A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 20, 2014

March 14, 2014 Briefs

  • Iraqi al Qaeda claims attack on Mt. Dov Israeli patrol
    IDF forces exchanged fire with gunmen in the Mt. Dov sector of the Hermon range Friday night after a roadside bomb was activated against an Israeli border patrol jeep. Three soldiers were taken to hospital with light injuries. The attack was claimed by the ISIS, the Iraqi al Qaeda. Israeli tanks then pounded Hizballah positions in the south Lebanese village of Kila opposite the northern Israeli town of Metullah. This was the first Israeli-Hizballah military confrontation in eight years. Lebanese sources, including Hizballah, reported that in addition to the roadside bomb, a 107mm rocket was fired from Lebanon and hit an IDF position. Mt Dov stands at the northern extremity of the Golan near a key intersection of the Lebanese-Syrian borders.

Russia claims US drone intercept over Crimea by cyber warfare

14 March. Russia claims to have intercepted a US MQ-5B Hunter drone over Crimea Friday, March 14, by using radio-electronic technology to break its link with the US operators. The Russian state arms and technology group Rostec said the UAV, belonging to the 66th America Reconnaissance Brigade based in Bavaria, fell “almost intact” into the hands of “self-defense forces.”

Discord in Kerry-Lavrov talks on Ukraine sets scene for cold war

14 March. Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Friday, March 14 ended six hours of talks sharply at odds on the Crimean referendum on secession to Russia, which takes place Sunday. The US and West judge the referendum illegal and a violation of Ukrainian territory integrity and sovereignty in defiance of the interim government in Kiev, which they recognize as the legitimate rulers of all Ukraine. Kerry threatened “consequences” if the referendum went through.
The Russian minister stood by the Kremlin’s refusal to call off the vote and regretted that the two share no “single vision” on Ukraine’s future. But he did not rule out future cooperation on other global issues.

March 15, 2014 Briefs

  • Sabotage of Arak reactor “neutralized” – Iranian sources
    Iranian security forces were able to “neutralize’ several cases of industrial sabotage in recent months before they achieved damage, “including a part of the IR-40 facility at Arak” – the heavy water reactor under construction for producing plutonium.
  • Russia vetoes Sec Council Crimea resolution
    Russia Saturday vetoed a Security Council resolution drafted by the US ruling the Crimea referendum invalid. China abstained. The measure drafted by the US urged countries not to recognize the results of the referendum.
  • Malaysian PM: Missing plane deliberately flown off course
    The missing MH370 flight was deliberately steered off course by someone on the plane, was airborne for more than seven hours, and may have traveled as far as Kazakhstan, the Malaysian prime minister confirmed at a news conference Saturday.

The Crimean referendum goes forward amid Russian tank movements

16 March. Russian military movements and strength around Crimea do not exceed the level for securing the Crimean referendum taking place Sunday, March 16 against possible Ukrainian or Western interference. There are no signs of Russia planning to invade other parts of Ukraine. Neither have Ukraine’s European neighbors or the US bases on their soil declared unusual military preparedness. The Ukraine army is likewise stationary.

March 16, 2014 Briefs

  • Car bomb kills at least three in E. Lebanese Hizballah bastion
    Several people were killed and many others were injured when a suicide attacker blew up a bomb-laden car outside al-Hussein Mosque in the center of the Beqaa Valley town al-Nabi Othman near the Syrian border. .Hizballah military bases are clustered in the area. A group calling itself Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek claimed responsibility.
  • Six Egyptian soldiers killed at Cairo checkpoint
    The Egyptian government in emergency meeting Sunday heightened security after masked gunmen opened fire on military policemen at a Cairo checkpoint while at morning prayers. They then planted two bombs to target the first responders. debkafile: Most terrorist attacks have taken place in Sinai but in recent months, they are spreading increasingly to Cairo and the Nile Delta.
  • Syrian rebel bastion of Yabroud falls to government-Hizballah forces
    Syrian state media reported Sunday that government forces backed by Hizballah had taken full control of the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, the key to the Calamoun range, after a more than four-month battle. Rebel fighters were seen fleeing the town at dawn. The fall of Yabroud (pop: 40-60,000) secures Bashar Assad’s land route from Damascus to Aleppo and the Mediterranean coastal cities, and cuts off the main rebel supply route from Lebanon. Syrian state TV said government forces had killed or captured many rebels.

Military satellites deployed to try and pinpoint missing airliner

16 March. US, Russian and Chinese military satellites were enlisted Sunday to the hunt for the missing Malaysi8an Boeing 777 on the ninth day of its disappearance with 239 people aboard. The US has also diverted spy drones from Afghanistan to the search, which now homes in on former Soviet republics of Central Asia, where the plane may have come down. Investigators are focusing on the pilot of the missing MH370 after establishing that the aircraft’s radar and transponders were deliberately switched off. Unanswered questions include: Did the cargo hold contain some prized item? Were the hijackers crooks or possible Uyghur separatists? Was the airliner seized for reuse as a weapon of terror? Were the pilots complicit in a plot which led to Flight MH370’s disappearance? And most pressing of all: Were the passengers and crew still alive, possibly marooned in some remote place?

March 17, 2014 Briefs

  • Abbas to Obama: Palestinian prisoner release will test Netanyahu
    President Barack Obama praised Mahmoud Abbas when they met in the White House Monday but told him he still faces tough decisions in the negotiations with Israel. Abbas said that the Palestinians had recognized Israel as the Jews’ national state in the past and there was not need to repeat this. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s intentions regarding peace negotiations would be tested, he said, when Israel released the fifth batch of Palestinians prisoners, including Israel Arabs.
  • Final results: 96.7% voted for Russia in Crimea referendum
    Crimeans voted overwhelmingly Sunday by a 96.7pc vote to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The turnout was 83.1 pc of the 1,274,000 eligible voters in a referendum condemned as illegal and unconstitutional by the US and European Union. The Russian Dumas approves legislation for Crimea’s annexation on March 21.

West holds back from harsh penalties for Russia

17 March. Both the US and European Union Monday, March 17, imposed relatively mild penalties on Russia for going through with the Crimean referendum. The US imposed travel bans and froze the assets of seven top Russians and three Ukrainians, while the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels listed 21 mostly unnamed targets – down from 121 – for the same sanctions, limited to a period of six months. The White House warned sanctions could be broadened if Russia took more steps. Russian officials said Moscow’s response against EU and US officials would be proportional to sanctions.
The EU was careful to exclude powerful Russian officials and economic figures.

US Seals seize Korean-flagged tanker with Libyan oil

17 March. The US Navy took control Monday, March 17 in international waters off Cyprus of a North Korean-flagged tanker carrying Libyan crude loaded from a rebel-hold port in eastern Libya. Washington called the tanker a pirate or rogue vessel. The operation to return the oil to the Libyan government was ordered by President Obama. debkafile: Libya’s government is hardly stable and has not governed the eastern region since NATO overthrew Muammar Qaddafi two years ago. Armed militias fighting for autonomy run one of the world’s biggest black markets for smuggled weapons.

March 18, 2014 Briefs

  • Ukraine PM allows soldiers in Crimea to use weapons
    The Ukraine interim prime minister allowed the soldiers remaining at a base in the Crimean capital of Simferpol to use their weapons in self-defense after a soldier was killed Tuesday in an attack on the base.
  • French FM: Russia suspended from G8
    Shortly after the Putin speech to the Russian lower house Tuesday, French Foreign Miniser Laurent Fabius said that Russia’s participation in the Group of Eight was suspended and the next summit would be a G7.

After anti-US speech, Putin signs Crimean annexation treaty

18 March. After defending Crimea’s “reunification” referendum as adhering to “all international norms,” Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday, March 18, that Russia would henceforth strongly defend its national interests against the “cold war tactics” practiced by the United States and the West.
He complained Moscow had sought dialogue with the West, but was “cheated all the time.” When he accused America of practicing the “law of the strong,” he was cheered by the packed lower house of the Russian parliament. The session ended with the signing of the Crimean annexation treaty.

CIA chief of Iran operations suspended

18 March. The CIA's chief of Iran operations, Jonathan Bank, 46, was sent home on paid leave over an “open rebellion” in his department, US, Russian and Iranian media reported Tuesday, March 18. debkafile: This event places in doubt the credibility of US President Barack Obama’s assurances to Israel and the Arabian Gulf leaders that they have nothing to fear from the US-Iranian rapprochement because, they were told, Washington was fully abreast of Iran’s nuclear activities and would know in good time if Khamenei gave the order to build a nuclear weapon.
In the middle of high-powered US-led international nuclear negotiations with Iran, the very department supposed to be feeding President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with up-to-the minute briefings was “in disarray.” "Iran is one of most important targets, and the place was not functioning," one of the former officials said.

March 19, 2014 Briefs

  • Russia may revise its position on Iranian nuclear talks
    Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia didn’t want to use the Iranian nuclear talks to ‘‘raise the stakes,’’ but may do so in response to the actions [sanctions] by the United States and the European Union.
  • Al Qaeda calls for car bombs in US, other “crusader” countries
    In the spring edition of its Inspire Magazine, Al Qaeda urges terrorist affiliates to detonate car bombs in major US cities, including New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles as well as other “crusader” countries like Britain and France, specifying the London Savoy.

Israel’s bankrupt military policy for Gaza won’t worth for Golan

19 March. That Israel has no answer for attacks from Syrian territory was apparent from its response to the bombing Tuesday, March 18 of the Golan Post 104, which injured four paratroopers – one seriously – the fourth such attack this month. Artillery and rockets was aimed at a Syrian army post near Quneitra followed by air strikes. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon held the Assad regime responsible. debkafile: Holding a sovereign state responsible for terrorist action from its soil never worked in Gaza and will only lead to a war of attrition in the north.

March 20, 2014 Briefs

  • Ya’alon calls Hagel to apologize for criticizing US
    US officials lined up Wednesday in high dudgeon over Israel’s defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s remarks in which he described the US as broadcasting weakness in the Ukraine crisis. He was also quoted as saying at a Tel Aviv University event on Monday that America’s aid to Israel needed to be “seen in proportion,” and that it was not a one-way street. “It isn’t a favor America is doing, it’s in their interest,” he said. “They get quality intelligence and technology.”
    The White House and State Department were “shocked” and John Kerry phoned Prime Minister to demand an apology.
    In a phone conversation with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel Wednesday night, the defense minister said that his comments "were not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to the United States." Strong ties with the United States are Israel's greatest priority, he added.

US-Russian tit-for-tat sanctions threaten global banking

20 March. The US and Russian presidents locked horns in earnest over their Ukraine dispute Thursday, March 20 with two sets of serious reciprocal sanctions. International financial circles warn that in their determination to outplay one another, the US and Russian leaders risk causing havoc in world trade centers. debkafile: Whereas Barack Obama’s new executive order covering 20 targets strike deep inside President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and personal financial interests, the Russian president appears to be going for American politicians seen as hostile to Moscow – although this is only his first shot.
Obama’s list in particular places a ban on dollar transactions by Bank Rossiya of St. Petersburg, which has some $10 billion dollars in assets and where Putin is believed to hold his personal accounts.
The list also includes members of the presidential bureau in the Kremlin and a number of “oligarchs” close to the president.
Moscow is widely expected to go for the US and Europe by political and possibly military steps in relations to Iran and Syria.

Al Qaeda-Iraq infiltrates Golan as well as Sinai, plots twin attacks

20 March. The presumption is gaining ground in Israel that the bombing attack on an Israeli Golan position Tuesday, March 18, injuring four paratroops, may not have been the work of Hizballah, but of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–ISIS, which is revealed now to have to have infiltrated the Syrian Golan. debkafile reports two more disturbing developments: ISIS Sinai cells are plotting a big coordinated operation against Egypt and Israel; and Syrian military intelligence is arming and funding Iraqi al Qaeda – both to crush the Nusra front and to hit Israel on the Golan.

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