Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
A screen capture from a video purporting to show the Syrian Army firing a Scud missile (image capture: YouTube)
Syria is accelerating its production of missiles and rockets, effectively circumventing international sanctions imposed on it, according to the authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly.
The magazine, which deals with military and security matters, presented evidence that the regime has upgraded its weapons capacity with the assistance of countries including Iran, North Korea and Belarus.
Jane’s reported that the Syria Scientific Studies and Research Center is responsible for the production of chemical weapons in Syria and oversees most of the regime’s missile projects. Yet according to the magazine, officials in the international community, including the UN, Russia and the United States, do not supervise the operations of the research center and have not imposed specific sanctions on it.
Jane’s added that although Syria has begun the process of destroying its chemical weapons arsenal, the SSRC still possesses the requisite knowledge to produce a host of warheads containing deadly chemical elements, including sarin, VX and Yperite.
The report reveals that the Assad regime has gone back to producing missiles and medium- to long-range rockets at a rate similar to that prior to the start of the country’s brutal civil war in March 2011. The two main reasons for the regime’s enhanced weapons production are an increased need for missiles in order to combat opposing rebel forces, and Hezbollah’s desire to acquire rockets and missiles stationed on Syrian soil.
Jane’s report was published at the weekend — a particularity sensitive time, just as international factions convened in Switzerland for the “Geneva II” summit in an attempt to bring about a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and its opposition. So far, the conference has produced no notable achievements, except for an agreement to allow entry of humanitarian aid to Homs and to evacuate civilians from the area.
This image made from a video posted on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria. (photo credit: AP)
In surprising detail, Jane’s presented data on both chemical and conventional weapons production plants in Syria operated by the research center.
It said that chemical weapons production plants belonging to Institute 3000 have been closed down, and Branch 450, the production division of the institute, has been dismantled. But meanwhile, increased activity was observed at Institute 4000, which is responsible for the production of missiles and rockets. Some of its factories were moved to safer locations for fear that opposition forces would take control of them. Branch 340, responsible for missile research and development, which was previously located in Aleppo, as well as Branches 702 and 350, were all transferred to different locations.
The new rockets and missiles produced in SSRC facilities are considered more lethal in terms of their ability to inflict damage, though they are reported to be less accurate and have a more limited range.
Iran, Hezbollah, and the new missiles
One of the most interesting details presented by Jane’s relates to Project 702, an initiative that operates under Iranian supervision. The project has produced missiles intended for Hezbollah’s use, including an improved version of the Khaybar 1 missile, which has a range of about 100 km. Project 702 is now attempting to replace the liquid fuel currently used in missiles with solid fuel.
Members of a UN investigative team take samples near the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack, in Syria, August 28, 2013 (photo credit: AP/United Media Office of Arbeen)
According to Jane’s, the SSRC bought weapons components from foreign countries through the use of shell companies or through intermediaries, both Syrians and foreigners living outside Syria. The intermediaries, Jane’s reported, purchased electronic parts and computers, among other things, from foreign countries, in exchange for funds provided to them by the research center. Jane’s added that when these efforts encountered obstacles, Syria would turn to its experienced allies which have been bypassing international sanctions for years, namely Iran and North Korea.
Besides these two infamous Syrian allies, the regime also concocted a deal with a company in Belarus specializing in the production and development of weapons. The company, Belvneshpromservice, negotiated with a Syrian shell company, a subsidiary of the SSRC, in order to establish an industrial unit to help produce more accurate M-600 and Scud D missiles. The Belorussian company declined to comment on the deal.
The SSRC is also working on a project with North Korea to help improve its Scud D missile capabilities. North Korean officials at the Tangun corporation have already begun researching and producing components for Scud D missiles which would make it difficult for enemy targets to calculate the missiles’ flight trajectory upon atmospheric entry, Jane’s reported, thus preventing or delaying interception by anti-missile systems, including those in Israel’s possession.