A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 22, 2012

March 17, 2012 Briefs

  • Saudis sending arms to Syrian rebels through Jordan
    A diplomat in Dubai told AFP that Saudi Arabia was making large arms deliveries to Syrian rebel forces for the first time through Jordan. debkafile: The rift between the Saudi-led anti-Iran Gulf block and the Iran-led alliance of Syria, Hizballah and Hamas is widening.
    Before releasing the information, Riyadh must have promised Jordan a military-aerial umbrella against Syrian reprisals.
  • Extra security at US Cairo embassy after demo
    Egypt has reinforced security at the US embassy in Cairo after demonstrators demanded cutoff in relations and the ambassador’s expulsion over charges of interference in Egypt’s internal affairs in case against American pro-democracy activists.

At least 27 dead in Damascus bombings

17 March. Two car bombing attacks on Air Force Intelligence and Security Police Headquarters killed at least 27 people and wounded 97 Saturday morning, March 17. A third bomb exploded on a bus carrying members of the pro-Iranian Palestinian Liberation Army in the Al Yarmouk suburb of the Syrian capital.
debkafile: As well as Syria and the Gaza Strip, Iran’s hand links a widening circle of Middle East violence. Russian technicians man the Pantsyr-1 air and missile defense batteries shielding Syria from foreign intervention.
The initial premise is that the car bombings in Damascus Saturday were the work of foreign hands, possibly set up by Saudi Arabia or Qatar to revive the anti-Assad revolt, after the regime smashed the armed rebellion in its last stronghold in Idlib. The fact that a pro-Iranian Palestinian group in Damascus was also targeted by anti-Assad Arab powers was no more a coincidence than the targeting of the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami in Gaza by the Israeli Air Force last week.

March 18, 2012 Briefs

  • Car bombing in Aleppo day after Damascus blasts
  • A car bomb blew up in a residential area of Syria’s second city Aleppo close to a security office. Witnesses report an unknown number of dead and injured. The city was hit the day after three blasts devastated the Damascus headquarters of Air Force Intelligence and Criminal Police, killing 27 people and injuring more than a hundred.
  • Patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Church Pope Shenouda III dies
    Church sources said the patriarch passed away aged 89 after a heart attack Saturday morning. The grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayib said: “Egypt has one of its rare men at a sensitive moment when it most needs the wisest of the wise…”
  • Libya demands Qaddafi’s Intelligence Chief
    Tripoli has formally requested the handover of Abdullah Senussi to stand trial after his arrest in Mauritania.

Iran threatens Hormuz and world oil after trade links cutoff

18 March. Ali Falahian, Iran’s senior spokesman on sanctions, said Sunday, March 18: “I suggest that the West take seriously our threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.” This was Tehran’s first response to the SWIFT decision to sever ties with Iranian banks.
Four US and French nuclear aircraft carriers and a large fleet of minesweepers stand by on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 percent of the world’s daily oil supply passes, and Israeli naval vessels are deployed in the Red Sea. Tehran has threatened to drop sea mines in the strategic strait and/or the approaches to the huge Saudi Ras Tanura oil export terminal.
After its foremost ally, Bashar Assad, proved his ability to survive largely with the help of abundant Iranian help, Tehran is unlikely to let this achievement be marred by a US and European economic stranglehold.

March 19, 2012 Briefs

  • New York Police boosts security at Jewish and Israeli locations
    NYPD Monday night raised the alert level and boosted security at Jewish and Israeli locations in the city in the wake of the terrorist shooting on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France in which a teacher and four children were murdered.

Assad ready to unleash missiles to pre-empt military intervention

19 March. The Middle East has unknowingly been living for ten days under threat of a regional war, which debkafile’s military sources disclose was delivered by Syrian president Bashar Assad to UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan Saturday, March 10.
Assad warned him that Syrian missiles would reach any countries preparing for military intervention in Syria before they moved. debkafile: Four European naval and air forces stand ready to seal off security zones in Syria against Assad’s troops and planes.
Russian Black Sea headquarters at Sevastopol announced Monday that two Russian naval vessels had put into the Syrian port of Tartus: One carried a unit of “anti-terrorist marines” and the other was a military tanker which joined a Russian naval reconnaissance and surveillance ship already tied up in Tartus.

March 20, 212 Briefs

  • Catherine Ashton: I was misunderstood
    I didn’t mean to compare the Jewish school murders to the Gaza Strip. debkafile: She corrected herself after questions were raised about her suitability to chair the coming big power nuclear talks with Iran.
  • Israeli ministers slam Ashton for likening murder of French Jewish children to “what is happening in Gaza”
    The EU’s external executive Catherine Ashton chose to pay tribute to children “killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances among them what is happening in Gaza where Palestinian Arab youth continue to… aspire against all odds for a better future.”
    She spoke in Brussels after meeting a group of Palestinian youth. FM Avigdor Lieberman said he hoped she would retract her inappropriate remarks; Defense Minister Ehud Barak called Ashton's words ‘outrageous with absolutely no grounding in reality.” And Interior Minister Ellie Yishai said her statement further prejudices the EU’s fitness to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and she should resign.
  • US grants Japan, 10 EU states exemptions from anti-Iran sanctions
    The exemptions apply to the new US sanctions hanging over nations that don’t reduce their Iranian oil purchases by June 28, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She said those countries had already significantly reduced their crude imports from Iran this year, actions that were “not easy.” debkafile: This decision appears to reflect partial backtracking by the Obama administration on the new sanctions against Iran – apparently over the political fallout caused by skyrocketing oil prices.
  • Pentagon forecasts Israeli strike on Iran would lead to wider regional war
    US officials say, according to New York Times, that the US would be drawn in at the cost of hundreds of American lives. The Israeli attack would hold Iran’s nuclear drive back one year. A follow-up US strike, another two. debkafile: This is the second set of arguments against an Israeli attack on Iran to be published by the US administration in a week.

Obama chews out Abbas for quitting talks with Israel

20 March. US President Barack Obama hauled Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas over the coals when they talked by phone Monday, March 19. Obama coldly demanded that the Palestinians return without further delay to the talks in the Jordanian capital of Amman which they quit abruptly after several rounds and pick them up from the point they were broken off. Abbas refused.
The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy Yitzhak Molcho had presented the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat with a list of 21 points summarizing Israel’s final positions. When Erekat asked for more specifics, Molcho brought to the next meeting Maj. Gen. Natan Eshel, Head of the IDF’s Planning Division, to fill in the requested details. Without hearing what the general had t say, Erekat terminated the session by walking out.
In an article Monday, in the Al Quds newspaper, Palestinian ex-prime minister Ahmad Qurai (Abu Ala) proclaimed the death of the two-state solution for the Palestinian issue.

March 21, 2012 Briefs

  • US congressman: Hizballah greatest terrorist danger to America
    The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, said the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezballah may have hundreds of operatives based in the United States, and he said Hezballah, and not al-Qaida, poses the greatest terrorist threat to Americans.
  • French security police raid extremist Muslim hideouts
    French security police carried out nationwide raids on Muslim extremist hideouts early Wednesday amid a standoff with the al Qaeda man who attacked the Toulouse Jewish school.
  • French minister said national intelligence tracked shooting suspect for years
    He was given away by the email address on his brother’s computer which lured the first victim to his death.
  • Al Qaeda terrorist intended publishing his video footage of murders
    French TV reports Mohammad Merah said he was motivated for his murderous rampage by French participation in the Afghan war, the suffering of Gaza Palestinians and the banning of the veil by the Sarkozy government. He videotaped the murders he committed in the Jewish school and of French soldiers in Montauban to disseminate the film and “maximize” the propaganda impact of his deeds.

Mass attendance at Jerusalem funerals of 4 victims of Toulouse school murders

21 March. The funerals took place on Har Menuhot, Jerusalem Wednesday of Jewish teacher, Yonathan Sandler, 30, his sons Arieh, 3 and Gavriel, 6 and the Ozar Hatorah school principal’s daughter, Miriam Monstango, aged 8, who were murdered by an al Qaeda gunman at their Toulouse Jewish school Ozar Hatorah Monday.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who flew in for the funerals on the El Al plane which carried the coffins from France said he had come “in order to express and represent our solidarity with families of the victims that were killed in this intolerable murder. Never doubt our determination to fight anti-Semitism in France which violates all our values and will not be tolerated," he declared.

March 22, 2012 Briefs

  • Israel’s Cairo embassy cleared
    Israeli planes lifted the furniture and equipment out of the building, empty since it was stormed last year by anti-Israel rioters. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem denied reports claiming relations had been severed and affirmed that the Israeli ambassador continues to perform his duties in Cairo.
  • Military coup d’etat in Mali
    Mutineering soldiers end the rule of President Amadou Toumani Toure after seizing the presidential palace and state television station. They complained they are short of arms and resources to put down a Tuareg uprising in the Sahara.

Mohammed Merah is dead

22 March: The French-born al Qaeda killer, Mohammed Merah – who shocked the world by murdering three Jewish schoolchildren and their teacher in Toulouse by shots to the head, after killing three French paratroopers – was found dead after jumping out of a window still shooting Thursday, March 22. First, he injured three police officers searching his apartment, bursting out of the bathroom firing madly.
To capture him alive, French police and security forces conducted the longest siege in their history against a lone terrorist.
French officials’ statements were often conflicting throughout the episode.
One reason for dragging out the police assault on the apartment may have been that the occupant had not only barricaded himself in with basic supplies of food, water, medicines and ammo, but also booby-trapped the entrance ready to strike down a large number of raiders while he remained unharmed.
The apartment may have been rigged as a fortified chamber for a long haul.
In that and other respects, he may fit the model of an Iron Man, a terrorist prototype and Salafi extremist who drives fast cars and motorbikes, enjoys the good life, is at ease with electronic gadgets and used a high tech video camera from a Formula One car to record his murderous rampage in high resolution for propaganda and posterity.
Another unanswered riddle is who bankrolled this high-end style and his operations?
Mohammed Merah said he had trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which countries he visited in 2010 and 2011. A Kandahar prison official identified him as an al Qaeda bomber who was imprisoned for three years and escaped in a mass Taliban jailbreak after which he was detained again and packed off to France in 2010.

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