Posts Tagged ‘Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’

Pro-Iran militias turn on Assad, try to establish land corridor to Mediterranean

August 26, 2018

Israel worriedly follows developments around key border crossing in eastern Syria, where battles between longtime civil war allies have been reported for first time

Members of the pro-Syrian government forces ride on a tank as it drives down a street in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, on November 20, 2017. (AFP/ STRINGER)

Members of the pro-Syrian government forces ride on a tank as it drives down a street in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, on November 20, 2017. (AFP/ STRINGER)

Pro-Iran Shiite militias have been observed fighting Syrian army forces several times over the last two weeks, in what has been described as a battle for one of Syria’s key strategic areas, on the border with Iraq, with developments closely followed by a concerned Israel.

This marks the first time the two sides have been reported to be fighting, with fatalities and casualties on both sides, after years of cooperation during Iran’s involvement and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.

The reports came from various media outlets in the eastern area of Al-Bukamal and from credible Syrian opposition websites.

The fighting is focused around the town of Al-Bukamal, next to the Al-Qa’im border crossing between Syria and Iraq, which is considered a key strategic point in securing trade between Iraq and Syria — and indirectly, between Iran and the Mediterranean Sea.

Al-Bukamal is located on the eastern border of the Deir Ezzor region, on the banks of the Euphrates River.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard in Qaim, near the Syrian border, in the Euphrates river valley 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (photo credit: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The fighting between Shiite militia forces and the Syrian military’s forces began more than two weeks ago, and are in an all-out battle over control of the town, its various neighborhoods and the border crossing. Similar exchanges of fire were reported in the nearby town of Al-Mayadin.

In both towns there were reports of fighters killed and wounded, although the exact number isn’t clear. Among the dead was a high-ranking officer of Iranian origin and fighters from the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, which is funded, equipped and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

One of the reports said more than 25 people have been killed in the battles, but that number hasn’t been confirmed by credible sources.

The fighting resumed over the weekend, local media reported, with the Iranians bringing reinforcements to the area and making threats to Assad’s loyalists that those identified with the military would be eliminated if they don’t retreat from the town.

It is likely part of the Iranian effort to gain control of the key route without the Syrian army — or any other force — being able to have any influence.

Israel has been following the developments in that area, fearing that Iran could succeed in establishing a land corridor to the Mediterranean that would pose a significant threat to the Jewish state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been campaigning internationally against Iranian presence and influence in Syria, and has lately been seeking to convince Russia to expel all Iranian forces from Syria.

Arab media reports said the Shiite militias have in the last several weeks been setting up Shia religious institutions in Al-Bukamal, and militia members have taken over homes belonging to Syrian refugees who can’t return to their homes.

Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran. September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Over the last few months there has been an Iranian effort to establish a presence around the border crossing, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has

On June 18 there were reports of a large-scale airstrike on Shiite militias operating in the area that killed dozens, with several media outlets claiming Israel was behind the attack.

One report said there was another strike in recent days that killed more than 25 members of the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia Hezbollah Brigades, while they were on their way to Baghdad.


Experts warn Iran could answer US sanctions with cyberattacks

August 8, 2018

Analysts say Iranians impersonate Israeli and Western security websites to harvest log-in details; office of Director of National Intelligence declines to comment on threat

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The US is bracing for cyberattacks Iran could launch in retaliation for the re-imposition of sanctions this week by US President Donald Trump, cybersecurity and intelligence experts say.

Concern over that cyber threat has been rising since May, when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, under which the US and other world powers eased economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. The experts say the threat would intensify following Washington’s move Tuesday to re-impose economic restrictions on Tehran.

“While we have no specific threats, we have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global real-time cyber threat intelligence company. The Massachusetts-based company predicted back in May that the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement would provoke a cyber response from the Iranian government within two to four months.

US intelligence agencies have singled out Iran as one of the main foreign cyber threats facing America, along with Russia, China and North Korea. A wave of attacks that US authorities blamed on Iran between 2012 and 2014 targeted banks and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. They also targeted but failed to penetrate critical infrastructure.

Iran denies using its cyber capabilities for offensive purposes, and accuses the US of targeting Iran. Several years ago, the top-secret Stuxnet computer virus destroyed centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet, which is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, caused thousands of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility to spin themselves to destruction at the height of the West’s fears over Iran’s program.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz,300 kms 186 (miles) south of capital Tehran, Iran, April, 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)

“The United States has been the most aggressive country in the world in offensive cyber activity and publicly boasted about attacking targets across the world,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations, contending that Iran’s cyber capabilities are “exclusively for defensive purposes.”

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, has sounded more ominous, warning late last month about Iran’s capabilities in “asymmetric war,” a veiled reference to nontraditional warfare that could include cyber attacks.

Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran. September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The Trump administration says it re-imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent its aggression — denying it the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

The sanctions restarted Tuesday target US dollar financial transactions, Iran’s automotive sector and the purchase of commercial planes and metals, including gold. Even stronger sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector and central bank are to be re-imposed in early November. European leaders have expressed deep regret about the US actions. They hit Iran at a time when its unemployment is rising, the country’s currency has collapsed and demonstrators are taking to the streets to protest social issues and labor unrest.

Norm Roule, former Iran manager for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said he thinks Tehran will muster its cyber forces in response.

“I think there is a good chance Iran will use cyber, probably not an attack that is so destructive that it would fragment its remaining relationship with Europe, but I just don’t think the Iranians will think there is much cost to doing this,” Roule said. “And it’s a good way to show their capacity to inflict economic cost against the United States.”

“Iran’s cyber activities against the world have been the most consequential, costly and aggressive in the history of the internet, more so than Russia. … The Iranians are destructive cyber operators,” Roule said, adding that Iranian hackers have, at times, impersonated Israeli and Western cyber security firm websites to harvest log-in information.

Iranian protesters in central Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The office of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to comment Tuesday on the likelihood that Iran will answer the sanctions with cyber operations against the US. When the US pulled out of the nuclear deal, the FBI issued a warning saying that hackers in Iran “could potentially use a range of computer network operations — from scanning networks for potential vulnerabilities to data-deletion attacks — against US-based networks in response to the US government’s withdrawal” from the nuclear pact.

Accenture Security, a global consulting, managing and technology company, also warned Tuesday that the new sanctions would “likely to push that country to intensify state-sponsored cyber threat activities,” particularly if Iran fails to keep its European counterparts committed to the nuclear pact.

Josh Ray, the firm’s managing director for cyber defense, said it hasn’t seen any evidence that Iran has launched any new cyber operations, but he said Iran has the capability to do it and has historically operated in a retaliatory manner.

“This still remains a highly capable, espionage-related type threat,” Ray said. “Organizations need to take this threat seriously. They need to understand how their business could potentially be impacted.”

Recorded Future’s Moriuchi anticipated that businesses most at risk were those victimized in Iranian cyberattacks between 2012 and 2014 — they include banks and financial services, government departments, critical infrastructure providers, and oil and energy.

An illegal street money exchanger poses with his U.S. banknotes in downtown Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Those cyberattacks cost nearly 50 financial institutions tens of millions of dollars. The repeated attacks disabled bank websites and kept hundreds of thousands of customers from accessing their online accounts. US prosecutors indicted several Iranians, alleging they worked at the behest of the Iranian government.

One defendant allegedly targeted the computer systems of the Bowman Dam in Rye, New York. No access was gained, but prosecutors said the breach underscored the potential vulnerabilities of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

In March, the Justice Department also announced charges against nine Iranians accused of working at the behest of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to steal large quantities of academic data from hundreds of universities in the United States and abroad as well as email accounts belonging to employees of government agencies and private companies.

Sanctions Start Making Impact in Iran — Protesters shout “Death to the dictator”

August 6, 2018

Iran is staring into the economic abyss as the US today restores crippling sanctions that have already sparked protests countrywide and sent the value of the Iranian rial tumbling.

The US Treasury Department’s new sanctions are wide-ranging and block Tehran from acquiring US dollars, and trading in gold and other precious and industrial metals.

They also cover the automotive sector and debt markets — effectively preventing the country from seeking relief at home by raising international capital. The measures even extend to the sale of pistachio nuts and Persian rugs. Further sanctions targeting the banking and energy sectors will follow on Nov. 4.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had treated its people “very poorly” as he wrapped up a three-day trip to Southeast Asia in Indonesia.

A man takes a glance at a newspaper with a picture of US president Donald Trump on the front page in this July 31, 2018 photo. Iran has been gripped by protests countrywide amid an economic crisis that is expected to worsen as economic sanctions by the US take effect Monday, August 6, 2018. (AFP/ATTA KENARE)

“President Trump has always said he is prepared to talk, but it’s important that Iran has to be committed to changing its ways in order for those discussions to prove of any value,” he said.

The crisis has led to protests around the country demanding regime change. Iranians complain that they face economic deprivation while their government squanders cash on military adventures in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

Iran has witnessed angry protests over the past week over rampant inflation that is being made worse by the weakening of the Iranian currency.

Footage posted online showed people in Tehran shouting: “Death to the dictator,” in a reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

President Donald Trump announced in May that the US was withdrawing from an international accord struck in 2015 under which sanctions would be lifted in return for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile corporations have been racing to finalize deals before sanctions resumed and Iran bought five new commercial planes on Sunday. The ATR72-600 aircraft are made by a company jointly owned by European consortium Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo.

Tensions have risen in the Arabian Gulf and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed on Sunday they had held war games in the region in recent days. A US military spokesman said they had detected increased Iranian naval activity in the Gulf.

Arab News



Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on “War Footing” in Strait of Hormuz

August 2, 2018

IRGC exercise in Strait of Hormuz expected to be larger than in the past, with timing suggesting it is tied to recent threats to shut key oil shipping lane

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian forces are expected to launch a major exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz likely aimed at demonstrating an ability to close the key oil shipping lane, US officials told CNN Wednesday.

The drill by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US officials said was likely to begin in the next two days, comes days after the country’s president threatened that it could close off the strategic waterway in response to the reimposition of US sanctions.

While Iranian forces drill in the Strait of Hormuz annually, one US official told the station that the exercise being planned appeared to be larger than those in years past and was timed unusually late in the year, indicating it was likely tied to recent tensions.

William Urban, chief spokesman for US Central Command, said the the military was closely monitoring Iranian troops movements in the area.

“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,”  he told CNN.

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photograph, an Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The Strait, a narrow passageway between Iran and Oman, is a key waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the United States and Iran.

On July 22, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in which he threatened that Iran could block the passageway.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

“We have always guaranteed the security of this strait. Do not play with the lion’s tail, you will regret it forever,” he said.

“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.”

The speech drew a furious response from US president Donald Trump, who warned Rouhani with dire consequences in an all-caps tweet.


Trump later said he would be willing to meet with Rouhani to negotiate a new nuclear deal, but the idea has been with a cool reception in Iran.

Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and sanctions are set to kick back in within months. Iran’s currency has taken a nose dive in recent days as the looming sanctions have wreaked havoc on international investment in the country.

On Tuesday, the head of Iran’s navy said keeping the Strait of Hormuz operating was dependent on sanctions not being reimposed.

“The Strait of Hormuz remaining open hinges on Iran’s interests and the international community should live up to its obligations towards the Islamic Republic,” Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said, according to state-run media.

A number of other senior Iranian officials, including the head of the IRGC, have threatened that Tehran could close the strait at any time.

Times of Israel


Iran’s anaemic economy is pushing people over the edge

June 29, 2018

The government is struggling with rising prices and a plummeting currency

Image result for Iran, flag, economy

SIX months after the last round of protests over their country’s anaemic economy, Iranians are at it again. But unlike the demonstrations in December, which began in the provinces, the latest unrest erupted in Tehran’s bazaar on June 25th and spread from there. Anger is growing over rising prices, the plunging value of the Iranian rial (see chart) and the cost of foreign adventurism.

The regime looks worried. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds that gathered at parliament’s gates. Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the conservative head of the judicial system, threatened those “who disturb the Islamic economy” with execution.

Image result for rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, seems stumped. Instead of the bountiful foreign investment he promised would come from compromising with America, he is reeling from what he calls President Donald Trump’s “economic war”. The value of the rial on the black market has fallen by over half since Mr Trump took office in January 2017, particularly since May, when America withdrew from the deal it and five other powers signed with Iran in 2015. It had lifted sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme. In August America will reimpose curbs on Iran’s purchase of dollars and sale of gold; it also wants a full ban on oil sales.

Mr Rouhani won an election last year, but he is challenged by hardline clerics and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s military arm. Members of parliament seek his impeachment. While protesters cry for the restoration of the monarchy, regime insiders mull a military takeover. In its 40th year, Iran’s theocracy looks in poor health.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline”Rial problems”


Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial

May 22, 2018

The Trump administration has declared financial war on the regime. It’s a good bet America will win.

Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday presented the Islamic Republic of Iran with a stark choice: Either change or face “unprecedented financial pressure” in the form of “the strongest sanctions in history when we are complete.” The Trump administration has declared financial war on the Iranian regime. Given the seriousness of its currency emergency, it’s a good bet America will win.

Iran’s economy is in crisis. Inflation is skyrocketing, banks are in turmoil, and Iranians protest daily against the regime’s ineptitude, corruption and foreign adventurism. The currency is collapsing. In 1979, just before the Islamic revolution, Iran’s official exchange rate was 70 rial to the dollar. Today’s official rate, 42,000 to 1, is only available to those with regime connections. Most Iranians have to accept less favorable terms on the black market.

The rial experienced several waves of devaluation, including during the last ramp-up in U.S. sanctions. The black-market rate per dollar went from around 11,000 in early 2011 to close to 37,000 in 2013, immediately before the June election of President Hassan Rouhani. The latest deterioration signals a worse crisis. It was triggered by Mr. Trump’s decision in October to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, indicating his intention to reimpose sanctions. The black-market rate has settled at 63,500, a nearly 40% loss of value since October. It dipped to 70,000 in the 24 hours after Mr. Trump announced on May 8 America’s official withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The regime is so desperate to avoid further collapse, it is taking extreme measures like criminalizing private currency trading and severely restricting the amount of currency Iranian travelers can take out of the country.

With the impending reimposition of sanctions, the pressure on Tehran is growing every day. Any bank that lets Iran draw on its foreign-held reserves will face total cutoff from the U.S. financial system. Trade and investment in major Iranian economic sectors will grind to a halt. Insurers will walk away from Iran-related projects. Importers of Iranian oil will reduce their purchases. Providing Iran with precious metals, which the regime might use in place of cash, will be off-limits, too. Already major European energy, insurance and shipping companies have signaled their intention to cut ties with the Islamic Republic unless their governments can negotiate sanctions waivers.

Mr. Pompeo made clear Monday that’s unlikely—and also that the administration will tighten the screws further, targeting every aspect of the regime’s finances.

What are the options? The Treasury Department has the authority to target companies owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s defense industry. These represent around 20% of total market capitalization of the Tehran Stock Exchange. The Treasury could impose sanctions on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s $200 billion corporate conglomerate, including the charitable trusts, or bonyads, where regime officials stash their money. Mr. Trump could use his executive powers to target companies of which the IRGC owns a minority share, vastly expanding Treasury’s list. He could broaden sanctions to cover Iran’s mining, construction and engineering industries, and any other sector of strategic importance.

Another top target will be Hezbollah, Iran’s largest terrorist proxy. The administration should cut off Hezbollah’s companies and bankers, especially in Lebanon, from the international financial system, while cracking down on the group’s fundraising, recruitment, narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.

America’s new strategy also presents European leaders with a choice: Either help curb all of Iran’s malign activities in exchange for major American economic and diplomatic concessions, or cast their lots with the repressive theocracy responsible for a 2012 terror attack in Bulgaria, and for the bloodshed in Syria that created a refugee crisis in Europe.

The Europeans have several important roles to play in a maximum-pressure strategy. The Swift financial-messaging service, based in Brussels, would disconnect the Central Bank of Iran, as well as other designated Iranian banks. The European Central Bank would stop clearing euro-based Iranian transactions through its Target2 settlement system, whose bylaws explicitly forbid activity with banks engaged in illicit financing schemes. Central banks in European countries would stop trying to evade U.S. oil sanctions by making direct payments to Iran’s central bank. Europe would designate the IRGC and Hezbollah in their entirety as terror groups.

The Europeans could refuse to do these things if they want to play hardball and undermine the U.S. strategy. But Mr. Trump would have options to respond. American law authorizes him to impose sanctions on Swift and its directors if they refuse to disconnect Iranian banks. The president could use his executive powers to put on the sanctions list board members and senior officials at the ECB, European Investment Bank and national central banks.

That sort of showdown may seem appealing to some Europeans. But the democratic ties that bind America with Europe are far stronger than any commercial relationship between Europe and the Islamic Republic.

Just last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out any trade war with the U.S. over Iran. Other European leaders should follow their lead. Mr. Pompeo has opened the door for renewed trans-Atlantic dialogue. Brussels may be slow to warm up to America’s new, no-holds-barred financial war on the Iranian regime. But European banks and businesses ought to keep one thing in mind: In a Battle rial, anything goes.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive and Mr. Goldberg a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Israel and Iran lurch closer to all-out war in Syria after alleged rocket attack on Golan Heights

May 10, 2018

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Missile fire is seen from Damascus, Syria May 10, 2018. REUTERS-Omar Sanadiki

By Raf Sanchez
The Telegraph
May 10, 2018

Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces allegedly fired rockets into the Golan Heights and Israel responded with some of its heaviest airstrikes in years.

The exchange of fire was the most direct confrontation between the Middle East rivals after years of escalating tensions in Syria and came just one day after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

According to the Israeli military, Iranian forces based in Syria fired a barrage of around 20 rockets at Israeli troops in the Golan, the mountainous region Israel captured from Syrian in 1967 and has occupied since.

No Israelis were hurt and there was only limited damage to Israeli positions in the Golan, a military spokesman said.

Israel said the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, carried out the attack at around 12.10am on Thursday. Israel accused General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, of being behind the attack.

“It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces.

Air defence systems intercept Israeli missiles over Syrian airspace, the Syrian Arab News Agency reports
Syrian forces fired missiles at the Israeli attack CREDIT: AFP

Israel struck back with widespread strikes against dozens of targets inside Syria, Lt Col Conricus said. The attack appeared to be one of the largest Israel has carried out since it began periodic strikes against Iran and its ally Hizbollah inside of Syria.

Among the targets were Iranian intelligence bases, a Quds force logistics headquarters, and a weapons depot at the Damascus international airport, according to Israel.

Syrian regime air defence systems also fired missiles at attacking Israeli aircraft. Israel said that it struck several of the anti-aircraft systems and also destroyed the Iranian Uragan rocket launcher used to fire the rockets into the Golan.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system brought down four of the rockets, the military said.

Syrian state media reported Israeli missile attacks targeting Baath City in Quneitra, near the border with the Golan Heights. The Syrian regime said it had intercepted several missiles over Damascus, Homs and the southern city of Suwayda.

Missiles fire is seen over Damascus
Missiles seen over Damascus CREDIT: REUTERS

There was no immediate word on casualties inside Syria.

Israel said it had informed Russia, Syria’s ally, of the strikes before carrying out the attack. The Israeli and Russian militaries have a “deconfliction channel” designed to stop the two sides from accidentally attacking each other in the crowded skies above Syria.

A long-running cold war between Israel and Iran across the Syrian border has turned increasingly hot in recent months. At least seven Iranians were killed on April 9 during a suspected Israeli strike on the T4 airbase in central Syria, prompting Iran to vow revenge against Israel.

Hours after Mr Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran deal on Wednesday, Israel allegedly carried out a strike against an Iranian facility south of Damascus. Nine people were reported killed, including some Iranian fighters.

In February, Iran allegedly launched an armed drone from Syria into Israel. Israel shot down the drone and carried out a wave of airstrikes in response. One Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian air defence systems during the attack, the first time Israel has lost a warplane in combat since 1982.

Israel has said repeatedly it will not allow Iran to build up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to go to war to stop it.

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later,” Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said last week.

“Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards.”

While Israel has scored tactical military victories over Iran in Syria, it has struggled with a broader diplomatic campaign to convince world powers to rein in Iran’s build up in Syria.

Netanyahu stands beside Vladimir Putin (Reuters/M. Shemetov)

Mr Netanyahu travels regularly to Moscow – his last visit was on Wednesday – to urge Vladimir Putin to pressure Iran out of Syria. So far the diplomatic effort has yielded few visible results on the Iranian question.

Syrian media said Thursday’s attack was the first time in years that Syrians had fired at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Israel has been on heightened alert in recent days, anticipating an Iranian attack. Israeli residents of the Golan Heights were told to ready their bomb shelters on Tuesday after Israel spotted what it called “irregular activity of Iranian forces in Syria”.


See also:

Rockets fired at Israel from Syria, Israel says

Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Regional Tensions Mount

May 10, 2018

Move is retaliation for Golan Heights rocket fire; escalating clashes come as Trump tries to get allies to join the U.S. in confronting Iran across the region

Missile fire is seen from Damascus on Thursday.
Missile fire is seen from Damascus on Thursday. PHOTO: OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS

Israel’s military carried out strikes against Iranian targets in Syria after it said Iranian forces based there fired rockets at its soldiers in the Golan Heights, raising the risk of a wider regional war just a day after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the international nuclear deal with Tehran.

Iran’s attack in the Golan appears to be the first time Iran has opened fire from Syria on Israeli targets. The Israeli military said dozens of Iranian military sites across southern and central Syria were struck. The Israeli military called the strikes—which focused on sites related to logistics, intelligence, and ammunition storage—its largest-ever operation against Iranian positions in Syria.

“It will take substantial time for the Iranians to replenish these systems,” said Jonathan Cornricus, an Israeli military spokesman.

In a separate incident, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a barrage of missiles into Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The pair of attacks were an early indication that Iran and its allies are flexing their muscles in the Middle East after Washington’s move.

The strikes heightened tensions in a region already on edge and underlined the risk of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel following the U.S. exit from the nuclear agreement. Iran, until now, had held back from any retaliatory response to recent Israeli strikes on its assets in Syria.

The escalating clashes come as the Trump administration works to rally allies to join the U.S. in confronting Iran and its backers across the Middle East.

One of Mr. Trump’s biggest criticisms of the 2015 nuclear-containment deal with Iran was that it didn’t do anything to halt Tehran’s support for destabilizing militant groups stretching from Lebanon to Yemen.

But Pentagon officials have been reluctant to turn their military focus in Syria from Islamic State toward Iranian forces and their proxies. Military leaders worry that confronting Iran in Syria could risk dangerous blowback to thousands of U.S. forces working in Iraq and Syria.

When he withdrew from the Iran deal, Mr. Trump directed the U.S. military to draw up new plans “to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies and our partners.” U.S. officials couldn’t say on Wednesday how that would play out for U.S. forces in the days and weeks ahead.

A long-exposure picture that reportedly shows Israeli missiles headed toward Syrian military targets on the Golan Heights near the Israeli-Syrian border.

For now, the Trump administration has offered unequivocal support for Israel’s escalatory strikes inside Syria. Israel has grown increasingly alarmed by Iran’s presence in Syria, where it has used its support for President Bashar al-Assad to build up its military strength.

Israel has said that it won’t allow Iran to put down deep roots in Syria, and its military has hit a series of Iranian targets in recent weeks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Trump have established a close working relationship. Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly conferred with Mr. Trump about Iran’s military activities in the Middle East and Israel’s plans to strike Iranian targets.

In rejecting the Iran deal on Tuesday, Mr. Trump cited the Israeli leader’s recent presentation on Iran’s covert nuclear-weapons program as a central example of why Tehran couldn’t be trusted. Mr. Trump also laid out a new list of demands that Tehran must meet, including ending its “quest to destroy Israel” and cutting of its support for Mr. Assad in Syria.

Some critics of Mr. Trump said the president’s decision to scrap the Iran deal was already increasing the risk of an expanding confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Iran’s barrage in the Golan Heights—which caused no injuries and only limited damage to property, the Israeli army said—came after suspected Israeli missiles targeted an Iran-linked army base south of Syria’s capital, Damascus, on Tuesday, shortly after Mr. Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the international nuclear deal with Iran.

The Israeli military’s official Arabic-language spokesman, Avichay Adraee, said Israel was carrying out retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets in Syria and warned that Syrian involvement against it would “be met with great severity.”

Mr. Cornricus, the Israeli military spokesman, said none of the 20 rockets fired at Israel landed in the country—four were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome system and the rest fell short in Syrian territory.

The Iranian attack was launched around 30 kilometers to 40 kilometers south of Damascus, near the town of al-Kisweh, the military spokesperson said. In the Iranian attack, rockets were fired from a multi-barrel launcher fixed atop a moving truck, Mr. Cornricus said. The Israeli army allegedly hit targets on Tuesday night at al Kisweh, killing eight Iranians, according to the he U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

The Syrian state news agency said its military’s air defenses had “confronted” Israeli missiles and reported Israeli shelling in the Syrian city of Baath, near Israel’s northern border. Later, the agency said a fresh wave of Israeli missiles was intercepted in the vicinity of Damascus, the capital. On social media, activists reported loud explosions to the south and northeast of the city.

Israel is targeting some air-defense systems and radar, the agency reported, publishing pictures and videos of Syrian air defenses intercepting what it said were Israeli missiles.

Israel has been bracing for Iranian retaliation to a number of alleged strikes in Syria but particularly for an attack last month when presumed Israeli missiles hit an Iranian-controlled base deep in Syria. The Observatory said as many as 18 Iranians were killed in that attack, though Iran denied there were any casualties.

The Israeli military spokesman Mr. Cornricus said the Iranian Quds Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was behind the attack Wednesday night. He declined to explain how Israel knew about the role of the Quds Force in the attack.

A few of the rockets fired at Israeli forces were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system, Mr. Cornricus said. The projectiles were fired at several Israeli military bases on the front line with Syria, he said.

“The Israel Defense Forces view this event with great severity and remain prepared for a wide variety of scenarios,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

An Iranian official at the country’s United Nations mission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at


See also:

Rockets fired at Israel from Syria, Israel says

US judge orders Iran to pay billions to families of 9/11 victims

May 3, 2018

Russia Today (RT)

Image may contain: skyscraper, sky and outdoor

National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York © Brendan McDermid

Tehran has been ordered by a US court to pay more than $6 billion to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, despite the fact that most of the plane hijackers were Saudi nationals, and no direct link was ever found to Iran.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York found Iran, the country’s central bank, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps liable for the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the September 11 attacks. As a consequence, District Judge George Daniels ordered Iran and its entities to pay over $6 billion in compensation to the victims’ families.
The default judgment seeks compensation of $12.5 million per spouse, $8.5 million per parent, $8.5 million per child, and $4.25 million per sibling. The US could potentially retrieve the sum from billions of dollars in Iranian assets that were frozen in the US and Europe over the years. This is unlikely, however, as the ruling is seen as symbolic and unenforceable.
It is not the first time that Daniels has issued default judgments against Iran. In 2011 and 2016, the New York judge ordered the Islamic Republic to pay billions of dollars to victims of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Tehran has yet to react to the latest ruling, but has previously dismissed such accusations as ridiculous, given the fact that none of the perpetrators were Iranian citizens, and no investigation ever found direct links to Iran.

“A record low for the reach of petrodollars: CIA & FDD fake news w/ selective AlQaeda docs re: Iran can’t whitewash role of US allies in 9/11,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter last year.

Javad Zarif

A record low for the reach of petrodollars: CIA & FDD fake news w/ selective AlQaeda docs re: Iran can’t whitewash role of US allies in 9/11

3:29 PM – Nov 2, 2017

Some 15 of the 9/11 perpetrators were citizens of Saudi Arabia, while two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt, and one was from Lebanon. However, the US lawsuit, originally filed in 2004, still claimed that Tehran somehow supported the hijackers and provided them with training and financial assistance.

Tuesday’s judgment is not linked to similar cases filed by the victims against Saudi Arabia, which claim that Riyadh provided direct support to the hijackers. Back in March, Judge Daniels rejected Saudi Arabia’s request to dismiss the lawsuits. Both Saudi and Iranian cases, however, are based on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta), which was passed in 2016 and allows families of the victims to take foreign governments to court.


Use Iran Sanctions to Stop Assad — Time for sanctions on Iran’s central bank?

April 19, 2018

Allied cooperation in Syria offers a way to overcome differences over the nuclear deal.

Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2008.
Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2008. PHOTO: SAJAD SAFARI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Since the weekend military strike against chemical-weapons sites in Syria, the debate in Washington has centered on whether the strike went far enough. But policy makers should consider another question of equal importance: Is the U.S. prepared to cut off the financial lifelines that keep Bashar Assad in power?

The Islamic Republic of Iran spent roughly $15 billion last year to bolster its longtime strategic partner in Damascus. It bought arms for Mr. Assad’s military and financed the foreign Shiite militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that fight for the Syrian dictator. Iran’s annual contribution to Hezbollah alone stands at between $700 million and $800 million. Tehran has deployed its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Syria and has lent money to Mr. Assad to finance imports such as petroleum. Iran extended a $1 billion line of credit in 2017, on top of the $5.6 billion it had already provided. This credit is provided through the Islamic Republic’s Export Development Bank, while all funds ultimately run through Iran’s central bank.

A Syria strategy that leaves these Iranian financial spigots open is doomed to fail. Why haven’t they been blocked? For fear of jeopardizing the 2015 nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which relieved sanctions on Iranian banks, regime assets and economic sectors. This policy paralysis needs to end, and this weekend’s military strike, conducted in close coordination with France and Britain, should lead to a trans-Atlantic understanding that allows true financial warfare against the Iran-Syria nexus to commence.

In 2011 the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to slap sanctions on Iran’s central bank. It did so based on the bank’s role in financing illicit Iranian nuclear development, terrorism, missile proliferation, money laundering and sanctions circumvention. These and other Iran sanctions were never intended to curb nuclear behavior alone. If President Trump determines that an Iranian bank, company or sector is sponsoring nonnuclear malign activity—like the Revolutionary Guards’ and Hezbollah’s support for Mr. Assad’s crimes against humanity—he is well within his authority to bring back sanctions targeting the illicit activity. President Obama made clear in 2015 that imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic for “nonnuclear reasons” was permissible under the nuclear deal.

Europe should support these sanctions as part of a maximum pressure campaign targeting the Syrian regime and its supporters. That would begin by reimposing sanctions on Iranian banks that support Mr. Assad. Next, it would target all sponsors of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. The supreme leader’s $200 billion conglomerate, foundations, energy exports and other key sectors of the Iranian economy—all should face sanctions.

Mr. Trump has asked for tough European action against Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards. Both are deployed in Syria to ensure the survival of the Assad regime. While the U.S. designates both groups as terrorist organizations, the Europeans don’t. Europe should join the U.S. and take action against these terrorists regardless of the nuclear deal’s fate.

The U.S. and Europe have to agree on fixes to the nuclear deal by May 12, when Mr. Trump must decide whether to issue another four-month waiver suspending sanctions on Iran’s central bank. If they can’t agree on a fix, the U.S. can offer a face-saving gesture to win European support for a maximum pressure campaign targeting Mr. Assad. Rather than labeling the reimposition of sanctions on Iran’s central bank a way of nixing the nuclear deal, the president should announce the move as a response to Iranian behavior in Syria.

This approach could provide either more time for negotiations with Europe and Iran to fix the nuclear deal—but with increased U.S. leverage—or more time for the administration to plan for a responsible exit from the deal. Instead of making Iran look like a diplomacy-loving victim of American unilateralism, Tehran would have to defend its odious Syria policy. And it would further intensify the pressure on an Iranian regime facing daily protests by people chanting, “Leave Syria, think of us.”

If the Europeans want to save the nuclear deal and punish Mr. Assad’s enablers, they need to move on sanctions. A true fix cannot impede the West’s ability to curb Iran’s nonnuclear illicit activities, even if the targets of such financial warfare were initially granted sanctions relief under the accord. Nor can a fix be complete without maximum pressure on Tehran’s terrorist proxies.

Mr. Assad’s latest chemical-weapons attack handed Mr. Trump an opportunity to take advantage of rare trans-Atlantic and bipartisan support to target Iran’s activities in Syria. The president should exploit it to the maximum.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Mr. Goldberg is a senior adviser.

Appeared in the April 19, 2018, print edition.