Newsletter : 14fx1218.txt
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Syrian Rebel Yarmouk Brigades Ditch US and Israel Allies, Defect to ISIS
By DEBKAfile (12/18/2014) & The Guardian UK (3/8/2013)
The Syrian rebel militia Al Yarmouk Shuhada Brigades, backed and trained for two years
by US officers, mostly CIA experts, in Jordan, and supported by the Israeli army, has
abruptly dumped these sponsors and joined up with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,
DEBKAfile's exclusive military and counter-terrorism sources reveal.
The sudden defection of this 2,000-strong anti-Assad force leaves IDF defense
formations on the Golan, US and Jordanian deployments in the northern part of the kingdom,
and pro-Western rebel conquests in southern Syria in danger of collapse.
The Brigades' jump into the radical jihadi camp was negotiated in the last two weeks by
its commander Mousab Ali Qarfan, who also goes by the name of Mousab Zaytouneh. He was in
direct contact with ISIS chief Abu Baqr Al-Baghdadi, whom our sources report has recently
relocated from Iraq to his northern Syrian headquarters at al-Raqqa. Unlike the Sinai
Islamists, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, the Yarmouk Brigades did not pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Their pact was forged as an operational alliance, which is just as grave a peril for the
rebel militias' abandoned allies.
For Israel, in particular, the new development is fraught with three dangers: The
Yarmouk Brigades are strung out along Israel's Golan border with Syria, from the UN
peacekeepers camp opposite Kibbutz Ein Zivan in the north, down to the
Israeli-Syrian-Jordanian border junction in the south. The Brigades therefore sit along 45
of the total 76 kilometers of the Syrian-Israeli border. This means that a long stretch of
Israel's Golan border with Syria has fallen under the control of the Islamic State.
This militia also commands sections of the Syrian-Jordanian border, as well as
districts of the southern Syrian town of Deraa. Therefore, the link between Jordan and
southern Syria, which served American strategic interests, is now under military
Islamic State forces are preparing to take advantage of their new asset with a buildup
near the Druze Mountains for a rapid push south towards the town of Deraa, where they will
join forces with their new ally.
(The original 2013 report stated that) Western training of Syrian rebels is under way
in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark
against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the
event of Bashar al-Assad's fall. Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led
by the US, but involves British and French instructors.
The UK Ministry of Defense denied any British soldiers were providing direct military
training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces
teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military. But the Guardian has been
told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been
going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected....The
aim of sending western-trained rebels over the border would be to create a safe area for
refugees on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent chaos and to provide a counterweight
to al-Qaida-linked extremists who have become a powerful force in the north.....British
officials argue that training of Syrian forces to fill the security vacuum as the Assad
regime collapses would be help safeguard civilian lives.
Alan Gross Released: US-Cuban Relations Normalized After 54 years
By DEBKAfile, VOA News & IsraelNationalNews.com
Barack Obama announced the normalization of US relations with Cuba and the opening of a
US embassy in Havana Wednesday, with Raul Castro making the parallel announcement in Cuba.
Thus ends the 54-year American embargo on Cuba and the last remnant of the Cold War.
The White House made the announcement after Cuba released the Jewish American Alan
Gross, 65, who was arrested while working to expand Internet access for Havana's Jewish
community and sentenced in 2009 to 15 years in prison.
Following high-level talks since the spring, the US and Cuba made a parallel prisoner
exchange of three Cuban intelligence agents for a US intelligence asset who has been
imprisoned for more than 20 years. Cuba also agreed to release 53 people the U.S.
considers political prisoners, some of whom have already been released, the officials
"Isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach," Obama said, in explaining the
move toward normalizing relations. "I believe this contact will do more to empower the
Cuban people." In lauding the move, Castro said, "We have decided to re-establish
diplomatic relations" with the U.S. The two leaders talked by phone for more than 45
minutes on Tuesday, the first substantive presidential contact between the U.S. and Cuba
The plane carrying Gross landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland Wednesday shortly
after 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT). Gross, 65, had been arrested by Cuba on December 3, 2009.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor was later convicted
and sentenced to 15 years in prison for importing banned technology and trying to
establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews.
Gross' wife, Judy, said in a recent interview that her husband was becomingly
increasingly despondent. Judy Gross said earlier this month that since Gross'
imprisonment, he had lost more than 100 pounds, could barely walk due to chronic pain, and
had lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye.
Appearing in decent health and walking without support, Gross spoke to reporters at a
Washington law office shortly after a US plane flew him from Cuba back to the US. He
flashed a broad grin with missing teeth - lost during his imprisonment -- after taking an
admiring glance at the American flags posted behind him and taking note that his release
came on the first day of Chanukah.
Despite his harrowing experience, Gross said he had the utmost respect for the Cuban
people and said he was pained "to see them treated so unjustly. In no way are they
responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected," Gross said,
describing the vast majority of Cubans as "incredibly kind, generous and talented."
Meanwhile, a Department of Justice official said Wednesday that three former Cuban
intelligence agents have been transferred to Cuba after Obama commuted their sentences.
Justice spokesman Brian Fallon said Luis Medina, Gerardo Hernandez and Antonio Guerrero
had been released from custody and flown to Cuba.
The three were part of the so-called Cuban Five, who were convicted for spying on
anti-Castro exile groups in Florida and monitoring U.S. military installations, and they
have spent more than 15 years in U.S. prisons.
Later Wednesday, Gross made a short statement in Washington. He said he had learned of
his impending release on Tuesday. He said he was happy to be home and that he was thankful
for all those who worked for his release. Obama said Gross and a man described as "one of
the most important (U.S.) intelligence agents" were exchanged for three Cuban intelligence
operatives who had spent more than a decade in U.S. prisons.
The two countries are expected in the coming weeks to negotiate an agreement to lead
both countries to opening embassies in each other's capitals. Obama said business and
travel ties will be launched, but that he will have to negotiate with the U.S. Congress
over ending the country's economic blockade against Cuba.
Obama has also asked Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba's designation as a
state sponsor of terrorism. "This review will be guided by the facts and the law," he
said. "A nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not
face this sanction.'' Kerry said that he would travel to Cuba at some point in the future.
"I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba," Kerry
said in a statement.
U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Florida Republican who is
Cuban-American, said, "The White House has conceded everything, but gained little. This is
going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba," Rubio said.
"But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime
needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come."
Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush
said on Wednesday he opposes Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba, according to a
media report. "I don't think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make
changes in our relationship,'' Bush told an event in Florida, according to USA Today.
Wednesday's news that Washington and Havana are to resume diplomatic and trade ties
sent shares climbing for three Florida-based cruise line operators - American tourists,
the world's most keen cruise customers, may now be able to land in Cuba and use their U.S.
credit cards. Immediately following Obama's speech, Cuban Americans and other Latin
Americans in Miami, Florida, had mixed feelings toward the news.
EU Court Removes Hamas from Terror Blacklist
The European Union's second-highest court on Wednesday annulled the bloc's decision to
keep Hamas on a list of terrorist organizations, but temporarily maintained the measures
for a period of three months or until an appeal is closed. The General Court of the
European Union said the contested measures were not based on an examination of Hamas' acts
but on imputations derived from the media and the Internet.
The court said it was nevertheless maintaining the effects of the measures in order to
ensure that any possible future freezing of funds would be effective. According to the EU,
the move was initially prompted by an appeal made to the European Court of Human Rights
dealing with Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka. The EU says Hamas was originally defined as a
terrorist organization based on American information, and European policy dictates that
such a move should only be made with independent EU information.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, would be restored to the terror organizations list
if the EU gets independent proof of its status as such. Hamas hailed the status change as
an accomplishment, with senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk saying, "This is a
victory for all those who support the right of the Palestinian people to resist the
Israel is concerned Hamas may use the opportunity to renew its activities in Europe. On
Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for Hamas to be immediately returned
to the terrorist blacklist, saying Israel was not satisfied with the EU's explanation that
the removal of Hamas from the list was merely a "technical matter."
"The burden of proof is on the European Union," Netanyahu said. "Hamas is a murderous
terrorist organization, with the stated goal, in its charter, of destroying Israel. We
will continue to fight against it with determination and strength, so that it will never
achieve this aim."
'Mossad Operative Was In Charge of Nasrallah's Personal Security in Hizbullah'
By Israel Hayom
Following reports Tuesday that Hizbullah recently exposed a double agent who was
working for Israel, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported that the double agent was a
high-ranking Hizbullah operative who had been in charge of Hizbullah leader Hassan
Nasrallah's personal security and who was later promoted to the group's elite and
clandestine "910" external security organization.
According to Lebanese reports, the double agent, identified only by the initials M.
Sh., was a businessman who was recruited by the Mossad during a trip to western Asia. The
agent reportedly relayed information to Israeli intelligence agents about Hizbullah plans
to target Israelis or Jews in retribution for the assassination of former military
commander Imad Mughnyieh.
Israel has never confirmed having killed Mughniyeh, who died in a car bomb blast in
Syria in 2008, but Hizbullah has long accused Israel of being behind the assassination.
According to the Kuwaiti report, once the agent was exposed, the entire organization
underwent a significant overhaul, with several high-ranking operatives removed from their
posts or reassigned to different, less sensitive units. The paper asserted that the damage
to Hizbullah from the incident was immeasurable. It was not reported how the double agent
Iconic Six-Day War Photo Recreated at Western Wall
47 years after three soldiers were photographed gazing in amazement upon the Western
Wall, they returned to recall the unforgettable moment. The three soldiers were Dr.
Yitzhak Yifat, Zion Karasanti, and Haim Oshri, all members of the same paratrooper
battalion that took part in the battle for Jerusalem's Old City. The moment they glimpsed
the wall for the first time was captured by photographer David Rubinger. The historic
photo, showing the first Israelis to reach the sacred wall since it fell into Jordanian
hands in 1948, has become a symbol of the Six-Day War.
Today, Yifat and Karasanti are 70, Oshri a year younger. Rubinger turned 90 this past
summer. But despite his age, he lay on the ground just as he did nearly half a century ago
to recreate the exact angle. Unlike then, someone quickly sounded a shofar. People
gathered around, including some who were born decades after the battle for the city, and
thanked the former soldiers. "We didn't care about anything else," said Karasanti, "just
the stones in the wall."
"The picture made my life," said Rubinger. "I won the Israel Prize for it, and it
became an icon worldwide. A icon isn't made by a photographer. An icon is made by an
audience. The audience saw in these three faces" he pointed at the men beside him
"something it wanted to see. People still say, 'those are the guys who cried by the
Kotel.' Nothing better could happen to a photographer."
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