Israel sends reinforcements to north, bracing for imminent attack

Posted July 28, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-sends-reinforcements-to-north-bracing-for-imminent-attack/

IDF deploys additional firepower, intel-gathering tools and special forces a day after alleged attempted Hezbollah assault

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces deployed additional reinforcements to the country’s Lebanese and Syrian borders on Tuesday, indicating it was bracing for more violence along the frontiers after an alleged attempted attack by the Hezbollah terror group the day before.

Israeli officials expected an attack on Israeli troops by the Lebanese terror group within the next 48 hours, before the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Thursday night, according to an unattributed Channel 12 report on Tuesday.

Over the past week, Hezbollah has threatened some form of retaliation for the death of one of its fighters last week in Syria in an airstrike that it attributed to Israel, but which the Jewish state has not officially acknowledged conducting.

Though the IDF on Tuesday did not confirm that it expected an attack in the coming two days, it indicated that it was bracing for  fresh violence on the border, saying it was sending additional “advanced” firepower, powerful intelligence collection equipment and special forces to the area.

The move came a day after the IDF said it thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to send a team of fighters into the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, to carry out an attack. According to the military, the Hezbollah cell made it a few meters across the border before IDF troops opened fire at the operatives — apparently not hitting them, but driving them back into Lebanon.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.

Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt had been filmed by military security cameras and that the operatives who took part in it were armed. The IDF on Monday said it was considering releasing the footage from the incident, but had yet to do so as of Tuesday afternoon.

The terror group said a reprisal for its fallen operative in Syria was still to come.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The IDF said the decision to send the additional units to the IDF Northern Command was made in light of a “situational assessment.”

Those reinforcements joined an infantry battalion, additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries and other troops that were sent to the Northern Command last week when Hezbollah first began indicating it planned to carry out an attack along the border as revenge for its fallen operative.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a clear threat to the enemy countries surrounding Israel that the Jewish state’s military has a far reach and “unlimited capabilities” that it was prepared to use.

Gantz made his comments during a visit to a squadron of F-35 fighter jets on the Nevatim air base in southern Israel.

“I am finishing a visit to an F-35 squadron, which is the most advanced [aircraft] that the Israeli Air Force has and is one of the best in the world. We have the capability to act at an unprecedented range and level of operational preparedness,” Gantz said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with an F-35 squadron on the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base in southern Israel on July 28, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“I suggest that all the countries in the region, near and far — Iran, Lebanon, Syria or anyone else who may be involved in terrorism — remember that Israel has unlimited capabilities and knows how to use them,” he added.

The military remained on high alert along the northern border on Tuesday, with Lebanese media reporting intensive Israeli drone flights over southern Lebanon throughout the morning. The military also maintained a number of roadblocks in the area, preventing IDF vehicles from traveling on certain highways along the border that were considered vulnerable to attack from Lebanon.

Since Friday, the IDF has deployed a smaller number of troops directly along the frontier, having cleared out personnel who were deemed unnecessary as they would constitute a potential target for Hezbollah. The regular units stationed in the area and reinforcements sent to the region took up positions slightly deeper inside Israel, from a distance at which they could still rapidly respond to any attack by Hezbollah but not so close as to be an easy target for the group’s anti-tank guided missiles — a weapon it has long shown a tremendous knack for.

No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers set up a roadblock on a highway near the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Also Tuesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab accused Israel of carrying out a “dangerous military escalation” the previous day and thereby violating United Nations Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“I fear that the situation will deteriorate in light of the severe tension on our borders with occupied Palestine,” Diab wrote in a statement, calling for caution.

The Lebanese prime minister, who is supported by Hezbollah, also accused Israel of seeking to give the international peacekeepers in Lebanon, known by the acronym UNIFIL, additional powers in the country and change the “rules of engagement.” UNIFIL’s mandate to operate in Lebanon is due to be reviewed and renewed next month by the UN Security Council.

However, Lebanese news outlets affiliated with or directly controlled by the terror group appeared to indicate that Hezbollah considered the fact that it forced the IDF into a state of high alert to be sufficient retaliation for the time being.

Following the incident, Israel conveyed messages to Lebanon, through third parties, that it did not want Monday’s border altercation to devolve into a war.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Was there another ‘mysterious’ explosion on Iran’s Qeshm Island?

Posted July 28, 2020 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/was-there-another-mysterious-explosion-on-irans-qeshm-island-636371

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Residents of Qeshm Island in southern Iran reported the sound of an explosion just after 10 p.m. on Saturday. It caused concern because the electricity went off. Officials claimed there was an earthquake, but many did not believe them.

Rumors pointed to other possibilities. Qeshm is known for fishing and tourism. It is a long island off the important Port of Bandar Abbas. Illicit oil trading takes place off some of the islands between Iran and the Gulf.

The tanker Gulf Sky, at the center of an international case involving Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps front companies, was anchored off the island in mid-July after allegedly being hijacked from near the UAE. It is also of strategic value because the IRGC has a naval base on the island.

In this context, some social-media accounts and local Arabic and Persian media outlets claimed there had been a mysterious explosion. This would be in line with another dozen such explosions that have impacted Iran since late June.

One destroyed a surface-to-surface missile facility at Khojir; another harmed centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear-enrichment facility. This has left many Iranians on edge over concerns they may be targeted by cyberattacks or other acts the government is not admitting to.

There are other controversies related to Qeshm. Fishermen want more support, and some believe the island will form part of a free-trade zone nexus, along with Kish Island, and that China will have a growing role there. “Iran is not for sale,” say some nationalist and populist social-media accounts, challenging China’s alleged upcoming role.

Fishermen held a meeting on Friday about facing issues in transporting their catch. Could an explosion be some sort of sabotage? People say it could be human error or an IRGC secret maneuver.

The fishermen said they were told not to go out fishing on Saturday and link this to the supposed explosion. There are questions over whether it might be linked to ammunition storage on the island.

In the absence of any real evidence that something happened at Qeshm Island, the incident will likely come and go without further details. What it does show is how Iran has been jarred by all the recent explosions – and how locals are quick to report any rumors of what they think is another incident.

 

 

Israel’s Military on Frontlines of COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted July 28, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

 

 

Fighting breaks out along Lebanese border as Hezbollah said to attack IDF tank

Posted July 27, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-security-incident-developing-on-lebanon-border-residents-ordered-indoors/

Suspected Hezbollah attack occurs in contested Mount Dov area amid peak tensions, with the terror group seeking revenge over killing of its fighter in alleged Israeli strike

View of an Israeli military post near the Lebanese border, July 27, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

View of an Israeli military post near the Lebanese border, July 27, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Fierce fighting broke out along the Israeli-Lebanese border on Monday afternoon as the Hezbollah terror group reportedly launched an attack on Israeli troops on the frontier, apparently in retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.

The heavy exchange of fire occurred in the contested area of Mount Dov, a regular site of Hezbollah attacks against Israeli military targets, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Explosions and sounds of gunfire were heard throughout the region and smoke filled the air above Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, an area that Israel, Lebanon and Syria each claim as its own.

There is “ongoing combat in the Mount Dov area,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s English-language spokesperson, wrote in a tweet Monday.

The fighting was apparently sparked by a Hezbollah attack in the area. The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen reported that members of the terror group fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an IDF tank, while other Lebanese outlets said the Israeli military had foiled the attempted Hezbollah attack, killing the group’s fighters.

There were no official comments released by Hezbollah.

The IDF said additional details about the incident would be released shortly.

Lebanese media reported that the Israeli military fired a number of artillery shells at targets in southern Lebanon.

The violence along the border appeared to be the Hezbollah terror group’s retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike attributed to Israel outside Damascus last Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz were both informed about the incident and traveled to the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss the developments with the IDF top brass.

“We are in a difficult security situation,” Netanyahu said, as he left a Likud party meeting in order to meet with defense officials.

The Israeli military ordered residents of communities near Mount Dov and along the Israeli-Lebanese border to remain inside their homes in light of the violence.

The IDF said it closed all roads in the area and ordered all farmers, hikers and tourists to immediately leave all open areas and farm lands.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/ FLASH90)

“Please continue to be updated on directives that are being put out by media outlets and listen to all orders by security forces and the IDF which are operating in the area,” the military said.

Additional information was available by calling 104 from any Israeli phone.

Following Hezbollah’s claim last Tuesday that Israel had killed its fighter the day before, the IDF went into high alert on the northern border, deploying infantry reinforcements on the ground, as well as additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries.

The skies above northern Israel were filled on Sunday and Monday with the sound of fighter jets, drones and helicopters, apparently collecting intelligence and preparing to retaliate for any attack.

On Sunday, Gantz issued a clear threat to Hezbollah terror group while visiting the northern border, saying that the Jewish state was prepared to take harsh action against “anyone who tests us.”

Asked about reports that Israel conveyed messages to the Lebanese terror group that it had not meant to kill its fighter — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — Gantz appeared to drop Israel’s policy of ambiguity about its activities in Syria.

“We acted against the entrenchment of Iran in Syria. If someone involved in Iran’s activities in Syria — which we will continue to act against — this is liable to happen. We take that into account,” he said.

The defense minister indicated that he did not believe the current situation would lead to a larger conflict or an all-out war, but said the he “recommends to the other side not to drag us into that.”

“We don’t want any unnecessary escalations [of violence], but anyone who tests us will be met by a very high capability to take action, and I hope we won’t need to use it,” Gantz said.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz warned the governments of Syria and Lebanon that they would be held responsible for any attacks against Israel coming from their territory.

“Lebanon and Syria bear responsibility for any attack from their territory against Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “We will not allow anyone to upend our security or threaten our citizens; we won’t tolerate an attack on our forces… The IDF is prepared to respond to any threat.”

On Sunday night Hezbollah’s deputy chief brushed off Israel’s warnings, while keeping quiet on whether the terror group would retaliate against the Jewish state.

“If Israel decides to go to war with us, then we will confront them, and the 2006 [Second Lebanon] War will be the model for our response,” Naim Qasim told pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen TV. “We’re used to Israeli threats; they do not offer us a new political vision. This is mere chest-beating.”

On Friday, the IDF began clearing out unnecessary personnel from the frontier and barring military vehicles from traveling on roads that are vulnerable to anti-tank guided missile attack from Lebanon. No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time, who were then encouraged to go about their daily lives as normal despite the heightened tensions.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

As tensions soar in north, Netanyahu warns Syria and Lebanon against attacks

Posted July 26, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-tensions-soar-in-north-netanyahu-warns-syria-and-lebanon-against-attacks/

Amid tensions with Hezbollah, PM says neighboring countries will bear responsibility for assault; ministers instructed to make no comments on situation

Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that Syria and Lebanon would bear responsibility for any attack against Israel emanating from their territories, amid heightened tensions between the Jewish state and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group along the northern border.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel had a “consistent policy to not allow Iran to entrench militarily on our northern border.

“Lebanon and Syria bear responsibility for any attack from their territory against Israel,” he said. “We will not allow anyone to upend our security or threaten our citizens; we won’t tolerate an attack on our forces… The IDF is prepared to respond to any threat.”

Meanwhile cabinet ministers were instructed to make no comments on the situation in the north, in an apparent effort to avoid exacerbating tensions.

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which maintains a presence in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, have been high since a July 20 airstrike in southern Syria attributed to Israel, in which one of the organization’s fighters was killed.

  

 

The tensions continued to simmer over the weekend as the Israeli military stepped up its defenses along the country’s northern borders out of concern over a potential attack against military targets there.

According to a report on Saturday in Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese news network closely associated with Hezbollah, Israel has sent a message to Hezbollah warning against any retaliatory action in response to the strike. Israel has conveyed that it did not know the group member — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — was near the targets in southern Syria and did not intend to kill him.

The message was delivered via UN intermediaries and Hezbollah refused to adhere to the “warnings and threats from Israel,” according to the Al Mayadeen report.

Israel has refused to officially comment on the incident, keeping its policy of ambiguity regarding its operations against Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Israel has also warned Beirut it would bear responsibility for any possible Hezbollah strike.

Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of the Hezbollah terror group, whom the organization says was killed in an Israeli airstrike on July 20, 2020. (Hezbollah media)

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

The airstrike attributed to Israel on Monday night hit weapons depots and military positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militia fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said the aerial bombardments caused several explosions around the town of Kiswah, an area that has long been associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Reuters news agency reported that the assault hit targets in the towns of Jabal al Mane, Muqaylabiya and Zakiya, causing “huge blasts” and allegedly killing Iranian personnel.

On Friday night, Israeli attack helicopters struck several military targets in southern Syria belonging to the Syrian military, in response to munitions fired at Israel earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes injured two soldiers, hit three sites and caused fires.

The incident in the morning saw explosions heard along the border and shrapnel striking a home and a car on the Israeli side in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, causing light damage. The cause was reported to be either anti-aircraft fire toward an IDF observation balloon or an artillery shell fired from Syria toward Israel, possibly by accident.

Also Friday, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. Israeli television commentators speculated on the possible significance of the visit, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday night, roadblocks were installed along a number of highways to prevent military vehicles vulnerable to attack from anti-tank guided missiles fired from either Lebanon or Syria from driving on certain roads.

Entrances to some communities where the military maintains a presence that are exposed to attack were also blocked for IDF vehicles. As the military assessed that Hezbollah planned to attack only IDF targets, civilian vehicles were able to travel freely throughout the area.

The military also cleared some troops out of positions directly along the border, moving them deeper into Israel, so that they would not represent a clear target for Hezbollah, while still allowing them to defend the frontier.

The IDF has also stepped up its intelligence collection efforts along the border in recent days. Throughout the day on Friday, Lebanese media reported on large numbers of Israeli drones flying overhead.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

 

Brothers of the Sky – US and Israeli Air Force F-15s together

Posted July 26, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Israeli Air Force ✡ /USAF joint air exercise, Juniper Falcon, May 2017 US Air Force and Israeli Air Forces dominated the Jewish state’s southern skies for the 2017 annual Juniper Falcon exercise. This IAF Video courtesy of IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Off topic: Arab live TV fights

Posted July 26, 2020 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

17 minutes of pure gold.

Plenty of shoe-usage and shoe references.

“My shoe and my urine are more dignified than you”, ha ha ha.

The shiite prank caller to the sunni cooking show is amusing.

Iran regime grapples with its worst crisis, hamstrung by internal power struggle

Posted July 26, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/could-most-of-the-recent-blasts-in-iran-stem-from-an-internal-election-battle/

Challenges of COVID-19 and economic meltdown are exacerbated by frequent explosions — most of which may have less to with Israel than a battle between reformists and conservatives

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk through the Nasr Shopping Center in Tehran, Iran, July 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk through the Nasr Shopping Center in Tehran, Iran, July 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The stream of mysterious explosions and fires in Iran over the past few weeks has stirred the imagination of countless Israelis and media outlets.

Is it possible that a foreign intelligence entity is trying — and managing — to destabilize the Islamic Republic? Is someone trying to drag Iran into a war or a confrontation?

Just this week, there was an explosion at a power station in Isfahan Province and, later the same day, a fire broke out at a phone factory in northwestern Iran. In late June, there was a big explosion near a military facility in Tehran and another one in a civilian hospital in the capital, where 19 people were killed.

However, officials have not been quick to blame Israel, the United States, or the West, at least not in most cases — and there could be a reason for that.

This July 5, 2020, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the substantial damage done by an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Setting aside the most dramatic incident, the July 2 blast at the nuclear facility in Natanz — which is said by some experts to have significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program, damaging an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant, and which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel — the other cases have been blamed by the Iranians on such banal causes as poor maintenance, rising temperatures and negligence. (A report on Thursday said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] has concluded that contractor Ershad Karimi was the perpetrator of the Natanz attack.)

This summer in Iran has indeed been hot. This week, temperatures reached 43°C (109°F) in the port city of Bandar Abbas, 35°C (95°F) in Shiraz and 34°C (93°F) in the capital Tehran.

And the national infrastructure is rickety anyway, and every year there are fires and even explosions. Still, this year, their number has increased.

Footage of a fire at a factory near Tabrinz, Iran on July 19, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian Diplomatic and Security Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, suspects a different cause.

“Since March, we have witnessed hundreds of fires, perhaps even a thousand, across the country. That’s unimaginable. Why would a foreign entity do something like this? What interest do they have to attack a hospital? And I’m not talking about Natanz,” he said.

Meir Javedanfar (YouTube screenshot)

“Somebody’s trying to weaken President [Hassan] Rouhani and tarnish his public image,” he elaborated. “We saw that in the attempt to pass a motion of no confidence in the Iranian Majlis (parliament). Now, the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has apparently blocked that effort — and all of a sudden, there has been a significant fall in the number of fires and explosions.”

Javedanfar was alluding to the tensions within the conservative wing of Iran’s leadership, which has ruled the parliament since last February’s election.

The elected speaker of the Majlis is Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a well-known conservative who previously ran against Rouhani. Ghalibaf was a top-ranking IRGC official and a commander of its Air Force.

Along with his parliamentary peers, Ghalibaf has been trying to challenge Rouhani and the members of his moderate-reformist wing ahead of the next presidential election, in May 2021.

This handout picture provided by the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) on May 31, 2020, shows Iranian Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) chairing a parliament session in the capital Tehran (ICANA NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

Rouhani, who has been president since 2013, cannot be reelected, but a representative of his moderate wing will aim to succeed him, possibly in a contest against Ghalibaf.

One of the names mentioned as a potential candidate for the moderate wing is Ali Larijani, a former speaker of the Majlis, who was recently appointed as adviser to the supreme leader.

Inundated with problems

The struggle between these two wings is deeply affecting Iran, complicating its response to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the country.

“Rouhani can’t do much in the face of the pandemic and the economy. About 60 percent of the Iranian economy is not steered by elected officials, but by what’s known as the ‘Deep State,’” Javedanfar said.

“These are entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the allegedly ‘social’ funds. When the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in the sacred city of Qom, Rouhani wanted to impose a lockdown, but Khamenei and the ‘Deep State’ prevented him from doing so. Iran now has very significant problems, and I’m doubtful whether it can deal with them,” said Javedanfar.

Asked whether he thinks Iran will retaliate for the explosion in Natanz, Javedanfar was skeptical.

“In my estimation, the Iranian leadership is trying these days first and foremost to survive, at least until the US presidential election [in November],” he said. “They understand that even if Joe Biden is elected, he isn’t expected to lift the sanctions immediately, but his election would at least inspire hope.

Javedandar, indeed, argues that the accumulation of crises constitutes the biggest challenge the regime has faced since it came to power, albeit not one that threatens its collapse.

“I don’t know any Iranian administration since 1979 that has had to deal with such significant crises and challenges as today,” he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020. (AFP)

Indeed, Iran is inundated with problems that threaten to suffocate its economy and citizens.

The most striking figure is the steep fall in the value of the Iranian currency, the rial. As of January, the rial was 128,000 to the US dollar. In recent weeks, the exchange rate fell as low as 250,000 rials to $1. The past few days have seen a slight improvement, after intervention by the Central Bank of Iran.

Unemployment rates have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, subsidies have been canceled and annual inflation is at 41%, leading to a dramatic rise in the price of basic commodities like rice and poultry.

Real wages have been eroded, and the administration knows full well that a new generation of poor people creates a fertile ground for instability. Even Rouhani’s deputy has acknowledged that Iran’s economy is at a critical stage.

Deliberately inflated numbers?

This week, Rouhani announced there have been an estimated 25 million coronavirus cases in Iran — out of a population of about 82 million — numbers so high as to be implausible. There may conceivably be several million carriers in Iran, but it’s also possible that Rouhani chose to inflate the numbers.

First of all, he may have wanted to create a sense of a crisis too dramatic for his government to handle, as a way to evade responsibility.

Secondly, he may have hoped to restore calm to the Iranian street. After turbulent demonstrations last November over a sudden increase in gasoline prices, the first wave of the pandemic was met with relative equanimity. However, over the past few weeks, protests were renewed on a smaller scale, after authorities decided to execute three organizers of the November protests. The court then announced it would reconsider the verdicts amid fear of a public outcry.

Moreover, it is possible that Rouhani is trying to signal to both Khamenei and the public that parliament and the conservative wing have been trying to curb him in a way that poses a direct threat to Iranian citizens and their health. Wary of the conservatives and well aware of the despair among young people, and the disappointment in his performance, he may be trying to improve the position of his wing ahead of the election in May.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech marking the anniversary of the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, June 3, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Either way, the COVID-19 resurgence that started in May is indeed severe. There have been about 200 coronavirus-related deaths in Iran every day, and anger and concern are deepening.

“The situation is terrible,” Javedanfar said. “Those who can are trying to leave the country. There are more cases of depression and aggression. The despair leads people to act illogically, and the administration’s [handling of the crisis] encourages that behavior.

“Tehran’s stock exchange market is somehow booming in the most difficult time financially the country has experienced. We’ve seen unprecedented records. People invest fortunes in various companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, and the administration resuscitates them. The Telegram channel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps encourages the public to invest in the stock exchange. Do you understand? People who can’t make a living are selling their cars, farmers are selling their tractors, in the hope of getting rich via the stock market.”

China’s vague deal

One development in Iran’s relationship with the outside world that has received significant attention is the agreement between China and Iran, according to which China will allegedly invest in Iran.

But it is doubtful whether this deal has substance. It seems more like a statement of intent that is meant, on the one hand, to show the United States that China will not accept dictates from US President Donald Trump and, on the other, to serve Iranian interests by giving hope to the public.

The deal includes no concrete or specific elements, at least not for the time being. For now, it seems designed to provide some internal resilience for the Iranian administration.

The explosion at a health clinic in Tehran, Iran, on June 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Facing paralyzing sanctions from the US and the rest of the world, the grim financial situation and the pandemic, the future of the Iranian public and administration is unclear.

Will Iran become more conservative? Perhaps. If a conservative president wins the election, the delicate balance between conservatives and moderates will be disrupted, and all three branches of government will be in the hands of conservatives — the parliament, the presidency and the judiciary, which is currently headed by Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative who has been flagged as a potential heir to Khamenei.

On the other hand, a victory by the moderate wing would send the message that the Iranian leadership wishes to follow the same lines as before, perhaps in the hope of change on the American side.

Neither a conservative takeover nor a balance between conservatives and moderates, however, is likely to bring about the collapse or overthrow of the regime.

Could most of the recent blasts in Iran stem from an internal election battle?

Posted July 25, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/could-most-of-the-recent-blasts-in-iran-stem-from-an-internal-election-battle/

As Tehran facesnprecedented crises — including COVID-19, the economy and frequent explosions — it is hamstrung by a battle between reformists and conservatives, expert says

The explosion at a health clinic in Tehran, Iran, on June 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The explosion at a health clinic in Tehran, Iran, on June 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The stream of mysterious explosions and fires in Iran over the past few weeks has stirred the imagination of countless Israelis and media outlets.

Is it possible that a foreign intelligence entity is trying — and managing — to destabilize the Islamic Republic? Is someone trying to drag Iran into a war or a confrontation?

Just this week, there was an explosion at a power station in Isfahan Province and, later the same day, a fire broke out at a phone factory in northwestern Iran. In late June, there was a big explosion near a military facility in Tehran and another one in a civilian hospital in the capital, where 19 people were killed.

However, officials have not been quick to blame Israel, the United States, or the West, at least not in most cases — and there could be a reason for that.

Setting aside the most dramatic incident, the July 2 blast at the nuclear facility in Natanz — which is said by some experts to have significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program, damaging an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant, and which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel — the other cases have been blamed by the Iranians on such banal causes as poor maintenance, rising temperatures and negligence. (A report on Thursday said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] has concluded that contractor Ershad Karimi was the perpetrator of the Natanz attack.)

This summer in Iran has indeed been hot. This week, temperatures reached 43°C (109°F) in the port city of Bandar Abbas, 35°C (95°F) in Shiraz and 34°C (93°F) in the capital Tehran.

And the national infrastructure is rickety anyway, and every year there are fires and even explosions. Still, this year, their number has increased.

Footage of a fire at a factory near Tabrinz, Iran on July 19, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian Diplomatic and Security Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, suspects a different cause.

“Since March, we have witnessed hundreds of fires, perhaps even a thousand, across the country. That’s unimaginable. Why would a foreign entity do something like this? What interest do they have to attack a hospital? And I’m not talking about Natanz,” he said.

Meir Javedanfar (YouTube screenshot)

“Somebody’s trying to weaken President [Hassan] Rouhani and tarnish his public image,” he elaborated. “We saw that in the attempt to pass a motion of no confidence in the Iranian Majlis (parliament). Now, the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has apparently blocked that effort — and all of a sudden, there has been a significant fall in the number of fires and explosions.”

Javedanfar was alluding to the tensions within the conservative wing of Iran’s leadership, which has ruled the parliament since last February’s election.

The elected speaker of the Majlis is Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a well-known conservative who previously ran against Rouhani. Ghalibaf was a top-ranking IRGC official and a commander of its Air Force.

Along with his parliamentary peers, Ghalibaf has been trying to challenge Rouhani and the members of his moderate-reformist wing ahead of the next presidential election, in May 2021.

This handout picture provided by the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) on May 31, 2020, shows Iranian Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) chairing a parliament session in the capital Tehran (ICANA NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

Rouhani, who has been president since 2013, cannot be reelected, but a representative of his moderate wing will aim to succeed him, possibly in a contest against Ghalibaf.

One of the names mentioned as a potential candidate for the moderate wing is Ali Larijani, a former speaker of the Majlis, who was recently appointed as adviser to the supreme leader.

Inundated with problems

The struggle between these two wings is deeply affecting Iran, complicating its response to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the country.

“Rouhani can’t do much in the face of the pandemic and the economy. About 60 percent of the Iranian economy is not steered by elected officials, but by what’s known as the ‘Deep State,’” Javedanfar said.

“These are entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the allegedly ‘social’ funds. When the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in the sacred city of Qom, Rouhani wanted to impose a lockdown, but Khamenei and the ‘Deep State’ prevented him from doing so. Iran now has very significant problems, and I’m doubtful whether it can deal with them,” said Javedanfar.

Asked whether he thinks Iran will retaliate for the explosion in Natanz, Javedanfar was skeptical.

“In my estimation, the Iranian leadership is trying these days first and foremost to survive, at least until the US presidential election [in November],” he said. “They understand that even if Joe Biden is elected, he isn’t expected to lift the sanctions immediately, but his election would at least inspire hope.

“I don’t know any Iranian administration since 1979 that has had to deal with such significant crises and challenges as today,” he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020. (AFP)

Indeed, Iran is inundated with problems that threaten to suffocate its economy and citizens. The most striking figure is the steep fall in the value of the Iranian currency, the rial.

As of January, the rial was 128,000 to the US dollar. In recent weeks, the exchange rate fell as low as 250,000 rials to $1. The past few days have seen a slight improvement, after intervention by the Central Bank of Iran.

Unemployment rates have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, subsidies have been canceled and annual inflation is at 41%, leading to a dramatic rise in the price of basic commodities like rice and poultry.

Real wages have been eroded, and the administration knows full well that a new generation of poor people creates a fertile ground for instability. Even Rouhani’s deputy has acknowledged that Iran’s economy is at a critical stage.

Deliberately inflated numbers?

This week, Rouhani announced there have been an estimated 25 million coronavirus cases in Iran — out of a population of about 82 million — numbers so high as to be implausible. There may conceivably be several million carriers in Iran, but it’s also possible that Rouhani chose to inflate the numbers.

First of all, he may have wanted to create a sense of a crisis too dramatic for his government to handle, as a way to evade responsibility.

Secondly, he may have hoped to restore calm to the Iranian street. After turbulent demonstrations last November over a sudden increase in gasoline prices, the first wave of the pandemic was met with relative equanimity. However, over the past few weeks, protests were renewed on a smaller scale, after authorities decided to execute three organizers of the November protests. The court then announced it would reconsider the verdicts amid fear of a public outcry.

Moreover, it is possible that Rouhani is trying to signal to both Khamenei and the public that parliament and the conservative wing have been trying to curb him in a way that poses a direct threat to Iranian citizens and their health. Wary of the conservatives and well aware of the despair among young people, and the disappointment in his performance, he may be trying to improve the position of his wing ahead of the election in May.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech marking the anniversary of the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, June 3, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Either way, the COVID-19 resurgence that started in May is indeed severe. There have been about 200 coronavirus-related deaths in Iran every day, and anger and concern are deepening.

“The situation is terrible,” Javedanfar said. “Those who can are trying to leave the country. There are more cases of depression and aggression. The despair leads people to act illogically, and the administration’s [handling of the crisis] encourages that behavior.

“Tehran’s stock exchange market is somehow booming in the most difficult time financially the country has experienced. We’ve seen unprecedented records. People invest fortunes in various companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, and the administration resuscitates them. The Telegram channel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps encourages the public to invest in the stock exchange. Do you understand? People who can’t make a living are selling their cars, farmers are selling their tractors, in the hope of getting rich via the stock market.”

China’s vague deal

One development in Iran’s relationship with the outside world that has received significant attention is the agreement between China and Iran, according to which China will allegedly invest in Iran.

But it is doubtful whether this deal has substance. It seems more like a statement of intent that is meant, on the one hand, to show the United States that China will not accept dictates from US President Donald Trump and, on the other, to serve Iranian interests by giving hope to the public.

The deal includes no concrete or specific elements, at least not for the time being. For now, it seems designed to provide some internal resilience for the Iranian administration.

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk through the Nasr Shopping Center in Tehran, Iran, July 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Facing paralyzing sanctions from the US and the rest of the world, the grim financial situation and the pandemic, the future of the Iranian public and administration is unclear.

Will Iran become more conservative? Perhaps. If a conservative president wins the election, the delicate balance between conservatives and moderates will be disrupted, and all three branches of government will be in the hands of conservatives — the parliament, the presidency and the judiciary, which is currently headed by Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative who has been flagged as a potential heir to Khamenei.

On the other hand, a victory by the moderate wing would send the message that the Iranian leadership wishes to follow the same lines as before, perhaps in the hope of change on the American side.

Neither a conservative takeover nor a balance between conservatives and moderates, however, is likely to bring about the collapse or overthrow of the regime.

IDF strikes Syrian army targets near border after munitions fired at Israel

Posted July 25, 2020 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-strikes-syrian-army-targets-near-border-after-munitions-fired-into-israel

Syrian state media says 2 lightly injured; Israeli army says it hit observation posts, intel-gathering tools; strikes come after blasts at border sent shrapnel into Israeli town

Illustrative: An Israeli Apache helicopter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Illustrative: An Israeli Apache helicopter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli attack helicopters on Friday night struck several military targets in southern Syria belonging to the Syrian military, in response to munitions fired at Israel earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Targets included “observation positions and intelligence-gathering tools inside Syrian posts,” the military said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes injured two soldiers, hit three sites and caused fires.

Arabic media reports said missiles had hit anti-aircraft batteries near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The incident in the morning saw explosions heard along the border and shrapnel striking a home and a car on the Israeli side in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, causing light damage. The cause was reported to be either anti-aircraft fire toward an IDF observation balloon or an artillery shell fired from Syria toward Israel, possibly by accident.

“The IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible for the fire against Israel earlier today,” the army said in a statement. “The IDF will continue operating with determination and will respond to any violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

The incidents came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Hezbollah terror group, which maintains a presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, after one of the organization’s fighters was killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel on Monday night.

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel on Friday, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. Israeli television commentators speculated on the possible significance of the visit, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

The IDF further stepped up its defenses along the country’s northern borders on Friday, the army said, out of concern the Hezbollah terror group may carry out an attack against military targets along the frontier in retaliation and warned Beirut it would bear responsibility for any possible Hezbollah strike.

“In light of a situational assessment in the IDF and in accordance with the Northern Command’s defense plan, the IDF’s deployment will change in both the military and civilian arena with the goal of strengthening defenses along the northern border,” the IDF said in a statement.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate to losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

In a tacit threat, the IDF preemptively warned Beirut that it sees the state of Lebanon as “responsible for all actions emanating from Lebanon.”

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday night, roadblocks were installed along a number of highways to prevent military vehicles vulnerable to attack from anti-tank guided missiles fired from either Lebanon or Syria, from driving on certain roads.

Entrances to some communities where the military maintains a presence that are exposed to attack were also blocked for IDF vehicles. As the military assessed that Hezbollah planned to attack only IDF targets, civilian vehicles will be able to travel freely throughout the area.

However, the IDF said that some farmers who have fields directly along the border may be blocked from working their lands.

The military also cleared some troops out of positions directly along the border, moving them deeper into Israel, so that they would not represent a clear target for Hezbollah, while still allowing them to defend the frontier.

The IDF has also stepped up its intelligence collection efforts along the border in recent days. Throughout the day on Friday, Lebanese media reported on large numbers of Israeli drones flying overhead.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.