A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Feb. 20, 2014
Hizballah calls off annual Mughniyeh memorial for fear of terrorist attacks
14 Feb. The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah, itself a listed terrorist group, was forced Thursday, Feb. 13 to cancel its most solemn annual event in memory of fabled “special security chief” Imad Mughniyeh, in fear of terrorist attack. Hassan Nasrallah traditionally addresses these events. debkafile’s counter-terror sources report that al Qaeda and Sunni extremists have since last July carried out 10 suicide bombings claiming scores of lives in Beirut and across Lebanon. Security has been doubled up for Nasrallah and other top operatives on a tip that the terrorists are gunning for them in person.
The decision to cancel the Mughniyeh memorial assembly was taken by the new counterterrorism center at the Iranian embassy.
February 15, 2014 Briefs
- Obama expands aid to Jordan
After a conversation of two and a quarter hours with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, President Barack Obama approved expanded economic and military aid to Jordan and the renewal of up to $1bn expired credit guarantees. The two steps are subject to congressional confirmation. debkafile: The volume of the extra US aid is negligible in proportion to the monumental straits in which the Hashemite finds itself with 600,000 Syrian refugees to support.
- Iran’s “long range ballistic missiles with multiple warheads” are hot air
Iranian claims to possess long-range ballistic missiles with multiple warheads are unfounded, according to debkafile’s military experts. This claim was made last week by Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan who said that two newly test-launched missiles carried multiple warheads capable of penetrating the anti-missile defenses of the American and Israeli “enemies.” Our sources report that Iran has been trying for two years to develop these weapons – without success.
- Two missiles from Gaza explode on empty ground
One of the two missiles fired from the Gaza Strip Friday night exploded harmlessly on unoccupied land near Ashkelon; the second in the Eshkol region.
- UN mediator: No date set for another round of Syrian peace talks
International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi apologized Saturday for the failure of two rounds of Syrian peace talks to make any progress. Friday, the UN halted the evacuation of civilians from Homs Old City out of concern for the men of military age held back for detention by government forces. The UN deputy team leader for the Homs mission said while some 1,400 people had been evacuated from the starving city, around 400 men aged 15 o 55 were detained. The fate of some 220 is still unclear.
- Abbas to Kerry: No Palestinian recognition of Jewish state
According to sources in London, Mahmoud Abbas gave US Secretary John Kerry his last word on the subject: The Palestinians would not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. debkafile: This message is important only as one of the reservations the Palestinians and Israel were invited to append to Kerry’s framework proposal.
- Iran sharply excludes missiles from nuclear negotiations
Missiles “are part of our defense industries,” and “by no means negotiable at the Geneva talks with the P5+1 group,” said a prominent member of the Majlis Security and Foreign Committee Thursday. He was reacting to the assurance given by top US negotiator Wendy Sherman at a Senate hearing last week that Iran’s ballistic missile program would be addressed as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
February 16, 2014 Briefs
- First Jordanian border clash with gunmen from Syria
Jordanian military spokesman reports a major clash, the first of is kind on the Jordanian-Syrian border Sunday night, between a Jordanian patrol and ten armed gunmen. The spokesman reported seven gunmen killed and three captured.
- Israeli economy at slowest growth rate since 2009
The Israeli economy grew by 2.8 percent in the second half of 2013 – its slowest rate of growth since 2009 – after rising 3.8 percent in the first half. The slowdown is accounted for by falling exports of goods and services.
- High-profile Al Qaeda figure leaves Iran after years of asylum
Thirwat Shihata, a 53-year old wanted al Qaeda terrorist close to Ayman al-Zawahiri, is reported by US intelligence to have left Iran where he received sanctuary for the past decade and traveled to Libya. Shihata is described as one of the top 13 most dangerous al Qaeda operatives sought by the US. debkafile adds: Western counterterrorist experts have always been baffled by Iran’s readiness to grant asylum to dozens of al Qaeda fighters, giving some the freedom to come and go for terrorist operations.
Egyptian-Israeli inadequacy against al Qaeda in bus bombing
16 Feb. The bombing of a tourist bus carrying 33 South Korean tourists in Sinai just 250 meters from the Taba crossing to Israel, killing three tourists and the Egyptian driver, represents a major failure of the joint Egyptian-Israeli war on Al Qaeda. Despite intelligence-sharing, neither picked up on the plans of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis for the coming attack. The whisper going around Israeli official and high military circles is that the government’s policy of relying on the Egyptian army to handle Islamist terrorists has run aground. It is time for Israeli to directly engage the mounting menace posed by Al Qaeda groups closing in on its borders from the south and north.
Israel uneasy over Russian arms to Egypt, Syria
16 Feb. Israel’s strategists have found a new cause for disquiet. On top of concern over the concentration of al Qaeda fighting strength around its borders, they are beginning to worry about Russian President Vladimir Putin capitalizing on America’s withdrawal from the Middle East, by means of military pacts with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian strongman Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Since Egypt’s economic woes are incurable, El-Sisi plans to build a strong regime with Russian and Saudi support and lead a pan-Arab nationalist movement – potentially on a collision course with Israel.
February 17, 2014 Briefs
- UN: NKorean officials must face justice for systemic abuse
UN investigators call for North Korean leaders, and possibly Kim Jong-un, to face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings, using food as “a means of control over the population” and “deliberate starvation” to punish political and ordinary prisoners.
- Iran: Russia could pay for oil with second nuclear reactor
Iranian ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Sanaei said Monday that Russia could build a second reactor at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant in exchange for Iranian oil. He was referring to negotiations for Iran to supply Russia with 500,000 barrels of oil per day for goods.
Seoul condemns Sinai terrorist attack on citizens
- South Korea issued a statement Monday voicing shock and outrage at the terrorist bombing of the bus and strongly condemned the act. The victims were all members of a church group from the central South Korean county of Jincheon, who were on a 12-day trip through Turkey, Egypt and Israel.
- Ethiopian Airlines flight hijacker was the co-pilot
The hijacker of an Ethiopian Airlines forced to proceed to Geneva instead of Rome turned out to be the co-pilot in search of political asylum. Swiss police arrested him.
- Acre explosions leaves 5 dead, 10 injured, 30 homes evacuated
Five people died and 10 were injured, some seriously, when two floors of a four-storey building in the Old City of Acre were blown up in what was first thought to be a domestic gas explosion early Monday. Police are investigating.
The Sinai tourist bus bomb was rigged for Eilat
17 Feb. The bus carrying South Korean tourists from Egypt to Israel was rigged as a time bomb for Eilat, debkafile reveals. It blew up prematurely Sunday, Feb. 16 in Egyptian Sinai, killing three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian driver and injuring 14 – shortly before the bus crossed into Israel. Serious lapses were exposed in Egyptian security. North Korea voiced shock and outrage over the terrorist attack.
February 18, 2014 Briefs
- Indyk’s Brookings position opens as Mid East peace talks progress
That the Brookings Inst. in Washington has advertised for the position of vice president and director of foreign policy to replace Martin Indyk indicates that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for which he serves as special US envoy is making good progress. His services are expected to be required for next lap of the peace process after March 29.
- Mortar shells explode harmlessly on Israeli Golan
The landed minutes after Netanyahu and military chiefs ended a visit to the central Golan field hospital caring for injured Syrians.
- Suicide bombers kill 49 people in Iraq
At least 49 people died in a string of suicide bombing attacks Tuesday in the Shiite district of Baghdad and the large-Shiite southern town of Hilla.
- Islamist terrorists give foreigners 4 days to quit Sinai
Monday night, Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis, which Sunday blew up the South Korean tourist bus, killing three visitors and the Egyptian bus driver, gave all foreign nationals four days to remove themselves from Sinai by Thursday or face attack. debkafile: After mortally striking Egypt’s tourist trade, the Islamists are now aiming to get rid of Israeli trippers and the hundreds of American peacekeepers of the US-led Multinational Force.
- Russian Air Force chief in Cairo over differences on arms deal
Russian Air Force chief Alexander Zelin paid an unscheduled visit to Cairo Tuesday. debkafile reports: He came to resolve differences over the types of Russian weapons to be included in Moscow’s transaction with Cairo. Gen. El-Sisi is holding out for the top-of-line S-300 anti-missile batteries and long-range ballistic surface missiles.
Three US unattainable pledges to Israel ahead of nuclear talks
18 Feb. The six powers and Iran sat down in Geneva Tuesday, Feb. 18 for talks on a final, comprehensive resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. But first, the Obama administration gave the Israeli government three pledges: The US would insist on the shutdown of the Fordo enrichment plant; the Arak reactor’s conversion to a light water plant; and a cap on 5-percent enrichment. debkafile: There is no chance of Tehran’s acceptance of any of these demands. Binyamin Netanyahu will try and hold out for a ceiling on centrifuges when he meets Barack Obama on March 3.
February 19, 2014 Briefs
- Five dead in explosions at Beirut Iranian culture center
At least 5 people were killed and 80 injured Wednesday by two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at the entrance to the Iranian Culture Center in the southern Beirut. The attack was claimed by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah al Azzam Brigades.
New high-tech IDF Bashan Division deployed on Golan
19 Feb. Israel’s top leaders marked the second round of nuclear talks between the Six Powers and Iran with a visit Tuesday, Feb. 18, to injured Syrians at the IDF field hospital in central Golan. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “I would like to tell the world today that Iran has changed neither its aggressive policy nor its brutal character…” debkafile: The IDF has thrown up a new bulwark on both sides of the Syrian border. It includes a merger of 49 southern Syrian rebel militias for areas abutting Israel and the new Bashan territorial division, complete with a high-tech combat intelligence collection battalion armed with the special capabilities of “geospatial technology” (ESRI) for enhancing “situational awareness.”
Obama’s Iran policy wins key point: Saudis drop its lead antagonist Prince Bandar
19 Feb. Saudi Intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan was reported Wednesday, Feb. 19, to have been removed from policy-making in Riyadh. Removal of the live wire of the kingdom’s drive against President Barack Obama’s détente with Tehran is one up for Obama. It is a significant loss for Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu of the only other Middle East leader ready to publicly decry US policies on Iran and Syria. Prince Bandar was widely reported in the Middle East to be in secret ties with Israeli intelligence shared moves. He crossed the Americans by supplying weapons and money to Syrian rebels belonging to Islamist militias – though not al Qaeda. His main adversary Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, Saudi interior minister, is believed to be taking his place.