Posted tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders

August 12, 2017

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders, DEBKAfile, August 12, 2017

Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

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The transformation of a small, strategic wedge of land between the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders is going forward apace without arousing much interest – even in Israel, where it should cause the most concern, DEBKAfile reports.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, two Russian army companies of Ingushet troops from the northern Caucasus set up a command post in the Syrian village of Tal al-Shahm, 13km from Israel’s Golan border. Its commander, Col. Alexei Kozin, has thus taken charge of Syria’s border with Israel. As DEBKAfile reported last month, his task is to set up 10 control checkpoints along that border.

This border area was designated as one of four de-escalation zones agreed on between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

According to understandings reached between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, the UN separation force (UNDOF) will return to its Fawar base opposite Quneitra as a buffer between IDF and Russian forces. Its past history in this role between IDF and Syrian forces was never exactly impressive.

A piece of diplomacy consistent with this process was contributed by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, Aug. 11. It was an assurance that Russia would take into account Israel’s interests in Jerusalem in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It also fits in with the surprising statement from Washington on the same day, namely, that Donald Trump, although in the midst of a fearsome crisis with North Korea with military overtones, is planning to send his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel-Palestinian peace broker Jason Greenblatt, on an early visit to the Middle East to continue this mission.

To see how these disparate elements fill out the whole picture, we turn 70km east from Quneitra on the Syria Golan to the battles ongoing at Sweida in southeastern Syria opposite the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Russian troops moved into the key town of Daraa, abutting on the Jordanian border on July 13. Like in Quneitra, a month later, they set up command posts to monitor the first de-escalation or ceasefire zone to be set up under the Hamburg accord.

The Russian troops’ assignment was to stop the fighting there and execute the withdrawal of the combatant forces, the Syrian army, Iran, and its foreign Shiite militias, including Hizballah, to a distance of 40km from the border.

But that arrangement never stood up.

Nearly four weeks later, on Wednesday night, Aug. 9, on the same night that Russian troops moved into Quneitra, the Syrian army and Hizballah launched a major offensive in Sweida province. Three days later, by Saturday, they had forced the local rebel forces to retreat into Jordan and seized 57km of Syria’s southern frontier with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Neither the Russians nor the American interfered with the Syrian-Hizballah-led push, although the Russians took responsibility for maintaining the ceasefire, and US special forces were and still are posted to the east of Sweida at Al-Tanf in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

(See attached map)

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Syrian-Hizballah offensive violated the ceasefire deal. Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

The Sweida episode demonstrated how the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance sees its way to using the Trump-Putin ceasefire zones accord as an open door for seizing control of southern Syria and grabbing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

The Syrian rebel movement is disintegrating at an alarming rate following the “Jubeir earthquake,” as it has become known – another momentous event which Western and Israeli front pages have chosen to ignore.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Mniser Adel al-Jubeir reportedly informed a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders invited to Riyadh that his government was pulling its support from their fighting militias, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to reduce US military action in Syria solely to the war on ISIS – and therefore end US resistance to the Assad regime.

Saudi officials did not deny the report, only termed it “inaccurate.”

But meanwhile, the decisions by Riyadh and Washington to abandon the anti-Assad cause spread like wildfire among Syrian rebel groups. Many responded by laying down their arms and surrendering.

The fate of the rebel movement after six years of cruel warfare against the dictator Bashar Assad should be an object lesson to other recipients of American and Russian promises. Therefore, Lavrov’s pledge to take Israel’s interests in Jerusalem into account should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was most likely shooting a line to allay Israeli skepticism about the prospect of Russian troops keeping Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah troops at bay from its northern border – even through this pledge was underwritten by Washington.

Instead of taking the two powers at their word, Israel need only watch what is going on in the last few hours just across the border at Sweida, to appreciate the value of such promises.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

Russia posts troops 8km from the Israeli Golan

July 25, 2017

Russia posts troops 8km from the Israeli Golan, DEBKAfile, July 25,2017

Most of the Russian troops were recruited in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, republics known for their Muslim extremist activity.

DEBKAfile recalls that the Russians brought into embattled Daraa earlier this month to monitor the first ceasefire zone did not require Hizballah to withdraw. Iran’s Lebanese proxy is still there. Israel fears that Hizballah will repeat this exercise in the second ceasefire zone and establish a presence opposite the Golan without the Russians raising a finger to keep them out.

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Russia has quietly moved troops to a point in southern Syria that is 8km from Israel’s Golan border, in the face of Israeli objections, DEBKAfile reports exclusively. Moscow used the uproar over the Temple Mount standoff and the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Jordan to cover its creeping troop deployment almost up to Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

Tuesday, July 15, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avidor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott visited Bashan Division headquarters on the Golan for a rundown on the Russian deployment just opposite. (see photo)

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that some 800 Russian troops face Israel and another 400 are positioned on the border with Jordan. They have set up a roadblock east of Quneitra 8km from Israeli positions on the Golan. They have also strung an additional four to six lookout posts, some of them 13km from Israeli military positions, along the 64km Syrian-Israeli border – from Mount Hermon in the north, up to a point south of Qunetra in the south.

Most of the Russian troops were recruited in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, republics known for their Muslim extremist activity.

Israel has repeatedly objected to the proximity of this Russian military presence, and asked the Trump administration to prevent it. But the protests from Jerusalem went unheeded in Washington and Moscow. President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis regard the creation of US-Russian sponsored ceasefire zones in southwestern Syria as an essential component of their military cooperation in Syria and the war on ISIS.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, on Monday, July 24, Moscow announced the Russian deployment after the fact in messages to Washington, Jerusalem and Amman. They were all too engrossed in coping with the crises that had sprung up over Temple Mount and in relations between Jerusalem and Amman to pay much attention to this Russian fait accompli.

According to the announcement by Col.-Gen Sergey Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, the Russian units were in already in place on July 21 and 22:

“We informed our colleagues from the United States, Jordan and Israel, through military diplomatic channels in advance of the deployment of the Russian-controlled forces around the perimeter of the de-escalation zone in southern Syria,” he wrote.

DEBKAfile recalls that the Russians brought into embattled Daraa earlier this month to monitor the first ceasefire zone did not require Hizballah to withdraw. Iran’s Lebanese proxy is still there. Israel fears that Hizballah will repeat this exercise in the second ceasefire zone and establish a presence opposite the Golan without the Russians raising a finger to keep them out.

Jordan’s intel tags Hizballah for Temple Mt. terror

July 20, 2017

Jordan’s intel tags Hizballah for Temple Mt. terror, DEBKAfile, July 20, 2017

Jordanian and Saudi intelligence services have come to the conclusion that the attack was the work of a Hizballah-run cell on orders from Iran. One of Hizballah’s signatures is the absence of any claim of responsibility.

Jordanian intelligence circles suspect that the Temple Mount attack was linked to the US-Russian deal for ceasefire zones in southwest Syria right up to the borders of Jordan and Israel. Both governments have demanded the exclusion of Iranian and Hizballah forces from those zones.

Hizballah not only maintains a presence in Daraa and the Syrian Golan, but has planted terrorist networks inside Israel and Jordan. The pro-Iranian terror group has long been suspected of recruiting networks in some Israeli Arab communities. By striking Temple Mount, Iran and Hizballah targeted both Israel and Jordan, which claims religious custodianship of its mosques.

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The Israeli police Thursday, July 20, released a video tape recording the movements of the terrorists heading for the murderous attack they committed on Temple Mount six days ago, when they shot dead two Israeli border guard police officers.

The film shows not three but four men who carefully stepped away from each other before entering the Al Aqsa Mosque. There, the three gunmen were handed their weapons by the fourth confederate, who made his escape among the crowds of worshippers exiting the mosque.

The police published the video Thursday ahead of Muslim Friday prayers – which brings tens of thousands of worshippers to Al Aqsa – as a reminder that the crime committed was a terrorist attack staged by Muslims at Islam’s third most sacred site – not the metal detectors Israel which installed for its safety. To drown this truth out, the Palestinians and Waqf officials have been raising a worldwide uproar over those detectors, as though nothing else happened to make them necessary.

The investigation going forward has established that the terrorists were far from amateurs. They acted coolly, with professional precision and were clearly highly trained and familiar with the terrain. It was a skilled terrorist cell that assaulted a shrine holy to three world faiths.

Even the absence of any claim of responsibility for the attack is a clue, especially since none of Israel’s investigators, be they police, security authorities or intelligence agencies, have so far thrown any light on the identity of the hand behind that cell.

However, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources report that Jordanian and Saudi intelligence services have come to the conclusion that the attack was the work of a Hizballah-run cell on orders from Iran. One of Hizballah’s signatures is the absence of any claim of responsibility.

On July 18, 2012, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver and injuring 32. No organization has ever claimed this attack. Israeli intelligence uncovered evidence that it was orchestrated by Hizballah, but was never able to lay hands on the perpetrators.

The difference this time was that the three gunmen on Temple Mount had no intention of committing suicide. They did not expect the Israel police detail to react quickly enough to gun them down, but had meant to elude pursuit by fleeing to safety into Al Aqsa mosque. There they planned either to escape through ancient subterranean tunnels leading outside the Old City walls, or barricade themselves inside the cavernous mosque for a long shootout with Israel police.

Jordanian intelligence circles suspect that the Temple Mount attack was linked to the US-Russian deal for ceasefire zones in southwest Syria right up to the borders of Jordan and Israel. Both governments have demanded the exclusion of Iranian and Hizballah forces from those zones.

Tehran found an answer to this demand by demonstrating that its Lebanese proxy is capable of reaching deep inside Israel without recourse to external territory, because Hizballah not only maintains a presence in Daraa and the Syrian Golan, but has planted terrorist networks inside Israel and Jordan. The pro-Iranian terror group has long been suspected of recruiting networks in some Israeli Arab communities. By striking Temple Mount, Iran and Hizballah targeted both Israel and Jordan, which claims religious custodianship of its mosques.

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out

July 12, 2017

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out, DEBKAfile, July 12, 2017

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

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Russian troops stepped into southern Syria for the first time Wednesday, July 13, when they entered the embattled town of Daraa to start enforcing the partial ceasefire agreed by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on July 7.  DEBKAfile’s military sources report this exclusively.

The Russians, including military police and Chechen paratroopers, were sighted getting out of the vehicles of their convoy and taking up positions in the center of Daraa. As they moved into the town, our sources report that tank units of the pro-regime Syrian army’s 5th Armored Division were seen driving out, along with Hizballah.

Their withdrawal cut short the Syrian military’s Operation Big Dawn against the Syrian rebels in Daraa, which breached the ceasefire Monday, July 11 – less then 24 hours after it went into force.

The Russian deployment in a southern Syrian border town Wednesday was the first step in their posting along Syria’s Israeli and Jordanian borders, as agreed between Washington and Moscow. President Trump had assented to this arrangement to bolster the first stage of the Syrian ceasefire going into effect in the de-confliction zone of the southwest.

Jordan also assented, in the interests of de-escalating tensions on its border with Syria.

The Russian troops and Chechens in Russian military police uniforms were armed only with light weapons. On July 5, Putin’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, Alexander Levrentiev, said that the Russian troops deployed in Syrian ceasefire zones would be lightly armed for self-defense. Most would consist of Russian military police. This description was intended to cover the presence of Chechen paratroops, who were seconded to the Russian police force for this mission.

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

But our sources predict that, after the arrival of Russian troops in Daraa to preserve the ceasefire, both Washington and Moscow will lean hard on Jerusalem to accept Russian troops at Quneitra too, that is, opposite the Golan.

New Syrian-Hizballah offensive defies ceasefire

July 10, 2017

New Syrian-Hizballah offensive defies ceasefire, DEBKAfile, July 10, 2017

The Assad regime, for its part, felt free to resume combat because the Trump-Putin ceasefire deal had not set out demarcation lines as dividers between the opposing armies, leaving that task to US and Russian officers on the ground to take up.

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Less than 24 hours after the US-Russian sponsored ceasefire went into force in southwest Syria, it broke down early Monday, July 10, when large-scale Syrian army and Hizballah forces launched a general offensive on Syrian rebel forces in the Al Suweida province. This region was listed with Quneitra and Daraa as one of three demilitarized locations to be covered by the truce.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Syrian’s army’s 5th Armored Division led the offensive which the Syrian army’s general command designated “Operation Big Dawn,” to mark it as the opening of a new phase in the war in southern Syria.

Our military sources described the attack as focusing on the northern rural areas of Al Suweida province to provide the Syrians and Hizballah with a pretext for claiming they are not part of the town and therefore not part of the ceasefire agreement reached by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg last Friday, July 7.

In the early hours of their drive forward, Syrian and Hizballah troops captured 11 villages and small towns, including Tal Asfar and Al-Qasr, which lie 33km from the town of Suweida, 70km from Daraa on the Jordanian border and 78km east of Quneitra and the Israeli Golan border.

They forced the rebels defending them to retreat; most belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were trained and armed by the US and Jordan.

According to our sources, Damascus decided to terminate another short-lived ceasefire in the six-year Syrian war when the Jordanian army and intelligence took advantage of the pause in fighting to transfer large quantities of weapons and military equipment to allied Syrian rebel forces defending Daraa. Under no illusions about the sustainability of the US-Russian ceasefire deal, Jordan moved fast to bolster its Syrian allies for the next round of fighting.

The Assad regime, for its part, felt free to resume combat because the Trump-Putin ceasefire deal had not set out demarcation lines as dividers between the opposing armies, leaving that task to US and Russian officers on the ground to take up.

Russia’s Terrorist Double Game

June 17, 2017

Russia’s Terrorist Double Game, Investigative Project on Terrorism, June 16, 2017

A Muslim Russian national from Kyrgyzstan detonated an explosive device in St. Petersburg’s subway system in April, killing 14 people and injuring many others. The attack signaled a growing Islamist threat facing Russia, following several high profile terrorist attacks in recent years. More people have been killed in Russia from terrorism than any other European state since 1970. Yet Russia maintains a glaring double standard when it comes to terrorist violence and now sponsors some of the deadliest terrorist groups in history.

For the Russian government, terrorists aren’t “terrorists” if they avoid targeting Russian citizens or interests. In this light, Russian officials consistently avoid classifying groups like Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist organizations. The latest example came directly from Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexander Shein, in an interview last Friday with Israel’s Russian-language Channel 9 and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Shein admitted that while both groups were “radical organizations, which sometimes adhere to extremist political views,” Russian law only designates organizations as terrorists when they “intentionally conduct acts of terror in Russian territory, or against Russian interests abroad – installations, embassies, offices, or citizens.”

Despite the lack of a universal definition, “terrorism” generally refers to a non-state actor’s deliberate threat or use of violence for primarily political, religious, or ideological purposes. According to many conceptions, terrorism tends to intentionally target civilians, but also to create a broader psychological reaction beyond those killed or injured. By these well-established criteria, Hizballah and Hamas, organized militant groups that purposefully kill civilians to establish Islamist states in their image, are the quintessential terrorist organizations.

For the Russian government, a jihadist blowing up a St. Petersburg metro constitutes terrorism. But a Hamas suicide bomber targeting Israeli public transportation or Hizballah militants indiscriminately firing rockets into civilian areas is not terrorism. With such a view, it is no surprise that Russia is actively engaging in a double game when it comes to supporting terrorist organizations.

Since launching its 2015 military intervention in Syria’s civil war, Russia has positioned itself as a major benefactor to the Iranian-led Shi’ite axis operating in Syria. Russia provides military training and air support to Hizballah fighters on the ground. Russia reportedly supplies the terrorist group with heavy weaponry and enables the flow of sophisticated armaments from Iran to its terrorist proxy.

Russia historically has faced diverse terrorist threats from its North Caucasus region, a conflict that has increasingly adopted a more global Islamist orientation. In December 2013, Islamist terrorists conducted two suicide bombings within two days, targeting public transportation in the city of Volgograd. Another suicide bombing had taken place in the same city two months earlier. Since the mid 1990’s, Russian forces have fought North Caucasian militants in two bloody wars and other sustained battles in the region. Despite strong crackdowns in recent years, Russian security services allegedly encouraged many local extremists to leave the North Caucasus and join terrorist organizations in Syria, disregarding its own laws deterring individuals from fighting with terrorist groups that oppose Russian interests. Since 2011, an estimated 2,400 Russians have travelled to Syria to fight with various militant groups, including the Islamic State and al-Qaida’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Now, Russia is particularly vulnerable to the threat from returning foreign fighters.

In Afghanistan, Russia has been increasingly supporting the Taliban under the pretext of combatting the Islamic State’s affiliate in that country. Like Syria, Russia is allying with one terrorist organization to fight another one. In both contexts, these policies may be intended to reduce the domestic terrorist threat to Russia and enhance Russia’s influence. But working with terrorist entities that hold long-standing grievances with the Russian state in order to fight other short-term terrorist threats, will likely backfire.

The Islamist terrorist threat to Russian national security is unlikely to wane anytime soon. Russia’s population is in decline, but Muslims living in Russia maintain relatively high birthrates. Some projections suggest that Muslims – which currently represent about 16 percent of Russian citizens – will account for one fifth of the country’s population by 2020. Support for various types of Islamist groups abroad does not bode well for long-term Russian counterterrorism efforts at home. Russia’s marginalized and predominately Sunni Muslim population may become even more susceptible to radical Islamist ideologies as Russia continues to support Shi’ite terrorist organizations in Syria.

Russia’s explicit military, financial, and diplomatic assistance to some of the most brutal powerful terrorist groups make it one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism today. All acts of Islamist terrorist violence needs to be condemned and supressed uniformly, not in Russia’s selective way.

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead

June 12, 2017

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead, DEBKAfile, June 12, 2017

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

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Bashar Assad’s troops and his allies, the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah, are notorious for their barbaric cruelty to the populations they conquer. But even by their own appalling standards, the massacre they wreaked against the 100,000 citizens of the southern Syrian town of Daraa this week must stand out as a milestone from hell.

Posted in the town, just one kilometer from the Jordanian border, were 3,000 anti-Assad rebels, some of whom joined the Free Syrian Army to be trained and armed by the United States and Jordan. The offensive the Syrian government army and Hizballah launched against their positions on Sunday, June 11, left 140 dead and hundreds injured in its first hours.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it started with dozens of Syrian air force helicopters dropping 150 explosive barrels on those positions, while Syrian bomber-fighter planes conducted at least 25 sorties against rebel rooftop positions atop the highest buildings, and Syrian artillery fired off some 120 ground-to-ground missiles against various key points in the town of Daraa.

Syrian and Hizballah forces advanced into the town under this hellish blitz.

Our sources report that the spearhead consisted entirely of Hizballah’s Al Qaim Brigade, followed by units of the Syrian army’s elite 4th armored Division, armed with advanced Russian-made T-90 tanks. The commander of the offensive was Col. Ghayath Galla.

(On June 6, DEBKAfile disclosed in an exclusive report that the 4th Division’s commander, Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher Assad, and his officers were sighted inspecting the terrain around Daraa in advance of the offensive.)

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.