Following The West’s Attack On Syria, Sharp Dispute Breaks Out Between Egypt That Wants Assad To Remain, And Saudi Arabia That Now Wants Him Gone

On April 14, 2018, about a week after the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad carried out a chemical attack on the town of Douma near Damascus that killed dozens, the U.S., U.K. and France launched a joint military strike on regime bases and facilities associated with its chemical weapons capabilities. The attack threw into sharp focus the controversy between the two leaders of the Arab world, ?Egypt and Saudi Arabia – on the Syrian issue.[1] Even before the strike occurred, Saudi Arabia expressed firm support for military action against the Syrian regime, and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman expressed willingness to take part in such action, "should this become necessary."[2]

Shortly before the attack, a columnist in the Saudi government daily 'Okaz even called on the U.S. to target Assad's palace in Damascus in order to deter him from using chemical weapons again.[3] After the attack, the Saudi authorities welcomed it, while articles in the Saudi press criticized the U.S. and its allies for not launching a more substantial strike that could alter the power balance on the ground.

In contrast, Egypt criticized the Western countries for attacking Syria. Egypt's Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the "military escalation" in Syria that threatened the Syrian people, and implied that Egypt doubted the U.S. claims that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons in Douma, calling for "a transparent international investigation" of the events in the town.[4] The government and pro-government Egyptian press went further, expressing support for the Syrian regime and calling the Western attack an unjustified act of aggression. One article even claimed that the U.S. had supplied the rebel organizations with chemical weapons so they would carry out attacks on civilians that would then be blamed on the Syrian regime.

Other articles criticized Russia and Iran for not lifting a finger to repel the attack, although both have forces in Syria.

This report reviews the reactions in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to the U.S.-British-French military strike in Syria.

Egypt: The Attack Was A Mistaken And Unjustified Act That Will Only Complicate The Situation In Syria

As stated, Egypt criticized the attack, calling it an escalation of the hostilities that could sabotage the efforts, especially on the part of Russia, to establish ceasefires in Syria (ceasefires which, it should be noted, benefit the Syrian regime and its allies). Egypt even expressed doubt that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack in Douma. A statement issued by the foreign ministry several hours after the Western attack said: "Egypt expresses its grave concern over the present military escalation in the Syrian arena, due to its implications for the security of our brothers, the Syrian people and since it threatens the understandings that have been reached regarding the de-escalation zones.[5] Egypt stresses its complete opposition to the use in Syria of any type of weapon that is prohibited by international [law], and demands to conduct a transparent international investigation into this matter, based on the international mechanisms and sources of authority. Egypt expresses its solidarity with the Syrian people as they strive to realize their aspirations to live in security and stability and maintain their national capabilities and the integrity and unity of their land through comprehensive understanding among all the political elements in Syria, far from the attempts to destroy their aspirations and hopes. Egypt calls upon the international community and the superpowers to carry out their responsibility of pushing for a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis…"[6]

Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi also expressed concern about the "latest escalation" and support for the Assad regime, saying that Egypt supports "legitimate governments and national armies."[7]?

Much fiercer opposition to the Western attack on Syria was voiced in the Egyptian press, which called it "aggression." Headlines in the Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily on the day following the attack read "Tripartite Aggression against Syria," "Syria in the Inferno of the Tripartite Military Aggression," and "The [act of] Aggression at Dawn Will Cause Volcanoes of Rage to Erupt and Let Loose The Winds of Partition."[8] An article in the same issue stressed that "despite the political disagreements and the discrepancy [in positions] between Cairo and Damascus, the relations between Egypt and Syria remain historic." It also likened the attack on Syria to the 1956 war? in which British, French and Israeli forces invaded Sinai after Egyptian president Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, saying that the two countries thus have both dreams and painful memories in common.[9]

Headline in Al-Masri Al-Yawm: "Syria in the Inferno of the Tripartite Military Aggression"

Other articles in the Egyptian government press claimed that the military strike violated international law and was also unjustified, because there was no proof that it was Assad who had used the chemical weapons. The articles claimed further that this attack was meant to save the "terrorists," i.e., the rebel organizations, after they had failed in their action against the Syrian regime, and that it would exacerbate the suffering of the Syrian people. Some of the articles even condemned the Syrian regime's allies, Iran and Russia, and accused them of betraying the regime by failing to repel the Western attack.

Al-Ahram Editorial: The Attack Is A Replay Of The U.S. Invasion Of Iraq In 2003

An editorial of the government daily Al-Ahram published one day before the attack warned about the implications of Western military action, adding that the accusations currently leveled at the Syrian regime were reminiscent of the accusations leveled at the Iraqi regime before America's 2003 invasion of Iraq, which turned out to be false. The editorial said: "The Syria crisis has become an arena of conflict between the large superpowers, [who wish] to display [their] weight in the unfair international [power-]balance that is never inclined towards law or justice... America's threat to target Syria is outrageous and unjustified, for destroying Syria's capabilities undermines the existing institutions that safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial [integrity]. History seems to be repeating the scenario [of Iraq in 2003], in which U.S. president George [W.] Bush decided to attack Iraq on the pretext that it had biological weapons. After Iraq was destroyed, this proved to be a big lie and British prime minister Tony Blair confessed to this crime, but his admission changed nothing, and the whole world saw the destruction wreaked in Iraq...

"The stench of war thickens the air, and the look in the eyes of small children anticipating an unknown disaster reveals [their] terror and anxiety. [In this situation,] sane people must intervene in order to prevent the war and the attack on Syria and seek binding political solutions to end the prolonged tragedy that the Syrian people are suffering inside and outside their country...

"The world does not need intercontinental military strikes. It needs political solutions that safeguard people's lives and liberty, and cut off funding to the terror organizations that are destroying the world and are the enemy of all growth and progress. Arab Syria is in our hearts, and we beseech Allah to protect its soil and its people and expel all the forces that harm it, [so that it may] rejoin the Arab fold."[10]

Al-Ahram cartoon: The "new imperialism" attacks the "Arab homeland" (Al-Ahram, Egypt, April 16, 2018)

Saudi Arabia says open to sending troops to Syria under wider coalition

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia would be prepared to send troops into Syria as part of the U.S.-led coalition if a decision was taken to widen it, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday.

“We are in discussion with the U.S. and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria,” Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

He said Riyadh had expressed its readiness while Barack Obama was U.S. President to send ground forces into Syria if the United States were to add an on-the-ground component to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State insurgents.

Jubeir was responding to a question about a Wall Street Journal report that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria.

“There are discussions regarding ... what kind of force needs to remain in eastern Syria and where that force would come from, and those discussions are ongoing,” Jubeir said....

A wakeup call on the bog that is Syria

There’s not much to say beyond what’s evidently clear at this point: It will be difficult to reverse course now.

In his initial reaction to the raid in which 100-plus Tomahawks missiles hit Syria on April 13, when Bashar Assad remarked that it signified the “failure of the West,” he fortuitously touched upon a sensitive point, upside down.

On the contrary, it’s a sudden reawakening: America, France and the United Kingdom—beacons of democracy throughout history and the champions of human rights, especially after the great world wars—collectively decided to prevent further atrocities against human beings and acted together on a joint mission of justice: to not only punish, but also to prohibit the use of chemical and biological weapons. The history of toxic weapons is engraved in the numerous images of soldiers in the trenches of Europe during World War I and World War II, in the gas chambers used by the Nazis, in the massacre of Iranians by the Iraqis during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, and in the Scud missiles that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s launched on the Jewish people in the first months of 1991 after the United States went into Kuwait to evict the Iraqi invaders (Israelis always have gas masks ready for use).

Today, we see newborn Syrian children who, and not for the first time, try to breathe while crying.

In 1925, the Geneva Protocol was signed by most of the world’s countries in order to ban the use of chemical weapons. In 1972, the protocol was later supplemented by the Biological Weapons Convention, in effect since 1975, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which went into effect in 1997. Syria also signed this treaty. It prohibits the production, development, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and orders their destruction.

Now, the Tomahawks and other missiles have quite rightly, together with French and British weapons, taken out Syria’s chemical program—its storage and equipment facilities, as well as research centers located in the suburbs of Damascus (76 missiles) and Homs (29 missiles). It was a raid that was, as U.S. President Trump boasted, “justified, legitimate and proportionate,” and above all, “perfectly executed,” which indicates superb intelligence and outstanding military organization....

Israel’s Youngest Terror Victims Leave Behind Huge Legacies

“Hashem is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit He delivers.” Psalms 34:19 (The Israel Bible™)

Three Israeli teens, (L-R) Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 who were kidnapped and murdered in the summer of 2014.

One of Israel’s youngest terror victims was 5-month old Yehuda Shoham. Yehuda, a resident of Shiloh, was travelling by car with his parents near the Jewish community of Eli in the Biblical heartland when terrorists began pelting the vehicle with stones, crushing the baby’s skull.

Six days after the attack, Yehuda succumbed to his injuries and died in this hospital. ?He was buried in his hometown of Shiloh.

Benny Shoham, father of Yehuda Shoham, works as a building contractor in Samaria. Some years after Yehuda’s death, Benny was approached to head-up the development and building of a Yeshiva (a religious boys high school) in Shiloh. Until this point, the community of Shiloh had been lacking a proper educational institution for teenage boys.

“This project is very important to me because I lost my son and now I have the opportunity to build a high school for children here in Shiloh. This gives us a lot of comfort, for me and my family”, said Benny Shoham.

For millions, Yehuda represents the unbreakable connection between the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.

Wednesday, April 18, marks Israel’s Memorial Day for the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

In the last 70 years, countless individuals have given their lives to help fulfill the Jewish dream and Biblical prophecy of building a Jewish home in Eretz Yisrael. Hundreds of children have lost their lives almost before they began.

But this Yom HaZikaron, we look at how they may have lost their physical lives, but their memories and their impact on the Land and People of Israel continues.

Veteran recounts bloody Battle of Ammunition Hill

After losing 36 of his comrades in a single battle, Yossi Sidkoni says he had difficulties revisiting the battleground for months; now, he accompanies his granddaughter in the trenches of Ammunition Hill, recounting the fight that almost cost him his life.

More than 50 years after the Six-Day War, Yossi Sidkoni arrived in Jerusalem earlier this week to recount to his granddaughter the Battle of Ammunition Hill—an assault on a fortified Jordanian military post in the then Jordanian-ruled east Jerusalem where 36 members of his company lost their lives.

"When you go to war, you become, to a certain extent, a robot," he said. "I knew that my friends were hurt, but I did not have the time to see who or how many were wounded."

Sidkoni, a paratrooper, was training just two weeks prior to parachute in El Arish in an effort to take Tel Aviv.

Yossi Sidkoni and his granddaughter on Ammunition Hill (Photo: Tal Shimoni)

"Suddenly they informed us that the mission had changed and we had to go up to Jerusalem," he recounted. "It was already dark, night. Command took out a map and told my company, 'You're going to conquer Ammunition Hill.'"

At 1:00 AM Sidkoni and his company went down to the police school area near Ammunition Hill and at approximately 2:00 AM the battle began. "Within seconds they began shooting at us. We entered an area that was later named the 'Triangle of Death,' in which the first three soldiers were killed in the battle."

Sidkoni (R) (Courtesy of Yossi Sidkoni)

During the battle, Sidkoni's commander was shot in the chest and he was forced to take his place.

"He was seriously injured. We dragged him back into a hiding spot ... and tried to help him, but as a department we were suddenly alone, as if our father had been killed, and was suddenly not there to command us.

"After a second we regained our composure and the sergeant asked me to take charge."...

Syria prepares for offensive against ISIS in Palestinian camp of Yarmouk

Yamouk refugee camp. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Syrian regime is massing troops and armored vehicles to prepare to retake from Islamic State the Yarmouk area in southern Damascus, according to local sources and media.

Yarmouk was home to large numbers of Palestinian refugees before the country’s civil war, but has been under siege by the Syrian regime for many years.

According to Al-Masdar News, the Syrian Army has been concentrating forces near Yarmouk in southern Damascus after the regime successfully defeated the rebels in eastern Ghouta.

As part of its campaign in eastern Ghouta, the regime of Bashar Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, which resulted in air strikes by the US, UK and France on Saturday. However, the strikes didn’t stop the rebels from leaving eastern Ghouta under an agreement with Damascus that saw them bused to the north of the country.

Now the regime has set its eyes on Yarmouk.

A recent uptick in violence, including exchanges of rocket fire have been reported. According to the recent reports, the Syrian Army has sent its 9th Armored Division, Tiger Forces and Palestinian units that support Assad to help retake Yarmouk.

Yarmouk was once home to 160,000 Palestinians, many of whom were the descendants of refugees. It had a lively economy and local culture before the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. After years of battles, an estimated 140,000 Palestinians were displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Around 18,000 Palestinians have remained in Yarmouk, where they have faced conditions bordering on starvation, according to reports.

In 2015, Islamic State took over 60% of Yarmouk and has held it ever since, under a state of siege by the regime. There is also a small pocket of Syrian rebel fighters next to the ISIS held area.

According to the Arabic media site, a spokesman for UNRWA had issued a statement of concern about the situation in the Yarmouk camp and that it was following the security situation closely. However, in an email to The Jerusalem Post, an UNRWA spokesman denied that a statement had been issued.

The fate of Yarmouk has made headlines several times over the years. One of the former Palestinian residents, Aeham Ahmad, recently wrote a book called The Pianist of Yarmouk. ISIS burned Ahmad’s piano in 2015 and he fled to Europe, making the perilous sea journey, eventually securing asylum in Germany.

The Action Group for Palestinians estimates that 3,685 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian conflict and 85,000 have fled the country.

According to several pro-regime Twitter accounts, the assault on Yarmouk will be led by veteran Syrian soldiers from elite units such as the 42nd Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division, that have played a part in other campaigns against rebel enclaves in recent months. They will also include a group of Palestinians from the Jerusalem Brigade (Liwa al-Quds) which includes Palestinians allied with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Alwatan, a Syrian media website, included a statement from the director of the political department of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Anwar Abdel Hadi, giving a “last warning” to extremists in Yarmouk. According to the statement, the Syrian regime would likely move against ISIS in the coming days and has sought not to harm civilians. It called on the “militants” to resolve the situation and leave.

One-fifth of all ambassadors to U.N. currently in Israel

The purpose of the trip is to give the ambassadors, who are often called upon to vote on Israel-related issues a first-hand look at the challenges the country faces.

Ambassador Danon speaking with the UN ambassadors at Masada. (photo credit: AVI DODI)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon is acting as a guide for some 20% of his fellow ambassadors to the UN, who are currently getting a closeup look at Israel and will be here for Independence Day.

“I have brought groups of ambassadors here before, but never a delegation this large,” Danon said.

The purpose of the trip is to give the ambassadors, who are often called upon to vote on Israel-related issues – and who generally don’t vote in Israel’s favor – a firsthand look at the challenges the country faces and to emphasize, in light of recent UNESCO votes that have sought to erase a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s link to the historical capital.

After visiting the City of David on Monday, Ethiopia’s Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said: “This has been a very fantastic experience. One lesson that was very clear is that there is a clear connection between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. This cannot be ignored.”

The number of participants in these trips has grown from nine ambassadors in 2016, to 14 in 2017 and to some 40 on the current trip....

The Attack on the Chemical Weapons Targets in Syria: Doing the Minimum

Besides the operational success, the attack in Syria earned the United States a clear political achievement, with the enforcement of American red lines by way of a coalition with Britain and France. However, this ad hoc coalition is focused solely on preventing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and as Trump administration spokesmen clarified, there is no change in the US policy toward Syria. As such, the United States is threatening neither the Assad regime, nor the growing Iranian presence or Russian dominance in Syria. This attack was also not enough to address definitively the violations of the rules of war and the wide-scale attacks on civilians by Assad forces, including the use of conventional weapons, such as massive bombings from the air and barrel bomb attacks from helicopters. The United States and its partners did not present a plan to guarantee that the targeted attacks against civilians – and not just chemical attacks – on the part of Assad and the coalition that supports him will not continue. However, after seven years of war, in which more than a half a million people have been killed and millions have been displaced or have become refugees, the Syrian civilian population deserves more committed international support. For its part, Israel remains alone in the campaign against the consolidation by Iran and its proxies in war-torn Syria.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons, mainly chlorine, dozens of times since the American missile strike on the al-Shuayrat airbase in Syria in April 2017. However, the chemical weapons attack on civilians in Duma (apparently chlorine mixed with nerve gas) by the regime on April 7, 2018 was the attack that drove US President Donald Trump to launch a military operation on April 14, in conjunction with Britain and France, to enforce his stated red lines. Two questions that arise in relation to the attack are: What has changed since the last attack? And what are the repercussions of the operation?

According to United States Department of Defense reports, 103 missiles were launched from aircraft and ships. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said that the attack hit three targets relating to the chemical weapons infrastructure – a scientific research center in Barzeh near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility, and a command post and bunker for chemical war materials near Homs – and clarified that Russia’s forces in Syria had been warned in time about the attack through deconfliction channels. US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis stressed that “this was a one-time shot, for now." Any further military action will depend on how President Assad behaves and whether he decides to use chemical weapons again. The attack served to demonstrate the international community’s determination to prevent the use of chemical weapons, which constitutes a violation of international law, and to send a message of deterrence to Assad: refrain from using chemical weapons against civilians from now on. This comes in the wake of last year’s American attack, which failed to convey an effective message of deterrence.

For their part, Syrian military spokesman claimed that Syrian air defense had intercepted a number of missiles that were en route to the attack targets, mainly those targeting military sites (a report denied by the US Defense Department). Furthermore, the key message from Damascus was that the potential major damage was avoided due to defense tactics by the Syrian military, and that “not one strand of hair fell from the President’s head.” Russia and Iran immediately positioned themselves alongside Assad, denounced the Western aggression, and warned about the negative consequences.

Insights from the Attack

Besides the operational success, the United States scored a clear political achievement, due to its enforcement of the red lines it had drawn and its success in forming a coalition, albeit limited, with Britain and France, which were convinced that Assad’s regime was responsible for the chemical attack. However, this ad hoc coalition is focused solely on preventing the use of chemical weapons during the war in Syria, and as Trump administration spokesmen clarified, there is no change in the US policy toward Syria. As such, the United States is threatening neither the Assad regime, nor the growing Iranian presence or Russian dominance in Syria....

US bombing Syria – mission accomplished?

...The Shite Ayatollahs have played a key role – next to Russia - in sustaining the Alawite (branch of Shite Islam) Assad regime, investing some $10BN, annually, in the form of credit lines, oil and military assistance, including the funding of some Russian military systems and the maintenance of Hezbollah terrorists.

In fact, regional chaos – Syrian style - has fueled the Ayatollas’ rise to regional prominence. Their expanding presence in Iraq and Syria has adrenalized their megalomaniacal aspirations, which aim at uprooting the US presence in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean and the entire Middle East.

Moreover, the unprecedentedly effective regional profile of the Ayatollahs brings their machete closer to the throat of every pro-US Arab regime such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait and Oman, fueling subversion and terrorism, and providing anti-US Islamic terror organizations with easier access to chemical and biological weaponry and ballistic capabilities.

Furthermore, the considerable entrenchment of the Ayatollahs in Iraq and Syria has been accompanied by the Ayatollahs’ upgraded destabilization and anti-US presence – directly and through terror elements - in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Central and Latin America and the USA.

The increasingly global village, and the unprecedented global proliferation of Islamic terrorism, have eliminated the option of isolation. The US and its allies are faced with the choice of confronting the Ayatollahs and Islamic Sunni terrorism in the trenches of the Middle East or at homeland. One may assess such a dilemma against the background of an old American football rule: The closer you get to the end zone of the other team, the closer you are to scoring a touchdown; however, the closer you get to your own end zone, the closer the other team is to scoring a touchdown.

UCI EXCLUSIVE: Israel and the US – A Dynamic Partnership – Part 2 of an Interview with Ambassador (Ret.) Yoram Ettinger

In part two of this two part series, founder and CEO of the Unity Coalition for Israel, Esther Levens, interviews Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, a leading Israeli consultant to members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset. He regularly briefs US legislators and their staff on Israel’s contribution to vital US interests, on the root causes of international terrorism and on other issues of bilateral concern.