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Report: Iran Building Militias in Syria in Case Assad Falls


Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hizbullah are building a network of militias inside Syria to protect their interests in the event that President Bashar Assad's regime collapses or is forced to withdraw from Damascus, the Washington Post reported, citing US and Middle Eastern officials.

"It's a big operation," a senior Obama administration official was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it's important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on."

A senior Arab official told The Washington Post that Iran's strategy has two tracks: "One is to support Assad to the hilt; the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses." Western, Israeli and Middle Eastern elements have expressed growing concern over the possibility of Syria's fragmentation along tribal or religious lines and over the lack of unity among the Syrian opposition.

According to the Washington Post, the militias set up by Iran and Hizbullah are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. However, the report said, officials believe Tehran's long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in place in the event that Syria fractures into separate ethnic and sectarian enclaves. Each of Syria's internal actors has external backers, The Washington Post stressed in its report.

According to the report, Tehran's interest in preserving a Syrian base partly explains why the financially strapped Iranian government continues to send weapons and cash to groups such as Jaysh al-Sha'bi, an alliance of local Shiite and Alawite militias.

American and Middle Eastern officials who have studied the organization told the Washington Post that Jaysh fighters are predominantly a sectarian fighting force supervised by Iranian and Hizbullah commanders. "Jaysh is essentially an Iran-Hizbullah joint venture," David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, told the newspaper. "Given the other constraints on Iranian resources right now, it's obvious that this is an important proxy group for them." The Treasury Department said Iran had provided it with "routine funding worth millions of dollars."

A Treasury statement noted that Iran's Revolutionary Guard commander has said that Jaysh was "modeled after Iran's own Basij, a paramilitary force subordinate to (Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps) that has been heavily involved in the violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran since the June 2009 contested presidential election."

Experts told The Washington Post that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an air or seaport, they could also maintain a Hizbullah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics, the experts argued.

US Withdrawal from Europe-Based Missile Shield will Impact Israel's Defense

By DEBKAfile

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday echoed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's rejection of direct talks with the US four days ago which he said were on the grounds that they "would solve nothing" because, "You are holding a gun against Iran."

Ahmadinejad added is own rider to this dismissal: "God willing, soon Iran's satellite will be located in orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers, next to others from four or five advanced powers and it will relay a message of peace and fidelity to the world," he said.

The boast that Iran would soon be the world's sixth space power came two weeks after Tehran claimed to have put a monkey in orbit around earth, although it did not report bringing back to earth either the space capsule or the monkey. Indeed, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, pouring a healthy dose of skepticism on the very existence of the project, commented: "The Iranians said they sent a monkey, but the monkey they showed later seemed to have different facial features."

Tehran is again caught wandering at ease through its favorite terrain between fact, hyperbole and fiction about its achievements, whether in space or its nuclear program.

In recent weeks, reelected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed he wants a broad government coalition for the critical objective of preventing Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. The question is how does he propose to achieve this when tough US and European sanctions have not just failed to stop Iran in its tracks but accelerated its nuclear progress. Iran is now estimated to be within four months of a nuclear bomb capacity from the moment a decision is taken to build one.

Those months are critical: On February 25 the five UN Security Council's permanent members plus Germany sit down with Iran in Kazakhstan for a fresh round of negotiations. Former rounds in this format led nowhere and no breakthrough is expected this time either beyond, at best, a date for a continuation.

On March 20, President Barack Obama arrives in Israel for the first foreign trip of his second term. The purpose of his visit is plain, except to Netanyahu's domestic rivals: Facing a 50% cutback in military spending, the Obama administration cannot credibly threaten to go to war against a recalcitrant Iran. But the US president may still wave the Israeli military option in Tehran's face.

Not that the ayatollahs are likely to be impressed. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have both dismissed talks with Washington "with a gun" at their head, meaning that they are not scared of the Israeli gun the Americans are putting to their heads. In fact, the Islamic rulers of Tehran are reported by DEBKAfile's intelligence and Iranian sources to be fully confident that they are home and dry as a nuclear power after a secret US Pentagon research study was leaked that "casts doubt on whether the multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe" (originally by the Bush administration) "can ever protect the US from Iranian missiles as intended."

Clearly the missile shield against Iran, which aroused ire in Moscow, looks like falling under the defense budget axe. The missile shield in Europe was also designed to defend Israel and Turkey against Iranian ballistic missile attack. Leaving it unfinished because of "flaws" exposes both those countries to such attack.

Obama will not doubt tell Netanyahu that the system for intercepting medium-range Iranian missiles is to be scrapped. However, he will have to take into account that if the Iranians do finally manage to put a capsule in orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers, they will be able to fire a ballistic missile at any point on earth as well, including the United States. Even if they did fail to put a primate in space, they will keep on trying and advancing until they get there.

Obama is Coming to Tell Netanyahu Not to Strike Iran

By The Times of Israel

Barack Obama will be making his first presidential visit to Israel next month primarily in order to tell Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in person to hold off on any military intervention in Iran, it was reported Sunday.

Quoting unidentified Israeli sources, Israel's Army Radio said the president would indeed seek to host some kind of summit meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and possibly Jordan's King Abdullah, to try to re-energize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But the key reason for the visit and its timing, the report said, is that Netanyahu cited spring 2013 in his speech to the UN General Assembly last fall as a notable deadline relating to thwarting Iran's nuclear drive, and the president wants to tell the prime minister face-to-face that the time is not yet ripe for military action. "Obama fears that the prime minister will decide to strike in Iran now, at a time when he is backed by a new government and can set up a new security cabinet in which two reported [ministerial] opponents of military intervention — Dan Meridor and Benny Begin — will no longer be present," the Army Radio report said. Meridor and Begin both lost their Knesset seats in the January 22 elections.

Obama will reiterate US determination to ensure that Iran does not attain nuclear weapons, and will remind Netanyahu that the US has military "capacities" that Israel does not possess, the report added. New Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that the diplomatic option remained open, but that all other options were also on the table.

"Obama decided to come himself and deliver to Netanyahu the direct message, `Don't strike at Iran. Let me oversee the contacts with Iran as I see fit. If necessary I'll take action against them. We have capacities that you do not have'," the radio report said.

Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting that the upcoming visit was an important reassertion of the strong US-Israel alliance. He said he and the president, when discussing the trip in a phone call two weeks ago, agreed that it would focus on "Iran's attempt to attain nuclear weapons, the instability in Syria and its implications for regional security, and efforts to advance the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians."

Uzi Arad, Netanyahu's former national security adviser, told Army Radio that the notion that the Obama visit would be focused primarily on Iran made sense since that was the most urgent regional challenge — "a race against time" — followed by the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, with the Palestinian issue "the least urgent." Arad said he did not know whether Obama was coming to say precisely what the unnamed sources were asserting, however.

The radio report said Obama could have discussed Iran and all other issues with Netanyahu in Washington, DC, in early March, when the prime minister is likely to attend the annual policy conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. But the president preferred not to be dealing with Netanyahu amid the AIPAC gathering, the report indicated, where the White House fears that Netanyahu will deliver "an aggressive speech on Iran."

In interviews last week, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said the Obama visit was a sign of unshakable US-Israel relations and an opportunity for "consultations" on key regional issues, notably including Iran's nuclear drive, the collapse of the Assad regime, and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Arabs Target Jerusalem Home with Firebombs


In another terror incident that was mostly ignored by mainstream Israeli media, Arabs hurled three firebombs at a building that houses Jewish families in the Abu Tor neighborhood of southern Jerusalem on Saturday night. The firebombs nearly set the whole building on fire, but miraculously missed. Baruch Pross, a local resident, recalled the attack in a conversation with Arutz Sheva on Sunday.

The incident occurred at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, when he was out, but as he returned home and approached the building, Pross recalled seeing police forces and border police officers in large numbers busy putting out the fire near the building. One of the firebombs nearly hit a gas pipe, said Pross, adding, "If that had happened the whole building would have gone up in flames."

After the fire was put out, the commander of the local police station arrived on the scene and promised to handle the investigation in person and capture the terrorists. Pross said that the commander of the station gave the residents a feeling that he is seriously committed to capturing the perpetrators. Jewish homes in Abu Tor have been the target of firebomb attacks in the past.

Pross noted that Saturday's incident is just one more in a series of violent incidents directed at Jewish residents of Abu Tor. In the past six months, he said, there has been a decline in the number of firebomb attacks on the building, but previously such incidents would occur once every two to four weeks. In addition to the firebomb attacks, the Jewish residents of Abu Tor have been the targets of repeated attacks of other types as well.

Pross told Arutz Sheva that his son, who is in the seventh grade, was attacked two weeks ago by two Arab children the same age as him. When he tried to escape, another Arab around 20 years of age arrived and threw him onto the road. Another son of his was standing at a bus station last year when he was attacked by a group of Arabs who left the place only when he defended himself with rocks. In addition, Arabs constantly attack Jews as they make their way to synagogue during Shabbat, try to run them over and cause damage to their vehicles.

Firebomb attacks have come to be the most common form of terrorism in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria in recent months, according to statistics recently published by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

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