A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Weeks Ending March 7, 2013

February 25, 2013 Briefs

  • Israel successfully tests Arrow III interceptor
    The trial flight of the next-generation of the Arrow (Hetz) ballistic missile interceptor, carried out a early Monday, represented an powerful upgrade of Israel’s multi-tier system against missile threats from Iran or Syria, said the Defense ministry. The US-backed Arrow is designed to shoot down incoming missiles at altitudes high enough for unconventional warheads to disintegrate safely. The Pentagon’s missile defense agency and the US Boeing are partners in Arrow.

February 26, 2013 Briefs

  • NYT: Saudia buys arms for Syrian rebels in Croatia – following debkafile report
    The New York Times reported Tuesday, Feb. 26, that Saudi Arabia is buying arms for the Syrian rebels in Croatia. debkafile first disclosed the flow of arms to the Syrian rebels from the Balkans on Feb. 15. According to our sources, they were not purchased in Croatia, but Serbia and Kosovo from Islamist militias.
  • Rising concerns for Canadian UN peacemaker on Golan
    Carl Campeau, legal adviser to the UN observer mission on the Syrian side of the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria on the Golan, disappeared a week ago. He has not been heard of since. It is feared he may have been abducted by a Syrian rebel group, possibly one of the Islamist factions.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing closed after Grad fired from Gaza
    The Kerem Shalom crossing was closed after a Palestinian rocket was fired at Ashkelon Monday night, the first in the three-month ceasefire which ended the Israeli operation in Gaza. Most of the goods crossing into the Gaza Strip from Israel go through that gate. The volume was substantially increased and diversified after the ceasefire.

February 27, 2013 Briefs

  • Kerry: Iran has an elected government
    US Secretary of State John Kerry raised eyebrows when he said in Paris Wednesday: “Iran is a country with a government that was elected and that sits in the UN.” After the 2009 election, Vice President Joe Biden pointed to “real doubt” whether Ahamdinejad won [the presidential election]” and the White House voiced concern “about a number of factors.”
  • Putin orders urgent improvements in military
    Russian President Vladimir Putin told military leaders Wednesday that they must make urgent improvements in the armed forces to “thwart attempts by the West to tip the strategic balance of power.”

February 28, 2013 Briefs

  • Croatia pulls contingent from Golan peacekeeping force
    The decision to withdraw the 100 Croatian soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force posted on the Syrian demilitarized zone on the Golan followed a New York Times report that Saudi Arabia had sent Croatian arms to Syrian rebels. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said: “No matter how many times we deny this story, our soldiers are no longer safe.”
  • Progress in Turkish-Kurdish PKK peace moves
    Representatives of the legal Turkish Kurdish movement (BDP) flew from Ankara to the Iraqi Kurdistan Republic capital of Sulaymaniyah. They carried a letter from the outlawed PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) leader Abdullah Ocalan incorporating a “road map for peace” with the Turkish government to PKK military leaders holed up in the Iraqi Kurdish Kandil Mountains. debkafile reports: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Edrogan hopes a peace deal with the Kurds will buy him the Kurdish vote in his run for president.
  • Istanbul police foil bombing of US consulate and synagogue
    Turkish security forces have arrested 11 suspect terrorists and confiscated plans of the US consulate, a synagogue in Istanbul’s Balat neighborhood and a church as well as a quantity of weapons and explosives for use against those targets.
  • Israeli police: Palestinians hatched Qusra incident as provocation
    After an intensive inquiry, Israeli police accuse Palestinians of fabricating charges against Jewish settlers of torching six vehicles in the Qusra village near Nablus, to spark violent Palestinian disturbances across the West Bank.

Washington accepts partial Fordo operation

28 Feb. Grave concern was voiced in Jerusalem over the upbeat Western-Iranian accounts issuing Thursday, Feb. 28 about the “positive and “constructive” six-power talks with Iran ending in Almati, Kazakhstan Wednesday. debkafile: in contrast to Israel’s categorical resistance to the continued operation of the underground plant at Fordo, the US delegation proposed keeping it open except for suspending 20-percent uranium enrichment. Washington is seen as trying to lighten the Iranian cloud hanging over President Barack Obama’s talks in Israel on March 20.

March 2, 2013 Briefs

  • Assad accuses UK prime minister of “bullying and naivety”
    In a rare interview to a British paper, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said UK Prime Minister David Cameron was "naive, confused, unrealistic" in his approach to the Syrian conflict.
  • Netanyahu wins extended deadline for building government
    President Shimon Peres has granted Prime Minister, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, another two weeks to form a government coalition after 28 days of fruitless effort since the general election.
  • Tehran: Bashar Assad stays in power until next year – at least
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Saturday that the Syrian ruler will stay in power at least until next year. debkafile: Syria’s presidential elections are due in 2014, when Assad intends running for another five-year term.
  • Kerry arrives in Cairo
    US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo later Saturday. debkafile: They have plenty of ground to cover – Egypt’s bankrupt state, treatment of the Egyptian opposition by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, the lawless situation in Sinai and relations with Israel.
  • Four shells from Syria land on Israeli Golan
    The mortar shells exploded half a kilometer inside the Israeli border at the southern end of the Golan enclave Saturday morning.
  • Moallem in Tehran to prepare coming talks with Syrian opposition
    Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem arrived in Tehran Saturday to line up tactics for the talks sponsored by Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition starting Tuesday, March 5. debkafile: Snags could cause last-moment delays. At a news conference, Moallem condemned US non-lethal support for “groups that kill the Syrian people.”

Syrian no-man’s lands bordering Israel, Jordan up for grabs

2 March. debkafile reports: The collapse of Bashar Assad’s defense lines on the Israeli and Jordanian borders has left a large expanse of no-man’s land and generated a new strategic situation of major import for both Israel and Jordan. Defense Minister Ehud Barak hopes to align positions with the US on this matter when he meets Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon next Tuesday.
Israel’s armed forces still have three options:
a) Directly capturing dominant points in those no-man’s lands areas as guarantees of a say in who eventually dominates them.
b) Military support for a Druze land grab.
c) Military collaboration with Jordan to control the fate of the abandoned lands abutting both their borders.

March 3, 2013 Briefs

  • Barak: Israel will never let Iran develop a nuclear weapon
    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told thousands of delegates at the opening of the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday: "It is Iran's pursuit of a nuclear capability which is the greatest challenge facing Israel, the region and the world today," He added: "Frankly, while exhausting all diplomatic means is understandable, I do not believe it will lead to… the ayatollahs giving up their nuclear status. Therefore, all options must remain on the table because Israel will never allow them to develop a nuclear weapon.” On another issue, Barak said he did not believe Israel would ever achieve a comprehensive and final peace with the Palestinians.
  • Israel turns cold shoulder on big-power nuclear talks with Iran
    Wendy Sherman, head of the US delegation to last week’s Kazakhstan six-power nuclear talks with Iran, arrived in Jerusalem Friday, March 1 with a report. She was not received by cabinet ministers – only National Security Adviser Yakov Amidror. In his briefing to the cabinet Sunday, Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel stands by its refusal to have any truck with the six-power-versus-Iran diplomatic track because for Tehran it is nothing but a device to carry on uranium enrichment free of interference. Turning to the stalled coalition negotiations, the prime minister commented: “As our enemies get together – not just to eventually build nuclear arms for aiming against us, but also stockpiling another type of WMD (ballistic missiles, chemical weapons), we are obliged to unite and gather all our strength for repulsing these menaces. Unfortunately, this is not happening.”

Kerry’s disappointing talks in Cairo

3 March. Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry talked at length to Egyptian President Morsi in Cairo, Sunday, March 3, about Egypt’s calamitous economic straits, relations with Israel, democratization and essential reforms. Morsi nodded politely but, debkafile reports, was completely wrapped up in the ongoing plan he and the Muslim Brotherhood had hatched for Islamizing Egypt and seizing 100 percent of parliament in the next election – April or June. Washington warns that delay in coming to grips with the economic crisis would be suicidal.

March 4, 2013 Briefs

  • First locust swarms reach Israel, Jordan from Egypt
    Israel’s Agriculture Ministry has set up a hot line for helping farmers manage the destruction wrought by swarms of locusts which Monday flew in from Egypt where a swarm of 30 million insects devastated crops.
  • Biden: Obama is not bluffing on Iran
    Barack Obama's threats to use military force to prevent Iran securing a nuclear weapon are more than idle bluffs, vice-president Joe Biden told the biggest pro-Israeli lobbying group Aipac on Monday.

Russia, Israel each warn of Golan flashpoint

4 March. Israeli and Russian UN ambassadors separately warned Monday, March 4, of the danger building up in the Golan separation area barred to Syrian troops under the 1974 ceasefire for the enclave which Israel captured in 1967. Ambassador Prosor said Israel “cannot be expected to stand idle when its citizens are at risk,” while Ambassador Churkin spoke of “a very new and dangerous phenomenon” of “armed groups” operating in the Golan area of separation, which “potentially can undermine security between Syria and Israel.” Churkin spoke specifically of “armed groups” but he was also cautioning Israel to desist from fighting back so as not to upset Moscow’s diplomatic initiative for resolving the Syrian civil war.

March 5, 2013 Briefs

  • Brennan’s CIA nomination advances through Senate committee
    In a closed-door meeting, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser to the president, as next CIA director by a vote of 12:3. The White House cleared the way by promising to grant some congressmen access to secret memos legally justifying targeted killings of Americans overseas.
  • Harshest ever sanctions await North Korea
    For its third nuclear test, Korea is in for the toughest sanctions the UN has ever imposed, according to a US-Chinese draft resolution before the UN Security Council, said US Ambassador Susan Rice Tuesday.
  • Chuck Hagel and Ehud Barak in warm greeting at Pentagon
    Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s first visit to the Pentagon after Chuck Hagel’s appointment as Defense Secretary began Tuesday with a salute by Hagel and a hug from Barak, who was the new defense secretary’s first official visitor.
  • Large locust swarm in Israel
    Israeli planes sprayed pesticides over crops and farmland to protect them from the rapacious insects heading into northern Israel Tuesday. Farmers have been on locust alert, using an emergency hot line for sightings, since the swarm entered southern Israel from Egypt after devastating crops there.
  • Syrian warplanes strike northern city captured by rebels
    The air strikes came hours after rebels overran the northern city of Raqqa Monday. At least 20 of rebels and “tens of regular soldiers” were killed. Raqqa is situated on the Euphrates River near the Turkish border. It shelters hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees from war-torn homes in other parts of the country.

Washington: Hizballah has got hold of chemical weapons

5 March: When Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon Tuesday, March 5, he heard for the first time in years American criticism of the Israeli army for under-reacting – in this case to the chemical weapons threat emanating from Syria.
Israel was also berated for under-estimating this menace, neglecting to pursue counter-measures and failing to take into account the likely need to send troops into Syria in coordination with similarly threatened Turkey and Jordan. Barak received official US confirmation that chemical weapons had reached HIzballah.

March 6, 2013 Briefs

  • Syrian rebel unit kidnaps 20 UN Filipino observers
    The UN confirmed the incident claimed by the Islamist Martyrs of Yarmouk command who said they were holding UN Disengagement Observer Force forces kidnapped close to the Golan village of Jamla near the Israeli border against the withdrawal of Assad regime units from the village. “If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours, we will treat them as prisoners,” said the announcement. The Israeli Army North Command said “There is no change in security procedures near the border. This is an internal Syrian incident.”
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