Wednesday, December 26

Israeli missiles almost shot down 2 passenger planes in Syrian airspace. Way to go, Israeli Air Force.

I have bigger fish to fry than talking about Bibi Netanyahu's temper tantrum at Donald Trump. But really, risking scores of civilian lives on Christmas? Yes I know the Orthdox Christmas isn't until January 6 but December 25 is also the date Christmas is celebrated, and the Israelis well know this. 

The Israelis have to stop staging provocations in Syria and they can ditch the yammer about Hezbollah's tunnels. If the IDF is so upset about the tunnels, take their army and invade Lebanon, but stop trying to drag the United States into a war against Lebanon -- or Iran, for that matter. Fight your own battles and keep Americans out of it -- all of it.       

Anyhow, the U.S. defense department and probably Pesident Trump as well is ticked off about the Israeli's Christmas stunt, so they spilled the beans, which DEBKAfile duly reported this morning:
US military sources disclose that the Israeli air offensive on Tuesday night, Dec. 25, was conducted by IAF F-16I fighter jets firing Delilah cruise missiles from Lebanese air space into Syria. Damascus is said to have countered the attack with Russian Pantsir-S2 and S-200 SAM air defense weapons.
These highly credible sources also disclose that the Israeli attack was aimed at Syrian military sites – not Iranian and Hizballah targets as earlier reported in Israel and Damascus.
The Israeli government and military chiefs had apparently decided, say the US sources, to take advantage of the chaos generated by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and Ankara’s threat of a Turkish army thrust across the Euphrates. Their purpose was to disable Syrian military sites where Iranian and Hizballah combat assets were quartered.
After the F-16 jets failed to connect to their targets, the IDF sent the F-35 stealth planes over in a second wave.

The report continues in great detail but doesn't mention that Netanyahu is very upset that Trump shut him out of discussions about a vaunted drawndown of American troops in Syria prior to announcing the decision. The only national leaders he discussed it with prior to the announcement were Putin and Erdogan, although he gave Netanyahu a five minute head's up about his decision before tweeting his announcement. 

After the announcement, all other relevant leaders were quickly contacted by the U.S. This was followed by a detailed explanation that the U.S. that would still maintain a presence in Syria after the alleged drawdown. DEBKAfile duly reported on this also. Here is their report, datelined December 22 12:10: The US will still “maintain a presence” after troop pullout from NE Syria:
Following the backlash from President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from NE Syria, senior administration officials Friday night, Dec. 21 offered Mid East leaders clarifications for allaying their concerns. DEBKAfile’s sources reveal those messages’ high points:
  1. US troops will leave eastern and northern Syria, but America is not deserting this part of the country, said the officials, without revealing the nature of its continuing presence.
  2. The Trump administration has not abandoned the Kurds or “stabbed them in the back” as widely reported, “and the Kurds know this,” it was authoritatively said. And, indeed, despite their loud cries of dismay, not a single Syrian Kurdish militiaman has deserted the lines they hold against ISIS in eastern Syria.
  3. Regarding President Tayyip Erdogan declaration that the Turkish army was about to march on East Euphrates and reach the Kurdish capital of Qamishli, amid fears of a massacre, the US officials advised distinguishing between talk and deeds. They referred to a phone conversation between Presidents Trump and Erdogan on Dec. 14, in which the latter promised his army would not cross the Euphrates. In a speech welcoming the US pullout from Syria on Friday, Erdogan allowed that Turkey would “wait a little longer before launching the operation” and counted on US “logistic support.”
  4. Trump said subsequently that the troop pullout would be phased out within 40-60 days. According to the US officials, a more realistic timeline would be 4 to 6 months. “During that time, Syria is bound to see many developments that may require  Washington to revise its plans.”
  5. The US and Iraq are in advanced negotiations for the deployment to the Iraqi-Syria border of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) – the “Golden Division” – which drove ISIS out of Mosul. It will stand in the path of Iranian and Iraqi Shiite militias crossings into Syria. [Pundita note: Reportedly Iraq has rejected the U.S. request to deploy Iraqi forces in Syria.] 
  6. Part of the ISOF’s deployment will include the western Iraqi province of Anbar. In this regard, the US officials referred to a disclosure by Mohammad al-Dilemi, one of the chiefs of Anbar’s Arab tribes. On Dec. 12, he said that the US army was building a new base on the line dividing Anbar from the next-door province of Nineveh. It would position US troops 30km north of the Euphrates River and near the Syrian border. This new base will provide the Iraqi division with American backup.
  7. The officials from Washington refused to confirm or deny that the Russians were involved in the forthcoming US plans for Syria; nor would they refer to a possible US-Turkish-Russian deal on the subject. They did take note of the strides taken in recent weeks toward repairing Russian-Israeli relations. The US officials pointed out that the transfer of a Russian S-300 air defense missile battalion to Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria brought the Israeli Golan and Galilee Panhandle within their range, but not the Israel Air Force bases in northern and central Israel.
As to whether the U.S. really intends to withdraw 2,000 U.S.troops: the U.S. has many more than that number in Syria; the unofficial count is roughly 4,000. Tthe Israelis know this, as does everyone who reads the Washington Post.  From Liz Sly's December 14 report for the Post, America's Hidden War in Syria; 
... In September, however, the administration switched course, saying the troops will stay in Syria pending an overall settlement to the Syrian war and with a new mission: to act as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence. 
That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.
The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000.
Most are Special Operations forces, and their footprint is light. Their vehicles and convoys rumble by from time to time along the empty desert roads, but it is rare to see U.S. soldiers in towns and cities.
So even if the U.S. withdraws 2,000 troops (or 2,600 according to one news report), this still leaves a a sizeable contingent in Syria. Which, again, the Israelis know.

[shaking her head] Kindergartners with missiles. 


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