A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 10, 2007

Al Qaeda uses small remote-controlled aircraft for first time in attempt to destroy President Talabani’s PUK HQ in Suleimaniya


5 May: Kurdish sources said authorities in Kurdistan thwarted the attack but voiced fear of al Qaeda’s growing technological weapons expertise in Iraq.


Ambitious Saudi-Egyptian-Kuwaiti plan for two bridges to span Gulf of Aqaba looms over free Israel’s freedom of navigation


5 May: One bridge across the Tiran Strait will span a distance of 25 km from the Saudi mainland at Ras el-Sheik Humayd to Tiran island; the second will carry traffic up to the Egyptian Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, becoming the first direct link between Arabia and Africa.

debkafile reports: Israel is concerned by the $3bn project. The Tiran Strait is its southern sea outlet to and from Eilat Port. International oil tankers put in at Eilat port, a link in the oil and gas pipeline to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon and on from there to Europe and the Far East. It is also Israel’s export route to the Far East.

debkafile‘s military sources add the double bridge will provide Saudi military units dry land access to the Sinai Peninsula and a presence on Israel’s southern border.

The Saudis see the island of Tiran as the bustling hub of the project. At present, the Israeli navy regularly inspects Tiran Island to prevent its use by terrorists including al Qaeda as a jumping off base.

Eilat will have to fight hard for a slice of the international Red Sea tourist trade. At present, Israeli entrepreneurs are funneling investments into the purchase of real estate in Manhattan, Moscow and Bucharest for lack of Israeli government initiatives.


No Diplomatic Tango for Rice at Iraq Conference


6 May: The one-on-one between US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and the Iranian foreign minister, the supposed piece de resistance of the two-day conference on Iraq’s future, never took place. Also off the agenda were the latest developments in Iraq, summed up by debkafile:

Iraq is breaking up into three autonomous or independent entities: Shiite Muslim in the south – under Tehran’s aegis; Sunni Arab in the center and west, backed and massively funded by Riyadh; and a Kurdish entity in the north, under US patronage and a magnet for heavy American, Turkish, Israeli and, more recently, Iranian investment.

According to our military sources in Iraq, the US military is engaged in an all-out drive to prevent the rise of a fourth entity ruled by al-Qaeda in the western Anbar province.

Kurdistan is in an advanced development boom Turkish contractors have a vested interested in keeping the Turkish army from attacking rebel Kurdish PKK bases in northern Iraq.

On this Ankara is divided: The army wants to seize a slice of territory in the north as a bridgehead for striking at the rebel bases. Prime minister Tayyep Erdogan favors a Turkish military grab for a foothold in the oil town of Kirkuk as a bargaining chip for a cut in the region’s oil riches.

Tehran to the east and Syria to the west are also eyeing the dynamic developments in Kurdistan.


Two Israelis seriously injured in Palestinian terrorist attacks Sunday


6 May: The sixth Qassam missile fired from Gaza Sunday, May 6, injured 3 people, one a woman, seriously, near the Shear Nanegev gas station south of Sderot, causing also damage.

Earlier, an Israeli security guard accompanying a fuel taker was badly hurt in a Palestinian drive-by attack near Deir Qadis, west of Ramallah on the West Bank. The driver raced to the nearest Israeli roadblock for help.

Five Qassams missiles were fired from Gaza Saturday. One exploded atop a Sderot home, which was empty at the time. There were no casualties.


Rice decides to put of visit to Israel and Palestinian Authority


7 May: The official reasons offered is “the domestic political woes of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert,” – referring to pressure for him to resign following an official report blasting his handling of last year’s war in Lebanon. debkafile adds: The US secretary of state first considered postponing her visit after the US timeline for reciprocal Israel-Palestinian concessions was rejected by the Palestinians and received coolly in Jerusalem.

Saturday, May 5, Palestinian Hamas overlord Khaled Meshaal mocked the US plan as “a joke.” There was no question of halting Qassam fire on Israeli locations, he said, or the transfer of war materiel building up in the Gaza Strip.


Israeli military sources say inaction in face of spiraling Palestinian attacks from Gaza is insupportable – 15 missiles in two days


7 May: The sources report 220 Qassam missiles fired from Gaza in the six months of the partial ceasefire, 82 bomb-traps for Israeli border patrols and 66 shooting attacks.

Sunday, a second Israeli was seriously injured in a Palestinian terrorist attack on the West Bank, where a drive-by gang shot a security guard accompanying a fuel tanker near Deir Qadis, west of Ramallah.


Non-Political Israeli Officials Take Charge of Urgent Policy Business with Washington


7 May: debkafile‘s US sources reveal that this week, Israeli military and intelligence circles informed their opposite numbers in Washington that there is no vacuum in the management of vital issues and it is ongoing despite the crisis tying the hands of Israeli government leaders, in the aftermath of a critical war report.

This was the first confirmation by senior Bush administration sources that they are working with non-political Israeli circles on urgent and critical affairs and leaving the Olmert government out of policy-making in Washington.

Those Israeli circles have voiced deep concern over the Bush administration’s inclination to meet Iran halfway on the nuclear question. debkafile‘s sources reveal that Washington is considering a compromise that will let Iran continue uranium enrichment against guarantees never to produce weapons-grade fuel or develop a nuclear weapon.

Israel military and intelligence experts have warned the administration that Iran is up to its old tricks of handing out promises it has no intention of keeping.

Washington’s Israeli contacts did not spell out a reaction. But they inferred that the Israeli military option against Iran was not off the table.


Hamas’ Abu Obeid threatens: Gilead Shalit will be put to death if Israel carries out military operation in Gaza


8 May: The decision, he says, rests with Hamas military arm, Ezz e-Din al-Qassam.


The newly-discovered tomb of King Herod, if the site is confirmed, is clearly visible from Jerusalem, the ancient town he rebuilt


8 May: An Israeli archeologist, Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer, is sure he has finally unearthed the 2,000-year old royal tomb at Herodium, beneath the palace-stronghold in the Judean Desert the Jewish king built southeast of Jerusalem.

Prof. Netzer exhibited to the media Tuesday the fragments of what he is convinced was the royal sarcophagus, smashed by Herod’s many foes who detested his ties with Rome. The decorations have appeared on only one other such burial casket of that period, found at the Tombs of the Kings in northern Jerusalem.


Olmert Holds Army Back in Face of Hizballah, Hamas Threats and Buildup


8 May: Military experts tirelessly warn daily that the war build-up on three Israeli borders, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, has reached dangerous proportions. Not only is the army again unprepared for another conflict, but it is held back by the Olmert government from destroying the plentifully- restocked enemy installations before they go on the offensive.

Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah announced Sunday, May 6, his militia was poised to attack IDF positions on Mts. Hermon and Dov from the Shebaa Farms, and Israel Navy vessels with the new long-range missiles just delivered (smuggled) by Syria, while also turning its guns on the UN peacekeepers posted in south Lebanon.

The plan was aired in a well-publicized interview broadcast Sunday by Iranian television in Arabic, a clear signal that it was first cleared with his Tehran masters.

Given the Olmert government’s inertia, it is not surprising that Condoleezza Rice has decided to put off her visit to Jerusalem.


Israeli PM Olmert and FM LIvni bound for Arab capitals to seek modifications of the Saudi peace plan


9 May: Foreign minister Tzipi Livni is due in Cairo Thursday, May 10, to meet her Egyptian and Jordanian opposite numbers, followed by Prime minister Ehud Olmert’s face-to-face with King Abdullah 11 in Petra on May 15.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources say Israel’s diplomatic effort will be in vain, given the revised Saudi approach to Tehran and its radical orientation.

Israel has rejected the provisions which call for a full withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and the return of all 1948 Palestinian refugees for full Arab recognition. But the Saudi plan was presented as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Now even that has been overtaken by Riyadh’s radical change of heart. The Saudi ruler has given Tehran a say in the resolution of burning Middle East conflicts, Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, having reneged on a pledge to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to promote engagement for peace with Israel.


Jaish al-Islam releases tape on Islamic website demanding UK free jailed Islamic radicals for BBC reporter Alan Johnston


9 May: The group, under one of the names used by al Qaeda-Palestine, says: “We demand from Britain that it release our prisoners and particularly the Palestinian Sheikh Abu Qatada, and in this regard we do not forget our prisoners in other infidel countries.” On May 4, debkafile reported Al Qaeda-Palestine was demanding for $5 m, 10 Muslim terror conspirators jailed in Britain and a female terrorist jailed in Jordan to ransom the BBC reporter, kidnapped eight weeks ago in Gaza.

UK consul Richard Makepeace met Hamas PM Ismail Haniya Tuesday to discuss his fate. debkafile reported No progress has been made since his capture.

According to our sources, appealing to Haniya is fruitless since he has no control of or access to Johnston. There is a widening rift between Hamas and al Qaeda-Palestine which holds him.


Three Qassam missiles fired from Gaza early Thursday – two exploded at Shear Hanegev south of Sderot


10 May: No casualties reported. In his annual report, published Wednesday, the Israeli state controller finds serious shortcomings in several governments’ and the military's handling of the ongoing Palestinian rocket, missile and mortar fire from Gaza, of which more than 1,025 were launched in 2006. The watchdog also deals with the threat posed by the tunnel system running illegal weapons, drugs and people from Egyptian Sinai to Gaza and from the Gaza Strip into Israel.


PM Ehud Olmert says he ordered an offensive in the last three days of the Lebanon War to save Israel experiencing a sense of defeat


10 May: “I saw the Lebanese quagmire closing in on us,” he said.

The prime minister also testified to fully cooperating with defense minister Amir Peretz. Their testimonies together with that of ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz were released by the Winograd Lebanon War panel Thursday, May 10. The prime minister stated that the army presented him with a broad plan of action for approval only on Aug. 7 (three weeks after the war broke out). Olmert tried talking his way past awkward questions. Judge Winograd rebuked him for being long-winded and leaving no time for the panel members’ many pointed questions.

Why did you not confer with the chief of staff that morning (when Hizballah kidnapped the soldiers)? The judge asked. Olmert first replied: Ask my military secretary, then reconsidered and said: “I talked to him by telephone.”

Olmert was asked if he could affirm that the army was ready for war.

He delivered a rambling monologue without answering the question.

Another run-in with the commission’s chairman followed a question to the prime minister as to why the Mossad chief (Meir Dagan) was not heeded when he queried the objectives of the aerial bombardment (in Lebanon) and asked why a ground operation did not follow.

Olmert replied: It was never said at that meeting (Day One of the war) that there would be no ground operation.

“Everyone knew that the opening air bombardment would be followed by further steps. The chief of staff should have known about them and prepared.”

Winograd: You mean you decided on an action without knowing what came next? Your government voted unanimously for the mantra of a “tough response” without knowing what it entailed? You set in train a serious operation whose outcome could determine the country’s future – in total ignorance.

The cutting criticism of the war’s management leveled by the commission in its interim report covering the first five days of the war has raised a storm of demands for Olmert’s resignation.

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