Archive for January 4, 2019

Netanyahu, Putin agree to boost cooperation, defeat terrorism in Syria 

January 4, 2019

Source: Netanyahu, Putin agree to boost cooperation, defeat terrorism in Syria | The Times of Israel

As US prepares to withdraw troops, two leaders affirm need for increased military and diplomatic ties, in call initiated by PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the planned US withdrawal from Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Kremlin said.

The leaders stressed the need to strengthen military and diplomatic cooperation in Syria during the phone call, which was initiated by Netanyahu.

“The discussion focused on developments in Syria, including in light of the United States’ plans to withdraw its troops from that country,” the Kremlin said according to TASS.

The two leaders agreed on the need to “defeat terrorism and speedy achievement of a political settlement in Syria.”

“To that end, the parties reaffirmed their mutual determination to strengthen coordination through military and diplomatic channels,” it said.

Netanyahu’s office later confirmed the call, saying that Netanyahu told Putin that “Israel is determined to continue its efforts to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.”

“Netanyahu congratulated President Putin and the Russian people on the occasion of the civil new year and expressed his condolences over the disaster in Magnitogorsk,” the statement added.

A US soldier walks on a newly installed position, near the tense front line between the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Israel’s ties with Russia have been both strengthened and strained by events in Syria, where Israeli efforts to prevent Iran from gaining a military foothold have at times clashed with Moscow’s campaign to aid the Syrian regime in the civil war.

The two countries have coordinated their military efforts in Syria in recent years to avoid friction and accidental conflict.

Tensions recently reached a peak in September following the downing of a Russian aircraft by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli airstrike, an incident Russia blamed on Israel.

Despite the Russian anger over the downed plane, Netanyahu has reiterated several times that Israel will continue to act to prevent Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and the smuggling of advanced weapons into Lebanon.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Jerusalem is concerned that Iran will use Syria as a forward base from which to attack the Jewish state.

The situation in Syria is set to become even more fragile after US President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that he will pull all American ground troops out of the country. The US had been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart the establishment of permanent Iranian military infrastructure in Syria.

The surprise announcement rattled Jerusalem, with Israeli officials expressing concern that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

This week, he sparked further consternation in Israel when he said that Iran “can do what they want” in Syria, appearing to give Tehran free rein to further entrench itself in the country, though he also said Iran was pulling its forces out of the country.

Netanyahu said that the US pullout will not deter Israel from continuing to attack Iranian military interests in Syria. On Thursday, he told IDF cadets at Bar Ilan University that Israel was continuing to “act determinedly against anyone seeking to endanger us.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Netanyahu this week the planned withdrawal of forces from Syria would not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu in Brazil.

 

Israeli source: Trump not listening to intel, doesnt get Iran moves in Syria

January 4, 2019

Source: Israeli source: Trump not listening to intel, doesnt get Iran moves in Syria

Unnamed senior official says U.S. president going against expert advice by saying that Iran can do ‘whatever they want’ in Syria, vows Jewish state will keep acting against ‘Iranian entrenchment’
U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to allow Iran “to do what they want” in Syria following the imminent withdrawal of American troops, was made contrary to the advice of the intelligence services and shows he does not understand the situation on the ground, a senior Israeli source said Thursday.The statement came in response to Trump’s remarks a day earlier indicating the American leader appeared to change course on Syria. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” Trump said of Iran’s presence in the war-battered country. “Iran wants to survive now … they were going to take over the whole Middle East, but Iran is a much different country right now.”

“It’s unfortunate that he isn’t paying attention to the evidence provided by the intelligence services,” said the source.

President Donald Trump (Photo: Getty Images)

President Donald Trump (Photo: Getty Images)

“We are in a state of shock. Trump simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Iranian military’s presence in the region,” the source said. “What is comforting is that at least Trump isn’t opposed to Israel’s operations in Syria … The president’s statement will not change the situation as far as we are concerned, we will continue to act resolutely against the Iranian entrenchment.”

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration announced it was to withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops in Syria—against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S. allies participating in anti-Islamic State operations—as the White House declared victory over IS militants.

Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, but said it would happen “over a period of time,” and vowed to protect the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the country even though he finds it’s irritable that the Kurds are selling oil to Iran.

“I didn’t like the fact that they’re selling the small (amount of) oil that they have to Iran, and we asked them not to sell it to Iran… We’re not thrilled about that. OK? I’m not happy about it at all,” he said.

“We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless. We want to protect the Kurds, but I don’t want to be in Syria forever. It’s sand. And it’s death.”

Trump’s contentious remarks come a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasília to discuss Syria and Iran.

Following the meeting, a senior source in Jerusalem said that Israel got “almost everything it asked for” when Pompeo granted “seven out of eight” requests Netanyahu made during their talk.

 

Trump’s Iran, Kurdish and Afghanistan comments leave Middle East perplexed 

January 4, 2019

Source: Trump’s Iran, Kurdish and Afghanistan comments leave Middle East perplexed – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

In an unusually candid discussion, Trump said that the US was searching to do “something that was right” in Afghanistan.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 JANUARY 3, 2019 16:18
Trump’s Iran, Kurdish and Afghanistan comments leave Middle East perplexed

In a 20-minute discussion on Wednesday with the press, US President Donald Trump spoke his mind about Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, leaving the Middle East perplexed about US policies.

After two weeks of uncertainty following his decision to withdraw from Syria, his latest comments appear to fuel only more questions about what the US is up to in the region.

In an unusually candid discussion, Trump said that the US was searching to do “something that was right” in Afghanistan. He said the US was talking about the Taliban.

He implied that India, Pakistan and Russia should do more in there. This is similar to his doctrine on Syria, where he has said that neighboring states should be more involved.

Trump shocked some commentators by noting that Russia was right to have fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

His overall point was to ask why regional actors are not doing more when the US, which he said was 10,000 km. away, was doing the work.

He noted the irony that ISIS and the Taliban were fighting each other in Afghanistan.

“They are fighting each other. I said, why don’t you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it?” He called US military policy “the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” yet another indication that Trump is unhappy with his generals.

Discussing Syria, the US President said that the four-month timeline was invented by someone else. He said that the US was leaving Syria, but the timeline was flexible.

He accused the Obama administration of failing in Syria. In some unclear comments, he said the Kurds were selling oil to Iran.

“We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless. I don’t want to be in Syria forever,” he said.

He said Syria was mostly sand and death, and he said that ISIS was threatening Russia and Iran.
He claimed the US was doing the job for Russia, Assad and Iran in a roundabout way.

“Iran is a much different country than when I became president.”

He said he had been briefed on how Iran threatened large parts of the Middle East.

“How do you stop these people? They are all over the place,” Trump asked. He now says that Iran is pulling troops out of Syria.

He murmured, “They can do what they want there frankly, but they are pulling people out.”

He said that Iran was on the verge of taking over the whole Middle East, and seeking to destroy Israel. But now they are threatened with internal unrest.

“We were supposed to be out of Syria many years ago… I don’t want to be in Syria,” he said, referencing wounded US soldiers.

The reaction in the region was relatively calm, largely because two weeks of uncertainty have led many to see the US policy as wavering and unclear.

Trump’s initial decision was greeted with surprise in Russia, Iran, Syria and elsewhere in the region. When he went to Iraq on December 26, the visit hammered home his decision to leave Syria and angered pro-Iranian elements in Iraq.

Later Trump seemed to backtrack, amid concerns from Israel and other countries. Now he says the timetable is open-ended.

This comes as Iran says it will hold another round of talks about Syria with Turkey and Russia in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

“Iran’s power is undeniable,” the regime said, according to local press in Tehran.

Trump’s latest policy move confirms what he has said in the past about bringing troops home.

It also retains his doctrine of trying to get other countries to step in as the US reduces its footprint. In the Middle East, his comments left many perplexed, and this may feed views that the US is vulnerable.

However, regimes are also concerned over alienating Trump because he appears prone to rapid changes in policy.

That would mean if he feels that he is being taken advantage of or if US troops are threatened, the US will respond with overwhelming force. This has made Russia, Turkey, Iran and others cautious over direct challenges to US policy. They are waiting to see if the US really will quit Syria.

That process now looks like it will take many months.

 

Suspicious Iranian cargo plane made 72 flights since September

January 4, 2019

Source: Suspicious Iranian cargo plane made 72 flights since September – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Flight tracking data and analysis shows increased trade between Tehran and Damascus since Russian IL-20 was shot down in September.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 JANUARY 3, 2019 18:17
Suspicious Iranian cargo plane made 72 flights since September

An Iranian cargo plane that has been flagged as flying suspicious cargo to Damascus and Beirut made dozens of flights in the fall of 2017, according to flight tracking data.

An analysis of the flights shows that this plane routinely flies to Damascus and also has flown to Beirut, Qatar and Istanbul.
Western intelligence sources said in September that Fars Air Qeshm, a civilian airline in Iran, was “suspected of smuggling weapons into Lebanon,” reports indicated.

It was linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) according to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy piece in 2017.

In April of 2018, it was also flagged for suspicion of flying weapons to Syria.

We examined data of a Fars Air Qeshm 747 from September 17 to December. September 17 was chosen because that is the date of the downing of a Russian IL-20 near Latakia in northern Syria during an Israeli airstrike.

Since then, Russia has supplied Syria with S-300s and airstrikes on Syria, which the regime has blamed on Israel, have decreased.
Fox News also published a report on September 3 identifying “rare and unusual” flights by the 747 to Beirut.

A separate study published at i24 showed the Fars Air Qeshm 747 had made 63 flights over a one-year period ending on September 17.

Observer IL (@Obs_IL), a Twitter user who tracks aviation and Middle East conflicts compiled data on the flights of the Fars Air Qeshm 747 to examine.

Seventy-two flights were identified, almost half of them flying between Tehran and Damascus.

This route usually consists of a flight from Tehran in the morning with the cargo plane and the same plane returning to Tehran by nightfall.

However, the flight also conducts suspicious flights in which it takes off from Tehran and then lands in Tehran without appearing to go anywhere. It also flies other routes.

For instance, on September 19, it flew to Istanbul and then back to Iran, where it then flew to Almaty in Kazakhstan on September 20.

It made the same trip to Istanbul and Almaty in October twice. It also flew to Kabul in Afghanistan.

A particularly suspicious flight was one made to Damascus on October 16, which was followed by a flight to Beirut and then Doha, returning to Tehran on October 18.

It made a similar flight to Beirut and Doha on November 29.

The plane also made two flights from Damascus to Tehran on December 12 and 18 without ever having appeared to fly to Damascus.

This would indicate either that the flight tracking data is wrong or that the flight turned off its transponder.

To draw a comparison with the Fars Air Qeshm 747 flights, @Obs_IL made a second examinations of flights by Saha Airlines Boeing 747, a similar type of cargo plane.

It makes fewer flights but also appears to often turn off its transponder and full details of its flight path are unclear.
What is clear that it left Tehran on the 19th and 26th of December.

The flight will leave Tehran, heading west toward Damascus, and then disappear near Kermanshah and the border of Iran and Iraq.
It sometimes shows up again returning towards Tehran. This appears to be an attempt to evade detection as to where it is going and coming from. @Obs_IL points out that Saha Airlines is alleged to be owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Saha airlines is a civilian cover for Iran Air Force 747 Cargo lifters,” the airline enthusiast, who asked to remain anonymous writes. The US Treasury department sanctioned Iran Aircraft Industries in January 2018 and described Saha as “Iran’s largest provider of overhaul and technical modification services for Iran’s military. And cargo aircraft.”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted in April 2017 that Iran was using “pseudo-civilian airlines to resupply” Syria.
It mentioned Mahan Air, Iran Air, Syrian Air, Cham Wings and Saha Air, as well as Fars Air Qeshm as examples. It focused particularly on the 747s as examples. A Saha Air flight may have been damaged in a September airstrike in Damascus, according to reports.

THE OVERALL picture derived from analyzing flight paths of these planes is a brisk trade between Damascus and Tehran, including suspicious flights that appear to be a cover for military material moving between the countries.

These flights also appear to have increased in recent months. This particular plane from Fars Air Qeshm, for instance, made 28 round-trip flights to Damascus in just three and a half months.

This is an increase from around five trips a month to eight. Since there are some trips that appear to go unrecorded, the numbers may be higher.

The contents of the planes are unknown but Iran has been alleged to be supplying Hezbollah with precision guidance for its missiles and has been supplying the Syrian regime with weapons for its seven-year civil war.

Israel said earlier this year that it struck 200 Iranian targets in Syria in the last year and a half.

The air bridge between Tehran and Syria is a clear indication that the Syrian regime and Iran are closely linked.

A delegation from Syria recently discussed a long-term economic pact with Iran.

Pompeo on Tehran rockets: US ‘won’t stand by’ as Iran threatens global security 

January 4, 2019

Source: Pompeo on Tehran rockets: US ‘won’t stand by’ as Iran threatens global security | The Times of Israel

Secretary of state says Tehran plans to test three space launch vehicles with technology ‘virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles’

In this file photo taken on December 13, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

In this file photo taken on December 13, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Thursday that its planned launch of three rockets as part of its space program constituted “defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” a July 2015 endorsement by the Security Council of the Iran nuclear deal.

The three space launch vehicles, Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department, “incorporate technology that is virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“An ICBM with a range of 10,000km could reach the United States.”

Pompeo warned the US “will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk.”

He raised the specter of further sanctions, saying, “We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

plans to fire off Space Launch Vehicles with virtually same technology as ICBMs. The launch will advance its missile program. US, France, UK & Germany have already stated this is in defiance of UNSCR 2231. We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later responded that Iran’s actions were “NOT in violation of Res 2231. The US is in material breach of same, & as such it is in no position to lecture anyone on it.”

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

Reminder to the US:
1. Res 1929 is dead;
2. threats engender threats, while civility begets civility.

Resolution 2231 does not expressly forbid Iran from developing ballistic missiles, but it says Tehran is “called upon” not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

According to Pompeo, Iran’s Ministry of Defense “has publicly announced plans to launch” the three new missiles “in the coming months,” which would “once again demonstrate Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231.”

The US, together with allies Britain, France, and Germany, has repeatedly accused Iran of defying the resolution with its missile tests.

One such charge was leveled in March 2016, just months after the nuclear deal’s approval.

On December 1, 2018 Pompeo said in his statement, “the Iranian regime test-fired a medium range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force later said that Iran tests 40 to 50 ballistic missiles every year.”

Such tests, the US said, “have a destabilizing effect on the region and beyond. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many nations from around the world have also expressed deep concern.”

In this photo provided November 5, 2018, by the Iranian Army, a Sayyad 2 missile is fired by the Talash air defense system during drills in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

Pompeo’s statement comes a day after US President Donald Trump said Iranian forces in Syria “can do what they want there, frankly,” and suggested Tehran was removing its troops from the country.

Trump’s statement came two weeks after he rattled Jerusalem as well as America’s Syrian Kurdish allies by announcing that he would pull all 2,000 US troops out of Syria. US soldiers have been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart the establishment of permanent Iranian military infrastructure in Syria.

Israeli officials have warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, sought to downplay Trump’s actions and comments, saying Thursday, “I don’t understand why they’re trying to recycle this drama time and again.”

While Israel may have preferred that US troops remain in Syria, the American president had the prerogative to withdraw them whenever he saw fit, he said.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump’s decision on Syria does not alter his commitment to Israel’s security, the senior minister insisted. “We never relied on US troops in Syria. All together we’re talking about 2,000 troops and our policy to prevent Iran’s entrancement in Syria is based exclusively on the IDF and the government’s policy and not on the US presence,” he said.

“There is no substantive change in the way Israel plans to confront Iran’s entrenchment in Syria,” Erdan concluded.

But speaking anonymously, a senior Israeli official on Thursday criticized Trump for appearing to give Iran free rein to further embed itself in Syria.

“It is sad that he is not attentive to intelligence materials,” the unnamed Israeli official told the Ynet news website.

“I am quite simply in shock,” the source said of Trump’s insistence that Iran was withdrawing from Syria. “Trump simply does not know what is happening in Syria and the Iranian entrenchment there.”

Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

This Tuesday, March 7, 2017, frame grab from video shows US forces patrol on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and US-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria. (Arab 24 network, via AP, File)

Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.

Yet Trump, on Wednesday, said at a cabinet meeting that Tehran, like the US, was withdrawing its forces from Syria.

The American president went on to say that in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year, Washington had changed Tehran’s calculus and stymied its efforts to destabilize the region.

“Iran is no longer the same country,” he said. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”

Trump’s decision to pull America’s 2,000 troops out from Syria caused a major shakeup within his own administration; his secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned over the withdrawal.

Trump offered a stark take on the situation in Syria Wednesday, summing it up in two words — “sand and death” — while remaining vague about the timing of the US troop withdrawal.

A Ghadr-F missile is displayed next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a Revolutionary Guard hardware exhibition marking the 36th anniversary of outset of Iran-Iraq war, at Baharestan Sq. in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Sunday, September 25, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

“So Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want — we’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting. “We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.”

On when US forces would leave Syria, Trump said: “I don’t want to be in Syria forever.”

He added: “I never said we are getting out overnight… We’re withdrawing… over a period of time.”

The US president’s announcement of the Syrian withdrawal was the first significant point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem since he took office. Netanyahu reportedly pleaded with him to rethink the decision.

On Tuesday, Pompeo told Netanyahu that the planned withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria will not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu before they held talks in Brazil.

Trump said last week that he did not think America removing its troops from Syria would endanger Israel.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

 

Egyptian president confirms Israel helping fight Sinai jihadists

January 4, 2019

Source: Egyptian president confirms Israel helping fight Sinai jihadists | The Times of Israel

Sissi says cooperation closer than ever in CBS interview Cairo has subsequently attempted to quash

This photo posted on a file sharing website on Jan. 11, 2017, by the Islamic State Group in Sinai shows an explosion during an attack on an Egyptian police checkpoint on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in el-Arish, north Sinai, Egypt. (Islamic State Group in Sinai/AP)

This photo posted on a file sharing website on Jan. 11, 2017, by the Islamic State Group in Sinai shows an explosion during an attack on an Egyptian police checkpoint on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in el-Arish, north Sinai, Egypt. (Islamic State Group in Sinai/AP)

Egypt’s president has confirmed that Israel is helping Egyptian troops battle jihadists in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told CBS News that cooperation between Cairo and Jerusalem was tighter than it had ever been, in comments published late Thursday.

“That is correct…We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis,” he told the US news outlet when asked if the military coordination between the countries was closer than it had ever been.

The comments came during an interview with the channel’s “60 Minutes” program that is slated to air Sunday evening. According to CBS, Sissi has demanded that the interview be pulped, apparently over questions about human rights abuses and the deaths of protesters, but the channel has insisted it will be shown nonetheless.

In February, The New York Times reported that Israel was covertly carrying out a full-blown aerial campaign against Islamic State targets in Sinai, with Sissi’s blessing. The Israeli aircraft are reportedly often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on t he sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2018. (Avi Ohayon / PMO)

Israel and Egypt have never confirmed the existence of the campaign.

“Only the Egyptian army is authorized to and does conduct military operations in specific areas in northern Sinai, in cooperation with the civilian police,” Egyptian military spokesperson Tamer al-Rifa told Russia’s Sputnik news shortly after the New York Times report.

Since the army toppled Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been killed in attacks in the Sinai by jihadists and other extremist groups, including the Islamic State-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

Illustrative: A picture taken on November 28, 2017, from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an explosion close to the border on the Egyptian side of the divided city. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Sissi has ordered a series of devastating operations meant to return calm to Sinai’s restive north, carrying out large bombing campaigns that have killed hundreds, as well as razing homes to create a buffer zone with the Gaza Strip.

Jihadists regularly claim to have been targeted by Israeli aircraft.

According to foreign reports, Israel has conducted drone strikes in the peninsula on Islamic State targets. Cooperation has also reportedly taken the form of significant intelligence sharing.

More publicly, since 2013, Israel has also allowed additional Egyptian forces into the peninsula, beyond the level permitted under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries. Heavy weapons, like tanks, artillery and attack helicopters, have been brought into Sinai to fight the Islamists, a sign that Jerusalem is not concerned those big Egyptian guns could be turned against it.

Illustrative: Egyptian security forces in the Sinai, July 2013. (Mohamed El-Sherbeny /AFP)

Ties between Egypt and Israel, once mortal enemies, have thawed in recent years. Since 2017, Sissi has twice met openly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a sign of improved relations between the countries, though normalization with Israel is still taboo among many Egyptians.

Talks between Netanyahu and Sissi have been thought to revolve around Gaza, which borders the Sinai peninsula. Egypt has played a key role in attempts to broker calm along the Gaza frontier between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

Agencies contributed to this report.

 

Netanyahu: US will run economic war against Iran, leaving military drive to Israel – DEBKAfile

January 4, 2019

Source: Netanyahu: US will run economic war against Iran, leaving military drive to Israel – DEBKAfile

That the US retains the economic side of the war on Iran leaving the military campaign for Israel to manage – in the words of Prime Minister/Defense Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – defines the new reality set out by the Trump administration,

The PM was speaking on Thursday, Jan. 3 at a ceremony in memory of the late Col. Emanuel Morano, who died in a covert operation against Hizballah during the Second Lebanon War. Up until now, Israel, when striking Iranian targets in Syria, had relied on the US military presence as a shield for holding the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrians in check. The removal of this shield, even if it is spread over some months, catches IDF strategists unprepared tactically and psychologically for a solo operation versus Iran in the Syrian arena.

Comments by Netanyahu and Trump that Iran has been pulling some of its people out of Syria are correct but cold comfort. Tehran is not acting in response to US economic pressure, or because it has been beaten down by Israel’s military assaults, but as a chance to relieve its own forces. According to DEBKAfile’s military and economic sources, Iran’s Middle East commander, Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani, is in the process of assembling in Syria a new local army as a proxy powerful enough to stand up to the IDF and make way for the pullback of Iranian combatants from front-line duty.

That army consists of five new, locally recruited militias loyal to Tehran, Hizballah and elements of pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias already present in Syria. The Iranian general reckons that Iran’s capacity to wage war simultaneously on four fronts – Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gaza Strip – will be a match for Israel’s air supremacy and professional combat skills. In the meantime, the forces returning home from the Syrian front will boost security for the regime in Tehran and deal with rising unrest.

The US military drawdown from Syria makes Israel’s freedom of action in Syrian and Lebanese air space for holding down the Iranian threat more essential than ever before. Therefore, it is clearly understood in Washington and Jerusalem that Israel will have to seek better understandings with Moscow in order to keep its air force in action against Iranian targets from the skies of Syria, Lebanon and possibly Iraq.