Archive for May 8, 2020

Satellite images show damage to presumed missile workshop near Aleppo

May 8, 2020

Source: Satellite images show damage to presumed missile workshop near Aleppo | The Times of Israel

Private intel firm ImageSat International releases photographs of target of airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel earlier this week

Satellite images purporting to show the damage to a missile factory outside Aleppo, Syria caused by airstrikes attributed to Israel on May 4, which were released on May 7, 2020. (ImageSat International)

Satellite images purporting to show the damage to a missile factory outside Aleppo, Syria caused by airstrikes attributed to Israel on May 4, which were released on May 7, 2020. (ImageSat International)

An airstrike attributed to Israel earlier this week caused major damage to a presumed missile workshop outside Aleppo in northern Syria, according to satellite images released Thursday by an Israeli intelligence firm.

Late Monday night, the Israeli military conducted two rounds of airstrikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria, including one against a weapons factory in al-Safira outside Aleppo and a second against militia bases in Deir Ezzor in the east of the country, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Those attacks appeared to be the sixth and seventh strikes attributed to Israel against Iran-linked forces in Syria in the past two weeks. There was no word on the raids by the Israel Defense Forces, which rarely comments on individual cross-border attacks, though Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to confirm Israel’s role in the strikes, repeatedly saying in the days preceding and following them that Israel was working to expel Iran from Syria.

On Thursday evening, the satellite imagery analysis firm ImageSat International released photographs of the weapons factory that was struck in the raids, showing significant damage to one of the structures.

“The workshop probably had a critical role in the missile production and assembly process, and possibly included unique machinery. Such an attack can stop the production process at this site,” the firm wrote in its assessment.

An explosion is seen following an alleged Israeli attack on a Hezbollah arms cache near Homs in central Syria on May 1, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In recent years, Jerusalem has accused Iran of helping the Hezbollah terror group develop advanced precision-guided missiles. Israel has vowed to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining such munitions, threatening military action in order to do so.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the airstrike on the al-Safira facility caused massive secondary explosions.

A Syrian security official told the Kremlin-backed Sputnik news outlet that the Israeli aircraft that conducted the Aleppo attack came from the region of the US military’s al-Tanf military base, which is near the Syrian border with Jordan and Iraq and is surrounded by a large de-confliction zone.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State jihadist group said it was not responsible for the strikes.

According to the Observatory, the strike on Tehran-backed militia bases in the Deir Ezzor region killed 14 pro-Iranian fighters, who were all either Iranian or Iraqi nationals.

The Britain-based monitor did not report any deaths in the strike on the weapons factory outside Aleppo.

Last Tuesday, Bennett appeared to confirm that Israel was responsible for recent attacks against pro-Iranian forces in Syria, saying that the military was working to drive Tehran out of the country.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.

“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action,” he said. “We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory.”

Bennett did not explicitly confirm Israel’s involvement in that airstrike, though his comments were seen as a clear hint to that effect.

Israeli military officials have warned that acknowledging such strikes adds pressure on Iran and its proxies to retaliate in order to save face.

On Tuesday, a senior Israeli defense official said Israel was putting pressure on Iran to leave Syria and would continue to do so until the Islamic Republic completely withdrew its forces from the country, though he refused to explicitly confirm Israel’s role in the recent airstrikes.

Jerusalem says Iran’s presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, is a threat, as Tehran seeks to establish a permanent foothold along Israel’s northern borders. Israel has also threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from providing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group with advanced weaponry, specifically precision-guided missiles.

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Agencies contributed to this report.


Ex-IDF intelligence chief Yadlin: I don’t buy that Iran is leaving Syria

May 8, 2020

Syrian President Bashar al Assad visits Syrian army troops in war-torn northwestern Idlib province, Syria, October 22, 2019 (photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran is not leaving Syria despite some reports to the contrary, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said on Wednesday.

Speaking to a media briefing hosted by MediaCentral, Yadlin, who currently is executive director of INSS, said, “the Iranians are not leaving. I am not buying this argument.”

Rather, he suggested that the forces led by Iran in Syria have always included a mix of actual Iranians and militias made up of local Syrians, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiites, Pakistanis and Afghans, and at most might see an adjustment in the mix.

Questioned about why the IDF would put out a statement on Tuesday that Iran was reducing its presence in Syria if this is not true, Yadlin responded, “I didn’t hear the IDF. I heard a high-level source in the defense establishment. My suspicion is it came from above the IDF political level. When you go to the political level, you need to ask someone whose is an expert in politics.”

Pressed if he was referring to outgoing defense minister Naftali Bennett, the former IDF intelligence chief responded, “I think you connected the dots of who is leaving the defense ministry soon, and what is the legacy he wants to leave behind.”

Explaining why Iran will not leave Syria, he said that Syria is, “the only Arab country which supported Iran’s war with Iraq [in 1980-1988]. Ties between Iran and Syria are strong strategically. Iran sees Syria as the cornerstone of its regional policy.”

Continuing he said, “it was very important for Iran to keep the Syrian regime alive. In the words of Qasem Soleimani – protecting Tehran starts in Damascus.”

He said that, “Iran also wants to be very close to us [Israel]…in terms of kilometers…while they are 1,500 kilometers away from us. Nothing has changed regarding Iran’s strategic goal.”

Next, he said that, “Iran is always adaptive…They try to cope. At different times we saw Iran having more forces, less forces and different forces in Syria due to the conditions on the ground.”

He recounted how when the Assad regime started to win against ISIS in tandem with the Us and Russia, that Soleimani, “thought this was a huge opportunity to transform Syria into an Iranian base to attack Israel. His plan was to have airports, bases, naval bases, lines of logistics, advanced ballistic missiles, UAVs – everything to enable attacking Israel from Syria.”

However, he said that Israel discovered the plan and “started to attack Iranians in Syria during the term of four defense ministers. It started before Bennet started. With Moshe Yaalon, Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu and then Bennett.”

He added that most of this time, the attacks were under the leadership of former IDF chief Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot. “They were able to stop 70-80% of what Soleimani wanted – this is not new.”

Moreover, he said that two years ago IDF air force chief Amir Eshel spoke of a massive volume of attacks, such that, “it was not because of attacks in the last few weeks that Iran decided to leave.”

Rather, Yadlin said that Iran is still present with commanders in Syria and that at most it had altered the mix of low-down foot-soldiers so that more of them are Shiite militia groups and there are fewer low-down actual Iranians.

Even this, Yadlin attributed to years of attacks and more recently the power of the US maximum pressure campaign and of the coronavirus it making it more financially difficult to send foot-soldier Iranians to Syria.

A spokesman for Bennett declined to comment.

Is coronavirus Iran’s Chernobyl?

May 8, 2020


Really does suck to be you, Iran.

Member of Iranian civil defense team sprays disinfectant while sanitizing a truck, after the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran partially. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Walking alongside the graveyard of ambitious and expansionist empires, it is frequently overlooked that collapse often results from internal implosions and mismanagement, rather than from outside threats. The critical threshold of implosion begins when an authority spends more attention and resources on its external ambitions than its internal responsibilities.

Our most modern example of this is the fall of the Soviet Union. Marred by internal social unrest that perestroika reforms were unable to amend, immense military expenditure of 15 billion rubles in Afghanistan, and the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the 1980’s defined the decade in which the USSR passed the critical threshold. Former USSR secretary-general Mikhail Gorbachev noted that along with internal challenges, most notably the Chernobyl meltdown “was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

While Gorbachev himself highlighted that Chernobyl was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the road toward implosion was paved long in advance.

If those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, then Tehran is in for a rude awakening. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Iran has the eighth-highest number of reported cases of the virus and the eighth-highest most deaths. The internal socio-economic unrest, large military expenditures abroad, and poor crisis management that prioritized public image over competency reflects many parallels between the Chernobyl meltdown and the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran.

Just as the seeds to Soviet collapse were sown before the mismanagement in Chernobyl, the internal discontent in Iran was sown before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Limping into the decade, the nationwide protests in late 2019 reflected Iranian authorities’ internal challenges.

The protests started in response to a 50% increase in fuel prices, as a strategy to reallocate revenue lost from American sanctions to reinforce the social safety net. But what started as broad dissatisfaction with financial policy, evolved into numerous intertwined protests on fuel prices, wide-scale corruption and macroeconomic mismanagement. These protests quickly turned violent, and officials, in order  to reframe the narrative, attempted to cover up the severity, painting protesters as hooligans and saboteurs supported by Iran’s enemies.

THIS HIGHLIGHTS how Iran may be on the road toward implosion because it reflects that the regime’s priorities are geopolitical externalities rather than internal responsibilities. The economic sanctions were partially motivated to disincentivize malicious behavior such as the allocation of millions of dollars annually toward state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza.

Rather than changing its policy abroad to ensure the local social safety net is sufficient, the regime refuses to compromise on its geopolitical ambition, highlighting its priorities and what it views as threats to the regime.

These events don’t exist in a vacuum, as Iran became an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic due to similar mistakes. What once started as bad policy in an attempt to maintain good diplomatic relations with China, snowballed into a public health crisis that authorities desperately attempted to cover up to project strength outward. As the world was restricting travel to and from China, flights from Mahan Air remained open and available as late as February 23 due to the heavy economic reliance on China and to maintain strong diplomatic ties.

Additionally, high-risk areas, such as Shi’ite shrines that attract millions of pilgrims annually, remained open at least a month after the first case of coronavirus infection was reported in Qom. These poor policies allowed for the virus to spread like wildfire, thereby making it difficult for officials to control the narrative and project strength outward, as World Health Organization officials claim that the real statistics can be five times higher than official statistics. The regime has prioritized relations and optics abroad at the cost of responsibilities at home, and it will come at a cost.

The trauma of the pandemic will continue throughout the country as thousands will grieve and millions will wonder if decision-makers could have protected their citizens from such a fate. But as Iran steps out of the fire and into the frying pan of the impending economic catastrophe, there are numerous factors that will hinder a rapid economic turnaround.

Oil revenue in particular is the chief element here because the Iranian oil industry comprises of 15% national GDP. Global energy prices will be comparable to the price of a deli sandwich, minimizing the potential gains from such a fundamental industry, upon which the nation relies.

In this moment of desperation, the regime’s next step is critical. Will the regime invest its resources in the Iranian people in order to heal internal wounds? Or will it merely advance its geopolitical interests while Iran’s adversaries are distracted and weak?

Considering that Iranian propaganda has been steadily operating this past month, the regime clearly still prioritizes external ambition. While this propaganda push may distract the population from grievances at home, these problems might become too pressing to ignore, as Iran hobbles past this historic junction toward the road to implosion.