A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 19, 2015

March 13, 2015 Briefs

  • World powers secretly discuss lifting UN sanctions against Iran
    The P5+1 group (Russia, China, France, Britain, and the US plus Germany, has been discussing a draft UN Security Council resolution to begin relaxing UN sanctions on Iran – if a nuclear deal is reached. The resolution would make the deal binding, and so allow the Obama administration to bypass US Senate objections and override the letter from 47 Republican Senators warning Iran that any agreement not ratified by the Senate could be revoked by the next US president.
    In another letter, Republican Sen. Bob Corker warned President Obama against trying to “end-run” around Congress to secure UN approval for the controversial nuclear deal, while at the same time threatening to veto a congressional vote on it. This was “a direct affront” to the American people and would undermine the role of Congress, he said.
  • Saudis, Kuwait, UAE pledge $12bn to Egyptian economy
    Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates Friday pledged to invest $4 bn each to boost the Egyptian economy at the two-day Economic Development Conference which opened at Sharm el-Sheikh Friday. Cairo presented 60 projects to investors, among them the model of a planned new capital. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said in his address that "Egypt has and will always be the first line of defense against the dangers faced by the region.”
    US companies had invested $2bn in Egypt last year, Secretary of State John Kerry reported, but had no news about US military assistance for combating terror.

March 14, 2015 Briefs

  • ISIS-Sinai Is packing large water trucks with explosives
    ISIS’s Sinai affiliate is stealing water and fuel tankers and big trucks and packing them with explosives ready for large-scale terrorist attacks on Egyptian and Israeli targets. The group tested this method on March 4, using an explosives-packed water tanker to storm an Egyptian military compound in a northern Sinai town. Thursday, March 13, Col. Arik Hen of the IDF’s 80th Division said the military in the South was on the alert for a major coordinated ISIS attack on Eilat from Sinai and the sea.

Herzog’s four pledges for his first 100 days as prime minister are unworkable

14 Mar. Yitzhak Herzog, co-leader of the opposition Zionist Camp party, is tabbed by the polls as Binyamin Netanyahu’s credible successor. However, the same credibility does not extend to his four pledges to the voter in his first 100 days as prime minister – if he is elected – which are: to lead a drive to bring down the prohibitive cost of housing; mend Israel’s relations with the United States, i.e. Barack Obama; revive peace talks with the Palestinians; and create a “regional platform” for Israel’s foreign relations.
1) Affordable housing can’t be brought forth by a snap of the fingers; 2) For a reconciliation, the White House will expect Netanyahu’s successor to line up with Barack Obama’s pro-Iran policy – in breach of his pledge of security; 3) Mahmoud Abbas is no longer around as a partner for peace talks; and 4) A regional platform (such as Netanyahu achieved informally) will be even more elusive the moment he plays ball with the Obama administration.

March 15, 2015 Briefs

  • Mass demo in Tel Aviv closes right-wing election campaign
    Tens of thousands of supporters of the right-of-center parties packed Tel Aviv Rabin Square and surrounding streets Sunday night – roughly the same numbers achieved by the left-of-center bloc a week earlier at the same venue. They heard Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealing for a high turnout for his Likud to close the four-seat margin gained by the left-of-center block led by Yitzhak Herzog’s Zionist Union in the polls.
  • Turkey extradites 3 British teenage boys heading for jihad in Syria
    Two 17-year old boys and a 19-year old from northwest London were detained in Istanbul trying to cross into Syria to join ISIS. Turkey deported them to the UK Sunday where they have been detained by the London police and accused of preparing acts of terrorism. Earlier this month, three young British schoolgirls bound for Syria to join the Islamic State were able to cross in from Turkey, which was accused of not cooperating with the UK to prevent their passage.
  • Kerry concedes that US must talk to Assad to end Syria war
    The United States for the first time concedes that it will have to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad to end the war entering its fifth year, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. "Well, we have to negotiate in the end. We've always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process," Kerry said in an interview shown Sunday, adding Washington was working hard to "re-ignite" efforts to find a political solution to end the war. debkafile: After the Syrian war claimed at least 250,000 lives, created more than six million refugees, displaced a third of the population and ravaged Syria’s cities, The Obama administration is performing a U-turn on Bashar Assad, almost certainly at the insistence of Tehran.
  • Assad rejects Kerry’s comment
    Syrian President Bashar Assad sharply rejected the US U-turn on negotiating with his regime with advice to Washington to stay out of his country’s domestic affairs.
  • US suspends consular services in Saudi Arabia for two days
    he US embassy in Saudi Arabia said it had suspended consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dahran for two days due to "heightened security concerns", following threats against Western oil workers. US citizens were advised to take extra precautions and keep a low profile if they were out in public.
  • US Senate Committee probes alleged State meddling in Israel’s ballot
    A bipartisan US Senate committee with subpoena powers is investigating charges that the Obama administration may have aided efforts to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 17 election. The allegations include State Department funding of $350,000 for the non-profits group OneVoice Movement, which partners an Israeli political action group called V15, whose activists have been knocking on Israeli doors to urge people not to vote for Netanyahu’s Likud. V15 reportedly hired 270 Strategies, a consulting firm, some of whose top executives were also top staffers for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

New Form of Terror – Toy Drones – Has No Counter Measures

15 Mar. This report inaugurates debkafile’s new column which, under the heading The Cyber Dimension, will appear regularly and keep our readers abreast of novel events in this fast-developing field. The least appreciated cyber threat today comes from the potential of commercially available, inexpensive toy drones reaching terrorist hands. Unidentified UAVs over the White House and Elysée in the past month triggered the first alarm. As yet, no counter-measures exist for diverting or aborting a small drone with a 400-gram explosive payload, after its flight plan, fatal mission and target have been installed in its program.
The administration will need to invest heavily in technology and legislation to counter a toy that is usable as a weapon of almost unlimited potential for wreaking death and destruction of unimaginable proportions, if allowed to get out of control.

March 16, 2015 Briefs

  • Iranian sources report big progress in nuclear talks
    Major strides have been made in the nuclear negotiations conducted in Switzerland between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammed Javad Zarif, according to Iranian sources. They predicted that the deal would be signed within a few days.
  • US drones to attack ISIS from Turkish air base – report
    Turkey and the United States have agreed that US combat drones may use the Incirlik air base to support coalition operations against the Islamic State. Four Reaper UAVs (combat drone modification of the 'Predator') will be delivered to Incirlik in the next three weeks. In the last three and a half years, 4 'Predator' UAVs have been deployed there for US intelligence-gathering in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish General Staff has not officially commented on the deployment of Reapers.
  • President Vadimir Putin has reappeared
    President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance Monday after ten days, scotching rumors of a Kremlin coup and even his own death. He kept his date with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in St. Petersburg, quipping that things would be boring without rumors – but no explanation for his mysterious absence, which debkafile was the first international news site to uncover his disappearance.
  • The still missing Putin ordered military alert, says Russian defense chief
    Hours before he reappeared in St. Petersburg after a mysterious 10-day absence, Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday ordered nearly 40,000 troops in northern and western Russia to go on full alert as part of a land, sea and air snap-readiness exercise.

March 17, 2015 Briefs

  • Israel goes to the polls for new Knesset and government
    Polling stations opened at 7 a.m., Tuesday, March 17, for Israel’s 5,881,696 voters to cast ballots for their next parliament and government. Of that number 80 pc are Jews, 15 pc Arab and 5 pc neither. The 25 lists that entered the race posted 1,280 candidates, of whom less than one-tenth will be placed in Knesset seats. The new lists are the Zionist Union (a merger between veteran Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah), the Joint List of four Arab parties, and Ellie Yishay’s Yahad, which broke away from the ultra-religious Shas.

March 18, 2015 Briefs

  • Obama delays congratulating Netanyahu on election win
    The White House said US President Barack Obama will call Netanyahu to congratulate him on his Likud party’s election “in the coming days.” The administration will evaluate its approach on the Middle East peace process “following Netanyahu's recent statement that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch,” said spokesman Josh Earnest. He said Obama administration does not believe that the Netanyahu victory would have a substantial impact on the nuclear talks with Iran. It was deeply concerned by the use of “divisive rhetoric” in the election that “sought to undermine Arab Israeli citizens.”
  • ISIS gunmen shoot dead 19 people, most tourists, at Tunisian museum
    An Islamist shooting attack at the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian parliamentary compound left 19 dead, including 17 tourists, while they were getting off a bus to enter the museum. The attackers who were killed wore military fatigues. The 17 tourists killed were Polish, German, Italian and Spanish. Another 22 tourists and two Tunisians were injured, he said. The museum is known as a jewel of Tunisian heritage with priceless artifacts. The attack is another instance of Islamic State barbaric destruction of cultural treasures, directed hitherto against the relics of Assyrian and Christian civilizations in Iraq.
  • Netanyahu starts coalition talks with five parties
    After his Likud’s election win, Binyamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday morning that he would start building a new government coalition without delay since for “reality there is no time-out.” His prospective partners are Kulanu, Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beitenu, The Torah Union and Shas – all nationalist or religious parties – or both.

Binyamin Netanyahu wins fourth term as PM

18 Mar. Likud leader, the outgoing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has won a fourth term after a last-ditch electioneering blitz. As votes of the March 17 election were counted Tuesday night, Likud’s winning margin over its rival, the Zionist Union led by Yitzhak Herzog, widened. With 99 percent of the count, Likud broke away from their early deadlock to 29 seats (of the 120-member Knesset), while the Zionist Union dropped to 24 (24 to 19pc). The figures boosted Netanyahu’s leverage for swiftly negotiating a new coalition.

March 19, 2015 Briefs

  • Likud wins 30 seats in final results of Israel’s election
    The final results of Israel’s general election were officially released Thursday.
    Turnout was 72.3 percent, the highest in 15 years.
    Likud (right) – 30
    Zionist Union (centre-left) – 24
    Joint Arab List – 13
    Yesh Atid (centrist) – 11
    Kulanu (center-right) – 10
    Jewish Home (pro-settler nationalist) – 8
    Shas (Orthodox) – 7
    Yisrael Beitenu (nationalist) – 6
    United Torah Judaism (Orthodox) – 6
    Meretz (far-left) – 5
  • First warplane-versus-drone encounter in war on ISIS in Iraq
    US warplanes Tuesday destroyed "a remotely piloted aircraft" aboard an ISIS vehicle near the western Iraqi town of Fallujah, according to the US military command. The drone, used for battlefield surveillance, was "small-scale" and not a sophisticated aircraft equivalent to some US-made robotic planes that can fly at high altitudes or launch missiles, US defense officials said.
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