, Gen. Yaalon is of the opinion that a confrontation with the Islamic regime is unavoidable. Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and other nations will never achieve stability unless the Iranian regime is crushed.


Maj. Gen. (ret) Gaby Ashkenazi, 53, is to be Israel’s next chief of staff after Olmert finally endorses Peretz nominee


22 January: Ashkenazi quit the armed forces eighteen months ago as deputy chief of staff after serving four years as OC Northern Command and 30 years in uniform. Six months ago, he was appointed director general of the defense ministry by Peretz. From 1972, Ashkenazi served in the Golani Brigade. He climbed the ranks to take over its command in 1986. As a young infantryman he fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and took part in the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976. Ashkenazi also served in the 1982 Lebanon War. The new chief of staff has distinguished himself as a specialist in large-scale ground and armored battles – in sharp contrast to the general he replaces, Lt. Gen Dan Halutz, who came to the job from command of the air force.

Ashkenazi attended US Marine Corps training courses, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Kennedy School of Government and a degree in business administration.


Forty armed, black-clad gunmen raid a Fatah-owned holiday resort in Gaza Tuesday


23 January: Claiming to be members of al Qaeda, they planted explosives and announced that the proprietor, Mahmoud Abbas’s lieutenant Mohammed Dahlan, was their target henceforth.


In a lengthy J’accuse, President Moshe Katzav declares his innocence of charges of rape and abuse of power


24 January: In his first statement to the press, Wednesday, Jan. 24, the Israeli president accused the media of trial by lynch, the police of intimidating witnesses and the state attorney of unfair tactics to generate a climate of guilt around him. Katzav vowed to fight until his last breath to prove his innocence of the charges against him, which include breach of trust, obstruction of justice, harassment of a witness and fraud. The charges rest on the testimony of four women. The next day a Knesset committee approved a three-month leave of absence for the president by a vote of 13 to 11. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik automatically took over as acting president. Katzav will now be given a special hearing of his case before the state attorney before an indictment is filed. Prime minister Ehud Olmert joined the widespread demand for the president to resign without delay.


The long absence from public activity of Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is raising popular questions


24 January: This is reported by the state news agency in Tehran. All queries are greeted by the official statement that the ayatollah is down with flu.


Lebanon’s pro-Syrian opposition is going forward with its revolt to seize government in Beirut


24 January: Our sources in Beirut report that the Hizballah-led bloc’s effort to carry out the first revolution this century to overthrow a pro-Western Middle East government is designed to go forward in calculated stages, rather than a continuous operation. On Day one Tuesday, 3 Lebanese were killed, 133 were injured and the country was paralyzed in disturbances staged by the anti-government bloc, headed by Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and pro-Syrian allies, Gen. Michel Aoun and the north Lebanese Faranjieh clan.

On arriving in Paris Wednesday, Jan. 24, prime minister Fouad Siniora charged that Lebanon has been paying the price of “imposed decisions coming from outside, like Iran and Syria.” Before he left, he vowed not to surrender to violence.

debkafile‘s Beirut sources report the crippling of normal business in Lebanon Tuesday was orchestrated step by step by means of text messages to the 300,000 cell phones distributed to the local ringleaders. The Lebanese army and security forces by and large cooperated with the pro-Syrian demonstrators.

Tuesday night, a senior intelligence source described the crisis in grim terms to debkafile: “Today they laid siege to government offices and the premises of the anti-Syrian government parties, burning tires and cars,” he said. “Wednesday, they start burning government buildings and the headquarters of anti-Syrian movements. The Siniora government does not command sufficient loyal security personnel to stem the tide of more than a million pro-Syrian demonstrators. Only outside military intervention can save the day, but I don’t see it coming.”


The US will soon present evidence of Iranian agents’ hostile activities in Iraq


25 January: US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack made statements to this effect Wednesday, Jan 24, amid peaking US-Iran military tensions over Iraq. The ambassador added that the charges against the Revolutionary Guards al Quds Brigade agents detained in Irbil Jan. 11 would be made public. McCormack spoke of “solid evidence” that Iranian agents sent by the Iranian government were working with individuals and groups in Iraq “to harm our troops.”

(DEBKA-Net-Weekly 286 of Jan 19 revealed some of this evidence)

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