May 24, 2019

Syrian Opposition Leader Pushes for Normalization with Israel

Fahad Almasri

Though most Syrians oppose normalizing relations with Israel and reject efforts toward establishing diplomatic ties, Syrian opposition leader Fahad Almasri has not stopped seeking an opportunity to open communication channels with Israel. 

Almasri, founder and leader of the National Salvation Front in Syria (NSF), said he would like the Syrian and Israeli people to live side by side in peace and to become business partners. He describes himself as a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad and an alternative leader to Assad’s rule. 

Almasri, who has lived in France for 24 years, said he is not afraid to talk openly about relations with Israel in a post-Assad Syria. 

“We have the courage and the open political vision. The reason is the … change that has occurred in Syrian society. [This change] led to the reevaluation of all concepts and values — and the fall of slogans,” Almasri said. 

Syria and Israel technically have been in a state of war since 1948, and the two countries never established diplomatic relations. Following Israel’s War of Independence, the two have faced off in two additional wars, the first in 1967 and the second in 1973.

Almasri believes the time has come for this to change.

“We must recognize that Israel is an important regional state, a fact that exists whether recognized by regional and Arab parties or not,” he said. “Israel is an internationally recognized state and is supported by all the nations of the world.” 

Syria has always championed the Palestinian cause and Damascus has consistently tied the Golan Heights, an area internationally recognized as occupied by Israel, with resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But Almasri said a lot has changed since the eruption of the conflict in Syria in 2011.

“After all the destruction that happened in Syria, is the problem of the Syrian people the Palestinian issue, especially since the Palestinians themselves have entered into negotiations with the Israeli state? The Palestinian problem is at another turning point,” he said. “Consequently, the Syrian people paid more than 80 years of their livelihood, security, stability and political life, which was absent as a result of slogans and trafficking in the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

A Palestinian official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter said the Palestinian leadership has a good relationship with Damascus and doesn’t want to spoil it. But he was critical of Almasri.

“These are groups created by Israel and the United States that have a relationship with them,” the Palestinian official said. “These groups, which call themselves the opposition, are part of a project hostile to Arab causes and have reached the level of agents for the occupation. The Palestinians want a strong and united Syria, and Syria will emerge from its crisis as soon as possible.”

“We must recognize that Israel is an important regional state, a fact that exists whether recognized by regional and Arab parties or not.” — Fahad Almasri

In April, Almasri’s group launched the national initiative “Hope,” calling on the Israeli government to ease travel restrictions on the Syrian Druze in the Golan Heights to allow them to visit relatives in Syria as part of a more comprehensive plan.

“In the first phase … the people of the Golan have to come to Syria. In the second stage of the initiative, the Jewish Syrians, whether they live in Israel and hold Israeli identity or live in the Diaspora, have the right to visit their country and take care of their property and their cultural, historical and humanitarian heritage in Syria,” Almasri said. “The ball is now in the Israeli court.”

The Syrian opposition figure said he is in touch with Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel. 

Tarif said he’s a religious man and doesn’t “interfere” in Syria’s internal politics, but he did support the initiative put forth by the NSF.

“These are humanitarian requests to help the Syrians in the Golan Heights contact their families in Syria just like it was before the war. We are fully behind it,” Tarif said.

Almasri claims that his group has been in direct communication with Israeli officials. In fact, he said an NSF delegation was in Israel during the first week of May, meeting with Israelis. 

“We sent a message to the Israeli government and to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said. “We hope that this initiative will receive the attention of Mr. Netanyahu because it will be an initial humanitarian initiative toward the rapprochement between Syria and Israel.”

Almasri said he also met with Yisrael Katz, Israeli minister of transportation, minister of intelligence and acting foreign minister, with the goal of establishing close relations with the Israeli government.

“We want to search for the strategic interests of the Syrian people, and the strategic interests of the Syrian people require [us] to enter into understandings with the Israeli state for the benefit of the Syrian people,” Almasri said. “The Syrian people want peace, they want to live in safety, they want a broad horizon for development, they want to rebuild Syria.” 

Almasri also said he met in Paris with Yuval Rabin, chairman of the Israeli Peace Initiative and son of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He said these meetings are just an example of many he regularly holds with Israeli officials, discussing numerous topics, among them Iran, the Palestinians and terrorism.

Normalization between Arab states and Israel is a touchy subject. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states that have peace treaties and diplomatic ties with Israel, and Almasri knows his attempts at forging relations with a state that many Arabs still view as an enemy will not sit well with them. 

“We do not care about the criticism of others; we are concerned about the strategic interest of the Syrian people,” he said. “The Syrian people have been left to kill and slaughter [each other] for more than eight years, and the Arab countries are all watching and investing in Syrian blood, and have contributed to the continuation of this tragedy and turned it into a war of attrition.”

The Media Line reached out to the Israeli prime minister’s office and the country’s Foreign Ministry for a response. Both declined to speak on the matter, saying instead in a text message: “We are not making any comments on the issue to the media.” 

Almasri said he won’t stop until he meets with the Israeli prime minister, and he has a message for him. 

“We say to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu that we congratulate you on your [election] victory once again with the confidence of the Israeli people. With the beginning of your mandate, we hope for your new government to have a new, courageous and constructive regional vision toward Syria and the Syrian people,” Almasri said.

Still, he admitted he doesn’t speak for all Syrians and that the idea of having contact with Israel is controversial for many. But Almasri has a vision for a future Syria. In order for that vision to become a reality, he said, the eight-year conflict must end and reconciliation needs to take place.

Former Miss Israel’s Exhibition on Pre-Israeli State Jewish Communities

Photo by URI Karin

Before 1948, Jews lived all over the Middle East and North Africa, practicing their religion with pride but facing persecution and intermittent pogroms. Growing up in Israel, Dana Avrish, a third-generation descendant of Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian Jews, heard many stories from her family, including how Israel’s creation in 1948 spurred the expulsion of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran. They were granted one suitcase to carry their belongings. Their exit papers were stamped with warnings not to return. 

“Leaving Never to Return” — a nod to the exit paper stamps — is Avrich’s exhibition currently on display at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum and dedicated to the stories of those communities. Avrish, a former Miss Israel, opened the exhibition in February and has filled it with newspaper clippings, photos, documents and other artifacts that breathe new life into a forgotten past. The exhibit describes Jewish life in places where it’s practically nonexistent today. It highlights the communities of 10 countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, LibyaEgyptYemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The Journal caught up with Avrish to discuss her exhaustive research efforts, reactions she’s getting from museum visitors and her plans to take the exhibit global. 

Jewish Journal: Why is this exhibition so important to you? 

Dana Avrish: Growing up, I heard a lot of stories from my father. I knew people ran away from different countries, ran for their lives, but it never occurred to me to investigate what really happened. I believe it’s a history that’s missing from the educational system throughout the world. Nobody is talking about the fact that almost 1 million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran were tossed out of their homelands. I wanted to have justice brought into this.

Suitcases, installation; Creator: Dana Avrish Photo by Uri Karin

JJ: How did the exhibition initially take shape? 

DA: While doing my master’s degree at Tel Aviv University in diplomacy and international relations, I took a few courses about the media’s leaving this out of history. I started to investigate it. I knew I must do something and do outreach on this subject to get it out to as many people as possible and focus on telling these stories. 

JJ: How did you obtain all the artifacts for the exhibition? 

DA: It started with a lot of research by myself. I was asking for the support of the Ministry of Culture and I explained the conceptual idea. I received their support once I convinced them of the importance of the project. Then there were the different archives in Israel. I was in contact [also] with people in Paris, Tunisia and elsewhere. I started to search for objects that [would] tell a story. 

JJ: How long did your research take?

DA: It took me around three years: finding photos, testimonials and all the other objects you see.  

JJ: How did creating the exhibit connect you with your own background? 

DA: My mother is Persian and my father’s family is from Lebanon and Syria. It was an amazing experience for me. It took me inside the world of my ancestors. I got very emotional. I came to understand there were really so many stories that I need to tell people about. I started to talk more with my uncles, and they told me lots of stories in more detail. In the exhibition, I tell the story of my grandmother in Lebanon. 

Chess set, Cairo, Egypt, 1969: Wood, inlaid mother-of-pearl, carved ivory; Courtesy of Ovadia Yeroushalmy Photo by Hadar Saifan

JJ: The exhibition also has information about day-to-day persecution, pogroms and violent riots against Jewish communities. But there’s also a lot that depicts Jewry in these places as thriving and living cosmopolitan lives. Why was that duality important to you? 

DA: It was so important to show not just one side. There’s never only one side. If you want to change history, you can say everything was amazing, but for me it was important to show both sides. I wanted to give people the ability to see the whole picture. 

JJ: Many people group the Mizrahim together. Does that bother you? 

DA: When the State of Israel was born as a new nation, the idea was to make them all Sabras — Israelis. But, in many ways, that was to erase the pasts of many. People were changing names, even. The attitude toward so many of them was miserable. This is more than half of the population in Israel now. It’s a huge community, and to not recognize their origins, their rituals, their stories and their backgrounds is wrong. 

JJ: It’s cool to see the differences of each community. 

DA: It’s amazing how different they all are. The differentiation is a beautiful thing. This is my aim, to empower these communities and the people inside them. You need to be proud if you or your family are from Iraq, Algeria, Egypt or Libya. In the exhibition, I hope I’m really lighting the beauty of each community. 

JJ: You’ve had guests view the exhibition who are actually in the photos. What’s that like for you to see? 

DA: They are crying. They are so moved. They are thanking me. I have letters from them and emails. They are writing in the guest book: “Thank you so much — you don’t believe what you’re doing for us, our mother, our grandmother.” On the opening day, 700 people were there. People were hugging. It’s really unbelievable to see it. One person told me I brought a small piece of home back to their daily life. 

Kamancheh, musical instrument, Iran, 20th century; Walnut or mulberry wood coated in sheepskin, metal strings; Courtesy of Menashe Sasson; Photo by Hadar Saifan

JJ: Where is the exhibition off to next? 

DA: I’m really working on having this become a permanent exhibit here in Israel. But for sure it needs to be in Jewish museums around the world. It needs to be in Brazil, in Argentina, in the United States. It needs to be in New York, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco. It’s a chapter in history that vanished. We need to correct the historical injustice. I’m trying to do it now. I’m doing it. I hope people will hop on the train.  

 “Leaving Never to Return” is on display at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum through July 31. 

US Holocaust Museum Gives Award to Syrian Volunteer Aid Group

White Helmet volunteers evacuate a victim after air strikes in Idlib, Syria, March 13, 2019. (Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty Images) The Syrian White Helmets volunteer rescue group, which works only in rebel-held areas, said two women died and 19 others were injured in the strikes. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa (Photo by Anas Alkharboutli/picture alliance via Getty Images)

(JTA) — The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is giving its highest honor to the Syria Civil Defence, a volunteer group that operates in rebel-controlled areas in Syria and Turkey.

The group, also known as the White Helmets, was founded in 2014 during the Syrian Civil War and provides aid and rescue to those affected by bombings in the country. Western countries view it as a humanitarian organization, but Russia, which supports Bashar al-Assad’s government, has described the group as a “threat.”

The group’s rescue efforts have demonstrated that Syria and its Russia-backed forces have targeted schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities. Both Moscow and Damascus have dismissed this, often feebly, as propaganda.

The Washington, D.C., museum, which is the country’s official Holocaust memorial,  announced on Monday that it was giving the 2019 Elie Wiesel Award to two recipients: the Syria Civil Defence and Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, a couple known for their investigation into Nazi war criminals.

“At enormous risk to themselves and their families and in the face of horrific attacks by the Syrian government, the Syria Civil Defence have courageously saved lives and delivered critical services to a desperate population,” the announcement said about the White Helmets.

The recipients will receive the awards at the museum’s National Tribute Dinner on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

Body of Executed Israeli Spy Eli Cohen Might Come Home From Syria

Israeli spy Eli Cohen is shown undercover in Syria during his mission there in the early 1960s. (PMO)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has neither confirmed nor denied reports that the remains of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, executed in Damascus in 1965, have been removed from Syria by a delegation from Russia.

The rumors, which began Sunday night, come less than two weeks after Russia helped with the return of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel. Baumel went missing in Lebanon 37 years ago; his remains were discovered in a refugee camp outside Damascus, and removed from Syria with the assistance of Russian troops.

Last year, Israel’s Mossad intelligence service retrieved the wristwatch Cohen wore in Egypt and returned it to his family.

Posing as a Syrian nationalist and philanthropist who had returned to his country after years of exile in Argentina, Cohen befriended the top brass of Syria’s army, traveling with them across the country, including in classified locales.

Levi Eshkol, the late Israeli prime minister, credited the information provided by Cohen with saving countless Israeli lives and “having a great deal to do” with Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Among other information he supplied was that Syrian military installations were found, at his suggestion, in the shade of eucalyptus trees, allowing for a great improvement in target acquisition in Syria.

On Jan. 24, 1965, Syrian secret police arrested Cohen. He was tortured, quickly tried and publicly hanged several months later.

Cohen’s widow, Nadia, has appealed on many occasions to the Syrian government for the release of the spy’s remains. In 2008, a former intelligence bureau chief under the late Syrian leader Hafez Assad said no one knew where Cohen was buried, because the grave had been relocated after officials feared that Israel would find it, Israel Hayom reported.

Golan U.N. Follies: A Genocidal Maniac Wants a Piece of Paradise

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

One ambassador after another this week entered that den of hypocrisy called the United Nations, and, with sober faces, condemned the perfectly reasonable decision by the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights — a slice of paradise adjacent to the genocidal nightmare of Syria.

Instead of supporting the peace and stability that has marked the Golan Heights since Israel took over in 1967 in a defensive war, those speakers were supporting the sovereign rights of a genocidal maniac, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is responsible for the murder of 500,000 people and millions of refugees.

Acting as if he’s just another world leader rather than a human butcher, al-Assad was not happy about this development, calling for action at the U.N. and releasing a statement that said Syria was determined to recover the area “through all available means.”

It’s tempting to engage in all kinds of fancy geopolitical and legal commentary about this latest U.S. move, and many pundits are doing just that. But there are times when a stark reality on the ground transcends both commentary and the august gravitas of resolutions written decades ago that have little meaning today.

There’s no better way to fully appreciate this reality than a short visit to the Syria exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which I visited last week.

The exhibit is called, “Syria: Please Don’t Forget us.”

According to its literature, the Museum “has worked to keep the crisis in Syria in the public eye through exhibitions at the Museum, public programs, and more.”

What makes the exhibit especially haunting is that it is seen through the eyes of a Syrian survivor of detention and torture, journalist and human rights activist Mansour Omari.

“As part of its campaign of violence,” the exhibit explains, “the Syrian government has detained more than 100,000 of its own citizens. In many cases, the government has refused to release their names. Families of the missing do not know whether loved ones are alive or dead.”

Omari was able to get out. Through video, music, and testimony, you can see the nightmare in Syria through this man’s story.

It wasn’t easy to record much of anything in the dungeons of al-Assad’s jails, as the exhibit explains:

“While in prison, Mansour and his fellow prisoners wrote their names on five scraps of fabric in an ink made of rust and their own blood. When Mansour was released, he smuggled out the pieces of fabric so he could inform his cellmates’ families about what had happened to them.”

What the exhibit brought home for me was how numb we have become to the Syrian disaster. For years, we’ve been seeing figures like 500,000 killed, hundreds of kids gassed, millions dispersed, etc. The truth is, cold numbers can reach only so far into our consciousness.

It’s only when you see individual stories told through the eyes of one survivor that the humanitarian disaster begins to chill your spine. The “Syria: Don’t Forget Us” exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum chills your spine.

Here’s my suggestion to all those U.N. ambassadors who are upset that the Golan Heights is remaining in Israeli hands and would prefer to respect the sovereign rights of an unstable and fragmented terrorist entity run by a ruthless butcher: Next time you have a session on Syria, please invite Mansour Omari and ask him what he thinks.

Trump Signs Proclamation Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights as Netanyahu exits the White House from the West Wing in Washington, U.S. March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday, March 25, officially recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Syria.

The proclamation states, “Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Trump said at the White House, after meeting with with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “This was a long time in the making and it should have taken place many years ago.”

Netanyahu praised and thanked Trump, telling him, “Israel has never had a better friend than you.”

“Your decision to recognize sovereignty is a two-fold act of historic justice: Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s connection to that land goes back generations,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu was in Washington, D.C., to address the AIPAC conference, but cut short his trip to return to Israel Monday after a terrorist missile hit a home in central Israel Sunday evening.

Sandra Parker, chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, said in a statement, “As a direct result of Syria’s ruthlessness and Iran’s increasing presence in the Arab Republic it has been clear for years that Israel could never relinquish control of the Golan Heights. President Trump recognized this reality and acted on it. This policy has enjoyed bipartisan support and we are especially grateful to the President as well as those Members of Congress, including Senators Ted Cruz, Kevin Cramer, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Representative Mike Gallagher, for leading on this issue.”

However, the United Nations will not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The UN’s policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed,” U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, referencing resolutions that have referred to the Golan as being “occupied” by Israel.

Syria’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Trump’s move “makes the United States the main enemy of the Arabs.”

Trump Says He Recognizes Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump announced in a March 21 tweet that he is recognizing Israel’s full sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Syria.

Trump tweeted, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a March 21 joint press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Trump’s declaration is “a miracle of Purim.”

First he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then he pulled out of the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, and now he has perhaps made the most important decision,” Netanyahu said. “The message he has given the world is that America stands with Israel. We are deeply grateful for the great support and the unmatchable support for the security of the State of Israel. There is no greater friendship than that between the United States and Israel.”

He added, “This evening I want to say just one word: Thank you.”

Pompeo called Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights “a bold and important decision.”

“It shows that the soldiers Israel lost in battle there have been worthy and meaningful and important,” Pompeo said.

Simon Wiesenthal Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “President Trump is right. Tyrant [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad killed [a] half million-plus of his own people, displaced millions, now Tehran’s lackey. Israeli Golan sovereignty protects Jewish state, Jordan, from Iran-led terror. Jewish presence on Golan traces to 5 century BCE. Druze, Jews, and Arabs safer knowing Assad will never return.”

The Israel Policy Forum said in a statement, “Israel Policy Forum supports U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Prior to its capture by Israel in 1967, the Golan was used for decades as a launching ground for attacks against Israel and its northern residents. It is a critical strategic asset in Israel’s defense of its northern border, and the presence of hostile Iranian forces and militias in Syria – including IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and Hezbollah fighters – only reinforces the strategic imperative of Israeli control over the territory.”

However, the Israel Policy Forum expressed concern that the move could “risk inflaming the situation in southern Syria by baiting Syrian forces or other pro-regime elements into carrying out a response” and that it would lead toward Israel annexing Judea and Samaria.

“We call on the Trump administration to unequivocally state that recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan has no bearing on the status of the West Bank, and that U.S. policy remains that any change in the West Bank’s status quo must come as a result of a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israel Policy Forum said.

WATCH: Syrian Opposition Activist Says Arabs Should Support Israel, Not Iran

Screenshot from Twitter.

Syrian opposition activist Issam Zeitoun said that Arabs should support Israel instead of Iran in a Janaury 16 debate on Al Jazeera.

The segment featured Ra’ed Al-Masri, Lebanese professor of political science and international relations, calling Israel “an illegitimate, nonexistent country.”

“As far as we are concerned, it does not exist,” Al-Masri said.

Zeitoun argued that “the Arabs have been using their weapons and their numbers in an attempt to impose a [solution] that is unacceptable to the international community, which supported the partition of Palestine.”

“Israel accepted the partition,” Zeitoun said. “Your argument that Israel is racist is nothing but a lie.”

The host then asked if Israel or Iran is more dangerous to the Middle East; Zeitoun argued that Iran is unquestionably the more dangerous of the two countries.

“Israel is surrounding itself with walls,” Zeitoun said. “It just wants to be left alone.”

Zeitoun proceeded to call “Pan-Arab ideology” a “cancer that is eating away at our nation,” pointing to the belief that Israel wants to widen its borders “from the Euphrates to the Nile” as an example.

“Every Arab and Muslim in history has believed this. There is no mention of this in any religious or political book. Nobody has ever said this,” Zeitoun said. “I have been to Israel more than once. I asked them: ‘Where in the Knesset is the banner that says: ‘Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile’?’ Nobody has ever heard of it. The Assad regime and our media have told us that [former Egyptian leader Anwar] Sadat spoke in the Knesset under a banner saying: ‘Israel’s borders from the Euphrates to the Nile.’ There is no such banner.”

The host proceeded to ask Zeitoun if it’s better to ally with Israel over Iran, to which Zeitoun emphatically agreed that Israel is the better country to ally with.

“Ask any Arab citizen where he wants to live, and then come back to me,” Zeitoun said.

Zeitoun added that Iran is a “rogue state,” while Israel is not.

“In any of our wars against Israel, Israel was waging a defensive war,” Zeitoun said. “Had we not attacked, it would not have attacked us, despite its capabilities.”

Zeitoun then asked if Iran would detonate a nuclear bomb in Tel Aviv.

“It would drop it on Riyadh or any other Arab capital,” Zeitoun said.

He added that Iran “exploits” the Jerusalem issue “in order to win the Arabs over.”

Zeitoun grew up in a family that staunchly supported then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, but he became pro-Israel after he heard “whispers” in his hometown that Israel had been warm toward the Syrian civilians during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Most Syrians didn’t go public with such sentiments out of fear of being charged of treason of the Assad government.

IDF Kills 12 Iranian Soldiers in Syria Airstrikes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during an inauguration ceremony of the Ramon International Airport just outside the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Israel January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel launched several airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria on January 21, resulting in 21 dead, 12 of whom were Iranian soldiers.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 12 of the 21 dead were members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), six were members of the Syrian military and the rest were foreign nationals.

Iran is disputing that they suffered any casualties, instead saying that Syria’s air defenses intercepted seven Israeli missiles.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that the strikes were in response to Iran launching a missile toward the Golan Heights near the Mount Hermon Ski Resort on Jan. 20, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, “We will not ignore such acts of aggression as Iran attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and given explicit statements by Iran that it intends to destroy Israel.”

“We are acting against Iran and against the Syrian forces that abet the Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu said. “Whoever tries to hurt us, we hurt them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility.”

Israel’s Election Handbook: Right Getting Closer to 60

Israeli lawmakers attend a preliminary vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

A relatively quiet election week. No splits, no mergers.

Main News

Northern front in the news: Israel bombing Iranian installations in Syria.

Netanyahu’s lawyers tried to convince the Attorney General not to publicize a decision on indictment before Election Day.

More details about the PM’s involvement in media manipulation was revealed.

Developments to Watch

Political: Benny Gantz launched a campaign that’s very much focused on him as a brave and combative soldier. Polls do not yet tell us if this campaign makes him more appealing to Israelis (see “focus on one party” at the bottom of this post).

Political: The Jewish Home is slated to decide on Thursday how to compose its next leader – by a committee of by party operatives.

Personal: Four MK’s (out of current 10) already left Kulanu. More to come.

Material: Security issues and the Syrian front creep into political campaigns. Netanyahu’s decision to take responsibility for Israeli attacks is criticized by opposition parties (the attacks themselves are supported by almost all parties).

What’s the Race About

Netanyahu’s legal troubles.

Possible Wild Cards:


Dramatic damning information against Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz-Yair Lapid last-minute merger.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We want to save you time. So here is all you need: the political blocs’ averages of the last year, and of the last week (last five polls). As usual, there are two options for counting the blocs, but the overall picture is clear. 1. There are few changes. 2. The left (Labor, Meretz, Arab parties) is slightly smaller. Right and center slightly gained. In fact, in the latest polls the right-religious bloc is getting close to a desired 61 bloc – a bloc that could give it the option of leaving all centrists outside the next government.

The blocs are:

Option 1:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher

Option 2:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher, Israel Beiteinu

Focus on One Party

How is General Gantz doing? Here is the graph of all polls in which he appeared as running with a separate party (that is to say: we did not include scenario polls of him running with Labor or Lapid). As you can see, his numbers slightly declined. His average of polls since new election were called on December 25 is more than 13 seats (13.2), but his average of the last five polls is almost a seat less (12.4). Does this mean he is losing steam? Not necessarily. Gantz just started his campaign, did not yet speak, did not yet reveal his list of candidates, did not yet merge with anyone.

Cruz, Cotton Introduce Resolution Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) released a joint resolution on Dec. 18 that calls for the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The resolution states that Syria used the Golan Heights as a strategic location to attack Israel until Israel took control of the area during the 1967 Six-Day War. The resolution proceeded to argue that since “Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, including with weapons of mass destruction” and that “Iran and its proxies have repeatedly attacked Israel from inside Syria,” it’s necessary for Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights to be recognized.

“Israel’s control over the Golan Heights provides a defensible border, deters attacks from hostile forces, facilitates intelligence gathering, and allows Israel to detect threats to its national security,” the resolution stated.

Cruz and Cotton said in a statement, “Israel’s northern border is threatened by Iranian forces and their proxies in Lebanon and Syria, including Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets, armed drones, newly discovered terror tunnels, and more.”

“Meanwhile, with the ayatollahs’ help, Bashar al-Assad’s regime is on the verge of securing victory in Syria’s civil war,” they continued. “He may soon turn his attention back to threatening the Jewish state.”

According to Jewish Virtual Library, when the Golan Heights was under Syrian control, Israelis had to sleep in bomb shelters as protection from Syrian military snipers; Fatah was also allowed to roam free through the area. Israel eventually gained control of the territory in the aftermath Six-Day War; following the Yom Kippur War, Israel and Syria signed a disengagement agreement in 1974 that allowed Israel to maintain control over the Golan Heights.

“For Israel, relinquishing the Golan to a hostile Syria could jeopardize its early-warning system against surprise attack,” Jewish Virtual Library states. “Israel has built radars on Mt. Hermon, the highest point in the region. If Israel withdrew from the Golan and had to relocate these facilities to the lowlands of the Galilee, they would lose much of their strategic effectiveness.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Trump administration officials have said that they don’t foresee the U.S. recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights anytime soon.

Why Trump Is Bad for Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

There are few policy arenas in which President Donald Trump has been more successful in his misdirection of the nation’s attention than the Middle East. For many in the Jewish community — including many in its leadership — there is a reticence to speak up about the outrages of the Trump administration, in large measure because of the president’s perceived “support” for Israel.

After all, he recognized Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he has been a staunch advocate for Israel in international bodies, and he embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while making virtually no demands on him. It looks so appealing.

But the reality is that much of what Trump has done vis-a-vis Israel is, in fact, a superficial performance — rhetorically, diplomatically and symbolically — that is at odds with the very policies that will help the Jewish state in the long term. In fact, his policies put the nation, and what exists of an international order striving for calm, in greater peril than it has been in many years.

Community Advocates, in partnership with Jews United for Democracy and Justice (“JUDJ”), four major synagogues (Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple), and the Jewish Center for Justice recently hosted an event at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino featuring Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and special adviser for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in several administrations.

Ross is among the most knowledgeable experts in the world on the diplomacy of the Middle East. He has served as the point man in negotiations between the Arab states, Israel and the United States in every administration since President George H.W. Bush (under Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama). He facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty; he brokered the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 1997 Hebron accord, and intensively worked to bring together Israel and Syria in a peace deal. He is also the author of several authoritative books on the region and the peace process.

If one wants a thoughtful, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis of what is transpiring in the Middle East, what the future portends and what the real-world implications of policy decisions are, there is no one who knows more and has more experience in the region than Dennis Ross. He is the best of the Middle East mavens.

In describing Trump administration policies toward the region’s issues, Ross spoke of a “crisis of values” and “a real Russia problem.” Trump has made the situation far worse than it has been in decades.

“Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — in its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts is dangerous to everyone involved. “

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to provide Syria with S300 surface-to-air missiles as well as sophisticated electronic counter measures, which the Trump administration has not objected to. Those moves, combined with “malign Iranian activities,” has put Israel in a nearly impossible, precarious and potentially existentially dangerous position. Ross observed that until now, “the Russians have given the Israelis a free hand to carry out operations (in Syria) and they (the Israelis) have carried out more than 200 operations in Syria against Iranian and Shia militia targets. They no longer have a free hand and the Iranians have been given a free hand. … The Israelis won’t allow themselves to be put in a position where they are threatened in almost an existential way by what the Iranians are introducing into Lebanon and Syria. … so far, they have had to manage the Russians entirely on their own. Do you think it’s an accident that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made nine visits to Moscow to see Putin?” (emphasis added)

Ross made clear how the Trump response to Russia’s actions in Syria, to essentially absent himself from the conflict, differs from his predecessors and places Israel in peril. “Historically, there was a relationship that we had where we kind of said to the Israelis ‘OK, you are responsible for dealing with the threats in the region, we will provide the material support, but when it comes to the Soviets and others outside the region that might threaten or inhibit you, that’s on us.’ That was the historic posture of Republican and Democratic presidents alike — and I know that since I served in most of those administrations. That has not been the case now.” (emphasis added)

Ross laid out the steps that the administration should take to counter Russia, Iran and the Shia militias — none of which is happening. Rather, Trump has offered a vague pledge, “‘I’ll call Putin at some point.’” Ross sarcastically observed, “well, that’s reassuring.” The way to deal with Putin, Ross advised, is not to follow the Trump playbook. “He (Putin) is a transactionalist … you have to speak his language, you don’t tout him with incredible offers.”

Trump’s missteps aren’t just related to Russia and the Middle East:

We have walked away from a ‘rules-based international order. … [Trump sees] no value in multilateral institutions. … the essence of what Trump said to the U.N. is that national sovereignty trumps everything else. Well, we’ve seen what that means — that means that governments can do whatever they want to their own people and national sovereignty precludes anyone from the outside being able to intervene and do anything about it.

The whole import of ‘Never Again’ was that it wasn’t supposed to be a slogan, it was supposed to be a principle. But when the principle is national sovereignty, you can forget ‘Never Again.’ ”

Ross couldn’t have been clearer. He sees Trump as a huge threat to whatever equilibrium might exist in the Middle East by his inexplicable inaction vis-a-vis Russia. That failure of will increases the likelihood of escalation as the Israelis defend their interests against the Iranians, the Shia militias and the Syrians; all without the United States neutralizing the Russians.

In its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts, Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — is dangerous to everyone involved. As Ross observed, “what we are contending with now is really an assault on our values; by the way, it’s not just an assault on our democratic values, it’s an assault on our Jewish values.”

Last week saw further confirmation of the Trump administration’s denigration of the values that are intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish state: American moral leadership.

In his dismissal of taking action against the Saudis in the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump betrayed a disdain for America’s leadership role in the world if it might exact a price on our economy — “they’re [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment … that doesn’t help us” — he responded when asked about Khashoggi.

A far cry from President Harry Truman recognizing Israel in 1948 despite threats of retaliation from the Arab states, or President Richard Nixon sending arms to Israel in 1973 notwithstanding the Saudis’ imposing a painful and costly oil embargo on us. 

President John Kennedy once urged Americans “to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Trump is brazenly rewriting our 60-year-old American creed.

Symbolic gestures, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, might bring momentary satisfaction, but too much is at stake to think in such short-sighted terms. Looking at the big picture, as Ross so eloquently stated, leads to the inevitable conclusion that Trump’s failure of will with the Russians isn’t good for Israel, for the international order, or for the prospects for a moderately peaceful world.


David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. Janice Kamenir-Reznik is a longtime community leader in Los Angeles.

Dark Truths About Israel’s Neighborhood

People pray at the Western Wall on Jan. 12. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

This week, the government of Saudi Arabia came under heavy, justified fire for its apparent murder of a Saudi citizen living in the United States, Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a critic of the current Saudi regime; he went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey in order to receive paperwork for a marriage license. He never emerged, according to the Turkish government. Allegedly, a Saudi team killed him, chopped him up and spirited his body out of the embassy.

Meanwhile, Turkey, the country dumping the information about Saudi Arabia, finally released an American pastor after two years in custody. The current Turkish regime is led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a fervent Islamist close to the mullahs in Iran. In recent years, Erdogan has dismissed, detained, or suspended nearly 200,000 government workers suspected of not being loyal to him. His thugs beat up protesters on American soil last year, and Erdogan has long sought to arrest and jail dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States.

Just to Turkey’s south, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad continues his longstanding destruction of the Syrian people, with the help of both the Iranian and Russian regimes. Hundreds of thousands of dead Syrians, the complete destruction of large cities, the targeting of civilians with weapons of mass destruction — Assad has all of that and more on his hands.

Moving east from Syria, we enter Iraq — a country which, in the aftermath of the U.S. defeat of ISIS, has actually been moving toward progress. The truth is that thanks to American patronage, Iraq has begun to stabilize. Still, the country contains deep sectarian divides between Sunni, Shia and Kurds. Iraq is a story of progress, and progress is tentative.

“It takes a unique level of moral perversity to equate Israel’s government and principles to those of its neighbors.”

Moving west from Syria, the situation becomes far more grim. Lebanon is now in the middle of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the Shiite terror group Hezbollah battling it out with both Christian and Sunni parties. Hezbollah currently has the upper hand, and has been rearmed in the south of the country with Iranian weaponry. 

Iran continues to spread its regional sway in the aftermath of former President Barack Obama’s attempts to rectify relations with the mullahs. Iran’s growing power continues to manifest from Afghanistan to Lebanon, and now Iran is in the midst of a brutal and bloody proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen as well. Iran’s economy continues to stagnate, leading to serious and extended protests throughout the country, but the Islamic theocracy continues to stifle the freedom of its citizens.

Iran continues its support of the Palestinian government, which is dominated by terror groups ranging from the Palestinian Authority to Hamas to Islamic Jihad. There have been no serious efforts toward moderation or peace by the Palestinian government, and terror continues to blossom in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas and Islamic Jihad mobilize tens of thousands of people at the border, creating havoc necessary to provide cover for terrorists to storm the fence with Israel.

These are Israel’s neighbors. It’s important to note that simple fact when reading the outsized outrage often focused at Israel in the world press, which routinely declares Israel the great human rights violator in the region, and the instigator of violence in the world. Israel isn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But it takes a unique level of moral perversity to equate Israel’s government and principles to those of its neighbors — or to forget that the area in which Israel operates remains one of the most backward places on the planet.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Iran Launches Missiles Against ISIS in Syria While Threatening U.S. and Israel

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Ministers Council in Istanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Pool/File Photo

Iran launched six medium-range ballistic missiles into Syria on Oct. 1 at ISIS targets in what it said was retaliation for their role in a recent attack at a military parade last month in Iran. The missile attack reportedly killed and wounded several militants.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, told an Iranian news agency, “Terrorists used bullets in Ahvaz. We answered them with missiles.”

The United States said that no members of the U.S.-backed coalition in Syria was harmed in the missile strikes. The missiles were emblazoned with the slogans “Down with USA,” “Down with Israel,” and “Down with House of Saud [Saudi Arabia].”

On Sept. 22, four gunmen opened fire on an Iranian military parade in Ahvaz, resulted in at least 25 dead, eight of whom were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Both ISIS and the Ahvaz National Resistance, an anti-government militia, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iran blamed the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia for the military parade attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Oct. 1 missile strikes showed that it was “ridiculous” for Iran to think that Israel was behind the attack.

“The fact that ‘Death to Israel’ was written on the missiles launched at Syria proves everything,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu Warns Hezbollah Will Receive a ‘Crushing Blow’ If They Confront Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out a train window as he participates in a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that Israel will crush the terror group if they dare use their missiles against the Jewish state.

Nasrallah said in a Wednesday speech that Israel’s airstrikes in Syria to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining missiles had failed, as the terror group “possesses precision missiles and non-precision and weapons capabilities.”

“If Israel imposes a war on Lebanon, Israel will face a destiny and reality it didn’t expect any day,” Nasrallah said.

Netanyahu responded to Nasrallah on Thursday that those words are “coming from the same man who, after 2006, said that if he knew what the Israeli response would have been to the kidnapping of three of our soldiers, he would have thought twice whether to do it.”

“Today I recommend he think not twice, but 20 times,” Netanyahu said. “Because if he confronts us, he will receive a crushing blow he can’t even imagine.”

Hezbollah’s current missile arsenal is at approximately 130,000, a marked increase from the 15,000 they had during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

The Iranian terror proxy has also been increasing its cooperation with Lebanon’s military, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which receives funds from the United States.

New Photos Show Iran Building Missile Factory in Syria

Screenshot from Twitter.

A batch of new satellite photos show that Iran is in the process of building a new missile factory in Syria, at a time when European countries and Iran are attempting to save the Iran nuclear deal.

Here are the photos:

According to the Times of Israel (TOI), the factory is producing surface-to-surface missiles and appears similarly built to Iran’s nuclear and missiles facility in Parchin.

The TOI report goes onto note that Israel has been targeting such Iranian facilities in Syria of late in airstrikes, but this one hasn’t been struck because there is a Russian air defense missile system nearby.

Iran has rebuffed Israel and the United States’ calls to leave Syria; Russia has stated that they are unable to force Iran out of the region.

These photos come as, according to the Washington Free Beacon, European Union (EU) countries recently gave Iran $21 million to counteract the United States’ re-imposed sanctions on Iran after President Trump exited from the Iran nuclear deal.

State Department official Brian Hook told the Free Beacon, “The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government’s corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in terrorism and foreign conflicts. The United States and the European Union should be working together instead to find lasting solutions that truly support Iran’s people and end the regime’s threats to regional and global stability.”

Israel Shoots Down Syrian Plane

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel shot down a Syrian jet fighter on July 24 after the plane entered Israel’s airspace.

According to the Times of Israel, the jet fighter was speeding toward the Golan Heights, prompting Israel to launch two Patriot missiles at the plane, causing it to crash in southern Syrian Golan Heights. One of the plane’s pilots, Col. Amran Mara’e, was killed by the strike. The condition of the other man in the plane is unknown.

“Our air defense systems identified a Syrian air force plane taking off from the Syrian T-4 airbase and penetrating into Israeli airspace,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “This was a blatant violation of the 1974 separation agreement between us and the Syrians. We will not accept any such penetration of, or spillover into, our territory, neither on the ground nor in the air.”

Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Concricus told reporters, “We issued numerous warnings through numerous channels and in various languages to make sure that no one on the other side violates Israeli airspace or threatens Israeli civilians or sovereignty.”

According to Hadashot television news, the Syrian jet fighter flew into Israeli airspace by mistake. The Syrian government is claiming that they were weeding out ISIS terrorists from the area.

Israel Launches Airstrike Against Iranian Missiles in Syria

Screenshot from YouTube.

As fears of an imminent Iranian attack against Israel are mounting, Israel launched an airstrike close Damascus on May 8.

The strike was reportedly targeting Iranian missiles in al-Kiswah. Even though the Syrian army intercepted two Israeli missiles, nine pro-government fighters were killed in the strike.

The reported strike comes as the northern part of Israel in the Golan Heights area is currently on high alert as a result of “irregular activity” from Iran in Syria.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) fears that Iran is planning to launch a retaliatory attack against Israel for striking their T4 base in Syria. On May 6, there were reports that Iran was planning to launch missiles into Israel; now reports indicate that there are also fears that Iran is plotting to infiltrate “military bases and communities in the north” through its terror proxies per the Times of Israel.

The Pentagon is also reportedly becoming increasingly concerned about an Iranian attack against Israel.

The Israeli government has already told communities in the area to dust off the bomb shelters, but for now they are urging residents to remain calm.

“There are challenges and many threats, but we know how to deal with all the threats and to cope with all the challenges,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the Knesset. “There is no room for euphoria or pride, but we are ready for any scenario.”

U.S. Exit Strategy for Syria Involves Establishing an Arab Force

People ride a horse along a damaged street at the city of Douma in Damascus, Syria April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Despite launching airstrikes against Syria over the weekend, the Trump administration is looking for a clean exit out of the country. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that their plan involves establishing an Arab force to fill the vacuum left by the United States’ exit.

The Trump administration has asked the Arab Gulf nations to provide troops and financial support to help Syria recover after the U.S. finishes off the remnants of ISIS. The Arab force would serve as a buffer against the Iran and Russia from controlling the region and help prevent ISIS from mounting a comeback.

However, skeptics of the plan note that it may be difficult to get key Arab nations to participate in the U.S.’s plan, as Egypt is currently preoccupied with exterminating ISIS nearby the Sinai Peninsula while Saudi Arabia and the UAE are tangled in Yemen’s civil war.

“There is just no precedent or established basis for this shaping into a successful strategy,” Middle East Institute Senior Fellow Charles Lister told the Journal.

Those who support the plan, such as Conservative Review’s Jordan Schachtel, acknowledge that while establishing such a force is “a stern challenge,” it is “a shot worth taking.”

“During president Trump’s short tenure thus far, the White House already demonstrated that it has been able to move the Arab world toward dramatic reform and prioritizing counter-terrorism,” Schachtel wrote. “Will President Trump succeed in rallying the Arab world around the cause of countering the Iranian regime’s malignant expansion in Syria?”

The U.S. currently has 2,000 troops in Syria; it is believed that around 5,000-12,000 ISIS terrorists remain in the country.

Prior to the airstrikes, President Trump had announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing troops from Syria. The April 13 airstrikes hit three chemical weapons facilities in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly using weapons against his own people.

Haley Announces New Sanctions on Russia, Warns That More Airstrikes Against Syria Could Come

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the rounds on the Sunday morning show circuit and announced two pieces of news: the U.S. will be imposing new sanctions on Russia and more airstrikes could be coming Syria’s way.

On Fox News Sunday, Haley stated that the Russian sanctions would occur on Monday.

“If you look at what Russia is doing, they continue to be involved with all the wrong actors, whether their involvement in Ukraine, whether you look at how they are supporting Venezuela, whether you look in Syria and their way of propping up Assad and working with Iran, that continues to be a problem,” Haley said.

Haley was also asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on what the Trump administration would do if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued to use chemical weapons, noting that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave seemingly contradictory statements on the matter.

“What I can tell you is the president has made it very clear that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we have no tolerance for it,” Haley said. “We are going to watch out for the best interests of the American people. He made a point and hopefully Assad gets it. If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”

Haley declined to say if military action in Syria is a possibility.

On Friday, a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people. Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria were struck, although other chemical weapon facilities were left untouched. Trump has hailed the strikes as a blow against Assad, but the Syrian dictator is reportedly in “positive spirits” after the strikes because he doesn’t think his grip on power is being threatened.

Military Strikes on Syria: U.S. Faces Critical Considerations

A man is washed following alleged chemical weapons attack, in what is said to be Douma, Syria in this still image from video obtained by Reuters on April 8, 2018. White Helmets/Reuters TV via REUTERS

In response to the latest reported use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, which killed dozens of civilians in the town of Douma on April 7, President Donald Trump tweeted that there would be a “Big price to pay.”

Trump subsequently told a cabinet meeting on April 9, “We cannot allow atrocities like that. Cannot allow it. … Nothing’s off the table.” He then warned that regardless of whether Russia, the Assad regime or Iran was responsible, the United States’ response would be “very tough,” repeating that everybody involved would “pay a price.”

If the U.S. opts to act militarily, its policy should be guided by several considerations.

First, Washington should seek to divide Assad’s coalition with Iran and Russia. This means eschewing actions that could drive them together at a time when their interests may diverge (e.g., Moscow might be annoyed that Assad overreached by using chemical weapons, since such acts could drag the United States back into the war at a time when it seemed to be disengaging). Washington should also eschew actions that increase the potential for escalation. Its goal should be to de-escalate the situation by restoring deterrence vis-a-vis the Assad regime.

Specifically, any U.S. strikes should focus on regime assets while avoiding targets with higher risk of Russian casualties. Washington should also support Israel’s ongoing strikes against Iranian targets in Syria (establishing an informal division of labor there), to impose costs on Tehran for its policies. And the administration should continue to reserve the right to take action of its own against Iranian assets in Syria when they threaten U.S. personnel or interests.

Second, this problem will not end with a single set of strikes. Deterrence has a limited shelf life, and Assad likely will continue defying the international community and challenging the chemical-weapon red line. Additional strikes may be necessary to deter him from doing so.

Third, while U.S. strikes should target chemical weapons infrastructure when collateral damage can be minimized, they should be focused primarily on the regime’s conventional military capabilities. This would hinder the regime’s war effort much more than strikes focusing solely on chemical weapon capabilities.

Washington should also support Israel’s ongoing strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, to impose costs on Tehran for its policies.

The main “weapons of mass destruction” in Syria have been barrel bombs, artillery and small arms. Chemical weapons may have killed several thousand, but conventional arms have killed more than 100,000 civilians. Thus, focusing solely on chemical weapons capabilities would limit the damage to dispensable assets. The U.S. should also target forces that have been essential to Assad’s victories, namely, ground units such as the 4th Armored Division, the Republican Guard and the Tiger Force, along with air units that deliver barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

This targeting strategy would have the added benefit of affecting the regime’s patrons. Russia and Iran have ensured the sustainability of their expeditionary activities in Syria by offloading risk and burdens on others, particularly Hezbollah and other foreign Shia militias. If U.S. strikes diminish Assad’s key ground and air units, the load would increase on Russia, Iran and Iran’s “Shia foreign legion,” raising the costs of their intervention.

To achieve that goal, U.S. forces would need to target major headquarters and destroy key capabilities and the people who enable them. Although Russia and Iran can replace the Assad regime’s equipment, they cannot replace its manpower, and manpower is what it lacks most. Moreover, by hitting the headquarters of the above-named ground units — which are manned by Alawites connected to the regime via family ties — the United States would strike a heavy blow and magnify the deterrent effect compared with hitting less important units or chemical weapon infrastructure alone.

The administration also should consider striking symbolic targets such as the presidential palace on Qasioun Mountain overlooking Damascus, whose destruction could have a significant psychological effect on the regime and the Syrian people.

Fourth, U.S. military actions should be guided by lessons learned in past efforts at deterrence and coercive diplomacy in the Middle East.

The United States should not set additional red lines unless it is willing to enforce them, and it should be prepared to answer any further attempts to test U.S. limits, since failure to respond would only invite more challenges.

Because disproportionate responses are prohibited by the Law of Armed Conflict, Washington should respond to Syrian challenges asymmetrically. It should hit not only the source of the provocation, but also assets that the regime truly values. Striking only disposable assets would enable Assad to sustain his defiance, calibrate risk and more safely test U.S. limits. Responding asymmetrically would introduce uncertainty into his cost-benefit calculus about future U.S. responses, thereby strengthening the deterrent effect of U.S. strikes.

The administration should make clear that its strikes will not be a one-off operation by employing constructive ambiguity about the possibility of future strikes. Otherwise, Assad may believe that he can outlast the United States.

Finally, Washington should use the threat of a strike to test the potential for multilateral diplomacy. This threat might help drive a wedge between Damascus and Moscow, and perhaps create new opportunities for pressing Syria to eliminate its undeclared chemical weapon stockpiles and observe its ceasefires with various rebel forces around the country — though experience does not provide reasons for optimism.

Michael Eisenstadt is the Kahn Fellow and director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute.

Why Israel?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. The government of Israel responded to that atrocity, as well as Iran’s use of Syria as a thoroughfare for weapons transfers to terrorist groups like Hamas, by bombing Syria’s T4 airbase. The media responded by castigating Israel: for example, the Associated Press headlined, “Tensions ratchet up as Israel blamed for Syria missile strike,” and accompanied that story with a photo of suffering Syrian children targeted by Assad, making it seem that Israel had targeted the children.

That media treatment was no surprise — the week before, the terrorist group Hamas used large-scale protests against Israel on the Gaza border as a cover for terrorist attacks on Israeli troops. When Israeli troops responded with force, the media falsely suggested that Israel had indiscriminately fired into the crowd. Meanwhile, reporters touted the story of a supposed photographer killed by Israeli forces; it turns out that the photographer was a known Hamas officer.

A few weeks earlier and some 2,000 miles away in France, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times and her body set on fire by a Muslim neighbor who knew her well, and had convictions for rape and sexual assault. In 2017, there were 92 violent anti-Semitic incidents in France, a 28 percent year-on-year increase.

Moving across the English Channel, Israel’s Labor Party finally was forced to cut ties completely with the leader of the U.K.’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime anti-Semite who has routinely made nice with terrorists and defended open Jew-hatred in public. And, of course, in the United States, the alt-right’s anti-Semitism continues to make public discourse more crude and the Women’s March continues to make nice with anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan.

In other words, there is a reason for Israel to exist.

Israel’s self-interest is good for the Jews, good for the West and good for the world.

That reason is biblical, of course: Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and the wellspring of Jewish practice. God’s promise to the Jews is inextricably intertwined with the existence and future of the State of Israel.

But over the past few decades, too many Jews have forgotten about the practical need for the Jewish state. In the same way too many Jews ignored the Zionist movement, believing that assimilation into tolerant non-Jewish societies provided the best pathway to a decent life, too many Jews today see Israel as a remnant of a hackneyed and counterproductive ethnocentric worldview. That dislike for Israel’s very existence has led many Jews to demonstrate their “world citizen” bona fides by using every opportunity to criticize Israel.

But Israel’s existence is not about ethnocentrism. Israel is multiethnic and multicultural, of course: Judaism is a religion far more than an ethnicity, as Russian and Ethiopian Jews can attest. Israel’s existence, on a secular level, is about enshrining a state that is safe for Jews the world over — and that can defend Jews and Western values in the face of regional and international threats. When Israel stands up to Syrian atrocities, it is acting out of a Judaic commitment to prevent the degradation of human beings made in God’s image; when Israel offers a road for European Jews on the verge of extinction, it is acting not merely out of solidarity but out of decency. Israel is a decent country, because it was founded on a decent purpose — and because it was founded on the basis of a tradition of decency.

That doesn’t mean Israel’s government is mistake-free. Far from it. But Israel’s extraordinary treatment at the hands of the world community is a demonstration that Israel is an outlier — and that’s a good thing. The United Nations that condemns Israel is filled with repressive dictatorships and corrupt plutocracies; the supposed “family of nations” is more like a squabbling band of self-interested moral idiots.

When Syrian children, mostly Muslim, gasp from chlorine poisoning, it is Israeli jets that provide a possible respite. Israel doesn’t act out of the pure goodness of its heart; it acts from self-interest. But Israel’s self-interest is good for the Jews, good for the West and good for the world. Forgetting that means trusting that the better angels of others’ natures will persevere over their internal devils. Historically, that’s been a rotten bet.

Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

State Department Spokesperson Condemns U.N. for Letting Syria Chair Disarmament Forum

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the United Nations’ (U.N.) decision to allow Syria to chair the organization’s disarmament forum in May.

In response to U.N. Watch’s question on the matter, Nauert called the U.N. decision an “outrage.”

“That would be an outrage if Syria were to take control of that,” Nauert said. “We have seen these types of things happen at the United Nations before, where suspicious countries, countries that run against everything that an individual committee should stand for, will then head up that committee.”

Nauert added that she didn’t know what United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is going to do in response to this U.N. decision.

Hillel Neuer, the president of U.N. Watch, called out European countries for not speaking out against the U.N. on this matter.

“If UK, France, Germany & others stay silent as Syria assumes presidency of UN’s Conference on Disarmament—the body which produced the treaty against chemical weapons—this will make a mockery of everything they said this week,” Neuer tweeted.

U.N. Watch first reported that Syria would chair the disarmament forum on April 9, a move that Neuer called the equivalent of “putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter.”

“The Assad regime’s documented use of chemical weapons remains the most serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention in the treaty’s twenty-year history,” Neuer said. “We urge the UN to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity.”

The U.N. Watch article noted that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres will likely claim that Syria chairing the forum is due to “an automatic rotation, and that the matter can only be addressed by member states.” But Neuer noted that the U.N. has spoken out against such committee decisions and that’s what they should do here; however he speculated that the U.N. will likely just allow itself to be “exploited” by Syria into allowing them to keep their position as chair of the forum.

“Syria’s use of deadly chemical weapons and its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons, in breach of its disarmament obligations, run counter to the objectives and fundamental principles of the Conference on Disarmament itself,” Neuer said. “Syria’s chairmanship will only undermine the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and no country should support that.”

The news about Syria chairing the disarmament just after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons against his own people in the town of Douma, resulting in at least 40 people dead and hundreds of others wounded. Assad’s chemical weapons attack is the latest of a long line of butchery committed by Assad against his own people.

Israel Allegedly Launched Airstrikes Against Syria After Assad Launches Chemical Attack Against His Own People

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

UPDATE: Iran is claiming that seven Iranian military personnel died in the airstrikes. Israel is now reportedly bracing itself for a counterattack by Iran’s proxy terror group Hezbollah.


Israel allegedly launched airstrikes in Syria after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people over the weekend.

Russia and Syria claimed the strikes came from two Israeli F-15 planes, which resulted in 14 dead, including four Iranian military advisers in addition to multiple officers in the Syrian Army. Israel has not directly confirmed that they were the ones who launched the strikes, but their foreign ministry issued a statement condemning Assad for his chemical weapons attack.

“The attack shows clearly that Syria continues to possess lethal chemical weapons capabilities and even to manufacture new ones,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “In so doing Syria is grossly violating its obligations and the decisions of the international community in this matter.”

Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, a town that is close to Damascus and was held by the Syrian rebels, resulted in at least 40 people dead. According to The Times of Israel, “victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth” and there was also the scent of chlorine in the air.

Additionally, the Syrian American Medical Society has claimed that over “500 cases — the majority of whom are women and children — were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

A local activist told NBC News, “Whole families, mothers and little children and babies, they were all dead. They tried to escape death, but here in Douma, there is death is everywhere.”

Assad and the Russian government have denied the attack, but President Trump isn’t buying their denial.

“To me there’s not much of a doubt,” Trump told reporters on April 9. “If they’re innocent why aren’t they allowing people to go in and prove [it].”

Trump is expected to announce if the U.S. is going to take any retaliatory measures against Syria for the chemical attack. Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t rule out airstrikes against Syria.

According to Syrian media, Syrian and Iranian forces are already on the move out of fear of possible U.S. airstrikes.

Israel has launched numerous airstrikes against Syria over the years, mainly against Hezbollah. There is evidence to suggest that Israel’s alleged airstrikes were in part aimed at curbing Iran’s grip in Syria in addition to being a retaliation against Assad’s chemical attack.

Haley Issues Warning to Russia, Iran and Syria: ‘The United States Remains Prepared to Act If We Must’

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the U.N. Security Council on Syria during a meeting of the Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a stark warning to Russia, Iran and Syria on Mar. 12 over the recent bombings in Syria: the United States is ready to take action if need be.

At the United Nations Security Council, Haley explained that Russia had been constantly blocking efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria stopping Bashar al-Assad’s forces from striking the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus. Russia eventually relented and agreed to a ceasefire, but only because they had a heavy say in each syllable of the agreement.

Haley proceeded to accuse the Russians of violating the agreement by taking advantage of a provision that allows for military strikes to take out terrorists.

“In the eyes of Russia, Iran and Assad, the neighborhoods of Eastern Ghouta are full of terrorists,” Haley said. “The hospitals are full of terrorists. The schools are full of terrorists. The Syrian and Russian regimes insist that they are targeting terrorists, but their bombs and artillery continue to fall on hospitals and schools and on innocent civilians.”

Haley then stated that the U.S. is producing a new ironclad ceasefire agreement that doesn’t feature any loopholes for the Assad regime to use against their own people. If the Security Council is unable to adopt the resolution, then the U.S. is ready to take matters into their own hands.

“Any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering – most especially the outlaw Syrian regime – the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” Haley said. “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”

Russia is standing by its defense that they’re simply weeding out terrorism in the area and is claiming that they are attempting to implement the current ceasefire agreement.

Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking Research Fellow Elizabeth Tsurkov explained in a Twitter thread how “horrific” the situation is in Eastern Ghouta:

The Assad regime is essentially a client-state of Russia and Iran. Russia has been controlling the Syrian civil war since 2015 in the absence of a serious U.S. presence in the region, although there are issues surfacing for the Kremlin as their forces seemed to be bogged down in Syria for the foreseeable future. Syria is a key ally for Tehran, as the country serves as a route for Iran to arm their terror proxy Hezbollah.

In April 2017, the Trump administration launched airstrikes against the Assad regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons against its own people.

H/T: Daily Caller

DOWN PAYMENT: An Israeli F-16 was downed, but the price was worth it

The remains of an F-16 Israeli war plane can be seen near the Israeli village of Harduf February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

Israel demonstrated how serious it is about preventing the establishment of an Iranian stronghold in Syria

1982 was the last year an Israeli fighter jet was downed by Syrian forces. 1982 was the last year Israel launched a large-scale attack in an area under Syrian control. 1982 was a year of war — the first Lebanon war — in a Middle East that was much different than it is now. Syria was still a real country with a real government. Israel’s main enemy in the north was still the PLO — the forces of Yasser Arafat. Iran was engaged in a long and bloody war — with Iraq. The Soviet Union was engaged in a Cold War with the much stronger United States.

There is very little we can learn today about the state of affairs to Israel’s north from what happened in 1982. Still, people have short memories but militaries have long ones, and thus the ghosts of 1982 live in the minds of some of those engaged in the current battle for power. Syria, by taking down an Israeli F-16 on Feb. 10, celebrated a small victory over the air force that downed 88 of Syria’s fighter jets in 1982. The Russians had their own reason for a small celebration: The 19 ground-to-air systems destroyed in June 1982 during one of Israel’s most brilliant military operations were Russian (or Soviet, as it was called then). The missile downing the Israeli jet last weekend was Russian.

A phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to Feb. 10’s large-scale Israeli attack in Syria.

Before diving into an analysis, let’s recap the events. On Feb. 10, Iran sent a drone into Israel. Israel was well prepared, and an air force helicopter downed the drone. Then Israel attacked and destroyed the control vehicle for the drone, placed in a Syrian base in southern Syria, far away from the Syria-Israeli border. Iranian soldiers were killed.

Syria responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft missiles and hit one Israeli fighter jet. Its crew ejected over Israel’s Galilee, and one of the pilots was seriously wounded and is still in the hospital. Israel expanded its counterattack, targeting about a dozen Syrian and Iranian military installations in Syria. An Israeli air force general called this “the most substantial attack since 1982.” Then came the phone call from Putin. Israel pulled back. The sirens were silenced. The north quieted yet remained tense. The next round — as the cliché goes — is “only a matter of time.”

It is a matter of time because the issue at hand is not yet settled. Syria, after many years of civil war, is barely an independent country. And as that war winds down, a new war has begun — the one over future arrangements in this area. Iran — the country without which Syrian President Bashar Assad could not survive — wants its reward. It wants to establish a stronghold in Syria, right on Israel’s border. Russia — the country that enabled Assad’s survival — keeps a watchful eye over Syria to serve its own interests. Hezbollah, whose takeover of Lebanon is a prototype and a warning of what might happen in Syria, is freer today than it was during the busy days of the civil war.

Miscalculation that leads to a war with Syria or Iran is one thing. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Russia, when the U.S. stays on the sidelines, is quite another.

Israel vowed to prevent such developments. It vowed to prevent Iran from establishing another stronghold to its north. It vowed to prevent Iran from building in Syria an infrastructure that could serve to threaten Israel. Obviously, vowing alone is not enough. In the Middle East, one has to back words with action, one has to use power to make a point. And when Iran provided a pretext for attack, by invading Israeli territory with its drone, Israel jumped at the opportunity.

This was not a minor incident. Israel and Iran had been having a proxy war for many years, but this time there were no proxies. It was an Iranian drone, these were Iranian soldiers, it was Iranian equipment that Israel attacked. True — the Israeli jet was downed by Syria (acting, according to some reports, under heavy pressure from Tehran). Still, the shadow war is no longer shadowy. It is out in the open, with both countries — Iran and Israel — having to ponder the impact of their clashes on the many other components of an unstable situation.

The impact is never quite known in advance; there are only probabilities and educated assessments. Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, in his newly released best-seller, “Rise and Kill First” — a detailed book about Israel’s expert trade of targeted killings — recounts a few instances of miscalculations, some concerning Israel’s war with Iran. When Tamir Pardo, the head of Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, returned from a trip to Washington,. D.C.,  in 2012, he “warned Netanyahu that continued pressure on the United States would lead to a dramatic measure, and likely not the one that Netanyahu hoped for,” Bergman writes. Pardo believed that Netanyahu’s implied threat to attack Iran pushed then-American President Barack Obama to sign a deal with Iran. “Obama, fearing Israeli action, agreed to an Iranian proposal to hold secret negotiations,” Bergman writes. He speculates that “if the talks had begun two years later, Iran would have come to them in a considerably weaker state.” That is to say: Bergman assumes that Israel miscalculated in applying too much pressure on the U.S. to tame the Iranian threat.

Bergman’s argument concerning this incident can be a matter for debate, mainly because it doesn’t fully take into account Obama’s great interest in having a “historic” breakthrough with Iran before leaving office. But Bergman’s overall theme still stands: Israel makes decisions and takes action without always being able to rightly asses the ultimate outcome of its decisions. The alternatives — never to take action or to make decisions only when the outcome is predetermined — is nonexistent. In the rough business of war, a measure of risk is a given. Israel’s willingness to take risks is one of the tools in its arsenal of deterrence. In such context, its attack last weekend should be seen as a down payment of seriousness. If anyone was hoping that Israel would not have the stomach to get into a fight and risk a full-scale war in the north, one has to recalculate.

Fragments of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile found in Alonei Abba, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from where the remains of a crashed F-16 Israeli war plane were found, at the village of Alonei Abba, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

The shadow war is no longer shadowy. It is out in the open, with both countries — Iran and Israel — having to ponder the impact of their clashes on the many other components of an unstable situation.

Israel miscalculated many times, but so did its enemies. Quite famously — and here’s just one example — when Hezbollah inadvertently prompted the second Lebanon war by abducting Israeli soldiers. Had it known in advance that war would be the result, Hezbollah’s leader admitted later, the soldiers would still be alive and well. That was more than a decade ago, and its impact on Israel’s rivals might have faded. An aggressive approach is thus essential not to ignite war but rather to prevent one — make Iran understand that this is where the current path leads, make it realize that it cannot count on Israeli laxity.

Russia is the other addressee of this message of seriousness. For the past couple of years, since the Russians decided to jump into the Syrian mess — a bet that thus far proved solid and worthy (Obama’s grave predictions of “Russia’s Vietnam” notwithstanding) — Israel and Moscow proved meticulous in coordinating their actions in the region and prevented misunderstanding or an unintended clash. This was complicated and sometimes restrictive but mostly tactical: Israel lost flexibility in prompting combat; Russia left enough maneuver room for Israel to take effective action.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (R), and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot meet in Tel Aviv, Israel February 10, 2018 in this handout photo released by the Israel Defence Ministry. Israel Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

This worked, awkwardly, when the Syrian civil war was still going on, the players in Syria were busy fighting one another. It is less clear how Russia and Israel can manage this situation when the civil war is (almost) over, and when the battle turns to become one of Israel against any attempt at Iranian expansion.

This calls for strategic understanding, not just the tactical prevention of unintended clashes. But can Israel and Russia reach an agreement on the future of Israel’s border with Syria? For Israel, the goal is clear: to have no Iranian forces, and no forces under Iran’s control, near its border; and to be able to tame any attempt by Iran to turn Syria into an active front against Israel, Lebanon-style. For Russia, the goals are always somewhat murky: It wants Assad to survive, it wants its military bases in Syria safe, it wants to keep the Iranians happy (but not too happy) and quiet. Russia probably doesn’t want to have to take responsibility for a war between Israel and Iran.

Russia also has to take the U.S. into account. But how worried is it, considering the realities of the past couple of years? Not that long ago, Israel rarely questioned the basic commitment of the U.S. to contain Russia in the Middle East. The arrangement was clear to everybody: When the need arises, Israel deals with neighborhood sharks — small sharks and sometimes even with midsize sharks such as Iran — as long as the U.S. makes sure that no big shark, no great white shark such as Russia, interferes to tip the balance against Israel. In 1973, Israel fought against Egypt and Syria, and the U.S. was ready to clash with the Soviet Union in case of intervention. Regional power against regional power — superpower against superpower.

Putin on the one side and American presidents Obama and Donald Trump on the other side proved this assumption to be risky, maybe invalid. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. In 2014, it invaded Crimea. In the summer of 2015, it sent its forces to Syria. Obama was ineffective in his response. Maybe he just didn’t care. In 2016, Trump was elected, communicating a mixed message of standoffishness and aggressiveness. Unlike Obama, Trump made good on his word and launched a Tomahawk missile attack in Syria when reports of the use of chemical weapons tested his resolve. Like Obama, Trump steered clear of getting involved in the managing of postwar Syria and seemed to accept the Russian-dominated status quo.

This leaves Israel confused and unsure. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Syria or Iran is one thing. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Russia, when the U.S. stays on the sidelines, is quite another. Bergman, on a tour of the United States to promote his book, told me on Feb. 13 that Israel “has pleaded the United States to exert its influence over Russia, which is the only country that can pressure Iran, to prevent the stationing of permanent Iranian forces in Syria and the establishment of an Iranian military seaport. All in vain.” It also failed to convince Russia directly to tame Iran. Putin, Bergman told me, “is not interested in entering into a dispute with the Iranians and he has not interfered with their deployment in Syria.”

So, Israel is left with no choice but to up the ante and signal to all parties involved that war is an option. It has no choice but to signal to all parties involved that dithering and allowing inertia is not an option. “After it failed to recruit the Trump administration to convince Putin, Israel feels that it has remained alone, and in this situation it will respond very aggressively,” Bergman told me from New York. It already has, and is ready to act again. Worst-case scenario: This leads to real, long and bloody war, involving Iran and Israel, Syria and possibly Russia — a war that Israel’s military already has a name for: the first northern war.

No doubt, this will be a costly enterprise for all sides involved, the result of which is unknown. No doubt, it is a war Israel would like to avoid. And indeed, this is the best-case scenario: Signaling seriousness and readiness to go to war, Israel hopes to prompt Russian and possibly American involvement in halting Iran’s advancement. Such a move is the only one that will make a first war of the north obsolete.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Report: Conditions in Syrian Palestinian Refugee Camp Are ‘Horrific’

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Atef Safadi/Pool

A new report describes the Yarmoulk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria as “horrific,” yet it is never talked about because it can’t be used as a bludgeon against Israel.

According to the Gatestone Institute, the Syrian Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) has been blocking food and medicine from entering the country since 2013, while ISIS has been terrorizing refugees in the camp since 2015. The Sunni terror group frequently conducts public executions over fabricated crimes, pillages homes in the camp and keeps the refugees trapped in the camp.

Additionally, it has been over 1,237 days since the camp last had running water.

There has been a total of 204 Palestinians who have died in the camp as a result of the lack of food and water since the Syrian Army imposed their siege on the camp. Even more telling is the fact that the number of refugees in the Yarmouk camp has dramatically declined from over 100,000 in 2011 to 13,000 in 2014.

Overall, 3,645 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since 2011 and tens of thousands have fled the country as well.

Palestinian refugee camps in various countries are generally in putrid condition; according to a 2012 Washington Post report the camps in Lebanon feature “unspeakable” living conditions and the Lebanese government deprives the Palestinian refugees in the country of rights. Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been slaughtered by Shiite militias since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

As the Gatestone Institute report points out, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is nowhere to be found when it comes to the Palestinian refugees suffering in these Arab countries. The report criticizes Abbas for being more interested in going after President Trump’s Jerusalem move and splurging $50 million on a presidential plane instead of helping the Palestinian refugees.

“In his view, the needs of his people are the responsibility of the world,” journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote. “He wants everyone but himself to continue funneling financial aid to the Palestinians. For him, delivering a speech before the EU Parliament or the UN General Assembly easily takes precedence over the Palestinians who are dying due to lack of medicine and food. With such leaders, the Palestinians do not need enemies.”

The Palestinian refugee issue stems from 1947, when Arabs leaders spurned a United Nations resolution that would have created a neighboring Arab state beside Israel. At the behest of Arab leaders, thousands of Palestinians left their homes; in 1948 Israel encouraged the Palestinians to stay in the country and those that did enjoy freedoms that they wouldn’t get anywhere else in the Middle East.

The Palestinians that fled have been mired in refugee camps as Arab countries have shown little interest in welcoming them into their population, as instead they rail against Israel and call for the Palestinian “right to return” into Israel. Times of Israel blogger John C. Landa argued that the camps radicalize Palestinian inhabitants and teach them “that the Jews are to blame for their plight.”

The refugees are pawns in a campaign to demonize Israel,” Landa wrote. “Like Palestinians who are set up as ‘human shields’ when Hamas jihadists launch rockets from Gaza into Israel, they are exploited and victimized to promote a simple but distorted narrative:  there is misery here, and the Jews must be blamed.”

Is War Brewing Between Israel and Iran? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem February 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel struck several Iranian targets in Syria over the weekend, leading to speculation that Israel and Iran are on the verge of war.

The weekend’s events began with Iran launching an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), more commonly known as a drone, from Syria and into Israel on the morning of Feb. 10. The drone was subsequently shot down by an Israeli helicopter; Israel proceeded to launch raids in Syria targeting the command center that Iran operated the drone from.

During the raids, Syria was able to down an Israeli F-16 through anti-aircraft missiles; Israel responded by unleashing a flurry of attacks against 122 Iranian and Syrian targets primarily close to Damascus. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) estimate that they extinguished close to 50 percent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air defenses in the attacks.

The pilot and navigator in the downed F-16 were able to survive due to ejecting from the jet before the anti-aircraft missile struck the jet. It’s not yet known what exactly the Iranians had planned with the drone; Iran is claiming that it was related to self-defense.

“The government and army of Syria as an independent country have a legitimate right to defend [the country’s] territorial integrity and counter any type of foreign aggression,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeman Bahram Qassemi told state television.

The drone was reportedly derived from the U.S. drone that Iran captured in 2011.

“We dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit. We will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us.”

Tensions between Israel and Iran have been rising since Iran has ramped up their presence in Syria following the decline of ISIS, even going as far as building a military base in Syria. This is also coinciding with Assad tightening his grip on power, raising the very real possibility that the Syrian dictator could look to reclaim the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since 2011. Additionally, a bloody conflict between Israel and the Iranian proxy Hezbollah appears to be inevitable.

All of this points to further conflicts between Israel and Iran’s Shia crescent, with the U.S. being notably missing in the conflict as they focus on exterminating the remnants of ISIS. Consequently, Israel may have to turn to Russia, an ally of Iran and Syria, to be the mediator of the conflict, as Russia has been pulling all the strings in Syria in the absence of the U.S.

“We need to prepare ourselves operationally and intelligence-wise for the mounting threat,” IDF chief Amit Fisher told Israeli forces. “The big test will be the test of war.”

CNN Anchor Hammers U.N. for Anti-Israel Bias

Photo from Flickr/nrkbeta.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper criticized the United Nations for being biased against Israel in a segment on Thursday, as he blasted various countries for criticizing Israel despite having “questionable records.”

Tapper began his segment by summarizing the U.N.’s vote to condemn the Trump administration’s Jerusalem move by a margin of 128 votes in favor of the condemnation, nine against and 35 abstentions. The anchor proceeded to review the records of some of the countries who voted to condemn the move, starting with Venezuela.

“The U.S. imperils global peace, says the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster,” said Tapper, “with violence in the streets, an economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food.”

“On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today?” asked Tapper.

Tapper also noted the irony of Syria and Yemen condemning the U.S. despite the fact that their citizens have been ravished by the civil wars plaguing each country, as well as other countries like Myanmar, North Korea and China condemning the move despite their heinous human rights abuses.

The anchor proceeded to highlight some statistics from U.N. Watch reflecting the U.N.’s bias against Israel.

“The United Nations General Assembly from 2012-2015 has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country, and of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel,” said Tapper. “That is 86%.”

Tapper added, “Certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel is deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?”

“Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government lecture the United States for moving its embassy.”

The full segment can be seen below:

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Youssef Boudlal

Photo by Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

Photographer Youssef Boudlal

A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, on Aug. 13, 2014.

Photo by Youssef Boudlal/Reuters