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From Israel: Clarity and Fog

February 14, 2018

Today I begin by following through on the events of this past Saturday, with regard to our contending with Iran and Syria. There is so very much being said, so many different opinions as to the implications of what has happened.

If there is any clarity I can bring to the situation, it is by assuring my readers once again that Israel came out of this well. Exceedingly well, actually.

I’m reading some comments that are enormously pessimistic: There are those who are convinced that because one of our planes was brought down by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile, and an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace, we are now vulnerable – our invincibility and our deterrence shot.
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I would seriously beg to differ here.

A drone entered Israeli airspace because we permitted it to, for all of 80 seconds before we took it down.  As I wrote last, it was a state-of-the art copy of a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, which is shown below:  A serious piece of military equipment.

USAF

We were tracking it before it entered our airspace. This is clear.  It was tracked from its launch, actually: we knew the military base it had come from.  The information that was released was that we waited for it to enter our airspace before taking it down so that we could lay hands on it and examine it.  I do not doubt this.

However, I would add some additional thoughts (mine), for there is a great deal that is not being said.

It seems to me that it was cleaner, if not essential, to bring it down inside of Israel so that there would be 100% clarity about the defensive nature of our action:  We said it: It violated our sovereignty. We had the right to bring it down.  What would have happened had we taken it down in Jordanian airspace??

What is more, allowing it to enter our space neatly exposed the intentions of the Iranians.

We played it smart. We played it right. According to head of IAF Air Division, Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar, it is the belief of the IDF that “the Iranians assumed that they could succeed in sending the drone without the IDF defenses noticing.” They expected to accomplish their mission, whatever that entailed. Had that happened it would have represented a major blow to us.  But it did not happen.
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Of enormous significance is the reason why it did not happen, and for this I express appreciation to reader Mordechai B-M.

I said it myself, when writing last time: It was a stealth drone, with a low magnetic signature.  But I failed to follow through on the implications.  We should not have been able to detect it – which is why the Iranians thought they could get away with it. But we did detect it, indicating that we have the capacity to over-ride or cancel stealth. This is a huge military advantage that clearly had not been anticipated by the Iranians.

They had to have been badly set back, whatever their bravado.  Is there a Persian version of Oy Vey?
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Multiple aircraft were scrambled – imagine with what speed and efficiency – in response to the approaching drone.  Lt. Col. L., commander of the 113th Air Squadron, explained: “The squadron was scrambled to defend the nation’s skies.”

In the end, “an Apache helicopter was chosen for the task as its speed is similar to that of the drone, as well as for its optical capabilities.”

https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5107305,00.html

IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

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As to that downed Israeli plane: Every military analyst I’ve read is of the opinion that the downing of one plane is not an indication of military weakness or failure.  It happens. In this case, there is reason to believe that there was misjudgment on the part of the pilot, who apparently flew at too high an altitude.

According to Brig. Gen. Ein Dar (cited above in the YNet article), the IDF has carried out thousands of missions in Syria in the last year alone.

Credit: YNet

Thousands? Perhaps you will be as startled by this as I was. There is no elaboration of the nature of all of these missions; but, as the General is head of the Air Division, we can assume this refers to aerial missions.

Many, if not most, of these were surely intelligence-gathering missions of the most clandestine nature. But from time to time news reaches us from sources outside of Israel, indicating, for example, that a Syrian military base that was stockpiling rockets to be transferred to Hezbollah had been blown up. Now it seems that “from time to time” was more frequent than we imagined.

Almost never does Israel take credit directly, but after the fact Prime Minister Netanyahu will oft-times announce that Israel will continue to act as is necessary for our security. There are red lines regarding military transfers and also regarding Iranian entrenchment in Syria.  And we have acted quietly and successfully, again and again and again, without incident: A sterling record.
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What makes this all the more startling is that there is another dimension we have had to contend with: The Russians – who have been willing to look the other way as we have acted – have a presence in Syria, and we have taken care to avoid damage to that presence, whether planes or installations or personnel.
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As I previously reported, after the downing of our plane, Israel then sent eight jets back into Syria to strike 12 different Syrian and Iranian targets.  More than this I did not know when I wrote.  Now I do:

Reports Amos Harel: Israel destroyed nearly half of President Bashar Assad’s air defenses, according to military estimates.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-took-out-half-of-syria-s-air-defenses-military-beliefs-1.5808981

And a Saudi source says much the same: “The Israeli airforce counterattack destroyed a significant portion of Assad’s long-range SA-5 integrated air defense network outside Damascus.”

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1243836/middle-east
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It makes sense, then, that Lt. Col. (Res.) Reuven Ben-Shalom—who served for many years in the IDF as a helicopter pilot and in Counter Terrorism and Special Operations—writes:

Most strategic analysts assess that Israel’s strategic posture has never been better – as far as regional opportunities, military might, technological dominance and international allies”.

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Questions-following-a-day-of-battle-542345
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I do not mean to suggest that we are “home free.”  Not at all.  We will continue to face very determined forces in Syria that require the very best from us.  But I believe we can deliver.

We can expect more Israeli strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah positions on Syrian soil in the future as Tehran seeks to further destabilize the region,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.

The escalation also shows that “Iran is at the helm of what remains of Assad’s military, and has supplanted any semblance of Syrian sovereignty,” he said.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1243836/middle-east
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A good deal of what we hope to achieve is accomplished via diplomatic routes.  Look what Netanyahu’s persistent efforts at maintaining a cordial relationship with Putin has accorded us.
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A source of enormous concern is the situation in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, with the 100,000 plus rockets aimed at Israel.  There, deterrence is enormously important: Lebanon must know what it will lose (everything) if it enters into war with Israel.

Clearly our deterrence right now is quite good, as Lebanon refrained from direct involvement in the hostilities of the past few days.

Our intelligence in Lebanon is superb (we know where they are hiding their rockets), and many covert Israeli operations are on-going in the region.

What I worry about is not whether we have the military capacity to defeat Hezbollah, but rather whether we would have the emotional fortitude to fight with full strength in an evil situation that posits horrendous choices.

Should deployment of those rockets, all hidden in civilian areas, begin, we would not have the luxury of dropping leaflets on the Lebanese civilian population to warn them to leave within 24 hours.  We would need to hit the rocket sites immediately and with full strength in order to prevent a barrage of thousands of rockets aimed at our civilians.

We do take “never again” seriously. And so, I believe we would have the necessary fortitude to protect our nation and our people.  Warnings in Arabic are going out from our military now, and the world is being forewarned of the possibilities.

But this remains my prayer: Let none of this ever come to pass!!!   

I will have a great deal more to say about the tense situation at the Lebanese border in coming weeks and months.
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Let me now touch upon a subject that I have studiously avoided: charges of impropriety and bribery and whatnot leveled against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I have avoided it because it is clear to me that it is a politicized situation and that many making the accusations are more interested in their own political futures than in the good of the county.  I know that I may be naïve, to expect far better – but I simply find the situation deplorable.  I am speaking of the media, and elements within the police department and in the Knesset.
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Did I have to read that Sarah Netanyahu screamed at an employee eight years ago?  This is nonsense, and no one implies this is an indictable offense, but a left wing media loves to come out swinging on this stuff and I find it so very wearisome.

Jack Englehard, writing with irony, has it right:

“Was Netanyahu so careless with his email server that thousands of government secrets may have turned up in, say, Iran? No, that was Hillary Clinton.

“Now speaking of Iran, did Netanyahu stuff billions of dollars into the terrorist arms of Iran’s ayatollahs? No, not Netanyahu. That was Obama.

“Did Netanyahu use Israel’s Tax Authority to thwart his enemies? No, that was Obama using the IRS.”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/21710
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There is no way for me to swear with any degree of certainty that Netanyahu is guiltless with regard to all charges of import. But I have seen enough that is ludicrous to feel enormous irritation with what is going on.

I mention this now because news reports, which many of you may have seen, indicate that the police have recommended that our prime minister be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges.

But consider this:

“Attorney Yossi Fuchs says the police announcement does not recommend that Netanyahu be charged with any offense, nor does the announcement state that an evidentiary basis has been established for filing an indictment for any offense.

’The police who completed their investigations state in their announcement that there is evidence to substantiate suspicions,’ Fuchs said. ‘It’s certainly not a recommendation to file an indictment, but rather the police describe in the announcement the conclusions of its investigators regarding suspicions against the Prime Minister.’”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/241934

And this:

“Sources in the State Attorney’s Office criticized the police for recommending on Tuesday that Netanyahu stand trial for bribery allegations. According to Channel 2, prosecutors say that decision was premature and that they have still not received the file detailing the findings of the probe.”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/Flash.aspx/411020
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In any event, the final decision on whether to indict rests with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Media pressure on him to indict is expected to be very strong.  Thus tweeted political correspondent Amit Segal, in order to close these cases, “the suspicions need to be very weak or Mandelblit has to be very strong.”
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Prime Minister Netanyahu made a brief statement to the nation yesterday, in which he said he believes that the charges will come to nothing, that he has always worked for the good of the nation and the people know it, and that he will not step down.

I am not always content with Binyamin Netanyahu’s political stance.  But he has warned the world about Iran, is serious about the red lines in Syria, and has won friends for us in many parts of the world.

He is the face of Israel at this difficult time, and demeaning him via non-stop accusations serves the nation poorly.

The majority of the Likud, including Likud youth, are solidly with him.
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In my next posting I look forward to being able to write about “simple” things, such as what Abbas is up to, or what Trump is saying about his “peace plan.”
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© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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