Author: Incident Response Team

Israel Raids Iranian Position near Syrian-Iraqi border

Yesterday night, an air attack destroyed an Iranian logistics node near Abu Kamal (Syria). The likely culprit behind the attack is the Israeli Air Force (IAF), since Jerusalem has recently…

Yesterday night, an air attack destroyed an Iranian logistics node near Abu Kamal (Syria). The likely culprit behind the attack is the Israeli Air Force (IAF), since Jerusalem has recently expanded air operations to Syria’s border region and even Iraq. The strike was allegedly conducted by F-35Is “Adir” (Israeli-modified F-35As). The Iranian logistical support operations hub in Abu Kamal had been established earlier this year. 

The Israeli geospatial company ImageSatIntel (iSi) recently released a battle damage assessment of an earlier IAF raid on the same facility, which took place on September 8, 2019. The analysis accounted for a total of eight storehouses that were completely destroyed. The structures were part of a wider military base, codenamed “Imam Ali” compound, which has been built and financed by the Iranain Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force for the purpose of weapons storage. The logistics node likely hosted missiles, small weapons, rocket launchers, and ammunition smuggled to Syria from Iran and Iraq. 

Abu Kamal is located on a strategic border crossing between Syria and Iraq. Iranian-backed forces seized the area from ISIS in mid 2017. For Iran, control over the Abu Kamal area is key to solidify the “Shia Crescent” line of communication that links the Iranian homeland to Syria and Lebanon via Iraq. This “land bridge” diversifies Iran’s logistics routes, as the IAF continues to prosecute Iranian air transports to Syrian airfields.

Iran’s “Shia Crescent” land corridor visualized by T-Intelligence


Cover photo: The F-35 Integrated Test Force is completing a series of night flights, testing the ability to fly the jet safely in instrument meteorological conditions where the pilot has no external visibility references. The ITF, which has the lead on all F-35 mission systems testing, is responsible for five of the six night flights. (Courtesy photo)

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[UPDATED] Saudis To Retaliate After Iranian-Backed Drone Attack

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that it is devising retaliation plans for the drone attacks on its oil refineries, which have been claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi militants…

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that it is devising retaliation plans for the drone attacks on its oil refineries, which have been claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen. In a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Saturday, United States President Donald Trump offered support for Saudi self-defense. 

According to the Houthis, the dawn attack on Saturday was carried out by ten unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched from Yemen and targeted the Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. The largescale attack caused major explosions and forced Aramco to cease production at the two facilities. With oil production suspended, Aramco lost halfof its crude output (5.7 million barrels per day), leading to a five percent reduction in global oil supply. 

As Saudi Arabia produces around 9.85 million barrels of oil per day, the supply reduction has caused concerns on the global energy markets. Energy experts warn that the recent attack could lead to a slight surge in oil prices. The Saudi Energy Ministry has nevertheless assured that the disruption will be offset by supplies from Saudi inventories. The attack represents a serious blow for Aramco, since the company is currently preparing its stock market debut and international listing.  

Abqaiq is pivotal for Saudi energy operations, as the facility processes crude oil from the world’s largest oil field (Ghawar) and redirects it to the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility (Ras Tanura) and to export terminals on the Red Sea coast. Khurais, the other target, is Saudi Arabia’s second largest oil field, which is responsible for the production of over 1 million barrels of oil per day. 

While the Houthis have been conducting attacks on Saudi energy infrastructure for months and have made extensive use of Iranian supplied missiles and UAVs, their claim to the recent attack is disputed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as many open-source intelligence analysts, who point towards Iraq instead. Photos on social media allegedly show the remains of an Iranian-made Quds-1 or Soumar cruise missile on Saudi soil. Analysts believe the missile was launched from southern Iraq due to its proximity to the two Saudi installations. Other sources claim that a UAV violated Kuwaiti airspace on Saturday and loitered around 250 meters above the Dar Salwa presidential palace.

The Iraqi government was quick to deny that its territory was used to attack the Saudi installations. However, this would not be the first attack on the Kingdom that was launched from Iraq. US intelligence has, for example, found that a UAV raid on a Saudi pipeline on May 14, 2019 was launched from Iraq instead of Yemen. Iraq hosts a myriad of Shiite militias, which are trained, sponsored, and coordinated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC).

Regardless where the attack originated, Iran remains the shadow culprit. The attack on the Aramco oil facilities will likely set the peace negotiations between the Arab Coalition and the Houthis back and further escalate the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the US remains committed to Saudi security, the Trump administration does not seem willing to retaliate on behalf of Riyadh. Instead, the White House has provided strong political support and military aid to Saudi forces to take matters into their own hands.

The Saudis could either re-intensify the air campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen, conduct covert operations against IRGC-backed elements in Iraq, or directly prosecute Iranian offshore oil facilities in the Persian Gulf.


Read our update on the developing situation

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Brits Unveil Type 31 Warship Design

The British defense consortium Babcock International has unveiled the final “Arrowhead 140” design for the upcoming “Type 31” class of general purpose frigates. The warships will replace the aging “Type…

The British defense consortium Babcock International has unveiled the final “Arrowhead 140” design for the upcoming “Type 31” class of general purpose frigates. The warships will replace the aging “Type 23” fleet and enhance the Royal Navy’s ability to conduct maritime security, surface warfare, and sea interdiction missions across the globe. . The Type 31s will serve as a frontline capability alongside eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare vessels, which BAE is currently constructing. 

The Arrowhead 140 is expected to sit at 5,700 tonnes and 138.7 metres in length. Babcock’s Team 31 has selected the Danish-operated “Iver Huitfeldt” frigate design as the baseline for their Type 31 pitch. Equipped with helicopter in-flight refuelling (HIFR) capabilities and an on-board hanger, the frigate will hold naval helicopters, unmanned systems, and light aircraft. Due to its flexible design, the Type 31 can be fitted with a 32-cell Mk-41 vertical launch system, which can fire a cocktail of land attack and anti-air missiles, including the battle-proven “Tomahawk”. The large deck area can host eight canister-launched surface-to-surface guided weapons. 

The first of the five planned Type 31s will hit the seas in 2023 and the entire class is scheduled to be completed by 2027. The total budget of the Type 31 program is estimated at around £1.25bn.


CORRECTION: Unfortunate phrasings contained in an earlier version of this article caused some readers to believe that the Type 31 will be a completely unmanned warship, whereas the writing team wanted to emphasize that the Arrowhead 140 design will benefit from a range of unmanned systems which allows for a reduction in crew size. We encourage our readers to inform us about factual or typographical errors. 

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VIDEO: American F-15, F-35 Jets Carpet-Bomb ‘ISIS Island’ in Iraq

The United States Air Force conducted a spectacular bombing raid on an ISIS-infested island in Iraq on September 10, 2019. F-35A Lightning II and F-15E Strike Eagle jets dropped more…

The United States Air Force conducted a spectacular bombing raid on an ISIS-infested island in Iraq on September 10, 2019. F-35A Lightning II and F-15E Strike Eagle jets dropped more than 36,000 kilograms of bombs in a terrain denial operation that sought to destroy natural cover and vegetation aiding the terror group’s tactical movements. The F-35s took off from their forward deployed location in al-Dharfa air base (United Arab Emirates), where they replaced F-22A Raptors for air interdiction and defensive counter air roles in April. 

Qanus island, the target area, has served as a major transit hub for ISIS fighters and their supplies, as the terror group reverted back to insurgency tactics after losing their stronghold of Baghuz al-Faqwani (Syria) in early 2019. The air raid was executed with precision-guided munition. It was as much a tactical operation as it was a show of force. 

The USAF air strikes augmented a ground clearance operation led by the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces (CTF). Iraqi commandos are currently conducting Operation “Black Dirt” aimed at combating the terror group’s residual presence in Iraq’s sparsely populated areas. The USAF continues to support Iraqi counter-terrorism efforts through a NATO training mission and combat operation called “Last Warning.” 

Despite the recent covert Israeli Air Force (IAF) attack on Iranian-afiliated targets in Iraq, the US and Iraq have managed to de-conflict the airspace and continue their joint effort against ISIS. 

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Ukraine and Russia Exchange Prisoners

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged 70 prisoners in the biggest prisoner swap since the outbreak of the war in Eastern Ukraine. Among the Ukrainians were 24 sailors who had been…

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged 70 prisoners in the biggest prisoner swap since the outbreak of the war in Eastern Ukraine. Among the Ukrainians were 24 sailors who had been captured by Russia during the Kerch Strait crisis, two activists, a journalist, and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. Oleg Sentsov had been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on bogus terrorism charges for speaking against the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Ukrainian prisoners were greeted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and their families at Kyiv Boryspil airport. 

While Moscow has not confirmed the names of the Russian prisoners, one of them is known to be Volodymyr Tsemakh, a separatist commander linked to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The Netherlands have expressed disappointment over Tsemakh’s release. The Russian prisoners arrived at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport without festivities and were immediately bussed to a medical facility. 

This major prisoner exchange is viewed as a step towards a peaceful conflict resolution, as Ukraine and Russia were able to find an agreement. The Normandy Four framework (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) is planning a new meeting to discuss the conflict in Donbas and Luhansk. 

 

COMMENTARY: IS THE EXCHANGE A GAME CHANGER? 

In spite of numerous failed ceasefire negotiations and the two unimplemented Minsk agreements, Ukraine’s troubled regions remain highly volatile. The Russian Armed Forces continue to deploy troops and to enhance the capabilities of their local proxy forces. The Normandy Four is a toothless tiger as France and Germany have time and again demonstrated their soft stance and lack of leverage towards Russia. 

If anything has helped Ukraine’s position, it was the lethal aid from the United States, which included the tank-busting Javelin missile. The influx of armor-piercing missiles for Ukraine’s infantry has raised the costs of a renewed Separatist motorized or armored assault. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine will likely remain frozen for the foreseeable future.

Photo @ Gleb Garanich/Reuters

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Released Iranian Oil Tanker Spotted in Syria

The Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) M/T Adrian Darya-1 was spotted anchoring off the Syrian coast. The oil tanker, previously known as “Grace-1,” was seized by British Royal Marines…

The Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) M/T Adrian Darya-1 was spotted anchoring off the Syrian coast. The oil tanker, previously known as “Grace-1,” was seized by British Royal Marines in July, as it was suspected of breaching EU sanctions by transporting oil to the Syrian regime. Panama, the Grace-1’s flag country, deleted the tanker from its shipping registry and banned the vessel from using the Panamese flag. 

Gibraltar released the Iranian vessel on August 15, after receiving written guarantees from the Iranian government that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria. The tanker was renamed “Adrian Darya” and took the flag of its real patron, Iran. While the Adrian Darya did not conduct a port call in Tartus, the vessel’s close proximity to the coast suggests that it unloaded or will unload oil via a ship-to-ship transfers. The Adrian-Darya deactivated its AIS on September 2. The United States has warned that any group assisting the Iranian Guard Corps’ oil smuggling operations will be prosecuted. 

Iran has yet to release the British oil tanker that it captured in retaliation for the seizure of the Grace-1 in July. 


Photo credits Maxar Technologies 2019/ Handout via Reuters

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Israel Reveals Hezbollah Precision Missile Factory in Lebanon

Satellite imagery shared by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has revealed a precision missile factory near Nabi Chit, Lebanon. The facility is likely operated by Hezbollah with financial and technological…

Satellite imagery shared by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has revealed a precision missile factory near Nabi Chit, Lebanon. The facility is likely operated by Hezbollah with financial and technological assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) irregular warfare and external branch, the Quds force. 


This intelligence confirms that Hezbollah is now attempting to “homegrow” precision guided missiles, as Israel’s raids in Syria have disrupted the IRGC’s advanced weapons transfers to its Lebanese ally. In response to the tactical air strike campaign of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the IRGC has started to supply Hezbollah with GPS kits that can convert “dumb” rockets into precision missiles. According to a 2015 estimate by Israeli Intelligence, Hezbollah currently stockpiles around 150,000 rockets. 

Iran has deployed senior IRGC-Quds operatives in Lebanon to oversee Hezbollah’s precision missile program. Israeli Intelligence names Brigader General Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi as the IRGC commander in Lebanon. Hejazi is aided by technological manager Colonel Majid Nuab and chief logistician Brigadier General Ali Asrar Nuruzi. The Lebanese cell reports directly to the infamous al-Quds commander General Qasim Soleimani. 

In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disclosed the location of three Hezbollah missile assembly and storage sites in the Lebanese capital. By building factories and warehouses in Beirut’s busy neighborhoods, Hezbollah is using the local population as a human shield against Israeli attacks. In light of these developments, Jerusalem authorized targeted assassinations of Hezbollah and IRGC operatives in Lebanon and instructed the IAF to hit IRGC logistics nodes in Iraq. 

Hezbollah Missile Sites in Beirut, Lebanon (T-Intelligence)

Hezbollah’s hybrid fusion of conventional military capabilities and irregular tactics renders it the strongest non-state actor in the world. If Hezbollah manages to convert even a quarter of its estimated 150,000 rockets into precision guided missile, it could overwhelm the Israeli air defense systems and strike any target of choice. The joint Iranian-Hezbollah operation is in direct violation of the United Nations Resolution 1701 and threatens to destabilize the fragile Lebanese security environment.

 
An Israeli Intelligence source told Hareetz that Hezbollah has started to evacuate the production site near Nabi Chit location. By publicly disclosing the facility’s location, the IDF has thus disrupted Hezbollah’s missile manufacturing efforts without engaging in a direct attack in Lebanon (that would virtually certain trigger retaliatory violence).

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Turkey’s S-400 “Growler” Goes Operational Near Ankara

Turkey’s newly acquired S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name SA-21 Growler) is now operational at Mürted Akinci airfield, an Israeli geospatial company claims.  Satellite imagery, which was shared by…

Turkey’s newly acquired S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name SA-21 Growler) is now operational at Mürted Akinci airfield, an Israeli geospatial company claims. 

Satellite imagery, which was shared by ImageSatIntel (iSi) on Twitter, shows the S-400 battery components in an operational configuration on the airfield tarmac. According to iSi’s analysis, three tractor erector launchers (TELs) are deployed erected, but unarmed, near the S-400’s 92N63 “Gravestone” engagement radar. The 96L6E “Cheese board” early warning and acquisition radar is located less than 100 meters south near an auxiliary vehicle parking area. The S-400’s second 91N6E “Big Bird” acquisition radar was spotted further south. 

The first S-400 battalion set was delivered to Turkey on Friday, July 12, 2019. Russian heavy lifters transported the air defense components directly to Mürted Akinci, an airfield 35 km northwest of Ankara. The rest of Ankara’s 2.5 billion order will be shipped in three installments until the end of the year. The S-400 will likely be permanently stationed near Ankara to provide long-range area air defense for Turkey’s capital. 

Engagement range of Turkey’s first S-400 deployment (T-Intelligence)

What’s the deal with the S-400?

Despite harsh criticism on the part of NATO, Turkey went through with the controversial S-400 purchase from Russia. In response, the United States removed Turkish defense companies from the Joint Strike Fighter program and halted the sale of the F-35 to Ankara. The NATO allies fear that the S-400’s radars may register the F-35’s very low observable (VLO) radar cross section, if Turkey is allowed to field both systems. Russia could then collect this critical intelligence through clandestine means such as malware.

At the moment, Turkey is seriously considering Russian fighter jets as an alternative to the F-35. Last weekend, Turkish President Erdogan met his Russian counterpart at MAKS, an aerospace technology exhibition near Moscow. The two presidents inspected Sukhoi’s recent export-version of the Su-57 stealth multirole fighter (Su-57E). 

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Afghans Defend Kunduz, US-Taliban Negotiations Continue

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have successfully repelled the Taliban’s assault on Kunduz, Afghanistan’s second largest city. The Afghan government announced that the ANSF have killed at least 36…

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have successfully repelled the Taliban’s assault on Kunduz, Afghanistan’s second largest city. The Afghan government announced that the ANSF have killed at least 36 Taliban fighters and cleared the city from any residual enemy presence. The recent assault was the third Taliban attack on Kunduz in the last four years. The militants briefly captured the city for two weeks in 2015 and 2016 respectively. 

What happened?

The Taliban offensive commenced on Saturday, August 30, at 2 am local time, when more than 50 militants attacked Kunduz from three different directions. The deadly night raid, in which the Taliban seized several governmental buildings, took local authorities by surprise. The hardline Islamists claim that they have killed more than 40 Afghan forces, seized 11 vehicles, and captured a number of weapons. Afghan commandos, backed by their debuting air force, averted the Taliban’s advance towards the city center. 

On Saturday evening, a suicide bomber struck a press confernece of the Afghan police at a busy roundabout. The public address was meant to debunk claims that the Islamists had taken the city center. The suicide attack killed the police spokesman and ten Afghan soldiers, including a senior colonel. Top US commander General Austin Miller as well as the Afghan ministers of interior and defense landed in Kunduz shortly before the suicide attack, in an effort to boost morale. 

While the offensive was repelled, Afghan authorities have stated that clearance operations are still underway. Many Taliban fighters have holed up in civilian houses and continue to present an immediate threat. 

Why now? 

Attacks like the Kunduz offensive strengthen the Taliban’s position in the ongoing peace negotiations with the US in Doha (Qatar). The Taliban are presently at their strongest since 2001. The Islamists control nearly half of the Afghan territory and contest a large number of districts.  

Profiting from the poor state of the ANSF and Afghan National Army, the Taliban have intensified attacks on urban centers in the past two years. With each successful attack, the Islamists gain confidence to expand their operations from remote mountain areas to densely populated areas. Many Taliban factions are still convinced that they can win the war by military means and do not need political talks with the US. 

Despite the ongoing wave of violence, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan recently stated that a peace agreement with the Taliban is imminent. As the Taliban’s primary condition for negotiations is the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, it is virtually certain that the nearly 20,000 US and NATO troops are preparing to leave the country. Washington hopes that appeasing the Islamist group will pave the way for direct negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban. However, the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will likely leave the fragile ANSF and ANA at the Taliban’s mercy.

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US Bombs Al-Qaida meeting in Idlib, Dozens Killed

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin),…

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin), in which the leadership of an al-Qai’da (AQ) affiliated group conducted a meeting. Images and videos shared on social media confirm the attack. It is believed that more than 40 militants were killed in the attack. 


The United States Central Command confirmed the rumors and issued the following statement:

“U.S. Forces conducted a strike against al-Qaida in Syria (AQ-S) leadership at a facility north of Idlib, Syria, Aug. 31, 2019. This operation targeted AQ-S leaders responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians. Additionally, the removal of this facility will further degrade their ability to conduct future attacks and destabilize the region. Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities throughout the region and in the West. With our allies and partners, we will continue to target violent extremists to prevent them from using Syria as a safe haven.”

The targeted militant group targeted is likely Tanzim Huraas al-Din (Arabic for “Guardians of the Religion”). The group of die-hard salafi-jihadists separated from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), after the latter publically broke ties with AQ’s central leadership. Alternatively, the operation may have targeted Huraas al-Din’s allies of the “Ghurfat Eamaliat wa-Harid al-Mu’minin” coalition (Arabic for “Rouse the Believers”). The United States has prosecuted Huraas al-Din before. Two month ago, a United States missile strike broke up a senior leadership gathering in Western Aleppo.

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