A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending Nov. 29, 2007

Iran Much Closer to Nuclear Bomb than West Admits


19 Nov. debkafile‘s sources report this suspicion was strengthened by the discoveries made in Syria as a result of the Israeli attack of Sept. 6:

1. If Syria with its relatively meager resources could aspire to a plutonium reactor, then Iran must be much farther ahead in the same direction.

2. If Syria could hide its North Korean plutonium reactor under construction for years, Iran must have a fully-functioning reactor hidden away even longer.

3. Additional data indicate that Tehran has more than the admitted 3,000 working centrifuges for uranium enrichment, more likely 5,000 or even close to 7,000 working machines – enough to turn out fissile material for at least two bombs a year.

The knowledgeable Israeli Air Force Colonel (Res.) Shmuel Gordon says Iran may have accumulated enough fissile material for two to four nuclear bombs. He recalls the small research reactor with “hot cells” which the United States gave to the shah of Iran in 1967 and which has since then been turning out 0.6 kilos of plutonium every year – adding up in 35 years to 21 kilos – enough for two to three bombs.

The Israeli colonel points out that while India, Pakistan and North Korea required 15 years of development before attaining a nuclear weapon and a missile for its delivery, Iran has been working on its program longer than that and its engineering, technical and technological infrastructure is superior.


Israel’s army chief confirms Abbas’ Fatah responsible for murder of an Israeli man on West Bank, reports 24 roadblocks dismantled


20 Nov. Ido Zoldan, 29, of Shavei Shomron, was killed at the wheel of his car in a drive-by shooting in N. West Bank Monday night, Nov. 19, claimed by Fatah-Al Aqsa Brigades. Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi confirmed Fatah were the perpetrators.

The attack took place hours after Abbas met with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and assured him his organization could and would combat Palestinian terror. Fatah's al Aqsa Brigades are proactive in all Palestinian terrorist incidents on the West Bank and Gaza Strip alike, despite the partial immunity from pursuit Abbas persuaded Olmert to extend its gunmen some weeks ago.


Overriding IDF and Shin Bet objections, Olmert approves arming Palestinian West Bank forces with 50 Russian APCs, 1000 rifles and 2 million bullets


21 Nov. debkafile‘s military sources report that the armored personnel carriers which can carry 10 fighters are armed with heavy machine guns capable of downing Israeli helicopters and night combat.

The 14.5-mm large caliber KPVT machine guns and coaxial 7.62-mm PKT machine gun, with a traverse of 360 degrees, mounted on each turret, make this APC a highly mobile anti-air unit for attacking low-flying targets at a range of up to 2,000 meters.

debkafile reports the IDF and security service fear their presence will seriously hamper Israel’s regular counter-terror activities with helicopter support, which have kept the country relatively secure in recent years by thwarting Palestinian suicide incursions and attacks.


By pumping up the Lebanese crisis to explosion level, Tehran and Damascus steal Middle East interest away from Annapolis conference


22 Nov. After Tehran and Damascus vetoed all six candidates for the presidency to succeed pro-Syrian Emil Lahoud on Nov. 24, candidates have been dropping by the wayside almost daily. The 79-year old former minister Michel Edde was the latest to be disqualified after he took instructions in Damascus for safeguarding Syrian interests in Lebanon.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources: Tehran and Damascus have joined hands to bring the Hizballah Shiites to the fore in Beirut and sabotage the Annapolis conference to demonstrate how Tehran & Co. is calling the shots in the Middle East – not Washington.


Olmert defends Israel’s attendance of Middle East conference in US against rising criticism and party rebels


22 Nov. The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and insistence on Jerusalem as their state capital are seen by both government supporters and the opposition as insuperable obstacles to any progress. It is also noted that Washington articulates the objective of the conference in Maryland as being Palestinian statehood, demoting peace to incidental status.

Opposition Likud lawmaker, Yuval Steinitz recalled that Israel handed Gaza to Abbas two years ago on a silver platter. It has since become the launching base for daily Palestinian missiles and terrorist attacks. The same fate will befall the West Bank if handed to the same useless Palestinian Authority chairman.

He appealed to the defense and foreign ministers, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, to stay away from the conference. “I know that in private they are saying Olmert is using Annapolis as a stunt to stir up national debate and distract attention from the criminal probes against him.”

Members of the prime minister’s own Kadima party charged that his goodwill gestures to Mahmoud Abbas were reckless. The cabinet this week approved the release of more than 431 convicted Palestinian terrorists over the objections of chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. An Israeli was killed in a drive-by shooting this week by Abbas’ own Fatah gunmen on a West Bank road, after 24 roadblocks were removed to meet a demand by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


Palestinian suicide bomb threat places Jerusalem on high alert Sunday


25 Nov. The bombers from the West Bank were reported heading for northern Jerusalem.

As Annapolis conference approaches, the IDF, police and Shin Bet are scouring West Bank and Gaza Strip terrorist strongholds to intercept Palestinian bombers before they cross the borders into Israel. Earlier Sunday, an Israeli force tackled Palestinian gunmen hear the Gaza-Israel crossing at Erez. Three gunmen were killed in the shoot-out. On the West Bank, a border police undercover unit on an arrest mission at Tulkarm, killed one wanted Fatah terrorist and injured a second trying to escape.


Arab League agrees to send ministers to Annapolis, Lebanon is a write-off


25 Nov. Saudi foreign minister Saud al Faisal said: “We are not going for handshakes or a display of emotions… We are there only to reach a peace which safeguards Arab interests and safeguards the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands.” Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem demanded that Lebanese issues as well as Golan be put on the agenda.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources report:

This is the first time that Syria’s demand for land from Israel includes territory, the Shaaba Farms and Ghajar Village, claimed by Hizballah as Lebanese. Damascus thus reopens the UN Security Council’s resolution of 2000 which determined the final Lebanese-Israeli borderline, after it was agreed by both governments, drawn and internationally approved.

The Saudi foreign minister endorsed this demand.

As the crisis over Lebanon’s presidential election lingers, Damascus and Tehran make it clear to the Arab League, and especially Riyadh that by following the US-Israel track to Annapolis, they lose Lebanon.

Outgoing president Emile Lahoud’s quiet departure provided a respite. However his most likely successor is the pro-Syrian Lebanese chief of staff Gen. Michel Suleiman.


Tehran reports home-production of first uranium fuel pellets for Arak reactor – as US steps up fuel supply activity for Gulf forces


25 Nov. debkafile‘s military sources report the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, vice president Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, was referring to uranium oxide pellets used in improved nuclear fuel rods for the Arak reactor, which is still under construction. This development is of concern, because the spent fuel from the heavy-water facility can be used to produce plutonium.

It was also reported Saturday that The US Navy’s Military Sealift Command has tendered for four tankers in November – instead of the normal one or two – to move at least one million barrels of jet and ship fuel between Gulf ports from Asia to the Gulf and between the US Diego Garcia Indian Ocean base and big US Gulf bases in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

The fuels to be moved between Gulf ports include the high flashpoint jet fuel JP5, used to power F18 fighters aboard aircraft carriers. debkafile‘s military sources report that the US heavy B-1 bombers are based on Diego Garcia along with heavy ordnance for bombing fortified underground targets, such as Iran’s secret military installations

Shipping and oil industry sources suggest CENTCOM may be stocking in extra fuel ahead of extended operations off or on Iran’s shores.


Recently retired General James L. Jones is the fourth US general co-opted to the Israel-Palestinian peace effort in seven years


27 Nov. President Bush named him liaison officer to accompany Israel-Palestinian negotiations on core issues between the two sides launched at Annapolis and scheduled to wind up before the end of 2008.

He treads in the footsteps of peace mediator Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni in 2000, followed in 2005 by Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, and Gen. Keith Dayton, Bush’s special coordinator, a year later. None achieved any progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

General Jimmy Jones takes over a task which many will have told him is stillborn. A former NATO commander, Gen. Jones has no experience in the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Middle East


More than 57 Palestinians injured, dozens detained, in Hebron Wednesday, on second day of anti-Annapolis riots


28 Nov. Pro-Abbas security forces opened fire and swung night sticks against mourners in Hebron at the funeral of the Palestinian shot dead at a rowdy demonstration Tuesday as the Middle East conference opened in the US.

The disorders swept through Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, Qalqilya, and Tulkarm, led by Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Hizb al-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group which has gained a strong foothold in Arab Jerusalem and on Temple Mount. Adherents of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’s party, also joined some of the rallies. In Gaza, Hamas speakers vowed not to yield a grain of Palestinian sand and threatened more kidnappings of Israeli soldiers.


A day later, leading member of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian delegation sharply repudiates Bush’s words at Annapolis


28 Nov. In an interview from Washington, senior Palestinian negotiator Saib Erekat said Wednesday, Nov. 28, the US president does not negotiate in the name of the Palestinians; nor does he represent them and his words are not relevant to the Palestinian cause. On such issues as recognizing Israel, said the Palestinian negotiator, Bush is not competent to determine how we act. If the US president seeks an exchange of territory, he can do this with Mexico.

He spoke the day after the Middle East conference held Nov. 27 at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis heard President Bush announce that a steering committee would negotiate the core problems at issue continuously from Dec.12 and conclude their talks by the end of 2008.

Speaking after the opening session, Saudi FM Saudi al-Faisal emphasized that to achieve a permanent accord, it was essential for Israel to freeze settlement activity, dismantle unauthorized outposts, release jailed Palestinian prisoners, discontinue building the West Bank barrier, and lift the siege against the Palestinian people.

Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir stressed the Arabs would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state because of its Arab minority.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, referring to Palestinian aspirations to statehood, acknowledged that the Palestinians in refugee camps need a state of their own, in the same way as the establishment of the state of Israeli imparted a sense of completeness to “all the Jewish refugees forced to leave Arab lands and Europe.”

The Syrian deputy foreign minister Feisal Makdad said the precondition for the Arabs to establish normal relations with Israel was its withdrawal from all the lands captured in 1967.


Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi warns against “falling in love with the Annapolis scene”


28 Nov. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, says the former chief of military intelligence, has not the slightest chance of honoring even one of the security commitments he undertook.

Assorted critics of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s performance at Annapolis accused him of jeopardizing national security. Many pointed out that, while he acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinian people and its right to self-determination, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab speakers who followed him, pointedly omitted to reciprocate. On the contrary, the Arabs retreated en bloc from their past recognition of Israel as a Jewish state even though they had signed documents embodying this recognition in the past.

Opposition leader former PM Binyamin Netanyahu said Olmert’s concessions at the conference set Israel on a slippery slope towards a breakdown of national security, while Abbas stood firmly by all his demands for a state in all parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem its capital, the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return,” and the release of all Palestinians jailed as terrorists.

Israel is further being asked to relinquish part of the Negev for the sake of a Palestinian passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

Likud MK Limor Livnat argued that the Palestinian refugee issue is contrived. Arab hostility and hatred for the Jewish national entity predated the refugee problem by decades, long before the 1967 – or even the 1948 – wars, which they fought against Israel’s presence in the Middle East. Those hostile emotions are at the root of the conflict and persist.

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