The Syrian response to Sunday’s Israeli air strike on Damascus, which killed 42, was twofold. Beleagured President Bashar al-Assad announced that soldiers manning the country’s anti-aircraft batteries may now fire at will (the Baath Party system is slow because subalterns have to ask permission for every battle action, and initiative on the ground is usually discouraged.). Translation: Civilian airliners should now stay far from Syrian airspace, lest they be mistaken by trigger happy soldiers manning the anti-aircraft batteries for Israeli jets. Al-Assad also encouraged Palestinian guerrilla groups to attack Israel from Syrian soil (this is bluster). Syrian forces appear to have lobbed mortars into the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights in reprisal on Monday.
In my view, the Israeli strikes are opportunistic and tactical, not a game changer. Tel Aviv has long been frustrated that Iran supplies munitions to lebanon’s Hizbullah through Syria, but was stymied from doing much about it by Syria’s extensive air defenses. Now Syria’s army is distracted by the civil war, and the Israelis are taking advantage. Hence the Israeli military assurance that ‘there are no winds of war’ — i.e. no larger Israeli war against Syria is in the offing.
Meanwhile, a top Iranian military official denied that the Israelis had hit an Iranian missile storage site in Damascus or that the missiles were intended for Hizbullah. He also threatened reprisals against regional powers de facto aligned with Israel against the Baath government of Syria (Turkey? Jordan? Saudi Arabia, Qatar?)
The USG Open Source Center translates:
FYI — Army Official Denies Existence of Iranian Weaponry at Israeli Strike Site in Syria
Monday, May 6, 2013
Document Type: OSC Summary
Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic at 1808 GMT on 5 May reported that Major General Mas’ud Jazayeri, the assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, has condemned the recent Israeli strikes on locations inside Syria and denied that the sites contained weapons provided from Iran.
Speaking in a 47-minute n interview with Al-Alam TV during its “From Tehran” program, Jazayeri said there was “no doubt about the Zionist entity’s aggressive trend” and added that “some countries in the region were (also) involved and one of these days will be held to account”.
Continuing to express little surprise over the strikes, he added: “We do not expect any different from Israel.”
The military official said that Israel was “intervening” in Syria and had previously “intervened in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, against Hamas of course.”
Speaking in Farsi with simultaneous Arabic translation, Jazayeri added that “unfortunately, there is a war between Arabs and Arabs, between Muslims and Muslims, under direction from the Americans and international Zionism”, adding that this was specifically occurring in Syria.
Asked about “Israeli and Western sources’” claims that the Syrian site targeted in Jamraya stored Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles, Jazayeri said that the Syrian government and people currently had sufficient capability of their own “in terms of military, security, intelligence and psychological ability.”
He added that the Syrians “are not in need of Iranian weapons support, and therefore such news is denied.”
He also appeared to deny further reports that Iranian Fateh-110 missiles were supplied to Hezbollah, saying that groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah had also reached “self-sufficiency and do not need weapons from other countries.”
Jazayeri said that “the US and the other hostile countries, including some in the region, have done all they can against Syria… as well as to organize, fund and equip the opposition factions.”
He added: “Currently our region is unfortunately facing the largest kind of governmental terrorism in history”, saying that “the leader of this terrorism is the USA”.
Asked what the reaction to the strikes might be and if it may come from Hezbollah or the Syrian army, Jazayeri said that “the resistance (reference to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas) will not allow the progression of the Zionist entity in the region”.
Answering a question about Western military exercises and mine-sweeping operations in the region, he said that “the administration of the Straight of Hormuz is in the hands of Iran and measures of this kind are made by the Americans to reassure their friends,’ and igniting what he called “Iranphobia” and “Shiitephobia”. He said the exercises included nothing new, adding that Iran was monitoring the issue and possessed “very notable information about the exercises”, while stressing that it was “a very ordinary exercise.”
Remaining on the topic of the Strait of Hormuz, he said that Iran has repeatedly announced that the Strait will remain open but that at the same time, the presence of foreign troops “has often led to tension and violations in this crucial case.”
On regional differences, Jazayeri said that in Syria “we are not seeing a war between the Sunnis and Shiites; there are groups that in reality are not Sunni, or Shiite, or even Muslim”.
More generally, he said that there were efforts to “exploit differences” between societies that came back to “sedition with a historic precedent,” saying that “the specialist in enflaming this sedition and prompting differences and tensions between states and societies is actually Britain.”
Jazayeri added that the US was now “stepping into this position,” before continuing to sharply criticize some regional states and accusing them of allying themselves with Israel and the US.
(Description of Source: Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic — 24-hour Arabic news channel, targeting a pan-Arab audience, of Iranian state-run television, officially controlled by the office of the supreme leader)
The official stance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel toward the Syrian civil war has been one of announced “neutrality.” Netanyahu’s position contrasts with that of his political ally, Avigdor Lieberman, an East Bloc Neoconservative who has been arguing for supporting the rebels.
There are some signs, however, that Israel may be rethinking its neutrality and perhaps preparing to join in an effort to arm one of the rebel factions, the “moderates” of the south. The latter are already receiving support from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who have been alarmed by the rise of the Nusra Front, a radical self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate. On his trip to the UK last week, Netanyahu for the first time admitted the possibility that Israel might arm some of the rebels.
Jordan and Saudi Arabia are allegedly attempting to build up a non-fundamentalist guerrilla group in the Deraa region, in hopes it can take over Damascus and marginalize the fundamentalist Nusra Front.
Then on Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Utai Brun, the country’s top military analyst, alleged that the Syrian state had deployed poisonous sarin gas on more than one occasion in mid-July last year. The Israelis are aware that President Obama designated chemical weapons use as a red line that would trigger a US intervention.
Israel’s primary concerns in Syria are not Syria but Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israel fears that Syria will find a way to transfer chemical weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israeli military leaders typically attempt to prevent developments that might limit their freedom of action. a Hizbullah armed with chemicals might deter Israeli military action against the Shiite party-militia.
Meanwhile, Hizbullah has openly joined Syrian government troops in the campaign to take Qusair near Homs away from the rebels. Aljazeera English reports:
Even as Israel may be turning against the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a fundamentalist Sunni preacher in Sidon has called on Lebanese Sunnis to fight a holy war against the Baath regime in Syria. Young Sunni men were said to be signing up on Tuesday, even as many Lebanese Shiites continue to support Bashar al-Assad.
Hizbullah is the most effective Arab fighting force still hostile to Israel. It is allied with Iran, which the Israeli leadership says is their country’s chief enemy.
“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional, and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”
Erdogan appears to have grudgingly accepted the apology (Israel will pay roughly $6 million to the victims’ families), and the two leaders agreed that normal diplomatic relations would be restored, though Erdogan later said it would be a gradual process.
The Obama administration is touting the apology and the step toward return of correct Israeli-Turkish relations as a win. Turkey is a member of NATO and has been excluding Israel from some NATO meetings (Israel is not a NATO member but is often included in its counsels; Turkey as a member can block it).
What is astonishing in all this is that no one is talking about the reason for which the Mavi Marmara was heading to Gaza and for which the Israeli commandos boarded it and shot it up.
It is that Israel has imposed an illegal blockade on the civilian population of Gaza. The blockade forbids the export of most of what the Palestinians there produce, depriving them of export markets. There are only 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, many of them thrown into desperate poverty by Israeli policy, so they aren’t much of an internal market. The Israelis have a cover story that they are strangling Gaza out of security concerns, but how could exporting goods from Gaza pose a threat to Israeli security? One Israeli official admitted the truth years ago; the Israelis have put the Palestinians ‘on a diet,’ and most creepily actually tried to figure what was the least amount of food they could let in without producing widespread starvation. This policy can only be called fascist and it recalls the worst kind of medical experiments on human beings and social engineering of the mass political movements of the 1930s.
Palestinian children forage for food in trash
Since Turkey (rightly and courageously) rejects the Israeli blockade on Gaza civilians, its actual diplomatic relations with Israel are likely to continue to be roiled. The Israelis maintain that blockades are a recognized tool of war in international law, but in fact Gaza is not an independent country with which Israel is at war! Gaza is Occupied by Israel, and the 1949 Geneva convention on the treatment of civilians in occupied territories strictly forbids such punitive measures. Gaza has no functioning seaport or airport because the Israelis disallow the former and bombed the latter into smithereens.
I mean, don’t those figures make you want to do something for those mothers and children? Wouldn’t they melt anyone’s heart?
Although, under international pressure, the Israeli government eased its blockade slightly in 2010, and foodstuffs are no longer interdicted, it still limits imports into Gaza, and its wide-ranging ban on exports has thrown Palestinians into unemployment at Depression levels, imperiling their ability to afford food even when it is available.
Israel must end this unconscionable blockade of Palestinian civilians (half of whom are children) immediately. If Obama thinks Israeli-Turkish relations can be healthy without that step, he has another think coming.
The Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will attempt to strong-arm President Barack Obama, during his visit to Israel, into attacking Iran. (In part this noise about Iran is to deflect attention from the vast Israeli land grab in the Palestinian West Bank). It is now often forgotten, and even denied, that the then Israeli leadership was also a huge cheering section for the disastrous Iraq War. Netanyahu in particular wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in late 2002 entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.” The Israeli officials of the time were unanimous that Saddam Hussein was within months of having a nuclear weapon (Iraq’s nuclear enrichment program was mothballed in 1991). President Obama should keep in mind, while in Israel, these passages from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s Israel Lobby:
“On August 16, 2002, eleven days before Vice President Cheney kicked off the campaign for war with a hard‐line speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Post reported that “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.140 By this point, according to Sharon, strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S. had reached “unprecedented dimensions,” and Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq’s WMD programs.141 As one retired Israeli general later put it, “Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq’s non‐conventional capabilities.”142
Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when President Bush decided to seek U.N. Security Council authorization for war in September, and even more worried when Saddam agreed to let U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, because these developments seemed to reduce the likelihood of war. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in September 2002 that “the campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must. Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors.”143
At the same time, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote aNew York Times op‐edwarning that “the greatest risk now lies in inaction.”144 His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, published a similar piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.”>145 Netanyahu declared, “Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do,” adding that “I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre‐emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” Or as Ha’aretz reported in February 2003: “The [Israeli] military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.”146 But as Netanyahu suggests, the desire for war was not confined to Israel’s leaders. Apart from Kuwait, which Saddam conqueredin 1990, Israel was the only country in the worldwhere both the politicians and the public enthusiastically favored war.147 As journalist Gideon Levy observed at the time, “Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.”148 In fact, Israelis were so gung‐ho for warthat their allies in America told them to damp down their hawkish rhetoric, lestit look like the war wasfor Israel.
140 Jason Keyser, “Israel Urges U.S. to Attack,” Washington Post, August 16, 2002. Also see Aluf Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike against Iraq,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Idem, “PM Aide: Delay in U.S. Attack Lets Iraq Speed Up Arms Program,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Reuven Pedhatzur, “Israel’s Interest in the War on Saddam,” Ha’aretz, August 4, 2002; Ze’ev Schiff, “Into the Rough,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002. 141 Gideon Alon, “Sharon to Panel: Iraq is Our Biggest Danger,” Ha’aretz, August 13, 2002. At a White House press conference with President Bush on October 16, 2002, Sharon said: “I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the friendship and cooperation. And as far as I remember, as we look back towards many years now, I think that we never had such relations with any President of the United States as we have with you, and we never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration.” For a transcript of the press conference, see “President Bush Welcomes Prime Minister Sharon to White House; Question and Answer Session with the Press,” U.S. Department of State, October 16, 2002. Also see Kaiser, “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”
142 Shlomo Brom, “An Intelligence Failure,” Strategic Assessment (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University), Vol. 6, No. 3 (November 2003), p. 9. Also see “Intelligence Assessment: Selections from the Media, 1998‐2003,” in ibid., pp. 17‐19; Gideon Alon, “Report Slams Assessment of Dangers Posed by Libya, Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 28, 2004; Dan Baron, “Israeli Report Blasts Intelligence for Exaggerating the Iraqi Threat,” JTA, March 28, 2004; Greg Myre, “Israeli Report Faults Intelligence on Iraq,” New York Times, March 28, 2004; James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), pp. 72‐73.
143 Marc Perelman, “Iraqi Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner,” Forward, September 20, 2002. This article begins, “Saddam Hussein’s surprise acceptance of ‘unconditional’ United Nations weapons inspections put Israel on the hot seat this week, forcing it into the open as the only nation actively supporting the Bush administration’s goal of Iraqi regime change.” Peres became so frustrated with the UN process in the following months that in mid‐February 2003 he lashed out at the French by questioning France’s status as a permanent member of the Security Council. “Peres Questions France Permanent Status on Security Council,” Ha’aretz, February 20, 2003. On a visit to Moscow in late September 2002, Sharon made it clear to Russian President Putin, who was leading the charge for new inspections, “that the time when these inspectors could have been effective has passed.” Herb Keinon, “Sharon to Putin: Too Late for Iraq Arms Inspection,” Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2002.
144 Ehud Barak, “Taking Apart Iraq’s Nuclear Threat,” New York Times, September 4, 2002.
145 Benjamin Netanyahu, “The Case for Toppling Saddam,” Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2002. The Jerusalem Post was particularly hawkish on Iraq, frequently running editorials and op‐eds promoting the war, and hardly ever running pieces against it. Representative editorials include “Next Stop Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, November 15, 2001; “Don’t Wait for Saddam,” Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2002; “Making the Case for War,” Jerusalem Post, September 9, 2002. For some representative op‐eds, see Ron Dermer, “The March to Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, December 21, 2001; Efraim Inbar, “Ousting Saddam, Instilling Stability,” Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2002; Gerald M. Steinberg, “Imagining the Liberation of Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2001.
146 Aluf Benn, “Background: Enthusiastic IDF Awaits War in Iraq,” Ha’aretz, February 17, 2002. Also see James Bennet, “Israel Says War on Iraq Would Benefit the Region,” New York Times, February 27, 2003; Chemi Shalev, “Jerusalem Frets As U.S. Battles Iraq War Delays,” Forward, March 7, 2003.
147 Indeed, a February 2003 poll reported that 77.5 percent of Israeli Jews wanted the United States to attack Iraq. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, “Peace Index: Most Israelis Support the Attack on Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 6, 2003. Regarding Kuwait, a public opinion poll released in March 2003 found that 89.6 percent of Kuwaitis favored the impending war against Iraq. James Morrison, “Kuwaitis Support War,” Washington Times, March 18, 2003.
148 Gideon Levy, “A Deafening Silence,” Ha’aretz, October 6, 2002. 149 See Dan Izenberg, “Foreign Ministry Warns Israeli War Talk Fuels US Anti‐Semitism,” Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2003, which makes clear that “the Foreign Ministry has received reports from the US” telling Israelis to cool their jets because “the US media” is portraying Israel as “trying to goad the administration into war.” There is also evidence that Israel itself was concerned about being seen as driving American policy toward Iraq. See Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike”; Perelman, “Iraq Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner.” Finally, in late September 2002, a group of political consultants known as the “Israel Project” told pro‐Israel leaders in the United States “to keep quiet while the Bush administration purses a possible war with Iraq.” Dana Milbank, “Group Urges Pro‐Israel Leaders Silence on Iraq,” Washington Post, November 27, 2002.”
News from what Ross Perot used to call the guys in sharkskin suits and alligator shoes– the lobbyists who routinely outvote you and me on Capitol Hill:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which ought to be a registered foreign agent, opens its annual conference in Washington today. Its three big goals right now are to make sure US government aid to Israel is exempted from the across the board budget cuts of the sequester; to make sure Israel can with impunity go on stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank; and to get permission from Congress for the Israeli Air Force to bomb Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities.
Since Israel is a middle-income country with a nominal per capita income higher than Spain or South Korea, it is mysterious why the US taxpayer should outright give it so much money every year– more especially since the Israelis are breaking international law with their aggressive colonization of the West Bank, which causes no end of trouble for the United States in the Muslim World. Why it should be exempted from the effects of the sequester, when ordinary Americans will not, is further mysterious.
“urges that, if the Government of Israel is 3 compelled to take military action in self-defense, the 4 United States Government should stand with Israel 5 and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”
Although the resolution denies being an authorization for war, that is clearly what it is. It was introduced by Lindsey Graham (of course) and Robert Menendez.
An Israeli attack on Iran would certainly draw in the United States. Thousands of US personnel in Baghdad, Qatar and Bahrain would be vulnerable to covert, proxy attacks in response. The Pentagon has repeatedly warned the Israelis about doing anything that might force the US into hostilities, and the brass won’t be happy about this irresponsible resolution.
Former National Security Council staffer and Columbia professor of Political Science Gary Sick notes, “Initiating a war is the gravest step any nation can take. This legislation would effectively entrust that decision to a regional state. Such a decision is an American sovereign responsibility. It cannot be outsourced.”
Just Foreign Policy has suggestions for how you can protest this irresponsible resolution to your elected representatives.