Archive for October 14, 2018

Hezbollah’s Cat-and-Mouse Game with Israel 

October 14, 2018

Source: Hezbollah’s Cat-and-Mouse Game with Israel – OpsLens

  · 

Waving photos of the sites during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu blasted Hezbollah for “deliberately” using citizens in Beirut as human shields. Hinting that Israel will soon bomb the factories, Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that “Israel knows what you are doing, Israel knows where you are doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it.”

The factories are in the neighborhood of Uza’i, close to Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. One site is located inside a stadium belonging to a Hezbollah-supporting soccer team. Further, missile conversion factories are in the middle of a residential neighborhood and close to civilian residential buildings, while another is at a dock only 500 meters from the airport’s landing strip.

Hezbollah’s decision to transfer its factories for turning rockets into precision missiles marks another stage in the multi-year cat-and-mouse game the Iranian proxy has played with Israel. The group and its Iranian patrons have been attempting relentlessly to transfer advanced “game-changing” weapons to Lebanon that will shift the strategic advantage that Israel currently holds.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of Israel and fought a bloody 34-day war with the Jewish State in 2006 that saw both countries suffer massive bombardments. Ever since the cessation of hostilities, both Israel and Hezbollah see the next round of warfare as a matter of when, not if, and have taken steps to prepare themselves accordingly. For Hezbollah, that meant embarking on a massive buildup that focuses on two main areas: Air defense systems and ground-to-ground missiles.

During the 2006 war, Israeli aircraft pounded Lebanon relentlessly, bombing critical infrastructure and laying waste to large swaths of the country. Israel’s air force grants the Jewish state a major absolute advantage, as Hezbollah does not have any air capabilities other than its drone program. In the wake of the destruction, Hezbollah views neutralizing the superiority Israel’s air force enjoys as critical to the group’s military effort.

Since 2010, Hezbollah and Iran have attempted to take advantage of the chaos caused by the Syrian civil war to smuggle advanced air defense systems that can shoot down Israeli plans. Almost all attempts to transfer the missiles into Lebanon have ended in the shipments being bombed by Israeli warplanes as part of its policy not to allow Hezbollah to obtain advanced weapons. While Hezbollah has managed to obtain some medium-range anti-air missiles that are capable of downing Israeli drones, helicopters, and low-flying fighter jets, Western intelligence does not think it has managed to get its hands on anti-aircraft missiles that can neutralize Israel’s fleet of fighters.

After being repeatedly stymied by Israel air strikes, Iran and Hezbollah shifted to a strategy of building up its missile arsenal. At the onset of 2006’s Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah possessed 12,000 rockets. Twelve years later, the number ballooned to between 130,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles, more than most NATO nations. Hezbollah views these missiles as a central pillar of its deterrence with Israel, as the massive arsenal has the ability to lay waste to Israel’s home front and kill thousands of civilians. With a total area smaller than the State of New Jersey and with 70 percent of it’s population crowded into its center region, Israel has to think twice about embarking on a military operation with Hezbollah that would cause it billions of dollars of damage.

However, while Hezbollah’s missile arsenal is a formidable threat to the Jewish State, it is not seen as a weapon that can change the balance of warfare with Israel. Other than crippling Israeli air force bases, the rockets are unable to stop advancing Israeli military forces and cannot neutralize the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In addition, the vast majority of Hezbollah’s missile stockpile are made up of inaccurate Katyusha, Grad, and Scud missiles. Besides the Fateh-110 missile, which is accurate up to a kilometer, these rockets can cause considerable harm to tiny Israel’s infrastructure but would not change the balance of power between the two nations. Because of this, Iran’s focus from 2010 until 2016 was on smuggling missiles with pinpoint accuracy to Hezbollah. The vast majority of these weapons shipments were summarily destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria and Sudan. While Israel does not claim responsibility for the airstrikes, senior officials periodically shed light on the effort to prevent Iranian shipments.

In August 2017, former Israeli Air Force Commander Amir Eshel revealed that Israel attacked convoys bringing arms to Hezbollah more than 100 times in the previous five years. The number of Israel attacks have also been steadily rising. Recently, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said that “in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself.”

Iran has since shifted tactics and is now trying to produce missiles within Lebanon itself. Iran believes that the large volume of munitions it can manufacture, and shorter supply lines will make it harder for Israel to thwart. In March, an Iranian general told the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida daily news that Iran had established multiple facilities for making rockets in Lebanon. The general added that the factories were tens of meters below ground and were fortified with multiple defense mechanisms to defend against an Israeli attack. Israel has responded by attacking the rocket sites and assassinating top personnel involved with the rocket project, including the killing of Syrian rocket scientist Dr. Aziz Asbar in a car bomb back in August .

Hezbollah’s decision to shift its sites for rocket production and conversion to Beirut from rural areas in northern Lebanon can be understood as a way to deter an Israeli aerial bombardment. Like Hamas in Gaza, which hides its missiles in highly residential areas, Hezbollah expects that Israel will refrain from carrying out an airstrike that will kill dozens of civilians.

This shift in tactics, culminating in a decision to place the rocket production sites near Rafic Hariri International Airport, can also be understood in similar light, for the international community would never forgive Israel for bombing a major international transit hub. As of now, Hezbollah’s bet that Israel would not bomb missile sites located in the heart of a residential neighborhood seems to have paid off, as Israel has chosen to deal with the threat via diplomatic means and not military action.

Other than Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations, Israel has attempted to whip up Lebanese public sentiment against Hezbollah. As part of these efforts, IDF spokesperson Brigadier General Ronen Manelis contributed an op-ed to the Lebanese press in January, warning that Hezbollah’s newfound ability for missile manufacturing would eventually lead to all-out war that would leave scores of Lebanese dead.

“Through the actions and inaction of the Lebanese authorities, Lebanon is turning into one big missile factory while much of the international community looks the other way,” wrote Manelis. “It’s no longer about transfers of arms, money or advice. De facto, Iran has opened a new branch, the Lebanon branch — Iran is here…Iran and Hezbollah are currently trying to build a precision missile factory.”

Should Israel choose not to bomb the Beirut missile sites, Hezbollah can be expected to expand its effort to hide sensitive military infrastructure in the heart of major cities. The odds of this policy continuing are growing increasingly likely, as recent tensions with Russia suggest that Israel’s policy of choosing diplomacy over bombings will continue.

After Israel bombed an Iranian weapons shipment in the Syrian port city of Latakia in early September, the resulting Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed a Russian Ilyushin IL-20 turboprop reconnaissance aircraft, killing all 15 troops aboard. As part of the resulting diplomatic fallout, Russia announced that it would sell Syria the S-300 anti-aircraft system, which is considered one of the best air defense systems in the world; accurate up to 150 kilometers and with detection capabilities stretching to 300 kilometers, it is capable of taking out enemy aircraft, ballistic missiles, and UAVs, and is considered by military experts to be second only to the United States’ Patriot batteries. Ever since it first announced the sale, Russia had come under heavy international pressure not to deliver the S-300 to Iran and Putin had frozen the deal in 2010.

Despite assurances by former Israeli Air Force Commander Amir Eshel, who in 2017 said that the S-300 was a “significant but not insurmountable challenge,” analysts say that its delivery will put an end to the Israeli Air Force’s heyday in the Syria skies. In fact, the Israeli security establishment fears the anti-missile defense system to such an extent that Prime Minister Netanyahu made a secret trip to Moscow in both 2009 and 2013 to meet with Putin in an attempt to scuttle its transfer to Iran. In addition, the system added a new wrinkle in a potential Israeli strike, as Israel now has to take into account Russian reaction. A key component to an air assault is taking out the opposing side’s missile defense, yet Russia has made it abundantly clear that it will not tolerate an Israeli military action against the expensive S-300 system.

For example, following an Israeli air strike in Syria in April 2018, Russia announced that it would arm President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the S-300 and warned that should Israel attempt to destroy the anti-aircraft batteries it would be “catastrophic for all sides.”

 

Trump vows ‘severe punishment’ if journalist was killed by Saudi Arabia 

October 14, 2018

Source: Trump vows ‘severe punishment’ if journalist was killed by Saudi Arabia | The Times of Israel

But president says he doesn’t want to limit US arms sales to Riyadh, even if kingdom found responsible for demise of Jamal Khashoggi

This photo taken on March 14, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)

This photo taken on March 14, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could be behind the disappearance of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned Washington would inflict “severe punishment” if he was murdered.

The Saudi critic has not been seen since he walked into the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, with Turkish officials accusing Riyadh of murdering him inside the diplomatic mission.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, according to an excerpt of an interview that was released on Saturday.

“As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Trump said in the interview, which was conducted on Thursday, when asked if Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi Arabia.

In this photo from February 1, 2015, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

The network said it will air the interview in full on Sunday evening.

Trump added the matter was especially important “because this man was a reporter.”

This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, October 2, 2018. (CCTV/ Hurriyet via AP)

But when asked what options Trump would consider, the president said he was not keen to limit arms sales to the kingdom — a position he has previously voiced.

“Well, it depends on what the sanction is,” he said.

“I’ll give you an example — they are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it, and we got all of it, every bit of it.

He added: “I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”

 

Hamas leader: We won’t halt Gaza marches for ‘diesel fuel and dollars’ 

October 14, 2018

Source: Hamas leader: We won’t halt Gaza marches for ‘diesel fuel and dollars’ | The Times of Israel

Ismail Haniyeh says ‘blood of martyrs brings us closer to victory over Zionist enemy,’ vows ongoing fight until ‘siege on Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and all lands of Palestine is lifted’

Black smoke from burning tires covers the sky as Palestinian protesters hurl stones toward Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Black smoke from burning tires covers the sky as Palestinian protesters hurl stones toward Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that the violence at the Gaza border will continue until the “siege on Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and all the lands of Palestine is lifted.”

“The strength of will and the determination of our people in the March of Return will lead to victory over the crimes of the occupation,” he said during funerals for those killed in the previous day’s border riots. “The blood of the martyrs brings us closer to victory over the Zionist enemy.”

Israel on Friday halted the transfer of fuel to Gaza in response to heavy rioting and attacks at the border fence. Haniyeh said “our marches are not for diesel fuel and dollars, but a natural right of our people.”

Seven Palestinians were reported killed in intense clashes with Israeli security forces along the Gaza border Friday afternoon, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Gaza media outlets said at least 150 protesters were injured.

Earlier on Saturday minister and security cabinet member Yoav Gallant described the terrorist group as Israel’s “weakest and most aggressive enemy, a puppy that barks and shouts.”

Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, August 21, 2018. (Anas BABA/AFP)

He slammed Hamas for its actions in Gaza, saying it was “using the blood of civilians to provoke international attention.”

The army said Friday that assailants planted a bomb at the fence in the south of the Strip, blowing a hole in it. Some 20 Gazans then infiltrated the border and approached an IDF snipers’ post. Most turned back, but three who did not were shot and killed, the IDF said.

Meanwhile, 10 fires broke out in southern Israel that were sparked by incendiary balloons launched over the border from Gaza as part of the ongoing protests. Heavy smoke from burning tires at the Kerem Shalom crossing in the northern Strip prompted authorities in Israel to order residents of the adjacent kibbutz to stay indoors as firefighters set up large fans to clear the smoke.

In response to the violence Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered a halt to the transfer of fuel into the Gaza Strip, only days after Israel began allowing fuel to be pumped into the Strip to allow increased power for residents.

“Israel will not tolerate a situation in which fuel is allowed into Gaza while terror and violence is used against IDF soldiers and citizens,” a statement from his office said.

A tanker delivers fuel at the Gaza power plant in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip October 9, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

In recent days Qatari-bought fuel had begun entering the Strip to allow operation of its only power station, in a bid to alleviate conditions in the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

Israel facilitated the delivery over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, hoping it would help ease months of protests and clashes.

A Qatari official told the Reuters news agency that the $60 million fuel donation came “at the request of donor states in the United Nations, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster.”

For months residents of the strip have been receiving only four hours of electricity a day on average. Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, told the Reuters news agency the delivery will add a few more hours of electricity to Gaza’s 2 million residents.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near civil war and multiple reconciliation attempts aimed at restoring the PA to power in Gaza have failed.

Abbas says that making deals with Hamas amounts to recognizing their control over Gaza in place of the PA and has sought to block the fuel deliveries. He has reportedly threatened to cut off funds to Gaza in response to the fuel transfers.

Israel fears further deterioration in Gaza could lead to another round of war on the southern border.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

Agencies contributed to this report.

 

Off Topic: In 11th hour move, US student seeks to appeal deportation in Supreme Court 

October 14, 2018

Source: In 11th hour move, US student seeks to appeal deportation in Supreme Court | The Times of Israel

Lara Alqasem, who lost a previous appeal, asks to bring case before justices before 5 p.m. expulsion

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 11, 2018 (Jack Guez/AFP)

A US student refused entry to Israel and held at the airport for almost two weeks over her alleged support for anti-Israel boycott efforts on Sunday requested permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, hours before her expected deportation from the country.

Lara Alqasem’s request came two days after the Tel Aviv District Court upheld an entry ban, saying the state was acting legitimately to protect itself in preventing her from entering Israel.

In its ruling Friday, judge Erez Yekuel said that “any self-respecting state defends its own interests and those of its citizens, and has the right to fight against the actions of a boycott… as well as any attacks on its image.”

She is slated to be deported at 5 p.m. (Israel time), but that will be postponed if her request is approved, the Haaretz daily reported.

The Hebrew University is expected to join the appeal if the Supreme Court grants Alqasem permission to take her case to Israel’s highest court, according to the report.

Alqasem’s case has been one of the most resonant and controversial since a 2017 Israeli law banned entry to supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

Alqasem, from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, suburb of Southwest Ranches, is a former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The group is associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Yekuel cited contradictions in Alqasem’s testimony, noted that she had wiped her social media history, and found that the state had the right to bar someone who sought to harm the country’s economy and image.

The 22-year-old American, who has Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben Gurion Airport on October 2 with a valid student visa; she was registered to study in a human rights one-year program at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on allegations that she was an activist in the boycott movement. She has been held at an immigration facility at the airport while she sought to fight the entry ban. Israel said she could leave at any time but would have to denounce the boycott movement if she wished to be reconsidered for admission.

The Hebrew University, which had supported her appeal, condemned Friday’s decision.

“Alqasem decided to study and live in Israel against the principles of the boycott and even stated her opposition to BDS,” the university said. “We are convinced this decision does not help our struggle, and even harms academic efforts in Israel to draw students and researchers from overseas.”

The court ruling came a day after Israel’s strategic affairs minister said he had rejected a letter sent to him by Alqasem’s lawyers promising she wouldn’t participate in boycott activities during her stay in Israel.

Gilad Erdan told Channel 10 that the letter failed to comply with criteria he had detailed.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 13, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

“The text doesn’t comply with what I said,” Erdan said. “It didn’t say she renounces what she did in the past or that she promises not to do so in the future. It said, more or less, that during the period of her studies in Israel she won’t be involved in boycott activities.”

Erdan alleged that the letter’s text “reveals the fact that she backs the ideology of the boycott and isolation of the State of Israel.”

Israel enacted the law last year banning entry for any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement is anti-Semitic and masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

American Lara Alqasem, center, sits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

In her appeal, Alqasem has argued that she never actively participated in boycott campaigns, and promised the court that she would not promote them in the future. “We’re talking about someone who simply wants to study in Israel, who is not boycotting anything,” said her lawyer. “She’s not even part of the student organization anymore.”

Her lawyers said in court she had not been involved with SJP for more than a year and a half. The government countered that she had been involved with the group earlier this year.

When asked for evidence of her involvement, the state’s lawyers said she had marked on Facebook that she was “attending” two SJP events, but that the page had subsequently been deleted and they did not have a screenshot. Alqasem’s lawyers ridiculed this evidence, saying that clicking the “attending” button on Facebook did not actually mean she had attended the events.

Alqasem’s family said Israel was exaggerating her involvement in SJP, saying she only belonged to the campus group for a semester. In an interview from Florida, her mother, Karen Alqasem, said, “She may have been critical of some of Israel’s policies in the past but she respects Israeli society and culture. To her, this isn’t a contradiction.”

 

Israelis on Gaza border to use drones to fight incendiary balloons

October 14, 2018

Source: Israelis on Gaza border to use drones to fight incendiary balloons

( If it can also take out small drones, the US desperately nerds it to combat the overwhelming flood of narco drones crossing the border from Mexico daily. – JW )

Startup Aerialax is developing a drone that can detect and intercept incendiary balloons and kites from Gaza; residents hope to purchase one for each town in border area.
While the IDF is struggling to effectively deal with the terror and destructioncaused by incendiary balloons and kites being flown from Gaza into Israel, Israelis living by the border have decided to lend a helping hand and are now raising funds to purchase aerial drones to fight the phenomenon that has been embittering their lives for the past six months.

Although the IDF is employing a number of means to combat the incendiary balloons and kites, it is not enough for citizens who are suffering from the fires that break out as a result almost daily.

 

More than NIS 50,000 has been collected in recent days for the purchase and further development of a new interceptor drone.

The drone, operated by a computer program, can detect a flaming balloon or kite aloft and intercept it.

Efforts to combat hostilities from Gaza (Photo: Barel Efraim)

Efforts to combat hostilities from Gaza (Photo: Barel Efraim)

The drone has a metal tip at its front and sharp wings, it is immune to collisions and can reach speeds of 300 km/h.The Aerialax start-up company, owned by an Israeli Noam Kenig, has been developing the drone in Canada.

Noam Kenig with drone (Photo: Mattan Tzuri)

Noam Kenig with drone (Photo: Mattan Tzuri)

“The drone is easy to operate and relatively simple. Our goal is for every community to have such a device, so we can deal with the terror of balloons and kites,” said Alon Alsheikh from Kibbutz Nir Am. “Our goal is to appoint a person in each community who will be trained to operate the drone.”

 (Photo: Mattan Tzuri)

(Photo: Mattan Tzuri)

Over the past six months 11,920 dunams (some 3,000 acres) of farmland and woodland have been burned in fires caused by incendiary kites and balloons flown from Gaza into Israel, according to the KKL. Forests in the Gaza border area saw 1,053 fires that consumed countless of trees. The majority of the conflagrations erupted in the Be’eri forest, which suffered 452 fires, while 353 fires broke out in the Kissufim Forest.

Gazans prepare to launch balloons (Photo: AFP)

Gazans prepare to launch balloons (Photo: AFP)

The Shokeda Forest saw 75 fires, while 31 fires erupted in the Hannun Forest and 29 fires scorched the HaBesor Stream Forest.

The data was provided by KKL’s foresters in the western Negev area, who have been constantly on call over the past six months, arriving at the scene the minute they receive a report about a fire breaking out.

“The nature in the Gaza border area has been severely damaged,” said one firefighter. “I believe that after the rain, the picture will become clearer and we will be able to know what is sprouting anew and what is not. But there is no doubt that this is a severe blow to nature. Places where people used to sit in the shade of the trees are now all scorched earth.”

 

Off Topic: Tel Aviv court upholds entry ban on US student over BDS support

October 14, 2018

Source: Tel Aviv court upholds entry ban on US student over BDS support – Israel Hayom

( While I hate the idea of excluding students for their opinions, I see no reason to admit anti-Israel activists.  They come only to hurt us.  Not an easy call. – JW )

 

UN envoy Haley: Israel, Syria to reopen Golan crossing on Monday 

October 14, 2018

Source: UN envoy Haley: Israel, Syria to reopen Golan crossing on Monday – Israel Hayom