Archive for July 2020

In 1st missile battle at sea in 1973, Israeli craft evaded Soviet-made missiles

July 31, 2020

 

https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-cherbourg-boats-bested-a-superpowers-weapons-and-changed-naval-warfare/

How an Israeli-developed weapon system kept the sea-lanes to Haifa open in a naval confrontation to be ranked with Midway and Trafalgar

By ABRAHAM RABINOVICH16 February 2020, 6:01 am6

  • An Israeli gunboat, one of five that disappeared from the French port of Cherbourg on Christmas day, plows through choppy seas 40 miles west of Haifa, December 31, 1970. (AP/Brian Calvert)
  • An Israeli gunboat, one of five that disappeared from the French port of Cherbourg on Christmas day, plows through choppy seas 40 miles west of Haifa, December 31, 1970. (AP/Brian Calvert)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • An anti-aircraft gunner onboard a missile boat during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • An anti-aircraft gunner onboard a missile boat during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)
  • The Cherbourg boats in Haifa, January 1, 1970. (Moshe Milner/GPO)T
  • he Cherbourg boats in Haifa, January 1, 1970. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
  • The Cherbourg boats arrive in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
  • The Cherbourg boats arrive in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
  • The Cherbourg boats in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
  • The Cherbourg boats in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
  • Israeli missile boat flotilla on maneuvers. (Israel Government Press Office)
  • Israeli missile boat flotilla on maneuvers. (Israel Government Press Office)
  • One of the Cherbourg boats makes its way to Haifa, December 1969. (Wikimeda commons/Israel Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum)
  • One of the Cherbourg boats makes its way to Haifa, December 1969. (Wikimeda commons/Israel Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum)
  • One of the Cherbourg boats arrives in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Wikimeda commons/Israel Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum)
  • One of the Cherbourg boats arrives in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Wikimeda commons/Israel Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum)
  • One of the 'Cherbourg boats,' the INS Mitvach, on display at Haifa's Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
  • One of the ‘Cherbourg boats,’ the INS Mitvach, on display at Haifa’s Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
  • Inside one of the 'Cherbourg boats,' the INS Mitvach, on display at Haifa's Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
  • Inside one of the ‘Cherbourg boats,’ the INS Mitvach, on display at Haifa’s Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The passport control officer at Orly Airport glanced at the Israeli passport handed him and then at the line of young men in blue windbreakers waiting their turn. The man opposite him was also wearing a blue windbreaker.

“What kind of group is this?” asked the officer.

“Students.”

“Come off it,” said the Frenchman, who assumed that the bronzed and purposeful faces in the line were not for cloistered studies destined. “Are you military?”

Even more startling than the question was the language in which it was asked — Hebrew.

“No, why do you ask?”The Boats of Cherbourg, by Abraham Rabinovich

“Because you’re all wearing the same windbreakers and you’ve all got fresh haircuts.” Nodding at several other Israelis who had just passed through and were waiting near the exit, he added: “And all your passports are numbered consecutively.”

The Israeli, agitated, called to the men at the exit. “Leave the airport.” There was a chance, he thought, that some might get away before the gendarmes closed in.

The passport officer calmed him with an upraised palm. “Take it easy,” he said. “You’ve done nothing illegal.” He identified himself as a Moroccan-born Jew who had lived for some years in Israel. “But you ought to tell your superiors about this.”

Had the Mossad been involved, such mistakes would doubtless have been avoided, but the navy was unschooled in semi-clandestine crossings far from the sea.

Israeli missile boat flotilla on maneuvers. (Israel Government Press Office)

The men were among 100 naval personnel — most just a couple of years out of high school — being sent to the port of Cherbourg to run off with five boats embargoed by the French. They were to be hidden below decks by maintenance crews stationed there until the boats sailed.

The vessels were the last of 12 “patrol boats” ordered by Israel from a local shipyard. Seven had already reached Israel over the previous two years but French President Charles de Gaulle, seeking closer ties with the Arab world, seized on an Israeli commando raid on Beirut Airport to embargo the last five. Prime Minister Golda Meir rejected the navy’s proposal to just run off with the boats one night. Nothing illegal must be done, she said, that might give France a reason to sever relations.

Admiral (ret.) Mordecai Limon, head of Israel’s military purchasing mission in Paris, argued that legality in this instance was an arbitrary term. Israel had purchased the boats in good faith while the French government was undoing a legal contract to promote geopolitical objectives. Limon proposed cloaking the getaway with a veneer of legality, leaving behind a fait accompli for lawyers to argue about to their hearts’ content after the boats had sailed. After being convinced that the boats were truly needed, Meir gave her consent.

Limon, a former commander of the Israeli navy, flew to meet Martin Siemm, owner of a large Norwegian shipbuilding company. An underground leader during World War II, Siemm had been recommended to Limon by a mutual friend as a friend of Israel. Meeting in an airport restaurant, Limon described Israel’s quandary regarding the boats. A possible solution, he said, would be for Israel to sell the boats to a foreign entity, or at least be seen to sell them, and then to discreetly reclaim them. Would Siemm agree to be party to such a scenario? “Give me 48 hours,” said Siemm. When he called Limon in Paris it was with a positive response.Hadar Kimche, center, and Mordecai Limon, right, pictured in Cherbourg. (Wikimeda commons/Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum)

Limon chose Christmas eve for the breakout when alertness in the port would be minimal. Two hours after midnight mass, the Cherbourg boats, as they came to be known, slipped past the harbor’s breakwater into a Force Nine gale roiling the English Channel. Pursuit in this weather was unlikely. As the boats turned south, the land mass of England shielded them from the full force of the storm. But as they emerged into the open Bay of Biscay, mountainous waves came at them from the west where the storm had been raging for days in the Atlantic. Captain Hadar Kimche, commanding the operation, ordered that no one venture onto deck unless secured by a line. Some bridge officers lashed themselves to their seats.

The mad roller coaster continued as Christmas day dawned. As the boats rose higher towards the crest of a wave, a huge green wave would lunge from behind and crash just astern. Then the descent began, a stomach-turning downward rush in which the helmsman could feel the wheel reluctant to respond. When the boat plunged into the bottom of the trough, the surging sea brimmed the deck and seemed about to pull the boat under. Then the vessel would somehow break loose and begin the agonizing climb again. For the men on the bridge it was an extraordinary and frightening sight. Below decks the crew could feel the boat shudder and wondered whether it would rise up again. Except for an occasional terse order and the noise of the engines there was total silence.https://www.youtube.com/embed/XEHU5fJgu-E?feature=oembed&showinfo=0&rel=0&modestbranding=1

Kimche stood on the bridge of the lead vessel with a stopwatch adjusting the boat’s speed. If it descended a wave too rapidly, the prow could be thrust into the trough and control lost. If it was too slow climbing out, tons of water would crash upon its stern. Kimche had hoped to sail at 30 knots, but finally settled for an average speed of 18. Constant orders from the bridge required quick responses from the engine room. The crewmen, almost all seasick, worked steadily but kept buckets close to hand.

Anchored in a sheltered bay on Portugal’s southern coast, Capt. Amnon Tadmor, master of the freighter Lea, told his chief mate that he would not have taken his ship to sea in this weather even though it was many times the size of the Cherbourg boats; if he was already out, he said, he would have sought shelter. The Lea was the first of a string of Israeli merchantmen that the navy had deployed along the boats’ 3,500-mile escape route in order to refuel them and otherwise provide assistance. First contact from the boats came at dusk on December 26, in a message from Kimche asking Tadmor to confirm his position. Four hours later Tadmor saw them rounding the corner of the bay, five small boats showing only navigation lights and moving fast.

An Israeli gunboat, one of five that disappeared from the French port of Cherbourg on Christmas day, plows through choppy seas 40 miles west of Haifa, December 31, 1969. (AP/Brian Calvert)

In the post-Christmas torpor, France was slow to realize that the boats were no longer there. Officials were not immediately concerned because Limon had sent copies of documents to the relevant authorities showing that Israel had renounced its claims to the boats in return for the money it had paid the shipyard, effectively negating the embargo The authorities also received documents from the owner of the shipyard, who was party to Limon’s plot, and from Siemm (both letters drafted by Limon) showing that the Norwegian had purchased the boats from the shipyard to service offshore oil rigs. Two days before Christmas, the three men met in Paris to sign a new set of documents undoing all they had agreed to in the earlier documents and restoring the status quo ante. In other words, Israel still legally owned the boats. These documents were not sent to the French authorities.

Related: How Israel became a naval startup nation with the famous boats of Cherbourg

As the media got its teeth into the story of the missing Israeli patrol boats rumors began circulating; the boats were headed for Oslo, for Israel, for Alaska, even for Panama (a Panamanian law firm had drawn up documents creating a fictitious Norwegian company that was ostensibly involved in the sale).

The Norwegian government, fearful of the impact on the Arab world where Norwegian oil tankers were widely used, publicly refuted any connection to the missing boats. As the Israeli ruse became clear, the French defense minister urged that the air force “interdict” the fleeing boats but cooler heads prevailed. (Polls showed that a large majority of the French public applauded Israel for pulling it off.) “Where are they?” asked a chipper banner headline in one of Cherbourg’s dailies. As the story took on momentum, television teams flew out over the Mediterranean and the North Sea to look for the boats.

On New Year’s eve, 1970, the boats arrived in Haifa bay to the sound of celebratory sirens from vessels in the harbor and cheers from the crowds on shore

.

The Cherbourg boats arrive in Haifa, December 31, 1969. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Most Israelis today probably remember the escape, if at all, as a “cheeky caper,” in the words of a British newspaper at the time. But the public would remain unaware of a broader context — the boats’ role in a bold project that would transform naval warfare.

It had begun a decade before when Israel’s Defense Ministry rejected the navy’s request for funds to update its aging fleet. Israel’s wars, the ministry said, would be decided by tanks and planes, not ships. In a desperate bid to remain relevant, the navy command decided to explore development of a new kind of warship — small, affordable boats armed with missiles. Heavy guns could not be placed on small boats because of their recoil, but missiles had no recoil. Their warheads, on the other hand, could pack as much punch as those of a heavy warship. Furthermore, if the missile was guided by radar it could pursue its prey and thus be more accurate than shellfire.

As persuasive as these arguments were, there was one formidable counter-argument — such boats did not exist in any Western navy; nor did sea-to-sea missiles. The navy nevertheless decided to pursue the idea despite its lack of an innovative tradition. A think tank made up of naval officers as well as experts from Israel’s fledgling military industries, particularly Israel Aircraft Industries, began to discuss the concept. Before long the concept evolved into a project involving hundreds of engineers, scientists, naval architects and others

.

The crew of a missile boat at sea during the Yom Kippur War, October 11, 1973. (Alon Reininger/GPO)

Admiral Shlomo Erell, the commander of the navy, was the driving force behind the project, a forerunner of Israel’s emergence as the “startup nation.” The intensity was unrelenting. Twelve to 14 hour working days were common and for a period, key personnel worked every day of the year except Yom Kippur. The innocuous-looking boats that had fled Cherbourg — together with the seven which had preceded them — would be converted in Haifa into the first missile boats in the west.

Midway through the project Israel learned that the Soviet Union had also developed missile boats, and had begun distributing them to Egypt and Syria. Israel had little information about them but was inclined to skepticism about the accuracy of the Soviet sea-to-sea missile, the Styx, because the Soviet Union had been laggard in the development of radar in the Second World War. Four months after the Six Day War, the Israeli flagship, the destroyer Eilat, was on routine patrol off Sinai when an Egyptian missile boat emerged from Port Said and fired four missiles from a distance of 13 kilometers. Three hit; the fourth missed only because there was nothing remaining on the surface to hit. Of the Eilat’s 200-man crew, 47 were killed and 100 wounded. The Eilat was the first vessel ever sunk by a missile.The Israeli destroyer Eilat tied up somewhere on the southern Israeli coast before its sinking, July 12, 1967. (AP/Holmberg)

Admiral Erell asked his chief electronics officer, Capt. Herut Tsemach, whether anything could be done to block the Styx. Tsemach estimated what his opposite number in the Soviet fleet headquarters in Leningrad had likely put radar into the design of the Styx. On the basis of this educated guess, he shaped electronic and other counter-measures aimed at diverting incoming missiles. His systems were installed on the Israeli boats but their efficacy could be determined only in a real-time confrontation.

This would come on the first night of the Yom Kippur War. Four Israeli missile boats were approaching the Syrian port of Latakia when three Syrian missile boats emerged. The Styx had twice the range of Israel’s Gabriel missile and the Syrians duly got in the first volleys. Israeli bridge officers could see fireballs arc into the sky and then descend directly towards them. In the final seconds, the fireballs appeared to wobble and then exploded in the sea. The Israeli boats closed to Gabriel range and sank two of the Syrian boats with missiles. The captain of the third Syrian vessel, out of missiles, beached his boat and managed to escape with his crew but the vessel was set ablaze by gunfire. Two other Syrian warships — a torpedo boat and a minelayer — were also sunk.A launch of Israel’s Gabriel Missile (Israel Aircraft Industries)

Sailing back to Haifa after the battle, the flotilla commander, Capt. Michael Barkai, decided to forego tying brooms to the mast in the traditional naval symbol of a “clean sweep.” They had left a lot of Syrian sailors at the bottom of the sea, he told his men. To flaunt victory “wouldn’t be respectful to them or to ourselves.”

Two nights later, a similar scenario was played out on the approaches to Alexandria, with three Egyptian missile boats sunk. From the next morning until the end of the war, two weeks later, the Arab fleets did not venture out of harbor, leaving the sea lanes to Haifa open to vital cargos.

The Israeli missile boats — the five Cherbourg boats and their seven sisters — came through the war intact despite the 54 Styx missiles fired at them.

Capt. Tsemach, whose electronic umbrella had proved decisive, would say that the first missile-boat battle in history, the one off Latakia, deserved ranking with the battles of Midway and Trafalgar in the annals of naval warfare, small in scale and strategically marginal as it was.

Israel, whose population at the time was three million — half that of New York City — had bested the weapon system of a superpower and fundamentally changed the way battles at sea are fought.

Last Christmas day, naval veterans who had participated in the escape from Cherbourg gathered in an auditorium near Haifa to mark the 50th anniversary of the event. Among them was their commander, Hadar Kimche, who had retired as an admiral, and the son of Admiral Limon, who died in 2009. Also present were several hundred veterans who participated in the battles at sea during the Yom Kippur War.

The writer is author of The Boats of Cherbourg. A revised edition has just been published and is available on Amazon. His other books include The Yom Kippur War and The Battle for Jerusalemabra@netvision.net.il

 

Iran fires ballistic missiles from underground for 1st time, during major drill

July 31, 2020

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-fires-ballistic-missiles-from-underground-for-1st-time-during-major-drill/

Screenshot from footage of what Iran says was the unprecedented launch of a ballistic missile from underground, July 29, 2020 (Twitter)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles for the first time, as part of an exercise involving a mock-up aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, state television reported Wednesday.

It was the latest barrage in a drill that the previous day saw two American bases temporarily go on alert over the launches.

Drone footage captured by the Guard showed two missiles blasting out from covered positions in what appeared to be a desert plateau in central Iran, with debris flying up in the air in their wake.

The launches took place on Wednesday, said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aerospace division. He told state television it was first time the Guard had done this, though the paramilitary force is known to have vast underground bases hiding its ballistic missile arsenal.

Separately, drones targeted the bridge of the fake aircraft carrier, according to the state TV report. The broadcaster did not immediately air footage of the launches or the drone attack, nor did it identify the missiles used in the drill.

However, the drill clearly meant to send a message to the United States.

A semiofficial news agency close to the Guard published a graphic overnight that photoshopped the image of an American carrier into the shape of a casket with a set of crosshairs on it, with a caption quoting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledging to seek revenge for the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January.

The drill — and the American response to it — underlined the lingering threat of military conflict between Iran and the US after a series of escalating incidents last year led to the January drone strike. Tehran responded to that strike by firing ballistic missiles that wounded dozens of American forces in Iraq.

While the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed both Iran and the US for months, there has been a growing confrontation as America argues to extend a years-long UN weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October. A recent incident over Syria involving an American jet fighter approaching an Iranian passenger plane has also renewed tensions.

Iranian commandos fast-roped down from a helicopter onto the replica in the footage aired Tuesday from the exercise called “Great Prophet 14.”

Anti-aircraft guns opened fire on a target drone near the port city of Bandar Abbas.

State television footage also showed a variety of missiles being fired from fast boats, trucks, mobile launchers and a helicopter, some targeting the fake carrier. A commander said the Guard, a force answerable only to Khamenei, planned to fire “long-range ballistic missiles” as well during the drill that continued Wednesday.

Ballistic missile fire detected from the drill resulted in American troops being put on alert at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Al-Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command in Qatar, the military said. Troops sought cover during that time.

“The incident lasted for a matter of minutes and an all clear was declared after the threat … had passed,” said US Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a Central Command spokeswoman.

Both bases are hundreds of kilometers away from where Iran put the replica aircraft carrier.

Al-Dhafra also is temporarily home to five French-built Rafale fighter jets on their way to India for that country’s air force.

Other footage from the exercise aired by Iran’s state television showed fast boats encircling the mock-up carrier, kicking up white waves in their wake.

While Iran’s naval forces are dwarfed by the US Navy, its commanders practice so-called “swarm” tactics aimed at overwhelming the US carriers that pass through the strait on their way in and out of the Persian Gulf.

It wasn’t immediately clear if all the footage was from Tuesday, as one overhead surveillance image that appeared to be shot by a drone bore Monday’s date. The exercise had been expected as satellite photos released Monday showed the fake carrier being moved into place by a tugboat.

A black-and-white satellite photo taken Tuesday by Colorado-based firm Maxar Technologies showed damage to the replica’s bow and several of its fake jet fighters.

Explosion in Iran’s Kermanshah province, no casualties reported – Mizan

July 31, 2020

Looks like a serious blaze

https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/explosion-heard-in-western-iran-report-636581

An explosion has set a fuel tank on fire in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah on Tuesday, Iran’s Mizan news agency reported, in the latest in a series of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites.

“An explosion in a fuel tank occurred in Dolat Abad industrial area parking area,” Mizan said, but there were no reports of casualties.
Iran’s Student News Agency ISNA said six fuel tanks were exploded that caused a major fire in the area. A video of the incident published by Mizan showed plumes of dense black smoke billowing into the air.
“Some 100 firefighters are trying to contain the fire in the area. There were no casualties but some people were injured,” the deputy head of Kermanshah’s fire department, Keyvan Maleki, told ISNA, adding that authorities were investigating the cause of the explosion.

There have been several explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities since late June.

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July 30, 2020

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To avoid another attack, Israel tries hard not to embarrass Hezbollah

July 29, 2020

While maintaining awareness along border, military avoided killing operatives in failed offensive by the terror group, holds off on releasing footage from it

By JUDAH ARI GROSSToday, 6:48 pmUpdated at 7:21 pm  0Israeli soldiers work on tanks near the Lebanon border on July 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Israel Defense Forces remained on high alert along the Lebanese border on Wednesday, believing that the Hezbollah terror group is planning to carry out an attack along the frontier in the coming days, following a tense night in which the military spotted suspects moving along the security fence separating an Israeli community from Lebanon.

Israeli aircraft filled the skies over northern Israel and southern Lebanon, according to residents on both sides of the border, apparently watching the region for signs of an imminent attack and preparing to respond to one. IDF combat intelligence units were deployed along the border, scanning the area with powerful cameras and other detection equipment.

On Tuesday, the IDF also sent advanced missile systems to the area, along with special forces units, in order to be able to respond forcefully if such an attack is carried out by the terror group. Hezbollah says it seeks revenge for one of its fighters who was killed in Syria, in an airstrike that was widely attributed to Israel.

The military anticipated Hezbollah would try to attack before or around the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Thursday.

The IDF credits its heightened state of alertness with foiling an attempted attack by Hezbollah on Monday afternoon, in which a group of at least three armed terrorist operatives entered the Israeli-controlled area of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, along the border.A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

According to the IDF’s initial investigation of the incident, the men were spotted by a soldier operating a security camera just before they entered the region through a stretch along the Blue Line — the unofficial but internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon — where there was no security fence, and walked through rocky, overgrown terrain toward the IDF’s Gladiola outpost. The men were within 200 to 300 meters of the position before Israeli troops opened fire toward them, forcing them back into Lebanon.

The military is confident that the men were planning some kind of attack, entering the area armed with at least rifles, but does not know definitively what they planned to do. The IDF dismissed the possibility that they intended to fire an anti-tank guided missile at Israeli troops or vehicles as they did not seem to have one. Instead, the military suspects the men were planning to carry out a sniper attack on Israeli troops, attempt to break into the Gladiola outpost, or to plant an improvised explosive device along the main road on Mount Dov.

Hezbollah denied carrying out an attack on Monday night, saying the IDF’s claims were “absolutely false.”

While the IDF has been preparing for the possibility of another attack, it has also been working to avoid one, or at least to not antagonize Hezbollah further.

To that end, the IDF avoided killing the Hezbollah operatives on Monday night, shooting in their direction to force them to flee rather with the goal of hitting them, as additional fallen members would have likely spurred the terror group to retaliate yet more violently.

Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020 (AFP)

Though it may seem counter-intuitive that Israeli soldiers would deliberately avoid killing Hezbollah fighters who infiltrated into Israeli territory — and indeed the decision has been hotly debated within the military — the IDF top brass generally see this current round of border fighting with Hezbollah as a distraction from its main goals: driving Iran and its proxies out of Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah from Tehran.

As such, the military prefers to see this bout over as quickly and quietly as possible. And if that means letting three Hezbollah members escape, so be it.

In the days since, the Israeli military has also decided not to release its footage of Monday night’s incident, believing that doing so would embarrass Hezbollah, which vehemently denied that such a clash occurred. However, the IDF was considering releasing portions of the video in the coming days if it deemed the move unlikely to add fuel to the fire.

Israel has also conveyed messages to Hezbollah and Lebanon through third parties that the death of the operative in Syria was not intentional and that it does not want an escalation in violence along the border.

IDF soldiers set up a roadblock on a highway near the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

In its bid to avoid confrontation with Hezbollah, the IDF has also scaled back its presence on the border — moving troops deeper into Israeli territory and keeping them away from highways that are vulnerable to attacks.

No such restrictions have been placed on civilians, as the IDF anticipates Hezbollah will carry out an attack on military targets only.

Last September, Hezbollah took advantage of a lapse in discipline by the IDF, when an armored ambulance with five soldiers inside drove along a road near the community of Avivim, as the highway was in clear line of sight of a Lebanese hilltop. A Hezbollah cell fired two anti-tank guided missiles at the vehicle, narrowly missing it. Another missile was fired at an army post, causing limited damage and no injuries.

Israel sends reinforcements to north, bracing for imminent attack

July 28, 2020
https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-sends-reinforcements-to-north-bracing-for-imminent-attack/

IDF deploys additional firepower, intel-gathering tools and special forces a day after alleged attempted Hezbollah assault

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces deployed additional reinforcements to the country’s Lebanese and Syrian borders on Tuesday, indicating it was bracing for more violence along the frontiers after an alleged attempted attack by the Hezbollah terror group the day before.

Israeli officials expected an attack on Israeli troops by the Lebanese terror group within the next 48 hours, before the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Thursday night, according to an unattributed Channel 12 report on Tuesday.

Over the past week, Hezbollah has threatened some form of retaliation for the death of one of its fighters last week in Syria in an airstrike that it attributed to Israel, but which the Jewish state has not officially acknowledged conducting.

Though the IDF on Tuesday did not confirm that it expected an attack in the coming two days, it indicated that it was bracing for  fresh violence on the border, saying it was sending additional “advanced” firepower, powerful intelligence collection equipment and special forces to the area.

The move came a day after the IDF said it thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to send a team of fighters into the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, to carry out an attack. According to the military, the Hezbollah cell made it a few meters across the border before IDF troops opened fire at the operatives — apparently not hitting them, but driving them back into Lebanon.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.

Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt had been filmed by military security cameras and that the operatives who took part in it were armed. The IDF on Monday said it was considering releasing the footage from the incident, but had yet to do so as of Tuesday afternoon.

The terror group said a reprisal for its fallen operative in Syria was still to come.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The IDF said the decision to send the additional units to the IDF Northern Command was made in light of a “situational assessment.”

Those reinforcements joined an infantry battalion, additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries and other troops that were sent to the Northern Command last week when Hezbollah first began indicating it planned to carry out an attack along the border as revenge for its fallen operative.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a clear threat to the enemy countries surrounding Israel that the Jewish state’s military has a far reach and “unlimited capabilities” that it was prepared to use.

Gantz made his comments during a visit to a squadron of F-35 fighter jets on the Nevatim air base in southern Israel.

“I am finishing a visit to an F-35 squadron, which is the most advanced [aircraft] that the Israeli Air Force has and is one of the best in the world. We have the capability to act at an unprecedented range and level of operational preparedness,” Gantz said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with an F-35 squadron on the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base in southern Israel on July 28, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“I suggest that all the countries in the region, near and far — Iran, Lebanon, Syria or anyone else who may be involved in terrorism — remember that Israel has unlimited capabilities and knows how to use them,” he added.

The military remained on high alert along the northern border on Tuesday, with Lebanese media reporting intensive Israeli drone flights over southern Lebanon throughout the morning. The military also maintained a number of roadblocks in the area, preventing IDF vehicles from traveling on certain highways along the border that were considered vulnerable to attack from Lebanon.

Since Friday, the IDF has deployed a smaller number of troops directly along the frontier, having cleared out personnel who were deemed unnecessary as they would constitute a potential target for Hezbollah. The regular units stationed in the area and reinforcements sent to the region took up positions slightly deeper inside Israel, from a distance at which they could still rapidly respond to any attack by Hezbollah but not so close as to be an easy target for the group’s anti-tank guided missiles — a weapon it has long shown a tremendous knack for.

No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers set up a roadblock on a highway near the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Also Tuesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab accused Israel of carrying out a “dangerous military escalation” the previous day and thereby violating United Nations Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“I fear that the situation will deteriorate in light of the severe tension on our borders with occupied Palestine,” Diab wrote in a statement, calling for caution.

The Lebanese prime minister, who is supported by Hezbollah, also accused Israel of seeking to give the international peacekeepers in Lebanon, known by the acronym UNIFIL, additional powers in the country and change the “rules of engagement.” UNIFIL’s mandate to operate in Lebanon is due to be reviewed and renewed next month by the UN Security Council.

However, Lebanese news outlets affiliated with or directly controlled by the terror group appeared to indicate that Hezbollah considered the fact that it forced the IDF into a state of high alert to be sufficient retaliation for the time being.

Following the incident, Israel conveyed messages to Lebanon, through third parties, that it did not want Monday’s border altercation to devolve into a war.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Was there another ‘mysterious’ explosion on Iran’s Qeshm Island?

July 28, 2020

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/was-there-another-mysterious-explosion-on-irans-qeshm-island-636371

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Residents of Qeshm Island in southern Iran reported the sound of an explosion just after 10 p.m. on Saturday. It caused concern because the electricity went off. Officials claimed there was an earthquake, but many did not believe them.

Rumors pointed to other possibilities. Qeshm is known for fishing and tourism. It is a long island off the important Port of Bandar Abbas. Illicit oil trading takes place off some of the islands between Iran and the Gulf.

The tanker Gulf Sky, at the center of an international case involving Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps front companies, was anchored off the island in mid-July after allegedly being hijacked from near the UAE. It is also of strategic value because the IRGC has a naval base on the island.

In this context, some social-media accounts and local Arabic and Persian media outlets claimed there had been a mysterious explosion. This would be in line with another dozen such explosions that have impacted Iran since late June.

One destroyed a surface-to-surface missile facility at Khojir; another harmed centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear-enrichment facility. This has left many Iranians on edge over concerns they may be targeted by cyberattacks or other acts the government is not admitting to.

There are other controversies related to Qeshm. Fishermen want more support, and some believe the island will form part of a free-trade zone nexus, along with Kish Island, and that China will have a growing role there. “Iran is not for sale,” say some nationalist and populist social-media accounts, challenging China’s alleged upcoming role.

Fishermen held a meeting on Friday about facing issues in transporting their catch. Could an explosion be some sort of sabotage? People say it could be human error or an IRGC secret maneuver.

The fishermen said they were told not to go out fishing on Saturday and link this to the supposed explosion. There are questions over whether it might be linked to ammunition storage on the island.

In the absence of any real evidence that something happened at Qeshm Island, the incident will likely come and go without further details. What it does show is how Iran has been jarred by all the recent explosions – and how locals are quick to report any rumors of what they think is another incident.

 

 

Israel’s Military on Frontlines of COVID-19 Pandemic

July 28, 2020

 

 

Fighting breaks out along Lebanese border as Hezbollah said to attack IDF tank

July 27, 2020

https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-security-incident-developing-on-lebanon-border-residents-ordered-indoors/

Suspected Hezbollah attack occurs in contested Mount Dov area amid peak tensions, with the terror group seeking revenge over killing of its fighter in alleged Israeli strike

View of an Israeli military post near the Lebanese border, July 27, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

View of an Israeli military post near the Lebanese border, July 27, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Fierce fighting broke out along the Israeli-Lebanese border on Monday afternoon as the Hezbollah terror group reportedly launched an attack on Israeli troops on the frontier, apparently in retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.

The heavy exchange of fire occurred in the contested area of Mount Dov, a regular site of Hezbollah attacks against Israeli military targets, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Explosions and sounds of gunfire were heard throughout the region and smoke filled the air above Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, an area that Israel, Lebanon and Syria each claim as its own.

There is “ongoing combat in the Mount Dov area,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s English-language spokesperson, wrote in a tweet Monday.

The fighting was apparently sparked by a Hezbollah attack in the area. The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen reported that members of the terror group fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an IDF tank, while other Lebanese outlets said the Israeli military had foiled the attempted Hezbollah attack, killing the group’s fighters.

There were no official comments released by Hezbollah.

The IDF said additional details about the incident would be released shortly.

Lebanese media reported that the Israeli military fired a number of artillery shells at targets in southern Lebanon.

The violence along the border appeared to be the Hezbollah terror group’s retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike attributed to Israel outside Damascus last Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz were both informed about the incident and traveled to the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss the developments with the IDF top brass.

“We are in a difficult security situation,” Netanyahu said, as he left a Likud party meeting in order to meet with defense officials.

The Israeli military ordered residents of communities near Mount Dov and along the Israeli-Lebanese border to remain inside their homes in light of the violence.

The IDF said it closed all roads in the area and ordered all farmers, hikers and tourists to immediately leave all open areas and farm lands.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/ FLASH90)

“Please continue to be updated on directives that are being put out by media outlets and listen to all orders by security forces and the IDF which are operating in the area,” the military said.

Additional information was available by calling 104 from any Israeli phone.

Following Hezbollah’s claim last Tuesday that Israel had killed its fighter the day before, the IDF went into high alert on the northern border, deploying infantry reinforcements on the ground, as well as additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries.

The skies above northern Israel were filled on Sunday and Monday with the sound of fighter jets, drones and helicopters, apparently collecting intelligence and preparing to retaliate for any attack.

On Sunday, Gantz issued a clear threat to Hezbollah terror group while visiting the northern border, saying that the Jewish state was prepared to take harsh action against “anyone who tests us.”

Asked about reports that Israel conveyed messages to the Lebanese terror group that it had not meant to kill its fighter — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — Gantz appeared to drop Israel’s policy of ambiguity about its activities in Syria.

“We acted against the entrenchment of Iran in Syria. If someone involved in Iran’s activities in Syria — which we will continue to act against — this is liable to happen. We take that into account,” he said.

The defense minister indicated that he did not believe the current situation would lead to a larger conflict or an all-out war, but said the he “recommends to the other side not to drag us into that.”

“We don’t want any unnecessary escalations [of violence], but anyone who tests us will be met by a very high capability to take action, and I hope we won’t need to use it,” Gantz said.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz warned the governments of Syria and Lebanon that they would be held responsible for any attacks against Israel coming from their territory.

“Lebanon and Syria bear responsibility for any attack from their territory against Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “We will not allow anyone to upend our security or threaten our citizens; we won’t tolerate an attack on our forces… The IDF is prepared to respond to any threat.”

On Sunday night Hezbollah’s deputy chief brushed off Israel’s warnings, while keeping quiet on whether the terror group would retaliate against the Jewish state.

“If Israel decides to go to war with us, then we will confront them, and the 2006 [Second Lebanon] War will be the model for our response,” Naim Qasim told pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen TV. “We’re used to Israeli threats; they do not offer us a new political vision. This is mere chest-beating.”

On Friday, the IDF began clearing out unnecessary personnel from the frontier and barring military vehicles from traveling on roads that are vulnerable to anti-tank guided missile attack from Lebanon. No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time, who were then encouraged to go about their daily lives as normal despite the heightened tensions.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

As tensions soar in north, Netanyahu warns Syria and Lebanon against attacks

July 26, 2020

https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-tensions-soar-in-north-netanyahu-warns-syria-and-lebanon-against-attacks/

Amid tensions with Hezbollah, PM says neighboring countries will bear responsibility for assault; ministers instructed to make no comments on situation

Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that Syria and Lebanon would bear responsibility for any attack against Israel emanating from their territories, amid heightened tensions between the Jewish state and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group along the northern border.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel had a “consistent policy to not allow Iran to entrench militarily on our northern border.

“Lebanon and Syria bear responsibility for any attack from their territory against Israel,” he said. “We will not allow anyone to upend our security or threaten our citizens; we won’t tolerate an attack on our forces… The IDF is prepared to respond to any threat.”

Meanwhile cabinet ministers were instructed to make no comments on the situation in the north, in an apparent effort to avoid exacerbating tensions.

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which maintains a presence in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, have been high since a July 20 airstrike in southern Syria attributed to Israel, in which one of the organization’s fighters was killed.

  

 

The tensions continued to simmer over the weekend as the Israeli military stepped up its defenses along the country’s northern borders out of concern over a potential attack against military targets there.

According to a report on Saturday in Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese news network closely associated with Hezbollah, Israel has sent a message to Hezbollah warning against any retaliatory action in response to the strike. Israel has conveyed that it did not know the group member — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — was near the targets in southern Syria and did not intend to kill him.

The message was delivered via UN intermediaries and Hezbollah refused to adhere to the “warnings and threats from Israel,” according to the Al Mayadeen report.

Israel has refused to officially comment on the incident, keeping its policy of ambiguity regarding its operations against Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Israel has also warned Beirut it would bear responsibility for any possible Hezbollah strike.

Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of the Hezbollah terror group, whom the organization says was killed in an Israeli airstrike on July 20, 2020. (Hezbollah media)

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

The airstrike attributed to Israel on Monday night hit weapons depots and military positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militia fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said the aerial bombardments caused several explosions around the town of Kiswah, an area that has long been associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Reuters news agency reported that the assault hit targets in the towns of Jabal al Mane, Muqaylabiya and Zakiya, causing “huge blasts” and allegedly killing Iranian personnel.

On Friday night, Israeli attack helicopters struck several military targets in southern Syria belonging to the Syrian military, in response to munitions fired at Israel earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes injured two soldiers, hit three sites and caused fires.

The incident in the morning saw explosions heard along the border and shrapnel striking a home and a car on the Israeli side in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, causing light damage. The cause was reported to be either anti-aircraft fire toward an IDF observation balloon or an artillery shell fired from Syria toward Israel, possibly by accident.

Also Friday, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. Israeli television commentators speculated on the possible significance of the visit, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday night, roadblocks were installed along a number of highways to prevent military vehicles vulnerable to attack from anti-tank guided missiles fired from either Lebanon or Syria from driving on certain roads.

Entrances to some communities where the military maintains a presence that are exposed to attack were also blocked for IDF vehicles. As the military assessed that Hezbollah planned to attack only IDF targets, civilian vehicles were able to travel freely throughout the area.

The military also cleared some troops out of positions directly along the border, moving them deeper into Israel, so that they would not represent a clear target for Hezbollah, while still allowing them to defend the frontier.

The IDF has also stepped up its intelligence collection efforts along the border in recent days. Throughout the day on Friday, Lebanese media reported on large numbers of Israeli drones flying overhead.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.