The Waiting Period

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty

By Jonathan Spyer, The Australian,  

It is spring in Israel. On the face of it, all appears normal. Yet underlying the everyday is the hint of tension. The low buzz that presages violent events. We know it well in Israel and it has been all around for weeks.

Two nights ago, there was an eruption. The special forces unit (Quds) of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps launched 20 missiles at northern Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome shot down four of them. The others landed in Syria. Israel’s Air Force launched a counter attack. Iranian storage facilities and logistics sites in Syria were targeted along with five Syrian air defence systems.

As the smoke cleared, an uneasy calm returned. Probably not for long.

A series of milestones is approaching in coming weeks, any of which could precipitate further strife. The extended period in which Israel managed to keep itself largely one step removed from the chaos of the Middle East seems to be drawing to a close.

Donald Trump announced this week he will withdraw the US from the nuclear deal with Iran. The stage is set for a return to open confrontation between the US and Iran.

The US has commitments in the region (in Iraq and eastern Syria, in particular) which would be vulnerable to violent pushback by Iran through its proxies.

Israel’s ongoing efforts to roll back Iranian gains in Syria will constitute an element of this larger contest. This, in turn, will increase the chance of confrontation between Israel and Iran.

As Israeli Housing Minister (and former general) Yoav Gallant told Bloomberg News this week, “It’s clear that friction between Iran and the U.S. can lead to a situation in which Iran decides to deploy Hezbollah against Israel … That’s their tool.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week expressed Israel’s readiness for such a confrontation, if it comes. ‘“We don’t want an escalation, but we are prepared for every scenario. We don’t want confrontation, but if there needs to be one, it is better now than later,” the Prime Minister told reports following a meeting of Israel’s Cabinet.

With the situation regarding Iran at such a point of tension, other events which would normally command centre stage are being relegated to a secondary role. Nevertheless, the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14 is set to cause an uptick in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The opening will be followed on May 15 by the culmination of Hamas’s six-week “March of Return” campaign in the Gaza Strip. This series of marches to the border fence is intended to revive the fortunes of Hamas, whose Gaza domain is isolated and cash strapped. May 15 is also the anniversary of the State of Israel’s declaration of independence (though strictly speaking the declaration took place on the 14) and is remembered by Palestinians as the date of their Nakba (catastrophe).

It is possible there will be attempts to break through the border fence. Israeli communities are located as little as one kilometre from the fence, so the situation will be tense.

It is worth remembering that Gaza is not hermetically sealed off from the stand-off with Iran in the north. Teheran possesses its clients among the Palestinians, who may be directed to escalate the situation. The small Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation is a wholly owned franchise of Iran. Hamas’s relations with Teheran are more complex and the movement sought in recent years to distance itself from the Iranian regime. Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar has worked to patch up relations over the last year abd in August Sinwar declared that Iran was once again the largest backer of Hamas.

But it the northern tier of Syria and Lebanon that remains by far the gravest concern for Israel. It is here the ambitions and agendas of Iran appear most directly set on a course of potential collision with the Jewish state.

Iranian assistance has been vital to the cause of Bashar al Assad since the the uprising against him in early 2011. The Syrian president, whose regime rests on a narrow platform of sectarian support, was beset from the beginning by a problem of insufficient loyal manpower. It is the Iranians, not the Russians, who addressed this vital issue throughout the war.

However, Iran, in its usual fashion, did not elect to strengthen the existing, regime-controlled Syrian Arab Army. Rather, in accordance with similar methods pursued in Iraq and Lebanon, Iran has preferred to create its own, Revolutionary Guards-controlled structures in Syria. These defend the Assad regime, to be sure, but they are not under its sole control. Thus, Iran organised and created the National Defence Forces, consisting of Syrian volunteers, mainly from non-Sunni communities and now numbering 50,000 to 60,000 fighters.

Iran also mobilised its proxies throughout the region and brought them to Syria to plug the manpower gap. Thus, there are today about 6000 Lebanese Hizballah fighters on Syrian soil, along with perhaps 3000 Revolutionary Guards personnel and an additional 10,000 to 15,000 members of other Iran-supported Shia militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As the rebellion against Assad has continued to lose ground, so the construction of Iranian infrastructure in Syria has continued. The examples of Hizballah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilisation Units in Iraq indicate that Iran’s version of assistance is not dismantled when the threat has subsided.

Israel is concerned that this infrastructure, with its contiguous land link to Iraq and thence to Iran itself, is intended primarily for use as a tool of pressure and violence against the Jewish state. Iran is openly and noisily in favour of the destruction of Israel. It wishes to achieve this goal through a long-war strategy of attrition and harassment. Entrenchment in Syria would significantly increase the Iranian ability to pursue this strategy.

While the local and regional militias pose a challenge, the main worry in Jerusalem is the hardware that Iran is seeking to import and base in Syria. Consolidation of this infrastructure – UAV bases, surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft batteries – appears to be what Israel is most determined to prevent.

On April 9, Israeli aircraft struck at a drone facility maintained by the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace force at the T4 base near Palmyra. Fourteen people were killed, among them seven Iranians, including a Revolutionary Guards colonel, Mehdi Deghdan Yazdeli.

On April 30, Israeli aircraft carried out a larger scale raid on two points – the 47 Brigade base south west of Hama, and the Nayrab military airbase close to Aleppo. The New York Times reported that the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians, and destroyed 200 missiles.

On May 9, following reports of “irregular Iranian movements” in southern Syria, explosions were heard south of Damascus. Israel opened public bomb shelters in the Golan Heights. Regional media reported that Israel attacked an army base south of Damascus, where Iranian personnel were based. Nine militiamen were killed, according to the usually reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Then, in the early hours of May 10, the Iranians launched their 20 missiles, and Israel responded. The Iranian strike was not successful, and it is not clear whether Teheran will consider it to have constituted sufficient retaliation for the Israeli action on April 30. Given the scale of the Israeli response to the attack, this seems unlikely.

What form is further Iranian action likely to take?

Iran has a number of options. It possesses a global terror infrastructure and might seek to attack an Israeli facility or an Israeli or Jewish target abroad. In the past, Teheran and Hizballah have sought retribution in this way. The attack in 1994 on the Amia Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, and the murder of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012 are examples of this.

Alternatively, Iran could instruct its Lebanese Hizballah proxies to carry out an attack on Israeli forces across the border from Lebanon. This is how Teheran sought to retaliate for the killing by Israel of a number of Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah personnel close to the Golan Heights in January 2015.

Israeli planners were expecting Iran’s retaliation for the nine dead militiamen was likely to be carried out in Syria, probably with the help of Shia militia personnel on the ground. It was not the first time Iranian personnel have been killed by Israel on Syrian soil. But it was the first time Iranian facilities, not those of proxy groups, were targeted. The Iranian action on May 10 was the first time Israel was directly targeted in a real-time conventional military operation led by the Revolutionary Guards. This is likely to set the pattern for further events to come.

So where is all this heading? Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that allowing Iran to consolidate its infrastructure in Syria would be “agreeing to the Iranians placing a noose around our necks”. This, the defence minister said, would be prevented “at all costs”.

It is not entirely clear, of course, what “consolidation”, “entrenchment” and their prevention actually mean, or could entail. Does Israel require that all presence of the Iranians be removed from Syria, down to the last proxy fighter? If so, then conflict between Teheran and Jerusalem is a near inevitability, since there is no chance of Iran acquiescing to this except by coercion. On the other hand, if the Israeli intention is to prevent the Iranians from transferring certain weapons systems into Syria – advanced anti-aircraft systems, ballistic missiles, UAVs – then conflagration may not be so imminent.

Iran has an interest in keeping to what it is good at. What it is good at is developing paramilitary proxy political-military organisations. This is the key to its success in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. What it is much less good at is conventional warfare, particularly in the air. The country has a poorly equipped, Cold War-era air force. It possesses ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, to be sure. But Israel has in recent years developed in cooperation with the US some of the most advanced missile defence systems in the world. Iran’s own defences against Israeli retaliation, meanwhile, are far less developed.

This means that Iran may well prefer to absorb Israeli strikes, carrying out a token retaliation for form’s sake. Such an approach would derive not from pacific intentions. Rather, the Iranians would calculate that it is in their interests to continue to quietly build their strength in Syria, while absorbing periodic Israeli disruptions of their arrangements. Since the Iranians may well be engaged, as in Lebanon and Iraq, in a project concerned with the long-term transformation of these countries into clients/puppets of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the immediate settling of scores may not be deemed of paramount urgency.

Of course, this begs the question as to whether Israel will wish to acquiesce to the pursuit of such an Iranian strategy, with all it implies for the future security of Israel. In the meantime, following the fire and smoke of the night of May 10, and until the next move, we are back to the waiting period.

Also see:

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Hamas Attempting to Orchestrate Terror Campaign with West Bank Factions

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by Aaron Klein and Ali Waked, July 25, 2017:

TEL AVIV — Hamas has held meetings over the past few days with the leaders of the main Palestinian factions in an attempt to escalate clashes with Israeli troops that have been ongoing in the West Bank, a senior official in one of the Palestinian jihadist organizations active in the Gaza Strip told Breitbart Jerusalem.

According to the official, the terrorist organizations participating in the meetings were those with active members in the West Bank like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad. The goal of the meetings was to turn the current wave of violence into a full-blown intifada led by the Palestinian factions.

The source noted that the main motive of these meetings was to push for extensive confrontations in the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem while maintaining the principle that the Gaza Strip should remain distant from the escalation.

“Hamas representatives requested that the Palestinian factions organize, help, and lead the clashes and current wave into a continuous wave while maintaining coordination between the factions,” said the source. “Those in Hamas believe that circles in Fatah would join the circle of conflict with Israel if it is intensive and shown to be motivated by the al-Aqsa Mosque. The goal is for clashes to continue on a daily basis and to keep the flame of conflict lit.”

The other issue that was emphasized, according to the source, was to make sure that Israel is not dragged into military action in the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas believes that it is possible to renew a wave of attacks similar to that which broke out in October 2015 and was characterized by stabbing and car-ramming attacks and to maintain it longer with financial and logistic help and proper communication,” said the source.

The source also noted that Hamas sees an opportunity in the current deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank to relieve its internal crisis.

“That’s the reason that in these meetings Hamas said they were prepared to coordinate with factions that suffered less damage than Hamas in the wave of arrests that Israel and the Palestinian Authority carried out in the West Bank over recent months,” he said. “It was clear that Hamas wants to use a possible escalation in the West Bank as a bargaining chip in its contacts with Israel in an attempt to accelerate the contacts in regards to the reconstruction project of the Gaza Strip.”

For over a week now, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have engaged in clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank purportedly set off by Israel’s decision to put metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount.

Tensions spilled over to central Israel on Monday with the stabbing of an Israeli in Petach Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv. The terrorist reportedly told Israeli police that that he “did it for Al-Aqsa.”

All has not been quiet on the Gaza front. On Monday, a projectile was launched at Israel from Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces retaliated by striking a Hamas position.

Also see:

Dr.Kedar presents: “Peace in the Middle East”

KedarPeaceIsrael Unseen:

Dr. Kedar points out the absurd international belief that there will be peace in the Middle East when Israel signs an agreement with the “Palestinians”.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.

 

Hamas Tunneling Its Way to Future Clash With Israel

by Yaakov Lappin:

 

Israel Hopes to Avoid Third Intifada Despite Palestinian Rhetoric, Violence

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News

Expert who traveled with Syrian rebels: So-called ‘moderates’ are Muslim Brotherhood-style Islamists

3ee5ad57ca164480b7c406b86fcd7872-e1378934344562By Jamie Weinstein:

Jonathan Spyer says the moderate rebels in Syria the Obama administration has been touting are really Muslim Brotherhood-types who adhere to an Islamist ideology.

Spyer should know. An academic who lives in Israel and studies the Middle East, he has traveled to and through Syrian rebel-controlled territory, reporting on what he saw for various publications. Asked by The Daily Caller to respond to a much-cited Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth O’Bagy, which claimed “[m]oderate opposition forces … continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime,” Spyer said, “I can only speak regarding my own experiences and my own knowledge.”

“Undoubtedly outside of Syria, and in the Syrian opposition structures, there are civilian political activists and leaders who are opposed to al-Qaida and opposed to Islamism,” Spyer explained to TheDC in an email interview. “There are also civilian activists and structures within the country which are opposed to al-Qaida and Islamism. But when one looks at the armed rebel groups, one finds an obvious vast majority there who are adherents of Islamism of one kind or another — stretching from Muslim Brotherhood-type formations all the way across to groups openly aligned with al-Qaida central and with al-Zawahiri.”

“The ‘moderate’ force which we are told about supposedly consists of those rebel brigades aligned with the Supreme Military Command, of Major-General Salim Edriss,” he continued. ”Most of the units aligned with the SMC actually come from a 20-unit strong bloc called the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. This includes some powerful brigades, such as Liwa al-Islam in the Damascus area, Liwa al Farouq and Liwa al Tawhid. These and the overwhelming majority of the units aligned with the SMC are Islamist formations, who adhere to a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook.”

Spyer, author of “The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict” and a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel, said there is no question that the leaders of rebel forces are not “moderates,” at least as would be defined in the West.

“I spent some time with the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo city at the height of the fighting there,” Spyer said. ” I interviewed one of the leaders of the brigade. I’ve been in the Middle East for a long time and have worked on these issues for a long time. This was an Islamist fighting force, adhering to an Islamist ideology. So even those forces nominally aligned with western supported bodies are themselves overwhelmingly Islamist in outlook (there may be a very small and marginal number of forces who are ostensibly secular, but these are of no military significance). It’s my contention that the real power in the rebellion lies not in the external structures, but among the commanders of the major fighting groups. These men are Islamists.”

Spyer said he initially supported a quick strike by the U.S. after the regime of Bashar al-Assad most recently gassed its own people, but now believes the Obama administration’s handling of the situation has made America look “indecisive.”

“I did support a rapid response following the use by the regime of chemical weapons on a large scale on August 21,” Spyer explained. “I don’t think it was necessary to begin a huge political process and to telegraph intentions, and it doesn’t surprise me that that whole great mountain has now given birth to the mouse of no action at all. Israel’s actions over the last year in Syria offer I think an object lesson in how to enforce red lines. Go in quickly and forcefully, deliver the lesson, achieve the objective and get out — with the proviso that the action can be repeated if deemed necessary. That didn’t happen in this case with the U.S., and I think instead the administration came across as vacillating and indecisive — and glad to take the fig leaf that the Russian president provided for it.”

Asked to evaluate how President Obama’s Middle East policies are viewed in the region compared to those of former President George W. Bush’s, Spyer said, “All the indications are that the U.S. is no more popular in the Middle East today than it was in the last year of the Bush administration.”

“The difference, I would say, is that while Bush was hated by America’s enemies in the region, they also regarded him at least to some degree as a serious customer who understood the way power is wielded and knew how to reward friends and punish enemies. This isn’t the case with Obama,” he said.

Spyer earned a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics. He also served in the Israel Defense Forces and worked for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 2000.

Read more at The Daily Caller including the TheDC’s full interview with Spyer on his time in Syria, the make-up of the so-called “moderate” rebels, the fate of Jordan and much more.

Also See Daniel Greenfield’s posts, NBC News Admits “Free Syrian Army” is a Myth and The Myth of the Moderate Syrian Rebels

Israel Says Troops Did Nothing Wrong in Arresting Palestinian Boy, 5

Wadi Maswadeh, 5, is held by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron, in footage released by human rights group B'Tselem

Wadi Maswadeh, 5, is held by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron, in footage released by human rights group B’Tselem

IB Times, By :

Israel has denied accusations its troops acted illegally after video footage emerged showing seven Israeli soldiers detaining a five-year-old boy for throwing stones in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The footage, released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, showed the armed Israeli Defence Force troops surrounding the child, who is seen screaming and resisting as he is held and put into a military jeep.

The boy, Wadi Maswadeh, was alleged to have thrown a stone at a passing car driven by Israeli settlers on the road to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a disputed holy site that has been the scene of repeated violence in the past.

He was then driven to his father’s house, where his father Karam Maswadeh was handcuffed and blindfolded before the two were taken to an Israeli military base, where they were briefly held before being handed over to Palestinian police.

The Israeli Defence Force said its soldiers had acted lawfully because no formal arrest ever took place.

“The child was not arrested and no charges were filed,” a military statement said.

It said more than 150 Israelis had been injured in 2,000 rock-throwing incidents across the occupied West Bank this year.

B’Tselem called the incident, which occurred on 9 June, a “grave breach” of Israel’s commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and said it had lodged a formal complaint with the government.

The age of criminal responsibility is set at 12 in Israeli law.

Interviewed later by a local TV network, Wadi admitted throwing a stone, saying he had been aiming at a dog.

B’Tselem director Jessica Montell.said: “This was not a mistake made by an individual soldier, but rather conduct that, to our alarm, was considered reasonable by all the military personnel involved, including senior officers.”

The Israeli Defence Force said the boy had presented a threat to passers-by.

“Soldiers intervened on the spot and accompanied the minor to his parents. From there he was passed on to the care of the Palestinian Security Forces, all the while accompanied by his parents. The child was not arrested and no charges were filed,” it said.

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Must watch video —> Investigative journalist Lee Kaplan bravely fights the propaganda war on Press TV here (Kaplan at 4:25 on video)