Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions
A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on June 12, 2022 shows damage at the Damascus International Airport following an Israeli strike. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions

Israel strike crippling Syria’s main airport hikes tensions
  • The strikes further ratchet up tensions in the confrontation between Israel on one side and Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah on the other
  • Iran has accused Israel of assassinating several high-ranking Revolutionary Guard members

BEIRUT: Israel marked a major escalation in its years-long campaign of airstrikes in Syria, carrying out an attack last week that shut down the country’s main civilian airport in Damascus as Israel steps up efforts to stop Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah.
Commercial flights were still halted at Damascus International Airport five days after Friday’s pre-dawn airstrikes smashed into its runways, leaving multiple craters, and damaged the air control tower and other buildings.
The strikes further ratchet up tensions in the confrontation between Israel on one side and Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah on the other. Iran has accused Israel of assassinating several high-ranking Revolutionary Guard members, while Hezbollah has threatened to strike a gas rig Israel is setting up in Mediterranean Sea area that Lebanon also claims as its waters.
The escalation comes as Russia, the top ally of Iran and Syria, is preoccupied with its war in Ukraine. Russia has naval and air bases in Syria and troops deployed there, backing Damascus in Syria’s long civil war.
For years, Israel has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria, saying it is determined to prevent Iran’s entrenchment near its northern border and the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, which is funded and armed by Tehran. The strikes have largely hit bases of Iranian-allied militias, including Hezbollah, as well as convoys said to be carrying arms to Hezbollah.
Friday’s strikes were the most extensive against a civilian target and, by shutting the airport down, had the widest impact. As in the past, Israel did not claim responsibility for the strikes.
The airport had remained operational even during the worst days of Syria’s 11-year civil war. It has both a civilian and a military section and satellite photos showed the runways on both sides with at least three craters each.
Along with the runways, the strikes hit or damaged airport halls and a radar tower and an arms shipment that was in the civilian side of the airport, said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.
Military positions south of Damascus were also hit.
Despite the escalation, Syria and Hezbollah both remained relatively muted about the attack. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes wounded one person and caused “significant” damage to infrastructure and rendered the main civilian runway unserviceable until further notice. Flights were rerouted to Aleppo’s airport while repairs were underway.
Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous visited the airport Sunday to inspect repairs. Photos posted by SANA showed a bulldozer working on what appeared to be the runway while another showed damage inside one of the airport’s rooms with glass blown out, chairs unhinged from their place and electric cables dangling from the ceiling.
Israeli media reported that the aim of the latest attack was to prevent the flow of equipment used in precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah.
Military affairs analyst Yossi Yehoshua wrote in Israel’s daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the Iranians have tried to ramp up aerial operations, first using cargo planes and hiding the weapons in hangars at Damascus International Airport. He claimed that now Iran and Hezbollah were using civilian flights to Damascus and Beirut to smuggle advanced military materiel to Hezbollah.
“Materiel consists of relatively small parts that look innocuous enough” and are easy to hide inside checked baggage on a civilian flight, Yehoshua wrote.
Amos Harel, senior military correspondent for Israel’s daily Haaretz, wrote that Iran has sought ways around Israeli disruptions and recently some of the best systems have been smuggled in hand luggage on commercial flights.
He added that the action suggests Israel perhaps feels it can take far-reaching military steps now, while international attention is focused on Ukraine.
Past Israeli strikes have largely gone without retaliation from the Syrians. Israeli airstrikes in Syria are usually coordinated with Moscow through a “deconfliction mechanism” to avoid direct confrontation with Russian forces in Syria.
In a rare public rebuke, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denounced Friday’s airstrikes as “provocative” and a “violation of the basic norms of international law.”
A Lebanese journalist who covers Arab-Israeli affairs, Sateh Noureddine, wrote that Israel’s move to knock out Damascus’ airport signals “a plan to impose a complete air blockade on Iran while also striking at Hezbollah, depriving it of a vital air link with its only military supply center.”
The strikes could be a first step toward a possible Israel-Hezbollah war, Noureddine warned, writing in the Lebanese news site Al-Modon, where he is editor-in-chief.
Hezbollah and Israel have had a series of confrontations, including a full-scale war in 2006. Tensions between the two enemies have been escalating over a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatening last week to strike the Israeli gas rig being set up.
In February, Nasrallah said the group has been manufacturing military drones in Lebanon and has the technology to turn thousands of missiles in their possession into precision-guided munitions.
A Lebanese military analyst who closely follows affairs in Syria and Lebanon said Syrian officials have been unusually “tightlipped” since the strike, given its significance.
“There is silence in Syria at all levels and the real scope of the strike is unknown,” he said, asking that his name not be made public in order to discuss the Syrian reaction.
“The timing of the strike and link with to regional developments is puzzling,” he said.


Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears
Updated 21 sec ago

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears

Iran purges security apparatus amid Israeli espionage fears
  • IRGC intelligence chief sacked after assassinations, document leaks embarrass regime

LONDON: The Iranian regime has purged senior leaders in its security apparatus, including a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, amid fears that Israeli espionage has caused a recent spate of blunders and assassinations, the Telegraph reported.

The British daily said a senior general in the IRGC had been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel a week after the corps’ intelligence boss Hossein Taeb lost his job. 

Taeb was fired after several embarrassing security blunders, with Israeli officials describing the Iranian regime as “shocked” and “rattled.”

Israel scuppered an Iranian plot to kill Israelis in Turkey, publicly warning its citizens of an imminent attack and arresting several people allegedly linked with IRGC cells.

In May, Israel published a collection of Iranian documents that detailed threats to its nuclear program.

More recently — and most troublingly for the regime — two nuclear scientists were poisoned and killed at separate dinner parties, which Tehran suspects was carried out by Israel.

Israeli officials told the Telegraph that the recent mixture of information and attacking operations were part of a strategy called the “Octopus doctrine,” which compares the regime’s leadership to the head of an octopus and its various proxies and forces — such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the IRGC across the region — as the tentacles.

But rather than limiting the effect of those tentacles, Israeli forces are now shifting to directly striking the head of the beast.

“The Iranians saw all of that information released by Israel as a huge slap in the face. And they were shocked. They were rattled by it,” an Israeli security official told the Telegraph, adding that the doctrine “has proven to be effective. It has caused shockwaves throughout the leadership of Iran.” 

Iran analysts told the Telegraph that Taeb was a major figure in Tehran’s leadership, enjoying a close relationship with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“His unceremonious sacking heralds more political purges within the regime as it faces growing domestic discontent and challenges to its regional policy,” said Dr. Reza Taghizade, a London-based Iran observer.

Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic and former hostage of the regime, said Taeb was referred to as “The Judge” because he observed interrogation and hostage practices.

“Most theories for Taeb’s removal are due to IRGC Intel’s inability to prevent Israel from operating inside Iran’s borders, including conducting high-profile assassinations,” said Moore-Gilbert. 

“The IRGC Intelligence Organization is not a professional intelligence agency, its members are recruited on the basis of ideological and religious affiliation, and everything is kept ‘in the family’ — you have to have contacts and already know people on the inside in order to get a foot in the door,” she added.

“As a result, many of its operatives are incompetent and poorly skilled for the job. Many of them lack a security mindset or a proper understanding of the conduct of espionage.”


Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree
Updated 03 July 2022

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: Israel said on Sunday it would test a bullet that killed a Palestinian-American journalist to determine whether one of its soldiers shot her and said a US observer would be present for the procedure that could deliver results within hours.
The Palestinians, who on Saturday handed over the bullet to a US security coordinator, said they had been assured that Israel would not take part in the ballistics.
Washington has yet to comment. The United States has a holiday weekend to mark July 4.
The May 11 death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, and feuding between the sides as to the circumstances, have overshadowed a visit by US President Joe Biden due this month.
The Palestinians accuse the Israeli military of killing her deliberately. Israel denies this, saying Abu Akleh may have been hit by errant army fire or by one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces.
“The (ballistic) test will not be American. The test will be an Israeli test, with an American presence throughout,” said Israeli military spokesman Brig.-General Ran Kochav.
“In the coming days or hours it will be become clear whether it was even us who killed her, accidentally, or whether it was the Palestinian gunmen,” he told Army Radio. “If we killed her, we will take responsibility and feel regret for what happened.”
Akram Al-Khatib, general prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, said the test would take place at the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
“We got guarantees from the American coordinator that the examination will be conducted by them and that the Israeli side will not take part,” Al-Khatib told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that he expected the bullet to be returned on Sunday.
An embassy spokesperson said: “We don’t have anything new at this time.”
Biden is expected to hold separate meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders on July 13-16. The Abu Akleh case will be a diplomatic and domestic test for new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Israeli Deputy Internal Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz said Lapid had been involved in “managing the arrival and transfer of this bullet.”
“It will take a few days to conduct a ballistic test, with several experts, to ensure that there is an unequivocal assessment,” Segalovitz told Army Radio.


Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Updated 03 July 2022

Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
  • Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime”

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee blasted the proposed constitution published by President Kais Saied this week, local Assabeh newspapers reported on Sunday.
Sadok Belaid, a former constitutional law professor was named by Saied to draft a “new constitution for new republic,” said Saied’s version was dangerous and did not resemble the first draft proposed by the constitution committee.
Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”
The president has not commented on the constitution since he published the text on Thursday in Tunisia’s official gazette. The constitution would give Saied far more powers and will be put to a referendum next month.

 


Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
  • Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Saturday said it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah heading toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea.
The launch of the aircraft appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.
In a statement, the Israeli said the aircraft were spotted early on and did not pose an “imminent threat.” Nonetheless, the incident drew a stern warning from Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid.
“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since taking office on Friday. “Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy.”
Israel earlier this month set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which Israel says lies within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon has claimed it is in disputed waters.
Hezbollah issued a short statement, confirming it had launched three unarmed drones toward the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” it said.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
The US last week said that mediator Amos Hochstein had held conversations with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain engaged with parties in the days and weeks ahead,” his office said in a statement last week.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon received “encouraging information” regarding the border dispute but refused to comment further saying Beirut is waiting for the “written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side.”
 


Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
Updated 02 July 2022

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
  • Regional actors voice concerns over potential military operation in Tal Rifaat and Manbij 
  • “No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Turkish President Erdogan told journalists in Madrid

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is in no rush to stage a new military operation against armed Kurdish militants.

But regional actors have voiced their concerns over the potential Turkish offensive against the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij.

“No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Erdogan told journalists in Madrid, where he met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdogan offered no timeline for the planned operation.

The stakes are high. Experts believe that Turkey still lacks Russian backing for a military intervention against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a terror group with direct links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said that Russia’s failure to back the operation remains its major obstacle.

“Ankara decided to launch a military offensive on Syria while the world’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine — and after thousands of Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine. However, Russia cannot risk looking weak in both Ukraine or Syria by giving the greenlight to a Turkish operation now,” he told Arab News.

Orhan noted that Turkey only hit targets along the Turkish-Syrian border as retaliation against attacks by the YPG.

“I don’t expect a larger-scale operation in which the Syrian National Army would serve as ground forces and the Turkish military would give aerial support,” he said.

Ankara has previously conducted three military operations in the area: Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019.

Troop numbers from both Russia and the Syrian regime have been increasing in northern Syria since early June ahead of a potential Turkish operation.

Iran has also been very vocal in its opposition of any Turkish military operation in the area.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saaed Khatibzadeh recently said: “The Syria file is a matter of dispute between us and Turkey.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister paid a visit to Damascus following Turkey’s threats to launch the new offensive.

“Both from an ideological and strategic perspective, Iran accords importance to protecting Shiite settlements — especially the two Shiite towns of Nubl and Al-Zahra. And there are also some Shiite militia fighting along with the YPG in Tal Rifaat,” Orhan said.

“However, at this point, Russia’s position is much more (important to Turkey) than Iran’s concerns, because Russia controls the airspace in northern Syria and it would have to withdraw Russian forces before approving any Turkish operation,” he added.

Some experts have suggested that Turkey used its potential Syria operation as a bargaining chip during its recent negotiations with Washington. When Erdogan met Biden on June 29, they discussed the importance of maintaining stability in Syria, according to the White House readout.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mainly led by the YPG, still holds large areas of northeast Syria. Syrian Kurds are regarded by Washington as an important ally against Daesh.

Although the Biden administration has repeatedly said that it acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns, it has also warned that any Turkish operation in northern Syria could put US troops at risk, and undermine the fight against Daesh.

Hamidreza Azizi, CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, thinks that, given the course of events, the Turkish operation is inevitable.

“It (will) happen sooner or later. Because Turkish leaders have been maneuvering on what they see as threats Turkey is facing from northern Syria, we should expect some kind of military operation,” he told Arab News.

“But the scope of the operation has been a matter of speculation because, in the beginning, Turkish officials were talking about a vast area from Tal Rifaat and Manbij to east of the Euphrates, but they reconsidered after US opposition to the expansion of the operation east of the Euphrates,” Azizi said.

Azizi expects a limited operation to happen, the main aim of which would be to expand Turkey’s zone of influence in the area.

Turkey’s original plan had been to establish a 30 kilometer-deep security zone along its southern border both to push back the YPG and to repatriate around 1 million Syrian refugees in a wider safe zone.

President Erdogan recently announced a reconstruction plan to enable Syrians to return to their homeland.

Azizi believes that “the main friction” over this potential operation would be between Iran and Turkey.

“Iran is worried because if Turkey — or Turkish-backed troops — control Tal Rifaat, they have access to Aleppo, where Iran is present, which will give them further access to central Syria.”

Iran is still a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also an important trade partner for Turkey.

Unless Turkey is able to come up with a new plan that alleviates Iran’s concerns, Azizi expects a response from the Iranian side — albeit an indirect one via proxy forces.

“Such a move could push Turkey to further strengthen ties with Arab states and cooperate further with Israel,” he said.

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