Archive for August 26, 2018

Pro-Iran militias turn on Assad, try to establish land corridor to Mediterranean

August 26, 2018

Source: Pro-Iran militias turn on Assad, try to establish land corridor to Mediterranean | The Times of Israel

Israel worriedly follows developments around key border crossing in eastern Syria, where battles between longtime civil war allies have been reported for first time

Members of the pro-Syrian government forces ride on a tank as it drives down a street in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, on November 20, 2017. (AFP/ STRINGER)

Members of the pro-Syrian government forces ride on a tank as it drives down a street in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, on November 20, 2017. (AFP/ STRINGER)

Pro-Iran Shiite militias have been observed fighting Syrian army forces several times over the last two weeks, in what has been described as a battle for one of Syria’s key strategic areas, with developments closely followed by a concerned Israel.

It is the first time the two sides have been reported to be fighting, with fatalities and casualties on both sides, after years of cooperation during Iran’s involvement and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.

The reports came from various media outlets in the eastern area of Al-Bukamal and from credible Syrian opposition websites.

The fighting is focused around the town of Al-Bukamal, next to the Al-Qa’im border crossing between Syria and Iraq, which is considered a key strategic point in securing trade between Iraq and Syria — and indirectly, between Iran and the Mediterranean Sea.

Al-Bukamal is located on the eastern border of the Deir Ezzor region, on the banks of the Euphrates River.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard in Qaim, near the Syrian border, in the Euphrates river valley 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (photo credit: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The fighting between Shiite militia forces and the Syrian military’s forces began more than two weeks ago, and are in an all-out battle over control of the town, its various neighborhoods and the border crossing. Similar exchanges of fire were reported in the nearby town of Al-Mayadin.

In both towns there were reports of fighters killed and wounded, although the exact number isn’t clear. Among the dead was a high-ranking officer of Iranian origin and fighters from the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, which is funded, equipped and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

One of the reports said more than 25 people have been killed in the battles, but that number hasn’t been confirmed by credible sources.

The fighting resumed over the weekend, local media reported, with the Iranians bringing reinforcements to the area and making threats to Assad’s loyalists that those identified with the military would be eliminated if they don’t retreat from the town.

It is likely part of the Iranian effort to gain control of the key route without the Syrian army — or any other force — being able to have any influence.

Israel has been following the developments in that area, fearing that Iran could succeed in establishing a land corridor to the Mediterranean that would pose a significant threat to the Jewish state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been campaigning internationally against Iranian presence and influence in Syria, and has lately been seeking to convince Russia to expel all Iranian forces from Syria.

Arab media reports said the Shiite militias have in the last several weeks been setting up Shia religious institutions in Al-Bukamal, and militia members have taken over homes belonging to Syrian refugees who can’t return to their homes.

Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran. September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Over the last few months there has been an Iranian effort to establish a presence around the border crossing, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has been seen there several times.

On June 18 there were reports of a large-scale airstrike on Shiite militias operating in the area that killed dozens, with several media outlets claiming Israel was behind the attack.

One report said there was another strike in recent days that killed more than 25 members of the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia Hezbollah Brigades, while they were on their way to Baghdad.

Trump cuts more than $200 million in U.S. aid to Palestinians

August 26, 2018

Source: Trump cuts more than $200 million in U.S. aid to Palestinians – Israel Hayom

Iranian defense minister arrives in Syria amid clashes – Israel Hayom

August 26, 2018

Source: Iranian defense minister arrives in Syria amid clashes – Israel Hayom

Three Russian warships steaming to Syria for Idlib operation. Hizballah opts out – DEBKAfile

August 26, 2018

Source: Three Russian warships steaming to Syria for Idlib operation. Hizballah opts out – DEBKAfile

 Turkey sighted 3 Russian warships passing through the Bosporus on Thursday, Aug. 23, on their way to the Syrian port of Tartus for the start of the offensive to take Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold. The flotilla consists of three Russian Black Sea Fleet warships: the Krivak Class Pytlivy missile frigate; the Tapir class LST Orsk; and the largest landing craft in the fleet, the Nikolai Filchenko, which is capable of transporting 300 soldiers and either 20 tanks and trucks or 40 armored personnel carriers.

It is not known if these vessels are carrying combat personnel or just equipment. However, DEBKAfile’s military sources conclude that the two large Russian landing craft consigned from the Black Sea to Syria are almost certainly carrying Russian marines or special forces for attacking rebel groups in Idlib from the sea or the coast.
This province, which is situated on Syria’s northern border with Turkey, is ruled by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militia (ex-Al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front) under the command of Abu Mohammad al-Julani. Its fighting strength numbers between 60,000 and 70,000. This militia is supported militarily and financially by Turkey which has ringed the bastion round with 13 military positions and compounds,.
Ankara has sent its top officials to Moscow to try and avert the combined Russian-Iranian-Syrian offensive to recover Idlib for the Assad regime, now that most other parts of the country have been subdued by the three allies. This dispute is a bone of contention between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan. However, Turkey may find itself no more able to prevent Idlib from being captured than Israel could stop Syrian forces from taking Quneitra on its Golan border last month. On the other hand, whereas Israel was forced to relinquish its military footholds and influence along Syria’s southern border in the face of a concerted US-Russian front, Moscow is likely to allow Turkey to maintain its military presence around Idlib while the US has no cause to interfere.

Another big difference between the two arenas of operation is this: In contrast to the offensives for capturing Daraa and Queneitra, Hizballah has opted out of the Russian-Iranian-Syrian lineup. This is happening for the first time in the Syrian war, during which Iran’s Lebanese proxy led one battle after another on behalf of the Assad regime at Tehran’s behest.  DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources have discovered  that Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has finally had enough and and decided to stop obeying Tehran’s orders for sending Hizballah fighters into the brutal Syrian warfront. This mutiny by Iran’s most loyal and able Shiite surrogate is of profound concern to Iran’s war strategists. Its full impact is yet to be seen. Our sources have learned that Nasrallah, who is in the process of pulling back and sending home some of the contingents which led the capture of southwestern Syria, is not prepared to throw them back into battle on fresh Syrian killing fields.

E.U. pushes back against U.S. ‘economic pressure’ campaign on Iran

August 26, 2018

Source: E.U. pushes back against U.S. ‘economic pressure’ campaign on Iran – International news – Jerusalem Post

The EU aid, intended to fuel private sector growth and trade promotion in Iran, “sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said in a statement.

BY MICHAEL WILNER
 AUGUST 25, 2018 19:49
E.U. pushes back against U.S. 'maximum economic pressure' campaign on Iran

Both Israel and the US slammed an EU decision Thursday to give Iran $20.7 million in economic aid, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a “poison pill” to the Iranian people and to efforts to curb Iranian aggression in the region.

“I think that the decision yesterday by the EU to give €18 million to Iran is a big mistake,” Netanyahu said in Vilnius at a press conference with the leaders of the three Baltic states: Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

“Iran tried to conduct a terror attack on the soil of Europe just a few weeks ago while Iran’s foreign minister was meeting with European leaders. That is incredible,” he said.

“Where will the extra money go? It’s not going to go to solve the water problem in Iran. It’s not going to go for Iranian truck drivers. It’s going to go to the missiles and to the revolutionary guards in Iran, in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East,” he added.

The EU money is part of its efforts to support the Iranian nuclear deal, following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from it in May. The 18 million euros delivery is only the first part of a larger package of 50 million euros earmarked in the EU budget for Iran, which has threatened to restart its nuclear program unless world powers – including the EU, Russia and China – continue to provide it with economic benefits.

Netanyahu said Iran is an issue “not fully understood” in the EU.

“The nuclear deal with Iran threatened Europe as well because it didn’t really stop the race to a nuclear weapon,” he said, adding that it enabled Iran to pursue the enrichment of uranium unlimited within a few years and added billions of dollars to its coffers.

Iran used this money, he said, to oppress its own people and to expand its conquest of Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and “many other places.”

The Trump administration also attacked the EU for the move, with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook saying it “sends the wrong message at the wrong time.” He said the aid from European taxpayers “perpetuates the regime’s ability to neglect the needs of its people and stifles meaningful policy changes.”

“More money in the hands of the ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries,” Hook said, referring to Iran’s supreme leader. “The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government’s corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in terrorism and foreign conflicts.”

The Trump administration has adopted a policy of “maximum economic pressure” on the Iranian government since pulling out of an international nuclear accord with Tehran in May. Sanctions previously lifted by that 2015 agreement have begun springing back into effect, forcing European businesses to choose between engagement in the US and Iranian markets.

The EU has attempted to keep its businesses engaged in Tehran with minimal success.

The US and the EU “should be working together instead to find lasting solutions that  truly support Iran’s people and end the regime’s threats to regional and global stability,” Hook added.