Posted by Joshua on Saturday, July 10th, 2010
With aid from Iran, Syria has a factory producing M-600 missiles for Hezbollah. So is Assad really looking for peace?
By Yossi Melman – Haaretz
At an undisclosed site, the Syrians have erected a factory that produces M-600 missiles, capable of hitting almost any target in Israel. According to the French newsletter Intelligence Online, the factory is a joint Iranian-Syrian venture. Iran funded construction of the site, and supplied the assembly line, the technology and the war doctrine. In return, Syria is committed to provide half of the factory’s production – that is, half the missiles – to Hezbollah…..
During [the 2006] war, Israel bombed Lebanon with 7,000 tons of explosives, while the explosives from the approximately 4,000 rockets and missiles Hezbollah fired on Israel added up to “only” 28 tons.
“It is clear that in the next war we will look back and miss the 2006 conflict, in terms of the amount of explosives that will fall on Israel,” says a senior intelligence source. The question is whether this war will take place, when and with whom.
While experts say Hezbollah is preparing itself for war with Israel, there are no signs that it intends to start one any time soon. In fact, the Second Lebanon War limited Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s room to maneuver. The political and military leadership in Iran was angered by Hezbollah’s decision to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the ambush that kicked off the war with Israel. The Iranians did not want war at that point, and believed Nasrallah was mistaken in approving the kidnapping without first consulting them. As a result, they took away his right to decide whether to attack Israel in the future.
A more interesting question being debated by Israeli intelligence is just where Syrian President Bashar Assad is heading. This is an issue of intentions, which intelligence – all intelligence services – always wonder about. Assad’s capabilities can be quantified: Exact and up-to-date information can be acquired (Israel does this successfully ) about the number of Syrian soldiers, the structure of the army and its weapons, its theories of war and so on. It is much harder to determine the intentions of the Syrian leader, especially because they are the decisions of one man or no more than a small forum made up of army commanders and advisors.
Israeli intelligence is divided into optimists and pessimists. At the head of the optimist pack is Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, head of the IDF research department, who believes that if Assad receives the Golan Heights back from Israel, he will consent to a peace agreement and everything it implies – including open borders, limited commercial relations and diplomatic ties. Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi believes there is an opportunity here for a diplomatic process, and that everything must be done to pursue it.
In contrast, retiring Mossad chief Meir Dagan holds that Assad will never agree to peace with Israel, because hostility toward Israel is what justifies his rule. The outgoing director of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, feels Assad is still uncertain about which path to take, although he thinks the Syrian leader’s behavior in recent years shows that he is tending to distance himself from peace, just as Dagan contends. Israeli intelligence describes this as “strengthening self-confidence to the point of insolence.”
‘Told you so’
Before the United Staes invaded Iraq in 2003, Assad’s advisors suggested that he support President George W. Bush, just as his father and predecessor Hafez Assad joined the senior Bush’s coalition during the first Gulf War. Bashar Assad refused. Today he may feel this was a good bet and could tell his advisors, “I told you so.” He did not join the American war, and still he is courted by the U.S. administration.
In contrast with both his father’s stance and his own earlier positions, Assad is stiffening his demands. He is not prepared to forgo an alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, even in return for a peace agreement with Israel. Still, despite everything, he continues to act with great care and tries not to break the rules.
“What does Assad want?” the intelligence community asks. “That’s a tough question,” they answer themselves.
Troops sent to Lebanon’s south
(By Bill Varner, The Washington Post)
UNITED NATIONS — Lebanon is sending as many as 5,000 additional soldiers to the country’s south after clashes between civilians and United Nations troops and Israel’s warning that Hezbollah is preparing for a new war there.
Obama-Netanyahu Meeting 5: A Victory for Both Sides and New Energy To Move the Peace Process Forward
Steven Cohen, Hffington Post
Both leaders decided to give up their attempts to intimidate each other and, instead, to cooperate in order to achieve some results while the two men are still in office. Both leaders reached the conclusion that the special relationship between their two countries… must be bolstered…. I expect that direct talks will resume before the 2010 United Nations General Assembly in September. It would be made possible, not only by the economic improvements in Palestinian life engendered by effective Palestinian leadership, but also by an undeclared continuation of the Israeli settlement freeze without further provocations against the Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Obama Says Chances for Peace in the Middle East are Slim
“Obama indicated that chances for peace in the Middle East are slim during his interview on Israeli TV 2. He said that Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu understands this.
شار الرئيس الأمريكي باراك أوباما إلى أن فرص السلام في الشرق الأوسط ضئيلة. واعتبر في مقابلة مع القناة التلفزيونية الإسرائيلية الثانية أن رئيس الوزراء الاسرائيلي بنيامين نتنياهو قد فهم هذا الأمر بعد اللقاء الذي جمع الطرفين
Jewish senator may mediate Israel-Syria talks
Roni Sofer, Published: 07.10.10, Ynet
President Assad asks Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to mediate new peace negotiations, Jerusalem officials believe move was spurred by severe US sanctions on Iran. Ayalon: Talks must begin without preconditions.
A covert message was conveyed this weekend from Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to Syrian President Bashar Assad through US Senator Arlen Specter, Ynet learned Saturday. Israeli officials believe the Syrian president’s timing was not accidental, and that the country is altering its position on talks with Israel following new sanctions on Iran.
Ayalon told Specter that Israel wanted peace, but that negotiations must begin with no preconditions. He said Israel would agree to hold the talks “anytime, anywhere”, either public or covert. When asked about a possible military conflict this summer, Ayalon told the senator Israel was not planning to attack its northern neighbors.
Anthony Cordesman gives a bit of ground truth about the Iran fear factory – bless his heart.
The Conventional Military Balance in the Gulf
Anthony Cordesman, July 9, 2010
The CSIS Middle East Program hosted Dr. Anthony Cordesman on June 24, 2010, for a Gulf Roundtable discussing the military capabilities of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman – in the face of challenges from Iran.
In a conventional war against Iran, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries would almost certainly win, according to Dr. Anthony Cordesman, the Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. Cordesman offered his assessment of Iran’s military capabilities and potential responses to them at a Gulf Roundtable hosted by the CSIS Middle East Program on June 24, 2010.
According to Cordesman, the GCC countries outspend the Islamic Republic on defense by a factor of ten, and they enjoy U.S. military support. The real threat to Iran’s neighbors, and to their unfettered export of oil, lies in Iran’s asymmetric warfare capabilities.
Although Iran boasts a robust military inventory, Cordesman asserted that a large portion of the country’s armor, land-based air defenses, and naval equipment date back to the 1970s and or is no match for the GCC’s superior arsenal. The mix of old equipment and less capable Russian and Chinese weapons not only presents significant logistical problems on the battlefield, but helps negate Iran’s comparative advantage in manpower. Cordesman noted that “40 to 60 percent” of Iranian planes are non-operational and that artillery must be towed from one position to another. Despite the Iranian government’s claim to be developing new weapons – and its occasional arms deals with Russia and China – Cordesman judged that, in reality, the Iranian military is modernizing at an “extremely slow” rate.
Regarding Iran’s missile capabilities, he claimed that “almost a cottage industry” exists in exaggerating the Iranian missile threat. Cordesman judged that this threat could become extremely serious over time, but that the accuracy and lethality of Iranian missiles was far worse than many news reports suggest, rendering them useless for most military uses other than as terrorist weapons.
By contrast, he said, Iran has devoted extensive resources to developing its asymmetric warfare capabilities to compensate for its depreciating conventional military infrastructure. The government has significantly modernized its 20,000-man-strong International Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) naval branch and given it principal responsibility for operations inside the Gulf. (The regular navy operates principally outside the Gulf). The IRGC has a wide variety of assets at its disposal to threaten shipping lanes, including large-scale mining warfare capability, missile patrol boats, and a fleet of heavily armed attack vessels. Given the world’s dependence on oil imports from the Gulf, Cordesman judged that containing these threats will be a long-term strategic consideration for both the United States and its GCC allies.
Cordesman cited Iran’s ability to wage indirect, proxy warfare as another key component of its asymmetric threat. While the Al Quds force receives much of the credit for running training camps for unconventional warfare and aiding terrorist groups throughout the region, Cordesman noted that Iranian diplomats and intelligence people are also engaged in these activities. Iranian financial and military support has perpetuated the existence of Hamas, Hizbullah, and Iraq-based military groups, thereby complicating U.S. efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and stabilize Iraq.
In addition to increasing its regional clout and influence, Iran has also invested “massive” resources into strengthening its internal security. The aftermath of the June 2009 elections demonstrated these paramilitary forces’ ability to effectively mobilize and quell internal opposition.
Perhaps the most menacing manifestation of Iran’s desire to tip the regional military balance in its favor is its pursuit of nuclear capability. Cordesman cautioned that the United States should prepare to cope with a nuclear Iran, but questioned how soon Tehran will be able to convert its nuclear program into an operational threat. Given the poor quality and upkeep of Iran’s conventional military equipment and infrastructure, he also suggested that it would take time and extensive testing to make an Iranian-produced nuclear weapon reliable and effective.
Iran’s asymmetric warfare capabilities threaten GCC countries despite their superior conventional weaponry and U.S. military backing. Cordesman contended that this is partially due to structural and coordination problems within the GCC itself. He characterized the Council’s efforts at military interoperability as “little more than empty rhetoric,” citing its lack of mission focus and poor coordination. In particular, most GCC countries prefer to cooperate with the United States, France, and the United Kingdom instead of each other, which hampers their interoperability. On a tactical level, Cordesman noted that the Gulf countries have flawed training and integration schemes for their forces; he highlighted that they often train their pilots to be “knights of the air” asopposed to “fighters in an air force.”
Despite these flaws, he posited that the United States and its GCC allies have tools at their disposal to contain Iran’s threat. He recommended that the United States continue to promote intra-GCC cooperation through continued advisory missions and high-level delegations. Additionally, he argued, the United States should continue to maintain a strong military presence in the Gulf and provide logistical support and training to GCC forces. This requires maintaining its military bases in the Gulf, upgrading GCC countries’ defense systems, and providing counterterrorism support and intelligence. He maintained that these measures would both act as deterrents against low-level Iranian acts of aggression and also reassure GCC states that they can count on the United States should Iran overstep its bounds.
To cope with Iran’s nuclear program, Cordesman advised that the United States should continue to support sanctions against Iran and closely monitor the development of the country’s nuclear program through intelligence and satellite imagery. Given that Iran has close to seventy nuclear facilities – many in northwest Iran and many still likely undiscovered – he cautioned that a U.S.- or Israeli-led military strike is likely to fail to comprehensively destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He said that the best military option would be what the Obama administration called “extended regional deterrence” and strong missile defenses.
A detailed assessment of the Gulf military balance, entitled “The Gulf Military Balance in 2010: An Overview,” is HERE.
Syria’s ruler marks decade in power
By Roula Khalaf, July 8 2010 19:30
Staying in power for a decade is no achievement in the Middle East, where authoritarian rule keeps leaders going for a lifetime. In the case of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, however, even a shorter tenure was never guaranteed…..
The safer environment that Mr Assad faces removes an main excuse for inaction on the domestic front. “He has emerged unscathed from very difficult circumstances,” says Jon Alterman, Middle East director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“The great disappointment is that after a lot of optimism that Syria’s future would not look like the past, the future does look like the past, with low economic growth, lack of personal freedom and a government that is an obstacle to progress.”……
rue, the president and his glamorous wife, Asma, project the image of a modern couple. And Damascus has developed a more cosmopolitan feel, with new construction, restaurants and smart boutique hotels. Limited economic liberalisation, meanwhile, has opened up the socialist economy to private banking and eased foreign exchange controls. But fundamental barriers to investment – corruption, inefficiency and the heavy hand of the state – remain.
“The business environment is off-putting for many significant investors,” says Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. “But the expectations of society are higher in as much as Syria achieved some success on the foreign policy front, so the argument saying not much can be done to improve living standards because of outside pressure doesn’t work quite as well.”
The consolidation of Mr Assad’s rule also has not translated into a greater willingness to tolerate opposition. Only last week, Haitham Maleh, a 78-year-old human rights lawyer, was jailed for three years for “weakening national morale”.
“There’s always been a question about whether Assad is a true reformer hampered by an old guard or he only talked reform at first to gain some legitimacy,” says Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch. “The record after 10 years is that he’s not truly committed to internal reform.”
Syria Offers 40% of Land for Oil, Gas Exploration, Thawra Says
2010-07-09 By Zainab Fattah
July 9 (Bloomberg) — Syria’s government has offered 74,000 square-kilometers of land, or 40 percent of the country, to international oil and gas companies for exploration, Al Thawra newspaper reported, citing the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resouces. In addition to new exploration on the land, the ministry is seeking the restoration of old wells where production ceased in the past several years, the newspaper reported. About 10 oil companies are currently exploring sites in Syria, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and PetroCanada, although production is yet to start, the newspaper said.
Syrian Households to Receive SYP 10,000 Heating subsidy (Syria Report)
The new plan to help Syrian households pay for their heating bills has been passed into Law by the Syrian President.
Syria Sees Slight Improvement in Corruption Index (Syria Report)
Syria’s ranking in the latest edition of the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International has improved for the first time in more than five years.
Army Commander Jean Qahwaji said the the Lebanese Army is not in south Lebanon to ‘protect Israel’ as he divulged that the LAF receives from the UNIFIL, detailed lists of ‘premises to be searched’. As to the ‘source’ of these lists, Qahwaji said it bluntly that these were ‘Israeli lists’…. It is the first and strongest rebuke by the Head of the Lebanese Army of UNIFIL’s tactics …
Lebanese Shi’ite women marching in Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah’s
Octavia, Frances, and the Late, Great Ayatollah Fadlallah
Senior Associate, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, July 9 2010
Hezbollah grows up
By Avi Issacharoff, 9 July 2010
Four years after the Second Lebanon War, the Shi’ite group has managed to rebuild its military capabilities across from Israel’s northern frontier. Still, most sources say it’s not interested in another round of fighting.
Media group urges Syria to drop journalists’ case
A press freedom group urged Syria to drop criminal defamation charges against two journalists it said could face three years in jail over their reports into alleged corruption at a state fertilizer company. The Committee to Protect Journalists said Bassam Ali and Suhaila Ismail investigated misuse of funds at the Public Company for Fertilizers in Syria. The group said that after their reports were published in 2005 and 2006, the minister of industry fired the company director, who then filed a lawsuit against the journalists for defamation and “resisting the socialist system”. (Reuters)