Friday, March 23, 2018

The Richest Terror Organizations in the World

From Forbes International, 24 January 2018, by Itai Zehorai, business and economics journalist with Forbes Israel:

Children hold portraits of Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah (C) and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on October 4, 2017. / Mahmout Zayyat/AFP/Getty

2017 has turned out to be an especially bloody year. Over the course of the year, eight huge terror attacks were executed, each with more than a 100 fatalities. Six of the eight deadliest attacks claimed the lives of nearly 1,500 people this year in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt and Somalia – planned, financed and carried out by the Taliban, ISIS or Al-Qaeda. According to the Global Terrorism Database of the University of Maryland, in 2016, these organizations were responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s terror victims.

It is no coincidence that the deadliest terror organizations in the world are also the wealthiest. 

“There is a clear connection between the two factors,” agrees Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad, chairperson of the Institute for Policy and Strategy and former director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, in an interview for Forbes Israel. “The financial component of terror organizations is critical, and its indispensability for terror attacks is like fuel for the car,” he adds.

As such, financial means are an essential necessity for terrorist organizations. But means of fundraising are inherently limited and are conducted primarily through underground channels, outside of and above the law in the global shadow economy. In many cases, the nature of fundraising activity is remarkably similar to that of criminal organizations – dealing in drugs, weapons, tobacco or humans, through bank robbery or collecting money in the name of “protection” and even kidnapping for ransom.

Alongside the clearly criminal activity, there is also open activity in which enormous sums of money change hands among funding bodies and terror organizations. This fundraising involves associations, charitable organizations, companies in business, finance bodies, wealthy businessmen – and as it would seem in recent years – governments and states of means.

“Behind every successful terrorist organization stands a financial system and in many cases, it's a country,” declared the head of IDF Intelligence, Major General Herzi Halevi. “In our region, Iran is the primary funder of terror organizations.” And, indeed, in a comparison of the estimated income of the richest terror groups that we conducted three years ago, one of the salient trends emerging from the findings is the significant strengthening of those terror organizations supported by assisting countries (Hizballah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad) and the weakening of those that depend on independent sources (ISIS, Boko Haram).

Iran, one of the four countries defined by the US State Department as a terrorist country (along with Sudan, Syria and the newcomer North-Korea), is the main sponsor and force behind many terrorist organizations. Its centrality in the balancing of economic (and militant) forces of terror organizations in the Middle East has become critical as compared to previous years, and its importance in terror groups’ internal systems of considerations has become crucial.

All of this is possible on account of Iran’s being rescued from the financial quicksand in which it was sinking until not long ago. “The signing of the nuclear agreement and lifting of the sanctions was the removal of the rope around the Iranians’ neck,” asserted Major General (Res.) Amos Gilad. “It actually saved them from economic strangulation.”

Using Bitcoin to Avoid Risks

The involvement of other countries in the region, particularly those of the Persian Gulf, played a central role in the terror arena in recent years. Those countries constitute an important pillar in the financing of terror in the region, whether indirectly, by turning a blind eye to financial transgressions of private entities in the country, or by paying ransom for the release of abducted citizens.

Sometimes, as happened recently, the funding streams intersect – and the boundaries between aid money that flows to terror organizations from particular countries and ransom payments are blurred almost entirely. As part of the condition of the ransom transaction for the release of 26 members of the Qatari royal family who were abducted in Iraq by a local Shiite militia, supported by Iran, Qatar was “forced” to pay an imaginary ransom which, according to an exposé by the Financial Times was around a billion dollars. The unprecedented payment that financed some of the deadliest terror organizations in Syria and Iraq (and Iran itself), was seen by many as direct support of terror by the provocative princedom of oil and led to the famous boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.

And in addition to “traditional” means of funding, terrorist organizations are always perfecting their ways of raising and transferring capital from a variety of funding sources, through use of any technological means at their disposal. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the FBI had exposed an international network run by ISIS that used fake eBay and PayPal accounts to transfer funds to operatives in the US. For some time now Google and Youtube have become the preferred platform of terror organizations for sharing propaganda videos which, thanks to their popularity, has granted them not just exposure and penetration into new audiences, but also generous royalties from advertisers. Sometimes the terrorist groups use the most advanced methods, such as the money transfer system built by IS that uses cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in order to avoid traditional bank transfers and accompanying risk.

The rapid growth in recent years of trade in virtual currencies, which uses an alternative global financial system and is characterized by user anonymity, grants terror factions many new and secure possibilities for raising, laundering and transferring money – as proven by the arrest of the 27 year-old Long Island woman, who has been accused of stealing and laundering more than $85,000, using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, to support ISIS.

"Things have changed considerably in our century", argues Joseph Fitsanakis PhD., a global expert in intelligence and national security from Coastal Carolina University. "It can be argued that the rise in the value of many cryptocurrencies generates income for terrorist organizations— but more a method of circulating currency and providing services that generate funds. With the use of cryptocurrencies and the so-called Darknet, terrorist organizations are now able to engage in creative means of generating cash. They include the sale of pirated music, movies, and video-games, counterfeit products, including clothing, electronics, pharmaceutical products and even counterfeit tickets to high-profile sports events and music concerts. Those who buy those products often pay for them using cryptocurrencies, primarily through the Darknet".

The Top 10 List

Here is a list of some of the world’s wealthiest – and most dangerous – terrorist organizations and how they make their money. The list was created based on interviews with security experts and counter-terror specialists, as well as reports and analysis from international NGOs, academic and government organizations, and think-tanks. It brings to light estimated numbers behind the top ten wealthiest terrorist organizations from the State Department list of Designated Foreign Terrorist organizations.

We put together the first ranking three years ago., and the material accrued since then has enabled us to create a reliable and qualitative update of income estimates of terror organizations. But apart from examining the financial means at the disposal of today’s terror groups and the ways in which each organization finances its operations, the current research allows a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the way in which these organizations operate: what trends characterize the activities of terror groups, how the map of their interests has changed, who are the financiers behind them and how has the balance of power in the global terror arena changed in recent years.

#1 Hizballah

Total annual Income – $1.1 billion

Other than the Iranian Government, there is no doubt who is the primary beneficiary of the nuclear agreement. Within a few years, Hizballah’s budget jumped significantly with the government expenditure out of Tehran, and if in the past they received about $200 million per year, today the Iranian funding of the Lebanese terror group, according to estimates by the security establishment, is evaluated at more than $800 million dollars annually.

But despite the large sums of money flowing from Tehran, the extremist Shiite organization did not always enjoy such wide financial support and there were times in the not-too-distant past in which, as a result of urgent liquidity problems, they made do with just hundreds of millions. Because of this, Hizballah made sure to vary its sources of capital; from raising money and support collected by organizations camouflaged as charities and scattered all over the world, down to real estate dealings and “used car” dealerships run by private business people.

The crowning glory of Hizballah’s business portfolio is its hold on the global drug industry. The organization’s worldwide crime operation extends from South America, through Africa, Europe, the Far East, Australia and the Middle East. Among their various activities, there are active Hizballah cells engaged in constant money laundering, forgery, weapons trade, smuggling, and of course producing and trading drugs, primarily heroin and cocaine.

Despite sweeping denial by the leaders of the religious extremist organization, officials from the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have in the past presented conclusive evidence linking the drug organizations active at the Triple Frontier (Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay) with extremist Muslim organizations and Hizballah in particular. Its involvement in the drug industry of South America began in the early 1980s and has gained significant momentum over the last decade; through use of the large Shiite-Lebanese diaspora and close collaboration with South American cartels and drug organizations as well as crime and terror organizations in North Africa, a global-narcotic network has been created, netting billions of dollars a year. Among those enjoying the spoils is Hizballah. Today the total income generated by the organization’s global-narcotic operations comes to hundreds of millions of dollars yearly.

#2 – The Taliban

Total annual income: $800 million

Unfortunately, the Taliban’s success in recent years can also be measured financially. The Taliban runs a financial mechanism similar to that of ISIS (until recently) – the broader the territory they seize and the greater the population under their control, the more resources and potential revenue streams they have to convert into huge sums of money. The Taliban’s primary source of income today, as much as hundreds of millions of dollars each year, comes from the production and trade of drugs (mainly growing opium and manufacturing heroin). After that (in order of decreasing importance) the organization makes hundreds of millions from the pirate mining of natural resources within the regions under its control, collecting ransom for hostages and, finally, from donations.

As mentioned, the foremost source of capital for the Jihadist organization relies on the extensive narcotic network built and refined over the years. This made Afghanistan into the biggest heroin production and growing operation in the world and the reason why more areas in Afghanistan are used for growing opium than there are areas in Latin America for growing coca. This network is responsible for one of the most essential arteries of the global drug industry, yielding hundreds of millions of dollars a year. According to the '2017 World Drug Report' of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest producer and exporter of opium in the world and is responsible for the production of approximately 90% of the world’s heroin. In total, more than 400 tons of heroin are produced in Afghanistan each year and the net value of opium exports alone constitutes around 12% of the country’s GDP. A report presented to the UN’s Security Council states that roughly 3 million Afghani people today are directly or indirectly employed by the drug industry. This is mind-boggling, as the country’s entire workforce is approximately 8 million people, according to the CIA.

As much as this sounds like a huge sum, this is only half of the total income produced by the Taliban. An important additional piece in their rich and varied financial system is their pirate mining of minerals, namely copper and iron. A further significant source of income for the organization comes from donations, mostly from wealthy Saudi sheikhs and philanthropists. According to a study conducted by the New York Times, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is among the group's heavy funders of the group. Although the government in Riyadh officially supports the Afghani government and the American task force in the country, Saudi authorities in practice turn a blind eye to the increasing sums of money flowing from the private accounts of the wealthy.

#3 – Hamas

Total annual income: $700 million

Last June marked tenth anniversary of the Hamas movement’s control over the people of Gaza. Looking back, it seems there is no cause to celebrate. A special report recently published by the UN allowed a glimpse into the intolerable life in Gaza under the mismanagement of Hamas and points to a dizzyingly escalating humanitarian crisis. According to a summary in the UN report, the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020 if the current situation persists.

The security intensification that came with Hamas' seizure of rule over Gaza brought with it immediate economic mayhem. A stream of more than 100,000 workers that entered Israel daily, and provided livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people in the Gaza strip, has almost entirely stopped. According to the World Bank, the current rate of unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world and stands at over 40%. Among youth, the rate rises above 60%. The average income in Gaza is $1,800 per capita, among the lowest in the world. Electrical infrastructure and the factories that were destroyed in fighting, as well as the gross lack of raw materials (those that are not redirected by the heads of the organization to rebuilding tunnels), has paralyzed industry, which currently amounts to furniture production, cultivation of tomatoes and fishing.

But despite the catastrophic situation of Gaza, Hamas is managing to generate numerous funding sources from the impoverished population there, bringing in tens of millions of dollars each month. The sophisticated and elaborate tax network redirects significant capital flowing into Gaza as aid. This, for instance, is how Hamas collects taxes on the money-changing companies that convert the foreign currency to shekels, pocketing tens of millions on the way. In addition, Hamas runs hundreds of businesses monopolizing a variety of fields from real estate to security, banking, and even hotels and tourism.

Along with taxes, hundreds of millions of dollars flow in to the organization’s account each year as private donations from business owners or various societies from all over the world. The biggest current funder of Hamas is, not surprisingly, Iran which, along with Qatar has committed to contributing large sums of money to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In order to ensure that not all the money goes to the rehabilitation of Gaza and improving its residents’ welfare, the regime in Tehran has specifically allocated a significant sum from its contribution to support Hamas and its military arm’s activities. According to security sources, this allowance is 70 million dollars a year, and is responsible for nearly half of the military wing’s estimated budget of 150 million dollars.

#4 – Al-Qaeda

Total annual income: $300 million

Under the organization’s fundamentalist umbrella are some of the deadliest organizations operating today. According to the US State Department Country Reports on Terrorism a number of the primary branches include: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Libya, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Tunisia and Burkina Faso), Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemn and Saudi Arabia), Al-Qaeda in the Indian Peninsula (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), al-Shabaab (Somaia) and Tahrir al-Sham (Syria).

Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb is mainly active in Central and Western Africa and exploits the region’s instability and the penetrable borders of the countries in which its operations are based. It currently deals in the illegal trade of drugs, weapons, automobiles and people – and recently in the increasingly profitable branch of illegal trade in cigarettes and tobacco. A special report by the KPMG firm estimated that the illegal cigarette market in the countries of the Maghreb in 2016 constituted tax losses of about 565 million dollars. The scope of the illegal tobacco trade in North Africa currently stands at more than a billion dollars annually, and according to the UN comes out to about 60 billion black market cigarettes annually, of which a significant portion flows directly to the criminal and terrorist organizations controlling the region. Kidnapping for ransom payments also constitute a large source of income for the group, bringing in additional millions of dollars annually.

Like its brother in the West, Al-Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula takes great advantage of the local instability and local support, particularly in Yemen, to occupy territories, consolidate its hold in the region and so produce sizable income streams. Two years ago, for instance, the organization succeeded in taking over Mukalla, an important central port city in Yemen. Their control of the city, held until April 2016, generated about 2 million dollars a day for the organization from collecting protection fees and taxes, as well as pocketing an additional 20 million dollars from plundering local banks – according to a special report of the UN Security Council. In addition, Al-Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula continues to create ongoing revenue streams from kidnapping and ransom payments, as well as donations from charities of wealthy notables, primarily from the Gulf States

Jabhat al-Nusra, Tahrir al-Sham in its current incarnation, is Al-Qaeda’s proxy in Syria. The extremist Sunni organization’s income comes primarily from ransom payments and generous donations from the wealthy Sunni Gulf states. This year the organization wrangled a hefty sum of money for the provocative transaction in which it released Qatari royalty in exchange for the unprecedented sum of an estimated $130 million, according to the Financial Times.

A relatively new organization in Al-Qaeda’s portfolio, but a veteran of Africa’s bloody terror arena, is al-Shabaab, the Somalian terror group.. Like the rest of Al-Qaeda’s destructive affiliates, al-Shabaab also obtains its own funding. According to a UN report, the organization raises funds mostly through taxing the inhabitants of the territories under its control. Additional funding comes from pirate mining and illegal coal trade as well as kidnapping and ransom payments – all of which make tens of millions of dollars per year for the terror organization.

#5 – ISIS

Total annual income: $200 million

As of now with the fall of the town Rawa, the organization has lost its last urban stronghold in Iraq and those who controlled a third of the country have been almost entirely eliminated. Getting rid of any remnants of their control is just a matter of time and considering the great power they held until not long ago, this is a remarkable collapse. At its peak towards the end of 2014, the Islamic State extended over 100,000 square kilometers – larger than South Korea – and subjected 10 million people to its oppressive rule at the height of its power.

The vast lands that the organization captured during its rapid conquests throughout 2014 and the millions of people subjugated to its cruel rule made up the source of its wealth in its heyday. ISIS controlled oil and gas fields, rich mineral deposits, fertile agricultural lands, factories, weapons and of course millions of people underpinning the organization’s finances, primarily through paying the organization taxes and ‘protection’ fees. Three years ago, precisely at the height of ISIS’ military and political power, its annual income stood at around 3 billion dollars. In an unprecedented, comprehensive study published by Forbes Israel, ranking the 10 richest terror organizations in the world, ISIS was rated as the richest terror organization in the world; indeed, the richest in the history of terror.

The basis for its speedy money-making (as with many similar examples in the Middle East) came, unsurprisingly, from one major factor – oil. But this source of quick income soon became ISIS point of weakness. The intensification of the fighting against them and the grueling daily battles on the ground eventually led to the loss of extensive territory, including loss of control over fields of oil, gas, and precious mineral deposits. The organization suffered massive air raids by the coalition forces (attacks deliberately focused on the oil reserves) which added further strain and ultimately brought about the dwindling of profits from the organization’s primary source of income. Soon afterwards, what's more, the price of oil collapsed, plunging from 110$ per barrel at the beginning of 2014, to less than 30$ per barrel in 2016, further slashing the organization’s profits.

Income from oil and gas, which constituted the main source of ISIS’ wealth, was not the sole source of capital in its financial system. Taxes, ransom, protection fees and robberies of banks and antiquities became important components of wealth accumulation. As the only governmental authority in villages and towns under its rule, ISIS collected taxes and protection fees from the occupied population. But loss of control of the population it controlled until recently naturally brought about a drop in this source of income.

Apart from the large energy reserves that they controlled and the coercive mechanism for collecting protection, ransom and taxes for their own profit – ISIS also conquered vast agricultural lands, factories, power stations, dams, and other strategic facilities – which added greatly to their power and economic strength. In addition, the organization held vast territory in the 5 most fertile agricultural districts in Iraq that control about 40% of the wheat crop and various types of grain grown in the country, which in total, according to estimates by agricultural experts, amounted to 30% of the local agricultural market under ISIS’ control. All of this was lost when the organization withdrew from the large areas that it held.

According to estimates, the deadly terror organization lost over 90% of its income in the last three years alone, from about 2-3 billion dollars in 2014 to only 200 million dollars in 2017. In the coming year, ISIS will return to its original financial standing, and will be supported again primarily by ransom payments, donations, and external aid to finance its guerrilla activities in Syria and Iraq.

#6 – PKK – Kurdistan Workers’ Party

Total annual income: $180 million

According to the US State Department’s annual terrorism report, the PKK has many and varied sources of capital and relies heavily on the widespread Kurdish diaspora across Europe for funding its operations. According to estimates, the money flowing into the organization ranges between $50 to $100 million annually.

The primary source of PKK’s income stems, unsurprisingly and similarly to other terror groups, from the drug trade – namely heroin and cannabis. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has estimated that the organization makes about $75 million annually from heroin. In the past, British intelligence estimated that the PKK is responsible for 40% of the heroin smuggled into the European Union, with the US Treasury also noting its significance in the global drug industry.
Another important dimension of the PKK’s illegal business transactions is human trafficking, as well as pirating of tobacco and cigarettes, according to a special report by a NATO intelligence branch. From the illegal migration from Asian and African countries and smuggling people and illegal substances into European countries, the organization is making millions of dollars each year.

Apart from its criminal money-making activities, the PKK also runs a legitimate and legal network for raising funds and aid money from its many supporters. The PKK’s European arm runs hundreds of aid organizations for increasing propaganda and collecting donations and solidarity tax from among the Kurdish community, particularly in Germany. A special report published by Germany’s domestic intelligence service (the BfV), has estimated that funds flowing into the organization from donations come to about 30 million dollars annually, about half of which is collected from the Kurdish community in Germany.

#7 – Kata’ib Hizballah

Total annual income: $150 million

Practically since its inception, the organization has been heavily funded by its Iranian patron, which makes sure to devote money and resources for the organization’s activities. More can be learned from a lawsuit filed against European banks by American veterans and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. According to the statement submitted against the banking powers, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Standard Chartered and the Royal Bank of Scotland channeled money from Tehran to the terror organization in Iraq. These funds allegedly were transferred directly from Iran to Kata’ib Hizballah in order to finance shootings and roadside bombings in which dozens of American soldiers were killed or wounded. The claim explicitly implicates Kata’ib Hizballah as one of the main recipients of those funds which, according to the pleadings, came to over 100 million dollars.

An additional source of income comes from abductions and ransom payments, which in the last year brought huge sums into the Shiite terror organization’s account. Kata’ib Hizballah was the organization that headed the plan and execution of the abductions of 26 members of the Qatari royal family while they were on a falcon hunting expedition in December 2015. The dubious release transaction saw the royal family transfer the astronomical sum of a billion dollars to Iran and other terror organizations (which triggered the big boycott against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain), and the Shiite organization is estimated to have received an especially hefty cut of the spoils. According to the Financial Times which exposed the details of the transaction, suitcases loaded with cash amounting to about 700 million dollars were transferred to Iran and its ‘partners’ in exchange for the hostages’ release.

#8 – Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Total annual income: $100 million

Up to 2 years ago, the Islamic Jihad was facing a severe economic crisis, as one of their senior officials expressed it “the most severe economic crisis in the history of the organization,” which was founded in 1979 as a branch of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood movement. The Jihadi organization’s sources of funding had dried up and its pockets emptied. In a political crisis with their Iranian patron, close ally and nearly exclusive sponsor, the latter threatened to cut the oxygen flow to the Jihadist organization - brought the Islamic Jihad to the brink of bankruptcy and to its lowest point in its many years of activity.

At that time the coalition forces of the region’s Sunni states (led by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Sunni rival), began a large-scale military operation against the Houthis in Yemen. While the heads of the Islamic Jihad were determined to remain neutral, the Iranians demanded explicit support for the Shiite Houthis. When expression of support was not forthcoming, Tehran decided on a drastic cut in funding for the organization, which went into a violent tailspin.

Eventually, the Islamic Jihad leaders gave in and surrendered to the dictates of Tehran, including a public “declaration of loyalty”. A delegation of senior officials headed by Ramadan Shalah, secretary general of the organization, was dispatched to end the tensions and to consult the Revolutionary Guard. During the meeting, Shalah thanked Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force (the elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard), for the ‘exclusive’ support of the Palestinian intifada. In what was described as a sweeping declaration of loyalty by the Islamic Jihad to Iran and unconditional acceptance of its demands, the organization’s secretary general criticized the ‘other Arab states’ that did not support the Palestinian uprising and declared that “Iran is the only country that supports the intifada and the families of the martyrs.”

Unsurprisingly, the reward soon followed. Soon after the meeting, the heads of the organization received an offer of reconciliation in the form of tens of millions of dollars. It is estimated that Islamic Jihad receives support from Iran of about $70 million a year and that Iran alone is responsible for supplying nearly 75% of the Palestinian terror organization’s entire budget.

#9 – Lashkar-e-Taiba

Total annual income: $75 million

According to the US State Department, the Lashkar-e-Taiba organization relies heavily on the Pakistani diaspora (with most capital flowing in from communities based in the Gulf States and Britain), and aid funding from business people, Kashmiri tycoons and Indian mafia. Additionally, many millions are funneled into funds and charities that operate under the organization’s aid arm, which they use to garner support and sympathy from among the local population.

Lashkar-e-Taiba maintains training camps for its fighters, along with schools, daycare centers, welfare institutions and clinics all over Pakistan and is active in Afghanistan as well. Most of the fundraising to the charity and welfare funds (in which, as usual, nobody knows where the line lies between funding charity and terror) is done publicly, through extensive publicity campaigns in the Pakistani media. In addition, according to some estimates, the Pakistani terror organization continues to receive generous financial support from Pakistani officials.

#10 – The Real IRA

Total annual income: $50 million

Despite the efforts of customs authorities and security forces, the organization’s leaders have refined their fundraising abilities and manage to pocket tens of millions of dollars per year, mostly through a sophisticated global network that smuggles and sells cigarettes and tobacco. The tobacco smuggling industry in Britain has been thriving in recent years, bringing in huge sums of money.

A special report produced by the international accounting firm KPMG suggests that the illegal cigarette trade on the black market in Britain is among the largest in Europe. In 2016, approximately 5.55 billion cigarettes were sold illegally – with a black-market value of around $1.1 billion annually. In a special investigation done by the Sun, senior government officials declared that IRA members (including the Provisional IRA) are responsible for about 40% of the illegal tobacco market in Britain, and with the profits generated by this industry annually, tens of millions of dollars in royalties go directly to the RIRA.

The crime and terror organization recently got an unexpected boost from parliament – thanks to the same law that forbids the branding of packets of cigarettes and rolling tobacco. According to experts, the passing of the law significantly simplified the forgery work required of those profiting from black market tobacco and is expected to channel tens of millions of dollars more their way with a hefty portion expected to go to the RIRA.

Apart from illegal trade in tobacco, the radical Irish organization also enjoys significant royalties from its pirate network of falsified alcohol and fuel products as well as protection fees that it collects – especially in those areas under its influence, in which police enforcement is low.

An additional source of capital for the Real IRA, according to the US State Department Report on Global Terror, comes from supporters in the large Irish community in the USA. The underground Irish organization knows well how to exploit this wealthy target audience, and raises funds based on the support of Irish-American activists who oppose the peace agreement.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Pallywood exposed in the Australian Senate

From the Australian Senate Hansard, 19 March 2018:

Senator BUSHBY  (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (21:50): 
Much has been made of the arrest of the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi for slapping an Israeli soldier. Those promoting her cause would have us believe that Ms Tamimi is the poor victim of Israeli brutality, motivated by anger at the injuring of her cousin by Israeli troops into slapping a soldier trespassing on her land. 

The reality is very different. For the last five years Ahed Tamimi, and, to a lesser extent, her siblings, have become notorious for their constant efforts to provoke Israeli soldiers, to the extent that Ahed Tamimi, with her curly blonde hair, has become known as 'Shirley Temper'. The typical and often repeated modus operandi is for a Tamimi child to approach Israeli soldiers and slap, hit, kick, spit at and insult them, while the Tamimi family adults wait with camera in hand for the provoked soldiers to retaliate, so they can then show the world the so-called Israeli aggression against children. 

These exploits have earned Ahed and her family a significant social media following, especially among Palestinians. Ahed's mother, Nariman Tamimi, was filming the incident involving the soldiers and immediately following it asked Ahed what sort of message she wanted to convey to viewers. She was filmed saying:  
I hope that everyone will take part in the demonstrations as this is the only means to achieve the result. Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine, because Trump made his declaration and—the Americans—need to take responsibility for any response that comes from us. Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine.

I repeat, this poster girl for Palestinian innocence called for stabbing attacks, suicide bombings and the throwing of rocks. 

Sadly, it would appear likely that Ahed has been raised to seek and glorify violence. In fact, her parents, Bassem and Nariman, are also well-known for their anti-Semitic social media posts glorifying terror attacks and calling for the end of Israel. Other members of the family are convicted terrorists, including the mastermind of the Sbarro pizzeria bombing in 2001, which killed 15 people including Malki Roth, who was then the same age as Ahed is now and whose parents were Australian. 

Those professing such concern for Ahed's welfare should perhaps question whether her upbringing is akin to child abuse or to the use of child soldiers. At the very least, she is being exploited. In other circumstances, they would, rightly, be quick to condemn this. Instead, they are more likely to condemn Israel for supposed transgressions of Palestine rights, such as its arrest and detention of children, its system of military law in the West Bank and its check points and security barriers. 

Let's look at what's behind those. Yes, Israel arrests and detains Palestinian children. Most of those arrested are in their mid to late teens and are arrested for acts such as throwing rocks at cars or security forces, which can be lethal, and even more serious attacks such as stabbings and bombings. If children in Australia were throwing rocks at passing cars or at police, we would want them arrested and detained, too. Ahed herself was arrested not just for slapping a soldier but also for throwing rocks and for the incitement mentioned earlier. 
Yes, Israel has a separate system of military law for the West Bank. This is not out of a desire to discriminate against Palestinians but out of legal necessity. If Israel were to apply its own civil legal system to the West Bank, that would amount to annexation and would no doubt be roundly condemned. 

Yes, Israel carries out arrests, including of minors, in night-time raids. It does so because experience has shown this is far safer for both the Israeli forces and the local Palestinians than going in during the day, when Palestinians riot and attack the Israelis, and the Israelis are forced to defend themselves, leading to casualties on both sides. 

Yes, Israel has a security barrier to separate Palestinians from Israelis and has checkpoints, but these were built out of necessity. In the intifada launched in 2000 in the wake of Yasser Arafat's refusal to accept the Camp David peace offer, more than 1,000 Israelis were killed, and thousands more were seriously injured by Palestinian terrorism, including many notorious suicide bombings. The intifada was finally defeated by those measures. The checkpoints, other than those at the security barrier, are often unguarded, depending on the security situation at the time, and the security barrier can ultimately be relocated or removed, depending on the nature of any peace settlement.

One aspect of Palestinian violence that is not widely understood is the role of Palestinian incitement. Palestinian children like Ahed Tamimi are subjected to nonstop incitement and glorification of terror from the Palestinian National Authority, Israel's supposed peace partner. They get it in their schools, on TV, on the radio and in the mosques—constant messages that Israel is illegitimate and that the Jews stole their land. Israelis do commit crimes against Palestinians, including occasional terror attacks. But, when this happens, the perpetrators are pursued and arrested, and the attacks are condemned from the Prime Minister down. By contrast, the Palestinian authority name streets, public squares, community facilities and even children's soccer tournaments after Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israelis. Perhaps even more invidiously, Palestinian terrorists who are captured by Israel are paid generous lifetime pensions, far higher than the average wage, by the Palestinian authority—and, if they are killed in the attack, the pension goes to their family. The more serious the attack is, the higher the pension. The Palestinians apparently need billions of dollars of international aid each year, yet the Palestinian authority made US$347 million worth of such payments for terror in 2017 and has budgeted US$403 million for 2018. 

There are those who would say that all of this results from Israel's occupation of the West Bank, so let's consider why Israel is there. Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 in the course of a defensive war, the Six-Day War. It took the West Bank and, also, East Jerusalem from Jordan, following Jordanian attacks on Israeli positions. When Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, Jews were expelled, were barred from visiting the holy sites, and all synagogues were destroyed. By contrast, Israel allows all faiths control of and access to their holy sites in Jerusalem.
Immediately after the war, Israel offered to return land captured, in exchange for peace, but the meeting of the Arab League in Khartoum in August and September 1967 responded with the infamous three noes: no negotiation, no recognition and no peace. Despite this, in 1979, Israel agreed to return Sinai—also captured in 1967, but from Egypt—to Egypt, uprooting all Israeli settlements there, and has had a peace, albeit often cool, with Egypt ever since. In 2000, at Camp David, under the auspices of the Oslo accords, Israel offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a state consisting of all of Gaza, most of the West Bank, a shared capital in Jerusalem and a settlement package for the Palestinian refugees. Arafat refused—despite being urged by many, including Saudi Arabia, to take the deal—and instead launched the intifada. An improved offer in early 2001 at Taba met the same response.

In 2005, Israel's Sharon government, searching for another way to achieve peace, withdrew completely from Gaza, leaving behind greenhouses and other agricultural infrastructure. The hope was that the Palestinians there would establish a peaceful, prosperous society living in harmony with Israel, and this would provide the impetus for further peace moves. The reality was, sadly, very different. The greenhouses were immediately destroyed, and rockets soon began flying over the border, aimed at Israeli communities. In 2007, Hamas staged a coup and took over control of Gaza. Since then, there have been in excess of 10,000 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza; terror tunnels have been constructed under the Israeli border, using vast amounts of international aid intended for Gaza civilians; and the result has been three wars.

In 2008, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer than those previously tendered. Under that peace plan offer, the Palestinian state would have all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, with land from inside Israel in compensation for the rest. There was to be a land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza; a shared capital in Jerusalem, with Palestinian control over Muslim holy sites; a limited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel; and compensation for all other Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants. As Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas recently admitted, he rejected the offer out of hand—again, without so much as a counteroffer.

It appears that the sticking point is that any agreement would require the Palestinians to genuinely accept Israel's right to exist in peace and that there could be no further claims, including the so-called return of the refugees and their millions of descendants. This influx of in excess of five million Palestinians would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state and is therefore completely incompatible with the two-state peace the Palestinians profess to be seeking.

It is also worth noting that this demand for the return of not only the original refugees but their descendants—treating the descendants as refugees too—is a demand made only for Palestinians and is not repeated for any of the world's many refugee populations. Since the election of the Netanyahu government in 2008, Israeli measures to encourage peace talks have included an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on building in settlements, and the release of Palestinian prisoners. As you can see, the matter is not as simple as it appears. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hail Haley

From The Australian, 21 March 2018, by Janet Albrechtsen:

...Nikki Haley, the first Republican in cabinet as US ambassador to the UN since the end of the Cold War...  has proven to be a formidable voice of reason on a body that is corrupted by its own membership — only 87 of its 193 members are full-fledged democracies or “fully free” according to Freedom House.
Last month Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Haley to “shut up” with her criticism of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Haley declined the advice. “I will not shut up,” she said at the UN Security Council. “I will respectfully speak some hard truth.” And she’s doing that is spades.
...Haley nailed her credentials to the wall last December after Trump decided to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a withering speech, she relied on facts and logic, confronted the false piety of the UN and destroyed the hypocrisy of Palestinian leaders.
Haley said that Israel, like other nations, had the right to determine its capital city and Jerusalem had been its capital for thousands of years.
She pointed out that the decision gave effect to what had been US government policy since 1995, when the US congress recognised that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and voted to move the US embassy there.
“This week, President Trump made the decision to no longer ignore the will of the American people,” Haley said.
In a speech that has been likened to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s speech in 1975 when, as US ambassador to the UN, he condemned the “Zionism is racism” resolution passed by the UN, the straight-shooting Haley said that UN was “one of the world’s foremost centres of hostility towards Israel”.
“The UN has done much more to damage the prospects for Middle East peace than to advance them. We will not be a party to that. The US no longer stands by when Israel is unfairly attacked in the UN. And the US will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly...”
A fortnight later Haley rebuked members of the Security Council who voted for a resolution that slammed the right of a sovereign nation to determine where to locate its embassy. Her blistering speech against the anti-Israel bias of the UN had facts on her side.
There have been more than 400 anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly since Israel’s establishment in 1948, more resolutions than against all other UN members combined.
Between 2012 and 2016, the General Assembly passed 123 resolutions criticising individual countries, 103 (84 per cent) were about Israel. The best year for Israel in that period was 2016, when only 20 of 26 condemnatory country-specific resolutions (or 77 per cent) by the General Assembly targeted Israel alone. Syria attracted three, with one each for Iran, North Korea and Crimea.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Picture: AP.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Picture: AP.
In the 10 years since its creation, the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel in 68 resolutions — almost more than the rest of the world combined. The UN Human Rights Council was reformed because of the bias of its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission. Alas, the name change hasn’t altered its anti-Israel agenda. It has one permanent agenda item, No 4, dedicated to “human rights abuses by Israel”. And another permanent agenda item, No 7, devoted to the “human rights abuses by the other 192 UN member states”.
Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. But the UN’s criticism of Israel, compared with its light touch towards countries from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran to North Korea, has destroyed its moral credibility....

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Abbas successor will act the same towards Israel

From JNS, 28 Feb 2018, by HAROLD RHODE:

The Israelis and Americans should stop worrying about who will lead the Palestinians, and instead spend time thinking about how Israel and America can address the civilizational war engulfing the entire region.

The Israeli and American establishments spend a lot of time over who should replace Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas when he’s gone.

This establishment thinking was expressed in a recent article titled, “Jibril Rajoub vs. Muhammad Dahlan to replace Mahmoud Abbas” by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and published on JNS.

Any Palestinian (Muslim) will end up acting the same towards Israel.

Why? Because the root problem is that no Muslim leader can sign a final peace agreement with the non-Muslim state of Israel and remain alive. He would be labeled a traitor because according to the Shari’a, once a land is conquered by Muslims, it must remain Muslim forever. Muslims conquered all of these lands in 637 CE.

All of pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank and Gaza must, therefore, remain under Islamic rule. The non-Muslim Jewish state of Israel, from their perspective, has no right to exist because it is not Muslim.

If a Palestinian leader would sign any such agreement, the people he supposedly would lead would destroy him.

That is why former Palestinian head Yasser Arafat rejected the generous peace offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 with U.S. President Bill Clinton, and was quoted as saying he did not want to end up drinking tea with assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In other words, the Palestinians would kill him if he signed a peace deal to end the conflict.

The Americans and Israelis waste so much energy on who should rule after Abbas even though it is an irrelevant issue. Many policy-makers simply don’t understand—or choose ignore—that the underlying root of the problem is a religious, civilizational struggle that does not depend on one leader here or there. The Muslim struggle for the land will continue, no matter who is leading the Palestinian people. This is their cultural choice.

As the Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out:
“No Palestinian leader has a mandate to reach an everlasting peace agreement with Israel. No leader in Ramallah or the Gaza Strip is authorized to end the conflict with Israel. ...any Palestinian who dares to talk about concessions to Israel is quickly denounced as a traitor. Those who believe that whoever succeeds Abbas will be able to make real concessions to Israel are living in an illusion.”
Thus, the Israelis and Americans should stop worrying about who will lead the Palestinians, and instead spend time thinking about how Israel and America can address the civilizational war engulfing the entire region.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Palestinians: Israel is One Big Settlement

From the Gatestone Institute, February 26, 2018, by Bassam Tawil*:

Let us be clear about this: When Palestinians -- and some of their supporters in the international community, including Europe -- say that they want an end to the "occupation," they mean they want to see an end to Israel's existence, full stop. They do not want to throw the Jews out of their homes in the settlements; rather, they want Jews to be expelled from the whole country.

The conflict, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, did not begin in 1967, when east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under Israeli control. In the eyes of the Palestinians, all Jews are "settlers" and "colonialists." All the land, they argue, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is Muslim-owned land, and no Muslim is entitled to give up any part of it to a non-Muslim. For the Palestinians, accepting Israel's "right to exist" with Jews is seen as an act of treason.

What is really bothering the Palestinians is that Israel, with Jews, exists, period. The Palestinians want all of Jerusalem. They want all of "Palestine." They want Israel removed from the planet. It is time to listen carefully to what the Palestinians are saying -- in Arabic -- to understand that the conflict is not about Jerusalem and not about settlements.

Pictured: The skyline of Tel Aviv. (Image source: Ted Eytan/Flickr)

...At a time when most Palestinian leaders are telling the world that settlements are the real "obstacle" to peace, [Ismail] Radwan, a senior Hamas official, last week made it clear that the conflict with Israel is not about Jews living in a settlement in the West Bank. The truth is that the Palestinians see Israel as one big settlement that needs to be uprooted from the Middle East.

The Palestinians do not differentiate between a Jew living in a settlement on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, and a Jew living in the cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv or Eilat. All the Jews, they say, are "occupiers" and "settlers" who need to "go back to where they came from."

For the Palestinians, the real "occupation" began with the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Let us be clear about this: When Palestinians -- and some of their supporters in the international community, including Europe -- say that they want an end to the "occupation," they mean they want to see an end to Israel's existence, full stop. They do not want to throw the Jews out of their homes in the settlements; rather, they want Jews to be expelled from the whole country.

The conflict, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, did not begin in 1967, when east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under Israeli control. In the eyes of the Palestinians, all Jews are "settlers" and "colonialists." All the land, they argue, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is Muslim-owned land, and no Muslim is entitled to give up any part of it to a non-Muslim.

In other words, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Muslim himself, will be considered a kaffir," an "apostate" and a traitor if he ever agreed to cede control over "Muslim owned" land to Jews.

That is why it is naïve to assume that Abbas would ever sign any deal with Israel.

Neither Abbas nor any other Palestinian leader can accept anything less than 100 percent; and 100 percent means all of Israel. It does not mean a 100 percent of the "'67 borders" or of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Yes, the Palestinians want "peace," but that that means peace without Israel, not peace with Israel. Real peace, the Palestinians argue, will be achieved only when Israel is eliminated and the Jews disappear.

For the Palestinians, accepting Israel's "right to exist" with Jews is seen as an act of treason. Muslims are not supposed to accept the presence of Jews on Muslim-owned land.

Each time Abbas states his commitment to a two-state solution, he is immediately condemned by his people and other Arabs and Muslims. For them, a "two-state solution" means accepting Israel's presence in the Middle East; it also means allowing Jews to live on "Muslim-owned" land -- a "crime," according to Islamic teachings, punishable by death.

...During a Hamas rally in the Gaza Strip on February 23, Radwan told the thousands of supporters of his terror group that there is no such thing as east and west Jerusalem. "The whole city belongs to Palestinians and Muslims," he said. "The united city of Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Palestine."

Why is this an important statement that needs to be brought to the attention of the US administration and the rest of the international community? Because it basically sums up the essence of the entire Israeli-Arab conflict: namely, that many Arabs and Muslims have still not accepted Israel's right to exist inside any borders.

Radwan's statement came in response to US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, revealingly, are totally opposed to the relocation of the embassy -- even though it will be established in the western, and not eastern part of the city. Why would any Palestinian who supported a two-state solution (with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state) oppose the transfer of any embassy to west Jerusalem? Do the Palestinians really accept Israeli sovereignty over west Jerusalem? Do they accept Israeli sovereignty over any land, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River? Do they accept Israeli sovereignty over Tel Aviv?

The answer is clear and simple: No.

Radwan is refreshingly frank about this issue. His views do not represent those of a minority of Palestinians: such views have long become part of the mainstream thinking among the Palestinians.

The last time Hamas, which openly seeks the destruction of Israel, ran in a free and fair Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, its candidates won the vote handily. If elections were held tomorrow, Hamas would win the vote again.

To put it simply: a majority of Palestinians continues to see Israel as a foreign entity and an alien body that was imposed on the Arabs and Muslims by Western superpowers, despite the Jews having lived there for four thousand years, as evidenced every by archeological findings, which corroborate material in the Bible. The Palestinians want to liberate "all of Palestine" – meaning all of current-day Israel. This is what the entire Palestinian "national struggle" is about. It is not about "liberating" a certain part of "historical Palestine." Instead, it is about "liberating every inch of Palestine" and driving the Jews out of the land and out of the region.

Mahmoud Abbas is a known liar who has not only questioned the Holocaust, but also specializes in distorting history. In a speech before the Palestinian Central Council in January this year, Abbas said that Israel was a "colonialist project that has nothing to do with Judaism." Behind him appeared a large placard with a map of "Palestine" that made no reference to Israel.

This time Abbas, like Hamas, is being honest. His talk about a "colonialist project" shows that he, like many Palestinians, has a problem with Israel's very existence.

For Abbas, the problem is not settlements or borders or the status of Jerusalem. He sees Jews as an occupying force and as settlers, regardless of where they live. The map behind him tells the story, namely that Abbas and most Palestinians are fighting to drive the Jews out of the land and replace Israel with an Islamic Arab regime.

Such maps are not new in the Palestinian landscape; they can be found in school textbooks and various media outlets. Anyone who watches the weather forecast on Palestinian television stations will see that Haifa, Tel Aviv, Tiberias and Jaffa are "occupied" cities.

Anyone who follows the news on Palestinian media outlets will see how all Jews, whether they are living in a West Bank settlement or in Tel Aviv, are referred to as "settlers."

To sum up, it is not Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital or to move the US embassy to the city that is behind the current Palestinian outrage.

What is really bothering the Palestinians is that Israel, with Jews, exists, period. The Palestinians want all of Jerusalem. They want all of "Palestine." They want Israel removed from the planet. It is time to listen carefully to what the Palestinians are saying -- in Arabic -- to understand that the conflict is not about Jerusalem and not about settlements.

*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Nikki Haley to Abbas: I will not shut up

"I assure you that [the current] path will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations."

United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had strong words for top Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday: "I will not shut up." 

Her remarks, made at a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, were a firm response to comments made by Erekat earlier this month, in which he called her "impudent" and told her to "shut up" regarding her criticisms of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, who spoke earlier, left the chamber before either the Israeli or the American representatives could respond– a clear diplomatic slight.

"I'm sorry that he declined to stay in the chamber to hear remarks of others," Haley said. Both she and Israel's representative, Danny Danon, remained seated during Abbas's speech. "We welcome you as the leader of the Palestinian people here today."

"But I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator, Saeb Erekat. I will not shut up," she said. "Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths."

Haley also disparaged the repetitive nature of the meeting's rhetoric, opening her statement by saying, 
"this session on the Middle East has been taking place each month for many many years, its focus has been almost entirely on issues facing Israelis and Palestinians, and we have heard many of the same arguments and ideas over and over again, we have already heard them again this morning. It is as if saying the same things repeatedly, without actually doing the hard work and making the necessary compromises, will achieve anything. "
Haley again remarked on the UN's preoccupation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that serious security and humanitarian challenges in Syria and other areas of the Middle East should be the topic of discussion, rather than to "sit here, month after month, and use the most democratic country in the Middle East as a scapegoat for the region's problems... but here we go again."

Haley said the administration "stands ready" to work with the Palestinian leadership. "Our negotiators are sitting behind me," she said. "But we will not chase after you."

"You don't have to like that decision," she said, of Trump's Jerusalem move. "You don't have to praise it. You don't even have to accept this. But know this: That decision will not change."

Haley said that Abbas faced two paths: one of anger toward the Americans and incitement of Palestinians to violence against Israelis, or one of direct negotiations with both.
Of the first, she warned: 
"I assure you that path will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mid-East on a hair trigger as Israel, Iran clash

From The Australian February 17, 2018, by GREG SHERIDAN, Foreign Editor:

Israeli security oficers at the wreckage of an F-16 shot down by Syria in northern Israel on February 10.
Israeli security oficers at the wreckage of an F-16 shot down by Syria in northern Israel on February 10

...last weekend we possibly moved much closer to a major new war in the Middle East.

Nobody could describe the wars in Syria and Iraq as anything other than significant, but they have not involved big conventional clashes between big conventional forces.

Last weekend, some scribes are saying, was the first day of direct military conflict between Israel and Iran, with the US and Russia only a hair’s breadth away.

The bald facts are these. An Iranian base inside Syria, known as T-4 and located to the northwest of Palmyra, launched an unmanned aerial vehicle — a drone — into Israeli airspace. It is not known if the drone was armed or whether it was a stealth drone. It certainly seems to be modelled on US drones, which the Iranians have captured in the past and reverse-engineered.

The Israelis waited for it to come into their airspace and then shot it down with an Apache helicopter. Subsequently, the Israelis sent F-16 fighter aircraft to attack the base from which it was launched. One of the Israeli F-16s was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles on the journey back over Israeli airspace.

This is the first time the Israelis have lost an advanced fighter jet in combat in several decades. And we know that during the past five years Israel has conducted about 100 single strikes on targets in Syria, mainly weapons supplies going from Iran to Hezbollah, or the launch sites of rockets or other fire aimed at Israel.

In retaliation at losing the F-16, Israel launched a second wave of air attacks against at least 12 Syrian targets, mainly Syrian anti-aircraft defences. It also attacked four Iranian bases in Syria.

This is an incredibly dangerous mixture of forces. The Syrians have always had air defences. They have never been able to seriously hurt Israeli planes, although of course Israel hardly makes a practice of gratuitous strikes on Syria. However, two external factors are now making the air defence threat to Israel much stronger. They are the involvement of Iran and Russia.

Iran is the mortal danger to Israel but the presence of Russia is also exceptionally complicating, and dangerous in itself. There is strong evidence that Russian “irregulars” as well as normal Russian soldiers have been involved in professionalising and upgrading the joint Syrian-Iranian military efforts, of which air defences are a part. Most of this effort, Moscow would allege, has been directed at fighting Islamic State.

However, the Russians also have been deeply involved in helping the Syrian regime fight against, and reclaim territory from, other forces in Syria, some of which, including but not only the Kurds, are backed by the US. This recently led to a direct clash between US forces and Syrian government forces.

Over all of this we have to lay the broader strategic ambitions of Iran in the Middle East and its preparations for war with Israel.

The Israeli-Arab conflict is a side show compared with the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, and potentially a war between Israel and Iran.

That is not to say Iran has decided to initiate a war with Israel, but it is making systematic preparations to be able to do so.

Iran now has a massive military establishment in Syria. This consists of substantial numbers of Revolutionary Guards troops. There are also the Iranian-fin­anced Popular Mobilisation Units. These are groups of Shia Islamist fanatics drawn from a wide range of nations, from the minority Shia communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and throughout the Arab world, as well as from Iraq. There are also 6000 to 8000 Shia Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in Syria; they are also directed by Iran.

Hezbollah has claimed that there are now something like 70,000 missiles in Shia hands in Syria, all of which could be fired at Israel. Hezbollah in Lebanon has an arsenal of about 180,000 mis­siles. These naturally encompass a very wide range of lethality. However, there are many more heavy payload missiles, and many more with precision guidance, than Hezbollah had during Israel’s last war with Lebanon back in 2006.

And then in Gaza there is the other leg of Iranian influence, Hamas, which also has a store of missiles.

Iran has established a long arc of influence and effective territorial control, from Iraq through Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean, with huge influence among Shia minorities in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere.

The drone incident last weekend is open to several interpretations. It may be that the Iranians intentionally sent the drone to draw an Israeli response in the confident hope that the improved air defences could shoot down an Israeli jet.

It is also widely speculated that the retaliatory missions Israel undertook were much more dangerous because the Israelis had to be so careful not to hit Russian targets, as far as possible.

So far, an incredibly dangerous modus vivendi seems to prevail between the Israelis and the Russians. Moscow has been helping the Assad regime in Syria and is happy to co-operate with Iran. This is mainly to consolidate Moscow’s influence in Syria — but Russia is also happy to cause distress to the US and its friends in Syria.

At the same time, Russia, notionally at least, has good relations with Israel. There is a huge ethnic Russian cohort in the Israeli population. In so far as public opinion means anything in Russia, it is not in favour of Islamists against Israel. Vladimir Putin has presented his Syrian adventurism as being opposed to Islamism.

The Israelis don’t ask the Russians for permission when they find it necessary to strike a target in Syria. But they do tell the Russians what they are doing.

Russia’s attitude seems to be that it doesn’t mind the Israelis striking Moscow’s Syrian allies — the Assad government or the Iranians in Syria — so long as the Israelis don’t strike the Russians themselves. This is an inherently very unstable accommodation.

About a year ago I spent a few weeks in Israel, including some time on the Syrian and Lebanese borders.

I was struck on the Lebanese border by the sight of a series of concrete walls and barriers that Israel had built to impede any large-scale movement of Hezbollah fighters into Israel.

Throughout the Israeli national security establishment, people were talking openly about the likely shape of the next Lebanese war.

Hezbollah has learned a lot of technical lessons from the encounter of 2006. It has dispersed its missile launch sites and put as many as possible in the heart of civilian establishments — hospitals, schools, residential buildings.

It has developed missiles that can be fired remotely, which don’t need any personnel around at the time of fire. It has spread its mis­siles far beyond southern Lebanon so that Israel would be forced to attack sites all over Lebanon to suppress the missiles.

And there is some evidence of tunnels into Israel, so that a missile war could be accompanied by large-scale human infiltration and murderous terrorism.

So it is at least possible that Iran is contemplating the mother of all battles with Israel.

If Hezbollah launched a missile war with Israel from Lebanon, and Iranian proxies simultaneously did the same thing from Syria, and Hamas did the same thing from Gaza, this would cause the maximum stress, suffering and dislocation possible in Israel.

The Israelis have state-of-the-art missile defences, but in a saturation war quite a lot of stuff will get through. Obvious targets include Israel’s nuclear facilities at Dimona, its petrochemical plant in Haifa and Ben-Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv.

Israel, of course, would not be powerless in the face of such an attack. Its response would have to be ferocious. However, it would, as the downing of the F-16 showed, be likely to suffer far greater air force losses than in previous conflicts. Maintaining a big air force is critical for Israel. It is also likely that Israel would have to engage in large ground operations in Lebanon very quickly. It may even be forced to evacuate a good deal of its northern population.

Of course, Israel could expect massive logistic, political and other support from the US.

And certainly the Israelis have cyber capabilities and electromagnetic warfare capabilities that at this stage we can only guess at.

The object of such an assault on Israel would be an attempt to break decisively its economy and its morale. Whatever happened, there would be terrible suffering and loss of life on all sides in such a conflict.

However, here is a critical judgment. It is still likelier than not that this sort of war will not come about. But it has gone from about a 2 per cent possibility to perhaps a 30 per cent possibility.

The likeliest scenario is that Iran continues to build up all the elements for launching such a war if it wants to, while it soon makes a sprint for nuclear weapons capabilities to match its burgeoning missile capabilities.

Having a loaded gun on a hair trigger, rather than launching an all-out offensive, is probably Iran’s preferred position. Until now, it attacks Israel via proxies and Israel hits back only at the proxies. But if it launched an attack on that scale, it could not predict the extent of Israel’s response.

Even if this is Tehran’s calculation, not every Iranian proxy will necessarily follow orders, especially if the orders are not to attack. The presence of the Russians, and all the other foreign forces in Syria, makes the possibility of catastrophic miscalculation quite strong.

In the Middle East, one truth endures. No matter how bad things are, they can always get much worse.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What will be Russia's reaction to this weekend's events?

From The Times of Israel, 12 February 2018, by Judah Ari Gross:

...Army, analysts agree: Israeli aerial superiority shouldn't be in question because one plane got shot down -- but Russia's reaction to this weekend's events is a different matter

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The apparent downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet by Syrian air defenses was an enormous public relations win for dictator Bashar Assad and his allies Iran and Hezbollah.

...In Israel, the downed F-16 prompted widespread hand-wringing and discussions about whether or not the Jewish state still maintains air superiority in the region.

...[But] Israel hasn’t had true air superiority in the region since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 missile defense battery in Syria powerful enough to track the vast majority of Israeli airspace.

S-400 Triumf missile defense system at the Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (Paul Gypteau/AFP)

...“A fly can’t buzz above Syria without Russian consent nowadays,” an Israeli defense official told the International Crisis Group think tank after the S-400 was installed.

...The F-16 was shot down on Saturday morning after it and seven other fighter jets took part in an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF says an Iranian operator flew an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier.

The downing of the F-16 might have ended a false notion of the Israeli Air Force’s invincibility, but it does not have serious negative consequences for Israel’s aerial dominance, experts say.

View of the remains of an F-16 plane that crashed near Kibbutz Harduf on February 10, 2018. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)

Far more serious is the potential for Russia to end the policy it has maintained until now of not taking direct action against Israeli planes conducting airstrikes against targets in Syria.

...The Israeli military does not see the downing of the F-16 as the disastrous loss it’s being painted as and still considers itself as having aerial superiority, though it does recognize it as a “significant event,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told The Times of Israel on Monday.
“Yes, a plane was shot down... But let’s keep it in proportion. The important thing is that an hour after this plane fell, we went out and destroyed about half of Syria’s air defenses.”...

How it came down
The initial assessments of the event indicate that the plane was brought down while flying over Israel after a large volley of anti-aircraft missiles — at least five, but possibly more — were fired at it, Conricus said.

The army said it was still investigating if the plane was brought down because it was operating at a high altitude to ensure its bombs were hitting their targets, which made it easier for Syrian air defenses to spot and fire at it, and failed to react quickly enough, as was reported in Israeli media outlets on Sunday.

Conricus said the initial investigation should be completed shortly, after reviewing the evidence and speaking with the flight crew.

On Monday, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily also reported that another fighter jet was also targeted by the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles in the same barrage but managed to escape.

It therefore does not appear to be the result of any kind of new Syria capability or unknown Israeli vulnerability, but some combination of human error, lucky timing and, perhaps, a degree of hubris by the flight team.

Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar, head of the air force’s Training and Doctrine Division:
“There’s no [new] issue that we hadn’t previously identified. We operate in Syria continuously, conducting thousands of missions in Syria in just the last year...There are many levels of protection for a plane during a mission: intelligence, electronic [warfare], the flight team itself. We’re going to go level by level to find out what happened...” 
Dominance in the air battle
Regardless of the exact cause of the F-16’s destruction, one event is not what determines air superiority, according to Yiftah Shapir, a former air force officer and analyst on quantitative military balance who has written on the concept.

An Israeli Air Force F-16C takes off during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Air superiority is defined by NATO as “that degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.”

As a result, Shapir said on Monday, “You never look at one lone case. You calculate the possibilities. If X air defense can bring down this or that many airplanes, then you can say if it’s prohibitive or not.”

Those equations don’t change because of one airplane, said Shapir, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Lt. Col. (res.) Reuven Ben-Shalom, a former IAF pilot and current analyst, was even more direct.
“It doesn’t mean anything about our air superiority. You can have superiority and you can win, while still losing people...” ...
Ben-Shalom described the downing of an F-16, sinking of a ship or destruction of a tank as simply the cost of waging war, though he said it’s not one the Israeli public is used to paying.

...The issue, according to Ben-Shalom and Shapir, is in part that the Israeli Air Force has been too good in recent years, leading to unrealistic expectations.
“It is nothing short of a wonder that in the operations in Gaza [terrorist groups] haven’t been able to take a fleck of paint off our aircraft,” Shapir said, noting that these groups have shoulder-fired missiles and other weapons that could feasibly hit an Israeli helicopter or low-flying plane.

According to Ben-Shalom, who runs a strategy firm, these victories have made “us used to acting freely and nothing happening.”...

While the downing of the F-16 might not indicate a change in Israeli air dominance, it is not yet fully clear what impact this weekend will have on the air force’s freedom of operation in Syria.

On the one hand, the air force’s destruction of a large percentage of Syria’s air defense would indicate that Israel could operate more freely in the country in the future.

The serious blow to the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, which air force officials say was the most significant of its kind since 1982, was also meant to send a message to Assad of what’s to come if he again fires on Israeli aircraft. If that was internalized by the despot, this too could smooth the way for future Israeli missions in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, November 20, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin via AP)

The Russian complication
But on the other hand, there is rising concern over how Russia — by whose grace Israeli pilots are currently flying — will react to its ally, Assad, getting pummeled by Israel.

Moscow, which has not accepted Israel’s claims, could make its efforts more difficult, risky and complicated, Ben-Shalom said, though he is convinced that Israel could get by even if Russia took a more antagonistic view.

According to Shapir, the problem is not the capabilities of Russia’s S-400 themselves, but that Israel would rather not go to direct war by attempting to disable the system, which it might be more inclined to do if it belonged to another country.
“[Israel’s freedom of movement] isn’t limited because the system is an S-400, but because it is flying the Russian flag...” ...