The Coming Confrontation Between Israel and Iran: Elliott Abrams, Atlantic, Oct 15, 2017— In the United States, discussions of Iran have, for the last few years, centered mostly around the JCPOA—the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama.
In Syrian Barrage, a Confident Message Signed by Iran and Russia: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Oct. 22, 2017— It’s not clear if the sudden barrage of rockets “bleeding” into Israel from Syria Saturday had anything to do with the presence in Damascus of Iran’s defense chief.
Hizballah's Nasrallah Escalates Threats as Syria Turns Into Iranian Base: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Oct. 10, 2017— A recent speech by Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah contained unusually aggressive statements, calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and claiming that a future war would lead to Israel's "demise."
Russia’s Air Defenses in Syria: More Politics than Punch: Guy Plopsky, BESA, Oct. 18, 2017— In early October 2016, Russian Defense Ministry chief spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned the US-led anti-ISIS coalition that “Russian air defense crews are unlikely to have time to clarify via the [de-confliction] line the exact flight path of missiles and who their carrier platforms belong to,”…
Golan Heights Residents on Edge After Latest Cross-Border Exchange of Fire: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Oct. 22, 2017
As ISIS’ Role in Syria Wanes, Other Conflicts Take the Stage: Anne Barnard & Hwaida Saad, New York Times, Oct. 19, 2017
Moscow Nears ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria: Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, Oct. 23, 2017
Iran Steps Up Its Economic Domination in Syria: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Oct. 19, 2017
Atlantic, Oct 15, 2017
In the United States, discussions of Iran have, for the last few years, centered mostly around the JCPOA—the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama. In the Middle East, things are different. This is because, while we have been debating, Iran has been acting—and Israel has been reacting. Israel has struck sites in Syria 100 times in the last five years, bombing when it saw an Iranian effort to move high-tech materiel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Last month Israel bombed the so-called Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in Masyaf (a city in central Syria), a military site where chemical weapons and precision bombs were said to be produced. Now, there are reports…that Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus, where the IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) could build up their presence and operate. Fishman also wrote that Iran and the Assad regime are negotiating over giving Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus, and that Iran may actually deploy a division of soldiers in Syria.
Such developments would be unacceptable to Israel, and it will convey this message to Russia and to the United States. Russia’s defense minister will soon visit Israel, after which Israel’s defense minister will visit Washington. Previous Israeli efforts to get Putin to stop Iran (during Netanyahu’s four visits to Moscow in the last year) have failed, which suggests that Israel will need to do so itself, alone—unless the new Iran policy being debated inside the Trump administration leads the United States to seek ways to stop the steady expansion of Iran’s military presence and influence in the Middle East. Whether this happens remains to be seen. Whatever the debate over the JCPOA, there may well be a broader consensus in the administration that Iran’s growing military role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the region must be countered.
Whatever the American conclusion, if Iran does indeed plan to establish a large and permanent military footprint in Syria—complete with permanent naval and air bases and a major ground force—Israel will have fateful decisions to make. Such an Iranian presence on the Mediterranean and on Israel’s border would change the military balance in the region and fundamentally change Israel’s security situation. And under the JCPOA as agreed by Obama, limits on Iran’s nuclear program begin to end in only eight years; Iran may now perfect its ICBM program; and there are no inspections of military sites where further nuclear weapons research may be underway. As Senator Tom Cotton said recently, “If Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today, it would be the first time in a generation.” Israel could be a decade away from a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and bases in Syria—and could logically therefore even place nuclear weapons in Syria, just miles from Israel’s border.
Fishman, the dean of Israel’s military correspondents, wrote: “If the Israeli diplomatic move fails to bear fruit, we [Israel] are headed toward a conflict with the Iranians.” That conclusion, and the Iranian moves that make it a growing possibility, should be on the minds of Trump administration officials as they contemplate a new policy toward Iran’s ceaseless drive for power in the Middle East.
Times of Israel, Oct. 22, 2017
It’s not clear if the sudden barrage of rockets “bleeding” into Israel from Syria Saturday had anything to do with the presence in Damascus of Iran’s defense chief. But given Iran’s seemingly unstoppable drive to entrench itself militarily in the region, the Syrian regime’s newfound confidence, and some other suspicious factors, it’s likely the volley was more than just an accident.
Though inadvertent fire has hit Israel in the past, this incident doesn’t fit that mold, and seems more like a Syrian attempt to send a message. First, there’s the timing — around 5 a.m. Most of the fighting in the Syrian civil war has taken place in the daylight hours, certainly not before the crack of dawn. Second, none of the previous inadvertent volleys consisted of five consecutive rockets. Indeed, the incident appears to be connected to the anti-aircraft fire Syria directed at Israeli jets flying a reconnaissance mission over Lebanon last week, and a more aggressive recent tone from Damascus.
These developments are evident of the boost in self-confidence the Syrian regime is experiencing. Just Saturday, Assad’s army captured the Christian town of Qaryatayn, which had previously been taken by Islamic State and used as a base for the terror group. Assad may feel that victory in the civil war is within his reach thanks to having Tehran by his side, along with Shiite militias from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and 8,000 well-armed Hezbollah fighters. So maybe he considers this a good time to send Israel a defiant message.
It doesn’t hurt that the same day, Iranian defense chief Mahmoud Bagheri signed a memorandum of understanding with his Syrian counterpart, Ali Ayyoub. According to the Syria’s state-run SANA news outlet, the memorandum is meant to deepen ties between the countries in intelligence sharing, technology and military to “improve the fight against terror.” The statement also served as a reminder of how deeply Iran is managing to entrench itself unimpeded in Syria, as the US-led coalition and Kurdish militias wrap up their campaign to drive Islamic State out of the country.
For now, at least, it doesn’t seem there is anybody who can stop the spread of Iran’s influence in the region. Russia may be willing to turn a blind eye to the next Israeli airstrike, but that won’t torpedo Iran’s plan for Syria, which includes a broad and lasting military presence. As for the Americans: The US is increasingly seen as unwilling to intervene, even for its allies. That was made clear by the blind eye the Trump administration turned to the retaking of Iraqi Kirkuk from the Kurdish forces it had backed. The US sold the Kurds down the river in favor of a Baghdad government backed by Shiite militias supported by Iran, if only to keep the Iraqis close to Washington.
In many ways, the US abandonment of Kirkuk may come to echo the aftermath of the Ghouta chemical attack of 2013, when president Barack Obama failed to enforce his red lines. Then, to Moscow, Damascus and the rest of the Middle East, the lack of action translated into the idea that the US was afraid.
Russia, in contrast, hasn’t hesitated to step in and protect its allies, and it is Moscow’s assistance that is most credited with bringing Assad’s regime back from the dead. In a roundabout way, Assad has Islamic State to thank for bringing Russia riding in to save him. One of the main reasons for Moscow’s intervention in the war was the fear that IS could spread, both as a military power and as an idea, to the Allawite-majority region near the coast, where Russia has strategically important assets including a naval base.
There’s no reason to assume that had the Syrian regime been battling the Free Syrian Army or another moderate group, the Kremlin would have been so quick to jump into action to back Assad, one of the greatest tyrants of modern history, a man responsible for the death of some half a million people — many through torture, execution, and chemical attacks. Islamic State may have been the greatest threat to the Assad regime, but it was also his greatest lifeline.
IPT, Oct. 8, 2017
A recent speech by Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah contained unusually aggressive statements, calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and claiming that a future war would lead to Israel's "demise." Nasrallah said Israeli Jews should "leave and return to the countries from which they came so they are not fuel for any war that the idiotic [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government takes them to… They will have no secure place in occupied Palestine."
The speech echoed rhetoric recently espoused by the Iranian regime and its military officials, who said Tel Aviv would be "destroyed" if Israel made "a mistake," and that Israel would not survive for more than 25 years. "Israel should remain silent and count down the days to its death, because any minor mistake would lead to its demise as fast as lightning," said Iranian army commander Maj.-Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi.
These threats contain two messages. The first message is a reaffirmation of the Shi'ite axis's jihadist, ideological, long-term commitment to Israel's destruction. The second message is more immediate; it is an attempt to deter Israeli decision makers from trying to stop Iran and its proxies from taking over Syria. Iran, together with its chief agent Hizballah and several other Shi'ite militias, are helping the Assad regime complete its victory in Syria, with the assistance of Russian airpower. This is a victory made possible by the mass murder and terrorization of Syria's Sunni population, and the ensuing mass movement of refugees out of the country.
The upsurge in war-like rhetoric towards Israel is a signal of growing Iranian-Hizballah confidence, fuelled by their victories in Syria. Radical Shi'ite forces – armed, funded, and commanded by Iran – are moving into the vacuum left behind by ISIS. Tehran's objective is to turn Syria into another Lebanon; a heavily armed outpost from which Iran can launch attacks against Israel.
So far, the international community has shown no interest or willingness to stop this development from happening. Despite the latest bluster, Nasrallah made sure to issue his statements from the safety of his Lebanese bunker – an indication he still fears Israel's powerful reach. Nasrallah and his Iranian masters have good reason to remain fearful of Israel, for it is the only state that has both the capability and determination to challenge their takeover of Syria.
There have been a series of reported Israeli precision strikes on weapons production centers and arms smuggling attempts in Syria. One strike reportedly targeted the Assad regime's Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) weapons facility, where chemical, biological, and advanced ballistic missiles are developed and manufactured. The targeted facility may have been where Iran tried to hand over powerful weapons to Hizballah.
Israel is running a low profile campaign against the dangerous buildup of Hizballah's weapons arsenal. These are arms that are produced in Iran and Syria, and trafficked to Lebanon. This Israeli campaign is a thorn in the side of the Shi'ite axis. There is a wider Israeli warning here: Jerusalem has no intention of sitting on the side and watching Syria turn into an Iranian-Hizballah base.
Israeli leaders are issuing their own warnings, making it clear that provocations by the Shi'ite axis can lead to devastation. "The next conflict, if it erupts, will have a completely different character. Our enemies will try first to strike our population centers and civilian infrastructure. And if our red lines will be breached, the other side must know in advance that it is going to pay very heavy prices," said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. In addition, Israel has stated it will not tolerate an approach to its border by Iranian or Hizballah forces operating in Syria.
Sunni states like Jordan and Saudi Arabia are equally disturbed by events in Syria. But Israel is the only regional state with the ability to stop the Iranian game plan. Only time will tell whether the world continues to turn a blind eye to the radical Shi'ite entrenchment in Syria, and leave Israel to deal with this mess by itself.
Meanwhile, recent comments by the head of the Mossad, Israel's overseas intelligence service, serve as a timely reminder of the fact that the Iranian nuclear program remains a threat. The nuclear program is only temporarily dormant. "Iran continues to possess a vision of having a significant nuclear capability, leading to a military nuclear ability," said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in recent days.
"Iran continues to act with increasing aggression in activating military forces and operations in the Middle East, closer to our border than ever, in the Lebanese and Syrian arenas [which are] as one. Iran continues to support Hizballah, and recently, it is increasingly supporting Hamas. Iran continues to transfer advanced and precise weapons to terrorist organizations in our area," the Mossad chief said. The Mossad conducts "thousands of operations, some complex and daring, in the heart of enemy states," Cohen added.
This not-so-cold war between Israel and the Iranian axis looks set to continue. Lines are being drawn in Syria by both sides. Israel's lines are purely defensive, while Iran and its agents are following a belligerent, encroaching agenda, which threaten to destabilize the entire region.
BESA, Oct. 18, 2017
In early October 2016, Russian Defense Ministry chief spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned the US-led anti-ISIS coalition that “Russian air defense crews are unlikely to have time to clarify via the [de-confliction] line the exact flight path of missiles and who their carrier platforms belong to,” adding that “any air or missiles strikes on territory controlled by the Syrian government will pose a clear threat to Russian military servicemen.” The warning, issued in response to an accidental US strike against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad the previous month, renewed fears that Russia may attempt to target coalition and Israeli aerial assets.
Since then, however, both the US and Israel have struck pro-regime targets in Syria with no blowback from the Kremlin. Why has Moscow proven reluctant to respond? Concerns about Russia restricting coalition and Israeli freedom of action over Syria intensified in late November 2015, following the downing of a Russian Su-24M strike aircraft by a Turkish F-16. Commenting on the shoot-down, Lieut.-Gen. Sergey Rudskoy threatened that Russia would destroy “every target posing a potential threat.” Shortly afterwards, Russia deployed its much feared S-400 Triumf long-range SAM system at Khmeimim Airbase near Latakia.
The S-400 deployment created the impression that pro-Assad forces would benefit from Russia’s new SAM umbrella. However, numerous IAF strikes against weapons shipments destined for the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group proved this assumption wrong. The strikes indicated that Moscow, despite its rhetoric, takes Jerusalem’s red lines seriously and does not wish to escalate tensions with Israel, a major regional power and key US ally. Moscow has no desire to see Israel expand its involvement in the conflict, especially given that the regional balance of power is not in Russia’s favor. A recent unanswered strike, allegedly executed by Israel, against a chemical and missile production and storage facility near Masyaf – just 13km from a new Russian S-400 site – appears to support this notion.
Several incidents have occurred involving Russian and Israeli military assets, including unconfirmed reports of Russian forces firing on Israeli aircraft. Yet Israeli and Russian leaders have held a number of meetings intended to, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “strengthen the security cooperation between us so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings, and unnecessary confrontations.” Furthermore, Israel and Russia established a deconfliction line in October 2015 that has helped reduce the risk of clashes.
Moscow’s warnings to Israel are therefore directed more towards the Syrian and Russian public than they are towards Jerusalem. Offering no threatening response to Israeli airstrikes would make the Kremlin appear weak, prompting pro-Assad factions to question Moscow’s commitment to the regime and weakening Russia’s influence. At the same time, Russia has been rebuilding Syria’s air defenses in the hope that they would deter both Israel and the coalition from further strikes. Russia’s Defense Ministry has mentioned Syrian air defenses in warnings directed at coalition forces and has pledged to “increase [their] effectiveness” following the April 7, 2017, US Navy Tomahawk cruise missile strike against al-Shayrat Air Base. Doing so could backfire for Moscow, however, given that it might prompt Israel or the US to target Syrian air defenses and possibly other regime military assets as well.
As for Russia’s own air defenses, Moscow has not utilized them to defend Assad’s forces and is unlikely to do so for fear of an armed confrontation with the US and its partners. Indeed, while Syrian fighters are known to have flown escort missions for Russian strike aircraft, the reverse has not occurred. Furthermore, like Israel, the US maintains a deconfliction line with Russia and has developed deconfliction agreements to avoid clashes.
Interestingly, a Russian TV special on Khmeimim Air Base, which aired on June 11, 2017, claimed Russia has agreed not to target coalition aircraft as long as they maintain a distance of 60 km or more from the base. The special featured Lieut.-Gen. Viktor Gumyonny, head of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ (VKS) Air and Missile Defense Troops, who asserted that coalition aircraft approaching Khmeimim are tracked by Russian air defenses (presumably by the S-400’s fire control radar) and immediately leave the area. Coalition sources have confirmed neither the validity of these claims nor the truth of whether or not coalition aircraft have flown within close proximity to Khmeimim; nevertheless, such statements highlight Moscow’s reluctance to defend regime forces.
On June 18, a week after the airing of the TV special, a US Navy F/A-18E downed a Syrian Su-22 strike aircraft near Raqqa, prompting Russia’s Defense Ministry to issue another warning – one that seemed to convey a shift in Russia’s policy on targeting coalition aircraft. The warning asserted that “jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets.” However, as Western analysts were quick to point out, this rather ambiguous threat, like those before it, was intended primarily to reassure Russian and pro-Assad audiences, and to deter coalition forces from further strikes against regime forces. Moreover, though Russia threatened to cut the deconfliction line with the US, the line remained open…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Golan Heights Residents on Edge After Latest Cross-Border Exchange of Fire: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Oct. 22, 2017—Residents of Israel’s Golan Heights region are on edge following the latest exchange of fire on the border with Syria.
As ISIS’ Role in Syria Wanes, Other Conflicts Take the Stage: Anne Barnard & Hwaida Saad, New York Times, Oct. 19, 2017— American-backed forces have barely begun to clear the land mines from Raqqa after pushing the Islamic State from the city, the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.
Moscow Nears ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria: Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, Oct. 23, 2017— By the end of this year, Syria will be free of Islamic State, apart from small pockets that will disappear with time
Iran Steps Up Its Economic Domination in Syria: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Oct. 19, 2017— With the approaching military defeat of the Islamic State, Iran is stepping up its economic involvement in Syria.