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Syria shoots down warmongering Israeli F-16…

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Author Topic: Syria shoots down warmongering Israeli F-16…  (Read 90 times)
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« on: February 11, 2018, 04:00:24 pm »

from The New York Times....

Israel Strikes Iran in Syria, Losing Jet, as Conflict Moves Into Perilous Phase

Israel said it had launched a major attack after its F-16 came under Syrian fire. The events
appeared to be Israel's first direct engagement with Iranian forces in Syrian territory.

By ISABEL KERSHNER, ANNE BARNARD and ERIC SCHMITT | Saturday, February 10, 2018

Pieces of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel on Saturday after coming under anti-aircraft fire. The pilot ejected, according to a military spokesman. — Photograph: Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.
Pieces of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel on Saturday after coming under anti-aircraft fire. The pilot ejected, according to a military spokesman.
 — Photograph: Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.

JERUSALEM — Israel clashed with Syrian and Iranian military forces on Saturday in a series of audacious cross-border strikes that could mark a dangerous new phase in Syria's long civil war.

The confrontations, which threaten to draw Israel more directly into the conflict, began before dawn when Israel intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace from Syria. The Israeli military then attacked what it called the command-and-control center from which Iran had launched the drone, at a Syrian air base near Palmyra.

On its way back from the mission, one of Israel’s F-16 fighter jets crashed in northern Israel after coming under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire. It is believed to be the first Israeli plane lost under enemy fire in decades.

That prompted a broad wave of Israeli strikes against a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets in Syrian territory. The Israeli military said it hit eight Syrian targets, including three aerial defense batteries, and four Iranian positions that it described as “part of Iran's military entrenchment in Syria.”

The events, including Israel's direct engagement with Iranian forces, threatened to intensify the crisis in Syria and showed the extent to which the country has become a battlefield between Israel and Iran, bitter foes in the region.

“This is indeed a dangerous escalation that raises the specter of direct conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria — a far more serious situation than the drawing of red lines and tit-for-tat exchanges that have occurred before,” said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Forces from Russia, Turkey and the United States are also on the ground in Syria in a war with multiple fronts and multiple factions, including the remnants of the Islamic State and other Islamist militant groups.

In the past week, aircraft from three foreign countries have been brought down in the conflict: the Israeli plane; a Turkish helicopter shot down, also on Saturday, as it attacked Kurdish militias; and a Russian plane over Idlib that was bombing rebel-held territory.

Israel has long warned about the risk of conflict as Iranian forces and their allies, including Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group militia, have dug in on Syrian territory and approached the boundary with the Israeli-held portion of the Golan Heights. Israel, which considers Iran its most potent enemy in the region, has been lobbying world powers to push these forces from the border areas.

Israel has carried out scores of strikes in Syria in recent years, largely targeting what it says are advanced weapons stores or convoys taking weapons to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. Israel has also reportedly hit Syrian government facilities involved in weapons development and an Iranian base under construction in Syria.

But this was the first Israeli strike on a site where Iranian forces were present, analysts said, and Israeli military officials said this was the first time an Iranian drone had penetrated Israeli airspace during the Syrian war. There was no immediate indication that the drone was armed.

Israeli military officials accused the Syrians and Iranians of “playing with fire,” but indicated that Israel wanted to contain the situation.

“We are ready to exact a very heavy price from whoever acts against us,” said Brigadier General Ronen Manelis, the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, “but we are not seeking an escalation.”

The jet crash represented a severe blow to Israel's prestige and could mark a major change after years in which it acted against targets in Syria with relative impunity.

In the past, Syria has claimed, falsely, that it had shot down Israeli aircraft. The last time an Israeli jet was downed under enemy fire appears to have been in the early 1980s.

Hezbollah said on Saturday that the downing of the Israeli F-16 jet by the Syrian Army marked the “start of a new strategic phase,” which would limit Israeli exploitation of Syrian airspace. “Today's developments mean the old equations have categorically ended,” the Lebanese Shiite group said in a statement.

In Syria, the day's events were viewed as potential game-changers. Government supporters celebrated in the streets of Damascus, handing out sweets and hailing Mr. Assad and the army.

This is the first time the Syrian government appears to have made good on promises to shoot down Israeli aircraft, after years of threats against both Israel and the other international militaries that have flown sorties over Syria without permission.

“I am so happy,” said Haidar, 30, a government supporter, as he handed out sweets downtown. “It makes me proud to see a Syrian response, shooting down the Israeli F-16. For years we have been waiting for a Syrian reaction against the Israeli violations and airstrikes.”

But just as Syrian self-confidence appears to have grown, Israel also sent a strong message with its broad wave of strikes on Saturday, Israeli analysts said. They noted that this was the first time in recent years Israel had struck Syrian territory in broad daylight and said that Israel had inflicted serious damage on Syria's air-defense system. Despite more Syrian antiaircraft fire, all Israeli jets returned to base safely from the second mission, after the first jet was lost, according to the Israeli military. Syria is believed to have fired at least a dozen anti-aircraft missiles, with the wreckage of one landing in Lebanon.

It was not immediately clear if the Israeli F-16 was directly hit by the Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Early assessments suggested that it was, said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, another spokesman for the Israeli military, though he added that nothing had been officially confirmed.

The Israeli military said two pilots had bailed from the downed aircraft “as per procedure.” One pilot was severely injured.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spent much of Saturday in consultations with his defense minister, the Israeli chief of staff and other military officials.

Russia, along with Iran, has been helping prop up the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on “all sides involved to show restraint and avoid all acts that could lead to complicating the situation further.”

The ministry added: “It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian soldiers that are in the Syrian Arab Republic on the invitation of the legal government to assist in the fight against terrorism.”

After a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow two weeks ago, Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel viewed with “utmost gravity” Iran's efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, and said he had made clear to Mr. Putin that Israel would “act according to need.”

Mr. Netanyahu said he spoke with Mr. Putin on Saturday and agreed that security coordination between the two countries would continue. The Israeli prime minister also said he spoke with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson about Saturday's confrontation.

“The United States is deeply concerned about today's escalation of violence over Israel's border,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Iran's calculated escalation of threat, and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Adrian J. Rankine-Galloway, said the United States military supported Israel's right of self-defense. “We share the concerns of many throughout the region that Iran's destabilizing activities threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran's malign activities,” Major Rankine-Galloway said in a statement.

With so many foreign forces engaged in Syria, the risks of the conflict extending beyond its borders are real, but analysts said all sides have an interest in making sure Saturday's events do not spiral into something larger.

“I think it will be contained for the moment,” said Steven Simon, a Middle East specialist at Amherst College who was a senior official on President Barack Obama's National Security Council. “But the situation is highly volatile,” Mr. Simon said, adding, “this has been simmering for quite a while and things are coming to a boil.”

Mr. Simon said an important question is whether the White House is counseling restraint.

“The U.S. and Israel could be thinking of their respective operations in Syria as a hammer and anvil, with Iran and its proxy forces in the middle,” he said. “If true, fighting will escalate.”

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence and now the executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said Syria, Iran and Russia would appear to have little interest now in getting into a full-blown conflict with Israel.

“Israel has the capability to destroy the Russian and Iranian project to save the Assad regime,” Mr. Yadlin said. “This is not the weak Syrian opposition. This is strong Israel.”

While Israel's military strength is a significant factor in any response, the improving situation for the Assad government is also a consideration.

“There is no incentive for the Iranians, Syrians or Russians to draw the Israelis into a military situation that has been moving in their favor for some time,” said Stephen B. Slick, a former C.I.A. station chief in Israel who now directs the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry denied the drone had strayed into Israeli airspace and rejected as “laughable” reports that Israel had intercepted a drone launched from Syria.

Syrian Army officials said the drone had been carrying out a routine mission against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, over Syrian airspace, according to the news site Al-Manar.

Colonel Conricus insisted that the drone was “on a specific Iranian mission,” and was shot down deep in Israeli territory.

Still, some Israeli analysts did not discount the possibility that the Iranian drone had crossed into Israel because of a malfunction.

“I fail to see the logic behind the Iranians sending a drone to Israel,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israeli television analyst of Arab affairs and an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They have other priorities right now in Syria.”

But once it had crossed into Israeli airspace, the Israelis had no choice but to respond, Mr. Yaari said.

He added, “The almost constant friction between the Iranian presence in Syria and the Israeli Army is taking its toll.”


Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon, and Eric Schmitt from Washington D.C. Reporting was contributed by Nada Homsi from Beirut; Rod Nordland from Tal Abyad, Syria; Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran; Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow; and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.

• Isabel Kershner is a correspondent in Jerusalem for The New York Times covering Israeli and Palestinian politics and society, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and diplomatic efforts to resolve it. Since joining The N.Y. Times' Jerusalem bureau in 2007 she has covered Israel's wars with Gaza, the failed efforts at peacemaking and the often fraught, internal divisions and culture wars that shape the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. These include the struggles over the land in the West Bank; the Palestinian political schism; and Israel's religious battles within itself and the Jewish world, including the case of a gutsy octogenarian woman who sued El Al, Israel's national airline, to establish new, non-discriminatory guidelines for seat switching to accommodate ultra-Orthodox male passengers. A fluent Hebrew speaker with working Arabic, she has been reporting on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide since 1990, previously working for The Jerusalem Report magazine. She is the author of Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan 2005). Born and raised in Manchester, England, she graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Oriental Studies.

• Anne Barnard has been the bureau chief in Beirut since 2013. She joined The New York Times as a Metro reporter in August 2007. Previously, Ms. Barnard had covered the Middle East and the Iraq war for The Boston Globe. She also worked as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Moscow Times. She graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1992.

• Eric Schmitt is a senior writer covering terrorism and national security for The New York Times. Since 2007, he has reported on terrorism issues, with assignments to Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Africa, Southeast Asia among others. He is the co-author, with The Times's Thom Shanker, of Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda, published in 2011. He was first appointed as a Pentagon correspondent for The N.Y. Times in May 1990. Mr. Schmitt served this position until February 1996, and then again from September 11th, 2001, until 2006, covering issues of national security. Between 1996 and 2001, he worked as a domestic correspondent covering, among other subjects, Congress and immigration. From 1983 until 1984, Mr. Schmitt was the clerk for James Reston, then the senior columnist. He joined The New York Times in 1983 and has had a number of assignments, including those in financial and business news, commercial aviation and the travel industry, and as a Long Island correspondent. Some of Mr. Schmitt's special projects at The Times include the HUD investigation in Puerto Rico the spring of 1990, the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from January until March 1991, the war in Somalia in December 1992, and the conflict in Haiti in September 1994. Before joining The N.Y. Times, Mr. Schmitt was an education reporter at The Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Washington, from September 1982 until September 1983. Mr. Schmitt has shared two Pulitzer Prizes. In 1999, he was part of a team of New York Times reporters awarded the Pulitzer for coverage of the transfer of sensitive military technology to China. In 2009, he was a part of a team of New York Times reporters awarded the Pulitzer for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Schmitt was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 2nd, 1959, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science and third world development from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1982. During that time, he also studied at El Instituto Internacional in Madrid for a year. He attended Harvard University's Executive Program on National and International Security in 1991. Mr. Schmitt completed a Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University in the 2006-07 academic year.

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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2018, 01:13:51 pm »

from The New York Times....

Israel's Clash With Iran and Syria: 5 Takeaways

What are some of the lessons from a skirmish in which Israel lost a F-16 jet?
One is that as the Syrian civil war winds down, a new conflict is emerging.

By DAVID M. HALBFINGER | Sunday, February 11, 2018

Israeli soldiers inspecting the site where an Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed on Saturday, returning from a mission over Syria. — Photograph: Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency.
Israeli soldiers inspecting the site where an Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed on Saturday, returning from a mission over Syria.
 — Photograph: Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency.

JERUSALEM — Israel's cross-border clash with Iranian and Syrian forces on Saturday was a sharp escalation of long-brewing hostilities along its northern frontier — and a bracing alert to those who have focused on other areas of the Syrian civil war, on other aspects of Iran's strategic assertiveness, or who believed that Israel's air superiority left it invincible in its own skies.

In the space of several hours, Israel downed what it said was an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace, then struck back at what it called the command-and-control center in Syria from which Iran launched the drone. An Israeli F-16, returning from the attack, crashed in northern Israel after coming under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire — the first Israeli jet downed under enemy fire in decades.

Israel responded with strikes against eight Syrian and four Iranian targets in Syrian territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the day's events as proof of Israel's resolve. “Yesterday we dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces,” he said on Sunday. “We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit. We will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us.”

But strategists and military analysts in Israel did not see things quite so simply. As both sides sift through the debris, here are some important points:

This isn't over. It's just beginning.

As the Syrian civil war winds down, a new conflict is emerging among Iran, which appears to want a lasting Syrian base to threaten Israel; Israel, which is determined to prevent this; and the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which showed renewed confidence in firing on Israel's warplanes.

“We are seeing a renegotiation of the rules of the game with regard to the kind of military activity that each side tolerates in the other,” said Ofer Zalzberg, an analyst at International Crisis Group. “We will see more and more friction between the parties, given that we are seeing more and more this sense that Assad has the upper hand” against Syrian rebels.

Neither side can be expected to back down.

Israel believes it is vital to stop Iran, Hezbollah or other Shiite militias from threatening it with precision rockets from faraway corners of Syria, or with artillery and troops just beyond the disputed Golan Heights.

And Iran does not want its investment in rescuing Mr. Assad to have been for naught, and to have to bring its forces home, said Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel's National Security Council. “If Iran would move back to its bases, then Assad will have gotten what he wanted, the Russians will have gotten what they wanted — but what about them?”

Israel alone can't stop Iran in Syria.

Israel has stopped neighboring countries from building nuclear facilities, but it has never tried to stop one from building up a conventional force, Mr. Eiland said. And it is unlikely, on its own, to succeed, even if it manages to slow down Iran's efforts.

What Israel can do, Mr. Eiland said, is punish the Assad government for Iran's buildup.

“We destroyed some Syrian targets, and that might create some tension between Bashar Assad and the Iranians,” Mr. Eiland said. “Assad is not interested in the Iranian presence; he just cannot say no to it. But if he and his regime are paying more of a price, maybe he can ask Iran to stop, or lean on the Russians to help.”

With the Trump administration looking to reopen the nuclear deal with Iran, Mr. Eiland said, Israel could try to bring its own security concerns into the mix of a new negotiation.

“The Americans and Europeans want to prevent Iranian long-range missiles from reaching Europe,” he said. “But from the Israeli point of view, Iran already has missiles that can cover Israel, so that's much less important than Iran’s presence in Syria.”

The U.S. is focused elsewhere.

The United States, Israel's most important ally, has focused on defeating the Islamic State in central and eastern Syria, not on Israel's top concerns in the conflict. While the Trump administration on Saturday did voice its support for Israel's right to defend itself, it has offered it no help with Iran, its proxies and the Syrian regime, Mr. Zalzberg said. “All Israelis noticed this,” he said.

Daniel B. Shapiro, a former ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, said Saturday's action ought to prompt the United States to begin coordinating policy, strategy and messaging with Mr. Netanyahu.

In an op-ed article on Sunday in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, Mr. Shapiro noted that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson was setting out on a trip through Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait and Lebanon. “But oddly, Israel does not appear on the itinerary,” Mr. Shapiro wrote. “That made little sense before the Iranian incursion yesterday. It would be malpractice now.”

Chagai Tzuriel, the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence, said the United States needed to heed Israel's warnings about Iran's intentions in Syria. Iran, he said, was the “master of the slippery slope.”

“If you are committed to countering Iran in the region then you must do so in Syria — first,” he said, adding: “I'm not giving up on the U.S.”

Russia can't stay neutral for long.

Russia has played its hand expertly in Syria up until now, Israeli strategists say. It has cooperated with Iran in aiding the Assad regime, but also has communicated closely with the Israelis, allowing Israel to act militarily against the two. But intensifying conflict could make it difficult for Russia to retain that detachment.

“I believe the Russians want a ‘Pax Russiana’ to stabilize their achievements — and their achievements are formidable,” said Mr. Tzuriel, the Israeli intelligence official. “I think they understand that the presence of Iranian military and Shiite militia in Syria has the potential to destroy all their gains. They don't want that.”

Mr. Zalzberg said Russia had been something of a “frenemy” to both Israel and Iran so far, but now faced “a huge dilemma.”

“Assad knows that Russia has advanced anti-aircraft capacities in Syria that it hasn't deployed to protect him,” he said. “And Israel knows that Russia hermetically controls Syrian airspace, and yet it did not inform Israel about the drone. Russia is going to have to decide which side they are on — and they don't want to be seen as being on either side.”

Israeli jets aren't invincible.

There was much keening in the Israeli press over Saturday's biggest surprise: that an Israeli F-16 could be lost during a combat mission — the first such known loss since 1982.

Israelis had “grown accustomed to no one in the region being able to threaten our aircraft,” Alon Ben-David wrote in Maariv, a newspaper. Now, he said, “Assad's men will try hard to achieve more accomplishments like this.”

And Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli Air Force pilot who leads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said it was “crucial that we learn why a plane with such advanced capabilities was downed by such an old-generation missile.”

But Mr. Yadlin, writing in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, said that celebrations in Damascus were misguided. Israel showed intelligence superiority in striking Iranian forces, and air supremacy in destroying Syrian air-defense installations, he wrote. “There are uncertainties, surprises and mistakes in every battle that come with a cost,” he wrote.


• David M. Halbfinger is the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times. He covers Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the Middle East. Before taking up his post in 2017, Mr. Halbfinger spent four years as metro political editor, deputy metro editor, presidential campaign editor and then deputy national editor, posts in which he oversaw political reporting in the New York area, managed the political reporters covering the 2016 presidential campaign, and helped lead coverage of the United States. As a N.Y. Times reporter from 1997 to 2013, Mr. Halbfinger frequently gravitated toward political and investigative reporting while ranging from Manhattan and the Bronx to posts as bureau chief in Long Island, Trenton and Atlanta, and as a Hollywood correspondent in Los Angeles. He also covered the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. He was a winner of the Jesse Laventhol Prize for deadline news reporting by a team for his coverage of the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Before coming to The New York Times, Mr. Halbfinger worked at The Boston Globe, New York Newsday and The Philadelphia Business Journal. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Yale. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.

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