Archive for February 19, 2018

Russia condemns Iran for calling for Israel to be wiped off map

February 19, 2018

The Russian foreign minister stressed today that Moscow does not support the Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction. “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map,” the top diplomat said, as quoted by TASS.

Becca Noy
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Photo Credit:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a rare rebuke of Tehran on Monday as he sat next to his Iranian counterpart. Speaking at the opening of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s conference in Moscow, Lavrov slammed Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests,” Lavrov said, as quoted by Russia’s TASS News Agency.

“By the same token, we oppose attempts to view any regional problem through the prism of fighting Iran,” he stressed. “This is happening in Syria, Yemen and even the latest developments around the Palestinian issue, including Washington’s announcement of its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, are largely motivated by this anti-Iranian stance.”

Yesterday evening, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to a warning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued at the Munich Security Conference earlier that day. “Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” Netanyahu said. “We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.”

“Well, if they try to exercise that threat, they will see the response,” Zarif told NBC’s Bill Neely in an interview.

U.S. Overtures to Hezbollah Suggest Internal Trump Admin Battle

February 19, 2018

Trump admin divided on crushing Hezbollah, bringing into political process

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah attend a rally

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah attend a rally / Getty Images


A top Trump administration official this week said the United States see a role for the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah in political discussions about the future of Lebanon, a decision that is raising concerns about internal divisions inside the Trump administration, according to recent statements and sources close to the administration who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in remarks during a trip through the Middle East this week, said the United States recognizes Hezbollah is part of the political process in Lebanon as global leaders gather to discuss the Middle Eastern country’s future.

Despite the terrorist group’s unhelpful influence, Tillerson said “we also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon.”

Tillerson’s remarks raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C., where some foreign policy officials questioned how the United States would hold diplomatic discussions with Hezbollah as the Trump administration also works to dismantle the group and crush its financial networks.

The comments starkly contradict efforts by the U.S. Treasury Department, which declared earlier this month that Hezbollah has no legitimate role to play in governance of Lebanon or other Arab countries Iran is seeking to destabilize.

Some officials remain concerned that treating Hezbollah as a legitimate actor in Lebanon—where it has amassed thousands of Iranian-built missiles on Israel’s northern border—will provide legitimacy to the terror group and make it even more difficult for the Trump administration to target it with sanctions.

Speaking in Jordan on Wednesday, ahead of his travel to Beirut, Tillerson told reporters that Hezbollah must be part of any political process discussing Lebanon’s future following the resignation of the country’s prime minister, who disclosed upon his resignation that Hezbollah has assumed de facto control of the nation.

“We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. “This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future.”

However, “we also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon,” Tillerson said. “I think Lebanon is taking positive steps with their law on disassociation that was passed last year to send a signal as to their view that they do not want to see any of Lebanese Hezbollah involved in foreign conflicts and have asked that they bring all of their people back from the conflict in Yemen.”

Though Tillerson subsequently gave a speech that seemed to walk back his previous comments, his initial remarks drew criticism, where some foreign policy analysts accused him of boosting and legitimizing Hezbollah’s role.

Asked on Thursday afternoon to clarify Tillerson’s remarks, a State Department official told the Free Beacon that while Hezbollah must be part of the political process regarding Lebanon’s future, the administration still considers it a terrorist organization.

“No, absolutely not,” a State Department officials said in response to questions about whether the administration sees a future for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “As the secretary said this morning in his press avail with Prime Minister Hariri in Beirut, ‘The United States has considered Hezbollah a terrorist organization for more than two decades.'”

The latest comments by Tillerson could signal internal disagreement in the Trump administration about how to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. As the State Department seeks to bring it into the political process, the Treasury Department has amped up efforts to sanction the terror group and dismantle its financial networks.

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans, “Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a statement earlier this month announcing tough new sanctions on Hezbollah.

“It is also Iran’s primary proxy used to undermine legitimate Arab governments across the Middle East. The administration is determined to expose and disrupt Hezbollah’s networks, including those across the Middle East and West Africa, used to fund their illicit operations,” Mnuchin said. “The Treasury Department will continue to sever Hezbollah from the international financial system, and we will be relentless in identifying, exposing, and dismantling Hezbollah’s financial support networks globally.”

Asked about the State Department’s clarification, an Iran policy expert who has worked closely with the Trump administration on the issue said it shows signs that the administration is divided about how to approach the problem.

“The sad truth is the Trump administration doesn’t have a coherent policy on Lebanon. The president knows what he wants, which is to aggressively roll Iran back. There are parts of the administration where people seem committed to carrying out his policy, like Treasury’s sanctions division, which has been trying to sanction Hezbollah into the stone age,” according to the expert.

“But then you’ve got the State Department, which seems committed to maintaining a role for Hezbollah, and therefore Iran, in Lebanon. It’s from top to bottom. Even our ambassador in Beirut is an Obama holdover who sends along manufactured cables and papers about how Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s political process. They’re barely even trying to hide it.”

Clifford May, founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said there should be no ambiguity in U.S. policy towards Hezbollah, an armed terror group responsible for the deaths of Americans.

“Secretary Tillerson’s initial statement was, at best, ambiguous. His subsequent clarification was not,” May said. “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Americans. It is the obedient agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“There is no separation between its military and political wings—they are attached to the same bird,” May said. “Hezbollah’s armed forces are dominant in the country—the Lebanese Armed Forces are no match—and they answer to Tehran. I expect Secretary Tillerson understands all that and will, sooner rather than later, act on that understanding.”

A Treasury Department spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Turkey will confront Syrian troops entering Afrin to protect Kurds — FM

February 19, 2018

Published time: 19 Feb, 2018 14:57

Turkish forces are seen at Mount Barsaya in northeast of Afrin, January 28, 2018 / Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

On the back of reports that Syrian pro-government forces are to enter Afrin, Ankara said “no one can stop” its soldiers if “the regime” comes to help Kurdish militias, but added that Syrians fighting them will be “no problem.”

Turkish troops will respond to Syrian pro-government forces entering the northwest Afrin province depending on their objective, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday after meeting his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Amman.

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Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen next to military trucks in Northern Afrin countryside, Syria, February 16, 2018 © Khalil Ashawi

“If the regime enters [Afrin] to clear out the YPG, then there is no problem,” Cavusoglu said, as cited by state news agency Anadolu. However, he added: “If they are entering [Afrin] to provide protection to the YPG, then no one can stop Turkey or Turkish soldiers.”

The minister’s remarks follow media reports indicating that pro-government Syrian forces are expected to enter Afrin in a matter of hours. Earlier on Monday, Syria’s news agency SANA reported the troops are preparing to move into the province to support the locals “facing aggression” from Turkey.

Earlier, adviser to the Kurdish administration Badran Jia Kurd said a deal has been reached to allow Syrian forces into the embattled area. “When it comes to the political and administrative matters in the region, it will be agreed upon with Damascus in the later stages through direct negotiations and discussions,” he told Reuters. On the official level, the Syrian government did not confirm that an agreement had been reached, and the Kurdish militia confirmed only that a request had been made for Syrian forces to protect Afrin. Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in January this year, with the stated goal of securing its borders against Syria’s YPG Kurdish militia, whom Ankara considers terrorists. Later, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation may spread beyond Afrin, going further into Syria’s Idlib province. In early October, Turkish military forces were deployed to the province to monitor one of four de-escalation zones located there. The proposal to establish the zones — brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran — was finalized in September last year at a round of Syrian peace talks in Astana.

US must immediately leave area it controls in southern Syria — Lavrov

February 19, 2018
US troops must immediately shut down their zone of control in southern Syria in the area of Al-Tanf, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested when asked what should be done to help the Syrian peace settlement.

Lavrov was referring to an area on Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq, which the US declared to be under its protection last year. Among other things, it contains the Rukban refugee camp. The facility is apparently used by radical militants, including members of UN-designated terrorist group best known by its former name Al-Nusra Front, to recover and raid other parts of Syria, Lavrov said at the Valdai Club conference on the Middle East in Moscow. The US is turning a blind eye to such abuses of its protection, he added.

“Inside the Al-Tanf zone, which the Americans unilaterally declared under their protection, and inside the refugee camp jihadists are regularly reported to recover strength. On several occasions they conducted raids from there into other territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. This zone must be shut down immediately,” the Russian minister said.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S soldiers ride a military vehicle in al-Kherbeh village, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 24, 2016. © Khalil Ashawi

“Our colleagues from the UN for some reason are hesitant to say that humanitarian convoys cannot get into this US-controlled area because the US would not guarantee their safety,” Lavrov added. “Instead they focus attention on the humanitarian situation in Idlib or Eastern Ghouta.”

The minister added Russia has mounting evidence that the US has no intention to oppose this jihadist group in earnest.

The response came after a question from the think tank International Crisis Group about what “Russia could do more” in Syria to prevent an escalation of violence there, particularly between Iran and Israel. Lavrov said the question should be “what the US could refrain from doing” in Syria and that the answer was “stop playing dangerous games” and cease trying to partition the nation.

The Americans “in the territories they patronize east of the Euphrates River and all the way to the state border with Iraq create governing bodies which are designed by intention to have no links with Damascus,” he pointed out.

Lavrov also commented on the situation in the southwestern part of Syria on the border with Jordan and Israel – which was designated as a “de-escalation zone” by Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran – and Israel’s interests in Syria. Israel accuses Iran of using proxy forces to seize control of parts of southern Syria, including those along the border, and has threatened to use military force to reverse the situation.

“We negotiated the creation of this zone with Jordan and the US and it’s not a secret that our Israeli colleagues were informed about what we discussed,” he said. “Now to implement everything we had agreed on we have to focus on one particular article, which said all parties to the agreement would work to make sure that no non-Syrian forces were present inside and near this de-escalation zone.”

The Russian diplomat added that the US carving out the Al-Tanf area was the exact opposite – a unilateral move that no other party agreed to.

The dispute between Israel and Iran, Lavrov said, certainly complicated the situation in Syria, and Moscow believes both parties need to take steps to defuse it. For instance, Iran’s statements that Israel was a Zionist entity that needs to be destroyed are perceived as absolutely unacceptable in Russia. But neither does Russia see as constructive Israel’s policy of turning every problem in the region into a vehicle for opposing Iran, he said.

“This is what we see in Syria, this is what we see in Yemen, and even the latest developments around the Palestinian issue, including Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s exclusive capital, are to a large extent caused by the very same anti-Iranian bias,” Lavrov explained. “Both attitudes pose a risk of further damaging the situation in the region, which is already very pitiful.”

The Russian minister suggested that Israel and Iran should try to address their differences – including the latest flare-up involving an Iranian drone destroyed by Israel after reportedly violating the airspace of the Jewish state – by taking them to the UN for proper resolution. “Otherwise we will be rolling down the slope to a situation in which every incident is simply blamed on the other party and used to justify military action.”

Syria pro-govt forces to enter Afrin ‘within hours’ amid Turkish military op – state media

February 19, 2018
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen next to military trucks in Northern Afrin countryside, Syria, February 16, 2018 © Khalil Ashawi / Reuters
Pro-government Syrian forces are expected to enter Afrin enclave “within hours,” local media report. Earlier, an adviser to the Kurdish administration said a deal has been reached to allow Syrian forces into the embattled area.

Syria’s pro-government popular forces will enter Afrin“within hours” to support the locals “in facing the aggression” from Turkey, SANA state news agency reported on Monday, citing its correspondent in Aleppo. Syrian broadcaster al-Ikhbariya TV, also citing own reporter, said that Assad-loyal forces will arrive in the area shortly.

The reports follow the claim by the Kurdish official that the deal was reached between Damascus and the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) fighters. The negotiations were reportedly aimed at getting help from the Syrian government to repel the ongoing Turkish offensive on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.

On Sunday Reuters citied Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish self-government, as saying that the military assistance agreement had been reached. Jia Kurd noted that the deal, which could see Syrian forces enter Afrin within two days, will be limited exclusively to immediate military support.

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Kurds dance during a protest against the Turkish attacks on Afrin in Qamishli, Syria January 30, 2018 © Rodi Said

“When it comes to the political and administrative matters in the region, it will be agreed upon with Damascus in the later stages through direct negotiations and discussions,” he said. Officially, Damascus has not spoken out on the possible agreement, and the YPG’s spokesman confirmed only that a request had been made for Syrian forces to protect Afrin.

Even if a deal came into force it would still rest on shaky foundations, Jia Kurd admitted. He said it was hard to predict how long the deal would hold, since it does not sit well with either side.

“We don’t know to what extent these understandings will last because there are sides that are not satisfied and want to make (them) fail,” he said without elaborating.

It comes just a few days after media reports indicated there were negotiations between Kurdish militias and the Syrian government, which had stalled. The Syrian government reportedly withdrew from the talks after Kurds refused to lay down their weapons in return for military assistance, an RT Arabic correspondent reported on Thursday, citing a military source. Several other networks, including Arab TV network Al Mayadeen and Sputnik, ran reports based on their own sources saying that the deal had been secured, without providing any details of the conditions.

Speculation about a more active role for Damascus in the Afrin confrontation arose back in January, when the Kurdish self-administration urged Damascus to protect Syrian sovereignty by sending troops to Afrin. Last Monday, YPG commander Sipan Hamo said that he would have “no problem” with the Syrian Army intervening in the conflict to drive away the Turkish forces.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara, Turkey, February 16, 2018 © Cem Ozdel

Turkey, which has been carrying out Operation Olive Branch in Afrin since January 20, insists that the offensive is solely aimed at wiping out terrorists, denying allegations that it has targeted civilians.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also vowed to return the enclave to its “original owner” after it is “liberated” from YPG.

The offensive will allow some 500,000 displaced Syrians to return to their homes in Afrin, Turkey’s first lady Emine Erdogan said on Friday, claiming that “the aim of this operation is to ensure safety in the region.”

President Erdogan has repeatedly indicated he would like to expand the operation further and move into Manbij, where US forces supporting the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are stationed; this has raised fears of a potential clash between the two NATO allies. At a recent meeting in Ankara, US Secretary Rex Tillerson and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed that the bilateral relations were at “a crisis point,” calling the situation around Manbij a “priority” that needed to be addressed urgently. Turkey also touted the idea of a joint US and Turkey deployment in the area, on condition that the US guarantees a prompt withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG forces.

Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece

February 19, 2018

US Tanks finally upgrading with Israel’s battle tested anti-missile system

February 19, 2018

brian wang

February 14, 2018

The US Army’s 2019 budget will upgrade 261 M1 tanks, enough for three brigades, to carry Israeli-made Trophy Active Protection Systems (APS) to counter anti-tank missiles. There is also an increase in artillery and equipment to deter Russia from attempting to overrun Eastern Europe or to fight in a longer, high-intensity war with North Korea.

The Trophy APS comes on top of other long-planned improvements in the M1 Abrams main battle tank, including new infrared sights, reinforced armor, and improved horsepower and electrical power to handle all the upgrades.

Trophy has been operational on Israeli tanks since 2009. Russia has had various active protection systems on its tanks since the 1980s.

The US Army has selected the Israeli Trophy APS anti-missile system for the M1 Tank and other military vehicles.

The Trophy system, designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is the only APS in testing that has seen combat and actually defeated advanced anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) threats.

“We intend to field those to first responding units, and we will eventually field them throughout the force for the entire total Army — Guard, Reserve and active,” Milley said.

Trophy intercepts and destroys incoming missiles and rockets with a shotgun-like blast. Trophy was the product of a ten-year collaborative development project between the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries’ Elta Group. Its principal purpose is to supplement the armor of light and heavy armored fighting vehicles.

Called Active Protection Systems, or APS, the technology uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs.

The sensors detect the incoming threat and a computer controlled shotgun blasts the missile.