A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 31, 2013

Lapid demands Foreign Affairs. Bennett, Religious Affairs

25 Jan. The new arrival to Israeli politics, Yair Lapid and his Future (Yesh Atid) party, have kicked off the bargaining for joining Binyamin Netanyahu’s next government armed with a substantial shopping list for jobs and other demands. debkafile: He wants the foreign ministry for himself, the right to veto the prime minister’s choice of defense minister, in case it is Avigdor Lieberman, and three more portfolios. He also says the cabinet must not exceed 18 posts, with no deputy ministers. Naftali Bennett wants Religious Affairs. Both Lapid and Bennett put Netanyahu in a tough spot. He is conducting parallel negotiations with the religious parties. Senior Likud officers were heard grumbling: “Anyone would think Yesh Atid had won 61 seats – not 19.”

January 26, 2013 Briefs

  • French-led Malian troops control Gao
    The Islamist stronghold of North Mali has been retaken by French-led troops, the French defense ministry announced Saturday. They moved into the town after securing the airport and a strategic bridge to the south.
  • Dozens killed in Port Said over 21 soccer death sentences
    Violent rampages erupted in the city after 21 hooligans were sentenced to death over a soccer stadium riot last year in which 74 fans were killed. The violence in Port Said came on top on the anti-government protests which swept Egyptian cities Friday leaving at least 10 dead and more than 500 injured on the second anniversary of the Tahrir revolution.


Iranian-Hizballah convoy blown up on Syrian Golan

26 Jan. At least eight officers were killed in a mysterious twin-car bomb explosion Friday, Jan. 25 at Syrian regional intelligence headquarters in Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Some of the fatalities were Syrian, but Western intelligence sources disclosed to debkafile that most were high-ranking Iranian Al Qods Brigades and Hizballah officers. The incident sent tensions shooting up on the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria and may delay Bashar Assad’s all-out offensive against Syrian rebels – planned with Iranian aid.
Thursday, Jan. 24, Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Military Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi ceremonially promoted Col. G., commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal, to the rank of major general in recognition of his unit’s “outstanding covert operations overseas.”

January 27, 2013 Briefs

  • Israeli bus under fire between Anatot and Hizmeh checkpoint
    There were no casualties on the bus which came under Palestinian fire on the road between Anatot and the Hizme checkpoint northeast of Jerusalem Sunday night. At the Tapuah junction south of Nablus, Israeli border guards found seven pipe bombs and knives in a car. The two Palestinians in the car said they intended blowing up the junction.
  • Iron Dome anti-missile batteries deployed in northern Israel
    The Israeli Defense Forces announced Sunday that Iron Dome anti-missile batteries have been posted to fortify security in northern Israel and the big port of Haifa.
  • Morsi declares emergency, curfew in Port Said
    Egyptian President declared an emergency and curfews in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia Sunday night at the end of four days of violent clashes in those and other towns including Cairo.
  • Netanyahu: Acute security perils won’t wait for new government
    Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is aiming for a broad-based government coalition able to cope first and foremost with the many security perils facing the country – some of the worst it has ever faced – from the east, north and south: Iran, its nuclear program and its satellites, Syria’s lethal weaponry and the Arab turmoil around us “won’t wait till we put together a new cabinet," he said. "If Israel isn't strong and resolute enough to meet these challenges on its own, no one will come to its aid,” he stressed. “But I am convinced we are up to it.” debkafile: East referred to Iran, north to Syria and Hizballah and south, to Al Qaeda.


Iran weighs provoking Syrian-Israel clash. Iron Dome posted in North

27 Jan. Tehran is looking seriously at a limited Syrian-Lebanese clash of arms with Israel – possibly using Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons as a trigger, debkafile discloses. A clash would serve Tehran by sidetracking Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities and help spin out its nuclear talks with the Six Powers. Israel has got plans ready for current military challenges. Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke of over the weekend of a “surgical operation” against Iran.

January 28, 2013 Briefs

  • Fleeing Islamists burn priceless Timbuktu library
    As French-led Malian troops captured the airport of the world heritage town of Timbuktu Monday, fleeing Islamists set fire to the Baba Ahmed Institution and its priceless ancient manuscripts. At Gao, jubilant inhabitants danced and sang in the streets to celebrate their liberation from brutal Islamist rule Sunday. The Islamists and Mali rebels are pulling back into the Sahara desert and are feared regrouping for guerilla warfare.
  • Jewish community up in arms over Iran’s inclusion in bombing probe
    Argentine Jewry are protesting the agreement Foreign Minister Hector Timerman signed Sunday with his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi for a joint investigation of the 1994 Buenos Aires Jewish community center bombing which killed 85 people and injured more than 300. Over the years, Argentine prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of masterminding the attack, among the Iran’s defense minister Ahmed Vahidi. Tehran has always refused to make them available. The agreement permits suspects to be interrogated by Argentinean justice officials – but only in Tehran. President Cristina Fernandez defended the deal as “historic” and “guaranteeing due process.”
  • Fifth day of clashes in Egypt. One person killed
    Egypt’s opposition bloc rejected President Mohamed Morsi’s call for dialogue after he instituted a state of emergency and curfews in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia Sunday night. More than 50 people have died since Friday, the second anniversary of the Egypt’s Tahrir revolution against Hosni Mubarak.


US: Syria’s neighbors must cope with chemical threat

28 Jan. debkafile: The military onus for coping with Syrian chemical peril is being passed by Washington to Turkey, Jordan and Israel. US assistance will be confined to setting targets, providing intelligence and coordinating Israeli-Turkish-Jordanian military operations if necessary to take control of the dangerous arsenal. Obama in an interview Monday said: “In a situation like Syria, I have to ask: can we make a difference in that situation? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons?”

January 29, 2013 Briefs

  • Attorney General orders criminal probe against former C-of-S Ashkenazi
    The investigation in its first stage will focus on Gaby Ashkenazi’s alleged improper conduct in exercising undue influence for the selection of his successor as IDF chief of staff. This is part of what has become known as the Harpaz affair. Ashkenazi’s bureau chief Col. Erez Wiener faces charges in the same case.
  • Egyptian president’s aide calls the Holocaust a US hoax
    Fathi Shihab-Eddim, a key figure in Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s government, claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax cooked up by US intelligence, and the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis “simply moved to America,” Fox News reported Tuesday. He said “US intelligence agencies in cooperation with their counterparts in allied nations during World War II created it [the Holocaust] to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, and to justify war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb.”
  • Stanley Fischer steps down as Bank of Israel Governor
    Prof. Stanley Fischer tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday after eight years as the widely-acclaimed governor of Israel’s central bank. His resignation will take effect at the end of June after handing over to his successor.
  • Israeli youth stabbed by Palestinian attacker
    The 17-year old boy, who was waiting for a lift at Tapuah Junction south of Nablus when attacked and seriously injured by a Palestinian with a knife. Soldiers saw the incident and arrested the assailant.
  • British troops to Mali in training role
    Forty British troops are to be deployed to Mali in a training role to help the French-led mission against Islamist militants. They will be part of an EU force to train Malian soldiers for after French troops have left. Up to 350 UK troops are to be deployed in total to Africa, all in non-combat roles.
  • Iranian monkey in space = missile warhead on earth
    Iranian state news agency claimed Monday that it had launched a monkey 120 km into space and recovered the capsule and monkey but significantly without saying where or when. On Jan. 15, debkafile reported that the forthcoming launch of a monkey into orbit would demonstrate Iran’s capacity to fire long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. If the Iranians were able to protect a vehicle weighing some 2,000 kilograms from the high temperatures and pressure of re-entry, said one expert, they were good enough engineers to be able to protect a military warhead atop a surface-to-surface missile with a range of several thousand kilometers.


Egypt, Syria are falling apart: an Israeli nightmare unfolds

29 Jan. Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel warned Tuesday, Jan. 29, that Syria is falling apart and no one knows what the next day may bring. Another senior Israeli officer told AFP that large Hizballah forces are parked outside Assad’s chemical weapons stores. If they seize them, Israel will have to decide on the spot whether to attack Syria or Lebanon. In Cairo, Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, warned: “The political strife is pushing the state to the brink of collapse.” debkafile: The two crises confront Israel with its worst nightmare: being hemmed in by a ring of interminable conflicts just across its borders: Syria and Lebanon in the north; Egypt in the west and south; and Jordan under threat.

January 30, 2013 Briefs

  • Israel transfers last month’s tax revenue to Palestinian Authority
    Netanyahu decided to transfer some $100 million to Ramallah to ease the PA’s financial straits. The transfers were halted over Mahmoud Abbas’s UN application. They will continue on the basis of month-to-month evaluations.
  • IDF officer injured in Golan training accident
    The officer was guiding an APC maneuvers during a training exercise on the Golan when the driver suddenly reversed the vehicle and ran him down. The wounded officer was rushed by helicopter to hospital with multiple fractures.


Casualties in Israeli air strike at Syrian military site near Damascus

30 Jan. The Syrian government stated Wednesday night, Jan. 30 that the Israeli Air Force planes had struck the Jamraya Military Research Institute near Damascus leaving 2 dead and 5 wounded, destroying a building and damaging military vehicles. There was no Israeli air strike on a Hizballah arms convoy, said the statement from Damascus in response to earlier reports that Israeli air sorties Wednesday had destroyed Hizballah missile and arms convoys ready to cross fro Syria into Lebanon. There has been no comment from Israel. Witnesses living nearby reported to AFP that the Jamraya institute was used for developing unconventional weapons.
Israeli warplanes were described as coming in low from the north to evade Syrian [and Iranian] radar after flying over the Syrian peaks of the Hermon ridge. The Israeli jets were reported to have flown back to home base by the same route.

January 31, 2013 Briefs

  • US warns Syria not to transfer weapons to Hizballah
    The White House on Thursday warned Syria not to transfer weapons to Hizballah so as not to further destabilize the region.
  • Iran: Israeli assault on Syria will have “serious consequences”
    Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned of “serious consequences for the Tel Aviv regime” from Israel’s air strike on a military site near Damascus Wednesday. He called on the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon to adopt an effective and practical measure against the attack.
  • Iran to upgrade uranium equipment at Natanz – response to Fordo “sabotage”
    Iran has notified the UN nuclear agency that it intends to install new IR2m centrifuges at the Natanz plant to upgrade uranium enrichment from five to 20 percent. This would make it possible to refine uranium faster that it can at the moment and speed up its progress toward weapons-grade material. debkafile: This means that Iran is now producing near-weapons grade uranium at two plants.


Russia slams Israeli strike on Syria. High military alerts across Mid-East

31 Jan. The Israeli air strike on a military site near Damascus announced by Syria Wednesday, Jan. 30, was strongly condemned by Moscow as “blatantly violating the UN Charter and unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.“ debkafile: High military alerts declared across the region including Syrian Golan units, the Turkish, Jordanian, Lebanese and Israeli armies, US units in Turkey and Jordan and Russian warships opposite Syria. Western intelligence agencies predict more mutual military strikes between Israel, Syria, Hizballah and possibly Iran.

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