Archive for the ‘Israeli airstrikes’ category

Four players jockeying for post-war positions in Syria. US & Israel vs Russia & Iran

January 13, 2018

Four players jockeying for post-war positions in Syria. US & Israel vs Russia & Iran, DEBKAfile, January 13, 2018

A notable point made by that attack was that this time, unlike in most other air sorties in Syria, Israel was acting in conjunction with the United States. This was a reversal of Israel’s former strategy during the six years of the Syrian civil war. Until now, its military actions in Syria were kept separate from US operations in that country. The Israeli turnaround followed the revamping of US policy. Trump has dropped his former decision to limit US military action in Syria to fighting the Islamic State. He is now ready to go for the Iranian military presence in Syria including its proxy, Hizballah. This opened the door to closer US-Israeli military cooperation in Syria.

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Trump took a big move in this game on Jan. 12 when he stipulated that Europe agree to overhaul the Iran nuclear accord on enrichment and ballistic missiles.

That condition, which President Donald Trump laid down for the future – when on Friday he met the deadline for re-certifying US sanction waivers and kept the 2015 nuclear accord in place – was just one facet of his administration’s frontal campaign against Iran. The main arena of this evolving pitched battle is Syria, DEBKAfile’s Washington and military sources report, and it targets not only Iran but also Russia. The Trump administration opted for this policy departure as the new year unfolded in the light of four game-changing developments:

  1. Russia is not pulling its army out of Syria after all, despite the commitment made publicly by President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 11. Just the reverse: Moscow is bolstering its military presence there, mainly with air force contingents.
  2. Moves on the ground attest to deepening Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria.
  3. Iran is reported by intelligence agencies to be preparing a large-scale supplementary military deployment to Syria, which our sources estimate as running to several thousand Shiite fighters.
  4. Tehran has boosted its consignments of advanced weaponry to Syria, including ballistic missiles. The Israeli air strike on Jan. 9 targeted one of those shipments when it was delivered to a Syrian ground-to-ground missile base at al-Qutaifa west of Damascus.

A notable point made by that attack was that this time, unlike in most other air sorties in Syria, Israel was acting in conjunction with the United States. This was a reversal of Israel’s former strategy during the six years of the Syrian civil war. Until now, its military actions in Syria were kept separate from US operations in that country. The Israeli turnaround followed the revamping of US policy. Trump has dropped his former decision to limit US military action in Syria to fighting the Islamic State. He is now ready to go for the Iranian military presence in Syria including its proxy, Hizballah. This opened the door to closer US-Israeli military cooperation in Syria.

But there are also broader connotations: Syria finds itself back at the heart of Middle East strife. As the civil war winds down, that country is evolving into a pivotal arena  for big power competition, with the US and Israel lining up against Russia and Iran. Interestingly, the easing of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang has helped Washington switch its focus to  the jockeying for position in post-war Syria against two other rivals, Moscow and Tehran.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has, for his part, done his utmost throughout the conflict to keep an open line of communication with Vladimir Putin and avoid colliding with Russian military elements in Syria. But it is hard to see how he can keep this up in the near future and avoid a clash between Israeli and Russian interests there. Still, in Jerusalem, Moscow was awarded good marks for staying silent over Israel’s latest air strike against the Iranian arms shipment at al-Quteifa.

Important light was shed on US intentions for Iran – even more clearly than President Trump’s future stipulations for abiding by the nuclear deal – when David Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, appeared a day earlier before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Asked by Chris Murphy (D-Conn), “What functions do US troops serve in Syria besides fighting ISIS?” Satterfield and other aides with him declined to answer, except behind closed doors. Only when he was pressed hard by Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and told he is obliged to answer, did Satterfield finally say: “We are deeply concerned with the activities of Iran, with the ability of Iran to enhance those activities through a greater ability to move materiel into Syria. And I would rather leave the discussion at that point.”

US-Israel security interests converge

April 28, 2017

US-Israel security interests converge, Israel Hayom, Yoram Ettinger, April 28, 2017

In 2017, the national security interests of the U.S. and Israel have converged in ‎an unprecedented manner in response to anti-U.S. ‎Islamic terrorism; declining European posture of deterrence; drastic cuts in ‎the U.S. defense budget; an increasingly unpredictable, dangerous globe; ‎Israel’s surge of military and commercial capabilities and U.S.-Israel shared ‎values. ‎

Contrary to conventional wisdom — and traditional State Department policy — ‎U.S.-Israel and U.S.-Arab relations are not a zero-sum game. This is ‎currently demonstrated by enhanced U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, ‎concurrently with expanded security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, ‎Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab countries, as well as stronger ‎cooperation between the U.S. and those same Arab countries. Unlike the ‎simplistic view of the Middle East, Arab policymakers are well aware of their ‎priorities, especially when the radical Islamic machete is at their throats. They ‎are consumed by internal and external intra-Muslim, intra-Arab violence, which ‎have dominated the Arab agenda, prior to — and irrespective of — the ‎Palestinian issue, which has never been a core cause of regional turbulence, a ‎crown-jewel of Arab policymaking or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ‎

Israel’s posture as a unique ally of the U.S. — in the Middle East and beyond — ‎has surged since the demise of the USSR, which transformed the bipolar ‎globe into a multipolar arena of conflicts, replete with highly unpredictable, ‎less controllable and more dangerous tactical threats. Israel possesses proven ‎tactical capabilities in face of such threats. Thus, Israel provides a tailwind to the ‎U.S. in the pursuit of three critical challenges that impact U.S. national security, significantly transcending the scope of the Arab-‎Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue: ‎

‎1. To constrain/neutralize the ayatollahs of Iran, who relentlessly aspire to ‎achieve nuclear capability in order to remove the ‎U.S. from the Persian Gulf, dominate the Muslim world, and subordinate the American “modern-day Crusaders.”‎

‎2. To defeat global Islamic terrorism, which aims to topple all pro-U.S. Arab ‎regimes, expand the abode of Muslim believers and crash the abode of non-Muslim “‎infidels” in the Middle East and beyond.‎

‎3. To bolster the stability of pro-U.S. Arab regimes, which are lethally ‎threatened by the ayatollahs and other sources of Islamic terrorism.

Moreover, Israel has been the only effective regional power to check the North ‎Korean incursion into the Middle East. For instance, on Sept. 6, 2007, the ‎Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria’s nuclear site, built mostly with the support of ‎Iran and North Korea, sparing the U.S. and the globe the wrath of a ruthless, ‎nuclear Assad regime. ‎

While Israel is generally portrayed as a supplicant expecting the U.S. to extend a ‎helping hand, Adm. (ret.) James G. Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, ‎currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts ‎University, says otherwise. He maintains that Israel is not a supplicant but ‎rather a unique geostrategic partner, extending the strategic hand of the U.S. ‎through a mutually beneficial, highly productive ‎relationship with the U.S.

On Jan. 5, 2017, Stavridis wrote: “Our ‎best military partner in the region, by far, is Israel … as we stand together ‎facing the challenges of the Middle East. … Israeli intelligence gathering is ‎superb. … A second zone of potentially enhanced cooperation is in technology ‎and innovation. … In addition to missile defense, doing more together in ‎advanced avionics (as we did with the F-15), miniaturization (like Israel’s small ‎airborne-warning aircraft) and the production of low-cost battlefield unmanned ‎vehicles (both air and surface) would yield strong results. … We should up our ‎game in terms of intelligence cooperation. [The Israeli intelligence ‎services] of our more segregated sectors on a wide range of trends, including the disintegration of Syria, the events in Egypt and the military and nuclear ‎capability of Iran. … Setting up a joint special-forces training and innovation ‎center for special operations in Israel would be powerful. … It truly is a case ‎of two nations that are inarguably stronger together.” ‎

Unlike other major U.S. allies in Europe, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East, ‎Israel does not require U.S. military personnel and bases in order to produce an ‎exceptionally high added value to the annual U.S. investment in — and not ‎‎”foreign aid” to — Israel’s military posture.

For example, the plant manager of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the ‎F-16 and F-35 fighter planes, told me during a visit to the plant in Fort Worth, Texas: “The ‎value of the flow of lessons derived from Israel’s operation, maintenance and ‎repairs of the F-16 has yielded hundreds of upgrades, producing a mega-‎billion-dollar bonanza for Lockheed-Martin, improving research and ‎development, increasing exports and expanding employment.”

A similar ‎added value has benefitted McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 fighter plane ‎in Berkeley, Missouri, as well as hundreds of U.S. defense manufacturers, ‎whose products are operated by Israel. The Jewish state — the most ‎predictable, stable, effective, reliable and unconditional ally of the U.S. — has ‎become the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the U.S. defense ‎industry. ‎

According to a former U.S. Air Force intelligence chief, Gen. George Keegan: ‎‎”I could not have procured the intelligence [provided by Israel on Soviet Air ‎Force capabilities, new Soviet weapons, electronics and jamming devices] with ‎five CIAs. … The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in ‎general, to defend NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it ‎does to any other single source of intelligence.” The former chairman of the ‎Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, revealed that “Israel ‎provided the U.S. [operational lessons and intelligence on advanced Soviet ‎ground-to-air missiles] that would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars to find ‎out.”

On Oct. 28, 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, then-Defense ‎Secretary Dick Cheney stated: “There were many times during the course of ‎the buildup in the Gulf, and subsequent conflict, that I gave thanks for the ‎bold and dramatic action that had been taken some 10 years before [when ‎Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak].” The destruction of Iraq’s ‎nuclear capabilities in 1981 spared the U.S. a nuclear confrontation in 1991.

An Israel-like ally in the Persian Gulf would have dramatically minimized U.S. ‎military involvement in Persian Gulf conflicts, and drastically reduced the ‎monthly, mega-billion dollar cost of U.S. military units and bases in the ‎Gulf and Indian Ocean, as is the current Israel-effect in the eastern flank of ‎the Mediterranean.‎

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Iran: A “Paper Tiger”

April 1, 2017

Iran: A “Paper Tiger,” Iran Focus, March 31, 2017

(What would Russia do? Please see also, Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis? — DM)

London, 31 Mar – While Iran calls for the destruction of Israel, according to some experts, an American or Israeli attack against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear and military sites would be fairly easy to execute. This is because, although Iran points to technological advancement in their military, it is actually has overextended itself in Syria.

A report published in March by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), noted Iran has backed off their provocations against U.S. Navy vessels, and has even ceased their threats to sink these ships in the Persian Gulf. The report continued, “The slogan ‘death to America’ has disappeared almost entirely from the official discourse of regime spokesmen, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, as have public burnings of the American flag.”

Fars News Agency reported on March 26, that deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, warned the U.S. to be more careful about its warship movements in the Persian Gulf, which is a softer warning than we’ve heard in the past from Iranian leaders.

President and founder of MEMRI, Yigal Carmon, has stated that Iran’s claims of domestic development of military technologies are “complete nonsense,” but said that the country’s acquisition of North Korean missiles is concerning. Carmon said further, that Iran imports North Korean missiles and renames them to give the impression that they were domestically developed.

He explained that Iranian media publishes stories every few weeks about success of their military programs. One such story in January 2013, announced that Iran’s Space Agency had sent a monkey into space, yet pictures of the monkey before and after the “mission” failed to match up. “Iran does not create any quality military equipment, they only are able to buy from abroad. What do they invent to counter U.S. ships? All they are able to come up with is suicide speed boats,” he said.

Iran has also “displayed what they claimed to be domestically built submarines, but when we saw the picture that they put out, we saw that the size would be good for the Baltimore aquarium,” said Carmon.

The ballistics test Iran conducted in January failed. Carmon believes that Iran poses no real challenge to the U.S. “If the U.S. or Israel attack Iran’s nuclear sites and military targets, it will be a done deal,” he said.

A comparison of American and Iranian financial resources may bolster this argument. Fox News columnist Jonathan Adelman, an international studies professor at the University of Denver, wrote in February, “Look at the figures. The American GDP of over $18 trillion is more than 40 times the GDP of Iran ($450 billion)…. Given all this, the fear of Iran getting nuclear weapons still remains real. But, even more real is the notion that the biggest power in the world, plus three significant regional powers (Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), could handle Iran if they would put their minds to it.”

Iran sank $6 billion annually of its resources into the Syrian Civil War, according to Bloomberg News.

Dr. Harold Rhode, a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, and a former U.S. Defense Department official, has stated that while America is strong both militarily and internally, Iran and North Korea “appear strong, but are weak and rotten inside.” Rhode said that while Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, it is destroying its country by inaction on domestic problems such as its water crisis. London-based NGO Small Media published a study in March 2016, saying that Iran “faces an unprecedented crisis of water resources that threatens to render vast swathes of the country near-uninhabitable within the coming decades.”

A dangerous opium drug problem is also facing Iran. Rhode speculated that Iranian authorities could crack down on drugs, but ignore it instead, in order “to keep the people preoccupied so they don’t concern themselves with overthrowing the government.”

Rhode believes the American or Israeli approach should be one of strength, but said, “Do we need to have a massive invasion [of Iran]? No. We must show that this regime cannot do what is necessary to keep themselves in power.”

There are alternatives to “actual physical attacks,” such as electronic warfare, when it comes to confronting Iran, according to MEMRI’s Carmon.

Rhode said other options should be considered before putting troops on the ground, including bringing about regime change. “We live in very stable societies, we expect changes to come slowly, but that is not how it works in totalitarian societies like Iran. The moment the people see the regime has lost its ability and willingness to keep itself in power, the regime will topple very quickly, as happened to the shah in 1979. The shah was not willing to do what was necessary to put down the rioting,” he said, and called Iran a “potentially a paper tiger” adding that it is “our job to encourage regime change—and we can.”

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel

March 19, 2017

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel, DEBKAfile, March 18, 2017

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

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Israel finally took a hand in the swiftly moving events looming from Syria over its northern borders by launching multiple air raids against the key northern Syrian air base known as T4 near Palmyra early Friday night March 17.

Those events are spearheaded by the pro-Iranian Hizballlah’s drive to capture the Golan in line with its war of “resistance” on the Jewish state.  This fixation came into sharp focus the day after the air strike in a rare admission by Hizballah of the loss of a commander. He was named Badee Hamiyeh and was described as having been killed “in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.”  This was the first anyone had heard of any recent battle on the Golan.

A week earlier, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and IDF Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Hertzl Halevi showed President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin maps depicting the various military movements ongoing in Syria, with the accent on an armored convoy of several hundred Hizballah troops driving out of their Syrian stronghold of Zabadani towards Mt. Hermon. The convoy was clearing a path by overrunning some 30 Syrian rebel villages on the Hermon slopes, which command the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra and the Israeli border.

This evidence demonstrated that Hizballah had developed a single military stratagem for threatening Israel-held Hermon, ruling central Golan and gearing up for battle to restore the entire Golan area to Syrian sovereignty under Hizballah control.

Netanyahu had hoped that Putin would agree to stop the Hizballah convoy and keep his promise not to let Iran and Hizballah deploy on the Israeli border. However, the Russian leader was unresponsive. Not only were Russian commanders in Syria not instructed to restrain Hizballah, they acted to persuade Syrian rebels on the Hermon and the Golan to surrender to he Lebanese Shiite invaders.

And indeed, as the Hizballah advance continued. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah contrived an equation to justify his assault on the Golan. “They brought ISIS to the Beqaa [Hizballah’s Lebanese stronghold] and so the ‘resistance’ [Hizballah] went to Syria. They wanted this group to reach Beirut, and so, today, we are in Golan.”

Seeing Hizballah on the move unchecked and gearing up for an expeced showdown with Israel, Netanyahu and the IDF decided to take matters in their own hands. They ordered several air force strikes Friday on the relatively remote strategic T4 air base near Palmyra in northeastern Syria and hit several birds with one stone.

DEBKAfile’s military sources describe T4 as the main terminal for Iranian planes to land day by day and unload  war materials for their own forces as well as the Syrian army and Hizballah.This air base also houses Russian attack helicopters and special operations troops, whose presence there was trusted by Tehran and Nasrallah to be an effective shield against Israeli attack.

The IAF air strike Friday proved them wrong.

These developments were the subtext of the video statement by Netanyahu that was broadcast Friday night by Israeli media: “I can assure you that our resolve is firm, as attested to by our actions,” he said. “This is something that everyone should take into account, everyone!.” When he said, “everyone,” he was not just addressing Tehran and Beirut, but Moscow as well.

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

The Kremlin got the message and, a few hours after the Israeli air strikes, Israeli Ambassador Cary Koren was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. There was no official protest, but Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov firmly informed the ambassador that Moscow would not tolerate any further Israeli attacks on Syrian bases where Russian forces were present.

In the course of the raid, Israel’s advanced anti-missile Arrow system made its first operational appearance. IDF chiefs feared that the Syrian anti-air missiles fired against the Israeli jets might fall on a populated location inside Israel and so decided it was necessary to intercept any incoming projectiles.

Israel’s military experts got into an argument, which will no doubt go on for years, over whether Arrow’s first appearance in this situation was a good or a bad move. However, the deafening bang that the IDF wonder weapon inflicted on millions of Israeli ears, within a radius of more than a 150 kilometers from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean, offered an inkling of how much worse it will be in a full-scale conflict.