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

Tag: Syria

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!

 

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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.

IN SYRIA, I.S. “REGROUPS & REORGANIZES,” HEZBOLLAH REMAINS ACTIVE, AND IRAN’S ENTRENCHMENT CONTINUES

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

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

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

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

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

                                                

THE RETURN OF ISIS                                                                                                         

Jonathan Spyer                                                           

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]

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ISRAEL KEEPS A WARY EYE ON IRANIAN

ENTRENCHMENT AS SYRIAN BORDER CROSSING REOPENS                                               

Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Oct. 24, 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]  

 

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THE ISRAELI CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE CONVERSION

OF ROCKETS IN LEBANON TO PRECISION-GUIDED MISSILES

Ofek Riemer

INSS, Oct. 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME TO GET TOUGH ON HEZBOLLAH                                                              

Sheryl Saperia

CJN, Oct. 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Contents

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

ISRAEL 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.

ISRAEL DISRUPTS TEHRAN’S ENTRENCHMENT IN SYRIA AND GROWING REGIONAL AMBITIONS

The Tehran Summit and Iran’s Regional Ambitions: Dr. Doron Itzchakov, BESA, Sept. 20, 2018— On September 7, the presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran

met in Tehran in an attempt to reach understandings regarding Syria’s future in general, and the imminent offensive in the Idlib district – the last bastion of anti-Assad regime rebels – in particular.

Israel’s Secret War Against Iran Is Widening: Jonathan Spyer, Foreign Policy, Sept. 07, 2018— It has recently become clear that Israel is engaged in a secret war against Iran in Syria.

Iran’s Attack on Kurds Is a Message to Washington, Riyadh and Jerusalem: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9, 2018 — The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran claimed credit for a missile attack on Kurdish opposition groups in Koya in northern Iraq.

John Kerry’s Freelance Diplomacy is an Invitation to Disaster: Michael Rubin, New York Post, Sept. 14, 2018— Former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted to meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “three or four times” since leaving office.

On Topic Links

Inside Israel’s New Iran Strategy: Maysam Behravesh, Reuters, Sept. 17, 2018

How Team Trump is Making the UN Spotlight Iran’s Evil: Benny Avni, New York Post, Sept. 6, 2018

The North Korean Foreign Minister Visits Tehran: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Sept. 12, 2018

IAEA Still Needs to Investigate Military Dimension of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Olli Heinonen, FDD, Sept. 6, 2018

 

THE TEHRAN SUMMIT AND IRAN’S REGIONAL AMBITIONS

Dr. Doron Itzchakov

BESA, Sept. 20, 2018

On September 7, the presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran met in Tehran in an attempt to reach understandings regarding Syria’s future in general, and the imminent offensive in the Idlib district – the last bastion of anti-Assad regime rebels – in particular. Despite the outward display of unity and the shared desire to exclude Washington from the decision-making process on Syria’s future so as to make the Syrian agenda their exclusive domain, the differences between the three parties were inevitable. What dictated the tone was the attempt by each party to promote its own disparate interests.

Take, for example, the three leaders’ use of the term “terrorist.” While Putin and Rouhani referred to the entire Syrian opposition as terrorists, Erdoğan confined this term to the Kurds and the Sunni jihadist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Likewise, while Putin’s speech focused on the normalization of the situation and the return of refugees under a UN umbrella, Erdoğan demanded an immediate ceasefire in Idlib to prevent a bloodbath by the Assad regime. For his part, Rouhani devoted his speech to attacking the US and Israel, criticizing the former as an illegal invader of Syria and decrying Israel as an illegitimate entity that inflamed regional tensions and demanding – tongue in cheek – the removal of Israeli forces from the Syrian hemisphere. No less important, the Iranian president expressed the Islamic Republic’s strong desire to see Syria’s reconstruction after the fighting ended.

Viewed from Tehran’s vantage point, cooperation with Russia and Turkey, despite their substantial differences, is a necessary step for realizing its regional ambitions. Keenly aware of Moscow’s centrality in determining Syria’s political, economic, and military agenda, Iran invests considerable effort in persuading the Kremlin to acquiesce in its continued presence in the war-torn country. Furthermore, Russia is not only perceived as a lifeline for Iran’s future presence in Syria but also as an essential component in preserving the 2015 nuclear agreement after the US withdrawal from the treaty. In addition, Tehran puts much effort into raising foreign investment and views China and Russia as important substitutes for the European markets, which are hesitant to challenge the Trump administration’s re-imposed sanctions. It is true that economic factors often put Tehran and Moscow on opposite sides of the divide, such as competition over Syrian reconstruction contracts and in the Asian and Far Eastern energy markets. But Tehran seems well aware of Moscow’s superior position and is unlikely to rock the boat in these respects.

Cooperation with Turkey is similarly necessary for the realization of the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions. While Ankara and Tehran are at odds over the legitimacy of the Assad regime and compete for leadership of the Muslim world, Turkey offers a vital channel for circumventing the US sanctions. Moreover, Iran places great hopes on Turkey as a natural gas supply route to European markets via the Tabriz-Ankara pipeline. The two states have collaborated in the past over the Kurdish issue, most recently in their joint campaign against the September 2017 referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.

As noted above, in his speech at the summit Rouhani stressed Iran’s desire to take an active part in the Syrian reconstruction, something that had already been demonstrated at the late August signing of an agreement by Iranian Defense Minister Amir Khatami and his Syrian counterpart. Why is Tehran prepared to invest billions of dollars in reconstructing Syria at a time when it is undergoing a sharp economic upheaval? The answer has to do with both domestic and strategic considerations.

On the strategic level, Tehran strives to transform Syria into a protectorate, similar to the model it successfully implemented in post-Saddam Iraq and in Lebanon since late 2006. This model comprises four overlapping circles: Influence through “soft power”; The formation of proxy armed militias from among recruited volunteers both at home and abroad; Direct military intervention by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and, in the Syrian case, by the Iranian army as well; Civilian and military reconstruction that enables Tehran to position itself as a supportive factor and, in consequence, to influence the political agenda from within. Syria’s reconstruction is at the top of Tehran’s list of priorities for the simple reason that this will lead to the establishment of security and intelligence infrastructures that will enable the use of Syrian territory as a front base for Iranian operations.

On the domestic level, Tehran’s interest in the Syrian reconstruction is a corollary of the internal power struggle within the Islamic regime, notably the desire of the IRGC commanders to consolidate their influence on the various aspects of the Iranian national agenda. Dating back to the country’s recovery from the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the organization’s penetration of the economic, energy, industry, and agricultural spheres has been deep and pervasive. This is illustrated inter alia by its control of the industrial conglomerate Khatim al-Anbiya (“Seal of the prophets”), which serves as the exclusive concessionaire for most of Iran’s engineering projects – from paving roads, to developing oil and gas fields, to constructing dams. Its survival and expansion of influence are the top priorities of the IRGC, which seems to be (justifiably) looking forward to the day when the next Supreme Leader is chosen. It is clear that the wellbeing of ordinary Iranians is not at the top of the organization’s agenda, which is also why large sums of money are diverted from Iran to regional adventures…

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

 

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          ISRAEL’S SECRET WAR AGAINST IRAN IS WIDENING

                             Jonathan Spyer            

Foreign Policy, Sept. 07, 2018

It has recently become clear that Israel is engaged in a secret war against Iran in Syria. The war is conducted mainly by means of air power, presumably combined with the intelligence work necessary to provide the country’s airmen with the relevant targets; there is also evidence that targeted killings are among Israel’s tactics in Syria. The objective of this campaign, as plainly stated by senior officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is the complete withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies from Syria. Given the government’s strategy, this objective is unlikely to be achieved. But its lesser goal of disrupting Tehran’s efforts to consolidate and entrench itself in Syria is within reach.

Israel has carried out periodic strikes against the Syrian regime and Hezbollah targets throughout the country’s civil war. Starting this year, however, there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of such attacks and the commencement of the direct targeting of Iranian facilities and personnel. The imminent demise of the Syrian rebellion spurred this shift.

So long as the insurgency remained viable, Israel was content to observe from the sidelines. At most, the Israeli government maintained a limited relationship with rebels in the Quneitra area to ensure that the war did not reach the border with the Golan Heights while intervening sporadically to disrupt the supply of weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Beyond that, Israel was content to allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Iran and the mainly Sunni Islamist rebels to subject one another to a process of mutual attrition.

This year, however, it became clear that the rebellion, thanks to Iranian and Russian intervention, was going to be defeated. Israel could no longer afford the luxury of relative inaction if it wished to prevent the consolidation of an independent infrastructure of military and political power by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Syrian soil, along the lines of its existing bases in Lebanon and Iraq. Israel’s direct targeting of this nascent infrastructure began shortly thereafter. It’s difficult to trace the precise contours of this campaign, given Israel’s reticence about taking responsibility for attacks. It is also sometimes in the interest of both Tehran and the Assad regime to avoid publicizing Israel’s strikes.

But it’s clear that the largest-scale clashes so far took place on May 10, when in response to Iranian forces firing 20 Grad and Fajr-5 rockets toward Israeli positions on the Golan Heights, Israel launched an extensive air operation, targeting Iranian infrastructure throughout Syria. This operation involved 28 aircraft and the firing of 70 missiles, according to Russian Defense Ministry figures. The targets included a variety of facilities maintained by the IRGC in Syria: a military compound and logistics complex run by the Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit of the IRGC, in Kiswah; an Iranian military camp north of Damascus; weapons storage sites belonging to the Quds Force at Damascus International Airport; and intelligence systems and installations associated with the Quds Force.

But Netanyahu recently indicated that the campaign was not over. “The Israel Defense Forces will continue to act with full determination and strength against Iran’s attempts to station forces and advanced weapons systems in Syria,” Netanyahu told an audience in the southern Israeli town of Dimona on Aug. 29. Israel seemed to express its determination to act in a series of explosions last weekend at the Mezzeh military airport near Damascus. Both the pro-regime Al Mayadeen website and the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights attributed the attack to Israel, but it was silent on the matter. Syrian state television and the official SANA news agency later denied that an Israeli attack had taken place.

An aerial attack on an Iranian convoy near Tanf in southern Syria on Sept. 3 similarly passed without any official claim of responsibility. An Iranian citizen and seven Syrians were killed in the attack, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition maintains a base at Tanf, but the coalition denied any involvement in the incident. Tanf, of course, is far to the east of the Quneitra Crossing and the Golan Heights. But Israel’s concerns are not solely, or mainly, with the border area. Israel also appears to be concerned not only with physical infrastructure but also with the passage of Iran-associated militia personnel across the border between Iraq and Syria.

In mid-June, an airstrike took place on Harra, southeast of Albu Kamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The target was a base of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, a leading Iran-supported irregular force. Twenty-two members of the organization were killed in the strike. No country claimed responsibility for the attack. An Iranian militia commander quoted by Reuters said the United States was probably responsible. Such an action, however, would be directly contrary to the generally observable U.S. approach regarding the Iraqi Shiite militias. Washington seeks the political defeat of the militias but also is concerned with avoiding military clashes among political elements in Iraq. Finally, the unattributed killings of Aziz Asber, the head of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center in Masyaf, and Ahmad Issa Habib, the commander of the Palestine department of Syria’s military intelligence, on Aug. 5 and Aug. 18, respectively, have led to some speculation as to possible Israeli responsibility.

What is taking place, then, is an ongoing, rolling campaign intended to disrupt Iran’s attempt to consolidate and deepen its project in Syria. Will the Israeli campaign succeed? It is difficult to see how the country can achieve its maximal goal of complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria. The Iranian investment in Syria is very large, formally based, and long-standing. Tehran has spent upwards of $30 billion in the country over the last seven years…

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

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                    IRAN’S ATTACK ON KURDS IS A MESSAGE

                    TO WASHINGTON, RIYADH AND JERUSALEM

                                        Seth Frantzman

                                       Jerusalem Post, Sept. 09, 2018

 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran claimed credit for a missile attack on Kurdish opposition groups in Koya in northern Iraq. The attack on Saturday killed a dozen and wounded numerous others. It was the first time Iranian forces had used this kind of precision missile attack deep inside Iraq.

The brazen daylight missile attack is a message from Tehran to the region that it can do what it wants, not only in neighboring Iraq but throughout the Middle East. In the last year, Iranian missiles and Iranian-supported groups using Tehran’s technical advisors have targeted Saudi Arabia from Yemen and Israel from Syria. As Washington seeks to pressure Iran, the missile threat is a clear indication that Tehran is flexing its muscles in the face of sanctions.

The IRGC attempted a decapitation strike against the Kurdish KDP-I, an opposition group that has a headquarters in Koya. Numerous senior leaders were present, and a missile crashed into the building where they were meeting. This was a precise and unprecedented strike. Although Iran has targeted Kurdish groups before in Iraq and has fired missiles at other opposition groups, the missiles used in this attack were precise and showcased Iranian intelligence operations and know-how.

The missile attack on Koya should not be seen as an isolated Iran regime attack on an opposition group. Iran has been fighting Kurdish opposition for years, and in Iran, there have been increasing clashes. But the missile strike was an escalation and should be seen in the context of the Iranian-backed Houthis using ballistic missiles to target Riyadh, flying some 900 km from their launch point. Iranian forces from Syria have also targeted and tested Israel’s defenses. They flew a drone into Israeli airspace in February and fired a salvo of missiles in May. Recent satellite images show missile production facilities in northern Syria. Reports also indicate that Iran has transferred missiles to the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Shia militias, in Iraq. Moreover, Iran has armed Hezbollah with missiles for years and also supplied Hamas with technical support.

The big picture then is an Iranian missile threat throughout the region. The National Defense Authorization Act signed by US President Donald Trump in August included passages about Iran’s ballistic missile threat. Congress had looked deeply into how Iran’s missile program threatens the region. During a June speech at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies US Under Secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker said that “Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles.” US allies in the region have missile defense technology to confront the Iranian threat. Israel has a layered system of missile defense included Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow program, while Saudi Arabia has used Patriot missile batteries to stop the Houthi missiles. This has proven effective. It is also why the IRGC decided to test out its missiles by targeting defenseless Kurdish groups in northern Iraq.

The IRGC’s strike on the Kurds is a message to Washington and to Israel. It shows how the IRGC operates across borders and across with the region, seeing Iran’s policy in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon as linked into one larger program. The IRGC is also the group responsible for working with various proxies and Shia militias across the region. The US administration’s response to the missile attack in Iraq will reveal whether Washington takes this new front in northern Iraq seriously and whether the discussions about stopping Iran’s activities see Iraq as a frontier to confront these missile threats, or whether Iraq will continue to be an area that Iran can operate freely in.

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JOHN KERRY’S FREELANCE DIPLOMACY IS AN INVITATION TO DISASTER

Michael Rubin

New York Post, Sept. 14, 2018

Former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted to meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “three or four times” since leaving office. Seeking to preempt criticism that his talks violated US laws prohibiting private citizens from advising or negotiating with foreign states, he said he merely wanted to see “what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East.” Even if Kerry violated no laws, a more self-aware statesman would recognize that such freelance diplomacy weakens the US, emboldens enemies and has a track record of failure.

Consider North Korea: Bill Clinton’s presidency, like Trump’s, began with a North Korea crisis. Clinton had been president barely a month when North Korea refused International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and, weeks later, announced that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After Clinton declared, “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb,” former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang on an ostensibly personal visit to try to right what he believed was Clinton’s unnecessarily inflexible policy. He met with North Korea’s absolute dictator Kim Il -sung and, without authorization, promised not only would the White House abandon its drive for UN sanctions, but also conceded North Korea the right to reprocess nuclear fuel rods — in effect giving Pyongyang enough plutonium to construct five nuclear bombs. Carter had pulled the carpet out from the international pressure campaign Clinton sought to build.

Then there was Syria: Bashar al-Assad’s government was an unrepentant terror sponsor. It facilitated Hezbollah’s rearmament in defiance of UN resolutions after, in July and August 2006, Hezbollah launched much of its missile arsenal at Israel. As insurgency raged in Iraq, evidence mounted as to Assad’s culpability. In one raid on insurgents, US forces found a laptop that contained a database showing conclusively that most foreign fighters and suicide bombers entered Iraq via Syria, with the full complicity of the Syrian government. Meanwhile, Assad covertly worked with North Korea to build a plutonium processing plant.

Like Clinton with North Korea, President George W. Bush believed the best course of action was to isolate Syria. To partisans, however, “cowboy” Bush was the real problem. Enter Nancy Pelosi. Defying Bush, the then-majority leader decided to break the diplomatic embargo. Pelosi traveled to Damascus, posed diligently for photos and declared, “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” It wasn’t. In the wake of her visit, Assad doubled down on defiance and repression and, eventually, the pressure cooker he created exploded. Pelosi today recognizes her mistake, as she no longer brags about cultivating a man subsequently responsible for a half million civilian deaths and the use of more chemical weaponry than any leader since World War I.

Kerry seems unwilling to learn such lessons. After all, Iran isn’t his first freelance attempt: During the Vietnam War, his antics emboldened the enemy while Americans were still in harm’s way. More recently, just weeks into Barack Obama’s presidency, he became the first US lawmaker to visit Gaza in nearly a decade. Congressmembers had avoided the area for the simple reason that it was run by Hamas, an unrepentant terrorist group committed to genocide and responsible for the murder of Americans. Hamas was thrilled. “We believe Hamas’ message is reaching its destination,” Ahmed Yusuf, Hamas’ chief political adviser, said. In effect, Kerry legitimized Hamas, reinvigorated it and made himself its postman.

Back to Iran: When, in 2015, Sen. Tom Cotton and 46 other senators sent an open letter to its leaders warning them that absent Senate ratification the nuclear deal would not survive the Obama administration, Kerry quipped that the senators’ actions were an “unconstitutional, un-thought-out action.” Of course, they were neither. Kerry’s castigation of Cotton, however, simply makes Kerry’s more covert and repeated outreach to Iranian officials more hypocritical. Even assuming Kerry is well-meaning, his naiveté is astounding. Zarif arose in a system where freelancing insures imprisonment if not death and so may project officialdom onto Kerry even when there is none.

Regardless, the basis of Trump’s strategy — like that of Clinton and Bush before him — is to coerce concession through isolation. Every president has the right to craft his own strategy. For a former secretary of state to knowingly undercut that suggests antipathy toward democratic outcomes. Perhaps it is that tendency, however, that best explains Kerry’s bizarre affinity toward Tehran.

 

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On Topic Links

Inside Israel’s New Iran Strategy: Maysam Behravesh, Reuters, Sept. 17, 2018—In a rare admission, Israel has broken its “no-comment” policy on air strikes to confirm that it has carried out over 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the last two years.

How Team Trump is Making the UN Spotlight Iran’s Evil: Benny Avni, New York Post, Sept. 6, 2018—The United States has assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council — and that means the council is about to put Iran under the hot lights.

The North Korean Foreign Minister Visits Tehran: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Sept. 12, 2018—Not long after the US reimposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, arrived in Tehran.

IAEA Still Needs to Investigate Military Dimension of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Olli Heinonen, FDD, Sept. 6, 2018—The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will meet in Vienna beginning on September 10 and will receive briefings beforehand from the IAEA secretariat.

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.

ASSAD’S IRAN, RUSSIA, & HEZBOLLAH-BACKED OFFENSIVE INTENSIFIES SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS

Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?: Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid, Times of Israel, July 1, 2018— We live in a world full of complex diplomatic dilemmas…

Syrian Refugees: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, July 1, 2018— After some seven years of carefully avoiding being dragged into the Syrian civil war, Israel is now facing a unique moral, diplomatic and military challenge.

Russia in Syria: Caught Between Iran and Israel: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, June 24, 2018— Over the past several months, one of the Kremlin’s major concerns has been the extent to which Israel will continue to carry out preventive strikes on Syrian soil.

Iran’s Endgame in Syria has Begun: Yochanan Visser, Arutz Sheva, June 21, 2018 — Iran’s attempts to build a permanent military infrastructure in Syria continue, while Israel extended its operations against the Iranian axis in Syria all the way to the Iraqi border this week.

On Topic Links

Report: Israel Attacked Weapon Depots Belonging to Assad Regime, Militias: Yasser Okbi, Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2018

US Interests Require Israel on the Golan Heights: Yoram Ettinger, Jewish Press, June 18, 2018

Amid Assad Regime Offensive in Southwest Syria, Israeli Military Bolsters Forces on Golan Heights: Algemeiner, July 1, 2018

WATCH: Israel Brings Aid to Syrian Refugees, But Will Not Grant Entry: World Israel News, July 3, 2018

 

WILL THE WEST CEDE THE GOLAN HEIGHTS TO A PSYCHOPATH?         

Moshe Ya’alon and Yair Lapid

Times of Israel, July 1, 2018

 

We live in a world full of complex diplomatic dilemmas, but for once here is a simple one: Would you take an area that is flourishing in a western democratic state, where fifty thousand people of different religions and ethnicities live in harmony, and hand it over to a violent dictatorship ruled by the worst mass murderer of our time so that he can destroy the area and murder most of the residents? If your answer is “no” then you support recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

In 1981 Israel applied its law to the Golan Heights. The Syrians insisted it be returned to them. Most countries, including the United States, have avoided taking a clear position. We believe it’s time to get off the fence. The Golan Heights is a unique story in the Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s a mountainous region of around 695 square miles (around the size of a medium-sized ranch in Texas), in the north of Israel. It’s worth noting, of course, that it is entirely unrelated to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Not a single Palestinian lives in the Golan Heights.

Historically, the Golan is known as the biblical land of Bashan from the book of Deuteronomy. Just recently a major renovation of a 4th century Jewish synagogue was completed and in archaeological excavations a coin from 67 CE was discovered with an inscription which read, “For the redemption of Jerusalem the Holy.” It is an area with a long and deep Jewish connection.

The Syrians, on the other hand, ruled over the Golan Heights for only 21 years; between the years 1946 and 1967. During those years they turned the Golan into a military base, rained rocket fire on the Israeli communities which are under the Golan Heights and tried to divert Israel’s critical water sources to dry the country out.

In 1967, during the Six Day War, the Golan Heights was liberated by Israel. In the 51 years since then Israel developed the Golan Heights and turned it into an impressive center of nature reserves and tourism, with high-tech agriculture, award winning wines, a flourishing food-tech industry and in-demand boutique hotels. The Druze population of the Golan Heights, who make up about half the population, were granted all the same rights as any other citizen in Israel, as would be done in any genuine democracy.

On the other side of the border, life went in the other direction; in the past seven years President Assad has massacred over a half a million of his own people and his actions led to the displacement of 11 million more. He let the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, the largest terror organizations in the world, into Syria. He encouraged Shia militias from Iraq and elsewhere to flood into Syria. It is a dark regime led by a psychopath supported by the most malevolent forces on earth today.

The man who didn’t hesitate to use chemical weapons against women and children, continued to demand the Golan Heights in the name of “international law.” The fact that anyone in the Western world still takes that argument seriously is worse than naivete – it is insanity. Does his monstrous behavior have no cost? Do we live in the world without any sense of reward and punishment? The fact that the Golan Heights is under Israeli rule is the only thing that saved it from the Syrian valley of death, which is collapsing under the weight of violence and destruction.

The international community, led by the United States, needs to do the simple thing: To announce that they see the world as it is. We call on the American administration and both parties – Republicans and Democrats – to lead an international process of recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. It is historically just, it is strategically smart and it will allow the United States to extract a price from Assad for his despicable behavior without putting boots on the ground in Syria.

 

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SYRIAN REFUGEES

Editorial

Jerusalem Post, July 1, 2018

After some seven years of carefully avoiding being dragged into the Syrian civil war, Israel is now facing a unique moral, diplomatic and military challenge. As the army of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, backed by Iranian Shi’ite militias and Hezbollah, is bombarding the areas around Deraa and Quneitra in an attempt at retaking them from rebel forces, there is an intensifying internal refugee crisis. Syrian homeless have gathered close to the border with Israel. As their numbers grow, there are increased calls for Israel to allow some of the refugees into the country.

Whenever Israelis think of the refugee issue, they are reminded, with pride, of how Menachem Begin offered a home to some 300 Vietnamese “Boat People” in the late 1970s. As Israelis we also recall our people’s experience during and immediately following the Holocaust, when few countries offered refuge to the Jews and the British mandate turned away or incarcerated survivors who struggled to reach a safe haven on these shores.

The issue obviously is an emotional one – but allowing emotions to dictate policy is dangerous. It should be emphasized and praised that Israel, far from ignoring the needs of the Syrian refugees, has been helping them for several years now. Since 2013, nearly 5,000 Syrian patients have received medical treatment – at Israeli taxpayers’ expense – in Israeli hospitals and field hospitals. Indeed, hospitals in the North – facing a crisis in finances, space and resources – continue to offer the best care possible to the Syrians they treat.

On June 30, six more Syrian patients, including four children, were transferred for care to Israeli hospitals, several suffering from severe wounds including head wounds and stomach injuries sustained in the intensive shelling. Israel also continues to provide aid and assistance to the Syrians just over the border, whether living in villages or makeshift camps. Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post’s military affairs reporter Anna Ahronheim noted, this humanitarian aid, in recent days alone, has consisted of providing some 300 tents for shelter; 13 tons of food; 15 tons of baby food; three palettes of medical equipment and medicines; and 30 tons of clothing and footwear. The aid was transferred by the IDF to four different locations across the border in a special operation.

While providing such assistance, Israel and the IDF have so far done everything possible to prevent a massive influx of Syrian refugees – and there seems little likelihood that this policy will be changed. Israel has stated in the past that it would protect the Druse population in the Syrian villages close to the border, many of whom have close family ties with Druse living on the Israeli Golan Heights. But the refugees now gathering close to the border are Sunni Muslims, not Druse.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Regarding southern Syria, we will continue to defend our borders. We will extend humanitarian assistance to the extent of our abilities. We will not allow entry [of refugees] into our territory and we will demand that the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement with the Syrian army be strictly upheld.” While this policy makes sense, Israel will have to carefully gauge the situation as it develops. As Israelis, as Jews and as human beings, we have a moral obligation to help. The question of allowing refugees into the country is not a simple matter; it needs to be considered with great care and sensitivity.

At the same time though, we cannot forget that the Syrian civil war is not a problem for Israel to solve. Both the US and Russia need to play a central role in dealing with the challenges they themselves have helped create: the US by leaving a vacuum and Russia by filling it. It is ultimately their responsibility to ensure that the areas where the refugees have gathered are safe from shelling and to help them rebuild their homes inside Syria. Israel’s responsibility is to be moral and ethical but also not to be reckless.

 

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RUSSIA IN SYRIA: CAUGHT BETWEEN IRAN AND ISRAEL      

Emil Avdaliani

BESA, June 24, 2018

Over the past several months, one of the Kremlin’s major concerns has been the extent to which Israel will continue to carry out preventive strikes on Syrian soil. On February 10, an armed Iranian drone was shot down over Israeli airspace prompting a swift and devastating Israeli response. Two months later, on April 9, Israeli jets struck again, bombing the T4 base and killing 14 personnel – including at least seven IRGC troops. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called this a “very dangerous development.”

These incidents suggest that an Israeli-Syrian (by extension Iranian) military engagement could evolve into a serious situation that could spin out of Russia’s control. This is worrisome to Moscow as it is keen to keep the balance in Syria. How, then, might Russia respond as tensions escalate between Iran and Israel on Syrian ground?

For Moscow, alienating Jerusalem around the Syrian battlefield would be an unfortunate development. Russia is attempting to maintain a dominant position in Syria after having gained important victories. Achieving this grows more difficult as the Syrian battlefield becomes more crowded. The US is unlikely to withdraw its military forces. The Turks are operating in Afrin, in the north of the country. Powerful Iranian proxy forces are currently close to the Israeli border, and little success has been achieved at recent peace conferences. The last thing Russia wants is to have Israel drawn into the conflict militarily.

This could explain why Russia has conceded several crucial points regarding Israel’s security. Consider, for instance, what occurred after the US and its allies shot cruise missiles into Syria on April 14. Initially, Moscow responded by proposing the resumption of delivery of advanced S-300 air-defense missiles to Damascus, a supply that had been suspended in 2013 because of Israeli opposition. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that in view of the strikes by the western allies, Russia no longer had any moral obligation to refrain from transferring the missiles to Syria. Russia’s prominent daily Kommersant quoted unnamed military sources as saying deliveries might begin imminently.

However, following the Israeli PM’s visit to Russia in early May for Victory Day festivities, another prominent Russia daily, Izvestia, quoted top Kremlin aide Vladimir Kozhin as saying that Moscow was not in talks with the Syrian government about supplying S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Moreover, on May 31, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Moscow. Numerous Kremlin-linked Russian analysts claimed that a deal had been reached whereby Iran would pull its forces from the Israeli-Syrian border. If true, this is an apparent U-turn by the Russian government.

Another consideration for Moscow might be the hints that occasionally appear in the Russian media from defense and political sources that if Iran attacks Israel from Syria, either by itself or through its proxy Hezbollah, Israel will not hold back. It will respond forcefully, targeting Iranian soil.

On a global level, there is a hypothetical possibility that Russia might be a potential mediator between Iran and Israel. It would be a grand diplomatic coup to show the world that peace between two such bitter archrivals hinges upon Moscow. The Kremlin does appear to be considering this possibility, judging from numerous recent suggestions in the Russian media. Moreover, as Vladimir Putin has been largely left out of the potentially historic developments on the Korean Peninsula, the Kremlin might be seeking a means of playing power broker in the Middle East.

Russia’s concessions to Israeli interests in Syria do not preclude a further strengthening of the Iran-Russia partnership. There are many new sticking points for both countries. The American withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement put Russia and the European countries on the same side against the possible breakdown of the agreement. Shared opposition to US pressure makes Moscow and Tehran more than just allies of convenience. It is this that makes Russia’s position in the nascent Iran-Israel confrontation in Syria tricky. Both Russia and Iran seek to balance the unstable geopolitical situation in and around Syria. As the Syrian conflict is still going on, it is extremely difficult to forecast a scenario, even for a short period.

A couple of things are clear, though. The Russians understand that in view of Israel’s security imperatives, intermittent Israeli intervention is going to take place. They also know that Israel will almost certainly have to respond again, even if the Golan Heights are not directly threatened. The Iranians, on the other hand, are unlikely to make concessions in Syria due to their geopolitical imperatives and military interests. These different perspectives are bound to clash from time to time. Russia has to perform a difficult balancing act between Israel and Iran as it tries to position itself as the primary player in mitigating conflict between the two geopolitical enemies.

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IRAN’S ENDGAME IN SYRIA HAS BEGUN

Yochanan Visser

Arutz Sheva, June 21, 2018

Iran’s attempts to build a permanent military infrastructure in Syria continue, while Israel extended its operations against the Iranian axis in Syria all the way to the Iraqi border this week. At the same time, the Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition finally launched the long anticipated offensive against rebel groups along the Jordanian and Israeli border, despite Israeli and American warnings that this could lead to a confrontation with the two staunch allies.

On Monday, the Israeli air force carried out a devastating attack on the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah militia which has set up a base across the Iraqi border in Syria. Israeli warplanes reportedly struck Kata’ib Hezbollah in the Al-Hari military base near the town of Qaim in the vicinity of the Albu Kamal border crossing, killing 52 members of the Iraqi militia which is an important member of the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias in Iraq.

Kata’ib Hezbollah is now part of a 80,000 members-strong Shiite fighting force in Syria which takes its orders from Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the shrewd commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Iraqi militia has been more than instrumental in the Iranian effort to establish a ‘Shiite Crescent’ – territorial contiguity from the Iranian border in Iraq to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. It was responsible for many lethal attacks against U.S. forces and the Sunni population in Iraq.

At the end of last year, Kata’ib Hezbollah threatened the U.S. led coalition in Iraq and said it would “fight the American occupiers” this after it cooperated with the coalition in the fight against the common enemy, Islamic State. The ruthless Shiite terror group was together with its offshoot Harakat al Nujaba, or Movement of the Noble, responsible for the establishment of the ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’ which was founded in March 2017 with the explicit goal of ‘liberating Palestine’.

The IDF refused to comment on the attack on Kata’ib Hezbollah, but a US official confirmed Israel was responsible for the attack on the Iranian proxy in Syria. On Tuesday night, the Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition also made good on its promise, ‘liberating’ every inch of Syrian soil and starting a long anticipated offensive against Western-backed rebels in the Daraa province in southern Syria.

Syrian Special Forces attacked towns near the Jordanian border with more than 130 artillery shells and missiles, while Hezbollah drove a wedge in the rebel’ defenses in the so-called ‘Triangle of Death’, the region stretching from the border between Daraa and Kuneitra and the west Damascus countryside.

The Lebanese terror group reportedly used napalm to drive the rebels out of the Triangle of Death, while the now united rebel groups operating under the name “Southern Front” reacted by attacking a large convoy of the pro-Assad coalition in western Daraa.

The Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition exploited the disagreement over Iran’s encroachment on the Jordanian and Israeli border between Russia on one hand and the United States, Great Britain and Israel on the other hand, to start the assault on the mostly Sunni Islamist rebels along the border. The Syrian Observer reported on Thursday that the Russians are the ones in charge of the military operations in Daraa. This doesn’t mean Israel will remain passive. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has used his leverage in the relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump to prevent the approaching Iranian axis from taking over the region along the Syrian border on the Golan Heights, but it remains to be seen if his efforts will bear fruit.

The Russians have called upon ‘foreign troops’ – including the Iranians – to leave Syrian soil now the war against ISIS is almost over. The Iranians, however, have made it clear they have no intention of heeding that call and have vowed to stay in Syria as long as their Syrian lackey Bashar al-Assad wants them to stay. The only thing that has changed in the Iranian advance toward the realization of the final stretch of the land bridge from the Iranian border in Iraq to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights is the change of uniforms.

About 500 Hezbollah terrorists and members of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Syria are now wearing uniforms of the Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces, a special unit which specializes in urban warfare and counter-terrorism operations. They are now charged with the ‘liberation’ of the Kuneitra region along the Israeli border.

The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, reacted to the worrisome situation near Israel’s border by issuing a statement which said it was “deeply troubled by reports of increasing Syrian regime operations in southwest Syria”. The State Department also warned the Russians and the Assad regime again of “serious repercussions” of the violations of the so-called de-escalation agreement between the U.S., Jordan and Russia which was meant to retain the status quo along the Syrian border with Jordan and Israel.

An attempt by the Iranian axis to take over the region along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights will almost certainly draw a military response by the IDF and could risk a spillover of the Syrian conflict into Israel.

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

Report: Israel Attacked Weapon Depots Belonging to Assad Regime, Militias: Yasser Okbi, Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2018

—Large explosions were heard in the Deraa district of south Syria on Tuesday in an area in which ammunition warehouses belonging to the Assad regime and pro-Assad militias are located, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

US Interests Require Israel on the Golan Heights: Yoram Ettinger, Jewish Press, June 18, 2018—US interests in the Middle East and beyond are well-served by a strategically constrained Syria.  Historically, Syria has been a tectonic, volatile platform of violent, intolerant and unpredictable Arab/Islamic regional aspirations of grandeur, totally unrelated to Israel’s existence and policies.

Amid Assad Regime Offensive in Southwest Syria, Israeli Military Bolsters Forces on Golan Heights: Algemeiner, July 1, 2018—In light of ongoing developments across the border in Syria, the Israeli military has bolstered its presence on the Golan Heights, with the deployment of armor and artillery reinforcements.

WATCH: Israel Brings Aid to Syrian Refugees, But Will Not Grant Entry: World Israel News, July 3, 2018—While the IDF will provide much-needed aid to Syrians on the border fleeing violence from the civil war, Israel has made it clear no refugees will be granted entry.

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.

 

AS ISRAEL TARGETS IRAN IN SYRIA, IRAN-BACKED HEZBOLLAH CONSOLIDATES POWER IN LEBANON

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

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

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

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

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

 

ISRAEL’S SYRIA STRATEGY

Yossi Melman

Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contents

WHOEVER YOU VOTE FOR – HEZBOLLAH WINS

Jonathan Spyer

Breaking Israel News, May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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THE TRAVESTY OF THE LEBANESE ELECTIONS

                             Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA, May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

ON THIS MEMORIAL DAY, CONSIDER WHAT

WE OWE AMERICA’S VETERANS

Rena Nessler

New York Post, May 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

 

HAMAS ORCHESTRATES VIOLENT GAZA “PROTESTS” AMID U.S. EMBASSY MOVE & ESCALATING ISRAEL-IRAN TENSION

The Gaza ‘Protests’: Editorial, Weekly Standard, May 15, 2018 — On Monday President Donald Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to move the United States embassy in Israel to the country’s capital, Jerusalem.

Smoke & Mirrors: Six Weeks of Violence on the Gaza Border: Richard Kemp, Gatestone Institute, May 14, 2018— Since 30th March Hamas has been orchestrating large-scale violence on the border between Gaza and Israel.

Israel Unleashes Powerful Strike Capabilities After Iran Hits First: Yaakov Lappin, JNS, May 10, 2018— In striking more than 50 Iranian military targets within 90 minutes early on Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Force displayed just a sample of its advanced, intelligence-fueled precision firepower, dealing a crushing blow to Iran’s assets in Syria.

What Might an Israel-Iran War Look Like?: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, May 10, 2018— In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its red lines.

On Topic Links

Hamas has Taken Gaza Back to the Stone Age: Jason Greenblatt, Jerusalem Post, May 11, 2018

For Hamas, Dancing on the Brink of Chaos is a Winning Tactic: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, May 15, 2018

Conflicting Claims Swirl As Israel Continues Air War Against Iranian Interests In Syria: Joseph Trevithick, The Drive, Apr. 17, 2018

Israel’s Nuclear and Conventional Deterrence: Prof. Louis René Beres, BESA, Apr. 29, 2018

 

THE GAZA ‘PROTESTS’

Editorial

Weekly Standard, May 15, 2018

On Monday President Donald Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to move the United States embassy in Israel to the country’s capital, Jerusalem. As usual, the American and European media’s coverage interpreted the event in the worst possible light for the nation of Israel. One learns very little from our mainstream news sources about what the move may mean for the nations primarily concerned—Israel and the United States—but a great deal about the Palestinian “protests” happening along Israel’s southern border with Gaza: Headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post proclaimed (misleadingly) “Israel Kills Dozens and Wounds 1700 at Gaza Border” and “Over 50 Killed in Gaza Protests as U.S. Opens Embassy in Jerusalem.”

We put the word “protests” in quotation marks advisedly. In ordinary English usage, a protest is a collective action or gesture meant to bring pressure on a government or corporate entity. The Gaza “protests” are meant to bring pressure on Israel, but they’re intended mainly to kill and maim both Israelis and the Palestinian “protesters” themselves.

These demonstrations would be better described as suicide-riots. For nearly two months, Hamas and other militant factions have been encouraging young Palestinian men to storm the fence separating Gaza from Israel. The rioters cut holes in the fence, charge Israeli guards with crude weapons like axes, and lob fire bombs over the wall in attempts to set Israeli fields on fire. Hamas has pledged to massacre those on the other side of the fence, and these riots are expressions of that intention. Israeli defense forces are obliged to respond with force. An axe-clutching Palestinian insanely charging into Israeli territory isn’t a “protester” but a combatant and a terrorist. The fact that he doesn’t expect to prevail against the might of the Israel Defense Forces—he is in essence on a suicide mission—doesn’t somehow oblige Israeli soldiers not to use force to stop him. The Israelis have no choice but to fire back, and they do, often with deadly results.

This is Hamas’s longstanding strategy: The more Palestinian young men die, the more hellish the conditions of Palestinian neighborhoods, the more sympathy aroused in Western media. Hence Palestinian rioters’ destruction of the only cargo passage through which cooking fuel can get to Gaza’s 2 million residents. The act of vandalism appears senseless unless you understand Hamas’s aim is to make Palestinians destitute for the benefit of Western media.

And the Western media generally fill their expected role by placing at least an equal share of the blame on Israel and its American backers. So, for instance, American and European media readily accept casualty statistics from the Gaza Health Ministry, a Hamas outfit deliberately aiming to exaggerate Palestinian deaths. These same media, similarly, nearly always accept as genuine the reasons for the riots expressed by Palestinian organizations. Eighteen years ago, it was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple mount that supposedly sparked the second intifada and the attendant bloodshed. This time, we’re told, it’s Trump’s embassy move that gives Palestinians license to plunder their own resources in acts of irrational rage.

Most ordinary Palestinians, however, appear to be smarter than the smart people whose job it is to give us news about Israel and the Palestinian territories. Despite all the violence in Gaza, the place where most Palestinians live—the West Bank—has remained largely quiet. The Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, too, have been devoid of riots. All contrary to the dire predictions of Western experts who foresaw destruction and bloodshed across the Arab world in response to the U.S. decision to move its embassy.

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SMOKE & MIRRORS: SIX WEEKS OF VIOLENCE ON THE GAZA BORDER

Richard Kemp

Gatestone Institute, May 14, 2018

Since 30th March Hamas has been orchestrating large-scale violence on the border between Gaza and Israel. The major flare-ups have generally occurred on Fridays, following mosque prayers, when we have repeatedly seen concerted action involving crowds of up to 40,000 people in five separate areas along the border. Violence and aggressive actions, including specific acts of terrorism involving explosives and firearms, have also occurred at other times during this period.

Hamas intend to continue this violence until the 14th or 15th of May 2018. The 15th is the date they will commemorate as the 70th anniversary of ‘Nakba’ Day – ‘Castastrophe’ Day, the day after Israel’s declaration of statehood. There is however speculation that an upsurge in violence is now planned for the 14th, coinciding with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. It is expected that the violence will reach a culminating point of intensity on one or both of those days, which, as well as coinciding with Nakba Day and the embassy opening, are also at the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan, when violence usually increases in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Hamas is currently planning to mobilise up to 200,000 people to the Gaza border, which — if it materialises — will be well over twice the maximum number seen previously. Hamas will also be determined to incite greater violence than ever before, and to make significant penetrations of the border fence. In the face of such efforts it is likely that there will be very high casualty figures among Palestinians. In addition to the border area, there are Palestinian plans for significant violence elsewhere around this time including in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although 15th May was originally intended as the culmination of six weeks’ violence on the Gaza border, Palestinians have recently declared an intent to maintain their aggression at the border throughout the month of Ramadan.

The Gaza violence has been orchestrated under the pretext of the ‘Great March of Return’, a demonstration to draw attention to what Palestinian leadership consider to be a right of return of their people to homes in Israel. The stated intention is not just to demonstrate, but to actually break through the border fence en masse and physically march in their thousands through the State of Israel. The intention of the ‘right of return’ of course is not actually the exercise of such a ‘right’, which is strongly contested, and is in any case the subject of final status negotiations. It is well understood as a long-standing Arab policy intended to eliminate the State of Israel and has of course been consistently rejected by the Israeli government.

The real goal of Hamas’s violence is to continue their long-standing strategy of creating and intensifying international outrage, vilification, isolation and criminalisation of the State of Israel and its officials. This strategy includes creating situations which compel the IDF to respond with lethal force so that they are seen to kill and wound ‘innocent’ Palestinian civilians.

Within this strategy, Hamas have used a range of tactics which include firing rockets from Gaza into Israeli population centres and constructing sophisticated attack tunnels under the Gaza border into nearby Israeli communities. Critical elements of these tactics are the use of Palestinian human shields — civilians, often including women and children, who are either forced or volunteer to be present in locations from where attacks are launched or commanded; or where fighters, combat supplies and munitions are located; so that Israeli military response will include potential harm to these civilians. In some cases, including during the current wave of violence, we have seen Hamas present their fighters as innocent civilians; numerous fake incidents staged and filmed which purport to show civilians being killed and wounded by Israeli forces; and films of violence from elsewhere, eg Syria, portrayed as violence against Palestinians.

Following the use of rockets and attack tunnels, in three major Gaza conflicts (2008-2009, 2012 and 2014), as well as in other more isolated incidents, we now observe the use of a new tactic with the same fundamental purpose. This is the creation of large-scale ‘demonstrations’ combined with aggressive actions again intended to lure Israeli defensive action that leads to killing and wounding of Gaza civilians, despite strenuous IDF efforts to avoid such civilian casualties. In some respects this new tactic is more effective than the use of rockets and attack tunnels, because the primary targets for these activities — political leaders, international organisations (eg UN, EU), human rights groups and media — find it harder to understand the use of lethal force against what are falsely portrayed as peaceful demonstrations which they can equate to similar activities in their own cities.

As always, many elements of these primary targets have been ready and willing to be taken in by this ploy. Since the start of this spate of violence we have seen vehement condemnations from the UN, EU and ICC; from several governments and human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; and from many newspapers and broadcast media stations. These have included demands for international inquiries into allegations of unlawful killing and accusations of breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law by the IDF…

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

 

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ISRAEL UNLEASHES POWERFUL STRIKE

CAPABILITIES AFTER IRAN HITS FIRST

                      Yaakov Lappin                                                                                                     JNS, May 10, 2018

In striking more than 50 Iranian military targets within 90 minutes early on Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Force displayed just a sample of its advanced, intelligence-fueled precision firepower, dealing a crushing blow to Iran’s assets in Syria. This exchange of fire represents a new, stepped-up phase in the escalating Israeli-Iranian standoff in Syria.

Much of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria was destroyed in this wave of strikes, likely leaving the Quds Force—the overseas elite Iranian unit trying to consolidate its presence in Syria—reeling. The Quds Force has been busy in Iran, building missile and rocket bases, drone bases, importing Shi’ite militia forces and trafficking heavy weapons into the region. It had begun launching direct attacks on Israel in contrast to Iran’s older pattern of aggression, which was based on activating proxy attacks. Most disturbingly, the Quds Force had begun initiating the next stage of Iran’s takeover of Syria. All of these efforts had one goal: to be able to use Syria as a springboard for attacking Israel.

The Iranian axis in Syria, with the help of Russian airpower, has nearly completed its victory over the Sunni rebel organizations and could now turn its attention to stage two of its Syrian project: Israel. The Iranian leadership has made no secret of its intention to establish a grand, radical Shi’ite empire across the Middle East, stretching across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—and beyond. These imperial ambitions threaten not only Israel, but the region’s Sunni powers, which is why these states are in full support of Israel’s self-defense measures. Iran’s mistake was to underestimate Israel’s ability to put a stop to this plan. On Tuesday night the Quds Force, led by the charismatic and notorious Gen. Qasem Soleimani, dispatched a truck rocket-launcher towards Israel. As it drove south of Damascus, preparing to fire on Israel, it was destroyed in a missile attack.

The ability to detect such a developing threat in real time—and take action—is exactly the kind of unparalleled intelligence and strike capabilities that enable Israel to be a step ahead in its conflict with Iran. But the Iranians did not take the hint. They tried again on Wednesday night, firing 20 rockets at IDF positions on the Golan Heights. The IDF was prepared, intercepting the rockets with Iron Dome missile-defense system, and then going on the offensive in a massive wave of firepower.

Israel’s operation on Thursday, which was the largest conducted by the Israel Air Force in years, required extraordinary intelligence-gathering abilities, and in particular, the know-how to map out the various locations in which the Quds Force had taken root. This intelligence was then converted into the capability to fire guided munitions at the targets in large quantities in little time. Several of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air-defense batteries made the mistake of getting involved in the fight, firing surface-to-air missiles at Israeli jets. They paid a price for that decision; a good number of units were destroyed in Israeli counter-strikes.

These events ultimately mean that Iran tried to force the Jewish state to accept its presence in Syria, and the effort completely failed. Iran ended up losing more than 50 military targets, and Israel’s message to Tehran—to exit Syria immediately—received a powerful boost. It’s too soon to know if this round of fighting has ended. But Iran is unlikely to give up on Syria so quickly. Despite the blow absorbed, the Iranians will likely make a new attempt to move into Syria, smuggling new kinds of weapons, and preparing the ground for future attacks on Israel.

The events of recent days have marked the start of a new phase in a long-term Iranian-Israeli long-term conflagration. This is a conflict, however, that began when Iran came to Israel’s borders to threaten and attack it, and not the other way around. So far, Hezbollah has kept out of this conflict, and this is welcome news. Iran is unlikely to want to risk its proxy ensconced in Lebanon, preferring to continue pointing Hezbollah’s 120,000 rockets and missiles at the Jewish state. Despite a remarkable display of Israeli military capabilities, this is no time to be complacent. The Iranians will be back, and the IDF must be prepared for its return.

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WHAT MIGHT AN ISRAEL-IRAN WAR LOOK LIKE?

Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA, May 10, 2018

In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its red lines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles. The Islamic Republic of Iran is equally committed to making both of those things happen.

Given their mutual resolve in meeting diametrically opposed objectives, the prospects of a conflagration between Iran and its proxies against Israel are high enough to consider how such a war might play out and what the ramifications might be of such a deadly conflict. If war does break out, it will signal the end of an era ushered in by the October 1973 War and formalized in the peace treaty with Egypt, which was the most powerful Arab enemy at the time. That treaty marked an end to inter-state wars between Muslim states and Israel.

Most of the conflicts in the four and a half decades since have taken place between Israel and non-state actors, including the long low-intensity conflict between Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, and Israel in southern Lebanon and the larger conflagration in 2006. Would Iran attack Israel directly or make do with activating Hezbollah? (The Syrian army has its hands full completing the defeat of the Sunni opposition forces in northeastern Syria in the Idlib area and preventing their resurgence.)

Tehran might decide to attack directly for several reasons. One is its perception that a Hezbollah-directed missile war might not be sufficiently costly to Israel to deter it from continuing to attack the Iranian infrastructure in Syria. It would also bring in its wake the danger that Israel might choose to retaliate directly against Iran.

Hezbollah’s war-weariness could be another factor in Iran’s decision to either attack alone or share the pain of war-making with its proxy. Hezbollah draws its ranks from a small community of fewer than two million souls. It is responsible for the continuous bloodletting of that community’s youth from 1982 to 2000, primarily against Israel but also against the Sunnis of Tripoli and the Palestinians in the “war of the camps” in 1985.

The bloodletting came to a temporary halt with the Israeli withdrawal/hurried retreat from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the disintegration of its Maronite-supported militia, only to reemerge six years later as Hezbollah suffered hundreds of deaths in the 2006 confrontation with Israel. Six years after that, Hezbollah was again bleeding its community’s youth in the bloody civil war in Syria, which continues to this day. The lack of popularity of what is probably the deadliest of Hezbollah’s wars to date can be seen in the major media sites linked to the organization.

These sites scarcely report on Hezbollah’s participation on the Syrian battlefield, and the sophisticated videos the organization produces to immortalize the fighters (“martyrs”, as they call them) are buried on the sites in a way that makes them difficult to find. They are clearly intended for the families alone and not for the general Shiite public, which seems opposed to such participation – not least because the Shiites do not want to antagonize their Sunni neighbors in Lebanon and once again risk a deadly civil war.

Demographic data also show that the birthrate of Shiites in Lebanon (as indeed in Iran itself) has plummeted. In 2004, it reached a “European” fertility rate that is below replacement rate.  This means new recruits will increasingly come from four member families that have already experienced painful loss of life. For these reasons, Tehran is more likely to attack Israel directly. However, as it has no air force and very little capacity to dispatch troops from Iran (they would be prey to Israel’s air force en route), Iran will probably opt for a missile war in which Hezbollah will likely take part.

A missile war and the subsequent massive use of Israeli air power would reveal both countries’ vulnerabilities. Iran is vulnerable despite its massive population size compared to that of Israel (80 million for Iran as opposed to 8.5 million for Israel) and the even more substantial difference in territorial size (1.65 million sq. km for Iran compared to only 21,000 for Israel).

Why is Iran as vulnerable as Israel despite these differences? Because it has existential liabilities. One is that Iran exports 90% of its oil and gas from a single port (essentially an island), Kharg, one hundred miles southeast of the tip of the Iraqi-Iranian border on the Persian/Arab Gulf. The revenues Iran derives from that oil and gas amount to at least 40% of government expenditures and around half its foreign reserves. Also, the port of Bandar Abbas (“bandar” is “port” in Farsi) on Iran’s southern tip is responsible for 90% of its container trade. The goods brought in by container represent only 15-20% of total trade, but they are the goods that keep the Iranian quality of life in the 21st century.

One can safely assume that the Israeli air force has given much consideration to addressing these two major points of Iranian vulnerability. The war will be very destructive and disruptive – not only for Israel and Iran but for neighboring states as well. Israel might feel compelled to attack airports in Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq to prevent the movement of Iranian troops and equipment. Israel is vulnerable due to its small size and dense population, especially in its coastal area. But it has one advantage: Israel’s citizens will be firmly behind its democratically elected government in the event of hostilities with Iran.

This might not be the case for the fundamentalist regime of Iran, whose population has been paying dearly for the regime’s imperialist ambitions and will pay a hundred times more if such a war breaks out. Who knows? To stave off its own downfall, the Iranian regime might decide to avert a war with Israel – which never wanted a conflict with Iran in the first place.

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Hamas has Taken Gaza Back to the Stone Age: Jason Greenblatt, Jerusalem Post, May 11, 2018—As Hamas continues to exploit protests to foment violence against Israel, finding a way to help the people of Gaza in any meaningful way becomes more and more challenging. All parties interested in bringing change to Gaza need to face the reality that Hamas has failed its own people.

For Hamas, Dancing on the Brink of Chaos is a Winning Tactic: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, May 15, 2018—Monday was undoubtedly among the most bewilderingly dissonant days in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: As the Israeli leadership, joined by US officials, feted the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem, and as tens of thousands of Israelis welcomed back Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai in celebrations in Tel Aviv, the Gaza Strip suffered one of its most doleful days in memory.

Conflicting Claims Swirl As Israel Continues Air War Against Iranian Interests In Syria: Joseph Trevithick, The Drive, Apr. 17, 2018—he Syrian government and its partners have issued a string of contradictory reports regarding yet another reported Israeli strike against Iranian interests in the country. Though the exact details of the event remain unclear, Syria’s dictator Bashar Al Assad and his Russian benefactors seem eager to dismiss the incident, in part or in full, while still declaring some sort of victory in the aftermath a massive U.S.-led missile barrage against various chemical weapons sites in the country.

Israel’s Nuclear and Conventional Deterrence: Prof. Louis René Beres, BESA, Apr. 29, 2018—Left to their own likely preferences, whether expressly stated or prudently obscured, certain of Israel’s potentially nuclear adversaries could someday bring the Jewish State “into the eternal darkness, into fire, and into ice.” It is indispensable, therefore, that Israel’s senior leadership take all conceivable steps to ensure that any preventable failures of deterrence never spark a nuclear attack or exchange.

ISRAEL-IRAN CONFLICT IN SYRIA ESCALATES IN WAKE OF TRUMP’S NUCLEAR DEAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Overnight Clashes Show Shiite ‘Monster’ in Syria is Limited, For Now: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, May 10, 2018— The broadly unsuccessful Iranian military response overnight Wednesday to alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria in recent weeks…

The ‘Game’ That Israel and Iran Must Play in Syria: Max Singer, Algemeiner, May 10, 2018 — Israel has neither the power nor the motivation to significantly influence the outcome of the war for control of Syria.

Wrong Man? Right Decision!: Jonathan S. Tobin, JNS, May 9, 2018— It took him 16 months to get around to it, but US President Donald Trump finally kept another campaign promise and pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

The Iran Deal’s Disastrous Legacy Has Nothing to Do with Nukes: Noah Rothman, Commentary, May 9, 2018— In March, State Department veteran and former adviser to Barack Obama, Frederic Hof, bid farewell to public life with a stunning admission.

On Topic Links

Liberman: Israel Destroyed ‘Nearly All’ Iranian Military Sites in Syria: Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel, May 10, 2018

Another Reason the EU Supports the Iran Deal: Money: Elder of Ziyon, Algemeiner, May 10, 2018

The Ayatollahs’ Clear and Present Threat to the USA: Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, Arutz Sheva, May 8, 2018

John Kerry, Busybody: Editorial, National Review, May 8, 2018

 

OVERNIGHT CLASHES SHOW SHIITE ‘MONSTER’

IN SYRIA IS LIMITED, FOR NOW

Avi Issacharoff

Times of Israel, May 10, 2018

 

The broadly unsuccessful Iranian military response overnight Wednesday to alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria in recent weeks — themselves a response to Iran’s deepening military presence in Syria, and to its launch of an attack drone into Israel in February — reveals a lot about the present Iranian deployment in Syria. Despite the impression one might get from some Israeli reports that a real monster in Syria is threatening the very existence of the Jewish state, it emerged that pro-Iranian Shiite forces in Syria are, at this stage, limited in their capacity to attack Israel.

During Iran’s overnight revenge operation, 20 rockets were fired at Israel, of which 16 landed in Syrian territory and the other four were knocked out of the sky by Israeli missile defense systems. It’s doubtful that this was what the Iranians or the ayatollahs had in mind when they authorized Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’s Quds Force, to respond to what foreign sources have called recent Israeli attacks on Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria. Not only did the operation not achieve anything — there was no damage and there were no injuries on the Israeli side — it gave Israel the pretext for a wide-ranging attack on Iranian targets inside Syria.

According to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, nearly the entire Iranian military infrastructure was attacked overnight. The Israeli army said this infrastructure sustained heavy damage. What worries Israel, though, is not the attacks launched from Syria but the threat of a broader military confrontation with the much more important Iranian proxy in the region — Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Up until now, the Lebanese Shiite terror organization has avoided being drawn into war with Israel. It is keeping its troops on alert but has not ordered them into action.

As long as Hezbollah in Lebanon remains out of the picture, the exchange of blows in Syria can continue without escalating into war. The Iranians are in no hurry to use Hezbollah’s troops and rockets and will want to reserve them for more difficult times ahead. Hezbollah, for its part, does not seem eager to jump into a war when the exit route is not clear. During the Lebanese parliamentary election campaign of recent weeks, Hezbollah focused on rehabilitating its image as a Lebanese, rather than Iranian-backed, organization, dealing with internal Lebanese problems ranging from drugs to corruption and the problem of garbage removal.

This campaign brought successful results for Hezbollah; the Shiite bloc, together with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, now has a majority in parliament. While the balance of power in Lebanese politics will not change significantly, the status of Hezbollah as a legitimate organization has been strengthened. The question is whether it will want to be dragged back into a discussion about its identity and loyalty.

Hezbollah’s entry into a confrontation with Israel in order to avenge Iran would once again raise the question of its image as a “defender of Lebanon” and revive the image of the organization as a branch of the Iranian regime fighting alongside Tehran during its participation in Syria’s civil war. Make no mistake, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah will continue to carry out whatever Qassem Soleimani asks of him. But Hezbollah’s entanglement in war against Israel will not serve Tehran’s goal of expanding Iranian control in the region. On the contrary, it could take Iran’s efforts backwards by many years.

Don’t imagine that the current escalation is already behind us. The Israeli-Iranian struggle in Syria is far from over. Last night’s events were only the first round of what appears to be a particularly long and exhausting fistfight, without a knockout. The Iranians will continue to entrench themselves in Syria and Israel will again launch alleged attacks on Iranian military targets there. After that, Iran will again try to respond, and last night’s operation will be repeated. It is only to be hoped that in the next round, the battle’s outcome will also tilt significantly in Israel’s favor.

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THE ‘GAME’ THAT ISRAEL AND IRAN MUST PLAY IN SYRIA

Max Singer

Algemeiner, May 10, 2018

Israel has neither the power nor the motivation to significantly influence the outcome of the war for control of Syria. Israel’s objective in Syria is to prevent Iran from building military facilities there that increase its ability to attack the Jewish state. The only way Israel can achieve this is by destroying any such facilities that Iran constructs or by convincing Iran not to build any threatening facility out of fear that Israel will destroy it.

Jerusalem does not have any strong preferences among the likely outcomes of the Syrian civil war, all of which are bad for Israel. For humanitarian reasons Israel would like the bloody attacks on civilians to stop, but Israel’s security benefits so long as its enemies are fighting each other. Any democracy’s ability to influence the outcome is limited by what could be called “the Sabra and Shatilla problem”; that is, a lack of local allies who can be trusted to refrain from massacres and ethnic cleansing.

Jerusalem’s main practical interests in Syria are to prevent construction of military facilities there that would increase Iran’s ability to attack Israel and prevent Iran from controlling territory near the Golan Heights. Israel has made political efforts to protect its interests in Syria, but there is not much possibility that such efforts can succeed. Even if for some reason an outside party such as Russia induced Iran to agree not to build a base that threatened Israel, Iran cannot be counted on to keep such an agreement, and no one else would feel strongly enough to insist that Iran live up to it. Iran cares more about this issue than anyone else except Israel.

So Israel itself has to try to prevent Iran from gaining new abilities to threaten it from Syria. It can’t do this through diplomatic demands or other forms of negotiation with Iran. But Israel can prevent Iran from constructing new military facilities in Syria — such as bases or factories — by bombing any such facilities that Iran builds so they become unusable. This strategic “game” is understood by both Israel and Iran. For now, neither side wants a war, but each is willing to take action that might risk war. They will both be careful, but neither is likely to be passive. The “game” has more complexities and nuances than presented here.

The first level of complexity is that both sides make threats that are broader than what they are willing to carry out. Tehran threatens to attack Israel if it bombs Iranian bases in Syria, while Jerusalem says it will not “accept” Iranian assets that threaten Israel anywhere in Syria. Each side tries to get other parties to step in to stop its enemy in order to prevent a new war.

Each side understands that its enemy’s threats are exaggerated, but neither is certain what the other will actually do. Iran started already by building a small base in southern Syria from which it launched a drone to deliver a small bomb to northern Israel. By destroying the Iranian facilities at that base, Israel demonstrated the will and ability to prevent Iran from basing forces so close to Israel. Iran learned that it would have to keep a bigger distance or risk a humiliating military blow.

Both sides had to pay a price for this teaching/learning experience. Iran lost whatever it had invested in building the base. More importantly, it suffered the embarrassment of being attacked without the ability to make a sufficient response — that is, some of its threats were exposed as empty. While Israel achieved its immediate goal, it too had to pay a price. Any military attack involves costs and risks, even if the dangers don’t materialize. And while there are political benefits to using military power successfully, there are also political costs.

Iran now needs to know if it can safely build a facility further from the border with Israel. How much further? Israel won’t draw a precise line because a degree of uncertainty can work in its favor. Exactly how far Israel will go in excluding Iranian facilities depends on all kinds of details and political considerations. The only way that Iran can determine Jerusalem’s limits is to build something and see whether Israel destroys it. But if it does cross an Israeli red line, Iran will suffer losses like those from the Israeli destruction of their drone-launching base last month.

Iranian leaders care much more about who controls Syria than about building bases in Syria that threaten Israel, and they don’t seem to want to have a war with Israel at this time. So for now, Israel can probably prevent Iran from building military facilities in Syria that it finds unacceptably threatening, contributing to the peace and security of the region. This capability hinges on Tehran’s continuing to believe that Jerusalem can and will use military strikes to prevent Syria from becoming a base for Iranian attacks against Israel.

When the question of control over what was Syria is finally settled — which will probably take at least another several years — Iran may give more emphasis to their goal of being able to use Syria as another base for attacking Israel. It may be less concerned at that point with avoiding war with Israel, especially if it has nuclear weapons by then. If that happens, Israel will have less ability to limit Tehran’s building of military facilities in Syria, though that will also depend to an extent on the nature of the new regime or regimes in the country. It is also entirely possible that by the time the war in Syria is settled, there will be a new regime ruling Iran. That would end the “game” described here and greatly reduce many other problems now troubling the region.

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WRONG MAN? RIGHT DECISION!

          Jonathan S. Tobin

JNS, May 9, 2018

 

It took him 16 months to get around to it, but US President Donald Trump finally kept another campaign promise and pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. To his critics, especially the Obama administration alumni who have dedicated themselves to defending the 44th president’s foreign-policy legacy, the move is quintessential Trump: irresponsible, impulsive, politically motivated, and rooted in ignorance and malice.

But while Trump can be all those things and more, the narrative that his Iran policy is a foolish departure from the wise efforts of his predecessor is false. Think what you like of Trump the man and his relentless Twitter account. Yet for all of his faults, in making what may well turn out to be the most significant decision of his presidency, Trump not only did the right thing, but also exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of the supposed adults in Washington, US foreign-policy establishment and America’s European allies. Though the way forward may well be difficult and fraught with peril, by taking the first formal step to reverse former President Barack Obama’s effort to appease the Islamist regime, Trump has demonstrated that he has a surer grasp of how to defend US national security — and that of our allies — than all the people who are assumed to be smarter than him.

To understand why requires not only an explanation of how deeply flawed the nuclear pact is, but why those who claim that it’s working just fine (and who predict that Trump is plunging the world into a crisis) are wrong. The first point to be made about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is that it didn’t fulfill Obama’s 2012 campaign promise to end the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Instead, Obama’s desperation to make a deal at any price — a desire rooted in the president’s belief that détente with Tehran was both possible and desirable — resulted in granting the Iranian nuclear program an international seal of approval. It enriched and empowered the Islamist regime, and granted it an undeserved legitimacy. But rather than “get right with the world,” as Obama promised, Iran used the massive cash windfall in unfrozen assets and the lifting of sanctions to ramp up its aggressive behavior, as well as continue building missiles whose only purpose would be to carry the nukes it lied about not wanting to build.

Thanks to the free pass Obama gave Iran in Syria, it not only enabled the barbarous survival of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, but allowed the establishment of Iranian bases there to further threaten Israel and moderate Arab regimes. Yet Trump’s critics still claim that the deal was only focused on nuclear issues, and that for all its flaws, the agreement stalled that threat. They assert that Trump is making it easier for Iran to go back to preparing to break out to build a bomb with no “plan B” to ensure how it will be stopped.

Those who believe Trump is wrong are making the same mistake that Obama made in the negotiations. Obama acted as if he needed a deal more than Iran and then abandoned all of the West’s demands that it give up its nuclear quest one by one. As a result, Iran got to keep its program and advanced research capabilities, and also forced the United State to agree to sunset provisions that will mean that within 10 to 15 years, all of the restrictions on their nuclear capabilities will expire. Even if there were no other flaws in the deal — and there are many — that one alone would have justified Trump’s decision since a failure to renegotiate the JCPOA is tantamount to conceding that Iran will get a nuclear weapon sooner or later.

Unlike Obama, Trump understands that Iran is the weaker player in this confrontation, not the United States. While it may threaten to start building a weapon, doing so would force the Europeans — and even the Russians and the Chinese — to back Trump. That would accelerate a return to international sanctions and isolate them again. With unrest inside Iran building — both from anger over the theocracy’s impact on the lives of ordinary Iranians, and frustration over the Islamist tyranny’s incompetence and corrupt management of the economy — there is no way the ayatollahs will roll the dice in a standoff with the Americans in that way. Trump is calling their bluff, and he is right to do so.

That means the immediate danger of an Iranian breakout is unlikely to materialize. Once that’s clear, the administration can begin tightening the noose on Iran’s economy by not only re-imposing US sanctions, as Trump has done, but also by warning other nations, including America’s European allies, that anyone who does business with Iran will not be able to conduct transactions with US financial institutions. The French and the Germans will scream, but they would have no choice but to comply. As much as the president’s critics argue that he has forfeited America’s role as leader of the free world with his behavior, his policies make it clear that it is Trump — and not the seemingly more respectable Emmanuel Macron or level-headed Angela Merkel — who is defending the West.

In other words, although Obama apologists and the Europeans have kept telling us that there’s no way that America can start to roll back the deal on its own, Trump is about to do just that. And it will not only unravel the nuclear deal, but begin reversing the gains Iran has made in the last four years as its prestige rose and its coffers began to fill. Sooner or later, as Trump predicted, Iran will have no choice but to talk about a new nuclear deal that will, in contrast to the pathetic show put on by Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, be on America’s terms, not that of the ayatollahs.

Far from endangering US security, Trump’s move was the first step towards averting the peril that Obama’s shortsighted effort at appeasement created. Are there risks associated with this strategy? Of course, there are. But they are not as great as the risks, both long- and short-term, that Obama’s deal created. As was the case with his decision to reverse Obama’s campaign to create more daylight between the United States and Israel — and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state — Trump has dismissed the conventional wisdom of the so-called experts. His instinctual distrust of the establishment was not a manifestation of his ignorance, but a recognition that they were, as they have been for decades, dead wrong.

There are still many good reasons to distrust Trump and to be disgusted by his personal behavior. But hard as it may be for those who despise him to admit, on Iran — as on Israel and Jerusalem — he has done the right thing. As his efforts to stop the rogue regime in Tehran continue, those who oppose this strategy will deserve our scorn. Not Trump.

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THE IRAN DEAL’S DISASTROUS LEGACY

HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH NUKES

Noah Rothman

Commentary, May 9, 2018

In March, State Department veteran and former adviser to Barack Obama, Frederic Hof, bid farewell to public life with a stunning admission. Amid a confession regarding his failure to prevent the expansion of the Syrian civil war into a regional crisis, Hof laid the blame for that all-consuming conflict (as well as a notable uptick in Russian aggression) at the feet of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. “[T]he administration sacrificed Syrian civilians and American credibility for the mistaken notion that Iran required appeasement in Syria as the price for a nuclear agreement,” Hof wrote. Today, with 500,000 dead, millions displaced, and the norm prohibiting chemical-weapons use shattered, we can confirm that the price of appeasement is as high as ever.

Indeed, the Iran nuclear deal was supposed to have a variety of positive knock-on effects entirely unrelated to the development of nuclear weapons, but they never materialized. As New York Times reporters David Sanger and David Kirkpatrick observe, Obama “regarded Iran as potentially a more natural ally” of the United States than America’s Sunni allies in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh. Iran is urbane, young, educated, and chafing under its theological government. The opening up of the Iranian economy in a post-deal world, so the thinking went, would facilitate—even necessitate—domestic liberalization. Purely out of self-interest, the Mullahs would soon agree to pare back their support for destabilizing activities in the region and cooperate with the West to “defeat the Islamic State.”

All these ambitious objectives went unrealized in the years that passed since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) adoption. That is not to say that the JCPOA failed to induce some tectonic shifts in the region. The Obama administration’s effort to empower Iran and its Shiite proxies in the region compelled the Middle East’s Sunni states to rethink their alliances. The regularization of contacts between Washington and Tehran for the first time in nearly 40 years forced longtime foes, Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, into a de facto pact. And just like that, the region’s all-consuming Palestinian question faded into the background. The remarkable diminution of the central issue of what we used to call the Middle East Peace Process underscores how stabilizing America’s forward posture can be, for good or for ill. It also demonstrates how American withdrawal can scramble regional dynamics with unforeseeable consequences.

Ultimately, the most welcome revelation the Iran nuclear deal has wrought is one to which only the accord’s most prideful defenders remain resistant. There can be no permanent accommodation with the regime in Tehran. The Islamic Republic can only be contained and weakened, with the eventual—if unstated—aim of nudging it toward radical democratic reform and, ultimately, dissolution. Since Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, the deal’s defenders and its detractors have largely argued over one another’s heads. The deal’s champions insist that everyone from IAEA inspectors to the Trump administration’s defense secretary and former secretary of state has certified that Iran is abiding by the arrangement. This is a red herring. Most of the deal’s opponents do not dispute that Iran is nominally in compliance with the terms of the deal. That’s the problem…

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Liberman: Israel Destroyed ‘Nearly All’ Iranian Military Sites in Syria: Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel, May 10, 2018—Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday morning that the IDF had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure sites in Syria overnight in response to a rocket barrage on Israel’s north, and warned Tehran that attacks on Israeli territory will be met with “the strongest possible force.”

Another Reason the EU Supports the Iran Deal: Money: Elder of Ziyon, Algemeiner, May 10, 2018—EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini criticized the US move to reimpose sanctions on Iran — because Iran has been an economic windfall for the Europeans.

The Ayatollahs’ Clear and Present Threat to the USA: Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, Arutz Sheva, May 8, 2018—1. The tyrannical Ayatollah regime – oppressing Iran’s majority – is driven by a megalomaniacal ideology, clearly reflected by its K-12 curriculum, brainwashing Iran’s youth for full commitment to the “divine battle” against the US, “the Great Satan,” the “infidel” Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Kurds, Azerbaijanis, etc.

John Kerry, Busybody: Editorial, National Review, May 8, 2018—“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” The president was referring, of course, to recent attempts by the former secretary of state to shore up support for the Iran nuclear deal on which the Trump administration is markedly skeptical.