Archive for March 25, 2018

Bringing in Bolton, White House appears to stiffen against Palestinians, Iran 

March 25, 2018

Source: Bringing in Bolton, White House appears to stiffen against Palestinians, Iran | The Times of Israel

Trump appoints hardline security adviser, who has opposed two-state solution and advocated striking Iran, just ahead of big moves on Middle East peace and nuclear deal

Former US ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

Former US ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate hawkish former diplomat John Bolton as his national security adviser brings a figure known for pushing for pre-emptive strikes on burgeoning nuclear powers as well as skepticism toward Palestinian statehood into the administration’s powerful inner circle.

On Tuesday, Trump announced on Twitter that former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster as his chief in-house adviser on national security issues.

McMaster had been expected to leave later this year, but Bolton’s nomination shocked Washington.

A vocal advocate of the Iraq war, he has also advocated preemptive strikes against North Korea and war with Iran.

With the White House preparing to unveil its Mideast peace plan in the near future, the ascension of Bolton, who has declared the two-state solution dead, could further chill the administration’s chances of getting moribund negotiations off the ground.

While McMaster was not a main player in the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio during his tenure, national security advisers past have been deeply involved. In the Obama administration, Susan Rice and Tom Donilon, both held that role and spent substantial time trying to forge a peace agreement between the sides.

Bolton is highly defensive of Israel. After former president Barack Obama allowed passage of a UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlements, Bolton said Obama “stabbed Israel in the front” and that the measure was “clearly intended to tip the peace process toward the Palestinians.”

He further scolded Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry for his speech laying out principles for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in which Kerry warned a two-state future was slipping away as Israel continued to accelerate its West Bank settlement presence.

In this Nov. 11, 2006 file photo, Richard Grenell, left, walks with John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, right, to a Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Osamu Honda)

“Just as a matter of empirical reality, the two-state solution is dead,” Bolton told Breitbart Radio at the time. “That’s about the only thing John Kerry came close to getting right.”

In a 2014 Op-Ed in the Washington Times titled “A ‘three-state solution’ for Middle East peace,” Bolton argued that Gaza should be given back to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.

“The only logic underlying the demand for a Palestinian state is the political imperative of Israel’s opponents to weaken and encircle the Jewish state, thereby minimizing its potential to establish secure and defensible borders,” he wrote. “As long as Washington’s diplomatic objective is the ‘two-state solution’ — Israel and ‘Palestine’ — the fundamental contradiction between this aspiration and the reality on the ground will ensure it never comes into being.”

A frequent commentator on Fox News, Bolton is known for his bellicose posturing on security issues. Not only has he encouraged the use of force against Iran, but also a preemptive strike against North Korea. He was also a major voice inside the George W. Bush administration in favor of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Bolton, who’s been a resident at the conservative American Enterprise Institute since he left the Bush administration, has advocated for Israel bombing Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in May 2015. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

Bolton’s hiring comes a week after Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for CIA Director Mike Pompeo, another fierce Iran hawk.

Bolton and Pompeo will now ascend to two of the highest positions in American foreign policy making a little less than two months before the May 12 deadline when Trump has threatened to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal if Congress and European allies are unable to amend the accord to his liking.

US President Donald Trump walks with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, June 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Both Tillerson and McMaster were reported to be moderate voices inside the White House, each of whom encouraged the president not to rip up the landmark pact.

Earlier this year, Bolton said, “Our goal should be regime change in Iran.”

Bolton has been rumored to be a frontrunner for to replace McMaster for months. The national security adviser, unlike the secretary of state, does not require a Senate confirmation.

Left-leaning organizations immediately came out Thursday to condemn the move and warn of Bolton’s inclination for armed confrontation.

“This decision continues the crisis around President Trump’s cabinet, a move that is dangerous for America’s foreign policy and further diminishes our ability to lead,” said Diplomacy Works, a foreign policy advocacy group of former Obama-era diplomats. “Ambassador Bolton represents the worst in American foreign policy adventurism. This pick signals to the rest of the world that President Trump has no regard for diplomacy and values a political yes-man who favors military interventionism over national security expertise.”

Meanwhile, members of the Jewish right applauded Trump for picking Bolton for the role.

“John Bolton is ridiculously knowledgeable and will be a great National Security Adviser,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, in a statement.

AFP contributed to this report.

Moscow: “US attack on Damascus is imminent”

March 25, 2018

Source: Moscow: “US attack on Damascus is imminent” – DEBKAfile

Russia is claiming for the past ten days that the Trump administration is about to attack Syria because of the Assad army’s use of chemical poisons in East Ghouta. Washington has not addressed this claim one way or the other.

Tthe Russian General Staff  first warned “about an imminent attack in Syria” on Tuesday, March 13. The Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, was quoted as saying that Russia has “reliable information about militants preparing to falsify a government chemical attack against civilians,” and warning that Russia would “respond to a US strike on Syria, if the lives of Russian servicemen were threatened, targeting any missiles and launchers involved.”

Underlying the Russian general’s warning was a suggestion that Syrian rebels fighting in Al Ghouta would, or had, faked a Syrian chemical attack on civilians as the pretext for an American attack. Then, on March 17, Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, head of the main operations for Russia’s General Staff, amplified the claim by charging that the US had sent “a fleet of strike carriers to the Mediterranean and Red Sea carrying cruise missiles.” He added details: “This force is comprised of 7,500 army personnel, an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, destroyers and 65 toi70 aircraft.” Actual US military movements are confirmed by DEBKAfile’s military sources.

But Russian military sources go on to state that this armada “is ready to launch roughly 400 long-range Tomahawks against a target in the Middle East on any given day.”

To meet the US war threat articulated by Moscow, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that, last week, the Russian air force landed at its Khmeimim air base in Syria a Mi-8MTPR-1 helicopter carrying a Rychag-AV active jamming station. This electronic package is capable of detecting and suppressing the electronic command-and-control systems and radars of surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles carried by aircraft, drones, land vehicles and surface ships within a 400km radius. The Rychag-AV station can moreover suppress diverse targets simultaneously, and function on board ships, aircraft and land vehicles, as well as helicopters.

The arrival of this advanced jamming station certainly beefs up Syrian defenses against sophisticated US and Israeli attacks. There is no word on how many of these stations were shipped to Syria. If properly spaced out on Syrian soil, they would be capable of disabling US military operations right across the country, from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean, and also interfere with Israeli military activity inside its northern border.

There has been no comment from American or Israel sources either to confirm or deny the Russian claims of the past ten days of an imminent US attack in Syria. Perhaps they are waiting to see what is behind them.

Operation Orchard: Israel’s strike on the Syrian reactor

March 25, 2018

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Operation Orchard[2][3] (Hebrew: מבצע בוסתן‎, Mivtza bustan) was an Israeli airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor[4] in the Deir ez-Zor region[5] of Syria, which occurred just after midnight (local time) on September 6, 2007.

The Israeli and U.S. governments imposed virtually total news blackouts immediately after the raid that held for seven months.[6] The White House and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) subsequently confirmed that American intelligence had also indicated the site was a nuclear facility with a military purpose, though Syria denies this.[7][8] A 2009 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation reported evidence of uranium and graphite and concluded that the site bore features resembling an undeclared nuclear reactor. IAEA was initially unable to confirm or deny the nature of the site because, according to IAEA, Syria failed to provide necessary cooperation with the IAEA investigation.[9][10] Syria has disputed these claims.[11]

Nearly four years later, in April 2011, the IAEA officially confirmed that the site was a nuclear reactor.[4] The Israeli attack followed top-level consultations with the Bush Administration.

After realizing that the US was not willing to take its own military action, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to adhere to the 1981 Begin Doctrine and unilaterally strike to prevent a Syrian nuclear weapons capability, despite serious concerns about Syrian retaliation. In stark contrast to the doctrine’s prior usage against Iraq, the airstrike against Syria did not elicit international outcry. A main reason is that Israel maintained total and complete silence regarding the attack, and Syria covered up its activities at the site and did not cooperate fully with the IAEA.

The international silence may have been a tacit recognition of the inevitability of preemptive attacks on “clandestine nuclear programs in their early stages.” If true, the Begin Doctrine has undoubtedly played a role in shaping this global perception.[12] According to later news reports, the raid was carried out by Israeli Air Force (IAF) 69 Squadron F-15Is,[13] F-16Is, and an ELINT aircraft; as many as eight aircraft participated and at least four of these crossed into Syrian airspace.[14]

The fighters were equipped with AGM-65 Maverick missiles, 500 lb bombs, and external fuel tanks.[2][15] One report stated that a team of elite Israeli Shaldag special-forces commandos arrived at the site the day before so that they could highlight the target with laser designators,[13] while a later report identified Sayeret Matkal special-forces commandos as involved.[16]

Why is Israel ‘dancing in the end zone’ 10 years later?

March 25, 2018

Source: Why is Israel ‘dancing in the end zone’ 10 years later? – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

When the dust settles on Israel’s admission it destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor and all the battles for credit are forgotten, one question will still need to be answered: Why now?

BY HERB KEINON
 MARCH 23, 2018 09:15

Imagine the NFL Super Bowl for a minute. Then imagine one team winning the game and the NFL championship on a last minute 70-yard touchdown pass. Then imagine that team waiting 10 years to do their celebratory victory dance in the end zone.

That is pretty much what happened this week with the belated admission by Israel that it indeed was responsible for that attack back in September 2007 on a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction.

This admission triggered not only our own end zone chest-beating, but also something not generally seen in NFL victory dances: teammates pummeling each other over who really deserves credit for the score. Who called the play? Who read the defense? Who executed it to perfection?

When the dust settles and all the battles for credit are forgotten, one question will still need to be answered: Why now?

Why did the defense establishment – which for over a decade was determined to keep a blackout on any information coming out about the bombing from Israel – finally agree this week to lift the ban on publication of the details?

A number of ideas have been proffered over the last few days, from the far-fetched notion that it was designed to boost the sales of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s new memoirs, to the equally implausible notion that it was meant to boost Olmert in the public eye and perhaps even pave his way to a political comeback, to the more likely suggestion that it was designed as a message to Iran:

“Don’t test us, we have done this before, we can do it again.”

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a laconic statement on Wednesday: “The government of Israel, the IDF and the Mossad prevented Syria from developing a nuclear capability. Israel’s policy has been and remains consistent – to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.”

Or, even more to the point, as Col. Amir – one of the pilots of the mission, who was quoted in Haaretz – said: “An existential threat to the State of Israel arose here and we dealt with it, the way the air force had dealt with the reactor in Iraq in the past. For me, today it connects with our ability to remove threats in distant countries in the third circle [Iran]. Since the attack in Syria, we have also improved wonderfully – in intelligence, in our range of action, in our ability to attack secretly.”

Another explanation for the timing is that the original reason for not taking responsibility for the action is no longer relevant. According to this reasoning, the original decision to remain mum was to provide Syrian President Bashar Assad with “plausible deniability”: if you don’t make a public spectacle of the attack, if you don’t rub Assad’s nose in it, if you don’t spike the ball in the end zone, he will not feel the need to react in order to save face.

A decade and a very bloody civil war later, this is no longer a consideration. Firstly, because people generally don’t take face-saving action for an event that took place more than 10 years ago, and secondly, because even if he wanted to, Assad is currently in no position to pick a fight with Israel.

One date that should be kept in mind when trying to decipher the timing of Jerusalem’s acknowledgment of the attack is May 12 – the date by which US President Donald Trump will have to decide whether to renew sanctions on Iran that were suspended with the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015.

Trump has given his European partners – France, Britain and Germany – until that day to fix the nuclear deal. If not, the US is likely to pull out of it.

The question then becomes, what will Iran do if Trump does indeed walk away from the deal?

While Netanyahu has said there won’t be much the Iranians can do if the US walks away, since their economy will suffer severely and lead to increased internal strife inside the country, the Europeans – who are currently looking at how they can fix the deal to keep Trump inside it – are saying Netanyahu’s projections are wishful thinking and that if the US cancels the deal the Iranians will make a mad dash toward the nuclear finish line.

Within this context, Israel’s very public admission of the attack in Syria sends a message to both the Europeans and the Iranians.

To the Europeans, it says: “If you want to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Syria, fix the deal and ensure that the US remains inside it so Israel won’t be forced to take action.”

And to the Iranians, the message is: “If the Americans walk out, don’t race to acquire nuclear arms, because – as the Syrian attack illustrates – we can, and we will, stop you.”