This week as well, the Syrian Army’s ground offensive was concentrated in the rural area south of Aleppo. The attack was directed against the rebel organizations, including ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. At this point, the Syrian Army appears to be encountering difficulties, despite the assistance of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, as well as the Russian air support. ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front have apparently managed to take over several strategic towns and villages,as well as part of the city of As-Safirah, south of Aleppo, where the Syrian regime has weapons manufacturing facilities. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, at the forefront of the Syrian Army’s attack, suffered severe losses in these battles (more than 20 deaths since the beginning of the attack, including three senior officers ranking from colonel to brigadier general).
It appears that the Iraqi Army, assisted by Shiite militias, is gradually completing its takeover of the oil city of Baiji, located north of Baghdad, halfway to Mosul. Its takeover represents a major military and image-related achievement for the Iraqi Army, and a base for a possible advance towards the city of Mosul. The takeover is also an important achievement for the Iranians, who direct the Shiite militias that assist the Iraqi Army.
This week, ISIS continued to issue videos calling its supporters to kill Jews. The “innovation” of the week was a video showing a (fairly fluent) Hebrew speaker who threatened that soon there would not be one Jew left in Israel and around the world. Although the context of the campaign is the wave of Palestinian terrorism, the call by one ISIS operative on Muslims around the world to harm the interests of Jews everywhere is worthy of note. In the ITIC’s assessment, ISIS’s campaign is liable to encourage jihadists to translate the calls into actually murdering Jews.
During the past week, the US-led coalition continued its airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. During the week, many dozens of airstrikes were carried out in Syria and Iraq by means of fighter planes, attack aircraft, and UAVs.
Following are the main attacks (US Department of Defense website, October 22-24, 2015; CENTCOM, October 22, 2015):
Syria– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Al-Raqqah, Marea, Hashiya (around 15 km north of Aleppo) and Deir al-Zor. The airstrikes damaged ISIS tactical units, vehicles, heavy machinery, buildings, weapons, crude oil collection points and a payment site, among other things.
Iraq– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Al-Baghdadi, Baiji, Mosul, Ramadi, Tal Afar, Sinjar, Rutba (west of Ramadi), Albu Hayat (northwest of Rutba), Al-Qaim (near the border with Syria), Fallujah, Kisik (west of Mosul) and Sultan Abdullah (south of Mosul). The airstrikes damaged ISIS tactical units, buildings, artillery, battle positions, staging areas, vehicles, car bombs, weapons, IEDs and a logistic facility, among other things.
US commandos raid on ISIS prison in northern Iraq
On October 23, 2015, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter reported that on October 22, 2015, US Special Forces had carried out a raid on an ISIS prison in the city of Hawija, northern Iraq. The raid was carried out in cooperation with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Around 70 hostagesthat ISIS planned to execute that day were rescued in the operation. One American soldier was killed in the attack (US Department of Defense website, October 22-24, 2015; CENTCOM, October 22, 2015). According to Secretary of Defense Carter, the raid is an indication of a more proactive US policy in Iraq and Syria in supporting local organizations that are opposed to ISIS (The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2015).
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
According to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, the Russians carried out 165 combat sorties during the three days preceding the statement. In these sorties, 285 targets of the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front were attacked. The airstrikes were carried out in the areas of Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Latakia, Damascus and Aleppo. The airstrikes damaged an Al-Nusra Front ammunition stockpile in the area of Damascus and ISIS headquarters and command and control centers (RT, October 26, 2015).
According to the UN, the number of Syrian refugees who fled since the Russian airstrikes began has increased significantly.According to the UN spokeswoman, around 35,000 Syrians from the area of Aleppo have become refugees. According to Turkish media reports, due to the intensity of the Russian airstrikes in Aleppo, some 100,000 refugees have started moving towards the Turkish border town of Kilis. These refugees are expected to reach the Syrian-Turkish border within a few days (milliyet.com.tr, October 24, 2015). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), up to now, around 340 people have been killed in the Russian airstrikes, most of them from the so-called moderate rebel organizations (Reuters; The Guardian, October 20, 2015).
Russian President Meets with Syrian President
On October 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad held a meeting in Moscow. In their talks, the two men discussed the Russian-supported Syrian Army offensive in northern Syria. They also discussed the issue of a political solution to the Syrian crisis. This is an unusual event, as it was the first time President Bashar Assad left Syrian territory since the start of the civil war.
Jordanian-Russian agreement to coordinate military activity in Syria
On October 24, 2015, Jordan Government Spokesman Mohammad al-Momani reported that a military coordination agreement had been reached between Jordan and Russia with regard to the situation in southern Syria and northern Jordan. For this purpose, a special mechanism will be set up in Amman to coordinate the military operations of the two countries. The announcement was made at a meeting that took place in Vienna between Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (Al-Jazeera, October 24, 2015).
Since the beginning of its military involvement in the civil war in Syria, Russia has created mechanisms for coordination and cooperation with the governments of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Israel.These cooperation mechanisms serve Russia’s military intervention in Syria. Russia will probably continue its efforts to strengthen the mechanisms of coordination and collaboration with major players in the Syrian arena and the Iraqi arena as well, with an emphasis on deepening its ties with the United States.
Members of a Russian elite unit who had served in Ukraine sent to Syria
According to a report from October 23, 2015, in recent weeks, Russia has sent a few dozen Special Forces soldiers, who had served in Ukraine, to Syria. A Russian Defense Ministry official confirmed that the soldiers had been sent, saying that it was an elite counter-terrorism unit. According to US estimates, the fact that the forces were sent does not indicate a Russian intention to carry out a ground operation in Syria (The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2015).
Russia declares that it is prepared to provide air support to the rebel forces fighting against ISIS
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia is prepared to provide air support to the Syrian rebel forces fighting against ISIS, such as the Free Syrian Army. Lavrov added that Washington was making a serious mistake by refusing to coordinate the counter-terrorism campaign with Moscow (RT.com; Reuters, October 24, 2015).
In practice, Russia is supporting the Syrian Army, which is fighting against the rebel organizations, among which the Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist organizations are the central forces. The Free Syrian Army (which Russia claims to be willing to provide with air support) is part of the rebel organizations being targeted by Russian airstrikes, but it is not a significant force among them.
Main developments in Syria
This week as well, the Syrian Army’s ground offensive was concentrated in the area south and southeast of Aleppo. ISIS and Al-Nusra Front operatives (who are apparently coordinating their operations) managed to take over control of strategic places, checkpoints, towns and major highways. Part of the city of As-Safirah, south of Aleppo, was taken over by operatives of ISIS and other rebel organizations, who cut off the Syrian Army’s supply line from As-Safirah to Aleppo. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are at the forefront of the Syrian Army’s attack, suffered severe losses in these battles. On its website, the Al-Nusra Front announced the death of senior commander Mahmoud Muhammad Maghawiri in the battles in the rural area south of Aleppo.
As-Safirah is a town about 20 kilometers south of Aleppo, which had an estimated population of 100,000 people before the civil war. The city contains weapons manufacturing facilities owned by the Syrian regime that are liable to be taken over by ISIS and other organizations (Syrian News Agency ARA News; RFS, October 27, 2015). ISIS has managed tocut off the Syrian Army’s supply line from Aleppo to As-Safirah(wsj.com). According to initial media reports, ISIS also managed take control of the city’s eastern neighborhoods. Fighting still continues in the city.
On October 23-24, ISIS and Al-Nusra Front operatives had local achievements against the Syrian Army in the rural area south of Aleppo:
ISIS operatives reported that on the night of October 23, 2015, its operatives had taken over a number of Syrian Army positionsaround the city of As-Safirah. The operation began with a suicide bombing attack by an ISIS operative, who drove a truck into an oil factory used by the Syrian forces as a line of defense. The explosion killed and wounded many Syrian soldiers (Aamaq, October 24, 2015).
On October 24, 2015, ISIS operatives took over three Syrian Army positions in the vicinity of the town of Tell Arn, about 5.5 km northwest of As-Safirah. ISIS operatives also took over four Syrian Army checkpoints south of As-Safirah. According to a report from October 23, 2015, Syrian Army checkpoints were taken over in fierce battles that killed at least 40 Syrian soldiers (Tumblr account, A3maqagency.wordpress.com, October 23-24, 2015, archive.org file-sharing website, October 24, 2015).
On October 23, 2015, the Al-Nusra Front in Aleppo published a photo showing its operatives after the takeover of Tall al-Qarassi, 9 km south of Aleppo. In addition, Tall al-Humayriyah and the village of Al-Humayriyah were recaptured after a battle where 10 Syrian soldiers were killed, including two officers (Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front, October 23, 2015).
Heavy Iranian losses in the fighting in Aleppo
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which support the Syrian Army, recently suffered heavy losses at the hands of the rebel forces led by the Al-Nusra Front and with the participation of ISIS. Most of the Iranian losses were apparently sustained in the rural area south of Aleppo, where the rebel organizations, including ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, managed to take over most of the city of As-Safirah. The death ofBrigadier General Hossein Hamedani, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who had served as a senior military advisor in Syria, was reported on October 8, 2015, the day after the start of the Syrian Army’s offensive. Since his death, more than 20 other Revolutionary Guard officers and combatants have been reported dead. The details are as follows:
On October 12, 2015, two officers with the rank of brigadier general were killed: Farshad Hassounizadeh, a Revolutionary Guards officer who formerly served as commander of the Revolutionary Guards Saberin Special Brigade, and Hamid Mokhtarband, former senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards brigade in Ahvaz (Shahid News, October 13, 2015). They were buried in Khuzestan on October 17, 2015, (Shahid News, October 17, 2015).
On October 17, 2015, Revolutionary Guard officer Moslem Khizab, former commander of the Ya Zahra Battalion of the Imam Hossein 14 Brigade in Esfahan, was killed in Syria (ABNA, October 18, 2015). He was buried in Esfahan on October 20, 2015. Also killed were Abdollah Baqeri, former bodyguard of Iranian President Mohammad Ahmadinejad,Amin Karimi, andBrigadier General Reza Khavari, senior officer in the Fatemiyoun Brigade.
Following are the names of other Iranians who were killed in the past few days, most of them in Aleppo: two junior officers in the armored Brigade 8 of the Revolutionary Guards: Hassan Ahmadi and Komeil Ghorbani; Rasoul Pour-Morad from the city of Qazvin; Mehdi Alidoustfrom the city of Qom; Nader Hamidi from Khuzestan, who was killed in the area of Quneitra according to some reports, and in Aleppo according to other reports; Reza Damroudi from Sabzevar), who was killed in Al-Hasakah; two Basij members from Hamedan: Mojtaba Karami and Majid Sanei; Mohammad Estehkami Jahromi of the Revolutionary Guards Special Forces Brigade 33; Ruhollah Emadi from the Mazandaran province; Sajjad Tahernia from the Gilan province; Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Afghan fighter in the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, who was killed in the area of Al-Ghab; Mohammad Zahiri from the Khuzestan province; Moslem Nasr, an officer with the rank of second lieutenant, who was killed in the suburbs of Aleppo; Khanali Yosefi, an Afghan who was killed in Aleppo.
In the ITIC’s assessment, the relatively large number of Iranians killed, and the salient proportion of senior officers, indicates that the Revolutionary Guards and Shiite militias fighting under them are fighting at the forefront in the current ground offensive of the Syrian Army. In the wake of the Iranian losses, and in view of the growing Iranian involvement in Syria, the Iranians have been asked for explanations. Top Iranian officials have reiterated Iran’s commitment to defend the Bashar Assad regime, despite all the difficulties.Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, explained that the Revolutionary Guards had enhanced the “quantity and quality” of their advisory forces in Syria. He said that this could lead to an increase in the number of shahids, because they “cannot be closed inside a room and they must be present on the battlefield” (ISNA, October 26, 2015).
ISIS claims that its operatives killed dozens of Syrian soldiers and seized large quantities of weapons in the battles currently taking place in Hama. On October 24, 2015, an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account posted a number of photos showing bodies of Syrian soldiers. One of the photos also shows a Syrian Army tank that fell into the hands of ISIS (Twitter account, October 24, 2015).
Main developments in Iraq
The Iraqi Army is apparently completing its takeover of the oil city of Baiji, located north of Baghdad, in the middle of the main road leading to Mosul. The Iraqi Prime Minister announced the liberation of the city after seven consecutive months of fighting. The Iraqi Army also announced the takeover of the city. ISIS has refrained from commenting to date and this may indicate that it is facing defeat in the prolonged battles which took place in this important city.
The takeover of the city of Baiji – update
The Iraqi Army is apparently completing its takeover of the oil city of Baiji. The Iraqi channel Al-Sumaria broadcast a report from the city center. It is evident from the photos that the Iraqi forces have taken over the city, which has become a heap of ruins due to the prolonged fighting (Al-Sumaria, October 20, 2015). Following the takeover of the city, the Iraqi Army is apparently trying to expand its control over the region:according to a report from October 24, 2015, the Iraqi Army took over an ISIS workshop for manufacturing IEDs in the town of Al-Siniya, about 10 km west of Baiji (Shafaq News, October 24, 2015).
On October 24, 2015, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi officially announced the liberation of Baiji from the hands of ISIS after seven consecutive months of fighting (Al-Arabi al-Jadeed, October 24, 2015). The Iraqi Army also announced that it had recaptured the city of Baiji (Sputnik, October 21, 2015). Qais al-Khazali, commander of the Shiite militia Assaeb Ahl al-Haqq, which operates under Iranian guidance, announced that the area of the refineries on the outskirts of Baiji was under the complete control of the Shiite militias supporting the Iraqi Army (Al-Afaq, October 20, 2015).
The takeover of Baiji is an important military and image-related achievement for the Iraqi Army and the Iranians, who direct the Shiite militias that assist the Iraqi Army. According to the reports, the preparations for taking over Baiji included setting up a joint operations room where the fighting forces were represented. The operations room was reportedly manned by commanders of the Shiite militias, representatives of the Iraqi Air Force and the Iraqi Police. They were joined in the operations room by 10 Iranian and three Lebanese advisors, apparently Hezbollah operatives (Al-Hadath News, October 25, 2015).
The fighting continues between the Iraqi Army and ISIS around the city of Ramadi, in the Al-Anbar province. In the fighting, ISIS is employing the tactic of activating car bombs against the Iraqi Army. According to Iraqi Army sources, five Iraqi soldiers were killed on October 23, 2015, north of Ramadi and 14 others were injured, when five car bombs driven by suicide bombers exploded near them (Al-Jazeera, October 24, 2015). On October 24, 2015, ISIS announced that on that day a suicide bomber had blown up an armored vehicle at an Iraqi Army base north of Ramadi (Aamaq, October 24, 2015). On October 25, 2015, ISIS detonated a car bomb in northeastern Ramadi. As a result, 15 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed (Al-Jazeera TV, October 25, 2015).
The global jihad in other countries
On October 25, 2015, ISIS operatives executed three civilians in the city of Sirte. The three were accused of spying and disclosing information about ISIS to Libyan Dawn, an Islamic group affiliated with the Tripoli government. The day before, three other civilians were executed on the same charges. ISIS operatives took over the city of Sirte several months ago, and the executions are apparently being carried out as part of the establishment of ISIS’s control of the city (Al-Alam Al-Youm, October 26, 2015).
One of ISIS’s media foundations reported that its operatives had blown up several IEDs in Huseiniyat Dalan, a Shiite mosque in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The explosions killed and injured dozens of people (Tumblr account a3maqagency.wordpress.com, October 24, 2015). On October 24, 2015, an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account posted an official claim of responsibility for this attack. According to the posting, nearly a hundred people were killed and injured in this operation (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, October 24, 2015).
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the attack was carried out using three IEDs that were thrown outside the mosque, at a time when 20,000 people had gathered for the Ashura ceremony. The attack killed a 14-year-old boy and injured 80 people. This mosque, located in the Mughal quarter, is the main Shiite site of the small Shiite Muslim community in Dhaka, and this is the first attack carried out against them in Bangladesh. The attack occurred a few weeks after an Italian national and a Japanese national were shot dead by ISIS operatives in Bangladesh (The Guardian, October 24, 2015).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
The campaign between the Egyptian security forces and ISIS’s branch in Sinai continues
The Egyptian security forces are carrying out the second phase of their operation aimed at cleansing the Sinai Peninsula of the presence of ISIS’s Sinai branch (Operation Martyr’s Right). The operation is being carried out in the areas of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah and Al-Arish. The Egyptian forces and the Egyptian media reported on the neutralization of IEDs, destruction of large quantities of weapons, demolition of bunkers, demolition of explosives depots, burning of motorcycles, exposure of 12 tunnel openings on the border with the Gaza Strip and the detention of dozens of people.
This security activity does not prevent the continuation of guerrilla activity by ISIS’s branch in Sinai, which continues to claim achievements in the fighting against the Egyptian forces:
The most prominent terrorist attack carried out this week was thedetonation of a police armored vehicle with an IED on the Al-Arish bypass road. On October 24, 2015, ISIS issued an announcement claiming responsibility for the detonation of the armored vehicle. According to the announcement, the explosion killed more than three people, including an officer, and wounded eight others (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, October 24, 2015). In addition, ISIS posted photos showing the detonation of an Egyptian M60 tank that had fallen into the hands of its operatives (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account; justpaste.it website, October 24, 2015).
ISIS’s branch in Sinai continued to use IEDs against the Egyptian forces. For example, according to “security sources” in northern Sinai, seven soldiers were killed in the area of Karam al-Kawadis, south of Sheikh Zuweid, on October 19, 2015. The seven were killed by an IED (Al-Rai, October 21, 2015). In another incident, ISIS’s Sinai province announced that it had blown up an IED under an M-113 armored personnel carrier (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, October 21, 2015).
Elimination of a Salafist Al-Nour Party parliamentary candidate
According to a report from October 24, 2015, the sole parliamentary candidate of the Salafist Al-Nour Party in northern Sinai, was shot dead. The assassination was carried out by unidentified persons who fired atMustafa Abdel Rahman, the party secretary in northern Sinai (Al-Masry al-Youm, October 24, 2015). So far, we do not know who was behind the assassination, which was carried out in an area where there are outposts of ISIS’s Sinai province.
According to “an Egyptian security source,” the murder was committed by ISIS’s Sinai province. According to the source, the murder was intended to deter the residents of the area and prevent them from voting in the elections (Veto portal, October 24, 2015). At this stage, we cannot verify that, although the murder was committed in an area of the Sinai Peninsula where there are ISIS outposts.
Palestinians and Israeli Arabs
Israeli Arab crossed the border to Syria with a paraglider
On the afternoon of October 24, 2015, an Israeli Arab citizen crossed the border to Syria in the southern Golan Heights using a paraglider. He is a 23-year-old resident of Jaljulia, an Israeli-Arab town in central Israel. The young man’s uncle said that although he had come from a secular family, he recently became more religious (Israeli daily Haaretz, October 26, 2015). The young man’s family claimed that he had crossed the border inadvertently, as a result of a malfunction, and they demanded that the Israeli government take steps to have him returned. In the ITIC’s assessment, the young man probably planned to go to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS as part of the phenomenon of Israeli Arabs joining its ranks (up to now, nearly 50 Israeli Arabs have joined ISIS).
An ISIS-affiliated Islamic rebel organization by the name of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk) controls the area in the southern Golan Heights where the young man from Jaljulia landed. According to initial media reports, the young man was taken prisoner by the brigade operatives after landing and was sent to one of its prisons.
The Israeli government has declared several jihadi organizations as terrorist organizations
The Israeli government has declared ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Battalions (a jihadi organization operating in Lebanon and Syria) as terrorist organizations. At the opening of a Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “We are constantly fighting ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and terrorist organizations. Yesterday, an Israeli civilian crossed our border in the Golan Heights into Syria to join the ranks of the enemy. We will act to nullify his citizenship. That is what is done in any such case. Whoever joins the ranks of the enemy to fight against Israel, will not be an Israeli citizen” (Israeli Prime Minister’s website, October 25, 2015).
The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center in Gaza issued a document on how to kill Jews
On October 25, 2015, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center in Gaza (a Salafist-jihadi propaganda center) published a guide on how to carry out effective lone wolf terrorist attacks against Jews. According to the document, the advice that it contains will help make lone wolf terrorist attacks more effective. The document describes various ways of killing Jews, including making stabbing attacks more effective by targeting sensitive spots in the body and improving one’s knife-wielding skills. In the ITIC’s assessment, this document is part of ISIS’s campaign aimed at promoting a wave of Palestinian terrorism (see below).
ISIS’s battle for hearts and minds
ISIS’s campaign of incitement to murder Jews continues
ISIS continues to issue videos calling on its supporters to kill Jews.On October 22, 2015, ISIS issued a video showing a (fairly fluent) Hebrew speaker who threatened that soon there would not be one Jew left in Israel and around the world. The use of Hebrew – for the very first time – is intended to terrify the Israeli public (a method used by ISIS, which regularly disseminates threatening messages to various target audiences in their own language). The call by an ISIS operative on Muslims to harm the interests of Jews everywhere is also worthy of attention. In the ITIC’s assessment, this call and ISIS’s campaign as a whole are liable to encourage jihadists inspired by ISIS to translate these calls into actions.
The video was entitled “Breaking of Borders and Slaughtering of Jews.” The masked speaker, codenamed Abu Saad al-Maqdisi, who claims to be a Palestinian, says that ISIS is advancing more and more to Jerusalem in preparation for the liberation of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and intersperses his statements with Muslim traditions instigating the killing of Jews. Later in the video, he points out that the Jews are the murderers of the prophets and do not respect agreements, and claims that they tried repeatedly to kill the Prophet Muhammad. He calls on Muslims in Palestine to begin a jihad against the Jews and to murder Jews in order to reach heaven, saying: “Kill them, run them over, slaughter them and burn them, so that the word of Allah will be victorious.” He also calls on Muslims worldwide to harm Jewish interests everywhere (archive.org file-sharing website, October 22, 2015).
Later in the video, an ISIS operative appears, speaking in Hebrew and addressing “all the Jews who conquered the land of the Muslims.”The speaker says: “The real war has not yet begun, and all that came before was child’s play compared to what is about to happen to you in the near future […] We will get to you and we will make you pay tenfold for the crimes that you committed. I promise you that soon there will not be a single Jew in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. Then we will continue all over the world until we have eradicated this disease throughout the world […]” He continues: “The Sykes-Picot borders that protect you will not remain for long […] We will remove them between Syria and Jordan and between Syria and Palestine […] We are advancing towards you from everywhere: from the north and from the south, from Sinai and from Damascus. From all over the world we will get to you in order to eliminate you […] It’s very close” (archive.org file-sharing website, October 22, 2015).