February 12, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Analyst: Israel Destroyed a Significant Portion of Assad's Air Defense Network (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
    Saturday's military escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria shows that "Iran is at the helm of what remains of Assad's military, and has supplanted any semblance of Syrian sovereignty," said Oubai Shahbandar, a fellow at the New America Foundation.
    "The Assad regime's military suffered a major blow as a result of Iran's military incursion. The Israeli airforce counterattack destroyed a significant portion of Assad's long-range SA-5 integrated air defense network outside Damascus."
    See also Israel Believes Syria Strikes Took Out Nearly Half of Assad's Air Defenses - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)

Iranian UAV a Copy of U.S. Stealth Drone - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    The Iranian drone shot down by Israel on Saturday appears to be a new stealth model whose design was stolen from an American RQ-170 Sentinel UAV captured by Iran in 2011, according to aviation analysts.
    See also Iran's Stealth Drone Shot Down in New Way - Stephen Bryen (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
    The Iranian drone was a stealth drone, specially designed to evade radar.
    Judging from the IDF-supplied video, Israel appears to have abandoned using radar-guided weapons to down the Iranian drone.
    It appears that the drone was destroyed by a missile controlled with an electro-optical sensor, allowing the helicopter pilot to track the drone and kill it.

Iranians Burn American and Israeli Flags to Celebrate Anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution - Nasser Karimi (AP-Boston Globe)
    Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied Sunday to mark the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
    Demonstrators burned American and Israeli flags, as well as images of President Trump.
    Such activities commonly mark the anniversary.

Iran Setting Up Air Base outside Syrian City of Palmyra - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    "Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 [Tiyas] air base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on Saturday night.
    An Israeli military official said the T-4 base is being used by Iran to transport advanced weaponry to Syria, Hizbullah, and Shiite militias in the region. "It is part of a process of a force build-up against Israel," he said.

Iranians Pushing for New Status Quo in Syria - Ron Ben Yishai (Ynet News)
    Saturday's events mark an initiated action that started with the launch of an Iranian drone into Israel and progressed with massive antiaircraft fire against fighter jets that attacked within Syria in retaliation for the drone's encroachment.
    The Iranian drone was launched from Tiyas military airbase (T-4), one of Syria's largest airfields, which is routinely used by the Russian Air Force as well as by Iranian agents.
    The attack on the base needed to be carried out with surgical precision to avoid hitting any Russian military aircraft or personnel.

Israeli Intelligence Official: Iran's Aggression from Syria Escalated Faster than Expected - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
    "The negative dynamic inherent in the Iranian presence [in Syria] is happening perhaps more quickly than people expected," Chagai Tzuriel, director-general of the Israel Intelligence Ministry, said Sunday in an interview.
    Jerusalem has been warning for at least 18 months of the threat inherent in the Iranian military presence in Syria, he said.
    Tzuriel, who served in the Mossad for 28 years, added, "I am sure the Iranians are working according to a general directive, which is very aggressive."
    "They want to slowly but surely encroach on our sovereignty, and get us and everybody else used to them doing these things. And then, one day, you wake up and you see you have in Syria the same situation that you have now in Lebanon, with Hizbullah having established itself there militarily with the sole goal of attacking Israel."
    "This is exactly why we made a point Saturday: No, this gradual approach will not work here - even if it means that our response needs to be quite serious."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • After Iran Sends Drone into Israel, Israel's Air Force Responds with Attack on Iranian Military Assets in Syria - Noga Tarnopolsky and Nabih Bulos
    An Iranian drone incursion into Israel early Saturday spiraled into a major confrontation that included the downing of an Israeli fighter jet and an extensive attack on Iranian military assets in Syria. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Israel Air Force Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria
    On Feb. 10, Iran launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Syria which violated Israeli sovereign airspace. The Israel Air Force (IAF) intercepted the UAV and destroyed it, then targeted the control vehicle from which the UAV was operated in the Syrian T-4 Airbase near Tadmor.
        During the attack, multiple surface-to-air missiles were launched at IAF aircraft and hit an F-16 fighter jet. The two pilots were forced to eject and parachuted to safety in Israeli territory.
        The IDF then targeted 12 military objectives, including 3 air defense batteries and 4 targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria. "We carried out a wide-scale attack on the air defense system - radars, rockets, batteries, posts...[in] the biggest and most significant attack the air force has carried out against Syrian air defenses since 1982," said IAF Brig.-Gen. Amnon Ein Dar.
        "What we've known for a long time is now clear to everyone: Iran wants to establish a front in Syria that is aimed at harming Israel," said Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick, Head of the Northern Command. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • White House: Israel Has Right to Defend Itself
    The White House said Sunday: "Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria." It urged "Iran and its allies to cease provocative actions and work toward regional peace."  (VOA News)
        See also State Department: U.S. "Strongly Supports Israel's Sovereign Right to Defend Itself"
    State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said Saturday that the U.S. "strongly supports Israel's sovereign right to defend itself....The U.S. continues to push back on the totality of Iran's malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability."  (State Department)
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis: Israel Doesn't "Have to Wait until Their Citizens Are Dying" to Address the Iranian Threat
    Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Sunday: "Everywhere we find trouble in the Middle East, you find the same thing behind it. Whether it be in Yemen or Beirut, or in Syria, in Iraq, you always find Iran engaged....If you live in the region, there's no doubt what Iran is doing."
        "So when Syria, which has made no...excuse for what they're doing alongside Iran, when they are providing throughput for Iran to give weapons, including more sophisticated weapons, to the Lebanese Hizbullah, Israel has an absolute right to defend themselves. They don't have to wait until their citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue."  (U.S. Department of Defense)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Iran Seeks to Use Syrian Territory to Attack Israel
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday evening: "I have been warning for some time about the dangers of Iran's military entrenchment in Syria. Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel. This morning Iran brazenly violated Israel's sovereignty. They dispatched an Iranian drone from Syrian territory into Israel. And this demonstrates that our warnings were 100% correct. Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today's aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Israel Demands UN Security Council Put an Immediate End to "Iranian Provocations" - Daniel J. Roth
    Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called on the UN Security Council to immediately condemn Iran for its "provocations" after an Iranian drone launched from Syria entered Israeli airspace. "This is not the first time we have warned you against Iran's dangerous actions that undermine the security situation in the region. This incident proves that every one of these warnings proved true. Israel will defend its citizens and will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli President Rivlin Visits Injured Pilots - Omri Ariel
    Israel's President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday visited the Israeli pilots who were injured during Saturday's confrontations with Syria. Later, he said, "I was happy to see that the two pilots were recovering quickly....Those who wish ill for us should know it is impossible to disrupt the lives of our citizens, and we will not stand idly by while someone tries to do so."
        "We continuously warn our allies around the world who think the Iranians can be dealt with through diplomacy. When it comes to us, we're not only talking about a nuclear danger but also about a country that supports terrorism. We have Hizbullah in the north, we have Hamas in the south, and we have Iran backing them."  (Jerusalem Online)
  • F-16 Navigator Describes Missile Strike near Plane - Yoav Zitun
    The navigator of the F-16 that crashed in northern Israel on Saturday described to Yediot Ahronot on Sunday what happened the moment the F-16 fighter jet was hit by a Syrian antiaircraft missile. "We led the attack, and then there was an explosion and we realized we had been hit. It's a very uncomfortable feeling, a feeling of loss of control."
        "The evacuation is immediate. It's not a long process, and there's no time either. It's just a few seconds. You realize that you have to hurry and evacuate, both because of the hit, the physical hit, and because of the damage to the plane, which stopped functioning."
        "We had a lot of luck too, because such a strong blast near the plane could have killed us. Nevertheless, the missile exploded at a certain distance from the plane and the shrapnel caused enough damage. But there was no yelling in the cockpit, and the decision to evacuate was made within seconds."
        Despite being wounded, "the pilot was conscious. We coordinated the ejection between us, from the preparation, examining the seating position and pressing our arms together so we wouldn't get hurt. We repeated the orders in the intercom and then activated the ejector seat."  (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Demonstrated Its Ability to Defend Its Skies - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin
    The balance sheet on the day of fighting with Iran and Syria was clear: Israel demonstrated its ability to defend its skies. It struck Iranian forces in Syria directly and exacted a price from Iran. It destroyed many Syrian SAM sites and left Damascus exposed to future attacks.
        This is the most significant day of fighting in the "campaign between wars," and the IDF demonstrated most impressive intelligence and strike capabilities. The Iranians are determined to build a military power in the Levant and Israel is determined to stop them. The writer, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, heads the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Twitter)
  • Failure to Support Israel Against Iran Could End in War - Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp
    Iranian leaders have long made clear that they intend to annihilate the Jewish state. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran has 82,000 fighters under its control in Syria and is building a permanent military presence there. This is part of a wider Iranian plan not just to besiege Israel but also to achieve ascendancy over the Sunnis.
        For years Israel has warned of the consequences of Tehran's aggression, but its warnings have been largely ignored by the West and the UN. Britain and the EU could play an effective role in containing Iranian aggression but their answer is appeasement. Instead of sanctioning Iran and supporting Israel, they mouth platitudes about restraint by both sides, which further emboldens Tehran. The writer is former head of the international terrorism team at the Cabinet Office. (The Times-UK)
  • Questions and Answers following the Northern Crisis - Lt. Col. (res.) Reuven Ben-Shalom
    Q: Doesn't the downing of an Israeli jet deliver a devastating blow to Israel?
    A: No. Just as a downed American jet in Afghanistan or a Russian jet in Syria are viewed as an inevitable, inherent part of war, so is it with Israel. Israeli aerial dominance is overwhelming and impressive. We have state-of-the-art detection and deflection systems, and carry out missions wherever necessary throughout the Middle East. But nothing is foolproof.
    Q: Wasn't targeting the Iranian ground station overdoing it?
    A: No. This is totally consistent with Israeli doctrine - if you target Israel you will be targeted back. Not only were we able to detect and intercept a small UAV, but we knew exactly where it was launched from and who was controlling it. The fact that we had this information and were able to act on it and strike these components deep inside Syria demonstrates an incredible operational capability. So, Iran's message has been answered with a message of our own. The writer served in the IDF for 25 years as a helicopter pilot and in various international relations positions in the General Staff. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Iran Initiates Conflict with Israel - Prof. Eyal Zisser
    Those who cautioned that Israel's air campaign against Hizbullah targets in Syria were leading to an unnecessary conflict with Iran and Hizbullah were wrong. The conflict is already here, and the initiator is Iran. Israel's immediate and aggressive response to Iran's belligerence on Saturday signals its determination not to issue hollow threats. Iran and Hizbullah will only be careful not to cross Israel's red lines if they believe it is resolved to defending them. The writer, vice rector at Tel Aviv University, is former director of its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. (Israel Hayom)
  • The Iran-Israel War Flares Up - Tony Badran and Jonathan Schanzer
    Saturday's incident was the most significant clash to date between Israel and the "Axis of Resistance" - Iran, Syria's Assad regime and Hizbullah - since Iran began deploying soldiers and proxies to Syria six years ago. Israel insists its response was limited and its intent is to contain this conflagration.
        The Iranians have been exploiting the chaos of the Syrian civil war to build up military assets there that target Israel, all the while sending advanced weaponry to Lebanon by way of Damascus. The Israelis have destroyed some of this hardware in Syria with one-off strikes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had paid multiple visits to Moscow hoping to convince President Vladimir Putin to curb the threatening activities of Iran and its proxies.
        Mr. Badran is a research fellow and Mr. Schanzer senior vice president for research of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Wall Street Journal)

Expert: Israel Sent a Clear Message to Iran in Syria - Gilad Tsavik (Mida-Hebrew-10Feb2018)
  • The weekend clash with Syria and Iran on Israel's northern border improved Israel's strategic position, said Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence and today a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
  • "This was an impressive demonstration of Israeli power and we succeeded to send a clear message to the Iranians, the Syrians and Hizbullah. We caused great damage to Syria's anti-aircraft systems and attacked at least four Iranian targets. We made it clear to Iran that we have the capability to act with determination against their attempts to change the rules of the game in the region."
  • "Iran is frustrated because Israel is preventing it from achieving its three goals: to transfer game-changing weapons to Hizbullah, to establish a network of military bases in Syria, and to generate continuing conflict with Israel in the Golan Heights."
  • "Unfortunately, we paid a price with two wounded pilots and the downing of a plane, but this has no strategic significance. When you fight, there are casualties. No one checks to see how many Iranians or Syrians were hurt in our attacks. We became use to attacking without being attacked in response."
  • "There is no doubt that an event like this [sending an Iranian drone into Israel] was not coordinated in advance with the Russians and occurred without their knowledge, and this was very serious for the Russians. Putin is counting on there being quiet in Syria and that Russia can manage events there to advance its own interests. Now Russia has received proof of Israel's warnings that Iran is dangerous, and that granting Iran freedom of action in Syria is not helpful to Russia. Rather, it will just upset the area and disturb the quiet."
  • "The Iranians don't really take the Russians into account. Tehran believes that Moscow needs it in order to fight Assad's opponents and therefore the Iranians don't take into consideration Putin's concerns. This may now change." 

        See also Audio Briefing: Escalation on Israel's Northern Border - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Israel Project)