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Military balance shifts: Syria shoots down Israeli F-16

Syria’s success in shooting down an Israeli F-16 shows the marked improvement in combat capability of the Syrian military

Alexander Mercouris

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The shooting down by Syria of an Israeli F-16 shortly after Israel carried out an air strike on Syrian territory has provoked world headlines, as well as a mixture of consternation and threats from Israel.

There is much about this incident which is unclear, but the central fact about it is that an Israeli F-16 has been shot down by the Syrian military, and that its wreckage fell on Israeli territory.

The Israeli claim is that this happened after an Israeli air strike on an Iranian drone trailer near Palmyra, which the Israelis say they carried out in response to an intrusion of an Iranian drone from Syria into their airspace.

The Israelis claim to have brought down this drone and are offering to display it.

Supposedly Syrian air defences responded to this Israeli air strike by shooting down the Israeli F-16 with anti aircraft missiles.

Israel claims that in retaliation it then carried out a further air strike on Syrian territory.  Reports suggest that this was against Syrian military facilities near Damascus.  Here is how the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports them.

[Syrian] Opposition sources in Damascus said that an Israeli strike targeted a control tower of a Syrian military airfield near Damascus, and a weapons depot near the Syrian capital.

This Israeli account of the whole incident can be found in Haaretz and can be read here.

The Syrians for their part say that they shot down two Israeli aircraft, and not just one.

Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be engaging in “urgent consultations” with senior Israeli officials, and the Israelis have published threats warning that “Iran and Syria are playing with fire”.

However, in reality – despite these characteristically blood-curdling threats – Israel’s response has been muted, with Israel now saying that it does not wish to “escalate” the situation.

……the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces – AM] insisted that Israel does not seek escalation with the two states [ie. between Israel and Syria -AM]. “We are willing, prepared and capable to exact a heavy price from anyone that attacks us, however we are not looking to escalate the situation,” the IDF said, insisting that what they’ve done was merely “a defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression and we are defending our airspace our sovereignty and civilians.”

What is going on?

Firstly, Israeli air strikes on targets located within Syrian and Lebanese territory are nothing new.  They have been taking place regularly ever since the Six Day War of 1967.

Secondly, though the Israelis have identified the Iranians as somehow responsible for the original drone incident, there is no independent corroboration of this, and on the face of it it seems unlikely.

It is not obvious why Iran would want to send a drone over Israeli territory.  By contrast it is entirely obvious why Syria might want to do so.

Israeli air raids on Syria, and Israeli air support for Jihadi groups fighting the Syrian army in Syria (especially in the Golan Heights) give the Syrian military an obvious motive for flying surveillance drones over Israel in order to find out what the Israelis are doing there.

Syria is known to import weapons from Iran, and surveillance drones – whose technology Iran is known to have perfected, and which Iran is known to operate in some numbers – are an obvious import.

It is therefore possible – and actually likely – that the drone the Israelis brought down – always assuming of course that it existed, something of which unfortunately one cannot be sure (in the Middle East no-one should ever be assumed to be telling the truth) – was a Syrian drone.

Almost certainly it was of Iranian manufacture, and possibly its operators were Iranians seconded by the Iranian military to the Syrian military, but almost certainly it was carrying out surveillance on behalf of Syria not Iran.

The key point however is that following this alleged incident with the drone the Syrian military successfully shot down an Israeli fighter jet, doing so for the first time since the 1980s, and doing so moreover over Israeli territory, something which I believe has not happened before since the 1973 war.

That indicates a radical shift in the military balance of power between Israel and Syria.

Israel has enjoyed unchallenged control of Middle East air space ever since the 1967 war save for two brief periods: the so-called War of Attrition of 1970 – when its adversary was however the Soviet air defence forces, not the air forces of any of the Arab states – and during the opening days of the 1973 war.

Russian accounts of the air combat between the Israeli and Syrian air forces during the 1982 Lebanon war suggest that it may have been more evenly matched than Israel claimed and the Western media reported at the time.  However there is no doubt that in the end the Israelis successfully asserted their air supremacy over the Syrians in that combat.

Since the arrival of the Russians in Syria in September 2015 that situation has however changed.

The Russian Aerospace Forces based at Khmeimim air base are technologically and in training terms at least the equals of the Israeli air force, even if the Israeli air force heavily outnumbers.

The radars and air defence missile systems the Russians have however deployed to Syria – recently reinforced by the despatch of still more S-400 missile systems there – pose an even bigger potential challenge to Israel’s superiority in Middle East air space over the long term.

However the Russians are not currently Israel’s enemy – Israel and Russia presently have cordial relations – and though this is a worrying development for Israel – especially now that the Russians have decided to establish permanent bases in Syria – it is not a reason for immediate concern.

By contrast the Israelis do perceive Syria as an enemy.  Syria and Israel have in fact been in a formal state of war ever since the state of Israel was founded in 1948.

The fact that the Syrians have therefore demonstrated an ability to shoot down Israeli fighter aircraft will alarm the Israelis considerably.  Moreover there are aspects of this particular incident which will alarm the Israelis even more.

The fact that the F-16 was shot down over Israeli territory suggests either that the original Israeli air strike was carried out from Israeli territory – with the Israelis launching long range stand-off missiles against the alleged drone facility from their own air space – or that the Syrians waited for the Israeli aircraft to return to their bases after the air strike before attacking them.

In either case the Syrians have shown that they are able to track and target Israeli aircraft flying in Israeli air space.

If the Syrians shot down the F-16 in an ambush when it was returning to its base then they have also demonstrated a previously unknown level of tactical skill.

Moreover this development has not come from nowhere.  Here is what I wrote on 20th March 2017 following an uncannily similar incident when Syria also tried to shoot down Israeli aircraft over Israel following an Israeli air strike on a military facility near Palmyra

……..it appears that the Israeli aircraft did not penetrate deep into Syrian territory.  Rather it seems that the Israeli aircraft slipped across the border, almost immediately launched their missiles against their target, and then turned back home…..

The stand-off missiles the Israelis would have used would have been either Popeye missiles or – more probably – longer range Delilah cruise missiles, which undoubtedly do have the range to reach targets near Palmyra from the al-Bureij area.

The Syrians appear to have retaliated by launching S-200 (“SAM-5”) missiles at the Israeli aircraft after the raid as the aircraft were returning home to their bases.

The Syrians seem to have waited until the Israeli aircraft had recrossed the Lebanese border back into Israel before launching their missiles.  The SANA report clearly says that the air defence missiles were launched at the Israeli aircraft whilst they were over “occupied territory”, which might mean the West Bank or the Golan Heights, but more likely is intended to mean Israel itself (Syria has still not recognised Israel and officially considers the whole of Israel to be occupied Palestinian territory)……

The Syrian military is…….becoming significantly stronger, with the incident of the raid showing that technical help from Russia has now made it possible for the Syrians to track and intercept Israeli aircraft over Israeli territory…..

It looks as if the pattern of events today is very similar.

The original Israel attack on this occasion – like the one in March 2017 – was probably against Syria’s giant Tiyas air base, which is the main Syrian military facility near Palmyra.  Possibly it was launched against a drone control and launch facility operating from there if the story of the drone is true.  Most probably – just as was the case in March 2017 – it was carried out at long range with Popeye or Delilah stand off missiles.

Subsequently – just as happened in March 2017 – the Syrians tracked the Israeli aircraft as they were returning to their bases, and then ambushed them by launching long range S-200 anti aircraft missiles against them as they were approaching their bases.

The difference is that whereas in March 2017 the ambush failed, on this occasion it succeeded.

In other words the Syrians have not only demonstrated the technical capability to track and shoot down Israeli aircraft over Israel, which they had already previously demonstrated last March.  They have now also demonstrated the ability to use this capability successfully as well.

That suggests a further improvement in Syrian skill and ability since March.

At this point it is worth adding that this radical improvement in Syrian air defence capabilities is being matched by equally radical improvements in the performance of Syrian ground forces, as they benefit increasingly from Iranian and especially Russian advice, training and technical support.

Whereas in early 2016 – immediately following the start of the Russian intervention in September 2015 – Syrian military advances against Al-Qaeda in western Syria were slow and incremental, being measured in one or two kilometres a day,  today – as the recently completed Idlib offensive shows – the Syrian army is capable of advances of hundreds of kilometres over the course of just a few weeks or even days.

It is this radical improvement in Syrian military capabilities which almost certainly explains the muted Israeli response to the shooting down of their F-16.  The Israelis have not launched the sort of all-out attack on Syrian bases, which their previous history suggests might have been expected from them, because they now fear they will suffer further casualties if they do so.

In other words for the first time in decades an Arab state has demonstrated its ability to defend itself, and has forced Israel to draw back.

That demonstrates a radical shift in the balance of military power in the Middle East, and will cause Israel extreme concern.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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ABC’s Ted Koppel admits mainstream media bias against Trump [Video]

The mainstream news media has traded informing the public for indoctrinating them, but the change got called out by an “old-school” journo.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported on March 19th that one of America’s most well-known TV news anchors, Ted Koppel, noted that the once-great media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have indeed traded journalistic excellence for hit pieces for political purposes. While political opinions in the mainstream press are certainly within the purview of any publication, this sort of writing can hardly be classified as “news” but as “Opinion” or more widely known, “Op-Ed.”

We have two videos on this. The first is the original clip showing the full statement that Mr. Koppel gave. It is illuminating, to say the least:

Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume, a former colleague of Mr. Koppel, added their comments on this admission in this second short video piece, shown here.

There are probably a number of people who have watched this two-year onslaught of slander and wondered why there cannot be a law preventing this sort of misleading reporting. Well, Russia passed a law to stop it, hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook. It is a smart law because it does not advocate imprisonment for bad actors in the media, but it does fine them.

Going to prison for reporting “the truth” looks very noble. Having to pay out of pocket for it is not so exciting.

Newsmax and Louder with Crowder both reported on this as well.

This situation of dishonest media has led to an astonishing 77% distrust rating among Americans of their news media, this statistic being reported by Politico in 2018. This represents a nearly diametric reversal in trust from the 72% trust rating the country’s news viewers gave their news outlets in 1972. These statistics come from Gallup polls taken through the years.

 

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