Breaking: Israel Attacks Iran In Syria As It Prepares For War

Netanyahu has decided to wag the dog!

From Haaretz:

Explosions were reported south of Damascus on Tuesday, shortly after the Israeli army announced it believes Iran is planning to carry out an imminent strike from Syria. Reports in Syria said Israeli jets entered the country’s airspace.

The reports come on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Also Tuesday, the Israeli ordered communities in the northern Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, to open shelters to the public after identifying “unusual movements” of Iranian forces in Syria, the military said in a statement.

The Israeli army believes Iran is making efforts to carry out an imminent retaliation against Israel. Intelligence officers and other specialized forces have been called up, though reserve combat units have not been drafted.

CNN reported that Pentagon officials are concerned about signs that Iran might be preparing a military strike against Israel from Syria.

Israeli military bases were preparing for a possible Iranian attack.

Israel believes Iran is determined to retaliate for the April 9 airstrike on Syria’s T4 airbase, which killed seven Iranian military advisers and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran blames Israel for this attack.

The military said any Iranian strike against Israel will be met with a severe response, even as the working assumption is that Iran is has limited capabilities to engage in conflict with Israel.

The State Department has issued a travel alert for US personnel.

From the reporting, Israel appears to be mobilizing for war.

Now that the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu have decided to destabilize the limited stability left within the entire region in the name of actually stabilizing it, this is going to move fast. More specifically, the Israelis are going to try to move fast and break things in the hope that they can draw the Iranians into a direct response or via its proxy Hezbullah. My professional impression of Netanyahu is that he is not a good strategist, though he is a decent tactician. However, he has little self control. The Iranians have, perhaps, the best strategist from within the region commanding their forces in Syria.

Depending on what the responses are to the Israeli’s opening move, this could either pass quickly or quickly spiral out of hand. I have no way to handicap it with the information we have, though my professional estimation is that the Iranians have enough restraint to let cooler heads prevail. Expect the reporting on this to move and change rapidly.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.


Bibi Wags The Dog

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eiskenot is the Chief of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF). Back in March he gave an interview to Haaretz. I want to highlight a couple of his statements (emphasis mine).

Compared with the saber-rattling rhetoric emanating from both Jerusalem and Washington on the Iranian nuclear deal, Eisenkot is cautious, noting that no violations of the agreement by the Iranians “can be seen at present, but we assume that Iran can operate secretly. Therefore, keeping watch on developments there is the No. 1 mission for both the IDF and intelligence agencies. We are investing vast resources in obtaining the best intelligence about Iran and its operational ability,” he says. “If its intentions change, we will know. Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.”

One issue not addressed by the agreement is the Iranian missile project, he says, which is alarming Europe and the Gulf nations as well. “I observe more international will to handle the Iranian missile threat than to reopen the nuclear agreement,” says the chief of staff.

“Regarding Iran, the window of strategic opportunity is still open in our favor. If the Americans decide to withdraw from the agreement on May 12, we will have to rethink our strategic risk management.”

Eisenkot, as Israel’s Chief of Staff, has made it clear that the JCPOA is working. This is in line with other Israeli military and intelligence leaders over the past couple of years. Here’s Efrain Halevey, former head of Mossad, in a 2015 interview with NPR:

INSKEEP: Halevy does agree with Netanyahu that Iran should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons of its own. But he believes that international diplomacy is the best option and that Iran negotiated on issues it said it never would.

HALEVY: I think the United States scored a great success in creating this international coalition to face down the nuclear threat which threatens the world at large. The president put together a coalition of the five-plus-one, of all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. And despite a variety of other issues which the world is seized with, including grave differences between the United States and Russia in the last few years, the president has kept the coalition on the issue, the nuclear threat, together.

INSKEEP: What do you think about when you hear Israeli government officials question details of this agreement? For example, there would not be immediate inspections. There would be a demand for inspection that would have to be dealt with within 24 days or so. The argument is made that there may be opportunities for Iran still to hide elements of their program.

HALEVY: Look, this is not a perfect agreement. The agreement has weaknesses, no doubt. But when you negotiate, you win some; you lose some. And the question is not whether on one specific issue the Iranians have not come up with the ultimate in terms of what is desirous for the five-plus-one and for Israel. But they have come up with a host of other methods in which they have, if you like, caved in almost. And on the issue of inspections which you raised, inspections are going to be handled by the U.N. agency in Vienna. They’re going to extend the scope of their inspections, which will necessitate recruiting manpower in the numbers the like of which are without precedent. And how exactly these inspections are going to be carried out on military matters, on what is called the PMD, the previous military dimension – in other words, what it is Iran has done up to now – this has been a sticking point for years. And the Iranians have now worked out a model in which they would address this problem. And I think one has to reserve judgment on that and see how this pans out.

Eiskenot’s and Halevey’s views are vastly different from what the current head of Mossad thinks, which is far more in line with what Prime Minister Netanyahu presented this morning.

“As head of the Mossad, I am 100 percent certain that Iran has never abandoned its military nuclear vision for a single instant. This deal enables Iran to achieve that vision,” Cohen said. “That is why I believe the deal must be completely changed or scrapped. The failure to do so would be a grave threat to Israel’s security.”

Last evening in Israel/this morning in the US, Bibi put on a show. It was intended for an audience of one: the President. From Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday evening at a distinct disadvantage. In his desire to discredit the Iran nuclear deal – from which President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw on May 12 – he had to clear a bar set by Israel’s security establishment over the last three years: That despite all he has said, the deal is not such a bad thing and actually serves to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions for the time being.

Instead of dealing with the discrepancy between his stated views on the Iran deal and what most of the chiefs of the security establishment have been saying (in private and occasionally in public), Netanyahu put on a great show. This included the kind of props and visual aids that have become the hallmarks of his rhetoric since his days as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations three decades ago.

He missed only one thing: Crucial dates that could prove Iran has actually done anything in contravention of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since it was signed in 2015.

What he had wasn’t a smoking gun but a photograph of a smoking gun taken years ago.

That flaw was so glaring as to render an incredible intelligence coup – obtaining Iran’s nuclear archive – almost irrelevant and obsolete to Netanyahu’s current purpose.

But he still went ahead with his overblown and overhyped press conference because he knows that the man about to make the decision on the Iran deal will never in a million years be capable of explaining it.

The prime minister is now both Trump’s coach and cheerleader, trying to prepare him with handy quotes and easy-to-remember talking points – and already setting the mood music to try and cover up for the president’s inevitable fumbles.

What Bibi did was reminiscent of the counterterrorism lessons he provided over 30 years ago when living in the US. He also offered them in Israel. In these lectures he’d deliver slanted classes on the threats of terrorism for US officials in the attempt to move US policy and strategy into line with his preferred views. When he was out of government and back in Israel in the late 80s, he offered these courses for US tourists there. I have a cassette tape of one of these classes in a box somewhere. I brought it home from Israel in 1987!

What remains to be seen is just how effective Bibi’s audio-visual extravaganza was. While the President is telegraphing that he’ll pull out of the JCPOA on two weeks, there is still pushback within the administration. Specifically from Secretary of Defense Mattis.

Without explicitly giving his opinion about whether the United States should stick with the agreement, Mattis said that after reading the full text of the deal three times, he was struck by provisions that allow for international verification of Iran’s compliance. He said that since becoming defense secretary in January 2017, he also has read what he called a classified protocol in the agreement.

“I will say it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” he said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in” with representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to check on compliance.

“Whether that is sufficient I think is a valid question,” he said after Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the nuclear deal was not supported by the Congress. The committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, told Mattis the Iran deal is “working as intended” and that withdrawing would ease Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.

Mattis said Iran’s history of hiding a nuclear weapons program makes it “suspect,” and he noted his concern about other Iranian activities, including its role in supporting Syria’s president, Bashar Assad , and supplying its proxy forces in Yemen.

The Pentagon chief said the administration was still considering whether the nuclear deal can be improved enough to persuade Trump it is worth preserving. “It’s going on today as we speak,” he said of the consultations. Trump has said he will decide by May 12.

Mattis reiterated his view that the deal is “imperfect” and said “there are obviously aspects of the agreement that can be improved upon.”

The question being discussed within the administration, and between the U.S. and its European allies, he said, is “whether we can repair it enough to stay in it or if the president is going to decide to withdraw from it.” He said Trump has not yet made a decision.

Secretary Mattis’s assessment is a thin reed to clutch as we move towards May 12th, when the next statement of compliance and waiver of sanctions needs to be issued. Withdrawing from the agreement will make the US, its allies, and its partners less safe and the Middle East much less stable. What remains to be seen is whether the toxically co-dependent and enabling relationship between the US and Israel does more harm than good this time. This time, however, the path of enabling is reversed with Bibi trying to enable the President, rather than the US enabling Israel by refusing to remind it who is the patron and who is the client and telling it no.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

The Devolution Of A Superpower & The End Of The American Century Part II: Levantine Edition

Earlier today MSNBC’s Ali Velshi interviewed Ronen Bergman, the Senior National Security Correspondent for Yedioth Ahronot. Bergman book on Israel’s assassination program has just been published, but the interview never actually got to the book. Rather, it was all about the Israeli Vs Syrian and Iranian fighting over the weekend. The discussion was illuminating, alarming, and discouraging (click across to see the video as it won’t embed).

Bergman is reporting that Israel was preparing a full scale operation against the Syrian military, the Iranian Quds Force, and Hezbullah on Saturday in response to the drone incursion and the downing of the IAF F-16I. The operation was called off when Prime Minister Netanyahu got an angry phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin telling him to stand down as this operation would put Russian military assets and personnel in Syria at risk. Bergman’s conclusion is that the US has now ceded its role in the Middle East to Russia. And that Putin may not have the region’s well being, let alone stability in mind, as he pursues his own agenda. Bergman also reported that when the Israelis went to the US and asked for them to get involved the American responses were a combination of less than reassuring to non responsive. As a result the Israelis, specifically Netanyahu, have concluded that the US is now disinterested and not willing to be engaged at the national and regional strategic level. Therefore the Israelis will make their own determinations about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it without concern for what the US may or may not want.

Bergman’s reporting should be shocking. And not just to national security and foreign policy hawks. There is a legitimate discussion to be had about the US’s role in the world, or in specific regions of it, and how better to balance other states involvement in the 21st Century global system. Essentially a long overdue discussion about what the global system should be, how it should be organized, who should guarantee a basic level of security within it, and who should be the rule maker or rule makers, as the post World War II and post Cold War international orders break down and need to be replaced. These discussions require intelligence, forethought and foresight, nuance, reason, the ability to negotiate in good faith and communicate across cultures to balance competing interests. From long established powers like the US to emerging powers like China to smaller, but regionally significant powers.

What Bergman describes as happening in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of the world, is not this. Rather it is simply an abandonment, a discarding with little to no thought, let alone apparent planning, for what comes next. This is not a recipe for success. It is a recipe for failure. It is a recipe for upheaval, discord, and ultimately more war, more death, and more destruction. It is both the devolution and the dissolution of a superpower as that superpower, the US, abrogates and abandons the responsibilities it has assumed over the past 70 years and the end of the American Century. This is not the result of being eclipsed by the next, rising hegemon. It is not the result of natural disaster or economic collapse. It is solely the result of a President that has no clear strategy or policy beyond “I will be treated fairly or else”. This is the true Trump Doctrine: I will be treated fairly or else. And only I, President Trump, can ensure that America will be treated fairly or else. Unfortunately for the US, for its allies, its partners, for the people that depend on it, Russia, China, Iran, the DPRK, and a whole host of other state and non-state actors don’t really care if the President or the US is treated fairly. And increasingly they don’t seem to be worrying too much about the or else.

Open thread.

A Battle of Eight Armies: Syria Update

Events have begun to spin out of control in Syria. Last week the Israelis lost an IAF F-16I Fighting Falcon. Though both the pilots were able to safely eject and survived. They came down in Israeli controlled territoryThe Israelis, of course, responded to the downing of their F-16 with a large scale reprisal. This included shooting down an Iranian drone – based on the US drone the Iranians downed in 2011. So we can now confirm that actually happened.

While this Israeli Vs Iranian in support of Syria and backed by Russia engagement was happening, the Syrian/Iranian/Russian coalition stepped up their attacks on Idlib and Ghouta.

The Turks lost a rotary wing (helicopter) craft last week as well. It was shot down by the US allied Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) near Afrin. Two Turkish Soldiers were killed.

Syrian Arab Armed Forces also conducted an attack against the US allied Kurds, which prompted a response from the US led coalition – Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF OIR):

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are currently stationed in Manbij in a train, advise, and assist mission to the YPG.

It has been reported that anywhere between 100 (the official-ish number) and 600 Russian contractors fighting in Syria were killed in the US Coalition strikes last week.

While LTG Funk, Commander 1st Corps US Army and Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve talked about deconfliction and deescalation in the CNN clip above, he has a battlespace that is becoming more and more complex by the day. There are a lot of moving pieces in his operating environment (OE): Kurdish militia forces being supported by US SOF, the Syrian Arab Army and Air Force, Russian contractors, Iran’s Qud’s Force, Hezbullah’s military wing in support of Syria and Iran, the Turkish military, and Israel. And don’t forget ISIS. They may have lost almost all of the territory they seized to form their caliphate, but they are by no means finished. That is a lot of deconfliction and deescalation!

Moreover, while all of this is going on, and the US is being sucked deeper into the mess that is the Syrian Civil War, Russia continues to expand its interests in the region. In November it struck a deal with Egypt for basing Russian Air Force planes. Just last week the Russians and the Sudanese (that’s the northern, Republic of Sudan of the Sudans) came to an agreement for Russian military support to train and modernize the Sudanese Army.

Finally, it is unclear what the official US response will be. While the US led coalition is sticking with its Kurdish allies in Syria, it is unclear what decision will be made in DC by the National Command Authority. The President’s predilection for Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept the new, Congressionally mandated sanctions from being imposedAnd it appears that the decision to get rid of the Interagency produced, properly put together list of Russians to be named and shamed was made by a senior administration official, which lead to the rush job copy and paste from Forbes that was released.

A “name-and-shame” list of Russian oligarchs who made their money corruptly from their ties with Vladimir Putin was compiled by the US government agencies but then cancelled last week by a senior administration official, according to a Russia expert who was consulted on the list.

It was replaced by an all-inclusive list of rich Russians apparently copied straight from the Forbes magazine’s ranking of wealthy Russians, together with the names of some top Kremlin officials.

While the President has been very solicitous of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan even as Erdogan drags Turkey farther and farther into autocracy, he also warned the Turks against escalating against the US led coalition in Syria. The Turks have disputed the US account of this conversation.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation.

“He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call.

“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

 “The two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the source said.
Right now there are a lot of moving pieces in Syria. All of them are rubbing against each other in a confined (battle) space. And the alliances don’t really line up with how the President seems to see the world. He’s favorably inclined to Putin and Erdogan. Yet the former is allied with the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbullah and the latter’s actions have the potential to pit NATO allies against each other. Since there is no clearly delineated US policy, or rather policy change, to what the US is trying to achieve in the Syrian part of the Levantine theater from the past administration to the current one, it is unclear what the President really wants to do. How deep he wants the US and the US led coalition involved in the Syrian Civil War. And just what end state he envisions as a result of the US’s actions in this highly complex theater of operations.

Stay frosty!

Open thread!

Ronald Reagan Was “Anti-Israel” And Obama Isn’t (But Should Be)

It is a common meme among the American Right that Obama is anti-Israel. This despite Obama giving huge military aid to the Israelis, just like every recent American president, defending them at the UN, and doing little to nothing to stop anything the Israelis have done over the past few  years.

A lot of these memes seem to be based on Obama sometimes saying that Israel should maybe stop colonizing the West Bank, and maybe move towards making a just peace (nothing out of the ordinary for American presidents, but this one is black and has a foreign-sounding name, so that probably makes the Adelson-types angry).

We have, however, had presidents who did restrict the flow of aid and weapons to Israel when its behavior spun out of control. Here’s Ronald Reagan in 1982, following massacres in Lebanon:



Reagan went even further in private conversations with the Israeli leadership, from Reagan’s diaries:



Reagan’s vice president, who later became president, was Bush Sr. Bush Sr. got into a pitched battle with Congress to actually delay aid to Israel to force them to come to peace negotiations. Here’s the press conference where he announced the delay, and bragged about taking on “1,000” Israel lobbyists.

Obama, on the other hand, waited for weeks of the Israeli offensive before condemning a single action (the shelling of a packed school being used as a shelter this morning). While he did this, the U.S. government has simultaneously been shipping weapons to the Israelis, in real-time.

In other words, Obama is much more pro-Israel than Republican Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr (and some would argue W as well). Yet he gets pilloried as the opposite by the Israeli and American right, which is probably at least partly driven by racism. The biggest losers? Palestinians. But Israel, ultimately, loses a well. A good friend is capable of taking away the keys when you’re drunk.

Atlanta Pro-Israel Protesters Bring Assault Rifles, Handguns, Call Islam Religion Of Death

There’s been a lot of attention placed on antisemitism at Palestinian solidarity rallies, particularly in Europe (the ADL has tried to make the same case for protests in the United States, but their evidence amounts mostly to a handful of signs comparing Israel to Nazis).

What’s been given less attention is the blatant extremism of the pro-Israel movement in the U.S.

Yesterday a friend and I attended a solidarity rally with Gaza outside the CNN Center in Atlanta. The organizers of the event worked with the American Friends Service Committee, a pacifist quaker organization, and made clear in their organizing instructions that we were not there to agitate against any religion or ethnic group and that it would not tolerate hate.

The rally was pretty refreshing and free of the hyperbole you see at a lot of Palestinian solidarity events. I only saw one sign directly comparing Israel to the Nazis, and a kid who looked like he was twelve and made it himself was holding it, so he’s got a little time to learn the unhelpfulness of that comparison.

Here are some pictures courtesy of my friend @brassiest.



The crowd was multi-ethnic, including black, white, and brown people, Muslims, Jews, and atheists. I would say the crowd was majority Muslim, but it still had  the diversity you don’t typically see at pro-Israel events.

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for the pro-Israel protesters at the event (who appeared to be the same crowd that held a larger rally earlier this week that, sadly, Jason Carter attended). Here’s some of the nice fellows on that side:


These individuals were carrying rifles and hand guns that appeared to be semi-automatic (I’m not an expert on weapons, so I can’t really say what they were).

When I first encountered them I sort of assumed they just showed up — Islamophobic nuts who wanted to show off their Wal-Mart weapons to a largely Muslim crowd.

Then I went on the Facebook page of the event and it appears that one of the organizers, Ronen Asher, who writes on his  profile page that he’s originally from Tel Aviv, invited them:




Then there was rhetoric like this from protestors, who explained to the press: “This is not about Israel vs. Gaza, this is about a religion that values life versus a religion that values death.” Keep in mind that this is what one of them was willing to say directly to a reporter:


This is who politicians, Democrats and Republicans, are siding with and pandering to.

As far as I know, nobody from AFSC called the Atlanta PD to make sure they could protect us from these guys.

UPDATE: Had to add this pic, the hat is too good



Jeffrey Goldberg Concern Trolls About Dead Muslims In Not-Gaza

Concern trolling is a fine art in politics, especially on the Internets.

Case in point: Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic and Bloomberg View staffer who writes almost exclusively about Israel and perceived threats to Israel (he’s a former Israeli prison guard who admitted to beating prisoners, FYI).

Now, he’s complaining people are writing too much about Israel:


He wrote a whole article about how Syria is being ignored and people are “obsessed” with Gaza.

Goldberg pointing to Other Dead Muslims to distract from Israeli behavior isn’t new. Here he is in 2012:


If there were enough Muslims in the press to be offended by this tactic, they would probably call him out on it. It’s pretty obvious why the U.S. should be focused on Gaza and in particular the American press — because our political system is arming Israel and defending it, it isn’t arming or defending Assad or Boko Haram. It’s also been going on for fifty years of statelessness for the Palestinians.

By the way, Goldberg had a long interview with Obama in 2012, asking him about  Israels nemesis Iran but not Pakistan once.


Just had to add this line in the aforementioned Goldberg column:

Judging by the number and scale of anti-Assad protests (or anti-ISIS protests) in the Muslim world, she is obviously on to something. The Muslim world does seem more interested in Arabs who are killed by Jews than in Arabs killed by Arabs, and I’m guessing that this influences the scope and scale of the Gaza coverage as well. 

I have been flooded with invitations to Syrian protests, fundraisers, and charity work since the revolution began in 2011. Thousands of Muslims care so much about getting rid of Assad that they’ve volunteered as foreign fighters to risk their lives to do it. Goldberg can ignore this, I guess, because he’s the ex-IDF prison guard who is The Expert On Muslims and the media seems fine to keep it that way.