A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 10, 2012

May 4, 2012 Briefs

  • French court sentences scientist connected with al Qaeda plot
    Adlene Hicheur, a particle physicist employed at the Cern laboratory was arrested in 2009 after police intercepted his emails to a contact in al Qaeda which suggested the Algerian-born scientist was willing to be part of an active terrorist unit attacking targets in France. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Russia threatens to pre-empt NATO missile shield
    Top Russian commander Gen. Nikolai Makarov warned NATO that if it proceeded to install missile defense radar systems and interceptors in eastern Europe, Russia will launch preemptive strikes in Poland and Romania.
  • Two Palestinian terror attacks averted Thursday night
    The guard at Alon Moreh in the northern part of the West Bank caught a suspect carrying a large knife lurking around the fence and summoned Israeli soldiers who detained him. Another two Palestinians were held by Israeli border police near the Tapuah junction when found in possession of two explosive devices and knives. They were taken in for questioning.


May 5, 2012 Briefs

  • Ayman Zawahiri’s brother debuts in Cairo demo
    debkafile’s security sources report that the al Qaeda leader’s brother Muhammad Zawahiri made his first public appearance at a Cairo demonstration Friday accompanied by a pack of al Qaeda members brandishing the organization’s black flags.
  • Former Israeli Military Intel Chief Yadlin: Iran already has a nuclear capability
    Maj. Gen (Res) Amos Yadlin said Iran is working on infrastructure for shortening the weaponization process of its nuclear program to 60 days, confirming Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s latest estimate. “How can those who cannot contain Iran now expect to do so after it has built a weapon?” he asked. Yadlin authoritatively debunked the arguments of other former Israeli security chiefs against an Israeli attack on Iran.
  • Obama emissary calls on Putin
    Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama’s top security aide Tom Tonilon Friday that Russia is ready to go really far in developing relations with the United Stats provided the Americans act on the principles of equal and mutually respectful partnership.
  • Secret negotiations for ending Palestinian prisoners hunger stike
    Israel’s Prisons Commissioner Ilan Franko is in secret talks with the Palestinian prisoners’ leader Marwan Barghouti on ending the hunger strike staged by 1.137 jailed Palestinians.
  • Trial begins of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other “9/11 plotters”
    They were charged before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay Saturday, May 5, of plotting and executing the terror atrocity of 11 Sept. 2001 by hijacked planes which struck New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania and left a total of 2,976 people dead. The charges are punishable by death.
  • Two Egyptian soldiers injured battling al Qaeda in N. Sinai
    After clashes with protesters in Cairo Friday, Egyptian troops fought a major battle with al Qaeda infiltrators for control of the main northern Sinai road between Sheikh Zeid and Rafah early Saturday, May 5. debkafile: This road, controlled by some 20 al Qaeda-linked jihadist and Salafi mlitias, commands the Sinai smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan and enables them to hold the Multinational Observer Force at Al Gorah to siege. The battle erupted during a military raid. Tanks were sent in to back the soldiers up.


Iran readies Great Salt Desert bunkers for clandestine nuclear activity

5 May. Iran has transferred nuclear weapon-making installations to secret Dasht e-Kavir (Great Salt Desert) sites, including nuclear-capable ballistic missile plants, debkafile reports. Iran had by the end of 2009 early 2010 completed the construction of a new chain of underground facilities deep inside the Great Salt Desert – linked together by huge tunnels.
This prompted Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s prediction that Iran is on the way to a capability for building a nuclear bomb in 60 days. Tehran is bidding to end all IAEA inspections after their visit to Parchin, so that they can continue to pursue their military program in the salt desert without fear of discovery.

Change of French presidents weakens Western anti-Iran front

6 May. Two stalwarts of the Western confrontation against a nuclear-armed Iran suffered election defeats this week: Nicolas Sarkozy was swept out of the Elysée by the Socialist leader Francois Hollande.
Three days earlier, the two parties forming UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s government coalition were trounced in local elections across Britain.
Iran has therefore won a handy breather: Barack Obama is avoiding any war involvement in the course of his election campaign; French President Hollande needs time to find his feet and more pressing business has cast the Iranian issue into irrelevance.

May 7, 2012 Briefs

  • High Court refuses petition to delay Bethel demolitions
    Three justices rejected government’s request to defer the court order to evacuate by July 1 the five Bethel apartments built on Palestinian-owned land more than a decade ago.
  • US secretly frees Afghan detainees as part of peace talks – report.
  • Barak and ex-chief of staff Ashkenazi trade abuse
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ratcheted up his feud with Gaby Ashkenazi with a request to the attorney general to launch a criminal probe against the former chief of staff and his aides. The state comptroller’s findings, he says, lay grounds for suspicion of bribery among other suspected offenses. Ashkenazi hit back by flatly denying the charges and accusing the minister of trumping up baseless suspicions to cover up the disappearance of records in the Harpaz case.


Iran upgrades Jihad Islami’s missile arsenal

7 May. Iran is setting up Jihad Islami, its Palestinian arm in the Gaza Strip, as its spearhead for attacking Israel in place of Hamas which Tehran no long trusts, debkafile’s reports exclusively. The radical group is receiving a new range of shore-to-ship radar-guided missiles and a new military industry is being set up in Gaza for the high-speed production of dozens of Qassam missiles in series capable of doubling the intensity of attacks on Israel to 200 per day up to Tel Aviv.

May 8, 2012 Briefs

  • Biden: Israel still has time to strike Iran and the right to decide for itself
    US Vice President Joe Biden told the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Atlanta, “The window has not closed in terms of the Israelis if they choose to act on their own militarily.”
  • White House: Good relations with Israel’s unity leaders
    A new coalition in Israel will not affect our policy approach and we continue to have very good relations, said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “We provide significant support for and coordination with Israel’s military on security interests.” The US also shares a lot of information on intelligence.
  • Nuclear watchdog inspector killed near Iranian heavy water reactor
    Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization reported that two IAEA experts were on a mission near the heavy water reactor at the Khandab Complex in the Markazi province Tuesday when their car skidded and overturned. One of the two was injured and the second died of severe injuries.
  • Senior Palestinian negotiator Ereket stable after heart attack
    Saib Ereket underwent bypass surgery in Ramallah hospital.


Netanyahu ushers in long-life government, leaves Iran on table

8 May. The unity government which Binyamin Netanyahu formed Tuesday May 8, is not just the broadest coalition ever to govern Israel (with 94 of the 120 MKs), but also the first with three former chiefs of staff who are fully capable of directing an attack on Iran. It was this feature which caught Washington’s attention as the first reports of Netanyahu’s stunning U-turn away from an early election filtered through. All the same, US sources expect the new government to give Obama a few months’ space before deciding on Iran.
“He has pulled off another term without running for election,” said one senior administration source, “and he’s done it seven months before Barack Obama faces the American voter.”
A re-elected Obama will find the same Netanyahu sitting in the prime minister’s chair in Jerusalem.

While some administration sources find this government hawkish, others note that the new deputy prime minister, former opposition leader Shaul Mofaz will be made responsible for reviving the peace process with the Palestinians. Furthermore the reform of the governing and electoral system to which the new lineup is committed could reduce Israel’s myriad small and fringe parties to four main blocs.

May 9, 2012 Briefs

  • US won’t negotiate with al Qaeda for 70-year old hostage
    The White House rejected a desperate plea posted on an al Qaeda jihadist forum from Warren Weinstein who was abducted by al Qaeda from Lahore last year.
  • Israel’s unity cabinet leaders meet with Ashton on Iran
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense and Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak and AVigdor Lieberman and new Dep. PM Shaul Mofaz briefed EU Foreign Affairs Executive Catherine Ashton ahead of the next meeting of world powers with Iran May 23, which she chairs. They said Israel stood firmly by its demands for an Iranian timetable for halting uranium enrichment, removal of processed uranium from its territory and closure of the underground facility at Fordo. There is no chance Iran will accept any of these demands.
  • Six Syrian soldiers injured escorting UN monitors convoy
    The explosion in Deraa hit a Syrian military truck seconds after a team of UN observers including the mission head Maj. Gen. Robert Mood passed by.
  • Moody’s cuts Israeli banks outlook from stable to negative
    The weakness in the Israeli corporate-bond market poses credit risks for the quality of assets the banks hold. Because they are loaded with bonds issued by the biggest conglomerates, this will become a problem “as their profits suffer and securities tank.” Moody’s warns Israel’s GDP growth could slow in the next 12-18 months as exports to its main market Europe sink.


Double agent again exposed al Qaeda’s use of undetectable PENT explosive

9 May. Word of upgraded underwear bombing devices should never have been released because their non-metal parts and PETN explosives are undetectable by airport security scanners and would not be picked up without prior intelligence.
Running double agents inside terrorist cells is the most tricky and hazardous of undercover operations because no one ever has the whole picture. It is even possible that the advanced underwear bomb technology was planted by US or Saudi intelligence and given to the mole to enforce his credibility with the al Qaeda cell in Yemen. Compromising his penetration has therefore caused inestimable damage to the counter-terror efforts against al Qaeda – hence the dismay in US intelligence agencies on both these counts.
The Saudi intelligence role in exposing the new al Qaeda bombing device and liquidating one of the terrorists responsible for the 2010 USS Cole attack was underplayed.

May 10, 2012 Briefs

  • An Israeli officer accidentally injured in drill
    He was shot in the lower abdomen by friendly fire in an exercise simulating a Palestinian terrorist attack near the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus and taken to Beilinson Hospital in Hadera.
  • US bipartisan congressional bill enhances commitment to Israel’s security
    Sponsored by House majority leader Eric Cantor and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the measure was passed by 411-2. In addition to expanding military cooperation between the two countries, the US is committed to preserving Israel’s military edge in the region with special provisions for assisting Israel in a possible confrontation with Iran, such as providing “air refueling tankers, missile defense capabilities and specialized munitions,” taken to mean bunker busting bombs.


Multinational force massed on Jordanian-Syrian border as 55 killed in Damascus bombings

Beset on two fronts, Bashar Assad rushed his elite Presidential Guard Division to Damascus Thursday, May 10, as two massive car bombs in al Qaza, the Damascus district housing the command center of the Syrian military security service’ reconnaissance division, killed 55 people and injured 300. This was the most serious bomb attack on the regime since the start of the Syrian uprising 14 months ago.
Over to the southeast, 12,000 special operations troops from 17 nations, including the US and other NATO members, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were poised on the Jordanian side of the Syrian border for an exercise codenamed “Eager Lion.”
It was set up by the US Special Operations Command Central to signal Bashar Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers, as well as answering complaints from Arab and other Western governments, that the Obama administration is far from inactive about the horrors perpetrated in Syria.

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