Category Archives: Debka Middle East News

Pakistan to execute 500 convicted terrorists

Pakistan to execute 500 convicted terrorists 

DEBKAfile December 22, 2014, 3:20 PM (IDT)

After the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan history -133 children and nine staff were massacred in a Peshawar school last week – Pakistan lifted the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorist crimes. Six Taliban terrorists have been hanged since Friday. Another 500 executions of formerly convicted terrorists are planned in the coming weeks.

Five Sinai Islamists killed in first encounter in Egypt’s Nile Delta

Five Sinai Islamists killed in first encounter in Egypt’s Nile Delta 

DEBKAfile December 22, 2014, 2:36 PM (IDT)
Egyptian police Sunday raided a farm in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya northeast of Cairo, where a cell of the Ansar Bayt al-Magdis was discovered for the first time far from its Sinai base. Five were killed in a clash with the police, while hiding and preparing bombs. One policeman was injured. A car bomb found there was detonated by remote control and suicide belts, weapons and ammunition seized. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

US Gen. John Allen named to lead coalition war on ISIS, but allies deterred by Obama’s ambiguities

“We’re going to build the kind of coalition that allows us to lead, but also isn’t entirely dependent on what we do,” said US President Barack Obama at a fundraiser at the home of former AIPAC head Howard Friedman in Baltimore Friday, Sept. 12. One wag translated this as meaning that the Middle East could go its own way so long as it retained a “US flavor.”

That was one way of defining the turbulent cross-currents set off in the Middle East by the US president’s launch last Wednesday of his strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with a broad coalition.

That was also exactly the kind of ambiguous comment, which the governments America is wooing to join the coalition, find so off-putting. The response of 10 Arab and Muslim leaders to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recruitment bid in Jeddah last Thursday, Sept.11, was therefore just as equivocal.

The “participating states agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight against ISIL, including… as appropriate joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against ISIL,” they said.

Obama spoke of a “silver lining” in describing how Arab neighbors were focused for the first time on the “need to completely distance from and effectively snuff out this particular brand of Islamic extremism.” But the lining is not all that bright.

Iraq has no army left to speak of after ISIS’s rampage, and its small air force can hardly make a difference in the battle against the Islamists’ territorial sweep.

Turkey has opted out – and not just out of military operations against jihadists. Ankara has closed its territory and air bases to the transit of US and coalition forces for striking the Islamists in northern Iraq.

Jordan has renounced any part in the military operations against the Islamic State – and so has Egypt, as Kerry learned before he landed in Cairo Saturday, Sept. 13.

Germany, while sending arms to the Kurdish army fighting in the front line against the Islamists, refuses to take part in combat action in Iraq or Syria.
Britain, which sent a shipment of heavy machine guns and half a ton of ammunition to Irbil for the Kurdish Peshmerga, refuses to join the US in air strikes over IS targets in Syria.
French President Francois Hollande, who flew to Baghdad Friday with four arms shipments and 60 metric tons of humanitarian equipment, will host the founding of the coalition in Paris next Monday, Sept. 15 – in competition to the American initiative. He has crossed Washington by inviting Iran.

Kerry said publicly that it would be “inappropriate” for Iranian officials to be invited to the Paris conference, since Iran is “a state sponsor of terror” and “backs Syria’s brutal regime.”

Friday, Obama appointed Gen. John R. Allen, former commander in Afghanistan and western Iraq, to lead the coalition forces in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levan.

It is hard to see what combat forces he will lead, in view of the mixed international responses so far to Washington’s appeals for a global coalition to combat terror.

In the years 2006-2008, Gen. Allen commanded the US II Marine Expeditionary Force, which successfully fought Al Qaeda under Musab Zarqawi’s leadership in western Iraq’s Anbar province. He led what was then dubbed the “Awakening” project, which rallied the region’s Sunni tribes to the fight.

President Obama appears to be hinging his campaign against the new Islamist scourge on Gen. Allen repeating that success.

DEBKAfile’s military experts find the prospects of this happening in 2014 fairly slim, because the circumstances are so different:
1. To support the Sunni Awakening venture, President George W. Bush authorized the famous “surge” which placed an additional 70,000 US troops on the Iraqi battlefield. However, Obama has vowed not to send US combat troops back to Iraq in significant numbers, and has approved no more than a few hundred American military personnel.

2.  In 2006, Iraqi Sunnis trusted American pledges. They agreed to turn around and fight fellow Sunni Al Qaeda after being assured by Washington that they would not lose their status and rights in Baghdad, and that the US would give them weapons and salaries.
In 2009, they realized that the Obama administration would not stand by the Bush administration’s assurances. Their disillusion with America and the rise of a Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad pushed them into the arms of ISIS.
3. Since then Iraq’s Sunni leaders have learned not to trust anyone.
Today, they are hedging their bets, their tribal leaders split into two opposing camps between Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and the Islamic State, on the other. For the first time since the US invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein 11 years ago, Iraq’s Sunni leaders feel they are in the saddle and in a position to set a high price for their support.
All this leaves President Obama and Gen. Allen on the threshold of a war on Islamist terrorists, which everyone agrees needs to fought without delay, but without enough political leverage for going forward or much chance of mustering the right troops to lead – even into the first battle.

Israel pulls back from anti-Assad policy, as IDF redeploys against Islamist seizure of Golan

The Israeli government has radically changed tack on Syria, reversing a policy and military strategy that were longed geared to opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad,DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report. This reversal has come about in the light of the growing preponderance of radical Islamists in the Syrian rebel force fighting Assad’s army in the Quneitra area since June.

Al Qaeda’s Syrian Nusra front, which calls itself the Front for the Defense of the Levant, is estimated to account by now for 40-50 percent – or roughly, 4,000-5,000 Islamists – of the rebel force deployed just across Israel’s Golan border. No more than around 2,500-3,000 belong to the moderate Syrian militias, who were trained by American and Jordanian instructors in the Hashemite Kingdom and sent back to fight in Syria.

This shift in the ratio of jihadists-to-moderates has evolved in four months. In early June, the pro-Western Syrian Revolutionary Front-SRF, mostly deployed in the southern Syrian town of Deraa on the Jordanian border, was the dominant rebel force and Nusra Front the minority.

The balance shifted due to a number of factors:

1. Nusra Front jihadis fighting alongside insurgents on the various Syrian battlefronts made a practice of surreptitiously infiltrating their non-Islamist brothers-at-arms, a process which the latter’s foreign allies, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, either ignored or were unaware of.
2.  These tactics began to pay off in the past month, when large numbers of moderate rebels suddenly knocked on the Nusra Front’s door and asked to join.

One reason for this was these militias’ defeat and heavy losses of men and ground under the onslaught of the combined forces of Syria, Hizballah and Iran. Nusra Front was less affected. It was also the moderate rebels’ preferred home, rather than the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, whose atrocities, especially the beheadings of hostages and prisoners, they find repellent.

3.  Nusra deployment on the Syrian Golan further swelled of late as its fighters were pushed out of eastern Syria by IS in its rapid swing through the Syrian towns of Deir a-Zor and Abu Kemal to reach its ultimate goal – one which has so far not rated a mention in Western and Israeli media.

The Islamist extremists are on the way to conquering the Euphrates basin in Syria and Iraq before advancing on the place where the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and Tigris, are in closest proximity – Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.

Nusra fighters moved out of the way of the IS push through eastern Syria and made tracks for Quneitra to join the fight to seize this strategic Golan town and crossing into Israel from Assad’s forces.
The pro-Islamist cast of the Syrian rebel force on Israel’s Golan border is reflected in the turnaround in Israel’s military position and attitude toward the insurgents on the other side of the Golan border fence. The IDF will henceforth be less supportive of the rebel struggle and more inclined to help Syrian troops in fending off rebel attacks.

This calls for a delicate balancing act in Jerusalem.  While definitely not seeking an Assad victory in the long Syrian war, Israel has no desire to see Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Al Nusra, seizing control of the Syrian sector of the Golan, including Quneitra.

Israel therefore finds itself in a quandary much like that of US President Barack Obama, who has promised to unveil his strategy for fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Wednesday, Sept. 10.  He too is strongly reluctant to throw US support behind Bashar Assad, but he may find he has no other option.

Egyptian troops hunt Hamas, Islamic Jihad rocket gangs loose in Sinai. Palestinians stall on truce talks

A wide-reaching Egyptian military hunt is on across northern and central Sinai for intruding Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket squads and the launching sites they have buried beneath the desert surface, according to DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and counterterrorism sources.

 In the last week of warfare with Israel, up until the declaration of the Aug. 26 ceasefire, Hamas and Jihad secretly moved rocket teams across the border into Egyptian Sinai. They plan to use them as a second front for resuming rocket fire on Israel, or provide themselves with a lever in case no deal comes out of the Cairo negotiations later this month for a durable ceasefire and the rehabilitation of the shattered Gaza Strip.
Egyptian and Israeli intelligence surmised at first that only a handful of rocket teams had got through to Sinai and intended to pick them off quickly by air strikes. But in the course of the pursuit, it turned out that the two Palestinian terrorist groups had put down a substantial and elaborate network of sunken rocket pads across northern Sinai and along the Egyptian-Israeli border.

It is linked to a remote activation system located in Bedouin villages and encampments, which also serve as the teams’ contact points. Hamas and Salafi groups from Gaza pay the tribesmen, who also work with Al Qaeda’s Ansar al-Maqdis, to provide them with food and water. Hamas has long maintained strong operational ties with al-Maqdis. For an independent supply of ordinance, Hamas set up rocket manufacturing workshops in the northern Sinai towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zweid.

Two days after the ceasefire went into effect, the semiofficial Egyptian news agency Mena quoted an Egyptian military source as disclosing that, on Aug. 21, “Thirty-one huts and houses used as launching pads and workshops for rockets were destroyed in the crackdown.”

Then, on Monday, Sept. 1, Gen. Will Safti, head of the Palestinian desk at Egypt’s intelligence service, arrived in Ramallah. He came for an attempt to bring the quarrelling Hamas and Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah factions together for a coherent Palestinian line at the forthcoming talks in Cairo for a permanent ceasefire, political and economic solutions for rebuilding the Gaza Strip, and for the establishment of stable Palestinian Authority rule over the territory. Those talks were scheduled to take place after the ceasefire had held for one month.

But the acrimony between Fatah and Hamas was described as so relentless, that the Egyptian officer gave up and returned to Cairo, without hope of bridging the differences between them or setting a date for the comprehensive Gaza talks to begin.

It is now feared in Cairo that Hamas will take matters in its own hands and activate the covert rocket gangs in Sinai for a resumed barrage against Israel – only this time it will be launched from Egyptian soil. Hamas’ Gaza command will then be able to deny responsibility and Israel’s hands will be tied for hitting back.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, Hamas announced Monday that it was doubling the budget earmarked for its military wing, Ezz e-Din al-Qassam. There was no word about where the Palestinian fundamentalists had found the tens of millions of dollars they had lavished on their fighting arm.