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Did Iran Order the Rocket Attack from Syria on Northern Israel?

Yesterday, four rockets fired from the Syrian side of the Golan frontier hit near Kfar Sold in Northern Israel causing fires in the area. In response the IAF dispatched aircraft and attacked 14 positions inside Syria, while the IDF on the Golan opened up artillery fire on suspected targets. According to aTimes of Israel  (TOI) report six civilians were killed, seven wounded in an IAF  attack on a vehicle 10 kilometers from the Syrian Israel frontier  in the Quneitra region of  Southern Syria.  That Israeli attack may have targeted members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell. However, Daud Shihab a spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad continued claiming no responsibility for the attack. Nevertheless, he suggested that they knew were to attack saying:

We’ll know when to respond to an Israeli attack — and that will be where the Iron Dome was installed yesterday,” he said, referring to Israeli missile defense systems deployed the southern cities of Ashdod and Beersheba on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London suggested five of the casualties may have been members of the National Defense Force.  Early Friday morning, August 21, 2015, the Syrian military fired a missile at an Israeli aircraft.

An IDF senior officer contend that the group behind these attacks the Palestinian Islamic Jihad based in Gaza, with headquarters in Damascus, was ordered by Iran to execute the attacks. The TOI cited an Israel source who said:

We were monitoring this cell and it was attacked some 10-15 kilometers from the border, on territory firmly in the control of the Syrian military. This is an Islamic Jihad cell directed by Iran.

The Iran-controlled Al-Mayadeen TV in Damascus reported that three of those killed were Palestinian.

The pretext for these attacks may have been the hunger strike, just ended, by an Israeli held prisoner, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader, Mohammed Allan. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it would undertake reprisal attacks of its own choosing in response to those killed and wounded in the Israel drone attack.  Israel PM Netanyahu cautioned that he didn’t want this incident to escalate into a wider conflict saying:

We have no intention of ratcheting up this confrontation, but our policy [of retaliating for attacks against Israeli civilians] remains as it was.

Notwithstanding Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said:

The strike against the cell was proof that Israel will not tolerate efforts to harm the security of its citizens.

“We have no intention of compromising on this issue, and I suggest no one test our resolve on this matter,” he said in a brief statement after the attack.

i24News reported  an IDF officer commenting:

It’s clear that Iran is behind all of the terror attacks here [in the Golan] in the past two years. The Iranians are using the border – they establish units – whether it’s [Imad] Mughniyeh, [Samir] Kuntar, and more – to carry out [the attacks].

The officer added that the Iranian regime was transferring funds, providing training and sending advisers to Syria to help the Islamist group Hezbollah.

Remember the IAF attack in January 2015 on the Syrian side of the Golan frontier that took out a senior Iran IRGC general and Hezbollah officers including Jihad, the son of the late master terrorist Imad Mughniyah? That led to an abrupt series of clashes with Hezbollah in the disputed Shebaa Farms area on the Lebanese border.  Today’s rocket attacks in Israel’s north  and immediate IAF air attacks and IDF artillery fire demonstrates both resolve and concern by Israeli PM Netanyahu and his security cabinet to stifle a possible rocket war in the country’s North. Given the huge arsenal  of rockets and missiles  held by Hezbollah, Israel wants to  avoid a much larger onslaught than  the Hezbollah rocket attacks during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 that displaced over a million Israelis during the 34 day war.

We have argued that Israel may have to undertake incursions across the UNDOF demilitarized zone to clear out Iranian Quds force supported Palestinian Jihad fighters. As my colleague Ilana Freedman and  this  writer noted in a  January 2015, NER article the IDF also needs to address detection and destruction of  possible cross border tunneling  in Israel’s north by Hezbollah. Given Tehran ” success” with the P5+1 nuclear deal and this week’s sale of S300 Russian advanced air defense systems to Iran’s Quds Force commander Gen. Soleimani feels emboldened to foment more proxy conflicts destabilizing the Middle East region. Clearly with this week’s attacks in the country’s north Israel is in the Quds Force gun sights. Ayatollah Khamenei’s playbook called “Palestine” suggests that Israel will be routed not with nuclear weapons but low intensity warfare.

Back in January we noted this comment from Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Armidror and former National Security Advisor:

Yaakov Armidror, former IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) and National Security Advisor in a recent strategic evaluation of  Terrorist  threats  facing Israel, published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies , reported by the Jerusalem Post, noted Hezbollah capabilities:

Looking ahead to 2015, Israel faces threats posed mainly by non-state entities motivated by Islamic ideology.

“The strongest of them is Hezbollah, which was formed with a dual purpose in mind.  It represents Iran’s long reach in the area and against Israel, while at the same time it aims to control Lebanon, where the Shi’ites are the largest ethnic group,” Amidror added.

Hezbollah most closely resembles an army, and its arsenal totals some 150,000 missiles and rockets, several thousand of which can target any area in Israel.

“This rare and substantial firepower apparently even exceeded the firepower possessed by most of the European states combined,” Amidror said in the report.

Additionally, Hezbollah is armed with surface-to-sea missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, drones and modern anti-tank missiles.

“It is well organized into a military-style hierarchy and appears to possess command and control systems of high quality. It was established by Iranian leaders, but its leadership has always consisted of Lebanese people who were closely linked to Iran’s interests,” the report continued. “Hezbollah assisted the Shi’ites by providing for their needs in the civilian sphere as a base for building its military power.”

We concluded:

Hezbollah’s possible invasion threat would be costly to the Shi’ite terrorist army.  Especially in view of both Israeli intelligence penetration of the Iranian proxy. Nonetheless, the Israel’s military command must be on alert for possible retaliation by Hezbollah in the Shebaa Farms area adjacent to the Golan and in the Galilee.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on a tour of the northern border, August 18, 2015. Source: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Iran/ North Korean Nuclear & ICBM Development Precludes a P5+1 Agreement

Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies published a book review in Friday’s Wall Street Journal by former Pentagon official, Matthew Kroenig, A Time to AttackThe Looming Iranian Nuclear ThreatMatthew Kroenig is an Associate Professor and International Relations Field Chair in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. Kroenig, who served under former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, presents a thesis that the only way to stop the Islamic regime in Tehran from achieving nuclear hegemony is for the US, not Israel, to bomb several key facilities in Iran. The suggested targets are the centrifuge enrichment centers at Fordow and Natanz, the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, and the plutonium producing heavy water reactor at Arak.

timetoattackbookcoverWhy? Because as Gerecht relates, the sanctions regime has not deterred Iran from investing over $100 billion in the project to achieve nuclear hegemony replete with the means of delivery. Further, as he points out in his review, the US has the means to seriously cripple those facilities with 30,000 pound bunker busting deep penetrating bombs. The hoped for Stuxnet malworm and other cyber warfare is past. Gerecht notes in his review, they have only “gummed up” the whirling centrifuges enriching weapons grade uranium. Neither does he believe that targeted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, allegedly by Mossad, has put a dent in Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability. Given that the current P5+1 discussions with Iran seeking to perfect a final agreement with a deadline of July 20th, Gerecht makes this prediction:

Next month in Vienna, Iran and the P5+1 world powers will extend the interim agreement they struck six months ago on Iran’s nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry will hold a press conference, offering both sides solemn praise for finding common ground. All the while, through this tough compromise and historic collaboration, the Islamic Republic’s 9,000 spinning centrifuges will keep on enriching uranium; the other 10,000 installed centrifuges won’t be dismantled. Eventually these centrifuges, or thousands of new-and-improved ones, will be able to produce bomb-grade fuel.

Kroenig cautions:

Why would anyone believe that we would fight a nuclear war with Iran if we didn’t even have the stomach for a conventional war with a nonnuclear Iran?

Gericht’s conclusion from his review of Kroenig’s, A Time to Attack:

Mr. Kroenig readily admits that there will be costs for preventive military action. Tehran will likely respond with terrorism, directly or through proxies. But Mr. Kroenig contends that those costs are much lower than allowing Iran to go nuclear. Whether or not he’s right, we will soon find out.

Watch this May 12, 2014  C-SPAN Book TV discussion with Prof. Kroenig about A Time to Attack.

Problem is that the Obama Administration failed to foster regime change in Iran in the fraudulent elections of June 2009. Israel and many others concerned over Iran’s rising hegemony in the Middle East believe that America doesn’t have the will and the unity to undertake what Kroenig suggests. Just look at the President latest tracking poll numbers; less than 37% of American thinks that he is pursuing foreign policies protecting our nation’s interests.

Claudia Rosett in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal  published an op ed, Iran Could Outsource Its Nuclear –Weapons Program to North Korea. Rosett commented:

The pieces have long been in place for nuclear collaboration between the two countries. North Korea and Iran are close allies, drawn together by decades of weapons deals and mutual hatred of America and its freedoms. Weapons-hungry Iran has oil; oil-hungry North Korea makes weapons. North Korea has been supplying increasingly sophisticated missiles and missile technology to Iran since the 1980s, when North Korea hosted visits by Hasan Rouhani (now Iran’s president) and Ali Khamenei (Iran’s supreme leader since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989).

In the March edition of the NER, we published a piece entitled, Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea?  We wrote:

The UN nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA has no access to North Korean nuclear facilities. These developments corroborate the assessment of private intelligence and national security analyst Ilana Freedman. See The Freedman Report on January 31st, “A Friendlier Iran? Or Have They Just Moved Their Nukes to North Korea?

Rosett in the WSJ op ed lays out the case for what the NER article demonstrated was a plausible means of evading sanctions. The evidence for that we noted was North Korean/ Iranian cooperation with Assad’s Syria creating a plutonium reactor on the Euphrates at Al Kibar destroyed by Israel’s Air Force in September 2007. We drew attention to Iranian/ North Korean joint development of large rocket boosters sufficient to loft nuclear MIRV warheads and the likelihood that Iran might have that capability within a few years. In June 2014, The Algemeiner reported an Iranian official announcing that it possessed a 5,000 kilometer (approximately 3,125 miles) range missile that could hit the strategic base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean:

“In the event of a mistake on the part of the United States, their bases in Bahrain and (Diego) Garcia will not be safe from Iranian missiles,” said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Majatba Dhualnuri.

Kroenig wrote in his book:

Iran is building ICBMs No country on Earth, not even the United States, mounts conventional warheads on ICBMs. Traditionally, ICBMs have had one purpose: to deliver nuclear warheads thousands of miles away. If Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, then why does it have such a robust ICBM development program?

The clock is ticking on  P5+1 and Iran endeavoring to reach an agreement by July 20th. Five days of talks in Vienna ended yesterday. They will reconvene on July 2nd and may or may not conclude with an agreement on July 20th.  The Wall Street Journal in a report on those negotiations contrasted the views of US Negotiator, Deputy Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, with those of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  It noted that the talks ended without a joint statement. Sherman said: “We are at a very crucial moment in these negotiations. Our Conversations this week have been very tough but constructive.”  Zarif commented that only a deal could emerge if the US backed away from what he termed were “excessive demands.” “I advised them to think more seriously and to be realistic and to look for a solution.” Translated that means, we are poles apart. Meanwhile those centrifuges at Fordow and Natanz keep whirling enriching uranium while Iranian/ North Korean joint ICBM and MIRV development continue.  If we were bettors, we’d put even money on Gericht’s prediction: no agreement by July 20th or even six months hence.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.