A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending February 2, 2012

Jan. 27, 2012 Briefs
• IAEA chief Amano at Davos: We're not very sure Iran has declared everything.
• Barak warned an Iranian weapon program may spill over into the region, spell end of ME anti-proliferation regime.
• Taliban diplomatic team opens Qatar office for negotiations with the US and Afghan government.
• Israel disclosed its "territorial principles" for peace for the first time in Amman talks with Palestinians. Netanyahu reported Israel was ready for confidence-building steps.
• In US Republican debate, Mitt Romney accused Obama of "throwing Israel under the bus with regard to defining 67 borders as starting point for negotiations".
• Gingrich says Palestinians "can achieve [peace] any morning they are prepared to say, 'Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side…".
• At least 62 reported killed Thursday by Syrian military fire.
• Tehran reports 11 Iranians snatched by armed men in Syrian town of Homs. FSA rebels claim captured of 7 Iranians including 5 Revolutionary Guardsmen who served as snipers against Syrian streets.
• Egyptian army battles armed men near El Arish trying to blow up gas pipeline to Israel.
• The UN marks international Holocaust Day Friday.


Jan. 28-29, 2012 Briefs
• The Arab League stops work of Syria observer mission in view of grave situation and continuing violence.
• Friday claimed by Syrian opposition as most deadly day of uprising with up to 100 dead, including many children.
• An Israeli Air Force Heron drone crashed on empty ground near Gedera in southern Israel Sunday. The drone was on a test flight.
• Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal begins an official visit to Amman at the head of a large delegation.


US sets May as tentative date for clash with Iran


29 Jan. A hurried decision not to de-commission the USS Ponce helicopter marine carrier after duty in Libya – but to refit it for deployment in the Persian Gulf by May as a floating base for SEAL commando teams – was confirmed by the US Pentagon and Navy Sunday, Dec. 29. This base will expand the commandos' range in coastal areas, especially against Iranian speedboats, and support counter-measure against mines which Iran threatens to plant in the Strait of Hormuz for the US-EU oil embargo.
debkafile reports Tehran is operating four different kinds of speedboats in the Persian Gulf, most scattered around uninhabited islands off the Iranian mainland in hidden inlets.
The contract for converting the Ponce carries pointers to the timeline expected in Washington for a military confrontation to erupt between the United States and Iran as late spring or early summer.


Jan. 30 2012 Briefs
• The White House: The Security Council must not let the violence to continue in Syria.
• Ahead of Security Council debate, largest Syrian opposition group spurns Russian proposal for talks unless Assad steps down first.
• Iranian ground forces commander Brig. Gen. Pourdastan: America is fearful of attacking Iran.
• Tehran claims tests of new laser-guided artillery shells and a new remotely piloted drone capable of carrying an 11-pound payload to an altitude of 10,000 feet.
• Syrian state media report gas pipeline blown up near Lebanese border.
• Australian police are investigating suspicious packages found Monday at the Israeli and French embassies in Canberra suburb of Yarralumia. People urged to avoid area which is near Parliament House.
• The IAF Heron drone crash apparently caused by a navigational part incorrectly installed by human error – IAF commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan.
• Nehushtan said he was concerned by the challenge posed by Middle East armament to Israel's air force edge.


Assad masses troops in Damascus after military coup tipoff


30 Jan. President Bashar Assad Sunday, Jan. 30, pulled in the Syrian Republican Guard and the 4th armored divisions commanded by his brother Maher Assad from the north to Damascus, debkafile reports exclusively. He deployed them in battle positions in the capital for the first time following an intelligence tipoff that one of the armored division commanders had been won over by Western powers and persuaded to stage a coup d'etat in time for the UN Security Council meeting on Syria on Tuesday.
The renegade general, whose identity is unknown, was reported to be planning to take advantage of the absence of the most trusted regime troops in trouble spots across the country to lead 300 tanks into the capital and seize power.


Assad contains Syria uprising for now with credits for Russia and Iran


30 Jan. Ten months after the Syrian people launched an uprising against its ruler, Bashar Assad can count on the bulk of his army and has regained his grip on most parts of the country. Loyal troops are hemming protesters in tight corners of the flashpoint towns, especially in the north. While the conflict is not over, Assad's survival thus far has strengthened Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis, joined now by Iraq. Of interest to Israel, the Syrian army has gained valuable experience in rapid deployment.
Monday, Jan. 30, Syrian forces were close to purging the suburbs and villages around Damascus of rebel fighters. The operation began Sunday with 2,000 troops backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The rebel Free Syrian Army and opposition groups continue to report heavy fighting in the Damascus area, and especially the international airport where they claim to have prevented Assad's wife and children from fleeing the country. However, military watchers do not confirm either the fighting or the Assad family's attempted flight.


Jan. 31, 2012 Briefs
• Hillary Clinton urged Security Council to support Arab League call for a responsible transition in Syria. The Assad reign of terror will end. The question how many more innocents will die. She rejected the comparison (by Moscow) between Syria and Libya as a false analogy.
• Khamenei warned US not to intervene in Syria's internal affairs.
• The resolution put before the UN Security Council Tuesday demands that Bashar Assad step aside for his deputy and form a national unity government.
• Mossad chief Tamir Pardo's secret talks with top US officials revealed in live broadcast from Senate Intel panel hearing.
• National Intel director James Clapper confirmed assessment that Iran has scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. It depended on Iran having the political will.
• Clapper advised discussing possibility of Israeli strike behind closed doors.


Assad may start regional war if Security Council tells him to step down


31 Jan. Syrian President Bashar Assad is reported by Persian Gulf sources Tuesday, Jan. 31 to have confided to his advisers that he will start up a regional conflict if the UN Security Council calls on him to step down. The heads of the Syrian armed forces and intelligence have been given their orders. Other sources tell debkafile that the Russian flotilla in Tartous appears to be on alert and Sunday, a US nuclear submarine and destroyer sailed through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea.


Feb. 1, 2012 Briefs
• Israel's top soldier Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said Israel can't afford to ignore Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon or its wish to destroy the Jewish state.
• Lebanon and Gaza have two large ordnance arsenals filled by Iran, Syria and Russia, said Gantz. Moscow continues to ship arms to Syria without knowing who will end up in control of the country.
• Four men admit to planning al Qaeda-inspired plot to blow up London Stock Exchange Xmas two yeas ago. Two rabbis and US embassy also targeted.
• Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem said he remained deeply concerned by military dimension of Iranian nuclear program exposed in last IAEA report.
• IAEA inspectors will return to Iran soon after "good" three-day visit • They did not visit nuclear facilities.
• Visiting German FM Guido Westerwelle pledges one million euro support for Yad Vashem.
• Canadian FM John Baird assured his country would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel during Jerusalem visit.
• Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scores a high three-quarters of his Likud party leadership primary, leaving rightist Moshe Feiglin one quarter of the vote. Netanyahu said there is "still time" until elections, declared Likud a national-liberal party with deep roots in settlement.


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood uses Hamas to open door to Tehran


1 Feb. Hamas-Damascus, contrary to Western reports, is firmly maintaining its ties with the Assad regime and the Iranian officials posted to the Syrian capital and Beirut as well as Hizballah, debkafile's sources report. Neither is Hamas seeking to break its ties with Iran, its arms and cash supplier for years. Indeed, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is seizing on the coming Tehran visit by Hamas' Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as opening a back door for mending its fences with the Iranian leadership.
Some Hamas politburo officials have indeed left Damascus, so as not to be seen in bed with Assad whose regime is hounding the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But its operations and intelligence command centers remain in situ, run by the new Hamas strongman intelligence chief Izat Rishak who is close to the Syrian regime. Hamas has been ordered by the Egyptian Brotherhood to get ready to seize control of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as part of the Brotherhood's strategy for attaining rule in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and soon in Syria.


Feb. 2, 2012 Briefs
• Iran has 100 kilos of 20-pc enriched uranium – enough for 4 nukes, says Israel's military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. It would take Iran a year to build a bomb after a decision by Khamenei. Kochavi added: Israel faces 220,000 assorted rockets and bombs in enemy hands.
• Palestinians greet UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon's convoy crossing into the Gaza Strip Thursday with a barrage of chairs, shoes and other objects. He later visited missile-blasted Israel towns after 8 were launched from Gaza Wednesday night.
• Emergency cabinet and parliament meetings in Cairo after football riot in Port Said left 75 dead, 1,000 injured. Rioters call for military junta to step down.
• Iranian government advises its citizens working in Syria to avoid bus trips for fear of abduction.
• In Syria, opposition activitists report 73 deaths at the hands of the military Wednesday.
• Russia will not vote for UN Security Council condemnation of Syria. Its UN ambassador has already barred any resolution that does not rule out foreign armed intervention or does call for Bashar Assad to step down. Consultations continued Thursday in search of a consensual resolution on Syria.


Iran's nuclear arms program is finished, Iran missiles can reach the US


2 Feb. Iran has completed the development of a nuclear weapon and is only waiting for a sign from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to start assembling its first nuclear bomb, said Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi on Thursday, February 2. By the end of 2012 or early 2013 Iran may have a single nuclear bomb, but by 2015 the figure would jump to four or five. Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon: None of Iran's nuclear installations are immune from attack. He disclosed that the big blast at the Iranian missile base near Tehran last November blew up a new missile system with a range of 10,000 kilometers, capable of targeting the United States.
Both agreed that sanctions had done nothing to deter Iran's drive for a nuclear bomb.
Turning to another threat, the military intelligence chief painted a grim picture of 200,000 rockets and missiles of assorted types pointing at Israel. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz stressed that there is no longer any point on the Israeli map that is not within range of enemy missiles.
Tuesday, the IDF practiced mobilizing an armored division under war conditions.

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