Posted tagged ‘Syria’

Four players jockeying for post-war positions in Syria. US & Israel vs Russia & Iran

January 13, 2018

Four players jockeying for post-war positions in Syria. US & Israel vs Russia & Iran, DEBKAfile, January 13, 2018

A notable point made by that attack was that this time, unlike in most other air sorties in Syria, Israel was acting in conjunction with the United States. This was a reversal of Israel’s former strategy during the six years of the Syrian civil war. Until now, its military actions in Syria were kept separate from US operations in that country. The Israeli turnaround followed the revamping of US policy. Trump has dropped his former decision to limit US military action in Syria to fighting the Islamic State. He is now ready to go for the Iranian military presence in Syria including its proxy, Hizballah. This opened the door to closer US-Israeli military cooperation in Syria.

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Trump took a big move in this game on Jan. 12 when he stipulated that Europe agree to overhaul the Iran nuclear accord on enrichment and ballistic missiles.

That condition, which President Donald Trump laid down for the future – when on Friday he met the deadline for re-certifying US sanction waivers and kept the 2015 nuclear accord in place – was just one facet of his administration’s frontal campaign against Iran. The main arena of this evolving pitched battle is Syria, DEBKAfile’s Washington and military sources report, and it targets not only Iran but also Russia. The Trump administration opted for this policy departure as the new year unfolded in the light of four game-changing developments:

  1. Russia is not pulling its army out of Syria after all, despite the commitment made publicly by President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 11. Just the reverse: Moscow is bolstering its military presence there, mainly with air force contingents.
  2. Moves on the ground attest to deepening Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria.
  3. Iran is reported by intelligence agencies to be preparing a large-scale supplementary military deployment to Syria, which our sources estimate as running to several thousand Shiite fighters.
  4. Tehran has boosted its consignments of advanced weaponry to Syria, including ballistic missiles. The Israeli air strike on Jan. 9 targeted one of those shipments when it was delivered to a Syrian ground-to-ground missile base at al-Qutaifa west of Damascus.

A notable point made by that attack was that this time, unlike in most other air sorties in Syria, Israel was acting in conjunction with the United States. This was a reversal of Israel’s former strategy during the six years of the Syrian civil war. Until now, its military actions in Syria were kept separate from US operations in that country. The Israeli turnaround followed the revamping of US policy. Trump has dropped his former decision to limit US military action in Syria to fighting the Islamic State. He is now ready to go for the Iranian military presence in Syria including its proxy, Hizballah. This opened the door to closer US-Israeli military cooperation in Syria.

But there are also broader connotations: Syria finds itself back at the heart of Middle East strife. As the civil war winds down, that country is evolving into a pivotal arena  for big power competition, with the US and Israel lining up against Russia and Iran. Interestingly, the easing of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang has helped Washington switch its focus to  the jockeying for position in post-war Syria against two other rivals, Moscow and Tehran.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has, for his part, done his utmost throughout the conflict to keep an open line of communication with Vladimir Putin and avoid colliding with Russian military elements in Syria. But it is hard to see how he can keep this up in the near future and avoid a clash between Israeli and Russian interests there. Still, in Jerusalem, Moscow was awarded good marks for staying silent over Israel’s latest air strike against the Iranian arms shipment at al-Quteifa.

Important light was shed on US intentions for Iran – even more clearly than President Trump’s future stipulations for abiding by the nuclear deal – when David Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, appeared a day earlier before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Asked by Chris Murphy (D-Conn), “What functions do US troops serve in Syria besides fighting ISIS?” Satterfield and other aides with him declined to answer, except behind closed doors. Only when he was pressed hard by Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and told he is obliged to answer, did Satterfield finally say: “We are deeply concerned with the activities of Iran, with the ability of Iran to enhance those activities through a greater ability to move materiel into Syria. And I would rather leave the discussion at that point.”

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

December 2, 2017

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

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

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

Can Bin Laden Heir Salvage Jihad in Syria?

October 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia

October 2, 2017

Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia |Anne’s Opinions, 2nd October 2017

 

The Kurds are a nation scattered across the Middle East while their national territory was divided up by the ruling powers of a century ago and split amongst several nations, all in a manner similar to the fate of the Jews and Israel:

For decades, Kurdish politics have hinged on dreams of an independent Kurdish state. When colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds, who now number around 30 million, were divided among Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish inhabited areas of the Middle East, crossing international borders

Since the Arab “spring” with its multiple civil wars broke out, the Kurds are the one nation that have managed to remain united and hold on tot their territory, retaking control and a semblance of independence after decades of repression by the Arab countries who previously controlled their territory. They have been amongst the prime fighters against ISIS and have stayed out of the Israeli-Arab conflict altogether.In fact Israel is very popular with the Kurds and as I have previously written, the Israeli flag is a common sight at Kurdish rallies.

The Israeli flag is flown at a rally for Kurdish independence held in Geneva, Switzerland

Last week the Kurds held a referendum amongst its people asking if they wanted independence. The answer of course was a resounding yes. However the answer from almost the entire world (the UN, the US, Iran, Iraq, Turkey) was a resounding “no”, or a hostile neutral silence. The only country that lent its solid support to the Kurdish nation was Israel.

Iraq threatened the Kurds with a flight ban if they do not hand over their airports to the Iraqi authorities:

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued his ultimatum a day after the landmark vote, which he said was a “historic and strategic mistake by the Kurdish leadership.”

“I will not give up on the unity of Iraq, that is my national and constitutional duty,” he said, adding that any ban would still allow for humanitarian and other “urgent” flights.

That’s rich coming from the leader of a country which is so fractured that it barely exists any more.

Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president who spearheaded the referendum, called for “dialogue” with Baghdad. “Negotiations are the right path to solve the problems, not threats or the language of force,” he said in a televised address.

The US remained cool to downright cold, refusing to recognize “illegitimate referendum“:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the recent referendum on the independence of Kurdistan as “unilateral,” saying the vote held on September 25 lacks legitimacy.

US Secretary of State Reg Tillerson

“The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday,” Tillerson said in a written statement on Friday (September 29).

Tillerson said his country supports a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.

He expressed concern over the possible “negative consequences” of the Kurdish referendum, adding the vote may hinder efforts to promote stability and prosperity for the people of the Kurdistan Region.

Tillerson said the U.S. asks all parties, including Iraq’s neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force.

“We urge calm and an end to vocal recriminations and threats of reciprocal actions. We urge Iraqi Kurdish authorities to respect the constitutionally-mandated role of the central government and we call upon the central government to reject threats or even allusion to possible use of force.”

But an interesting article in the New York Times of all places praised Israel’s endorsement of the Kurds’ bid for independence:

JERUSALEM — With a two-sentence statement supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ plan to hold a referendum on independence this Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put Israel at odds with nearly every other major player in the Middle East.

Mr. Netanyahu, who endorsed not only the referendum but also the establishment of a Kurdish state, had ample strategic reason: A breakaway Kurdistan could prove valuable to Israel against Iran, which has oppressed its own Kurdish population.

But given the interwoven history and shared emotion underlying his statement, present-day geopolitics can seem almost beside the point.

The Kurds and the Jews, it turns out, go way back.

Back past the Babylonian Captivity, in fact: The first Jews in Kurdistan, tradition holds, were among the last tribes of Israel, taken from their land in the eighth century B.C. They liked it there so much that when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews go back home, many chose instead to stick around.

Sixteen centuries later, Saladin, a Kurd, treated the Jews humanely after he conquered Jerusalem, and notably hired a Jewish doctor, Maimonides, as his physician.

In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later.

Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds — both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies — have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. The Kurds have long patterned their lobbying efforts in Washington on those of Israel’s supporters.

Israeli flags often appear at Kurdish rallies, like this one in Erbil, Iraq

And while Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum, for fear of antagonizing the Arab world, the Israeli flag can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in Erbil and across Europe.

The Kurds in turn have friends and supporters all across Israel, including some 200,000 Kurdish Jews. But 83-year-old Tzuri Sagi, a retired brigadier general, has more reason than most Israelis to root for Kurdish independence.

Read the rest of that fascinating article about the ties between Israel and the Kurds.

A Jerusalem Post article also agrees with the Israeli position of supporting the Kurds bid for independence:

In the wake of Iranian aggression across the Middle East, the most effective strategy Israel can adopt is to recognize an independent Kurdistan and fully support it.

Across the Middle East Israel faces a variety of security threats, from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad’s regime in Syria to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula. These already existing threats are exasperated by Iran seeking to establish a Shi’ite Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

To prop up Assad’s regime and Hezbollah, Iran needs territorial contiguity from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This way, it can import supplies with ease to its proxies via land routes, for Israel has already demonstrated that it can infiltrate and stop Iranian sea or air shipments more easily. However, an independent Kurdistan in Syria and Iraq would territorially break up the Shi’ite Crescent, thus making it more difficult for Iran to carry out its terrorist activities across the Middle East. The Kurdistan region of Iraq led by President Masoud Barzani’s government will not permit Iranian shipments to terrorist groups to pass through its territory.

If Kurdistan becomes a full-fledged independent state in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria, the logistical obstacles for Iran will greatly increase.

It is not only for the purely practical geopolitical advantages that Israel should support the Kurds, but because it is morally right:

It is critical to note that Israel should support an independent Kurdistan because it is the moral thing to do. The Kurds were promised a country in the Treaty of Sevres but this promise was reneged on in the Treaty of Lausanne, leaving the Kurds as the largest nation on earth without a country, a reality that affects 40 million people. The Kurds have their own unique culture, history and language, which are distinct from those of their Turkish, Persian and Arab neighbors. Furthermore, in the past the Kurds had strong leaders who befriended the Jewish People, such as Saladin.

In addition, the Kurds ruled themselves in the past, under the Ayyubid dynasty and the Bohtan Emirate, to name a few. In fact, they were only absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1908. For this reason, the Kurds have a strong sense of nationalism.

The Kurds passionately believe that their culture, language and historic destiny can be best realized by granting them the same rights that other nations possess.

Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor also praises the Kurds’ readiness for statehood (unlike, say, the Palestinians):

An independent Kurdish state would be a victory for democratic values, national self-determination and the rights of women and minorities. Is there a more iconic image of the fight against the Islamic State than that of female Kurdish peshmerga fighters doing battle on the front lines against jihadists who demand the subjugation of women? An independent Kurdish state would empower these warriors in a part of the world where women and girls are typically second-class citizens.

Kurdish Peshmerga women fighters

In addition to its commitment to gender equality, Kurdistan has also shown its commitment to minority rights. Over the past three years, Kurdistan, which is about the size of Maryland, has taken in nearly two million refugees, including Assyrians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Shabaks and Christians fleeing the Islamic State and sectarian violence in other parts of Iraq and in Syria.

Even without a formal state, the Kurds have built a society that meets many of the criteria of statehood. They are economically viable, with a well-developed energy industry. They have functioning institutions, including elections for Parliament and a relatively free media. And they’ve proved capable of defending themselves against the Islamic State without attacking others.

Kurdistan is already, in values and governance, a democratic nation in waiting. Is it a perfect Jeffersonian democracy? No. Does it have a long way to go? Yes. But in a region where tyranny is the norm, it’s on the right track.

We should all pray that Kurds are successful in their bid for independence and that there will be a peaceful solution to this brewing crisis. Israel should certainly give it as much support as it can. And shame on the world for denying this brave, big-hearted people their rightful claim to their own territory and self-determination.

Meanwhile over in Spain, Catalonians held a referendum today asking their people if they wanted independence. The answer was not clear. Nevertheless the Spanish rejected the referendum, calling it illegal, and sent in the riot police which violently repressed the independence rallies, injuring almost 500 people:

Nearly 500 people were injured Sunday as Spanish security forces attempted to shut down a referendum vote on the future of the northeastern Spanish province of Spain.

Spanish police break into a Catalonian voting booth

Catalonia, a semi-autonomous province with its own official language, held the controversial vote Sunday on whether to remain a part of the Kingdom of Spain, or to seek independence.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who supports a Catalan separation from Spain, said earlier that if the referendum saw a majority of “yes” votes, he would declare an independent Catalonia within 48 hours.

While polls show some 60% of locals oppose independence from Spain, a wide majority back the plebiscite.

Girls stroll through the center of Figueras with the Spanish and a pro-independence ‘Estelada’ Catalan flag

The Spanish government, however, has declared the referendum illegal and ordered security forces to bar voters from entering polling stations.

“There has not been a referendum or anything remotely similar,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said.

In polling places across Catalonia, including the local capital, Barcelona, police clashed with crowds of voters as they attempted to enter voting stations.

During the clashes, officers opened fire with rubber bullets, hitting dozens of protesters.

According to The Independent, local firefighters formed human shields around voters to protect voters from police.

Catalan officials say police managed to shut down 319 voting stations across Catalonia.

“What the police are doing is a real scandal, a savagery,” said Catalan spokesperson Jordi Turull.

“The Spanish state is in a very difficult situation before the world… What the police is doing is truly an international embarrassment.”

Yet it seems that what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Or maybe that statement should be reversed. The very independence that is rejected by the world for their own minorities is enthusiastically advanced for the Palestinians. The Kurds do not seek to replace anyone or to kill them. They simply want their own indigenous territory back in their hands and under their control. But the world rejects their bid.

The Catalonians want to run their own affairs outside of Spanish jurisdiction. Here too their bid for self-determination is rejected by the world.

But somehow, the Palestinians, who already have independence from Israel, and who run their own affairs, are considered perfectly legitimate when they demand not only independence, but an end to the State of Israel. They demand this loudly and clearly and can be heard in demonstrations across the world: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. This is no less than an Arabic “final solution” for the Jews. In case you haven’t looked at a map lately, the space between the river (Jordan) to the (Mediterranean) Sea is occupied, for want of a better word, by Israel with over 6 million Jews as well as another 2 million Muslims, Christians and other minorities.

“From the river to the sea Palestine will be free” – of Jews and of Israel. This is an Arab Final Solution

The inherent hypocrisy in this stance was called out today by Eli Dahan, Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister:

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) blasted the Spanish government’s crackdown against a regional referendum in the province of Catalonia Sunday, which left nearly 500 people injured, most of them pro-independence demonstrators.

Deputy Minister Ben-Dahan slammed Madrid’s crackdown on the referendum, noting Spain’s decades-long support for Palestinian statehood.

“For many years, Spain lectured us about how we need to give [national] rights to the Palestinian Arabs,” wrote Ben-Dahan on Twitter. “Today we see their hypocrisy, as [Spain] doesn’t even allow the Catalans to hold a referendum on independence.”

I found this Facebook post by Tsuriel Rashi, a lecturer at Bar Ilan University, to be particularly apt:

 

He writes:

Two states for two people
Spain and Catalonia
Kurdistan and Turkey
“They are there and we are here”.
Or is this a solution limited to a particular region?

Indeed Dr. Rashi has pointed out the world’s hypocrisy in one short pithy paragraph. “Do as I say, not do as I do” is what the world tells Israel.

It’s about time Israel told the world where to get off.

Myths We Die By

September 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold your breath.

Israeli Patriot missile downs Hizballah drone over Quneitra

September 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

IDF simulates war-to-win strategy vs Hizballah

September 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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