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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 scenario.

"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 strikes Syria.

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 group Hizbullah.

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 Damascus.

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 Assad's army.

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 recent years.

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 be exempt.

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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