April 16, 2014
Could Russia Defeat a Ukrainian Insurgency?
The 40,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border are not enough for an extended campaign
War Is Borning
April 16, 2014
There’s no doubt the Russian military has the means to invade mainland Ukraine. But whether it can hold conquered territory is another question—especially if Kiev puts up a fight.
That’s the conclusion of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, Stockholm’s government-funded military think tank.
The agency—known as FOI—doesn’t doubt that Russia can invade. But it does question whether Moscow has the ability to secure territory in mainland Ukraine, given the potential size of the area Russia would need to secure—and absent the natural defensive barriers of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in March.
Unlike Crimea, eastern Ukraine would be hard for an occupying force to defend. Russian troops could find it difficult to prevent insurgents from infiltrating their lines.
This should be reassuring to the new government in Kiev, which came to power following violent protests in February—the same protests that Moscow cited as justification for its invasion of Crimea, an historically Russian region.
In recent weeks, pro-Russian armed groups have seized government buildings in several Ukrainian cities and have killed at least one Ukrainian security officer. Now Kiev is organizing a force to retake these cities.
What happens next is hard to say. There are real worries the Kremlin is instigating the violence as justification for another invasion. But a further attack on Ukraine could prove to be a strategic mistake for Russia, given the probability of a drawn-out fight.
The Kremlin risks being bogged down in an Iraq-style insurgency with no clear way out, forcing Russia to commit even more troops while undercutting its security commitments elsewhere.
By the district
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed that 40,000 Russian troops are massing close to the Ukrainian border. Satellite images seemed to confirm the build-up of hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces supported by helicopters and Su-27, Su-24 and MiG-31 fighter jets.
That’s an alarming force … on paper. But FOI took a different approach in its report. Instead of just looking at the raw numbers of troops Russia has at its disposal, the researchers analyzed specific military units that could take part in an extended campaign.
There’s a simple enough reason for this way of thinking. Different units have different roles, responsibilities and capabilities. Some are dedicated to defending Russian territory far away from the Ukrainian border and would likely not take part in an invasion—at least not at first. A unit-by-unit review gives a more accurate picture of the Kremlin’s capabilities.
First, the Kremlin organizes its forces in four huge military districts, each responsible for defending hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory. There are typically two field armies in each district, with each army made up of several divisions.
The Southern District oversees Russian units in the Caucasus, where Moscow is trying to suppress a low-boil Islamic insurgency. The Western District is responsible for defending western and northwestern Russia, including St. Petersburg and Moscow. The Central District protects a wide swath of territory from the Kazakh border deep into Siberia.
Russia’s armies and possible invasion zones. Swedish Defense Research Agency/Ministry of Defense illustration
Each district has two armies each, for a total of six armies with varying capabilities. In the Southern District, there are the 49th and 58th Armies. The Western district includes the 20th and 6th Armies. In the Central District, the 41st and 2nd Armies.
According to the FOI, if Russia decides to expand its invasion beyond Crimea, it would need at least two or three armies “first to push into territory but probably also over time to secure that [which was] taken.”
The most likely forces for this job are the 2nd and 20th Armies. Unlike the Southern District armies, these are neither committed to reinforcing Crimea, nor are they fighting insurgents in the Caucasus.
The 2nd is a particularly good candidate. It’s capable of fielding multiple motorized infantry brigades. These are good for offensive operations.
The 2nd Army also took part in recent exercises along the Ukrainian border—meaning it should be in a high state of readiness. Its sister army in the Central District, the 41st Army, is based too far to the east.
The 20th Army, on the other hand, is normally located near Moscow and includes two tank brigades and two motorized infantry brigades. It’s “the strongest ground-force unit” in the district, FOI states. The 6th Army would likely stay close to the big Russian cities to protect them from either a foreign attack or uprising.
All told, this means Russia has “seven to nine maneuver brigades” ready to invade within 10 days of the Kremlin giving the order. That’s roughly 40,000 troops, or the same amount Rasmussen estimated were in positions across the Ukrainian border.
“The sizable force would nevertheless hardly be enough for securing land communications to Transnistri a— by holding on to all of Ukraine’s Black Sea Coast — let alone holding to eastern Ukraine in the face of Ukrainian armed resistance,” FOI concludes.
Russia perceives NATO expansion into Ukraine as an existential threat to its homeland.
But Moscow also sees threats from every direction, and a costly occupation of eastern Ukraine would most likely leave Russia more exposed to insurgents in the Caucasus, instability in Central Asia and the Chinese.
The risks could be dramatic. The “Russian concept of nuclear de-escalation—i.e., using a few tactical nuclear devices to deter an adversary from further escalation, is especially worrying in this context,” FOI warns.
But another possibility is that Russian president Vladimir Putin will forgo an all-out invasion, instead relying on a combination of covert and semi-covert methods to destabilize eastern Ukraine. This includes sending special forces—or Spetsnaz—to train and equip separatists.
There are allegations the Kremlin is already doing this in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian irregular units occupying government offices have camouflage uniforms, AK-type rifles and equipment strapped to their bodies. But some appear old and overweight.
This is in contrast to the fit “green men”—Russian soldiers—who led the invasion of Crimea. Police, including the disbanded Berkut special cops, as well as defecting Ukrainian soldiers could comprise many of these pro-Moscow forces in eastern Ukraine.
On the other hand, some of these gunmen are probably Russian volunteers who crossed the border with the help of instructions available on the Internet. These men may be operating independently but with tacit Kremlin approval.
At least one was filmed addressing police in the city of Horlivka on Monday. He referred to himself as a Russian army lieutenant colonel.
Their presence—and the absence of an open Russian offensive—may be a reflection of Kiev’s apparent willingness to use force in eastern Ukraine. It’s a signal to Putin that a direct attack might cost more than it’s worth.
April 16, 2014
Surprise Attack on Iran: Can Israel Do It?
The National Interest
April 16, 2014
According to a report in March by the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel continues to prepare for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Quoting anonymous members of the Knesset who were present during hearings on the military budget, officials in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) have allegedly received instructions to continue preparing for a strike and a special budget has been allocating for that purpose. However, conducting a military operation against Iran’s key nuclear facilities would be a challenging task for the Israeli military. The distance from Israel to the Iranian nuclear sites is such that any strike using the air force would be challenging on its fuel capacity. Allocating tanker planes to the mission could alleviate part of this concern. Nonetheless, Israeli jets can’t spend too much time in Iranian airspace before the mission itself is in jeopardy. Engaging Iran’s air force in dogfights must be avoided. Therefore, surprise will be a necessary element in a successful Israeli mission.
A successful surprise attack is not easy to achieve. It rests on the ability to deceive the adversary. In general, a deception strategy might involve several elements, related to the timing of the operation, the military platforms involved, the targets, the routes chosen to the targets, the munitions used, and so on. There are several potential obstacles. First, preparations for conducting a military operation must be made without revealing the main elements of the surprise. Second, the political decision must be made covertly, that is, without revealing the timing of the operation. Could Israel pull it off?
Israel’s History of Surprise
Israel has in the past utilized both of these elements in order to succeed with conducting military operations. Both the Entebbe operation in 1976 and the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 came as complete surprises to the targets due to their lack of knowledge about Israel’s military capabilities and understanding of its decision-making process and willingness to accept risk.
An example of the latter factor as an element of surprise was the 1967 attack on Egyptian airfields. At the time, Israel possessed about two hundred operational jets. 188 were used against the airfields. The costs of this strategy were obvious: only twelve planes were left to defend Israel’s territory. Egypt failed to understand the Israeli willingness to accept risk, which in part led to the mission’s success.
Another example of deception came before the 1982 invasion of south Lebanon. Prior to the formal Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights in late 1981, Israel amassed military forces in the north to deter a Syrian response. Instead of scaling back after tension had subdued, Israel kept the forces there in order to utilize them in the forthcoming Lebanese campaign. Getting used to the increased Israeli military presence in the north, the PLO and Syria failed to consider the possibility that these might be stationed there for a forthcoming invasion. Israel was itself the victim of this strategy in 1973. Egypt conducted several large training drills prior to its surprise crossing of the Suez Canal. This made it hard for the Israelis to assess whether the Egyptian actions were part of another drill or preparation for an actual attack. The Israeli failure to acknowledge this potential Egyptian deception strategy is also an example of how a state fails in incorporating the lessons of the past. Just five years earlier the Russian army had invaded Czechoslovakia in a move that begun as a training exercise and continued as a surprise attack. The head of Israeli military intelligence at the time, Aaron Yariv, issued a directive that every major training exercise by an adversary was to be regarded as a potential attack, but this directive was forgotten by the Israeli military and political leadership after Yariv quit his position in 1972.
There was an additional element to the 1973 Egyptian deception strategy. In 1968, Egyptian generals concluded that they did not have the capabilities to challenge the Israeli military. Still, the decision was to train as if it had the military capability to go through with the attack. After focusing all of its effort on covertly acquiring the necessary equipment and manpower—thereby making previous exercises more relevant—its capabilities came as a surprise to the Israelis who still assessed that the Egyptian military was in no shape to undertake the crossing. Israel learned the lesson of that experience and then utilized it in the 1981 attack on the Iraqi reactor. After having trained for months on fuel-saving maneuvers, and after just having absorbed their new U.S.-supplied F-16 fighters, the Israeli air force had acquired the necessary capabilities for the mission. It was Iraq’s turn to fail in accurately updating its assessment of Israel’s capabilities.
Surprise and Decision-Making
An element of deception must also be included in the decision-making process. The meeting of the Syrian-Egyptian Armed Forces Supreme Council in August 1973 serves as a precedent. In order to keep the meeting secret, all participants resorted to civilian means of transport and false passports. An important topic was on the agenda at that meeting—a decision on the two options for D-Day (only to be awaiting the final approval of presidents Sadat and Assad). It was deemed crucial that the Israelis did not learn of the meeting.
In Israel, it is the government as a whole—not the prime minister—that is the commander-in-chief of the military. The green light for a decision to attack Iran’s nuclear sites must thus be obtained from the cabinet ministers. Upholding secrecy after a vote in the full ministerial cabinet is a challenge. The cabinet meets every Sunday morning. However, according to the procedure requirements, the agenda items must be finalized by the preceding Wednesday. Listing the item “military attack against Iran” is not an option since the time frame from Wednesday to Sunday is a long period to keep a secret. There are three options: assure an unscheduled meeting (which may well ring some alarms), vote in advance (that is, further outsource the decision on timing to a smaller forum, but this would still risk the leak of valuable information), or announce a general or fake topic. The Begin government chose the second option prior to the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Then the ministerial cabinet approved the operation in principle and allowed the final decision to be made in the smaller security cabinet (consisting of key ministers). Former premier Ehud Olmert preferred a combination of the first and third option. The press release announcing an unscheduled cabinet meeting the day before the attack on the Syrian reactor in September 2007 said that the security cabinet was to convene to discuss “Israel’s response to Kassem rocket fire from the Gaza Strip”. Another example of Olmert’s masking of the decision-making process leading up to the attack on the reactor was related to a meeting with the U.S. administration in June 2007. The official reason given for the meeting between Olmert and George W. Bush on June 19 was Iran’s nuclear program and the peace process. However, in that meeting Olmert urged the U.S. to attack the reactor.
The Defensive Preparations Dilemma
Since the Iranians are expecting an operation, it would be impossible for Israel to achieve strategic surprise like they did with the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981. However, operational and tactical surprise may be achieved with regards to how the operation will be conducted and the specific date and time of the operation. One of the major problems will be how to achieve operational surprise when preparations will need to be undertaken to counter the threat of missiles from Iran, Hezbollah, and Palestinian groups in Gaza. One solution to this defensive preparations dilemma is to conduct exercises and distribute personal protective gear continuously for a long time, so as to make it impossible for Iran to determine when an attack will be launched. This has indeed been done. In recent years, Israel has conducted numerous large home-front exercises (in part also as a result of the Syrian civil war and potential fallout). It has also distributed gas masks to a large portion of the population (although it has recently been scaled back).
Mobilization of the reserves is a complex issue in Israel that also touches on the decision-making process. The mobilization would risk being delayed if it takes place under a massive missile attack from Iran and Hezbollah. A recent report from Israel’s state comptroller questioned the reserves’ ability to mobilize under fire. As such, the order needs to be given prior to the initial Israeli attack. However, mobilizing the reserves would be a signal to Iran that an attack is impending. It is possible that the Israeli leadership’s preferences for operational secrecy induce it to delay the mobilization until the day of the attack (to the risk of higher casualty numbers). According to Israeli law, mobilization of the reserves requires the approval of the Knesset Committee on Defense. Time could be saved with obtaining the committee’s approval in the months preceding the attack. Begin obtained an approval for the operation against the Iraqi reactor in the full ministerial cabinet in October 1980, which then outsourced the timing decision to the security cabinet. To protect secrecy after a series of domestic leaks, the security cabinet later decided to leave the decision on the date of the operation to Begin, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan. A similar procedure could be implemented with regards to the decision to mobilize the reserves.
Complex military operations require lengthy preparations that cannot be concealed. However, although an adversary might know about the intention to attack, the timing and conduct of the operation are more difficult to dissect. In recent years, the Israeli military has conducted numerous offensive exercises to prepare for a potential green light from the political leadership. Two recent exercises demonstrating the capabilities of the Israeli air force took place in December 2013 and January 2014. Such exercises do not only prepare the pilots for a potential mission, it may also serve as part of a deception strategy. For several years prior to the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli aircraft could routinely be seen in the mornings hovering over the Mediterranean. As the Egyptians became familiar with the flight pattern, its air force did not pay much attention when Israeli planes followed the same route on the morning of June 5, 1967. The Israelis then launched a surprise attack. The trick used was to manipulate the adversary’s perceptions and expectations. Although Iran is not neighboring Israel and does not have significant satellite surveillance assets, it does have some intelligence capabilities that it uses to monitor Israel. For example, an Iranian radar is stationed in Syria. Iran is also known to be studying Israel’s military conduct in past campaigns. The head of the Iranian Civil Defense Organization Gholam Reza Jalali recently stated that it had sent a team to Lebanon after the 2006 war to study the effect of Israeli munitions on destroyed buildings. Apparently, Iran is also monitoring Israeli intentions and decision making. On January 26, 2013—four days prior to an Israeli attack on a convoy carrying missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon—Supreme Leader Khamenei’s close advisor Ali Akbar Velayati stated that Iran would perceive an attack on Syria as an attack on Iran itself. Velayati might have known about the transport in advance and attempted to increase its chance of reaching its destination by creating a deterrent against an Israeli attack. This suggests that the Iranian regime have some understanding of Israeli intentions and redlines. Two Israeli signals are typical of an impending attack: deployment of Iron Dome batteries in areas of likely fallout and unscheduled meetings in the security cabinet. However, since the Israelis know there are under surveillance, they can also use it for deception. As long as the Syrian civil war continues, it would be difficult for Iran to know whether Israeli preparations are intended for the Syrian or Iranian arena. If Iran gets used to the Israeli behavioral pattern, then a surprise attack would be easier to achieve.
The need for surprise requires that Israel is the one choosing the date of the operation. This may sound as an unnecessary consideration since by definition a preemptive attack is triggered by a decision in the leadership of the attacking country. However, with regards to the timing of an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, there are some limits that constrain the time frame available to an attacker. Iran’s nuclear program offers two potential routes to a nuclear weapon—enrichment of uranium in centrifuge facilities or the production of plutonium in a yet-to-be-operational heavy-water reactor. Both of these routes must be considered when deciding on the date of an attack. The problem with linking the attack date to developments of the program is that Iran would have some control over the time frame available for an attack, thereby decreasing Israel’s ability to achieve surprise. Since an operational nuclear reactor is a politically difficult target and as such is off limits, the date when the Arak reactor will go “hot” serves as the outer boundary of the available time frame. Iran would have an incentive to get it operational in order to reduce the utility of an Israeli operation against the other facilities (it makes less sense to attack the enrichment facilities when Iran could subsequently move to produce plutonium using the surviving reactor). On the other hand, its operational status constitute an Israeli redline, so Israel will have a strong incentive to launch an attack before it goes “hot.” From the Iranian perspective, there is a dilemma between halting the work on the reactor—thereby reducing tension with Israel—and continuing with the work to dictate Israel’s available time frame.
The element of surprise is also related to the choice of flight route to targets in Iran. Early detection by neighboring states situated along the Israeli route is not necessarily an operational threat as long as the Israeli planes are not targeted by Arab antiaircraft systems and early warning is not passed on to the Iranian government. Given Israel’s dependence on achieving the element of surprise with regards to the operation’s timing, coordinating the operation with an external actor might be problematic and would involve considerable risk. Over the years, several such alleged partnerships have been suggested. In April 2012, a rumor emerged that Israel had been granted access to Azeri bases. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been named for this purpose as well. In June 2010 news reports surfaced in Western media saying that the Saudi military had conducted a test of its antiaircraft systems and radars to ensure that it did not attack Israeli jets en route to targets in Iran. And again, in November 2013, The Sunday Times reported that Riyadh had given its consent to Israel’s use of its airspace. However, coordinating a leak-sensitive operation with another state involves huge risks. Israel recently learned the price of regional cooperation with regards to sensitive operations. According to a October 2013 report by The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Turkey-Israel intelligence relations experienced a severe setback after Turkish espionage chief Hakan Fidan provided Iran with a list of Iranians who had met Mossad case officers in Turkey. There is thus an inherent dilemma between coordinating with an external actor—thereby easing the operational obstacles represented by the length of the route, the number of planes necessary for destroying the targets, and the requirements for conducting rescue operations—and minimizing the risk of leaks.
In order to avoid early detection, Israel would need to reduce the external signals of the strike force. This can be done is several ways. One way is to jam or blind radars located along the route to the nuclear sites. Another option is to avoid the radars’ detection range. On June 7, 1981, Israeli jets on their way to the Iraqi reactor were flying low above the desert to avoid detection by radars. Similar low-profile flight paths could be chosen to Iranian nuclear sites. A third option is to use decoys to lure Iran into focusing its attention on the wrong targets. This was Israel’s deception strategy in the 1982 Bekaa Valley attack on Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. A fleet of Israeli UAVs was detected by Syrian radar. Subsequently, the anti-aircraft positions were exposed as the decoys were targeted. One can also try to pretend that the planes belong to the adversary. This might be the reason for Iran’s recent decision to copy Israel’s Heron design for its Fotros UAV. Iranian-made UAVs operated by Hezbollah have penetrated Israeli air space several times in the past: twice during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and once in October 2012. Should a Fotros UAV penetrate Israeli airspace, it might take some time for Israel to identify it as hostile. The same could apply to Israeli jets or UAVs operating in Iranian air space.
As they examine the difficulties of carrying out a strike, Israeli operational analysts can take comfort in the fact that Israel has achieved surprise many times before. Iran, as the intended target of a potential attack, is faced with several problems. One is to detect the decision to attack. Another is to accurately assess the timing and conduct of the operation. And a third problem is to take measures to prevent it. Iran was caught off guard by Iraq’s invasion in September 1980. Could it get caught napping again?
Thomas Saether is a Norwegian security analyst and a post-graduate from the MA program in security studies at Tel Aviv University.
April 16, 2014
Russian Military Activity Increases Near Ukraine Border Since Last Week
April 16, 2014
VALUYKI, Russia — Russia has increased its military activity near the border with Ukraine markedly since late last week, a Reuters reporting team said after making return visits to the frontier zone where NATO says Moscow has amassed 40,000 troops.
Russia’s military moved equipment and weaponry around the border area on Wednesday but there was no clear evidence they were preparing either to pull back or advance.
Russia has put thousands of troops near the border for what Moscow says are routine exercises but which NATO says is an attempt to intimidate Ukraine’s Western-backed government by holding out the threat of an incursion.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on Russian leader Vladimir Putin to pull back the forces, saying diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Ukraine “cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine’s border.”
A Reuters team went independently to three locations where Russian units are temporarily deployed, first visiting at the end of last week and again on Wednesday.
On the second visit on Wednesday there was a marked increase in activity, with more military trucks on the roads in the area, and more service personnel in evidence at the deployment sites.
At one location, in open country near the village of Valuyki, in Belgorod region about 20 km from the Russian-Ukrainian border, a squadron of Mi-24 attack helicopters that was there on Friday had flown away. Local people said the helicopters left on Monday evening.
But at the same site new forces had arrived. The Reuters reporters saw 10 large army tents and 20 trucks, significantly more than last week. The trucks had their hoods up and soldiers were inspecting the engines.
The site was surrounded with a barbed wire fence which was not there last week.
The intervening days have seen a sharp increase in tensions across the border in Ukraine, where armed pro-Russian militants have seized buildings in about 10 towns and cities. The Kiev government has launched an “anti-terrorism” operation to retake captured towns, which Russia says could lead to civil war.
Moscow claims the right to intervene militarily in Ukraine to protect Russian speakers, although it says it has no plans to do so.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said on Wednesday there was no significant change in the size or position of the Russian forces close to the border.
A Russian defense ministry spokesman did not answer a telephone call seeking comment on Wednesday.
At a second makeshift helicopter base, near the village of Severny about 170 km to the north-west of the first site, the 16 helicopters which were there on Friday had also gone. There did not appear to be any other change.
That base is about 90 km from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
A nearby field hospital unit that had set up in fields outside the village of Dalnyaya Igumenka looked unchanged since last week, with around 10 tents, 15 military trucks, and a mobile radar installation.
Approaching the border, on the main road between the cities of Voronezh and Belgorod, the Reuters team saw a column of three dark-green military trucks. More military trucks were spotted on roads near the border, travelling individually.
The bustle was in contrast to the more laid-back attitude of Russian forces last week. In Dalnaya Igumenka, a major took time out to buy an ice cream from a local store.
"We were brought here three weeks ago and they promised to send us back after a week," said the major, with the ice cream in his hands. He declined to give his name, saying he was not permitted to talk to journalist.
Several residents in Valuyki said the military presence in their neighborhood was the biggest since World War Two, when the village was briefly occupied by Nazi forces.
"It feels like 1941," Tatiana, a 37-year-old shop worker, said last week, as a helicopter buzzed overhead. "There are a lot of military in the town and at the airfield, very many of them," she said.
People in the area know eastern Ukraine well because they have family ties with people there and often travel across the border to shop in Kharkiv.
Many residents said eastern Ukraine was historically Russian and belonged within Russia. But one woman, 43-year-old Rimma Zhigunova, expressed misgivings.
"Why would you send troops to Kharkiv?" she asked. "If Kharkiv asks to join (Russia), it is going to be war."
April 16, 2014
Jordanian warplanes destroy vehicles trying to cross from Syria - spokesman
April 16, 2014
1 of 2. Handout photo of a pickup truck on fire after it was hit by a Jordanian warplane following failure to heed warnings not to cross into Jordan from Syria April 16, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/www.ammonnews.net/Handout via Reuters
(Reuters) - Jordanian warplanes hit and destroyed several vehicles trying to cross the border from Syria
, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, underlining Amman’s concern about incursions from areas controlled by Syrian rebels.
A Jordanian security source said the targets appeared to have been Syrian rebels with machine guns mounted on civilian vehicles who were seeking refugee from fighting with government forces in southern Syria.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said no Syrian vehicles were involved in the incident. “What was targeted by the Jordanian air force does not belong to the Syrian army,” a military source was quoted by SANA as saying.
"There was an attempt to infiltrate across the border from Syria by a number of vehicles," said Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani, also a cabinet minister.
A Jordanian army statement said the incident took place at around 10:30 a.m. when several camouflaged vehicles attempted to traverse rugged frontier terrain and disregarded warnings not to proceed.
"After repeated warnings that (we) would not allow a violation of the border, a number of air force planes sent warning shots towards the vehicles, but they did not heed these warnings and continued," the statement said.
"This forced the army to apply known engagement rules and to destroy the vehicles," it said.
Rebels dominate swathes of territory along Syria’s southern border with Jordan but have been engaged in sometimes heavy fighting with Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the region.
Photos taken from the air that appeared on several Jordanian news websites showed at least one civilian Chevrolet pickup damaged and another similar vehicle on fire in an unspecified desolate desert area.
No bodies appeared in the photos that a security source said had been released to the outlets by the military.
There was no identification on the vehicles. Such pickup are often used by smugglers who operate in the border area.
Amman has tightened controls along the 370-km (230 mile) border to try to prevent Jordanian Islamist militants who have joined the rebels from crossing back into Jordan. They are seen as a domestic security threat.
Unlike Syria’s other main neighbours Turkey, which has given rebels a safe haven, and Lebanon, whose border has been breached with impunity by combatants, U.S.-allied Jordan has prevented any free flow of arms or fighters over its frontier.
Momani said the kingdom was increasingly worried about incursions from Syria. “We are worried about cases of infiltration … and reports that talk about armed groups that are close to the border and the absence of security there.”
Western diplomats say Jordan has been granted hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington in the past two years to beef up its boundaries with Syria. Amman has constructed scores of observation towers with the latest surveillance equipment.
The kingdom has also been sending more jihadists returning from Syria to speedy trials in military courts in a tougher policy towards its citizens who join Islamist insurgent groups that have taken a leading role in fighting Assad.
Jordan has diplomatically sought to distance itself from calls to bring down Assad. It retains diplomatic and economic ties with Damascus, saying it seeks a political solution to the conflict and opposes foreign military intervention.
Amman has long been concerned that any overt support of the Syrian insurgency could trigger retribution against the kingdom by Assad’s powerful security forces.
Jordan’s intelligence establishment has long expressed concerns about sleeping cells recruited by Assad in the kingdom with orders to engage in acts of sabotage in reprisal for any perceived support for an Western led military operation against Syria launched from Jordanian territory.
Rebels in Syria say the support that has been given by Amman to moderate anti-Assad brigades has been minimal and insufficient for them to turn the tables in the largely stalemated conflict.
April 16, 2014
Chastened by Islamists, Somalia redraws Mogadishu security plan
April 16, 2014
(Reuters) - When Islamist militants blasted their way to within 50 metres of the Somali president’s residence, they forced a sharp rethink of security in the capital Mogadishu.
The deadly Feb. 21 assault on the Villa Somalia compound was the closest al Qaeda-linked insurgents had got to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The assault by al Shabaab at the heart of government, and a bloody attack five months earlier on a Kenyan shopping mall, showcased the rebels’ destructive reach at home and abroad and cast more doubt on Mohamud’s pledge to improve security.
"The government’s sugar-coated promises are the norm in Mogadishu. So too are bomb blasts," said 30-year-old Samira Farah, echoing widespread scepticism that Mohamud is capable of quashing the seven-year-old insurgency.
Since February, Somalia’s Western-backed government and security services have taken new steps to improve security and regain the confidence of their potentially most effective ally - the public.
Spy chiefs, military bosses and commanders of peacekeeping forces from other African countries have been headquartered in one building.
Cabinet ministers have been asked to go out into Mogadishu’s 16 districts to get closer to communities and rebuild trust in government in the hope the public will expose suspected rebels.
"Before the ministers were just in Villa Somalia wearing ties. Now they will be closer to people and reality," said former Somali cabinet minister Abdirashid Hashi, who heads the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.
"The plan is one year late but it’s never too late."
Mohamud has replaced the city’s mayor, giving the new man the job of implementing a security plan that urges residents to shop neighbours believed to be collaborating with al Shabaab.
"The attack on Villa Somalia was a wake-up call," said one Western diplomat. "The president is now taking an active approach (to security), which I don’t think was quite the case before."
The Horn of Africa nation’s poorly paid and ill-disciplined army remains more a collection of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force.
Mohamud’s government depends on the 22,000 or so African Union peacekeepers to survive, and the country’s intelligence services are struggling to stay ahead of the insurgents.
"We can get more manpower but the problem is training, equipment, transport, communication," said Mohamed Ali Jama, director of the Ministry of National Security, who oversees Somalia’s NISA spy agency and the national police.
There has been progress. In 2011, trenches running through Mogadishu marked the front line of al Shabaab’s rebellion, while today Somalis returning home for the first time since civil war erupted in 1991 are financing something of an economic recovery.
The AMISOM peacekeeping force has scored successes driving al Shabaab out of bigger cities and towns. But the militants still control rural areas and smaller urban centres from where they launch al Qaeda-inspired suicide attacks.
Somali security officials say rebel fighters are once again infiltrating Mogadishu, a city of some 1.5 million, under pressure from a renewed military offensive by AU troops and Somali government forces across southern Somalia.
A new Mogadishu Security Strategy government paper says they are returning in search of hideouts and to “terrorise the civilians”.
One intelligence agent said al Shabaab were able to assemble car bombs and suicide vests inside Mogadishu, and smuggled pre-made explosives into smaller cities controlled by government and African Union troops.
The security gains of the past three years are under threat.
"I’ve not seen Mogadishu (security) this bad for some time," said one Western security adviser who knows Mogadishu well.
Academic Ken Menkhaus said al Shabaab was “both weaker and more dangerous” than before. Its overall fighting force has shrunk while its expertise in guerrilla-style warfare had grown, he wrote in a U.S. military magazine.
SPY ON YOUR NEIGHBOUR
The new security strategy for Mogadishu, drawn up just days after the Villa Somalia raid, hinges on obtaining more ground-level intelligence from Mogadishu’s rubble-strewn streets.
Somali officials are confronted by a challenge they are reluctant to acknowledge: the infiltration of militants into government agencies.
Witnesses said the gunmen who raided the heavily guarded presidential complex in February, breaching checkpoints, wore military fatigues - a tactic used before by al Shabaab.
It prompted Somalia’s prime minister to seek help from Western states.
"He asked if Somalia could be helped with a high-level criminal investigation, which needed to look at whether al Shabaab received ‘inside’ support," U.N. special representative for Somalia Nicholas Kay wrote to six Western envoys in a Feb. 22 e-mail.
Britain and the United States sent investigators to assist.
Kay told Reuters the U.N. had temporarily reduced the number of its staff in Mogadishu because of the deteriorating security. In another February attack in the capital, al Shabaab targeted a U.N. convoy with a car bomb outside the main airport.
Somali security chief Jama told Reuters the local population was the most effective weapon to dismantle militants’ networks.
"They can spot new neighbours, the people who come into the city and the activities of those neighbours," Jama said.
Locals are, however, wary about informing on insurgents to security forces, who have a reputation for taking bribes from detained Islamist fighters.
"We used to give the police information about where the fighters hid themselves. The police arrested the fighters but would release them hours later," said local elder Bile Osman.
"I know many people who fled or were killed after fighters they identified were released," he said.
April 16, 2014
NYC police rolling back some counterterror efforts
April 16, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — The move by New York City’s new police commissioner to disband a unit that spied on the everyday activities of Muslims could be just the first step in a dismantling of some of the huge post-9/11 intelligence-gathering machinery built by his predecessor.
Among other anti-terror programs that are getting a hard look from Commissioner William Bratton is a unit that stations NYPD officers in foreign cities such as London, Paris, Tel Aviv and Amman, Jordan. Also under review are the protocols for when and how to conduct surveillance in the hunt for terrorists.
Bratton, who has been in office for three months, was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, and given a sweeping mandate to ease tensions between the 35,000-officer department and the city’s minorities.
Over the past few years, Bratton’s predecessor Ray Kelly and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg vehemently defended what has become the nation’s largest intelligence-gathering, anti-terrorism operation outside the federal government, saying the lack of any major attack on the city since 9/11, and the lowest overall crime rate in a generation, are proof it is working.
But Bratton and his allies say the unit-by-unit review of the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism operations is necessary to eliminate possible inefficiencies, better deploy resources and respond to criticism that the department has trampled on civil rights.
The review is expected to bring tighter restrictions on how the department gathers intelligence and make it less secretive.
On Tuesday, the department confirmed the dismantling of the Demographics Unit, which sent plainclothes officers to mingle with Muslims in bookstores, restaurants and mosques and listen for terrorist plots. The secret program was revealed in a series of stories by The Associated Press in 2011.
The program was the target of lawsuits and allegations that the department was violating Muslims’ civil rights and sowing mistrust in the community. A high-ranking NYPD official acknowledged in a deposition made public in 2012 that the unit’s work had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation in the previous six years.
Under Bratton, the department concluded that the information collected by the unit could be better gathered through direct contact with community groups, officials said.
Another one of Kelly’s initiatives that could be scaled back or eliminated is a program that posted more than a dozen detectives in major cities abroad. It is intended to give the department more timely intelligence on terror plots. But critics have questioned whether the officers have access to any meaningful information.
Critics also have questioned the department’s widespread use of security cameras and have suggested the electronic eyes violate New Yorkers’ privacy.
Former NYPD officer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who has called the overseas program a waste of resources, said Bratton’s willingness to re-examine how the nation’s largest police department combats both terrorism and conventional crime will benefit the city.
Bratton, who also headed the New York force in the early 1990s, “has the ability to sit down and listen to what people have to say,” Adams said. By the end of his 12-year tenure as commissioner, he added, Kelly “had the attitude, `I’m not going to explain anything I do, and I’m not going to listen to anyone but me.’”
Bratton has sought to project himself as a leader who is more accessible and responsive.
"It’s a different tone," said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.
Kelly, now a security executive for a global commercial real estate firm, didn’t respond to requests for an interview Wednesday.
Paesh Buhan, who is from India and now lives in Brooklyn, agreed that ending the surveillance program will help restore trust in the police.
"It’s kind of weird. You can’t just randomly start monitoring a certain group of people without any reason," he said. "I wonder: Who else are they monitoring?"
Adam Wallace, who lives in Manhattan, said he sees merits to the now-disbanded program: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, it doesn’t matter if people are watching you.”
He said that while some aspects of the surveillance could prove troubling, overall he’s with the NYPD: “I’m glad they’re looking out for us.”
April 16, 2014
Australia still denies Israel’s open secret of a nuclear arsenal
Sydney Morning Herald
April 15, 2014
Secret government files reveal that Australian governments, diplomats and spies have known for more than 30 years that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, while continuing to deny any knowledge of its existence to the point of misleading Parliament.
Previously secret diplomatic files declassified by the National Archives reveal a longstanding policy to turn a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Last week the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade again declined to comment on whether the Australian government thinks Israel is an undeclared nuclear weapons state.
Foreign Affairs Department briefing papers prepared for former Labor foreign minister Bill Hayden in 1987 state that ”intelligence assessments are that Israel has a small arsenal of nuclear weapons (possibly about 20). Israel’s technological capabilities would enable it confidently to deploy such weapons without recourse to a nuclear test.”
In a confidential exchange with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Hans Blix on September 22, 1987, Mr Hayden ”commented that there appeared no doubt that Israel had nuclear weapons”.
Mr Hayden and Dr Blix were talking against the backdrop of the treason trial of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who in 1986 disclosed detailed evidence of Israel’s nuclear weapons production. The Foreign Affairs Department advised Mr Hayden to publicly deny knowledge of Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Mr Hayden told Parliament on September 17, 1987: ”We have no information to corroborate these allegations.”
However, Foreign Affairs’ files, declassified in response to applications by Fairfax Media, reveal that Australia had been monitoring Israel’s nuclear program from its beginnings in the 1950s.
Australia scooped US and British intelligence when in 1966 its Atomic Energy Commission obtained ”highly sensitive” information from the French builders of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, revealing the existence of a chemical processing plant to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel.
By 1970 Australia’s Joint Intelligence Organisation thought ”Israel could have some weapons”.
Australian policy remains unchanged, with the Abbott government deciding last October not to support a UN General Assembly resolution on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East - 169 countries voted for the resolution. Only five - the US, Israel, Canada, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia - voted against. Australia abstained.
Former foreign minister Professor Gareth Evans has long been closely engaged with nuclear disarmament issues. Last month he publicly described Israel as one of ”nine nuclear-armed states” committed to the ”indefinite retention” of their arsenals.
On Monday Professor Evans declined to explain why Australia had not acknowledged the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapons program, saying only: ”The whole world hasn’t acknowledged it. I mean, this is the strange thing, but that’s another story for another day.”
April 16, 2014
Rafael looks at Iron Dome enhancements
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
April 16, 2014
An Iron Dome battery engages an incoming rocket during Pillar of Defence in November 2012. Following such operational experiences, Rafael is looking at a number of enhancements to keep the system ahead of the threat curve. Source: PA
April 16, 2014
Hezbollah And The Three Front War
April 16, 2014
April 16, 2014: The war in Syria is spreading to Lebanon and this is a major problem for Hezbollah, the armed militia that has become the dominant political and military power in Lebanon since the 1980s. The problem here is that most Lebanese, including lots of Hezbollah supporters, are hostile towards Syria. That is because most Syrians consider Lebanon part of historic “Greater Syria” and want to incorporate Lebanon back into Syria. Hezbollah has played down this angle for three decades by depicting itself as the defender of Lebanese independence against Israel. But Israel has no historic, or current, claims on Lebanon while Syria does and more Lebanese are realizing that these days. Worse yet, the well-publicized activities of Hezbollah gunmen in Syria are making these Syrian claims more visible in Lebanese politics. Despite orders from their leaders to stay out of the media Hezbollah fighters in Syria are sending back cell phone photos and videos that end up on the Internet for all Lebanese to see. Threats to seize cell phones from Hezbollah gunmen sent to Syria is not a good option because it is so unpopular with the young men doing the fighting.
The Hezbollah gunmen are fighting in support of the Assad government, which has long interfered in Lebanese affairs and is a known supporter of Greater Syria. Many of the Syrian rebels are more interested in merging Syria with Iraq under the control of a religious dictatorship. Then again, many of the Syrian rebels also support Greater Syria, especially since that unification would make it easier to punish those damn Lebanese Shia for supporting the Assads.
This situation got worse over the last year as Sunni Lebanese joined the fight via local militias in Lebanon or by joining anti-Assad Islamic terrorist groups in Syria. In Lebanon the fight is often between Sunnis and Shia. This is further complicated by the Iranian connection. Hezbollah is a Shia militia financed and organized by Iran in the 1980s to protect Shia interests in Lebanon (where Shia are the largest minority in a nation of religious minorities). The biggest loser in Lebanon was the Sunni minority, who had long dominated the less educated and affluent Shia. By embracing Islamic radicalism (especially al Qaeda), the Lebanese Sunni found themselves with a suitable weapon to use against the better organized and more numerous Hezbollah gunmen. The Sunni terrorist attacks occur all over the country now, wherever there are Hezbollah facilities or Shia populations (mostly in the south). In the northern city of Tripoli, with its many Shia and Sunni neighborhoods right next to each other, local militias have been battling each other for years now. So far in 2014 there have been hundreds of casualties even though the army and police struggle to maintain the peace.
The situation gets more complicated because the Christian Arabs of Lebanon are the largest Christian minority in the Arab world. These Christians were the majority (nearly 60 percent of the population) in Lebanon after World War II but lost that through migration and a higher Shia and Sunni birthrate. The Christians are still the best educated and wealthiest minority and largely anti-Hezbollah but are decidedly on the defensive and hostile to all forms of Islamic radicalism as well as Greater Syria zealots. Today Christians are only 35 percent of the population, which is about equal to the Shia and larger than the Sunni (20 percent) and other minorities (Druze and so on). Without all that Iranian cash and weapons shipments the Lebanese Shia would be militarily and politically weaker than the Christians and Sunni. The non-Shia majority has been waiting for an opportunity to take the Shia down a peg or two and the Hezbollah involvement with the Syria civil war is looking like an opportunity, especially because of all those videos the Hezbollah gunmen are posting on the Internet.
While Syria is the most visible and direct threat to Lebanese unity and independence, it’s no secret that Iran is the facilitator of all this grief. Iran has spent tens of billions to help found and sustain Hezbollah. While Iran presents itself as a “friend of Lebanon” non-Shia Lebanese see through that bit of propaganda. Not only are the Iranians Shia but are not even Semite (as are nearly all Lebanese) but rather Indo-European and long a tormenter of the Arabs (the largest Semitic group in the region).
In Syria Iran has contributed billions of dollars a year since 2011 and sent in several thousand advisors and specialists to organize a force of fanatic foreign mercenaries (largely from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and from Iraqi Shia militias) who match the ferocity of the Sunni Islamic terror groups that are the fiercest fighters on the rebel side. Iran also helped organize militias among pro-Assad civilians and these defensive forces tie down nearby rebels. This has strained Iranian finances which are particularly precarious since 2013 when a worldwide embargo cut Iranian oil exports by more than half. The Iranian people are not happy with that and even less pleased with all the money going to Syria and Hezbollah. So Iran has had to cut back and Hezbollah is now suffering a cash-flow crises as international efforts to curb Hezbollah fund raising become more effective and Iran cuts back on cash aid because of the cash shortage at home. What makes this worse is that Hezbollah has been spending a lot more cash on the Syrian war than it expected to. The problem is that Hezbollah had to use cash to maintain morale among the Hezbollah men who “volunteered” to fight in Syria. Hezbollah does not have many full time fighters and most of those sent to Syria are “reservists” who have received military training but are basically full time civilians. Over 2,000 of those “volunteers” have been killed or wounded so far. To keep the families of these casualties happy Hezbollah has paid large sums in death benefits as well as disability payments for the wounded in addition to all their medical expenses. While Hezbollah only sends its fighters to Syria for a few months at a time, the high casualty rate and having to fight fellow Arabs is demoralizing for many of them. There is growing resistance when these men are asked to go back to Syria for another combat tour. Over the last year Hezbollah has found itself running out of money and popular support among Lebanese Shia.
Hezbollah leaders have painted themselves into a corner. They pretend they are doing something good for Lebanon by supporting the Assads. While that pleases Iran and Hezbollah hardliners it angers most Lebanese. Cash won’t placate the non-Shia who now see Hezbollah as traitors. But the Hezbollah leadership has to continue proclaiming their willingness to keep fighters in Syria to support the Assads or admit that Hezbollah has been the spineless lackey of Iran all along. Then there is Israel, which has always been enemy number one to Hezbollah. Israeli aircraft have been attacking Hezbollah trucks trying to move Syrian missiles into Lebanon. There have been five of these attacks since early 2013 and Israel promises more. Hezbollah has been threatening another massive rocket attack on Israel, since the last one in 2006. But the need to send men to fight in Syria has made Hezbollah vulnerable in southern Lebanon. There over 40,000 rockets have been hidden in basements of homes and public buildings (schools, hospitals and the like) and the threat of an Israeli military advance into southern Lebanon to find and destroy those rockets is giving Hezbollah nightmares. That would have fighting a three-front war and, in effect, fighting for survival.
April 16, 2014
According to the latest information released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the following is the current status of the organization’s efforts to remove all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile from the country:
- Priority 1 chemicals removed: 57.4 %*
- Priority 2 chemicals removed: 82.5 %
Total chemicals removed from Syria: 65.1 %
Total removed from or destroyed in Syria: 67.8%
Most recent consignments delivered to Latakia and removed from Syria:
- Consignment #14
13 April 2014
- Consignment #13
10 April 2014
- Consignment #12
4 April 2014
- Consignment #11
20 March 2014
- Consignment #10:
17 March 2014
- Consignment #9:
14 March 2014
- Consignment # 8:
9 March 2014
- Consignment # 7:
5 March 2014
* Includes entire stock of sulfur mustard gas, the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s arsenal
Updated: 14 April 2014