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In an unprecedented step, IDF Gen. Yoav Mordechai has gone on TV to warn Gaza's leaders that Israel knows they are planning a retaliatory strike against Israel and that the IDF will hit back hard. Speaking in Arabic, Gen. Mordechai said that Islamic Jihad and Hamas 'were playing with fire'. Two weeks ago, Israeli jets blew up a terror tunnel inside Israeli territory for infiltrating terrorists to kill and kidnap capture Israeli civilians near the kibbutz of Kissufim. Fourteen terrorists were killed, including several top leaders of Islamic Jihad. Five of them are still believed to be buried under the rubble because Israel refuses to permit Islamic Jihad them to dig out their bodies unless the Palestinians also agree to return the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed and kidnapped during an actual cease-fire over three years ago. The Palestinians refuse.

Gen. Mordechai also warned the IDF would respond with 'force and determination' and would not restrict this to Islamic Jihad but it would also be at the expense of Gaza's residents. In another unprecedented move, the senior officer also warned terrorist leaders by name, perhaps implying that Israel knew they were involved and might personally target them:

    'We advise the Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus to act with caution. Ramadan Saleh and Zaid Nehala, you must take things into your own hands and take control of the situation because you will bear responsibility!'

Meanwhile, on the northern front, Syria sent an unmanned spy plane close to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. In response, the IDF launched a Patriot missile that shot it down. There is little doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad, who was nearly toppled in the ongoing civil war, would not have deliberately provoked Israel unless ordered by Iran. Moreover, according to BBC photos, the Iranians have been building a major military base in Syria some 50 kilometers from Israel, yet another provocative step toward the Jewish state. Obviously, this is a sign of things to come regarding Iran's intention in Syria. In effect, Tehran is now cashing in its dividends for its massive military support and that of its proxy Lebanese Hezbollah, which were vital in keeping the Assad regime in power.

In the recent cease-fire plan for Syria, both Trump and Putin ignored Israel's concern about the Iranian military presence in Syria and the possible movement of Iranian forces closer to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. It appears this concern is now being vindicated. The question is how fast the Iranians will move and what Israel's reaction will be. The IDF's standing orders are to interdict any sophisticated Iranian weaponry being shipped through Syria to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Will Israel also implement this policy if such weapons, particularly Russian supplied anti-aircraft missiles are deployed close to the Israeli border? It stands to reason Israel will not. In any case, at their recent meeting, Putin and Trump seemed unconcerned – they simply went through the motions by issuing a joint statement:

    'There is no military solution in Syria'.

Over the border in Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah also got into the act. He spoke in a TV address from inside his bunker where he has been hiding since he sparked the Second Lebanon War with Israel in 2006 by ordering a cross-border raid. It killed IDF soldiers and kidnapped two others, who also died. Nasrallah had a new take on the current conundrum in Beirut after Lebanese Prime Saad Hariri fled to Saudi Arabia where he publicly accused Iran of attempting to take over Lebanon via its surrogate Hezbollah. The Hezbollah leader accused Saudi Arabia of offering Israel 'tens of millions of dollars to attack Lebanon". This cock-eyed idea deserves a prominent place in the fictional 'One Thousand Arabian Nights'.

On a more serious level, there is no love lost on a personal level between Hariri, who is a Sunni Muslim, and Nasrallah, a bitter Shiite Muslim rival. Nasrallah is suspected of sending four assassins to kill Saad's father Rafik Hariri while he served as Lebanon's Prime Minister in 2005. There is no question that the Lebanese issue is now fueling the fire of the Islamic feud between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

If you find it hard to comprehend what is going on in Lebanon, don't worry about your IQ, veteran Middle East observers are at a loss to explain it. What is necessary is to take a look at the former French protectorate that is divided into different ethnic communities and which have fought bloody civil wars among each other. There are several main groupings that run the country on a shared power basis, with the key permanent seats of power residing permanently between the President, who is always a Christian, and the Prime Minister, who is a Sunni Muslim. However, the rise of the all-powerful Shiite Hezbollah Lebanese guerrilla movement has upset the Lebanese apple-cart. It is widely accepted that Hezbollah, armed with over 120,000 rockets and missiles supplied by Iran, is the most powerful force in the country. Moreover, the Christian President Michel Aoun has closed ranks with Hezbollah and has even stated that Hezbollah is a legitimate branch of the Lebanese forces. This means that Lebanon, which has kept out of Arab and specifically Palestinian wars against Israel, now takes responsibility for Hezbollah's aggression against the Jewish state. (For example in the Second Lebanon War of 2006, the IDF steered clear of attacking the regular Lebanese Army).

Summing up: Some two weeks ago, Israeli aircraft destroyed the Islamic Jihad terror tunnel dug from Gaza into the Jewish state. Islamic Jihad and Hamas have threatened to retaliate, but so far have not. The IDF says it knows they are planning to do so and warns they and Gaza will pay dearly if they do.

Iran is continuing to probe Israel from Syria, where a new reality is evolving as the civil war draws to a close. Israel, despite the Russian presence, will react to any emerging threats. Prime Minister Netanyahu has just told the Cabinet:

   'Israel will respond in force to aggression from any quarter!'

'Blue Flag' is a red flag to Israel's enemies…

While all this was going on, the Israeli Air Force organized a huge international air exercise with pilots and jets from eight other countries. 'Top guns' flew in from the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, India, Greece, and of course Israel.

It can be assumed that each foreign Air Force sent their best airmen to participate in such a prestigious event. Some 1,000 personnel are taking part and over 60 aircraft were flying over Israeli skies during the maneuvers that include dog-fights and various attack tactics in the face of advanced ground-to-air missile defenses. Although the pilots and their support teams will be competing against one another, there is a gentleman's agreement that the results will not be made public. It is fair to say that if eight foreign countries have seen fit to come, it is a reflection of the esteem the Israeli Air Force enjoys with its counterparts worldwide. The exercise is code-named 'Blue Flag' and it can be assumed it will serve as a reminder of Israel's steadily growing air power and as such, a red flag to those who plan to wipe the Jewish state off the map.


David Essing

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