A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending May 29, 2014
May 23, 2014 Briefs
- Obama phones Jordan’s King on fighting in S. Syria
President Barack Obama phone Jordan’s King Abdullah early Thursday to discuss the worsening war situation in southern Syria and its threat to Jordan. debkafile has covered the unfolding battles in southern Syria and Golan close to the Jordanian and Israeli borders.
- Sinai terrorist chief associated with Al Qaeda killed in Sinai
Shadi el-Menei, head of the Sinai Ansar Beit al-Maqdas group, responsible for attacks causing the deaths of 200 Egyptian soldiers and policemen, was killed early Friday with three of his men. Egyptian security officials say he ran into a military ambush while sabotaging a Sinai gas pipeline. Other sources say it was a revenge kill by local Bedouin for the murder of a tribesman.
New pact restores Hamas to the Iranian fold with a $200m annual stipend and military aid
23 May. The Palestinian Hamas has been restored to the Iranian fold and won the promise of an annual allowance of $200 million per year, military assistance and advanced weapons, in return for a public avowal of Hamas support for Iran’s Syrian policy and Bashar Assad. The deal was secretly sealed Thursday, May 22 at a meeting in Doha between Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Hamas’s politburo head Khaled Mashaal. It places Hamas squarely in the radical Iran-Syrian-Hizballah bloc and re-opens the Gaza Strip door to dominant Iranian influence. The pact culminated a month of intense Hamas-Tehran negotiations, conducted secretly in parallel with Hamas’s unity talks with the rival Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
May 24, 2014 Briefs
- Three people shot dead outside Jewish Museum in Brussels
Three people were killed and one badly injured in a shoot-out Saturday near the Jewish Museum in Brussels city center. Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who happened to be near the scene, told reporters that the Belgian government is treating this as an anti-Semitic attack.
The big charade: Nuclear diplomacy is a flop, the finale is secretly postponed to 2015
24 May. The optimism disseminated this week by all parties to the nuclear talks with Iran masked the truth, that diplomacy is stalled ahead of its July deadline. debkafile: US President Barack Obama has quietly shifted that deadline to Jan. 2015. This leaves Iran off the hook of its November commitment for a six-month suspension of its extra-fast centrifuges. It is also free to raise its enriched uranium stockpile. Barack Obama hopes congress will empower him to use military force if Iran cheats – and that will hold Israel’s hand.
On May 23, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog contributed to the show of optimism by reporting that Iran had either converted or diluted 80 percent of its enriched uranium and left itself far below the 250 kg. needed for one nuclear bomb. But the agency omitted the negative side of the picture: Iran still has 3.5 tons of lower-grade 5.3 percent enriched uranium, which can quickly be enriched further to 20 percent grade, sufficient to produce 5-7 nuclear bombs in short order.
May 25, 2014 Briefs
- Obama on secret visit to Afghanistan
US President Barack Obama told American troops at Bagram Air Field near Kabul Sunday that by the end of the year, Afghan forces will complete their security responsibilities and “Our combat mission here will be over.” He landed under cover of darkness Saturday night.
- Pope Francis arrives in Israel to state welcome
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greeted Pope Francis I with warm speeches, a guard of honor and the two national anthems, when he landed by helicopter at Ben Gurion airport Sunday afternoon from a visit to Bethlehem. In his response, Francis underlined his message of peace, inviting Peres and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to join him at the Vatican in a common prayer for peace. He said that while Israel has the right to live in peace and security within international recognized borders, so too does the Palestinian people have he right to a sovereign state.
- Special Israeli visas for 23,000 West Bank Palestinians
Israel issued special visas for 23,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 600 from the Gaza Strip to enter the country for the visit of Pope Francis Sunday and Monday.
- Emanuel and Miriam Riva from Tel Aviv shot dead in Brussels
The Israeli couple murdered at the Jewish Museum in Brussels Saturday were identified as Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, in their 50s, from Tel Aviv. Shot dead too were two museum staff members. The shooter escaped on foot. The attack is being treated by the authorities as an anti-Semitic crime and security was stepped up for Jewish institutions in the country and the Israeli embassy.
Pope Francis nods to Palestinian case with unscheduled visit to West Bank barrier
25 May. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas poured a litany of mostly unfounded anti-Israel grievances and propaganda in the ear of Pope Francis Sunday, May 25, during his visit to Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem before arriving in Israel. Accusing Israel of expelling Christians, he persuaded the Pope to visit the “ugly wall,” without mentioning that it was built by Israel as a barrier to stop years of Palestinian suicide terrorist attacks. Francis delivered an even-handed statement which called on “both sides to make sacrifices to create two states” and end the “unacceptable” Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.
May 26, 2014 Briefs
- Stunned by EU vote, European leaders urge change
European leaders have called for change in the wake of the dramatic popular swing to anti-EU and far right parties in Sunday’s European Parliament elections. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that boosting the economy and creating jobs is the key to countering those election gains.
- Istanbul court asks for Interpol Red Notice for 4 Israeli generals
The Istanbul 7th Court of Serious Crimes decided Monday to apply for an Interpol Red Notice for the arrest of former Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former Naval Forces Cmdr. Eliezer Alfred Marom, former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and former Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi.
- Jordan expels Syrian envoy, Damascus responds in kind
Jordan Monday gave the Syrian ambassador Bahjat Suleiman 24 hours to leave Amman, after he accused the kingdom and its Gulf allies of abetting the West against Damascus. Syria responded by expelling the Jordanian charge d’affaires in Damascus.
- First strike against Donetsk insurgents under new president
Ukrainian war planes bombed the pro-Russian separatists who seized Donetsk’s international airport terminal early Monday, most likely on orders of the just-elected president Petro Poroshenko.
- Pope Francis inserts a note in a crack of the Western Wall
On the third and last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Monday, Pope Francis inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall with a prayer. He was welcomed to the site by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Chief Rabbi of Holy Places. First, he toured Temple Mount and the mosques under the guidance of the Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein and Jordanian Prince Ghazi. He also laid a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, and visited Yad Vashem.
Nasrallah’s latest war speech is taken literally by Israeli military chiefs
26 May. Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah in his latest speech Sunday night, May 25, accused the IDF in unusual detail of providing anti-Assad rebels fighting in South Syria and Golan with added firepower. A Western military source told debkafile: “When the senior strategist of a military group shows off his intelligence, that is a declaration of war.” Nasrallah also accused Israel of violent incursions into southern Lebanon, saying, “Until now we haven’t reacted.” But next time “we’ll hit back at once.” Israel’s military chiefs took this as a Hizballah threat of a dual-front war from Lebanon and Syria.
May 27, 2014 Briefs
- Iraq like Syria is using barrel bombs made in Iran
Iraq has taken to using the same barrel bombs as Syria to bombard the Al Qaeda units which overran Fallujah and the western province of Anbar five months ago. debkafile: These explosives-filled oil barrels were invented by Iran for Bashar Assad’s air blitz on insurgents.
- Hizballah commander killed by Syrian rebels in Aleppo
Fawzi Ayoub, one of the highest ranking Hizballah commanders and field trainers sent to fight in Syria, was killed Saturday in battle with Syrian rebel forces in Aleppo. Ayoub was arrested in Israel during the Palestinian 2000-2004 intifada and released three years later in a prisoner exchange. The FBI placed him on its most wanted terrorist list.
- A record 6 candidates in race for Israeli president
The candidates who have won 10 MK endorsements for the June 10 election are: lawmaker Reuven Rivlin (the only Likud candidate), former minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Labor), former minister Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, former Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner and Nobel laureate chemistry professor Dan Shechtman. The last two have no partisan affiliations.
- US observers in Syria: The abduction that wasn’t
The six chemical weapons monitors alleged to have been abducted in a group of eleven are safe and well after being attacked, UN sources confirmed Tuesday.The OPCW team was traveling to the rebel held village of Kafr Zalta in Hama province to investigate allegations of six chlorine gas attacks.
Obama’s about-turn on Syria: US military training and weapons for moderate Syrian rebels
27 May. President Barack Obama is due to unveil a program for the expansion of US involvement in the Syrian war against the Assad regime and al Qaeda elements in an address at the US Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, May 28. This program consists of military training for moderate rebels and a regular supply of sophisticated weapons, including possibly anti-air systems. The Arab world perceives this as a move to counteract Russian, Iranian and Hizballah intervention in the Syrian conflict – or even as payback for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
May 28, 2014 Briefs
- Obama commits US to deeper involvement in Syrian civil war
In a major foreign policy speech at United States Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, President Barack Obama spoke of a critical focus on the Syria crisis, to which he would devote “additional resources.” He said that he believed he had made the right decision not to put American troops into the middle of “this increasingly sectarian” civil war. “But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future,” Obama stressed, “we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe-haven in the chaos.“ The most direct threat to the US and world is from terrorism. The president pledged to work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator.”
- An Iranian colonel reported beheaded by Syrian Nusra Front
Iranian sources Wednesday identified a man whose decapitated head appeared on a photo five days ago as Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Col. Mohammad Eskandari., who was killed by the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
- Palestinian riots on Temple Mt raise Jerusalem tensions
Following the closure of Temple Mount after a stone-throwing Palestinian rampage, fist fights erupted Wednesday between Jews and Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem. Two Jews were beaten up on the Street of the Chain; Palestinians sprayed tear gas on a group of Jews at Damascus gate and an Arab youth was taken to hospital with minor injuries which he said were inflicted by Jews. Later, 11 people were injured by a Palestinian attack on a Jerusalem bus.
- US amphibious assault ship on way to Libyan coast
The USS Bataan amphibious assault ship with 1,000 marines will be deployed off the coast of Libya within days in case the US embassy in Tripoli needs to be evacuated. debkafile: The ship will also be available to support retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar’s campaign to take control of the Libyan government from Muslim extremists.
May 29, 2014 Briefs
- Egyptians predictably elect former general El-Sisi as president
Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has won the Egyptian presidency by a sweeping 92 percent landslide against his only contender Hamdeen Sabahi. His victory was never in doubt, but he had hoped for a strong turnout to bestow legitimacy on his ouster last July of Islamist Mohamed Morsi. However, the nationwide turnout was around 44 percent of Egypt’s 54 million voters.
- Ukraine general, 13 men killed in helicopter downed by rebels
The Ukraine military helicopter was shot down Thursday near the flashpoint city of Sloviansk north of Donetsk before offloading soldiers at a military base. An army general and 13 officers and men were killed.
Belgian police missed out on intelligence-gathering
29 May. As time goes by, the chances diminish of catching the murderer of the Tel Aviv couple Miriam and Emmanuel and Riva at the Jewish Museum of Brussels and two other victims on May 24 – likewise, identifying his principal. The Belgian general prosecution handed the case to State Security, after rating it a terrorist-motivated crime and failing to turn up a single lead. debkafile: In the absence of strong interrelations between Israel’s intelligence bodies and Belgian GISS, the intelligence-gathering teamwork essential for solving this sort of crime was absent.