Archive for the ‘Russia and Iran’ category

Domestic Protests and Trump Inauguration Both Threaten Iran’s Relations with Russia

January 14, 2017

Domestic Protests and Trump Inauguration Both Threaten Iran’s Relations with Russia, Iran News Update, January 13, 2017

(Fascinating article. Please see also, Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel. “The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct.” — DM)

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With the US and Russia strongly at odds, it was understood that Moscow would defend its Iranian partners in disputes over the nuclear deal. But if the US and Russia begin to reconcile and engage in greater political coordination under the Trump administration, this situation could be threatened, especially at a time when Iran’s partnership with Russia is also being openly challenged at home.

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On Wednesday, Voice of America News published an article detailing some of the protests that were seen in Iran on the occasion of the state-organized funeral of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Various slogans were heard to be shouted as part of those protests, and Iranian state media muted the television broadcast of the funeral as a result. These included calls for the release of political prisoners including the Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. But the funeral also served as an outlet for critical sentiments about the Iranian regime’s relationship with Russia and the associated interventions in the Syrian Civil War.

VOA News noted that demonstrators could be heard shouting “Death to Russia” and “the Russian embassy is a den of spies,” in mimicry of slogans that have been used against the United States by supporters of the Islamic theocracy. The report suggested that these demonstrations reflected both a change in the Iranian government’s view of Russia and widespread popular anxiety about that change. That anxiety in turn adds to questions about the durability of the Iran-Russia alliance, which some analysts have characterized not as an alliance but as a tenuous “partnership of convenience.”

Although Iran and Russia have both been backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad virtually since the outset of the civil war aimed at ousting his government, it has frequently been suggested that the two countries’ interests in the region could begin to diverge in a way that threatened their cooperation. Russia’s partnership with Iran was already threatened by its friendly relations with Iran’s bitter enemy, Israel. And as the Syrian Civil War has dragged on, that threat has apparently intensified with Iran providing anti-Israeli Shiite paramilitary Hezbollah a permanent base in Syria.

Leaving aside the different perceptions of this situation by Tehran and Moscow, it has also been suggested that the latter could be more willing to accept a future for Syria in which Assad is not a long-term player. This difference is arguably reflected in the different degrees of hostility with which the two countries pursue moderate Syrian rebels. Although both have been accused of focusing their efforts on those moderate rebels instead of militant groups like ISIL, Russia guaranteed safe passage to the rebels and to civilians in rebel-controlled territory following the recent conquest of Aleppo. Iran, on the other hand, stopped fleeing Syrians at its own checkpoints and demanded concessions from the rebels to secure their release.

If such differences do reflect broader tensions in the Iran-Russia partnership, it is possible that these could be exploited by other interested parties, particularly incoming US President Donald Trump. Since winning election in November, Trump has continued to advocate for improved relations with Russia, while also maintaining a hard line on such issues as the Iran nuclear agreement.

His prospective Cabinet appointees have largely maintained this same line. The Weekly Standardreports that Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has called for a thorough review of the nuclear agreement, in the interest of strengthening its enforcement mechanisms and making sure that Tehran is held accountable to its provisions to a greater extent than it was under the Obama administration. Meanwhile, UPI reports that Trump’s Secretary of Defense pick, James Mattis, underscored the importance of such a review when he referred to Iran as the worst destabilizing force in the Middle East.

Speaking more concretely during his Senate confirmation hearing, Mattis described Iran’s “malign influence” as having grown as a result of recent policies, and suggested that it would be the responsibility of the incoming presidential administration to see that the United States counters that influence, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course this objective, if adopted by the administration itself, will have serious bearing on its strategy with regard to Syria, where improved relations with Russia could also play a part.

Although Mattis also expressed an interest in taking a fairly hard line on Russia, his comments to this effect are at odds with those of the president elect and in any event, they would have to be reconciled with the desire to undermine the power of a Middle Eastern government that could be significantly constrained by Russia.

The Voice of America article indicated that some Iranian officials are noticeably worried about the effects that improved relations between Moscow and Washington could have on Iran’s plans for its Russian partnership. These effects would probably not be limited to the Syrian Civil War but would also include changes in the ways in which the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is understood and enforced.

Earlier this week, the seven parties that had negotiated that agreement met in Geneva, for the last time before US President Barack Obama leaves office and Donald Trump is sworn in. There was some danger of Iran using this meeting to initiate conflict-resolution mechanisms built into the agreement, following comments by the Iranian Foreign Ministry promising “retaliation” and demanding “compensation” from the US for its reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act.

The provisions of that act remain suspended under the JCPOA, but US congressmen almost universally considered it important to keep the law in effect for the next ten years, so as to retain a credible threat of the “snap back” of economic sanctions in the event that Iran is caught cheating on the deal. The Iranians, on the other hand, had insisted that any additional sanctions activity – even unenforced activity – would be regarded as a violation of the spirit of the deal.

However, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Tehran had effectively backed down from its previous threats in the context of the meeting. This apparent change in tone may support a conclusion put forward in a previous Iran News Update article, which suggested that Iran was beginning to reorient its strategies regarding the JCPOA, so as to account for the change in prospective responses under the Trump administration as compared to the Obama administration.

Trump’s own threats to tear up or undermine the nuclear deal are one aspect of this, and they may necessitate that Tehran act differently in order to preserve that deal. Previously, the Iranians themselves had suggested a willingness to tear up the agreement, but some analysts took this to be a ploy to gain further concessions at a time when the Obama White House was paranoid about losing its foreign policy legacy. Some also viewed that ploy as successful, considering that Iran made several perceived violations, including two instances of exceeding heavy water limits, but faced no serious consequences under the deal.

But in times to come, the Iranian regime may have to treat more lightly if it wishes to preserve the agreement, which provided Iran with tens of billions of dollars in unfrozen assets, plus unspecified benefits from sanctions relief and new international business. The changing circumstances reflect not only the loss of a conciliatory opponent in the Obama administration, but also the prospective loss of a strong international backer in the Russian government.

With the US and Russia strongly at odds, it was understood that Moscow would defend its Iranian partners in disputes over the nuclear deal. But if the US and Russia begin to reconcile and engage in greater political coordination under the Trump administration, this situation could be threatened, especially at a time when Iran’s partnership with Russia is also being openly challenged at home.

How Iran actually lost in Aleppo

December 26, 2016

How Iran actually lost in Aleppo, American ThinkerHeshmat Alavi, December 26, 2016

For 16 years America has failed to adopt a correct policy in the Middle East despite having huge opportunities to make significant changes. The 2003 war literally gift-wrapped Iraq to Iran, parallel to the highly flawed mentality of preferring Shiite fundamentalism to Sunni fundamentalism. This allowed Iran take full advantage of such failures and resulting voids.

Aleppo will be a short-lived success story for Iran. The tides are changing across the globe and Iran will no longer enjoy opportunities from West rapprochement. Understanding this very well, this is exactly why Tehran has resorted to such atrocities and sought to massacre all in Aleppo.

In contrast to how the U.S. handed Iraq in  a silver plate to Iran, Russia never entered the Syria mayhem to hand it over to Iran. The roots of Aleppo remain in the hearts of all Syrians. As world powers, especially the U.S. and Russia review their future objectives, Iran will be the first and ultimate party to suffer.

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Following a historic period of perseverance, Syrian rebels and their families were forced to evacuate eastern Aleppo after its liberation back in 2012. An unjust, intense war was launched upon Aleppo by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its proxy forces on the ground: Russia with its indiscriminate air strikes, and a lame-duck Syrian army of less than 20,000 deployable forces.

After more than 15 months continuous air raids and a long-lasting inhumane siege, Syrian rebels and civilians sealed an international agreement to depart Syria’s once economic and cultural hub.

In the past few weeks widespread bombing campaigns continued relentlessly on civilian areas. No Aleppo hospital was spared. The IRGC and its foot-soldiers, numbering at the tens of thousands, spearheaded the military of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in horrific mass executions of innocent people. The United Nations reported 82 individuals, including women and children, were murdered on the spot in the streets and in their homes. God knows how many more incidents have gone unreported.

The amazing perseverance shown by Aleppo locals for years now in the face of atrocious airstrikes and artillery shelling is unprecedented to say the least. Amidst all this, the silence and inaction seen from the West, especially the United States, will remain forever a source of shame.

Conflict of Interests

In the pro-Assad camp there are three decision-makers. First Russia, second Iran, and third the Syrian regime. The role played by Assad and his military in such scenes is next to nothing.

The West and Turkey became frantic for a ceasefire in Aleppo in the early days of the war due to the negative public opinion resulting from shocking crimes. They sought to have the rebels and remaining civilians transferred to other Syrian opposition controlled areas.

On December 13th, Washington and Moscow reached what can be described a ceasefire agreement. Intense negotiations between Turkey and Russia were started afterwards, resulting in an agreement between the Syrian opposition with Russia and Turkey to evacuate Aleppo. Practically, the parties involved in the talks were Aleppo representatives and Russia, hosted by Turkey. All necessary preparations were made to begin evacuating the city from the morning of Wednesday, December 14th.

However, Iran disrupted this agreement and the IRGC hindered the evacuation process. It was crystal clear Russia and Iran were pursuing different objectives and sets of interests. Iran sought not to have Aleppo evacuated but to exterminate all Syrian rebels and civilians.

Twenty-four hours later, pressure from the international community forced the implementation of the Russia-Syrian rebel agreement on December 15th. On the morning of that day the first convoy carrying the wounded exited Aleppo, only to face roadblocks imposed by Iran-backed forces and the Assad military.

Iran raised certain conditions for the evacuation. Russia later threatened to airstrike any party hindering the evacuation, an obvious warning to Iran. Tehran was forced to wind back under Moscow pressure.

As a result, the last phase of this war and the method chosen to evacuate Aleppo was a defeat for Iran and a victory for the Syrian opposition. Especially since the conflict of interest between Iran/Assad and Russia became crystal clear. Politically speaking, Iran has become a secondary party in Syria.

“For Putin, a political settlement now makes sense. Staying involved in an ongoing insurgency does not. But for that, he needs the opposition — which is fractured — to accept a political outcome, and there is little prospect of that so long as Assad remains in power,” as explained by Dennis Ross, who served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and was a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (which includes Iran) to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Is this the end?

The turn of events does not spell the end of the Syrian opposition. The opposition controls large swathes of Syria, with areas over ten times larger than Aleppo and millions of residents. Idlib Province has at a three million strong population; the western coast of the Euphrates in the Turkish border, recently liberated by the Free Syrian Army from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL); large portions of Deraa Province neighboring Jordan; a strategically important section in the north in Latakia Province on the Turkish border; large portions of areas in the Damascus vicinity and large portions in the Aleppo vicinity.

In contrast to Western mainstream media reporting, the Syrian opposition enjoys the capability to rise once again.

Despite all its differences, a comparison made to the Iran-Iraq War may help. In 1986, Iran made significant advances taking control over the Faw peninsula in southern Iraq. Western media and think-tanks all forecasted further advances by Iran and a defeat for Iraq. In 1988 Iran was forced into a U.N.-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Deep divisions between the Syrian nation and the Assad regime have reached the point of no return. Nearly 500,000 have been killed and more than half of the Syrian population displaced. The Syrian nation will never accept the continuation of this regime. Despite sporadic military advances, Assad has no place in Syria’s future.

Where Iran stands in Syria

Iran will not be the final victor in Syria.

First — For Iran, it is vital to maintain Assad in power. His fall will mark the end of Iran’s crusades in Syria. Even if the Syrian opposition becomes weaker, the overall crisis will continue while Assad remains in power. Assad is no longer acceptable in the international stage with an international consensus over his resort to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Second — While Iran is financing and providing the ground forces, in this war, it no longer enjoys the first and final word. Russia calls the shots now with stark differences in interest, as seen in Aleppo.

Trump’s America

U.S. President Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy, especially the failed engagement with Iran, prolonged the Syrian crisis, allowed Tehran to take advantage, Russia to take the helm and America be sidelined.

Where will developments lead with Donald Trump in the White House? What will be the new U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria, Iran and the Middle East? How can we define Washington’s relationship with Moscow, and what practical measures will Trump take against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)? Time will tell.

Good relations between the U.S. and Russia will at least not have a negative impact on the region, and this is good news for the Syrian opposition. Russia has weighable interests in Syria. However, what will Trump do with Iran? Considering Trump’s harsh tone on Iran to this day, far more positive outcomes can be forecasted for the Syrian opposition.

Second, Trump and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson have the potential of eventually convincing Russia to provide concessions. This is not in Iran’s interests, as Tehran remembers Russia ditching Libyan the dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Lesson learned in Syria

For 16 years America has failed to adopt a correct policy in the Middle East despite having huge opportunities to make significant changes. The 2003 war literally gift-wrapped Iraq to Iran, parallel to the highly flawed mentality of preferring Shiite fundamentalism to Sunni fundamentalism. This allowed Iran take full advantage of such failures and resulting voids.

Aleppo will be a short-lived success story for Iran. The tides are changing across the globe and Iran will no longer enjoy opportunities from West rapprochement. Understanding this very well, this is exactly why Tehran has resorted to such atrocities and sought to massacre all in Aleppo.

In contrast to how the U.S. handed Iraq in a silver plate to Iran, Russia never entered the Syria mayhem to hand it over to Iran. The roots of Aleppo remain in the hearts of all Syrians. As world powers, especially the U.S. and Russia review their future objectives, Iran will be the first and ultimate party to suffer.

 

Trump picked Tillerson for tough new Iran policy

December 14, 2016

Trump picked Tillerson for tough new Iran policy, DEBKAfile, December 14, 2016

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Rex Tillerson, Chairman an CEO of Exxon Mobil, was named this week as the next administration’s Secretary of State to execute the tough foreign policies charted by president-elect Donald Trump, including his decision to stiffen the nuclear accord signed with Iran as soon as he moves into the White House on Jan. 20.

DEBKAfile reports this exclusively from New York and its intelligence sources.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump called the accord “the worst deal” ever.

According to our sources, a special team is already working on revisions of the accord which the US and five other global powers concluded with Iran in 2015 in the hope of retarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program by a decade.

As new president, Trump will issue Tehran with a unilateral demand to accept those revisions as pre-condition for the continuation of relations between the US and Iran. He does not intend consulting America’s co-signers, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France, or asking them for their endorsement of the revamped accord.

The teams preparing the Trump administration’s Iran policy were put in place last week by Tillerson and designated national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

No members of the incumbent NSC, State Department, Pentagon or Treasury, who managed the Obama administration’s Iran policy, was invited to take part. The teams were instead chosen from among scientists, military leaders and intelligence officials who opposed the nuclear accord with Iran.

Also attached were former administration officials hired by Exxon for their extensive knowledge of Iran’s oil trade and their close ties with oil circles in the Gulf Emirates, which like Israel, fought hard to pre-empt the nuclear deal with Iran.

Our sources have also learned that if Iran rejects the revised accord, the president elect has a list of new economic sanctions drawn up which are a lot tougher than the sanctions regime imposed by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The incoming president will have a fight on his hands to get the Tillerson appointment through the Senate in the face of objections raised by Republican lawmakers over his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, Trump hopes to turn those ties to his advantage. He trusts that Tillerson is just the man to sell the new administration’s Iran policies to the Russian president.

Read more about Trump’s plans for his secretary of state in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly (for subscribers) out on Friday. Dec. 16, 2016.

Ayatollah shoots down Putin’s high-flying Tupolev

August 22, 2016

Ayatollah shoots down Putin’s high-flying Tupolev, DEBKAfile, August 22, 2016

(Please see also, Iran unveils its own version of S-300 air defense system. — DM)

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Monday, Aug. 22, just a week after the Russian defense ministry proudly released images of the first Russian bombardments in Syria to be launched from Nojeh airbase, which Tehran had granted Moscow near the Iranian town of Hamedan, the Iranian defense ministry snatched the concession back in a public rebuff for Moscow.

The Russians had presented its Iranian acquisition as the twin of the air base granted by Syria at Kmeimim near Latakia.

However, the Iranian defense ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi announced baldly on Monday that the Russian mission “is finished for now.” He added that the Russian air strikes in Syria were “temporary, based on a Russian request;” they were carried out with “mutual understanding and with Iran’s permission” and that the Russian mission “is finished, for now.”

Iranian sources claimed that this stinging slap to the Kremlin was prompted by mounting Iranian popular and parliamentary criticism, on the grounds that permission to a foreign power to use an Iranian base for the first time since World War II violated Article 146 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution.

Attempts by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and other regime officials to explain that the Russians had not been given an air base in Iran, only permission to use it to support the war Bashar Assad was waging against terrorists, an interest shared by Iran, fell on deaf ears.

A public outcry on this scale against any steps taken the ayatollahs’ regime is unusual enough to warrant exploration to uncover the hand behind it and its motives. This is all the more pressing in view of the stunning impact of the abrupt Iranian curtailment of the Russian air base venture after no more than three sorties were waged against Syrian targets: Stopped in its tracks for now – even before takeoff – is Vladimir Putin’s effort to promote his grand plan for a new and powerful Russian-Iranian-Turkish-Iraqi-Syrian pact.

The only figure in Tehran capable of raising such a public firestorm with the clout for thwarting the Russian president is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report.

In handling the air base issue, Putin made the same mistake as US President Barack Obama. Both assumed that getting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s cooperation and sensitive diplomatic prodding would eventually win the supreme leader over.

Rouhani had hoped that by extending permission to Iran’s friend Putin for the use of the Nojeh base for air strikes against Syria, he would recover some of the standing he forfeited in Tehran by signing off on the international nuclear accord in 2015.

RussiaStopFlying480

He took a chance when, on Aug. 16, he summoned the national supreme military council and, without prior consultation with Khamenei, announced the decision to make the Nojeh air base available to the Russian air force. This was a serious miscalculation.

The supreme leader was further incensed by the exclusive report published by DEBKA file that day that Russian air freighters were on their way to the Hamedan base with advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense missiles for guarding the site and the Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers deployed there.

Khamenei interpreted this to mean that the Russians were already acting to commandeer the airspace over the base deep inside Iran.

Not content with the brush-off administered to Moscow by his spokesman, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan chided Moscow crudely for “showing off” over the air base in an “ungentlemanly manner” and a “betrayal of trust.”

He said: “We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay.”

Realizing he was in hot water, the Iranian president tried to save face.

He arranged to be photographed for state media over the weekend, alongside the Bavar-373 missile defense system, declaring that having developed this system at home, Tehran can defend itself without recourse to the Russian high-altitude, long-range S-300s, because the Bavar-373 was just as good.

DEBKAfile’s military sources refute this claim. Indeed, the system on display which is based on Chinese technology is not operational.

However, the display did not save either Rouhani or Putin from Khamenei’s ire. Nojeh was shut down, a message the Iranian defense ministry spokesman underlined when he said Monday: Russia “has no base in Iran.”

Ex-CIA Chief’s Comments Reflect ‘What US is Secretly Doing in Syria’

August 11, 2016

Ex-CIA Chief’s Comments Reflect ‘What the US is Secretly Doing in Syria , from Sputnik News, August 10, 2016

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Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who has recently endorsed Hillary Clinton, has caused a firestorm when he said that the United States should covertly kill Russians and Iranians in Syria, with Russian lawmakers denouncing the remarks as “monstrous” and experts saying that he merely confirmed what Washington has secretly been doing.

Vladimir Vasilyev, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based Institute of US and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, maintained that Morell’s comments should be taken at face value.

This is “what the United States has secretly and surreptitiously been doing and most importantly what Washington will do if Hillary wins presidential election,” he told RIA Novosti. “Russia should understand who it is dealing with. In fact, Moscow could thank Morell for leaking important informationon Washington’s true goals in Syria.”

“Monstrous remarks”

Russian MP Irina Yarovaya, the head of the State Duma Committee for Security, echoed these sentiments, saying that Morell made “monstrous remarks.” He essentially confirmed that Washington is capable of carrying out “covert killings … to pursue its own devastating plans.”

Yarovaya also noted that Morell’s comments point to a hidden agenda in Washington’s counterterrorism activities. “The US State Department must issue a clear statement on the issue. Otherwise, there are grounds to assume that the former CIA deputy director inadvertently revealed an existing top secret CIA plan.”

Morell’s remarks are meant to “fuel tensions between Russia and the US,” Dmitry Gorovtsov, the deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee for Security, told RIA Novosti, adding that such rhetoric is unacceptable. He also called Morell’s plan “extremist” and “akin to fascist ideology.”

Morell “does not understand what he is talking about”

First deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the Federation Council of Russia Franz Klintsevich referred to Morell’s remarks as “absurd.”

“I think that Michael Morell does not understand what he is talking about. Modern surveillance equipment that covers all Syria renders any ‘covert’ killings impossible,” he said. Russia’s cutting edge technologies allow Moscow to determine the name, the date, the place and the goal of any such activity if it took place.

Moreover, Morell’s advice “would automatically lead to an open confrontation between Russia and the US, which the Americans, as far as I understand, do not need,” Klintsevich added.

On Monday, Michael Morell, who served as CIA’s acting director twice, told talk show host Charlie Rose that the US “must make” Russia and Iran “pay a price” in Syria by “covertly” killing their nationals. “You don’t tell the world about it, right? You don’t stand up at the Pentagon and say, ‘we did this.’ Right? But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran,” he added.

Morell also suggested “scaring” Bashar al-Assad by bombing government offices and presidential guard positions, but added that he did not urge to assassinate the Syrian president.

Journalist and political commentator Murtaza Hussain pointed out that the former CIA deputy director championed “efforts that later helped incubate al-Qaeda,” referring to a strategy that the United States employed in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He also warned that if Morell’s plan is given the green light, it “would entail a massive escalation of American covert military involvement in Syria that would bring the United States much closer to direct confrontation with Russia and Iran.”

Has the IDF hit the Basij forces commander General Naghdi?

July 30, 2016

Has the IDF hit the Basij forces commander General Naghdi? DEBKAfile, July 30, 2016

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Gen. Naghdi’s visit to Quneitra undoubtedly presaged some decisions in Tehran with regard to direct Hizballah-Syrian-Iranian action against Israel.

The Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah agencies accuse Israel of the attack because the say it was executed by two Nimrod anti-tank long-range missiles, manufactured by the Israeli Aerospace Industry, for use by the IDF against armored vehicles, ships, bunkers and troop concentrations.

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Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah sources are intimating that the “Syrian officer” injured on July 26 in Quneitra by Israel’s double Nimrod’ missile shot was none other than Revolutionary Guards Gen. Muhammad Resa Naghdi, head of the paramilitary Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed, also known as the Basij, which falls under the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The victim was earlier described officially as a Syrian officer.

If he was indeed hurt or killed by an Israeli rocket, Naghdi would become the highest-ranking IRGC general ever hit by the IDF.

On July 27, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that a top Iranian general recently visited the Israeli-Syrian border to tour Quneitra and the Golan demarcation lines between Syria and Israel – the first time the Tehran government had publicized a visit by a senior regime official to the area.

It may be presumed, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources say, that someone at the IDF lookout posts spotted and reported on Gen. Naghdi’s arrival with an entourage in Quneitra on July 26 and saw him inspecting through binoculars the IDF defense positions. He was then quickly identified.

Any decision to go after a high-ranking Iranian would not have been left to local IDF commanders or even OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, but passed straight to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot – especially in this case.

General Naghdi is not just another Iranian general. He heads the more than a million-strong Basij militia, which is a pillar of the ayatollahs regime in Tehran, and the backbone of the Iranian internal security forces which maintain the regime’s total control in every corner of the Islamic Republic.

Gen. Naghdi’s visit to Quneitra undoubtedly presaged some decisions in Tehran with regard to direct Hizballah-Syrian-Iranian action against Israel.

The IDF is holding its silence on reports of his injury, declining as usual to comment on reports by foreign publications.

The Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah agencies accuse Israel of the attack because the say it was executed by two Nimrod anti-tank long-range missiles, manufactured by the Israeli Aerospace Industry, for use by the IDF against armored vehicles, ships, bunkers and troop concentrations..

The missile has a semi-active laser guidance system, and is able to operate day and night. Its flight path can be below the clouds, while its operators far behind use a laser to guide it to target.

The launcher platform, with four missiles, can be installed on a Jeep, weapon-bearing vehicle, Abir, or armored vehicles. In addition, it is possible to send it from CH-53 ‘Yasur’ helicopter.

Israel has acted in the past against the establishment of an Iranian and/or Hizballah military presence on its Golan doorstep. On Jan. 19, 2015, an IDF air strike killed the Iranian Brig. Gen, Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and six Hizballah officers while they were on a tour of inspection near Quneitra.

Thursday, July 28, DEBKAfile ran an exclusive report on rising Israel-Russia tensions centering on southern Syria and the Golan.

For four days since July 25, the Syrian army has been continuously firing artillery batteries – moved close to Israel’s defense lines on the Golan border – in a manner that comes dangerously close to provoking an Israeli response. This carefully orchestrated Syrian campaign goes on around the clock.

It is the first time in the six years of the Syrian war that Bashar Assad has ventured to come near to provoking Israel. But now he appears to be emboldened by his Russian ally.

The IDF is holding its fire for the moment. But Israeli military and government leaders know that the time is near for the IDF to be forced to hit back, especially since it is becoming evident that the Syrian army’s steps ae backed by Russia.

DEBKAfile’s military sources provide details of the Syrian steps:

  • The Syrian army’s 90th and 121nd battalions have been firing their artillery batteries non-stop across a 10km band along the Golan border from Hamadia, north of Quneitra, up to a point facing the Israeli village of Eyn Zivan. (See attacked map).
    This means that the Syrian army has seized the center of buffer zone between Israel and Syria and made it a firing zone.
  • This artillery fire fans out across a radius that comes a few meters short of the Israeli border and the IDF troops stationed there. It then recedes to a distance of 500 to 600 meters and sweeps across the outposts and bases of the Syrian rebel forces believed to be in touch with Israel or in receipt of Israeli medical aid.
  • The new Syrian attack appears to hold a message for Jerusalem: For six years, you supported the rebels against the Assad regime in southern Syria. That’s now over. If you continue, you will come face to face with Syrian fire.
  • Damascus is also cautioning those rebels:  For years, you fought us with Israel at your backs. But no longer. Watch us bring you under direct artillery fire, while the IDF sits on its hands.
  • On July 26, Russian media published an article revealing that Russia had delivered to the Syrian Air Force, advanced SU-24M2 front-line bombers, which is designed for attack on frontlines of battle. Israeli officials were unpleasantly taken aback by the news. Up until now, the Russians and Syrians refrained from deploying air strength in South Syria near the Israeli border. Now the Syrian air force has the means to do so.
  • DEBKAfile military sources report that the SU-24M2, following recent upgrades and modifications in Russian factories, is now capable of dropping smart bombs – ballistic bombs with a guidance system on their tails that enable them to hit targets with precision.This guidance system does not rely on US GPS satellites but rather the equivalent Russian GLONASS system which is linked to a network of 21 Russian satellites and partially encrypted for military usages.
    In addition, the SU-24M2 is equipped with a system that projects the information the pilot needs (flight details and battle details) on the plane’s windshield (head-up display) and on the pilot’s visor.
  • The Russians delivered to the Syrians two of these sophisticated airplanes this week, out of 10 that they will supply soon.

The IDF has concluded that it is only a matter of time before these planes appear in Southern Syria and so generate a new and highly combustible situation on Israel’s northern and northeastern borders.

The Russians are colluding with Damascus to inform Israel that it will no longer be allowed by either to continue backing the rebel forces in southern Syria or sustain the buffer zone which they man.

Israel may pay dear if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot decide to continue to abstain from hitting back at the Syrian fire which is aimed every few hours at the vicinity of IDF posts or the impending arrival of Russian bombers. The price in store would be the weakening of the IDF’s hold on the Golan border.

Iranian Daily ‘Kayhan’: Iran Asked Russia To Intervene In Syria; Moscow Must Not Reach Any Agreement On Syria With Washington At Assad’s And Iran’s Expense; Tehran Is Providing Assad With Strategic Weapons

April 27, 2016

Iranian Daily ‘Kayhan’: Iran Asked Russia To Intervene In Syria; Moscow Must Not Reach Any Agreement On Syria With Washington At Assad’s And Iran’s Expense; Tehran Is Providing Assad With Strategic Weapons, MEMRI, April 27, 2016

In its April 11, 2016 editorial, the Iranian daily Kayhan, the mouthpiece of Iran’s ideological camp which is led by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, discussed Russia’s interests in Syria and the Middle East, and Iran-Russia relations. The editorial warned Moscow not to reach a secret agreement with Washington at the expense of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Iran in exchange for Washington’s lifting its pressure on Russia over Ukraine and Crimea. It also underlined that such an agreement would in any case be doomed to failure, because it would not have Tehran’s knowledge or agreement, and stated that Tehran is opposed to Russia’s federal plan for Syria.

Noting that while it is important to Russia, Syria is not strategic to it as it is to Iran and Hizbullah. Russia’s might in the region stems solely from its protection of the Iran-Hizbullah-Syria resistance axis, it said, adding that if Moscow sells out Assad and Syria, it will become a minor player in the region, like France and the U.K.

The editorial revealed that the Russian military had entered Syria in October 2015 at Tehran’s request, and acknowledged that major parts of northern and southern Syria are directly controlled by Hizbullah and Iran. It added that Tehran has for some time been providing Assad with strategic weapons, and that Russia had withdrawn from Syria because its presence there was no longer needed.

The following are excerpts from the editorial:

“What Part Does Syria Play In Russian Foreign Policy?”

“…What part does Syria play in Russian foreign policy? Is it great or small? To what extent is Russia’s Syria policy based on cooperation with the West? Great or small? Is Russia’s security situation such that it would prefer to trade Syria for Ukraine – meaning that Russia will receive Ukraine and give Syria to the West? What weight does Russia have in Syria – meaning how much does Russia really influence the Syrian security issue? And on this matter, historically, in the past 50 years, was Syria, or was it not, part of the Eastern Bloc and [after the collapse of the Soviet Union] one of Russia’s satellite states?

“What is the extent of the military relations between Russia and Syria? How dependent is the Syrian army on Russian arms? What was Russia’s aim in becoming [physically] involved in Syria’s security situation this past October? What agreement was arrived at between the U.S. and Russia at the Geneva talks?

“Isn’t Russia’s becoming a main focal point at the Geneva talks, and isn’t its secret agreement with the U.S., aimed at weakening Iran’s role [in Syria] and placing the fate of Iran’s allies in the hands of Moscow-Washington agreements?

“According to this, and in light of the fact that it is clear what the outcome of the secret Kremlin-White House talks will be, what was the point of our five-year effort to protect the Syrian government, and our sacrifice of beloved martyrs? And, ultimately, in light of its past reputation, can Russia’s game be trusted?…”

“All Russia’s Might Lies In Its Preservation Of Iran, Hizbullah, And Syria; If It Does Not Do This, [Russia] Will Become A Minor Player, Like France And England”

“Syria plays a major part in Russia’s foreign policy… Syria and its Mediterranean coast is the only point in the Middle East and North Africa that has [physical] contact with the southern reaches of NATO territory. To some extent, these places are under Russian control, and any plan that impacts Russia’s ongoing presence in this sensitive region is certainly contrary to Russia’s interests and national security.”

“On the other hand, there is no way Russia can trust that any agreement with the West that rejects Assad will not also reject Russian influence. Therefore, we can say that in terms of geopolitics and strategic interests, there is no possibility that an agreement between Russia and the West about the current Syrian government would be achieved – unless the Russians make a mistake in the talks. But even if this happens, there is a possibility for rectification [of such a mistake by Russia], thanks to the good Iran-Russia relations. Additionally, in the past year or two, we have seen at least two such mistakes that were subsequently rectified.”

“Regarding Russian control over Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, and Russian military control of the Black Sea: There is no reason for Russia to bring Syria in [to the equation] in order to obtain Ukraine. At this time, in the Ukrainian issue, the Westerners and the Western government in Kiev are apprehensive about Russia’s influence and about Russia’s military and security expansion in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Therefore, the statement that is brought up in Iran – i.e. that Russia wants to trade Syria for Ukraine, is not compatible with reality.

“What weight does Russia carry in Syria? Undoubtedly, Russia is one of the countries that influence the Syrian issue. Russia’s military presence in the ports of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the Russia-Syria military agreements, give Russia prominent status. But in comparison with the status of Iran and Hizbullah, [Russia’s] status is not considered strategic.

“In principle, in some strategic matters, there are strategic points of contention between Russia and Syria – but there are no such disputes between Damascus and Tehran… Russia’s influence in Syria is not so great that [Russia] can make decisions on behalf of the Syrian government and its allies in the region… that is, Russia has no strategic relations either with the Syrian government or with the main rebels such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS, which would allow it to establish a particular situation in Syria. All Russia’s might lies in its preservation of Iran, Hizbullah, and Syria. If it does not do this, [Russia] will become a minor player, like France and England.”

“Major Parts Of The Line Of Defense And The Operations Of North And South Syria Are Now Directly In Hizbullah’s And Iran’s Hands”

“Over the past 50 years, Syria was never recognized as part of the Eastern Bloc, and never expressed solidarity with it, despite its good relations with the Soviet Union and Russia. Perhaps the main reason there was no such alliance is Russia’s active relations with the Zionist regime. In any event, Syria was not defined as part of Russia’s [interests], and has, since the beginning of the victory of [Iran’s Islamic] Revolution, been part of the resistance front and an ally of Iran – and now too it owes its existence to Iran’s special and influential aid.

“In contrast to Russia, that has nothing in Syria that belongs to it, major parts of the line of defense and the operations of north and south Syria are now directly in Hizbullah’s and Iran’s hands. If Russia reaches an agreement with a third country that is unacceptable to Iran, such an agreement will surely fail – because in the past 30 years, every decision made for the resistance states and movements in which Iran had no part failed.

“Syria has no absolute dependence on Russian arms, and Iran has been providing Syria with strategic weapons for a long time. Therefore, in the [second Lebanon] war, the Assad government gave its Russian weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon, without fearing that this would violate either the military protocols [that were in place] with Russia or the Russians’ conditions. Russia also did not succeed in expressing serious opposition [to this move]. Therefore, if Moscow was Syria’s only source of weapons, Assad would not have been able to unilaterally violate the agreement.”

“On The First Of October 2015, Russia [Physically] Entered The Syrian Security Issue, After Iran Officially Asked It To Do So”

“On the first of October 2015, Russia [physically] entered the Syrian security issue, after Iran officially asked it to do so. Two days after a visit [to Moscow] by a high-ranking Iranian delegation, Moscow sent its air forces and missile defense systems into the war against terrorist elements in Syria, and five and a half months later, it withdrew part of its military forces from Syria. This was because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)   agreement with Putin was in force for five months at most. After the end of the [Russia-Iran] agreement, Russia withdrew only some of its forces from Syria.

“[It was at] Iran’s invitation that Russia entered Syria, when such a [military intervention] was necessary and worthwhile, and [Russia] withdrew part of its forces when even withdrawing them all would not have harmed the [Assad] government and the Syrian security apparatuses one bit. In this case, Iran’s conclusion was that the Russian forces should return [to Russia].

“The truth is that last summer, because of the advance of the terror elements in Idlib, Shaykh Maskin, Sakhaneh, and Tadmor, terror elements were enthused, and Syria needed a psychological shock; additionally, prior to Russia’s entrance, the sensitive region of Zabadani was taken by Hizbullah.

“This shock [i.e. Russia’s entrance into Syria] was implemented in early October, and it gave the [Syrian] army, and the forces connected to it, their second wind, and they carried out the Nasser 2 operation in the western part of the city of Aleppo and also determined the fate of the war in Syria. Therefore, when the Russians withdrew their forces [from Syria], there was no longer any need for their presence. So it is not at all correct to say that Iran and Syria were surprised when this happened.

“For Syria, there is a need for diplomatic talks, and Iran always stresses [the need for] this alongside military operations. Iran has had a useful presence in most [of these talks] particularly in the two recent rounds of talks held in Munich and Geneva. Here, Russia’s role was two-pronged: First, in the developments in the [war] arena; in this matter [Russia] is fully coordinating with Iran. Second is Russia’s special plan, the main point of which is [Syria’s] federalization. Iran has neither rejected nor approved [this plan], but it recognizes it as premature, and as not serving the interests of the participants in the diplomatic talks in Geneva.”