Archive for the ‘Golan Heights’ Category

‘Naive’: Israel Rules Out Handing Over Golan Heights to Syria – Sputnik International

Israeli Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren said in an interview with Sputnik on Tuesday that Israel is not going to negotiate on the issue of the Golan Heights that were seized by Israelis from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) Israel does not plan onreturning the country’s northern Golan Heights region toSyria, Koren told Sputnik, commenting onthe central roadblock inlong-standing conflict betweenIsrael and Syria.

“According toour legislation, the Golan Heights are an independent part withinIsrael. If anyone keeps thinking that this question has yet tobe discussed, it is naive ofthem. In the past, duringthe tenure of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak’s government, we tried tohold talks, explore the opportunity oftalks with [former Syrian president] Hafez Assad, butit did not take us anywhere. Well, thank God it failed. If we had returned the Golan Heights, we would now have Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers overthe the Kinneret lake,” Koren said.

Sputnik/ Valeriy Melnikov

Iran and its allies, including Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, support President Bashar Assad’s government inthe civil war inSyria. Israel regards Iran asits number one threat, pointing atTehran’s curtailed, yet existing, nuclear program, its hostile rhetoric and support offered toanti-Israel forces throughoutthe Middle East.

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Netanyahu warns Iran filling the void left by IS in Golan – The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that Iran is seeking to replace the Islamic State terror group in the Golan Heights in order to create a new front against Israel.

The situation here is changing rapidly, IS is in retreat, but Iran is seeking to fill the void, he said during a tour of the Golan Heights with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Iran together with Hezbollah are creating a northern arc here, with the help of precision weapons.

We are dealing with these new threats to the State of Israel. We are paying close attention to a range of threats to the State of Israel, he added.

Netanyahu has warned repeatedly of Iranian attempts to establish military infrastructure with which to threaten Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, recently telling a number of Central European leaders that Iran, via its proxies, have and are still trying to create a terror front against Israel there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tour the northern border in the Golan Heights, on July 25, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria and has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of game-changing weapons bound for the Hezbollah terror group.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu said that he opposes the deal brokered by the United States and Russia that led to an open-ended ceasefire in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

The prime minister said that while the plan aims to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Irans plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases.

Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were further stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces toward Jordans border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.

In addition to Israel, a number of Sunni countries in the area have also warned against Iranian efforts to establish a Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran to Beirut via its allies in Baghdad and Damascus, with which to pursue its regional ambitions.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Israeli vulture population on the rise – The Jerusalem Post

Israeli Vultures . (photo credit:YORAM SHAPIR)

After years of continuous decline, Israels vulture population is once again on the rise.

As of the end of June, vultures in Israel numbered about 180, up from 128 in 2010, as they continue to return to their habitats in the Carmel region and the Negev Desert, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported on Monday. While that figure is still staggeringly low in comparison to the 460 individuals recorded in 2003, INPA nesting and rehabilitation projects have enabled the survival of the birds as they return to their former strongholds.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the population of vultures in Israel has reached a positive balance, at such a rate, said INPA avian ecologist, Ohad Hatzofe.

About 66% of Israels 180 vultures reside in the Negev, while another 34% inhabit the Carmel region and the Golan Heights, according to the INPA. The Negev region has experienced a particularly strong increase in population size, with the number of nests particularly rising in the Ramon Crater area, a statement from the authority said.

The assessment of Israels vulture population occurred as part of annual survey within the Spreading Wings Project a conservation program run with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to protect the countrys dwindling vulture community.

The number of vultures may pale in comparison to the 460 soaring through Israels skies in 2003, but the population has been increasing in the Negev and stabilizing in the Carmel since 2010, according to the INPA.

This year alone, successful nesting in the Negev and Carmel will lead to another 25 individuals in these areas, while 12 other animals are being released from a breeding center, Hatzofe explained. All in all, the Israeli vulture population in 2017 is expected to experience three times more births than deaths, he added.

While ecologists are optimistic about the return of the birds to the Negev and Carmel, the situation remains dire for Israels vultures in the Golan Heights and the Judean Desert.

Just as we have succeeded in restoring the population of vultures in the Carmel region from zero to 40, we have revived an impressive population in the Negev, a result of intensive activities: raising awareness and educating the public and fighting the phenomenon of poisoning and electrocution, Hatzofe said. In this manner, we are also working to address this important issue in the Golan Heights and Judean Desert areas, where unfortunately, the number continues to remain low.

One particular threat to the vulture population in the Golan Heights is a plan to build a large wind turbine farm in the Tel Fares area, the INPA statement explained.

Over the past three-and-a-half months, INPA officials said they have been examining the flight activity of vultures in the Golan through GPS transmitters. Calculations based on these observations indicate that about 10% of the regions vultures will be affected by the future turbines, the statement said. That percentage is expected to be even higher, due to random events unaccounted for in the calculations, the authority added.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, together with other environmental and nature organizations such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, oppose plans to build a turbine farm in the area, in accordance with the proposed outline, and will work with the relevant authorities and institutions to change the permits granted for the advancement of the turbine construction plans, the statement said.

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Golan residents renounce Israeli plan to hold local elections – Al-Monitor

Members of the Druze community in Israeli-occupied Majdal Shams look at their friends and relatives (R) on the Syrian side of the border during a rally in the village, Majdal Shams, Golan Heights, Feb. 14, 2014.(photo byREUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Author:Ahmad Melhem Posted July 23, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank The people of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights have rejected the Israeli governments decision to hold local elections next year in four Golan villages: Majdal Shams, Bukata, Masada and Ein Qinya. To allow such elections, they said, would be to recognize the occupation.

TranslatorJoelle El-Khoury

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri notified local Golan authorities July 6 of the decision to hold electionson Oct. 30, 2018. The elections would be the first under Israeli law since the Golan Heights was occupied in 1967. Israel has been accustomed to appointing local council heads and members in the Golan Heights, where nearly 23,000 people live. To many of those residents, there’s a big symbolic difference between appointed and elected leaders.

After a general meeting July 11, the Golanese issued a statementthat said, The Israeli goal behind the elections is to have the Golanese recognize the occupation as legitimate. They said, Israel has no right to impose its laws on the Syrian population and force it to give up its national identity.

Majd Abu Saleh, a lawyer opposing the Israeli decision, told Al-Monitor that under Israeli election laws, eligible candidates for local elections should have Israeli citizenship, which applies to only 5% of the Golanese. The rest carry Israeli IDs indicating permanent residency but they are not entitled to run for office. That negates any democratic principle of the elections, Abu Saleh said.

The Golanese perceive local councils elected in accordance with Israeli law to be representative of Israeli authorities. The elections are therefore a means to provide local authorities with political legitimacy, which is something we are against,” he said.

The population deals with the [Israeli-] appointed councils in terms of the services provided, and this is what we want. Their political stances, however, do not represent ours. Yet, if elected, the local councils will be entitled to represent us politically [and] those heading these councils will be pro-Israel.

Political activist Salman Fakhreddin told Al-Monitor, The Golanese deserve to have good civil services, which the occupation ought to provide under international law, without correlating these services with the populations political stances or national affiliation.

Fakhri Abu Saleh, the director of the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies Golan Salon, told Al-Monitor, The elections are designed to bring the Golan areas under Israeli law, which could ignite a dispute among its social components and will not bring any significant gains to the population.

In light of the rejection by the Golanese, he said, Presently, there is no alternative to the appointed councils. Services provided by the elected local councils [elsewhere] in the Arab world are no different from those provided to us. The thing is that we are under an occupation force that we do not recognize and that has a responsibility toward us.

As the interior ministers decision is binding, the Golanese are required to mobilize their capabilities to face it. Majd Abu Saleh said, We will be turning to the ministers to abolish said decision to meet the wishes of the Golanese. In case they do not act, we will be resorting to the courts to object to the decision.

He added, Whether it remains in force or is canceled, we have decided not to deal with it, or with the potential emanating local councils that would provide the occupation with legitimacy. If enforced, we will boycott it; the ballot boxes cannot not be placed in the Golan.

The Golanese believe Israel is trying to firmly establish control over the Golan. As Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the Golan Heights occupations and the beginning of the settlements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said June 6, The Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. We will never leave the Golan Heights. Its ours.

Syria also voiced objection to the elections, which it believes would violate international law. The Syrian Foreign Ministry delivered letters June 8 to both the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing its categorical rejection of the Israeli occupations declaration to hold the so-called local elections in the occupied Syrian Golan villages. It added, The new Israeli decisions consist of a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, international humanitarian law and the [Fourth] Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war.

Majd Abu Saleh said Israel is “taking advantage of the Syrian crisis, while showing that the Golanese are well-integrated and harmonious with Israel.”

He said, “This is in order to support Netanyahu’s efforts to obtain the international recognition that will enable him to implement the Israeli laws in the Golan Heights.

Fakhreddin said, Israel desires to impose a new reality in the Golan Heights by holding the elections and taking advantage of the conflict in our motherland [Syria]. This is unacceptable for us. We are not trading our national and political positions for civil services.

The Israeli decision has reminded the Golanese of the open strike they staged Feb. 14, 1982, in protest against the Knesset decision to annex the Golan Heights and attempt to impose citizenship. The same scenario may be repeated in light of the populations objection. Israel could escalate measures to forcibly implement the decision, which could mean a confrontation is possible.

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The Syrian Ceasefire in the Golan Is Good for Israel LobeLog – LobeLog

byShemuel Meir

The dramatic announcement by presidents Trump and Putin ofa ceasefire in south-west Syriaearlier this month was greeted in Israel with skepticism. Official Israel wasnt impressed with the agreement reached by the two superpowers to establish and enforce a buffer zone on Israels northern border in the Golan Heights, free of all military activity.

In the first Israeli cabinet meeting held after the ceasefire agreement was announced, Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu spoke in stipulations: Israel will welcome a genuine ceasefire in Syria but this ceasefire must not enable the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria in general and in southern Syria in particular. One week later, at a press briefing in Paris, Netanyahu called the ceasefire a bad deal and declared Israels opposition to it.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was even more scathing. Israel is not obligated by the ceasefire deal and reserves absolute freedom of action to respond to developments on the ground as it sees fit,according to Liberman, irrespective of the understandings reached between Trump and Putin.

Most of the analysis in Israel fell in line with Netanyahu and Liberman, minimizing the agreement and ignoring any strategic value it might have for Israel. That is a mistake. There is more than meets the eye in this agreement.

Even if the ceasefire agreement doesnt fully address the entire enforcement arrangement, it does indicate American involvement in Syria in the era that follows the routing of ISIS and the conquering of itsde factocapital, Raqqa. The agreement, therefore, should alleviate Israels concerns about the vacuum that would be created if the Americans left, which would negatively affect the situation in the Golan Heights.

The ceasefire agreement also came at a critical point in time for Israel. The calm fostered on the ground helped prevent Israel being dragged into the war by miscalculation or unplanned military escalation.

Several days in a row in June2017, we saw dailyreportsof the IDF attacking Syrian military targets in response to artillery or mortar fire into Israeli-controlled territory. The routine of errant shells falling in Israeli territory now included an automatic IDF response, including official statements along the lines of, Israel wont accept any violations of its sovereignty. The prime ministerpromisedstrong responses, and thats what happened.

Despite repeated declarations that Israel has no interest in being dragged into the war in Syria, a doctrine of maintaining operational freedom and automatic military responses to errant fire was ultimately likely to bring about unplanned results. There is no deterrence in this scenario, because it is unclear how one is supposed to deter a party who isnt trying to strike you in the first place. Contrarily, massive responses that kill Syrian army officers and soldiers are likely to hasten an undesirable escalation. Under circumstances of existing military friction, it is always hard to know when and how two parties will cross the threshold of low-intensity conflict into something more serious.

At the same time, another risky development was taking place: a demand from the field to increase the humanitarian and medical aid that Israel provides Islamist rebel groups, and introduce more military elements. For example, creating an Israeli-enforced security zone like the one it held in southern Lebanon, gradually and unintentionally getting sucked into a military confrontation with the Syrian army.

And thats where Iran comes into the picture. Netanyahu hasdeclared red linesin Syria more than once, at least one of which is geographic: preventing Iran gaining a foothold in the Golan Heights. Publicly declared red lines and using military force against Assads army in the Golan were meant to draw a line in the sand, and sending a message to the other side, including Iran, not to cross it.

But are automatic military responses that could lead to unplanned and undesirable results really necessary? Sometimes less is more. More so, Netanyahus messages and red lines have already been heard and his geographic red lines achieved the desired result. Iran got Israels deterrent message loud and clear when the latter killed a Revolutionary Guard general who was touring the Golan in January 2015 it doesnt come near anymore. Israel and Iran have not been involved in any confrontation in the Golan since, and there is no Iranian military presence there. A military analysis of the situation shows that Iran was not enthusiastic about a direct confrontation with Israel. The deterrence is working, and the red lines are holding.

That, and more. In the press briefing in Paris in whichNetanyahu declaredhis rejection of the ceasefire deal, he also basically admitted that there is no Iranian military presence in the Golan Heights. The Israeli prime minister revealed that the agreement forbids any Iranian military presence within 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border of the Israeli-controlled half of the Golan Heights, thereby acknowledging for the first time that Iranian forces are closer to Damascus than they are to Israel. We can assume that Iran through the Russians gave its tacit approval to the diplomatic arrangement that bars its troops from the Golan Heights. That is an important contribution to the stability of that area and a strategic accomplishment for Israel. A diplomatic agreement that is in line and affirms the military situation.

Netanyahus maximalist argument against the Russian-American-brokered ceasefire deal in the Golan Heights is that it perpetuates an Iranian military presence in the rest of Syria. But his argument presumes if and isnt reflective of anything on the ground. Along those lines, we continue to hear a term that has gained popularity as if it were some unquestioned strategic accord: the Shiite Crescent, a supposed territorially contiguous corridor of Iranian military control from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea (around 1,400 km, or 870 miles). Perhaps it is a nice concept on paper, but its very difficult to see how one realizes a crescent of Shiite control and how one creates an Iranian corridor on the ground in such a broad area and chaotic area so vulnerable to terrorist groups. And all that using the limited power of the Iranian army and air force?

The Shiite Crescent is a nice metaphor but reality on the ground is entirely different. Dont forget that Iran was forced to bring home a large part of its Revolutionary Guard forces that it sent in the earlier stages of the Syrian War and replaced them with mercenary militias from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

But back to diplomacy. Wars end in conferences or in diplomatic formulations and that is the direction one can see for Syria from the Russian-American agreement. The diplomatic arrangement inside sovereign Syrian territory through the creation buffer zones (de-escalation zones in diplomatic terms) by the two major powers is preferable for Israel over relying solely on military forces and a doctrine of setting red lines. The rules of the game of sending signals and deterrence are inherently elusive and likely to collapse unexpectedly. It is preferable, therefore, to incorporate the rules of the diplomatic game and diplomatic arrangements, which are far more durable.

Furthermore, in the event of an escalation into warfare on the Syrian side of the Golan, Israel would be hard-pressed to find any international legitimacy for exercising a large-scale military option like a preventivestrike in sovereign Syrian territory from the territory it controls on the other side of the Golan. Lets not forget that the world rejected Israels annexation of the Israeli side of the Golan, which it considers null and void according toUN Security Council Resolution 497. Every single plan that the international community has formulated to end the civil war in Syria includes some variation of an opening clause declaring the need to preserve Syrias territorial integrity, which is one of the only points upon which both the Assad regime and the rebels both agree.

Israels security interests first and foremost focus on those areas abutting its borders. Therefore, it is better for Israel to join the American-Russian process of resolving the war in Syria. Even if such arrangements mean the return of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to the control of the Damascus regime. In such a scenario, the American-Russian agreement is likely to rehabilitate and strengthen the UN troops in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) which has been there since the ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War in 1974. The UN observer force, whose mandate is to supervise demilitarized zones in the Golan Heights, could gain new momentum this time with regards to the indirect agreement with Iran. A renewed (and reinforced) UNDOF mission is the answer to the question that so bothers Israel: who will monitor the de-escalation zone along its border onthe Golan Heights.

A diplomatic process jointly led by the Americans and Russians, and the tacit and indirect agreement with Iran to re-demilitarize the Golan Heights, could make a the best contribution to creating a stability we dont have today. From Israels perspective, that means distancing Iranian military forces from the Golan Heights and minimizing the risk of an unplanned and undesired military escalation.

Shemuel Meir is a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Today he is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues and author of theStrategic Discourse blog, which appears inHaaretz. Read this post in Hebrewhere. Reprinted, with permission, from +972 Magazine. Photo: Israeli Defense Forces on a drill in the Golan Heights (Wikimedia Commons).

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Israeli Aid Gives an Unexpected ‘Glimmer of Hope’ for Syrians – New York Times

The aid creates a positive awareness of Israel on the Syrian side, said Col. Barak Hiram, the commanding officer of Israels 474 Golan Brigade, adding that it could lay the first seeds of some form of future agreement.

Most of the supplies are donated by Israeli and foreign nongovernmental organizations, while the Israeli government has footed the bill for medical treatment. According to the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, a New York-based network of organizations involved in the aid effort, Israel has also become an efficient, if unlikely, staging area for Syrian aid groups operating abroad that, facilitated by the Israeli military, are now shipping goods into Syria through Israeli ports.

The extent of the project became known days after the United States and Russia announced a cease-fire agreement for southern Syria, territory that includes the areas covered by Operation Good Neighbor, and after President Trumps cancellation of the clandestine and failing American program to provide arms and supplies to Syrian rebel groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli reporters during a trip to Europe this week, said he was utterly opposed to the cease-fire deal because of concerns that it would allow Shiite militias backed by Israels archenemy, Iran, to dig in close to its borders.

Netanyahu is upset because the Jordanians were told that the Shiite militias would be kept 40 kilometers from their border, said Ehud Yaari, an Israeli analyst and fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Israel did not get the same promise. We were left out.

But discussions about the cease-fire are continuing, Mr. Yaari said, and the Israeli protests seemed aimed at trying to shape the outcome.

Israel says it maintains a policy of nonintervention in Syrias civil war, which began in 2011. But it has frequently bombed convoys and stores of weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia fighting in Syria on behalf of Mr. Assad. On other occasions, it has retaliated against Syrian government positions for the spillover of errant fire into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

According to Israeli military officials, extremist groups associated with the Islamic State control about 20 percent of the territory along the Syrian side of the Golan boundary, concentrated in the south. A mlange of other Sunni rebel groups, including affiliates of Al Qaeda, control an additional 65 percent, while the Syrian Army, Shiite allies and Druze loyalists control about 15 percent in the north.

Israeli analysts say it can be assumed that cash, ammunition and intelligence assets also pass through the fence on the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war. A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted local Syrian rebels saying that they regularly received cash for salaries and weapons as part of the Israeli effort to push hostile forces from the border villages. Israel has not explicitly denied the report, and the military would not comment.

But Israeli military officials insist that Operation Good Neighbor deals purely with humanitarian aid and that they would not jeopardize the emerging climate of cooperation or taint it by mixing in weapons transfers and intelligence gathering.

Since Israel and Syria are technically in a state of war and have no diplomatic relations, Israel has not taken in masses of Syrian refugees as other countries have done. Even a government proposal to bring in 100 orphaned Syrian children was dropped.

Still, many Israelis have expressed distress over standing by as the humanitarian disaster has unfolded in Syria, which is what motivated the military to undertake the operation, officials said.

Syrians wounded in the fighting first arrived at the Israeli border fence early in 2013, desperate for help.

We faced a dilemma, said Dr. Noam Fink, the chief medical officer of the Israeli militarys northern command. The decision was made by our commanders and our government to allow them to enter the country and to give them full medical treatment.

Since then, with medical facilities in war-ravaged towns and villages barely functioning, Israel has treated about 4,000 war-wounded or sick Syrians.

Israel says it is now getting aid to an area inhabited by about 200,000 Syrians, including around 400 displaced families living in tent encampments along the international boundary, and is helping equip new clinics in the area.

So far the strategy is working, said Amos Harel, the military affairs analyst for the newspaper Haaretz, noting the relative quiet along the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line. It is an intelligent policy. It is not only altruistic.

Georgette Bennett, who founded the Multifaith Alliance in 2013, said her network had the ability to reach deeper on the Syrian side, covering an area of 1.5 million Syrians. The cooperation between Israelis and Syrians is a great glimmer of hope coming out of this tragedy, said Ms. Bennett, a Hungarian-born former refugee and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

The alliances director of humanitarian relief and regional relations, Shadi Martini, is a Syrian who said he managed a hospital in Aleppo, a city that has been an epicenter of the war, before fleeing the country in 2012. When he first heard about the Israelis aid, he said: It was a very big shock to me. Syrians were brought up to fear Israelis as the devil who wants to kill us and take our land.

Speaking by telephone from Michigan, where he now lives, Mr. Martini said he had since visited Israel five times to push for, and coordinate, the effort with the Israeli military. It has struck a chord with a lot of Syrians, he said. This is supposed to be our enemy.

While some Syrians still have reservations about receiving aid from Israel, he added: It is not the monster they told us it was. People have started looking at it differently.

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized Georgette Bennett, who founded the Multifaith Alliance. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, not a Holocaust survivor herself.

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Israel Escalates Threats Against Iran – Haaretz

Ex-national security adviser warns that Israel must prevent Iranian infrastructure in Syria at any cost. The explicit threat to Iran and Hezbollah is not an official declaration, but foreign governments will find it hard to ignore

Israel must prevent Iran from building bases in Syria at any cost, a former national security adviser who retains influence in the Prime Ministers Office said this week.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror was speaking at a briefing for foreign correspondents organized by the nonprofit group the Israel Project.

The implications of the Iranians building bases in Syria, Amidror said, is that it creates launching-pad bases in Syria to Hezbollah and the Iranians. And Israel should prevent it whatever will be the price.

If that will not be taken into account by the those who are making those arrangements the Americans, the Russians and others that might lead the IDF to intervene and destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria, he continued, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win from the long and very brutal war in Syria and move the focus into Israel.

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Asked whether Israel would have the freedom to operate in Syria in such a manner, Amidror replied, I dont see who will stop it. I mean, if that is in the interest of Israel, we should strive to be sure that our interests will be kept.

Though Amidror currently holds no official government position, he still has ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and retains a degree of influence on certain issues. Thus it is reasonable to assume that foreign governments that follow events in the region would note such remarks.

Its also convenient for Netanyahu to have such statements come from Amidror. That way, the explicit threat against Iran and Hezbollah isnt perceived as being an official Israeli one, yet at the same time its hard to ignore.

Rapping the cease-fire deal

Amidrors remarks came one day after Netanyahu publicly criticized a cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia and the United States in southern Syria. In a briefing for Israeli journalists during Netanyahus visit to Paris, he and people identified only as senior officials voiced two reservations about the deal.

First, Israel believes it essentially acquiesces to Irans presence in Syria, which already includes bases for ground forces, thousands of fighters from various Shiite militias and advanced plans for setting up air and naval bases in the country. Second, Israel is skeptical of the agreements stated commitment to keep Iranian and Hezbollah forces about 20 miles from its border in the Golan Heights.

Israel doesnt believe that Russian troops, which are responsible for enforcing the agreement, will actually prevent Iranian forces from approaching the border. Over the past few days, Russian Military Police units have been spotted near the town of Daraa in southern Syria, apparently to help enforce the cease-fire. But Israel is still trying to determine exactly how Russia plans to supervise activities by the Assad regime and its allies, including Iran and Hezbollah.

In response to Netanyahus remarks, Russia hastened to issue a soothing statement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the cease-fire deal in southern Syria had taken Israels security needs into account, and that the agreement would be implemented in coordination with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel has resumed its campaign of diplomatic warnings on a neighboring front, the Lebanese border. On Tuesday, the IDF released new video footage of intelligence operations by Hezbollah along the border, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

This footage comes almost a month after Israel complained to the United Nations about similar Hezbollah activities along the border. Israel also revealed last month that Iran had set up weapons plants for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The explanation for Israels moves on the Lebanese front is obvious. The Security Council will soon hold its periodic debate on the implementation of Resolution 1701 and the extension of UNIFILs mandate in southern Lebanon. Israel thus has an interest in exposing Hezbollahs violations, as well as what it describes as UNIFILs apathy to or deliberate disregard of these violations.

This would push the UN peacekeeping force to be more aggressive in its dealings with Hezbollah and also lay the public-diplomacy groundwork should a military conflict erupt in Lebanon.

Clashing with Trump

But developments along the Syrian border have an even greater potential for drama. Though its doubtful Israel will attack Iranian bases in Syria the next morning, as Amidrors words might seem to imply, theres clearly a point of friction over which Netanyahu, for the first time, has been willing to publicly clash with the Trump administration.

Israels suspicions about Washingtons conduct in the Syrian theater relate to several issues: Russian-American coordination, which Israel sees as being dictated mainly by Moscow; the emerging American plan to reduce its military presence in the region once the Islamic State is defeated in its Syrian capital of Raqqa; and Trumps apparent acceptance of Irans growing role in Syria.

The administrations announcement, two years after the nuclear deal was signed with Iran, that Tehran is honoring its commitment to freeze its nuclear program also apparently made Netanyahu uncomfortable. Until then, President Donald Trump had sounded much more forceful and suspicious toward Iran than some of his top officials.

Washington hastened to give itself a bit of cover for that relatively positive statement toward Tehran by announcing new sanctions against 18 Iranian individuals and organizations in response to Irans support for terror in the Middle East, its aid to the Assad regime in Syria and its ballistic-missile development.

These conflicting messages from Washington, coupled with the Israeli warnings, reveal that both the Syrian and Iranian situations are fluid. That apparently is why Israel is applying pressure in the hope of spurring the Americans to improve the agreement they reached in a way that would make it better for Israel.

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Concern for Irish troops in Syria as Russia and US plan safe zone – thejournal.ie

Fighting in recent weeks came so close to the UNDOF camp that Irish troops were forced to take cover inside.

Fighting in recent weeks came so close to the UNDOF camp that Irish troops were forced to take cover inside.

CONCERN HAS BEEN expressed about Irish troops based in Syria after recent fighting closeto their camp and developments that have seen the United States and Russia negotiating the terms of a safe zone in the area.

In the first week of this month, clashes between rebel groups and government forces in Syria came so close to the Irish camp that troops had to take cover as gun fire landed inside the base.

A ceasefire in southern Syria was brokered by the US, Russia and Jordan on Friday and it has been reported that they reached an agreement on the creation of a safe zone, which would allow refugees who fled Jordan to return. It would also facilitate the access ofhumanitarian aid.

However, it is possible armed Syrian rebels will police this new safe zone, with the backing of American and Russian troops, which would significantly change the dynamics of the situation and could lead to further tensions.

The mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is to maintain the ceasefire between the Israeli and Syrian forces, which means keeping weapons out of the Golan Heights. The terms of this new safe zone could impact on this mission.

Now Irish soldiers in Syria and a number of politicians at home are asking what the government here is doing to involve itself in ongoing negotiations that will ultimately impact on members of its Defence Forces and the job they have been sent there to do.

There are concerns about the involvement of Russian and US forces. Source: Irish Defence Forces via Flickr

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Sinn Fin TD Aengus Snodaigh said the UNDOF mandate now urgently needs to be reviewed.

When the circumstances on the ground change in such a dramatic fashion and the Russians are involved, you have to look again at whether its appropriate for us to be there in the firstplace. We need to look at whether we need to consider withdrawing, do we need extra supports there? he said.

The UNDOF mission

Currently there are 136 Irish personnel committed to this mission. The most recent UN Security Council report on UNDOF noted that the spilloverof the Syrian civil war into the missions area of operation had pushedpeacekeepers from the Bravo [Syrian] side into the Alpha [Israeli] side. It is unlikely there will be a full return to the Syrian side.

The mission is subject to the disengagement agreement and any changes require consent by both Israel and Syria. Some of the options considered in the report include urging these two governments to allow the use of new technologies for observation and enhancedequipment for the troops protection capabilities.

Changes such as these are unlikely to receive support, at least from the Israeli side as its government has been critical of UN peacekeeping missions. Just recentlyIsraels deputy chief of staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi, contradicted the Irish commander of the UN force in southern Lebanon, Major General Michael Beary, when they were giving a tour of the border toUS Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

The Times of Israel reports Beary told Haley the situation was stable, but was interrupted by Kochavi, who said the mission was not doing its job properly. TheJournal.ie asked the Department of Foreign Affairs whether Minister Simon Coveney raised this interaction in his recent controversial meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahi the department did not respond.

Source: Irish Defence Forces via Flickr

Snodaigh pointed out that the restrictions on the mission in Syria have made the job of peacekeeping in the area practically impossible at times.

Irish troops operating there have been welcomed throughout the world for the way they operate, not taking sides and being quite good at diffusing situations. In the Golan Heights, in the main, they have been welcomed. But there have been situations where they have had to keep their heads down, he said.

The mandate isnt to interfere, but the whole place is in flux can they fulfil their mandate now? There is no point in being there if they are just keeping their heads down.

Speaking in the Dil this week, Fianna Fil TD Lisa Chambers also raisedrecent tensions in the Golan Heights, describing the fighting close to the Irish camp as unprecedented.

The fighting was so close to the Irish camp and so intense that many Irish military personnel are concerned at what they perceive as a lack of response from the government, she said.

I am concerned that there has been no publicity about this and no official response. I am concerned that there has not been more briefing on it and that it was not acknowledged, given the scale of the offensive action that took place, about which a number of troops are concerned.

Why has the Minister not briefed the Dil about this before now and why did he wait to be prompted? What measures are the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs taking, in light of what we have learned?

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe said the governments ability to protect the health and safety of our personnelis his paramount concern when considering any mission.

It is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission, he said.

In this regard, they complete comprehensive, mission focused training in advance of any deployment to ensure that they are suitably prepared for the challenges that they face. This also includes providing the required force protection assets specific to the mission.

Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and both personal equipment and force assets are continually reviewed, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles.

The minister noted, however, that no mission is without danger and said he is assured by the Chief of Staff that appropriate security measures are in place for Irishpersonnel serving with UNDOF.

Kehoe did not address questions about the Irish governments level of interaction with the US, Russia and Jordan in relation to the safe zone. His department did note that the impact on the UNDOF mission of the conflicts between state and non-state actors inSyriais being closely monitored.

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July 16, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Firefighters battle blazes in Safed and Golan Heights | The Times of … – The Times of Israel

Police on Sunday evacuated dozens of residents from a number of residential buildings in the northern city of Safed after a nearby brush fire spread to homes in the northern Israeli city, rescue workers said.

The decision to evacuate people from their homes was made over fears that residents would be trapped inside the burning homes. At least 15 houses were destroyed.

Additional firefighting crews and firefighting planes were called into battle the fire, which was later said to be brought under control.

In addition to the apartment buildings, a number of cars parked nearby also caught fire.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it evacuated two people in mild condition as a result of the blaze. Hebrew media reports later said that seven people in total were evacuated after suffering from smoke inhalation.

Also Sunday, IDF soldiers and UN peacekeeping forces were evacuated from their posts in the Golan Heights after a large brush fire breaks out in the area.

Firefighters were working to put out the fire raging near the kibbutz Metzar.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Earlier Sunday, a fire broke out near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, leading rescue crews to evacuate three people in moderate condition from smoke inhalation, according to Hebrew media reports.

Residents of some 15 homes were also reported to have been ordered to leave their homes, but were later allowed to return, after the fire had been largely brought under control.

Emergency crews were investigating the cause of the blaze.

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Firefighters battle blazes in Safed and Golan Heights | The Times of … – The Times of Israel

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‘Naive’: Israel Rules Out Handing Over Golan Heights to Syria – Sputnik International

Israeli Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren said in an interview with Sputnik on Tuesday that Israel is not going to negotiate on the issue of the Golan Heights that were seized by Israelis from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. MOSCOW (Sputnik) Israel does not plan onreturning the country’s northern Golan Heights region toSyria, Koren told Sputnik, commenting onthe central roadblock inlong-standing conflict betweenIsrael and Syria. “According toour legislation, the Golan Heights are an independent part withinIsrael. If anyone keeps thinking that this question has yet tobe discussed, it is naive ofthem. In the past, duringthe tenure of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak’s government, we tried tohold talks, explore the opportunity oftalks with [former Syrian president] Hafez Assad, butit did not take us anywhere. Well, thank God it failed. If we had returned the Golan Heights, we would now have Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers overthe the Kinneret lake,” Koren said. Sputnik/ Valeriy Melnikov Iran and its allies, including Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, support President Bashar Assad’s government inthe civil war inSyria. Israel regards Iran asits number one threat, pointing atTehran’s curtailed, yet existing, nuclear program, its hostile rhetoric and support offered toanti-Israel forces throughoutthe Middle East.

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Netanyahu warns Iran filling the void left by IS in Golan – The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that Iran is seeking to replace the Islamic State terror group in the Golan Heights in order to create a new front against Israel. The situation here is changing rapidly, IS is in retreat, but Iran is seeking to fill the void, he said during a tour of the Golan Heights with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Iran together with Hezbollah are creating a northern arc here, with the help of precision weapons. We are dealing with these new threats to the State of Israel. We are paying close attention to a range of threats to the State of Israel, he added. Netanyahu has warned repeatedly of Iranian attempts to establish military infrastructure with which to threaten Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, recently telling a number of Central European leaders that Iran, via its proxies, have and are still trying to create a terror front against Israel there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tour the northern border in the Golan Heights, on July 25, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90) Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria and has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of game-changing weapons bound for the Hezbollah terror group. Earlier this month, Netanyahu said that he opposes the deal brokered by the United States and Russia that led to an open-ended ceasefire in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area. The prime minister said that while the plan aims to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Irans plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases. Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were further stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces toward Jordans border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq. In addition to Israel, a number of Sunni countries in the area have also warned against Iranian efforts to establish a Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran to Beirut via its allies in Baghdad and Damascus, with which to pursue its regional ambitions. Agencies contributed to this report.

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July 25, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Israeli vulture population on the rise – The Jerusalem Post

Israeli Vultures . (photo credit:YORAM SHAPIR) After years of continuous decline, Israels vulture population is once again on the rise. As of the end of June, vultures in Israel numbered about 180, up from 128 in 2010, as they continue to return to their habitats in the Carmel region and the Negev Desert, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported on Monday. While that figure is still staggeringly low in comparison to the 460 individuals recorded in 2003, INPA nesting and rehabilitation projects have enabled the survival of the birds as they return to their former strongholds. This is the first time in more than a decade that the population of vultures in Israel has reached a positive balance, at such a rate, said INPA avian ecologist, Ohad Hatzofe. About 66% of Israels 180 vultures reside in the Negev, while another 34% inhabit the Carmel region and the Golan Heights, according to the INPA. The Negev region has experienced a particularly strong increase in population size, with the number of nests particularly rising in the Ramon Crater area, a statement from the authority said. The assessment of Israels vulture population occurred as part of annual survey within the Spreading Wings Project a conservation program run with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to protect the countrys dwindling vulture community. The number of vultures may pale in comparison to the 460 soaring through Israels skies in 2003, but the population has been increasing in the Negev and stabilizing in the Carmel since 2010, according to the INPA. This year alone, successful nesting in the Negev and Carmel will lead to another 25 individuals in these areas, while 12 other animals are being released from a breeding center, Hatzofe explained. All in all, the Israeli vulture population in 2017 is expected to experience three times more births than deaths, he added. While ecologists are optimistic about the return of the birds to the Negev and Carmel, the situation remains dire for Israels vultures in the Golan Heights and the Judean Desert. Just as we have succeeded in restoring the population of vultures in the Carmel region from zero to 40, we have revived an impressive population in the Negev, a result of intensive activities: raising awareness and educating the public and fighting the phenomenon of poisoning and electrocution, Hatzofe said. In this manner, we are also working to address this important issue in the Golan Heights and Judean Desert areas, where unfortunately, the number continues to remain low. One particular threat to the vulture population in the Golan Heights is a plan to build a large wind turbine farm in the Tel Fares area, the INPA statement explained. Over the past three-and-a-half months, INPA officials said they have been examining the flight activity of vultures in the Golan through GPS transmitters. Calculations based on these observations indicate that about 10% of the regions vultures will be affected by the future turbines, the statement said. That percentage is expected to be even higher, due to random events unaccounted for in the calculations, the authority added. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, together with other environmental and nature organizations such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, oppose plans to build a turbine farm in the area, in accordance with the proposed outline, and will work with the relevant authorities and institutions to change the permits granted for the advancement of the turbine construction plans, the statement said. Share on facebook

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July 24, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Golan residents renounce Israeli plan to hold local elections – Al-Monitor

Members of the Druze community in Israeli-occupied Majdal Shams look at their friends and relatives (R) on the Syrian side of the border during a rally in the village, Majdal Shams, Golan Heights, Feb. 14, 2014.(photo byREUTERS/Baz Ratner) Author:Ahmad Melhem Posted July 23, 2017 RAMALLAH, West Bank The people of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights have rejected the Israeli governments decision to hold local elections next year in four Golan villages: Majdal Shams, Bukata, Masada and Ein Qinya. To allow such elections, they said, would be to recognize the occupation. TranslatorJoelle El-Khoury Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri notified local Golan authorities July 6 of the decision to hold electionson Oct. 30, 2018. The elections would be the first under Israeli law since the Golan Heights was occupied in 1967. Israel has been accustomed to appointing local council heads and members in the Golan Heights, where nearly 23,000 people live. To many of those residents, there’s a big symbolic difference between appointed and elected leaders. After a general meeting July 11, the Golanese issued a statementthat said, The Israeli goal behind the elections is to have the Golanese recognize the occupation as legitimate. They said, Israel has no right to impose its laws on the Syrian population and force it to give up its national identity. Majd Abu Saleh, a lawyer opposing the Israeli decision, told Al-Monitor that under Israeli election laws, eligible candidates for local elections should have Israeli citizenship, which applies to only 5% of the Golanese. The rest carry Israeli IDs indicating permanent residency but they are not entitled to run for office. That negates any democratic principle of the elections, Abu Saleh said. The Golanese perceive local councils elected in accordance with Israeli law to be representative of Israeli authorities. The elections are therefore a means to provide local authorities with political legitimacy, which is something we are against,” he said. The population deals with the [Israeli-] appointed councils in terms of the services provided, and this is what we want. Their political stances, however, do not represent ours. Yet, if elected, the local councils will be entitled to represent us politically [and] those heading these councils will be pro-Israel. Political activist Salman Fakhreddin told Al-Monitor, The Golanese deserve to have good civil services, which the occupation ought to provide under international law, without correlating these services with the populations political stances or national affiliation. Fakhri Abu Saleh, the director of the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies Golan Salon, told Al-Monitor, The elections are designed to bring the Golan areas under Israeli law, which could ignite a dispute among its social components and will not bring any significant gains to the population. In light of the rejection by the Golanese, he said, Presently, there is no alternative to the appointed councils. Services provided by the elected local councils [elsewhere] in the Arab world are no different from those provided to us. The thing is that we are under an occupation force that we do not recognize and that has a responsibility toward us. As the interior ministers decision is binding, the Golanese are required to mobilize their capabilities to face it. Majd Abu Saleh said, We will be turning to the ministers to abolish said decision to meet the wishes of the Golanese. In case they do not act, we will be resorting to the courts to object to the decision. He added, Whether it remains in force or is canceled, we have decided not to deal with it, or with the potential emanating local councils that would provide the occupation with legitimacy. If enforced, we will boycott it; the ballot boxes cannot not be placed in the Golan. The Golanese believe Israel is trying to firmly establish control over the Golan. As Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the Golan Heights occupations and the beginning of the settlements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said June 6, The Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. We will never leave the Golan Heights. Its ours. Syria also voiced objection to the elections, which it believes would violate international law. The Syrian Foreign Ministry delivered letters June 8 to both the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing its categorical rejection of the Israeli occupations declaration to hold the so-called local elections in the occupied Syrian Golan villages. It added, The new Israeli decisions consist of a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, international humanitarian law and the [Fourth] Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war. Majd Abu Saleh said Israel is “taking advantage of the Syrian crisis, while showing that the Golanese are well-integrated and harmonious with Israel.” He said, “This is in order to support Netanyahu’s efforts to obtain the international recognition that will enable him to implement the Israeli laws in the Golan Heights. Fakhreddin said, Israel desires to impose a new reality in the Golan Heights by holding the elections and taking advantage of the conflict in our motherland [Syria]. This is unacceptable for us. We are not trading our national and political positions for civil services. The Israeli decision has reminded the Golanese of the open strike they staged Feb. 14, 1982, in protest against the Knesset decision to annex the Golan Heights and attempt to impose citizenship. The same scenario may be repeated in light of the populations objection. Israel could escalate measures to forcibly implement the decision, which could mean a confrontation is possible. Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/07/israeli-goal-behind-local-elections-golan-people-rejection.html

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July 23, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

The Syrian Ceasefire in the Golan Is Good for Israel LobeLog – LobeLog

byShemuel Meir The dramatic announcement by presidents Trump and Putin ofa ceasefire in south-west Syriaearlier this month was greeted in Israel with skepticism. Official Israel wasnt impressed with the agreement reached by the two superpowers to establish and enforce a buffer zone on Israels northern border in the Golan Heights, free of all military activity. In the first Israeli cabinet meeting held after the ceasefire agreement was announced, Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu spoke in stipulations: Israel will welcome a genuine ceasefire in Syria but this ceasefire must not enable the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria in general and in southern Syria in particular. One week later, at a press briefing in Paris, Netanyahu called the ceasefire a bad deal and declared Israels opposition to it. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was even more scathing. Israel is not obligated by the ceasefire deal and reserves absolute freedom of action to respond to developments on the ground as it sees fit,according to Liberman, irrespective of the understandings reached between Trump and Putin. Most of the analysis in Israel fell in line with Netanyahu and Liberman, minimizing the agreement and ignoring any strategic value it might have for Israel. That is a mistake. There is more than meets the eye in this agreement. Even if the ceasefire agreement doesnt fully address the entire enforcement arrangement, it does indicate American involvement in Syria in the era that follows the routing of ISIS and the conquering of itsde factocapital, Raqqa. The agreement, therefore, should alleviate Israels concerns about the vacuum that would be created if the Americans left, which would negatively affect the situation in the Golan Heights. The ceasefire agreement also came at a critical point in time for Israel. The calm fostered on the ground helped prevent Israel being dragged into the war by miscalculation or unplanned military escalation. Several days in a row in June2017, we saw dailyreportsof the IDF attacking Syrian military targets in response to artillery or mortar fire into Israeli-controlled territory. The routine of errant shells falling in Israeli territory now included an automatic IDF response, including official statements along the lines of, Israel wont accept any violations of its sovereignty. The prime ministerpromisedstrong responses, and thats what happened. Despite repeated declarations that Israel has no interest in being dragged into the war in Syria, a doctrine of maintaining operational freedom and automatic military responses to errant fire was ultimately likely to bring about unplanned results. There is no deterrence in this scenario, because it is unclear how one is supposed to deter a party who isnt trying to strike you in the first place. Contrarily, massive responses that kill Syrian army officers and soldiers are likely to hasten an undesirable escalation. Under circumstances of existing military friction, it is always hard to know when and how two parties will cross the threshold of low-intensity conflict into something more serious. At the same time, another risky development was taking place: a demand from the field to increase the humanitarian and medical aid that Israel provides Islamist rebel groups, and introduce more military elements. For example, creating an Israeli-enforced security zone like the one it held in southern Lebanon, gradually and unintentionally getting sucked into a military confrontation with the Syrian army. And thats where Iran comes into the picture. Netanyahu hasdeclared red linesin Syria more than once, at least one of which is geographic: preventing Iran gaining a foothold in the Golan Heights. Publicly declared red lines and using military force against Assads army in the Golan were meant to draw a line in the sand, and sending a message to the other side, including Iran, not to cross it. But are automatic military responses that could lead to unplanned and undesirable results really necessary? Sometimes less is more. More so, Netanyahus messages and red lines have already been heard and his geographic red lines achieved the desired result. Iran got Israels deterrent message loud and clear when the latter killed a Revolutionary Guard general who was touring the Golan in January 2015 it doesnt come near anymore. Israel and Iran have not been involved in any confrontation in the Golan since, and there is no Iranian military presence there. A military analysis of the situation shows that Iran was not enthusiastic about a direct confrontation with Israel. The deterrence is working, and the red lines are holding. That, and more. In the press briefing in Paris in whichNetanyahu declaredhis rejection of the ceasefire deal, he also basically admitted that there is no Iranian military presence in the Golan Heights. The Israeli prime minister revealed that the agreement forbids any Iranian military presence within 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border of the Israeli-controlled half of the Golan Heights, thereby acknowledging for the first time that Iranian forces are closer to Damascus than they are to Israel. We can assume that Iran through the Russians gave its tacit approval to the diplomatic arrangement that bars its troops from the Golan Heights. That is an important contribution to the stability of that area and a strategic accomplishment for Israel. A diplomatic agreement that is in line and affirms the military situation. Netanyahus maximalist argument against the Russian-American-brokered ceasefire deal in the Golan Heights is that it perpetuates an Iranian military presence in the rest of Syria. But his argument presumes if and isnt reflective of anything on the ground. Along those lines, we continue to hear a term that has gained popularity as if it were some unquestioned strategic accord: the Shiite Crescent, a supposed territorially contiguous corridor of Iranian military control from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea (around 1,400 km, or 870 miles). Perhaps it is a nice concept on paper, but its very difficult to see how one realizes a crescent of Shiite control and how one creates an Iranian corridor on the ground in such a broad area and chaotic area so vulnerable to terrorist groups. And all that using the limited power of the Iranian army and air force? The Shiite Crescent is a nice metaphor but reality on the ground is entirely different. Dont forget that Iran was forced to bring home a large part of its Revolutionary Guard forces that it sent in the earlier stages of the Syrian War and replaced them with mercenary militias from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. But back to diplomacy. Wars end in conferences or in diplomatic formulations and that is the direction one can see for Syria from the Russian-American agreement. The diplomatic arrangement inside sovereign Syrian territory through the creation buffer zones (de-escalation zones in diplomatic terms) by the two major powers is preferable for Israel over relying solely on military forces and a doctrine of setting red lines. The rules of the game of sending signals and deterrence are inherently elusive and likely to collapse unexpectedly. It is preferable, therefore, to incorporate the rules of the diplomatic game and diplomatic arrangements, which are far more durable. Furthermore, in the event of an escalation into warfare on the Syrian side of the Golan, Israel would be hard-pressed to find any international legitimacy for exercising a large-scale military option like a preventivestrike in sovereign Syrian territory from the territory it controls on the other side of the Golan. Lets not forget that the world rejected Israels annexation of the Israeli side of the Golan, which it considers null and void according toUN Security Council Resolution 497. Every single plan that the international community has formulated to end the civil war in Syria includes some variation of an opening clause declaring the need to preserve Syrias territorial integrity, which is one of the only points upon which both the Assad regime and the rebels both agree. Israels security interests first and foremost focus on those areas abutting its borders. Therefore, it is better for Israel to join the American-Russian process of resolving the war in Syria. Even if such arrangements mean the return of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to the control of the Damascus regime. In such a scenario, the American-Russian agreement is likely to rehabilitate and strengthen the UN troops in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) which has been there since the ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War in 1974. The UN observer force, whose mandate is to supervise demilitarized zones in the Golan Heights, could gain new momentum this time with regards to the indirect agreement with Iran. A renewed (and reinforced) UNDOF mission is the answer to the question that so bothers Israel: who will monitor the de-escalation zone along its border onthe Golan Heights. A diplomatic process jointly led by the Americans and Russians, and the tacit and indirect agreement with Iran to re-demilitarize the Golan Heights, could make a the best contribution to creating a stability we dont have today. From Israels perspective, that means distancing Iranian military forces from the Golan Heights and minimizing the risk of an unplanned and undesired military escalation. Shemuel Meir is a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Today he is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues and author of theStrategic Discourse blog, which appears inHaaretz. Read this post in Hebrewhere. Reprinted, with permission, from +972 Magazine. Photo: Israeli Defense Forces on a drill in the Golan Heights (Wikimedia Commons).

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July 21, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Israeli Aid Gives an Unexpected ‘Glimmer of Hope’ for Syrians – New York Times

The aid creates a positive awareness of Israel on the Syrian side, said Col. Barak Hiram, the commanding officer of Israels 474 Golan Brigade, adding that it could lay the first seeds of some form of future agreement. Most of the supplies are donated by Israeli and foreign nongovernmental organizations, while the Israeli government has footed the bill for medical treatment. According to the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, a New York-based network of organizations involved in the aid effort, Israel has also become an efficient, if unlikely, staging area for Syrian aid groups operating abroad that, facilitated by the Israeli military, are now shipping goods into Syria through Israeli ports. The extent of the project became known days after the United States and Russia announced a cease-fire agreement for southern Syria, territory that includes the areas covered by Operation Good Neighbor, and after President Trumps cancellation of the clandestine and failing American program to provide arms and supplies to Syrian rebel groups. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli reporters during a trip to Europe this week, said he was utterly opposed to the cease-fire deal because of concerns that it would allow Shiite militias backed by Israels archenemy, Iran, to dig in close to its borders. Netanyahu is upset because the Jordanians were told that the Shiite militias would be kept 40 kilometers from their border, said Ehud Yaari, an Israeli analyst and fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Israel did not get the same promise. We were left out. But discussions about the cease-fire are continuing, Mr. Yaari said, and the Israeli protests seemed aimed at trying to shape the outcome. Israel says it maintains a policy of nonintervention in Syrias civil war, which began in 2011. But it has frequently bombed convoys and stores of weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia fighting in Syria on behalf of Mr. Assad. On other occasions, it has retaliated against Syrian government positions for the spillover of errant fire into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. According to Israeli military officials, extremist groups associated with the Islamic State control about 20 percent of the territory along the Syrian side of the Golan boundary, concentrated in the south. A mlange of other Sunni rebel groups, including affiliates of Al Qaeda, control an additional 65 percent, while the Syrian Army, Shiite allies and Druze loyalists control about 15 percent in the north. Israeli analysts say it can be assumed that cash, ammunition and intelligence assets also pass through the fence on the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war. A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted local Syrian rebels saying that they regularly received cash for salaries and weapons as part of the Israeli effort to push hostile forces from the border villages. Israel has not explicitly denied the report, and the military would not comment. But Israeli military officials insist that Operation Good Neighbor deals purely with humanitarian aid and that they would not jeopardize the emerging climate of cooperation or taint it by mixing in weapons transfers and intelligence gathering. Since Israel and Syria are technically in a state of war and have no diplomatic relations, Israel has not taken in masses of Syrian refugees as other countries have done. Even a government proposal to bring in 100 orphaned Syrian children was dropped. Still, many Israelis have expressed distress over standing by as the humanitarian disaster has unfolded in Syria, which is what motivated the military to undertake the operation, officials said. Syrians wounded in the fighting first arrived at the Israeli border fence early in 2013, desperate for help. We faced a dilemma, said Dr. Noam Fink, the chief medical officer of the Israeli militarys northern command. The decision was made by our commanders and our government to allow them to enter the country and to give them full medical treatment. Since then, with medical facilities in war-ravaged towns and villages barely functioning, Israel has treated about 4,000 war-wounded or sick Syrians. Israel says it is now getting aid to an area inhabited by about 200,000 Syrians, including around 400 displaced families living in tent encampments along the international boundary, and is helping equip new clinics in the area. So far the strategy is working, said Amos Harel, the military affairs analyst for the newspaper Haaretz, noting the relative quiet along the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line. It is an intelligent policy. It is not only altruistic. Georgette Bennett, who founded the Multifaith Alliance in 2013, said her network had the ability to reach deeper on the Syrian side, covering an area of 1.5 million Syrians. The cooperation between Israelis and Syrians is a great glimmer of hope coming out of this tragedy, said Ms. Bennett, a Hungarian-born former refugee and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. The alliances director of humanitarian relief and regional relations, Shadi Martini, is a Syrian who said he managed a hospital in Aleppo, a city that has been an epicenter of the war, before fleeing the country in 2012. When he first heard about the Israelis aid, he said: It was a very big shock to me. Syrians were brought up to fear Israelis as the devil who wants to kill us and take our land. Speaking by telephone from Michigan, where he now lives, Mr. Martini said he had since visited Israel five times to push for, and coordinate, the effort with the Israeli military. It has struck a chord with a lot of Syrians, he said. This is supposed to be our enemy. While some Syrians still have reservations about receiving aid from Israel, he added: It is not the monster they told us it was. People have started looking at it differently. An earlier version of this article mischaracterized Georgette Bennett, who founded the Multifaith Alliance. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, not a Holocaust survivor herself.

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July 20, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Israel Escalates Threats Against Iran – Haaretz

Ex-national security adviser warns that Israel must prevent Iranian infrastructure in Syria at any cost. The explicit threat to Iran and Hezbollah is not an official declaration, but foreign governments will find it hard to ignore Israel must prevent Iran from building bases in Syria at any cost, a former national security adviser who retains influence in the Prime Ministers Office said this week. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror was speaking at a briefing for foreign correspondents organized by the nonprofit group the Israel Project. The implications of the Iranians building bases in Syria, Amidror said, is that it creates launching-pad bases in Syria to Hezbollah and the Iranians. And Israel should prevent it whatever will be the price. If that will not be taken into account by the those who are making those arrangements the Americans, the Russians and others that might lead the IDF to intervene and destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria, he continued, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win from the long and very brutal war in Syria and move the focus into Israel. > > Syria analyses: Israel stuck between Putin and Tump Israel will have to live with Russian dominance on its border > > We’ve got more newsletters we think you’ll find interesting. Please try again later. This email address has already registered for this newsletter. Asked whether Israel would have the freedom to operate in Syria in such a manner, Amidror replied, I dont see who will stop it. I mean, if that is in the interest of Israel, we should strive to be sure that our interests will be kept. Though Amidror currently holds no official government position, he still has ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and retains a degree of influence on certain issues. Thus it is reasonable to assume that foreign governments that follow events in the region would note such remarks. Its also convenient for Netanyahu to have such statements come from Amidror. That way, the explicit threat against Iran and Hezbollah isnt perceived as being an official Israeli one, yet at the same time its hard to ignore. Rapping the cease-fire deal Amidrors remarks came one day after Netanyahu publicly criticized a cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia and the United States in southern Syria. In a briefing for Israeli journalists during Netanyahus visit to Paris, he and people identified only as senior officials voiced two reservations about the deal. First, Israel believes it essentially acquiesces to Irans presence in Syria, which already includes bases for ground forces, thousands of fighters from various Shiite militias and advanced plans for setting up air and naval bases in the country. Second, Israel is skeptical of the agreements stated commitment to keep Iranian and Hezbollah forces about 20 miles from its border in the Golan Heights. Israel doesnt believe that Russian troops, which are responsible for enforcing the agreement, will actually prevent Iranian forces from approaching the border. Over the past few days, Russian Military Police units have been spotted near the town of Daraa in southern Syria, apparently to help enforce the cease-fire. But Israel is still trying to determine exactly how Russia plans to supervise activities by the Assad regime and its allies, including Iran and Hezbollah. In response to Netanyahus remarks, Russia hastened to issue a soothing statement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the cease-fire deal in southern Syria had taken Israels security needs into account, and that the agreement would be implemented in coordination with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel has resumed its campaign of diplomatic warnings on a neighboring front, the Lebanese border. On Tuesday, the IDF released new video footage of intelligence operations by Hezbollah along the border, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War. This footage comes almost a month after Israel complained to the United Nations about similar Hezbollah activities along the border. Israel also revealed last month that Iran had set up weapons plants for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The explanation for Israels moves on the Lebanese front is obvious. The Security Council will soon hold its periodic debate on the implementation of Resolution 1701 and the extension of UNIFILs mandate in southern Lebanon. Israel thus has an interest in exposing Hezbollahs violations, as well as what it describes as UNIFILs apathy to or deliberate disregard of these violations. This would push the UN peacekeeping force to be more aggressive in its dealings with Hezbollah and also lay the public-diplomacy groundwork should a military conflict erupt in Lebanon. Clashing with Trump But developments along the Syrian border have an even greater potential for drama. Though its doubtful Israel will attack Iranian bases in Syria the next morning, as Amidrors words might seem to imply, theres clearly a point of friction over which Netanyahu, for the first time, has been willing to publicly clash with the Trump administration. Israels suspicions about Washingtons conduct in the Syrian theater relate to several issues: Russian-American coordination, which Israel sees as being dictated mainly by Moscow; the emerging American plan to reduce its military presence in the region once the Islamic State is defeated in its Syrian capital of Raqqa; and Trumps apparent acceptance of Irans growing role in Syria. The administrations announcement, two years after the nuclear deal was signed with Iran, that Tehran is honoring its commitment to freeze its nuclear program also apparently made Netanyahu uncomfortable. Until then, President Donald Trump had sounded much more forceful and suspicious toward Iran than some of his top officials. Washington hastened to give itself a bit of cover for that relatively positive statement toward Tehran by announcing new sanctions against 18 Iranian individuals and organizations in response to Irans support for terror in the Middle East, its aid to the Assad regime in Syria and its ballistic-missile development. These conflicting messages from Washington, coupled with the Israeli warnings, reveal that both the Syrian and Iranian situations are fluid. That apparently is why Israel is applying pressure in the hope of spurring the Americans to improve the agreement they reached in a way that would make it better for Israel. Want to enjoy ‘Zen’ reading – with no ads and just the article? Subscribe today

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July 20, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Concern for Irish troops in Syria as Russia and US plan safe zone – thejournal.ie

Fighting in recent weeks came so close to the UNDOF camp that Irish troops were forced to take cover inside. Fighting in recent weeks came so close to the UNDOF camp that Irish troops were forced to take cover inside. CONCERN HAS BEEN expressed about Irish troops based in Syria after recent fighting closeto their camp and developments that have seen the United States and Russia negotiating the terms of a safe zone in the area. In the first week of this month, clashes between rebel groups and government forces in Syria came so close to the Irish camp that troops had to take cover as gun fire landed inside the base. A ceasefire in southern Syria was brokered by the US, Russia and Jordan on Friday and it has been reported that they reached an agreement on the creation of a safe zone, which would allow refugees who fled Jordan to return. It would also facilitate the access ofhumanitarian aid. However, it is possible armed Syrian rebels will police this new safe zone, with the backing of American and Russian troops, which would significantly change the dynamics of the situation and could lead to further tensions. The mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is to maintain the ceasefire between the Israeli and Syrian forces, which means keeping weapons out of the Golan Heights. The terms of this new safe zone could impact on this mission. Now Irish soldiers in Syria and a number of politicians at home are asking what the government here is doing to involve itself in ongoing negotiations that will ultimately impact on members of its Defence Forces and the job they have been sent there to do. There are concerns about the involvement of Russian and US forces. Source: Irish Defence Forces via Flickr Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Sinn Fin TD Aengus Snodaigh said the UNDOF mandate now urgently needs to be reviewed. When the circumstances on the ground change in such a dramatic fashion and the Russians are involved, you have to look again at whether its appropriate for us to be there in the firstplace. We need to look at whether we need to consider withdrawing, do we need extra supports there? he said. The UNDOF mission Currently there are 136 Irish personnel committed to this mission. The most recent UN Security Council report on UNDOF noted that the spilloverof the Syrian civil war into the missions area of operation had pushedpeacekeepers from the Bravo [Syrian] side into the Alpha [Israeli] side. It is unlikely there will be a full return to the Syrian side. The mission is subject to the disengagement agreement and any changes require consent by both Israel and Syria. Some of the options considered in the report include urging these two governments to allow the use of new technologies for observation and enhancedequipment for the troops protection capabilities. Changes such as these are unlikely to receive support, at least from the Israeli side as its government has been critical of UN peacekeeping missions. Just recentlyIsraels deputy chief of staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi, contradicted the Irish commander of the UN force in southern Lebanon, Major General Michael Beary, when they were giving a tour of the border toUS Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. The Times of Israel reports Beary told Haley the situation was stable, but was interrupted by Kochavi, who said the mission was not doing its job properly. TheJournal.ie asked the Department of Foreign Affairs whether Minister Simon Coveney raised this interaction in his recent controversial meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahi the department did not respond. Source: Irish Defence Forces via Flickr Snodaigh pointed out that the restrictions on the mission in Syria have made the job of peacekeeping in the area practically impossible at times. Irish troops operating there have been welcomed throughout the world for the way they operate, not taking sides and being quite good at diffusing situations. In the Golan Heights, in the main, they have been welcomed. But there have been situations where they have had to keep their heads down, he said. The mandate isnt to interfere, but the whole place is in flux can they fulfil their mandate now? There is no point in being there if they are just keeping their heads down. Speaking in the Dil this week, Fianna Fil TD Lisa Chambers also raisedrecent tensions in the Golan Heights, describing the fighting close to the Irish camp as unprecedented. The fighting was so close to the Irish camp and so intense that many Irish military personnel are concerned at what they perceive as a lack of response from the government, she said. I am concerned that there has been no publicity about this and no official response. I am concerned that there has not been more briefing on it and that it was not acknowledged, given the scale of the offensive action that took place, about which a number of troops are concerned. Why has the Minister not briefed the Dil about this before now and why did he wait to be prompted? What measures are the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs taking, in light of what we have learned? In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe said the governments ability to protect the health and safety of our personnelis his paramount concern when considering any mission. It is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel serving overseas are appropriately trained and equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to carry out their mission, he said. In this regard, they complete comprehensive, mission focused training in advance of any deployment to ensure that they are suitably prepared for the challenges that they face. This also includes providing the required force protection assets specific to the mission. Ongoing threat assessments are carried out in mission areas and both personal equipment and force assets are continually reviewed, to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are appropriately equipped to fulfil their roles. The minister noted, however, that no mission is without danger and said he is assured by the Chief of Staff that appropriate security measures are in place for Irishpersonnel serving with UNDOF. Kehoe did not address questions about the Irish governments level of interaction with the US, Russia and Jordan in relation to the safe zone. His department did note that the impact on the UNDOF mission of the conflicts between state and non-state actors inSyriais being closely monitored. 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July 16, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed

Firefighters battle blazes in Safed and Golan Heights | The Times of … – The Times of Israel

Police on Sunday evacuated dozens of residents from a number of residential buildings in the northern city of Safed after a nearby brush fire spread to homes in the northern Israeli city, rescue workers said. The decision to evacuate people from their homes was made over fears that residents would be trapped inside the burning homes. At least 15 houses were destroyed. Additional firefighting crews and firefighting planes were called into battle the fire, which was later said to be brought under control. In addition to the apartment buildings, a number of cars parked nearby also caught fire. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it evacuated two people in mild condition as a result of the blaze. Hebrew media reports later said that seven people in total were evacuated after suffering from smoke inhalation. Also Sunday, IDF soldiers and UN peacekeeping forces were evacuated from their posts in the Golan Heights after a large brush fire breaks out in the area. Firefighters were working to put out the fire raging near the kibbutz Metzar. There were no reports of injuries or damage. Earlier Sunday, a fire broke out near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, leading rescue crews to evacuate three people in moderate condition from smoke inhalation, according to Hebrew media reports. Residents of some 15 homes were also reported to have been ordered to leave their homes, but were later allowed to return, after the fire had been largely brought under control. Emergency crews were investigating the cause of the blaze.

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July 16, 2017   Posted in: Golan Heights  Comments Closed


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