Sunday, November 17, 2019

Russia sets up air base in Qamishli, challenges US/Israeli air force control of northeast Syria

The arrival this week in Qamishli of 50 Russian military trucks, 300 troops and hardware confirmed the revised US intelligence regarding Moscow’s military intentions in Syria, as DEBKA Weekly 869 first revealed on Nov. 8.
Until recently, US strategic experts estimated that Moscow’s interests focused on expanding its Mediterranean coastal footholds up to Libya, for which the Khmeimim air base was designed. This US assessment changed abruptly two weeks ago, when the first Russian military delegation arrived in Qamishli, capital of the Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.
The delegation was first thought to be looking for accommodation for the Russian troops taking part in joint patrols with Turkey along a 10-km deep strip on the Syrian-Turkish border.  But when Russian officials were photographed closely examining Qamishli airport and asking Syrian and Kurdish officials technical questions, warning signals flashed. Moscow was now seen to be eying Qamishli airport for conversion into a major military airfield to compete with expanding US military involvement in the region.
The Russians were then discovered negotiating a 49-year lease for Qamishli airfield with local Kurdish authorities. That contract was to keep part of the area in civil aviation use, while a large section was to be closed off as a Russian military facility.
The deal is evidently now in the bag. DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Substantial Russian military forces have since arrived at Qamishli: 50 trucks with 300 soldiers, consisting of a combat contingent for securing the new Russian air base and an engineering unit to build it; Mi-35 and Mi-8 assault helicopters have also landed, as well as Pantsir-S air defense systems for stationing around the facility.
Loud explosions emanating from the site in the last few days indicate that construction work has begun for expanding the small Qamishli airport into a large air base able to accommodate the landings of Russian fighter jets and large air freights. Moscow has clearly decided against allowing the US military to play unchallenged on the strategic playing field of northeastern Syrian and negotiated a counter-bid with America’s own Kurdish allies.   

Turkey: We'll use S-400 despite US threats

Turkey will use the S-400 missile defense system it has bought from Russia despite the US threat of sanctions, a senior defense official said Saturday, according to AFP.
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which the United States says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 “stealth” fighter jet.
The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were delivered to Turkey in July. Russia then delivered a second battery of S-400s in August.
US has threatened Turkey with sanctions, but said it would be spared from these measures under a 2017 law if the S-400 system is not turned on.
"It is not a correct approach to say 'we will not use for someone else's sake' a system we had purchased out of our need and we paid that amount of money," Ismail Demir, the head of the Defense Industry Directorate, a government body, told private CNN Turk broadcaster on Saturday.
"We will do our duty and (the system) will become usable. How it will be used is a decision to be made later," he added.
"We should respect the agreement we signed and that's what suits us as a country."
The issue was raised in talks in Washington this week between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump.
Trump said that Turkey's controversial acquisition created "serious challenges" for Washington as he added officials would "immediately" get to work on resolving the issue.
Washington reacted to Turkey's purchase of the S-400 by removing the country off its F-35 fighter jet program.
Turkish officials insist that the deal to purchase the S-400 does not affect the security of the US and have repeatedly stressed that they will go ahead with the deal despite Washington’s objections.

Khameni blames fuel protests on 'Iran's enemies'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday supported recent increases in gas and fuel protests which have sparked protests across Iran.
“Some people are no doubt worried by this decision ... but sabotage and arson is done by hooligans not our people. The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” Khameini said on Iranian state television.
“Unfortunately some problems were caused, a number of people lost their lives and some centers were destroyed,” he added.
Protests erupted Saturday after the Iranian government raised the cost of regular gasoline to 15,000 rials ($0.13) a liter from 10,000 rials and instituted fuel rations. Additional liters would cost 30,000 rials.
One death was confirmed in the southeastern city of Sirjan. Several other deaths were reported on social media.
The increase in fuel prices was done in response the economic crisis Iran faces as a result of the renewed sanctions imposed by the United States.

Netanyahu: "We will attack all those who attack us"

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened today's (Sunday) government meeting, concluding the two days of fighting in Gaza.
"I wish to, firstly, praise the security forces who took part in operation 'Black Belt.' I also would like to thank the members of the cabinet who agreed, as one, to authorize this operation. All goals were achieved."
"Again, I would like to stress, Israel has not obligated itself to anything. Security policy has not changed. We are keeping open all possible operational possibilities. We will attack those who try to attack us."
Netanyahu responded to the rocket fire on Saturday night, "on Saturday night, Hamas fired at Be'er Sheva, I have directed the IDF to fire on Hamas positions."
"We are prepared for every situation, we will do everything to protect the state of Israel and ensure its' security."

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beersheba comes under rocket attack. IDF hits back at Hamas in widening cycle of Gaza conflict

Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions in Gaza before dawn Saturday, Nov. 16, after Beersheba came under rocket attack Friday night. It was the first time the IDF had targeted Hamas for reprisals in the ongoing clash with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  The two large Grad rockets that shook Beersheba’s population of quarter of a million were intercepted by Iron Dome. Nine people suffered minor injuries or shock as they ran for shelter in response to the rocket sirens.
The Islamic Jihad was making a point: Its rocket war on Israel was not over, although the IDF’s Home Command insisted on ending the war emergency after an agreed ceasefire went into force early Thursday to end the 450-rocket blitz that had shut down the towns and villages of the South for 48 hours. The IDF hailed its Operation Black Belt, launched with the killing of the Jihad senior commander Baha Abu Al-Atta, and the wrecking of its terrorist infrastructure in Gaza as a victory. Israel’s leaders refused to accept that the war was still ongoing – even when Jihad fired three salvos after the ceasefire. The IDF Home Command insisted that the local councils reopen schools and return to their normal routines. After disobeying the order on Friday, they agreed to restart classes on Sunday.
On Friday too, Hamas cancelled its regular weekly mass disturbance on the Gaza-Israel border, for the first time since it instituted the violent “March of Return” demonstration eighteen months ago, so as deny its smaller rival, the Islamic Jihad,  a pretext for violating the ceasefire brokered by the UN and Egypt.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note the Islamic Jihad did not need a pretext. On Friday night, after a quiet day, it attacked the major Israeli town nearest to the Gaza Strip, Beersheba, capital of the Negev. By persisting in their denials of the ongoing conflict, Israel’s strategists triggered its escalation.
Aside from the single attack on Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad had hitherto avoided using its long-range rockets to reach Israeli populations at a distance from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas refrained from intervening in the contest. But when on Friday night, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh phoned his Islamic Jihad counterpart Zeyad al-Nakhala at his Beirut base with condolences for the death of Abu Al-Atta, the two Palestinians agreed to join forces to fight Israel. It is therefore possible that Hamas was responsible for the rocket fire on Beersheba, although this is not confirmed.
Israel returned to attacking Hamas early Saturday in response to is leaders’ decision to throw its support behind the Islamic Jihad once again. This decision scuttled the most hopeful outcome of the contest with Jihad: Hamas’ neutral stance. Israel reacted by reverting to the dead-end, tit-for-tat routine in the Gaza Strip, which presages constantly deteriorating security for the southern regions within range of terrorist aggression.

Islamic Jihad used new rocket with huge 300kg warhead during fighting

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired a new kind of rocket at Israel with a massive 300 kilogram (660 lb) warhead that left a huge crater where it exploded in southern Israel, Channel 12 reported Friday.
The rocket, which carried significantly more explosives than most of the missiles fired by the terror group, landed in an open area in an Israeli community on the outskirts of Gaza and left a crater with a diameter of 16 meters (52 feet) and 2 meters (6 feet) deep.
Channel 12 said the size of the rocket surprised Israel and noted that it was developed locally with the assistance of Iranian engineers.
The report said Islamic Jihad had managed, in some aspects, to surpass the technical capabilities of the much larger Hamas terror group. However, it noted that Hezbollah in Lebanon has rockets of this size and larger aimed at Israel, some with precision-guided systems.
Islamic Jihad received hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from Iran, which hopes to use its proxies in Gaza and Lebanon to fire thousands of missiles at Israel in the event of a conflict. READ MORE

Blamed for Beersheba rocket fire, Hamas says Israel ‘won’t choose timing’ of ops

After two rockets believed by Israel to have been launched by Hamas were fired toward Beersheba overnight, a spokesperson for the terror group said Saturday that Israel “will not be allowed to choose the time and place of [military] campaigns.”
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum added that the decision to carry out military operations remains in the hands of the Gaza terror groups and that “Israel bears the consequences and results of its ongoing aggression,” Hebrew-language media reported.
In a fresh breach of the ceasefire overnight Friday-Saturday, two rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, setting off rocket sirens in Beersheba for the first time this week. Hebrew-language media reported that the Israeli security services assessed the rockets were launched by Hamas.
Both projectiles were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said. The Magen David Adom emergency and rescue service said it treated five people for anxiety and four who were injured while running to bomb shelters following the attack.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Islamic Jihad’s scam: Keep up rocket attacks to attrition Israel. Blame “rogue groups”

The Israeli air force struck Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza early Friday, Nov. 15, after several rounds of Palestinian rocket fire blew away the “ceasefire” shortly after it went into effect early Thursday. The rockets were aimed at Sderot and other locations near the border, after the IDF Home Command had assured citizens they could come out of their shelters after 48 hours of confinement. Iron Dome went into action three times. Overnight, Israeli air strikes demolished a Jihad missile components plant and the Khan Younis Brigade command center.
The Palestinian terrorist Islamic Jihad group is using the “ceasefire” for a sly subterfuge. While pretending to accept the truce, for the benefit of the IDF and the UN and Egyptian peace brokers, they continued to shoot rockets, putting the blame on “rogue” elements out of their control.
 DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources stress that this is hogwash. Those rockets come straight out of the Jihad arsenal. They are put in the hands of dissident elements critical of the ceasefire and serve the group’s strategy for subjecting Israel to a drawn-out war of attrition. This is intended to keep Israel constantly on the hop by unexpected bursts of short-range rocket fire coming after calm passages.  
On Thursday, Israel’s leaders patted themselves on the back for coming out of Jihad’s rocket war without a single casualty, wiping out much of its war machine and liquidating a score or more of wanted terrorists. The onset of a war of attrition hardly came up. But it was uppermost in the minds of the dwellers of Sderot and the dozen locations within easy rocket range of the Gaza Strip. Heads of the local councils countermanded a IDF Home Command directives and ordered their schools to remain closed on Friday.

Khamenei: When Iran speaks of wiping out Israel it refers to regime, not Jews

When Iran speaks of wiping Israel off the map, it doesn’t mean the mass slaughter of the country’s Jews but rather eliminating the Jewish state’s “imposed regime,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.
“The disappearance of Israel does not mean the disappearance of the Jewish people, because we have nothing against [Jews],” Khamenei said, speaking alongside senior Iranian officials at the so-called 33rd International Islamic Unity Conference.
“Wiping out Israel means that the Palestinian people, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, should be able to determine their fate and get rid of thugs such as [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Khamenei continued, according to Iranian media.
Khamenei further argued that “had the Islamic world been committed to unity, there would have been no tragedy in Palestine.” He lamented that Muslims couldn’t even adhere to what he called the lowest level of unity — non-aggression between Muslims.
“We are not anti-Semitic. Jews are living in utmost safety in our country. We only support the people of Palestine and their independence,” he said.
“Our position on the case of Palestine is definitive,” he said. “Early after the victory of the [1979 Islamic] revolution, the Islamic Republic gave the Zionists’ center in Tehran to the Palestinians. We helped the Palestinians, and we will continue to do so. The entire Muslim world should do so.” READ MORE

Rivlin outline: 'No disqualifications, no boycotts'

The outline for the establishment of a unity government proposed by President Reuven Rivlin determines when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would declare himself incapacitated, what the nature of the incapacity would be, and whether the government to be established would include the entire right-wing bloc.
Channel 13 News revealed on Thursday that the plan includes three options for the date of the start of Netanyahu’s incapacitation: On the day of the Attorney General's announcement of the indictment (which is expected to be published in the coming weeks), when the indictment is submitted (a date that may happen in a few months), and when the trial begins – which may be in about a year.
During the talks, Netanyahu told Rivlin and Gantz, "This is a fair outline. The incapacity will take effect when the trial opens." Rivlin told Netanyahu, "A compromise means you will meet halfway," while pointing to the second option – the incapacity taking effect when the indictment is filed.
Netanyahu also reportedly had a favorite option about the depth of the incapacitation, and he reportedly said during the conversation, "Rivlin's idea is excellent. We will both be prime ministers together." Rivlin also objected to that and reportedly said, "You are going too far. There cannot be two prime ministers at the same time. Gantz will be your deputy, and as soon as you enter incapacitation you will be relieved of all your authority."
Another topic discussed during the talks was the possibility of including the entire right-wing bloc in the government. On this, Rivlin suggested, "Without disqualifications and without boycotts, all parties are legitimate. Equality will be expressed in the number of ministers."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Gaza ceasefire faces real test on Friday at weekly Palestinian border disturbance

UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov knew from bitter experience what he was talking about when he said on Thursday, Nov. 14 that the UN and Egypt had “worked hard to prevent the most dangerous escalation in and around Gaza from leading to war” and “the coming hours and days were critical.”
According to established Gaza routine, the Palestinian side habitually declares a ceasefire has been agreed, and then violates it, while Israel officials hold silent. This time, the only sign that Israel went along with the truce negotiated by the UN and Egypt, was the IDF’s approval to reopen schools and restore normal life across most of Israel, with the exception of the most heavily battered communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, West Lachish and Hof Ashkelon.
Rocket sirens were heard there early Thursday 90 hours after the truce was said by Islamic Jihad and Egyptian officials to have gone into effect at 5.30 a.m. It came at the end of 48 hours of massive Jihad rocket fire and systematic Israeli air strikes to destroy its infrastructure, following the killing of the Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza commander Baha Abu Al-Atta.
The ceasefire, which was quickly proven fragile in its first hours, faces its first real test on Friday, Nov. 15, when the Gaza-Israeli border has for the past eighteen months erupted into weekly clashes between Palestinian rioters hurling explosives and grenades pressing against the border and their targets, armed Israeli soldiers, pushing them back, using live ammunition when tear gas fails.
The Islamic Jihad is expected to exploit the next Friday disturbance as cover for lethal attacks on Israeli troops or a civilian target, after 430 rockets fired in a 48-hour blitz failed to cause a single Israeli death. The group is also capable of claiming that Israel had violated the truce terms at the event as a pretext for resuming its rocket attacks.
This pessimistic forecast rests on past experience of Gaza ceasefires. Islamic Jihad is wont to stage violent finales in order to claim it had the last word (or shot) in a conflict with Israel. Therefore, if the truce holds up until Friday afternoon, its fate will be determined then. IDF concentrations therefore remain massed on the Gaza border along with heavy military hardware.

‘This is actual surrender’: Liberman assails Netanyahu for Hamas policy

Amid an ongoing escalation of violence with Gaza, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a fierce Facebook post Wednesday, accusing him of “surrendering” to the Hamas terror group and of having “no answers or solutions” to the rocket fire on the south.
Writing on the second day of intense fighting with Palestinian Islamic Jihad following Israel’s targeted killing of the terror group’s commander Baha Abu al-Ata, Liberman assailed the prime minister for his repeated promises to destroy Hamas and restore security to the south of Israel, his current policy toward the Gaza rulers, and his ostensible lack of any long-term policy regarding the Strip.
“Over the years, in election campaigns, Netanyahu and his Likud members have emphasized that only they can eradicate Hamas’s rule. In fact, Netanyahu is only strengthening Hamas’s rule,” Liberman claimed, citing a campaign video put out by Netanyahu on the eve of the 2009 election in which he promised to “break Hamas rule in Gaza… and restore security to Israeli residents.”
“Until two days ago, the official policy of the State of Israel was that Hamas was the sovereign and was responsible for any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, no matter who fired,” Liberman said. “Starting two days ago, Netanyahu granted Hamas an exemption. Hamas no longer bears any small or large responsibility in Gaza and any rocket fire at Israel by ‘rogue forces’ is not Hamas’s concern at all.”  READ MORE

'We should have killed 2,500'

Yitzchack Ilan, former deputy director of the Shin Bet intelligence service, was interviewed today on Radio 103FM.
"This round was bizarre, we killed a medium-level commander and were hit by hundreds of rockets without responding appropriately. The round finished even more bizarrely."
How should have we responded?
"My opinion is that anyone who shoots rockets at civilians is a war criminal and thus should be treated. Either he should be arrested and spend a long time in jail or he should be eliminated."
25 members of Islamic Jihad were killed.
"2,500 members should have been killed, that would have been a fitting response."
You disagree with the rationale of the government that widespread action with multiple kills would bring Hamas into this round of violence?
"Of course, Israel and the IDF should put an end to this ridiculous saga in which civilians cannot sleep at night."
Can it be stopped through military means?
"Of course, if Gaza is conquered, similar to the way we conquered Judea and Samaria and cleared it of terrorists. I was Shin Bet commander in Samaria during Operation Defensive Shield (2002 operation in response to the 2nd Intifida), we had to persuade the government that the only way to stop terror attacks from Judea and Samaria was a large scale operation and not surgical strikes." READ MORE

Pope blasts ‘inhuman, un-Christian’ rebirth of anti-Semitism

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has denounced the “inhuman, un-Christian” rebirth of anti-Semitism, weighing in on an issue that has convulsed Italy in recent weeks.
Speaking at his general audience Wednesday, Francis denounced anti-Semitism, saying it is raging after the world thought the “brutalities” of the Holocaust were over.
He said: “Here and there, there is a new rebirth of persecuting Jews. Brothers and sisters, this isn’t human or Christian. Jews are our brothers. And they must not be persecuted. Understand?”
In Italy, controversy flared recently when Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day.
Parliament approved her motion — but without votes from Italy’s right-wing parties. READ MORE

Jordanian TV host calls to ‘gouge out eyes of the Zionists’

A Jordanian television host called to “trample underfoot” the country’s peace treaty with Israel and “gouge out the eyes” of Israelis on Tuesday following the return to Jordanian hands of two small border areas farmed by Israel under the two nations’ 1994 peace agreement. The treaty had created special arrangements for Israeli farmers and their employees to work lands in Naharayim and the southern Tzofar enclave on the northern end of the countries’ shared border for 25 years. 

 That period ended last weekend, and Amman, in keeping with an announcement it made last year, took back possession of the small strips of land, known in Arabic as Baqoura and Ghumar. In a Tuesday comment on Jordan Today TV, host Rana Hmouz celebrated the Jordanian decision, and then called for the cancellation of the peace treaty itself, followed by the destruction of Israel. “Baqoura and Ghumar are Jordanian territory [once again]. This decision was bound to fill our hearts with joy instead of blood,” she said in the broadcast, which was translated by the MEMRI research institute. (Read More)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jihad rocket fire moves east to Ramle, Modiin districts after 7-hour pause

After a 7-hour overnight pause, the Islamic Jihad resumed its rocket attacks early Wednesday, Nov. 12, swinging around from its usual boundaries to target the Shefela regions of eastern Israel. The first rockets were aimed at locations close to the Gaza Strip and Ashkelon, but after 8 a.m.broadened out to Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem Hills, the Mat Yehuda Council,  Kibbutz Hulda near the old highway to Jerusalem, and locations east of the town of Ramle: Mishmar David, Mishmar Ayalon, Kfar Bin-Nun and Karmei Yosef. Alert sirens were also heard in the Mate Binyamin Council northeast of the town of Modiin.  No casualties were reported.
On Tuesday, Tel Aviv and parts of central Israel, which took rocket fire, were placed on an emergency footing by extending the order to close schools and places of work from the 40km radius covering locations adjoining the Gaza Strip to 80km.  This extension was lifted overnight.
On Wednesday morning, the Israel Air Force kept up its steady assaults on Jihad positions and rocket stores, with the focus on picking off rocket launch teams. The IDF is not going over the top so as not to rouse Hamas out of its current posture of non-intervention coupled with non-restraint for Jihad’s rocket fire.
Of all the armed proxies run by the Al Qods Brigades of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is the midget – no more than 7,000 to 10,000 men under arms and only about 5,000 combatants for a potential war against Israel. For comparison, the leading pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias can muster an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 each. Hamas too has built a paramilitary force of 25,000 trained fighters.
Jihad commands an arsenal of around 10,000 rockets, around one-tenth of that amassed by Hamas, but still enough to immobilize large areas of Israel for days on end, especially as proved on Tuesday, when accompanied by constant threats of more punishment to come. This feat alone afforded a small Palestinian terrorist group a kind of success.
The IDF in its first briefing early Wednesday estimated that the Islamic Jihad had not done with reprisals for the death of a senior commander Baha Abu Al-Atta by Israeli forces 24 hours earlier.
Jihad for its first salvos on Wednesday, Nov. 13, drew on its short-range rocket stores to attack Israeli locations close to Gaza, keeping its estimated 1,000 longer-range weapons in reserve – possibly for future rounds. This terrorist group has not, furthermore, used its special forces units, who are trained to conduct raids into Israel by land or sea for terrorist operations; nor the small exploding UAVs in its armory, which carry 3-5kg each of explosives. These staged tactics appear to DEBKAfile’s military sources to be calibrated according to outside orders from Damascus or Beirut.
The IDF Home Command is therefore keeping the emergency in place for another day, although the closures initially ordered by the IDF Home Command on schools, places of work and services in central Israel – which holds 40pc of the population – were lifted. Those closures appeared at the time to be disproportionate after only two rockets of the 250 fired on Tuesday were aimed – and intercepted – over Tel Aviv and smacked rather of a national emergency for a full-scale war.
However, it was imposed only 12 hours after two Jihad commanders run by the Iranian Al Qods Brigades were targeted, one in Gaza and the other in Damascus. Israel appeared to be getting set for a possible decision by Tehran to widen the scenario of retaliation from Gaza to several more fronts. This potential danger has not been dismissed.