Israel’s Syria Strikes Done With Eye on Broad, Regional War

Officials Envision Enormous War Encompassing Iran, Syria and Lebanon

Though they officially won’t even acknowledge that the strikes took place, recent Israeli attacks on Syria have been done with hushed tones surrounding the prospect of Hezbollah acquiring hugely powerful offensive weapons from the Assad government’s arsenal, and chemical weapons are usually at least implicitly included in the fretting.

The reality is much different, however, and reports that the targeted weapons supposedly ear-marked for Hezbollah were anti-aircraft and defensive weapons don’t make sense in the context of Israel’s official statements on the matter. Yet analysts say that defensive weapons very much are the target, and it stems from Israel’s constant expectations of an imminent region-wide war.

IsraelThough Israel hasn’t fought a major regional war since 1967, their political leadership is always playing to fears of the entire Arab world united in an effort to drive them into the sea. The reality is that Israeli military leadership has been taught to expect major attacks, and in this case it spans the Shi’ite world, with an assumption that they will be fighting a multi-front war with Hezbollah, the Assad government in Syria, and Iran all at the same time.

It is in this context that Israel is constantly talking up its “military superiority” needs, and expecting the US to pony up aid to maintain. Not merely defensive superiority against any single opponent in the region, but overwhelming superiority over the entire region at once.

That’s why Hezbollah acquiring defensive weapons is a big problem from Israel’s perspective, not only because Israeli military officials envision a token invasion of southern Lebanon every few years, but because if Hezbollah becomes less convenient to attack, the rest of their prospective enemies become harder in the bargain. For Israel, a Hezbollah armed with anti-ship weapons means Israel can’t part its Navy off the Lebanese coast and just shell away at their cities with impunity, and a Hezbollah with decent anti-aircraft weapons means Israel can’t constantly have warplanes violating Lebanese airspace, which they do even in peacetime.

Indeed the old WMD canard isn’t really at play here, except as a rhetorical tool. Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin dismissed the threat posed by chemical weapons, saying Hezbollah would be even less likely to try to use them than Syria, and that they are simply too difficult to use to be operationally practical.

 

Exclusive: Congressman Preps Bill to End Terror War Authority

In the wake of President Obama’s big speech about restraining the war on terrorism, a member of the House intelligence committee is working on a bill to undo the basic authorities to wage it.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is preparing a piece of legislation that would “sunset” the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), a foundational law passed in the days after the 9/11. “The current AUMF is outdated and straining at the edges to justify the use of force outside the war theater,” Schiff tells Danger Room.

Repealing the AUMF would be the boldest restriction of presidential war powers since 9/11. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have relied on the document to authorize everything from the warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens to drone strikes against al-Qaida offshoots that did not exist on 9/11. Getting rid of it is certain to invite fierce opposition from more bellicose members of Congress, who have repeatedly demagogued efforts to roll back any post-9/11 wartime authority, let alone the most important one.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only legislator to vote against the authorization in 2001, has long fought unsuccessfully to repeal the AUMF. But Schiff is a moderate, not a firebreathing liberal, and while sunsetting the AUMF is sure to be a big legislative challenge, even conservative legislators like Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are raising fundamental questions about the merits of a never-ending war.

Schiff thinks that the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 ought to occasion the end of the AUMF, and his bill would use the Afghanistan drawdown as a hinge point. He openly admits to being unsure whether Congress should pass a follow-on piece of legislation allowing the president a limited version of his war powers, or what those post-Afghanistan powers might appropriately be.

The U.S.’s counterterrorism “architecture is becoming increasingly unsustainable,” Schiff says, “but I have only a less clear idea of what should follow.” Schiff, a moderate, is still in the early drafting stage of the bill and doesn’t yet have a timeline for introducing it. But the animating idea behind it is that Obama ought to come back to Congress to outline what war powers are necessary, so legislators can go on record blessing or rejecting the next phase of the war on terrorism.

There has only been one previous effort to reexamine the AUMF. Spoiler alert: It failed.

Shortly after the GOP win in the 2010 midterm elections, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), argued that it was time for a new version. Since the short 2001 AUMF only authorizes military action against those responsible for 9/11, McKeon contended, the administration lacked legal authority to combat the contemporary versions of al-Qaida in places like Yemen and East Africa. He noted that only half of his colleagues had served in Congress long enough to ever vote on the open-ended war that two administrations have asked them to support.

The Obama administration wasted little time in telling McKeon’s committee it wasn’t interested in revisiting the AUMF. The 2001 AUMF was “sufficient to address the existing threats that I’ve seen,” Jeh Johnson, then the Pentagon’s senior lawyer, testified in March 2011.

Formally, Johnson didn’t really explain how a law that was about avenging 9/11 actually allowed Obama to take military action against, say, al-Shebab. But Johnson didn’t make the administration’s real reasons for opposing the AUMF explicit. It was worried that congressional Republicans would write a bill expanding presidential authority to attack terrorist groups unrelated to al-Qaida, something that would expand a global war that the administration was internally growing skeptical about.

Obama made that position explicit in his speech at the National Defense University — as well as endorsing, for the first time, the eventual repeal of a law he has relied heavily on throughout his presidency.

“I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate,” Obama said. “And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”

That’s a position that may not sit well with the U.S. military. During a Senate hearing last week, generals from the Joint Staff and senior Pentagon civilians argued that the AUMF was a necessary law that should remain in place — unchanged. The position satisfied neither Democratic and Independent critics who saw it as a blank check for war nor Republican critics who considered it too restrictive to fight 2013-era terrorism.

One of them is McKeon, the first legislator who proposed reexamining the AUMF. Repealing it outright doesn’t sit well with him — and probably many other congressional Republicans and some Democrats.

“The chairman is far from convinced that’s the direction we need to go,” says an aide to McKeon’s committee. “We need to reaffirm our authority with respect to those [al-Qaida] affiliated groups.” What’s more, Obama’s willingness to “ultimately repeal” the AUMF runs right smack into his codification of a more limited counterterrorism war lasting for years. At the National Defense University, Obama simultaneously talked about a longer war and removing his own authorities for waging it.

Schiff sees all this tension — on the Hill and within the administration — as an opportunity. “There’s probably bipartisan support for the idea that the existing AUMF is ill-suited to the nature of the threats we face now,” he says. But there’s “probably bipartisan opposition to what would come after,” both from the left and right. Schiff thinks that disagreement means a congressional debate about the future of presidential authority against terrorism is overdue. He intends to kickstart one.

Israeli warplanes continue to pound Damascus

BEIRUT

Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital Sunday, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.

The attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in Syria’s bloody civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.

Syria’s government called the attacks against against its territory a “flagrant violation of international law” that has made the Middle East “more dangerous” and warned it has the right “to defend its people by all available means.”

The generally muted response, read out by the information minister after an emergency government meeting, appeared to signal that Damascus did not want the situation to escalate.

Instead, it tried to use the strikes to taint the rebels, claiming the attacks were evidence of an alliance between Israel and Islamic extremist groups trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

The air raids pose a dilemma for a regime already battling a relentless rebellion at home. Failure to respond could make it look weak and open the door to more strikes. But any military retaliation against Israel would risk dragging the Jewish state and its powerful army into a broader conflict.

The tempo of the new strikes added a dangerous dynamic to the conflict, fueling concerns that events could spin out of control and spark a regional crisis.

Israel’s military on Sunday deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket defense system to the north of the country. It described the move as part of “ongoing situational assessments.”

A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to disclose information about a secret military operation to the media, confirmed that Israel launched an airstrike in the Syrian capital early Sunday but did not give more precise details about the location. The target was Fateh-110 missiles, which have precision guidance systems with better aim than anything Hezbollah is known to have in its arsenal, the official told The Associated Press.

The airstrikes come as Washington considers how to respond to indications that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons in its civil war. President Barack Obama has described the use of such weapons as a “red line,” and the administration is weighing its options — including possible military action.

Damascus-BombingIran, a close ally of the Assad regime and Hezbollah, condemned the airstrikes, and a senior official hinted at a possible response not from Terhan, but rather its proxy, Hezbollah.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief-of-staff, told Iran’s state-run Arabic-language Al-Alam TV that Tehran “will not allow the enemy (Israel) to harm the security of the region” and that “the resistance will retaliate against the Israeli aggression against Syria.”

Israel has said it wants to stay out of the Syrian war on its doorstep, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated the Jewish state would be prepared to take military action to prevent sophisticated weapons from flowing from Syria to Hezbollah or other extremist groups.

Israel and Hezbollah have a long history of enmity, and fought a punishing monthlong war in mid-2006. The militant group fired thousands of rockets at Israel, while Israeli warplanes destroyed large areas of southern and eastern Lebanon during a conflict that ended in stalemate.

 

Israel’s Ill-Treatment of Detained Palestinian Children “Widespread”

Zein Abu-Mariya (17) with his parents after nine months in Israeli custody. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

They pressured my son to confess

“Three interrogators questioned me for three hours. I was handcuffed. They beat me, slapped me, kicked me, boxed me, accused me of throwing stones; played a video of a demonstration. I denied I was there. So again, they beat me up,” recounts Zein Abu-Mariya, 17, seated on a sofa next to dad.

“They pressured my son to confess,” Hisham chimes in. “‘If you don’t sign, you’ll be treated like an animal,’ they threatened.” Zein acquiesces.

In March 2012, in the dead of night, he was arrested by Israeli soldiers. Thirty-six hours later, he was brought before a judge. He stood at 35 court hearings, spent nine months in the HaSharon jail minors section; yet was never convicted.

In January, his father finally managed to bail him out. Back home, waiting for an impending court hearing, Zein strikes a defiant pose: “I don’t want to go back to jail, but I’m not afraid; I got used to it.”

He’s gone back to school, but he was held back one year. “My friends ask me what jail is like – just in case.”

Zein’s testimony – like that of many other minors – reveals one of the most painfully enduring experiences of life under occupation.

“Put yourself in their shoes,” U.S. President Barack Obama recently told young Israelis. The issue of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention provides a dramatic example of just how far the U.S. president’s plea is from being fulfilled.

In February, 236 Palestinian minors were incarcerated – 39 aged 12 to 15 – reports rights group Defence of Children International.

Each year for the past ten years, 700 children aged 12 to 17, most of them boys, are arrested by Israel – an average of two per day– estimates the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a report also published in February.

UNICEF concludes that ill-treatment of imprisoned children “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised” throughout the process, from arrest to interrogation, prosecution, eventual conviction and condemnation.

Its report points to practices that “amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture” ratified by Israel.

Parents aren’t always notified of their child’s arrest. Most arrests occur at night. During questioning, minors are denied access to a lawyer, or the presence of a relative. Most are accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and vehicles.

“These stones can cause death,” maintains Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson Ilana Stein. “But putting children in jail isn’t something we like.”

The report’s 38 recommendations for bettering the rightful protection of Palestinian children are assigned dutiful consideration. “We actually worked on the report with UNICEF because we want to improve the treatment of detained Palestinian children,” Stein says.

“Such Israeli reaction is good,” welcomes ‘Adli Da’ana, education officer with UNICEF in Hebron. “But on March 20, they grabbed 27 kids in the Old City of Hebron, just like that, in one fell swoop. So is this what they call re-considering their policy?”

Military laws are particularly harsh on children.

The alternative Israeli website 972.com recently brought up the imaginary case study of two 12-year-olds – one Israeli settler, one Palestinian – getting into a fight, and compared the judicial consequences.

An Israeli minor sees a judge within 12 hours; for a Palestinian child, it could take up to four days. Before seeing a lawyer, an Israeli child can be held for two days, a Palestinian child for 90 days. An Israeli child can be held 40 days without charge; a Palestinian child, 60 days.

A 12-year-old Israeli can’t be held during trial; a 12-year-old Palestinian can be held up to 18 months before trial.

Chances of bail before trial stand at 80 percent for Israeli children, at 13 percent for Palestinian children. And while there is no custodial sentencing in Israeli civilian law for a minor under 14, a 12 year-old Palestinian can be incarcerated under Israeli military law.

“The most urgent change is to ensure children spend the least possible time in jail,” urges Na’ama Baumgarten-Sharon, researcher at B’tselem, the Israeli human right organisation. “Children must be brought before a judge in much less time.”

Implemented starting Apr. 2, a military order supposed to reduce the length of pre-trial detention stipulates that Palestinian children under 14 should be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest and children aged 14 to 18 within 48 hours.

“Even when there’s realisation that things need to change, it’s a slow process,” notes Baumgarten-Sharon. “The only form of punishment is jail. There’s no other alternative.”

Smain Najjar lives in the Jewish-controlled part of Hebron. Only 17, he’s already been arrested four times on suspicion of stone throwing.

“The first time, it was while playing soccer with friends. I was nine. They locked me in a cold-storage box for six hours; then let me go.

“The second time – I was 11 – they held me for three hours at a nearby checkpoint because I got into an argument with a settler my age.

“The third time, they took me to the nearby settlement’s police station; I was 14.

“The fourth time – last November, during Israel’s military operation on Gaza – I spent four days at the Ofer detention centre. I’d been arrested on my way home from an evening shift at a coffee shop.”

Anxious, his mother Suad kept calling his cellphone. After a while, a voice answered, and ordered, “Stop calling this number, we’ve arrested your child.”

Smain has dropped out of school. “Maybe I’ll become a sports coach,” he says.

“We help these kids find their future, rebuild their personality. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail. Once arrested, it’s a cycle of arrests,” says psycho-social counsellor Ala’ Abu-Ayyash.

Smain likes to take refuge in his dovecote. He says the doves provide an escape from the darkness of life. The doves circle in disarray till one is caught.

This article was originally published at IPS News.

Iran Says Its Missiles Can Target Within 2,000 KM Range

Iran boasts about their long-range missiles in order to deter the US and Israel, which consistently threaten to attack the Islamic Republic

Iran says it has the technical capacity to target all enemy bases within a range of 2,000 km, which it boasts about in order to serve as a deterrent to the US and Israel, which consistently threaten to attack the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah_Khamenei“Iran has now reached a point of progress that can target 2,000 enemy bases within a range of 2,000 km,” said General Morteza Qorbani, senior adviser to the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces.

“We don’t need missiles with a range of more than 2,000 km, but we have the technology to build them,” Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), told reporters in December. The ability to reach Israel is enough, he said.

Enough, because that’s all they need to properly deter US or Israeli aggression. Iran’s long-range missiles have been an important development in persuading Washington against bombing Iran.

An extended US military strike on Iran would harm their military capabilities and marginally delay their nuclear program, but it would also prompt large-scale Iranian retaliation that would spark an uncontrollable regional war.

That assessment was compiled in a report by former government officials, national security experts and retired military officers that was released back in September. “It says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation – including a land occupation – more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined,” AP reported.

Increasing the perceivable costs to the US for a war on Iran was probably a good part of the reason the US decided not to take action in 2011 and 2012, when the pressure from Israel to do so reached its greatest level. That, and the fact that the best US intelligence available has concluded that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

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