Archive for October 13, 2018

On edge about Iran

October 13, 2018

Source: On edge about Iran | The Times of Israel

Diplomatic measures and economic sanctions are not working; the US and Israel need to find new responses to Iranian aggression

A computer simulation released by the Russian Defense Ministry September 23, 2018, purports to show Israeli jets near a Russian reconnaissance plane, in red, off Syria's coast before it was accidentally shot down by Syria forces responding to the Israeli air strike. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

A computer simulation released by the Russian Defense Ministry September 23, 2018, purports to show Israeli jets near a Russian reconnaissance plane, in red, off Syria’s coast before it was accidentally shot down by Syria forces responding to the Israeli air strike. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

According to the Israel Defense Forces, on September 17th, the Israeli Air Force targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Anti-aircraft fire from Syrian SAM5 batteries in response to the Israeli strikes resulted in the accidental downing of a Russian Ilyushin-20 aircraft, killing all 15 Russian service members aboard. The incident has led to what has arguably been the biggest strain in Israeli-Russian relations since Russia began military operations in Syria three years ago, despite the fact that it had been Syrian anti-aircraft fire that had downed the Russian Ilyushin. Russian defense officials, such as Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov were quick to place blame on Israel.

“The Israeli jets used the Russian plane as a cover, thus exposing it to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of an F-16, was shot down by a missile launched with the S-200 system,” Konashenkov told Russian news outlet TASS. “We regard these provocative actions by Israel as hostile. As a result of irresponsible actions by the Israeli military, 15 Russian military servicemen were killed. This by no means agrees with the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to a proportionate response,” Konashenkov added.

According to the Defense Ministry in Moscow, the Russian Ilyushin-20 was returning to the Russian Hmeymim airbase in Lataika province when at approximately 11:00 p.m. Moscow time, it disappeared from radar screens. The Russians claim that the plane was over the Mediterranean Sea about 35 kilometers (20 miles) from the Syrian coastline, and that the trace of the Ilyushin-20 on flight control radars disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province. Syrian state media also presented a similar timeline of events, however, opposition sources reported that on Wednesday, several Syrian soldiers who were involved in the downing of the Russian Ilyushin-20 were arrested and interrogated by members of the Russian military police. A Syrian unit was also reported to have taken part in the arrest.

Israel was quick to respond to Russian claims that it was responsible for the incident, placing blame on the Syrian regime headed by Bashar al-Assad, as well as on Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. In a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu emphasized this point, while also expressing regret and condolences for lost lives.

The Israel Defense Forces admitted to targeting a Syrian Armed Forces facility in Latakia, where systems to manufacture lethal weapons were about to be transferred to Hezbollah on Iran’s behalf. Israeli officials stressed that these weapons posed an “intolerable threat.” Israel also launched its own investigation into the incident, one that contradicts the Russian account of events.

According to Israeli officials, at the time of the strike, the Russian plane was not in the area, and by the time that the Syrian SAM missiles were launched, Israel’s fighters were already back in Israeli airspace. The Israeli investigation claimed that Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries fired indiscriminately and that its military did not check whether or not Russian planes were in the air, concluding that, “extensive and inaccurate Syrian antiaircraft fire,” took down the Russian plane.

Despite the rise in tensions, both Russia and Israel have taken steps that reflect their desire to de-escalate the situation. While officials in Moscow and in Russian Defense circles were quick to place unequivocal blame on Israel, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a softer tone, stating: “Here it’s more like a chain of tragic accidental circumstances, because Israel didn’t shoot our plane down. But there’s no doubt, no doubt at all, that we will have to take a serious look at what in fact happened, and our view of this tragedy is set out in the statement issued by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, which has been fully agreed with me.” Vladimir Putin promised to further investigate the incident and to take stronger security measures to protect Russian servicemen in Syria.

In his phone call with Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the importance of continued coordination between Israel and Russia, and offered to send Israel’s Air Force commander to Moscow to debrief the Russian government about the Israeli operation in Syria. “Israel has a strong interest in maintaining the deconfliction line and will want to work with Russia to improve it,” according to Yaakov Amidror.

Comments from the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not mention Israel, but noted, “Yesterday’s unfortunate incident reminds us of the need to find permanent, peaceful, and political resolutions to the many overlapping conflicts in the region and the danger of tragic miscalculation in Syria’s crowded theater of operations,” and, “Underlines the urgent need to resolve the Syrian conflict and to end Iran’s provocative transit of dangerous weapon systems through Syria, which are a threat to the region.” President Trump remarked that the incident was, “A very sad thing, but that’s what happens.”

Remarks from Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of the Hezbollah, claimed that Israel’s real purpose for striking Syria was not to stop the shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, but to degrade Syrian weapons capabilities (with notable regards to missiles). Nasrallah added that, “The Israeli aggression in Syria is intolerable and must be stopped immediately.” Nasrallah also made sure to target the United States in his remarks, stating, “The real enemy of the Middle East is the Americans and their policies. Even Israel is only an actor in the US play.” Most notably, and perhaps most unsurprisingly, Nasrallah emphasized that Hezbollah fighters would not be leaving Syria anytime in the near future.

On September 20, 2018, it was released that Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo asked in letters to the secretary-general and Security Council for condemnation of Israeli threats against Tehran and to bring Israel’s nuclear program under its supervision. The letter also requested that the United Nation to force Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and bring its nuclear program under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN atomic watchdog.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem threatened at the UN General Assembly on October 29th to push Israel out of the “occupied Golan Heights,” and accused Israel of supporting terrorist groups operating in Southern Syria. He then affirmed that Syria is determined to liberate the Golan Heights, and appealed for the UN to enforce resolutions that would push Israel back to the pre-1967 border with Syria. Mr. Muallem also called for the immediate removal of US, French, and Turkish forces from Syria.

In the time since the downing of the Russian Illyushin-20, Israel and Russia have maintained a constant dialogue with regards to the incident, and a military delegation headed by Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin was sent to Moscow in an attempt to deescalate the situation. The delegation presented its initial findings of their investigation, which found that Syria, not Israel, was to blame for the downing of the Il-20. The delegation also presented intelligence regarding Iranian efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and to facilitate arms transfers to terror proxies in the region. In the end, the Russians rejected the findings of the investigation conducted by the Israeli Air Force, maintaining their claims that Israeli warnings of an impending airstrike came with too short of a notice (Israel claims 12 minutes in advance, Russia claims less than one minute in advance), and that Israeli fighters used the Russian plane as cover, a claim that Israeli officials have ardently denied. Nevertheless, Moscow still places sole blame on Israel. In addition to this, Moscow has demanded further inquiries and explanations from Israel.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov issued a scathing statement directed towards the Israeli military, claiming that, “objective data says that the actions of Israeli pilots, which led to the death of 15 Russian military personnel, point to either lack of professionalism or criminal negligence. This is why we believe that the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy is solely the fault of the Israeli Air Force and those who made decisions concerning such actions.” Konashenkov followed, “This is an extremely ungrateful response to all that Russia has done for Israel and the Israeli people recently. The Israeli military command either does not value the current level of relations with Russia or does not control certain military units,” claiming that the IAF’s actions towards the Russian aircraft went, “beyond civilized relations.”

In the wake of heightened tensions, Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman pledged that Israel would continue to operate in Syria to fight Iran. “We will do everything, everything that is required, in order to defend the security of Israeli citizens. On this issue we have no other alternative,” Lieberman remarked. With regards to initial Russian outrage over the event, Lieberman said he understood the anger surrounding the incident, but maintained that the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad, not Israel, was responsible.

While Israel vows to continue strikes against Iran in Syria, the situation has become more complicated with the recent decision by the Russians to supply Syria with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the anti-aircraft system “will be devoted to ensure 100 percent security and safety of our men in Syria.” Russian Minister of Defense remarked, “We are confident that these measures will cool hotheads and prevent them from taking thoughtless steps that might put our servicemen in harms way.” While Moscow claims that the system will be under the control of Syrian forces, most agree that it will be the Russians who will have their fingers on the button. Moscow is hoping that the move will compel Israel and other coalitions operating in Syria, such as those lead by the U.S. and Turkey, to consult even more closely with Russia when pursuing their own military objectives, such as to avoid any future incidents. Alexander Sherin, deputy chair of the Russian State Duma’s defense committee stated, “We cannot allow Syrian airspace to be turned into a public thoroughfare.”

The move has faced sharp criticism in Israel, with Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “irresponsible,” and another Israeli official remarking that, “The S-300 is a complex challenge for the State of Israel.” However, the Israeli official added that while Moscow, “made a move, the playing field is very large.” Statements from Israeli officials indicate that Israel remains committed to self-defense and confident in its support from the United States. Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman pledged, “One thing needs to be clear: If someone shoots at our planes, we will destroy them. It doesn’t matter if it’s an S-300 or an S-700.” Israel has reportedly been preparing for the S-300’s deployment for over a decade, and Israel’s new F-35 stealth fighters are capable of evading the system. Nevertheless, the S-300 does pose new challenges to Israeli operations in Syria, and the risk of escalation persists in Israeli-Russian relations. While Netanyahu and Putin have enjoyed positive relations and even what some would call, “friendship,” this does not outweigh rivaling geopolitical interests.

While Russia has attempted to portray the incident as the result of a lack of self-control on the part of the Israeli’s, ultimately, the events of September 17th highlight Russia’s inability to control or otherwise restrain its own proxies. Russia’s embarrassment of this fact is displayed by its frantic attempts to blame Israel for something that it knows their own ally (Syria) is responsible for. Russia and Israel both have an understanding in trying to maintain the deconfliction line. Russia, it should be noted, has acknowledged Israel’s concerns that Iranian forces would look to use Syria as a staging ground for military operations against Israel, as well as to facilitate the transfer of arms to its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has made it abundantly clear that it will tolerate neither.

Vladimir Putin knows that unless he is able or willing to take steps to limit these actions taken by Iran and its proxies, that future incidents like this are not only possible, but also likely. Russia’s only other option is a possible military confrontation with Israel, but as Zvi Magen from the Institute of National Security Studies notes, “Russia is not in a position to be in a conflict with Israel on any level, in any space.” While Russia’s deployment of S-300 systems to Syria is certainly an escalation, it is a calculated one on the part of Vladimir Putin. The deployment of S-300 systems will increase the threat to Israeli planes, but it likely will not drastically change the calculations of Israeli Defense Officials. Israel will continue to strike against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Should the S-300 systems manage to pose a significant enough threat to Israeli fighters, Israel will certainly find a way to neutralize them too. Putin is certainly aware of this. If Russia truly wanted to pose a truly significant threat to Israeli pilots, they could have deployed S-400 systems to Syria, but that is not Russia’s intention. Chiefly, the deployment of S-300 systems to Syria is a message: The Russians want to prevent any more friendly-fire incidents (to avoid future embarrassment and escalation), while also playing into Putin’s “strongman” narrative. Putin does not want to appear weak, but knows there is only so much that can be done short of an actual military confrontation.

These events highlight another issue from the perspective of the United States and Israel. Both find themselves in similar circumstances. Despite crippling economic sanctions, the Iranian regime is not curtailing its actions or changing its intentions. In the face of renewed sanctions and the United States withdraw from the JCPOA, Iran continues its destabilizing activity in the Middle East, posing a direct threat to United States interests and Israeli security. It is also clear that while Iran is suffering economically, the regime is no closer to collapse.

Despite Israel having conducted approximately 200 strikes in Syria since 2017, it is clear that Israeli strikes against Iranian positions in Syria alone is not enough to dislodge Iran from Syria, nor is it enough to deter attempts of arms transfers between Iran and Hezbollah. In light of this realization, and the risks entailed in another downing of a Russian plan, the United States and Israel may need to reconsider their response to Iranian aggression. Where diplomatic measures and economic sanctions have failed, the US and Israel must keep open other options against Iran.

It is important to note that the use of new options against Iran will necessarily be viewed as an escalating action. This might lead to an Iranian retaliation. That is why any such action must be strongly coordinated between the United States and Israel. Both must be prepared for any response.

Professor Zaki Shalom is a member of the research staff at the Institute for National Security Studies and the Ashkelon Academic College. He has published extensively on various facets of Israel’s defense policy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the role of the superpowers in the Middle East, and Israel’s struggle against Islamic terror. His work has also focused on the study of Israel’s nuclear option, both in historical and contemporary perspectives

Jacob Collier is a research intern at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He is a recent graduate from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, where he earned a BA in Political Science and Global Security Studies.

 

Iran official calls to lobby ‘anti-Trump movements’ to reduce sanctions’ impact

October 13, 2018

Source: Iran official calls to lobby ‘anti-Trump movements’ to reduce sanctions’ impact | The Times of Israel

( The Democrats justifying their violent mob protests must have given him the idea.  Birds of a feather… – JW )

Conservative lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh says negotiation with factions who oppose the US president could help alleviate economic pressures

President Donald J. Trump signs an EO on Iran Sanctions in the Green Room at Trump National Golf Club Monday, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald J. Trump signs an EO on Iran Sanctions in the Green Room at Trump National Golf Club Monday, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

TEHRAN — One of Iran’s top foreign policy officials has called for negotiations with “anti-Trump movements” in the US to dampen the impact of sanctions, local media reported Saturday.

“America is not Trump,” said Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, a conservative lawmaker who heads parliament’s influential national security and foreign policy commission, according to reformist newspaper Arman.

“There is a new diplomatic atmosphere for deescalation with America and it is fitting that Iran follows negotiation diplomacy and lobbying anti-Trump movements in America,” he added.

He said this would help alleviate pressure caused by Washington’s “extensive sanction-focused force.”

Anti-Trump supporters rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sunday, July 2, 2017, during an impeachment march in Austin, Texas by anti-Trump supporters in hopes to gain attention and impeach Trump. (Joshua Guerra /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The US pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May and reimposed punishing sanctions on the country, hoping to pressure Tehran into what President Donald Trump calls a “better deal.”

The US is due to complete the re-imposition of sanctions on November 5, targeting Iran’s oil sector and central bank.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has dismissed Trump’s offers to talk as “a dangerous game.”

But Mehdi Motaharnia, a Tehran-based political analyst, described Falahat-Pisheh’s proposal as “very meaningful” since it signifies a potential shift in conservatives’ stance on talking with the US.

“This comes from a conservative whose party members called (Foreign Minister Mohammad) Javad Zarif a traitor for negotiating with the US,” Motaharnia told reformist daily Hamdeli.

“But now we do not see such reactions when the head of national security and foreign policy commission proposes talks,” he added.

 

Israel, Syria agree to reopen border crossing — US

October 13, 2018

Source: Israel, Syria agree to reopen border crossing — US | The Times of Israel

Nikki Haley says Quneitra junction to open Monday as part of UN peacekeeping efforts, calls for ceasefire accord between countries to be maintained

UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The main border crossing between Israel and Syria will be reopened Monday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, over four years after it was shuttered due to the Syrian civil war.

In a statement Friday welcoming the move, Haley said the decision by Israel, Syria and the United Nations to reopen the Quneitra Crossing was part of the return of UN peacekeepers to the area. She said it would allow them to “step up their efforts to prevent hostilities in the Golan Heights region.”

The UN Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, was established as part of the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria that ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War and created a demilitarized zone along the border.

“We look to both Israel and Syria to provide UN peacekeepers the access they need as well as assurances of their safety. We also call on Syria to take the necessary steps so UNDOF can safely and effectively deploy and patrol without interference,” Haley said in a statement.

She called on both countries to adhere to the ceasefire and “keep any military forces other than UN peacekeepers out of the area.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at a Security Council meeting on the the situation in Syria at UN headquarters in New York City on March 12, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

There was no immediate confirmation of the crossing’s reopening from Israel, Syria or Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the civil war.

The US announcement of Quneitra’s reopening comes just weeks after Israel and Russia both said the necessary steps had been taken to reopen the border crossing.

The reopening of the Quneitra Crossing would restore conditions along the border to their status prior to the Syrian civil war, which broke out in 2011.

The crossing was shuttered in August 2014 following a number of attacks by Syrian rebels, which drove out the United Nations peacekeeping force that controlled the crossing, known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF.

The peacekeeping force has slowly returned to the border between Israel and Syria in recent months — a move welcomed by Jerusalem.

“UNDOF troops have started working and patrolling, with IDF assistance. This shows that we are ready to open the crossing as it was before. The ball is now in Syria’s court,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the site last month.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to reporters at the Quneitra Crossing on the Syrian border with the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

As Israel and Syria are technically at war, the Quneitra Crossing never saw regular, wide use. However, the local Druze populations in Israel and Syria were permitted, on some occasions, to travel through it to visit family on the other side — inspiring the 2004 movie “The Syrian Bride.” The crossing had also been used to transport apples from Druze orchards in Israel to Syria.

Liberman stressed that Israel was demanding that Syria abide by “every single section” of the ceasefire agreement between them.

The defense minister said the decision to reopen the crossing does not change Israel’s relationship with the Syrian regime or its despotic leader, Bashar Assad, whom the defense minister called a “war criminal.”

Initially, the crossing will mostly serve the UNDOF soldiers, allowing them to pass through for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

 

Nasrallah: Well not play by the enemys rules

October 13, 2018

Source: Nasrallah: Well not play by the enemys rules

Delivering a speech from his hiding place, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General says terror organization refuses to comment on PM Netanyahu’s remarks at the UNAG, which revealed the exact location Hezbollah is hiding its precision-missile factories; adds ‘we exposed Netanyahu’s false allegations regarding the missile factory near Beirut’s airport; urges Arab countries to unite against the US.

Following Netanyahu’s remarks, the IDF released—in an apperent coordinated timing—footage of a precision-missiles factory belonging to Hezbollah, coinciding with the prime minister’s speech delivered on the world’s stage.

Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah

Speaking from his hiding place, Nasrallah delivered a speech marking a week to the death of the mother of Hezbollah’s former military wing chief, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed 10 years ago in a car explosion.

Nasrallah addressed the footage revealing the exact location of the missile factory, adding,” “I would like to officially confirm that our policy about military issues and the resistance’s abilities is clear.

“Hezbollah is not obligated to provide answers, we are not playing by the enemy’s rules,” he stated.

 (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

(Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“We will not give Israel anything for free. We exposed Netanyahu’s false allegations regarding the missile factory near Beirut’s airport.

“The organization will not comment on media publications, and will not hand out information for free, insignificant as it may be,” Hezbollah leader went on to say.

Nasrallah delivering his speech  (Photo: EPA)

Nasrallah delivering his speech (Photo: EPA)

“We refuse to assist our enemy in waging a psychological war against our people and country,” he exclaimed.

The IDF said Hezbollah also has other sites within and outside of Beirut where its members have been working to create an infrastructure intended to stockpile precision missiles in the future.

According to the military’s intelligence, one of the sites is located inside a Hezbollah soccer stadium while another is adjacent to the Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, spoke to foreign ambassadors before taking them on a tour of the area mentioned in the prime minister’s UN speech, where Bassil reiterated that there were “many statements … affirming the possession of precision-missiles by Hezbollah. However, this does not mean that these missiles are present in the vicinity of Beirut airport.” he stressed in an apparent attempt to dismiss Netanyahu’s claims.

Bassil, a political ally of Hezbollah, said Israel aimed to “falsify facts concerning Lebanon and to vocalize lies that carry the seeds of a threat that does not frighten us, and that Netanyahu had used the platform of the UN General Assembly “to justify another aggression on a sovereign country like Lebanon.”

Hezbollah soccer stadium (Photo: Reuters)

Hezbollah soccer stadium (Photo: Reuters)

In addition, Nasrallah slammed the Arab countries cooperating with the United Staes.”US President Donald Trump told the Saudis that without the US they wouldn’t survive a week, forcing them to cooperate. The US is insulting its own allies,” he opined.

“Trump exposed that many Arab states are paying to the US in exchange for their survival.

“Who are you counting on?” Nasrallah asked addressing the Arab states.

“Trump is robbing you under the guise of providing security. He takes your money and insults you on a daily basis,” he vented.

“You have other options, more respectable ones. Sounds of war are being heard in Yemen, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, and for what?” he wondered.

“All the Arab countries should cooperate among themselves,” he concluded

Imad Mughniyeh's mother

Imad Mughniyeh’s mother

Hezbollah blamed Israel for assassinating Mughniyeh in 2008. The Shi’ite terror organization gave extensive coverage to the funeral of the terrorist’s mother and also mentioned his son, Jihad, who was assassinated in 2015 on the outskirts of Quneitra alongside other Hezbollah senior officials as well as a Revolutionary Guards senior advisor in an operation attributed to Israel.

According to Hezbollah-affiliated Media outlets, the terror organization’s senior officials attended the funeral of Mughniyeh’s mother. “She sacrificed a lot for the organizations,” the official said.

 

Khashoggi case: Vile murder, palace intrigue against crown prince or plot to torpedo US-Saudi ties? – DEBKAfile

October 13, 2018

Source: Khashoggi case: Vile murder, palace intrigue against crown prince or plot to torpedo US-Saudi ties? – DEBKAfile

It could be any or all these, since no one still knows what befell the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.  But the fallout is spreading worldwide, as theories, the wilder the better, flourish around the mystery.
Turkey, whose animosity for the Saudi kingdom is a fact of Muslim politics, leads the pack, Turkish intelligence officials claimed this week to have a video clip showing Saudi agents murdering Khashoggi in the consulate building. They also claimed proof that 15 Saudi agents were involved in dismembering the body and flying its parts to Saudi Arabia after removing the remains in a black van with consular number plates. While grabbing global headlines – especially in US media – Turkey has never shown this clip or any other proof to support its claims. They are steadfastly denied as baseless by Riyadh, which has initiated a joint investigation of the disappearance with Turkey.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton only deepened the mystery when he said on Thursday, Oct. 11, “We need to find out what the facts are, and we need to get this resolved quickly, because if it is another operation, people need to understand that,” He went on to say: “I think the Saudis themselves are being damaged, because we don’t have the facts out.”
What other operation? And by whom?

DEBKAfile’s Saudi experts note that disappearing dissenters to the throne, some of them royals, are not a novelty in Saudi Arabia, Under previous Saudi reigns, even princes were mysteriously snatched from their cushy residences in foreign countries, and never heard of again.
Take the case of Prince Sultan bin Turki, who was abducted in Geneva in 2003 after calling for reforms in the kingdom. Testimony subsequently presented to a Swiss court alleged that he was lured to a rendezvous outside Geneva and drugged when he resisted attempts to put him on a plane for the kingdom. Then, in 2015, another prince, Turki bin Bandar al Saud, a former police chief, was believed to have suffered the same fate in Paris. He left the kingdom over a family inheritance dispute which landed him in prison. After his release, he moved to Paris and from there posted videos in an online campaign for reforms from 2012 until his disappearance and apparent abduction. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Only last year, in November, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri vanished after he was invited to Riyadh by the incumbent crown prince Muhammed bin Salman (MbS). He was only “discovered” and freed after intercession by French President Emmanuel Macron and agreeing to transfer his entire fortune, $7 billion, to the Saudi treasury.  No one knows how many princes and tycoons, arrested on the orders of Prince Muhammed on Nov. 4, 2017 and imprisoned at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, are still in custody. Most bought their release by surrendering their assets to the Saudi crown.

Gulf sources maintain that Jamal Khashoggi was never the loudest critic of the House of Saudi he is widely portrayed as being. In some articles in Western publications, he combined mild criticism with occasional praise for the economic and social reforms introduced by the young crown prince. Therefore, the sensational reporting about Saudi intelligence assassins executing Khashoggi on the orders of MbS should be treated with caution, if not a grain of salt. Such reports may in fact precipitate his murder, if he is still alive. He may even have been the victim of a conspiracy by the crown prince’s rivals inside the royal house to show him in a bad light and torpedo his policies.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan loathes the Saudi royal family, and the crown prince in particular, and would not be above capitalizing on a putative Saudi operation against Khashoggi for blackening their name. Who knows what bargaining may be afoot – and between whom – before he makes a surprise appearance?  It may be too soon therefore to decide whether the missing journalist is alive or dead.

It is also possible that certain US and Western undercover agencies, dedicated to the downfall of President Donald Trump, jumped on the Turkish bandwagon to undermine the Saudi crown prince and so stigmatize the Trump administration’s alliance with the Saudi royal house – and Jared Kushner’s friendship with MbS in particular.

Maybe, too, Nikki Haley picked up word of the mud flying in that direction and stepped in on Oct. 9, with kind words for the president’s son-in-law apropos of nothing as an unsung “genius” during her parting comments as ambassador to the UN at the Oval Office.
The White House is clearly troubled by the swirling rumors and sent Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kushner to demand information from the crown prince.

President Trump stated Thursday that US Investigators in Turkey will probe the case of the missing Saudi journalist. “I have to find out what happened,” he said, “We’re being very tough. And we have investigators over there and we’re working with Turkey, and frankly, we’re working with Saudi Arabia. We want to find out what happened.” It isa bad situation, as he said,

Clearly, it is vital to determine if the affair, which threatens serious damage to US-Saudi relations, was deliberately engineered or opportunistically exploited for that purpose.  In jeopardy too is Trump’s “peace plan of the century” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and normalizing relations between he Arab world and the Jewish State, in which the Saudis are a key player and with whom Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cultivated friendly ties. All these questions await answers in the next chapter of the Khashoggi mystery.

 

Senate passes bill sanctioning Hamas, Hezbollah ‘human shields’ practice

October 13, 2018

Source: Senate passes bill sanctioning Hamas, Hezbollah ‘human shields’ practice – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The legislation, titled the STOP Using Human Shields Act, was authored and supported by Republican and Democrats.

BY MICHAEL WILNER
 OCTOBER 12, 2018 23:35
Bir Zeit

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation on Friday mandating the government sanction members of Hamas and Hezbollah responsible for using human shields in warfare.

The legislation, titled the STOP Using Human Shields Act, was authored and supported by Republican and Democrats. It now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Various American Jewish groups and Israel advocacy organizations praised the bill’s passage.

“Hamas and Hezbollah are blatantly violating international law by placing their terrorist infrastructure among civilian populations. In any future conflict in Gaza or Lebanon, the lives of innocent civilians will be endangered because of the reckless and illegal behavior of these terrorist organizations,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement.

The Senate also approved a bill that sanctions foreign government agencies, individuals and companies that support Hezbollah financially or militarily.

The Treasury Department is already increasing its pressure campaign on the Iranian proxy organization, based in Lebanon, using existing sanctions tools.

 

Ex-CIA official: Iran is the primary engine of regional destabilization 

October 13, 2018

Source: Ex-CIA official: Iran is the primary engine of regional destabilization – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

In his first interview with an Israeli journalist, a senior CIA official predicts that the Iranian regime will ultimately fall

BY YOSSI MELMAN
 OCTOBER 13, 2018 01:26
Norman Roule

“Those who argued that the deal would open Iran to the world and encourage it to be a more responsible international player were wrong. They argue that Iran needed more time for this transformation. Perhaps, but how many years do we need to wait for Iran to stop supporting terrorism? If you live in the region and are victims of routine terrorism or missile attacks, it simply isn’t reasonable to endure these threats to your citizens in the hope Iran will change.”

What is the desirable course that has to be taken?

“If Iran wants to help the Houthis, they should send humanitarian aid via the United Nations and not missiles. Iran’s actions have extended the conflicts and exacerbated the tragic suffering of the Yemeni people. Iran supports more than a dozen Shi’ite and Sunni militias and terrorist groups in the region. It has proliferated advanced missile technology. There is no question Iran is the primary engine of destabilization in the region and the international community. This must be stopped and Iran must be compelled to cease its behavior.”

ROULE IS reluctant to talk about himself and feels uneasy about my interest in his family background. In brief, he was a born in a small coal mining town in southeast Pennsylvania to a family, which has always expressed a sense of duty to serve community and country. His family members fought in major American wars during the last century: the two World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars. His family upbringing engraved in his mind that he should always fight evil and the bad guys.

He went to a small college to pursue his interests in music but discovered history and the world opened to him. While at college, he was spotted by the CIA and recruited.

He refused to talk about his career in the intelligence community, but from other sources I learned that in his long years of service he worked as an undercover agent, station chief and rose to the senior position of division head in charge of the Middle East (Near East in US jargon). In 2008, he was asked to serve at DNI, which was established in 2005 by President George W. Bush to improve cooperation among the many organs of the US intelligence community. The reorganization was a result of the tragic events of 9/11, which US intelligence agencies failed to detect and stop. In practical terms, he was the senior official responsible for managing US intelligence plans and operations against Iran.

In nearly nine years of service in this capacity, he was witness to how the ties and cooperation between the intelligence communities of Israel and the US were enhanced and upgraded to unprecedented levels. It can be assumed that he was privy at that time to all the most guarded secrets shared by the two countries.

It was reported by international media that the CIA and Mossad carried out joint operations, including the assassination of  Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s master terrorist, and the intelligence agencies of the two nations developed and unleashed malware that damaged Iran’s computers that were linked to its uranium enrichment program and performed other daring operations around the globe.

When I tried to ask him about such operations, his answer was polite but firm. “I will not discuss my past work in the intelligence community,” he said.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who knows Roule well, told me that “Norman is a brilliant guy. He knows the Middle East very well. He is a superb analyst and I considered him a true friend of Israel. Every meeting with him was extremely interesting.” After his retirement in September 2017, Roule went into private business and joined UANI.

What do you think of the capture of Iran’s nuclear archive by the Mossad?

“I only know what I read in the media. But the material certainly seems like evidence that Iran was at least keeping open the option for a nuclear weaponization program in the future.”

From your vast experience, what are Iran’s patterns and modes of operation?

“Iran employs what is known as hybrid warfare or gray zone tactics. In Iran, it may be that the Supreme leader will say to his subordinates don’t risk a major conflict, but you can operate aggressively below that level. This allows Iran to move rapidly, unlike in the West where each step involves careful review by policy makers or Congress.”

How is such a model put into practice in the field?

“Iran is deeply involved in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran’s aggressive actions in the region seem as if it has taken a conventional war and split it into pieces: ground operations and UAV air operations in some countries, naval operations in the Red Sea, and periodic cyber-attacks. Because these actions are divided among so many locations, the West and the United Nations ignore the conflict. But people are dying, nonetheless.”

But hasn’t the international community imposed sanctions on Iran?

“The US and the West have imposed multiple sanctions on Iran for its involvement in terrorism, the bombing of our embassy (in Beirut – Y.M.), and the missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. But these sanctions are not yet at the level that impacts on Iranian decision-making. We may have slowed the operations of Iran and Hezbollah, but we have yet to stop them.”

Maybe it is better to use diplomacy rather than sanctions?

“During the debate on the future of the deal, I believed we should have stayed and worked with our allies to pressure Iran. The US should not be perceived as standing alone against Iran.”

So is Trump wrong in his policy?

“I will not comment on policy. We should remember that President Trump’s objections to the deal are not unique. Many, many congressmen – including Democrats – made these comments during the debate over the nuclear deal. I do believe we need to work with Europe and our other allies, but it isn’t reasonable to allow Europe to continue to delay pressure against Iran. The new sanctions increase pressure against Iran. Iran isn’t a very profitable place for any major business and large corporations cannot justify choosing the difficult, unprofitable and heavily sanctioned Iranian market over the US.”

What is the impact of sanctions on Iran?

“Iran is facing unprecedented simultaneous challenges. These challenges are demographic, economic, ecological, social, and political. Its water shortages are significant, and its infrastructure is very poor. But Iran invited this problem. It chose to send oil to Syria instead of using the funds for its own infrastructure and to assist its civilians. Iran’s generally young population has understandably lost faith in its government and many are leaving. This brain drain is another challenge.”

Is this the reason Iran came to the negotiating table, because it was on the verge of collapse?

“There is no evidence Iran was on the verge of collapse when they came to the table. They were under great pressure and they came to the table to see what deal might be possible.”

It was claimed by Israeli intelligence that Iran was 3-6 months from a bomb?

“According to many press reports, it would be more correct to say that Iran was only a few months from sufficiently highly enriched uranium for a weapon. More work would have been required to build an actual weapon.”

Can you define the purpose of the sanctions? 

“Sanctions must aim at provoking a conversation among Iran’s leaders. What do they prefer: intervention in the region or economic and political stability at home. For this reason, I support a stronger sanctions policy.

“Iran is also facing a succession crisis. Who will replace the Supreme Leader and what sort of revolution will he inherit? This question must trouble the current Supreme Leader very much. The Iranians also face municipal elections in 2020 and a presidential election in 2021. The Iranian people can use these opportunities to try to change their government.

“I believe the regime will eventually fall but its ability to use coercion makes it difficult to predict when that will happen. I do know that when it does occur, no one will be surprised.”