Archive for February 17, 2020

With ‘suicide drones’ and rocket attacks, Navy simulates war with Hezbollah 

February 17, 2020

Source: With ‘suicide drones’ and rocket attacks, Navy simulates war with Hezbollah | The Times of Israel

Times of Israel joins the 3rd Flotilla of missile ships as it holds an exercise preparing for possible conflict off the northern coast

Israeli sailors prepare to fire a machine gun during a naval exercise off the coast of the northern Israeli city of Haifa on February 3, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Israeli sailors prepare to fire a machine gun during a naval exercise off the coast of the northern Israeli city of Haifa on February 3, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

ABOARD THE I.N.S. KESHET — In the next conflict with the Hezbollah terror group, Israel’s Navy knows that one of its main goals will be to protect Israel’s burgeoning natural gas infrastructure and shipping in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Hezbollah has long identified the maritime platforms as a potential target for attack, with verbal threats by the terror group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and his deputies over the years, as well as ominous videos and graphics putting the structures in cross-hairs.

Moreover, the military assumes that the terror group possesses the capabilities necessary to carry out those threats and stage potentially successful attacks not only on the gas platforms but on the commercial shipping lanes that bring in nearly all of Israel’s imported goods.

Last week, the navy’s 3rd Flotilla of missile ships — known in Hebrew by the acronym satilim — simulated such a war with a week-long exercise at sea, including deadly missile strikes on Israeli vessels, attempted suicide boat bombings and drone attacks.

Lt. Col. Guy Barak, commander of the 34th Anti-Submarine Squadron, onboard the INS Keshet during a naval exercise off Israel’s northern coast in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We assume [Hezbollah] will try to attack on the maritime front. They see it as a very important arena,” Lt. Col. Guy Barak, commander of the 34th Anti-Submarine Squadron, told The Times of Israel, on board the INS Keshet, a 67-meter (220-foot) Sa’ar 4.5-model “submarine hunter” missile ship, during the second day of the five-day drill.

“With an enemy like Hezbollah, a surprise can come on the tenth day of a war or within the first hour,” he said. “So we have to know how to go from zero to 60 fast.”

Barak declined to comment on the specific types of weapons that the IDF believes the Tehran-backed Hezbollah has in its arsenals, but said generally that this included shore-to-sea missiles, suicide drones, submarine capabilities and others.

“We have to think that whatever Iran has, Hezbollah — and Hamas — can also have,” he said.

An image from a video by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah threatening to attack Israeli offshore gas platforms. (Screen capture)

Barak said the military is both directly tracking Hezbollah’s weapons development closely and also making assessments based on the “vectors” that the terror group was already on.

In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah forces fired an anti-ship missile at the INS Hanit that killed four Israeli soldiers — one of the most significant, and in Israel, infamous, events of the 34-day conflict.

The strike on the Hanit on July 14 crippled the ship but did not destroy it. It was the first direct strike on an Israeli warship in decades and Hezbollah celebrated it as among its biggest victories of the war.

Though much of the exercise was conducted virtually, one aspect that was simulated with live fire was an attack by a “suicide drone” packed with explosives, a weapon that Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias are known to have.

A civilian company was brought in to fly a Styrofoam glider around the participating ships, as machine gunners tried to shoot them down.

On board the INS Keshet, it took 94 bullets from one of the ship’s .50-caliber machine gun to send the drone crashing into the sea.

An Israeli sailor prepares to fire a machine gun during a naval exercise off Israel’s northern coast in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Asked why only one drone was used in the operation, when it’s possible a swarm of them could actually be used in a future war, Barak recognized that this was true not only of drones but of all aspects of the exercise, and that the decision to only use one was something of an arbitrary one.

“It can be one suicide boat or several, one drone or several, one rocket or several,” he said.

Israel is an island

Though surrounded on three sides by land, the State of Israel effectively functions as an island economy, importing and exporting nearly all of its goods through the sea — rather than by land — making the maritime arena one of critical value to the normal functioning of the country. The recent discovery of natural gas reserves in Israel’s territorial waters and the construction of one extraction platform in easy view of northern Israeli coastal communities has only added to the importance to the sea.

To assist in defending these new resources, the Israeli military has purchased four Sa’ar 6-model missile ships to be delivered beginning next year that will come equipped with two Iron Dome air defense batteries to defend the natural gas platforms from missile and rocket attacks.

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel’s coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the meantime, the Israeli Navy is protecting the extraction platforms with slightly smaller Sa’ar 5-model missile ships, also equipped with Iron Dome batteries.

In addition to their strategic importance to the State of Israel, these platforms also represent a highly visible targets for Hezbollah, which could provide it with what military officials refer to as a “victory picture,” like the Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima from World War II or the Israeli paratroopers at the Western Wall from the 1967 Six Day War. A massive fireball erupting out of the extraction rig less than 10 kilometers from the Israeli shore could serve a similar function for Hezbollah.

“But that’s less my concern,” Barak said. “My concern is defending national infrastructure installations — regardless of how things look.”

Israeli sailors take part in a naval exercise off Israel’s northern coast in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

To accomplish this task, Israel’s missile ships are equipped with a dizzying array of sensors and detection systems — radar, sonar, electro-optical and more — active defense systems that can intercept incoming attacks, as well as ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore missiles.

While other navies around the world maintain fleets of different varieties of ships capable of performing specific tasks and mission, Barak said, “we need our missile ships to do everything.”

All of these systems are controlled from the warships’ combat information center — known in Hebrew by the acronym MIK, or Merkaz Yediyat Krav — a pitch black, cramped room in the belly of the vessel whose walls are covered in a myriad of screens and information panels.

Barak said these detection systems and weapons make the missile ships critical for defensive and offensive operations “not just on the sea, but above it and below it.”

However, he stressed, the navy cannot use these tools solely for the maritime front and must serve an integral part of the overall war effort.

Naval officials often point to the case of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which the military’s air and ground forces suffered heavy losses while the navy performed far better. Despite the navy’s significant successes on its front, the war in general is seen as having been far less than a decisive victory for Israel.

An ultra-Orthodox Israeli sailor holds a rifle during a naval exercise off Israel’s northern coast in February 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“It’s no longer the military telling the navy, ‘Just keep the sea clean,’” he said.

Barak said the navy, especially the 3rd Flotilla and the 7th Flotilla of submarines, does have a slightly different mindset than the rest of the military, as the vessels they use are not only war machines, but also their homes, on which they can remain for extended periods of time.

“The sailors see this as their house and the other crew members as their family, so when they fight, they’re fighting for their home,” he said. “We go out to war and we come back when we’ve won. We don’t know for how long.”

Despite this singular quality, the navy works closely with the other branches of the IDF, especially the Israeli Air Force, Barak said, giving the specific example of the air force-operated Iron Dome batteries on board navy ships.

But in order to maintain the ability to fight more traditional naval warfare, last week’s exercise also included fleet-on-fleet combat.

The drill also simulated the death of the captain of the INS Romach from the direct strike of a Hezbollah rocket, fires and flooding onboard ships, emergency helicopter evacuations and other emergencies.

“The exercise took the commanders to extremes and tested their functioning under pressure,” the military said.

The 3rd Flotilla’s ship-to-shore missiles and other weaponry ensures that it will also play an active role in any future war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, as it did in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and against Hamas in Gaza in the 2014 conflict there.

“Hezbollah knows that if an all-out war breaks out, the IDF will display force like never before, and that will include a ‘punch’ from the sea from the 3rd Flotilla,” Barak said.


Rouhani vows US pressure will not force Iran into talks

February 17, 2020

Source: Rouhani vows US pressure will not force Iran into talks | The Times of Israel

( Does this ‘phony moderate’ terrorist actually know NOTHING about Trump ? – JW )

President says Washington’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is doomed to fail, Trump won’t start a war because it would ruin his reelection chances

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran, Iran, February 16, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran, Iran, February 16, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday vowed that US sanctions would not force his country to negotiate new terms for the moribund 2015 nuclear deal and declared that Washington’s pressure campaign was doomed to fail.

“We will never go to the negotiation table in a position of weakness,” Rouhani said at a press conference in Tehran, according to a report by Iran’s Mehr news agency.

He reiterated that the US should rejoin the nuclear deal — which it left in 2018 — if it wants to return to negotiations.

“We will finally get the enemy to sit at the negotiating table some day, like before,” said Rouhani, referring to the US.

He said he didn’t believe the US would pursue war with his country, because it would harm US President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.

Trump knows that war with Iran will “ruin” his chances of winning the 2020 US presidential election, he assessed.

The Iranian leader added that war would be harmful to US interests and those of its regional allies, as well as Iran.

“I think the Americans aren’t after war since they know what harm it could do them,” said Rouhani in a news conference.

He said that Persian Gulf nations like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar stood a lot to lose if conflict between Iran and the US turns to war.

Iran would always play a key role in the region’s stability, Rouhani declared.

“It is clear to the entire world that peace and stability in this region are impossible without a powerful and great country like Iran,” he said.

Tehran and Washington came close to an open conflict in January, when a US drone strike killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, outside Baghdad. Iran retaliated with missile strikes on a base housing US troops in Iraq.

An Iranian flag flutters at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant on November 10, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

In May 2018 Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, then reinstated severe economic sanctions under a “maximum pressure” campaign to force Iran to renegotiate the pact.

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action saw previous international sanctions lifted from Iran in return for it agreeing to curb its nuclear program to limit it from being able to produce weapons.

The Trump administration claims the JCPOA doesn’t go far enough in stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and also did not address the country’s ballistic missile program. Strict sanctions have targeted Iran’s vital oil industry, ravaging its economy.

As the other signatories to the deal struggle to keep the pact alive, Iran has also dropped some of its commitments to the deal, restarting processes that experts say shorten the breakout time it needs to produce enough enriched uranium to make an atomic bomb.

Iran has said it is only prepared to open talks on the deal if the US first removes its sanctions.

At his Sunday press conference, Rouhani conceded that “sanctions will naturally create problems for the people,” but predicted “these sanctions will be fruitless for our enemies.”

Washington knows that “the path and strategy they chose was based on a miscalculation and will not affect the great Iranian nation,” he said and claimed that for the first time in its history Iran was managing without its oil industry to keep the economy going.

Last month three European signatories to the JCPOA — Britain, France and Germany — announced action under the nuclear agreement paving the way for possible sanctions in response to Tehran’s attempts to roll back parts of the deal.

The three countries, which signed the international agreement along with the United States, Russia and China, triggered its “dispute mechanism,” ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic Republic.


If Russia can’t curb Iran in Syria, the Saudis ask: How can Israel? – DEBKAfile

February 17, 2020

Source: If Russia can’t curb Iran in Syria, the Saudis ask: How can Israel? – DEBKAfile

The Saudi paper Sharq al-Awsat reported on Feb. 15 that the Russians had given up on curbing Iran’s military presence in Syria. It cited Saudi intelligence sources in eastern Syria where the Saudis took control of Syria’s eastern oil region in December under the US aegis. Those sources wonder how Israel can hope to succeed where the Russians have failed.

On Thursday, Feb. 13, they note, Israel took out four Iranian officers in an attack on a new Iranian weapons consignment delivered in the Damascus area. Two of the dead were Revolutionary Guards generals – Riday Mahmadi, commander of Iranian forces in the Damascus region, and Haj Hossein, who was in charge of arming Iranian forces in Syria.

While this was yet another impressive Israeli intelligence feat, its impact will be short-lived, say DEBKAfile’s military sources. Tehran will rapidly replace the two officers, in the same way as it quickly slotted a Hizballah loyalist close to Hassan Nasrallah into the vacancy left by the US assassination of Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. The Guards don’t leave missing links in their chain of command – either in Syria or in Iraq.

The systematic destruction by Israeli missiles of Iran’s weapons consignments landing in Syria is likewise of provisional value. While the IDF is exceptionally effective in spotting and targeting the incoming arms shipments, a certain quantity must be presumed to be getting through to destination, else how account for periodic reports on the rising numbers of precision missiles in the hands of Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Hizballah? This question also applies to the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

IDF commander Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi addressed the Iranian and other threats to Israel’ security when he presented his new multi-year military program last week, He pointed out in his preamble that Israel’s armed forces must contend with “surrounding terrorist armies in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Sinai, which are not under state control,” as well as Iran, which “currently holds a stock of 1,000 precision missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv, some of which have multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) that are difficult to intercept.” He stressed too that “Hizballah is advancing in its own precision rockets project.”

Our military sources pose this question. How can Hizballah make such advances after three years of constant Israeli attacks? And how come that terrorist groups from the Gaza Strip and Sinai are still allowed to pose a strategic threat to national security?

The new IDF plan, dubbed “Momentum,” speaks of “strengthening the capabilities of the ground forces, and taking advantage of aerial range to enable combat units to attack and destroy a maximum number of targets in as short a time as possible.” However, say DEBKAfile’s sources, one lesson learned from long experience of wars is that no-one can predict how a conflict, once started, will end. None can be counted on to achieve a rapid in-and-out bang-bang victory. In countering Iran, Israel is more likely to come up against the same obstacles as Russia encountered in Syria – a lingering, constantly evolving presence that is hard to pin down.

There is nothing innovative about Gen. Kochavi’s decision to establish an Iran Command headed by a general. IDF generals have filled this position in the past, the last appointee was Maj. Gen. NItzan Alon, after whom the position vanished without explanation.

While “Momentum” was approved by the prime minister and defense minister, PM Binyamin Netanyahu added a rider criticizing the plan as needing a sharper offensive strategy.

Naftali Bennett returned last week from his first Washington visit and talks in the Pentagon as defense minister. He reported an agreement for a division of labor to push back Iranian expansion: the Americans would operate in Iraq, while the IDF would continue to take on the Iranians in Syria.

No US officials has confirmed or, for that matter, denied the existence of this deal. Neither has any reference been made any other competent Israeli official in the caretaker government that is officiating in Jerusalem up until the March 2 general election.


Israel’s trophy Active Protection System 

February 17, 2020

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PM Netanyahu speaks about Israel’s power and the significance of the Trump plan 

February 17, 2020


Speech given Feb 16, 2020.