As Iran moves to take over south Syria, Syrians hail Israeli strike on chemical weapons plant

September 08, 2017

Syrians trying to identify the bodies of children after a chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, after years of pleading by ordinary Syrians to the US and Europe to intervene, Israel destroyed a facility at which Assad and the Iranian regime are continuing to manufacture chemical weapons and barrel bombs



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach several pieces below on the Israeli air strike, carried out early Thursday morning, that hit Syrian President Assad’s key chemical weapons and barrel bomb manufacturing plant at Masyaf. The plant was reportedly built by Iran for Assad, and manned by Iranian and Syrian scientists.

Syrian exiles and pro-democracy forces have ecstatically welcomed the Israeli strike on Masyaf, one of the principle facilities at which the Syrian and Iranian regimes have been manufacturing and continue to manufacture the deadly chemical agents and barrel bombs that have killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.

In one such gas attack on a Damascus suburb in 2013, more than 1,400 civilians including at least 426 children were murdered by the Assad regime. President Obama promised and then declined to act against Masyaf and other plants, and since then thousands more Syrian civilians have been killed by weapons built there. Assad paid a visit to the plant as recently as late June. (Israeli intelligence says the 2013 attack, as I reported at the time, was ordered by Assad’s sadistic brother Maher.)

It appears that Russia, which now controls the air space around Masyaf, may have tacitly allowed Israel to hit the plant. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied by the head of the Mossad held talks with President Putin last month about thwarting the increasing Iranian take-over of Syria.


Thursday’s attack comes exactly ten years after the Israeli air force destroyed Syria’s Al Kibar reactor, at which the Assad regime was attempting to produce nuclear weapons – a raid condemned at the time by almost everybody in world, but since widely recognized as the right thing to do.

The first piece below is by Amos Yadlin, the former chief of Israeli military intelligence, and before that a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force’s successful raid to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981 (another highly significant act criticized by the rest of the world at the time, including the Reagan administration, but since welcomed).

In a tweet, Yadlin called Thursday’s act against the Masyaf facility “a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria.”


It has also been noted that Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, has in a series of over 500 tweets during the last few years repeatedly called for the world to take action against Syria’s chemical weapons attacks, singling out the Masyaf facility by name in at least one tweet.

Now that Israel has hit the facility, the famously anti-Israel Roth is suddenly silent on the matter, even though Syrian human rights activists say thousands of Syrian lives have been saved by Israel’s intervention.

I attach six articles below.


1. “How to understand Israel’s strike on Syria” (By Amos Yadlin, NY Times, Sept. 8, 2017)
2 “Israel just showed what a ‘red line’ is really supposed to mean” (By Benny Avni, NY Post, Sept. 7, 2017)
3. “Israel may have struck the Syrian weapons facility before Hezbollah could take over” (By Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 7, 2017)
4. “The Next Middle East War” (Wall St Journal Editorial, Sept. 8, 2017)
5. “Israel dare not allow Hezbollah to strike first” (By Amos Harel, Haaretz, Sept. 7, 2017)
6. “U.N. report blames Syrian regime for April gas attack” (By Raja Abdulrahim, Wall St Journal, Sept. 6, 2017



How to Understand Israel’s Strike on Syria
By Amos Yadlin
New York Times (op-ed)
Sept. 8, 2017

In the early hours of Thursday night, according to the Syrian Army, the Israeli Air Force attacked a military site in the Syrian town of Masyaf that produces advanced missiles. Though the attack does not compare in strategic value to Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear reactor, which the Israeli Air Force destroyed a decade ago, it represents a major step in the right direction for Israel’s policy toward Syria. This strike sent five key messages – messages that point toward Israel adopting a more proactive strategy in confronting the threats posed by the Assad regime and its partners, Iran and Hezbollah.

The first message is strategic. Throughout the Syrian civil war, Israel has avoided taking sides and has largely limited its role in the conflict to targeting weapons shipments en route to Hezbollah. Now, it seems, Israel is broadening the scope of its action to prevent its key adversaries from producing or acquiring advanced weaponry in the first place. This is essentially an extension of the Begin Doctrine, pioneered by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1981, which insisted that Israel carry out preemptive strikes to stop its enemies from constructing nuclear-enrichment plants as well as production facilities for advanced conventional weapons.

The second message is political. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already notified Moscow and Washington that the agreement they reached in July, which reportedly stipulated that Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed forces must keep 10 to 20 kilometers away from Israel’s northern border, is unacceptable. If it is not feasible to oust these Tehran-backed groups, then at the very least they must be pushed significantly further away from Israel’s border. Israel, which in August sent a delegation headed by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to the White House while Prime Minister Netanyahu himself went to Sochi, Russia, to meet with President Putin to discuss the ceasefire, is now clarifying that if the great powers fail to take its critical interests into account when deciding on the future of Syria, it will act independently to protect itself.

The third message has to do with credibility. In a world where threats are cheap and plentiful – recall President Trump’s recent promise of “fire and fury” against North Korea – it is much more meaningful when a nation delivers on tough rhetoric. In this specific case, the complex that was attacked was a research and production center belonging to the CERS Institute. The institute is funded mostly by Iran, utilizes Iranian technology and produces advanced long-range missiles and chemical weapons for the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah. The strike should indicate to both Tehran and Damascus that Israel is willing to take decisive action to prevent the development of long-term strategic threats.

The fourth message is about Israel’s freedom of military operations, and the Russian strategy in Syria. The strike rebuts those claims that the Israeli Air Force was negatively affected by the deployment of powerful Russian air defenses in Syria. That the targeted facility is located in an area under the Russian air shield points to one of two possibilities: either Russia understands the level of Israeli concern of Iran taking over Syria, or the Israeli Air Force has again proved that no air defense system is perfect.

The final message – and perhaps the most important – is the moral one. With the exception of its humanitarian assistance to Syria, which includes treating thousands of wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals, Israel has all but ignored the war crimes that the Assad regime, the Iranians and Hezbollah are committing against the Syrian people. As Israelis and especially as Jews, we must not stand as spectators as a genocide is being carried out via chemical weapons, mass executions, bombings, starvation and displacement. The facility that was hit produces chemical weapons, barrel bombs and a variety of other weapons that the Assad regime has used to massacre innocents. Destroying it could save countless lives.

So what happens now? Israel should prepare for a possible response from Syria or even Iran. Militarily, Israel is ready – tens of thousands of troops have been called up for the largest exercise in decades. However, it is important to avoid being dragged into war along the northern border; any such confrontation would be costly to both sides in terms of blood and treasure. On the diplomatic side, Israel must return to Washington and Moscow and once more clarify that it will not accept the ongoing Iranian takeover of Syria. They may now find much more attentive audiences.

Israel knows the bitter truth of the phrase “an ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention.” Deciding to take action before it is absolutely necessary is not easy, but Israel’s experience proves that it is far better in the long-term to confront budding threats rather than nuclear ones.



Israel just showed what a ‘red line’ is really supposed to mean
By Benny Avni
New York Post
September 7, 2017

A red line’s a red line. That was Israel’s message when it struck a major Syrian arms facility from the air.

Jerusalem officials declined to comment for the record, but Syrian and Lebanese media reported that the Israeli Defense Force struck a major missile and military research facility at Masyaf, Syria, that’s controlled by President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian co-conspirators.

The daring attack carried all the hallmarks of Israel’s unique brand of non-proliferation enforcement. In an age of major proliferation crises, that method should be studied carefully and emulated when possible.

The strike was “not routine,” tweeted Amos Yadlin, the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “It targeted a Syrian military-scientific center for the development and manufacture of precision missiles” that also “produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”

Yadlin, who once commanded the IDF intelligence unit, knows a thing or two about combatting proliferation: He was one of the pilots who took part in Israel’s 1981 “Operation Opera” to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant.

The hit on the Syrian factory was reminiscent of another IDF feat, which occurred 10 years before, to the day: “Operation Orchard,” the mission that leveled a nascent Syrian nuclear facility, built with the help of Iran and North Korea.

Israel has told everyone (including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week) that it wouldn’t allow into Syria and Lebanon certain arms, including precision-guided missiles, that can change the face of future wars against it. Wednesday’s operation made clear it means it.

It also dealt a major blow to Syria’s chemical-arms capabilities. Washington had fingered the bombed facility as one of Syria’s three chemical-arms factories.

And as it happens, just hours before the Israeli attack, the United Nations confirmed Assad’s responsibility for a horrific chemical strike on the town Khan Sheikhun last April. Some 83 people, mostly civilians, were confirmed killed in that strike.

In response, President Trump authorized the firing of US Tomahawks on a Syrian air base, in a symbolic departure from President Obama’s failure to enforce his own red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Recall that Obama, back in 2013, instead agreed to a Russian scheme for Assad to sign the international chemical-arms convention, vow to never use those weapons again and destroy all his chemical stockpiles.

It’s a familiar tale: We negotiate with bad actors and proliferators of banned weapons in the hope of avoiding military action, get them to promise not to do it again and, presto, problem solved. Without firing a shot.

Obama signed a nuclear deal with Iran that was also based on promises. A decade from now, that may well look as ineffective as the deal Bill Clinton signed with North Korea in the 1990s, when Kim Jong-un’s father agreed to end his nuclear program. Kim on Sunday conducted his sixth test of a nuclear bomb, his most powerful yet.

Such non-proliferation agreements are typically applauded worldwide, because they involve no acts of violence and pose no major immediate risk of a wider war. They’re hailed as effective at the moment they’re signed – well before any time has passed to prove them the shams they are.

Now we know Assad’s promise to Obama that he’d not use chemical arms didn’t work. Would Israel’s much-maligned method be more successful?

A while back, one of the most admired diplomats in the non-proliferation arena, Hans Blix, told me Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak facility was a major mistake, as it gave Saddam Hussein a huge incentive to rebuild his nuclear program.

Maybe, but Saddam never again managed to get close to possessing a nuke. Imagine if he had one in the two wars America fought in Iraq. Or if Assad possessed the ultimate weapon during these last six years of war.

As the Syrian war appears to be winding up in victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah, Israel is acting to prevent them from fulfilling their vow to erase it off the map, and prevent proliferation of banned arms in the process.

Israel now must “prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response,” Yadlin tweeted, adding that Russia too may be in “opposition” to Israel’s strike. But Jerusalem has long made its red lines clear to all, including Moscow.

This week’s lesson for the knee-jerk “no military solution” crowd is clear: Daring, well-planned surgical attacks are a non-proliferation tool that should be considered where practical – especially when the alternative is a meaningless pact with an unreliable dictator.



‘Israel may have struck the Syrian weapons facility before Hezbollah could take over’
By Anna Ahronheim
Jerusalem Post
September 7, 2017

A top Israeli security expert says that there’s a strong chance Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah was planning on taking over the chemical weapons facility Israel targeted.

There’s a strong probability that the Syrian military research center allegedly struck by Israeli warplanes on Thursday morning was targeted because of concerns that Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nassrallah had asked Damascus to hand over the facility to the Lebanon-based Shi’ite terror group.

This assessment comes from the former national security adviser, Maj.-Gen (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, who now serves as an analyst at Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. According to him, the strike on the al-Talai Scientific Studies and Research Center may have been a consequence of Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus last week.

Nasrallah boasted of his visit to the Syrian capital in a live speech, but according Amidror, who was speaking on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, the facility may not only have been producing weapon systems for Hezbollah but was actually going to be taken over by the group as per Nassrallah’s demand.

The facility has been known for many years as a center for research and development for weapons systems, including chemical weapons.

Noting that the strike came almost 10 years to the day of the Israeli strike on the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor, Amidror stated that it should be clear for Syria that Israel will not allow Iran or Hezbollah to build their capabilities because of the “chaotic mess in Syria.”

“Just imagine if such a regime had nuclear capabilities,” he said.

While the IDF did not comment on the strike as it does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria. Jerusalem has repeatedly said that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s seven year civil war, there are red lines that Jerusalem has set including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

In a recent interview with Haaretz, former Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes in the past five years against the transfer of advanced weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah, including the transfer of chemical weapons.

According to Amidror, while this strike would follow the same policy of destroying advanced weapon systems destined for Hezbollah, Israel actually prevented them from being produced in the first place.

“It’s another level of interfering,” Amidror stated, adding that it was the first time that the target which was attacked is a formal Syrian facility, not just a warehouse but one responsible for producing chemical weapons, rockets and missiles.

Michael Horowitz, Director of Intelligence at Prime Source, a Middle East-based geopolitical consultancy firm, told The Jerusalem Post that this Israeli strike is significant due to its location which is close to both a Russian air defense base as well a suspected Iranian missile production facility.

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence and Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) took to Twitter to state that the strike sent three important messages, namely that Israel intends to enforce its redlines “despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them.”

Yadlin stated that it was now important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response.

Following the strike, the Syrian army warned against the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region.”

But according to Horowitz, it is likely that any response by the Assad regime or Hezbollah would be limited.

“Thus far both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah have failed to respond to the Israeli effort to smuggle weapons from Syria and build new missile production facilities in the country,” he told the Post.

“Beyond symbolic attacks coming from Syria, which remain quite risky in the current context with both Assad and Nasrallah busy in Eastern Syria, I think the main response will be an acceleration of Iranian efforts to entrench itself in Syria. As long as none of the “great powers” commit to countering Iranian influence in the country, Israeli can only delay what seems inevitable - namely an Iranian militarization of Syria.”



The Next Middle East War
Israel and Iran are heading for conflict over southern Syria
Wall Street Journal
Sept. 8, 2017

Israel launched airstrikes on a military compound in Syria on Thursday, and the bombing should alert the Trump Administration as much as the Syrians. They carry a warning about the next war in the Middle East that could draw in the U.S.

Israel doesn’t confirm or deny its military strikes, but former officials said they were aimed at a base for training and a warehouse for short- and midrange missiles. The strikes also hit a facility that the U.S. cited this year for involvement in making chemical weapons.

The larger context is the confrontation that is building between Israel and Iran as the war against Islamic State moves to a conclusion in Syria and Iraq. Iran is using Syria’s civil war, and the battle against ISIS, as cause to gain a permanent military foothold in Syria that can threaten Israel either directly or via its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

Tehran has helped Hezbollah stockpile tens of thousands of missiles that will be launched against Israel in the next inevitable conflict. If it can also dominate southern Syria, Iran can establish a second front on the border near the Golan Heights that would further stretch Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Israel may have to make more such strikes in Syria because Iran isn’t likely to give up on this strategic opening. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards know they have Russia’s backing in Syria, and the U.S. is signaling that it is loathe to do anything to change that once Islamic State is routed from Raqqa.

“As far as Syria is concerned, we have very little to do with Syria other than killing ISIS,” President Trump said Thursday at a White House press conference with the emir of Kuwait. “What we do is we kill ISIS. And we have succeeded in that respect. We have done better in eight months of my Presidency than the previous eight years against ISIS.”

Great, but the problem is that the end of ISIS won’t bring stability to Syria, and American interests in the Middle East don’t end with ISIS. The danger of a proxy war or even a direct war between Iran and Israel is growing, and it will increase as Iran’s presence builds in Syria. Mr. Trump may not like it, but he needs a strategy for post-ISIS Syria that contains Iran if he doesn’t want the U.S. to be pulled back into another Middle East war.



Israel Dare Not Allow Hezbollah to Strike First
By Amos Harel
September 7, 2017

The question is whether the army will receive orders to strike first – before Iran-Hezbollah demolishes our cities while destroying defense and economic infrastructure

There’s a reason why some people call Israel’s army the “Israel Containment Forces.” For many years, including (or especially) the Second Lebanon War, the IDF did not truly aspire, as an army going to war must aspire, to defeat the enemy once and for all, in other words to neutralize its capacity to further endanger the lives of Israel’s citizens, soldiers and infrastructure.

This week, “unconnected to the threats issued by Hezbollah,” the army began conducting wide-scale and widely reverberating maneuvers, the objective being to preparing the army to contend with the Lebanese terrorist organization. This time, the military commentators wrote and broadcast, the “intention” is clear: to finish (the word expressly used by the exercise’s commander) the enemy.

Are we really facing a strategic turning point? In other words, will the next round bring the enemy to the point that it can no longer endanger Israel (an achievable goal with regard to this terrorist organization), or will we make do, as in earlier rounds in Lebanon and Gaza, with a “finishing” that brings temporary relief without neutralizing the enemy’s ability to go on the attack again.

The main question is: When will the army set forth on this decisive campaign? Before Iran-Hezbollah launch missiles at Israeli population centers and infrastructure, as threatened recently by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – in another words, with a preemptive strike? (This used to be the doctrine of the IDF, which was victorious so long as it adhered to it.) Or will it strike only in response to an enemy attack, which will cause numerous deaths among civilians and soldiers, wreaking great destruction and chaos?

No one doubts the IDF’s capability of devastating Hezbollah. But since the enemy is equipped with thousands of accurate missiles, some of which cover the entire country, the question is whether the army will receive orders to strike first – before Iran-Hezbollah demolishes our cities while destroying defense and economic infrastructure. People in the know say that even though these issues have been discussed in the relevant forums, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vague in addressing this crucial question. Based on the statements of Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, he should not be expected to recommend such a move, either.

If that’s how things stand – with Israel’s battle doctrine for the last generation conceding the first strike option to the enemy – an extensive reorganization is required. The Home Front Command and civilian organizations must be newly empowered to deal with the mass casualties and chaos that will ensue before the army recovers from the initial blow and sets out to “finish” the enemy.

As long as we haven’t crossed the psychological hurdle and understood that we have a duty to strike first to prevent mass civilian casualties, much of the preparation for the battle threatened by Nasrallah should focus on providing maximal protection to the home front, much better than was given in the past.

The IDF claims it has learned the lessons of the Second Lebanon War. One certainly hopes so. But in places where missiles landed, the civilian population – and this subject is not much discussed – also failed, along with their elected officials and other public figures. Civilians cannot be trained like an army. If the IDF allows the enemy to launch its missiles first, it is reasonable to assume that the flight and abandonment in the north in the Second Lebanon War, and the Negev in Operation Protective Edge, will be repeated.

This time, due to the significant improvement in the enemy’s capabilities, there will be more panic and hysteria. This is one more reason – the main one – why the government should instruct the army to use it’s acknowledged ability to prevent the enemy from firing the first, decisive salvo of missiles.



U.N. Report Blames Syrian Regime for April Gas Attack
Chemical-bomb attack on town of Khan Sheikhoun released a cloud which spread and killed at least 83 persons

By Raja Abdulrahim
Wall Street Journal
Sept. 6, 2017

A United Nations report released Wednesday blamed the Syrian regime for a sarin gas attack on an opposition-held town that killed at least 83 people – many of them women and children – and called it a war crime.

The U.S. and other Western nations immediately blamed Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province. But this was the first time the U.N. echoed the allegation.

“The chemical bomb released a cloud which spread over a distance between 300 and 600 metres from the impact point and killed at least 83 persons, including 28 children and 23 women,” the U.N. said. “Some of the victims died in bed and their bodies weren’t found until later on 4 April. A single mother who was out farming returned home to find all her four children dead.”

The attack was carried out by a Sukhoi 22 warplane, an aircraft that only the regime operates. It conducted four airstrikes on Khan Sheikhoun, dropping three conventional bombs and one chemical bomb, according to the report by the U.N.’s independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

The commission has been gathering evidence of war crimes committed by the various parties involved in Syria’s conflict, now in its seventh year, and issues regular reports on its findings.

In the hours after the sarin gas attack, a warplane carried out at least three airstrikes on the only hospital in Khan Sheikhoun, which was treating sarin gas victims. The attack destroyed the hospital and forced doctors to send patients elsewhere. The U.N. commission said the attacks on the hospital were likely carried out by either the regime or its key military ally Russia.

Three days later, the U.S. launched dozens of cruise missiles on a Syrian air base directly linked to the chemical attack. The U.S. leads a coalition that battles Islamic State in Syria but this was the first intentional and direct American attack on the regime during the course of the war. It was meant to cripple the base’s aircraft, hangars, ammunition bunkers and air defense and radar systems.

Mr. Assad and ally Russia have denied responsibility for the chemical attack, instead claiming that an airstrike hit a terrorist chemical weapons depot. The U.N. commission said that explanation was extremely unlikely.

The commission requested information from the Syrian government during its investigation but said it never received a response. The commission has been routinely denied access to Syria to carry out its investigations.

The report is based on satellite imagery, interviews with victims, first responders and medical workers as well as an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which earlier concluded that sarin gas had been used.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun was the deadliest such assault in Syria since the 2013 sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb, which killed more than 1,400 civilians including at least 426 children.

In the wake of the 2013 attack, the Assad regime joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and pledged to relinquish its chemical arsenal as part of a deal to avert U.S. military action against it. But since then the government has repeatedly been accused of deploying chemical weapons, with a U.N.-led investigation blaming it for at least three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015.

Though chlorine isn’t a banned substance under the convention, its use as a weapon is banned.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.