Saturday, 31 August 2013


The Pros and Cons of Attacking Syria

Go after the dog’s master, not the dog.
Kudos to Michael Ledeen for explaining that the road to Damascus starts in Tehran. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu explained on Aug. 25, “Assad’s regime isn’t acting alone. Iran, and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground. … Iran is watching and it wants to see what will be the reaction to the use of chemical weapons.”
We are at war with Iran, and I have little to add to Michael’s excellent summary. As he reiterates, we have been at war with Iran for decades. The only distinction is that Iran knows this and the Obama administration pretends it’s not happening. Because the American public is disgusted with the miserable return on our investment of 5,000 lives, 50,000 casualties, and $1 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are too timid to push for decisive military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program — although air strikes rather than ground troops would be required.
I made a similar case on March 29:
It’s pointless to take potshots at Obama for failing to act on Syria. What we should say is this: “Iran is the main source of instability in the Middle East. Iran’s intervention in Syria has turned the country into a slaughterhouse. By showing weakness to Iran, the Obama administration encourages its murderous activities elsewhere in the region.”
I also recommend Ed “Give War a Chance” Luttwak’s Aug. 25 op-ed in the New York Times, “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins.” Victory for Assad would be victory for Iran. “And if the rebels win, ” Luttwak wrote, “moderate Sunnis would be politically marginalized under fundamentalist rulers.” The whole region is paralyzed and ripe for destabilization. Saudi subsidies are keeping Egypt from starving, literally. “Turkey has large and restless minority populations that don’t trust their own government, which itself does not trust its own army. The result has been paralysis instead of power, leaving Mr. Erdogan an impotent spectator of the civil war on his doorstep.” I would add that Turkey also is at economic free-fall with its stock market down by 40% in dollar terms since April.
Luttwak argues that the U.S. should favor “an indefinite draw.” Here I disagree: the chemical attack shows how easily Iran can manipulate events in Syria to suit its strategic objectives. The best solution is Yugoslav-style partition: an Alawite redoubt in the Northwest including Latakia (where Russia has its naval station), and a Sunni protectorate in the rest of the country, except for an autonomous zone for Syria’s Kurds. Everyone wins except the Turks, who understandably abhor the idea of an independent Kurdish entity. Someone has to lose, though. What has Turkey done for us lately?
Obama probably will choose the worst of all possible alternatives. Daniel Pipes warns that this course of action “will also entail real dangers. Bashar al-Assad’s notorious incompetence means his response cannot be anticipated. Western strikes could, among other possibilities, inadvertently lead to increased regime attacks on civilians, violence against Israel, an activation of sleeper cells in Western countries, or heightened dependence on Tehran. Surviving the strikes also permits Assad to boast that he defeated the United States. In other words, the imminent attack entails few potential benefits but many potential drawbacks. As such, it neatly encapsulates the Obama administration’s failed foreign policy.”
If the problems of the Middle East look intractable now, consider what they will look like if Iran can promote mass murder from under a nuclear umbrella. The hour is late. If we Republicans can’t summon the courage to advance fundamental American national security issues in the midst of crisis, we will deserve the voters’ contempt.
Mr. Goldman, president of Macrostrategy LLC, is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the London Center for Policy Research

Friday, 30 August 2013


Iran army chief warns ‘Zionists will burn’ if US attacks Syria

Tehran, Damascus step up threats ahead of anticipated American strike on Assad regime; Jerusalem still thinks it unlikely Damascus would tangle with Jewish state

 August 28, 2013, 9:46 pm 25
An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman in January 2012 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)
An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman in January 2012 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)
Amid increasingly hostile threats from Syria and Iran that Israel will be attacked if the US carries out an anticipated punitive strike against the regime of President Bashar Assad for its chemical weapons use, Israel  reportedly sent messages to Damascus via third parties Wednesday warning Assad that any attack will be met with a forceful IDF response.
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Iran’s leaders also issued warnings Wednesday to the United States over military intervention against their Syrian ally.
Iran’s chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted by Israel’s Channel 2 Wednesday declaring that “if the US attacks, the Zionists will burn,” and an Iranian journalist said to be close to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly warned that Israel would “face tens of thousands of missiles.”
Taleb Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst, warned on state television that an American strike would prompt a three-front attack on Israel — by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. A second Syrian television commentator, meanwhile, was quoted saying that “the land [of Israel] will tremble.”
Hassan Firouzabadi, left, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2011. (Screenshot: Youtube)
Hassan Firouzabadi, left, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2011. (Screenshot: Youtube)
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz all publicly warned Assad not to tangle with Israel. Those public statements were reinforced by private messages, conveyed via third parties, Channel 2 reported Wednesday night. The US-led strike is not expected to be so extensive as to bring down Assad, whereas if Israel is hit,military sources have said in recent days, its response could well spell the demise of the Assad regime.
At the same time, Israel has been at pains to make clear that it has no desire to be drawn into the Syrian conflict, which has escalated internationally after Assad’s force used alleged chemical weapons to kill several hundred Syrian civilians in the suburbs of Damascus last Wednesday — crossing a “red line” set by US President Barack Obama to outlaw the employment of weapons of mass destruction.. The IDF has not raised its overall alert level, although some weekend leaves for soldiers in the north are reportedly likely to be cancelled. And the Israeli security cabinet was briefed Wednesday to the effect that the likelihood of Assad striking at Israel remained low.
Nonetheless, Israel on Wednesday began calling up about 1,000 reservists, and deploying anti-missile systems in the north. Iron Dome batteries also remain in Eilat and close to Gaza, should rocket fire emanate from the Sinai or the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Haifa’s Mayor Yona Yahav was briefed Wednesday by Home Front Command authorities and told to ensure that bomb shelters in the city were in good order. Israel is expected to be given several hours’ advance notice of an American-led strike.
In comments Wednesday directed at the US, Khamenei said in a meeting with members of the new Iranian cabinet in Tehran that “The US threats and possible intervention in Syria are a disaster for the region. And if such an act is done, certainly, the Americans will sustain damage like when they interfered in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He cautioned the US and its allies that their military intervention in Syria would yield no result but blazing fire and an increase in nations’ hatred of them, the Fars news agency reported.
“Starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences,” Khamenei said.
The speaker of the Iranian parliament , Ali Larjiani, said, “The result of such an unwise measure (a military attack on Syria) is regional anarchy which will entangle the naïve countries of the region.” Speaking in parliament, he said that if any war is waged against Syria, “the country which has been destroyed by the terrorists during the past two years will not sustain so much damage as the warmongers will receive in this war.”


King Abdullah of Jordan has audience with Pope Francis

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Published: Aug. 29, 2013 at 5:22 PM
VATICAN CITY, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Pope Francis met Thursday with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan in an audience at the Vatican.
Abdullah also held a discussion with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, secretary of state for international relations, Vatican Radio reported.
Francis thanked the king for arranging a conference, to be held in Amman in September, on the role of Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. The conference will focus on the challenges facing Christians during the current turmoil in many countries.
Other topics included the restart of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the Syrian crisis. The pope said dialogue between all parties in Syria is the only way forward for the country.
Topics: King Abdullah IIQueen RaniaTarcisio Bertone
© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

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Partial Israeli reserves call-up. US beefs up Qatar air base. Syria moves units into sheltered sites
DEBKAfile Special Report August 29th. 
US B-1 strategic bombers
US B-1 strategic bombers
Ahead of the US strike on Syria, the Israeli security cabinet in special session Wednesday, Aug. 28, ordered the partial mobilization of select, qualitative IDF reserve forces: Rocket, Air Force, missile interception, Home Defense command and intelligence units. Anti-missile Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome systems were spread out more widely than ever before across the country. US and Syria wound up last military preparations for the US strike. Barring last-minute hold-ups, DEBKAfile’s military sources report the American operation is scheduled to start Friday night, early Saturday Aug. 30-31.
In the past 24 hours, the US Air Force finished a major buildup at the big US Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. B-1B bombers and F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were brought over from other US Mid East air facilities on the Omani island of Masirah and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

These squadrons were not assigned to the US military strike against Syria, say our military sources, but will stand ready to move in should unforeseen complications in the course of the US missile assault on Syria call for the introduction of extra assets from outside.
Israeli officials and spokesmen continued to insist Wednesday on low expectations of a Syrian counter-offensive against their country. Nevertheless, the new US air force reinforcements in Qatar will stand ready to rush to the aid of US allies - Israel, Jordan and Turkey - in the event of their coming under Syrian Scud attack.
On the opposite side, the Syrian army Tuesday started scattering personnel, weapons and air assets to safe places to reduce their exposure to damage and losses from US assaults.

Our military sources report that personnel, tanks and artillery of the Syrian Army’s 4th and Republican Guard Divisions, which are held responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical attack on civilians, were being moved into fortified shelters built last year against potential foreign military intervention.
Syrian army command centers in Homs, Hama, Latakia and the Aleppo region were also being split up and dispersed, after a tip-off to Syrian and Russian intelligence that they would be targeted by the US strike.
Syria has also transferred its Air Force fighter planes, bombers and attack helicopters to fortified shelters which are armored against missile and air attack.
In Israel, the IDF Wednesday installed two Iron Dome missile interceptors in the northern “Valleys” region and Safed in addition to Haifa. Another Iron Dome battery was posted in the heavily populated central district.  Arrow, Patriot anti-missile missiles, as well as Iron Domes, have been deployed more widely across Israel than ever before. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Israel’s Arrow and Patriot interceptors are linked to the US missile shield with which their operation is synchronized.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was ready for any scenario. Although it takes no part in the Syrian civil war crisis, Israel would not hesitate to fight back for any attempted attacks – and would do so forcefully.
Wednesday morning, the machinery for distributing gas masks to the population broke down under the pressure of demands to distribution centers across the country. The Homeland Ministry’s website crashed. Former Interior Minister Ellie Yishay complained of a shortage of protective masks due to budget cuts. He said there are only enough to supply 40 percent of the population.

Thursday, 29 August 2013


'Syria has missiles trained on strategic facilities in Israel'
Syrian sources say Damascus has Scud, M-600 and Yakhont missiles aimed at Israel • Syrian foreign minister warns attack will meet "surprising" response • Netanyahu calls second security cabinet meeting in three days • Iran denies Assad fled to Tehran.
Daniel Siryoti, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem    |    צילום: Reuters
Damascus will have nothing to lose if it is attacked and will not hesitate to strike Israel, a source close to Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai as saying on Wednesday. According to the reports, Syria has its Scud, M-600 and Yakhont missiles trained on Israel, and the Syrian military has already been instructed to launch "an intensive response" to any U.S. strike.
"The Scud missiles used by Saddam Hussein crossed thousands of kilometers until they hit Israel. The Syrian missiles only have 50 kilometers to cross before hitting the most strategic facilities in Israel," the source said. According to the report, "The Damascus regime has nothing to lose and it will launch an intensive respond if it is attacked."
Hezbollah also threatened to strike Israel should Syria come under attack. Lebanese media quoted a senior, unnamed official in the Shiite terror group as saying that Hezbollah operatives had been placed on high alert and that the organization was gearing up for a possible armed conflict with Israel.

"Hezbollah will not be able to sit idly by and see how aggressive attempts are made to topple Syria's legitimate government," the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of the security cabinet on Wednesday, for the second time in three days, to brief ministers on the situation.

In a sign that Israel has heightened its level of alert, two additional Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries were deployed in the northern part of the country on Wednesday.
The threats were echoed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who warned Tuesday that his country would not hesitate to defend itself if the West struck it, saying that the Syrian response would have regional ramifications.
A senior Syrian defense official was quoted by the Iranian Fars news agency as saying, "If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too and a full-scale war against Syria will actually issue a license for attacking Israel. Rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria's neighbors."
The unnamed official further cautioned the U.S. that "weakening the central government in Damascus will actually start growing attacks on Israel and will create insecurity for that regime. … Thus, a U.S. attack on Syria will herald frequent strikes and attacks on Israel, not just by Damascus and its allies in retaliation, but by extremist groups who will find a ground for staging their aspirations."
Speaking at a press conference in Damascus, Muallem said, “We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves. Syria is not an easy case. We have defenses which will surprise others … We are sure that whoever is planning to attack us will reconsider and that there will be no attack." He did not comment on which measures Syria may use to that effect.
Muallem said that any military action against Syria would only serve the interests of Israel and al-Qaida-linked terror groups fighting Assad's regime: "The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and secondly al-Nusra Front. … Anyone who thinks that attacking Syria will level the playing field between the Syrian army at the terror militias calling themselves 'rebels' is wrong. Even if we are attacked we will continue to fight terrorists in Syria."
Much like Assad, Muallem also denied that the regime had used chemical weapons to attack rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus last week: "We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge [the U.S.] to show what proof they have."
The Syrian government issued an official statement on Tuesday saying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had "fabricated evidence ... to support the American lies that the Syrian regime was behind the [Aug. 21] attack."
Muallem also addressed the U.N. fact-finding mission currently on the ground in the area which was allegedly gassed with what is believed to be sarin, saying that the government "was not interfering with the inspectors' work ... part of Syria's national interests to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors."
Commenting on the reports that the inspectors came under fire on Monday, he said that the U.N.'s experts' mission was suspended for two days "over concern for their safety. ... As long as the opposition cannot promise to hold its fire while the inspectors are there, we cannot guarantee their safety," Muallem said.
Meanwhile, Iran denied reports on Wednesday that Assad had arrived in Tehran overnight. Iran's official news agency Press TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying the reports were "ridiculous."

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Israel says it won't stay on sidelines if Syria attacks

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. persuaded Israel not to retaliate when Iraq hit it with Scud missiles. This time is different.

Israel braces for attack by Syria
A woman shows a child how to put on a gas mask at a distribution center in Tel Aviv. Israelis are bracing for an attack after Syria vowed to strike Israel if Syria is struck by the United States. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images / August 26, 2013)
JERUSALEM — During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Israel endured dozens of Scud missiles launched by Saddam Hussein's forces, but refrained from retaliating because of U.S. concern that Israeli involvement would fracture the international coalition it had built against Iraq.
As the United States prepares for a possible military attack against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons, Israeli leaders are making it clear that they have no intention of standing down this time if attacked.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued the starkest warning to date in response to recent saber-rattling by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, which has said it might respond to a U.S. strike by attacking Israel.
"We are not part of the civil war in Syria, but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond with great force," Netanyahu said after huddling for a second consecutive day with key Cabinet members to discuss the possible ramifications of a U.S. strike against Syria.
Speaking at a memorial service for fallen soldiers, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said, "Those seeking to strike us will find us sharper and fiercer than ever. Our enemies must know we are determined to take any action needed to defend our citizens."
Their comments followed statements this week by Syrian officials that they would hold Israel responsible for any U.S. strike. On Monday, Khalaf Muftah, a senior official in the ruling Baath Party, accused Israel of being "behind the [Western] aggression" and warned that Israel "will therefore come under fire."
Syrian officials often seek to focus blame on Israel as a way of rallying support among the Syrian people.
Israel's vow to strike back is a far cry from 1991, when Iraqi Scuds pounded Tel Aviv, Haifa and other Israeli cities. Two Israelis were killed in direct hits and scores were wounded.
Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a military hawk from the conservative Likud Party, bowed to pressure from President George H.W. Bush to refrain from responding to Iraq's attempts to draw Israel into the fighting. The U.S. feared that Arab nations that had joined the U.S.-led coalition would balk at participating in a military action against Iraq alongside Israel.
"It was a very hard decision for us," said Zalman Shoval, who served as Israel's U.S. ambassador during the war. "But Iraq was a different proposition altogether from Syria. This time there's no doubt Israel will respond."
He said Israel acquiesced in 1991 partly as a goodwill gesture to the Bush administration and partly because it was unclear whether Israel would be able to retaliate effectively without U.S. cooperation.
"Today Israel is a hundred times stronger militarily than it was during the Gulf War," said Shoval, who now works as an international envoy for Netanyahu's government. "And with American leadership in the Middle East much weaker now than it was at that time, Israel does not have to give in to pressure from Washington to not respond if Israel is directly attacked."
Israel is by far the Middle East's strongest military power, reportedly with a nuclear weapons arsenal that it has never publicly acknowledged.
So far the Obama administration does not appear to be pressuring Israel to refrain from responding if it is directly attacked, Shoval said.
U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies have been sharing information about the Syrian unrest, including the apparent use of chemical weapons.
A report Saturday in Germany's Focus magazine said Israel's famed 8200 intelligence unit had intercepted communications among Syrian officials discussing last week's alleged chemical attacks. It said the wiretap helped U.S. officials conclude that Assad's regime was responsible.
A delegation of senior Israeli security officials, including national security advisor Jacob Amidror, arrived in Washington on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis and other regional matters with President Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice.
Notwithstanding its reluctant restraint in 1991, Israel's military has long pursued a doctrine of deterrence that includes swift and sometimes punishing retaliation when attacked.
In recent weeks it has demonstrated its adherence to that policy by striking back quickly after rocket attacks by militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Even when errant mortar rounds from Syria's civil war have landed in the Golan Heights, Israel has frequently fired back to discourage combatants from bringing their fight close to the border.
In addition, Israel launched four airstrikes this year against Syrian weapons caches it suspected were about to be transferred to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
Israelis see the unrest in Syria as a far more direct and dangerous threat than the 1991 conflict in Iraq, hundreds of miles away.
"This time it's on our immediate border, so the risk of fatalities is greater," said a defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Syria has a large arsenal of highly accurate missiles and other sophisticated weaponry, as well as what is reportedly a stockpile of chemical weapons.
Yet despite the recent rhetoric from Syrian officials, many Israeli officials and pundits are skeptical that Assad would strike Israel. His government never retaliated for any of the Israeli attacks this year, nor did he strike back after Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007.
Nevertheless, many Israeli citizens are preparing for a possible attack. Long lines have been reported at government distribution centers for gas masks, where requests in recent days have increased fourfold. The government estimates that 60% of its citizens have gas masks at home.