Germany openly called for Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria. This rare criticism of Iran was caused by Israel pointing out that the presence of Iranian forces in Syria is a major cause of Syrians fleeing their country and heading for Germany where it is easy to get asylum. It is generally accepted (and Syria even admits it) that Iran does have thousands of trainers, advisors, technicians and other support specialists to make the Syrian Army and their Iranian allies (mainly Shia mercenaries recruited by Iran and controlled by Iranian trainers and advisors) a formidable force. The chatter from Iran (Internet postings or street talk) confirms that and the number of these Iranians killed. Most of the dead belong to the Quds Force (similar to the U.S. Special Forces, but which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists not fighting them). Over a hundred IRGC officers have been killed in Syria and Iraq since 2012. But a growing number of non-Quds personnel are dying as Israel attacks Iranian bases in Syria. Quds supervised the creation of the huge (over 50,000) mercenary force in Syria. Quds recruits these foreign Shia (mainly Afghans and Lebanese), trains, arms, equips, supplies and pays them (including death benefits) and usually has Quds (or IRGC) officers leading the mercenary units. Iranian advisors are also embedded with most Syrian Army units. These Quds, IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and Iranian army personnel have rotated in and out of Syria since 2012 and when they get home they talk about their experiences and that (usually via friends or kin) gets posted on social media or emailed to friends and kin overseas (usually via encrypted apps like Telegram). All this is great for intel agencies and journalists with contacts in the overseas Iranian community and a knowledge of Farsi (the major Iranian language). As a result, we know that morale in the Syrian army is really bad because the troops are recruited from the minority (no more than 15 percent of the pre-war population) that supports Assad (usually because they are not Sunni Arabs, who comprised 75 percent of Syrians in 2012). These Syrians often go to great lengths to avoid getting conscripted and if they do end up in uniform few are eager to see combat. Thus the Iranian mercenaries are the key to whatever combat capabilities the Assad forces have. This is why the Assads also want Iran to withdraw its forces once all the rebel forces are destroyed, disarmed or otherwise neutralized. Otherwise, the Iranian led mercenaries will be the real power in Syria. Until there is peace in Syria more Syrians will flee and those that can afford it will head for Germany, which is one of the few European nations accepting Syrian refugees.
Russia has made it clear that it sides with Israel when it comes to Syria and a long-term peace deal. Russia backed this up by openly accepting Israeli use of Jerusalem as their capital and moving functions normally held in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This angers many Moslems, and especially Iran. This support for Israel is one of the few things the United States and Russia agree on these days.
But the alliance with Russia is unwritten. Yet it is real as Israel has not attacked any Russian targets with its growing air offensive against Iranian forces. During May the Russian president met separately with the Israeli and Syrian leaders and apparently worked out terms of a peace deal that Israel and the Assads can live with. Turkey is willing to follow as long as Turkish border security measures (a security zone on the Syrian side of the border patrolled by Turk supported Syrian militias) are left alone. In the northeast, the Syrian Kurds could have their autonomy as long as they kept the peace. Basically, the Russian proposal is that “all foreign troops” leave Syria. That will include the Americans but not those that now have treaty rights (Russia has an airbase and part of a port). The Americans have no interest in a permanent presence they just want to deal with some Islamic terrorists and then leave. Israel insists that Iran has no treaty rights and should get out completely, along with their local affiliate Hezbollah. Russia has specifically called on Iran get its foreign mercenaries (including Hezbollah) out of Daraa province, which borders Israel. The Russians did this by referring to all “foreign forces” in Daraa and those are all Iranian. Russia knows that Iran has already made a big deal about being near the border and attacking Israel. But so far attempts to attack have only resulted in heavier Iranian losses from Israeli air and missile attacks.
To achieve such a deal the remaining rebel groups have to be destroyed. These holdouts are mainly Islamic terrorist groups aligned with al Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Kurds and Americans, with some help from Iraqi forces, are going after the remaining ISIL personnel in eastern and northeastern Syria. The Assads, with the help of Iranian mercenaries and Hezbollah, are clearing areas along the northern and southern borders of remaining rebels. The only problem with this plan is that Iran refuses to leave and keeps repeating that refusal in its mass media. The Russians are unwilling to completely abandon their Iranian ally but at the same time, they do not want Iran dominating Syria like it does Lebanon (via Hezbollah). Meanwhile, Russia does not use its aircraft or air defense missile systems to interfere with Israel trying their best to destroy all Iranian bases in Syria. This Russian policy, while not perfect, is having a noticeable impact on Iran.
Despite the deal with Russia Syria still has a lot of second-rate (compared to the S-300 and S-400 systems Russia has in Syria) anti-aircraft weapons as does Iran. This is a real threat to Israel which is keen to avoid any aircraft losses. To assist with that Israel has already developed longer range guided rockets (like the American GMLRS). They have a 150 kilometers range rocket similar to GMLRS and a larger (1.8 ton) Dora missile with a range of 400 kilometers. Dora uses GPS and a terminal guidance system to achieve high accuracy (a few meters) Then there is Delilah is one of several loitering cruise missiles Israel has developed. There is also a ground launched Delilah with a range of 250 kilometers. Spike NLOS is another ground based loitering missile in wide use. These can search for a target, with a human controller approving a target via a data link, which also provides video of hits on targets, which Israel sometimes releases to the media. This was the case with the latest airstrikes, which destroyed many Syrian air defense systems (S-200 and Pantsir). Russia explained away the Pantsir loss by asserting that the vehicle was resting.
For a while (before making deals with Israel) Russia tried to dissuade Israel and its Western allies from attacking more Syrian targets, especially those that put its high tech weapons to the test because so far these electronic and anti-aircraft systems have proved ineffective against Israeli attacks and probably won’t do much better against the Americans. This is bad for business, as Russia has been touting the combat experience in Syria to get more sales for their new stuff. It would also be disastrous for Russian diplomacy which has portrayed Russia as a powerful and technically advanced ally for Syria, Iran and Turkey. Although Russia talks tough against Israel and the Americans it does not want to take that any further, nor does it want to appear like Russia is backing off. Russia is in an embarrassing situation and not getting much sympathy from anyone, not even Russians back in Russia.
Arabs And The Iranian Threat
The Arabs tend to emphasize the many threats Iran represents. Saudi Arabia recently announced that if Iran resumes its work on nuclear weapons Saudi Arabia will do so as well. Most Arab nations, as well as Israel, backed the American May 8th decision to abandon the 2015 treaty that lifted many sanctions on Iran. One thing all the Semitic (Israel and Arab) nations can agree on is that Iran is a threat to all of them. That said the Arabs see Iran concentrating their fury on Israel as a bonus because the Israelis are the most militarily experienced and powerful of the Semitic nations and most able to defeat Iran. Besides Israel is also the only Semitic nation with nukes. If Iran takes a beating in Syria that would make it easier for the Arab Coalition to end the Shia rebellion in Yemen and eliminate the Iranian influence there.
Meanwhile, the Saudis are quietly getting American special operations and intelligence assistance to find Iranian ballistic missile facilities in rebel-held Yemen. This indirectly involves the Israelis as the American and Israelis have been jointly developing these special operations and intelligence techniques since the 1990s when the ballistic missile threat from Iran and Iraq became a reality in the wake of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Iranians And The Iranian Threat
Iranians are angry with their government over how foreign affairs have been mismanaged, especially in Syria. The major complaint is how much the government has been spending on the war in Syria since 2012. Long before Israeli agents made off with details of the Iranian nuclear program earlier in 2018 there were Iranians collecting data on what the Syria war was costing Iran. The government downplayed the cost and declared the Iranian presence in Syria as a religious duty and a crucial step in the effort to destroy Israel. But now most Iranians understand that Syria was costing Iran $10-20 billion a year, which is about twice what the government spends to help the poorest Iranians (which happens to include a majority of Iranians). Iran’s religious leaders know this is why the late 2017 nationwide demonstrations included many groups that had long supported the religious dictatorship but were not in opposition because their leaders were making it clear that the welfare of the Iranian people, including those who long supported the clerics, was less important than propping up a murderous dictator in Syria who happened to be Shia. Then there was the issue of blaming all misfortunes on Israel or the Americans. The United States has always been a popular place for most Iranians and many still would move to America if they could get out of Iran. The Internet makes it easy for the Iranian-Americans to let the folks back in the old country what the U.S. (the “Great Satan” according to the Iranian clerics) is really like. There is still mandatory “death to America” demonstrations in Iran but all concerned have noted that most Iranians just go through the motions and would rather go to America than stand around shouting “Death to America.”
To compound the Syria problems the Iranian leaders are saying that the May 9th Iranian rocket attack on Israeli military targets in the Golan Heights was a great success. But it wasn’t. Of the 32 rockets, Iran claims to have fired the Israelis can only account for twenty of them and none of those hit anything of note. Some of the Iranian rockets, the ones Iron Dome deduced were headed for populated areas or military bases were shot down. There were no pictures of damage Iran claims their rocket attack caused. Yet ever since that attack, Israel has made a growing number of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria and there have been plenty of pictures of the damage. Plus there are the growing number of Iranian bodies shipped back to Iran for burial. In Syria Iranian ally Russia has refused to use its jet fighters or SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems to defend Iranian bases from Israeli attack. Syria did try to use its SAMs (over a hundred of them) but to no effect. The Israeli attacks keep coming and the Iranian people are told Iran is winning.
Since March 30, when weekly demonstrations in Gaza near the security fence began, over 120 Palestinians have been killed. Hamas has confirmed that most of the dead are Hamas members, often armed so that they can kill or capture an Israeli soldier. Many demonstrators who get in and are arrested admit that Hamas encouraged unarmed civilians to join the demonstrations and mass charges at the border fence. Israel will use non-lethal means (rubber bullets, tear gas) while the crows are still in Gaza but once some of them breach the fence and are headed for Israeli territory, real bullets are used. Most Gaza civilians halt before getting in the “shoot to stop” zone but many are swept along. Moreover, the bullets that miss the Hamas men often hit civilians further back. This is fine with Hamas, and many Gazans know it and loathe it because these civilians deaths create fodder for the foreign media.
The demonstrations are all about the Palestinian demand that all Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 (as Arab troops from several countries sought to prevent the creation of Israel) and their descendants be allowed to return to Israel. Those returnees would outnumber the Jews and destroy Israel. The demonstrations also about getting sympathetic media attention for this “right of return” and trying to make Israel look bad. This campaign was supposed to end on May 15th but continued with diminished energy after that. The plan was for Hamas to declare a victory after May 15th and switch to another plan for destroying Israel. The demonstrations are actually a diversion for multiple Hamas attempts to get terrorists into Israel or inflict casualties on Israeli forces. That does not appear to have succeeded because the Israelis do not take personnel from other parts of the Gaza border to deal with the demonstrations but instead call up reservists and order all Gaza border guards to be alert for Hamas crossing attempts.
Earlier in 2018 Hamas quietly approached Israel about a long-term truce. Hamas has proposed this before but the problem remains that Hamas is not united and no one can guarantee there won’t be organized and persistent efforts in Gaza to carry out terrorist operations in Israel if the blockade is lifted (as part of a new truce deal). At the moment Hamas cannot even agree to restore cooperation with Fatah (which runs the West Bank) and establish a united Palestinian government. Israel is not going to try and make peace with a group that is not in control of its own territory and membership.
Hamas continues to feud with Fatah, the Palestinian group that runs the West Bank and is a bit less open about its desire to destroy Israel rather than make peace. Meanwhile, one of the oldest and most powerful Palestinian backers, Saudi Arabia, has told the Palestinians to make peace, taking whatever they can get. Fatah might go for this but current Hamas leaders would not. Worse, Hamas is running out of options. Sending terrorists into Israel didn’t work (the high-tech security fence ended that). The mass rocket attacks didn’t work (Israelis would shoot back and send in troops). The occasional rocket attacks didn’t work (Iron Dome and firing back). The tunnels into Israel didn’t work (Israel extended their security fence and sensors deep underground). Offering financial incentives to get large crowds of demonstrators to border crossings is nothing new. Doing it for six weeks straight didn’t succeed either. What next? Well now the main sponsor Hamas sponsor is Iran and the Iranians have lots of new ideas, especially when it is Arabs who are going to do most of the dying. Most of the current Hamas leadership is opposed to backing an Iranian attack on Israel, but a minority faction of Hamas is all for any offensive operations against Israel.
Peaceful and Prosperous Egypt
In Egypt, the Islamic terrorist violence is way down and economic growth is up. While still critical of Israel (mainly for existing) Egypt has been more critical of Hamas and Palestinians in general. Then there are the Islamic terrorists still very active in Sinai. Many of these killers are from Gaza. The counter-terror operations continue in Sinai but mostly result in arrests of people in homes or businesses found to contain ISIL documents or weapons and explosives. That has led to finding over a hundred hidden locations where ISIL has stored weapons or explosives. In many cases, these were roadside bombs emplaced and waiting for an opportunity to use them against a suitable target. The current counter-terror activities in Sinai actually began in February and have continued at a reduced pace as the number of Islamic terrorists declines. So far over 200 Islamic terrorists and about 40 soldiers and police have been killed. Over 500 suspects have been arrested and enormous quantities of weapons, ammo, explosives and equipment have been seized. This includes over a hundred vehicles and even more motorcycles. Fifteen smuggling tunnels from Gaza were also destroyed. In addition, the families of those killed or captured committing terrorist acts are punished by having their homes and businesses destroyed. This has led to over 3,000 buildings destroyed. This sort of collective punishment has long practiced in the Middle East and while condemned in the West it does work in many parts of the world.
Egypt also takes credit for keeping in touch with Hamas leadership, and despite the divisions within Hamas, persuaded Hamas to accept an unofficial truce with Israel by the end of May. The ceasefire is not total because of the splintered Hamas leadership and many smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza still eager to fire a rocket or mortar shell into Egypt.
On the western border (Libya) the situation is also rather quiet. Egypt has allies on the other side of the border and cooperates with them to increase security along the border. There are still tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over who controls how much of the Nile water. All sides are still talking rather than shooting.
June 4, 2018: In the south two Palestinians, one armed with an axe tried to enter Israel from Gaza. They were spotted, refused to surrender and were fired on. The man with the axe was killed while his companion was wounded and fled back to Gaza.
June 3, 2018: In the south, there were more Israeli airstrikes against five Hamas targets in Gaza. These early morning attacks were in response to four more rockets fired from Gaza late on the 2nd. Three of those rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome while the fourth landed in an unpopulated area.
June 2, 2018: In the south Islamic terrorists fired two rockets and four mortar shells. In response, Israel launched ten airstrikes against Hamas facilities.
Elsewhere along the Gaza border firefighters are seeking to contain three brush fires covering nearly 300 hectares (740 acres). These blazes were started over the last few days by three or more incendiary kites to launch against Israel from Gaza when the wind is right. These kites have caused property damage but, so far, no injuries. Hamas organized the construction and release of these kites and about 300 have been launched since early May. In addition, some balloons are also being used. So far the fires have caused over $1.5 million in damage to 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres) in forests and crops near the Gaza border.
In the West, Bank soldier shot dead a Palestinian man who sought to run them over with the tractor he was driving.
June 1, 2018: In the south, several thousand Palestinians tried to force their way through the security fence at five locations. One of the Palestinians was shot dead and 40 were wounded. One explosive device was found planted near the fence. The next day two more Palestinians were fired on when they were spotted trying to get through the fence.
May 31, 2018: In Syria, there were more Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah ammunition storage areas outside Damascus. Iran has long flown in long range rockets and other advanced weapons. The Damascus airport and airbases near the city were used and the equipment was usually stored in warehouses and bunkers near the city before the stuff was moved to Lebanon or some combat zone in Syria.
In Russia, the defense ministers of Israel and Russia met. After that, there were rumors that Russia had agreed to not interfere with any Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and continue pressuring Iran to withdraw its mercenaries from the Israeli border. Israel and Russia later stated that there was no Russian blanket pledge to not interfere. There was, however, no change in the existing policy of Russian forces not confronting Israeli attacks on Iranian targets. The Russians consider this a case-by-case decision. The Russians clearly do not want to fight the Israelis, especially when the Russians have growing evidence that Russian military equipment would not do well if there were a fight. At the same time, senior officials back in Israel let it be known that Israel would not object to Syrian troops at their border, especially if there were no Iranian forces in Syria.
May 30, 2018: Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that they had reached a ceasefire agreement but Israel denied that there was any formal agreement and said negotiations, via Egypt, continue.
May 29, 2018: In the south Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups at least a hundred rockets and mortar shells across the border. One of the mortar shells landed in a school play area shortly before the young students were to arrive. Another Hamas rocket hit an electricity transmission facility that brought power in from Israel. The damage caused power outages for over 20,000 Palestinians in southern Gaza. Israel responded with airstrikes on more than 80 targets, including many it had avoided in the past. The damage to Hamas and other Islamic terror groups was extensive. The attacks continued into the next day. As Israelis cleaned up the debris from the shells and rockets, most of which landed in uninhabited areas or intercepted by Iron Dome, some of the rockets were found to have been made in Iran. Egypt stopped supplying electricity to Gaza over a year ago, mainly because Hamas refused to pay for it.
Israel also revealed that they had detected and destroyed a second Hamas tunnel near the Kerem Shalom Crossing, where most foreign aid for Gaza enters. This crossing is where the Gaza, Egyptian and Israeli borders meet and the Hamas tunnel was apparently mainly for getting people and goods in and out of Egypt. But Hamas could easily create an exit in Israel and attempt to use that for a raid. Israel destroyed this tunnel and noted that this was the 10th such Hamas tunnel into Israel that had been detected and destroyed since late 2017.
May 28, 2018: In western Syria (Homs province) Israeli airstrikes hit a Hezbollah base near the Lebanon border. Among the Hezbollah losses was one of their senior leaders. Across the border, two Israeli F-16s encountered two Russian Su-34s near Tripoli. There were reports that the Russian jets were confronting the Israelis but Russia and Israel later denied that and said it was simply a chance encounter.
May 27, 2018: Syria has apparently banned Iranian backed forces from using hangers and others buildings on Syrian bases. The Iranians must stay in a separate area and use structures they have built. This is in an effort to limit Syrian losses when Israeli airstrikes go after Iranian forces sharing Syrian bases. The Syrians apparently believe the Israeli aerial reconnaissance and information from informants on the ground is accurate enough to sort verify this new policy.
May 24, 2018: In western Syria (Homs province) Israel used six missiles to destroy a Hezbollah ammunition storage facility at a Syrian airbase.
May 23, 2018: Israel publicly warned Syria that any Syrian air defense system that fired on Israeli aircraft would be destroyed. Those that did not fire would be left alone. Syria has fired over a hundred of its large surface-to-air missiles and only managed to damage one F-16 (which crashed in Israel while trying to land). That loss was attributed to the pilot not following the correct procedure for avoiding these missiles. The Israelis are telling the Syrians, “Use it and lose it.”
May 22, 2018: The Israeli Air Force released photos showing one of their F-35 stealth fighters flying over Beirut, Lebanon. Actually, the photo was shown during a closed conference but quickly made its way to the mass media. The Israelis admitted F-35s had been used in Syria but would not provide any details.
May 21, 2018: Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian officials met in Algeria in a continuing effort to work out a common policy on Libya. At the moment Libya is in the midst of forming a national government for the first time since 2011. Neighboring countries want to ensure that none of them support disruptive factions inside Libya. Algeria and Egypt have had their differences about who to support in Libya but now appear to have resolved that problem and want to keep it that way.
May 18, 2018: As a peace gesture Egypt opened its main Gaza crossing for limited use during the entire month of Ramadan. This is the longest the Rafah Crossing has been open in nearly a decade. Normally Rafah is open only a few days a year. Not everyone can use the crossing on these special “open” days. Only people with business outside Gaza (like students at foreign universities, the elderly or those very ill) can pass and the wait to leave is often as long as eight hours. Egypt is still on bad terms with Hamas because of the anti-Egypt Islamic terror groups that have found sanctuary in Gaza. Egypt also openly criticizes Hamas for the way it has organized its massive demonstrations at the Israeli border. The Egyptians are particularly critical of Hamas encouraging unarmed Gaza civilians, including children, the joined the armed Hamas men who lead the efforts to breach the border fence.
May 15, 2018: An Israeli airstrike in Syria apparently killed a senior Hezbollah commander.
May 11, 2018: A Russian official quietly let it be known that Russia was not going to deliver S-300 Air Defense systems to anyone in Syria. Israel has been publicly and privately urging Russia to institute such a ban and now the ban is official. Israel has apparently made it clear, during the recent exchange of fire with Iranian forces in Syria, that the Israelis have the upper hand in terms of tech and military capabilities. Russia needed that demonstration so they could maintain their good relationship with Iran while also refusing to deliver S-300 systems to the Assads. This was something the Iranians wanted and were willing to pay for. But the Russians were not willing to lose the good relationship they had long (actually since the beginning in 1948) had with Israel. Nor were the Russians willing to risk having the S-300 defeated by Israeli SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) tactics and equipment. The Iranians may be willing to underestimate the Israelis, but the Russians prefer to be more realistic.
May 10, 2018: In Syria, IRGC commanders have gone on the offensive against Israel and early today launched at least twenty rockets at Israeli targets in the Golan Heights. The Iron Dome batteries there apparently handled this attack. In response, Israeli air and missile strikes against Iranian targets in Syria began and will continue until the “Iranian threat” in Syria is eliminated. That may take a while as the IRGC and Quds Force have established a presence in many parts of Assad controlled Syria as well as in southern Lebanon. One of the Israeli attacks against an Iranian base outside Damascus killed at least eight Iranians as even more non-Iranians. These losses (which are reported in Iran as “martyrs” and celebrated as defenders of Iran against American and Israeli aggression) don’t always create the desired effect in Iran. More and more Iranians see the IRGC and Quds Force as a bunch of thugs who are looking out for themselves and not the Iranian people. The Israelis appear well aware of this attitude and seem to have gone after all (at least fifty) the IRGC/Quds targets them have identified in Syria. This is just the first day. Israel also announced that it would go after (kill) Basher Assad himself if any Iranian missile attacks hit Tel Aviv (the administrative capital of Israel as opposed to Jerusalem, the official capital and home of many Moslems and Islamic holy places and thus not the best target for an Iranian missile attack).
The Iranian internal tensions have been growing for years and are now becoming more public. The nationwide late 2017 Iranian anti-government demonstrations came as a shock to many government officials but was no surprise to ordinary Iranians. The increased tensions over the 2015 sanctions treaty, the nuclear program and the failure of the Iranian government to deliver on anything (the economy, the destruction of Israel and the United States or anything else). The IRGC casualties in Syria will not necessarily cause Iranians to back their government. Israel believes all these attacks on IRGC facilities in Syria will destroy months of IRGC efforts to build an Iranian military presence in Syria. Replacing all these losses will be expensive and that cost will not be popular with most Iranians either. By attacking so many targets on the first day Israel is also seeking to intimidate the IRGC, who thought they were hiding their presence in many of these locations.