Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Netanyahu tells Iran to get out of Syria ‘fast’

January 15, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged Iran to quickly remove its forces from neighboring Syria or face continued attacks on them by Israel.

“Yesterday I heard the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman saying ‘Iran has no military presence in Syria, we only advise them’,” Netanyahu said at a Tel Aviv ceremony to install a new head of Israel’s armed forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that they had attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria hundreds of times. (AFP)

“So let me advise them — get out of there fast, because we’ll continue our forceful policy of attacking, as we promised and are doing, fearlessly and relentlessly,” he said.

In a rare public confirmation on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel had attacked what he described as “Iranian warehouses containing Iranian weapons in the Damascus international airport” over the weekend.

Netanyahu added that Israel had attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria hundreds of times.

Israel has pledged to prevent Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where its arch foe is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime alongside Russia and Hezbollah.

At the ceremony for the new chief of staff, Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel’s central security challenge was “Iran and its terror emissaries,” saying the Israeli military had “prevented the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria.”

Tehran denies sending regular troops to fight in Syria, saying it has only provided military advisers and militia fighters from various countries.



Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib photographed with pro-Hezbollah activist who says Israel has no right to exist

January 14, 2019

Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was photographed with a Palestinian activist who praised the terrorist group Hezbollah, said Israel did not have the right to exist, and has called for Israeli “Zionist terrorist” Jews to return to Poland, where roughly three million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Congresswomen Rahida Tlaib in the Capitol building (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Congresswomen Rahida Tlaib in the Capitol building (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Tlaib has been celebrated by Democrats and the media as one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress and touted as a testament to the diversity of the freshman class. Though she received a lot of national attention due to the silly controversy over her profane remark about impeaching President Trump, she’s quickly compiling a record of promoting anti-Semitism.

Over the weekend, Abbas Hamideh tweeted out of photo of himself with a smiling Tlaib, writing, “I was honored to be at Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib swearing in ceremony in #Detroit and private dinner afterward with the entire family, friends and activists across the country.”

A number of Twitter users led by Peter Hasson flagged toxic past tweets of Hamideh.

In a 2015 tweet, he wrote of the leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah, “Always loved this heroic resistance leader! Long live Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah!”

On another occasion, he tweeted, “They tried so hard to demonize #Nasrallah and #Hezbollahand we said fuck you! #Failed.”

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib Fetes Hezbollah Supporter

Israel says all Hezbollah cross-border tunnels found

January 13, 2019

Israel has uncovered all cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon and now plans to bring its operation to find and destroy them to an end, a military spokesman said Sunday.

A picture taken on December 19, 2018 during a guided tour by Israel's army shows a soldier operating a pulley near a hole dug by the army to intercept a suspected Hezbollah cross-border tunnel between Lebanon and Israel

A picture taken on December 19, 2018 during a guided tour by Israel’s army shows a soldier operating a pulley near a hole dug by the army to intercept a suspected Hezbollah cross-border tunnel between Lebanon and Israel AFP/File

“We have found yet another Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel from Lebanon to Israel,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters of the operation that began on December 4.

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Jonathan Conricus

“According to our intelligence and our assessment of the situation there are no longer any cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel.”

The latest tunnel, found on Saturday, began in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, some 800 metres (yards) away from Israel, the army said.

It reached a few dozen metres into Israel, and at 55 metres under the ground was the deepest as well as “the longest and most detailed” of all the tunnels the army exposed, Conricus said.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows Israeli soldiers watching as United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers speak with Lebanese soldiers in front of a Hezbollah flag. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

The latest tunnel was the sixth revealed to the public and the army said its discovery marked the end of the operation dubbed by the army “Northern Shield”.

The last tunnel will be destroyed in the coming days.

An alleged Hezbollah member walks through a tunnel dug into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon on December 4, 2018. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

“We have achieved the goal (to expose and destroy the tunnels from Lebanon) which we set out to achieve at the beginning,” Conricus said.

Conricus said there were no more tunnels reaching Israel from Lebanon but the army was still monitoring “facilities” being dug by Hezbollah within Lebanese territory.

He also reiterated that Israel holds the Lebanese government accountable “for any act of violence or violation of 1701,” the UN resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, was informed of the latest tunnel, Conricus said.

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels AFP

Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities. It has said, however, that they were not yet operational.

A month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

The highly publicised Israeli operation to expose and destroy the tunnels has gone ahead without drawing a military response from Hezbollah.

Israel says all operations have taken place within its territory.



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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

Israel Against Iran: The Long Military Campaign Between Wars

January 12, 2019

An interview with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of staff.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Image result for Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

TEL AVIV — “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”

So says Gadi Eisenkot about the Jewish state’s undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. For his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces before he retires next week, the general has decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit.

Eisenkot’s central intellectual contribution in fighting that campaign is the concept of “the campaign between wars” — the idea that continuous, kinetic efforts to degrade the enemy’s capabilities both lengthens the time between wars and improves the chances of winning them when they come. He also believes that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza.

“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you.”

This thinking is what led Eisenkot to become the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere. And it’s how he succeeded in humbling, at least for the now, Qassim Suleimani, the wily commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran’s ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.

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“We operated under a certain threshold until two-and-a-half years ago,” Eisenkot explains, referring to Israel’s initial policy of mainly striking weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “And then we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”

By 2016, Eisenkot estimates, Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.

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Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan met in the Russian city of Sochi last November [Mikhail Metzel/Reuters]

In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.

Why did Suleimani — the subtle, determined architect of Iran’s largely successful efforts to entrench itself in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon — miscalculate? Eisenkot suggests a combination of overconfidence, based on Iran’s success in rescuing Assad’s regime from collapse, and underestimation of Israel’s determination to stop him, based on the West’s history of shrinking in the face of Tehran’s provocations.

“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he adds a little scornfully, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”

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Hassan Nasrallah

Eisenkot seems to feel similarly about Hezbollah and its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The group had devised a three-pronged strategy to invade and conquer (even if briefly) at least a part of Israel’s northern Galilee: building factories in Lebanon that could produce precision-guided missiles, excavating attack tunnels under the Israeli border and setting up a second front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

So far, the plan has failed. The factories were publicly exposed and the tunnels destroyed. Israel continues to attack Hezbollah positions on the Golan, most recently last month against an intelligence position in the village of Tel el Qudne (also previously unreported).

“I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he says. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”

That means Hezbollah is unlikely to soon start another war with Israel. Suleimani has pulled his forces back from the border with Israel and withdrawn some altogether. The resumption of U.S. sanctions has also put a squeeze on Iran’s ability to finance its regional adventures. Israel also thought it had won a reprieve of sorts when John Bolton indicated the U.S. would not quickly withdraw from Syria, thereby obstructing Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge to Damascus, though that reversal seems to have been reversed yet again.

Iran may now turn elsewhere. “As we push them in Syria,” Eisenkot says, “they transfer their efforts to Iraq,” where the U.S. still has thousands of troops. Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren’t invincible.

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Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT  Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: The Man Who Humbled Suleimani.

Syria says Israel fired missiles toward Damascus, hit airport warehouse

January 12, 2019

The Syrian state news agency said Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles toward the Damascus area on Friday, triggering Syrian air defense that shot down most of them.

“The results of the aggression so far were limited to a strike on one of the warehouses at Damascus airport,” the SANA news agency cited a military source as saying. The attack took place at 11:15 p.m.(2115 GMT), it said.

A missile attack reported at Mazzeh air base in Syria, September 2, 2018. (screen capture: Twitter)

A missile attack reported at Mazzeh air base in Syria, September 2, 2018. (screen capture: Twitter)

Syrian state media broadcast footage of what it said were the air defenses firing, with bright lights seen shooting across the night sky. Explosions were heard in one of the videos.

Israel has mounted attacks in Syria as part of its effort to counter the influence carved out there by Iran, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad in the war that erupted in 2011.

The last Israeli attack reported by Syrian state media was on Dec. 25, when a missile attack wounded three Syrian soldiers.

Syrian state media broadcast footage of what it said were its air defences lighting up the night sky [Handout/SANA/AFP]

Syrian state media broadcast footage of what it said were its air defences lighting up the night sky [Handout/SANA/AFP]

A senior Israeli official said in September Israel had carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years.

Iranian and Iran-backed groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed into Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government during the war.

Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Sandra Maler and James Dalgleish



Syria says Israeli airstrikes hit warehouse at Damascus airport

Official news agency claims most missiles fired by warplanes intercepted, amid local reports of loud explosions; monitoring group says attack targeted Hezbollah, Iran

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Screen  grab from video provided on Wednesday, May, 9, 2018 by Syria

Syrian air defense batteries opened fire on “hostile Israel missiles” near Damascus Friday night, the official news agency SANA reported.

A military source told the news agency that “at 11:15 p.m. Israeli warplanes coming from the direction of the Galilee fired several missiles towards the vicinity of Damascus.”

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The source claimed that air defenses intercepted “most” of the missiles and said a “ministry of transport warehouse at Damascus international airport” was hit. Another official told SANA traffic at the airport had not been disrupted.

An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard several loud explosions.

“Two areas hosting military positions of Iranian forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement have been targeted,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

These were near the airport and around the Kisweh area south of Damascus, the observatory said.

In an earlier report, SANA had spoken of Syrian air-defence batteries attacking “enemy targets.”

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Syrian air defenses responding to expected Israeli air raids

Israeli officials made no statement on Friday’s reports, but seldom comment on alleged strikes.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The last such reported airstrike occurred on Christmas Day. On that occasion an erroneous Syrian anti-aircraft missile flew into Israeli airspace, and was destroyed by Israeli air defenses.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria late last year, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.


What Real Border Security Looks Like — Why is it so hard for America to do what others did a long time ago

January 11, 2019

Republicans and Democrats should agree to build an Israeli-style “smart fence.”

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Other than the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ, there’s probably no border in the world as fraught with the potential for sudden violence as this one, known locally as the Blue Line. Since President Trump thinks border security is the issue of our time, it’s worth considering how Israel — with tight borders, real threats, and a no-nonsense attitude toward its security needs — does it.

What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was … a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the accompanying photos show, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.

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 New section of fence, north of Eilat, Israel–Egypt border

And here is a Hezbollah observation post, masquerading as an environmental group operating under the slogan, “Green Without Borders.” (Green is the traditional color of Islam.) The Israelis maintain an equally visible, if outwardly low-key, security presence.

Does that look like Trump’s idea of a “big beautiful wall”? Does it even look like the “steel slats” the president now offers as his idea of an aesthetic concession to Democrats? Not quite. Yet for the last 19 years it was all the fencing Israelis thought was necessary to secure its side of the Blue Line.

barrier wall

Israel’s wall: Children play soccer in the Palestinian town Anata, Nov. 25, 2005.  Photo by Yotam Ronen

That started to change in December, after Israel announced that it was conducting an operation to destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the border. The tunnel construction — secretly detected by Israel some four years ago — was intended to infiltrate hundreds of Hezbollah fighters into Israel in the event of war. As an additional precaution, Jerusalem is spending an estimated $600 million to replace about 20 kilometers of the fence with a concrete wall, mainly to provide greater peace of mind to the 162,000 Israelis who live near the Lebanese border.

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Turkey’s smart wall under construction: “Apart from illustration, we have set up a system with solar energy. We developed the systems of illustration, camera and censor.” (see link below)

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A section of the border fence between Israel and Egypt, January 2012. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Such a wall may look formidable. But it won’t stop tunnel construction or missile firing, the two principal threats Hezbollah poses to Israel. Nor has Israel felt the need to erect concrete walls along most of its border with the Gaza Strip, despite Hamas’s multiple attempts last year to use mass protests to breach the fence. Israel’s border with Egypt is marked by a tall and sturdy “smart fence” packed with electronic sensors, but not a wall. And Israel’s longest border, with Jordan, stretching some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), has fencing that for the most part is primitive and minimal.

A big portion of the border between Israel and Lebanon looks like this.Credit Bret Stephens/The New York Times
A Hezbollah observation post disguised as an environmental group’s station. Credit Bret Stephens/The New York Times

So how does Israel maintain border security? Two ways: close cooperation with neighbors where it’s possible and the use of modern technology and effective deterrence where it’s not.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently attested to the depth of cooperation in an interview last week with 60 Minutes — so deep, in fact, that the Egyptian government made an attempt to stop the interview from airing. Jordan’s border patrol typically does its work facing east, not west, to prevent possible penetrations into Israel. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority also runs deep despite political differences, since Mahmoud Abbas shares Israel’s interest in suppressing Hamas.

As for technology, I saw it at work on a tour earlier Wednesday of an Israeli military base on the Golan Heights. In a crowded, windowless room within a bunker-like structure, 20 or so women soldiers, some of them still teenagers, sat at screens patiently watching every inch of Israel’s border with Syria, noticing patterns, prioritizing potential threats, and relaying information to operators in the field.

An all-female unit monitors the border with Syria on video screens. Credit Israel Defense Force

Why an all-female unit? Because the Israeli military has determined that women have longer attention spans than men. Last August, the unit spotted seven Islamic State fighters, wearing suicide belts and carrying grenades, as they were infiltrating a no-man’s land on their way to Israel. An airstrike was called in. The men never reached the border.

None of this is to say that physical barriers are invariably pointless or evil. Israel’s fence along the Egyptian border all-but ended the flow of illegal African migrants, though most illegal immigrants in Israel arrive legally by plane and simply overstay their visas. The much-maligned wall (most of which is also a fence) that divides Palestinians from Israelis in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank played a major role in ending the terrorism of the Second Intifada.

Yet the Israeli experience also suggests that the best way to protect a border is to rely on the tools of the 21st century, not the 12th. Walls only occasionally provide the most reliable security. They can be dangerous for providing the illusion of security. And there are vastly more effective means than concrete to defend even the most dangerous borders. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans simply agree to build additional smart fencing in places where it’s missing and call it, for political effect, an “Israeli-style barrier”?

The good news for the U.S. is that we don’t face Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS across our border, only people who overwhelmingly want to relieve their own plight and contribute their labor for everyone’s betterment. If we really wanted to secure the border, our first priority should be to make it easier for them to arrive through the front door rather than sneak in through the back.

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Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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Trump: Iran ‘can do what they want’ in Syria

January 3, 2019

US president says that Tehran, pressured by sanctions, is now ‘pulling people out’ of countries and ‘only wants to survive’

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday gave Iran free rein to further entrench itself in Syria, but claimed that Tehran was no longer seeking to bolster its presence in the beleaguered country.

“They can do what they want there, frankly,” he told reporters, referring to Iranian forces.

Trump’s comments came two weeks after he rattled Jerusalem by announcing that he would pull all American troops out of Syria. US soldiers had been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart a permanent Iranian infrastructure in the war-torn country.

Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to restore the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli officials have also warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.

Yet Trump, on Wednesday, said that Tehran, like the US, was withdrawing its forces from Syria.

“Iran is no longer the same country,” he said. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”

The president went on to say that in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year, Washington had changed Tehran’s calculus and stymied its efforts to destabilize, and spread its influence throughout, the region.

“Iran was going to take over everything and destroy Israel while they’re at it. Iran is a much different country right now,” he said, in comments that were at times incoherent. “They’re having riots every week in every country. I’d love to negotiate with Iran… but Iran is a much different country right now.”

Trump’s decision to pull America’s 2,000 troops out from Syria caused a major shakeup within his own administration; his secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned over the withdrawal.

Trump offered a stark take on the situation in Syria Wednesday, summing it up in two words — “sand and death” — while remaining vague about the timing of the US troop withdrawal.

“So Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want — we’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting. “We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.”

On when US forces would leave Syria, Trump said: “I don’t want to be in Syria forever.”

He added: “I never said we are getting out overnight… We’re withdrawing… over a period of time.”

The president’s announcement of the Syrian withdrawal was the first significant point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem since he took office — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly pleaded with him to rethink the decision — and has fortified the perception that he views the US relationship with Israel as transactional.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Netanyahu that the planned withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria will not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu before they held talks in Brazil.

Trump said last week that he did not think America’s removing its troops from Syria would endanger Israel by strengthening Tehran’s hand in one of the Jewish state’s immediate neighbors to the north.

“Well, I don’t see it. I spoke with Bibi,” he said. “I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look… So that’s the way it is.”

Trump blamed Syria’s instability on the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who didn’t attack Assad after he crossed the former US president’s “red line” of using chemical weapons on his own people.

“You can’t make a threat and then do nothing. So Syria was lost long ago,” Trump said. “Beside that, we’re talking about sand and death. We’re not talking about vast wealth.”

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.


The End of American Hegemony

December 29, 2018

America will retreat from the mess in the Middle East, creating openings for Russia and others

IN 1972 Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers from Egypt, setting the stage for decades of American dominance, and much violent disappointment, in the Middle East. In 2013 President Barack Obama surrendered America’s hegemony when he refused to take military action against Syria’s use of poison gas, and later sought a nuclear accommodation with Iran. Donald Trump, by contrast, has lobbed missiles at Syria and menaced Iran. But as he swings between threatening to crush foes and getting out entirely, the latter instinct will dominate. Sometimes events, his advisers or domestic politics may compel him to take action. But Mr Trump will mostly prove even more detached than Mr Obama.

That will make for unpredictability, ineffectiveness and prolonged chaos. Partial accords might be negotiated in Yemen, Syria and Libya, without finding lasting settlements to end the wars. Mr Trump’s “ultimate deal” of peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be stillborn, if a plan emerges at all. America’s sanctions on Iran will not dislodge its clerical regime, and will strengthen its hardliners. Jihadists will exploit any space to regroup.

Read the rest:


“America First” is an understatement here. The underlying premise is that Uncle Sam owns the world and reserves the right to bomb the hell out of anyone who doesn’t agree with that (to quote President George H.W. Bushafter the first Gulf War in 1991: “What we say goes.”

It’s nothing new. From the start, the “American Century” had nothing to do with advancing democracy. As numerous key U.S. planning documents reveal over and over, the goal of that policy was to maintain and, if necessary, install governments that “favor[ed] private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export, and the right to bring profits out of the country,” according to Noam Chomsky. Given the United States’ remarkable possession of half the world’s capital after World War II, Washington elites had no doubt that U.S. investors and corporations would profit the most. Internally, the basic selfish national and imperial objectives were openly and candidly discussed. As the “liberal” and “dovish” imperialist, top State Department planner, and key Cold War architect George F. Kennan explained in “Policy Planning Study 23,” a critical 1948 document:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. … In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

The harsh necessity of abandoning “human rights” and other “sentimental” and “unreal objectives” was especially pressing in the global South, what used to be known as the Third World. Washington assigned the vast “undeveloped” periphery of the world capitalist system—Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the energy-rich and thus strategically hyper-significant Middle East—a less than flattering role. It was to “fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market” (actual State Department language) for the great industrial (capitalist) nations (excluding socialist Russia and its satellites, and notwithstanding the recent epic racist-fascist rampages of industrial Germany and Japan). It was to be exploited both for the benefit of U.S. corporations/investors and for the reconstruction of Europe and Japan as prosperous U.S. trading and investment partners organized on capitalist principles and hostile to the Soviet bloc.

“Democracy” was fine as a slogan and benevolent, idealistic-sounding mission statement when it came to marketing this imperialist U.S. policy at home and abroad. Since most people in the “third” or “developing” world had no interest in neocolonial subordination to the rich nations and subscribed to what U.S. intelligence officials considered the heretical “idea that government has direct responsibility for the welfare of its people” (what U.S. planners called “communism”), Washington’s real-life commitment to popular governance abroad was strictly qualified, to say the least. “Democracy” was suitable to the U.S. as long as its outcomes comported with the interests of U.S. investors/corporations and related U.S. geopolitical objectives. It had to be abandoned, undermined and/or crushed when it threatened those investors/corporations and the broader imperatives of business rule to any significant degree. As President Richard Nixon’s coldblooded national security adviser Henry Kissinger explained in June 1970, three years before the U.S. sponsored a bloody fascist coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

The U.S.-sponsored coup government that murdered Allende would kill tens of thousands of real and alleged leftists with Washington’s approval. The Yankee superpower sent some of its leading neoliberal economists and policy advisers to help the blood-soaked Pinochet regime turn Chile into a “free market” model and to help Chile write capitalist oligarchy into its national constitution.

Lebanon protests grow over economic crisis and political impasse

December 29, 2018

Lebanon had elections seven months ago after a hiatus of nine years but a political stalemate has ensued ever since.

A man takes part in a protest over Lebanon's deteriorating economy and political instability [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]
A man takes part in a protest over Lebanon’s deteriorating economy and political instability [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

It was a Christmas of protests in Lebanon. The formation of a government was the promised gift, but those elected failed to iron out their differences, forcing people out onto the streets to demonstrate against the many problems crippling the country.

A number of civil society groups have organised protests over the last 10 days, marching in Tripoli and Nabatieh, while the capital, Beirut, drew one of the biggest gatherings.

The protests were focused on an economic crisis, which has led to falling living standards, and has worsened since May due to political instability caused by the inability of political factions to form a government.

Those taking part chanted slogans demanding an end to corruption and better civic facilities, as well as reminding politicians to do what they had been elected to do and run the country.

Scuffles broke out between Lebanese soldiers and those marching in Beirut – with some protesters burning rubbish and throwing rubbish bins in the direction of the soldiers.

Hasan Shaaban, a photographer with the English-language newspaper Daily Star, was one of those attacked by soldiers.

“The soldiers kicked me to the ground, punched me, and hit me anywhere they could,” he said.


Hasan Shaaban@hasanshaaban

I was Screaming non-stop before being attacked by army soldiers.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks during a conference at Chatham House in central London on December 13, 2018. (File/AFP)

Shaaban said that while he was randomly picked, the soldiers specifically targeted photographers who were documenting attacks on unarmed civilians.

“I saw 10 soldiers hitting and kicking one guy,” he said. “They beat up innocent bystanders who just stepped out of a restaurant to see what was happening.”

That afternoon, the army released a statement emphasising that while they respected “the right of civil protest, freedom of expression, and the right to make demands, demonstrators must not vandalise private and public property.”

Shaaban said that he had covered many protests and seen protesters throw rubbish bins to block the streets.

Each time, he said, riot police intervened to clear up the situation peacefully. This time, he said, the army did not let the riot police handle the situation.

Inability to form government foments Lebanese economic disaster

Lebanon’s Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

“The Lebanese army intervened themselves. They were aggressive because the protest was independently organised and there were no political parties to back the protesters,” he said.

Instead, the protests were organised on social media by citizens and social activists. The latest took place on December 26.

Some protesters even wore yellow vests – seen in anti-government protests in France recently – but with a cedar tree, Lebanon’s national symbol.

The Lebanese PM-designate Saad Hariri had assured Lebanese citizens that by Christmas or the New Year they would have a government.

“I think the pressure that we have from the economic crisis is pushing more and more (politicians) to form the government,” he said.

But these hopes seem quashed as the wrangling over cabinet positions in Lebanon’s unity government has thwarted all attempts at compromise.

Government needed for economic stability

Lebanon had elections seven months ago after a hiatus of nine years but a political stalemate has ensued ever since.

Mired in debt and a stagnant growth rate, Lebanon needs a government to implement economic reforms all sides agree are needed to encourage foreign investment.

Vicky Khoury of the Sabaa political party, who attended the protest, said that she and her colleagues had been staging sit-ins in front of several government ministries over the last week and demanding those elected take responsibility for tumbling finances in the country.

“They are just busy fighting over their share of power and who gets what,” she said. “Seven months is not a joke. We cannot afford to live without a government.”

The International Monetary Fund estimated Lebanon’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth to be at one percent this year, whereas it needs at least six percent annually to provide jobs to the roughly 30,000 Lebanese citizens joining the labour market each year.

Amy Sheaito, an accountant by profession and a protester, said that joblessness is one of the biggest problems bringing people out to protest.

“Everything is messed up. There are no jobs for young people,” she said. “The protests will go on as long as things do not change.”

Earlier this month the World Bank called for an end to the impasse in Lebanon and for the building of a climate of confidence for donors and investors.

Currently, projects worth millions of dollars are stuck in limbo because the caretaker government in place cannot take major decisions regarding the economy.

Against parliamentarians

While the protesters want a functioning government, they do not think existing MPs can fix the country’s problems.

“They were all warlords, they are all corrupt,” Amy, a protester said. Adding: “Our slogan is, return the stolen money, that’s what they have stolen from the people.”

Khoury, the Sabaa party politician, said that politicians opposed to the current status-quo have demanded a law, under which parliamentarians must declare their assets before and after coming to power.

Like Amy, she too accused the leaders of exploiting their positions to accumulate personal wealth.

The greater struggle for the protesters is replacing the current crop of politicians with civil society candidates or technocrats.

But in the last elections, just one such candidate managed to win and secure a place in the parliament.

Amy said that it may take time but Lebanon will get there. She said, for now, some sort of a government is needed so at least basic governmental tasks can be performed.

“At least the administration will be running when a government is in place, that’s really all that we can expect,” she said.

On Wednesday, a day after Christmas, tens of Lebanese people again marched in central Beirut.

They said that more protests are coming. One of them held a placard which read, “They can take our lives but they can never take our freedom.”

What's next for Lebanon?



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Popular former military chief jumps into politics in Israel

December 27, 2018

A popular former Israeli military chief jumped into the political fray Thursday, announcing he would run for office in the upcoming election and instantly injected perhaps the strongest challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lengthy rule.

Retired Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has been polling favorably in recent weeks, emerging as a fresh, exciting face in Israel’s staid political landscape. By officially registering his new party, “Israel Resilience,” Gantz shakes up a snap three-month election campaign that has been widely seen as Netanyahu’s to lose.

File photo showing retired Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz attending a news conference in Tel Aviv July 28, 2014. (Reuters)

Even before officially entering the fray, several polls showed Gantz’s hypothetical party coming in second only to Netanyahu’s ruling Likud in the run-up to the April 9 vote.

Gantz has yet to comment publicly on the party and was not expected to make any statement Thursday.

Though Gantz has yet to lay out his worldview or political platform, he flaunts stellar military credentials — a must in security-centric Israel — and a squeaky-clean image to contrast Netanyahu’s corruption-laden reputation.

While still short of the kind of widespread support likely needed to become prime minister, his candidacy captures a yearning in Israel for a viable alternative to emerge against the long-serving Netanyahu, seeking his fourth consecutive term in office.

With a commanding lead in the polls, and a potential indictment looming against him, Netanyahu called early elections this week, seeking to pre-empt corruption charges and return to office to become the longest serving premier in Israeli history.

Police have recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust in three different cases. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegations as a media-orchestrated witch hunt aimed at removing him from office.

Even with Netanyahu’s legal woes, Israel’s established opposition parties have remained splintered and have been unable to produce a viable challenger. Gantz seems to be taking votes away from all the major parties and may not tip the scales away from Netanyahu just yet. But the emergence of the tall, telegenic ex-general with salty hair makes things more interesting, as he could spark new alliances with other moderate parties to give the hard-line Likud a good fight.

“It’s too early to tell, but he definitely strengthens the center-left camp,” said Mina Tzemach, a leading Israeli pollster, whose most recent survey gave Gantz’s new party as many as 16 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. “He projects security and integrity. And the fact that he looks good doesn’t hurt either.”

Gantz, 59, was a paratrooper who rose up the ranks to command special operations units and other various units before becoming Israel’s 20th military chief between 2011-2015. His term was marked by two wars with Hamas militants in Gaza and a covert air campaign in Syria against Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Since his discharge, he’s been highly coveted by several Israeli political parties.

Associated Press