Archive for September 2, 2019

IDF chief to UNIFIL: Stop Hezbollah’s missile program, or we will

September 2, 2019

Source: IDF chief to UNIFIL: Stop Hezbollah’s missile program, or we will | The Times of Israel

Meeting head of UN peacekeeping force, Kohavi says Israel will not tolerate terror group’s attacks on its soldiers and civilians, nor let it build precision missiles

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (second left) meets with the head of UNIFIL Stefano Del Col in the Israeli military's Tel Aviv headquarters on September 1, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (second left) meets with the head of UNIFIL Stefano Del Col in the Israeli military’s Tel Aviv headquarters on September 1, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi on Sunday called on United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese government to take action against the Hezbollah terror group’s precision missile project, indicating that Israel would be forced to act if they didn’t.

Kohavi conveyed this position in a meeting with Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), following a clash along the border with Hezbollah on Sunday in which the terror group fired anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli positions near the security fence. No soldiers were injured, and the Israel Defense Forces retaliated by firing approximately 100 artillery shells and bombs at Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

“We will not accept harm to our citizens or our soldiers, and we will not accept Hezbollah’s precision missile project on Lebanese soil,” Kohavi told Del Col.

This was their first meeting since the IDF chief of staff took up his position in January.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, left, with the head of UNIFIL Stefano Del Col in the Israeli military’s Tel Aviv headquarters on September 1, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The state of Lebanon and UNIFIL must bring an end to Iran and Hezbollah’s precision missile project in Lebanon and fully implement [UN] Security Council Resolution 1701,” Kohavi said, referring to the resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“The current state of affairs is not one we can come to terms with,” he said.

UN Resolution 1701 calls for all armed groups, besides the Lebanese military, to be removed from southern Lebanon, in the area south of the country’s Litani River.

Israel has repeatedly claimed that the Hezbollah terror group, occasionally aided by the Lebanese Armed Forces, maintains an active presence in southern Lebanon of both fighters and weaponry despite this prohibition. UNIFIL, which is tasked with ensuring Resolution 1701’s implementation, has indicated that the constraints of its mandate prevent it from being able to fully investigate Israel’s claims, namely because of the peacekeepers’ inability to enter private property.

A tense calm took hold over northern Israel on Monday following the exchange of fire the day before, but Kohavi told the UNIFIL commander that the IDF remained at the ready for any new developments.

Artillery shells are lined up beside an Israeli self-propelled artillery gun, near the Lebanese border on the outskirts of the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona on September 1, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

“The IDF is in a state of preparedness for a variety of possible scenarios,” Kohavi said.

In a statement on Sunday night, Del Col said, “This is a serious incident in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” Del Col said. “General calm has been restored in the area and the parties have reassured me of their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities in accordance with Resolution 1701.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres also called on Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah to show “maximum restraint,” saying in a statement Sunday that he was “seriously concerned” by the recent exchange of fire along the border.

Israeli soldiers stand at a security checkpoint near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, close to the border with Lebanon, on September 1, 2019. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

France foreign ministry, meanwhile, said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert an escalation after Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene.

“We are in permanent contact with all the Lebanese actors,” a spokeswoman said. “France will pursue efforts in this direction and asks all to assume their responsibilities to quickly restore calm.”

The United States voiced concern over the “destabilizing role” of Iranian proxies in the region and said it “supports Israel’s right to self defense,” a State Department official said.

“Hezbollah should refrain from hostile actions which threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty,” the US official added.

Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006, have indicated they do not want to go to war but appeared on a collision course in recent days after Hezbollah vowed it would retaliate for a pair of Israeli strikes against the Iran-backed terrorist group — one in Syria claimed by Israel, and another, in Beirut, that the group lays at Israel’s door.

Smoke rises near the community of Avivim following an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon on September 1, 2019. (Courtesy)

Hezbollah said it fired anti-tank missiles at Israel on Sunday and destroyed an Israeli military vehicle across the border. The IDF said no Israeli soldiers were injured by the 2-3 missiles fired by Hezbollah, which struck a military jeep and an IDF base. Pictures and videos showing injured soldiers being evacuated had been a ploy meant to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had caused casualties.

The Iranian proxy group indicated the attack was in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike in Syria last month that killed several operatives, including two of its members.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said Sunday night that the group “wants to preserve deterrence and the rules of engagement in order to prevent something worse from happening.”

By Sunday evening, the Israeli army allowed civilians to return to routine. Schools on Monday opened as normal and farmers were given the go-ahead to work fields near the border. However, Israeli officials said troops along the northern border remained on high alert.

“We are consulting about the next steps,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “I have ordered that we be prepared for any scenario. We will decide on the next steps pending developments.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

 

Iranian oil tanker pursued by US slows to a near-halt off  Syrian coast 

September 2, 2019

Source: Iranian oil tanker pursued by US slows to a near-halt off Syrian coast | The Times of Israel

Adrian Darya 1 slows to near-stop in eastern Mediterranean as US maintains Tehran-flagged vessel intends to sell crude oil to Assad regime

A view of the Grace 1 super tanker with the name 'Adrian Darya 1' over the place where 'Grace 1' had already been blackened out is seen in the British territory of Gibraltar, August 17, 2019. (Marcos Moreno/AP)

A view of the Grace 1 super tanker with the name ‘Adrian Darya 1’ over the place where ‘Grace 1’ had already been blackened out is seen in the British territory of Gibraltar, August 17, 2019. (Marcos Moreno/AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the United States across the Mediterranean Sea slowed to a near-stop Sunday off the coast of Syria, where America’s top diplomat alleges it will be unloaded despite denials from Tehran.

The ongoing saga of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, comes as tensions remain high between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran is set to send a deputy foreign minister and a team of economists to Paris on Monday for talks over ways to salvage the accord after a call between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya slowed to a near-stop on Sunday some 50 nautical miles (92 kilometers) off Syria. The ship’s Automatic Identification System does not show its destination after its mariners onboard previously listed it as ports in Greece and Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister at one point suggested it would go to Lebanon, something denied by a Lebanese official.

The US has been warning countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of crude oil worth some $130 million.

Manu Gómez@GDarkconrad

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The US has sanctioned the Adrian Darya’s captain and has sought to impound the vessel.

Authorities in Gibraltar alleged the ship was bound for a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, when they seized it in early July. They ultimately let it go.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged on Twitter that the ship was still bound for Syria.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif holds talks in Biarritz on August 25, 2019 with France’s President Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Handout photo via AFP)

“We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “I hope it changes course.”

Iranian officials have said the oil onboard the Adrian Darya had been sold to an unnamed buyer. However, anyone buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban separately told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that Damascus is trying to get oil that its people need “but authorities don’t know where the Iranian tanker is heading.”

Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi is due to travel to Paris with economists on Monday, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. That came after a call Saturday between Rouhani and Macron, who recently surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif there.

US President Donald Trump looks at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he participates in a Cabinet meeting at the White House on July 16, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Iran is set to further break the terms of the nuclear deal on Friday if Europe fails to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. The US under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal over a year ago and imposed sanctions on Iran that are battering its economy.

The deal’s “terms are not changeable and all the parties need be committed to its content,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA.

 

Iran threatens to take ‘strong step’ away from nuke deal if no new agreement

September 2, 2019

Source: Iran threatens to take ‘strong step’ away from nuke deal if no new agreement | The Times of Israel

Tehran sets Thursday deadline; unclear whether country will restart advanced centrifuges prohibited by pact or further bump up uranium enrichment

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week, a government spokesman said Monday as top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks.

The comments from Ali Rabiei reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. Crushing US sanctions imposed after US President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow, while his deputy was to travel to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push.

Rabiei described Iran’s strategy to journalists at Monday’s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.”

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei speaks in his regular news briefing, July 22, 2019 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“Iran’s oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran,” Rabiei said. “This is the agenda of our talks.”

It’s unclear what the terms of negotiation are. In theory, anyone caught buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions and potentially locked out of the American financial market.

Already, Iran has gone over limits set by the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as the deal is known.

The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed.

Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, the uranium can help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.

It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible.

“We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not implement necessary measures by Thursday,” said Zarif in a Sunday interview with Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, speaks to reporters after a forum titled “Common Security in the Islamic World” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug. 29, 2019 (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal and Washington’s increased sanctions on Tehran, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.

That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.

The developments come after French President Emmanuel Macron surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Zarif last week, causing concern in Jerusalem.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif holds talks in Biarritz on August 25, 2019 with France’s President Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Handout photo via AFP)

Trump then said there was a possibility of a meeting between himself and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani if the right conditions were met.

Trump’s apparent openness to the notion of talks with Iran reportedly caused intense concern in Jerusalem and a Channel 13 report Thursday said Netanyahu made “frantic” efforts to reach the American leader to dissuade the US president from meeting with Zarif, but was unable to reach him.

Meanwhile Monday, an Iranian oil tanker pursued by the US that has been traveling across the Mediterranean Sea is now off the coast of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya 1 moving slowly just outside the Lebanese territorial waters, after it had stood off the coast of Syria a day earlier.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged the ship is bound for a refinery in Syria, which was the reason that authorities had seized the vessel off the coast of Gibraltar in July. The US has warned countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million.

 

No fatalities, mercifully, but truth is a casualty as the IDF fools Hezbollah

September 2, 2019

Source: No fatalities, mercifully, but truth is a casualty as the IDF fools Hezbollah | The Times of Israel

Why did the IDF come clean about faking an evacuation of ‘injured soldiers’ from an APC after a terror strike Sunday? And what else got obscured in the fog of near-war?

This picture taken on September 1, 2019, from a location near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, shows a fire blazing in a field along the border with Israel on the Lebanese side following an exchange of fire. (ALAA MAREY / AFP)

This picture taken on September 1, 2019, from a location near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, shows a fire blazing in a field along the border with Israel on the Lebanese side following an exchange of fire. (ALAA MAREY / AFP)

So, Israel and Hezbollah were “30 minutes away from war,” Yakov Bardugo, a presenter on Army Radio, marveled on Sunday evening.

He was speaking, in tones that mixed relief and horror, moments after the station’s military correspondent had reported that the “military ambulance” hit and destroyed by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile that afternoon was empty when it was struck, but that soldiers had been inside it a mere half-hour before.

He was speaking, moreover, amid the fog of conflict, when Hezbollah was claiming to have killed and wounded soldiers, when Israeli news media were showing footage of two “injured” soldiers being evacuated by helicopter to Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, yet when a senior Likud minister, Yoav Gallant, was also saying there had been no casualties, as far as he knew, in the Hezbollah attack.

By later Sunday evening, some of the fog had cleared. The vehicle that was hit, a Wolf armored personnel carrier that can seat up to eight, was not in fact a military ambulance; that description had been erroneous, the IDF clarified.

A ‘wounded’ IDF soldier, in a staged evacuation, at the scene of an APC that was struck by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile on the Lebanon border on September 1, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

More dramatically, the “injured, evacuated” soldiers were not injured at all. The film of them being carried by stretcher to a waiting helicopter, and thence ferried to hospital, was a decoy operation — an instance of “psychological warfare” — designed to fool Hezbollah into thinking that it had, indeed, managed to harm IDF soldiers in its much-anticipated attack on troops at the northern border.

רועי שרון Roy Sharon@roysharon11

(נדרשתי לצייץ מחדש) תרגיל ההונאה שצהל נקט אחה״צ: המסוק לא פינה פצועים כי לא היו פצועים. הפינוי המוסק כולו תוכנן מראש כפעולת הונאה, שמטרתה לגרום לחיזבאללה לחשוב שהצליח לפגוע בחיילים. שימו לב לרמת ההפקה

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And the staged evacuation appeared to have worked: Hezbollah, which was bent on avenging a preemptive Israeli strike August 24 on a site south of Damascus from which its Iranian masters were about to launch armed “killer drones” at Israel, hailed its ostensible success, Israel hit back with 100 mortar shells at various targets in southern Lebanon, and a tense calm was rapidly restored to the north.

Gallant, it further turned out, had been speaking out of turn when he vouchsafed that the IDF had sustained no casualties; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hurriedly told ministers to keep their mouths shut for a little longer — until, that is, it was clear that this episode was over,and he felt it was safe for him to personally report that no soldiers had been so much as scratched.

So confident was the Israeli military and political leadership that the flareup had indeed flared down that farmers right up against the border were back in their fields by late Sunday evening, and schoolchildren in northern Israel were told that there would be classes as usual on Monday.

Nobody believes Sunday’s incident prefaces prolonged calm, however. Hezbollah could choose to maintain the fiction that it killed and/or maimed IDF soldiers, profess itself satisfied with its missile strikes, and go back to its longer-term, Iranian-financed planning for Israel’s ultimate destruction. Or it could prepare a second reprisal attack, for the drone strike on a core component of its missile manufacturing systems, in Beirut a week ago — a strike attributed to Israel, but one that Israel has not claimed. Or, acknowledging and fuming at the Israeli deception, it could try again to avenge the August 24 Israeli strike in Syria, in which two of its fighters were killed.

From Israel’s point of view, too, further confrontation is inevitable. Iran is trying to deepen its military capabilities in both Syria and Lebanon, and Israel will continue to strike at arms warehouses, military convoys, and other targets in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and beyond as it tries to thwart the ayatollahs’ plans.

Of specific relevance to Sunday’s escalation, Israel has also made clear it will do its utmost to thwart the Iranian/Hezbollah effort to enlarge the arsenal of precision guided missiles at Hezbollah’s disposal. The former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, said Sunday that Hezbollah has 50 such precision missiles at present, which Israel’s various rocket defense systems could handle. If there were 500, that would be harder for Israel to grapple with, he added. And 5,000 would be impossible. Thus, suggested Yadlin, the IDF would sooner or later have to launch some kind of major operation to tackle that missile infrastructure.

While it is clear that the next Hezbollah-Israel confrontation is only a matter of time, some aspects of Sunday’s dramatic border conflict remain obscured by that fog of almost-war.

For one thing, how can the military and political echelon so confidently assure Israel’s civilians that the danger has passed even as the IDF remains on wary alert at the border?

For another, why did Israel expose its decoy operation, when it had worked so effectively? Was it because Rambam hospital refused to play along, and issued a statement saying that the two evacuated soldiers were released without requiring medical treatment? Was it also because somebody, somewhere in the military or political hierarchy, decided that it would be unconscionable to maintain the fiction — to tell the Israeli public that two soldiers had been injured when they had not?

Israel’s Kan TV news on Sunday evening rebroadcast a recent interview with the IDF’s spokesman, Ronen Manelis, in which, when asked precisely about the readiness or otherwise of the spokesman’s unit to disseminate misinformation, Manelis promised that “everything that the IDF says in official statements is true” and that he would not issue “fake” news to either the Israeli public or “the other side.” Kan’s military reporter noted, in this context, that the IDF had not officially claimed that two soldiers were injured. Maybe not, but the decoy footage did the talking for it.

רועי שרון Roy Sharon@roysharon11

האירוע כולו תוכנן מראש כפעולת ל״פ על חיזבאללה, הפעולה הצליחה, חיזבאללה חישב שני פצועים במשוואה. אבל משהו לא עבד כמו בתכנון, והחור בסיפור הפצועים כבר היה בחוץ. וזה ההמשך https://twitter.com/kann_news/status/1168257236998742016 

כאן חדשות

@kann_news

התקיפה בצפון | “אירוע שיירשם בדברי הימים לוחמה הפסיכולוגית של צה״ל”: הצבא דימה פינוי פצועים במסוק לבית החולים כפעולת הונאה, אך משהו השתבש בתכנון התרגיל – אנחנו מדברים על זה כי הייתה הרגשה שמשהו לא הסתדר בתיאור האירועים, ובמערכת הביטחון לא רצו להיתפס בשקר@roysharon11 #חדשותהלילה

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And finally, then, were Hezbollah and Israel really 30 minutes from war? Or, to put it another way, were there really IDF soldiers in that APC half an hour before Hezbollah destroyed it?

The Kan reporter, for one, was adamant that “there were soldiers in [that vehicle] until shortly before the [Hezbollah] shooting.” And maybe there were. In which case, thank heavens they got out when they did. Or maybe there weren’t. Days earlier, after all, the IDF was seen to be deploying army vehicles with dummy soldiers inside, apparently to draw Hezbollah fire.

When the fog of war is deliberately made foggier, even for the best of reasons, it gets harder to know who and what to believe.