Posts Tagged ‘Assad regime’

Quitting Syria too soon would be a ‘blunder’: Mattis

June 9, 2018

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned Friday it would be a “strategic blunder” to pull out of Syria before UN-led peace efforts had made progress.

A US-led coalition is conducting military operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Mattis said they must not leave a “vacuum” that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could take advantage of.

© POOL/AFP | US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned that coalition forces leaving Syria could create a “vacuum”

Talks in Geneva led by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura have made little headway, but Mattis said they must be given the chance to succeed.

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover,” Mattis said at a meeting of coalition defence ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

IS seized parts of a town on the Syria-Iraq border on Friday in the latest in a string of attacks that comes as the continued presence of coalition forces in Syria is coming into question.

US President Donald Trump has vowed he would pull out his troops from Syria but Mattis has pleaded for a more patient approach.

“As the operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters,” Mattis said.



Russia, Israel and Iran are trapped in a deadly dance for the future of the Middle East

May 11, 2018

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his military intervention in Syria, Moscow has maintained an uneasy alliance with Iran — and Israel, Soon Putin will have to decide who his real friends are…

Iran protest

Iran has been expanding its influence in the Middle East CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Con Coughlan
The Telegraph

Putin needs to decide who his real friends are in Syria

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his military intervention in Syria, Moscow has maintained an uneasy alliance with Iran.

On one level, Russia and Iran have shared the same objective: keeping the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power. Indeed, Mr Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria in the summer of 2014 was only taken after he received a warning from Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, that the Assad regime was on the point of collapse.

This prospect had potentially serious consequences for the future of Russia’s military bases in Syria at Latakia and Tartus, which date back to the Cold War era and were established as part of Moscow’s long-standing strategic partnership with the Assad family.

Russia’s primary interest, therefore, in supporting the Assad regime was to protect and maintain its military operations in Syria.

Iran, on the other hand, sees its ties with Damascus as part of its attempts to strengthen its influence throughout the Arab world. Apart from keeping open vital supply lines across the Lebanese border to Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia militia, Iran has taken advantage of Syria’s long-running civil war to construct a network of permanent military bases.

Israel missile strike
Flames rise from the site of the recent Israeli missile strike  CREDIT: SANA/AP

Iran’s justification for expanding its military involvement in Syria has been to strengthen its ability to tackle the numerous rebel groups that are fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. But the fact that the Iranians have deployed thousands of medium and long range missiles in Syria suggests they have a more ominous objective – to threaten Israel.

Iran’s insistence on exploiting its alliance with Assad to establish a new front in its long-standing confrontation with the Jewish state has created tensions between Moscow and Tehran, as the Kremlin has no interest in provoking a conflict with Israel.

On the contrary,  Mr Putin is said to enjoy a good relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the extent that, in the past, Moscow has given Israel a green light to attack Iranian positions in Syria, even though Russia and Iran are supposed to be allies fighting common cause on behalf of the Assad regime.

It is now being reported that Israel gave Moscow advanced warning of its latest wave of air strikes against the Iranians, carried out on Wednesday after Iran was accused of firing a number of rockets at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from its Syrian bases.

This curious state of affairs helps to illustrate the underlying tensions between Russia and Iran, which date back to the previous decade. Then, the Russians accused Tehran of providing misleading information about the true extent of its nuclear enrichment programme.

Any alliance, then, between Russia and Iran is likely to be more of a marriage of convenience than a close strategic partnership. And a good way for the Russians to secure the future of their military bases in Syria would be to persuade Iran to cease its aggressive actions towards Israel.

Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria — Israel says it hit “all Iranian bases in Syria”

May 10, 2018

Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli army bases in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages against Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.

Image may contain: sky, night, cloud and outdoor

Syrian missile fire is seen in the night sky near Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. REUTERS-Omar Sanadiki


The attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, just past midnight, marked the first time Iranian forces have hit Israel from Syria, where they have deployed along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militias and Russian troops to support President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.

Dozens of Israeli missiles hit a radar station, Syrian air defense positions and an ammunition dump, Syrian state media said, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

“I hope we finished this chapter and everyone got the message,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at the Herzliya security conference, near Tel Aviv, on Thursday morning.

Israel said 20 Iranian Grad and Fajr rockets were shot down by its Iron Dome air defense system or fell short of the Golan targets. The Quds Force, an external arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, carried out the launch, Israel said.

“It was commanded and ordered by (Quds Force chief General) Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

Israel struck back by destroying dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, Conricus said, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes.

“We do not know yet the (Iranian) casualty count,” he said.

“But I can say that in terms of our purpose, we focused less on personnel and more on capabilities and hardware … to inflict long-term damage on the Iranian military establishment in Syria. We assess it will take substantial time to replenish.”

Israeli schools in the Golan Heights opened as usual on Thursday morning, after sirens had sent residents to shelters during the night.

This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday. (Syria News, via AP)

This frame grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria News, shows people standing in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria on Tuesday. (Syria News, via AP)

“I do not reside on the border of New Zealand-Australia. We are located here facing Syria and Lebanon and this is the reality which we will overcome together, especially with the IDF (Israel Defence Forces),” said Alex Gudish, a Golan settler.

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)


The Israelis fear that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are turning Syria into a new front against them. Israel says its occasional strikes in Syria aim to foil that.

Iran vowed retaliation after a suspected Israeli air strike last month killed seven of its military personnel in a Syrian air base.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat, and has repeatedly targeted Iranian forces and allied militia in Syria.

Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. Hours later, Israeli rocket rockets targeted a military base in Kisweh, a commander in the pro-Syrian government regional alliance said.

That attack killed 15 people, including eight Iranians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, though the commander said there were no casualties. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

The Trump administration cast its hard line against the Iranian nuclear deal as a response, in part, to Tehran’s military interventions in the region.

The Golan flare-up with Israel “is just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted and another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)


The tensions worry Russia, which wants to stabilize Syria.

Thursday’s flare-up came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a visit to Moscow, where he discussed Syria concerns with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Conricus said Israel forewarned Russia of its strikes on Thursday, which Syrian state media first reported hit Baath City in Quneitra, near the border. Further waves of missiles followed. Syrian state media said Israeli missiles had been brought down over Damascus, Homs and Sueida.

“Air defenses confronted tens of Israeli rockets and some of them reached their target and destroyed one of the radar sites,” Syrian state news agency SANA reported, citing a military source. Another rocket hit an ammunition warehouse, it said.

Syrian state television broadcast footage of its air defenses firing, and playing patriotic songs. Damascus residents described explosions in the sky from air defense systems.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported Israeli jets circling over Lebanese territory early on Thursday before exiting.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Dahlia Nehme and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Grant McCool, Peter Cooney, Tom Perry and Larry King


Israel Launches Most Extensive Strike in Syria in Decades After Iranian Rocket Barrage

May 10, 2018

In first, Israel accuses Iran of attacking its territory ■ Russia informed ahead of Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria ■ U.S.: ‘We support Israel’s right to defend itself’

.Missiles over Daara, Syria
Missiles over Daara, Syria ALAA AL-FAQIR/ Reuters

Israel attacked dozens of Iranian targets in Syria in what the military said was the most extensive strike in the neighboring country in decades. The strike was carried out in response to a barrage of 20 rockets that was fired from Syria at Israeli military outposts.

The Israeli military accused the Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force and its commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, of launching the attack at the Israeli Golan Heights. This is the first time Israel has directly accused Iran of firing toward Israeli territory.

skip – תיעוד שפרסמה סאנ”א שבו נראה יירוט טילים בידי מערכת ההגנה האווירית, הלילה

תיעוד שפרסמה סאנ”א שבו נראה יירוט טילים בידי מערכת ההגנה האווירית, הלילה – דלג

Four of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system and the rest of the rockets exploded on Syria territory, the military said. Israel said there were no casualties in the attack.

Israel said the targets included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed five Syrian air-defense systems after coming under heavy fire. It said none of its warplanes was hit.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday morning that Israel has struck “all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.” Lieberman said that Israel does not seek escalation, but added that it won’t allow Iran to turn Syria into a “frontline base” against Israel.

A source in the Israeli security establishment said this attack was the largest carried out by Israel since it signed a disengagement agreement with Syria in May 1974. The Israeli military warned Syria not to respond to its attack.

Missile fire as seen from Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018.
Missile fire as seen from Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. \ OMAR SANADIKI/ REUTERS

Russia is reported to have been informed in advance of the Israeli attack.

There was no immediate word on Iranian casualties. Reports said that there were several casualties as a result of the Israeli strike and that explosions were heard near the Syrian capital Damascus.

>> 8 Iranians killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian base near Damascus ■  Israeli actions thwart Iran revenge- for now ■ Donald Trump just put Israel in immediate danger | Analysis 

The Syria reports said that Israel has also struck army posts as position used by Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in the Syrian Golan, near the Druze village Khader and Khan Arnabah, close to the border with Israel. The reports said that the rockets that struck Israel overnight were fired from those posts.

Tensions along the Israel-Syria border

The rocket launcher from the Israeli air force's perspective, moments before the rockets were launched, May 10, 2018
The rocket launcher from the Israeli air force’s perspective, moments before the rockets were launched, May 10, 2018IDF Spokesperson

The rocket barrage was fired from Syria at Israel at around midnight Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israel has attacked targets of the Syrian military on the outskirts of Quneitra in the Golan Heights.

Shortly thereafter siren alerts sounded in communities in the north and center of the Golan Heights in northern Israel. The Home Front Command released a reminder on safety regulations to residents of the area; some reported hearing explosions.

The Golan Regional Council released a statement saying that several towns in the Golan were targeted by rocket fire and that residents of those towns are requested to stay in shelters until notified otherwise.

Over the past month tensions have been high along the Israeli border with Syria and the army has increased security measures in the area, deploying more Iron Dome batteries across the northern region.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory said eight Iranians were among 15 killed in a strike carried out a day earlier by Israel. The strike reportedy targeted Iranian missiles aimed at Israel.

The Israeli military had anticipated that after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear accord, Israel was likely to be targeted by rocket fire and Iran would try to retaliate for an attack last month on the Syrian T4 air base in which seven Iranians were killed. However, the military has predicted that such an Iranian retaliation would not lead to a full-fledged war.

This is the first time Israel directly accuses Iran of firing towards Israeli territory. During the Syrian Civil War rockets were fired at Israel from Syria several times, usually by groups in southern Syria that are affiliated with Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

Tehran has issued several threats over the past month, saying that it would hurt Israel in response to a slew of attacks that were ascribed to the Israeli air force.

A U.S. State Department official responded to the escalation on Wednesday, telling Haaretz that U.S. wishes to reiterate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement from last week in which he stressed the U.S.’s support of Israel against the Iranian threat.

“We stand with Israel in the fight against Iran’s malign activities and we strongly support Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself. If true [evidence provided by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran’s nuclear activity in recent years], this only bolsters our decision to terminate the JCPOA. Iran will have showed the world its true intentions. Let there be no doubt.”

This attack comes on the heels of a Syrian report Tuesday accusing Israel of carrying out an attack on a military base south of Damascus, which was used by Iranian forces. According to reports, Israeli fighter jets entered Syrian airspace and struck Iranian missiles aimed at Israel.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saudi Arabia welcomes US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal

May 9, 2018

Saudi Arabia: The Iranian regime took advantage of the economic benefits afforded by the lifting of sanctions and used them to continue its destabilizing activities in the region — The Kingdom reaffirms its support of the strategy previously announced by President Trump towards Iran

Trump announced the US will pull out of the landmark nuclear accord with Iran. (AP)

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia welcomed the announcement on Tuesday by President Donald Trump that the United States is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. The government said it also supports the reinstatement of economic sanctions on the Iranian regime, which were suspended under the agreement.

The Kingdom’s previous support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — signed in 2015 by Iran and the P5+1 group of countries China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany — was based, it said, on the conviction that all possible steps must be taken that might help to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and the wider world.

“The Iranian regime however, took advantage of the economic benefits afforded by the lifting of sanctions,” the government said in a statement released by Saudi Press Agency, “and used them to continue its destabilizing activities in the region, especially by developing its ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist organizations in the region, including Hezbollah and the Houthi militias.” It said the groups used these capabilities, provided by Iran, to target civilians in the Kingdom and Yemen, “as well as repeatedly targeting international shipping lanes in a blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

The statement continued: “The Kingdom reaffirms its support of the strategy previously announced by President Trump towards Iran, and hopes the international community will take a firm and unified stance against the Iranian regime, and its destabilizing aggression in the region, its support to terrorist groups, particularly Hezbollah and the Houthi militias, and its support of the Assad regime — which has committed heinous crimes against its people that led to the death of more than half a million civilians, including through the use of chemical weapons.”

It concluded: “Based on this position, the Kingdom asserts its commitment to work with its partners in the United States and the international community to reach the goals announced by President Trump, and the necessity to address the dangers posed by the policies of Iran on international peace and security through a holistic approach that is not limited to its nuclear program, but addresses its hostile activities, including Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region, its support of terrorism, and to prevent Iran from ever possessing weapons of mass destruction.”

Arab News

When Russia Becomes the U.S.S.R. on Steroids, Israel Can Become a Target Too

April 29, 2018

It seems Russia’s interest in Israel has only increased – in part due to the danger it will help ruin Moscow’s plan for Syria. And Netanyahu’s government shouldn’t forget the Chinese threat, either

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking the International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking the International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018.\ MAXIM SHEMETOV/ REUTERS

Israel can become a target tooAlmost in passing at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last July, Israel Defense Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot mentioned the possibility of foreign intervention in Israel’s democratic processes.

Eisenkot didn’t name the country that’s likely to intervene, but the examples he listed – cyberattacks and incitement campaigns in the United States, France and Ukraine, most of them during election campaigns – pointed to one address: Russia. Shortly afterward, Haaretz reported that the National Cyber Security Authority was drawing up a program to prevent foreign intervention in elections.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing that the next Knesset election might take place this year, well before the deadline of November 2019. At the same time, it seems Russia’s interest in Israel has only increased – due to Israel’s geographic location, the danger that it will help ruin Moscow’s plan for a new order in Syria, and the many Israelis who immigrated from the Soviet Union and its successor states.

Across its borders in recent years, Russia has improved its access to what it calls “hybrid warfare,” which combines military force with political influence, propaganda campaigns and psychological warfare.

>> Everyone’s talking about Russia’s S-300. Should Israel be worried? >>

Russian intervention in the U.S. presidential election is a central part of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The information Mueller is gleaning is being released only bit by bit – in court documents and selective leaks to the media. It’s subject to contradictory interpretations. According to extreme views, Donald Trump’s victory in November 2016 was the product of a Kremlin plot.

There are many claims of unusual intervention by Russia, from concealed ties with Trump’s campaign staff to the hacking of Democratic Party computers, which badly embarrassed Hillary Clinton at a crucial moment in the election campaign. But it’s possible that the Democrats’ emphasis on Russian intervention is designed to provide an explanation for the election’s inconceivable result.

Still, the events in the United States, the information gradually being revealed about the Russian campaigns of incitement and deception in European countries, the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, Moscow’s unqualified support for the murderous Assad regime – all this paints a very clear picture. Russia has returned to the international stage and considers itself an equal to the United States, despite Washington’s huge economic and military advantage.

And to gain dominance once again, the Russians are increasingly using all the tried and true methods of the Cold War (not that the Americans are innocent of using very similar methods). Cyberattacks, along with sophisticated propaganda and disinformation on social media, ramp up the consequences. This is already the Soviet Union on steroids, both because its rivals’ secrets are more accessible than in the past, and because it’s easier today to spread the messages to the general public.

At the same time, the Russians are helping to weaken Westerners’ confidence in the effectiveness and justness of their democracies. When Russia’s RT television films Syrians who deny that a chemical slaughter was carried out by the Assad regime, when on Twitter the Russian ambassador in London mocks the claims about the poisoning of the former spy, the purpose is the same. The propaganda isn’t designed to convince Westerners of the justness of the Kremlin’s ways, it’s to confuse their perception of reality to the point where they’ll no longer believe in anything.

With these rules of the game, which are being applied in a broad international arena, Israel is also a possible target. It’s not only the degree of the danger of the Iranian nuclear program or the strengthening of Hezbollah where Israel and Russia don’t see eye to eye. Russia is also fighting to weaken the standing of the United States in Israel, and of course America is Israel’s main strategic pillar.

“The Russians have an available target audience here and an ability to influence. The question is whether they’ll have any interest in doing so,” a defense official said. “Russia is the most sophisticated player in influence campaigns, but we haven’t seen evidence yet that it’s conducting such campaigns in Israel.”

One problem in protecting ourselves from influence campaigns is Russia’s plethora of methods, while our means of preventing them are divided among various government authorities. We can take the government’s promises at face value and believe that things are being handled properly. But it seems that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, for example, should recall Eisenkot’s warning and examine whether we’re prepared for such campaigns, even before the election is announced.

When committee members visited Russia a few months ago to meet with their parliamentary counterparts, security experts advised them not to take their personal smartphones with them. “You’re liable to return with a friend for life,” they were told. Moscow may not believe in tears, but it certainly seems to believe in the advantages of technology.

China’s involvement a mixed bag

All the same, in the near future, a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will discuss the regional influence of another great power, China. Like Russia, China has in recent years shown increased interest in the Middle East, but it uses entirely different means. The Chinese strategy favors economic influence: large acquisitions and huge infrastructure projects. This week Bloomberg reported that private and state-owned companies have invested $318 billion in the past decade to acquire assets in Europe, from vital infrastructure to high-tech firms and soccer clubs.

Part of that is happening in Israel. Chinese companies, possibly with government subsidies from Beijing, have won large long-term infrastructure bids and are acquiring assets. In the long term, these steps also give them leverage to guarantee China future acquisitions at good terms.

Israel is responding enthusiastically to the Chinese approaches. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often talks about the tremendous economic potential of the Chinese market, and in 2013 the government decided to encourage economic relations and made the National Economic Council responsible for coordinating the process.

In recent years Chinese companies have been building the Tel Aviv light rail. They’re also involved in the Trans-Israel Highway, dug the Carmel Tunnels, are expanding the Ashdod and Haifa ports and have been put in charge of maintaining part of the Haifa Port for the next 20 years.

In isolated cases, the government decided to restrict their activity. Dorit Salinger, the supervisor of capital markets, insurance and savings, halted Chinese acquisitions of the Clal and Phoenix insurers. Intervention by security organizations prevented the sale of part of cellular communications provider Pelephone to a Chinese company and halted Chinese participation in a construction project at Ben-Gurion Airport.

These steps, which are partial and uncoordinated, are related to Israel’s understanding of potential risks. As reported in Haaretz, China showed its bargaining power when it stopped a process in which a former Israeli defense official was supposed to testify on the use of Palestinian terror money via a Chinese bank. When the success of Netanyahu’s visit to China was on the agenda, Israel retreated and reconciled itself to the situation.

It seems Israel must be aware of the possible risks, both large and small. For example, was there any examination of putting China in charge of the Tel Aviv light rail, which passes only a few meters from the General Staff’s base at Defense Ministry headquarters? And what’s the significance of putting a foreign company in charge of a complex system of control, monitoring and cameras for years to come?

Other Western countries are more aware of these risks. Australia has passed laws requiring a special permit for foreign investments topping $150 million, and the United States has expanded legislation – with China in mind – requiring security permits (from the FBI among others) for large acquisitions by foreigners.

The Americans also forbid federal employees from using Chinese technology such as Huawei smartphones for fear that information-gathering components will be embedded in them. Israeli defense officials are thought to be exercising caution on this issue, although security sources refuse to confirm that there is a specific policy.

The Chinese authorities aren’t hostile to Israel, and the impression is that the Chinese admire Israeli creativity and initiative. But considering the difference in size between the parties, China also seems to be indifferent to the strategic considerations that preoccupy Israel. Israel must do a better job preparing for the challenge posed by Chinese influence in the region, just as it’s beginning to understand the Russian challenge. And this isn’t because of Sinophobia; it’s simply realism.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion, head of the Israel-China research program at the Institute for National Security Studies, tells Haaretz that “China and to a great extent Russia present Israel with a new type of national-security challenge. These are countries with patience and the ability to plan and learn in depth and for the long term.”

As Orion puts it, “Relations with them represent an economic opportunity that Israel must learn how to exploit, while being aware of the differences in interests and the risks. That requires the government to organize differently, because the balance of power here is to our detriment and we haven’t acquired experience in tackling such challenges.”

Israel prepares for Iranian revenge to include missile attacks, drone strikes

April 17, 2018

As tension mounts after alleged bombing of Syrian air base, Israel details Tehran’s aerial activities in the country, pointing out potential targets

Times of Israel
April 17, 2018
A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage April 16, 2018. (Iranian media)

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage April 16, 2018. (Iranian media)

Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, the military was preparing for the possibility of a direct attack by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ air force in response to a strike on its air base in Syria earlier this month, The Times of Israel has learned.

Iranian officials have made increasingly bellicose remarks following the April 9 strike on the T-4 air base, near Palmyra in central Syria, which killed at least seven members of the IRGC, including the head of its drone program, Col. Mehdi Dehghan.

Iran, Syria, Russia and some US officials have all said explicitly that Israel was responsible for the strike. Israeli officials refuse to comment on the matter, though The New York Times quoted an Israeli military official as acknowledging that the Jewish state was behind the attack.

On Monday, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s retaliation against Israel will come “sooner or later” and that Jerusalem will “regret its misdeeds.”

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

“The Zionist regime should not be able to take action and be exempt from punishment,” spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters, according to Iranian news media.

Tensions rose again on Tuesday, as additional strikes were initially reported on two air bases in Syria, with the Syrian military claiming to have shot down incoming missiles. Later, the Syrian army clarified that no missiles had actually been fired, but claimed that its countermeasures were triggered by a joint Israeli-American cyberattack.

Screen capture from video showing Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, left, during the opening of a production line to produce Iran’s Mohajer 6 drone, in Tehran, February 5, 2018. (YouTube)

Israel’s defense establishment — the country’s various intelligence services and the military — believes an Iranian revenge attack would likely be carried out by the IRGC’s air force, with surface-to-surface missiles or armed drones, The Times of Israel has learned.

That would be a departure from previous clashes between Israel and Iran, in which Tehran’s reprisals were carried out through proxies, like the Hezbollah terrorist group, rather than by its own Revolutionary Guard Corps.

There was no indication of when such an attack might take place, though Independence Day festivities scheduled for Thursday may serve as a tempting target for Iran.

“The Israel Defense Forces will do everything to ensure that Independence Day passes quietly and that the citizens of Israel can enjoy the holiday. The IDF is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios so that the citizens of Israel can celebrate the 70th Independence Day properly,” defense officials told the Ynet news site.

In what could be seen as a not-so-subtle threat, a map was distributed to Israeli media outlets on Tuesday showing five Iranian-controlled bases in Syria — potential targets for the Israel Defense Forces if Iran does carry out reprisals.

A map of Syria, provided to Israeli media, shows the approximate locations of five bases that Israel believes to be controlled by Iran.

These are Damascus International Airport, through which Iranian transport planes bring in weapons and military gear; the Sayqal air base; the T-4 air base; an airfield near Aleppo; and a base in Deir Ezzor, which was recaptured from the Islamic State terror group by the regime last year.

Israeli intelligence believes the sites are used by Iran for its missions in Syria, as well as to transport weapons to its proxies in the region.

Their exact locations on the map are not entirely accurate. (The Sayqal air base, for instance, is located east of Damascus, not south of it as it appears on the map.)

Israel believes Iran’s retaliatory effort is being led by Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, which operates around the world, with assistance from the head of the IRGC air corps, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh; the head of its surface-to-surface missile program; Col. Mahmoud Bakri Katrem Abadi; and the head of its air defense operations, Ali Akhbar Tzeidoun.

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ air force Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. (Fars news)

Soleimani has repeatedly threatened Israel, and he threatened to “wipe out the Zionist entity” in February over the assassination of a Hezbollah leader, which has been attributed to the Mossad and America’s CIA.

Iran has access to a variety of surface-to-surface missiles, from short-range Fajr-5 rockets to medium-range Fateh 110 missiles, which have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) to long-range Shehab ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.

To counter those threats, Israel has a multi-tiered missile defense system consisting of the Iron Dome for short-range rockets and mortar shells, the David’s Sling for medium-range missiles and the Arrow for long-range ballistic missiles.

Iran has been supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad since the start of his country’s civil war, first providing him with things like riot control gear at the start of the clashes and then expanding that assistance to include routine war materiel drops.

Western officials have accused Iran of using seemingly civilian airlines as fronts for the IRGC to conduct military transport missions to Syria from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport.

Syria’s Sayqal Air Base, located east of Damascus, which Israel believes to be partially under Iranian control. (Google Earth)

Pouya Airlines, for instance, was subjected to US sanctions in 2014 for “transporting illicit cargo, including weapons, to Iran’s clients in the Levant,” according to the US Treasury Department.

Over time, the IRGC began setting up its own facilities on Syrian military bases and air fields.

Earlier this year, the Syrian news site Zaman Al Wasl quoted an Assad regime military official as saying that Iran had operatives placed on military bases throughout the country.

The Syrian outlet identified other Iranian sites in the country in addition to the five bases on the map sent out to Israeli media, including an air base near Homs under Iranian and Hezbollah control that is used to train Shiite forces.

The Tiyas, or T-4, Air Base, outside of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which Israel claims is being operated by Iran and its Quds Force. (Screen capture/Wikimapia)

The T-4 air base, also known as the Tiyas air base, has specifically been tied to the IRGC’s drone program.

Israel targeted the base on February 10, after a drone loaded with explosives was flown into Israeli airspace in order to carry out an attack, according to the Israeli military.

An Israeli attack helicopter shot down the drone moments after it entered Israeli airspace and Israeli fighter jets later targeted the mobile control center on the T-4 air base from which it was piloted.

The drone appeared to be a relatively new stealth model known as a Saeqeh, whose design was stolen from an American unmanned aerial vehicle that was captured by Iran in 2011, according to aviation analysts.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

During the Syrian counterattack against the Israeli jets, one F-16 was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in a field in northern Israel after the pilot and navigator ejected from it.

In response to that downing of the fighter jet, Israel launched a large-scale attack on Syria’s air defenses, destroying between one-third and one-half of its capabilities, according to the IDF.

Israel sees Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as its central enemy in the region. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, marking it as a “red line” that it will fight militarily if necessary.


Will Syria’s Assad get the message? Ask Russia and Iran, say former US officials

April 15, 2018

Former top US officials are uncertain whether the Syria strikes will achieve their intended goal to deter Assad regime’s using of chemical weapons. But the attacks sent some key additional messages.

Rubble at the destroyed Scientific Research Centre (Reuters/O. Sanadiki)

The Trump administration made clear that attacks against Syria’s chemical weapons program had one purpose: to deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using such weapons again in future as he had done, the United States and others said, recently in the city of Douma.

Friday night’s strike came one year after the US hit the Assad regime in similar fashion after Damascus had allegedly carried out a deadly chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. This time, however, the US was not acting alone, and it, along with France and the UK, conducted significantly more strikes than a year ago.

Read moreAirstrikes in Syria: What you need to know

The fresh US-led action, described as a one-off attack, capped a tumultuous lead-up to an intervention that started, as has become routine in Washington, by a presidential tweet. In it, Trump promised swift and tough US military action, denounced Assad and taunted Russia and Iran. The tweet triggered international alarm about an imminent attack in one of the most volatile regions and left US officials scrambling for answers.

Donald J. Trump


Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

When the attack came — days after Trump’s initial timeline — it was in concert with two allies and clearly limited in scope to a narrow set of targets. To many observers, the military action looked more like a restrained response than a broader one initially forecast by Trump. That’s led to several questions:

Will Assad still get the message and stop using chemical weapons?

“I am underwhelmed,” said Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Syria, who also served as Washington’s envoy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We basically did the same thing we did a year ago on a slightly larger scale. But it is not going to do any lasting damage to Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future or anything else.”

“Will this deter him — that’s a question that remains open,” said Philip Breedlove, the former NATO and US military commander in Europe. “Remember that this criminal, this monster leader of Syria, enjoys the support and the enabling capabilities and the exterior political support of Russia and Iran.”

Read more: US-led strikes on Syria: A move with unpredictable consequences

While it’s difficult to predict Assad’s response, to change his calculus would probably require action that threatened the very foundation of his regime, said Mona Yacoubian, a Syria scholar at the United States Institute of Peace. “In that sense, these strikes were probably too limited to do that.”

All three experts highlighted the influence of Russia and Iran on the Assad regime.

Putin besucht russische Luftwaffenbasis in Syrien (picture-alliance/dpa/M.Klimentyev)It’s Putin who will have the most influence on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, not US strikes

“Remember that Mr. Assad by himself is not capable of all these things that are going on around him,” said Breedlove. “He is enabled, empowered and encouraged by Russia and Iran.”

“If they say don’t do this again, he probably won’t do it again,” agreed Crocker, referring to Moscow and Tehran’s sway over Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

“I would look at Iran particularly”, the former US diplomat said, adding, “I can’t believe the Iranians are just fine with this. They suffered a great deal from chemical attacks in the Iran-Iraq war. They know what it’s like.”

Russia, said Yacoubian, despite some bellicose rhetoric, also can have no interest in escalating a conflict with the US over Syria and might be inclined to clamp down on Assad’s use of chemical weapons for its own reasons.

A British jet about to take off for a mission in Syria (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Matthews)The US was right to seek allies in the strikes, but having just two may not have been a strong signal

While Crocker supported Washington’s decision to not strike Syria alone this time, the lack of participation of any other nations aside from Britain and France, sends a bad signal to Arab countries in light of the approaching 100th anniversary of the Versailles Treaty next year that ended World War I, he said. “No on in the West will tweet to this, everybody in the Middle East will because the British and the French, of course, were the ones who divided up the Ottoman Middle Eastern territories.”

The former US diplomat also expressed his astonishment about the timing of Berlin’s announcement not to participate in a military strike against Syria.

“I found it more than a little sad and disturbing that Germany chose International Holocaust Remembrance Day to make a public statement that under no circumstances whatsoever would Germany participate in a strike on a chemical weapons facility,” said Crocker.

What do the strikes tell us about the Trump administration?

Washington, US-Präsident Donald Trump spricht während einer Kabinettssitzung im Weißen Haus (Reuters/K.Lamarque )Mattis is one of very few Cabinet members who have not felt the ire of the president

Asked whether the US response could be read as a sign that the Pentagon, which under Defense Secretary James Mattis had advocated for a careful and coordinated response, prevailed over the White House’s initial call for swift action, the experts rejected such an interpretation as going too far.

Still, the nature and the execution of the attack, proves that Mattis plays an important role right now, said Crocker. “Pretty clearly he is able to calm the president down,” he said. “Not many people can do that.”

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Former NATO Commander Breedlove, who declined to engage in politics, praised Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

“What you have seen here is that these two incredible military leaders have given their boss, the commander-in-chief, their advice, and the commander-in-chief made the decision based on that advice. Frankly, I think they got it right.”

USA John Bolton (Imago/Zumapress)Many wonder what Bolton’s role will be in shaping US foreign policy

Experts have wondered whether Trump will continue to heed the counsel of his military leaders, particularly with the ascent of the hardline John Bolton as national security adviser.

Similarly interesting will be whether Trump’s newly formed team of Pentagon chief Mattis, Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who appears likely to be confirmed as the new secretary of state, will address what Crocker, the former Syria ambassador, calls the administration’s underlying problem.

“There still is no Syria strategy in Washington.”

Turkey declares once and for all: Assad regime must go

April 12, 2018

Daily Sabah

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

Ankara has insisted that Assad’s removal from Syria and the elimination of all terror groups are necessary for peace to be established in the war-torn country

The time has come for the Bashar Assad regime in Syria to go, Turkish officials said yesterday after the deadly chemical attacks by the regime in the Eastern Ghouta and Douma districts, and the U.S. vowing to strike regime targets in Syria. “The Assad regime must leave Syria. This is not the first time the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. It has killed nearly 1 million people with airstrikes and barrel bombs,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at an event organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara.

On April 8, the White Helmets organization in Eastern Ghouta alleged that Syrian regime forces carried out a chemical attack on targets in the Damascus suburb’s Douma district that left dozens of civilians dead. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution on Feb. 24, calling for a month-long cease-fire in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. Despite the resolution, the regime and its allies early this month launched a major ground offensive backed by Russian air power to capture opposition-held parts of Eastern Ghouta. “[Assad] must leave the county and a transition to political process must began,” Çavuşoğlu added.

He added that the attempts to establish a permanent solution, “such as the Astana and Sochi processes,” must be put to work effectively, and the country must prepare for transparent elections in a very short time. “It is important to hold a transparent election under the U.N.’s roof. We do not want to see blood and tears in Syria anymore,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Since the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Turkish government has maintained that the ultimate solution to finding the peace in the war-torn country is to replace Bashar Assad and establish a new political environment that will be mediated by the United Nations and be an inclusive entity.

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli also said that Assad’s removal and clearing Syria of terror groups are two conditions that must be established for peace in Syria to prevail. “Clearing Syria of all terror groups and withdrawal of the regime. If these two parameters had been established by now, peace would have been established by now, and none of these [chemical attacks] would have happened,” Canikli said in a televised interview yesterday.

Canikli said both Russia and the U.S. are on the wrong side in Syria. “One supports terror elements, supporting the PKK/PYD/YPG, and they act with them in Syria. And the other one supports the Assad regime, which is the reason behind the murders of hundreds of thousands of Syrians,” he added.

Assad’s removal was a non-negotiable condition for Turkey in planning Syria’s future from the beginning of the conflict. However, U.S. support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), made Turkish governments focus on elimination of the group from northern Syria. The growing influence of the YPG in northern Syria triggered the Turkish military to launch Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 in Syria’s northwestern Afrin province. The Afrin operation, which was conducted by Turkish armed and air forces, as well as the Free Syrian Army, was also coordinated with Russia, the main backer of the Assad regime. While Russia provided heavy military support to Assad, his presence in leading the regime has been a matter of disagreement between Ankara and Moscow. Yet, Turkey and Russia, as well as Moscow, have been able to find a common ground in establishing ceasefire and de-escalation zones in parts of Syria, through several meetings the leaders held in what has been known as the Astana agreement and Sochi talks.

‘Turkey to remain in Afrin as long as threats exist’

Defense Minister Canikli also responded to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments, suggesting to return Afrin to regime control, saying that Turkey is in Afrin to eliminate terror threats posed to its national security. “As long as the risk and threats continue, we have to remain in Afrin. We must do this for the security of our country,” Canikli said.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was coordinating with Russia during the Olive Branch operation’s first phase, which was clearing the terrorists. “The second phase of operation is to ensure the safe returns of locals and bringing stability. We have no interest in Syrian soil,” Çavuşoğlu added.

The foreign minister underlined that due to the ambiguous relations between the regime and the YPG, returning Afrin to the Assad regime is not an option.

“One day the regime fights with the YPG, the next day they get along. There are many strange things happening on the field in Syria. Groups fighting each other today, can be selling weapons to each other tomorrow,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkey sees the presence of the YPG in northern Syria as a terror threat to its national security, as the YPG is organically linked to the PKK, a group that has been listed as a terror organization by the U.S., the EU and Turkey. Ankara has also vowed to eliminate the YPG from northern Syria’s Manbij and eastern parts of the Euphrates River, currently under the control of the U.S.-backed group.

Turkish, French FMs to meet about PKK-linked SDF

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also said that he would hold a meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian over President Emmanuel Macron’s offer to mediate talks with the SDF, on request of the French side.

He said the two ministers had originally planned to meet earlier but couldn’t because of their busy schedules.

The meeting comes after a diplomatic crisis erupted over France’s offer to mediate between Turkey and the U.S.-backed SDF, which is dominated by the YPG.

President Macron’s meeting offer with the SDF was branded as “unacceptable” by Turkey with Çavuşoğlu saying it showed France’s “double standard” on terrorist groups and calling on Paris to take a clear stance against all of forms of terror.

Can Russia’s feared S-400 air defence system stop America’s Tomahawk missiles? — Russia says Syria shot down Israeli missiles….

April 12, 2018


Donald Trump’s promise to carry out US strikes against Syria despite Russian warnings could result in a show-down between two of the world’s most sophisticated weapons systems.

American military action against Bashar al-Assad’s military and chemical weapons capability will almost certainly come in the form of a hail of Tomahawk missiles, the $832,000-a-pop sea-launched weapons that were used against a Syrian airbase in April last year.

But that strike could be significantly disrupted, if not entirely thwarted, by Russia’s state of the art but previously untested S-400 air defence system.

The nature of the conflict in Syria means the US will most likely use long range missiles in any strike…

Real the rest (Paywall):


Can Russia Really Shoot Down U.S. Missiles in Syria?

Asia Times
April 11, 2018

The Trump administration appears to have officially come to a conclusion on whether to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, with the US president suggesting Wednesday that a missile strike is eminent.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!”

Russia’s foreign ministry responded to the warning by accusing the US of attempting to destroy evidence of the reported chemical weapons attack, which Russia and the Syrian government have denied ever occurred. An international team of inspectors was said on Tuesday to be readying for an official probe into the widely reported incident.

The apparent decision by the White House to conduct a missile strike comes after Russia claimed the Syrian government shot down several Israeli cruise missiles over the weekend.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper speculated that the claim was an indication that Syria’s ruling Assad regime was revealing new capabilities.

“In the past, such reports came from Syria and were considered an attempt to minimize humiliation over the strikes,” the report said. “This time, Russia announced it”

Israeli military sources expressed differing opinions about the significance.

“According to a former senior Israel Air Force officer, it is not difficult to shoot down missiles. Some cruise missiles, including those that according to foreign sources Israel employs, are heavy, relatively slow and can be detected by radar with relative ease […] Another former senior air force officer said he doubts that the Syrian army could intercept such a high percentage of missiles — five out of eight — unless it had help from the Russians by means of an advanced missile system like the S400 and other systems.”

This first appeared in AsiaTimes.