Archive for January 21, 2019

(2) Israel conducts massive bombardment of Iranian targets in Syria – TV7 Israel News 21.01.19 

January 21, 2019

 

 

Islamic State targets US convoy in northeast Syria

January 21, 2019

Source: Islamic State targets US convoy in northeast Syria | The Times of Israel

American military official says there are no casualties among US-led coalition forces, but Britain-based monitoring group claims 5 were killed

Screen capture from video provided by Hawar News, ANHA, shows Kurdish fighters standing guard at the site of a suicide attack near the town of Shaddadeh, in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh, Syria, January 21, 2019. (ANHA via AP)

Screen capture from video provided by Hawar News, ANHA, shows Kurdish fighters standing guard at the site of a suicide attack near the town of Shaddadeh, in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh, Syria, January 21, 2019. (ANHA via AP)

BEIRUT — An Islamic State suicide bomber targeted a joint convoy of US and allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Monday, the second attack against US troops in less than a week.

US military Col. Sean Ryan said there were no casualties among the US-led coalition members. He added: “We can confirm a combined US and Syrian partner force convoy was involved” in the suicide bomb attack.

“We will continue to review the situation and provide updates as appropriate,” he added.

The Kurdish Hawar news agency, based in northern Syria, said Monday’s blast targeted a Syrian Kurdish checkpoint as a coalition convoy was passing near the town of Shaddadeh. It said two Kurdish fighters were lightly wounded in the blast.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast killed five people and wounded others.

Monday’s attack came days after a suicide attack killed 16 people, including two US service members and two American civilians, in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. It also came a month after US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw troops from the war-torn country, declaring that IS had been defeated.

Islamic State claimed both attacks in statements carried by its Aamaq news agency.

 

Iran fires rockets over Mount Hermon. 

January 21, 2019

 

 

 

Israel strikes in Syria in more open assault on Iran

January 21, 2019

Source: Israel strikes in Syria in more open assault on Iran

BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel struck in Syria early on Monday, the latest salvo in its increasingly open assault on Iran’s presence there, shaking the night sky over Damascus with an hour of loud explosions in a second consecutive night of military action.

Damascus did not say what damage or casualties resulted from the strikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said 11 people were killed. Syria’s ally Russia said four Syrian soldiers had died and six were wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the air raid had mostly targeted Iranian forces, but also hit Syrians helping them. “We will strike at anyone who tries to harm us,” he said.

The threat of direct confrontation between arch-enemies Israel and Iran has long simmered in Syria, where the Iranian military built a presence early in the nearly eight year civil war to help President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Israel, regarding Iran as its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

With an election approaching, Israel’s government has begun discussing its strikes more openly, and has also taken a tougher stance towards Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon. It said a rocket attack on Sunday was Iran’s work.

What is believed to be guided missiles are seen in the sky during what is reported to be an attack in Damascus, Syria, January 21, 2019, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Facebook Diary of a Mortar Shell in Damascus/Youmiyat Qadifat Hawun fi Damashq/via REUTERS

The Israeli shift comes a month after U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced a sudden plan to pull the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, a move long sought by Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. Trump’s decision shocked American allies in the region and was opposed by top U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets had attacked Iranian “Quds Force” targets early on Monday, including munition stores, a position in the Damascus International Airport, an intelligence site and a military training camp. Its jets then targeted Syrian defence batteries after coming under fire.

It followed a previous night of cross-border fire, which Israel said began when Iranian troops fired an Iranian-made surface-to-surface missile from an area near Damascus at a ski resort in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Syria said it was Israel that had attacked and its air defences had repelled the assault. Syria had endured “intense attack through consecutive waves of guided missiles”, but had destroyed most “hostile targets”, state media quoted a military source as saying.

The Russian defence ministry said Syrian air defences, supplied by Russia, had destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs, according to RIA news agency.

In Tehran, airforce chief Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh said Iran was “fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth”, according to the Young Journalist Club, a website supervised by state television.

Assad has said Iranian forces are welcome to stay in Syria after years of military victories that have brought most of the country back under his control. Just two big enclaves are still outside Assad’s grip, including the area Trump plans to exit.

Netanyahu, who is hoping to win a fifth term in the April 9 election, last week told his cabinet Israel has carried out “hundreds” of attacks over recent years.

“We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us,” he said on Sunday.

“EVERY LAST BOOT”

The Israeli military distributed footage of what it said were missiles hitting the Syrian defence batteries, as well as satellite images showing the location of the alleged Iranian targets. Syrian state media showed footage of explosions.

In a highly publicised operation last month, the Israeli military uncovered and destroyed cross-border tunnels from Lebanon it said were dug by Hezbollah to launch future attacks.

Israel last fought a war with Hezbollah, on Lebanese soil, in 2006. It fears Hezbollah has used its own role fighting alongside Iran and Assad in Syria to bolster its military capabilities, including an arsenal of rockets aimed at Israel.

Tensions have also risen with Israel’s construction of a frontier barrier that Lebanon says passes through its territory.

Washington has sought to reassure allies it still aims to eject Iran from Syria despite pulling its own troops out. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited the region this month, has vowed to expel “every last Iranian boot” from Syria.

Israel has sought reassurances from Moscow that Iranian forces in Syria would not be a threat. Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the missile fired at the ski resort was launched from “an area we were promised the Iranians would not be present in”.

(The refiled story fixes ‘tried’ to ‘tries’ in paragraph three.)

Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut, Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Nick Macfie and Raissa Kasolowsky

Off Topic: New Norwegian government calls for closer ties with Israel, condemns BDS

January 21, 2019

Source: New Norwegian government calls for closer ties with Israel, condemns BDS – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

“The Norwegian government does not see boycott of Israel as a contribution to dialogue, understanding and a peaceful development in the Middle East.”

BY HERB KEINON
 JANUARY 21, 2019 15:27
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg

Israel’s relations with Norway, which improved significantly in 2013 with the election of a center-right government, are likely to improve even more following a reshuffling on Thursday, said Conrad Myrland, head of a pro-Israel group in the country.

The coalition government of Erna Solberg was expanded on Thursday with the addition of the small Christian-Democratic Party. Solberg was quoted as calling the formation of the government a “historic day,” since it marks the first time since 1985 that Norway would be ruled by a non-socialist majority government.

Reelected in 2017, Solberg has governed with minority governments since 2013, meaning she has needed the opposition parties to pass legislation. This will no longer be the case.

Though foreign policy was not the reason for bringing in the new party, Myrland – whose organization With Israel for Peace (Med Israel for Fred), the largest non-religious, pro-Israel organization in Norway – said the Christian Democrats now headed by a pro-Israel leader named Kjell Ingolf Ropstad have inserted some pro-Israel paragraphs in the new government guidelines.

The government guidelines calls for Norway to have “a balanced attitude to the Middle East-conflict, actively support the goal of Israel and Palestine as two states within secure and international recognized borders, and support democratic development in the Middle East.”

Myrland said the paragraph is not new, and that something similar appeared in the previous government guidelines. What is new, he said, is a clause calling for the government to “lay the ground for strengthened research and development cooperation, trade, tourism and cultural exchange with Israel. The government does not see boycott of Israel as a contribution to dialogue, understanding and a peaceful development in the Middle East.”

Furthermore, the guidelines call for the government to “mark a clear critical stand against all form of antisemitism and actively work against economic contributions to terrorism, including reward of prisoners.”

In the chapter about international aid, the platform said the “government will not support organizations that encourages violence or promote hateful expressions, racism or antisemitism, specifically in the Palestinian areas.”

Myrland called these additions to the government guidelines a “further step in the right direction” toward Israel that began with Solberg’s election in 2013.

Norway has for years been a major donor to the Palestinians, and chairs the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee that is the main coordination mechanism for development assistance to them.

 

Defense site: Iran has a stronger military than Israel 

January 21, 2019

Source: Defense site: Iran has a stronger military than Israel – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

GlobalFirePower ranks Iran as 13th strongest military and placed Israel as 16th, below Brazil and Indonesia.

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 JANUARY 21, 2019 15:26
Defense site: Iran has a stronger military than Israel

Israel’s military has slipped below its arch-nemesis Iran in the ranking of military powers, ranking 16 out of 137 countries, according to the international defense site Global Firepower (GFP).

It was the third year in a row that Israel fell in the site’s ranking, falling one spot from the previous year and down five spots when it ranked 11th in 2016. Iran, meanwhile, climbed to 13th in 2018 from 20th in 2017.

According to the defense site, it only takes conventional military capabilities into account when compiling and factors in another 55 criteria, such as the range of weapons in its arsenal, amount of available manpower, abilities of the local defense industries, as well as natural resources, geographical size and economic strength.

“The unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced nations to compete with larger, though lesser-developed ones,” the site said, adding that “a perfect PwrIndex (Power Index) score is 0.0000 which is realistically unattainable in the scope of the GFP formula.”

The site also allows for one to compare two specific countries against each other, showing military data such as total manpower available, active personnel, total amount of reservists, and total military personnel. The site also shows the total amount of arms such as aircraft, tanks, naval assets as well as artillery strength.

A comparison between Iran and Israel shows that while Iran has significantly more naval assets than Israel (398 versus 65), Iran has a total coastline of 2,440 km. compared to Israel’s 273 km.

Israel has far greater tank strength (2,760 assets versus 1,650) and has some 10,575 armored fighting vehicles, compared to Iran’s 2,215. The total amount of aircraft between the two countries are close, with Israel having 596 aircraft versus Iran’s 505.

According to the site, Israel’s total military personnel stands at 615,000, compared to Iran’s 934,000. But Iran’s total population is significantly larger than Israel, with 82 million people versus Israel’s 8.3 million people. Jerusalem meanwhile has a defense budget of $20 billion versus Tehran’s budget of $6.3 billion. The United States topped the defense site’s list as the strongest military force, followed by Russia and China in second and third places, respectively. India placed fourth, followed by France and the United Kingdom.

In the Middle East, while Israel was outranked by Iran, Egypt (12) and Turkey (9), it continued to outrank other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia (26), Syria (49), Jordan (76) and Lebanon (106).

While the Jewish state placed higher than other Western countries, like Canada (25) and Poland (22), it nevertheless ranked below Germany (10), Italy (11) Brazil (14) and Indonesia (15).

 

Israeli strikes in Syria reveal new battlefield for post-civil war era 

January 21, 2019

Source: Israeli strikes in Syria reveal new battlefield for post-civil war era – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

As Israel continues to strike at Iran more publicly the Syrian conflict enters a new phase.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 JANUARY 21, 2019 16:04
 Kurdish-led militiamen ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory over Islamic State

For eight years, since the Syrian rebellion began in 2011, Syria has been the center of great power politics, and an attempt by various forces to control the region through proxies in the conflict. It also became a battlefield between different ideologies, and quests for autonomy amid the chaos and the rise of Islamic State. Now that era is drawing to a close and a new battlefield shift is taking place.

The Syrian conflict went through several phases over the greater part of the last decade. What began as a conflict between revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the regime, and reactionaries who sought to keep the Assad family in power, degenerated into a series of different conflicts and contests for who would control the country. Great and regional powers, such as the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey all sought a role in Syria. They did so often through backing local forces or proxies.

Eventually, with the rise of Islamic State in 2014, the war in Syria became a series of wars within the civil war. This included a conflict between ISIS and most of the other players in the conflict, a conflict between various rebel groups and ISIS and the regime, a rising Kurdish autonomous region in the east and greater involvement by Iran. Israel was at first cautious and operated in the shadows regarding its policy. Only rarely did news of airstrikes emerge, until 2016 when reports in foreign media indicated an increase in targeting of Iranian arms transfers via Syria.

For Israel, the main concern was not just who would win the Syrian civil war and thus end up as new neighbors on the Golan, but also how Iran might exploit the conflict to create a direct frontline in Syria between Iranian-backed forces and Israel. Iran was focused mainly on propping up the Syrian regime until 2016, sending militias, some of whom were recruited from Shi’ite minorities in faraway Afghanistan and Pakistan, to fight in Syria.

But in 2017, things began to change. It was revealed via satellite images published by foreign media that Iran was constructing sites and stocking warehouses. Iranian “entrenchment,” as Jerusalem calls it, was growing. Washington indicated in 2018 that it shared Israel’s concerns not only about entrenchment, but also about Iran’s “road to the sea,” a corridor of influence stretching from Tehran across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. This corridor would knit together Iranian-backed militias, many of them established on the Hezbollah model and connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.

Israel revealed in the fall of 2017 that it had carried out 100 airstrikes against weapons transfers in Syria, and later said in 2018 that this number had increased to 200. Israel also warned Iran against remaining in Syria after the Syrian civil war ended. Iran replied that it had been invited to Syria by the government.

This began a complex shadowy and violent dance between Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Jerusalem. Tehran wanted to stay in Syria. Moscow, which enjoyed unprecedented and increasingly warm and personal relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to balance its interests. Its main agenda was to help Damascus win the civil war, but it was cautious in that approach. Russia worked on ceasefire deals with the US and Jordan in 2017 regarding southern Syria, and also with Turkey in 2018 regarding Idlib in the north.

Russia indicated that Syria’s regime would incrementally take back the country, but that there would be compromises. For instance, Russia played a key role in the return of Syrian army units to areas near the Golan. Reports indicated that Israel continued to warn throughout the summer of 2018 that Iranian forces must keep away from the border.

Russia became more clear in its warning to Israel after the Syrian air defense mistakenly downed a Russian IL-20 in September 2018. Moscow said Israel’s actions had created the dangerous conditions in which the Syrians mistakenly shot down the plane. Russia gave the regime its S-300 air defense system and claimed it would train the Syrians to use it. But so far that has not happened. In the recent round of strikes, the Syrians relied on the Pantsir air defense system.

As Israel’s winter of discontent about Iran’s entrenchment has unfolded in 2018 and headed into 2019, Jerusalem has become more open about the war being waged in Syria against Iran’s role there. This is a warning to Tehran that Jerusalem takes its actions seriously and that it is not just blustering about Iran needing to leave Syria “quickly,” as Netanyahu said in mid-January.

However, the current battlefield in Syria is made more complex by the lack of chaos. This appears counterintuitive. The chaos of the Syrian conflict enabled Israel to act in the shadows because other countries were also participating. But the end of the conflict means more focus on these airstrikes.

Peter Lerner, the former IDF spokesman, tweeted that “Israel sent a clear message to Iran that their hostilities from Syria will not be tolerated.” The clarity of the message is clearly related to the US withdrawal from Syria, which was announced on December 19. That appears to have accelerated the degree to which these strikes became more public. Since the September IL-20 downing, reports indicated almost three months of a hiatus in strikes. Then, between late December and the second week of January, Syrian media accused Israel of at least two rounds of airstrikes. Israel took responsibility for one of those on January 13. But the January 20-21 round of strikes was immediately published by the IDF on the morning of January 21.

For the Syrian regime, the cost of continuing to use its air defense to defend Iran’s positions in Syria may be increasing. The “Within Syria” blog noted Israel’s “claim to be targeting Iran, yet hit only four Iranian positions and more than 6 Syrian army positions.”

The IDF statement said that “dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were launched, despite clear warnings to avoid such fire. In response several of the Syrian Armed Forces aerial defense batteries were targeted.” The message here appears clear. Despite direct warnings, Syria sought to defend the Iranians and its defense infrastructure paid a price.

The new Syrian battlefield is being drawn on a canvas of increased Syrian government responsibility. The Syrian government wants to return to eastern Syrian areas that the US plans to withdraw from. The war against ISIS waged by the US-led coalition, and also by the Syrian regime, appears to be winding down. Hundreds of ISIS members and civilians fled the last ISIS enclave in Hajin on Saturday and Sunday night. Syria’s government is still overstretched though. How can it return to eastern Syria and challenge the growing extremist threat in Idlib, while dealing with a simmering conflict between Israel and Iran? The regime doesn’t want that and neither does its Russian ally. This puts Damascus in a difficult position: the more it defends Iran’s interests in Syria, the more it squanders in its ability to manage the US withdrawal and issues in Idlib.

Even with the Syrian battlefield becoming less chaotic and the starker realities of Iran-Israel tensions emerging into a new phase of potential conflict, major region implications remain. Moein Al-Kazemi, a Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) commander, was quoted as saying that the PMU would respond to any Israeli “aggression.” The PMU is a group of mostly Shi’ite militias linked to Iran’s IRGC.

“Any act of hostility against the Hashd al-Sha’abi (PMU) could backfire on Tel Aviv as thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon were already aimed at Israeli targets,” Kazemi warned, according to Iran’s Press TV. The message from Iran therefore is that Iraqi Shi’ite forces and Hezbollah could be drawn into any escalating conflict. That would link the Syrian battlefield to a regional conflagration and Iran’s corridor of influence that Jerusalem has warned about for the past two years.