Sunday, February 16, 2020

If Russia can’t curb Iran in Syria, the Saudis ask: How can Israel?

The Saudi paper Sharq al-Awsat reported on Feb. 15 that the Russians had given up on curbing Iran’s military presence in Syria. It cited Saudi intelligence sources in eastern Syria where the Saudis took control of Syria’s eastern oil region in December under the US aegis. Those sources wonder how Israel can hope to succeed where the Russians have failed.
 
On Thursday, Feb. 13, they note, Israel took out four Iranian officers in an attack on a new Iranian weapons consignment delivered in the Damascus area. Two of the dead were Revolutionary Guards generals – Riday Mahmadi, commander of Iranian forces in the Damascus region, and Haj Hossein, who was in charge of arming Iranian forces in Syria.
 
While this was yet another impressive Israeli intelligence feat, its impact will be short-lived, say DEBKAfile’s military sources. Tehran will rapidly replace the two officers, in the same way as it quickly slotted a Hizballah loyalist close to Hassan Nasrallah into the vacancy left by the US assassination of Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. The Guards don’t leave missing links in their chain of command – either in Syria or in Iraq.
 
The systematic destruction by Israeli missiles of Iran’s weapons consignments landing in Syria is likewise of provisional value. While the IDF is exceptionally effective in spotting and targeting the incoming arms shipments, a certain quantity must be presumed to be getting through to destination, else how account for periodic reports on the rising numbers of precision missiles in the hands of Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Hizballah? This question also applies to the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
 
IDF commander Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi addressed the Iranian and other threats to Israel’ security when he presented his new multi-year military program last week, He pointed out in his preamble that Israel’s armed forces must contend with “surrounding terrorist armies in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Sinai, which are not under state control,” as well as Iran, which “currently holds a stock of 1,000 precision missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv, some of which have multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) that are difficult to intercept.” He stressed too that “Hizballah is advancing in its own precision rockets project.”
Our military sources pose this question. How can Hizballah make such advances after three years of constant Israeli attacks? And how come that terrorist groups from the Gaza Strip and Sinai are still allowed to pose a strategic threat to national security?
The new IDF plan, dubbed “Momentum,” speaks of “strengthening the capabilities of the ground forces, and taking advantage of aerial range to enable combat units to attack and destroy a maximum number of targets in as short a time as possible.” However, say DEBKAfile’s sources, one lesson learned from long experience of wars is that no-one can predict how a conflict, once started, will end. None can be counted on to achieve a rapid in-and-out bang-bang victory. In countering Iran, Israel is more likely to come up against the same obstacles as Russia encountered in Syria – a lingering, constantly evolving presence that is hard to pin down.
 
There is nothing innovative about Gen. Kochavi’s decision to establish an Iran Command headed by a general. IDF generals have filled this position in the past, the last appointee was Maj. Gen. NItzan Alon, after whom the position vanished without explanation.
 
While “Momentum” was approved by the prime minister and defense minister, PM Binyamin Netanyahu added a rider criticizing the plan as needing a sharper offensive strategy.
 
Naftali Bennett returned last week from his first Washington visit and talks in the Pentagon as defense minister. He reported an agreement for a division of labor to push back Iranian expansion: the Americans would operate in Iraq, while the IDF would continue to take on the Iranians in Syria.
 
No US officials has confirmed or, for that matter, denied the existence of this deal. Neither has any reference been made any other competent Israeli official in the caretaker government that is officiating in Jerusalem up until the March 2 general election.

'The danger of the century': Here's how Israelis' lives will look with a Palestinian state

The Regavim watchdog movement has launched a new campaign to expose the dangers residents of Judea and Samaria would face if the US "deal of the century" were to be implemented.
 
The campaign focuses on the map the deal presents, in which many Israelis in Judea and Samaria will live in enclaves or very close to the border with "Palestine," exposed to terror attacks by Palestinian Authority Arabs.
 
In a series of ads, notifications, and video clips, Regavim demonstrates the dramatic change in the lives of Judea and Samaria residents from all regions: The map presented by the White House shows Route 60 included nearly in its entirety in a Palestinian state, so that residents of Kiryat Arba and the Jewish areas of Hevron, which would be annexed to Israel, would be cut off from Jerusalem.
 
In addition, residents of Gush Etzion who work in Jerusalem would need to travel double the distance in order to reach their jobs in the capital. The Binyamin Regional Council would be split in two, and the connection between West Binyamin and East Binyamin would be severed completely.
 
In the illustration, which is based on the White House map, the route from Gush Etzion's Neve Daniel, Kiryat Arba, and Ofra would pass through the Palestinian terror state, with the only way to bypass the danger being to double the travel time, which could cost lives in cases where an ambulance is needed.
 
Despite the fact that Israeli sovereignty would be applied to these areas, the roads to leading to and from them, and their proximity to the border, would place them in great danger.

Netanyahu reveals sovereignty mapping team

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning revealed at the opening of the cabinet meeting the identity of the Israeli team members who will work on formulating sovereignty maps in accordance with the Trump Administration's 'Deal of the Century.'
 
"In recent weeks, we have brought a huge achievement the Land of Israel and the State of Israel," Netanyahu said, thanking US President Donald Trump for recognizing Israel's right to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
 
"We have established an Israeli team that will work with the US team on mapping work that has already begun. I have appointed Minister Yariv Levin, Brigadier General Meir Ben Shabbat, PMO Acting Director General Ronen Peretz and the team will assist our ambassador in the US Ambassador Ron Dermer," Netanyahu said .
 
"This team will be in close contact with the settlers and the security forces to complete the task soon. We are making our homeland in Judea and Samaria part of the State of Israel forever.
 
Netanyahu reported on the continuation of talks with Sudan following his meeting with the country's leader in Uganda last week. "We are in the process of normalizing with a large number of Arab and Muslim countries. You only see part of that. People make alliances with strong states and Israel is a strong country."
 
At the same time, Netanyahu cited the fight at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. "The International Court of Justice in The Hague has become a political instrument in the war against Israel. We are fighting this, as are many other countries around the world. Together with international organizations they have expressed a clear position that the tribunal has no authority to discuss the dispute. These states have accepted that the tribunal is becoming a tool in the war against Israel and they are trying to prevent the tribunal from politicizing the conflict."

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Pompeo calls for action against Iran after US Navy seizes weapons sent to Yemen

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday called for action against Iran after the US Navy said it had seized an Iranian weapons shipment bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen the day before.
“The U.S. Navy interdicted 358 Iranian-made missiles + other weapons components on their way to the Houthis in Yemen. This is another example of the world’s largest state sponsor of terror the Islamic Republic of Iran continuing to defy the UN Security Council,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
“The world must reject Iran’s violence and act now to renew the expiring @UN arms embargo on #Iran,” Pompeo said.
The US military said it had seized the weapons shipment on a small sailing vessel in the Arabian sea.
The weapons showed signs of Iranian “design and manufacture,” according to a Reuters report.
They included 150 anti-tank guided missiles as well as three surface-to-air missiles.
According to the US Navy, sailors from the USS Normandy, a missile cruiser, boarded a dhow bound for Yemen in the Arabian Sea and discovered “150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs.
“Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles,” the statement said.
The weapons were “identical” to those seized in a similar operation last November by the USS Forrest Sherman.
Video published by the US military showed troops approaching the vessel in a small boat and boarding with guns drawn. READ MORE

ANALYSIS: Turkey on crash course with Russia over Syria

While news broke that Turkey is now also trying to take over the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem after two Israeli researchers had determined that the Erdogan regime is doing the same in Arab Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount, all eyes are now on what Turkey is doing in northeastern Syria.
 
Erdogan’s army is risking a war with the pro-Assad coalition after the Turks decided to respond to Russian Syrian shelling of Turkish military observation posts in the so-called safe zone in the attempt to take over the last remaining rebel stronghold in the Idlib Province.
This week, five Turkish soldiers died as a result of heavy shelling by the pro-Assad coalition which has already taken over a number of towns and villages in Idlib while last week Turkey lost seven soldiers and a Turkish civilian contractor.
 
In addition, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killed 9 members of Turkish-backed Islamist militias in Tal Tamr in the western al-Hasakah Governate in northeast Syria while a pro-Assad militia engaged in a firefight with US Special Forces in the same region.
In response to the death of the 12 Turks, Erdogan’s forces killed reportedly over 50 soldiers of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s army while the Turkish autocratic leader now threatens a new invasion in Syria.
 
Erdogan threatened that his forces will attack Assad’s troops “everywhere” if they dare to carry out more assaults on the Turks and their allies.
 
“If any harm comes to our soldiers in observation posts or anywhere (in Syria), I declare that we will hit (Syrian) forces everywhere regardless of the Sochi deal,” the Turkish leader said to members of his Justice and Development Party (AKA) referring to a 2018 de-escalation agreement between Russia and Turkey. READ MORE

Cruz: UN has descended to a new anti-Semitic low

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Friday blasted the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights following the publication of its database listing companies operating in Judea and Samaria.
“The United Nations has descended to a new anti-Semitic low. This database of companies operating in Israeli-controlled territories is meant to facilitate boycotts of Israeli Jews. It extends a tactic for attacking the livelihood of Jews that stretches back centuries, which has included boycotts, the physical destruction or confiscation of businesses, prohibitions on land ownership, and closing off certain professions. It is straightforward, undisguised, pathological hatred,” Cruz said in a statement.
 
“Almost unbelievably, the database even targets American companies offering general services across Israel, simply because they refuse to deny those general services to certain Jews. Our allies and adversaries should know that the United States will be carefully watching who stands with us and our Israeli allies against these disgraceful efforts,” he added.
 
“The United Nations Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights must immediately take down the database and halt any related investigations into businesses operating in Israeli territories.” READ MORE

Friday, February 14, 2020

4 Iranians, 3 Syrians said killed in Damascus strikes; PM: Maybe Belgium did it

Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and three Syrian soldiers were killed in airstrikes around Damascus late Thursday night which Syria attributed to Israel, according to a Britain-based Syrian civil war monitor.
At approximately 11:45 p.m., incoming missiles struck five weapons depots near Damascus International Airport, including an attack on a military position south of the Syrian capital, the al-Arabiya news channel reported, citing unidentified sources.
The attack came hours after a shipment — reportedly of munitions — arrived at the airport from Tehran, according to flight data.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that in total seven people were killed in the strikes, four of them from the IRGC and three from the Syrian military.
Both Syria and the Observatory said Israel was behind the strike. The Israeli military did not comment on the matter, in accordance with its long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying such operations abroad.
Asked about Israel’s alleged involvement in a Friday morning interview to Radio Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I don’t comment on one operation or another.
“I don’t know what happened at night. Maybe it was the Belgian air force,” he quipped. READ MORE

'US will never cooperate with anti-Israel blacklists'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the decision yesterday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to publish a list of 112 companies which do business in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
 
"It is outrageous that the @UNHumanRights Commissioner @mbachelet would release the database of companies operating in Israeli-controlled territories. Its publication confirms the unrelenting anti-#Israel bias so prevalent at the @UN," Pompeo tweeted Thursday.
 
"The U.S. has not and will never provide any information to support the compilation of these lists. We call on @UN member states to join us in rejecting this effort. Attempts to isolate #Israel damage momentum toward Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," he added.

Iranian commander: We're ready to strike the US and Israel

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Thursday warned that Iran is ready to strike the United States and Israel if they give it any reason to do so.
 
"If you make the slightest error, we will hit both of you," Major General Hossein Salami said in a speech at a ceremony marking the 40th day since the death of top commander Qassem Soleimani, according to Reuters.
 
Soleimani, who was head of the Quds Force, a branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside Iran, was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3 along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
 
Earlier on Thursday, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards said the killing of Soleimani will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem.
 
"The cowardly and craven assassination of commander Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the Americans will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem, by the grace of God," the spokesman, Ramezan Sharif, said, according to Reuters.
 
Iranian officials have upped their rhetoric against both the US and Israel in recent days.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry warned that Iran “will give a crushing response that will cause regret to any kind of aggression or stupid action from this regime against our country’s interests in Syria and the region.”
 
Previously, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard warned in a TV interview that Iran will "raze Tel Aviv to the ground" if it is attacked by the US.
 
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regularly threatens Israel and has several times in the past threatened to "annihilate" the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
 
In November, he stressed, however, that his country is not against the Jews, only against the “Israeli regime” and the State of Israel, which he described as an "imposed state".

Netanyahu: 'Action in Gaza can happen before the elections'

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday spoke to Haifa Radio about the tension in southern Israel, warning that "action in Gaza can happen before the elections. Disquiet in the south will be answered with force that Hamas cannot imagine."
 
When asked about the reports that Israel is responsible for the attack on Syria, he said: "I'm not discussing those actions or others. Maybe it was the Belgian air force."
 
Responding to the suspension of journalist Erel Segal, Netanyahu said the decision was "a scandal!" and named two other journalists, asking "were they suspended when they supported [Blue and White leader MK Benny] Gantz and continue supporting the left every time? We see their political agenda. We're self-righteous because someone thinks differently. That's hypocrisy and most of the media has joined it."
 
Netanyahu added that "we're taking about balloons, and not mass murders and restaurants and buses that are exploding - that already doesn't happen. Quiet will be answered with quiet, and disquiet will be answered with indescribable force."
 
On Thursday, Hamas sent a message to Israel saying that the terror group had "unilaterally decided to end the launch of [explosive] balloons and rocket fire towards Israel." The source who relayed the message said that "this coming night, and this weekend as well, will serve as a test of stability."
 
"As peace is maintained, Israel will expand its fishing grounds back to 15 miles and return the reduced 500 trade permits. We are skeptical - but an attempt will be made to restore stability to the Gaza envelope," the official said.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Greenblatt: Buy from companies on UN blacklist

Former US Envoy Jason Greenblatt spoke on Thursday morning to Galei Tzahal about the UN blacklist of companies that do business in Judea and Samaria.
 
He called the blacklist "Outrageous. The fact the UN did it now," he said, just after the US revealed its peace plan, "shows its true colors."
 
He added that by releasing the list, the UN was "hurting the chances for peace, doing things that undermine possibility of peace."
 
Greenblatt urged people to counter the blacklist and "Do the opposite. Buy more products from these companies."
 
Greenblatt was also asked if he thinks PA Chairman Abbas can live up to peace plan laid out by the US.
 
"He has the power and prestige to do that. I don’t know that he’s able to meet the criteria we laid out in the plan," he said, explaining that "Israel needs to be secure, the PA needs to root out terrorism."
 
Greenblatt denied, however, that the US peace plan was a way of implementing "a quiet American regime change" in the PA, noting that the US is "not about regime change" and that the PA has 4 years to meet the criteria set by the plan.

Iran warns Israel of 'crushing response' to any aggression

Iran will respond forcefully to any Israeli action against its interests in the region, the country’s Foreign Ministry warned on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will give a crushing response that will cause regret to any kind of aggression or stupid action from this regime against our country’s interests in Syria and the region,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as having said.
Iranian officials accuse Israel of carrying out attacks against military forces in Syria that are allied with Tehran.
 
The most recent such attack came last week, when an air strike in Damascus attributed to Israel targeted an outpost used by an Iranian militia in the Damascus area.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strike killed 23 Syrian and non-Syrian fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime.
 
Israel did not comment on the reports.
 
Iranian officials, including its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, regularly threaten Israel. Khamenei has several times in the past threatened to "annihilate" the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
 
In November, he stressed, however, that his country is not against the Jews, only against the “Israeli regime” and the State of Israel, which he described as an "imposed state".
 
Most recently, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), warned in a TV interview that Iran will "raze Tel Aviv to the ground" if it is attacked by the US.

Poll: Majority of Palestinian Arabs support return to armed struggle

An opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shows that if general presidential elections were held today, over half of Palestinian Arabs would vote against Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
 
94 percent of respondents in the poll, conducted between February 5 and February 8, said they oppose the “Deal of the Century”, the US initiative to settle the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict.
 
80 percent of respondents believe that the “Deal of the Century” will bring the conflict back to the level of an existential confrontation with Israel. At the same time, a decline in support for the “two-state solution” has been recorded and the support for this solution is even lower than the number of supporters of the Oslo Accords when they were signed in 1993.
 
Most respondents support the cancellation of recognition of Israel and a return to an armed conflict against Israel. 58 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the PA leadership's response to the “Deal of the Century”, while 38 percent stated the PA’s response was satisfactory.