A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending April 26, 2012

Barak asks Panetta for US bottom line with Iran

20 April. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrived in Washington Thursday, April 19 with tough questions for US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the administration’s dialogue with Iran, on the lines of, “What’s going on? Is there a deal? Don’t tell me what you have settled with the Iranians, just your minimal demands, your bottom line.”
The questions reflected Israel’s concern at being kept in the dark about US-Iranian back-track negotiations and American concessions, including President Barak Obama’s willingness to yield on full transparency and international nuclear watchdog inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites.

April 21, 2012 Briefs

  • Security Council approves 300 observers for Syria
    debkafile: There’s not much they can do since Russian objections have prevented them receiving their own patrol and air transport and forced them to depend on the Assad regime.
  • Iranian cleric threatens
    If the West extends sanctions, Tehran will quit negotiations, said Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
  • Israelis urged to leave Sinai at once over imminent terror threat
    Israel’s counterterrorism bureau warned Saturday of a terrorist plot against Israeli vacationers.
  • Tehran places certain Persian Gulf areas off-limits to US Navy
    Iran’s army chief Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi warns foreign forces that certain “red zones” in the Persian Gulf are off limits to US forces, in reference to two US aircraft carriers.

Iran rides high on nuclear concessions, wants sanctions ended

21 April. Praise for the Iranian negotiating team’s “achievements” at Istanbul along with a demand to end sanctions highlighted the sermon delivered on April 20 by the powerful provisional Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
Since the western side had officially accepted “Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment,” he said, the talks with the six world powers were a success for Iran. However, “if Western hostility continues by the stretch of sanctions and pressures, Iran will leave the negotiating table,” Ayatollah Jannati warned.
European sources expect the Obama administration to soon start ending sanctions in stages.
In his public address on the eve of the Day of the Holocaust and Remembrance, Wednesday, April 18, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said bluntly: “I will not hold back from telling the truth [about the Iranian nuclear threat] at the UN, in Washington and in Jerusalem.”

China steps back from supporting Assad

22 April. Beijing has distanced itself from the Assad regime, according to a secret exchange of messages with the Obama administration, revealed here exclusively by debkafile. China will no longer be a problem for America in dealing with Assad. That leaves only Russia as the last uncompromising backer of Bashar Assad, aside from Iran. Washington counts this change as a return on its nuclear appeasement of Tehran. The Chinese decided to accommodate US policy on Syria with a deep sigh of relief now that the loosening of the embargo on Iranian oil is in sight. China’s defection will not immediately bring Bashar Assad crashing down, but it is a vote of no-confidence by a key world power in his survivability..

April 23, 2012 Briefs

  • Iran’s oil ministry targeted for cyber attack
    Iran’s principal oil export terminal on Kharg island and other facilities including the oil ministry in Tehran were reportedly disconnected from the Internet Sunday after their computers were hit by a cyber attack. The virus succeeded in wiping data off some official servers and disabling much of Iran’s oil sector. debkafile: The attack was either invented or overstated by Iranian media.
  • Barak: Against supreme challenges, Israel must rely above all on itself
    Defense minister Ehud Barak said Israel is capable of contending with any near or distant enemy. It is the strongest nation within a 1,500-km radius thanks to its young people and their willingness to defend the nation’s sovereignty and future.
  • Iraqi PM in Tehran ahead of Six-Power-Iran nuclear talks May 23
    Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki visited Tehran Sunday. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said deepening Iranian-Iraqi ties would leave no room in the region for the US and Israel.
  • Turkey blocks Israel from NATO summit
    Despite calls from influential allies including the US, Turkey has vetoed Israel’s participation in the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21.
  • Egypt's Amr Moussa promises army voice in key policy body
    Egypt’s presidential frontrunner promises a new national security council will be a “power house on all issues of major priority for national life” with chairs for top military officers.

Hungry Syrian soldiers desert Golan defenses, prowl for food

23 April. Israeli border lookout points report that in the last two days, large groups of armed Syrian soldiers are seen deserting their Golan bases and prowling for water and food, after their regular supplies were stopped and redirected to units fighting anti-Assad rebels. They don’t ask Israeli soldiers for food, but parcels thrown across the fence vanish in a trice. The 5th Division posted in the Golan town of Quneitra has suffered the largest number of desertions, estimated at more than 1,500 officers and men, around 15 percent of the full complement. But hundreds of dropouts occur daily from the 15th, 9th and 7th Divisions stationed in central and southern Golan.
The district commands have meanwhile lost control of the Syrian-Israeli border deployment. Gangs, local and from across Syria’s eastern borders with Jordan and Iraq, were quick to realize the bases are unguarded and have begun stripping them of equipment and looting everything they can lay hands on. They are used as vehicles by Assad’s Sunni enemies to plant terrorist cells inside Syria.

April 24, 2012 Briefs

  • Israel mourns its Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror
    Memorial Day for the Fallen began Tuesday night with a ceremony at the Western Wall attended by the President, Chief of Staff and bereaved families. The country observed one minute’s silence. Places of entertainment were closed for 24 hours. Since the year 1860, Israel has lost 22,993 men and women in war hostilities, 126 in the outgoing year. In addition, 2,477 civilians including 120 tourists and foreign nationals have lost their lives in terrorist operations carried out since Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Fifteen died last year.
  • Freed UK bomber’s testimony played in New York court
    The testimony of Saajid Badat, 33, a British-born man convicted and jailed in 2005 for plotting to blow up an airliner, was read out in a Brooklyn court. Badat reported he had heard Osama bin Laden explain in a one-on-one conversation that a campaign against the aviation industry as a follow-up to 9/11 would bring down the US economy. Badat said he had pulled out at the last minute from blowing up an airliner himself. Fellow shoe-bomber Richard Reid went through with the plot and failed.
    The Reid case led investigators to Badat and his arrest. For agreeing to testify to the British and US prosecution against al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the British terrorist won parole, housing and courses to help him reintegrate in British society.
  • Iran’s threats taken very seriously
    “We take Iran’s threats to destroy Israel with the utmost seriousness and are obliged to be ready to face up to it,” said Binyamin Netanyahu in a special radio interview Tuesday on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. Netanyahu called Egyptian Sinai the “Wild West,” teeming with Iranian-backed terrorist organizations smuggling arms and using the territory to attack Israel.”

US bid to defuse Egyptian-Israeli tensions derailed by Egyptian Islamists

24 April. Monday night, April 24, the Obama administration stepped in to damp down the military frictions developing between Jerusalem and Cairo. Earlier that day, Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi said: “If anyone comes near Egypt’s border, we will break their leg.” Wednesday, Egyptian Islamists and Bedouin groups announced they would mark Israel’s Independence Day Thursday with a mass assault on the Sinai memorials of Israel’s fallen soldiers.
Their object: to whip up a storm to blow up the 1979 Egyptian-Israel peace accords.
The strains between Cairo and Jerusalem were further exacerbated this week by the misreporting by Israel media of a dispute concerning the flow of Egyptian gas to Israel. It was falsely presented as affecting the peace accords, when in fact the flow was suspended over a court case airing in Egypt between conflicting business interests and repeated sabotaqe.

April 25, 2012 Briefs

  • Pakistan announces test-fire of nuclear-capable ballistic missile
    The upgraded intermediate-range Pakistani ballistic missile is an improved version of the Shaheen 1 with a longer range. The test came days after India’s successful test of its nuclear-capable Agni-V whose range is 5,000 km.
  • Annan: Situation in Syria bleak
    UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan expressed alarm over Syrian military operations in towns where UN observers were not present. He said he hoped the speedy deployment of the 300-strong UN observer force would “change the political dynamics” – a comment greeted with widespread skepticism.
  • US raps Israel’s “formalization of three West Bank outposts
    The US voiced concern at the Israeli government’s decision to retroactively legalize Sansana, Bruchin and Rechelim, West Bank locations authorized more than a decade ago by former governments. The step is “not helpful to the peace process.” DEBKAfile: Last week Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad failed to show up for a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scheduled to lay the ground for reviving the stalled “process.”

Israel leaders wrangle over Iran. New US spy agency

25 April. Israel’s prime minister and defense minister were harshly criticized on the eve of Israel’s 64th Independence Day for too much speechifying and no real action against a nuclear Iran. In contrast, the US finally acted, creating a new Pentagon spy agency against Iran. The Israeli street has stopped listening to its leaders intoning that Iran will not be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon. Some military and intelligence sources believe Israel and the US have missed the boat for stopping Iran.
Washington and Jerusalem are still arguing about Iran – less about its timeline for building a bomb, more about what kind. They agree Iran will not have a nuclear warhead ready for a missile any time soon, but Israel is now worried about more primitive devices, such as a dirty bomb, which could also be wielded by Iran’s terrorist network before the end of 2012.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta launched a new Pentagon spy agency called the Defense Clandestine Service, which Defense Department sources said would expand the US military’s intelligence and secret war efforts outside war zones, indicating deep penetration inside hostile territory, primarily Iran.

April 26, 2011 Briefs

  • At least 70 Syrians dead in ammo dump blast in Homs
    A huge explosion in a rebel bomb workshop killed at least 70 Syrians and damaged buildings in the Homs district of Masha al-Tayyar early Thursday.
  • Moscow too runs backdoor dialogue with Tehran
    Dep. FM Sergei Ryabkov, Russian delegate to the six-power nuclear talks with Tehran: “We are keeping all our proposals on the negotiating table, but the work now is proceeding in a somewhat different format.
  • Russia concedes nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea
    Chief of General Staff Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, for the first time acknowledged that Iran and North Korea may be a nuclear threat. “The analysis we conducted with the Americans confirms that, yes, the threat probably exists. And we agreed that it is necessary to create a missile defense system.”

Gantz: Other armies are also ready to strike Iran

26 April. Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acted Thursday, April 26, to correct the damaging impression of divided and conflicting perceptions of the Iranian nuclear threat left by statements delivered in the last two days by himself and Defense Minster Ehud Barak.
Israel’s chief of staff Gen. Benny Gantz rallied to the task with a comment that “other countries have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear sites to keep Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” He added: “The military force is ready. Not only our forces but other forces as well. We all hope it will not be necessary to use this force, but we are absolutely sure of its existence.”
Netanyahu also declared in a TV interview, “Iran hasn’t stopped its program …the centrifuges are spinning as we speak.”

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