A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 24, 2013

January 18, 2013 Briefs:

  • Panetta: Terrorists will find no sanctuary
    The US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta said Friday the US is working with the British and Algerian governments to assess what's happening on the ground at a natural gas complex in the Sahara where Islamic militants are holding hostages from at least 10 countries. Panetta said the terrorists should be on notice that they'll find no sanctuary in Algeria or North Africa, in the Obama administration first direct comment on Algerian hostage crisis.
  • Nuclear watchdog confirms no agreement in discussions in Tehran
    The IAEA team leader Herman Nackaerts said Friday that two days of intensive discussions in Tehran had failed to produce an agreement on access to Iranian nuclear facilities, but another round of talks will take place on Feb. 12 in Tehran.
  • Egyptian forces secure French Cairo embassy against Islamist protest
    Salafist and other extreme Islamist movements called on the faithful to march Friday on the French mission in Cairo Friday in protest against the “colonial” move by France to send troops to Mali. Egyptian security forces were deployed at the embassy in advance.
  • Ron Nachman, Ariel Mayor for 29 years, is dead
    He succumbed to cancer aged 70 after developing the Samaria town of Ariel into a thriving city over nearly three decades. Ron Nachman, a former Likud Knesset Member, fought and won the battle to accord Ariel College full academic recognition as a university. He is widely mourned as a national figure.

Al Qaeda offers to swap US hostages for terrorists

18 Jan. The Al Qaeda group which seized hostages from 10 nations at the remote Algerian gas field in In Aminas Wednesday, Jan. 16, has addressed its first demand to the United States: The release of two American hostages for two high-profile Islamist terrorists jailed in the US: Egyptian Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Blind Sheikh convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plotting the murder of Rabbi Kahane, and Pakistani-American neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, convicted for trying to kill US troops and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2009.

January 19, 2013 Briefs

  • Mali’s neighbors fear backlash from French Mali mission
    International security experts warn that if the Islamists can hit a major Algerian gas field protected by tough security forces, West African nations with ill-equipped and inexperienced troops, far from taking over the Mali mission from France, must feel vulnerable to increasingly international terrorism. Senegal and Nigeria may follow Mauritanian and Niger as hosts for al Qaeda cells. Algerian security sources report that the gas field hostage siege was carried out by a multinational group that included Algerians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, two Canadians, a Frenchman and a Malian. Al Qaeda in North Africa (AQIM) threatens fresh strikes against regional powers and Western interests.

Obama leads America into isolationism

19 Jan. Barack Obama’s refusal to intervene directly in the Mali and Algerian gas field crises is a mark of his evolving isolationist policy. debkafile: Even though the US homeland may not be in immediate peril of from the two episodes, Al Qaeda’s interconnecting tentacles cannot be ignored: Seven years ago on July 7, jihadist suiciders blew up London trains and a bus with explosives provided by the very Al Qaeda cells of Sahel Desert which occupy Mali and struck the Algerian gas field.
The start of this policy was signaled last month by Obama’s withdrawal of the USS Eisenhower strike group and the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group from stations opposite Syria. The French Mali enterprise and Algerian hostage siege, both involving a Qaeda, found the United States without a single carrier, landing vessel or marine force anywhere in the vicinity.
It is not surprising to hear Pentagon and top US military experts sharply criticizing the White House’s policy of non-intervention.

January 20, 2013 Briefs

  • Tehran: Assad’s overthrow is red line for Iran
    A leading Iranian presidential contender Ali Akbar Velayati said Sunday: “If the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, the line of resistance in the face of Israel will be broken.” Velayati who is close to Supreme leader Ali Khamenei spoke in a Lebanese broadcast interview.

Russia lifts first nationals out of Syria. Moscow, Iran arm Assad for big offensive

21 Jan. Moscow said Monday, Jan. 21 that two Russian planes would land in Beirut Tuesday to evacuate 100 Russians from Syria, and contingency plans were in hand to lift 30,000 Russians from the embattled country. debkafile: This was decided after Bashar Assad told his high command to organize mobile armored strike groups for a big push to evict rebel forces out of the places they captured – mostly in the north and southeast. Russia and Iran have stepped up their arms deliveries to Assad’s army by sea and by air as Saudi, Qatari and UAE funding for arms to the rebels dries up.
To camouflage heir heavy arms deliveries to Tartus, the Russian navy Sunday, Jan. 20, announced a large-scale sea maneuver in the Mediterranean. debkafile: Russian deliveries consist mainly of armored vehicles, self-propelling recoilless guns, all-purpose vehicles for rough terrain and a variety of missiles and rockets for combat in built-up areas – all items clearly designed to outfit Assad’s new armored strike groups. Tehran is sending ammo, spare parts for Syrian tanks and artillery and missiles.

January 22, 2013 Briefs

  • At least 17 people killed in Baghdad blasts
    Three blasts, including a suicide bomber attack near an army base in Baghdad left least 17 people dead and wounded more than 50 more in the Iraqi capital Tuesday.
  • Israelis elect 19th parliament and next government
    More than 5.65 million voters were eligible to cast their votes among 31 parties at 10,000 polling stations up and down the country. Balloting proceeded smoothly. Early voting took place at military posts and diplomatic missions overseas. Election Day is by law a national holiday and people are taking advantage of the clear, sunny weather to head out for picnics and the beaches after voting.

January 23, 2013 Brief

  • Israeli soldiers shot and killed Palestinian woman
    The IDF spokesman said she and a Palestinian man had thrown petrol bombs at the soldiers on the Hebron-Etzion Block road on the West Bank Wednesday. The soldiers then opened fire. The woman was killed and the man injured.
  • Lavrov slams “obsession with toppling Assad”
    Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday assigned the blame for the failure to find a solution to the Syrian crisis to the opposition: “For now, everything is running up against the opposition’s obsessing with toppling Bashar Assad’s regime,” he said.
  • The US will run French airlift to Mali two more weeks
    The Pentagon is keeping eight to 10 people at the Mali capital’s airport after the US Air Force flew five C-17 flights into Bamako and delivered more than 80 French troops and 124 tons of equipment. The US airlift will continue two more weeks as hundreds of African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal arrive in Mali. Tuesday, Malian forces recaptured the key towns of Diabaly and Douentza with the help of the French. The French intervention for ousting Islamist extremists from northern Mali began Jan 11. France will stay as long as necessary for other African countries to take over.

Netanyahu may take defense portfolio

23 Jan. Binyamin Netanyahu may keep responsibility for defense in his next cabinet, naming Yair Shamir (of Israel Beitenu) minister in the defense ministry, debkafile discloses. This would end outgoing Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s expectation of defense in the post-election lineup. As an alternative, Ehud Barak would be retained as a non-political expert. After his stunning election showing, Yair Lapid is in line for Vice Prime Minister plus a key cabinet post, possibly foreign affairs. Naftali Bennett is in line for an economic portfolio although his first choice is Religious Affairs.
Wednesday night, Lapid put paid to a chorus led by Labor’s Shelley Yacimovitch for his Future to join the left-of-center and the Arab parties to block Netanyahu’s efforts to build a coalition government. Instead, he welcomed Binyamin Netanyahu as next prime minister.
“I was glad to hear Netanyahu referring to all the things I have been aiming for,” he said to reporters. There will be no opposition bloc – certainly not with Hanin Zouabi,” said Lapid.

To build a viable government, Netanyahu needs Lapid

23 Jan. Even after losing one-third of his party’s support in the Tuesday Jan. 22 general election, no one but Binyamin Netanyahu (who is still leading with 31 out of 120 Knesset seats) can form Israel’s next government. But he cannot manage without the new centrist figure Yair Lapid and his fledgling Future party (second with 19 seats) and meeting their demands for peace talks and key economic, budget, security, and other policy changes. If they agree on guidelines, other parties will fall in line behind them.
Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, which would have been Netanyahu’s natural senior partner had the Israeli voter given him the same chance as Lapid instead of only 12 seats, will no doubt soon join the new government lineup. The newcomers lack background in government. But Netanyahu was not prevented by long experience from making serious mistakes in the last year or two. New faces may not be a bad thing for Israel’s political wellbeing.

January 24, 2013 Briefs

  • American Mumbai plotter gets 35 years
    David Coleman Headley, a US Chicago citizen of Pakistani descent was sentenced to 35 years prison as co-plotter of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including six Israelis at the Habad center. He avoided life or death by agreeing to testify against additional terror suspects living in America.
  • Official results of Israel’s 19th Knesset elections
    The results as released Thursday night by the Central Elections Committee: Likud-Israel Beitenu – 31; Future – 19; Labor – 15; Jewish Home -12 (up from 11); Shas – 11; Raam-Taal – 4; Kadima – 2; Tzipi Livni and Meretz – 6 each. Voter turnout reached 67.79 percent. Forty-one thousand ballots were disqualified.
  • Germany, Netherlands join Britain in advising nationals to quit Benghazi
    They were responding to a “specific, imminent threat to Westerners,” a week after the hostage siege at an Algerian gas field left scores dead. Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to a House Committee on the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Benghazi last September. debkafile: The advisory applies in effect to all foreigners employed in Libyan oil fields since most have accommodation in Benghazi.
  • North Korea plans nuclear test, more rocket launches
    The North Korean Defense Commission announced a third nuclear test will take place as well as more long-range rocket launches, “targeting the arch enemy, the United States.”
  • White House on Israeli vote: Talk to Palestinians
    White House spokesman Jay Carney commenting on the Israeli election said: "We believe that what needs to take place is direct negotiations between the two parties (Israelis and Palestinians) that addresses the final-status issues and results in a two-state solution that provides the sovereignty that the Palestinian people deserve and the security that the Israeli people and Israel deserves."
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