Archive for March 1, 2018

Egyptian army in Sinai Peninsula doubles in a year, with Israel’s blessing

March 1, 2018

Source: Egyptian army in Sinai Peninsula doubles in a year, with Israel’s blessing | The Times of Israel

Eighty-eight Egyptian battalions with 42,000 soldiers fighting Islamic State, up from 41 battalions and 25,000 men a year ago

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, attends the inauguration of the East Suez Canal Counter-Terrorism command, in Sinai, Egypt on February 25, 2018. (MENA via AP)

The Egyptian army has doubled its forces in the Sinai Peninsula over the past year, with Israel’s blessing, to battle Islamic State jihadist cells in the area, Israel’s Kan television news reported Wednesday.

According to the Egyptian military’s chief of staff, 88 battalions with 42,000 soldiers are currently stationed in the peninsula, up from 41 battalions and 25,000 men a year ago.

The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty places strict limits on the numbers of Egyptian and Israeli troops that can be stationed on either side of the Sinai desert border, but it does allow troop increases by one country if the other agrees.

An IDF spokesman said that the Israeli army constantly monitors Egyptian military operations in the peninsula.

“The Egyptian army has increased its forces in Sinai over the past year in the face of the threat of Islamic State. This increase has been carried out in coordination with the IDF,” the spokesman said.

The IDF has in the past protested the rare occasions in which Egypt deployed additional troops to the peninsula without consulting Israel, the spokesman added.

Iran is playing with fire, Israeli defense official warns

March 1, 2018

Source: Iran is playing with fire, Israeli defense official warns – Israel Hayom

How Russia is using Syria as a military ‘guinea pig’

March 1, 2018

Source: How Russia is using Syria as a military ‘guinea pig’ – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

( To understand Russia, just “follow the money.” – JW )

High-ranking Russian officials claim countries are lining up to purchase battle-tested hardware.

BY CHARLES BYBELEZER/THE MEDIA LINE
 FEBRUARY 28, 2018 11:27
Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria

Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS/VADIM SAVITSKY/RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY VIA REUTERS)

The comments came on the same day that the head of the powerful defense committee in Russia’s Duma, the lower house of parliament, contended that 200 of the items were next-generation systems.

“It’s not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies,” Vladimir Shamanov declared. “Today, our military industry made our army look in a way we can be proud of.”

According to Mathieu Boulegue, a Research Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, “many analysts in Moscow view the Syria campaign as a ‘Revolution in Military Affairs,’ which is an American term that derives from the US experience mostly during the First Gulf War. Russia sees Syria as a theater for learning how to use [cutting-edge] technology and command and control techniques in modern warfare.

“They are also getting similar experience in Ukraine,” he elaborated to The Media Line, “and it is impossible to separate between the two campaigns as the lessons gained in both arenas are fed into the same beast.”

The Russian hardware being tested reportedly includes advanced aircraft, cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions in addition to armory, battlefield drones and electronic warfare systems, among many others.

One prominent example is the introduction into Syria of the Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets, twelve of the former reportedly having soon thereafter been sold to Algeria. Other countries such as Indonesia, India and Nigeria have likewise expressed interest in the plane since it became battle-tested, allowing for tangible evaluation of its performance.

Similarly, purchase agreements for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system have been forged with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Overall, Middle East and North African countries from Egypt to Qatar to Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia are lining up to purchase Russian-made equipment; this, as Moscow has renewed its regional influence through the projection of its military after years of US domination.

In March of last year Russia’s top defense official, Sergei Shoigu, told parliament that ninety percent of the weapons tested up to that point had met the Kremlin’s expectations. Months later, Dmitry Shugayev, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, revealed that foreign orders for Russian weapons amount to almost $50 billion. Notably, he claimed that Moscow is poised to acquire about thirty percent of the global military aircraft market, surpassing the US’ share.

“Russia has come up with the ‘Combat-proven Label,’ which is used by officials and businesses to enhance military sales,” Boulegue explained to The Media Line. “It is very hard to quantify how much this will speed up the commercial prospects but it does go hand-in-hand with a very aggressive policy from the state-owned Rosoboronexport. [Other private companies are also] really reaching out to foreign buyers and so far they have had some good returns.

“This also applies to Latin America and Africa,” he concluded, “because a lot of the contracts that have been signed recently could have originated up to five years ago. There is a focus on countries that could buy some of the older models of Russian systems in bulk—those that can be [incorporated] into the militaries of less wealthy nations.”

Nevertheless, the timing and nature of the statements by high-ranking Russian officials suggests that they may also be intended for domestic consumption, amid a growing realization that Moscow may not easily be able to extricate itself from the Syrian quagmire.

“This sounds like propaganda as six hundred weapons is very high,” Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia and an expert on its Middle East foreign policy, explained to The Media Line.

In this respect, it is noteworthy that Moscow last week deployed to Syria two fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters, Russia’s answer to the US’ F-22 Raptor and F-35. That the jets are non-operational, however, supports the notion that their transfer abroad is at least partially a “show” mimicking strength.

“They are stuck over there and that is why they need excuses,” Magen expounded. “The Russians need to finish this war and they have not been able to arrive at an agreement to end it. Instead,” he continued, “Moscow declared victory [prematurely] and Putin visited Syria. But since then there have been battles and the Russians have suffered casualties. This leads to domestic pressure.”

Indeed Moscow’s beating of the military drums come on the heels of a major clash between Russian “contractors” and US forces on February 7, in which up to 300 mercenaries—employed by the shadowy Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) whose owner is a Putin associate—were killed or injured by American airstrikes and artillery fire during a failed attack on a Kurdish-controlled base in the Deir ez-Zor region.

While Russia publicly denied any involvement in the incident, it is well-known that Moscow has agreed to the deployment to Syria of as many as 2,500 for-hire fighters in order to avoid casualties among its official troops. As such, the Kremlin at the very least has a public relations problem back home, especially given its less-than-satisfactory explanation of the event which was described by US Defense Secretary James Mattis as “perplexing.”

Redirecting the focus to supposed successes in Syria—by hyping its military achievements, real or imagined—might therefore constitute a concerted effort to downplay the loss of its citizens while appealing to a largely nationalistic Russian populace. This, in turn, ties into the second possible explanation for the seemingly coordinated comments; namely, that they come just weeks ahead of the Russian presidential election and it may be that Putin is fending off legitimate criticism of Russia’s entanglement in Syria by rallying the support of his patriotic, if not militaristic, voter base.

The revelations that Russia is effectively using Syria as a testing ground for military hardware also raises moral questions, especially as they come on the background of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.

More than 500 locals have been killed and some 2,500 others wounded over the past week, as Syrian forces allied with Moscow pounded the rebel-held area from the air and ground in the one of the fiercest offensives in the seven-years-long war. An estimated 400,000 civilians remain trapped in area, with rights groups warning of a major humanitarian catastrophe unless aid is allowed to reach the enclave.

Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad has once again brought into stark focus its paramount role in prolonging the war, to the detriment of an already devastated civilian population. That Russian leaders are concurrently trumpeting Moscow’s advancement of its military-industrial complex by using Syria as a “guinea pig” sheds light on their underlying intentions and priorities.

Putin flexes muscles, unveils new nuclear weapons – International news 

March 1, 2018

Source: Putin flexes muscles, unveils new nuclear weapons – International news – Jerusalem Post

Speaking weeks before an election he is expected to win, Putin said that a nuclear attack on any of Moscow’s allies would be regarded as an attack on Russia itself and draw an immediate response.

BY REUTERS
 MARCH 1, 2018 15:01

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands on the stage as he addresses the Federal Assembly in Moscow,

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands on the stage as he addresses the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia March 1, 2018. (photo credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

Speaking weeks before an election he is expected to win, Putin also said that a nuclear attack on any of Moscow’s allies would be regarded as an attack on Russia itself and draw an immediate response.

Putin, who polls indicate should be easily re-elected on March 18, backed his tough rhetoric with video clips of some of the new missiles he was talking about, which were projected on a giant screen behind him at the conference hall in central Moscow where he was addressing Russia’s political elite.

“They have not succeeded in holding Russia back,” said Putin, referring to the West.

“Now they need to take account of a new reality and understand that everything I have said today is not a bluff.”

Among the new weapons that Putin said were either in development or ready: a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a small nuclear warhead that could be attached to cruise missiles, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon and a laser weapon.

The audience, made up of Russian lawmakers and other leading figures, frequently stood up and applauded his presentation, which culminated with the Russian national anthem being played.

NATO MEASURES “USELESS”

Putin, who has dominated his country’s political landscape for the last 18 years and often used anti-Western rhetoric to mobilize support, said the technological advances meant that NATO’s build-up on Russia’s borders and the roll-out of a U.S. anti-missile system would be rendered useless.

“I hope that everything that was said today will sober up any potential aggressor,” said Putin.

“Unfriendly steps towards Russia such as the deployment of the (U.S.) anti-missile system and of NATO infrastructure nearer our borders and such like, from a military point of view, will become ineffective.”

Steps to contain Russia would also become unjustifiably expensive and pointless, he forecast.

The Russian leader also voiced concerns about a new U.S. nuclear doctrine, saying that Russia’s own doctrine was defensive and only envisaged the use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is keen to hold talks with the United States about the balance of strategic nuclear power.

“We will view any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it of small, medium or any force, as a nuclear attack on our country,” said Putin.

“Our response will be immediate. Nobody should have any doubts about that.”

Saudis summon Lebanese PM moments before Beirut falls into Iranian orbit

March 1, 2018

Source: Saudis summon Lebanese PM moments before Beirut falls into Iranian orbit – DEBKAfile

 Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s switch of loyalty to Hizballah and Iran shocks Riyadh and dismays Israel.

The Lebanese Sunni politician and his family have long been inextricably tied to Saudi Arabia and its royal house, as well as professing a pro-West orientation. However, it was suddenly noticed in Riyadh, as well as Jerusalem, that the most devoted Saudi loyalist in Beirut had quietly crossed the lines. Hariri had quietly decided to follow the Iranian star and throw in his political lot with his old enemy, the Shiite Hizballah. And they had promised he would retain the premiership after Lebanon’s May 8 general election, in which their Shiite March 8 Alliance was sure to win a majority in parliament.
Caught unawares by Lebanon’s imminent slide into the Iranian orbit, Saudi rulers hurriedly summoned Hariri to Riyadh. He arrived Wednesday Feb. 28. But it was too late to change him back. The prospect of an Iranian puppet government in Beirut is stunning news for Riyadh, which has traditionally regarded Beirut with its banks and varied luxuries as their back yard. But for Israel, it spells disaster. It means that Iran has succeeded in expanding its ominous, belligerent presence into both of Israel’s northern neighbors, Lebanon as well as Syria.
That the Saudis were caught napping showed in the interview the Washington Post ran Wednesday with Crown Prince Muhamed bin Salman. Referring to Saad Hariri, the prince commented: “Now he is in a better position in Lebanon” – clearly unaware of the shock ahead.

When the Lebanese politician was last summoned to Riyadh five months ago, he landed amid a domestic upheaval – as a result of which he, along with hundreds of Saudi notables, was stripped of his fortune before being allowed to leave. This visit, which Hariri would have preferred to avoid, coincided with another Saudi upheaval, the shakeup of its entire military and defense leadership.