Monday, February 24, 2014

Evening Update: Wars And Rumors Of War

Israel bombarded a Hezbollah stronghold on the Lebanon-Syria border twice on Monday night, killing several Hezbollah operatives, Lebanese and other Arab media reported.
Lebanon’s Daily Star reported overnight Monday that the strikes targeted a weapons shipment meant for Hezbollah. Citing unconfirmed reports, Al Arabiya said the strikes were on a moving convoy carrying ballistic missiles from Syria to Lebanon, to be put to use by the Shi’ite organization.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the target was a Hezbollah “missile base.”
“Two Israeli raids hit a Hezbollah target on the border of Lebanon and Syria,” a Lebanese security source told AFP earlier Monday.

Residents of Nabi Sheet, on the Lebanese side of the border, told AFP they saw flare bombs light up the sky ahead of the raids, which shook their houses.
However, Jaafar al-Musawi, head of Nabi Sheet Municipality, told Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV there was no airstrike on the town. “We heard warplanes followed by explosions, it could be along the border with Syria,” he said.
Residents in neighboring areas said they heard planes flying low before the raids.
Late Monday, Lebanese media reported two Israeli air raids on targets in the Bekaa Valley, a known Hezbollah stronghold bordering Syria.
A correspondent for the Lebanese state news agency in Baalbek reported intensive Israeli flights “at very low altitude” over the mountains.
Nabi Sheet itself is a bastion of Hezbollah, which is helping the Syrian regime battle insurgents. The Shi’ite group has a suspected weapons store and training camp there.

The hits were reportedly near the Lebanese towns of Janta and Yahfoufa, and were carried out by multiple planes on multiple targets. 

According to the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star, IAF jets flew two bombing sorties against a Hezbollah post in the Nabi Sheet area on the border between Lebanon and Syria.

A Lebanese security source is quoted by The Daily Star as saying that Janta is known to be a hotbed of Hezbollah recruitment and training. It is also considered a key stop on the route through which arms are smuggled between Lebanon and Syria.

Eyewitnesses told the Lebanese press that the IAF jets were seen flying out to sea and back toward Israel.

Thus far, the Israeli army has refused to comment on the reports.

Russian forces which formed a steel ring around the Olympic Winter Games that ended in Sochi Sunday were flown and shipped Monday, Feb. 24 to Russian bases at the Ukrainian Crimean port of Sevastopol, as Moscow refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new authorities in Kiev.
Giant Russian Air Force transports and rapid deployment forces were placed on alert at the Rostov on-Don base east of the predominantly Russian-speaking southeastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk.

Russian military movements were also sighted near Belgorod, a Russian town 40 kilometers from the Ukraine border and north of its second largest town of Kharkov. There, too, most of the inhabitants are Russian speaking with a strong affinity to Moscow – in contrast to their European-oriented compatriots in the capital, Kiev.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday: “Today I see no legitimate Ukrainian partners for a dialogue. If people crossing Kyiv in black masks and Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government," he said, calling it “the result of a mutiny.”
The prime minister spoke of a “real threat to our interests, and to our citizens’ lives and health.”
With these comments, the Russian leader laid down a pretext for Russian military intervention in Ukraine. It was Moscow’s response to the warning issued by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice Sunday, Feb. 23, that “it would be a grave mistake for Russia to send military force.”

An area emerging as a potential flashpoint in the Ukraine crisis is the Crimean peninsula in the south.

This territory and its port of Sevastopol was part of Russian imperial might from the 18th century until in 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev, an ethnic Ukrainian, transferred it to Ukrainian control – a step bitterly resented by Russians ever since.

When Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, it took Crimea with it. Moscow has since leased the strategically critical naval base as a deep-water port for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, with easy access to the Mediterranean. The lease is paid up to 2042. Ethnic Russians make up almost 60 per cent of the population, with Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars accounting for the rest. If Ukrainian turmoil continues and it faces a real threat of breaking up, Vladimir Putin may seize the opportunity to recover the peninsula. The Russian military force in Sebastopol was already beefed up Monday.

Those tracking the developments in the Ukraine, and specifically the Russian response to this weekend's coup, will be interested to note that according to the Russian website, the largelanding ship Nikolai Filchenkov, previously known for itsparticipation in the Syrian naval arms build up, is expected to arrive in the Crimean port of Sevastopol carrying 200 armed soldiers, sent from the nearby Black Sea town of Temryuk. 

This appears to not be an isolated move as the naval build up seems to be escalating. In a concurrent release, Izvestia Kievreported that out of Kubinka, four ships carrying special forces, are being relocated to Anapa. From there, in four hours, they will depart fo Sevastopol at a speed of 10-15 knots, citing "Izvestia in Ukraine" as a source.  According to the source, the redeployment is "qualitative, not quantitative" and that the Ukraine is following these developments.
It remains to be seen if the Ukraine, or its brand new NATO BFFs, will respond in kind.

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