Friday, May 3, 2013

Tensions Rising In The Middle East

Sources: U.S. Believes Israel Has Conducted An Airstrike Into Syria

The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, two U.S. officials tell CNN. 

U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.

The Lebanese army website listed 16 flights by Israeli warplanes penetrating Lebanon's airspace from Thursday evening through Friday afternoon local time. 

The Israeli military had no comment. But a source in the Israeli defense establishment told CNN's Sara Sidner, "We will do whatever is necessary to stop the transfer of weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations. We have done it in the past and we will do it if necessary in the future."

Israeli warplanes made overflights in Lebanon on Thursday and Friday, various Lebanese media outlets, among them the Hezbollah-linked news website al-Manar, reported.
Al-Manar said eight Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace, while The Daily Star quoted the Lebanese military as saying that a succession of Israeli warplanes flew over the country, culminating in a pair of planes which circled South Lebanon for nearly three hours — raising the total of Israeli overflights in Lebanon to eight in a 14-hour period.

On Thursday, “two Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace entering above the sea west of Sidon and flying over all Lebanese areas as they conducted aerial maneuvers,” the Daily Star quoted a statement from the Lebanese Army as saying.

The army statement went on to list a series of subsequent overflights which took place through the night. According to the statement, the Israeli planes conducted aerial maneuvers in Lebanese airspace, returning to Israel only to be replaced by another sortie of warplanes, which conducted similar maneuvers near Beirut for three hours.
According to the statement, more Israeli warplanes entered Lebanon at 6 am, coming from the sea near Beirut and flying all over Lebanon. The planes returned from southern Lebanon to Israel at 8:50 am, the statement said.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Friday condemned Israel’s alleged actions and called on the international community to intervene.
“We call on the international community to pressure Israel to stop its attacks and violations and to commit to abiding by Resolution 1701,” he said.
According to Ynet News, other Lebanese news sources reported that Israeli aircraft were seen flying in unusually high numbers over southern Lebanon during the last two days, and were even seen to be simulating attacks.

Backed by Iran and Hezbollah, the Syrian regime is clawing back areas lost to the rebels; it is thus likely that the Assad regime will be around for some time to come; US, West still prefer to stay directly out of conflict.

The imminent demise of the regime of Bashar Assad has been announced on numerous occasions over the last two years of civil war in Syria. But the regime has held on. Despite some advances by rebels in the south of the country in the early months of 2013, Assad shows no signs of cracking.
Indeed, in the last few weeks, the momentum of the fighting has shifted somewhat. Regime forces have clawed back areas of recent rebel advance. The government side, evidently under Iranian tutelage, has showed an impressive and unexpected ability to adapt itself to the changing demands of the war.

Damascus remains a fearsome prospect for any rebel force wishing to enter it. The regime has assembled a huge array of artillery and missile systems on Mount Qassioun, a strategically vital area of high ground over the city.
The regime has also entrenched its most loyal and able fighters, including the Republican Guards, the 4th Armored Division, elements of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Alawite paramilitaries trained by Iran in the city. Regime forces last week recaptured Otaiba, a town east of Damascus, which formed a crucial link for rebels seeking to bring weaponry and ammunition from the Jordanian border to the eastern suburbs of the capital.

Russia, Iran, its proxy Hezbollah and the Maliki government in Iraq are all playing a central role. The latest indications are that the US and the West still prefer to stay directly out of it, despite the obvious crossing of notional “red lines” regarding the use of chemical weapons.
It is thus likely that the Assad regime will be around for some time to come.
This regime may be a study in vileness from a moral point of view, but Assad and his allies over the last two years have shown what can be achieved when a clear strategic goal is wedded to a willingness to use the most ruthless and murderous of means. Only a comparable level of cohesion and commitment from the rebellion and its backers is likely to prove sufficient to finally terminate Assad’s rule.
This shows no signs of emerging.
Assad, then, isn’t winning – despite the new bullishness of his supporters. But right now, he isn’t losing either.

The Pentagon has redesigned its biggest "bunker buster" bomb with more advanced features intended to enable it to destroy Iran's most heavily fortified and defended nuclear site, theWall Street Journal reported on Friday.
U.S. officials see development of the weapon as critical to convincing Israel that the U.S. has the ability to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb if diplomacy fails, and also that Israel'smilitary can't do that on its own, the report said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several times in recent weeks, American officials, seeking to demonstrate U.S. capabilities, showed Israeli military and civilian leaders a secret Air Force video of an earlier version of the bomb hitting its target in high-altitude testing, and explained what had been done to improve it, according to diplomats who were present.

In the video, the weapon can be seen penetrating the ground within inches of its target, followed by a large underground detonation, people who have seen the footage told the Wall Street Journal.

The newest version of what is the Pentagon's largest conventional bomb, the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, has adjusted fuses to maximize its burrowing power, upgraded guidance systems to improve its precision and high-tech equipment intended to allow it to evade Iranian air defenses in order to reach and destroy the Fordow nuclear enrichment complex, which is buried under a mountain near the Iranian city of Qom.

The United States said on Friday that both Iran and North Korea are trying to obtain high-tech materials linked to their nuclear programs, in violation of UN sanctions.

According to Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, Iran was also sending weapons and ammunition to Syrian government forces despite a ban.

“Both Iran and North Korea have developed channels that enable them to continue to export and continue to procure the items they need for their weaponsindustry,” Countryman said during a news briefing in Geneva.
He added that Iran and North Korea are under UN sanctions banning sales of nuclear, missile and related high-tech material to them as well as the export of any military material.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, Marine CorpsGen. James N. Mattis said, “Iran remains the single-most significant regional threat to stability and prosperity.”

Mattis, the top U.S. Commander in the Middle East, added that the Iranian government’s “reckless behavior and bellicose rhetoric characterize a leadership that cannot win the affection of its own people or the respect of any responsible nation in the region.”

He said that the current sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are not working, noting that Tehran has a history of denial and deceit and is enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose.
General Mattis said that while it may still be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran to its senses, Iran is using the negotiations to buy time.

Israel's UN Ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned last week against the continued advancement of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Addressing a session of the Security Council, Prosor said that Iran's nuclear arms program is "hurtling forward at the speed of an express train, while the international community's attempts to stop it are advancing at the rate of a local bus."
"As the centrifuges in Iran continue to spin," he added, "the Iranian regime has the international spinning with lies and manipulations."
"Iran is the greatest threat to the region's stability," he stressed.

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