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Obama and Putin Woo Saudis to Save Assad; Puts Israel and Jordan in Danger from S. Syria

By DEBKAfile

Building on the nuclear accord signed in Vienna last month, the Obama administration has been in close communion with Moscow and Tehran on regional moves to save the Assad regime, as the key to their next regional policies, including a united front against the Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners are being assiduously wooed to join the new alignment being set up for this purpose. The live wire in getting them all together is Omani Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, the secret broker who brought Iran and the United States to the negotiating table for a nuclear accord.

Last week, Obama threw out his first hint on this development: "The window has opened a crack for us to get a political resolution in Syria, partly because both Russia and Iran, I think, recognize that the trend lines are not good for Assad," he said. "Neither of those patrons are particularly sentimental; they don't seem concerned about the humanitarian disaster that's been wrought by Assad and this conflict over the last several years, but they are concerned about the potential collapse of the Syrian state. And that means, I think, the prospect of more serious discussions than we've had in the past."

The US president then affirmed more strongly in a CNN interview Sunday: "Is there the possibility that having begun conversations around this narrow issue [the nuclear accord with Iran] that you start getting some broader discussions about Syria, for example, and the ability of all the parties involved to try to arrive at a political transition that keeps the country intact and does not further fuel the growth of ISIL and other terrorist organizations? I think that's possible," Obama said. "But I don't think it happens immediately."

The administration and its prospective partners are united by the will to destroy ISIS – in its Syrian stronghold, for starters - but are divided on much else, DEBKA file reports. And so the process is moving forward in careful steps. Their initial focus is on Syria, the bloody battleground which in less than five years has left at least 300,000 dead and more than 10 million people homeless.

The plan the group started out with in the last 10 days was a swap as simple as it was ruthless: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would slow their assistance to Syrian rebel groups, against whom President Bashar Assad's army and allies would hold their fire; Iran, for its part, was to start withdrawing its support from the Yemeni Houthis insurgents.

The informal truce in Syria would be the stage for the Assad regime and rebel groups to start discussing a new government with room for opposition parties. The Islamists of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda's Nusra Front would not be invited.

In Yemen, Tehran would cut back on the arms and intelligence which have enabled the Houthi insurgents to stand up to the combined forces of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The pro-Western Yemeni President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi would be restored to his palace in Sanaa and invite the insurgent leader, Abdu Malik Al-Houthi, to discuss his partnership in a new government. This deal was tantamount to a joint US-Russian guarantee of Bashar Assad survival in power in return for a Tehran-Riyadh compact for Hadi's reinstatement in Sanaa.

These arrangements were debated back and forth in exchanges, some semi-secret, among the leading actors for most of July. The visit to Riyadh of the Syrian intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk was set up by Moscow as a major push forward. The plan was for the entire enterprise to be brought out in the open and sealed in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, August 3 at a conference attended by Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and other top Gulf diplomats.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was not there. But he put a strong oar into the proceedings by calling in at Muscat, Oman the day before the conference and subsequently on Friday. Assad also kept his hand in by sending his foreign minister Walid Moallem to Tehran and Muscat last week.

But then, at Doha, just as the package was ready to unveil, the Saudi foreign minister pulled away and blew it up with two provisions: a) Riyadh would not countenance Bashar Assad being allowed to stay in office, and: b) Saudi Arabia would not do business with any representative of the Assad régime. This put a large spoke in the main wheel of the initiative and also scuttled some of the secondary plans depending on it.

But by then, a lot was happening in the Yemeni and Syrian war arenas: 1. Saudi and UAE armored forces had landed in Aden and were closing in on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The Houthi rebels, trained and armed by Iran, were forced to retreat without negotiations on their future role in government.

2. Syrian rebel leaders, sensing the approaching betrayal, sent a secret delegation to Tehran to discuss terms for opening negotiations with Assad. They too were left at sea about the deals in play among Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Riyadh over their future.

On Saturday, the Russians, egged on by the Americans, set about winning Riyadh into the fold, Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir was invited to pay a visit to Moscow Tuesday, August 11, for talks about the Syrian conflict and the war on the Islamic State. Refusing to accept that the new initiative had been grounded in Doha, Moscow presented the visit as continuing the ongoing dialogue on the issues raised at that encounter.

DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources note that neither Israel nor Jordan has been co-opted to this big power initiative, as though they are not concerned. However, both have a big stake in Saudi Arabia's next decisions. If Riyadh is won over by US-Russian blandishments and goes back on its decision to boycott Assad, the Saudi-Israeli-Jordanian effort to support Syrian rebel control of southern Syria will fall apart. This will open up both countries to new perils on their northern borders.

Israel Extends Crackdown Against Extremists

By VOA News

Israel responded further to Jewish extremists Sunday by arresting suspects in West Bank settlements and placing two high-profile radicals under a type of detention that allows for holding them for six months without charges. Police said the raids were linked to recent events in the West Bank, but did not say how many suspects they detained.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said Meir Ettinger, who is the grandson of U.S.-born far right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane, and Eviatar Slonim had been placed under administrative detention for their alleged involvement with extremist groups. They were arrested last week. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon signed an order placing a third extremist in administrative detention last Tuesday.

The crackdown on extremists follows a July 31 firebombing in the West Bank that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian and his father while also wounding his mother and brother. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the attack an act of terrorism. Those arrested in Sunday's raids, as well as the three extremists in administrative detention, have not been directly linked to the firebombing.

ISIS Plan to Assassinate Queen Elizabeth Exposed


British intelligence sources have identified a plot by local jihadists commandeered by Islamic State (ISIS) leaders in Syria to assassinate Queen Elizabeth next Saturday, reports the UK Daily Mail.

The planned attack is to target the 70th VJ Day (Victory in Japan) marking the end of World War II, and in particular it aims to kill the Queen of England - the warning has triggered British security to beef up its presence dramatically.

The incident brings to mind events last September, when "credible" threats were received of an ISIS plot to assassinate Pope Francis. Security was boosted, and fortunately the alert passed without further incident. But now police and MI5 in Britain are racing to find the jihadists behind the plot, with no arrests made yet. The queen has stated that she will attend the VJ Day celebrations regardless, undeterred by the threat.

The attack plan orchestrated from Syria is reportedly to involve detonating a pressure cooker bomb during the VJ Day events in Central London.

Pressure cooker bombs were most notably used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which two pressure cookers were detonated at the finish line, murdering three and wounding over 260 others. The UK hasn't seen a large scale attack since the July 7 London bombings in 2005, in which four suicide bombers murdered 52 people and wounded over 700 in an attack on the Tube subway.

Aside from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles is another possible target. Several other members of the Royal Family, as well as Prime Minister David Cameron, various public figures, over 1,000 World War II veterans and their families, and thousands of members of the public will take part in the event on the streets around Whitehall and Westminster Abbey, with fears high that an explosion would cause a massive loss of life.

The day's events will start with Queen Elizabeth taking part in a service at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. The dignitaries will then proceed to Horse Guards Parade for various other ceremonies before the day's centerpiece, a parade of veterans and current troops down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. The entire affair will be broadcast on live TV by BBC.

Jerusalem Child Shot by Arab Wedding Gunfire


A five-year-old resident of the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood of north-eastern Jerusalem was wounded Friday by gunshots fired from a neighboring Arab area. The gunshots were apparently strays fired during a wedding celebration in the Shuafat neighborhood.

Two constant features of Arab weddings in Judea and Samaria and the eastern reaches of Jerusalem are fireworks and live gunfire, with celebrants shooting rifles into the air in honor of the bride and groom. The roots of the customs are not clear, but what is clear is the threat than many Jews living in towns adjacent to Arab villages or neighborhoods feel when "wedding season" comes around.

Speaking to reporters, Yafa, the mother of the injured child, said that she never thought twice about danger from the stray bullets during these celebrations. "This is a very common occurrence around here," she said, "but now we see how dangerous these customs can be."

Police said that the five-year-old was not the only person wounded by the celebratory shooting Friday. An Arab teen from the Shuafat neighborhood was also hit by stray bullets. Neighborhood officials in Shuafat say they are opposed to the shooting. Baha Navata, chairman of the Shuafat local council, said that the municipality was acting negligently.

"Do they want to ruin the calm here? We are becoming a very dangerous neighborhood. They must do something because we are on the verge of becoming a permanently hostile area."

Synagogue in Florida Vandalized by Violent Assailant


Temple Beth Torah in Wellington, Florida was vandalized last week, shocking and outraging members of the town's Jewish community. Surveillance footage of the attack shows an unknown shirtless assailant striking the synagogue's doors with a baseball bat, shattering glass all over its entrance.

Police from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office rushed to the scene and opened an investigation into the case. It was later revealed that the vandal had not only targeted Temple Beth Torah. According to police, he also smashed the door of a local church and damaged a row of 17 cars parked nearby.

The synagogue's rabbi, Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz, told local news group WPBF 25 that investigators called the attack a random act, essentially dissociating it from an anti-Semitic hate crime. "That's always a concern in the Jewish community when something like this happens is are you being targeted because of you being Jewish? I don't know if that's the case in this situation. I think that that's best left to law enforcement and PBSO," Rosenkranz said.

Anti-Semitism has, however, reared its ugly head in Florida before. A year and a half ago, a wave of arson attacks in Hollywood, FL targeted a number of kosher restaurants owned by Jews. The World Zionist Organization's Department for Countering Anti-Semitism chief Yaakov Hagoel said at the time that he was not surprised by the fires. Noting the escalation of anti-Semitism around the world, Hagoel stressed that "anti-Semitism in the United States is alive and kicking."

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