A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending June 5, 2014
May 30, 2014 Briefs
- First Palestinian caught with bomb vest in years
Friday, after two days of Palestinian disturbances in Jerusalem, Israeli border police apprehended a Palestinian man in his 20s with a bomb vest strapped to his chest at the Tapuach junction of the northern West Bank region of Samaria. The police officers became suspicious when they spotted the man wearing a heavy coat on an extremely hot day approaching their post on foot. It was the first time in years that a Palestinian was found wearing a bomb belt, the most common cause of multiple deaths in the Palestinian suicide bombing war on Israel in the early 2000s.
May 31, 2014 Briefs
- US, French, Algerian forces take on AQIM in S. Libya
British intelligence sources report that the US, France and Algeria have sent special forces against Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in South Libya. They are hunting for its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, notorious for the Algerian gas field attack in 2012. and aim to block AQIM reinforcements against Gen. Khalifa Hafter’s offensive to rid Libyan government of Islamist factions.
- Russia credited for sudden improvement in Syrian air force
Western military sources credit Russian advisers with the improvement in the Syria air force’s recent improved performance. In Hama alone, Syria made 1,864 air sorties from early March up until May 20.
- US warns China to stop “destabilizing” steps in Asia
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accused China of destabilizing, unilateral actions in the South China Sea and warned that Washington “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are challenged.” He was addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tokyo perceived an "increasingly severe regional security environment."
The US President’s foreign policy leaves Ukraine’s chocolate king in a box
31 May. Wednesday, June 4, President Poroshenko has a date in Warsaw with US President Barack Obama, who is coming to assure East European leaders that America is there to defend them against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs. He will find its leaders hard to convince. Obama left them, as well as Middle East leaders, deeply worried by the policy messages he delivered at West Point last Wednesday, when he said that for the “best American hammer not every problem is a nail” and advocated instead isolation for Russia and diplomacy for Iran.
June 1, 2014 Briefs
- Israeli counters Syrian mortar fire with artillery
A mortar shell from the Syrian side of the border fell near an IDF position on the Hermon range early Monday. It caused no casualties or damage. Israel aimed its artillery against the Syrian source of fire. An Israel air strike hit “terrorist targets” in southern Gaza after a rocket raised a Code Red alert at Sha’ar Hanegev Sunday evening.
- Controversy over US soldier swap for five top Taliban prisoners
The Taliban prisoner swap for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl approved by President Obama is raising controversy in Washington amid suggestions that it may endanger American lives, among other objections. Freed from Guantanamo Bay were these top Taliban commanders who must stay in Qatar for one year.
- MK Tzachi Hanegbi confirmed as Dep. Foreign Minister
The government Sunday confirmed Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi as Deputy Foreign Minister. He takes over from MK Zeev Elkin who was appointed Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.
Is Mehdi Nemmouche the Brussels Al Qaeda killer – or accomplice who removed the evidence?
1 June. Incriminating evidence links Mehdi Nemmouche, 29 the jihadi arrested Friday, May 30, at Marseille bus station, to the murders of four people, including the Israeli couple Mira and Emmanuel Riva at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24. The guns in his luggage were of the same types as the murder weapons. He also spent a year in Syria fighting for Islamist militias. His record of constant travel also suggests he served as hired bagman for smuggling weapons among terrorist groups and in other roles as terrorist accomplice. But many questions remain unanswered about whether he was indeed the perpetrator of the Brussels murders. So far, he is not cooperating with the investigation.
June 2, 2014 Briefs
- The US will work with new Palestinian government
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US intends to work with the new Palestinian government despite Israel's concerns. She said the US will continue to send aid to the Palestinians, but will closely watch what she called the "interim technocratic government." The EU followed suit.
Both major Western powers therefore brushed off Netanyahu’s call on the world to shun the new government over its partnership with a terrorist organization.
- Kuwait ruler ends two-day visit to Tehran
Denoting a certain thaw in Gulf-Iran relations, Kuwait’s ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Jaber Al-Sabah, ended a two-day visit to Tehran Monday. debkafile reports however that the emir met President Hassan Rouhani, but was not invited to see Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
- Rami Hamdullah sworn in as PM of Palestinian unity prime minister
The Palestinians have a single, united government for the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the first time in seven years. Its ministers headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdullah took their oaths of office Monday in Ramallah before Mahmoud Abbas after resolving last minute disputes.
- Israeli returns Syrian mortar fire with artillery
Several mortar rounds from the Syrian side of the border fell near an IDF position on the Hermon range early Monday. It caused no casualties or damage. Israel aimed its artillery against the Syrian source of fire. An Israel air strike hit “terrorist targets” in southern Gaza after a rocket raised a Code Red alert at Sha’ar Hanegev Sunday evening.
Second Palestinian terrorist killed in four days in Nablus roadblock clash. An Israel Border Guardsman injured
2 June. A Palestinian gunman in a car opened fire on an Israeli border guard checkpoint at the Tapuach checkpoint outside Nablus before dawn Tuesday, June 3. The soldiers returned fire and killed the gunman. One soldier was hit in the leg. It was the second encounter in four days at the same spot between an Israeli security force and a terrorist. It happened shortly after Washington said the US would work with the new Palestinian unity government, despite Israel’s concerns about the participation of the Hamas terrorist organization. Israel voiced deep disappointment.
US brushes off Israel’s objections to new Palestinian government
2 June. The US will work with and send aid to the new Palestinian government despite Israel's concerns, US Secretary of State John Kerry informed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday, after Mahmoud Abbas sealed his partnership with Hamas by swearing in their shared government in Ramallah. The EU echoed the US decision. Both therefore brushed off Netanyahu’s call to shun the new government for co-opting a terrorist organization. Israel responded with a decision to hold the new government responsible for rocket fire and terrorism out of Gaza and other punitive measures?
June 3, 2014 Briefs
- Ten Nigerian generals guilty of abetting Islamist Boko Haram
Ten generals and five other senior military officers were found guilty in courts-martial of providing arms and information to help Boko Haram extremists attack military targets.
- Obama arrives in Poland, brings E. Europe cautious security pledges
President Barack Obama arrived in Warsaw Tuesday at the start of a four-day trip to Europe to demonstrate US commitment to E. European security after Russian intervention in Ukraine.
- Police curb Muslim access to Temple Mt, allow Jews and tourists
The Jerusalem police opened Temple Mount to free access by Jews and tourists for the first time Tuesday, Shavuot Eve. Access to Muslims was restricted after tips were received of plans for another stone-throwing rampage against the police and Jewish worshippers. This policy reversal by the Jerusalem police followed months of Muslim disturbances directed against non-Muslim visits to the shrine and Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall.
- Syria holds presidential election amid raging civil war
Bashar Assad and his wife cast votes Tuesday for Syria’s presidential poll as the civil war went into its fourth year without let-up. Sixteen million eligible voters began casting their votes at 12,000 polling booths with only one real option: Assad’s reelection for a further seven years.
Netanyahu plans to counter US acceptance of Palestinian unity by blocking future West Bank elections
3 June. The US-EU decision to continue funding the Palestinian Hamas-backed government, is a landmark: for the first time, the US and Europe will be bankrolling an organization they have listed as terrorist, as well as its armed militia, the Ezz e-Din al-Qassam Brigades. debkafile: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comment that he is “deeply troubled” underscores his government’s disarray over this development. Tuesday, June 3, he confided to his close advisers that he will not repeat the mistake made by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and let Palestinian elections take place, knowing Hamas will sweep the board.
June 4, 2014 Briefs
- Three killed in suicide bombing on Gen. Hafter’s residence
Three people were killed and four injured in a suicide bombing targeting General Khalifa Hafter, who has been leading an offensive against Islamist domination of Libya. His spokesman said he was unhurt. But Libyan military officials said the ex-general was injured and taken to Benghazi hospital.
- Taliban releases video showing US soldier’s handover
The Taliban released a video Wednesday showing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s handover to the US in return for five high-profile Taliban leaders. The sergeant was hustled into a helicopter by three Americans in dark uniforms while a Black Hawk cruised overhead. “Don’ come back to Afghanistan” (misspelled) was the last image written on the clip.
- Obama admits Taliban prisoner swap could harm America
Facing bipartisan criticism at home, President Barack Obama admitted Tuesday that the five high-profile Taliban prisoners swapped for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl could rejoin jihad against America. “That’s been true of all prisoners released from Guantanamo,” he said. A Middle East official said the released Taliban leaders were moving around in Qatar unhindered and unmonitored and preparing to return to the battlefield. Senator Dianne Feinstein said: ““I certainly want to know more about whether this man (Bergadhi) is a deserter or not.” A deputy national security adviser had called her office Monday, she said, to apologize for the administration’s failure to notify her as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee before Saturday’s swap.
- Former US ambassador to Syria laments American policy
Had the US provided more assistance to the Syrian rebels early on, the opposition would have gained ground more quickly and been able to negotiate from a much stronger position, said Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria in a deeply critical CNN interview Tuesday. He added that "the ability of al Qaeda and Islamist extremist groups to recruit away from the moderates would’ve been less. And we would have less of an extremism problem in Syria now… Even a year or two ago it would've made a big difference." He ended his tour in February, saying “I could no longer defend American policy.”
Ford followed former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta in lambasting President Barack Obama’s Syria policy.
June 5, 2014 Briefs
- Second round of Israeli building starts approved across Green Line
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Thursday ordered another 1,800 new apartments to be approved by the Planning Council of the West Bank Civil Authority in locations outside the Green Line. Earlier, Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced government plans to build 1,100 new housing units – 400 in Jerusalem and the rest in Judea and Samaria. Ariel said this was in response to the formation of a Palestinian “terrorist government.”
- Iron Dome fails in first Golan performance
Several rockets and mortar shells from Syria landed on Israeli Golan after midnight Wednesday igniting fires. The incoming projectiles were not intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket battery, recently posted opposite the Syria border. Israeli forces did not return the fire.
- Israeli officials: Kerry broke commitment to Netanyahu
Sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday of reneging on their agreement that the Obama administration would not rush to accept the Palestinian unity government but give Israel time to prepare its response. Israel was caught unawares by Washington’s announcement of its willingness to accept and continuing funding the new Palestinian line-up just hours after it was sworn in in Ramallah.
Kerry in Beirut promotes US engagement with the pro-Iranian Hizballah terrorists, after Hamas
5 June. US Secretary of State John Kerry, by holding talks in Beirut on June 4 with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, whose government includes Hizballah ministers, established a new rule: It is okay to engage governments backed by terrorists, whether Hamas in Ramallah or Hizballah in Beirut, so long as they “don’t cross the line." Kerry did not say what that line was or how the Obama administration would treat any “crossings” thereof. He went still further by inviting Iran and Hizballah to take part in a political solution of the Syrian crisis.