Sunday, March 29, 2015

Analysis: Sunni-Shi’ite wars going global

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 27, 2015

Saudi Arabia garnering support from regional Sunni states to counter encroaching Iranian influence.

Sunni-Shi’ite wars going global. (photo credit:NABEEL QUAITI/REUTERS)

Feeling that its back was against the wall as Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthi forces moved to take over neighboring Yemen, Saudi Arabia has lashed out with its own Sunni coalition, threatening to take the sectarian conflict to a new level.

Reports that the Pakistanis and Egyptians are sending troops and that the Turks are also on board, have set the stage for a major expansion of the regional Sunni-Shi’ite struggle.

Iran said that it would not directly intervene in Yemen, but if it does, what would that mean for the escalation of regional tension? “The Saudi-led GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] intervention in Bahrain, the participation of UAE and Qatar warplanes in the NATO operation against [Libya’s Muammar] Gaddafi, and more recently, the Egyptian bombings against the Islamists in Libya (and an earlier air raid of UAE warplanes from Egyptian territory), all mark enhanced assertiveness by the conservative Sunni states,” Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a principal research fellow at the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University and a contributor to The Jerusalem Report, told this paper.

In addition to the Gulf states and Egypt, even Morocco and Sudan are making symbolic contributions to the effort, probably to get on the good side of the Saudis, said Maddy- Weitzman.

The Gulf states have greater capabilities than in the past and recognize that they can’t solely rely on the US for their security anymore, he asserted.

The Sunni states are worried about a US tilt toward Iran as Washington seeks to finalize a nuclear agreement, added Maddy-Weitzman.

David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post on Thursday that such an invasion puts to the test the new Saudi defense minister, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the 35-year-old son of King Salman.

“The Gulf states’ contribution to the US-led coalition against Islamic State is pitiful,” said Weinberg, adding that the idea that on top of this commitment the Gulf states are now going to reconquer Yemen, “stretches the imagination.”

Whichever way this war works out, “it won’t go smoothly,” he predicted.

The Egyptians got involved in a Yemen civil wars in the 1960s when then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser backed one side and the Saudis the other, but the fact is that “the Egyptians look at that conflict as their ‘Vietnam’ – a dramatic, drawn-out entanglement that went poorly for them.”

Regarding Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took refuge in the kingdom on Thursday, Weinberg sees this as a sign of how weak his position really was.

Asked why the Saudis are making such a tremendous military effort to counter the Shi’ite axis in Yemen, but not elsewhere, Weinberg drew attention to a comment by a Saudi security expert, who pointed out that the Arabian Peninsula is a redline for them.

For Riyadh, Iran’s encroachment on Yemen is a much more serious matter than its involvement in Syria.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Arab sector turnout for recent elections reached 63.5%, polling data shows

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 24, 2015

In 2013, the Arab parties together received 349,000 votes compared to 444,000 in this election, an increase of 27.3%.

A WOMAN walks past a campaign billboard for the Joint (Arab) List in Umm el-Fahm yesterday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli Arab voter turnout was 63.5 percent in the election compared to 56% in 2013, according to the Statnet research institute, which had predicted a 63.4% turnout prior to the election.

Yousef Makladeh, CEO of shared its research data and polling statistics prior to the election with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, which demonstrated that the polling company was surprisingly accurate in its pre-election polling.

Makledeh said that 82% of Israeli Arabs voted for Arab parties in the Joint (Arab) List compared to 77% who voted for Arab parties in 2013. The institute’s polling had predicted 81.5% four days before the election.

In 2013, the Arab parties together received 349,000 votes compared to 444,000 in this election, an increase of 27.3%.

A Statnet survey prior to the election had predicted 430,000 Arab votes and 12,000 Jewish votes for the Arab parties.

The Joint List ended up with 13 seats in the Knesset.

Apart from the Joint List, Arab voters supported in descending order: the Zionist Union with 22.8% (25,806 votes), the Likud 15.3% (17,394), Yisrael Beytenu 13.7% (15,538), Kulanu 11.8% (13,432), Meretz 11.2% (12,752), Shas 8.8% (10,016), and Yesh Atid 4.1% (4,662).

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tibi: Israeli public acted in tribal manner, so we’re left with Netanyahu

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 19, 2015

"Rise for Arab list is not dramatic success, but a good start."

Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli Arab leaders expressed their frustration over the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and were not overjoyed by the results, even though Arabs managed to increase their representation in the Knesset.

Ta’al Party Chairman Ahmad Tibi, one of the top leaders of the Joint (Arab) List, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “the results of the election are disappointing, as we thought that the Israeli public wanted change, but instead acted in a tribal way, and therefore we are left with Netanyahu.”

The public was also left with a poor political and economic reality, he said.

As for the Joint List, “it was something new to the voters,” he continued, adding that “13 seats is not a dramatic success, but the beginning of a path that could lead to future achievements.”

The media reported on Wednesday that the Joint List would receive 14 mandates, but Tibi said the number was likely to drop as soon as the soldiers’ votes were counted.

The Israel Democracy Institute stated that the number of Arab MKs was projected to increase by 29% for a total of 17, four of them coming from non-Arab parties.

Muhammad Darawshe – director of planning at the NGO Givat Haviva, which is dedicated to promoting mutual responsibility, civic equality and cooperation between divided groups in the country – told the Post on Sunday that on one hand, the election result was positive for the Arab community because of the increase in Arab voter turnout and the number of MKs.

However, on the other hand, the results demonstrated a problem in that there was a lack of Jewish partners supporting the Joint List, he said.

Another downside of the election for the Arab public, he went on, was the Right’s use of “anti-democratic and anti-Arab rhetoric that delegitimizes Arab citizenship and reduces the chance for civic equality and integration.”

To read the entire article click here.

Tibi to ‘Post’: Bibi can relax, I don’t want to be on the Defense Committee

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 17 2015

Tibi echoed the Joint List head comments to Post implying that negotiations would take place with Herzog in order to seek a deal to recommend him for PM.

Ahmed Tibi casts his vote near his home in Taybeh. (photo credit:AHMED TIBI FACEBOOK PAGE)

Ta'al Party chairman MK Ahmad Tibi, fourth on the Joint (Arab) List, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “can relax” since he does not seek to be on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but one dealing with economic affairs such as the Finance Committee in order to have in impact on the Arab sector.

Tibi was swarmed by Taibe residents after voting at a local school, giving numerous interviews to Arab media and taking pictures with supporters.

According to previous polling data by Statnet research institute, Tibi is the most popular Israeli Arab politician.

“Herzog or Bibi [Netanyahu nickname] will not choose what positions we will have in the next Knesset, it depends on the voters and the number of mandates the Joint List gets,” said Tibi.

Asked about Joint List head Ayman Odeh’s comments to the Post on Monday, where he did not rule out recommending Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to form the next government, saying such a decision would only come after serious talks.

Tibi echoed Odeh’s comments, implying that negotiations would take place with Herzog in order to seek a deal that could lead to the List recommending the Zionist Union leader.

Asked about Netanyahu’s statement at a press conference on Monday where he warned that a victory by the Zionist Union would lead to Tibi gaining a place on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he responded that “Netanyahu is trying to scare people.”

“Bibi can relax as lately he hasn’t been. I don’t want to be on the Defense Committee, but on the Finance Committee,” in order to have an impact on the Arab sector.

Netanyahu also said that the Joint List says “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.”

If a left-wing government would be established “it would depend on these votes,” warned Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu is inciting against the Joint List,” asserted Tibi.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Will Arab List support Zionist parties?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 16, 2015

All the happy campaign pictures and slogans are going to mean nothing after the election if the Joint List cannot function as a proper grouping.

Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Joint (Arab) List could soon be in a dilemma: Should it recommend Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to form the next government, if the alternative is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Would Herzog offer the Joint List enough goodies and promises so that it joins a leftwing coalition or at least cooperates with it? For the most part, the Joint List and its candidates have been clear that there is no chance they would join any government, since the conditions are not right.

Raja Zaatry, who is a spokesman for the Joint List and responsible for its media campaign, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview earlier this month: “We cannot be a part of a government that still occupies our people.”

He added, however, “We can support it from the outside,” meaning that if the Joint List can help by supporting specific initiatives or by preventing Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the March 17 election, it will do so.

However, disagreements within the Arab list are probably bound to lead to its doom.

The fiercely Arab nationalist Balad party has been a key mover in blocking any cooperative action with left-wing Zionist parties.

It was reportedly behind the move to block a vote-sharing agreement with Meretz that Joint List head Ayman Odeh of Hadash supported.

We can assume that such internal disagreements are going to come to a head after the election, and the next episode could be when the Zionist Union puts on full pressure for cooperation to prevent a Netanyahu government.

In an interview on Channel 10, Odeh was challenged if he could even be considered the leader of the Joint List since he does not seem to have the power to make decisions.

Any move to work toward cooperation with Zionist parties is bound to raise the ire of Balad and the Islamist UAL faction.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Egypt’s plan for 'joint Arab force' a non-starter, but shows cooperative intent against threats

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 2, 2015

Expert to ‘Post’: Whether it is a nuclear armed Shi’ite Iran or ISIS, Saudi Arabia may be seeking a way to rally support.

An Egyptian military helicopter, trailing a national flag, circles over Tahrir Square. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Egypt's President Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi said in interviews with Saudi-backed media prior to his visit on Sunday to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman that he supports the establishment of a “joint Arab force,” though likely for rhetorical flourish.

However, Egypt and other Sunni Arab states are under external threat and feel the need to unite in some way.

Whether it is a nuclear armed Shi’ite Iran, Islamic State terrorism, or the wish to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, Saudi Arabia may be seeking a way to rally support, Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told The Jerusalem Post.

Sunni states that oppose revolutionary Sunni movements have been intensively consulting on how to deal with the threats.
With the exception of Qatar, the Gulf states have been extremely financially supportive of Sisi’s regime, and in return the Egyptian president has been quoted as saying Gulf security is critical.

“The security of the Gulf is a red-line for us,” Sisi said in the interview with the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat published over the weekend.

The Egyptian leader sees Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan as countries that could begin work on creating such a force, he said in another interview with Al-Arabiya.

While joint military drills and limited cooperation in certain military theaters could be possible, an integrated joint force is highly unlikely. Even within the group of Sunni states that oppose revolutionary Islamic movements, disagreements and egos are likely to get in the way of any functioning combined force.

Tensions have been rising between Egypt and Gulf states according to highly informed Egyptian sources quoted in a report in Ahram Online on Saturday. Saudi financial support to Egypt declined during the last months of former king Abdullah’s rule, they said.

The report noted that the alleged leaked conversation of senior Egyptian officials taking Gulf aid for granted and the accusation of Egypt against Qatar for supporting terrorism may have increased tensions between Egypt and the Gulf.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Iran nuclear deal, ISIS threat stimulating Sunni powers to unite - even with Israel

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 27, 2015

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in past weeks, likely discussing the threat of Islamic State and the Iranian threat.

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit:REUTERS)

As the US and Shi'ite Iran inch closer to a nuclear deal that many Sunnis and Israelis don’t trust and as Islamic State’s reach spreads, Arab leaders are frantically consulting on how to deal with the threats and some may consider a covert alliance with Israel, a former Pentagon Middle East adviser told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New-York-based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser at the Pentagon, said he saw the possibility of a “temporary tactical alliance with Israel” by Sunni Arab states.

He recalled his experience in Washington during the First Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait, when all of the sudden “the heads of all of the [US] Jewish organizations became buddy buddy with the Saudis and Kuwaitis.”

“They worked together as they needed the Jews, and the Jews reacted with great enthusiasm,” he said.

However, said Rhode, the moment Kuwait was liberated in the US-led war, “the Saudis and Kuwaitis began not answering Jews’ phone calls anymore.”

What this teaches us, he continued, is that when the Sunnis have a tactical need, they will seek a temporary alliance with the Jews, “but once the problem is solved, then the old relationship of enmity resumes.”

As long as Iran remains a problem, Israel can expect warmer relations with Sunni states, he said. “Iran is attempting to take over the Sunni world and that is the bottom line,” Rhode said.

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in recent weeks, discussing the threats from Islamic State and Iran, with improving ties between Tehran and the US always in the background.

Rhode said it would be difficult for Turkey to join a Sunni alliance against Iran because of its economic dependence on the latter country. “I cannot see a united Sunni front, because some support the Muslim Brotherhood and others the Saudi approach,” he said.

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in recent weeks, discussing the threats from Islamic State and Iran, with the improving relations between Tehran and the US always in the background.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Joint Arab List pushing Hebrew campaign despite low hope for votes

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 25, 2015

In the last election, Hadash alone attracted fewer than 10,000 Jewish votes.

A WOMAN walks past campaign posters for the Arab-led Hadash party in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Joint List continues to expend great effort on its Hebrew campaign strategy, despite its calculation that most of its votes will come from the Arab sector.

Reut Mor, the Joint List and Hadash Party spokeswoman in Hebrew, told The Jerusalem Poston Monday that the mostly Arab candidates in the Joint List had decided from the beginning to reach out and speak in a new way, trying to appeal to all sectors of society.

Asked what goals the Joint List has for getting Jewish votes, Mor responded that, in the last election, she estimates that Hadash alone attracted fewer than 10,000 Jewish votes. The goal in this election is to at least retain these voters and perhaps even increase their numbers, she said.

At first, some of the traditional Jewish Hadash voters were “alarmed” by the Joint List’s component Arab parties, “but after a while I think they heard the messaging and I feel that the fear has been resolved.”

The Joint List launched its Hebrew-language campaign earlier this month at an event in Tel Aviv, where the leaders of the four parties in the bloc spoke.

The bloc is trying to market itself not as an “Arab” list, as it has been described in the media, but as the Joint List, due to Jewish representation and membership in the Hadash Party. The list says it is fighting for equality, democracy, and peace.

It hopes to become the third largest bloc in the Knesset.

The United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash and Balad struck a deal last month to run together. The decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote and pressure from the Arab public forced the parties to unite in order to overcome the election threshold.

The idea behind the campaign was to reach out to the entire Jewish community in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Arab community and its elected members, something Mor said had taken a hit due to what she described as a summer full of racist incidents targeting the Arab community.

“The Arab community wants to be a part of the Israeli community,” she said, adding that the numerous events planned in the Jewish sector are meant to expose it to the Arab voice directly, something that is not often done.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why didn’t the recent Turkish incursion into Syria draw ISIS fire?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 23, 2015

Former Pentagon official to ‘Post’: I think the big point is that it suggests Turkey has lost control of Islamic State; When you play with fire, you get burned.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip erdogan.. (photo credit:REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)

The Turkish army penetrated deep into Syria on Sunday to rescue its soldiers guarding a revered tomb surrounded by Islamic State fighters, but did not draw any fire from the jihadists.

This raises the question whether the country’s cooperation with the Syrian opposition influenced the smooth operation.

Turkey informed Islamic State and the Syrian government in advance of the operation, but did not get the latter’s agreement, McClatchy reported.

The notification to Islamic State went to fighters “in the area,” the report quoted officials as saying.

Sunni Turkey refuses to cooperate with the US-led coalition against Islamic State, as it sympathizes with the Sunni jihadists and has supported the Syrian rebels against the Syrian regime, allowing them to cross back and forth across its border.

In the regional sectarian confrontation between Sunnis and Shi’ites, Turkey has thrown its support behind revolutionary Sunni movements.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday a military incursion into Syria to relocate a tomb considered to be in sovereign Turkish territory was a temporary measure for security reasons and not a retreat.

A Turkish military operation to rescue 38 soldiers guarding a tomb in Syria surrounded by Islamic State was launched to counter a possible attack on them, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Monday.

The action, which involved tanks, drones, and reconnaissance planes as well as several hundred ground troops, was the first of its kind by Turkish troops into Syria since the start of the civil war there nearly four years ago.

“With this operation, our government has removed the risk of a possible attack on the tomb and the military post, and of endangering the lives of our soldiers,” Kalin told a news conference in Ankara.

The Syrian government described the operation as an act of “flagrant aggression,” a response dismissed by Kalin, who said the Syrian authorities had lost all legitimacy “Turkey used force unilaterally in a cautious manner.

There was a vacuum in the area of the revered tomb and they acted swiftly to remove it,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post. Inbar argues that this whole operation was just a Turkish public relations maneuver.

“The grave was not in great danger. Islamic State did not touch it and neither did the Kurds.”

Asked what was the real motivation behind the incursion, Inbar responded that it seems to be a move to impress the electorate and send a message to the region that Turkey is strong.

Turkey informed all parties at the last moment so as to emphasize that it “did not need permission from anybody to attain what is considered important to them,” he said.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post regarding the failure of Islamic State to attack Turkish forces, “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Coordination if not outright bribery has been going on for months; this is just the latest example,” adding that “the decision to evacuate the shrine now suggests dark clouds on the horizon.”

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Israel 'crucial and loyal ally in fight against Boko Haram,' says Nigerian gov't spokesperson

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 20, 2015

A Nigerian government spokesman: “Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in our fight against Boko Haram. It is a sad reality that Israel has a great deal of experience confronting terrorism.”

A girl displaced as a result of Boko Haram attack in the northeast region of Nigeria, rests her head on a desk at Maikohi secondary school camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Yola. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A Nigerian government spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in the fight against the radical Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.

“Israel has been a crucial and loyal ally in our fight against Boko Haram. It is a sad reality that Israel has a great deal of experience confronting terrorism,” Mike Omeri, the chief coordinating spokesman of the National Information Center, based in Abuja said. “Our Israeli partners have used that experience, and the unique expertise gained over years of fighting terror within its own borders, to assist us.”

Omeri said they have been incredibly supportive with the training and the tools required to defeat Boko Haram.

Asked what role the US government has in the fight against the terrorist group, he responded that “the American and Nigerian militaries have a long history of close cooperation, strategic alliance, and shared values.”

Nigerian warplanes bombed training camps and equipment belonging to Boko Haram in the northeast’s Sambisa forest on Thursday, the military said, adding momentum to an assault meant to crush the rebels also involving neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

After a year in which Boko Haram seemed to be gaining ground, seizing swathes of territory, killing thousands of people and kidnapping hundreds of mostly women and children, the tide may now be turning against them, as neighboring countries plagued by cross-border attacks have weighed in.

Nigerian forces backed by air power killed more than 300 Boko Haram fighters since the start of the week, the military said on Wednesday, though it was not possible to corroborate this and the military has been accused of exaggerating enemy casualties and understating its own and those of civilians.

Omeri said Nigeria is simultaneously recapturing numerous territories, defending against new attacks on key areas, and destroying Boko Haram bases.

Yunana Shibkau, a Christian activist for the Northern Coalition for Democracy and Justice, who is from northern Nigeria, said the situation is extremely dangerous for Christians in the north.

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Zionist Union campaign event in Nazareth canceled after Arab pressure on municipality

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
February 18, 2015

Israeli Arab media says cancellation due to pressure from the join Arab list on the municipality due to fear of losing Arab votes.

Le parti travailliste célèbre les résultats des primaires du parti. De gauche à droite : Shelly Yachimovich, Stav Shaffir, Itzhak Herzog, Tzipi Livni et Hilik Bar. (photo credit:YONATAN ZINDEL/POOL)

The Zionist Union has canceled a planned campaign event in Nazareth, likely due to pressure from the joint Arab list and its supporters, Israeli Arab media reported on Wednesday.

Israeli Arab news website Kul al-Arab reported that the visit – which party leader Isaac Herzog was to head – had been dropped because the mayor and the municipality had come under pressure from the Joint List, which feared that the Zionist Union would take away Arab votes.

Kul al-Arab owner and general manager Fayez Eshtiwy told The Jerusalem Post that he had heard that Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam had canceled because he was sick with a cold. However, “the question is if that is the truth,” Eshitwy said.

Ghada Zoabi, founder and CEO of the Israeli-Arab news portal, told the Post that to her knowledge, the meeting had indeed been canceled due to pressure on the mayor from the Joint List.

Asked if Arabs were likely to vote for Zionist parties, she responded that some Arabs wanted to strengthen the left-wing Zionist parties, particularly Meretz, in order to prevent a right-wing government.

The United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash and Balad struck a deal last month to run together, following a decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent, and in response to pressure from the Arab public.

Asked if he believed the Joint List would succeed in increasing Arab turnout, Eshtiwy responded in the affirmative, but added that “the campaign hasn’t begun yet and I am not sure why.”

He speculated that the delay could be due to organizational issues in coordinating such a diverse group of parties, or to the hearings on whether to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi from the election, which have taken up the bloc’s attention.

The Kul al-Arab owner predicted that the Joint List campaign would begin in a matter of days, with advertisements in the Arab media.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Syrian rebels call on Israel to bomb Hezbollah-Iran-Syria positions

by Ariel Ben Solomon and Reuters
Jerusalem Post
February 12, 2015

Israeli Druse in touch with Rebels tells ‘Post’: The Syrian opposition asked for me to relay a message to the Israeli Prime Minister that Israel should give Hezbollah and Iran another hard hit.

A pair of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Syrian rebels, whose forces are fighting against a new offensive in the South by the axis of the Syrian Army, Hezbollah, and Iran, is calling on Israel to attack their positions.

An Israeli Druse who is in frequent contact with the Syrian opposition said that the warning came to alert the IDF, before the axis is able to take the Syrian Golan that borders Israel.

A Syrian rebel commander in the South vowed to wage guerrilla war against the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Syrian government forces, which have launched a major offensive against insurgents in the sensitive border region near Israel and Jordan.

The offensive that got under way this week is focused in an area south of Damascus that is the last notable foothold of the mainstream armed opposition to President Bashar Assad, who has consolidated control over much of western Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war, says the push is being spearheaded by Hezbollah, and that government forces and allied militia have made significant progress.

Mendi Safadi, who served as former Likud deputy minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff, has independently met with members of the liberal and democratic Syrian opposition who oppose the Islamists and want friendly relations with Israel.

Safadi met a week and a half ago with Syrian rebel leaders in Bulgaria and has traveled in the region, met with activists, and relayed messages from them to the Prime Minister’s Office.

He was responsible for relaying the congratulatory letters from the Syrian opposition to then President-elect Reuven Rivlin.

Over the past few days there has been a heavy battle going on between the forces aided by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah against the Syrian opposition, Safadi told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday.

The Syrian axis is “using all means” to achieve their objective of taking the area in southern Syria that borders Israel, he said.

The rebels have succeeded in some areas, “but have been hit hard.”

The rebels have suffered many wounded over the past few days, which means that more are crossing into Israel for medical treatment.

Around 2,000 Syrians have been treated in Israel, according to Safadi.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen.

Muhammad Allahdadi was killed with a Hezbollah commander and the son of the group’s late military leader, Imad Mughniyeh, in an alleged Israeli attack last month on a Hezbollah convoy near the Israeli Golan Heights.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, said six of its members died in the strike.

After receiving this hard hit, “Hezbollah and Iran want to show that they can withstand it and still have motivation to fight,” argued Safadi.

“The Syrian opposition contacted me yesterday [Wednesday] in a Whatsapp message and asked for me to relay a message to the [Israeli] prime minister that Israel should give Hezbollah and Iran another hard hit to stop their progress,” reported Safadi.

The Free Syrian Army commander of a large unit in southern Syria, who did not want to be identified, claimed to Safadi that the Syrian allied forces intend to reach the Israeli border and use it to carry out terrorist attacks against the Jewish state.

“The commander relayed to me coordinates where Syrian and Hezbollah forces are located,” said Safadi, adding that he cannot reveal this information.

The Syrian government is getting a tremendous amount of support from Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, and the rebels in the South are “simple people without a proper army or weapons.”

The Syrian Army said on Wednesday that territory including four hills and three towns had been secured from insurgents it identified as members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Mendi Safadi meeting with Syrian opposition leader Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani