Never a dull moment in the Middle East

This post is going to be a link dump of sorts because there has been a lot happening in our corner of the world (as if there is ever a quiet time…) while my own family life has become rather busy.

We start with the shooting down of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces a few days ago. This has triggered a major diplomatic crisis. The Syrians justified themselves by claiming: “We thought it was an Israeli jet“. Hmm. So that’s all right then.

Flight path of Turkish jet

Flight path of Turkish jet

The Turks though are not falling for this ruse, and have now dramatically upped the ante by moving missile batteries, tanks and troops to the Syrian border.

The moves follow the downing of a Turkish Phantom F-4 jet by Syrian fire over the eastern Mediterranean on Friday in what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was a “heinous attack” in international waters.

Erdogan vowed on Tuesday that any hostile Syrian movement towards the border would be “treated as a military target,” hinting at a harsher retaliation for any future border violations.

Turkey has described Syria as “a clear and imminent threat” but Erdogan said Wednesday that Ankara had no intention of attacking its neighbour.

Turkey has even gone so far as to ask NATO to impose a no-fly zone to protect Turkish territory.

Turkey is not the only country affected by the violence in Syria. It is also threatening to spill over into Israel, which is bracing itself for a possible upsurge in terrorism and is preparing its defenses accordingly.

Briefing reporters during a tour of the northern border, Hyman said that while the Syrian front has been relatively quiet for years, the increasing violence between government and opposition forces in Syria increases the potential of terrorist attacks on Israel. As a result, the IDF is investing funds to bolster its infrastructure along the border, as well as to improve early warning system, he said.

Hyman also said the Golan Heights — a strategic ridge captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 — is one of the places where a security situation can deteriorate rapidly because “the topography allows very easy access to the Israeli side of the border.”

Still on the subject of Syria, perhaps something positive came out of Russian President Putin’s visit to Israel this week, since it has been announced that Putin has agreed to cancel Russia’s missile sales to Syria.

Russian missiles intended for sale to Syria

Russian missiles intended for sale to Syria

According to the senior official, Putin accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to halt Russian military industry sales of advanced weapons to Syria. In a meeting between the two leaders in Moscow in 2010, Putin agreed to cancel the sale of the S-300 system to Iran.

The official confirmed a report by Israel Hayom on Wednesday stating that according to Russian news agency Interfax, Russia was delaying a deal to sell Syria advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems for the sum of $105 million. According to Russian military experts cited in the report, Russia also cancelled a deal to sell eight MiG-31 planes and surface-to-sea missiles to Syria, which Israel was said to have objected to.

Still in Syria, but not connected to the civil war, another Hamas leader has been assassinated in Damascus.

A senior Hamas operative has been assassinated in his Damascus apartment, the Islamist terror group announced Wednesday evening.

Hamas said it was launching an investigation to discover who is behind the “despicable crime.”

There was no word about the manner in which Kamal Ranaja, known as Nizzar Abu-Mujhad, met his death.

Shortly after his death was announced, the new pan-Arabic television station Al-Mayadeen reported that he used to serve as aide to Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas member who took part in several terror attacks and was also involved in kidnapping and killing IDF soldiers. Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai in 2010. The deed was laid at the door of Mossad, which never confirmed or denied the accusation.

Mabhouh was responsible for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip from Iran.

Of course it didn’t take long for Hamas to announce that the culprit was the usual suspect – the Mossad.

No one has claimed responsibility thus far for killing Ghanaja, but according to AFP a senior official said Hamas believed the Mossad was behind the attack, and that the assailants also took documents from his apartment.

“A group of people entered his home in Qudsaya … where he was liquidated,” the official said. “According to our information, Mossad was behind the assassination.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak simply said that there are many people who would wish Kamal Ranaja dead.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that a Hamas operative killed in Syria had been pursued by many people, deflecting responsibility after the Islamist group pinned the assassination on Israel.

Barak spoke to Army Radio Thursday morning, the first Israeli official to have spoken on the matter since Kamal Hussein Ranaja was found dead in Damascus late Wednesday.

Ranaja “was no saint,” Barak said, adding that there were probably many people who would be interested in his death.

Barak did not say whether Israel was involved in the incident, despite Hamas having blamed the Mossad for the act. Ranaja was found shot, with indications that he had also been tortured.

All these spy vs. spy shenanigans would make very enjoyable fiction if it weren’t all so serious and deadly.

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