Newsletter : 13fx0520.txt
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Report: Syria Aims Half-Ton Warhead Missiles at Tel Aviv
By Israel Hayom
Responding to a report in The Sunday Times suggesting that Syria has prepared its most
advanced missiles to hit Tel Aviv if Israel launches a strike on its territory, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that Israel was prepared for any
"The Middle East is currently facing one of the most sensitive eras it has seen in
decades, and at the center: the escalating shock waves in Syria," the prime minister said
at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "We are closely monitoring the developments
and changes there, and we are prepared for any scenario.
"The Israeli government is acting responsibly, is determined and calculated, and will
ensure that Israel's top priority is preserved -- the security of the citizens of Israel
in accordance with the policy that we have outlined -- and prevent, as much as possible,
the transfer of advanced weapons into the hands of Hizbullah and terror organizations. We
will take action to protect the security interests of the citizens of Israel in the future
as well," Netanyahu said.
According to The Sunday Times, Syria has deployed advanced missiles carrying
500-kilogram (1100-pound) warheads with attack coordinates set for Tel Aviv. The report
further suggests that spy satellites have been monitoring Syrian army movements and
preparations to deploy the domestically produced Tishreen missiles. The missiles are
reportedly being aimed at Tel Aviv and there are standing orders to fire them if Israel
Foreign media outlets claimed that Israel carried out two airstrikes in Syria earlier
in the month, reportedly targeting advanced weapon shipments bound for Lebanese terrorist
The reported Tishreen deployment marks a new level of escalation between Syria, which
has been embroiled in a bloody two-year civil war, and Israel, which has made every effort
to avoid becoming involved in the neighboring conflict, save preventing Hizbullah from
obtaining the regime's most advanced weapon systems.
On Friday, a senior Israeli intelligence official told the Times that Israel would
prefer that the Assad regime remain intact, over the possibility of a rebel-led regime
that could arise if Assad is toppled. "Better the devil we know than the demons we can
only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and extremists from across the Arab world gain a
foothold there," the unidentified Israeli official told the British paper.
On Sunday, Israel Defense Forces' Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poly) Mordechai denied the
Times report. Writing on his Facebook page, Mordechai said that "I don't know who this
unnamed source is. I have learned a lot over the last two years about the calculated use
of such remarks to achieve this or that objective. Since I am very well acquainted with
the official position of the Military Intelligence Directorate, I find this quote to be
implausible, and I would even go as far as to say that it sounds baseless." Mordechai
added that the IDF was closely monitoring the developments in Syria and has no plans to
"change its hands-off approach with regards to the Syrian uprising."
Against the backdrop of the U.S. and Russia's new efforts to convene a "peace
conference" in Geneva in the near future and attempt to bring an end to the Syrian civil
war, it appears Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not shying away from unleashing his
entire arsenal in his blood soaked battle with the rebels.
Following two reports of the Assad regime using chemical weapons in northern Syria,
over the weekend it was reported that the Syrian military used chemicals in the capital
Al Arabiya reported on Saturday rebel claims that dozens of their people fell victim to
a chemical weapons attack after the Syrian army fired mortars into Damascus' al-Asali
neighborhood. According to the reports, the victims suffered from shortness of breath and
eye burns from mortar rounds that contained chemical warheads and released a strong smell
of gas when exploded. The rebels also claimed that phosphorus tipped rockets were fired at
them by Assad's forces.
A senior official in the Damascus hospital recounted what he saw to Al-Jazeera. "Dozens
of civilians, women and children arrived at clinics and medical centers in city
complaining of difficulty breathing and intense burning in the their eyes and skin. The
majority of them came from the al-Asali neighborhood," he said.
There were additional reports of chemical weapon usage in the north-western town of
Saraqeb. Witnesses reported a Syrian air force helicopter dropping canisters containing
poisonous gas over the city, causing suffocation and burns. The BBC reported similar
witness accounts on Thursday.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to Assad have continued trying to suppress the popular uprising
to overthrow the regime. On Saturday a rare interview with the Syrian president was
published. In a special interview he gave to Argentinian newspaper Clarin, Assad claimed
"Israel is working with the Syrian opposition against me...Israel directly supports
terrorist groups. It gives them logistical support, and tells them which sites to attack
and how to carry out those attacks."
In the interview, Assad implicitly referred to recent attacks in Damascus that were
reportedly carried out by the Israel Defense Forces: "Rebels attacked radar installations
that were part of our aerial defense system. The system is able to track any plane that
approaches our territory, especially from Israel. The Israeli attacks were carried out to
raise the rebels' morale."
The Syrian president denied using chemical weapons in the conflict. "Attacking
populated areas with chemical weapons spells the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands
in minutes. Who could hide something like that?" Assad also used the interview as an
opportunity to cast his doubt on the Holocaust: "I am no historian as to know exactly what
went on there, but we all know that history is dictated by those who write it and we have
gotten false historical accounts on more than one occasion."
Syrian-Hizbullah's Capture of Qusayr Opens Direct Weapons Route to Lebanon
By DEBKAfile (Analysis)
Shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged Sunday to maintain Israeli
operations in Syria against the passage of advanced Iranian weapons to the Lebanese
Hizbullah, Syrian troops and their Hizbullah comrades stormed Al-Qasayr, the northwestern
town which commands the high road from Syrian Homs to Lebanon's Hermel Mountains.
This was a major victory: Iranian arms for Hizbullah can now go through from Syria to
destination unobstructed. In more than two years of battling the Assad regime, this was
one of the rebels' most devastating losses after three weeks of bitter fighting and the
last of a whole row of recent setbacks.
Bashar Assad in contrast has gained huge advantages from his al Qusayr victory, as
DEBKAfile's military sources report:
It cuts off the Syrian rebels' main supply and communications route via Lebanon through
which their Arab backers Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE to send them fighters, arms and
funds; rebel positions in the nearby town of Homs become increasingly vulnerable, as the
Syrian army regains control of the main highway links between Damascus, Homs and Aleppo;
and after the rebels were pushed out of Al-Qasayr, Turkey remains their only accessible
source of supplies.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has made a sudden U-turn. He had
promised publicly to lobby for no-fly zones in his meeting with President Barack Obama at
the White House Friday, May 17, to shield rebel forces in different parts of the country
from Syrian air strikes. Instead, Edrogan threw his support between the international
conference sponsored by Washington and Moscow for resolving the Syrian conflict. This told
the rebels that the supportive Turkish channel was closing down.
It is obvious to them that the conference can only succeed if Washington comes over to
the Russian-Iranian-Hizbullah side and agrees to the perpetuation of the Assad party's
role in any future government.
As yet, neither of the contestants has agreed to attend the conference for which no
date has been set. However, Turkish backing and arms supplies through its territory are
expected to shrink progressively to squeeze the rebels into accepting a formula which
would be tantamount to bowing to the defeat of their uprising.
For Israel, the fall of al Qusayr means that while rebel supply routes are shut down,
supply routes open up for the free movement of Iranian weapons from Syria straight to
Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon. This would be Hizbullah's reward for its military aid to
If Prime Minister Netanyahu was serious about his promise Sunday to cut off Hizbullah's
weapon routes from Syria, he has three primary options to choose from none of them
easy, to say the least. a) Military intervention in al Qusayr before the Syrian army and
Hizbullah clinch their takeover of this strategic byway town. This would catapult Israel
into full-blown war with Syria and Hizbullah and is therefore a non-starter; b)
Bombardment of the convoys carrying arms from Syria to Lebanon. This won't do much good.
Having learned its lesson from the three Israeli air strikes against arms convoys and
depots this year, Syria has now transferred the hardware disassembled into component parts
and passed them out among smuggling rings and to move them under cover of dark into
Lebanon; and c) Attacks on the destination of those weapons Hizbullah depots in
the Hermel after their delivery. This would almost certainly trigger Hizbullah war
action against Israel.
Iran Kills 2 for Spying for Israel, US
Iran hanged two convicted spies on Sunday, one accused and found guilty of working for
Israel, the other for the United States, the AFP news agency reports, based on an
announcement from the Tehran prosecutor's office. The Israeli government did not comment
on the event.
Mohammad Heydari was convicted of "receiving payment to provide intelligence on various
security issues and national secrets in repeated meetings with the Mossad," Israel's
intelligence agency, a statement said.
Koroush Ahmadi was found guilty of "providing intelligence on various issues to the
CIA." The statement did not give further details.
Iran accuses Israel and the United States of waging a deadly campaign of sabotage
against its nuclear program and has announced a string of arrests of alleged agents in
In May last year, Iran executed Majid Jamali Fashi after convicting him of spying for
the Mossad and of playing a key role in the January 2010 assassination of a top nuclear
scientist in return for payment of $120,000.
Iran is also still holding US-Iranian national, Amir Mirzai Hekmati, a former US
Marine, whom it accuses of being an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency, despite
vigorous denials by both Washington and his family.
Sa'ar Signs 'Double Tax' Bill on Empty Apartments
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar on Sunday authorized the collection of a double portion
of real estate tax (arnona) on homes and apartments that are unoccupied. Sa'ar signed an
executive order requiring the payments, based on laws that give him the ability to do so.
In a statement, Sa'ar said that the move would increase the number of apartments on the
rental market, as owners seek to reduce their tax burdens.
The order must also be approved by the Finance Minister. Sa'ar told the cabinet Sunday
that he had submitted the rule change to Finance Minister Yair Lapid for approval. Lapid,
who also heads a ministerial committee dedicated to lowering the price of housing, is
expected to approve the order.
Under the rule change, owners of empty apartments and homes will have to pay an
additional annual real estate tax of 3.5% of the value of their property. Individuals who
live in Israel and own only one property and do not live there for personal reasons will
Buying a home in Israel is expensive in many areas, but renting an apartment in large
cities can be even more expensive, on a monthly basis. Apartments for rent in Israel are
supplied almost solely from the private housing market; there are nearly no apartment
buildings that are owned by a landlord for rental purposes, as there are in the U.S. and
other countries. As a result, rental prices in many neighborhoods are very high, and young
couples who cannot afford a down payment to buy a home are forced to spend a large part of
their income to rent by the month, instead of saving a portion of their salaries for a
down payment to buy a home.
The problem is especially acute in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, and other large
cities, where foreign residents have bought prime homes and apartments for investment
purposes or as vacation homes, coming to live in them for just a few weeks out of the
year. Sa'ar said he hoped that the new regulations would encourage homeowners to rent out
their apartments and homes, thus avoiding steep fees.
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