Saturday, September 22, 2018

Russia & Israel at odds over cause of Il-20 crash after Israeli air force chief’s Moscow talks

Russia and Israel agreed to continue their military coordination in Syria, although Israel’s Air Force chief Maj.-Gen Amikam Nurkin and Russian officers differed sharply on the circumstances which caused the Russian Il-20 spy plane to crash last Monday. The absence of a joint Russian-Israel communique summing up a day and-a-night of intense interviews upon the departure of the Israeli delegation on Friday, Sept. 21 indicated that each side adhered to is own version of the event and the crisis between Moscow and Jerusalem is not over. According to a subsequent IDF announcement, the coordination mechanism between Israel and the Russian command in Syria was nonetheless functioning “routinely.”
The Israeli military tried to put a positive face on the Moscow talks, describing them as friendly and positive, including even an Israeli invitation to the Russian investigators to come to Israel to further pursue their inquiries. This was in striking contrast to the hostile Russian media coverage of the tough interviews. The Russians insisted that, when Syrian air defenses shot down the Russian Ilyushin-20 spy plane, an Israeli air raid was still ongoing in Latakia, whereas the IDF probe established that the Israeli fighter jets had returned to home base.
That was one of several points of discord.

A senior IDF officer briefed reporters Friday on the most prominent:
  • Syrian anti-air fire was “reckless, irresponsible and unprofessional and the direct cause of downing the Russian aircraft.”
  • The plane was struck by large Syrian SA-5 anti-air missiles.
  • The Syrian missile barrage went on for 40 minutes – after Israel planes were gone and landing at their home base.
  • A video recording of the conversation between the Israeli Air Force Command in Tel Aviv and the Russian Khmeimim Air Base proves that Israel gave the Russians much longer than one minute’s notice of the coming air raid over Latakia and disproves the Russian claim.
  • The Israeli delegation presented evidence disproving the Russian MoD’s accusation that the Israeli jets acted provocatively in using the Russian aircraft against Syrian missiles.
  • The IDF’s investigation of the incident as presented in Moscow covered three main points:
    1.  Evidence of Iran’s deepening military presence in Syria.
    2. Tehran’s exploitation of Syria for funneling strategic weapons to Hizballah.
    3. The Israel air raid over Latakia and how the Russian reconnaissance plane came to be shot down by Syrian air defense fire. READ MORE

IDF conducts air strikes in northern Gaza

More than 10,000 Gazans rioted along the security fence with Israel on Friday. They threw grenades and explosives and attempted to infiltrate Israel.
Grenade shrapnel hit a combat soldier, injuring him. In response, an IDF aircraft carried out several strikes in northern Gaza, said the IDF.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza told AFPthat one Palestinian Arab was killed by Israeli fire in the clashes along the Gaza border.
A spokesman for the ministry claimed that the man was killed during protests east of Gaza City.
More than 100 other people were wounded, the spokesman said.
The so-called “March of the Return” border riots have been ongoing every Friday since March 30, but in recent days have become more frequent.
Over the Yom Kippur holiday on Wednesday, dozens of Arab rioters infiltrated into Israel across the Gaza frontier, as terrorists attacked Israeli soldiers with firebombs, a grenade, and explosive device.
According to an IDF spokesperson, there were multiple incidents and several locations along the Gaza-Israel border during the holiday.
On Thursday, an IDF aircraft attacked a terrorist squad in northern Gaza that launched incendiary balloons towards Israel.
Earlier, an incendiary balloon exploded in one of the communities in the Sdot Negev Regional Council.

Zarif: Trump administration is a threat to the world

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday accused the administration of US President Donald Trump of being a threat to the Middle East and to the international community.
“It is true that there is a real threat to our region and to international peace and security: That threat is the Trump Administration’s sense of entitlement to destabilize the world along with rogue accomplices in our region,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
“The US must start acting like a normal state,” he added.

Tensions between the US and Iran have heightened in recent months after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Recently, the President signed an executive order officially reinstating US sanctions against Iran.
Trump said before imposing the sanctions he was open for talks without preconditions with Iranian leaders.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, dismissed Washington's call for new nuclear negotiations at the same time as it reimposes sanctions on his country.
Zarif has repeatedly criticized Trump. In one incident, he accused Washington of the “demonization” of the Islamic Republic, claiming it indicates a "cognitive disorder."
He recently accused Trump of planning to “abuse” the UN Security Council after it was announced that the President would chair a UN Security Council meeting on Iran this month to spotlight its “violations of international law”.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Is Israel in Putin’s sights, as its air force chief is cross-examined in Moscow?

Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin, Israel’s Air Force chief, endured hour after hour of quizzing in Moscow Thursday, Sept. 20 about the Russian plane shot down by Syria on Monday. At home, Israeli officials and army chiefs made an effort to cool the crisis which sprang up in Russian-Israeli relations over the incident. In Moscow, the Israeli officers produced electronic and other evidence showing Syrian air defense missile fire to be haphazard and unfocused. “It’s a wonder that the Syrians have not accidentally shot down other airplanes before,” they said. One of the key points which emerged was that Syria teams habitually let loose with their anti-air missiles against any incoming missiles, whether or not they are airborne – even if they are ground-to-ground or ship-to-shore weapons. However, how Syria conducts its air defenses has nothing to do with Israel.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Israeli officers answered the endless Russian interrogation professionally and to the point, although the interviews went on all day and appear to be continuing into the night. The Israeli officers had the unpleasant sense of being put on the carpet and expected to provide answers on the spot. The decision to send an Israel officer to Moscow with the high rank of the air force chief has therefore been widely criticized in many circles in Israel.
A full picture of the Israeli delegation’s experience will be available only when they return home and Gen. Nurkin reports to the Prime Minister and Chief of Staff. Even then, there will be gaps in his impressions of the next turn in the crisis that was triggered by the Syrian downing of the Russian reconnaissance plane. Kremlin policy in military affairs and relations with Israel are not up to the Russian air force chief, but the personal province of President Vladimir Putin, and he will soon indicate which way the wind is blowing from Moscow to Jerusalem.
Israel hopes the unpleasantness will soon blow over and relations will return to normal. But it is certainly realized that Putin is an exceptionally cool pragmatist, and if he decides it is in his interest to level his aim against Israel, he will not hesitate to do so.
He has two important decisions to make:
  1. To block Israel’s continued aerial attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. or perhaps curtail them. This response would win him points in Tehran.
  2. Or to allow Israel to continue to clobber Iranian targets to ward off the risk of rousing President Donald Trump to action in support of his Israeli ally; and his responses are hard to predict. In this regard, the US administration announced on Thursday that Trump would be meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu next week in New York. The announcement was released in Washington at the moment that the Israeli delegation was still locked in tough interviews with Russian officers in Moscow.

PM: Israel will use all its might if war is forced upon us

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War Wednesday, saying that Israel would continue to work towards preventing the outbreak of another major conflict in the region, while adding that the IDF would not hesitate to use its “full force” if war does break out.
During the ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery, Netanyahu emphasized Israel’s commitment to preserving peace.
“We must exert every possible effort to prevent war,” said Netanyahu, but added that “if we are forced into a war, we will use our full force against those who seek our destruction.”
“Those who seek to destroy us,” Netanyahu continued, “are mostly in the Middle East, in particular Iran, which openly calls for the destruction of Israel. It is our obligation to protect ourselves from this danger. And we shall continue to [protect ourselves].”
Earlier this week, Israeli fighter jets bombed a weapons development center in northern Syria, reportedly maintained by the Assad regime, with Iranian assistance.
Despite the airstrike, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the terror group already possessed “precision missiles”, warning Israel to “watch out”.
"People who were outside the conflict with Israel are now part of it; Israel is afraid of any war, they understand that the war against us will have many ramifications in the region," he added.

Haley: US holds Iran 'fully accountable' for proxies' attacks

US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley on Thursday chaired a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East.
At the meeting, Haley pointed out the gravity of Iran's actions, and urged the Council to focus on Iran's aggression in Iraq.
"The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is serious and worthy of this Council’s attention. But if there is one country that is the source of conflict and instability in the Middle East – one country that merits a quarterly debate in the Security Council – that country is not Israel. It’s Iran," Haley said.
"For almost 40 years, the Iranian regime has existed outside the community of law-abiding nations. It is difficult to name a conflict in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints on it."
Emphasizing the danger the Iranian regime presents to the Middle East, she explained, "The Iranian regime has backed dictators who gas their own people. It stokes conflict. It funds foreign fighters and terrorists. It transfers missiles to militants. It acts against the interests and policies of this Security Council, time and time again."
"Across the Middle East, Iran has trampled on the sovereignty of its neighbors. In Lebanon. In Syria. In Yemen. And the Iranian regime has shown a total disregard of the sovereignty of a country that is at a critical stage in its political development: Iraq.
"Iran’s leaders pretend their interference in the sovereignty of other nations is done in the name of religious affiliation. They like to claim that they have been 'invited' into the affairs of other countries. In fact, the motives of the mullahs are much less elevated. They are interested in power. In the case of Iraq, their goal is to exploit uncertainty in order to create an Iranian-controlled corridor for weapons and fighters from Tehran to the Mediterranean. READ MORE

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Netanyahu threatens ‘crushing’ response after Hezbollah missile boast

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned Hezbollah against attacking Israel, saying any military action by the Lebanon-based terrorist organization would be met with a “crushing blow.”
His remarks came hours after the leader of Hezbollah boasted that the Iran-backed group now possesses “highly accurate” missiles, despite Israeli attempts to prevent it from acquiring such weapons.
Hassan Nasrallah didn’t offer specifics on the weapons in his traditional televised speech commemorating Ashura, a top religious holy day for Shiite Muslims. But he told supporters they need to be confident in Hezbollah’s capabilities and that the regional balance of power has changed. (Read More)


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed on Thursday that the balance of power between the Lebanese Shi’ite terror group and Israel has “changed,” and that the group has accurate missiles which would be used in the next conflict.

“All your attempts to prevent Hezbollah from possessing accurate missiles are foiled,” Nasrallah said during a speech via video to Beirut’s Dahiyeh suburb to mark the Muslim holiday Ashura. “We have accurate missiles that if used in any future war will change the entire equation.”

Israel has reiterated its view several times on any transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah as a “red line” and will work to prevent any such movement.

Israel is also concerned that Iran is not only trying to consolidate its grip in Syria where it could establish a forward base to attack Israel, but that it is trying to build an advanced weapons factories in Syria and Lebanon to manufacture GPS-guided missiles which could hit targets with greater accuracy.

Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria, but has publicly admitted to having struck more than 200 targets in Syria over the past year and a half. According to the IDF, the strikes which mainly targeted advanced weapons systems and infrastructure belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, were aimed at preventing Iranian entrenchment in Syria. (Read More)

Russia shuts E. Mediterranean to air and sea traffic for “military exercise”

The Russian Defense Ministry suddenly announced Thursday morning, Sept. 20, the closure of the eastern Mediterranean to air traffic and shipping – from the Syrian and Lebanese coasts to Cyprus -due to a snap “military exercise.”
DEBKAfile: By this device, Russia has shut down Israel’s capacity to strike targets in Syria from the sea or from Lebanon. Air raids henceforth can only be launched directly from Israel or through Jordanian air space. Israel’s missile ships are also prevented from reaching waters off the Syrian coast.
This stratagem is not only aimed against Israel, in the wake of the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance air crash Monday with 15 people aboard, but the United States as well. Heading towards the Mediterranean is the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group to join the US Sixth fleet. The group carries 6,000 sea and air crew personnel, with 9 squadrons of fighter-bombers on its decks, and consists additionally of guided missile cruisers and destroyers. It is the Trump administration’s first major response to the massing by the Russians of an armada of 25 warships off the Syrian coast since the last week of August.
The Russian naval buildup and the forthcoming arrival of the US aircraft carrier, following the downing of the Russian plane, is scaling military tensions around Syria up to a new pitch between the US, Russia and Israel. Further developments are seen to be impending.

'Prevent situation where Iran surrounds Israel'

Political Security Cabinet member Minister Naftali Bennett referred today to the tension between Russia and Israel after a Russian plane was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an airstrike in Latakia on Monday.
"We want to prevent a situation where Iran envelops the State of Israel in its arms. Of course we express regret over the downing of the Russian plane; we have mechanisms to prevent such incidents and we'll reinforce them. In the end, the one who downed the plane was Syria," Bennett said on Army Radio.

"The mechanism for preventing friction between the IDF and the Russian army is operational, and it's worked very well until now. When the Syrian army launched the missiles at the plane, our planes were no longer in the area. Russia has its interests and Israel has its own. In the end, we need to act with determination and consistency."
Bennett noted Air Force Commander's departure to Moscow was needed to calm the situation. "We're strengthening and buttressing the friction-prevention mechanisms, and the Air Force Commander will achieve that. Iran is trying to turn Lebanon into a high-accuracy launch site.
"In the end, we will prevail because it's more important to us; for us it's a matter of life itself. What's already beginning to happen in Iran - the people will get fed up with it. They have no water at the faucets and they'll realize they don't need this adventure."

Nasrallah defiant: 'I speak - and don't hole up in a shelter'

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered a vigorous and defiant speech against Israel on the occasion of the Shi'ite holiday of Ashura, claiming that contrary to Israel's claims, he delivers his speeches openly and not in a bomb shelter.
"They laugh at me and say I threaten from a shelter. Of course I'm not in a shelter. I'm in a certain place, and the fact that I'm speaking here proves that you try to kill me day and night, and only fail," Nasrallah said, but without disclosing his location.
Nasrallah blamed Israel and said its illusions that events in Syria and Iraq would work in its favor proved false: "The Israelis are angry and worried their plot has failed; they've pinned hopes on what happened in Syria and Iraq, but all these illusions have been shattered.
"People who were outside the conflict with Israel are now part of it; Israel is afraid of any war, they understand that the war against us will have many ramifications in the region," he added.
Nasrallah also referred to Israeli attacks in Syria aimed at halting arms transfers, "I tell Israel - watch out, everything you've done so far is over; we have accurate and inaccurate missiles and other means," he said.

US Ambassador: PA terror compensation must stop

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman reiterated Thursday his country's demand that the Palestinian Authority stop paying the families of terrorists.
“The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Commission has confirmed that the family of the terrorist who murdered Ari Fuld is 'eligible to receive a monthly salary' as compensation for his incarceration,” he tweeted.
“This practice is unconscionable and must stop if there is to be any hope for peace.”
It should be noted that Fuld, who was murdered this Sunday in a stabbing attack at the entrance to the shopping center near the Gush Etzion junction, was an American citizen.
Hours after the murder, Ambassador Friedman posted an announcement saying that “America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot.”
“He represented the best of both countries & will be deeply missed. May his family be comforted & his memory be blessed.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Putin: Downing of Russian plane appears to be accident

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday afternoon that the recent loss of a reconnaissance plane shot down over Syria was the result of a “chain of tragic circumstances”, after Russia’s defense ministry slammed the Israeli Air Force, which it claimed shot down the aircraft.
“When people are dying – especially under such circumstances – it is always a tragedy,” Putin said during a Moscow press conference with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban.
When asked by a journalist during a question and answer session whether Russia viewed the downing of the Ilyushin IL-20 turboprop reconnaissance last night in the same light as the shooting down of a Russian jet fighter by Turkey in November 2015, Putin said the downing of the IL-20 appeared to be an accident.
“[It] looks like a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet.”
While Putin never directly attributed the downing of the aircraft to the Israel Air Force, ABC News reported that he backed a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry blaming Israel.
The Russian president said the incident would be thoroughly investigated, following claims by Israel that Syrian surface-to-air missiles brought down the IL-20.
A spokesman for Putin told TASS that the Russian leader would discuss the incident with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, the IDF denied claims by the Russian defense ministry that Israeli jet fighters had shot down the IL-20 during airstrikes in Syria.
According to the IDF, Syrian anti-air missiles fired after an Israeli airstrike in northern Syriastruck the Russian plane, destroying it.
The Russian Defense Ministry later blamed Israel for the downing of the IL-20, which had been carrying 15 crew members at the time.
A defense ministry spokesman said Israel had warned the Russians a minute before the strike, and 15 Russian military personnel were killed in the crash.