Netanyahu prods Putin over Iranian allies in Syria
By: Barbara Opall-Rome, March 10, 2017
TEL AVIV — With Israel’s head of military intelligence at his side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to present “detailed” information attesting to Iranian attempts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, something the Israeli leader said his country will never accept along its northern border.
“The things I talked about weren’t just in general terms, but in great detail. … I came with very precise information. This is not philosophical and it’s not theoretical. These are concrete things that we’ve seen in recent weeks and recent days about Iran posturing to establish itself militarily, in practical terms, with a permanent base in Syria,” Netanyahu told reporters after his meeting with the Russian president.
According to a transcript released by Netanyahu’s office, the Israeli premier warned Putin that the ongoing, Russian-led framework talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, toward a diplomatic solution in Syria would be very difficult to implement if Iran or its Shiite proxy groups were allowed to take root at Israel’s northern border.
In preparation for the so-called day after the civil war now entering its seventh year, and in attempts to influence the ongoing Astana talks – Netanyahu insisted Israel could never allow Iran or Lebanon-based Hezbollah or any other pro-Iran fighting groups to open up another direct front against the Jewish state.
According to the transcript, Netanyahu said it was unclear if diplomatic talks would lead to a cessation of fighting or a permanent arrangement in the area. Nevertheless, he said it was imperative to speak directly with Putin about Israel’s expectations regarding a prospective settlement.
“Even if this process takes time, I wanted to make Israel’s position clear. I clarified to President Putin our vehement opposition to the establishment of Iran and its tentacles in Syria. We see Iran is trying to build a military force, with military infrastructure, in order to establish a base in Syria, including attempts by Iran to set up a sea port," Netanyahu said.
"All this has severe implications for Israel’s national security."
In his fifth meeting with Putin since Russia actively entered the Syrian civil war in September 2015, Netanyahu said he also expressed Israel’s intentions of not relinquishing the Golan Heights, a territory it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981.
“First of all, I said from our perspective: 'We are staying there.' And certainly, we want the whole world to recognize this,” he said.
When asked if he discussed U.S.-Russia relations with Putin, Netanyahu said he did not. However, he told Putin that in his recent discussions with U.S. President Donald Trump and his team, the new administration and members of Congress expressed “concerns” about Iran’s intentions to remain in Syria after the war.
Netanyahu repeatedly declined to say how Putin responded to his missives, insisting that he wouldn’t be the one to publicize the outcome of his discussions. Nevertheless, he insisted that his message “was expressed in unequivocal terms” and that he believed it was “fully internalized” by Putin.
“We’re no longer ... just talking about the question of coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian military in Syria. Now it’s a question of attempts by another power, another country committed to Israel’s destruction, that is trying to insert itself into the fabric of Syria,” Netanyahu said.
He added that he presented Putin with Israel’s analysis of the strategic implications of Iran’s presence in the area. “I said this will be destabilizing and will harm the possibilities for the diplomatic arrangement that he intends to achieve. It’s contrary to our interests and to the ability to implement a [diplomatic] arrangement. And in my opinion, it doesn’t match the long-term interests of anyone except Iran.”
In a Kremlin readout of Putin’s “brief working visit” with Netanyahu, it noted that the two leaders discussed the situation in the Middle East, “in particular Syria, in the context of joint efforts to combat international terrorism.”
In his welcoming statement to Netanyahu, Putin said he was “pleased to see we have such close and trusting contact. We meet regularly in person and regularly are in contact by telephone and work together at the ministry and agency level.”
The readout made no reference to Iran.
IDF closes elite, secret missile unit
With several new units being established within the Artillery Corps in recent years, it was decided in the last year to close the unit—despite internal divisions within the army—due to manpower and budgetary constraints.
Yoav Zitun|Published: 11.03.17 , 23:50
After 30 years of operations, the IDF is closing the "Meitar" special operations unit. The Artillery Corps recently held a ceremony to mark the end of operations for the unit, which was responsible for operating the long range precision-guided Tammuz missile.
The missile system was designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and entered service in 1986, originally being intended for tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Over the years, with the evolution of Israel's military threat, the missile and the unit were adapted to fight against terrorist targets, such as anti-tank squads and enemy structures.
With several new units being established within the Artillery Corps in recent years, it was decided in the last year to close the unit—despite internal divisions within the army—due to manpower and budgetary constraints.
Unit operators are in the process of being redistributed among various artillery units.
Despite Meitar being shuttered, the Tammuz missile will continue to see action. A new, fifth-generation version is already in action and has a range of 30km.
"The unit was composed of excellent fighters and commanders and it is unfortunate it was closed. This is part of a reorganization of IDF and the order of battle as well as the renovation of weapons," said a senior Artillery Corps officer.
Over the years, the unit has conducted more than 1,000 operational activities with the Tammuz, with dozens being conducted in the last year against the Syrian army targets in the Golan in response to mortar and rocket fire at Israel.
The first operational images of the Tammuz and Meitar were released in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The missile is unique in that it is easily controlled and aimed until the last possible moment.
During Operation Protective Edge, in which the missile was heavily utilized, one incident occurred in which operators spotted a Palestinian woman in a structure being targeted by the Tammuz and at the last second, moved the missile off target to avoid killing an innocent civilian.
According to the same officer, "The video demonstrates our values. Just as a soldier won't shoot an innocent with his or her rifle, neither will we. The conducting of the mission is not at any cost."*
Israel’s Arrow scores first operational hit — but against what?
March 17, 2017 (Photo Credit: IAI via Getty Images)
TEL AVIV - In the aftermath of Israel’s early Friday morning airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria, the country’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile scored its first operational intercept, but against what, experts here are asking?
What is known of this unusual story is this: Israel’s Super Green Pine radar, part of the joint U.S.-Israel Arrow weapon system, detected a threat and launched an Arrow 2 interceptor against its first operational target. Evidence of this is clear from the Israeli Home Front alarm sounded throughout the southern environs of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley; as well as pieces of the Arrow 2 rocket engine found and photographed in Jordan.
From an official Israel Defense Forces statement released early March 17, we know that the Israeli Air Force targeted “several targets in Syria” and that, following the mission, “several antiaircraft missiles were launched from Syria.” The IDF reported that its “aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles” and stressed that “at no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or aircraft compromised.”
This statement, too, is unusual in that as a matter of policy, the IDF has not publicized the periodic strikes it carries out in Syria to prevent high-value weaponry from crossing the border into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s possible future use against Israel. The only Israeli operations in Syria that are publicly acknowledged and announced by the IDF pertain to aircraft, tank and artillery strikes in response to fire from Syrian territory quite close to Israel’s border.
Today’s statement made no mention of retaliatory strikes, and an IDF officer confirmed to Defense News that airstrikes were against “strategic assets of Hezbollah” far north of the Israel-Syria-Jordan border. Israeli media reported Friday morning that the strikes were aimed at arms convoys in Syria’s Homs District, not far from Palmyra, a formerly Islamic State group-held city retaken earlier this month by Syrian regime forces with backing from Russia.
Israeli media are reporting that the Arrow intercepted an SA-5 surface-to-air missile, or SAM, and indeed it is logical that Syria’s air defense system launched against the intruding Israeli fighters in an attempt to down the planes. But given that the Israeli attack was hundreds of kilometers away from Israeli territory, why would Israel launch Arrow, which is intended to defend the homeland? The SA-15 or any other Syrian or even Russian SAM would not have posed a threat within Israel.
And in any case, Arrow is not designed to intercept SAMs. Such anti-air missiles are not part of the system’s database, which automatically tracks trajectories and predicts impact points of incoming ballistic missiles. Once fired, an SA-5 with its four strap-on boosters create five targets in the air, all of which appear as tumbling objects whose trajectories, unlike those of ballistic missiles, are practically impossible to predict.
And even if the Arrow system’s early warning and tracking radar mistook fragments of the SAM as a ballistic target, where is the debris, experts here are asking?
A more likely scenario, several experts here said, is that the Syrian regime was so incensed by yet another successful Israeli air attack on its soil that it fired off a Scud-type ballistic missile to make a point. Perhaps their point was to warn Israel against future incursions into its territory.
Or, in light of last week’s meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at coordinating strategic interests and actions in Syria, perhaps Damascus felt the need to protest too much clarity between its Russian patron and its Israeli enemy.
Air Defense Expert: I Hoped Israel Would Never Need to Use Arrow System (excerpt)
(Source: The Jerusalem Post; published March 19, 2017)
By Anna Ahronheim
After initial rumors that the Israeli Air Force had used its new F-35s to attack targets in Syria, it is now clear that it used F-16I Sufa two-seat fighters as for previous strikes, escorted by F-15Is and protected by Arrow missile interceptors. (Twitted photo)
The former head of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile project, Uzi Rubin, said on Sunday that he was certain the Air Force made the right decision in using the system over the weekend to successfully intercept incoming Syrian surface-to-air missiles fired against Israeli jets early Friday morning.
“While I hoped that the state would never need to use the system, I am sure that the Air Force made the right choice in using the system,” Rubin told the The Jerusalem Post.
The Syrians claimed that one Israeli jet had been shot down and another damaged by SA-5 missiles, a claimed strongly denied by the army which confirmed the first use of Israel’s missile defense system to intercept a missile north of Jerusalem.
The Air Force is currently investigating whether or not the use of Arrow was necessary given that the system was designed to intercept much larger and significant missiles, but was still used to successfully shoot down the Syrian projectile.
Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak also questioned the use of the system on Saturday at a lecture in Beersheba saying that “it could be that with more thorough thought, it wasn’t worth firing.”
But according to Rubin, the Arrow system “was designed exactly” for what it was used for on Friday.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also addressed the use of the Arrow missile defense system on Sunday, threatening to destroy Syria's air defense systems if Israeli jets are targeted again by the Assad regime.
“If the IDF chooses to act, there is a real reason for it,” Liberman said at during a visit to the IDF induction center.
Liberman warned that there will be “no compromise” on the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah and if air-defense systems are used again by the Syrian regime against IAF jets, Israel will “destroy them. We will not hesitate. Israel’s security is paramount and above everything else. There will be no compromise.” (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Jerusalem Post website.
Israel Threatens to ‘Destroy’ Syrian Air Defenses After Missiles Fired
(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued March 19, 2017)
Israel has warned Damascus not to use its air-defense systems against its warplanes after the Syrians fired at Israeli jets carrying out attacks against a convoy suspected of supplying weapons to the Hizballah militant group.
"The next time the Syrians use their air-defense systems against our planes, we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on March 19.
Hizballah is fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the country’s six-year civil war. The Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Shi'ite group has been a sworn enemy of Israel and has fired thousands of rockets into the country over the past 10 decade. Israel and the United States consider Hizballah a terrorist organization and a "proxy" for mostly Shi'ite Iran.
On March 17, Israeli warplanes hit several targets near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes had targeted weapons being sent to Hizballah fighters.
The Syrian military claimed to have shot down an Israeli jet and hit another as they were carrying out the strikes.
Israeli denied that any planes had been hit, but it did say "several antiaircraft missiles" were fired following the raid.
"Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon, we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise," Defense Minister Lieberman said.
Lieberman said he did not want to interfere in the Syrian civil war or provoke a confrontation with Russian forces who are supporting the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months to set up a "hotline" between the two countries to prevent accidental clashes between their forces, despite both sides having different interests in Syria.
The six-year war in Syria -- which began with a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on March 15, 2011 -- has killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced millions more.
The United States and Turkey support various rebel groups, while Russia and Iran support Assad.
Fighters of the Islamic State (IS) militant group have also entered the war and are opposed by both sides
Israel's multilayer defense system nears completion
By: Ian Deitch, The Associated Press, March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense via AP)
JERUSALEM — A joint U.S.-Israel missile interceptor will be operational in early April, completing Israel's multilayer defense system, a senior Israeli Air Force official said Monday.
David's Sling is meant to counter medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. When the interceptor becomes operational, it will mark the completion of the multilayer system.
That includes the Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in the stratosphere with an eye on Iran, and Iron Dome, which defends against short-range rockets from Gaza.
The official spoke anonymously in line with protocol.
David's Sling was developed by Israeli defense firm Rafael with American defense giant Raytheon.
Israel explains Arrow intercept of Syrian SAM
By: Barbara Opall-Rome, March 20, 2017
TEL AVIV - A senior Israeli Air Force officer on Monday provided operational context to the unusual March 17 Arrow intercept of a Syrian SA-5*surface-to-air missile, which the jointly developed U.S.-Israel anti-ballistic missile system was not designed to fight.
Briefing reporters here, the officer said the Syrian SAM launched against Israeli fighter aircraft following a bombing mission in Syria “behaved like a ballistic threat” with “an altitude, range and ballistic trajectory” that mimicked the Scud-class targets the Arrow 2 interceptor was designed to kill.
“It wasn’t a Scud-class ballistic threat. But from our perspective, it doesn’t matter if it was a SAM. Once it behaved like a ballistic missile weighing tons and with a warhead of hundreds of kilograms, we couldn’t allow it to threaten our cities and towns,” the officer said.
When asked to identify the specific threat, the officer confirmed that the Arrow 2 had indeed scored its first operational intercept against a Syrian SA-5.
“In this case, it behaved just like a ballistic missile,” he added.
Another military officer later explained that in the aftermath of the March 17 attack, Syria launched several SA-5s in a southwestern direction toward Israel as Israeli F-15Is were returning home from “a successful strike mission against high-value assets” destined for Hezbollah arsenals across the border in Lebanon.
Contrary to criticism leveled over the weekend by former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who suggested that Israel should not have launched Arrow in order to preserve the country’s longstanding policy of ambiguity regarding periodic strike operations in Syria, the senior Israeli Air Force officer said Israeli air defenders didn’t think twice about acting against the approaching threat.
“No doubt about it, our mission is to detect and engage this threat, and that’s exactly what we did Friday morning. The mission of our air defense forces, under my responsibility, is to defend the people of Israel. And that was the case last week when Syria launched a missile that was seen as a ballistic threat to Israel,” the officer said.
Experts on Friday had surmised that since Arrow was not designed to intercept SAMs, and since such anti-air missiles are not part of the system’s database that automatically tracks trajectories and predicts impact points of incoming ballistic missiles, that the target of the early morning March 17 interception could have been a Scud-class missile.
Based on scant information available at the time, experts wondered why Israel would launch Arrow against a SAM that ostensibly should have posed no threat to the homeland, given that it aimed to shoot down Israeli fighters operating hundreds of kilometers away. They noted that the SA-5 is designed to either hit enemy aircraft or self-explode after a few seconds of engine burn, rather than proceed flying intact along a flight profile that matches that of Scud-class targets.
But given the officer’s explanation, one expert here noted that the Syrian-launched SA-5 could have been very old, and thus did not self-destruct as designed.
“It should have destroyed itself. But it’s an old missile and it probably remained in one piece. And in that case, if it didn’t self-destruct after a certain time, all the weight was in the front and it represented a stable body, large wings and a tail … all the characteristics of a ballistic missile trajectory,” said Uzi Rubin, a former director of Israel Missile Defense Organization.
“Now it all makes perfect sense. … Apparently the software of the Arrow system is such that is flexible enough to cope with unexpected situations," he added.
“It’s an impressive achievement for which we all should be very proud.”
Israel Carries Out Two Strikes Against Assad Regime, Hezbollah Targets in Syria
By David Daoud | March 21, 2017 | email@example.com | @DavidADaoud
In the wake of threats by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the Israel Air Force (IAF) carried out two strikes against Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria on Sunday and early Monday morning. These latest airstrikes come only two days after an IAF raid on Hezbollah weapons shipments in Palmyra, and seemingly as a response to an attempt by the Syrian Air Defense Forces (SADF) to shoot down the attacking Israeli jets.
At approximately 3 PM local time, pro-regime news sources reported that the SADF’s Golan Regiment was engaging an Israeli UAV over the town of Khan Arnabeh, in the Syrian Golan’s Quneitra Governorate. Shortly after, Syrian army reports emerged claiming the Israelis targeted a vehicle traveling from the town on the road to Damascus, destroying the car and killing its driver, Yasser Hussein al-Sayyed, a SADF Golan Regiment commander. The second air strike reportedly occurred past midnight on Monday morning, with local sources claiming the Israelis targeted Hezbollah and SADF targets in the Qalamoun mountains, near the Syrian-Lebanese border. However, pro-regime sources were quick to deny that the strikes had occurred.
The strikes came mere hours after Liberman threatened to destroy Syria’s air defenses “without any hesitation” the next time they fired on Israeli planes. He stressed that Israel was “neither for nor against [Syrian president Bashar] al-Assad,” and had no desire for friction with the Russians in Syria. Israel’s “main problem” he said, “is the transfer of game-changing weapons from Syria to Lebanon,” which would reach Hezbollah. “Therefore, every time we identify a such a transfer, we will act to destroy these equilibrium-breaking weapons. There will be no compromise.” Liberman’s comments were echoed by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, with similar threats against the government of Lebanon.
Liberman’s threats, reinforced by the two strikes, were a response to the outcomes of the IAF’s Friday attack*on Palmyra. The SADF’s attempt to down Israeli jets was an unprecedented escalation by the Assad regime. For Israel, this was an unacceptable interference with its now-routine attempts to deny the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, threatening to change the rules of the game between Jerusalem and Damascus. The Russian Foreign Ministry demanding an explanation of the strike from Israel’s ambassador also indicated a possible shift in Moscow’s policies on Israeli offensives in Syria.
These developments likely left Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons confident that their weapons transfers would now be safe from Israeli strikes, as indicated by Hassan Nasrallah’s subsequent belligerent speech and Tehran’s threats against continued IAF assaults in Syria.
Israel’s red lines in Syria were blurred by these changes, and Jerusalem felt they needed to be forcefully redrawn.
David Daoud is an Arabic-Language Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.