A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending December 13, 2012

Paris: Imminent NATO-Arab mission against Syria

7 Dec. Sources close to the French Defense Ministry reported Friday, Dec. 7, that a Western-Arab military mission against the Assad regime will begin shortly with the participation of the US, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and other anti-Assad Arab nations. debkafile: French and British warships have joined the USS Eisenhower carrier off Syria. The mission would combine an air blitz and special operations forces on the ground for wiping out Assad’s chemical arms stocks, air force and air defense batteries.

December 8, 2012 Briefs

  • Morsi annuls sweeping presidential decree
    Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month that hugely expanded his powers and sparked angry protests – but not a referendum on controversial draft resolution which will go ahead next Saturday.
  • Meshaal in Gaza: All Palestinian is ours from the sea to the river
    Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal vowed to a cheering crowd in Gaza: We will never give up a single centimeter of Islamic Arab Palestinian. Jihad and resistance are the true roads to liberation. The right of (refugee) return is sacred and will never forego it,” he said. “We’ll liberate Jerusalem, one centimeter at a time. We’ll kidnap more Israel soldiers and all our prisoners will be set free.”
  • UK’s Hague: Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons
    British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the UK and the US have seen evidence that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons, at a security conference in Bahrain. British intelligence sources said Syria's chemical weapons are concentrated at five air bases and are being closely watched. Contingency plans are there if they show signs of being readied to be loaded and used as weapons.
  • Iran’s first helicopter carrier and destroyer dock in Port Sudan
    Two Iranian warships, the new Bushehr helicopter carrier and the Jamaran destroyer, docked Saturday, Dec. 8 in Port Sudan. debkafile: This was the Bushehr’s maiden voyage outside the Persian Gulf. The new 13,000-ton vessel carries 12 Iranian strike helicopters, a crew of 200 and has a range of 8,000 nautical miles that reaches the US coast. There are five landing spots on its decks and four parking spots, as well as SM-1 and SAM anti-air missiles and 40-mm Fath-40 AAA anti-air cannon. Tehran invested $800 million in its first helicopter carrier.
  • Egyptian army will not allow violence, urges opposition to accept dialogue
    The Egyptian military stepped into the political crisis entering its third week Saturday with a notice that violence would not be allowed and urging the opposition parties to accept Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi’s call for national dialogue. Opposition leaders rejected the invitation.

Assad’s army pushes north, keeps chemical arms moving

8 Dec. US, Turkish, British, Jordanian and French forces stand ready around Syrian borders awaiting the order to go forward still to come from US President Barack Obama. debkafile: President Bashar Assad is regrouping his army in defense array in strategic parts of Damascus, while planting mines and bomb traps in abandoned bases. Convoys carrying missiles, shells and canisters armed with chemical and biological weapons continue to ply roads to the north, while the airlift of Iranian arms is rerouted to Palmyra.
debkafile’s military sources: For now, his army fully controls the western districts of Damascus and areas up to Zabadani on the Lebanese border as well as parts of Aleppo. This keeps the Syrian ruler’s direct military corridor open to a key prop of his regime, Hizballah on the other side of the border. All planes were warned that landing in Damascus places them at risk of rebel fire.

December 9, 2012 Briefs

  • Iran: Intensified US radar, Israeli drone activity over Caspian border
    Iranian media Sunday accused the US and Israel of stepping up their intelligence surveillance of the Astara Rayon region of southeastern Azerbaijan along the Caspian maritime frontier with Iran. debkafile’s military sources: The wide publicity Tehran has given to these disclosures sounds like the precursor to Iranian attacks on Israeli-Azerbaijani drones in the wake of their offensive for downing US drones.
  • Netanyahu: We are again exposed to our enemies’ true face
    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented Sunday: “They have no intention of compromising with us. They want to destroy our country," he told his weekly cabinet meeting in response to the Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’ vow to capture centimeter by centimeter all of Israel which he said his movement would never recognize. Israel would never withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank as it had done from Gaza in 2005, said the prime minister, “because this would risk creating another territory like Gaza from which Palestinians could launch rockets at Israeli cities.”

December 10, 2012 Briefs

  • Maj. Gen. Gady Eisenkott is named Dep. Chief of Staff
    The appointment by Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Maj. Gen. Gady Eisenkott ends long speculation about this appointment, which almost automatically makes its holder Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s successor as Chief of Staff at the end of his term of duty. Eisenkott has wide experience in a variety of high posts, most in the Northern Command.
  • Iranian missile experts at North Korean rocket site
    A Seoul government official reports the arrival of a group of Iranian missile experts in Pyongyang to help the North Koreans with their long-range rocket launch.

Assad may have sent chemical weapons to Hizballah

10 Dec. Some of the chemical weapons pushed north by the Assad regime may have been to Hizballah’s Lebanese Beqaa Valley strongholds, to keep them out of rebel hands, including al Qaeda, debkafile reports. Hizballah is thought to have split up the consignment among different bases to make them harder to attack. Assad is believed to have directed his troops to use chemical weapons if the rebels are near to seizing part of Damascus international airport.
Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren, asked by a FOX TV interviewer Saturday if he could confirm this, said he could not, but warned that any evidence of chemical weapons being passed from the Assad regime to extremist groups like Hizballah would be a "game-changer," and a "red line" for Israel.

West Bank security shaky. Hamas at the door

10 Dec. West Bank security has dropped sharply since the Gaza ceasefire brought in eased restrictions for Hamas and fellow terrorists and tight rules of engagement for Israeli soldiers. Palestinian mobs on the West Bank are free to hurl rocks and abuse at Israel soldiers who, like their comrades at the Gaza fence, are not allowed to shoot back.
Hamas triumphantly displayed at the center of Gaza City, as the backdrop for Meshaal’s rants, an outsize papier maché depiction of the M-75 rocket which reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. To underline the point, bottles of perfume labeled “The Victorious M-75,” went on sale in Gaza shops. The unwritten ceasefire accord negotiated by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and announced on Nov. 21, did not require Hamas to end weapons smuggling into the enclave from Iran, Libya and Sudan. This was covered by an understanding with the US and Egypt to take joint action for stopping the flow of illicit arms. It was confirmed by President Barack Obama in a personal promise to Netanyahu. Yet, 20 days have gone by and no such action is in sight.

December 11, 2012 Briefs

  • Japan to recall its Golan peacekeepers
    Tokyo is planning to withdraw the 47 Japanese troops stationed in the Golan Heights as part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force, citing concerns over the deteriorating security situation in Syria, Japanese media reported Tuesday.
  • US blacklists Syrian Islamist rebel group as al Qaeda affiliate
    The Jabhat al-Nusra group fighting with the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime, has been designated by the US “a foreign terrorist organization” and affiliate of al Qaeda in Iraq, in an order released Tuesday by the State Department. The group advocates an Islamic state in Syria and is accused by other rebel factions of indiscriminate tactics in the bloody civil war. debkafile: Jabhat constitutes app. one tenth of rebel strength. Fighting mainly in the Aleppo region, it is better armed than other groups. In Syria, 29 opposition groups have signed a petition calling for mass demonstrations in support of Jabhat al-Nusra under the slogan "No to American intervention, for we are all Jabhat al-Nusra."
  • Panetta: Syrian chemical threat lessening
    The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Tuesday that Syria may be backing off any plans to use chemical weapons against rebel forces. US officials continue to monitor the situation very closely, he said during a flight to Kuwait, “and we continue to make it clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population. That would produce serious consequences.”
  • Israeli leaders slam as one-sided EU condemnation of settlements
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asked where the Europeans were when Hamas leaders called for Israel’s destruction over the weekend. Why weren’t Palestinian envoys in their capitals summoned for explanations? Netanyahu: the Palestinians can avoid negotiations with Israel because the international community exacts no price for Palestinian “rejectionism.” He challenged as “not true” the EU ministers’ charge that building in the E1 corridor linking Maaleh Adummim to Jerusalem blocked the two-state solution.
  • Setback for Morsi’s referendum
    The Egyptian judiciary announced Tuesday that judges will not supervise the constitutional referendum scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15 as required by law. This setback came after President Mohamed Morsi gained the army’s consent to protect state institutions, including the right to arrest civilians, until the results are announced of the hotly-disputed constitutional referendum. The judges’ announcement cut through the rising tensions attending two rival demonstrations in Tahrir Square Tuesday night.

First US F-16 fighter jets to reach Egypt on Israel’s election day

11 Dec. The US approved 20 F-16 fighter planes for Egypt, part of a $1 billion foreign aid package Tuesday, Dec. 11, the day scheduled for massive rival demonstrations for and against President Mohamed Morsi’s constitutional referendum Saturday, Dec. 15. The first four jets will be delivered the day after Barack Obama’s swearing-in as president, and coincide with Israel’s January 22 elections. Obama is telling the Middle East that he stands by his backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, including the radical Palestinian Hamas.

The US also appropriated $650 million worth of ordnance to refill Israeli arsenals depleted by the massive Pillar of Defense air offensive in Gaza, including smart bombs and bunker busters.

December 12, 2012 Briefs

  • US: Assad fires first Syrian Scud missiles at rebels
    Bashar Assad has started using his Russian-made Scud ballistic missiles, which are capable of carrying warheads including chemical weapons, against rebel-held areas. More than six have been fired so far.
  • “Iran can copy captured US spy drone”
    A senior Iranian lawmaker claimed that experts had reverse-engineered the US RQ-170 Sentinel drone seized last year, cracked its codes, and was able to launch a production line for their manufacture.
  • Iran draws up criminal indictments against 18 US officials
    Iran's Deputy Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Rayeesi said they include former defense secretaries, CIA and FBI directors, 12 generals who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo and the incumbent Treasury Department Stuart Levey, first undersecretary for “imposing illegal sanctions against the Iranian people.”
  • Obama recognizes opposition bloc as Syria’s legitimate representative
    US President Barack Obama said Tuesday in an ABC TV interview that the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative.

Iran’s Balkan arms smuggling routes shut down in Naples

12 Dec. The Naples Police’s seizure last Friday, Dec. 7 of five containers before they were loaded on an Egyptian freighter shut down two of Iran’s clandestine arms routes to Gaza from Kosovo and Macedonia via Croatia to a secret depot in Verona, Italy, debkafile reports exclusively.
They acted on a tip-off from Israel. The rest of the Iranian arms ring was then rolled up in other parts of Italy. The Egyptian vessel, bound for Alexandria, had an unmarked stopover in El Arish.

December 13, 2012 Briefs

  • Major charges dropped against FM Lieberman, leaving minor charge
    After a 12-year investigation, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday that the main charges against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of money-laundering, fraud, and receiving large sums while in public service had been dropped, leaving on the minor charge ofpromoting an ambassador suspected of tipping him off about a probe. The attorney general’s decision was published 41 days before Israel’s general election.
  • Russian diplomat: Assad is losing control
    Russia’s top envoy for the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, says Bashar al-Assad’s government is losing both control and territory to rebel forces, and said “unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition.”
  • Unexplained big explosion at Gaza’s Philadelphi corridor
    A loud explosion was heard Thursday morning from the Philadelphi corridor linking the Gaza Strip to Sinai. A large plume of smoke was seen from the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing. No further details as yet. Local witnesses report unusual Israeli air activity over the area.
  • An Israeli woman sergeant kills armed Palestinian in Hebron
    A woman Border Guard sergeant stationed in Hebron shot dead a Palestinian whom she saw attacking a soldier under her command at a post near the Patriarchs Tomb Wednesday. The Palestinian knocked the soldier over and held what looked like a pistol to his head, whereupon the soldier’s female comrade shot the assailant dead. The investigation which followed found the gun was a metal dummy. She later explained in an interview that she had split seconds to act in what was obviously a death-threatening situation and she acted according to her training. Thursday, Palestinian websites ran the sergeant’s photo over the caption Arabic: “Wanted for international justice. We are asking her to be tried as a murderess at the Hague international court.”

Al Qaeda arm closes in on Al Safira’s chemical arms

13 Dec. Since the US designated Jabhad al-Musra a foreign terrorist organization Tuesday, Dec. 11, its fighters have been advancing rapidly toward the Syrian army’s main chemical weapons store and chemical-tipped missiles at Al Safira. Assad fired Scuds in an effort to stop their advance. debkafile: If the rebels, spearheaded by the Islamist terrorists, break into the base and lay hands on chemical weapons and missiles, the US may have to mount an air strike against the rebels – instead of Assad’s army.

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