A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending February 9, 2012
Feb. 3, 2012 Briefs
• Khamenei says Iran will assist any nation or group that "confronts" Israel, which he called "cancer". Iran will never halt its nuclear program and will close Hormuz whenever it chooses.
• Israeli Air Force jets targeted 6 terror hubs across Gaza Thursday night following 8-missile missile salvo against Israel.
• Iran launches its third satellite into orbit 250-370 km above earth. Space program using Safir rockets usable for ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
• Protesters besiege Egypt's interior ministry Friday, second day of countrywide demonstrations of anger over 74 deaths in Port Said football riot.
Feb. 4, 2012 Briefs
• Syrian opposition reports 350 killed Saturday in Homs district of Khaldiyeh in worst military bombardment of nearly 11-month-old uprising. More than 1,300 injured.
• Syrian government denied attack, accusing "gunmen" of killing civilians.
• Russian PM Lavrov warns of "scandal" if Western UN resolution on Syria is put to the vote.
• Iran announces a new three-week exercise in the South and Strait of Hormuz to drill forces in war conditions.
• Israeli facilities and Jewish centers in North America and around the world on high terror alert for increasing Iranian terror threats.
Americans talk about an Israeli strike on Iran, prepare own offensive
4 Feb. The question is no longer if armed hostilities against Iran are afoot, but when. Tehran too is gearing up with a new three-week "exercise" and calling allies to the flag, including Syria. debkafile: The "exercise" is in fact an Iranian military buildup ahead of a possible American or Israel attack.
The appalling bloodbath in Syria has reached a scale – 350 Saturday, Feb. 4 alone – which potentially rivals nuclear Iran as the trigger for a Middle East confrontation.
debkafile's military sources report a steady flow of many thousands of US troops to two strategic islands within reach of Iran, Oman's Masirah just south of the Strait of Hormuz and Socotra, between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 526 of Jan. 27 was the first world publication to reveal the massive concentration of American might on the two islands.)
Our military sources report that large Saudi forces are now deployed around the oil fields, pipelines and export facilities in the eastern provinces opposite the Persian Gulf, backed by anti-missile Patriot PAC-3 batteries. American, British and French fighter-bombers have been landing at Saudi air bases to safeguard the capital, Riyadh.
Israel has accelerated, expanded and focused its military drill regimen for the coming conflict. Tuesday, Jan. 31, a division-scale exercise practiced the drafting of reservists under heavy missile bombardment of military bases, induction centers, national highways and towns from at least three directions: Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, as well as Iran.
Thursday, Feb. 2, Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi disclosed that 200,000 missiles and rockets, including thousands of long-range projectiles, were currently pointed at Israel, the only country in the world facing a threat on this scale.
Feb. 5, 2012 Briefs• Egypt refers 19 Americans to criminal trial related to foreign funding of NGOs – in face of US threat to cut off aid.
• Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, Head of IDF Gen. Staff Planning Div., is next Israeli Air Force commander. A former fighter pilot, Eshel, 52, takes office at the end of May when Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan ends his tour of duty.
• Hizballah: We shall not Assad fall – even if it takes a confrontation with Israel. The Lebanese Shiite terrorists also vowed to surprise Israel.
• Saudi Arabia blocked Iranian leader Khamenei's website ahead of Friday sermon.
• New Mediterranean gas find at border of Israel-Cypriot exclusion zones.
Assad sends hit squads after top Lebanese officials
5 Feb. Syrian President Bashar Assad has hired hit squads to kill top Lebanese government, intelligence and security officials whom he suspects of helping insurrectionists and Saudi and Qatari agents smuggle fighters and weapons into the country to fight his regime. debkafile's counter-terror sources report that one Lebanese hit squad was captured and confessed to being armed and assigned by Syrian Military Intelligence to murder the Internal Security Director General of Lebanese Internal Security Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and his deputy Col. Wissam al-Hassan, head of its Information Branch by rigging bomb cars in Beirut.
A second plot targeted Lebanese lawmaker, the Maronite Christian Sami Gemayel.
Feb. 6, 2012 Briefs
• Iran believed expanding uranium enrichment in underground Fordo site, say diplomatic sources in Vienna.
• In toughening sanctions, Obama orders freeze on Iranian assets, sanctions on banks including its central bank.
• US closes embassy in Damascus Monday, followed by the UK.
• Scores of dead in Syrian military attacks on protest centers Monday. French sources reported hundreds of Syrian armored cars attacked Zabadani between Damascus and the Lebanese border.
• Russia condemns "hysterical" Western response to its veto of UN Security Council's Syrian motion.
• After banning Barbie dolls, Iran bars sale of toys from The Simpsons TV show.
• Palestinian Fatah leader Abbas to head unity government with Hamas under deal reached in Qatar Monday. Netanyahu: Abbas must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas which abides by its ambition to destroy Israel. He can't have both.
Obama wants to hold Israel back from Iran strike. West to confront Iran in Syria
6 Feb. US President Barack Obama, by asserting Sunday, Feb. 5, he doesn't think Israel has decided whether to attack Iran, indicated he sought to keep Israel away from military action as a strategic reserve, while using its threat of attack to intimidate Iran into opting for diplomacy. Monday, Feb. 6, Bashar Assad reportedly redoubled his deadly assault on Homs, taking advantage of the respite granted him by the Russian-Chinese veto. Syria is now a hub of the US-Iranian confrontation. .
In Israel, no knowledgeable source any longer doubts that the Netanyahu government had already reached a decision. It was instantly assumed that Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, whose appointment as the next Israeli Air Force commander was announced Sunday, would lead the coming operation against Iran.
Obama also said, "We are going to be sure we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this – hopefully diplomatically." debkafile's analysts report that by "lockstep" he meant the role to which he had assigned Israel in the massive disinformation contest underway between the West and Iran.
Feb. 7, 2012 Briefs• Israel and Cyprus to discuss basing Israel Air Force jets on island when Netanyahu pays visit later this month. It would be part of Israeli-Cypriot-Greek defense shield for E. Mediterranean oil and gas fields.
• Russian FM Lavrov: Assad willing to halt violence "on all sides," hold talks with all political forces in Syria. He will soon announce date for referendum on new constitution, said Lavrov after meeting Assad Tuesday.
• Gulf States expel Syrian ambassadors, follow US and UK in recalling their envoys from Damascus. Spain joins Italy and France in recalling ambassadors as heavy gunfire continues in Homs.
• Amid deepening US-Egyptian crisis, an Egyptian delegation in Washington cancelled talks with US senators Tuesday.
• Heavy gunfire in Homs early Tuesday after activists report 95 killed in heavy bombardment Monday.
• Rising calls in Arab world to boycott Russian, Chinese products after their Security Council veto.
• Hamas divided over deal signed by Khaled Meshaal.
Some 20,000 troops in US-led coalition drill for Persian Gulf
7 Feb. Some 20,000 marines, seamen and air crews from six countries, a US nuclear aircraft carrier strike group and three US Marine gunship carriers are practicing an attack on a fictitious mechanized enemy division which has invaded its neighbor in the largest amphibian exercise seen in the West for a decade. "Bold Alligator 2012" simulates an Iranian invasion and a coalition marine landing on the Iranian coast. debkafile: It is the prelude to the stationing of a large aircraft carrier and marine force opposite Iran.
The exercise is scheduled to end on February 14, a week before the winding up of the Iranian drill which began on the same day. Thee participants are to be shipped out to Persian Gulf positions opposite Iran. Altogether three American aircraft carrier strike groups, the French Charles de Gaulle carrier and four or five US Marines amphibian vessels will be posted there, debkafile's military sources report.
Feb. 8, 2012 Briefs
• Assad sends a brigade of T-72 tanks to Homs as reinforcements Wednesday afternoon.
• Turkish FM Davutoglu calls for international coalition to stop Assad's deadly crackdown. He is due to meet Secretary Clinton in Washington and push a new Erdogan plan for Syria.
• Russian PM Putin Wednesday cautioned against outside interference in the Syrian conflict "like a bull in a china shop".
• Iranian ambassador to Moscow says his country can hit US military forces anywhere in the world if attacked by them.
• Cairo says Egypt will not be swayed by US aid threats when investigating foreign-funded pro-democracy groups and NGOs.
• Histadrut Labor Fed launches general strike Wednesday against government and private sector outsourcing.
First foreign troops in Syria revealed
8 Feb. British and Qatari special operations units are operating under cover with rebel forces in the Syrian city of Homs, debkafile’s exclusive sources report. They are not engaged in direct combat with the Syrian forces bombarding Syria's third largest city, but serve as tactical advisers and logistical aides. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Edrogan used this foreign military presence in Homs, revealed here for the first time, as grist for his own Syrian initiative.
Our sources report the two foreign contingents have set up four centers of operation: at the northern Homs district of Khaldiya, Bab Amro in the east, and Bab Derib and Rastan in the north. Each district is home to about a quarter of a million people.
Wednesday night, Feb. 8, Assad sent the 40th Mechanized Brigade of heavy T-72 tanks to Homs for an all-out effort to beat the rebellion, counter the foreign contingents and reinforce the 90th Infantry Brigade commanded by his kinsman, Gen. Zuhair al-Assad, the backbone of the military force battering the city for the past five days at the cost of hundreds of dead.
Heavy US military airlift to the Persian Gulf
9 Feb. As US and Israel continued to bicker over an attack on Iran, their war preparations continued apace. debkafile's military sources report that flight after flight of US warplanes and transports were seen cutting eastward over Sinai on their way to Gulf destinations, presumably Saudi Arabia, at a frequency not seen in the Middle East for many years. Sunday, Feb. 5, Alireza Forghani, strategic adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, "It would only take nine minutes to wipe out Israel."
The three International Atomic Energy inspectors who spent the last three days of January in Tehran had asked to meet the hitherto invisible head of Iran's nuclear bomb program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The Iranians pretended to be deaf. debkafile's intelligence and military sources note that without talking to Fakhrizadeh or any of the 600 nuclear engineers and scientists under him, there is no way the West can find out where the nuclear program stands and which installations have been moved to underground facilities.