A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 22, 2014

May 16, 2014 Briefs

  • At least 13 killed, 70 injured in two explosions in Nairobi
    The bombs exploded Friday on a minibus and at the Gikomba market in the center of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. They were attributed to the Al Qaeda-linked Somali al-Shabaab. The US, Australia and Britain have issued travel advisories for Kenya.

May 17, 2014 Briefs

  • Hizballah is preparing a major assault on Quneitra
    Diplomatic sources in Beirut told the Saudi Okaz that Hizballah and Iraqi militias are preparing a major battle against Syrian rebels for the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra on the Syrian-Israeli border, a key strategic area which is also close to southern Lebanon.

Netanyahu needs a friendly president with Peres on his tail

17 May. President Shimon Peres, who hails from the dovish Labor party, has not just been running his own political foreign policy track counter to Netanyahu’s, but quietly intriguing with the prime minister’s foes on a plan to remove him and his Likud from power. Although two foes have fallen by the wayside, Peres is still in full flight, taking advantage of Netanyahu’s predilection for sitting on the fence on vital issues – including calling him to order for stepping out of the bounds of his presidential authority. Netanyahu is now hunting for a dependable ally to replace him in the presidential residence.

May 18, 2014 Briefs

  • Three charged with multiple deaths in Turkish mine disaster
    Turkish police arrested 25 people including several mining company officials – and charged three with causing multiple deaths in the Soma mining disaster, which claimed 301 lives and sparked anti-government protest.
  • The head of Syria’s air defenses killed by Nusra Front
    The head of Syria's air defenses, Lt. Gen. Hussein Ishaq, was killed Sunday in an Islamist Nusra Front rebel attack on an air defense base near the town of Mleiha. He is one of the few high-ranking military officers to be killed in the country's 3-year-old civil war.
  • Syria army push to retake hills linking Deraa with Quneitra
    The Syrian army is pressing a counter-offensive to halt the rebels advance on the Golan town of Quneitra after their capture of the hills linking it to the southern Syrian town of Deraa near the border with Jordan.
  • Ukraine holds second “round table” to solve crisis
    Senior Ukrainian officials on Saturday held a second national “round-table” session with a broad cross-section of pro-Russian leaders in the eastern town of Kharkiv, in an attempt to negotiate an end the country’s political crisis.
  • US troops arrive for joint anti-missile drill with Israel
    The regular US-Israeli military exercise Juniper Cobra, which takes place every two years, begins Sunday with the arrival of 1,000 US soldiers. The exercise will drill joint operations against a missile attack on Israel.
  • China evacuates nationals from Vietnam after riots
    Beijing has laid on charter flights and ships to move thousands of Chinese nationals out of Vietnam after two were killed and 100 injured in violent protests against Chinese oil drilling in disputed waters and attacks on foreign-owned factories.

Israel irked over US compromise allowing Iran to keep Shahab-3 missiles

18 May. Two high-ranking US visitors to Israel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, were challenged by Israeli leaders over the Obama administration’s omission of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile from its demand to cut long-range ICBMs that can reach Europe and the US out of Iran’s arsenal. The Shahab-3’s range of 2,100km covers all of the Middle East, including Israel. Yet it was left out of the US demand, although it carries warheads weighing 760 kg, to 1.1 tons, which may also be nuclear. Hagel faced the same challenge from Saudi Arabia and the GCC.
Their disquiet was further exacerbated by the failure of latest round of nuclear negotiations with the six powers in Vienna on Thursday, May 15, to bridge gaps between the sides for drafting a final accord.

May 19, 2014 Briefs

  • Abu Hamza found guilty of terrorism in New York trial
    The radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza (Mustafa Kamel Mustafa), 56, notorious imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, was found guilty of terrorism charges in New York on Monday, for creating an Al Qaeda training camp in Bly, Oregon, in late 1999 and early 2000 and helping kidnappers in a 1998 hostage-taking in Yemen that left four people dead. Hamza was extradited to the US after an eight-year legal battle.
  • Israel intelligence agencies run two cyber systems against Iran
    Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz reported Monday that Israel runs two cyber war systems against Iran – one for defense against Tehran’s constant assaults. Iranian hackers armed with Russian and Chinese technology, never let up on attempts to disrupt Israel’s energy and financial infrastructure. He did not elaborate on the offensive cyber operation.
  • US charges five Chinese army officials with cyber-espionage
    The US has filed criminal charges against five members of the People's Liberation Army known as Unit 61398 in Shanghai, alleging that they stole trade secrets from six US firms designing nuclear power stations and solar panel systems by hacking into their networks.
  • June 10 set as date for electing Israel’s next president
    Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced Monday that the House will elect Israel’s next president for a 7-year term on June 10. May 27 is the last date for candidates to register. He appealed for a clean campaign in contrast to the unsightly scramble among hopefuls thus far.
  • Syrian rights group says Syrian war dead exceed 160,000
    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that it has documented 162,402 deaths since the fighting started in March 2011. The figure includes civilians, rebels, members of the Syrian military and foreigners fighting on both sides. This figure is well below most realistic estimates. The UN no longer updates its tally saying it can no longer verify sources of data.

US and Abu Dhabi aid Gen. Haftar’s bid to stabilize Libyan rule by ousting Islamists

19 May. Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s assaults on the Libyan parliament in Tripoli Sunday and Benghazi last week, at the head of a group of former Libyan soldiers and assorted militias, has won a certain amount of backing from the US and United Arab Emirates. debkafile: He is fighting to finally bring stable rule to the chaos-ridden country, first and foremost by ridding it of Islamist extremists. However, his chances of success are hard to judge so long as the biggest armed militias, headed by the Misrata Brigade, sit on the fence.
The most dangerous Islamist militia in his sights is Ansar al-Sharia whose leader Abu Khattala US intelligence recently identified as the perpetrator of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 in which Ambassador Christ Stevens and three of his CIA staffers were murdered.
(Exclusive details of the Obama administration’s plan to capture Abu Khattala alive or dead were first revealed in the last DEBKA Weekly 635 of May 16.)

May 20, 2014 Briefs

  • Thai army imposes martial law amid political crisis
    In a surprise move Tuesday, the Thai army assumed responsibility for national security “to preserve law and order” but denied it was a coup.”
  • US calls for Israeli probe of two Palestinian deaths
    In calling for an Israeli probe of Palestinian allegations that two protesters were shot dead last week by Israeli soldiers in a violent Naqba rally near Betunia, the US statement bursts through an open door. An IDF inquiry was ordered on the spot as it is for all fatalities. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday in reference to the video the Palestinians circulated to Washington, the UN and rights groups: “I have seen lots of films that were edited to distort what happened. This film I have not seen, but I know the system.”
    debkafile: The clip shows two figures falling to the ground in long shot – one holding out his arms to support himself – with no evidence that they were shot by anyone or any shooter in sight.
  • Medvedev: US pulling us into second cold war
    "We are slowly but surely moving towards a second cold war, which no one needs," Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday. On sanctions, he said, “We haven’t responded to them harshly, although we could do something unpleasant or offensive to those countries that are introducing these sanctions."
  • Putin visits China as “Russia’s reliable friend”
    The Russian and Chinese presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Shanghai Tuesday with both under fire from Washington over their respective policies on Ukraine and the South China Sea. On arrival, Putin called China “Russia’s reliable friend” and said cooperation between them had reached its highest level in history.
  • Libya’s special forces and Tobruk air base join Haftar offensive
    In a virtual revolt against Libya’s dysfunctional government, the army’s Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada announced Tuesday that his force would join “Operation Dignity” – as Gen. Khalifa Haftar has dubbed his campaign to restore stability to national rule. The special forces are the best-trained troops of Libya’s fledgling army, who led the fight against the heavily-armed Islamist militias roaming the capital, Tripoli. An air base in the eastern town of Tobruk has also declared alliance with Haftar’s force in its struggle against “extremists.”

Jordan and Israel augment Syrian border deployments

20 May. The Syrian army offensive, launched Tuesday, May 20 against rebel forces fighting for the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra, has raised forebodings in Israel and Jordan lest Assad’s troops bring the war up to their borders. This is reported by debkafile. The rebels have been prevented by fierce Syrian attacks from achieving their goal of breaking through to Quneitra – or even laying it to siege. The Jordanian army has deployed its 2nd mechanized division in battle formation along the kingdom’s border with its Syrian neighbor and suspended army leaves. Israel earlier augmented its border strength opposite the Golan and the Hermon range. Misgivings about worsening security were voiced by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz Monday to a Knesset panel. “The national order of priorities is changing, and with it, unfortunately, national decisions relating to defense,” he said in support of his request to reverse budget cutbacks.

May 21, 2014 Briefs

  • Russia wins $400bn deal to supply gas to China
    The deal is termed a milestone in relations between the world’s largest energy producer and biggest consumer. Russian will supply China with natural gas through a new pipeline over 30 years.
  • Ousted Egyptian president Mubarak Morsi gets three years for corruption
    Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president of Egypt, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in jail for corruption. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, received four-year sentences for embezzling public funds allocated for the renovation of presidential palaces.
  • Israel force under mortar, bombing attack on Gaza border
    An IDF force working on the border fence of the Gaza Strip came under Palestinian mortar fire, followed by the detonation of an explosive device early Wednesday. An engineering vehicle was damaged but no one was hurt. The force returned the fire.
  • Multiple blasts kill 118 in Jos, Central Nigeria
    At least 118 people have been killed and dozens injured by two bomb explosions in the central Nigerian city of Jos, attributed to Boko Haram militants.

US assigns 13,000 servicemen to first ever combined US-Jordan-Israeli exercise. Hizballah heads for Golan

21 May. For two conjoined military exercises with Israel (Juniper Cobra) and Jordan (Eager Lion), the US has moved more than 6,000 Marines to the kingdom and several thousand servicemen to Israel. The Jordanian drill lasts from Sunday, May 25 to June 8. The US-Israeli exercise began this week with the participation of another 6,000 combat personnel from the US European Command and 1,000 airmen to operate missile defense systems. Wednesday, May 21, border tensions shot up on the news of large Hizballah military contingents on the move toward southern Syria.

May 22, 2014 Briefs

  • Obama phones Jordan’s King on fighting in S. Syria
    President Barack Obama phoned Jordan’s King Abdullah early Thursday to discuss the worsening war situation in southern Syria and the threat it poses to Jordan. debkafile’s military sources have been covering in detail the unfolding battles in southern Syria and Golan close to the Jordanian and Israeli borders and their potential for cross-border spillover.
  • Two cars crash into shoppers in Xinjiang, killing 3 people
    The state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua reported “a violent terrorist incident” in the Xinjiang capital Thursday, in which 31 people were killed and more than 90 injured by two cars crashing into shoppers in a market. One of the cars exploded. Violence erupts periodically in Xinhua whose population is predominantly Muslim Uighur.
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