A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 23, 2013

May 17, 2013 Briefs

  • New York cigarette smugglers fund terrorists
    Two suspected ringleaders of a multimillion cigarette smuggling network, brothers Basel and Samir Ramadan, were arrested in Maryland, as well as 16 other suspects, all Palestinian immigrants, in New York City, New Jersey and Delaware. The brothers were found with $1.5 million – a fraction of what they made, said state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Under investigation are concerns that the ring funneled profits to Hamas and Hizballah for terrorist operations and its ties with Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheikh serving life for conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks.
  • Four Russian S-300 batteries shipped to Syria
    Moscow reports that four batteries of S-300 systems with 100-150 simultaneously deployable, guided anti-aircraft missiles have already been shipped to Syria complete with Russian military “adviser” crews. debkafile: An Israeli strike to smash this weapon would entail hitting their Russian crews.
  • Russia sends Syria upgraded anti-ship cruise missiles
    US officials report the delivery to the Syrian government Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile updated with advanced radar for extending is range and accuracy. It is designed to counter any effort by international forces to supply Syrian rebels from the sea, impose a naval embargo, establish a no-fly zone or carry out limited strikes. debkafile adds: The improved Yakhont enables Syria to keep Israeli missile ships far from its coast and block troop landings.

Muddled Israeli-US policies on Assad set stage for Golan offensive against Israel

18 May. The Syrian war is set for its next stage, the spillover of hostilities from Syrian Golan into Israel. debkafile: This is the consequence of the failure of the US, Israel and Turkey to dismantle the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah bloc, or even stem the flow of Russian, Iranian, Iraqi and Hizballah fighters and arms, which have helped Bashar Assad chalk up major successes against the uprising against his rule. A war of attrition against Israel carries the potential of spreading to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Israeli official utterances to international media have make Israel’s policy-makers and defense leaders look muddled and uncertain about coping with the menace emanating from the Syrian Golan. This damage is compounded by President Barack Obama’s inability to make up his mind whether the US should intervene militarily in Syria or not – even in a limited way, such as the imposition of no-fly zones or supply of weapons to Syrian rebel groups.
His refusal to recognize that chemical weapons have already been used in Syria does not help either and follows on the US and Israeli failure to dissuade Russia from sending advanced S-300 anti-air and Yakhont anti-ship missiles to the Assad regime. Both failed to appreciate the changes overtaking the region in time to act – such as for instance hampering the daily Russian and Iranian airlifts of assistance to the Russian regime or the flow to Syria of Hizballah and Iranian troops in their thousands.

May 19, 2013 Briefs

  • Iran hangs two men found guilty of spying for US and Israel
    Mohammed Heydari was convicted of receiving payments to provide intelligence on security issues and national secrets to the Mossad. Koroush Ahmadi was found guilty of providing intelligence to the CIA.
  • Syria threatens painful punishment
    Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad said in a broadcast Thursday, May 16, that if Israel again attacked Syria, it would face an immediate and painful response. Asked if he realized that his words meant war between Israel and Syria, Makdan replied: “So what? So there’ll be war.”

Syrian-Hizballah’s capture of Qusayr opens weapons route to Lebanon

19 May. Shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged Sunday, May 19, to keep up operations for stopping the transfer of advanced Iranian weapons to the Lebanese Hizballah, Syrian troops and their Hizballah comrades stormed Al-Qasayr, the northwestern town which commands the high road from Syrian Homs to Lebanon’s Hermel Mountains. This was a major victory: Iranian arms for Hizballah can now go through from Syria to destination unobstructed. To stop them, Israel would be reduced to simultaneous strikes against Syria and Lebanon.
In more than two years of battling the Assad regime, this was one of the rebels’ most devastating losses and the last of a string of recent setbacks. It has cost them their main supply route from Lebanon, while the Syrian arm has opened up a direct route from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.
Turkey too has shut down its channel for supporting the rebels at the behest of Washington.

May 20, 2013 Briefs

  • Israel cancels UNESCO visit to Jerusalem
    A month ago, Israel agreed to a UNESCO visit to examine the state of conservation of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, a world heritage site, provided it was not political and no anti-Israel language was submitted to the organization’s next session. Israel withdrew permission for the visit when Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki's called the UNESCO tour a "probe (of) the occupation measures" in the city. This attempt to politicize a conservation tour violated all the understandings reached, said an Israeli official.
  • At least 54 dead in string of car bombings in Iraq
    Baghdad was the worst hit by explosions at a bus station and markets in Shiite Muslim districts after two bombs went off in Basra and a blast in Samarra killed three people. Nearly 200 people were injured during the day. Iraq is in the throes of an upsurge of tit-for-tit sectarian attacks.
  • Five dead in Beersheba bank shooting
    A former Border Guard officer, aged 40, walked into a bank branch office in Beersheba Monday and started shooting. He killed four people, wounded a fifth and seized a woman hostage, before releasing her unhurt and killing himself. The gunman was believed motivated by revenge after the bank turned down his request for a loan to help him out of a financial crisis.
  • Syria fire on Israeli Golan patrol was not returned
    An Israeli military patrol on the Golan came under fire early Monday near the Tel Hazaka position from the Syrian side. As in the case of the mortar shelling on Mt. Hermon Saturday, fire was not returned. debkafile: This is in keeping with a new Israeli policy of restraint against Syria, which military sources predict will generate escalated attacks from the Syrian side.

At least 50 Hizballah fighters die in al Qusayr battle

20 May. Our military sources report that Hizballah lost 50 men Sunday, May 19, when they stormed the strategic town of Al Qusayr along with Syrian troops after weeks of siege and bitter fighting. More than double that figure were wounded and admitted to Beirut hospitals.
Yet flushed with success, Assad and Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, make no secret of their plans for the “great confrontation,” i.e. war on Israel. Israel’s military leaders take seriously the words of Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the Hizballah organ Al Akhbar, and a buddy of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who wrote Monday, May 20: “The rope is taut to the limit. Anyone at either end need only flex a finger and it will break, and the great confrontation will take place.

May 21, 2013 Briefs

  • Jordan asks for US Patriot interceptors for regional war
    Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told US media Tuesday that his government was getting set for an imminent eruption of a regional war with Syria and had asked Washington to station Patriot missile interceptors on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
  • Israeli home defense drill to focus on missile and chemical threats
    Home Defense Minister Gilead Erdan disclosed Tuesday that the annual “Steadfast Home Front – 1” exercise starting next Sunday will postulate equal risks to the military and home fronts, which are only now a question of time. Addressing a news conference, the minister said the exercise would stage scenarios of large population centers and strategic facilities under attack from thousands of missiles from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
    Chemical strikes will also be rehearsed. Maj.Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, head of the IDF Home Front Command, said a chemical strike would challenge the IDF’s command and control capacity. The IDF is keeping a close watch on events in Syria from the northern border, he said. “We wouldn’t be practicing a massive missile war scenario unless we believed the enemy had the operational capability to attack Israel’s civilian population.

Gantz: Assad will pay the price for Golan escalation. Syria: We fired on Israeli patrol

21 May. After an exchange of fire on the Golan, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Tuesday, May 21: “Last night we destroyed a Syrian army position which fired on an Israeli patrol. Our policy is clear – we don’t interfere in Syria’s civil war, but neither will we let the fire spill over onto our territory.”
Damascus earlier took responsibility for the attack – for the first time – and threatened to strike back for Israeli reprisals. debkafile: Bashar Assad is signaling his readiness for a war on attrition on Israel from the Golan border, first predicted by our sources on May 15.

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz visited Golan positions and ordered them henceforth return any fire coming from the Syrian side after they launched a Tamuz rocket that destroyed the Syrian position that had opened fire.

May 22, 2013 Briefs

  • Kerry: Thousands of Hizballah fighting in Syria
    Secretary of State John Kerry was the first senior Obama administration official to admit that thousands of Hizballah troops are fighting in Syria, citing the figure of 5,000. He warned the Lebanese terrorist group that its intervention would drag the Syrian war into Lebanon.
  • Israeli Air Force Chief warns against a sudden outbreak of war with Syria
    Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said Wednesday that if Israel was caught up by a sudden war with Syria, it would have only days to resolve it. At a lecture in Herzliya, the air force chief said: “This is a war we can win, but only with massive firepower.” However carefully we protect the civilian population, our home front will be harmed,” he said. The general also reported that Russian S-300 anti-air missiles are on their way to Syria.
  • A man fatally shot during FBI interview on Boston bombing
    Ibragim Todashev from Chechnya became violent during an interview with FBI agents in Florida on his connections to one of the Boston bombers and other extremists. They shot him dead.
  • Israeli soldier accidentally killed clearing Golan minefield
    Pvt Roi Alphi, 19, of Gan Yavne, of the IDF Engineering Corps, was killed while clearing an old minefield in the southern Golan Tuesday. The IDF is investigating to find out why the mine which designed to target tanks exploded under a man’s weight.
  • Seven abducted Egyptian troops released
    The Egyptian army announced Wednesday that the seven troops abducted in Sinai last week by Salafist gunmen have been freed, thanks to the non-stop negotiations conducted by Egyptian intelligence officers. debkafile: Although heavily reinforced, the Egyptian army refrained from direct military action against the kidnappers.

Israel’s dithering over Golan strikes gives Assad go-ahead for war of attrition

22 May. Some Israeli defense strategists still refuse to admit that Assad, Nasrallah and Iran’s Khamenei are pulling ahead in the Syrian war – contrary to their hopes that defeat in war would snap their bonds.
By pretending that the latest Syrian Golan attack was “a local initiative”, those defense officials miss recognizing the Syrian ruler’s resolve to translate his success at home into a war of attrition on Israel.
This divided, uncertain response, possibly under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s guidance, gives Assad and Nasrallah the gift of the initiative at war.

Two terrorists behead a British soldier on a London street, first such Islamist outrage in the West

22 May. Two Muslim terrorists chanting Allahu Akbar assaulted a British soldier on a street close to the Royal Barracks at Woolwich, southeast London, shot him, hacked him with knives and a machete and beheaded him. It happened in broad daylight Wednesday, May 22, in front of dozens of witnesses, the first such outrage seen in a West European capital. British Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his visit to Paris. The UK Cobra emergency committee meets to determine whether to raise the national terrorist alert level.

May 23, 2013 Briefs

  • Kerry in Israel for talks with Netanyahu
    The Syrian conflict and nuclear Iran head the topics of concern in the talks between visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, along with his unremitting effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. British Foreign Secretary William Hague will also meet the prime minister.
  • Obama to change rules of anti-terrorist drone war
    US President Barack Obama prepares to announce a fundamental change in the rules of drone warfare against terrorists. They will be confined to “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans,” instead of attacks on potentially dangerous terrorist strongholds as hitherto.

In London as in Boston, terrorist-killers were known to security services

23 May. The two Islamist terrorists who hacked a British soldier to death on a London street Wednesday, May 22, chanting Allahu Akbar, were born in Britain of Nigerian descent and known to British security authorities. Motivated by revenge for Moslem deaths in Afghanistan, they selected as their victim a soldier who had served there from the Woolwich Artillery barracks. One killer was identified as Michael Adebolajo, 28, a convert to Islam and self-appointed Muslim street preacher from a stand near the barracks and the site of the murder. Another man and a woman, both 29, were arrested later on suspicion of conspiracy in the murder.
What also stands out about this episode, apart from its exceptional savagery, is that the jihadis did not run away, but until the police arrived, they waved their blood-stained hands in the faces of horrified passersby, boasting: “We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. Muslims are dying every day. The British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” Government spokesmen were directed to stress the distinction between Islamist terror – albeit homegrown – and the Muslim communities of most British cities.

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