US, Russia, and Israel Causing Havoc in Syria, Risking a Wider War
February 12, 2018 AntiWar.com & The Guardian & Haaretz & The Express
Israeli officials have been carrying out large-scale attacks against military sites in Syria claiming they are "Iranian" targets. Turkey charges one of its military helicopters has been shot down in Syria by US-backed Kurdish forces. Russia has bombarded Syria's Idlib province with more than 100 air attacks in just a few hours after one of its fighter jets was shot down by rebels.
Israeli Officials Try to Spin Attacks as Targeting Iran Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 10, 2018) -- Israeli officials have been carrying out large-scale attacks against several military sites within Syria, claiming to have done major damage to Syria's air defenses nationwide. The Israeli Air Force described the attack as the most significant attack on Syria since 1982.
The incident started with Israeli shooting down a small drone from the Syrian military research site that they've repeatedly attacked in recent weeks, a site they claim is an "Iranian base." The drone crossed into Israeli airspace. Israel responded with airstrikes against Syria, as it so often does.
But Syria's air defenses were a bit more successful this time, and one of Israel's F-16s managed to crash. Whether it was hit by an anti-aircraft missile or just took shrapnel damage, the warplane crashed in Israel, and one of the pilots was hurt.
Israel responded to this with massive attacks against Syria, hitting four different military sites and apparently targeting air defense systems. Syria is threatening further action if Israel continues to attack, while Israeli officials insist the attacks will continue.
Interestingly, almost all Israeli officials are presenting this to the public as an attack on Iran, as opposed to Syria, and are now calling all of the Syrian military bases that have been attacked are "Iranian bases."
Some Israeli analysts are warning that this is a very dangerous rhetorical strategy, as Russian officials have been trying to calm the situation, and with Israel both continuing to escalate and making it about Iran, they may be pushing Russia into a more explicitly pro-Iran stance.
The US State Department seems to be fine with however many attacks Israel wants to conduct, and is buying the Iran narrative hook, line, and sinker. In a statement endorsing further Israeli attacks as self-defense, the State Department didn't even mention Syria, instead railing on about what a threat Iran poses.
This puts the post-attack rhetoric in a bizarre place, with Syria bragging that they sent a "clear message" in downing the Israeli warplane, and Israel skipping right over Syria in official statements and trying to make it into a war with Iran.
JERUSALEM (February 10, 2018) -- Israel has launched what it described as a large-scale air raid in Syria after one of its F-16 fighters crashed while under Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
Twelve sites, including four "Iranian targets" near the Syrian capital, Damascus, were destroyed in the raid, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.
The Israeli F-16 was shot at as it returned on Saturday morning from a raid to destroy Iranian facilities accused of launching a drone into Israel.
Both pilots managed to eject and landed in Israel. One was badly injured. It was not clear if the jet was hit or if the pilots abandoned the plane.
Syrian state news claimed its air defences had struck at least two jets. The Israeli military denied more than one plane had been hit.
Saturday's violence was one of the most severe incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria during Syria's seven-year-old civil war. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the conflict.
The jet was part of a mission deep into Syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.
"The Syrians and Iranians, from our point of view, are playing with fire," Conricus said. "The event is still ongoing; it is by no means behind us."
Iran condemned Israel for intercepting one of its drones. "Reports of downing an Iranian drone flying over Israel and also Iran's involvement in attacking an Israeli jet are so ridiculous," state TV quoted Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying. He said Iran provided only "military advice" to Syria.
Syrian state media said air defences opened fire on the jets in response to an Israeli act of aggression against a military base on Saturday.
"The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane," the unidentified military source said.
Conricus said Iran was "responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty." "IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the [unmanned aircraft] into Israeli airspace. Massive Syrian anti-air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe," Conricus tweeted.
Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig Gen Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident. "This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn't know how it will end," he said. "Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price."
Rocket alert sirens sounded in the Israeli-held Golan Heights and in northern Israel during confrontations, while flights to Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv were briefly suspended.
On Tuesday the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a rare visit to the Israel-Syria front and warned Israel's enemies not to test its resolve. He did not mention by name Iran or its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, both main players in Syria's civil war.
Netanyahu has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighbouring Lebanon. Israeli Strikes in Syria Risk
Forcing Russia to Adopt pro-Iranian Stance Haaretz
(February 11, 2018) -- Key media outlets in Iran have so far preferred to quote the Syrian state news agency SANA and media outlets in Israel in their reports on events in Syria on Saturday. As expected, the headlines focused on the downing of an Israeli fighter jet and not on the interception of an Iranian drone -- the careful wording attempting to distance Iran from any involvement in Saturday morning's events.
If these reports serve as an indication of Iran's political and military position, they reflect an effort to avoid direct confrontation with Israel and continue to frame the conflict as being between Syria and Israel, and unconnected to Iran.
Iran is waiting anxiously for a decision by US President Donald Trump, expected in May, about the future of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the option of new sanctions the administration wants to impose on Iran. A military clash between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria could play into Trump's hands and those of the congressmen/women who would use such a conflict as proof that new sanctions need to be imposed on Tehran.
Iran is part of a troika, including Russia and Turkey, that has unsuccessfully sought a diplomatic solution to the war. Iran doesn't want to open another military front with Israel, which could lead Israel to start a war against Hezbollah. This strategy requires Iran to keep a low military profile not only with regard to Israel, but also toward Turkish forces that invaded northern Syria last month to stop Kurdish militias from taking over the border areas.
At the same time, it may be assumed that, as a rule, Iran has to coordinate its military actions with Russia -- in order to prevent a situation in which a military clash with Israel sabotages chances of diplomatic action by Russia and could turn the presidential palace in Damascus into a target for Israeli strikes.
On the other hand, this strategy also requires an explanation as to why an Iranian drone was sent toward Israel -- an action that is of no military use to Iran and could (and indeed did) bring about an Israeli response of unknown extent, and present Iran as the aggressor.
One explanation is navigational error rather than a tactical decision -- or worse, a strategic one to goad Israel into a response. Another, less likely, explanation is that Iran wanted to show off the capabilities of the drone, in the context of reports made public this week that Iran is working on extensive production of Mohajer 6-model drones as part of its espionage and defense array.
When it comes to military action in Syria, Iran is far more restricted by diplomatic considerations than Israel is. Israel enjoys almost unlimited US backing and even limited Russian "permission" to operate in Syrian territory, as long as the target isn't the regime itself but activities and facilities that can be linked to Hezbollah. But Iran, being a full partner both during the war and afterward, is obligated to maintain balance and coordination with the other partners.
However, this balance does not give Israel free rein to test the limits of Russian patience. That is to say, to what extent Russia will allow Israel to carry out targeted actions when it is becoming clear that by turning a blind eye, it could expand and deepen Israeli military involvement -- to the extent of fully opening up a military front.
Growing cracks can be found in the working assumption that Russia controls all of the military and diplomatic moves in Syria, and can therefore prevent Iran and Turkey from operating in Syria to further their own interests.
Russia was unable to prevent Turkey from invading northern Syria; it failed to turn the Sochi conference in late January into a significant step toward an overall cease-fire and subsequently to negotiate the establishment of a transitional government; and it didn't deal with the deployment of pro-Iranian forces in southern Syria in a manner that might assuage Israeli concerns.
Russia, which vigorously renewed its strikes on Idlib province in a bid to defeat the rebel forces and aid the regime's takeover of the city and the district, needs the assistance of pro-Iranian militias in the area to complete the operation. This assistance places Russia in a bind: Between its desire to restrict Iranian influence; and its objective of ending the military conflict in favor of the Syrian regime, in which Iran plays a major role.
Israeli involvement could, therefore, not only divert the focus of the fighting to an unexpected front. It would also force Russia to adopt an openly pro-Iranian strategy, when so far it has been trying to walk a fuzzy line, managing to maintain coordination with all sides.
Israeli involvement could also influence the branding of the war in Syria from being a domestic struggle into a war against Israel, thus strengthening Iran's position, that of Hezbollah and some of the militias, and underscoring the Syrian and Iranian claim that Israel and the United States are the entities wanting to perpetuate the war.
As a result, Israel's declared strategy of preventing Iranian forces from establishing themselves in Syria cannot ignore the web of diplomatic considerations dictating the actions of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Syria.
At least in the foreseeable future, these three countries will continue coordinating their actions as allies and will make an effort to keep other entities, like Israel and the United States, out of the arena -- especially after they managed to block any diplomatic or military move by Washington in Syria.
In the short term, the continued conflict depends on a decision by the Israeli government and on considering the pressures being brought to bear on it by Moscow and Washington to hold back on its desire to loosen Iran's grip in Syria. US-backed Kurds Shoot Down
Turkish Military Helicopter in Syria Haaretz & Reuters
(February 10, 2018) -- A Turkish military helicopter has been shot down in Syria during an operation against US-backed Kurdish forces, according to Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
"One of our helicopters was downed just recently," Erdogan said speaking to members of his AK Party (AKP) in Istanbul. "These things will happen, we are in a war . . . We might lose a helicopter, but they'll pay the price for this."
He did not mention any casualties.
YPG sources separately confirmed the downing of the helicopter, the first officially confirmed destruction of a Turkish aircraft over Syria during the country's long-running civil war.
As of Friday, Turkish warplanes have launched a new wave of bombing of Kurdish militia targets in Syria's Afrin region, the military said, and a monitoring group said the strikes killed seven fighters and two civilians.
The local government in Afrin accused Turkey of creating a "humanitarian crisis", killing at least 160 people and displacing tens of thousands since the its offensive began three weeks ago. Ankara has denied such charges.
Turkey's air and ground campaign in northwest Syria -- "Operation Olive Branch" -- against the Kurdish YPG militia has opened a new front in Syria's multi-sided war and further strained relations with NATO ally Washington.
The air strikes destroyed 19 targets including ammunition depots, shelters and gun positions, the armed forces said in a statement without specifying when they were conducted. The raids began at midnight, state-run Anadolu news agency said. The raids killed seven YPG fighters and two civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the war.
Separately, a soldier was killed in the southeastern province of Hakkari at the border with Iraq, in a rocket attack by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, the Turkish military said in a statement.
A Kurdish official and top member of Afrin's civil administration, Hevi Mustafa, said the Turkish offensive had killed 160 people, including 26 children and 17 women, so far. The attacks have displaced around 60,000 people, she added.
"This has created a humanitarian crisis, because the capacities of the region are not enough to meet the needs of this massive displacement," she told a news conference.
The latest strikes are the first by the Turkish air force in nearly a week. Turkey had halted strikes as Russia worked on its air defence system after Syrian anti-government insurgents shot down a Russian warplane elsewhere in Syria on Feb. 3, Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper reported.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on Thursday and agreed to strengthen military and security service coordination in Syria, according to the Kremlin.
Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin.
Their territory has expanded since they joined forces with the United States to fight Islamic State militants -- although Washington opposes the Kurds' autonomy plans, as does Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
US support for the Kurdish-led forces has infuriated Turkey, which views growing Kurdish power as a security threat along its frontier. Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed PKK, which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast. Russia Launches Huge Offensive after Syrian
Rebels Shoot Down Fighter Jet and Kill Pilot Will Kirby / The Express
(February 4, 2018) -- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitor of Syria's civil war, said at least 68 attacks hit Idlib province on Sunday morning, in addition to the 35 attacks carried out on Saturday.
Tens of thousands of people have fled the area to avoid being caught up in the attacks but the White Helmets, an opposition rescue group, claim at least 21 civilians have been killed.
It follows the shooting down of a Russian SU-25 fighter jet on Saturday and the subsequent death of the pilot, who was killed when he resisted capture by opening fire on the rebel attackers.
The Russian media quoted an official source confirming that an SU-25 has been shot down -- the first to be downed in two years.
A video, which has not been independently verified, circulating on social media of a dead man with a bloodied face as bearded gunmen stand around him, one of them shouts: "He is Russian."
Tharir al-Sham, a jihadist group spearheaded by the former Syrian branch of al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane, saying one of its fighters had scored a direct hit with a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile.
Senior commander Mahmoud Turkomani said in a statement released by the group: "This work is the least we can do to revenge our people. Let the criminal invaders know that our skies are not a picnic and they will not pass through without paying a price God willing."
Russia's Defence Ministry said the aircraft was downed by a portable surface-to-air missile. One of the subsequent attacks launched by Russia killed more than 30 militants in the area where the plane was downed, according to officials in Moscow.
The Syrian opposition also released footage on social media that purported to show the wreckage of the plane and the body of the pilot surrounded by fighters. Rebels said the downed warplane had taken part in strikes that targeted civilian convoys fleeing along a major Syrian highway from villages that the army and foreign militias had overrun.
Syria's civil war, which is now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes. The Su-25 is a £7.7million close air support jet designed to support ground troops and was heavily involved in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
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