Posted tagged ‘Syria war’

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel

September 27, 2017

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel, American Thinker, Michael Berenhaus, September 27, 2017

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

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Israel courts Syrians with humanitarian aid on border” (9/12/17) is yet another Washington Post article that tells a true, touching story yet spins it 180 degrees because of the paper’s antipathy toward Israel.  Israel takes in its neighbor’s war casualties and is vilified for the deed.  Talk about no good deed going unpunished! 

The article admits that “[m]ore than 600 Syrian children have been bused to Israeli hospitals for treatment in the past year.”  And “Israel has now treated more than 3,000 wounded Syrians, military officials say, though a Syrian medic on the other side of the border said the number traveling for care appeared to be higher.” 

But then there are the digs.  “Israeli officials stress the humanitarian aspect of the program, but it has another aim: to create a friendly zone just inside Syria as a bulwark against Israel’s arch enemy.”  The Washington Post provides no evidence to support this. 

The headline of the second page of the article on A13 reads, “Israeli aid to Syrians is humanitarian and strategic.”  But even according to the Post’s own reporting, “[i]t was in 2013, Israeli military officials say, when the first Syrians approached the Israeli fence on the Golan Heights.”  The Post provides no evidence that contradicts Israel’s official report.  The Post then adds its own spin by saying Israel’s motive for helping the wounded was “strategic.”  In a court of law, such conjecture would be deemed inadmissible.  Further, if the Syrians initiated the plea for help, what does that say about the motivations of the Israeli people?

According to the Post, “Israel has transferred 360 tons of food, nearly 120,000 gallons of gasoline, 90 pallets of drugs and 50 tons of clothing as well as generators, water piping and building material, the IDF says.”  Israel also has given supplies and medical care in areas ranging from as far away as Haiti and most recently Florida (See here.)  Was this also strategic?

 Moreover, is this reporting of Israel consistent with how The Washington Post reports on other countries providing humanitarian aid or disaster assistance?  Or does The Washington Post single out Israel when it comes to this sort of critique?  Without a doubt, the latter!

The Washington Post can’t help but be negative on Israel.  The Post states, “Israel has been in a state of war with its northern neighbor [Syria] for nearly 70 years.”  Hardly!  The truth: Syria and most surrounding Arab or Muslim nations have been at war with Israel for nearly 70 years.

Israel can’t get a break at The Washington Post.  Israel is less than 1% of the Middle East, and the moment it declared independence in 1948, five Arab armies and the local Arabs, now known as Palestinians, attacked the nascent Jewish state with the goal of genocide.  And they didn’t hide that goal!  They bragged about the impending genocide.  Fortunately, the Jewish state won.  Had it not, it would have meant back-to-back Holocausts for the Jewish people.

The Post described a seven-year old girl whose mother said a Syrian “local commander told them to go to Israel” for treatment.  Does this sound like a plot hatched by Israel for disingenuous reasons?

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

 

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens

September 18, 2017

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens, DEBKAfile, September 18, 2017

Russian air crews in Syria are under new orders to respond directly and immediately to Iranian and Syrian demands for air bombardments, without confirmation from the high commands in Latakia or Moscow.

This has enormously empowered Syrian and Hizballah officers on the ground for taking the war into their own hands. It led directly to Russian planes suddenly bombing a pro-US Syrian force in the Deir ez-Zour province of eastern Syria on Saturday, Sept. 16, and accounts for Moscow’s repudiation of the attack after its confirmation by the Pentagon.

Before the new orders, requests for Russian air cover went through command channels and were not automatically approved.

The license now awarded to Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizballah commanders to contact the operations rooms of Russian air squadrons, without going through the main Russian air base at Hmeimim in Latakia or the Syrian high command in Damascus, dramatically boosts the autonomy of Syrian, Hizballah and Iranian commanders in the field. It also gives sharp teeth to Moscow’s decision in August to place the Russian and Syrian air defense commands under unified command.

Word of this game-changer was delivered by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, when he sat down with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in Damascus last Thursday, Sept. 14. According to DEBKAfile’s sources, they decided the next Syrian army and Hizballah steps after crossing to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, which were to head for the Syrian-Iraqi border and prepare to seize the towns of Abu Kamal and Mayedin from the Islamic State. The time table was established and Russian air, intelligence and logistic support laid on.

The Russian defense minister then flew to Tehran – this time in secret – to discuss Russia’s new operation plans for Syria with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Military leaders.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the actions set in train by Shoigu have radically ramped up Russia’s military cooperation in Syria with Iran, Syria and Hizballah. They were timed to take place shortly before President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at UN Center in New York on Monday, Sept. 19.

Although their conversation was generally billed as focusing on the Iranian nuclear deal, our sources expect this major turn in the Syrian crisis to figure large in their talks. Washington clearly has no practical plans for countering the assertive Russian-Iranian advances in Syria.

Their ruthlessness was demonstrated Saturday, Sept. 16, by a Russian bombardment of the US-backed Kurdish-led SDF near Deir ez-Zour. Moscow was telling Washington that the US would not be permitted to impede the Syrian-Hizballah initiative for the capture of areas east of the Euphrates and Russia was ready to confront US-backed forces on the ground if they got in the way – while ruling a clash in the air.

The Kremlin was also putting Washington on notice that, after investing massive military and financial resources in Syria, it had no intention to let pro-American forces share in the kudos of the final victory over the Islamic State in Syria, which belonged solely to the Russian-Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah war alliance.

For now, the Russian maneuver is heading for a successful outcome. The Pentagon, aside from a lame response to the Russian bombardment, has taken no counteraction.

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 flies 2,000 mercenary troops into Syria

August 2, 2017

Russia flies 2,000 mercenary troops into Syria, DEBKAfile, August 2, 2017

Dmitry Utkin, director of the Wagner Group

President Vladimir Putin and his defense minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu have ramped up the Russian military presence in Syria without adding ground and armored troops – even though the Russian constitution bars the recruitment of mercenaries to fight overseas for profit.

Moscow is a veteran client of the Wagner Group contractors, which largely resemble the US Blackwater security contractor now calling itself Academi. It was hired to provide military personnel during 20014 and 2015 for Moscow’s battle to conquer Crimea and in support of the pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The placement of Russian Muslim forces or hired mercenaries on Israel’s northern border – in the guise of ceasefire monitors – poses a serious problem for Jerusalem.

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Russia is engaged in a major buildup in Syria, both in support of the de-escalation zones established in conjunction with the United States, and in order to solidify its military control of the country.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reported exclusively on Wednesday, August 2, that 2,000 mercenaries had just been airlifted into the country, boosting to a total of 5,000 the number of mercenaries on hire from the Wagner Group private contractors for service under the Russian flag in Syria. They are all retirees from elite units of the Russian ground forces, air force or navy.

In another new Russian project, our military sources also report the arrival in the past few days of Muslim troops from the republic of Ingushetia. Although clad in Russian military police uniforms, they are actually commandoes trained in anti-terror warfare. They have been posted as “ceasefire monitors” at the three de-escalation zones established by Russia and the United States along the Syrian borders with Israel, Jordan and Iraq.

President Vladimir Putin and his defense minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu have ramped up the Russian military presence in Syria without adding ground and armored troops – even though the Russian constitution bars the recruitment of mercenaries to fight overseas for profit.

Moscow is a veteran client of the Wagner Group contractors, which largely resemble the US Blackwater security contractor now calling itself Academi. It was hired to provide military personnel during 20014 and 2015 for Moscow’s battle to conquer Crimea and in support of the pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Their mercenaries first arrived in Syria in October 2015, right after Moscow stepped up its intervention in the civil war. In March 2016, several hundred of them fought in the big battle that wrested Palmyra from ISIS.

Ironically, the Wagner Group does not officially exist and is not listed anywhere in Russia. However, a company bearing that name operates out of Argentina, even though its recruits receive training in Russia. They are trained, our sources reveal, at a base of the 10th special forces brigade of GRU military intelligence, located near the village of Molkino in the Krasnodar area of southern Russia, about 150km northeast of the Black Sea. The identity of Wagner’s boss is held secret, but Western intelligence sources name him as Dmitry Utkin, who until 2013 was a lieutenant colonel in the 2nd Spetznaz brigade.

The placement of Russian Muslim forces or hired mercenaries on Israel’s northern border – in the guise of ceasefire monitors – poses a serious problem for Jerusalem. Russia’s record for keeping its promises and commitments on its military moves in Syria is far from good. The US has confirmed that Russia gave Israel a commitment that Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, including Hizballah, would not be allowed to approach the Syrian-Israeli border. But Israel can’t be certain how the Ingushets or the mercenaries will react if confronted with such troops. Will they resort to arms to evict them or let them stay?

The coming DEBKA Weekly out on Friday, Aug. 4, expands on the Russian buildup in Syria and its repercussions. To sign up to this exclusive publication, click here.

State Department Lawyers Removing References to ISIS ‘Genocide’ Against Christians, Other Religious Minorities

July 25, 2017

State Department Lawyers Removing References to ISIS ‘Genocide’ Against Christians, Other Religious Minorities, Washington Free Beacon , July 25, 2017

(Please see also, Trump State Dept Unsure Why Palestinian Terrorists Kill Israelis. — DM)

Yazidi refugees carry their belongings in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, as they change their refugee camp / Getty Imagesfood or water. / AFP / ILYAS AKENGIN (Photo credit should read ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama holdovers in State Department’s legal office are responsible, critics say

The State Department’s top lawyers are systematically removing the word “genocide” to describe the Islamic State’s mass slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria from speeches before they are delivered and other official documents, according to human rights activists and attorneys familiar with the policies.

Additionally, Democratic senators are delaying confirmation of Mark Green, Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Agency for International Development who has broad bipartisan support.

These efforts guarantee that Obama-era policies that worked to exclude Iraq’s Christian and other minority religious populations from key U.S. aid programs remain in place, the activists said.

Richard Visek, who was appointed by President Obama as head the State Department’s Office of Legal Adviser in October 2016, is behind the decision to remove the word “genocide” from official documents, according to Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer who directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

“I don’t think for a minute it’s a bureaucratic decision—it’s ideological,” said Shea, who also spent 12 years as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or CIRF, from 1999 to 2012.

A State Department spokesman on Monday said he would look into the matter and respond.

The latest moves from the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser appear aimed at rolling back then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s March 2016 genocide determination. Kerry’s much-anticipated genocide designation came after months of equivocation and detailed documentation by interested parties that the Islamic State is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.

It was one of the few times in history that the United States designated ongoing mass murders against ethnic or religious minorities as meeting the legal definition of genocide laid out in a 1948 treaty. That agreement requires signatories, including the United States, to take steps to “prevent and punish” genocide.

A bipartisan group of Capitol Hill lawmakers and activists, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) were hoping the designation would help direct millions of dollars in U.S. relief funds to Christian, Yazidi, and other persecuted religious minority communities.

ISIS murders and kidnappings have decimated the Christian population in Iraq, which numbered between 800,000 and 1.4 million in 2002, reducing it to fewer than 250,000 now. Without action, activists and charities say, Christians could disappear completely from Iraq in the near future.

After meeting with Pope Francis in May, President Trump vowed to do everything in his power to defend and protect the “historic Christian communities of the Middle East.”

Activists and Catholic leaders are now calling on Trump to turn the rhetoric into action on the ground and help get U.S. aid to these persecuted communities trying to rebuild their homes and their lives in Iraq.

These advocates want the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations to allow church groups and other religious-affiliated relief organizations to receive government aid, a practice prohibited during the Obama administration.

In early May, Congress allocated more than $1.3 billion in funds for refugee assistance and included specific language to try to ensure that at least some of the money is used to assist persecuted religious minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims—all groups the State Department deemed victims of genocide in 2016.

Nevertheless, only $10 million is specifically earmarked for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The Trump administration has until the end of September, when the stop-gap funding bill runs out, to ensure it distributes the funds in the most effective way.

“There is congressional legislation … that calls for the U.S. government to stop excluding the genocide-targeted minorities in Iraq,” Shea said. “This has been a pervasive problem that this aid has not been getting to them.”

“Iraq is home to one of the four largest remaining Christian communities in the Middle East that are about to become extinct,” she said. “Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama made catastrophic mistakes that left these communities on the brink of extinction, but it’s going to be on President Trump’s watch as to whether they survive or become extinct—it’s going to be his policies that make or break the situation.”

Instead of going through Iraqi government agencies or other internationally recognized groups, activists say the best way to get the aid to Christians and other persecuted minorities is through local Iraqi Catholic dioceses and parishes and other religious organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, which have spent years on the ground working with these communities.

The money would be specifically designated for relief efforts for these persecuted communities and could not be used for other purposes, such as church-building or more general church operations.

Groups say the special allocation is needed because Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities often do not go to Muslim-dominated refugee camps out of fear they will be targeted, killed, or kidnapped.

After the Iraqi army retook Mosul from the Islamic State with the help of U.S. forces, much international attention has focused on helping rebuild the Sunni community so that ISIS cannot regain its influence there through sleeper cells or other supportive Islamic terrorist groups.

Shea said Christians will also play a key role in stabilizing the area in and around Mosul if they have enough aid to rebuild their homes in the area and other parts of Northern Iraq.

They could also combat Iran’s colonization of northern Iraq, where pro-Iranian militias are buying up Christian land in the area to try to broaden their influence.

“Christians and Yazidis need to be able to go back to their towns just to hold them—it’s a big national security priority for the U.S.,” she said.

In late June, Rubio, along with GOP Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to ensure that the 2017 omnibus appropriations are distributed to “vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities, including victims of genocide designated” by former Secretary of State Kerry.

“It would be a deathblow to pluralism and the prospect of religious freedom and diversity in any future Iraq,” the senators wrote, if these victims of genocide don’t receive the humanitarian aid Congress tried to direct to them.

In responding to the senators’ letter on July 10, the State Department avoided the question of whether it would allow Catholic or other charitable organizations to receive the appropriations in order to help the Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities.

Instead, Charles Faulkner of State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs cited a list of U.S. efforts to help the “plight of religious minorities in Iraq” and said the department “shares your grave concern about the situation facing Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities.”

The letter also restates the State Department’s policy and that of the United Nation’s of distributing U.S. relief based on means-tested need, instead of the genocide designation providing some priority for targeted communities on the verge of extinction.

“The U.S. government has also provided more than $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance since 2014 for vulnerable Iraqis in Iraq and in the region,” the letter stated. “This assistance is distributed according to individual need, and many members of minority groups have benefited from it because of their unique vulnerabilities.”

Faulkner said the State Department “makes efforts” to ensure that the needs of “minority community members” are “taken into consideration,” when there are concerns that these communities don’t have access to assistance.

In addition to U.N. stabilization projects in Iraq, he said State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is managing 22 grants and “interagency agreements” in Iraq, and “since 2004 has been the lead U.S. government entity programming directly to support inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities and other marginalized populations in Iraq.”

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra

July 19, 2017

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra, DEBKAfile, July 19, 2017

(Please see also, Operation Good Neighbor: Israel’s part in Syria.– DM)

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

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As Russian troops began moving into the Quneitra ceasefire sector opposite Israel’s Golan border on Wednesday, July 19, they found they were in hot competition with Israel over … humanitarian aid for the sector’s rebel-held villages.

Since Israel is adamantly opposed to the Russian presence in the Quneitra demilitarized zone – although it was endorsed by the Trump administration, as DEBKAfile reported exclusively on Tuesday, July 18 – Moscow decided to take it slowly and meanwhile try and win over the Syrian rebel groups whom Israel has succored for years. The Kremlin figured that if these anti-Assad groups could be weaned away from Israel, they might be persuaded to cooperate with the Russian troops in setting up the Quneitra ceasefire zone, and the Russians would not need Israel’s compliance.

On Tuesday, therefore, a Russian military convoy drove into Jabah, a village northeast of Qunetra town and 4km from Israel’s Golan border. Officers described as belonging to the “Russian Defense Ministry’s reconciliation center” alit from the trucks and began handing out food packages to the villagers.

The civilians received necessities and were treated by Russian doctors, a Syrian officer announced. Russian and Syrian officers promised that more humanitarian aid would be delivered to “settlements across the Quneitra province” and Russian doctors would visit all the villages in the ceasefire zone.

Israel, who has been sending aid across these Syrian villages which were cut off by the civil war from basic necessities, has mostly kept its humanitarian program under wraps, except when witnesses reported what they saw to the media. On Wednesday, the IDF officers running the program asked sardonically: “Where were the Russians all these years when Israel alone helped the beleaguered villages across its border?”

After watching the Russian troops hand out packages to the people of Quneitra, the Israeli government and military chiefs decided to challenge the Russian belated propaganda move.

Up until now, Israel has supplied regular humanitarian aid to some 200,000 Syrian villagers living in 80 non-ISIS rebel-controlled villages 15km deep inside the Syrian Golan. Last year alone, Israel sent over half a million liters of heavy fuel, 360 tonnes of foodstuffs, 77 tonnes of clothing and shoes, tens of generators and water system, as well as providing them with medical treatment, including hospital care for sick and injured Syrians and a field hospital on the border.

Wednesday, Israel formalized its assistance program under the title “The Good Neighbor” and disclosed it had been administered since 2016 by a special unit of the Bashan Division which is in charge of the Golan sector.

The IDF released footage of trucks ferrying across the border supplies of medical equipment, medicines, foodstuffs and fuel, as well as pictures documenting IDF medics lifting Injured Syrians off the battlefield for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

According to IDF statistics, at least 3,000 Syrians crossed the border in the past four years for medical treatment. And Israel sent over as needed incubators, respirators and ambulances. In the same period, the IDF conducted 150 assistance operations on Syrian soil.

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah

July 18, 2017

To undercut Iran, Russians pressure Assad to cut Syria’s longtime ties to Hezbollah, Washington Times, Assad Hanna and Jacob Wirtschafter, July 17, 2017

Hezbollah supporters mourned their commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in an explosion last year in Damascus.

ISTANBUL — The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian government have enjoyed a close, fruitful relationship for nearly 40 years. But six years into the Syrian civil war, there are signs that battle fatigue and diverging strategic visions are fraying their alliance.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is coming under increasing pressure from pro-Russian factions in his ruling circle to dump pro-Iranian Hezbollah, as a U.S.-Russia accord to establish a de-escalation zone in southern Syria gets underway this week.

It’s a different kind of proxy war playing out in Syria: Instead of Sunni versus Shiite, or the U.S. versus Russia, it’s Russia versus Iran.

“There is a pro-Moscow faction that wants Syria to be secular and includes officers who trained in Russia,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, publisher of the largest anti-Assad Syrian news portal and leader of the country’s exiled Christian community based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “Those who support Iran are people bought by the Iranians or [who] reached their positions of power with Iranian help.”

Incidents of rivalry and strain between Hezbollah forces and Syrian government allies have been increasing since June 2016, when they openly clashed during what was supposed to be a joint operation in the Aleppo countryside.

Hezbollah has balked at implementing Russian-brokered cease-fire agreements, such as one in December in Aleppo, and occasional firefights have broken out between the two forces in the northwestern suburbs of Damascus on the road from the capital to Beirut.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry has ordered aerial bombings of Shiite militia positions when Iran-backed forces interfered with plans to evacuate civilians to safe areas.

“The Hezbollah message has been: ‘Don’t think you can make a deal without us. We are on the ground, and we control what’s going on,’” said Ahmad Hardan, a 20-year-old ambulance driver from Aleppo detained by Lebanese Shiite fighters as he and his family fled their home.

“They took all the young men from the cars and drove us to the opposite side of the road. All those who tried to resist were killed,” Mr. Hardan said. “But suddenly there were Russian fighter jets in the sky, the Hezbollah troops started shooting in the air, and then they let the evacuation proceed.”

The situation is new for the two longtime Middle East allies. Hezbollah and the Assad regime have been close since the mid-1980s, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, became a patron of the Lebanese Shiite faction. He allowed Syria to be the transit point for Iranian weapons as Hezbollah armed itself against Israel and its domestic rivals in Lebanon.

The power dynamic reversed as the Syrian civil war turned into a sectarian bloodbath, with many Russian-trained Sunni officers deserting to the rebel side. Mr. Assad turned to Hezbollah for ideologically motivated and battle-tested reinforcements.

‘An Iranian pawn’

But over the years, Hezbollah’s role has been shrinking in Syria’s war, which began in 2011.

Nawar Oliver, an analyst at the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said Hezbollah’s estimated 10,000-member force in Syria is just one component that includes a 70,000-strong contingent of local Shiite militias deployed with Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani fighters.

“The number decreased from an apex of about 15,000 to 20,000 because Hezbollah started recruiting and funding local Shiite militias in order to pull back some of their troops from Syria,” said Mr. Oliver, pointing to more than 1,000 Lebanese battle casualties and a desire to prepare for a likely conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Moscow wants Mr. Assad to change the arrangement with Hezbollah and other Iranian-funded Shiite militias that give Tehran nominal control of the country in exchange for little direct supervision by the regime’s officer corps.

“The Russians have been pressuring the Syrian regime to integrate the militias it created since the inception of the uprising into its armed forces,” said Hilal Khashan, a politics professor at the American University of Beirut.

Command and control functions over Hezbollah fighters are directed by an officer corps drawn from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Hezbollah operates in Syria simply as an Iranian pawn,” Mr. Khashan said. “It uses Hezbollah as part of its scheme to establish a ground corridor from Iran to Lebanon. This is not something that sits well with the Russians, who are keen on limiting Tehran’s preponderance. Russia will not allow Iranian influence in Syria to become similar to Iraq.”

A tentative U.S.-Russia consensus on Syria seems destined to further strain the Hezbollah-Iran-Assad alliance.

Last month, the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar broadcast footage of what it said was an Iranian drone tailing an American drone over eastern Syria. The announcer’s voice-over included a warning that Hezbollah will strike at U.S. positions inside Syria if America crosses any “red lines.”

“Of course, there are no free lunches in this area,” said Mordechai Kedar, a former Syria desk officer for Israel’s military intelligence agency. “Hezbollah wants to take its share in what seems to be the division of Syria. Three things will be required to get them to leave: Assad’s army will have to regain its power and self-confidence, the Russians have to demand it and the Iranians have to consent.”

For the rebels and other anti-regime figures, it’s crucial that Hezbollah is forced out of Syria.

“Getting Hezbollah and the Iranians out is now our No. 1 priority,” said Mr. Abdul Nour, the anti-Assad news portal editor. “They want to convert all of Syria to Shiism, which is an ideology that [will lead to] them fighting with the majority of Sunnis in the country forever — and we don’t want that.”