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Israeli Forebodings over Widening Russian-Hizbullah-Iraqi Intervention in Syria

By DEBKAfile (Analysis)

Forebodings were voiced Wednesday by senior Israeli military officers in the face of the widening military intervention in the Syria civil war by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah and latterly Iraq too. They have made Syria's civil war the platform for a Russian contest against the West and a ladder up which Iran and its proxy Hizbullah are climbing to top Middle East regional power spot. Russia, Iran and Hizbullah are winning the contest by default against an unresisting US-led West and a hesitant Israel.

A senior IDF officer acknowledged on Wednesday that Israel's government and military leaders are at a loss on how to proceed. They have yet to recover from the calamitous miscalculation that Bashar Assad's days were numbered to which they clung stubbornly for almost 18 months.

Even today, some spokesmen refer to a "disintegrating Syria," thereby losing sight of the major strategic and military changes overtaking the country that are entirely to Israel's detriment as well as eroding its options against a nuclear Iran. At a time that the US and Israel should be using their heaviest military guns to slow Iran's race for a nuclear bomb, Tehran with Moscow's backing has brought its military assets up close to Israel's borders in Syria and Lebanon and openly threatens to use them.

Unlike Syria and Iran, Israel can't count on military intervention against an aggressor by supportive big powers. According to DEBKAfile's Washington sources, no part of the Obama administration, including its military and intelligence arms, favors military action in Syria. Even the direct evidence of chemical warfare already afoot in Syria is unavailing.

In Addis Ababa, US Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the administration's mantra Wednesday by denying "concrete evidence" of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Secretary and the rest of NATO were deaf to the vivid testimony brought to Le Monde Wednesday by two reporters, who risked their necks by spending two months concealed in the Jobar district of Damascus. They discovered Russia or Iran had developed a chemical weapon that does not explode. The release of its poisonous gases sounds like popping the top off a can of soda and has "no odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas."

So what does happen? The Le Monde reporters provided a graphic first-hand description. "The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate."

Wednesday morning, the Israeli Home Front rehearsed an attack on a Jerusalem suburb by a chemical-tipped missile. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who watched, said the exercise is designed to protect Israeli civilians "from the threats pilling up around us." Israel's home front is the best protected in the world but also the most threatened, he said: "We must make sure that defense is in place before an attack. Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon voiced his certainty that the Syrian President would not use chemical weapons against Israel or treat Israelis the way he treats his own people. There is no indication that anyone in the region intends to challenge us any time soon with unconventional weapons, said the defense minister.

DEBKAfile's military sources find Ya'alon's comment delusory. They don't see why Assad would treat Israelis differently from his own people – especially since the IDF has presented him with no real deterrent. After all, none of Israel's three air strikes in January and May stopped the flow of Hizbullah fighters into Syria. And meanwhile, Syrian and Hizbullah leaders are declaring loud and clear that a war front against Israel is already operating from the Syrian Golan and Lebanon. The question is who in Israel is listening. And what is being done to make sure that Assad will be prevented from using chemical weapons against Israeli military and civilian targets at a time of his convenience.

The spate of events in the last 48 hours is troubling - to say the least. Monday, Senator John McCain was reported to have paid a secret visit to Syria. What did this "visit" consist of? DEBKAfile reports: The senator entered Syria from Turkey through the Kilis corridor which is the main supply route for the rebels in Aleppo, one of the few still under their control. McCain penetrated some 300 meters into Syria, had his picture taken, and left.

A US publication reported Wednesday that President Barack Obama had ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans to establish no-fly zones over Syria against Syrian warplanes. The Pentagon thereupon issued a denial: "There are no new American operational plans," said the spokesman.

Moscow's response was ready in place even before the report was published. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the S-300 anti-air missiles that Russia was supplying the Assad regime were a "stabilizing factor" that could dissuade "some hotheads" from entering the conflict.

In the grades Moscow handed out for foreign interventionists: The US and Israel and their leaders were "hotheads" while Moscow, the calm, rational stabilizer. In that capacity, DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources reveal that a huge Russian cargo plane landed in Latakia airport Wednesday with 60 tons of "humanitarian aid for Syria."

The nature of this cargo was not disclosed, but the last thing it must have been was "humanitarian" given the massive military aid Moscow is extending Assad's army. Moscow also knocked on the head the timorous decision by European Union foreign ministers Tuesday to lift the arms embargo for Syrian rebels, which they carefully combined with a decision not to send them weapons.

In sum, the US is not doing anything to help the rebels, Europe is not sending arms, the rebels' Persian Gulf patrons have bowed to pressure from Washington and slashed their weapons aid, while Israel declares it wants no part of the Syrian civil war – even after it assumed the calamitous proportions of a world power contest with Israel's arch foes gaining the upper hand. So who is feeding the flames of the Syrian conflict with a generous supply of military hardware? Who but Russia, the self-styled "stabilizing factor"

The Free Syrian Army's Supreme Commander Gen. Salem Idris made a desperate show of bravado Wednesday, by threatening to strike Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon if Hassan Nasrallah does not pull his brigades out of Syria within 24 hours.

Hizbullah knows perfectly well that Gen. Salem is starved of weapons, just he knows that the US, Europe or Israel will not interfere with the stream of fighting strength he is pumping into Syria. At worst, a few rockets will hit Hizbullah centers in Beirut and the Beqaa Valley. Early Tuesday morning, the rebels tried to ambush Hizbullah forces near the eastern town of Arsal. Their operation went badly wrong and mistakenly killed three Lebanese soldiers manning an army checkpoint.

The senior Israeli officer interviewed by DEBKAfile put all these forebodings into words when he said: "A military and strategic catastrophe for the West and Israel is in full flight in Syria, and no one in Washington or Jerusalem is lifting a finger. Israel's government and military heads never imagined that the Syrian war would take this turn. But we had better wake up at this eleventh hour - before it is too late."

`The US or Israel — Who Should Strike Iran?'

By The Times of Israel

A position paper weighing US and Israeli military options against Iran, written by retired US Marine Corps general James Cartwright and Amos Yadlin, former IAF head and military intelligence chief, posits that a US-led strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities would be preferable from a military standpoint, while an Israeli strike might not be able to disable Iran's nuclear capabilities but would have less international fallout.

The brief paper, "Israeli or US Action Against Iran: Who Will Do It If It Must Be Done?" was released this week by the The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It was "intended solely to stimulate and inform further discussion on the potential repercussions of different strike options" against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, while acknowledging that "military force should only be employed against the program as a last resort."

In their analysis, Cartwright and Yadlin brought the following points: A US attack would allow a larger window for a non-military solution, since the US strike capacity is greater than that of Israel. A "unilateral Israeli strike amid Western efforts to find a diplomatic solution" would be censured internationally, even though Israel faces an existential threat from the Iranian program, and the US does not. Conversely, a US-led effort, undertaken as a last resort, would enjoy greater international backing.

A US strike would have a greater chance of disabling the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, even though Israel has more experience in similar pinpoint attacks on nuclear facilities. An Israeli attack would have to violate the airspace of a third country, creating more potential diplomatic issues, while a US attack could be staged directly from naval vessels stationed in the Persian Gulf.

An Israeli attack would be swift and surgical, causing less collateral damage, a "significant advantage" when considering the fallout from such a strike. The US, with its larger bombs, would be more likely to cause civilian casualties or other damage and would have to take pains to ensure that the attack is perceived by the Iranian public and the world as a strike on nuclear capabilities only, not the beginning of another US-led war in a Muslim country.

In the aftermath of a strike, Israel would have more moral authority because the Jewish state "could legitimately claim that it was acting in self-defense," whereas a US strike is more likely to anger countries with ties to Iran, such as Russia and China, and further diminish the already-weakened American standing as an honest broker in the Muslim world.

If the Iranian people understood that the strike was targeting nuclear weapons only, they would be less likely to rally behind the Teheran regime. That outcome is more likely in the case of an Israeli surgical strike, but less so for a US attack.

A strike by either country is likely to be condemned in public but approved in private by most governments in the Arab world. An Israeli strike would draw greater condemnation, especially on the Arab street, while a US strike "might even help America repair its tarnished image in the Sunni world."

Washington would prefer, due to domestic political concerns, that Israel conduct the strike, since "the outbreak of another war with a Muslim state would not bode well politically for any US administration." An Israeli leader, however, would find it difficult to outsource Israel's defense to another country, but would do so if it was believed that a US strike would invite less retaliatory terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets. If further strikes were determined to be necessary to remove the Iranian nuclear threat, only the US has the capacity for continued military action against the Islamic Republic.

In their final analysis, the authors found that an attack by each country would have pros and cons. A US attack would be preferable in strictly military terms but could have huge diplomatic consequences, while an Israeli strike would have less chance of ultimate success but would also generate limited international repercussions.

The leaders of both countries should therefore focus on "(1) delaying the Iranian nuclear program as much as possible, (2) preserving the international export controls and sanctions regime, and (3) creating favorable diplomatic conditions for denying Iran a nuclear weapon," the authors said.

Norwegian Cartoon Depicts Circumcision as a Demonic Ritual

By & The Times of Israel

The European Jewish Congress is "carefully considering the possibility of taking legal action" over a cartoon in Dagbladet], one of Norway's leading papers, which depicted circumcision in a blood-thirsty-demonic manner, the organization said in a statement.

"This cartoon has crossed all lines of decency and is dripping with hate and anti-Semitism," said Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress. "We are now studying the possibility that this legally constitutes incitement and even a hate-crime and will therefore require legal action. This obviously falls outside the boundaries of freedom of speech as no one has the freedom to incite hatred against a particular people."

The cartoon depicts a child being stabbed in the head by a Jewish religious figure with a devil's pitchfork while some unseen figure is cutting off a toe with a mother carrying what appears to be a religious book dripping in blood.

"This cartoon has ticked off one by one all the major historical anti-Semitic motifs, the type of which incited attacks and even the mass murder of Jews in the past," Kantor said. "The reason we have laws against hate is because modern society understands the connection between incitement and violence."

"This is a violent cartoon which is meant to inspire hate and contempt against one particular people. This type of hate, reminiscent of Nazi propaganda, cannot be left unanswered, and it is exactly this type of incitement which is contributing to a very troubling period for minorities in Europe at this time, especially with the rise of the far-Right."

The past year has seen a sharp uptick in anti-circumcision activity in Europe. In March, 38 physicians from the continent wrote a paper alleging that "cultural bias" was behind the pro-circumcision stance of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Approximately half of the physicians were from Scandinavian countries, where several political parties have stated their view of circumcision as a form of "child abuse."

Last year, a local German court criminalized the rite and started a nationwide and international controversy about religious ceremonies versus children's rights. Three months later the German government approved a bill that legalized ritual circumcisions, if performed by a medical professional.

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