The Watchman On The Wall

The Watchman On The Wall
Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Verse 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Middle East Report Dec. 21, 2015

Fierce battles have been raging for two days between rebel forces and Syrian army troops near Quneitra in southern Syria, very close to the border with Israel. Syrian forces, backed by the Russian air force, launched an attack Sunday morning on rebel positions near the border town. Under a heavy Russian bombardment, the rebels withdrew from one of their main outposts in the area of Tel Douba. The rebels later succeeded in recapturing the outpost, with both the rebels and the Syrian army suffering casualties.
The sounds of the battles can be heard clearly in the Israeli communities on the Golan, and IDF forces in the area are monitoring the situation closely.

Syrian sitrep for Dec. 21, 2015, watch video below. 

The US-Russian plan, approved by the UN Security Council as the lever for activating a political process towards ending the five-year Syrian war, can only go so far towards its objectives. The process is not capable of halting the fighting or removing Bashar Assad from power; just the reverse: progress in the talks is heavily dependent on the state of play on the battlefields of the north while the Syrian dictator’s ouster is a fading issue.
The limitations and obstacles facing the UN-endorsed US-Russian plan are summed up here:
1. The understanding reached by the Obama administration and the Kremlin in the past month was first conceived as a stopgap measure. It was never intended to bring the calamitous Syrian war to an end or remove Assad, but rather to provide a pretext to account for the expansion of Russia’s ground operation and gloss over America’s military deficiencies in the Syrian conflict. Taking it as carte blanche from Washington, President Vladimir Putin felt able to announce Saturday, Dec. 19, that “the Russian armed forces have not employed all of their capability in Syria and may use more military means there if necessary.” 
2. President Obama has stopped calling for Assad’s removal as the condition for ending the war and is silent on the expanding Russian military intervention. Obama and Putin have in fact developed a working arrangement whereby Putin goes ahead with military operations and Obama backs him up..   
3. Almost unnoticed, on Dec. 17, the day before the Security Council passed its resolution for Syria, all the 12 US warplanes that were deployed a month earlier at the Turkish air base of Incirlik for air strikes in Syria were evacuated. This happened at around the same time as Russia deployed to Syria its Buk-M2-SA-17 Grizzly antiaircraft missile systems. The presence of this system would have endangered American pilots had US air strikes over Syria not been halted. The upshot of the two evidently coordinated moves was the US withdrawal of most of its military resources for striking the Islamic State forces in Syria and the handover of the arena to the Russian army and air force.
4. In another related development, Friday, Dec. 18 the German intelligence service, BND, leaked news that it had renewed its contacts with the Assad regime’s intelligence services and German agents were now visiting Damascus regularly. The import of this change is that Berlin no longer relies on US intelligence briefings from Syria and, rather than turn to Moscow, it prefers to tap its own sources in the Syrian capital.
5. Washington and Moscow are still far apart on the shape of the transitional government mandated by the Security Council resolution
The Obama administration wants Assad to hand presidential powers over the military and of all security-related and intelligence bodies to the transitional government, which is to be charged with calling general and presidential elections from which Assad will be barred.
Putin won’t hear of this process. He insists on a transitional government being put in place and proving it can function before embarking on any discussion of its powers and areas of authority.
The two presidents agree that the transition will need at least two years, overlapping the Obama presidency by about a year and dropping the issue in the lap of his successor in the White House.
6. The US and Russia don’t see to eye to eye either on which Syrian opposition organizations should be represented in the transitional government and which portfolios to assign them. On this question, both Washington and Moscow are at odds with the Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, which back some of the organizations labeled as terrorist by Moscow.
7. But it is abundantly clear that the Obama administration is ready to abandon Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to give the Russians an open remit.
On Saturday, Dec. 19, Putin turned the screw again on Erdogan when he said he had no problem with the Turkish people, adding, “As for the current Turkish leadership, nothing is eternal.”
In support of Moscow, Obama meanwhile leaned hard on the Turkish president in a telephone conversation, to remove Turkish forces from northern Iraq. Ankara responded that Putin’s comment was not worth a response and denied hearing of any such US request.
Ankara may be feigning ignorance but it must realize by now that Moscow and Washington have joined forces to push the Turkish military out of any involvement in northern Syria and Iraq.     
8. This US-Russia collaboration against Turkey is having a dramatic effect on the war in northern Syria along the Turkish border.  It opened the door to the secret deal between Washington and Moscow to divide the areas of influence in northern Syria between them – essentially assigning the Kurdish enclaves north of the Euphrates river and bordering on Iraq to American influence (see map), and the areas west of the Euphrates up to the Mediterranean to Russian control. This deal effectively squeezes Turkey out of any role in the Syrian conflict.
9. The ongoing battles in northern Syria near the Turkish border will have a greater impact in shaping the future of Syria and its unending conflict than any UN resolution. Participating in the fighting at present is a very big mixed cast: Russia, the Kurdish YPG militia, most of the important rebel groups, including radical Sunni organizations tied to Al Qaeda, such as the Nusra Front and Ahram al-Sham, Iran and Shiite Hizbollah, and the Islamic State.
It is only when one of these forces gains the upper hand in this free-for-all, that there will be progress toward a political solution on ending the war.  

Image result for samir kuntar dead

The elimination of Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar, pictured above, in an Israeli Air Force airstrike has been hailed by Israelis from across the political spectrum Sunday. Kuntar was widely reviled in Israel for his role in a 1979 terrorist attack by the now-defunct Palestine Liberation Front, during which terrorists kidnapped an Israeli father and his four-year-old daughter from Nahariya and then brutally executed them on a nearby beach. Kuntar himself beat the young girl to death with the butt of his rifle; her two-year-old sister was accidentally smothered to death by their terrified mother as she stifled her cries to prevent them from being discovered. He was released after serving nearly 30 years of a 47-year sentence in a 2008 prisoner swap with Hezbollah, and was immediately feted as a hero by the Shia Islamist terror group and appointed one of its commanders. He was reportedly targeted in a previous airstrike but emerged unscathed. Israeli jets finally found their target on Saturday night, obliterating a building near Damascus where he had been living with a number of other Hezbollah commanders.

But Israelis aren't the  only ones celebrating Kuntar's elimination. In an illustration of the political complexities evoked by Syria's civil war, many members of the predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrian opposition took to social media in the aftermath of the strike to thank the Jewish state for taking him out. Hezbollah has played a key - and brutal - role in propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad at the behest of Iran, making it a subject of intense hatred for most Sunni Muslims, many of whom previously supported the group for its battle against Israel. A Lebanese Druze by birth, after his release Kuntar was lionized and even granted honorary awards by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad himself, as well as Hezbollah and the Iranian government, who highlighted his status as the longest-serving prisoner to be freed in such an exchange with Israel. Yet despite his enormous symbolic value to Iran's so-called "axis of resistance" Kuntar was, in operational terms, a relatively unimportant player inside Lebanon. In recent years, however, Hezbollah sought to use his links to the Druze community to further its goals in Syria, deploying him to the war-torn country's southern provinces to encourage (with ample funds) Syrian Druze to join the pro-Assad National Defense Force paramilitary. By all accounts he failed in his task; though fearful of the Islamist-dominated Syrian rebel movement, Syria's Druze population grew quickly disenfranchised with the Assad regime as well. While the regime was eager to recruit young Druze men to deploy in government strongholds elsewhere in the country, Damascus essentially abandoned the strategically-unimportant Druze heartlands to their fate. Anti-regime protests by disgruntled Druze have been met with bloody regime retribution.
Image result for David's Sling missile defense system

Israel's Defense Ministry announced Monday that it had completed its testing of the country's David's Sling missile defense system, and that the system will be operational during 2016. It consists of four batteries, but in the first stage the air force will receive two. David's Sling is designed to shoot down rockets with ranges of 100 to 200 km (63 to 125 miles), aircraft or low-flying cruise missiles. It will fill the operational gap between Israel's Iron Dome short-range rocket interceptor and the Arrow ballistic missile interceptor, both already in service.
The new system was jointly developed and manufactured by Israel's state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and US Raytheon. Watch the video below.

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