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Syria: The Israeli Reset
Syria: The Israeli Reset
May 15, 2018
May 15, 2018: While the Syrian government is close to winning the seven year long civil war there are still substantial rebel forces that will not surrender. The most formidable rebel bastion is in northwest Syria where Idlib province, on the Turkish border, is largely controlled by rebels.
Aside from sealing their border the Turks are not interested in Idlib and leaving to the Assad forces to take back control of the province. Turkey has established forces on the Syrian side of the border and built several watch towers and stationed border guards on both sides of the border.
With pro-rebel population of about two million, Idlib is the last major stronghold for rebels. That would require support from Russian airpower and Iranian mercenary ground forces. At the moment Iran is distracted with Israel. Fortunately the rebels in Idlib are not united. Some are ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and some are FSA (allied with the Turks). While weapons and reinforcements are no longer getting into Idlib from Turkey, food and other essential supplies are and the Turks can cut that off if any of the Idlib rebels cause problems. Meanwhile Turkey is using that access to supplies to gain the cooperation of more rebel groups. The Turks may never get much cooperation from ISIL, but ISIL is a minority in Idlib and hated by all other rebels. Assad forces still carry out some airstrikes against Idlib targets and use artillery as well but keep their troops out.
There are still some pockets of rebel control north of Aleppo. Some of them the Turks might decide to clear of rebels but as long as none of these rebels block access to key (to the Assads) roads or attack Assad controlled areas, they will be left alone, for now.
East of Idlib the border area is largely controlled by the Turks or the Kurds. The Assads may have to eventually declare these areas autonomous and make deals with the Turks and Americans to guarantee that autonomy. The Turkish controlled “security zone” in Syria, along the Turkish border, is controlled mainly by a Turkey supported rebel coalition currently called the “National Army”. Before that it had been the FSA (Free Syrian Army) but as the FSA attracted more rebel allies it decided to adopt a new name and make it clear that it was an ally of Turkey and a Syrian force. With about 30,000 fighters the National Army is not as united as the Kurdish led SDF (which has a lot of Arab, Christian and other minority factions) nor does the National Army have a long record of successful cooperation with the Americans. National Army wants peace and, like the SDF, is willing to make a deal with the Assads as long as its Turkish ally agrees.
The Kurdish (SDF) controlled northeast has been autonomous for over five years. The SDF has always had American support and Assad cannot expect to take out the SDF by force. Negotiation is another matter and the SDF has always been willing to talk. So are the Turks. Unfortunately the Turks and Americans don’t get along well at the moment but that might change.
There are several pockets of rebel controlled territory in the south along the borders with Israel and Jordan. There are also some rebels near the American special operations base of Tanf, on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border and near the Jordan border. The American forces have the support of some Syrian Sunni tribes that are not friendly to the Assads. In addition the Americans have some allies on the Iraqi side of the border from other Sunni Arab tribes. Iran has assisted (with its mercenaries) Assad forces in trying to eliminate the Tanf base but these effort have failed. The Americans have too much airpower and too much aerial and ground surveillance around Tanf. The U.S. has declared a “free fire” zone that means any Assad/Iranian forces getting within 30 kilometers of Tanf are automatically attacked. Iranian and Assad forces no longer test this free fire zone. They know it works. But west of Tanf there are a lot of rebel held border areas that the Assad forces can regain control of most. Most of the efforts here are directed at rebels on the Israeli border and Iranian mercenaries (mainly Hezbollah) have been helping out.
The remaining rebel held areas around the capital (Damascus) are mainly left to Assad forces, with some Russian air strikes.
The Assads need foreign assistance, especially from Russia and Iran, to regain all the remaining rebel held areas and at the moment Iran is distracted by its failed efforts to threaten Israel. Russia has backed away from Iran when it comes to Israel and the Turks give Iran verbal encouragement and not much else.
Israel Sets Conditions
Russia is trying to dissuade Israel and its Western allies from attacking more Syrian targets, especially those that harm the many Iranians and Iranian mercenaries supporting the Syrian forces. Russia also does not want to put its high tech weapons to the test because so far these electronic and anti-aircraft systems have proved ineffective against Israeli attacks and probably won’t do much better against the Americans. This is bad for business, as Russia has been touting the combat experience in Syria to get more sales for their new stuff. It would also be disastrous for Russian diplomacy which has presented Russia as a powerful and technically advanced ally for Syria, Iran and Turkey. Although Russia talks tough against Israel and the Americans it does not want to take that any further, nor does it want to appear like Russia is backing off. Russia is in an embarrassing situation and not getting much sympathy from anyone, not even Russians back in Russia.
The February incident in Syria where over 200 Russian military contractors died when they tried to seize a small base in eastern Syria containing American troops did not trigger calls for revenge among Russians. Instead the attitude was that these guys took a chance to make a lot of money and it didn’t w0rk out. There are a lot of dangerous jobs in Russia that pay well to compensate for the risk. Those who do that work are opportunists, not patriots. So the government has to go easy in Ukraine and Syria. Israel seems more aware of this than most Middle Eastern powers. That is partly because Israel has a large Russian minority, courtesy of a lot of Russian Jews coming to Israel since the 1980s and keeping in touch with folks back home.
Another aftereffect of the 200 contractor deaths was Russia revealing how many Russian military personnel have served in Syria since mid-2015. It was 48,000, and that includes army, navy and air force. Not included are contractors, who are civilians, even if they took on some of the most dangerous jobs and suffered more casualties than the military personnel. Out of those 48,000 Russian military personnel who have been in Syria (some for less than a day, few for more than six months) only about 60 have died in combat so far. There have been half as many military contractors serving in Syria and they have suffered nearly 500 dead. No official numbers of military contractor fatalities have been released but Russian volunteer organizations have tried to keep track of the funerals or other indications of young men dying in Syria and it is clear that being a military contractor is a lot more dangerous. The point here is that there are still some Russians willing to take dangerous combat jobs but there are not enough them to maintain the million man military Russian leaders want.
Iranians are angry with their government over how foreign affairs have been mismanaged, especially in Syria. The major complaint is how much the government has been spending on the war in Syria since 2012. Long before Israeli agents made off with details of the Iranian nuclear program there were Iranians collecting data on what the Syria war was costing Iran. The government downplayed the cost and declared the Iranian presence in Syria as a religious duty and a crucial step in the effort to destroy Israel. But now most Iranians understand that Syria was costing Iran $10-20 billion a year, which is about twice what the government spends to help the poorest Iranians (which happens to include a majority of Iranians). Iran’s religious leaders know this is why the late 2017 nationwide demonstrations included many groups that had long supported the religious dictatorship but were not in opposition because their leaders were making it clear that the welfare of the Iranian people, including those who long supported the clerics, was less important than propping up a murderous dictator in Syria who happened to be Shia. Then there was the issue of blaming all misfortunes on Israel or the Americans. The United States has always been a popular place to most Iranians and many still would move to America if they could get out of Iran. The Internet makes it easy for the Iranian-Americans to let the folks back in the old country what the U.S. (the “Great Satan” according the Iranian clerics) is really like. There are still mandatory “death to America” demonstrations in Iran but all concerned have noted that most Iranians just go through the motions and would rather go to America than stand around shouting “Death to America.”
Until recently the Iranian government preferred to retaliate against Israel indirectly. Iran has long used foreign proxies (like Hezbollah, Hamas or other non-Iranian Islamic terrorists) to attack Israel. Iran does not have modern weapons (because of decades of sanctions) and Iranian leaders are smart enough to realize that Iran itself trying to attack Israel would most likely result in another humiliating Iranian defeat. Israel has anti-missile defenses against Iranian ballistic missiles. Yet Iran has enough of these missiles to attempt a “saturation attack” on Israel using explosive or chemical warheads. Iran could also use a “dirty” warhead by adding radioactive material to a high explosive warhead. A few of these missiles landing in Israel, especially in a major urban area, would be a great propaganda victory. But Israel also has ballistic missiles (armed with nuclear warheads) and, worse, hundreds of modern fighter-bombers that could hit two key economic targets using smart bombs. These two targets are Kharg Island, in the Persian Gulf. This is the main export facility for 90 percent of oil and gas exports) Income from these exports pay for over a third of the government budget and these facilities cannot be rebuilt quickly. The other economic target is Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. This is the main container port handling some 90 percent of containers bringing in foreign goods, like items needed to repair damage to Kharg Island. Bandar Abbas is where all the modern tech and consumer goods arrive. Shutting down Bandar Abbas for months, or more, would be quickly felt by most Iranians. With Arab states between Israel and Iran now allowing Israeli airstrikes free passage, the Israeli air strikes are certain to succeed and inflict major damage.
If a dirty bomb or chemical warhead were used Iran would be portrayed as the evil (and ineffective) aggressor while Israel hits Iran where it hurts most. The Iranian religious dictatorship is under a lot of pressure to provide some relief for years of poverty and unemployment. The 2015 treaty that lifted sanctions was supposed to help but it didn’t. Instead the government spends billions on the war in Syria. That effort has not yet improved Iranian capabilities when it comes to destroying Israel. That’s because the Assad government forces (including most of the 50,000 Iranian mercenaries in Syria) are still busy with the remaining rebels. In Lebanon the Iranian financed Hezbollah is not very enthusiastic about going to war with Israel. That’s because the few million Lebanese Shia that are the main support for Hezbollah are unhappy with the thousands of Lebanese Shia who have been killed or crippled fighting in Syria. Iran insisted that Hezbollah send forces to Syria in 2012 and even though Iran was paying combat bonuses, death benefits and for extended medical care, the Lebanese Shia were, in general, unhappy about the losses suffered from fighting in an Iranian war. Israel has told Lebanon and Hezbollah that a repeat of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel would result in even heavier losses for Hezbollah and Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders pretend to be unafraid but the opinion polls in Lebanon say otherwise.
So as humiliated as the Iranian rulers are by the latest Israeli efforts (grabbing all those nuclear documents in January and regularly bombing weapons shipments to Syria and defeating any Iranian missile attacks on Israel) they understand Iranian options are not promising. Given the growing popular opposition the religious dictatorship is facing inside Iran, another major defeat inflicted by Israel is not an attractive option. New ideas are being sought and retaliation is not yet ruled out but retaliation is seen as a move that would make things worse for Iran.
The May 10th Israeli air strikes against Iranian bases in Syria was followed by Israel telling the Assad government that if the Assads could persuade Iran to withdraw from Syria Israel would be willing to recognize the Assad government. Unfortunately the Assads are very dependent on Iranian case, military support and over 50,000 Iranian supplied mercenaries. In Syria, Iran is stronger than the Assads, something the Iranians do not publicize but that the Assads are well aware of. In the wake of the Israeli air strikes Israeli leaders believe that Iran won’t try any major moves against Israel, not for a while. The situation back in Iran is decidedly anti-Iranian leaders (the religious dictatorship) and much less concerned about any Israeli threat.
More Embarrassing Iranian Generosity
Iran is financing a resettlement operation in Syria that brings in Shia families from Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere to replace the third of the Syrian population that fled the country during the civil war. Nearly all these refugees were Sunni Arabs and the Assads (who are Shia) don’t want them back. The non-Sunni refugees are largely men trying to avoid being conscripted into the Assad military. These men (and some women and children who left with then) can return and are waiting for the civil war to end before doing so. The Assads will not take and Sunni Arabs back and the Lebanese Hezbollah are supervising a resettlement program by bringing in Shia Arab Lebanese attracted by the offer of free land and housing. Actually the buildings may have suffered some war damage but are repairable. Hezbollah fighters are actively preventing Syrian Sunnis from returning and reoccupying their land and homes. Some Sunni Arabs are resettled in Syria, as the Turks allowing Sunni Arabs driven from Damascus suburbs allowed to take over homes and other property that belonged to Kurds recently driven from Afrin near the Turkish border. The Assad military only conscripts loyal (to Assad) Syrians and that usually excludes Sunni Arabs, who were over 75 percent of the population in 2011. Another aspect of this resettlement program is that the Turks are willing to participate as long as the Turks can select who will be in charge of the new communities in Turkish controlled border areas. In Afrin this includes a pro-Turk Syrian Islamic radical rebel group selected to administer much of the resettlements around Afrin. Since many of those resettled there are Christians or Yazidi these non-Moslems are expected to live under Sharia (Islamic) law. That is just another reason for the Syrian Kurds to resist the Turks.
ISIL End Game
The American campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria continues, especially the intelligence collection and air strikes. American forces in Syria and Iraq work with their local counterparts to search for and attack remaining ISIL personnel and a lot of this action is taking place close to the Syrian border. The SDF (Kurdish led Syrian Defense Force rebels) are handling the ground operations against two known areas in eastern Syria (Deir Zor province) where ISIL is known to occupy two areas in the Jazeera desert. Much of eastern Syria is desert, interspersed by some river valleys and oases. The Jazeera desert, because of its proximity to the Iraqi border, has always been a favorite hideout for smugglers and, since 2003, for Islamic terrorists operating against targets in Iraq. Now that is reversed with American aircraft (and recon satellites) monitoring the area for targets. These are hit by American and Iraqi warplanes and the SDF coordinates its operations with the Iraqis to prevent any friendly fire. ISIL leader and founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is believed hiding in one of these Jazeera desert enclaves, apparently close enough (within 30 kilometers) of the Syrian border to quickly move (or try to) into Iraq is it appears his exact location becomes known to the SDF or the Assads.
The American anti-ISIL coalition still carries out several air strikes a day (in Iraq and Syria) and these are often against major targets. The Iraqi airstrikes are infrequent but since April they have been happening, in cooperation with the coalition aircraft that normally control airspace in that part of Syria. ISIL no longer controls any territory in Iraq but Syria is another matter with several remote areas in Syria known to be under ISIL control. The Americans work their own intelligence sources to find and attack targets. After that some data is shared with the Iraqi government (not too dependable), the SDF Kurds in Syria (more reliable) and some Western allies.
ISIL considers itself strongest in Iraq and Syria where there are still a lot of Sunni Arabs who feel oppressed by the local government (in both cases governments dominated by Shia Arabs). ISIL also declared victory over the Americans because the United States has announced (more than once) that it is leaving Iraq and Syria once ISIL is eliminated. ISIL interprets that to mean the Americans are declaring victory and running away no matter how many ISIL are still active in Iraq and Syria.
Turkey reports that in the last month their forces in northwest Syria had “neutralized” (killed or captured) another 250 terrorists (Kurds, their Arab allies and some ISIL and other Islamic terrorist fighters). This brings the total of those neutralized in the last four months to about 4,500. This is all about the Turkish ground operations to take the city of Afrin that began on January 20th. So far the 6,000 or so Turkish soldiers lost 52 dead and the three times more numerous FSA rebels who are allied with the Turks. Most of the troops involved in this operation are from FSA, who are believed to have suffered several hundred dead so far. The Turk/FSA forces finally captured Afrin on March 18th. Now the force is preparing to advance east, to the Euphrates River. But further advances have apparently been suspended until the June 24th elections take place in Turkey. Those elections will decide if current Turkish president Erdogan has the authority to escalate the fighting in Syria.
Currently Turkey asserts that it will pursue PKK and PYD Kurds into Syria or Iraq without asking permission from the governments of either country. This annoys the Iraqi government but at the moment it is considered preferable not to oppose the Turks. There is still no Assad government control on the Syrian side of the border. That degree of control is coming but currently independent factions (SDF in in northern Syria, Iranian mercenaries further south) more or less control the Syrian side. But the Assads can still grant permission to Iraqi forces to cross the border when it comes to dealing with mutual foes like ISIL.
May 14, 2018: In the Damascus suburbs fighting continues between the army and rebels that still control a number of neighborhoods. In the last month about 500 soldiers and rebels have died. While the losses are about even the rebels are usually surrounded and cut off from supplies or reinforcements. The rebels are not all surrendering as the Assads had hoped and the military commanders are trying to keep their losses down in order to maintain morale. The Syrian troops, for the first time since 2011, sense victory. It is easier to recruit and there are fewer desertions. The Assad troops are still not as bold as some of the Iranian mercenaries but the Syrians are better trained and more professional. Clearing all the rebel strongholds from around Damascus is a big deal because the existence of these enclaves was always a reminded that the Assads were facing up uprising by a majority (over two-thirds) of Syrian. The Assads were saved by the inability of the rebels to unite and since 2012 the rebels have spent more effort fighting each other than the government.
One example of this outside Damascus is the Yarmouk neighborhood. This used to be the largest Palestinian “refugee camp” in Syria and long the headquarters for Palestinian nationalist or terror groups the Assads offered sanctuary to. The 2011 rebellion split the Syrian Palestinians, many (most, it turned out) backed the rebels while a many of the more extremist Palestinians sided with the Assads. Now there are few Palestinians left in Yarmouk, or Syria. ISIL still controls about five percent of Syrian territory, including several of the remaining “pockets of resistance” outside Damascus, including Yarmouk. There are still hundreds of diehard Islamic terrorist rebels holding most of Yarmouk, which will soon be+ cleared of resistance and is unlikely to be a Palestinian neighborhood again.
While this final battle for Yarmouk was going on an Arab-Israeli journalist had an article published that once more pointed out how most of the international media pays more attention to the weekly casualties Gaza Palestinians suffer while trying to force their way into Israel than to the much more numerous Palestinian losses elsewhere in areas where the Palestinians are just trying to survive. These same media outlets have generally ignored the larger number of Palestinians being killed in Syria as the Syrian army frequently attacked the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus. In 2011, when the Syrian rebellion began Yarmouk (population 160,000) was the largest Palestinian community in Syria, holding about 30 percent of the Palestinians in Syria. Hamas got involved in the fighting between Palestinians loyal to the camp leadership (a Palestinian terrorist organization, which has long enjoyed the support of the Assads) and Palestinians who support the Syrian rebels. Hamas realized that if the rebels won, and during the first two years of the rebellion it looked like they would, Hamas would be driven out unless pro-rebel Palestinians take control of Palestinian refugee camps (which are actually separate towns or neighborhoods occupied and run by Palestinians.) Hamas had long received support from the Assads. But under pressure from major donors (oil-rich Sunni Arabs) Hamas turned on the Iran-backed Assads. In early 2012 Hamas moved its headquarters out of Syria and openly denounced the Assaads. Hamas apparently also told the Syrian Palestinians to oppose Assad if they wanted Hamas and other Arab states to persuade the new rebel government to allow “loyal” Palestinians to remain and avoid retribution. The 600,000 Palestinians in Syria were 1.7 percent of the Syrian population back then. By 2018 Yarmouk was largely empty of Palestinians, most having fled the constant air, artillery and ground attacks by the Assads. Far more Palestinians have been killed by the Assads in Syria since 2011 than died in Israel (including Gaza and West Bank). Most of the Palestinians killed in Israel were trying to kill Israelis. Arab journalists who are not Israeli citizens generally do not report the Palestinian situation in Syria unless they want to risk considerable backlash and risk of jail or worse.
May 12, 2018: In eastern Syria Iraqi ground forces have crossed the border and are, in cooperation with the SDF, attacking groups of ISIL personnel operating in Deir Zor province. This operation apparently succeeded in capturing five known ISIL leaders and killing 40 ISIL members. This was apparently done in cooperation with the SDF and the Americans.
Iraqi warplanes have carried out a few air strikes against ISIL targets in Syria but the Iraqi ground forces are something the Iraqi government has said it would not send to Syria. The exception is apparently because there are some key ISIL personnel involved and the SDF needed more manpower to deal with the situation. The Iraqis are particularly eager to shut down ISIL activity on the Syrian side of the border because Syria has become something of a refuge for ISIL forces that mainly carry out attacks on the Iraqi side of the border.
May 11, 2018: A Russian official quietly let it be known that Russia was not going to deliver S-300 Air Defense systems to anyone in Syria. Israel has been publicly and privately urging Russia to institute such a ban and now the ban is official. Israel has apparently made it clear, during the recent exchange of fire with Iranian forces in Syria, that the Israelis have the upper hand in terms of tech and military capabilities. Russia needed that demonstration so they could maintain their good relationship with Iran while also refusing to deliver S-300 systems to the Assads. This was something the Iranians wanted and were willing to pay for. But the Russians were not willing to lose the good relationship they had long (actually since the beginning in 1948) had with Israel. Nor were the Russians willing to risk having the S-300 defeated by Israeli SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) tactics and equipment. The Iranians may be willing to underestimate the Israelis, but the Russians prefer to be more realistic.
In the east (Deir Zor province) someone fired artillery and mortar shells at American supported SDF rebels who were moving to take part in an operation against some of the remaining ISIL forces in the area. No one took credit for the attack on the SDF and the Americans are trying to find out who did it.
May 10, 2018: In Syria IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) commanders have gone on the offensive against Israel and early today launched at least twenty rockets at Israeli targets in the Golan Heights. Hezbollah later declared that these rockets hit a number of Israeli military targets but in fact most of the missiles landed on the Syrian side of the border. The Iron Dome batteries stationed in the area destroyed the four rockets that were headed for military bases or other populated areas in Golan. In response Israeli air and missile strikes against Iranian targets in Syria began and will continue until the “Iranian threat” in Syria is eliminated. That may take a while as the IRGC and Quds Force have established a presence in many parts of Assad controlled Syria as well as in southern Lebanon. One of the Israeli attacks against an Iranian base outside Damascus killed at least eight Iranians as even more non-Iranians. These losses (which are reported in Iran as “martyrs” and celebrated as defenders of Iran against American and Israeli aggression) don’t always create the desired effect in Iran. More and more Iranians see the IRGC and Quds Force as a bunch of thugs who are looking out for themselves and not the Iranian people. The Israelis appear well aware of this attitude and seem to have gone after all (at least fifty) the IRGC/Quds targets them have identified in Syria. Israel made it clear it could keep doing this beyond just what was hit today. Israel also announced that it would go after (kill) Basher Assad himself if any Iranian missile attack hit Tel Aviv (the administrative capital of Israel as opposed to Jerusalem, the official capital and home of many Moslems and Islamic holy places and thus not the best target for an Iranian missile attack).
The Iranian internal tensions have been growing for years and are now becoming more public because of problems in Syria. The late 2017 nationwide Iranian anti-government demonstrations came as a shock to many senior Iranian officials, but was no surprise to ordinary Iranians. The increased tensions over the 2015 sanctions treaty, the nuclear program and the failure of the Iranian government to deliver on anything (the economy, the destruction of Israel and the United States or anything else). The IRGC casualties in Syria will not necessarily cause Iranians to back their government. Israel believes all these attacks on IRGC facilities in Syria will destroy months of IRGC efforts to build an Iranian military presence in Syria. Replacing all these losses will be expensive and that cost will not be popular with most Iranians either. By attacking so many targets in a few hours Israel is also seeking to intimidate the IRGC, who thought they were hiding their presence in many of these locations.
Russia later reported (thanks to their extensive air defense radar coverage of western Syria) that Israel appeared to have used 23 fighter-bombers to launch 60 air-to-ground missiles or smart bombs. In addition Israel appears to have used ten ground launched missiles (probably the Delilah missile, which is usually launched from aircraft). Delilah is one of several loitering missiles Israel has developed. These can search for a target, with a human controller approving a target via a datalink, which also provides video of hits on targets, which Israel sometimes releases to the media. This was the case with the latest airstrikes, which destroyed many Syrian air defense systems (S-200 and Pantsir).
May 6, 2018: Iraqi warplanes carried out more airstrikes against ISIL targets on the Syrian side of the border.
May 2, 2018: Representatives from Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian Kurdish groups met in Iran to hear Iranian proposals for how it would be more beneficial to accept Iranian support instead of the American backing Kurds have come to prefer. The Kurds cannot ignore the Iranians but apparently still prefer the Americans.
April 29, 2018: Israeli warplanes attacked a Syrian base near Aleppo containing a large number of Iranian missiles that had recently been flown in from Iran to the Hama airport. The presence of these missiles was obvious because of the intensity of the secondary explosions as the Israel missiles detonated some of the much larger Iranian missiles which set off a chain reaction and a series of explosions so large that it registered as a mild (2.6 on the Richter scale) earthquake on sensors as far away as Europe. All these explosions killed 40 people, including 18 Iranians and 22 Iranian mercenaries. Another 60 people were wounded. At least 13 buildings, including some large warehouses, were destroyed or heavily damaged. The next day satellite photos were released showing the extent (considerable) of the damage (massive). In response of the attack the Israeli parliament voted to give the prime minister to declare war because it was obvious Iran was supporting preparations for another attack on Israel by Hezbollah and Iranian mercenaries in Syria.
April 28, 2018: In the south (Golan Heights) Hezbollah forces again fought with Syrian rebels near the Israeli border. Hezbollah and the Syrian army have been pushing Syrian rebels away from the border for over a year now. The fighting today continued over the weekend and on the 30th resulted in a stray mortar shell landing in Israel. There was return fire, as is often the case, especially when Hezbollah is involved.
April 23, 2018: Israeli defense officials have repeated warnings to Russia about delivering S-300 anti-aircraft systems to the Syrian government. Iran already has some S-300 systems. Israeli opposition is something the Russians have to take seriously. The Israelis recognize that the S-300 is a modern system that have impressive capabilities. What is not said is that Israel can defeat the S-300 but would prefer not to do so in Syria. That would expose some of the techniques Israel has developed to deal with the S-300 and enable Russia to create and install S-300 upgrades that would force Israel to develop new countermeasures. That would take time and meanwhile S-300 systems in Iran would be more dangerous to Israeli warplanes. But in the midst of all this Russian would be taking a hit as well because if the Israelis demonstrated in Syria that the S-300 could be defeated it would be much more difficult for Russia to sell these systems to export customers.
April 22, 2018: For the first time since October 2017 ISIL issued an official statement via the Internet. This one informed members and supporters about the new ISIL strategy. No surprises in that as the message repeated the call for ISIL members to return home, if possible, and organize terror attacks there. The primary ISIL targets are the “apostate” governments of Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Gaza (Hamas) and the West Bank (Fatah). In addition the Taliban of Afghanistan is the main target in Afghanistan because the local ISIL branch competes with the Taliban to control drug smuggling routes that provide large amounts of cash that ISIL in Afghanistan needs to survive. For Israel the main ISIL message is that ISIL will not bother with Israel until it has overthrown the current apostate Moslem governments in the Middle East. So for the moment ISIL is admitting that Israel is not worth the effort (without saying carrying out attacks in Israel has proved to be nearly impossible). Syria, on the other hand, is worth some effort, as is Iraq.
April 20, 2018: In a continuing effort to discredit claims that Russian air defense systems failed in Syria a Russian official revealed that Russia had told the Americans where Russian forces were in the area where the missile attack was aimed and the American, British and French missiles avoided the Russian forces. This has been the agreement with Russia in Syria for years. The Americans have observed this protocol although the Russians have violated it a few times. Meanwhile American military analysts are openly claiming that the Russian air defense systems did not perform and the Russians want to counter this any way they can.
April 19, 2018: Iraqi warplanes carried out airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria in coordination with the Assad government. These airstrikes continue but Iraq refuses to allow any ground forces (especially pro-Iran PMF units) to enter Syria.
April 18, 2018: Israel (quietly) and Saudi Arabia (openly) are trying to persuade the Americans to keep their troops in Syria. The U.S. recently announced that withdrawing American troops was a possibility although it appears all this has more to do with negotiations with Turkey over a number of issues, like membership in NATO and relations with the EU (European Union) and America. There is also little enthusiasm in the United States for continued American troop presence in Syria. The popular attitude is that Syria and Iraq are regional problems. The U.S. helped to destroy ISIL and that effort continues around the world. The U.S. remains committed to the defense of Israel and any Arab states who agree with that, but permanently stationing troops in the Middle East is very unpopular with Americans.
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trenchsol 5/15/2018 8:48 AM
Recent election result in Iraq is not particularly good for Iran, too. The relative majority is won by Muqtada al-Sadr, known as "Mookie" to former American forces in Iraq. Al-Sadr opposes both, American and Iranian presence, but it hurts Iran more, because they had great expectations for the elections outcome. Also, Al-Sadr visited Saudi Arabia last year.
Pro Iranian block seems to have come second.
At this moment, nobody seems to be able to form a government alone, and all kinds of post election coalitions are possible. Sadr's political position is anti-sectarian and anti-corruption, despite hos own religious background. In typical non-diplomatic manner, Iran responded with hostility, claiming that they "would not allow him to rule".