Archive for April 25, 2019

Off Topic:  New missile gap leaves U.S. scrambling to counter China 

April 25, 2019

Source: New missile gap leaves U.S. scrambling to counter China – World News – Jerusalem Post

Captain James Fanell, a former U.S. Navy intelligence chief, told Reuters that China now has “the most advanced ballistic missile force in the world.”

BY REUTERS
 APRIL 25, 2019 14:46
FILE PHOTO - Military vehicles carrying DF-21D ballistic missiles roll to Tiananmen Square

ZHUHAI, China – Chinese President Xi Jinping has elevated his country’s missile forces to a level where they pose an unprecedented challenge to the aircraft carriers and bases that form the backbone of American military primacy in Asia, a Reuters special report reveals today.

Many of the missiles in Beijing’s arsenal now rival or outperform those of the United States, puncturing the protective umbrella that for decades America has afforded its regional allies South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Captain James Fanell, a former U.S. Navy intelligence chief, told Reuters that China now has “the most advanced ballistic missile force in the world” and has “the capacity to overwhelm the defensive systems we are pursuing.”

Critically, China has forged a monopoly in one class of conventional missiles that enable it to strike at U.S. aircraft carriers off its coast and at bases in Japan or even Guam in the Pacific Ocean. Under a Cold War-era treaty between the U.S. and Russia, neither country has been allowed to develop these weapons – land-based, intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (3,418 miles). But China, which isn’t a signatory to the treaty, has been deploying these rockets in massive numbers.

Today’s special report is part of “The China Challenge,” a Reuters series on how Xi Jinping is reshaping and rejuvenating China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), by filling its top ranks with loyal allies and enhancing its missile, naval and nuclear capabilities.

Previously in “The China Challenge” – Inside Xi’s remaking of the world’s largest fighting force: https://reut.rs/2Uzr9z4

In the event of a confrontation in the seas off its coast, Chinese military brass say they now have the means with which to keep American carriers at bay. “We cannot defeat the United States at sea,” a retired PLA colonel told Reuters. “But we have missiles that specifically target aircraft carriers to stop them from approaching our territorial waters if there were conflict.”

That is a potentially dramatic development, signaling that China is able to deter U.S. intervention as it expands its control in the South China Sea, steps up naval and air sorties around Taiwan, and extends its operations into areas it disputes with Japan.

With the United States suddenly finding itself on the wrong side of the missile gap, American military planners face a new and daunting scenario. Because some of China’s anti-ship missiles now outrange the fighter jets aboard U.S. carriers, they could neutralize American flattops in a conflict. If these carriers are forced to operate outside the range of their aircraft, they would be far less potent.

The United States, which has long been preoccupied with wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, is now rushing to claw back the advantage. President Trump announced on Feb. 1 that Washington would withdraw from its missile treaty with Russia in six months, clearing the way for the U.S. to begin building the ground-launched missiles banned for more than three decades.

China’s Ministry of National Defense, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Pentagon did not respond to questions from Reuters.

 

U.S. called on to boycott German cars until Hezbollah banned from Germany 

April 25, 2019

Source: U.S. called on to boycott German cars until Hezbollah banned from Germany – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Merkel’s administration is vehemently opposed to banning Hezbollah’s entire organization in Germany, where at least 950 Hezbollah members operate.

BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 APRIL 25, 2019 04:42
Angela Merkel gestures during a cabinet meeting in Berlin

The newly formed Committee to Ban Hezbollah in Germany called on US consumers to boycott German automobiles in an advertisement in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected outlawing Hezbollah.

The advertisement declares, “Boycott the German car industry until Hezbollah is banned in Germany.”

The full-page advertisement will run for the next four weeks in The Jewish Journal and leads with the statement: “On June 25, 1996, at 9:50 p.m., Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist arm, murdered 19 American airmen at the Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia.”

The advertisement in the community weekly reads: “Yet Germany allows Hezbollah to operate openly on its soil. It’s time to send a message to the German government. Americans will not buy their cars while it allows the murderers of our soldiers to raise money, recruit and propagandize on German soil.”

Merkel’s administration is vehemently opposed to banning Hezbollah’s entire organization in Germany, where at least 950 Hezbollah members operate.

The Jerusalem Post examined German intelligence reports from 2018 stating that Hezbollah operatives recruit new members, transfer funds to the terrorist entity in Lebanon, and spread lethal antisemitic and jihadi ideologies in the federal republic.

The advertisement ends with a quote from famed US president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

A picture of the memorial at Patrick Air Force Base for the 19 American airmen murdered by Hezbollah is shown in the advertisement.
A spokesman for the Committee to Ban Hezbollah told the Post that, “Hezbollah is the biggest terrorist threat in the world because it is state-backed.”

The spokesman said the committee plans to send the advertisement to German diplomats and managers of German automobile companies in the US such as Damler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.

The committee is slated to also send the ads to mayors in cities where German car plants are situated and to the embassies of Gulf countries.

The spokesman said that the fact that “Hezbollah and Iranians have killed American troops is intolerable.”

Hezbollah is Iran’s chief terrorist proxy in the Middle East.

US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is pressing for the German government to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Sources say that he brings it up at every meeting he attends with German officials.

The United Kingdom outlawed Hezbollah’s so-called political wing in February. The EU and Germany have merely prescribed Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist entity. The US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, the Arab League and Israel classify all of Hezbollah a terrorist organization, without dividing the entity into military and political wings.

Merkel has rejected appeals from both the US and the Israeli governments to also designate Hezbollah’s political wing a terrorist entity. Niels Annen, a deputy German foreign minister, said Hezbollah is necessary for stability because it is a part of the Lebanese government. Germany’s foreign ministry, represented by Annen, participated in a ceremony in February to honor Iran’s Islamic revolution.

In 2012, Hezbollah blew up an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, murdering five Israelis and their Muslim Bulgarian bus driver.

Merkel told Israel’s Knesset last year that the security of the Jewish state is “non-negotiable” for her government.

 

Israel Air Force opens second F-35 squadron 

April 25, 2019

Source: Israel Air Force opens second F-35 squadron – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

The squadron will be called “Defenders of the Negev.”

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 APRIL 25, 2019 13:49
F35 Adir fighter jet

The Israeli Air Force opened a second squadron of F-35 stealth fighter jets, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.

The squadron will be called “Defenders of the Negev.”

Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature allowing the jet to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems, which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.

With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots of the stealth jet have an unparalleled access to information while in the air.

The Israel Air Force currently has 14 F-35 Adir aircraft and is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.

With a need to keep ahead of increased threats in the Middle East, the Israeli Air Force is set to decide within the coming months to place orders on several new aircraft to upgrade its ageing squadrons.

The IAF is also now considering whether to purchase an additional 25 F-35s to give the Jewish state a total of 75 stealth fighter jets.

While the F-35I has advantages such as intelligence gathering, the F-15IA’s assets closely match most missions carried out by the IAF such as dealing with enemy missile launch sites or terror targets on its northern or southern borders.

Although the F-35 is considered one of the world’s most advanced fighter jet, the stealth aircraft is limited in the weapons they are able to carry as they have to be stored in internal munition boxes in order to maintain a low radar signature.

And in parallel to the fifth-generation air crafts, the IAF needs to retain it’s qualitative military edge and modernize an essential squadron of it’s fighter fleet. Most of the IAF’s F-15s are over  30 years old with the majority acquired in the second half of the 1970s and while a more advanced squadron of the F-15, the F-15I arrived in Israel in the 1990s.

The F-15IA model that the IAF is leaning towards purchasing is one of the most advanced and cost-effective fighter planes ever to be built, with various upgrades to the earlier models such as more efficient engines and fly-by-wire avionics-which is considered the biggest change to the jet in 20 years.

Officials believe that a force mix of F-35I Adirs along with a squadron of F-15IA would allow Israel to carry out a number of complex operations, including any possible confrontation with Iran on its borders.

 

USS Abraham Lincoln deploys opposite Syria, US envoy to Russia aboard – DEBKAfile

April 25, 2019

Source: USS Abraham Lincoln deploys opposite Syria, US envoy to Russia aboard – DEBKAfile

Accompanied by 10 warships, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier on Wednesday, April 24, deployed opposite the Syrian coast in a dramatic show of strength against Russia and Iran. The effect was underlined by the revelation from US Navy sources of the presence on the carrier’s command bridge of none other than US ambassador to Moscow Jon Huntsman. His message needed no commentary: “When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy cruising the Mediterranean, this is forward-operating diplomacy – nothing else need be said.”

There is no precedent even in the Cold War years between America and Soviet Russia of a US ambassador being planted on a front line against Russian and Iranian forces in the Middle East. The US Navy communique reported that Ambassador Huntsman was inspecting the operations of “9.000 crew and Marines and the 130 warplanes on the decks of the Lincoln and other vessels of the strike group.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources: This show of US military-backed diplomatic muscle was timed for Thursday, April 25, when President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader were about to sit down for their first summit in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, This meeting was seen in Washington as Putin’s challenge of the nuclear negotiation channel set up by President Donald Trump with the North Korean dictator.

The Lincoln’s deployment facing the Syrian coast was also the Trump administration’s answer to the three top Iranians, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who Wednesday threatened America with harsh retribution for the sanctions that were blocking its oil exports.

Added to this, on Wednesday, Moscow advised Ukrainian separatists supported by Russia in their battle against the central government in Kiev that the red tape would be cleared from the path of any of those fighters who sought Russian citizenship. This was seen in Washington as a half-step towards Russia’s annexation of another part of Ukraine after Crimea. The State Department issued this statement: “Russia, through this highly provocative action, is intensifying its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and national integrity.”

On \Tuesday, April 23, DEBKAfile was first to break the news of the arrival in the Mediterranean of two US carriers and their strike groups – the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John C. Stennis, and reported that they are operating with the US Sixth Fleet in conjunction with allied navies.

 

Egypt and Iran vie for influence in Gaza 

April 25, 2019

Source: Egypt and Iran vie for influence in Gaza – www.israelhayom.com

The clash of interests between these two regional Middle Eastern powers seems clear; Egypt wishes to see Gaza calm and cut off from Islamic State-affiliated terror networks in the Sinai, which also threaten Egyptian security as a whole. Iran sees Gaza as one more base from which it can exercise its influence and threaten Israel and regional stability.

At the start of April, Hebrew media outlets quoted unnamed Israeli security officials as saying the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror faction, whose rocket arsenal is larger even than that of Hamas, was planning a significant attack on Israeli targets.

The information appeared to achieve its goal of discouraging the perpetrators, and no attack transpired. But the fact that Islamic Jihad was reportedly planning an incident that could have hampered Egyptian attempts to restore calm to the Gaza Strip could hint at a wider struggle taking place within Gaza between Egypt and Iran.

Hamas, which rules over Gaza, has reportedly faced demands from Egypt in recent months to decide whether it “takes its orders from Tehran or continues to implement the understandings for calm” formulated by the head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamel.

The clash of interests between these two regional Middle Eastern powers seems clear; Egypt wishes to see Gaza calm, stable and cut off from Islamic State-affiliated terror networks in the Sinai Peninsula, which also threaten Egyptian security as a whole.

Iran sees Gaza as one more base from which it can exercise its radical influence and encourage the growth of a terrorist army that threatens Israel and regional stability.

Iran transfers $100 million a year to the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad collectively, according to Israeli estimates.

Boaz Ganor, executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, recalled that with the signing of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Cairo had no interest in retaking Gaza.

Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat “understood the problematic nature of this territory, which is the most crowded in the world, and racked with poverty, fundamentalism and a lack of a sovereign ruler,” said Ganor. As a result, Sadat did not demand a return of Egyptian rule over Gaza, despite the fact that Egypt controlled the territory prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.

“What Sadat understood, [current Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi also understands, although in a different manner,” Ganor told JNS. “El-Sissi understands that the Strip contains many risks to Egypt within it. Hamas, which controls Gaza, is tied by the umbilical cord to its mother movement—the Muslim Brotherhood—who are Sissi’s loathed and strategic enemies.”

El-Sissi has identified a process of Iranian infiltration into Gaza via its proxy, PIJ, “and is concerned by the growth of a forward Iranian post on the northern border of Egypt,” assessed Ganor.

Another source of concern for El-Sissi is the fact that IS in Sinai is linked to fellow Salafi-jihadist elements in Gaza. These security and political factors, as well as Egyptian concerns over the prospect of a new armed conflict erupting between Israel and Hamas on Egypt’s border, have all led to “massive Egyptian intervention and a will to be active in what is taking place in the Strip,” said Ganor. Israel, for its part, is in favor of this intervention and has even requested it over the years.

Yet Iran is trying to neutralize Egyptian influence in Gaza, Ganor noted, while looking to tighten its links with its Gazan proxies. Tehran is trying to transfer funds and weapons into Gaza. “It also seeks to instruct its proxies to disrupt every process that can lead to calm,” said Ganor.

Tehran’s relationship with Hamas is somewhat more complicated.

Ganor said that “Iran’s influence on Hamas is significant, but much smaller than its influence on Hezbollah. Hamas zealously safeguards its independence and does not view itself as being obligated to Iranian interests.”

The Iranian branch in Gaza

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, described Islamic Jihad as a “kind of Iranian branch inside the Gaza Strip.”

Former Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Salah, as well its current chief, Ziad Nakhalah, are both frequent visitors to Iran, where they are “familiar guests,” stated Segall, a former head of the Iran Branch at the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate.

With Iran training Islamic Jihad fighters in the Islamic Republic, the organization is an “explicit proxy of Iran, in contrast to Hamas, which is under Iranian influence but has its own agenda and is more independent,” he said.

Despite this Iranian influence, Egypt has far more at stake in Gaza, which is at its back door. “Whatever happens in Sinai directly influences Egypt. Iran, meanwhile, is distant, and tries to activate its influence in Gaza by remote control,” said Segall.

He summed up the Iranian proxy strategy as follows: “The more Israel bleeds on its borders, the less it can engage Iran directly.” And the Iranians would like the same thing to happen in the West Bank, with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for terror factions there to be armed just like they are in Gaza.

“This is [a] central component in [the] Iranian doctrine. It’s about asymmetric warfare. Gaza, Lebanon and Syria have become part of Iran’s asymmetric warfare doctrine,” said Segall.

Islamic Jihad has used Iranian-made sniper rifles to fire at the IDF, as well as advanced bombs. It manufactures rockets with Iranian know-how – all part of Iran’s attempt to “sharpen its influence and leave its footprint” in Gaza.

Segall positioned Gaza as one layer in a broader “Iranian war, which plays out in other places, including Yemen, where the Houthis operate against Saudi Arabia, firing missiles against it. It is very similar to what is happening in Gaza. The Iranians work with a proxy toolbox against the Saudis, the Egyptians and Gulf states. This is not limited to Gaza.”

While Iran has the power to activate Islamic Jihad to disrupt Egyptian mediation efforts or spark a new conflict, the terrorist group also faces pressure from Hamas, which can force its will on it, including through the force of arms, according to Segall.

“I think that on the day they receive their order from Iran, Islamic Jihad will obey and cash in its checks, which it received over the years from the Iranians,” he said.

This article is reprinted with permission from JNS.org.

 

US cranks up sanctions against Hezbollah

April 25, 2019

Source: US cranks up sanctions against Hezbollah – www.israelhayom.com

Treasury takes steps against two people and three companies accused of helping the Shiite group evade US sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury, moving to boost pressure on Hezbollah, imposed sanctions on Wednesday against two people and three firms that Washington accuses of being involved in schemes to help the armed Shiite group backed by Iran evade American sanctions.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said it was targeting Belgium-based Wael Bazzi because he acted on behalf of his father Mohammad Bazzi, a Hezbollah financier.

OFAC also took action against two Belgian companies and a British-based firm controlled by Bazzi.

In addition, the U.S. Treasury designated Lebanon-based Hassan Tabaja, who it said had acted on behalf of his brother Adham Tabajha, also a Hezbollah financier. The U.S. action freezes their assets and property and prevents U.S. citizens and businesses from dealing with them.

The two men and three businesses were targeted for sanctions under U.S. regulations aimed at suspected terrorists or those who support them, the Treasury said in a statement. Hezbollah is considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

“The Treasury is relentlessly pursuing Hezbollah’s financial facilitators by dismantling two of Hezbollah’s most important financial networks,” Treasury Undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said in a statement.

“By targeting Hassan Tabaja and Wael Bazzi and their European-based companies, this administration is continuing to disrupt all avenues of financial support relied upon by Hezbollah,” he said.

The U.S. State Department earlier this week offered a reward of up to $10 million for information that could help disrupt Hezbollah’s financing.

The move to boost pressure on the group comes at a time of growing U.S. concern about its role in the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s regional clout has expanded as it has sent fighters to Middle East conflicts, including the war in Syria, where it supported President Bashar Assad.

 

Lebanese defense minister: We will bomb Israel’s airport if it attacks 

April 25, 2019

Source: Lebanese defense minister: We will bomb Israel’s airport if it attacks – www.israelhayom.com

“If Israel bombards our airport, we will bombard its airport; if it strikes our oil facilities, we will strike its oil facilities,” Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab warns while touring country’s south, which borders with Israel.

Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab on Wednesday threatened to strike targets in Israel if it attacks Lebanese territory, Hezbollah’s Al Manar satellite network reported.

“If Israel bombards our airport, we will bombard its airport; if it strikes our oil facilities, we will strike its oil facilities,” Saab reportedly said while touring his country’s southern region that borders Israel.

Saab also ruled out the possibility of Israeli starting a war with Lebanon, claiming that the Lebanese military has the deterrence power to prevent it.

In February, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s growing role in the country’s new cabinet, adding that the Iran-backed organization continues to make its own “national security decisions” that “endanger the rest of the country.”

The U.S. views Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but is a strong supporter of Lebanon’s national army, supplying it with arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. In mid-February, the American Embassy in Lebanon said the U.S. had delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to the Lebanese army.

Richard said last year alone, the United States provided more than $825 million in assistance, an increase from the year before.

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that if Israel wants to wage a war against his terrorist organization, which is based in southern Lebanon, it will need to launch a ground invasion that it currently isn’t prepared for.

“I am leaning toward the conclusion that Israel is unlikely to carry out a war on Lebanon. I personally think that it is unlikely they will do so because… its home front is not prepared,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.