A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Feb. 27, 2014

February 22, 2014 Briefs

  • Sherman: A six power-Iran nuclear deal by July 20
    US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Jerusalem Saturday night that the six powers and Iran are committed to reach a comprehensive deal by July 20. It would permit Iran to maintain a domestic enrichment program that answers its practical needs.
  • Moscow to send Iraq helicopters to fight Al Qaeda
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki before ending his a two-day visit to Baghdad Saturday Russian rocket-armed assault helicopters for fighting al Qaeda and surveillance systems to seal Syrian border.
  • Hizballah recruits European Muslim mercenaries for Syria
    Most Hizballah recruits have combat experience in Chenya. The M Security Group is offering them a large monthly salary and insurance for their families.
  • Palestinian leader rejects Kerry’s peace framework
    After meeting Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris twice, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas rejected his framework accord on all the main issues with Israel. Its insistence on recognition of the state of Israel as the Jewish national-state he called “unacceptable.”

February 23, 2014 Briefs

  • Israel’s army chief: Iran meddles in every sector
    Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz Sunday accused “Iran of meddling in every sector of coflict, handing out ammo and rockets like torches for pyromaniacs.” During a tour of the Golan, Gantz warned that, beneath the surface calm, “turmoil rages night and day on all sectors and the IDF has adapted itself to the constant changes in all the various sectors.”
  • Prison inmate killed after shooting 6 warders
    An inmate, 34, serving a life sentence at Rimonim Prison for a “thrill” murder in the US 17 years ago, was shot dead Sunday after shooting warders and barricading himself in the bathroom. His access to a firearm is under investigation.
  • Saudis buy Pakistani heavy weapons for Syrian rebels
    A Saudi source reports talks with Pakistan for the supply of anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels with Riyadh footing the bill.
  • Netanyahu: Iran gets everything, gives nothing
    "Iran will practically realize its plan to become a nuclear threshold state, with enrichment [capability] and the ability to develop intercontinental missiles,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday in Jerusalem. “This combination of enrichment, weapons, and the ability to launch missiles creates a situation where Iran gets everything and gives nothing," he said.
    He was responding to the briefing by US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to reporters in Jerusalem Saturday night on last week’s six-power talks with Iran in Vienna.

Assad’s army hits border areas to block US-backed rebel advance and safe zone

23 Feb. The CIA has set up a new rebel command center a Quneitra, near Israeli lines on the Golan. Its officers are indigenous Bedouin Al Nuaim tribesmen, defectors from the Syrian army, and Free Syrian Army survivors. Last week, Assad’s forces ambushed Syrian rebels trained in Jordan as they crossed into Syria and over this weekend moved in on the environs of Quneitra and captured two villages.
DEBKAfile: There is still a long way to go before a force is ready to fight to bring a border strip in southern Syria under US-Israeli-Jordanian control.

February 24, 2014 Briefs

  • Palestinians who terrorized Rte 443 caught
    In a combined operation, the Shin Bet, IDF and police announced Monday they had cracked the Palestinian gang which had terrorized the 443 highway route to Jerusalem last month by lobbing firebombs and rocks at passing vehicles. Fifteen suspects from the Palestinian Beit Ur Tachta village were taken into custody.
  • Israel’s benchmark lending rate slashed to 0.75%
    Bank of Israeli governor Dr. Karnit Klug said lending rate was cut from 1% to 0.75% because of a slowdownin the economy and the need to weaken the shekel against the dollar to boost exports.
  • Emergency Jewish assistance for Ukraine community
    The Jewish Agency has pledged immediate emergency assistance to the 200,000 strong Jewish community of Ukraine and help for securing their institutions, Chairman Natan Sharansky announced Monday. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) said that it is providing immediate assistance in areas of Kiev to ensure that elderly Jews and people with disabilities receive essential supplies at home. An opposition party leader Oleg Tyangnibok recently said that “Ukraine is controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia.”
  • Egypt’s interim government resigns
    Interim prime minister Hazzem al-Bablawi Monday announced the resignation of his government. This was taken as a step to prepare the way for Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s run for election as president. The general was defense minister in the outgoing government.
  • Netanyahu congratulates new Italian prime minister
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated the new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi in a phone call Sunday. He voiced appreciation for Renzi’s stand against the anti-Israel boycott and invited him for an early visit to Israel.
  • Biggest US army downsize since pre-WWII buildup
    The new budget that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel submits Monday shrinks the US army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup, making it too small for a large land war and dropping the Air Force A-10 attack fleet. The budget plan keeps money for the costly and controversial F-35 warplane on order by several Western countries including Israel.

Russian troops securing Sochi moved to Ukraine border

24 Feb. Units of the Russian forces, which formed a steel ring around the Olympic Winter Games that ended in Sochi Sunday, were flown and shipped Monday, Feb. 24 to Russian bases at the Ukrainian Crimean port of Sevastopol, debkafile reports, as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev refused to recognize the new authorities in Kiev. Giant Russian Air Force transports and rapid deployment forces were placed on alert at the Rostov on-Don base east of the predominantly Russian-speaking southeastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk. Military movements also sighted in the Russian border town of Belgorod.

February 25, 2014 Briefs

  • Egypt’s housing minister named to form new government
    Ibrahim Mehleb, housing minister and member of deposed Mubarak regime, is tasked with forming a new Egyptian cabinet after the surprise government resignation this week. Mehleb said on state TV that “fighting terrorism” is his foremost concern “to pave the way to economic prosperity.”
  • Germany wants a secure Israel but differences remain
    For almost 50 years Germany has worked “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel to secure its future, “part and parcel” of which is a Jewish state of Israel living alongside a Palestinian state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday after leading with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a joint German-Israeli cabinet session in Jerusalem. “We want to see progress on peace talks,” she said. Talking to reporters the two leaders made no bones of their differences over the Iranian nuclear issue and Jewish settlements, while stressing their countries’ deep ties of friendship and cooperation.
  • Palestinians cleared from Temple Mt after hurling rocks, firecrackers
    Jerusalem police used stun grenades to disperse scores of Palestinian rioters throwing stones and fire crackers from Temple Mount early Tuesday, when the Mughrabi Gate below opened to visitors. Some of the rioters were masked. The site stayed open for visits to continue.

Western sources: Israel Air Force hits SS-21missile batteries, first attack on nuclear-capable surface missiles

25 Feb. Western sources reported that Israeli Air Force strikes in Lebanon and Syria overnight Monday, Feb. 24 came on the heels of their first use in the three-year Syrian war of a Russian-made nuclear-capable Tochka (Point), NATO-coded SS-21 Scarab, surface missile, which carries a 480-kilo warhead with a range of 70 km. Syrian-Hizballah forces fired these missiles earlier Monday in the battle for Yabroud, the last rebel holdout in the Qalamoun mountains. Some Lebanese sources report that the Israeli air strike targeted a cluster of five Hizballah command posts in the Beqaa Valley, or arms convoys moving between Lebanon and Syria.
debkafile asks: 1) Was it a one-off, or the start of a series? 2) Will Hizballah or Syria hit back?
The latter is up to Iranian Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was recently put in charge of Tehran’s external areas of conflict, including Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.

February 26, 2014 Briefs

  • Hizballah breaks silence on Israeli air strike, vows revenge
    Hizballah confirmed on Wednesday that Israeli fighter jets had shelled one of its positions on the Lebanese-Syrian border on Monday. “The resistance will choose the right time and place to retaliate to the strike near the Bekaa region of Jinta,” said the statement.
  • Syrians to overtake Afghans as world’s biggest refugee population
    "Children who have seen scenes no child should ever see have been wounded physically or psychologically, and with every day the fighting drags on, these children are at risk of losing their future forever," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the UN General Assembly Tuesday.
  • Syrian Islamist Nusra Front gives Iraqi al Qaeda ultimatum
    Abu Mohammed al-Julani, leader of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel A-Nusra Front has declared war on the rival Iraqi al Qaeda (ISIS): either accept clerical arbitration within five days, or be expelled from Syria “or even Iraq.”
  • Russia warns Saudis against giving Syrian rebels missile launchers
    A Russian foreign ministry statement Tuesday voiced “deep concern” over reports that Saudi Arabia intended supplying Syrian rebels based in Jordan with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank systems purchased in Pakistan for a rebel spring offensive

Russian military drill may be lead-in to Crimea occupation

26 Feb. There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there – or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran. And so, Putin responded to clashes in Crimea by ordering an urgent combat-readiness military drill in central and western Russia, placing them in position for immediate operation.

Syrian-Lebanese border partly erased by war traffic. Israeli air strike Monday mostly inside Syria

26 Feb. Middle East sources say Israel’s air strikes on Monday, Feb. 24, amounted to no more than one or two warplanes, which aimed four rockets at a single target, an SS-21 surface missile launcher. Four Hizballah operatives were killed. Large sections of the Lebanese-Syrian border are obliterated by the hectic traffic of arms, men and smuggling networks between the two countries. Rising there too is an international Shiite legion. Hizballah’s Beqaa Valley arms and missile stores are now strategic reserve supply centers for Hizballah and Syrian units fighting in border sectors.

February 27, 2014 Briefs

  • Kerry and Lavrov discuss Ukraine by phone
    US Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday to say the US favors dialogue between the two powers to stabilize the situation in Ukraine. Moscow implied that Yanukovych’s reinstatement may be Moscow’s price for a deal.

Pro-Moscow coup in Crimea. Russian fighter jets on W. border on combat alert. Kiev deploys security forces

27 Feb. The Russian defense ministry announced Thursday, Feb. 27 that fighter jets stood on combat alert along its western borders with Ukraine. Moscow repeated its commitment to protect Russian-speaking elements in the Crimean Peninsula. Earlier, armed men carried out a pro-Russian coup in the Crimean capital, by seizing government and parliamentary buildings and hoisting Russian flags – in response to the pro-European coup in Kiev.

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