A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Dec. 6, 2007

Two surfaced Iranian Kilo-class submarines spotted in Persian Gulf by US warship


30 Nov. The USS Vicksburg cruiser tracked and photographed the Iranian Russian-designed diesel-electric attack subs some weeks ago. There was no communication between them. debkafile‘s military sources report that this was the first time US warships have run into a pair of surfaced Iranian subs.

Wednesday, Nov. 28, Iranian Navy commander Adm. Habibollah Sayyari claimed it was expanding its sub fleet, including a new home-built small submarine called Ghadir, equipped with sonar-evading technology. He said the new craft would “give a crushing answer to enemies when needed, thanks to domestically-made equipment.” They can fire missiles to hit Israel, the admiral claimed.


Deal for Lebanese army chief Gen. Suleiman’s appointment as president was hatched behind American backs at Annapolis


30 Nov. Our Middle East sources reveal that Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal and Syrian dep. foreign minister Faisal Mekdad quietly finalized the deal at the Middle East conference in Maryland on Nov. 27.

The conference was a washout for its main goal. If as a result, the Lebanese presidential candidate Washington and Paris vetoed and who is bitterly opposed by Israel wins the vote in parliament on Dec. 7, Annapolis will turn out to be a triumph for Damascus and let-down for Bush, Sarkozy and Olmert.

debkafile reports: Gen. Michel Suleiman, 59, was chosen by Syrian military intelligence to head the Lebanese army in 1999 when Lebanon was under Syrian occupation. He has family, including a sister, living in Damascus. In the 2006 war with Israel, Suleiman cooperated with the Hizballah. It was he who allowed the Iran-backed Shiite terrorists to use the Lebanese army’s coastal radar station outside Beirut to aim the C-802 missiles which damaged an off-shore Israeli missile ship on July 15.


The Hammer and Tongs behind the Hugs of Annapolis


1 Dec. No one at UN headquarters in New York remembers a draft resolution being pulled hours before its presentation to the UN Security Council. This is what happened to a US draft to endorse President Bush’s announcement at the Annapolis Middle East conference of Israeli and Palestinian consent to work toward a settlement of their conflict before the end of 2008.

It was buried hastily in an undignified scramble by the Bush administration after two days of sharp words between the White House and prime minister Ehud Olmert and his threat not to turn up for talks with the Palestinians on Dec. 12.

This incident led also to the first real falling-out between President George W. Bush and his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. He blamed her for seeking to bolster the Annapolis declaration by Security Council endorsement, thereby exposing the hyped-up event to the world as a charade and his own declaration as too insubstantial to stand on its own feet.


Barak orders military to expand Israel’s counter-terror operations in Gaza Strip but delays the large campaign


2 Dec. Defense minister Ehud Barak informed the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, Dec. 2, that he had ordered the expansion of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, from which 25 missiles and 70 mortar rounds were fired last week.

debkafile‘s military sources: This is far from the major military operation which long-suffering Israeli civilians and southern command officers say is long overdue for halting daily Palestinian missile-mortar harassment and cutting down the Hamas build-up of smuggled weaponry and its war machine.

The Olmert government has repeatedly postponed the major Israeli operation, which it admits is necessary, on various pretexts, including last week’s conference at Annapolis, even while security in the Gaza environs continued to deteriorate.

In recent weeks, Hamas-led teams have focused on breaching the Gaza-Israel border barrier while deploying extended range missiles against Israeli locations in a wider radius. Mortar units massed at the northern and southern ends of the Gaza had been pounding Israeli targets at the rate of 20 rounds a day.

Last Wednesday, Chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi approved deeper IDF counter-terror thrusts into the Gaza Strip up to 3 km, to ward off the increasingly aggressive Palestinian battering on the fence and escalating cross-border mortar and missile attacks.


Bush Drops Military Option, Tehran Slams Door on Diplomacy


3 Dec. In a radical about-face, White House officials suddenly “discovered” Monday, Dec. 3, that Iran had halted it nuclear weapons program four years ago, but has continued to enrich uranium and could have enough material to build a bomb between 2010 and 2015. This “discovery” appeared in the latest National Intelligence Estimate, together with the comment that Iran seems less determined to develop nuclear arms than previously believed and is more vulnerable to international pressure.

This finding caused astonishment and dismay in Israeli political and military circles, particularly in the light of the close Israel-US rapport over last week’s Annapolis conference on the Middle East and the Olmert-Livni-Barak lineup behind the Bush vision of Palestinian statehood.

The Bush about-face leaves Israel high and dry against a regime committed to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

debkafile‘s sources in Israel: In effect, Washington has taken the military option off the table at the very moment that Tehran’s Saeed Jalili slammed the door on diplomacy in the “disastrous” conversation he held with the European Union’s Javier Solana in London, Saturday, Dec. 1.

Jalili, a close Ahmadinejad ally, laid down the law with Solana, saying “Everything in the past is past, and with me, you start over. None of your proposals has any standing.”


Ahmadinejad enters Gulf states summit hand in hand with Saudi king Abdullah and Sultan Qaboos of Oman


3 Dec. The Iranian leader was invited for the first time to the summit of six Gulf Cooperation Council leaders which opened in Doha Monday.

debkafile: His warm welcome by the “moderate” Arab rulers further bankrupts Washington’s policy backed by Israel’s Olmert government, which attempts to distinguish between “radical” and “moderate” Middle East governments.


Covert Syrian intelligence arm in al Qaeda-Lebanon sets up shop in Gaza


3 Dec. Our counter-terror sources report that the radical Fatah al Islam, which fought the Lebanese army from a stronghold in the Nahar al-Bard Palestinian refugee camp, issued a bulletin on al Qaeda web sites Sunday, Dec. 2 announcing the start of operations against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli intelligence experts have picked out at least one Chechen voice from the background effects on the tape.

Israel security forces say it is hard to determine who controls the new arrivals – Syrian military intelligence or al Qaeda. In Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam was backed with arms and fighters from Syria, including heavy 220mm Katyusha rockets delivered by Syrian and Lebanese arms smugglers. The communique is signed by Abu Mussa al-Moqadassi, almost certainly an alias. The group’s leader is Shaker al-Abessi, a Palestinian with training as a combat pilot from a flying school in Libya.


Redoubled Palestinian attacks spark Gaza battles


3 Dec. Senior officers of the southern command told debkafile‘s military sources that Hamas has learned new tactics that recall the combat methods IDF encountered in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Dozens of Hamas are known to have returned from training in Iran and Syria to the Gaza Strip in recent months. After they are bested by Israeli fire, they do not go home but regroup for fresh assaults.

In the northern West Bank village of Kaddum, Israel captured two of three Palestinian policemen who murdered Ido Zoltan two weeks ago in a drive-by shooting. Their guns came from a consignment Israel supplied to the Palestinian Authority as a goodwill gesture for Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian police in Nablus are holding their leader in “protective custody.”

Overnight, 43 Palestinians wanted for membership of terrorist organizations were rounded up on the West Bank. Monday, Dec. 3, Israel released 429 jailed Palestinian terrorists as another goodwill gesture for Mahmoud Abbas. They included 21 for the Gaza Strip.


Dispute over Iran’s nuclear program throws Israel-US relations into grave crisis


4 Dec. Senior Israel security sources report: Washington has refused to heed Israeli intelligence updates on Iran’s covert military nuclear program, which refute the new US National Intelligence Estimate. Washington is also denying Israel access to authentic US intelligence and has embarked on steps detrimental to Israel in relation to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon, without informing the Olmert government.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert is at a loss to arrest the serious deterioration in relations while trying conceal it. debkafile‘s sources disclose Israel will be only one stop along an extensive Middle East tour next month, which will take President Bush to Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Ramallah, where he plans to make a big deal of proclaiming his support for forthcoming Palestinian statehood.

debkafile‘s Jerusalem sources report Olmert is under mounting pressure at home to stand up and articulate an independent Israeli stance with regard to a critical security issue that touches on Israel’s very survival.


Israel publicly challenges US intelligence report that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is on hold


4 Dec. Defense minister Ehud Barak argued that Iran had in fact restarted its program.

“It’s apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then, it has apparently continued that program,” Barak told Israel army radio. “We cannot afford to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the globe, even if it is from our greatest friend,” said the defense minister.

Israel’s foreign missions were instructed to step up the international campaign for tough sanctions against Iran to repair the impression created by the US intelligence reassessment. debkafile‘s sources report, however, that the entire sanctions edifice is in danger of toppling, including Washington’s push for a third round of penalties for Iran at the UN Security Council in the wake of the new US estimate.


Iranian leaders cheer US intelligence reassessment of nuclear arms threat


4 Dec. Iran’s nuclear negotiator, dep. FM Saeed Jalili’s trip to Moscow Tuesday, Dec. 4 capitalized on the breakthrough the US has offered Tehran. The US intelligence report that Iran had put its bid for a nuclear bomb on hold in 2003, in contradiction of its 2005 assessment, sent shock waves around Western capitals including Jerusalem.

Only two months ago, President George W. Bush spoke of the Iranian nuclear threat in terms of World War III.

In Tehran, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani declared enigmatically after last Friday worship: “Iran is just a few steps before the end.” According to debkafile‘s Iranian sources, he was talking about Iran’s contest with the US over its nuclear program, indicating he had prior knowledge of the White House’s intelligence reassessment of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Contrary to his claims, Ehud Olmert was not tipped off in advance when he met Bush at the White House last Wednesday.


Russia launches first naval power build-up in the Mediterranean in response to the US about-face on Iran


5 Nov. It was decided at a meeting Wednesday between President Vladimir Putin and defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov to send a sortie of six Russia warships, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and the Moskva guided missile cruiser, to the Mediterranean. This will be the first visit of a Russian carrier to the eastern Mediterranean vicinity of Israel’s shores and waters patrolled by the US Sixth Fleet. On its decks are 47 warplanes and 10 helicopters. The Moskva is the Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship.

According to our Moscow sources, the Kremlin is determined not to be left lagging behind the new Bush administration’s steps towards an accommodation with Iran, as signaled by the US National Intelligence Estimate which absolves Tehran of running a military nuclear program from 2003.

debkafile‘s military sources report that the Russian fleet will have the use of naval port facilities at Syria’s Tartous. Its presence for several months will be a complication for the Israel navy’s operations opposite the Lebanese and Syrian coasts, especially if the Russians are joined at Tartous by Iranian submarines or warships.

According to the Kremlin decision, a sortie of ships is also planned for the northeastern Atlantic.

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