Archive for September 20, 2019

First Israeli-Saudi air force collaboration for demolishing Iran’s Abu Kamal complex – DEBKAfile

September 20, 2019

Source: First Israeli-Saudi air force collaboration for demolishing Iran’s Abu Kamal complex – DEBKAfile

The latest round of attacks on Iran’s military complex in Syria’s Abu Kamal region are a joint operation by the Israeli and Saudi air forces, DEBKAfile and Gulf military sources reported on Friday, Sept. 20.

Their targets are the al Qods Brigades bases, command centers, missile and ammo stores which Iran has set up close to the Syrian-Iraqi border, as well as Iraqi Shiite militia and Lebanese Hizballah forces. An estimated 100 Iranian and militia combatants were reported killed in the joint operation and several hundred injured.

Western military sources report that the “unidentified” UAVs sighted lately flying over Iranian concentrations in Syria belong to Saudi Arabia.  One was shot down on Thursday. Those sources add that the US is providing air cover, as well as running intelligence, but not otherwise intervening in the first Saudi-Israel military collaboration ever to be revealed.

It was part of President Donald Trump’s rationale when he decided to hold off from direct US military action in retaliation for Iran’s crippling missile-cum-drone assault on the Saudi oil procession plant at Abqaiq and the Kurais oilfield last Saturday. Trump appears to be waiting to see how the still ongoing Israeli-Saudi offensive against Iran turns out.

 

Airstrike on Iran-backed militia near Iraq-Syria border said to kill at least 5 

September 20, 2019

Source: Airstrike on Iran-backed militia near Iraq-Syria border said to kill at least 5 | The Times of Israel

Reports say strike hits base belonging to Popular Mobilization Force for second time in two days; some have blamed Israel for attacks

Illustrative: Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)

Illustrative: Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)

Unknown aircraft attacked posts of Iranian-backed fighters in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, killing at least five people, according to Arabic media reports.

Sky News Arabia, citing Iraqi security officials, said the strikes targeted a base belonging to the Popular Mobilization Force, an umbrella group of largely Iran-backed militias, killing five and wounding nine.

It was the second strike on positions controlled by Shiite militias in the Boukamal region of Syria in as many days, and the third in a month. Some Syrian and Iraqi outlets said Israel was suspected of being behind the strikes. There were no such public allegations by Syrian or Iraqi officials.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 10 pro-Iranian fighters were killed in an airstrike Tuesday by unmanned aerial vehicles, which reportedly targeted a training camp and ammunition storehouse.

The Observatory and activist collective Deir Ezzor 24 said the strikes occurred near a newly constructed, but not yet operational Syrian border crossing with Iraq. The opening of the crossing, planned by Iraq and Syria, had been postponed several times in recent weeks.

On September 9, aircraft targeted an arms depot and posts of Iranian-backed militias in the Boukamal region, killing at least 18 fighters and destroying at least eight storehouses. A Syrian security official said at the time that Israeli jets were behind the attack but denied there were casualties.

Satellite image showing the aftermath of an overnight airstrike on an alleged Iranian military base in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 9, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Since mid-July, seven arms depots and training camps belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces have been targeted in apparent attacks.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network has reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group also maintains a presence in the Boukamal region.

The PMF has blamed both Israel and the US for the string of blasts and drone sightings at its bases. Israeli officials have not publicly commented on these allegations.

 

In first, Israeli planes take part in British aerial exercise Cobra Warrior 

September 20, 2019

Source: In first, Israeli planes take part in British aerial exercise Cobra Warrior | The Times of Israel

IAF fighter jets, cargo planes join UK, German, Italian and US aircraft in combat simulations over eastern England

The Israeli Air Force took part in its first aerial exercise in the United Kingdom this month, sending fighter jets and transport planes to simulate dog fights, airstrikes and refueling flights over enemy territory, the army said.

In addition to Israel and the UK, the United States, Germany and Italy participated in the nearly three-week-long exercise, known as Cobra Warrior, according to the British Royal Air Force.

This was Israel’s first time participating in an aerial drill in the UK, marking a shift toward a more open relationship between the two nations’ air forces. The RAF and IAF have worked together extensively over the years, but they typically keep this cooperation quiet.

The Israeli planes traveled to the United Kingdom late last month ahead of the exercise, which ended on Thursday.

“This was the Israeli Air Force’s first deployment in Britain, and the first exercise of this size in which the Israeli Air Force and British air force took part,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

An Israeli fighter jet takes off as part of the Royal Air Force’s Cobra Warrior exercise in the United Kingdom in September 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The head of IAF training, Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein-Dar, noted the historical ties between the two militaries, namely that Israel’s air force was largely created with British aircraft, specifically World War Two-era Spitfires.

“This is a very special and important exercise for us — foremost on a historical level. The Israeli Air Force was formed from within the British Air Force, so this was a special opportunity to come full circle,” Ein-Dar said.

Israeli and British pilots shake hands during the Royal Air Force’s Cobra Warrior exercise in the United Kingdom in September 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel sent several F-15 fighter jets, as well as Boeing 707 refueling planes and C-130 and C-130J cargo planes to the exercise.

RAF F-35 stealth fighter jets also took part in the drill, according to the IDF.

The exercise, which was held over Lincolnshire, was designed to replicate real-world scenarios for the participating pilots.

The IDF said that for the F-15 fighter jets this included air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes and other types of fighting over enemy territory.

The cargo planes “simulated different scenarios of aerial refueling under fire,” the IDF said.

“This gave us an opportunity to carry out tactical flights against an advanced enemy in new and unknown terrain,” the army said.

An Israeli Boeing 707 refuels an Israeli fighter jet in mid-air as part of the Royal Air Force’s Cobra Warrior exercise in the United Kingdom in September 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Cobra Warrior, once known as the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor exercise, serves as the culminating drill before pilots and navigators can be certified as a qualified weapons instructor, an expert in their field.

RAF pilots took part in Israel’s Blue Flag international exercise in 2017, but as spectators, not with their own aircraft. The British air force may fully participate in the upcoming Blue Flag exercise in 2020, which would be the first time RAF pilots openly fly in Israeli airspace — save for the cases of the RAF ferrying British dignitaries to the Jewish state for visits.

The Israeli military, and the air force in particular, is seen as a useful tool in expanding the Jewish state’s ties to foreign countries.

The air force often refers to this as “aerial diplomacy.”

Under the banner of military drills, Israeli pilots are able to do what Israeli politicians and diplomats cannot. The IAF, for instance, has participated in air exercises with the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, two countries that do not formally recognize the State of Israel.

 

US military presenting range of options to Trump on Iran 

September 20, 2019

Source: US military presenting range of options to Trump on Iran | The Times of Israel

Investigators still trying to determine if Tehran behind attacks on Saudi oil; Lawmaker urges president to go to Congress as strikes could lead to ‘a medium to large-scale war’

Illustrative: US President Donald Trump, center, flanked by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, speaks during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Illustrative: US President Donald Trump, center, flanked by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, speaks during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to US President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.

Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.

Saudi Colonel Turki bin Saleh al-Malki displays pieces of what he said were Iranian cruise missiles and drones recovered from the attack site that targeted Saudi Aramco’s facilities, during a press conference in Riyadh, on September 18, 2019. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP)

Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”

The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)

“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.

Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”

US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, joined by Alice Wells, UUS Ambassador to Jordan, right, and Elissa Slotkin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, left, meets with Jordanian armed forces at the Jordan Armed Forces General Headquarters in Amman, July 22, 2015.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.

A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.

US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.

Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.

The Pentagon said the US military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to provide more protection for the northern part of the country.

In this Nov. 8, 2017 photo provided by the US Department of Defense, German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1, fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation, in Chania, Greece (Sebastian Apel/U.S. Department of Defense, via AP)

Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that US Central Command is talking with the Saudis about ways to mitigate future attacks. He would not speculate on what types of support could be provided.

Other US officials have said adding Patriot missile batteries and enhanced radar systems could be options, but no decisions have been made.