A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Two Weeks Ending March 8, 2007

The Vanishing Iranian General: Did He Leave or Was He Taken?


2 March :Ali Reza Asgari, 63, Iran’s dep. defense minister for eight years up until 2005 – and before that a prominent Revolutionary Guards General, has also been identified as the officer in charge of Iranian undercover operations in central Iraq, according to debkafile‘s intelligence and Iranian sources.

He is believed to have been linked to – or participated in – the armed group which stormed the US-Iraqi command center in Karbala south of Baghdad Jan. 20 and snatched five American officers. They were shot outside the Shiite city.

The Turkish foreign ministry said after his disappearance in Istanbul: “It is a very sensitive intelligence matter and the Interior Ministry is dealing with this issue.”

The Iranian general’s arrival at Ataturk international airport on a flight from Damascus is recorded at border control, but he never reached the hotel.

Instead, he booked himself into the more modest and cheaper Hotel Ghilan.

A police official in Istanbul said: “We are trying to find out whether he left or was taken. Clearly the reservation made for him at the luxurious Ceylan Hotel was made to mislead. Tehran applied to Interpol, which has issued a yellow bulletin.

debkafile adds: Tehran sees the hand of US undercover agencies or contract gunmen and believes Washington has stepped up its war against Iranian officers running Tehran’s clandestine operations in Iraq. The kidnapping of an Iranian general outside Iraq would expand President Bush’s permission for the capture or killing of Iranian agents helping Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda murder Americans in Iraq.


Russia hits back for disclosures of its sophisticated weapons deliveries to Syria with demand for Israel to join Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – NPT


2 March: Defense minister Sergey Lavrov’s comment to the Syrian News Agency Friday was reported by the foreign ministry in Moscow. debkafile‘s sources report that Lavrov’s comment was released in reprisal for disclosures in Israel 24 hours earlier that Moscow was selling sophisticated anti-air and anti-tank missile systems to Syria with Iranian funding.

The Russian minister said Israel, who has never admitted nuclear status, must join the NPT if the Middle East is to become a nuclear-free zone. Israel has consistently refused to join the treaty and submit to international nuclear watchdog control.


A high-ranking US official to visit Damascus for first time in two years


3 March: Asst. Secretary of State Ellen Sayerbrew will arrive in Syria in the coming weeks as part of a regional tour to deal with humanitarian issues relating to Iraqi refugees, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.


UN investigator Serge Brammertz arrives in Saudi Arabia

Earlier, debkafile reported Saudi-Iranian accord on Lebanon


4 March: King Abdullah has invited rival Lebanese politicians to Riyadh to hammer out a settlement. The political crisis in Beirut has paralyzed government since Hizballah and pro-Syrian factions launched a campaign to oust prime minister Fouad Siniora three months ago.

debkafile reports one of the issues on which the Saudi monarch and visiting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reached agreement Saturday, March 3, was the acceptance of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri..


Hamas recycles Gush Katif rubble to fortify 50 sq. km of war bunkers on Gaza Strip-Egyptian border


5 March: Beneath the Rafah-Philadelphi border region between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai, the Palestinian Hamas has built a vast underground stronghold. A separate series of secret tunnels snakes under another Gaza border into western Israel.

Senior Israeli military sources describe the Rafah-Philadelphi warren as spreading over 50 sq. km. It consists of a net of multipurpose, well-furnished tunnels, designed by Syrian and Hizballah army engineers for combat against tanks and armored infantry and equipped with thousands of the latest anti-tank missiles. “They should never have been allowed to build this fortress. We should have stopped them long before,” said one officer.

Rather than feeding the Palestinian population, Hamas is sinking every incoming cent in its war preparations.

“We are no longer looking at dirt trenches that cave in but military bunkers in every sense, modeled on the ones used by Hizballah in southern Lebanon last summer. Destroying this monster facility or putting it out of action at this point will mean heavy casualties.”

Composed of narrow subterranean tunnels that link the broader passages connecting Gaza and Sinai, the Hamas facility provides passage for troop reinforcements and ordnance supplies.

Their walls are made of reinforced concrete that can withstand shelling and bombs. Ceilings and walls are lined with concrete debris taken from the ruins of Gush Katif, the Israeli community whose homes the Israeli army tore down during the pullback from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Hundreds of laborers employed by Hamas have hauled 30,000 blocks and chunks of concrete from the rubble of Ganei Tal for lining the walls of their bunkers. The Hamas fortress has installed the water pipe system of Netzarim and Netzer Sereni.


Improved Iranian surface missiles bring 250,000 more Israeli civilians within range of Gaza terrorists.


6 March: According to debkafile‘s military sources, the two missiles which reached the southern part of Ashkelon Tuesday, March 6, were launched in range-finding exercises for the new weapons that were recently delivered by Iran. Four Israelis were slightly wounded.

Their manufacturers, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have overcome the snag which held the radius of Palestinian missiles down to 12-13 km from Gaza and upgraded it to 19 km. Another quarter of a million civilians are now threatened, including the populations of Ashkelon, Netivot, Ofakim and the outskirts of Kiryat Gat, as well as important military bases in central Israel.

Hamas and Jihad Islami, which took delivery of the new weapons, can now match Hizballah attacks on northern Israel with missile barrages against Israel’s Southwest and its central heartland.

Tehran, Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami are building up the Palestinian war machine gun by gun, missile by missile and bunker by bunker, unhindered by Israeli military intervention.

As the Olmert government’s negligence in preparing the north for the Lebanon war last summer unfolds, another quarter of a million Israelis find themselves unprotected in the face of the expanding Palestinian threat from Gaza.

Olmert and his ministers have not delivered on pledges of generous allocations for protective measures and better shelters, especially for the schools of long- beleaguered Sderot.

For the moment, the Palestinian terrorist groups are only firing scattered missile volleys; they are not yet ready to let loose against Israeli targets because –

1. Hamas and Jihad Islami are not yet ready to show their hand. They know that as long as no one is hurt, the Israeli army is under orders to stand aside.

2. Their leaders do not want to provoke an Israeli invasion of Gaza at this time.

Neither has yet perfected its war preparations. More funding and arms consignments are awaited from Iran, to top up their military arsenal and complete their underground fortress.


Israel’s Rafael wins contract to supply 60 new Golan multipurpose armored vehicles to US Marine Corps in Iraq


6 March: The Golan, developed in partnership with US PVI and the Israeli Merkava tank program, can withstand armor-piercing machine gun and rocket fire as well as mines and medium IED bomb blasts.

Designed for asymmetric (terrorist, guerrilla) warfare, the Golan was first tested in Sep. 2006, shortly after the Lebanon War.

The versatile wheeled vehicle carries up to 10 troops in a highly protected environment and can be adapted as a fighting vehicle, mobile command post or ambulance. Fifty percent of the carrier’s 15-ton weight is dedicated to protection. The V shaped hull has a “floating floor” panel to mitigate the blast effects of mines. The basic design can come with extra “plug-ins” such as counter sniper systems and reactive armor or a remotely controlled weapon station.

The $37m deal is part of the US program to purchase 40,000 armored vehicles.


Knesset Committee hears the State Controller’s truncated interim report on home front mismanagement in Lebanon War


6 March: The Controller Micha Lindenstrauss accepted the High Court ruling to postpone presentation of his findings and recommendations to a later date, after Attorney General Menahem Mazuz declined to represent him at the High Court hearing of the Home Front commander’s petition against the Knesset session.

The Knesset State Control Committee’s chairman Zvulun Orlev (opp. NRP) bowed to heavy pressure from prime minister Ehud Olmert’s office and confined hearing Tuesday, March 6, to procedural matters.

The controller was forced to leave out his conclusions, recommendations and the names of the government figures and institutions singled out for harsh criticism.

Lindenstrauss listed by date the prime minister’s delaying tactics in submitting the necessary materials and protocols for compiling his report. Some documents are still withheld.

debkafile adds: Olmert’s muzzling tactics against the State Controller are generally seen as a warm-up for emasculating the Winograd commission’s comprehensive report on the government’s management of the Lebanon War, which is still to come this year.

This panel is widely expected to point a remorseless finger at the prime minister, defense ministry, interior minister, the chief of staff (who has since resigned) and the army’s home front command.


Nine American soldiers killed in two incidents north of Baghdad Monday


6 March: Six were killed by an exploding bomb near their vehicle on a combat mission in Salahuddin province, three by a roadside bomb in Diyala province. All nine were members of Task Force Lightning.

In Baghdad, at least 38 Iraqis died and 105 were injured by a suicide car bomb attack on a book market. In the most deadly day in weeks, gunmen also opened fire on Shiite pilgrims in separate incidents, killing at least seven. They were heading for shrines south of Baghdad.

Iraqi and US forces meanwhile pushed into the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City and established outposts. They encountered little resistance. debkafile reports Shiite militia leader Moqtada Sadr traveled earlier to Tehran with his top commanders for the duration of the US-Iraqi crackdown in Baghdad now in its third week. But 30 bullet-riddled bodies were found across Baghdad.


Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu calls for early elections


7 March: The electorate has lost confidence in the government after its failure in the Lebanon war and wants a new leadership, said former Likud prime minister Netanyahu Wednesday.

He accused prime minister Ehud Olmert of obstructing the state controller’s inquiry into the conduct of the home front by the army and the government in the conflict last summer. “How can the government draw lessons and correct faults if it refuses to hear what they are?” he said.

Netanyahu reported members of the ruling Kadima party who defected from Likud asking to rejoin.

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