Lebanon Questions Int’l Stances for Ignoring Syrian Refugee Right to Return Home

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Lebanon Questions Int’l Stances for Ignoring Syrian Refugee Right to Return Home

Tuesday, 27 November, 2018 – 10:15
Lebanese President Aoun meets with President of the Belgian House of Representatives, Siegfried Bracke, and his accompanying delegation at Baabda. (Dalati & Nohra)
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat
Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday emphasized the need for Syrian refugees to return to safe areas in their country.

Aoun was speaking during a meeting at the Baabda palace with President of the Belgian House of Representatives, Siegfried Bracke, in the presence of his accompanying parliamentary delegation.

The president said linking the Syrian refugees’ return to their homeland to reaching a political solution in Syria “raises doubts regarding their stay in their host countries,” citing the example of the Palestinian refugees.

“Seventy years have passed and the solution of the Palestinian issue has not yet been reached,” he noted.

Aoun informed Bracke that Lebanon has asked the international community and the international organizations affiliated to the United Nations to provide assistance to the displaced Syrians after their return, because they are contributing to the reconstruction of their country.

In response to a question, Aoun expressed his surprise at “international positions that ignore the need for the return of Syria refugees.”

He stressed that Lebanon was witnessing an economic crisis due to accumulating challenges, the impact of the international economic situation and the influx of displaced Syrians.

Bracke, for his part, said his country would become a member of the Security Council as of next January, and would contribute to supporting Lebanon’s causes at international platforms.

Also on Monday, Speaker Nabih Berri and Bracke signed a three-year extension to 2021 of a partnership protocol between the two countries’ councils, which provides for parliamentary cooperation in sharing expertise in legislation and supervision.

Facing US Sanctions, Tehran Set to Lose Economic Deals in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Facing US Sanctions, Tehran Set to Lose Economic Deals in Syria

Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 – 09:15
Booth selling handmade crafts in Damascus bazaar, EPA
Damascus – Asharq Al-Awsat
Washington’s newly imposed sanctions on Iran have given rise to many speculations concerning the fate of Tehran’s recently stepped up investments in Syria.

Despite Iran and Syria labeling their relationship as ‘strategic’ when it comes to political, military and security cooperation, their economic ties have remained humble with a small trade exchange valued at $361 million between 2010 and 2011.

Most of trade happening between the two is skewed to benefit Iran, and fails to meet forecast hopes. Both Damascus and Tehran had hoped to achieve a whopping $2 billion exchange.

Iranian investment is at the bottom of the list when compared with other countries that ventured in Syrian markets that opened up to better global trade relations in 2000. The number of projects undertaken by Iran between 2006 and 2010 totaled seven only, and included a cement manufacture plant, energy supply contracts, and car production deals involving the Syrian Iranian Car Manufacturing Company LLC (SIAMCO).

During that very same period, Turkey bagged a total of 26 investment projects in Syria. Back in 2010, the Syria government approved 37 foreign investment projects, ten of which belonged to Turkey.

After the 2011 uprising set Syria on a downward spiral of bloodshed and devastation, the country’s gross domestic production took a crippling blow and bled an estimated $226 million in losses. Syria’s currency lost up to 90 percent of its value, leaving 85 percent of the Middle Eastern country’s population below the poverty line.

In the aftermath of the Syria Civil war, unemployment aggravated to a staggering 53 percent in 2015 and coincided with depleted national foreign currency reserves, with reports saying the country was left with a diminishing 5.88 percent of its pre-war foreign currency reserves.

Reaching such a tattered state of affairs forced the Syrian regime to seek out squeezing more economic help from Iran, in addition to military and political support. Responding to regime calls, Tehran increased its economic input in Syria by late 2011.

Nevertheless, the contribution did not come by for free. Iran soon subdued the Syrian regime by inking multiple agreements stringing across the entirety of Syrian economic sectors. Quintessential to its influence in Syria, Tehran secured a considerable share in production industries linked to the war-torn country’s sovereign wealth and natural resources.

These stakes were handed over to Iran to settle outstanding debts.

In August 2013, Tehran loaned Damascus $3.6 billion to cover for the regime’s oil derivatives expenditure.  But it was agreed that the money buys Iranian oil exclusively.

Later in July 2017, Bashar Assad approved his country acquiring another $1 billion loan to finance exports.

Syria’s energy, telecommunications, financial, construction and industrial sectors– to some degree–are spending Iranian credit. But it will not be a walk in the park for Iran to secure its share of the Syrian economy.

Russia, a strong regime ally, is also seeking to grab serious investment projects in Syria.  In light of competitiveness, observers believe that Moscow might use US sanctions to sway the situation in its favor, especially in forcing the Syrian regime to hand over energy sector concessions, previously promised to Iran, to Russian companies.

US sanctions are also expected to reduce the spread of Iran proxy militias in Syria because of lack of funds—signs of the US economic sanctions effecting Iran’s regional standing began showing as Russian troops began replacing Iran-linked forces in military outposts in eastern Syria.

For example, Russian forces have taken control of locations, formerly held by Iranian militias, in Abu Kamal, a city on the Euphrates river in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province near the border with Iraq.

Jordanians Dash Over for Cheap Shopping at Syria Border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Jordanians Dash Over for Cheap Shopping at Syria Border

Monday, 12 November, 2018 – 09:30
Vehicles are being checked by custom officers at the recently reopened Nassib border post in the Daraa province, at the Syrian-Jordanian border south of Damascus on November 7, 2018. LOUAI BESHARA / AFP
Nassib (Syria) – Asharq Al-Awsat
Near the recently reopened border with Jordan, former Syrian opposition fighter Bahaa al-Masri sells date-filled pastries and sesame biscuits to Jordanians flocking across the frontier to snap up bargains.

Syrian regime forces retook control of the Nassib border crossing from the opposition in July, and last month reopened it after a three-year closure.

Just several hundred meters from the frontier, 26-year-old Masri counts the boxes of biscuits he still has left in a green plastic crate strapped to the back of his motorbike.

“For two weeks I have been bringing sweets from Damascus and selling them to Jordanians who come to buy them here because they’re cheaper,” says the ex-combatant, wearing a black jacket and woollen hat.

“I sell 27 to 30 boxes a day.”

Masri hawks the pastries every day in a rest area on the edge of Syria’s southern province of Daraa for three Jordanian dinars each (around $4, 3.5 euros).

“Thank God, when the border opened there was work again here, after I spent around six years without a job,” Masri tells AFP.

Also looking to cash in are Jordanian drivers, jokingly dubbed “sailors”, who ferry goods from Syria across the frontier for a small commission.

A whole economy has sprung up again since the border begun working.

At the crossing itself cars sit side by side in several long queues waiting to cross over into Syria.

Large trucks, some refrigerated, also wait their turn.

Before the war, “we used to come over to Syria every day — sometimes just to have breakfast”, says Mohammed Sayes, a 25-year-old from Jordan’s adjacent border town of Ramtha.

It was his second such trip since the border reopened “to see the sights, go out and eat” cheap, he says.

“Yes, Syria lived through a war, but we suffered a siege,” says the specialist in tourism management.

“When the border reopened, it was like paradise opened up again.”

Further up, dozens of people stand in line outside a row of small pre-fabricated buildings to have their Jordanian passports stamped by Syrian officials.

Jordanian driver Muflah al-Hurani, 53, is crossing the border to drive a family back home from the Syrian capital Damascus just over 100 kilometers to the north.

He has been going in and out of Syria on an almost daily basis since Nassib reopened, to transport passengers or shop for relatives.

“I bring back fruit and vegetables including potatoes, onions, garlic, as well as children’s clothes made of cotton,” he says.

“And I fill up my car will fuel… It’s less than half the price (in Syria) despite the war.”

Not far off, the former arrivals hall is being repaired after it was damaged in the war.

Damascus hopes the reopening of Nassib will boost its war-ravaged economy.

Before the conflict, the crossing was a key passage for trade, linking Syria — but also Lebanon and Turkey — with Jordan and the Gulf beyond.

Syrian officials have registered more than 33,000 arrivals since October 15, against 29,000 departures.

Among those waiting to head across the border are also Syrians returning home, car roofs piled high with suitcases and blankets.

Last week, a Jordanian official said 6,000 Syrians had gone back to their country, among them 517 registered refugees.

The head of the Nassib crossing Colonel Mazen Ghandour says the number of people heading into Syria is increasing daily, and that most of those coming are Jordanians.

“Most Jordanians come to shop and then go home,” Ghandour says. “Others go to see Damascus.”

A few meters away, a Syrian woman living in Jordan smiles as she waits to cross over with her family for a two-week visit.

“Damascus is a blessing… That’s why everybody wants to visit after being cut off for so long,” she says.

Syria: ISIS Leaves behind a Thousand Children with 100 Accents + 500 Wives

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Leaves behind a Thousand Children with 100 Accents

Monday, 29 October, 2018 – 07:15
Kurdish officials say they are holding at least 500 women and 1,200 children from 44 nationalities in three camps across northeast Syria. AFP file photo
London – Asharq Al-Awsat

On a small hill in the flat brush lands of northeastern Syria lies the Roj camp for displaced people. With its white tents and red soil, it looks much like the scores of other refugee settlements in the region.

Shut away in a corner, however, behind a chain-link fence and under supervision by female Kurdish militia guards, are some inhabitants who are very different, The Sunday Times reported.

They are the women and children of the “caliphate”: ISIS brides who came from across the world to live under a so-called “Islamic state.” It did not go so well.

Kurdish officials say they are holding at least 500 women and 1,200 children from 44 nationalities in three camps across northeast Syria. Most of the women’s native countries are unwilling to take them back. The Kurd’s do not want to keep them.

According to the report, as ISIS imploded, these women and children were thrown into the strange limbo of camp life, waiting among displaced Syrians for their fate

Here a visitor can see all the bizarre combinations of lives turned upside down in the “caliphate”: an English-speaking boy in a Spider-man costume whose father was American, he thinks. A teenage girl who joined ISIS at 13, married two fighters and had been widowed twice. A smiling Dutch woman with her blonde children, who could have stepped out of a Vermeer painting.

The tents hum with dozens of different languages — Syrian Arabic words mixed with Dutch, English and Swedish in a hundred accents and dialects.

While the women are not really in prison, they are under guard. Internet access is heavily restricted, as is communication with family and officials.

Even if they wanted to leave, there would be few chances of escape across the flat savanna. The women are all intent on survival. Of the hundreds who joined ISIS, they are the ones who made it out — holding on through the paranoid horror of the fall of Raqqa and escaping, often across minefields or through intense fighting, with their children.

Whatever their reasons for joining ISIS they know that the stories they tell the officials here could decide the rest of their lives.

During several visits by The Sunday Times, the European women held in these camps were overwhelmingly friendly, erudite and polite.

They all said they regretted joining ISIS. Many claimed they had been tricked into coming to Syria by their partners.

Those who did not insisted they had simply been attracted by a life of piety under ISIS.

Their dress has changed now they are beyond ISIS rule. None wore the face-covering niqab. All claimed they remembered Europe fondly. They even shook hands with male members of staff from The Sunday Times.

Most of them were lying through their teeth. They had joined ISIS at a time when videos had been posted online that showed captive journalists and aid workers being beheaded. Although they may not have fought, they were members of the militant group and supported its foul ideology.

For officials, as well as visitors, it can be almost impossible to piece together which parts of their stories are true. That is a task that interrogators will be faced with should British ISIS members return to the UK.

 

 

ISIS Kills 41 SDF Fighters in Eastern Syria: Monitor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Kills 41 SDF Fighters in Eastern Syria: Monitor

Saturday, 27 October, 2018 – 13:30
Members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), gather in eastern Syria on September 11, 2018 | AFP
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat
The ISIS terrorist group has killed 41 US-backed fighters in Syria who are battling to oust the extremists from their eastern holdout of Hajin on the Iraqi border, a war monitor said Saturday.

The ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency said that more than 40 SDF fighters were killed and posted a video of six gunmen captured alive.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said and that ISIS gunmen late Friday attacked SDF positions on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river in east Syria and the fighting continued until early Saturday.

The SDF fighters, who are backed by US-led coalition air strikes, were killed overnight, the Observatory said.

In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, ISIS said it had attacked the village of Sousa late Friday and detonated a car bomb near the village of Al-Baghuza further south, down the Euphrates river.

The SDF last month launched an offensive against the militants in the Hajin pocket on the eastern banks of the Euphrates, in Deir Ezzor province.

ISIS has staged a bloody fightback.

Since September 10, 270 SDF fighters and 496 ISIS radicals have been killed in the offensive, the Observatory says.

The coalition estimates that 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the Hajin area.

ISIS overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” across the land it controlled.

But the extremist group has since lost most of that territory to various offensives in both countries.

In Syria, its presence has been reduced to parts of the vast Badia desert and the Hajin pocket.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Syria: Flooding in Damascus as Dumayr Dam Collapses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Flooding in Damascus as Dumayr Dam Collapses

Monday, 22 October, 2018 – 08:15
A general view of Damascus, Syria. (AFP)
Damascus – Asharq Al-Awsat
The Syrian capital’s Adra district was left devastated by flooding caused by the collapse of the al-Dumayr dam in the western Damascus countryside on Saturday.

An official told Asharq Al-Awsat: “A real catastrophe has taken place in the Adra suburb and in the industrial city.”

Adra is seen as a vital district in attempts to revitalize Syria’s economy that has been ravaged by years of war.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a technical malfunction caused the collapse.

The dam has a capacity of 2.150 million liters and lies some 14 kms away from the industrial city. Dam workers were swept away by the rushing waters and many remain missing.

The losses are estimated a millions of dollars, said the official.

Residents of the industrial city were left trapped by the floods for several hours before rescue teams could reach them.

The SANA state news agency reported that two children and a youth in the towns of Deir Muqrin and Kafir Zeit in Wadi Barada were killed. Dozens of houses were also damaged.

Damascus and its suburbs witnessed similar devastating floods last year.

This year’s flooding was compounded by the blockage of drainage pipes.

The Damascus chamber of industry blamed the flooding on poor planning in the city and the rescue teams’ lack of preparedness.

It demanded that authorities take the necessary measures to avert such disasters in the future and to compensate those affected by the flooding.

Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to US amid crisis over Khashoggi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Saudi Arabia ‘Coincidentally’ Wires $100 Million To U.S. Amid Khashoggi Controversy

The payment, which the Saudis had committed to in August, reportedly arrived on the same day that Pompeo landed in Riyadh.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss the disappearance and presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That same day, the U.S. government received a $100 million payment from the oil-rich kingdom, The New York Times and Washington Post reported — an amount that had earlier been promised to the Trump administration to support its stabilization efforts in Syria.

Trump officials have insisted the timing of the hefty transfer was pure coincidence. But some Middle Eastern experts say they aren’t so sure.

“In all probability, the Saudis want Trump to know that his cooperation in covering for the Khashoggi affair is important to the Saudi monarch,” Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Middle East Studies, told the Post. “Much of its financial promises to the U.S. will be contingent on this cooperation.”

One U.S. official involved in Syria policy was blunter. “The timing of this is no coincidence,” the official told the Times.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, has maintained, however, that the Saudi payment had no connection whatsoever to Pompeo’s meeting with the Crown Prince or Khashoggi’s alleged murder.

Saudi Arabia had publicly committed the money in August, he said, adding that “the specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”

Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to US amid crisis over Khashoggi

Reports have connected the alleged murder and dismemberment of the journalist with people from the Crown Prince’s inner circle. Yet both the president and Pompeo said this week that the Saudis should be given more time to investigate the situation and should be assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Trump and Pompeo also stressed America’s close ties to the Saudis ― and the massive amounts of money that the U.S. receives from the kingdom.

Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that “we need to make sure we are mindful” of the important business and government ties with Saudi Arabia as the U.S. considers next steps regarding the Khashoggi case.

“I do think it’s important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships ― financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things we work on together all across the world, the efforts to [counter Iran],” Pompeo said, according to CNN.

When asked about Khashoggi’s disappearance last Thursday, Trump said that while “we don’t like it even a little bit,” it wouldn’t be “acceptable” to him to stop selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to Riyadh.

“We don’t like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me,” the president said, referring to an arms deal that experts have called hugely exaggerated.

The true threat of S-300’s is not that they’re powerful, but that they’re Russian

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The true threat of S-300s is not that they’re powerful, but that they’re Russian

The Israeli Air Force likely has the means to work around Russian electronic warfare and Syrian air defenses, but doing so risks inflaming the growing Jerusalem-Moscow crisis

Judah Ari Gross
In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, a Russian S-300 air defense system is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, a Russian S-300 air defense system is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

Russia’s announcement on Monday that it would be upgrading Syria’s air defenses with its formidable S-300 system within two weeks marked the latest nadir in Israel’s rapidly spiraling relationship with Moscow since the downing by Syria of a Russian spy plane off the Syrian coast last week.

In addition to supplying Syria with the S-300, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu also said Monday that Russia would “jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets in Syria.”

But the greater threat is not the specific tactical hurdle that the system poses for the Israeli Air Force, but rather that this episode could lead to a breakdown of Israel’s relationship with Russia.

Not since the 1960s and 1970’s has Israel had to contend with an antagonistic Moscow actively working against Israeli interests. Though Russia today indeed supplies weapons to many of Israel’s enemies — including S-300 batteries to Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran — the general understanding in Israel is that this isn’t personal, it’s business.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the complete lifting of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on January 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

The current crisis has the potential to change that, depending on how it is handled by Israel, Russia and the United States.

Though the actions of Russia are some of the most openly hostile toward Israel since the end of the Cold War, they are still reversible, at least to some degree.

For over five years, Russian has been threatening to sell the S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria, but has backed off each time at the behest of the Israeli, and sometimes the American, government.

The long-range S-300 — with an operational radius of 250 kilometers (150 miles), according to Russia — is a far more advanced form of the S-200 air defense system that Syria currently employs.

For now, Moscow has said it will supply two to four S-300 batteries to Syria, but is prepared to deliver more if necessary. According to Russian media, the systems will be set up on Syria’s western coast and in its southwest, near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, which are the two areas from which the IAF would be most likely to conduct airstrikes.

Russia has yet to indicate which model of S-300 it intends to sell Syria; there are several, each with its own range of capabilities. Even the lowest quality model’s radar would be able to monitor flights around northern Israel — and potentially civilian flights in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport, depending on where the system is placed in Syria.

The threat of the S-300 and electronic warfare

For Israel, the S-300 would represent a significant but not insurmountable obstacle in Syria, where it routinely bombs Iranian and Hezbollah facilities and weapons caches.

While the S-300, known by NATO as the SA-10, is far more powerful than Syria’s current long-range anti-aircraft system, the S-200 or SA-5, the Israeli Air Force has had decades to prepare for it.

A number of Israeli allies operate the air defense system. The IAF has reportedly trained against S-300 batteries that once belonged to Cyprus, but are now owned by Greece, during joint aerial exercises over the years.

In this August 27, 2013, photo, a Russian air defense system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

Israel is also the proud owner of a growing fleet of F-35 fighter jets, a model whose raison d’être is stealth. These fifth-generation jets have already been used operationally, the IAF said earlier this year.

And the Israeli Air Force is also famed for its own electronic warfare capabilities. Indeed, in the 1982 first Lebanon War, the IAF used radar jamming against Syria’s Soviet-supplied air defenses, destroying 29 of the country’s 30 anti-aircraft batteries.

Israeli also reportedly used this type of technology in its attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor in 2007, blocking the Syrian military’s air defenses during the raid.

But a Russia-supplied S-300 system is not only an operational challenge — it is a geopolitical one as well.

Though in his announcement Russian defense minister Shoigu said Syrian teams had been training to operate the S-300 system, it was not immediately clear if the batteries would also be staffed by Russian military personnel


If they were, this would make an Israeli decision to destroy Syrian S-300 batteries far more complicated, requiring the direct and intentional targeting of Russian forces.

Russia’s plan to use electronic warfare against Israeli “hotheads” — per Shoigu — serves as yet another obstacle and point of consideration for the Israeli Air Force.

According to Russian media, these electronic warfare systems will create a “radioelectonic dome” with a radius of hundreds of kilometers around western Syria and the Mediterranean coast, which would affect not only Israeli planes but also American and French navy ships, as well as civilian planes in the area.

Here too, the Israeli military would likely have a number of technological and operational means to overcome this challenge, but the top brass would have to weigh the use of those measures against the value of the target.

Earlier this year, when Russia was again threatening to arm Syria with the S-300, Israeli officials said the IAF was prepared to target any anti-aircraft system that fires at its planes, regardless of who supplied it or who was operating it.

“One thing needs to be clear: If someone shoots at our planes, we will destroy them. It doesn’t matter if it’s an S-300 or an S-700,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the time.

While the IAF may be capable of getting around Russian radar jamming and would be well within its rights to destroy a Russia-supplied S-300 battery that fires on its planes, such acts would run the risk of further alienating Moscow and pushing the two countries further to the brink of a full diplomatic break.

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COMMENTS

Israel Shocked by Russia’s Blame for Downing of Plane by Syrian Forces

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

(THIS IS A CASE OF YOUR SISTER SHOT YOU IN THE BACK BUT BECAUSE YOU DON’T WANT TO PISS OFF THE FAMILY, YOU BLAME IT ON THEIR NEIGHBOR.)

Israel Shocked by Russia’s Blame for Downing of Plane by Syrian Forces

Monday, 24 September, 2018 – 10:15
An explosion is pictured at Quneitra at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border, as seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 22, 2018. (File photo: Reuters)
Tel Aviv- Nazir Majli
Israel was shocked with Russian accusations that it was responsible for the downing of the Ilyushin 20 plane in Lattakia a week ago. Officials declined to comment publicly on the issue, however, they leaked to the media explanations, assessments and political stances that Russians are launching a campaign aimed at establishing a new position that restricts the freedom of the Israeli air force to carry out raids on Iranian bases in Syria.

Former chief of Israel’s air force indicated that Russia received IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, last Thursday, and listened to his explanations about the downing of the plane.

According to the retired general, Moscow accepted Israeli explanations that the Syrian defenses are responsible for attacking the plane, however, they offered a contradicting rhetoric in their public campaign. He believes Russian officials are in a very difficult position given that their Syrian allies dropped a plane and killed all 15 crew members.

Military expert Ron Ben-Yishai indicated in his op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth that the most striking thing about the report produced by the Russian Defense Ministry is the fact that it ignores the findings of the investigation conducted in Israel that were presented by Maj. Gen. Norkin and Israeli intelligence officials who accompanied him to Moscow in a bid to lower the ensuing tension.

In an unprecedented diplomatic move, Israel sent its air force commander with authorized and detailed documentation to Moscow which was intended not only to shed light on what transpired, but also on the events leading up to it.

Yet, the Russians ignored Israeli reports and bore Israel the sole responsibility for the incident. The report didn’t even try to refute Israel’s claims or to make counterclaims against the information Russians had been provided just days earlier.

The report seems as though absolutely no attempt to clarify matters was made by the Israeli side.

They demonstrated just how “ungrateful Israel apparently is to the charitable Russians who are trying to protect it and are only repaid in bad faith,” added Yishai.

The expert believes that upon analyzing the Russian position, two major conclusions can be depicted.

First, they are trying to ensure that the Russians did not provide their Syrian allies with the electronic signals to identify their planes. The aim is to show that the incident was not due to Syrian army’s ignorance, but rather that Russian officers who operate jointly with the Syrian air defenses did not train them well or provide them with radars to detect the plane.

The second reason is to solicit new compromises from Israel regarding the situation in Syria. The Defense Ministry did not include in its report any warning or threat of retaliation. “It can be assumed that the Russians will try to use the crisis against Israel to limit the freedom over Syria’s skies which it has been granted by Moscow through new agreements,” he indicated.

The Israeli government must ignore the Russian lies and the refusal to take into consideration the investigation findings, in the hope that this will calm the situation, and it will be possible to fully resume the security coordination with the Russians.

Haaretz’s military correspondent, Amos Harel considered that Russian Defense Ministry’s report should not surprise anyone in Israel, except maybe for a few supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu cannot make the problem disappear,” he said.

An experienced pilot described Russian inquiry’s as “rather dubious”, according to Harel, who added that some of the claims included in its announcement “are strange”.

The bottom line still depends on Putin’s decision, who will probably take the report’s findings and come out with new agreements with Israel in Syria.

The Russian President is aware of an Iranian attempt to smuggle arms into Syria and Israel’s intention to attack the shipment, and this will be another test for the Russia-Israeli agreements, concluded Harel.

Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

Syrian soldiers reportedly arrested in connection with downed spy plane; IAF commander to fly to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A munitions warehouse in a Syrian military facility appears to have been completely obliterated in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian port city of Latakia late on Monday, satellite images released Wednesday show.

A Russian military reconnaissance plane was shot down by Syria during the Israeli strike, killing all 15 crew members.

On Wednesday Syria released video footage from the site of the attack, reiterating its claim that Israel targeted an aluminium factory, not a weapons warehouse in Monday’s strike, according to the Ynet news site. The veracity of the footage could not be independently verified.

On Monday, Syria accidentally shot down the Russian reconnaissance plane when its air defenses swung into action against the Israeli strike on Latakia. The Russian defense ministry initially blamed Israel, saying the IAF jets used the Russian plane as cover.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin later told reporters that the downing of the plane by Syrian air defenses was a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

The remains of a Syrian ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a base in Latakia, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

On Wednesday, the Russians approved Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal to fly air force commander Major General Amiram Norkin to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident.

Syrian media and opposition sources reported Wednesday that several Syrian soldiers who were involved in the downing of the Russian spy plane were arrested and interrogated.

The fighters from the air force base in Latakia were reportedly arrested by members of the Russian military police. A Syrian unit was also reported to have taken part in the arrest, according to Hadashot TV.

Meanwhile, the remains of another plane, a Boeing 747 aircraft that was destroyed in an earlier alleged Israeli strike at Damascus airport on Saturday, and believed to be in the use of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, can be seen in separate images provided by ImageSat International (ISI).

The remains of a suspected Iranian aircraft which was hit in an Israeli airstrike, Damascus, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the rising tensions between the two countries in the wake of Monday’s airstrike.

In the call, the Israeli leader “noted the importance of the continued security coordination between Israel and Syria that has managed to prevent many casualties on both sides in the last three years,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

The Kremlin said that Putin emphasized that the Israeli attack violated Syria’s sovereignty and also breached the Russian-Israeli agreements on avoiding clashes in Syria. The Russian leader urged Netanyahu “not to allow such situations in the future.”

Israel said its jets had attacked a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Netanyahu told Putin that Israel was “determined” to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, and the attempts by Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weaponry to be used against Israel.

Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel would completely share all the information it had on the circumstances of the raid and suggested sending Israel’s air force chief to Moscow to “deliver all the needed information.”

The conversation came on Tuesday evening just before Israel began observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin confirmed that Israel did not shoot down the plane, rejecting any comparisons with the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) attends the inauguration ceremony for Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyaninin on September 18, 2018. (AFP/Sputnik/Alexey Filippov)

“An Israeli jet did not shoot down our plane,” the Russian leader said.

The Russian defense ministry on Tuesday morning had blamed Israel for the accident and warned of reprisals.

Putin said he had signed off on the defense ministry statement. “No doubt we should seriously look into this,” Putin said, speaking at a news conference after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Israel said its deputy ambassador in Moscow Keren Cohen-Gat was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said there would be no comment on what was discussed.

Putin also said Moscow would beef up security for Russian military personnel in Syria as a priority response. “These will be the steps that everyone will notice,” he said, without providing further details.

He expressed condolences to the families of the victims, calling the accident a “tragedy for us all.”

The incident was the worst case of friendly fire between the two allies since Russia’s game-changing military intervention in September 2015.

The Russian plane was downed by a Russian-made S-200 air defense supplied to Syria.

The Israeli military on Tuesday acknowledged conducting the airstrike the night before and “expressed sorrow” for the deaths of the 15 Russian airmen.

In a statement, however, the IDF denied all responsibility for the downing of the Russian spy plane, saying that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah were the ones at fault.

“Israel expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” the IDF said, and noted that the Russian plane that was hit “was not within the area of the operation.”

A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location.
Russia blamed Israel on September 18, 2018 for the loss of a military IL-20M jet to Syrian fire, which killed all 15 servicemen on board, and threatened a response. (AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)

The Israeli strike was conducted at approximately 10 p.m. by four F-16 fighter jets, according to the Russian military.

Syrian air defenses opened fire at the incoming missiles, at the attacking aircraft and — according to Israel — at nothing in particular. The Russian Il-20 was shot down in the air battle.

“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and, from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the army said.

According to the IDF, the target of its Monday night strike was a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Explosions seen in the Syrian city of Latakia after an attack on a military facility nearby on September 17, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The target of the Israeli strike was identified by Syria as a subsidiary of its defense ministry, known as the Organization for Technical Industries, which has suspected ties to the country’s chemical weapons and missile programs.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the army said.

Though Israeli officials have said, generally, that the military conducts operations inside Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, the IDF rarely acknowledges specific airstrikes, preferring instead to adopt a formal policy of neither confirming nor denying the attacks attributed to it.

The military said its initial investigation found that its strike was completed before the Russian plane entered the area of the operation and that the reconnaissance aircraft was shot down after the Israeli fighter jets had returned to Israeli airspace.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident,” the army added.

This appeared to refute the claim made by Moscow that the Israeli pilots used the surveillance plane as cover for their attack.

A Russian military official gives a briefing on the downing of an IL-20 military plane near Syria on September 18, 2018. (screen capture: Sputnik)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also accused Israel of failing to inform the Russian military of its plans, which he said would have been in the “spirit” of Israeli-Russian coordination in Syria. The Russian defense ministry said Israel warned them of the impending strike “less than a minute” before it began, which left them insufficient time to clear their personnel from the area.

The Israeli and Russian militaries maintain what they call a “deconfliction mechanism,” which is meant to coordinate their activities in Syria in order to avoid incidents like this one. Until Monday night, these efforts had largely succeeded in preventing direct or indirect clashes since Russia became more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war three years ago.

The Israeli military said it had coordinated with Russia ahead of the attack, though it did not address Moscow’s specific claims about the amount of time between the notification and the airstrike itself.

The IDF also said it would “share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

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