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U.S. officials critical of Kerry’s plan to coordinate Syria policy with Russia

Posted by Tip Staff - July 25, 2016


U.S. military and intelligence officials have expressed wariness about Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan to coordinate with the Russian military in Syria, Reuters reported Sunday. Kerry intends to cooperate with Russia in striking the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, in return for Russia promising to rein in the Syrian air force, which has purposefully targeted civilians with barrel bombs. Nusra is heavily engaged in fighting the Assad regime and is “intermingled” with U.S.-backed rebels fighting Assad. One U.S. official told Reuters that the plan “underscores the basic problem that Kerry seems to be ignoring...One: The Russians’ aim in Syria is still either keeping Assad in power or finding some successor who is acceptable to them.…And two: Putin has proved over and over, and not just in Syria, that he cannot be trusted to honor any agreement he makes if he decides it’s no longer in Russia’s interest.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford expressed doubt “that the Russians can deliver on their side of the deal,” whether intentionally or not. Officials told The Washington Post in late June that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was opposed to the plan, which has been “authorized and ordered” by President Barack Obama, “but was ultimately compelled to go along with the president’s decision.”
Russian warplanes bombed a base in southeastern Syria last month that is used by both American and British special forces. After an initial bombing, the U.S. military informed Russia that the base was part of the anti-ISIS campaign and should not be attacked; 90 minutes later, Russian pilots returned and bombed the base once more. American military and intelligence officers believe it was part of “a campaign for Moscow to pressure the Obama administration to agree to closer cooperation in the skies over Syria,” The Wall Street Journal reported. This incident emphasized to many CIA and Pentagon officials why Russia cannot be trusted. While the U.S. and Russia agreed in February to uphold a ceasefire in Syria, Russia has not pressured the Assad regime to stop its strikes on civilians and groups that it considers terrorists but that the U.S. does not. Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war last September to prop up its ally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. While Russia claims it is in the country to fight terrorism, the majority of its strikes have targeted moderate Syrian rebels.


Hezbollah has embedded its rocket arsenal in villages across Lebanon, ensuring that any Israeli strike on the Iran-backed terrorist group’s military assets will lead to mass civilian casualties, a former Treasury official said on Monday.
Hezbollah has “turned the Shiite villages … into essentially missile silos,” Jonathan Schanzer, now the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said while speaking on a panel hosted by FDD on the possibility of a future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
“This is going to be a huge problem for the Israelis. We have heard it from Israeli leadership. What they said is that all of Lebanon is now south Lebanon,” he added. South Lebanon has traditionally been a stronghold for Hezbollah, where much of the fighting between the terrorist group and Israel took place in previous conflicts.
“What you have is rockets placed under homes, schools, apartment buildings, etc., so when the Israelis need to try to strike these weapons before they’re launched, it will potentially lead to mass casualties,” Schanzer continued. This is when international pressure on Israel to mitigate its military actions generally intensifies, he observed. “Essentially Hezbollah has put Israel in a no-win situation. If they want to win this war, if they want to try to knock out these weapons, it will inevitably bring that backlash.”
Former IDF general Yakov Shaharabani, Schanzer’s co-panelist and a senior advisor at FDD, added that “there are more than 200 Shiite villages that Hezbollah is rooted [in] all over Lebanon.”
If Israel seeks to defeat rather than deter Hezbollah in a future war—a likely possibility, according to Shaharabani—then the result “might be very destructive,” he observed.
report for FDD written by Schanzer, Tony Badran, and David Daoud explained that Hezbollah deliberately embeds its military infrastructure in civilian areas in order to limit “the IDF’s ability to respond for fear of collateral damage.”
The genesis of this approach could be first observed after the 2006 war, when Hezbollah embarked on a project to rebuild homes for needy Shiite families, with the caveat that at least one rocket launcher and several rockets would be housed there, and would be fired at Israel when the order was given. Hezbollah has also set up camouflaged defense positions in villages, containing Russian-, Iranian-, Chinese-, or even North Korean-made anti-tank missiles, while planting large explosive devices along access roads and converting large village structures into arms caches. In this manner, the organization converted some 180 Shiite villages and towns between the Zahrani River and the Blue Line into fighting zones – both above and below ground.

The report noted that “Israel will have a stronger justification to strike” Hezbollah targets in civilians areas, but that “IDF leadership fully understands that Hezbollah will look to exploit images of Lebanese civilian casualties in order to move the United States and Europe to pressure Israel into a premature ceasefire. This is exactly what Hezbollah did in 1996 and again in 2006. It is also not hard to envision Iran threatening to pull out of the [nuclear deal] for the same purpose.”
Schanzer noted during the panel that most analysts of the region believe that any such conflict will most likely erupt through the “snowball effect”—one incident precipitating a gradual escalation that would lead to an all-out war. “But there is concern that with Iran on a path potentially to a nuclear weapon 10-15 years from now, that the Israelis see a window closing,” Schanzer observed. (Most restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program by the nuclear deal are set to begin expiring after the tenth year of the accord.)
“They’ve talked about something called a nuclear umbrella, this concern that it will be much more difficult to counter Hezbollah if and when Iran has a nuclear weapon,” Schanzer added. “In short, we’re not seeing anything that’s mitigating Hezbollah’s strength. We see them growing stronger as a result of the nuclear deal and as a result of their natural growth, and so we’re raising this [issue] now in the hopes that perhaps we can try to avert what could be a very nasty conflict.”
An Israeli defense official told The New York Times last May that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound….We will hit Hezbollah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can…[but] we do not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.” A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah confirmed the Israeli assessment.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed unanimously to end the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, forbids the transfer of weaponry to Hezbollah. However, Iran has continued to arm Hezbollah, and the Security Council has refused to act to enforce the resolution. (via TheTower.org)


Israel will make its 16th appearance at the Olympic Games this August with its largest delegation of athletes ever. But Israel’s representation in Rio de Janeiro extends beyond the sporting contests to the tech arena where startups will show their prowess in security technologies, live video transmission technology, public transportation navigation, AR systems, satellite technologies and sports tech. Israeli company International Security and Defense Systems(ISDS), BriefCam and the EROS-B satellite will likely snag the most attention as they take on security. ISDS, which has been providing integrated solutions for complex security projects since 1982, is the “Official Supplier” of security solutions for the Games. “It’s an honor for ISDS to be the very first ever Israeli group to be part of the Olympic family,” Leo Gleser, ISDS president and a former Mossad agent, told JTA. BriefCam will help Brazilian security authorities with surveillance at street level. The Israeli company’s proprietary video-synopsis technology scrunches 24 hours worth of footage into one minute making it easier for security personnel to keep track of what’s really going on among the hundreds of thousands of Olympic attendees. (via Israel21c)

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