U.S. would notify Israel ‘hours’ before Syria attack: Israeli official

By Dan Williams, Reuters

HERZLIYA, Israel — The United States would notify Israel hours in advance of an attack on Syria, an Israeli official said on Sunday.

While formally on the sidelines of the Syrian crisis, Israel fears coming under reprisals from its northern foe should the United States launch strikes to punish Damascus for alleged use of chemical weaponry.

Asked how much advance notice Israel would get from its U.S. ally about such attacks, an Israeli official briefed on contacts with Washington told Reuters: “Hours.”

But a senior strategist for the Defense Ministry said separately Israel was, like the rest of the world, in the dark at present.

“Will the United States attack? Will it not attack? What will the consequences be? All of these things are unknowns,” Amos Gilad said in a speech at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism near Tel Aviv.

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President Barack Obama has run into formidable U.S. domestic opposition to military action. Wary of appearing to meddle in American affairs, most Israeli officials have not publicly commented on the debate.

Israel plans to deploy anti-missile systems and troop reinforcements on its Syrian and Lebanese fronts if Obama green-lights strikes against Syria.

Missile Interceptors

Reuters television filmed what looked like an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery being positioned on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Sunday. “We don’t comment on our aerial defenses,” a military spokeswoman said.

An Israeli military magazine, Bamahane, said a month ago there were six such batteries deployed around the country and occasionally rotated geographically.

Obama has asked Congress to approve strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in response to a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed more than 1,400 Syrians.

Next week in Washington, hundreds of activists of the influential pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee will lobby Congress for military action in Syria.

Some Israeli officials have privately voiced concern that U.S. failure to attack Syria would embolden Iran, an ally of Damascus, in its defiance of international calls to curb a nuclear program which the West fears is aimed at developing nuclear arms — a charge Tehran denies.

Gilad disagreed with those assessments, however, saying in his speech: “Whether or not this is popular, I don’t recommend drawing conclusions about Iran from Syria.”

Gilad noted Obama’s declarations that he would not allow Iran to get the bomb, backed by U.S.-led diplomatic and economic pressure as well as military mobilization in the Gulf.

“I recommend attributing a high level of credibility to his statements (on Iran),” Gilad said.

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FBI increases surveillance of Syrians in US

The FBI has beefed up its surveillance of Syrians living in the United States ahead of a possible US military attack on Syria, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The domestic intelligence agency and the Department of Homeland Security have also alerted federal agencies and private firms that any US strike could trigger cyberattacks, according to the report.

Hackers who claim to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and collectively known as the Syrian Electronic Army, have made several disruptions in recent months on American companies, including the Times.

The newspaper said FBI agents are set to interview hundreds of Syrians in the coming days.

US officials are especially concerned because Syria’s close ally Iran has warned that any military action on Syria would leave Israel in flames.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have issued a classified bulletin alerting federal, state and local law enforcement officials of potential threats caused by the Syrian conflict, the Times said.

It said senior FBI officials have also directed the bureau’s field offices to follow up with sources linked to Syrians as part of an effort to identify any talk of a retaliatory strike. And Syrians currently under investigation will be placed under closer scrutiny.

They’re not starting from scratch – the field offices know what they have in terms of sources and investigations, but this is a directive for them to redouble their efforts and check their traps,” a senior US official told the Times.

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Britain and U.S. prepare missile strikes on Syria ‘within days’

August 26, 2013 – Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets.

Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.

As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people “with impunity”.

Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity “is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed”, he said.

British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war.

Military planners in Washington and London are addressing the ‘significant challenge’ of finalising a list of potential targets designed to cripple Assad’s chemical warfare capability.

The possibility of such intervention will provoke demands for Parliament to be recalled this week.

The escalation comes as a direct response to what the Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday.

The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300.

Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting.

After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late.

Meanwhile, as tensions in Syria rise to unprecedented heights, Israelis, fearful of a possible chemical attack by its northern neighbor, have been flocking to gas mask distribution stations. Distribution of updated masks and chemical protection kits have been going on for several years, but on Sunday hordes of Israelis who have neglected to get their updated kits flocked to post offices, which are responsible for the distribution.

Sources and more information:

• Britain poised to bomb Syria over suspected chemical weapons atrocity which killed hundreds of children

David Cameron is considering an allied bombing blitz with France and the US which could start in days Missile: A Tomahawk is fired from a sub PA Britain was last night poised to bomb Syria over the suspected chemical weapons atrocity which killed hundreds of children. David Cameron is considering an allied bombing blitz with France and the US…

David Cameron is facing pressure to recall Parliament amid signs that the US and Britain are preparing for military action against Syria. Labour and Tory backbenchers have insisted the Prime Minister should explain himself to MPs before intervening in the wake of alleged chemical weapon use by Bashar Assad’s regime.

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Syrian refugees face wave of racism in host lands


BEIRUT // A wave of xenophobia is blighting the lives of thousands of Syrian refugees in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, where they are often blamed for anything that goes wrong.

In Egypt, Syrians are accused of taking sides and interfering in the country’s political crisis, while in Lebanon they are accused of taking the jobs of Lebanese.

Egyptian media have played an instrumental role in spreading anti-Syrian sentiment, accusing them of joining protests in support of deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Mr Morsi, removed by the army on July 3 after huge protests, rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood – a key component of the opposition in Syria.

“We must boycott Syrian shops because they use our money to terrorise us,” reads one text message distributed via social networks.

“Several unemployed Syrians have been paid 300 Egyptian pounds (Dh158) by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau to take part in protests,” the message adds.

The message also accuses Syrians of using weapons supplied to the rebels fighting President Bashar Al Assad’s regime in clashes in Egypt between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters.

The tone can be just as harsh on Egyptian television.

“If you continue to stand by the Brotherhood, the people will destroy your homes,” controversial presenter Tawfik Okasha said on the privately owned Al Faraeen channel.

“The people are not ready to accept agents or spies undermining their victory” against Morsi, Okasha added.

The massively popular ONTV, also privately owned, has aired anti-Syrian rants.

“Syrians, if you meddle in our affairs, our boots will kick you in the streets,” journalist Yousef Al Husseini said.

Both Husseini and ONTV later apologised.

The anti-Assad Syrian Journalists’ Association has called on Egyptians not to “generalise and stigmatise hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees”.

But “right now, the Egyptians believe that being Syrian equals being Muslim Brotherhood”, said Abu Yasser, a young Syrian living in Egypt.

Known best for his stinging criticism of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s famous satirist Bassem Yousef has also hit out against the growing anti-Syrian sentiment, blaming “certain liberals, who hate the Muslim Brotherhood, of reproducing the same fascism and the same racism”.

Cairo has now imposed new visa regulations requiring Syrians to apply for a visa.

The United Nations has meanwhile expressed concerns over reports of Syrians being deported back to their war-torn country.

In crisis situations “there is always a search for a scapegoat”, said Sari Hanafi, who teaches sociology at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

“In Egypt, you have a mixture of confusion and basic chauvinism. To help explain the (pro-Morsi) movement, people are blaming the foreigners,” Mr Hanafi said.

In Lebanon, which hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees, rising resentment is linked to socio-economic problems.

A recent survey showed that 82 per cent of Lebanese accuse Syrians of stealing their jobs, while 70 per cent would be uncomfortable even sharing a meal with them.

More than 54 per cent of Lebanese believe their country should close its borders to Syrians altogether.

Last week, Beirut decided to take stricter measures on admitting Syrians to Lebanon.

The small Mediterranean country had been the only one of Syria’s neighbours yet to adopt restrictive measures.

Lebanon’s finance minister Nicolas Nahhas said that Syrians in the country have the right to work “except in business and commerce”.

He argued that they were causing “unfair competition” after 377 illegal businesses in eastern Lebanon were shut down.

While the conflict in Syria has caused significant damage to Lebanon’s economy, partly by putting off tourists, many Syrians have rented homes and invested in the country.

In several villages, banners and signs have been put up imposing a curfew for Syrians after 6:00pm, causing outrage among Lebanese activists.

All too often in Lebanon comments that “these Syrians” “rape our daughters” and “spread diseases” can be overheard.

But such racist remarks also contrast sharply with the welcome granted by many Lebanese to refugees, particularly in the border areas.

“The Lebanese have known war in all its forms,” according to the Lebanese Observatory for the Rights of Workers and Employees.

“We know only too well what it means to be a refugee. The Syrian people have welcomed us in the past — we must do the same.”

One-page article

BEIRUT // A wave of xenophobia is blighting the lives of thousands of Syrian refugees in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, where they are often blamed for anything that goes wrong.

In Egypt, Syrians are accused of taking sides and interfering in the country’s political crisis, while in Lebanon they are accused of taking the jobs of Lebanese.

Egyptian media have played an instrumental role in spreading anti-Syrian sentiment, accusing them of joining protests in support of deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Mr Morsi, removed by the army on July 3 after huge protests, rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood – a key component of the opposition in Syria.

“We must boycott Syrian shops because they use our money to terrorise us,” reads one text message distributed via social networks.

“Several unemployed Syrians have been paid 300 Egyptian pounds (Dh158) by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau to take part in protests,” the message adds.

The message also accuses Syrians of using weapons supplied to the rebels fighting President Bashar Al Assad’s regime in clashes in Egypt between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters.

The tone can be just as harsh on Egyptian television.

“If you continue to stand by the Brotherhood, the people will destroy your homes,” controversial presenter Tawfik Okasha said on the privately owned Al Faraeen channel.

“The people are not ready to accept agents or spies undermining their victory” against Morsi, Okasha added.

The massively popular ONTV, also privately owned, has aired anti-Syrian rants.

“Syrians, if you meddle in our affairs, our boots will kick you in the streets,” journalist Yousef Al Husseini said.

Both Husseini and ONTV later apologised.

The anti-Assad Syrian Journalists’ Association has called on Egyptians not to “generalise and stigmatise hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees”.

But “right now, the Egyptians believe that being Syrian equals being Muslim Brotherhood”, said Abu Yasser, a young Syrian living in Egypt.

Known best for his stinging criticism of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s famous satirist Bassem Yousef has also hit out against the growing anti-Syrian sentiment, blaming “certain liberals, who hate the Muslim Brotherhood, of reproducing the same fascism and the same racism”.

Cairo has now imposed new visa regulations requiring Syrians to apply for a visa.

The United Nations has meanwhile expressed concerns over reports of Syrians being deported back to their war-torn country.

In crisis situations “there is always a search for a scapegoat”, said Sari Hanafi, who teaches sociology at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

“In Egypt, you have a mixture of confusion and basic chauvinism. To help explain the (pro-Morsi) movement, people are blaming the foreigners,” Mr Hanafi said.

In Lebanon, which hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees, rising resentment is linked to socio-economic problems.

A recent survey showed that 82 per cent of Lebanese accuse Syrians of stealing their jobs, while 70 per cent would be uncomfortable even sharing a meal with them.

More than 54 per cent of Lebanese believe their country should close its borders to Syrians altogether.

Last week, Beirut decided to take stricter measures on admitting Syrians to Lebanon.

The small Mediterranean country had been the only one of Syria’s neighbours yet to adopt restrictive measures.

Lebanon’s finance minister Nicolas Nahhas said that Syrians in the country have the right to work “except in business and commerce”.

He argued that they were causing “unfair competition” after 377 illegal businesses in eastern Lebanon were shut down.

While the conflict in Syria has caused significant damage to Lebanon’s economy, partly by putting off tourists, many Syrians have rented homes and invested in the country.

In several villages, banners and signs have been put up imposing a curfew for Syrians after 6:00pm, causing outrage among Lebanese activists.

All too often in Lebanon comments that “these Syrians” “rape our daughters” and “spread diseases” can be overheard.

But such racist remarks also contrast sharply with the welcome granted by many Lebanese to refugees, particularly in the border areas.

“The Lebanese have known war in all its forms,” according to the Lebanese Observatory for the Rights of Workers and Employees.

“We know only too well what it means to be a refugee. The Syrian people have welcomed us in the past — we must do the same.”

Source

Syrian forces make gains in Homs

REGIME forces backed by Hezbollah now control half of the Khaldiyeh district of Homs after ousting rebels in fierce fighting in the central Syrian city, a watchdog says.

“Loyalist forces backed by fighters from Hezbollah have advanced over the last 24 hours and now control 50 per cent of Khaldiyeh,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

Its chief, Rami Abdel Rahman, said “there was continuous heavy mortar and artillery fire” and the rebel district was still being pounded.

He said rebels were putting up “fierce resistance” amid “very intense clashes”.

Militant network the Syrian Revolution General Commission also reported heavy fighting in the district that has been besieged by regime forces for more than a year.

“Khaldiyeh is being targeted by an uninterrupted heavy bombardment, and on the ground there is fierce fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and regime forces backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah trying to take the district,” an SRGC statement said.It and the observatory both said the Old City district of Homs – dubbed the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad – was being pummelled too.

The latest regime offensive on besieged rebel-held neighbourhoods of Homs is now in its fourth week.

Government forces are seeking to secure another victory like the one in Qusayr near the border with Lebanon in June, when Hezbollah was key in retaking the strategic town.

Hezbollah, the most powerful military force in Lebanon and a staunch ally of the Assad regime in Syria, has had its military wing blacklisted by the European Union as a terrorist group.

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Turkey’s Syria Policy in Shambles Over Support for Jihadists

By Semih Idiz

Developments in Syria continue to take unexpected and unsavory turns for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose overreaching and one-dimensional Syria policy — predicated solely on the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and his Baathist regime while smacking heavily of Sunni leanings — has resulted in new headaches for Ankara.

Misguided assumptions about Assad’s staying power, the scant attention paid to the country’s ethnic, religious and sectarian realities, and overt and covert support for al-Qaeda-affiliated groups along Turkey’s border with Syria are coming home to roost for the Erdogan government.

The victory by Syrian Kurds in the strategic town of Ras al-Ain on July 19 against Islamist fighters headed by Jabhat al-Nusra — designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States as well as a number of other Western countries — is only the latest development that has thrown Ankara off balance.

The Erdogan government was clearly banking on the success of al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, not only against Assad forces, but also against Syrian Kurds, whose struggle for autonomy is spearheaded by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey has been wary of the political intentions of Syrian Kurds since the outbreak of violence in Syria. Ankara’s concern is that moves by the Syrian Kurds toward autonomy could serve as examples for its own restive Kurdish population, which is seeking expanded rights.

During an official visit to Washington in January, Turkish Foreign Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu reportedly criticized the timing of the US decision to declare Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization. The English-language Hurriyet Daily News reported from Washington on Jan. 17, “US officials fear that groups such as the front could hijack the uprising. Turkish officials, however, said it was more important to focus on the ‘chaos’ that al-Assad has created instead of groups such as al-Nusra.”

Turkish officials deny, of course, that Ankara is arming groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. They argue that any logistic or humanitarian support from Turkey goes to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Western diplomats in Ankara, however, say that Turkey does not discern between groups operating under the FSA umbrella, which includes those like Jabhat al-Nusra, whose open intention is to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

The May 11 twin car bombing in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, which killed more than 50 people, was a watershed in turning public opinion against the government’s Syria policy. It also turned public attention toward the situation of radical Islamist fighters in Syria using Turkey as a safe haven from which to operate. It is generally believed that this is one of the reasons for the Reyhanli atrocity, allegedly perpetrated by vengeful pro-Assad elements in Turkey.

The killing this month of Kamal Hamami, a senior member of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council, by another al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is said to be acting independently of Jabhat al-Nusra, provided Ankara with another reminder that relying on such groups would in the end most likely produce undesirable results.

One of the most undesirable of these results for Ankara, however, has been that the presence of such groups in Syria has made short shrift of any possibility that the West would provide the FSA with sophisticated weapons to fight Assad’s forces. It was therefore inevitable that recent remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron, indicating in effect that Britain would not arm the FSA, deeply disappointed Erdogan and Davutoglu.

Compounding their disappointment is that Ankara had put much stock in Britain’s previous keenness to arm the FSA. London’s pivotal role in May in getting the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria, which was also adversely affecting the Syrian opposition, had also raised hopes in Ankara that the FSA was finally going to get sorely needed heavy weapons from the West.

In a July 21 interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, however, Cameron provided clear evidence as to why Britain is opposed to arming the opposition now. Despite paying lip service to the notion of continuing to help the anti-Assad forces, Cameron said the opposition included “a lot of bad guys” within its ranks.

Pointing out, to Ankara’s chagrin, that Assad had strengthened his position in recent months, Cameron added, “And yes, you do have problems with part of the opposition that is extreme, that we should have nothing to do with.”

Western diplomats in Ankara suggested to Al-Monitor that the killing of Hamami has only heightened concerns in Washington and London that arms supplied to the FSA could end up in the wrong hands. Turkey’s promotion of Jabhat al-Nusra as the most effective force against the Assad regime is, therefore, another item on the growing list of Ankara’s miscalculations on Syria.

The Egyptian transitional government’s retraction of the toppled Muslim Brotherhood’s call for jihad against Assad provides further evidence that Ankara’s reliance on Islamists in the Syrian civil war has been misplaced. Worse yet for Ankara is that the PYD has rolled back Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda-related groups in northern Syria.

This is likely to be welcomed by regional powers, not all of whom, as the actions of the Egyptian transitional government show, are enamored with radical Islamists. There is also the point that Amberin Zaman makes in her July 22 article for Al-Monitor: “Paradoxically, the PYD’s battle against militant Islamists serves the interests of Assad, the West and of the notionally secular Free Syrian Army rebels alike.”

The Erdogan government cannot discount the possibility that large numbers of secularists in Turkey who may also have had a “Kurdish phobia” at one time would also prefer to see a secular Kurdish entity emerge on Turkey’s border with Syria, rather than a fundamentalist operation imposing Sharia on the region. Ironic as it may seem for the Erdogan government, its successful cultivation and development of ties with northern Iraqi Kurds show that similar ties with a Kurdish entity in northern Syria need not be disastrous for Turkey.

The bottom line is that a host of misjudgments, as well as reliance on the wrong groups, has made a shambles of Ankara’s Syria policy, leaving Foreign Minister Davutoglu with few options besides issuing hollow warnings that Turkey will not allow “fait accomplis” on its borders. There is, however, little that Ankara can do other than sit and watch as the situation in Syria unfolds.

Meanwhile the call by Turkish ultranationalists to send the army into northern Syria to stop the Kurds has no credence whatsoever. Such a move would clearly lead Turkey even deeper into the Syrian quagmire.

Haluk Gerger, a well-known Turkish academic and foreign policy expert, once pointed to the turbulent landscape surrounding Turkey and likened it to a country trying to conduct foreign policy in a minefield. This is a crucial point that Davutoglu, for all his academic credentials, appears to have overlooked in his unrealistic and misplaced zeal to establish Turkey as the principal “game setter” of the region.

Source

US preparing for military action in Syria, top US general says

Source:President Barack Obama is considering using military force in Syria, and the Pentagon has prepared various scenarios for possible United States intervention.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Obama administration is deliberating whether or not it should use the brute of the US military in Syria during a Thursday morning Senate hearing.

Gen. Dempsey said the administration was considering using “kinetic strikes” in Syria and said “issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government,” the Associated Press reported from Washington.

Dempsey, 61, is the highest ranking officer in the US military and has been nominated by Pres. Obama to serve a second term in that role. The Senate Armed Services Committee questioned him Thursday morning as part of the nominating process when Dempsey briefly discussed the situation in Syria.

Last month, the Obama administration concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons during the ongoing battles. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said, “The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”

Pres. Obama said previously that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and likely trigger American intervention. When the White House concluded Assad had relied on chemical warfare, Rhodes said, “both the political and the military opposition . . . is and will be receiving US assistance.”

That claim was met with skepticism, though. The Syrian Foreign Ministry called Obama’s claims a “caravan of lies.” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, later presented to the UN evidence supplied to his government that suggested the Syrian opposition fighters used chemical weapons.

With regards to foreign intervention, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “Providing arms to either side would not address this current situation.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and his father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) have also cautioned the White House against aiding Syrian rebels.

“You will be funding today the allies of al Qaeda” by aiding Syrian rebels, Sen. Paul said in May.

On his part, the retired lawmaker from Texas insisted that the administration’s lead up to possible intervention is “identical to the massive deception campaign that led us into the Iraq War.”

That isn’t to say the GOP is entirely opposed to taking any action. Although directly using the American military — either through boots-on-the-ground or unmanned aircraft — has been rarely discussed in public, Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), two long-time leaders within the Republican party, have been relentless with efforts to equip opposition fighters.

“I don’t care what it takes,” Graham told Foreign Policy’s The Cable earlier this year. “If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.”

Other US officials have previously said Washington is considering implementing a no-fly zone above Syria, and last month the Pentagon left a fleet of F-16 fighter planes and its Patriot anti-missile system on the border of neighboring Jordan following a routine military drill.