Author Archive

House of Cards 

May 20, 2018

Source: House of Cards – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Due in part to Russia, war between Israel and Iran is not on the horizon, despite rising tensions in Syria.

BY YOSSI MELMAN
 MAY 16, 2018 10:30
ussian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Serbian President Aleksandar

Malcolm Hoenlein (center) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Alexander Garden in Moscow, on May 9ceives his honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University at the Tel Aviv Fairgrou. (photo credit: KREMLIN/REUTERS)

THE FIRST two weeks of May were very hectic and dramatic for Israeli leaders and security chiefs in dealing with Iran. On May 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Mossad operatives had stolen Iran’s central nuclear archive, proving that the Islamic Republic had violated its nuclear deal with the six major world powers. A week later, in light of the revelations, and more importantly, the contents of the stolen documents and disks, the US cancelled and pulled out of the deal.

A few hours after President Donald Trump announced his decision, Israeli intelligence prevented a revenge attack by Iran. The Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked and destroyed an Iranian mobile launcher in Syria that carried rockets slated to be fired against Israel.

Twenty-four hours later, the intelligence proved insufficient. From another base in Syria, Iran launched 32 rockets against Israeli military positions on the Golan Heights. Four rockets were intercepted and the rest fell in Syrian territory.

Within hours, Israel retaliated by attacking 70 Iranian positions in Syria. The targets were intelligence installations, rocket depots, army bases, logistic warehouses that Iran had built in the last year in Syria, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft systems, which fired at the Israeli planes. The operation, code-named “House of Cards” by the IDF, was the largest Israeli attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War – and the closest Israel and Iran have come to the brink of a direct confrontation.

But the factor that likely played the greatest role but was most overlooked in galvanizing Israel to act against the Iranian presence in Syria is Russia.

Hours before the IAF launched its massive strike, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and attend the annual Victory Day military parade commemorating Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany. It was their ninth face-to-face meeting in the last 32 months – since Russia deployed its forces in Syria to save the regime of Bashar Assad.

Following the meeting, a senior Russia official said that his country was not negotiating a deal to supply the Syrian army with advanced S300 anti-aircraft systems. Israel has consistently opposed the deal, fearing the batteries would limit IAF freedom of action and maneuverability over the Syrian sky.

Later, a senior IAF officer, briefing Israeli reporters, admitted that Israel had coordinated in advance with Russia without telling it when and where the House of Cards operation would take place in general terms, without providing exact details.

All these factors taken together, it seems that the Kremlin has slightly changed its double game in Syria with regard to Israel.

Originally, the double game meant that while Russia cooperated militarily with Iran to help the Assad regime in its war against Syrian rebels, it tolerated and turned a blind eye to Israeli strikes against Iran.

Russia still needs Iranian advisers and commanders and their proxies – Shi’ite militias from Iraq, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Pakistan and Afghanistan – to be present in Syria as “boots on the ground.” But as the Assad regime extends its control over more territory, Russia needs Iran to a lesser extent. In a cynical way, Russia no longer cares, and maybe it is even happy, if the growing Iranian presence and influence in Syria is challenged and blocked by Israeli military actions.

Iranian-Syrian relations have come a long way to reach their present peak. Since 1970, Syria has been ruled by a family dynasty – the Assads, who belong to the Alawite sect, which is an offspring of the Shi’ite community.

But it isn’t only religious roots that bind the two regimes. They were also tied in the past by a common rivalry with Iraq and hatred of its late leader, Saddam Hussein.

The late Syrian president Hafez el-Assad, who died in 2000, respected but also suspected Iran. His cooperation with the country was cautious and limited. Even his son and heir, Bashar Assad, didn’t fully trust Iran when he came to power. He concealed from Iran his ambitious and secret program to build nuclear bombs, a plan that was destroyed in September 2007 when the IAF demolished Syria’s nuclear reactor.

But after that, Bashar strengthened his relations with Iran. He allowed Iran to use Syria as a hub for resupplying Hezbollah with rockets and missiles after the Lebanese Shi’ite movement suffered a blow at the hands of Israel in the 2006 war.

But the turning point came after the eruption of civil war in Syria in March 2011.

Fearing he would lose power to the mosaic of rebel groups, including al-Qaeda (and later ISIS) supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the US, Assad asked Iran to help repel his enemies.

Iran gladly agreed. First, it sent Hezbollah warriors to salvage the Syrian regime, then its own advisers and commanders, and eventually, Shi’ite militias to serve as cannon fodder. Indeed, Iran and its proxies, together with a later Russian intervention, rescued Assad. As the combined efforts repelled and defeated ISIS, and as the Assad regime regained more territory, Iran moved to phase two of its plan.

It began deepening its military deployment in Syria with three aims. One, to establish a land corridor from its territory via Iraq to Syria and then to Lebanon, as part of its expansionist policy to set strong footholds in the entire Middle East by reaching the Mediterranean and the Red Sea via Yemen.

The second aim is to reap economic benefits in Syria, particularly by gaining oil and gas concessions as well as construction deals.

The third aim is to have a military presence near the Israeli border in order to threaten the Jewish state from three directions: long-range missiles from Iran; the huge missile and rocket arsenal (120,000) of Hezbollah in Lebanon; and the Hezbollah presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Iran’s ambitious grand strategy is challenged in two respects: one, in a minor way, by Russia, which also seeks to benefit economically through rebuilding the new Syria; and secondly, in a big way, by Israel. Israel can’t allow itself to be threatened by two Shi’ite enemies – Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran in Syria – that are plotting to encircle and besiege the Jewish state on its northern fronts.

After ignoring the challenge for some time, and getting off to a slow start, a year ago, Israel identified and understood the real threat and began countering it.

THE ISRAELI strategy has four dimensions.

Firstly, Israel wants to maintain the mechanism of coordination and cooperation (via direct military and diplomatic channels) with Russia to avoid clashes in the Syrian skies between the air force and air defense systems of the two countries.

Secondly, Israel has deeply penetrated Iran’s intelligence in depth to collect accurate information of its intentions and capabilities in both Iran and Syria.

Thirdly, Israel has launched a psychological campaign against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of al-Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Soleimani is one of the most powerful and influential figures in Iran, adored and worshipped by many and a confidant of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He is considered the main architect of Iran’s expansionist policy in the region in general, and in Syria in particular. By “marking” Soleimani, Israel hopes to create a wedge between him and the political-religious echelon and other military commanders in order to portray him as the villain acting against basic Iranian interests.

Fourthly, Israeli embarked on a gradual military campaign, which reached its peak in May, to destroy Iranian deployment in Syria. It seems that Israeli policy has, for the time being, the upper hand. Militarily speaking, in Syria, Iran has long land supply lines, poorly trained militias and a lack of air force and air defense systems. Thus, it is no match for Israeli superiority in the air, fire power and intelligence.

But the exchange of punches has not resulted in an Israeli knockout. True, at the moment, Iran is under great pressure. The US decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and impose new sanctions are threatening to once again cripple Iran’s economy, which is already deteriorating with weak local currency and workers’ strikes. Its military, which is consuming large chunks of the national budget, is overstretched on four fronts: Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

For now, war between Israel and Iran, as some Israeli and international commentators wrongly predicted, is not on the horizon.

Nevertheless, Iran is determined to continue to consolidate its deployment in Syria and to challenge Israel. No doubt, it will draw lessons from the recent events in order to improve its intelligence and military capabilities.

So too will Israel. Time after time, Israeli leaders and military chiefs have said they will not tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria, certainly not one close to Israel’s border.

The outcome: the basic contradictory reality and interests of the two enemies remain.

Why do the media keep encouraging Hamas violence? 

May 19, 2018

Source: Why do the media keep encouraging Hamas violence? – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

Calling this the “dead baby strategy” may seem cruel, because it is cruel. But don’t blame the messenger for accurately describing this tactic.

BY ALAN DERSHOWITZ
 MAY 17, 2018 22:18
A Palestinian woman walks with a kite as other demonstrators pose before trying to fly them.

A Palestinian woman walks with a kite as other demonstrators pose before trying to fly them over the border fence with Israel, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2018.. (photo credit: SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Hamas’s goal is to have Israel kill as many Gazans as possible so the headlines always begin, and often end, with the body count. Hamas deliberately sends women and children to the front line while their own fighters hide behind these human shields.

Hamas leaders have long acknowledged this tactic. Fathi Hammad, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, stated as far back as 2008:

“For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahedin and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly and the mujahedin, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine.

It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘We desire death like you desire life.’” Hamas used this tactic to provoke two wars with Israel in which their fighters fired rockets from civilian areas, including hospitals, schools and mosques. When Israel responded, it tried its best to avoid civilian casualties, dropping warning leaflets, calling residents of potential targets and dropping non-lethal noise bombs on the roofs of houses that were being used to launch rockets and store explosives. Inevitably, some civilians were killed, and the media blamed Israel for these deaths, despite the precautions it had taken.

The same was true when Hamas built terror tunnels used to kidnap Israeli civilians. The entrances to these tunnels were in civilian areas as well, including mosques and schools. Using their own civilians as human shields, while targeting Israeli civilians, is a double war crime. Yet, the media generally focuses on Israel’s reaction to these war crimes, rather than Hamas’s war crimes themselves.

The cruel reality is that every time Israel accidentally kills a Gaza civilian, Israel loses. And every time Israel kills a Gaza civilian, Hamas wins. Israelis grieve every civilian death its army accidentally causes. Hamas benefits from every death Israel accidentally causes. That is why it encourages its women and children to become martyrs.

CALLING THIS the “dead baby strategy” may seem cruel, because it is cruel. But don’t blame the messenger for accurately describing this tactic. Blame those who cynically use it. And blame the media for playing into the hands of those who use it by reporting only the body count and not the deliberate Hamas tactic that leads to one-sided body counts.

It is true that Gaza is in a desperate situation and that it is wounded. But the wound itself is self-inflicted. When Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip – removing every single soldier and settler – Gaza could have become the Singapore on the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful area with a large seacoast. It received infusions of cash and other help from Europe. Israel left behind agricultural equipment and greenhouses. But instead of using these resources to feed, house and educate its citizens, Hamas built rockets, terror tunnels and weaponry. It threw dissenters off the roof and murdered members of the Palestinian Authority who were willing to recognize Israel and negotiate with it.

Hamas rejects a two-state solution or any solution that leaves Israel intact. Its only solution is violence, and the events at the fence these past days are a manifestation of that violence. Would any country in the world allow 40,000 people, sworn to its destruction, knock down a border fence and attack its citizens living peacefully near the border? Of course not. Could Israel have done more to reduce casualties among those trying to breach the border fence? I don’t know, and neither do the legions of arm-chair generals that are currently criticizing Israel for the steps it took to prevent a catastrophe among the residents of kibbutzim and towns that are proximate to the border fence.

One thing is crystal clear: Hamas will continue to use the dead baby strategy as long as the media continues to report the deaths in the manner in which it has in recent weeks. Many in the media are complicit in these deaths because their one-sided reporting encourages Hamas to send innocent women and children to the front line.

Perhaps Israel could do a better job in defending its civilians, but it is certain the media can do a better job in reporting accurately the Hamas strategy that results in so many innocent deaths.

There is a marvelous cartoon that illustrates the difference between Hamas and Israel. It shows an Israeli soldier standing in front of a baby carriage shielding a baby in the carriage. Then it shows a Hamas terrorist standing behind a baby carriage with the baby in it, using the baby to shield him. This cartoon better illustrates the reality that is occurring at the Gaza fence than most of the “objective” reporting by the media.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter: @AlanDersh and on Facebook: @Alan- MDershowitz. This article was originally published on TheHill.com.

11 said killed, dozens hurt in blasts at Syria’s Hama air base, cause unclear

May 19, 2018

Source: 11 said killed, dozens hurt in blasts at Syria’s Hama air base, cause unclear | The Times of Israel

Conflicting accounts emerge for what set off huge explosions at military airfield; Sky News Arabia reports attack on powerful Iranian air defenses, others say it was an accident

Smoke is seen following reports of explosions at Hama air base in Syria on May 18, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Smoke is seen following reports of explosions at Hama air base in Syria on May 18, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Massive explosions rocked the Hama military air base in western Syrian early on Friday afternoon, killing at least 11 pro-Assad regime fighters, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state media confirmed that blasts were heard coming from the base, but made no comment on casualties or the cause of the explosions.

There were conflicting reports as to what set off the blasts, which sent a huge plume of grey smoke into the air above the base.

“The explosions struck several regime depots of weapons and fuel at Hama military airport,” the Observatory said.

Syrians in Hama reported hearing at least five successive blasts, likely indicating that fuel depots and weapons caches had been hit by the blast, setting off a daisy-chain of explosions.

At least 11 members of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s coaltion were killed and dozens more were wounded in the mysterious blasts, according to the monitor.

According to the Observatory, both Syrians and foreign nationals were among the casualties.

The Sky News Arabia outlet reported that the explosions were caused by an attack on an advanced Iranian air defense system.

However, Syrian military sources told the Lebanese el-Nashra TV station that the blasts were caused by a “technical malfunction” at a weapons storage depot.

There were no immediate comments by Syrian officials on who or what was behind the explosions.

The blasts came soon after midday, as the region is experiencing a scorching heat wave. Almost all previous Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria have been late at night or in the pre-dawn hours.

According to Sky News, the target of the strike was an Iranian Bavar 373 long-range missile defense system, a state-of-the-art model that was unveiled in 2016 and put into service in March 2017. Iranian officials compare the system to the Russian-made S-300 system, which is considered a powerful air defense platform.

Video footage from the scene, posted to social media, showed a huge cloud of smoke rising out of the military air field.

Britain warns US sanctions on Iran make 3rd-party trade difficult

May 17, 2018

Source: Britain warns US sanctions on Iran make 3rd-party trade difficult – Israel Hayom

Fresh US sanctions target Hezbollah’s main decision-making body

May 17, 2018

Source: Fresh US sanctions target Hezbollah’s main decision-making body – Israel Hayom

Egypt furious over Qatar, Iran meddling in effort to defuse Gaza violence 

May 17, 2018

Source: Egypt furious over Qatar, Iran meddling in effort to defuse Gaza violence – Israel Hayom

Irreparable damage

May 17, 2018

Source: Irreparable damage – Israel Hayom

Eldad Beck

The most concerning development in the current crisis between Israel and Turkey is the joint statement condemning Israel from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamist party and the opposition Republican People’s Party.

At the height of the presidential campaign for the early elections that Erdogan forced on his country, it appears an anti-Israel political consensus has been reached that is completely unrelated to the violent events Hamas has been instigating on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

Through the joint statement, the secular opposition party sought to prevent Erdogan from using anti-Semitic incitement against Israel as a campaign tool, as he has done in past Turkish elections. Thanks to Erdogan’s efforts, a majority of Turks no longer see Israel as an ally but as an arch enemy.

Until now, Israel had for strategic purposes sought to maintain ties with Turkey in the hope that once Erdogan was no longer in power, the old alliance could be rebuilt. But the systematic and consistent damage Erdogan has caused during his many years as Turkey’s leader is absolute. His hatred of Israel goes beyond populist opportunism and deep-seated religious animosity. By exploiting the widespread popular belief in Turkey in conspiracy theories according to which the descendants of the Sabbateans are secretly working to take over or destroy Turkey, Erdogan has made anti-Semitism his country’s official policy.

If a political alternative ever comes to power, it will not be able to undo the damage Erdogan has caused. Moreover, it will in all likelihood preserve his hostile approach to Israel and the Jews in order to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

Israel needs to wake up: We have lost Turkey and we must act accordingly. Israel must correct a terrible historical injustice and formally recognize the mass genocide of the Armenian people by the Turks in World War I. Israel must also do everything in its power to promote the idea of the establishment of an independent Kurdish state outside of northern Iraq, which has become something of an Iranian protectorate.  Finally, Israel must act in the international arena to isolate Turkey as long as it under the totalitarian-democratic rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.

If Ankara does see regime change, the new Turkish government will need to prove it is different from its predecessor. Israel has catered to Turkey’s whims for far too long. If the Turks are interested in bilateral ties, they can pursue us.