A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending March 15, 2007
Israeli military and government sources report Syria has positioned thousands of rockets on its border with Israel
9 March: Quoting three Israeli military and two government sources, the French news agency AFP reports the Syrian army has accelerated its deployment of medium and long-range rockets capable of striking major towns across northern Israel.
debkafile‘s sources note the timing of the unusual disclosure, the day before the Iraqi neighbors’ conference in Baghdad. It appears to be aimed at deterring Syria from being tempted into military action to ease the sense of isolation which the Baghdad meeting will tend to aggravate.
Most of the Syrian rockets positioned on Israel’s border are 220 mm with a range of 70 km and 302 mm rockets with a reach of 100 km. The latter could reach Israel’s third largest port city of Haifa and its industries, as well as Tiberias and Kiryat Shemona.
Many are hidden in underground chambers and camouflaged silos. Israeli sources said Syria had built a system of fortified underground tunnels along its border with Israel. They also believed Syria had deployed several FROG rocket launchers with a 550-kilogram warhead and 70-km range in areas between the border and the capital Damascus, 40 km away.
Syria concentrates most of its long-range surface missiles in the north. Its decision to bring them so close to the border may indicate that Damascus is seriously thinking of attacking Israel.
debkafile‘s military sources report that this redeployment indicates Syria is anticipating an Israeli response to a potential attack by moving tank and armored infantry across the border to strike the rocket formations. The FROG rockets would be used against this incursion.
debkafile has reported that Russia was selling Syria thousands more advanced anti-tank missiles capable of piercing tank armor of the types which reached Hizballah from Syria in last year’s conflict.
Bowing to Washington, Olmert agrees to go directly and unconditionally to final-status talks with Palestinians
11 March: Prime minister Ehud Olmert gave away key Israeli policy points in his talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem Sunday, March 11, according to debkafile‘s Middle East and Washington sources.
The Bush administration says the wait for the Palestinians to comply with roadmap conditions to recognize Israel and renounce violence is over. Whether a Palestinian government is led by Hamas or shared with Fatah, Israel must now initiate final settlement talks with Abbas. President Bush was won over to the Saudi and Jordanian view on this point as leverage for their cooperation on the Iraq and Iranian issues.
The prime minister therefore announced he was seriously considering accepting the 2002 Saudi peace plan, knowing the Saudis had refused to introduce any revisions at the coming Arab summit.
Abbas told Olmert what was expected of him:
1. An unconditional Israeli pledge to refrain from attacking the Gaza Strip and its acceptance of a “mutual” ceasefire.
2. No promise to obtain the release of Hamas hostage Gilead Shalit, just an effort.
3. The “mutual ceasefire” is the first step to fast-track Israel-Palestinian negotiations on its extension to the West Bank.
debkafile reports that Israeli military and intelligence chiefs are trying to impress on the prime minister that the cessation of Israel’s intense counter-terror operations on the West Bank will result in an eruption of a fresh wave of Palestinian suicide bombings inside Israel.
4. Further relaxations of security restrictions on Palestinian movements in the West Bank. 5. In May or June of 2007, Israel will enter into direct negotiations with the Palestinians on a final -status framework.
Al Qaeda-Gaza declares war on Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah
12 March: As Palestinian and Israeli leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert finished discussing the Gaza Strip’s fate Sunday, March 11, events showed how little they and Hamas too are in control.
Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman Zawahri declared war on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
An hour later, the Islamic Brotherhood of Justice (another name for al Qaeda’s operational branch in the Gaza Strip) announced the launching of Operation White Land against the political and military leaders of Fatah and Hamas with four missions:.
1. Targeting the most senior figures of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders.
2. Focusing on group abductions rather than individuals, especially symbols of political corruption.
3. The beheading of members of these groups. Their executions and confessions will be videotaped and aired as they are in Iraq.
4. Blowing up Internet cafes and businesses selling alcohol; putting prostitutes to death to cleanse the streets of Gaza of prostitution.
Russia announces indefinite delays in Bushehr nuclear project, accuses Iran of abusing its goodwill
12 March: The contractor, Atomstroiexport Moscow, said the first fuel deliveries to Iran’s nuclear reactor would not go ahead as planned this month and the September launch date would not be met. Moscow and Tehran have been embroiled in a payment row. Officials in Moscow accuse Tehran of exploiting Russia’s diplomatic support against the US drive for harsh sanctions over its nuclear weapons aspirations, while offering nothing in return. “If they do not respond to the questions of the International Atomic Agency,” said an informed source in Moscow, “let them answer for themselves.”
Saudi Arabia rejects Israeli calls to amend its 2002 Middle East peace plan
13 March: Foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal described as “ludicrous” some Israeli leaders’ recent suggestions that they are open to discussing the plan – with certain reservations. Until now, it was totally rejected by Jerusalem. Sunday, prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz said they were ready to take the plan seriously. However, the Saudis refuse to hear of any moderations being introduced in the text when it is re-launched at the Arab summit in Riyadh on March 28.
State inquiry panel on 2006 Lebanon war will name names in interim report released in mid-April
13 March: The commission headed by Judge Winograd Tuesday contradicted the spate of leaks and affirmed that its interim findings will include judgments on the performances in the first week of the conflict of prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Amir Peretz and ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz. It will also deal with the quality of the government’s diplomatic decisions on the terms for a UN ceasefire and the wisdom of the decision to broaden the ground offensive the day before the truce went into effect.
After this announcement, two ruling parties, the prime minister’s Kadima and the defense minister’s Labor, are reviewing their options considering that both their leaders might be forced to resign.
What Has Tehran to Gain from Hizballah’s New Face?
13 March: For the first time in its 20-year history as a reviled international kidnapper, Hizballah wants its representatives to hold direct talks with Israel.
The demand interrupted the efforts by a German BND intelligence go-between to negotiate the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
If the Olmert government responds positively, it will also be the first time that Israeli military intelligence officers have ever come face to face with Hizballah’s military officials.
Before deciding how to respond, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert asked for intelligence evaluations on what is behind the approach.
It could be a trap. But it could also be an attempt from Tehran to squeeze out information on Ali Reza Asgari’s disappearance.
There were slips in the TV interviews Ziba Ahmadi, Asgari’s wife, their three children and his brother, gave on television this week to belie reports that he had asked for asylum in the West for himself and family.
Mrs. Asgari said he had been missing since Dec. 9, 2006, whereas he was generally reported to have disappeared in Istanbul on Feb. 7.
His brother Davoud admitted that Asgari had two wives.
Another possibility is that Hizballah is seeking respectability to solidify its pretensions as a regular Lebanese political party and live down its terrorist past.
Maaleh Adummim east of Jerusalem stands on very little formerly private Palestinian land
14 March: A military database disclosed in court that only 0.5% of the town of 30,000 was built on private Palestinian land. The data was presented to rebut the claim presented to court by the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now that 86% of the area was stood on Palestinian land.
European Union backs Syria’s demand to regain Golan from Israel
14 March: EU foreign policy executive Javier Solana offered European help to recover the territory which Syria lost to Israel in 1967 at his meeting with Syrian president Bashar Assad in Damascus Wednesday. Damascus has made Western, including US, cooperation against Israel the price for playing its part in ending the violence in Iraq.
Israel’s strategic threats minister Avigdor Lieberman accused certain European governments of willingness to sacrifice Israel on the altar of their economic interests. Therefore, the world takes no effective action against Iran.
Eurovision contest approves Israeli Teapacks entry Push the Button after controversy over its possible political content
The Sword of Islam (al Qaeda) kidnapped and is holding BBC reporter Alan Johnston
14 March: Our counter-terror sources report that Johnston, 44, was snatched Monday, March 12, in Gaza City, by the same group which together with Hamas kidnapped the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit in June 2006. It is led by the brothers Mumtaz and Muetaz Durmush.
Palestinian security units have been going through the motions of hunting for the missing journalist, when they know exactly who is holding him. Although it is an open secret, the Palestinian authorities, like the British, who maintain a broad intelligence presence in the Gaza Strip, and Israel, all feign ignorance about the party behind the kidnap.
The BBC is counting on a deal for freeing Johnston. Every few weeks, the Durmush brothers and the al Qaeda group they head kidnap a Westerner as a hostage, freeing him for a ransom of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In this way, the US, Britain, other European governments and Israel surrender abjectly to a virulent form of al Qaeda terror instead of fighting it.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession inflates his role
15 March: Our al Qaeda analysts strongly doubt the “A to Z” share he claimed – according to the transcripts of three military hearings at Guantanamo Bay released by the Pentagon – in the 9/11 bombing, the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl or the 2002 Bali and Mombasa bombing attacks.
debkafile has Mohammed down as al Qaeda’s chief of recruiting and technical, (not tactical) logistics, in which capacity he would have been familiar with all the organization’s world networks. But he was not chief of operations at the time of 9/11.
Mohammed’s capture in 2003 gave away Pakistani ISI links with al Qaeda. The intelligence service would not have betrayed him to the CIA (who he claims tortured him) without the nod from al Qaeda, who had no further use for him.
Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza mar Palestinian unity government accord due for legislature’s approval Saturday
15 March: Israel will boycott all the new ministers, including the new Fatah office-holders. The Olmert government faults Mahmoud Abbas for accepting a power-sharing accord dominated by Hamas, whose platform continues to deny Israel recognition and refuses to terminate violence. Abbas also reneged on his promise to get the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit released before forming a unity administration.
debkafile reports Abbas and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh (who retains the post) worked against the stopwatch to get their Saudi-brokered unity act together in time for the Riyadh Arab summit on March 28.
The fragility of their deal was apparent on the day of its signing: Wednesday, March 14, internecine gunfights were sparked by the assassination of Hamas’ Gaza commander Ala Haddad in a hail of bullets by the Muhammad Dahlan’s Fatah death squads. The air rang with gunfire as Abbas and Haniyeh shook hands in Gaza City.
If anything, Abbas lost points; any agreements or deals he may conclude with Israel will be subject to ratification by the Palestinian national assembly which has a Hamas majority. But because the unity deal is in the bag, the Palestinians will be represented at the Arab summit this month by a Hamas prime minister.