August 5, 2020: Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive and desperate in Syria. Iran needs a win against Israel and all it is getting in Syria is an endless string of defeats. Because of its “death to Israel” obsession, Iran is destroying its alliance with Turkey and Russia. Yet Iran is not the only one with an Israel obsession.
Turkey seems to be at war with everyone, officially or unofficially. The reality is that Turkey has different priorities in Syrian than Iran. Turkey wants to avoid war with Israel yet portrays Israel as an “enemy of Islam” and tries to ignore the fact that Russia and Israel have long been friends and that relationship continues. Turkey and Russia agree with Israel when it comes to Iran in Syria. Turkey would prefer that Iran go home. Many Iranians and Syrians openly agree with Russia and Turkey on this point. The Iranian government responds with “Israeli airstrikes are killing people in Syria.” Syrians note that most of the dead are Iranians or mercenaries (usually Arab) on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian government deliberately keeps as few Iranians as possible in Syrian bases likely to be hit. Iranians getting killed in Syria, even if they are IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) Iranians, is very unpopular back in Iran.
Syrians just don’t like all these Syrians who are working as mercenaries for Iran or Turkey and getting killed by whoever. Similar situation with Russia and Turkey. Both nations keep as few of their own troops in Syria as possible. Russia and Turkey both have the majority of voters back home hostile to their soldiers getting killed in Syria. Russia uses a lot of Russian military contractors; whose deaths are less of an issue in Russia. The Turks, as they have done for centuries, use Arab mercenaries to fight other Arabs. There are lots of Turkish troops in Syria providing support, and ensuring that Turkish mercs do what they are paid for.
There are other sources of disagreement. Turkey, Iran and Syria are angry at Russia over the poor performance of Russian air defense systems. The Syrians frequently claim to have intercepted Israeli air-launched, often from inside Lebanon or Israel, missiles but the reality is that few of the Israeli missiles fail to hit their targets. Commercial satellite photos are available to determine damage and there is always a lot of it. Iran and Syria complain that the formidable Russian air defense system in Syria is not used to stop the Israelis. The Russians don’t want a fight with the Israelis, if only because the Israelis might publicly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems. These systems are a major export item for Russia and the Israelis could reduce those export sales with demonstrations of how Israelis get past the Russian air defenses. Iran offered to provide Syria with Iranian made air defense systems. That was not appreciated because the Iranian systems are seen as old tech and more propaganda than performance.
Russia and Turkey are actually fighting each other in Libya, where Turkey recently (late 2019) intervened on the side of the UN backed government there. That government is weak and backs Islamic rule, which is why it was about to be eliminated by the Russian backed Libyan government and its more capable army. This force was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Turkey intervened in return for a signed agreement giving it a right to drill for oil in disputed waters between Libya and Turkey. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. The Libya fighting led to NATO countries backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion. Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent. Many Libyans fear that Russia and Turkey are planning to grab the Libyan oil and keep it for themselves. There’s nothing to be grabbed in Syria.
Iran also has problems at home it blames on Israel. In the last few months Iran has experienced over a dozen mysterious explosions, fires and expensive equipment failures at facilities related to Iranian nuclear and missile research and development. One July incident involved a particularly violent explosion at a facility related to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Officially, Iran considers these explosions accidents, unofficially it is believed the Israelis, perhaps with the Americans, are carrying out another major cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear weapons efforts. Iran believes this is the Israeli response to the growing number of unsuccessful Iranian hacker attacks on Israel since early 2019. Iran claims some of these hack attacks are succeeding but without any visible result. That means no success at all that Iran can claim in the media. Israel admits that the Iranians have been poking around in Israeli civilian networks but has little to show (in the mass media) for it.
The situation becomes more ominous as Iranian officials escalate their threatening gestures against Israel. This puts Iran in an embarrassing situation because the reality is that Iran does not have the capability to launch an effective attack of any kind on Israel. They can carry out attacks that will likely fail and undermine Iranian credibility throughout the region as well as inside Iran. In addition to all the Iranian bases and facilities in Syria hit with airstrikes over the last few years, the Israeli military recently revealed that in 2017 Israel had detected and thwarted a major Iranian effort to hack into the Israeli domestic warning system. In the last year alone Israeli Cyber War defense efforts have thwarted 130 Iranian Internet based attacks on Israel. There have been bombs going off in some of Iranian facilities, indicating Israeli agents were able to gain access and plant explosives. This is particularly disturbing for Iranian leaders because it indicates that Israel is able to recruit agents inside Iran. That’s what happens when a lot of young Iranians are openly angry at their own government.
Now the Iranian nuclear weapons program is literally blowing up and the Iranian government appears as hapless as ever. Even the most loyal fans of the Iranian religious dictatorship are dismayed because, if Allah is on the side of their leaders, how can the Israelis manage to carry out attack after attack.
Turks Versus Egypt
Turkey does not seem to fear an Egyptian military response to their invasion of western Libya and threats to move east to the Egyptian border. The official Turkish view is that Egypt is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudis Arabia and the UAE who have been backing the anti-Islamic terrorist/Moslem Brotherhood LNA (Libyan National Army) in Libya for years. The Turks may underestimate the Arab hostility towards Turkish aggression in North Africa.
Another source of concern is that the Turks and Iranians both agree that the Saudis are unfit to be the guardians of Islam’s’ most holy places in Mecca and Medina. Turkey has it in for the Saudis and Egypt for the way the current Egyptian government, with financial support from Saudi Arabia, forcibly replaced the elected Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood government in 2014. Turkey does not like to discuss how similarly Egyptian and Turkish voters respond to efforts to force Islamic law on them. That was what caused the popular uprising against the elected Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood government. The current Turkish Islamic government favors the Moslem Brotherhood, a popular group throughout the Moslem world that believes you can have a secular democratic Islamic government. The problem is that every time it is tried, it does not work because the radicals (there is always a radical faction) demand that an Islamic religious dictatorship be installed and this always triggers popular resistance. Iran wants a more “Islamic” government in Syria, which has long been a secular dictatorship led by the Shia Assad clan. The Assads always hated Islamic movements, be they Moslem Brotherhood or anything else with “Islamic” attached to it.
Israel sees this Islamic angle as the key reason why so many Moslem states are so unstable and close to another revolution or civil war. There is no easy solution to this “Islamic” problem and more Moslem majority states are at least admitting the problem exists and trying to do something about it. That takes time and is prone to creating more violence.
August 4, 2020: In the north, across the border in Lebanon, a massive explosion obliterated the port area of Beirut. Buildings were damaged and windows blown out more than five kilometers from the explosions. About a hundred died and nearly 3,000 were wounded, mostly by the flying glass. Israel immediately denied any involvement, followed by Hezbollah, which has been accused of storing rockets and other Iranian munitions in the port area. The cause of the huge explosion, which created a mushroom cloud from water and dust, was apparently caused by large quantities of explosive materials stored in the port area. One warehouse exploded and that set off others nearby, triggering a “slow” explosion that could be felt 25 kilometers away in the countryside.
Further east, on the Syrian border Israeli warplanes, UAVs and armed helicopters attacked Syrian Army positions being used to observe Israeli troops in the Golan Heights. These airstrikes were largely in retaliation for Syrian or Iranian efforts on the 2nd to get men across the border to plant bomb.
Further east, near the Iraq border an Israeli airstrike hit several Iranian targets next to the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Fifteen Iranian mercenaries were killed.
Since late April Israel has carried out twenty or more airstrikes in Syria. Nearly half the attacks were in Deir Ezzor province, where the Al Bukamal crossing is, as well as other Israeli targets further away from the Iraq border. The rest of the airstrikes were all over southern Syria, wherever Iranian forces were operating.
August 3, 2020: In the south (Gaza) a rocket was fired into Israel. This was followed by Israeli airstrikes on Hamas facilities. Israel also revealed that in 2019 Iron Dome batteries in the south had an 85 percent success rate intercepting rockets or mortar shells headed for inhabited areas. An American firm announced that it will begin building Iron Dome components in the United States. Israel has long wanted this, as a backup for their own production of Iron Dome missiles. This will include an American version of Iron Dome Tamir missile called SkyHunter. The American missile will be optimized for destroying cruise missiles. American firms have long produced about half the components that go into Iron Dome and the new operation will produce two Iron Dome batteries for the U.S. as well as Tamir and SkyHunter missiles.
Israeli analysts believe that it will take several years for the economy to recover from the damage the covid19 shutdowns have inflicted. For 2020 GDP will lose shrink six percent and the unemployment rate will still be about ten percent going into 2021, versus 4 percent before the virus arrived. Currently unemployment is about 20 percent, down from the peak of 26 percent It was expected that the virus-related quarantine would hurt the economy and dealing with that was a priority from the beginning. The infections and deaths have been declining for over a month and the economy is expected to be operating at full capacity by 2021.
So far Israel has suffered 8,300 infected per million people and 61 dead per million. The Israeli population travels to foreign destinations more (per million people) than any other nation in the region. That meant Israel was infected about the same time the rest industrialized nations were.
In Egypt covid19 did less economic damage. Currently the virus has infected 924 per million Egyptians and killed 48 per million. The national health system in Egypt is largely non-existent and many cases of covid19 will go undetected as will deaths, which can be confused with any number of similar diseases. In contrast Israel has the best health care system in the region and more of its population is regularly exposed to foreign travelers who unknowingly spread such diseases all over the world.
The Egyptian GDP growth is expected to be, at best, only half a percent for 2020 and probably a decline before rebounding to over five percent in 2021.
August 2, 2020: In the north (Golan Heights) Israeli troops intercepted and killed four men trying to cross the border and place bombs along Israeli roads and trails.
August 1, 2020: In the north (Golan Heights) a Russia-backed Syrian militia has been taking control of the Syrian side of the border. Called the “Huran Army”, the militia contains many former rebels who are hostile to Iranian influence in Syria but willing to cooperate with the Assads.
The U.S. government approved another half billion dollars to support Israeli air defense research and development. This includes the new Patriot system replacement (David’s Sling) the Arrow ABM (anti-ballistic missile) system. Also included was the U.S. Army purchase of two batteries of Iron Dome. The U.S. has invested billions in Israeli air and missile defense systems and gets to share new technology the Israelis develop. The Israeli air defense tech is particularly good because it usually gets a lot of combat experience and is usually very effective.
July 29, 2020: Israel revealed that at end of June they had arrested a low-level Hamas leader who was captured as he swam from Gaza to Israel. The seven year Hamas veteran wanted to defect, not carry out attacks and provided a lot of useful information. Some of the questions asked were about items the Israelis already knew a lot about and how these were answered determined if the defector was telling the truth. The defector complained of problems within Hamas and his family because of poor Hamas leadership and management.
July 28, 2020: Since May Israel has carried out at least ten airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria. In addition to large quantities of weapons and munitions destroyed, at least sixty Iranian or local mercenary personnel. Iran is building a new mercenary force by hiring Syrians rather than bringing in Shia Afghans or Shia from other nations. The Afghans were good fighters but there was a limited supply of Afghan Shia willing to serve as Iranian mercs in far away Syria. A growing number would not renew their contracts and returned to Afghanistan or Iran, where mercenary service also earned a residency permit. Iran is short of cash and the local mercs are cheaper, especially given the bad shape the economy is in and the dire poverty many Syrians live with. There are over 10,000 of these Syrian mercs and most are based on or near the Israeli or Jordanian borders. Many Syrians see the Iranians and their Syrian mercs as another foreign occupation force. Syrians are tired of war while the Iranians want more of it, against Israel. That is not popular because attacking Israel generally fails but always brings very effective counterattacks. Moreover a lot of Syrians living along the Israel border befitted from the medical aid Israel provided for badly injured Syrians. S
ince 2011 Israel has provided medical treatment to several thousand badly injured Syrian civilians and rebels. This was done at a few border crossings where a field hospital was set up nearby and Syrians were told they could bring badly wounded kin or people they would vouch for to the crossing where Israelis doctors would examine them at the border, admit those who did need care and first try to treat the patient at the field hospital. If that was not possible the patient was sent to a hospital in Israel where specialists could provide the needed care. Family were notified of the progress and when to be at the border to pick up their mended friend or family member. Via this program Israel established contacts on the Syrian side as well as receiving a steady supply of what the chatter was on the Syrian side of the border. Israel has many Arab speaking medical personnel and has no problem treating Arab speaking patients. This medical program earned Israel a lot of good will on the Syrian side of the border. The care was free and there were no strings attached other than no Islamic terrorists were welcome, and these would be arrested if identified as such. There were a few such cases and that was not seen by the Syrians as a bad thing. Same attitude towards the Iranians and their mercs, who are seen as a danger to nearby civilians and an enemy of Syria.
July 27, 2020: In the north (Lebanon) the Israeli border security system detected a group of armed men crossing the border
near the disputed Shebaa Farms (occupied by Israel but claimed by both Lebanon and Syria). Israeli rapid reaction forces drove up and spotted the intruders and opened fire. The men ran back into Lebanon. Hezbollah denied the incident occurred and said they had nothing to do with it. The Israelis have video from their border surveillance system, which they are willing to release, and other electronic evidence, which they are not willing to release. Israel regularly taps into Hezbollah communications, despite frequent Iranian efforts to upgrade the security of Hezbollah comms. It was revealed that a Hezbollah attack was expected, somewhere on the Lebanon border, to coincide with the Moslem religious celebration of Eid al Adha
July 26, 2020: In Egypt (north Sinai) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) occupied four villages north of Al Arish for several days. This was apparently part of their failed July 21 attack on a nearby army base. That attack was supposed to drive the security forces out of the area so that ISIL could declare that they now controlled territory. They apparently did not plan to occupy the villages long because they placed explosive booby traps in several buildings. This was an effort to kill villagers or soldiers who would eventually show up.
July 24, 2020: In the north (Golan Heights) Israeli helicopter gunships attacked several Syrian army positions near the border.
July 22, 2020: Israeli police revealed that an investigation that began in April had led to the arrest of ten Palestinians who were recruited by a Iran-backed Syrian militia and Hezbollah in Lebanon. There were actually two separate groups operating in the West Bank and their main goal was to kidnap an Israeli soldier and hold him for ransom. That would consist of freeing a lot of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists.
July 21, 2020: In Egypt (north Sinai) two soldiers and 19 Islamic terrorists died when ISIL tried to attack a small army base in a rural are 80 kilometers north of Al Arish. The attackers soon realized they were not going to succeed and retreated. By then the air force had showed up and attacked the retreating Islamic terrorists, destroying four vehicles and causing most of the casualties. The army also sent out a pursuit force, to capture prisoners and gather intel from the enemy dead.
July 20, 2020: In Syria an Israeli airstrike south of Damascus killed eight Syrian soldiers, but one of the dead turned out to be a Hezbollah commander. Israel later sent a message to Hezbollah that the Hezbollah commander was not targeted on purpose and Israel did not know he was there. Israel was trying to give Hezbollah an excuse not to retaliate and trigger a series if exchanges that would hurt Hezbollah and Lebanon more than Israel.
In Egypt the parliament authorized the government to send troops into Libya to deal with the growing Turkish threat. Like all other North African countries, Egypt was once part of the Ottoman Turkish, which dissolved in the 1920s after having lost control of Egypt during the 1798 French invasion. The French were soon expelled by the British and by 1805 an Egyptian monarchy took over until replaced by a military coup in 1952. Egyptians still remember the Turks as brutal overlords who, in the decades before the French invasion, presided over massive famines that killed over 15 percent of the population. Egypt is the most populous and militarily powerful of the North African states the Ott0man Turks conquered and ruled five centuries ago. None of the North Africans want a repeat.
Turkey has sent, by ship, over a dozen Turkish made MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) and self-propelled 155mm artillery vehicles. The MLRS trucks each carry 40 122mm rockets with a range of 40 kilometers. The tracked vehicle carrying the 155mm howitzer is the T-155 Fırtına. This vehicle was based on the South Korean K9. The T-155 is a 46-ton armored vehicle. The 155mm howitzer has the same range as the MLRS but is more accurate. The MLRS and T-155 are operated by Turkish troops and both weapons have been used in Syria.
July 11, 2020:
In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, apparently Israeli, hit a convoy of Iranian mercenaries in Syrian Army uniforms. At least 35 men were killed including two officers. Deir Ezzor is now a key link in a land route from Iran, via Iraq to Lebanon. Deir Ezzor is also where Iran bases most of its mercenaries and a growing number of them are Iraqis.
July 10, 2020: In Egypt (north Sinai) ISIL and pro-government Bedouin tribesmen fought each other several times in the last few days. There were dozens of casualties. ISIL is trying to gain tribal support via violence and intimidation.