Commentary and analyses on terrorism, intelligence, security, and military and political affairs in the Middle East.
The Crimean parliament Thursday approved a referendum to take place on March 16 to decide whether the autonomous region remains part of Ukraine or secedes to Russia. As the Kiev government protested this step, parliament in Moscow began debating a draft law for enabling foreign territories to be annexed to the Russian Federation. In Rome, EU, US and Russian foreign ministers are meeting to discuss demands for sanctions against Russia for invading Crimea. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be meeting a second time after failing to find common ground at their first encounter in Paris Wednesday.
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.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was sending another six F-15 fighter-bombers to its Baltic air policing operation. This is the first military step the US has taken in relation to the Ukraine crisis. Earlier this week, Moscow placed its surface missiles in Kaliningrad on a state of alert.
White House spokesman Jay Carney stated openly Wednesday, March 5, 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. debkafile: This was the first time in four years that the US and Israel collaborated in an operation against Iran - ever since the Stuxnet virus attack in 2010 on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Both are braced for a swift and stinging Iranian reprisal.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that Washington started to work with Israel through intelligence and military channels as soon as it knew the shipment of Iranian missiles was on the move. President Barack Obama directed contingency moves..
A NATO meeting in Brussels resolved Wednesday to reassess its ties with Russia, while at the same time building a relationship with the interim Ukraine government in Kiev. DEBKAfile: This declaration has little practical substance. Its main purpose is to exert psychological pressure on Moscow to give up its military control of Crimea.
The European Union is proposing to provide Ukraine a $15 billion aid package in loans and grants over the coming years, Jose Manuel Barroso, head of the bloc's executive arm, said Wednesday. What Kiev needs is not interminable discussions over its needs and the funds available, but an immediate and substantial injection of cash to pay its way.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Moscow to engage the Ukrainian government in direct talks at his brief encounter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris Wednesday, the State Department reports. This was the first high-level meeting, such as it was, between the two powers since the Ukraine crisis erupted into a Russian takeover of Crimea.
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 200 kms, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip, after being offloaded at Port Sudan. The missiles were described by a military source as game-changing weapons for the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. They would have put Israel’s international airport and main cities within range. The Israeli commandos seized the vessel on the high sea on the maritime border of Sudan and Eritrea, 1500 km south of Israel, and is being towed it to Eilat.
Hizballah is bent on making Israel’s northern borders active warfronts. Early Wednesday, March 5, an Israeli patrol fired on a group planting a roadside bomb at the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Merom Hagolan, Five days ago, Hizballah launched two rockets against an IDF Golan outpost. Due warning of the coming escalation came from Bashar Assad's communications adviser Bouthaina Shaaban in an interview March 3 to Hizballah's mouthpiece, the al-Mayadeen news network. debkafile: This action would not have been approved without Tehran’s say-so.
The Russian defense ministry reports the test-firing of a Topol RS-12M intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday night as anti-US provocation. DEBKAfile: The ICBMs, which normally carry multiple nuclear warheads, was fired from the Caspian Sea area and reportedly hit a target in Kazakhstan – just hours after President 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 support for the new leaders of Kiev and accused Russia of seeking pretexts for its aggression. The ICBM test appeared to refute reports of a calming of the tensions between Washington and Moscow.
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.
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 self-defense locals in Russian uniforms. debkafile’s military sources challenge this, having identified the units as Russia’s Rapid Intervention Brigade 22 based in Rostov on-Don, 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 he showed no inclination to restore him to power.
As Washington and the Europeans continued to decry Russian military aggression, the US and Russians quietly began intense negotiations - through Berlin - on a deal for settling the Ukraine dispute, debkafile reports. Moscow will keep its military forces in Crimea, but 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.
The US-EU tactic of turning the heat on Moscow instead of Kiev is proving futile and a strategic blunder stemming from weakness, more likely to spark real violence and bloodshed. US President Barack Obama’s call to Vladimir Putin to de-escalate the tension and pull his troops out of Crimea went unheeded. So Kiev mobilized a million military reservists and put the Ukraine army on a war footing, without the resources for feeding or arming them. Putin was encouraged to forge ahead with his plans until the interim government falls – or talks.
Russian forces Saturday, March 1, staged their first attack on a Ukraine military installation in Crimea, while completing their takeover of the region and its severance from Ukraine. The new Crimean premier announced a March 30 referendum to determine its status. In Kiev, the interim government feared a possible Ukraine army putsch to install a military regime capable of containing Russian expansion. As President Barack Obama warned Moscow of “costs” for military intervention in Crimea, two US warships moved up to the Black Sea’s Crimea shore.
Thirteen giant Ilyushin-76 air transports (NATO codenamed IL-76 Candid) 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 belonged to 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.
Crimea is Russia’s main springboard for Putin’s Mid East strategy. Kerry’s last-ditch phone call to Lavrov may avert a Russian military operation – but at a steep price for Kiev and the West.
The European wire-pullers misjudged the unrest in Kiev and let it go too far. They had planned a pro-EU unity government working with Yanukovych – not to oust him.
Washington holds back from engaging Syria in cyber warfare fearing unpredictable reprisals from Iran, whose cyber war capacity is largely unknown.
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