Posts Tagged ‘Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’

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.

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

Reuters

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)

‘RIGHT DECISION’

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)

RUSSIA WARNED

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

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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.

Israel hits dozens of Iranian targets in Syria after rocket fire

May 10, 2018

Israel’s army said Thursday it had hit dozens of Iranian military targets in Syria overnight after rocket fire towards its forces which it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies.

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AFP

The incident came after weeks of rising tensions and followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, a move Israel had long advocated.

It was one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years and its biggest such raid against Iranian targets, the military said.

Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights at around midnight.

It blamed the rocket fire on Iran’s Al-Quds force, adding that Israel’s anti-missile system intercepted four of the projectiles while the rest did not land in its territory.

 No Israelis were wounded.

If confirmed, the incident would be the first such rocket fire by Iranian forces in Syria towards Israel.

“We know that comes from the al-Quds force,” army spokesman lieutenant-colonel Jonathan Conricus said, referring to the special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

“The Israeli army takes very seriously this Iranian attack against Israel.”

In the early hours of the morning, explosions were heard in Damascus, while live images were broadcast on television showing projectiles above the Syrian capital and several missiles destroyed by Syrian anti-aircraft systems.

Syrian state media reported that Israeli missile strikes hit military bases as well as an arms depot and a military radar installation, without specifying the location.

– ‘Not looking to escalate’ –

The official SANA news agency added that “dozens of missiles were shot down by anti-aircraft systems in Syrian airspace”, saying a number of missiles had reached their targets.

Israel’s military later confirmed it had carried out the raids, saying dozens of Iranian military targets had been struck and all of its aircraft had returned safely.

Conricus said intelligence, logistics, storage and vehicles as well as the origin of the rockets were targeted.

Syrian air defences that fired dozens of times on Israeli forces were also targeted, he said.

There had been no comment from Iranian officials.

“We are not looking to escalate the situation,” Conricus said, but warned Israel would respond forcefully if attacked.

An Israeli military statement said “this Iranian aggression is another proof of the intentions behind the establishment of the Iranian regime in Syria and the threat it poses to Israel and regional stability.”

It added that it “will not allow the Iranian threat to establish itself in Syria. The Syrian regime will be held accountable for everything happening in its territory.”

Israel has been warning for weeks that it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the country’s seven-year civil war.

Israel has been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it did not acknowledge those raids.

It does acknowledge carrying out dozens of raids in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hezbollah, another key foe of Israel.

Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.

Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has added to tensions and led to a new level of uncertainty over how Iran will respond.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has provided massive military and diplomatic backing to Assad’s regime.

Netanyahu and Putin have held a series of meetings and telephone conversations in recent months, particularly regarding Syria.

The two countries have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in the war-torn country.

In February, Israel accused Iranian forces at the T-4 base in central Syria of sending a drone into Israeli territory.

After targeting Iranian units in Syria in retaliation, an Israel F-16 was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire in one of the conflict’s most notable escalations.

Israel then carried out what it called “large-scale” raids on Syrian air defence systems and Iranian targets, which reportedly included T-4.

Israel later said the drone had been armed.

burs-mjs/par

by Laurent Lozano

Iran: Israel Will Pay for Strike on Drone Base in Syria

April 17, 2018

Tehran’s Foreign Ministry warns ‘Zionist regime’ will receive ‘an appropriate response’ to attack

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Iran's Revolutionary Guard troops parade to mark the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran. Sept. 21, 2016
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops parade to mark the 36th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of   Ayatollah Khomeini,   just outside Tehran, Iran. Sept. 21, 2016Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Iran will punish Israel for a strike on a drone base in Syria, Tehran’s Foreign Ministry said Monday, following a report quoting an Israeli senior military official as admitting that the country was behind the attack.

“Tel Aviv will be punished for its aggressive action,” Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters. “The occupying Zionist regime will, sooner or later, receive an appropriate response to its actions.”

Ghassemi called the airstrike “unacceptable” and said “the Syrian military can defend its territory and will do so.”

>> Putin’s bluff is finally being called and Russia is running out of options in Syria | Anshel Pfeffer ■ Trump chose not to threaten Assad’s rule. The question is what Putin will do | Amos Harel ■ Attack gives instant gratification but is much ado about nothing | Chemi Shalev ■ Putin may limit Israel’s operations in Syria in retaliation for U.S.-led strikes | Zvi Bar’el

The attack last week killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force members, including Colonel Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit operating out of the base east of Homs. Israel declined to comment on whether it was behind the strike. However, the New York Times quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that Israel conducted the attack and that the incident “was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people.”

Hezbollah’s second in command echoed the Iranian warning on Monday. Naim Qassesm, deputy secretary-general of the Lebanon-based Shi’ite Muslim organization, said Iran will respond to the strike at a time and place of its choosing.

The attack on the drone base in Syria came about two months after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down after it struck targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airforce.

The downed Iranian drone was armed with explosives and on its way to carry out an attack, the Israeli military later announced.

Secret Russian Airlift Helps Syria’s Assad

April 6, 2018

Private Russian military contractors are being sent on clandestine flights to Syria, plane-tracking data shows. And a trail of documents reveals how aircraft from the West end up in the hands of those on U.S. blacklists.

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Reuters

Filed 

MOSCOW/KIEV – In a corner of the departures area at Rostov airport in southern Russia, a group of about 130 men, many of them carrying overstuffed military-style rucksacks, lined up at four check-in desks beneath screens that showed no flight number or destination.

When a Reuters reporter asked the men about their destination, one said: “We signed a piece of paper – we’re not allowed to say anything. Any minute the boss will come and we’ll get into trouble.

“You too,” he warned.

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The chartered Airbus A320 waiting on the tarmac for them had just flown in from the Syrian capital, Damascus, disgorging about 30 men with tanned faces into the largely deserted arrivals area. Most were in camouflage gear and khaki desert boots. Some were toting bags from the Damascus airport duty-free.

The men were private Russian military contractors, the latest human cargo in a secretive airlift using civilian planes to ferry military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his six-year fight against rebels, a Reuters investigation of the logistical network behind Assad’s forces has uncovered.

The Airbus they flew on was just one of dozens of aircraft that once belonged to mainstream European and U.S. aviation companies, then were passed through a web of intermediary companies and offshore firms to Middle Eastern airlines subject to U.S. sanctions – moves that Washington alleges are helping Syria bypass the sanctions.

Image result for cham wings, photos

The flights in and out of Rostov, which no organisation has previously documented, are operated by Cham Wings, a Syrian airline hit with U.S. sanctions in 2016 for allegedly transporting pro-Assad fighters to Syria and helping Syrian military intelligence transport weapons and equipment. The flights, which almost always land late at night, don’t appear in any airport or airline timetables, and fly in from either Damascus or Latakia, a Syrian city where Russia has a military base.

The operation lays bare the gaps in the U.S. sanctions, which are designed to starve Assad and his allies in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah militia of the men and materiel they need to wage their military campaign.

It also provides a glimpse of the methods used to send private Russian military contractors to Syria – a deployment the Kremlin insists does not exist. Russian officials say Moscow’s presence is limited to air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops.

Reuters reporters staked out the Rostov airport, logged the unusual flights using publicly available flight-tracking data, searched aircraft ownership registries and conducted dozens of interviews, including a meeting at a fashionable restaurant with a former Soviet marine major on a U.S. government blacklist.

NIGHT FLIGHTS: A Cham Wings aircraft on the runway at the Rostov airport. The Syrian airline was hit with U.S. sanctions in 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Asked about the flights and the activities of Russian private military contractors in Syria, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin referred Reuters to the Defence Ministry — which didn’t reply to the questions. The Syrian government also didn’t reply to questions.

In response to detailed Reuters questions, Cham Wings said only that information on where it flies was available on its website.

The flights to Rostov aren’t mentioned on the site. But the journeys do appear in online flight-tracking databases. Reporters traced flights between the Rostov airport and Syria from Jan. 5, 2017, to March 11, 2018. In that time, Cham Wings aircraft made 51 round trips, each time using Airbus A320 jets that can carry up to 180 passengers.

The issue of military casualties is highly sensitive in Russia, where memories linger of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan that dragged on for years. Friends and relatives of the contractors suspect Moscow is using the private fighters in Syria because that way it can put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers, whose deaths have to be accounted for.

Forty-four regular Russian service personnel have died in Syria since the start of the operation there in September 2015, Russian authorities have said. A Reuters tally based on accounts from families and friends of the dead and local officials suggests that at least 40 contractors were killed between January and August 2017 alone.

One contractor killed in Syria left Russia on a date that tallies with one of the mysterious nighttime flights out of Rostov, his widow said. The death certificate issued by the Russian consulate in Damascus gave his cause of death as “haemorrhagic shock from shrapnel and bullet wounds.”

RETURNING HOME: Unidentified men carrying camouflage rucksacks and Damascus airport duty-free bags arrive at the Rostov airport from Syria. REUTERS/Stringer

“We signed a piece of paper – we’re not allowed to say anything. Any minute the boss will come and we’ll get into trouble.”

Man waiting to board flight to Syria

TRYING TO CHOKE OFF ASSAD’S ACCESS TO AIRCRAFT

To sustain his military campaign against rebels, Assad and his allies in Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah militia need access to civilian aircraft to fly in men and supplies. Washington has tried to choke off access to the aircraft and their parts through export restrictions on Syria and Iran and through Treasury Department sanctions blacklisting airlines in those countries. The Treasury Department has also blacklisted several companies outside Syria, accusing them of acting as middlemen.

“These actions demonstrate our resolve to target anyone who is enabling Assad and his regime,” John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in testimony to a congressional committee in November.

In recent years, dozens of planes have been registered in Ukraine to two firms, Khors and Dart, that were founded by a former Soviet marine major and his onetime military comrades, according to the Ukraine national aircraft register. The planes were then sold or leased and ended up being operated by Iranian and Syrian airlines, according to the flight-tracking data.

MILITARY PAST: Sergei Tomchani, a former Soviet marine major, helped found the air industry firms Khors and Dart. Aircraft operated by those companies wound up in the hands of Syrian and Iranian operators subject to sanctions. Tomchani is pictured here in 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

One of the companies, Khors, and the former marine major, Sergei Tomchani, have been on a U.S. Commerce Department blacklist since 2011 for allegedly exporting aircraft to Iran and Syria without obtaining licences from Washington.

But in the past seven years, Khors and Dart have managed to acquire or lease 84 second-hand Airbus and Boeing aircraft by passing the aircraft through layers of non-sanctioned entities, according to information collated by Reuters from national aircraft registers. Of these 84 aircraft, at least 40 have since been used in Iran, Syria and Iraq, according to data from three flight-tracking websites, which show the routes aircraft fly and give the call sign of the company operating them.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department added Khors and Dart to its sanctions blacklist, saying they were helping sanctioned airlines procure U.S.-made aircraft. Khors and Dart, as well as Tomchani, have denied any wrongdoing related to supplying planes to sanctioned entities.

The ownership histories of some of the aircraft tracked by Reuters showed how the U.S. restrictions on supplies to Iranian and Syrian airlines may be skirted. As the ownership skips from one country to the next, the complex paper trail masks the identity of those involved in Syria’s procurement of the planes.

One of the Cham Wings Airbus A320 jets that has made the Rostov-Syria trip was, according to the Irish aircraft register, once owned by ILFC Ireland Limited, a subsidiary of Dublin-based AerCap, one of the world’s biggest aircraft-leasing firms.

In January 2015, the aircraft was removed from the Irish register, said a spokesman for the Irish Aviation Authority, which administers the register. For the next two months, the aircraft, which carried the identification number EI-DXY, vanished from national registers before showing up on the aircraft register in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian register gave its new owner as Gresham Marketing Ltd, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. The owners of the company are two Ukrainians, Viktor Romanika and Nikolai Saverchenko, according to corporate documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Ukrainian business records show they are managers in small local businesses. Contacted by phone, Romanika said he knew nothing and hung up. Saverchenko couldn’t be reached by phone and didn’t respond to a letter delivered to the address listed for him.

In March 2015, Gresham leased EI-DXY to Dart, according to the Ukrainian aircraft register. The identification number was changed to a Ukrainian number, UR-CNU. On Aug. 20, 2015, Khors became the aircraft’s operator, the register showed.

A representative of the Ukraine State Aviation Service said the register was not intended as official confirmation of ownership but that there had been no complaints about the accuracy of its information.

From April that year, the aircraft was flown by Cham Wings, according to data from the flight-tracking websites.

Gillian Culhane, a spokeswoman for AerCap, the firm whose subsidiary owned the plane in 2015, didn’t respond to written questions or answer repeated phone calls seeking comment about what AerCap knew about the subsequent owners and operators of the plane. Dart and Khors didn’t respond to questions about the specific aircraft.

Four lawyers specialising in U.S. export rules say that transactions involving aircraft that end up in Iran or Syria carry significant risks for Western companies supplying the planes or equipment. Even if they had no direct dealings with a sanctioned entity, the companies supplying the aircraft can face penalties or restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, the lawyers said.

The lawyers, however, said that the legal exposure for aircraft makers such as Boeing and Airbus was minimal, because the trade involves second-hand aircraft that are generally more than 20 years old, and the planes had been through a long chain of owners before ending up with operators subject to sanctions.

Two of the lawyers, including Edward J. Krauland, who leads the international regulation and compliance group at law firm Steptoe & Johnson, said U.S. export rules apply explicitly to Boeing aircraft because they’re made in the United States. But they can also apply to Airbus jets because, in many cases, a substantial percentage of the components is of U.S. origin.

Boeing said in a statement: “The aircraft transactions described that are the subject of your inquiry did not involve The Boeing Company. Boeing maintains a robust overall trade control and sanctions compliance program.” An Airbus spokesman said, “Airbus fully respects all applicable legal requirements with regard to transactions with countries under U.N., EU, UK and U.S. sanctions.”

WAR-ZONE FLIGHTS

When Reuters sent a series of questions to Khors and Dart about their activities, Tomchani, the former marine major, called the reporter within minutes.

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Russian President Vladimir Putin has provided military power to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. Above, the two men meet in Sochi, Russia, last November. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

He said he was no longer a shareholder in either firm but was acting as a consultant to them, and that the questions had been passed on to him. He invited the reporter to meet the following day at the high-end Velyur restaurant in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

In the 90-minute meeting, he denied providing aircraft to Iran or Syria. Instead, he said, Khors and Dart had provided aircraft to third parties, which he did not identify. Those third parties, he said, supplied the planes on to the end users.

“We did not supply aircraft to Iran,” Tomchani, a man of military bearing in his late 50s, said as he sipped herbal tea. “We have nothing to do with supplying aircraft to Cham Wings.”

Neither Dart nor Khors could have sold or leased aircraft to Cham Wings because they were not the owners of the aircraft, he said.

Tomchani used to serve in a marine unit of the Soviet armed forces in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific coast. In 1991, after quitting the military with the rank of major, he set up Khors along with two other officers in his unit. Tomchani and his partners made a living by flying Soviet-built aircraft, sold off cheap after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in war zones.

HOT SEAT: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits a Russian air base at Hmeymim, in western Syria, in 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Khors flew cargoes in Angola for the Angolan government and Defence Ministry and aid agencies during its civil war. Tomchani said his companies also operated flights in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, transporting private security contractors.

Ukraine’s register of business ownership showed that Tomchani ceased to be a shareholder in Khors after June 2010 and that he gave up his interest in Dart at some point after April 2011. He told Reuters he sold his stakes to “major businessmen,” but declined to name them.

He did say, however, that the people listed at the time of the interview in Ukraine’s business register as the owners of the two companies were merely proxies. One of the owners in the register was a mid-ranking Khors executive, one was an 81-year-old accountant for several Kiev firms, and another was someone with the same name and address as a librarian from Melitopol in southeast Ukraine.

According to the business register, the owner of 25 percent in Khors is someone called Vladimir Suchkov. The address listed for him in the register is No. 33, Elektrikov Street, Kiev. That’s the same address as the one listed in Ukrainian government procurement documents for military unit No. A0515, which comes under the command of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate.

Tomchani said he and Suchkov were old acquaintances. “He wasn’t a bad specialist,” Tomchani said. “A young lad, but not bad.” He said he believed Suchkov was living in Russia.

Reuters was unable to contact Suchkov. A telephone number listed for him was out of service. The Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate’s acting head, Alexei Bakumenko, told Reuters that Suchkov doesn’t work there.

Reuters found no evidence of any other link between the trade in aircraft and Ukraine’s broader spy apparatus. Ukrainian military intelligence said it has no knowledge of the supply of aircraft to Syria, has no connection to the transport of military contractors from Russia to Syria, and hasn’t cooperated with Khors, Dart or Cham Wings.

On Jan. 9 this year, Dart changed its name to Alanna, and listed a new address and founders, according to the Ukrainian business register. On March 1, a new company, Alanna Air, took over Alanna’s assets and liabilities, the register showed.

CONTRACTORS COME BACK IN CASKETS

Although Moscow denies it is sending private military contractors to Syria, plenty of people say that’s untrue. Among them are dozens of friends and former colleagues of the fighters and people associated with the firm that recruits the men – a shadowy organisation known as Wagner with no offices, not even a brass plaque on a door.

It was founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former military intelligence officer, according to people interviewed during this investigation. Its first combat role was in eastern Ukraine in support of Moscow-backed separatists, they said. Reuters was unable to contact Utkin directly. The League of Veterans of Local Conflicts, which according to Russian media has ties to Utkin, declined to pass on a message to him, saying it had no connection to the Wagner group.

Russia has 2,000 to 3,000 contractors fighting in Syria, said Yevgeny Shabayev, local leader of a paramilitary organisation in Russia who is in touch with some of the men. In a single battle in February this year, about 300 contractors were either killed or wounded, according to a military doctor and two other sources familiar with the matter.

A Russian private military contractor who has been on four missions to Syria said he arrived there on board a Cham Wings flight from Rostov. The flights were the main route for transporting the contractors, said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Vladimir. He said the contractors occasionally use Russian military aircraft too, when they can’t all fit on the Cham Wings jets.

Two employees at Rostov airport talked to Reuters about the men on the mysterious flights to Syria.

“Our understanding is that these are contractors,” said an employee who said he assisted with boarding for several of the Syria flights. He pointed to their destination, the fact there were no women among them and that they carried military-style rucksacks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.

Reuters wasn’t able to establish how many passengers were carried between Russia and Syria, and it is possible  that some of those on board were not in Syria in combat roles. Some may have landed in Damascus, then flown to other destinations outside Syria.

Interviews with relatives of contractors killed in Syria also indicate the A320 flights to Rostov are used to transport Russian military contractors. The widow of one contractor killed in Syria said the last time she spoke to her husband by phone was on Jan. 21 last year — the same day, according to flight-tracking data, that a Cham Wings charter flew to Syria.

“He called on the evening of the 21st. … There were men talking and the sound of walkie-talkies. And by the 22nd he was already not reachable. Only text messages were reaching him,” said the woman, who had previously visited her husband at a training camp for the contractors in southern Russia.

After he was killed, she said, his body was delivered to Russia. She received a death certificate saying he had died of “haemorrhagic shock from shrapnel and bullet wounds.”

The widows of two other contractors killed in Syria described how their husbands’ bodies arrived back home. Like the first widow, they spoke on condition of anonymity. They said representatives of the organisation that recruited their husbands warned of repercussions if they spoke to the media.

The two contractors had been on previous combat tours, their widows said. The women said they received death certificates giving Syria as the location of death. Reuters saw the certificates: On one, the cause of death was listed as “carbonisation of the body” – in other words, he burned to death. The other man bled to death from multiple shrapnel wounds, the certificate said.

One of the widows recounted conversations with her husband after he returned from his first tour of duty to Syria. He told her that Russian contractors there are often sent into the thick of the battle and are the first to enter captured towns, she said.

Syrian government forces then come into the town and raise their flags, he told her, taking credit for the victory.

Additional reporting by Christian Lowe, Anton Zverev, Gleb Stolyarov and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow and Joel Schectman and Lesley Wroughton in Washington

Vapour Trail

By Rinat Sagdiev, Maria Tsvetkova and Olena Vasina

Data: Rinat Sagdiev

Graphics: Michael Ovaska and Maryanne Murray

Photo editing: Simon Newman

Video: Matthew Larotonda

Design: Catherine Tai

Edited by Kari Howard and Richard Woods

Report: U.S. Gives Israel Green Light to Assassinate Iranian General Suleimani

January 1, 2018

Al Jarida, considered an Israeli mouthpiece, says Israel was ‘on the verge’ of assassinating Suleimani, but the U.S. warned Tehran and thwarted the operation

Haaretz Jan 01, 2018 1:30 PM

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read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.832387?utm_source=Push_Notification&utm_medium=web_push&utm_campaign=General

General Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, 2015.

General Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, 2015. AP
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Washington gave Israel a green light to assassinate Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Monday.

Al-Jarida, considered an Israeli mouthpiece, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Suleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.”

The agreement between Israel and the United States, according to the report, comes three years after the Washington thwarted an Israeli attempt to kill the general.

The report says Israel was “on the verge” of assassinating Soulemani three years ago, near Damascus, but the United States warned the Iranian leadership of the plan, revealing that Israel was closely tracking the Iranian general.

The incident, the report said, “sparked a sharp disagreement between the Israeli and American security and intelligence apparatuses regarding the issue.”

The Kuwaiti report also identified Iran’s second in command in Syria, known as “Abu Baker,” as Mohammad Reda Falah Zadeh. It said he also “might be a target” for Israel, as well as other actors in the region.

Haaretz
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.832387?utm_source=Push_Notification&utm_medium=web_push&utm_campaign=General

U.S. sanctions individuals, entities for Iran-linked counterfeiting

November 20, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned a network of individuals and companies it said counterfeited Yemeni bank notes potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force.

 Image result for Yemen, currency, photos

The network circumvented European export restrictions in order to provide the counterfeiting supplies and equipment, according to a Treasury statement.

President Donald Trump last month declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a supporter of terrorism and authorized Treasury to impose tough sanctions limiting its access to goods and funding.

Republican Trump has been critical of the 2015 agreement his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, reached with Iran and said the United States must take stronger steps to ensure the country does not acquire nuclear weapons.

The counterfeiting scheme exposed the “deep levels of deception” that the Qods Force, a Revolutionary Guard unit carrying out missions outside the country, employs “against companies in Europe, governments in the Gulf, and the rest of the world to support its destabilizing activities,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

According to Treasury, Pardavesh Tasvir Rayan Co.  is a printing operation controlled by businessman Reza Heidari and owned by Tejarat Almas Mobin Holding that procured equipment and materials to print counterfeit Yemeni rial bank notes.

Qods Force used the currency to support its activities.

Heidari used front companies and other methods to keep European suppliers in the dark about their ultimate customer. He coordinated with Mahmoud Seif, Tejarat’s managing director, on the logistics of procuring materials and moving them into Iran, Treasury said.

Treasury sanctioned both men and both companies, as well as ForEnt Technik GmbH, which Heidari owns, and Printing Trade Center GmbH for serving as front companies in the operation.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, editing by G Crosse and Cynthia Osterman

Iran says France’s ‘biased’ stance threatens regional stability

November 17, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

November 17, 2017

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran accused France of fuelling tension in the Middle East by taking a “biased” stance on Tehran’s regional policy, state TV reported on Friday.

“It seems that France has a biased view towards the ongoing crises and humanitarian catastrophes in the Middle East … this view fuels regional conflicts, whether intentionally or unintentionally,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday that France was worried about Iran’s involvement in the Middle East crisis and the country’s disputed ballistic missile program.

Iran has repeatedly rejected France’s call for talks on its missile program, saying it was defensive and unrelated to a nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015.

Paris suggested that new European Union sanctions against Iran may be discussed over its missile tests. But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini seemed to dismiss that idea on Tuesday, keen to avoid risks to the hard-won deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear activity.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, editing by Larry King)

Related:

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir sends message to Iran: “enough is enough”

November 16, 2017

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir attends an interview with Reuters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on November 16, 2017. (REUTERS)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that the kingdom was reacting to what he called the “aggressive” behavior of its arch-rival Iran in Lebanon and Yemen.

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“Any way you look at it, they (the Iranians) are the ones who are acting in an aggressive manner. We are reacting to that aggression and saying enough is enough,” Adel Jubeir said.
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Jubeir also said that Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which he called a subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, must disarm and become a political party for that country to stabilize.
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“Whenever we see a problem, we see Hezbollah act as an arm or agent of Iran and this has to come to an end,” he said after meeting his French counterpart in Riyadh.

Saad al-Hariri, a Saudi ally, resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister on Nov. 4, citing an assassination plot and accusing Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the region.

In Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is involved in a two-year-old war and has been criticized for blocking humanitarian aid, Jubeir accused the Iran-aligned Houthis of besieging civilian areas and preventing supplies from coming in or out.

“That’s why you have the starvation that’s taking place in Yemen and people need to do a more serious job of holding Houthis accountable for this,” he said.

Jubeir said domestic anti-corruption investigations which have netted senior princes, officials and businessmen in the past two weeks were ongoing.

Syria army renews assault on last IS-held town

November 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | The Syrian army deploys artillery near Albu Kamal, the last town in the country still held by the Islamic State group, on November 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Syrian army on Thursday entered Albu Kamal, the last town in the country held by the Islamic State group, several days after the jihadists recaptured it, a monitor said.

The town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the border with Iraq was initially captured by the army and allied forces a month ago but IS retook it in a counterattack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the new offensive had successfully penetrated the town, with troops backed by Russian air strikes advancing from the west, east and south.

“Fighting is ongoing inside the town, there is artillery fire and there are Russian air strikes,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The first assault on Albu Kamal was spearheaded by Syrian government allies, including Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite fighters, and advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Observatory said.

“This time, the military operation is being led directly by regime forces,” Abdel Rahman said, adding that troops had taken the town’s eastern, southern and western suburbs.

IS still holds around 25 percent of the countryside of Deir Ezzor province but are under attack not only by government forces but also by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.

The jihadists once controlled a territory the size of Britain, proclaiming a “caliphate” in 2014 that spanned Syria and Iraq.

But they have successively lost all their key strongholds, including Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq