A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 26, 2015
March 20, 2015 Briefs
- Obama says the US will “reassess” its options on Israel
President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his delayed call of congratulation that the US would reassess its policy after the prime minister changed his position on a two-state solution. Obama reaffirmed the US’s long-standing commitment to a two-state solution.
- Netanyahu: US has no greater ally than Israel
In his first American network interview after winning the Israeli election, Binyamin Netanyahu told NBC News Thursday that relations with the US were strong and America has no greater ally than Israel.
- Suicide bombers kill 140 people in two Yemeni Houthi mosques
Suicide bombers on Friday killed 120 people and injured more than 300 others in two mosques in Yemen frequented by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels.
Nuclear talks collapse as Iranian delegation ordered to quit and return home
20 Mar. debkafile’s exclusive Iranian sources report that the delegation to the nuclear talks taking place in Lausanne was ordered by Tehran Friday, March 20, to break off negotiations and return home for consultations. Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif used the funeral of President Hassan Rouhani's 90-year-old mother as a pretext for the delegation to pack its bags and quit the deadlocked talks.
Russia’s Sergei Ryabkov said the length of an agreement, the pace of sanctions relief and international monitoring remain points of contention with no chance of an accord before June 30.
March 21, 2015 Briefs
- Iran’s leader calls Obama a liar
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his new year’s message to accuse US President Barack Obama of “lying when he says some parts of the Iranian people are opposed to a nuclear accord. No one in Iran is against a deal, but demands that the removal of sanctions be part of the deal – not its outcome. We reject the policy of capitulation imposed on us.” he said.
- Seven children killed in Brooklyn fire caused by Sabbath hotplate
The four boys and three girls, siblings ranging in age from 5 to 15, were in upstairs bedrooms when the fire swept up from the first floor shortly after midnight in Brooklyn's south-central Midwood section. It was apparently started by a faulty hotplate keeping food hot for Sabbath. The children's 45-year-old mother and one of her daughters — a 14-year-old, police say — jumped out of windows to escape; they were in critical condition at a hospital, being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
Saudis and Gulf urge France to stall the US nuclear deal with Iran
21 Mar. President Barack Obama failed to shift French President France Hollande from his objections to the nuclear accord taking shape between the US and Iran in the call he put through to the Elysée Friday night, March 30. US Secretary of State John Kerry fared no better Saturday, when he met British, French and German Foreign ministers in London to line the Europeans up with the American position. Germany balked too. France wants changes on five points, starting with Tehran first accounting for evidence of past development work on a nuclear warhead design. Tehran will never admit this. Paris also says the deal must further reduce centrifuges and enriched uranium stocks and extend the period of restrictions to 25 years, with guarantees at every stage – instead of the 15 offered by the US.
March 22, 2015 Briefs
- Gang of 20 men attack historic London synagogue
Six people were arrested after an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in London’s Stamford Hill by a gang of 20 drunken men, who tried to break into the building in the early hours of Sunday. Part of the disturbance was captured on camera showing members of the synagogue in a tense confrontation with the assailants. Haringey police are treating the attack as an anti-Semitic incident and posting patrols in the Stamford Hill largely-Jewish neighborhood.
- Palestinian Hamas terror attack thwarted
A joint Shin Bet-IDF-police counter terror operation thwarted a string of attacks in Israel and led to the detention of six Palestinian terror suspects in the West Bank town of Qalqilya. A large quantity of materials for fabricating explosives was found in their possession. Under interrogation, the suspects admitted they had been recruited to Hamas during a visit to Jordan and transferred to the Gaza Strip for training before being deployed on the West Bank.
- US Marine Corps orders laser rangefinders from Elbit
Israel’s defense electronic firm Elbit Systems reports that the US Marine Corps has awarded its subsidiary Elbit Systems of America a $73.4 million contract for laser range finder systems. They are designed to enable marine forces to find targets without breaking cover from concealed fighting positions.
- Snap military exercise in Gaza environs
A snap military exercise in the locations bordering the Gaza Strip rehearsed cooperation among the air force, special operations, infantry, armor, artillery and engineering units, as well as emergency rescue personnel.
- Obama continues to blast Netanyahu, reassesses options
In an interview to the Huffington Post, US President Barack Obama attacked Binyamin Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue and Israeli Arabs, asserting: “I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic."
"And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible” – hence Obama resolve to perform a policy reassessment in view of the fact that the status quo with the Palestinians was “unsustainable and a recipe for chaos in the region.”
- ISIS threatens lives of 100 US military personnel
The Pentagon is investigating an online death list allegedly run by Islamic State (IS) against about 100 US military personnel, with their names and addresses attached.
March 23, 2015 Briefs
- White House official: Occupation lasting 50 years must end
Continuing President Barack Obama’s assaults, Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff referred to Netanyahu’s campaign remark that there would be no Palestinian state while he was in office as impossible to ignore and “very troubling.” Addressing the Democratic Party linked J Street group, he said the differences between Obama and Netanyahu were not personal but over issues. ”An occupation that has lasted more than 50 years must end,” he said.
- Netanyahu apologizes to Arab community – and is rejected
Binyamin Netanyahu apologized Monday for a comment he made during his winning election campaign, warning Likud supporter to turn out in force because “the Arabs were voting in droves” and right wing rule was in danger. “It was never my intention to offend some members of the Arab Israeli community,” he said at a meeting with Arab Israelis. Ayman Odeh, deputy leader of the Joint List of Arab parties and won 13 seats in parliament, rejected the apology.
- Steinitz in Paris hopes to toughen nuclear accord
Intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz said in Paris Monday that while Israel is against the deal in general, two fundamental issues need to be toughened up and loopholes closed: Iran can’t be allowed to run roughly 6,000 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, and so be able to make “a dash to the bomb” within nine or ten months – unless its nuclear infrastructure was dismantled. “The deal enables Iran to preserve capabilities and remain a threshold nuclear state,” he said.
- Iraqi prime minister to meet Obama in Washington
The White House announced Monday that Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi will meet President Barack Obama in Washington on April 14. They will discuss a range of issues “including continued US support to Iraq to degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State.
Herzog declines power-sharing with Netanyahu
23 Mar. PM Binyamin Netanyahu waited for the March 17 election results before inviting Zionist Union leader Yitzhak Herzog to join him in a new unity government. Herzog turned him down. Netanyahu invited him despite his campaign vow not to share power with the left-leading Zionist Union. He displayed a pragmatic flexibility on this question that also extended to the Palestinian issue. After telling voters that a Palestinian state would not rise on his watch, he left the door ajar. debkafile: This made no difference because the Palestinian leader has washed his hands of Obama’s peace initiatives, as he made clear to Sunni Arab leaders he has met. If peace negotiations were to resume, he Palestinian leader would prefer direct dialogue with Israel.
March 24, 2015 Briefs
- Sultan Qaboos of Oman is dying
Oman’s Sultan Qaboo, 74, returned home Monday after eight months of medical treatment at a German hospital, which the doctors described as completely successful. debkafile: He came home to die, after the cancer from which he is suffering did not respond to treatment. Qaboos, who has ruled Oman for 55 years, told his close advisers to come up with the name of his successor, or else he would leaving them a letter with his choice to be opened after his death.
US “alleges” Israel spied on nuclear talks, passed secrets to Congress
24 Mar. Yet another Obama administration thrust in its campaign to stigmatize Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel was framed Tuesday, March 24, as a pejorative leak to the Wall Street Journal, which reported: “Israeli intelligence was eavesdropping on closed-door nuclear negotiations between Iran and the US, then passing the classified information along to the US Congress. debkafile: The WSJ story reveals that although the Obama administration repeatedly promised to keep Israel informed on the content of the nuclear talks with Iran, Israel needed to activate its spies to get at the real US concessions.
In this regard, debkafile notes that the Obama administration continues its campaign to vilify Binyamin Netanyahu day by day as though he was not elected in fair and honest elections.
This campaign is strongly echoed by the left-wing camp which lost the election and challenges its outcome.
March 25, 2015 Briefs
- The US starts feeding surveillance intelligence to Iran-led forces in Tikrit
The United States Monday began providing Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State in Tikrit with critical surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence support, a Defense Department official disclosed, following Baghdad’s request for American assistance to Iraqi forces, Shiite militias and Iranian military, which had failed to recapture the town.
- Binyamin Netanyahu pledges to be prime minister of all citizens
President Rivlin entrusted Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming Israel’s 34th government in line with the results of last week’s general election. "I see myself as the prime minister of all citizens of Israel," he said, "those who voted for me and those who did not" with the accent on the unifying factors
Two challenges face the next government, the Israeli premier told the media, "Cementing our security" and preventing a nuclear deal being negotiated between six world powers and Iran.
- Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels reach Aden
The Houthi rebels are reported to have reached the important Yemeni port of Aden after capturing the capital Sanaa and Taiz with the aid of mutinous units of the Yemeni army. According to unconfirmed reports, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled his Aden refuge Wednesday.
- Saudi military buildup on Yemen border
Saudi Arabia has moved significant mechanized infantry forces with heavy military equipment including artillery to its southern border with Yemen as Iran-backed Houthi rebels advanced on Aden, whence President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi may have fled.
- New setback: Tehran insists on deal without specific guarantees
Iran is now holding out for a deal before the March deadline which has no formal framework, more of a general understanding, to be followed by a final accord in June. This is another major setback. One Western diplomat said: Tehran is intent on avoiding any specific commitments at this stage for meeting US Congressional and French demands for an accord with substance.
March 26, 2015 Briefs
- Amnesty cites Hama war crimes against civilians
“Indiscriminate attacks that kill or wound civilians constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes,” said Amnesty International in its latest report, referring in particular to the massive Hamas’ rocket and mortar fire, which triggered last summer’s IDF military operation against the Gaza Strip.
The report also noted “armed Palestinian violations of the protection granted to UN structures, hospitals, and religious sites” from which Hamas rockets were fired at Israel, as well as from residential areas.
- Iran demands immediate halt to Saudi-led operations in Yemen
Iran warned Riyadh that it was taking a “dangerous step” and threatened to make “all efforts to control the crisis in Yemen.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as demanding that the Saudi-led air strikes stop immediately, calling them “violations of Yemen’s sovereignty.”
- Saudi-GCC-Egyptian intervention in Yemen war rattles markets
News of the multiple Sunni Arab intervention in the Yemen war led by Saudi Arabia impacted the world’s markets Thursday. Oil futures shot up by 3.9 percent and Brent crude soared to nearly 60 dollars per barrel. The Japanese yen rose by one percent, gold by 0.7 percent and the Dubai exchange saw the main stocks plummeting by 3.8 percent.
Egyptian marines seize Bab el Mandeb ahead of Iran. Saudis bomb Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis. US launches air strikes over Tikrit
26 Mar. In a surprise step, Egyptian marine naval and marine forces Thursday morning, March 26, seized control of the strategic Bab El-Mandeb Straits to foil Tehran’s grab for this important energy shipping gateway between the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, debkafile: This operation rounded off the Saudi-led air strikes launched the same morning against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. These operations signaled the start of a major Sunni Arab revolt against Iran’s approaching takeover of Yemen through its Houthi proxy, and advances in other strategic positions in the Middle East, with Washington’s support.
Thursday morning too, the US launched the US launched its first air strikes against Islamic State positions in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, rallying to the aid of the Iranian-commanded Iraqi operation, which had failed to dislodge the jihadis in two weeks of fighting.
The separate operations in Yemen and Iraq attested to the widening breach between the Sunni Arab camp and the Obama administration and the former’s resolve to thwart US strategy for buying a nuclear deal with Tehran by empowering Iran to attain the rank of leading Middle East power.