A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending March 29, 2007

Rice counts on Israeli “glimmerings of a Palestinian state” to ward off anti-US moves at coming Arab summit


24 March: US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice holds talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority Sunday, March 25, after kicking off her latest Middle East tour at a conference with the foreign ministers of the “Arab Quartet” – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE – in Aswan, Egypt, Sat. March 24.

According to debkafile‘s Middle East sources, the US secretary’s plan faces many obstacles. Above all, the Saudi version of a political horizon is based on the concept that wide-ranging Israeli concessions to the Palestinians will wean Syrian president Bashar Assad, Hizballah and Hamas away from their alliance with Tehran. There is not the slightest sign of this happening. Just the reverse: Assad, Hassan Nasrallah, Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh are making hay from the double boost of solid Iranian support and the blandishments of US-backed Arab rulers.

Condoleezza Rice cannot look forward to much progress on the Israel-Palestinian diplomatic front, but her current Middle East tour may prevent the Arab summit in Riyadh carrying resolutions that contradict outright Washington’s Iraq and Iranian policies.


High alert at US and UK bases, Middle East armies on the ready for more Iranian reprisals


24 March: Our military sources report that Middle East and Persian Gulf nations as well as the US and UK are bracing for further Iranian marine, air or terrorist operations in Iraq and other places in reprisal for the sanctions measure before the UN Security Council in New York. On the ready too are the Saudi armed forces and some Israeli air and naval units.

According to Iranian sources the 15 British Royal navy seamen and marines which an Iranian warship seized with their commando craft Friday, March 23, have been taken to Tehran to explain their “aggressive action.”

debkafile‘s military sources say the incident was but a pretext for retaliatory action.

The Islamic Republic is also cautioning its Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates not to cooperate with Washington’s regional policies and to stay neutral in the US-Iran dispute.


Rice launches shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Palestinians


25 March: After her talks in Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas and in Jerusalem with PM Ehud Olmert, the US secretary of state indicated she had undertaken a shuttle mission between Israel and the Palestinians while promoting an inter-Arab dialogue via Saudi Arabia.

This dialogue leaves Israel and the anti-Hamas boycott promoted by prime minister Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni, trailing far behind the momentum Rice and the Saudis are pushing forward. It opens up a US-Arab channel that bypasses direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations and circles round the impasse posed by Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Hamas is introduced through the back door to the Arab side of the negotiating table – first with the US, then Israel.

The support of the Damascus-sponsored Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was secured by Saudi Arabia in advance of the summit.

The Olmert government is being hustled into a negotiating process in which Israel will stand alone against adversaries without choices or diplomatic leeway. By throwing all its diplomatic and military clout behind the Saudi peace plan, Washington places Jerusalem in a take-it-or-leave it vice: Taking it means shrinking Israel back to the pre-1967 lines and giving up the long-promised “secure and recognizable boundaries;” losing historic Jerusalem and settling millions of Palestinian refugees in its attenuated territory.

Rejecting the Saudi plan would entail a showdown with Washington.

To talk Israel round, the US secretary is presenting the US-Saudi initiative as a component of her government’s master plan for Iran. This takes the wind out of the sails of prime minister Olmert and foreign minister Livni, whose policy has been to relegate the Iranian nuclear issue to the care of the US and international community.

There is no progress on the release of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit or even access to him after nine months.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is flown by Israeli military helicopter over central Israel and the Israel-West Bank defense barrier


26 March: He said on landing that he now has a better understanding of Israel’s security problems. Ban’s program Monday started with talks with prime minister Ehud Olmert and a meeting with the families of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers: Gideon Shalit, seized nine months ago by Hamas-led raiders, and the two men snatched by Hizballah, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

The UN secretary promised to his utmost efforts to secure their release and asked for patience. He was later escorted around Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial. The abducted soldiers’ families sent a message of support and hope to the relatives of the 15 British seamen captured at gunpoint by an Iranian warship last Friday.


Condoleezza Rice sells Israeli PM Olmert her Middle East initiative based on Arab summit resolutions


26 March: Earlier Monday, the US secretary of state called off the Monday night press conference to launch her initiative. In a second round of talks with Olmert, she finally overcame his objections to the creation of a US-Arab-Israeli mechanism for peace talks based on the resolutions reached at the Arab League summit convening in Riyadh.

The summit will approve the Saudi peace plan without any of the modifications requested by Israel. Yet the US secretary argued that Israel has nothing to lose by engaging Arab representatives and would only improve its image. Olmert asked for the encounters to take place at the senior level of foreign ministers, in order to convince the public that his government had not been browbeaten into a concession contrary to national interests. But Rice could not make this promise.

In Riyadh, meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers preparing the summit had already determined the mechanism and forum for the talks with Israel. They have opted for the UN Security Council and Middle East Quartet as sponsors, convinced that both bodies are powerful enough to impose a settlement on Israel. The US Secretary informed Olmert that she does not support this. They also demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Regarding the Saudi peace plan, Israeli opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the clause calling for the return of Palestinian refugees as a threat to Israel’s existence.


26 March: Israel tests the Arrow anti-missile missile system’s improved electronic networks


A new jihad video threatens attacks on Germany unless its troops are pulled out of Afghanistan


26 March: German government agencies warn the terrorist threat to the country is the greatest in recent years. The new video, signed by the “Voice of the Caliphate,” is compared to the al Qaeda warnings to Spain ahead of the Madrid railway bombings two years ago. It has aroused concern in Berlin for the forthcoming G-8 summit taking place at Heligendamm in June.


More than 10,000 US personnel, two aircraft carriers and 100 warplanes begin big demonstration of force in Gulf


27 March: debkafile‘s military sources note that the exercise was launched March 27 the day before the Arab League summit opens in Riyadh, to demonstrate the Bush administration’s determination not to let Iran block the Strait of Hormuz to oil exports from the Persian Gulf, or continue its nuclear program.

Taking part are the USS Stennis and USS Eisenhower strike forces.

With Iran’s Revolutionary Guards one week into their marine maneuvers, military tensions in the Gulf region are skyrocketing and boosting world oil prices.

Intelligence sources in Moscow claim to have information that a US strike against Iranian nuclear installations has been scheduled for April 6 at 0040 hours. The Russian sources say the US operation, code-named “Operation Bite,” will last no more than 12 hours and consist of missile and aerial strikes devastating enough to set Tehran’s nuclear program several years back.

The maneuver also occurs four days after 14 British seamen and one crew-woman were seized by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards warship.

The warplanes are flying simulated attack maneuvers on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and seeking mines, off the coast of Iran.


Incoming Israeli chief of staff says terrorist military build-up in Gaza calls for rapid and urgent solution


28 March: In his first appearance before the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee, Lt.-Gen Gaby Ashkenazi did not specify what solution he had in mind, but it was presumed to be military. The chief of staff declared: What happened in the Lebanon war will not happen to the IDF again. Next time it will be very clear who the winner is.

The general said one of his first priorities in the immediate future is to block the transfer of terrorist weapons and technology from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

debkafile‘s military sources estimate that Ashkenazi may be too late. The technology for the manufacture of missiles and weapons is already located in the West Bank. What remains to be done is to prevent the transfer of sophisticated hardware.


Saudi King Abdullah opens Arab summit with attack on US deployment in Iraq as “illegitimate foreign occupation”


28 March: debkafile reports that in an interview before the summit opened March 28, Saudi FM Saud al Faisal set limits on Arab willingness to help US Middle East efforts. The prince said: “What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done.”

He went on to say: “If Israel refuses (Ed. the Saudi peace plan), that means it doesn’t want peace and places everything back into the hands of fate …not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the ‘lords of war.'”


Arab summit ending in Riyadh strengthens radical Iran and Syria and recognizes Palestinian Hamas


29 March: The conference winding down Thursday, March 29, ended the isolation of the two Middle East governments backing anti-US fighting elements in Iraq, fomenting Hizballah’s war effort against Israel and aiding Palestinian terror.

The Arab front, portrayed by American and Israeli policy-makers as an effective “moderate” barrier against Iranian expansionism and nuclear aspirations, jumped aboard the radical bandwagon.

A large Iranian delegation, led by foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, was welcomed. None of the Arab rulers mentioned, let alone castigated, Tehran’s seizure of 15 British navy personnel five days earlier.

Saudi King Abdullah publicly buried the hatchet with Syrian president Bashar Assad and announced to general acclaim that the next Arab League summit would be held in Damascus.

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, flanked by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, demanded that Israel accept the resurrected Saudi “peace plan” as it is, or risk war. He also called for an Arab panel led by Saudi Arabia to work with the Middle East Quartet on a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No room was left for an active Israeli role in the take-it-or-leave-it “peace process.”

The end-product of the Arab summit of 2007 was the collapse of the so-called “moderate Arab front” on which the Bush administration and Olmert government had banked heavily. The line emerging from the conference was strongly anti-American and anti-Israel.

Its host, Abdullah, publicly lambasted the US deployment in Iraq as “illegitimate foreign occupation.” The Saudi monarch also set up a meeting between the Iranian delegation and the two Palestinian leaders to explore Saudi-Iranian-Palestinian cooperation for reconstruction in the Palestinian Authority.

Thus did Iranian arming of Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including the governing Hamas, win the blessing of the “moderate” Saudi ruler and the Arab consensus.

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