Archive for August 5, 2018

Syrian scientist killing is a message to Assad and Tehran 

August 5, 2018

Source: Syrian scientist killing is a message to Assad and Tehran – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Does the death of Dr. Aziz Asbar represent a new phase in targeting an Iran-Damascus weapons program?

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 AUGUST 5, 2018 15:55
Syrian scientist killing is a message to Assad and Tehran

The killing of a Syrian scientist as he left his house in Hama will be read as a message to the Syrian regime in Damascus. The scientist was allegedly a key part of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). The center is involved in research and development of chemical weapons and long-range missiles that are produced near Hama.

The killing of a scientist represents a new development in the war in Syria as it changes from an active phase of conflict between the government and rebels to a regional phase, in which the US, Turkey, Russia and Iran play key roles in parts of Syria and Israel looks on with concern.

The scientist, Dr. Aziz Asbar, sometimes spelled “Isbar” or “Esber,” was reported to have been working on a medium- and long-range missile program at the SSRC in Masyaf. News first emerged of his death from a car bomb on Saturday night. “Reports that Aziz Esber, a very senior figure in the Syrian Scientific Studied and Research Center, who worked on missile development and directed R&D facility in Masyaf, was killed in a car bomb in Hama,” tweeted Syrian expert Tony Badran.

The Masyaf facility is a key part of the network of SSRC sites. It has been the target of an air strike that local reports blamed on Israel. It is one of three sites alleged to be involved in chemical weapons production, according to a May report from the BBC. In addition, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control notes that Masyaf is where chemical weapons are installed on long-range missiles.

In April 2017, the US Treasury Department designated 271 staff members of the SSRC for sanctions. The SSRC, and those connected to Masyaf have also been singled out for sanctions by Australia and other governments. However, on the list of names, Dr. Asbar – or any of the various ways to spell his name – is not listed. This could be because he was not senior enough. But if his role was as key as is alleged in the reports, the omission of Asbar’s name was either an oversight or because his primary role was related to rocketry and not chemical weapons.

REPORTS also indicate that Asbar was a head of the Masyaf facility and was close to both Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Iran, a unique link in a network that ties Damascus to Tehran.

Iran’s Press TV singled out Israel for blame in Asbar’s death. It noted that on July 22, the Masyaf facility was struck by a missile, which it also blamed on Israel. “Dr. Isbir was not present at the site,” Press TV claimed. How they would know that is unclear, unless of course members of the scientist’s staff told the Iranians or pro-Iranian media these details.

The death of Asbar is reminiscent of other assassinations of high-profile individuals in Hamas and Hezbollah. For instance, Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah was killed in a car bomb in 2008 in Damascus, and a Hamas official was targeted with a car bomb in Lebanon in January 2018.

The key role that Asbar allegedly played as a link between Assad and Iran also conjures up memories of Mahmoud Al-Mahbouh, who was assassinated in Dubai in 2010. Al-Mahbouh had helped arrange the movement of weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip. As such, his death damaged the Hamas-Iran network.

In 2012, Iranian scientist Mostafa Roshan was killed when his Peugot 405 was blown up in Tehran. He was a deputy director of a unit at the Natanz uranium enrichment center, according to CNN.

Being a scientist connected to Iran, Syria, ballistic missiles and chemical weapons can be a dangerous business. The larger story is that this is the first high-level assassination of a SSRC member. This sends a message to Damascus that its facilities may not only be bombed, but that the brains behind them may suffer as well.

Countless sites in Syria have been targeted by air strikes, many of them blamed on Israel by Damascus. However, in the last month, at least one facility at Damascus Airport was shown to have been rebuilt. That illustrates that Iran’s infrastructure can be easily repaired. Scientists who understand ballistic missiles, however, cannot be so easily replaced.

On the edge of the abyss

August 5, 2018

Source: On the edge of the abyss – Israel Hayom

Menashe Amir

U.S. President Donald Trump is rubbing his hands in triumph: His method of putting pressure on the Iranian regime, hoping to reopen the 2015 nuclear agreement, from which he withdrew in May, is succeeding.

The U.S. president’s openly declared goal was to force Iran back to the negotiating table, where the U.S. would dictate terms that would bar it from any chance of developing a nuclear weapon. But Trump’s vision for Iran is even broader: He wants the Iranian threat removed completely, including the regime’s missile program and its armed intervention in neighboring countries and support of terrorist organizations. The U.S. president isn’t the only one who aspires to this scenario. Israel and the Gulf Arab states, which are quaking in fear of Iran’s military prowess and its ability to operate regional terrorism, are making the same demands.

On Monday, the first stage of the reinstated U.S. sanctions will take effect. But for months already, the economic situation in Iran has been increasingly less stable. The U.S. has convinced several countries to stop purchasing oil from Iran. And in Iran, masses are heading into the streets to protest the growing economic distress. The exchange rate for foreign currency, which doubled in a week, is seen as an expression of the people’s lack of confidence in their regime’s ability to repair the economy.

This has created a tsunami of rising prices and clamped down retail trade. Bazaar merchants and shop owners are lifting up their voices in protest, and it quickly turned into a mass movement of a political nature that was taking place in various cities. Within three days, the protests reached the capital, Tehran. Now the demonstrators are screaming “Death to the dictator!” and calling on the religious leaders who control the country to “go to hell!” They are demanding that Iran stop supporting Hamas and other Palestinian and Islamist terrorist groups, as well as an end to Iranian military intervention in Syria and Yemen. The masses are also calling to overthrow the dictatorial regime.

The religious rule in Iran supposedly has the support of the people. That is the foundation of Islamic law. When the people take to the streets and shout for the regime to be overthrown, the government loses its religious legitimacy, as well. However, in modern-day Iran, the laws of Islam have long since been abandoned by the regime. What remains is the desire to steal the nation’s wealth and spend enormous amounts of money trying to control neighboring countries and annihilate Israel.

Menashe Amir is an expert on Iranian affairs and former head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Persian language division.

Israel entrusts its North Front security to Russia, Gaza – to indirect US intervention – DEBKAfile

August 5, 2018

Source: Israel entrusts its North Front security to Russia, Gaza – to indirect US intervention – DEBKAfile

Hamas has burned to a cinder more than 35,000 dunams of flourishing Israeli land – half the area of Tel Aviv, the whole of Beersheba – since launching its “March of Return” on March 31.

But if the Palestinian terrorist rulers of Gaza walk off with the $650m aid package the UN, Egypt and Qatar are offering for a long-range truce accord with Israel – applauded by Washington – they will win the biggest prize ever awarded a serial arsonist.

During Hamas’s 11-year rule, billions of aid dollars have poured into Gaza to ease the pain of a suffering populace, but only a fraction reached its destination; the lion’s share was spent on “resistance” – i.e., consolidating Hamas’ terrorist wing, the Ezz-e-din al-Qassam and its unrelenting campaign of violence for displacing the Jewish state.

Under the new deal, Hamas will make a cool $162,500 for every month of rocket fire against Israeli towns and villages, attacks on the Israel border fence, gunfire and firebombs aimed at the Israeli troops defending the border, the sabotage of IDF equipment, and arson by incendiary kites and exploding balloons.

Nonetheless, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot concluded last week that Hamas terrorist chiefs, having failed to achieve anything by a host of different brands of violence, would again lose out in its campaign of arson. But it is that very campaign which has triggered the international plan to cap Hamas’ success with an exceptionally generous truce package. It stands to be rewarded with such perks as a multi-million dollar bounty; a berth at the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said; a landing strip in northern Sinai’s El Arish air field; the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades on the Gaza Strip; the opening of both border crossings; more electricity power from Israel; and a large desalination plant. All in all, not such a bad haul for four months of “different brands of terror.”

The final straw for the IDF – and the most humiliating – was its failure to stop the most primitive of terror tools, balloons. It achieved what four months and 500 Hamas rockets and mortar shells failed to do.

DEBKAfile lists those gains:

  • Hamas has emerged as the first Palestinian military group to force the IDF, and the Israel government along with it, to allow terrorists to dictate the rules of the contest by dint of an oppressed civilian population held hostage.
  • Full advantage was taken of the IDF’s shying away in its counter-terror operations from causing causalties. Hamas’ top strategists were therefore never in harm’s way. Although a mass Palestinian rush on the Israeli border fence orchestrated by Hamas led to 159 deaths, most were civilians. Hamas successfully used its human shield tactic for bringing international condemnation down on Israel, embellishing its propaganda with fabricated “children”, “journalists,” a “baby” and a “nurse” who were allegedly targeted by Israeli troops.
  • Israel’s counteraction consisted of air strikes on Hamas facilities of minor importance, most of which had been evacuated in good time to escape casualties.
  • Even the IDF’s success in disarming the terror tunnels snaking under the Israeli border, before they were used to attack communities, was to prove limited in value. For each tunnel blown up, Hamas built another, manufacturing a complex, spreading underground warren on the principle of Lego.
  • The truce accord on offer requires hardly any quid pro quo from Hamas. The Palestinian terror group is asked to uphold a truce (it would be the first time), but is not required to dismantle its military (terror) arm, relinquish its arsenal of rockets, or even hand over the remains of the Israeli soldiers and hostages it has captured. Neither is anyone demanding reparations for the huge damage – material and emotional – caused neighboring Israeli communities by more than a decade of Palestinian terror and vandalism.
  • While one provision is the transfer of Gaza’s governing administration to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, no one expects it to be implemented, for the simple reason that Hamas will never hand over its armed wing, and the PA is not strong enough to assume control. That provision alone is tantamount to international recognition of Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip, which it snatched from the Palestinian Authority in a military coup 11 years ago.
  • The Trump administration’s interest in forging this accord derives from the door the Palestinian Authority has shut against its “Middle East Peace Plan of the Century.” That plan will remain on paper so long as PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is alive, and so Washington has turned away from Ramallah to the Gaza Strip. When this door began to open, the White House this week indicated that the peace plan staff was to be beefed up ahead of its publication. A deal for Gaza will give it a head start for refocusing Palestinian national aspirations on the Gaza Strip and northern Sinai.

From the perspective of Washington, arrangements are falling into place for Israel’s northern and Gaza fronts to settle down. Russia has taken direct charge of the Syrian borders with Israel,while the US, through the Russian UN mediator Nikolai Mladanov and Egypt, is gaining a remote handle on the Gaza-Israel imbroglio.

Israel’s leaders may pat themselves on the back for dumping the two perils in the laps of Russia and America. But the arrangements taking shape are hardly likely to be sustainable for long, given the bad actors involved. With Syrian/Hizballah/pro-Iranian Shiite troops ensconced at the edge of the Israeli Golan, and Hamas only biding its time between truces for another onslaught, those arrangements are about as stable as a house of cards in a storm.

EU report details international web of Hezbollah terror funding 

August 5, 2018

Source: EU report details international web of Hezbollah terror funding – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

The EU only designated Hezbollah’s so-called military wing a terrorist entity in 2013.

BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 AUGUST 5, 2018 00:19
Lebanon's Hezbollah scouts carry their parties flag while marching at the funeral of 3 Hezbollah men

A newly released European Union report on terrorism states that Lebanese nationals worked with organized crime organizations to finance Hezbollah’s terrorist activities.

The European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2018 wrote, “In 2017, member states carried out several investigations into financing of terrorism. One major investigation focused on a large network of Lebanese nationals offering money laundering services to organized crime groups in the EU and using a share of the profits to finance terrorism-related activities of the Lebanese Hezbollah’s military wing.”

The report added, “The cooperation of these money-launderers and Hezbollah’s military wing was a clear example of a nexus between organized crime and terrorism.”

The Jerusalem Post reviewed the 70-page EU report and found it did not provide any more specifics on Hezbollah’s activities in Europe. Hezbollah has played a key role in aiding Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 people.

The EU only designated Hezbollah’s so-called military wing a terrorist entity in 2013. US President Donald Trump, former US president Barack Obama and ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton have urged the EU to proscribe all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The Iranian regime is the chief financial sponsor of Hezbollah, with an annual $700 million supplied by Tehran to the Lebanese Shi’ite group, according to the US government.

The Post reported in June that Al-Mustafa Community Center in the northern German city-state of Bremen is a major hub for raising funds for Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to a German intelligence report published by the Bremen intelligence agency.

The agency’s newly released report in June stated, “The Al-Mustafa Community Center supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, especially by collecting donations.”

The Post uncovered the Shi’ite organization’s bank account – the Bremen-based Sparkasse. The Bremen intelligence agency, the rough equivalent to Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said there are approximately 60 Hezbollah supporters in Al-Mustafa’s organization and “the Arab- Shi’ite association functions as a point of contact for Shi’ite Muslims in Bremen, especially those from Lebanon.”

Some 950 Hezbollah operatives are in Germany, according to numerous German intelligence reports. The Hezbollah members raise funds and recruit new members.

The United States, Canada, the Arab League, the Netherlands and Israel classify Hezbollah a terrorist organization. In 2012, Hezbollah operatives blew up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria, murdering five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver.

Head of Syrian chemical arms research center said assassinated

August 5, 2018

Source: Head of Syrian chemical arms research center said assassinated | The Times of Israel

Aziz Azbar, who ran CERS center thought linked to gas attacks and Iranian missile development, reportedly killed in car bombing

A screen capture from a video purporting to show the aftermath of an Israeli strike on a research facility in the Masyaf area of northwest Syria on July 22, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A screen capture from a video purporting to show the aftermath of an Israeli strike on a research facility in the Masyaf area of northwest Syria on July 22, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A Syrian scientist at the head of a research center purportedly linked to the development of chemical weapons and bombed by Israel in the past was killed in a bombing, according to Syrian reports early Sunday.

Aziz Azbar, the head of the Syrian Scientific Research and Studies Center in Masyaf, was killed along with his driver in a bombing Saturday night, according to reports.

The deaths were reported by a number of Syrian and Lebanese news outlets as well as the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor and a Facebook page purportedly linked to the Syrian military.

Azbar was close to both Syrian President and the Iranian regime, which was thought to be using the facility for arms development, according to the observatory.

According to some reports, the car Azbar and his driver were in blew up when a passerby managed to attach a bomb to it.

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There was no official confirmation of his death.

The Scientific Research and Studies Center in Masyaf, also known by its French acronym CERS, has been the target of at least two reported air attacks blamed on Israel, including one in late April said to have killed a number of Iranians.

Western officials have long associated CERS with the production of chemical weapons. Reports have also indicated an Iranian missile operation at the site.

After the July strike on the site outside of Hama in northern Syria, the observatory said the air attack had targeted a “workshop supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made.”

Nurlana Khalil@NuNurlanax

. Update: local sources say 10 missiles were fired by . At least 6 hit the military complex N. of . Video shows air defenses in action. . pic.twitter.com/UD6yNLwPbz https://twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/1021086656781266944?s=04 

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq
Replying to @QalaatAlMudiq

#Pt. Update: local sources say 10 missiles were fired by #Israel. At least 6 hit the military complex N. of #Masyaf. Video shows air defenses in action. #Syria.

The site was also reportedly hit by Israel in September 2017.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

سفيان السامرائي

@SufianSamarrai

غارات أسرائيلية على قاعدة عسكرية ب مخصصة للإسلحةالكميائية تؤدي الى تدمير كامل لمنظومةالأسد التشغيلية هناك

Israel does not comment on reports of airstrikes in Syria but has said it will work to keep advanced weapons out of terrorists’ hands and has vowed to stop Iran from gaining a foothold in the country.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

In April 2017, the Trump administration placed sanctions on hundreds of CERS employees following a chemical attack on the Syrian rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians, including children.

Another CERS facility near Damascus was bombed by US, British and French forces in April after another chemical attack.

The Syrian regime has been accused of dozens of gas attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians during the war, even after it said it was giving up its stockpile.

A senior member of the Syrian opposition, citing security officials still working for the regime at the time, told The Times of Israel in 2014 that Assad’s forces were stockpiling chemical substances and missiles carrying chemical warheads at the site, which was not made available to international inspectors tasked with ensuring the destruction of the weapons.