A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 14, 2013

Joint US-led HQ to operate in Syria in chemical war contingency

8 March. A new US-led contingency headquarters for joint US, Israel, Jordan and Turkey operations inside Syria will go into action if any or all these allies should come under chemical or biological attack. This was the upshot of the talks US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held with visiting Israeli defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon Tuesday, March 5. Hagel forecast imminent chemical warfare in Syria spilling over its borders, kicked off by Al Qaeda-linked militias to further their territorial expansion plans.
The abduction of 21 UNDOP Filipino observers Wednesday, March 6, by the Islamist Martyrs of the Yarmouk, is now seen as tying in closely with the next plans of the Islamist militias of the Syrian rebel force, headed by Jabhat al-Nusra, which are to cement their grip on the Syrian Golan, eastern Syria and the Upper Euphrates, where the important towns of Deir Azor and Abu Kemal are situated.

March 9, 2013 Briefs

  • Egypt raises state of emergency in Sinai
    The emergency level in North and South Sinai was raised Saturday after information was received that jihadist groups are planning attacks on Egyptian police facilities. This desert region borders on Israel and is home to tourist resorts. In August last year, gunmen killed 15 Egyptian policemen before storming the Israeli border.
  • After denial, Jordan announces UN hostages released
    A Jordanian military spokesman has announced that the 21 UNDORF hostages captured by Syrian Islamist rebels on the Syrian Golan have been released and are in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Obama’s Israel visit to sweeten pill of concessions to Iran

9 March. Western optimism on Iran’s nuclear program was generated by three major US concessions in Kazakhstan to which Israel strongly objects: Fordo stays open, 20-percent uranium enrichment continues and low-grade Iranian uranium stocks will not leave the country.
debkafile: With these gains, the Iranian negotiators must have been laughing all the way home from their talks with the six big powers on 26-27 of February and crowing over what one Israeli official called "Tehran’s huge success and Israel’s total defeat.”
Significantly, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin chose this moment to comment that an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “a one-night operation.”

March 11, 2013 Briefs

  • Prime minister’s office on Obama visit
    Upon arrival Wednesday morning for his 50-hour visit, US President Barack Obama will inspect the Iron Dome battery deployed especially for his visit at Ben Gurion airport. Bethlehem is added to his schedule, also a meeting with opposition leader Shelly Yacemovich in addition to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. He will also visit the Shrine of the Book (Dead Sea Scrolls) at the Israel Museum. After calling on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Thursday, he returns to Jerusalem for his speech at the National Convention Center.
  • Libyan Islamists kidnap and torture expat Egyptian Christians
    Libyan Islamists have rounded up hundreds of expatriate Egyptian Coptic Christians in Benghazi in the last month, subjecting them to extreme torture. Responsible for the atrocity, the same Ansar al-Sharia, which led the assault in Benghazi lastt September and murdered Ambassador Chris Steven and three of his staff. According to another report, the Libyan parliament has suspended operations after armed men stormed the building.

Hundreds of Golan UN observers scramble to safety in Israel

11 March. debkafile reports the flight of hundreds of UN Disengagement and observers Force (UNDOF) soldiers – Indian, Austrian and Filipino – in trucks and APCs from the Syrian side of Golan into Israel was in full swing early Monday, March 11. Their commanders urged them to get out, saying “We can no longer vouch for your safety.” Syrian rebel Islamists are almost in full control of the 8-sq.km Syrian-Israel separation zone with Hizballah units heading towards the enclave as well.

March 12, 2013 Briefs

  • Two Israeli airmen killed in helicopter training crash
    The Cobra attack helicopter piloted by Air Force reservists Lt. Col. Noam Ron, 49, from Oranit, and Capt. Erez Flexner, 31, from Herzliya, crashed on its way back from a training sortie to the Air Force base at Palmachim Monday night – according to initial investigation due to a technical fault. Search parties went out after contact was lost with the crew at one o’clock after midnight. Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel has grounded all Cobra copters for a thorough investigation. The last loss of an Israeli combat helicopter was in August 2010 during a joint maneuver with Romania.

Al Qaeda’s 1,000-km chain from Baghdad to Damascus

12 March. By beating the Syrian army 17th reserve division for control of the Euphrates valley, Islamist militias have removed the last gap in al Qaeda’s 1,000-km chain of command from north of Baghdad to eastern Damascus, including Syrian Golan on Israel’s border. Any “conflagration” in Syria could quickly spread to Lebanon, Iraq or the Golan; a violent incident in Egypt could be tied to Libya, Israel or Algeria. “The threats have not gone, only assumed new shapes,” said IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. “The risk of escalation is very high.”
Regarding Syria, he said: “Although the probability of a conventional war against the Syrian army is low, the terrorist organizations fighting Assad may set their sights on us next. The Syrian army’s tremendous strategic resources may well fall into terrorist hands.”

March 13, 2013 Briefs

  • Israeli government coalition accord ready for signing
    Two days short of his second deadline, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday wound up long and arduous negotiations for a coalition government with four parties, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (Future), Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima. The two political tyros, Lapid of Yesh Atid and Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, proved to be skilled negotiators and, notwithstanding their inexperience, Lapid won five portfolios for his party and the Finance Ministry for himself; Bennett, three key ministries lumped together plus Knesset Finance Committee chair for his party. Rabbi Shay Piron of Yesh Atid wrested the coveted Education Ministry from Likud’s Gideon Sahar, who is bidding for Interior. Livni takes Justice. Netanyahu’s Likud-Israel Beitenu keeps the post of Knesset Speaker for Yuly Edelstein. This will be the first Israeli government coalition without any ultra-religious parties. They join Labor on the opposition benches.
  • Palestinian shot dead in Israeli pursuit of road bombers
    Mahmoud A-Titi, 25, was shot dead, eight others injured, by Israeli troops in the al Fawar camp near Hebron after a gang pelted Israeli vehicles on Route 60 with firebombs. The troops chased the assailants as they fled into the camp. A violent clash ensued and was broken up by Israeli fire.
  • US amphibian strike force heads for Mid East
    Ahead of President Barack’s visit to Israel and Jordan at a time of high regional tension, the US Monday dispatched to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf a naval task force made up of the thee amphibian strike vessels, the USS Kearsange, the USS San Antonio and the USS Carter Hall. They carry 2,200 combatants of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Iron Dome for Obama’s Israel landing – in case of al Qaeda, chemical attack

13 March. Barack Obama will be the first US president to be guarded by an Iron Dome anti-missile system against possible al Qaeda attempts from Syria or Sinai to shoot rockets tipped with poison chemicals after Air Force One touches down at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on March 20. Just five months ago, the airport, like Jerusalem, was targeted for Hamas missile attack. The Iron Dome and Patriot batteries defending central Israel since then were not considered sufficient to secure the president’s arrival.
No one dares rule out a possible jihadist attack on the US president to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden on his orders two years ago – whether from Sinai or Syria.

March 14, 2013 Briefs

  • Kochavi: Iran will continue to advance its nuclear program in 2013
    In the view of Israel Military Intelligence, Iran is aiming for the capacity for nuclear breakout within a short time, but has not yet decided to build a bomb, said MI chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi in a lecture Thursday. The regime in Tehran is standing up to domestic grievances over the hardships caused by sanctions and not about to change its nuclear policy. It rates the probability of attack as “not high.” In Syria, Bashar Assad’s allies, Iran and Hizballah, knowing his fate is sealed, have “flooded the country a militia of 50,000 fighters,” he said. For the first time, Israel faces “four active terrorism borders: Lebanon, Syria, Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The threat of security deterioration caused either by us attacking, or a terrorist attack on us… is growing,” said Gen. Kochavi, adding a total of 200,000 rockets and missiles are aimed at Israel by its enemies.
  • Palestinians to Obama: Stay off Temple Mount!
    The Palestinian Authority advises President Barack Obama to call off his tour of the Western Wall and al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount, Jerusalem, under the escort of Israeli security personnel. Obama is to spend March 20 and 21 on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Visiting those shrines, said the PA, would be an affirmation of Israeli sovereignty. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad called on its supporters to prevent the US president setting foot on Temple Mount with a hail of rocks and eggs.
  • Germany bans three Islamist groups
    Police mounted raids on Salafist groups in the states of Hesse and North-Rhine Westphalia Wednesday, seized propaganda material in German and Arabic calling for the imposition of Sharia law, but made no arrests. "Salafism, as represented by the groups banned today, is incompatible with our peaceful, democratic system," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said.

Al Qaeda in bid to seize Syrian Golan before Obama visit

14 March. Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing Jabhat al-Nusra led a Syrian rebel operation Wednesday, March 13, to occupy Golan and cleanse it of Syrian troops, so as to be ready for cross-border attacks on Israel and Jordan – possibly during US President’ Barack Obama’s visits on March 20-22. The jihadists also hope to use “liberated” Syrian Golan as launching pads for a war of attrition against Israel and Jordan. Their deadline for achieving this objective is March 15.
Our military sources add, that in the course of the fighting Wednesday, the Nusra front uncovered a secret network of large tunnels running from different points on the Golan up to the Israeli border. They are big enough for the passage of entire Syrian units with their tanks and heavy trucks, allowing them to pop up without warning against Israeli units and mow them down.

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