Israeli Army Wants to Increase its Budget to Face Iranian Threats

Israel

Tel Aviv – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief Yoav Horowitz have requested that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) help raise 4 billion Israeli Shekel ($1.14 billion) for defense and military budget.

An audio recording of a secret session held two weeks ago was revealed, during which Horowitz was heard requesting the money from the organization to help the state fill gaps in its defense budget.

“The Israeli government, and especially the various security forces, reached the conclusion that the State of Israel needs an additional NIS 4 billion. I will only talk about what you all know, including the Iranian threat and the threat in the north – all of this brings the security forces to request another NIS 4 billion,” said Horowitz.

He indicated that the prime minister, the defense minister and the security forces are deliberating this dilemma and trying to stretch the budget to see where the funds can be raised.

An informed political source revealed that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are behind this request, adding that the Israeli Army is not concerned to reconsider the financial agreements with the Ministry of Finance. He added that the security budget is already doubled.

The Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry have been discussing for months funding the amounts set two years ago, and that’s why Lieberman went straight to Netanyahu discussing the need for an additional 4.5 billion shekels ($1.3 billion), according to military sources.

The sources also stated that Lieberman informed the PM that the new strategic reality in the region, with a stronger Russia, a revived Assad, and a bigger Iranian threat, mandated the extra funds. He explained that the “demands in question are based on contingency plans that are nothing new and do not stem from a war or emergency military operation.”

In 2015, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon signed a memorandum of understanding between their ministries that covers the years 2016 to 2020.

Some of the details of this deal remain classified, but based on the information to give the media, it promised a stable budget for those five years.

Both ministries and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot agreed that the army’s portion of the defense budget would remain fixed at about 31 billion shekels ($8.8 billion). For the defense budget as a whole, the agreement set a baseline of 56.1 billion shekels a year in addition to US defense aid ($3.8 billion a year from 2019). The total budget is expected to reach about 70 billion shekels a year.

When asked about the budget issue, a Defense Ministry senior official replied: “Haven’t you heard the threats of Iran’s Chief of Staff during his visit to Syria?”

Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces Maj-Gen Mohammad Bagheri indicated Wednesday that Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.

“We cannot accept a situation where the Zionist entity attacks Syria from the ground and the air,” Bagheri said his visit to Damascus, Syria.

He said he was in the Syrian capital to coordinate and cooperate “in order to fight our common enemies, whether they are the Zionists or the terrorists. We discussed ways to strengthen relations in the future and outlined the basic principles of this cooperation.”

Lieberman responded to Bagheri’s statement saying that Iran was attempting to spread its control into Syria and establish a military presence in a quest to become the dominant regional power.

“We won’t allow this. We have the tools to cope with this challenge,” reiterated Lieberman.

Sources close to Lieberman stated that he is concerned over the recent developments in the region including the instability and Hezbollah’s mobilization with the support of Iran. He added that Assad regime’s field advancements could lead to the reformation of the Syrian Army.

The Defense Minister also has fears that the army might not be fully prepared, according to the sources.
On Thursday, Lieberman flew to Washington to meet Defense Secretary James Mattis for talks on Iran and other regional issues. Sources stated that Israel is keen on fully coordinating with Washington to face Iran’s threats.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Israel on Monday and held meetings with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli leadership had been trying to recruit Russia as well against Iran’s power.

Kirkuk in the Hands of Iraqi Forces after Clashes with Kurds

Iraqi forces took control of Altun Kupri on Friday, the last district in Kirkuk still in the hands of Kurds, following a three-hour battle, security sources said.

The town is 50 km far from the city of Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdistan region.

Kurdish forces withdrew from the town located on the Zab river, after clashing with Iraqi troops with machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades, security sources added.

The Iraqi forces made further advancements into Kirkuk province as more Kurdish forces withdrew without fighting.

Iraqi forces are seeking to reestablish Baghdad’s authority over territory captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region in the course of the war on ISIS militants, Reuters reported.

The Peshmerga had moved into Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled the region in the face of ISIS’s advance in 2014.

The Kurdish move obstructed ISIS militants from taking control over Kirkuk’s oilfields.

“Details will be communicated later,” an Iraqi military spokesman said.

Drone Strike Kills 3 Qaeda Suspects in Yemen

A suspected US drone strike targeting a car killed three alleged Al-Qaeda members, including a leader in the southern Yemen province of Abyan, local officials said Friday.

They said the strike was carried out late Thursday in the Sumaa area of the province, engulfing the car in flames. The leader’s body was left “incinerated” and his two bodyguards also killed.

A similar drone strike on Sunday in Marib province, east of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, killed five suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

The United States considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

SDF Says Raqqa to be Part of Decentralized Syria, Hails ‘Historic Victory’

The defeat of ISIS in its Syrian bastion of Raqqa was a “historic” achievement, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that led the months-long battle said Friday, adding the city would be part of decentralized Syria.

“We dedicate this historic victory to all humanity,” said Talal Sello, spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF, at an official ceremony in the city.

“We in the general command of the Syrian Democratic Forces announce that we will hand over the administration of the city of Raqqa and the surrounding countryside to the internal security forces in Raqqa,” Sello added, referring to part of a civil authority set up for the city.

But Sello said the handover would not be immediate, with SDF fighters – who took full control of Raqqa on Tuesday -still combing the city, which lies in ruins and littered with explosives.

“After the end of clearing operations… we will hand over the city to the Raqqa Civil Council,” he said.

The RCC was created some six months ago, and is made up of local officials and tribal leaders who will face the daunting task of rebuilding the city.

“We pledge to protect the borders of the province against all external threats, and we confirm that the future of Raqqa province will be determined by its people within the framework of a decentraliized, federal democratic Syria in which the people of the province will run their own affairs,” the SDF said, according to Reuters.

In a highly symbolic move, the press conference was held inside Raqqa’s sports stadium which ISIS militants had turned into an arms depot and a huge prison where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.

Standing before a backdrop of shattered buildings, Sello urged the international community and aid organizations to assist with the city’s reconstruction.

Raqqa become the de facto Syrian capital of ISIS’ self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq after the terrorist group captured it in 2014.

The SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the US-led coalition, broke into the city in June after months of fighting to surround it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor estimates over 3,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, were killed in the fighting.

Associated Press drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting and thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.

Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.

The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

Lebanon: More Should be Done in Wissam al-Hassan’s Murder Case

Beirut- Five years have passed since the assassination of the head of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, and judicial and security investigations still have no evidence on the identity of the perpetrators and those behind them.
 
No official ceremonies were held on Thursday to commemorate al-Hassan’s assassination, as some officials only laid wreaths on his tomb, amid increasing questions about the fate of the probe.
 
Despite rumors about headway in the investigation, the ongoing probe hasn’t reached a decisive conclusion, a judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, noting that there is nothing new to inform the public about.
 
The source added that the available data required matching physical evidence in order to establish the validity of information and determine the identity of the suspects.
 
Other security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the past years have not helped create a favorable ground or give the investigation a strong impetus.
 
According to the sources, “the state – with all its military, security and judicial bodies – was preoccupied with pursuing terrorist networks and countering their danger.”
 
Al-Hassan was killed by a car bomb targeting his motorcade in the Beirut area of ​​Ashrafieh on October 19, 2012. His driver Ahmed Sahyoun and a number of civilians were also killed, while dozens of people were wounded.
 
Observers linked his assassination with the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha, the political adviser to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, who was caught transporting 25 explosive devices from Damascus to Beirut and handing them over to the informant, Milad Kfoury, in order to detonate them during Ramadan Iftars in the northern region of Akkar.
 
At the time, the March 14 coalition considered the assassination of Hassan a response from the Syrian regime to Samaha’s arrest.
 
On Thursday noon, Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq visited the tomb of al-Hassan in Beirut’s Martyrs Square, accompanied by Minister of State for the Displaced Moeen al-Merehbi, ISF Director General Major General Imad Osman, Head of Information Division Colonel Khaled Hamoud and senior officers from the security forces.

In response to a journalist’s question on why the criminal was still at large, the interior minister replied: “Today, I have no answer, because nothing has been established so far. The investigation is ongoing and is not over yet.”

He added that more should be done in this regard.

Pentagon to Send Military Battalions to Contain Iran’s Threats to US Allies

Washington- A US military official has revealed his country’s intention to form forces to send them to the Arab region to help counter Iranian threats.
 
“The United States wants to help the Arab countries deal with Iranian threats,” said General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command at the 26th annual Arab-American Policymakers Conference in Washington.
 
“The Pentagon is working to achieve that desire and ensure its effective implementation. That includes the establishment of US military battalions sent as missions to the region and be designed specifically to provide advice and assistance,” he noted, stressing that such cooperation was an example of “partnership” between Washington and its allies in the region.
 
Votel underlined his country’s keenness to preserve relations with Arab states, adding that the Middle East would remain of exceptional importance to the United States, “considering that opportunities in the region are greater than obstacles and that regional countries want strong relations with the United States.”
 
The US General went on to say that security relations were the factor that maintains political relations, stating that bilateral military cooperation was still strong among the countries of the region, especially in Syria and Iraq and in the war against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
 
Stressing the importance of the US focus on security partnerships in the Middle East and encouraging local solutions in those countries, Votel said that America’s allies were leading their military wars in the region, while the role of the United States was limited to support and assistance.
 
“The United States will help its partners wherever and whenever it is necessary, because this benefits American interests,” he told the conference, which is organized by the National Council on US-Arab Relations.
 
Founded in 1983, the council is an American non-profit, non-governmental, educational organization dedicated to improving American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world.
 
The organization is based in Washington and works on strengthening and expanding strategic, economic, political, commercial, and defense cooperation ties between the United States and Arab countries.

Saudi-Bahraini Naval Forces Conclude ‘Bridge 18’ Drill

Manama, Dhahran – Joint naval exercise “Bridge 18” was concluded on Thursday between the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and the Royal Bahrain Naval Forces in the water of the Arabian Gulf.

The Saudi Royal Navy is being represented by the Eastern Fleet.

The naval drill included increasing the level of combat capability and professional performance in all types of maritime operations, uniting the tactical concepts of command and control in addition to enhancing coordination procedures among the forces involved in managing the naval battles.

The exercises also contributed to enhancing security and inspection in protecting the regional water and repelling any aggression.

The exercise carried out the operations of controlling in territorial seas, protecting vital and important installations and the main waterways in the area, conducting live ammunition, counter-terrorism, surveying and reconnaissance operations, diving exercises and sea landing operations on coasts and beaches.

On the occasion, Commander of the Eastern Fleet Rear Admiral Fahd al-Ghafili said that this exercise is an extension of the series of drills carried out in both countries simultaneously to increase the combat preparedness and exchange experiences between the two countries in implementing the joint operations against any potential threat.

He added that this drill will strengthen and support the supply of joint forces in any armed conflict overseas, and the development of joint operational coordination between naval units.

The participants practiced drills on conventional and unconventional threats, naval security operations and securing naval infrastructures such as harbors and marine bases.

Commander of “Kingdom of Bahrain” fleet Rear Commander Eyad al-Mannai pointed out that the maneuvers will increase the level of battle readiness and performance in all marine operations. He added that it will unify control and leadership tactical concepts and enhance marine battle management.

Mannai believes that the importance of the drill lies in the security cooperation between both countries in light of both navies capabilities and their need to exchange training, technical and intel expertise.

Former Official: Gaddafi Discharged Army Leaders before his Death

Cairo- On the sixth anniversary of Muammar Gaddafi’s death on Oct 20, for the first time a meeting held by the former Libyan leader with military officials is revealed.

Gaddafi had granted army leaders the permission to leave wherever they wished after his exit from the capital Tripoli on August 20, 2011, according to information received by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Gaddafi decided this during a meeting held in the city of Bani Walid, around 150 kilometers southeast of the capital.

After that, Gaddafi headed to the city of Sirte where he chose to die. The former leader was killed on Oct 20, 2011.

General Authority of Endowments and Islamic Affairs consultant Ali Abou Soua, who remained six years in prison with former regime leaders, said that during his imprisonment he knew that Gaddafi had held a rare meeting with military leaders in Bani Walid and granted them the permission to leave.

Soua was imprisoned with former top Libyan officials including Intelligence Chief Abdullah al Senussi, head of external security Abu Zeid Omar Dourda, Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi and Gaddafi’s son Saadi.

He spent a long time with Gaddafi’s son inside the prison. Soua described him as someone who loves solitude.

“I talked with him the most. His answers and stances are confusing and he is a religious person. He supported his father but didn’t hold the weapon to fight until the regime was toppled in an attempt to save what could be saved,” Soua told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The consultant also narrated that he had witnessed the death of four captains under torture in prison in an attempt to get information from them on the disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr during the tenure of Gaddafi.

UNIFIL Welcomes Deployment of Additional Lebanese Soldiers in South

Beirut- UNIFIL Commander Major General Michael Beary has welcomed the deployment of additional Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon, saying it “will allow more joint patrolling and strengthen the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701.”

During a Town Hall meeting on Thursday with local authorities, Beary expressed gratitude to the local authorities for their unwavering support, which has contributed in maintaining stability in UNIFIL’s area of operations.

He also emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership and the joint activities between the Lebanese army and the peacekeepers, a UNIFIL statement said.

Beary also stressed the importance of working together with local leaders. “This gathering gives me the opportunity to hear your ideas and concerns as well as share my thoughts,” he added. “UNIFIL and the Lebanese people share a common goal: promoting stability and security in southern Lebanon. We can only achieve this goal together, through mutual respect, support and understanding.” 
 
During the meeting, the UNIFIL commander heard from dignitaries, including the Qaymaqam of Marjayoun and several mayors from the country’s southeastern municipalities, the statement said. 
 
Earlier in the day, Beary inaugurated a newly refurbished UN hospital complex in Marjayoun located inside the UNIFIL Sector East Headquarters and operated by UNIFIL’s Chinese medical team. The Chinese hospital facility has 30 medical and support personnel. The hospital has provided medical services to both UNIFIL personnel and the local population since 2007.
 
Beary hailed China’s significant contribution to global peace and security, in particular to UNIFIL and south Lebanon, the statement added.

UNIFIL boasts more than 400 Chinese peacekeepers, who carry out construction, anti-landmine and medical activities.
 

Tillerson Heads to the Gulf, Kuwaiti FM Discusses Crisis with Qatar Emir

Washington and Dammam – The US State Department announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will begin on Friday a tour that will take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, India, and Switzerland.

In Riyadh, Tillerson will take part in the inaugural Coordination Council meeting between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He will also meet with various Saudi leaders to discuss the conflict in Yemen, the ongoing Gulf dispute with Qatar, stance on Iran, and a number of other important regional and bilateral issues.

The statement also mentioned that Tillerson will then travel to Doha, where he will meet with Qatari leaders and US military officials to discuss joint counter-terrorism efforts, the ongoing Gulf dispute, and other regional and bilateral issues, including Iran and Iraq.

Earlier, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah arrived in Qatar to discuss the latest developments of the Gulf crisis and the Kuwaiti efforts to settle it through dialogue.

The FM and his accompanying delegation met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani where the two discussed “the close and brotherly relations between the two countries as well as regional and international issues,” according to Qatar News Agency.

Sabah also conveyed the greetings of Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and his wishes of more progress and prosperity to the Emir and the Qatari people.

On Monday, Kuwait’s Emir went to the Saudi capital Riyadh where he met King Salman bin Abdulaziz to discuss the Qatar crisis and the latest developments in the region.

In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that the four countries boycotting Qatar are constantly coordinating and will continue to do so until they detect a positive response from Doha.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva, Shoukry mentioned that the quartet is coordinating on possible measures against Qatar, which has refused to respond to the principles concerning the national security of the four countries boycotting Doha: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain.

The Egyptian FM stated that efforts will be exerted until the national security of the four countries is guaranteed and positive outcomes are detected which will lead to a change in Syria and Iraq.

He concluded that the measures of the quartet resulted in re-stabilizing the region.