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US Poised to Attack Syria Alone After UK Commons Defeat

By DEBKAfile, The Times of Israel, Israel Hayom, IsraelNationalNews, Reuters and YnetNews

British Premier David Cameron's motion for participation in a military attack on Syria was defeated Thursday in a parliament vote by 285 to 272 votes, with 13 abstentions. Cameron pledged to abide by the wishes of parliament. He had tried diluting the motion by defining it as sanctioning a strong humanitarian response which may include military action.

However, US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Thursday that a US attack on Syria is certain and would be "serious" - only President Obama had not yet determined its nature. Police chiefs and heads of Israel's emergency services met Thursday to coordinate their operations for the contingency of missile attacks on Israel from Syria, Lebanon or the Gaza Strip, in reprisal for a US strike against Syria.

Israeli authorities went out of their way on Thursday to calm fears of a regional war, even as military sources said they anticipated US-led intervention in Syria early next week."There is no need to change our routine at this time," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a YouTube video released Thursday of him speaking at the start of a meeting with defense officials at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. "Israel is prepared," he said.

Responding to reports of heightened IDF mobilization, including the deployment of additional missile-defense batteries to the north, Netanyahu suggested the steps were taken as a precaution. "Despite the low probability that Israel will become involved in what is happening in Syria, we decided to deploy the Iron Dome batteries and other interception systems," he said. Netanyahu, who was meeting with security chiefs in Tel Aviv late into Thursday, added: "We are not involved in the civil war in Syria, but let me reiterate, if someone tries to harm Israel's citizens, the IDF will respond with immense power."

IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.. Gen. Benny Gantz made similar comments Thursday night, telling Israelis they could go about their daily lives as usual, and that the army was "ready for any scenario." Some reports also surfaced Thursday that the IDF had frozen all leave for units deployed in the north, though other sources said there had only been a reduction in weekend leaves.

An IDF source told The Times of Israel he was not aware of any overarching ban on soldiers' leave in the north, but added, "It is logical to assume that the army will not let most soldiers serving in the north go home." The source added that "no unusual measures have been taken by the army beyond a slight uptick in overall preparedness."

Israeli military sources said that despite signs of hesitation from the US and UK, they anticipated US-led intervention in Syria — punitive action in the wake of last Wednesday's alleged use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians — would take place early next week. The US-led action would not seek to oust President Bashar Assad but rather to underline that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable, and to deter any further use.

The Israeli sources said they believed the US had the capacity to strike regime targets in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of an escalation that might embroil Israel. Several Syrian and Iranian officials have threatened that any attack on Syria would prompt retaliation against the Jewish state, though Assad himself has issued no such threat.

Israel's Channel 2, which reported on Monday that families of key Assad regime figures were fleeing Syria, said Thursday that this exodus was swelling, and that along with those families that were flying out of the country, others were taking refuge in parts of Syria where Assad's Alawite sect was strong.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Health Ministry issued instructions to the country's hospitals and community clinics that emphasized they were to continue routine operations for the time being, but instructed that preparations be made for a possible upgrade to emergency footing. "For now, we are under routine standing orders and there is no change in the level of readiness," began a Health Ministry memo to hospitals publicized Thursday night.

"However," the memo continued, "it is possible that we will be called into immediate action with little notice. Due to the possibility, however small, that we may find ourselves quickly shifting from routine to emergency [preparedness]," hospitals "should take a series of steps to ascertain and improve the organization's readiness." These steps included preparing on-site bomb shelters, manpower lists for heightened around-the-clock operations and checks of emergency equipment."

Netanyahu revealed that Israel would deploy its Iron Dome system. "At present there is no need to change daily routines," Netanyahu reassured and added, "Despite the low assessment regarding Israel's involvement in what is going on in Syria, we decided to deploy Iron Dome batteries as well as our other intercept systems. We are not involved in the civil war in Syria. But I would like to reiterate, if anyone one tries to harm Israel's citizens, the IDF will respond very strongly."

Netanyahu echoed the comments made by President Shimon Peres in insisting that Israel will not take part in Syria's civil war, but will take defensive and offensive measures if attacked. "Israel has a strong army, modern and powerful, and a more advanced defense system than ever before," Peres said. According to the veteran Israeli President, the situation in Syria "is not a local incident but a crime against humanity."

Israeli media and officials sought to calm the public on Thursday, as lines for gas masks lengthened. "Keep calm and carry on" was the advice give to the Israeli public during this tense time, echoing a slogan designed by the British government in World War II.

The British Royal Air Force has posted six Typhoon fighter-bombers at the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus to defend British sovereignty at its facilities, but not to take part in a military operation against Syria. The UK appears concerned about a potential Syrian raid on its bases in reprisal for an American attack.

UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday that the UN chemical expert team will wind up its investigation of the August 21 chemical attack on a Damascus suburb Friday and leave Syria the next day. Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran agreed in conversation Wednesday night that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable but they also stressed their objection to outside military intervention (sic) in the Syrian war

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have removed several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers from a base north of Damascus, possibly to protect the weapons from a Western attack, opposition sources said on Thursday.

The move from the position in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains, one of Syria's most heavily militarized districts, appears part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad's forces, diplomats based in the Middle East told Reuters. They said rebel raids and fighting near key roads had blocked a wider evacuation of the hundreds of security and army bases that dot the country of 22 million, where Assad's late father imposed his autocratic dynasty four decades ago.

At the headquarters of the army's 155th Brigade, a missile unit whose base sprawls along the western edge of Syria's main highway running north from the capital to Homs, rebel scouts saw dozens mobile Scud launchers pulling out early on Thursday.

Rebel military sources said spotters saw missiles draped in tarpaulins on the launchers, as well as trailer trucks carrying other rockets and equipment. More than two dozen Scuds - 11-meter (35-foot) long ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 km (200 miles) and more - were fired from the base in the Qalamoun area this year, some of which hit even Aleppo in the far north.

The base was among a list of suggested targets presented by the rebel Syrian National Coalition to Western envoys in Istanbul earlier this week, opposition sources said. Scud units, of Soviet or North Korean manufacture, are designed to be mobile and so could still be set up quickly to fire from new positions.

Assad's forces appeared already by Wednesday to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus, residents and opposition sources in the capital said. In the Qalamoun area, an activist calling himself Amer al-Qalamouni told Reuters by telephone: "Most of the personnel in the base appear to have left.

He added that trailer trucks loaded with military equipment were also seen on the Damascus ring road to the south: "Either the hardware is being transported to be stored elsewhere or it will remain constantly on the move to avoid being hit," he said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Thursday that his country would emerge "victorious" in any confrontation with the United States and its allies. "Since the start of the crisis, as you know, we have waited for our true enemy to reveal itself," Assad was quoted by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar as saying. "We are ready to face any attack and to save the homeland," he said. "It's a historic confrontation from which we will emerge victorious."

Syria stepped up its aggressive rhetoric against the West on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi threatening that Damascus would "become a graveyard for invaders," and warning foreign militaries against mounting an attack against the Assad regime. Halqi said that Syria would "surprise the aggressors as it surprised them" in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The colonialist threats of Western powers do not terrorize us because of the will and determination of the Syrian people, who will not accept being humiliated," he said.


`Post 9/11, US Spied on Israel as a Priority Target'

By The Times of Israel

Newly published information reveals that US intelligence, with its expanded reach in the post 9/11 era, included Israel as a "priority target" for intelligence gathering, the Washington Post reported on Thursday,

The 178-page classified budget summary of the US National Intelligence Program, released by fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden, reveals that intelligence efforts "are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel," according to the report. The document details a "$52.6 billion `black budget,'" which shows a "bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny," the report said.

The budget summary reveals, among other things, a vastly increased budget for the CIA, increased focus and technology and Internet surveillance techniques, the "intelligence burden" agencies faced during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the difficulties found in obtaining intelligence on Iran, China, Russia, Pakistan and, especially, North Korea.

James R. Clapper Jr., Director of National Intelligence, in response to a Washington Post query on the new information, said that "the United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare."

The budget files show that the surveillance agency warned in 2012 that it planned to investigate up to 4,000 reports of possible internal security breaches. The NSA's concerns about insider threats were aimed at "anomalous behavior" of agency employees with access to top secret data. The account cited NSA concerns about "trusted insiders who seek to exploit their authorized access to sensitive information to harm US interests."

The NSA concerns were outlined in top-secret documents provided to the Senate and House intelligence committees in February 2012, well before Snowden emerged this summer as the sole source of massive new disclosures about the agency's surveillance operations. The Post released only 17 pages of the entire 178-page budget document, citing conversations with Obama administration officials who voiced alarm about disclosures that could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who has taken the lead in responding to the Snowden disclosures, did not immediately respond to a request to discuss the budget figures.

The latest revelations disclosed limited details about the highly classified 2013 intelligence "black budget," which previously only provided a topline of nearly $53 billion. The $52.6 billion intelligence budget described by the Post discloses that the NSA's portion was $10.5 billion in 2013 — outstripped only by the CIA's $14.7 billion.

Steven Aftergood, head of a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said the CIA's budget growth from $3 billion in the 1990s to nearly $15 billion likely reflects its post-September 11 push into drone warfare and paramilitary operations overseas.


'Breaking Bad' Star to Play Role of Joshua in 'Exodus' Blockbuster

By Israel Hayom

According to Variety magazine, Aaron Paul has been selected to play the role of Joshua in upcoming Ridley Scott drama "Exodus" Christian Bale will star as Moses.

But according to Variety, Paul is still in negotiations. The trade journal reported that Paul will play the role of Joshua, who goes on to lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land after Moses dies. The plan, according to Variety, is for a September start date, with production traveling to England, Spain and Morocco.


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