A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 6, 2014

February 28, 2014 Briefs

  • Israeli air strike destroys a north Gaza rocket-launcher
    The IDF spokesman reported that the rocket launcher was destroyed in an air strike Friday night over northern Gaza “to avert an immediate threat to Israel.”
  • Two Israeli soldiers, 7 Palestinians hurt in riots
    Two Israeli soldiers and 7 Palestinians were slightly hurt in clashes arising from violent riots in several West Bank towns and the Gaza Strip Friday. The disturbances erupted at Jelazun, Silwad, Bir Zeit and the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younes.
  • Yanukovych pledges to fight for Ukraine’s future
    At his first appearance to reporters since fleeing Kiev, Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych says he was not ousted but left the country over threats to his life from “a nationalist fascist minority.” The crisis owed its victims to the “irresponsibility of the West” in indulging protesters, and the opposition’s failure to stand by the Feb. 21st agreement signed with three European mediators.
    He spoke from the Russian town of Rostov on-Don.
  • Ten Russian military helicopters fly into Crimea
    The Ukrainian border guard said 30 Russian marines were surrounding the coast guard base at Simferopol as some 10 Russian helicopters flew into Crimea Friday. Earlier Russian marines and paratroops seized Crimea’s main airports.

Another 2,000 Russian troops land in Crimea

28 Feb. Thirteen giant Ilyushin-76 (NATO codenamed IL-76 Candid) air transports flew into the Crimea Friday night, Feb. 28, and landed some 2,000 fresh Russian troops at a military airfield near Sebastopol.
debkafile’s military sources report the new intake were members of the Russian Rapid Intervention Force. They arrived as the UN Security Council in New York discussed the Kiev government’s protest against the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Armed Russian troops earlier took control of the runways of Crimea’s two main airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol.

March 1, 2014 Briefs

  • Putin wins parliament’s approval to send troops into Ukraine
    Russia's Upper House has given President Vladimir Putin the go-ahead to send troops into Ukraine, despite a warning from Washington that such a deployment would results in "costs" for Moscow.
  • IDF Mt. Hermon position under rocket fire
    Hours after powerful explosions were heard on the Golan and north Galilee Saturday morning, the IDF spokesman disclosed that the IDF position on Mt. Hermon had come under rocket fire for the first time since the Syria war broke out three years ago.

March 2, 2014 Briefs

  • Putin explains Crimea operation to Merkel
    Vladimir Putin explained to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call Sunday that Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Ukraine faced an “unrelenting threat from ultra-nationalists and the measures Moscow has taken “were completely appropriate” given the “extraordinary situation.” They agreed to continue consultations to seek normalization in Ukraine.
  • Ukraine’s Navy chief defects to Crimean government
    Sunday, the day after the interim government in Kiev appointed him head of Ukraine’s Navy, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky swore allegiance to the Crimean region in the presence of its pro-Russian leader.
  • Israeli man stabbed by Palestinian in Petach Tikva
    An Israeli man, 31, was stabbed on a Petach Tikva Street Sunday. He was taken to hospital with moderate injuries as his assailant fled the scene. The police later detained eight Palestinians suspected of complicity in the attack.
  • Ukraine calls up reserves
    The security chief of the Kiev government announced Sunday the call-up of military reserves. debkafile: Ukraine’s reserve army is far bigger than the regular army. Saturday, the acting president put the army on combat alert. One question is how many soldiers – regular and reserve – are loyal to the new regime and will respond to the call-up. Another is: how will the new administration feed a large army.
  • Obama’s national security team met on Ukraine without him
    “The president’s national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options.” Washington sources noted that President Obama skipped the meeting, which was attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan. Vice President Joe Biden reportedly only attended via videoconference, while Obama was briefed later by National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
  • Gaps wide after Obama-Putin 90-minute phone call
    President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a 90 minute phone call on Saturday that his country sending troops into Ukraine is a “clear violation” of that country’s sovereignty and carried the risk of Russian isolation. His request to de-escalate the crisis and withdraw his forces back to bases in Crimea went unheeded. Russia maintains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population that lives there," Putin said.
  • China blames Uigur separatists for knife attack that left 33 dead
    At the Kunming train station in southern China, more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with big knives and machetes Saturday, killing 29 and injuring 143 in an attack which Beijing blames on Uigur separatists. Police fatally shot four of the assailants, captured one and were searching for the others. Two of the attackers were women.
  • Huge ultra-religions anti-draft demo without incident
    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-religious demonstrators swamped Jerusalem’s northern gateway and highways from midday Sunday in protest against the impending new military draft law that would oblige yeshiva students to join up for compulsory military services. The rabbis are up in arms against the plan to hand out prison sentences if draft quotas are not met. The Jerusalem protest is matched by solidarity rallies by fellow ultra-religious Jewish communities in the US.

March 3, 2014 Briefs

  • Obama says Russia on wrong side of history
    In Crimea, Ukraine border guards reported that armed men have seized a Ukraine border checkpoint at the ferry terminal and three truckloads of armed men had crossed by ferry to the Ukraine side. Obama says Russia is is on the wrong side of history and US Ambassador to the UN Samatha Powers alleges that Moscow as “responded to an imaginary threat with no legal basis.”
  • Israeli air strike kills a Palestinian rocket team member in Gaza
    A Palestinian rocket team was prevented from firing rockets into Israeli Monday night by an Israeli air strike which killed one team member and injured two. One died later. Minutes before the strike, a siren sounded a red alert in the Israeli locations within range.
  • Putin attends large Baltic Sea snap exercise
    Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered and attended a large tactical exercise Monday of Sea Fleet coast guard troops in the Kaliningrad region. More than 3,500 servicemen of mechanized infantry regiments and a naval infantry brigade took part in the drills. debkafile: Stationed in Kaliningrad are Russian K720 9 nuclear-tipped Iskander missiles (NATO codenamed SS-26 Stone), which are pointed at advanced US radar posted in central and southern Europe, a reference to one of Putin’s conditions for continuing negotiations on Ukraine.
  • A violent attack on an Islamabad court leaves 11 dead
    Gunmen burst shooting into a district court complex in the Pakistani capital Islamabad Monday, before at least two suicide bombers detonated their explosives. A judge and several lawyers are reported to be among those killed. At least 24 people were wounded. No group claimed responsibility.

Putin wants US guarantees for halting military action

3 March. As Washington and the Europeans continued to decry Russian military aggression, the US and Russians began quiet though intense negotiations – through Berlin – on a deal for settling the Ukraine dispute, debkafile reports. Moscow will keep its military forces in Crimea, but will discuss terms for restraining the Russian army from advancing into the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine: Kiev must stay out of NATO, the US must guarantee not to deploy advanced radar, missile shields or ballistic missiles in the country, and local armed bodies will protect Russian-speaking areas.

March 4, 2014 Briefs

  • Russian test-fires intercontinental ballistic missile
    Russia test-fired a Topol RS-12M intercontinental ballistic missile the Caspian Sea area to Kazakhstan Tuesday night, having warned Washington in advance. This was announced just hours after Vladimir Putin accused the interim government in Kiev of carrying out an unconstitutional coup d’etat against the legal the legal president, and US Secretary of State John Kerry paraded US support for the new leaders of Kiev, accusing Russia of seeking pretexts for its aggression.
  • Hamas banned in Egypt
    A Cairo court Tuesday banned the Palestinian Hams movement from operating in Egypt and seized its assets, accusing the Gaza Strip’s rulers of colluding in terrorist attacks on its territory and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Kerry: If Russia doesn’t de-escalate, it will face isolation
    At a news conference in Kiev, US Secretary of State condemned Russian “aggression” and denied Moscow’s claim that the Russian-speaking population of Crimea and Ukraine were in danger. Russia must de-escalate and withdraw its forces to the barracks and engage directly with the government of Ukraine, or face isolation, he said.
  • Netanyahu: Why does Iran need to develop nuclear-capable missiles?
    In the most pro-American speech heard from any Israeli leader of late, Binyamin Netanyahu praised President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry when he addressed the AIPAC conference in Washington Tuesday. US-Israeli friendship was at its highest point, he said. We work night and day for a lasting peace, and called again on the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as the Jewish national state. On Iran, Netanyahu asked: If Iran has nothing to hide, why are UN inspectors denied access to its nuclear facilities, and why does it insist on developing ballistic missiles whose only use is the delivery of nuclear-armed warheads?
  • Putin orders troops to return to bases from exercises outside Ukraine
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday that the price for halting the Russian troop deployment in Crimea would be the restoration of the deal ousted president Viktor Yanukovych signed with the opposition on Feb. 21.
  • Putin: Sanctions will be counterproductive
    his first meeting with reporters in the Ukraine crisis, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that western sanctions would be counterproductive and “cause harm elsewhere.”

Putin: Not Russian – but local forces took control of Crimea

4 March. Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing reporters for the first time Tuesday, March 4, denied that Russian forces had taken control of the Crimean Peninsula – but said they were “self-defense locals” in Russian uniforms. debkafile has identified the units as Russia’s Rapid Intervention Brigade 22 based in Rostov on-Don in southern Russia, and the 25th Regiment of Special Forces-Stavropol.
Putin also said Viktor Yanukovych was removed by an anti-constitutional coup d’etat and remains Ukraine’s only legitimate president, but showed no inclination to restore him to power.

Hizballah builds up Israel’s northern borders as next warfront

5 March. Hizballah is bent on turning Israel’s northern borders into active warfronts. Early Wednesday, March 5, an Israeli patrol fired on and hit a three-man team planting a roadside bomb at the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Merom Hagolan, Only five days ago, two rockets targeted an IDF Golan outpost, causing no harm. Both attacks were credited to Hizballah acting from Syrian soil. On March 3, President Bashar Assad's communications adviser Bouthaina Shaaban warned that Israel was asking for trouble by aiding rebels in southern Syria.

Israel navy seizes Iranian missile ship on the Red Sea

5 March. Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) early Wednesday, March 5, boarded an Iranian Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C. Concealed in its hold were dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 km, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip via Sudan. The Israeli commandos seized the vessel on the Red Sea, 1,500 km south of Israel and have set it on a course for Eilat. debkafile: Some Mid East sources argue that since Iran and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the Syrian war, it is unlikely that the shipment was meant for the Palestinian extremists and more probably for the Muslim Brotherhood to use in its war on the Egyptian army.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented that this episode showed Iran’s true colors – in contrast to its diplomatic posture in nuclear negotiations with the West. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon commented that Iran is again exposed as the biggest exporter in the world of arms to terrorist organizations.

First US- Israeli intelligence collaboration in four years against an Iranian military target to track an Iranian missile ship

5 March. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday night that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian Panama-flagged ship KLOS C, which was apprehended by Israeli naval commandos on the Red Sea earlier that day carrying missiles for Gaza via Sudan. It is now on its way to Eilat. He said that President Barack Obama also directed the US military to work out contingencies in case it became necessary to intercept the vessel (thereby sanctioning military action). “Our Israeli counterparts ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms,” Jay Carney said. "We will continue to stand up to Iran's support for destabilizing activities in the region in coordination with our partners and allies. These illicit acts are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran's Security Council obligations.”

March 6, 2014 Briefs

  • Israeli intel chief: Rev Guards ran Iranian missile ship
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and al Qods Brigades were in charge of the missile-running expedition by the vessel that Israeli commandos apprehended on the Red Sea Wednesday, said Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi Thursday.
  • US imposes visa and property sanctions against Russia
    As EU hesitated over sanctions against Russia in view of its members’ broad trade ties with Moscow, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order for visa and property sanctions against ‘individuals and entities responsible for undermining the democracy and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” He acted after Crimea’s pro-Russian parliament announced a March 16 referendum on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
  • House passes US-Israel strategic partnership bill
    The House of Representatives on Wednesday adopted in a 410-1 vote the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013. The passage of the bill comes after AIPAC held its annual policy conference this week in Washington, D.C.The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by US Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), declares Israel is a “major strategic partner” of the U.S.
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