A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 15, 2014

May 9, 2014 Briefs

  • Putin in Crimea for WW2 Victory Day after massive Moscow parade
    Vladimir Putin arrived in Sevastopol Friday aboard a warship with an escort of fighter-bombers overhead. Huge crowds cheered him on his first visit to Crimea since its annexation to Russia.
  • Ehud Barak: US could finish off Iran’s nuclear facilities in less than one night
    Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Thursday that an American military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities would take a "fraction of one night" to complete should President Obama order one. ”The American administration changed its objective from no nuclear military Iran to no nuclear military Iran during the term of this administration," Barak said.

May 10, 2014 Briefs

  • Extra security for Israeli ambassador’s return to Cairo
    Special security arrangements were laid on for the new Israeli ambassador to Cairo, Haim Koren’s arrival in Cairo Sunday, three years after Salafi and al Qaeda raiders torched the embassy building and the evacuation of the last ambassador and staff in September 2011. The embassy will be housed provisionally at one of the Western diplomatic compounds.
  • IDF places Golan Quneitra crossing off limits
    The IDF Sunday closed the Quneitra border crossing as a military zone due to heavy exchanges of fire between Syrian troops and rebel in the Syrian sector of the Golan enclave.
  • New Israeli bill shuts door on release of terrorists serving life
    The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill granting courts veto powers over presidential pardons for convicted terrorists serving life sentences for murder. The bill goes next to the Knesset for preliminary approval. If passed, it would tie government hands against releasing Palestinian terrorists serving time for murder either for swaps – as in the case of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit held hostage by Hamas – or in the context of peace diplomacy.

Ahead of nuclear talks, Khamenei orders Rev Guards to mass-produce missiles

11 May. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday: “They [the West] expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation. The revolutionary guards should definitely… not be satisfied with the present level [of missile production]. They should mass produce,” he said, shortly before the next round of six-power nuclear talks with Iran on May 14.

May 12, 2014 Briefs

  • Netanyahu-Lapid deal resolves Knesset chair dispute
    The Knesset Committee Monday approved the arrangement for rotating the chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee between two Likud Knesset members, Dep. Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin and Coalition chairman Yariv Levin. Elkin goes first. The chair was vacant for nearly six months over Finance Minister Yair’ Lapid’s claim of the position for one of his Future party members. Lapid has now been promised the post of deputy in a senior cabinet ministry.
  • Boko Haram offers deal, claims video of missing girls
    The Islamist Boko Haram released a second video Monday claiming to show 100 of the 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls enveloped in typical Islamist apparel. It was accompanied by a proposition to release the abducted schoolgirls in exchange for fellow-members held in Nigerian jails.
  • Nigeria welcomes Israeli team to help rescue schoolgirls
    President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan welcomed the offer of an Israeli anti-terrorism team to help in the effort to save the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok by the Boko Haram, the Islamist group linked to al Qaeda which is terrorizing northeastern Nigeria. The Israeli counter-terrorism experts will collaborate with the US and British teams already on the ground.
  • ECB: Ukraine crisis causing capital flight from Russia
    Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank estimates that the capital outflow from Russia resulting from sanctions over the Ukraine controversy is fourfold the amount admitted by Moscow – as much as $222bn in recent weeks.
  • Separatists hail major victory in two Ukraine self-rule referenda
    Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region claimed a 90 percent majority voted for secession in Sunday referenda. The Kiev government called it a “criminal farce” organized by Russia.

Japan and Israel to cooperate on cyber security

12 May. Japanese-Israel collaboration in cyber security was at the center of bilateral defense agreements reached in Tokyo Monday, May 12, between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, debkafile reports. They decided to join forces against China’s cyber war capabilities, which are shared with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and North Korean armed forces. Israeli specialists will visit Japan to help set up cyber security programs for military infrastructure, strategic utilities and companies. Officers of Japan’s Self-Defense forces would also visit Israel.
Speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting, the two prime ministers "expressed their strong hope for the early resolution of various issues of concerns regarding North Korea, including its nuclear development," Netanyahu added that Abe had told him in no uncertain terms that “Japan was facing a very real threat from North Korea,” which is believed preparing for a fourth nuclear test. “The same words – 'clear and present danger' – certainly apply to the Iranian nuclear program as well," the Israel prime minister said.
debkafile adds: This was the first time the Israeli prime minister had openly mentioned a prospective Iranian nuclear test like those carried out by North Korea.

May 13, 2014 Briefs

  • Russia imposes sanctions on the US
    Deputy Prime minister Dmitry Rogozin announced Tuesday that Moscow forbids the US to continue to use Russian engines in launching American rockets. Russian-made RD-180 engines are fitted on the US Air Force’s Atlas V active expendable launch system rockets. Anticipating this Russian step, Washington went shopping in recent weeks for a substitute, but did not find one. Some US ICBMs are therefore idle.
  • Rice: No final deal without "verifiable action" by Iran
    US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Monday that there will be no final nuclear deal unless Iran accepts “verifiable action” to satisfy US concerns. Last week Susan Rice visited Israel and heard Israel’s concerns that the Obama administration was not being tough enough in the negotiations with Iran.

Ex-PM Ehud Olmert will appeal his six-year sentence for taking bribes

13 May. Tel Aviv District Court judge David Rosen Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison and a fine of one million shekels on two charges of accepting bribes as mayor of Jerusalem for helping the developers obtain approval for the Holyland Park residential project in return for 560,000 shekels ($160,000). The judge characterized Olmert as wise, smart and highly educated – and at the same time a criminal who perpetrated a felony with moral turpitude (which bars him from political service for seven years.)

Nine US-backed Syrian rebel militias advance on Quneitra, key to controlling Golan

13 May. Nine Syrian rebel militias are advancing on the main Syrian Golan town of Quneitra (pop: 20,000) to wrest from the Syrian army its last Golan foothold with access to the Israeli border. The first objective of their Operation “Levant of the Prophet” is to seize the Quneitra-Ein Zivan crossing, before targeting Quneitra the town. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who visited the Golan Tuesday, May 13, said, “Syrian rebels have pushed Assad’s military into a corner.” debkafile: Quneitra’s fall would free the Golan and S. Syria of the presence of Assad’s army and Hizballah.

May 14, 2014 Briefs

  • Hagel assures Gulf nothing to fear from US Iran policy
    Chuck Hagel was the first US Defense Secretary to attend a meeting of GCC defense ministers in six years. Wednesday, he told the meeting in Jeddah, chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Salman, that the Gulf nations have nothing to fear from the Obama administrations’ policy of détente to Tehran.
  • Saudis invite Iranian FM Zarif to visit Riyadh
    Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Tuesday – only “Any time that Zarif sees fit to come, we will receive him. Iran is a neighbor and we will negotiate with them.”
  • Lavrov: Ukraine too close to civil war to hold May 25 election
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Ukraine is as close to civil war as you can get and holding a presidential election on May 25 is “ridiculous.”

May 15, 2014 Briefs

  • New York ceremonially dedicates museum at site of Sept 11 attacks
    President Barack Obama joined September 11 survivors, rescuers and relatives of people who lost their lives at the dedication of a memorial museum on the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. The National September 11 Memorial Museum includes thousands of personal items and parts of the World Trade Center towers themselves.
  • Hagel: No facts support spying allegations against Israel
    US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Thursday: “I'm not aware of any facts that would substantiate the report" – when asked at a news conference in Tel Aviv about the Newsweek allegations that Israel was spying on the United States.
  • Russia conducts large-scale air drill over Kaliningrad
    The Russian air force has conducted a large air force exercise in the Kaliningrad region. Bombing and providing air cover for a ground grouping of troops were practiced by pilots from the Baltic Fleet (BF) bombing aviation crews, the Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday.
  • Palestinians report 2 shot dead in anti-Israeli Naqba rampage
    At least two Palestinian rioters were shot dead by Israeli police and many others were injured in violent outbreaks across the West Bank and around Jerusalem Thursday, the day they call Naqba (Catastrophe) which annually marks the founding of the state of Israel.
  • Olmert’s former aide gets three-years jail – most suspended
    Shula Zaken, the former bureau chief of convicted ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, offered critical testimony that strengthened the bribes case against him as mayor of Jerusalem when she appeared in the same court Thursday. Zaken had turned state’s witness against her former boss and won a curtailed 11-month sentence for her own corrupt dealings in a plea bargain deal with the prosecution. In recognition of this deal, district court Judge David Rosen handed down a three-year sentence against Zaken – but agreed to the added period being suspended.
  • Saudi King Abdullah names son Riyadh governor
    The nonagenarian King Abdullah’s elevation of his son Turki bin Abdullah to governor of Riyadh province, one of the most important positions held by ruling family members, comes shortly after another son, Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, was made governor of Mecca province.

Hagel’s talks in Jordan and Israel – key to Syrian war’s next stage

15 May. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel Wednesday May 14 for talks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon from an inspection of the US-Jordanian underground command center manned located 10 kilometers north of Amman, debkafile reports. It was the first visit by a high-ranking US official to a US military facility directly involved in the Syrian war. His talks in Jordan and Israel will determine whether US-backed rebel forces, now engaged in battle for control of the Golan town of Quneitra, open a new southern front against Bashar Assad and threaten Damascus.
The decision to go forward would necessitate arming the rebel militias for a major push with heavy American weaponry, especially a sufficiency of TOW missiles to tip the scales of the battle. This decision will be important in determining how the Syrian war develops.
Hagel faces another major difficulty, which is to determine which Syrian militias qualify for the receipt of heavy American weapons. The rebel militias fighting close to Israel’s Golan border are interspersed with Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) combatants. Al Qaeda’s ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has also begun sending jihadists to the new battlefield around Quneitra. So far, the US and Jordanian officers supervising the arena from the war room near Amman have been able to keep US arms out of their hands. But what happens if those weapons are delivered in large quantities?

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