Vol. 14, Issue 626, March 7, 2014
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No Glimmer of a Breakthrough on Kiev
Obama and Putin, Leagues Apart, Duel over Ukraine
Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin

In 2013, President Barack Obama set about channeling all his foreign policy resources into a mighty effort to start up diplomatic and strategic processes. This would give him a quiet life in his second term.
Intractable issues, like Iran’s nuclear bomb, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian peace issue could be pushed to and fro across negotiating tables and end up in the in-tray of his successor in the White House in 2017.
Obama and his strategic advisers must have realized that the world might not play along with these tactics and was capable of popping up with unwanted surprises.
As a cushion against such intrusions, Obama began the first year of his second term by molding his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin into a strategic and diplomatic partnership of unprecedented cordiality and cooperation.
The two leaders worked together on the Iranian nuclear threat, the Syrian conflict, the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons and a secret deal for Afghanistan. In September 2013, Putin took a hand personally in saving Washington from military intervention in Syria.
Obama repaid him by turning a blind eye to Russia's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. When it went too far, Washington did not confront Moscow, but the Saudi architect of relations with Russia, Intelligence Director Prince Bandar bin Sultan.


The idyllic Obama-Putin partnership shattered


US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov meanwhile practiced their unbeatable duo act on the international stage, with “John” and “Sergey” vying to lavish praise and smiles on one another.
This song-and-dance hit was rudely cut short in the last week of February, when Russian special forces invaded the Crimean Peninsula after Moscow’s Ukraine ally, President Viktor Yanukovych, absconded from Kiev and an anti-Russian clique moved in.
This galloping crisis quickly brought home to Washington the realization that the edifice the administration had built for Obama’s legacy around his successful termination of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeping the US out of any new conflicts, and the elimination of the arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden had been swept away.
The Obama legacy was more likely now to be burdened by the revival of the Cold War with Russia and the uncertain fate of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, half Eastern European and half Western European, which has no special strategic or economic importance aside from its borders with Russia and the Black Sea.
Ironically, an American president, who adhered proudly to the philosophy that all diplomatic and political disputes were susceptible to resolution by international diplomacy and dialogue, may end his term three years hence leaving America in the grip of a military, political and economic confrontation with Moscow.
The countless words poured out this week, instead of allaying discord, served only to widen the gap between the two powers.
So how did this happen?


Obama and Putin in personal duel over Ukraine


A conspicuous feature of the Ukraine crisis is that it offers the US and Russian presidents not an inch of common ground. Worse – out of all the options available, none holds out an anchor for future compromise.
Both Obama and Putin are deeply dug in on matters of principle, respect and their legacies.
Ukraine has become battleground for a personal duel between these two powerful figures, the sort of contest which is the hardest to resolve. More often than not, these knock-down, one-on-one contests go hand in hand with deep national or religious causes, which may take years to sort out.
Putin’s immovability in the 2014 US-Russian conflict over Ukraine has its roots in the West’s Libyan campaign in 2011 and its dark residue of distrust and resentment.
The Russian leader has never believed that the military venture in Libya to overthrow the autocratic Muammar Qaddafi was the outcome of the 'Arab Spring,' which sent ordinary Libyans out on the streets to clamor for freedom and democracy. He is convinced to this day that the US, Britain and France cheated by hatching a secret conspiracy – each for its own reasons – to remove Qaddafi and lay hands on Libyan oil to bail themselves out of the recession overtaking their economies.
In fact, he reckons that Obama and his advisers deceived him personally three times over the Libyan episode:
Once, by a promise that neither the US nor NATO would directly engineer Qaddafi’s removal; second, by undertaking to broker peace talks between the Libyan rebels and opposition and Qaddafi’s bloc; and a third time, when Putin was certain that he had received US guarantees not to cause the Libyan ruler personal harm.


Putin won’t tolerate NATO on Russia’s back door


Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Libyan case, its fallout on the Ukraine crisis is palpable, because DEBKA Weekly’s Moscow sources report, it caused Putin to take an oath to himself and his political, military and intelligence advisers, never again to stand aside for the US and Europe to treat another ruler in which Moscow had an interest, as they did Qaddafi.
This oath accounts for his care for Bashar Assad’s survival in the Syrian war. He will not let him fall, even if the Russian military has to intervene to save him.
In the power games he plays with the world, the Russian ruler is certainly not guided by moral considerations, but rather by fairly ruthless self-interest. Yet his determination to never again let the West remove leaders in office with an affinity to Moscow is unshakeable.
This determination was triggered by the intelligence reports put on his desk in the Kremlin during February, which informed him that, after three months of turbulent unresolved protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square, European undercover agencies were preparing to move in and instigate a coup.
When Putin learned that the protesters had been gingered up by armed extremists from outside Kiev and were about to oust Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, he decided to step in.
US contempt for Russia’s strategic interests in its next-door neighbor, as manifested in Kerry’s charge that Putin invaded Crimea on “completely phony pretexts,” has made him dig in his heels still further.
So has NATO’s pledge Thursday to stand by Ukraine and its interim government, at the expense of its military ties with Russia. Moscow sees the next step as being the deployment of the US missile shield at Russia’s front door.


Obama won’t stand for Crimea’s annexation to Russia


In Washington, Obama is jus as fiercely dug in against Russia’s military takeover of Crimea, Ukraine’s most valuable strategic asset. For him, this violates every norm of international relations and is akin to the
brutal Soviet invasion of former Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.
Thursday, the pro-Russian parliament in Simferopol voted to hold a referendum on March 16 on Crimea’s annexation to Russia, while in Moscow lawmakers started drafting legislation to enable this step.
President Obama reacted within a few short hours by signing an executive order imposing visa and property sanctions against “individuals and entities responsible for undermining the democracy and the territorial integrity of Ukraine” – with major application to pro-Russian Ukrainian and Crimean citizens.
In Rome, European foreign ministers were unable to agree on sanctions to end Russia’s takeover of Crimea, because their own economies are too dependent on trade relations with Moscow to risk a cutoff.
At stake in the Ukrainian crisis therefore is not just Putin’s stubbornness or Russian neo-imperialism. There are grave economic matters at issue too.
Some American and other Western intelligence experts reckon that the Kremlin believes it will profit from the crisis to the tune of billions of dollars of revenue - to the detriment of the US and West European economies.
They believe that the ruble’s plunge and sell-off of Russian bonds in the first week of the Ukraine crisis were engineered by the Kremlin.
By the end of this week, no one had come forward with any proposal for narrowing the chasm dividing Obama and Putin or putting the brakes on the slide into further escalation.


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The Next Middle East War Front
Syria and Hizballah Square off to Fight Israel - Backed by Iran and Russia
Binyamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu included in his speech to the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) policy conference in Washington on Tuesday March 4 an anecdote he considered relevant to the latest turn of events in the Middle East:
He described his conversation with two wounded Syrians at an Israeli hospital, one of whom was “a father who came in carrying his son in his arms” for Israeli doctors to save his life. ‘All these years, Assad lied to us,’ said the father. ‘He said that Iran was our friend and Israel was our enemy, but now it's Iran that's killing us and Israel that's saving us.’
“These Syrians discovered what we’ve known all along,” Netanyahu said: “In a Middle East beset by bloodshed and slaughter, Israel is the compassionate one.
“Have you ever heard about a humanitarian mission sent from Iran? Did you miss that somehow? You know why you've never heard of that? Because the only thing that Iran sends outside its borders are rockets and terrorists to kill and hurt innocents.
"In the past year the radical Iranian regime has been trying to blur this moral line by means of a president who smiles and a foreign minister who talks nicely. But if you listen to their slippery words, they don't match Iran's actions," the prime minister concluded.


Syria accuses Israel of military intervention in its war


Twelve hours earlier, on March 3, President Assad’s policy and media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, accused Israel of deploying army officers and undercover agents in Syria alongside foreign-sponsored militants battling the Damascus government. She told Lebanon’s Hizballah mouthpiece, the Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news network, in an interview that according to information reaching Damascus, Israeli officers were present in Syria and monitoring the fighting.
In her view, Israel’s air strike on the Lebanese of Feb. 24 showed how it was using weapons shipments as a pretext for attacking Syria and Lebanon.
According to Shaaban, Israel undercover agents were mixed in with the Syrian rebels treated in Israeli hospitals.
Her remarks tied in with a report in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National on March 2, which alleged that “the Israeli regime” is paying large sums of money to foreign-backed militants operating inside Syria in exchange for information on their fellow al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The National claimed that at least three different Syrian rebel groups have been in regular contact with Israeli intelligence agents.
In his remarks to AIPAC, the Israeli prime minister unwittingly confirmed Bouthaina Shaaban’s accusations in part.


Assad saw Israeli-Jordanian presence as a bulwark against al Qaeda


For the past year, Israel has done its best to cover up its increasingly direct involvement in southern Syria by portraying it as limited to humanitarian and medical assistance for rebels and civilians. The figures released of hundreds of wounded Syrian rebels and civilians brought over to Israel for medical treatment are accurate. But there is nothing random about this.
It must be evident to any experienced observer that Syrian casualties don’t turn up at the border on the off- chance of being found. An organized Israeli network is running a corridor from southern Syria to the border in collaboration with certain rebel groups in quiet coordination with Washington.
That network is also obviously used to gather intelligence as well as providing those rebels with arms and operational guidelines and advice - as Shaaban said.
Until recently, Syria and Hizballah kept mum about Israel’s clandestine activities, partly because neither Tehran nor Assad considered the control of southern Syria essential for winning the war. Assad has always regarded that part of the country as of secondary or even tertiary strategic importance, and not worth an investment of large-scale military strength at the expense of other fronts.
But also because paradoxically, the presence of the Israeli military in the south – and the larger Jordanian involvement with US backing and financing - kept al Qaeda affiliates off the backs of the Syrian army and its allies. They found it prudent to leave it to the Israelis and Jordanians to hold the jihadis back from overrunning Damascus from the southeast.


Symptoms of a new warfront in the making


This situation changed in the second half of February.
On February 18, Netanyahu visited the special military field hospital the IDF had set up on the Golan, north of Tel Hazeka, accompanied by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and several other senior officers.
He used the occasion to voice the same sentiments he repeated this week at the AIPAC conference, that the Syrian war showed the true face of Iran, rather than the smiles of Iran President Hassan Rouhani and the smooth style of his foreign minister Javad Mohammed Zarif.
As Netanyahu and party left the Golan area, two mortar shells fired from Syria exploded nearby.
That near-miss was a hands-off warning.
Five days later, on February 23, Gen. Gantz conducted a comprehensive inspection of IDF positions on the Golan, during which he too aimed barbed remarks at Tehran’s role – not just in the Syrian war but across the Middle East.
“There is not a single sector in which Iran is not involved,” he said, likening Tehran’s handout of rockets, ammo and combat assistance to “giving torches to pyromaniacs.” Israel, he said, was monitoring the movements of all these weapons.
This wasn’t idle talk.


Tehran decides Israel deserves payback


A few hours later, on Monday, Feb. 23, Israeli Air Force planes bombed a Hizballah arms convoy and missile battery deployed at the Lebanon-Syria border in the northeast Lebanese Beqaa Valley. After previous Israeli operations against advanced weapons routes from Syria to Hizballah, when Washington gave the game away, this time, the Obama administration kept silent.
A red light flashed in Tehran and a sense that some hidden change was afoot in Washington:
According to our intelligence and Iranian sources, an urgent conference of Revolutionary Guards chiefs, including the Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani – the newly appointed supreme commander of Iran’s military operations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian sector - decided it was time for Israel to start tasting some payback from Iran and its allies.
Israel was ready with some of its own medicine, having placed IDF combat units, the air force and the navy on war alert for a major escalation on its northern borders.
On March 1, two Katyusha rockets were fired from Syria at an IDF Golan outpost. The explosions resounded across the Golan and Upper Galilee but caused no harm.
Five days later, three furtive figures were sighted planting a roadside bomb at the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Merom Hagolan. The Israeli opened fire and hit the trio, who later turned out to have come from the Syrian village of Hamadiye.
Although both attacks came from Syrian territory, the IDF attributed them to Hizballah.


Putin may use Syria’s war expansion to vent his Ukraine anger


That day was not over. The news broke Wednesday afternoon of an Israeli naval commando raid 1,500 km south of Israel on an Iranian missile boat. Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) commandos seized the Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C on the Red Sea. They found concealed in its hold dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 km, manufactured in Syria. The cargo shipped from Iran was reported by the IDF to be on its way to the Gaza Strip via Sudan.
Israel leaders played up Iran’s exposure as top arms supplier for terrorists to the hilt.
But Israel’s biggest breakthrough was yet to come.
That night, White House spokesman Jay Carney revealed that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian KLOS C and decided to give the IDF the lead role in its interception. Both are now braced for swift and stinging Iranian punishment.
(See separate article on the unexpected turnabout in US-Israeli strategic ties)
In its last issue of Feb. 28, DEBKA Weekly (Russia’s Ukraine-Syria Package) raised the possibility of a US-Russian row over Ukraine spilling over into the expansion of the Syrian war. This had the potential in turn of blowing down the Obama administrations diplomatic house of cards, including its partnership with the Kremlin in the international negotiations for an accord on Iran's nuclear program.
An Iranian-Syrian military attack on Israel, America’s friend and ally - with or without Hizballah’s direct involvement - may have a dual purpose, one of which would be to vent Moscow’s deep resentment for the torrent of Western abuse heaped on Vladimir Putin over his grab for Crimea.


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Will Ukraine Crisis Spill over to Mid East?
US Mediterranean Forces Go on High Alert, Rush Airlift to Israel. Russian Army on Combat Readiness

A number of US cargo planes landed in Israel Thursday, Feb. 27, with unidentified military supplies.
To evade watching eyes, they came into Lod airport from an unusual direction – the north instead of the west or east as usual. They departed the next morning by the same route, which took the air transports over Herzliya before turning west to the Mediterranean.
Western military sources report that the secret cargos airlifted in were related to the spiraling tensions along Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. (See a separate article on this), but may also tie in with the crisis over Ukraine.
DEBKA Weekly's military sources disclose that the items flown in included a number of US multi-mission V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. From March 2-6, a joint US-Israeli military exercise took place, during which Israeli air crews flew the new aircraft for the first time in operational trials.
According to our military sources, all the US units deployed in Israel and the region, especially in the Mediterranean, are on a high state of preparedness. They say that the military overtones of the Ukraine crisis and the prospect of its spillover into the Middle East dominated the conversation President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held in the White House on Monday, March 3
Iran’s nuclear program and talks with the Palestinians were only touched on cursorily.
High-placed circles in Washington reported to our sources that both the US and Israel believe that a potential US-Russian military encounter over Ukraine and Crimea would likely not be a head-on clash but waged through Middle East proxies.


Two US aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean


Those circles discount the Pentagon’s claim on March 5 that there are no changes in US military deployments in the Mediterranean in the light of events in Ukraine. This may be correct technically, but in terms of operational capacity, the US has beefed up its naval, air and marine presence in the region.
The day that US cargo planes landed in Israel, the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier moved into the Mediterranean with its strike group – supposedly to take the place of the USS Harry S. Truman carrier.
But there is no word yet of the Truman’s exit. So, for the present, the United States has two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.
The Bush carries nine air squadrons; four are fighter planess - half the squadron composed of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and half the older F/A-18C Hornets.
On its decks too are a squadron of four EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes, a squadron of four E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, two squadrons of Seahawk helicopters - with 10 to 11 birds each - and two C-2 transport planes.
The Bush strike group includes the USS Truxtun and USS Roosevelt destroyers and the USS Philippine Sea cruiser.
Operating separately in the Med are the two American destroyers, the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Donald Cook. Both are based in Spain for ballistic missile defense functions.


US Baltic air might doubled, naval presence kept in Black Sea


In the Black Sea, the US Navy maintains two ships that were initially tasked with helping provide security for last month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
One is the USS Taylor frigate; the other the USS Mount Whitney, a high-tech command ship capable of gathering vast amounts of electronic communications.
In late February, the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group arrived off the Spanish coast. The Bataan is a helicopter carrier with a complement of 2,400 members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard. It is accompanied by a strike force of two assault ships, USS Gunston Hall and USS Mesa Verde.
The 3,300 soldiers of the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, are available for short-notice missions. America’s rapidly-deployable ground response force for Europe, the lightly-equipped 173rd, can be parachuted into a war zone from C-17 and C-130 air transports.
The US keeps quiet about the size and movements of its military units in the region, still hoping that diplomacy will occupy center stage on the Ukraine crisis.
Russia and Israel follow the same tactic. Both have placed their armies on high combat alert without divulging specifics.
In a display of muscle-flexing on the fifth day of he Ukraine crisis, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday dispatched six F-15 aircraft to patrol the skies over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. This more than doubled the US warplane presence in the NATO mission for the three Baltic nations. He also boosted US training flights for the Polish military.


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Ukraine Forces Obama to Pivot again
How Long Will the New Obama-Netanyahu Alliance Last?
Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama

Washington underwent changes of face towards Israel this week with dizzying speed.
In an interview with Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg on Feb. 27 US President Barack Obama harshly criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He warned that time is running out for Israel and Netanyahu to move forward in negotiations with the Palestinians.
But when Netanyahu arrived at the White House on Monday March 3 – just four days later – he met a different president, who openly praised his leadership.
The prime minister reciprocated by heaping compliments on the president, when he addressed the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) policy conference in Washington the next day. He made a point of lauding Obama for his peace efforts and contribution to Israel’s security.
The audience of the pro-Israeli lobby, which a few days earlier had been directed to redouble its campaign against the administration’s détente with Iran, rose to its feet and gave Netanyahu a rousing ovation – although many people were puzzled by the abrupt change of face exhibited by both leaders.
Except for a few White House aides, no one knew that Obama had taken the advice of his Israeli visitor to give the green light through Netanyahu for an Israeli naval commando operation to seize a Panama-registered ship carrying dozens of Syrian-made 302mm rockets from Iran to the Gaza Strip via Sudan.
Suddenly Obama and Netanyahu were good friends, after a long period in which they agreed on almost nothing and made no bones about their mutual aversion.


Obama and Kerry at loggerheads


DEBKA Weekly's sources in Washington and Jerusalem disclose how it happened that the Israeli raid on an Iranian missile ship came to intrude on the White House-Kremlin contest over Ukraine at its peak. Certain events – some of them unseen at the time - led up to it.
1. Netanyahu, who has good contacts in the US Congress, was aware that Obama and US intelligence were in bad odor over their foreign policy fiascoes - from the handling of Libya to the Syria war and Lebanon. Their soft policies were blamed for the Ukraine crisis getting out of hand and for Vladimir Putin venturing to send Russian troops to invade Crimea. The critics maintained that a firm American posture backed by military muscle would have deterred Putin from this course.
US intelligence agencies were accused of failing to foresee or even detect Russian preparations for special forces to land on Ukrainian territory.
2. Netanyahu was also in on the divergences between the president and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama saw Ukraine as a European issue and wanted to leave it to the Europeans to handle it, with the United States “leading from behind” on the Libyan model.
Kerry argued for the opposite tack. On Wednesday March 6, he was seen here, there and everywhere at all the diplomatic venues dealing with Ukraine. He seemed to trust in the partnership he had established with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in past crises for blazing a path out of the new one.
But Lavrov wasn’t playing, and the crisis continued to roll into a straight fight between Obama and Putin.


Netanyahu advised a brief revisit of Cold War practices to deter Putin


3. Netanyahu put this proposition before Obama: Approve the Israeli raid on the Iranian missile ship and announce that the US military and intelligence were a party to it. This will pull the rug from under the feet of those who accuse the president being soft and shy of resorting to military action even in dire circumstances.
Furthermore, said the prime minister, an Israeli strike on an Iranian target fully coordinated with America would pull the Russian leader up in his tracks before he moves any more troops into Ukraine. He will then think twice before gambling away the military and diplomatic gains he accrued in the Arab world and Middle East as a result of Washington turning a blind eye to Russia’s entry into the void left by the Obama administration.
What Netanyahu was advising was a brief revisit to the practices of the Cold War years, when the Middle East was the main arena for the two superpowers to fight it out through proxies. Putin would be taken by surprise and so give Obama the edge.
4. Cutting US intelligence into the Israel operation for tracking the Iranian missile ship might deflect some of the aspersions on US clandestine agencies’ handling of the Ukraine episode.
5. US partnership in the raid on an Iranian target might also restore some belief – especially among US Jews and Israelis – that Obama had not given up on ever authorizing a military operation against a nuclear Iran. It would help Netanyahu to sell to the Israeli public the concessions he is preparing to offer the Palestinians for a peace accord, by offering evidence that Israel is assured of White House backing both political and military.


Were Obama and Netanyahu having a brief fling or in earnest?


A decision having been reached Monday, Israeli naval commandos stopped the Iranian cargo vessel KLOS C on the Red Sea two days later, apprehending it on Wednesday March 6, as the ship was preparing to sail into Port Sudan.
Had that moment been missed, the Israeli air force would most probably have bombed the ship. This would have required a follow-up go-ahead from Obama. As it was, the Israel commando team had no difficulty in apprehending the vessel, examining the cargo, and forcing it to head for Eilat.
That same night, White House spokesman Jay Carney revealed that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian KLOS C and decided to give the IDF the lead role in its interception.
“Even as we continue our efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region, in coordination with our partners and allies,” said the State Department.
Accusations of state-sponsored terrorism were bandied off the record among other US officials.
It was the first time in four years that the US and Israel had collaborated in a military operation against Iran - ever since the Stuxnet virus attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010.
But was this just a short fling in the volatile Obama-Netanyahu relationship, or long term? Both this week took a plunge which could bring challenging fallout down on their heads from Vadimir Putin, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Bashar Assad.


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HOT POINTS
A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 6, 2014

February 28, 2014 Briefs

  • Israeli air strike destroys a north Gaza rocket-launcher
    The IDF spokesman reported that the rocket launcher was destroyed in an air strike Friday night over northern Gaza “to avert an immediate threat to Israel.”
  • Two Israeli soldiers, 7 Palestinians hurt in riots
    Two Israeli soldiers and 7 Palestinians were slightly hurt in clashes arising from violent riots in several West Bank towns and the Gaza Strip Friday. The disturbances erupted at Jelazun, Silwad, Bir Zeit and the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younes.
  • Yanukovych pledges to fight for Ukraine’s future
    At his first appearance to reporters since fleeing Kiev, Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych says he was not ousted but left the country over threats to his life from “a nationalist fascist minority.” The crisis owed its victims to the “irresponsibility of the West” in indulging protesters, and the opposition’s failure to stand by the Feb. 21st agreement signed with three European mediators.
    He spoke from the Russian town of Rostov on-Don.
  • Ten Russian military helicopters fly into Crimea
    The Ukrainian border guard said 30 Russian marines were surrounding the coast guard base at Simferopol as some 10 Russian helicopters flew into Crimea Friday. Earlier Russian marines and paratroops seized Crimea’s main airports.


Another 2,000 Russian troops land in Crimea


28 Feb.
Thirteen giant Ilyushin-76 (NATO codenamed IL-76 Candid) air transports flew into the Crimea Friday night, Feb. 28, and landed some 2,000 fresh Russian troops at a military airfield near Sebastopol.
debkafile’s military sources report the new intake were members of the Russian Rapid Intervention Force. They arrived as the UN Security Council in New York discussed the Kiev government’s protest against the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Armed Russian troops earlier took control of the runways of Crimea’s two main airports at Simferopol and Sevastopol.


March 1, 2014 Briefs

  • Putin wins parliament’s approval to send troops into Ukraine
    Russia's Upper House has given President Vladimir Putin the go-ahead to send troops into Ukraine, despite a warning from Washington that such a deployment would results in "costs" for Moscow.
  • IDF Mt. Hermon position under rocket fire
    Hours after powerful explosions were heard on the Golan and north Galilee Saturday morning, the IDF spokesman disclosed that the IDF position on Mt. Hermon had come under rocket fire for the first time since the Syria war broke out three years ago.


March 2, 2014 Briefs

  • Putin explains Crimea operation to Merkel
    Vladimir Putin explained to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call Sunday that Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Ukraine faced an “unrelenting threat from ultra-nationalists and the measures Moscow has taken “were completely appropriate” given the “extraordinary situation.” They agreed to continue consultations to seek normalization in Ukraine.
  • Ukraine’s Navy chief defects to Crimean government
    Sunday, the day after the interim government in Kiev appointed him head of Ukraine’s Navy, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky swore allegiance to the Crimean region in the presence of its pro-Russian leader.
  • Israeli man stabbed by Palestinian in Petach Tikva
    An Israeli man, 31, was stabbed on a Petach Tikva Street Sunday. He was taken to hospital with moderate injuries as his assailant fled the scene. The police later detained eight Palestinians suspected of complicity in the attack.
  • Ukraine calls up reserves
    The security chief of the Kiev government announced Sunday the call-up of military reserves. debkafile: Ukraine’s reserve army is far bigger than the regular army. Saturday, the acting president put the army on combat alert. One question is how many soldiers – regular and reserve – are loyal to the new regime and will respond to the call-up. Another is: how will the new administration feed a large army.
  • Obama’s national security team met on Ukraine without him
    “The president’s national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options.” Washington sources noted that President Obama skipped the meeting, which was attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan. Vice President Joe Biden reportedly only attended via videoconference, while Obama was briefed later by National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
  • Gaps wide after Obama-Putin 90-minute phone call
    President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a 90 minute phone call on Saturday that his country sending troops into Ukraine is a “clear violation” of that country’s sovereignty and carried the risk of Russian isolation. His request to de-escalate the crisis and withdraw his forces back to bases in Crimea went unheeded. Russia maintains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population that lives there," Putin said.
  • China blames Uigur separatists for knife attack that left 33 dead
    At the Kunming train station in southern China, more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with big knives and machetes Saturday, killing 29 and injuring 143 in an attack which Beijing blames on Uigur separatists. Police fatally shot four of the assailants, captured one and were searching for the others. Two of the attackers were women.
  • Huge ultra-religions anti-draft demo without incident
    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-religious demonstrators swamped Jerusalem’s northern gateway and highways from midday Sunday in protest against the impending new military draft law that would oblige yeshiva students to join up for compulsory military services. The rabbis are up in arms against the plan to hand out prison sentences if draft quotas are not met. The Jerusalem protest is matched by solidarity rallies by fellow ultra-religious Jewish communities in the US.


March 3, 2014 Briefs

  • Obama says Russia on wrong side of history
    In Crimea, Ukraine border guards reported that armed men have seized a Ukraine border checkpoint at the ferry terminal and three truckloads of armed men had crossed by ferry to the Ukraine side. Obama says Russia is is on the wrong side of history and US Ambassador to the UN Samatha Powers alleges that Moscow as “responded to an imaginary threat with no legal basis.”
  • Israeli air strike kills a Palestinian rocket team member in Gaza
    A Palestinian rocket team was prevented from firing rockets into Israeli Monday night by an Israeli air strike which killed one team member and injured two. One died later. Minutes before the strike, a siren sounded a red alert in the Israeli locations within range.
  • Putin attends large Baltic Sea snap exercise
    Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered and attended a large tactical exercise Monday of Sea Fleet coast guard troops in the Kaliningrad region. More than 3,500 servicemen of mechanized infantry regiments and a naval infantry brigade took part in the drills. debkafile: Stationed in Kaliningrad are Russian K720 9 nuclear-tipped Iskander missiles (NATO codenamed SS-26 Stone), which are pointed at advanced US radar posted in central and southern Europe, a reference to one of Putin’s conditions for continuing negotiations on Ukraine.
  • A violent attack on an Islamabad court leaves 11 dead
    Gunmen burst shooting into a district court complex in the Pakistani capital Islamabad Monday, before at least two suicide bombers detonated their explosives. A judge and several lawyers are reported to be among those killed. At least 24 people were wounded. No group claimed responsibility.


Putin wants US guarantees for halting military action


3 March
. As Washington and the Europeans continued to decry Russian military aggression, the US and Russians began quiet though intense negotiations - through Berlin - on a deal for settling the Ukraine dispute, debkafile reports. Moscow will keep its military forces in Crimea, but will discuss terms for restraining the Russian army from advancing into the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine: Kiev must stay out of NATO, the US must guarantee not to deploy advanced radar, missile shields or ballistic missiles in the country, and local armed bodies will protect Russian-speaking areas.


March 4, 2014 Briefs

  • Russian test-fires intercontinental ballistic missile
    Russia test-fired a Topol RS-12M intercontinental ballistic missile the Caspian Sea area to Kazakhstan Tuesday night, having warned Washington in advance. This was announced just hours after Vladimir Putin accused the interim government in Kiev of carrying out an unconstitutional coup d’etat against the legal the legal president, and US Secretary of State John Kerry paraded US support for the new leaders of Kiev, accusing Russia of seeking pretexts for its aggression.
  • Hamas banned in Egypt
    A Cairo court Tuesday banned the Palestinian Hams movement from operating in Egypt and seized its assets, accusing the Gaza Strip’s rulers of colluding in terrorist attacks on its territory and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Kerry: If Russia doesn’t de-escalate, it will face isolation
    At a news conference in Kiev, US Secretary of State condemned Russian “aggression” and denied Moscow’s claim that the Russian-speaking population of Crimea and Ukraine were in danger. Russia must de-escalate and withdraw its forces to the barracks and engage directly with the government of Ukraine, or face isolation, he said.
  • Netanyahu: Why does Iran need to develop nuclear-capable missiles?
    In the most pro-American speech heard from any Israeli leader of late, Binyamin Netanyahu praised President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry when he addressed the AIPAC conference in Washington Tuesday. US-Israeli friendship was at its highest point, he said. We work night and day for a lasting peace, and called again on the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as the Jewish national state. On Iran, Netanyahu asked: If Iran has nothing to hide, why are UN inspectors denied access to its nuclear facilities, and why does it insist on developing ballistic missiles whose only use is the delivery of nuclear-armed warheads?
  • Putin orders troops to return to bases from exercises outside Ukraine
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday that the price for halting the Russian troop deployment in Crimea would be the restoration of the deal ousted president Viktor Yanukovych signed with the opposition on Feb. 21.
  • Putin: Sanctions will be counterproductive
    At
    his first meeting with reporters in the Ukraine crisis, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that western sanctions would be counterproductive and “cause harm elsewhere.”


Putin: Not Russian - but local forces took control of Crimea


4 March
. Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing reporters for the first time Tuesday, March 4, denied that Russian forces had taken control of the Crimean Peninsula – but said they were “self-defense locals” in Russian uniforms. debkafile has identified the units as Russia’s Rapid Intervention Brigade 22 based in Rostov on-Don in southern Russia, and the 25th Regiment of Special Forces-Stavropol.
Putin also said Viktor Yanukovych was removed by an anti-constitutional coup d’etat and remains Ukraine’s only legitimate president, but showed no inclination to restore him to power.


Hizballah builds up Israel’s northern borders as next warfront


5 March
. Hizballah is bent on turning Israel’s northern borders into active warfronts. Early Wednesday, March 5, an Israeli patrol fired on and hit a three-man team planting a roadside bomb at the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Merom Hagolan, Only five days ago, two rockets targeted an IDF Golan outpost, causing no harm. Both attacks were credited to Hizballah acting from Syrian soil. On March 3, President Bashar Assad's communications adviser Bouthaina Shaaban warned that Israel was asking for trouble by aiding rebels in southern Syria.


Israel navy seizes Iranian missile ship on the Red Sea


5 March.
Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) early Wednesday, March 5, boarded an Iranian Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C. Concealed in its hold were dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 km, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip via Sudan. The Israeli commandos seized the vessel on the Red Sea, 1,500 km south of Israel and have set it on a course for Eilat. debkafile: Some Mid East sources argue that since Iran and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the Syrian war, it is unlikely that the shipment was meant for the Palestinian extremists and more probably for the Muslim Brotherhood to use in its war on the Egyptian army.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented that this episode showed Iran’s true colors - in contrast to its diplomatic posture in nuclear negotiations with the West. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon commented that Iran is again exposed as the biggest exporter in the world of arms to terrorist organizations.


First US- Israeli intelligence collaboration in four years against an Iranian military target to track an Iranian missile ship


5 March.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday night that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian Panama-flagged ship KLOS C, which was apprehended by Israeli naval commandos on the Red Sea earlier that day carrying missiles for Gaza via Sudan. It is now on its way to Eilat. He said that President Barack Obama also directed the US military to work out contingencies in case it became necessary to intercept the vessel (thereby sanctioning military action). “Our Israeli counterparts ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms,” Jay Carney said. "We will continue to stand up to Iran's support for destabilizing activities in the region in coordination with our partners and allies. These illicit acts are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran's Security Council obligations.”


March 6, 2014 Briefs

  • Israeli intel chief: Rev Guards ran Iranian missile ship
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and al Qods Brigades were in charge of the missile-running expedition by the vessel that Israeli commandos apprehended on the Red Sea Wednesday, said Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi Thursday.
  • US imposes visa and property sanctions against Russia
    As EU hesitated over sanctions against Russia in view of its members’ broad trade ties with Moscow, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order for visa and property sanctions against ‘individuals and entities responsible for undermining the democracy and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” He acted after Crimea’s pro-Russian parliament announced a March 16 referendum on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
  • House passes US-Israel strategic partnership bill
    The House of Representatives on Wednesday adopted in a 410-1 vote the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013. The passage of the bill comes after AIPAC held its annual policy conference this week in Washington, D.C.The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by US Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), declares Israel is a “major strategic partner” of the U.S.

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