Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria

Analysis Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria
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Israeli Air Force F-15 fighters are stepping up strikes on targets in Syria. (AFP)
Analysis Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria
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Israeli Air Force F-15 fighters are stepping up strikes on targets in Syria. (AFP)
Analysis Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria
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Israeli Air Force F-15 fighters are stepping up strikes on targets in Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2022

Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria

Why Israel has stepped up strikes on Iranian arms shipments to sites in Syria
  • Iranian commitment to long-term military presence in Syria viewed as threat by Israel
  • Pressure on IRGC facilities aimed at disrupting flow of weapons to regional proxies

WASHINGTON: The Israelis call it “the war between the wars.” A concerted campaign against Iran’s proxies in Syria, which falls just short of the threshold for all-out war, has emerged as the centerpiece of Israel’s security and defense agenda.

All indications are that Iran is intensifying its commitment to a long-term military presence in Syria that can be used to threaten not only Israel but also its Arab adversaries.

Standing in the way is the Israeli government’s resolve to prevent Iran from achieving its objective, no matter what the Biden administration or the European Union’s views on the subject.
 




Iran’s IGRC has reportedly been moving sensitive precision-guided munitions and high-end electronic equipment to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia via Iranian bases in Syria. (AFP)

In recent weeks, the Israeli military has dialed up the pressure on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria, hoping to disrupt the movement of sensitive precision-guided munitions, drones, and high-end electronic equipment via Iranian bases in Syria to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia.

On Tuesday, an Israeli air attack launched from the Mediterranean Sea on Aleppo airport damaged the runway and took it out of service, according to Syrian military sources. The previous week, rockets fired by Israel at the airport caused material damage, according to war monitors, just before the arrival of a plane from Iran. 

Israeli military strategists are not just concerned about the IRGC’s use of covert facilities in northwestern Syria and around the capital Damascus to replenish Hezbollah’s missile arsenal. They fear that Iran is seeking to establish a new front for a future war with Israel in the strategic Golan Heights.

The IRGC is believed to be going about this in two ways: By greatly increasing the existing front between Hezbollah and Israel and by putting wider swaths of Israeli territory within range of missile and drone attacks.

In response, Israel has jacked up the frequency of its air strikes against IRGC facilities in Syria and, at the same time, greatly widened the scope when it comes to targets.
 




Iran is using civil operators such as Mahan Air to transport weapons to Syrian proxies, analysts say. (AFP)

According to Western defense officials, owing to disruptions in ground transfers, Iran has become increasingly reliant on civil air transport enterprises, such as Mahan Air, to deliver the weapons and materiel to Syria that ensure the combat readiness of Hezbollah and other Shiite militant groups.

Before the latest strikes on Damascus and Aleppo airports, Israeli intelligence services reportedly detected a notable uptick in covert weapons flights involving commercial aircraft.

The runway at Damascus airport suffered its most severe damage earlier this summer, but just weeks after it was repaired, the Israeli air force struck again on Aug. 31. The same day the airport in Aleppo and its runway suffered damage when a suspected IRGC plane tried to use the facility after failing to land in Damascus.




This handout file photo released by ImageSat International shows a satellite image depicting the damage at Syria’s Aleppo airport following Israeli strikes on August 31. (AFP)

Alma Research Center, an Israeli think tank, has been closely following the ongoing shadow war in Syrian skies. It says the Israeli air force has struck on multiple occasions an Iranian base in Masyaf, located next to the Syrian Scientific Research Center, an organization suspected to be involved in missile production, guided munitions development, and chemical weapons production and storage.

Although Israeli airstrikes over the years have destroyed numerous warehouses and missile depots as well as large quantities of military equipment, the IRGC is said to be still determined to use its presence in Syria to launch attacks against Israel.

A secret operational branch of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Unit 840, has been put in charge of plotting external attacks against Israel, according to Israeli researcher Tal Beeri.
 




Members of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement take part in a funeral procession for fighters of the group killed in Syria while fighting for Iran and the Assad regime. (AFP file photo)

“The Iranian strategic concept is to ‘create’ a common border with Israel through the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. In Lebanon they have Hezbollah. In southern Syria, they operate through both civilian and military establishments,” he said.

“The Iranians have a number of options in southern Syria. The more reliable of them are the Hezbollah units (the Golan File and the Southern Command), local mercenary militias and Shiite militias.

“It is quite possible that even now, driven by a desire for revenge, the Iranians will try to make it operationally feasible to act against Israel through southern Syria, through Unit 840’s local infrastructure.”

FASTFACTS

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is now more than 19 times the limit set out in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Its stockpile as of Aug. 21 stood at an estimated 3,940kg, up 131.6kg on the IAEA’s last quarterly report. 

(Source: IAEA)

Israel is believed to be behind the killing in May of Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, the leader of Unit 840 in Tehran. The unit last conducted limited cross-border attacks along the no-man’s land separating the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and the Syrian border in 2020. Since then, the Iranians have not been able to successfully carry out a major attack against Israeli and American interests.

However, analysts believe the synergistic interaction between IRGC operatives in Syria and terror agents across the Middle East poses a security threat to other countries.
 




Syrians lift a placard depicting the leaders of Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah and Houthi terror movements at the Al-Nayrab camp for Palestinian refugees east of Aleppo on May 7, 2021. (AFP)

The nexus between the two groups is embodied by Quds Force commander Gen. Javad Ghaffari, who is believed to be leading the IRGC Intelligence Organization’s mission to target Israelis abroad, including this summer’s plot targeting Israeli diplomats that was thwarted as part of a joint Mossad and Turkish intelligence operation.

Ghaffari was the former top Quds Force commander in Syria, where he earned the moniker the “Butcher of Aleppo” for his role coordinating with Hezbollah and the Fatemiyoun Brigade. The two Iranian proxies have established a number of bases in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.

Reports from Syria say Ghaffari was expelled from the country for reportedly being too aggressive in plotting and launching attacks against Israel from Syrian territory, which stoked concern in Damascus that the “war between wars” was close to becoming a direct confrontation.

Fear of an all-out war, however, does not seem to have deterred hawks in the Iranian regime from plotting overseas terror attacks, with Syria being just one node of a transcontinental web.


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“It is estimated that in Iran’s list of priorities, Turkey and Azerbaijan are the most preferable locations for its activities,” Beeri told Arab News. “Unit 840 (Khodaei) was responsible for recently planning and attempting to carry out terrorist activities against Israeli and Jewish targets (diplomats, businessmen and institutions) in Cyprus, Colombia, Senegal, Tanzania, Turkey and India.”

The connection between Iran’s regional military operations and international terror activities cannot be overemphasized, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, a researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“The heartland of the region remains the wellspring of Iran-backed terror operations,” he told Arab News. “What the regime has shown is a willingness to step up terror, assassination, intimidation, and kidnapping operations abroad and across a host of different jurisdictions.”

Tehran’s mission in Syria, according to Ben Taleblu, is designed to advance its broader objective of targeting Israel and Israeli interests on multiple fronts.




Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meets his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Tehran. (AFP)

“It’s clear that the Islamic Republic is overseeing multiple missions in Syria,” he said. “These include not just bolstering the Assad regime and Hezbollah fighters operating in the country, but also using the Quds Force to pose a clear and present threat to Israel. That’s where the reports of what Unit 840 in Syria is doing matter most.”

Put differently, he said: “If the past, plus evolving Iranian military capabilities, is prologue, then the unmanned aerial threats space is something the Quds Force will look to deepen in Syria.”

Ben Taleblu’s assessment of the IRGC’s strategy squares with that of Jason Brodsky, director of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a non-partisan think tank in New York City.

He believes the Quds Force, and its specialized units tasked with conducting terror attacks against Israelis worldwide, will continue to view Syria as a critical base of operations, as the Russian military presence in Syria is scaled back owing to the military stalemate in Ukraine.

However, Israel has formulated a specific doctrine meant to outflank and outmaneuver the Iranians, according to Brodksy.

“There is a distinct possibility that the Quds Force, including Unit 840, will seek to expand its presence in Syria. This is because of Russia’s ongoing transfer of military assets to Ukraine, which will create a vacuum that Iran will seek to exploit,” he told Arab News.




A secretive operational branch of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Unit 840, is said to be in charge of plotting external attacks against Israel. (AFP file photo)

“The Khodaei operation was meant to send a message to Tehran that Israel will not hesitate to reach deep inside Iranian territory to exact a price for non-nuclear malign behavior like terrorism. It is an implementation of the Octopus Doctrine, which has long been championed by Israel’s prime minister.”

Although it would have preferred to sit out the Israel-Iran shadow war, the US has frequently found itself in the crosshairs of IRGC proxies alongside its regional partners.

A series of American strikes in August targeted Fatemiyoun Brigade facilities in Deir Ezzor and the base of an IRGC-backed militant group just west of the Euphrates River that was believed to be behind a spate of drone and missile attacks against the US military bases in eastern Syria.

In recent times, Shiite militias seem to have become increasingly bold in hitting US bases in the arid flat desert landscape of the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Compared with Israel, US military retaliation in Syria against attacks by Iranian proxies is usually less aggressive and more geographically precise. Still, the Americans and the Israelis coordinate with each other when they launch attacks against the IRGC in Syria, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Iran’s military and intelligence networks in Syria were established with meticulous care by the slain Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

“Soleimani had the unique ability to manage Iran’s proxy and partner network,” Brodsky told Arab News. “More than two years after his death, Tehran is still struggling to rebuild a durable management structure for this network.”

 


Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
Updated 16 sec ago

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident

Egyptian fighter plane crashes in training accident
  • Crew survived and no damage caused on the ground after technical malfunction
  • Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June

CAIRO: An Egyptian fighter plane crashed on Sunday while training, the Egyptian army said.

Gharib Abdel-Hafez, a military spokesman, said on Facebook that the crew survived and that no damage was caused on the ground. He did not identify the location of the crash, which he said was caused by a technical malfunction.

Another technical malfunction caused a fighter plane to crash during training in June. The pilot survived that accident, the spokesman added.

Separately, the British Red Arrows arrived at an air base in southern Egypt to take part in the Hurghada Air Show 2022 over the city of Sahl Hasheesh on Wednesday.

According to the spokesman, the Red Arrows will join the Egyptian Silver Stars team for the event.


Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 30 min 56 sec ago

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi

Region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on MS patient performed in Abu Dhabi
  • Center also performed region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on an MS patient, who has reported an improvement in her overall condition

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center has performed the region’s first successful bone marrow transplant on a patient suffering from multiple sclerosis, Emirates News Agency reported. 

This achievement marks a major advance in cell therapy and regenerative medicine capabilities to treat a range of diseases, including cancer and immune disorders.

Doctors at ADSCC performed the region’s first autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation on a patient with MS earlier this month and the patient has since reported an improvement in her overall condition. The treatment aims to “reset” a person’s immune system and can be used for those with relapsing forms of MS.

“We are extremely proud of our achievement at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center to become the first centre in the region to perform the BMT on a MS patient. It fills us with great pride to make such a life-saving treatment here in Abu Dhabi,” said ADSCC’s CEO Dr Yendry Ventura. 

The AHSCT procedure carried out by ADSCC is a “standard of care” and not just a “clinical option” under the updated European Group for Blood & Marrow Transplantation and American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation guidelines from 2019, which reviewed the clinical evidence of AHSCT on MS patients. 

The transplant success follows ADSCC’s ground-breaking work on COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic. These included UAECell19, which was used as a stem cell therapy to help regenerate lung capacity in thousands of COVID-19 patients.

 


Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
Updated 3 min 30 sec ago

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video

Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest: Online video
  • “O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video
  • “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power,” she said

DUBAI: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s niece, a well known rights activist, has called on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran over its violent crackdown on popular unrest kindled by the death in police custody of a young woman.
A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on Nov. 23.
“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video. “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power.”
Khamenei’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors. It said 60 members of the security forces had been killed, and 18,173 protesters detained.
The protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for “inappropriate attire,” pose one of the strongest challenges to the country’s clerical establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a member of parliament from the mainly Kurdish city of Mahabad, said on Sunday that as many as 105 people had been killed in Kurdish-populated areas during the protests. He was speaking in a debate in parliament as quoted by the Entekhan website.
Widespread opposition 
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy.
The video was shared on YouTube on Friday by her brother, France-based Mahmoud Moradkhani, who presents himself as “an opponent of the Islamic Republic” on his Twitter account, and then by prominent Iranian rights activists.
On Nov. 23, Mahmoud Moradkhani reported her sister’s arrest as she was heeding a court order to appear at the Tehran prosecutor’s office. Farideh had been arrested earlier this year by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and later released on bail.
HRANA said she was in Tehran’s Evin security prison. Moradkhani, it said, had earlier faced a 15-year prison sentence on unspecified charges.
Her father, Ali Moradkhani Arangeh, was a Shiite cleric married to Khamenei’s sister and recently passed away in Tehran following years of isolation due to his stance against the Islamic Republic, according to his website.
Farideh Moradkhani added in her video: “Now is the time for all free and democratic countries to recall their representatives from Iran as a symbolic gesture and to expel the representatives of this brutal regime from their countries.”
On Thursday, the United Nations’ top human rights body decided by a comfortable margin to establish a new investigative mission to look into Tehran’s violent security crackdown on the anti-government protests.
Criticism of the Islamic Republic by relatives of top officials is not unprecedented. In 2012, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was sentenced to jail for “anti-state propaganda.”
Iranian authorities released on bail the activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi on Nov. 26 to undergo medical treatment, according to his brother writing on Twitter.
Concerns had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. 


Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
Updated 27 November 2022

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’

Yemen FM: Houthis must be classified as ‘terrorist group’
  • US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities
  • Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen said the Houthi attacks on oil ports are “terrorist operations”

The Houthis must be classified as a terrorist group, Yemen’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, told on Sunday the US Ambassador to Yemen, Steven Fagin. 

The Yemeni government is planning on designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, Mubarak said, stressing the importance of the international community's support for those decisions.

The two sides discussed the challenges that face the peace process, and the Houthis threat to international navigation and international peace and security, state news agency SABA reported.

Mubarak said that the Houthis aimed to “brainwash society” and impose a “racist identity” instead of the national one, the report said.

The US ambassador renewed his country's condemnation of the Houthi terrorist attacks on oil facilities, stressing the United States’ support for the security, stability and unity of Yemen.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed al-Jaber, said that the Houthi attacks, using Iranian weapons, on oil ports are “terrorist operations.”  He added that Houthi attacks on civilian facilities harm the interests of Yemeni people.

“The international community is working to support the truce, and we encourage those efforts,” the ambassador said.

“We hope that international efforts will contribute to pushing the Houthis to support the peace process.”

He also the Arab Monetary Fund will help the Central Bank of Yemen to stabilize the economy.


Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
Updated 27 November 2022

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
  • Threat of Daesh resurgence ‘is being used as pressure tactic on US to convince Ankara to de-escalate situation’
  • Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK

ANKARA: Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces Mazloum Abdi has told reporters that his troops have halted operations against Daesh following Turkiye’s aerial attacks on northern Syria over the past week. 

Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday during Turkiye’s anti-terror operation in northern Iraq to clear the area of terrorists.

Amid signs that Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive with the help of Turkiye-backed opposition fighters, Abdi’s statement from the US-backed Kurdish forces is considered a message to Washington to put pressure on Turkiye to prevent any military move in the region.

At a time when the US is attempting to assess its relations with its NATO ally and its Kurdish partners in Syria, Turkiye’s recent air attacks have drawn some criticism from Washington regarding their close proximity to adjacent coalition bases where US soldiers are stationed.

Ankara blames Syrian offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party for the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street that killed six Turkish citizens and injured more than 80.

Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK.

Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute, believes that the US will not oppose Ankara as it has done in the past.

He told Arab News: “The importance of Syria is fast retreating for the US government in favor of Ukraine, and the relative significance of the YPG is diminishing.

“Turkiye’s support for the Ukraine militarily against the Russian invasion, and Ankara’s critical position as a broker for the grain corridor deal, have also added to their value for the US in the strategic picture.”

According to Cagaptay, Turkiye has also used its leverage in the wake of supporting Swedish and Finnish bids to join NATO.

He added: “NATO’s allies have voiced support for Turkiye and did not criticize their arguments against the YPG.”

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, says “the Syrian Kurds are using the threat of a Daesh resurgence as a pressure tactic on the US to convince Turkiye to de-escalate the situation.”

He told Arab News: “This is very similar to what unfolded during the 2019 Operation Peace Spring offensive in which former US President Donald Trump was heavily criticized for green-lighting Turkiye’s offensive and allowing Daesh to experience a potential recovery."

The SDF’s strategy is unlikely to work, according to Ramani, and he says it is difficult to see Washington now facing the same kind of blowback as Trump received in 2019. 

He said that Turkiye “has emerged as a critical mediator in the Ukraine war and the US has refrained from sanctions against the country over the continued use of S-400 systems for this reason.”

He added: “If it is not objecting to the procurement of Russian military technology, the US certainly will not crack down very hard on Turkiye over an escalation in northern Syria or Iraq.

“SDF officials have admitted their concern that the US will not do enough, and perceive the US as being disengaged from the Syrian conflict overall.”

SDF’s Abdi said that Turkish airstrikes over the past week had damaged the region’s infrastructure.

He added: “The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against Daesh are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped.”

Cagaptay believes that the SDF and YPG were once important partners for the US in beating Daesh, which is now defeated.

The SDF, which is the key US partner in combating Daesh in Syria, has also warned about the importance of retaining intact the security of the Al-Hol camp, which is home to Daesh family members, while the Kurdish authorities operate several detention facilities in northeastern Syria that host thousands of opposition fighters.

Cagaptay said: “YPG’s main role is now reduced to prison-keeper of the locations holding relatives of the extremists, mostly Iraqi and Syrians, that no Western country wants to take back.”

SDF’s comments came at the time of fresh reports that bases hosting US-led coalition forces in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh had been targeted by two rockets. The attacks were believed to have been perpetrated by militias backed by Iran.

In a short statement on Wednesday, US Central Command announced that American troops were put at risk, but no service members were injured in the strike.

Turkiye’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that his forces would never harm coalition forces or civilians, after being questioned over allegations that warplanes hit targets near a US base in northern Syria.

Akar also held a meeting on Saturday with Chief of Turkish General Staff Yasar Guler and authorities from Turkish Land Forces Command in Ankara.

Cagaptay said: “Diminishing the security of the camps as a retaliation for Turkiye’s airstrikes will only end US support to the YPG and reduce the significance of the Syrian Kurds in the eyes of US policymakers.”

Turkiye has continued airstrikes — using fighter jets and drones — against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Syria to remove militants from the border.

Experts believe that SDF statements will not alter Turkiye’s plans to pursue a potential ground operation, the fourth of its kind since 2016, in the west of the Euphrates River in the coming weeks.

Ankara and Moscow agreed in 2019 to pull YPG forces back 30 km to the south of the Turkish border. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkiye “is determined to make its borders safe against terrorism.”

He added: “Hopefully, with these operations, we show our determination to gradually make every inch of our country safe, starting from beyond the border.”