Archive for the ‘Israel and Iran’ category

The coming Israel-Iran confrontation

October 12, 2017

The coming Israel-Iran confrontation, Israel Hayom, Elliott Abrams, October 12, 2017

As one Israeli military commentator recently wrote, “If the Israeli diplomatic move fails to bear fruit, we [Israel] are headed toward a conflict with the Iranians.” That conclusion, and the Iranian moves that make it a growing possibility should be on the minds of Trump administration officials as they contemplate a new policy toward Iran’s ceaseless drive for power in the Middle East.

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In the United States, discussions of Iran have for the last few years been mostly about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama. In the Middle East, things are different.

This is because while we have been debating, Iran has been acting. And Israel has been reacting. Israel has struck weapon convoys in Syria a hundred times in the last five years, bombing when it saw an Iranian effort to move advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Last month Israel bombed the so-called Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in Masyaf, a city in central Syria, a military site where chemical weapons and precision bombs were said to be produced.

Now, there are reports that Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus, where the Revolutionary Guards could build up their presence and operate; that Iran and President Bashar Assad’s regime are negotiating giving Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus; and that Iran may actually deploy a division of soldiers in Syria.

Such developments would be unacceptable to Israel, and it will convey this message to Russia and to the United States. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is scheduled to visit Israel soon, after which Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will visit Washington. Previous Israeli efforts (during Netanyahu’s four visits to Moscow in the last year) to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop Iran have failed, which suggests that Israel will need to do so itself, alone – unless the new Iran policy being debated by the Trump administration leads the United States to seek ways to stop the steady expansion of Iran’s military presence and influence in the Middle East.

That remains to be seen. Rumors suggest that the Trump administration may label the IRGC a terrorist group, which could open the door to using counterterrorism authorities to stop its expansion. Whatever the debate over the JCPOA, there may well be a broader consensus in the administration that Iran’s growing military role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region must be countered.

Whatever the American conclusion, if Iran does indeed plan to establish a large and permanent military footprint in Syria – complete with permanent naval and air bases and a major ground force – Israel will have fateful decisions to make. Such an Iranian presence in the Mediterranean and on Israel’s border would change the military balance in the region and fundamentally change Israel’s security situation. And under the JCPOA as agreed by Obama, remember, limits on Iran’s nuclear program begin to end in only eight years, Iran may now perfect its intercontinental ballistic missile program, and there are no inspections of military sites where further nuclear weapons research may be underway.

As Senator Tom Cotton said recently, “If Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today, it would be the first time in a generation.” Israel could be a decade away from a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and has bases in Syria – and could logically therefore even place nuclear weapons in Syria, just miles from Israel’s border.

As one Israeli military commentator recently wrote, “If the Israeli diplomatic move fails to bear fruit, we [Israel] are headed toward a conflict with the Iranians.” That conclusion, and the Iranian moves that make it a growing possibility should be on the minds of Trump administration officials as they contemplate a new policy toward Iran’s ceaseless drive for power in the Middle East.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams’ blog “Pressure Points.”

 

Israel Has a Playbook for Dealing With North Korea

September 8, 2017

Israel Has a Playbook for Dealing With North Korea, Bloomberg, Zev Chafets, September 7, 2017

Saddam’s nuclear dream ended in ashes. Photographer: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea is now truly dangerous — unlike Iraq and Syria, it already has nuclear weapons — and it won’t get less so as time goes on. Trump has said this in no uncertain terms. But so far it is just words. The president may mean it. He also may not. Perhaps he will come to regret tangling with Kim. Maybe he will see it as a beginner’s mistake. He may be tempted to reverse course and try to save face with make-believe sanctions, empty United Nations resolutions or fruitless negotiations. I’m not judging him. I haven’t been in his shoes, and I wouldn’t want to be.

But if the American president does back down, if Kim Jong Un stays in power, keeps his nuclear warheads and ballistic weapons, and gets away with threatening the U.S. and its allies with nuclear destruction, every friend and foe of Washington will be revisiting its strategic playbook. For Israel, so far away from Korea yet so close to Iranian aggression, that book begins with the Begin Doctrine.

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Israel and North Korea are on opposite sides of the Asian landmass, separated by 5,000 miles as the ICBM flies. But Israelis feels close to the nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang. They have faced this sort of crisis before, and may again.

Some history: In the mid-1970s, it became clear to Israel that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was working on acquiring nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Saddam had already demonstrated an uninhibited brutality in dealing with his internal enemies and his neighbors. He aspired to be the leader of the Arab world. Defeating Israel was at the top of his to-do list.

After coming to office in 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin tried to convince the U.S. and Europe that Saddam was a clear and present danger to the Jewish state, and that action had to be taken. Begin was not taken seriously.

But Begin was serious, and in 1981 he decided that Israel would have to stop the Iraqi dictator all by itself. His political opponents, led by the estimable Shimon Peres, considered this to be dangerous folly. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, the legendary former military chief of staff, voted against unilateral action on the grounds that it would hurt Israel’s international standing. Defense Minister Ezer Weizmann, the former head of the air force (and Dayan’s brother-in-law) was also against a military option. He thought the mission would be unacceptably risky.

Begin had no military expertise. But his family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. He looked at Saddam, who was openly threating Israel, and saw Hitler. To Begin, sitting around hoping for the best was not a strategy; it was an invitation to aggression. If there was going to be a cost — political, diplomatic, military — better to pay before, not after, the Iraqis had the bomb.

In the summer of 1981, Begin gave the order. The Israeli air force destroyed the Osirak reactor. The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack. The Europeans went bonkers. The New York Times called it “inexcusable.” But the Israeli prime minister wasn’t looking to be excused by the Times or the Europeans or even the usually friendly Ronald Reagan administration. He enunciated a simple rationale that would come to be known as the Begin Doctrine: Israel will not allow its avowed enemies to obtain the means of its destruction.

The wisdom of this doctrine became clear a decade later, during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein made good on his threat to fire Russian-made SCUD missiles at Israeli cities. The SCUDs landed, and caused some damage and a fair amount of panic, but they were not armed with unconventional warheads. Israel had taken that option off the table.

Similarly, in 2007, Israel confirmed what it had suspected for five years: Syria, with North Korean help, was trying to build a nuclear reactor. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a Begin disciple, sent Mossad chief Meir Dagan to Washington, to ask for American intervention. The CIA chief, Michael Hayden, agreed with Israel’s contention that Damascus (with Iranian financing) was constructing the reactor. But Hayden convinced President George W. Bush that bombing the site would result in all-out war, and who wants that?

Acting on its own, Israel destroyed the Syrian site (reportedly killing a group of North Korean experts in the process). Hayden was wrong about how Syria would react, as he later admitted. If Israel had been reasonable and listened to the CIA, Bashar al-Assad would have nuclear weapons right now.

A few years later, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak spent billions of dollars preparing and training to take out the Iranian nuclear program. Barak, not a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, explained: “There are instances where it appears it is not necessary to attack now, but you know that you won’t be able to attack later.” In such cases, he said, the “consequences of inaction are grave, and you have to act.”

Israel was prevented from kinetic action by the Barack Obama administration, which along with five other powers cut a deal with Iran in 2015 — over Israel’s vociferous objections. Netanyahu warned that the deal was full of loopholes; it would allow Iran to hide its nuclear program and continue building new means of delivery. This was confirmed in 2016 when Iran tested a new missile. “The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2000 kilometers,” said Iranian Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, “is to be able to hit our enemy the Zionist regime from a safe distance.”

Since then, Iran has stepped up its aggressive enmity toward the Zionist Entity. It has not only continued its nuclear cooperation with North Korea, it has also copied Pyongyang’s tactic of creating a huge artillery threat against civilian populations (through its proxy force Hezbollah in Lebanon and now Syria). This conventional threat to Seoul is what has convinced a great many American commentators that any attack on North Korea would lead to an “unthinkable” number of casualties.

Ruling out harsh thoughts is a luxury Israel doesn’t have. It has installed an efficient missile defense system (something not beyond the means of the South Koreans and the U.S.). It is also training to neutralize the threat of a bombardment. The IDF is currently conducting its biggest military exercise in 19 years. The announced goal is to prepare for war with Hezbollah. Israel does not intend to allow itself to be held hostage by an Iranian threat to its civilian population, or to have its hands tied by the theory of unthinkability.

This week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem published a condemnation of North Korea: “Only a determined international response will prevent other states from behaving in the same way.” Clearly, “other states” was a reference to Iran. It was also a message to the U.S.

Israel, by long experience, knows there is no such thing as an “international” community when it comes to security. What is happening now in East Asia is an American production. The Donald Trump administration has been very clear, not to say belligerent, in demanding that North Korea forgo its nuclear weapons and ambitions.

This was also the policy of previous American administrations — but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama didn’t really mean it. They let things slide, drew imaginary lines, held talks that went no place and hoped for the best.

The best didn’t happen. It almost never does. North Korea is now truly dangerous — unlike Iraq and Syria, it already has nuclear weapons — and it won’t get less so as time goes on. Trump has said this in no uncertain terms. But so far it is just words. The president may mean it. He also may not. Perhaps he will come to regret tangling with Kim. Maybe he will see it as a beginner’s mistake. He may be tempted to reverse course and try to save face with make-believe sanctions, empty United Nations resolutions or fruitless negotiations. I’m not judging him. I haven’t been in his shoes, and I wouldn’t want to be.

But if the American president does back down, if Kim Jong Un stays in power, keeps his nuclear warheads and ballistic weapons, and gets away with threatening the U.S. and its allies with nuclear destruction, every friend and foe of Washington will be revisiting its strategic playbook. For Israel, so far away from Korea yet so close to Iranian aggression, that book begins with the Begin Doctrine.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria

May 31, 2017

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria, DEBKAfile, May 31, 2017

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

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Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the strongest Iraqi Shiite militia, the Badr Brigades, said Wednesday, May 31, that his forces are preparing to enter Syria. The advanced capabilities of this powerful Iranian-led militia, would tilt the Syrian war strongly in Iran’s favor, with alarming ramifications for the US, Israel and Jordan.

Al-Amri, in making this announcement, cited Iran’s new slogan: “Iraq’s security will be maintained only if Syria’s security is preserved.” In other words, the Syrian conflict would end only when pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including Hizballah, control Syria like they control Iraq.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Badr Brigades’ path into Syria was secured this week when an Iraqi Shiite conglomerate breached the Iraqi-Syrian border in the north, on the orders of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. This opened Iran’s coveted overland corridor through Iraq to Syria.

The combat capabilities of the Badr Brigades, estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 strong, are impressive. One of the most professional and well-trained military forces in Iraq, its recruits receive instruction at special camps operated by Revolutionary Guard Corps on Iranian soil. The militia consists of special forces, tank, mechanized infantry, artillery and antiaircraft units. The high quality of their munitions may be seen in the photo at the top of the story.

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Intelligence sources expect the Badr Brigades to first head south towards the Deir ez-Zor area to link up with the Syrian Arab Army and Hizballah forces, which are threatening the US special forces and allied hold on a key crossing that commands the triangle where the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi borders meet.

They would need to cover 230km from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor, the while fighting small, scattered ISIS concentrations. Wednesday, May 31, Russia came down on the side of Tehran, with a cruise missile strike on ISIS targets around Palmyra. They were fired from the missile frigate Admiral Essen and the submarine Krasnodar for the purpose of softening jihadi resistance to the Badr Brigades’ southward advance.

The consequences of this massive pro-Iranian intervention in the Syrian war are dire for the US, Israel and Jordan. For Washington, it lays the ground for Tehran’s domination of Syria – in the face of President Donald Trump’s solemn vows to prevent this happening.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

Jordan’s foreboding comes from its judgment that pro-Iranian Shiite militias sitting on its borders are a greater threat even that ISIS.

Read more about this pivotal development in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly. If you are not yet a subscriber, click here to sign on.

Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder

May 30, 2017

Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder, Israel Hayom, Jonathan S. Tobin, May 30, 2017

The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump.

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It’s hard to beat a man by agreeing with him. That’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most credible foe is struggling to find a way to distinguish his own views from those of the man he wishes to replace. Polls show that Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid is the man Netanyahu needs to watch out for in the next election. But after proclaiming earlier this year that a two-state solution must wait another 20 years for the Palestinians to show that they want peace, it’s hard to see how Lapid can possibly gain an edge over the prime minister on the most important issue facing the Jewish state.

That’s why Lapid is attempting to make an issue of Netanyahu’s apparent acceptance of a massive $110 billion arms deal concluded between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration, without so much as a whisper of protest. In a recent interview, Lapid noted that the entire Israeli security establishment was deeply concerned about the transaction, which will place a wide array of sophisticated weaponry in Saudi hands. In doing so, Lapid is not just trying to goad Netanyahu into a suicidal spat with Trump but also demonstrating how ignorant he is of American Jewish history.

Lapid’s broadside aims to imply that the prime minister is so afraid of U.S. President Donald Trump and so dependent on his good will that he won’t speak up for Israel’s interests. But his main point of concern is that giving such weapon systems to Saudis means they are “one inch away” from falling in the hands of Sunni terrorists.

Perhaps Lapid will get some traction with the charge but for anyone who’s been following the news in the region in recent years, it’s fairly obvious that he’s woefully behind the times. The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

Lapid is also forgetting an important precedent: In 1981, the Reagan administration wanted to sell five sophisticated AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) airplanes to the Saudis. Like the far larger sale just concluded, the AWACS deal was an effort to shore up the Saudi regime against an Islamist regime in Iran. But since the Saudis were then a key player in the effort to isolate and demonize Israel as well as part of a potential eastern front against it, friends of the Jewish state, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, denounced the transaction as a blow to Israel’s military qualitative edge. Unfortunately, it was a bitter fight and one the pro-Israel lobby lost ignominiously.

That defeat led AIPAC to reassess its former emphasis on the executive branch and replace it with one that sought to ensure congressional support for Israel regardless of who was in the White House. But while AIPAC licked its wounds and began preparing to win future fights, friends of Israel generally forgot about what happened to the planes they had warned would be so dangerous to place in the hands of the Saudi state.

But, contrary to the predictions of those who worried that the AWACS planes would coordinate attacks on Israel rather than defending Riyadh against Iran or the Soviets, nothing of the kind every happened. The AWACS planes did nothing to harm Israel. Saudi Arabia may be the source of an ocean of anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda but its leaders were never interested in fighting Israel. Moreover, three decades later, what was once covert security coordination between the Saudis and Israel is now an open secret and the basis upon which Trump’s hopes of an “outside-in” strategy for peace rests.

The Saudis are allies of convenience rather than conviction. It is wise to be skeptical about whether their goodwill extends beyond mutual antipathy for Iran. But the moral of the story is that nations have permanent interests not permanent allies or enemies. The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump. Talking about the Saudis in this manner may have given Lapid a momentary edge but urging a repeat of AIPAC’s historic blunder is no way for him to prove his security chops. On the contrary, it seems to suggest that he is still not ready for power.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer to National Review. Twitter @jonathans_tobin.

Trump: Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people

May 22, 2017

Trump: Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, The Jewish Press, Gary Willig, May 22, 2017

Rivlin and Trump Reuters

Rivlin congratulated Trump on his arrival in Israel and said, “We are happy to see that America is back in the area. America is back again … Israel appreciates America’s leadership and your administration in the action you took in Syria.”

Trump congratulated Rivlin and thanked him for his warm hospitality. “I am honored to be in the great State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people. I am awed by the beauty and majesty of this sacred and very holy land.”

“This is an amazing country. What you have done, perhaps, has virtually never been done before. I come to this ancient land to reaffirm the enduring friendship between the United States and the State of Israel, and it will always be enduring,” Trump added.

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US President Donald Trump arrived Monday afternoon at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and signed the guest book before beginning his working meeting with President Reuven Rivlin.

Rivlin congratulated Trump on his arrival in Israel and said, “We are happy to see that America is back in the area. America is back again … Israel appreciates America’s leadership and your administration in the action you took in Syria.”

“Even during our most difficult times, we have not given up on our dream of living here in peace with our neighbors,” Rivlin added, “Our destiny, Palestinians and Jews, is to live together in this land.”

Trump congratulated Rivlin and thanked him for his warm hospitality. “I am honored to be in the great State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people. I am awed by the beauty and majesty of this sacred and very holy land.”

“This is an amazing country. What you have done, perhaps, has virtually never been done before. I come to this ancient land to reaffirm the enduring friendship between the United States and the State of Israel, and it will always be enduring,” Trump added.

Trump addressed threats in the region. “Israel and America face common threats from ISIS and other terrorist groups to countries like Iran, that sponsor terrorism and foment terrible violence.”

He said that Israel and the US would speak with one voice to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“Most importantly the United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon — never ever — and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias.”