Israeli authorities closed Route 98 in the Golan Heights on Tuesday evening after the third mortar shell of the day came whistling into the region from Syria.
The attack came less than 24 hours after two projectiles fired from Syria had also landed on Israel’s side of the border.
It is also the fifth time mortar fire has reached Israel from Syria since the start of a ceasefire negotiated by Russia and the United States; the truce was to begin simultaneously with the start of the festive Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.
Israeli warplanes struck targets near Quneitra late Monday night in retaliation for Monday’s shelling.
The IDF continues to maintain the mortar fire is spillover from the savage civil war raging in Syria between regime forces, which include Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah guerrilla fighters, and those of the opposition, including a range of Western-backed “moderates,” Kurdistani forces, and radical Islamist terrorist groups such as Jaish al Islam, Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra, and Da’esh (ISIS.)
Nevertheless, Israel has said it holds the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responsible for what takes place in its territory. The Israeli government has also said it won’t tolerate any attempt to harm Israel’s sovereignty or the security of her citizens.
The Amaq media outlet of the Da’esh (ISIS) terrorist organization disseminated photos of American arms this past weekend showing the new military treasure it acquired when U.S. troops who were supporting government soldiers in Afghanistan retreated in the face of terrorist fire during a clash that took place in July.
Among the seized items were a rocket launcher, grenades, machine gun ammunition, an encrypted radio and military identification cards, the Washington Free Beacon reported Wednesday. One of the identity cards was that of an American soldier, but U.S. officials denied he was taken prisoner and said he was with his unit.
U.S. Brigadier-General Charles Cleveland, deputy chief of staff for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan confirmed the loss, saying the clash had taken place in the eastern province of Nangarhar as American forces were moving a “casualty collection” area. Cleveland said in his statement the soldiers came under “effective enemy fire” and were forced to retreat. “In the course of moving the [casualty collection point] to a safe location, some equipment was left behind. For understandable reasons, the lives of soldiers were not put at risk to recover the equipment,” he said. “The loss of equipment is regrettable but no equipment is worth undue risk to those involved,” Cleveland pointed out. “And we do not expect any measurable operational impact due to the loss.”
This is not the first time that American military hardware and weapons have ended up in hands other than those for whom they were intended.
Weapons that were sent to Syrian opposition forces via Jordan last year by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia were reported stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives, according to an investigative report by the New York Times.
Instead, they ended up in the hands of arms merchants who sold them to the highest bidders on the black market, American and Jordanian officials told the newspaper.
The site was set up in 2003 as a center for the U.S. to train Iraqi police. It then was used to train Palestinian Authority security forces, who were ultimately equipped with new American military equipment. Although (USSC) U.S. Security Coordinator (2005-2010) Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton repeatedly stated, “We don’t give out any guns or bullets,” the forces received them from Jordan and Egypt with approval from Israel.
Numerous Palestinian Authority security forces have since used their vastly improved military skills to target Israelis in terror attacks.
Under the European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EU COPPS), about one thousand police officers were trained and at least a dozen police stations were opened in Judea and Samaria. By mid-2008, European donor states had already pledged $242 million to the Palestinian Authority, all this in addition to the USSC effort.
At present, a similar issue is taking place in Syria with American weapons once again going astray. Western-backed “moderate” opposition forces are fighting government troops defending the regime of President Bashar al-Assad together with Russian, Iranian and the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla terrorist fighters.
The Western-backed opposition forces, supplied in part by the United States, are not in any way linked to Al Qaeda or Da’esh (ISIS). But in the heat of battle and for the purposes of achieving their objectives, all opposition forces often band together as one in Syria — regardless of ideological affiliation.
Syrian residents in the once-beautiful commercial hub of Aleppo are gathering their strength — what little remains — to seek whatever safe spaces they can find in the next 24 hours.
The splintered fragments of opposition forces are about to launch their final stand against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thus far, opposition forces appear to have the upper hand in this vicious, years-long civil war that has ripped the soul from a lovely land that for decades was the Republic of Syria, but no longer. Today Syria has been torn apart and divvied up among hungry competing warlords like a bleeding carcass about to be butchered for lion cubs.
Some 250,000 residents are beginning to slowly starve in Aleppo, trapped in the eastern part of the city since early July, while the western part of the city remained under government control. The residents of the eastern party of the city are almost without food and water now, after the main artery into that section was shut down by regime forces nearly six weeks ago.
The water pumps in the city are without power. That means two million people are without running water and facing a full siege.
Syrian state media reports government and Russian warplanes are continuing to bomb opposition forces.
But those opposition forces cut off the key access route into the western part of the city Sunday to block the entry of regime soldiers.
According to media sources in Tehran quoted by A-Sharq al-Awsat, “around 2,000 fighters came from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to assist regime forces,” but the infusion of foreign aid didn’t faze the opposition.
Jaish al-Fatah, the Islamist opposition group, released a voice recording on Monday of a phone-tapped conversation by a Hezbollah guerrilla fighter describing the situation on the southern Aleppo front. The fighter said in a Lebanese accent that Hezbollah and regime fighters were collapsing and were left to fight alone. Other militias had already abandoned the front, fleeing the debacle to save their own lives.
According to a Ahrar al-Sham leader who spoke with A-Sharq al-Awsat, “The collapse in the ranks of regime forces is clear and it continues as long as Jaish al-Fatah fighters advance in the city.”
Both sides are now preparing for “the great battle of Aleppo,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations is urging both sides to cease their fire — or at least to pause it — long enough to allow repairs to the water and electricity grids.
According to UN sources, some two million people are without basic supplies — such as sugar, wheat, food cans and water — and children in the city are at “grave risk” of disease.
Opposition forces, meanwhile, say they are poised to take control of the entire city. The fragmented forces are united in this goal, at least, and it is this unity that allows the exchange of Western-supplied weapons between so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition forces and those who are dubbed “radical Islamist groups” linked to Al Qaeda and Da’esh (ISIS).
That unity when it comes to fighting the Assad regime is not well understood by the United States and other Western nations, and it is this Western lack of familiarity with the regional culture codes that has repeatedly led to disaster when trying to fight worldwide terror.
For all of these reasons, and because of the utter chaos taking place north of Israel’s border, the IDF is being especially watchful now.
Russian efforts to reach a truce between the President Bashar al-Assad regime and the various rebel groups in Syria appear to be close to a successful resolution, and so Israel is already preparing for the day after the final truce, when it is safe to expect that Jihadist fire would be turned south, at the “Zionist enemy.” According to Israeli media reports, the northern Golani Brigade ran a series of exercises last week in the Golan Heights and near the Lebanese border, in preparation for war with ISIS and Hezbollah — two sworn enemies in the civil war.
Despite a string of minor breaches, the IDF has traditionally viewed the Syrian border as stable, although it makes certain to retaliate for every violation of Israeli sovereignty, no matter how minor. Over the past two years, each time an errant shell landed in an open field on Israel’s side of the border, it was followed by a barrage of Israeli artillery at the source — which is why those slights have been kept down. So far, neither the Islamist militias nor certainly the Syrian army have been interested in provoking the IDF.
But Northern Command Chief Gen. Aviv Kochavi is directing his troops’ training programs to prepare for Jihadist attacks using machine guns, anti-tank rockets, and mortars, as well as attempts to penetrate the border. Last week’s training exercise in Golani dealt with just such scenarios, involving coordinated invasion attempts by the Jihadist groups in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. One entire battalion, according to reports, took on the role of the local civilian Arab population, in an attempt to isolate them from the fighting.
Gen. Aviv Kochavi (who was still Brig. Gen. And a paratrooper when the picture was taken). / IDF
The maneuver emphasized profuse use of megaphones by IDF commanders who speak Arabic, to warn Arab civilians about IDF activity against the rebel groups, encouraging them to keep away from those groups. In most cases, the IDF does not regard local Arab villagers in south Syria and Lebanon as necessarily hostile. Many local civilians who had been injured during the fighting were evacuated to Israeli hospitals to receive treatment, which, hopefully, established a positive rapport between the villagers and Israel.
Still, the IDF has no illusions about the Hezbollah being able to divert its forces from the Syrian campaign to the Israeli border following a truce, which is why last week’s training maneuvers also included a refresher course on fighting in dense, urban populations, including vertical fighting inside high rise buildings, resembling the conditions in the Hezbollah dominated coastal Lebanese cities..
Part of the IDF new thinking about the post-Syrian truce reality focuses on logistics, with the assumption the should a war break out with Lebanon and possibly with Syria, the IDF is likely to penetrate much deeper into enemy territory than it did in the second Lebanon war. Effective distribution of food, ammunition, equipment and fuel, as well as rescue operations, will necessarily have to reach as far into the same territory as the fighting forces, which will require a high level of cooperation among land and air troops.
A Kuwaiti news website on Friday cited a source saying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received a message from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in which Assad vowed to keep the Golan as a demilitarized zone, and the rest of Syria committed to a cease-fire with Israel, if Netanyahu commits to not engaging Israel in an effort to topple Assad.
The source commented that Assad was saying to Netanyahu, in effect: “Help me to control my region and I guarantee calm for Israel in the Golan Heights.”
Commenting on rumors that former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk is slated to be President Hillary Clinton’s special envoy on the peace process between Israel and its neighbors, the source told the news website that Israel is very concerned over a report that was prepared by Indyk for President Bill Clinton about the Golan Heights. Israel is anxious to point US attention to the fact that the situation on south Syria and south Lebanon has been altered by the five-year civil war, and American notions about returning the Golan to Syria are absurd under these circumstances. Assad apparently wishes to take advantage of an opportunity to strike a deal with the Israelis to secure their neutrality in the war.
Meanwhile, Politico.eu reported Saturday that Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said his country is offering Russia access to the Gulf Cooperation Council Market and regional investment funds in return for pulling its support for the Assad regime.
“We are ready to give Russia a stake in the Middle East that will make Russia a force stronger than the Soviet Union, greater than China’s,” the Saudi minister said, adding, “It would be reasonable for Russia to say, that’s where our relations will advance our interests, not with Assad. We don’t disagree on the end game in Syria but on how to get there. Assad’s days are numbered,” he urged, “so make a deal while you can.”
The leader of Syrian rebel organization Jabhat a-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, on Thursday announced the severing of his group’s ties to Al Qaeda. In his first video broadcast, which was later carried by Al Jazeera, Al-Julani said that his organization will now be named Fatah al-Sham, and will have no outside affiliations. He explained that the move was a measure to enhance unity in the ranks, and thanked Al Qaeda for supporting his move.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced founder and original CEO Osama bin Laden, gave his blessings to the move in an audio cassette. Jabhat a-Nusra, the largest rebel army in Syria, operated from its inception as an offshoot of Al Qaeda.
Al-Julani told the Al Jazeera audience that the move was “a response to the wishes of the people of al-Sham (Syria), to remove a possible excuse the Russians and the Americans might use in bombing and expelling the Muslims of Syria under the guise of fighting Jabhat a-Nusra, over its loyalty to Al Qaeda.
Abu Mohammad al-Julani is the nom de guerre of this mysterious man, whose real name is only known to the Al Qaeda leadership. The name is a reference to the Golan Heights, which Israel liberated from Syria in the 1967 war. Back in 2013, Syrian state television reported that al-Julani had been killed near Latakia, but a year later he released an audio statement in which he promised to fight the “United States and its allies” and urged his men not to accept help from the West in their battle against ISIS — so the Syrian state-run news agency SANA withdrew its report of his demise.
He is commonly known as “al-Sheikh al-Fateh” — the Conqueror Sheikh. In October 2015, al-Julani called for indiscriminate attacks on Alawite villages in Syria (the Alawite is an offshoot Islamic sect, to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs), saying, “There is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite towns and villages in Latakia.”
“He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what? He did well. He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over,” Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina Tuesday. In comparison, Trump said, “today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like Harvard. Okay? So sad.”
That assertion may be challenged by Israelis, as Clinton’s senior campaign adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN, “In reality, Hussein’s regime was a sponsor of terrorism — one that paid families of suicide bombers who attacked Israelis, among other crimes.”
Then Sullivan added that “Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as commander-in-chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.”
Not necessarily so. In retrospect, after the violent collapse of the “Arab Spring” everywhere but in Tunisia, Trump’s assessment of what the Arab world requires to keep it stable is not necessarily democracy. Back in October, 2015, Trump said he believed Iraq and Libya would be more useful in forging a stable Middle East if ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi had not been terminated by a succession of American presidents.
“If you look at Iraq from years ago,” Trump said in October, “I’m not saying [Hussein] was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now. Right now, Iraq is a training ground for terrorists. Right now Libya, nobody even knows Libya, frankly there is no Iraq and there is no Libya. It’s all broken up. They have no control. Nobody knows what’s going on.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rushed to the defense of both Bushes and Obama, telling Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that Saddam Hussein “was one of the 20th century’s most evil people. He was up there. He committed mass genocide against his own people using chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.”
Yes, but, in the immortal words of FDR, when someone asked him about the wisdom of supporting Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He may be an SOB but he’s our SOB.” Back in 1979, when Iran’s Shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which drove the US out of Iran (and kept hundreds of American hostages), only Saddam Hussein was able to limit the spread of Iranian influence in the region. The Iran–Iraq War lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, exacting millions of victims in the service of Western interests in the region. No Arab democracy (an oxymoron if ever there was one) could have stopped Iran. The only force able to facilitate Iran’s yearning for regional hegemony were presidents Bush I and Bush II, followed by Obama.
On July 25, 1990, US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie held an emergency meeting with Saddam, who attacked American policy with regards to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Saddam complained bitterly: “So what can it mean when America says it will now protect its friends? It can only mean prejudice against Iraq. This stance plus maneuvers and statements which have been made has encouraged the UAE and Kuwait to disregard Iraqi rights.”
Saddam was referring to his neighboring oil sheiks “drilling sideways” into Iraqi deposits. Saddam viewed the entire concept of there even being a country named Kuwait to have been a conspiracy of British Petroleum and Her Majesty’s government to steal oil-rich Iraqi land. Saddam felt that in light of his service to the US, he should receive its support in his conflict with the Kuwaitis.
Ambassador Glaspie replied that the US would rather see the conflict resolved through peaceful means, but in the end, “…we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”
And so, after his ultimatum to the Sabah ruling family of Kuwait had failed, Saddam invaded Kuwait, believing the US was going to take a neutral position on his move. But his move frightened the Saudis, whose Ambassador under both Bush administrations had his own desk in the Oval office, and they pressured Bush I to start what is now a 26-year program of completely destabilizing the Middle East, complete with attacks on US soil, lingering civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, two worldwide Islamic terrorist armies, one of them a Caliphate wannabe blowing up half of Europe. All of which could have been avoided had the Bush I and certainly Bush II administrations been more accommodating to the monstrous dictator who used to be our monstrous dictator.
The Democratic and Republican establishments insist on presenting Trump as an admirer of dictators, which he may be — but that was not the case Trump has been making for boosting rather than unseating dictators, such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Trump has a much clearer view regarding US foreign interest than do the establishment politicians on either side of the aisle, and it ain’t about spreading the spirit od democracy and goodwill to all mankind.