Archive for the ‘Syria’ category

Syrian state media claims Israeli missiles strike near Damascus airport

June 26, 2018

Hit ’em hard, my Israeli friends.

And hit ’em where it hurts.

Syrian state media claims Israeli missiles strike near Damascus airport

https://www.timesofisrael.com/syrian-state-media-claims-israeli-missiles-strike-near-damascus-airport/

Observer group says reported attack targeted Hezbollah arms depots; Assad forces ‘failed to intercept the missiles’

Syrian state media said early Tuesday that two Israeli missiles struck near Damascus International Airport, without adding any details.

In a report in the early hours of Tuesday, Syria’s state news agency said “two Israeli missiles came down near Damascus international airport.”

The head of monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, also said that “the Israeli missiles hit arms depots for Hezbollah near the airport.”

He said the air strike took place at 1:00 am local time “without causing huge explosions” even though they hit the weapons stores.

The observatory added that the Syrian air defense “failed to intercept the missiles.”

Israel has warned of a growing Iranian military presence in neighbouring Syria, which it sees as a threat to its safety.

Its military has been carrying out strikes on Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria, with a US official saying it was Israeli forces that carried out a deadly strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria on June 17.

On Sunday, forces loyal to the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad reportedly took control of an abandoned UN post in the no-man’s land between the Israeli and Syrian areas of the Golan Heights.

The post, abandoned by United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) troops on the Golan, is meant to be free of both Israeli and Syrian troops, according to the cessation of hostilities agreement between the two countries that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

According to the report, UNDOF has identified ongoing infrastructure work at the site.

The IDF said in a statement that it was “aware of what is taking place, and views [the takeover of the site and] the infrastructure work at the post as a serious and flagrant violation of the separation-of-forces agreement.”

The IDF statement suggested Israel might act to remove the forces from the post by force. Officials told the Kan broadcaster that Israel “sees UNDOF as responsible for tracking and acting against military forces in the separation zone, and is determined to prevent military entrenchment in that area.”

The report came just hours after an Israeli Patriot missile was fired at a drone that approached from Syria toward Israel’s airspace. Israeli officials believe the drone belonged to regime forces.

According to Hebrew-language reports, the IDF is bracing for an uptick in fighting in Syrian areas adjacent to the Israeli border, and expects incidents of stray fire to enter Israeli territory.

As fighting between the main factions in the Syrian civil war threatened to overwhelm UNDOF positions, the UN troops left the demilitarized buffer zone for Israel in 2014.

 

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.”

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus

December 2, 2017

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus, DEBKAfile, December 2, 2017

Two significant military events were reported early Saturday, Dec. 2, by Arab and Russian sources – neither of them officially confirmed. The first was an Israeli airborne missile attack on the Syrian army’s 1st Division’s ammunition dump near Al-Kiswah 14km southwest of Damascus and 50km from the Golan. The target was identified as an Iranian military base which the BBC reported on Nov. 10 to be under construction in the Syrian military compound at Al-Kiswah. DEBKAfile’s military sources refuted the BBC report.

Other sources reported that the Israeli target early Saturday was a Hizballah position near the Syrian 1st Division’s 91st Brigade base in the same area. Syrian military sources and Arab social media released videos showing Syrian air defense intercepting some of the Israeli missiles while others hit the target. Some sources claimed they were launched from Lebanese air space. A short time later, the Syrian army announced that units of its 7th armored division and the 42nd brigade of its 4th division had just launched an offensive on the Beit Jinn pocket on Mount Hermon a little more than 4km away from IDF positions on the mount. A Druze village is located inside this enclave. The Syrian military statement omitted to mention the fact that Hizballah forces are spearheading this attack.

Can Bin Laden Heir Salvage Jihad in Syria?

October 24, 2017

Can Bin Laden Heir Salvage Jihad in Syria? Investigative Project on Terrorism, Hany Ghoraba, October 24, 2017

Multiple British media outlets have confirmed the younger bin Laden’s presence in Syria. British Special Forces SAS dispatched 40 special forces fighters to hunt him down in Syria, the Daily Mail reported.

British authorities believe that bin Laden’s praise for “lone wolf” attacks in the speech poses a clear and present danger to national security. Britain has endured a series of such “lone wolf” attacks this year.

However, Syrian Democratic Army Brigadier General Ahmed Al Hamadi, the spokesman of northern front, indicated that bin Laden’s presence in Syria remains unconfirmed by his group.

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Out of the ashes left by ISIS’s battlefield defeats, a new al-Qaida branch is trying to stake a claim in Syria. Ansar Al Furqan Fi Bilad Al Sham announced its formation Oct. 9.

It is comprised of jihadists who had been affiliated with other terrorist movements, including ISIS, Jabhat Al Nusra and smaller, lesser-known groups.

Ansar Al Furqan’s charter describes a Sunni Muslim jihadist group that contains uniting “Muhajreen,” or immigrants, referring to foreign fighters and “Ansar,” who are local Syrian jihadists. These are battle hardened terrorists who have been fighting since the early years of the Syrian civil war. As with their jihadist counterparts, Ansar Al Furqan wants to establish an Islamic Caliphate.

The new group is rumored to be led by Hamza bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s 28-year-old son. Al-Qaida released a tape by Hamza bin Laden Sept. 14 urging Syrian jihadists to stand their ground against the infidels.

“So do not waver, nor grieve,” he said. “… Weigh your affairs in the scales of the Hereafter, your difficulties will seem trivial to you.”

A week before Ansar Al Furqan’s declaration, al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahiri lashed out against Jabhat Al Nusra leaders in Syria for breaking off from al-Qaida and operating independently. Jabhat Al Nusra leader Abu Mohammed Al Golani announced in July 2016 that his group wanted to merge or ally with only local jihadist groups. Being linked to al-Qaida made the group a target for all the regional and international powers, Al Golani said.

Al Zawahiri condemned Jabhat Al Nusra for breaking its baya, or pledge of allegiance to al-Qaida, and warned the group fighters in Syria of the consequences of breaking their pledge.

“As for us, we believe that the oath of allegiance is a Shari’i undertaking; binding in its nature, its violation forbidden. Our Lord says, ‘O’ you who believe, fulfill your pledges.’ As for us, we shall fulfill our oath; we shall neither wear down nor give in,” he said.

Al Zawahiri’s speech also aimed to restore al-Qaida’s reputation as the leading jihadist group.

Ansar Al Furqan’s nine-page charter was published online. It vows to target infidels and their countries including Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. “Those who ally themselves with the non-believers and enemies of Allah from American and Russian or others then they will be judged similarly to them and they shall not be forgiven and only the sword will be their punishment,” it said.

The charter calls upon the pious to fight Shia Muslims and anyone supporting Americans or Russians, along with Arab leaders with nationalist or democratic agendas. “We denounce to Allah all the factions of heresy and blasphemy of the atheist, communist, democratic and modern political parties and those who ally themselves with the enemies of Allah from the Crusaders, Shia and other and we shall fight them on all fronts,” the charter said.

Fighting Arab leaders who are traditionally of Muslim faith (Lebanon’s president is a Christian) is a priority in the charter, which calls them infidels who are allied with the West. It also calls on Muslims to answer the call for jihad with money and arms. In an attempt to appear more rational than ISIS, however, the al-Qaida affiliated Ansar Al Furqan refrained from labeling all Muslims who don’t follow their path, or who oppose them, as infidels. Only the sinners among them should be punished according to sharia law’s dictates.

The charter also strongly criticized the lack of coordination and counseling between the different jihadist factions in Syria, which has led to their current dire situation.

Bin Laden called upon warring jihadist groups to reunite under one banner to face Islam’s common enemy. “The new world order is fighting you because you are attempting to establish a righteous caliphate, so don’t obey them, you have to disobey the infidels and their allies,” he said. “You should be proud that the United States and Russia consider you as their enemies.”

Ansar Al Furqan’s charter was released a few weeks later, with its pledge of allegiance to al-Qaida. The link between the recording and the group’s declaration cannot be ignored as Syria remains a very important to al-Qaida’s plans. The bin Laden speech was called “The ordeal of al-Sham (Syria) is the ordeal of Islam,” signifying that the group will spare no effort in attempting to turn the tide of war against Assad regime by trying to unite Syrian jihadists under one banner and attract more fighters.

Multiple British media outlets have confirmed the younger bin Laden’s presence in Syria. British Special Forces SAS dispatched 40 special forces fighters to hunt him down in Syria, the Daily Mail reported.

British authorities believe that bin Laden’s praise for “lone wolf” attacks in the speech poses a clear and present danger to national security. Britain has endured a series of such “lone wolf” attacks this year.

However, Syrian Democratic Army Brigadier General Ahmed Al Hamadi, the spokesman of northern front, indicated that bin Laden’s presence in Syria remains unconfirmed by his group.

Al-Qaida’s successor in Syria could become the region’s next menace if it manages to reunite smaller terrorist groups and fleeing fighters from ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra. That outcome requires the right leadership. Hamza bin Laden’s status as the son of history’s most notorious terrorist mastermind could help. The next few months may show whether the group is another failed terrorist startup, or one that can actually make an impact. Or, the Syrian army and an international coalition may put an end to those ambitions once and for all.

Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.

Myths We Die By

September 25, 2017

Myths We Die By, PJ MediaMichael Ledeen, September 24, 2017

In this Aug. 14, 2017, photo distributed Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledges a welcome from the military officers during his visit to Korean People’s Army’s Strategic Forces in North Korea. The Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that Kim during an inspection of the KPA’s Strategic Forces praised the military for drawing up a “close and careful” plan. Kim said he will give order for the missile test if the United States continues its “extremely dangerous actions” on the Korean Peninsula. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

[N]one of the top policy makers sees the enemy alliance as a global threat. They think case-by-case, trying to devise separate “solutions” for each enemy.

I think they are wrong in both instances. I think Kim, Khamenei and Maduro, along with Putin and Assad, are right to fear their own people. And I am convinced that revolution is more likely to advance our interests than are military surges or economic sanctions.

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It’s now two weeks since we learned that British intelligence has concluded that the North Koreans couldn’t have developed their nuclear weapons all by themselves. According to the Telegraph, “North Korean scientists are people of some ability, but clearly they’re not doing it entirely in a vacuum,” said one government minister. The two main suspects, according to the Brits, are the Iranians and the Russians.

This is not exactly breaking news. For years, I have written about the Nork/Iranian joint nuclear venture, and a long version of the story written by Gordon Changappeared in 2015, suggesting that Iran had outsourced part of its nuclear program to Pyongyang:

The relationship between the two regimes has been long-lasting. Hundreds of North Koreans have worked at about 10 nuclear and missile facilities in Iran. There were so many nuclear and missile scientists, specialists, and technicians that they took over their own coastal resort there, according to Henry Sokolski, the proliferation maven, writing in 2003.

That’s fourteen years ago. The Iran/Nork collusion is similar to an Iran/China arrangement; there are oil-producing areas of Iran under complete Chinese control.

In other words, we’re talking about an international alliance of enemies of America. Iranian and Russian assistance to the Norks’ nuclear project are a big part of that alliance, as is Russian military action, most dramatically on the Middle Eastern battlefield. As Andrew Tabler tells us in suitably ominous tones, Russian-led and -supplied forces, in conjunction with Iranian forces and proxies, just crossed the Euphrates, bringing the enemy alliance closer to conflict with our guys:

In addition, the crossing brings Iran one step closer to its stated goal of creating a land bridge between Iraq and Syria, giving the Islamic Republic another avenue through which to place troops and weapons on the borders of U.S. allies. Tehran has steadily worked toward that goal even as Israel reached a de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria designed to keep Hezbollah and other Iranian-supported militias a few kilometers away from the Golan Heights frontier.

Remember that the Russians entered the Syrian battlefield after the Iranians begged them for help. Without Russian air power and ground forces, Iran would likely have lost, Assad would have fallen, and the Middle East would be less threatening to our interests than it is today.

Those of a certain age may recall that President George W. Bush delivered a State of the Union address after 9/11, in which he spoke of an “Axis of Evil” comprised of Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and North Korea. Many were baffled at the Norks’ inclusion. Was it an effort at ethnic balance, or what? But we now see that W. was right; North Korea has been deeply involved in the enemy alliance all along.

Iraq has dropped out, although it is increasingly beholden to Tehran. It may yet return to full status in the Evil Axis. And, as President Trump duly noted in his UN speech, there’s also Venezuela, here in our own hemisphere.

The president did well, I thought, to stress that Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela all brutally oppress their own people, whom the Iranian, Korean and Venezuelan tyrants mortally fear. Indeed, Trump was just one small logical step away from the proper strategic conclusion: since those enemies of ours fear their own people almost as much as they fear American military power, we should actively, publicly, and creatively support the internal opposition in all three countries.

But although Trump’s words certainly point in that direction, he has neither called for us and our allies to support internal opposition, nor has he come right out and called for regime change. Why not?

First of all, because his top three national security officials—Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—oppose such a policy. They are more inclined to look for either a military “solution” or to impose crushing sanctions.

Second, none of the top policy makers sees the enemy alliance as a global threat. They think case-by-case, trying to devise separate “solutions” for each enemy.

I think they are wrong in both instances. I think Kim, Khamenei and Maduro, along with Putin and Assad, are right to fear their own people. And I am convinced that revolution is more likely to advance our interests than are military surges or economic sanctions.

Trump has promised to announce a new Middle East (mostly Iran) policy shortly. Some smart people think he’s going to call for support to the oppressed people. I would be thrilled if that happened, but doubt it will.

Hold your breath.

Israeli Patriot missile downs Hizballah drone over Quneitra

September 19, 2017

Israeli Patriot missile downs Hizballah drone over Quneitra, DEBKAfile, September 19, 2017

An Israeli air force Patriot missile Tuesday shot down an Iran-made Hizballah drone over the Syrian border town of Quneitra in the demilitarized zone. The UAV took off from Damascus air port. The IAF first scrambled fighter jets, before launching the missile from a site near the Galilee town of Safed.

“Israel will not allow Iran, Hizballah or other forces to infiltrate or approach its territory in the Golan Heights,” the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report: This was the first time an IDF missile had intercepted a Hizballah drone in Syrian air space. In the past, fighter jets found it hard to down drones entering Golan air space and ended up shooting a Patriot missile. Hizballah’s purpose in sending the drone was apparently to test the state of readiness of IDF air defenses in northern Israel – but no less to see how the Russians would react when an Israeli UAV flew over a Russian-US de-escalation zone in southern Syria, that is under Russian surveillance.

IDF simulates war-to-win strategy vs Hizballah

September 5, 2017

IDF simulates war-to-win strategy vs Hizballah, DEBKAfile, September 5, 2017

The IDF Tuesday, Sept. 5, embarked on its biggest military exercise against Hizballah in 19 years, with a radically revised mission in the face of a greatly empowered enemy (tanks and drones as well as 100,000 rocket and missiles) which is now embedded in Syria, not just in Lebanon.

Tens of thousands of ground, air, sea and intelligence units, including reservists – the IDF’s entire northern array – will simulate a Hizballah thrust across the border to occupy two Israeli locales in Galilee and the Golan. They will conduct simultaneous defensive and offensive operations deep behind enemy lines. The game plan is not to aim for a ceasefire and respite for the enemy to prepare for the next round, as the 2006 Lebanon war ended. This time, Israel strategists have set themselves the goal of defeating Hizballah convincingly enough to smash its morale and infrastructure and end its belief that it can destroy Israel the next time round

The exercise’s three military objectives are clearly laid out:

1.  Two sectors are defined for repelling a deep Hizballah thrust into northern Israel; (see map)

(a)  Hizballah is expected to go for the Metulla-Misgav sector on the Lebanese border, as well as the “Fatma Road” linking the Galilee hills north of Kiryat Shemona along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

(b)  Zarit-Shetula in western Galilee north of Nahariya, which is close enough to the Lebanese border for Hizballah troops to reach by land and through tunnels.

Israeli forces will practice driving the enemy out of occupied towns and villages, often using the element of surprise.

2. Another major IDF force will storm across the border into Lebanon for an effort to rapidly and decisively defeat Hizballah on its home ground. The defensive operation apart, the IDF is resolved to inflict on the enemy intolerable losses of life, infrastructure and territory.

This fighting-to-win strategy draws heavily on the negative lessons of the 2006 war, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Then, the IDF’s overreliance on air might for winning the war proved counterproductive. By the time ground troops were deployed to cross the border and challenge Hizballah, they were too few and too late.

3.  This time, the air force is practicing a different role in the conflict, in coordination with Israel’s heavily upgraded, multi-tier air defenses. They will not only be geared for contending with Hizballah’s vast 100,000 rockets and missiles, but also, for the first time, with a formidable fleet of assorted UAVs, which are designed to serve the enemy in multiple tasks: intelligence-gathering, delivering rockets and guided  drones packed with explosives.

Also for the first time, the IDF will prepare to order the evacuation of civilians, up to 75,000, from towns and village within close range of Hizballah fire. Their evacuation may take place by roads that are under enemy attack.