Monday, March 27, 2017

ISIS Releases Video Threatening Iran, Another First For Israeli Military, Trump's Syrian Strategy, Australia In Danger Of DPRK Nuke Strike?

The Islamic State releases video threatening Iran for tolerating Jews

The Islamic State group threatened Iran for its role in the region’s conflicts, in a rare Farsi-language propaganda video released on Monday.

The 36-minute video, entitled “The Farsi Land: From Yesterday ’till Today,” was issued through IS’s social media channels from Diyala province in neighboring Iraq.

A masked man directs his message to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Oh, Khamenei, you cursed person who controls the so-called Islamic Iranian regime, rest assured that soon we will destroy your house like this,” he says, pointing to ruins behind him.

The video also chastises Iran for its tolerance towards Jews.
“Iran raised its slogans against the US and Israel to deceive the Sunnis, while Iranian Jews live safely in Iran under its protection, and it has provided them with temples and churches as seen in Tehran and Isfahan,” the narrator says.

Several captured soldiers are decapitated in the video, one of whom is wearing a “Ya Hossein” badge, indicating that he was a Shiite fighter.

Shiite-majority Iran has been a key backer of the Syrian and Iraqi governments as they seek to root out IS and other Sunni rebels, sending thousands of fighters and military advisers.

IS and other extremists consider Shiites to be apostates, and the video accuses Iranians of persecuting Sunnis over the centuries and into modern times.

“We will conquer Iran and restore it to the Sunni Muslim nation as it was before,” says another man in the video.

On March 17, a flight of Israeli F-15s screamed low over the eastern Mediterranean into Lebanon and continued to Syria, where they apparently bombed an Iranian weapons shipment destined for Hezb'allah.  Israel has made such strikes many times in the past without ever formally admitting it, but this time was different.  The Israelis not only acknowledged the raid, but made a bit of military history.  The raid's aftermath may present challenges and opportunities for Israel and the United States just as we ramp up our campaign against ISIS.

Unlike previous raids into Syria, this time, Israeli jets penetrated deep into the country, hitting the T-4 airbase near Palmyra.  Usually, Israeli raids focused on airfields around Damascus, but the successful recapture of Palmyra from ISIS evidently prompted the Iranians to switch their weapon supply fights to the more remote base, wagering that the Israelis would not change the rules of the game and expose their aircraft to both Syrian and Russian air defenses.  That bet came a cropper.

Syrian air defenses did try to down the jets, firing at least three powerful long-range SA-5 anti-aircraft missiles at the F-15s.  This also appears to have broken understandings, with Assad acting with greater confidence and aggression toward Israel now that Russian, Iranian, and Hezb'allah forces have secured his regime.  The jets evaded the missiles, but one SA-5 continued to fly toward the Israeli frontier, provoking a ballistic missile alert in the country and prompting its air defenses to launch an Arrow theater anti-missile missile at the errant SA-5, which the Arrow successfully intercepted and destroyed.  While Patriot missiles engaged Iraqi ballistic missiles with mixed success during the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, this appears to mark the first successful operational missile interception by a purpose-designed theater defense missile.   

The chance to operationally use and test the Arrow might well have been too much to resist, even if it gave Israel's enemies some useful intelligence.  It also demonstrated Israeli deterrence, pointedly showing that it is the world's only nation comprehensively and operationally protected against ballistic missile threats.  And it is a great marketing angle for such systems, for countries like India, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan that have similar fears. 

The Trump administration is likely to increase the number of its military force in Syria. According to reports appearing in the Western media, induction of fresh troops will take the number of deployed troops to 1,000. In addition to it, the US is also going to station 2,500 troops in Kuwait, likely to be deployed in Syria if and when needed. 

Recent comments from the US officials suggest that it is contemplating a deployment in Syria that extends far beyond the defeat of IS and includes a long-term presence to ward off Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, from having strong establishment. In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9, Joseph Votel, who leads the US CENTCOM commander, said additional forces may be needed in the future to help with “stability and other aspects of the operations.”

There are multiple “other aspects” involved that necessitate deployment of fresh troops. The US has already demanded that Iran’s own and Iran-backed forces be removed from the Syrian territory in order to achieve a “political solution” of the crisis. While it is interesting to see the US demanding the exit of a force that has duly resisted and defeated IS, the demand stems actually from the fear, which both the US and Israel share, of Iran establishing permanent or long term military presence in Syria and thus use the territory to launch offensive against Israel by opening a new front in the Golan heights. Hence, deployment of US forces to thwart what it perceives to be a part of Iran’s “regional ambitions.”

Deployment of forces in Syria means that the US is certainly not looking at restroing Syria to its pre-war political situation. While the question of removing Assad from power doesn’t seem to be on the cards, what is very much on the cards is a division of Syria into zones and thus render Assad as the president in name only.

The plan, as some reports of the western media have suggested, should be the “creation of several autonomous zones within an otherwise still-centralized state.” These zones, according to this plan, will directly engage with, and be dependent upon, the international community for all types of “aid”, leaving potentially nothing in Assad’s hands and instead forcing him into quitting his role.

The plan also places the onus of responsibility of maintaining peace and conducting terror operations in Syria on the US/NATO forces which, by any means, have no legitimate and justifiable presence in Syria in the first place. Accordingly, Russia and Syrian forces are reduced to playing a second fiddle to the US and Iranian forces are completely removed from the Syrian territory.

The plan, in simple words, is to pave the way for a deep entrenchment of the US forces in Syria. The creation of “zones” in Syria thus makes perfect sense when seen against this background.
It only then that the US can reverse the setbacks it had to suffer in Syria during the Obama administration. It is only then that the US can prevent Russia and Iran from having an overwhelming presence and thus stabilize Syria under President Assad. On the contrary, creation of long-term “zones” in Syria means Iran will always remain vulnerable to its Arab rivals’ plans of defeating and destabilizing the Islamic Republic and establish their own hegemony fully backed by the US and Israel.

An unknown number of U.S. Army troops are heading to northern Iraq to participate in the fight against the Islamic State, sources told Military Times.
The troops are from the 82nd Airborne Division, specifically the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
These troops will play an essential role of advising and assisting existing Iraqi forces on the ground in the battle of Mosul, a northern Iraqi city that has functioned as a key post for ISIS, Military Times reports.
Approximately 1,700 soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team are already deployed between Iraq and Kuwait. It’s not clear if the new deployment orders apply to the remaining 2,500 soldiers at Fort Bragg.
The way officials circumvent troop limits in Iraq and Syria is by declaring new deployments as “temporary” or “non-enduring.”
Right now, authorization exists for 5,262 troops in Iraq, but the actual number is believed to around 6,000.

Best estimates from the Pentagon place the number of ISIS fighters left in Mosul at around 2,000, which is down from the initial figure of 5,000-3,000.
In contrast to ISIS forces, there are about 100,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces involved in the operation to retake Mosul.
The Iraqi military estimates that it’s retaken about 30 percent of western Mosul so far.

Vincent K. Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea, told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Pyongyang has developed a rocket that could put Canberra in danger of a nuclear strike.

North Korean threats to Australia, a US ally, are pretty new, as the isolated nation typically focuses on the US and South Korea, especially as the two nations conduct joint military drills that the North considers to be a dress rehearsal for invasion. 
Bishop spoke to the Australian newspaper about Brooks’ warning saying, “The assessment was that North Korea… was now at a point of advanced technology when it came to ballistic missiles that were capable of carrying a single nuclear warhead, that it was an increasing security risk not only to the Korean peninsula but also to our region, including Australia…It was the first time I had heard it in such stark terms."

Pyongyang’s Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile has purported range of about 2,500 miles, and the Australian reported that the Queensland city of Cairns, which sits about 4,000 miles from Pyongyang, could fall in the strike range if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) can increase the missile’s range to 4,500 miles.

After a trip through points in Asia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that Washington was prepared to take military action against North Korea if the provocation continues.
Tillerson proclaimed that the "policy of strategic patience" employed under former President Barack Obama would no longer be in play, and that 20 years of "diplomatic and other efforts" had failed.

The US preemptive nuclear strike capability has significantly grown. The strategic nuclear forces modernization program has implemented new revolutionary technologies to vastly increase the targeting capability of the US submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) arsenal.

The Bulletin of American Scientists reports that as a result of improvements in the killing power of US SLBMs, they carry more than three times the number of warheads needed to destroy the entire fleet of Russian land-based missiles. Since only part of the W76 force would be needed to eliminate Russia’s silo-based ICBMs, the United States will be left with a substantial number of higher-yield warheads that could be used for other missions.
The increase in the lethality comes from the Mk4A «super-fuze» device that since 2009 has been incorporated into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of a decade-long life-extension program.
The super-fuze capability is now operational on all nuclear warheads deployed on the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. The new fuze has also been installed on British SLBMs.

With the ceremonial signing of the Rome Declaration on Saturday (25 March), the so-called Bratislava process designed to rethink the EU after the shocking Brexit vote last year has come to an end. 
The result is a fragile display of unity, with simmering tensions and deep divisions on policies among the member states.
Last September, the EU-27 held their first soul-searching meeting in Bratislava in an effort to reconnect with citizens and make the bloc more responsive to their needs and concerns. 
Migration, strengthening the EU’s external borders, deeper defence cooperation, and the need to reinforce the European economy after the bruising eurocrisis and subsequent austerity measures emerged as key points of agreement. 
The common objectives were designed to allow the bloc to “rebuild a sense of political community”, European Council president Donald Tusk said at the time.
There was of course a very tangible and pressing political need to show unity after Brexit - that is not to be underestimated. The message was that however unprecedented it was for a member state to leave the union, it would not shake the bloc. 
Therefore, the sheer show of unity is a result not to be downplayed politically.
But there seems to be little more, for now, that leaders could wholeheartedly agree on.

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