Archive for February 17, 2019

Nasrallah: Warsaw meet unmasked Israel-Gulf ties, Arab leaders Israel’s ‘tools’

February 17, 2019

Source: Nasrallah: Warsaw meet unmasked Israel-Gulf ties, Arab leaders Israel’s ‘tools’ | The Times of Israel

Referencing dispute over IDF readiness for war, Hezbollah chief says Israelis ‘don’t trust’ army; ‘They know we can enter Galilee, they’re not sure they can enter our land’

In this October 24, 2015 photo, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses a crowd in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

In this October 24, 2015 photo, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses a crowd in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday dismissed last week’s Middle East conference in Warsaw as “weak and stale,” and warned that Arab leaders moving toward normalization with Israel were only “a tool” in Israel’s hands.

In a speech marking the terror group’s annual remembrance day for “martyrs,” Nasrallah said the summit in Poland, which focused strongly on Iran’s belligerence in the region, aimed to “rally against Iran and the resistance movements in the region… The enemies are trying to rally the world to conspire against the resistance after their wars failed to eradicate it.”

He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “speaking from the heart” when he talked at the conference of seeking “war with Iran,” a statement that has been characterized as a mistranslation of Netanyahu’s original Hebrew comments.

But Nasrallah asserted that “today Iran is a strong state and stronger than anyone who targets it with war.”

Nasrallah said the Warsaw summit had “brought out into the open Israel’s relations with the Gulf states.

“We knew about normalization between Israel and Oman and the United Arab Emirates, but at the summit we also clearly saw normalization with the Saudis,” he said.

The Hezbollah chief attacked Yemen’s foreign minister for sitting besideNetanyahu at the summit, saying it “revealed that… the Yemen war is an Israeli-American war carried out by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Saudi Arabia has been leading the years-long fight against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. Many thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the war.

“Those who attack the people in Yemen, who control Bahrain that acts against Iran, who sit beside Israel at the Warsaw conference and normalize relations with Israel — they are all tools in the hands of this [Israeli and American] plan,” Nasrallah said.

He claimed the summit was also intended to “eliminate the Palestinian cause,” noting it “missed any reference to Palestine, even though Israel is the head of terror” in the region.

Nasrallah also referred to recent claims by some Israeli officials that the Israeli Ground Forces are not prepared for war with the terror group in the north, saying Israelis “don’t believe in their army.”

The issue of the Israel Defense Forces’ readiness for conflict has made headlines in recent months, particularly in light of the Defense Ministry ombudsman’s ongoing public clash with military leaders over his claims — refuted by both military and Knesset officials — that the army is woefully unprepared for war.

Israeli army Merkava tanks take positions on the Golan Heights, on January 20, 2019. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

“They don’t believe in their army,” the Hezbollah chief said. “They know our fighters can enter the Galilee, but they’re not sure their Ground Forces can enter our land.”

Nasrallah recently boasted in another speech of his organization’s plans for invading northern Israel.

“Senior officials in the Israeli army say it is not ready, particularly the Ground Forces. The officers don’t believe in it, the soldiers don’t believe in it and neither does the government. These are not my words, but the words of by Israeli army leaders.”

He added: “It wasn’t like that in the past. Residents of southern Lebanon are not afraid, but residents of the Galilee are very fearful. That is what deterrence looks like. This is a new state of things.”

On Tuesday, a number of signs mocking the IDF were placed on the Lebanese border, apparently by Hezbollah. “If you don’t trust your Ground Forces, who were beaten in Lebanon, you need to send them to your search-and-rescue forces. You’ll need them,” the signs read, in stilted Hebrew. The signs also featured photographs of Israeli soldiers crying and a tank on fire.

Netanyahu said last month military forces were ready to deliver a “crushing attack” to the nation’s enemies.

Nasrallah also mocked Israeli leaders’ threats against his organization.

“Sometimes Israelis say in their speeches, ‘If Nasrallah knew how much we knew about him, he wouldn’t sleep at night.’ If your information is correct and you know everything about us, about all that we have, it only gives us more confidence, because or deterrence will become even stronger.”

He claimed that the organization now had 40 “hubs,” each of which had more power than Lebanon’s entire “resistance” had possessed in the year 2000.

On Friday the IDF said that over the past week troops conducted a massive drill to train for combat operations in topographical conditions similar to those in Lebanon.

The exercise was the largest one carried out by the 401st Brigade of the Armored Corps in recent years, according to Channel 12 news. The soldiers carried out drills in coordination with the Israeli Air Force, as well as the engineering and intelligence corps.

The brigade’s commander, Col. Dudu Sonago, said Hezbollah fighters have gained extensive experience and have developed more sophisticated battle techniques after fighting in neighboring Syria’s civil war, at the same time as deepening entrenchment above and below ground in Syria.

“They are no longer a guerrilla organization, but a real army,” he said.

Nasrallah also denied US assertions that it has cells in Venezuela. The Latin American nation has plunged deeper into political chaos following the US demand that President Nicolas Maduro steps down a month into his second term.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that “Hezbollah has active cells” in Venezuela and “Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America.”

But Nasrallah said Venezuela “does not need” Hezbollah, though his group was in “solidarity with the political leadership and state of Venezuela against the American aggression.”

AP contributed to this report.


Trump demands Europe put IS fighters on trial

February 17, 2019

Source: Trump demands Europe put IS fighters on trial | The Times of Israel

Despite warnings to the contrary from his generals, US president insists, ‘We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!’

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, MD, on February 15, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, MD, on February 15, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

US President Donald Trump demanded Sunday that European countries “take back” their citizens who fought with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and put them on trial.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump tweeted.

He then reiterated his claim that “The Caliphate is ready to fall.”

Trump warned that if EU countries did not repatriate the terrorists “we will be forced to release them.”

“The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go,” Trump said.

Donald J. Trump


The president then repeated his complaint that EU countries were not paying their fair share of defense costs and claimed again that IS had been defeated.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!” he said.

At its height, between 27,000 and 31,000 may have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State group, according to an analysis by the Soufan Group. Of those, about 6,000 were from Europe, with most from France, Germany and Britain.

Earlier this month, the top general overseeing US military actions in the Middle East, US Army General Joseph Votel, said that Trump did not consult him ahead of deciding to pull American troops from Syria and told senators that despite Trump’s claims, IS has not yet been defeated.

Trump is in an ongoing feud with the US intelligence community, which has warned that IS can quickly rebuild into a cohesive force in any vacuum left in the war-torn country.

Jihadist fighters defending the last dreg of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” Saturday were holed up in half a square kilometer of a village in eastern Syria.

Trump had announced that the fall of the IS proto-state would be declared Saturday, but a Syrian commander said his US-backed forces slowed down their advance to protect civilians.

The jihadists declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but have since lost all but a tiny patch of territory in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

A fighter with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a US-supplied military vehicle during an operation to expel Islamic State group (IS) jihadists from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on February 14, 2019. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

“IS is besieged in a neighborhood that is estimated to be 700 meters long and 700 meters wide,” said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Jia Furat.

“Baghouz is within our firing range but we are moving cautiously considering there are civilians still trapped there as human shields,” said Furat, the overall commander for the operation.

“In a very short time, not longer than a few days, we will officially announce the end of IS’s existence,” he told reporters at a nearby SDF base.

American defense officials are increasingly fearful that the jihadists are simply biding their time until the Americans leave the battlefield as planned.

A Defense Department watchdog report released February 4 warned that if measures weren’t taken following a US troop pullout from Syria, “it is very likely that ISIS will have the opportunity to set conditions for future resurgence and territorial control.”

The US Army’s Central Command said that the Islamic State group is “regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria,” but unless there is sustained counterterrorism pressure, IS militants “could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory” in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.


Syrian regime linked to over 300 chemical attacks – report 

February 17, 2019

Source: Syrian regime linked to over 300 chemical attacks – report | The Times of Israel

Global Public Policy Institute calls on international community to target regime’s helicopter fleet to prevent delivery of chemical munitions

FILE - In this April 4, 2017 file photo, victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack lie on the ground, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. (Alaa Alyousef via AP, File)

FILE – In this April 4, 2017 file photo, victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack lie on the ground, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. (Alaa Alyousef via AP, File)

The Syrian regime and government-backed militias have carried out over 300 chemical attacks in the war-torn country, according to a report published Sunday.

The research, published by the Global Public Policy Institute, shows there were at least 336 chemical attacks over the course of the civil war in Syria, with 98 percent of them carried out by President Bashar Assad’s regime. The remaining 2% of attacks could be attributed to the Islamic State terrorist group.

At least 89% of the chemical attacks were carried out by the Syrian government using improvised chlorine munitions delivered by modified barrel or lob bombs.

According to the report, the regime has targeted civilian population areas with its chemical attacks, rather than the frontline military positions of the rebels. The study said that showed that the use of chemical weapons is part of a strategy of collective punishment for opposition-held areas and the fear of attack is a major contributing factor to the country’s displaced persons crisis.

This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

Approximately 90% of the confirmed attacks occurred after the August 2013 sarin attack on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus the crossed what then-president Barack Obama had previously called a “red line,” saying it demanded a military response against Assad’s government.

Obama instead struck a deal in which Assad was supposed to destroy his stockpiles of chemicals; however, according to the GPPI report, many subsequent attacks utilized chlorine.

At the time of the reported destruction of the stockpiles, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed concerns about omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration.

US President Donald Trump has blamed Syria’s instability on his predecessor refraining to attack Assad after he used chemical weapons on his own people.

Medical workers treating toddlers following an alleged poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, April. 8, 2018 (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

“You can’t make a threat and then do nothing. So Syria was lost long ago,” Trump said in January when expanding on his decision to pull all American troops out of Syria. US soldiers had been leading the coalition against Islamic State, while also helping to thwart a permanent Iranian infrastructure in the war-torn country.

Last September, prior to the announcement of the troop drawdown, the US warned the Syrian regime that further use of chemical weapons against civilians will be met with “a much stronger response” from Washington, in the wake of a report Assad had authorized his forces to use chlorine gas in their assault on the last significant rebel stronghold in the country.

US President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, September 10, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci, Pool)

Sunday’s GPPI report calls on the United States and international community to intervene by directly targeting any apparatus that would allow the use of chemical weapons, saying “the Syrian helicopter fleet, which has played a critical role in the delivery of conventional and chemical barrel bombs, should be a primary target.”

The Trump administration ordered a strike on a Syrian airbase in April 2017 in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack in Idlib that left at least 86 people dead, including 27 children, and which allegedly employed the nerve agent sarin.

Then in April 2018 the US, France and Britain launched a joint attack on Syrian facilities after a chemical strike on the city of Douman was reported to have killed at least 70 people. US officials said precision strikes hit a scientific research center near Damascus, a storage facility and command post also near the capital and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs.

Agencies contributed to this report.


Exclusive: Trump Mid East peace plan’s release – not before second half of 2019 – DEBKAfile

February 17, 2019

Source: Exclusive: Trump Mid East peace plan’s release – not before second half of 2019 – DEBKAfile

Both President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu avoided a date when they said the US peace plan would be presented “after Israel’s election.”

They spoke in a closed meeting at last week’s Warsaw Peace and Security conference. Kushner presented some general outlines of the plan, saying that it would call for concessions from both sides. Netanyahu responded by saying: “We’ll wait and see what the final plan will look like. It will be presented after the Israeli elections – as you can imagine, that takes up a little bit of my time now. I don’t think that any of us should reject the plan and reject this initiative by the American administration before it’s even presented.”

The prime minister went on to say: “If we make progress and indeed a formal peace with the Palestinians, it would help us enormously in the Arab world and I would say with parts of the Muslim world, but I think it’s equally true that the normalization of relations with the Arab world also helps achieve peace with the Palestinians, and I’m happy to say that there’s progress on that.”

Netanyahu had a strong interest in these comments being released to the public on two grounds:

  1. Reporting on the lively campaign for the April 9 general election has accentuated “the right wing” proclivities of the prime minister and his Likud party. He feels that his efforts to attain a broader peace with the Arab world are neglected and wants to bring this issue back to center stage.
  2. Netanyahu also sought to pre-empt any attempt by his newest rival Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party from running off with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He is making sure that he, and not Gantz, is Trump’s chosen partner for his “Deal of the Century.”

One commentator maintained on Sunday, Feb. 17, that the Likud leader aimed his arrows at Education Naftali Bennett and the New Right party, which he co-founded and which is campaigning on the premise that no other party is capable of blocking the Trump peace plan.

Amos Yadlin, head of the Israeli Strategic Institute think tank and former military intelligence chief, argued that by releasing the US peace plan after the election, Washington would avert the formation of a Likud-led government coalition with right-wing Bennett and lead Netanyahu to team up with Benny Gantz instead.

All this rhetoric is based on a misapprehension of the Trump administration’s intention.   DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources report that the White House does not intend its peace plan to see the light of day before the end of summer. By then, the next Israeli government should be in place and ready to deal with it. US officials calculate that the legal cases awaiting the prime minister could mire cabinet negotiations in interminable delays. The uncertain security situation also needs to be factored into to the White House’s timeline at a time that Israel’s southern and northern fronts, either or both, may be on the verge of outright hostilities.