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

Tag: Syria

NEW IDF CHIEF INHERITS ONGOING IRAN, HAMAS, AND HEZBOLLAH CONFLICTS

TRUDEAU SAYS HE WILL ‘CONTINUE TO CONDEMN THE BDS MOVEMENT’ AT ST. CATHARINES TOWN HALL: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given a full-throated defence of his condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement…”We need to understand, as well, that anti-Semitism has also manifested itself not just as in targeting of individuals but it is also targeting a new condemnation or an anti-Semitism against the very state of Israel,” he said. The prime minister added that Canada must be very careful “not to sanction this new frame around anti-Semitism and undue criticism of Israel.” To support his case, Trudeau pointed to the so-called “Three Ds” test for separating criticism of the Jewish state and anti-Semitism: demonization, double standards, and delegitimization of Israel. “When you have movements like BDS that single out Israel, that seek to delegitimize and in some cases demonize, when you have students on campus dealing with things like Israel apartheid weeks that make them fearful of actually attending campus events because of their religion in Canada, we have to recognize that there are things that aren’t acceptable, not because of foreign policy concerns but because of Canadian values,” Trudeau said. (Huffington Post, Jan. 16, 2019)

 

A Full Plate Awaits Israel’s New IDF Chief: Yoav Limor, Algemeiner, Jan. 14, 2019— It’s not surprising that Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot spent his last night as army chief in the command bunker underneath IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv…

Is the IDF Ready for All-Out War?: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Jan. 10, 2019— The question of just how ready the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is for war has dominated Israel’s headlines in recent weeks.

A One-Time Opportunity for Israel in the Golan?: Michael Oren, JNS, Dec. 25, 2018— Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw ‎American troops from Syria shocked many in the ‎United States and the Middle East.

Is Europe Ready to Defend Itself?: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2019— The new Republican administration in Washington issued a blunt warning…

On Topic Links 

Prime Minister Denounces BDS at Town Hall Meeting (Video): Anthony Housefather, CBC, Jan. 16, 2018

The Challenges Ahead for Incoming IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi (Video): Breaking Israel News, Jan. 16, 2019

Israel Air Force Invited to First-Ever Joint Exercise With Britain’s RAF: JNS, Jan. 17, 2019

How Changing U.S. Policy Can Improve the Indo-Pacific Relationship: Brahma Chellaney, Globe & Mail, Nov. 21, 2018

 

A FULL PLATE AWAITS ISRAEL’S NEW IDF CHIEF

Yoav Limor

Algemeiner, Jan. 14, 2019

It’s not surprising that Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot spent his last night as army chief in the command bunker underneath IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, closely following the type of operation that has been synonymous with his tenure. It was full throttle up to the very last moment, one final mission before he handed in his dog tags.

As usual in the Middle East, nothing will change when Eizenkot is replaced. There’s enough Syria for everyone (and Iran, Hezbollah, Gaza, and a few other headaches). Incoming IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi wasn’t in the command bunker Friday night — he was enjoying his last worry-free Shabbat evening — but his deputy, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, was there as part of the process of passing the baton to the next IDF leaders.

An airstrike in Damascus on Friday, which has already been attributed to Israel, apparently targeted the logistics center Iran operates at Damascus International Airport — a separate and secured loading dock, where Iran does as it pleases. Several hours before the attack, an Iranian military plane landed in Damascus and unloaded its cargo. This was quite possibly the impetus for the strike, which according to satellite images, caused immense damage. Syria, per its custom, claimed that it shot down most of the missiles fired by Israeli warplanes. These claims don’t always need to be taken at face value. Assad also has to cater to public opinion — at home and abroad — and he has to explain (domestically) why Israel is still attacking his country unhindered. As for the international community, he has to explain why Iran is operating its own secure terminal at the airport in Damascus, as if it were in Tehran.

It was hard not to notice the Russian silence on Saturday in the wake of the rather obvious attack. Ever since the downing of the Russian spy plane last September, Israeli-Russian relations have chilled. Israel was strongly rebuked, including by accusations that it was endangering Russian forces in Syria and regional security. Relations have warmed a bit in recent weeks, and Russia turning a blind eye to the attack Friday night (which didn’t jeopardize its personnel) is a possible indication of this. Past experience teaches us that Israel, too, most likely informed the Russians prior to the operation. Israel would be wise to continue its recent policy of treading carefully as it pertains to operating in Syria. This is now Kochavi’s job.

The good tidings on the northern front were somewhat tempered on Saturday by Hamas’ video revelations regarding the IDF’s botched operation in Gaza in November. Although Hamas invested a great deal in the video, it revealed nothing new of significance. But it did provide another glimpse into the drama that unfolded that night — from the moment the undercover soldiers were detected at a Hamas roadblock, to their narrow escape under heavy air cover and the subsequent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

It’s safe to assume that this story isn’t over. Hamas apparently has more information, some of which can potentially cause considerable damage. The Israeli mission inquiry is proceeding apace. Initial findings have already been presented twice to Eizenkot and the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate. The investigators were asked to fill in certain blanks and, on Monday, just before Eizenkot steps out the door, these additional findings will also be presented.

The final conclusions will be up to Kochavi. In television interviews on Saturday, Eizenkot said the operation wasn’t inherently flawed, and that a chain of unfortunate events resulted in the outcome. But the information that has been accumulated thus far paints a different picture, one that raises serious questions about the operation, its approval, the conduct of the soldiers, and the makeup of their team — not to mention questions about structural changes within the unit that carried out the operation and the chain of command.

The operational inquiry (headed by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon) will surely lead to many professional conclusions and perhaps personal ones as well. Within the unit, there’s been bad blood for the past two months, which must also be drained quickly. The operation in Gaza has already failed. Along with mitigating the fallout, it’s now time to internalize the proper lessons and turn this failure into future operational success. Kochavi will have to lead the way.

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IS THE IDF READY FOR ALL-OUT WAR?

Yaakov Lappin

BESA, Jan. 10, 2019

The question of just how ready the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is for war has dominated Israel’s headlines in recent weeks. The issue came to the fore following the stormy end to the 10-year tenure of IDF Ombudsman Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Brick. Brick released a scathing report and multiple statements claiming that the military’s ground forces are grossly underprepared for conflict. He went so far as to say, during an address to the Knesset’s State Control Committee, that “the IDF is undergoing a process of deterioration that has reached its peak in recent years.”

Brick’s alarming assessments have been outright rejected by military chiefs, including outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and the Commanding Officer of the ground forces, Maj. Gen. Kobi Barak. While Eizenkot has ordered the military to examine Brick’s claims, he has consistently affirmed that the IDF’s war readiness has improved dramatically in recent years. Eizenkot focused his four years as Chief of Staff on improving readiness, meaning that Brick’s criticisms are being leveled directly at the heart of his efforts and legacy.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a defense analyst specializing in military theory and military history and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. Hecht also lectures at the IDF Command and General Staff College. In conversation with the author, Hecht agreed with Brick and other critical voices who think the IDF is unprepared – but added that this is not a zero-sum argument. “There are areas in which the IDF has done excellent work, and there is a reason why foreign militaries come here to learn from it,” said Hecht. “On the other hand, there are areas in which the IDF is not good enough.”

Hecht explained that the way in which Brick and military command measure war readiness is different. To understand this difference, it’s necessary to dive into the IDF’s history. The Second Lebanon War of 2006, Hecht said, was the second-lowest point in the history of Israel’s military. The lowest was in the years 1950-53. “The difference between these two points is that while in 1950 to 1953, the IDF did not know how to conduct routine security missions and did not know how to conduct major wars, in 2006, the IDF knew how to do continuous security in an excellent manner,” Hecht said. “Hence, it defeated the Palestinians in the ‘Ebb and Flow’ War [the so-called ‘Al-Aqsa Intifada’ of 2000 to 2006].”

However, it was during those years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada that new concepts were taking hold regarding the future of warfare. The concepts were that there will be no “big, high-intensity wars” anymore, and in the unlikely event that such wars do occur, they should be fought with high-quality intelligence and through the use of long-range firepower, mostly delivered by fighter jet, to destroy enemy targets. As a result, “the IDF deliberately neglected the necessary requirements for ground combat,” said Hecht. By the time Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dan Halutz became Chief of Staff in 2005, the ground forces had suffered major neglect, leading to significant failures in the war that erupted with Hezbollah the following summer.

The strategic gains Israel received from that war came “despite tactical failures,” noted Hecht. Those failures led the next Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi, to demand a “return to basics” for the ground forces. They underwent a major upgrade during Ashkenazi’s tenure. But then, under the leadership of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (ret.) Benny Gantz, this trend was stopped. The older trend of focusing on airpower and intelligence, which dominated before the Second Lebanon War, made a comeback, according to Hecht. The current outgoing Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, “brought back Ashkenazi’s trend,” Hecht said. “However, the reference point for Eizenkot and the General Staff compares today’s IDF to the military of 2006. Brick’s reference points compare today’s IDF to the military when it was at its peak, 40 to 50 years ago.”

The bottom line, said Hecht, is that compared to its performance in 2006, the IDF of 2019 has “undergone a terrific improvement.” At the same time, he warned, there is a need to take stock of the growing threat posed by Hezbollah, which today is equivalent to some five infantry divisions, in terms of relative power. “Hezbollah is like the PLO and the Syrian army in Lebanon in 1982 combined. True, they [Hezbollah] do not have tanks, but they have many things that the Syrians and the PLO did not have then,” said Hecht, pointing to powerful guided anti-tank missiles as one example. “They are moving ahead with the fortification of southern Lebanon at a scale that did not exist before, and they are much more professional and skilled than the PLO was back then,” he said.

According to public sources, in 2006, Hezbollah’s forces in southern Lebanon were equal to perhaps two infantry brigades, and the organization was armed with far fewer anti-tank missiles, mortars, and other powerful weapons. Hezbollah today is some six times more powerful than what it was in 2006, said Hecht…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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A ONE-TIME OPPORTUNITY FOR ISRAEL IN THE GOLAN?

Michael Oren

JNS, Dec. 25, 2018

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw ‎American troops from Syria shocked many in the ‎United States and the Middle East. In Israel, ‎most of the public discourse about this decision revolves around the ‎challenges of this process, but we seem to be ‎largely ignoring the question of what opportunities ‎it may present: For one, could Israel, as ‎compensation, secure a pledge from Washington to ‎help it in times of war and on other vital ‎diplomatic issues?‎

Given the recent discovery of Hezbollah’s grid of ‎terror tunnels and Iran’s attempts to upgrade its ‎offensive capabilities, it is reasonable to assume ‎that Israel is closer than it has ever been in the ‎last decade to a war in the northern sector. This could prove highly complex from a ‎military standpoint and even a legal-diplomatic one: Most of Hezbollah’s arsenal of 130,000 projectiles is hidden under civilian homes. ‎Neutralizing them would require investing ‎considerable military resources and likely ‎entail large civilian losses.‎

It is important to remember that in the last four ‎military campaigns since 2006, Israel has had to ask ‎the United States for additional ammunition, and we ‎would probably have to do the same in a future war. ‎Israel would also likely need diplomatic and legal ‎backing to defend it against condemnations in ‎the UN Security Council and the International ‎Criminal Court.‎

The same opportunity exists regarding the situation ‎opposite Hamas in the Gaza Strip: Israel can win ‎a US commitment for the post-Hamas era ‎there. Naturally, the IDF is capable of removing ‎Hamas from the Gaza Strip on its own, but the ‎question is who would take its place. ‎Understandings could be reached with the ‎United States — and through it, the Sunni world — on Gaza’s rehabilitation and the ‎establishment of an economic infrastructure for the civilian population there.‎

As Israel prepares for military campaigns in its ‎north and south, as part of my position as ‎deputy minister for public diplomacy at the Prime ‎Minister’s Office I am promoting a first-of-its-kind initiative to develop the Golan Heights. ‎The goal is to have more than 100,000 Israelis move ‎to the area over the next decade, thereby increasing ‎the Israeli population there by five times, and to ‎establish the necessary industrial and ‎transportation infrastructure for such a move.‎ My efforts have already gained widespread ‎support domestically and internationally.

Now, ‎given the fragile situation in Syria, Israel must ‎reach a comprehensive understanding with the US on ‎recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan ‎Heights. This would send a message to our ‎enemies about the decisive American position on the eternal Israeli ownership of the Golan ‎Heights.‎ It would be a good idea to make a large portion of ‎these commitments public in multiple languages. Such ‎a move would bolster America’s somewhat bruised ‎image in the Middle East, and even reinforce its ‎ability to promote diplomatic processes and its ‎position as a very effective mediator in possible ‎peace negotiations. ‎

It is no secret that during the Obama ‎administration, the United States lost some of its status ‎in the region. The Trump administration has taken ‎several steps — from striking Syrian assets in ‎response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use ‎of chemical weapons to pulling out of the 2015 ‎nuclear deal with Iran — to improve this situation. ‎A commitment to aid Israel would be a continuation ‎of this policy of improvement, presenting multiple ‎possibilities not only for Israel but also for the ‎Trump administration. The recent changes in the region present a one-time ‎opportunity for Israel, and we should take advantage ‎of it.

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IS EUROPE READY TO DEFEND ITSELF?

Yaroslav Trofimov

Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2019

The new Republican administration in Washington issued a blunt warning: Unless Europe quickly set up its own unified army, the U.S. would be compelled to undertake an “agonizing reappraisal” of its commitment to defend its European allies.

The year was 1953, and the main target of American ire was France, whose delay in ratifying the European Defense Community treaty, signed the previous year, meant that preparations for a federal European army had to be paused. But the pressure applied by the Eisenhower administration backfired spectacularly: A joyous choir of French lawmakers broke into the “Marseillaise” when France’s parliament finally rejected the treaty in August 1954. The idea of a joint European defense policy was shelved for decades.

Today, the push for European autonomy in defense—and even for a common European Union army—is gathering momentum again, in part because of doubts in many European capitals about President Donald Trump’s willingness to defend the continent against a renewed threat from Russia. Mr. Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign, has added new urgency to the drive.

This time around, the revival of European defense integration is championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while the American president keeps lobbing angry tweets at the very idea. And inside Europe, the skeptics today aren’t in Paris but in the former Soviet vassal-states in the east that, despite all their misgivings, still view the U.S. as the only credible guarantor of their survival as independent nations. A historic swing in Europe’s public opinion, particularly in Germany—the EU’s most powerful state and one where trans-Atlantic cooperation was the bedrock of the political consensus since the end of World War II—has fueled this change.

Mr. Trump has described the EU as a “foe” and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete,” and he has publicly questioned why American soldiers should die for a NATO ally like Montenegro. One recent opinion poll showed that Germans now rank Mr. Trump as the greatest threat to their country. In another, 73% of Germans described their relationship with the U.S. as “bad,” and 72% wanted a foreign policy more independent from Washington’s. “The shift in public opinion is due to a mix of disappointment and fear,” said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank that advises the German government and parliament. “There is a fear that the U.S. will be less interested in Europe, and that the security commitments of the U.S. will no longer be reliable.” It was in this political environment that Ms. Merkel told the European Parliament in a landmark speech in November: “The times when we could fully rely on others have ended.…If we Europeans want to survive as a community, we must make a greater effort to take our destiny into our own hands.”

Achieving such “strategic autonomy” became the EU’s official policy in 2016. Though calls by Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel for a European army are largely rhetorical so far, several concrete initiatives to achieve that goal have been launched since then. Probably most significant is the $15 billion European Defense Fund, which aims to spur Europe’s military industry and could limit the influence of American weapons manufacturers. Another new initiative is the so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation system, under which European armies seek to remove the barriers to joint action that stem from fielding so many different—and often incompatible—types of weapons. Addressing a frequently voiced demand of Mr. Trump, European governments have also raised their defense spending to get closer to the NATO target of 2% of each country’s GDP.

On the face of it, there is no reason why an economic giant like the EU shouldn’t be able to protect itself against Russia even without American help. Setting aside Britain (which seeks to continue to cooperate with the EU on security and defense even after leaving the bloc), the remaining EU’s population and defense budgets are roughly three times Russia’s size. France, the EU’s military powerhouse, spends almost as much as Russia on defense just by itself and operates an independent nuclear arsenal. All those sums, of course, are dwarfed by the U.S., whose military budget is nearly double the defense spending of the EU (minus the departing U.K.) and Russia combined. “Europe is addicted to the American security umbrella,” said Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a think tank that advises the French government. “But if the U.S. weren’t there, Europe would have found a way to defend itself.”

Yet there is a Catch-22 that makes these aspirations risky. Building up European defenses after seven decades of American protection would take time. Meanwhile, every move that Europe attempts in this direction spurs an American backlash, further undermining NATO’s cohesion—and its deterrent capacity against a rapidly militarizing Russia. “We have to hedge. But it is a very tricky situation: When does the hedge become a wedge?” said François Heisbourg, a veteran French expert who advised Mr. Macron’s presidential campaign on security and defense…

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

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On Topic Links

Prime Minister Denounces BDS at Town Hall Meeting (Video): Anthony Housefather, CBC, Jan. 16, 2018—At last night’s town hall meeting at Brock University, PM Justin Trudeau was asked to apologize for opposing BDS. Instead, he gave yet another forceful denunciation of a movement which makes pro-Israel students and, in particular, many Jewish students feel uncomfortable on college campuses and holds Israel to a different standard.

The Challenges Ahead for Incoming IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi (Video): Breaking Israel News, Jan. 16, 2019—Aviv Kochavi became the 22nd Chief of Staff of the IDF. As he assumes one of the most demanding jobs in the world, here’s a look at some challenges ahead of him.

Israel Air Force Invited to First-Ever Joint Exercise With Britain’s RAF: JNS, Jan. 17, 2019—Israel’s air force is to take part in its first-ever joint drill with the Royal Air Force in Britain in the most open level of cooperation between the two forces yet, The Jewish Chronicle reported on Tuesday.

How Changing U.S. Policy Can Improve the Indo-Pacific Relationship: Brahma Chellaney, Globe & Mail, Nov. 21, 2018—The Indo-Pacific is emerging as the centre of global power and wealth, with security dynamics changing rapidly in the region.

 

IN IRAQ, IRAN’S INFLUENCE GROWS, CHRISTIANS FACE EXTINCTION; IN SYRIA, KURDS FEEL ABANDONED BY WEST

Is Iran’s Influence in Iraq Growing, or Has it Reached a Plateau?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 2, 2019— The leader of Iraq’s second largest party, Hadi al-Amiri, called on foreign forces to leave Iraq over the weekend.

Why US Forces Must Step in to Save Iraqi Christians from Extinction: Kenneth R. Timmerman, New York Post, Dec. 15, 2018— Pink bollworms are the scourge of cotton farmers.

America’s Loyal Syrian Kurdish Allies Evade Annihilation While US forces in Iraq Face Expulsion: Malcolm Lowe, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 31, 2018— In April 2018, we warned that President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria would be a repetition of President Obama’s worst mistake, the precipitate withdrawal from Iraq that facilitated the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State (ISIS).

The West Cannot Abandon Kurds: Con Coughlin, Telegraph, Jan. 12, 2019— Throughout the course of the West’s long and bitter campaign to destroy Daesh, the Kurds have proved themselves to be one of the most effective allies.

On Topic Links

Israeli Intelligence: Tehran’s Influence in the Region – a Growing Threat: Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2018

Trump’s Rubicon Moment in Iraq: Praising America’s ‘Warriors,’ Ending Wars: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 27, 2018

Trump Makes First Trip to Iraq as President: Rebecca Morin & Wesley Morgan, Politico, Dec. 26, 2018

Life Returning Slowly to Christian Homeland in Iraq: Kenneth R. Timmerman, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 1, 2018

 

IS IRAN’S INFLUENCE IN IRAQ GROWING,

OR HAS IT REACHED A PLATEAU?

Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 2, 2019

The leader of Iraq’s second largest party, Hadi al-Amiri, called on foreign forces to leave Iraq over the weekend. Slamming US President Donald Trump’s visit, in which Trump did not meet Iraqi officials, he intimated that the US should also draw down its forces. This comes at the same time as Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman, head of Israel’s military intelligence, warned at a conference in Tel Aviv that Iraq is under growing influence of Iran.

Iran’s role in Iraq is multi-layered. It suffered a slight setback in the elections in 2018 as Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric and Iraqi nationalist, came in first. Amiri, leading a party supported by former and current Shi’ite militias, some of them closely connected to Iran, came in second.

Iran’s influence may have peaked under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was the most powerful man in Iraq from 2006 to 2014. Maliki not only presided over the period when US troops left but, according to former officials, the US under the Obama administration saw him as a strongman who would help lead Iraq as the US presence diminished. Oddly, even as the US saw him as helping preserve Iraq, he railed against the Americans. In Washington’s calculations at the time this was acceptable because a certain amount of populist anti-Americanism nevertheless meant Iraq would be unified under one leader, rather than sink into instability and allow a place for extremism to grow.

Instead, the opposite happened. Maliki’s authoritarianism alienated the Sunni minority and the Kurdish region. ISIS and its genocidal extremism entered the vacuum created in Sunni areas by Maliki’s thuggish bureaucracy. After ISIS took over a third of Iraq and he was forced out in Baghdad, Maliki claimed that the Obama administration was “behind the creation of ISIS in order to bring down the government.” Nothing could be further from the truth, but blaming America was the easiest way to excuse Baghdad’s problems.

These were the kind of conspiracy theories and anti-American rhetoric that were common among segments of the pro-Iranian leadership angling to run Iraq. Under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who replaced Maliki in 2014, Iraq had to have a kind of Janus face when it came to the US and Iran. The US would help train Iraq’s army and carry out airstrikes, but the rank and file of anti-ISIS fighters would often be more sympathetic to Iran, some even carried photos of Ayatollah Khamenei with them into battle. Khamenei even warned against Iraq allowing the US to return and aid its fight.

To fight ISIS, the Iraqi government also partnered with tens of thousands of Shi’ite militias that cropped up after a 2014 fatwa against ISIS. This was the natural response to the ISIS threat. ISIS was massacring people across Iraq and Iraq’s army was disintegrating. Militias, imbued with religious zeal and often looking to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for inspiration, helped defeat ISIS. Some of these were extremely hostile to the US.

Groups like Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq were even led by men like Qais Khazali, who had been detained by the US. Hezbollah Brigades leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had been sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2009. He was close to IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Men like Muhandis, Khazali and Amiri were also influential in 2009 and 2015. Amiri’s Badr Organization runs the interior ministry of Iraq and funnels its resources to former Shi’ite militia members. The Shi’ite militias were even rebranded as the “Popular Mobilization Units” and made an official paramilitary force, like the IRGC or Basij in Iran.

This is the Iranification of Iraq and it has gone on slowly for more than a decade. The pro-Iranian factions have always been close to power in Iraq since 2003. One of the necessary blind spots of US policy, and by extension other Western governments, is to pretend that these pro-Iranian individuals, some of them former militants or violent extremists, do not make up the rank and file of individuals close to power in Baghdad. It’s also unsurprising they have such influence. They resisted Saddam Hussein, with many of those like Amiri going to Iran in the 1980s to fight against Saddam alongside the Iranians.

To create an illusion of an Iraqi government that is not entirely an ally of Iran, the US has sought to encourage Baghdad to reach out to Saudi Arabia and sought to push for more Gulf investment in Iraq. In 2017, Iraq and Saudi Arabia began to improve relations after decades in which they had been broken after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The US has sought to balance relations with Baghdad with its outreach to Sunni areas of Iraq and also the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG has been staunchly pro-Western over the years, an island of stability in an Iraq that has suffered terribly.

Yet, the US relationship with the Kurdish region was strained in 2017 when the KRG had an independence referendum. The US worked with Baghdad and supported Baghdad sending tanks into Kirkuk, along with Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, to punish the Kurdish region. Kurdish peshmerga had defended Kirkuk from ISIS from 2014 to 2017. With the war over, Washington thought the KRG could be pushed aside in favor of a Baghdad strategy. This strategy hasn’t reduced Iran’s role or presence. This is not because Iran is necessarily playing a greater role.

In fact, there is evidence that many Iraqis are tired of Iran. In protests in Basra, people have attacked the headquarters of various Iranian-linked militias. They think Iran is partly responsible for economic problems, as Iraq’s resources are plundered by Iranians. As sanctions kick in, Iran has even more reason to plunder Iraq for its economic interests. Iraqis also complain that there is a drug trade from Iran. Some of these claims are exaggerated, but there are serious questions about the degree to which Iran sees part of Iraq as a “near abroad,” a kind of colony that it can dump its products on. Is the relationship equal or does Iraq do the work for Iran?

Now the US once again faces questions about whether it will remain in Iraq. From the point of view of those who are concerned about Iran’s role in the region and its attempt to create a “land corridor” to the sea via Iraq and Syria, the US role is unclear. Do US forces help block Iranian influence? So far they haven’t. Trump said that US forces in Iraq will continue to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran. But Iran is also keeping an eye on US forces…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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WHY US FORCES MUST STEP IN TO SAVE

IRAQI CHRISTIANS FROM EXTINCTION

Kenneth R. Timmerman

New York Post, Dec. 15, 2018

When ISIS fighters burst into Father Afran Sony’s monastery in northern Iraq in June 2014 wielding machine guns and knives, he and his brothers rushed to protect their most precious possessions. They weren’t gold, relics or even their own lives, but some of the oldest surviving manuscripts in the Christian world. For nearly two months, the terrorists held the handful of monks prisoner and openly discussed whether or not to kill them because they refused to renounce their faith. But Father Afran was more focused on saving the ancient Christian texts than himself.

At one point, he and a few brothers managed to escape to a nearby village under the cover of darkness, carrying away the most precious of the ancient scrolls under their cloaks. But ISIS caught them at a checkpoint and took them back to the monastery. That’s when they came up with a daring plan. “We built a fake wall in a small windowless closet right under their noses and sealed the books in barrels inside,” he said. “Some of them date from the 4th century. In all, we saved 750 ancient books and scrolls.” ISIS released the monks on July 20, 2014, and stayed another two years in the monastery without ever finding the manuscripts. But every other Christian relic they found, every cross and every grave, they smashed or defaced, including the tomb of Saints Behnam and Sarah, martyrs who lived more than 1,600 years ago.

Most Americans have had enough of our 15-year effort to bring peace, stability and, yes, some modicum of representative government to Iraq. President Trump repeatedly blasted President George W. Bush for going to war in 2003, calling it “the single worst decision ever made.” And yet, the United States does have lasting interests in Iraq beyond eradicating weapons of mass destruction. Prime among them is one that until now we have neglected: ensuring the survival of Iraq’s Christian minority and, more generally, the Christians of the East.

Why should we care? America is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian nation. More than 70 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians, and if that statistic has any meaning, then we must take seriously the passage of St. Paul in I Corinthians 12:26, when he describes the body of Christ. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” There can be no doubt: The Body of Christ in northern Iraq is suffering. It has been suffering for the past 15 years in ways never before imaginable. And until recently, Americans and the US government have done little to help.

These are our people. This is our duty. Through 1,400 years of Muslim domination, these communities have remained faithful, their monasteries and ancient churches largely intact. Until ISIS. Today, 150,000 Christians at most remain in Iraq, a scant 10 percent of the community that once thrived before 2003. And every day brings them closer to extinction. Merved is a 32-year old Christian woman from Bartella, east of Mosul, who was driven out of her home by the ISIS invasion in 2014. She lost four family members to ISIS barbarity and today lives with her four young children in a refugee camp sponsored by the Assyrian Aid Society. Asked if she was ready to return home, she shook her head violently. “I am afraid!”

While ISIS lost its occupying power after a brutal, year-long battle with Iraqi, Kurdish and US-led coalition forces in 2017, members of the terrorist group have gone underground and are forming new cells just outside of Mosul, many of them led by women. “In recent months, we have arrested 40 women just in our sector,” said the national police chief for East Mosul, Gen. Aref al-Zebari. “They told our interrogators that they were protected and aided by the Turkish government,” he added.

In October this year, I returned from a 10-day fact-finding mission to Mosul and the surrounding Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain, which was evangelized by St. Thomas in the 1st century AD. Many of the churches here still conduct Mass in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But ISIS’s presence lingered throughout. “Look at this grave,” local councilman Luis Markos Ayoub told me, as we walked through the cemetery of Saint Georges church in Karamlesh, a Christian village just east of Mosul. “It is fresh — not because the person just died, but because the family came back here to rebury their loved one. ISIS had dug up the dead body and decapitated it, because it was Christian.”

Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury called the “daily threats of murder” Christians face today “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.” “Many have left,” wrote the Most Reverend Justin Welby in the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. “Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes. Many have been killed, enslaved and persecuted or forcibly converted. Even those who remain ask the question, ‘Why stay?’ Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.”

You don’t have to be a Christian to believe it’s in our national interest to ensure the survival of Iraqi Christians. Congress has determined that the three-year ISIS effort to eradicate the Christian and Yazidi populations under their control amounted to “genocide.” Max Primorac, the top USAID official in Iraq, said genocide is a very specific crime that calls for a specific response. “We’ve made 27 grants in three months, probably the fastest ever,” Primorac said. “We didn’t just get the memo, we are reading it.” The “memo” came from Vice President Mike Pence. Just over one year ago, Pence pledged that the Trump administration would change the way the US distributed aid, to ensure it directly reached Christian and Yazidi communities…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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AMERICA’S LOYAL SYRIAN KURDISH ALLIES EVADE

ANNIHILATION WHILE US FORCES IN IRAQ FACE EXPULSION

Malcolm Lowe

Gatestone Institute, Dec. 31, 2018

In April 2018, we warned that President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria would be a repetition of President Obama’s worst mistake, the precipitate withdrawal from Iraq that facilitated the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State (ISIS). We perceived that the immediate consequence of abandoning Syria would be a Turkish-led campaign to annihilate America’s Syrian Kurdish allies, who heroically bore the brunt of defeating the ISIS in Syria and capturing its capital, Raqqa.

The conclusion drawn was that the Syrian Kurds would have no choice but to appeal to Iran for help. For it was only Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman who had protested vehemently against the Turkish-facilitated capture of Afrin, a Kurdish town in northwest Syria, in March by an Islamist militia. In the meantime, Turkey has sent many thousands of Kurds fleeing, who have been replaced with “displaced Syrian Arabs from East Ghouta.” The Islamist militia has subjected Christians to Sharia-style dhimmitude and forced Yazidis to convert to Islam on pain of death. Amnesty International has also reported on rampant offences against property and individuals; it mentions the thousands of refugees who have fled from Afrin.

In these recent December days, the scenario then foreseen has been playing itself out rapidly. On December 14, in a telephone conversation with Turkey’s President Erdogan, President Trump not merely made a final decision to remove US forces from Syria but invited Erdogan to replace them with Turkish forces. The invitation has terrified not just the Syrian Kurds but also other militias in the Syrian Democratic Forces that fight alongside them against ISIS. An example is the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia that has issued its own appeal to Trump to reconsider: “The outcome of the invasion of Afrin makes visible what will happen to us. Churches will be destroyed. Christians and Yazidis, designated ‘infidels’ by Turkey’s mercenaries, will be killed and massacred … Women of all ethnicities, now free, will be raped, enslaved and veiled.”

Trump overruled the objections of all his advisors, generals and supporters in Congress, assuring them that Erdogan had promised to deal with any remnants of ISIS in the area. Apparently, Trump is the only person among them all who ignored — or maybe does not even understand — that Erdogan had eagerly accepted Trump’s invitation not on account of ISIS but in order to inflict his Afrin operation upon the entire population of America’s loyal allies in Syria. The prospect of such a US withdrawal from Syria — and such a betrayal — has even provoked articles with almost the same title as ours, such as Mark A. Thiessen in the Washington Post and Boston Herald on December 23: “Trump repeating Obama’s mistake in the Middle East.” Search for those words on internet and you will now find others coming to the same conclusion.

Events rolled on with Trump’s unannounced arrival at a US base in Iraq on December 26. Trump declined to meet first in Baghdad with Adil Abdul Mahdi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, but invited Mahdi to join him at the base. Apparently, Trump did not realize that he had humiliated Abdul Mahdi, as if the latter were a lackey at his beck and call. There were furious protests in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (the parliament), both from the Iran-friendly Bina Bloc – with calls for the expulsion of US forces — and from the more independent-minded Islah Bloc. The two blocs command respectively 73 and 126 seats in the 329-seat Council, thus a decisive majority. They had come together to ratify the appointment of Abdul Mahdi in October. The parliamentary leader of Islah, Sabbah al-Saadi, called for an emergency session of the Council “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: the US occupation of Iraq is over.” Oblivious, possibly, that he was far from welcome in Iraq, Trump told US military personnel that — as he was planning to keep them in Iraq – there was no problem in abandoning Syria: “If we see something happening with ISIS [in Syria] that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won’t know what the hell happened. We’ve knocked them silly.”…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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THE WEST CANNOT ABANDON KURDS

Con Coughlin

Telegraph, Jan. 12, 2019

Throughout the course of the West’s long and bitter campaign to destroy Daesh, the Kurds have proved themselves to be one of the most effective allies. In an age when western governments on both sides of the Atlantic are reluctant to commit large numbers of ground troops, the fact that the Kurds have been prepared to fulfil the role of capturing vital territory from Daesh has made a significant contribution to the success of the United States-led coalition’s operation against Daesh’s self-styled Caliphate.

Working in conjunction with American and British special forces, militias such as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been instrumental in helping to liberate more than 99 per cent of the territory that Daesh once controlled in northern Iraq and Syria. The two British SAS soldiers who were reported to have been seriously injured by a Daesh missile strike in Syria recently were taking part in a joint operation with the Kurds, in which a Kurdish fighter was killed. For, while the main military campaign against Daesh is winding down, coalition forces are still carrying out operations against the last remaining pockets of Daesh resistance, which are now mainly confined to remote areas of Syria not controlled by the Al Assad regime.

There is therefore much that still needs to be done if we are to ensure that Daesh is not able to regroup, and the Kurdish groups clearly have a vital role in tackling the last remnants of Daesh’s ‘Caliphate’. Whether the Kurds will be minded to maintain their support for the coalition cause is a moot point following US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement over the Christmas break that he intends to withdraw the 2,000 American troops based in Syria. Trump has reached the conclusion that Syria is “lost” so far as Washington is concerned, and that Russia and Iran have emerged as the dominant foreign powers in post-conflict Syria. This is certainly true — neither America nor Britain are involved in the negotiations over Syria’s future.

But the prospect of American forces being withdrawn before the fighting is over, and before the negotiations over Syria’s future are concluded, has been received with dismay by the Kurds, who fear that they are about to be abandoned to their fate by their erstwhile Western allies. It would not be the first time the Kurds have found themselves in such a predicament. Kurdish hopes of creating an independent homeland, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, were thwarted after they failed to secure effective western support.

Now many Kurds fear that history is about to repeat itself as, deprived of the protection that the presence of American troops in the region affords, they will find themselves at the mercy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is fiercely opposed to any notion of Kurdish independence. Erdogan certainly pulled no punches when he addressed the issue at a recent session of the Turkish parliament, where he warned that he would “not make concessions” to the Kurds, and that preparations for an offensive against Kurdish groups based in northern Syria were nearly complete.

The Turkish leader was responding to remarks made by John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, who was in Ankara to discuss the arrangements for the US withdrawal, and wants assurances that the Kurds will not be subjected to Turkish aggression. This is a big ask for Ankara, which regards the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the group that has overseen the operations conducted by Kurdish opposition fighters, as an offshoot of the PKK, the Syrian-based Kurdish group that has carried out numerous attacks against Turkey…

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Israeli Intelligence: Tehran’s Influence in the Region – a Growing Threat: Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2018—Iran could use its growing clout in Iraq to turn the Arab country into a springboard for attacks against Israel, the top Israeli intelligence official said on Monday.

Trump’s Rubicon Moment in Iraq: Praising America’s ‘Warriors,’ Ending Wars: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 27, 2018—“We like to win; we are going to win,” US President Donald Trump told the troops at Al-Asad airbase in central Iraq.

Trump Makes First Trip to Iraq as President: Rebecca Morin & Wesley Morgan, Politico, Dec. 26, 2018—President Donald Trump visited U.S. troops in Iraq for the first time during his presidency, the White House said Wednesday, after he came under criticism for not going earlier and during a tumultuous period for his national security team.

Life Returning Slowly to Christian Homeland in Iraq: Kenneth R. Timmerman, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 1, 2018— Christians are gradually returning to their historic homeland in northern Iraq, after three years of ISIS occupation.

 

U.S. SYRIA WITHDRAWAL COULD CREATE IRAN- & I.S.-FILLED SECURITY VACUUM

In Syria, Iran Sees a New Opportunity to Build a War Machine: Yaakov Lappin, IPT News, Dec. 31, 2018— If it goes ahead, Iran likely will view President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from eastern Syria as a green light to build a new war machine in the region.

Let’s Make Sure ISIS Fighters Stay Locked Up – Even After Our Syria Pullout: Marc Thiessen, New York Post, Dec. 28, 2018— President Trump’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Syria is already having unintended consequences.

The US Withdrawal from Syria: A Blessing in Disguise?: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, BESA, Dec. 30, 2018— The Oslo process took place under unique global circumstances.

America’s Loyal Syrian Kurdish Allies Evade Annihilation: Malcolm Lowe, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 31, 2018— In April 2018, we warned that President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria would be a repetition of President Obama’s worst mistake, the precipitate withdrawal from Iraq that facilitated the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State (ISIS).

On Topic Links

The U.S. Withdrawal from Syria: Implications for Israel (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Jan. 1, 2019

Donald Trump is Right to Pull U.S. Troops out of Syria: Andrew Preston, Globe and Mail, Dec. 31, 2018

Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection: Ben Hubbard, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2018

House of Assad: Inside Syria’s Dangerous Dynasty: Nick Green, Telegraph, Oct. 9, 2018

 

IN SYRIA, IRAN SEES A NEW

OPPORTUNITY TO BUILD A WAR MACHINE

Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Dec. 31, 2018

If it goes ahead, Iran likely will view President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from eastern Syria as a green light to build a new war machine in the region. But Iran also received a red light recently, apparently reminding it that Israel is standing guard against Tehran’s takeover plans. That red light came Dec. 25 in the form of an alleged Israeli air strike on an Iranian weapons depot in Syria. The strike looks like the latest signal of Israel’s determination to block Iran’s path into Syria, with or without an American ground presence.

According to media reports, including a report by the Israeli satellite image company ISI, the strike destroyed a warehouse that contained Iranian Fajr-5 rockets. The warehouse was just 40 kilometers – about 25 miles – away from Israel. Israel’s military says Fajr 5 rockets are produced in Iranian weapons factories and have a range of 75 kilometers, or just under 50 miles. In past years, Iran smuggled these types of rockets to terrorist organizations that are ideologically committed to attacking Israel, including Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Now, Iran is trying to flood Syria with them.

So far, the Fajr 5s that have been in the inventory of Israel’s enemies were unguided rockets. That does not stop them from posing a serious threat. Hamas fired a Fajr 5 rocket in November 2012 in the midst of an eight-day conflict, severely damaging an apartment building in Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv. Residents survived due to an air raid siren, which sent them scurrying into a safe room before the rocket struck. In February 2017, reports emerged saying that Iran’s defense industry has begun manufacturing a new, guided version of the Fajr 5. These can be fired quickly and in succession from a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). The arrival of such weapons would present terrorists in Syria seeking to attack Israel with new precision abilities.

It remains unclear whether the Fajr 5 rockets destroyed in the alleged Israeli strike were guided, but Israel has drawn a clear red line that forbids the arrival of Iranian guided projectiles in the area. Once in Syria, precision weapons can be given to Shi’ite militias under Iran’s command, or be used by Iranian military forces themselves, which are operating on Syrian soil. That’s what happened last May, when Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) used a truck-mounted rocket launcher to fire on the Golan Heights. In other cases, batches of Iranian weapons that have made their way into Syria are subsequently smuggled into neighboring Lebanon, where Hizballah has built up one of the world’s largest arsenals of surface-to-surface projectiles. Hizballah’s estimated 130,000 rockets and missiles are pointed at Israeli cities, power plants, ports, airports, and military installations.

Thus, Iran has already turned Lebanon into a forward military post against Israel. Its goal now is to do the same in Syria. Although the U.S. forces stationed in Syria are there exclusively to combat Salafi-jihadist Sunni ISIS terrorists, their presence in the strategically important Al-Tanf region, on the Syria-Iraq border, also helps block the expansion of the radical Iranian-Shi’ite axis. The U.S. presence has helped stop Iran from trying to use the Al-Tanf border crossing as a gateway for land convoys carrying Iranian weapons and Shi’ite militias, from Iraq into Syria. The Al-Tanf border area is one of two ground corridors that Iran is hoping to use in its Syrian expansion project.

The second main land ‘entrance’ to Syria is located further north, at the Albu Kamal border crossing. This area has been the scene of repeated Iranian and Hizballah-controlled traffic of militias and weapons. But this site also drew at least one major alleged Israeli strike in June, resulting in dozens of casualties, including Iranian military officers and Iraqi Shi’ite militia members. Currently, Israel and Iran remain locked in a shadow war over Syria’s future. Israel is employing preventative force to stop Iran from converting Syria into second front, alongside Lebanon. Tehran’s takeover efforts are being led by the IRGC, which acts as the ‘long arm’ of Iran across the region, particularly through the overseas expeditionary elite unit, the Quds Force, commanded by the notorious General Qassem Soleimani.

With Israel ‘covering’ the northern Albu Kamal crossing, the U.S. had been ‘covering’ the southern Al-Tanf crossing, meaning that Iran’s ground expansion scheme had run into some difficulties. Iran was forced to rely on its more traditional trafficking method – cargo flights – though this too had become increasingly difficult, with Israel monitoring suspicious flights around the clock, and reportedly taking action when intelligence called for it…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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LET’S MAKE SURE ISIS FIGHTERS STAY LOCKED UP –

EVEN AFTER OUR SYRIA PULLOUT                                                              

Marc Thiessen

New York Post, Dec. 28, 2018

President Trump’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Syria is already having unintended consequences. The American departure could lead to the release of 1,100 Islamic State fighters now held in ­detention camps in northeastern Syria, creating a dangerous new terrorist threat to the West.

The Syrian Democratic Forces — the Kurdish and Arab proxy forces whom the US armed and trained to fight the Islamic State — don’t have the capacity to guard and feed so many terrorists without American support. And The Washington Post reports that their home countries “are refusing to repatriate their citizens, citing the risk that they would spread radical ideology or perhaps carry out attacks back home.” If Washington abandons the SDF, the group might have no choice but to release the Islamists.

How much damage could these terrorists cause? To put it in perspective, the Islamic State had only about 700 fighters left when President Barack Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq in 2011 — yet from that tiny nucleus, the group grew into the world’s largest, most powerful terrorist network, until Trump unleashed our military to beat the fanatics back. Now imagine what destruction 1,100 terrorists could wreak across the globe. The Islamic State detainees hail from 32 countries, including many believed to be from Europe. As a Syrian Kurdish foreign affairs official noted, the US withdrawal would create “a security vacuum that these criminals could exploit to escape and pose a danger to all of us,” adding that “they could make their way back to their home countries and carry out bombings.”

The optimal solution would be for Trump to reconsider his withdrawal plan so that we can keep these detainees in Syria under the watchful eye of US intelligence and Special Operations forces. But there is also another possible solution — one that would help the president keep another campaign promise: Send them to Guantanamo Bay. In January, Trump issued an executive order that authorized the US military and intelligence community to “transport additional detainees to US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay when lawful and necessary to protect the Nation.”

During his State of the Union address, Trump asked Congress “to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda, we continue to have all the necessary power to detain terrorists. . . . And in many cases for them it will now be Guantanamo Bay.” In March, Congress responded by approving more than $200 million in new construction for Guantanamo Bay as part of the omnibus spending bill. The Pentagon followed up by formally authorizing the station to receive new detainees who pose a “continuing, significant threat.”

There is little doubt that a number of the Islamic State fighters now held in Syria would make excellent candidates for detention at Guantanamo Bay. Trump should order the intelligence community to conduct a threat assessment for each of the detainees, to see which ones would qualify for transfer. No doubt, a decision to move some of the prisoners from Syria to Guantanamo would create an ­uproar in Europe. These would be the very same countries currently refusing to take custody of their citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State.

Trump should give any complaining countries an ultimatum: Either take your nationals back, or they are headed to Guantanamo. Transfer to Guantanamo is a less than optimal solution, because right now high-value detainees held on the battlefield in Syria don’t have access to lawyers and can’t challenge their detentions in court — which means they can be effectively interrogated for intelligence purposes. But once transferred to Guantanamo, they would immediately get lawyers and the right of habeas corpus — which dramatically ­reduces their intelligence value.

Instead of transferring these terrorists, we should keep them where they are — and continue supporting the SDF until the estimated 30,000 Islamic State fighters still at large in Iraq or Syria are all killed or captured. The Islamic State is not defeated — not even by a long shot. But this much is clear: We can’t allow more than a thousand dangerous terrorists to be released into the world so that they can return to the fight.

 

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THE US WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA: A BLESSING IN DISGUISE?

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen

BESA, Dec. 30, 2018

The Oslo process took place under unique global circumstances. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and the Cold War had come to an abrupt end with the West’s clear victory. The US became “the only remaining superpower” and the “End of History” loomed over the horizon.

Since then, far-reaching changes have taken place. Russia has reemerged as a major global force and has reassumed its great-power status through direct military interventions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. The US, by contrast, has substantially reduced its global involvement over the past decade and has lost its hegemonic position in the Middle East. In this respect, President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is but the continuation of the disengagement policy begun by his immediate predecessor. It is arguable, of course, that the withdrawal casts serious doubt on the credibility of the US as a strategic ally. Yet for all its attendant flaws, this step gives Israel a chance to reconsider its longstanding belief in seemingly unshakable US backing.

For quite some time, the Jewish state has found itself in a strategic quandary. On the one hand, the more omnipotent the American image, the stronger Israel’s reputation as a major military and political player. On the other hand, the widespread belief in Washington’s ostensible ability to guarantee any Arab-Israeli peace agreement has placed Jerusalem under constant pressure to take the risks associated with withdrawal from areas vital to its national security. Thus, for example, by way of paving the way for the IDF’s total withdrawal from the West Bank as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the Obama administration proposed a complex security package that substituted the deployment of US forces in the Jordan Valley for Israel’s longstanding demand for defensible borders (accepted by Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967).

But to what extent can foreign military forces operating in a wholly alien environment provide an adequate substitute for the IDF in enforcing the West Bank’s demilitarization? Judging by the experience of international forces in the Middle East in recent decades, the answer is far from satisfactory. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), deployed along the Israeli-Lebanese border since 1978, for example, has miserably failed to prevent the transformation of the area under its jurisdiction into an unreconstructed terrorist entity – first by the PLO (until 1982), then by successive Shiite terrorist organizations. As starkly demonstrated by the recent exposure of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels penetrating Israel’s territory, UNIFIL has totally failed to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006, at the end of the Second Lebanon War, which stipulated the disbanding of all armed militias in Lebanon and prohibited arms supplies to any group without government authorization, as well as the presence of armed forces south of the Litani River. Nor does the West’s experience in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decades inspire much confidence in the ability of external powers to cope effectively with sustained subversive, terrorist, and jihadist insurgencies.

These operational constraints notwithstanding, the idea of international supervision suffers from an inherent political-constitutional flaw, namely its total dependence on the consent of the host government, which can demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from its territory (as happened with the removal of UN forces from Egypt in May 1967). To this must be added the numerous instances where international supervisory and/or intervention forces were withdrawn from countries they were supposed to protect as a result of unilateral decisions by the sending governments: from the evacuation of the American-French-British-Italian force from Lebanon following Hezbollah’s bombing of its Beirut headquarters in October 1983, to the hasty withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011 with the attendant rise of ISIS and its takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria, to President Trump’s latest decision.

According to Israeli security experts, the US withdrawal has left Israel alone in the battle against Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. True enough, but this setback can potentially entail an important silver lining. For the sooner Israel recognizes the precariousness of a regional “Pax Americana,” the sooner it will grasp the futility of “painful territorial concessions” in the West Bank, let alone on the Golan Heights.

What Israel needs most from the US at the present time is political and diplomatic backing in support of its vital national interests, primarily 1) support for its continued hold of the Golan as a vital condition for its defense; and 2) cessation of pressure for further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank. With luck, Trump’s Syria turnaround might catalyze a shift in US regional strategy in this direction.

 

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AMERICA’S LOYAL SYRIAN KURDISH ALLIES EVADE ANNIHILATION

Malcolm Lowe                                          

Gatestone Institute, Dec. 31, 2018

In April 2018, we warned that President Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria would be a repetition of President Obama’s worst mistake, the precipitate withdrawal from Iraq that facilitated the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State (ISIS). We perceived that the immediate consequence of abandoning Syria would be a Turkish-led campaign to annihilate America’s Syrian Kurdish allies, who heroically bore the brunt of defeating the ISIS in Syria and capturing its capital, Raqqa.

The conclusion drawn was that the Syrian Kurds would have no choice but to appeal to Iran for help. For it was only Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman who had protested vehemently against the Turkish-facilitated capture of Afrin, a Kurdish town in northwest Syria, in March by an Islamist militia. In the meantime, Turkey has sent many thousands of Kurds fleeing, who have been replaced with “displaced Syrian Arabs from East Ghouta.” The Islamist militia has subjected Christians to Sharia-style dhimmitude and forced Yazidis to convert to Islam on pain of death. Amnesty International has also reported on rampant offences against property and individuals; it mentions the thousands of refugees who have fled from Afrin.

In these recent December days, the scenario then foreseen has been playing itself out rapidly. On December 14, in a telephone conversation with Turkey’s President Erdogan, President Trump not merely made a final decision to remove US forces from Syria but invited Erdogan to replace them with Turkish forces. The invitation has terrified not just the Syrian Kurds but also other militias in the Syrian Democratic Forces that fight alongside them against ISIS. An example is the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia that has issued its own appeal to Trump to reconsider: “The outcome of the invasion of Afrin makes visible what will happen to us. Churches will be destroyed. Christians and Yazidis, designated ‘infidels’ by Turkey’s mercenaries, will be killed and massacred … Women of all ethnicities, now free, will be raped, enslaved and veiled.”

Trump overruled the objections of all his advisors, generals and supporters in Congress, assuring them that Erdogan had promised to deal with any remnants of ISIS in the area. Apparently, Trump is the only person among them all who ignored — or maybe does not even understand — that Erdogan had eagerly accepted Trump’s invitation not on account of ISIS but in order to inflict his Afrin operation upon the entire population of America’s loyal allies in Syria. The prospect of such a US withdrawal from Syria — and such a betrayal — has even provoked articles with almost the same title as ours, such as Mark A. Thiessen in the Washington Post and Boston Herald on December 23: “Trump repeating Obama’s mistake in the Middle East.” Search for those words on internet and you will now find others coming to the same conclusion.

Events rolled on with Trump’s unannounced arrival at a US base in Iraq on December 26. Trump declined to meet first in Baghdad with Adil Abdul Mahdi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, but invited Mahdi to join him at the base. Apparently, Trump did not realize that he had humiliated Abdul Mahdi, as if the latter were a lackey at his beck and call.

There were furious protests in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (the parliament), both from the Iran-friendly Bina Bloc – with calls for the expulsion of US forces — and from the more independent-minded Islah Bloc. The two blocs command respectively 73 and 126 seats in the 329-seat Council, thus a decisive majority. They had come together to ratify the appointment of Abdul Mahdi in October. The parliamentary leader of Islah, Sabbah al-Saadi, called for an emergency session of the Council “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: the US occupation of Iraq is over.” Oblivious, possibly, that he was far from welcome in Iraq, Trump told US military personnel that — as he was planning to keep them in Iraq – there was no problem in abandoning Syria: “If we see something happening with ISIS [in Syria] that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won’t know what the hell happened. We’ve knocked them silly.”

Strategic wisdom would dictate the opposite. In December 2017, the then Iraqi government led by Haider al-Abadi declared ISIS defeated in Iraq. The remaining pockets of ISIS fighters are not seen by Iraqis as a serious threat. They are smaller than in Syria, while Iraq’s army is now battle-hardened and will not repeat its disgraceful flight from Mosul upon the arrival of ISIS fighters in June 2014. Also, although the mainly Shiite militias that fought fiercely alongside the army have now been largely disbanded, they could be remobilized at any time. In eastern Syria, by contrast, the local Kurdish and Arab population begged the Americans to stay and help them defend themselves. The remnants of ISIS are substantial. The area also contains most of Syria’s oilfields, the only major source of income left undamaged by the civil war, so a presence there would give the US a powerful card to play in determining the country’s post-war future.

It would be strategic wisdom, therefore, to maintain the small US presence in Syria (about 2,000 personnel) while reducing the US profile in Iraq in order to forestall a looming demand by the Iraqi parliament for a total US withdrawal. Now it is probably too late because the Syrian Kurds have decided to abandon the US before the US abandons them. It seems that US forces will leave Syria not on American and Turkish terms but on Russian and Iranian terms. For months, Turkey has been planning to repeat its Afrin operation in Manbij, a Kurdish town further east, where Erdogan was deterred only by the US and French forces stationed inside the town. In recent weeks, thousands of Turkish-backed Islamists gathered for this purpose. Two days after Trump’s confident address to US forces in Iraq, the Kurds of Manbij invited the Syrian army to deploy west and north of the town in a protective shield on December 28….

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

Contents

 

On Topic Links

The U.S. Withdrawal from Syria: Implications for Israel (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Jan. 1, 2019—There are two basic approaches for understanding the implications of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria for Israel.

Donald Trump is Right to Pull U.S. Troops out of Syria: Andrew Preston, Globe and Mail, Dec. 31, 2018—On Dec. 19, Mr. Trump abruptly announced he would be withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, where they have been fighting a slow-burning but intense war against the Islamic State.

Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection: Ben Hubbard, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2018—Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

House of Assad: Inside Syria’s Dangerous Dynasty: Nick Green, Telegraph, Oct. 9, 2018—Many have wondered how Bashar al Assad and his British born wife, Asma, a couple once heralded as the force to modernise the Middle East, ended up running a regime accused of war crimes.

PRAYING FOR ISRAEL: INTERVIEW WITH FORMER IDF CHIEF OF STAFF MOSHE YA’ALON

Machla Abramovitz

Community, Dec., 2018              

…To assess the current state of Israel’s security, we sat down with former IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, following  his keynote address at the 30th anniversary gala of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) in Montreal. General Ya’alon, 68, was born in Haifa, joined the Nahal Paratroop Regiment at age 18, and shortly afterward enlisted in Israel’s most elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal. Ya’alon then served as Head of Military Intelligence, was later appointed IDF Deputy Chief-of-Staff, and eventually was named IDF Chief-of-Staff.

Following his military career, Ya’alon became a politician, joining the Likud in 2008, and serving as Minister for Strategic Affairs and Vice Prime Minister. In 2013, General Ya’alon served as Minister of Defense, and a year later, he presided over Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s major military operation in Gaza aimed at destroying Hamas underground tunnels and ending rocket launches. In May 2016, he resigned from his position, and he recently founded a party named Manhigut Acheret (New Leadership.)

When asked about his position on the viability of a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, General Ya’alon explains that he supports the idea “in principle,” adding that he supported the 1993 Oslo Accords. “However,” he says, “today, nobody takes them seriously. Israelis are overwhelmingly unified on there being no Palestinian State under the present circumstances, and under any foreseeable leadership. The best we can do is give the Palestinians autonomy, help them develop economically, and hope for better leadership to arise.”

Ya’alon is critical of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies. “Yasser Arafat’s duplicitousness didn’t matter to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, as they were trying to curry support among the Arabs by propping up Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians. The JCPOA [the deal reached by the Obama administration with the Republic of Iran] is a disaster. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, is doing wonderful things for Israel. Over 80 percent of Israelis support him.” The following is an edited transcript of the rest of our conversation with the General:

CM: Are wars between Israel and Iran, as well as Hamas, inevitable?

Ya’alon: Let’s distinguish between Iran and Hamas. The Iranians are trying to open another front against us in Syria. In 2015, they started launching missiles at Israel. In less than a year, this attempt ended after Israel hit back hard. This February, their units began launching drones and rockets. Subsequently, the IAF destroyed 15 Iranian units. Iran understands that they cannot successfully challenge Israel. Israeli power is superior to theirs militarily and intelligence-wise.

We don’t want Iran to either violate our sovereignty or arm our enemies; any violations on their part contravenes what we call our Red Line Strategy. [Israel prevents the Iranians from shipping arms to Hezbollah by bombing their ammunition depots and highways traveled by convoys.] I don’t see a war with Iran coming soon. Hezbollah’s 15,000 long-range, guided missiles are a problem, which Israel will eventually deal with. I foresee the possibility of a massive Israeli assault in Lebanon. Because Hezbollah installs these missiles in villages and towns and next to hospitals – as they do in Gaza – this will result in a large-scale PR problem because specific civilian structures must be destroyed to root these missiles out.

The challenge with Hamas is different. Since 2014, Hamas didn’t shoot a single bullet; and they arrested any proxy group that did. They don’t want to escalate the situation to a full-scale war. During Operation Protective Edge, we destroyed over 10,000 buildings in Gaza. They’ve been reconstructing Gaza for 20 years. So, Gazans are now releasing dangerous, incendiary balloons and kites, and are demonstrating along the border to express their frustration. The IDF is responding in a limited way. I don’t like this. We should not have accepted this behavior from the onset. It’s impossible to intercept every balloon and every kite. We must confront these terrorists vigorously. It’s the only way to handle things in the Middle East. Still, it’s not deterministic that we are going to war, even though the Middle East can erupt at any time even when it’s not intentional. I hope the government and the IDF will be able to change the rules of the game. The rules as they exist now are not in our favor.

CM: Despite Israel’s ability to manage Iranian aggression in Syria, doesn’t Iran remain a severe threat to its security?

Ya’alon: Iran remains a crucial issue. Still, with enough pressure placed on it, I believe the current regime can be persuaded to act in Iran’s best interests. Iran suspended its nuclear project in 2003 when the US invaded Afghanistan. They were afraid of President George W. Bush. The project was renewed two years later when Ayatollah Khamenei saw that the US lost its stomach for war. In 2012, he decided to re-engage with America because of political isolation, crippling economic sanctions, a credible military option, and a fear of a general uprising among Iranians. His economists told him his regime could not survive another year if he continued with his expansionist policies. Unfortunately, President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry headed the negotiations. President Trump’s determination to renew the sanctions is an excellent idea. This “irrational” regime becomes very rational when presented with a dilemma, whether to continue with their hegemonic drive or choose to survive [due to the implosion of the economy and fear of a popular uprising.] I believe they will choose to survive. Still, at some point, we’ll have to deal with the Iranians. If the US cancels the JCPOA next month, as President Trump said they would, Iran will crank up its nuclear research again. At that point, Israel must act. It cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If the US doesn’t act on this; Israel will.

CM: The accidental downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by the Syrian Air Force resulted in the deaths of 15 Russian troops for which Israel was blamed. It also resulted in Russia’s decision to supply Syria with S-300, an advanced anti-aircraft missile system with a range of 400 miles capable of shooting down planes flying in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport. How do you explain this escalation in tensions?

Ya’alon: Russia and Israel are not on the same page regarding Syria. Despite that, Israel succeeded in establishing an understanding with Russia that they don’t interrupt Israel and Israel doesn’t interrupt them in their military activities there. If the Iranians approach Israel’s border where there are Russians present, Israel warns them before taking any military action.

Still, President Vladimir Putin is very frustrated. That’s why he sparked this latest crisis between Israel and Russia. Since moving into Syria in 2010, he declared victories many times, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad controls less than 50 percent of Syrian soil. Turkey controls less than 50 percent of the north, and the Kurds and Americans are in control of 7 percent of the land [a strip along the northeast border, which contains Syria’s abundant oil reserves.] Russia wants the oil. Subsequently, it launched an unsuccessful offensive using Russian mercenaries against Syrian anti-Assad forces that are supported by the Kurds and the US, which resulted in the deaths of 150 Russians. In this regard, Putin doesn’t benefit from Syria. [The Russians benefit from naval and air bases, which gives them an outlet to the Mediterranean.] The cost of intervention for Russia is very high in terms of money and human casualties. It is, subsequently, seeking an exit strategy. The Russians used the threat of giving the S-300 to Syria, which Israelis didn’t want them to do, as a means of pressuring the Americans to accept Syrian President Bashar al Assad and bring a quick end to the conflict.

CM: The Americans are arguing for Russian non-intervention in Idlib Province, which is the last remaining autonomous Syrian province, and the gathering place of all the anti-Assad forces. Moreover, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both hawks, want the US to remain in Syria until Iran and Russia are out of the country. As for the S-300, even if the Syrians already have the missile system, which is not clear, they must be trained to use it. Time still exists for Russia and the US to make a deal. What will Israel do regarding the S-300 should the US and Russia not make a deal?

Ya’alon: Israel has known about these missiles for some time and is working on the electronic jamming of the system. Hopefully, by the time the Syrians are trained to use it, the system will be deemed useless.

CM: Would Russia abandon President Assad and Iran if the Americans made that a condition for a settlement?

Ya’alon: Putin is committed to Putin and no one else. From the very beginning, he was committed to a stable regime, even without Assad. Otherwise, he argued, we would see more and more Islamist factions. Russian intelligence knew of about 2000 jihadists from Chechnya and other places deployed with ISIS in Syria. He told us that he prefers to keep these jihadists in Syria rather than on Russian soil. He also wanted to benefit by demonstrating his partisan allegiance – “I’m loyal to my allies, unlike Obama who abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak” – as well as demonstrate his military capabilities, to be a player in the game. Considering Russia’s poor economic situation, he played his cards better than Obama did. Regarding Iran, Russia’s interest is not to have Iranian dominance in Damascus. However, he needs them for boots on the ground.

CM: Why is Israel concerned about China?

Ya’alon: China is inserting itself into the Middle East in many ways, least of which is through its control of ports. Over the past few years, they bought majority holdings in ports – in Somalia, Piraeus, Greece – and they administer them. This insertion is significant because the ports are military, and they are building up

their navy there. It’s the first time in their history that the Chinese are moving outwards, which is of some concern. On the other hand, Israel has excellent relations with China – military and technical. The Chinese are investing in Israeli corporations. Still, the relationship remains complicated because they also play up to the Arab States. That can be dangerous for Israel.

Machla Abramovitz is a CIJR Academic Fellow

 

RESPONDING TO HEZBOLLAH ATTACK TUNNELS & INCREASING TENSION ON BORDER, IDF LAUNCHES “NORTHERN SHIELD”

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

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

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

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

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

 

ISRAEL CATCHES HEZBOLLAH IN THE ACT,

AND THE UN LOOKS AWAY 

Vivian Bercovici

National Post, Dec. 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ISRAEL’S BLITZ OF HEZBOLLAH’S

TERROR TUNNELS WILL HELP WIN THE PR WAR                                 

Benny Avni                        

New York Post, Dec. 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contents

   

AS SYRIA’S CIVIL WAR WINDS DOWN, ISRAEL,

IRAN AND HEZBOLLAH PIVOT TO LEBANON

Frida Ghitis                            

WPR, Dec. 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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LEBANON’S STRATEGIC SYMBIOSIS

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen          

BESA, Dec. 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contents

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

 

A NEW ORDER EMERGES IN SOUTHERN SYRIA                   

Jonathan Spyer                                                                           

Breaking Israel News, Dec. 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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THE RUSSIAN-ISRAELI CRISIS OVER SYRIA LACKS AN EXIT STRATEGY

Yaakov Lappin

BESA, Dec. 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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IN THE MIDDLE EAST, RUSSIA IS BACK

Liz Sly

Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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THE PALESTINIANS NO ONE TALKS ABOUT                             

Bassam Tawil                                               

Gatestone Institute, Nov. 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Chag Sameach!

 

Contents 

On Topic Links

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

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

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

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

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…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link]

 

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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.]

Contents   

                                                            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…

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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.