A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Dec. 13, 2007

Additional southern Israeli towns told to get set to face Gaza bombardment in absence of appropriate military action


8 Dec. Hamas and Jihad Islami have extended the missile range from Gaza to as far afield as the towns of Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim and blocs of smaller locations such as Magen, Miftahim, Kerem Shalom, Habsor, Gevulot, Tzeelim and Urim. Another 175,000 inhabitants are now within Palestinian sights.

On Dec. 6, deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai warned the local authorities to get set for bombardment. He did not speak of a military response or how their citizens were to be protected from this new peril. debkafile‘s sources reveal that prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi have agreed that the IDF will continue to defer a major military operation for wiping out the Hamas war machine in Gaza.

Its long postponement has left the Islamist terrorists free to greatly enhance their capabilities. Even fired from Gaza City, their missiles can still reach a broad swathe of southern Israeli civilian locations. Liquidating this new capability would necessitate Israel’s conquest of Gaza’s largest town.

Defense officials disclosed on Dec. 7, that Hamas now has long-term storage facilities for up to 100 Qassam missiles, which enables them to fire multiple bursts at Israeli targets, like the Hizballah’s blitz of northern Israel during the war last year. Officers in the IDF cannot explain why no orders have come down to smash them. Hamas has further set up special units of fighters clad in the same uniforms and camouflage gear as Israeli troops, armed with the same M-16 rifles and driving vehicles painted in IDF colors, ready for cross-border terrorist attacks.


Most members of Israeli defense cabinet favor independent action against nuclearized Iran


9 Dec. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate, which absolves Iran from running a nuclear weapons program from 2003, most ministers objected to letting Israel’s hands be tied by the Bush administration’s apparent waiver of its military option against Iran and the emerging understanding among the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

debkafile‘s military sources report that Israel spent more than $3 bn on its six-year program to build special military mechanisms for a long-distance strike at the Iranian nuclear threat.

The program was coordinated with the US. If Israel decides to abstain from military action against Iran, the program will have to undergo massive conversion to meet Israel’s current short-range security threats – active from the Gaza Strip and realistic from the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria.


British PM plays up Afghan victory to divert attention from debacle in S. Iraq


10 Dec. After four days of heavy fighting, Afghan forces covered by US and British marines entered the strategic town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand Monday, Dec. 10.

British premier Gordon Brown decided to head for Helmand and Kabul from southern Iraq, after announcing there that “The war in Iraq is over.” He said all British troops will be home by the spring of 2008 and Basra province handed over to Iraqi control on Dec. 16.

debkafile‘s military sources report that after Musa Qala held since February by the Taliban falls and is handed over to the Afghan army, four difficulties remain.

1. Taliban is launching diversionary attacks further south in the province at Sangin and Sarwan Kala.

2. Some Talilban fighters went to ground by mingling with the civilian population.

3. Because Musa Qala is on the crossroads of the opium poppy-growing province, the drug barons fully support the Taliban with weapons and logistic supplies.

4. The local Afghan population is uncooperative with the assault forces partly because their livelihood depends on the poppy crops but also because they fear the Afghan soldiers fighting with the NATO units will loot their homes.


US and UN draft anemic sanctions against Iran – in contrast to “harsh sanctions” promised Israel


11 Dec. The original ban on UN members’ supply, sale or transfer of arms to Iran has made way for a diluted call for “restraint” and “vigilance”. debkafile‘s sources report that the sanctions text as drafted by the five UN Security Council members and Germany no longer present a deterrent to Iran carrying on flouting UN resolutions on its nuclear activities. debkafile‘s sources report that nothing is left of the tough international sanctions promised Israeli leaders by the US and EU.

This already insipid draft is expected to be watered down further before it comes to the vote later this month, reflecting the new US intelligence assessment purporting that Iran gave up nuclear weapons development in 2003.

debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that the sanctions called for against al Qods Brigades are impossible to execute because this arcane 15,000-strong body operates completely underground, below any international financial radar.


“Moderate” Arab rulers woo Tehran and Damascus, following track opened by Washington


11 Dec. Monday night, Dec. 10 Cairo announced plans to resume diplomatic relations with Tehran after 27 years. debkafile‘s Middle East sources report this step was part of an initiative for Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders to come together in a new summit to embrace the Syrian ruler and bridge their policy differences with the radical Syrian-Tehran line.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will be invited and urged still more emphatically to starting patching up his Fatah’s quarrel with the extremist Hamas and adapt to the newly emergent Arab reality with a tougher line against Israel. debkafile‘s Middle East sources report: The road to radicalization embarked on by this central Arab bloc is the direct result of the dialogue Washington has opened with Tehran.


Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi: The time is nearing for a major IDF operation in Gaza


12 Dec. The current reality cannot go on much longer, he said, referring to the steep upsurge of Palestinian missile and mortar attacks on Israel from Gaza – a 48-hour blitz Wednesday and Thursday. “It will be necessary for us to maintain some sort of intelligence and operation control on the ground,” said Ashkenazi, adding: “But all other options must be tried before a major operation is launched.” debkafile: The chief of staff is clearly not yet ready to give the go-ahead for the oft-promised large-scale operation to stifle the Palestinian Qassam offensive plaguing an entire Israel region for years.


Gazan Palestinians shoot 24 missiles at Sderot Wednesday. Mayor Ellie Moyal resigns, accusing Olmert and military of abandoning civilians to peril


12 Dec. The Iran-linked Jihad Islami claimed 11, leaving the remainder for other groups, including al Qaeda or the belligerent Resistance Committees.

debkafile‘s military sources stress the onslaught underlines the bankruptcy of the Olmert government’s security policy in Israel’s southwestern Negev, due to its refusal to let the army root out the protracted peril hanging over its inhabitants.

Israel’s in-and-out operation the day before was officially boosted as a major offensive, whereas it barely scratched the surface of the war machine Hamas and its allies are building in the Gaza Strip. An IDF tank-APC force drove into southern Gaza Strip to curb missile and mortar fire. Six armed Palestinians, most of them Jihad Islami, were killed and about 20 wanted terrorists detained. Four soldiers were slightly injured when heavy Palestinian anti-tank and RPG fire hit their tank and several vehicles. Engineering, armored and air units were brought in to recover the crippled tank as the Palestinians hurled explosive devices and shelled them with mortars.

Because the troops hands are tied, the Palestinians are gaining and expanding the range of their missiles.


Senior Lebanese army officer tagged for next chief of staff assassinated Wednesday


12 Dec. debkafile‘s Middle East sources: The murder of Brig. Gen Francois El Hajj, Lebanese army operations chief designated to head the army after supreme commander Gen. Michel Suleiman is elected president, undermined a key corner of Washington’s evolving understanding with Tehran and Damascus. While the US had bowed to the pro-Syrian Hizballah sympathizer Gen. Suleiman becoming president, parliamentary endorsement was held up by their demand for the pro-Western prime minister Fouad Siniora to be replaced and the foreign affairs, justice and internal security portfolios handed to Hizballah.

El Hajj’s murder threatens to derail the process of electing a new president until Syrian and Iranian terms are met.


Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak sharply criticizes Bush handling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program


debkafile‘s sources report: After years of waiting for the US-led “international community” to deal with Iran’s nuclear aspirations, a senior Israeli official has finally spoken out, saying the US government had not done what was necessary for building an international coalition capable of twisting Iran’s arm on its nuclear plans. Now, said the Israeli defense minister, it is too late for Bush and arresting Iran’s nuclear progress will have to wait for the next president.

IDF Chief of staff Lt. Gen Gaby Ashkenazi said if the international community cannot stop Iran’s nuclearization, the Israeli military must be prepared “for any scenario” – the first time a high Israeli military officer has suggested IDF action against Iran.

Former US Central Intelligence Agency deputy director John McLaughlin poured scorn on the National Intelligence Estimate which found that Iran had put its nuclear weapons program on ice in 2003.

debkafile adds: Unlike Barak, prime minister Ehud Olmert is in lockstep with president Bush and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Iran and the Palestinian and Syrian issues, despite complaints that their policies are deleterious for Israel’s national and security interests.


Saudi-Iranian rapprochement gains impetus with Washington’s blessing. Moscow will finish Bushehr reactor


13 Dec. Saudi king Abdullah has invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be the first Islamic Republic president to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, which begins on Dec. 18. This development signals Saudi recognition of Iran and its president as regional powers and King Abdullah’s willingness to share his Middle East leadership role with an Iranian partner. The rug is implicitly pulled from under the international campaign to punish Iran severely for its nuclear activities, while Tehran’s ally Syria and surrogates, Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami, gain new standing.

Moscow has also announced a timetable for finishing Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr complete with fuel, confirming debkafile‘s report of Dec. 4.

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