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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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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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