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- President Donald Trump reportedly told Defense Secretary James Mattis he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last year.
- It came after a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians last year, according to an excerpt from Bob Woodward's new book.
- Mattis reportedly told Trump he'd get "right on it," only to tell an aide their actual response would be "much more measured."
- Woodward's new book details how Trump's top advisers often try to work around his impetuous nature.
- The White House warned Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime on Tuesday that the US would retaliate if either the regime used chemical weapons in a new offensive.
- Since at least 2013, the Assad regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons in multiple Syrian provinces, with the most recent one coming in April.
- The US, the UK and France responded to the alleged chemical attack then, in Eastern Ghouta, with multiple airstrikes, but the strikes had minimal effect.
- The Trump administration has warned it will strike Syria if it finds it used chemical weapons in an upcoming assault.
- President Trump has already attacked Syria twice over chemical warfare, but it doesn't stop chemical weapons use or even ease the suffering of Syrians.
- The Syrian war is seven years old and the US can't do much to turn the tide at this point as Russia and Iran take control.
- Instead, the US exercises leadership with purely punitive strikes against non-critical elements of Syria's military.
- The real purpose of the Syria strikes is to send a message to Russia and others who would use chemical weapons, not to actually help people in Syria.
- Russia has warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces are ready to attack a key US-held base in Syria, according to a CNN report.
- Dozens of US troops are reportedly stationed at the base.
- The US reportedly warned Russia that it would defend itself if attacked.
- US-led coalition forces are conducting live-fire exercises in the At Tanf deconfliction zone, US Central Command (CENTCOM) revealed Friday.
- The drills come just one day after Russia accused coalition forces of harboring terrorists in the area and threatened to conduct operations and launch precision strikes around a key anti-ISIS coalition base in At Tanf.
- The exercises, according to CENTCOM, are intended to send the Russians a message, specifically that the US and its partners do not need Russian, Syrian, or pro-regime assistance in eliminating terrorists in the region.
- President Donald Trump is reportedly adopting a new strategy in Syria that will see US troops remain there indefinitely.
- The Trump administration won't consider withdrawing US forces until Iran leaves the country.
- A representative for the secretary of state told reporters on Thursday, "We are not in a hurry."
- 09/08/18--04:00: This Syrian soap-making method is incredibly satisfying
- The soap is made primarily from natural olive oil.
- It originates from the city of Aleppo, Syria.
- The soap is made by hand using traditional centuries-old methods.
- Israel secretly armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria, according to more than two dozen members of these groups.
- The military transfers included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers, transport vehicles, and monthly payment.
- This funding was intended to help prevent Iran-backed fighters and militants of the Islamic State from taking up positions near the Israeli border.
- Germany is exploring the possibility of joining a military alliance with the US, France, and the United Kingdom against Syria, according to BILD.
- Germany had previously ruled out participation in "military actions," but is now considering a radical change.
- The German defense ministry would join the alliance if Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrian population.
- Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Mike Tremel was honored this past weekend for shooting down a Syrian fighter jet last year, the service's first air-to-air kill since the end of the Cold War.
- For his heroism, which involved eliminating an aircraft that was bombing friendly forces, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- White House National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Syria on Monday that any use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people will result in a "much stronger response" than those following two previous incidents.
- The warning comes as Syrian, Russian, and pro-regime forces surround Idlib, the last rebel stronghold and the final obstacle for the Syrian government led by brutal Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the deadly civil war.
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Dunford said over the weekend that the Pentagon is already preparing military options should President Donald Trump order a military response to the use of chemical weapons.
- Both the Pentagon and the White House have stressed that the response to any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime will be swift.
- The US has issued a fresh warning to airlines to exercise caution when operating in Iran's airspace.
- The US had cited concerns over military activity including an unnamed U.S. civil operator being intercepted by fighter jets in December 2017.
- The updated guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration to U.S. operators, issued on Sunday at the expiry of the prior year's advisory.
- The US Marine Corps just sailed a small aircraft carrier with F-35B stealth jets into the Middle East after Russia threatened US forces.
- Russia and its ally Syria are preparing for a large scale assault, which they ominously predicted would involve chemical weapons.
- The US said it would strike Syria if the regime used chemical weapons, as the US has down twice before.
- Russia sailed a small armada of its navy ships into the Mediterranean and has signaled that it would retaliate against the US if there was a strike.
- But with US airpower in the region, now to include stealth F-35Bs, Russia's prospects look limited.
- Syrian government forces fired chlorine, a banned chemical weapon, on a rebel-held Damascus suburb and on Idlib province this year, in attacks that constitute war crimes, the UN said.
- UN officials blame Syria's government for 33 chemical weapons attacks.
- Syria didn't just do chemical weapons attacks, it indiscriminately bombed hospitals and schools as well, the UN said.
- Russia threatened to retaliate against US forces in Syria if the US tries to punish chemical weapons use in the country.
- Russia has a massive naval presence in the Mediterranean near Syria and a considerable number of fighter jets in what looks like an attempt to scare off the US.
- But the US just pulled up a small aircraft carrier full of US Marine Corps F-35Bs, something which Russia has never seen before.
- The US Navy said the F-35Bs were ready and waiting to respond to a crisis and go straight into combat against whoever steps up.
- Russia recently gathered its forces in the Mediterranean for combat exercises. The drills have since concluded, but Russian naval assets remain in the area.
- US defense officials suspect that the Russian navy is hanging around in the area to launch cruise missile strikes should senior leadership order a strike as Moscow's partners in Syria prepare for a massive assault on the last rebel stronghold.
- More than a dozen Russian ships have massed close to Syria, and many of those vessels are equipped with KALIBR cruise missiles, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.
- “The question remains, then, why is Russia’s naval presence still elevated in the region?” Pahon told Task & Purpose. “Is there another reason?”
- The Assad regime is currently poised to launch a massive assault against rebel-held Idlib province and Russian ships have previously launched cruise missiles in support of the Syrian regime.
- “The United States and its allies are greatly concerned about the terrible humanitarian crisis that would result if the Syrian regime, with Russian backing, launches an attack on the densely populated Idlib province,” Pahon told Task & Purpose. “The Assad regime and its operational backer, Russia, bear full responsibility for the humanitarian consequences of an offensive in Idlib.”
- Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis declined to say how the U.S. military might respond if Assad orders his forces to use chemical weapons in Idlib.“He’s been warned,” Mattis said. “The first time around, he lost 17 % of his pointy-nosed air force airplanes. So we’ll see if he’s wised up.”
- Syria's coastal city of Latakia, which hosts a large Russian naval base and military presence, has come under attack from an unclaimed missile strike that Syria attributes to Israel.
- An air battle took place as missiles streaked in and an ammunition depot and technical industry may have been hit.
- Russia has a large naval base in the area and a big nearby naval presence, and may have been involved in the fighting.
- US military officials believe Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian aircraft, according to a CNN report.
- Russia also announced it had lost contact with an IL-20 aircraft carrying 14 service members.
Syrian forces reportedly responded to a number of Israeli missiles that were launched towards the city of Latakia, when it accidentally shot the Russian maritime patrol aircraft.
- In a statement to Business Insider, a US Central Command spokesman did not comment on where the strikes originated from but denied US forces were involved.
- Syria, Russia's ally in a prolonged proxy war in the region, previously claimed its air defenses "intercepted a number" of the missiles headed towards the city.
President Donald Trump reportedly told Defense Secretary James Mattis he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians last year, according to an excerpt from author Bob Woodward's new book.
"Let’s f---ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f---ing lot of them," Trump said to Mattis on the phone after the chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, according to details of the book, "Fear," published by The Washington Post.
Mattis reportedly told Trump he'd get "right on it" in an apparent attempt to pacify the president. He simultaneously told a senior aide they would not be going down that road.
"We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured," Mattis told the aide at the time, Woodward wrote.
The Trump administration eventually responded with limited missile strikes against Assad, targeting chemical weapons sites in Syria. The strikes ultimately did little to damage Assad's military or chemical weapons capabilities.
The reported exchange between Trump and Mattis on the Syrian leader captures a broader theme in Woodward's forthcoming book: how Trump's top advisers often work around his impetuous nature.
According to Woodward, the defense secretary has marveled at Trump's ignorance on foreign affairs and told close associates the president has the intelligence of "a fifth- or sixth-grader."
Trump has been tweeting about the conflict in Syria in recent days as Assad's forces close in on the last major rebel stronghold in the Syrian city of Idlib.
"President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province,"Trump tweeted on Monday. "The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!"
Russian and Syrian fighter jets began conducting airstrikes near Idlib by Tuesday morning.
The White House warned the Syrian regime and their allies Russia and Iran on Tuesday that the US would retaliate if either they used chemical weapons on the last rebel stronghold in Syria's Idlib province.
"Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
"President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," Sanders added.
Russia and the Syrian regime have denied using chemical weapons, often arguing that the West or militants staged the attacks.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
The US, the UK and France responded to the alleged chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta with multiple airstrikes, but the strikes had minimal effect.
In the end, the Syrian regime drove the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam from Eastern Ghouta, raising questions about how far the US is willing to go to stop the alleged chemical attacks.
On Tuesday, Russia began conducting airstrikes once again on Idlib, according to the Washington Post, raising fears that a full-on assault would soon begin.
Assad and Russia have had their sights set on Idlib for months, but an all-out attack has yet to be launched.
"The Turks are blocking the offensive," Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, previously told Business Insider."The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that's not actually what's happening."
Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can't afford "to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border."
President Donald Trump's made it very clear that the US may soon carry out a military strike on Syria for its suspected chemical weapons use on civilians, but saving Syria's bombarded civilians wouldn't be the real purpose of such a strike.
Currently, the Syrian government, along with its Iranian and Russian backers, is preparing a massive offensive to take back the last rebel stronghold in a seven-year-long war that started with Syrian President Bashar Assad putting pro-democracy protestors to death in 2011.
Since then, the war has seen 500,000 deaths and millions of Syrians displaced, spawning a refugee crisis across Europe. A generation of Syrian children have grown up under fire and knowing nothing but war, likely fueling extremism for decades to come.
The US under Obama made efforts to train and equip moderate rebels, but those efforts failed as US weapons made their way to terrorists' hands and the opposition was crushed by the regime which Iran and Russia more directly supported.
Only Trump has stood up to Assad, who stands accused of war crimes including chemical weapons use, torture, and bombing of civilian hubs like schools and hospitals. But Trump didn't strike Syria to save civilians, he did it to send a message to Russia.
"If President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday.
“This is a tragic situation," US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on the same day, referring to the mounting Syrian offensive."If [Assad and his allies want] to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons."
The US has attacked the Syrian government twice, in April 2017 and in April of this year, both times after large scale chemical weapons use in the country.
Haley went on to say that Syria, Iran, and Russia "can’t" retake the country by "assaulting their people," but the US has never attacked Syria for simply assualting, whether in prisons, by shelling, or airstrikes, its own people.
The chemistry of US strikes on Syria
Chemical weapons represent a unique horror on the battlefield. Families sheltering in basements or bunkers from conventional bombs can die from fumes seeping in. Survivors and battlefiled medics describe the suffering associated with exposure to chemical weapons as uniquely horrifying and traumatizing. Unlike conventional bombs that might blow up a plane or ship, chemical weapons are strictly anti-human.
But as horrible as they are, chemcial warfare accounts for a tiny fraction of overall death in the Syrian war. Even if the Trump administration managed to completely rid Syria of chemical weapons, or ward them off from ever using the weapons again, the suffering in Syria would continue at much the same pace.
If the US military wanted to, it could find out which air force units in Assad's military dropped the chemical weapons. It could find out where they live. It could kill them in the night to send a message.
Instead, the US strikes have focused on repairable airstrips and research facilities. These targets had no embedded Russian soliders and a few cruise missiles off a Navy ship that would simply sail away after striking these targets.
When the US strikes Syria, it picks locations unlikely to harm Russians, therefore preventing escalation between the world's greatest nuclear powers. But the strikes still send a message to Moscow, that the US won't be muscled out of Syria, and that the international norm against chemical weapons use is worth upholding.
In that way, the US demonstrates the tiny channel of leadership it has left in the horrific Syrian crisis. The US can't stop a Syria, with Iran and Russia's help, from slaughtering its own people. That ship sailed years ago.
But it can show the world that there are still red lines that the US will risk blood and treasure to enforce.
PARIS (Reuters) - France's top military official said on Thursday his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in an expected government offensive to retake the northern province of Idlib.
Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, resumed air strikes against insurgents in Idlib on Tuesday after weeks of bombardment and shelling by pro-government Syrian forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive against the last major enclave held by rebels.
"We are ready to strike if chemical weapons were used again," Armed Forces Chief Francois Lecointre told a small group of reporters. "They can be carried out at national level but it's in our interest to do it with as many partners as possible."
In April, France, the United States and Britain launched more than 100 missiles at pro-government targets in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack.
The prospect of an offensive on Idlib alarms aid agencies. The United Nations has said about half of the 3 million people living in rebel-held areas of the northwest have already been displaced. It estimates some 10,000 jihadists are in the area.
Lecointre said he expected the final pockets of Islamic State resistance in Syria and Iraq to be defeated by the end of November.
Idlib's fate now appears likely to rest on a summit on Friday in Tehran between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran — a meeting that Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said would make the situation "clearer."
While the United States and its allies have warned of a blood bath, they have made clear they would only intervene should they deem that chemical weapons have been used.
A French military source said the indications were that Russia and its allies wanted to wrap up the Idlib offensive by the end of the year.
The source said Paris believed the United States would maintain its military presence in Kurdish-controlled northwestern regions of Syria given that Washington wanted to limit Iran's influence in Syria.
(By Sophie Louet; writing by John Irish; editing by Luke Baker and Richard Lough)
Russia has warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces are ready to attack a key US-held base near the borders of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, US defense officials said in a CNN report published on Thursday.
The Kremlin is said to have accused the US-led coalition base At Tanf of protecting nearby militants, with Russia delivering two warnings in the past week, CNN said, citing US officials. At Tanf, from which a coalition of dozens of US troops and Syrian rebels launch operations against the Islamic State terrorist group, is seen as a critical location within the scope of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian influence in the region.
"We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf," a US official told CNN. "We are postured to respond."
"The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing it support," another official added. "However, if attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces."
US troops would not need permission from superiors to defend themselves if attacked, which the US reiterated to the Kremlin, CNN reported.
A state-sanctioned attack by Russia could spark a flashpoint conflict in the region. Tensions were raised in February after dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed during a failed assault on a US-held position near the city of Deir al-Zor.
Russian forces have not recently been seen amassing their troops; however, the US military is still on alert, officials said. Senior military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are aware of the warnings, CNN said.
Russia's warnings come amid a looming assault by Syrian and Iranian forces against the city of Idlib, where Syrian rebels have been cornered. Russia delivered an ominous warning last week that some experts saw as an indication that the Syrian government might indiscriminately use chemical weapons against the city.
The US followed with a threat of its own, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he "chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately."
"President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
US troops are conducting a major live-fire exercise at At Tanf in Syria, US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported Friday, just one day after Russia accused the US-led coalition forces operating in the area of harboring terrorists and threatened to launch strikes in the deconfliction zone.
Russia informed the US on September 1 via the deconfliction line that Russian, Syrian, and other pro-regime forces intended to enter the At Tanf deconfliction zone to pursue ISIS terrorists, CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told Business Insider on Friday, confirming an earlier report from CNN. The Russians then warned the US Thursday that they would carry out precision strikes in the area, a risky move that could easily spark a larger conflict.
More than 100 US Marines supported by M777 artillery are conducting live-fire drills to send a "strong message" to Russia, Lucas Tomlinson at Fox News reported, citing US officials.
"Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area," CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in an official statement prior to the start of the exercises.
The combat exercises involving US troops, as well as Operation Inherent Resolve forces, are being held to send a clear message to Russia: The US does not need their help to take on terrorists in the area.
"The US does not require any assistance in our efforts to destroy ISIS in the At Tanf deconfliction zone and we advised the Russians to remain clear," Brown explained, adding, "Coalition partners are in the At Tanf deconfliction zone for the fight to destroy ISIS. Any claim that the US is harboring or assisting ISIS is grossly inaccurate.
"The Russians agreed to a 55-kilometer deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison to avoid accidental conflict between our forces, and to remain professionally engaged through deconfliction channels," he added, "We expect the Russians to abide by this agreement. There is no reason for Russian or pro-regime forces to violate the confines of that deconfliction zone."
Were Russia to violate the agreement, it could lead to a serious escalation in an already war-torn region.
"The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war," Brown told BI, "However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances."
Earlier this year, roughly 40 US troops held off around 500 Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian regime forces, reportedly killing hundreds.
President Donald Trump is reportedly adopting a new strategy in Syria that will see US troops remain there indefinitely.
Now that the terrorist group ISIS has largely been driven into the desert, the Trump administration wants to focus on ensuring all Iranian forces leave Syria moving forward, a representative for the State Department said Thursday.
James Jeffrey, a retired foreign service officer who was recently tapped by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be his representative for Syria engagement, told reporters, "The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year."
He added, "That means we are not in a hurry."
Jeffrey said he's "confident" that Trump is on board with this new plan, which he said will involve a "major diplomatic initiative" in the United Nations and beyond. This all comes just months after Trump said he wanted to pull US forces out of Syria. "I want to get out," Trump said in April, "I want to bring our troops back home."
Over the course of the seven-year war in Syria that has decimated much of the country, Iran and Russia have been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest allies. At present, Assad is close to achieving victory as his forces attack the last rebel stronghold in the country in the city of Idlib.
Meanwhile, Iran recently reaffirmed its commitment to the Assad regime. Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami in late August said Iran would have "presence, participation and assistance" in the reconstruction of Syria, adding, "and no third party will be influential in this issue." The US is staunchly anti-Assad, but has made it clear it will not pursue regime change.
In short, Assad isn't going anywhere and Iran is poised to stick with him for years to come. Based on the Trump administration's new policy, this also means the US won't be leaving the country anytime soon even as the war is seemingly winding down.
There are currently about 2,200 US soldiers stationed in Syria, where tensions with Russia are on the rise.
Trump has addressed the situation in Syria more and more in recent days, issuing stern warnings to Assad and Russia regarding the assault on Idlib.
"If it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry. And the United States is going to get very angry, too,"Trump said Wednesday.
Trump in the past has already approved limited missile strikes against Assad, prompting suggestions he might use military force again if the Syrian leader employs chemical weapons.
"We've started using new language," Jeffrey said on Thursday, adding the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated by the US "period."
These soaps are made using traditional soap-making techniques, and it's all done by hand. Pearl Soap is a company based in Syria, it has been making Aleppo soap since 1945.
The soaps are made primarily of natural olive oil which is boiled in a large vat with water, lye, and laurel oil. The ingredients are boiled for three days and then poured over large sheets of wax paper where it is evenly spread and smoothed.
Once cool it is cut into cubes and stacked and left to dry, which is a process that takes six to nine months.
Produced by David Ibekwe.
Israel secretly armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria that helped prevent Iran-backed fighters and militants of the Islamic State from taking up positions near the Israeli border in recent years, according to more than two dozen commanders and rank-and-file members of these groups.
The military transfers, which ended in July of this year, included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers, and transport vehicles. Israeli security agencies delivered the weapons through three gates connecting the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria — the same crossings Israel used to deliver humanitarian aid to residents of southern Syria suffering from years of civil war.
Israel also provided salaries to rebel fighters, paying each one about $75 a month, and supplied additional money the groups used to buy arms on the Syrian black market, according to the rebels and local journalists.
The payments, along with the service Israel was getting in return, created an expectation among the rebels that Israel would intercede if troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tried to advance on southern Syria.
When regime forces backed by Russian air power did precisely that this past summer, Israel did not intervene, leaving the rebel groups feeling betrayed.
"This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about … the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests," said Y., a fighter from one of the groups, Forsan al-Jolan.
Israel has tried to keep its relationship with the groups a secret. Though some publications have reported on it, the interviews Foreign Policy conducted with militia members for this story provide the most detailed account yet of Israel's support for the groups. All the fighters spoke on the condition that their names and factions not be revealed.
The quantity of arms and money Israel transferred to the groups — comprising thousands of fighters — is small compared to the amounts provided by other countries involved in the 7-year-old civil war, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. Even at the height of the Israeli assistance program earlier this year, rebel commanders complained that it was insufficient.
But the assistance is significant for several reasons. It marks one more way Israel has been trying to prevent Iran from entrenching its position in Syria — alongside airstrikes on Iranian encampments and political pressure Israel brought to bear via Russia, the main power broker in Syria.
It also raises questions about the balance of power in Syria as the civil war there finally winds down. With the Iranian forces that helped Assad defeat the rebels showing no inclination to withdraw from Syria, the potential for the country to become a flash point between Israel and Iran looms large.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment for this story.
Israel began arming rebel groups aligned with the Free Syrian Army in 2013, including factions in Quneitra, Daraa, and the southern areas of the Damascus countryside. The arms transferred at the time were mostly US-manufactured M16 assault rifles. Later, Israel switched to providing the rebels with mostly non-American weapons — apparently to conceal the source of the assistance — including guns and ammunition originating in an Iranian shipment to the Lebanese Hezbollah group that Israel had seized in 2009.
The assistance to these groups remained steady for some time, but it expanded significantly last year. Israel went from supporting hundreds of fighters to reaching groups comprising thousands of rebels. The increase in assistance coincided with a broader shift in Israel's policies in Syria. After appeals to the US administration and the Kremlin failed to secure a deal that would ensure that Iranian-backed militias would be kept away from southern Syria, Israel adopted a more aggressive policy.
Its Air Force began striking deeper inside Syrian territory, targeting not just individual weapons shipments from Iran to Hezbollah but also Iranian bases across the country.
Two of the groups Israel supported have been publicly identified — Forsan al-Jolan (the Golan Knights), a faction based in the border town of Jubata al-Khashab in Quneitra, and Liwaa Omar bin al-Khattab, based in Beit Jinn, a town bordering Mount Hermon.
Unlike other foreign supporters of the Syrian opposition, Israel made little effort to organize and consolidate its aid program. Instead, it apparently relied on relationships it developed with individual commanders, funneling assistance directly to them.
According to rebels in southern Syria, these commanders would communicate with Israeli officials by phone and occasionally meet them face to face in the Israeli-occupied Golan. When commanders switched groups and locations, Israeli assistance followed them. On the other hand, when commanders were killed or removed from their position due to internal power struggles, Israeli assistance to their former factions was halted.
Forsan al-Jolan was Israel's preferred group. Last year, it added several hundred fighters to its ranks due to an increase in Israeli financing, according to members of the faction. It also served as a distributor of weaponry supplied from Israel to other groups. This allowed the group to have an outsized influence both in Quneitra and the nearby Daraa governorate.
Israel also provided fire support to rebel factions fighting the local Islamic State affiliate in the Yarmouk Basin. According to local rebels, journalists, and residents, Israel carried out drone strikes targeting Islamic State commanders and precision-missile strikes against the group's personnel, fortifications, and vehicles during battles with the rebels. Israel did not extend similar fire support for rebel assaults on regime forces.
As a result of Israel's humanitarian and military assistance many residents of southern Syria came to perceive it as an ally. Israeli publicized its "Good Neighbor" program in Arabic, including humanitarian operations in southern Syria and treatment of some Syrians in Israeli hospitals.
Y., the Forsan al-Jolan fighter, told me a few months ago: "Israel is the only one with interests in the region and a little bit of humanity and [provides] assistance to civilians."
But as troops loyal to Assad, aided by Russian and Iranian forces, reasserted control over more and more areas of Syria, Israel sought other ways to guarantee its interests along the border.
In July of this year, Israeli officials apparently reached an understanding with Russia that allowed for the return of regime forces to western Daraa and Quneitra, the areas adjacent to the Golan Heights. In exchange, Russia reportedly promised to keep Iran-backed militias 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) from the Golan Heights and not to start hindering Israeli strikes on Iranian targets across Syria.
Even after Assad's offensive on southern Syria commenced, many Syrians in the area clung to hope that Israel would at least prevent the regime from recapturing the adjacent Quneitra governorate.
Thousands of people fled to the area abutting the Golan Heights, but Israel did not intervene to protect them.
One local community leader from western Daraa who agreed to be identified only as Abu Khaled said he soon realized that relying on Israel had been a mistake.
"Trust me, Israel will regret its silence over what had happened in southern Syria. We in our town and neighboring towns grudgingly reconciled with the regime, but this reconciliation will affect Israel in the near future," he said.
As the regime was closing in, some of the rebels reached out to their Israeli contacts and asked for asylum, fearing retribution from Assad's forces. Israeli officials responded by allowing a small number of rebel commanders and their immediate family members to enter Israel on the night of July 22. Others were turned away.
The whereabouts of these commanders and their relatives remains unclear. According to people in Syria, some are rumored to be in Israel, others in Jordan. One former commander informed his subordinates that he had arrived in Turkey.
As for the rank-and-file fighters, most chose to remain in their homes and surrender to the regime rather than flee to Idlib, the last remaining enclave of the rebel forces. Some have been arrested, apparently for working with Israel, while others joined pro-regime militias or the Syrian Army itself as a way to avoid persecution by the regime.
Against the backdrop of potential chemical attacks by the Syrian regime in the province of Idlib, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen is exploring how Germany can engage in military retaliatory actions against the army of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
BILD has learned the German Ministry of Defense is considering participating in the alliance of the USA, Great Britain and France in the future, but only if Assad troops were to use chemical weapons against their own population again. In April 2018, the three powers flew air attacks against selected targets of the regime after the Syrian army attacked the city of Duma, near the capital Damascus, with chemical weapons.
At the time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had ruled out Germany's participation in "military actions."
But now a radical change is being discussed in the ministry.
It began with a request from the US side to the Chancellor's Office. At a subsequent meeting of high-level experts at the end of the week before last week, various options were discussed in the ministry. The meeting was attended by high-ranking representatives on both sides. For the Germans, von der Leyen's ministerial director, for the Americans, the new military attaché, a colonel.
The two sides discussed several options relating to a possible military alliance against Assad. They included reconnaissance flights and damage analysis before and after a possible attack and participation in possible combat missions in which German aircrafts would drop bombs for the first time since the Balkan War.
Should Assad verifiably use chemical weapons against its own people again, armed Bundeswehr Tornados could fly attacks on military infrastructure — barracks, air bases, command posts, ammunition and weapon depots, factories, and research centers, for example. In doing so, Germany would risk a direct confrontation with Syria's allied Russia for the first time.
Though the plans were developed in the ministry, the final decision will fall on the chancellor.
In the event of immediate intervention, the German Parliament would only be consulted after the fact because of time constraints.
Germany considers the situation extremely delicate. The Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, in a joint statement in response to a request from BILD, said, "The situation in Syria gives cause for grave concern. Of course, we are in close contact with our American ally and European partners during these times."
The statement continued: "At all levels, we are constantly exchanging views on the current situation, possible further crisis scenarios and joint options for action. The aim is for the parties to the conflict to avoid an escalation of the situation, which is already terrible for the people affected. This applies in particular to the use of banned chemical weapons, which the Assad regime has already used in the past."
Over the weekend, Russian and Syrian fighter jets again flew massive air strikes against the province of Idlib in Western Syria.
The rebel stronghold, the last of its kind, is a highly coveted target for Assad. The region is used by an estimated 100,000 partly Islamist rebels as a retreat, but three million civilians, including one million children, also live there.
A Navy pilot who took out a Syrian attack jet that was dropping bombs on friendly forces last year — the service’s first air-to-air kill since the end of the Cold War — was recognized for his heroism this weekend.
Lt. Cmdr. Mike "MOB" Tremel, an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot with the Strike Fighter Squadron 87, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Saturday during the Tailhook Association’s annual conference. The medal is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flights.
Tremel is credited withshooting down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter attack jet over Raqqa on June, 18, 2017.
He and his wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff “Jo Jo” Krueger, initially set out from the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush with two other pilots on what they thought was a close-air-support mission.
But the airspace was crowded, and when Tremel split off from the rest to track a Russian aircraft in the area, he spotted a Syrian jet.
"Our whole mission out there was to defeat [the Islamic State group], annihilate ISIS," he said at last year’s Tailhook symposium. "... At any point in time, if this had de-escalated, that would have been great. We would have gotten mission success and [gone] back to continue to drop bombs on ISIS."
Instead, the Syrian air force attack jet ignored repeated warnings from the Navy pilots about getting too close to friendly forces on the ground. When the Fitter took a dive and began dropping ordnance, Tremel fired off anAIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
When the missile didn’t make contact, he let another fly. The second round, a radar-guidedAIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, hit its target.
"The aircraft will pitch right and down and pilot will jump out and left in his ejection seat," Tremel said.
Careful to avoid falling debris, Tremel watched the pilot pass in his ejection seat.
The whole thing was over in about eight minutes, according toa Navy news release. Tremel and Krueger flew back to the carrier as the other pilots continued on with the original close-air support mission.
It had marked the Navy’s first air-to-air kill since the fall of the Soviet Union.
"I couldn't have done it without the guy sitting next to me, ‘Jo Jo,’ and the other guys that were airborne,” Tremel said. “It was an absolute team effort, to include all the coordination that went on with the Air Force."
President Donald Trump's national security adviser issued a crystal clear warning to Syria on Monday, stressing that if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons again, it will face a "much stronger" response than before.
"We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger," White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday, "I can say we have been in consultations with the British and the French who have joined us in the second strike, and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response."
The United Nations has accused Syria of launching dozens of chemical weapons attacks using both sarin and chlorine gas, and in response to two particularly devastating incidents, the US used military force to persuade the Syrian regime to adhere to acceptable warfighting methods.
The US first struck Syria on April 7, 2017, striking the Shayrat Airbase in Syria with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Mediterranean Sea in response to the use of chemical weapons (sarin) at Khan Shaykhun just three days earlier.
The chemical weapons attack, attributed to the Syrian regime, reportedly killed more than 70 people and injured over 550 more, at the time making it the deadliest such attack of the Syrian civil war since the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta four years prior.
The devastating attack just a few months into Trump's presidency reportedly led the president to call Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and demand the assassination of the Syrian leadership. "Let's f---ing kill him! Let's go in. Let's kill the f---ing lot of them," Trump told Mattis, according to an excerpt from Bob Woodward's new book "Fear: Trump in the White House" the subject of much debate and controversy.
The president, Mattis, and the Pentagon have all denied that the conversations detailed in the book ever took place.
Almost one year after the first incident, the Syrian regime allegedly launched a second major chemical weapons assault on a suburb in Damascus, killing dozens of people in Douma. The US, supported by Britain and France, conducted coordinated strikes on Syria's chemical weapons facilities, crippling but not eliminating the regime's chemical weapons capabilities.
The strikes came from both sea and air, whereas the previous strikes were launched by two destroyers.
Syrian, Russian, and pro-regime forces are now massing around Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, and the US government has intelligence that the Syrian government may again use chemical weapons. The Pentagon has already begun preparing military options should the president decide to respond militarily to any use of chemical weapons in the Idlib offensive.
"The president expects us to have military options in the event that chemical weapons are used," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Saturday, "We have provided updates to him on the development of those military options."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders warned last week that the US will respond "swiftly and appropriately" should Assad use chemical weapons against the Syrian people, and Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning explained Monday that "the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated by the US or the coalition."
"As you have seen in the past, any use of chemical weapons has resulted in a very swift response by the United States and our coalition partners. We have communicated that to Damascus, and we hope that they adhere to it."
(Reuters) - The United States has issued a fresh warning to airlines to exercise caution when operating in Iran's airspace, citing concerns over military activity including an unnamed U.S. civil operator being intercepted by fighter jets in December 2017.
The updated guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration to U.S. operators, issued on Sunday at the expiry of the prior year's advisory, said there were also military activities emanating from or transiting through Iran's airspace associated with the conflict in Syria.
Tensions ramped up between Iran and the United States after President Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic last month.
Flight Service Bureau, which provides safety information on airspace to airlines, said "without seeming alarmist", the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Iran must be taken into account when planning flights in Iran's airspace.
"Although the reopening of Iraqi airspace in November last year has provided additional routing options ... there is no perfect route in the region, and operators must consider their preference for Iraq vs Iran," the U.S. based group said in an email to clients on Monday.
The U.S. Department of State advises that its citizens do not travel to Iran due to the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention. Flight Service Bureau said that could present problems in the event of an unplanned landing in Iran for medical or technical reasons.
For Iraq, the U.S. Department of State advises its citizens against travel to the country due to terrorism and armed conflict. The F.A.A.'s latest guidance on Iraq, issued in December 2017, prohibits U.S. airlines in most cases from flying at an altitude lower than 26,000 feet due to the potential for fighting.
A US Marine Corps aircraft carrier full of F-35B stealth jets showed up in the Middle East after Russia threatened US forces in Syria in the latest military buildup between the world's two greatest nuclear powers.
Russia sailed a small armada to the Mediterranean sea in August as its prepares with its ally, Syria, an offensive against the last rebel stronghold in the country after predicting a chemical weapons attack that it prematurely blamed on US-aligned forces.
President Donald Trump has warned Syria against its offensive against its own people, and the White House said it "and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately" to any reports of chemical weapons use in the fighting.
The US has already bombed Syria's government twice over chemical weapons use, both times avoiding Russian retaliation or air defenses.
The US has a small presence of a couple dozen troops advising rebel forces in Southern Syria, which Russia threatened to attack, CNN reported.
The Essex steps up
Until recently, the US had no capital ships and just one or two destroyers in the Mediterranean, but the USS Essex, a small, flat-deck aircraft carrier used to launch US Marine Corps F-35B stealth jets that can take off almost vertically, just arrived off the horn of Africa, USNI News reports.
Though the Essex remains on the opposite side of the Suez Canal from Russia's ships in the Mediterranean, it's a quick-moving ship. Additionally, the F-35Bs can fly about 550 miles out from the ship in stealth configurations that make them hard to detect for enemy defenses.
Direct combat between Russia and the US remains unlikely, as both sides work together to avoid accidental conflict and neither side seems willing to escalate a fight over Syria into a massive war.
But Syria has hosted the world's liveliest air defense and battle space for years. Missile fires have taken down Israeli, Syrian, and Russian jets over the course of the war. Syria has seen the combat debut of the F-35 and the first US air-to-air kill between manned aircraft since 1999.
The F-35Bs aboard the Essex will train on a variety of missions near the Red Sea, such as how to provide close air support for Marine units optimized to take beaches, or how to respond to an attack.
"Our primary mission is crisis response… being current and absolutely ready for anything the geographic combatant commander needs us to do while we are here," Col. Chandler Nelms, commander of the military expeditionary unit aboard the Essex told USNI.
How the US responds to crisis — even when Russia brings it
Russia has a larger ground presence in Syria and also operates large groups of mercenaries, but has not fared well in fights against the US so far.
Russia has used military contractors, or unofficial forces, in military operations before as a possible means of concealing the true cost of fighting abroad in places like Ukraine and Syria.
In February, US forces in Syria came under a pro-regime attack made up of hundreds of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian military contractors. A large column advanced towards a US position and began to fire, and the US responded with overwhelming air power and artillery fires that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would later confirm killed hundreds of Russians.
Allegedly leaked audio recordings from the Russian contractors portrayed a humiliated and cowed force that had gone into a battle seriously outgunned, despite its greater numbers.
Russia has since established a stronger naval position in the Mediterranean with ships capable of firing cruise missiles at targets deep inland, and possibly at the US without risking ground forces.
But, as experts previously told Business Insider, if Russia's navy in the Mediterranean actually killed US forces, the US would swiftly scramble its airpower from across the region and sink the fleet as well as destroying any Russian jets that came to respond.
GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian government forces fired chlorine, a banned chemical weapon, on a rebel-held Damascus suburb and on Idlib province this year, in attacks that constitute war crimes, United Nations human rights investigators said on Wednesday.
The three incidents bring to 39 the number of chemical attacks which the Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented since 2013, including 33 attributed to the government, a U.N. official told Reuters. The perpetrators of the remaining six have not been sufficiently identified.
Weaponizing chlorine is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified by Syria, and under customary international humanitarian law, the investigators said in their latest report.
"To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons," it said, referring to incidents on Jan. 22 and Feb. 1 in a residential area of Douma, eastern Ghouta, outside the capital.
Women and children were injured in the attacks, suffering respiratory distress and requiring oxygen, it added.
"The Commission concludes that, on these two occasions, government forces and or affiliated militias committed the war crimes of using prohibited weapons and launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian-populated areas in eastern Ghouta," it said.
A surface-to-surface, improvised rocket-assisted munition had been used in the two Douma incidents, it said. "Specifically the munitions documented were built around industrially-produced Iranian artillery rockets known to have been supplied to forces commanded by the (Syrian) government," the report added.
In the northwest province of Idlib - where the United Nations fears a major imminent assault by Syrian and Russian forces against the last rebel-held stronghold - chlorine was also used on February 4, the U.N. report said.
"Government helicopters dropped at least two barrels carrying chlorine payloads in the Taleel area of Saraqeb," it said, adding that at least 11 men were injured.
"Documentary and material evidence analyzed by the Commission confirmed the presence of helicopters in the area and the use of two yellow gas cylinders".
The report, based on 400 interviews, also examined aerial and ground attacks by Turkey's 'Operation Olive Branch', conducted with allied Syrian rebels, which wrestled the northwest Afrin region from Syrian Kurdish forces this spring.
Afrin's main hospital, a market and homes were hit, it said.
"In conducting airstrikes beginning on 20 January, the Turkish air force may have failed to take all feasible precautions prior to launching certain attacks, in violation of international humanitarian law," the report said.
Rebels of the Free Syrian Army were "notorious for their arbitrary arrests and detention" in Afrin, it added.
More than a million civilians were displaced in six major battles across Syria during the first six months of the year, many marked by war crimes, the report said.
Thousands of displaced civilians still live in dire conditions in severely overcrowded centers, "where many are still being unlawfully interned by Government forces", it said.
The US has a small aircraft carrier hosting F-35B stealth fighter jets in the Middle East as Russia threatens US forces in Syria — and if fighting breaks out the US will have no choice but to send in the advanced fighters.
Russia and its ally, Syria, have launched a massive offensive against Idlib, the last rebel-held area in the country, and appeared to predict chemical weapons use in the process.
Syria's government has been linked to 33 cases of chemical weapons use against its own people during the 7 year-long civil war, and along with Russia stands accused of war crimes such as the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and schools.
Russian media has accused terrorists and groups with US-backing of plotting to stage, and to actually carry out, a chemical weapons attack on children and families in Idlib to justify attacking the Syrian regime.
But Russia has made these claims before, and it hasn't stopped the US from striking Syria in the past. This time, as Syria and Russia eye a bloody victory over the last remaining rebels, Russia has telegraphed that it would counter-attack the US if US missiles hit Syrian targets over chemical weapons use.
Russia, a weakened military power that often bolsters its image with propaganda, sat idly by while the US hit Syria twice before, but the US has spelled out that this time its penalty would take a much "stronger" form.
With a small armada of Russian ships in the Mediterranean, Russia too appears to have taken measures to look more committed to its cause.
Enter the F-35B
In the face of a massive Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean hugging Syria's coast, the US doesn't have a single carrier strike group anywhere near the region.
But the US does have the USS Essex, a US Navy small-deck helicopter carrier modified to carry US Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighters. The Essex and its accompanying ships across the Suez Canal from the Russian ships in the Mediterranean represents one of the greatest concentrations of naval power ever put to sea, and its main mission is simple — crisis response.
The long-awaited F-35Bs have updated software that grants them "full warfighting capability" Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison told USNI News. That capability takes the F-35 beyond anything that F/A-18s, the US Navy's standard carrier-based fighter, could do in an environment like Syria.
Syria has advanced Russian missile defenses, creating some of the world's most challenging air spaces. Only a stealth jet with advanced sensors, like the F-35B, could safely take on the mission of fighting in the skies above Syria.
"The F-35’s ability to operate in contested areas, including anti-access/area-denial environments that legacy fighters cannot penetrate, provides more lethality and flexibility to the combatant commander than any other fighter platform," said Harrison.
Russia flirting with disaster
Russia specifically threatened US forces in southern Syria with retaliation. In the past, these US forces have come under attack from Russian-aligned forces and brutally beat them back with superior air power. But in that case, Russia held back its considerable bank of fighter jets in the region from the fight.
The F-35B has never tasted combat, but the Syrian war produced a rich list of firsts over the last seven years. Missile fires have taken down Israeli, Syrian, and Russian jets over the course of the war. Syria has seen the combat debut of Israel's F-35I and the first US air-to-air kill between manned aircraft since 1999.
If Russia is serious about backing its ally and countering a possible US attack, it would no doubt need air power to do so. But not only does the US have stealth F-35s nearby ready to hit Russia with something it's never seen, they have considerable air bases in the region that make Moscow's threat appear less than serious.
Over 100 US Marines sent a "strong message" to Russia with a live-fire exercise in Syria after the Russians threatened to conduct strikes near a key US-led coalition base. US Central Command has released several combat photos of that message to a rival power.
Russia warned the US twice last week that Russian, Syrian, and pro-regime forces planned to conduct operations and launch strikes in the deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison, accusing the US and its coalition partners of failing to adequately combat terrorists in the area. The US military, together with its regional partners, responded by holding a live-fire exercise reportedly involving air assets, artillery, and other heavy weaponry meant to send the clear message that it is more than capable of taking on any and all threats.
"The US does not require any assistance in our efforts to destroy ISIS in the At Tanf deconfliction zone and we advised the Russians to remain clear," CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told Business Insider, adding, "Coalition partners are in the At Tanf deconfliction zone for the fight to destroy ISIS. Any claim that the US is harboring or assisting ISIS is grossly inaccurate."
The US military informed the Russians that it is not looking for a fight, but it is more than ready should anyone come looking for one.
"The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war," Brown previously told BI in an emailed statement.
"However," he added, "the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances."
The At Tanf garrison in Syria serves as a base for US operations against the Islamic State, as well as an obstacle for broader Russian, Syrian, and Iranian interests in the region.
Russia's interest in the deconfliction zone has nothing to do with combating terrorism in the region, a US defense official told BI. The At Tanf deconfliction zone sits in the middle of a major connection between Tehran and Damascus.
Moscow remains critical of the US military presence in Syria. Nonetheless, Russia agreed to a 55-kilometer deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison, and the US military continues to expect the Russians to continue to abide by this agreement.
The US military has previously engaged foreign forces that attempted to enter the deconfliction zone. For instance, last summer, coalition troops "destroyed" pro-regime forces that "advanced inside the well-established deconfliction zone," CENTCOM said in a statement.
The exercise came as Russia gathered its naval forces in the Mediterranean to assist Syrian and pro-regime troops as they began a major assault on Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels.
The United Nations has stressed that a full-scale assault on Idlib would result in a humanitarian catastrophe. Tens of thousands of people have already begun fleeing the area.
The US has warned the Syrian regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that any use of chemical weapons will be met with a strong, swift response. "The president expects us to have military options in the event that chemical weapons are used,' Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said over the weekend, adding, "We have provided updates to him on the development of those military options."
US strikes on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons run contrary to Russian interests and have resulted in criticism from Moscow.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Unless the Russian navy is hunting for the Red October in the eastern Mediterranean, it is likely that so many Russian ships have remained there since the end of Moscow’s latest naval exercise primarily to support Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Pentagon officials said.
It’s worth noting that the rising tensions in Syria coincide with amphibious assault ship USS Essex’s long-planned deployment to the Middle East with F-35Bs, which are currently taking part in two weeks of combat exercises off the Horn of Africa. And since Israel has already used its version of the F-35 in combat in Syria, it could the by Flying Leathernecks’ turn if Assad uses chemical weapons again.
Syria's coastal city of Latakia, which hosts a large Russian naval base and military presence, has come under attack from an unclaimed missile strike that Syria attributes to Israel.
“Air defenses have confronted enemy missiles coming from the sea in the direction of the Latakia city, and intercepted a number of them,” Syrian state-run media said, according to Reuters.
Syrian officials blamed Israel for the strike, but Israel rarely takes credit for its air raids in Syria and has frequently fired missiles from outside of Syrian airspace before.
The strikes followed Israel releasing satellite images of Damascus International Airport and the palace where Syrian President Bashar Assad lives in a possible threat. Syria also blames Israel for a Sunday night strike on the airport.
Syria and Israel have fought wars against each other in the past and Israel has taken military measures to resist Iran's influence and ability to transfer arms in southern Syria near Israel's borders.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said missiles targeted ammunition depots of the technical industry institution in the eastern outskirts of Latakia, according to Reuters.
Here's video purporting to show the strike:
Unlike the semi-regular strikes that hit Iranians-aligned forces in southern Syria, this strike hit an area rich with Russian forces and missile defenses. In past US-led strikes, Syria has shown little proof that its air defense can actually fend off large-scale naval cruise missile strikes.
Russia recently concluded naval exercises in the Mediterranean near Latakia and maintains a consistent naval presence in the region.
So far nothing indicates Russian military bases have been targeted, but Syria-based correspondents have reported Russian air defenses operating.
Russia has, since 2015, stationed warships at Latakia and operated some of the world's top missile defenses near Latakia. Video and photos claiming to show the air battle over Latakia show what look like massive surface to air fires with missiles streaking overhead, indicating a state military rather than a rebel or terror group.
#Tartus an hour ago. #Syria|n Air Defense Force's anti-aircraft guns were trying to target the cruise missiles launched by #Israel|i Air Force & artillery rockets launched by #Israel|i Navy from civilian ships in #MediterraneanSeapic.twitter.com/hDAodLrHKN— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) September 17, 2018
US military officials believe Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian aircraft, according to a CNN report published on Monday.
Syrian anti-aircraft artillery reportedly responded to a number of Israeli missiles that were launched towards the coastal city of Latakia when it accidentally shot the Russian maritime patrol aircraft, according to a US military official cited in the report.
Syria, Russia's ally in a prolonged proxy war in the region, claimed its air defenses "intercepted a number" of the missiles headed toward the city, Reuters reported on Monday, citing state-media.
Russia's defense ministry also announced it had lost contact with an IL-20 aircraft carrying 14 service members, Syria's state-run media reported. Russia's presence in Latakia includes a large naval base, which was reportedly under attack by an unclaimed missile strike that Syria alleges to have come from Israel.
Although Israeli Defense Forces also declined to comment on the missile strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that his country will be "taking action to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with advanced weaponry."
A US Central Command spokesman did not comment on where the strikes originated from but denied US forces were involved: "The US was not involved in any strikes in Western Syria or in the shoot down of any planes tonight," US Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement to Business Insider.
Russia and the Syrian regime have previously boasted about their air defense capabilities. After an airstrike in which US and its allies fired over 100 missiles towards suspected chemical weapons facilities in April, Russian forces claimed the "high-effectiveness" of Russian-supplied weapons and "excellent training of Syrian servicemen" had shot down 71 missiles.
Russia's claim was contradicted by US reports that said Syria's air defenses were "largely ineffective" in response to its "precise and overwhelming" strikes.
"The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains," US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie said at the time.