A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending February 23, 2012

Feb. 17-18, 2012 Briefs
• An Israeli counter-terrorism official says Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are plotting more attacks on Israelis overseas. Travelling Israelis advised to exercise caution. Israeli embassies and institutions remain on terror alert.
• Israeli PM blasts Iran as “most irresponsible country in the world” and says sanctions against Tehran are not working.
• Six Palestinian missiles exploded in Israel’s towns and villages Friday and Saturday. No casualties or damage.

Crisis in US-Israel relations over nuclear talks with Iran

18 Feb. In the last 24 hours, the approach of international talks with Iran on its nuclear program has escalated tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government and triggered the following developments:
US President Barack Obama decided to send his US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on an urgent visit to Israel for three days.
In private conversations, Netanyahu has said he feels cheated. By its underhand tactics for getting nuclear negotiations underway the Obama administration leaves Israel with no recourse other than to grapple with the Iranian menace on its own and be less sensitive to Washington’s wishes.
A bipartisan group of concerned US senators warned President Obama Friday that they would strongly oppose any proposal in talks with Iran that would allow it to continue uranium enrichment activities.
A letter signed by a dozen senators from both parties expressed concern that Iran would try to use a resumption of talks with world powers on its nuclear program to buy time and dilute international pressure on it.
Wednesday, Netanyahu blasted Iran – and indirectly Washington– when he said in Cyprus that sanctions “haven’t worked” and that for a regime which attacks diplomats to have nuclear weapons “is something of enormous concern for the United States and for Israel.”

Coming nuclear talks with Iran disable sanctions, spark anti-Israel terror

US President Barack Obama is convinced that the resumed international nuclear negotiations he has worked hard to set up will not only avert war but lay to rest once and for all the problem of Iran’s nuclear bomb program. But the imminence of Iranian talks with world powers has already had the negative effects of sparking a wave of Iranian terror against Israeli overseas targets and seriously devalued sanctions,
debkafile reports, while Tehran has no intention of yielding on its drive for nuclear arms.
Our Washington sources describe the White House mood as one of high optimism. They think they have the silver bullet for success: The US will match Iran’s concession on its nuclear weapon program with the staged whittling down of sanctions. They will drop to zero when a successful accord is reached.
However, a timer was built into the toughest sanctions imposed in the last few weeks: They go into force in July. If the talks are going well by then, they will never be needed and stay on paper – or so it is hoped.
But this delaying mechanism has already made the sanctions self-defeating and they are breaking up even before the talks begin.

Feb. 19, 2012 Briefs
• Iran cuts off oil exports to the UK and France, retaliation for EU oil embargo.
• Israel must prepare proactive measures for defending its population against advanced enemy weaponry, said Netanyahu at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Passive defense is not enough. Much more to be done to upgrade deterrent and punitive resources.
• Egypt recalls its ambassador from Syria, Damascus reciprocates .
• IAEA diplomats say Iran is ready to move thousands of advanced centrifuges into the Fordo underground enrichment facility.
• Leading Syrian businessman Faisal al-Qudsi says 40 pc of Syrian economy crippled and government disintegrating. He gave military action no more than six months but said Assad’s regime would fight to the end.

Iran names Istanbul as venue for nuclear talks

19 Feb. Iran continues to behave as though it is calling the shots. The first formal announcement of the resumption of Iran-world powers nuclear talks (confirming debkafile’s exclusive) came from its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Selahi who Sunday, Feb. 19, named the venue as Istanbul, Turkey. Saturday, two Iranian warships got away with delivering arms for Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protest without US or Israeli interference, which would have been justified under UN sanctions. They docked at Tartus port Saturday alongside a Russian naval flotilla, symbolizing their joint effort to preserve Assad.
The US and Israel therefore let Iran get away with setting a precedent for bringing arms to the Assad regime and the Lebanese Hizballah group without being challenged, its comradeship with Russia for buttressing the Assad regime and their readiness to ward off Western-Arab military intervention by force.

Feb. 20, 2012 Briefs• Syria sends tanks and reinforcements to Homs in apparent final push to retake rebel-held districts holding out in third week.
• Three US senators in Cairo to discuss case of 19 Americans to be tried Sunday as pro-democracy NGO activists. They are Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman.
• Israeli schools hold earthquake exercise Monday.
• Israeli police stage mission command drill to prepare for scenarios of Palestinian mass riots and attempts to storm into Israel across West Bank, Gaza and Egyptian borders.
It is held at the IDF’s Tselim military exercise site.

Obama will try to dissuade Netanyahu from Iran military option after his advisers failed

20 Feb. After a high-ranking US delegation headed by White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon failed in three days of tough talks (Feb.18-20) to persuade Israeli leaders to back off plans for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites, the White House invited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for talks with President Barak Obama on March 5. He will try and break the stalemate which ended his advisers’ talks with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
Donilon faced an acrimonious Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in two hours of stormy conversation in Jerusalem Sunday, Feb. 19.
According to debkafile’s sources, Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of drawing Iran into resuming nuclear negotiations with world powers by assuring Tehran it would be allowed to continue enriching uranium in any quantity, provided it promised not to build an Iranian nuclear weapon. The prime minister charged that this permit contravened US administration guarantees to Israel on the nuclear issue and, moreover left Tehran free to upgrade its current 20 percent enrichment level to 90 percent weapons grade. This Israel cannot tolerate, said Netanyahu, and so its military option must be held on the ready.

Feb. 21, 2012 Briefs
• State Department: US favors political solution for Syrian unrest but may have to consider additional measures if Assad does not yield.
• China, India and Japan, which buy about 45% of Iran’s crude exports, planning cuts of at least 10% in purchases in line with US sanctions.
• Palestinians rioted, threw stones at tourists on Temple Mt. and Rachel’s Tomb shrines in Jerusalem and Bethlehem Tuesday. Israel closed Rachel’s Tomb.
• Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security breaks up Iranian intelligence Sepah and Hizballah terrorist groups, arrests 20 suspects. They had weapons, explosives and explosive device stocks for attacking Israeli and Jewish targets.
• Egypt closed the Rafah terminal between Gaza and Sinai.
• A large bomb discovered and defused on Egyptian-Israeli border south of Nitzana crossing.
• Two Iranian ships left Syria and sailed through Suez Canal Tuesday after unloading arms for Assad at Tartus port.
• Russia will not attend anti-Assad Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis.

Tehran uses US-Israel row to threaten preemptive strike

21 Feb. Deputy Chief of Iran’s Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hejazi said Tuesday, Feb. 21: “Our strategy now is that if… our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests… we will act without waiting for their actions.” debkafile’s sources report that an Iranian preemptive attack on Israel, in the air for some weeks, became realistic after Tehran seized on the dragging US-Israeli argument over a military strike and the two governments’ indecisiveness as a golden opportunity to further its interests and improve its bargaining position for international talks.
The Netanyahu government’s resolve is expected to melt away under the bulldozer assault of one American emissary after another touching down at Ben-Gurion airport and cornering Jerusalem into backing down.
Once Israel lets its hands be tied, Tehran calculates, it will become progressively harder to break them loose.

Feb. 22, 2012 Briefs• Israel’s FM said US and Russian warnings against Israel striking Iran do not affect Israeli decision-making. “The security of its citizens is solely their government’s responsibility”.
• Russian deputy FM earlier warned Israel not to attack Iran saying it would be a "catastrophe".
• Veteran American reporter Marie Colvin working for The Sunday Times and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik killed in Syrian shelling of Homs.
• At least 90 Syrians killed and three other Western journalists wounded in ruthless bombardment of Homs.
• Russia backs Red Cross call for daily two-hour ceasefire in Syria and humanitarian corridor.
• UN Security Council increases African Union force in Somalia to 17,731.
• 30 Libyan surface-to-air missiles fall into hands of al Qaeda-linked Somali Shaabab.
• Israeli military spokesman announces change in plan to deploy Iron Dome in Tel Aviv.
• Egyptian court to pronounce sentence on ousted President Hosni Mubarak on June 2.

Iran cuts down to six weeks timeline for weapons-grade uranium

22 Feb. Tehran this week hardened its nuclear and military policies ahead of international nuclear talks. The threat by Iran’s armed forces deputy chief Gen. Mohammad Hejazi of a preemptive strike against its “enemies,” was accompanied by its refusal to allow UN nuclear watchdog inspectors to visit the Parchin facility, following which the IAEA chief cut their mission short. The transfer of 20 percent uranium enrichment is estimated to have shortened Iran’s race for weapons grade material to six weeks, and the collapse of the UN mission has nullified US hopes of Iranian nuclear transparency.
Israel sees Iranian behavior as changing for the worse and a downturn in its own strategic situation. It now faces a dual threat of an earlier nuclear Iran coupled with a threat of a preemptive military attack.

Feb. 23, 2012 Briefs
• Terrorist attacks in 12 Iraqi cities, most by gunmen, leave 55 people dead, 225 injured. Gunfire lasted hours in Baghdad with no security presence in sight.
• President Peres denies reports he is against an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.
• Seven US Marines killed in a collision between two Huey helicopters in Arizona.
• An Afghan soldier shoots 2 US troops dead, wounds four more in anger over Koran burnings.
• The US said Iran’s refusal to let UN experts investigate nuclear activities at a military base does not inspire confidence for resumed nuclear negotiations.
• Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran's nuclear policies would not change after UN nuclear inspectors refused access to Parchin site believed to house nuclear explosion tests.
• The standoff rattled world oil markets amid rising fears of military confrontation.

US, France, UK, Turkey, Italy poised for military intervention in Syria

23 Feb. Military preparations for intervention in the horrendous Syrian crisis are quietly afoot in Washington, Paris, Rome, London and Ankara. President Barack Obama is poised for a final decision after the Pentagon draws up operational plans for protecting Syrian rebels and beleaguered populations, debkafile reports. The deaths of two notable journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochik helped galvanize the West into action. They died after Syrian artillery located their secret press center in Homs with the help of Russian spy satellites or Iranian electronic measures – and gutted it. The potential US-led alliance will not seek a UN mandate for intervening in Syria because it would be defeated by a Russian veto. They may act in the name of the Friends of Syria grouping of 80 nations which holds its first meeting in Tunis Friday, Feb. 24.

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