Holding back al-Qaeda

Israel-Syria_2554971bBY :

Jerusalem Post, 21/2

Will Israel be dragged into the Syrian conflict?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit this week to an IDF field hospital where wounded Syrians are receiving treatment served to showcase the Israeli humanitarian effort to respond to the crisis facing Syrian civilians caught up in the ongoing conflict.  Recent reports suggest that the Israeli focus on events in southern Syria goes beyond purely humanitarian concerns.

Increasing attention is being paid by Israeli planners to the buildup of extreme Sunni Islamist forces close to the border with the Golan Heights.  There are indications that Israel has already begun to implement a strategy intended to keep the jihadis from the border.

According to a report by prominent Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari published recently at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Israel  is currently moving toward ‘assuming a modest role in the Syrian civil war.’

Ya’ari notes that the extent of Israel’s humanitarian operation inside Syria suggests that  ‘a system of communications and frequent contacts have been established with the local rebel militias.’

The Israeli analyst reports  that the background to such increased engagement is the loss by the Assad regime of control of most of the border area between southern Syria and the Golan Heights.   Israeli contacts with the rebel militias in this area would serve to facilitate the latter acting as a de facto buffer against the jihadis.

This largely off-the-radar activity in the south forms part of a broader Israeli concern at the increasingly prominent role played by jihadi and Sunni Islamist elements in the Syrian rebellion.

An un-named senior IDF officer quoted in a recent article in Defense News noted that  ‘Today, rebels control most of the area of the south Golan Heights…Among rebel forces, the moderates are increasingly exhausted while the radicals have become strengthened.’

He added that ‘For the moment, they are not fighting us, but we know their ideology. … It could be that, in the coming months, we could find ourselves dragged into confrontation with them.”

IDF Military Intelligence head Aviv Kochavi, meanwhile,  in an address at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 29 estimated that around 30,000 jihadi fighters were active in Syria.  Ya’ari, meanwhile, estimated the strength of Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) as around 40,000 fighters.

These numbers are of particular interest in that they are considerably in excess of the estimates made by most analysts of Syria concerning the numbers of extreme jihadis present on the Syrian battlefield.  While accurate estimates of combatant forces on the Syrian rebel side are notoriously hard to come by,  the more usual estimate of the combined strength of al-Qaeda linked forces in Syria would be between 15-20,000.

This suggests that Israeli estimates may take a somewhat broader definition of what constitutes extreme salafi and al-Qaeda linked groups than those made by western analysts.

A third openly salafi force plays a prominent role mainly in northern Syria.  This is the Ahrar al-Sham group, thought to number around 20,000 fighters.  This group has no known links with the central leadership of al-Qaeda.  Yet it adheres to an extreme salafi ideology. One of its leading members, Abu Khaled al-Suri, recently described himself as a member  of al-Qaeda.

If it is indeed the case that Israeli analysts would include Ahrar al Sham and groups of this type under the rubric of potentially dangerous Sunni jihadi forces (and there are good reasons to do so), then this has interesting implications.

Read more at Gloria Center

Day Two Highlights from the World Summit on Counter Terrorism

48756-ConferencePJMedia, By Patrick Poole:

Some interesting and provocative discussions during Day 2 of the in Herzliya, Israel (my Day 1 overview is here). Some of the highlights from the second day of proceedings:

A report released at the conference announced an estimate that the Assad regime in Syria has 1,000 tons of chemical weapons.

Syracuse professor William Banks offered his assessment, in line with one offered the previous day, that while the Syrian regime may have violated international law with the use of chemical weapons (even though they are not a signatory to the chemical weapons convention), the remedies do not include the use of force, much as President Obama is proposing.

Qanta Ahmed warned against the virulence of Islamist ideology, claiming it was more dangerous than nuclear weapons, and stressed the importance of moderate Muslims unmasking the “wolves in sheeps’ clothing,” i.e., so-called “moderate” Islamists.

Undoubtedly the most lively discussion of the day involved Canadian columnist and author Tarek Fatah. During his speech, which you can see in the clip below, he notes that missing from much of the debate over the use of chemical weapons by Syria, and even Iran’s budding nuclear program, is that Pakistan already possesses 100+ nuclear weapons.

Fatah also added that two of the top Islamic partners in the “war on terror,” Turkey and Pakistan, are among the biggest purveyors of the jihadist ideology we are confronting globally (Saudi Arabia could also be added to that list).

Brian Jenkins of RAND Corp noted the diminishing effectiveness of strikes aimed at decapitating terrorist organizations. According to his research, a terrorist group that suffers decapitation in the first year of its existence is 8.5 times more likely to disintegrate than if the leadership continues; after 10 years existence, that rate is cut in half; by 20 years (al-Qaeda would fall in this category) the effect of a leadership decapitation strike is negligible.

Jenkins also added that it appears the West is headed towards a permanent state of war with Islamic terrorism.

King’s College professor Peter Neumann said that the number of foreign jihadist fighters traveling to Syria is higher than any other conflict previously seen, which will pose a considerable threat to Western countries down the road.

Former FBI and Treasury official Matt Levitt talked about his new book on the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. He noted that many Hezbollah plots have a U.S. nexus.

Levitt also predicted that regardless of who comes out on top in Syria (Hezbollah is actively fighting on behalf of the Iranian-backed Assad regime), Hezbollah will come out the loser. Gone is their status as “freedom fighters” now that they are waging widespread warfare outside of their own country, severely damaging their credibility.

Thomas Hegghammer from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment reported that there are 4,000-5,000 foreign fighters now operating in Syria. He also added that despite much of the jihadist activity around the world, the threats to Western countries — including the U.S. — are still primarily coming out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy offered the most provocative thesis of the day, saying that “there has to be a revolution in law and jurisprudence” when it comes to terrorism. In the clip below, he says that rather than having government continuing to run to the courts to see what judges will allow, the process needs to be reversed, with governments telling judges and courts what results are needed and leaving it to the courts to find a way to get there:

I will be traveling to the Syrian border by the Golan Heights tomorrow, missing the last day of the conference. But I’ll be providing a report following that trip.

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Kerry’s folly, Israel’s peril

-252791648by Frank Gaffney:

In one of Team Obama’s trademark Friday afternoon specials, Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that his six rounds of shuttle diplomacy had resulted in an agreement to reconvene Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  As usual, the timing was appropriate for an initiative designed to garner favorable headlines, but that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

It appears that Kerry has bought this “breakthrough” by bullying Israel into making further concessions to its Palestinian enemies, even before the talks begin.  In exchange for nothing more than the Palestinians’ agreement-in-principle to resume them, the Israelis will release some number of additional convicted terrorists.  Never mind that the ones left in Israeli jails after numerous previous releases are, by and large, those who have most successfully and murderously attacked innocent civilians in the Jewish State.

If the Israelis once again pay this price, they must expect the same results as before: More hardened criminals unleashed to wage jihad against Israel – and against any Palestinians that might actually wish to make peace with her.

The rapturous public welcome routinely accorded these terrorists makes clear that it is such war-mongers, not the peace-makers, who are blessed in the radicalized West Bank.  That is even more true in Gaza, where few defy the despotic and virulently anti-Israel dictates of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian franchise: the designated terrorist organization, Hamas.

For that reason, among many others, notwithstanding Kerry’s ego-driven pursuit of negotiations, his purported “breakthrough” cannot produce real progress towards a genuine peace.  And inevitably, pressure will begin to mount all over again for further Israeli concessions.

This pattern was evident in the immediate aftermath of the latest Friday afternoon special.  Unidentified Palestinian officials promptly put out the word that Secretary Kerry had, as The Blaze reported, given “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a letter guaranteeing that new peace negotiations with Israel will be based on pre-1967 borders.”

Israeli officials, including prominent politicians in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, have responded sharply.  They deny any agreement to use as the basis for these talks a return to the indefensible territorial boundaries that have aptly been called “Auschwitz borders.”  So, the new negotiations may founder before they begin.

But let’s engage in a thought-experiment.  Just for the purpose of discussion, consider what would happen if Israel did agree to surrender territory on the West Bank and Golan Heights that provides a modicum of strategic depth to the otherwise incredibly vulnerable Jewish State?

One need look no further than the emerging correlation of forces arrayed against Israel.  The unmistakable reality is that it is facing the prospect for the first time in a generation of actual or prospective enemies on every side, including potentially devastating attacks from the sea.

Read more at Center For Security Policy

Obama Trip Map Cuts Jerusalem, the Golan Heights Out of Israel

obamasisrael-275x350Front Page - By Daniel Greenfield:

Diplomacy. This administration is bad at it. Sure you could write this off as a graphic designer’s error, but it’s an error that hews closely to  the geography of an anti-Israel policy.

I wouldn’t expect Obama Inc. to include Judea and Samaria inside Israel. But cutting out Jerusalem and the Golan Heights would seem to be a bit much.

Obama Inc’s bids to get Israel to give up the Golan Heights stalled when Assad became an international war criminal and the odds of the new Muslim Brotherhood/Al Qaeda overlords making a deal with Israel for the Golan Heights seems wildly unlikely, even by the insane peace madness standards of the last twenty years.

But for some reason Obama Inc. is standing on principle. As for Jerusalem, cutting off all of it suggests what? A revival of the old international city plan?

And apparently Obama expects Israel to hand over territory within its 1948 borders to a Palestinian state on top of that?

The map of the Middle East displayed in an Obama administration video released days before President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel shows the Jewish state dispossessed of substantial parts of its current territory, including its capital.

The map of Israel, displayed repeatedly during the video, shows the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, northern Israel, and areas surrounding what is currently the West Bank as non-Israeli territory. The Golan Heights is shown as part of Syria; Jerusalem is shown as part of the West Bank; and northern Israel is shown as part of Lebanon.

The itinerary on the White House website also implies that Jerusalem is neither Israel’s capital nor even part of Israel.

The president’s schedule lists two stops in “Tel Aviv, Israel” and one in “Amman, Jordan” but his activities in Israel’s capital city are identified as taking place only in “Jerusalem” — with no country name attached. This keeps with a reluctantly-acknowledged administration policy of denying that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital or even a part of Israel.

Jerusalem? What, where is that.

 

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An Israeli Soldier’s song to the world for Passover:

 

 

Israel Closely Monitoring Jihadis Moving into the Golan

810_largeby Paul Alster
Special to IPT News
March 19, 2013:

Haifa, Israel – If jihadi groups fighting to topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad succeed, “[i]t’s us afterwards,” warned Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. General Benny Gantz during a conference last week. “We could be the next challenge for the same organizations.”

The Golan Heights, the border between Syria and Israel, has become increasingly unstable as the Assad regime loses its grip on power and radical Islamist and al-Qaida-inspired elements of the Free Syrian Army – reportedly backed directly or indirectly by the likes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia – move into the void.

The situation in Syria is “liquid, unstable and dangerous,” Gantz said in remarks at the 13th Herzilya Conference on Israeli security. If Assad falls, Syria’s massive arsenal of weapons could fall into the wrong hands. Those jihadi groups would feel tempted to target Israel. As if to reinforce Gantz’s point, Reuters reported last Thursday that 1,000 insurgents have moved into Khan Sheikh, just 15 miles from the Golan, after killing 30 soldiers in a battle for a Syrian government missile squadron south of Damascus.

“The terror organizations are gaining footholds in the territory,” Gantz said.

Youtube video shows al-Qaida reconnaissance video of Israeli troops on Golan border

That threat adds to the already tense situation in Israel’s north, where Hizballah poses a constant threat. “[The North] could explode at any moment,” Gantz said. “We are prepared and we will know to act with the required force directly against Hezbollah and its state surroundings.”

In a widely reported comment, Gantz added, “Lebanon, as the neighboring state, can’t be sovereign but not responsible. If this goes off, I’d rather be an Israeli civilian, and not a Lebanese civilian.”

The recent abduction of 21 Filipino UN peacekeeping forces on the Golan border by a group associated with the Free Syrian Army highlights the escalating tensions on Syria’s southern border. Although the men were released unharmed, Croatia announced last week that it would withdraw its 100 men from the UN mission “very soon.” So far in 2013 Canada and Japan have pulled out, leaving just Austria, the Philippines, and India providing peacekeeping troops on the border; only the Indian mission appears fully committed to staying.

Fears that the UN may withdraw its entire mission, leaving unfettered freedom of movement for terror groups on Israel’s border, were hardly allayed at a recent press conference given by Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon.

Read more

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at www.paulalster.com and can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster

 

 

Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security

BY:

Iran’s intelligence service includes 30,000 people who are engaged in covert and clandestine activities that range from spying to stealing technology to terrorist bombings and assassination, according to a Pentagon report.

The report concluded that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, known as MOIS, is “one of the largest and most dynamic intelligence agencies in the Middle East.”

The ministry actively supports Iran’s radical Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that has been involved in terrorist bombings from Argentina to Lebanon, according to the report produced by the Pentagon’s Irregular Warfare Support Program and published last month by the Library of Congress Federal Research Division.

The Washington Free Beacon obtained a copy of the 64-page unclassified report.

“MOIS provides financial, material, technological, or other support services to Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), all designated terrorist organizations under U.S. Executive Order 13224,” the report said.

The spy service operates in all areas where Iran has interests, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Central Asia, Africa, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, France, Georgia, Germany, Turkey, Britain, and the Americas, including the United States.

Iranian activities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela have raised alarm among U.S. government officials.

The effort appears part of “Iran’s strategy of establishing a presence in the backyard of the United States for purposes of expanding Shi’a and revolutionary ideology, establishing networks for intelligence and covert operations, and waging asymmetrical warfare against the United States,” the report said.

“In Latin America, Iran’s intelligence agencies—MOIS but mostly the Quds Force—use Hezbollah to achieve their goals.”

Israel also is a major target of the MOIS and support for Hezbollah in Lebanon is a major Tehran intelligence objective.

The ministry is under the direct control of Iran’s theocratic dictator, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and all its ministers must become Islamic clerics as a precondition for the post. However, the agency recruits foreigners, including British nationals and Israeli Jews.

“To advance its goals, MOIS recruits individuals regardless of their beliefs, including Arabs or Jews to spy in Israel,” the report said.

One MOIS deputy minister, Saeed Emami, was appointed to a key post despite being Jewish by birth.

According to the report, Iranian intelligence is expanding operations in the Middle East and Mediterranean by setting up electronic eavesdropping stations.

“Two Iranian-Syrian [signals intelligence] stations funded by the IRGC reportedly have been active since 2006, one in the al-Jazirah region in northern Syria and the other on the Golan Heights,” the report said, noting that additional stations were planned for northern Syria.

“The technology at the two established SIGNIT stations indicates that Iran’s capabilities are still limited, with little scope for high-level strategic intelligence gathering,” the report said, noting they “appear to concentrate on supplying information to Lebanese Hezbollah,” Iran’s main proxy for terrorism and intelligence-gathering in the region.

Iran also has formed a “cyber command” to conduct both offensive and defensive cyber warfare operations following the June 2010 Stuxnet virus that crippled Iran’s uranium-enrichment infrastructure.

“The success of this virus is an indication of the weakness of Iran’s cyber development,” the report said.

The spy agency was linked to a series of assassinations in the 1990s called the “Chain Murders” that exposed it to western criticism.

According to the report, Russia was active in training Iranian intelligence operations beginning in the 1990s.

The Russian SVR spy service, the successor to the Soviet KGB, trained hundreds of MOIS operatives despite the two agencies’ different doctrines.

The cooperation was based on both nations’ goal of limiting U.S. political influence in Central Asia and efforts to stifle ethnic unrest.

“The SVR trained not only hundreds of Iranian agents but also numerous Russian agents inside Iran to equip Iranian intelligence with signals equipment in their headquarters compound,” the report said.

Iran’s intelligence is also cooperating with al Qaeda despite the Sunni-Shiite differences in religious ideology.

“Cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda is based on their shared opposition to U.S. hegemony in the region—Iraq and Afghanistan, chiefly—and dates to the 1990s,” the report said.

Iran helped a number of al Qaeda terrorists travel safely from Afghanistan to Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“The fact that al Qaeda operates in many countries helps Iran achieve its goal of diverting U.S. attention away from Iran’s immediate neighborhood,” the report said. “In return, al Qaeda uses Iran as a place where its facilitators connect al Qaeda’s senior leadership with regional affiliates.”

“Iranians engage in two types of terrorist attacks,” the report said. “One type includes sabotage, espionage, and bombing of target locations, while the other involves the assassination of dissidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both are perpetrated inside and outside of Iran.”

Read more at Free Beacon

Mixed Signals on Jihadist Role in Syria

Free Syrian Army

IPT Blog:

As reports mount that jihadists are playing a larger role in the fighting in Syria, Israeli security forces are preparing for the possibility of cross-border terrorist attacks.

Israeli Defense Ministry officials say terror groups are flocking to Syria from Iraq and other countries. While their main objective is toppling dictator Bashar al-Assad, there is concern that terrorists may target Israelis living in the Golan Heights.

The military’s working assumption is that a terrorist attack from the Syrian border can occur without the prior intelligence, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brig. Gen. Tamir Hyman said Thursday.

“Terror organizations may seek to exploit a situation of instability and lack of governability that may develop on the Syrian side of the border,” Hyman said at a briefing for reporters on the Golan.

But a number of recent media accounts suggest that Syrians fighting Assad are determined to prevent their revolution from being hijacked by jihadists.

A report in The New Republic this week describes the case of Walid al-Boustani, head of an “Islamic Emirate of Homs” which lasted only a few weeks. The locals did not appreciate an “Emir” who murdered and kidnapped their friends. So, in March a local Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade executed Boustani, a native of Lebanon.

Many Syrians suspect that jihadists like Boustani are agents of the Assad regime or that their organizations have been infiltrated by Baathist spies.

The author of the New Republic piece, Arab social media analyst Tyler Golson, writes that many in the FSA want nothing to do with jihadists. For these revolutionaries, the critical question is whether Washington is regarded as a serious player in arming the Syrian resistance.

Right now, independent Salafi sheikhs have indicated a willingness to support militant groups outside the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army.

“If a unified jihadist opposition did manage to challenge the Free Syrian Army’s primacy in the coming months, it could be an ominous indicator of where Syria’s opposition is heading,” Golson writes. “We could see the Free Syrian Army’s central leadership begin to placate the Islamists by adopting Islamist rhetoric or institutions such as a sharia council, or Saudi Arabia starting to hedge its support for the FSA by taking meetings with upstart Islamist ‘emirs.’ Either way, it would mean that the jihad is very much on in Syria.”

Read the full article here.