Archive for December 1, 2018

Report: Russia completes Syrian air defenses, troubles Israel, U.S.

December 1, 2018

Source: Report: Russia completes Syrian air defenses, troubles Israel, U.S. – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The report paints a stark picture of increasing Russian entrenchment in Syria as Putin and the west have squared off in recent days over naval confrontations in Ukraine.

BY JERUSALEM POST STAFF
 DECEMBER 1, 2018 13:30
Report: Russia completes Syrian air defenses, troubles Israel, U.S.

Russia has completed a comprehensive air defense system in Syria that constrains the United States’ ability to operate in the country and in the eastern Mediterranean, according to a new report published by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

The report paints a stark picture of increasing Russian entrenchment in Syria as Putin and the west have squared off in recent days over naval confrontations in Ukraine.

The Russian moves include the deployment of S-300 and S-400 missiles and other weapons systems as well as electronic warfare capabilities in Syria. Underlying the Kremlin’s efforts, the report claims, is a wider push to force American troops to withdraw from Syria.

The Syrian deployments will also severely limit Israel’s ability to launch strikes against Iranian forces in the country. Syrian media claimed that Israel targeted Iranian-backed militias in al-Kiswah south of the capital of Damascus, some 50 kilometers from the border with Israel, on Thursday evening.

“The US and Israel both must be prepared to suppress a larger number of air defense systems and use more expensive stealth aircraft such as the F-35 in Syria,” the ISW’s report said.

However, the Russian strategy also has profound implications for US power projection throughout the region.

“Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria,” the report’s authors write. “The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.

 

Iran hails sanction-skirting oil-for-goods deal with South Korea

December 1, 2018

Source: Iran hails sanction-skirting oil-for-goods deal with South Korea | The Times of Israel

Trade official says mechanism will see oil revenue bartered with imported goods, using loophole in US measures

File: A technician in an oil field southwest of Tehran. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

File: A technician in an oil field southwest of Tehran. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Saturday it had finalized a deal with South Korea to trade oil for goods, skirting renewed US sanctions.

“A mechanism has been devised for returning oil export revenues from South Korea, by which Iran’s oil export revenue will be bartered with imported goods,” Hossein Tanhayi, head of the Iran-South Korea chamber of commerce, told state news agency IRNA.

Washington unilaterally reimposed a crippling oil embargo on Iran last month following its withdrawal in May from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

South Korea — a close political ally of the United States — has cut Iranian oil purchases to zero from an estimated 285,000 barrels per day in the first six months of the year, according to Bloomberg figures.

The sanctions also target Iran’s banking sector and its ability to bring dollars into the country, but leave open the possibility of trade in goods.

Tanhayi did not give details of the mechanism, but said a “joint fund” could be opened between their respective central banks.

South Korea is Iran’s third largest trade partner after China and the United Arab Emirates.

Bilateral trade has dropped from $12 billion in 2017 to $5.7 for the first 10 months of 2018, according to the chamber of commerce.

 

Iran launches stealth Sahand destroyer as U.S. tensions rise 

December 1, 2018

Source: Iran launches stealth Sahand destroyer as U.S. tensions rise – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Iran launched its first locally made destroyer in 2010 as part of a program to revamp its navy equipment which dates from before the 1979 Islamic revolution and is mostly US-made.

BY REUTERS
 DECEMBER 1, 2018 10:48

2 minute read.
Iran launches stealth Sahand destroyer as U.S. tensions rise

Iran’s navy on Saturday launched a domestically made destroyer, which state media said has radar-evading stealth properties, as tensions rise with arch-enemy, the United States.

In a ceremony carried live on state television, the Sahand destroyer — which can sustain voyages lasting five months without resupply — joined Iran’s regular navy at a base in Bandar Abbas on the Gulf.

The Sahand has a flight deck for helicopters, torpedo launchers, anti-aircraft and anti-ship guns, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and electronic warfare capabilities, state television reported.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

The United States has said its goal is to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. Senior Iranian officials have said that if Iran is not allowed to export then no other countries will be allowed to export oil through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.

“This vessel is the result of daring and creative design relying on the local technical knowledge of the Iranian Navy… and has been built with stealth capabilities,” Rear-Admiral Alireza Sheikhi, head of the navy shipyards that built the destroyer, told the state news agency IRNA.

Iran launched its first locally made destroyer in 2010 as part of a program to revamp its navy equipment which dates from before the 1979 Islamic revolution and is mostly US-made..

Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.

Separately, a naval commander said Sahand may be among warships that Iran plans to send on a mission to Venezuela soon.

“Among our plans in the near future is to send two or three vessels with special helicopters to Venezuela in South America on a mission that could last five months,” Iran’s deputy navy commander, Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani Moqaddam, told the semi-official news agency Mehr.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week Iran should increase its military capability and readiness to ward off enemies, in a meeting with Iranian navy commanders.

Iran’s navy has extended its reach in recent years, launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates operating in the area.

The chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces said in 2016 that Iran may seek to set up naval bases in Yemen or Syria in the future, raising the prospect of distant footholds perhaps being more valuable militarily to Tehran than nuclear technology.

 

Largest-ever surface missile attack on Syria targeted 15 Iranian/Hizballah sites – DEBKAfile

December 1, 2018

Source: Largest-ever surface missile attack on Syria targeted 15 Iranian/Hizballah sites – DEBKAfile

For 75 minutes on Thursday night, Nov. 29, the IDF blasted Iranian, Hizballah and Syrian targets in its biggest ever surface missile attack on Syria, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources can now reveal. This was not an Israeli air force strike such as those conducted for two years against Iranian targets in Syria.

Two kinds of ground-to ground missiles were used in this cross-border offensive: a Long-Range Artillery Weapon system known as LORA which has a range of 400km; and the guided, short range Tamuz. They raked across at least 15 sites, most of them belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), pro-Iranian militias and Hizballah. They covered an area ranging from the Syrian Hermon slopes in the north, down to the Iranian command center at Izra north of Daraa in the south (See attached map.)

Among the locations targeted was Al-Zabadani, a town on the Damascus-Beirut highway near the Lebanese border in the west, which Hizballah has taken over and established there its command posts, training camps and ammunition and rocket depots.  At Al Kiswah south of Damascus, the IDF missiles struck Iran’s central command post in Syria, which is known as the “Glass House.”

Blasted too were the command posts and structures of two Syrian brigades which are structured for Syrian officers to command a hodge-podge of Hizballah, pro-Iranian Shiite and Palestinian militias. Israeli missiles also struck the Syrian Army’s 90th Brigade which rules the area north of Quneitra and 112h Brigade which is stationed south of this Golan town.

The massive Israeli cross-border assault inflicted heavy casualties on the Iranians, their militias, Hizballah and the Syrian army, including fatalities. Up until Friday night, neither Iran, Syria nor Hizballah had disclosed the precise targets smashed by the IDF 24 hours earlier. The Russian military in Syria was also silent.

 

Hezbollah issues warning video to Israel: Attack and you will regret it

December 1, 2018

Source: Hezbollah issues warning video to Israel: Attack and you will regret it | The Times of Israel

Clip that appears to show satellite imagery and locations of strategic Israeli sites comes a day after an alleged Israeli strike on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria

A screenshot from a warning video issued by Hezbollah apparently showing satellite imagery of an Israeli airbase superimposed with a target and its map coordinates (Screenshot/Youtube)

A screenshot from a warning video issued by Hezbollah apparently showing satellite imagery of an Israeli airbase superimposed with a target and its map coordinates (Screenshot/Youtube)

The Hezbollah terror group on Friday issued a warning video to Israel apparently filled with satellite images and precise map locations of strategic sites in the Jewish state, with a message: “Attack and you will regret it.”

The video comes after an alleged Israeli airstrike on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria the night before.

The video, with Hebrew subtitles, opened with Hezbollah fighters preparing to launch rockets and leader Hassan Nasrallah warning the Lebanese terror group would respond to any attack on Lebanon.

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel has designated these two issues as “red lines” that it will take military action to prevent.

But it has not attacked Lebanon, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disclosed the locations of missile sites near Beirut during his address to the United Nations earlier this year.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is trying to upgrade Hezbollah’s massive rocket arsenal and improve the accuracy of the missiles.

In an apparent reference to that, the Hezbollah video showed what appeared to be satellite imagery of several strategic Israeli superimposed with targets and their  coordinates. Among the sites in the video was the IDF military headquarters in Tel Aviv, several air force bases, an oil refinery and Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

The video ended with the warning “If you dare attack, you will regret it.”

Also on Friday, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said it identified several of the sites hit in what it said was an Israeli bombardment that lasted “for an hour.”

The Israeli military refused to comment on the raid, but denied a report in Russian media that an Israeli plane had been shot down. The Syrian military claimed its air defenses shot down all incoming “hostile targets” late Thursday. However, many security analysts believe Syria often falsely claims to have intercepted missiles that successfully penetrated its air defenses.

According to the director of the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, the Israeli bombardment hit two positions in the south of Damascus province, including an area believed to be an Iranian weapons depot near the capital.

Once a regular occurrence, reports of Israeli airstrikes in Syria have become increasingly rare in the past two months, after Syria accidentally shot down a Russian spy plane during an Israeli raid, which Moscow blamed on Israel.

According to Abdel Rahmn, two Israeli missiles hit al-Kiswah, where he said there are “weapons depots belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah [terrorist group] as well as Iranian forces.”

Another missile hit the area of Harfa, near the Israeli border, where there is a Syrian military base, the UK-based monitor said.

In Kisweh, “the depots that were targeted are used to temporarily store rockets until they are taken somewhere else,” Abdel Rahman said.

Illustrative: This photo released on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus. (SANA via AP)

“It appears the Israelis had intelligence that weapons had arrived there recently,” he said.

Explosions were also reported in and around the Syrian capital of Damascus, near its international airport, which Israel claims has been used by Iran to supply terror groups with advanced weaponry.

According to the Kremlin-backed Sputnik new site, blasts were also heard near the town of al-Dimas, along the Damascus-Beirut highway, which may indicate that an arms shipment was targeted in the alleged Israeli strikes.

Thursday’s strike was the first time Syria’s air defenses had been called into action since they inadvertently shot down a Russian spy plane and the 15 people on board during an Israeli raid on September 17.

Despite the strained relationship with Russia, Israeli officials maintain that the IDF continues to operate in the country. However, many defense analysts suspect that Russia — with the advanced air defense systems it has in Syria — may be curbing Israel’s ability to rein its arch nemesis Iran’s military presence in the country.

Moscow blamed Israel for the incident and supplied Damascus with the advanced S-300 air defense system — something it had previously refrained from doing following requests from Jerusalem.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Iran duped Pakistan into Israel nuke threat as tiny part of huge fakery campaign 

December 1, 2018

Source: Iran duped Pakistan into Israel nuke threat as tiny part of huge fakery campaign | The Times of Israel

Investigation by Reuters finds over 70 news sites in 15 countries, with over a million online followers, have been disseminating pro-Tehran misinformation and propaganda for years

Shiite Muslims burn representation of Israeli and US flags during a rally to mark Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, June 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

An incident in 2016, when Pakistan’s defense minister threatened Israel with nuclear attack in the wake of what turned out to be a fake news story, has been revealed to be just one small instance of an Iran-based global disinformation campaign that has been running for six years and has included dozens of news and media outlets.

According to an extensive Reuters investigation published Friday, over 70 news sites have been spreading disinformation and pushing a pro-Tehran narrative in 15 countries, as part of a widespread and sophisticated online campaign to influence public option all over the world.

The investigation directly tied the sites to Iran, but not to the Iranian government itself. “They look like normal news and media outlets, but only a couple disclose any Iranian ties,” Reuters noted. “They have published in 16 different languages, from Azerbaijani to Urdu.”

According to the Reuters piece, headlined “How Iran spreads disinformation around the world,” the Iran-linked news and media sites it uncovered draw more than half a million visitors a month, and are served by social media accounts with over a million followers.

It said journalists, cybersecurity experts and social media firms are only now starting to uncover the scope of the Iranian influence campaign. The report revealed a number of news sites targeting audiences across the Middle East and North Africa with pro-Iranian propaganda, often times alongside authentic news stories, some dating back to 2012.

The Reuters investigation established that the news agency called “Another Western Dawn,” which duped the Pakistani defense minister into issuing a nuclear threat against Israel in December 2016, is linked to Iran.

At the time, Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif threatened Israel in response to what he thought was a threat, falsely reported by AWDnews.com, ostensibly issued by then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon to use nuclear force if Pakistan sent troops to Syria.

Truck-mounted missiles on display at the IDEAS 2008 defense exhibition in Karachi, Pakistan. (Wiki Creative Commons/SyedNaqvi90)

The AWDnews article was headlined, “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack.”

It falsely quoted Ya’alon saying: “As far as we are concerned,that is a threat,if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,we will destroy them with a nuclear attack.”

Visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif prior to their meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, March 12, 2018. (Pakistan Press Information Department via AP)

The Pakistani minister tweeted: “Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.” (“Daesh” is an acronym for Islamic State.)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visiting the Arrow II intercepting missile launcher at the Palmahim Israeli Air Force base March 2, 2015. (Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israel’s Defense Ministry quickly issued a statement making clear that the AWDnews story was false, and Asif was roundly criticized by Pakistani officials for responding to it.

AWDnews offers content in English, French, Spanish and German. According to data from web analytics data, its website receives around 12,000 monthly visitors.

Reuters said politicians in Britain, Jordan, India and the Netherlands, as well as human-rights activists, an Indian music composer and a Japanese rap star, have all shared bogus AWDnews stories in the past.

In 2014, Israel’s then-finance minister Yair Lapid quoted a AWDnews storythat falsely attributed pro-Israeli statements to Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Al-Faisal’s remarks were quoted by several media outlets in Israel, though regional policy experts confirmed to The Times of Israel at the time that the Saudi foreign minister never made any such statement in public.

The AWDnews site regularly fabricates reports about Israel and the Muslim world, including reports claiming Israel orchestrated the conflict in Ukraine and that the Mossad is closely tied to the Islamic State jihadist group.

Reuters said it traced the dozens of disinformation sites back to Iran by their various links to the International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM). The report said some websites carry stories, videos and cartoons supplied by the Tehran-headquartered IUVM, while others, which make no mention of the agency, list IVUM contact information in their website’s online registration’s records.

On its website, IUVM lists among its goals: “Confronting with remarkable arrogance, western governments and Zionism front activities to correct the deflection of people movements in world,” and “Explaining the importance of Palestine and Quds issue to Internet audience.” Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

The majority of IUVM-linked sites target readers in Yemen, where Iran and Saudi Arabia have been fighting a proxy war, according to the report. The sites also target audiences in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Emails sent to IVUM bounced back, Reuters said, and all phone numbers provided by the agency were not in service. Other news outlets carrying IUVM content were also found to have bogus addresses and phone numbers.

Reuters said its investigation found that the sites “clearly support Iran’s government and amplify antagonism to countries opposed to Tehran — particularly Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States.”

Noted Reuters: “The identity or location of the past owners of some of the websites is visible in historical Internet registration records: 17 of 71 sites have in the past listed their locations as Iran or Tehran, or given an Iranian telephone or fax number. But who owns them now is often hidden.”

Twice in 2018, social media firms have removed accounts, groups or pages linked to a stealth influence campaign out of Iran.

In October, Facebook said it took down accounts linked to an Iranian effortto influence US and British politics with messages about charged topics such as immigration and race relations.

The social network identified 82 pages, groups and accounts that originated in Iran and violated policy on coordinated “inauthentic” behavior. It carried out an even broader sweep in August, removing 652 pages, groups and accounts linked to both Iran or Russia. IUVM’s Facebook page was removed in the August sweep.

In addition to Facebook, in recent months Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google have removed accounts that were found to be linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting as part of a misinformation campaign dating back to at least January 2017.

 

Military warns EMP attack could wipe out America, ‘democracy, world order’

December 1, 2018

Source: Military warns EMP attack could wipe out America, ‘democracy, world order’

In an extraordinary and sobering report meant to educate the nation on a growing threat, a new military study warns that an electromagnetic pulse weapon attack such as those developed by North Korea, Russia, and Iran could essentially challenge the United States and displace millions.

“Based on the totality of available data,” said the report from the Air Force’s Air University and provided to Secrets, “an electromagnetic spectrum attack may be a threat to the United States, democracy, and the world order.”

The report, titled, “Electromagnetic Defense Task Force,” and the product of a mostly classified summit of officials from 40 agencies just outside of Washington earlier this year, is a forceful call for a new focus on preparing for either an enemy EMP attack or a natural hit such as a solar storm.

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 8.02.32 PM.png

(Screenshot/LeMay Center for Doctrine)

While it is focused on the devastating impact an EMP hit would have on the military, it appears to support a congressional warning that up to 90 percent of the population on the East Coast would die in a year of an attack that would dismantle or interfere with electricity, transportation, food processing, and healthcare.

Consider just some of the warnings in the report from the United States Air Force Air University and the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education. Citing figures from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the report:

  • 99 nuclear reactors would likely melt down without electricity to cool them.
  • 4.1 million would be displaced from areas around the nuclear plants as the radioactive cloud spread.
Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 9.24.18 AM.png
The report highlighted electronic systems on an Airbus A-380.
(Screenshot/LeMay Center for Doctrine)
  • Military and commercial jets, such as those built by Airbus, could be degraded. “Alarmingly, aircraft designed to carry large numbers of people and sizable cargo are allowed to operate without certainty about their level of resilience.”
  • Bases would be cut off, making defense and counter-attacks impossible.
  • Civil unrest would start in “hours.”
  • Power and GPS could go dark. “An EMP would cause instantaneous and simultaneous loss of many technologies reliant on electrical power and computer circuit boards, such as cell phones and GPS devices.”
  • “Failures may include long-term loss of electrical power (due to loss of emergency generators), sewage, fresh water, banking, landlines, cellular service, vehicles.”
  • 18 months or more are required to replace key elements of the electric grid that would be damaged or knocked out.

Figuring out just which country launched an attack would be difficult since certain weapons could be delivered in a satellite.

It also noted the development of the 5G mobile network and how it will run communications and why it must be protected, especially since China is the biggest investor in its development.

“Because control of 5G is roughly equivalent to control of the Internet, open 5G is critical to freedom and free-market economics. Meanwhile, access to the 5G-millimeter wave bandwidth will be critical to operations in all war-fighting domains, in particular, space command & control,” said the white paper.

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of Air Education and Training Command, said, “As electromagnetic technologies fuse in new and often dangerous ways, it’s critical that the military and industry make honest evaluations of present and future conflict states to ensure we’re proactive rather than reactive.”

He also advised for predicting how U.S. foes will try to outsmart any fixes to the electric grid and other targets of an EMP attack.

“French actions before WWII demonstrate that even bold action, such as building the Maginot Line, can be rapidly overcome through imagination. The imagination that defeated the Maginot Line was the German Blitzkrieg which unexpectedly exploited the only gap in the wall. Groundbreaking research like this can help the wider defense community understand not only how take bold action, but how to take the right bold action to prevent catastrophic outcomes,” said the general.

The report said that the government should focus on the issue and declare it a critical issue. What’s more, it called for a central effort to push for EMP prevention and reaction should an attack come.

The report, written by experts Air Force Maj. David Stuckenberg, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Col. Douglas DeMaio, also called for a national and congressional publicity campaign to alert the nation and governmental leaders to the threat.

“The potential for an adversary to inflict damage on states through EMS attack has grown significantly,” said the 69-page report, which warned, “An EMP attack affects all devices with solid-state electronics and could render inoperative the main grid and backup power systems, such as on-site generators.”

It highlighted the lack of a reaction plan or major focus on an EMP attack, even if just from a solar flare. “In some areas, there is a complete absence of strategy,” said the report. It added, “EMP is a tragedy of the commons as ‘no one’s job jar.’”