Are Hezbollah’s Attack Tunnels the Future of Warfare?: Michael Peck, National Interest, Jan. 20, 2019 — Israel has faced many threats during its tumultuous seventy-five-year existence: ballistic missiles, tanks, hang-gliding terrorists, suicide bombers.

How Did Israel’s Enemies Become Experts in Tunnel Warfare?: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018— In April 2017, a lumbering MC-130 with its four whirring propellers flew over a mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan.

A League of Their Own, as Few Arab Leaders Attend Summit: Vivian Yee, New York Times, Jan. 20, 2019— The eyes of the world were nowhere near Beirut, where the kings and presidents of the Arab world had been ceremoniously summoned to a summit of the Arab League over the weekend and had, in all but two cases, ceremoniously declined.

What is the U.S. Policy Towards Lebanon?: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Dec. 24, 2018— According to the Israeli media, during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the U.S. to impose an economic embargo on Lebanon.

On Topic Links

Hillel Neuer Visits Hezbollah Terror Tunnels Ahead of UNSC Meeting: Breaking Israel News, Dec. 19, 2018

Ex-Government Agent Discusses Using AI to Battle Hezbollah Rockets: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018

Israeli Official Briefs Italian MPs on Hezbollah, Iran: Eldad Beck, Israel Hayom, Dec. 20, 2018

What Real Border Security Looks Like: Bret Stephens, New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019



Michael Peck

National Interest, Jan. 20, 2019

Israel has faced many threats during its tumultuous seventy-five-year existence: ballistic missiles, tanks, hang-gliding terrorists, suicide bombers. But now Israel faces a new threat that doesn’t go through Israeli defenses, but under them.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group, has dug tunnels under the border between Lebanon and the Galilee region of northern Israel. Israel says the tunnels have a deadly purpose: to allow Hezbollah fighters to enter Israel in a surprise attack to capture Israeli border communities, a feat that Arab armies have not been able to accomplish since 1948. “The plan entails fighters from Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit infiltrating Israel from Lebanon, entrenching themselves in Israeli communities near the border while taking hostages and using Israeli citizens as human shields,” according to Israel’s Ynet News. The tunnels were sophisticated, with electricity and ventilation systems.

This is not the first time that Israel has faced tunnels. Hamas tunneled from Gaza into southern Israel, most famously emerging to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, who was held captive for five years until exchanged for Hamas prisoners in 2011. This has spurred the Israel Defense Forces to develop new technology and techniques for detecting tunnels.

The work seems to have paid off. Last month, Israeli troops began destroying the Hezbollah tunnels. So far, Israel has destroyed five tunnels, though given the nature of subterranean warfare, there may very well be more. Which raises the question: Are Hezbollah’s tunnels a template for the future of warfare? It’s not that tunnels are a new weapon. The Viet Cong used them to hide from and ambush American soldiers, while North Korea is famous for building numerous tunnels under the DMZ as invasion routes into South Korea, with some wide enough for tanks to cross. Hezbollah cannot be under any illusions that it could hold the Galilee against Israeli firepower (though such firepower would kill Israeli hostages). Hezbollah “conquering” the Galilee would not be conquest in the conventional sense. It would be more like terrorists or bank robbers taking hostages.

But if Israel’s estimation is correct, then permanent conquest doesn’t matter. Hezbollah would use these tunnels to capture enemy territory in a surprise attack, to seize territory, humiliate the enemy and demonstrate their impotence before the world. Hezbollah has always displayed a keen sense of public relations, like almost destroying an Israeli warship with a missile on live television. Capturing a few Israeli towns would be even more impressive, reminiscent of the Tet Offensive, which sought to demonstrate the powerlessness of the Saigon government and its American backers by mounting a nationwide offensive across South Vietnam.

So is Hezbollah’s tunnel strategy the future of warfare? It could be—if certain conditions are met. For starters, you would need a non-state organization that’s actually more powerful than the army of the state it resides in (such as Lebanon.) That actor would be so powerful because of generous military and financial assistance from a foreign nation (such as Iran), including access to advanced weapons such as ballistic missiles.

That organization would also need to control a border territory (such as southern Lebanon), so that it would be free to build tunnels with minimal interference from a cowed central government or UN peacekeepers too weak and timid to interfere. It would also help to face an enemy such as Israel, which is sensitive to losing the lives of its citizens. If these conditions exist, then any guerrilla or militia organization could do what Hezbollah does. The problem is finding places where these conditions apply. Syria or Yemen are not conflicts where the lives of hostages seem to matter much. Muslim rebels in the Philippines don’t have ballistic missiles. The Iraqi government wouldn’t give political cover to ISIS if it dug attack tunnels into Iran. In other words, Hezbollah’s tunnels are a clever idea because of the unique conditions along the Israel-Lebanon border. Which doesn’t mean they would work anywhere else.





Seth Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018

In April 2017, a lumbering MC-130 with its four whirring propellers flew over a mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan. Just before eight in the evening, the plane dropped a 9,797 kilogram bomb, known as a GBU-43, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used, on a tunnel network used by Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Thirty-six ISIS members were killed in the massive explosion that followed, according to US estimates. The ISIS tunnel network was more complex than the one that Hezbollah has built in southern Lebanon, but just as the US has had to contend with terrorist tunnels, Israel and all countries facing terrorism are increasingly forced to fight an underground war.

The complexity of caves and tunnels is one of many used by terrorist groups in Afghanistan. ISIS, like many terror groups, have become experts in tunnels. They didn’t invent this on their own. They graduated from what other terror groups have used, and used tunnels that have existed in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for decades. Some of these are bunker complexes that various regimes built, improved upon by terrorists, or they may be terror tunnels built by other groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In Douma in Syria, the Syrian rebels built a massive complex of tunnels. BBC called it “quite a work of engineering.” It was excavated from solid clay and stones, and was big enough to “drive a vehicle down.” One reporter who went down into the tunnels in Douma called it was a “subterranean life.”

Hezbollah’s tunnels into Israel have now been revealed in a recent video after Israel began operation Northern Shield. So far, the tunnels under the border have not consisted of such massive complexity and are not equipped with places for vehicles. To understand their origin and the kinds of difficulty in confronting this issue, we must look back at the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

Hezbollah spent decades improving its terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon. After Israel withdrew in 2000 from Lebanon the leaders of Hezbollah planned an extensive network of what were labeled “nature reserves” by Israel, complex tunnels and bunkers designed to conceal the growing arsenal of the group. They attempted to make them not only difficult to find but also difficult to bomb, according to a 2016 article by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. According to the report, they built fortified areas in 200 villages. In an article published by the US Army Combined Arms Center in 2008, the authors looked at Hezbollah’s tunnel expertise.

According to this study, which quoted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, Hezbollah had “North Korean advisors [who] had assisted Hezbollah in building tunnel infrastructure.” One tunnel was supposedly 25 kilometers long. This extraordinary claim, printed in Asharq Al-Awsat, may not be accurate. One IDF soldier remarked that after the 2006 war, he found a bunker near Maroun al-Ras. It was 25 feet deep, linked several rooms, and had a camera that Hezbollah used to monitor outside movement.

The US army report suggests that Hezbollah – which was born in the 1980s – might have been inspired by the Viet Cong who used tunnels to confront the US military in Vietnam in the 1960s. The Viet Cong dug massive tunnel systems. One at Cu Chi was 250 kilometers long. Hezbollah might have sought to copy the Vietnamese, but it also wanted to exploit modern technology. Tunnels that were found in 2006 included some with hydraulic steel doors.

Considering Hezbollah’s close relationship with Iran and also the Syrian regime it should be expected that Hezbollah’s expertise in tunneling has more similarities with the kind of network a state might be able to create, and not just a terrorist organization. This means that tunnels have levels of technology, depth and ability to go through difficult terrain. However, as has been shown in the Syrian civil war context, any group that has even limited resources and devotion, can build impressive tunnels.

Confronting tunnels is a complex task. Militaries and law enforcement agencies, such as those dealing with drug trafficking and smuggling, have to monitor tunnels. In Gaza, the tunnels built under the border with Egypt were used to smuggle people, infrastructure and weapons. Militaries can bomb tunnel networks, like the US did in Afghanistan, but only if they aren’t located in civilian areas. ISIS, for instance, festooned civilian areas with tunnels so that its fighters could pass unnoticed under houses and roads. They were able to hold out against a 70-nation Coalition and the Iraqi army in Mosul for 9 months by using these tunnels.

Armies don’t like to send men down into tunnels because naturally the enemy has advantage in its own tunnel system and can neutralize a modern army’s technological advantage. In 2016, The New Yorker noted that Israel had developed a kind of “underground Iron Dome” to confront tunnels. But Brig.-Gen. (res) Danny Gold, who helped pioneer the above ground Iron Dome and said that “since the Vietnam War it [tunnel threats] hasn’t been solved. Between Mexico and the United States it isn’t solved. Sometimes it’s even harder than finding oil in the ground.” An Israeli system, according to this report, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, some of which the US supposed was to “field some four hundred different ideas for the detection and destruction of tunnels.”

But for countries fighting tunnels, detection is only one issue. Armies can listen for the tunnel or postulate on where it might be, but don’t want any threats or find any surprises when trying to unearth it. This may not be such an easy challenge to confront in an environment with civilians around. Once detected the goal would be to stop the tunnel if it is a threat. But a country might want to monitor what the enemy is doing before interdicting the tunnel. Also a means to dig a counter-tunnel has to be developed and used without alerting the adversary that the counter-tunnel is moving toward the original. Different countries have employed different means. Egypt flooded the tunnels along the border. The most important aspect of confronting tunnels may also be mapping their point of origin to know what threats may be lurking where they begin. Tunnels in warfare have not only been used to hide men and material, but sometimes to store explosives. Israel, by necessity, has become proficient at confronting tunnels. Hezbollah, like other terror groups and like its allied regimes, has also likely increased its skills. The subterranean war will continue to be a layer of the modern battlefield.




Vivian Yee

New York Times, Jan. 20, 2019

The eyes of the world were nowhere near Beirut, where the kings and presidents of the Arab world had been ceremoniously summoned to a summit of the Arab League over the weekend and had, in all but two cases, ceremoniously declined. Government jets disgorged only underlings and minor ministers onto the red carpet rolled out for them at the airport.

Libya was boycotting, and just about everyone was in a fight over whether to invite Syria at all. Nonetheless, the city puffed out its chest, put its downtown on lockdown and hoisted the flags of the 22 member states under a mercifully rainless sky. The fourth economic and social summit of the Arab League — or most of it, anyway — was hereby called to order. “We wished for this summit to be an occasion to bring together all the Arabs, leaving no vacant seats,” the host, President Michel Aoun of Lebanon, lamented in a speech that kicked off Sunday’s gathering. “Yet the hurdles were unfortunately stronger.”

As if on cue, the TV cameras panned to an empty dais on which a small Libyan flag was wilting, and an eloquent gap between the Egyptian delegation and the Lebanese one. Members of a Lebanese political party had threatened to physically block the Libyans from leaving the airport if they showed up. Syria’s empty seat was just across the vast hall, a bone of contention in the form of a large wooden desk — and a reminder that, with a few member states reopening embassies in Damascus in recent months, Syria’s pariah government appeared to be progressing toward rejoining the league.

That, of course, might first require unearthing some kind of Arab League consensus. Formed at the suggestion of the British during World War II, the league was supposed to strengthen ties among Arab countries from Morocco to Oman, with the Palestinian cause their most important shared mission. It united its members in shaking off colonialism and confronting Israel, helped broker an end to Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and developed a significant Israel-Palestine peace plan.

But by now, enfeebled by regional rivalries and disagreements, the league has acquired an all-too-mockable reputation for dysfunction. Its aged leaders have been known to fall asleep during meetings. In one recent year, one leader mused that the only thing the members had in common was the Arabic language. In 2016, the league hit what was perhaps a modern low point when Morocco announced that it would not be bothering to host the annual leaders’ summit. It dismissed it as “just another occasion” to “pronounce speeches that give a false impression of unity.” When Mauritania stepped up to host instead, only seven leaders attended.

“It’s constitutionally incapable of addressing the real problems that are facing the Middle East,” said James Gelvin, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Los Angeles. “That’s everything from bad governance and political violence to climate change, population growth, bad health care and bad educational systems.”

Matters have not improved much since 2016. “Half these countries are fighting each other in wars or undermining each other,” said Rami G. Khouri, a Beirut-based political columnist who has covered several Arab League summits. It is only a slight exaggeration. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its partners in the United Arab Emirates are mired in a war against the Houthis, a rebel group, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and thrust millions to the edge of famine. (Representatives of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government attended the summit, but the league took no action to address the humanitarian crisis.)

There are hostilities between the Saudis and Emiratis and the Qataris, whom the Saudis and Emiratis have tried to ostracize politically and isolate economically, and between the Saudis and anyone linked to Iran. There is bad blood between Lebanon and Libya. No one has entirely forgotten that Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, a move seen as such a historic betrayal of the bloc that Egypt was voted out for a decade.

And when it comes to Syria and the several countries that have funded rebel groups taking on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, water is only just beginning to trickle under the bridge. Soon after the Syrian war broke out, the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, and it later welcomed representatives from the Syrian opposition. Almost eight years later, Mr. Assad has all but re-clinched control of the country. The league’s membership has had to wrestle with questions about how to rebuild Syria’s shattered infrastructure and economy — an undertaking that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars — and what to do about the more than five million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

Those questions were always going to be extra-fraught at a summit meeting in Lebanon, where the three major political and religious camps — Christian, Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim — have been so deadlocked, in part over Lebanese-Syrian relations, that they have failed to form a government for eight months and counting. Mr. Assad’s government enjoys the support of Shiite-dominated factions in Lebanon and beyond, and in the weeks before the summit, Lebanon’s Parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, a Shiite, called for the whole event to be postponed until Syria was invited. What was the point of discussing Syrian reconstruction and refugees, Mr. Berri asked, if Syria was absent? He earned nothing but irritated shushings from Lebanon’s Christian president and Sunni prime minister, who were anxious to present the host country in a good light…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Caroline Glick

Breaking Israel News, Dec. 24, 2018

According to the Israeli media, during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the U.S. to impose an economic embargo on Lebanon. Pompeo reportedly rejected Netanyahu’s request. The meeting between the two men took place on the eve of Israel’s initiation of Operation Northern Shield last Tuesday. The operation is a military effort geared towards sealing Hezbollah’s offensive subterranean attack tunnels. It follows Israel’s stunning revelation that it had discovered the locations of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, perhaps Hezbollah’s most secret undertaking.

According to Netanyahu, Hezbollah launched its offensive tunnel project in 2014. The existence of the tunnel program was known to almost no one in the organization. Hezbollah’s tunnels traverse the border between Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah reportedly intended to have the tunnels serve as a means to invade Israeli territory rapidly and undetected. It is the declared goal of Hezbollah to conquer northern Israel in its next war against the Jewish state.

The Trump administration’s rejection of Israel’s request to impose economic sanctions on Lebanon signals that it supports Israel’s efforts to neutralize the threat that Hezbollah poses, with its powerful army and massive arsenal of short and long range missiles. But — like the Bush and Obama administrations before it — it rejects Israel’s interpretation of the relations between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government and armed forces.

The disparity between the U.S. and Israeli positions on the nature of Hezbollah’s relationship with the Lebanese government and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) emerged during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. At that time, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that Israel not attack Lebanese government targets. This despite the government’s open support for Hezbollah and the LAF’s assistance to Hezbollah during the war, particularly through the provision of targeting data for Hezbollah missile crews.

In the aftermath of the war, acting on the basis of its assertion that the LAF is an independent institution, the U.S. began massively arming and training the LAF. This policy, adopted by the Bush administration, was expanded substantially under the Obama administration. That owed in part to then-President Barack Obama’s desire to present Iran and its Hezbollah proxy as responsible regional actors in light of their opposition to the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

Throughout the years, Israel has maintained that the Lebanese government and the LAF are effectively controlled by Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy force. Its position is backed up by facts. The first relevant fact is that the LAF is controlled by the Lebanese government. And the Lebanese government has been effectively controlled by Hezbollah since 2008.

Buoyed by its domestic popularity after its war against Israel, in 2008, Hezbollah staged an effective coup against the government. Its forces took over Western Beirut from government-controlled forces, laid siege to government offices, and shut down government-sponsored media outlets. Hezbollah acted after the Lebanese government sought to end Hezbollah’s effective control over the Beirut International Airport. In light of their cooperation with with  Hezbollah in its war against Israel in 2006, it wasn’t surprising that in 2008, the LAF refused to defend the government from Hezbollah. The government was forced to back down…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

Hillel Neuer Visits Hezbollah Terror Tunnels Ahead of UNSC Meeting: Breaking Israel News, Dec. 19, 2018—UN Watch’s Director Hillel Neuer visits Hezbollah terror tunnels crossing over the Israel-Lebanon border.

Ex-Government Agent Discusses Using AI to Battle Hezbollah Rockets: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018—Amit Meltzer is not only a former chief technology officer for a key Israeli government agency and a top cyber security consultant, he is also a master strategist.

Israeli Official Briefs Italian MPs on Hezbollah, Iran: Eldad Beck, Israel Hayom, Dec. 20, 2018—Head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs tells Italian parliament session on Middle East that Hezbollah is helping Iran export the Islamic revolution across the region, disputing Italian MPs’ claim that Hezbollah operatives are not terrorists.

What Real Border Security Looks Like: Bret Stephens, New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019—What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was … a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the accompanying photos show, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.



Israel Catches Hezbollah in the Act, and the UN Looks Away: Vivian Bercovici, National Post, Dec. 13, 2018 — Earlier this week, on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, had a chat with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Israel’s Blitz of Hezbollah’s Terror Tunnels Will Help Win the PR War: Benny Avni, New York Post, Dec. 10, 2018 — Israel prizes stealth and surprise in battle.

As Syria’s Civil War Winds Down, Israel, Iran and Hezbollah Pivot to Lebanon: Frida Ghitis, WPR, Dec. 13, 2018— After seven years of civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks set to emerge victorious thanks to the support he received from Russia, from his patrons in Iran and from Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s Strategic Symbiosis: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, BESA, Dec. 10, 2018— The question of Lebanon’s responsibility for acts of aggression emanating from its territory has long preoccupied Israeli decision-makers.

On Topic Links

Inching Towards War: Aaron S, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 12, 2018

Operation “Northern Shield” Could Reshape the Northern Front: Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, JCPA, Dec. 10, 2018

The Mole Inside the Hezbollah Tunnel: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 5, 2018

Washington’s Silent War Against Hezbollah in Latin America: Joseph M. Humire, The Hill, Oct. 8, 2018




Vivian Bercovici

National Post, Dec. 13, 2018

Earlier this week, on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, had a chat with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Since August 2006, UNIFIL has been mandated, pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1701, to ensure that all militia forces are kept behind the Litani River in south Lebanon, which flows four kilometres north of the border with Israel at its closest point. In other words, 1701 intends for a reasonable buffer to be maintained separating Hezbollah and IDF forces.

The Lebanese villages of Kafr Kila and Ramya are a literal stone’s throw from the Israeli border. A small, ordinary structure in Kafr Kila, said to be a “cement block factory” turned out to be anything but. There was significant and unusual activity for an agricultural village of 10,000. With airborne devices, the IDF noticed an awful lot of heavy truck traffic going to and from the little factory. They all arrived empty and left loaded with dirt. Israel knew what it was looking at — the site of a major tunnelling operation.

All this busy work seems to have gone unnoticed by the approximately 10,500 UNIFIL soldiers working in the area. To suggest that this strains credulity is putting it mildly. What it also clearly does is raise the issue of the neutrality of the UN force. Hezbollah, backed by the IRGC and Iran, effectively controls south Lebanon and is the de facto government. As terrorist militias often do, Hezbollah commandeers civilian homes and buildings to serve also as a base for storing weapons and, clearly, enhancing military infrastructure and capability

This particular tunnel had reached 600 meters from Kafr Kila, burrowing very close to the northernmost Israeli town of Metulla. A beautiful village where 2,000 Israelis reside, Metulla is perched at the tip of a narrow jut of land, “the finger,” it is sometimes called, and surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. (It is also home to the only indoor regulation-size hockey arena in Israel, named Canada Centre.)

Israel’s northern reaches have experienced horrific incidents too often. Among the more surreal were two brutal terrorist operations that infiltrated Israel through the Lebanese border and targeted civilians: in 1974, terrorists from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took hostage more than 115 schoolchildren and murdered 25; and in 1980, when Kibbutz Misgav Am was attacked by commandos from a radical splinter group under the Palestine Liberation Organization umbrella, who took hostage infants and babies with their caregivers, murdering two. An IDF soldier died in their ultimate rescue.

In early 2014, shortly after I arrived in Israel to serve as Canada’s ambassador, rumours were swirling about tunnels having been dug in Gaza. One particularly surreal version, described in a write-up circulating at the time on Facebook, warned of multiple tunnels being dug from the Gaza Strip right under Israeli homes. The nightmare scenario told of terrorists popping straight into Israeli homes in the midst of family gatherings for the Jewish New Year in early fall. At the time, it was dismissed; the crazy stuff of an overheated sci-fi imagination. Until, several months later, it was proven to be true, during the war between Hamas and Israel in the summer of 2014. The tunnels were terrifyingly real.

Shortly after, residents of northern Israel spoke of hearing digging sounds, just as their compatriots living on the border with the Gaza Strip had done in previous years. Their fears were dismissed publicly, but we now know that they were true. The 2018 version of Misgav Am and Ma’alot is far more sophisticated, engineered and financed by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. Apparently, the plan was to have hundreds of fighters emerge from numerous tunnels (to date three have been exposed but the IDF states that there are more), ambush and encircle Metulla and distract IDF attention and response from the regular Hizballah forces that would then, according to Nasrallah, surge the border and conquer northern Israel.

Operating within Israeli borders, the IDF has neutralized tunnels exposed thus far with explosives, but clearly intends further action. Residents in the villages hosting Hezbollah operatives have received repeated warnings from the IDF since Sunday urging them evacuate their homes, clearly signalling an imminent intention to destroy the structures used as bases for tunnel construction.

In his meeting with Maj. Gen. Del Col, IDF Chief Eisenkot made it very clear that Israel considers the tunnels to be a blatant violation of UN Resolution 1701. Based on official statements, UNIFIL’s response seems to have been a flurry of meetings with Lebanese and other officials. What UNIFIL has yet to do is explain, at all, how such significant Hezbollah military activity could continue, presumably for years, unnoticed, right under more than 10,500 noses.

Incredibly, UNIFIL seems to be questioning the obvious — whether Hezbollah is responsible for the tunnels. Following a meeting yesterday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, Maj. Gen. Del Col issued a statement regarding the seriousness of the tunnel situation, but tempering it with a peculiar warning: “At the same time rumours and speculations should be avoided.” Presumably, this somewhat cryptic admonishment invokes the Israeli claim that Hezbollah operatives dug the tunnels.

For the UN, it would appear, Hezbollah’s culpability is anything but certain. It’s an absurdist denial and, regrettably, exactly why Hezbollah has become so entrenched in south Lebanon in spite of Resolution 1701. This is no whodunnit. It will be interesting to see what alternate theory of reality UNIFIL suggests as to who, other than Hezbollah, might have the resources, motivation and tenacity to burrow through hard rock from Lebanon into Israel.




TERROR TUNNELS WILL HELP WIN THE PR WAR                                 

Benny Avni                        

New York Post, Dec. 10, 2018

Israel prizes stealth and surprise in battle. Yet it’s now conducting a highly publicized military operation, destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels snaking under its border with Lebanon. Why? True, tunnels are a major threat, but what worries Israelis even more is Hezbollah’s ever-growing missile arsenal. The Shiite terror group’s patrons in Tehran are busy modernizing those missiles while building indigenous rocket-manufacturing factories on Lebanese territory.

So why the tunnels first? Two such tunnels have been eliminated since the Israeli Defense Forces launched operation Northern Shield last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the work will last as long as it takes to destroy all tunnels. Maybe months. They’re dug deep under the rocky terrain of the border region. Some are reportedly wide enough to transport tanks and other heavy military equipment. IDF briefers say one tunnel, destroyed last week, would have allowed terrorists to seize a major Israeli highway, cutting off Metula and other northern Galilee towns and, presumably, slaughtering residents.

Israel’s known about the tunneling activity for months. Galilee residents have complained about underground noises at night, and intelligence officials have reportedly used Lebanese sources to map tunneling and follow the digging process. Hezbollah has seized several southern Lebanese villages, taking over residential homes and using the locals as human shields against possible air attack. The terror outfit was apparently unaware of the wealth of intelligence Israel has gathered.

Those details, and others, emerged from press briefings the IDF has conducted regularly during Northern Shield. Netanyahu, similarly, took foreign ambassadors to the border for a detailed presentation. And on Sunday the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, hosted the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col of Italy, at his Tel Aviv headquarters. The south Lebanon-based UNIFIL, charged with overseeing the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, has to date mentioned no tunneling activity in its periodic reports to the Security Council. Now Del Col readily admits the Hezbollah tunnels are a serious violation of the ceasefire terms.

And as tunnel destruction is conducted entirely inside Israel’s territory (though officials darkly hint they may at one point need to enter the other side of the border), even the toughest critics — including the UN — can’t blame Jerusalem for defending itself. But if so, again: Why the publicity blitz? Why brief the press, foreign diplomats and the UN?

Part of the answer has to do with Israel’s recognition that in the past it has won decisive military victories while losing the public relations wars. As before, in the next war “Hezbollah will hope to survive to fight another day while delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world,” says a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. But according to JINSA, a think tank comprised of top retired US military officials, the next war will be much bloodier than past skirmishes, as Hezbollah now threatens Israel with up to 140,000 rockets, up from about 10,000 in 2006.

True, most of those rockets are primitive, but some Iranian deliveries of high precision missiles through Syria manage to evade IDF air attacks and are now housed in Lebanese villages. Over the weekend Hezbollah’s second in command, Naim Qassem, warned those rockets can reach any point in Israel.

Worse: In September, Netanyahu showed the UN photos of factories being erected near Beirut, where precision missiles are to be manufactured — bypassing the need to transfer them from Iran. Israel “knows what you’re doing, Israel knows where you are doing it and Israel will not let you get away with it,” Netanyahu said. Those factories can be a major game changer, but if the IDF wants to eliminate the threat, it must at first neutralize other menaces — like tunnels designed to slaughter Israeli civilians in retaliation for an attack on Hezbollah. And destroying those tunnels in full public view, highlighting how Hezbollah takes Lebanese villagers hostage and uses them as human shield, is a bonus in the PR battle — a major component of modern warfare.





Frida Ghitis                            

WPR, Dec. 13, 2018

After seven years of civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks set to emerge victorious thanks to the support he received from Russia, from his patrons in Iran and from Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah. The war is not over, but the focus on what comes next is already underway, and one change is now plainly visible: Iran, Damascus and Hezbollah are pivoting their attention to Lebanon’s future—and so is Israel.

In recent days, a flurry of military and political activity has shifted to Lebanon, confirming that the tiny country—which has for so long been caught in the vice of regional tensions, often with disastrous consequences—is once again feeling the pressure. Lebanon has been listening to the threats and counterthreats exchanged by Hezbollah and Israel, watching military activities along its borders, tracking mysterious flights by Iranian aircraft, and following a fraught political drama that shows no end in sight.

The latest chapter in Lebanon’s struggles is unfolding as the quest to form a new government in Beirut remains stalled more than six months after the latest elections. Lebanon remains vulnerable as ever, with President Michel Aoun warning that if an agreement on a new government is not reached soon, “the risks are greater than we can bear.” Lebanon’s dire economic problems are only one of the reasons why the country’s stability remains so fragile.

With Assad now reinvigorated by battlefield victories and his gradual emergence from the tent of ignominy back into the Arab fold, Damascus, in coordination with Iran, is again aiming to rebuild its dominance in Lebanon. Observers have noted that one of the reasons Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s efforts to form a new government have proven so daunting is Damascus’ involvement. The Syrians, according to the scholar Joseph Bahout, have made it clear to Hariri that he will not be confirmed by parliament unless he commits to “reestablishing the ‘privileged relationship’” between the two countries. That relationship started to unravel in 2005, even before the Syrian war, after Rafik Hariri—Saad’s father, a former prime minister and a determined foe of Damascus—was assassinated, most likely by Hezbollah agents working on Syria’s orders.

While the younger Hariri wrestles with pressure to hand powerful ministries to Hezbollah loyalists, tensions are escalating along Lebanon’s southern border. Last week, Israel launched an operation to destroy tunnels it said Hezbollah had been building beneath the border and into Israeli territory, advising Lebanese residents in Arabic to temporarily leave their homes while the demolition unfolded, lest the collapse of the tunnels and the possible ammunition within them trigger uncontrolled explosions.

For years Israelis living near the border had complained that they were hearing ominous sounds of activity under their homes. Israeli authorities had downplayed the threat, concealing the fact that they knew of and were monitoring Hezbollah’s tunnel construction. But this time they made no effort to conceal the information, in an apparent push to deter more construction. They even released photographs and videos apparently showing Hezbollah operatives caught by surprise by the Israelis while working inside what the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, called “attack tunnels.”

Neither Hezbollah nor Israel are particularly keen on going to war right now, but circumstances could easily escalate. The demolitions, according to the Israeli Defense Forces, could take weeks, as the IDF reported finding tunnels going deep inside Israel. Israel protested what it described as a flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution that ended the most recent war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

Some questioned the timing of the campaign, claiming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched it in an effort to protect himself from his growing legal troubles. But the general consensus among security experts in Israel is that the Hezbollah threat is real and must be challenged. The IDF said the decision to destroy the tunnels was made now because the tunnel construction, which it had been monitoring for months, had crossed into Israeli territory but had not yet become fully functional.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has threatened that the next war between the two bitter enemies will be fought in Israel, with the entirety of Israel’s territory within the reach of Hezbollah rockets and the “the boots of resistance fighters.” Israel takes the threat seriously and is trying to crush the underground paths so that there will be no Hezbollah boots on Israeli soil the next time the two sides go to war—an eventuality that seems all but assured. The operation to destroy the tunnels continues, but the IDF says it intends to remain on the Israeli side of the border.

Neither Hezbollah nor Israel are particularly keen on going to war right now, but circumstances could easily escalate. After sending his Lebanese militia to fight and die to save the Syrian dictator, Nasrallah needs to maintain his credibility as the protector of Lebanon. And however embattled Netanyahu is, Israelis across the political spectrum agree with the country’s security red lines…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen          

BESA, Dec. 10, 2018

The question of Lebanon’s responsibility for acts of aggression emanating from its territory has long preoccupied Israeli decision-makers. During the Second Lebanon War, for instance, Prime Minister Olmert rejected the demand by Chief-of-Staff Halutz to attack Lebanese national infrastructures in response to Hezbollah’s sustained missile attacks on Israel’s population centers.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006, which ended the war, reflected the international hope that the Lebanese government would reassert its authority throughout the country, including the disarmament of all Lebanese armed groups and the prevention of any armed groups, apart from the Lebanese army and the UN’s force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), from operating in southern Lebanon.

Nothing of the sort happened. Not only was Hezbollah not disarmed as envisaged by the UN resolution, but it has substantially expanded its military capabilities, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and has done so with the tacit support of the Lebanese army and government. So much so that it is arguable that over the past decade, a new strategic symbiosis has evolved between the Islamist group and the institutional state of Lebanon, with a useful division of labor in numerous fields.

Thus, for example, Lebanese army soldiers, as the official state representatives, are responsible for security checks and the general protection of the Dahiya district in Beirut, home to Hezbollah headquarters; whereas the Islamist group’s fighting in Syria has served Lebanese interests (apart from those of Iran, Hezbollah’s founding patron). A high level of operational collaboration between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army was manifested in their joint fight against ISIS forces in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

No less important, Hezbollah has been the moving spirit behind the Lebanese army’s adamant objection, voiced in its monthly meetings with the IDF under the UNIFIL’s auspices, to the erection of a security fence on the Israeli side of the border.

In these circumstances, it is impossible to preclude the possibility that in a future war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese army may play an active role in helping the Islamist group to rebuff IDF operations deep in Lebanon. This is at a time when this army has been the recipient of US arms and military training over the past few years.

By skillfully exploiting this hybrid reality, Lebanon has successfully conducted itself between two opposing poles: close economic and military cooperation with the Western nations (France and the US in particular) on the one hand, and tight association with Syria and Iran (via Hezbollah) on the other. This delicate balancing act helps explain both Lebanon’s success in weathering the turbulence that has rocked the Arab world since 2011 and its ability to evade international censure for its symbiotic relationship with Hezbollah.

Given this symbiosis, and the unprecedented scope of Hezbollah’s offensive and defensive deployment throughout Lebanon, Israel needs to rethink its strategic doctrine vis-à-vis Lebanon without delay. PM Netanyahu’s warning that Lebanon would be held accountable for any acts of aggression emanating from its sovereign territory is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, step in the right direction. What is required is a sustained Israeli-led international effort to clarify to the Lebanese government (and Hezbollah) in no uncertain terms the devastating consequences to the Lebanese state of a new Hezbollah-induced war with Israel.



On Topic Links

Inching Towards War: Aaron S, Jerusalem Online, Dec. 12, 2018—Analysts have been saying for years that it was only a matter of time until Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist militia were again engaged in open conflict. The events of the past several days have finally woken most Israelis up to the seriousness of those warnings.

Operation “Northern Shield” Could Reshape the Northern Front: Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, JCPA, Dec. 10, 2018 —The discovery of Hizbullah’s invasion tunnels has removed a critical component of the organization’s and Iran’s plan for war against Israel, expected to break out at some time.

The Mole Inside the Hezbollah Tunnel: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 5, 2018—This week, for the first time, Israel made public its discovery of the tunnel constructed by Hezbollah and reaching into Israel’s sovereign territory.

Washington’s Silent War Against Hezbollah in Latin America: Joseph M. Humire, The Hill, Oct. 8, 2018—On July 11, 2018, the government of Argentina took its first action against Hezbollah by freezing the financial assets of 14 individuals belonging to the Barakat clan in South America.


The Return of ISIS: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 2, 2018— Islamic State fighters operating in the Lower Euphrates river valley this week killed 68 fighters of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.

Israel Keeps a Wary Eye on Iranian Entrenchment as Syrian Border Crossing Reopens: Yaakov Lappin, IPT News, Oct. 24, 2018— The recent reopening of a border crossing between Israel and Syria holds the hope of stability as the Syrian war draws to a close.  

The Israeli Campaign Against the Conversion of Rockets in Lebanon to Precision-Guided Missiles: Ofek Riemer, INSS, Oct. 23, 2018— In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles.”

Time to Get Tough on Hezbollah: Sheryl Saperia, CJN, Oct. 11, 2018— Public Safety Canada releases an annual report on terrorist threats, which in recent years has highlighted ISIS and al-Qaida as posing the greatest risk to Canada, along with a general category of extremists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology.

On Topic Links

Play Nicely with Your New Toys: Jerusalem Online, Oct. 31, 2018

US Hopes Russia will Continue to let Israel Hit Iran in Syria –Envoy: Ynet, Nov. 7, 2018

Fight Against Last Vestige of ISIS in Syria Stalls, to Dismay of U.S.: Eric Schmitt, New York Times, Nov. 6, 2018

A Luxury City Shows Blueprint for Syria’s Rebuilding Plans: New York Times, Nov. 5, 2018


THE RETURN OF ISIS                                                                                                         

Jonathan Spyer                                                           

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 2, 2018

Islamic State fighters operating in the Lower Euphrates river valley this week killed 68 fighters of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.  Under cover of a sandstorm that severely reduced visibility, the Sunni jihadis of IS launched a wave of suicide bombings against SDF positions.  The Coalition rushed 500 fighters from the Kurdish YPG to the area (the SDF in the area consisted mainly of Arab fighters from the Deir a Zur Military Council).  Intense Coalition air and artillery strikes followed.  For now the situation has returned to an uneasy stability.  The SDF and coalition offensive against the last significant IS-controlled pocket of territory around the town of Hajin continues.

It would be mistaken to see the latest Hajin incidents as merely the last stand of a few IS bitter-enders, a final if gory footnote in the often horrifying trajectory of the Caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul on June 29, 2014.  Rather, the evidence shows that IS doesn’t care for last stands under which a line can be drawn.  It had the opportunities for such gestures in its main urban conquests of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.  It avoided them – leaving a core of fighters to carry out the last battles, while key leaders and cadres escaped to reorganize for the next chapter.

The Hajin incidents should rather be seen as reflective of a larger reality: namely, that the Islamic State organization has not been destroyed. Reports of its demise have been much exaggerated.  It is currently in a process of reorganization and regrouping. And it may well recommence major operations in the not too distant future. This process is itself part of a broad strategic picture.  Two large and inter-related Sunni Arab insurgencies have arisen in the Levant and Iraq in the last decade – these are the ‘Syrian rebellion’ and the Caliphate of the Islamic State.  Both have, in conventional terms, been defeated.  The Syrian Sunni Arab rebel groups remain in existence only in a part of north west Syria, and only because of the protection of Turkey. The Caliphate, meanwhile, consists today only of the Hajin pocket and a few other isolated desert enclaves.

But the defeat of these armed campaigns has not resolved the issues that caused them to come into existence.  A very large, discontented and disenfranchised Sunni Arab population remains in the area of Syria and Iraq.  Its needs, to put it mildly, are not set to be addressed by either the Alawi-dominated Assad dictatorship in Damascus, or the Shia-led and Iran inclining Iraqi government in Baghdad.  The language which can mobilise this population, meanwhile, as the events of recent years confirm, is Sunni political Islam.

All this creates a ripe atmosphere for ISIS 2.0 to grow – on condition that the organization can extricate from the ruins of the Caliphate something resembling a coherent organizational structure for the rebuilding of an insurgent network. The evidence suggest that IS has achieved this.  It is therefore now regenerating itself. What form is this taking? A recent report by the Institute for the Study of War entitled ‘ISIS’ Second Resurgence’ quotes a US State Department estimate of August 2018 which puts the number of fighters currently available to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at 30,000.  These fighters, the report suggests, are evenly divided between Iraq and Syria.

ISW notes that the Islamic State infrastructure does not lack for funding, the organization having smuggled $400 million out of Iraq, where it has been invested in businesses across the region.  IS also engages in kidnapping, extortion and drug smuggling within the area of Syria and Iraq itself. Embedded deep in the Sunni Arab communities from which it draws its strength, IS maintains networks of support and de facto control in a number of areas identified by the report.  These include the Hamrin Mountains in Diyala Province, the Hawija area, eastern Salah al-Din Province, the area south of Mosul city and Daquq. Local government officials also in the Sinjar area have reported sharp increases in IS activities in the area to the south of Sinjar and in the Ninawah plains in the recent period.

In all these areas, IS relies on the fear of the local populace, their lack of trust in the Shia-dominated, often sectarian-minded Iraqi security forces,  and in turn the unwillingness of those security forces to make a real effort to root out the IS presence. To do so would require determined and risky deployments of a type which the security forces lack the determination or motivation to undertake. Sheikh Ali Nawfil al-Hassan of the Al-Shammar Beduin tribe which has lands in eastern Syria and western Iraq, recently said in an interview with the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis (MECRA) that ‘in these areas ISIS is coming and going as they want freely. They move about as they wish.’…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]



ENTRENCHMENT AS SYRIAN BORDER CROSSING REOPENS                                               

Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Oct. 24, 2018


The recent reopening of a border crossing between Israel and Syria holds the hope of stability as the Syrian war draws to a close. But if Iran, Hizballah, and allied radical Shi’ite militias have their way, Syria will be hijacked and turned into a radical Iranian power projection base. Any hopes for stability would then give way to destabilizing conflict, terrorism, and new threats to Israel and Jordan. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced last week that the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, shut down in 2014, is back in operation.

Before the Syrian civil war’s outbreak, members of the Golan Heights Druze community – which identifies itself as Syrian, unlike the Israeli-Druze community – used the crossing to attend family celebrations in next-door Syria, export apples, and to study at Syrian universities. The border crossing also served as a key access point for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), tasked with trying to help keep the border region peaceful, and help Israel and Syria maintain their 40-year truce.

All of that fell apart during the bloody years of the Syrian war. The Assad regime’s sovereignty in southern Syria, like many other areas of the country, collapsed, the UN fled, and armed groups overran the area. Some parts of southern Syria came under the control of extremist Islamic State-affiliated forces, while other areas were ruled by more moderate Sunni groups. Other pockets of land were held by the Assad regime, with the assistance of pro-regime militias that Iran helped to set up and arm.

Now, southern Syria is officially back under Assad’s control, and the UN is returning to the border. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has retaken the area, and this has allowed Israel to reopen the Quneitra crossing. These developments suggest a new stability, but the reality isn’t as simple as putting the chess pieces back in their original positions. The Syria of 2018 – or what is left of it – is not the country that it was before the war, for it has been thoroughly infiltrated by Iran and its proxies. Iran has played a major role in the war that led to an estimated 500,000 deaths, and which displaced half of all Syrians, most of them Sunnis. Now that Iran’s client, the Assad regime, has emerged as the victor, Tehran is looking to ‘cash in its chips,’ and build itself a war machine in Syria.

One of Iran’s goals is to set up a network of terrorist cells to attack Israel from southern Syria. Such cells would be able to attack with border bombs, shoulder-fired missiles, ballistic rockets, and cross-border raids. They could aim for both Israeli military and civilian targets. It is a goal that Iran has already tried to realize in the past, and failed. Iran has also tried to build missile bases, drone bases, weapons production sites, and other installations throughout Syria, an effort that was thwarted by Israel. Iran has flooded Syria with militant Shi’ite militias that it recruited from across the Middle East, trained, and armed, giving it access to its own army.

Throughout the war, Syria became an active Iranian military zone. Assad’s role was essentially reduced to granting Tehran permission to further entrench itself. Assad had little choice in the matter, as the Iranian assistance he received on the ground, combined with Russia’s air power, saved his regime from destruction.

Hizballah – Iran’s forward division in Lebanon – remains active throughout Syria as well. Although Hizballah has begun withdrawing forces back to Lebanon, its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, recently signaled that some of his personnel will be remaining in Syria. “No one can force us out of Syria,” Nasrallah said in September. “We will stay there until further notice.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), together with its international operations unit, the Quds Force, are also staying put. They have played a critical role in assisting the return of Assad’s army to southern Syria. The IRGC has planned operations and injected Iranian-controlled militias into the SAA’s offensive.

Israeli defense sources have confirmed the presence of embedded Shi’ite militias among the returning SAA forces. This year already provided a glimpse into Iran’s future plans for the region. In May, the Quds Force used a truck-mounted rocket launcher to fire projectiles at Israel, following a string of reported air strikes against Iranian bases in Syria. “Numerous reports indicate that the Iranian forces, Hizballah, and the Shi’ite militias participated in the fighting in southern Syria dressed in Syrian army uniforms so as to disguise their presence there,” the Middle East Media Research Institute said in a July report.

Russia’s vow to keep Iranian forces 85 kilometers away from the Israeli border does not appear to be a long-term arrangement on which Israel can depend. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last Thursday that it was not up to Russia to convince Iran to pull out of Syria. U.S. lawmakers and security observers have expressed growing concern over Iran’s plan of entrenchment in Syria. The dangers posed by Iran projecting its radical power onto Syria are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

The wider picture, then, is that Iran’s takeover efforts continue to cast a dark shadow over Syria’s future, as well as the security and stability of the wider region. Jordan is as threatened by the presence of Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias on its borders as Israel, due to Iran’s hostile intentions toward this pragmatic Sunni kingdom, which maintains a peace treaty with Israel, and which wishes to have no part in Tehran’s attempt to become a regional hegemon. Jordan has nothing to gain and much to lose if Iran succeeds in turning the region into a staging ground of extremist armed forces that answer to the Islamic Republic…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]  






Ofek Riemer

INSS, Oct. 23, 2018

In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles.” As evidence, he presented a map showing three sites in southern Beirut near the international airport, which Israeli intelligence claims are related to this project. The expose was accompanied by a video clip distributed by the IDF spokesperson to the media and on the social networks with more information about the project, and text messages were sent to residents of Beirut. The speech, including the disclosure of sensitive information about both the missile conversion sites in Lebanon and the warehouse of nuclear materials in Iran, met with a mixed reception. Some praised the political act designed to increase the pressure on Iran and Hezbollah. Conversely, some criticized the disclosure of the hard-earned intelligence material.

What is Israel’s ultimate goal in the campaign against the production of missiles in Lebanon – prevention or delay? And, is the media policy, including the disclosure of intelligence, useful in attaining this goal? The information about the project to convert rockets into high-precision missiles on Lebanese territory was first revealed in a Kuwaiti newspaper in March 2017. Already then the Israeli press hinted that Israel was behind this report. Three months later, then-Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate Chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi confirmed the information in a public lecture. The Prime Minister and senior military establishment leaders then declared that Israel regards “gravely” the construction of factories for production of advanced weapons in Lebanon, but refrained from threatening direct military action to attack the project.

The impression is that the Israeli leadership has refused to commit itself to take direct military action to remove the threat due to Hezbollah’s success in consolidating a deterrence equation against Israel, whereby an attack in Lebanon is a red line for Hezbollah. As part of Israel’s ongoing campaign since early 2013 against Hezbollah’s arming itself with advanced weapons, in February 2014 IDF forces attacked an arms shipment on the western side of the Syrian-Lebanese border. In a counterattack against IDF forces on Mt. Dov (Shab’a Farms), Hezbollah acted for the first time since the beginning of the campaign to enforce the red line it had drawn. Since then, the IDF has refrained from attacks on Lebanese territory. In establishing weapons production plants in Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah therefore presumably assume that Israel will not attack them out of concern about Hezbollah’s response and the possibility of escalation in Lebanon.

In these circumstances, Israel has continued its operations against the project through air force attacks in Syrian territory – a conduit for delivery of advanced missiles and conversion equipment to Lebanon – and also probably through covert operations in Lebanon itself. In July 2017, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot claimed that Israel was “working all the time against it [missile conversion in Lebanon] with a set of tools that it is best to keep quiet about, and with the aim of not causing a deterioration [in the situation].” Two months later, he said that the IDF had successfully prevented Hezbollah from attaining capability to launch precision missiles into Israeli territory. It appears, however, that the Israeli efforts did not succeed in delaying the project for long, and Israel accordingly resumed its use of the media to reveal additional information about the project and deliver threats aimed mostly at the Lebanese side, such as in an article published by the IDF spokesperson early this year.

The repeated use of the media indicates that Israel has likely not achieved its goals in Lebanon through other means. Furthermore, in the absence of a credible threat of military action, its use of the media indicates that Israel is deterred from acting in Lebanon, thereby signaling implicitly that Iran and Hezbollah are free to continue to carry out their plans. It therefore appears that Israel’s use of the media to expose Hezbollah’s operations is not aimed at those directly responsible; rather, it is designed mainly to exert pressure on the international community and the authorities and public in Lebanon. This pressure is meant to increase concern about a war between Israel and Hezbollah that will “cause the destruction” of Lebanon, its infrastructure, and its army, and aggravate instability in the region, in the hope that the parties who are the subject of this pressure will intervene and halt the project.

Nevertheless, it appears that these efforts have not borne fruit. Even after the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN, the international community is still indifferent to the issue, and refuses to use the means at its disposal to exert pressure on Lebanon. The US administration is preoccupied with internal affairs and other urgent foreign policy issues (the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, relations with NATO, and trade with China), and has left the Syrian-Lebanese theater to Russia. This is evident through Russia’s expanding influence in Syria, as indicated inter alia by the orchestration of diplomatic measures aimed at reaching a political settlement of the crisis and bringing the refugees back to the country; the emerging economic and security agreements between Russia and Lebanon; and the withdrawal of American Patriot missile batteries from Jordan. The sanctions imposed on Hezbollah, including those recently approved by the US House of Representatives, are also proving unsuccessful in exerting pressure on the organization on this issue. Europe, for its part, regards Hezbollah as an element contributing to internal stability in Lebanon, and still supplies unconditional monetary and military aid to that country…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]




TIME TO GET TOUGH ON HEZBOLLAH                                                              

Sheryl Saperia

CJN, Oct. 11, 2018

Public Safety Canada releases an annual report on terrorist threats, which in recent years has highlighted ISIS and al-Qaida as posing the greatest risk to Canada, along with a general category of extremists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology. But tucked away in these reports is a brief mention that Hezbollah also poses a clear risk to Canadian interests, with regard to its terrorist financing, recruitment and operations. Indeed, both the RCMP and the Ministry of Public Safety view the organization, whose objectives are to destroy Israel and establish a revolutionary Shia Islamic state in Lebanon that is modelled after Iran, as one of the most technically capable terrorist groups in the world. Yet Hezbollah generally does not receive much attention here.

Hezbollah was designated as a terrorist entity in Canada in 2002, with both the Liberal government and Conservative opposition at the time rightly rejecting the notion that the military and political wings of the organization could be distinguished in a way that would rationalize only banning the former. Aside from this crucial step, what other policy measures could be put in place to contain the threat posed by Hezbollah?  First, given that Iran provides approximately $800 million a year to Hezbollah, in addition to weapons, it is important that Canada continues to label Iran as a state sponsor of terror and ensure that Canadian money does not help enrich the regime.

One particularly tragic example of Hezbollah operating under Iran’s guidance is the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed and many more wounded. Mohsen Rabbani is said to have handled the logistics for the attack. Shortly before the bombing, Rabbani became the cultural attaché to the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires. This diplomatic appointment and its attendant passport allowed him to carry out the operation. This attack, and others like it, should heavily weigh against any consideration the Canadian government might give to allowing Iran to re-open its embassy in Ottawa. An Iranian embassy establishes a foothold inside Canada, from which serious terrorist groups like Hezbollah are positioned to spy, recruit, fundraise and carry out attacks.

Second, Canada must recognize the threat that Hezbollah poses, especially in Latin America, where it, and Iran, are particularly active. Alberto Nisman, an Argentine prosecutor who was murdered in 2015 while investigating his government’s cover-up of Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing, had previously released a report warning countries such as Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay of Iranian infiltration. Canada should urge Latin American countries to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group and even contemplate utilizing the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act to impose sanctions. As my colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi has pointed out, “In Latin America, a major factor explaining Hezbollah’s success is its ability to buy the silence and complicity of local politicians, law enforcement, judges and prosecutors, airport security and other officials.” These foreign officials’ corrupt practices may render them worthy of sanctions under Canadian law.

Finally, Canada should recalibrate its foreign policy vis-à-vis Lebanon, whose sovereignty has been largely co-opted by this terrorist organization. Hezbollah is the key power broker in the Lebanese parliament and has influence inside the Lebanese Armed Forces. This explains why Iranian civilian airliners can fly weapons destined for Hezbollah straight into the Beirut airport. Canadian policy must include measures to isolate and defang those involved in perpetuating insecurity and slaughter throughout the region, through their support for Hezbollah. Hezbollah also runs a multi-billion dollar international network of illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and money laundering. There is nothing redeeming about this organization. It’s time for Canada to get tough on Hezbollah.


On Topic Links

Play Nicely with Your New Toys: Jerusalem Online, Oct. 31, 2018—Israeli forces have no plans to target Russian-made S-300 air defense systems in Syria if the Syrian army uses them in a way that poses no threat to Israel, former Israeli deputy chief of staff and ex-head of the National Security Council Gen. Uzi Dayan told Sputnik News Agency in an interview.

US Hopes Russia will Continue to let Israel Hit Iran in Syria –Envoy: Ynet, Nov. 7, 2018—The United States said on Wednesday it hoped Russia would continue to allow Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s supply of the S-300 air defence system to the Syrian government.

Fight Against Last Vestige of ISIS in Syria Stalls, to Dismay of U.S.: Eric Schmitt, New York Times, Nov. 6, 2018—An American-backed military offensive has stalled against the Islamic State’s last vestige in eastern Syria. Booby traps, land mines and a militant counterstrike during a fierce sandstorm after the campaign began in September have knocked the coalition back on its heels.

A Luxury City Shows Blueprint for Syria’s Rebuilding Plans: New York Times, Nov. 5, 2018—At a building site in Damascus, trucks and bulldozers zigzag back and forth ferrying sand and stones for a luxury development of residential high-rises and shopping centers.





Israel’s Syria Strategy: Yossi Melman, Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2018—The first two weeks of May were very hectic and dramatic for Israeli leaders and security chiefs in dealing with Iran.

Whoever you Vote For – Hezbollah Wins: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, May 16, 2018— Lebanon’s May 6 elections have resulted in the further consolidation of Hezbollah and its associated movements within the legal frameworks of the state.

The Travesty of the Lebanese Elections: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, May 16, 2018— Tehran is delighted with the purported victory of the Hezbollah-Amal alliance, which it backed, in the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections.

On This Memorial Day, Consider What We Owe America’s Veterans: Rena Nessler, New York Post, May 27, 2018— The numbers are sobering…

On Topic Links

Report: Iranian Forces, Shiite Militias Banned From Using Airbases in Syria: Becca Noy, Jerusalem Online, May 28, 2018

Israel’s Attacks on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria Spur Internal Disputes in Iran: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall and Orly Ram, JCPA, May 16, 2018

After 7 years, Syrian Government Declares Damascus Back Under its Full Control: Zeina Karam, Times of Israel, May 22, 2018

With Hezbollah Officially in Charge, Will the U.S. Finally Stop Arming Lebanon?: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, May 13, 2018



Yossi Melman

Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2018

The first two weeks of May were very hectic and dramatic for Israeli leaders and security chiefs in dealing with Iran. On May 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Mossad operatives had stolen Iran’s central nuclear archive, proving that the Islamic Republic had violated its nuclear deal with the six major world powers. A week later, in light of the revelations, and more importantly, the contents of the stolen documents and disks, the US cancelled and pulled out of the deal.

A few hours after President Donald Trump announced his decision, Israeli intelligence prevented a revenge attack by Iran. The Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked and destroyed an Iranian mobile launcher in Syria that carried rockets slated to be fired against Israel. Twenty-four hours later, the intelligence proved insufficient. From another base in Syria, Iran launched 32 rockets against Israeli military positions on the Golan Heights. Four rockets were intercepted and the rest fell in Syrian territory.

Within hours, Israel retaliated by attacking 70 Iranian positions in Syria. The targets were intelligence installations, rocket depots, army bases, logistic warehouses that Iran had built in the last year in Syria, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft systems, which fired at the Israeli planes. The operation, code-named “House of Cards” by the IDF, was the largest Israeli attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War – and the closest Israel and Iran have come to the brink of a direct confrontation.

But the factor that likely played the greatest role but was most overlooked in galvanizing Israel to act against the Iranian presence in Syria is Russia. Hours before the IAF launched its massive strike, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and attend the annual Victory Day military parade commemorating Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany. It was their ninth face-to-face meeting in the last 32 months – since Russia deployed its forces in Syria to save the regime of Bashar Assad.

Following the meeting, a senior Russia official said that his country was not negotiating a deal to supply the Syrian army with advanced S300 anti-aircraft systems. Israel has consistently opposed the deal, fearing the batteries would limit IAF freedom of action and maneuverability over the Syrian sky. Later, a senior IAF officer, briefing Israeli reporters, admitted that Israel had coordinated in advance with Russia without telling it when and where the House of Cards operation would take place in general terms, without providing exact details.

All these factors taken together, it seems that the Kremlin has slightly changed its double game in Syria with regard to Israel. Originally, the double game meant that while Russia cooperated militarily with Iran to help the Assad regime in its war against Syrian rebels, it tolerated and turned a blind eye to Israeli strikes against Iran.

Russia still needs Iranian advisers and commanders and their proxies – Shi’ite militias from Iraq, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Pakistan and Afghanistan – to be present in Syria as “boots on the ground.” But as the Assad regime extends its control over more territory, Russia needs Iran to a lesser extent. In a cynical way, Russia no longer cares, and maybe it is even happy, if the growing Iranian presence and influence in Syria is challenged and blocked by Israeli military actions.

Iranian-Syrian relations have come a long way to reach their present peak. Since 1970, Syria has been ruled by a family dynasty – the Assads, who belong to the Alawite sect, which is an offspring of the Shi’ite community. But it isn’t only religious roots that bind the two regimes. They were also tied in the past by a common rivalry with Iraq and hatred of its late leader, Saddam Hussein. The late Syrian president Hafez el-Assad, who died in 2000, respected but also suspected Iran. His cooperation with the country was cautious and limited. Even his son and heir, Bashar Assad, didn’t fully trust Iran when he came to power. He concealed from Iran his ambitious and secret program to build nuclear bombs, a plan that was destroyed in September 2007 when the IAF demolished Syria’s nuclear reactor.

But after that, Bashar strengthened his relations with Iran. He allowed Iran to use Syria as a hub for resupplying Hezbollah with rockets and missiles after the Lebanese Shi’ite movement suffered a blow at the hands of Israel in the 2006 war. But the turning point came after the eruption of civil war in Syria in March 2011. Fearing he would lose power to the mosaic of rebel groups, including al-Qaeda (and later ISIS) supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the US, Assad asked Iran to help repel his enemies.

Iran gladly agreed. First, it sent Hezbollah warriors to salvage the Syrian regime, then its own advisers and commanders, and eventually, Shi’ite militias to serve as cannon fodder. Indeed, Iran and its proxies, together with a later Russian intervention, rescued Assad. As the combined efforts repelled and defeated ISIS, and as the Assad regime regained more territory, Iran moved to phase two of its plan. It began deepening its military deployment in Syria with three aims. One, to establish a land corridor from its territory via Iraq to Syria and then to Lebanon, as part of its expansionist policy to set strong footholds in the entire Middle East by reaching the Mediterranean and the Red Sea via Yemen.

The second aim is to reap economic benefits in Syria, particularly by gaining oil and gas concessions as well as construction deals. The third aim is to have a military presence near the Israeli border in order to threaten the Jewish state from three directions: long-range missiles from Iran; the huge missile and rocket arsenal (120,000) of Hezbollah in Lebanon; and the Hezbollah presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Jonathan Spyer

Breaking Israel News, May 16, 2018

Lebanon’s May 6 elections have resulted in the further consolidation of Hezbollah and its associated movements within the legal frameworks of the state. The movement and its allies won over half of the seats in the 128-seat parliament. At the same time, the 2018 elections do not appear set to usher in any fundamental alterations to the status quo in Lebanon.

The majority achieved was not sufficient as a basis for constitutional change to alter the rules of the game related, for example, to the sectarian power-sharing agreements that underlie Lebanese political life. However, Hezbollah and Amal and co will have comfortably more than their own “blocking third” in parliament, sufficient to prevent any changes not to their liking. Hezbollah and Amal swept the boards in the Shia parts of the country, confirming and consolidating their domination of this sector. Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah declared himself satisfied with the results, saying they confirmed Beirut as a “capital of the resistance.”

The biggest losers were the Future Movement of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri. This list saw its representation in parliament decline from 34 seats to 21, with Hariri-supported candidates losing to Hezbollah supported Sunnis in Beirut and Tripoli. The decline in Hariri and al-Mustaqbal’s levels of support reflect the sense that the March 14 project of which they were a part is a busted flush.

Following the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and the subsequent assassination of then-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, March 14 sought to stand for a notion of Lebanon as a sovereign state, run by its institutions, and with weaponry kept out of politics. This is a project that has clearly failed. Its first testing point was in 2006 when Hezbollah carried out the attack on an IDF patrol on the Israeli side of the border which precipitated the 2006 war. This incident indicated that despite March 14’s nominal role as the governing authority, it was incapable of preventing a political party with its own militia and backed by a foreign power (Iran) from going to war at a time and in a manner of its choosing.

Its second testing point came in May of 2008 when it was established that March 14 had no ability to challenge Hezbollah writ within Lebanon, as well as on the matter of the movement’s violent campaign (or “resistance” as it prefers to term it) against Israel. At that time, the March 14 led government sought to act against Hezbollah’s de facto control of the Beirut International Airport. Amal and Hezbollah then took over west Beirut in 48 hours, forcing the government to reverse its planned measures. The third and final burial of the March 14 project for the normalization of Lebanon came with the Syrian civil war. At that time, Hezbollah was tasked by Iran with helping to make up for the Assad regime’s shortfall in manpower. It proceeded to do so, placing the population of Lebanon including its Shia constituency at acute risk, again with no permission sought.

All these facts explain the eclipse of March 14 and Hariri. They are, quite simply, a project that has failed. What will result from the elections will be a coalition government likely to include both Hezbollah and its allies, and the defeated remnants of the March 14 alliance, whose main component, the Future Movement, is led by Sa’ad Hariri. It is possible that Hariri will himself return as prime minister in the new coalition to be formed. But because of the new parliamentary arithmetic, Hezbollah and its allies will have a higher representation in the new coalition.

Analyses by Lebanese commentators of the elections have been as ever characterized by nuance, subtlety and sophisticated understanding of the sometimes labyrinthine nature of Lebanese politics. As ever, however, they have tended to focus on the minutiae of levels of support and hence of representation in the next coalition, noting the role of a new election law this time in necessitating new tactical electoral alliances, and hence breaking down the old clear structures of March 14 and its rival March 8 movement. Analysis of minutiae and process, while worthwhile, can also play the role of obscuring the larger picture and its implications. It is therefore important also to note these. The forced resignation and then rapid non-resignation of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri in November 2017 demonstrated the essential powerlessness of the Lebanese Prime Minister on crucial matters.

The elements other than Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese governing system are there to play the role of convincing the world that something of the state remains and that the country has not simply become a fully fledged puppet of Tehran and its militias. For this purpose, elections are held, in line with international norms, parties contest constituencies, real issues are also at stake. There is a large swathe of national policy entirely off limits to the political discussion, and not contested by it. This is the sphere of foreign policy and “national security.”

In this regard, a governing coalition in which Hezbollah is stronger will play the role of further integrating national institutions with those of the “resistance.” But even if this were not the case, the “resistance” bodies are already stronger than those of the state, these bodies are decisive in the decision of when and with whom to make war, and this is not a reality subject to change at the ballot box. That is the salient truth regarding Lebanon today, and its presence should not be obscured by a focus of discussion on electoral laws, constituencies, and alliances…

This has been the reality for some time. Israeli planners are well aware of it. In the West, however, there are those who have yet to acknowledge the situation, despite its plainness. From this point of view, Lebanese parliamentary elections are not quite the empty charade of polls in autocratic countries – but like such sham elections, they serve to obscure the core truths of who wields power in the system, and who does not. That is, in Lebanon, in 2018, whoever you vote for – Hezbollah (i.e. Iran) wins.






                             Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA, May 16, 2018

Tehran is delighted with the purported victory of the Hezbollah-Amal alliance, which it backed, in the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections. But this victory was hardly a model of democracy in action. Beyond the fact that Hezbollah is the strongest military force in Lebanon, there are precious few unimpeachable truths to be found in that beleaguered country – least of all the claim that Hezbollah-Amal won the elections in a fair fight.

To understand why Lebanese elections are a travesty, one must attempt to assess the size of the country’s population. The latest estimate by the official Central Administration of Statistics, compiled with the help of UN agencies, was 3,157,100 in 2007. The CIA estimates that that figure had grown to 4,132,000 by July 2014. But “estimate” is the critical word. A proper census (headcount), which, in most states on similar levels of development as Lebanon, typically occur at the beginning of every decade, has never taken place in the nearly one hundred years of Lebanon’s existence as a modern state. Even the much vaunted 1932 census, which produced the fictional parity between Christians and Muslims, never deserved the name.

That no census has ever been carried out in this relatively advanced state is not due to oversight. This tiny heterogeneous country is the size of Rhode Island and composed of 14 historic religious groups, each keen to preserve its exclusive identity and power. Demography has thus always been one of the most sensitive political issues in Lebanon. Little wonder that the Central Administration is ensconced in the Office of the President.

It is the mystery of Lebanon’s true population that exposes the travesty of the Lebanese elections. According to official sources, there were 3,665,514 registered voters in the recent elections to the 128-member parliament. If the estimates cited above are correct, the Lebanese population grew by roughly 100,000 persons annually since 2014. This would mean the Lebanese citizenry grew from 4,132,000 to a little over 4.5 million (though falling birth rates suggest more subdued growth).

Here’s the problem. The voting age in Lebanon is 18. The 2007 survey and the subsequent 2009 labor force survey clearly indicate that at least 35% of the population is below the age of 18. Thirty-five percent of a population of 4.5 million equals 1.575 million. The maximum possible number of registered voters stands at fewer than three million, a discrepancy of over 665,000 registered voters. This means that over one-sixth of the registered voters were resurrected from the dead.

Even more remarkable is the breakdown of registered voters by district. According to official election data, in the mostly rural Baalbek-Hermel district, which is composed almost exclusively of Shiites and is a Hezbollah stronghold, there were over 345,000 registered voters and 11 seats. Compare this to the less than half a million voters for the two voting districts that make up the city of Beirut and its immediate environs, for a total of 19 seats. Yet in the 2007 survey, the total population of Beirut was nearly double the population of the Beq’a province, of which the Baalabek-Hermel district is one small part.

The same can be said of the Nabatiya district in the south, another Hezbollah stronghold and another small district of the Beq’a province. There were 460,491 registered voters there, for a total of 11 seats – nearly the same as the total number of registered voters in all of Beirut. These two districts, which account for no more than 14% of the Lebanese population, had more registered voters than Beirut, which accounts for nearly half the country’s population. A vote in the Hezbollah strongholds is worth at least double the value of a vote in Beirut…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]  Contents




Rena Nessler

New York Post, May 27, 2018

The numbers are sobering: More than 1 million men and women have given their lives serving in our military during wartime, with thousands more dying in other conflicts. Many died long ago in some of our nation’s — and world’s — most-well-known conflicts. Some died during operations few will ever hear about in history class. And, unfortunately and inevitably, more will die serving our country honorably battling terrorism, tyranny and threats to the American way of life. None will be forgotten.

Officially recognized as first having been celebrated upstate in Waterloo in 1866, Memorial Day — then known as Decoration Day — was a community remembrance. When the first official Decoration Day ceremonies were held at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868, James A. Garfield, a future president and a Civil War combat veteran, told the thousands gathered, “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

Today, we still remember their patriotism and virtue, and that of the scores who have selflessly sacrificed since to make this the greatest country in the world. It is a blessing to count myself among those who served our nation and came home to enjoy all that America has to offer. While many have been so lucky to return, there are countless others who have struggled with the lasting effects of conflict, both physical and emotional.

In the same way we must not forget the sacrifice of those who have given their lives to protect our freedoms, we proud Americans and New Yorkers must not turn our backs on our veterans and military members in need. We owe it to our veterans grappling with post-traumatic stress to continue researching new treatment options. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20 percent of our Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans deal with PTS. It is estimated that about 30 percent of our Vietnam veterans have had PTS at some point, according to the VA.

We owe it to our veterans who have fallen into homelessness or are on the verge of homelessness to ensure that they do not continue to slip through the cracks. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2017 that more than 40,000 veterans were homeless on any given night, with more than 1,200 veterans experiencing homelessness in New York. As a state and a nation, we must get our arms around this crisis and implement the proper policies to make sure vets have what they need long before they reach the point of homelessness or penury. We can’t wait until people are in crisis before we help them.

We owe it to all veterans and their families to ensure they receive the benefits they’re entitled to. No veteran should have to worry that red tape will keep them from accessing health care, education, insurance and the many other benefits we offer those who served. Just as I am a proud New Yorker, American and veteran, I am a proud member of the American Legion, an organization that for nearly 100 years has advocated for veterans and active-duty military members to ensure that all sacrifices are remembered. As we near our centennial celebration in 2019, I encourage all New Yorkers — not just those who are eligible to join us — to learn more about our advocacy, programs and benefits-assistance efforts…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

Report: Iranian Forces, Shiite Militias Banned From Using Airbases in Syria: Becca Noy, Jerusalem Online, May 28, 2018—The Syrian Air Force has banned Iranians and pro-Tehran Shiite militias from using its military airbases, Zaman al-Wasl reported Monday.

Israel’s Attacks on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria Spur Internal Disputes in Iran: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall and Orly Ram, JCPA, May 16, 2018— Iran’s response to Israel’s extensive attack on Iranian Revolutionary Guard targets in Syria on May 9, 2018, reflects growing confusion and dissent within its leadership and security service…

After 7 years, Syrian Government Declares Damascus Back Under its Full Control: Zeina Karam, Times of Israel, May 22, 2018—Syria’s military on Monday captured an enclave in southern Damascus from Islamic State militants following a ruinous monthlong battle, bringing the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

With Hezbollah Officially in Charge, Will the U.S. Finally Stop Arming Lebanon?: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, May 13, 2018—Lebanon held elections for its parliament on Sunday for the first time since 2009. Not unexpectedly, Hezbollah was the big winner. Hezbollah’s representatives and allies now control a majority of the seats in Lebanon’s parliament. Sunni candidates allied with – or rather controlled by – Hezbollah won seats that had been controlled by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.



Danger Ahead if the U.S. Withdraws from Syria: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 02, 2018— The United States is considering reducing or ending its presence in Syria, according to President Donald Trump. In Ohio last week Trump said, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon.”

In Syria, We ‘Took the Oil.’ Now Trump Wants to Give it to Iran.: Josh Rogin, Washington Post, Mar. 30, 2018— There are a lot of good arguments for maintaining an American presence in Syria after the fall of the Islamic State, but President Trump doesn’t seem persuaded by any of them.

Here’s How to Deal With the Barbaric Syrian Regime: Yochanan Visser, Arutz Sheva, Mar. 19, 2018 — Last week, the US. Holocaust Museum in Washington opened a new exhibit which focuses on war crimes committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his cronies in the Russian-Iranian- supported regime.

The Nascent Russia-Lebanon Alliance and Israel: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Mar. 23, 2018— The Russian entrance into the Syrian battlefield in 2015 propped up the Assad regime.


On Topic Links

DEBATE: How Might the Israeli-Iranian Face-Off in Syria Evolve?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Apr. 1, 2018

Israel and Syria: The UN and the Distortion of International Law (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Mar. 29, 2018

ISIS: Surging Again in Syria?: Sirwan Kajjo, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 27, 2018

The Sultan’s Pleasure: Turkey Expands its Operations in Syria and Iraq: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2018



Seth Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, Apr. 02, 2018


The United States is considering reducing or ending its presence in Syria, according to President Donald Trump. In Ohio last week Trump said, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon.” According to CNN, he told advisers in February that America must achieve victory over Islamic State and then come home. The Wall Street Journal also reported that the White House put on hold $200 million that was supposed to be directed toward rebuilding civilian infrastructure and stabilization in eastern Syria.

The abrupt about-face in US policy comes after the administration spent 2017 indicating it was preparing for the long haul in Syria. It said it wanted President Bashar Assad gone and that the US would continue to work with its partners among the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that had been the main driving force behind defeating ISIS. Here are five scenarios that could develop in the coming year:

Trump is boasting, but the US will remain: The White House comments are at odds with Pentagon policy on Syria. An NBC report on March 30 claimed that US soldiers feel a lack of consistent policy from Washington was jeopardizing the war on ISIS. Trump has always indicated that he was an “America first” president who was skeptical of foreign wars and entanglements. His comments on Syria reflect that.

However, Trump is also enamored of and listens to his top generals, especially Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has indicated that the US should stay in Syria. The question is what Mike Pompeo, who will likely take over at the State Department, and John Bolton at the National Security Council, think about Syria. Cultivating allies in eastern Syria has not only been the key to defeating ISIS but also serves to block Iranian influence, which is a concern to Pompeo and Bolton. It might be that Trump’s comments will not result in major policy change. Trump also urged a review of operations in Afghanistan last year and then decided to keep plowing ahead. The administration also wants Saudi Arabia to step up financial support for eastern Syria and his comments might be a way to nudge others to do more.

Iran, Turkey and Russia take advantage of a US withdrawal: Turkey is scheduled to host a meeting on Syria with Russia and Iran on April 4 at which the presidents of the three countries are expected. This is a serious development that has been in the cards since last year when Iran, Russia and Turkey grew closer on Syria policy. They all have their own reasons for opposing the US in Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which are part of the SDF, to be terrorists, and Turkey waged a war against them in Syria’s Afrin area between January and March of this year. Turkey wants to roll back US influence and training of the SDF and has threatened to launch operations against Manbij, where US forces are based.

Russia wants the US out of Syria because Moscow supports the Assad regime. Russia is also angry that Western countries have expelled some 150 Russian diplomats in the last weeks. The US expelled 60 Russian diplomats in late March in response to UK condemnation of Moscow over a poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer. Russia would like to hand the US an embarrassing defeat in Syria.

Iran also opposes the US in the region and wants to roll back US influence in Syria. It has already succeeded in handing the US a defeat in Iraq by reducing the influence of the Kurdistan Regional Government and placing its own allies in the top of the government in Baghdad. Getting rid of the Americans in Syria would clear yet another hurdle opposing Tehran’s corridor of influence stretching to Beirut.

Another disaster follows for the Kurds and faith in US policy: If the US leaves eastern Syria it would be handing over an area that was liberated from ISIS to a series of enemies of freedom. This includes particularly Assad. However, any influence from Turkish-backed rebel groups – which have not proven themselves to be democratic, or provide much in the way of civil rights in other areas they occupy in Syria – would be a disaster for the advancements made in eastern Syria. The US has gotten out of the democracy promotion game, but by walking away from eastern Syria after such investment would show that it does not stick by its partners and allies.

Thousands of Arabs, Kurds, and other groups joined the SDF to help defeat ISIS. They believed the US would stick by them. They wanted their cities reconstructed and the thousands of mines left behind by ISIS to be cleared. They were promised that last year, yet most of the support has not arrived. This has done damage to groups, such as Yazidis and others, which were victims of ISIS and whose persecution in 2014 was the reason the US launched Operation Inherent Resolve in the first place. If the US walks away, it will find it harder to get these kinds of partners back in the war against extremism. If it hands them over to Iran and the Syrian regime, they will understand that America is a fickle partner.

ISIS returns: ISIS has already begun a new insurgency in places in Iraq that were thought to have been liberated. Dozens have been killed by ISIS attacks in parts of Kirkuk province and around Hawija. Such killings are now being carried out every few days, illustrating the problem of declaring an area “liberated” and then walking away. ISIS is good at hiding among civilians, as it did in 2010 after the US-led surge in Iraq.

Leaving Syria without defeating ISIS and investing in the area will mean the ISIS tentacles will regrow and begin to threaten the Euphrates River valley again. ISIS moves between Iraq and Syria and feeds off the weaknesses of the two states in order to grow. It also feeds on Sunni resentment against Iran’s influence. To remain influential, it exploits the power vacuum and the disputes between the US, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime. If the US withdraws or openly signals it is withdrawing, that will fuel ISIS…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Josh Rogin

Washington Post, Mar. 30, 2018


There are a lot of good arguments for maintaining an American presence in Syria after the fall of the Islamic State, but President Trump doesn’t seem persuaded by any of them. Perhaps he would back off his urge to cut and run if he knew that the United States and its partners control almost all of the oil. And if the United States leaves, that oil will likely fall into the hands of Iran.

It’s one feature of a larger U.S. mission in Syria that is really about containing Iranian expansionism, preventing a new refugee crisis, fighting extremism and stopping Russia from exerting influence over the region. The United States has serious national security interests in making sure that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran don’t push America out of Syria and declare total victory.

But Trump has repeatedly said those tasks are not the United States’ responsibility. He promised to pull the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria at a campaign rally on Thursday in Ohio. “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” he said. “Let the other people take care of it now.” It’s not an offhand remark. Last month, Trump said that although he thinks the slaughter in eastern Ghouta by Russia, Iran and the Assad regime is “a humanitarian disgrace,” he has no intention of doing anything about it, because our mission is to “get rid of ISIS and go home.”

Of course, that contradicts his top national security officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said late last year that the troops would stay to prevent “ISIS 2.0” and stabilize the situation. In January, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out in a carefully workshopped policy speech five long-term goals for U.S. policy in Syria, including ridding the regime of weapons of mass destruction and solving the political conflict. He promised that the United States “will maintain a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge.”

But if Trump disagrees and is looking for a Syria policy that fits his campaign, he might remember that he has constantly complained that in Iraq, “we should have kept the oil.” Of course, we can’t and shouldn’t take or keep Syria’s oil. But there’s a grain of truth in Trump’s idea. Control over oil is the only influence we have in Syria today. “We have this 30 percent slice of Syria, which is probably where 90 percent of the pre-war oil production took place,” said David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “This is leverage.”

The actual people holding the land with the oil are not U.S. troops, but the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces that were trained and armed by Washington, along with local Sunni Arab leaders who are resisting the ongoing onslaught by government- and Iranian-backed forces. The Assad regime and Iran have a stated and ongoing strategy to take back all the land that Assad once controlled, including the land containing Syria’s most valuable energy resources. What’s more, in May, Trump is expected to pull the United States out of the Iran deal, meaning that he will reimpose U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil. It would be profoundly counterproductive to hand Iran control over a swath of Syria that contains huge amounts of oil at the exact same time.

As Chagai Tzuriel, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, told me, if the U.S. and its allies intend to stop Iran’s regional expansion, that mission must begin in Syria. Also, if there is to be any real peace negotiation, the U.S. military presence is crucial for America having influence there as well. “If there is a true commitment to counter Iran, it needs to be done in Syria first. If it’s not done in Syria, we will lose that campaign,” Tzuriel said. “The presence of the American forces is very important … That buys you a seat at the table that decides the future of Syria.”

If the U.S. troops leave, the Kurds are likely to cut a deal with the regime and leave the Sunnis to Assad’s cruelty. Then, the Iranians will move into the area, completing their land bridge of control from Tehran to Beirut. If Trump doesn’t have a real Syria strategy, he doesn’t have a real Iran strategy. “Iran is turning its proxy network, its axis of resistance, into a region-wide resistance army,” said Melissa Dalton, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Iran now has more than 250,000 proxy forces directly or indirectly under its influence around the region.

Syrian opposition leaders are asking for the United States to work with both the Kurds and the Sunni Arab local leaders to consolidate control in liberated areas and help organize local governance. Those who have fought the Islamic State don’t want to live under the rule of Assad and Iran, said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nongovernmental organization that works with the Syrian opposition. “It’s incredibly important that with all these oil-rich areas … we don’t end up in a situation where we do have to pull out and there is some sort of deal that allows Iran to essentially take the land, the oil, and these areas, and empower their land bridge that they’ve been building inside the country,” he said. “We took the oil. We’ve got to keep the oil.”





Yochanan Visser

Arutz Sheva, Mar. 19, 2018


Last week, the US. Holocaust Museum in Washington opened a new exhibit which focuses on war crimes committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his cronies in the Russian-Iranian- supported regime. The opening of the exhibition coincided with the 7th anniversary of the Syrian war which began after a 14 year-old boy and other youths in the Syrian city of Daraa were tortured when they wrote anti-regime slogans on the walls of a local school.

Mouawiya Syasneh, the 14-year-old high-school student and a dozen of his school mates were hung “like chickens” in a interrogation center of the Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Assad’s military intelligence service. The children were also electrocuted by putting power cables on their backs and lower body parts in a wet bathroom.

When their parents inquired about the youngsters’ fate they were told to forget about them and “to make more children” or to bring their mothers to the Mukhabarat base so that the security service could ‘help’ to make them pregnant again. Mouawiya later became a fighter for the Free Syrian Army, an act that was also inspired by the murder of his father at the hands of the Assad regime. His case of torture formed the beginning of a long series of atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its powerful allies Iran and Russia during the devastating war which has already killed more than 500,000 people and disabled another 1,5 million. The latest war crime committed by pro-regime forces took place on March 15th in the town of Hamouriyah just a few kilometers to the east of Damascus.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria reported that the regime offered the residents of the town free passage as part of a deal with local rebels. However a part of the population didn’t trust Assad’s government officials and choose an alternative escape route. An exodus began involving 2,000 people, some of them armed with rifles. Once the residents of Hamouriyah were out in the streets, Russian airplanes bombed them and also the only two hospitals in the town. At the same time, Assad’s tanks shot at the unarmed civilians or ran them over while regime forces were busy chasing young men who were then forcefully conscripted into the Syrian army, according to VDC.

The Trump Administration last week announced it would continue to release classified documents which give evidence to the claims Assad has been committing war crimes from the outset of the civil war. Speaking at the opening of the Holocaust Museum exhibit, Trump’s National Security Advisor H.C. Master said Russia and Iran were complicit in the endless stream of daily atrocities in Syria and should be held responsible for these crimes. “If we are to fulfill our promise, ‘Never Again,’ we must also act to protect victims and to hold all responsible parties accountable,” Mc Master said while emphasizing that the United States is documenting each and every war crime.

Trump’s security advisor then promised the US would hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons in the war and said that the United States is working with the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its efforts to compel Assad to fully dismantle his chemical weapons program.” McMaster also compared the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime and his allies to the war crimes committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler and said remembrance alone is not enough in Syria. “Preventing genocide and mass atrocities falls on all of us. Every nation, and every person, must share this responsibility,” he said after he pointed to the role of Russia and Iran in these war crimes.

However, the problem with preventing the atrocities which Assad has committed in Syria is that the country is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Because of this, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the war crimes committed in Syria and this is where the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) comes into the picture. The UNSC can refer the case of Syria to the ICC in The Hague in the Netherlands, but Russia and China have been blocking this track. Bill Waley , a Canadian war crimes investigator who worked for ICC, decided he could not remain passive in light of the horrors in Syria and in 2012 founded the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body located at an undisclosed location in western Europe – most likely The Netherlands…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Emil Avdaliani

BESA, Mar. 23, 2018


The Russian entrance into the Syrian battlefield in 2015 propped up the Assad regime. Moscow has continued to build up its military presence in the country: it has strengthened its bases on the Mediterranean shore, and recently received 49-year leases on Syrian airbase and port facilities. A Russian presence in Syria is thus projected well into the years to come, and by way of securing its long-term position there Moscow has carried out a string of active diplomatic moves in the neighboring countries, first and foremost Lebanon.

The Russian media has hinted at Moscow’s growing interest in this Mediterranean state by reporting on visits of Russian ships to Lebanese ports and disseminating rumors that Moscow will soon establish a military presence there. These leaks were partially corroborated when, on February 3, the Kremlin directed the Ministry of Defense to enter into an agreement with Beirut on increased military cooperation, including the use of Lebanese facilities by the Russian military. The two sides also agreed on a broader exchange of military information and intensive bilateral cooperation against terrorism.

The draft agreement is quite extensive. It involves joint training of troops, information and engineering support, military education and medicine, military topography, and hydrography. The agreement (which has yet to be signed) will be for a period of five years with automatic extensions for subsequent five-year periods. A Russo-Lebanese military agreement would be a significant event. It would signal a major shift on Lebanon’s part, as its military has traditionally been oriented towards the West.

Russo-Lebanese military contacts have been somewhat mixed in the past. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) possess Russian weapons, such as tanks and rifles, but in 2008 the LAF rejected Moscow’s offer of ten free MiG-29 fighters. So far, the LAF’s equipment is mostly American and European, including M60 and M48 tanks, M113 armored personnel carriers, and TOW antitank missiles. Under the last two US administrations, according to various estimates, $357 million in arms were sent to Lebanon.

For Russia, Lebanon’s geographical position on the Mediterranean – with its potential military facilities as well as proximity to war-torn Syria – makes it an attractive location from which to project influence. For Lebanon, Russia has turned into a potential guarantor of peace in Syria. Following the proposed bilateral agreement between Moscow and Beirut, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, called upon Russia to resolve the Syrian crisis: “I want to turn to Russia, which, along with the United States, is a great power; we cannot ask for this from the United States, but we ask Russia to help achieve a political settlement in Syria, which will be a major step toward the return of the Syrians to their homeland.”

Beyond the military significance, there is also an economic angle to greater Lebanese-Russian cooperation. Lebanon recently decided to begin exploiting its offshore Mediterranean natural gas reserves and offered exploration tenders to its seabed. Russian state companies, including Novatek, have expressed interest in tapping into Lebanon’s raw material resources, with the first exploratory to be drilled in 2019. This maritime resource exploration by Lebanon has reignited disputes with Israel over their maritime frontiers.

Lebanese-Russian cooperation will affect Israel as it is developing concurrently with an increase in Russia-Israel tensions following the February 11 Israeli airstrikes on Syrian-Iranian targets in Syria. These tensions could upset the status quo in which the Kremlin tolerates Israel’s preventive strikes on Syrian soil. However, from a Russian geopolitical perspective, it would be unwise to risk a deterioration of relations with Israel at this moment because Russo-Israeli tensions in Beirut could negatively affect Russo-Israeli contacts in Syria…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

DEBATE: How Might the Israeli-Iranian Face-Off in Syria Evolve?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Apr. 1, 2018—Q: The recent infiltration of Israeli airspace by an Iranian drone launched from Syria was considered by Jerusalem a severe violation of its sovereignty. In response, Israel conducted a mission to strike the Iranian drone installation in Syria. During that mission, an Israeli F-16 jet crashed. In the aftermath of this incident, Israel – while not wishing to escalate – made clear that it is prepared to act with determination and exact a heavy price from anyone who attacks it. BESA joins the debate by posing the question: How might the Israeli-Iranian face-off in Syria evolve?

Israel and Syria: The UN and the Distortion of International Law (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Mar. 29, 2018—Israeli settlements are back in the news, not because of something going on here in the Middle East, but rather because of decisions – distorted decisions –  that are being taken in Geneva at the UN headquarters.

ISIS: Surging Again in Syria?: Sirwan Kajjo, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 27, 2018—Two days after the Turkish military and allied jihadist forces took control of the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists launched a major attack on Syrian regime forces in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The ISIS terrorists killed at least 25 soldiers and seized a large oil field. Around the same time, ISIS militants captured a strategic district in the suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus, where they killed more than 60 government troops.

The Sultan’s Pleasure: Turkey Expands its Operations in Syria and Iraq: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2018—Turkish forces this month entered Afrin City, bringing Operation “Olive Branch,” launched on January 20, to a successful conclusion. Latest reports suggest that the Turks are now set to seek to enter the neighboring Kurdish-controlled town of Tal Rifaat, after reaching an agreement with the Russians allowing them to contest its control.



Will the US Betray the Syrian Kurds?: Gwynne Dyer, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2018— Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an angry man at the best of times, but on Monday he outdid himself…

Breaking the Syrian Stalemate: Irina Tsukerman, BESA, Jan. 11, 2018— The US is currently at a great disadvantage in Syria.

Hezbollah's Reign of Terror: From Beirut and Beyond: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Jan. 21, 2018— The trial of two Hezbollah operatives accused of blowing up an Israeli tour bus in 2012, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver, kicked off this week in Sofia.

The Fiction that Destabilizes the Middle East: Evelyn Gordon, Jewish Press, Jan. 16, 2018— If I were compiling a foreign policy wish list for 2018, high on the list would be ending the fiction that Lebanon is an independent country rather than an Iranian satrapy governed by Iran’s foreign legion, Hezbollah.


On Topic Links


Pence Addresses Israeli Parliament (Video): Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2018

DEBATE: What Are the Implications of the Russian-Turkish Rapprochement?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Jan. 21, 2018

Is Hezbollah Eating the Iranian People's Bread?: Yves Mamou, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 4, 2018

Israeli Experts Weigh in on Obama-Hezbollah Revelation: Michael Friedson, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 24, 2017




Gwynne Dyer

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2018


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an angry man at the best of times, but on Monday he outdid himself: “This is what we have to say to all our allies: Don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences.” That was a barely veiled threat that he will use force against American troops if they try to stop him from attacking the Syrian Kurds. The iron law of international politics in the Middle East is that everybody betrays the Kurds. It was on display again in Iraq last October when the Baghdad government seized almost half the territory ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.


In obedience to that unwritten law, nobody else objected – including the United States, even though it had armed the Iraqi Kurds to fight ISIS. But now the US government has effectively told the Syrian Kurds that they can keep the huge chunk of Syria they control for the indefinite future. And the Turkish government, predictably, has gone ballistic. In President Erdogan’s book, any Kurd with a gun in his hand is a “terrorist,” and the Syrian Kurds are a “terror army.” In fact, they played the main role, under US air cover, in destroying the Syrian base of the real terrorists: Islamic State. As a result, the army the Kurds dominate, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), now controls almost half of Syria’s territory.


It’s the northeastern, relatively empty part of Syria, with less than one-fifth of the country’s population, but it includes all of Syria’s border with Iraq and almost all its border with Turkey. On Sunday, Washington confirmed it will help the SDF create a new 30,000-member “border security force” over the next several years to police those borders – and also the “internal” border between Kurdish-controlled Syria and the rest of the country. The “rest of the country” is now mostly back under the control of Bashar Assad’s regime after six years of civil war, thanks largely to the intervention of the Russian Air Force and Iranian militias. Both Moscow and Tehran immediately accused the United States of planning to partition Syria, and there is some substance in the accusation.


Washington is indeed creating a Kurdish-ruled protectorate in northeast Syria, and has declared that 2,000 US troops will stay there indefinitely – or to be more precise: until progress has been made in the UN-led peace talks in Geneva and it is certain that Islamic State has been permanently defeated – which is another way of saying indefinitely.


The main purpose of this sudden escalation in the US commitment in Syria is presumably to stop the Russians from winning a total victory in the country. The Syrian regime, of course, has denounced the plan as a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty – but Turkey is the only country threatening to kill Americans over it. The Kurds always get betrayed because what they really want is an independent Kurdistan that includes all 20 million Kurds. But to create that, the four most powerful countries in the region – Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq – would all have to be partially dismantled. Those powers will do whatever it takes to prevent that.


Erdogan restarted the war with Turkey’s own Kurdish separatists two years ago, mainly for electoral advantage. But he really is fanatical on the subject. He is convinced that the Syrian Kurdish organization, the YFP – which he is determined to destroy – is really just a branch of Turkey’s own PKK (which does have a terrorist past).


The declaration of a de facto American protectorate over the Kurdish-dominated parts of Syria only makes the matter more urgent in Erdogan’s eyes. “A country we call an ally [the US] is insisting on forming a terror army on our border,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara on Monday. “What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.” That’s nonsense. The Syrian Kurds are not terrorists, they are American allies. And when the Turkish Army first attacked Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria last spring, US troops – flying very large American flags – drove in front of the Kurdish lines to protect their allies from Turkish fire.


What Erdogan meant in our first quotation was: Next time, if American soldiers and flags obstruct Turkish operations, they will be blown away. Does he mean it? He may not know himself, but his army is going to move into several parts of Syrian Kurdish territory this week or next. Turkish artillery is already softening up the targets. But the likelihood of a shooting war between Turks and Americans remains very low. Like Obama before him, Trump is pursuing a policy in Syria that is not backed up by enough force to make it credible. Everybody assumes he is bluffing and will betray the Syrian Kurds in the end. For the peace of the world, it’s probably better that he does.




Irina Tsukerman

BESA, Jan. 11, 2018


The US is currently at a great disadvantage in Syria. Despite blaming its increasing irrelevancy in the region on the Obama administration’s inaction in pursuit of the nuclear deal with Iran, the Trump White House chose to box itself into a corner by disregarding sage advice that would have significantly shifted the calculus of power. Rather than supporting the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, preventing Iran from building a land corridor connecting it to the Mediterranean, and thereby making it more difficult for Lebanon’s Hezbollah to smuggle weapons and people in and out, the Trump administration chose a strategy that empowered Tehran’s proxy, Baghdad; allowed Moscow to emerge as the great dealmaker; and served Turkey’s interests with respect to the Kurdish issue in Syria.


Without the land corridor, Iran would have been geographically poorly positioned to expand in the direction of Central Asia, or indeed anywhere else. Instead, it is now in the best possible position to do so. Furthermore, Bashar Assad has called US-backed groups traitors, and, echoing President Putin, asked American and Turkish troops to leave.


The Pentagon says a US presence will remain in Syria indefinitely, but should Iran and Russia-backed Assad turn serious, US troops might find themselves having to fight enemies on several fronts. It is unclear why the US, which has essentially accepted the premises that ISIS is finished and other terrorist groups are either subdued or subordinate to state actors, chooses to remain in the area without a clear plan to remove Iranian proxies. Washington seems to have no action plan to deal with Iran, though it is certainly a threat.


Assad is a pawn of Iran and Russia. Tehran is looking to get rid of him; Moscow is amenable to his staying – at least for now. Assad is content with his remaining fiefdom so long as the various groups that have subdivided Syria pay their dues, recognize Syrian sovereignty, and don’t create additional problems. Iran is getting exactly what it wanted: a land corridor to suit its expansionist plans, and a naval base that will give it access to strategic waterways. Once its navy becomes fully operational, it can then fight to deny access to everyone else. Resource-poor Syria was likely never the end unto itself for Tehran, but rather a means towards outward expansion.


The mullahs do not care how many countries are brought to ruin so long as their path is smooth and their access to the outside world guaranteed. That Tehran does not have complete control over Syria at the moment is irrelevant. Its object is not to lord it over Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and assorted others, but to assert Iranian hegemony and break through the sanctions and obstacles by finding new routes and creating new alliances. Iran’s Iraqi militias are spoiling for a fight. They are a battle-hardened, increasingly serious force against largely untrained Gulf troops who also lack proper intelligence training. Iran feels so much in control of the situation that it is looking to completely coopt the KRG in exchange for peace.


Russia is unquestionably the biggest winner of all. It has established itself as a credible power broker; has outsmarted and manipulated both the Obama and the Trump administrations; and is building a naval base, despite Russia’s poor internal economy, sanctions, and increasing loss of legitimacy in the West. It has returned to its former sphere of influence and is setting the rules of the game.


Moscow is also is very good at taking advantage of strategic errors made by others. Ankara, for example, which managed to ruin its relations with Assad early on in the civil war, will now have a great deal of trouble imposing its will inside the country. Russia is successfully building a relationship with the Syrian Kurds and assuming a protectorate over them even as Turkey seeks to isolate the YPG and deny the Kurds legitimacy in their struggle for autonomy. Russia is succeeding at bringing the Kurds to the table in peace process negotiations, something Turkey sought to deny…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    





Charles Bybelezer

The Media Line, Jan. 21, 2018


The trial of two Hezbollah operatives accused of blowing up an Israeli tour bus in 2012, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver, kicked off this week in Sofia. The suspects, Meliad Farah and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, are being tried in absentia after fleeing to Lebanon, which refuses to extradite them despite Interpol warrants for their arrest.


This comes against the backdrop of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement last week of the formation of a new task force to combat Hezbollah’s vast drug trafficking and money laundering empire, worth an estimated $1 billion annually. That decision followed a Politico report claiming that the Obama administration interfered with a Drug Enforcement Agency initiative—code-named Project Cassandra—to crack down on the Iranian-sponsored Shi'ite organization's illicit activities for fear of jeopardizing the nuclear deal with Iran.


Concurrently, the British House of Commons is slated on January 25 to discuss fully blacklisting Hezbollah, whose so-called "political arm" has until now been allowed to fundraise and recruit in major European capitals in a successful attempt to bifurcate the terrorist organization into legitimate civic and martial elements. While Israel, the US and, most recently, the Arab League have listed Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terror group, the European Union, like the UK, banned only the organization's "military wing" in the wake of the Burgas attack. "While European governments have outlawed Hezbollah's armed body, this has no distinction because, as Hezbollah itself says, it is a monolithic organization," Benjamin Weinthal, a Fellow at the Washington-based Foundation For Defense of Democracies, explained to The Media Line. "In this respect, the Europeans have engaged in a sort of savvy appeasement of Hezbollah because they are afraid of it."


Hezbollah was created by the Iranian regime in the early 1980s, foremost to counter Israel’s presence at the time in southern Lebanon. However, its hatred for the West quickly manifested in the 1983 attack on American military barracks in Beirut which killed 241 US Marines and 58 French peacekeepers. In the ensuing decades Hezbollah has effectively taken control of the Lebanese government while developing into one of the Middle East’s most powerful military forces, currently engaged in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.


According to Professor Efraim Inbar, President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, "Hezbollah uses Arab communities abroad to make inroads not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe, South America and even Asia. They are there to establish cells that will eventually attack Jewish and Israeli targets," he told The Media Line, while noting that "Hezbollah's Islamic ideological underpinnings also motivate its expansion." Inbar further explained that while Hezbollah's overarching policies are coordinated by Iran, its local branches maintain freedom of action.


"Unit 133, for example, primarily focuses on the West Bank where it recruits local Palestinians, transfers them funds and then provides online training [on how to conduct attacks]," Yaakov Lappin, an Associate Researcher at Israel's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line. "It also has links to Sinai and Jordan and, [more broadly], has cells across the Middle East which promote terrorism against Israeli targets. The unit is a major concern of the Israeli intelligence community," he expounded, "and also is reportedly involved in drug trafficking, [which is] a source of financing."


In Germany, there are an estimated 1,000 Hezbollah members currently operating, with reports suggesting that additional combatants have been infiltrating the country by posing as Mideast refugees. This is part and parcel of Iran's attempt to further penetrate the continent, with German police this week having conducted wide-scale raids targeting members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds [Jerusalem] Force, who were reportedly conducting surveillance on Israeli and Jewish targets. Weinthal traces these developments to 1992, when Iranian and Hezbollah agents killed four Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant. While German authorities accused the highest levels of the Iranian government of complicity in the attack, the two countries reportedly reached a quid pro quo deal in which Tehran and Hezbollah would cease perpetrating violent attacks on German soil in exchange for being permitted to freely operate in the country.


Another contributing factor, Weinthal noted, is that "Europeans are so invested in the Iran nuclear deal that they do not want to act against its wholly owned subsidiary, Hezbollah. This is similar to why the Obama administration turned a blind eye to Hezbollah's illicit activities." To this end, (the) terror group is actively engaged in drug trafficking throughout the Americas, from the Tri-Border Area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay converge, to Mexico, where it cooperates with local drug cartels. Using these funds along with those generated from sophisticated money laundering schemes, Hezbollah and, as a corollary, its patron Tehran, have been able to buy political influence throughout the region.


This was made evident by the previous Argentine government's attempted cover-up of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish AMIA community center in Buenos Aires, which followed the bombing of the Israeli Embassy two years earlier. An investigation into the attacks, which together killed over 100 people, was stymied for decades until, in 2015, federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was slated to testify before a congressional panel that then-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had concealed facts about Iran's and Hezbollah's involvement. Hours before Nisman was set to reveal his findings—including that in exchange for Kirchner's compliance, the Islamic Republic would supply her government with a steady stream of cheap oil—he was found shot to death in his apartment in what was first ruled a suicide but eventually reclassified as a murder.


The apparent assassination garnered global headlines and "caused a growing awareness in the West of Hezbollah's negative actions," Inbar stated, before qualifying to The Media Line that "there remains a big gap between existing legal frameworks, which place an emphasis on upholding human rights, and the [steps required] to crack down on terrorist groups." For his part, US President Donald Trump appears committed to bridging this gap by pressing Congress to pass stronger sanctions on Hezbollah. The American administration also directed the Treasury Department to place multi-million-dollar bounties on senior Hezbollah leaders, in a bid to hamper its illegal infrastructure…

 [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]   





Evelyn Gordon

Jewish Press, Jan. 16, 2018


If I were compiling a foreign policy wish list for 2018, high on the list would be ending the fiction that Lebanon is an independent country rather than an Iranian satrapy governed by Iran’s foreign legion, Hezbollah. The Western foreign policy establishment maintains this fiction out of good intentions; it wants to protect innocent Lebanese from suffering the consequences of Hezbollah’s military provocations against its neighbors. But this policy has enabled Hezbollah to devastate several neighboring countries with impunity, and it’s paving the way to a war that will devastate Lebanon itself.


Sheltering Lebanon from the consequences of Hezbollah’s behavior is both a bipartisan and a transatlantic consensus. This was evident from the West’s wall-to-wall outrage in November, when Saudi Arabia abortively tried to end the pretense that Hezbollah doesn’t rule Lebanon by pressuring the organization’s fig leaf, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to resign. The International Support Group for Lebanon, which includes the U.S., UN, European Union, Arab League, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, China, and Russia, issued a statement demanding that Lebanon be “shielded from tensions in the region.” The State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, demanded that Saudi Arabia “explain why Riyadh was destabilizing Lebanon.” French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed it vital that Lebanon remains “disassociated” from regional crises. And the list goes on.


Yet the West has shown no similar concern for shielding the many Mideast countries which Lebanon’s de facto ruling party has destabilized for years. Thousands of Hezbollah troops have fought in Syria’s civil war, helping the Assad regime to slaughter hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Hezbollah also has troops in Yemen to support the Houthi rebels in that country’s civil war, and it may have been involved in firing missiles from Yemen at Saudi Arabia. It has trained Shi’ite militias in Iraq and fought alongside them. And, of course, it has built an arsenal of some 150,000 missiles–bigger than that of most conventional armies–for eventual use against Israel.


Granted, Hezbollah isn’t Lebanon’s official ruling party; it’s part of a coalition government led by Hariri, who actually belongs to a rival party. But not only does Hezbollah have official veto power over all government decisions, it’s also the country’s dominant military force. Hariri has no power to stop Hezbollah from sending its troops all over the region; he can’t even stop it from doing as it pleases within Lebanon itself. One small example perfectly illustrates his impotence. In early December, Qais al-Khazali, the head of an Iraqi Shi’ite militia, was videotaped accompanying Hezbollah operatives to the Lebanese-Israeli border and proclaiming his militia’s willingness to help Hezbollah fight Israel. Hariri termed the visit a “flagrant violation” of Lebanese law and ordered the Lebanese army to make sure no such incident recurred. A few weeks later, as if to underscore Hariri’s powerlessness, Hezbollah took another senior commander from a Syrian Shi’ite militia to the border for a similar videotaped pledge.


Yet despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the West has insisted on maintaining the fiction that Lebanon is somehow independent of Hezbollah rather than ruled by it. And in so doing, Western countries have actually enabled Hezbollah’s aggression. Thanks to this fiction, the West gives hundreds of millions of dollars in both civilian and military aid to Lebanon. Civilian aid, of which the EU has provided over $1 billion in recent years, frees Hezbollah of the need to pay for the consequences of its actions, like caring for the 1.1 million Syrian refugees its own aggression helped drive from Syria into Lebanon. American military aid, of which Lebanon is the world’s sixth-largest recipient, has given Hezbollah access to training, intelligence, equipment and other military capabilities, since the Lebanese army shares everything it receives with the organization, whether willingly or under compulsion from Hezbollah’s greater strength…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links


Pence Addresses Israeli Parliament (Video): Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2018—Vice President Pence delivers a speech to the Israeli parliament.

DEBATE: What Are the Implications of the Russian-Turkish Rapprochement?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Jan. 21, 2018—Q: In the aftermath of the failed coup d’état of July 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is embarking on an attempt to improve Ankara’s relations with non-Western countries to avoid international isolation. The Russian-Turkish rapprochement is a characteristic example.

Is Hezbollah Eating the Iranian People's Bread?: Yves Mamou, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 4, 2018—In the holy city of Qom in Iran, on December 30, 2017, anti-regime demonstrators shouted "Death to Hezbollah", "Aren't you ashamed Khamenei? Get out of Syria and take care of us", and "Not Gaza, or Lebanon".

Israeli Experts Weigh in on Obama-Hezbollah Revelation: Michael Friedson, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 24, 2017—US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is launching a review of a US Drug Enforcement Administration investigation code-named Project Cassandra, after Politico reported that the Obama administration covertly derailed the inquiry into Hezbollah's illicit global activities in order to ink the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.







The Axis of Moderation vs. the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East: Najat AlSaied, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 1, 2017— The dispute between the Arab states, often known as the Axis of Moderation, and the officially designated terrorist regime in Iran often known as the Axis of Resistance, is no longer just a political disagreement but a threat to the national security of Arab countries.

Can Israeli Diplomacy Pull its Weight Against Russia, Iran and Syria?: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Nov. 16, 2017— Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent shockwaves through Jerusalem on Tuesday when for the first time he publicly rebuffed Israel’s demand that Iran not be permitted to gain a permanent military foothold in Syria.

With Iran on Its Doorstep, Israel Quietly Readies Game-Changing Air Power: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Nov. 21, 2017— Iran has big plans to create a military outpost in Syria, right on Israel’s doorstep.

New Evidence of the Iran Deal's Failures: A.J. Caschetta, Middle East Forum, Nov. 28, 2017— Days away from the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry boasted about the success of the Obama administration's signature foreign policy achievement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)…


On Topic Links


Wrestling Inquiry: Did Iranian Lose Match to Avoid Israeli?: Washington Times, Dec. 1, 2017

War With Iran’s Proxies Looming, Israel’s US Envoy Warns: Times of Israel, Dec. 5, 2017

Trump Follows Obama’s Lead and Gives Iran Just What it Wants: Benny Avni, New York Post, Nov. 14, 2017

Hezbollah and the Yemeni Missiles: Uzi Rubin, BESA, Nov. 29, 2017






Najat AlSaied

Gatestone Institute, Dec. 1, 2017


The dispute between the Arab states, often known as the Axis of Moderation, and the officially designated terrorist regime in Iran often known as the Axis of Resistance, is no longer just a political disagreement but a threat to the national security of Arab countries.


While the Arab states seem pro-statehood and work with other states, Iran and the Axis of resistance seems not to. Even though Iran calls itself Republic, it has a militia mentality and rarely deals with states. In general, rather than dealing with governments, it instead establishes militias, as it has in Lebanon and Yemen. Even in Iraq, where the government is considered its ally, Iran has established more than 15 militias. Qatar, by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Syria under the Assad regime, seem to have the same mentality as Iran. If you trace the Axis of Resistance, all of them appear to have adopted the concept of supporting militias and extremist groups under the slogan of "resistance."


The Iranian regime's long history has now culminated in Saudi Arabia being targeted by Iranian missiles located in Yemen. They are coordinated in Lebanon by the Hezbollah militia, who train the Houthis in Yemen. It is important to understand that these violations and proxy wars carried out by the Iranian regime not only threaten the Arab Gulf states but also pose a threat to a regional and international security.


The Axis of Resistance is led by Iran, and includes Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Arab Shiites loyal to Wilayat al-Faqih ("The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist") in Iran and Arab nationalists. Its slogans consist of fighting imperialism, empowering the (supposedly) vulnerable — mainly Muslim Shiites — and furthering "Arab nationalism," which usually manifests itself in support for Palestinians against Israelis. The expansionist objectives of the Axis of Resistance — in its drive to build a "Shiite Crescent" from Iran to the Mediterranean, are clear, compared to the objectives of the Axis of Moderation, which have not announced any specific aims, except to denounce Iran's interference in the Arab countries' affairs.


The Axis of Moderation comprises Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf countries, except for Qatar. The great mistake that the Axis of Moderation has made in confronting the Iranian regime — to try to curb its export of its "Revolution" — has been to fall into the trap of propagating sectarianism. While Iran portrayed itself as the defender of all the Shiites in the world, Saudi Arabia, as a result, acted as the defender of all the Sunnis in the Muslim world — accordingly, sectarianism was propagated. This polarization, however, has only furthered the interests of the Iranian regime, whose chief objective seems to be to continue igniting this division in an apparent policy of divide and conquer. Instead of the members of the Axis of Moderation confronting Iran politically or militarily, they challenged it on religious and sectarian grounds, such as publishing countless books against Shiites that describe them as the enemies of Islam and labelling all Shiites as subordinate to Iran, as if all Shiites were Iran's puppets, which not all of them are. This divisiveness has brought extremism and terrorism to the region, and has only harmed everyone.


Now the Axis of Moderation has become shrewder in its confrontation with the Iran and has employed a greater number of experts in Iranian affairs. The Axis of Moderation, especially Saudi Arabia, has realized that it cannot face down the threat of Iran without radical internal reforms. Saudi Arabia's complaints against Iran's interference and spreading extremism cannot sound credible if extremism is being practiced inside Saudi Arabia. These internal reforms, and liberalizing the society, are important internally: they will boost the economy by creating an attractive investment environment, especially for foreign investors. As importantly, reforms will stop any adversary from saying that Saudi Arabia is a state supporter of terrorism or a land that exports terrorists.


The most obvious changes are Saudi Arabia's internal reforms that cover "social openness" in the form of concerts and festivals, coordinated by an entertainment body, and the country's attempts to undermine clerical control, both by arresting extremists and establishing a committee at the Islamic University in Medina to codify the interpretation of Quranic verses that call for extremism, especially against other religions. Saudi Arabia has also clamped down on corruption by arresting suspected businessmen, princes and former ministers. The kingdom has also raised the status of women by giving them more of their human rights, such as the recent lifting of the ban on women driving. In another important change, Saudi Arabia will also allow women to be clerics to confront all the patriarchal interpretations of verses in Quran related to women…

[To Read the Full Article With Footnotes Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Charles Bybelezer

The Media Line, Nov. 16, 2017


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent shockwaves through Jerusalem on Tuesday when for the first time he publicly rebuffed Israel’s demand that Iran not be permitted to gain a permanent military foothold in Syria.


While discussing the recent ceasefire agreement for southern Syria brokered by Moscow, the United States and Jordan, Lavrov contended that it did not include a Russian commitment—contrary to American assurances—to prevent Iranian-backed fighters from operating in the Syrian Golan Heights close to the Israeli border. He further stressed that Russia had never promised to limit Tehran’s influence in Syria, which he described as legitimate. “No one mentioned Iran or pro-Iranian forces,” Lavrov told reporters in reference to the formulation of the truce. “If we talk about pro-Iranian forces, somebody might be tempted to call the entire Syrian army pro-Iranian, and then what—it should surrender? In my opinion, it is wishful thinking.”


Israel has long pressed Moscow, the leading player in the conflict since militarily intervening on behalf of the Assad regime in September 2015, to create a buffer zone of up to 50 km in the Syrian Golan Heights in which Shi'ite proxies supported by Tehran would be banned. While a joint American-Russian statement announcing the deal called for “the reduction and ultimate elimination of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the [border region],” Jerusalem fears that such will only apply to radical Sunni rebels battling regime forces, as, in principle, Assad does not consider Iranian-backed troops as “foreign” given their role in effectively saving the Syrian leader.


News of the ceasefire deal came after the BBC published satellite photos purportedly showing the construction of an Iranian military base in Al-Kiswah, located just 14 kilometers south of Damascus. Israel has repeatedly conducted air strikes in both Lebanese and Syrian air space targeting such installations as well as arms convoys destined for Hezbollah, some confirmed by Jerusalem and others reported by foreign media. This comes on the backdrop of recent confrontations in which the Syrian army targeted Israeli warplanes conducting cross-border missions, and late last month fired five rockets into Israel in what Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman described as a deliberate act carried out by a Hezbollah cell at the directive of the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. In response, the Israeli army struck three Syrian artillery positions, bringing into stark focus the fact that forces loyal to Iran and President Bashar Assad—who according to Liberman green-lighted the missile barrage—remain entrenched along the border.


Accordingly, Jerusalem finds itself on a potential collision course with Moscow, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in the wake of Lavrov’s comments that the Jewish state will continue to act militarily in Syria when necessary in order to uphold its security. “[Iran] want[s] to create a permanent air, land and sea military presence, with the declared intent of using Syria as a base from which to destroy Israel,” Netanyahu affirmed. “We are not going to agree to that.… Israel will work to stop this.”


According to Danny Ayalon, Israel's former deputy foreign minister, the most important consideration is not whether Israel has a seat at the negotiating table but, rather, that it is able to defend its red lines. "Israel is certainly a major player and is treated as such," he explained to The Media Line, "and the fact that it was not pulled into the Syrian chaos is a testimony to the very responsible leadership by the prime minister, due to the country's deterrent capability as well as its close coordination with Russia." "However, when it comes to a demilitarized zone along the Syrian border," he continued, "it is a must because any modicum of stability there requires that Israel's interests be taken into account and this was specifically and strongly conveyed to our best friend in Washington and our new friend in Moscow."


In this respect, it is no coincidence that a high-ranking delegation from the US National Security Council arrived in Israel this week to discuss Jerusalem's concerns over the truce deal. Daniel Shek, a former Israeli Ambassador to France agrees that "Israel's positions were partially taken into account in Syria, but that deal leaves Jerusalem in a position where it will have to be vigilant and cautious over a long period of time." On the other hand," he elaborated to The Media Line, "the whole Syrian situation is still so unsettled that Israel should probably wait and see what the end result is."…

[To Read the Full Article With Footnotes Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Yaakov Lappin

BESA, Nov. 21, 2017


Iran has big plans to create a military outpost in Syria, right on Israel’s doorstep. From there, the Islamic Republic could threaten and attack Israel in the future. Israel is currently employing two tools to try and prevent this from happening: diplomacy and deterrence. Diplomatically, Jerusalem is reaching out to global powers and the international community, informing them of the consequences of Iran’s actions in a bid to create pressure on Tehran. To achieve deterrence, Israel is making clear to Iran and its agents that it has no intention of allowing them to proceed with their plans.


But what can Israel do if these prevention efforts fail, as they might? In such a scenario, Israel would have to fall back on military action. Some of that action would likely involve Israel’s new aerial strike capabilities. These recently developed capabilities might well surpass any display of air power seen in military history thus far. They are based on an ability to use precise intelligence, combined with precision-guided weaponry, to destroy up to several thousand targets in just a matter of hours. This is a tool that the Israel Air Force, together with the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has been developing quietly over recent years. It is a game-changing capability that significantly boosts Israeli deterrence against its enemies. It also boosts actual war fighting capabilities, should these be called upon.


In recent weeks and months, there have been indications that Iran is testing the waters in Syria. It is seeing how far it can go, and how far it can push Israel’s red lines. In November, a Western intelligence source shared satellite imagery with the showing a new Iranian base being built south of Damascus. The facility can house hundreds of personnel and vehicles. It is a mere 50 kilometers from Syria’s border with Israel, and represents the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s plans for Syria. This month, during a visit to London, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC in an interview that the Iranians “want to bring their air force there, right next to Israel, they want to bring Shi’ite and Iranian divisions right next to Israel. They want to bring submarines. So we will not let that happen, we will resist it.”


Israel’s Kan News broadcaster also recently reported Iranian plans to set up a division in Syria made up of 5,000 soldiers, air force bases containing Iranian fighter jets, and Iranian naval bases on the Syrian coastline. Iran has already deployed to Syria thousands of Shiite militia members recruited from across the Middle East. They have been armed and trained by the Iranian Republican Guards Corps and the elite overseas Iranian Quds Force. The Iranians also run militia units made up of Syrian recruits. The Commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Solemani, was recently photographed in eastern Syria with members of one such militia, the al-Baqr Battalion. The Iranians also helped build up other Syrian military forces, like the 313 Battalion.


At the same time, Iran appears to have stepped up efforts to create missile factories on Syrian soil, which it can use to arm its chief Shiite proxy, Hezbollah. One of these factories was reportedly struck by Israel last month. As ISIS crumbles and the remainder of the Syrian Sunni rebels face defeat in Syria, Iran, which runs Assad’s ground war, will be free to shift the focus of its Syrian presence towards Israel. Israel is prepared to deal with this threat militarily if necessary, though the intelligence challenge would be considerable. Many of the targets in question would not be clear-cut Iranian military entities, but rather proxies and militias attempting to disguise themselves or embedded into the local environment. Still, Israel’s intelligence capabilities should be up to the job of detecting and monitoring the targets and passing them on to the air force.


So far, Israel has used its precision strike capabilities for pinpoint attacks on targets that are part of the Hezbollah–Iran weapons program. But these same strike capabilities can be activated on a grand scale. The same air power can also be directed against the Assad regime, which the Iranian axis has fought for years to rescue and preserve. In theory, Israel could inform Iran that its treasured Assad regime would be in jeopardy if Israel’s red lines are crossed in Syria.


Needless to say, any major escalation in Syria would almost certainly draw in Hezbollah in Lebanon as well, as the two fronts are interlinked. The Syrian-Lebanese border has become more of an imaginary line on a map than a real international boundary, as Hezbollah moves weapons and fighters across it on a regular basis. Any escalation on the Syrian front could easily activate the Lebanese front. The stakes in Syria are very high, and Israel remains committed to the objective of preventing conflict on its northern fronts. So far, it has succeeded in this goal. Russia has thus far appeared to help restrain its radical allies in Syria, but its role in any potential escalation remains unclear. But should Iran ignore all of Israel’s warnings, Israel’s new air power will likely prove decisive to the outcome of military action in this arena.





A.J. Caschetta

Middle East Forum, Nov. 28, 2017


Days away from the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry boasted about the success of the Obama administration's signature foreign policy achievement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on putatively "preventing" Iran's nuclear capability. "In reaching and implementing this deal," Kerry said, "we took a major security threat off the table without firing a single shot."


On the contrary, anyone who examines the JCPOA closely and honestly will come to the conclusion that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the mullahs got just about everything they wanted, while the U.S. got a dubious promise of good behavior that expires after 10 years.


It has long been known that what Michael Doran called "Obama's Secret Iran Strategy" required the administration to exaggerate the "spirit of reform" in Iran and to keep details about the agreement secret from both Congress and the American public. Recently, however, two seemingly unrelated events demonstrated just how duplicitous the Obama administration was with the American public over its dealings with the Islamic Republic.


The first event occurred on October 31, at the "World Without Terrorism" convention held in Iran. At a press conference, Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reminded the world that Iran's ballistic missiles, though limited to a range of 2,000 km, are still sufficient to target U.S. bases in the region, saying, "Even though we have the capability to increase this range, in the meantime this range is enough for us, because the Americans are sufficiently situated within a 2,000 km radius around Iran. We will respond to them if they attack us."


One could argue quite sensibly that Iran should never have been permitted to retain any offensive missile program. However, that's not what happened. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), in the early stages of negotiations, prior to the "Interim Agreement" of December 10, 2013, the U.S. team acquiesced to Iranian demands that missiles be excluded from the JCPOA. Then, in either a "secret," undisclosed part of the JCPOA or in an unwritten agreement, Iran agreed to a 2,000-km range limit on its ballistic missiles. MEMRI reads Jafari's statement as serving both "a message of reassurance for Europe, which is beyond the 2,000-km range" while simultaneously signaling a threat to Israel, which is well within the range.


The second event shedding a ghastly light on Obama's rapprochement with Iran came just hours after Jafari's statement, on November 1, when the CIA declassified and released more of what the U.S. Navy SEALs took from Osama bin Laden's dingy lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan after they killed him on May 2, 2011. Among the 470,000 documents was a 19-page file written by one of bin Laden's lieutenants demonstrating the considerable cooperation between Iran and Al-Qaeda. According to NBC News, two U.S. intelligence officials described the document as "evidence of Iran's support of al Qaeda's war with the United States."


A newly declassified document recovered from Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad shows "evidence of Iran's support of al Qaeda's war with the United States," according to U.S. intelligence officials. This support included "money and arms," and it confirms the cozy relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda hinted at by the 9/11 Commission Report. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said the document shows that "There have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al-Qaeda."


Those who recall that Al-Qaeda and Iranian proxy Hezbollah cooperated in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia will not be surprised to learn that Iran provided Al-Qaeda "training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf," according to the 19-page file. Of course, these files were not news to the Obama administration. Michael Rubin points out that "Obama and his CIA heads Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, John Brennan, and acting head Mike Morell released only what upheld and affirmed Obama's tenuous theories about Iran." While President Obama was busy concocting the fiction that "moderates" in the Iranian regime were worthy of our trust, he knew full well that he was offering concessions to co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks…

[To Read the Full Article With Footnotes Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Wrestling Inquiry: Did Iranian Lose Match to Avoid Israeli?: Washington Times, Dec. 1, 2017—Wrestling’s governing body is investigating whether an Iranian threw a match to avoid facing an Israeli. United World Wrestling announced Friday that it is looking into irregularities surrounding a first-round match between Ali Reza Karimi of Iran and Alikhan Zhabrailov of Russia at the recent U-23 World Championships in Poland.

War With Iran’s Proxies Looming, Israel’s US Envoy Warns: Times of Israel, Dec. 5, 2017—Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said Monday that his country is closer to a full-blown military conflict along its northern border than people think.

Trump Follows Obama’s Lead and Gives Iran Just What it Wants: Benny Avni, New York Post, Nov. 14, 2017—President Trump’s decision to reevaluate the nuclear deal was a step forward for the West’s efforts to contain Iran, but the White House took two steps back with its new deal with Russia over Syria.

Hezbollah and the Yemeni Missiles: Uzi Rubin, BESA, Nov. 29, 2017—In a CNN interview on November 6, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel Jubair asserted that “Lebanon has declared war” on his country. This accusation was made following the launch of a ballistic missile from Yemen towards Riyadh International Airport (it was shot down harmlessly by Saudi Arabia’s Patriot defense system).


With Reported Airstrike, Israel Puts Syria, and Iran, on Notice: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Dec. 2, 2017— With Syrian and Lebanese media reporting Israel carried out a missile strike overnight on a military base near al-Qiswa…

Iran Completes Its Land Bridge to the Golan: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 18, 2017— In the east of Syria, the so-called race to Abu Kamal between the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces and the forces of Iran, the Assad regime and Russia appears to be close to conclusion…

The Political Crisis in Lebanon: An Opportunity to Strengthen Israeli-Saudi Cooperation Against Iran: Omer Dostri, BESA, Dec. 1, 2017— Antisemitism is one of the most lethal diseases of hatred that has ever faced humanity…

Palestinians Trying to Leave Lebanon — Because of Israel?: Elder of Ziyon, Algemeiner, Nov. 29, 2017—The number of “Palestinian refugees” in Lebanon has decreased significantly over the past few years and many are leaving for other countries to try to improve their situation.


On Topic Links


Putin's Syria Illusion: Healing Historical Wounds, Resetting The Course Of History: Yigal Carmon, Memri, Nov. 29, 2017

Putin’s Syria Play: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, 2017

Saudi Arabia’s Lebanon Gamble Might Pay Off: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Dec. 2, 2017

Experts: Hezbollah Continues ‘Absolute Dominance’ of Lebanon Amid Domestic Political Crisis: Ariel Ben Solomon, JNS, Nov. 30, 2017           






Avi Issacharoff

Times of Israel, Dec. 2, 2017


With Syrian and Lebanese media reporting Israel carried out a missile strike overnight on a military base near al-Qiswa, some 13 kilometers (8 miles) southwest of Damascus and 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Israeli border, and in light of reports Iran is constructing a base in the area, Israel appears to have dramatically upped the ante regarding the Islamic republic’s military presence in Syria, turning its threats into action.


Top Israeli officials have in recent months repeatedly warned Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have conveyed a warning to President Bashar Assad just days ago, via a third party, that Assad’s regime will itself be targeted by Israel if he allows Iran a permanent presence. While until now it was not clear to what extent Israel was willing to enforce this red line, the latest reported airstrikes signal the line is brighter than ever and Israel is prepared to back up its warnings.


According to some of the foreign reports, widely quoted in Hebrew media, the base in al-Qiswa attacked overnight was indeed the installation photographed in satellite images published by the BBC three weeks ago. Those reports indicate the base was not operational and had yet to be manned by any Iranian soldiers, advisers or personnel from its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Expansion work was recently carried out at the site and it appears Israel was aware of the base’s purpose.


The airstrike sent a message to Assad, Tehran and Hezbollah, as well, of course, as Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Israel will not stand idly by if Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria continues. Messages to this effect have been relayed in recent months through diplomatic channels and appear to have made it to their intended audience to some extent, as Assad remains wary of allowing Iran to build a naval base on Syrian territory or permitting additional Iranian investment in the country. In the case of the al-Qiswa installation, however, the warnings were apparently not heeded and Israel needed to resort to more blatant means to get its point across.


At the start of last month, reports said a weapons depot was destroyed in an airstrike near the city of Homs. It is not clear if these strikes were connected; there have likely been additional Israeli strikes on targets tied to Iran since then. The latest airstrike would mark the first time an Iranian military facility in Syria, whose presence had been reported upon in the press only weeks before, was attacked. Official Syrian media asserted Saturday that the base was solely Syrian, but earlier reports on the site’s purpose leave little room for doubt.


Still, it is unlikely anyone in Israel believes the reported airstrike, which was apparently carried out by Israeli jets in Lebanese airspace, will be sufficient to deter the Iranians or cause Assad to distance himself from Iran. Tehran remains firm in its desire to advance its plans in Syria, and the Syrian dictator has consented to some of its goals. It is safe to assume Israel will likely seek to send additional messages in the form of attacks in order to cause Assad to reconsider his open-door policy with Iran. With this, the potential for an escalation with Syria, Hezbollah and their allies will only continue to grow.


While Iran is often said to be capable of taking over areas of the Middle East with relative ease, that is not the case here, with Israel apparently poised to ensure Iran’s effort to dominate Syria will not be a cakewalk. Furthermore, developments in Yemen would appear to constitute a major blow to Tehran’s goal of controlling that country, with forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday launching a large offensive against the Iranian-backed Houthis and inflicting a series of defeats. While the collapse of the Houthis’ alliance with Saleh may not signal the end of Iran’s campaign in Yemen, there is little doubt it has not been received well in Tehran. The reported airstrike underlines that, in Syria too, Iran is not having everything its own way.





Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 18, 2017


In the east of Syria, the so-called race to Abu Kamal between the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces and the forces of Iran, the Assad regime and Russia appears to be close to conclusion – in the latter's favor. Regime forces moved into the town last Thursday. They were then expelled by an unexpected Islamic State counterattack this week, and have now retreated to positions about two kilometers outside of Abu Kamal.


The Islamic State move, however, has the flavor of a last roll of the dice. Clearly, the Sunni jihadis will lose the strategic border town in the days ahead. The US-supported SDF fighters are covering ground rapidly to the north. But the forward units of the mainly Kurdish force remain about 25 kilometers north of Abu Kamal, in the area of the Kishma oil field. Abu Kamal is the last link in the much-discussed Iranian "land bridge" from the Iraq-Iran border to the Mediterranean Sea and the border with Israel.


Control of the border crossing at al-Qaim/Abu Kamal and of the roads leading west from it will enable the Iran-led regional alliance to transport fighters and weaponry in both directions, according to choice. It will mean that in a future confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel could see its enemies reinforced by supplies and volunteers from among other Iranian clients, in precisely the way that took place with such effect in the Syrian war. Hezbollah can now be reinforced by Iran's other regional clients in a future conflict with Israel.


Of course, such efforts would not be invulnerable to Israeli attentions from the air, and would not confer an irreversible advantage on the Iranian side. But given the Iranian weakness in aviation, the land bridge would vastly increase the options and abilities of the Iranian side. It is worth noting in this regard that in recent days Iraqi Shi'a militias crossed the border by land for the first time in the Syrian war, to join the battle against Islamic State in the Abu Kamal area. The land bridge would convey economic advantages as well as strategic ones. It would allow for the transport of Iraqi oil to regime-controlled Syria, bypassing the area currently controlled by the SDF. This will be important in the reconstruction period ahead, regardless of the precise lines of control within Syria.


The imminent conclusion of conventional operations against the last remnants of Islamic State in eastern Syria will in turn bring with it a moment of crucial decision for the United States. A central facet of events in recent months in Syria has been the absence of a clear US strategy. The de facto relationship between US air power and special forces and the Kurdish YPG has proved to be a successful military partnership. This force, not the Assad/Iran/Russia side, is responsible for the greater part of the victory against Islamic State in Syria. Indeed, the regime side's belated push east came precisely to limit the territorial gains of the US-backed SDF.


But throughout, there has been a clear discrepancy between the military support afforded to the SDF and the complete absence of recognition by the US or any other Western power of the broader Kurdish-led political project in northern Syria. The Federation of Northern Syria, declared by the Syrian Kurdish leadership on March 17, 2016, indeed lacks the recognition of any other country.


Officially speaking, the reason for US involvement in eastern Syria has been the war against Islamic State. Neither more nor less. At the same time, there is evidence of extensive US military construction in Kurdish-controlled eastern Syria. Airstrips and bases have been built in Rumeilan, Manbij and Kobani. The powerful Saudi official Thamer al-Sabhan visited SDF-controlled eastern Syria in late October, accompanied by Brett McGurk, US special envoy to the coalition against Islamic State. The purpose of the visit, according to a Reuters report, was to discuss the reconstruction of Raqqa city. All these snippets might suggest that the US has longer-term intentions in eastern Syria and does not mean to merely abandon its erstwhile allies, once the task of destroying the Islamic State "caliphate" is done.


A statement by US Defense Secretary James Mattis this week supported this impression. He noted that the US does not intend to "walk away right now before the Geneva process has traction," and would fight Islamic State "for as long as they want to fight," in order to prevent the emergence of "ISIS 2.0." If the US does decide to stay in eastern Syria, it will need to consider the logistics of how to supply this area, against the wishes of all neighboring entities. The Assad regime has made clear that once Islamic State is defeated, it intends to reunify the entire area of Syria…

[To Read the Full Article With Footnotes Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Omer Dostri

BESA, Dec. 1, 2017


Two dramatic events occurred recently that have the potential to affect the balance of power in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon. First, on November 4, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned while in Saudi Arabia, a move suspected to have been directed from the royal palace in Riyadh. A day later, it was reported that Saudi Arabia had intercepted a ballistic missile launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels who had intended to hit the Riyadh airport. On November 22, Hariri put his resignation on hold, but there is no sign of political stability in Lebanon for the foreseeable future.


Saudi Arabia backed Hariri’s intention to resign and directly accused Iran and Hezbollah of smuggling missiles into Yemen and teaching the Houthis how to operate them. Riyadh went so far as to claim that launching the missile towards the airport could be considered a “declaration of war” by Lebanon. These statements and actions join the boycott imposed on Qatar by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, over what they claim to be cooperation between Doha, Tehran, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood.


Although Saudi Arabia and Iran have exchanged sharp words in the past, attempts have been made to bridge their differences. Last August, for example, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced that Tehran and Riyadh were planning reciprocal diplomatic visits. Now, it seems the hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran has reached a new peak and threatens to become even more overt, raising fears of a direct military confrontation – especially in light of the worsening rhetoric of Saudi Arabia and the success of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.


Riyadh is no longer satisfied with cautious statements against Iran. It now chooses to accuse Tehran directly of responsibility for actions carried out by Shiite militias in Syria and Yemen. Thus, the desert kingdom is moving towards a more aggressive, less diplomatic foreign policy as it deepens its involvement in the Middle East in general and Lebanon in particular.


These developments have an impact on Israel, which is also threatened by Iran’s hegemonic ambitions. Tehran’s attempts to entrench in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; to expand its control over Lebanon; to create a “land bridge” from Tehran to the Mediterranean; to exploit the 2015 nuclear agreement to build military force and gain international legitimacy; and to develop its ballistic missile project menace Jerusalem as much as Riyadh.


Because they share a common threat, it is in the interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia to deepen their secret cooperation, especially through diplomatic means – even if there are limits on such cooperation. Those limits include a lack of domestic legitimacy in Riyadh for cooperation with Israel; Saudi Arabia’s focus on domestic affairs; and the involvement of superpowers in the region. These can be overcome by tightening covert cooperation; concentrating the foreign policy of both countries on the Iranian issue; and operating as one when dealing with the superpowers.


Hariri’s intention to resign, and the consequent leaving of the Lebanese government to Hezbollah, constitutes an opportunity for Riyadh and Jerusalem to exert strong combined pressure on the US administration to change its position. So far, Washington has separated the Lebanese government from Hezbollah, and has even praised Hariri and his government for their purported fight against terrorism.


Changing the American position can strengthen Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hezbollah, which has exploited the cover it received from the legitimate Lebanese government with Hariri at its head. A declaration that all of Lebanon is now Hezbollah would be a resounding message to send to the Americans. It would legitimize a future Israeli attack on the entire Lebanese country and its infrastructure as part of a military operation against Hezbollah. Another opportunity for Saudi-Israeli cooperation concerns the nuclear agreement between Iran and the six powers. In both Jerusalem and Riyadh, the nuclear agreement is viewed as a bad deal with significant weaknesses that can ultimately whitewash Iran as a nuclear state.


US President Donald Trump’s recent decision not to ratify the nuclear agreement gives the demands of Israel and Saudi Arabia a tailwind. The two countries, with the help of the US, should take advantage of the situation in Lebanon to embark on a “diplomatic attack” in Europe, Russia, and China, and increase the pressure to improve the terms of the agreement. This is especially true with regard to Moscow, as a complete Iranian takeover of Lebanon and Syria is not in Russia’s interest. Moscow has hegemonic ambitions of ​​its own in those areas.


Israel and Saudi Arabia can also take joint advantage of the political crisis in Lebanon to damage Iran’s ballistic missile project. While Trump has declared a new US policy towards Iran, his administration has not yet formulated concrete steps to impede Tehran’s military project. The two countries should leverage the opportunity and try to influence the agenda in Congress and particularly the Senate, which is responsible for planning and setting out the details of the overall policy as set out by the White House. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a better chance of influencing those details together than they do separately.


Saudi Arabia and Israel have a clear common interest in preventing an Iranian “land bridge” to the Mediterranean. In the past year, Riyadh has taken practical steps towards cooperating with and restoring relations with Baghdad – relations that had been wracked since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 – in order to prevent this Iranian foothold. Israel is working towards the same goal by both military and diplomatic means.


The abandonment of Lebanon’s political arena to Hezbollah would mean a de facto Iranian takeover of Lebanon. This has given renewed weight to the warnings expressed by Jerusalem and Riyadh about Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Riyadh and Jerusalem can use the situation to increase pressure on American policy in the Syrian arena and in Iraq. Until now, the US has focused on fighting ISIS and had abandoned the issue of Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating in both countries.


Israeli-Saudi cooperation in the Iraqi-Syrian arena can also be beneficial to the Russian government, which is currently working with Iran in Syria. Russian foreign policy in the Middle East is largely successful thanks to the “divide and rule” strategy. If Riyadh and Jerusalem join hands with Moscow, the combined pressure might bear fruit by reducing Tehran’s presence in Syria and distancing the Iranians who remain there from the Iraqi border. Russia might also agree to distance the Iranian presence in Syria from the border with Israel…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    




Elder of Ziyon

Algemeiner, Nov. 29, 2017


The number of “Palestinian refugees” in Lebanon has decreased significantly over the past few years and many are leaving for other countries to try to improve their situation. In an interview with the Hamas newspaper Palestine on Thursday, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon Ali Baraka said that some 260,000 “Palestinian refugees” had left the refugee camps in Lebanon to various countries in recent years because of the difficult security and economic conditions. According to him, the figures he cited are based on a poll conducted by the Lebanese authorities and which indicates that there is a deliberate action to bring about the emigration of Palestinian refugees from countries bordering Israel.


“The Zionist enemy is working in this way to empty the refugee camps and to destroy the foundation for the right of return,” Baraka claimed. He further argued that this emigration should be dealt with through activities to improve the situation in the camps and through assistance from UNRWA to ensure stability in the camps prior to the return of the “refugees” to “Palestine.”


According to the data of the director of the Shahad Institution — Mahmoud Al-Hanafi — more than 45 percent of “Palestinian refugees” have emigrated from Lebanon, and only 280,000 remain in Lebanon today. According to another version of the data, only 200,000 Palestinians remain in Lebanon. Hanafi noted that poverty, denial of work and security instability contribute to an increase in the phenomenon. Remember that UNRWA claims there are 450,000 Palestinian “refugees” in Lebanon. We have noted for years that roughly half of those have fled — but UNRWA still keeps counting them. I couldn’t find the original Felesteen article, but I found one from a few months ago quoting the same Mr. Al-Hanafi about a study showing how Lebanese youth know that they have no future in Lebanon; 59% of them believe that Palestinian identity is their main obstacle to achieving their aspirations to build a family and actively contribute to the development of society.


The study also said that suffering is linked to the reality of “being a Palestinian,” and “the practice of successive Lebanese governments of the policy of deprivation and harassment of the Palestinian, so that his life has become intolerable.” According to the study, 70.3 percent of the 18- to 20-year-old Palestinians in Lebanon would migrate if given the opportunity. The funny part is that Lebanon is controlled by Iran, by proxy — but the Palestinians there that Iran pretends to love are in worse shape than they’ve ever been. It must be because Lebanese authorities — who undoubtedly practice apartheid against their Palestinian “guests” — are really partnering with Israel, not Iran.




On Topic Links


Putin's Syria Illusion: Healing Historical Wounds, Resetting The Course Of History: Yigal Carmon, Memri, Nov. 29, 2017—The November 2017 summit of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents in Sochi is a contemporary Yalta Conference, but one in which Washington was relegated to the role of an extra while Moscow enjoyed top billing.

Putin’s Syria Play: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, 2017 —The press corps spent the weekend obsessing about what Donald Trump thinks about what Vladimir Putin believes about Russian meddling in the U.S. election. #evergreentweets.

Saudi Arabia’s Lebanon Gamble Might Pay Off: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Dec. 2, 2017—Broad international support for Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri following his speech from Riyadh in which he denounced Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy…

Experts: Hezbollah Continues ‘Absolute Dominance’ of Lebanon Amid Domestic Political Crisis: Ariel Ben Solomon, JNS, Nov. 30, 2017—The Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah, which makes up part of Lebanon’s government and has a strong military force that threatens Israel, has been largely unaffected by the status of embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Amid Beirut’s political squabbling, Hezbollah retains de facto control over much of the Lebanese state.


Riyadh Realpolitik: Elliott Abrams, Weekly Standard, Nov. 17, 2017 — What are the Saudis trying to do in Lebanon? They have clearly forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

It’s Not the Saudis Destroying Lebanon — it’s Iran: Benny Avni, New York Post, Nov. 20, 2017— If you read media coverage of the latest crisis in Leba

non, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all pretty simple…

Hizballah's Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region's Sectarian Strife: Yaakov Lappin, IPT News, Nov. 14, 2017— Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime.

Israel's Coming War with Hezbollah: Thomas Donnelly, American Interest, Nov. 3, 2017— Donald Trump’s feud with North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” notwithstanding, the most likely major war on the horizon is one between Israel and Hezbollah…


On Topic Links


Lebanese PM Hariri lands in Beirut, Attends National Day Parade: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 22, 2017

Iran Commander: Hezbollah’s Weapons are ‘Nonnegotiable’: Times of Israel, Nov. 23, 2017

Hezbollah Consolidates Its Stranglehold Over Lebanon: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, Nov. 7, 2017

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017





Elliott Abrams

Weekly Standard, Nov. 17, 2017


What are the Saudis trying to do in Lebanon? They have clearly forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Do they want to destabilize the country? Destroy its government? Is the new Saudi approach another example of the often-alleged incompetence and overreach of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman? Does it show, once again, that he is in over his head? Not in my view. On the contrary, the new and tougher Saudi approach seems to me more realistic—and (unsurprisingly) in line with the new Israeli approach. And both are not actions but reactions to the reality that Hezbollah is in fact in charge of Lebanon.


First, a bit of history. In the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, Israel made a sharp distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israeli attacks decimated Hezbollah targets but did not focus on Lebanon’s infrastructure. For example, to put the Beirut airport out of use the Israelis hit the runway, making takeoffs and landings impossible. They did zero damage to the terminal and hangars, so that repaving the runway and opening the airport could be done fast when hostilities ended. Similarly, I recall visiting Beirut with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the conflict and seeing the tall lighthouse in the port. An Israeli missile had gone right through the lighthouse’s top and taken out its searchlight. There was no significant damage to the structure, so that all that was needed was a new searchlight for the lighthouse to be operational again. Israel made a special effort to avoid major damage to the Lebanese national infrastructure, despite claims to the contrary from the Lebanese government.


In May 2008, Hezbollah ended a government crisis over its own powers by using its weapons—allegedly meant only to protect the country from Israel—to seize control of Beirut’s streets and effectively of the entire state. The New York Times quoted one expert on Hezbollah concluding back then, “This is effectively a coup.” In the near decade since, Hezbollah’s power has grown and so has its domination of Lebanon. During the war in Syria since 2012, Hezbollah has served as Iran’s foreign legion and sent thousands of Lebanese Shia across the border to fight. A story in the New York Times this August summed up the current situation:


[Hezbollah] has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran. Hezbollah is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda. That story concluded that “few checks remain on Hezbollah’s domestic power” in Lebanon. And throughout 2017, Israeli officials have been warning that the distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon can no longer be maintained. Hezbollah is quite simply running the country. While it leaves administrative matters like paying government salaries, paving roads, and collecting garbage to the state, no important decision can be taken without Hezbollah’s agreement.


Lebanon’s president must constitutionally be a Christian, but today that man is Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah since 2006. That is why he got to be president in 2016. As an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel put it, “Hezbollah has been very squarely backing Aoun for president, and this was always the deal between Aoun’s party and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has upheld its end of the deal. With this election .  .  . you can see Hezbollah being consolidated in terms of its political allies as well as its position in Lebanon.” Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who specializes in Lebanon, concurred: “In terms of the actual balance of power, the actual power on the ground, regardless of the politics, regardless of the cabinets, regardless of the parliamentary majorities: It’s Hezbollah.”


The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), a recipient of U.S. assistance, is increasingly intertwined with Hezbollah. David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy described the situation this way: [I]n April 2017, Hezbollah brought more than a dozen international journalists on a tour of Lebanon’s frontier with Israel, breezing through several checkpoints manned by national intelligence organs and LAF units, suggesting a high degree of coordination. The next month, Hezbollah turned over several of its Syria border observation posts to the LAF. .  .  . Finally, in late June, the LAF sent 150 officer cadets to tour Hezbollah’s Mleeta war museum, near Nabatiyah, a shrine to the organization’s “resistance” credentials vis-à-vis Israel. Where does all that leave Lebanon? Last summer Badran, in an article entitled “Lebanon Is Another Name for Hezbollah,” concluded, “The Lebanese state .  .  . is worse than a joke. It’s a front.”..

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    




Benny Avni

New York Post, Nov. 20, 2017


If you read media coverage of the latest crisis in Lebanon, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all pretty simple: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pushing Lebanon to the brink of war that will involve Israel and perhaps even America. But that simplistic take ignores the fact that the crisis was instigated a while ago — by Iran.


It’s easy to see why the Saudis get blamed: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is scheduled to return to Beirut on Wednesday. He’ll officially hand in his resignation and return to Paris, where he’ll live comfortably from now on — all because his patrons in Riyadh, where the Hariri family acquired its considerable wealth, pushed him to quit. The Saudis, so the narrative goes, are intensifying this crisis even beyond Hariri’s resignation. They’re pulling cash from Beirut banks, calling on their citizens to avoid Lebanon’s posh hotels and withdrawing investments from the country. Lebanon’s ensuing economic collapse will intensify sectarian rivalries and embolden its most aggressive hotheads. And (in this narrative’s most ridiculous form) Israeli soldiers will next do Riyadh’s bidding and fight Hezbollah on behalf of the Saudis.


That last one, often heard in conspiratorial tones in Mideastern cafes, rings awfully familiar: From Pontius Pilate through the tsar to Washington’s neocons, Jews have long been accused of whispering evil in the king’s ear. Except in this version, the roles are reversed, and a young, irresponsible Saudi royal is pushing gullible Israelis and Americans into a proxy war in Lebanon. That, of course, isn’t how Riyadh sees it. Saudi officials point out it was their country that spent a fortune rebuilding Lebanon after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah left it in ruins. But rather than regaining its status as “Paris on the Mediterranean,” Beirut became an Iranian stronghold and Hezbollah now controls every aspect of Lebanese life.


Which is true. Under plans enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions, the Lebanese Army was supposed to disarm all militias. Instead, Hezbollah now controls the army. What happened since the 2006 war was a spectacular Lebanese takeover by Hezbollah. America, which under President Barack Obama saw no evil coming from Tehran, allowed it to happen, blind to the Iranization of Lebanon’s politics, culture and military. (We still train and equip the Lebanese army.)


Meanwhile Hezbollah, created by Iran in the 1980s to counter Israel’s military power, has repurposed its mission. Arguing it must stay armed and dangerous as part of “resistance” to Israel, it in fact became Iran’s model proxy army and its global gun for hire. Far from a “Lebanese” power, it’s a Persian tool. When Tehran says jump, Hezbollah asks how high. Every Shiite Lebanese family has lost someone in Syria, where for over six years Hezbollah has been fighting to achieve Iran’s goal of securing Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. Hezbollah agents train and supervise Iraqi forces, building Iran-affiliated militias in their own image. They’re in Iranian outposts in Asia, Africa and South America. They even tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC.


In Yemen, Hezbollah supervises the Houthis’ fight against Saudi-backed forces. Recently the Saudis intercepted Iranian-made missiles shot at Saudi territory from Yemen. No wonder the Saudis are fed up with Lebanon. True, Prince Mohammed is much better at diving into a crisis than at plotting a strategic way out of it. But it’s Iran, not him, that’s responsible for bringing us here.


And no, Israel isn’t being pushed by Saudis. Jerusalem has long known it one day might need to eliminate the estimated 150,000 Lebanese-based warheads Hezbollah has aimed at its urban centers. But Israel has long sought to postpone that war, knowing how bloody and painful it would be for both sides. After ignoring Iran’s ruinous Lebanese-centered strategy for over a decade, it’s time America woke up, too: The Saudis aren’t an enemy. They just decided to stop financing, aiding and giving diplomatic cover to a state that endlessly acts against their interests. Perhaps so should we.





Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Nov. 14, 2017


Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime. Yet Hizballah's meddling in other regions of the Middle East usually does not receive as much attention. That changed drastically earlier this month, when Saudi Arabia publicly accused the Shi'ite terrorist organization of firing a ballistic missile at its capital, Riyadh, from Yemen.


Saudi Arabia is alarmed at the rapid expansion of Iran and its proxies. It is leading a coalition of Sunni states in a war against the Iranian-supported Shi'ite Houthi radical organization, Ansar Allah, which has taken over parts of Yemen. "It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hizballah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen," charged Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. A Saudi air defense battery shot the missile down before it struck Riyadh's airport, but the incident has seen Saudi- Iranian tensions, which were already high, spike. A United States Air Force source has reportedly confirmed the Saudi information about the Iranian origins of the missile.


Iran denied the Saudi accusation, and played down its links with the Houthis. But this denial flies in the face of mounting evidence of an important Hizballah and Iranian role in assisting Ansar Allah in Yemen. Some of this evidence comes from Hizballah itself, or more precisely, its unofficial mouthpiece in Lebanon, the Al-Akhbar newspaper. Editor Ibrahim Al-Amin published a boastful article in July 2017 detailing Hizballah's spread across the region. "In Yemen, Hizbullah has become a direct partner in strengthening the military capabilities of the Houthi Ansar Allah, who consider Hizballah to be their truthful ally," Al-Amin wrote. The same article proudly said that in Iraq, Hizballah's "experts are present in the biggest operations rooms … [Hassan] Nasrallah serves as the commander of the Popular Mobilization Units [the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias] in Iraq."


Hizballah's activities around the Middle East have become a controversial topic in Lebanon, where a portion of the population opposes its monopoly on political and military power, its militant ideology, and Iran's proxy control of the country. Last year, Future TV, a station owned by the recently retired Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who quit in protest of Iran's takeover of Lebanon), broadcast what it said was a video of a Hizballah operative providing military-terrorist training to Houthi fighters. "So I have (for example) the assassination, God willing, of the head of the Saudi Border Guard," the Hizballah operative says in the video. "We take a group, a special unit, it goes in, assassinates, kills and plants a large bomb. This is what we call a special operation. I have a special operation in Riyadh".


At this stage in the video, the Hizballah member briefing the Houthis is interrupted with a question: "[Is this] a suicide operation?" He replies: "Possibly a martyrdom operation. We do not call it suicide. We call it a special operation." An examination of the flag used by Ansar Allah finds that its red and green colors are influenced by the Iranian flag, and more importantly, the motto etched on the flag: "Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon The Jews, Victory to Islam" is inspired by official Iranian mottos.


The Houthis have been influenced by Hizballah in more than one way, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel. "The group's use of militant anashid (jihadist anthems) in its videos further portrays it as more in line with Hizballah's models of 'resistance,'" he told the IPT. "Images depicting Houthi fighters with the sun as a background further draw a parallel to other Shi'ite jihadist groups, giving the Houthis spiritual legitimacy within the context of a Shi'ite jihadist organization." Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the current Houthi leader, delivers speeches in a style inspired by Hizballah's Nasrallah, Karmon said.


Houthi leaders also appointed a prominent Iranian-educated religious figure with close links to the Islamic Republic as the top Islamic authority in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. A May 2015 Financial Times report, "Lebanon's Hizballah and Yemen's Houthis open up on links," cited Hizballah members saying they have "played a more active role on the ground in Yemen. A Houthi official in Beirut said relations with the Lebanese movement span over a decade, while a Hizballah commander said Houthis and Hizballah trained together for the past 10 years in Iran, then in Lebanon and in Yemen." …


Earlier this year, Karmon assessed that "[a] physical Iranian presence based on a strategic cooperation with the Houthis, both ground and naval," in Yemeni ports on the Red Sea, as well as control over other strategic waterways "represent a direct threat to Israel's security and interests."The Houthi takeover of Yemen's capital and other regions increased Shi'ite Iran's influence there, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported. Based on publicly available information, it seems safe to conclude that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps uses Hizballah to strengthen the Houthis militarily in Yemen, and to help Iran increase its influence over this poor, war-torn state, which is also experiencing a humanitarian disaster on a grand scale due to the ongoing conflict. Hizballah's role as a regional proliferator of terrorism, radicalism, and high-level operational capabilities is a constant threat to the Middle East and beyond.




Thomas Donnelly

Weekly Standard, Nov. 3, 2017


Donald Trump’s feud with North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” notwithstanding, the most likely major war on the horizon is one between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that, thanks to years of experience and an increasingly lethal arsenal, has become part of the vanguard in Iran’s drive for hegemony in the Near East. Indeed, such a war would be a huge next step for Iran after its rescue of the Assad regime in Syria and its increasingly powerful posture in post-ISIS Iraq. For just such reasons, this war would be a potential tipping point in the Middle East balance of power, a frightfully violent prospect that is equally ripe with strategic opportunity for the United States.


As Willy Stern chronicled in these pages last year (“Missiles Everywhere,” June 20, 2016), an Israel-Hezbollah conflict would be nasty and brutish but not short. Ever since its 2006 clash with Israel, Hezbollah has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into Israel. This arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads—some of Assad’s chemical weaponry no doubt made its way to Hezbollah—as well as substantial conventional explosives. More important is their improved accuracy; Hezbollah might actually hit something for a change, and not just large cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but military bases and airports. Despite Israel’s successful development of missile defenses like the “Iron Dome,” “Arrow,” and “David’s Sling,” it’s unlikely that an all-out or sustained series of attacks could be fully blunted.


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been making increasingly warlike comments in recent months and claimed in June that his men would be reinforced in battle by “tens .  .  . or even hundreds of thousands” of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Nasrallah may be boasting, but Israeli intelligence assessments put the likely strength of such forces at about 40,000. In addition to expanding the number of Hezbollah-like militias it commands, Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, has improved its ability to shuttle forces to decisive points. In the fight to evict ISIS from western Iraq, the Iranian proxy Popular Mobilization Units have played as critical a role as U.S. or Iraqi regular forces, not least in the recent clashes that drove Kurdish militias out of Kirkuk.


Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has long argued that the next Israel-Hezbollah conflict would be quite unlike the 2006 edition of this “forever” war or any of the recent Israeli campaigns against Hamas. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within Israel. And the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) could well confront its nightmare scenario—a two-front war in the form of simultaneous attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. As White and his colleague Michael Eisenstadt recently noted, an IRGC general was killed in a January 2015 IDF airstrike while he was touring the Syrian Golan with Hezbollah hosts.


Israel has not faced such a powerful threat since the 1973 war, and confronting the Iran-Hezbollah-Assad coalition will tax the IDF heavily. To begin with, even if its missile defenses live up to their advertising, they cannot obviate the need to conduct counterstrikes into Lebanon and Syria. While the Israeli air force has long ruled the local skies, the proliferation of advanced Russian-made air defenses calls into question how rapidly—and at what cost—the IDF can establish or sustain the kind of air supremacy it will need. The best way to remove the Hezbollah missile threat is to seek and destroy the launchers or to deny use of customary launch sites. The Israelis have worked very hard to improve their mobile-missile-hunting abilities, but this would be a risky mission.


Moreover, the best missile defense is a large-scale ground assault. Both sides know this, and Israel’s enemies have made strenuous preparations for the IDF counterattacks—again, simultaneously into Lebanon and Syria—that must come. The IDF has worked to improve the survivability of its mechanized infantry and armored forces and the responsiveness, lethality, and accuracy of its artillery. For its part, Hezbollah, which showed considerable tactical skill in defending southern Lebanon in 2006, has added advanced anti-armor weaponry and new layers of defenses. The terrain in southern Lebanon and on the Golan is well suited for such purposes; the IDF will have to pick its way forward cautiously, through ambush after ambush, and ultimately it may have to go farther north and east than in 2006.


These daunting tactical challenges also, as in the past, generate strategic and geopolitical problems. The perception of victory often counts more than the battlefield result, both in the region and in the larger international contest. Nasrallah excels at spinning defeat into victory. The 2006 war began when Hezbollah captured two IDF soldiers. In an unguarded moment shortly after the cessation of hostilities, he admitted that he did not anticipate, “even by 1 percent,” that the snatch “would result in such a wide-scale war, as such a war did not take place in the history of wars. Had we known” what would result, “we would not have carried it out at all.” But in short order, survival became triumph, a bit of propaganda that caught on in outlets such as the Economist, which declared, “Nasrallah wins the war.” By now even many Israelis, especially on the political left, concur; in an otherwise thoughtful analysis of the current situation, Ha’aretz concluded that the 2006 campaign “remains a resounding failure.” The standard of victory for Israel remains almost impossibly high…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Lebanese PM Hariri lands in Beirut, Attends National Day Parade: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 22, 2017—Saad al-Hariri attended independence day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday after returning to Lebanon for the first time since resigning as prime minister in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia. Hariri, whose sudden resignation on November 4 pitched Lebanon into crisis, flew into Beirut late on Tuesday. He stood alongside President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at a military parade in central Beirut.

Iran Commander: Hezbollah’s Weapons are ‘Nonnegotiable’: Times of Israel, Nov. 23, 2017—The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday rejected the possibility of disarming the Iran-backed and Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror organization or entering into negotiations over its ballistic missile program.

Hezbollah Consolidates Its Stranglehold Over Lebanon: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, Nov. 7, 2017— Saad Hariri resigned his post as Lebanon's prime minister, citing an assassination plot brewing against him, presumably from his former government coalition partner Hezbollah.

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017—The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia.







Lebanon's Fall Would be Iran's Gain: John Bolton, Pittsburgh Tribune, Nov. 11, 2017— Almost unnoticed in the coverage of President Trump's Asia trip, Lebanon is slipping under Iran's control.

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017— The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough.

In Shadowy Covert Wars, Iran Takes Center Stage: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, November 14, 2017— In the shadowy world of covert proxy wars, Iran is taking center stage, both as a target and as a player.

On the Left, the Missing Debate over the Iran Deal: Matthew RJ Brodsky, National Review, Oct. 26, 2017— President Trump’s decision to remain in the nuclear agreement with Iran while working to fix its numerous flaws has temporarily put to bed an ideological debate…


On Topic Links


Trump, Iran, and a Fast-Changing Middle East (Interview): Daniel Pipes, L'Informale (Italy), Nov. 13, 2017

Is the JCPOA Working?: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon, Algemeiner, Nov. 7, 2017

Report: Iran Establishing Permanent Military Presence in Syria Near Israeli Border: Avital Zippel, Jerusalem Online, Nov. 11, 2017

Will There be a Russian-Turkish-Iranian Alliance?: Jonathan Adelman, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2017


LEBANON'S FALL WOULD BE IRAN'S GAIN                                                      

John Bolton

Pittsburgh Tribune, Nov. 11, 2017


Almost unnoticed in the coverage of President Trump's Asia trip, Lebanon is slipping under Iran's control. On Nov. 3, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, resigned, citing fears of assassination by Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group funded and controlled by Iran. No one can say Hariri's fears are unjustified since his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was murdered in 2005 — almost certainly at Syrian or Iranian direction.


While the full ramifications of Saad Hariri's resignation remain to be seen, Tehran's ayatollahs have now significantly extended their malign reach in the Middle East. This is bad for the people of Lebanon; bad for Israel, with which Lebanon shares a common border and a contentious history; bad for Arab states like Jordan and the oil-producing Arabian Peninsula monarchies; and bad for America and its vital national interests in this critical region.


Sadly, Iran's progress was foreseeable from the inception of Barack Obama's strategy of using Iraqi military forces and Shia militia units as critical elements in the campaign to eradicate the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Baghdad government is effectively Iran's satellite. Accordingly, Obama's decision to provide that regime with military assistance and advice strengthened Iran's hand even further and materially contributed to its efforts to establish dominance in Iraq's Shia regions. Moreover, Iran itself, supported by Russian forces in Syria, aided and directed the Bashar Assad regime in fighting against both ISIS and the Syrian opposition. Iran also ordered Hezbollah to deploy from Lebanon into Syria, thus effectively creating a Shia-dominated arc of control from Iran itself to the Mediterranean.


Apparently, neither the Pentagon, nor the State Department, nor the National Security Council advised the new Trump administration of the implications of facilitating Iran's Middle East grand strategy. Obama's approach is, ironically, easier to understand, given his determination to secure his “legacy” by conceding vital U.S. national interests to nail down the Iran nuclear deal. Seeing Iran enhance its hegemonic aspirations throughout the region was, in his view, just another small price to pay to grease the way for the nuclear deal. Trump's advisers have no such excuse.


Hariri's resignation shows the inevitable consequences of blindly following Obama's approach. Very little now stands in the way of Hezbollah's total domination of the Lebanese government, thereby posing an immediate threat to Israel. In recent years, Tehran continued supplying the Assad regime and Hezbollah with weapons systems dangerous to Israel. Even more Israeli self-defense strikes are now likely, as Iran's conventional threat on Israel's borders grows.


Nearby Arab states also see the potential dangers of an unbroken Shia military arc of control on their northern periphery. The Middle East thus faces an advancing Syria, backed by Iran's imminent nuclear-weapons capability, deliverable throughout the region — and likely able to reach America in short order. The Trump administration cannot continue idly watching Iran advance without opposition. Washington and its regional allies need a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iran, not a series of ad hoc responses to regional developments. Time is fast running out.  




Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017


The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia. Hariri, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, said he feared for his life. Hariri has good reason to be afraid of Hezbollah, the powerful Shia terror group and Iranian proxy that effectively controls Lebanon.


Indications show that Iran and Hezbollah are also planning to extend their control to the Gaza Strip. Iran already provides Hamas with financial and military aid. It is precisely the support of Iran that has enabled Hamas to hold in power in the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. It is also thanks to Iran that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another major terror group in the Gaza Strip, are in possession of thousands of missiles and rockets. It is Iranian money that allows Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to continue digging terror tunnels under the border with Israel.


Relations between Iran and Hamas have grown stronger in the past few weeks. Last month, a senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to attend the funeral of the father of the senior Iranian security official, Qasem Soleimani. A few weeks earlier, another senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to brief Iranian leaders on the latest developments surrounding the "reconciliation" agreement reached between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA).


It was the first time senior Hamas officials visited Iran since relations between the two sides became strained in 2011. That year, Iran suspended its ties with Hamas over the latter's refusal to support Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, against his opponents in its civil war. The sudden rapprochement between Hamas and Iran has raised concerns among Abbas and his Palestinian Authority officials regarding Hamas's sincerity in implementing the "reconciliation" agreement. President Abbas and his officials wonder why Hamas rushed into arms of Iran immediately after reaching the "reconciliation" accord under the auspices of the Egyptian authorities.


Iran and Hezbollah are no fans of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is terrified that Hamas is trying to bring Iran and its Hezbollah proxy into the Gaza Strip. Abbas and his PA are eager to return to the Gaza Strip, but the presence of Iran there creates a serious problem. Like Hariri, Abbas would have good reason to fear for his life if Hamas brings the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip.


Abbas's fear is also not unjustified. Earlier this week, a senior Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, disclosed that his movement and Hezbollah were working towards strengthening their relations. "Relations between Hamas and Hezbollah were never cut off," Abu Marzouk stated. "We have ongoing contacts and understandings. But we preferred to keep them away from the spotlight. Hamas and Hezbollah are in one line in the fight against Israel, and we coordinate our positions regarding the Palestinian cause. Hamas will continue to cooperate with resistance groups that support the Palestinian resistance."


The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran has managed to take control of large parts of Syria. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran already controls Lebanon. Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip. They know that the only way to access the Gaza Strip is through the Hamas door. Iran wants to see Hezbollah inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price: allowing Iran and Hezbollah to set foot in the Gaza Strip. Judging from the remarks of Abu Marzouk, Hamas appears to be happy to pay the price.


Hariri, Abbas and many Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, felt betrayed by the Obama Administration's policy of détente towards Iran — a policy that emboldened the Iranians and gave them a green light to meddle in the internal affairs of Arab countries to try to establish, as they seem to have done, a "Shiite Crescent" from Persia through Yemen and now Lebanon, clear to the Mediterranean Sea. The Sunni Arabs are apparently particularly worried about the nuclear deal signed between the Obama Administration and Iran. They feel that the Obama Administration's attempt to appease the Iranians has emboldened the country that is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran has since taken advantage of the nuclear deal to threaten and try to terrorize America, its friends and its Arab allies…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, November 14, 2017


In the shadowy world of covert proxy wars, Iran is taking center stage, both as a target and as a player. In the latest signal of escalating proxy wars, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) announced that it had “dismantled a terrorist team” that was “affiliated with global arrogance,” a reference to the US and its allies, in the Islamic Republic’s northwestern province of East Azerbaijan. The announcement came weeks after Iran said it had eliminated an armed group in a frontier area of the province of West Azerbaijan that borders on Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. It also followed Iran’s assertion two months ago that it had disbanded some 100 “terrorist groups” in the south, southeast, and west of the country.


To be sure, intermittent political violence in Iran cannot be reduced exclusively to potential foreign exploitation of minority ethnic and religious grievances in a bid to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Nor can foreign exploitation be established beyond doubt despite multiple indications that it is a policy option under discussion in the US and Saudi Arabia. There is, moreover, little doubt that Iran’s detractors had no connection to a June 7 attack on the Iranian parliament and the grave of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran that killed 12 people and was claimed by ISIS, despite Iran’s claims that Saudi Arabia was responsible.


Nor can revived agitation by Kurds, Baloch, and Azeris be simply written off as foreign creations rather than expressions of longstanding and deep-seated grievances, even if the revival may in part have been inspired by secessionist trends among Iraqi and Syrian Kurds as well as developments in Catalonia. There is, however, also no reason to exclude the possibility of the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, seeking to exploit those grievances.


Iran is by no means a country wracked by political violence. Still, violence is gradually mounting. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) announced in January that it was resuming its armed struggle not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but [as] a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” PDKI militants, operating from Iraqi Kurdistan, have since repeatedly clashed with Iranian forces.


Pakistani militants in the province of Balochistan reported a massive flow of Saudi funds in the last few years to Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative groups, while a Saudi think tank believed to be supported by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman published a blueprint for support of the Baloch and called for “immediate counter measures” against Iran. Without a doubt, US and Saudi moves to counter Iran go beyond potential exploitation of ethnic and religious grievances. Supported by the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia recently forged close ties to the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi – despite Al-Abadi’s rejection of demands that he roll back the power of Iranian-backed Shiites who played a key role in the fight against IS.


Similarly, US President Donald J. Trump appears to be goading Iran into walking away from the 2015 nuclear agreement. Trump earlier this month refused to certify to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the accord. The US has also sought to limit the benefits Iran should garner from the accord. The Trump administration, in its latest move, blocked Iranian participation in ITER, a multibillion-dollar fusion experiment in France. Increased scientific cooperation was part of the agreement’s bid to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.


Included in the recent release of 470,000 documents captured during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, in which he was killed, was the Al Qaeda’s leader’s personal diary. The diary and other documents provide evidence of Iran’s complex relationship with the jihadist group and serve to strengthen justification of the Trump administration’s tougher approach towards Iran. Iran has not restricted its opportunistic, albeit calibrated, support for militants to Al Qaeda, but has played both sides of the divide in Afghanistan. In an indication that ties to the Taliban could strengthen because of US pressure on Pakistan to halt its support for militants, including the Taliban, Taliban fighters are looking to Iran as an alternative safe haven. “Many Taliban want to leave Pakistan for Iran. They don’t trust Pakistan anymore,” an Afghan fighter told The Guardian.


In a bid to counter Saudi influence in Afghanistan that dates back to the US-Saudi-backed jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, Iran played, in the wake of the US ousting of the Taliban, a key role in the Bonn conference that united disparate Afghan factions behind the government of Hamid Karzai. Iran has since allowed the Taliban to open a regional office in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Late last year, Iran hosted several senior Taliban figures at an Islamic Unity conference.


The record of past efforts to engineer regime change in Iran through covert wars is mixed at best and dismal on balance. There is little reason to assume that a potential new round will fare any better. If anything, the attempts persuaded Iran to keep its lines open to Sunni Muslim jihadists, who are hardly natural allies for a Shiite Muslim regime. At the same time, the two-year-old experience with implementation of the nuclear agreement, as well as Iranian support for not only the Taliban but also the government in Kabul, suggests grey areas in which reduction rather than escalation of conflict may be possible.





Matthew RJ Brodsky

National Review, Oct. 26, 2017


President Trump’s decision to remain in the nuclear agreement with Iran while working to fix its numerous flaws has temporarily put to bed an ideological debate…between the two main conservative camps, known as “the Walkers” and “the Fixers.” The fix-it approach adopted by the president was developed in think tanks such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the Institute for Science and International Security, and it involves a comprehensive strategy called “decertify, pressure, and fix.” With the writing on the wall, the Walkers, who favored withdrawing from the agreement, have joined with the Fixers, albeit skeptically, and they reserve the right to say “I told you so” later.


Mark Dubowitz of FDD recently wrote that the president’s choice “moved the debate on the fatally flawed nuclear deal from ‘keep it or nix it’ to ‘fix it or nix it.’” The problem, however, is that movement is discernible only on the political right. Across the political aisle, no such debate or internal discussion is taking place. To grasp why, it is crucial to understand that for “the Vanguard,” the leading camp on the left, the Iran deal was always about much more than the nuclear file. The reason that they and “the Believers” they spawned are so vocal in their opposition to tinkering with the agreement today is that Trump was elected, which gives him the authority to kill their deal and shine a light on its shortcomings. In the meantime, they are simply regurgitating the old lines without taking stock of their handiwork two years on.


The Underpinnings From the outset, the Obama administration set out to lessen the American footprint abroad — especially in the Middle East. Part of that endeavor included trading traditional alliances for new ones that could bear the burden of the Middle East maladies in America’s absence. To that end Barack Obama, shortly after taking office in 2009, began a process designed ultimately to reestablish full U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran.


For the Vanguard, reaching a nuclear accord with Iran was identified as the means to lock in America’s strategic shift. In that sense, the deal was about transforming Iran so that it could “take its rightful place in the community of nations” and become a constructive regional player as America withdrew. Iran and its proxies were seen as a more cohesive and capable unit to inherit the Middle East than the mix of Sunni states, most of whom were working at cross-purposes. The years of Arab upheaval that began in 2011 only reinforced that notion.


Adopting this new approach, they believed, would help bring stability to the Middle East, allowing the U.S. to correct its unfortunate plague of foreign-intervention, which sprung from “a mindset out of step with the traditions of American foreign policy.” Doing so would “restore America’s standing in the world,” which was a promise that candidate Obama made in September 2008. It was to be “the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy,” as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told progressive activists in January 2014. “This is health care for us, just to put it in context.”


Of course, flipping Iran from the dark side wouldn’t be easy, nor would convincing skeptical Americans that the deal they were cooking up would be in their interest. It required a group of core believers who could carry the Obama administration’s message, which was initially based on the fiction of an ongoing struggle between Iranian moderates and hardliners, epitomized by the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president. He defeated the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. According to the Vanguard’s logic, anyone elected short of Caligula could be considered a moderate compared to Mr. “wipe Israel off the map” Ahmadinejad. That election served as the pretext that Obama needed to sell America on the idea that the winds of change were blowing in Tehran, allowing him to keep his goal of a grand bargain hidden. In reality, the Obama administration sat on the sidelines a few years earlier in June 2009 and watched the regime brutally crush the Green Revolution with techniques that it later exported and perfected for Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian slaughterhouse.


Marketing this new formula under the guise of a nuclear deal necessitated an avoidance of any back-and-forth discussion of the merits of the agreement itself, a willingness to attack all those who raised important questions about its shortcomings or sought to improve the deal, and the circumvention of Congress, which, if presented with it as a treaty, would surely have voted it down. Most of all, once the Vanguard caved on all of the promises it had made regarding what would be in deal, it had to rest its case on the bottom-line assertion that those who were opposed to it offered only war as a solution. The debate today should be over whether to ‘fix it or nix it,’ despite the Vanguard’s continuing attempts to kneecap the efforts of those trying to strengthen the agreement.


For this monumental task, Obama turned to Ben Rhodes, who developed, ran, and subsequently bragged to David Samuels of the New York Times about his creation of an echo chamber designed to sell their alternative facts about the Iran deal to the American people. Rhodes handpicked newly minted experts who then began popping up at think tanks. They didn’t think like the American foreign-policy establishment — “the blob,” as Rhodes called them — they simply acted as parrots. To spread their centralized hot takes, the Vanguard relied on “hundreds of often-clueless reporters,” as Samuels described Rhodes’s understanding of them. As Believers, they were only too willing to oblige. Together, they generated a feedback loop of misinformation, amplification, and reiteration.


And it all worked brilliantly. Barack Obama and his Vanguard’s echo chamber sold the JCPOA lemon in 2015 as an exclusive choice between the deal they cooked up or war. Those who opposed the agreement were smeared as warmongers who shared a common cause with the Iranian-regime hardliners. They scolded and undermined the Fixers then as they do now and then bypassed Congress to seal the deal at the United Nations. And they did so claiming that they had reached the best agreement possible, having exhausted the limits of U.S. leverage in search of a deal, and that to turn down what was now available would leave America with no other option besides war. All of that is garbage…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Trump, Iran, and a Fast-Changing Middle East (Interview): Daniel Pipes, L'Informale (Italy), Nov. 13, 2017—Donald Trump decertified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, leaving it up to the U.S. Congress whether to sanction Tehran or not. Do you agree with John Bolton, Martin Sherman, and others that it is futile to "fix" the deal and necessary to "nix" it?

Is the JCPOA Working?: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon, Algemeiner, Nov. 7, 2017—All JCPOA supporters rely on the notion that “the agreement is working” and on the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran is in compliance with the agreement eight times since it came into force in January 2016.

Report: Iran Establishing Permanent Military Presence in Syria Near Israeli Border: Avital Zippel, Jerusalem Online, Nov. 11, 2017—An intelligence source told the BBC that Iran is establishing a permanent military base in Syria, according to a report issued on Friday. The official claimed that the construction has significantly progressed, which may be a result of recent gains made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Will There be a Russian-Turkish-Iranian Alliance?: Jonathan Adelman, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2017—With the winding down of the war in Syria, some pundits have seen an alliance of Russia with Turkey and Iran in the Middle East as possible and even likely. They see a rising authoritarian Russia and Iran uniting with an authoritarian Turkey to dominate the Middle East.