Thursday, September 19, 2019

Soleimani in Baghdad confers with Shiite proxies on strikes against US forces in Iraq, also Israel

Exclusive: Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani arrived in Baghdad on Monday, Sept. 16, two days after Iran’s cruise-missile drone attack on Saudi oil, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. Accompanied by his operational staff, the IRGC general was quickly closeted with three heads of pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias and former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Our sources reveal their two subjects of discussion:
  1. The Iraqi militias’ response in the event of a US and/or Saudi assault on Iran in retaliation for its attacks on major Saudi oil facilities on Saturday.
  2. The military action the Iraqi militias would take against Israel as payback for its constant air and missile strikes against Iran’s bases in Syria and Iraq.
Our sources name the militia leaders in talks with Soleimani as Hadi al-Amiri, former chief of the Badr Brigades, Falah al-Fayyad, supreme commander of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and his deputy Abu Mahdi Muhandis. Al Maliki, a highly influential figure in Iraq’s Shiite south, warned Israel in late August that of “a strong response” if it continued to attack Iranian targets.
 
Soleimani’s consultations in Baghdad continue at present. They run parallel to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s talks in Jeddah with Saudi royal leaders on how to respond to the crippling attacks on their oil infrastructure.

Gaza concerned over result of Israeli election

Muhammad al-Hindi, a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, on Wednesday expressed concern over the outcome of the elections in Israel.
 
A prime minister could be elected who would resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and lead to war in the Gaza Strip, he warned.
 
"We are closely monitoring any development in the [election] results in Israel," al-Hindi added.
 
He claimed that the "Palestinian resistance organizations in the Gaza Strip are constantly improving their military capabilities based on lessons learned from the clashes with Israel."
"The Palestinian resistance organizations are able to produce weapons despite the siege on the Gaza Strip and they have the ability to prevent Israel from achieving its objectives. We trust the Palestinians worldwide to fight Israel," said al-Hindi in an interview.

'Iran leader conditioned attack approval on deniability'

A U.S. official claimed to CBS News that the recent strike on Saudi oil facilities was approved by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on condition of deniability of Iranian involvement.
 
Saudi Arabia Wednesday displayed wreckage of what it said were Iranian cruise missiles and drones. The circuit boards can be reverse engineered to determine the exact route the weapons flew. But U.S. officials said the most damning evidence is still unreleased satellite photos showing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard preparing for the attack at Ahvaz Air Base in southwestern Iran.
 
From there, the weapons flew through Kuwaiti airspace some 400 miles to their targets in Saudi Arabia.
 
The weekend strikes on the world's largest processing plant knocked out 5.7 million barrels per day, or six percent of global production, sending prices soaring.
 
Saudi Arabia announced it had restored 50 percent of lost oil production as of Tuesday evening.
 
U.S. Defense Secretary Mike Esper said on Monday that the US military is preparing a response to the attack on major Saudi Arabia oil facilities.
 
President Trump announced Wednesday that he had ordered a “substantial increase” in sanctions on Iran.

Zarif hints military strike on Iran may lead to 'all-out war'

In an interview with CNN, Iran's Foreign Minister spoke of "all-out war" in the event of US or Saudi military strikes and that Saudi Arabia would have to fight "to the last American soldier."
 
Javad Zarif told CNN that Iran hoped to avoid conflict, adding the country was willing to talk to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the possibility of a return to negotiations with the US, however, would not happen unless Washington provided full sanctions relief as promised under the 2015 nuclear deal.
 
He repeated his denial of Iranian involvement in the attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities. Zarif said Yemen's Iranian Houthi proxy, who claimed responsibility for the attack, have enhanced their military capabilities and are can conduct a sophisticated operation such as the one that shut down half of the country's energy production.
 
Zarif would not provide proof that Houthis launched the drones and missiles.

"I cannot have any confidence that they did it because we just heard their statement," said Zarif. "I know that we didn't do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it."
U.S. and Saudi officials have repeatedly dismissed Houthi claims of responsibility in the weekend attacks. Instead, they have highlighted Iran's alleged involvement in the incident.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Netanyahu allies said set to back him for PM, if he vows not to exclude them

The leaders of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties on Wednesday were reportedly set to declare they would act as a unified bloc in the upcoming coalition negotiations and recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as the next premier. In exchange, they would demand the Likud leader commit to not forming a coalition without them.
An official from one of the right-wing parties said that such a united bloc would increase the right’s chances of forming the next government, the Walla news site reported.
Calling for meetings with Netanyahu were Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett of the New Right, Bezalel Smotrich of National Union and Rafi Peretz of Jewish Home.
With results signaling political deadlock, Netanyahu was expected to hold separate meetings with each faction. The party leaders were expected to ask the prime minister to commit to not forming a government without them, and in exchange, they would vow to recommend only him for the next prime minister. Some of the parties held preliminary talks to coordinate their positions, the report said.
With most votes counted, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White and the left-wing bloc had edged ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud and the right-wing bloc. As it stands, neither party can realistically form a coalition government without each other or  Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, who as kingmaker has vowed he will force a unity government of Likud and Blue and White. (Read More)

Iran warns US of response to any action over attack on Saudi Arabia

Iran’s president and foreign minister also may skip next week’s high-level meetings at the United Nations as the US has yet to issue them visas, IRNA reported.
The UN meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump amid a summer of heightened tensions and attacks in the wake of America’s unilateral withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.
However, the recent attack in Saudi Arabia and hardening comments from Iran suggest such talks are increasingly unlikely.
Iran sent a note through Swiss diplomats in Tehran on Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies being involved in the Saudi attack, IRNA reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Tehran for decades.
“If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran’s answer immediately,” IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran’s response wouldn’t be limited to the source of the threat, without elaborating. READ MORE

Reiterating call for unity, kingmaker Liberman sets out list of secular demands

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday morning strongly reiterated his insistence on a unity government comprising his party, Blue and White, and Likud, but said he wouldn’t start coalition negotiations with any party unless it accepts his list of demands for secularist policy changes.
Liberman, who according to TV exit polls as well as the preliminary vote count could be the kingmaker since no bloc has a majority without him, appeared outside his home in the settlement of Nokdim, offering reporters a promise that he would not allow a third round of elections and would not waste time haggling.
The unofficial results, counting some 90 percent of the votes, showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will not be able to form a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties without Yisrael Beytenu, which according to Channel 12 has won nine seats in the 120-member Knesset. Throughout its campaign, the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party has said it would refuse to serve in a government with the ultra-Orthodox and has also heavily criticized far-right politicians as “messianists.”
Netanyahu’s chief rival Blue and White and other parties on the center and left are also seen as unable to form a coalition without the support of Liberman. READ MORE

Liberman: 'There's only one option - a unity government'

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman MK Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday morning reiterated his promise to push for a unity government, criticizing Blue and White Chairman MK Benny Gantz's post-elections speech.
 
"The clear conclusion is that everything we said is happening. There is an option to establish a wide, liberal unity government and we say that we will not join any other option," he said.
 
"We will not sit with the Joint Arab List, and therefore everyone needs to understand that it's a shame to waste time and use pressure. We need to quickly get into the only possible lane. No one has 61 to recommend him, and if there aren't 61 recommendations the Knesset will dissolve. Anyone who thinks that there's an option to hold new elections is making a mistake."
 
Liberman also emphasized that the Yisrael Beytenu party will not sit in a narrow government with the haredi parties, just as it will not sit with the Joint Arab List.
 
"I was disappointed with Benny Gantz's speech," Liberman added. "I didn't hear anything clear. We will not discuss any option to form a government without a clear commitment ahead of time that the haredi yeshiva students will be drafted and that the law will pass with every period and comma it had when it passed its first reading."
 
"Another basic condition for us entering the government is that the core curriculum be taught in the haredi education system. We will make any support in the government dependent on teaching the core curriculum. We will not give in on our demand to cancel the Supermarket Law and run public transportation on Shabbat (Sabbath).
 
"These are our conditions and until we hear things clearly we will not speak with Gantz or [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu. Our reliability is important and we do not intend to back down even a tiny bit from our commitments to our voters. I will not waste time on empty conversations. There will be no negotiations and whatever we do will be completely open and transparent. There will be no negotiations under the table."

Iran: Attack on Saudi oil facilities was 'a warning'

A recent attack by Iranian-backed forces in Yemen on a Saudi oil facility should be viewed as a “warning” to Saudi Arabia to halt its campaign against pro-Tehran Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday.
 
President Rouhani denied that Iran was behind the attack, adding that Iran was not interested in a regional conflict.
 
“We don’t want conflict in the region,” said Rouhani. “Who started the conflict?”
 
The Iranian leader blamed the US, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and the Saudi government for rising tensions in the Middle East.
 
Despite Rouhani’s denial, the Saudi ambassador to the UK said Wednesday that Iran was ‘almost certainly’ behind the weekend attacks on Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
“Almost certainly it’s Iranian-backed,” Prince Khalid bin Bander bin Sultan Al Saud told the BBC. “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
 
“We’re investigating the issue. We’re working with our partners in the United States, the UN, the UK, and anyone else who wants to get involved, to help us resolve what happened, figure out what happened, where they came from, the attack.”
 
Saudi Arabia promised Wednesday to release evidence linking Iran to the attack.
The US has also accused Iran for the attack, and now believes that the assault was launched from southwestern Iran.
 
Houthi rebels in Yemen had previously claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran is widely believed to be backing the Houthi forces, though Tehran has denied this. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in support of the Yemeni government against the Houthis.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Saudi oil attack drones launched in Iran - US officials

A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence

The suspected missile attack is the most significant strike on Gulf energy targets in decades, and consequences need to be levied on Iran, whether in the military or diplomatic spheres.
The September 14 attack on Saudi targets in Abqaiq and Khurais—one of the world’s largest oil refinery complexes and the kingdom’s third-largest oil field, respectively—could take up to 5.7 million barrels per day off the global market for the next several months. This makes it the most comprehensive blow against the global energy sector since Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent destruction of both countries’ energy infrastructures. Now, as then, U.S. and international commitment to the security of global energy supplies is being tested.

ANATOMY OF THE ATTACK

The strike was highly effective from a military perspective. The weapons hit at around 4 a.m. local time and appear to have struck from a northerly or northwesterly direction. This fits with a string of reporting that suggests related air defense alerts and engine sounds were concentrated in areas of the northern Persian Gulf, as opposed to an ingress route from Yemen. Strong U.S. government statements have ruled out Yemen (on September 14) and Iraq (on September 16), so the focus is narrowing to a direct strike originating from Iran.
These factors—plus the lack of attempted air defense interception by numerous overlapping Hawk and Patriot missile batteries—suggest a low-level cruise missile attack that hugged the ground at altitudes of under 300 feet. The footage seen thus far shows only one crashed missile, indicating that the arrival rate was very high, possibly even 95 percent, and that routes were carefully planned to avoid obstacles such as power lines and communication towers.
Seventeen individual impact points were struck at the Abqaiq facility, with a smaller number (perhaps as low as two) at Khurais. The weapons were highly accurate—for instance, all twelve of the thirty-meter-wide spheroid gas-oil separation tanks at Abqaiq were hit almost dead center. Much thinner stabilization towers were also accurately struck.
There are even indications of finesse in the strike’s “weaponeering,” the technical term for munition selection and modification. Some “aimpoints” were clearly hit with large explosive payloads consistent with an Iranian cruise missile such as the 700-kilometer-range Ya-Ali. Yet the gas-oil separation tanks appear to have been struck with high-velocity kinetic force sans explosions, perhaps signaling an effort to damage but not permanently destroy them. Similar finesse was visible in Iran’s May 12 attacks in the Fujairah anchorage off the United Arab Emirates, where four ships had their hulls expertly holed without causing the vessels to spill oil, sink, or suffer massive fires.
The full level of damage inflicted this Saturday is unknown so far, but considering the range of facilities struck and the long lead times for manufacturing such specialized equipment, the impact on Saudi oil processing capacity could extend into the four-, six-, or even twelve-month timeframe, forcing the kingdom to discontinue offering Arab Light and Arab Super Light grades. This extraordinary outcome would deeply shock oil markets and the Saudi leadership alike. And from a military perspective, no energy sector has been struck so effectively since the U.S. coalition’s precision bombing of Iraq in 1991.

SURMISING IRAN’S GOALS (Read more)

Exclusive: Iran shot missiles from Khuzestan, drones from W. Iraq at Saudi oil facilities

The Iranian attack on major Saudi oil infrastructure came from two locations, hence the confusion: DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that Summer cruise missiles were fired from Khuzestan in southern Iran and Avail 2 armed drones
drones from Anbar in western Iraq. This was the conclusion reached by US and Saudi intelligence probes into Saturday’s devastating attack on the big Saudi oil refinery at Abqaiq and its Kurais oil field.

Our sources add that the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which staged the attack, fired altogether 17 missiles and drones, of which 12 missiles achieved direct hits on their targets and five drones missed.

Khuzestan, the source of the missiles, is Iran’s main oil heartland, while the drones came from a location some 200km from the big American Ayn al-Asad air base in Anbar province. A strip of desert was cleared by the pro-Iranian PMU Shiite militia ready for the operation, under the orders of Iran’s Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
 
Last Christmas, President Donald Trump visited the air base, on his only visit to Iraq as president, and praised the advanced military equipment installed there as affording the US contingents full control of the region.
 
The Israeli government and military are becoming jittery over the delay in any Saudi or US response for the Iranian attack, which has already impacted the global energy market, fearing that if Tehran can get away with a major assault on one American ally, it may be encouraged to go for another one.
Israeli sources gave no credence to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani’s assertion on Monday that the attack on Saudi oil facilities was a reciprocal Houthi operation for the kingdom’s attacks in Yemen, judging it to be another attempt to distance Tehran from responsibility and pretend it had nothing to do with the United States.  
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu too issued a statement on Monday, saying that Israel is prepared for the possibility of being drawn into any US-Iranian confrontation over a strike on a Saudi oil plant. “I am taking care of our security on a 360-degree basis, and I can tell you that we are well-prepared” for any Iranian provocation. Netanyahu spoke 24 hours before Israel’s national ballot in which he is running for re-election.

IDF troops in Afghanistan? What a US-Israel mutual defense treaty could mean

The final pre-election promise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic blitz, which included vows to annex the Jordan Valley area and all West Bank settlements and wage a decisive war against Hamas, was to start negotiating a US-Israel defense treaty.
Many observers viewed this Netanyahu pledge as just another way for him to flaunt his close personal ties with US President Donald Trump, and dismissed the idea of a mutual defense pact as old, unrealistic, and — worst of all — detrimental to Israeli security interests.
Given the already robust US-Israel defense cooperation, formalizing it in a mutual defense treaty would bring little to no additional benefit, say many experts, including former top diplomats and defense officials. Instead, these critics warn, it may hamper Israel’s freedom to act militarily and would likely include an obligation to send troops on overseas missions to fight America’s wars.
“This is a serious issue deserving deep discussion, and not a quick shot from the hip on the eve of an election, with the Israeli public unaware of its profound implications,” said Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence.
As with Netanyahu’s other major policy announcements, which were made hastily and deliberately kept vague, the devil is in the details. Whether a “Mutual Defense Treaty,” as Trump termed the ostensible future deal in a tweet Saturday, would be good for the Jewish state depends, of course, on the fine print. READ MORE

Bennett: Ground should shake over peace plan

Yamina candiate Naftali Bennett expressed concern following Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz'd statement that less than 10% of Judea and Samaria would remain in Israel's hands.
"Minister Katz is right," Bennett told Arutz Sheva. "He spoke of between eight and eleven percent of the territories remaining in Israel. That is to say, between 89 and 92 percent of the US territories will be in Palestinian sovereignty and will move from the status of Area C to Area A and B . The ground should shake. People don't understand what tomorrow's elections are."
 
"The plan is clear. The map I presented may need a little correction here or there, it is an enclave plan. It will turn Beit El, Ariel, Ofra, and Elon Moreh over to others. Not one Jew will be forcibly removed. That is what the prime minister said and I believe him. It would make matters even worse, leaving Jewish communities as isolated islands with several Israeli yards around them and then an ocean of Palestinian sovereignty. It's a terrible thing," he said.
 
"I urge Minister Katz and the Prime Minister to deny this and will say that they will not leave the communities as individual islands within a Palestinian settlement. Until this moment, they are unwilling to say it in their voices - because that is the truth. That's what the elections will be about tomorrow.
 
"After all, what happened in the past? What happened when Ayelet and I got into the ring? For the first time he could say to Obama: I want to, but Bennett won't let me down and he will overthrow the government. But if we become four or five seats we will not have such power. The Likud has weakened, their spirit has weakened, and we must stand strong.
Bennett said the American response to his map is of even greater concern. "The Americans were very clear and said the map was inaccurate. I agree, I built the map on the basis of all the information I was able to store from all the American, Israeli and settlement sources I have. From the feedback I have received since I published the map - the reality is worse."
"Where is the great difficulty and why is there a clear and immediate danger to the people of Samaria, Binyamin, Gush Etzion and South Mount Hevron? Because Trump is a friend and it's much easier to resist who he is not a friend. He has helped us over time and gives us the Jordan Valley Everybody has to wonder why Netanyahu just showed us what we get and not what we give? Maybe we are just a moment before the abandonment of the communities and the lives of the residents are about to become a living hell? Nobody will be deported or come with bulldozers, but we will do something like what Yossi Beilin talked about: leave the settlers there and they will have to manage on their own. Do you want to travel to Kedumim, Karni Samaria, Mount Bracha or Itamar in the middle of Palestine on a narrow, thin road that will itself be Israel but around it will be Palestine? That is what we are talking about here.
 
"I call first and foremost for the residents of Judea and Samaria and the heads of the local councils: Your home is in danger. We won't evacuate you, but we will abandon you and leave you on or own. Don't say you didn't know. We need Netanyahu to be prime minister but next to him we will be the only people in the country who can stop him from giving the country away in the face of international pressure:" Bennett concluded.

'Israel's attacks increase tension'

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met on Monday in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
Rouhani blasted Israel, saying that "recently the Zionist enemy has doubled its attacks in Syria, and has even extended them to Lebanon and Iraq. The nations of the region have the right to defend themselves against these attacks, and therefore the enemy must bear responsibility."
 
There have been several attacks against Iranian-affiliated Iraqi militias in recent weeks that have been attributed to Israel.
 
While Israel has not commented on the attacks, in late August, two senior American officials told The New York Times that Israel had carried out several air strikes on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.
 
In his comments on Monday, Rouhani also attacked the US presence in Syria, claimed it was illegal and urged the US to leave the country.
 
The Iranian, Russian and Turkish presidents will discuss solutions to the crisis in Syria, focusing on the Idlib region, one of the final strongholds of the rebels in the country.

Iran seizes boat near Strait of Hormuz

Iran has seized a boat suspected of being used to smuggle fuel and arrested its 11 crew members near a vital oil shipping lane, AFP reported on Monday, citing state television.
A naval patrol of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intercepted the vessel carrying 250,000 liters of fuel near the Strait of Hormuz, state TV’s website said, citing a commander of the force.
 
“This boat was sailing from Bandar Lengeh towards United Arab Emirates waters before it was seized 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Greater Tunb island,” Brigadier General Ali Ozmayi was quoted as saying.
 
“The boat’s 11 crew members have been arrested,” he added, without saying when the incident happened or giving their nationality.
 
The incident marks the second time this month that Iran has seized a boat in the Gulf. On September 7, a boat suspected of smuggling fuel was detained and its 12 Filipino crew members arrested in the Strait of Hormuz.
 
In July, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker after it passed through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.
While the incident took place after the UK and Gibraltar seized the Iran-flagged tanker Grace 1 in early July on the grounds that it was attempting to transport oil to Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the move was an act of revenge for the capture of the Iranian tanker.
 
Monday’s announcement about the latest incident comes with tensions brewing in the Gulf after weekend drone attacks on two major Saudi oil installations that the United States has blamed on Iran.
 
Going back even further, the Islamic Republic has threatened more than once to close the Strait of Hormuz, with the United States warning Iran in response that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a "red line" -- grounds for US military action.
 
In the last few years there have been several close encounters between Iranian and American vessels in the area.