Canadian Institute for Jewish Research
L'institut Canadien de Recherches sur le Judaisme
Strength of Israel will not lie

Tag: Russia

IN SYRIA, IRAN PLAYS KEY ROLE IN EMERGING POWER STRUCTURE AMID ONGOING RUSSIA-ISRAEL CRISIS

A New Order Emerges in Southern Syria: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, Dec. 3, 2018— Syrian Regime closes accounts with west- and Israel-linked rebels, as Iran builds and expands its presence in the area.

The Russian-Israeli Crisis over Syria Lacks an Exit Strategy: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Dec. 5, 2018— The crisis in Russian-Israeli relations that followed the downing of a Russian aircraft in September lacks an exit strategy, and has resulted in significantly higher tensions in the Syrian arena.

In the Middle East, Russia is Back: Liz Sly, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2018 — Among the presidents, prime ministers, kings and princes who have visited Moscow over the past year to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin are some of the United States’ closest allies, who once might have been expected to devote their travel time to Washington.

The Palestinians No One Talks About: Bassam Tawil, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 27, 2018— Here’s some “good” news: In October, only five Palestinians living in Syria were pronounced dead.

On Topic Links

US Claims it Killed ISIS Commander, Syria Says US Hit its Forces: Seth Frantzman, Breaking Israel News, Dec. 4, 2018

Hundreds of Bodies Recovered From ISIS Mass Graves in Syria: New York Post, Nov. 27, 2018

While Confronting Iran in Syria, Israel May Have to Defy Russia: Charles Bybelezer, Media Line, Dec. 4, 2018

Expect Russia to Escalate Soon in Syria: Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner, Dec. 3, 2018

 

A NEW ORDER EMERGES IN SOUTHERN SYRIA                   

Jonathan Spyer                                                                           

Breaking Israel News, Dec. 3, 2018

Syrian Regime closes accounts with west- and Israel-linked rebels, as Iran builds and expands its presence in the area. Evidence emerging from south west Syria indicates that the Assad regime has begun to ‘close accounts’ with former rebels who worked with Israel and with western countries during the years that this area was outside of regime control.  A number of prominent former rebel commanders in Deraa and Quneitra Provinces have recently disappeared after being apprehended by regime forces.   Other former rebels have been prevented from leaving the area for opposition-controlled Idleb province in the country’s north east.

The regime’s measures against those it deems unfit for ‘reconciliation’ are continuing parallel to the integration of rank and file former rebels into the regime’s security structures.  What is returning to Syria’s south, however, is not the status quo ante bellum.  Iran and its allies have a central role in the emergent power structure. Indeed, the emergent reality is one in which it is difficult to discern where precisely the Syrian state ends and Iran and its allies begin. Syria’s south west, which was the cradle of the uprising against Assad, is now being transformed into the birthplace of a new Syria, in which Iran and its allies form a vital and inseparable component.

Deraa and Quneitra Provinces were among the first areas of Syria to break free of regime control. The demonstrations that launched the Syrian uprising began in Deraa city in mid-March, 2011.  By the end of the year, the regime had lost control of the greater part of both provinces.  In the subsequent six years, a flourishing post-regime reality came into being.  International NGOs began to operate projects in the areas. A provisional local authority functioned.  Unlike in northern Syria, militias aligned with Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood style political Islam did not swallow up all other elements.  Rather, groups aligned with these streams existed alongside other less ideological formations.

Foreign governments also became involved.  Israel, determined to prevent the arrival of Iran and its proxy militias to the border with the Golan Heights, developed relations with a number of non-jihadi local rebel groups, and assisted their control of the border area.  Such organizations as Fursan al Jolan, and Ahrar al Nawa, among others, benefitted from the Israeli connection.  Further east, western governments including the US and the UK offered assistance to the opposition in Deraa Province.  Through such projects as the ‘Free Syrian Police’ force, the west sought to aid the development of rudimentary civil society structures to replace those of the Assad regime.

All this came abruptly to an end in the course of summer, 2018.  In June, the regime, having finished off the rebellion in Eastern Ghouta close to Damascus, turned its attentions to the south west.  A massive aerial and ground assault began.   The rebels collapsed with unexpected speed.  By July, it was over.  Once the regime had captured key strategic areas, rebel groups were forced to choose between a bloody last stand or a negotiated surrender. They chose the latter.  Thousands then opted to board buses for rebel-controlled Idlib in the north west. Those who wishes to stay were given a six month period from August to visit a government controlled center and ‘normalize their status’ with the authorities.  The implicit suggestion was that if this was done, they would face no further retribution.

This assumption now appears to have been misplaced.  According to residents of the area interviewed by the Syria Direct website, a wave of arrests and disappearances of former rebel commanders and opposition activists is now taking place.  On November 7, the body of Ghanim al-Jamous, former head of the Free Syrian Police in the town of Da’el, was found by a roadside on the outskirts of the town.  Officers belonging to Assad’s feared Air Force Intelligence prevented bystanders from approaching the body.  Jamous is one of 23 former rebel commanders and opposition activists to have been detained or disappeared by the regime organs in recent weeks.  Many more young Syrian residents of the area with less clear links to the opposition have also been detained.

Among others affected by the regime crackdown are individuals formerly directly linked to Israel.  On September 7, Ayham al-Juhmani, former commander of the Ahrar Nawa group in the town of Nawa in Quneitra province was detained by regime forces.  He has not been heard of since.  Ahrar Nawa was among the groups to have cooperated most closely with Israel.  Juhmani himself spent some time in a hospital in Israel during the civil war, undergoing treatment for wounds received in combat…

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

 

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THE RUSSIAN-ISRAELI CRISIS OVER SYRIA LACKS AN EXIT STRATEGY

Yaakov Lappin

BESA, Dec. 5, 2018

The crisis in Russian-Israeli relations that followed the downing of a Russian aircraft in September lacks an exit strategy, and has resulted in significantly higher tensions in the Syrian arena. Russia is seeking to pressure Israel into rolling back its air strikes in Syria, fearing that they will jeopardize the stability of the Assad regime. Moscow has waged a three-year air campaign in support of the brutal Alawite Assad regime in Damascus, and in support of the regime’s Iranian-led Shiite allies.

The Russians were able to project their power into the heart of the Middle East, secure a naval port, an airbase, and a center of regional influence, while challenging America’s regional role. But the ongoing Israeli-Iranian conflict on Syrian soil could place those gains at risk by dragging the Syrian regime into the conflict. This means Russian and Israeli interests have begun to collide.

PM Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will not permit Iran to set up attack bases on Syrian soil, despite Russia’s new posture against Israel’s ‘War Between the Wars’ campaign in Syria. A series of signals over recent weeks indicate that Jerusalem and Moscow have been unable to defuse the crisis, after Russia placed responsibility for the deadly September 17 plane downing incident on Israel.

Since the loss of the intelligence-gathering aircraft, Russia has rebuffed a succession of Israeli attempts to patch up relations, including the sending of a high-profile Israeli military delegation to Moscow on September 20, led by Air Force Chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, to brief Russian air force officials on what occurred. Israel expressed sorrow for the deaths of the 15 Russian aircrew members, and explained that IAF jets had struck Iranian components for the manufacture of precision-guided missiles.

The Iranian weapons were stored at a Syrian Armed Forces facility in Latakia, on the Syrian coastline, 25 km north of Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase, and were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. This appeared to have been an Iranian bid to use Russia as a cover to proliferate arms. The gamble by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was that Israel would not strike in this sensitive area. That assumption was proven false. Syria’s anti-aircraft systems then released a volley of inaccurate fire, hitting the Russian plane, when Israel’s jets were already approaching their bases for landing, according to Israel. Yet these explanations were rejected by Russia.

On October 8, media reports emerged saying that Netanyahu had been forced to cancel a planned meeting with President Putin in Paris. Still, they managed to meet on the sidelines of a WWI memorial event in the latest attempt to deal with the crisis. Other media reports said in recent weeks that former Defense Minister Lieberman had been unable to reestablish a communications channel with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, who had released belligerent statements in Israel’s direction in the aftermath of the plane incident. Lieberman and Shoigu had previously had a good channel for dialogue.

Russia translated its new policy in Syria into action by transferring four S-300 surface-to-air batteries to the Assad regime. Syrian air defense crews are now believed to be undergoing training to learn how to use the systems, which can detect and track air traffic – including civilian traffic – deep inside Israel. Moscow has, in recent weeks, stepped up its criticism of Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. FM Sergey Lavrov claimed on November 5 that the attacks will not improve Israel’s security situation, and criticized what he described as inadequate Israeli coordination efforts with Russian forces.

These steps amount to a new Russian policy of applying high pressure on Jerusalem to scale back its air strikes. Nevertheless, international media outlets have carried reports of continued Israeli strikes on threatening Iranian activities in Syria, meaning Russia’s campaign has so far not achieved its goals.

It also remains unclear whether Russia is willing or able to apply effective pressure on Iran to scale back its military infrastructure construction in Syria, which can later be used to attack Israel. Until Iran stops trying to build a war machine in Syria, Israel will not be responsive to attempts to limit its preemptive campaign.

The outlook for the Syrian arena is therefore troubling. It is safe to assume that the Israel Air Force can overcome the S-300 systems, including through the use of the new Israeli stealth F-35 aircraft. These jets were specifically designed to penetrate and deal with advanced Russian-made air defenses. However, the apparent disconnect between the Israeli and Russian leaderships means an important part of the bilateral coordination mechanism for preventing mishaps in Syrian skies has been damaged…

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

 

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IN THE MIDDLE EAST, RUSSIA IS BACK

Liz Sly

Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2018

Among the presidents, prime ministers, kings and princes who have visited Moscow over the past year to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin are some of the United States’ closest allies, who once might have been expected to devote their travel time to Washington. There’s a new power rising in the Middle East, and it needs to be wooed.

Three decades after the Soviet Union collapsed and the United States emerged as the undisputed superpower in the Middle East and North Africa, a resurgent Russia is back. Under the personal direction of Putin, Russia is stepping into the vac­uum left by the disengagement of the Obama administration and the unpredictability of the Trump one to challenge the United States’ dominant role in the region.

Russian oilmen, arms dealers and financiers have been fanning out across the region, striking billions of dollars’ worth of deals, reviving old relationships and forging new ones from Libya to the Persian Gulf. At the center of it all is Putin, whose strongman image resonates with the region’s authoritarian rulers at a time when doubts are growing about Washington’s commitment to the Middle East.

Russia’s 2015 military intervention in Syria has given Putin perhaps the single biggest boost, burnishing his credentials as a decisive and effective leader who delivers what he set out to achieve: the survival of President Bashar al-Assad.  It also positioned Putin at the nexus of the Middle East’s overlapping conflicts, leveraging Russia’s influence far beyond Syria’s borders to include all the countries with a stake in the outcome of the war — foes such as Israel and Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. As a result, he has frequently been on the phone with U.S. allies such as Turkey and Israel — nearly three dozen times with the leaders of those two countries just in the past year.

Apart from Syria, Russia has shown little inclination to wade into most of the region’s myriad conflicts, such as the Yemen war, the Arab-Israeli peace process and the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors. But Putin has welcomed anyone who wants to visit, making Moscow a must-stop destination for leaders with a problem to solve. “Putin is effectively working as the psychoanalyst of the region,” said Malik Dahlan, a Saudi who is a professor of international law and public policy at Queen Mary University of London. “The Russians are happy to hear all sides, and anyone who wants to speak, they’re happy to listen.”

The U.S.-allied leaders who have traveled to Moscow this year include Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who gave President Trump a lavish welcome in Riyadh last year but then chose Moscow over Washington for his first and so far only official overseas visit — the first visit ever by a Saudi monarch to Russia. The emir of Qatar unexpectedly flew to Moscow to meet with Putin on the eve of his visit to Washington in April, earning a rebuke from the Trump administration. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, a close U.S. ally, declined an invitation to Washington this spring, diplomats say. But he traveled to Moscow in June, his seventh trip in five years, signing a “strategic partnership” agreement with Putin. Most recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in October made his fourth visit to Moscow — compared with one to Washington — and also signed a strategic-partnership agreement with Putin in the Russian resort town of Sochi, marking a significant shift of a U.S. ally toward Russia.

The meetings are providing Putin with new levers of influence just when the United States is drawing down forces in the Middle East, in part to counter Russian and Chinese expansion elsewhere. His hearty greeting at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman illustrated the personal rapport Putin is establishing with regional leaders. Those visits are also translating at times into substantive policy. An agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut oil production, resulting from King Salman’s Moscow visit last year, has given Russia new weight in world energy markets. The joint announcement Monday that the two countries would further cut production reflects an emerging partnership that has the potential to rival the clout of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

When not hosting visitors, Putin is often on the telephone, usually sorting out problems relating to Syria but, in the process, cultivating close relationships with some of the United States’ dearest friends. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump a “true friend” of Israel, has spoken 11 times on the phone with Putin over the past year and only three times with Trump, according to a tally of the calls reported on Putin’s and Netanyahu’s websites. Netanyahu has visited Moscow four times in the past year. He has visited Washington twice since Trump became president. It’s unclear whether Putin and Netanyahu’s rapport will survive building tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria and also Lebanon, where the ­Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia has expanded its influence. They have spoken only once since the downing of a Russian plane in Syria in September, which Moscow blamed on Israel. But phone calls between Putin and Netanyahu at the time played a part in tamping down the worst of the animosity, diplomats say.

Turkey, a longtime U.S. ally and NATO partner with a centuries-old history of rivalry with Russia, has been drifting deeper into Moscow’s orbit of influence as their cooperation in Syria expands and relations with the United States have become strained. According to a count of their interactions, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the past year has spoken 20 times on the phone with Putin and seven times with Trump. Erdogan’s decision to purchase Russia’s advanced S-400 missile system, which Moscow says will be delivered next year, offers one example of how their burgeoning relationship could challenge the cohesion of NATO…

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

 

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THE PALESTINIANS NO ONE TALKS ABOUT                             

Bassam Tawil                                               

Gatestone Institute, Nov. 27, 2018

Here’s some “good” news: In October, only five Palestinians living in Syria were pronounced dead. The London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria reports that in October 2017, 12 Palestinians were killed due to war-related incidents in that country. “The list of victims who died in October 2018 includes four Palestinians who were pronounced dead in Teloul Al-Safa, in Al-Sweida desert, south of Syria, and one Palestinian in Damascus,” the group said.

According to the human rights watchdog that monitors the situation of Palestinians in Syria, the number of Palestinians killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011 now stands at 3,903. Another 1,712 Palestinians in that country have been arrested by the Syrian authorities, and 316 are listed as missing. The latest victim was identified as Ahmed Abdullah Balbisi who, according to the human rights group, died of torture in a Syrian prison eight years after his incarceration. The group said that Balbisi was arrested then for participating in peaceful demonstrations organized by the Syrian opposition. Balbisi is the latest victim added to the 3,903 Palestinians killed in Syria during the past seven years. His death was reported by the group on November 22.

A day earlier, the human rights group reported that two other Palestinians, Mohammed Khalil al-Kurdi and Wael Abu Hamdeh, died due to lack of proper medical treatment. On November 19, reports surfaced that a third, Mohammed Ahmed Farhat, was killed during an exchange of gunfire between the Syrian army and the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group. Last week, reports noted that a Palestinian man, Nael Abd Al-Raheem, was kidnapped and killed by ISIS in Aleppo’s northeastern city of Al-Bab.

These stories concerning the atrocities committed against Palestinians in an Arab country do not come as a surprise. It is not as if anyone expected the Syrian regime or the opposition forces there to act differently. What is disturbing, however, is the attitude of the international media and community to the plight of the Palestinians in Syria in particular and the Arab world in general.

There are dozens of foreign Middle East correspondents in the Middle East, and many are based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These correspondents feel safe living and working out of Israel. They prefer to live and work in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv rather than in Ramallah, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and other Arab countries. Why? Because Israel is the only place these correspondents feel safe. A trip to Syria might result in being beheaded by Muslim terrorists. A trip to Iraq might result in being kidnapped by Muslim terrorists. A trip to Egypt or to Jordan might result in being harassed by the authorities or anti-Western Muslim extremists.

Perhaps this disparity helps to explain why the international community does not read about human rights violations in Arab and Islamic countries. There is, however, another reason, not related to the journalists’ safety. The international community are not interested in what the Arabs and Muslims are doing to the Palestinians because the Western journalists are hell-bent on covering only stories that reflect negatively on Israel. Palestinian rioters killed by the Israel Defense Forces on the Israel-Gaza border attract the attention of scores of Western journalists and media outlets. By contrast, Palestinians tortured to death and otherwise killed in Syria receive zero coverage in Western media organizations.

The 3,903 Palestinians killed in Syria in the past seven years are of no interest to the Western correspondents or their editors. As far as these journalists are concerned, the reports of the human rights organization monitoring the condition of Palestinians in Syria are rubbish fit for the wastebasket. Unlike those living in the Arab countries, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are fortunate. Thanks to the Western media’s continued obsession with Israel, the international community is aware of them…

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

CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Chag Sameach!

 

Contents 

On Topic Links

US Claims it Killed ISIS Commander, Syria Says US Hit its Forces: Seth Frantzman, Breaking Israel News, Dec. 4, 2018—In a bizarre series of events on Sunday the Syrian regime claimed that the US hit its forces south of Sukhna “The military source said in a statement to SANA: The forces of the ‘International Alliance’ attacked several missiles at around 8:00 pm on some sites of the Syrian Arab Army in Jabal Gharab south of the city of Sukhna in the eastern Homs countryside.

Hundreds of Bodies Recovered From ISIS Mass Graves in Syria: New York Post, Nov. 27, 2018—Syrian workers have exhumed more than 500 bodies from one of the largest mass graves near the northern city of Raqqa, once the capital of the Islamic State group’s self-styled caliphate, and are still uncovering remains, a local official said Tuesday.

While Confronting Iran in Syria, Israel May Have to Defy Russia: Charles Bybelezer, Media Line, Dec. 4, 2018—Russia has completed an elaborate air defense system in Syria that curbs the operational capabilities of both the United States and Israel, according to a report by the Washington- based Institute for the Study of War. The deployments throughout the conflict-ravaged country include variations of the advanced S-300 and S-400 systems in addition to other cutting-edge technologies.

Expect Russia to Escalate Soon in Syria: Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner, Dec. 3, 2018—It often flies under the radar – until it flies into the Russian GRU’s face – but the U.S. military presence in Syria is a constant aggravation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.

IDF CONFRONTS “UNSTABLE AND EXPLOSIVE” SITUATIONS IN GAZA AND SYRIA

Israel Has Reached Decision Time on Gaza: Yaakov Lappin, JNS, Oct. 17, 2018 — Events in Gaza are moving quickly, and Israel has now reached a critical fork in the road with two main paths…

Putin May Not Want a Fight with Israel, But He May Get It: David J. Bercuson, National Post, Oct. 5, 2018— Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad can sleep a little better these days now that Russia has completed delivery of a new system of long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Russia and NATO Show War Games Aren’t Just Games: James Stavridis, Bloomberg, Sept. 6, 2018— Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad can sleep a little better these days now that Russia has completed delivery of a new system of long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Canada’s Fighter Jet Debacle: This is No Way to Run a Military: David Krayden, National Post, Oct. 3, 2018  — Last week the United States Marine Corps flew the F-35 joint strike fighter into combat for the first time.

On Topic Links

Israel’s All-Terrain EZRaiders Latest Law Enforcement Rage: David Israel, Jewish Press, Sept. 21, 2018

What Will the Next Israel-Hezbollah War Look Like?: Ehud Eilam, Israel Defense, Oct. 7, 2018

A Tale of A Lone Soldier: Ariel Rudolph, Jerusalem Online, Sept. 14, 2018

Two Junk Submarines, and Our Long Tradition of Terrible Military Procurements: Nima Karimi, National Post, Oct. 3, 2018

                            

ISRAEL HAS REACHED DECISION TIME ON GAZA                                                  

Yaakov Lappin

JNS, Oct. 17, 2018

Events in Gaza are moving quickly, and Israel has now reached a critical fork in the road with two main paths: a significant military escalation, which has the potential to gain momentum and turn into a broader armed conflict; or a long-term arrangement, designed to restore calm to the area.

Opinions in the security cabinet have been split on whether to give Egyptian mediation efforts more time to reach an arrangement with Hamas or whether to respond more forcefully to Hamas’s border attacks. Until the middle-of-the-night rocket attack that smashed a house in Beersheva into rubble, and which saw a second rocket head towards central Israel, it was easier for proponents of the mediation efforts to make their case.

The Israel Defense Forces had been able to largely contain the Hamas-organized border rioting, which included grenade and IED attacks, and Israeli cities were not under fire. The western Negev region, however, was under constant low-level Hamas attacks, including arson, incendiary balloons and border disturbances; life for local residents there has not been easy these past six months. Gaza’s civilians—trapped between endless feuding between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority—have seen their situation deteriorate considerably, and are on the verge of an economic and humanitarian crash.

Hamas thinks that by playing a game of dangerous brinkmanship and ramping up the pressure on Israel, Jerusalem will be more likely to enter into an arrangement that lifts security restrictions on Gaza. It is a gamble that could blow up in Hamas’s face. At 3:40 a.m. on Wednesday morning, sirens went off in Beersheva and changed the direction. The family inside the home narrowly averted a terrible fate, thanks to the alertness and quick thinking of a mother who rushed her family into a rocket-proof safe room. A major red line had been crossed, and an intelligence investigation had begun in Israel to figure out who crossed it.

Already, in the hours after the attack, the IDF indicated that it was linking Hamas, Gaza’s ruling regime, and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second-largest faction in Gaza, to the attack. Hamas and PIJ were quick to deny any link to the rockets, even going so far as to describe it as “irresponsible.” The IDF seemed unimpressed. A military spokesman noted that the attackers launched mid-range, locally produced rockets that “are in possession of only two organizations in Gaza: Hamas and PIJ, which very much narrows it down.”

The spokesman said the military was less concerned about which organization launched the projectiles, noting that Hamas “bears full responsibility.” The Israeli Air Force then struck 20 Hamas targets across Gaza, including an offensive terror tunnel that crossed into Israel, tunnel-digging sites in Gaza and a maritime tunnel shaft on the Gazan coastline, designed to let Hamas commando cells head out to sea without being noticed. Additional targets destroyed by Israel included rocket and weapons’ factories.

But that response still falls into the normal Israeli retaliation pattern and indicates that Jerusalem had not yet taken a decision on whether to take things further or not. Factors that sway that decision include the results of the IDF’s intelligence investigation, which should shed more light on exactly who fired the rockets, the result of the Egyptian mediation efforts and the status of other key fronts, particularly the highly explosive northern arena, where Israel is busy trying to keep Iran out of Syria. If Israel can avoid having to deal with multiple active arenas at the same time, it would prefer to do so. It is not so clear that this can, however, be avoided. The IDF has drawn up responses for a range of scenarios, and would be ready to strike Hamas and PIJ more severely if it receives a directive from the government to do so.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has taken the unusual step of publicly announcing his conclusion that the time for talk has passed, and that all of Israel’s efforts to de-escalate the situation—by injecting essential goods into Gaza, like fuel and electricity—have failed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, following a military evaluation meeting that he took part in, that Israel “would act with great force”—a possible signal that Israel was not prepared to absorb the rocket fire and go back to business as usual.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas views Gaza as a rebel Islamist province that should be brought to its knees for splitting away from Ramallah’s rule. He has played his own role in blocking chances for a truce arrangement. Abbas has placed heavy economic sanctions on Gaza and refuses to act as a channel for international investment in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure until Hamas surrenders to him.

The result is a highly unstable, explosive situation that is teetering on the brink of escalation. The coming hours should reveal in which direction Gaza and Israel will go. If the result is conflict, then it will be one that Hamas and its allies brought upon the heads of the Gazan people.

As IDF Southern Command chief, Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi said, “Hamas pretends to govern in Gaza, and tells the Gazan population that it seeks to improve their lives. However, in reality, Hamas specializes in riots at the border fence and in using explosive devices, incendiary and explosive balloons, and, as we saw last night, rockets. Hamas worsens the lives of ordinary Gazans.”

Contents

   

          PUTIN MAY NOT WANT A FIGHT WITH ISRAEL, BUT HE MAY GET IT                                                 David J. Bercuson                                                                                                                                   National Post, Oct. 5, 2018

Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad can sleep a little better these days now that Russia has completed delivery of a new system of long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. These missiles replace an obsolete system of S-200 missiles that Syria has operated for some time. The S-200s have proven useless in deterring or defeating Israeli air strikes aimed at Iranian military installations in Syria and at Syrian transfer of advanced weapons to its client, Hezbollah, based mainly in Lebanon. The sale — objected to by both Israel and the United States — came in the wake of the destruction of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft by Syria’s older anti-aircraft missiles, which were actually aimed at Israeli fighter-bombers raiding Syria but which brought down the Russian aircraft instead.

The sale of the S-300 missiles to Syria is an important step both in the deterioration of Russian-Israeli relations and in the slide to an even greater regional conflict, perhaps one as significant as the 1973 October War, during which Egypt (now at peace with Israel) and Syria attacked Israel and initiated an almost month-long conflict that almost drew in the Soviet Union and the United States. This sale, therefore, might prove to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most serious foreign policy mistake.

During the still-ongoing Syrian civil war, Iran backed the Syrian regime alongside Russia and Hezbollah. When Russia began to mount an intensive air campaign against the Syrian rebels, danger arose that clashes might occur between Russian and Israeli aircraft (this same danger existed between NATO aircraft bombing ISIL targets in Syria and Russian aircraft). In both cases protocols and secret communications networks were set up to allow NATO, Israel and Russia to avoid confrontations in the air. Why were the Israeli aircraft attacking targets in Syria? Not to intervene in the civil war, but to attack Iranian military installations that began to appear in Assad’s territory, and to continue to intervene in the transfer from the Syrian military to Hezbollah of sophisticated weapons systems.

The installation of the new Russian missiles sets up a variety of dangerous possibilities. If Russian missiles (presumably operated by Russian military personnel) begin to shoot at Israeli aircraft, the Israeli air force will undoubtedly attack the missile sites and possibly kill or injure members of the Russian military. The protocols that have allowed the two nations to operate in the same airspace will then break down, possibly triggering more clashes. No one can say whether the new Russian missiles are capable of bringing down the upgraded Israeli F-16 fighter bombers generally used by the IAF, or even the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that Israel is known to be operating in the skies over Syria.

If so, the propaganda coup for Russia will be immense, as will its arms sales to nations that might find themselves on the wrong end of F-35 strikes. If not, the opposite effect will occur — the S-300 will be shown to be ineffective against either the very advanced Israeli F-16s or their F-35s. That would mean political embarrassment to Russia and, no doubt, make it harder for them to sell their new missiles. It is virtually certain that Israel will not stop its air attacks, no matter what.

The other outcome, even more disturbing, would be United States intervening on Israel’s behalf to help the Israelis cope with the S-300s or to protect the reputation of the F-35 fighter, which has now been ordered — and in some cases delivered — to at least nine NATO nations aside from the United States.

So what can account for Putin’s decision to deploy the missiles? Perhaps it is this: there has been so much Russian intervention to save Assad’s regime, that the Russian Federation is now drawn deeper into Syria than was even the case in the days of the old Soviet Union. Back then the U.S.S.R. was not only an ally and major military supplier to Syria, but it was also an implacable foe of Israel. In the early 1970s, Israeli and Soviet aircraft even clashed in the skies near the Suez Canal. In trying to balance a live-and-let-live arrangement with Israel against protecting his now vassal state of Syria, perhaps Putin has decided to let Israel go.

Now that Assad, full of “his” military victory over the rebels, has announced that his next goal is to wrest the Golan Heights back from Israel (which captured that area in 1967), the Russians are in danger of being dragged into a far more serious and much more dangerous situation than they have been in in Georgia or even in eastern Ukraine.                              Contents

   

RUSSIA AND NATO SHOW WAR GAMES AREN’T JUST GAMES                                                                   James Stavridis

                                                Bloomberg, Sept. 6, 2018

Over the coming weeks, both NATO and Russia will launch a series of super-high-end war games. These games are hardly for fun — rather, they are deadly serious practice sessions for hundreds of thousands of soldiers, thousands of combat aircraft, and flotillas of combat ships. While no one will die (other than by accident, a not uncommon occurrence in such exercises), the messages going back and forth are crystal clear: We are prepared for war.

Russia’s exercise is called Vostok — which means “east” — and will be held principally east of the Ural Mountains. It is the largest military exercise by Russia since Soviet times (in 1981) and will deploy 300,000 troops and more than 1,000 military aircraft. Of note, China will participate with thousands of its troops operating alongside the Russians (there will also be a token contingent of troops from Mongolia, which has been a partner to both Russia and NATO at times).

The message to the West is obvious: Russia and China might work together militarily against NATO in the East or the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific. The futuristic novel “Ghost Fleet” by Peter Singer and August Cole gives an excellent description of a high-tech war that begins unexpectedly in the Pacific with Russia and China allied against the U.S. These war games provide a preview of that sort of military activity could look like — and it should be very worrisome to U.S. planners.

NATO will conduct its own huge military exercise, named Trident Juncture 2018. It will take place on the northern borders of the alliance and will involve 40,000 troops from all 29 nations, a couple of hundred aircraft and dozens of warships. While not as spectacularly large as Russia’s Vostok, it will serve as a “graduation exercise” for NATO’s new Spearhead Force, a serious, highly mobile capability that can put NATO combat troops into the Baltic states to repulse a Russian invasion within a matter of days.

Led by a highly motivated Italian unit that could be fully ready to fight in 48 hours, the spearhead force also includes Dutch and Norwegian forces. Advance word says the exercise will include a mock invasion of Norway by U.S. Marines. This robust event is part of a vast improvement over the anemic states of readiness in NATO just a decade ago.

Of note, two high-capability militaries that are not NATO members, but are close coalition partners — Sweden and Finland — will participate. When I was supreme allied commander of NATO a few years ago, I deeply admired the professionalism and military excellence of both nations, which participated with NATO in many global operations. The Russians are deeply concerned about the possibility of Sweden and Finland considering NATO membership, and their involvement in Trident Juncture will stoke those fears in Moscow. All of this means tension and the possibility of miscalculation. We should pay particular attention to four key elements of these very serious games.

First, we need to recognize that there are internal messages working here on both sides. In the Russian case (and especially from the perspective of President Vladimir Putin), the games signal the high capability and professionalism of the nation’s troops. This builds on the patriotic pride that was created by the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and is a signal to the general population that their military is more than capable of holding on to those gains. As for NATO, the message is similar, and directed toward the front-line states that border Russia — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Norway — and NATO partners Finland and Sweden. In the West, the message is one of capability and credibility — a willingness to fight if necessary.

Second, the role of China is nuanced. The Russian games were originally conceived as a deterrent not to NATO, but to China. Let’s face it: China, with its vastly larger population and need for economic growth, looks at the vast, natural-resource-rich tracts of Siberia the way a dog looks at a rib-eye steak. Yet a growing nationalism on the part of President Xi Jinping and unease over the Donald Trump administration’s hawkish policies on trade has China looking to develop a stronger relationship with Moscow. And Russia, frustrated with the antipathy of the U.S. (driven these days not by the White House but by Congress) is willing to draw nearer to China. While the longer-term relationship is fraught, it is a partnership (and a war game) of convenience at the moment.

Third, there is real military improvement that stems from such exercises. Pushing the European allies and Canada to deploy troops allows an increase in military interoperability on many fronts: technical synchronization of radio communications; alignment of targeting from different nations’ aircraft (a significant challenge in the NATO Libyan operation, for example); highly complex anti-submarine warfare operations; and multi-unit infantry and armor maneuver. All of these are challenging, and practice will make both sides much closer to perfect…

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

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CANADA’S FIGHTER JET DEBACLE: THIS IS NO WAY TO RUN A MILITARY

David Krayden

National Post, Oct. 3, 2018

Last week the United States Marine Corps flew the F-35 joint strike fighter into combat for the first time. That same day, one of the fighters also set a first: crashing in South Carolina — fortunately without the loss of life. As military aviators would remark, crap happens (or words to that effect). The state-of-the-art fighter jet first flew as a prototype in 2006 and has been flying with the United States Air Force since 2011. The Royal Air Force in the U.K. also uses the F-35. And just this year, in a moment of sheer historical irony, the Royal Australian Air Force took delivery of its first F-35s.

Why irony? Because just as Australia was welcoming its new jets to its defence inventory, Canada was at the doorstep begging for Australia’s used F-18s. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan had come calling because politics had again intervened in Canada’s storied but sorry defence procurement planning. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, not knowing what to do with the obsolescent CF-18s — ordered by his father in the late 1970s for a 1982 delivery — had been musing about buying some Super Hornets from Boeing but had decided not to in a peevish fit of trade retaliation.

Of course the Super Hornets were only a “stop-gap” measure anyway, as both Trudeau and Sajjan emphasized. The contract to replace the entire fleet of aging CF-18s would be delayed again because Trudeau did not want to buy the previous Conservative government’s fighter replacement choice: the F-35. But there’s an additional irony here. The F-35 was not just the choice of the Harper government. It was initially selected by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. The primary reason: interoperability with our primary allies. The U.S., U.K. and Australia would all be buying the F-35 so it just made sense.

I was working at the House of Commons at the time for the Official Opposition defence critic, who thought the decision to participate in the development, and eventually, the procurement of the F-35, was a refreshing but rare moment of common-sense, non-political defence planning on the part of the government.

It seemed the Liberals really didn’t want a repeat of the fiasco that surrounded the EH-101 helicopter, the maritime patrol and search and rescue helicopter that the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney had selected after an assiduous military assessment. The chopper was dubbed a “Cadillac” by Chrétien in 1993 and quickly cancelled when he won the election. This cost Canada millions in cancellation fees for backing out of the project, and then the Liberals ultimately purchased the same aircraft for search and rescue — now rebranded as “Cormorants.” They remain in service today.

This kind of debacle couldn’t be allowed to happen again with the F-35. But it did. And it is. And it seems it always has. In many NATO countries, national defence is a bipartisan or nonpartisan issue. Any cursory examination of Australian and British defence policy over the past five decades will reveal that no matter the party in power — ie: Liberal/Conservative or Labour — defence policy remains constant. Of course the defence departments are subordinate to the government of the day, but those governments don’t use defence as a political tool to punish the opposition.

In Canada, the Liberals and Conservatives work together as well — but often in the worst interests of Canadian Armed Forces. The F-35, again, illustrates that point. The previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper pointedly supported the acquisition of the F-35, but dithered over three terms because Harper thought the expenditure might erode his voter support.

Ironically, it was NDP leader Thomas Mulcair who was the most vocal proponent of the F-35 during the marathon 2015 federal election campaign. Had Harper been re-elected, I don’t believe the Royal Canadian Air Force would be looking at new fighter jets to fly or even the contract to manufacture them. But he wasn’t re-elected. Justin Trudeau is the prime minister, and our next generation of fighter aircraft is still nowhere in sight. The entire fleet of CF-18s is approaching absolute retirement age and that won’t be changed by the absurd plan to buy Australia’s used aircraft while our allies take delivery of planes that Canada was — in a fit of judicious, nonpartisan planning — eyeing decades ago. It really is no way to run a military, but there’s no end in sight.

 

Contents 

On Topic Links

Israel’s All-Terrain EZRaiders Latest Law Enforcement Rage: David Israel, Jewish Press, Sept. 21, 2018—The EZRaider is presented by its maker, Israeli startup company DSRaider, as a breakthrough vehicle in a new category all by itself in all-terrain riding, allowing the user complete control with minimum training.

What Will the Next Israel-Hezbollah War Look Like?: Ehud Eilam, Israel Defense, Oct. 7, 2018—Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy and a non-state organization based in Lebanon, had fought the IDF in the 1980s and mostly in the 1990s when the Israeli military was deployed in Lebanon. In 2006, the two sides clashed again, for 34 days, a war that ended in a kind of a tie. They might fight again because of escalation or if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, following an Iranian attempt to produce a nuclear weapon.

A Tale of A Lone Soldier: Ariel Rudolph, Jerusalem Online, Sept. 14, 2018—M. was born in Israel but after her parents divorced, when she was six years old, her mother left Israel and M. grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. She completely identified with her Israeli roots and maintained contact with her Israeli peers, visited Israel occasionally and associated with the Jewish community in England.

Two Junk Submarines, and Our Long Tradition of Terrible Military Procurements: Nima Karimi, National Post, Oct. 3, 2018—It was recently discovered that Canada (apparently Transport Canada) has expressed interest in purchasing a surveillance drone from Germany. This, however, as David Pugliese reports, is no ordinary drone: not only is it second-hand, it is also severely gutted, “without many core components it needs to fly.”

 

ISRAEL DETERMINED TO PREVENT SYRIA FROM BECOMING AN “IRANIAN MILITARY FORTRESS”

‘The War Between Wars’: Israel vs Iran in Syria: Yaakov Lappin, Fathom, Oct., 2018— In late August, Iran’s Defence Minister, Gen. Amir Khatami, met with his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Ali Ayoub, in Damascus and signed an agreement for military cooperation.

S-300 Strategy: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 3, 2018— Russia claimed on October 2 that it had completed delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system to Syria.

The True Threat of S-300s is not that they’re Powerful, But that they’re Russian: Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, Sept. 25, 2018— Russia’s announcement on Monday that it would be upgrading Syria’s air defenses with its formidable S-300 system within two weeks marked the latest nadir in Israel’s rapidly spiraling relationship with Moscow since the downing by Syria of a Russian spy plane off the Syrian coast last week.

Turkey-Russia Idlib Agreement: A Lesson for the US: Seth Frantzman, The Hill, Sept. 26, 2018— Russia and Turkey agreed to a diplomatic solution for Syria’s northern Idlib province at a meeting in Sochi on Sept. 17.

On Topic Links 

IDF is Prepared to Deal with S-300: Yossi Yehoshua, Ynet, Oct. 1, 2018

A Snake Pit at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Oct. 7, 2018

Common Objectives, Separate Interests: Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Israel Hayom, Sept. 21, 2018

Is Israel’s Military Honeymoon with Russia in Syria Over?: Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 2018

                              ‘THE WAR BETWEEN WARS’: ISRAEL VS IRAN IN SYRIA

Yaakov Lappin

Fathom, Oct., 2018

In late August, Iran’s Defence Minister, Gen. Amir Khatami, met with his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Ali Ayoub, in Damascus and signed an agreement for military cooperation. This is an event that sounds deceptively mundane. In actuality, it was far from being a routine bilateral defence pact. Instead, it was a statement of Iranian intent – a message Israel paid close attention to – that it has no intention of giving up its goal of turning Syria into an Iranian military fortress in the next phase of an ongoing, explosive regional struggle.

After an extraordinarily effective series of attacks by Israel against its expansion efforts, Iran has had to go back to the drawing board and search for new ways to realise its goal of taking over Syria. In this fight, Israel is playing an aggressive defence, determined to keep Iran out of all of Syria. Iran is on the offensive, determined to take over Syria militarily, to project its radical power from Tehran all the way to Israel’s border, and convert Syria into an Iranian launch pad for future aggression against Israel.

After turning half of all Syrians into refugees, and killing half a million people, the monstrous Syrian war is drawing to a close, and Iran’s ally, the Bashar Assad regime, has emerged as the de-facto victor, thanks to the assistance it has received from Iranian forces on the ground, as well as Russia air power and diplomatic cover.

Now, Russia’s shift away from Israel and move toward the Assad regime could provide Iran just the encouragement it was seeking to renew its efforts to infiltrate Syria. The Russian – Iranian military alliance, meanwhile, is continuing, despite rising economic rivalry over reconstruction opportunities in Syria. In addition, Iran’s ongoing activities are clashing with Russia’s interest in stabilising and ensuring Assad’s rule for many years to come, by drawing Israeli strikes and creating potential escalation points. What remains unclear is the extent of Russia’s ability or intention to reign Iran in.

At first, Iran used Syria mainly as a weapons transit zone. It moved masses of arms, such as surface-to-surface missiles and heavy rockets, surface-to-air missiles, and other arms along a complex trafficking network, which was run by the Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC). These weapons are produced in Iranian and Syrian factories, and smuggled along air and ground routes into Lebanon. Their final destination was Hezbollah’s storage depots and launch sites, which are embedded in built-up civilian areas across Lebanon. Once in Lebanon, the projectiles are pointed at Israeli cities and critical strategic targets, enabling Iran to threaten the whole of Israel.

Hezbollah’s offensive firepower, estimated at some 150,000 rockets, missiles, and mortar shells, dwarfs that of most NATO member states. According to IDF estimates, one out of three to four buildings in southern Lebanon is a Hezbollah military asset. With Lebanon already an Iranian-run province, the IRGC had hoped that Syria could be next. Under the IRGC’s plan, Syria would not only turn into a mass transit zone for weapons making their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon but would also itself turn into a base for Iranian missile and rocket arsenals, as well as terrorist networks operating under Iran’s command.

But Iran’s weapons trafficking to Lebanon kept running into major trouble. Since 2012, the air strikes that targeting them displayed a high level of intelligence penetration, and accurate firepower, that deeply troubled both Hezbollah and its Iranian patron, causing them to feel exposed. These strikes evolved into a broad Israeli campaign, dubbed by the Israeli defence establishment as the ‘war between wars’. The aim of this campaign was to disrupt attempts by Israel’s enemies to build up their military force with improved weaponry. It also aimed at boosting Israeli deterrence, and delaying the start of the next full-scale conflict, by making enemies feel vulnerable, and robbing them of their ability to continue to arm themselves with impunity.

In 2017 the war between wars took a new turn. Over the past 18 months, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck no fewer 200 targets across Syria – a very high number of active combat operations for so-called ‘routine’ times. Some 800 missiles and bombs were reportedly used in the Israeli attacks – an indication of the sheer scale of Israel’s low-profile operations. The increase in strikes was due to Iran no longer just using Syria to transit weapons to Lebanon; it also began to turn Syria itself into a second Lebanon and create a new Iranian-run army there.

When the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani tried to respond to Israel’s active defence campaign, by firing a volley of rockets at Israel from a truck-mounted launcher in Syria on 10 May, the IAF decimated over 50 Iranian targets in Syria in retaliation. Israel’s air operations frustrated Iran’s ambitions for Syria. Relying on the highest quality real-time intelligence and standoff fire capabilities, Israel’s defence establishment was able to place a roadblock in front of Iran’s dangerous regional plot.

An entire IDF doctrine developed to serve this campaign, as the war between wars received growing resources. Long-range precise airpower and ever-improving intelligence capabilities came together to give Israel the ability of placing limitations on Iran’s activities. Israel found that it could enforce its red lines, and that it could do so without ending up in a major war. The ability to identify and track a target, analyse the costs and benefits of striking it, and decide on whether to strike in real time represents a major evolution for the Israeli defence establishment. It enabled Israel to not only enforce its red lines on Iranian expansion, but to also signal powerful regional capabilities, which contributed to deterrence against foes, and inspired Sunni moderate states that are equally threatened by Iran’s activities to boost cooperation with Israel. But Iran has made it clear that it is not going to walk away so quickly, and that it views these developments as short-term setbacks in a longer strategy…

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

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                                                            S-300 STRATEGY

                                                          Editorial

Jerusalem Post, Oct. 3, 2018

Russia claimed on October 2 that it had completed delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system to Syria. The delivery came after Syrians shot down a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft last month during Israeli air strikes on Syria’s Latakia region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has indicated that although the system will improve Syria’s defenses, it will also take time to train the Syrians to use the system. This is of importance since Syrian air defense failures led to the killing of the fifteen Russians. If their defense had worked properly it would not have downed the plane of its own ally, even during the tense and confusing period after air strikes by another country.

The US views the deployment of the S-300 as adding fuel to the fire in Syria. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday that if reports of the missile delivery were correct, it was a “serious escalation.” This is because the S-300 is part of a wider Russian regional strategy in Syria and will bolster the war-torn country’s defenses, which might potentially threaten US and coalition aircraft operating in eastern Syria. The US is still engaged in a war against the remnants of ISIS, and Washington has indicated that American troops will remain in eastern Syria.

The deployment of the S-300 also comes amid heightened tensions in the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the S-300 delivery prior to flying to New York for the United National General Assembly meeting last week.

During his speech, Netanyahu pointed to a secret nuclear warehouse in Tehran and referenced Hezbollah’s increasing entrenchment in Lebanon. Israel wanted the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the Tehran site. “The IAEA should inspect the site and immediately send inspectors there with Geiger counters,” a statement from Jerusalem said. Both Lebanon and Iran have mocked Israel’s claims. Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil took diplomats on a tour of an alleged missile site near Beirut’s airport. “We refuse to have missile sites near the airport,” he told ambassadors, while claiming Israel was using the allegation as an excuse for “aggression.” Jerusalem’s claims would impact the “stability of the region,” he said.

Iran’s Press TV also took viewers on a tour of the exterior of the warehouse Netanyahu had alleged was a secret site. Iran’s regime has sought to show that the IAEA is not concerned about Jerusalem’s claims. This must be understood in the context of a war of narratives between Iran and Israel. Tehran is seeking to salvage the Iran deal signed in 2015 and wants to present itself as a stable player in the region, obeying international law while presenting Israel and the US as aggressors. Lebanon also wants to shrug off allegations about Hezbollah’s increasing role in the country.

However, Iran also wants to project its military power across the region. On Monday morning if fired six ballistic missiles at an area near Albukamal in Syria. Tehran says the missiles were fired in retaliation for a September 22 attack by ISIS in Ahvaz which targeted an Iranian military parade. On Tuesday Syria’s foreign minister acknowledged that Iran coordinated the missile attack with Damascus. But the missiles flew over 500 km. of Iraqi territory and landed within miles of US forces, potentially endangering lives in Iraq and elsewhere, and also endangering air traffic.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which fired the missiles, also wrote on them “death to America,” “death to Israel,” and “death to al-Saud,” a reference to Saudi Arabia. This is not the behavior of a regime that obeys international law. Iran cannot present itself as a moderate state when it wishes death on whole countries and peoples. The S-300s in Syria help bolster Iran’s reckless entrenchment there and are part of the larger picture of its bullying attempt to dominate the region. While Russia has legitimate concerns about safeguarding its personnel, the Syrian regime must understand that the S-300 will not protect Iran and its proxies, whose continued threat to the region must not go unchallenged.

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THE TRUE THREAT OF S-300S IS NOT THAT THEY’RE POWERFUL, BUT THAT THEY’RE RUSSIAN

                                                          Judah Ari Gross

                                                Times of Israel, Sept. 25, 2018

Russia’s announcement on Monday that it would be upgrading Syria’s air defenses with its formidable S-300 system within two weeks marked the latest nadir in Israel’s rapidly spiraling relationship with Moscow since the downing by Syria of a Russian spy plane off the Syrian coast last week. In addition to supplying Syria with the S-300, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu also said Monday that Russia would “jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets in Syria.” But the greater threat is not the specific tactical hurdle that the system poses for the Israeli Air Force, but rather that this episode could lead to a breakdown of Israel’s relationship with Russia.

Not since the 1960s and 1970s has Israel had to contend with an antagonistic Moscow actively working against Israeli interests. Though Russia today indeed supplies weapons to many of Israel’s enemies — including S-300 batteries to Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran — the general understanding in Israel is that this isn’t personal, it’s business.

The current crisis has the potential to change that, depending on how it is handled by Israel, Russia and the United States. Though the actions of Russia are some of the most openly hostile toward Israel since the end of the Cold War, they are still reversible, at least to some degree. For over five years, Russian has been threatening to sell the S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria, but has backed off each time at the behest of the Israeli, and sometimes the American, government. The long-range S-300 — with an operational radius of 250 kilometers (150 miles), according to Russia — is a far more advanced form of the S-200 air defense system that Syria currently employs.

For now, Moscow has said it will supply two to four S-300 batteries to Syria, but is prepared to deliver more if necessary. According to Russian media, the systems will be set up on Syria’s western coast and in its southwest, near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, which are the two areas from which the IAF would be most likely to conduct airstrikes. Russia has yet to indicate which model of S-300 it intends to sell Syria; there are several, each with its own range of capabilities. Even the lowest quality model’s radar would be able to monitor flights around northern Israel — and potentially civilian flights in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport, depending on where the system is placed in Syria.

For Israel, the S-300 would represent a significant but not insurmountable obstacle in Syria, where it routinely bombs Iranian and Hezbollah facilities and weapons caches. While the S-300, known by NATO as the SA-10, is far more powerful than Syria’s current long-range anti-aircraft system, the S-200 or SA-5, the Israeli Air Force has had decades to prepare for it. A number of Israeli allies operate the air defense system. The IAF has reportedly trained against S-300 batteries that once belonged to Cyprus, but are now owned by Greece, during joint aerial exercises over the years.

Israel is also the proud owner of a growing fleet of F-35 fighter jets, a model whose raison d’être is stealth. These fifth-generation jets have already been used operationally, the IAF said earlier this year. And the Israeli Air Force is also famed for its own electronic warfare capabilities. Indeed, in the 1982 first Lebanon War, the IAF used radar jamming against Syria’s Soviet-supplied air defenses, destroying 29 of the country’s 30 anti-aircraft batteries. Israeli also reportedly used this type of technology in its attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor in 2007, blocking the Syrian military’s air defenses during the raid.

But a Russia-supplied S-300 system is not only an operational challenge — it is a geopolitical one as well. Though in his announcement Russian defense minister Shoigu said Syrian teams had been training to operate the S-300 system, it was not immediately clear if the batteries would also be staffed by Russian military personnel. If they were, this would make an Israeli decision to destroy Syrian S-300 batteries far more complicated, requiring the direct and intentional targeting of Russian forces.

Russia’s plan to use electronic warfare against Israeli “hotheads” — per Shoigu — serves as yet another obstacle and point of consideration for the Israeli Air Force. According to Russian media, these electronic warfare systems will create a “radioelectonic dome” with a radius of hundreds of kilometers around western Syria and the Mediterranean coast, which would affect not only Israeli planes but also American and French navy ships, as well as civilian planes in the area. Here too, the Israeli military would likely have a number of technological and operational means to overcome this challenge, but the top brass would have to weigh the use of those measures against the value of the target…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                                                                        Contents

   

TURKEY-RUSSIA IDLIB AGREEMENT: A LESSON FOR THE US

Seth Frantzman

The Hill, Sept. 26, 2018

Russia and Turkey agreed to a diplomatic solution for Syria’s northern Idlib province at a meeting in Sochi on Sept. 17. It followed weeks of concern that Syria’s regime, backed by its Russian and Iranian allies, would assault the last rebel stronghold in Syria, an area home to several million civilians as well as a coterie of Syrian rebel and extremist groups. The Russia-Turkey deal may provide a lesson for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It shows that a country’s goals can be achieved, and conflict avoided, as long as military force is a clear option and a country stands by its allies. In this case, Russia and Turkey both were committed to their allies and refused to see them defeated or lose face in a potential battle.

Over the past decade, the Middle East has undergone unprecedented turmoil, characterized by the breakdown of states and the rise of extremist groups. This reached a peak in 2014 when the Islamic State took over wide swaths of Syria and Iraq, an area the size of Pennsylvania with a population of around 10 million. U.S. policy in the region has lacked clarity and U.S. allies see Washington as frequently changing course. For example, under the Obama administration the United States timidly backed the Syrian rebels, only to eventually withdraw most support under President Trump.

Israel was concerned that the Iran nuclear deal empowered Tehran and decided to go it alone in Syria with strategic bombing against increasing Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia opposed the Iran deal and has praised the Trump administration’s recent moves to isolate Tehran. The United States also has sought to placate Turkey, while Ankara has accused Washington of training a “terrorist army” in eastern Syria.

In Iraq, U.S. policy has tacked back and forth, leaving allies frustrated and enemies empowered. In 2010, the United States backed former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to govern Iraq as U.S. troops withdrew. In 2014, when Maliki’s policies alienated the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq and ISIS routed the Iraqi army, the United States embraced Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Both men were from the Shi’ite sectarian Dawa party and close to Iran. Yet some U.S. policymakers thought Abadi would bring stability after ISIS was defeated in 2017. When former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Abadi that Iranian-backed Shia militia should “go home,” Abadi objected and told the United States that the militias were the “hope of the country and the region.”

Kurdish allies in northern Iraq held an independence referendum last year, hoping the United States would support the Kurds, who fought alongside Americans against Saddam Hussein and then against Shia extremists and ISIS. Instead, the United States spurned the Kurdish region and backed Abadi. But in May 2018, Abadi came in third in the Iraqi elections — and now Washington is worried once again that it could “lose Iraq.” U.S. senators are trying to sanction Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Washington is finally confronting Iran’s meddling.

In Syria, the United States also has Kurdish allies, who are keen on a closer relationship and want guarantees that their hard-fought war against ISIS will lead to continued autonomy. But Washington is careful to use diplomatic-speak when discussing eastern Syria, talking about supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) but never full-throated on specifics about long-term commitment. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the SDF had “carried the brunt of the fighting responsibilities overwhelmingly” against ISIS. So, the United States acknowledges that the mostly-Kurdish SDF was key to defeating ISIS in Syria, but Washington isn’t clear on what comes next…

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

IDF is Prepared to Deal with S-300: Yossi Yehoshua, Ynet, Oct. 1, 2018—At first, it seemed that the Russian threat to supply Assad with the S-300 system was yet another in a long line of warnings we have heard before. However, this time it looks much more serious seeing as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed on Wednesday that the transfer of anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria already started.

A Snake Pit at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Oct. 7, 2018—A scientific paper published recently by the Department of Emergency Medicine at the American University of Beirut Medical Center revealed that a biomedical product manufactured serially by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) contains polyvalent anti-serum to be used as an emergency treatment against the venoms of six snakes.

Common Objectives, Separate Interests: Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Israel Hayom, Sept. 21, 2018—Israel and Russia maintain an operational hotline meant to prevent ‎unwanted incidents in the area of Syria where Israel is targeting Syrian, Iranian and ‎Hezbollah assets.

Is Israel’s Military Honeymoon with Russia in Syria Over?: Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 2018—For the first time in decades, the operational freedom of the Israel Air Force may truly be at risk – not because of terrorist groups or countries bent on Israel’s destruction, but because of Russia – and intense efforts have been put into motion on all sides to prevent that from occurring.

WITH SYRIA’S RECAPTURE OF SOUTHWEST, RUSSIA & HEZBOLLAH LOOK TO ESTABLISH PRESENCE ON ISRAEL’S BORDER

Moscow on the Golan: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 9, 2018 — Russia has deployed Military Police to eight observation points on the Golan.

Hezbollah Likely to Replace ISIS North of Israel: Yoav Limor, JNS, Aug. 6, 2018 — The Syrian army is expected to complete its takeover of the country’s southwest, near the border with Israel, in the coming days, according to the IDF.

The Great British Foreign Office Fantasy: Douglas Murray, Gatestone Institute, July 24, 2018— According to the British Foreign Office, the Golan Heights are ‘occupied’.

A Top Syrian Scientist Is Killed, and Fingers Point at Israel: David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman, New York Times, Aug. 6, 2018— Aziz Asbar was one of Syria’s most important rocket scientists, bent on amassing an arsenal of precision-guided missiles that could be launched with pinpoint accuracy against Israeli cities hundreds of miles away.

On Topic Links

Expert Warns of Negative Consequences for Israel From Assad’s Takeover of Border Area: Benjamin Kerstein, Algemeiner, July 31, 2018

Neutralized at the Last Minute: Yoav Limor, Israel Hayom, Aug. 9, 2018

The Coming Battle for Idlib: Mona Alami, Al-Monitor, August 2, 2018

A Sliver of Good News for Israel from the Trump–Putin Summit: Mosaic, July 24, 2018

 

MOSCOW ON THE GOLAN

Editorial

Jerusalem Post, Aug. 9, 2018

 

Russia has deployed Military Police to eight observation points on the Golan. For the first time, Israeli and Russian forces are directly across from each other at a border. This has the makings of a new strategic alignment in Syria, potentially reducing Iran’s presence and bringing stability, or the opposite – increasing tensions with Moscow and its rising power in the region.

Over the last five years as Russia deepened its involvement in support of its ally in Damascus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has navigated a complex conflict through high-level bilateral discussions in Moscow. This involves a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin that is based on many visits and discussions – and respect between the two countries and their interests.

Although Israel and Russia do not always see eye to eye on Syria, and although Russia has tensions with Jerusalem’s closest ally in Washington, a beneficial relationship has nevertheless been created. During the conflict, this was built on de-confliction and understandings about southern Syria. Potential conflict was reduced and Moscow emphasized that it understood Israel’s concerns about Iran. But Iran is an ally of Bashar Assad and therefore a partner of Moscow in the Syrian war. It is also part of the Astana talks that have sought to advance some kind of an agreement in Syria between Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Israel is never part of these discussions; its dialogue about Syria is always one-on-one, either with Moscow or with Washington. Israel doesn’t speak to Tehran or Damascus, but it can make its views known through third-party channels. Reports indicate that this has happened as Israel uses a variety of public statements – and sometimes threats, private channels and kinetic power, including air strikes – to make its policies clear.

Israel and Russia have now reached an understanding regarding the 1974 cease-fire lines on the Golan. Israeli Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren met Russian journalists recently in southern Russia. “We coordinated the arrangement under which Russia pledged to make sure, as it were, that the Syrian Army will not cross the cease-fire line established under the 1974 agreement,” he said, according to the Russian news agency Tass. “It looks like everything is functioning for the time being.”

Jerusalem still demands that all Iranian troops be withdrawn from Syria. Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s special envoy to Syria, has indicated that Iranian forces and the militias linked to it have withdrawn 85 km. from the border. “There are no units of heavy equipment and weapons that could pose a threat to Israel at a distance of 85 km. from the line of demarcation,” he was quoted as saying.

With Russian observers on the Golan, the chance of chaos and instability directly in the border area is reduced. This is because it is in Moscow’s interest that Syria not be destabilized by Israeli retaliation for any sort of violation of the 1974 lines. In the first days after the Syrian regime returned to the border in July, there were scenes of jubilation. Assad’s image and government flags were waved from Quneitra. In addition, Syrian media reports that residents are returning to the border area. The concern is that Iran or Hezbollah may try to exploit this return.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was at the border area on Tuesday visiting with the Armored Corps on the Golan Heights and meeting with chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. He stressed that the Syrian Army is being strengthened and that the regime wants to fully control its territory. This was a way to indicate that the Assad regime is strong enough to control its own territory and therefore does not need Iran and Iranian-backed militias to help it control areas. The regime has leaned on Iran under the notion that it needed its ally to defeat the rebels and ISIS. But Liberman was asserting that now that the regime is strong enough, it’s time for the Iranians and all their tentacles to go home.

At the Knesset on Wednesday, Eisenkot said the IDF was better prepared than it has been in the last 20 years. Israel has a military edge over its opponents and has developed the best weapons systems to defend against threats and strike the enemy. Nevertheless, Israel’s enemies will always seek new ways to carry out attacks. To restrain them, Jerusalem can work judiciously with Moscow and also with Washington to prevent the next war.

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HEZBOLLAH LIKELY TO REPLACE ISIS NORTH OF ISRAEL

Yoav Limor

                                                JNS, Aug. 6, 2018

 

The Syrian army is expected to complete its takeover of the country’s southwest, near the border with Israel, in the coming days, according to the IDF. This will allegedly restore a familiar situation, in which Syria’s regime is once again stable, even if under the auspices of Russia.

On it’s face, this would seem to be an ideal situation — especially if reality on the ground reverts to the one that existed before the war began in 2011, when Syria and Israel both adhered to the 1974 cease-fire agreement in full. This would restore peace and quiet to the Golan Heights, which could once again become Israel’s most tranquil frontier.

The key word here is “if.” Unfortunately, the chances of this becoming reality are slim. The Syrian army may regain control on the ground, but it will not be the only armed presence near the border. Russia will be there, too, and its presence is both a blessing and a curse. The Russian presence — ostensibly meant to inspire restraint on all sides — will only be effective if Russia agrees to act on Israeli intelligence and thwart anti-Israeli incidents. But if the Russians prove to be a modern version of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon — which sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil —  then Israel will find itself in a terrible predicament, as its presence will make it difficult for Israel to act independently.

Russia, however, is the easy part. The bigger problems are Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. Iranian forces are unlikely to be able to reach the Syria-Israel border, because Israel, Russia, and even Syria — which would prefer not to be dragged into a conflict with Israel — will work to prevent that from happening. Israel insists on the complete removal of Iranian forces from Syria, which is unlikely to happen. The last Russian offer on that issue was to keep Iran 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the border. This can be used as a starting point for negotiations, but those will be exhausted sooner rather than later.

Hezbollah is a different story. The Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist group is already in Syria. Its operatives are fighting alongside the Syrian army, and it has several hundred local villagers on its payroll. This was a strategic decision by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who wants to turn the Golan border into an active war zone with Israel.

Hezbollah is likely to employ its familiar methods: joining local militias, importing its tactical abilities — anti-tank missiles, explosives, and snipers — from Lebanon, and importing ground troops. The first stage has already been completed, the second stage is in full swing, and — unless Hezbollah is stopped — the third stage will become a reality in a few short years.

Stopping Hezbollah in its tracks is Israel’s main challenge, and doing so will become exponentially more difficult once the Syrian civil war officially ends. Until now, Israel has been able to use the chaos north of the border to eliminate any risk from that direction, but once the war ends, any Israeli use of force would have to be justified to other parties.

Legitimizing Israeli operations on this front is likely to become far more complex, and the risk for a security escalation will be greater. This will require Israel to use more carrots and sticks opposite everyone involved, as well as adamantly enforce its red lines.

Israel will also soon end the humanitarian-aid campaign that it has been carrying out on the border. The IDF hopes that the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force stationed in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria will be able to resume its operations in full, both lending a hand to the local Syrian population, and providing them with an incentive not to back the anti-Israeli elements in the area. But the situation for Israel looks to be extremely perilous.

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                 THE GREAT BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE FANTASY    

                                                  Douglas Murray

                                                Gatestone Institute, July 24, 2018

 

According to the British Foreign Office, the Golan Heights are ‘occupied’. They have been ‘occupied’ — according to the logic of the UK Foreign Office — since 1967, when Israel took the land from the invading forces of Syria. Ever since then, the Israelis have had the benefit of this strategic position and the Syrian regime has not. This fact, half a century on, still strikes the British Foreign Office as regrettable, and a wrong to be righted in due course.

Of course, since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the official position of the UK government has become ever-harder to justify. For example, if the Israeli government were at some point over the last seven years suddenly to have listened to the wisdom of the Foreign Office in London and handed over the strategic prize of the Golan, to whom should it have handed it? Should Israel be persuaded to hand over the territory to the Assad regime in Damascus? It is true that, throughout the course of the Syrian civil war, the one bit of territory to which the Syrian regime has laid claim and which it has not been able to barrel-bomb and otherwise immiserate the people there has been the Golan Heights. Only in the Golan has anybody in this ‘Greater Syria’ been able to live free from the constant threat of massacre and ethnic, religious or political cleansing.

Other candidates for the territory naturally presented themselves across the same time-frame. The armies of ISIS came right up to the villages on the Syrian side along the borders of the Golan. There, they were able to bring that form of peace-through-barbarism which the world has come to know well. If ISIS had triumphed in the Syrian conflict rather than suffering repeated set-backs, would the UK Foreign Office have handed them the territory by way of reparational justice, or victor’s prize? If not them, then perhaps the armies of Iran or Russia could have been the recipients of this feat of restorative diplomacy? Perhaps anyone who wished to lay claim to the Golan could have had it. So long as it was not the Israelis.

The ongoing madness of the British Foreign Office’s position has been highlighted in recent days thanks to a request which came from the British government, as well as the governments in other European capitals and in Washington. A request which also involved the Golan.

Over the weekend, it emerged that the British government was among foreign governments to have made a dramatic request of the Israelis. As the war in Syria appears to be clarifying towards its end-point, a group of around 800 members of the ‘White Helmets’ and their families had reportedly become trapped near the southwestern border near the Golan Heights. The White Helmets only operate in ‘rebel areas’ and are despised by the Assad regime. With Syrian government forces moving in, a massacre may well have been about to occur.

At the request of these foreign governments, the Israelis just carried out an extraordinary and unprecedented mission. In recent days, a reported 422 of the intended evacuees and their family members were saved by the Israelis. The other — almost half — of the intended number appears already to have been cut off by other forces. Nevertheless, those who did make it out were transferred by Israeli forces across the Golan and have now reportedly arrived safely in Jordan where their future status will be determined. Some may stay in Jordan; others will be moved abroad to Western countries.

The painful irony of this situation should be clear to all observers. If the Israelis did not lay claim to the Golan, there would have been no means to have got the White Helmets and their families out of Syria. Had Israel not made the Golan the peaceful and thriving area it is, it would simply be another part of Syria in which different sectarian groups were slaughtering other sectarian groups.

As it is, the area is in the control of Britain’s most reliable ally in the region. An ally which — even as it is lectured by Britain — agrees to requests from the British government that takes advantage of a strategic reality, one which the British government still refuses to accept. The Israeli government has given the British government what it wanted. Perhaps now would be a good time for the British government to reciprocate in some way? There could be no better means of doing so than by admitting that the British policy of the last half a century has been a Foreign Office fantasy and a wholesale dud of ‘realist’ regional thinking. The Foreign Office will have to back out of its self-imposed corner regarding the Golan at some point and accept the reality on the ground. How much better it would be if it did so now in a spirit of goodwill and reciprocity, rather than later on in a spirit of inevitable and grudging defeat.

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A TOP SYRIAN SCIENTIST IS KILLED, AND FINGERS POINT AT ISRAEL

David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman

New York Times, Aug. 6, 2018

 

Aziz Asbar was one of Syria’s most important rocket scientists, bent on amassing an arsenal of precision-guided missiles that could be launched with pinpoint accuracy against Israeli cities hundreds of miles away. He had free access to the highest levels of the Syrian and Iranian governments, and his own security detail. He led a top-secret weapons-development unit called Sector 4 and was hard at work building an underground weapons factory to replace one destroyed by Israel last year. On Saturday, he was killed by a car bomb — apparently planted by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

It was at least the fourth assassination mission by Israel in three years against an enemy weapons engineer on foreign soil, a senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency confirmed on Monday. The following account is based on information provided by the official, whose agency was informed about the operation. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity to discuss a highly classified operation.

The attack took place on Saturday night in Masyaf, where Syria’s military research organization maintains one of its most important weapons-development facilities. It quickly prompted finger pointing at Israel by both Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamic militant group whose fighters have played a major role in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. In this case, the accusations were well founded: The Mossad had been tracking Mr. Asbar for a long time, according to the Middle Eastern intelligence official.

The Israelis believed that Mr. Asbar led the secret unit known as Sector 4 at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center. He was said to have free access to the presidential palace in Damascus and had been collaborating with Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and other Iranians to begin production of precision-guided missiles in Syria by retrofitting heavy Syrian SM600 Tishreen rockets. Mr. Asbar was also working on a solid-fuel plant for missiles and rockets, a safer alternative to liquid fuel.

An official from Syria and Iran’s alliance, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to Western journalists, said he believed Israel had wanted to kill Mr. Asbar because of the prominent role he played in Syria’s missile program even before the current conflict broke out in 2011.

Under Israeli law, the prime minister alone is authorized to approve an assassination operation, euphemistically known as “negative treatment” within the Mossad. Spokesmen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. Mr. Lieberman, however, earlier in the day dismissed suggestions in the Syrian and Lebanese news media that Israel was behind the blast, which also killed Mr. Asbar’s driver. “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 News. “Every time, they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”

As one of the directors of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, Mr. Asbar had for years been active in the Assad regime’s chemical-weapons production program, working mainly in Al Safir, outside of Aleppo, and in the city of Masyaf, west of Hama, farther to the south. He was also involved in coordinating Iranian and Hezbollah activities in Syria, according to the intelligence official. More recently, as leader of Sector 4, Mr. Asbar was primarily engaged in adapting Syria’s arsenal of low-technology rockets to make them capable of striking long-range targets with far greater accuracy — a danger that Israel has devoted enormous energy and resources to countering.

Israel is making a broad effort against Iranian and Hezbollah forces, which it began after their forces entered Syria to help the Assad government battle rebel fighters. The fear in Jerusalem is that, after the civil war ends, those forces would turn their energies against Israel. Israeli officials also worry that Iran might seek to create a permanent presence inside Syria, effectively creating a second front along Israel’s northern border.

The Iranian presence in Syria is deeply troubling to Israel. Israel’s air force has repeatedly attacked targets in Syria that it sees as a strategic threat. Among them are weapons storehouses for Iran and Hezbollah; convoys carrying arms from Iran to Syria and Hezbollah; bases for Shiite militias from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps; and Syrian air bases used to house Iranian aerial vehicles. The Israelis also discovered that weapons factories were being set up in facilities of the Scientific Studies and Research Center for the benefit of Mr. Assad’s forces, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps stationed in Syria. Last September, Israel attacked and destroyed most of the weapons factory in Masyaf where Mr. Asbar was a senior manager. This summer, though, the Iranians began to rebuild it, this time underground. In the meantime, production machines had been transferred elsewhere for storage. But Israel destroyed many of those in a missile strike on July 23.

Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center has long been a focus of Western intelligence agencies and is subject to financial sanctions in the United States and France. Before the civil war, it operated Syria’s main manufacturing and storage sites for chemical weapons, many of which have since been destroyed or abandoned. It employed around 10,000 people developing and producing missiles, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons…

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Expert Warns of Negative Consequences for Israel From Assad’s Takeover of Border Area: Benjamin Kerstein, Algemeiner, July 31, 2018 —Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s successful takeover of the area adjacent to the border with Israel marks a “very painful strategic failure” for the Jewish state, an Israeli expert told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

Neutralized at the Last Minute: Yoav Limor, Israel Hayom, Aug. 9, 2018 —The final stage of the Syrian civil war offers an opportunity, maybe the last one, for any entity that wants to eliminate threats without paying too high a price. The moment the war officially ends, which will happen soon, everything will become more complicated, from airstrikes to assassinations.

The Coming Battle for Idlib: Mona Alami, Al-Monitor, August 2, 2018—The fall of Daraa governorate, including the Golan Heights border region, to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on July 31 paves the way for the next battle, in Idlib.

A Sliver of Good News for Israel from the Trump–Putin Summit: Mosaic, July 24, 2018—A week before the U.S.–Russia meeting in Helsinki, Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin in an attempt to secure some guarantees for Israel in southern Syria, and later reported the terms they had settled upon to Donald Trump.

TRUMP’S CRITICS WRONGLY ACCUSE HIM OF BETRAYING THE U.S. & ALLIES OVER RUSSIA AND NATO

Who is Betraying America?: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2018 — Did US President Donald Trump commit treason in Helsinki when he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin? Should he be impeached?

NATO has Weaknesses, and Trump Right to Prod It: Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post, July 15, 2018 — As President Trump put Germany and other allies on notice for the harm they are doing to NATO with their failure to spend adequately on our common defense, Democrats in Washington came to Germany’s defense.

Pivots and Pitfalls as President Trump Eyes New Mideast Peace Push Through Gaza: Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, The Hill, July 12, 2018 — Gifting an Elton John CD to “Little Rocket Man,” pulling the plug on the Iran nuclear deal, slapping billions of dollars in tariffs on China, shaking up NATO’s status quo, downsizing the State Department.

Is Donald Trump the Oscar Wilde of Our Degraded Digital Age?: Dominic Green, CapX, July 16, 2018— Observers of the diplomatic tour that sacked Brussels, laid waste to Britain, and then ended on a nuclear-tipped grand finale in Helsinki know that, like Oscar Wilde, Donald Trump travels the world with nothing to declare but his genius.

On Topic Links

Listening to the Prophetic Voice: Tisha B’Av 5778: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Press, July 21, 2018

What, If Anything, Did Trump and Putin Agree On in Helsinki?: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2018

After Brussels, Trump Will Have Few Offerings for Putin: Aurel Braun, Globe and Mail, July 12, 2018

Donald Trump and the Carl Schmitt Spectrum: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, July 22, 2018

 

WHO IS BETRAYING AMERICA?

Caroline Glick

Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2018

Did US President Donald Trump commit treason in Helsinki when he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin? Should he be impeached? That is what his opponents claim. Former president Barack Obama’s CIA director John Brennan accused Trump of treason outright. Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki [with Putin] rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”

Fellow senior Obama administration officials, including former FBI director James Comey, former defense secretary Ashton Carter, and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates parroted Brennan’s accusation. Almost the entire US media joined them in condemning Trump for treason. Democratic leaders have led their own charge. Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee insinuated the US military should overthrow the president, tweeting, “Where are our military folks? The Commander-in-Chief is in the hands of our enemy!”

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said that Trump is controlled by Russia. And Trump’s Republican opponents led by senators Jeff Flake and John McCain attacked him as well. Trump allegedly committed treason when he refused to reject Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 and was diffident in relation to the US intelligence community’s determination that Russia did interfere in the elections.

Trump walked back his statement from Helsinki at a press appearance at the White House Tuesday. But it is still difficult to understand what all the hullaballoo about the initial statement was about. AP reporter John Lemire placed Trump in an impossible position. Noting that Putin denied meddling in the 2016 elections and the intelligence community insists that Russia meddled, he asked Trump, “Who do you believe?”

If Trump had said that he believed his intelligence community and gave no credence to Putin’s denial, he would have humiliated Putin and destroyed any prospect of cooperative relations. Trump tried to strike a balance. He spoke respectfully of both Putin’s denials and the US intelligence community’s accusation. It wasn’t a particularly coherent position. It was a clumsy attempt to preserve the agreements he and Putin reached during their meeting. And it was blindingly obviously not treason.

In fact, Trump’s response to Lemire, and his overall conduct at the press conference, did not convey weakness at all. Certainly he was far more assertive of US interests than Obama was in his dealings with Russia. In Obama’s first summit with Putin in July 2009, Obama sat meekly as Putin delivered an hour-long lecture about how US-Russian relations had gone down the drain.

As Daniel Greenfield noted at Frontpage magazine Tuesday, in succeeding years, Obama capitulated to Putin on anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Ukraine, Georgia and Crimea. Obama gave Putin free rein in Syria and supported Russia’s alliance with Iran on its nuclear program and its efforts to save the Assad regime. He permitted Russian entities linked to the Kremlin to purchase a quarter of American uranium. And of course, Obama made no effort to end Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

Trump in contrast has stiffened US sanctions against Russian entities. He has withdrawn from Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He has agreed to sell Patriot missiles to Poland. And he has placed tariffs on Russian exports to the US. So if Trump is Putin’s agent, what was Obama? Given the nature of Trump’s record, and the context in which he made his comments about Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the question isn’t whether he did anything wrong. The question is why are his opponents accusing him of treason for behaving as one would expect a president to behave? What is going on?

The answer to that is clear enough. Brennan signaled it explicitly when he tweeted that Trump’s statements “exceed the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” The unhinged allegations of treason are supposed to form the basis of impeachment hearings. The Democrats and their allies in the media use the accusation that Trump is an agent of Russia as an elections strategy. Midterm elections are consistently marked with low voter turnout. So both parties devote most of their energies to rallying their base and motivating their most committed members to vote.

To objective observers, the allegation that Trump betrayed the United States by equivocating in response to a rude question about Russian election interference is ridiculous on its face. But Democratic election strategists have obviously concluded that it is catnip for the Democratic faithful. For them it serves as a dog whistle. The promise of impeachment for votes is too radical to serve as an official campaign strategy. For the purpose of attracting swing voters and not scaring moderate Democrats away from the party and the polls, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer say they have no interest in impeaching Trump. Impeachment talk, they insist, is a mere distraction.

But by embracing Brennan’s claim of treason, Pelosi, Hoyer, Schumer and other top Democrats are winking and nodding to the progressive radicals now rising in their party. They are telling the Linda Sarsours and Cynthia Nixons of the party that they will impeach Trump if they win control of the House of Representatives. The problem with playing domestic politics on the international scene is that doing so has real consequences for international security and for US national interests…

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

 

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NATO HAS WEAKNESSES, AND TRUMP RIGHT TO PROD IT

Marc A. Thiessen

Washington Post, July 15, 2018

 

As President Trump put Germany and other allies on notice for the harm they are doing to NATO with their failure to spend adequately on our common defense, Democrats in Washington came to Germany’s defense. “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement.

Sorry, Trump is right. The real embarrassment is that Germany, one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, spends just 1.24 percent of its gross domestic product on defense — in the bottom half of NATO allies. (The U.S. spends 3.5 percent of GDP on its military.)

A study by McKinsey & Co. notes that about 60 percent of Germany’s Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets and about 80 percent of its Sea Lynx helicopters are unusable. According to Deutsche Welle, a German parliamentary investigation found that “at the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force’s 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs,” and “a Defense Ministry paper revealed German soldiers did not have enough protective vests, winter clothing or tents to adequately take part in a major NATO mission.”

To meet its promised NATO commitments, Germany needs to spend $28 billion more on defense annually. Apparently Germany can’t come up with the money, but it can send billions of dollars to Russia — the country NATO was created to protect against — for natural gas and support a new pipeline that will make Germany and Eastern European allies even more vulnerable to Moscow.

Sadly, Germany is not alone. Belgium, where NATO is headquartered, spends just 0.9 percent of GDP on defense — and fully one-third of its meager defense budget is spent on pensions. European NATO allies have about 1.8 million troops, but less than a third are deployable and just 6 percent for any sustained period. When Trump says NATO is “obsolete,” he is correct — literally. This is not a new problem. I was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and vividly recall how, when it came time to take military action in Afghanistan, only a handful of allies had any useful war-fighting capabilities they could contribute during the critical early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

At NATO’s 2002 Prague summit, allies pledged to address these deficiencies by spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense and investing that money in more usable capabilities. Instead, defense investments by European allies declined from 1.9 percent of GDP in 2000-2004 to 1.7 percent five years later, dropping further to 1.4 percent by 2015.

Little surprise that when NATO intervened in Libya a decade after 9/11, The Washington Post reported, “Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time.” An alliance whose founding purpose is to deter Russian aggression could not sustain a limited bombing campaign against a far weaker adversary.

President Barack Obama called NATO allies “free riders,” and President George W. Bush urged allies to “increase their defense investments,” both to little effect. But when Trump refused to immediately affirm that the United States would meet its Article 5 commitment to defend a NATO ally, NATO allies agreed to boost spending by $12 billion last year. That is a drop in the bucket: McKinsey calculated that allies need to spend $107 billion more each year to meet their commitments.

Since polite pressure by his predecessors did not work, Trump is digging in on a harder line: Last week in Brussels, he suggested NATO members double their defense spending targets to 4 percent of GDP. This is not a gift to Russia, as his critics have alleged. The last thing Putin wants is for Trump to succeed in getting NATO to spend more on defense. And if allies are concerned about getting tough with Russia, there is an easy way to do so: invest in the capabilities NATO needs to deter and defend against Russian aggression.

Trump’s hard line also does not signal that he considers NATO irrelevant. If Trump thought NATO was useless, he would not waste his time on it. But if allies don’t invest in real, usable military capabilities, NATO will become irrelevant. An alliance that cannot effectively join the fight when one of its members comes under attack or runs out of munitions in the middle of a military intervention is, by definition, irrelevant. NATO needs some tough love, and Trump is delivering it. Thanks to him, the alliance will be stronger as a result.

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PIVOTS AND PITFALLS AS PRESIDENT TRUMP

EYES NEW MIDEAST PEACE PUSH THROUGH GAZA

Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper

The Hill, July 12, 2018

Gifting an Elton John CD to “Little Rocket Man,” pulling the plug on the Iran nuclear deal, slapping billions of dollars in tariffs on China, shaking up NATO’s status quo, downsizing the State Department. Forget tweets. When it comes to foreign policy, President Donald Trump continues to shake well and stir, often shocking friend and foe alike. Now there are signs the Trump administration is about to nudge the Middle East’s Richter scale with a push for peace that focuses on … Gaza?

Yes, Gaza. Led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, it appears the United States, with the support or understanding of Israel and key Gulf states, will seek ways to improve the daily lives of Gaza’s people, starting with their electrical grid and water services. Yes, the same Gaza that is ruled with an iron fist by Hamas, a duly-elected terrorist organization whose genocidal, Jew-hating charter calls for Israel’s destruction and invokes the classic anti-Semitic screed, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The same Hamas that has barred Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from setting foot in the Gaza Strip since his election more than a decade ago.

Is there a method to this new madness? Actually, yes. The Abbas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) never liked President Trump’s views on the Middle East; Abbas and the PA heaped scorn on the U.S. ambassador to Israel even before the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Furthermore, Hamas has made clear it considers any Trump peace plan dead on arrival. Finally, the PA’s ambassador to Tehran has declared President Trump “is a tool of international Zionism.” So, instead of following the well-trodden path of previous U.S. presidents and many European leaders, who have sweetened the PA coffers every time that Abbas cried wolf, the Trump team has decided to bypass Abbas’ West Bank-based regime and instead offer long-suffering Gaza residents hope for a better future.

Israelis would welcome a quiet southern border without having to launch a major military incursion. Gulf states, already pouring millions of dollars into Gaza, would welcome some stability for Palestinians and the region. Working closely with Israel to confront the existential threats from Iran, the United States also could set the stage for open economic and diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and, ultimately, Saudi Arabia. The Trump team believes such seismic developments would force the PA into the game, or sideline it permanently.

This represents a visionary approach, but the Trump administration should keep in mind a few words of caution. First, Team Trump will discover there is no reliable interlocutor on the ground in Gaza. Qatar, a major donor in Gaza, is unlikely to be a reliable partner; it is openly playing a double game, cozying up to Washington and Tehran simultaneously. Second, the administration should not expect any meaningful support from the United Nations. If ever there was an opportunity for the United Nations to live up to its charter, this is it. But, sadly, abject failure to pave the way for long-term peace that recognizes the Jewish state’s right to security and sovereignty is part of the United Nations’ DNA.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency is the largest single employer in Gaza but, rather than playing a moderating influence, UNRWA is de facto controlled by Hamas’ diktats. Witness UNRWA schools closing on May 14-15, the bloodiest days of Hamas-driven riots at the Israeli border; Hamas wanted as many kids at the border, with the hope of driving up the death toll beyond Hamas’ members. Meanwhile UNRWA’s alleged new peace curriculum is actually a war curriculum; not a single map in its new textbooks mentions Israel but there’s still mention of “martyrs” (read “killers of Israelis”).

Every international drive to help the people of Gaza rebuild homes after the last war with Israel resulted in building materials diverted by Hamas to its network of underground terror tunnels. Major humanitarian donors, from the Gulf States to the European Union to Japan, acknowledge there is precious little transparency on how funds are actually spent. So, while it may be worthwhile for President Trump and his team to think out of the box to create new paths toward peace, a good place to start is by acting out of the box. The worst thing America can do is to write another “trust me” check to Hamas. Suits and ties do not transform terrorists into statesmen.

If Hamas really wants to play ball, it must return Israelis — dead and alive — still held hostage in Gaza. And the dropping of its charter must precede any involvement of Hamas in the U.S. plan. If Hamas won’t act in good faith, then the United States should find and empower Palestinians who’ve had enough of terrorist rule. Bolstering Gaza with huge funds could backfire, not only by reversing Israeli success in degrading Hamas’ paramilitary capability, but also by allowing Hamas to emerge the big winner in the West Bank. By swapping an enfeebled Abbas with the Hamas-aligned Muslim Brotherhood, we would enable terrorists to threaten Israel’s heartland…

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

Contents

   

IS DONALD TRUMP THE OSCAR WILDE OF OUR DEGRADED DIGITAL AGE?

Dominic Green

CapX, July 16, 2018

Observers of the diplomatic tour that sacked Brussels, laid waste to Britain, and then ended on a nuclear-tipped grand finale in Helsinki know that, like Oscar Wilde, Donald Trump travels the world with nothing to declare but his genius. And, like the divine Oscar, the less-than-divine Donald is a comedian who mistakes himself for a philosopher, and who knows that if you want to tell people the truth, you should make them laugh. None of the leaders of NATO laughed when Trump told them to raise their defence budgets to 2 per cent of GDP.

Neither did Theresa May double up when Trump mused on an open mike in the garden of Chequers about Boris Johnson’s suitability for her job. Nor did the collective heads of the chuckle fest that is the European Union surrender to a spontaneous outburst of collective jollity when Trump described the EU as an American “foe” when it came to trade. But these are the jokes, folks. There is much truth to all these statements, and much more truth than the professional politicians dare to admit. The laughs, unfortunately, are on us, and all of them are rather bitter. Trump lies in the gutter press, while looking up at the stars and the autocrats.

Trump was accurate when he said that Theresa May’s latest proposals for Brexit aren’t really the Brexit for which her public voted in 2016 and elected her in 2017. Trump is accurate in noting that the EU’s trade regulations do not create a level playing field; African farmers might well agree with him. And Trump is right that most NATO members, and European states in general, have been passing the tab for their security to the US for decades. That includes “you, Angela”, as Trump referred to Angela Merkel, who presides over a massive budget surplus but last year spent only 1.25 per cent of GDP on defence.

This week, when NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg crawled from the smoking rubble of NATO’s headquarters, he protested that eight NATO states are on course to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence this year—an increase from three states in 2014. Those eight were Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, the UK and the US. Stoltenberg didn’t mention Turkey, which spent 3.1 per cent of GDP on defence last year. But then, every else would prefer it if Turkey spent a bit less.

The truth is that five of those eight states have raised their defence budgets because of Russian expansionism. And while Greece spends a lot on defence because it fears Turkey, Turkey in part spends a lot on defence because it fears Russia. Which brings us and The Donald to today’s meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.

Before the summit, Trump deployed his usual tactics. First he lowered expectations: there wasn’t a fixed agenda, and maybe nothing was going to come of it. Then he raised the ante, by warning that “NATO, I think, has never been stronger” since his recent dose of tough love. And then he raised it further by tweet, while changing the subject: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

This was a classic piece of Trump truth-telling. It started with a feeling of truthiness, but it wasn’t really true in objective terms, and it ended with raging subjectivity. It’s true that US-Russian relations have declined steadily since Putin came to power in 2000, and declined sharply since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. It’s true that they are now as bad as at any point since the end of the Cold War. But they’re nowhere near as bad as relations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, who came close to war over the Cuban Missile Crisis…

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

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

Listening to the Prophetic Voice: Tisha B’Av 5778: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Press, July 21, 2018—At this time, as we recall the destruction of our two Temples, we read three of the most searing passages in prophetic literature, from the beginnings of Jeremiah and Isaiah.

What, If Anything, Did Trump and Putin Agree On in Helsinki?: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2018—US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Israel, Syria and Iran at their meeting in Helsinki on Monday and in subsequent comments to the press. The public comments provide some insight into their view of the future Middle East. With the Syrian regime conducting a major offensive in the south, the US deeply involved in eastern Syria and Israel demanding that the Iranians leave, these were central topics of concern.

After Brussels, Trump Will Have Few Offerings for Putin: Aurel Braun, Globe and Mail, July 12, 2018—Despite a most inauspicious start, this year’s NATO summit in Brussels turned out to be neither the train wreck that many feared nor an unalloyed success. All the members, it appears, can derive a degree of comfort from what essentially remains a difficult work in progress.

Donald Trump and the Carl Schmitt Spectrum: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, July 22, 2018—Has Donald Trump been reading Carl Schmitt in secret? The thought came to mind the other day when the US president was concluding his two-day “working visit” to the United Kingdom with a series of impromptu statements before flying to Scotland to play golf. It was by using the term “foe” to describe Russia, China and even the European Union that Trump reminded me of Schmitt.

 

 

 

PUTIN WARNS WWIII “WOULD END CIVILIZATION” WHILE RUSSIA HELPS ISRAEL & U.S IN SYRIA

How Israel is Pulling Russia Away From Iran: Eli Lake, New York Post, June 4, 2018— Since Iran and Russia reached an agreement in the summer of 2015 to coordinate a military campaign to save the regime of Syria’s dictator, that war has held together an unholy alliance of those three states.

The Russian Collusion No One Cares About: Noah Rothman, Commentary, May 21, 2018— By now, those who began the Trump era convinced that the president was Vladimir Putin’s puppet are surely frustrated by the dearth of supporting evidence.

Ukraine: Is Russia Planning A New Invasion?: Judith Bergman, Gatestone Institute, May 1, 2018— This April marks the fourth year of the ongoing war in Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian backed separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine…

Russia vs. the West: The Beginning of the End: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, May 13, 2018— Contrary to the much-touted opinion that Russia has been successful of late in projecting its influence across the former Soviet Union, Moscow’s influence has in fact significantly receded on the Eurasian continent.

On Topic Links

Putin Warns That a Nuclear ‘World War III’ Would End Civilization: Mark Moore, New York Post, June 7, 2018

Russia to Host its Annual National-Day Celebration for First Time in Jerusalem: JNS, June 6, 2018

As Iran and Assad Move in Southern Syria, US and Russia Must Discuss Response: Seth J. Frantzman, The Hill, May 31, 2018

Dramatic Understandings Between Israel and Russia: Mordechai Sones, Arutz Sheva, May 28, 2018

 

HOW ISRAEL IS PULLING RUSSIA AWAY FROM IRAN

Eli Lake

New York Post, June 4, 2018

 

Since Iran and Russia reached an agreement in the summer of 2015 to coordinate a military campaign to save the regime of Syria’s dictator, that war has held together an unholy alliance of those three states. It worked. Bashar al-Assad has withstood the uprising.

Now, as that war comes to a close, the Iranian-Russian alliance that saved Assad appears to be fraying. Consider recent developments. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Assad foreign military forces will exit Syria at the onset of a political process to end the war. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said all foreign forces — a reference to Iran and its allied militias — should immediately leave the Daraa province, which borders Israel. On Friday, a leading Arab newspaper reported that Israel and Russia reached an agreement this week for just that.

All of this is significant for a few reasons. To start, being forced to withdraw from Syria would be a major blow to Iran’s prestige at a moment when its economy is bracing for crippling sanctions following America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The removal of Iran and its allied militias from Syria would stymie Tehran’s plans for a land bridge to southern Lebanon — a supply line of advanced weapons to Iran’s most important client, Hezbollah.

Preventing a permanent Iranian presence in Syria has been a top priority for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last two years. In 2017, he pressed the Trump administration to commit to challenge Iranian forces in Syria after victory in the campaign against ISIS. He wasn’t successful, so he tried something different: He went to Moscow.

Israel has had a channel to Moscow since Russia first established its air presence in Syria in fall 2015. That channel, though, was primarily to warn Russia’s military when Israel launched airstrikes on convoys and shipments of arms to Hezbollah.

In the last year, Netanyahu and his top ministers have stepped up diplomacy with Moscow to make the strategic case that it’s not in Russia’s interest to allow Iran to turn Syria into a client state like Lebanon, according to US and Israeli officials.

The latest such visit was on Thursday when the Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, flew to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart. Following those meetings, Lieberman tweeted: “The state of Israel appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security concerns, particularly regarding the situation at our northern border.”

So far, that understanding has resulted in a new policy from Russia toward Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Russia has the ability to protect Iranian forces with its own air force and air defense systems in Syria, but it has opted not to use them to stop Israel.

An element of the Israeli strategy has also been to back up the diplomacy with force in Syria. In the last two months, the Israelis have gone farther into Syrian territory to strike Iranian targets than they had before.

In April, Israeli airstrikes hit a base deep in Syrian territory, where Iranian commanders were coordinating militias. On May 10, a day after Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, Iran and Israel exchanged strikes, with Israel hitting major Iranian infrastructure inside Syria.

What’s notable about the May 10 strike is that no Russian officials condemned it. The day before, Netanyahu was in Moscow for meetings with Putin. Netanyahu told Israeli reporters after he returned home that he did not expect Russia to try to protect Iranian targets from Israel.

It’s too soon to say whether Israel’s diplomacy with Russia will result in the removal of Iran and its allied militias from Syria altogether. A senior Israeli diplomat warned me this week no agreement has been made for all of Syria, and that Israel wouldn’t be satisfied with an agreement to only keep Iranian forces away from its border. Even so, Netanyahu has succeeded diplomatically where the Obama and Trump administrations had failed. The prime minister understands something the Americans have forgotten: Diplomacy can be effective only if the other side believes you are willing to use force if it fails.

 

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THE RUSSIAN COLLUSION NO ONE CARES ABOUT                                                                     Noah Rothman

Commentary, May 21, 2018

By now, those who began the Trump era convinced that the president was Vladimir Putin’s puppet are surely frustrated by the dearth of supporting evidence. Donald Trump has spent his tenure repaying the Russian Federation for its interference in the 2016 election by imposing stiff sanctions on the Kremlin and its associates, arming the regime’s opponents, and degrading the capabilities of its allies. While there are few areas where Washington and Moscow have collaborated, that is not to say that they do not exist. If there is one particularly important arena where the White House has been happy to cede turf to the Russian president, it is in Syria.

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to see the United States extricate itself from its commitments in Northwestern Syria as soon as possible. In early April, the president announced that all U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawing “like very soon”—an announcement that confused his State Department and contradicted the statements of his commanding generals, who had assured the public that the American mission in Syria has only just begun. Cooler heads might have convinced Trump not to create a power vacuum in the heart of the former ISIS caliphate on a whim, but the president seems unpersuaded that either U.S. interests or allies in the region are of much value. If America cannot simply cut ties with its partners in Syria, it seems, it will simply allow those relationships to wither on the vine.

Last week, the administration announced that it would cut off all non-humanitarian aid to groups on the ground in Northern Syria. Some $200 million in recovery funds for the region devastated in the fight against ISIS were frozen in late March, and they are not going to be restored. If the civilian infrastructure devastated in that part of Syria is going to be repaired, it won’t be with American reconstruction funds. Among the organizations that the White House has abandoned is the Syrian Civil Defense, known colloquially as the “White Helmets,” which have attracted positive attention from American lawmakers for their highly-publicized efforts to rescue civilians from collapsed buildings over the course of the seven-year Syrian civil war.

All of this will be welcome news in Moscow. Russia has alleged that the “White Helmets” staged a recent chemical weapons attack on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Daouma. Moscow-backed mercenaries and Assad regime forces have repeatedly attempted to make inroads in the territory Americans occupy east of the Euphrates, recently resulting in a bloody armed confrontation between U.S. forces and Russian contractors. A U.S. withdrawal from Northern Syria would allow Russia and Iran to flood the zone while allowing Turkey a substantial presence in the North (where it could at finally neutralize America’s Kurdish allies). More troubling still, American withdrawal could provide enough space for Islamist organizations like ISIS or the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra group to reconstitute themselves. That would serve Assad’s purposes just fine. The existence of brutal Islamist groups creates a favorable contrast with his genocidal but secular regime, and it is a contrast Assad has skillfully deployed to generate Western sympathy for his ruling cabal.

The Trump administration has long sought to enlist Russia’s help in its effort to extricate U.S. troops from that conflict, no matter the costs to U.S. interests. In early 2017, the Trump administration entertained the prospect of ceding its position in Syria as a bargaining chip that, it was thought, might convince Russia to abandon its Iranian allies. It became clear that overture failed when Russian officials began telling regional governments like Israel that Iran’s military presence in Syria was a permanent feature of the landscape.

The Trump administration’s belief that Russia could be convinced to share American aims in Syria did not abate even after the president ordered strikes on Assad regime targets. In July of last year, the Trump administration ended a CIA program that armed and trained anti-Assad regime rebels in the hopes of currying favor with Russia. The president has all but surrendered the post-war planning process to Russia, which began ironing out a power-sharing arrangement with its Turkish and Iranian partners last November.

Despite the souring of Russo-American relations, the Trump White House still appears to cling to the notion that Russian and U.S. interests can align in Syria. In truth, the only alignment is that both Washington and Moscow want to see American soldiers and their Western allies leave. Yet for both the dovish left and the isolationist right, this is the kind of collusion that raises no eyebrows. It is the sacrifice of American influence and allies that generates no calls for Trump’s resignation from the usual suspects on the left. Conservatives, too, are loath to reconcile their conclusion that the “collusion” narrative is hollow with this conspicuous display of deference toward Moscow.

If there is one thing recent history has taught us, it is that Russia is not a reliable steward of U.S. interests. Americans who rediscover their mistrust of Vladimir Putin’s goals only when it suits their partisan interests are invested in a political game. Unfortunately, the stakes are so much higher than that.

 

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UKRAINE: IS RUSSIA PLANNING A NEW INVASION?

Judith Bergman

Gatestone Institute, May 1, 2018

 

This April marks the fourth year of the ongoing war in Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian backed separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine, also known as the Donbas region. Prior to the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.

Russia’s aggression into Ukraine came in direct violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Under the memorandum, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia reaffirmed its “obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine” and promised that none of its weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Now, the question of further Russian or Russian-backed military operations in Ukraine has surfaced. In March, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asserted that Russia has been strengthening its military presence on the border of Ukraine. According to Poroshenko: “For more than one year, we have been repelling Russia’s military aggression on the front line… In his latest report General Zabrodsky reported in detail on the strengthening of the military presence of the Russian Federation along our border and continued stay of Russia’s regular troops in the occupied territories”.

Poroshenko explained that the Russians have, since 2014, deployed and reorganized their forces in a way that will be able to support a rapid invasion both from the north and from east of Ukraine. “Several mechanized divisions are fully prepared for intervention,” he said.

In April, Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak also claimed that Russia “has massed 19 battalion tactical groups of the combat echelon and reserve forces with over 77,000 troops,” adding that they have almost 1,000 tanks, 2,300 combat vehicles, over 1,100 artillery systems and about 400 multiple rocket launchers. According to Poltorak, 40,000 Russian troops, which he detailed as an integral part of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces, are stationed in the Donbas. Also according to Poltorak, in 2017 Russia’s military forces shelled Ukrainian army positions in Donbas more than 15,000 times.

There appears to be some internal disagreement on the exact number of Russian forces amassing on Ukraine. At the Kyiv Security Forum, on April 13, the chairman of Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council Oleksandr Turchynov noted: “After four years of war, Russia has at least 260,000 troops deployed along the Ukrainian border, in addition to another 35,000 troops in the Donbas and 30,000 in Crimea, who could be used to conduct a large-scale continental war… The Russian aggressor is preparing a powerful force in Crimea — and not only to protect its presence there. And the two occupation army corps in the Donbas have been positioned to provide cover and buy time for the main force to deploy at the borderline.”

Turchynov also warned that the 260,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border are ready to advance with 3,500 tanks, 11,000 soft-skin vehicles, 4,000 artillery units, and over 1,000 multiple launch rocket systems. Russia, according to Tuchynov, has also fielded four guided-missile brigades in the region. The brigades, he says, are armed with Iskander-K cruise missile systems, which have a range of up to 2,500 kilometers. Apart from investing in conventional arms, Russia is also enhancing its hybrid warfare capabilities, “including terror attacks and subversive actions,” in Ukraine, Turchynov said.

First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Viktor Kononenko, also recently reported that Russia might be planning another attempt to destabilize Ukraine in the fall. He said that the SBU has information on Russia’s plans, including “the existence of a group in Putin’s entourage, which has as goal to create prerequisites for the introduction of Russian troops to Ukraine in autumn under the pretext of protecting the Russian-speaking population”. He added that Moscow allegedly plans to use criminals and other criminal-related structures “for beating participants of pro-Russian events and religious processions.”

The war in Ukraine has already exacted a steep price. On April 21, UN representative to Ukraine, Neal Walker, announced that, “After four years of conflict, 3.4 million people in Ukraine are struggling to cope with the impact of the humanitarian crisis and urgently require humanitarian assistance and protection”. More than 2,500 civilian men, women and children have been killed, and more than 9,000 injured in the past four years, according to the UN. Landmines in eastern Ukraine are affecting1.9 million people. “Last week,” Walker said, “landmines killed a family of four in eastern Ukraine. In 2017, over 235 civilians were killed or injured by landmines and other explosive remnants of war.”

In December 2017, humanitarian agencies launched a US$187 million appeal to reach more than 2.3 million of the most vulnerable people in Ukraine with assistance. 97% of this funding appeal remains unfunded. The world at large has forgotten the war in Ukraine. Despite the humanitarian toll on the region, the United States for the first four years of the war, refused to supply the Ukrainian government with lethal weapons. The Obama administration reportedly feared that sending lethal weapons to Ukraine might escalate the conflict with Russia.

Arguably, this lack of forceful response to Russian aggression against its “near abroad” only emboldened Russia further. So much so, apparently, that Russia felt confident launching airstrikes in 2015 on behalf of Syria’s President Bashar Assad against the people opposing him in the Syrian civil war. Undeterred by the US in both Ukraine and Syria, Russia had returned as a substantial military and political actor, not only in what has become known as the “post-Soviet space” — the area inhabited by the former republics of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine — but in the Middle East, as well…

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

             

RUSSIA VS. THE WEST: THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Emil Avdaliani

BESA, May 13, 2018

Contrary to the much-touted opinion that Russia has been successful of late in projecting its influence across the former Soviet Union, Moscow’s influence has in fact significantly receded on the Eurasian continent. US pressure is important here, as are internal economic problems in Russia. But a closer look can easily reveal that it is the EU that has undermined Russian political, economic, and even cultural influence in eastern Europe and the former Soviet space. Moscow has lost influence the Baltic states, Moldova (at least in part), Ukraine, and Georgia, and is losing credibility in Armenia. Europe, meanwhile, has never been so united and unanimous in its internal as well as foreign policy actions.

Why has Europe never been so successful against Russia in the past? A partial answer lies in Europe’s unfortunate geography. The European continent represents a peninsula of Eurasia, with Russia right on Europe’s edge. Peace between them has been a fleeting phenomenon as each has tried to dominate or influence the other. Russia’s rise to power was basically a product of constant European internal fighting. There were times when the Continent was unified and Russia was threatened, but the creation of a truly unified European empire that could economically challenge Moscow in the long term was a daunting task.

The building of a European empire had at least three phases. Military victories were essential, but these did not provide a lasting foundation. A ruler needed a centralized administration and cooption of the local elites of large invaded states, something that could have taken decades to achieve: a virtually impossible task. Europe also had the problem that the continent was full of ambitious, technologically and militarily advanced states very much unwilling to abandon their freedom.

Even when a conquest of Europe was achieved (as in the case of Napoleon and Hitler), the continent faced its two “big enemies on the periphery,” Britain and Russia. London was willing to keep the balance of power among the European states while Moscow controlled Eastern Europe. This simple geography explains why throughout the centuries, a united Europe was not a viable project and peace with Russia was an unachievable goal. However, geopolitical developments in Eurasia since the breakup of the Soviet Union show that a united Europe is a plausible project when unified non-militarily. Modern Europe poses a serious challenge to Russia, as the battle between the two is – for the first time in history – in the economic sphere. Modern Europe is in fact a powerful economic and political machine based not on coercion, but on state and elite cooption.

Never before has Europe posed such a fundamental challenge to Moscow. Neither Napoleon nor Hitler worked towards the fundamental weakening of Russia, as a military conquest of Russia was impossible at the time. A fundamental weakening of Russia is only possible through the purposeful economic dominance of the territories around the Russian heartland (the modern western part of the Russian Federation).

That is what is now happening. Russia is losing to Europe in terms of competition and economic relevance. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Baltic states show how far Russian influence has receded into Eurasia. What is even more interesting is the fact that this process will continue unabated, at least for the near future. Russia will remain isolated while its immediate neighborhood will deepen its cooperation with the West.

Is Eurasia in the midst of a fundamental transformation? Will Russia’s weakening allow small states on its periphery and elsewhere in the Middle East to improve their geopolitical situation? There are plenty of indications to support this scenario.

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Putin Warns That a Nuclear ‘World War III’ Would End Civilization: Mark Moore, New York Post, June 7, 2018—Dredging up Cold War-era rhetoric of mutual destruction, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that another world war could end civilization.

Russia to Host its Annual National-Day Celebration for First Time in Jerusalem: JNS, June 6, 2018—Russia has announced that it will host an annual “Russia Day” reception in the Sergei Courtyard in Jerusalem, better known as the Russian Compound, on June 15. Prior to this year, the celebration was conducted in Tel Aviv. This will be the first year that the event will take place in Jerusalem.

As Iran and Assad Move in Southern Syria, US and Russia Must Discuss Response: Seth J. Frantzman, The Hill, May 31, 2018—For seven years, Syrian rebels have held a chunk of southwestern Syria. Now the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is planning an offensive to retake the area that borders Israel and Jordan.

Dramatic Understandings Between Israel and Russia: Mordechai Sones, Arutz Sheva, May 28, 2018 —Channel 2 News reports that dramatic understandings were reached between Israel and Russia in which the Assad army would return to southern Syria on its border with Israel, Russia will undertake that there will be no Iranian or Hizbullah presence in this area, and Israel will maintain freedom of action against Iranian consolidation in Syria.

TRUMP & POMPEO OVERTURN OBAMA’S IRAN STRATEGY AND “UNACCEPTABLE” NUCLEAR DEAL

Pompeo Raises the Price for Iran to Rejoin International Community: Eli Lake, Bloomberg, May 21, 2018 — If you ever wanted to know what the opposite of Barack Obama’s Iran strategy would look like, I recommend Mike Pompeo’s speech Monday at the Heritage Foundation.

Trump, Europe, and Iran: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, May 31, 2018 — When US President Donald Trump decertified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in October 2017, the EU thought a “solved” problem had returned to the agenda for no real reason.

Russia Constrains Iran: Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, June 3, 2018— In an astounding series of statements, Russia has made it clear that it expects all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria.

The US, Morocco and Iran’s North African Expansion: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, June 3, 2018— Iran’s response to President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, has been striking.

On Topic Links

The United States Finally Has an Aggressive Plan to Defang Iran: Ray Takeyh, Mark Dubowitz, Foreign Policy, May 21, 2018

The True Commander in Tweet: A.J. Caschetta, The Hill, May 19, 2018

Iran Lied to Get a Deal That We Can’t Enforce Anyway: Sheryl Saperia, National Post, May 8, 2018

The Mullahs and the Tale of a Betrayal: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, June 3, 2018

 

 

POMPEO RAISES THE PRICE FOR IRAN

TO REJOIN INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

Eli Lake

Bloomberg, May 21, 2018

 

If you ever wanted to know what the opposite of Barack Obama’s Iran strategy would look like, I recommend Mike Pompeo’s speech…at the Heritage Foundation. In his first major address as secretary of state, Pompeo outlined a new strategy that overturns three key assumptions that underpinned the Iran policy of Obama and his top diplomat, John Kerry. These are: that America can live with Iranian regional aggression in exchange for temporary limits on its nuclear program; that the 2015 nuclear bargain expressed the will of the international community; and that Iran’s current elected leadership can moderate the country over time.

Let’s start with that first assumption. While past U.S. presidents sanctioned Iran for a variety of bad behavior — ranging from its sponsorship of terrorism to its human rights abuses — Obama by his second term offered to lift the most biting ones in exchange for nuclear concessions. Obama gave the regime a choice: your nukes or your economy. Pompeo on Monday said the old deal no longer applied. Under renewed sanctions, he said, Iran would be forced to make a different choice: “either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”

This formulation flips Obama’s gamble on its head. Obama argued that for all of the instability Iran sowed in the Middle East, it was worth relaxing sanctions on Iran’s banking system and oil exports in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program.  Pompeo says that deal was a loser. “No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power,” Pompeo said. Speaking of the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, America’s top diplomat said he “has been playing with house money that has become blood money; wealth created by the West has fueled his campaign.”

Pompeo … also took aim at one of the more insidious elements of Obama’s diplomatic strategy, which was that the countries most effected by the change in U.S. policy toward Iran — Israel and America’s Arab allies — were not included in negotiations. The negotiators of the deal were the U.S., China, the European Union, Iran, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were briefed later about the talks. Now the Europeans, Russians and Chinese are part of a much larger group America wants to press the Iranians to change their ways. “I want the Australians, the Bahrainis, the Egyptians, the Indians, the Japanese, the Jordanians, the Kuwaitis, the Omanis, the Qataris, the Saudi Arabians, South Korea, the UAE, and many, many others worldwide to join in this effort against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.

The secretary also made an explicit appeal to the Iranian people. “Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Republic, the revolution in Iran,” he said. “At this milestone, we have to ask: What has the Iranian Revolution given to the Iranian people?”    In a dig at Obama and Kerry, Pompeo called out Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Addressing the Iranian people, Pompeo said, “The West says, ‘Boy, if only they could control Ayatollah Khamenei and Qasem Soleimani then things would be great.’ Yet, Rouhani and Zarif are your elected leaders. Are they not the most responsible for your economic struggles? Are these two not responsible for wasting Iranian lives throughout the Middle East?”

Compare that with Obama’s and Kerry’s careful courting of Rouhani and Zarif. Even after Iran’s revolutionary guard corps detained and humiliated 10 U.S. sailors who drifted into Iranian territorial waters, Kerry made sure to thank Zarif for helping to get them released. After Rouhani won the 2013 presidential election, the Obama administration began relaxing sanctions designations months before the formal nuclear negotiations started. Pompeo’s appeals to the Iranian people stopped short of calling for regime change. The closest he came to that was saying, “We hope, indeed we expect, that the Iranian regime will come to its senses and support — not suppress — the aspirations of its own citizens.”

That said, Pompeo’s expectation about Iran’s treatment of its own people was not included in his list of 12 demands of the Iranian regime if they wish to rejoin the international community. Those demands covered a range of activities, from releasing U.S. citizens arrested in recent years to removing all personnel from Syria and allowing unfettered access to nuclear inspectors to military sites. If Iran complies, Pompeo said the Trump administration would support a treaty agreement (something Obama did not do) that would give Iran access to American markets and full diplomatic recognition.

As many commentators have already quipped, the chance of Iran meeting these conditions is zero. But that misses an important point. In his enthusiasm for a bargain with Iran, Obama was willing to normalize a nation that was aiding and abetting a horrific crime against the Syrian people, overthrowing the government in Yemen and undermining the elected one in Iraq. It arrested U.S. citizens even as its diplomats were negotiating the nuclear deal. It shipped missiles to terrorists in Lebanon aimed at Israel.

All of that was worth it, Obama and Kerry insisted, because Iran had agreed to place temporary limits on its nuclear program that would expire over the next 10 to 20 years. But the norms that separate rogue states from international citizens were weakened in the process. Pompeo on Monday took the first step in trying to restore them.

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TRUMP, EUROPE, AND IRAN                                           

Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos

BESA, May 31, 2018

 

When US President Donald Trump decertified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in October 2017, the EU thought a “solved” problem had returned to the agenda for no real reason. It almost immediately issued a statement calling the JCPOA “a key element of the nuclear non-proliferation global architecture and crucial for the security of the region” and encouraged the US to maintain it.

From a European perspective, though issues related to Iranian ballistic missiles as well as rising tensions in the region were matters of concern, they were to be addressed “outside the JCPOA.” In January 2018, following another speech by Trump on Iran that essentially issued an ultimatum to Europeans that they reconsider their approach, High Representative Federica Mogherini said: “The deal is working; it is delivering on its main goal, which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance.”

Trump’s decision to end US participation in the “unacceptable” Iran deal, which took place on May 8, 2018, led Germany, France, and the UK to express “regret” and “concern.” The three countries, and the EU on the whole, seek to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA remain intact. On May 15, Mogherini met with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, the UK, and Iran to discuss the future of the deal and expressed confidence that it could stay in place despite the difficulty of the task. She is leading the effort to put complementary mechanisms and measures in place at both the EU level and the national level to protect the economic operators of European member states.

European trade and investment in Iran moved forward quickly following the signing of the JCPOA in 2015. In December 2016, Airbus, the French aerospace pioneer, signed a contract with Iran Air for 100 aircraft. In July 2017, energy colossus Total and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) agreed to collaborate on the development and production of phase 11 of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field. In August 2017, the German automobile group Volkswagen returned to the Iranian market after 17 years and began selling vehicles. In July 2017, Italian railway company Ferrovie dello Stato inked an accord with Iran Railways to build a high-speed railway between Qom and Arak. Also, Reuters revealed in September 2017 that London-based renewables developer Quercus Investment Partners Ltd. had plans to invest over half a billion euros in a solar power project in Iran.

The determination of European companies to access new markets is understandable, especially in view of Europe’s current anemic growth. To achieve this goal, they are pushing their respective governments to open up powerful channels such as chambers of commerce and other trade representations. The governments in question tend to sideline security risks for the sake of ephemeral economic benefits and the support of industries in national elections.

The long-term winner of this process is Tehran, which is exploiting European business fever to present itself as a normal international interlocutor – if not to legitimize its position as a normal nuclear power – and advance its geopolitical agenda in the Middle East. In turning a blind eye to the potential transformation of the region should Tehran achieve its hegemonic ambitions, the EU is postponing difficult foreign policy decisions. The clock cannot be turned back, however.

The EU-US disagreement on the JCPOA is placed by most within the general context of the deterioration of transatlantic relations following Trump’s election. The nuclear deal is not the only example of that deterioriation. Trump’s pressure on NATO European member states to increase their contributions to the defense budget, his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and his indifferent and at times scornful stance regarding the project of European integration all contribute to the hostility.

However, Trump’s tough stand on Iran has offered the EU a good opportunity to look beyond transatlantic relations and acknowledge Israeli and Sunni Arab security concerns. A November 2017 BESA online debate on “what happens next” after the JCPOA made the point that notwithstanding the ultimate fate of the deal, its flaws can now be more easily exposed. This is indeed beginning to happen. France, Germany, and Britain are taking some initial steps to restrain Iranian influence, though they disagree with Trump’s Iran policy.

After January, the US and the EU engaged in diplomatic talks to add new sanctions and “fix” the deal. These talks did not prevent Trump from announcing the US withdrawal, but they demonstrated that Europe would no longer ignore Tehran’s hegemonic drive. Following their February meeting in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed their readiness to take further appropriate measures to tackle issues “about Iran’s destabilizing activity in the Middle East.”…

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

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RUSSIA CONSTRAINS IRAN

Amb. Dore Gold

JCPA, June 3, 2018

 

In an astounding series of statements, Russia has made it clear that it expects all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria. Alexander Lavrentiev, President Putin’s envoy to Syria, specified on May 18, 2018, that all “foreign forces” meant those forces belonging to Iran, Turkey, the United States, and Hizbullah.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added this week that only Syrian troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border, close to Jordan and Israel. Previously, Russia had been a party to the establishment of a “de-escalation zone” in southwestern Syria along with the United States and Jordan. Now, Russian policy was becoming more ambitious.  Lavrov added that a pullback of all non-Syrian forces from the de-escalation zone had to be fast.

The regime in Tehran got the message and issued a sharp rebuke of its Russian ally. The Iranians did not see their deployment in Syria as temporary. Five years ago, a leading religious figure associated with the Revolutionary Guards declared that Syria was the 35th province of Iran. Besides such ideological statements, on a practical level, Syria hosts the logistical network for Iranian resupply of its most critical Middle Eastern proxy force, Hizbullah, which has acquired significance beyond the struggle for Lebanon.

Over the years, Hizbullah has become involved in military operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Without Syria, Iran’s ability to project power and influence in an assortment of Middle Eastern conflicts would be far more constrained. Syria has become pivotal for Tehran’s quest for a land corridor linking Iran’s western border to the Mediterranean. The fact that Iran was operating ten military bases in Syria made its presence appear to be anything but temporary.

Already in February 2018, the first public signs of discord between Russia and Iran became visible. At the Valdai Conference in Moscow, attended by both Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (and by this author), the Russian Foreign Minister articulated his strong differences with the Iranians over their pronouncements regarding Israel: “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests.”

Iran was hardly a perfect partner for Russia. True, some Russian specialists argued that Moscow’s problems with Islamic militancy emanated from the jihadists of Sunni Islam, but not from Shiite Islam, which had been dominant in Iran since the 16th century. But that was a superficial assessment. Iran was also backing Palestinian Sunni militants like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. This May, Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, told a pro-Hizbullah television channel that he had regular contacts with Tehran.

Iran was also supporting other Sunni organizations like the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It harbored senior leaders from al-Qaeda. Indeed, when the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought a regional sanctuary after the fall of Afghanistan to the United States, he did not flee to Pakistan, but instead, he moved to Iran. There is no reason why Iran could not provide critical backing for Russia’s adversaries in the future.

But that was not the perception in Moscow when Russia gave its initial backing for the Iranian intervention in Syria. In the spring of 2015, Moscow noted that the security situation in Central Asia was deteriorating, as internal threats to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan were increasing. On top of all this, the Islamic State (IS) was making its debut in Afghanistan. An IS victory in Syria would have implications for the security of the Muslim-populated areas of Russia itself.

It was in this context that Russia dramatically increased arms shipments to its allies in Syria. It also coordinated with Iran the deployment of thousands of Shiite fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). That also meant the construction of an expanded military infrastructure on Syrian soil for this Shiite foreign legion. At the same time, Russia maintained and upgraded a naval base at the Syrian city of Tartus and an air facility at the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia. Moscow also had access to other Syrian facilities as well.

What changed in Moscow? It appears that the Kremlin began to understand that Iran handicapped Russia’s ability to realize its interests in the Middle East. The Russians had secured many achievements with their Syrian policy since 2015. They had constructed a considerable military presence that included air and sea ports under their control in Syria. They had demonstrated across the Middle East that they were not prepared to sell out their client, President Bashar Assad, no matter how repugnant his military policies had become – including the repeated use of chemical weapons against his own civilian population. The Russians successfully converted their political reliability into a diplomatic asset, which the Arabs contrasted with the Obama administration’s poor treatment of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. However, now Iran was putting Russia’s achievements at risk through a policy of escalation with Israel…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]  

 

 

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THE US, MOROCCO AND IRAN’S NORTH AFRICAN EXPANSION

Caroline Glick

Breaking Israel News, June 3, 2018

 

Iran’s response to President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, has been striking. Iran’s first response, issued by President Hassan Rouhani, was to issue a blanket rejection of Trump’s move.

On Wednesday, Iran revealed its strategy for dealing with the Trump administration. It expects the European Union (EU) to act as its proxy. Iran’s “Supreme Leader”Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement Wednesday in which he set out five demands for the EU to fulfill. If it fails to do so, he warned, Iran will resume its full nuclear operations.

First, Khamenei insisted that the EU “guarantee the total sales of Iran’s oil,” and so make up any losses Iran is set to incur due to U.S. sanctions. Second, he said that European banks “must guarantee business transactions with the Islamic Republic.” (If European banks fulfill this demand, they will be blacklisted and frozen out of the U.S. financial system.) Third, he demanded that the EU convince the UN Security Council to issue a resolution condemning America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Fourth, the Iranian dictator demanded that the EU “stand firmly against U.S. sanctions on Iran.”

Finally, Khamenei said that while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Monday that Iran’s nuclear program be dealt with in the context of its other malign behavior — including its ballistic missile program, its sponsorship of terrorism and its actions to assert hegemonic power across the Middle East through its proxies and directly — the Europeans “must guarantee [they] will not raise the issue of the Islamic Republic’s missiles and regional affairs.”

The first question that comes to mind when considering Khamenei’s list of demands is: What is he thinking? True, the Europeans strongly opposed Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal, and they still don’t seem to have come to terms with it. But there can be no doubt that the U.S. is more important to the Europeans than Iran is. Not only has the U.S. military protected Europe since it liberated Western Europe from the Nazis in 1945, but the U.S. is also Europe’s biggest market.

For all of EU foreign affairs commissioner Federica Mogherini’s affection for Iran’s ayatollahs, at the end of the day, she is in no position to accept Khamenei’s demands. Still, Khamenei believes that he can bully the Europeans into submission. To understand why he thinks that is the case, it is worth considering the drama unfolding in Morocco. The Strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from the southern tip of Europe. At its narrowest point, the strait is a mere 7.7 nautical miles wide. In 2017, illegal migration to Europe from Morocco and Algeria more than doubled.

According to the Frontex border agency, in 2016, 10,231 migrants entered Europe from North Africa. In 2017, the number rose to 22,900. Forty percent of the migrants were from Algeria and Morocco. The other sixty percent came from other African countries. As migrants stream across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, illegal migration from Libya to Italy is decreasing. On May 1, in a move that surprised many, the Moroccan government abruptly cut ties with Iran and placed the Iranian ambassador on the first flight out of the country…

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

The United States Finally Has an Aggressive Plan to Defang Iran: Ray Takeyh, Mark Dubowitz, Foreign Policy, May 21, 2018—Ever since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month, the commentariat has been aghast at the lack of a new plan.

The True Commander in Tweet: A.J. Caschetta, The Hill, May 19, 2018—What do you call a belligerent world leader who uses social media to bully enemies and feed his narcissistic delusions of grandeur? In Iran they call him “Rahbar,” which means “Supreme Leader.” That’s right, when it comes to crude, threatening, grammatically-challenged Twitterspeak, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei beats President Donald Trump any day.

Iran Lied to Get a Deal That We Can’t Enforce Anyway: Sheryl Saperia, National Post, May 8, 2018 —Israel has just pulled off a spectacular covert mission to extract from a warehouse in southern Tehran 55,000 pages and 183 CDs of secret Iranian files detailing that country’s nuclear program.

The Mullahs and the Tale of a Betrayal: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, June 3, 2018—Iran’s response to President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, has been striking. Iran’s first response, issued by President Hassan Rouhani, was to issue a blanket rejection of Trump’s move.

 

PUTIN ATTRACTS MEDIA ATTENTION IN WEST, BUT IS RUSSIA REALLY A PAPER TIGER?

Don’t Fear Moscow. Marginalize It.: Marc C. Johnson, National Review, Apr. 27, 2018— Not since the end of the Cold War has a Russian leader received as much wall-to-wall attention from the American media as Vladimir Putin.

The Strategic Goals of a Restored Russia: Michel Gurfinkiel, BESA, Apr. 15, 2018— The Soviet Union was not vanquished by the West in the Cold War.

Resonant Syria Strike Suggests Coordinated US-Israel Message to Russia and Iran: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Apr. 30, 2018— Hours after a mysterious “earthquake” — 2. 6 on the Richter scale — registered on the devices of the European Mediterranean Seismological Center, the circumstances behind the series of explosions that shook Syria overnight Sunday-Monday are starting to become clear.

Ukraine: Is Russia Planning A New Invasion?: Judith Bergman, Gatestone Institute, May 1, 2018— This April marks the fourth year of the ongoing war in Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian backed separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine, also known as the Donbas region.

On Topic Links

Let’s Make A Deal – But Do The Russians Want One?: Yigal Carmon, MEMRI, Apr. 24, 2018

Despite His Victory, Putin’s Problems Will Grow: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Apr. 15, 2018

The Post-Election Ruminations of Vladimir Putin: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tablet, Mar. 21, 2018

Novichok: How a Deadly Cold War Poison has Resurfaced in a Quiet English Town: Vladimir Isachenkov, National Post, Apr. 23, 2018

 

DON’T FEAR MOSCOW. MARGINALIZE IT.

Marc C. Johnson

National Review, Apr. 27, 2018

Not since the end of the Cold War has a Russian leader received as much wall-to-wall attention from the American media as Vladimir Putin. Whether for the Skripal poisoning, the invasion of Ukraine, military action in Syria, or the ongoing cyber war against the West, there is a tendency in the American media to paint Russia as a multi-front threat to peace and democracy everywhere, and its president as omniscient and ten feet tall (he’s actually 5′7″). This scare-mongering is misplaced. The fact is, Russia is a weak state pretending to be a strong one.

To be sure, Moscow still has a fearsome nuclear arsenal, but this is its main —  some might say only  —  source of real military influence in today’s world. The country currently maintains approximately 4,300 stockpiled nuclear warheads, down from its Cold War peak of 45,000. Putin has pushed hard to upgrade this force in the last few years, recently unveiling the new “Sarmat” ICBM (nicknamed “Satan 2” by NATO).

But improvement of Russia’s strategic forces has come at a cost to the rest of Russia’s military, which remains more riddled with corruption and fraud than any other comparably sized force in the world. Despite attempts at modernization since 2008, Russia still relies on conscripts serving their mandatory year for at least half of its million active duty servicemen.

To keep up the modernization effort, Russia spends an increasingly large percentage of its GDP on the military: over 5.4 percent in 2016, compared with 3.3 percent in 2008. Over the same time frame, America’s defense spending went down in GDP terms, from a high of 4.6 percent to 3.3 percent in 2016. Many parts of Putin’s military verge on the decrepit despite the modernization campaign. The Russian Air Force still relies mainly on upgraded versions of attack aircraft designed in the 1970s, for example. And the Russian navy’s only aircraft carrier, the smoke-belching Admiral Kuznetsov, travels with a tugboat because it breaks down so frequently.

Putin financed military modernization at the expense of the budget, but its available cash is running out now. The financial cushion Putin’s administration built starting in 2000 is nearly gone. The Sovereign Reserve Fund, created early in the energy boom years by Putin’s trusted economist, Alexei Kudrin, finally evaporated in January. With few other options, Moscow acknowledged that it might raid a separate account, the National Welfare Fund (intended to pay pensions), to cover its budget obligations. Russia went from an 8 percent budget surplus to a nearly 4 percent deficit in barely four years.

Russian citizens now suffer from the effects of bad policy, profligate spending, endemic corruption, and plain old bad luck, the last resulting from the worldwide fall in the price of oil and gas. And the Trump administration’s recent application of additional financial sanctions will make it harder and more expensive for Russia to borrow money to pay its bills. This perfect storm of financial tribulations has left an already struggling country weak and its populace restive.

The recent Russian presidential election was highly questionable, as Putin won with an unlikely 77 percent of the vote and kept his only real competitor, Alexei Navalny, out of the race. Yet even with these advantages, Putin campaigned mainly on promises he can’t keep. He pledged a “war on poverty,” massive increases in infrastructure spending, a crackdown on tax evasion, and improvements to the country’s health-care system. Any one of these would be a heavy lift given Moscow’s tenuous financial situation, but fulfilling all of these promises is a pipe dream.

Conditions in Russia are far from healthy. According to a recent report from its own Ministry of Health, while residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg live at a level comparable to that of people in Eastern Europe, inhabitants of the rest of the vast country eke out an existence closer to Third World living standards. Russia’s average life expectancy is 70.5 years, miles behind America’s 79.3 years, and trailing even countries such as Egypt, Bolivia, and North Korea. And the chronic lack of medicine, hospital beds, and functioning equipment (to say nothing of qualified medical specialists outside urban areas) means patients must navigate a Kafkaesque nightmare of a health-care system.

Meanwhile, for a supposed world power, Russia’s economy is surprisingly monolithic. The country exports mainly extracted natural resources and military equipment rather than consumer goods or technology. When was the last time you bought something made in Russia that didn’t come in a bottle? The only area of commerce in which Russia leads is energy. The country is first in world oil production  —  barely ahead of Saudi Arabia  —  and second in gas, just behind the United States. But even that could soon change. The International Energy Agency expects the U.S. to overtake Russia as an oil producer no later than 2019 thanks to strong growth in American domestic shale production…

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

 

Contents

THE STRATEGIC GOALS OF A RESTORED RUSSIA

Michel Gurfinkiel

BESA, Apr. 15, 2018

The Soviet Union was not vanquished by the West in the Cold War. It simply disintegrated in the late 1980s, the result of cumulative failures. A military defeat or a popular insurrection might have resulted in the elimination of its seventy-year-old totalitarian infrastructure and superstructure (the Soviet “deep state”). A mere collapse, however, had very different consequences.

Beyond the abandonment of the Eastern European glacis and the formal independence of the fifteen Soviet Republics, the ruling Soviet elite stayed largely in place. This was especially true in the very heart of the Empire, the former Federative Socialist Soviet Republic of Russia, rebranded as the Russian Federation. The army and secret police stayed intact, the planned economy was turned into a state-controlled oligarchy, and nationalism was substituted for communism. Soon, Russia began to engage in systematic rebuilding and reconquest…

The primary strategic goal of a restored Russia is to bring together all the Russian-speaking peoples into a single nation-state. In 2014, after the forced incorporation into Russia of Crimea, a province of Ukraine under international law, Putin elaborated that, after the dissolution of the USSR, “millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.” What is at stake is not just Transnistria or Crimea or eastern Ukraine, but the Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic States and in Central Asia. This contention resembles that of Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1939, when he carved an ethnically defined Greater Germany into the heart of Europe.

A second Russian goal is to reestablish the former Soviet Union as a single geopolitical unit if not a single state: a “Eurasian community” with Russia as first among equals. This goal has been largely achieved. Most post-Soviet countries, with the glaring exceptions of the Baltic states, which joined both NATO and the EU, and of Ukraine, which strives to do the same, have reverted into a Russian sphere of influence. The only countervailing power so far, at least in Central Asia, has been China. A third Russian goal is to weaken or eliminate any rival power in Europe: be it the US and NATO, its military arm, or the EU, at least as long as it has close ties with the US. A fourth is to resume a world power role by reactivating support for former Soviet client regimes like Baathist Syria or Cuba, or striking new strategic alliances with emerging powers like Iran.

Sadly, most Western countries either failed to understand what was going on or decided to ignore it, even in the face of hard evidence. In his recently published book, The End of Europe, James Kirchick writes:  “As early as 1987,” when the Soviet Union still existed, “Mikhaïl Gorbachev advocated Soviet entry into what he called ‘the common European home’.” Ten years later, after the demise of the Soviet Union, “Boris Yeltsin hoped that Russia would one day join ‘greater Europe’.” In both cases, Western politicians and strategists responded enthusiastically: many insisted that “a whole raft of institutions, strategic theorems and intellectual currents born out of the struggle against Soviet communism” were now passé, and “it was time to supplant the bipolar order with more inclusive and ‘equitable’ arrangements.”

Seven years later, in 2005, the Gaullist president of France, Jacques Chirac, and the social-democratic Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder, planned for “a European Security and Defense Union,” a “triangular” military alliance with Russia “that would exclude Washington, to parallel and perhaps one day replace NATO.” It did not appear to concern these analysts that “as the West slashed defense budgets and relocated resources to Asia and the Middle East,” Russia was undergoing “a massive conventional arms buildup to the point there exists now a perilous imbalance on NATO’s Eastern flank.”

Even more intriguing was the attitude of Barack Obama’s administration from 2009 to 2017. It did not do much to deter Russian inroads into the Caucasus and Ukraine, and opted from 2015 on for complete passivity in the Middle East and even active cooperation with Iran, the new Russian protégé.

Much was achieved, in this respect, by soft power. The old Soviet Union cultivated all kinds of networks in order to spy on foreign countries, or to influence them: from communist parties to front communist organizations, from fellow travelers to peace activists, from businessmen or companies interested in East-West trade to illiberal right-wingers. These networks accounted for perhaps one-half of Soviet global power. As Cold Warriors used to say, “East minus West equals zero”. Putin’s Russia is resorting to the same means and could have equal or perhaps even greater success.

 

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RESONANT SYRIA STRIKE SUGGESTS COORDINATED

US-ISRAEL MESSAGE TO RUSSIA AND IRAN

Avi Issacharoff

Times of Israel, Apr. 30, 2018

Hours after a mysterious “earthquake” — 2. 6 on the Richter scale — registered on the devices of the European Mediterranean Seismological Center, the circumstances behind the series of explosions that shook Syria overnight Sunday-Monday are starting to become clear. An increasing number of media organizations associated with the Syrian regime and Hezbollah are hinting that Israel was responsible. According to a report in the Al Akhbar newspaper, identified with Hezbollah, bunker buster missiles, which do not explode on impact but rather deep in the ground, hit bases in the Hama and Aleppo areas. Hence the “earthquake.”

The base that was attacked in the Hama area belongs to the 47th Brigade of President Bashar Assad’s Syrian Army, but apparently there were many Shiites and/or Iranians in the area. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory (based in London) reported that 26 people were killed in this attack, Iranians among them. Another report spoke of 38 fatalities. Whatever the case, it is clear that the strike was highly unusual in several respects.

First and foremost was the sheer power of the attack. The pictures and the sounds, and the large number of casualties, point to an incident of larger scale than those to which we have become accustomed. We are not talking here about just another strike on another Hezbollah convoy, but rather what would appear to be a new step in what is now the almost-open warfare being waged between Iran and Israel in recent weeks on Syrian territory. The same player that earlier this month attacked the T-4 airbase, from which an Iranian attack drone was launched into Israel in February, apparently struck again overnight Sunday-Monday, taking the gloves off and moving into a new level of military confrontation.

Second, not only is the attacking force not rushing to take responsibility, but those who are being attacked are not hurrying to assign blame. That is to say, there may be hints regarding ostensible Israeli responsibility, but there has been no direct accusation — at least not at the time of writing.

Indeed, one newspaper associated with the Assad regime, Tishreen, has even claimed that the attack was carried out by US and UK forces using ballistic missiles fired from Jordan. This report would appear to be somewhat improbable, but the bottom line is that Damascus, Tehran and even Moscow would seem to be wary at this stage of issuing declarations that might require them to retaliate against Israel, or cause them to appear to be making empty threats in light of Iran’s repeated public promises after the last attack, on T-4, that retaliation against Israel would emphatically follow.

Third, the latest strike was carried out at a time when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting the region, and just a few hours after he held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two of them used the opportunity to issue no shortage of threats and promises to thwart Iran’s aggression and nuclear ambitions.

Late Sunday, news also broke of a phone call between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has been meeting with his US counterpart James Mattis in Washington. And less than a week ago, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the US army’s Central Command, or CENTCOM, whose sphere of responsibility includes Syria and Iran, made a largely unpublicized visit to Israel.

All this is beginning to look rather like a coordinated Israeli-American operation to limit Iran’s military activities in Syria — simultaneously conveying the message to Moscow that Russia’s green light for Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria is not acceptable in Jerusalem and Washington. These developments are unfolding during a highly dramatic period in the region, with the US two weeks away from opening its embassy in Jerusalem. Of most specific relevance, however, is the fact that in less than two weeks the Trump administration will make its decision on whether or not to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.

In that light, the resonant strikes in Syria overnight will doubtless constitute considerable food for thought for Tehran, and indeed Moscow, regarding their next moves in Syria and maybe in other places as well.

 

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UKRAINE: IS RUSSIA PLANNING A NEW INVASION?

Judith Bergman

Gatestone Institute, May 1, 2018

This April marks the fourth year of the ongoing war in Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian backed separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine, also known as the Donbas region. Prior to the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.

Russia’s aggression into Ukraine came in direct violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Under the memorandum, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia reaffirmed its “obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine” and promised that none of its weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Now, the question of further Russian or Russian-backed military operations in Ukraine has surfaced. In March, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asserted that Russia has been strengthening its military presence on the border of Ukraine. According to Poroshenko: “For more than one year, we have been repelling Russia’s military aggression on the front line… In his latest report General Zabrodsky reported in detail on the strengthening of the military presence of the Russian Federation along our border and continued stay of Russia’s regular troops in the occupied territories”. Poroshenko explained that the Russians have, since 2014, deployed and reorganized their forces in a way that will be able to support a rapid invasion both from the north and from east of Ukraine. “Several mechanized divisions are fully prepared for intervention,” he said.

In April, Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak also claimed that Russia “has massed 19 battalion tactical groups of the combat echelon and reserve forces with over 77,000 troops,” adding that they have almost 1,000 tanks, 2,300 combat vehicles, over 1,100 artillery systems and about 400 multiple rocket launchers. According to Poltorak, 40,000 Russian troops, which he detailed as an integral part of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces, are stationed in the Donbas. Also according to Poltorak, in 2017 Russia’s military forces shelled Ukrainian army positions in Donbas more than 15,000 times.

There appears to be some internal disagreement on the exact number of Russian forces amassing on Ukraine. At the Kyiv Security Forum, on April 13, the chairman of Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council Oleksandr Turchynov noted: “After four years of war, Russia has at least 260,000 troops deployed along the Ukrainian border, in addition to another 35,000 troops in the Donbas and 30,000 in Crimea, who could be used to conduct a large-scale continental war… The Russian aggressor is preparing a powerful force in Crimea — and not only to protect its presence there. And the two occupation army corps in the Donbas have been positioned to provide cover and buy time for the main force to deploy at the borderline.”

Turchynov also warned that the 260,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border are ready to advance with 3,500 tanks, 11,000 soft-skin vehicles, 4,000 artillery units, and over 1,000 multiple launch rocket systems. Russia, according to Tuchynov, has also fielded four guided-missile brigades in the region. The brigades, he says, are armed with Iskander-K cruise missile systems, which have a range of up to 2,500 kilometers. Apart from investing in conventional arms, Russia is also enhancing its hybrid warfare capabilities, “including terror attacks and subversive actions,” in Ukraine, Turchynov said.

First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Viktor Kononenko, also recently reported that Russia might be planning another attempt to destabilize Ukraine in the fall. He said that the SBU has information on Russia’s plans, including “the existence of a group in Putin’s entourage, which has as goal to create prerequisites for the introduction of Russian troops to Ukraine in autumn under the pretext of protecting the Russian-speaking population”. He added that Moscow allegedly plans to use criminals and other criminal-related structures “for beating participants of pro-Russian events and religious processions.”

The war in Ukraine has already exacted a steep price. On April 21, UN representative to Ukraine, Neal Walker, announced that, “After four years of conflict, 3.4 million people in Ukraine are struggling to cope with the impact of the humanitarian crisis and urgently require humanitarian assistance and protection”. More than 2,500 civilian men, women and children have been killed, and more than 9,000 injured in the past four years, according to the UN. Landmines in eastern Ukraine are affecting1.9 million people. “Last week,” Walker said, “landmines killed a family of four in eastern Ukraine. In 2017, over 235 civilians were killed or injured by landmines and other explosive remnants of war.”…

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

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

Let’s Make A Deal – But Do The Russians Want One?: Yigal Carmon, MEMRI, Apr. 24, 2018 —In recent days, German media[1] have reported that the SPD and the CDU are discussing the possibility of offering Russia a deal on Syria, indirectly addressing Iran, which is the hardest nut to crack in the Syria crisis, even more so than President Bashar Al-Assad.

Despite His Victory, Putin’s Problems Will Grow: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Apr. 15, 2018—In terms of foreign policy, Putin’s fourth term can be expected to be characterized by the challenge of an invigorated and united western front. Russian geopolitical influence in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova has diminished over the past decade.

The Post-Election Ruminations of Vladimir Putin: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tablet, Mar. 21, 2018—Vladimir Putin is content. He spent some time at the gym. He took a virile shower, followed by a brief muscle-flexing, bare-chested strut in front of his favorite bodyguards. He flopped down into one of the gaudily gilded Louis XV armchairs that line the halls of the Kremlin. And then, alone, tired, strong, Russian, and triumphant, he let his thoughts wander.

Novichok: How a Deadly Cold War Poison has Resurfaced in a Quiet English Town: Vladimir Isachenkov, National Post, Apr. 23, 2018 —During the Cold War, Soviet scientists at a secret, high-security lab worked frantically to counter the latest U.S. chemical weapons. More than 40 years later, the nerve agent they developed apparently turned up in a quiet English town, where it nearly killed a former Russian spy and his daughter.

TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN ISRAEL & IRAN OVER TEHRAN’S SYRIAN ADVENTURES

AS WE GO TO PRESS: MISSILE STRIKES ON SYRIAN MILITARY BASE KILL DOZENS — Missile strikes on Syrian bases overnight killed dozens of pro-regime forces, raising the risks of a wider regional war just weeks after Israel was blamed for hitting an air station in the country used by Iranian elite forces. “Enemy missiles” targeted military bases in Aleppo and Hama, Syrian state news agency SANA reported Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 27 people, most of them Iranians, were killed. The base in Aleppo is also widely thought to be used by Iranian forces and allied militias. Syrian media close to the regime of President Assad said photos from the site revealed Israel as being behind the attack, purportedly using GBU-39 bombs fired by F-35 jet fighters. Israeli military declined to comment, in line with a policy of neither confirming nor denying strikes in Syria. (Wall Street Journal, Apr. 30, 2018)

 

Threatening Regional Storm Clouds: Isi Leibler, Israel Hayom, Apr. 25, 2018 — Notwithstanding the exuberance of Israelis at the jubilant 70th Independence Day celebrations, justified in light of Israel’s extraordinary achievements and progress on both the diplomatic and defense fronts, the Jewish state will be facing major challenges over the next few months.

Stopping the S-300: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 28, 2018— Russia’s s-300 surface-to-air missile platform is one of the most sophisticated air defense systems in the world.

Tensions Intensify As Israel Endeavors To Keep Iran From Growing A Second Proxy State On Its Border: Yaakov Lappin, IPT News, Apr. 27, 2018 — Tensions between Iran and Israel have risen significantly following a military strike on an airbase in central Syria this month that targeted an Iranian military presence.

220 Airstrikes on Palestinians; World Yawns: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Apr. 26, 2018— While all eyes are set on the weekly demonstrations organized by Hamas and other Palestinian factions along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel…

On Topic Links

Who are Iran’s 80,000 Shi’ite Fighters in Syria?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 28, 2018

Donald Trump, Syria and the Prevention of Genocide: Louis Rene Beres, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 25, 2018

Nobel Knock-Offs and the Syrian Chemical Weapons Charade: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Apr. 26, 2018

How Hezbollah Will Use Foreign Fighters to Conquer Lebanon: David Daoud, Ha’aretz, Apr. 27, 2018

 

THREATENING REGIONAL STORM CLOUDS

Isi Leibler

Israel Hayom, Apr. 25, 2018

Notwithstanding the exuberance of Israelis at the jubilant 70th Independence Day celebrations, justified in light of Israel’s extraordinary achievements and progress on both the diplomatic and defense fronts, the Jewish state will be facing major challenges over the next few months.

Until recently, largely due to the effective diplomacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel was in an ideal situation, receiving the support of the Trump administration as well as enjoying a unique relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. This, despite Putin’s determination to retain influence in Syria and his wish not to breach his cordial relations with the Iranians who, for their own reasons, have played a key role in assisting him to save Syrian President Bashar Assad from oblivion. However, this has encouraged the Iranians to overtly create military bases in Syria while shamelessly and repeatedly proclaiming their determination to wipe Israel off the map, which Israel regards as serious, potentially existential threats.

Until now, frequent consultations between Israel and Russia have served to avoid conflicts. Israel refrained from engaging in activities intended to bring about regime change or threaten Russia’s regional interests. In turn, the Russians did not react to Israel’s repeated bombing incursions in Syria to neutralize arms shipments to Hezbollah or prevent the Iranians from advancing toward its northern borders. Unfortunately, Israel is now finding it extremely difficult to maintain these delicate balances. Assad’s employment of chemical weapons against his own citizens has outraged the international community which, until only recently, had been passive while hundreds of innocent civilians were butchered weekly by Assad’s forces.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who, to Israel’s dismay, had announced his intention to withdraw all American troops from Syria, then reversed his decision and succeeded in persuading the French and British to join him in a joint military intervention to punish the Syrians. It was a strictly limited operation in which four major installations were destroyed with minimal casualties because the Syrians were made aware of the potential targets and evacuated them in advance. It was not an attempt to achieve regime change. But even this limited operation contrasted starkly with former President Barack Obama’s cowardly failure to follow up previous threats when the Syrians engaged in chemical warfare.

However, the tension between Israel and the Iranians has escalated. The Iranians have been employing Lebanese and Palestinian surrogates to carry out their terror activity and in February, in what was their first direct attack on Israel, the Iranians dispatched a drone from one of their Syrian air bases carrying explosives intended to devastate a location in Israel. It was shot down by an Israeli Apache helicopter. Israel made it clear that Iranian bases in Syria were unacceptable and launched a retaliatory raid, targeting the major T4 air base in central Syria and in which an F-16 fighter jet was lost. In a second wave of strikes, Israel destroyed a significant percentage of Syria’s air defenses, which also incurred Iranian casualties. Although no Russians were injured, the Putin government criticized Israel for this foray. Following the Syrian chemical attack on April 9, Israel was alleged to have launched additional long-range surface-to-air missiles, which were said to have destroyed the Iranian control center and killed 14, including seven Iranians, one of whom headed the drone unit. The Russians protested and the Iranians swore to retaliate.

Against the backdrop of these tensions on the Syrian front, early this month Hamas initiated a campaign in which it enlisted thousands of Gaza residents to breach the Israeli border. Hamas gunmen and fighters hurling Molotov cocktails were interspersed with the civilian demonstrators. The IDF took defensive action, using live gunfire where necessary against those using assault weapons or trying to penetrate the borders. Thousands were injured and dozens, primarily identifiable Hamas terrorists, were killed. Despite photographic documentation of the violence, the employment of human shields including women and children, and the repeated statements by Hamas leaders that the objective was to bring back the refugees and destroy Israel, the U.N. Security Council sought to condemn Israel for responding “disproportionately.” The resolution was vetoed by the U.S. The atmosphere throughout the region is extremely tense and Israel is girding itself for the possibility that war could erupt at any time on any front…

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

 

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STOPPING THE S-300

Editorial

Jerusalem Post, Apr. 28, 2018

Russia’s s-300 surface-to-air missile platform is one of the most sophisticated air defense systems in the world. It is for that exact reason that Israel and the united states have worked tirelessly over the years to prevent its delivery to Iran and why Israel is now working to stop it from getting to Syria. The real question concerns Russia’s intentions and why it recently announced its intention to deliver the system to the Bashar Assad’s military.

What makes the s-300 a cause of such concern in Israel is that it has the reported ability to track up to a hundred targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 27,000 meters. Moscow has already deployed the system in Syria – as well as the more advanced s-400 – but they are under the control of the Russian military. The new systems would be given to the Syrians.

This poses two problems for Israel. First is the possibility that it will be used to shoot down Israeli aircraft. Due to its long range, it can reach deep into Israel and hit planes taking off and landing at Ben Gurion Airport, not to mention Israel Air Force jets operating over Syria. In addition, there is the possibility that Syria will transfer the system to Hezbollah in Lebanon, further undermining Israel’s operational freedom and aerial superiority in the region. In Israel, there have traditionally been two schools of thought with regard to the severity of the s-300 threat. On the one hand, there are those like former air force commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan who said a few years ago: “We need to make every effort to stop this system from getting to places where the IAF needs to operate or may need to operate in the future.”

Other officials have been less concerned and claim that … if and when the s-300 is delivered to Iran or Syria, Israel will be able to develop an electronic warfare system to neutralize it. The problem is that delivery of this system to Syria could lead to a war. Defense minister Avigdor Liberman told Ynet last week that if the s-300 is used against Israel, “we will act against it.” Moscow has reportedly warned of catastrophic consequences if Israel attacks the system once it reaches Syria.

Russia’s aim seems to be, on the one hand, an attempt to bolster the regime of Bashar Assad that it has been fighting to keep in power for the last few years. At the same time, it wants to use the threat of delivering the system to Syria as diplomatic leverage in its dealings with the United States over the future of the middle east. What Israel will do if the s-300 is delivered to Syria remains to be seen. It will have to navigate between destroying a system that could significantly under – mine its capabilities and at the same time avoiding a direct military confrontation with Moscow.

Russia should be careful. It is true that it has deployed significant military assets in Syria, but Israel has proven over the last few years that a Russian presence does not stop it from acting against strategic threats. The IAF has carried out more than 100 strikes against targets in Syria in recent years, most recently, according to foreign sources, on an Iranian drone base. Russia should not be allowed to get away with whatever it wants in Syria. US president Donald Trump has already accused Vladimir Putin of responsibility for allowing Assad to gas his own people, but he needs to keep the pressure on the Russian leader to stop the delivery of the s-300.

It is in Israel’s interest that Syria be stabilized, but it is in the world’s interest that weapons do not proliferate to terrorist groups and terrorist regimes. Giving the Syrian military the s-300 achieves the exact opposite. The world needs to act now to stop that from happening.

 

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TENSIONS INTENSIFY AS ISRAEL ENDEAVORS TO KEEP IRAN FROM GROWING A SECOND PROXY STATE ON ITS BORDER

Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Apr. 27, 2018

Tensions between Iran and Israel have risen significantly following a military strike on an airbase in central Syria this month that targeted an Iranian military presence. Iran blames Israel for the strike and is threatening to respond. But this incident is merely a symptom of a much larger event unfolding in the region, which is Iran’s pursuit of a grand, expansionist plan for the Middle East, and Israel’s determination to disrupt this dangerous process.

Media reports speculated about what was hit at the T4 Syrian airbase on April 9. One report said it was an Iranian surface-to-air missile system, while others suggested it was an Iranian armed drone program. What’s clear is that several members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in the attack on the airbase, and Iran quickly blamed the strike on Israel. Since then, Iranian officials have unleashed a series of threats, promising retribution.

In response, the Israeli defense establishment appears to have sent its own warning, reportedly releasing maps of Syria that show the location of Iranian military assets, thereby reminding the Iranians of what they stand to lose if this conflict escalates. Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, responding to a flurry of Iranian threats on Tel Aviv and Haifa, told a Saudi media outlet that any attack on Tel Aviv would be answered by a retaliatory strike on Tehran.

Yet these events, while indicating a surge in tensions, are actually part of a wider and more disturbing picture. Iran is following a grand, long-term plan made up of multiple stages, which is designed to make it the dominant Middle Eastern power, able to activate armies of terrorist-guerilla forces. Iran is working patiently toward this goal, employing the ‘strategy of a thousand cuts’ to move into Syria.  Ideologically, Iran remains committed to the idea of exporting the Shi’ite Islamic fundamentalist revolution, as espoused by the regime, far and wide. From the start, it cast itself “as an Islamic Revolution for Muslims throughout the world.”

The Islamic Republic continues to view the doctrine of its founding father and first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, as a cornerstone for its policies, Doron Itzchakov, a research associate at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Khomenei preached “Shi’ite activism,” and set up a regime based on defining the enemy as the West and Israel, Itzchakov said. Khomenei also called for spreading the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist” model, which the regime in Tehran bases itself on, far and wide. Later on in his life, Khomenei called for the establishment of a “resistance axis,” a call that today provides legitimacy for the IRGC’s subversive activities across the region.

The Iranian regime also creates its own definition of “repressed” and “repressor,” and uses that as a justification for spreading its influence and military activities, Itzchakov said. Iran’s religious elite use the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war, as proof of divine backing, and they regularly make use of concepts of defensive and offensive jihad to justify Iran’s activities, he added.

To be sure, some segments of Iran’s population do not buy into the regime’s position, and have recently become more emboldened to say so. Chanting “not Gaza, not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran,” Iranian protesters, driven by major economic troubles, recently made it clear they oppose spreading out in the region and investing treasure for that purpose, before the protests were crushed.

Despite such protests, the Iranian regime continues to exploit deep-rooted hatred for Israel, a hatred that was embodied by Khomeini, as “a mechanism to prove that it is sticking to his path, and therefore, when it comes to Israel, there is a consensus among the various factions in the Iranian regime,” Itzchakov added. Iran relies heavily on Khomenei’s tenets, but there is no doubt that its program to spread Iranian hegemony in the area stems “from geopolitical and geo-strategic motivations, which illustrate its ambition to lead the Muslim world,” he said.

This strategy, if successful, would turn Iran into an actor to be reckoned with: a state able to control large swaths of territories beyond its borders. As part of that vision, Iran is creating a land corridor linking Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea, via Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon – a corridor it could use to move military forces and proxies. The IRGC was once limited to being the overseer of ground operations in Syria, organizing, supporting, and advising the combatants fighting for the Assad regime. But now, it is attempting to set up its own permanent military presence in Syria.

Iran would like to flood Syria with more radical Shi’ite armed proxies, and insert its own military capabilities as well. This vision, if left unchecked, could lead to the creation of Iranian air force bases, and naval ports appearing in Syria. The land corridor could be used to move Iranian military formations into Syria. All of this would turn Syria into one big Iranian forward base, allowing it to threaten Israel in an unprecedented manner. Meanwhile, Iran seems willing to wait patiently for the nuclear deal to expire, so that it can reactivate the program from a position of greater military and economic strength, and eventually produce nuclear weapons…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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220 AIRSTRIKES ON PALESTINIANS; WORLD YAWNS

Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Apr. 26, 2018

While all eyes are set on the weekly demonstrations organized by Hamas and other Palestinian factions along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, as part of the so-called March of Return, a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus is facing a wide-scale military offensive and ethnic cleansing by the Syrian army and its allies. The war crimes committed against the Palestinians in Yarmouk camp have so far failed to prompt an ounce of outrage, much less the sort of outcry emerging from the international community over the events of the past four weeks along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The international community seems to differentiate between a Palestinian shot by an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian shot by a Syrian soldier. In the first case, Hamas and several Palestinian groups have been encouraging Palestinians to march towards the border with Israel, with some even trying to destroy the security fence and hurling stones and petrol bombs at Israeli troops. The organizers of the Gaza demonstrations say their real goal is to “achieve the right of return and return to all of Palestine.”

Dozens of local and foreign journalists have shown great interest in the “March of Return.” Reporters from different parts of the world have been converging on the Gaza Strip and the border with Israel to report about the weekly demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. How many journalists, though, have traveled to Syria to cover the plight of the Palestinians in that country? A small handful, perhaps? Why? Because the Palestinians who are being maimed and murdered in Syria are the victims of an Arab army — nothing to do with Israel.

Yarmouk camp was once home to some 160,000 Palestinians. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, however, the number of residents left in the camp is estimated at a few hundred. On April 19, the Syrian army and its allies, including the Russians, launched a massive offensive against opposition groups and Islamic State terrorists based in Yarmouk. Since then, 5,000 of the 6,000 residents left in Yarmouk have fled the camp, according to the United Nations and human rights organizations. Most of the camp’s houses have been destroyed in the past few years as a result of the fighting between the Syrian army and opposition groups that found shelter inside Yarmouk.

Yarmouk has been under the full siege of the Syrian army since 2013, a situation that has caused a humanitarian crisis for the residents. According to some reports, the situation has gotten so bad that residents living there have been forced to eat dogs and cats to survive. In the past week, at least 15 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes and artillery shelling on Yarmouk.

According to the London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, 3,722 Palestinians (including 465 women) have been killed since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011. Another 1,675 are said to have been detained by the Syrian authorities, and another 309 are listed as missing. More than 200 of the Palestinian victims died because of the lack of food and medical care, most of them in Yarmouk. Since the beginning of the civil war, some 120,000 Palestinians have fled Syria to Europe. An additional 31,000 fled to Lebanon, 17,000 to Jordan, 6,000 to Egypt, 8,000 to Turkey and 1,000 to the Gaza Strip. On April 24, Syrian and Russian warplanes carried out more than 85 airstrikes on Yarmouk camp and dropped 24 barrels of explosives; 24 rocket and dozens of missiles were fired at the camp. A day earlier, Syrian and Russian warplanes launched 220 airstrikes on Yarmouk camp. The warplanes dropped 55 barrels of dynamite on the camp, which was also targeted with 108 rockets and missiles.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the conflict in Syria “continues to disrupt the lives of civilians, resulting in death and injuries, internal displacement, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and persistent humanitarian needs. Affected communities suffer indiscriminate violence, restrictions on their freedom of movement and continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Palestinians are among those worst affected by the conflict.” UNRWA said that of the estimated 438,000 Palestine refugees remaining inside Syria, more than 95% (418,000) are in critical need of sustained humanitarian assistance. Almost 254,000 are internally displaced, and an estimated 56,600 are trapped in hard-to-reach or wholly inaccessible locations.

The silence of the international community to the war crimes being committed against defenseless Palestinians in a refugee camp in Syria is an insult. Dropping barrels of dynamite on houses and hospitals in a Palestinian refugee camp is apparently of no interest to those who pretend to champion Palestinians around the world. Nor does the issue seem to move the UN Security Council. But the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel: for the world, that is where the real story is unfolding. Certainly not in Syria, where Palestinians face ethnic cleansing on a daily basis…

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

 

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On Topic Links

Who are Iran’s 80,000 Shi’ite Fighters in Syria?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 28, 2018—There are 80,000 Shi’ite militiamen, trained and recruited by Iran, in Syria. Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon displayed a map Thursday at the UN, asserting that some of them were being trained several kilometers from Damascus. “They are trained to commit acts of terror in Syria and across the region,” he said.

Donald Trump, Syria and the Prevention of Genocide: Louis Rene Beres, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 25, 2018—President Donald Trump recently announced his intention to get out of Syria, “very soon.” The president’s stated intention here could soon run starkly counter to this country’s urgent obligations under the binding international law.

Nobel Knock-Offs and the Syrian Chemical Weapons Charade: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Apr. 26, 2018—As most of the local media was focusing on the brouhaha over Natalie Portman’s snub of Israel – that is, her refusal to attend a ceremony in Jerusalem to receive the Genesis Prize, the publicity stunt its founders have dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” – another entity, with an authentic Nobel Prize, was finally granted access by Russia, Iran and the Assad regime to the Syrian town of Douma, the site of an April 7 chemical attack.

How Hezbollah Will Use Foreign Fighters to Conquer Lebanon: David Daoud, Ha’aretz, Apr. 27, 2018—Hezbollah has promised that ‘thousands’ of foreign Shi’ite fighters will deploy to Lebanon to fight Israel in the next war. They’ll use conflict as cover to bring them into Lebanon – and they won’t leave.

ASSAD PUNISHED BY U.S. AIRSTRIKES, BUT IRAN’S ENTRENCHMENT IN SYRIA CONTINUES

The Great Distraction of Punitive Airstrikes: Jonathan Spyer, The New Republic, Apr. 15, 2018— Despite escalating worries about Russia in past weeks, the skies did not fall as a result of the American-led punitive raid on Syria’s chemical weapons storage and research facilities Saturday morning.

Assad is More Dangerous than ISIS: Yoni Ben Menachem, JCPA, Apr. 16, 2018 — As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent.

US-Russia Military Encounter in Syria: Implications for Israel: Louis Rene Beres, Israel Defense, Apr. 15, 2018— For the most part, Israel has always been able to identify and manage its own particular involvements with Syria…

Syria Shows the Dangers of ‘America First’ Policy: Sarah N. Stern, JNS, Apr. 13, 2018— The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria — killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more.

 

On Topic Links

Israel Fears Trump May See Job as Done in Syria, Leave Israel Alone to Face Iran: Times of Israel, Apr. 14, 2018

High Stakes in Syria: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 12, 2018

The Case for Bombing Assad: Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal, Apr. 12, 2018

America’s Three Bad Options in Syria: Max Fisher, New York Times, Apr. 10, 2018

 

THE GREAT DISTRACTION OF PUNITIVE AIRSTRIKES

Jonathan Spyer

The New Republic, Apr. 15, 2018

 

Despite escalating worries about Russia in past weeks, the skies did not fall as a result of the American-led punitive raid on Syria’s chemical weapons storage and research facilities Saturday morning. Great care was taken to avoid hitting the many sites within “Assad-controlled” Syria which are in fact administered by powers other than the Syrian dictator—namely, Russia and Iran. “A perfectly executed strike,” the president declared on Twitter. “Mission accomplished.” U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley struck a similar tone of satisfaction. ‘“If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again,” she told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

A great victory, then—depending on whom you ask. Damage was done to Assad, a tyrant responsible for the deaths of an increasingly uncountable number of his own civilians. The careful planning seems to have prevented anything but angry rhetoric from Russia. And the participation of France and the United Kingdom lent at least some air of multilateralism. But while the tactical prowess of western armed forces over Syrian air defenses was confirmed, it is not quite clear what else has been achieved. Assad will remain in power. The humanitarian crisis persists. And arguably, the focus on checking off proportionate punishment for chemical substances represents a diversion from the issues really at stake in Syria.

U.S. and western officials were keen to note that the operation of recent days did not represent an intervention in the Syrian civil war. A “one-time shot,” Defense Secretary James Mattis called it. It may therefore be assumed that the western stance toward that war remains unchanged. Earlier this month, President Trump declared his intent to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, “ideally” within six months. These forces are currently guaranteeing a western-aligned, Kurdish-dominated entity that controls 2 percent of Syria, including the greater part of its gas and oil assets.

If the withdrawal of these forces means that U.S. air power will also no longer be employed to keep Assad, the Iranians and the Russians out of this area, then the region will certainly be reconquered by the regime and its allies. Support for the non-jihadi rebels in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, meanwhile, was ended in December, and renewed regime bombardment, despite last year’s “de-escalation zone” truce, began in March. The removal of chlorine from the equation is unlikely to change rebels’ fate. If U.S. withdrawal proceeds as planned, the Syrian war seems likely to end in strategic triumph for Assad, Iran, and Russia. Western allies, including Israel, are deeply concerned at what is likely to follow from a geopolitical perspective.

Iran is currently engaged in the construction of an extensive infrastructure in Syria. This includes the establishment of permanent military bases. In addition, the Revolutionary Guards are supporting proxy militia forces on Syrian soil in considerable numbers, and recruiting local “Syrian Hizballah” type forces such as Quwat al-Ridha from the Homs area, al-Ghalibun from the Sayida Zeinab area in Damascus Governorate, and the 313 Brigade from the Deraa area.

Tehran seems to intend to extend this structure to the area immediately east of Quneitra Crossing and the Golan Heights, in order that it may serve as a tool of pressure and potential aggression against Israel. Currently, the enclave controlled by the U.S. and its allies—including the non-Islamist rebel-controlled enclave in Deraa, which birthed the Syrian revolt—blocks Iran’s ability to develop the contiguous land corridor it seeks to extend all the way from the Iraq-Iran border.  U.S. withdrawal of support for these areas, and their subsequent collapse, would mean that Israel would be facing this advance alone—a scenario which has already sparked concern in Israeli media.

Israeli officials have made clear that the entrenchment of this Iranian project and its extension to the border are utterly unacceptable to Jerusalem. The large-scale raid last week on the T4 base outside Palmyra, in which seven Iranian personnel including a colonel were killed, was an indication of the direction of Israeli policy. As Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated following this operation, “Accepting Iranian entrenchment in Syria would be to accept Iranians putting a chokehold on us. We cannot allow that.”

In other words, although the U.S. and Russia appear to have avoided conflict over Syria, the current strategy seems almost guaranteed to leave Iran and Israel on a collision course. When the current western barriers to Iranian advancement are removed, Iran and its allies will finish off the rebel and Kurd forces that remain. Thus consolidated, Iran will then be the dominant actor in a giant land area stretching from the Iraq-Iran border to the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border with Israel. Israel will at this point seek Russian assurances to curb a further Iranian advance—which it is unlikely to get. What happens after that is the stuff of strategists’ nightmares. When seen from this point of view, the destruction of a number of Assad’s chemical weapons research facilities might be seen as at best a diversion from the main point. Not only Syria’s humanitarian nightmare, but also the practical geopolitical problems, remain unchanged.

 

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ASSAD IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN ISIS

Yoni Ben Menachem

JCPA, Apr. 16, 2018

 

As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent. In August 2013, Obama had the option for a military strike against the Syrian regime following its use of gas against civilians in Ghouta, but he preferred to broker an agreement for removing chemical weapons from Syria. Later, it emerged that Bashar Assad misled the United States and managed to conceal large quantities of chemical weapons, which he is currently using against civilians. If President Obama had acted to topple Bashar Assad’s regime, he would have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and prevented millions of Syrian civilians from becoming refugees.

President Trump is much different from Obama. In the last year, he attacked Syria twice after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. At a speech that he gave in Ohio on March 29, 2018, President Trump surprised many when he announced that the United States would soon withdraw from Syria. He ordered the commanders of the U.S. armed forces to end the military campaign in Syria and to facilitate their exit from Syria in a few months.

According to American sources, President Trump has ratcheted down the plan to remain in Syria for the long term, provide aid to restore stability to Syria, and destroy ISIS. President Trump agreed to leave U.S. military forces in Syria for another few months to prevent any ISIS resurgence. However, recent developments show that Syrian President Assad is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS.

American policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime needs to look beyond the chemical weapons and fight against ISIS.  Assad interprets this limited focus as weakness, and he allows himself to do whatever he wants with Russian-Iranian backing. The American-French-British attack avoided strikes against the symbols of the Syrian regime. It also didn’t strike at the Syrian army. In the best case scenario, it neutralized the chemical weapons factories for a long time. President Trump has instructed the State Department to freeze economic aid to Syria worth $200 million while the United States reconsiders its role and involvement in the conflict in Syria.

If Bashar Assad’s regime succeeds in restoring its military control over the whole of Syria, it is reasonable to assume that the western countries, led by the United States, will regret it. Syria has turned into a stronghold of the “Evil Axis,” a covenant of interests between Bashar Assad, Iran, and Russia. According to this pact, Assad receives protection from both of these countries, and in exchange he allows them to have a military presence inside Syria. This is his “insurance policy.” Several times this week, President Trump praised the way the United States bested ISIS in Syria. However, if the United States withdraws unilaterally from all involvement in Syria, it will serve the interests of Bashar Assad, known as “the Butcher of Damascus.”

Israel is not prepared to accept Iran’s entrenching itself in Syria, the purpose of which is to open an additional front against Israel in the Golan Heights. Israel is determined to prevent this, and there appears to be an inevitable path toward escalation. President Trump understands the Iranian peril all too well. However, he also needs to take into account the danger that Assad poses to the stability and security of the region.

ISIS has been defeated in Syria and Iraq. The “Islamic Caliphate” that it established has collapsed, but Syria under Assad’s leadership has become strengthened by the civil war that has been raging for the past seven years. President Trump must not repeat the mistakes of President Obama. He did refer to President Assad as an “animal,” but the United States needs to adopt a firm line regarding anything related to the current Syrian regime.

Israel is a faithful ally of the United States. A complete U.S. withdrawal from Syria leaves Israel isolated when dealing with the Iranian-Syrian danger. It can only be hoped that recent events in Syria will lead to American reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria under Assad’s leadership has become a regional threat because it has opened its doors to Iran so that it can establish a military presence within its territory.

There is concern by some in Israel’s leadership that the U.S. administration may consider the attack on the chemical weapon installations in Syria as the farewell act of U.S. military involvement in Syria. This would be bad for Israel, which from now on will need to deal on its own with the Iranian threats emanating from Syrian territory.

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US-RUSSIA MILITARY ENCOUNTER IN SYRIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR ISRAEL

Louis Rene Beres                             

Israel Defense, Apr. 15, 2018

 

For the most part, Israel has always been able to identify and manage its own particular involvements with Syria, regarding both the incessantly criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad and the sub-national groups in-league with the dictator or opposed to him. Nonetheless, the increasingly belligerent rhetoric of the American president toward both Assad and his principal mentor in Moscow now suggest some potentially imminent and far-reaching conflict transformations in the entire region. In turn, such changes could quickly produce very grave hazards to Israel, risks that lie ominously beyond its own national scope of operational competence or political influence. Ultimately, of course, the most serious of any such transformations would concern a nuclear war between the superpowers.

In those notably unprecedented circumstances, virtually all traditional geopolitical models that were once au courant in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would summarily become moot. For the United States, the corresponding “trick” will be to meet both military and legal objectives without simultaneously generating a nuclear war. Significantly, at least on the military side, there are no available experts on the subject of nuclear war – not in Washington, not in Moscow, not in Jerusalem. This is the case, moreover, whether we are presently concerned with deliberate or inadvertent nuclear war.

Arguably, in this particular geo-strategic context, the latter would appear more portentous than the former, at least from the standpoint of plausibility or presumptive likelihood. For US President Donald Trump, it will be necessary above all to avoid any direct military confrontations with Russian forces or identifiable weapon system assets. In this connection, it is entirely possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin would deploy Russian soldiers to some of the areas most likely to be targeted by the United States. These Russian deployments could be undertaken for purely tactical reasons, or instead for less conspicuous purposes of enhancing credible deterrence.

In essence, the latter purposes would be to erect a suitable “trip wire.” Accordingly, the purpose of the deployed Russian troops would not be to actually fight against the Americans, but rather to “trip” certain expectedly desirable escalations with the United States. Naturally, drawing an exact line between desirable and undesirable escalations here would prove very difficult in practice, and could have a broad variety of possible conflict outcomes.

To be sure, these murky and historically unique circumstances could slowly or suddenly escalate out of control, triggering either an inadvertent or very deliberate nuclear war. In either case, most other states in the Middle East could be more-or-less directly impacted, Israel, of course, in particular. Significantly, because true probabilities can only be calculated according to the discernible frequency of pertinent past events, there would be no reliable way to figure out how it would end.

In the obviously worst-case scenario, the ending would involve multiple firings of nuclear missiles and/or bombs – issuing from both superpower combatants. What about the Russian soldiers? Their only predictable function in such an inherently ambiguous scenario would be to die. Plainly, they could serve no other ordinary military function.

Furthermore, even if Vladimir Putin would not purposefully introduce a trip wire force into the conflict, his already deployed S-400 advanced surface-to-air missile systems could readily elicit identically perilous consequences. In essence, because the Americans would necessarily strike these missile targets first, Russian military personnel could plausibly be among the first casualties of any impending superpower military engagement in Syria.

Then what? For Israel, the answers would depend, in large measure, upon the actual physical and human costs being inflicted upon the Jewish State, whether intentional or as “collateral” harms. Quo Vadis? Where might President Trump and the United States go now? It’s a question for Israelis, as well as for Americans.

Insofar as Mr. Trump has already announced an allegedly irrevocable decision to employ armed force against Syria, the president’s operational choices are probably foreseeable in Moscow. In response, Mr. Putin could take various prompt military steps to counter the growing American preparations or to best avoid any forms of superpower military engagement altogether. For Israel, that decision taken in Moscow could produce manifestly different but still decisively consequential outcomes…

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

 

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SYRIA SHOWS THE DANGERS OF ‘AMERICA FIRST’ POLICY

Sarah N. Stern

JNS, Apr. 13, 2018

 

The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria — killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more. Once again, our computer screens were replete with helpless children, some lifeless and limp, some foaming at the mouth and flinching, some with oxygen masks strapped across their tiny faces. This attack was the final blow for the last remaining rebels in this Damascus suburb.

Donald Trump, apparently moved by the images, promised: “We cannot allow atrocities like that. Cannot allow it. If it’s Russia. If it’s Syria. If it’s Iran. If it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answer quite soon.” He warned: “Nothing’s off the table.” This came within a week of President Trump’s pronouncement that “we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

This brings us to the first lesson: Whether or not America wants to enter into a period of isolationism, when we withdraw from the picture the world becomes an infinitely more dangerous place. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when America retreats, all of the moral cockroaches — like Tehran’s mullahs, Syria’s Assad, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdoğan — immediately swoop in to fill the void. Akin to the period between the two world wars, the American people might say they have no appetite for further military engagement, yet there is something in America’s moral fabric that simply cannot allow atrocities like these to go unanswered. As Winston Churchill once said: “America always does the right thing. After it has exhausted all other possibilities.”

Over the last seven years of the protracted Syrian civil war, the country has been on a slow and steady path towards total implosion. Initially, an alphabet soup of terrorist groups have used this empty playing field, including, but not limited to, Jabat Al Nusra, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham, the IRGC, the Al Quds Force and Hezbollah — many of them proxies for bigger regional players. Now the big boys are entering the scene, and Syria promises to be the theater in which America and the West might quite soon form a coalition against the regional forces of oppression and their Russian enablers. The next lesson, therefore, is: If we do not engage ourselves in smaller wars, America might well find itself dragged into a much larger war.

The second major event was the attack on the T-4 air base early Monday morning. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied their involvement, as is characteristic, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his red lines very clear. On February 10, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone launched from the identical Syrian air base and flown over Israeli territory, Netanyahu said: “Our policy is very clear. Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty.” He then added that, “Iran seeks to use Syrian territory with the expressed goal of destroying Israel.”

Since the singing of the nuclear-trade deal, Iran has used its vastly enriched coffers to empower, embolden, and enable its terrorist proxies within the widening Shiite crescet — and has used Syria as part of its ever-widening land bridge stretching from Tehran to Beirut. This has been enabled by Russia military support. Russia under Putin wants to re-emerge as a world power and has just asked Iran permission to use its air bases in Iran as refueling stations. Russia also just vetoed the UN Security Council resolution to investigate the Syrian chemical attack in Douma.

Which brings us to the final lesson of these recent Syrian events: In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, famously wrote a book titled, The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argued that with the end of the Cold War, we were passing through a period of post-war history, and that we had reached the height of the ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the apex and final form of government.

Democracy might be the best form of government devised, but Russia, though the use of its proxies, has shown that it might want to regress to a period of Cold War alliances. And unfortunately, because sometimes the only way to eradicate pure evil — such as was on display this weekend in Douma — is through the use of military force, we are quite far from a post-war epoch.

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On Topic Links

Israel Fears Trump May See Job as Done in Syria, Leave Israel Alone to Face Iran: Times of Israel, Apr. 14, 2018—While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly backed the US-led airstrikes on Syria in the wake of its use of chemical weapons, Israeli security chiefs made clear on Saturday night that Israel fears the Trump Administration will now consider that its work in Syria is done, and leave Israel alone to face the dangers posed by Iran’s growing military presence in Syria.

High Stakes in Syria: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 12, 2018—Donald Trump treasures nothing more than unconstrained access to the world through Twitter. So you know the President is having a bad week when his tweets come back to haunt even him, as they have with Syria. The Syrian tweets were especially damaging—to him personally and his role as Commander in Chief of the U.S. military.

The Case for Bombing Assad: Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal, Apr. 12, 2018—Bombing Syria over President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Douma last week—as President Donald Trump promises to do—is almost an absurdity. Nearly half a million people on all sides have been killed in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, barely 100 of them by the regime’s most recent sarin attack.

America’s Three Bad Options in Syria: Max Fisher, New York Times, Apr. 10, 2018—Chemical weapons are again suspected to have been used in Syria, apparently by government forces, circumstantial evidence suggests. Again, many Americans, particularly in Washington, have responded with calls to do something. And, again, punitive airstrikes against the Syrian government are the most discussed option.