A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 10, 2013

Likud loses ground over Netanyahu’s fuzzy messages

5 Jan. Likud’s chief asset, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, may also be its chief liability. His silence and ambiguity, his failure to preempt a nuclear-armed Iran and his alignment with Barak Obama on Middle East affairs affecting Israel’s vital security are hurting his party – the joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu ticket – which 17 days before a general election is on a downward slide to 34 from its first 47-seat rating. Still, the polls put him in the top slot (43+ percent) as favorite for prime minister.
Meanwhile, Iran has used the months free of international harassment and Israeli thunder for giant steps toward developing plutonium-based weapons. Netanyahu’s favorite boast that he turned the Iranian nuclear menace into a matter of universal concern has had its downside: As the groundwork for a proactive military policy it was effective; however the gap between rhetoric and inaction has harmed Israel’s credibility and damaged its strategic deterrence. Netanyahu has at the same time omitted to claim credit for the improvement in relations with Turkey’s Erdogan government after years of acrimony, although it would give his campaign a valuable boost.

January 6, 2013 Briefs

  • Ex-FM Lieberman accepts two-state solution
    The next government’s guidelines will embody two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian problem, said Avigdor Lieberman, co-leader of the rulingLikud-Israel Beitenu alliance Sunday. He denied reports that the two parties would go their separate ways after the election.
  • Netanyahu: Iran hasn’t yet crossed nuclear red line
    In a wide-ranging Kol Israel radio interview Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Iran has not yet crossed the red line toward a nuclear bomb capacity, and averting this gave peril remained his prime goal as prime minister if reelected on Jan. 22. Asked about a third Palestinian “intifada” in the absence of peace talks and rising unrest on the West Bank, Netanyahu said the Central Command HQ had preparations in place although he hoped they would not be necessary. He accused Mahmoud Abbas of consistently dodging peace talks, but repeated he was still open to negotiations without prior conditions.

Russian warships back Assad’s bluster

6 Jan. With a score of Russian warships carrying thousands of marines on the Syrian coast, Syrian Bashar Assad could afford to brazen it out Sunday, Jan. 6, in his first public speech in seven months. Syria “no longer takes dictation from anyone,” he said, and its citizens must defend their country against “a war fought by only a handful of Syrians and many foreigners with Islamist ideology.” He rejected dialogue with the opposition as “puppets fabricated by the West.”
debkafile: By harping on the terrorist element in the rebel movement, Assad aimed for a long-term international insurance for his regime – especially after Moscow announced that Russian vessels, including combat ships and landing craft carrying marines and military vehicles, would remain in Syrian waters until Easter – “to deter the West from deploying ground forces in Syria.”

January 7, 2013 Briefs

  • Egypt foils attempt to bomb Rafah Church of N. Sinai
    Egyptian army patrols discovered in time two bomb cars on a street between the church and a military facility under construction in the divided town, said the Egyptian army spokesman. One car escaped and is being searched.
  • Netanyahu: Syrian army moves back from frontier, jihadists moves in
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: Israel must defend its Golan border against both infiltration and terrorism since the Syrian army has moved back and the jihadists have moved in. “I also submit to the cabinet the fact that the Syrian regime is very unstable, that the question of chemical weapons here worries us.” He said that Israel was coordinating with the United States and others “so that we might be prepared for any scenario and possibility that could arise.” Israel is building a new border fence the length of the armistice line.

January 8, 2013 Briefs

  • Three left-of-center leaders fail to set up anti-Netanyahu bloc
    The three opposition leaders held their first meeting Sunday night in secret to forge a left-of-center bloc and a joint campaign strategy for preventing Binyamin Netanyahu heading the post-Jan 22 election government. However, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, Tzipi Livni, head of “The Movement,” and Yair Lapid, founder of Yesh Atid (Future), all had their own plans about joining the next Netanyahu administration.
  • Gen (ret.) Amiram Levin: Comptroller’s report exposed crime organization
    Ex-Mossad deputy chief Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amiram Levin said in a radio interview Sunday that the Harpaz affair, which resulted in former Maj. Gen Yoav Galant, the defense minister's nominee, being passed over as chief of staff, was but one aspect of a criminal organization exposed by the State Comptroller. It was operated, Gen. Levin charged, by disgraced former officer Boaz Harpaz, with the knowledge of former chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi and his bureau. The Comptroller found Ashkenazi’s former top aide Col. Erez Wiener responsible for using Boaz Harpaz to gather data maligning the defense minister, his wife and his staff – with the partial knowledge of his boss, the chief of staff. Ashkenazi failed to gain approval for a fifth year in office and Barak has announced his impending retirement.

Ahead of Hagel, Brennan appointments, Obama sends intel official to Cairo

8 Jan. President Barack Obama sent US Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Michael Vickers to Cairo Sunday, Jan. 12 to try and revitalize the counter-terror war in Libya and Sinai. debkafile: Obama needs to show action on fighting terror before the murder of US Ambassador Christ Stevens in Benghazi by al Qaeda comes up at congressional hearings and hampers the endorsement of ex-Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and John Brennan as Central Intelligence Director. Their appointments were announced Monday, Jan. 7. Obama also promised Netanyahu US military aid for the Egyptian army to purge Sinai of terrorists and arms smugglers last November and Israel is still waiting.

January 9, 2013 Briefs

  • Obama expected to nominate Jack Lew to Treasury
    Washington insiders report that President Barack Obama has decided to nominate White House chief of staff Jack Lew as his next Treasury Secretary in place of Timothy Geithner.
  • Israel boosts defense industrial base
    The goal is to expand Israel’s annual defense exports from $7 billion to $10 billion, said Retired Brig. Gen. Shmaya Avieli, of the Defense Ministry. While the four largest companies account for 98 percent of defense exports (2 percent of total export list), government support will be expanded for hundreds of small- and medium-sized firms which often offer innovative solutions more quickly.
  • Syria’s 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium missing
    Bashar Assad was close to building a nuclear reactor at Al-Kibar in eastern Syria with assistance from North Korea when it was destroyed by Israel in 2007. The stock of 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium, enough for weapons grade fuel for five atomic devices, has since gone missing and may have passed to Iran,

Assad feels secure enough to allow POW exchange

9 Jan. The three-way prisoner exchange of thousands of Syrian, Turkish and Iranian prisoners Wednesday, Jan. 9, was the first Assad-rebel deal. Altogether, the Assad regime released Syrian 2,130 civilians, including 73 women and a number of foreigners, some of them Turks, and obtained the release of 48 Iranians held for six months by the rebel Free Syrian Army. The FSA claimed they were Revolutionary Guards officers and men, while Tehran insisted they were pilgrims visiting holy sites in Syria.
debkafile: This turning-point in the 22-month Syrian conflict was made possible by the Syrian ruler’s confidence in his survival and the rebels’ realization that it was their only chance to save some of their war gains. The POW swap may lead to a lull in the fighting as both sides build up their resources – either to win the war or improve their future bargaining position.

January 10, 2013 Briefs

  • Syrian army fires more short-range missiles
    A NATO official confirmed the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile – probably a Scud – Wednesday night against unspecified targets in northern Syria.
  • Three Kurdish women found shot dead in Paris
    French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters in Paris the three women had been "without doubt executed" with gunshots to the head early Thursday.
  • Right-of-center bloc gaining 12 days before Israeli vote
    Less than two weeks before the Jan. 22 general election, the 120 Knesset seats divide roughly between 71 seats for the right-of-center plus religious parties bloc versus 49 for the left-of-center factions plus Arab parties, according to a new opinion poll broadcast by Kol Israel national radio Thursday. Nettanyahu’s Likud-Israel Beitenu is shown to be lleveling out of its decline with the prospect of 34-35 seats. It is followed by Labor under Shelly Yacimovitch steady at 17; Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi with 14+ ; the ultra-Orthodox Shas dropping to 9 – level with rising Yair Lapid’s new Future; and Tzipi Livni’s Hatenua down to 7 – matched by the second ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism party. The former ruling Kadima and right-wing Otzma are both down to two mandates each and battling for the threshold minimum of three. Left-wing Meretz may expect four seats while the Arab parties are stable at a total of ten.
  • First eight Israeli votes cast in Wellington, New Zealand
    Overseas balloting for the Jan. 22 general election has begun at 96 overseas diplomatic missions, starting in New Zealand.
  • Blizzards cover two-thirds of Israel in snow
    After week-long torrential rains and high winds across the country, most of inland Israel was hit by a blizzard Thursday, closing schools and halting public city and intercity transport, as temperatures dropped below zero. The main highways connecting Jerusalem to the rest of the country were later reopened. Dozens of householders were evacuated Wednesday from water-logged homes as rivers and normally dry wadis burst their banks.
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