Late last month in "ISIS Oil Trade Full Frontal: ‘Raqqa's Rockefellers’, Bilal Erdogan, KRG Crude, And The Israel Connection”, we highlighted a report from Al-Araby al-Jadeed which implicates Israel in Islamic State’s lucrate illegal oil trade.
You’re encouraged to read the entire article, but summing up, the contention is that ISIS crude is transported through Turkey to the port of Ceyhan and from there, it makes its way to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Al-Araby al-Jadeed goes on to quote “a European official at an international oil company,” as saying that "Israel has in one way or another become the main marketer of IS oil. Without them, most IS-produced oil would have remained going between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even the three companies would not receive the oil if they did not have a buyer in Israel.”
But the connection between Israel and ISIS doesn’t end there. Earlier this year, Islamic State released a video threatening to bring down Hamas in Gaza. As Reuters noted at the time, “Islamic State insurgents threatened to turn the Gaza Strip into another of their Middle East fiefdoms, accusing Hamas, the organisation that rules the Palestinian territory, of being insufficiently stringent about religious enforcement.” Here’s the clip:
“Tensions between Hamas and radical Salafist groups have bubbled up from time to time, but many consider 2009's deadly clash at a Rafah mosque as a turning point,” NBC added. “After an al Qaeda-inspired group challenged Hamas' authority, Hamas security forces mounted a deadly raid which killed more than a dozen people to effectively crushed that perceived uprising.”
Were ISIS to make good on its threats, it would mean they have an enemy in common with the Israelis. More recently, Israel has sought to connect Hamas with Islamic State. On Thursday for instance, Israeli media reported that “the commander of Islamic State forces in the Sinai is currently on what was intended to be a secret visit to the Gaza Strip, meeting with Hamas terror leaders to widen their cooperation and coordinate attacks on Egyptian and Israeli targets.”
In short, there’s no telling what’s actually going on there although now that Israel has been implicated in the ISIS oil trade, we suspect we’ll find out more soon enough.
But we do know that Jerusalem has a vested interest in the outcome of the conflict in Syria. Were Bashar al-Assad to fall to a Western puppet government, it would cut off Iran’s supply line to Hezbollah on the way to rolling back Tehran’s regional influence. In that regard, one might assume that Israel has even more to gain from Assad’s ouster than the Saudis, Turkey, or the US. Here’s the official line (via Reuters):
Seeing enemies on all sides of the insurgency that erupted in the neighboring Arab state in 2011, Israel has been formally neutral but initially called for Assad to be toppled, arguing this would deny its arch-foe Iran a key ally in the Levant.
That view hewed to the strategy of the United States and its Arab partners, which back some Syrian rebels and say Assad has lost legitimacy to lead. But with Assad holding on and now helped by a Russian military intervention, Israel has gone mum.
"What is our policy in Syria? We say: We do not intervene. We have an opinion as to what we would like to be there. But we are not in a position nor do we have the status, for sensitive reasons, to say we are in favor of Assad or against Assad," defense minister Moshe Ya'alon said in a speech to a farm collective near Jerusalem last month.
“We deal with our own interests," he said, reiterating "red lines" that Israel says will trigger military action by it if crossed - attacks from Syria or attempted transfers to Lebanon's Hezbollah or other militias of advanced weapons systems or chemical warfare agents.
Yaalon said Israel had armed no side in the civil war.
Somehow we’re suspicious of that claim, but we’ll leave that aside for now.
When it comes to battling Hezbollah, there’s no question that the Russian and Iranian presence is hindersome. Israel can’t, after all, simply fly over Latakia and bomb Iran’s militias as Hezbollah is effectively operating as Moscow’s ground force. Additionally, the Russians are now hyper-sensitive about potentially hostile aircraft which is why The Kremlin sent the Moskva to the coast and deployed the S-400s.
Now, we learn that Israel has been training against an S-300 in Greece in what certainly looks like an effort to determine whether the IAF could hit Hezbollah in Syria without getting shot down by the Russians. Here’s more from Reuters:
Israel has quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defence system that Russia has deployed in the Middle East and that could limit Israel's ability to strike in Syria or Iran, military and diplomatic sources said.
The sources said a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, sold to Cyprus 18 years ago but now located on the Greek island of Crete, had been activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May this year.
The activation allowed Israel's warplanes to test how the S-300's lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.
One defense source in the region said Greece had done so at the request of the United States, Israel’s chief ally, on at least one occasion in the past year. It was unclear whether Israel had shared its findings with its allies.
The S-300, first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979, can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 300 km (186 miles) away. Israel is concerned by Russia's plan to supply S-300s to Iran.
Israel says Egypt, with which it has a cold peace, has bought a variant of the system. The Israelis also worry about Moscow's announcement last month that it will deploy the S-300 or the kindred system S-400 from its own arsenal in Syria, in response to Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet there.
Israel has bombed Syrian targets on occasion and is loath to run up against the Russians. Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu has met President Vladimir Putin at least twice in recent weeks to discuss coordination and try to avoid accidents.
Yes, "avoid accidents," but as we put it back in September, "Netanyahu's position is complicated by the fact that the Prime Minister is now at odds with the US over Washington's handling of the Iran Nuclear Deal. At the end of the day, one is certainly left to believe that Israel's "worries about accidentally coming to blows with Russian reinforcements in Syria" will quickly evaporate should Netanyahu get confirmation that the Quds are indeed on the ground as some reports have recently suggested. If it becomes clear that weapons are being funneled to Hezbollah, well, then all bets will officially be off."
Well guess what?
Since we penned that warning, thousands of Iranian troops have deployed to Syria and Hezbollah has become Russia's go-to ground army which of course means Hassan Nasrallah's forces are likely better equipped than ever. The question then, is this: if pro-Assad forces continue to rollback the rebels, will Israel sit idly by and watch as Iran scores an epic victory on its borders, or will Netanyahu test out the IAF's S-300 training?