A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Aug. 9, 2007
Israeli defense minister to hold talks in Cairo on al Qaeda’s push in Gaza
4 Aug.: President Hosni Mubarak demands urgent and far-reaching changes in Egypt’s military deployment in the peninsula, restricted under the 1979 peace accords, to combat al Qaeda’s spreading presence in Sinai and Gaza, if the two territories are to be prevented from sliding into a second North Waziristan and threatening both countries.
He wants 7,500 special operations troops to draw a barrier between Gaza and the Egyptian peninsula and choke off the flow of al Qaeda operatives into Gaza. They will need armored personnel carriers and vehicles armed with artillery and the backing of battle and surveillance helicopters.
debkafile‘s military sources report that this was one of the most pressing issues raised in the talks US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and defense secretary Robert Gates held in Cairo and Jerusalem. Much discussion was also devoted to the tunnels through which tons of weapons are smuggled into Gaza for the benefit of various Palestinian terrorist groups. Al Qaeda uses the same tunnels to spirit its fighters and arms into Gaza.
Egyptian officials explained that the tunnels are run as lucrative business concerns by seven Sinai-based Palestinian Bedouin families, who excavate and build them on commission from Palestinian or al Qaeda cells. Clients are charged up to an estimated $150,000.
Those clients have included Mahmoud Abbas and his two Fatah aides, ex-national security adviser Muhammed Dahlan and ex-chief of preventive intelligence, Rashid Abu Shbak, who were fired last month after their forces were defeated by Hamas.
Israeli travelers on High Festival vacations warned of worldwide kidnap threat by Hizballah
5 Aug. The Terror Alert Center in Jerusalem classes as the highest, concrete risk destinations Egypt (including Sinai), Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, which Israelis are advised to leave at once. Slightly less dangerous but still very high-risk are Kashmir, the Philippines island of Mindanao, Chechnya and South Thailand up to the Malaysian border.
Big US Armed Forces integrated Valiant Shield exercises simulate possible operation against Iran
Aug. 6: The maneuvers beginning Monday, Aug. 6, in waters off Guam include the simultaneous deployment of three carriers and their air and naval strike groups: USS Stennis, USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk, altogether 30 warships, 280 warplanes and 22,000 soldiers and sailors. The exercise is commanded by Adm. Robert Willard, Pacific Fleet chief.
debkafile‘s military sources report: This will be America’s last major combined sea-air war game during Bush presidency which ends in Jan. 2009 and last opportunity for drilling large-scale combined units should the president decide on a military operation against Iran.
Fatah leader in secret talks with Hamas ahead of Abbas’ Jericho meeting with Olmert Monday – and behind his back
6 Aug.: debkafile‘s Middle East sources reveal that Mahmoud Abbas’ close adviser, Jibril Rajoub, is holding secret talks with the Gazan Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad. Broad influential circles in Fatah, led by Jibril and Hanni al-Hassan, criticize as shortsighted Abbas’ policy of separating the West Bank from Gaza and boycotting Hamas.
This falling away of support for Abbas in his own movement throws further in doubt the US-Israeli strategy of putting all their Palestinian apples in his West Bank basket, as manifested in American dollars and Israeli concessions on security.
debkafile learns that Olmert’s pro-Fatah track also faces opposition within his government. Defense minister Ehud Barak believes Olmert is overplaying his association with Abbas – most of all to shore up his own flagging leadership at home.
The dim view of the process held in the defense ministry and IDF command found expression in the briefing military intelligence research chief Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz gave the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Sunday, Aug. 5. The West Bank was the next Fatah-Hamas arena of conflict, he said, and Fatah has no chance of standing up to Hamas there, any more than it did in Gaza. Abbas’ forces are completely dependent on the Israeli army to keep Hamas in check, he said.
This estimate was confirmed by Fayyad, flatly contradicting Olmert’s presentation of Abbas as a popular, robust leader and worthy partner for final settlement negotiations. The facts are different.
1. Although Hamas’ West Bank leaders are languishing in Israeli or Fatah jails, Hamas field guns are at large and busy creating new commands. They enjoy considerable popularity on the Palestinian street, whereas Abbas and his prime minister are seen as American-Israeli puppets.
3. Egyptian leaders plan to resume relations with Hamas in November.
4. Saudi leaders disassociate from the US-Israel boycott of Hamas.
Lebanese pro-Syrian opposition candidate, Camille Khouri, narrowly defeats government candidate Amin Gemayel in tense by-election Sunday
6 Aug.: Gemayel, a former president, alleges irregularities and demands a rerun, after losing by just over 400 votes, about 0.5% of the vote.
He ran for the Christian Metn constituency in place of his son, Pierre, a cabinet minister, who was shot dead last November. The winner represents Michel Aoun’s pro-Syrian Free Patriotic Movement which is allied with Hizballah
Gemayel and Aoun are frontrunners in next month’s presidential election to succeed the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud.
The vote was a straight contest in an advance of the presidential race between the pro-Western ruling majority and the opposition led by Hizballah and other factions loyal to Damascus and Tehran. It took place the day after the UN Secretary invited governments to name candidate-judges for the tribunal to try the assassins of Rafiq Hariri two years ago, in which the hands of the Syrian president’s closest advisers are strongly suspected.
The pro-government Mohammad Amin Itani won the Sunni Muslim West Beirut seat held by another slain lawmaker, Walid Eido, whose car blew up in June. The two assassinations were laid at the door of Damascus.
Moscow‘s purported pressure on Iran is linked to Putin’s energy strategy
7 Aug.: Tuesday, Aug. 7, Russia warned Iran fuel would be withheld from its nearly completed nuclear reactor at Bushehr unless Tehran comes clean on past atomic activities.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the Bushehr reactor is not linked to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and, in any case, the Russian manufacturers Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant shipped the first consignment of nuclear fuel for activating Bushehr in early July.
President Vladimir Putin, who manages energy policy in person, is using the warning to pressure Iran to pull out of its recent agreements with Turkmenistan and Turkey on a new gas pipeline, which would cut into Moscow’s monopoly control over the gas routes from Central Asia to Europe. He also calculates that the threat to twist Iran’s arm on its nuclear secretiveness, by delaying completion of the Bushehr reactor until late 2008, will boost the camp in Washington favoring diplomacy and sanctions over military action and drag the final decision out until the Bush’s departure from the White House.
Controversial evacuation of Jewish occupants of two Hebron stores carried out early Tuesday
7 Aug.: Five youngsters were detained, 27 people were slightly injured, after hundreds threw stones and oil at the thousands of police, border guards and soldiers mobilized for the evacuation. The occupants, two families who claimed the two stores were formerly Jewish property, did not resist eviction.
Twelve Israeli soldiers were sentenced to 30 days in jail by a military disciplinary court for refusing orders to take part in the operation. Some were neighbors of the families who were evicted; others had been evacuated from their Gush Katif homes in Gaza two years ago. They were all members of a fighting unit and accused the army of wrongly deploying them against civilians for a politically-motivated police operation.
IDF to honor for bravery 142 soldiers who fought in 2006 Lebanon war at ceremony on Sept. 2 in Tel Aviv
8 Aug.: Four decorations will be awarded posthumously. Thirty-four citations will be conferred by the chief of staff, including 12 Medals for Distinguished Service and 6 Medals of Valor. One posthumous Medal of Valor for exceptional courage will be handed to the family of the late Maj. Roi Klein, 31, from the West Bank Eli community. In command of the 51st Golani battalion, he saved the lives of members of his unit by throwing himself on a live grenade. The remaining citations will be conferred in ceremonies in the various combat units.
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki wins high honors in Tehran, further alienating Sunni Arab politicians
9 Aug.: Wednesday, Maliki held private talks on security with Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, followed by a photo-op showing him hand in hand with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a meeting with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He also discussed plans for Iran to build a power station in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City district and supplies of 400,000 tons of kerosene and liquid gas. Maliiki is left with just over half his cabinet and no Sunni ministers, after another five quit.