Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Hezbollah chief claims terror group stronger than Israeli military, ready for war

August 15, 2018

In speech marking 12 years since Second Lebanon War, Hassan Nasrallah also says Iran sanctions won’t affect support for his organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said Tuesday that US sanctions against Iran and his Iran-backed group will not have major effects on them and will not lead to regime change in Tehran.

In a televised address marking the 12th anniversary of the end of the 34-day Second Lebanon War with Israel in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah also boasted that his forces were stronger than the Israeli army and prepared for a fresh war with Israel.

Nasrallah claimed that the Trump administration was “mistaken” in thinking sanctions would lead to riots in Iran that would topple the regime, or even force Iran to reduce support for activity abroad.

Last week the US began restoring sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump withdrew from in May. The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its support for international terrorism, its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programs.

“Iran has been facing sanctions since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979,” Nasrallah said. “He (Trump) is strengthening the sanctions but they have been there since 1979 and Iran stayed and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory of its revolution.”

The Hezbollah leader spoke to thousands of supporters gathered at a rally south of Beirut, where they watched his speech on giant screens as it was broadcast from a secret location.

Iran has been backing Hezbollah financially and militarily since the terror group was established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

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

A number of protests have broken out against the Iranian regime for the country’s precarious economic situation, with demonstrators calling for an end to military adventurism and financial support for terror groups abroad.

According to the US, Iran sends Hezbollah an estimated $700 million a year.

Speaking about the restoration of the sanctions by Washington, Nasrallah said: “I can tell you and I have accurate information they are building dreams, strategies and projects that Iran will head toward chaos and the regime will fall. This is illusion, this is imagination and has nothing to do with reality.”

He added that Hezbollah is not scared of a possible war with Israel.

“No one should threaten us with war and no one should scare us by war,” he said, adding: “We are not scared or worried about war and we are ready for it and we will be victorious.”

A picture taken on July 26, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows members of the group manning an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck in a mountainous area around the Lebanese town of Arsal along the border with Syria. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)

“Hezbollah might not be the strongest army in the Middle East but it is certainly stronger than the Israeli army,” Nasrallah said, according to Lebanese news outlet Naharnet. “Because we have more faith in our cause and greater willingness to sacrifice.”

“The resistance in Lebanon — with its arms, personnel, expertise and capabilities — is stronger than ever,” Nasrallah said.

Most analysts believe Hezbollah has been significantly weakened by years of fighting in Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad. However, Israeli officials say the terror group still has a massive missile arsenal that can threaten much of the country, and that a war will be incredibly damaging to both sides of the Lebanese border.

Nasrallah said Israel would fail to force Hezbollah away from the Syrian Golan border, where Jerusalem fears it and other Iranian proxy groups will set up bases to use for attacks against the Jewish state, and has pushed for Russia to enforce a buffer zone.

“The Israeli enemy, which has been defeated in Syria, is insolently seeking to impose its conditions in Syria, but this will not happen,” he said.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-chief-says-iran-sanctions-wont-affect-backing-for-terror-group/

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Turkey Shifts Closer to Russia

August 15, 2018

Foreign ministers slam Western sanctions, as Erdogan plans boycott of U.S. electronic goods

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, discussed the Syrian crisis with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow in April.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, discussed the Syrian crisis with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow in April.PHOTO: SERGEI CHIRIKOV/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK
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ISTANBUL—President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stepped up his attacks on the U.S. on Tuesday, calling for a boycott of Apple Inc.’s iPhones and other U.S. electronic goods, while his foreign minister joined his Russian counterpart in criticizing Western sanctions.

Turkey, a longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, has been caught between the West and Russia. This week, officials in Ankara were leaning decidedly toward Moscow.

In recent weeks, Turkey and Russia have been the targets of U.S. sanctions while their currencies, the lira and the ruble, have dropped against the dollar. Mr. Erdogan’s boycott is part of a wider campaign Turkey has launched to retaliate against the U.S. measures.

The lira, already hit by investor concerns over Turkey’s financial stability, has hit a series of record lows since Aug. 1, when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey for not freeing a U.S. pastor facing terrorism charges.

On Tuesday, the lira rose slightly against the dollar, to 6.37, but remains vastly lower against the U.S. currency this year.

New tariffs the U.S. introduced on some Turkish imports on Monday have raised concerns of a full-blown trade war.

Attending a conference with Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, in Ankara on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey lashed out against Western sanctions.

“This era when we are being bullied must end,” Mr. Cavusoglu said.

Mr. Lavrov echoed those sentiments: “They are using methods of sanctions, threats, blackmail and diktat.”

Promising tighter cooperation with Turkey, Mr. Lavrov said Russia may shun the dollar in bilateral trade in the future, as it has done with countries such as China and Iran.

A Relationship in Crisis: Turkey Drifts Away From the U.S. and Towards Russia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and pursuit of a nationalist agenda has put his country at odds with its U.S and NATO allies. Meanwhile, he’s found a friend in Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images

Closer ties to Russia could help Mr. Erdogan make his nation less-reliant on Washington and change the face of post-World War II Europe, on which its military force has been guarding NATO’s southeastern flank.

“We are looking for new allies,” Mr. Erdogan told supporters on Sunday.

There are limits, however, to how much help Moscow can provide for Turkey’s economy. On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov provided no concrete pledges of assistance.

The budding trade and military partnership between Russia and Turkey is a remarkable turn of events. Two years ago, tensions rose after Turkey downed a Russian jet fighter and Russia’s ambassador was shot and killed by an off-duty Turkish police officer.

Recently, however, Moscow has signed contracts to supply its southern neighbor with more natural gas, a nuclear power plant and an advanced antimissile shield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 26.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 26. PHOTO: VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH/KREMLIN/SPUTNIK/REUTERS

In contrast, relations between Turkey and the U.S. have soured.

Mr. Erdogan has accused Washington of waging an economic war against Turkey. Over the weekend, he lamented the lack of action on his demand that the U.S. deport a cleric he has said was behind a failed coup in 2016. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has denied the accusation.

Manifestations of anti-U.S. sentiment have multiplied on social networks, where some people posted videos of themselves burning dollar bills and breaking U.S. electronic devices.

Hit hard by the drop in the lira, Ruhi Tas said he had tailored his own boycott.

Angry to see a $12,000 debt he contracted in dollars was ballooning in liras, the 43-year-old barber said he had decided to stop offering the “Amerikan” at his salon in the Black Sea town of Unye.

Although the male cut—short on the side and longer on the top—is very popular among youth in the region, the boycott has spread to other hairdressers, he said.

“I will resume doing the Amerikan when the dollar goes down,” he said, adding he had support from clients. “Tell the U.S. not to mess with Turkey.”

Despite using inflammatory language against the U.S., Mr. Erdogan has avoided direct attacks on President Trump, Turkish officials said, signaling that a compromise on the issue of the pastor, Andrew Brunson, was still possible. On Tuesday, the pastor’s lawyer said he had filed a new motion to Turkish courts, asking his client be released from house arrest and given back his passport.

Some analysts, meanwhile, said they expect Mr. Erdogan to forge closer ties with the European Union, which relies on Turkey’s help to contain migrant flows, and remain committed to NATO.

The U.S.-Turkey spat “is a bilateral issue and will remain so,” said Unal Cevikoz, a retired ambassador who served in Russia. “Mr. Erdogan will not dare leave NATO.”

In Turkey and the U.S., the business community warned about possible catastrophic consequences and urged the two sides to avoid stoking tensions.

“Actions that heighten these tensions risk spreading today’s financial challenges to other emerging markets, to European banks, and, ultimately, to the U.S. economy,” said Myron Brilliant, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting of the foreign ministers in Ankara concerned the war in Syria.

In the spring, Russia, one of the main sponsors of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, permitted Turkey to occupy a town in northwestern Syria to repel Kurdish militants whom the U.S. considers allies but Ankara regards as a terrorist threat.

In Ankara on Tuesday, Mr. Cavusoglu urged Mr. Lavrov to help contain the regime’s rush to retake the town of Idlib, around which Ankara has positioned military observers.

“It would be a massacre to bomb the whole of Idlib just because there are some terrorists inside,” he said.

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 15, 2018, print edition as ‘Turkey Shifts Closer to Russia.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/turkey-shifts-closer-to-russia-1534289856

UN report: Up to 30,000 Islamic State members in Syria, Iraq

August 14, 2018

Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran are working with Ayman al-Zawahri and ‘have grown more prominent’; Islamic State transforming from ‘proto-state’ to covert terrorist network

FILE - In this June 16, 2014. file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they carry the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq (AP Photo, File)

FILE – In this June 16, 2014. file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they carry the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq (AP Photo, File)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Islamic State extremist group has up to 30,000 members roughly equally distributed between Syria and Iraq and its global network poses a rising threat — as does al-Qaeda, which is much stronger in places, a United Nations report says.

The report by UN experts circulated Monday said that despite the defeat of IS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the militant group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

The experts said al-Qaeda’s global network also “continues to show resilience,” with its affiliates and allies much stronger than IS in some spots, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and Africa’s Sahel region.

Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran “have grown more prominent” and have been working with the extremist group’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, “projecting his authority more effectively than he could previously” including on events in Syria, the experts said.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a still image from a web posting by the terrorist organization’s media arm, as-Sahab, July 27, 2011 (photo credit: AP)

The report to the Security Council by experts monitoring sanctions against IS and al-Qaeda said the estimate of the current total IS membership in Iraq and Syria came from governments it did not identify. The estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000 members includes “a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” it said.

While many IS fighters, planners and commanders have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily “and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas.”

IS fighters swept into Iraq in the summer of 2014, taking control of nearly a third of the country. At the height of the group’s power its self-proclaimed caliphate stretched from the edges of Aleppo in Syria to just north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

In this file photo released on Sunday, April 22, 2018 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, smoke rises after Syrian government airstrikes and shelling hit in Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood held by Islamic State militants, southern Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP)

With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, the Islamic State movement is transforming from a “proto-state” to a covert “terrorist” network, “a process that is most advanced in Iraq” because it still controls pockets in Syria, the report said.

The experts said the discipline imposed by IS remains intact and IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “remains in authority” despite reports that he was injured.

“It is just more delegated than before, by necessity, to the wider network outside the conflict zone,” the experts said.

The flow of foreign fighters to IS in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, they said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge.”

A member of Iraqi government forces inspects a burnt vehicle with a flag of the Islamic State (IS) on its top after they retook an area from jihadists on April 2, 2016 in the village of Al-Mamoura, near Hit, a Euphrates Valley town located about 145 kilometers west of Baghdad in the western province of Anbar. (Moadh al-Dulaimi/AFP)

While the rate of terrorist attacks has fallen in Europe, the experts said some governments “assess that the underlying drivers of terrorism are all present and perhaps more acute than ever before.” This suggests that any reduction in attacks is likely to be temporary until IS recovers and reorganizes and al-Qaeda “increases its international terrorist activity or other organizations emerge in the terrorist arena,” they said.

The experts looked at the threats posed by IS and al-Qaeda by region:

—ARABIAN PENINSULA: Al-Qaeda’s leaders recognize Yemen “as a venue for guerrilla-style attacks and a hub for regional operations.” Yemen’s lack of a strong central government “has provided a fertile environment for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” Its strength inside Yemen is estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000, compared with only 250 to 500 IS members in the conflict-wracked country.

—NORTH AFRICA: Despite the loss to IS of the Libyan city of Sirte and continued airstrikes, the extremist group “still has the capacity to launch significant attacks within Libya and across the border, reverting to asymmetric tactics and improvised explosive devises.” Estimates of IS members vary between 3,000 and 4,000, dispersed across Libya. Up to 1,000 fighters in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula have pledged allegiance to IS leader al-Baghdadi. Al-Qaeda is also continuing a resurgence in Libya.

This image taken from video shows a foreign hostage who was among seven seized in Niger in 2010 by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Seated on the left is Abou Zeid (photo credit: AP/SITE)

This image taken from video shows a foreign hostage who was among seven seized in Niger in 2010 by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Seated on the left is Abou Zeid (photo credit: AP/SITE)

—WEST AFRICA: An al-Qaeda-affiliated coalition has increased attacks on French, US, UN and other international interests in the Sahel. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has urged attacks on French private companies. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara is active mostly at the Mali-Niger border and has less of a footprint. “Member states assess that terrorists are taking advantage of territorial control and ethnic conflicts to radicalize populations.”

—EAST AFRICA: The al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia, an al-Qaeda affiliate, “remains the dominant terrorist group” in that country, with improvised explosive devices “its weapon of choice.” Despite sustained military action against al-Shabab, “the group has enhanced its capabilities as it retains its influence and appeal.” Member states said IS in Somalia “is fragile and operationally weak,” but “it still presents a threat” because the country remains a focus for possible future operations.

Police forensics officers works next to an underground train at a platform at Parsons Green underground station in west London on September 15, 2017, following an explosion, later claimed by Islamic State, which injured 29 people. (AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

—EUROPE: During the first six months of 2018, “the threat in Europe remained high” but “the tempo of attacks and disrupted plots was lower than during the same period in 2017.” Much activity involved individuals with no prior security records or deemed low risk. IS used the media to urge sympathizers in Europe to conduct attacks in their home countries. Member states expressed concern that returnees could disseminate knowledge and skills related to making drones, explosive devices and car bombs.

—CENTRAL AND SOUTH ASIA: According to an unidentified U.N. member state, IS poses an immediate threat in the region but al-Qaeda is the “intellectually stronger group” and poses a longer-term threat. Some leaders of the al-Qaeda “core,” including al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, are reported to be in Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. IS continues to relocate some key operatives to Afghanistan. One unidentified government reported newly arrived IS fighters from Algeria, France, Russia, Tunisia and central Asian states.

—SOUTHEAST ASIA: Despite last year’s heavy losses in the Philippines, IS affiliates in the country “are cash rich and growing in membership.” Intermediaries facilitated financial transfers from the IS “core” to Philippines affiliates and arranged bomb-making and firearms training for recruits from Indonesia at camps in the Philippines. Attacks in Indonesia by an IS-linked network using families as suicide bombers could become “a troubling precedent.”

NATO Should End Turkey’s Membership — Turkey is more aligned with Russia, China, Iran now

August 14, 2018

Ankara, helped by China and Russia, is vandalizing Western interests.

President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels, July 11.
President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels, July 11. PHOTO: TATYANA ZENKOVICH/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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U.S.-Turkish relations are mired in the worst crisis of their history. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is demanding that President Trump turn over Mr. Erdogan’s sworn enemy, Fethullah Gülen. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, seeks the release of the American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned on the pretext that he had been involved in Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt. The U.S. government has levied economic sanctions on two senior Turkish officials, akin to those imposed on Russian oligarchs after the seizure of Crimea. Turkey responded by freezing the plainly nonexistent Turkish assets of two Trump cabinet members.

As tempers flare and accusations proliferate, it’s worth underscoring what is taking place: an unprecedented standoff between the presidents of two North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries.

The two leaders—recognizing one’s America First and the other’s New Turkey as opposing faces of the same populism—may soon come off their testosterone high and stage-manage a spectacular reconciliation. Mr. Trump has shown himself capable of this with Kim Jong Un. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan, sensitive to his country’s currency woes and dependence on foreign investment, will be looking for a way to halt the escalation without losing face. The conflict nonetheless points to a deeper rift that is too serious to ignore.

As Western democracies worked to stop the spread of Islamist extremism in the Middle East, Turkey and its intelligence services engaged in a double game. Witness the government’s delivery of arms to groups affiliated with al Qaeda and later Islamic State in January 2014—several months before the latter’s pivotal siege of Kobani.

Or consider the all-out offensive by Turkish planes and artillery against a Kurdish enclave in northeastern Syria earlier this year. Afrin, like the Manbij zone near Aleppo, was under Western protection. Yet the U.S. condoned the attack on its staunchest and most courageous allies in the region, even announcing the pullback of its own troops shortly after.

Between these two outrages, as if to highlight more clearly his neo-Ottoman ambitions, Mr. Erdogan posed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and—in Ankara this April—with both! The trio met at a summit called to find a “solution” to the violence in Syria that they have fomented, spitting in the face of every friend of democracy and international law.

Mr. Erdogan’s relations with Mr. Putin are not limited to photo-ops. The sultan-in-the-making, who already had signed an agreement with the Kremlin to build massive nuclear power plants in Turkey, turned again to Moscow late last year for S-400 antiaircraft missiles that could pose compatibility problems with NATO weapons systems. Mr. Erdogan is going forward with the provocation even after the U.S. suggested it could jeopardize the Pentagon’s promised delivery of F-35 jet fighters.

At the 10th annual summit of the Brics nations, held in Johannesburg in late July, Mr. Erdogan was received as a guest of honor. There he very conspicuously raised the prospect of a strategic rapprochement with Xi Jinping’s China—and, once again, Mr. Putin’s Russia.

Mr. Erdogan’s ambition of resurrecting the ancient Turkic empire has snuffed out the secular, modern ideals of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Leaders of other illiberal states across Eurasia help him along, dreaming variously of reviving the caliphate; restoring the China of the Han, Ming, and Qing dynasties; re-creating a czarist empire; and bringing back the reign of the Achaemenid and Persian kings.

The U.S.-Turkish crisis is about much more than the egos of two phony tough guys. We must ask, calmly but unflinchingly, about the wisdom of our relations with an admittedly great country possessed of a great civilization that is no longer a friend or ally. Should the West continue to share military secrets on which our collective security depends with a capital that is forming strategic partnerships with the powers most hostile to us?

Mr. Trump said on July 11 that Mr. Erdogan “does things the right way.” The rest of us cannot say the same of a leader who increasingly opposes the West on virtually all of the issues on which liberal civilization depends.

Not long ago Europeans were debating, prematurely, whether to admit Turkey to the European Union. Now the time has come for the West collectively to demand not simply the release of a hostage, but the expulsion of Turkey from NATO.

Mr. Lévy is author of “The Empire and the Five Kings,” forthcoming from Henry Holt. This op-ed was translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-should-give-turkey-the-boot-1534201627

Russia’s Lavrov to discuss planned four-way Syria summit in Ankara

August 13, 2018
(AFP photo)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday a four-way Syria summit “is planned in the upcoming future,” with the leaders of Russia, France, Turkey and Germany attending.

It said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Ankara on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the four-way meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

Reuters

Israel’s Military Prepares to Fight Hezbollah

August 13, 2018

Recognizing unique threats posed by terror groups, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drills for reorganization that would dissolve established units into unified fighting force; anti-drone laser also tested

August 13, 2018
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Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.

The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.

The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.

The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.

The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.

The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.

Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.

Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.

Israeli tanks take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.

According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.

 

Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.

“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.

The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.

“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.

The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.

It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.

“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-fight-against-hezbollah-army-tries-out-combat-reshuffle/

Syria: Assad’s ties to ISIS are another reason US troops need to stay

August 13, 2018

A Daily Beast report last week on the horrors of a recent ISIS attack in Syria, and the Assad regime and Russia’s suspected role in it, offers fresh grounds for a continued US presence in the region.

The July 25 onslaught by 400 Islamic State fighters left 200-plus Druze dead, 200 more injured and several dozen others — women, teens, babies — kidnapped. A 19-year-old was later beheaded.

New York Post
Editorial

Druze leaders, the report notes, believe the massacre was punishment by Bashar al-Assad for their turning down a request by Russian military officials to join regime troops and their Russian- and Iranian-backed allies in a hit on militants in Idlib. (The Druze want to remain neutral.)

As evidence of Assad’s complicity, Druze spokesmen point to regime moves just before the ISIS attack: Electricity and phone service cut off; troops withdrawn from checkpoints, giving the attackers ready access to Druze villages. Afterward, Assad also refused to send ambulances to help victims.

A government official even escorted ISIS fighters to kill Druze in their homes, a captured militant admits in a video.

Syrian dictator Assad has long claimed the now 7-year-old war is an effort to stop jihadi terrorists. But evidence shows he has actually often allied with ISIS.

The Druze now face threats from regime and ISIS fighters (several thousand are still active in Syria) and their Russian and Iranian allies. They’re seeking an international force to protect them, along with Yazidis, Christians and Kurds, much as US troops safeguard Kurds elsewhere in the area.

The putrid stew of bad actors — Iran, Russia, ISIS, other jihadis, Turks and the murderous Syrian regime itself — argues against Washington abandoning the area any time soon, despite President Trump’s hopes to do so.

Cede ground to the thugs, and the attack on the Druze will look like a picnic compared to what comes next.

FILED UNDER         
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Putin pledges deeper ties with Iran and other Caspian Sea states

August 12, 2018

End to quarrel over world’s biggest lake boosts Russia’s hold over region

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and suit

Russian president Vladimir Putin (left) and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the Caspian summit in Aktau, Kazakhstan on Sunday © AFP

By Henry Foy in Aktau

Russia has pledged to deepen co-operation with Iran and its Central Asian neighbours through a landmark deal on carving up the Caspian Sea, potentially paving the way for long-stalled energy projects and confirming Russia’s military supremacy over the world’s biggest lake.

The Caspian’s littoral states of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan have quarrelled for more than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union over how to divide the strategically-important landlocked sea. On Sunday they signed a deal to manage a resource that holds large hydrocarbon resources and is a bridge between Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“This is an exceptional summit with milestone significance for the fate of the Caspian Sea,” Russian president Vladimir Putin told his fellow leaders. “This gives an opportunity for us to be on a different level of partnership to develop our co-operation in various new directions.”

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said he welcomed his four partners’ support for the country following the US decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action curtailing Tehran’s nuclear programme and reimpose sanctions on the country.

“It is gratifying that the Caspian countries emphasise multilateralism and oppose unilateral actions that are developing in some countries,” said Mr Rouhani. “The Caspian countries emphasise the protection of the JCPOA as a valuable international arrangement.”

Moscow has long viewed the Caspian within its sphere of influence and has sought to block any attempts to dilute its clout or thwart regional projects such as Turkmenistan’s proposed undersea gas pipeline that would allow it to compete with Russian gas in Europe.

But Mr Putin’s administration agreed to Sunday’s convention as a means to develop warmer ties with Iran, and strengthen co-operation with its Central Asian neighbours amid attempts by China and the US to increase their presence in the region. In exchange Russia gains a ban on any military presence on the Caspian by non-signatories, in effect giving its navy full control over the waves.

“Russia has been the driving force between the recent progress . . . but it remains to be seen whether Moscow has actually given anything away,” said Camilla Hagelund, principal analyst for Central Asia at Verisk Maplecroft. “And from a security perspective they have obviously gained here.”

“But there is ambiguity over the other bilateral agreements that are being signed relating to the Caspian, and how they might affect how this new convention will operate in practice,” she added.

Various bilateral agreements behind the scenes have brought the five parties to the negotiating table. Russia has said it could be willing to restart imports of Turkmenistan gas, in a move that would represent an economic lifeline for the small country’s struggling economy, while Azerbaijan is also keen to increase gas imports to make up for a shortfall in its own production.

Sunday’s convention, signed by the five countries’ presidents in the dusty city of Aktau on the Caspian’s Kazakh coast, seeks to end a generation-long disagreement over whether it should be treated as a sea, subject to international maritime law, or as a lake, divided between all the participants.

The Caspian’s surface water will be treated like a sea, with open water for common use. The seabed and subsoil will in effect be divided up like dry land, although the exact details of the demarcations have not yet been decided.

Reaching this consensus on the status of the sea was a difficult process. It required a lot of effort from all the parties

That will allow undersea pipeline construction with the agreement of the affected states, ending years of legal issues for the proposed Turkmen pipeline. It will also allow for stronger cross-water trade, deepening economic ties between the countries.

“Reaching this consensus on the status of the sea was a difficult process,” said Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president. “It required a lot of effort from all the parties . . . but now we have good will.”

The ban on any foreign military presence is a victory for Moscow, and in effect blocks Nato or China from using the Caspian to deepen co-operation with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan. Moscow has used its naval fleet in the Caspian to fire cruise missiles into Syria during its military support for President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Putin said on Sunday that Russia planned to build a new deepwater port on the sea by 2025.

“Nearby there are unstable regions: the Middle East and Afghanistan,” Mr Putin said. “It is important for us to build a systematic front against terrorism and security issues.”

Moscow is also keen to use the Caspian to further develop relations with Tehran. The countries are allied over support for Mr al-Assad, and both find themselves increasingly cut off from global markets because of US sanctions.

The two governments have stepped up talks in recent months on allowing Russian oil and gas companies to develop fields in Iran, in place of western companies that have withdrawn under pressure from Washington.

Moscow has also hinted at potential deals for Russian energy groups to trade Iranian oil in exchange for increased purchases of Russian goods and services by their southern neighbour.

“Our region could be a good example of stability, friendship and a good neighbourhood,” said Mr Rouhani. “The Caspian Sea only belongs to the Caspian states. The deployment and placement of military assets is not allowed for other countries.”

Follow Henry on Twitter at @HenryJFoy

https://www.ft.com/content/93c52100-9e16-11e8-85da-eeb7a9ce36e4

Three ‘terrorists’ killed, five detained in Jordan raid

August 12, 2018

Jordanian security forces have killed three “terrorists” and arrested five others during a raid after an officer was killed in a bomb blast near the capital, the government said Sunday.

Three members of the security forces also died in Saturday’s raid, which came after the home-made bomb exploded under a patrol car at a music festival.

A joint unit of special forces, police and army troops raided a house in the town of Salt northwest of Amman in search of a suspected “terrorist cell”, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said.

Three members of the security forces were killed in a shootout with gunmen holed up in a building, she said.

© afp/AFP/File | Jordanian security forces are seen in December 2016 during the funeral of people killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group in the tourist destination of Karak

“The suspects refused to surrender and opened heavy fire toward a joint security force,” Ghneimat said in a statement.

e building in which they were hiding, and which they had booby-trapped earlier”, she said.

In an update early Sunday Ghneimat said that the three bodies as well as automatic weapons were found under the rubble of the building, a four-storey block of apartments.

She added that two other “terrorists” were arrested, bringing the total number of people detained in Salt since Saturday to five.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s bomb blast, which also wounded six other members of the patrol in Al-Fuhais, a mostly Christian town west of Amman.

The identities of the suspects were not known.

One of the members of the security forces wounded during the raid was in “critical condition”, Ghneimat said

“A clean-up operation is still under way,” she said, adding that units of the civil defence were at the scene to assess the damage at the building and sift through the rubble.

Ghneimat urged civilians to stay away, warning that “it could totally collapse at any minute”.

Medical sources said that 11 people were wounded during the raid, including members of the security forces and civilians.

Women and children were among those hurt, they said, without giving further details.

– Crisis cell –

Jordanian television broadcast footage of the partially collapsed building and security forces conducting search operations.

Ambulances, bulldozers and police cars were deployed around the building in the Naqab al-Dabour residential neighbourhood in Salt, the footage showed.

The government set up a crisis cell to follow the developments, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, who chaired the meeting, vowed Saturday that Jordan would “not be complacent in the hunt for terrorists”.

Bomb blasts targeting security forces are rare in Jordan, although the tiny desert kingdom has had to struggle with a rise in Muslim fundamentalism in recent years.

Jordan has played a key role in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, using its air force against the jihadists and allowing coalition forces to use its bases.

The kingdom was hit by a string of attacks in 2016, including a shooting rampage claimed by IS that killed 10 people including a Canadian tourist in Karak, known for its Crusader castle.

AFP

Palestinian flags at Israel nation-state law protest — Plot to kill Hamas leaders?

August 12, 2018

The appearance of Palestinian flags at a protest against the nation-state law has those on the right crowing and those in the center shaking their heads

August 12, 2018
Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law' in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1.Anti-flag: Israelis on the left and right saw the same protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the nation-state law Saturday night, but are drawing very different conclusions.

  • On the right, the appearance of Palestinian flags at the rally proves their point about the need for legislation enshrining the country’s Jewish character, including it’s Star of David flag, in law.
  • “Wrong flag,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “With a protest like this, who needs to explain the law,” writes Zvi Hauser, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same paper, reflecting the view of many in the government (including the prime minister) who spoke out against the flags as exposing the real face of opposition to the law.
  • The nationalist Israel National News website leads its news section with the headline “PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the fact that it doesn’t even mention the flags in the story reflects how it takes for granted that its readers will gather all they need from just those few words.

2. Flag-flogged: And it was not even just the hard right incensed by the flags’ appearance. The populist Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid cover features a picture of a flag and the headline “Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the Walla website also notes them in its top headline.

  • Yedioth notes that while there were some Israeli flags, they were outstripped by the number of Palestinian ones. “This is my flag … I have no connection to the Israeli flag,” one protester is quoted saying.
  • The protest also says that some at the protest chanted “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
  • Mohammed Barakeh, among the organizers of the protest, told ToI’s Adam Rasgon that protesters had been asked not to bring the flags, but had not listened.
  • What results is a tongue-lashing from critics of the law who now feel their protest has been tarred by the Palestinian national symbols.
  • “Organizers made a big mistake by allowing the flags,” former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter. He called the flags and chants a “free service” for those backing the nation-state law.
  • “They shot themselves in the flag,” Yoaz Hendel, another former Netanyahu aide, quips in Yedioth. “Those waving Palestinian flags … are not demanding equality or coexistence, but the erasure of the Jewish right of self determination in the state of Israel,” he writes.

3. Identity crisis: What these analyses are missing is the nuance needed to understand the place of the Palestinian flag and other Palestinian national symbols among Israel’s Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, even if they are not necessarily Palestinian nationalists.

  • As a Kafr Qassem teacher told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016, “We don’t have an identity. We are the real refugees. We have a conflict between the national side and civilian side.”
  • A reflection of this unease is the lack of outcry over a protest against the law last week that saw just as many, if not more Druze flags, since Israelis don’t fear any national aspirations by the Druze. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are viewed with deep distrust because there is a Palestinian movement, thus the reduction of the waving of a flag to a desire to subsume Israel.

4Who’s afraid of the Arabs: “The law sparked an unprecedented mass demonstration of Israeli Arabs in the heart of Tel Aviv, known as the first Hebrew city, but it also exposed the lingering duality of the Palestinian community, as it defines itself. Their show of force also demonstrated their isolation,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.

  • Shalev notes the fact that mainstream Israelis showed up to the Druze protest but shunned this one shows how they are viewed within Israeli society.
  • Addressing those like Labor head Avi Gabbay who refused to show up because of Palestinian national symbols, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg wrote on Facebook: “So there will be a flag or sign you don’t agree with. So fucking what.”
  • One person who was not afraid was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, who spoke at the rally, and whose broadsheet, the flagship paper of the Israeli left, reflects his view of the importance of the Arab-led rally.
  • The paper’s lead editorial chastises Gabbay and other members of Zionist Union for failing to show up, saying they earned a “badge of shame.”
  • “Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this,” the editorial reads.

5Swimming with sharks: The weekend saw mostly quiet on the Gaza border for a change, though Friday did see some protests and a massive fire kite managed to get tangled in the power lines of a kibbutz.

  • A picture of kids playing in a pool is used in Yedioth to represent the weekend of calm after a tense couple of days (though some may find the picture insensitive given the dire humanitarian situation and lack of clean drinking water just across the border.)
  • The calm is the fruits of Israel’s decision to reach yet another ceasefire with Hamas, despite loud protests from politicians and those on the right who see Israel as weak.
  • “Nothing has actually changed. Short of some sharp turn, which does not seem to be on the horizon, the shooting will return soon, and with it the chances for a wide operation,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • However, in Yedioth, Shimrit Meir, editor of the Arab-language al-Masdar, praises Netanyahu (a rare feat for that paper) for restraining himself rather than going to war: “One assumes we’ll have a traditional round of fighting for a few days or weeks and find ourselves picking up the phone for the Egyptian or Qatari mediator to scribble out a ceasefire. So why not just skip the days in the bomb shelters and billions spent on fighting and go straight to a long-term deal with Hamas?”

6Kill ’em all: In what may be a planned leak meant as a scare tactic to push Hamas to the table, or an actual leak of battle plans, Haaretz reports that Israel has put together a plot to assassinate Hamas’s leaders.

  • The paper writes that the army and Shin Bet see killing the top of the terror group as preferable to launching an all out-war, but notes that doing so could end up launching another round of fighting in any case, which is the understatement of the century.

7Cold Turkey: Though it has no horse in the race, Israel’s press is taking an interest in the Turkey-US spat.

  • Israel Hayom calls the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “empty threats” precipitated by the crash of the lira.
  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal calls Erdogan’s decision to threaten US President Donald Trump that he’ll start looking for new allies “the worst thing he could have done.”
  • “Those around Erdogan are trying to explain to him the terrible situation Turkey is in, and what unpopular steps he needs to take,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, meanwhile, doesn’t see much smart policy or strategy from either leader: “The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/flagging-support-7-things-to-know-for-august-12/

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