A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending July 26, 2012
July 20, 2012 Briefs
Gulf sources report Jordan emergency
King Abdullah is reported to have declared a national state of emergency and high readiness Friday against the Syrian war’s spillover into the kingdom after the number of Syrian refugees rose to quarter of a million. debkafile: Jordanian authorities continue to bar entry to Palestinians in flight.
Prince Bandar is new Saudi intelligence chief
Former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar Bin Sultan replaces Prince Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz as chief of intelligence also retaining the post of National Security Council head by royal decree.
Hizballah suicide terror revival launched at Burgas
20 July. The suicide bombing attack in Bulgaria which left five Israelis dead and more than 30 injured on July 18 is seen by Western intelligence sources as marking Hizballah’s regression to its old tactics. After a 17-year break, the Lebanese terrorist group is again sending suicide killers to murder Israelis and Jews. Israel’s counter-terror agencies failed to pick up on this. While they are catching up, Iran and Hizballah will take the chance for more violence – unless Israel exercises a strong deterrent.
July 22, 2012 Briefs
Gunfire on bus carrying Israeli soldiers on Israel-Egyptian border highway
No one was hurt by the gunshots fired on the bus driving on Highway 10 opposite the Philadelphi Route Sunday from Egyptian Sinai. Reinforcements were called up to search the area and see whether armed infiltrators had crossed the border.
Olympic Committee: No minute’s silence in London for Munich massacre
London has refused Israel’s request to commemorate the 1972 Munich Olympics murder of 11 Israeli sportsmen by Palestinian terrorists exactly 40 years ago with a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony of the games in London in five days.
Two hours for Syrian chemical weapons to reach Lebanon
22 July. Israeli, Turkish and Jordanian armies and US Middle East forces went on the ready Sunday, July 22, in case Syrian chemical weapons move toward Lebanon, debkafile reports. Acting in unison, those armies are watching out for the slightest movement, because it would take just two hours to cover the distance from Syria to the Hizballah-controlled Bakaa Valley of Lebanon. Their arrival there would mean war. So the IDF prefers to stop the arsenal in its tracks before it reaches the Lebanese border.
The chemical stockpile is kept at the al-Safira base northwest of Damascus in the care of the president’s personal guard unit which takes orders from Bashar Assad and no one else.
Assad rebuilds fighting command, retaliates against Turkey
22 July. President Bashar Assad quickly recovered from the blow he suffered with the loss of his four top allies last Wednesday, July 18. Within 24 hours, he had put in place a new command for fighting the rebels headed by his younger brother Gen. Maher Assad, commander of the 4th Division, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report exclusively.
Despite a wave of desertions, the Syrian army was soon back on the job, showing no signs of shock or wavering at the command level.
Assad and his new command were busy with retaliation for the assassinations against Turkey:
They opened the door to an influx of rebels of the Turkish PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) from Iraq into Syria’s northern Kurdish regions, with permission to set up bases of operation along the Turkish border.
July 23, 2012 Briefs
Obama in gravest warning yet to Assad
US President Barack Obama said Monday that “Assad will be held accountable if he makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague the Damascus statement completely unacceptable: “This is typical of the complete illusion of this regime that they are the victims of external aggression.” The UN Secretary said he was very worried: The Assad regime not only admitted possessing chemical weapons Monday but threatened to use them.
Aeroflot halts flights to Damascus
The Russian airline announced Monday that flights to the Syrian capital will be halted in two weeks for “economic” reasons. Aeroflot was the only remaining airline with regular flights to Damascus.
Damascus: Chemical weapons – only against external aggression
The Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that Syria would not use chemical weapons in “the current crisis” unless it faced “external aggression.”
debkafile’s military sources: The announcement ignores two issues of concern to Syria’s neighbors, including Israel, and Washington: 1) Damascus reserves the right to arbitrarily define “external aggression.” Even now the Assad regime claims Arab and Western powers are intervening in the conflict; 2) The statement does not deny the potential transfer of Syria’s chemical arsenal to Hizballah in Lebanon.
Arab League offers Assad safe haven for stepping down
An Arab League meeting in Doha offered the Syrian ruler safe passage in Qatar if he steps down. The Arab leaders also called on the Syrian opposition and Free Syrian Army to overcome their disputes and form a transitional government ready to take power and prevent chaos.
Death toll in string of Iraq blasts rises past 100
The attacks included gunfire, a car bomb and a suicide attack in and around the Iraqi capital Baghdad as well as four car bombs in the northern oil city of Kirkuk.
Iran, Hizballah terror plots in 20 countries
Those plots were thwarted for two years until the Burgas airport attack last Wednesday in which five Israelis and a Bulgarian lost their lives, Mossad spy chief Tamir Pardo and Shin Bet internal security chief Yoram Cohen informed cabinet ministers in a briefing Sunday on "counter-terrorism activity by the intelligence services.” The two security chiefs also gave their evaluations of the dangers presented by Iran, Syria and Hizballah.
Syrian chemical threat directly targets Israel
23 July. Senior Israeli military officers, referring to the Syrian foreign ministry statement Monday, July 23, that Syria would only use chemical weapons against “external aggression” said it was a direct threat by the Assad regime to turn those weapons against Israel. There was no denial of their potential transfer to Hizballah against which Israel has vowed to use force. debkafile: Assad is keeping carte blanche for chemical warfare.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said plainly Sunday that preventing Syria’s chemical weapons from “falling into the wrong hands” was a key to Israeli security, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a possible attack on Syria’s weapons arsenal because “Israel cannot accept the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon.”
July 24, 2012 Briefs
Russia warns Syria against using chemical weapons
Moscow followed US President Barack Obama Monday in warning Syria against using chemical weapons. Damascus must uphold its obligations under the international protocol barring the use of poison gases as a method of warfare.
FSA: Syrian chemical weapons moved to borders
The rebel Free Syrian Army said Tuesday the government has moved chemical weapons to airports on its borders, along with equipment for mixing chemical components.
Kadima leader loses bid to expel four would-be renegades
The Knesset House Committee rejected Shaul Mofaz’s demand to force the expulsion of the four would-be party defectors who tried and failed to join the Netanyahu government.
The Burgas bomber had accomplices – Bulgarian PM
24 July. The suicide bomber who killed six people in an attack on an Israeli bus at Burgas airport July 18, had accomplices, was “extremely experienced” and may have entered Bulgaria from Europe’s Schengen passport-free area, said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boygok Borisov. He spoke Tuesday, July 24, at a new conference with visiting US presidential anti-terror adviser John Brennan.
They apparently came a month in advance, said the Bulgarian prime minister, “changed hire cars again and again and stayed in different cities so as not to be seen together. No camera footage shows more than one person.” There were no fingerprint or DNA matches in databases around the world.
On July 18, shortly before the attack, a long-haired man in shorts was caught strolling through the airport by a security camera. He was the bomber. The coroner put the age of the bomber between 25 and 30+ and said he had fair skin but could have been of Arab origin. He has not been identified.
The European Union turned down Israel’s request to blacklist Hizballah as a terrorist organization after Israel blamed the Lebanese Shiite group and Iran for the attack.
Two Israeli security chiefs try to reassure
24 July. The Defense Ministry’s Amos Gilead Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz both administered tranquilizers Tuesday, July 24, to allay fears of war with Syria, Hizballah and Iran. Gilead said that the Assad regime was in full control of Syria’s unconventional weapons, while Gen. Gantz indicated that Israel has no plans for attacking Syria. Damascus’ threat of chemical warfare against external attacks was hence not applicable. By contradicting Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, the two security chiefs sowed confusion in the Israeli street.
July 25, 2012 Briefs
Lavrov accuses the US of endorsing terrorism
In an angry outburst before the astonished Moscow press corps, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “Washington’s reaction to blasts in Damascus is a downright justification of terrorism. The US Statement Department announced that terror acts in Syria are not surprising in light of the Assad regime’s actions. This is a direct endorsement of terrorism,” the Russian minister said. “It means ‘We are going to support acts of terrorism until the UN SC does what we want.” These unprecedentedly harsh words mark a further deterioration in relations between Moscow and Washington over Syria.
Moscow receives Syrian assurances
The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said Wednesday that assurances had been received from the Assad regime that Syrian chemical weapons are fully safeguarded.
Two Palestinians rockets fired at Ashkelon Tuesday
One was intercepted by Iron Dome, the second exploded on open ground.
Syrian rebels pushed to edges of Damascus and Aleppo
Sporadic clashes continued in the Syrian capital although government troops have driven rebels out of most neighborhoods. In Aleppo, Syria’s second city, fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and artillery were in action against residential districts on which rebels launched an assault over the last weekend. In both cities, the rebels were heavily outgunned by government forces. Activists reported 110 killed Tuesday. In his first statement since leaving Syria, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas broadcast a video broadcast on Al-Arabiya rejecting “the criminal program of this corrupt regime.”
Syrian army fires extra-deadly artillery in Aleppo
debkafile: The rebels are in retreat from Aleppo dogged by the Syrian army’s 11th Division firing heavy artillery shells whose blast hits a 250-meter radius and maximizes death and destruction. The troops are also shooting Katyusha 240mm rockets into residential districts of Aleppo where rebels are still holed up.
Ghana’s vice president sworn in hours after president’s sudden death
Guaranteeing Ghana’s continuing stability, John Maham was swiftly inaugurated as president Tuesday hours after President John Atta Mills died suddenly at 68 five months before finishing his first term.
Russian fleet near Syria. Iran threatens to fight foreign troops
25 July. Foreign forces were piling up on Syrian borders Wednesday, July 25, bringing closer a confrontation which could spur the Assad regime into making good on its threat to use chemical weapons against “external aggression.” The immediacy of the peril, debkafile reports, has speeded the arrival of Russian warships to Syria to counter a potential Western, Arab or Israeli assault on the embattled country. London sources predict British military intervention, while Tehran is ready to fight of any attempt at regime change in Damascus.
The fact that Russia is massing large numbers of marines off the Syrian coast looks as though a landing on Syrian soil is on Moscow’s cards.
July 26, 2012 Briefs
Syria threatens chemical warfare if Israel attacks CW arsenal
A Syrian official told the Kuwaiti A-Rai that Damascus would treat an Israeli attack on its chemical weapons stocks as casus belli and use them against Israel.
Al Qaeda shoots down Iraqi army helicopter. kills 12 troops
In two days of fierce fighting in northeast Iraq, al Qaeda shot down an army helicopter for the first time and forced it to make an emergency landing. Twelve Iraqi soldier and security officers were killed.
Turkey will strike Turkish PKK fighters in their new Syrian bases
An emergency session of Turkey’s military, intelligence and administrative bodies called by Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan decided Wednesday to launch cross-border attacks against the PKK’s new bases of operation in Syria. debkafile: Syria has admitted an estimated 2,000 PKK fighters from bases in northern Iraq to Syrian Kurdistan.
Kuwait to receive 60 US advanced Patriots
The Pentagon announced Thursday the sale of 60 Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missiles, 20 launching stations, four radar systems and control stations worth $4.2 billion to upgrade Kuwait’s air and missile defenses against a potential Iranian threat.
New Israeli taxes are steps towards a war budget
26 July. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are rightly using a necessary austerity package as a lever for getting the country on track for a war economy, without saying so.
They avoid discussing the consequences and duration of the new measures because they can’t tell how long a war, which they believe may be close, will last or how it will end. debkafile estimates that they are quietly building a $25-30 strategic financial reserve for the worst-case scenario.
Netanyahu said recent regional regime changes mean that Israel has to spend more on defense to maintain its balance of strength and face the challenges of a nuclear Iran, missile threats, cyber warfare and a colossal influx of weaponry to the region “which are in certain hands today and may be in others tomorrow.”
How much would it cost to send troops into Syria to seize control of Syria’s unconventional war stocks and prevent their use against Israel?
Barak said Israel might have to make "tough and crucial decisions" about its security and future. "I am well aware of the difficulties involved in thwarting Iran's attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon. However, it is clear to me that without a doubt, dealing with the threat itself will be far more complicated, far more dangerous and far more costly in resources and human life than thwarting it"
This was a broad hint at Israel’s sense that it has no choice but to attack Iran’s nuclear program.