Monday, October 16, 2017

Middle-East Tensions Rising: Syria Fires Missiles At Israeli Air Force Flights, Israeli Air Force Destroys Syrian Anti-Aircraft Battery

Syria fires missiles at Israeli Air Force flights as Russian Defense Minister heads to Israel

Syria’s surface-to-air SA-5 missile attack on Israeli reconnaissance flights over Lebanon on Monday, Oct. 16, was a demonstration that Damascus, like Tehran, is not totally dependent on Moscow.

It was the first time that Syrian SA-5 missiles had been launched against Israeli flights over Lebanon, although Damascus is sure that it would not curtail the air force’s freedom of action in the skies of Lebanon and Syria.

It was staged as Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest associates, was on his way to a visit in Israel. This visit had long been planned, but it gained considerable weight by its occurrence three days after President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for Iran, and on the day that armed hostilities over Kirkuk erupted in northern Iraq, when the Iraqi army and Shiite militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards command attacked the Kurdish Peshmerga.

The timing also added extra significance to the Syrian missile fire on Israeli planes, especially after the recent merger of Syrian and Russian air commands at the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia.
Gen. Shoigu was therefore briefed on the incident in real time without waiting for an Israeli update.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources have strong grounds to assume that Damascus and Tehran were closely coordinated in their actions in the last 24 hours. The Assad regime was sending a message that, notwithstanding massive Russian military assistance, Syria was not totally dependent on Moscow and would not hesitate to act alone if it so decided.

The Israeli Air Force attacked and destroyed a Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus Monday morning after it fired a surface-to-air missile at Israeli jets.

The SA-5 missile battery, which was stationed some 50 kilometers east of the Syrian capital, fired at Israeli jets that were on a routine aerial reconnaissance flight in Lebanese airspace, IDF Spokesman Brig.Gen. Ronen Manelis stated.

“We see the Syrian regime as responsible and see these missiles as a clear Syrian provocation, and it will not be accepted,” Manelis stated, adding that while Israel has no intention to enter into the civil war in Syria, Israel will react to all provocations.

Manelis told journalists that Russia was updated about the incident, in which no Israeli jets were harmed, in real time, and that it will be brought up during the visit of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who is set to land in Israel in the coming hours.

Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, and officials from Israel and Russia meet regularly to discuss the de-confliction mechanism system implemented over Syria to prevent accidental clashes between the two militaries.  

Shoigu will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other senior officials to discuss the Jewish State’s ongoing concerns regarding Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah by Tehran through Damascus.

Syria's general command warned Israel of "harsh consequences to Israel's repeated aggressive attempts."

Manelis told journalists that Russia was updated about the incident, in which no Israeli jets were harmed, in real time, and that it will be brought up during the visit of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who is set to land in Israel in the coming hours.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the two rockets launched from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that landed in the south’s Eshkol Regional Council late on Sunday night.

This is the first time since May that such an incident has occurred.

“While dodging a Jewish aircraft flying over the Wilaya (Sinai Peninsula), the Mujahedin fired 2 Grad rockets at the Jewish Council (Eshkol),” the ISIS affiliate in Sinai wrote in the claim on Amaq, the group’s news site. It also claimed several other deadly attacks against the Egyptian military in the tumultuous province.

Residents reported hearing explosions shortly after the sirens sounded late on Sunday night as the rockets landed in open territory, causing no damage or injuries.

The Egyptian military has been engaged in an extensive military campaign against Islamic State terrorists in Sinai who are centered around Rafah, as well as in el-Arish, Bir Abd and Sheikh Zuweid.

As the war against Islamic State in Syria appears to be drawing to a close, Israeli intelligence officials fear that many ISIS fighters might choose to go to the Sinai Peninsula and join the group’s affiliate there, which – despite its small size – is considered by many to be one of the most effective ISIS branches carrying out numerous deadly attacks on Egyptian security forces.

Israel shares a 240-km. border with the Sinai, and Jerusalem and Cairo share an interest in the fight against the insurgents in the desert peninsula.

The US President Donald Trump’s refusal to certify the Iran deal grabbed public attention hitting mainstream media headlines. But the gaze should shift to another flash point as a major war in the Middle East involving many actors can spark at any moment. With Islamic State almost squeezed out from Iraq, the country is being dragged to the brink of a civil war. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad are at loggerheads since the Sept. 25 vote, which delivered an overwhelming yes for Kurdish independence.

October 16 is a deadline for Kurdish forces to withdraw from disputed positions, especially the city of Kirkuk, the main flashpoint of the dispute. The Iraqi government’s ultimatum declared on October 15 was extended by 24 hours. The ultimatum was rejected by Kurdish commanders. They say the Kurdish forces are ready to fight. According to the Kurdistan Security Council, Iraq plans to attack pretty soon. A photographer with Agence France-Presse reported seeing armored vehicles bearing the Iraqi national flag on the banks of a river on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk.

Kurdish authorities have sent thousands more troops to Kirkuk to confront what they call Iraqi "threats." Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, are locked in an armed standoff with Kurdish Peshmerga militia fighters in the oil-rich Kirkuk province. Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles of Shiite militias had been stationed in the area.

The Kurds control Kirkuk, a city of more than one million people, and three major oil fields in the province, which produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports. The disputed city lies just outside the territory of Kurdistan but Peshmerga forces were stationed there in 2014 after Iraqi security forces retreated in the face of an Islamic State onslaught. The Peshmerga deployment prevented Kirkuk's oilfields from falling into Islamic State hands.

Should fighting break out, it is hard to overstate the dire consequences that would ensue. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “The Kurdish issue has implications beyond the borders of present-day Iraq” and may have “political, geopolitical, demographic and economic consequences."

An armed conflict would involve Turkey and Iran, both of which vigorously oppose Kurdish statehood aspirations. Iran wields considerable influence over Iraq, where the majority of the population is also Shiite Muslim.

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