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Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals

September 23, 2020

Ha ha ha, this just gets better and better.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/22/palestine-quits-arab-league-role-in-protest-over-israel-deals

'There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,' Maliki said [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.

Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.

Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.

“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.

In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.

The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.

Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.

In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.

How Israel Keeps Saving the World

September 18, 2020

Lengthy but very interesting summary of Israel’s successes at stopping bad dudes going nuke: Iraq/Osirak 1981, Syria/al-Kibar 2007, and Iran in the present day.

In Iran, this summer was a season of combustions. As fires and explosions followed hard upon one another, the New York Times reported that “for many Iranians, anticipating what will blow up next has become a kind of parlor game.”

Some of these conflagrations must have been natural occurrences: A string of forest fires owed much to a period of intense heat. Some fires or blasts at industrial facilities were likely the consequence of derelict maintenance due to foreign sanctions or managerial incompetence. Others, however, were attributed to arson or the detonation of bombs. The culprits may conceivably have been local: militant Kurds, Arabs, or Baluchis, fighting for independence. Or they may have been agents of the U.S. or Saudi Arabia or other Arab Gulf states.

But most speculation understandably focused on Iran’s chosen main enemy, Israel. In May Israeli officials had made little effort to conceal their responsibility for a computer disaster at Bandar-Abbas, Iran’s main southern port, which caused long delays of ships and trucks and severe disruption of operations. This was generally recognized as retaliation for the foiled Iranian cyberattack on Israeli water systems a few weeks before.

In general, however, Israel claims credit for few of its attacks on foreign enemies. While things were going bang in Iran, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared, “Not every event that happens in Iran is connected to us.” But of course, buried in this deflection of responsibility was an implicit acknowledgment that some such events are indeed of Israel’s making. And Gantz’s predecessor, Avigdor Lieberman, took to the floor of the Knesset shortly after to denounce an unnamed intelligence official, understood to be Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, for leaking to the New York Times confirmation that Israel was behind the most consequential of this summer’s explosions, which destroyed a strategic factory at Natanz.

Natanz is the center of Iran’s nuclear program, where thousands of centrifuges enrich uranium. They have been placed in deep underground facilities to make them difficult to attack. But most of these centrifuges are behind the times, limited in speed and the degree of enrichment they can achieve and therefore in their effectiveness for making nuclear bombs. Presumably to remedy this deficit, Iran had set about manufacturing more modern centrifuges capable of producing more bomb-quality enriched uranium faster. This factory sits above ground. Or at least it did—until it was blown up this July.

This was not the only facility of military significance to go up in flames this summer. A missile-production site at Khojir in eastern Tehran Province was also destroyed by an explosion. A power plant in Isfahan, delivering electricity to Natanz, caught fire. And complete power blackouts in other locales were said to affect military capabilities.

The implication, it seemed, was that Israel had opened a new chapter in its efforts to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Some observers speculated about Iran’s possible retaliation—including against the U.S.—while others expressed alarm. Indeed, ever since an Iranian opposition group laid bare Iran’s secret nuclear program in 2002, much of the world has seemed as anxious about what Israel might do to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout as about Iran’s quest for the bomb. Israel’s latest apparent tactic was “audacious and risky,” wrote a Washington Post columnist. It amounted to “a dangerous gamble,” warned the head of the Rand Corporation’s Middle East program.

Perhaps so: Audacious and risky tactics, dangerous gambles, have been hallmarks of Israel’s self-defense, which has enabled it to survive in the face of endless threats that few other nations have had to face. It has emerged as the strongest and most stable country in the Middle East, a reality that is recognized universally by unbiased observers. What is less often acknowledged is that actions taken in Israel’s self-defense have also redounded to the benefit of America and, indeed, of the world.

Israel has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and is widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal, an inference it has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny and for which it has often been criticized.  Nonetheless, it has been responsible for some of the world’s most important measures of what is called “counterproliferation.”

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THE FIRST was the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. As early as 1974, Saddam Hussein, who was not yet president of Iraq but was already the power behind the throne, was named, or named himself, to head a three-member Strategic Development Committee charged with generating weapons of mass destruction.

That year, France agreed to sell Iraq a light-water “research reactor” together with uranium fuel, after turning down a request for a graphite reactor deemed more conducive to weapons manufacture. Italy provided equipment for recovering plutonium from the reactor’s fuel. According to Iraqi scientist Khidhir Hamza, who worked on the program, and David Albright, a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector of Iraq’s nuclear programs, “Iraqi teams calculated that the Osirak reactor could conservatively produce about 5 kilograms to 7 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year,” and possibly more, enough for a bomb.

This known potentiality led to its being attacked—by Iran. That was in 1980 at the outset of the war between Iraq and Iran. The Iranians damaged some of the facilities at Osirak but not the reactor. In protest, an Iraqi government newspaper addressed the Iranians rhetorically:

We ask Khomeini and his gang, “Who would derive benefit from damaging the Iraqi nuclear reactor, Iran or the Zionist entity?” It does not stand to reason that this reactor would constitute a danger to Iran, because Iraq sees the Iranian people with a brotherly regard. It is the Zionist entity which is afraid of the Iraqi nuclear reactor … because it constitutes a great danger to Israel.

And so it seemed, too, to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The following year, as Iraq was preparing to feed fuel into the reactor, making it “hot,” meaning that its destruction would have released radioactivity into the air that might have killed thousands, Begin ordered it destroyed.

The airstrike constituted a remarkable feat of aeronautics. The round trip from Israel to the reactor site was longer than the normal fuel range of Israel’s F-16 bombers. It entailed overflying Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq, forcing the planes to extremely low altitude to evade radar, and meaning the pilots had no safe place for an emergency landing or to parachute into. Yet all eight planes returned safely, seven having succeeded in hitting the target, destroying it completely. A French technician working there was quoted in the press, saying, “If  [the Iraqis] want to resume work, they will have to flatten everything and start from scratch.”

The world responded with indignation. The New York Times delivered this pronouncement in a lead editorial: “Israel’s sneak attack… was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression… . Prime Minister Begin embraces the…code of terror.” Few eyebrows were raised when Moscow branded the attack “barbarous,” but even Israel’s friends were condemnatory. Margaret Thatcher called the strike “a grave breach of international law.” Secretary of State Alexander Haig deemed it “reckless.” UN Representative Jeane Kirkpatrick said it was “shocking.” With U.S. assent, the UN Security Council voted to “strongly condemn” Israel and called upon it “urgently” to place its own nuclear program under IAEA safeguards. As a sanction, the Reagan administration delayed delivery of more F-16s to Israel.

In reality, the attack was highly beneficial, and the first to benefit, ironically, was Iran, which Saddam had invaded in 1980, taking advantage of the chaos created by the overthrow of the shah. In the latter half of 1981, Iranian forces reversed the tide, and by late 1982, the war shifted to Iraqi soil. Losing, Iraq reverted to chemical weapons. Starting in 1983, it used mustard gas, sarin, and another nerve agent, Tabun, inflicting thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries.

Had Israel not destroyed the reactor, Iraq might have had a nuclear weapon by this time, or a few of them. The likelihood would have increased after a couple more years, say, by 1985 when the two sides began to fire indiscriminately on each other’s population centers in what was dubbed “the war of cities.” If he had had them, what would have restrained Saddam from using them? Mercy? Prudence? He was a ruler notorious for exhibiting none of the first and too little of the second.

Had technical factors delayed Iraq’s acquisition of the bomb until it was too late to use against Iran, then almost surely it would have had one—or rather, several—by 1990 when Iraq invaded and swallowed Kuwait. Would the U.S. and the coalition it assembled to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty have been able to operate in the shadow of Iraqi nuclear weapons? Not that Saddam could have easily attacked the United States with them, but they might have been deployed against massed U.S. and allied forces.

With international intervention held at bay, Saudi Arabia, too, would have come under threat. Saudi oil fields lie to the eastern edge of that country, just beyond Kuwait, within easy reach of Saddam’s forces once Kuwait had been incorporated as the 19th province of Iraq. Whether or not the impulsive Iraqi ruler would have helped himself to any territory beyond Kuwait, the Saudi and other monarchies of the Gulf would have felt compelled to accept a subservient relationship with a nuclear-armed Iraq, propitiating it with cash and political support. Saddam would have been well on his way to the role he coveted: kingpin of the Arab world. The geopolitical and humanitarian consequences would have been grim.

When U.S.-led forces completed the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, in effect withdrew America’s criticism of Israel’s actions a decade earlier. He sent an aerial photo of the destroyed Osirak reactor to the man who had commanded the Israeli mission, inscribed: “For Gen. David Ivry, with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981—which made our job much easier in Desert Storm.” Nor was this a partisan judgment. Bill Clinton, who had to struggle the length of his presidency with trying to root out what was left after Desert Storm of Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program, said later: “What the Israelis did at Osirak, in 1981, … I think, in retrospect, was a really good thing.”

This is disputed by some scholars who claim that the Osirak attack was unnecessary, arguing variously that international inspections by the IAEA and France would have impeded Iraq’s bomb development, that other technological challenges would still have taken Iraq time to overcome, and that Iraq responded to Osirak’s destruction by redirecting its pursuit of nuclear weapons along a different, clandestine path. But none of these claims is convincing. First, Hamza and Albright write, “the Iraqis believed that the safeguards on the reactor, which would have included periodic inspections and surveillance cameras, could have been defeated” by various subterfuges. Second, while no doubt it would have taken Iraq time to produce a weapon, amassing the requisite nuclear material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium—is the critical step. With that in hand, it might have taken a year or two or five to form it into a bomb, but eventually that would have been achieved.

As for the third point of the skeptics, it is true that Saddam continued his nuclear program by other means. When coalition forces defeated Iraq in 1991, they were surprised to discover how far along toward a bomb Iraq had come since Osirak. Estimates varied but seemed to center on the guess that Iraq would have had a bomb in three years, that is, by 1994. That is surely many years later than it would have happened had Osirak been left unmolested in 1981. Of course, Israel’s action only forestalled Iraq’s nuclear-weapon status and did not prevent it for all time. But that postponement was crucial. Iraq never got the bomb; and with Saddam Hussein gone, there is no reason to suppose it will ever try again.

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THE SECOND Israeli act of counterproliferation that made the world safer was its September 2007 bombing of a secret nuclear reactor recently built at al-Kibar, a remote corner of northeastern Syria. In 2006, Israeli intelligence analysts were viewing with growing suspicion satellite photos showing a large square building just west of the Euphrates with little else nearby. They dubbed the mysterious structure “the cube,” and some suspected nuclear activity, however surprising this seemed.

When one of Syria’s top nuclear experts attended a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna, Mossad took the opportunity to sneak into his hotel room and introduce a “trojan” into his laptop that rendered its contents visible to Israel. On it, they found a series of photographs of the interior of the building, showing that it harbored a reactor. To boot, a few of them showed Syrian functionaries together with some from North Korea, including a known official of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “The cube” turned out to be a replica of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon—a type of reactor that had been made nowhere else in the previous 35 years.

Top Israeli officials traveled to Washington to show these photos to Vice President Dick Cheney and other U.S. officials. By phone, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked President George W. Bush whether the U.S. would destroy the reactor. With the U.S. mired in Iraq and the administration profoundly embarrassed by the erroneous information it had touted about Iraq’s nuclear program, all senior officials except Cheney counseled against military action in Syria, and Bush followed their advice.

Disappointed, Olmert determined that Israel would do the job itself. Available intelligence indicated that the reactor could soon go hot, so time was of the essence. But first, Israel took an extraordinary step to further verify the nature of the facility. A team of agents from the special unit that operates in Arab territory was fitted out with Syrian military uniforms and Syrian weapons and even Syrian-type jeeps. It was delivered by helicopter to the vicinity of “the cube,” where it recovered soil and plant samples. (“Audacious and risky” indeed.) These samples reconfirmed that it housed a reactor.

The bombing of al-Kibar was easier than that of Osirak simply because it was much nearer to Israel. Still, it entailed remarkable military execution. Israel did not want a war with Syria and designed its operation for complete secrecy—not merely beforehand, which of course was necessary, but even after the mission was accomplished. No doubt, the Syrian regime would understand at once what had happened, but how would it react? Israeli leaders calculated that Syrian President Bashar Assad might feel compelled to strike at Israel to save face, even knowing he would lose a war. If, however, no one other than high officials of the two countries and the personnel directly involved discovered what had happened, then no one would lose face. Both sides might be able to go on as if nothing had happened.

Israel used a small number of planes. Flying low and maintaining radio silence, the pilots were instructed even to avoid dogfights should they encounter enemy aircraft. Mission accomplished, the bombers were back at their base within four hours. Olmert called Bush on a secure line and said cryptically: “Do you remember that thing in the north that was bothering me? It isn’t there anymore.” Bush is reported to have replied, “Very good.” Of course, scores of Israeli military and intelligence officers knew what had happened, but strict military censorship was imposed, and the story did not get out for many years, by which time Assad had a rebellion on his hands, and this episode seemed too far past to justify, much less require, retaliation.

Preserving its regional nuclear monopoly manifestly serves Israel’s security. But it serves the general interest as well. Israel is neither a proliferator nor an aggressor. Not every forceful action it has taken over the years has been wise, but all have been rooted in self-defense. Its nuclear deterrent encourages its neighbors to accept that it cannot be driven into the sea, and this conduces to peace. Were a neighbor such as Syria to deploy nuclear weapons, Israel’s deterrent would be eroded, making future large Israei–Arab war more likely. With nuclear weapons on both sides, the region would live nearer the edge of catastrophe.

Apart from the impact on Israel’s security and Israeli–Arab stability, a range of dire consequences would have flowed from Syria’s achievement of a nuclear weapon. To start, Assad would have had to share them with Iran and Hezbollah, whose soldiers have kept him in power. Of course, this would put Israel in danger, but others, too.

The region’s Sunnis would not feel safe, and the rush would be on for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt to acquire their own bombs—and who knows who else? North Korea, an economic basket case apart from weapon sales, would be only too happy to help build other Yongbyon-type reactors—and no doubt to sell missiles to go with them. The region is a tinderbox, with Syria, Yemen, and Libya aflame in civil war and with other conflicts simmering in Iraq, the Sinai, and Western Sahara. Adding nuclear bombs to the mix might well lead to disaster.

In addition, there is the question of what would have happened to Syria itself. Would Assad’s regime, which repeatedly used chemical weapons against dissident regions of his own country, have refrained from using, say, very small “battlefield” nuclear weapons? Would it have exercised such self-restraint even at the moments in the civil war when the regime seemed on the brink of collapsing? For seven or eight years now, a war of all against all has raged among Assad, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, ISIS, the relatively liberal Free Syrian Army, the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), a range of local militias, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Even if Assad did not turn his nuclear guns on his own people, the presence of such weapons, of facilities for manufacturing them, and of fissile material would have fiercely intensified the mayhem.

One possible outcome is that one or another terrorist group might have fallen into possession of a nuclear weapon or of the nuclear material from which a crude weapon could be constructed or, even more easily, a so-called dirty bomb. (A “dirty bomb” is not a nuclear weapon but rather a conventional weapon attached to radioactive material that is spread about by its detonation.) Indeed, at its height, ISIS’s caliphate controlled most of both banks of the Euphrates in Syria and most of Deir Ez Zor Province, probably including the site of “the cube.” Of course, the various states involved presumably would have fought harder to block ISIS from winning that strategic prize were it still standing, but then again ISIS and other terror groups would have gone all out for it, too.

The possibility of a terrorist group acquiring a nuclear weapon or material is not far-fetched. It alarmed President Barack Obama, who inaugurated a series of biannual global Nuclear Security Summits devoted to raising awareness of this peril. Few things, if any, would have made that nightmare more likely to come true than the production of such weapons in Syria.

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IF THE door has been slammed on the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iraq or Syria, the same cannot be said for Iran—which brings us back to this summer’s combustions. It is easy to understand why an Israeli hand is suspected. Israel has good reason to fear an Iranian nuclear bomb.

In 2005, when Iran’s volatile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the goal of wiping Israel off the map, various apologists insisted he had been mistranslated. But the thought has been expressed by other Iranian leaders, most recently Brigadier General Hossein Salami, now the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that country’s most powerful institution. “Our strategy is to erase Israel from the global political map,” he said last year, adding this poetic touch: “The Israelis will not have even a cemetery in Palestine to bury their corpses.”

The antipathy behind such threats is useful to Iran, bridging the gulfs between Persians and Arabs and between Shiites and Sunnis by posing as the champion of all those who remain unreconciled to Israel’s existence. But just as Hitler’s anti-Semitism was no mere contrivance to help win elections in the Weimar Republic, so neither is the hatred that inspires Iran to sponsor global contests for the best cartoon that makes fun of the Holocaust. The Iranian-American scholar Karim Sadjadpour put it:

Distilled to its essence, Tehran’s steadfast support for Assad is not driven by the geopolitical or financial interests of the Iranian nation, nor the religious convictions of the Islamic Republic, but by a visceral and seemingly inextinguishable hatred of the state of Israel…. Though Israel has virtually no direct impact on the daily lives of Iranians, opposition to the Jewish state has been the most enduring pillar of Iranian revolutionary ideology. Whether Khamenei is giving a speech about agriculture or education, he invariably returns to the evils of Zionism.

Israel does not, however, stand alone as an object of Iranian rage. Israel, in Iran’s lexicon, is the “Little Satan” while the United States is the “Great Satan.” The latter may be too formidable to tackle frontally, but Iran does what it can to inflict injuries.

A U.S. district-court ruling in 2011 found that Tehran had “provided material aid and support to al-Qaeda for the 1998 [U.S.] embassy bombings” in Kenya and Tanzania in which more than 200 people were killed. According to the report of the 9/11 Commission, “senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives.” Others were trained in Lebanon by Iranian or Hezbollah experts. The commission also found “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” Regarding the 1996 truck-bombing of U.S. military housing, Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. service members and wounded 372 others, the commission concluded that the operation had been carried out “by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had received support from the government of Iran.” In 2012, under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department “designated” (i.e., placed on a list for sanctions) Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security for having “facilitated the movement of al Qa’ida operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports” and for having “provided money and weapons to al Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), a terrorist group” and having “negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”

The 9/11 Commission found no evidence that Iran was directly involved in the 9/11 attack; rather, it had a history of setting aside sectarian differences to give low-key aid to a group whose main purpose was to attack America. Likewise, in Afghanistan, although Iran opposes the Taliban’s return to power (the Taliban are Sunni, and Iran backs its own militia of Shiite Afghans, the Fatemiyoun), it has given the Taliban modest support to bleed America. An article early this year in Military Times reported that “U.S. military intelligence assessments dating back to 2010 suggest Iran’s elite paramilitary unity, the Quds Force, has a track record of providing training and lethal arms to the Taliban.” It added that one report “from the Theater Intelligence Group based out of Bagram Air Base said that Iran’s Quds Force was paying $1,000 for every U.S. soldier killed and $6,000 for American vehicles destroyed.”

In Iraq, Iran trained and supplied Shiite guerrilla groups that inflicted many casualties on U.S. forces. Still today, long after the American combat role ended, such groups continue to take a toll. Last December, Kata’ib Hezbollah launched some 30 rockets into an Iraqi base used by U.S. personnel, killing one American civilian and wounding four U.S. servicemen. When America responded by bombing the group’s military storage facilities, inflicting casualties, Kata’ib Hezbollah organized a violent invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats have also harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf, and last year Iran shot down a U.S. drone. “The only way for our enemies to be safe is to respect our sovereignty, national security, and the national interests of the great Iranian nation,” intoned Salami.

Despite the bluster, Iran has no wish to tackle the Great Satan head-on, and these actions amount to nipping at its heels. Iran’s imperial ambitions, however, pose a real threat to many countries and to the broader structure of peace that America built and upholds in its own long-term interest. Tehran is not very guarded about these goals. At a 2015 conference in Tehran, an official adviser to President Hassan Rowhani spoke of the “Iranian empire.” Later he explained, according to a report in Al Arabiya News, “that he was alluding to cultural similarities [of Iran] with Iraq, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, adding that ‘unification’ of these countries could halt expansionist agendas of powers foreign to the region.”

Iran’s ambitions are defined by three concentric circles, girding the region, the Islamic world, and the entire globe. This last, widest one may not be on any immediate action agenda, but it provides a framework in which the Iranian regime views itself in relation to the outside. Ahmadinejad once boasted: “Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen. . . . The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.” True, other Iranian presidents have been less provocative, but Ahmadinejad was the one most closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s thoughts are congruent not only with Khamenei’s but with those of Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Republic. Its constitution specifies that “faith and ideology” must be the “basic criteria” of the country’s military policies:

Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps … will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.

The middle circle is the entire Islamic world—roughly a billion and a half people and some 40-odd countries with Muslim majorities, about half of which lie beyond the Middle East. Here, too, Iran’s constitution has relevant directives. “All Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran… must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world,” it says. Moreover, much as the Soviet Union once appropriated to itself authority over all Communists everywhere, so Khomeini and then Khamenei have described the Islamic Republic of Iran as the Umm al-Qura, meaning the “mother of Islam.” More traditionally, that term was applied to Mecca, birthplace of the prophet. But one of the regime’s ideologues, Mohammad Javad Larijani explained, “A state in which the Islamic regime is in complete control has a select status, called Umm Al-Qura.” (In this view, Saudi Arabia would not qualify because it is Sunni and the monarchy is not a religious institution.)

In keeping with the idea that the Islamic Republic is the mother of the entire global Umma, Iran’s support for armed groups and its exertion of “soft power” extend beyond the Middle East to South and East Asia, Central Asia, East and West Africa as well as the Magreb.

The inner circle of Iran’s imperial mission is the Middle East, and it is here that its pursuit of that ambition is most intense and consequential. Lebanon is today dominated by Hezbollah, which was created by Iran and is unabashedly subservient to it. Next door in Syria, Hezbollah together with Iran’s own forces and a collection of Shiite fighters from as far as Pakistan, all recruited and organized by Iran, have rescued Bashar al-Assad’s regime from imminent collapse and restored its rule over most of the country. Meanwhile, Iraq is dominated by Shiite militias and parties with which Iran holds great sway, although there are countervailing forces supported by the U.S. And the largely Shiite Houthi movement, widely seen as another Iranian proxy, has gained control of much of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.

Thus, when Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards and the architect of Iran’s regional adventures, exulted that “today we see signs of the Islamic revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa,” it was no idle boast. In a like vein, when Sanaa fell to the Houthis, the Iranian politician and publisher, Ali Reza Zakani, regarded as a confidant of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s, enthused that it had just become the fourth Arab capital “in the hands of Iran and belonging to the Islamic Iranian revolution.”

Zakani also predicted, “The Yemeni revolution will not be confined to Yemen alone. It will extend, following its success, into Saudi territories.” This specter may have contributed to Riyadh’s decision to enter the war against the Houthis whose forces have also repeatedly fired into Saudi Arabia. Last year, when a flock of drones and missiles hit Aramco’s facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, temporarily knocking out half of the Kingdom’s oil production, the Houthis claimed responsibility. But this was revealed to be a lie that the Houthis may have been coached to tell by their Saudi patrons. The projectiles were determined to have come from the north, and Yemen lies to the south of the kingdom. U.S. intelligence concluded that Iranian forces had staged this attack from their own soil, and their proxies were helping them deflect blame.

In light of these acts and these ambitions, it is easy to see that Iran’s nuclear aspirations do not threaten only Israel, perhaps not even primarily Israel, which has a nuclear deterrent of its own. They would be brandished to further Iran’s drive to dominate the region, a shield behind which Iran could become still more aggressive and a Damoclean sword with which to intimidate its neighborhood. The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat wrote years ago, as paraphrased by Israeli regional expert Uzi Rabi, “The nuclear capability Iran is striving for is not aimed at attacking Israel but rather is intended to facilitate Iranian dominance.” Bahrain’s foreign minister called it “the greatest threat to the region.” Clearly the Iranian threat helps to explain the rapid rise in the willingness of the Arab Gulf states to have open contact with Israel.

Were Iran to launch additional damaging attacks against Saudi Arabia, or even more grievous ones, would a nonnuclear Riyadh dare to retaliate if Iran possessed nuclear weapons? Indeed, would mighty America be ready to rescue a Gulf state from aggression, the way it did Kuwait in 1991, if the aggressor was so armed? The answer to either of these questions might still be yes, but the calculus of the defender would become much more fraught than it is today, while the calculus of Iran would be more tempting.

Thus, Israel is far from alone in fearing the advent of an Iranian bomb. The rest of the region, except for Iran’s proxies, fears it, too. And many outside the Middle East also have a critical investment in the security of that region. Western Europe and Japan still depend on oil imports from the Gulf. Thanks to “fracking,” the United States no longer does, but the dependency of its principal allies gives it an enduring vital interest there as well.

Fortunately, despite decades of efforts, Iran has not yet achieved entry into the nuclear weapons-club. That eventuality was forecast to have happened long before now. In January 2006, soon after Iran was censured by the Board of Governors of the IAEA Commission, an article by New York Times diplomatic correspondent Steven Erlanger described various estimates of the time needed until Iran could make a bomb. David Albright, noted nuclear-weapons authority, said, “Iran could have its first nuclear weapon in 2009.” European officials estimated five years, while those of Israel said four to five, and “American officials have offered estimates of six to 10 years,” wrote Erlanger. He added, however, that another respected American arms-control expert, Gary Milhollin, was skeptical of the longer range and thought the Israeli and European timeline more likely.

It is now nearly 15 years since that was written, and Iran is still not a member of the club. Some of that is due to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but that was signed already years beyond most of these estimates. The delay, it would seem, was due largely to Israel’s efforts—all of which have been undertaken in the hazy world of covert action, so they cannot be known with certainty.

A joint project of Israel and the U.S. begun during the George W. Bush administration and continued by President Obama introduced a “worm” (later dubbed Stuxnet) into the computer systems of Iran’s nuclear program. It caused the centrifuges at Natanz to function incorrectly, leading to the destruction of an estimated 1,000 of them, one-sixth of Iran’s total. Other equipment used in the program—computers, transformers—was sabotaged, and the shipment of some needed parts or materials was impeded by other means. Without American collaboration, Israel identified the top scientific personnel in the nuclear project, and six out of 15, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, met violent deaths inside Iran. Bergman interviewed then–CIA director Michael Hayden, who told him, “This program… .is illegal, and we never would have recommended it or advocated such a thing. However, my broad intelligence judgment is that the deaths of those human beings had a great impact on their nuclear program.” In fact, Bergman reports that Hayden told him these killings were the single most effective measure in slowing Iran’s progress.

Stuxnet was part of a larger sabotage project called Olympic Games that began in the latter years of the century’s first decade. Did it continue in some form after 2010, when the computer worm was discovered? Nothing has been revealed about this. The deaths of the scientists occurred in 2011 and 2012. And then there were this summer’s mysterious combustions. It seems unlikely that Israel undertook no efforts to impede Iran’s nuclear progress between 2012 and 2020. But whatever may have been done remains undiscovered.

The spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said the country could make up for the 2020 destruction of the centrifuge plant at Natanz in 12 to 14 months. Some Western experts have estimated it will take two years. And after that? Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have asserted the wish to negotiate a new deal with Iran; at a minimum, the Natanz attack has bought them time. At this point, 18 years after an Iranian exile group revealed Tehran’s hidden nuclear enrichment, Iran still has no bomb, confounding expectations. Israel’s actions, so it seems, have had much to do with the delay from which many have benefitted.

_____________

ISRAELI GENIUS has made significant contributions to the world. For example, in the realm of environmental protection, Israelis invented drip irrigation and rooftop solar water heating. In medicine, the flexible stent, keeping coronary arteries open, and also the “pillcam,” which, once swallowed, transmits pictures of the GI tract. In computing, the firewall and flash disk drives. In automotive travel, Waze and Mobileye, built into vehicles to prevent crashes. This is to mention just a few highlights of the much larger phenomenon of Israeli ingenuity and creativity. Earlier this year, the Iranian parliament, or Majlis, passed a law banning the use of all Israeli hardware and software. To this, the appropriate Israeli rejoinder might be, “Make my day.” So ubiquitous are Israeli contributions to the world of cybernetics—via Israeli outposts of Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, etc.—that were Tehran to enforce this law, its nuclear program, and much else, would be stopped in its tracks.

Unlike Iran, much of the world recognizes Israel’s contributions to technology. Its contributions to global security are less well recognized but no less significant. The world has been blessedly free from really big wars since 1945. This is primarily the result of American efforts to build and uphold a structure of relative peace. In that effort, the U.S. has had many partners, but by and large, America has contributed not only the lion’s share of capabilities but also of will and courage. Having one ally that has brought to the table its own remarkable capabilities as well as a powerful sense of will—expressed in the courage to undertake “audacious and risky” acts in confronting threats—has been of considerable benefit. A world without nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad or, for the time being, those of the supreme leader, is a much safer world than it would have been otherwise. More people than know it owe Israel a debt of gratitude.

Netanyahu: Kosovo to be first Muslim-majority nation to open Jerusalem embassy

September 18, 2020

Times sure are a’ changin’

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-kosovo-to-be-first-muslim-majority-nation-to-open-jerusalem-embassy/#gs.ggcnlm

Prime Minister of Kosovo Avdullah Hoti sits at a desk as he attends a signing ceremony and meeting with US President Donald Trump and the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic in the Oval Office of the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Netanyahu said Friday that not only would Kosovo recognize Israel but it would open an embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority nation to do so.

Earlier Friday, Serbia announced that it would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The moves come as part of US-brokered discussions to normalize economic ties between Belgrade and Pristina.

After two days of meetings with Trump administration officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed to cooperate on a range of economic fronts to attract investment and create jobs. The White House announcement provided US President Donald Trump with a diplomatic win ahead of the November presidential election and furthers his administration’s push to improve Israel’s international standing.

Netanyahu hailed the moves and said Israel would establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that during a meeting between Trump and Hoti, the president called Netanyahu and congratulated the two leaders on the decision to establish full diplomatic relations.

According to the statement, Hoti also announced that he would open an embassy in Jerusalem.

“Kosovo will be the first Muslim-majority nation to open an embassy in Jerusalem. As I said in recent days the circle of peace is expanding and more nations are expected to join,” Netanyahu said.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci confirmed Prisitna’s intention, saying he welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement “about the genuine intention to recognize Kosovo and establish diplomatic relations.”

” Kosovo will keep its promise to place its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem,” he tweeted.

Trump said Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and move its embassy there in July.

Trump later tweeted “Another great day for peace with Middle East – Muslim-majority Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations. Well-done! More Islamic and Arab nations will follow soon!”

Kosovo, notably, is in Europe.

Serbia’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a nod to both Israel and the United States. The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018.

The administration has encouraged other countries to do the same but has been widely criticized by the Palestinians and many in Europe because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, has never before recognized Israel nor has Israel recognized Kosovo.

In all, a total of four countries now recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including the US and Guatemala. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as their would-be capital.

After the announcement, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his role in continuing to further Israel’s diplomatic standing.

“I thank my friend President Vucic of Serbia for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassy,” Netanyahu said. ” I also want to thank my friend Donald Trump for his contribution to this achievement.”

A statement from Netanyahu’s office hailed Serbia for being the first European nation to agree to move its embassy and said efforts continued to convince other European nations to also do so.

Netanyahu said that following discussions held in recent days among the Foreign Ministry, National Security Council and others, it was decided that Israel will establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

The gestures to Israel are part of the Trump administration’s push to improve the Jewish state’s international standing, which has included forceful denunciations of criticism of Israel at the United Nations and in other international venues. Most recently, the administration brokered a deal for Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations. That was followed by the first commercial flight between Israel and the UAE, with neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to allow such flights to pass through their airspace. Additional Arab states, including Sudan, Bahrain and Oman, have been identified as countries that may soon also normalize relations with Israel.

Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not. The ongoing deadlock and Serbia’s unwillingness to recognize Kosovo have kept tensions simmering and prevented full stabilization of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.

More German intel confirms Iran seeks tech for weapons of mass destruction

August 31, 2020

The Germans seem to have a weird system of sub-national security/intelligence organisations.

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/iran-news/more-german-intel-confirms-iran-seeks-tech-for-weapons-of-mass-destruction-640243

plane crash at the Boryspil… REUTERS 19/01/2020 12:16 IRAN-NUCLEAR/IAEA FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna REUTERS Link copied to clipboard. (internationalbox) FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna 19/01/2020 12 (photo credit: REUTERS/ LEONHARD FOEGER)

The domestic intelligence agency for the German state of Saarland added new weight to intelligence reports from its sister states, which previously confirmed the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought technology for weapons of mass destruction and missile carrier systems.

The Jerusalem Post reviewed the 112-page intelligence report, which was released last week, titled “Overview of the situation,” addressing security threats faced last year by the small west-German state Saarland.

“Iran, Pakistan and to a lesser extent Syria, made efforts to procure goods and know-how for the further development of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems,” wrote the intelligence officials for the Saarland.

“Delivery system” is typically defined as the capability to launch missiles. Israel, the United States and many Gulf nations believe Iran’s regime seeks to develop nuclear weapons.

The Post contacted the Saarland domestic intelligence agency regarding the nature of the illicit proliferation material that Iran sought in 2019. Katrin Thomas, the spokeswoman for the domestic intelligence agency, wrote the Post by email on Friday that “the Protection of the Constitution in Saarland does not pass on any information on the activities of groups or individuals.”

The Protection of the Constitution is the formal name of the Saarland domestic security service.

The report said that “The intelligence services of these countries are present with varying staffing levels at the respective official and semi-official representations in Germany and maintain so-called legal residencies there. This refers to the operational bases of a foreign intelligence service, disguised in an official [e.g. embassy, consulate general] or semi-official [e.g. press agency, airline] representation in the host country as a starting point for intelligence activities.”

According to the Saarland intelligence document, “The intelligence staff there, supposedly working as diplomats or journalists, conduct open or covert information gathering themselves or provide support in intelligence operations that are carried out directly by the headquarters of the intelligence services in their home countries. In addition, intelligence services also carry out operations without their legal residences being involved. The focus of their respective procurement activities is based on current political requirements or economic priorities.”

The intelligence officials noted that China and Iran replicate Russia’s brutal tactics in targeting dissidents and opponents within the federal republic. “The Iranian and Chinese intelligence services are also active in this field.”

The report says that for Iran to achieve its goal, “selected people from the opposition movement are approached with the aim of a commitment to intelligence cooperation. In the event of rejection, the persons concerned or their relatives living in their home country are often threatened with reprisals.”

Iran’s regime has used German territory for surveillance and assassination operations targeting Iranian dissidents, pro-Israel advocates and Israeli and Jewish institutions.

Germany’s 16 federal states have their own local domestic intelligence service. Each state releases an annual report documenting threats to the democratic order of the state.

The Saarland noted the apparent illicit nuclear weapons activities of Pakistan in Germany and elsewhere abroad. “Pakistan also operates an extensive nuclear and carrier technology program and continues to endeavor to expand and modernize, in order to retain a serious deterrent potential against the ‘Arch enemy’ India.”

Al Jazeera host promotes conspiracy that Israel, US tricked Arabs into fearing Iran

August 31, 2020

Arabs can be crazy.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/08/29/Al-Jazeera-host-promotes-conspiracy-that-Israel-US-tricked-Arabs-into-fearing-Iran

A prominent host of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network promoted a conspiracy theory that the US and Israel were involved in spreading the idea of exporting the 1979 Iranian Revolution to the Arab world to allegedly benefit Israel.

Al Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qassim said on Twitter that the US and Israel had exported the idea that similar revolutions could occur in Arab states, which had led Arab leaders to partner with Israel against Iran.

Al-Qassim’s comments come in the wake of a historic peace deal signed by the UAE and Israel earlier this month, bringing to end a decades-long boycott and opening the door to a full normalization of relations. On Saturday, the UAE abolished its official Israel boycott law, allowing commercial deals to occur with Israelis.

In return for signing the peace agreement, Israel has agreed to cease its plans to annex a vast majority of the West Bank.

While many, including the US and Bahrain, have come out in support of the agreement, Doha-based Al Jazeera has been accused of bias in its coverage of the deal, and chosen not to contextualize Qatar’s own track record of ties with Israel.

Despite the channel’s slogan being “The Opinion and The Other’s Opinion,” Al Jazeera has recently covered peace talks and efforts with Israel in a negative light, ignoring its own history of hosting Israeli officials both on air and in Qatar.

When it first launched in 1996, Al Jazeera became one of the first Arab channels to open and maintain a bureau in Jerusalem and an office in Tel Aviv, and appoint its own correspondent in Israel.

Al Jazeera’s own correspondent subsequently defended the channel’s role in normalizing the appearance of Israelis on Arab television, writing in an Israeli newspaper when Israeli authorities threatened to ban it.

In more recent times, Al Jazeera caused widespread controversy in February 2018 when its popular program The Opposite Direction hosted by al-Qassim himself hosted Israel Defense Forces spokesperson for Arabic Media Avichay Adraee.

‘Light Blade’ laser system intercepts nearly 100% of Hamas balloons in its sector

August 28, 2020

Following on from this blog post:

https://warsclerotic.com/2020/08/16/amid-surge-of-balloon-attacks-israeli-military-deploys-laser-defense-system-on-gaza-border/

Looks like the laser system is a success. Jewish ingenuity does it again.

I’m guessing that the MSM – given that the balloons are intercepted and fall while still in Gaza airspace – will blame the Jooos for causing any damage/loss of life to Gaza residents that results… 

https://www.israelhayom.com/2020/08/26/light-blade-laser-system-intercepts-nearly-100-of-hamas-balloons-in-its-sector/

'Light Blade' laser system intercepts nearly 100% of Hamas balloons in its sector

It took only 10 days for the two members of Israel’s Border Police who are the only personnel manning the new “Lahav Or” (Light Blade) laser system deployed on the border of the Gaza Strip to shoot down a record number of explosives-laden balloons released toward Israel by Hamas operatives.

The blades of light have intercepted 150 arson balloons. The system’s sensors identity targets, follow their motion, and shoot a focused laser at them until the balloons explode without having reached Israeli airspace.

Israel’s only Light Blade system to date covers only a small part of the Gaza Strip, and while it’s interception rate stands at close to 100%, Palestinians in other parts of Gaza continue to send balloons carrying explosives, Molotov cocktails, and sometimes grenades over the border fence. The prevailing wind carries them into the western Negev.

IDF soldiers deployed near the border intercept some of the balloons, but most land, causing wildfires – sometimes, several dozen in a single day. The fires have burned tens of thousands of acres of open land, nature reserves, parks, and fields.

The Light Blade system, developed by the Israeli firm OptiDefense, the Israel Police, and the Defense Ministry, was first used this past February and scored dozens of interceptions.

Border Police Sgt. Maj. Meni Shalom, one of the Light Blade operators, said that “every interception is a relief.”

“I’m frustrated when a balloon changes its location because of the wind and leaves our sector. The ramifications are painful. Civilians could be hurt. Even though it looks like a computer game, it takes patience, concentration, and coordination to operate the system. In a second, you could see 15 balloons in front of you at once, and in seconds you need to decide which of them could be the first to cross the fence,” Shalom said.

Dr. Udi Ben-Ami, a laser expert and founder of OptiDefense, and Professor Amiel Ishaaya, Deputy Dean of the Engineering Faculty at Ben-Gurion University, came up with the idea for the laser interceptor.

“The idea arose from Zionism,” the researchers say.

“It pained us to see the fields burning and to hear about the farmers’ distress. We checked with friends in the defense establishment, and it turned out that there was no practical, quick solution available,” they say.

While plenty of defense and security officials expressed doubt about the project, commander of the Border Police, Deputy Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, saw its potential.

“The advantage of Light Blade, unlike other similar systems in the world, is its special laser that does not interfere with airspace and does not bother pilots,” Shabtai explained.

“The system was built over the course of eight months, and it has proved itself above and beyond. We are operating it in conjunction with the IDF, and I hope that the defense establishment will soon purchase additional systems,” Shabtai said.

Surgical precision – The story behind Israel’s targeted killings

August 25, 2020

Lengthy but fascinating article, well worth reading.

The article is also the first in a series.

The expertise of the IDF, and its degree of care for innocent lives, is truly astounding.

Not that most people will know that, given the focus of the MSM of only trying to depict Israel unfavourably.

https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/gaza-news/surgical-precision-the-story-behind-israels-targeted-killings-639184

‘EACH FLOOR had two apartments and each apartment had three rooms’: The home of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata after it was hit by the Israeli strike that killed him, in Gaza City on November 12, 2019 (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)

‘EACH FLOOR had two apartments and each apartment had three rooms’: The home of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata after it was hit by the Israeli strike that killed him, in Gaza City on November 12, 2019

‘One minute to launch,” Lt.-Col. Issachar whispered into his headset. On the screens in front of him he watched a thermal live feed from a drone up above the Gaza Strip. On another screen he watched as an Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet flew somewhere over the Mediterranean.

The room, in a base in the sandy Negev Desert, was packed with soldiers and agents from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Israel’s counter-terror spy organization. Each person had their workstation. One was listening to what was happening at the target, another was getting updates from agents on the ground; a third was tracking the airspace.

But Issachar was focused. This operation was not supposed to be much different than any of the dozens he had overseen as the operations commander in the IDF Southern Command, responsible for operations in the Gaza Strip. It was like the hundreds of missions he had carried out as an air force navigator. But this one was different. A few miles away, in a forest inside Israel just along the border with Gaza, his son was sleeping out in the open. He had left earlier that morning for a school camping trip.

Issachar knew that what he was about to do would put his son in direct risk. Dropping a bomb into the Gaza Strip in the middle of the night and striking the target he had been tracking for the past few months would definitely lead to a serious escalation. His 12-year-old son would be in the firing line of the terrorist rockets that would surely be launched.

But the target needed to be removed. He needed to die that night. Baha Abu al-Ata had been causing trouble for Israel for far too long. Born in 1977 in the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, al-Ata did not know much beyond fighting Israel in his 41 years of life.

AL-ATA (center) attends an anti-Israel military show at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City in June 2019 (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

AL-ATA (center) attends an anti-Israel military show at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City in June 2019 (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

In the Shin Bet, responsible for the war against Palestinian terrorism, al-Ata was referred to as the “Troublemaker.” Almost every rocket attack against Israel in 2019 was carried out by him and his men. In the late 1990s after receiving a BA in sociology, al-Ata joined Islamic Jihad and quickly climbed the ranks. He was sent to Syria for training in 2007 and a year later was appointed commander of the group’s Northern Brigade, its premier fighting unit.

Those who knew al-Ata feared him. With his neatly trimmed beard, trademark tan-colored baseball hat and same-colored button-down shirt, he was one of the more powerful men in Gaza. At anti-Israel rallies, the crowd would split when he walked through. He was the lead attacker against Israel and people respected it.

Proof of a status higher than a local commander came just a month earlier when in October 2019, Egypt invited him to Cairo for talks. It was the first invitation he had received of its kind and it meant a lot to al-Ata and his supporters. Their commander, it turned out, wasn’t just a field operator; he was someone the Egyptian Mukhabarat (General Intelligence Directorate) believed was important enough to speak to directly. So al-Ata put on a suit and crossed into Egypt for a few days of talks. The Egyptians showed him respect, taking him out to dinner and showing him a good time around Cairo.

Smaller than Hamas, Islamic Jihad is a terrorist group directly financed and backed by Iran and, as a result, takes a more radical approach to Israel. While Hamas has held indirect negotiations over the years with Israel about a possible ceasefire, Islamic Jihad dismisses the notion. Israel, it believes, needs to be destroyed. There are no compromises in this radical religious war.

It also wasn’t the first time that Israel had tried to take him out. Two previous attempts had been made on his life. One was in 2012, when the Israeli Air Force fired a missile at an apartment building in Gaza City where a group of Islamic Jihad commanders had gathered. Al-Ata was there, but he managed to slip away. In 2014, the IAF bombed his home in Gaza City. He wasn’t there at the time but the message was clear – Israel knew who he was and what he was doing.

In the beginning of 2019 though, the Jewish state was trying to negotiate a new ceasefire with Hamas that would include the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by the group. The problem was that al-Ata kept getting in the way. Every week, he launched a round of rockets into Israel or had a sniper fire at some IDF soldiers deployed along the border. It could have been written off as just a nuisance, but it got in the way of the ceasefire talks since Israel had to respond. Politically, the government could not be seen as weak by ignoring incessant attacks.

AN ISRAELI Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip in July 2014. (Credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

AN ISRAELI Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip in July 2014. (Credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

BUT AL-ATA was smart. He knew that Israel was after him and constantly switched homes. One night he would sleep with his wife and children and the next he would be in a bunker somewhere under a home, school or hospital.

What sealed his fate was a rocket attack he ordered in mid-September. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting the port city of Ashdod for a campaign rally when right as he started speaking, an air siren went off. The premier’s security guards raced to the stage and started pulling him away. He held on to the podium and asked the attendees to leave the hall quietly right before his guards pulled him into a nearby bomb shelter.

For a politician who campaigned on being tough on terror, it was a bad image. Netanyahu was furious. Later that night, he was briefed on the attack and the terrorist behind it – none other than al-Ata.

By the end of October and after a few more rocket attacks, Netanyahu convened his security cabinet. The ministers received briefings on al-Ata, what he had done, how he was undermining ceasefire talks with Hamas and how he was in the midst of plotting additional attacks – some with explosives-laden drones and others with snipers – against Israel. The vote was unanimous. Israel was going to kill al-Ata.

A few days later, Issachar was called into his commander’s office at the IDF’s Southern Command and briefed on his new mission. Located in the desert city of Beersheba, the Southern Command was founded in 1948, responsible for the southern front and defending the country against the largest enemy it faced in the South at the time – Egypt.

After peace was reached with Egypt in 1979 and Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, the Southern Command shifted its focus to a more immediate but less strategic threat – terrorism in the Gaza Strip.

As head of the Southern Command’s Attack Center, it was Issachar’s job to prepare any operation of the kind the cabinet had just approved in Gaza. He was briefed on the target, given some details about the significance of the mission and sent on his way. While a date for the operation had yet to be decided, Issachar knew the clock was ticking. Al-Ata was a threat and needed to disappear.

Heading back to his office in a small caravan-like structure, Issachar convened the men and women on his staff to brief them on what they were going to be doing for the next few weeks. Before taking up his role, he had served for more than a decade as an air force navigator, flying on Israel’s most advanced F-16 fighter jets, known as the F-16I or Sufa (Storm).

In the Israeli Air Force, navigators start off like pilots in the prestigious Pilots Course and after six months all cadets are then divided into distinct fields of expertise based on qualifications – some are made fighter-jet pilots, others pilots of attack helicopters, and others navigators.

While navigators have been around since the dawn of attack aircraft doing exactly what their name says – helping pilots navigate – the centrality of their role has significantly increased in recent years with the arrival of Israel’s more sophisticated fighter jets – the Sufa as well as the F-15I Ra’am (Thunder), both two-seat aircraft with advanced electronic weapons and intelligence-collection systems. Navigators like Issachar no longer just navigate. They are the ones who light up targets with targeting pods and then drive the missiles all the way to their targets, sometimes in the literal sense, with a joystick that enables them to put the missile exactly where they want it. Like his colleagues in the IAF, Issachar had done this dozens of times before.

This time, however, he would be overseeing the targeted killing of al-Ata – not from a cockpit but from the second floor of a plain-looking gray-colored structure in Southern Command headquarters. On the outside, the building doesn’t look memorable, but inside is where the IDF oversees all of its operations in the Gaza Strip. There are seven rooms, named for the “Seven Species” or the seven agricultural products – two grains and five fruits – listed in the Bible as special products of the Land of Israel.

Al-Ata’s life became Issachar’s. When he woke up, Issachar woke up. Where he went, Issachar followed from above. Al-Ata didn’t know it, but Israel was watching his every move.

The home of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata after it was hit by the Israeli strike that killed him, in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

The home of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata after it was hit by the Israeli strike that killed him, in Gaza City on November 12, 2019. Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

THE WATCH was endless but important. Over the years, terrorists around the world learned the weakness of their Western adversary and knew that if they were to hide behind women and children and embed themselves in civilian infrastructure, it would be harder to get them. Israel had tried to keep up, adapting its doctrines and operational orders as it went along.

Issachar knew it firsthand. On one mission in 2014, he was sent to bomb a five-story building in the Gaza Strip being used by Hamas as a command center and weapons storehouse. IDF intelligence had told him the house was empty. He punched the coordinates into his F-16 weapons system and flipped the missile switch. But then everything went wrong. While the missile struck the building, it failed to detonate. Something in the detonation wiring malfunctioned. Issachar watched and prepared to fire another missile but then observed a group of about a dozen people run out of the home.

“The building was supposed to be empty,” he said to the pilot with him.

Something was off with the intelligence. They called back to headquarters and were asked to hang tight.

“We will get back to you,” the control center responded. After a half-hour they received the green light. Issachar fired his missile and the building came tumbling down. No one was inside.

“The enemy hides behind children,” Issachar often found himself telling his soldiers. “Our job is to wait for the right moment when the children are not around. The target can delay our strike, but he cannot run away forever.”

Once the intelligence is collected and the target is in Israel’s sights, three questions remain.

1) The first is when to attack – at night, during the day, while the target is on his own or when he is with other people? Each option has its risks and benefits. During the day, more people are around so if al-Ata is driving down a street in a car, striking the car could kill or injure innocent bystanders.

At night, a strike is easier, assuming Israel knows where the target is located. But then there is the difficulty of knowing who else is in the building with him, and ensuring the strike is limited. If he is in a four-story building, for example, how do you only kill him and not bring down the entire structure with all of its occupants? Gaza, after all, is one of the most densely populated places in the world with over 40,000 people per square mile.

2) The second question is what weapon to use? Is the attack carried out by the IAF or ground forces and then – based on whichever one chosen – what way? If the air force, is the missile fired by a helicopter, a fighter jet or an armed drone, which Israel reportedly has in its arsenal but does not admit to using? Each platform has its advantages; each, its disadvantages. The advantage of a drone is that it is relatively quiet, can usually stay in the air for longer periods of time than helicopters or fighter jets and can get closer to a target. The disadvantage is that the payload a drone can carry is substantially lower than what can be placed under a fighter jet. An F-15, for example, can carry over 28 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs). Drones can reportedly handle much less.

3) And then there is the third question, which guides the previous two – which method will ensure the least civilian casualties and collateral damage?

“The room we sit in oversees the greatest number of attacks in the entire Middle East,” Issachar would frequently remind his men. “One mistake by us, a missile hits the wrong target and we could be at war.”

After two weeks of tracking al-Ata, Issachar and his men had a good idea of how he spent his time and where the best place would be to try to remove him. Together with the Shin Bet, which provided intelligence from agents on the ground, Issachar began building a picture of al-Ata’s life – where he went, how he spent his time, where he ate, when he went to sleep and where he slept. Like other terrorists, al-Ata had a number of safe houses.

There was one place, in Gaza City, where he would often spend time, sometimes on his own and sometimes with his family. Issachar felt this was the perfect spot to attack – late at night, while he would be sleeping in his bed. To do it right, though, Issachar needed to know the layout of the apartment, which room al-Ata slept in, how many other people spent the night there with him and every other possible detail he could get his hand on.

This wasn’t just any operation. It was going to be the first targeted killing by Israel in over five years. It had to be done right.

THE ANSWERS he needed were about 100 kilometers to the north, in Tel Aviv. There, in a base located smack in the center of the city – but if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t find it – sits 9900, one of Military Intelligence’s most classified units.

Officially known as “The Terrain Analysis, Accurate Mapping, Visual Collection and Interpretation Agency,” Unit 9900 is responsible for collecting, analyzing and interpreting all of Israel’s visual intelligence, otherwise known as VISINT. These could be images captured by one of Israel’s spy satellites or pictures taken by reconnaissance flights over areas of interest, like Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and beyond.

It also serves as the IDF’s personal geospatial agency, responsible for making the maps the military uses in Israel and behind enemy lines.

But if in the past 9900 needed to track the Syrian military’s armored divisions or Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile launchers, today it needs to help locate an enemy that is more slippery than ever before, that embeds itself within urban terrain, hides missiles beneath hospitals and schools and uses sophisticated networks of tunnels to infiltrate across the border.

To the average eye, a picture of a forest in Lebanon or a field in Gaza might not look exceptional, but for the soldiers of 9900, a bush out of place or a sand dune bigger than it should be could mean that underneath is a Katyusha rocket launcher or the opening to an attack tunnel.

The specific team Issachar and his men reached out to has a particular specialization – in architecture. The men and women who serve on this team are engineers, architects and intelligence analysts whose job is to analyze specific targets and provide as much information as possible.

In the case of al-Ata, for example, the air force needed to know what the exact makeup was of the apartment chosen for the attack. What room was the master bedroom and where would the children be sleeping? What was the building made of? Were the external walls concrete or also steel? And where were the windows located?

“We explain how buildings behave and the buildings tell us a story,” F., the colonel who heads the team, explained. “A small window can mean there is a bathroom on the other side, an air-conditioning unit hanging near a window leads us to pipes leading us to the room and beyond.”

The team’s members are longtime veterans of Israel’s intelligence agencies. The youngest is 20. The oldest is in his 80s. Each has a specialty. Some are civilian engineers or architects, some are soldiers doing their compulsory service. Others have worked on construction projects across the country. They study and analyze construction in all of Israel’s areas of interest, from Gaza and Lebanon and Syria. Every potential target of strategic consequence is reviewed and analyzed.

What the unit then does is build 3D simulations of the targets, turning them into models that a pilot, for example, can look at from different angles to understand exactly how to fire a missile that would need to go through a specific wall or land at a specific angle. This is not only for pilots. Infantry forces who enter enemy buildings are also given a clear picture of how their target looks on the inside, and are able, ahead of a mission, to virtually go floor by floor and room by room before they even cross enemy lines.

A few days before the planned targeting of al-Ata, F. received a phone call from Issachar’s team and immediately got to work.

The team first looked back though archival satellite and drone footage taken of the Gaza Strip, located the building in the initial days when its construction had begun and watched as it continued. While the interior of an apartment can always change, the concrete internal walls usually stay the same. Based on the size of the rooms as well as the traditional layout of homes in Gaza, it was possible to predict – with high probability – what room was what and who was where.

In the case of al-Ata’s building, the construction was fairly standard for the Gaza Strip. The ground floor was commercial and the two top floors were residential. On the roof were the standard water tanks. Each floor had two apartments and each apartment had three rooms.

Once F. and his men located the main bedroom, they highlighted the best path for the missile to take. The idea was simple – kill only al-Ata, not his children or anyone else in the building.

MOURNERS CARRY al-Ata’s body during his funeral on November 12, 2019. The IDF killed just the target and his wife, with no injuries to their five children sleeping in the next room.  (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

MOURNERS CARRY al-Ata’s body during his funeral on November 12, 2019. The IDF killed just the target and his wife, with no injuries to their five children sleeping in the next room. (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

IN THE meantime, in the IAF, work was still being done to hone the method that would be used to take out al-Ata. A number of options were debated and considered. Each had its advantages and disadvantages.

Col. A., head of the IAF’s Joint Division, the unit responsible for planning missions that are conducted outside the air force in partnership with other IDF units, explained that the selection process is like a tender.

“I had a few different options,” recalled Col. A. “We had a number of aircraft and munitions. You check the available aircraft, what the target is, what platform is best against that target, what the materials are made of in the target and only then make a decision.”

From the outset, the inclination was to use a fighter jet, due to the capability to launch the missile from a standoff position and to be able to carry more than one bomb if follow-up strikes were needed. In the end, the aircraft chosen was an F-15. The missile was one manufactured in the United States for a different kind of mission but had undergone adaptations so it could be used in the kind of strike that would be needed against al-Ata.

Debates between the IAF, Issachar’s team and 9900 continued up until the operation. At one point, one of the veteran air force mission planners came into Col. A.’s office and said he wasn’t sleeping well.

“The mission we planned has a 90% chance of success,” the officer said. “We can do better.”

The questions that remained pertained to the apartment and getting a better understanding of who would be in the room next to al-Ata and how certain the mission planners could be that the small bomb they were planning to use would get the job done.

“It is a constant process of trying to improve and to get the mission as perfect as possible,” A. explained.

The mission was scheduled for 4 a.m. on November 12. The F-15 was flown by a veteran pilot, commander of the squadron. The IDF top command wanted to keep mistakes to a minimum. Control of the mission was now in Issachar’s hands.

His team gathered in the one of the “Seven Species” rooms. Each officer was at his or her desk tracking their different sensors. One screen showed al-Ata’s house; another the location of the F-15; a third screen was supposed to track the missile from launch until it hit its target; and a fourth was following other aircraft that were put on standby.

With one minute to launch, Issachar called out to everyone to go through their checklists a final time. The room was quiet. So quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Issachar gave the pilot a green light and the first missile was dropped.

Another one was fired a second later. Two, to be certain that al-Ata would not emerge alive.

The air could be cut with a knife as the men and women in the operations room tracked each missile as they flew over the Gaza Strip and until they hit the target just above the bed al-Ata was sharing with his wife. The first one hit; the second one followed within a matter of seconds.

Yet Issachar could not rest. The operations room now had to shift its focus to the battle to come and to the missions that would be needed to stop Islamic Jihad’s retaliation. But before that, he had something pressing to do. He left the operations room, grabbed his phone and called his son’s teacher.

“You need to pack up and head home,” Issachar told the startled teacher. “Move fast.”

The teacher promised he would get everyone up and out of harm’s way. Within two hours, the class had safely evacuated the campsite.

ISLAMIC JIHAD terrorists ride on pickup trucks during a symbolic funeral for Ramadan Shallah, a former leader of their group, in Gaza City on June 7. (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

ISLAMIC JIHAD terrorists ride on pickup trucks during a symbolic funeral for Ramadan Shallah, a former leader of their group, in Gaza City on June 7. (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

THE TARGETED killing of al-Ata was not that different from the many others the IDF has carried out over the past decade. It was characterized by meticulous planning meant to reduce collateral damage, precise intelligence and the utilization of advanced technology, aircraft and munitions.

But it also shows the results of an amazing journey the State of Israel has taken over the past 20 years, going from dropping one-ton bombs on apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip to take out a single terrorist, to firing a missile with amazing precision onto a bed, killing just the target and his wife and not injuring their five children sleeping in the next room.

Around the world, a story like this would not make headlines. Instead, the focus would be on the damage caused to Gaza and the death toll. People would ask why al-Ata’s wife had to die with him. They wouldn’t focus on the length of the mission, how much detail and effort went into its planning and how precise it was in execution.

This journey, though, is unique to Israel. Other Western countries fighting terrorists around the world rarely invest even a fraction of the effort Israel does to minimize collateral damage. Issachar recalled a large international air drill he had participated in a few years ago where he met pilots from Italy, Turkey and other countries. Almost all the pilots he met, he recalled, asked why Israel waits so long and invests so much.

“They are shooting at you,” the foreign pilots said. “You need to respond.”

The success Israel has met is the result of three key components – intelligence, technology and the values that make up the backbone of the IDF.“This is a Jewish value,” explained former IAF chief Eliezer Shkedi. “This is who we are.”

How did the IDF become one of the most lethal and precise militaries in the world? This article is the first in a series that will look at this evolution and try to piece together how it happened.

 

 

Articles In Saudi Press Call To Amend Thousands Of Scribal Errors In The Quran, Reexamine Islamic Texts In Light Of Modern Perceptions

August 21, 2020

Oh. My. Goodness.

My jaw hit the table and I almost fell off my chair when I saw this…

https://www.memri.org/reports/articles-saudi-press-call-amend-thousands-scribal-errors-quran-reexamine-islamic-texts-light

Two unusual articles published this year on Saudi websites called to amend scribal errors in the Quran, and also to reexamine religious texts in light of modern perceptions, so as to make them more readable and adapt them to the present age.

An article published January 10, 2020 by Saudi journalist Ahmad Hashem on the “Saudi Opinions” website pointed out that the Quran as it is known today was written down after the Prophet’s lifetime, in the period of the third caliph ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan (ruled 644-656) using the ‘Uthmanic script, which is named after him. Since this writing system is a human invention, argues Hashem, there is no reason to sanctify it, as many Muslims do. In fact, he says, it is time to correct some 2,500 errors of spelling and grammar that were made by the scribes in that period and remain part of the Quranic text to this day. He  presents numerous examples of such spelling mistakes, and calls to rewrite the words in their present-day standard form, so as to “make the text more readable for [present-day] Muslims and more linguistically correct.”

A second article was published on July 20, 2020 on the liberal Saudi website Elaph by Jarjis Gulizada, a writer and political analyst of Kurdish-Iraqi origin and the editor of the Iraqi magazine Baghdad. He notes that, during the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in Islamic history, changes were made to the form of Islamic worship, when Muslims were permitted to maintain physical distance from one another during prayer, instead of praying in tight rows, as the Quran instructs. This, he says, shows that there is room for flexibility in Islam, and that the same flexibility can be applied to the Islamic texts, which should be reexamined and adapted to modern perceptions, so as to benefit the Muslims and mankind at large.

Mentioning Ahmad Hashem’s article, he too argues that it is irrational to treat the ‘Uthmani script of the Quran as sacred, and presents further examples of errors that appear in the Quran, in addition to those presented by Hashem.  He calls to publish an amended version of the Quran using modern spelling, because, in its present form, “it is not suitable for the Islamic nation in the modern world, and especially for non-Arab Muslims,” and states that this task should be undertaken by Saudi Arabia, specifically by its king and crown prince.

[But then the blowback happened…]

It should be noted that Gulizada’s article was removed from the Elaph website following furious reactions on social media, from users who accused the Saudis, and in particular Elaph chief editor ‘Othman Al-‘Omeir, of insolence and of insulting the Quran.[1] For example, Kuwaiti academic Dr. Ahmad Al-Dhaidi tweeted: “The Elaph website, directed by Saudi journalist ‘Othman Al-‘Omeir, calls to rewrite the Quran in order to fix the great mistakes of the ‘Uthmani script! Has their contempt reached the point of harming Allah’s book?…”[2] The “Towards Freedom” Twitter account, known for criticizing the Saudi regime, stated: “The Elaph [online] paper, managed by [‘Othman Al-‘Omeir], a close friend of King Salman and an advisor to [Crown Prince Muhammad] bin Salman, demands to rewrite the Quran and reexamine the principles of the Islamic shari’a! The only thing left is to return the idols to the Kaaba.”[3]

The following are translated excerpts from Ahmad Hashem’s and Jarjis Gulizada’s articles.

See here:

https://www.memri.org/reports/articles-saudi-press-call-amend-thousands-scribal-errors-quran-reexamine-islamic-texts-light

Amid Surge of Balloon Attacks, Israeli Military Deploys Laser-Defense System on Gaza Border

August 16, 2020

Lasers vs balloons (sometimes inflated condoms).

This is a good indicator of the two cultures involved.

The advanced Nobel Prize winning sophisticated jewish state vs the backwards “sticks and stones” arab culture.

And the jewish efforts go towards saving lives while the arab actions are intended to destroy.

Amid Surge of Balloon Attacks, Israeli Military Deploys Laser-Defense System on Gaza Border

Amid a surge of in incendiary balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip, the IDF has deployed new interception technology on Israel’s border with the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.

According to Israel’s public broadcaster Kan, the aerial defense system employs lasers to destroy incoming balloons.

The Algemeiner reported in January that the Israeli Defense Ministry had made a major breakthrough in using lasers to thwart aerial attacks.

The technology enables long-range targeting and stabilization of laser beams, allowing them to intercept targets at great distances.

The new system’s deployment came as dozens of fires were set in the Gaza border area in a single day and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed forceful retaliation.

Tuesday marked the sixth straight day of incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza.

Were suspicious tunnels near Beirut port discovered after blast?

August 13, 2020

Hmmm…

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/were-suspicious-tunnels-discovered-near-beirut-port-after-explosion-638131

A member of the army is seen at the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 8, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY)

Videos circulating online, as well as rumors and reports, indicate that “tunnels” have been found in the wake of the Beirut explosions. Some have asserted that this is evidence of Hezbollah “tunnels” storing weapons at the Port of Beirut, while others think they were used for human trafficking. Both SkyNews and Russia’s Sputnik News claimed there was a “labyrinth network of tunnels.”

The Lebanese Armed Forces have denied the existence of tunnels, just as Hezbollah has denied doing anything at Beirut Port. It’s unclear how the army could refute the claims without investigating the images and videos already circulating online. Nevertheless, the army denied the existence of tunnels.

Yet Sky News did show a ceiling of a subterranean chamber and noted that people had hope that loved ones might have survived the blast in the tunnels. The Sky News report, which was posted online on Sunday, said the people excavating the site and searching for survivors “know there is a labyrinth of subterranean chambers here; they have discovered the opening of one of them.”

This comment appears to indicate that the search-and-rescue teams and officials know about these chambers.

Are these “tunnels,” or is there another explanation for these underground rooms? There may be a more prosaic explanation for underground rooms or other aspects of the urban environment having underground infrastructure, such as tunnels for electrical, water and sewage facilities.

For now, the question of the “tunnels” appears to feed stories that Hezbollah was using the area for illicit trafficking of weapons or munitions. However, the investigators who found the opening to one alleged tunnel were not wearing any kind of suits or using devices as if the area was full of unexploded ordnance. That means there didn’t appear to be a concern that they would find missiles and dangerous items inside these areas.

Nevertheless, the quick denial by Lebanon that these areas exist and the video of the subterranean chamber or “tunnel” seems to illustrate that Lebanon is still afraid to fully investigate the area for fear of finding the suspicious activities that those critical of Hezbollah allege were taking place here.

Hezbollah is known to have expertise in building tunnels and underground bunkers.