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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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James Woods Suspended From Twitter Over Satirical Meme That Could “Impact An Election”

James Woods crushes Jack Dorsey: “You are a coward, @Jack.”

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Outspoken conservative actor James Woods was suspended from posting to Twitter over a two-month-old satirical meme which very clearly parodies a Democratic advertisement campaign. While the actor’s tweets are still visible, he is unable to post new content.

The offending tweet from July 20, features three millennial-aged men with “nu-male smiles” and text that reads “We’re making a Woman’s Vote Worth more by staying home.” Above it, Woods writes “Pretty scary that there is a distinct possibility this could be real. Not likely, but in this day and age of absolute liberal insanity, it is at least possible.”

According to screenshots provided by an associate of Woods’, Twitter directed the actor to delete the post on the grounds that it contained “text and imagery that has the potential to be misleading in a way that could impact an election.

In other words, James Woods, who has approximately 1.72 million followers, was suspended because liberals who don’t identify as women might actually take the meme seriously and not vote. 

In a statement released through associate Sara Miller, Woods said “You are a coward, @Jack,” referring to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “There is no free speech for Conservatives on @Twitter.

Earlier this month, Woods opined on the mass-platform ban of Alex Jones, tweeting: ““I’ve never read Alex Jones nor watched any of his video presence on the internet. A friend told me he was an extremist. Believe me that I know nothing about him. That said, I think banning him from the internet is a slippery slope. This is the beginning of real fascism. Trust me.”

Nu-males everywhere non-threateningly smirk at Woods’ bad fortune…

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Another witness named by Ford becomes third person to deny being at party

A woman believed to have been one of five people at a party 35 years ago where Ford claims she was assaulted by Kavanaugh is now the fourth person to deny being at any such party.

The Duran

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Via The Washington Examiner


A witness, reportedly named by Christine Blasey Ford as one of the people at the high school party where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted her, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday she was not there.

The attorney for Leland Ingham Keyser told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Keyser does not remember being at the party Ford described as the location of the alleged assault.

“Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford,” Keyser said in the statement. CNN reported Keyser is a lifelong friend of Ford’s.

Keyser, whom the New York Times reported is one of the people Ford named as being in attendance at the party, is the third witness who has denied knowing about the alleged assault. Mark Judge and Patrick Smyth said earlier this week they did not remember the party in question.

Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegation.

The news comes after Ford, through her attorneys, tentatively agreed to testify on Thursday, after days of negotiations over the timing and conditions of her

Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had repeatedly extended deadlines set for Ford’s team on the decision, including three on Friday and one at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Grassley threatened to proceed with a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Monday if he did not hear from Ford.

“Five times now we [have] granted extension for Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed [with] her desire stated one [week] ago that she wants to tell senate her story,” Grassley tweeted Friday. “Dr Ford if u changed ur mind say so so we can move on I want to hear ur testimony. Come to us or we to u.”

The extended discussions have been labeled a delaying tactic by some Republicans.

Ford’s attorneys and Grassley’s aides will reportedly continue negotiations Sunday on the details of the conditions of Ford’s testimony, per the New York Times.

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Was NYT Story About Rosenstein ‘Coup Attempt’ A Setup?

The New York Times is reporting that Rod Rosenstein pushed a plan to record President Trump and invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

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Via Zerohedge


Is the FBI trying to goad President Trump into firing the man in charge of supervising the Mueller probe? That’s what Sean Hannity and a handful of  Trump’s Congressional allies think.

According to a report in Politico, Republicans in Congress are approaching a story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attempting to organize a palace coup with extreme caution, despite having twice nearly gathered the votes to remove him in the recent past.

On Friday, the NYT reported a bombshell story alleging that Rosenstein had tried to recruit administration officials to secretly tape conversations with the president in order to help justify removing Trump under the 25th amendment. Rosenstein vehemently denied the story, which was largely based on confidential memos written by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. And others who were reportedly in attendance at meeting between McCabe and Rosenstein said the Deputy AG was being “sarcastic” when he suggested that the president be taped.

Meanwhile, Trump allies including Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz are saying that the story should be treated with suspicion. Jordan and Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows once filed articles of impeachment against Rosenstein. But now, both Meadows and Jordan intend to proceed with caution, telling Politico that he would like to see the memos that the story was based on.

House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who led a charge to impeach Rosenstein this summer, have said they want to hear from Rosenstein and see documents allegedly describing the comments before they decide what to do.That’s awarded Rosenstein a courtesy they’ve never given him in the past.

“I think Rod needs to come before Congress this week and explain under oath what exactly he said and didn’t say,” Meadows said at the Values Voters Summit Saturday.

The newfound hesitation to oust Rosenstein highlights a cautious approach Trump allies have adopted as the Republican party barrels toward a potential bloodbath in the midterms. Some Republicans fear Trump firing Rosenstein now would only further energize Democrats making the case to voters that the president is corrupt and needs to be reined in by a Democratic House.

[…]

In a Friday interview, Jordan, one of Rosenstein’s fiercest critics in Congress, sidestepped questions about whether the House should revisit Rosenstein’s impeachment or try to hold him in contempt of Congress. Rather, he said, a more focused push to obtain sensitive documents from the Justice Department — which Trump’s allies say would expose anti-Trump bias and corruption the FBI — is the most urgent priority.

“I want to see those memos and evaluate them,” said Jordan, who has clashed publicly with Rosenstein over access to documents and accused him of threatening House Intelligence Committee staffers, an allegation Rosenstein denied.

Politico cites two possible explanations for lawmakers’ hesitation: Republicans are running out of time before members devote themselves full-time to their reelection campaigns. Republicans are worried that the story could have been intentionally planted to provoke Rosenstein’s firing in order to improve Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate AND the House (Trump actively moving to crush the Mueller probe would be quite the propaganda win for the Dems).

Sean Hannity took this latter theory a step further during his show on Friday evening, where he urged Trump not to fire Rosie and instead insisted that the story could have been a “trap”. He added that he had been told by “multiple sources” that the story was planted by unspecified “enemies of Trump.”

“I have a message for the president tonight,” Hannity said Friday night. “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody…the president needs to know it is all a setup.”

Still, a handful of conservative commentators, including Laura Ingraham, urged Trump to fire Rosenstein immediately. And for Trump’s part, he hinted at a rally Friday night in Missouri that he planned to “get rid” of the “lingering stench” at the DOJ, which many interpreted as a hint that his firing is imminent.

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