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Russia Brings Over Heavy T-90 Tanks to Boost Three Syrian Warfronts

By DEBKAfile

On December 2, Russia started transferring dozens of advanced T-90 tanks to Syria, DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report. They were moved immediately to two Syrian army fronts fighting rebel forces at the two most important cities, Aleppo and Damascus, and are expected to be sent to beef up the combined Syria, Iranian, Hizbullah army poised to recover Palmyra from the Islamic State.

The shipment to the capital was delivered into the hands of the 4th armored division, Syria's republican guard commanded by Gen. Ali Maher Assad, the younger brother of President Bashar Assad. The attack on Palmyra in country infested by ISIS forces was scheduled to have begun two weeks ago but was delayed for the arrival of the heavy Russian tanks, among other reasons.

For now, the Russian general staff shows no sign of preparing for a wide-scale operation against ISIS in Syria, so the newly-delivered T-90s are not immediately threatened from that quarter. As far as Israel is concerned, the main worry is that Russian instructors will also be assigned to train Iranian and Hizbullah tank crews in the use of the advanced T-90. Once they get hold of these tanks, they will be able to attain their objective of beefing up the Iranian-Hizbullah front against Israeli defenses from southern Syria and the Syrian Golan.

Israeli finds cause for concern in the constant expansion of the Russian military presence and involvement in Syria. Preparations for a very long stay are signified by new developments every few days. A permanent Russian military presence in Syria would give Iran and Hizbullah cover for a standing military buildup in Syria. This would confront Israel's vital strategic interests with a major challenge.

The T-90 weighs 46.5 tons and has a range of 375 kilometers, with an average speed of 45 km per hour under battle conditions or 65 km per hour on roads. It has three layers of defensive systems: composite armor plates on the turret; Kontact-5 third-generation explosive reactive armor on its front, sides, and turret that reduces penetration by kinetic energy bombs; and the "Shtora," or curtain, an electro-optical active protection system that enables the tank to jam the systems of antitank missiles.

The T-90 also has 12 smoke mortars, a 125 mm cannon and AT-11 Sniper guided antitank missiles. The tank has proven itself in battle in recent years in Russia's wars in Georgia and Chechnya against forces not unlike the Syrian rebels. Until last week, Russia kept only a few T-90 tanks in Syria, mainly to protect its military bases around Latakia.

The new shipment, say Western military sources which are monitoring Russian movements, will eventually replace a large part of the Syrian army's fleet of around 500 operational tanks, mostly T-72s - at least half of which are positioned to defend the capital. But the pace of delivery will be dictated above all by the time needed for Russian instructors to retrain Syrian tank crews from scratch in the use of T-90s in battle conditions.

It should be noted meanwhile that, while the Syrian rebels have antitank missiles able to take out the T-72, they do not have advanced missiles capable of stopping the much heavier, reactively armed T-90. But the Islamic State does, having captured US-made antitank missiles from the Iraqi armored divisions put to flight in June 2014. Some of those advanced missiles may be presumed to have been passed to ISIS forces in Syria.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that Russian officers and marine troops were seen Sunday for the first alongside Syrian troops fighting the Islamic State. At least 60 marines arrived in the Homs arena in eastern Syria Saturday. Their officers immediately sat down with commanders of the Syrian army's 67th Brigade of the 19th Tank Division to determine strategy for taking on ISIS forces in the district. DEBKAfile's sources add: The Russian advisers are chiefly concerned with charting an offensive for the recapture of Palmyra from ISIS, a mission to which Moscow attaches high importance.

Turkish military sources reported Sunday that Russian warships passing through the Bosphorus Strait on their way to and from the Middle East have started taking measures against possible Turkish airstrikes. The sources pointed out that soldiers carrying shoulder-fired missiles have been placed on the decks and near the bridges of the ships.

The sources also said that a flotilla of NATO warships from Portugal, Canada and Italy arrived in Istanbul during the last few hours.

Netanyahu Rejects a Bi-National State

By VOA News and

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected Secretary of State John Kerry's warning that a collapse of the Palestinian Authority could have consequences for the security of Israel.

"Israel will not be a binational state, but in order to have peace, the other side needs to decide that it wants peace as well, and unfortunately this is not what we are witnessing," Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting. He added that the Palestinian Authority is continuing incitement against Israel.

Kerry's comments came during a forum at the Brookings Institution, where he said both sides need to renew efforts for peace talks. He condemned the months of Palestinian attacks on Israelis as well as Israel's continued settlement construction on lands envisioned for a Palestinian state. "The one-state solution is no solution at all for a secure, Jewish, democratic Israel living in peace," he said. "It is simply not a viable option." He said one potential fallout would be the loss of Palestinian security forces and the need for Israel to deploy thousands of troops to the West Bank to fill the void.

Israel is facing a struggle over its existence and independence, just like the Maccabees did in the story of Chanukah, Netanyahu said Sunday evening. The prime minister's remarks came at a Chanukah candle lighting with Border Police personnel at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem.

"2,200 years ago, a handful of Jewish fighters arose and defeated what was then a global empire. This was before the rise of Rome. The Seleucid Greek empire was then very strong and – during the reign of Antiochus IV – very cruel. Indeed, the threat was to our unity and our greatness. The Maccabees fought, first of all to restore this [spiritual] independence but they were not satisfied with only that. Part of the people wanted them to suffice with that. But they were not so inclined; they fought to restore their political independence. They understood that without political independence there was no chance of ensuring spiritual independence," said Netanyahu.

"This effort, which undoubtedly ensured the future of our people, also serves as a symbol and an example to peoples in general and to the strength of a people – to strength of spirit. They dispelled the darkness – and we are fighting a great darkness today. The struggle of Israel today, as it was then, in those days at this season, is – first of all – a struggle for our existence, independence and culture but also for all humanity," he continued.

"Israel is a candle in the darkness. Around us is a great darkness and here in Jerusalem, in the State of Israel, we are lifting the banner of the independence and honor of man, for the right of the Jewish People to live free in its land and in its city, the same city that the Maccabees liberated.

"This battle has continued into our generation. In every generation they have risen up to destroy us and in every generation the Holy One, Blessed be He, has saved us from them, on condition that we hold the banner and candle and also the sword of Israel. And here, we are doing just that. First of all, to defend ourselves but I say we are defending all of humanity, as well as the culture of all humanity, against the unbridled brutality that the world is today beginning to understand.

"This struggle is appreciated by many peoples. I was just at an international conference and I saw this appreciation, the admiration that the leaders of the world have for the State of Israel and the fact that we are fighting the darkness of radical Islam, that we are fighting terrorism on a daily basis. They have great admiration for the State of Israel and for our soldiers," Netanyahu said.

He praised the Border Police officers for their "holy work" in defending the people of Israel. "We can raise soldiers' salaries as we did today but your true salary is your contribution to the Glory of Israel, and the Glory of Israel does not lie. Here we are, standing near the Holy of Holies, not far from there. We can overcome any obstacle and any challenge and I believe that this is a symbol today, especially at his time, of the restoration of Israel and of the Glory of Israel.

"With God's help, very many around the world understand this more and more with the passing of time. I want to say the blessing over the first candle of Chanukah. I want to wish the entire People of Israel a Happy Chanukah," Netanyahu concluded.

And in a Sunday video call, Netanyahu addressed the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C and said that there is a common thread to terror attacks against Israel and the United States, because the terrorists oppose "the values that make societies great."

"No one should underestimate the strength of our alliance," Netanyahu said, noting the newly signed 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed recently by the US and Israel. "The only workable solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, "is not a unitary state, but a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state." He added that "the root cause of the conflict with the Palestinians is their refusal to recognize the Jewish state," and that while "settlements and territory are an issue to be resolved… they are not the core of the conflict."

Netanyahu said that recent events disproved the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at the heart of regional turmoil, "that was never true, but now it's demonstrably false." He cited a recent statement by PA head Mahmoud Abbas, according to which Israel has been occupying Arab land for 67 years. He asked if Abbas meant by this that Tel Aviv, too, was occupied Arab land.

"President Abbas refuses to address his people and say – 'it's over. No more claims after a peace deal,'" the prime minister said. "The Palestinians have not been willing to cross the emotional and conceptual bridge of a state next to Israel, not one instead of Israel. Not just Hamas, but also the PA. They refuse to accept a Jewish state for the Jewish people."

Netanyahu said that Israel will not allow Iran to create a new front against Israel from Syria and that he has made this clear to Russia. Israeli policy will not change, he said, and Israel will continue to prevent the transfer of Syrian weapons to Hizbullah. He pointed at the fighting involving ISIS and Iran in Syria and vowed: "We will not allow any one of these violent medieval forces threaten our country and threaten our people."

Stabbing and Car Attack in Jerusalem, 3 Injured


A Palestinian Arab terrorist stabbed and rammed his car into three Israelis on Yirmiyahu Street. in the Romema neighborhood of Jerusalem Sunday night, leaving three people lightly injured.

ZAKA stated that the terrorist initially tried to run over a Jewish child, then rammed his car into a pedestrian. When that failed to kill him, the terrorist left his vehicle and began stabbing pedestrians, including one policeman. "The terrorist had knocked on the window [of the police car - ed.], the cop must have opened it, and then he just stabbed him," Avi Yafeh, a bystander, told Walla! News.

An IDF soldier spotted the attack from a Jerusalem city bus and began chasing after the terrorist, eventually eliminating him at the scene. Israel Police have so far identified the terrorist as a 21 year-old from the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina.

Poll: Israeli Jews Not Interested, Comfortable with Arabic


A first-ever poll of how well Israelis speak, read, and write Arabic shows that while 10% of Israeli Jews can speak and understand the language, just 2.5% can read written Arabic in a newspaper, and just 1.5% can write a letter in the language. One out of one hundred Israeli Jews said they could read a book in Arabic.

The poll, presented last week at a conference at Tel Aviv University on advancing Arabic studies, also highlights major generational differences between Israelis in regard to knowledge of Arabic. Almost all those who could read and write Arabic were immigrants from Arab countries, as were the majority of Arabic speakers. In addition, the poll showed that nearly all Arabic speakers were, if not immigrants themselves, then children of immigrants from those countries. Few indeed were the children of Israeli families from European background who bothered to learn Arabic.

With that, a large percentage – 40% - of Israelis believe that Jewish children should be taught Arabic in elementary grades. However, only one-third said that it was important to maintain knowledge of Arabic as a bridge to the cultural past of Jews from eastern countries. Of those familiar with Arabic culture, only a quarter enjoyed listening to Arabic music, and just 18% said they felt comfortable speaking Arabic outside their homes.

A recent law introduced by MK Oren Hazan (Likud), calls for children as young as six to begin studying basic Arabic, but in a poll by Army Radio, parents expressed concern over the program. "Children in first and second grade have enough on their hands learning to read and write properly," said one parent. "It would be better to implement this program in later grades, like fifth or sixth grade. Then they will be able to invest more time and effort into it." However, others were in favor of the program. "We live among Arabs, our neighbors are Arabs, our enemies are Arabs," said one parent. "It would be worthwhile for us to learn their language."

The Knesset voted unanimously in favor of the bill in its first reading in October, and the bill is now being reviewed by committees for its second and third readings. According to Hazan, "Language is a door to culture. I am looking reality in the eyes and I understand there is no possibility to walk to peace without understanding each other."

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