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Arabic media: Israeli cyberattack struck Natanz nuclear facility

July 4, 2020

“Arab media” is not the most reliable of sources when it comes to Israel…

… but here’s hoping it is accurate 🙂

The Kuwaiti paper argues that Iran has now lost 80% of its stock of this gas.

 view of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)

View of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020.

Kuwait’s Al-Jarida newspaper, which covers security incidents and sometimes alleges Israeli involvement, says that Israel carried out a cyber attack on the Natanz nuclear facility on Thursday. The incident has been downplayed by Iran but experts say that a sensitive warehouse that deals with centrifuges was damaged.

According to the report a source informed Al-Jarida that a cyber attack hit the facility. The report linked this to an earlier cyber attack on Israeli water infrastructure that Iran allegedly carried out and then another cyber attack on an Iranian port in May. It also links the Natanz cyber attack to the earlier Stuxnet computer worm attack in 2010.

These are coordinated sabotage operations, according to the newspaper. The Natanz incident explosion and another explosion near Parchin targeted UF6 gas storage that was used for uranium enrichment. This is uranium hexafluoride gas.

In November, 2019 Iran unveiled the production and injection of the gas into IR-6 centrifuges. These are the advanced centrifuges Iran has increased at Natanz. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)’s Ali Akbar Salehi has spoken openly about the gas and the new centrifuges. Iran added around 30 of these IR-6 centrifuges to Natanz in November 2019, making at least 60 in total at the site.

The Kuwaiti paper argues that Iran has now lost 80% of its stock of this gas. “This is likely to be an electronic attack on the computer network that controls the storage compression tanks. Iran will need about two months to compensate for the gas that was lost.”

The Natanz explosion led to a “crack in the reactor building. Specialized groups went to the reactor to discover whether there was leakage in radioactive materials.” Iran says there was no leak at the site.



Iran nuclear site fire hit centrifuge facility, analysts say

July 3, 2020


Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

A fire and an explosion struck a centrifuge production plant above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility early Thursday, analysts said, one of the most-tightly guarded sites in all of the Islamic Republic after earlier acts of sabotage there.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, a facility earlier targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus and built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes.

The fire threatened to rekindle wider tensions across the Middle East, similar to the escalation in January after a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran launched a retaliatory ballistic missile attack targeting American forces in Iraq.

While offering no cause for Thursday’s blaze, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the U.S. following other recent explosions in the country.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” the commentary said. But ”the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the U.S., means that strategy … should be revised.”

The fire began around 2 a.m. local time in the northwest corner of the Natanz compound in Iran’s central Isfahan province, according to data collected by a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite that tracks fires from space.

Images later released by Iranian state media show a two-story brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed. Debris on the ground and a door that looked blown off its hinges suggested an explosion accompanied the blaze.

“There are physical and financial damages and we are investigating to assess,” Kamalvandi told Iranian state television. “Furthermore, there has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site. Thank God, the site is continuing its work as before.”

In Washington, the State Department said that U.S. officials were “monitoring reports of a fire at an Iranian nuclear facility.”

“This incident serves as another reminder of how the Iranian regime continues to prioritize its misguided nuclear program to the detriment of the Iranian people’s needs,” it said.

The site of the fire corresponds to a newly opened centrifuge production facility, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

Hinz said he relied on satellite images and a state TV program on the facility to locate the building, which sits in Natanz’s northwest corner.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security similarly said the fire struck the production facility. His institute previously wrote a report on the new plant, identifying it from satellite pictures while it was under construction and later built.

Iranian nuclear officials did not respond to a request for comment about the analysts’ comments. However, any damage to the facility would be a major setback, said Hinz, who called the fire “very, very suspicious.”

“It would delay the advancement of the centrifuge technology quite a bit at Natanz,” Hinz said. “Once you have done your research and development, you can’t undo that research and development. Targeting them would be very useful” for Iran’s adversaries.

Natanz, also known as the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, is among the sites now monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. That deal saw Iran agree to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The IAEA said in a statement it was aware of reports of the fire. “We currently anticipate no impact on the IAEA’s safeguards verification activities,” the Vienna-based agency said.

Natanz became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building an underground facility at the site, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. In 2003, the IAEA visited Natanz, which Iran said would house centrifuges for its nuclear program, buried under some 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete.

Natanz today hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% purity — above the terms of the nuclear deal but far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Workers there also have conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the IAEA.

The U.S. under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018, setting up months of tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran now is breaking all the production limits set by the deal, but still allows IAEA inspectors and cameras to watch its nuclear sites.

Natanz remains of particular concern to Tehran as it has been targeted for sabotage before. The Stuxnet malware, widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, disrupted and destroyed centrifuges at Natanz amid the height of Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Satellite photos show an explosion last Friday that rattled Iran’s capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. Iran has blamed the blast on a gas leak in what it describes a “public area.”

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies and former Iran analyst for the prime minister’s office, said he didn’t know if there was an active sabotage campaign targeting Tehran. However, he said the series of explosions in Iran feel like “more than a coincidence.”

“Theoretically speaking, Israel, the U.S. and others have an interest to stop this Iran nuclear clock or at least show Iran there’s a price in going that way,” he said. “If Iran won’t stop, we might see more accidents in Iran.”

Late Thursday, the BBC’s Persian service said it received an email prior to the announcement of the Natanz fire from a group identifying itself as the Cheetahs of the Homeland, claiming responsibility for an attack on the centrifuge production facility at Natanz. This group, which claimed to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, had never been heard of before by Iran experts and the claim could not be immediately authenticated by the AP.

Israeli Military Launches Radical New Google Maps Alternative

July 2, 2020

The only surprising thing in this article – (especially) given the source – is the lack of snide Israel bashing. 

Objective and fair journalism in relation to something about Israel (the Israeli military, no less). Golly gosh, fancy that.

Unit 9900

“Imagine a tourist arriving in a foreign city,” the Israeli intel officer tells me, “the first thing they do is open Google Maps and look for a restaurant. Google helps them find a place. Helps them navigate. Helps them get there on time. We do the same.” Well, not exactly. The augmented reality mapping application Lieutenant-Colonel “N” is describing is designed to find hidden terrorists, not restaurants. “Mistakes can be fatal,” he tells me, “we need to get the right house on the right street.”

Welcome to the battlefield of the future—artificial intelligence, multi-source data fusion, augmented reality. Everything edge-based and real-time. Except this isn’t really a battlefield, as such. “What happened to us,” the officer tells me, “is that our enemies have adopted a technique to merge into urban areas populated with civilians, we need to unveil the enemy, precisely, and stop the threat.”

So, now you start to get the picture. Think Google Street View—except it’s not Google. And an augmented reality overlay that comes from the fusion of multiple sources of highly classified intelligence not big tech’s cloud servers And if that isn’t enough, there’s also AI running pattern analytics on prior enemy tactics, techniques and procedures to infer what a hidden enemy is likely to do next, in real time.

This is military augmented reality and it’s not unique—such systems are under development, gaming-style headsets overlaying friendlies and likely combatants, helping targeting and the avoidance of blue on blue. Israel’s new system is different, though. The augmented reality comes from the fusion of multiple intel sources, the intent is not to present ground troops with an advanced gaming-style view of the battlefield, but to use live data to infer where actual targets are hiding.

Picture this Street View lookalike again—no screenshots, I’m afraid, it’s classified. Arrows and graphics explain to a soldier on the ground why the third-floor apartment with the wrought iron balcony is deemed a hostile environment, why anyone exiting the building can be considered a combatant. The intent is to root out threats, but also to keep others safe, to avoid collateral damage. “We need to make sure we only target the aggressor and not any civilians,” Lt-Col “N” tells me.

Israel’s idea for this “intelligence saturated combat” has been a decade in the making. The new program sits within Unit 9900, the visual intelligence operation (think maps, satellite imagery, image analysis) within Aman, the country’s military intelligence directorate, and sister unit to the better known 8200 signals intelligence unit. Unit 9900 generated headlines a few years ago when it was reported that it was recruiting autistic teenagers for their unique analytical skillset.

As Lt-Col “N” describes the work of his team, “the development of 3D mapping that is as realistic as possible,” he continually refers back to the modern-day explorer’s Google Maps view of the world, that feeling of familiarity. Yes, the location might be strange, but the viewpoint is well known, understandable in absolute real-time. “We have to build something with that user experience,” he says, “our soldiers crossing the border for the first time must be familiar with the environment.”

This “intelligence saturated” viewpoint can be presented to the solider on a smartphone or tablet, all off the shelf and “mostly Android,” or streamed directly into their binoculars or weapons sights. “They don’t know where the intel comes from,” Lt-Col “N” tells me, “but it reaches their sights, their C2 systems in real time.” The officer stresses that all targeting decisions are taken by the soldier on the ground, not by the system itself, this is an aid, not a automated targeting system.

The challenges the new unit has overcome, I’m told, include distilling down this intel, “terabytes every day,” into what is useful and relevant, that’s the role of the AI, the pattern analytics. The window is short—soldiers are given five to ten seconds to decide on any action they take. They are trained in the field with the technology, their feedback hones the program itself, “what to develop further and what to ditch.”

Essentially, putting the complexity to one side, this is a 3D, photo-realistic map, “the backbone onto which we build our intel—preliminary and real time—to understand the area and what the enemy is doing in real time.” By mining data from previous combat experiences, the AI “recognizes patterns of enemy behaviour—and can understand where the enemy is and what they’re planning.” This is overlaid with real-time intel, including open-source data on the terrain and the environment.

There has been a lot of talk about the fusion of the cyber and physical domain in the last year, not least from Israel, which became the first country to mount a physical military response to a cyber attack. A few weeks later, the U.S. did the opposite. This new concept of an “intelligence saturated” battlefield can take the cyber domain and feed it directly to troops on the ground. Those same soldiers are heaped in sensors, everything feeding back to the central intelligence system.

Lt-Col “N” often refers to the “disappearing enemy.” He means the urban shadows where combatants and civilians blend together, disasters waiting to happen. Yes, this new style of AR combat is intended to sharpen responses, but also to avoid mistakes. The officer explains that the AR display provides enough information to let the soldier understand why a location has been deemed hostile—the final targeting decision is theirs, and if they don’t understand they won’t act the right way.

I’m told that this new program within Unit 9900 has become a development hotbed, learning its approach from industry. Inside the “joint lab” you’ll find intel, combat troops, cyber and comms, Israel’s Darpa equivalent, defense contractors, even start-ups. When something new is envisaged, it’s prototyped and given to ground troops to field test. Their feedback hones to capability or consigns it to the bin.

The military world has changed, Lt-Col “N” tells me, “we needed to imagine new methods of fighting—as much as possible we use tools created outside the defense industry. We take civilian and open-source as much as possible, we access research from all over the world to help us deliver state of the art products.”

I’m told that Israel has accepted that “mil-spec” is not always best—why not plug into the billions of investment dollars piling into mapping and AR and AI, repurposing those capabilities for this. “We keep the user experience as straightforward as possible… Google Maps is a good model—how you see the world as a tourist, when you know what you see and understand where you’re going.”

This new program is now ripe for international collaboration. “Our discussions with various countries fighting terror around the world show they’re facing the same threat, enemies hiding in urban environments. This concept brings together quick intel, enhanced by AI and connected to accurate mapping. That’s its innovation.”

No details on any other countries using the tech, of course, no specifics on intel sources—all highly classified. “I can tell you this is a real-time bridge between intel and soldiers—intel wants to keep their secrets, combat operators want that intel in real time.” Testing of the new capabilities started this year.

You can add this IDF program to the multitude of new AI, IoT and AR systems being procured and developed by military customers world-wide. The concept of real-time dissemination of live intel from multiple sources, right to a soldier’s C2 or sights is novel. The challenge here is that the soldier must remain the decision maker. If there’s ever any implication that targeting has been automated, then the military world will have changed and there will be no going back.

Food for thought: Menachem Begin

July 2, 2020

Never a truer word has been spoken…

‘Incident’ near Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility damages building

July 2, 2020

Mossad It's Never an Accident - Israel Accident, Unisex T-Shirt ...

An “incident” damaged an under-construction building Thursday, July 2, 2020 near Iran's underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, though it did not affect its centrifuge operations or cause any release of radiation.

TEHRAN, Iran — An “incident” damaged an under-construction building Thursday near Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, though it did not affect its centrifuge operations or cause any release of radiation, a spokesman said.

The affected building, described as an “industrial shed,” was above ground and not part of the enrichment facility itself, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying there was “no need for concern” over the incident.

However, there was no previously announced construction work at Natanz, a uranium enrichment center some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. Natanz includes underground facilities buried under some 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete, which offers protection from airstrikes.

Natanz is among the sites now monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the incident.

Natanz, in Iran’s central Isfahan province, hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. There, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% purity, above the terms of the nuclear deal, but far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The U.S. under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018, setting up months of tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran now is breaking all the production limits set by the deal, but still allows IAEA inspectors and cameras to watch its nuclear sites.

However, Natanz did become a point of controversy last year as Iranian officials refused to allow an IAEA inspector into the facility in October after allegedly testing positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates. Nitrates are a common fertilizer. However, when mixed with proper amounts of fuel, the material can become an explosive as powerful as TNT. Swab tests, common at airports and other secure facilities, can detect its presence on the skin or objects.


Israel vs Iran GDP per capita

June 10, 2020

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

It really does suck to be you, Iran.

Israel GDP per capita about $US35,000.

Iran? About $US7,000. Ha ha

See this  post here:


There are various ways you can calculate this, relating to how you convert currency values, but the above chart is based on the methodology at link below (using constant 2010 US$).

It has a listing of latest values for all countries. Interestingly Australia is $US56,900 (thank you mining sector), just ahead of the US at $US54,800. West Bank and Gaza (combined) is $US 2,700 and the value for the world (ie global average) is $US10,900.

At the bottom of the list are country groupings and these are quite interesting. For example, the Arab world is a lowly $US6,500. Ha ha. All that oil and bugger all to show for it…


Food for thought: Charles Krauthammer

June 10, 2020

I came across this the other day.

I read it several times, deeply thinking about all it says and what it means.

Simply amazing.




Iran Accused of Spreading Coronavirus Throughout the Middle East

May 11, 2020

  • At the same time that the airline [Iran’s Mahan Air] was flying to China, it also continued operations to other countries in the Middle East, with the result that it has now been accused of spreading the virus to a number of countries including Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Lebanon. Mahan Air has so far declined to comment on the allegations
  • Sources within the airline are said to have told the BBC that dozens of Mahan Air’s cabin crew were showing symptoms of Covid-19 after the flights to China, but that when staff tried to raise concerns about the airline’s management of the crisis and provision of safety equipment, they were silenced.
  • Claims that Iran has been responsible for spreading the virus throughout the Middle East could also have a negative impact on Tehran’s hopes of persuading the International Monetary Fund to provide a $5 billion bailout package. The IMF says the request is still under consideration, but it is unlikely the organisation will be prepared to provide funding to a regime whose irresponsible behaviour threatens the well-being of other countries.

Mounting evidence that Iran has been instrumental in spreading the Covid-19 virus throughout the Middle East adds a whole new dimension to the regime’s already well-established reputation for being a malign influence in the region.

Iran has already acquired the unwelcome distinction of becoming the country in the Middle East that has been worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, registering more than 6,000 deaths according to official figures. There have, however, been repeated accusations that the Iranian authorities have sought to cover up the true extent of the outbreak, and that the death toll may be twice that number.

Now it has emerged that Iran may have contributed to the spread of coronavirus around the Middle East, after allegations that Iranian passenger jets continued to make regular flights to a number of Chinese cities despite a ban being imposed by the Iranian government at the end of January.

According to research undertaken by the BBC’s Arabic news channel, which analysed flight tracking data, Mahan Air, an Iranian airline with close links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), flew between Iran and a number of Chinese destinations more than 100 times during February and March after Tehran had imposed a ban on such journeys.

One flight, a repatriation effort carried out for the government on February 6, brought 70 Iranian students living in Wuhan back to Tehran before flying the same day to Baghdad. At the same time that the airline was flying to China, it also continued operations to other countries in the Middle East, with the result that it has now been accused of spreading the virus to a number of countries including Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Lebanon. Mahan Air has so far declined to comment on the allegations.

Several Gulf states have accused of Iran of responsibility for spreading coronavirus in their countries, and the revelations about Mahan Air will only add to the view in the region that Iran is behind many of the infections.

Mahan Air is a private company with well-documented links to the IRGC, a fact which has resulted in the airline being subjected to sanctions by the Trump administration for helping to transport IRGC personnel and arms to Bashar Assad in Syria during the country’s brutal civil war. More recently, the airline repatriated the body of slain IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, after he was killed by a US missile outside Baghdad airport in the New Year.

The airline was first subjected to U.S. Treasury sanctions in October 2011 after it was accused of “providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF)” — the organisation headed by Mr Soleimani. It has also been accused of providing transportation services to Iran’s Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah.

Sources within the airline are said to have told the BBC that dozens of Mahan Air’s cabin crew were showing symptoms of Covid-19 after the flights to China, but that when staff tried to raise concerns about the airline’s management of the crisis and provision of safety equipment, they were silenced.

Accusations concerning Iran’s role in spreading the infection around the Middle East come at a time when the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is already under enormous pressure of his handling of the pandemic.

Tehran initially tried to downplay reports of the virus, with Mr Rouhani claiming that February 19 was the first time the government knew coronavirus was in the country. This claim has been undermined by reports that Iran experienced its first outbreak in January in the holy city of Qom – where thousands of Chinese students are studying.

Mr Rouhani is now facing fresh criticism following his recent decision to allow Iranian businesses to resume trading at a time when the country is still coming to terms with the outbreak. Critics of the regime have warned that the decision could result in Iran suffering a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.

Claims that Iran has been responsible for spreading the virus throughout the Middle East could also have a negative impact on Tehran’s hopes of persuading the International Monetary Fund to provide a $5 billion bailout package. The IMF says the request is still under consideration, but it is unlikely the organisation will be prepared to provide funding to a regime whose irresponsible behaviour threatens the well-being of other countries.

How does Israel keep getting past Syria’s air defenses?

May 11, 2020

AMMAN — On Friday, May 1, an alleged Syrian military source criticized the S-300 air defense systems supplied by Russia as incapable of stopping Israeli airstrikes and as “backwards,” reported Middle East Monitor, citing, a Russian media outlet.

It is worth noting that Middle East Monitor did not link to a specific report on the website, casting some doubt on the source’s comments.

Three days later, likely Israeli jets carried out two back-to-back airstrikes on a munitions factory in northern Aleppo province and on Iranian targets near al-Abukamal border crossing with Iraq in Deir e-Zor province, killing at least 14 Iranian-backed fighters.

The comments by the alleged Syrian military official reveal a deep frustration in Damascus at what seems to be a never-ending string of Israeli airstrikes and humiliating attacks by Turkish airpower in Idlib just two months earlier.

If the semi-public criticism is to be taken at face value, it appears the Syrian government has decided that Russia’s air-defense systems, rather than its Syrian operators, are to blame for the failure to stop these strikes.

Faulty equipment or a dysfunctional military?

In October 2018, Moscow gifted Damascus the S-300 air defense system in spite of vocal protests from numerous western countries. The S-300— first produced by the Soviet Union in the 1970s—became the most sophisticated piece of technology in Syria’s aging air defense arsenal.

The S-300 is a long-range missile defense system which acts as the outermost layer for a more complex air defense network. On paper at least, the S-300 compliments Syria’s already existing system of medium-to-short-range missile defense systems.

However, the S-300 has an inherent limitation, Sitki Egeli, an assistant professor at Izmir University of Economics and the former Director of International Affairs for Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, told Syria Direct.

“As a long-range system, the S-300 suffers from the problem of radar horizon, meaning targets cannot be detected if they’re lying low due to the curvature of the earth. Strike aircraft, such as F-16s fly relatively close to the surface of the earth, and by the time they’re detected, they have already launched their munitions, so it’s too late,” Egeli explained.

In the past, Israeli airstrikes are believed to have been conducted by low-flying F-16s and helicopters.

Typically, this blind spot is compensated by other components of an integrated air defense system, such as airborne early warning aircraft and passive ground-based sensors.

In the case of Syria, however, equipment is either too dilapidated to detect more advanced Israeli technology in time, or personnel is too thinly-stretched and poorly-trained to operate the necessary equipment. As a consequence, there has been an overreliance on the S-300 and Syrian air defense operators often use it for tasks for which it was not designed.

The results of such a policy have ranged from unsuccessful to catastrophic, such as in July 2019 when Syria shot an older S-200 missile at an attacking Israeli jet and instead hit Nicosia, Cyprus.

“It’s not a problem of the S-300 or S-400, it is a limitation of long-range air defense systems,” Egeli said. “They fit in a certain spot in a larger air defense architecture, on the outer fringes. They’re not built for aircraft coming low and launching standoff missiles.”

The fragmented structure and lack of professionalism of the Syrian air force further compounds equipment issues.

“There is no ‘layered air defense’ in Syria; there’s a big mess,” Tom Cooper, a warfare analyst and the editor of the Middle East at War book series, told Syria Direct.

“The Syrian Arab Air Defense is staffed by the last few professional officers one can find in Syria, and then a mass of ‘VIP-sons.’ These are sons of Assad’s favorites or chiefs of different intelligence agencies. Some of them can fight, the rest are useless,” Cooper explained.

Syria’s air defense batteries are split among seven divisions and regiments, with four divisions responsible for the long-range S-200 and S-300 systems and three regiments responsible for the medium-to-short-range systems, according to the Military Balance 2020 report.

The distributed command structure of the air defense network could create problems in coordination, something which the Israeli air force would be eager to exploit to minimize risk to its aircraft.

“There is little doubt that [Israel] is using cyber attacks and electronic countermeasures in parallel with its airstrikes,” Egeli said.

“It’s always possible to jam and deceive [air defense] systems via decoys and fake targets. The Syrian air defender might think you are 50 kilometers from where you are or fire their missiles at targets that never actually existed,” he added.

All of these tactics could prevent Syria’s early detection systems from spotting incoming foreign aircraft or missiles, leaving little time for even short-range missile defense systems to respond.

As a result, the videos released by Syrian state media showing Syrian air defenses firing to meet Israeli missiles mid-air could actually just be fired at fabricated radar signals or decoys.

Is Beijing trying to cash in? 

In addition to specifically naming the S-300 as “ineffective,” the Syrian military source noted that Chinese radars had “worked successfully” in detecting Israeli missiles.

This is an unusual statement to make, as it would mean that Syria is either using Chinese radars simultaneously, but separately from the S-300, or that it had integrated the radars into the S-300 system.

Both possibilities seem less than optimal. Chinese radars could provide the first warning for incoming targets, but the S-300 would still need to rely on its own radar for targeting and engagement purposes. In addition, further integration of Chinese radars into the Russian system would have to be done custom by the respective Chinese and Russian manufacturers, which would not be an easy feat, according to Egeli.

What was the purpose of the Syrian military source’s alleged comments then? Among other possibilities, it could be Chinese opportunism attempting to promote its own missile defense system at the expense of Russia.

The Chinese media outlet, Sina, republished the Syrian military source’s comments, part of a longer pattern of Chinese media openly criticizing Russian air defense technology.

In late February, for example, Sina published a report which urged Syria to replace the “failed” S-300 system with a Chinese air defense system, the HQ-9. The HQ-9 is a Chinese-produced medium-to-long-range missile defense system that performs a similar function to the Russian S-300 systems.

China has struggled to find buyers for the air defense system. A deal to sell the system to Turkey was scuttled in 2015, with Ankara instead opting to buy Russia’s S-400.

Syria has been used as both a testing ground and a showroom for Russian military technology and has been largely credited with spurring a boom in Russian defense exports to the developing world. China could be looking to use Syria to showcase its arms to a global market in much the same way.

The Syrian military source’s comments then, whether intentional or not, aid Beijing’s attempt to nudge its way into Syria’s military imports and further promote the reputation of its military technology.

The comments also come after a highly-publicized series of articles in Russian newspapers which criticized the Assad government for endemic corruption and incompetence.  The quote from the Syrian military source could be an attempt to publicly undermine Moscow’s military’s reputation as a form of under-the-table retaliation.

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.