Israel Confirms They Blew Up Assad’s Nuclear Reactor A Decade Ago



Announcement about 2007’s ‘Operation Orchard’ sure to remind Iran what happened to the last country with atomic ambitions, though the real reason to divulge now may be more humdrum

Main image by Israel Defense Forces

The State of Israel on Wednesday formally acknowledged that its air force blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor in the area of Deir Ezzor in the pre-dawn hours between September 5 and 6, 2007, in a mission known to much of the world as Operation Orchard.

The official confirmation ends a 10-and-a-half year policy of referring to the event with a smirk and a wry “according to foreign reports.”

The strike constituted Israel’s second application of the Begin Doctrine, which calls on the Jewish state to destroy any enemy country’s nuclear capabilities. The doctrine was named for prime minister Menachem Begin, who set its precedent by ordering the bombing of Iraq’s nascent nuclear reactor in 1981. (In that instance, Israel took responsibility for the attack almost immediately, to much international reprobation.)

The pilot of an F-15I fighter jet, from the Israeli Air Force’s 69th Squadron, gets into his airplane ahead of an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The message of the attack on the reactor in 2007 is that Israel will not accept the construction of a capability that threatens the existence of the State of Israel. That was the message in ’81. That was the message in 2007. And that is the message to our enemies for the future,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement regarding the 2007 bombing.

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007 (AP/DigitalGlobe)

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007. (AP/DigitalGlobe)

According to Israeli and American intelligence, the Deir Ezzor site, known in Syria as al-Kibar, contained a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor that was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility. It was close to being up and running when Israel destroyed it in Operation Orchard (which the army also refers to as Nigun Shaket, or Silent Melody, and Mihutz L’Kufsa, or Outside the Box).

While this is the first time Israel has taken official responsibility for the attack (the reasons behind this decision are discussed below), the rest of the world has not kept mum about the historic raid.

Reports about the 2007 Syrian reactor mission leaked within days, including specific details like the number of fight jets that took part in it — eight — and that North Korea was believed to have supplied technical know-how and materials to Syria.

The then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu even landed himself in hot water in the weeks following the operation for discussing it too candidly, telling reporters that he’d given his go-ahead to then prime minister Ehud Olmert for the attack.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, stands next to Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha, right, and Chief of Staff Gen. Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij, left, during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in Damascus, Syria, last year (photo credit: AP Photo/SANA)

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, stands next to Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha, right, and Chief of Staff Gen. Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij, left, during a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in Damascus, Syria, in 2011. (AP Photo/SANA)

The view that prevailed in Israel at the time was that keeping news of the strike as quiet as possible would help Syrian dictator Bashar Assad save face in the world and prevent him from feeling he had to retaliate, which could have potentially led to all-out war, something an Israel still reeling from the painful 2006 Second Lebanon War desperately wanted to avoid. Israeli officials refer to this policy as giving Assad a “zone of denial.”

In 2012, a comprehensive article by David Makovsky was published in the New Yorker. In it, the magazine claimed, was almost every detail about the operation, including the tonnage of the bombs — 17 — and the fact that Amir Peretz, the defense minister when Israel began planning the attack, had to use a prepared notecard in his conversation with his American counterpart because of his limited English.

Then-US president George W. Bush welcomes then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in May of 2006. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Then US president George W. Bush welcomes then prime minister Ehud Olmert to the Oval Office of the White House, May 2006. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Former US president George W. Bush even referred to the attack explicitly in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points, saying the success of the Israeli strike “made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the [2006] Lebanon war.”

And yet, for over a decade, one of the most daring missions in the history of the Jewish state could only be referred to by the Israeli press with a healthy dose of allegedlys, purportedlys, and reportedlys — something that irked journalists to no end.

Not even when Deir Ezzor was captured by the Islamic State terror group in 2014 did Israel reveal that it had destroyed a nuclear reactor in the region. This, despite the fact that Israel would have been able to proudly tell the world that, had it not hit the reactor, we might all have been forced to deal with the chilling notion of that death cult getting its hands on atomic weapons. (It is possible that the Syrian army might have fought harder to hold the region, which it ultimately recaptured, if nuclear bombs had been at risk.)

Finally, on Wednesday — rather fittingly, in the pre-dawn hours — after 10 years, six months, and 15 days, Israel ended its silence.

Here is what happened:

Starting in late 2004, Military Intelligence and the Mossad espionage service began receiving unverified information about foreign experts helping Syria develop a military nuclear program.

A portion of an intelligence report from late 2004 in which the army says there is a possibility that Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor with help from North Korea, Pakistan, or an unknown third country. (Israel Defense Forces)

The scanned cover sheet of a top-secret IDF document from the time shows that Israeli intelligence apparently suspected the experts were coming from North Korea, Pakistan, or a third, unknown country.

Though the mission was ultimately successful, this would later turn out to have been something of an intelligence failure, as North Korea had been working with Syria since at least 2001 or 2002; accounts differ on the exact start time.

Over the next year and a half, the army and Mossad collected information concerning a Syrian nuclear program, getting their first break in January 2006, when they found the first piece of “substantial evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad was building a reactor.

In April of that year, Military Intelligence’s Unit 9900, which specializes in analyzing satellite imagery, spotted a number of suspicious buildings on a site in the northern Deir Ezzor region that it designated “Rubik’s Cube,” according to a scan of an IDF document from the time.

A portion of an intelligence report from November 1, 2006, in which the army says it increasingly believes Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the course of the next months, the army and Mossad gathered more intelligence on the suspected nuclear reactor.

“The assumption that there is indeed a Syrian nuclear project is being strengthened,” the Military Intelligence’s powerful Research Division wrote in a memo in November 2006.

In early March 2007, the investigation got a big break. Mossad agents obtained pictures that were shot inside the “Rubik’s Cube,” including ones showing North Korean officials at the site. The photographs confirmed Israel’s suspicions that it was indeed a plutonium reactor.

A portion of an intelligence report from March 30, 2007, in which the army says it appears Syria is constructing a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, with help from North Korea. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Syria is building in its territory a nuclear reactor for the production of plutonium, with North Korea, which according to [initial] rigorous assessment is liable to be operational in about a year. To our assessment [redacted] it is clandestine and meant to achieve a nuclear weapon,” the Research Division wrote in an intelligence brief a few weeks later, according to a scan of the document released by the army.

At this point, Israel decided to bring the United States into the loop.

In April, Olmert dispatched then defense minister Peretz to Washington — with his aforementioned notecard — to meet with then US secretary of defense Robert Gates and apprise him of the situation.

Bush instructed the CIA to verify Israel’s claims, which the security service largely succeeded in doing.

“If it’s not a nuclear reactor, then it’s a fake nuclear reactor,” a former senior US official told Makovsky in 2012.

The Syrian al-Kibar nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel, on September 6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

Yet the United States was not entirely convinced that the reactor was actually capable of producing nuclear weapons and therefore wanted to address the issue diplomatically, according to Bush’s memoirs.

Olmert was concerned that Assad would stall the negotiations for long enough for the Syrians to bring the reactor online, and told Bush his “strategy is very disturbing to me.”

An F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 119th Squadron prepares to take off during an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

With the US unwilling to conduct a strike against the Syrian reactor, Olmert and Israel’s top defense officials set to work preparing to carry out the raid themselves.

By this point, Peretz had been replaced by Ehud Barak as head of the Labor party and also as defense minister.

There was some disagreement in the security cabinet over the timing of the preemptive strike on the nuclear reactor, with Barak pushing for it to be later and Olmert calling for it to happen as soon as possible. It remains a contested issue whether these differences of opinion stemmed from purely military concerns or from more political considerations. In the aftermath of the failure-plagued Second Lebanon War, Barak might have thought he could win the next election and gain a feather in his cap by having the strike carried out under his premiership. Olmert may have been looking to regain some of the respect he lost for his management of the 2006 war.

Ultimately, however, on September 5, the security cabinet approved Olmert’s plan for an immediate attack, giving him, Barak, and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni the authority to decide when exactly to conduct the strike.

Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF chief of staff at the time, called for the attack to happen that night.

An airman from the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron prepares for an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

Up until that point, the number of people informed of the operation had been kept to an absolute bare minimum in order to ensure secrecy, with anyone informed of it being forced to sign a strict non-disclosure agreement.

Not even all of the pilots who conducted the raid knew about it until just before they took off. In the months preceding the attack, the teams had unknowingly been training for it, practicing the kind of dive-bombing that they would later perform for real in Deir Ezzor.

“They didn’t know the target; they didn’t understand why. In every squadron there was only one pilot who was the contact person. The other teams were only informed of the target just a few hours before the operation,” said Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who was head of air force operations at the time, in a statement released this week.

As the strike on Assad’s nuclear facility had the potential to spark an all-out war, a handful of senior army officers were informed of it in the hours before the operation began, in order to put their troops on high alert.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot discusses an Israeli operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor that took place 10 years ago, on September 5-6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The day before, I brought in all the heads of the divisions. I presented them with the intelligence assessment — generally, I mean, I didn’t give them the details on the target and its nature. But I told them that there would be a very serious attack in the coming 24 to 48 hours, which had a relatively low possibility of leading to war,” said current IDF chief Eisenkot, who was at the time head of the army’s Northern Command, in a video statement released this week.

Eisenkot noted that since the army was trying to keep the attack a secret, it made no visible preparations ahead of it, in effect “sacrificing readiness for surprise.”

An F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron prepares to take off during an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

The airmen taking part in the operation came from three squadrons, Squadrons 119 and 253, which both fly the F-16I, and Squadron 69, which flies the F-15I.

The notes prepared by the head of the Israeli Air Force’s 119th F-16I Squadron ahead of an operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007, in which he says the mission will “‘change the face of the Middle East.” (Israel Defense Forces)

During a briefing before the mission, the commander of Squadron 119 wrote in his notes that the operation “will change the face of the Middle East.”

On September 5, the head of the air force at the time, Eliezer Shkedi, gave the pilots and navigators their official orders, telling them the operation was “of the utmost importance to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The document told them that their mission was to “destroy the target, break contact without losing a plane, and fly with a ‘low signature’ as much as possible.”

“The goal is that the operation will not be connected, at least not at first, to the State of Israel, and thus limit the potential for widespread war,” Shkedi’s orders stated.

The official orders presented by the head of the air force to the pilots and navigators taking part in an operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

At 10:30 p.m. on September 5, the fighter jets began take-off procedures.

They were reportedly joined by an electronic warfare aircraft that would jam the Syrian air defenses, feeding them a false picture of empty skies. The army will still not officially comment on this aspect of the mission.

The Israeli planes flew north and then through Turkey to Syria, without permission, in order to conduct the surprise strike, for which Olmert later apologized to then-Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the empty fuel tanks of some of the planes, which were dropped for weight reasons, were found in the Turkish countryside, near the Syrian border.

The night of the attack, Olmert, Barak, Livni, then IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Shkedi, and other senior officials gathered in “the pit” — Habor, in Hebrew — a special command center deep underground in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, in order to monitor the operation.

At approximately midnight, the fighter jets reached their target and dropped — according to Makovsky — 17 tons of explosives on the site, which the air force had taken to calling Ein Habasor, or Habasor Spring, a reference to a location in southern Israel where, in the Bible, King David is said to have fought and killed the evil Amalekites.

Video footage from the strike, which was released by the army this week, shows multiple bombs hitting the main square building that is believed to have housed the nuclear reactor, reducing it to a fireball and then rubble. The planes can then be seen making a second pass and bombing the rubble, completely and utterly destroying the site and killing all those inside.

Senior Israeli Air Force officers, including IAF chief Eliezer Shkedi, center, react to the successful bombing of the Syrian al-Kibar nuclear reactor by Israel on September 6, 2007. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly before 1:00 a.m., the pilots sent back the codeword indicating the operation was a success: “Arizona.”

Footage from air force control center in “the pit” shows the moment the bombs strike their target. Brig. Gen. Yohanan Locker, then head of the air force’s training and aerial activities, can be seen raising his hands in triumph, as Shkedi nods in satisfaction.

Images from the moments following the attack show the destruction of the al-Kibar site. Later, satellite pictures would show the results of the strike in far greater detail.

Shortly afterward, Ashkenazi praised the heads of the air force squadrons that took part in the operation.

Airmen from the Israeli Air Force’s 253rd Squadron embrace after bombing a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The aims of the strike were the destruction of the reactor, the prevention of escalations to war, and the strengthening of deterrence in the region. I think we have stood by these targets, at least for now, with great success,” he said.

Barak joined him in lauding the air force pilots, saying that not only was the mission an immediate success, but that it will also have an impact on the future.

“The operation removed an actual existential threat to Israel. The operation strengthened Israel’s ability to deter hostile countries and organizations, and our operational capabilities have been greatly empowered — from planning, to intelligence identifying capabilities, to carrying out missions,” Barak told the squadron commanders.

Immediately following the attack, Syria did not know how to react. Its official SANA news outlet initially reported that “air-defense units confronted [Israeli fighter jets] and forced them to leave after they dropped some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage.”

Later, Assad acknowledged that a military facility had been hit, but denied that it was a nuclear reactor.

Olmert sent a message to Syria through Erdogan, telling Assad that Israel would not tolerate another Syrian attempt to build a reactor, and that Jerusalem was prepared to keep quiet about the strike as long as Damascus did the same, according to the 2009 Der Spiegel report.

The Israeli prime minister also had Erdogan relay an invitation to Assad for indirect peace talks. (Assad accepted, but these later fell apart and amounted to nothing.)

Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, air force chief Eliezer Shkedi, along with all the defense officials and airmen who took part in the top-secret operation to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007, pose for a group photograph two months later, on December 18, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

In 2008, Israel was largely vindicated, as the International Atomic Energy Agency tested the area around al-Kibar and found high levels of uranium. Later, graphite and barium sulfate, used in the reactor’s concrete, were also discovered in the immediate vicinity of the destroyed site, according to reports by the agency.

Syria officially denied the site was a nuclear reactor, telling IAEA the uranium came from the bombs used by Israel in the strike, something Israel categorically denied. The IAEA was also unconvinced of Syria’s claim. Later, the organization reported that the site was “very likely” an undocumented nuclear reactor.

Time passed. Netanyahu replaced Olmert as prime minister in 2009. Israel’s immediate concerns turned from Syria’s nuclear program to Iran’s, not that Tehran was ever out of Jerusalem’s sight. The Syrian civil war broke out. Deir Ezzor, specifically the area around al-Kibar, was conquered by the Islamic State group in 2014. People shuddered — what if?

And now, some 3,849 days since the IAF destroyed Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear reactor — give or take a few hours — Israeli news outlets can say as much, freely.

So why now?

There was no one reason given for the decision to remove the censorship on the al-Kibar strike, but it most likely came from a variety of considerations, among them repeated legal appeals by media outlets to get rid of the ban.

It is easiest to see this announcement as a not-so-subtle threat to atomically ambitious Iran, especially given the fact that in the coming months US President Donald Trump may abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, unless significant alterations are made to it.

This can be seen most clearly in Eisenkot’s comment that the attack serves as a “message to our enemies for the future.”

The message of the attack on the reactor in 2007 is that Israel will not accept the construction of a capability that threatens the existence of the State of Israel

But former deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich told The Times of Israel he’s not convinced that’s the full story.

“This may be part of a signal to the other side, but I think that’s reading a bit too much into it,” he said.

While Freilich acknowledged that Israel might be taking advantage of the announcement in order to send such a message to Iran, he also offered a somewhat less geopolitical and more patriotic reason for the decision to reveal the existence of the operation: next month marks Israel’s 70th anniversary of existence. The story of Israel’s bold and successful operation can serve as yet another feature in the showcase of the tiny Jewish state’s outsized achievements.

Israeli Air Force commander Amikam Norkin discusses an Israeli operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor that took place 10 years before, on September 5-6, 2007. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)

Indeed, Norkin credits the mission as being “one of the most important decisions that was made in the past 70 years.”

More domestically, Frelich added, “Netanyahu will be able to make use of this for his purposes as well.”

The current backdrop that is the devastating reality of war-torn Syria, where there have been numerous chemical weapons attacks over the past eight years, also helps justify Israel’s actions in 2007.

“Imagine that today there was a nuclear reactor in Syria. You can think to yourself what kind of situation we’d be in,” IAF chief Norkin said in a video statement released this week.

Over 10 years later, Syria is also far, far less likely to feel it has to respond, making it a bit safer for Israel’s to remove the “zone of denial.”

The air force chief noted that the pilots and teams that took part in the 2007 raid received no official accolades for their actions, due to the secrecy surrounding the operation. Perhaps it was also time for them to get what was due.

In November 2017, Eisenkot and Norkin held a ceremony and handed out official letters of appreciation to the soldiers who took part in the operation, though their identities remain a secret.

“Some of the fighters who led the operation are now at the highest ranks of the air force and IDF,” Norkin says.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a Keshet TV interview broadcast on March 17, 2018. (Keshet screenshot)

Ultimately, though, the immediate cause for the timing of the revelation might be a bit more banal: Ehud Olmert wrote a memoir, which is due to be distributed shortly.

While this reporter has yet to read the book, “In First Person,” it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t feature prominently.

How could Olmert, who left office under police investigation and was later sent to prison for corruption, and who sustained bitter criticism over his mishandling of the 2006 Lebanon war, leave out one of his crowning, lasting achievements?

But whatever the reason, Israeli journalists and officials can now drop the at-times farcical “according to foreign reports” from their coverage of this dramatic operation.


Better That 7 Rulers Die Than 7 Billion Citizens?

Better That 7 Rulers Die Than 7 Billion Citizens?


Those of you who know me know that I am a person who does not condone any form of violence toward another human. I had to word that sentence the way I did because I do eat some meat and when you are slaughtering live stock for your dinner table, you do condone some forms of violence upon another living thing. Now back to the base of this article today. I can only name about 12-15 State leaders so this is the reason that I am going to name the 7 that I do. I have chosen 7 that are in my opinion very corrupt and very evil but this does not mean that I wish these 7 would die, I just wish that they would become less crooked and less evil. So, this is totally a what if article.


That the general public knows of there are 8 Nuclear Countries and I thought about choosing 7 of these Nations Leaders for my examples today but I decided to choose 7 Leaders that I believe are crooked and evil instead. If you had a vision where an Angel of God was speaking with you and He said to you that you had to make a choice between you fingering 7 Rulers for God to kill, or, if you didn’t then 7 billion of Earths citizens would die in a world war that these 7 start, what would you do? Now imagine that He gave you that list of 7 and that your own Nations Leaders name was on the list, and maybe even another 2 or 3 names of Leaders that you personally like, what then? Would you condone the death of 7 to save 7 billion? Now what if all seven on the Angels list were people that you feel are crazy and totally evil, even if your Leader was one of the 7, would that change your mind? What if you could choose the 7, or, if you had to choose the 7, would you?


Personally I believe that the citizens of the world have some very, very dangerous Rulers of countries today, but then again, hasn’t that always been so? What if we could go back through history and pick out 7 former Rulers that you personally had to throw into Hell, could you, would you do it? The first name on my history list would be Hitler, then probably Stalin, Lennon, Chairman Mao, the former Shaw of Iran, and the last Leader of Communist East Germany and the last Communist Leader of Hungry would probably be folks that I could think of. Yet honestly I would still rather one of God’s Angels pull that trap door lever than me having to do it. Am I a coward because I would prefer not to have to sentence these men to Hell? If you are a person whom knows me, you know better than that. I just know that I have committed a whole bunch of horrible sins in my life so I don’t want to ever have to sit in judgement of another.


Just for trivia’s sake if you had to make up a list of 7 current Rulers that you were required to give to the Angel of Death, who would they be? Now take into context the reality that I only know the names of about 12-15 Rulers of Countries today, the following would be my ‘off the top of my head’ list.

1.) Turkey: Erdogan

2.) Russia: Putin

3.) Iran: Ali Khomeini

4.) North Korea: Kim Jong Un

5.) China: Xi Jinping

6.) Syria: Assad

7.) America: Trump

I guess this would be my “dirty 7” list that I would give to the Angel. Well, what do you think, who would be your 7 dastardly dudes, or ladies? Do you agree with any of mine? Or, would you tell the Angel to go ahead and let the 7 evil Leaders start a war that would see 7 billion die? I just thought of another angle, would this change your answer? What if the Angel told you that God said the you personally had to kill the 7 on your list, could you do it? Would you do it even if you were told that God would give you total immunity along with knowledge that you would totally get away with it without any harm coming to you or your family, could you, would you do it? If you have ever been in the military, think of it from that view, would you sacrifice a squad to save a Company? As I said at the beginning of this article, I do not condone any harm ever coming to anyone, I totally wish that the world had no violence in it. I wish that the 7 men on my list would see the Light of God and change from their evil ways before they do meet God face to face. It is not like I am without sin myself and I truly do hope that I never have to pull the trigger on anyone but I do know that if I felt I had to, I would not even hesitate if it meant saving a loved one or an innocent person. Okay, that is the end of the trivia for the day, hope that you enjoyed the read.

Assad Must Go, Says Turkey’s Leader Erdogan




Syrian soldiers parade past a banner depicting President Bashar al-Assad during a government celebration in December 2017. CreditGeorge Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey’s leader denounced President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday as a terrorist mass murderer with no place in that country’s postwar future, scrapping a softened approach that Turkish officials had taken toward Mr. Assad in recent years.

The statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came as Mr. Assad seemed more confident than ever that he has won the war and will remain Syria’s leader for the foreseeable future. It also came against the backdrop of maneuvering by many powers — most notably Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s most important allies — to influence the outcome of a devastating conflict that has reshaped Middle East politics.

One of the first leaders in the region to condemn Mr. Assad when the conflict began in 2011, Mr. Erdogan had in recent months signaled a willingness to accept Mr. Assad’s political longevity.

The Turkish leader’s shift on Wednesday was a reminder of their hostility, coming as Mr. Assad has demonstrated greater swagger over his grip from military gains over the past year, largely with Russia’s help.

In a new sign of his confidence, Mr. Assad even allowed a modest medical evacuation of civilians on Wednesday from one of the last rebel enclaves in the country, near Damascus.

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Erdogan appeared to be reminding Russia that it cannot dictate Syria’s future alone, especially on issues sensitive to Turkey, most notably those involving Syria’s Kurdish groups, which Turkey sees as enemies.

Russia on Tuesday said that representatives of a semiautonomous Kurdish area in northeastern Syria would be allowed to take part in talks that Russia is hosting next month — an inclusion opposed by Turkey.

“Assad, I am saying this loud and clear, is a terrorist who spreads state terrorism,” Mr. Erdogan said at a joint news conference with the Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in Tunis. “Would the Syrian people like to see someone like this stay in charge?”

In remarks quoted by Turkish news agencies, Mr. Erdogan also said: “It is absolutely impossible to move ahead with Assad in Syria. For what? How could we embrace the future with the president of a Syria who killed close to one million of its citizens?”

Furious over the insult, Syria’s Foreign Ministry called Mr. Erdogan a terrorist supporter who bore “prime responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria.”

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands — there are no reliable figures — along with upending roughly half of Syria’s prewar population and contributing to a migration crisis that has reverberated around the world. At least 5.4 million Syrians are refugees and more than six million are internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Russia and Iran have always backed Mr. Assad, while Turkey supports some Syrian rebel groups. Despite their differences, the three nations have been collaborating on diplomacy aimed at ending the war.

All three also have been jockeying for position in the country’s post-conflict future, even as their efforts to end the fighting have proved only partly successful.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement appeared to signal more of a tough negotiating stance than a rupture with Russia, which has been enjoying an improved relationship with Turkey, a NATO member. Even as Mr. Erdogan spoke, his government in Ankara was finalizing a $2.5 billion deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems.

It is possible the Russians welcomed Mr. Erdogan’s tough line toward Mr. Assad, because they want to play a leading role in any peace deal. That means delivering an often recalcitrant Mr. Assad to negotiations.


Patients being taken to hospitals in Damascus as part of a medical evacuation of Eastern Ghouta.CreditAbdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A main issue between Russia and Turkey has involved Syria’s Kurds. Mr. Erdogan has made clear lately that preventing them from maintaining a semiautonomous area bordering Turkey has become a higher priority than toppling Mr. Assad.

But Moscow has been eager to include Kurdish groups in peace talks. It has won greater inclusion for them in the United Nations-backed talks in Geneva — though not through the separate Kurdish delegation that the Kurds wanted — and now has invited numerous Kurdish representatives to Sochi, the southern Russia resort town where talks that Moscow calls a Syrian “national dialogue” will supposedly be held in late January.

Turkey, by contrast, had hoped that Russia and Iran would use their leverage to ostracize the Kurds and exclude them from those talks.

“It hasn’t worked well,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Turkey’s effort on the Kurds. Insistence on blunting Kurdish power in Syria, he said, “takes the limelight in Turkey.”

A previous attempt to convene talks in Sochi, in November, failed when Turkey withdrew over objections to Kurdish participation.

The planned January meeting has also been widely snubbed by Mr. Assad’s Syrian opponents. Forty rebel groups declared Tuesday that they would not take part.

Before the Arab revolts of 2011, relations between Syria and Turkey were neighborly, along a border that stretches more than 500 miles. But six months into the Syrian uprising — which began with political protests met with a harsh security crackdown — Mr. Erdogan broke with Mr. Assad, saying he must step down.

Mr. Erdogan then went on to finance Syrian rebel groups and later allowed foreign recruits to the Islamic State and other jihadist militant groups to stream through Turkey into Syria.

But the Syrian war has taken a toll on Turkey, which is housing more than three million refugees and has suffered deadly attacks by the Islamic State and Kurdish groups.

Soon after Russia began its air campaign on behalf of Mr. Assad’s government in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane. Russia retaliated with sanctions that were devastating for Turkish trade and tourism.

Turkey’s antipathy toward the Kurds, oddly, is partly responsible for the reconciliation in Turkish-Russian relations and a Turkish shift away from insistence that Mr. Assad must go.

As Russian air power severely weakened Syria’s rebel forces, Turkey was willing to temper its support for them in exchange for Russia’s assent to a Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria, where Turkey could block Kurdish expansion.

Mr. Erdogan’s condemnation of Mr. Assad on Wednesday came as the Syrian leader appeared to allow a humanitarian breakthrough, albeit a small one, in the besieged Syrian rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, home to about 400,000 people and the only major rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria said on Wednesday that after protracted negotiations, it had been able to start medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

The enclave has been targeted by Mr. Assad’s forces, and the United Nations has pleaded for his government to allow for the evacuation of around 500 patients, including children with cancer.

The Syrian American Medical Society said four patients had been taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation, with the remainder to be evacuated over the coming days.

Iran Recruits Afghans to Defend Assad, their Numbers Are a ‘Military Secret’



Iran Recruits Afghans to Defend Assad, their Numbers is a ‘Military Secret’

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 – 08:15
Syrian pro-regime forces hold a position in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed district, on December 12, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)
Kabul – London – Asharq Al-Awsat

Fleeing grinding poverty and unemployment, thousands of Afghan Shi’ites have been recruited by Iran to defend the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

“For me it was just about money,” Shams, a former fighter, told Agence France Presse.

Hurman Rights Watch says the Iranians refuse to provide accurate figures, but estimates there are nearly 15,000 Afghans fighting for Fatemiyoun.

Shams, a 25-year-old member of the Hazara ethnic group, went to Syria twice in 2016 to fight in a conflict that has now been raging for more than six years.

“I went there (Iran) because I was jobless and it was a way to get money for my family,” said Shams.

“My idea was to find a job in Iran. I had no plan to go to fight in Syria but after a month of being jobless I decided to go.

“They were encouraging us saying ‘you will be a freedom fighter and if you return to Iran alive you can stay with a 10-year residence permit’.”

Afghan Shi’ites are given 1.5 million toman (about $450) to register at a recruitment center for the Fatemiyoun, Shams said. Once they have signed up they receive three million toman a month, a fortune for many poor Afghans.

Shams’ first mission was in June 2016 in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he was assigned to protect a barracks for two months.

He went back to the country in September and was deployed to Aleppo, where he was given his first AK-47 after receiving rudimentary weapons training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

On the front line of the battle between ISIS militants and Al-Nusra Front group, Shams said he found himself caught up in an intense and deadly battle.

“In Aleppo we faced an ambush — out of 100 fighters we lost almost all of them. There were 15 of us left alive,” Shams said.

“The bodies were sent back to Iran and the families in Afghanistan held funeral ceremonies in mosques without a coffin or grave.”

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, estimates more than 760 Afghans have been killed in Syria since September 2013.

The number of Afghans fighting for the Fatemiyoun is a “military secret,” said Ramazan Bashardost, a Hazara member of parliament in Kabul.

“They are used by the Iranian government, which treats them like slaves,” he said.

“The sorrow, pain and hunger of the people is not a major concern of the Afghan government,” he added.

“Russia Has Never Denied Israels Rights To Jerusalem, The Temple Mount Or The Western Wall”


Moscow has never denied Israel’s rights to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said in advance of his visit to the Jewish state later this week.

“These rights are clear and it would be absurd to deny them,” he told Channel 2 anchorwoman Yonit Levy.

Be the first to know – Join our Facebook page.

He spoke warmly of Russia’s ties with Israel, despite Moscow’s votes against the Jewish state at the United Nations and its delivery of the S-300 missiles to Iran.

Benjamin Netanyahu Dimitry Medvedev. (Photo credit: RIA NOVOSTI / REUTERS)

Levy quizzed him about those controversial issues as well as his support for Syrian President Basher Assad and charges that his country had intervened in the US elections.

How does Russia explain its support of the UNESCO vote “to disregard the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” Levy asked Medvedev.

The issue had been blown out of proportion, he responded speaking in Russian, with a Hebrew translation by Channel 2.

There have been some ten votes by UNESCO Boards and Committees on such Jerusalem resolutions, Medvedev said.

“There is nothing new here,” he said, as he dismissed the significance of UNESCO texts that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif.

“Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall,” Medvedev said.

“Therefore there is no need to politicize this decision,” Medvedev said, adding that such resolutions, were “not directed against Israel.”

Similarly, he said, there was nothing contradictory in Russia’s sale and shipment of the advanced S-300 advanced surface to air missile defense system to Iran.

Israel had opposed such sales because they significantly upgrade Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear sites against any attacks. It is particularly concerned because it does not believe that the Iran deal, put in place in 2015, will limit Tehran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Medvedev told Channel 2 that prior to the Iran deal, Russia respected the sanctions against Tehran and refrained from delivering the S-300. Now that the deal is in place and the sanctions were lifted, there was no reason not to complete the sale, he said.

Moving over to Syria, he referred to President Bashar Assad as the country’s only legitimate leader and added that Israel’s leadership preferred his rule to the prospect of a divided country under terrorist leadership.

“I know him (Assad) personally. There are those who love him and those who don’t. At present Assad is the only legitimate authority operating in Syria. Any regime change would have to occur legitimately,” Medvedev said.

“I remember that during my meetings with Israeli leaders, they told me they were not completely for Assad, but that there has to be someone in charge of the situation, rather than an uncontrolled break up of the country into enclaves ruled by terrorists,” Medvedev said.

Middle East terrorism, he said, is threatening his country from within.

“There are thousands of Russians fighting on behalf of ISIS and other Islamic Jihadist groups,” Medvedev said. “When they return they are experienced murders and terrorists. After their time fighting in Syria we don’t want them to organize something similar [within Russia],” he said.

Levy asked how the presence of the Russian air force in Syria impacted Israel’s ability to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

Medvedev said that it was operating from the assumption that “all sides would not take steps to aggravate the conflict.”

With regard to the United States, he charged that it had not kept its commitments in Syria and that the relationship between Washington and Moscow was at a very low point.

Medvedev chuckled when Levy asked him if Russia had interfered with the US elections.

He quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he stated that “the United States is not a banana republic.”

The US, he said, was a large and strong country and could not be influenced in that way. “It doesn’t matter who will be elected, but what policy they will execute,” he said.

“Its clear [that either candidate] will act in the best national interest of the US,” Medvedev said.

He called Republican candidate Donald Trump brilliant and said he had never met him. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said, was professional and known to him from the times he met with her when she was US Secretary of State from 2009-2012.

Russia expects to have a “normal” and “productive” relationship with whichever of the two candidates wins the White House, Medvedev said.

With regard to the Russian initiative to hold a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Presdient Mahmoud Abbas, Medvedev said that Moscow was not looking to replace the United States or anyone else when it comes to the peace process.

On the other hand, he said, there are very discouraging signs with regard to that conflict and there have been no advancements to speak of on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the last few years.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook


Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

12:55 PM ET

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest [when], following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

“My sense is that the Trump administration is resigned to the fact that the Assad regime has been secured by Iran and Russia for the indefinite future,” Fred Hof, a former U.S. special envoy on Syria under President Barack Obama, told TIME in an email. “They are forced – in large measure due to five plus years of Obama administration policy paralysis – to put Syrian political transition on the back burner.”

The ceasefire deal illustrates a new political reality as diplomatic attempts to resolve the six-year-old Syrian crisis as a whole give way to piecemeal efforts to deescalate the conflict in different parts of the country. Following more than a year of Russian-supported military gains by the government of President Bashar Assad, few now expect a broad national peace agreement between the regime and the rebel groups arrayed against it.

“There is no integrated solution for Syria anymore, at least for the time being in Washington,” says Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking to TIME from Paris. “The core of the problem, the political question, the Assad aspect, the transition; today it’s off the hook. Today this is on the shelf,” he adds.

International diplomacy has focussed lately on containing, rather than resolving the conflict as a whole. In May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey (a key supporter of the Syrian opposition) agreed to a plan to establish a series of four “de-escalation zones” in sections of the country held by the opposition. It achieved limited success in calming fighting between rebels and the regime.

The new ceasefire calls for Jordan and Russia to restrain Syrian rebels and the regime, respectively, along the existing front line in Syria’s southwest, according to an senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. Russia, the United States and Jordan released few other specifics of the agreement. No text of the deal was made public, and it was not clear how the truce would be enforced or monitored.

The new truce could yet provide relief to people living in three provinces in southwestern Syria, if it holds: Daraa, Suwayda, and Quneitra. The southwest has long been a redoubt of mainstream rebel groups who oppose both Assad and extremist groups, owing in part to support from the United States and Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south. Assad and allied forces have intensified attacks on rebel-held areas in the south since February. Past national ceasefires have unravelled within days or weeks. Human rights monitors and President Trump claimed that the ceasefire held, at least in its opening hours.

Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!

Others weren’t certain it would be durable. “Is the ceasefire actually going to lead to a reduction in hostilities and violence in the south? That remains to be seen,” said Charmain Mohamed, a Jordan-based Advocacy Advisor for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Past diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war have sought to broker a peace deal between Assad and a spectrum of rebel groups who demand his removal from power. Those talks collapsed last year as Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a ferocious offensive that reclaimed territory lost to the rebels, including the insurgent stronghold of Aleppo. The loss of the northwestern city was a historic blow to the rebellion that all but ended maximalist hopes of future military success against Assad.

More than six years on from the mass uprising against Assad that spawned Syria’s civil war, the contours of the conflict are shifting. After years in which the United States supported armed opposition groups but avoided direct conflict with Assad, the U.S. military struck Assad’s forces and allied troops at least four times since April, beginning with a cruise missile strike in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people. In June, hostilities escalated again when American forces shot down a Syrian government warplane that attacked U.S.-allied militias on the ground eastern Syria.

The U.S. posture toward Assad is now difficult to gauge. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a “transition away from the Assad family,” but also acknowledged that there was no plan in place to replace the current regime. Speaking to reporters in Hamburg, Tillerson said of Russian policy in Syria, “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.”

Under Trump, the U.S. has focused its efforts in Syria on fighting ISIS, sending additional troops to support Kurdish-led militias now battling their way into the jihadists’ stronghold in the eastern city of Raqqa. The ISIS-focused approach has placed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as a whole on the backburner.

The ceasefire agreement overshadowed a new round of United Nations-brokered peace talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Bahout, the analyst, said few expected any progress. “No one is betting one dollar on that,” he said.

Why Iran and Israel may be on the verge of conflict — in Syria


Why Iran and Israel may be on the verge of conflict — in Syria

TEL AVIV  — Some Israelis like to go to the Golan, where from the safety of a ramp overlooking the valley below, they can watch — no binoculars needed — the most consequential regional event of the age: the Syrian civil war.

This week, however, the Israel Defense Forces closed the area for visitors, letting in only the local farmers who worried about missing the cherry harvest.

That’s because for three days in a row, mortar shells flew across the border onto the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, putting war gawkers at too much risk.

Most likely, the shells overflew their real target: one of the sides in the increasingly heated battle in an area around Quneitra, a town divided between Israel and Syria. Various Sunni militias are entrenched in the area, and Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad are trying to clear them out.

Control of the road between Quneitra and Dara to the south (where the uprising against Assad started six years ago) is key for the Syrian army — and even more so for its patrons in Tehran. By capturing this road, and the area east of Israel and north of Jordan, they can establish a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq, to Damascus and Syria’s neighbor, Lebanon.

Throw in Yemen, and Iran’s dream of a “Shiite crescent” that would make it the Mideast’s dominant force comes true.

The Syria war is complex, involving many powers pulling in all directions. But Iran and its allied militias — Shiite Iraqis, foreigners from Afghanistan and elsewhere, Hezbollah, Assad’s army — have emerged as a chief worry for policymakers in Riyadh, Amman and Jerusalem.

True, Israel knows how to handle spillover from war on its border. IDF surgical strikes hit Syrian army targets over the past few days, which was enough to at least pause the cross-border seepage of fire into the Golan.

The larger concern for Israeli policymakers here is that Iran and its allied militias, already in control of south Lebanon, are trying to cement a beachhead in Syria.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. “Iran is attempting to use the civil war to establish air force and naval bases in Syria,” Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio this week.

It’s not just Syria. IDF intelligence chief Herzi Halevi said Iran is also building arms factories in Lebanon, a country now dominated by its local proxy, Hezbollah. The mullahs, he said, similarly use Yemeni proxies, the Houthis, to manufacture weapons in that strategically located country next door to Saudi Arabia.

So where’s America in all this?

The Obama administration considered Iran an ally in the fight against ISIS. That, and the nuclear deal that filled the mullahs’ coffers with cash, worried the Saudis so much that they quietly turned to Israel as an ally to confront Tehran.

And not only Saudis. Ha’aretz reports Jordan and Israel have tightened intelligence cooperation in recent weeks to better address the growing Iranian threat on Syrian territory near both countries’ borders.

US forces are reportedly also operating there in growing numbers. Better yet, President Trump has made clear his predecessor’s romance with Tehran was just a fling. The administration has been warning Iran to watch its step as it stomps around the Middle East.

That may have been behind the seemingly-out-of-the-blue White House announcement Monday, confirmed by the Pentagon Tuesday, that it’s detected signs Syria is preparing a new chemical attack. Trump officials warned Assad would pay a “heavy price” for using chemical weapons again.

Yet, widely reported internal fights among administration bigwigs over America’s involvement in the Syria war could hamstring the united anti-Iran front that Sunni allies are hoping for. Washington’s bickering over Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, an Iran ally, isn’t helping either.

According to a Fox News report, Trump is quietly organizing a regional conference, inviting Sunni allies and perhaps even Israel. If so, good — but administration officials will surely hear a lot about the need for America to take a clear stand against Iran’s expansion.

The region is on edge. A victory over ISIS seems close now, but if Iran emerges on top, a wider and more vicious war may ensue, with dire consequences for everyone, including America.

For Israelis, meanwhile, such an outcome could be much scarier than what happened this week to a few Golan tourists that temporarily lost a front-row seat for watching the war below.

FILED UNDER         

North Korea Snarls at Israel After Defense Chief Calls Pyongyang ‘Crazy’


North Korea Snarls at Israel After Defense Chief Calls Pyongyang ‘Crazy’
After Israel’s defense minister Lieberman says U.S.-North Korea tensions have implications for Israel, hermit kingdom lashes out at ‘only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East’

Haaretz Apr 29, 2017 6:07 PM
comments   Zen Subscribe
Shareshare on facebook  Tweet send via email reddit stumbleupon
Top IDF officer: U.S.-North Korea tensions could have effect on Israel’s security
Trump asserts major conflict with North Korea possible, but seeks diplomacy
North Korea unsuccessfully test-fires ballistic missile
North Korea lashed out at Israel on Saturday after Israel’s defense minister called the hermit kingdom’s regime a “crazy and radical group,” blamed it of being an ally of Syria’s Assad and the Lebanese group Hezbollah and said growing tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang have “direct implications” for Israel.
A statement released by the North Korean Foreign Ministry called Avigdor Lieberman’s statement “reckless” and a form of “sordid and wicked behavior” that posed a “grave challenge to the DPRK.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a political event in 2016.
In the statement, North Korea blasted Israel as the “only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East under the patronage of the U.S.” It said Lieberman’s comments were part of a “cynical ploy” to escape criticism of the occupation “of the Arab territories” and “crimes against humanity.”
North Korea said it is “fully supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people… [of] establishing of an independent state with Kuds as its capital,” using the Arab name for Jerusalem.
In a warning to Israel, Pyongyang said “Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK.”
Keep updated: Sign up to our newsletter
Email* Sign up
In an interview last week to the news site Walla, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that tensions between the U.S. and North Korea “have direct implications for Israel.”
“Kim Jong-un is an ally of Assad. From North Korea, through Iran, to Syria and Hezbollah,” Lieberman said, adding that country’s sole goal was “undermining global stability,” and calling the country’s leadership “a crazy and radical group.”
According to foreign reports, North Korea was involved in helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, which was destroyed in an attack attributed to Israel in 2007.

Undated image of a covert nuclear reactor built in Syria’s eastern desert after its Sept. 6, 2007 destruction.AP
Tensions in the peninsula
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
U.S. and South Korean officials said the test appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for “trying very hard” on North Korea but warned a “major, major conflict” was possible.
The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

read more:

France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack


France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack

Story highlights

  • France finds common elements in samples from Khan Sheikhoun and a 2013 Syria attack
  • French Foreign Ministry says there’s “no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime”

(CNN) France has said that it has proof that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month that killed 89 people.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that samples taken from the attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun matched those from a previous incident.
“We have definite sources that the procedure used to make the Sarin sampled is typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories,” he said. “This method bears the signature of the regime, and that is what has allowed us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”
French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria and so were able to compare them, he said.
A tweet posted by the French Foreign Ministry said: “There’s no doubt that Sarin was used. There is also no doubt about the responsibility of the Syrian regime.”
The attack has been widely blamed by Western powers on the Syrian government, which is supposed to have given up its chemical weapon stockpile in 2013 following an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus that activists say killed 1,400 people.
International chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last week they had found “incontrovertible” evidence that Sarin, or a similar substance, was used in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, but did not apportion responsibility.
UK scientists had already found that Sarin or a similar chemical had been used in the attack, having tested samples smuggled from the site.

Assad denies chemical attack in interview

Assad denies chemical attack in interview
However, Damascus denies it had anything to do with the Khan Sheikhoun attack, instead blaming “terrorist” groups. It also denies it has any chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key Syrian ally, has suggested meanwhile that the attack was carried out by “forces” trying to frame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow also questioned the impartiality of the OPCW.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia would not change its position regarding the Khan Sheikhoun attack in light of the French assessment.
“The Kremlin and President Putin still believe that conducting an impartial international investigation is the only way to find out the truth,” state-run TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

‘Common elements’

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 5.

The French Foreign Ministry said its independent investigation, declassified so it could be shared with the world, supported “with certainty” the conclusions also reached by the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and the OPCW.
Analysis by French experts of samples from the April 4 attack site and the blood of one of the victims confirmed the use of Sarin, its report said. Those samples were compared with samples from an attack on the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in April 2013, in which three grenades containing Sarin were dropped by a helicopter, one of which failed to explode, it said. According to the French army, only the Syrian regime had helicopters so it had to be behind the attack.

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, on April 5, 2017.

Scientists established the presence of the same chemical compounds in samples taken from Saraqeb in 2013 and from Khan Sheikhoun, the French Foreign Ministry said. “The Sarin present in the weapons used on April 4 was produced according to the same manufacturing method as that used in the Sarin attack carried out by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb.”
The report also cited the French military’s assessment that a warplane had been deployed from the Syrian regime’s Shayrat airbase on the morning of April 4 and had carried out up to six airstrikes in the Khan Sheikhoun area. “Only the regime has such air assets,” said Ayrault.

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack

Pentagon: No doubt Syria behind gas attack
“The French intelligence services believe that only Bashar al-Assad and some of the most influential members of his entourage are empowered to give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report added.
The report also describes the claim that rebel forces in the area had Sarin as “not credible.”
It casts doubt on the Syrian regime’s promised destruction of its chemical stockpile, saying that French intelligence services believe “important doubts remain about the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal.”

Missile strike

The chemical attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime in the six-year war, causing a major rift between Washington and Moscow.
On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase, US officials said.
The Khan Sheikhoun incident has led to renewed calls for Assad to be forced from power, as international ceasefire and peace talks continue to end a conflict which has killed 400,000 people, according to UN data.

Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents



Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

By Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott | WASHINGTON

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents’ classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.

Putin has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Putin’s spokesman and the Russian institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents were central to the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia mounted a “fake news” campaign and launched cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton’s campaign, the current and former officials said.

“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Trump has said Russia’s activities had no impact on the outcome of the race. Ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have so far produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian effort to change the outcome of the election.

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Russia Today did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.” “And by the way, it’s not the first pack of lies we’re hearing from ‘sources in U.S. official circles’,” the spokesperson said in an email.


Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. []

Russia Today’s most popular Clinton video – “How 100% of the 2015 Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to … themselves” – accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. []

The report said Russia Today and Sputnik “consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets.”

The report said the agencies did not assess whether Moscow’s effort had swung the outcome of the race in Trump’s favor, because American intelligence agencies do not “analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.” []


Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

The overt propaganda and covert hacking efforts reinforced each other, according to the officials. Both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted the release of the hacked Democratic Party emails, which often contained embarrassing details.

Five of the U.S. officials described the institute as the Kremlin’s in-house foreign policy think tank.

The institute’s director when the documents were written, Leonid Reshetnikov, rose to the rank of lieutenant general during a 33-year-career in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, according to the institute’s website []. After Reshetnikov retired from the institute in January, Putin named as his replacement Mikhail Fradkov. The institute says he served as the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service from 2007 to 2016. []

Reuters was unable to determine if either man was directly involved in the drafting of the documents. Reshetnikov’s office referred questions to the Russian institute.

On its website, the Russian institute describes itself as providing “expert appraisals,” “recommendations,” and “analytical materials” to the Russian president’s office, cabinet, National Security Council, ministries and parliament. []

On Jan. 31, the websites of Putin’s office [] and the institute [] posted a picture and transcript of Reshetnikov and his successor Fradkov meeting with Putin in the Kremlin. Putin thanked Reshetnikov for his service and told Fradkov he wanted the institute to provide objective information and analysis.

“We did our best for nearly eight years to implement your foreign policy concept,” Reshetnikov told Putin. “The policy of Russia and the policy of the President of Russia have been the cornerstone of our operation.”

(Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Rohde and Ross Colvin)

Darlene Foster's Blog

dreamer of dreams, teller of tales

Tales From Mindful Travels

The Two Doctors walk into a bar ...


Workplace behaviour – an ironic look at what some people sometimes do in office and why


I am fresh new blogger. Just love to write my feelings sometimes 😊

Weekend Trivia

Travel. Food. Photography. Lifestyle. Makeup. Fun.

The Journey of My Left Foot (whilst remembering my son)

I have Malignant Melanoma, my son had Testicular Cancer

Prosecco Trail

Welcome to a space about sparkling wine, winemakers and lost empires along the trails of the Alps and Adriatic Sea.

My Take On Disability

I am just a girl happened to be visually challenged!

Simpliv LLC

Learn. Teach. Earn


Leben in der Zwischenwelt

%d bloggers like this: