Archive for October 8, 2019

Iran could attack Israel, just as it did the Saudi oil fields: Galant 

October 8, 2019

Source: Iran could attack Israel, just as it did the Saudi oil fields: Galant – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

“Iran is not a theoretical enemy.”

BY TOVAH LAZAROFF
 OCTOBER 8, 2019 10:36
Yoav Galant

Iran could use a combination of cruise missiles and advanced drones to attack Israel, in a manner similar to the way it attacked the Saudi oil fields last month, Absorption Minister Yoav Galant told Army Radio.
A Major-General (Res.), Galant was one of a number of Israel’s security cabinet members who took to the airwaves this week  to discuss the threat from Iran, in the aftermath of Sunday’s security cabinet meeting that dealt with upgrading Israel’s aerial defense system so that it could better combat such an attack.
Galant said he would not speculate on the likelihood of such an attack, but he noted that if Iran could “shoot in one direction [at Saudi Arabia] from hundreds of kilometers away” it could also “shoot in another direction [at Israel] from hundreds of kilometers away.
“We are looking at what is happening around us,” he continued.

Since May Iran has been increasing its hostile activity in the region, including an unprecedented attack on September 14 on the Saudi oil fields that involved the coordination of dozens of projectiles, missiles and drones, Galant explained.

Iran is not a theoretical enemy,” Galant said, explaining that its regime has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel.

Iran has denied attacking Saudi Arabia. But Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France and Germany hold that Iran was behind the attack. This past summer, Israel said it thwarted a potential Iranian drone attack against the Golan Heights.

Iranian threats against Israel should be taken very seriously, said Galant, who explained that the attack on Saudi Arabia relied on low flying projectiles that went undetected and represented a new phase of warfare in the region.
Israel is not Saudi Arabia and its military is capable of handling such an attack, but it is important to be alert and prepared, he said.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who is a senior member of the Blue and White party, told Army Radio the attack on the Saudi oil fields was unusual, but did not reveal anything new about Iran’s military capabilities.
“I am well acquainted with the Iranian threat, there has been nothing surprising,” Ya’alon said. “It is true that there is an increase in Iranian activity against the US and the Saudis, either directly or through proxies.”

Ya’alon is not a member of the security council.

Israel is not facing a new situation with Iran, Ya’alon said, speculating that the cabinet meeting was unnecessary and therefore more political in nature, given that it came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the middle of attempting to form a ruling coalition.
Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzahi HaNegbi told KAN Radio he hoped that no one believed that the Israeli’s top military leaders who took part in the meeting were simply peons in some larger political game.
Israel is capable of defending itself, but Iran appears willing to increasingly take military risks, HaNegbi said. It points the possibility that Iran is losing control or at least its sense of caution. The Saudi attack is particularly relevant to Israel because of Iran’s previous attempt to use drones against Israel, he added.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Kan Radio the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil field crossed a line.

“’We are the only ones acting against Iran to protect ourselves,” he said. “When we cross the door of the cabinet meeting, we leave the politics outside.”

 

Trump ally: US pullout from Syria will put Israel at risk

October 8, 2019

Source: Trump ally: US pullout from Syria will put Israel at risk | The Times of Israel

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says decision would allow Iran to get a greater foothold in region and become ‘a nightmare’ for the Jewish state

US Senator Lindsey Graham during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on March 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

US Senator Lindsey Graham during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on March 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

WASHINGTON — Top allies of Donald Trump castigated the US president Monday, after his surprise announcement that US forces would withdraw from Syria and allow a Turkish offensive against US-allied Kurds in the country, saying the move would enable Iran to gain a greater foothold in Syria and render Israel militarily vulnerable.

“The most probable outcome of this impulsive decision is to ensure Iran’s domination of Syria,” tweeted South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican. “The U.S. now has no leverage and Syria will eventually become a nightmare for Israel.”

Former US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Trump, her old boss, was abandoning a vital American ally.

“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” she tweeted. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”

Then-US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley meets with President Reuven Rivlin, not seen, at his official residence in Jerusalem on June 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday night, the White House said US forces in northeastern Syria will step aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault — essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat the Islamic State group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened for months to launch a military operation across the border. He views the Syria Kurdish forces as a threat to his country as Ankara has struggled with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Republicans and Democrats have long warned that allowing a Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.

Several of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill voiced similar concerns Monday.

“If reports about US retreat in #Syria are accurate, the Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria,” tweeted Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican. “It would confirm #Iran’s view of this administration & embolden then to escalate hostile attacks which in turn could trigger much broader & more dangerous regional war.”

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

Graham said that he consulted with Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, and would introduce bipartisan legislation to sanction Turkey if it attacks Syria — and call for Ankara’s suspension from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We will introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if they invade Syria and will call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the U.S. in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate,” Graham tweeted.

Trump defended his decision, saying that he “was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars.” If Turkey were to do anything “off limits,” he said, he would consequence the country harshly.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” he tweeted. “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families.”

“It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory,” he added. “THE USA IS GREAT!”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Israel, bracing for Iranian assault, studies recent attack on Saudi oil facility 

October 8, 2019

Source: Israel, bracing for Iranian assault, studies recent attack on Saudi oil facility | The Times of Israel

Defense officials assess that a similar cruise missile strike could be launched from Iraqi territory; IDF chief warns of forceful response

A Saudi military officer walks by what was described as the remains of Iranian cruise missiles and drones used in an attack that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)

A Saudi military officer walks by what was described as the remains of Iranian cruise missiles and drones used in an attack that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)

Israel’s defense establishment is analyzing last month’s strike on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which is being blamed on Iran, to learn how to protect the country from a possible similar assault, Hebrew media reported Monday.

The September 14 combined drone and cruise missile barrage on two facilities knocked out half of the kingdom’s oil production, and impressed Israeli analysts in that it succeeded in penetrating Saudi defenses, which include the Patriot air defense system that Israel also uses, Channel 13 news reported.

Although Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the attack. Tehran denies the allegation.

A senior officer in the IDF’s Military Intelligence unit, who could only be identified by the first letter of his Hebrew name, ‘Yud,’ told Channel 13 that the Iranians showed an impressive ability in hitting Saudi Arabia.

“They get a high mark, too high,” Yud said of the Iranian attack, but stressed that Tehran would “absolutely” not succeed if it attempted to launch a similar assault on Israel.

Israel, he said, is assessing the threat in “a very informed and very balanced way.”

“The army is prepared for any developing scenarios in the northern arena,” Yud continued, and noted that this included countering a possible barrage of cruise missiles and drones.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a ceremony in Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, May 26, 2019. (Flash90)

Also Monday, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi warned that any attack on the country would be met with an aggressive response.

“We will not allow an attack on Israel and if it happens we will respond forcefully,” Kohavi said at a memorial service for fallen paratroopers. “We are keeping our eyes open, having daily situation assessments, and taking professional decisions that lead to attacks and the thwarting of threats.”

Channel 12 news reported that defense officials who have studied the weapons used in the attack on the Saudi facilities concluded that a similar assault by Iran on Israel, if it came, would likely be launched from western Iraq, where there is a strong presence of Iran-backed militias.

Unlike ballistic missiles, which usually fly through a high arc on the way to the target, cruise missiles and drones fly at low altitude, making them harder to detect.

Israel’s defenses against a missile attack, and in particular a cruise missile attack, begin with a network of radar systems around the country to detect an incoming threat. In addition, Israel has begun deploying the David’s Sling system, which is designed to intercept ballistic and cruise missiles at ranges of 40 to 300 kilometers.

Several David Sling batteries are already deployed by the air force. Another system, Barak 8, provides maritime protection for Israel’s natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea.

Interception tests of the David’s Sling Aerial Defense System on March 19, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

On Sunday, the high-level security cabinet convened for the first time in two months, amid cryptic warnings by Israeli leaders in recent days of a growing security threat from Iran.

The discussions were based on concerns that Tehran, emboldened by a recent string of attacks in the Gulf region that drew no military response from the West or its Middle Eastern allies, could set its sights on attacking Israel, Channel 12 reported.

During the meeting, ministers discussed a proposal, being pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for a NIS 1 billion ($290 million) project to boost Israel’s air defenses that would place particular focus on defending the country against cruise missile 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)

Iran regularly threatens Israel, viewing the country as a powerful enemy allied with the United States and Sunni nations in the region against Tehran and its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has also thwarted operations in neighboring Syria where Iranian fighters and those of its proxy Hezbollah have been fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad since 2011.

Israel has vowed to prevent Iran’s regional proxy militias from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria whose goal it says is to prevent the delivery of weapons and to stop Iranian military entrenchment in that country.

In addition, recent months have seen several airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in western Iraq, some of which have been attributed to Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

 

Iran plans to start using more advanced centrifuges in coming weeks

October 8, 2019

Source: Iran plans to start using more advanced centrifuges in coming weeks | The Times of Israel

Under terms of 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran had committed to not using this array until late 2023; enrichment now at pre-deal daily capacity, country’s nuclear chief says

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)

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)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran plans to start using a new array of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium, the country’s nuclear chief said Monday according to state television, in a move likely to intensify pressure on Europe to save Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.

Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian state TV that an array of 30 IR-6 centrifuges will be inaugurated in the coming weeks.

Under the terms of its 2015 deal — which the US unilaterally withdrew from over a year ago — Iran had committed to not using the array until late 2023.

Iran has steadily increased its breaches of the nuclear accord as it pushes its European partners to find a way around US sanctions that have kept it from selling oil abroad and crippled the Iranian economy.

Salehi also said Iran is now producing up to six kilograms of enriched uranium daily.

“It means we have restored pre-deal” capacity, he said.

In September, Iran inaugurated an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges that can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the IR-1 that Iran was already using.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to about 4.5%. Prior to the nuclear deal, it only reached up to 20%, which is a short technical step away from the weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Regional tensions spiked last month after a drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility that shook global energy markets. The US said Iran was behind the attack. Tehran denied the charge and said any retaliatory strikes by the US or Saudi Arabia could lead to “all-out war.”

 

Off Topic:  Turkey says won’t bow to Trump threat on Syria plan, army ready to assault Kurds

October 8, 2019

Source: Turkey says won’t bow to Trump threat on Syria plan, army ready to assault Kurds | The Times of Israel

Suffering backlash from GOP after enabling attack on US allies, president has warned he’ll destroy Ankara’s economy if it goes too far

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters head to an area near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo on October 8, 2019 (Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP)

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters head to an area near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo on October 8, 2019 (Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP)

Turkey will not bow to threats over its Syria plans, the Turkish vice president said Tuesday in an apparent response to President Donald Trump’s warning to Ankara the previous day about the scope of its planned military incursion into northeastern Syria.

In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.

“Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Oktay said.

Meanwhile Turkey’s defense ministry announced that preparations for the offensive have been “completed.”

Trump said earlier this week following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years. But he then threatened to destroy the Turks’ economy if they went too far.

The US president later cast his decision to abandon the Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from “endless war” in the Middle East, even as Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a US ally and undermining American credibility.

Even Trump’s staunchest Republican congressional allies expressed outrage at the prospect of abandoning Syrian Kurds who had fought the Islamic State group with American arms and advice. It was the latest example of Trump’s approach to foreign policy that critics condemn as impulsive, that he sometimes reverses and that frequently is untethered to the advice of his national security aides.

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House October 7, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

“A catastrophic mistake,” said Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican leader.

“Shot in the arm to the bad guys,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Trump said Monday he understood criticism from fellow GOP leaders but disagreed. He said he could also name supporters, but he didn’t.

Trump appeared largely unconcerned at the prospect of Turkish forces attacking the Kurds, who include a faction he described as “natural enemies” of the Turks.

“But I have told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane … they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy,” Trump said.

This all comes at a pivotal moment of Trump’s presidency. House Democrats are marching forward with their impeachment inquiry into whether he compromised national security or abused his office by seeking negative information on former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, from Ukraine and other foreign countries.

As he faces the impeachment inquiry, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.

“I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home and bring them home as rapidly as possible,” he said.

The strong pushback on Capitol Hill prompted Trump to recast as well as restate his decision, but with renewed bombast and self-flattery.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Republican-South Carolina, takes questions from reporters following a closed-door briefing on Iran, at the Capitol in Washington, September 25, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

He promised to destroy the Turkish economy “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

One official described that White House announcement the US would get its troops out of the way of the Turkish forces as a botched effort appeared aimed at making Trump look bold for ending a war. The official said attempts by the Pentagon and State Department to make the statement stronger in its opposition to Turkey’s military action were unsuccessful.

An official familiar with the Erdogan call said the Turkish president was “ranting” at Trump, saying the safe zone was not working and that Turkey couldn’t trust the US military to do what was needed. And in reaction, Trump said the US wanted no part of an invasion and would withdraw troops.

Trump’s statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria and the Mideast.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country’s Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their US allies.

Mekdad’s comments were the first Syrian reaction since Trump’s announcement on Sunday and as northeastern Syria braces for an imminent Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish militias. Trump’s statement has infuriated the Kurds, who stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.

“The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,” Mekdad said in an interview with the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

As for the expected Turkish incursion, he added that the Syrian government “will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters after his speech during a pre-election rally at Bayrampasa district in Istanbul, on March 30, 2019. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

The Syrian Kurdish force has pledged to fight back, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria.

“We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people” against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, adding that it has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey, has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria over the past years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs attacked areas held by the Islamic State group west of the Euphrates River. Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.

“We tell them that they have lost everything and must not lose themselves,” Mekdad added.

Also Tuesday, Iran urged Turkey not to go ahead with its planned an attack on Syrian Kurds, the Iranian state TV reported. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to express Tehran’s opposition to the anticipated Turkish operation.

Zarif urged Turkey to respect Syria’s integrity and sovereignty, the report said.

Iran, Turkey and Russia have been working together as part of the so-called Astana group on the Syrian civil war, talks that have run parallel to UN efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

Trump’s announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into the region.

A handout picture released by Turkey’s military shows Turkish soldiers accompanied by armored vehicles patrolling between the city of Manbij in northern Syria and an area it controls after a 2016-2017 military incursion on June 18, 2018. (Turkish Armed Forces/AFP)

US involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.

In recent weeks, the US and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to protect the Syrian Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.

Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that a US withdrawal from Syria would be a major boost to Russia’s position there.

A member of Kurdish security forces stands guard during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on October 6, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN/AFP)

He added that other allies in the region, including the Kurds, will “look at this withdrawal as US unwillingness to stand up for its rights and maintain its alliances in the region.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., another strong Trump supporter, said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” that he had concerns.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said, adding that, “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”

Former Trump administration officials also expressed concern.

Nikki Haley, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations, said the US “must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back… Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.

 

Israel’s covert war against an Iranian shock attack. Gen. Kochavi prepares IDF counter-offensive – DEBKAfile

October 8, 2019

Source: Israel’s covert war against an Iranian shock attack. Gen. Kochavi prepares IDF counter-offensive – DEBKAfile

The Yom Kippur Eve message broadcast by IDF Chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi held the key to Israel’s intention: “We will not let harm come to Israel and if it does, we shall respond with power.”

This shorthand phrasing meant that if, on the 66th anniversary of the grim 1973 war, Iran’s leaders decide on another surprise attack on Israel, like the Sept. 14 cruise missile-drone assault on Saudi oil facilities, this country, unlike the US and Saudis, will hit back at strategic targets on Iranian soil. And if the attacks come from Hizballah in Lebanon or Shiite militias in Iraq, now massively armed by Iran with ballistic missiles and air defense systems, then Israel will direct its counter-offensive at those sources.

Kochavi’s words were carefully chosen. He did not say “all our power,” only “power” – thereby leaving the IDF with the option of follow-up counter-operations.

He went on to say: “We have seven eyes open, conduct day-to-day situation assessments and make professional and responsible decisions with regard to offensive action for preempting threats, while also preserving balance.”  The chief of staff was making it clear that no movement or military preparation across a vast swath of terrain in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is lost on Israeli watchers, in the determination not to be caught off-guard like the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel itself were on Sept. 14.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence source stress that the IDF is now facing its most challenging mission. How to overcome the failure of a single US or Israeli radar beaming on Iran, whether ground-, ship-, air or satellite-based, to pick up on the preparations to shoot missiles against Saudi oil facilities, even after they were already airborne. No one in the region noticed anything amiss until Iran’s missiles and drones actually exploded on their Saudi targets, hitting them with exceptional accuracy.

It must be assumed that with all the precautions outlined by the chief of staff, neither Israel nor the United States has unraveled the riddle of how the Iranians managed to bamboozle all the most advanced regional and local defense systems. When Gen. Kochavi said that Israel is taking professional and responsible decisions with regard to an offensive, this indicated that, in the absence of answers to the riddle, Israel has chosen the tactic of an on-the-spot offensive response against the suspected aggressor.

Away from the public eye, Israeli and Iran are using all their brainpower in a covert mind and cyber contest. The IDF cannot promise at this stage, however, to avoid being caught out by Iran or be sure of pre-empting a surprise attack.