Archive for the ‘Israel and Syria’ category

Israel and Saudi Arabia: a desert mirage or a new alliance?

November 21, 2017

Israel and Saudi Arabia: a desert mirage or a new alliance? | Anne’s Opinions, 21st November 2017

In the crazy world of Middle East wars, politics and shifting alliances, it is hardly surprising that relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are warming up from their deep freeze. In fact this is an alliance (“friendship” is too strong a word to use) that has been revving in the background for quite some time, ever since the rise of ISIS and more importantly, the tailwind given to Iran by our “friends” in the Obama administration and their European allies through the JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal.

In the interim there has been some political upheaval in the kingdom, with princes and heirs to the throne being replaced at an eye-watering pace. The newest heir to the throne is determined to drag the medieval country into the 21st century, by whatever means:

(CNN)Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to inherit the throne from his 81-year-old father, is not a patient man. The 32-year-old is driving a frenetic pace of change in pursuit of three goals: securing his hold on power, transforming Saudi Arabia into a very different country, and pushing back against Iran.

Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

In the two years since his father ascended the throne, this favorite son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz has been spectacularly successful at achieving the first item on his agenda. He has become so powerful so fast that observers can hardly believe how brazenly he is dismantling the old sedate system of family consensus, shared privilege and rigid ultraconservatism.
In the process, however, MBS, as the crown prince is known, is making a lot of enemies.
Much of the prince’s agenda is laudable and long overdue. He has no interest in democratic reforms, but he does want to introduce social reforms, and is making some progress on that front. That, too, is making him enemies among the old guard.
He has vowed to improve the status of women, announcing that the ban on women driving will be lifted next year, and limiting the scope of the execrable “guardianship” system, which treats women like children, requiring permission from male guardians for basic activities. He has also restrained the despised religious police. And just last month he called for a return to a “moderate Islam open to the world and all religions,” combating extremism and empowering its citizens.
On the economic front, bin Salman wants to reinvent an economy that became complacent from fantastic oil riches — only to see oil prices crash — and bring it into the 21st century with his ambitious Vision 2030 plan.
But the prince’s revolutionary changes require, above all, making sure he remains in charge, and he is letting nothing stand in his way.

The prince is not bluffing. That became startlingly clear last Sunday, when he unexpectedly ordered the arrest of some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men.

Read it all, it makes for a thrilling read, even though this is not fiction but real life with very real and dangerous potential consequences if it fails.

Meanwhile, the latest pronouncements and actions emanating from Saudi Arabia give us pause for a cautious hope, though with each country having an influence on the next, there is always the danger of a domino effect, or maybe we should call it the dangers of unforeseen consequences.

The Saudis called on Hezbollah to disarm, threatening to oust it from Lebanon:

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday called on the Hezbollah terrorist organization to disarm, warning the group that regional efforts were underway to oust them from the Lebanese government.

At a press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, al-Jubeir denounced Hezbollah as “a tool of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” and “a first-class terrorist organization used by Iran to destabilize Lebanon and the region.”

Saad Hariri, (former?) PM of Lebanon

“Hezbollah has kidnapped the Lebanese system,” he said.

Al-Jubeir added that “consultations and coordination between peace-loving countries and Lebanon-loving countries are underway to try to find a way that would restore sovereignty to Lebanon and reduce the negative action which Hezbollah is conducting in Lebanon.”

The minister’s remarks came as the kingdom rejected accusations that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was being detained in Riyadh following his shock resignation earlier this month.

In response Hezbollah raised the alert across Lebanon, which further complicates matters for Israel:

The Hezbollah terror group has raised its alert status across Lebanon, fearing threat of attack by Israel and other nations, Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported Saturday.

The news came amid a political crisis between Beirut and Saudi Arabia, sparked by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation. Hariri cited Iran and Hezbollah’s meddling in the region as the reason he was stepping down. The November 4 resignation broadcast from the Saudi capital is widely believed to have been engineered by the Gulf kingdom.

The Kuwaiti paper further reported that Hezbollah leaders have instructed a halt to arms shipments sent to the group from Iran through war-torn Syria.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, though it rarely officially confirms such attacks.

In August a former air force chief said Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Lebanese terror group over the past five years.

Al-Jubeir warned Friday that there will be no stability in Lebanon unless Hezbollah disarms.

The resignation of Saudi-aligned Hariri has thrown Lebanon into turmoil and raised concerns that the country could be dragged into a battle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Indeed Israel has been watching Syria’s actions carefully and taking defensive action where necessary. On Sunday the IDF fired on Syrian targets fortifying positions near the demilitarized zone Golan heights:

The IDF fired upon Syrian army positions Sunday evening near the Israeli border in the Golan Heights on Sunday, the IDF spokesperson’s office reported.

IDF in a military exercise near the Syrian border

Syrian forces had been working to fortify a military outpost in the buffer zone, in violation of ceasefire agreements, and an IDF tank fired deterring shots in response.

A similar incident occurred on Saturday, when an IDF tank fired a warning shell near Syrian forces after identifying a Syrian army-built outpost in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel, similarly contrary to ceasefire agreements.

According to the IDF, the outpost was located close to the Druse village of Hader on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

Earlier this month, following intense fighting in the village, the IDF said it was willing to provide assistance and prevent the capture of the Druse village by anti-regime forces.

Meanwhile Israel is continuing its humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees. For the first time ever, the IDF permitted Israeli TV Channel 2 News to film the crossing of some refugees, and one Syrian mother of a sick child said “All Syrians want to come to Israel” – a mind-boggling statement considering that Israel and Syria have been deadly enemies since Israel’s establishment and even before:

Extraordinary footage showing Syrian mothers crossing into Israel with their sick children for medical care was broadcast by Israel’s Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) on Sunday after the Israel Defense Force (IDF) permitted the channel to film for the first time operations part of its ongoing policy of providing care for civilians and select combatants injured in the country’s raging civil war.

In interviews accompanying the footage, several Syrian mothers expressed deep gratitude to Israel for providing medical assistance and said that many Syrians living near the border no longer view Israel as the enemy, while another said that “all Syrians” would come to Israel if given the opportunity.

“Israel was thought of as the enemy… Now that you are helping us, most [on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights] are with you. They love Israel. They see the true face… the reality,” one mother said.

Another added that the real enemies are “Islamic State, Hezbollah, Bashar [Assad]. They’re all the same.”

“I wish we could stay here for good,” another interviewee told the reporter. “I’d be the first to cross [if the border were open]” she said, adding that “all of Syria would follow me. All the civilians left in Syria would come.”

Read their heart-breaking stories of abuse, murder, executions and more at the hands of the various Syrian factions and the regime.

Watch the video below:

With this in mind, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the Arab nations to make peace with Israel and confront Iran:

“After Daesh, Iran,” Liberman tweeted on Saturday, referring to the Islamic State by its Arabic name. “[Late Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat was a brave leader, who went against the stream and paved the way for other Arab leaders to recognize the importance of strategic ties with Israel.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman looking through binoculars during a visit to the Israel’s northern border, November 14, 2017. Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

“40 years after his historic visit to Israel, I call on leaders in the region to follow the path of President Sadat, come to Jerusalem and open a new chapter, not just in terms of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, but for the whole region,” Liberman wrote.

Sadat famously flew to Jerusalem ahead of signing the Camp David peace deal with Israel, the first Arab leader to do so. Sadat was later assassinated for his actions.

“The Middle East today needs, more than anything else, a coalition of moderate states against Iran. The coalition against Daesh has finished its work, after Daesh, Iran,” Liberman wrote in remarks that appeared to be directed in part at Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has in recent days stepped up its efforts to counteract Iran and its proxies in Yemen, and the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

All these shifting alliances hold great potential benefit for Israel, especially Saudi Arabia’s turnabout, but Melanie Phillips wonders if it is all too good to be true:

According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, reported here, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, has issued a quite remarkable religious ruling. Answering a question on TV about the Palestinian Arab riots over Temple Mount last July, he didn’t merely denounce Hamas as a “terror organisation”.

Much more significantly he actually issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, forbidding war against the Jews; and he said that fighting against Israel was inappropriate.

How can this be anything other than highly significant?

With a religious fatwa coming on the heels of a Saudi realignment as well as their internal political upheaval, it is probably good news – we will just have to be patient, to wait and see:

We can all obviously see the politics behind this. Saudi Arabia is in the fight of its life with Iran, to which end it has forged tacit and not-so-tacit alliances with Israel as well as the US. The new, reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not only supported this alliance with Israel but, more remarkably, has said that now is the time for the kingdom to get rid of Wahhabi extremism and revert to “what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions”.

… the fact that the Prince made such a statement about now getting rid of extremism, in public, followed by this fatwa from the Grand Mufti, in public, surely suggests that the tectonic plates might just be beginning to shift within the heartland of Sunni fundamentalism.

Too good to be true? Just more smoke and mirrors? Of no more significance than a temporary alliance of expediency? Maybe. Nevertheless, a religious statement goes beyond politics. Neither the Prince nor the Grand Mufti needed to open up the religious issue in public at all. Watch this space, eh.

I’m sure the Israeli authorities are proceeding with caution. כבדהו וחשדהו is what they say in Hebrew: Literally: respect him and suspect him. Verify and justify.

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones

November 11, 2017

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones, DEBKAfile, November 11, 2017

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

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The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, likely with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s flexibility on the buffer zones for keeping Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces far from its borders.

The Syrian UAV which flew over the Golan demilitarized zone Saturday, Nov. 11, was a direct result of the failure of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to reach an agreement in time for the Danang summit in Vietnam on the political and military future of Syria. They were at odds in particular on the depth of the buffer zone to be carved out between Syria and Israel. This is reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s sources.

The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, presumably with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s reactions and find out how far into Israeli air space the drone would be permitted to enter. This probe was to be taken as a measure of Israeli flexibility and willingness to accept a buffer zone between IDF positions and Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces of less than 30-40km deep.

Israel struck back and launched a Patriot missile defense system which intercepted the Syrian drone before it crossed the border and reached Israeli air space over the Golan. No breach of Israel’s sovereignty was allowed to occur.

Neither did a “high-ranking IDF source” need to offer reassurance that the Russian liaison apparatus was kept in the picture, since the Russian officers in Syria must have tracked the UAV and taken note of the message Israel relayed by shooting it down.

Our sources add that the Trump administration, as well as Moscow, is pushing Israel hard for flexibility as to the depth of the Syrian buffer zone. But the Netanyahu government has not so far given way, in the knowledge that Tehran fully intends to maintain military strength together with its proxies, including Hizballah, in post-war Syria.

The BBC revelation of Friday, Nov. 11, supported by large satellite images, that Iran is building a permanent base in Syria just 50km from the Israeli-Syrian Golan border, was intended to show that Israeli leaders don’t mean what they say. The site cited by “Western intelligence sources” is El-Kiswah, 14km from Damascus, where Syrian military facilities already exist

The British report contains several quotes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declarations that Israel will not permit Iran to establish a military presence in Syria that threatens its borders.

The May government has a bone to pick with Netanyahu on other issues. The Brits, whom both Washington and Moscow have cut out of decision-making on Syria’s future, were also taking a dig at them both by showing that Tehran is out of their control.

The buffer zone is not the only topic on which Trump and Putin are in discord on the shape of post-war Syria.

The plan for a US-Russian deal on a final accommodation was meant to ride on the momentum of the recent military successes in pushing ISIS back from eastern Syria and into western Iraq. Both presidents felt that these victories were too good not to use for working together on Syria’s future. Therefore, when ISIS strongholds in Al Qaim, Iraq and Abu Kamal, Syria fell to joint Iraqi-Syrian-Hizballah-pro-Iranian Shiite militia forces in the last two weeks, both the US and Russia were eager to seize star roles as victors by forging a final accord for ending the Syrian war.

However, the US and Russian teams working on a draft accord found the gaps between them too great to bridge at this time. They are at loggerheads on major issues —  such as the political future of Bashar Assad — how long he would remain president and how much power must he hand over to Syrian opposition groups in a government coalition. Neither do they see eye to eye on the disposition of foreign armies to remain in the country, specifically Iran’s role in the new Syria.

Last Friday, Nov. 10, DEBKAfile reported that the differences between Trump and Putin on the Syrian issue had prevented the release of a statement of accord. The US president insisted that without an accord there would be no formal sit-down at the Vietnam Asian summit.

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

Israel tries to balance Iran strategy between Trump and Putin

October 17, 2017

Israel tries to balance Iran strategy between Trump and Putin, DEBKAfile, October 17, 2017

(Please see also, Iran Plays Chess, We Play Checkers. — DM)

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, on October 17, 2017. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90 *** Local Caption *** יד ושם
רוסיה
שר ההגנה הרוסי
סרגיי שויגו
שר הביטחון
אביגדור ליברמן
ראש הממשלה

The Israeli defense minister is due to fly to Washington Wednesday, Oct. 18, for talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat goes on ahead to meet his US counterpart Gen. H.R. McMaster.

However, as seen from Moscow – and possibly Jerusalem too – the Trump administration is more to blame than any other actor operating in the Middle East for Iran’s deepening grip on Syria, US actions starkly contradicting the president’s fiery rhetoric against the Islamic Republic and all its actions.

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Israel’s leaders stressed to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu the importance of thwarting Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. But can’t expect much from Moscow – any more than Washington.  

Visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu heard Tuesday, Oct. 17, from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman that Israel would not stand for Iran and Hizballah making Syria their forward operational base against Israel, and would act to prevent their military entrenchment along the Syrian-Israeli border.

This was not news to the Russian minister, on his first visit to Israel since his appointment five years ago. The Kremlin has heard this mantra time and time and again and the visitor must have wondered what his Israeli hosts expected him to do. Both Shoigu and his boss, President Vladimir Putin, would also prefer not to see Iran dug deep militarily in Syria. So oddly enough, Moscow and Jerusalem could find a sliver of common ground for cooperating in both Syria and Iraq, but for their different viewpoints. While the Russians are practical enough to live with a strong Iranian military presence in Syria so long as it serves their interests, Israel is flatly against Iran or its proxies’ proximity to its borders as a grave peril to its national security.

The Israeli defense minister is due to fly to Washington Wednesday, Oct. 18, for talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat goes on ahead to meet his US counterpart Gen. H.R. McMaster.

However, as seen from Moscow – and possibly Jerusalem too – the Trump administration is more to blame than any other actor operating in the Middle East for Iran’s deepening grip on Syria, US actions starkly contradicting the president’s fiery rhetoric against the Islamic Republic and all its actions.

Since late September, the US has been drawing down most of its positions in eastern Syria, opening the door for Hizballah to walk in and for pro-Iranian Iraqi militias to take control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. This has made Tehran the strategic gift of its coveted land bridge to the Mediterranean.

Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on the day, Monday, Oct. 16, on which pro-Iranian militias under the command of a Revolutionary Guards general, Qassem Soleimani, swept the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk out of the hands of America’s allies, the Kurdish Peshmerga, a leading light in the US-led coalition for fighting the Islamic State.

If Trump meant what he said about beating down the Revolutionary Guards, why did he not stop them from taking Kirkuk?

In contrast to the Kirkuk debacle, the US-backed SDF Syrian Kurdish-Arab force said Tuesday that the Islamic State’s Syrian capital of Raqqa had fallen after a bitter four-month battle. The Kurdish YPG militia raised its flag over the municipal stadium and chanted victory slogans from vehicles driving through the streets.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that when word of the victory reached the White House, Brett McGurk, President Trump’s special envoy for the global coalition versus ISIS, set out from Washington to Raqqa

But that operation was the exception – not the rule. In Iraq, Washington stood by as the Revolutionary Guards called the shots against the Kurds.

For weeks, Moscow has been asking Washington to explain what it is up to on the Syrian and Iraqi warfronts and has come up empty. Israeli visitors are unlikely to fare much better when they put the same question to top Trump administration officials, even taking into account the profound difference in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington compared with Moscow and Jerusalem.

 

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel

September 27, 2017

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel, American Thinker, Michael Berenhaus, September 27, 2017

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

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Israel courts Syrians with humanitarian aid on border” (9/12/17) is yet another Washington Post article that tells a true, touching story yet spins it 180 degrees because of the paper’s antipathy toward Israel.  Israel takes in its neighbor’s war casualties and is vilified for the deed.  Talk about no good deed going unpunished! 

The article admits that “[m]ore than 600 Syrian children have been bused to Israeli hospitals for treatment in the past year.”  And “Israel has now treated more than 3,000 wounded Syrians, military officials say, though a Syrian medic on the other side of the border said the number traveling for care appeared to be higher.” 

But then there are the digs.  “Israeli officials stress the humanitarian aspect of the program, but it has another aim: to create a friendly zone just inside Syria as a bulwark against Israel’s arch enemy.”  The Washington Post provides no evidence to support this. 

The headline of the second page of the article on A13 reads, “Israeli aid to Syrians is humanitarian and strategic.”  But even according to the Post’s own reporting, “[i]t was in 2013, Israeli military officials say, when the first Syrians approached the Israeli fence on the Golan Heights.”  The Post provides no evidence that contradicts Israel’s official report.  The Post then adds its own spin by saying Israel’s motive for helping the wounded was “strategic.”  In a court of law, such conjecture would be deemed inadmissible.  Further, if the Syrians initiated the plea for help, what does that say about the motivations of the Israeli people?

According to the Post, “Israel has transferred 360 tons of food, nearly 120,000 gallons of gasoline, 90 pallets of drugs and 50 tons of clothing as well as generators, water piping and building material, the IDF says.”  Israel also has given supplies and medical care in areas ranging from as far away as Haiti and most recently Florida (See here.)  Was this also strategic?

 Moreover, is this reporting of Israel consistent with how The Washington Post reports on other countries providing humanitarian aid or disaster assistance?  Or does The Washington Post single out Israel when it comes to this sort of critique?  Without a doubt, the latter!

The Washington Post can’t help but be negative on Israel.  The Post states, “Israel has been in a state of war with its northern neighbor [Syria] for nearly 70 years.”  Hardly!  The truth: Syria and most surrounding Arab or Muslim nations have been at war with Israel for nearly 70 years.

Israel can’t get a break at The Washington Post.  Israel is less than 1% of the Middle East, and the moment it declared independence in 1948, five Arab armies and the local Arabs, now known as Palestinians, attacked the nascent Jewish state with the goal of genocide.  And they didn’t hide that goal!  They bragged about the impending genocide.  Fortunately, the Jewish state won.  Had it not, it would have meant back-to-back Holocausts for the Jewish people.

The Post described a seven-year old girl whose mother said a Syrian “local commander told them to go to Israel” for treatment.  Does this sound like a plot hatched by Israel for disingenuous reasons?

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

 

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra

July 19, 2017

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra, DEBKAfile, July 19, 2017

(Please see also, Operation Good Neighbor: Israel’s part in Syria.– DM)

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

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As Russian troops began moving into the Quneitra ceasefire sector opposite Israel’s Golan border on Wednesday, July 19, they found they were in hot competition with Israel over … humanitarian aid for the sector’s rebel-held villages.

Since Israel is adamantly opposed to the Russian presence in the Quneitra demilitarized zone – although it was endorsed by the Trump administration, as DEBKAfile reported exclusively on Tuesday, July 18 – Moscow decided to take it slowly and meanwhile try and win over the Syrian rebel groups whom Israel has succored for years. The Kremlin figured that if these anti-Assad groups could be weaned away from Israel, they might be persuaded to cooperate with the Russian troops in setting up the Quneitra ceasefire zone, and the Russians would not need Israel’s compliance.

On Tuesday, therefore, a Russian military convoy drove into Jabah, a village northeast of Qunetra town and 4km from Israel’s Golan border. Officers described as belonging to the “Russian Defense Ministry’s reconciliation center” alit from the trucks and began handing out food packages to the villagers.

The civilians received necessities and were treated by Russian doctors, a Syrian officer announced. Russian and Syrian officers promised that more humanitarian aid would be delivered to “settlements across the Quneitra province” and Russian doctors would visit all the villages in the ceasefire zone.

Israel, who has been sending aid across these Syrian villages which were cut off by the civil war from basic necessities, has mostly kept its humanitarian program under wraps, except when witnesses reported what they saw to the media. On Wednesday, the IDF officers running the program asked sardonically: “Where were the Russians all these years when Israel alone helped the beleaguered villages across its border?”

After watching the Russian troops hand out packages to the people of Quneitra, the Israeli government and military chiefs decided to challenge the Russian belated propaganda move.

Up until now, Israel has supplied regular humanitarian aid to some 200,000 Syrian villagers living in 80 non-ISIS rebel-controlled villages 15km deep inside the Syrian Golan. Last year alone, Israel sent over half a million liters of heavy fuel, 360 tonnes of foodstuffs, 77 tonnes of clothing and shoes, tens of generators and water system, as well as providing them with medical treatment, including hospital care for sick and injured Syrians and a field hospital on the border.

Wednesday, Israel formalized its assistance program under the title “The Good Neighbor” and disclosed it had been administered since 2016 by a special unit of the Bashan Division which is in charge of the Golan sector.

The IDF released footage of trucks ferrying across the border supplies of medical equipment, medicines, foodstuffs and fuel, as well as pictures documenting IDF medics lifting Injured Syrians off the battlefield for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

According to IDF statistics, at least 3,000 Syrians crossed the border in the past four years for medical treatment. And Israel sent over as needed incubators, respirators and ambulances. In the same period, the IDF conducted 150 assistance operations on Syrian soil.

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones

July 5, 2017

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones, DEBKAfile, July 5, 2017

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

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The fifth round of Russian-initiated Syrian peace talks taking place Tuesday, July 4, in the Kazakh capital of Astana was designed to prepare the ground for the Trump-Putin summit Friday on the sidelines of the Hamburg G20 summit, by laying out proposals for deconfliction zones in Syria.

To support this move, Moscow twisted the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s arm to declare a unilateral ceasefire in southern Syria.

However, the ploy was soon aborted. The Astana conference quickly broke down when Iran and Turkey, two of the three sponsors along with Russia, rejected the formula for deconfliction zones on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Jordan and Israel, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Present at Astana along with the three sponsors were leading Syrian opposition and rebel groups, as well as UN envoy for Syrian affairs Staffan de Minstura, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, and Jordanian Foreign Ministry adviser Nawaf Uasfi Tal.

The Iranina and Turkish delegates had no objections to the two demilitarized zones proposed for the Damascus and Homs areas, but withheld their consent for the zones in eastern and southern Syria, and refused to accept the formula for forces policing the latter deconfliction zones, their identity, powers as truce monitors and the types of arms they were allowed to carry.

Iran and Turkey demanded the deployment of their own troops along with Russians in the two safe zones, which border on Israel, Jordan and Iraq, and wanted them armed for “self-defense.” The representatives of the US and Jordan refused, proposing instead that an international force be established to supervise the zones. Turkey and Iran rejected this out of hand.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

By knuckling under to Tehran on this venue, the Russians have shown their hand as supporters of Iran’s military objectives in Syria, which they have hitherto tried to disguise.

The failure of the Astana peace track calls into question the ceasefire declared on Sunday by Damascus on all the warfronts of southeastern Syria, including the battle for Daraa, 1 km from the Jordanian border, and the fighting for the Quneitra region, just 3 km from Israel’s Golan.  That front was the source of the mortar shells that strayed across the border into the Golan last week.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

Northern border heating up

June 27, 2017

Northern border heating up, Israel Hayom, Ofek Ish Maas, June 27, 2017

(Please see also, After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel.– DM)

In the past few days, the Syrian civil war has been knocking on Israel’s door. On Saturday, 10 errant mortars and tank shells landed in the northern Golan Heights, and at the beginning of the week the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported a few more ordnance hits in open areas.

In accordance with policy, the IDF responded by firing at Syrian army targets. But although tenuous quiet has been restored, we cannot discount the possibility that errant fire from Syria will continue and increase.

The army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was responsible for the errant fire, is trying to block an attack by rebels, who want to break through and reach the highway that leads from Damascus to the southwestern city of Daraa, which has been the site of heavy fighting for control of southern Syria over the past month.

Since the beginning of June, Daraaa has been subjected to massive bombing by the Syrian regime and its allies. Hundreds of barrel bombs and rockets and dozens of bombs from Syrian and Russian planes have rained down on the city. According to rebel reports, some of the bombs even included phosphorus. Among other things, in an attempt to deter the rebels, the regime intentionally attacked a school in a nearby village, killing more than 20 women and children who had sought shelter there. The worsening situation led the local government to declare Daraa and its surroundings a disaster area.

Daraa, which lies about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of Israel and 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Syria’s border with Jordan, is a strategic target for the Syrian regime. First, control over border crossings in a symbol of sovereignty and the implementation of Assad’s desire to once again control all of Syria. Second, the regime and its Shiite allies want to reduce the chance of a sustainable security buffer zone under Western, Jordanian, and Israeli influence being established in southern Syria. Assad’s forces reaching the Jordanian border would stop the supply of logistic, military, and humanitarian aid Western and Persian Gulf nations are sending the rebels and would create a divide between the two rebel-controlled areas in southern Syria.

With a goal so important to the regime, and with the increasingly serious stand-off between the U.S., Russia, and Iran in eastern Syria threatening any chances of a peace deal in the south, it appears that nothing is stopping Assad from proceeding full force.

The ramifications for Israel’s security could be heavy. In the short term, if we see a repeat of the images out of Aleppo at the end of 2016 — women and children slaughtered, buildings collapsing with people inside, the use of unconventional weapons against civilians — there will be waves of displaced persons, some of whom might seek shelter along the border, in Israel’s shadow, and even ask for asylum. In the long term, Israel’s northeastern front could become a stronghold of Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias that would comprise a threat to security and safety in northern Israel.

Israel must decide how it will prepare to prevent these dangerous scenarios. It must choose between increasing support for the Sunni rebels as a buffer against Iran and its satellites, or assenting through silence to Assad returning to power. If Israel wants to stick to the idea of a buffer zone, it will have to increase support for the rebels and provide them with defense coverage, both diplomatic, against Russia, and military, in hope that the U.S. will agree. But diverting American attention to southwestern Syria will hamper its efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the east and prevent Iran from filling the ensuing vacuum. Israel, therefore, would have to roll up its sleeves and plunge its hands into the Syrian mess. On the other hand, if Israel is unwilling to do so, it will have to set clear rules of engagement for the Assad regime, which is regaining ground, by demanding that Iranian satellites not gain a foothold in the region and backing that demand up with military action.

In any case, neither option is certain and each has its risks. But the reality in Syria, especially in the south of the country, is changing fast, and the comparative security that Israel has been enjoying is in danger and requires immediate planning and responses.

Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer) is a research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies.