A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 21, 2013

March 15, 2013 Briefs

  • US to deploy 14 extra interceptors against NKorean – not Iranian – missiles
    The US will deploy 14 additional ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California following a North Korean threat of a preemptive missile strike against America. debkafile: Although Obama admitted Thursday that Iran could achieve a nuclear weapon within a year, he last year dismantled the European segment of the US missile shield against Iran although it was part of the US defense system protecting Israel.
  • Ten Palestinians detained for highway stone-throwing
    An Israeli mother and her three small daughters – aged 6, 4 and 2 – were badly injured when rocks thrown at Highway 5 traffic near Ariel Thursday night caused their car to swerve and crash into a truck. The youngest child aged 2 was still fighting for her life Friday, 10 suspects were detained in raids of two Palestinian villages southeast of Qalqilya. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered a crackdown on the stone-throwers plaguing West Bank road traffic for sometime.

March 16, 2013 Briefs

  • Jordan: At least 15 killed in bus crash
    Most of the 15 dead and up to 20 wounded were Palestinian pilgrims on their way back from Mecca to the West Bank.

France, UK flout US on arms to Syrian rebels

16 March. Britain and France have for the first time parted ways with the US policy against sending Western arms to Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad. As the EU summit in Brussels voted March 14 against their motion to lift the Syrian arms embargo, debkafile reveals that Jordan’s top soldier arrived in Brussels to discuss shipping British arms through his country – and to which rebel groups. France’s Francois Hollande evened the score for Barack Obama’s lack of military support for his Mali expedition. Even so, the EU voted against the UK-French motion.

March 17, 2013 Briefs

  • Iran launches home-made destroyer in Caspian Sea
    The Jamaran 2 1420-ton destroyer, powered by a 20000-horsepower engine, with a speed of 30 knots, able to carry helicopters, both guided surface to surface and surface to air missiles and torpedoes, was launched in the northern port of Bandar Anzali Sunday.
  • Gilead Erdan takes Homeland Defense Ministry
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is lining up members of his own Likud-Israel Beitenu for jobs in his new cabinet before it is sworn in Monday. Former Environment Minister in the last cabinet has been appointed Homeland Defense and Communications Minister responsible also for the Broadcasting Authority.
  • Turkey, Kurdish PKK close to ceasefire
    Deputy PM Bulent Arinc said Friday that if peace talks between the Ankara government and the imprisoned PKK Kurdish separatis leader Abdullah Ocalan continue to make progress, it is very likely that a ceasefire in the long conflict will be announced as soon as March 21.

Netanyahu’s new government – a test of survival

17 March. Binyamin Netanyahu’s third government gets down to its first order of business Tuesday, March 19. Does anyone know what that business is? No, because each of the four components of this roughly welded coalition government has its own well-defined political, social, economic and religious agenda. Melding them all into agreed guidelines for action is obviously a Herculean – or even an impossible – task, which is why some top people in Jerusalem are betting that it won’t survive its first year.
Moshe Yaalon as new defense minister plans to redesign the IDF as a national army better suited to the exigencies of the 21st century and the wars of the future.
The former TV anchor Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid – Future) has made his political debut with a leap to the top government echelon as finance minister. He campaigned loudly for military service for all, including the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs and benefits for the middle class. Now he must sit down to draft a state budget with heavy spending cuts at top speed.
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, came in from the political cold to join the government as Justice Minister claiming that all she really wanted was to promote and lead peace talks with the Palestinians. She is strongly opposed by Naftali Bennett, who revived the fortunes of the veteran National Religious Party by repackaging it as the pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home).

Tehran: All our options on the table if attacked. Go home, Obama!

17 March. Two messages wee addressed to President Barack Obama by Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri: 1 “Our commanders have been authorized to respond to any kind of hostile move by the enemy.” debkafile notes that Iranian officers are also deployed in Syria and Lebanon. 2. And a mocking “Mr Obama, make no mistake. We too have all our options on the table. Before you get deeper in the region’s quagmire, go back home!”
Iranian officials are behaving exactly like their North Korean partners – with threats for any statements they don’t like.

March 18, 2013 Briefs

  • New Israeli government’s guidelines endorsed
    The Knesset voted by a majority of 68 to approve and 38 against the program Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presented for his third government at the parliamentary ceremony Monday for the swearing in of the 22 new ministers: "The new government's first priority is to defend the security of the country and its citizens," he said. The ultra-Orthodox factions, excluded for the first time for government, walked out in protest when Netanyahu rose to speak.
  • Israeli injured in Palestinian drive-by shooting
    Fire was opened from a Palestinian vehicle against an 71-year old Israeli man waiting for a lift outside Kedummim, north of Ramallah Monday. He was hit in the leg. Security forces are hunting the Palestinian car and shooters.

Two more Likudniks get high-sounding ministerial jobs

18 March. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu added the last two ministerial posts to his cabinet lineup for presentation to and swearing-in before the Knesset Monday afternoon. Silvan Shalom gets Electricity, Water, Negev, Galilee and a seat on team for Palestinian negotiations; Yuval Steinetz (former Finance Minister) – Strategic affairs, responsibility for the Strategic Dialogue with Washington (instead of Gilead Erdan), Intelligence, strengthening the secret services, relations with the UN, and chair of the National Nuclear Energy Commission.
All in all, Netanyahu keeps hand on levers of security, foreign relations, energy.
The West Bank Settlement lobby is strongly represented at key points in government.
And finally, the prime minister has kept charge himself of Israel’s Mediterranean gas and oil bonanza.

Assad to Beirut: Sack Lebanese army chief or more air raids. Jordan feared next

18 March. The Syrian conflict spread in earnest Monday, March 18, when the Syrian Air Force performed bombing runs over Syrian rebel jumping-off bases inside Lebanon and border valleys used for smuggling men and arms into Syria. debkafile reports exclusively: Saturday, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad gave Lebanese President Michel Suleiman 48 hours to sack his chief of staff and expel Syrian rebels from his country – or else face air attack. The ultimatum expired Monday. Lebanon is probably in for expanding Syria air operations against its territory in the coming days.

March 19, 2013 Briefs

  • More than 56 dead in Baghdad terrorist attacks
    A string of coordinated suicide attacks and car bombs in the Shiite suburbs of Baghdad Tuesday have left more than 50 dead and 160 injured. debkafile: The Sunni-Shiite conflict is spilling over with increased force into Iraq after the Syrian Air Force bombed Sunni targets in another of its neighbors, Lebanon, on Monday.

Syria gears up for chemical warfare

19 March. Assad is preparing for a chemical attack on rebel forces in Homs, say Western intelligence to debkafile Tuesday, March 19, to save himself from a defeat there during US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region. Damascus apparently set the scene by accusing Syrian rebels of firing a chemical rocket in Aleppo and killing 15 people. Rebels denied this report and charged the regime with delivering a chemical weapon by Scud, from which 20 people died of asphyxia and poisoning. Neither claim was independently verified.

March 20, 2013 Briefs

  • Obama in Jerusalem: A chemical attack in Syria would be a game-changer
    US President Barack Obama said he had ordered a thorough inquiry into the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria on Tuesday. “When you let that genie out of the bottle – a weapon that can cause mass devastation and death – you have to act on the information. I would be deeply skeptical of any claim that the Syrian opposition used chemical weapons.” Obama and Binyamin Netayahu addressed a news conference after their talks on the first day of his three-day visit to Israel. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will pay his first visit Israel next month. He reported this to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon when they exchanged congratulations over their new appointments and promised to strengthen cooperation in light of common challenges in the Middle East.

Obama, Netanyahu divided on Iran, Syria

20 March. President Barack Obama was greeted on his arrival in Israel midday Wednesday, March 20 with unprecedented ceremonial honors and fanfare. However, the omens augured major differences with his hosts. In the 48 hours before his arrival in Israel, Syria for the first time bombed targets inside Lebanon and fired a chemical warhead at Aleppo. While Israel is acutely concerned by this escalation just across its frontiers, the Obama administration withheld a practical response. They are also divided on the handling of Iran’s nuclear program, accusing the US of allowing Iran to advance on his track toward two types of nuclear bombs, one fueled by enriched uranium and the other by plutonium.

Agent 15 “choking gas” used lethally in Aleppo

20 March. debkafile reports from western military sources that present in the rocket which exploded in the Aleppo neighborhood of Khan al-Assal Tuesday March 19 were phosphorus, chlorine and Agent 15 or BZ. Although the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels charged each other with firing the rocket, which killed 15-31 people and injured more than a hundred, it was not possible to verify which side was responsible. The White House denied it was the rebels, while Moscow backed Damascus by insisting that it was.

March 21, 2013 Briefs

  • Suicide bomber kills senior pro-Assad cleric in Damascus mosque
    Syrian TV reports Sheikh Mohammed Said Ramadan al-Buti was killed in an explosion caused by a suicide bomber in the Iman Mosque in the central Mazraa district of Damascus Thursday. At least 42 people died in the attack.
  • Obama speech cheered on warm ties, heckled on Palestinians
    Visiting US President Barack Obama, addressing Israel students in Jerusalem, said politicians don’t take risks unless urged by their people. His audience rose and cheered him when he said Israel has the right to exist and is not going anywhere. You are not alone, he said in Hebrew; America is Israel’s greatest friend. America will do what it must to prevent a nuclear Iran, he said. But shouts of protest were heard amid the applause when he called for peace and justice for the Palestinians and declared there would be no security for Israel without peace.
  • Khamenei: Iran will destroy Tel Aviv, Haifa if attacked
    "At times the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) threaten to launch a military invasion but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an address Thursday as US President Barack Obama was addressing Israeli students in Jerusalem.
  • Russian fleet abandons Tartus, docks in Beirut
    Moscow issued a confused statement Thursday, reflecting uncertainty about the situation in Syria: “The escalating conflict in Syria and [doubts] about the entry of Russian ships into the port of Tartus forced us to search for safer ports [for docking], and one of them is Beirut. Tartus continues to be the only official [facility] for Russian ships [in the Mediterranean].” The statement went on to say: “Once events in Syria become more predictable, we will be able to [come to] a position on continuing the use of Tartus.”
  • Obama in Ramallah: We will not give up on two states
    After his talks in Ramallah Thursday with Palestinian leaders, US President Barack Obama reiterated his pledge not to give up on efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. It may take time, he said, but in the end, it will happen.
  • Four Gaza rockets hit Sderot as Obama visits Israel
    Two of the rockets fired from Gaza early Thursday landed in the town, one in the backyard of a home causing damage to property but no casualties immediately reported.
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