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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
September 30, 2015

In-Depth Issues:

Syria Rebels Target Airport Used by Russia (NOW-Lebanon)
    Syrian rebels have fired rockets at Latakia airport where Russia is setting up a forward air operating base amid its military buildup in the country.
    "Two projectiles struck...close to the Hmeimim airbase" adjacent to Latakia's civilian airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday.
    The Islamist Ahrar al-Sham claimed credit for the attack, releasing a video Monday claiming to show its militants firing Grad rockets at the base.
    A rebel commander, Omar, told Al-Souria Net that his artillery unit targeted the runway with Russian-made Grad rockets that were seized from regime military bases.
    "These are your goods," he said, referring to Russia. "They have been returned to you."
    According to All4Syria, the deployment plan for Russian planes includes Hama airbase, the Dumeir and Nasiriya airbases north of Damascus and Bley airbase in Eastern Ghouta.

France Opens War Crimes Inquiry Against Assad Regime (AFP-France 24)
    Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry on Sept. 15 into war crimes committed by the Syrian government between 2011 and 2013, a source close to the case told AFP.
    "Faced with these crimes that offend the human conscience, this bureaucracy of horror, faced with this denial of the values of humanity, it is our responsibility to act against the impunity of the assassins," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
    Paris's investigation is focusing on evidence from a former Syrian army photographer who fled the country in 2013 with some 55,000 graphic photographs.
    These "thousands of unbearable photos, authenticated by many experts, which show corpses tortured and starved to death in the prisons of the regime, demonstrate the systematic cruelty of the Assad regime," Fabius said.

Iran Says Frozen Funds to Be Released by January - Golnar Motevalli (Bloomberg)
    Iran expects $29 billion to be unfrozen and repatriated to its central bank by January 2016 at the latest as economic sanctions are eased after July's nuclear deal, Gholamali Kamyab, Iranian central bank vice governor for foreign exchange affairs, said in an interview Friday.
    See also Asian Imports of Iran Oil Rise 10 Percent in August - Aaron Sheldrick (Reuters)

U.S. Judge Dismisses Sept. 11 Victims' Case Against Saudi Arabia - Nate Raymond (Reuters)
    U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan on Tuesday dismissed claims against Saudi Arabia by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, who accused the country of providing material support to al-Qaeda.
    Daniels ruled that Saudi Arabia had sovereign immunity from damage claims.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Top NATO General: Russians Starting to Build Air Defense Bubble over Syria - Thomas Gibbons-Neff
    While Russia's stated goal in moving into Syria is to fight the Islamic State, NATO's top commander believes Russia's new presence includes the first pieces of an intricate layer of defensive systems deployed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region. "As we see the very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we're a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean," said Gen. Philip M. Breedlove on Monday. A2/AD stands for anti-access/area denial.
        Breedlove suggested that Russia's presence in Syria had little to do with fighting the Islamic State and a lot to do with propping up Syrian President Assad. "These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about [the Islamic State], they're about something else," said Breedlove. (Washington Post)
  • Saudi Arabia Rules Out Cooperation with Russia in Syria - Jay Solomon, Carol E. Lee and Farnaz Fassihi
    Saudi Arabia and other leading Arab states ruled out any cooperation with an emerging Russian military alliance operating inside Syria and vowed to dial up their support for rebels seeking to overthrow Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad. Top officials from Arab states said it was impossible for them to support any coalition that doesn't seek to remove Assad, whose forces are accused of killing tens of thousands of civilians.
        Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said Tuesday that Russian President Putin's offer to other Middle East countries to join his coalition was a "non-starter." While President Obama said he was prepared to cooperate with Russia and Iran in Syria, al-Jubeir said, "Iran is part of the problem and can't be part of the solution."
        U.S. officials Tuesday publicly proposed a plan that would enlist Russia and Iran in easing Assad out of power, while allowing him to remain for an agreed-on period. But it was unclear whether the U.S. and its allies have sufficient leverage to impose such a vision for the outcome of the conflict. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Saudi Royal Calls for Regime Change in Riyadh - Hugh Miles
    A senior Saudi prince has launched an unprecedented call for change in the country's leadership. One of the grandsons of the state's founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, has told the Guardian that there is disquiet among the royal family at the leadership of King Salman, who acceded to the throne in January. "The king is not in a stable condition and in reality the son of the king [Mohammed bin Salman] is ruling the kingdom," said the prince, who wrote two letters earlier this month calling for the king to be removed. "The public are also pushing this very hard, all kinds of people, tribal leaders," the prince added.
        Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy crown prince, is a new arrival to the Saudi senior leadership team. Still very young by Saudi standards - officially 35 but rumored to be much younger - he is minister of defense, responsible for Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen, where rebel Houthis have come under attack from Saudi aircraft and ground forces. (Guardian-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Ya'alon: We Made It Clear to Russia that Israel Will Continue to Act in Syria to Protect Its Interests - Yaakov Lappin
    Israel has made it clear to Russia that it will continue to act in Syria to protect its interests when necessary, and will not coordinate with Moscow on activities such as retaliating for Syrian cross-border fire, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Tuesday.
        "Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear to President Putin that we are not involved in who will control Syria. Assad or not Assad, we are not entering that discussion at all. But we have interests, and when they are threatened we act, and we will continue to act....Those who try to violate our sovereignty - we will strike them, and those who try to transfer advanced weapons to terror elements, with an emphasis on Hizbullah, we will strike them, and those who try to transfer chemical weapons to terror elements, we will strike them....I suggest that no one tests us."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Strikes Hamas Targets in Response to Gaza Rocket Fire - Yaakov Lappin
    The Israel Air Force attacked four Hamas military installations Wednesday morning in response to a rocket fired from Gaza Tuesday evening which was intercepted over Ashdod by an Iron Dome anti-missile defense battery. "The IDF will not tolerate terrorists opening fire onto Israeli territory and will continue to act severely against any attempt to disturb the peace of communities in the south," an IDF statement said, adding it held Hamas responsible for the attack. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel: EU Labeling of West Bank Goods a "Red Line" - Raphael Ahren
    Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the EU's intention to publish guidelines for the labeling of Israeli goods produced beyond the pre-1967 lines is a "red line" for Israel. Countries that decide to label settlement products will no longer be considered by Jerusalem to be significant players in the Middle East conflict, she warned. By implementing a labeling regime for settlement goods, Europe is in effect forcing its solution for the conflict on Israel and declaring on which sides it stands. It thus can no longer be considered an honest broker, she said.
        Israel is fully aware that exports from the settlements to the EU make up less than 1% of Israel's total exports to the EU. "Our concern is that once you put a label on Judea and Samaria, you put a label on Israel. We see it as a boycott of Israel for all intents and purposes.... Europe is doing this to create diplomatic pressure on Israel."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Russia Buildup Seen as Fanning Flames in Syria - Helene Cooper and Michael R. Gordon
    Russia's military buildup in Syria will probably prolong the life of the government of President Assad, Pentagon officials and foreign policy experts say, but is unlikely to be a major factor in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, and could further inflame - and lengthen - the conflict. Reconnaissance flights by Russian drones in the last week have all been over areas controlled by opponents of Assad while avoiding territory controlled by the Islamic State.
        "The government only controls 20% of its territory, has a huge manpower shortage and has stoked a sectarian war with a majority Sunni population," said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Those are hard odds to overcome. The Russians can use their deployments to prop up the government for now. But over the long term, it will suck Russia into the quagmire."  (New York Times)
  • What Putin's Syrian Strategy Means for Israel - Ron Ben-Yishai
    Russian President Putin has exploited Syrian President Assad's and the Iranians' distress to make himself a major player in the Middle East, just as U.S. influence in the region is waning. Meanwhile, Iran is working to turn Hizbullah into an independent producer of weapons and munitions so that they may prevent Israeli bombings of weapons convoys making their way through Syria. It's reasonable to assume that the Iranians are doing this with approval from the Russians.
        In the past few weeks, Russia has given the Syrian military sophisticated and accurate arms to replace its outdated and ineffective equipment. Putin isn't going to send soldiers to fight ISIS on the ground, but he will supply Assad with weapons, and the Iranians will pay him for it (after the economic sanctions are removed). The Iranians will also probably soon become the Russian arms industry's number one client. Russia will probably serve as a stabilizing force in Syria, but it will legitimize an Iranian entrance into the country. (Ynet News)

The IAEA Inspection Farce at Parchin - Ephraim Asculai (Jerusalem Post)

  • On Sept. 21, 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ) director-general proudly announced that "certain IAEA safeguards activities were carried out at the particular location at the [Iranian] Parchin site. These included the taking of environmental samples."
  • The IAEA had first requested access to this site, suspected of hosting activities related to development by Iran of a nuclear explosive device, in 2012.
  • According to satellite observations, the Iranians subsequently cleared the site, removing earth layers and all possible traces of previous activities.
  • In spite of the probable futility of inspections at the site, they were carried out in September. While the results of the sample analyses are not yet in, the IAEA will probably announce that the inspection at Parchin did not produce any evidence of wrongdoing at the site. Case closed.
  • It is most unfortunate that the politicians, in their haste to conclude an agreement, gave up on the most basic of professional principles, thus paving the road for shortcuts that would provide the wrong answers and put in doubt the assurances that the world so needs.
  • The Parchin case is but one sad farce that presages others.

    The writer, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years.

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