Archive for February 16, 2019

Turkey, Russia, Iran increasingly challenge U.S.during Syria discussions

February 16, 2019

Source: Turkey, Russia, Iran increasingly challenge U.S.during Syria discussions – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The official statement from Sochi included a 17-point statement that was released on Friday. The three powers discussed developments since their last meeting in Tehran on September 7.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 FEBRUARY 16, 2019 13:40
Turkey, Russia, Iran increasingly challenge U.S.during Syria discussions

The Presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia gathered in Sochi at the end of last week to discuss the situation in Syria. It is the latest of several important and high profile gatherings of these countries to seek a way to end the Syrian conflict and also to increase their coordination on regional issues. This is a direct challenge to US power in the Middle East and was scheduled to coincide with the US-led meeting in Warsaw last week that included calls by Washington to challenge Iran.
The official statement from Sochi included a 17-point statement that was released on Friday. The three powers discussed developments since their last meeting in Tehran on September 7. They sought to “strengthen the trilateral coordination” in light of their agreements about Syria. Unsurprisingly they emphasized the importance of the “sovereignty” of Syria, and its “territorial integrity,” wording that has been meant to challenge the US role in eastern Syria.
The three countries “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.” This is interesting because Turkey launched a military operation into Afrin in Syria in January 2018 and has been working to back a group of Syrian rebels and opposition groups. However the statement seems to ignore Turkey’s role and is aimed at the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-backed mostly Kurdish forces that have been fighting ISIS in eastern Syria. In December Turkey claimed that ISIS was defeated and appeared to assert that the US was in Syria only under a pretext of fighting ISIS but actually supporting a separatist Kurdish agenda. The US decided to withdraw from Syria in mid-December.
The three powers took into account the US withdrawal and claimed it would help “strengthen stability and security” in Syria. This is a jibe at Washington because the US has said it supports stabilization efforts in eastern Syria.
The statement also expressed concern with the “attempts of the terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to increase control over the area, and agreed to effectively counter these attempts.” This is a reference to the recent growth of HTS as it clashed with several groups in Idlib province in northwest Syria and drove those groups out of Idlib, cementing its control. Under a September agreement between Russia and Turkey, Turkey was supposed to rein in some of these groups along a buffer zone and force them to withdraw heavy weapons. It is not clear the degree to which Turkey has met these agreements with Russia, but Russia doesn’t want to antagonize Turkey and has remained silent on violations. Oddly, the statement mentioned the “Al-Nusra front” and “Al-Qaeda,” whereas many analysts say that HTS, Al-Qaeda and the Nusra front are the same group in Syria. By mentioning them all separately it gives Turkey and Russia more flexibility in interpreting the agreement to combat these “terrorist” groups one at a time.
The other parts of the statement claimed that the conflict could only be resolved through a UN-backed process, an argument that Americans have also made in asserting there is no military solution in Syria. The three powers seek to push forward a Constitutional Committee that has been formed in Geneva. The next meeting on Syria take place at Astana in April of this year and that a meeting of these three leaders will be held in Turkey at the invitation of Ankara.
The statements that came out of the Sochi meeting tend towards the Orwellian. Iran, for instance, accused the US of “backing the terrorists based in Iraq and Syria” and using them to support “illegal activities” in Syria. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hinted that Tehran had “reports” that the US was supporting ISIS. Iran has long claimed that the US supports terrorism, while Washington accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and instability across the region. Iran seeks to pressure Iraq to force US forces to leave Iraq.
Similarly Turkey has accused the US of working with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Syria and supporting terrorists. Russian media, such as Sputnik, has accused the US of aiding ISIS. All of this is designed to turn on its head the US campaign against ISIS and US claims that Washington is supporting stability in eastern Syria. Last year Russia accused the US of leaving Raqqa, a city liberated from ISIS in 2017, devastated and creating conditions that could give the rise to new terrorist infiltration.
Overall the meeting in Sochi shows the increasing bond between Turkey, Iran and Russia, each of which openly oppose US policy in the region and globally. For instance Turkey has been a backer of the Venezuela regime that the US has been seeking to pressure. Turkey is ostensibly a US and NATO ally, but its work with Russia and Iran tends to show that it wants a foot in both camps. The Syria issue has tended to unify these countries in the last year, rather than drive a wedge between them. Nevertheless there are major challenges ahead in Idlib and in eastern Syria. Turkey will be pressured to sort out the problems in Idlib if Russia continues to say that terrorists are present there. Similarly it may be difficult for Russia to manage the crises in eastern Syria if the US withdraws too quickly.

 

US ambassador slams German gov’t for celebrating Iran’s revolution

February 16, 2019

Source: US ambassador slams German gov’t for celebrating Iran’s revolution – International news – Jerusalem Post

“No one should confuse the desire to have dialogue with a celebration marking 40 years of brutality”- US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.

BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 FEBRUARY 16, 2019 00:14
Iran

The high-profile American Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell hammered the German government on Thursday for celebrating the Iranian Islamic revolution in Berlin.

“No one should confuse the desire to have dialogue with a celebration marking 40 years of brutality. This sends a troubling mixed message,” Grenell told The Jerusalem Post.

In an eye-popping appearance at the Iranian embassy in Berlin this week, German diplomats honored the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that created a regime which seeks the destruction of the Jewish state and the US.
Niels Annen, minister of state in the foreign ministry, and an official from the Iran desk at the ministry attended the pro-mullah regime event, the mass circulation German daily Bild first reported on Tuesday. Annen is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) that oversees the foreign affairs ministry.
Uwe Becker, the mayor and treasurer of Germany’s financial capital of Frankfurt, told the Post: “This is not just an unnecessary address of devotion to the Iranian leadership, but a slap in the face of all those Iranians who have suffered or fled under the mullah regime in the past 40 years. Even if one were to take the view that, despite Iran’s support for international terrorism, despite the threats to destroy Israel or despite the recent expansion of the Iranian missile program, it would be necessary to establish greater relations with Tehran, participation in the revolutionary jubilee is almost a self-denial of our own values while looking into the face of Iranian tyranny.”
Becker is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s foreign ministry justified Annen’s appearance at the celebration in statement to the Post, saying Germany seeks to keep “channels of dialogue” open.
Germany’s participation in the ceremony honoring Iran’s revolution comes as Tehran’s clerical regime announced it plans to expand its missile system and enhance its military power. The so-called moderate regime of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has  engaged in massive human rights violations, according to critics. Iran’s regime publicly hanged a man in January based on its anti-gay law.
According to the Canadian human rights organization International Railroad for Queer Refugees, “Today is the 40th anniversary of Islamic Republic of Iran and every 43 hours [for 40 years] one gay or lesbian was killed in Iran.”

Nasrin Amirsedghi, a leading Iranian dissident and public intellectual in Germany, wrote the Post by email:
“The appeasement policy of the German government, in particular that of the SPD, has a very long tradition.Today, 40 years after the dehumanization of [the Iranian] people, daily executions (1.7 million prisoners since 1979, the politically persecuted, homosexuals, etc), the German government continues its appeasement policy, which would not fit in any moral closet.” She added “How can Germany believe in democracy and freedom and yet maintain trade relations with the mullahs and Israeli haters? Is that not pure cynicism?”
Amirsedghi, who has written about the Iraniain regime’s human rights violation, said she is appealing to German and EU politiicans to “stop trying to save the mullahs because as long as they are kept alive, Iran continues to be murdered.There is also the time after the mullahs and we Iranians will never forget that.”
Peter Kohanloo, the president of the U.S.-based Iranian American Majority organization, told the Post:“It’s embarrassing that the German government sent representatives to celebrate four decades of the Iranian mullahs’ tyrannical misrule. It also conveys the message that Berlin doesn’t take seriously the US-sponsored Warsaw Conference to confront Tehran nor particularly cares about the fundamental human rights of Iranians. The right policy for Berlin would be to act like an ally and support US efforts to impose stronger sanctions on the clerical regime.”
Alireza Nader, the CEO of New Iran, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., told the Post that “Germany needs to reshape its policy on Iran to reflect reality. The Iranian people don’t want the Islamic Republic, yet Berlin has a close relationship with the regime while ignoring human rights and the regime’s support for terrorism. But worse than all it pretends that the regime can be reformed. Instead of sticking with the regime, Berlin should start a dialogue with the Iranian democratic opposition and make a complete change in its Iran policies.”

 

Hizballah’s missile precision crash project slowed. 250 upgraded out of 14,000 – DEBKAfile

February 16, 2019

Source: Hizballah’s missile precision crash project slowed. 250 upgraded out of 14,000 – DEBKAfile

The Iranian-Hizballah crash program for converting 14,000 medium-range Zelzal 2s into precision-guided missiles is struggling. But 250 are still a threat.

On Friday, Feb. 15, Hizballah’s Al Mayadin network released a clip out of the blue depicting a four-year old incident, in which its forces on Jan. 28, 2015 shot up an IDF mounted border patrol, killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring another seven. It came, DEBKAfile’s military sources note, just hours after the IDF’s 401st Armored Brigade completed an exercise with air force support that centered on repelling a Hizballah invasion and chasing the raiders across the order into Lebanon.

The Lebanese terrorist group found three chilling revelations in this drill and so drew on a past event for bravado. The Israeli exercise featured an elite armored unit; it used the IDF’s main battle tank, the Chariot Mark 4 (M4) Windbreaker, which has a strong missile-defense capability and is often rated as the best tank in the world; and, finally, the exercise concluded with the Israeli army pursuing the enemy across the border into Lebanon. Those features told Hizballah that the era of the former IDF chief of staff Gady Eisenkot was over and his successor Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi realistically contemplated sending an elite Israeli fighting unit into Lebanon and carrying the battle across the border in a future conflict.

The Israeli public knows very little about this back and forth. On Dec. 6, 2018, Binyamin Netanyahu, who doubles as prime minister and defense minister, said: “This terrorist organization had planned to be armed with thousands of [precision] rockets, but for the moment they only have a few score.” IDF Intelligence (AMAN) Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman put it this way: “Hizballah does not have the industrial capacity for precision-guidance conversions.”

Neither answered the key questions: “Has Hizballah acquired precision-guided missiles or not? And if so, how many?

DEBKAfile offers some answers from its own and Western military and intelligence sources. Hizballah is estimated to have upgraded 90-250 medium-range missiles for high precision strikes. This is not enough for the full-scale missile war on Israel planned by Iran and Hizballah. On the assumption that Hizballah fails to launch 10 percent of this number (for other armies 4 percent is the norm), and the Israeli Air Force knocks out some of its mobile launch vehicles, “only” 50 of the estimated 250 would land within their radius and reach their targets. Even then, the fallout would be appalling, given Israel’s densely populated heartland.

Iran and Hizballah decided therefore to limit the upgrade program to the 14,000 Zelzal-2 medium range missiles contained in the Hizballah arsenal. But that too has run into major hindrances. They needed to build factories to perform the process of cutting a section out of the 16-meter long missile to make room for transplanting a GPS command and navigation gear and a control system, while also attaching small winglets to the body for changing direction after launch. This process transforms the Zelzal 2 into a virtual Fatteh110, which has a range of 300km.

These components are manufactured in factories in Iran under the supervision of the Imam Hussein University in Tehran. Every attempt is being made to smuggle them to Hizballah by air, sea or the trucks that move between Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. It is estimated that although Iran has produced 4,000 of these components, no more than 500-1,000 have got through to Hizballah’s warehouses in Lebanon; the rest destroyed by Israeli air and covert operations striking deep inside Syria and Lebanon.

Another difficulty facing the project has been the need for large halls to house the missiles and their re-assembly units.  However, as soon as some of these factories began work in Syria and Lebanon, they were razed by Israeli attacks. Others stand empty after the equipment and components are waylaid by Israel en route from Iran. That was what General Hayman was hinting at when he said Hizballah is short of the industrial capacity for converting its missiles into precision guided weapons.

Hizballah has turned to using small, scattered workshops for this process, at the expense of output and quality of the product. Cost estimates are also relevant. The conversion of a rocket is estimated to cost $10,00 apiece. The entire Zelzal upgrade project set by Hizballah would require a total of $140 million.