Friday, August 19, 2011

Israel, Gaza Trade Strikes After Attacks

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Gazan rockets hit southern Israel on Aug. 19 after a long night of air strikes as Israel sought to smash the militants behind desert attacks that killed eight Israelis.
As the air force pounded targets across the Gaza Strip, militants there lobbed 12 rockets at south Israel early on Aug. 19, injuring two - one seriously and one moderately - in the city of Ashdod, police said.
Several hours earlier, one Gazan was killed and 17 injured as Israel pounded targets across the strip following a day of violence in which gunmen unleashed bloody mayhem on a desert road near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
Six Israeli civilians, a soldier and a police officer were killed in several hours of attacks on a desert road some 12 miles north of Eilat.
Israeli warplanes responded immediately, attacking targets in southern Gaza which killed six people, including five militants from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) - the group it said was behind the violence.
The PRC vowed bitter revenge for the attack, which killed its leader and three other top cadres, and on Friday claimed responsibility for firing at least seven rockets and mortars into Israel.
Overnight, the Israeli air force hit seven targets in Gaza, including two training camps for Hamas militants, a weapons factory, two smuggling tunnels and a "terror tunnel."
Palestinian sources reported two more raids on Aug. 19, lightly injuring one person.
"The Israeli Defense Forces will not tolerate any malicious attempt to harm Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers and will not hesitate to respond with strength and determination to any element that uses terror against the State of Israel and until calm is restored," a statement said.
In Egypt, state television said two "unidentified Egyptians" had been killed by Israeli gunfire on Aug. 18 in an area near the site of the attacks; overnight security officials said three Egyptian policemen were also killed in the same area when an Israeli Apache fired a rocket at militants.
Israel officials were quick to point the finger at Gaza, although the territory's Hamas rulers denied any connection to the attacks.
But the Israeli military said it held the Islamist group ultimately responsible for violence coming from the territory it controls.
"If Hamas wants an escalation, it will pay a high price," Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told public radio on Aug. 19, saying some form of ground operation in Gaza was not out of the question.
"All options are open, including a pin-point (ground) operation," he said.
Both sides were burying their dead on Aug. 19, with funerals in Jerusalem for the soldier and the police officer and a burial procession due to take place in southern Gaza for the five militants and the toddler.
As Israeli police went on high alert across Israel, the country's main newspapers painted a much clearer picture of how events unfolded on Aug. 18 involving an estimated 15 to 20 gunmen, some wearing Egyptian army fatigues.
The first attack saw three gunmen open fire on a packed bus heading to Eilat, injuring seven people. Shortly afterwards, they opened fire on a civilian car in the same area, killing four people.
Then one of the militants detonated an explosives-packed belt he was wearing as an empty bus drove past, blowing himself up and killing the driver.
Further gunfire was directed at another car, killing one man. The soldier and the police officer were killed in two separate gun battles with the attackers which lasted into the evening, the papers said.
Six of the attackers were killed by Israeli troops and special police forces, while the seventh blew himself up; others are believed to have fled across the Egyptian border.
Egypt's state television on Aug. 18 showed footage of rifles, grenades and army uniforms seized during an ongoing security operation in northern Sinai, while in a separate development, security officials said they had uncovered a workshop capable of producing suicide belts.

Turkey Continues Bombing Northern Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey kept pressure on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) separatists in northern Iraq on Aug. 19, with a rebel spokesman saying Turkish jets were carrying out air strikes for a third straight day.
"The attacks started again this morning against Qandil only," Dozdar Hammo said, referring to an area of north Iraq close to the border with Turkey.
He added that bombings by the Turkish air force lasted for around three hours on the night of Aug. 18 against Qandil and other bases close to the Iraq-Turkey border.
The Turkish military said its jets had bombed 28 targets on a second day of attacks on bases in northern Iraq used by PKK.
Following bombing raids on 60 targets on Aug. 17, the air force launched an "effective" operation Aug. 18 against 28 targets in the Qandil, Hakurk, Avasin-Basyan and Zap regions of northern Iraq, the military said in a statement on its website.
In coordination with the air strikes, 96 more targets in the region were kept under intense artillery fire, the statement said.
"The targets were positively identified as belonging to the PKK, and the necessary sensitivity is paid to protect civilians," it said.
"The actions under the struggle against terror will go on with determination inside and outside the country based on the requirements of military needs," it added.
The military launched a first wave of bomb attacks on Aug. 17 against rebel targets in Iraq in response to a deadly attack by the rebel group against a military unit in Cukurca town in southeast Turkey, killing nine security officials.
It is the first time in more than a year that the Turkish military has carried out air strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq.
The second bombing raid by Turkey also followed a new rebel attack earlier on Aug. 18 in the southern province of Siirt, killing two soldiers, media reports said.
The escalation in violence came as the National Security Council (MGK), which brings together top civilian and military officials, met for five hours on Aug. 18 before pronouncing support for a tougher stance against the PKK.
The council, led by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, spoke of the need for "better coordination" of military and police resources in suppressing the Kurdish rebels.
The council's statement also called on Turkey's neighbors "to accept their responsibilities" to eradicate the PKK from their territory, without naming any countries.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

Taiwan's Defense Show in Decline; F-16s in Limbo

TAIPEI - The biennial Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE), which ran Aug. 11-14, was forced to share floor space with a comic book convention at the World Trade Center here. If that was not humiliating enough, several mainland Chinese businessmen were seen perusing booths. Who and what they were about remain a mystery.
A UCAV on display at the recent Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition. (Wendell Minnick / Staff)
Those familiar with the vibrancy of the Singapore Air Show might be surprised to learn that Taiwan spends about $2 billion more than Singapore on defense annually, yet there was no evidence of that at TADTE this year.
The show has seen steady declines over the past decade. Only six U.S. defense companies exhibited this year: ITT, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircraft. Missing were BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Rockwell Collins, Thales and U.S. Ordnance, all of which traditionally have had booths.
Part of the lack of interest could be attributed to the fact that Taiwan's shopping list for new arms has been filled for the near term and there are few, if any, items left to procure. The military is struggling to pay for $16.5 billion in new U.S. arms released since 2007, including Patriot PAC-3 ballistic missile defense systems, P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.
Added to procurement costs are expensive reform programs. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is implementing a streamlining and modernization program that will reduce troop strength from 275,000 to 215,000 within the next five to 10 years.
Despite the MND's financial struggles, a U.S. Department of Defense delegation was in Taiwan during TADTE to finalize price and availability options for a $4.2 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B fighter jets.
Sources at TADTE said the midlife upgrade package has been renamed a "retrofit" to reduce complaints from China. To further placate China, the F-16A/B retrofit will be released incrementally rather than as a total package under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
The only serious competition at TADTE was between Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to supply the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the F-16A/B retrofit requirement. Northrop's Scalable Agile Beam Radar and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar are vying to replace the current APG-66(V)3 mechanical radar.
If the U.S. government does not release an AESA radar for Taiwan, TADTE sources indicate that the Northrop APG-68(V)9 mechanical radar would be offered as a substitute.
Taiwan is awaiting a final decision by the U.S. on a deal for 66 F-16C/D fighters for $8 billion, and a 2001 offer for eight diesel submarines estimated at more than $10 billion.
TADTE participants said the U.S. plans to release the F-16A/B retrofit with the AESA radar, but not new F-16C/D fighters.
A senior Taiwan MND official said he was "disappointed" by U.S. plans to deny Taiwan the new fighters.
But senior MND and U.S. government officials are denying the report. MND officials insist the U.S. Defense Department delegation did not inform Taiwan of a final decision on the F-16C/Ds, and hope remains for a positive release.
Since 2006, the U.S. has repeatedly denied Taiwan's request for F-16C/D fighters to placate China. In July, the U.S. State Department indicated a final decision on the F-16 issue would be made before Oct. 1.
News of the DoD delegation's visit comes at an awkward time for the administration of President Barack Obama. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Beijing on Aug. 17 to discuss economic and political issues. China has insisted the U.S. end all arms sales to Taiwan, and has threatened to invade the island should it continue to refuse unification.
MND Pavilion
During TADTE, the MND displayed a variety of new weapons and equipment. The most startling were exhibits by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
CSIST displayed the new Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind 3) supersonic anti-ship missile. Though the missile had been displayed at TADTE 2009, this is the first time it was described as an "aircraft carrier killer," with a mural depicting three HF-3 missiles sinking China's new aircraft carrier, the Varyag.
China began sea trials for the Varyag on Aug. 10, the same day the HF-3 display was unveiled to the media. The Taiwan Navy has outfitted two Perry-class frigates, the 1101 Cheng Kung and 1103 Cheng Ho, with the HF-3.
CSIST also displayed models of two new unmanned aerial combat vehicle (UACV) concepts. CSIST officials did not provide any information about the UACV models, but one appeared similar to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, while the other had a diamond-shaped fuselage similar to the Boeing X-45.
A CSIST animated demonstration video showed three X-45-like UACVs flying alongside an F-16 on a mission to attack a Chinese air base. The video also demonstrated how the Reaper-like UACV could be used to attack ground-based radar facilities in China.
The 202nd Arsenal displayed a new 105mm low-recoil turret being developed for the eight-wheeled Cloud Leopard armored vehicle. One Cloud Leopard on display was equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher. Full-rate production has begun, and the military has a requirement for 300 vehicles.

Pentagon Clears F-35 Test Fleet to Fly Again

The F-35 Lightning II test fleet has been cleared for flight, but the U.S. Air Force's production aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are still grounded, the Pentagon announced Aug. 18.
An Air Force safety investigation board is continuing its investigation of the failure of the AF-4's Integrated Power Package on Aug. 2, which led to the grounding of the entire fleet of 20 aircraft. The AF-4 is the fourth conventional takeoff and landing variant produced by Lockheed Martin.
A government and contractor engineering team determined that flight operations of the test aircraft could continue after reviewing data from ground and flight tests, and revised the test monitoring procedures that govern the IPP. Ground operations of the test fleet resumed Aug. 10.
"The root cause investigation indicates that an IPP valve did not function properly," a release from the F-35 Joint Program Office states. "Monitoring of valve position is a mitigating action to allow monitored operations. A permanent resolution is in work."
The IPP, which is built by Honeywell International, combines the functions performed by an auxiliary power unit, emergency power system and environmental controls.
The Air Force's test F-35s are at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps' variants based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The Air Force's aircraft at Eglin, which do not have test instrumentation, will be grounded until the investigation is finished and any required corrective actions are completed.

Israel-China Revive Military Ties, But Not Defense Trade

TEL AVIV - In yet another step toward revived Sino-Israeli defense ties, Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), concluded a four-day trip to Israel on Aug. 17, the first ever by a commander of the Chinese military.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak toasts Gen. Chen Bingde, left, as Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz nods in agreement. (Israel Ministry of Defense)
The visit, hosted by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Chen's counterpart in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), followed Barak's mid-June trip to Beijing and a PLA Navy delegation hosted here in May.
Chen's visit included tours of several military installations and a series of high-level working meetings at IDF headquarters here, but did not involve substantive discussion of revived Israeli arms transfers to China, sources here said.
"There's no change in our export license policy to China due to continued American opposition. But as the string of recent visits indicates, we're working hard to find other ways to advance our mutual interest in strengthened [Sino-Israeli] defense cooperation," a government official here said.
The Israeli official said the Chinese still resent the U.S. pressure that forced Israel to terminate a $1.3 billion deal for early warning aircraft more than a decade ago, as well as the consultative process that gives Washington de-facto veto rights over any proposed trade with Beijing.
A U.S. State Department cable published by WikiLeaks provided rare insight into the process in place since 2006 with respect to Israeli technology transfers to China. According to the July 2009 cable, authorized by Andrew Shapiro, U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, "As it now stands, the government of Israel must pursue any export to China through the bilateral statement of understanding with the United States. While the statement calls for expeditious resolution of any requests to export to China, it often takes up to 80 days to obtain approval."
Israeli sources say that since the crisis of confidence with Washington that triggered the bilateral consultative process, Washington has approved only a few, nonoffensive, homeland security-related sales to China.
"Compared to what we could have sold in that huge market, defense trade to China has been miniscule ... And the Chinese know that decisions of this nature are not taken in Jerusalem, but in Washington," the Israeli official said.
Beyond stymied defense trade, however, sources here say Israel can provide China valuable information on military tactics, assessments of regional threats, and insight into Israeli diplomatic and other initiatives that may impact neighboring countries and China's access to Mideast oil.
"As long as there is no change in Israel's arms export policy - and there is no evidence that such a change has occurred ... a strengthening of military ties could still prove beneficial to China," wrote Yoram Evron, senior researcher for the Institute for National Security Studies, based here.
In an Aug. 17 paper, Evron, a lecturer at the Department of Asian Studies at Haifa University, noted that China has not engaged in military operations since 1979, and therefore is interested not only in Israeli technology but in broader operational and tactical knowledge accrued in recent years by the IDF. Similarly, Evron said that information-sharing with Israel would support Beijing's desire to establish a gradual strategic presence in the region.
"Not only can Israel provide China an updated perspective on regional occurrences - for example, developments pertaining to the 'Arab spring' and trends in the field of terrorism - but strategic information-sharing with Israel could spare China surprises from Israeli actions" that impact the region, according to Evron. Israel's position as a key U.S. ally makes such channels with Israel all the more worthwhile, he said.
"Given the intensifying competition between the two powers, the strengthening of military ties with an American ally is a credit to China," Evron added.
The Israeli researcher concluded that as Israel continues to enhance its standing with a vital player in the region and on the world stage, it will have to tread carefully so as not to upset Washington, its pre-eminent ally and strategic patron.