Archive for February 13, 2018

Up to 200 Russian advisers killed in last week’s clash with US forces in Syria 

February 13, 2018

Source: Up to 200 Russian advisers killed in last week’s clash with US forces in Syria – DEBKAfile

 In the first military clash between US and Russian forces in Syria, more than 200 Russian “mercenaries” are reported killed, scores more injured. 


US military sources first  reported that 100 Russian “advisers” were killed and dozens injured in a US attack on Syrian and allied pro-Iranian forces on Feb. 8. By  Tuesday, Feb. 13, those figures had doubled. Moscow has not confirmed the incident or the casualties, which would be five times more than Russian official losses since it entered the war in 2015. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment, saying the Kremlin only tracks data on the country’s armed forces. According to one Russian officer, the death toll continues to rise after scores of Russian wounded were flown to hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reported exclusively on Feb. 9 that US special forces had struck Russian military engineers laying a floating bridge on the Euphrates River near Deir ez-Zour for Syrian army, Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces to cross to the east bank. That engagement unfolded when US forces posted in eastern Syria repelled a Syrian-pro-Iranian attack led by T-72 and T-55 tanks on a base held by American and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces east of the Euphrates River near the oil town of Tabiye.

The strike force was fighting under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers. It included members of the Afghan Shiite militia imported by Tehran, pro-Assad troops of the Syrian National Defense Forces, local Arab tribesmen and Russian mercenaries. Those mercenaries were provided by Wagner, a Russian private military contractor, which supplies ground forces to fight for Assad alongside the pro-Iranian and Russian combatants.

Against that fighting strength, the Americans used F-22 Raptors, F-15 Strike Eagles, Air Force AC-130 gunships, Marine artillery and Army Apache attack helicopters, as well as Special Operations forces, which stopped the multiple assault in its tracks.

Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ in Syria

February 13, 2018
Syrian government official warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ being in store in the wake of the downing of the F-16 jet that attacked Iranian positions in the country Saturday; ‘God willing they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,’ the assistant foreign minister said.,7340,L-5111825,00.html

The Syrian government said on Tuesday that Israel would face “more surprises” in future attacks on Syria’s territory, after Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet during the fiercest flare-up between the old foes in 36 years.

Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed the F-16 as it returned from a retaliatory bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria after the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace early on Saturday. Both Iran and Russia are supporting President Bashar Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.”Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised because it thought this war—this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years—had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” assistant foreign minister Ayman Sussan said.

An official in Bashar al-Assad's regime said Syria had 'more surprises' in store for Israel (Photo: EPA)

An official in Bashar al-Assad’s regime said Syria had ‘more surprises’ in store for Israel (Photo: EPA)

“God willing they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.The downed F-16 was the first warplane Israel has lost to enemy fire since its 1982 Lebanon war. Its two-man crew survived, with injuries, after bailing out of the stricken jet.

Israel retaliated by destroying around half of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries, according to an initial assessment shared with Reuters by an Israeli official who requested anonymity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli forces would press ahead with Syria operations in Syria, where it has launched scores of sorties against suspected arms transfers to Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists.In Kiryat Shmona on Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters, “There are no limitations (on military operations), and nor do we accept any limitations … We will respond to every provocation.”

“We will continue to defend our vital security and other interests. And I would like to paraphrase the well-known saying: ‘This is not the time to bark, this is the time to bite.'”

Defense Minister Lieberman said, 'Now is the time to bite' (Photo: Effi Sharir)

Defense Minister Lieberman said, ‘Now is the time to bite’ (Photo: Effi Sharir)

Tehran’s involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel. It has also has accused Iran of building precision-guided missile factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria and Hezbollah celebrated the F-16 shoot-down as a blow to Israeli military superiority. Israel’s Army Radio said on Tuesday that investigators believed pilot error—rather than Syrian capabilities—were mainly at fault for the F-16’s failure to evade what was probably an aged SA-5 missile.

Saturday’s incident stirred up further questions in Israel about the effectiveness of a coordination mechanism set up with Russia, which has also been reinforcing and arming Assad’s army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the flare-up by urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to avoid escalation in Syria. Moscow said on Monday it did not have information to support Israel’s allegation about an Iranian military presence in the site bombed for launching the drone.

Minister Elkin (center) was present at the meeting between Russian President Putin (L) and PM Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Minister Elkin (center) was present at the meeting between Russian President Putin (L) and PM Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Ze’ev Elkin, a Russian-speaking Israeli cabinet minister who serves as Netanyahu’s interpreter in the talks with Putin, defended the coordination mechanism on Tuesday as granting Israel “freedom of action in the skies above Lebanon and Syria.”

“I don’t think the Russians ever pledged that they would take military action against the Iranians and the Syrians for us,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

“We are going one-on-one against the Syrians. We don’t need assistance from the Russians. We know how to deal with Syrian anti-aircraft fire, as everyone ultimately saw.”


Erdogan: We have suffered from Ottoman aftermath

February 13, 2018

This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The two will likely discuss the US’ support of the Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Valerie Berkley
Protestor demonstrates against Turkish violence against Kurds Photo Credit: Gili Yaari /Flash90

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to visit Turkey this week to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two are likely to discuss the ongoing civil war in Syria and the US’ decision to back the Kurdish rebel group, YPG.

The two countries remain divided about the respective attitudes towards the Kurds, in Syria and Turkey. The US financially supports Kurdish organizations that Turkey considers to be dangerous terrorist organizations, which threaten stability in Turkey. More than 20% of Turkey’s citizens are Kurds. Erdogan stated, “Anyone interfering in Northern Syria has not suffered from Ottoman repercussions.”

Erdogan said during a speech to Turkish parliament “Turkey was furious at the US for its support of the Kurdish militias.” Erdogan spoke to members of the Turkish Justice and Development Party following the publication of the US Defense Department budget for 2019, which includes funds to train local forces in the struggle against the Islamic State in Syria. Erdogan stated, “Our ally’s decisions to support the YPG will affect our policy.”

Last month, Turkey launched an invasion of Syria intended to push the YPG out of the Ofrin region, near the southern boundary. During the speech, Erdogan sent a clear message and warned the American forces stationed in Syria not to interfere with the operation.

Breaking point? Turkey demands ‘concrete steps’ from US while Washington wavers

February 13, 2018
Turkish forces wave a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria, on January 28, 2018. © Khalil Ashawi / Reuters
Strained relations between Turkey and the US seem to have reached a critical point. Ankara is seeking clarity from the US, threatening to ‘break’ ties. Washington meanwhile continues to hide behind vague statements.

US actions are the reason for the “missing trust” between the two NATO allies, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists on Monday. He went on to say Ankara expects “concrete steps” from Washington, aimed at mending ties that have almost reached the point of no return.

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General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. © Umit Bektas

Turkey’s “ties with the US are at [a] very critical point,” the minister said. The two sides “will either fix these relations or they will break [down] completely,” he added. Ankara was provoked by the mixed signals coming from the US about its support for Kurdish militias in Syria amid the ongoing Turkish military campaign against these forces in Afrin.

The US has tried to prove to Ankara that it takes its interests in Syria seriously. Late in 2017, US President Donald Trump promised to end arms supplies to the Kurds. In January 2018, Washington repeated this promise, when US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin that the US would no longer provide weapons to fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

At the same time, Washington also made it clear that US troops would not leave Manbij – another northern Syrian town controlled by the Kurdish militias – even though Ankara said it could extend its operation into this area. Nor is it apparently ready to end support for the “Kurdish elements of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces],” an umbrella Syrian armed opposition group.

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FILE PHOTO: American army vehicles drive north of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria March 9, 2017. © Rodi Said

On Sunday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted that “some of the Syrian Democratic Forces” had been “drawn off” from the battle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), to the Afrin area by what he called a “distraction,” apparently referring to the Turkish operation. He went on to say that around 50 percent of all SDF fighters are Kurds, who “see their fellow Kurds in Afrin under attack.” The Pentagon chief made no indication that Washington tries to prevent its allies on the ground from aiding those whom Ankara considers terrorists.

That did not, however, stop Mattis from calling Turkey’s reasons for waging a military campaign in the region legitimate. “They [Turkey] have a legitimate security concern, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria,” he said, adding that the US is “assisting Turkey” and is “going to work closely” with Ankara.

However, Turkish officials do not seem to be satisfied with these ambiguous statements anymore. “Our demands from the US are clear and have already been conveyed. We no longer want to hear about promises; we want to hear about concrete steps. Trust needs to be rebuilt so we can start to talk about some issues,” Cavusoglu said on Monday.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. © Christian Hartmann

His words were echoed by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who urged Washington to “pull itself together and make a sound decision.” “America’s decision to fight against one terror organization with the cooperation of another terror organization has nothing to do with dignity of a state,” Yildirim told reporters.

The Turkish officials went as far to accuse the US of deliberately sparing terrorists in its operations to justify the extension of its cooperation with Kurdish forces in Syria. “The US is not touching [IS] members in Syria [to have] an excuse to continue working with the YPG,” Cavusoglu said.

The Turkish military operation in the Kurdish area of Afrin entered its fourth week on February 10. Ankara also repeatedly said it plans to expand it with Manbij and Idlib being mentioned as the possible next targets.

In the meantime, Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, seems to be straining its relations with other allies. During the first week of the Afrin campaign, Germany froze all decisions on supplying weapons to Ankara, including upgrades to the German-made Leopard tanks used by Turkish troops. Later, the French president and foreign minister warned Ankara against the invasion and accused it of “adding war to war.”


February 13, 2018

BY HERB KEINON FEBRUARY 13, 2018 01:33 Jerusalem Post

Source Link:

{I wonder just how much sway he has in all this. – LS}

“Assad and Hezbollah are the same, and if there will be an attack against us, we will not be obligated only to act against the the source of the attack.”

Israel views Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime as the weak link in the Iranian-Shi’a axis, and Assad should keep that in mind when weighing whether or not to let Iran set up military bases in his country or transfer precision missiles to Hezbollah, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday.

Steinitz – a member of the 12-member security cabinet that discussed on Sunday possible next steps following Saturday’s incursion by an Iranian drone and the ensuing downing of an Israeli F-16 – hinted broadly in an Army Radio interview that Israel would act against Assad if Iran crosses the red lines that Israel has established.

 The first red line, he said, was turning Syrian into a “forward” military base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, including intelligence, naval and air-force bases.

The second red line, he said, was that Syria would enable Iran to upgrade Hezbollah’s missile capabilities by turning those missiles into precision weapons that would constitute a much greater threat to Israel than they currently are.

Today there is no difference between Syria and Lebanon, Steinitz said, and the Syrian army and Hezbollah are two arms doing Iran’s bidding.

“Assad and Hezbollah are the same, and if there will be an attack against us, we will not be obligated to act only against the source of the attack,” he said. “We will reserve the right to choose the right front.”

For example, Steinitz said, “the Assad regime is the weak link in the Iranian-Shi’a axis, and I think Assad should think very well whether he wants to turn Syria into a forward base for Iran or allow precision missiles through Syria to Lebanon, because he himself, his regime, his government and his army can be hurt in that situation.”

Meanwhile, Britain joined the US on Monday in standing behind Israel following Saturday’s developments in the North. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement saying the United Kingdom is “concerned at developments over Israel’s border with Syria this weekend.”

“We support Israel’s right to defend itself against any incursions into its territory,” the statement said. “We are concerned at the Iranian actions, which detract from efforts to get a genuine peace process underway. We encourage Russia to use its influence to press the regime and its backers to avoid provocative actions and to support de-escalation in pursuit of a broader political settlement.”

No such similar statement has been issued by EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini.

On Sunday, the White House issued a statement saying the US supports Israel’s “right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria.”

This is a message that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to deliver when he goes to Lebanon later this week as part of a five-county tour of the Mideast, including Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

On the first stop of his tour in Cairo on Monday, however, the focus was on other issues, with Tillerson saying the US supports Egypt’s fight against Islamic State. But he reiterated that the US advocates free and fair elections there.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Tillerson said Washington remains committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Regarding US-Egypt relations, Tillerson said: “We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures.

The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment to continue to support Egypt in its fight against terrorism and bringing security to the Egyptian people is steadfast.”

The Egyptian military campaign comes ahead of a presidential election in March, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking a second term in office.

Asked about the election, Tillerson said the United States supports a credible, transparent election in Egypt and Libya.

“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections – not just in Egypt but in any country,” he said.

“The US is always going to advocate for an electoral process that respects the rights of citizens,” Tillerson told journalists, adding that the US was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery.

Netanyahu says he’s talking with Trump about annexing areas of Judea and Samaria

February 13, 2018

February 12, 2018

US President Donald Trump (L) and PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Netanyahu says he’s been discussing Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria with the White House for quite some time.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

At a Likud faction meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his colleagues that he is in close contact with the Trump administration regarding the possibility of applying Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.

This follows hard on the heels of Sunday’s meeting of coalition heads in which it was decided to postpone an upcoming vote at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on an annexation bill sponsored by Likud Member of Knesset Yoav Kisch. The official reason given for the delay was the aftermath of the Israel Air Force’s incursion into Syria after an Iranian drone, launched from Syria, violated Israeli airspace over the weekend and was destroyed.

However, as Netanyahu has said many times before in connection with proactive moves regarding Judea and Samaria, it is of utmost important to the prime minister to coordinate such decisions with the Americans.

“I’m guided by two principles in this issue,” he said. “Optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement, and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one, because it would be a historic move.”

The proposed bill is a copy of the resolution on sovereignty that recently passed in the Likud Central Committee by a unanimous vote.

“It’s time to put the Likud Central Committee’s resolution into practice and begin applying sovereignty over the settlement areas in Judea and Samaria,” Kisch said. “There will be no better historic opportunity to do this.”