A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending June 21, 2012

Big powers move in on Syria

15 June. A Russian special forces unit is on its way to Syria to guard Russian’s deep-water port at Tartus, Pentagon officials reported Friday, June 15. According to debkafile’s sources, it is made up of naval marines.
In a separate statement, a US Defense Department source in Washington reported that the US military had completed its planning for various operations against Syria including a no-fly zone – or for assisting neighboring countries in the event action was ordered – a reference, according to our sources, to Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
The two steps move the Syrian civil conflict onto a new plane of major power intervention.

June 16, 2012 Briefs

  • Second Grad missile fired on southern Israel
    Fragments of this one were found Saturday near Mitzpe Ramon after the first 122mm Grad set off a large explosion near Ovda north of Eilat. No casualties or damage. Neither area has come under missile fire before. Israeli security authorities believe they were fired from Sinai.
  • Syrian opposition: Families trapped in Homs without food
    According to a British-based human rights group, a thousand families and 100 injured people are trapped in Homs by military forces without food or medical equipment under continuous shelling.
  • Egypt ends first day of polling for president
    More than 50 million voters are choosing between Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi and Mubarak veteran Ahmed Shafiq amid the political chaos set up by the dissolution of parliament by the supreme constitutional court and the absence of a new constitution to define the new president’s powers.
  • Likely next Saudi heir, Defense Minister Salman is fervent interventionist on Syria
    Arab circles pushing for Western-Arab military force in the Syrian crisis will find substantial encouragement in the almost-certain accession of Saudi Defense Minister Salman, 76, to crown prince and heir to the throne after Interior Minister Prince Nayef died of a long illness.

US intervention in Syria: “Libya lite”

June 17. Amid the worsening violence in Syria, US official sources said Saturday, June 16, that US intervention was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and defined its format as “Libya lite.” Pentagon officials earlier reported a Russian contingent was on its way to Syria to guard the Russian base at Tartus. As the Syrian civil conflict mounted onto the new plane of major power intervention, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood announced that the UN observer mission he heads had suspended activities and patrols.

June 17, 2012 Briefs

  • Tehran: 20 suspected nuclear scientist assassins detained
    Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi says 20 members of an alleged Israeli plot to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists were under arrest. He said they were wont to travel between Israel and Iran through a third country, identified by Iranian sources as Azerbaijan.
  • Injured Israeli truck driver shot dead two Palestinian robbers south of Hebron
    An Israeli truck driver, beaten over the head with an iron bar in a holdup by three armed Palestinians at the Samoa junction south of Hebron, pulled out a pistol and shot two of them dead. The third robber was injured. Driver and robber were taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

Russia flies anti-air, anti-ship missiles to Assad as its fleet heads to Tartus

17 June. Moscow is using the time up until Russian President Vladimir Putin faces US President Barack Obama across the G20 conference table in Los Cabos, Mexico Sunday, June 17 to ship sophisticated anti-air, anti-ship arms to Syria which are capable of thwarting a no-fly zone. A fleet of Russian warships is heading for Tartus. If the two presidents come to terms on Syria and Iran, planned US and allied intervention in Syria may be delayed.

June 18, 2012 Briefs

  • Prince Salman is the new Saudi Crown Prince
    Defense Minister Salman, 76, is the new heir to the throne in Riiyadh, succeeds his brother Prince Nayef who was laid to rest in Mecca.
  • Qaeda suicider assassinates Yemeni general
    Maj. Gen. Salem Ali Quton led the fight against the al Qaeda takeover of South Yemen in close coordination with US counter-terror forces. The bomber threw himself at the general's SUV in the southern port city of Aden. Four members of the general's security detail and a passer-by were seriously wounded. Al-Quton was appointed in April as the commander of the army in the south.

Russia, China, Iran plan “biggest Mid East maneuver” in Syria

18 June: Military tensions around Syria shot up again Monday, June 18, with Iranian report hat a joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian exercise is to take place in Syria, called “the biggest of its kind ever staged in the Middle East” with 90,000 personnel, 400 air planes and 900 tanks taking part. debkafile: This would be the first time Russia and China have deployed substantial military strength in the Middle East. It points to their determination to deter a US-lead military operation against the Assad regime. This was signaled shortly before the US and Russian presidents were to meet at the G20 summit..
As part of its preparations, Beijing is reported to have asked Egyptian authorities to permit the passage through the Suez Canal in late June of 12 naval ships heading for the Syrian port of Tartus, where Moscow maintains a naval and marine base. debkafile reported earlier this week that Russian naval vessels with marines on board were heading for Tartus.

Morsi will fight for Egyptian presidency on the street

18 June. Islamist candidate Muhammad Mursi did not wait for the ballots to be counted before proclaiming himself President of Egypt. Shafiq’s protest that final results were not in was drowned out by street celebrations. The scene was being set for the Muslim Brotherhood to rally the street against a possible Shafiq win; the Islamist multitudes would force the Morso victory down the throats of the country and the transitional military council rulers. Anticipating this scenario, the supreme military council Sunday virtually stripped the incoming president of powers by assuming the legislative authority of the dissolved parliament and control of national budget.
The Netanyahu government did not oppose Obama’s policy of bringing Muslims to power through the ballot box and now faces Muslim adversaries from a strategic pit. To recover deterrent strength, Israel must dismantle Iran’s nuclear program by force. If it waits much longer, Israel will find the Shiite and Sunni revolutionary rulers uniting against their perceived common enemy, Israel, before they fight each other over slices of the Middle East.

June 19, 2012 Briefs

  • Moscow nuclear crisis talks end in impasse
    Nevertheless, a fourth round at the technical level was scheduled for July 3 in Istanbul, granting Iran another two weeks’ leeway for progress on its nuclear bomb program.
  • Secret Hamas Note to Netanyahu: We’ll stop firing if you do
    Israel’s reprisal against Hamas and Jihad Islami personnel in Gaza was unwarranted, said the note, because they had nothing to do with the terrorist attack on Route 10 which cost the life of Said Fashafasha, 34, from Haifa. The attack was later claimed by an Al Qaeda Sinai cell which also declared responsibility for a previous Grad attack on southern Israel.
  • Moscow, Damascus deny Tehran’s joint military exercise report
    The Russian Defense Ministry and Syrian officials Tuesday rejected the Iranian Fars report that Russia, China, Iran and Syria were to conduct a big military maneuver in Syria as “disinformation.”
  • Hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood supporters rally against military council
    The Muslim Brotherhood filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other city centers with masses of adherents to counter former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s claim he had beaten Muhammed Morsi in the presidential election. They called for the supreme military council ruling Egypt to be thrown out to foil its bid to strip the new president of powers.
  • A US serviceman killed, 9 injured by Afghans in police uniform
    Three gunmen, either police officers or disguised as police, turned their guns on NATO troops in southern Afghanistan.

US & Russia Deploy in Syria – Double Prey for Al-Qaeda

19 June. The failure of US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico to agree on terms for Syria and Iran holds the potential for three equally dire scenarios to unfold in Syria:
It could degenerate into another Afghanistan; or another Balkans, or al Qaeda’s next war arena – or all three.
The Assad regime is not just shedding blood but bleeding itself, but it stays alive because 40 percent of the Syrian population is behind it and the rebel movement is deeply fractured. Syria is therefore in the process of breaking up into three balkanized segments: The United States and its European and Arab allies in the northern, central and eastern regions; The Russians, along the Mediterranean coastal strip. Russian warships are on their way to secure their base at Tartus and Iran plus Hizballah in Damascus.
Al Qaeda has begun seeping through the cracks to achieve its object of corralling America and Russia on one unruly territory

June 20, 2012 Briefs

  • Hamas announces ceasefire after 70 missiles and mortar shells
    “If the IDF continues strikes, we’ll go back to firing missiles,” said Hamas Wednesday night, responding to an Egyptian request after a two-day barrage. debkafile’s military sources: This round of clashes was bizarre in that Hamas missiles hardly hurt anyone, while the Israeli Air Force mostly struck empty Hamas military facilities – both careful not to provoke a drastic escalation.
  • Israeli State Comptroller fingers two ministers for Carmel fire disaster
    His report assigns Interior Minister Ellie Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz special responsibility for the failure to control the devastating 2010 Carmel wildfire disaster which claimed 44 lives. The Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch were given overall responsibility. The comptroller Mica Lindenstrauss found some of the glaring deficiencies in the firefighting system had since been repaired but many shortcomings remain.
  • Ringleader of Al Qaeda’s Route 10 attack killed
    Ghaleb Ramilath and his passenger were singled out for the IAF strike in Rafah as ringleaders of the al Qaeda cell which ambushed an Israeli fence-building crew Monday, killing one of its members and were planning more attacks from Sinai on southern Israel.
  • Small Israeli settler group agrees to evacuate West Bank Ulpana estate
    The 30 families whose apartments in five buildings at Beit El were ordered demolished by the Israeli Supreme Court have accepted a deal for quietly evacuating their homes by the July 1 deadline. This spares the Netanyahu government the bruising ordeal of forced evacuation. The government offered in return to rehouse the evicted families at a nearby location and add another 300 new homes to Beit El.
  • Israeli Air Force strikes 6 Gazan terrorist targets
    Early Wednesday, IAF attacked six terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip after scores of missiles were fired into Israel, one of them injuring 9 border policemen near Ashkelon Tuesday night. One officer was seriously hurt. The Palestinians reported one person injured.
  • Mubarak said on life support
    Egyptian army sources said Wednesday that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, 84, is unconscious and on life support machines. He was moved from a prison hospital to a military facility after suffering a stroke.

Tardy IDF intelligence and responses aggravated Gaza clash

20 June. At a particularly sensitive moment in Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel’s military leaders were caught napping by the June 18 terrorist attack from Sinai on the southern Route 10, in which an Israeli fence team worker was killed. Because they were too slow to catch on to the identity of the perpetrators (al Qaeda in Sinai), those military chiefs misdirected their responses at the wrong quarters (Hamas and Jihad Islami) and so sparked a three-day missile-for-air strike cycle in Gaza. Eventually, the Israeli Air Force went into action against the right target, killing two al Qaeda operatives in Rafah. And eventually, the Iron Dome anti-missile battery was deployed to intercept the Grad missiles.
Egyptian liaison officers meanwhile refused to meet Israeli commanders or become drawn into the Israel-Hamas clash.

June 21, 2012 Briefs

  • Iran: US, UK, Israel plan cyber attack after Moscow talks flop
    Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said Thursday his country is completely ready to defend its sensitive facilities against a massive cyber attack which he accused the US, Israel and the UK of planning to launch following the meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Moscow."
  • CIA officers in Turkey vet Syrian rebels for receiving arms
    US media report CIA officers, in S. Turkey since April, are deciding which rebel groups will receive the heavy weapons – RPGs, ammunition and antitank arms – passed across the Turkish border by Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and other intermediaries, and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This is Washington’s first admission of US intelligence involvement in the Syrian conflict and supply of US heavy weapons to Syrian rebels since April.
  • British-US plan to give Assad immunity for exit
    British officials disclose US-UK plans to offer Bashar Assad safe passage to Switzerland for peace talks and “have a go” at negotiating a transitional process for him to relinquish power.
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