Archive for March 24, 2019

Netanyahu welcomes new US sanctions on Iran, congratulates Trump

March 24, 2019

Source: Netanyahu welcomes new US sanctions on Iran, congratulates Trump | The Times of Israel

PM says Iran continues to deceive international community, lie about its military nuclear program

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed on Saturday the imposition by Washington of new sanctions on Iran, announced a day prior.

In a press statement, Netanyahu congratulated US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the move, which imposes punitive measures on the heads of Iran’s military nuclear program.

US officials said the decision to move ahead with the sanctions was in part based on Israel’s recovery of what it and the US call a “secret archive” of documents from Tehran, which they said shows that Iran deliberately preserved and stored its early nuclear weapons work, known as the “Amad plan,” with the intent to someday resume development of a bomb.

“Iran continues to deceive the international community and lie to the world about its military nuclear program. The Iranian regime continues to conceal its capabilities and to strive for nuclear weapons. Iran endangers the peace of the Middle East and the entire world and must be blocked,” Netanyahu said Saturday.

The US Treasury Department said the sanctions target 31 Iranian scientists, technicians and companies affiliated with Iran’s Organization for Defense Innovation and Research, which had been at the forefront of the country’s former nuclear weapons program.

US officials said those targeted continue to work in Iran’s defense sector and form a core of experts who could reconstitute that program. Fourteen people, including the head of the organization, and 17 subsidiary operations are covered by the sanctions.

The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from any transactions with them. But, US officials say the move will also make those targeted “radioactive internationally” by making people of any nationality who do business with them subject to US penalties under so-called secondary sanctions.

US secondary sanctions apply to foreign businesses and individuals and can include fines, loss of presence in the American economy, asset freezes and travel bans. Officials said the threat of such sanctions will significantly limit the ability of those designated to travel outside of Iran, participate in research conferences or be hired for other jobs.

Screen capture from video showing Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, right, and three Iranian-produced uranium enrichment centrifuges in the background. (YouTube)

“Individuals working for Iran’s proliferation-related programs — including scientists, procurement agents and technical experts — should be aware of the reputational and financial risk they expose themselves to by working for Iran’s nuclear program,” the State Department said in a statement.

The move is unusual because the sanctions are not being imposed based on what those targeted are currently doing.

Instead, they were imposed because of their past work on nuclear weapons development and the potential that they would be at the forefront of any Iranian attempt to restart that program. Iran pledged not to resume atomic weapons work under the 2015 nuclear deal and the UN’s atomic watchdog says Iran continues to comply with the agreement.

The US pulled out of the agreement last year, saying it was fatally flawed and allowed Iran to gradually begin advanced atomic work over time. The Trump administration has re-imposed US sanctions that were eased under the terms of the deal and is continuing to impose new ones as part a pressure campaign to force Iran to renegotiate the agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposes files that prove Iran’s nuclear program in a press conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“As the world has learned from the recently-discovered secret Iranian nuclear archive — which revealed the names of some of the individuals sanctioned today — unanswered questions remain regarding Iran’s undisclosed past nuclear-related activities under the Amad plan, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” the State Department said in a statement.

The announcement came as Pompeo was in Beirut warning Lebanese officials to curb the influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. He says Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and should not be allowed to set policies or wield power despite its presence in Lebanon’s parliament and government.

Trump’s Golan Heights decision: It’s all about Iran, stupid! 

March 24, 2019

Source: Trump’s Golan Heights decision: It’s all about Iran, stupid! – Israel National News

The real reason for the president’s Golan Heights announcement was to protect American interests in the Middle East.

Jeff Dunetz, 23/03/19 23:18 | updated: 09:05

-He was just trying to help Netanyahu.

-It was all about the Jewish vote.

-He did it to show contrast with the anti-Israel Democratic Party.

-The right wing is trying to make Israel a partisan issue, etc. etc. and so on.

Since President Trump announced the U.S. would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, political pundits of both parties claim to understand the rationale of the POTUS for his announcement. They are all wrong! To paraphrase James Carville’s famous line, “It’s All About Iran Stupid.” The reason for the president’s announcement was to protect American interests in the Middle East.

Iran has deployed several thousand Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops Syria to help Assad. Additionally, Iran has brought in its buddy Hezbollah to join in on the war. To put the icing on the Iranian cake, Iran’s bought in thousands of Shiite fighters, paid by Tehran and following Iran’s orders.

But don’t think that Iran is trying to help their buddy Assad out of the goodness of their collective hearts. Its presence in Syria helps the rogue regime fulfill two interrelated strategic objectives.

To help Iran control the Middle East, one of its objectives has been to create a “land bridge” to the Mediterranean. Control of territory leading to the sea enables Iran to safely move people and supplies between the Mediterranean and Tehran whenever they want. The smooth movement of people and supplies allows the Shia Muslim Iran to advance its quest to replace and control the governments of the Sunni states of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It’s pretty certain that the US consulted with and explained the President’s rationale to the Sunni countries threatened by Iran above before making his Golan Height’s announcement. And while you might hear them complain but a complaint that is reminiscent of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Casablanca:

If those countries become dominated by the Iranian mullahs, it will severely damage the United States interests in the Middle East. Those interests include ensuring that the war against extremist Islamist terrorism isn’t fought on American shores (Iran is a leading financier of Islamist terror) and safeguarding the flow and sales of oil to the west.

With Iranian forces having free reign in Syria, Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is critical for her basic security and to protect American interests from being destroyed by Iran. Control of the Golan protects the Israeli Galilee region from daily mortar attacks which it faced before the 1967 war and provides the IDF with an optimal line of defense to hold back a Syrian or Iranian ground attack.

But more important in the eyes of the United States, having the Golan Heights controlled by a staunch ally like Israel, provides a check on the Iranian land bridge and their movement of supplies, weapons, and people with the intent of damaging U.S. interests in the region.


IS loses all territory but its shadowy leader still at large 

March 24, 2019

Source: IS loses all territory but its shadowy leader still at large – Breitbart

The Associated Press


BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group has lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, but its shadowy leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” is still at large.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.

Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain a mystery. He appeared in public only once, in 2014. Since then, many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

He is among the few senior IS commanders still at large after two years of steady battlefield losses that saw the self-styled “caliphate” shrink from an area the size of Britain to a tiny speck in the Euphrates River valley.

Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network — he was described as “irrelevant for a long time” by a coalition spokesman in 2017 — al-Baghdadi’s capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq.

But so far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds.

In the last days of IS, as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces zoned in on the last slice of territory held by the militants in eastern Syria — a couple of villages and farmlands near the Iraqi border — the possibility remained that al-Baghdadi would turn up there. Several hundred IS leaders and hardcore fighters, many of them Iraqis, made a last stand in the enclave before surrendering.

The last pocket, in the eastern village of Baghouz, was declared liberated on Saturday after weeks of fighting. During the siege, civilians streamed out of the pocket and surrendered — estimated at more than 30,000, mostly family of IS. But there has been no sign ofal-Baghdadi.

“The Coalition is not holding him nor do we know where he is,” U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told The Associated Press.

Mohammed Kheder, co-founder of the Sound and Picture group which documents IS, said the last time al-Baghdadi was spotted in the area was about 15 months ago, citing sources on the ground and the testimony of the people who left the area.

In Twitter posts, Kheder’s group has said it cannot rule out the possibility al-Baghdadi was detained long ago — “especially since many of American airdrops and night operations targeting IS leaders along the Iraqi border have not been disclosed by the coalition.”

Iraqi intelligence officials believe al-Baghdadi is hiding somewhere in the desert stretching across the Syrian-Iraqi border, using tunnels to move around.

“He does not use any communication equipment or internet to avoid detection by coalition planes,” a senior intelligence official said. “When he wants to see someone from the organization, they are brought to him individually in cars that stop around two hours away from where al-Baghdadi is, and then they are brought to him individually on motorcycles.”

Another official, a colonel, said the Americans recently targeted some of al-Baghdadi’s closest people, including his personal bodyguard Khaled al-Saudi — known as Khallad — who was killed last week near the area of al-Baaj along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Khallad’s wife was arrested. Another close aide to al-Baghdadi was also recently killed and his wife captured, the colonel said, adding that the Americans believe such targets will soon lead them to al-Baghdadi. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to share intelligence information.

Al-Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq, and adopted his nom de guerre early on. According to IS-affiliated websites, he was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq and sent to Bucca prison in February 2004 for his anti-U.S. militant activity.

He was released 10 months later, after which he joined the al-Qaida branch in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He later assumed control of the group, known at the time as the Islamic State of Iraq.

After Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, al-Baghdadi dispatched comrades to the neighboring country to create a like-minded Sunni extremist group there. The group, which came to be known as the Nusra Front, initially welcomed moderate Sunni rebels who were part of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Over time, more of his fighters and possibly al-Baghdadi himself relocated to Syria, pursuing his plan to restore a medieval Islamic state, or caliphate. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced what amounted to a hostile takeover of the Nusra Front, saying he was merging it into a new group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Nusra Front’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani refused to accept the takeover — as did al-Qaida’s central leadership, which broke with al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi’s fighters went onto to capture a contiguous stretch of territory across Iraq and Syria, including key cities such as Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. In June 2014, the group announced its own state, or caliphate. Al-Baghdadi became the declared caliph of the newly renamed Islamic State group.

The group ruled with a virulently extreme interpretation of Islamic law. The atrocities, massacres and beheadings by al-Baghdadi’s militants that followed — many broadcast in grisly and macabre video postings on militant websites — secured IS a spot in some of the darkest, most brutal annals of modern history.

Throughout it all, al-Baghdadi was in the shadows.

His only known public appearance on video was on June 29, 2014, when he appeared as a black-robed figure to deliver a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri in which he urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.

“It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you,” he says in the video. “I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.”

Little is known about al-Baghdadi’s family. An ex-wife, Saja al-Dulaimi, and her daughter from al-Baghdadi, were detained in Lebanon in 2014. She was released a year later as part of a swap with al-Qaida in exchange for kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and policemen. In July 2018, IS announced that al-Baghdadi’s son, Huthaifa al-Badri, had been killed fighting government forces in central Syria.

None of the subsequent reports of al-Baghdadi being killed or wounded were confirmed. In 2017, Russian officials said there was a “high probability” he had been killed in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, but U.S. officials later said they believed he was still alive.

He resurfaced in late September 2017, calling in an audio message on followers to burn their enemies everywhere. Another audio was posted last August in which al-Baghdadi urges followers to “persevere” in fighting IS’ enemies — the speech was sprinkled with references to current events to show it was recent.

Experts tracking militant figures said the voice in the recordings was al-Baghdadi’s.

It was the last time he was heard of.


Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.


Off Topic: Netanyahu touts peerless ties with Trump as he leaves on pre-election trip to DC

March 24, 2019

Source: Netanyahu touts peerless ties with Trump as he leaves on pre-election trip to DC | The Times of Israel

Iran, Golan Heights recognition to top agenda in two White House meetings sandwiching AIPAC appearance, two weeks before Israelis head to the polls

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara, speaking to reporters before flying to Washington early on March 24, 2019. Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara, speaking to reporters before flying to Washington early on March 24, 2019. Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the exceptionalism of US-Israel relations as he headed early Sunday morning to Washington, where he will meet with US President Donald Trump and deliver an address at AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference two weeks before Israeli elections.

Addressing reporters as he boarded his Boeing 777 en route to Washington, Netanyahu said his relationship with Trump surpassed his ties with any world leaders and with any bond between Israel and the US before.

“Never — never — has there been a relationship like this between an Israeli prime minister and an American president. It’s a very, very important asset for the State of Israel, and it is important that [this relationship] continues to serve us.”

Netanyahu traveled to Washington two weeks before Israeli voters will head to the polls on April 9, after a campaign that has seen Netanyahu tout his diplomatic successes and his close bond with Trump.

The US president enjoys high levels of support among Israelis and has been praised in Israel for recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital and pulling out of the 2015 international nuclear deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu strongly opposed.

A Likud party campaign poster depicting US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands is seen in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

On Thursday, Trump backed US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and his top diplomat accompanied the prime minister to the Western Wall, in moves widely expected to help Netanyahu at the polls.

The prime minister will drive the point home with his four-day Washington trip, which will feature two meetings with Trump. His main challenger, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, will also be in Washington for the AIPAC conference but was not invited to the White House.

Netanyahu said that Trump’s stated intention to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be on top of the agenda for his meetings with the president.

“I am going to talk with President Trump about the Golan, about his historic state, about Syria, about the ongoing pressure on Iran and additional sanctions on Iran, which they have added and will add, about security and intelligence cooperation that is unprecedented.”

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While Netanyahu is in town, Trump is expected to sign an official US declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Israeli TV reports said Friday that White House officials were currently drafting such a document.

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

On Thursday, Trump announced, in a tweet, that it was “time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” upending decades of US policy on the matter.

Netanyahu and his delegation are due in Washington early Sunday morning, but there are no events planned for that day, according to the itinerary of the trip sent to the traveling press.

On Monday, he will conduct a “working meeting” with Trump, which will focus on “the Iranian aggression, Iran’s attempts to establish military bases in Syria, and how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. “The two will also discuss strengthening security and intelligence cooperation.”

On Tuesday evening, Trump will host Netanyahu and his wife Sara for a second time, in the framework of a dinner. Though diplomatic protocol determines state dinners can only be given to heads of state, the dinner will still have many of the trappings of one, according to reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP / Nicholas Kamm)

Earlier that day, at 9:30 A.M. Netanyahu is set to address some 18,000 people at the America Israel Public Affair’s Committee annual policy conference, whose motto this year is “Connected for Good.”

Many Israeli politicians and more than dozen US administration officials are also slated to speak at the three-day conference. Most notably among them are Gantz, who will address the conference on Monday, and US Vice President Mike Pence.

After his speech, Netanyahu will hold a series of political meetings on Capitol Hill, including with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He will also meet Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and minority leader Kevin McCarthy.

Netanyahu will stay at the Blair’s House, the official White House guest residence, while in Washington.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


Israel bombs Hamas as Gazans step up nighttime rioting along border

March 24, 2019

Source: Israel bombs Hamas as Gazans step up nighttime rioting along border | The Times of Israel

Strike comes after explosive hurled at border sets off rocket siren, as Hamas-run ‘confusion unit’ threatens to expand night protests

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Israeli military aircraft bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza strip early Sunday as Palestinians rioted along the border in renewed nighttime demonstrations.

The strikes came less than an hour after a rocket alarm sounded in some Israeli communities bordering the strip, triggered by an improvised bomb thrown at the border.

The Israel Defense Forces said aircraft struck two Hamas reconnaissance posts in response to “the multitude of [explosive] devices that were thrown and exploded during the night.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the strikes. Four Palestinians were reported injured, including one seriously, by Israeli live fire during the border riots earlier in the night.

Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Nighttime riots in Gaza have been led by so-called “confusion units” organized by the Hamas terror group, the Strip’s de facto ruler. On Saturday, the unit said it would step up activities, with a week of nightly riots from 7 p.m. until dawn along the border and more airborne incendiary devices launched into Israel. It said the move was in response to the deaths of two Palestinians shot by troops during border riots Friday.

During the nightly demonstrations, participants generally set off loud explosives or sounds grenades, burn tires and throw rocks at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence.

Israeli soldiers typically respond with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.

On Saturday, Israeli military aircraft launched a pair of strikes at Palestinian cells flying incendiary balloons from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, the army said.

Four Palestinians were injured in the strikes.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians took part in violent protests on the Gaza-Israel border, throwing explosive devices and rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

Palestinians riot on the border fence with Israel east of Gaza City on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Recent weeks have seen an uptick of incendiary balloons launched from the coastal enclave, after a drop-off in attacks following an unofficial truce between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group in November.

The launch of incendiary and explosive devices into Israel tied to kites and helium-filled balloons became a common tactic in violent protests along the Gaza border over the past year, burning thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves, and killing livestock and other animals.

No Israelis have been injured by the recent balloon attacks, though damage was caused to a home in the Eshkol region last month.

This picture taken on March 22, 2019 shows a balloons carrying a make-shift drone-shaped object flying over the border with Israel east of Gaza City, after it was set loose by Palestinian protesters during a protest by the fence. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

There are fears that violence will ramp up later this month when Hamas is hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of rioters to the fence Friday to mark a year of so-called March of Return protests.

Israel says the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, which vocally supports them, sending free buses to the border and providing food and internet to participants — as well as money for those injured in them — in order to provide a cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials hold that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

The sides are said to be engaged in Egyptian mediated ceasefire talks.


US boosts forces in Iraq/Syria, backing recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan – DEBKAfile

March 24, 2019

Source: US boosts forces in Iraq/Syria, backing recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan – DEBKAfile

Exclusive: The US has continued to buttress its military presence in E. Syria and W. Iraq in six bases, since the buildup was first reported by DEBKAfile on March 9. On March 20, President Donald Trump confirmed the decision to leave 400 US troops in Syria – 200 in the north and 200 at Al Tanf on the Jordanian border. (

He did not speak about 200 on the Israeli border, as widely reported.) Two days earlier, Gen. Joseph Danford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied a Wall Street Journal report that the US planned to leave 1,000 soldiers in Syria, while unnamed US military sources spoke of 1,500 American troops that would remain in North Syria.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources have sorted out the conflicting reports and can confirm that the US has substantially boosted its military strength in both countries and distributed the strength among six bases:

Three are located in Iraq. For the first time since ISIS was defeated there in early 2016, US Marines have been posted to a base near the Iraqi town of Ramadi, capital of the western governorate of Anbar and 1110km from Baghdad. (See attached map.).

Reinforcements have also reached the US K1 military base near Kirkuk. Earlier this year, the US army converted this facility into its main depot for the intake of American troops and equipment withdrawn from Syria. Since the withdrawal has wound down, K1 has been built up for controlling the northern sector of the Iraqi-Syrian border from Iraqi Kurdistan.

The third US base consolidated in Iraq this week was the big Ayn al-Asad Airbase (which President Trump visited last Christmas).

A glance at the attached map reveals that by dint of their newly-reinforced and deployed strength, US forces in Iraq are able to afford the American Middle East command full control of central, western and northern Iraq.

The US bases augmented in Syria this month are located in three regions:

The southern Al Tanf base, just 24km west of the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraq border junction, has been strengthened with additional Marine and artillery forces.

Al Raqqa, the Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria until its ouster by US-backed Kurdish forces in 2017, is the second base.

And the third is the US air base at Remelin northeast of Hasakeh, the Syrian Kurds’ political center.

The six bases are focal points of US military command control of around 1,500 of territory between Ramadi in central Iraq, up to Hasakeh in northern Syria, and down south to Al Tanf. This wedge of land is bisected down the center by the Iraqi-Syria border.

The new US military deployment in Syria and Iraq gives substance to President Trump’s statement that the time has come to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Most significantly, it is a high impediment for the plan hatched between Tehran and the Assad regime to go forward without delay for the establishment of an Iranian land bridge to the Mediterranean after first reopening the Iraqi-Syrian border. Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi generals began planning this project when they met on March 18 in Damascus.