A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending June 27, 2013

June 21, 2013 Briefs

  • Obama nominates Jim Comey new FBI chief
    President Barack Obama Friday announced the nomination of former federal prosecutor Jim Comey as the new director of the FBI. Robert Mueller whom he succeeds faces questions in Congress about the use of drone technology for surveillance on US soil.
  • Iranian crude oil exports to China up by 50 percent
    The Customs Administration in Beijing reported Friday that Iran’s crude exports to its top customer, China had increased by nearly 50 percent in May from April on a daily basis. Iran sold 2.36 million tons of crude to China in May, equivalent to about 555,557 barrels per day (bpd).
  • Guard shoots Jewish man dead at Western Wall
    A security guard shot dead a Jewish man, aged 46, because he said the man suddenly put his hand in his pocket and shouted Allahu Akbar! The guard said he feared the man was a Palestinian terrorist in disguise about to attack Jewish worshippers at the sensitive shrine. The guard was detained by the police for questioning.

Lavrov: Russia will honor its S-300 missile contract with Syria

21 June Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, June 20, that Moscow will honor its controversial contract to deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to Syria. He spoke the day after the announcement that two warships carrying 600 Russian marines were heading for Syria "to protect the Russian citizens there” along with air force cover “as needed.” debkafile: Russia and the West are pumping more arms into Syria for the decisive battle for Aleppo between the HIzballah-backed Syrian army and heavily mobilized rebel forces.

June 22, 2013 Briefs

  • A 400-strong group of US soldiers ready to deploy in Sinai
    The 400 US soldiers have finished training in Texas for their 9-month peacekeeping mission as part of the 13-nation Multinational Observer peacekeeping force originally posted in Sinai to monitor the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace accord. Their new mission is to man posts and security checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula in support of the Egyptian army, in accordance with the secret agreements the US, Israel, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt concluded for ending Israel’s Defense Cloud Operation last year.
  • Syrian Friends” convene in Doha
    The meeting Saturday headed by Secretary of State John Kerry is discussing how to organize the delivery of military and other aid to the Syrian rebels – but most importantly to find ways to unify the opposition coalition leadership so that it can take its seat at a future Geneva-2 conference for a political solution of the Syrian conflict. debkafile: The chances of this conference getting underway keep on receding given the differences between Moscow and Washington.

US troop buildup in Jordan. Turkey shuts arms corridor to Syrian rebels

22 June. debkafile reveals that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan informed President Barack Obama Wednesday, June 19, of his sudden decision to shut down the Turkish corridor for the transfer of US and NATO arms to the Syrian rebels. He said he was afraid of Russian retribution. He leaves the Syrian rebels fighting in Aleppo virtually high and dry.
Against this background, the US President decided Friday, June 22, to leave another 700 combat-equipped American military personnel in Jordan at the end of a joint US-Jordanian training exercise. They will include crews of two Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries and the logistics, command and communications personnel needed to support those units. The United States is also leaving behind a squadron of 12 to 24 F-16 fighter jets at Jordan’s request. Some 300 US troops have been in Jordan since last year.

June 23, 2013 Briefs

  • Prof. Yaakov Frenkel returns to Israeli central bank
    The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem confirms that Prof. Yaakov Frenkel, Bank of Israel Governor from 1991 to 2000, returns to this position when Prof. Stanley Fischer ends his term at the end of the month.
  • Homemade explosive found in British Midlands Mosque
    West Midlands police confirmed that a suspicious package found at a mosque in Wasall is a homemade explosive device. More than 150 worshippers were evacuated for the police check. debkafile: Anti-Muslim tensions have been mounting in Britain with right-wing groups seeking revenge since two Islamist terrorists decapitated a British soldier in London.
  • New US State Dept appointments, critics of Netanyahu government
    Washington sources report two new appointments at the US State Department’s Middle East section – both, says debkafile, outspoken critics of the Netanyahu government: US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who has been criticized as overly supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, is promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs; Rob Malley, a vocal opponent of Israel’s Palestinian policy and Jewish West Bank settlement, is head of the Middle East desk. He has strong ties with the Israeli opposition Peace Now faction in the US.
  • The Economist: The die is cast for a nuclear Iran. “Israel attack unlikely”
    Neither Iran’s election, nor sanctions nor military threats are likely to divert it from its path to getting nuclear weapons, says The Economist, citing top independent experts in the field.
    Even if talks go on and the new Iranian president wants a deal acceptable to the West, “the die is already cast.” Iran is close to “critical capability” – meaning a short dash (10 weeks) away from enough weapons-grade uranium by the end of this year for one or more bombs, before Western intelligence knows what had happened. Will Israel carry out a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities some time in the next six months? Probably not, says the journal: “Israeli red lines have come and gone in the past (as debkafile has repeatedly reported). Israel might have attacked three or four years ago, but is less likely to do so now.

June 24, 2013 Briefs

  • Lebanese fighting leaves at least 10 dead
    Sectarian gunfights erupted Sunday in the southern town of Sidon between the Lebanese army and an armed Salafi Sunni militia led by the fiercely anti-Hizballah Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir. Five soldiers were killed. After spilling over into the Palestinian Ain Hilwa refugee camp Sunday, the violence quickly spread to Beirut, Tripoli and the Beqaa Valley.
    debkafile: The Lebanese army has not raised a finger to stop the flow of the Shiite group’s forces into Syria, indicting that President Michel Sleiman has thrown his support behind Hizballah.
  • Israeli forces simulate massive al Qaeda attacks from Syria and Egypt
    Israeli military, police, Shin Bet and special counterterrorism units early Monday staged their largest ever counter-terror exercise which simulated large-scale al Qaeda attacks by infiltrators from Syria and Egypt against strategic targets and army bases. The scenario depicted scores of Israeli dead and hundreds injured.

Half a dozen rockets fired into Israel from Gaza

24 June. After months of relative calm, the pro-Iran Palestinian Jihad Islami fired 6 Grad missiles at Beersheba and Ashkelon from the Gaza Strip before dawn Tuesday. There were no casualties. debkafile: The attack came after Hamas special forces liquidated Jihad’s missile commander Sunday, June 23, amid a violent feud with Jihad. Two of the four Grads were intercepted by Iron Dome. The Israeli air force hit back against Hamas weapons caches in the central Gaza Strip region and a rocket firing pit in the south.

Egypt lurches into civil strife. Local militias raise their heads

24 June. Egypt is lurching toward a “low intensity civil war.” Law and order is breaking down as armed gangs attack governors and burn emblems of government, and Muslim Brotherhood uses armed men to strike back. Neither the police nor the army has interfered to date. Army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi promised Sunday, June 23, to preserve “the will of the people” from attack, without defining which side was “the people.” The opposition plans to launch Egypt’s third revolution in three years in massive June 30 demonstrations against President Morsi.

June 25, 2013 Briefs

  • Sinai Salafist gunmen aim a Grad missile at Suez Canal
    The missile fired from central Sinai exploded near the eastern bank of the Suez Canal Tuesday the first time the al-Qaeda-linked armed Sinai extremists had attacked the canal with a rocket.
  • US Cairo Embassy closes ahead of June 30 protest
    Americans were advised to abstain from venturing outdoors as of June 28 in anticipation of the anti-Morsi demonstrations called for June 30 turning violent. Necessities should be stockpiled for a long period and sites of protests and gatherings avoided. British citizens were advised not to travel to Egypt in the coming week.
  • Putin says Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US
    President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia will not extradite Edward Snowdon. He confirmed that the wanted American was “still in the transit area of Moscow airport,” and free to pick his next destination – the sooner the better.
  • Netanyahu stands by two-state solution
    Ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority spokesman Saab Erekat suddenly declared that the Palestinians had never opposed direct negotiations or posed pre-conditions. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu restated his position in favor of a two-state solution of the dispute.
  • Taliban attacks presidential palace, CIA station in Kabul
    More than a dozen explosions were heard as the assailants clashed for hours early Tuesday with security personnel at the presidential palace’s eastern gate and the Ariana hotel which houses the CIA station. Taliban claimed the assault.
  • Qatar Emir abdicates in favor of his son
    In a speech on Qatar TV, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, 61, handed over power to his son and intelligence chief, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al thani, 33, saying it was time for a new generation to take over.

Iran secretly builds Port Sudan supply base for Syria, Hizballah

25 June. A logistics base for handling tanks, missile systems and self-propelled artillery bound for Syria and Hizballah is secretly under construction at Port Sudan, debkafile reports exclusively. Iranian Revolutionary Guards engineers in civilian dress are overseeing the hundreds of Sudanese workmen laboring flat out to build Iran’s second Red Sea base after Assab in South Eritrea. It is designed to handle Iran’s largest warships and submarines with a large arms depot that will cut in half the sea route for Iranian heavy arms to reach Iran’s Syrian and Hizballah allies through the Suez Canal.

June 26, 2013 Briefs

  • Netanyahu to Golani troops: Put our enemies in fear of death!
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, attending a Golani Brigade exercise on the Golan Wednesday, said: This exercise is not theoretical. The situation around us is fluid and inflammable but Israel stands ready for any changes. “Our forces must have the will to break the enemy. We are not challenging anyone, but are fully able to stand up to anyone who challenge us.”

Obama and Putin cross swords over Syria. What next?

26 June: The US and Russia are coming to blows, leaving the Syrian conflict to spread unabated into widening circles of cross-border and internecine Muslim violence. This also impinges on a secret US-Iranian nuclear dialogue. debkafile’s intelligence watchers foresee escalating violence focusing on the battle for Aleppo in the next five months up until the US and Russian presidents meet again in September.
Neither side meanwhile has enough strength or game-changing weaponry to win the war outright, and so both big powers prepare for expanded military intervention.

Russia evacuates Tartus, also military, diplomatic personnel from Syria

26 June: Moscow announced Wednesday June 26, the evacuation of all Russian military and diplomatic personnel from Syria, including its naval base at Tartus, “for fear of an incident involving the Russian military that could have larger consequences,” said a defense ministry official in Moscow. A 16-ship naval task force remains in the eastern Mediterranean. An unannounced Israeli war maneuver was conducted on the Golan.

June 27, 2013 Briefs

  • The CIA moves weapons to Jordan for Syrian rebels
    American sources the arms moved by US spy agency to Jordan consist of small arms, ammunition and maybe antitank missiles, and will reach the Syrian rebels in a month’s time. debkafile: Rebel leaders say it’s too late to help them win the battle for Aleppo.
  • John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem Thursday
    US Secretary of State John Kerry starts his fifth shuttle mission for reviving peace talks in Jerusalem with talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Thursday night, followed by a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Amman.
  • First clashes in Egypt. Morsi accuses opposition of putsch bid
    At least two people were killed and 260 were injured in the Egyptian Delta town of Mansoura Thursday night where the first disturbances took place ahead of the mass opposition rally called for Sunday to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi tried to calm the unrest by admitting he made some mistakes in his first year in power but also did some things right.
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