Category Archives: Debka Middle East News

Israel downed a drone over Golan after it was identified as a Hizballah Ababil 2

DEBKAfie’s military sources report exclusively that the UAV, shot down Sunday Aug. 31 by an Israeli Patriot battery over Quneitra on the Golan, was launched by Hizballah – not Syria as initially reported. The Iran-made Ababail 2 was on a photography and intelligence-gathering mission over the Golan battleground where the Syrian army and rebels have been fighting for control off the Quneitra crossing between Syria and Israel.

Our sources add that Hizballah launched the unmanned aerial vehicle from a Syrian air base attached to Damascus international airfield, where Hizballah keeps a fleet of Ababil 2 drones transferred from Lebanon.

When the IDF picked up the drone on course for Quneitra, the information was flashed to top Israel government and military decision-makers, who decided on the spot that the Golan military situation was messy enough without a new complicating factor entering the fray. And so it was decided to shoot it down.

Arrayed against Syrian troops on this sliver of land, are at least five insurgent groups, the largest of which is the Syria Revolutionaries Front. Another is the Syrian Al Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front. Around 1,100 troops of the UN Disengagement Observer Force are responsible to policing the buffer zone between Syria and Israel that runs through Quneitra.
The Fijian contingent’s 44 members, who were abducted Thursday, Aug. 28 by Al Qaeda, are being held in an unknown location as hostages for a ransom that has not been published.
Our military and intelligence sources reveal that, shortly before the abduction, various intelligence watchers spotted a number of Hizballah officers who had arrived on the scene. It was generally estimated in Israel that the Lebanese Shiites were not planning to join the fighting, but had come out of concern that Syrian rebels would manage to drive Syrian troops out of Quneitra and its surrounding villages, and then break through to the Syrian villages on the Hermon and the Chabaa Farms on the Western slopes of the Hermon range. From there, the way would be open for the Syrian insurgents to reach southern Lebanon and mount another front against Hizballah from the rear.

The Druze villages on the Syrian slopes of the Hermon are loyal to Bashar Assad and appear to be preparing to resist the rebel advance should it take place.
HIzballah sent its drone to bring back firsthand information on the state of play in the struggle for Quneitra, as well as on Israel’s military deployment just across the border. That was one reason for sending an Israeli Patriot into action to down the aircraft. Furthermore, Israel stood by last Thursday, when Syrian warplanes came overhead and bombed rebel positions in the Quneitra crossing, although this was in breach of the 40-year old accord for the separation zone’s demilitarization.

At the same time, Jerusalem relayed a strong warning to Damascus against any recurrence. Next time, Israel would shoot down any intruders. It was therefore important for the IDF to make good on that warning and down the Hizballah drone for the sake of deterrence.

Amid a trail of Al Qaeda atrocities, world leaders call on someone else “to stamp out the disease”

US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to turn attention away from President Barack Obama highly-criticized  admission Thursday, Aug. 28, “We don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq” – with an article in theNew York Times, calling for a “coalition of nations… to stamp out the disease of the Islamic state group.”
Obama said only that the strategy under preparation won’t be ready before next month.

DEBKAfile’s counter-terrorism sources note that until then, and until Kerry’s coalition of nations comes together and decides what to do, Al Qaeda’s IS’s campaign of bloody atrocities and conquests will remain unchecked. And so will the spread of what the British Prime Minister David Cameron called, in a special news conference Friday, “the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism.”

Cameron warned that, while there was much talk about the threat to Europe of returning home-grown Islamists, “IS is already here.” The return of at least 500 people from fighting in Syria and Iraq “for Islamic State extremists attempting to establish a caliphate” represented a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.”

New laws, said the British premier, would make it easier to take passports away from people traveling abroad to join the conflict.

Announcing the elevation of the UK terror threat from “substantial” to “severe,” Cameron cited the example of the British Islamist who took part in the beheading of the American journalist James Foley on Aug. 18.

He also confirmed that Al Qaeda’s Islamic State perpetrated the May 24 attack on the Jewish Museum of Brussels, in which the Israeli couple, Emanuel and Miriam Riva, was murdered  - as further evidence that Islamist terror was already loose on the streets of Europe.

He was the first prominent world leader to assign the Brussels attack to Al Qaeda, which Israeli officials have so far avoided doing.
The “severe” threat level was imposed in the UK only twice before: in 2006 after the discovery of liquid bombs aimed at airliners and when, the following year, extremists attempted to bomb Glasgow Airport and London’s West End.

Friday, IS released another indescribable video showing the beheading of a Kurdish soldier among 15 captured Peshmerga in orange boiler suits, who were grouped before a Mosul mosque. It was labeled “2nd Message to America” and threatened to execute the entire group if Iraqi Kurdistan continued to cooperate with the United States.

Just a few hours earlier, footage was shown of the mass execution of 300 Syrian soldiers forced to run through the desert in their underwear. They were said to have been taken prisoner at the Syrian air base of Tabqa.
Those barbaric scenes were flashed across the world by international media.
Less noticed was the video tape released on Thursday, Aug. 28, by Al Qaeda’s Sinai branch, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which showed the beheading of four local citizens and their admission that they had collaborated with Israeli intelligence to identify targets for Egyptian and Israeli air raids. This tape runs 30 minutes.

Egyptian security sources said the four had been abducted Tuesday near the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid.
And not far away, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas last week summarily executed 29 alleged collaborators with Israeli intelligence, three of them women, and seven in a public square.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has characterized Hamas as belonging to the same family of murderous extremists as the Islamic State. Israel did indeed fight a limited, inconclusive war on the Palestinian fundamentalists, but no order has gone out for an operation to rescue the 43 Fiji members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force, who were abducted by the Syrian Al Qaeda Nusra Front just 150 meters from its Golan border.

UNDOF policed the Golan buffer zone for 40 years until it was overrun in the fighting between Syrian insurgents including Islamists and the Syrian army. So far there have been no executions, but the danger to the observers is ever present.

Saturday, Saudi sources reported that Qatar had undertaken to broker their release from Nusra on behalf of the UN. Israel, which spurned Qatar in the role of middleman for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, now finds the emirate, which champions Islamist terrorists in the Middle East, assigned a task in its northern back yard. An IDF rescue operation would have prevented this intervention, as well as delivering a timely, preemptive blow to Al Qaeda fighters sitting on Israel’s borders.

It would also have gone far toward muting the many Israeli critics of their government’s decision to curtail the 50-day Gaza operation by a truce, before Hamas was finished off for good.
Bur after the IDF campaign against Hamas, the Israeli prime minister was ready to line up with Western leaders, who make speeches about the horrors of the Islamist extremists and shore up their defenses, while at the same time avoiding putting their hands in the wasps’ nest and their boots on the ground, for tackling them in their Middle East lairs. “Coalitions” and “allies” are assigned the brunt of this mission.
Hoping against hope to jerk them into action, Saudi King Abdullah Saturday issued a wake-up call. He asked Western foreign ambassadors summoned to his palace in Jeddah to convey an urgent message to their leaders: Terrorism at this time is an evil force that must be fought with wisdom and speed,” said King Abdullah. “And if neglected I’m sure after a month it will arrive in Europe and a month after that in America.”

Though militarily inferior, Hamas has hit Israel strategically with attrition and population flight

When Israeli troops entered Gaza in July, 2014, they were armed with superb tactical intelligence as well as superior weaponry and training. The soldiers on the ground were supplied at every level with astonishing detail which saved lives.

But thanks to the a radical shift in Israel’s intelligence focus, initiated 10 years ago and followed through since,  those calling the shots in the IDF’s war on Hamas were short of a deeper picture and insights into the enemy’s mindset and guiding motives, data that transcends tactical knowledge

This revision of Israel’s operational intelligence orientation began in 2003 under Meir Dagan, with the approval of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. It refocused the work of Israel’s clandestine agencies on collecting tactical intelligence and giving up on digging for strategic data on the dynamics of the region and world and their key players. This revolution affected the short and long term operations of of Israel’s external and internal security and counterterrorism arms, the Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as military intelligence AMAN.

The Mossad shut down stations world wide, sacking or sidelining agents who disputed the Dagan overhaul.. The desks specializing in the strategic research of international events were streamlined out of the organization. The new entity began to resemble the US Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Operations Division (SAD), a covert paramilitary unit that focuses on gathering tactical intelligence for the use of operatives serving on foreign soil, especially in the Mid East.

Those agencies eventually became small armies geared more to cooperating with the IDF in times of tension and war, as they strikingly demonstrated in the current Operation Defensive Edge.

During this evolution, spread over years, the Mossad scored some major coups. One was the targeted assassination in 2008 of the lethal Imad Mughniyeh, who for two decades, in the service of Hizballah and Iran, secretly masterminded large-scale terrorist and kidnapping atrocities against Israel and the US.

Another was the Stuxnet malworm invasion of the computer systems of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities which slowed Iran’s nuclear program. A series of assassinations inside Iran targeted key figures of this program; and, in 2007, an Israeli special force raided and destroyed a plutonium reactor, which Iran and North Korea were building in Syria, shortly before it went on line.

But the overhaul, though beneficial in some respects, left Israeli intelligence short of important tools for fighting terrorism and fundamentalist Islam when it went on the march. Generations of new personnel were hired on the strength of their ability to think tactically. Strategic evaluation and research departments went by the board.. When it came to th crunchs, the Mossad, Shin Bet and AMAN lacked the tools for supplying Israel’s political and security leaders with professional analyses of the bigger picture.

Their analysts, who are still in place today, got the wrong end of the 2011 Arab Spring and were unready for the toppling of two Egyptian presidents, Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, as well as Syrian President Bashar Assadi’s political and military longevity, largely thanks to Iranian-Hizballah intervention, which was not anticipated. All the conclusions drawn by Israel intelligence about those momentous events and processes were confined to the tactical sphere – or just plain wrong.

The same missing strategic dimension recurred in Israel’s misevaluation of the US-Iranian détente and its import for the Jewish state and, more immediately, in failing to second guess Hamas in Operation Protective Edge.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources award top marks for the quality of tactical intelligence provided Israeli troops during the month of hostilities in Gaza. It was outstanding by any standards of modern warfare. The troops were constantly updated, even when engaged in the smallest, most localized field operations, on such details as the layout of buildings before going in, the placement of windows and likely enemy hidey holes.

As they moved forward, tank commanders were warned what lay beyond the next corner. Much valuable information was extracted from Hamas prisoners by advance intelligence units and provided the troops with instantaneous data feeds in a steady stream that saved lives.

But tactical intelligence could only take the IDF so far in Gaza – as in other hostile arenas. Israel’s leaders found that, for charting their own moves, they missed essential strategic data on Hamas’s top-level planners’ intentions.

This deficiency was the cause of the glaring error in judgment made by Israel’s war leaders – an error that persisted right up until Sunday, Aug. 24, the 48th day of Operation Defensive Edge. This was the fallacious assumption that, if only its Gaza strongholds were hammered hard enough by the Israeli military, Hamas would fold and sign a long-term truce on terms dictated by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
This misreading of the motives governing Hamas’ actions was the source of the statement Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made Sunday, that the operation would end “only when quiet returns to southern Israel. Till then, we shall continue to hammer Hamas, for the moment by air.”He went on to say: “We stand by our policy of avoiding direct confrontation with Hamas or a decisive end to the war; rather preferring diplomatic closure.”

This approach leaves the initiative in Hamas hands and Israel ignorantly navigating its military moves towards a ceasefire instead of winning the war. Despite its inferiority in fighting strength and weaponry, Israel’s enemy uses this ambivalence to retain the element of surprise and keep the IDF moving without direction.
This week, by focusing on its strategic objectives, Hamas scored two major goals:

1. It dragged Israel willy-nilly into a war of attrition – with no end in sight, according to its leaders. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s repeated assertion that attrition would be countered by hammer blows ddid not alter the fact that the rockets and the mortars keep coming from the Gaza Strip in a steady flow which is attritioning the civilian population.
2.  And indeed, around 70 percent of the population of the villages around the Gaza Strip have packed their bags and left their homes. Despite the aid offered by the government, these people and their families have become refugees or displaced persons in their own country, in order to escape the relentless Hamas pounding of rockets and mortars. This is a strategic achievement on a par with Hamas’ success in closing Ben Gurion international air port for a couple of days last month.
The Islamists are coming close to a third strategic achievement: Israel’s inability to start the school year on September 1 – and not just in the near neighborhood of the Gaza Strip. Voices are being raised in Ashkelon, Ashdod and further north in Greater Tel Aviv and its densely populated satellite towns, by parents who say they will not send children back to school in the current state of security.

So while Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs use tactical yardsticks to weigh their steps and assess Hamas’ intentions, Hamas operates on the strategic level to keep Israel guessing.

Taking the US fight against IS into Syria would consolidate Assad and his Iranian-Hizballah allies

British and German intelligence sources reported Saturday, Aug. 23, that US intelligence aid to the Assad regime, channeled through German BND intelligence, had enabled the Syrian air force to more precisely target al Qaeda units. These reports tie in with proliferating accounts from Washington that President Barack Obama is on the point of a decision to extend military strikes into Syria for targeting the Islamic State’s terrorist base. He has been warned by some top US generals that IS poses a threat to the United States and cannot be seriously engaged without dealing with the group’s Syrian stronghold. “We’re not going to be restricted by borders,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, in a comment Thursday.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that there is no confirmation from the ground in Syria that Washington is indeed passing intelligence to Syria through Berlin to help the Syrian air force reach IS targets. The fact is that Syria is falling well short of arresting the IS advance on two critical fronts:

1. Aleppo. The Islamist threat looms grimly over an approaching Syrian-Hizballah military victory, under Iranian commanders, in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. They have come close to dislodging rebel forces from their last footholds, only to be faced with a new enemy. In the last fortnight, al Qaeda forces armed with American weapons taken booty in Iraq have surged out of their northern Syrian stronghold of Raqqa to capture dozens of villages around the city. Syrian and Hizballah forces, after completing their takeover of Aleppo, will find themselves encircled by Islamist units.
2. Tabqa Air Base.  IS forces have pinned down some 1,000 Syrian air force and military personnel in the Tabqa air base southwest of Raqqa. They are locked in fierce combat. Every attempt by the Syrian army in the last two weeks to break the siege has been repelled by the Islamists. The latest attempt by the new Syrian Republican Guard’s 124th Brigade to reverse the battle has not so far broken the extremists’ stranglehold.

The fall of Tabqa air base would represent the Islamic State’s next major victory after the capture of Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July. It would open the road to Hama, 480 km to the west, and the main highways to Syria’s most important ports and naval bases in Latakia and Tartus in the Assad clan’s heartland.

In a word, by taking Tabqa, IS would virtually roll back a year of advances made by the Hizballah-backed Syrian military against the insurgency, and replace the former threat to the Assad regime with a new one from the Islamic State.
So in any decision to extend US military action from Iraq to Syria, President Obama must take into consideration its likely collateral effect – if successful, which would be to rescue Assad’s rule in Damascus from the Islamist peril and relieve his Hizballah and Iranian allies of this pressure.

 After declaring for nearly four years that Bashar Assad must go, the US president may end up sending a US aircraft carrier to save him.
This decision by the US president would bear heavily on the security of two of Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources add that, in view of Egyptian president Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi’s recent clandestine contacts with President Assad, an American decision to strike al Qaeda in Syria may also influence El-Sisi’s calculations about hosting diplomacy for an accommodation of the Gaza conflict.

Israeli air strikes reduce Gazan high-rise towers to dust, while Israelis flee in droves from Hamas fire

Community leaders of 40,000 dwellers of the dozens of kibbutzim, moshavim and small towns adjoining the Gaza Strip spoke out Monday, Aug 25: “It is no longer possible to hide what is going on and the country must hear the truth,” they said: “The populated front line facing the Gaza Strip is no more.” Some bluntly blamed this fiasco on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and their management of the operation against Hamas.

The collapse of the Israeli line outside Gaza is analogous in strategic terms to the fall of the Bar Lev line 41 years ago which permitted the Egyptian artillery and tank assault across the Suez Canal, some veteran reservists said.

Others pointed out that, whereas the IDF should have carved out a sterile security zone inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas had managed to depopulate a strip of territory on the Israeli side of the border by relentless cross-border short-range rockets and mortar fire, and was now dictating events in southern Israel.
On the 50th day of Operation Defense Edge, people living in the south were outspokenly critical of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott, in contrast to the early days of the operation. They are now blamed for failing to present the security cabinet with “creative military solutions” for combating Hamas tactics.
The prime minister and defense minister this week turned to covering their dilatory tactics against a full-scale war by disseminating predictions “from official sources” that this would be a “week of diplomacy” and truce negotiations would be resumed in Cairo.

This kite didn’t fly for long. Hamas was too full of triumph over the Zionist foe to bow to terms dictated by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and refused to be cowed in compromise – even by the heavy ordnance the Israeli air force is throwing at the Gaza Strip’s tallest buildings and high officers. Indeed, history shows that aerial blitzes rarely cause their objects to capitulate, unless augmented by ground action.
In an interview Sunday to Iranian TV, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal acclaimed the “great Hamas victory” over the Israeli army and thanked Tehran for the assistance which made it possible.
Monday morning, Palestinian Hamas leaders Izzat Rishak and Osama Hamdan added their voices to Meshaal’s by rejecting “talk” of an imminent ceasefire in Gaza and flatly turning down the amended Egyptian truce proposal as a basis for negotiations.
The exclusion of a “diplomatic option,” say our military sources, puts the ball back in the Netanyahu-Ya’alon court.

Air strikes are again proving unequal to halting or deterring Hamas’ rocket offensive – exactly as they did before Operation Defensive Edge began. So Israel’s options boil down to a choice between a war of attrition – which Netanyahu has publicly vetoed – and overcoming his revulsion to ground operations in the Gaza Strip – preferably a series of short, sharp surgical strikes.

Three days ago, DEBKAfile reported: Both sides were preparing Saturday night, Aug. 23, for an impending battle on Gaza Strip soil. Heavy IDF ground forces were poised ready to enter the territory – initially to demolish Hamas’s short-range rocket and mortar launches, which have disrupted the lives of neighboring Israeli communities and forced their mass evacuation.  Hamas has been firing those short-range weapons from 3-7 km inside the Gaza Strip.

Once they appreciated the effectiveness of their tactics, Hamas planners escalated the barrage Monday, launching 140 rockets and mortar shells, salvo after salvo, against a broad Israeli population, which has begun to register casualties and extensive damage.

This was meant as a goading challenge to the commanders of the Israel army ranged around the Gaza border, to come in and fight – if they dare.

Netanyahu government can hardly avoid calling a spade a spade, namely calling the conflict a “war” instead of an operation and treating Hamas as “the enemy,” which has to be beaten in a ruthless all-out national effort by every means available. The present situation, whereby Israeli air strikes reduce Gaza’s buildings to dust without stopping Hamas rocket attacks, juxtaposed opposite vanishing Israeli communities reduced to refugees is untenable.