IDF chief: Iranian nuclear threat ‘is not theoretical’


Eisenkot says Tehran still desires atomic weapons, despite 2015 accord with world powers

01/17/2018

 

Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons has not been extinguished by the nuclear deal it signed with world powers, IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday.

Speaking at an event of bereaved families organization Yad Labanim in Eilat, Eisenkor said “The Iranian threat is not theoretical. The intent and desire to reach nuclear capability exists, despite the deal.”

US President Donald Trump last week said Washington would withdraw from the accord this year unless its terms were changed.

Trump signed a waiver on Friday keeping the Iran nuclear deal alive for the moment, but stated it would be the last time he did so unless Congress and European countries heeded his call to strengthen the deal.

Trump laid out four conditions that must be met, including increased inspections, ensuring “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon,” and that there be no expiration date to the nuke deal. It currently expires after a decade.

His last condition required Capitol Hill lawmakers to pass a bill unilaterally incorporating Iran’s missile program into the nuclear deal.

Iran has repeatedly said that the nuclear accord cannot be renegotiated, including on Saturday when the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Tehran would “accept no changes” to the deal and will not allow the accord to be linked to any non-nuclear issue.

The German government said Monday it would seek more details on what the US wants regarding deal, but said it stands by the agreement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile said Moscow “will not support what the United States is trying to do, changing the wording of the agreement, incorporating things that will be absolutely unacceptable for Iran.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Times Of Israel

Netanyahu ‘confident’ US embassy will move to Jerusalem within a year


In comments to reporters in India, PM also praises Trump for ‘challenging’ UNRWA and taking a tougher stance on Iran

01/17/2018

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday praised a series of recent moves by US President Donald Trump and expressed confidence that the US would relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem within a year.

“My confident assessment is that it will move much faster than people think, within a year from today,” he told Israeli reporters on a flight from New Delhi to Gujarat during a state visit to India.

Last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that relocating the embassy to Jerusalem would likely take at least three years, and quite possibly longer. “It’s not going to be anything that happens right away,” he said in a speech at the State Department reported by The New York Times. “Probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.”

Trump promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a December 6 speech at the White House in which he also formally recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

Trump’s controversial decision sparked protests in some countries and was rejected in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution. The recognition was welcomed in Israel, and Guatemala has since announced it will follow the US in moving its embassy to the city. Arab foreign ministers are set to meet on February 1 in Cairo to discuss steps against Trump’s recognition, the Arab League said earlier this month.

Netanyahu also lauded the Trump administration as the first to “challenge” the UN aid agency to the Palestinians. A day earlier, the US had announced it would withhold $65 million of its $120 million annual contribution to UNRWA this month.

The US decision “is the first time that there is a challenge to UNRWA, after 70 years. The agency that perpetuates the Palestinian narrative and the erasing of Zionism – and this is the first time this thing is challenged. It’s a good thing that they’re moving forward and challenging this body.”

Netanyahu reiterated his view that aid to the Palestinians should pass through the UN’s main refugee body, UNHCR, rather than UNRWA, and said he had suggested to the administration that it divert its contributions.

Israel accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, conditions that do not apply to the refugees cared for by UNHCR. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year, even as other refugee populations in the world shrink with each passing generation.

UNRWA counters that it is caring for a population that is scattered in several countries in the region, but is not served either by Israel or those countries, which refuse to grant them or their descendants citizenship, and that its definition of refugees reflects that reality.

The US notified UNRWA of the cut in a letter Tuesday from the State Department that also made clear that future US donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA.

“We would like to see some reforms be made,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that changes were needed in the way the agency operates and is funded. “This is not aimed at punishing anyone.”

A Palestinian refugee living in Syria receives medication at an UNRWA clinic (courtesy: UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad)

The US donated $355 million to UNWRA in 2016 and was set to make a similar contribution in this year, with the first installment to have been sent this month. But after a highly critical January 2 tweet from Trump on aid to the Palestinians, the State Department opted to wait for a formal policy decision before sending its first installment.

Trump’s tweet expressed frustration over the lack of progress in his attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and he pointed the finger at the Palestinians. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he said. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Nauert said the United States believes there needs to be more “burden-sharing,” a regular Trump complaint about multilateral organizations dependent on significant contributions of US cash.

“We don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to be solely the United States’ responsibility,” she said.

In his comments to reporters, Netanyahu also praised the Trump administration’s position on the Iranian nuclear deal. The US president said last week that he would not recertify the pact again unless its terms were changed. Israel has been the most vociferous critic of the agreement since before its signing, and has welcomed the administration’s skepticism.

“Three things are happening in the United States that never happened before,” Netanyahu said. Besides the cut to UNRWA and the Jerusalem embassy shifts, “there is a dramatic change toward Iran. The president gave a time limit for the necessary change in attitude to the nuclear program. Be assured this is going to happen. He’s the one talking about canceling the deal.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

Times Of Israel

Israel said to hit Hezbollah weapons depot near Damascus


The reported attack follows an alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian military base last week’

01/17/2018

 

Israel carried out airstrikes at a military airport near Damascus Tuesday night, possibly hitting a weapons depot belonging to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, according to unconfirmed Syrian opposition reports.

There was no immediate reaction from official Syrian or Israeli sources.

According to the reports, the airstrikes targeted the Mezzeh Military Airport southwest of Damascus.

Last week the Syrian military said that Israel had conducted airstrikes on a military base in the city of al-Qutayfah, outside Damascus, reportedly on a weapons depot containing long-range missiles.

“We have a longstanding policy to prevent the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Syrian territory. This policy has not changed. We back it up, if necessary, with action,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday at an event with NATO officials in Jerusalem.

Senior Israeli ministers and defense officials have reportedly been recently holding high-level talks about the situation in Syria and Lebanon, specifically regarding Iranian entrenchment in the region. Iran is the key backer of Hezbollah.

“The Middle East is raging around us, and what concerns us the most are Iranian efforts to establish military bases in Syria,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio last week after being asked about reports that the high-level security cabinet has been holding a series of “extremely significant” meetings on the threats from the northern border.

Last month, Israel allegedly fired missiles at a suspected Iranian base in Syria, reportedly killing 12 Iranian military personnel and destroying several buildings.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shiite militias away from the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah.

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious immediate threat to Israel was posed by Hezbollah, followed by other jihadist groups supported by Tehran positioned on the Syrian border.

Describing Iran as a “multidimensional threat,” the army chief said the most worrying aspect is the Islamic Republic’s desire to obtain nuclear capabilities, followed by its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on January 2, 2018. (Adi Cohen Zedek)

He noted the over $1 billion that the country invests in its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and — increasingly — Palestinian terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to Eisenkot, each year Iran sends between $700 million and $1 billion to Hezbollah each year, $100 million each to Shiite militias in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, rebels in Yemen and to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist groups.

The army chief did not provide the source for those figures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Times Of Israel

US ANTI-AIR MISSILES FOR KURDS TO MEET TURKISH, SYRIAN THREATS


01/16/2018

The US is supplying N. Syrian Kurds with man-portable air defense weapons MANPADs to counter Turkish war threats. Tensions around northern Syria hit a new high on Tuesday, Jan. 16, when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened his army would invade the Kurdish region of Afrin – and then Kurdish-held Manbij – both of which abut on the Turkish border. Not a single “terrorist” would survive this operation, he declared, describing it as “imminent.” For “terrorists” in Erdogan speak, read fighters of the Kurdish YPG militia, American’s key ally in northern Syria. This militia, spearheaded the battle which drove ISIS out of Raqqa and the US is counting on it to provide the backbone of the new 30,000-strong “Syrian Border Guard.”

The Turkish president did not directly attack the US or the Trump administration, only tangentially. In his speech to parliament, he reproved NATO, saying, “You are duty-bound to strike a certain pose against anyone that harasses one of your partners.” He also sent Turkish chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar to Brussels, where he plans to call on Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, and deliver Ankara’s final warning before going to war on the Kurds of northern Syria.
Ankara is not alone with a score to settle with Washington over its military moves in northern Syria; Moscow and Damascus view the Trump administration steps as an American military takeover of a section of northern Syria which stretches between Turkey and Iraq and covers some 28,000 sq. km. (compared with 20,770 sq. km of Israel), and splitting up the country.

The Pentagon, estimating that all three may first resort to air strikes against the Kurdish regions and the new US-backed Syrian Border Guard, is sending the YPG man-portable air defense systems – MANPADS – which are especially effective against low-flying jets and helicopters. It is the first time since the Syrian insurgency erupted against the Assad regime in 2011, that the Americans are supplying any rebel force with these weapons.

 Debka

While Cursing the “House” of President Trump, Abbas Actually Just Destroyed Himself


01/16/2018

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

 

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has delivered a speech triggered by his rage at the President of the United States Donald Trump, going so far as to hurl the most bitter curse in the Arabic language at the POTUS: “May your house be destroyed.”

This imprecation does not merely relate to someone’s present home, but to all the members of his family being thrown into the street to lead lives of destitution, humiliation and shame. Only someone familiar with Middle Eastern culture understands the real significance of this curse.

The question that naturally rises is what happened that brought Abbas to the point where he is willing to burn his bridges with the US President and deliver a speech whose import is the severing of relations with the country which serves as chief funder of UNRWA, also pushing the US president towards a negative stand on the “Palestinian Issue.”
“Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine,” is an idea created after the Six Day War and further developed after the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993. Arafat turned it into a mantra, while official Israel – Shmon Peres, Yossi Beilin, Alon Liel and their cohorts – did nothing to stop him. They told us that the expression is meant for a Palestinian Arab audience, i.e. for “internal use” only. “Millions of shahids are on the march to Jerusalem!!” Arafat shouted day and night, but they told us to ignore it, that these were empty words, merely a pipe dream.

The world, led by Europe, went along with this Palestinian house of cards, financing it with billions of dollars over the years in the hopes of turning it into a real concrete structure, simply ignoring reality. Europe supported the establishment of a “Palestinian peace-loving state alongside Israel” while forgetting the fact that the PLO ideology calls for destroying the Jewish State and that its logo includes the map of that “Palestine” reaching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

The world perpetuated the “Palestinian refugee problem” despite the fact that not one refugee remains of all the others who existed in the 1940s. Even Germany, which absorbed and rehabilitated the Sudetenland residents expelled from Czechoslovakia, did not demand that the Arab world do the same and absorb the “Palestinian refugees,” whose problem was created as a result of the Arab armies’ invasion of Israel one day after the Jewish State declared its independence. Europe saw Germany as the party responsible for the Sudeten refugee problem and its solution, but did not do the same for the Arab states and the Palestinian refugees. That double standard is what perpetuated the Palestinian Arab refugee problem, turning it into a central bargaining chip in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors, reaching the point where Ehud Barak agreed (in the Taba talks of 2001) to a “symbolic return” of tens of thousands of those refugees – and he was not the only one to agree to this idea.

The world did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and allowed Jerusalem to turn into another major bargaining chip in the “Peace talks” whose only purpose – at least according to t he Arab side – was to weaken and shrink the State of Israel and bring it to a state of collapse that would make the Jews lose hope and leave the region for the countries they had lived in before they came to rebuild their ancient homeland.
Trump and the House of Cards

Enter Donald Trump, a businessman who deals with construction – not houses built of cards, but the kind meant to last for generations. He understood that the Palestinian structure is made of cards, left standing only because of the world’s going along with European leadership, American liberal circles, the Arab states and a few Israelis suffering from burn-out. Trump understood that the Palestinian ideological structure is full of holes and decided to pull two foundational cards out of the ephemeral structure: the Jerusalem card and the refugee card.

From the minute Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital the Palestinians – both Hamas and the PLO – began engaging in frenzied activities, disturbances on the ground and political maneuvering in international corridors. They understood that Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is an insurance policy of sorts for the Jewish statee. To the Jews, Jerusalem is real, backed up by history and the Jewish religion, while it is nothing but “fake news” for the Arab and Muslim world.

Jerusalem, however, is still not the capital of a non-established “Palestine” and remains a theoretical bone of contention, so that it could be pulled out of the Palestinian house of cards without Abbas burning his bridges with the United States.

And then Trump pulled the refugee card from the house of cards by announcing that he would cease to fund, support and perpetuate it. That act is a thousand times worse than recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because the refugee issue has been capitalized on for seventy years, with billions of dollars poured into it, all going to waste. UNRWA operates a massive system of wage-earners, schools and aid services running on American money, whose cessation is sure to limit the organizations’ ability to breathe life into the “refugee problem” . Without adequate funding, the “refugees” are liable to spread out and be absorbed in the areas to which they move on, within the Arab world and outside it. The “refugee problem” and its threat to Israel might even disappear.

Abbas cannot let that happen for several reasons: First, he himself is a refugee born in Safed in 1935 and his own legitimacy as a Palestinian leader is based on that fact. Second, the refugees have become addicted to living on foreign aid and taking it away will force them to work like everyone else. Third, every refugee whose funding has ceased will decide to solve his problem independently: Some will emigrate to other countries, others will be absorbed in their current locations, and the refugee problem will disappear after all those decades spent keeping it alive with massive amounts of European and American money.

Abbas understands that his house of cards, lacking Jerusalem and refugees, is about to collapse and disappear and with it all the plans to destroy Israel. The feeling that he has lost his compass is what made him lose his temper and abandon the discretion that has always characterized his behavior, leading him to return to the depths of Arabic culture with an imprecation aimed at Trump –”May your house be destroyed.”
He used the worst of Arab curses, expressing the wish that Trump’s home be destroyed, his family thrown out into the street and that he and they live in poverty and shame, turning into homeless objects of pity to passersby. There is no more fitting expression for Abbas’ despair and disappointment as he witnesses the collapse of the Palestinian Arab house of cards once Trump removed its Jerusalem and refugee foundations.

The speech Abbas delivered to the PLO members was a powerful reflection of his feelings. He sees the Palestinian project as facing an existential threat, with a strong and steadfast Israel , flourishing and successful, democratic and economically sound facing a culturally, ideologically, personally and politically divided Palestinian side in which the PLO-Hamas enmity stymies any hope of political progress. He belongs to a society broken into tribes, extended families and groups which never really adopted the idea of a Palestinian national ethos and never abandoned traditional family loyalties. That ideological house of cards cannot survive without the Jerusalem and refugee cards.

Abbas also does not have the Arab world standing behind him. Quite the contrary, the Iranian issue has pushed many Arab states closer to Israel and since the Arab nations are mired in a plethora of their own internal problems, the Palestinian problem is now seen by them as nothing more than a nuisance. Abbas’ speech this week, one in which he dug his own grave, symbolized the collapse, death and burial of the “Palestinian issue” and this is the time to find an out-of-the-box solution for it – on the lines of the “Emriate Solution,” the only socio-political model that works successfully in the Middle East.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky.

 

mordechaikedar

Fading Trump-Putin trust derails de-escalation zones on Syria’s borders with Israel, Jordan


Washington’s decision to keep US bases in northern Syria, secured by a new 30,000-strong local force, drew a strong threat from Moscow. Col. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, chairman of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, said, “The practices of the United States, which is leading an international coalition allegedly against Daesh, contradict the Russian interests in Syria. Russia will work in cooperation with its partners to take necessary procedures to establish stability in Syria,” he was quoted as saying by Novosti news agency on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “There is a fear that they are pursuing a policy to cut Syria into several pieces.” On the same day, a delegation of Syrian rebel chiefs arrived in Washington to try and persuade the Americans to restore aid. The US administration suspended that aid program seven months ago, immediately after Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin talked at the July 2017 G20 summit in Munich. It was then that they agreed to establish a series of de-escalations zones in Syria to wind down the warfare, with special focus on its border regions with Israel and Jordan.
However, when in recent weeks, Trump found the Russians opening the door for Iran to deepen its military presence in Syria, he lost faith in his deal with Putin. The Syrian rebels sensed an opportunity at hand to bid for the resumption of US arms and aid. A Free Syrian Army (FSA) delegation accordingly landed in Washington this week and openly solicited the CIA to go back to its former training and aid programs.

It may be assumed that FSA chiefs had received some sign from the Trump administration that their journey was worthwhile. They may also have understood that, if Washington was willing to set up a new army in northern Syria, dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, it would be equally amenable to reconstituting the FSA for operating on other fronts, especially against the advancing Syrian government army and its Iranian and Hizballah allies.
In a word, the situation is a far cry from Putin’s assertion at the Russian Khmeimim air base near Latakia on Dec. 11, that the war was ending with a Russian victory.  Instead of being over, the war has switched to a new stage.
In further reference to the new US plans for northern Syria, Lavrov said on Monday: “What it would mean is that vast swaths of territory along the borders of Turkey and Iraq to the east of the Euphrates River would be isolated.” He complained: “There is nothing in the UN Security Council resolutions that have been pointing to that and neither is it in our previous agreements, so we are expecting some clarification from the US.”

But the Trump administration is now busy translating its decisions into actions on the ground in Syria and has no time for diplomatic wrangling. The de-escalation zones agreed by the two leaders seven months ago are dissipating, under the pressures of Russian-Iranian movements, US counter moves and Moscow’s threats. It is now up to Israel to adapt to the new reality that Syrian border zones are no longer secure.

Debka

Syria vows to end US presence; Russia, Turkey warn over ‘border force’ plan


01/15/2018

Damascus says it is determined to end US military presence after Washington declared plans to build a 30,000-member “border force” in the Arab country that Russia says could lead to Syria’s partition.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry on Monday slammed the plan as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty.

State television cited an official source in the ministry as saying that the Syrian army is resolved to end any form of US presence in the country.

The US, purportedly fighting the Daesh terrorist group, is planning to build the so-called “Border Security Force” on the Syrian territory held by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is dominated by Kurdish militants.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington’s decision to form a zone held by US-backed militants could lead to the division of the Arab country.

“The announcement that this zone will be controlled by the US-backed groups – by the force up to 30,000 people – this is a very serious issue, which causes concerns that a course was set for the partition of Syria,” Lavrov said at an annual news conference.

The US, he said, is helping those who are seeking to topple the government of Syria rather than trying to resolve the Syrian crisis.

“We don’t see the efforts to help resolve the conflict as soon as possible, but rather to help those who would like to make practical steps to change the government in Syrian Arab Republic,” Lavrov added.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

This file photo taken on February 8, 2017 shows a member of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raising a flag near the village of Bir Fawaz, 20 km north of Raqqah. (Photo by AFP)

Moscow vows to react to US border force

Lavrov’s remarks came a day after Chairman of the Defense Committee of Russia’s State Duma Vladimir Shamanov vowed to take measures in reaction to Washington’s decision to deploy the so-called “Border Security Force”.

Shamanov said the US plan “stands in direct confrontation” with Russia’s interests. “We and our colleagues will certainly undertake certain measures on stabilization of the situation in Syria,” he said.

Turkey says US ‘playing with fire’ 

The US move has also angered Ankara with Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag saying on Monday that Washington is “playing with fire”.

Turkey is already angry over strong US support for Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara views SDF and its affiliates as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkey since 1984.

The US launched its military campaign in Syria in 2014 under the pretext of fighting Daesh terrorists. Syria and Russia as well as other regional countries have cast doubt on the United States’ true intentions, saying American troops have mostly tried to hamper government operations against Takfiri terrorists and harmed the country’s infrastructure.

Syria calls the “coalition” led by the US “an illegal occupation force” which has entered the country without its permission or a UN mandate. It also views Washington’s SDF allies as “traitors”.

Foreign Minister Lavrov last month said the presence of American troops in Syria was unlawful, urging them to completely leave the Syrian soil.

Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born”


01/15/2018

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

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But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The Kurdish-led regions in Syria say they need the border force to protect them against threats from Ankara and Damascus.

“To prevent any attack… there must be a deterrent force that protects the border between our areas and the others,” Fawza Youssef, a senior Kurdish politician, told Reuters.

“Until a political settlement is reached in Syria, these areas need protection. Now, there aren’t any guarantees,” she said.

The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an opening ceremony in Sincan near Ankara, Turkey, January 15, 2018. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a U.S. decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued U.S. presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

“DON‘T FORCE US TO BURY”

Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish forces supported by the United States as allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

“Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said. “Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000.”

Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

The Syrian government and the main Kurdish parties have mostly avoided conflict during the civil war, as both sides focused on fighting other groups. But Assad’s rhetoric toward the Kurds has turned increasingly hostile.

Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said. It said any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor”.

“What the American administration has done comes in the context of its destructive policy in the region to fragment countries … and impede any solutions to the crises,” state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.

Assad’s allies have also chimed in. In an apparent reference to the force, senior Iranian official Ali Shamkhani said it was “doomed to failure”, Fars news agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”

“Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Lavrov said.

Additional reporting by Rodi Said in Qamishli, Syria, Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay in Turkey, Jack Stubbs and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow, and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Peter Graff

Reuters

 

COLD WAR RENEWED: Israel and Kurdish SDF are Now Trump’s Weapons Against Iran


The New Cold War between the USA and Russia-China is beginning to affect the Middle East in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  It had been previously believed that the Trump administration would continue to pull back from the Middle East, effectively allowing Putin to deal with ISIS and thus cement his control over the region.  This pullback reached it peak with the failure of the US to pick sides between the Shiite run Iraq and its Kurdish autonomous region over the fate of Kirkuk.

With Iran’s fingerprints increasingly apparent in Iraq and more obvious in Syria, the US government has decided to change course and confront the Shiite menace and its Russian backers with a far more ambitious strategy than ever before.

President Trump, campaigning against direct US involvement in the Middle East has had his team draft a strategic plan that will help a weakened US military confront these strategic threats head on. Two partners are emerging to help the US push back on the strength Russian-Shiite grip over the Middle East.

The first is the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria.  This force is fully US trained and led most of the successful operations against ISIS in the Syrian arena.  The SDF areas border Turkey and reach far South and East as well as Afrin to the West.  The challenge for the Trump administration is to contain Turkey’s threats against the Kurdish positions in Afrin.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Turkish military convoy dispatched to Syrian border

On Jan.13-14 Turkish artillery units based in Hatay and Syria’s Idlib province hit YPG targets in Afrin’s Bosoufane, Cindirese, Deir Bellout and Rajo districts
📸

Strengthening the view that the US is busy turning the SDF areas into a semi-autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria are confirmed reports that the US is busy setting up a 30,000 strong SDF force to deal with border issues.  In an email to Reuters the Coalition’s Press Office said the following:

“Efforts are taken to ensure individuals serve in areas close to their homes. Therefore, the ethnic composition of the force will be relative to the areas in which they serve.”

“More Kurds will serve in the areas in northern Syria. More Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq to the south.”

The rise of the SDF has been a sore spot between the US and Turkey.  The increased shelling of Afrin will inevitably test this relationship at its core.

The second partner is Israel.  Towards the end of Obama’s tenure, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to approach the growing presence of Russia in the Middle East within the context of neutrality.  Afterall, in the absence of a coherent and clear US policy the Israeli government needed to be allowed a good deal of autonomy in keeping back the growing Iranian and Hezbollah menace.  Putin granted Israel freedom of movement as long the latter checked with him first.

With Putin allowing Iran to build up its presence so close to Israel despite assurances from Moscow, Israel and the Trump administration’s needs have overlapped.  Like the SDF to the North, the Trump administration sees Israel as thee bulwark of its containment strategy against the Russia-Iran axis.  The Jerusalem declaration was the beginning of this consolidation behind Israel’s needs.  This of course effectively buried the Palestinian issue permanently.  Afterall, the Jerusalem announcement triggered the Palestinian’s own self-destruction by their admission.

Palestinian permanent president Mahmoud Abbas said the following at a PLO meeting:

“What would you want if Jerusalem were to be lost? Would you want to make a state with Abu Dis as its capital? That’s what they are offering us now. Abu Dis.”

“We won’t take orders from anyone,” Abbas said. “We told Trump we will never accept his [peace] plan. His ‘deal of the century’ is the slap in the face of the century, and we will not accept it.”

In the same speech Abbas cursed Trump that his house be destroyed and his family thrown out on the street. This was a huge mistake.

By backing out of negotiations the Palestinians have self-buried their own aspirations. Within the context of the New Cold War, this essentially means sidelined indefinitely.  With the New Cold war far more hot than its predecessor, false narratives such as the Palestinians cannot out live the needs of the USA or the Trump administration’s unfolding Middle East strategy.

Israel Rising

Abbas: ‘Trump slapped us in the face, Oslo Accords are over’


Abbas to Trump: ‘My your house be destroyed’. PA chief blasts Israel as European ‘colonial’ project, ‘has no connection to Jewish people’.

01/14/2018

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas slammed President Donald Trump Sunday evening, and decried the Jewish state as a “colonial” European project, unconnected to the Jewish people.

Addressing the opening of a two-day meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Council in Ramallah Sunday, Abbas excoriated both President Donald Trump over his historic December 6th recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the State of Israel and Zionism.

Europeans, Abbas claimed, “wanted to bring the Jews here [to the Land of Israel] from Europe in order to protect European interests in the region. They asked The Netherlands, which then had the largest navy in the world, to relocate the Jews.”

Abbas then quoted an Egyptian writer who claimed that “Israel is a colonial project with no connection whatsoever to the Jews.”

The PA chairman lashed out at the US president, claiming that his recent behavior, including his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, constituted a “slap in the face” the PA, warning that the PA “will slap back”.

“We won’t take orders from anyone,” said Abbas. “We told Trump we will never accept his [peace] plan. His ‘deal of the century’ is the slap in the face of the century, and we will not accept it.”

“I saw his tweet which said that ‘We will not give aid to the Palestinians because they refuse to relaunch negotiations’,” Abbas continued, cursing the president in Arabic, “May your house be destroyed.”

“When did you offer me this? On the phone? On television?”

Abbas also criticized the United Kingdom, slamming Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration, which expressed support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in the historic Land of Israel. Abbas reiterated his demands that the UK apologize for the declaration and pay compensation to the PA for alleged damages.

“We still demand that the British apologize for the Balfour Declaration,” Abbas said Sunday. “And we still demand they recognize Palestinian statehood.”

Last year, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the declaration, Abbas issued a statement demanding the UK apologize for Balfour.

During his address, Abbas also claimed that the Oslo agreements, beginning with the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, better known as the Oslo I Accord, were nullified.

“I am saying that Oslo, there is no Oslo,” said Abbas. “Israel ended Oslo.”

Last Friday, PLO officials told AFP that the terror group’s central council had formed a special committee to weigh various responses to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, as well as his threats to cut spending for the Palestinian Authority, as well as to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the UN body which provides benefits to some five million Arabs claiming refugee status as descendants of those who fled Israel during its establishment in 1948.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, Abbas praised a series of violent protests and attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel following Trump’s December 6th declaration, hailing the incidents as the beginning of a new “uprising” against the Jewish state.

Israel National News