A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Dec. 19, 2013

December 13, 2013 Briefs

  • Iran abruptly walks out of nuclear talks in Vienna
    Iranian negotiators abruptly ended nuclear talks with Western powers in Vienna on Friday just a day after the Obama administration announced tighter sanctions on Tehran.
  • First al Qaeda attack on Iranian target in Iraq leaves 18 dead
    Al Qaeda gunmen Friday shot dead 18 people – 15 Iranians and three Iraqis – who were working on a gas pipeline from Iran to Iraq near Baladruz, northeast of Baghdad. debkafile: The attack was conducted by the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda (ISIS) as spillover of the Syrian war into Iraq.
  • Retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran was on rogue CIA mission
    The American Robert Levinson, who disappeared on Iranian Kish island in 2007, is now confirmed to have been on what US intelligence officials describe as a rogue mission at the direction of CIA analysts with no authority to run overseas operations. Three veteran analysts were later forced out of their jobs.

No US, EU objections to Iran keeping nuclear-capable missiles for region, including Israel

13 Dec. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief Maj. Gen, Mohammad Ali Jafari revealed in lecture to students in Tehran that under the Geneva interim accord negotiated last month, Iran had agreed to apply a six-month nuclear freeze additionally to halting the extension of its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to ranges of 3,000-5,000 km, and able reach the East Coast of the US and Europe. US and UK negotiators agreed Tehran could keep the missiles with ranges of 1,500-2,000 km capable of reaching Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Iran returns second space monkey to earth, stages crisis in nuclear talks

14 Dec. Iran successfully launched a monkey into space and brought it safely back to earth aboard a home-made bio-capsule. Tehran’s space program, say debkafile’s military sources, demonstrates their missiles’ capability to reach any point on earth. This is all the more disturbing in the context of the commitment Iran undertook under the interim nuclear accord it signed with the six powers on Nov. 24, to refrain from developing nuclear-capable missiles with ranges beyond 2,000 km. The space launch Saturday virtually nullified that commitment.
It was evidently part of a carefully staged action to put the entire Geneva accord at risk at the first opportunity. The Iranians walked out of the Vienna sequel to the Geneva accord Dec. 13 after the White House tightened sanctions byy adding new Iranian companies and individuals to its list of sanctions.

December 15, 2013 Briefs

  • Surveillance scandal in Iran. Intelligence officials axed
    Iranian MP Ali Motahari revealed that the new intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi had told him that the deputy intelligence minister and a director were sacked after he complained of eavesdropping equipment installed in his office at the majlis. Motahari discovered the bugs planted in the air conditioning ducts by chance. His own video cameras picked up nine nocturnal intruders who installed them. The MP said that the cell phones of all Iranian MPs are tapped. Some lawmakers criticized him for going public on the scandal.
  • Israel close to first gas export deal
    he Israel-US consortium developing Israel’s offshore fields has reached agreement in principle to supply the Arab Potash Co. in Jordan with gas. The contract would involve running a gas pipeline from an Israeli chemical plant near Beersheba to APC in Jordan across the Dead Sea and Israel building a water desalination plant in Jordan.
  • Iraq builds an air force with South Korean T-501Q fighters
    Baghdad and South Korea signed a $1.1 bn deal Thursday for twenty-four T-501Q multi-role light fighters from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to be delivered to the Iraqi air force between 2015 and 2016. The fighter is equipped with precision-guided weapons, missiles and machine guns.
  • Saudis order 15,000 advanced US anti-tank missiles. For Syrian rebels?
    Riyadh has just ordered 15,000 US-made Raytheon BGM-71 anti-tank missiles for more than $1 bn. They include the most advanced version of the tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles. Since no one expects a tank invasion of the oil kingdom any time soon, Middle East strategists believe they are destined for Saudi-backed Syrian rebel militias.

Israeli soldier killed by Lebanese shooter. IDF on high alert

14 Dec. Sunday night, Dec. 15 an Israeli soldier, Navy Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, 31, from Afula, was shot dead in the Rosh Hanikra region opposite Ras Naqoura by a Lebanese soldier, who fired 6-10 rounds at his car. Lebanese soldiers then poured into the area. The IDF reacted by summoning reinforcements and placing the border on high alert. The IDF spokesman said: “We are ready for any step and reserve the right to retaliate at the right place and time.”
The Lebanese army then announced enigmatically that “contact was lost with a Lebanese soldier.”

US explores ties with Islamist rebels, possibly Assad, for lineup against al Qaeda

14 Dec. The Obama administration is again doubling back on its Syrian war policy. On Dec. 11, the Saudi-backed Islamic Front rebels inflicted a disastrous defeat on the pro-American Free Syrian Army in northern Syria. debkafile reports that Washington reacted by launching a secret approach to win over the Islamic Front, the most powerful force now battling the Assad regime. Voices in Washington are urging the White House to start talking to Bashar Assad, leading the administration to consider forming a Syrian lineup to save the country from falling to Al Qaeda.

December 16, 2013 Briefs

  • Yaalon: We hold Lebanon responsible for Israeli soldier’s death
    Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Monday held the Lebanese government and army responsible for the shooting of an Israeli soldier, Navy Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, on the Israeli side of the border Sunday. IDF and Lebanese liaison officers meet UNIFIL investigators later to ascertain the facts. Israel has protested to the government in Beirut and demanded an explanation for the incident, as well as information on Lebanese army shooter and an assurance of steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. “Israeli will not tolerate any violations of its sovereignty from across its borders,” the minister said.

Israel accepts Lebanese explanation for killing of IDF soldier

16 Dec. Israel appeared ready to accept the Lebanese explanation that a member of its armed forces acted on his own initiative and “did not consult his station before carrying out the attack,” which killed Navy Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, 31, from Afula Sunday, Dec. 16. At the UNIFIL inquiry they attended with Israeli liaison officers, the Lebanese called it a one-time incident. debkafile: This did not answer the questions surrounding the attack, the second in three days. However, the US, France and the UN leaned heavily on Jerusalem to de-escalate the incident.

December 17, 2013 Briefs

  • Settlers needed to back IDF troops in Jordan Valley
    During a tour of the Jordan Rift Valley Tuesday Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke of the strategic need to keep Jewish settlers in the valley as back-up for the IDF units securing Israel’s eastern border. He also defended the military decision to set up an IDF College on Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus, which he reminded critics had always been maintained as an Israeli enclave – even during the years before 1967 when Jordan occupied E. Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  • Six US soldiers killed in Black Hawk copter crash in S. Afghanistan
    The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the Shahjoi district of Zabul province in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, killing all six US members of the NATO international Security Assistance Force aboard.
  • Russia accuses US of ignoring Syrian chemical proof
    Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused the US Monday of ignoring Moscow’s appeals for proof of Syrian government involvement in chemical weapons attacks on Syria. He said Moscow viewed the incident as a rebel provocation.
  • Hollande: US Senate will squash Iran with sanctions if evasions continue
    French President Francois Hollande on Monday reiterated his country’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons at a meeting with reporters at Elysee Palace, Hollande said the US Senate would “squash” the Iranians with sanctions if the Islamic Republic continues to evade negotiations with the West.
  • US protests Russian Iskander deployment near EU states
    A US protest reached Moscow Monday following the announcement that Russia had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to the Kaliningrad enclave opposite the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in response to the deployment of the disputed US air defense shield. debkafile: No protests from the US or even Israel when Russian Iskander missiles were posted in Syria, albeit of a lower grade.
  • Hagel updates Ya’alon on Gulf tour re Iranian bomb
    Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke on the telephone late Monday. A Pentagon spokesperson said that Hagel updated Ya'alon on his recent Gulf tour.
  • debkafile adds: Hagel also thanked Israel for responding to Washington’s request for restraint after a Lebanese soldier shot dead an IDF sergeant.
  • Small US academic group attacked for joining anti-Israel boycott
    The Academic Studies Association voted Sunday by a 66 percent majority to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions over their “treatment of Palestinians,” drawing a strong backlash.
    “The American Association of University Professors stated its opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle” which runs counter to the commitment to the exchange of ideas.”
    "Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish — is manifestly unjust," Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.
    New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the most senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Relations Committee, said: "I simply fail to see how cutting off ties to Israeli universities furthers the interests of peace and coexistence, he said. "Ironically, many within the Israeli academic community are strong and vocal proponents of peace — and are simply being boycotted due to their nationality and academic affiliation."
    "I would note that Israel is the first country to be boycotted by this academic organization, which has chosen to stay silent on the slaughter in Syria, the continued imprisonment of democracy activists in Iran, or the scores of other dictatorships around the world," the congressman said. "Yet once again we see this unfair double standard applied to Israel.”

Nasrallah secretly visits Tehran to discuss vengeance for attacks

17 Dec. Israeli-Hizballah tensions were heightened further this week by the deadly car bomb attack occurring near Hizballah’s Baalbek base two days after the murder of the Israeli soldier Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen Monday. debkafile: Both apparently interconnected incidents occurred after Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran last week. Hizballah and Iran are actively considering reprisals against the intelligence bodies terrorizing Hizballah operatives and command posts as well as Iranian targets, which appear to have precise foreknowledge about their targets. Saudi intelligence is in their sights, although Israel is routinely accused.
In this inflammatory atmosphere, Israel and Hizballah both decided to mass military strength on the Lebanese border immediately after the shooting in cold blood of Sgt. Cohen.

December 18, 2013 Briefs

  • Death of al Qaeda chief in S. Syria on Israeli border
    debkafile Exclusive: A five-man hit team Wednesday killed Muhammad Khiyari, chief of al Qaeda forces in southern Syria, the Israeli border district and the Golan town of Quneitra. They opened automatic and anti-tank rocket fire on his car – the first liquidation of its kind of a high-profile al Qaeda chief in Syria.
  • Morsi to stand trial for espionage in aid of terrorists
    Deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi will be charged with espionage for allegedly aiding a terrorism campaign staged by the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hizballah, state media report. He is already accused of involvement in killing opposition protesters. Thirty-five other Muslim Brotherhood defendants to be tried with him are also accused of mounting a surge in attacks on soldiers and police after Morsi’s overthrow, mostly in the Sinai Peninsula.
  • The prosecution will not appeal against Lieberman’s acquittal
    After nearly 10 years, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is finally free of litigation and probes against him on various corruption charges. State Attorney Yehudah Weinstein decided Wednesday that the state would not appeal his acquittal in the last case against him.
  • Saudis call West’s Iran, Syria polices a “dangerous gamble”
    "We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East," the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in a commentary in the New York Times Tuesday. "This is a dangerous gamble.” Saudi Arabia "has no choice but to become more assertive in international affairs.” We have "global responsibilities, both political and economic,” and “will act to fulfill these responsibilities, with or without the support of our Western partners."

US, EU scramble to save nuclear deal with Iran

18 Dec. The European Union and Iran announced Wednesday that the talks on the technical aspects of the interim nuclear accord with the six powers – broken off in Vienna Friday Dec. 13 – would be resumed in Geneva Thursday, Dec. 19 for a desperate attempt to enliven the dying momentum of nuclear diplomacy. debkafile reports the meeting is being convened to camouflage the fact that the Geneva accord is on the brink of collapse. Iran now denies any pact was signed, only a “statement of intent.” It was therefore not surprising to hear from Washington Wednesday that the original elation generated by President Barack Obama and John Kerry over the Geneva deal had made way for gloom and pessimism.

December 19, 2013 Briefs

  • Mikhail Khodorovsky to receive pardon
    Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorovsky may soon be free from jail. President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will soon sign the decree pardoning the man whom he stripped of Yukos Oil and committed to prison a decade ago. Russian stocks rose on the surprise announcement.
  • Putin: Nuclear progress contingent on Israeli security
    The Russian president Vladimir Putin told a news conference in Moscow Thursday that progress toward a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran depended on first safeguarding the security of Israel and Middle East nations.
  • Iran can restart 20 pc uranium enrichment in less than 24 hours
    A day before the resumption of nuclear talks in Geneva Thursday. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif assured a student audience in Tehran that the six powers which signed the Geneva accord on Nov. 24 had recognized Iran’s nuclear program and assured them it would continue.
  • Israeli, British, US experts lifted out of embattled East Sudan
    Israel has imposed a blackout on the evacuation of its citizens, including military and intelligence experts, from the world’s newest state, South Sudan, which is being torn apart by a bloody conflict between President Salva Kir and his Dinka tribe and that of the Nuer ethnic group of his ousted deputy Riek Machar, who he accuses of an attempted coup.
  • Palestinian killed after firing on Israeli paratroops
    In the second clash in 12 hours, an IDF force on a counter-terror mission on the West Bank came under Palestinian fire in Qalqilya early Thursday. One of the attackers was killed in the ensuing gunfight. Wednesday nigh, a Hamas operative was killed and seven Palestinians injured at the Jenin refugee camp after shooting at another IDF force and preventing the soldiers from detaining a Jihad Islami terrorist.
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