Posted tagged ‘Israeli borders’

Qassem Soleimani sends minion on odyssey from Iraq to the Lebanese-Israeli border

December 12, 2017

Qassem Soleimani sends minion on odyssey from Iraq to the Lebanese-Israeli border, DEBKAfile, December 12, 2017

It took Soleimani’s Iraqi minion and his heavily armed convoy a couple of days to cover 300km from Iraq to Beirut. This is exactly the distance Iranian and Hizballah forces cover on their way from Iraq to the Mediterranean. The tour that wound up Khazali’s trip took place on the south Lebanese road parallel to Israel’s northern border. That road is just 65km long. At several points on his itinerary from Iraq, he must have been sighted. It is hard to understand why no American force in Syria and no eyes along the Israeli-Lebanese border missed sighting his armored convoy and failed to take him out – and so cut short Tehran’s deadly, well-advanced conspiracy to unleash thousands of ferocious Iraqi Shiite militiamen against Israel.

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By reaching the Lebanese-Israeli border on Dec. 2, Iraqi Shiite militia chief Qais al-Khazali embodied the consummation of Iran’s open land bridge to the Mediterranean.

The mission that Iranian Revolutionary Guards Al Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soleini entrusted to  Khazali and his militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of Believers), embodies Iran’s success in gaining its great ambition of an overland corridor under its control through Iraq up to the Mediterranean coast. In line with that mission, the militia chief was guided along the Lebanese-Israeli border on Dec. 2, for a sight at close hand Israel’s border towns from Admit in the west to Metullah in the east. He needed this information in order to mark out the military positions he would assign to his Khalazi network at Tehran’s behest.

This event most of all highlighted American and Israeli inertia in letting Iran consummate its prime strategic goal of opening up new fronts against Israel from Lebanon and the Syrian Golan. They are to be manned not just by Hizballah, but by many thousands of battle-hardened Iraqi militiamen devoted to Tehran, as the Khazali odyssey has revealed.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources tracked his itinerary from the crossing into Syria from Iraq on Thursday, Nov. 30. His first stop was at Soleimani’s headquarters east of Abu Kamal. There, he conferred with the Al Qods chief and his operational staff, as well as with officers of his own militia who were fighting in Syria. They discussed ways and means of transferring 15,000 militiamen from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria for taking up deployment in southern Lebanon along the Israeli border.

On Dec. 1, when these matters were settled, Khazali set out for Damascus, escorted now by Hizballah in a heavily-armored convoy. There, he reported to the new headquarters set up by his militia in partnership with the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah, the backbone of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU). It is commanded by Soleimani’s deputy, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Our sources report that this headquarters was recently established in Damascus to coordinate the Syrian- based Shiite militias, including those imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan, for a concerted campaign against Israel.

Khazali’s convoy then drove west, crossed the Syrian border into Lebanon and drove on to Beirut for a meeting with Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. The two terror chiefs ironed out all the details pertaining to the disposition of the Assaib Ahl al-Haq militia in southern Lebanon across from northern Israel’s Galilee. Our military sources report that that the militia chief was then taken on his tour by Hizballah for surveillance of Israeli military formations on the other side of the border, so as to arrange the positioning of his forces accordingly when they arrived in Lebanon.

The tour began at the Hizballah position facing Israel’s Admit, continued to Houla, west of which Hizballah has planted a position opposite Israel’s Manara ridge and the IDF post located there. His next stop was Kafr Kela, just one and a half kilometers from the northernmost Israeli town of Metula. From a nearby Hizballah position, he was able to view the Golan and Hermon slopes. The voice of a Hizballah officer could be heard on a video clip released in Iraq on the militia chief’s tour. He was saying: “This is Golan. It is nearly 10 kilometers from here.” Khazali then proceeded on foot with his escorts to the Fatima Gate on the Lebanese-Israeli border outside Metula.

It took Soleimani’s Iraqi minion and his heavily armed convoy a couple of days to cover 300km from Iraq to Beirut. This is exactly the distance Iranian and Hizballah forces cover on their way from Iraq to the Mediterranean. The tour that wound up Khazali’s trip took place on the south Lebanese road parallel to Israel’s northern border. That road is just 65km long. At several points on his itinerary from Iraq, he must have been sighted. It is hard to understand why no American force in Syria and no eyes along the Israeli-Lebanese border missed sighting his armored convoy and failed to take him out – and so cut short Tehran’s deadly, well-advanced conspiracy to unleash thousands of ferocious Iraqi Shiite militiamen against Israel.

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.

Israel’s red lines in Syria long crossed by Iran

August 24, 2017

Israel’s red lines in Syria long crossed by Iran, DEBKAfile, August 23, 2017

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set out for President Vladimir Putin Israel’s red lines against Iran establishing a permanent, expanded military presence in Syria. This theme dominated their three-hour conversation in Sochi on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Netanyahu stiffened his warning with a veiled threat that should Iran or Hizballah cross those lines, there would be a regional war.

It was the first time that the prime minister had publicly threatened to go to war against Iran and Hizballah. After talking to Putin, he said to reporters that what is new today is Iran’s attempt to “Lebanonize Syria.” in the same way as it seized control of Lebanon through its surrogate, Hizballah. “We are looking at Tehran’s future takeover of Syria through its Shiite militias.

If that happens, “we will not remain passive,” he said – nor if Syria becomes a link in Iran’s overland corridor via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. And we certainly can’t accept Iranians and Hizballah close to the Golan.

“We told President Putin plainly that we won’t put up with Iran using Syria as a military base for attacking Israel.

Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu’s remarks about Iran’s role in Syria, nor his warning of unilateral military action. The Russian president just repeated the standard Moscow line that foreign forces would not stay in Syria at the end of the war, but offered no timetable or guarantees.

The Russian leader would clearly prefer not to see an Israel war against Iran and Hizballah breaking out in Syria, DEBKAfile’s sources say, especially since Russian special forces, naval and air force contingents are deployed there – albeit not in large numbers.

At the same time, he may well find Netanyahu’s strong words useful for boosting Russia’s clout in Syria. If Tehran believes an Israeli war against its forces and Hizballah is potential, it will be in Iran’s interest to strengthen its military ties with Russia so as to gain its military and political backing.

For Putin, this would be a welcome change from the atmosphere of acrimony prevailing for some weeks between Iranian and Russian officers in Syria. Russian colonels have been posted at the most sensitive sectors in Syria, such as Aleppo, Hama, Homs and eastern Damascus. They are taking over both the military and civilian administration there and, in effect, shouldering the Iranian officers aside.

In Iraq, the Iranians seized control of the country from within, by setting up armed militias and getting them integrated in the national army, as Trojan horses. Tehran knows how to manage this ruse on the quiet, without drawing unwanted attention from the powers on the spot.

In Syria, the problem facing Israel is quite different. If Netanyahu shared sensitive intelligence with Putin that he had not known before, he can’t help noticing that Israel’s red lines for Iran’s expansion were crossed months ago, some of them with Russian assistance.

Four instances stand out:

1. Iran and Hizballah have already set up a chain of military bases in Syria – notably in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border, from which missiles can be launched against Israel.

2. Iran has already won its coveted land bridge through Iraq to Syria. Bashar Assad’s army has taken over whole sections of the Syrian-Iraqi border, and opened the door for pro-Iranian Shiite militias, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite groups to move into strategic positions on both sides of the border.

3.  Netanyahu warned of the danger of planting an extremist Shiite entity in the heart of the Sunni Muslim region. But this is already underway. On orders from Moscow, the Syrian army’s 5th Corps is in the process of absorbing the pro-Iranian Shiite militias which fought for Assad.

The prime minister did not inform Putin of any timetable for Israeli action. But the Russian leader will take it for granted that the Israeli army will not move into Syria without a nod from the Trump administration in Washington.

For now, Putin and Trump are synchronizing their operations in Syria with better results than Netanyahu’s understanding with the US administration.

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones

July 5, 2017

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones, DEBKAfile, July 5, 2017

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

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The fifth round of Russian-initiated Syrian peace talks taking place Tuesday, July 4, in the Kazakh capital of Astana was designed to prepare the ground for the Trump-Putin summit Friday on the sidelines of the Hamburg G20 summit, by laying out proposals for deconfliction zones in Syria.

To support this move, Moscow twisted the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s arm to declare a unilateral ceasefire in southern Syria.

However, the ploy was soon aborted. The Astana conference quickly broke down when Iran and Turkey, two of the three sponsors along with Russia, rejected the formula for deconfliction zones on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Jordan and Israel, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Present at Astana along with the three sponsors were leading Syrian opposition and rebel groups, as well as UN envoy for Syrian affairs Staffan de Minstura, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, and Jordanian Foreign Ministry adviser Nawaf Uasfi Tal.

The Iranina and Turkish delegates had no objections to the two demilitarized zones proposed for the Damascus and Homs areas, but withheld their consent for the zones in eastern and southern Syria, and refused to accept the formula for forces policing the latter deconfliction zones, their identity, powers as truce monitors and the types of arms they were allowed to carry.

Iran and Turkey demanded the deployment of their own troops along with Russians in the two safe zones, which border on Israel, Jordan and Iraq, and wanted them armed for “self-defense.” The representatives of the US and Jordan refused, proposing instead that an international force be established to supervise the zones. Turkey and Iran rejected this out of hand.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

By knuckling under to Tehran on this venue, the Russians have shown their hand as supporters of Iran’s military objectives in Syria, which they have hitherto tried to disguise.

The failure of the Astana peace track calls into question the ceasefire declared on Sunday by Damascus on all the warfronts of southeastern Syria, including the battle for Daraa, 1 km from the Jordanian border, and the fighting for the Quneitra region, just 3 km from Israel’s Golan.  That front was the source of the mortar shells that strayed across the border into the Golan last week.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

Northern border heating up

June 27, 2017

Northern border heating up, Israel Hayom, Ofek Ish Maas, June 27, 2017

(Please see also, After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel.– DM)

In the past few days, the Syrian civil war has been knocking on Israel’s door. On Saturday, 10 errant mortars and tank shells landed in the northern Golan Heights, and at the beginning of the week the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported a few more ordnance hits in open areas.

In accordance with policy, the IDF responded by firing at Syrian army targets. But although tenuous quiet has been restored, we cannot discount the possibility that errant fire from Syria will continue and increase.

The army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was responsible for the errant fire, is trying to block an attack by rebels, who want to break through and reach the highway that leads from Damascus to the southwestern city of Daraa, which has been the site of heavy fighting for control of southern Syria over the past month.

Since the beginning of June, Daraaa has been subjected to massive bombing by the Syrian regime and its allies. Hundreds of barrel bombs and rockets and dozens of bombs from Syrian and Russian planes have rained down on the city. According to rebel reports, some of the bombs even included phosphorus. Among other things, in an attempt to deter the rebels, the regime intentionally attacked a school in a nearby village, killing more than 20 women and children who had sought shelter there. The worsening situation led the local government to declare Daraa and its surroundings a disaster area.

Daraa, which lies about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of Israel and 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Syria’s border with Jordan, is a strategic target for the Syrian regime. First, control over border crossings in a symbol of sovereignty and the implementation of Assad’s desire to once again control all of Syria. Second, the regime and its Shiite allies want to reduce the chance of a sustainable security buffer zone under Western, Jordanian, and Israeli influence being established in southern Syria. Assad’s forces reaching the Jordanian border would stop the supply of logistic, military, and humanitarian aid Western and Persian Gulf nations are sending the rebels and would create a divide between the two rebel-controlled areas in southern Syria.

With a goal so important to the regime, and with the increasingly serious stand-off between the U.S., Russia, and Iran in eastern Syria threatening any chances of a peace deal in the south, it appears that nothing is stopping Assad from proceeding full force.

The ramifications for Israel’s security could be heavy. In the short term, if we see a repeat of the images out of Aleppo at the end of 2016 — women and children slaughtered, buildings collapsing with people inside, the use of unconventional weapons against civilians — there will be waves of displaced persons, some of whom might seek shelter along the border, in Israel’s shadow, and even ask for asylum. In the long term, Israel’s northeastern front could become a stronghold of Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias that would comprise a threat to security and safety in northern Israel.

Israel must decide how it will prepare to prevent these dangerous scenarios. It must choose between increasing support for the Sunni rebels as a buffer against Iran and its satellites, or assenting through silence to Assad returning to power. If Israel wants to stick to the idea of a buffer zone, it will have to increase support for the rebels and provide them with defense coverage, both diplomatic, against Russia, and military, in hope that the U.S. will agree. But diverting American attention to southwestern Syria will hamper its efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the east and prevent Iran from filling the ensuing vacuum. Israel, therefore, would have to roll up its sleeves and plunge its hands into the Syrian mess. On the other hand, if Israel is unwilling to do so, it will have to set clear rules of engagement for the Assad regime, which is regaining ground, by demanding that Iranian satellites not gain a foothold in the region and backing that demand up with military action.

In any case, neither option is certain and each has its risks. But the reality in Syria, especially in the south of the country, is changing fast, and the comparative security that Israel has been enjoying is in danger and requires immediate planning and responses.

Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer) is a research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies.

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria

May 31, 2017

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria, DEBKAfile, May 31, 2017

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

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Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the strongest Iraqi Shiite militia, the Badr Brigades, said Wednesday, May 31, that his forces are preparing to enter Syria. The advanced capabilities of this powerful Iranian-led militia, would tilt the Syrian war strongly in Iran’s favor, with alarming ramifications for the US, Israel and Jordan.

Al-Amri, in making this announcement, cited Iran’s new slogan: “Iraq’s security will be maintained only if Syria’s security is preserved.” In other words, the Syrian conflict would end only when pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including Hizballah, control Syria like they control Iraq.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Badr Brigades’ path into Syria was secured this week when an Iraqi Shiite conglomerate breached the Iraqi-Syrian border in the north, on the orders of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. This opened Iran’s coveted overland corridor through Iraq to Syria.

The combat capabilities of the Badr Brigades, estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 strong, are impressive. One of the most professional and well-trained military forces in Iraq, its recruits receive instruction at special camps operated by Revolutionary Guard Corps on Iranian soil. The militia consists of special forces, tank, mechanized infantry, artillery and antiaircraft units. The high quality of their munitions may be seen in the photo at the top of the story.

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Intelligence sources expect the Badr Brigades to first head south towards the Deir ez-Zor area to link up with the Syrian Arab Army and Hizballah forces, which are threatening the US special forces and allied hold on a key crossing that commands the triangle where the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi borders meet.

They would need to cover 230km from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor, the while fighting small, scattered ISIS concentrations. Wednesday, May 31, Russia came down on the side of Tehran, with a cruise missile strike on ISIS targets around Palmyra. They were fired from the missile frigate Admiral Essen and the submarine Krasnodar for the purpose of softening jihadi resistance to the Badr Brigades’ southward advance.

The consequences of this massive pro-Iranian intervention in the Syrian war are dire for the US, Israel and Jordan. For Washington, it lays the ground for Tehran’s domination of Syria – in the face of President Donald Trump’s solemn vows to prevent this happening.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

Jordan’s foreboding comes from its judgment that pro-Iranian Shiite militias sitting on its borders are a greater threat even that ISIS.

Read more about this pivotal development in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly. If you are not yet a subscriber, click here to sign on.