AFP — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday the Israeli strikes on several targets in Syria earlier that day targeted weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and that the Jewish State would do the same again if necessary.

The Israeli airstrike prompted retaliatory missile launches, in the most serious incident between Syria and the Jewish state since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Syria’s military said it had downed an Israeli plane and hit another as they were carrying out pre-dawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra that it recaptured from jihadists this month.

The Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit. The Syrian government has made similar unfounded claims in the past.

“The safety of Israeli civilians or the Israeli air force aircraft was at no point compromised,” Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner told AFP.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-syria-raids-targeted-advanced-hezbollah-arms/

Russia summons Israeli envoy following IDF strikes in Syria

(JTA) — Russia summoned its ambassador to Israel for clarifications following Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

Russia, which backs Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, summoned its envoy, Gary Koren, on Friday less than 24 hours after the Israeli military action on Thursday night, according to The Times of Israel.

In a rare statement, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed to having carried out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepted missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, according to a statement by the IDF spokesman.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

Israeli “aircrafts targeted several targets in Syria. Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF Aerial Defense Systems intercepted one of the missiles. At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” the IDF spokesman wrote.

The missiles were launched at the airplanes minutes after they had left Syrian airspace, according to nrg. Debris from the missiles, which were intercepted by the Arrow defense system over Jordan, landed on residential homes in the west of that country near Inba and Irbid.

http://www.jta.org/2017/03/17/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/russia-summons-israeli-envoy-following-idf-strikes-in-syria

Russia announces deepest defence budget cuts since 1990s

Figures released by the Russian Federal Treasury have confirmed that Russia’s defence budget has been cut by 25.5% for 2017, falling from RUB3.8 trillion (USD65.4 billion) to RUB2.8 trillion.

The reduction represents the largest cut to military expenditure in the country since the early 1990s.

The reduction follows an extended period of large increases to Russian defence spending with growth having achieved an average rate of 19.8% a year since 2011 in nominal terms. Despite the cut, the 2017 budget will remain about 14.4% higher than the level of defence spending seen in 2014 in nominal terms.

The Russian government initially outlined plans to reduce defence expenditure in the draft of the three year budget for 2017 to 2019 released in October 2016.

http://www.janes.com/article/68766/russia-announces-deepest-defence-budget-cuts-since-1990s

 

Analysis What Role Did Russia Play in the Israel-Syria Missile Clash?
Syria’s missile fire at Israeli warplanes may indicate that Assad and his Russian protectors are not fully coordinated.

Anshel Pfeffer Mar 18, 2017 1:00 AM

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russia on March 9, 2017. Pavel Golovkin, AP

After Israeli attack in Syria: Russia summons Israel’s envoy for clarifications
Israeli Air Force strikes targets in Syria; Assad forces threaten ‘direct’ retaliation
Analysis Putin is the Middle East’s new boss

Analysis Israel-Syria clash: With missile fire, Assad is trying to change the rules of the game

Over the six years of the Syrian war, dozens of airstrikes carried out against Hezbollah targets there have been ascribed to Israel. Until now the government has refused to acknowledge or deny them. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have stated publicly that Israel does attack in Syria to defend its strategic interests – in other words, preventing Hezbollah obtaining “balance-breaking” weapons for its arsenal in Lebanon. The attacks that took place early Friday were the first to be confirmed officially by the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson. While it remains unclear what the target or targets were – was it a Hezbollah convoy, a weapons factory or storage, and whether a senior Hezbollah commander was killed in the airstrike as some reports in the Arab media have claimed – a series of important questions arise from the little information that has been published.

With missile fire, Assad is trying to change the rules of the game | Analysis

First, why has Israel changed its policy and suddenly acknowledged an attack? Syria’s air-defense forces launched a long-range missile in an attempt to shoot down Israel’s fighter-jets. The missile was fired much too late to endanger the planes, but could have fallen on civilian areas within Israel and was therefore intercepted by an Arrow 2 missile. The loud explosion which was heard as far as Jerusalem and the missile parts that fell in Jordan meant that some explanation had to be given. But a statement on the missile intercept would have been sufficient. The decision to take responsibility for the attacks as well would have been made by the prime minister and may have been made for other reasons.

http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.777965

How Russia Is Turning Syria into a Major Naval Base for Nuclear Warships (and Israel Is Worried)

During the 1970s, the Syrian naval base of Tartus became a major port servicing warships of the Soviet Union’s Fifth Mediterranean squadron.

The Soviet Union is gone, and so is Syria as a unified nation. But Russia is back, and it’s building up Tartus again as a naval base that can handle Russia’s largest nuclear-powered ships.

Already, Israel says the Tartus base is affecting its naval operations. U.S. and NATO operations could be next.

Under the forty-nine-year agreement inked late last year by Russia and Syria, “the maximum number of the Russian warships allowed at the Russian naval facility at one time is 11, including nuclear-powered warships, providing that nuclear and ecological security rules are observed,” according to Russia’s RT news site. Russia will also be allowed to expand port facilities to accommodate the vessels.

The specification allowing nuclear-powered warships means that Russia wants to be able to base in Syria large surface ships, namely Kirov-class nuclear-powered battle cruisers, as well as nuclear submarines.

In addition, the treaty allows “Russia is allowed to bring in and out any kind of ‘weaponry, ammunition, devices and materials’ to provide security for the facility staff, crew, and their families throughout the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic ‘without any duties or levies,’” according to RT.

Expansion of the port will take about five years, according to an anonymous source cited in Russia’s Sputnik News. “The source added that the works would focus on dredging operations to allow cruisers and even possibly aircraft carriers to use the facility’s infrastructure,” Sputnik News reported. “According to the source, Russia also needs to develop the facility’s ground infrastructure, through construction of canalization, electricity generation facilities and barracks for the servicemen.”Sputnik News also listed other provisions of the agreement. These include:

• Russia will be responsible for sea and air security of the base, while Syria handles the land defenses.

• Russia can deploy “temporary mobile outposts” beyond the base, as long as they coordinate them with the Syrians.

• Russia can renovate the base at will, including underwater construction, and build offshore platforms.

• Upon Syrian request, Russia will send specialists to service Syrian warships, conduct search and rescue in Syrian waters, and organize the defense of Tartus.

• Syria agrees not to “make any objections related to the military activities of the base, which will also be beyond Damascus’ jurisdiction.”

• “Syria also pledges to solve any conflicts that may arise if a third party objects to the activities of the base.”

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/how-russia-turning-syria-major-naval-base-nuclear-warships-19813

Iran Challenges Need to Ship Out Excess Material Under Nuclear Deal

By Francois Murphy and Shadia Nasralla

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has challenged the need for it to ship sensitive material abroad if its stock exceeds a limit set by its nuclear deal with major powers.

The challenge raises the prospect of a confrontation with the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump because diplomats say Iran is only months away from reaching that cap.

The 2015 deal restricts Iran’s atomic activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Tehran. One restriction is on its stock of heavy water, a moderator used in a type of reactor that can produce plutonium, like an unfinished one at Arak that had its core removed under the accord.

Iran has already exceeded the 130-tonne limit on its heavy water stock twice. The latest standoff with Washington over the issue was only defused in December when Iran shipped the excess amount to Oman, where the heavy water is being stored until a buyer can be found.

In a letter to the U.N. nuclear watchdog circulated to member states on Thursday and posted on the agency’s website, however, Iran argued that the deal does not require it to ship excess heavy water out of the country.

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-03-17/iran-challenges-need-to-ship-out-excess-material-under-nuclear-deal

French Oil Giant Seeks 50% Stake In Iran’s $4B South Pars

Total signed a preliminary deal for the project last year, and today stated its intentions in a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The move makes Total the first Western supermajor to sign a deal with Iran on energy following the easing of sanctions.

According to Total’s SEC filing, the company would finance 50.1 percent of the South Pars 11 project, which requires a total investment of US$4 billion.

If this deal goes through, Total would be the operator of the project, while China’s CNPC would hold a 30-percent interest through a subsidiary, while Iran’s Petropars would hold 19.9 percent.

A final investment decision is expected from Total this summer, while Iran is expected to finalize contracts in April, according to Reuters.

It gets tricky, though, with the possibility that the new regime at the White House may not renew sanctions waivers.

The Persian Gulf South Pars field will begin production by the end of the fiscal year, according to Iranian officials. The first stage of production will see output of 35,000 barrels per day, while the second stage will increase to 100,000 bpd.

http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/French-Oil-Giant-Seeks-50-Stake-In-Irans-4B-South-Pars.html

US places Bahrainis backed by Iran on terrorist list, imposes sanctions

The US government has imposed sanctions on two men from Bahrain and has placed them on a terrorist list on Friday.

The US government has imposed sanctions on two men from Bahrain and has placed them on a terrorist list on Friday.

The two, Ahmad Hassan Yousuf and Mortada Majid Ramadan Alawi, have been placed by the US Treasury Department on the list of economic sanctions and banned financial dealings with them.

The US state department said in a statement that the two have been placed on the terrorist list in accordance with a previous executive order for those who pose threats to US interests.

The US foreign ministry explained that the decision to place the two on the list came “after the escalation of rebel attacks in Bahrain, where Iran has provided arms, funding and training the rebels.”

It added that this was “a further step in the ongoing effort to forcefully confront Iran’s activities that seek to destabilize the region and promote activities relating to terrorism.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/03/18/US-places-Bahrainis-backed-by-Iran-on-terrorist-list-imposes-sanctions.html

Turkish opposition TV starts broadcasts from Germany

A Turkish opposition television channel has started broadcasting from Germany. The channel hopes to highlight anti-democratic practices in Turkey.

Türkei Istanbul Demonstranten protestieren gegen Verhaftung von Reportern ohne Grenzen (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna)Protesters in Turkey have called for the release of jailed journalists

 

A group of Turkish opposition journalists has started television broadcasts from the German city of Cologne in an effort to provide independent and objective news in Turkey.

Arti TV, Turkish for Plus TV, went live on Friday evening with the slogan “for a free and independent media and a democratic Turkey.”

The channel brings together several prominent opposition journalists, academics and politicians.

Among those at the station are journalists who lost their jobs and fled to Germany amid a crackdown on media under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

More than 100 journalists in Turkey are in prison, around 150 media outlets have been shut and nearly 3,000 journalists have lost their jobs in a sweeping crackdown on freedom of speech in the wake of last July’s failed coup attempt. Germany’s attention has recently focused on German journalist Denis Yucel, who is among the reporters imprisoned in Turkey.

The immediate goal of the opposition broadcaster is to prevent a referendum from passing next month. Voters will decide on a set of constitutional changes designed to dramatically expand Erdogan’s powers.

Arti TV is available online and via satellite.

http://www.dw.com/en/turkish-opposition-tv-starts-broadcasts-from-germany/a-38004868

Montenegro accession to NATO: It is McConnell’s move

Former minister of foreign affairs and the first Montenegrin ambassador to the USA Miodrag Vlahovic told Pobjeda it was now up to the leader of the Senate majority, Senator Mitch McConnell, to include the discussion on Montenegrin protocol on the Senate’s agenda, as soon as next week.

Pobjeda’s Washington-based source agrees with him and says that McConnell is the only one who has the right to put the accession protocol on the agenda of the Senate without prior consent from other senators.

Thus, the majority leader in the Senate can do it directly and the adoption would then take the votes of a two-third Senate majority.

On Wednesday, the Republican senator John McCain called on colleagues in the Senate to consider and unanimously vote on the protocol, but the senator Rand Paul objected that and left the meeting without explanation.

The surprise move has caused sharp criticism of Senator McCain and his colleagues Democrats Ben Cardin and Jeanne Shaheen. McCain has even said that the senator Paul “is now working for Vladimir Putin”.

Absolute US support

Vlahovic believes that “the statements of senators McCain, Cardin and Shaheen confirmed that there was almost absolute support for Montenegrin accession, and that there is a deep and detailed understanding of the Montenegro’s position and the importance of the enlargement, development and strengthening of NATO had for the United States in the context of relations in Europe and, in particular, to Russia”.

Montenegro accession to NATO: It is McConnell’s move

Trump says Germany owes ‘vast sums’ to NATO

President Donald Trump says Germany owes “vast sums of money” to NATO and the U.S. “must be paid more” for providing defense.

In a tweet from his Florida resort, where he is spending the weekend, Trump wrote that he had a “GREAT” meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite reports to the contrary.

But he reiterated his stance that Germany needs to meet its end of the bargain if it is to continue benefiting from the military alliance.

Trump wrote, “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

He added, “Nevertheless, Germany owes … vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/18/trump-says-germany-owes-vast-sums-to-nato.html

 

Russian company that paid Flynn deemed ‘unsuitable’ by Pentagon