Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel warns Donald Trump: revoking Iran deal could push EU to Russia and China

October 13, 2017

Germany’s top diplomat Sigmar Gabriel has warned that Donald Trump’s potential move to “de-certify” Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal could have a profound effect on the international landscape.

USA Besuch Bundesaußenminister Gabriel PK in Washington DC (Imago/photothek/I. Kjer)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday said that any move by US President Donald Trump’s administration to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal would drive a wedge between Europe and the US.

“It’s imperative that Europe sticks together on this issue,” Gabriel told Germany’s RND newspaper group. “We also have to tell the Americans that their behavior on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA.”

Read more: What is the Iran nuclear deal?

Despite countless warnings from global leaders and even from within his own administration, Trump is expected on Friday to unveil a new strategy on confronting Iran, which would include “de-certifying” Iran’s compliance to the nuclear accord.  The deal, which was reached in 2015 between Iran and international powers, saw international sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program lifted in exchange for Tehran dismantling its nuclear program.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog has repeatedly certified that Iran has been adhering to the restrictions imposed by the accord. Trump, however, has decried Iran for violating “the spirit” of the deal, first by backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and then by test firing its newly-developed non-nuclear ballistic missiles.

“The big drama is that the Iran agreement could turn out to be a pawn in American domestic politics,” Gabriel said. Washington wants the agreement to ensure that Iran ceases to fuel conflicts such as in Syria, Iraq, or Yemen. But Gabriel said this could not be a condition for Iran to remain free of nuclear weapons.

Trump has until Sunday to inform Congress whether he believes Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement. Should Trump de-certify Tehran’s compliance, Congress will have to decide within 60 days what new sanctions to impose on Iran.

A ‘hot crisis’ region

Several EU and US officials have warned that Trump’s refusal to certify the deal could leave the US diplomatically isolated. Germany has historically close economic and business ties with Russia, although those have soured in recent years following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Berlin, and Gabriel in particular, have also been working to boost relations with China.

Read more: Berlin sees opportunity to strengthen trade ties with China

“A denunciation of the Iran agreement would turn the Middle East into a hot crisis region,” Gabriel warned, adding that if Iran were to resume developing nuclear weapons, then “the immediate danger of a new war” would return, with Israel potentially involved.

“It would be a devastating signal for nuclear disarmament,” Gabriel said. “Some states might see the failure of the Iran agreement as a signal to arm themselves with nuclear weapons as soon as possible.”

Gabriel’s potential successor weighs in

Gabriel is expected to stand down from his post in the coming months, after his Social Democratic Party (SPD) announced that it would go into opposition after finishing second behind Chancellor Angela Merkel Christian Democrats in last month’s federal election.

One of the candidates widely tipped to succeed him as top diplomat, Green party leader Cem Özdemir, also warned on Twitter against a nuclear arms race and said that Saudi Arabia could even become a new nuclear power in the region.

dm/bk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

http://www.dw.com/en/germanys-sigmar-gabriel-warns-donald-trump-revoking-iran-deal-could-push-eu-to-russia-and-china/a-40933703

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Chemical weapons watchdog found sarin used in March Syria attack

October 5, 2017

Reuters

AMSTERDAM/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – An inquiry by the global chemical weapons watchdog found sarin was used in a March attack in Syria on an opposition-held town, just days before the banned nerve agent killed dozens in a separate attack nearby, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

The March 30 air strike in the northern Syrian town of Latamneh injured around 70 people who suffered nausea, foaming at the mouth and muscle spasms.

“Samples analysis results show clear presence of sarin,” a source told Reuters of the findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The report by the OPCW Syria Fact Finding Mission is due to be finalised within weeks.

The Fact Finding Mission reported in June that sarin was used in an April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people and prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian air base.

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More than 80 people, including at least 30 children and 20 women, were killed in the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the country’s more than six-year civil war.

The OPCW Fact Finding Mission is only responsible for determining if chemical weapons were used in attacks in Syria. A joint United Nations and OPCW investigation, established by the U.N. Security Council in 2015, determines who is to blame.

This team – known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) – has already found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State militants used mustard gas.

It is due to report to the Security Council this month on who is to blame for the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack.

The 15-member Security Council is due to renew the mandate for the JIM by mid-November. However, Russia has publicly questioned the work of the inquiry and some diplomats said it was uncertain if Moscow would support extending the mandate.

“The Russians don’t like what the JIM has come up with so far, so they are muttering about not allowing a rollover,” said a council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia declined to comment on the future of the inquiry on Wednesday.

“Renewing the U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism now should be the Security Council’s top priority,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We owe it to the innocent people – including children – who have suffered and died at the hands of the Syrian regime to continue to push for full accountability for these horrific crimes,” she said.

U.N. war crimes investigators said in a report last month that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons more than two dozen times, including in a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April that killed more than 80 people.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by John Stonestreet and Lisa Shumaker

Putin Hails Russia’s Destruction of Chemical Weapons, Accuses U.S.

September 27, 2017

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said Russia was destroying its last supplies of chemical weapons on Wednesday, three years ahead of schedule, hailing the development as “an historic event”.

In televised remarks broadcast by the Rossiya 24 TV channel, Putin also complained that the United States had not fulfilled its own obligations to destroy chemical weapons, saying it had put off doing so three times citing a lack of financial resources.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: ‘Fix or Nix’ Iran Nuclear Deal — “Those that threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril”

September 20, 2017
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BY HERB KEINON, JPOST.COM STAFF
 SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 23:10

In Farsi, tells Iranians: You are Israel’s friends

PM: Iran risks ‘mortal peril’ by threatening Israel, fix or nix nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

NEW YORK – “Fix it or nix it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, telling the world body that Israel’s policy on the Iranian nuclear deal is simple: “Change it or cancel it.”

Netanyahu’s speech began with enumerating Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs, and how the country has significantly improved its relations with many countries because of what it has to offer in terms of technology and anti-terrorism expertise, and ended with a warning that it would not tolerate Iran’s efforts to establish permanent bases on Israel’s borders or open new terrorist fronts against Israel in Syria.

“Those that threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril,” he said. “Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions.”

Netanyahu recalled his ardent opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal and those who said it would “somehow moderate Iran.

“I strongly disagree,” he said.

“I warned that when the sanctions will be removed, Iran would behave like a hungry tiger unleashed.

Not join the community of nations, but devouring the nations one after the other.

That is precisely what Iran is doing today.”

He said that unless the “sunset clause” was excised from the agreement, Iran would be on its way to become the next North Korea, another rogue state with nuclear capabilities.

In a rhetorical parallel to the Iron Curtain, Netanyahu said “an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East. It spreads this curtain over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere and pledges to extinguish the light of Israel.”

But, Netanyahu continued, “I have a simple message for Khamenei: The light of Israel will never be extinguished.”

During his address, Netanyahu turned directly to the Iranian people, greeted them in Farsi, and said Israel was not their enemy, and that once the regime is changed, the peoples can resume what was a historic friendship.

The prime minister made a point of praising US President Donald Trump a number of times during the address, both for the speech he gave earlier in the day and for his strong support of Israel at the United Nations.

Netanyahu said that in his 30 years of experience with the UN, he has not heard a bolder or more courageous speech than the one Trump delivered on Tuesday.

While Netanyahu did not pull out any props or gimmicks during his speech, he did make a joke about penguins, saying that while he has visited six continents this year, he has not yet visited Antarctica.

“I want to go there, too, because I have heard penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel, they have no difficulty recognizing something rare black and white, right and wrong.”

When it comes to Israel, he quipped, this power of recognition is too often absent.

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Netanyahu Vows to Curb Iran in U.N. Speech

September 20, 2017
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly that his country would act to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria, the same day the Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian-made drone.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. (photo credit REUTERS-LUCAS JACKSON)

By Rory Jones
The Wall Street Journal

TEL AVIV—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told the United Nations General Assembly that his country would act to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria, the same day the Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian-made drone.

Echoing a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump, the Israeli leader also lambasted the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, telling the group of nations to “fix or nix” the agreement.

“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril,” Mr. Netanyahu told the U.N., in a direct message to Iran.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli military said it had downed an unmanned aerial vehicle with a Patriot missile-defense system over the Golan Heights after it came near but failed to reach Israeli-controlled airspace.

The drone took off from the Syrian capital of Damascus on a reconnaissance mission for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the military said.

There was no immediate response to Israel’s claim about the downed drone from Hezbollah or the Syrian regime.

Israeli soldiers maneuver tanks and armored personnel carriers during the last day of military exercises in the northern part of the Golan Heights earlier this month. Israel on Tuesday said it shot down an Iranian-made drone over the Golan Heights.Photo: jalaa marey/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The incident is the latest point of tension between Israel and the Iran-backed Syrian regime and Hezbollah. It comes as both sides amp up hostile rhetoric and talk of a future war.

In his speech at the U.N., Mr. Netanyahu criticized the Iranian nuclear deal as it sets a time frame for winding down, after which Israel fears Tehran will be able to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons.

“The greater danger is not that Iran will rush to a single bomb by breaking the deal but that Iran will be able to build many bombs by keeping the deal,” he said.

Mr. Trump, in his own speech to the U.N. earlier in the day, called Iran an authoritarian regime and denounced the nuclear deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Other world powers, including European nations, have said Iran is maintaining the nuclear deal and stated their opposition to changing the agreement.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump met Monday in New York to discuss the accord. The Israeli leader has long opposed it and has recently ratcheted up his criticism as he tries to win support from the U.S. and other world leaders to limit Iran’s role in Syria.

President Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that Iran has become an “economically depleted rogue state” whose chief export is violence and chaos in the Middle East. He also called the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” Photo: Getty

More From the U.N.

  • Live Coverage: U.N. General Assembly
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Israel has in recent months accused Iran and Hezbollah of setting up weapons factories in Syria. The country fears the partners will take advantage of the fall of Islamic State to set up a land corridor from Tehran to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Majority Shiite Iran and Hezbollah have fought alongside Mr. Assad’s forces for five years, helping the Syrian leader fend off an assault by Sunni rebel groups allied with different powers.

Israel and other Arab states also have accused Iran of promoting government change in Yemen and of establishing a presence in Iraq.

Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday called Iran’s attempts to influence geopolitics in the region a “curtain of terror.”

Israeli officials have already made clear to the U.S., which backs opposition groups, and Russia, a key supporter of Mr. Assad, that Israel won’t allow an Iranian or Hezbollah presence on its northern border with Syria.

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Iranian protesters burn representations of US and Israeli flags in their annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 23, 2017. AP photo

This month, Israel launched airstrikes on a Syrian military compound in what former Israeli officials said was an attack meant to thwart military threats from Iran and Hezbollah. It came as the Israeli military held a 10-day exercise along its border with Lebanon, the largest such drill in nearly 20 years.

Israel won control of the Golan Heights plateau from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In a bid to in part limit Hezbollah and Iranian presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military in recent years has supplied Sunni rebels there with cash and aid in a program known as the Good Neighborhood policy.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-shoots-down-iranian-made-drone-over-golan-heights-1505829361?mod=nwsrl_latin_america_news&cx_refModule=nwsrl#cx_testId=16&cx_testVariant=ctrl&cx_artPos=11

Israel Says Shoots Down Drone Over Golan Heights Frontier With Syria — Patriot Missiles Takes Down Hezbollah Pilotless Aircraft

September 19, 2017

JERUSALEM — Israel shot down a pilotless aircraft that tried to enter its airspace at its Golan Heights frontier with Syria on Tuesday, the Israeli military said.

Israeli media said a Patriot interceptor missile was used in the incident.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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Iran shows off one of its drones

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The military said that this was not the first time Hezbollah uses intelligence-gathering drones against Israel, but added that this time the drone was unusually close to the Israeli border.
The drone was downed over the border Syrian town of Quneitra.

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“Israel will not allow Iran, Hezbollah or other forces to infiltrate or get near its territory in the Golan Heights,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unite said in a statement.

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Earlier this month, foreign media reports claimed that Israeli warplanes struck a chemical arms plant in Syria from Lebanese airspace. The Syrian army general command confirmed in a statement the attack on what they called a military facility, and said that two people were killed and extensive damage was caused. Israel refused to comment on the reports.

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Last year, the Israeli military unsucessfully tried to intercept an unmanned aerial vehicle that breached its airspace. The drone entered 4 kilometers deep into Israeli territory before returning to Syria. The Israel Defense Forces tried to shoot down the drone three times – first with two Patriot missiles, and then with a fighter jet, which fired an air-to- air missile at it. But as far as the army can tell, the drone escaped unscathed.

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In March, the Air Force said an Arrow missile intercepted an air-to-air missile that was fired at Israeli jets.

 

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read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.813165

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017
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WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

RELATED: US-Iran relations through time

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In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.

ISLAMIC STATE FIRST

The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.

 

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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”

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(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

Includes videos:

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/09/12/report-trump-weighing-aggressive-iran-strategy-against-malign-activities/23206015/

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Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/13/trump-iran-nuclear-deal-letter-242655

Syrian Forces and U.S.-Backed Fighters Rush into Oil-Rich Eastern Province — Who will dominate post-war Syria? Russia, Iran and the U.S. all have a stake

September 9, 2017

By BASSEM MROUE

The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are preparing an offensive against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria along the border with Iraq in a race with government forces marching in the same direction against the extremists in their last major holdout in Syria.

The dueling battles for Deir el-Zour highlight the importance of the oil-rich eastern province, which has become the latest epicenter of the international war against the Islamic State group, raising concerns of an eventual clash between the two sides.

The race to reach the Iraqi border will also shape future regional dynamics, determining whether the United States or Russia and Iran will have more influence in the strategic area once the extremist group is defeated.

Iran has been one of President Bashar Assad’s strongest backers since the crisis began in March 2011 and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed fighters and advisers to fight against insurgent groups trying to remove him from power. The U.S. enjoys wide influence in northeastern Syria where hundreds of American troops and advisers are helping the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the most effective in fighting IS in Syria.

The U.S.-backed fighters are up against a huge challenge to reach Deir el-Zour, especially while they are still fighting to liberate Raqqa from IS. Three months into the battle, they have liberated around 60 percent of the city, and much more difficult urban fighting still lies ahead.

This week, Syrian troops and their Iranian-backed allies reached Deir el-Zour, breaking a nearly three-year-old IS siege on government-held parts of the city in a major breakthrough in their offensive against IS. In a victory statement, the Syrian military said Deir el-Zour will be used as a launching pad to liberate the remaining IS-held areas along the border with Iraq.

The troops’ arrival to Deir el-Zour city brings Syrian forces and their allies a step closer to controlling the oil-rich eastern province and its capital bordering Iraq, a major boost for Tehran’s growing influence in the area. The region has some of Syria’s largest oil fields, whose revenue is vital to the state’s dried coffers.

Washington has been determined to block the formation of an “Iranian corridor” — of Shiite-controlled land stretching from Tehran to Damascus — and for months has been eyeing the area southeast of Raqqa near the Iraqi border.

U.S.-backed Syrian rebels had been gathering in Tanf in southeastern Syria to march toward Deir el-Zour, but their plans were disrupted in June when Syrian troops reached the border with Iraq, obstructing their path. The only way left for the SDF to enter the eastern province appears to be from the northeastern province of Hassakeh, where Syrian activists say the U.S.-backed fighters have been gathering and stepping up preparations for an attack.

A U.S.-trained group, the Deir el-Zour Military Council, which is part of the SDF, is expected to launch the attack against IS in Deir el-Zour under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition within days. SDF officials say the imminent attack is not related to government forces reaching the city earlier this week, and was planned months in advance.

Syrian Kurdish official Nawaf Khalil, who is in Germany but frequently visits northern Syria, said the SDF attack on Deir el-Zour could begin at any moment, adding that the battle for Raqqa now no longer needs a large number of fighters.

“Deir el-Zour is a main connection point and a very important geographic area,” Khalil said referring to the province linking several Syrian regions with western Iraq.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said in an email to The Associated Press that the SDF “will decide when the conditions are right for an offensive.”

Asked about concerns of a possible clash between the SDF and Syrian troops, the coalition said: “We urge all forces to concentrate their efforts on our common enemy (IS).”

Washington has welcomed Syrian troops’ fight against IS. Both the U.S. and Russia have an interest in avoiding a clash between the SDF and Syrian forces and may devise a strategy that will allow both sides to share control of the vast province.

U.S. officials have suggested they are not seeking a confrontation with Assad’s forces.

“We are in the killing-ISIS business. That is what we want to do, and if the Syrian regime wants to do that … and show that they are doing just that in Abu Kamal or Deir el-Zour or elsewhere, that means that we don’t have to do that in those places,” said coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon in June referring to a town on the Iraqi border, and using a different acronym for IS.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month during a visit to the Middle East that the Middle Euphrates River Valley will soon be liberated, as IS takes hits from both sides of the valley that bisects Iraq and Syria.

“You see, ISIS is now caught in between converging forces,” Mattis said.

Ahmed Abu Khawla, the commander of the Deir el-Zour Military Council, says he commands a force of 4,000 fighters, mostly from Deir el-Zour province.

“We are an organized army. We are not militias or separate brigades. We have a unified military leadership and an operations room to coordinate,” he told the AP.

“The plans for the Deir el-Zour campaign have been in the works for over a year and half but Raqqa took precedence because of international considerations,” said Abu Khawla.

Abu Khawla said his group has already liberated 93 villages in northwestern rural Deir el-Zour including, more recently, the village of Abou Khashab. Asked about potential confrontations with government troops, he said: “If the regime wants a confrontation or directs one bullet at us we will respond.”

He also said that the SDF is already forming a local civilian council to administer the area after the military operations.

Ahmad al-Ahmad, who heads the opposition’s Syria Press center, said the SDF does not have the manpower to control Deir el-Zour, adding that government forces have brought in lots of troops and Iranian-backed gunmen for the battle.

“The regime wants to reach the border with Iraq to open a land line to Iran through Baghdad,” al-Ahmad said, adding that they are capable of doing that.

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Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

The Next Middle East War

September 8, 2017
Israel and Iran are heading for conflict over southern Syria.
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Donald Trump during a news conference with the Emir of Kuwait at the White House, September 7, 2017.

By The Editorial Board
The wall Street Journal
Sept. 7, 2017 7:22 p.m. ET

Israel launched airstrikes on a military compound in Syria on Thursday, and the bombing should alert the Trump Administration as much as the Syrians. They carry a warning about the next war in the Middle East that could draw in the U.S.

Israel doesn’t confirm or deny its military strikes, but former officials said they were aimed at a base for training and a warehouse for short- and midrange missiles. The strikes also hit a facility that the U.S. cited this year for involvement in making chemical weapons.

The larger context is the confrontation that is building between Israel and Iran as the war against Islamic State moves to a conclusion in Syria and Iraq. Iran is using Syria’s civil war, and the battle against ISIS, as cause to gain a permanent military foothold in Syria that can threaten Israel either directly or via its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

Tehran has helped Hezbollah stockpile tens of thousands of missiles that will be launched against Israel in the next inevitable conflict. If it can also dominate southern Syria, Iran can establish a second front on the border near the Golan Heights that would further stretch Israel’s ability to defend itself.

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Israel may have to make more such strikes in Syria because Iran isn’t likely to give up on this strategic opening. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards know they have Russia’s backing in Syria, and the U.S. is signaling that it is loathe to do anything to change that once Islamic State is routed from Raqqa.

“As far as Syria is concerned, we have very little to do with Syria other than killing ISIS,” President Trump said Thursday at a White House press conference with the emir of Kuwait. “What we do is we kill ISIS. And we have succeeded in that respect. We have done better in eight months of my Presidency than the previous eight years against ISIS.”

Great, but the problem is that the end of ISIS won’t bring stability to Syria, and American interests in the Middle East don’t end with ISIS. The danger of a proxy war or even a direct war between Iran and Israel is growing, and it will increase as Iran’s presence builds in Syria. Mr. Trump may not like it, but he needs a strategy for post-ISIS Syria that contains Iran if he doesn’t want the U.S. to be pulled back into another Middle East war.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-next-middle-east-war-1504826567

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Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Iranian woman walks past a wall painting in the shape of Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran on the first anniversary of nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on January 16, 2017.
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Iran has boasted about its ballistic missiles, many of which are on mobile launchers

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

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Syria Warns Israel of “Dangerous Repercussions” After Israeli Attack on Chemical Weapons Site

September 8, 2017
BY JPOST.COM STAFF, ANNA AHRONHEIM
 SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 11:34

Syria accuses Israel of targeting a chemical weapons plant and killing two of its soldiers; Israel has yet to confirm or deny the allegations, but Israeli security officials are speaking out.

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People seen fleeing the alleged site of the Israeli attack on a Syrian post where chemical weapons are manufactured.  (photo credit:SOCIAL MEDIA)

Syria accused Israel on Thursday of carrying out an aerial attack on Assad posts overnight. The alleged Israeli attack hit a scientific research center where chemical weapons are manufactured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a statement, the Syrian army warned Israel of “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region” following the attack.

According to the reports, the attack was launched at 2:30 a.m. on targets located in central Syria, in the area of Hama, and also targeted several weapons convoys that were en route to Hezbollah strongholds in the area.

The Syrian army charged later on Thursday morning that Israel killed two of its soldiers during the aerial attack. An IDF spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports, saying that the army does not comment on operational matters.

Arab media claimed there are three casualties as a result of the attack, which centered on a regime post that belongs to the scientific research center on the outskirts of Hama, situated in the northwestern part of the country. In the scientific center, the regime reportedly develops munitions such as missiles and has developed chemical weapons as well.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that an airstrike on Masyaf in Syria hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility and an adjacent military camp where ground-to-ground rockets are stored.

https://maphub.net/embed/15678

The United States has imposed sanctions on employees of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which it describes as the Syrian agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons including chemical weapons, something Damascus denies.

Syrian social media activists reported that “Israeli airplanes infiltrated from the valley area in Lebanon and attacked the center.”

Lebanese media reported that around 4 p.m. IAF fighter jets were spotted circling above Lebanon.

Speaking to Army Radio early Thursday morning, Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, who previously served as the military secretary of the prime minister, said that Israel “must do everything to prevent Iran from getting a better stronghold than that which it already has on Syria.”

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This Sunday, April 30, 2017 photo provided by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), shows a fighter from the SDF carrying weapons as he looks toward the northern town of Tabqa, Syria.

He also said that he “assumes there’s a level of cooperation with the Americans following such an attack or beforehand, but we don’t have to ask for their approval.”

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence and Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) took to Twitter stating that the strike was not routine and targeted a Syrian military-scientific center that develops and manufactures, among other things, precision missiles.

“The factory in the attack also produces chemical weapons and barrels of explosives that killed thousands of Syrian citizens. If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” he wrote.

“The attack sent 3 important messages: Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”

While the IDF does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria. Jerusalem has repeatedly said that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s civil war, there are red lines that Jerusalem has set including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

Former Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes in the past five years,  against the transfer of advanced weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah, including the transfer of chemical weapons.

Just yesterday, the United Nations released a report affirming that the Syrian regime, governed by Bashar Assad, had indeed used chemical weapons (specifically Serin [sic] gas) to attack its own people when it had bombed the province of Idlib this past April.

The UN investigators confirmed that more than 80 civilians died as a direct result of the lethal attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

This is a developing story.

Yasser Okbi and Reuters contributed to this report.

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http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Initial-Israel-attacked-chemical-weapons-facility-in-Syria-Arab-media-claims-504455
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Syrian government behind sarin gas attack which killed 83 in April, say UN investigators
http://www.firstpost.com/world/syrian-government-behind-sarin-gas-attack-which-killed-83-in-april-say-un-investigators-4017573.html
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