War

Commando Raids on ISIS Yield Vital Data in Shadowy War

WASHINGTON — One late afternoon in April, helicopter-borne American commandos intercepted a vehicle in southeastern Syria carrying a close associate of the Islamic State’s supreme leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The associate, Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, was a rare prize whom United States Special Operations forces had been tracking for months: a midlevel but highly trusted operative skilled in raising money; spiriting insurgent leaders out of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s besieged capital in Syria; and plotting attacks against the West. Captured alive, Mr. Uzbeki could be an intelligence bonanza. Federal prosecutors had already begun preparing criminal charges against him for possible prosecution in the United States.

As the commandos swooped in, however, a firefight broke out. Mr. Uzbeki, a combat-hardened veteran of shadow wars in Syria and Pakistan, died in the gun battle, thwarting the military’s hopes of extracting from him any information about Islamic State operations, leaders and strategy.

New details about the operation, and a similar episode in January that sought to seize another midlevel Islamic State operative, offer a rare glimpse into the handful of secret and increasingly risky commando raids of the secretive, nearly three-year American ground war against the Islamic State. Cellphones and other material swept up by Special Operations forces proved valuable for future raids, though the missions fell short of their goal to capture, not kill, terrorist leaders in order to obtain fresh, firsthand information about the inner circle and war council of the group, also known as ISIS.

“If we can scoop somebody up alive, with their cellphones and diaries, it really can help speed up the demise of a terrorist group like ISIS,” said Dell L. Dailey, a retired commander of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command and the chairman of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

American military and intelligence officials caution that the Islamic State is far from defeated, particularly with a sophisticated propaganda apparatus that continues to inspire and, in some cases, enable its global following to carry out attacks. But in the self-proclaimed caliphate across swaths of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group’s last two major strongholds are under siege, many senior leaders have fled south to the Euphrates River Valley, and its legions of foreign fighters are battling to the death or slipping away, possibly to wreak havoc in Europe.

The race to drive the jihadists out of eastern Syria, where they have held sway for three years, has gained new urgency as rival forces converge on ungoverned parts of the region. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are advancing east, closer to American-backed fighters battling to reclaim Raqqa. Russia threatened on Monday to target American and allied aircraft the day after the United States military brought down a Syrian warplane.

This highly volatile environment puts an increasing premium on the Special Operations missions.

Despite his nom de guerre, Mr. Uzbeki, 39, was a native of Tajikistan, not Uzbekistan, and honed his fighting skills with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Taliban-allied jihadist group, according to an American military official. About 10 years ago, he moved to Pakistan, where he had extensive contacts with Al Qaeda, the official said. In recent years, he had moved to Syria and joined the Islamic State’s fighting ranks.

Mr. Uzbeki was close to Mr. Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s leader, and helped plot a deadly attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Day. He was targeted for his role in the Islamic State’s plotting of attacks around the world, said Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for the United States Central Command. “He facilitated the movement of ISIS foreign terror fighters and funds,” Colonel Thomas told reporters in April.

After months of waiting for an opportunity to seize Mr. Uzbeki without putting civilians at risk, one arose on April 6 for the so-called expeditionary targeting force, a group of commandos from the secretive Joint Special Operations Command who hunt Islamic State leaders in Iraq and Syria.

About 3 p.m., Mr. Uzbeki was driving from Mayadeen, a city in southeastern Syria that has become an enclave for Islamic State leaders fleeing Raqqa. (The Central Command said this past week that it had killed Turki al-Bin’ali, a senior recruiter and propagandist, in an airstrike on May 31 in Mayadeen.)

“As Mosul and Raqqa come under increasing pressure, we’ve seen ISIS elements moving into the Euphrates River Valley over the past few months,” said Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Uzbeki had just dropped off a higher-ranking Islamic State leader in Mayadeen and was returning to Raqqa when the commandos ambushed him. Though he died, the soldiers were able to recover cellphones and other materials, a military official said.

In a similar raid in early January, American commandos killed another midlevel Islamic State leader they had been trying to capture and interrogate in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zour, which is largely under Islamic State control. The insurgent, whom the military did not identify, was also killed when he resisted capture. Important information was also collected from this raid, military officials said.

The model for these kinds of operations in Syria emerged in May 2015 when two dozen Delta Force commandos entered Syria aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Ospreys from Iraq and killed Abu Sayyaf, whom American officials described as the Islamic State’s “emir of oil and gas.”

The information harvested from the laptops, cellphones and other materials recovered in the raid yielded the first important insights about the Islamic State’s leadership structure, financial operations and security measures.

Equally important, Abu Sayyaf’s wife, Umm, who was captured in the operation, provided information to investigators for weeks, American officials said, before she was turned over to the Iraqi authorities.

So successful was that raid that seven months later, Ashton B. Carter, then the defense secretary, disclosed at a House hearing that he was creating a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.”

The commandos — initially numbering about 100 troops, including support personnel — would have a mission similar to, but smaller than, the one they carried out in tandem with President George W. Bush’s surge of American troops in Iraq in 2007. There, commandos conducted a series of high-tempo, nightly raids to capture or kill fighters from Al Qaeda and other former Baathist groups in Iraq.

In recent months, the targeting force has intensified its drone strikes and raids in Syria against the Islamic State’s external operations planners, who have inspired, supported and directed attacks beyond their declared caliphate and into the West. A small number of capture missions are in the works, tracking insurgent leaders, military officials said.

“When the target is indeed captured alive, then we often can get even more valuable information through interrogations, immediate and continuing over time,” said William Wechsler, a former top counterterrorism official at the Pentagon. “All of this helps us better understand the enemy network, prioritize new targets, and identify external terrorist plots.”

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Saudi Arabia, Waging War in Yemen, Gives It $66.7 Million in Cholera Relief (LOL….)

The newly elevated crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who as defense minister has led the country’s bombing and blockades of Yemen, showed his charitable side on Friday with a $66.7 million donation to fight the cholera outbreak in that country.

The donation authorized by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was announced by the ruling family’s charity, the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, which said the money would go to Unicef and the World Health Organization in response to their urgent pleas.

Accounts in the state-guided Saudi news media said “the donation is an initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and accelerates the Kingdom’s substantial humanitarian efforts in Yemen.”

In a statement, Unicef said that it welcomed the infusion of Saudi money and that “we look forward to discussing this contribution” with the kingdom’s royal charity.

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said in an email: “W.H.O. welcomes all offers of support that would alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. As with all funding we receive, these funds will be used in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, humanity and independence.”

The donation was among the first prominent actions of the crown prince, the 31-year-old son of King Salman, since he was abruptly promoted to first in the line of succession on Wednesday, bypassing his older rival, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and upending decades of royal custom.

It was unclear whether the money was a direct donation from the personal fortune of the crown prince, who like other members of the royal family is enormously wealthy. But $66.7 million would not necessarily be considered an onerous sum for the crown prince, who as deputy crown prince spent $550 million in 2015 to buy a yacht from a Russian vodka tycoon.

Unicef and other humanitarian groups have expressed growing alarm about the rapid spread of cholera in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where the health care system has collapsed because of the war. A Saudi-led coalition began bombing the country more than two years ago after Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized the capital and evicted the Saudi-backed government.

The bombing campaign, which Crown Prince Mohammed has overseen as defense minister, has made only limited progress.

At the same time, the Saudis have faced growing criticism from human rights groups, which have accused them of indiscriminate bombings and air and sea blockades that have destroyed what is left of Yemen’s economy and worsened the humanitarian disaster there.

As many as 300,000 Yemenis could be infected with cholera in the coming weeks, half of them children, Unicef officials have said. Since the outbreak was declared two months ago, more than 1,265 people have died, Unicef’s resident representative in Yemen, Meritxell Relaño, told reporters in a conference call on Friday.

The Middle East regional director of Unicef, Geert Cappelaere, said last week that the agency had been so desperate to contain the cholera crisis in Yemen that it had taken the unusual step of paying the country’s doctors and nurses, who have not been paid in months.

Mr. Cappelaere said it was the worst cholera outbreak he had seen in Yemen and “just comes on top of what already was an incredibly daunting situation.”

Yemen is also facing a famine and a growing population of young children with severe malnutrition problems.

Cholera, once a common scourge of poor countries, is a bacterial disease spread by contaminated water that can cause fatal dehydration if left untreated.

Qatar: Demands made by Saudi-led allies not ‘reasonable’

Qatar on Saturday reportedly said the 13-point list of demands presented by Saudi-led allies was not reasonable or actionable, in a major escalation of the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.

The list — which includes a call for Qatar to close down broadcaster al-Jazeera and cut ties to the Muslim Brotherhood — are the demands that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want met to end a diplomatic and trade “blockade” of Qatar, lasting almost three weeks.

“We are reviewing these demands out of respect for … regional security and there will be an official response from our ministry of foreign affairs,” Sheikh Saif al-Thani, the director of Qatar’s government communications office told Reuters in a statement.

It said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to present a list of demands that was “reasonable and actionable.”

“This list does not satisfy that criteria,” al-Thani said.

On Friday, Qatar insisted it could indefinitely survive the economic and diplomatic steps its neighbors have taken to try to pressure it into compliance, even as a top Emirati official warned the tiny country to brace for a long-term economic squeeze.

“I can assure you that our situation today is very comfortable,” Qatari Ambassador to the US Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani told The Associated Press. “Qatar could continue forever like that with no problems.”

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, poses for a photo during an interview with the Associated Press in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, June 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

Asked whether Qatar felt pressure to resolve the crisis quickly, he said: “Not at all.”

As the United States stepped back from any central mediating role, all sides seemed to be settling in for a potentially protracted crisis. Qatar’s neighbors insisted their 13-point list of demands was their bottom line, not a starting point for negotiations.

If Qatar refuses to comply by the deadline, the Arab countries signaled, they’ll continue to restrict its access to land, sea and air routes indefinitely, as economic pressure mounts on Qatar.

“The measures that have been taken are there to stay until there is a long-term solution to the issue,” Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba said in an interview. Suggesting the penalties would only be economic and diplomatic, he said “there is no military element to this whatsoever.”

Having urged Qatar’s neighbors to come up with “reasonable and actionable” demands, the US sought to distance itself from the crisis the day after the Arab countries issued a list that included several provisions Qatar had already declared it could not or would not accept. But the ultimatum was quickly rejected by Qatar’s ally, Turkey, and blasted as an assault on free speech by Al-Jazeera, the Qatari broadcaster that the gas-rich country’s neighbors are demanding be shut down.

The demands from the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians and the Bahrainis amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar’s foreign policy and natural gas-funded influence peddling in the region. Complying would force Qatar to bring its policies in line with the regional vision of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy and gatekeeper of Qatar’s only land border.

“This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty,” said Al Thani, the Qatari envoy. “They are trying to impose their views on how the issues need to be dealt with in the Middle East.”

“They are bullies,” he added.

A Qatari employee of al-Jazeera TV walks past the logo of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, November 1, 2006 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

The demands include shutting news outlets, including al-Jazeera and its affiliates, curbing diplomatic relations with Iran and severing all ties with Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The United Arab Emirates said the list was intended to be confidential. The AP obtained a copy from one of the countries involved in the dispute.

The four countries cut ties with Qatar earlier this month over allegations that it funds terrorism — an accusation President Donald Trump has echoed. Qatar vehemently denies funding or supporting extremism but acknowledges that it allows members of some extremist groups such as Hamas to live in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue is key to resolving global conflicts.

The move by Qatar’s neighbors has left it under a de facto blockade. Although residents made a run on the supermarket in the days after the crisis erupted, the situation has since calmed as Qatar secured alternative sources of imported food from Turkey and elsewhere.

Qatar’s neighbors are demanding that it:

— Curb diplomatic ties with Iran, and limit trade and commerce.

— Stop funding other news outlets, including Arabi21, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

— Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from the four countries.

— Stop all means of funding for groups or people designated by foreign countries as terrorists.

— Pay an unspecified sum in reparations.

— Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.

To end crisis, Arab states demand Qatar sever Iran ties

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have cut ties to Qatar issued a steep list of demands Thursday to end the crisis, insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and close down a Turkish military base in Qatar.

In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand that Qatar sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and with other groups including Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties to Qatar this month over allegations the Persian Gulf country funds terrorism — an accusation that President Donald Trump has echoed. Those countries have now given Qatar 10 days to comply with all of the demands, which include paying an unspecified sum in compensation.

According to the list, Qatar must refuse to naturalize citizens from the four countries and expel those currently in Qatar, in what the countries describe as an effort to keep Qatar from meddling in their internal affairs.

In this Oct. 23, 2012 photo, then-Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left, and Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, arrive for a corner-stone laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Mohammed Salem, Pool)

They are also demanding that Qatar hand over all individuals who are wanted by those four countries for terrorism; stop funding any extremist entities that are designated as terrorist groups by the US; and provide detailed information about opposition figures that Qatar has funded, ostensibly in Saudi Arabia and the other nations.

Qatar’s government did not have any immediate reaction to the list. Nor did the United States. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had insisted that Qatar’s neighbors provide a list of demands that was “reasonable and actionable.”

Though Qatar’s neighbors have focused their grievances on alleged Qatari support for extremism, they have also voiced loud concerns about Qatar’s relationship with Iran, the Shiite-led country that is a regional foe for Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led nations.

The Iran provisions in the document say Qatar must shut down diplomatic posts in Iran, kick out from Qatar any members of the Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, and only conduct trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US sanctions. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were eased but other sanctions remain in place.

Mohamed Fawzi (L), former Al Jazeera English cameraman, listens while Mohamed Fahmy, former Al Jazeera English reporter, speaks during a press conference at the National Press Club about a lawsuit against Qatar's Al Jazeera June 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The demands regarding al-Jazeera, the Doha-based satellite broadcaster, state that Qatar must also shut down all affiliates. That presumably would mean Qatar would have to close down al-Jazeera’s English-language affiliate. Qatar’s neighbors accuse al-Jazeera of fomenting unrest in the region and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

If Qatar agrees to comply, the list asserts that it will be audited once a month for the first year, and then once per quarter in the second year after it takes effect. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

NJ college recalls hosting US-Russia summit after Six Day War

AP — As relations between the US and Russia make daily headlines over election meddling and Moscow’s growing global influence, a New Jersey town is marking the 50th anniversary of when leaders of the world’s two superpowers gathered at a small liberal arts college to talk through similarly turbulent times.

Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin sent a message to President Lyndon Johnson as the Six Day War between Israel and Arab states raged in 1967, in hopes of ensuring the conflict did not escalate into world war. The leaders decided to meet, but the Cold War atmosphere required negotiations for picking the site.

They looked for a spot nearly equal distance between New York and Washington, selecting what was then Glassboro State College to host the hastily arranged summit 50 years ago this weekend in the college president’s mansion called Hollybush.

“It was one of the most quickly arranged summits,” said Professor Jeremi Suri, of the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs. “The majority of the planning was aimed at controlling events from spinning out of control.”

The talks from June 23-25, 1967, were the first meeting between the two leaders and the first between US and Soviet leaders since President John F. Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961.

While it didn’t lead to any important agreements on the Mideast conflict, nuclear arms control or the Vietnam war, historians believe the “Spirit of Glassboro” offered lessons for future summits.

“When nations have deeply different positions, as we do on these issues, they do not come to agreement merely by improving their understanding of each other’s views,” Johnson told the nation in a televised address after the summit. “But such improvement helps.”

Retired ambassador and arms negotiator William Courtney sees parallels between the summit at Glassboro and current relations between Washington and Moscow, pointing out there’s not the slightest hint the Russians are ready to adjust their positions on Ukraine or Syria.

“There is a new, untested US president and both sides are dug into their positions. It’s hard to find any progress for success,” added Courtney, who is also an adjunct senior fellow with nonprofit think tank, the Rand Corporation.

Courtney said it’s vital for President Donald Trump and his administration to be as prepared as possible before he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Hamburg summit next month.

Glassboro State College is now known as Rowan University, and the community on Saturday will remember the summit with tours, memorabilia displays and a dinner with food inspired by the summit’s menu.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘astonished,’” said university vice president emeritus Thomas Gallia, a graduate student at the time.

The school was transformed overnight, including the installation of 16 air conditioners in school president Thomas Robinson’s home, Gallia said. Media also descended, including an Associated Press reporter who convinced the owner of a home across from the mansion to let the news service use it as an office.

The home belonged to the parents of Nick Petroni, who was 18 years old at the time and had just returned home from the University of Notre Dame. His father allowed some 20 reporters, photographers and technicians to set up shop for no charge.

“They put all kinds of phone lines in our home and set up a darkroom in our basement. I got enlisted as a film carrier,” Petroni said.

His mother fed the team and Petroni received a $100 savings bond for his help.

After the summit ended, the college president returned to find that the chairs used by Johnson and Kosygin, and which belonged to his wife, were missing.

Gallia said Johnson soon told Robinson that he had White House carpenters make replicas, which were shipped to Hollybush, while the originals were sent to the LBJ Library.

Hezbollah head: ‘Hundreds of thousands’ of Muslim fighters will respond if Israel attacks

http://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-chief-thousands-of-fighters-will-respond-if-israel-attacks/

 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The head of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, on Friday warned Israel against attacking Lebanon or Syria, saying “hundreds of thousands” of Arab and Muslim fighters would be ready to strike back.

“The Israeli enemy should know that if it launches an attack on Syria or Lebanon, it’s unknown whether the fighting will stay just between Lebanon and Israel, or Syria and Israel,” Hassan Nasrallah said.

“I’m not saying countries would intervene directly — but it would open the door for hundreds of thousands of fighters from all around the Arab and Islamic world to participate in this fight — from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan,” he said.

Nasrallah made the remarks in a speech broadcast on television to mark Jerusalem (Quds) Day, an annual show of solidarity with the Palestinians marked by marches and speeches that rail against Israel and the West.

The commemoration was first launched by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late revolutionary leader of Iran — a main sponsor of Hezbollah and staunch rival of Israel.

Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and others from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are battling alongside regime forces in Syria to defend the government of President Bashar Assad.

The powerful Shiite movement and Israel have fought many battles including a devastating 34-day war in 2006 that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Border skirmishes have broken out occasionally since then, and Nasrallah on Friday said any future confrontation would be “very costly for Israel.”

Tensions were rising this week along the frontier, with Israel accusing Hezbollah of expanding observation posts to conduct reconnaissance missions across the border under cover of a purported environmental NGO.

Israel’s military intelligence chief on Thursday released film and photographs of the Hezbollah positions at the border fence.

A Hezbollah observation post on the Israeli-Lebanese border, according to the IDF. Photo released on June 22, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Israel’s envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, pointed to an incident in April, in which a patrol of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was denied access to an observation post flying the flag of the NGO “Green Without Borders,” by a group of locals.

Hezbollah’s purported use of such facilities under cover of the NGO is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006.

Danon denounced the “dangerous provocation” and called on the council to demand the Lebanese government dismantle the Hezbollah outposts, as required by the resolution.

The UN rejected the claim on Friday with the UNIFIL reporting that Green Without Borders members have planted trees in the area, but it “has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the locations or found any basis to report a violation of resolution 1701,” said UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko.

Danon’s letter came on the same day that IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Hertzl Halevi released video and photographs the IDF said showed the installations in question.

“Hezbollah is using an environmental organization as a cover for activities along the border with Israel,” Halevi said.

Earlier this week, the head of Israel’s air force said it would have “unimaginable” military power at hand in any future conflict with Hezbollah.

“What the air force was able to do quantitatively in the… Lebanon war over the course of 34 days we can do today in 48-60 hours,” Major General Amir Eshel said on Wednesday.

“This is potential power unimaginable in its scope, much different to what we have seen in the past and far greater than people estimate.”

Syrian shells land in Golan Heights, sparking IDF strikes

Several mortar shells exploded in an open area in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria Saturday afternoon, the army said, leading to retaliatory air strikes.

The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV station claimed two Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes, though there was no official confirmation by Syrian officials.

The army said the mortars appeared to be errant fire from Syrian factions fighting each other across the border. Around 10 impacts were identified in Israeli territory, around the Quneitra area.

There was no damage and no injuries were reported in the mortar attack. With Israelis flocking to the Golan in the summer for hikes and fruit picking, the military said it had taken the precautionary step of asking civilians to avoid gathering near the border with Syria following the attack.

The military retaliated with several air strikes on Syrian regime positions, in what has become the standard response in such cases. The army said it struck two tanks and a post from which the mortars were fired.

An Israel Air Force F-15 flies overhead during an exercise in the Golan Heights on February 23, 2014. (Gu Ashash/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

Israel also lodged a formal complaint with the UN over the incident.

The military said it “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli sovereignty and the security of its citizens” and held the regime responsible for all attacks launched from Syrian territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected a Wall Street Journal report claiming Israel provides financial aid to rebel groups in Syria.

“We do not interfere in this terribly bloody conflict. We do, however, provide humanitarian aid to young boys and girls,” Netanyahu said. “It is expensive, but we will continue to invest.”

The prime minister said that more than a thousand Syrian men, women and children had been treated at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. Many more have been treated at a field hospital the IDF maintains at the Syrian border.

“They once saw us as enemies,” he said of these patients, “but here they realize more than ever that Israel is a moral bastion and a beacon of light in the region,” where “all are treated equally,” irrespective of their religion and origin.

Citing interviews with half a dozen rebel leaders and three persons familiar Israel’s undeclared policy, the Sunday report in the Journalclaimed that Israel set up a special military unit in 2016 to oversee and coordinate the transfer of financial aid — valued at some $5,000 per month — to rebel forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian, Lebanese and Russian allies.

This “secret engagement,” the report said, is aimed to help ensure that forces friendly to Israel control the Syrian side of the northern Golan border. The aid, said the Journal, helps the groups pay salaries and buy weapons and ammunition.

A separate UN report, published last month, describes a series of meetings between Israeli military representatives and Syrian rebel leaders near the Syrian border, observed by UN peacekeepers.

The May report from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) of peacekeepers stated that “there has been a significant increase in interaction between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and individuals from the Bravo (Syrian) side.”

The UN report went on to cite 16 meetings it had observed taking place between the IDF and unknown officials on the Syrian side of the border in the past year.

Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in March 2011, but has over the years acknowledged that it helps treat wounded Syrians who arrive at its border, and provides some of them with humanitarian assistance. It has also claimed a number of airstrikes in Syria it says were meant to prevent arch-foe Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry from Iran via Damascus. Netanyahu has repeatedly confirmed that Israel was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s arms smuggling operations in Syria and build-up of capabilities on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, the IDF said Israel was “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces… in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”

Neocons Jews Cheer As Trump’s Military Escalation in Syria Risks Kicking off Global War

Donald Trump campaigned (inconsistently) on a pledge to pursue a foreign policy that broke with the interventionist orthodoxy in Washington. He even correctly notedthat past U.S. “foreign interventions unleashed ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

Given the persistent hypocrisy and myriad contradictions in his campaign, it may come as no surprise that just over five months into his presidency, Trump has abandoned any pretense of resisting imperial wars. The president is now pursuing a classically militaristic approach that is strikingly similar to what his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had called for.

Trump’s hawkishness is most apparent in Syria, where his administration has ramped up U.S. military aggression and might be hurtling towards a direct confrontation with Iran and Russia.

Colin Kahl, a former top U.S. Middle East policy official under Obama who is by no means an anti-war stalwart, recently warned that the country is on “the path to quagmire, a possible clash with Russia and the war with Iran some in Trump’s administration (and outside think tanks) want.”

Numerous U.S. attacks near a military base at a border area in southeast Syria called al-Tanf risk pushing the conflict into what could well become a global war.

It is looking more and more like the U.S. is also reviving goals to divide Syria on sectarian religious and ethnic lines, in order to weaken the government and its close ally Iran.

The Carnegie Middle East Center, a centrist Pentagon-funded think tank, has even acknowledged that the Trump administration is more than willing to deprioritize the fight against ISIS to do so.

Meanwhile, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike are rejoicing at the Trump administration’s belligerence. In an article in Foreign Affairs, the notorious Iran-contra figure Elliott Abrams applauded Trump for his “surprisingly standard foreign policy.” He wrote admirably, “This is not a revolutionary administration. The broad lines of its policy fit easily within those of the last few decades.”

Abrams, a posterboy for neoconservative war hawks, served as a top foreign policy official in the administrations of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Although he was criminally convicted of misleading Congress over the Iran-contra scandal, in which the U.S. smuggled cocaine and sold weapons to far-right death squads in Latin America, he went on to join Bush’s State Department, where he became an architect of the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Given Abrams’ record, his celebration of Trump’s policy on the Syrian-Iraqi border is one of the most chilling signs of how dangerous the escalating U.S. military intervention could be.

Rapid escalation against Iran and Russia

The tensions in Syria erupted May 18 and carried through to June 20. In this month, the Trump administration carried out three attacks on Syrian government-allied forces, destroyed two Iran-made drones and shot down a Syrian army warplane — the U.S. Air Force’s first air-to-air engagement in 18 years.

These incidents came in the aftermath of the U.S.’ launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase on April 6, which destroyed some 20 percent of the government’s planes, according to the Pentagon.

When the Trump administration downed a Syrian aircraft on June 19, Russia warned it will begin to consider U.S. planes as “targets.” The next day, U.S. officials accused a Russian aircraftof “provocatively” and “rapidly” flying toward an American spy plane and buzzing it within just five feet. (The Russian defense ministry denied the claims and said it was the U.S. spy plane that made “a provocative turn toward” its aircraft.)

In the meantime, the U.S. has quietly deployed more troops to southeast Syria, where it has also for the first time sent long-range rocket launchers known as high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, which can fire missiles up to nearly 200 miles away. Though the U.S. claims to be operating within a “deconfliction zone,” where it is training a band of rebels, it is reportedly operating more than 100 miles from its de facto base.

‘Mad Dog’ is calling the shots — and wants war with Iran

President Trump has effectively handed over power to the Department of Defense to set his foreign policy and carry out major operations without his approval. “What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump declared in April. “We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.” A White House official told the Los Angeles Times that this policy has enabled the military to take a “more aggressive approach.”

The generals are in charge, while Trump golfs at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (known by the moniker “Mad Dog,” which he earned while presiding over the razing of the Iraqi city of Fallujah) and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, another former four-star general, are calling the shots. They are supplemented by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, an ex-general, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Naturally, the Pentagon’s go-to solution to foreign-policy problems has been even greater military force. It is presently moving to send 3,000 to 5,000 new troops to Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been waging a war for 16 years that has brought only misery, destruction and death to the country’s weary people.

The defining characteristic of the Trump administration’s foreign policy from the beginning has been virulent aggression against Iran. Mattis has for decades depicted the country as public enemy number-one.

This staunch anti-Iran posturing is a key reason for the Trump administration’s record-shattering $110 billion arms deal with the draconian Saudi absolute monarchy. While Iran is pouring resources into the fight against ISIS, the Trump administration seems more intent on ramping up tensions with Iran than squashing the genocidal Salafi-jihadist group.

De-prioritizing the fight against ISIS

A report by the Carnegie Middle East Center, an influential U.S. government-funded think-tank, noted that the U.S. does not want ISIS to be defeated if Iran and its allies, the Syrian government and Hezbollah, are the ones to do it.

In the final paragraph of a research report, the Carnegie Middle East Center’s senior editor Michael Young observed, “the greatest paradox, one nobody in Washington will mention, is that in the greater game between Iran and the U.S., the Americans do not want the Islamic State in Deir Ezzor to be defeated by anyone but themselves—certainly not by Tehran’s allies.”

The report added: “[the U.S.] seeks to expand its sway along the Syrian-Iraqi border, which is unacceptable to Iran. No wonder. The standoff in southeastern Syria only really makes sense if we assume that Washington also intends to hinder Iranian moves and gain leverage that potentially allows it to shape a political endgame in the Syrian conflict.”

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of which the Middle East Center is a part, is hardly an anti-war bastion. It is funded by the U.S. government, along with other American allies and large corporations. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency provided huge funds to the think tank, according to its annual report, along with the U.K. Department for International Development, the Ford Foundation, the Japanese embassy, and the foundation of British-Syrian billionaire Asfari, a top funder of the Syrian opposition.

The Trump administration’s three attacks on Syrian government-allied forces in southeast Syria took place near al-Tanf, a critically important region along the Syrian-Iraqi border. The U.S. has created a base at al-Tanf, where it is training Sunni militants as a supposed proxy force against ISIS.

If the Syrian government retakes this strategically significant area, its ally Iran will have a land path from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon that leads straight through the cities of Baghdad, Ramadi, Damascus and Beirut, reestablishing the so-called Axis of Resistance against American empire and Israeli aggression. The U.S. and its Sunni allies are hellbent on preventing this scenario from taking form.

In order to weaken Iran and the Syrian government, it seems that the Trump administration is intent on reviving the imperial dream of dividing Syria along sectarian lines. The spearhead of its divide-and-conquer policy is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Syrian militia comprised primarily of Kurdish fighters whose situation is precarious at best.

‘The risk of sliding into a big war is rising’

The dangers of the Trump administration’s policy spiraling into a hot war with Iran or even Russia can hardly be underestimated. And the threat festers while conspiracy-minded Democrats obsessively depict Russia as a foreign bogeyman controlling Trump’s every move.

A former top foreign policy official in the Barack Obama administration has candidly acknowledged these perils, noting that Trump’s policy in Syria bears striking similarities to the kind counseled by neoconservatives and liberal interventionists over the years.

“Watch Syria. The risk of sliding into a big war is rising,” warned Colin Kahl in a series of tweets on June 19.

During the Obama era, Kahl served as deputy assistant to the president and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. While in government, he supported the Syrian armed opposition, like so many of his colleagues. These days, however, Kahl is faced with the dire consequences of direct American intervention in Syria, and he is terrified of what he sees.

“The days of the [anti-]ISIS campaign happening in strategically marginal parts of Syria are over. The two halves of the Syrian war are merging,” Kahl wrote.

When pressured by Charles Lister, an analyst who has long lobbied for U.S.-led regime change in Syria and who works for the Middle East Institute, a think tank funded by the U.S. State Department and Gulf monarchies, Kahl replied, “My personal view? We shouldn’t be at Tanf. We set up an Alamo we now have to defend.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump’s supporters touted his flirtations with anti-interventionist rhetoric to increase his appeal. Trump played off this perception to cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate contrasted with Hillary Clinton, who even the New York Times (which endorsed her) acknowledged was the most hawkish candidate in the race.

But some warned from the beginning that Trump was inconsistent and contradictory: he would criticize the Iraq war one moment and in the next, insist he would have perpetually occupied the Middle Eastern nation and stolen its oil. He condemned the disasters created by past U.S. military intervention, yet declared he would intentionally kill the family members of extremist Islamist militants (a war crime).

More than 100 days into the Trump era, the president has set the U.S. on the course for another disastrous conflict, this time with two of the most powerful militaries in the world. As Trump disengages from his administration’s foreign policy and gives the military free rein, the hawks who would welcome such a scenario are filling the void.

Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

Maritime Mystery: Why a U.S. Destroyer Failed to Dodge a Cargo Ship

There should have been lookouts on watch on the port, starboard and stern of the destroyer Fitzgerald — sailors scanning the horizon with binoculars and reporting by headsets to the destroyer’s bridge. At 1:30 a.m. last Saturday, off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo, they could hardly have failed to see the 730-foot freighter ACX Crystal, stacked with more than 1,000 containers, as it closed in.

Radar officers working both on the bridge and in the combat information center below it should have spotted the freighter’s image on their screens, drawing steadily closer. And under standard protocol, the Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, should have been awakened and summoned to the bridge to assure a safe passage long before the ships could come near each other.

But none of that happened. The Fitzgerald’s routine cruise in good weather through familiar, if crowded, seas ended in the most lethal Navy accident in years. Seven sailors lost their lives.

As investigators try to figure out what many veteran seamen describe as an incomprehensible collision, they have plenty of mysteries to unravel. In addition to the questions for the destroyer’s crew, there is the peculiar course of the Crystal after the accident, recorded by ship-tracking websites. It raises the possibility that no one was awake, or at least aware of their surroundings, when the two ships hit.

Rather than cut engines, assess the damage and look for ways to assist, the Crystal quickly resumed its former course, steaming toward Tokyo harbor for a half-hour before suddenly executing a U-turn and returning to the crash site — as if the ship’s crew had belatedly realized what had happened.

Investigators have spent the past week surveying the damage, reviewing logs, recovering electronic records — a “black box” aboard the Crystal and stored radar data from the Fitzgerald — and interviewing crew members. There should also be an audio recording from the bridge of the destroyer, like the harrowing tape of a 2012 collision between a different destroyer, the Porter, and an oil tanker, in which no one was injured.

Under strict orders not to talk about what they saw that night, the crew of the Fitzgerald is mostly keeping its counsel while grieving the loss of its shipmates. But one sailor, contacted via social media, offered what may endure as an epitaph for the accident.

“All I can say is,” the sailor wrote to The New York Times, “somebody wasn’t paying attention.”

On Friday, Rear Adm. Brian Fort, a veteran warship commander, was ordered to lead the Navy’s main investigation of the collision. The multiple investigations now underway — two by the Navy, one by the United States Coast Guard, others by the Japanese Coast Guard and the Crystal’s insurers — will probably provide answers. But even if the Crystal crew was asleep, Navy veterans say the far more maneuverable Fitzgerald will likely bear much of the blame.

“This is the kind of thing the Navy is brutally honest about,” said Bryan McGrath, who commanded a destroyer in the Atlantic from 2004 to 2006. “To the extent that the Fitzgerald did anything wrong, we’ll find out all about it, and there will be consequences.”

The two ships now sit in ports a short drive apart on the coast south of Tokyo, the 9,000-ton, $1.5 billion Fitzgerald at Yokosuka naval base, its home port, and the 29,000-ton Crystal at Yokohama.

The Fitzgerald has a section of its starboard side caved in, where the Crystal smashed directly into Commander Benson’s stateroom, tearing it open and leaving him injured. Sailors had to bend back the door of his cabin to free him and get him inside the ship, the United States Naval Institute News reported. Beneath the water line, the container ship’s flared bow also tore a large gash in the destroyer’s hull, officials said.

As seawater poured in, some 116 crew members were asleep in two flooded berthing rooms. The ship’s radio room was damaged and much of its communications gear ruined or left without power. Sailors fought the flooding for an hour before sending out distress calls, the institute said.

The bodies of the seven men who died were recovered by divers from flooded spaces sealed off to keep the ship from foundering, a wrenching decision by officers in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.

There are many signs that the Fitzgerald had almost no warning of the approaching collision: the fact that the captain was in his cabin and that no shipwide alarm had rousted sailors from their bunks. “As to how much warning they had, I don’t know,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, at a news conference on Sunday. “That’s going to have to be found out during the investigation.”

Less is known about what happened aboard the Crystal, which had been chartered by a Japanese company to bring cargo from Nagoya, on Japan’s central coast, to Tokyo. Manned by a Filipino crew, it was far less damaged than the Fitzgerald. On Wednesday afternoon, a large blue tarp hung from a gash in the front of the ship, large scratches were visible on the port side and a section of the bow was crumpled.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for Dainichi-Invest Corporation, the Crystal’s owner, said the company “wishes to offer sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who so tragically lost their lives on the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.” He declined to comment on whether anyone was awake in the pilot house of the container ship at the time of the collision.

Steffan Watkins, an information technology security consultant who writes for Janes Intelligence on ship tracking, said the path of the Crystal, as posted from its Automatic Identification System, “looks like an automated course.” Instead of stopping so the crew could investigate what had just happened, the ship corrected its course and “kept accelerating” toward Tokyo, he said.

“It looks very much like the computer was driving,” he said.

But the fact that after more than 30 minutes the Crystal reversed course and returned to the accident scene suggests the captain or crew took control of the ship from the autopilot, Mr. Watkins said. “It took them 55 minutes to get back to the spot of the collision, and that’s when they called the Japanese Coast Guard,” he said.

Whether the investigations will confirm the informed speculation of Mr. Watkins remains to be seen. But a number of Navy veterans who joined a lively online debate said that even the most distracted performance by the Crystal’s crew could not justify or explain the Fitzgerald’s failure to get out its way.

“It looks horrible,” said Gary E. Meyer, owner of a tech company in New Jersey, who served on the Navy ship San Diego and posted a YouTube commentary on the accident that got much attention. “You have three lookouts and you’re running radar,” Mr. Meyer said. “That ship can really accelerate and maneuver. It doesn’t mean they caused the collision, but they’re at fault for not avoiding it.”

Steven M. Morawiec, of Sparta, Wis., who spent 22 years in the Navy and many times took charge of his ship at night as the officer of the deck, said the failure to summon the captain was incomprehensible.

“On my ship, if another ship was expected to get within 4,000 yards, you had to have the captain there beside you,” he said. “If you didn’t wake the captain when you were supposed to, you were toast.”

The families of those who perished aboard the Fitzgerald wait for anything that can explain their loss. The bodies are now in the United States and the Navy is conducting autopsies, making funerals hard to plan, said Aly Hernandez-Singer, a cousin of Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Tex. Bewildered relatives are grasping at rumors.

“Something ain’t right about what they’re saying,” said Stanley Rehm, the uncle of one of the dead, Fire Controlman First Class Gary Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio, whose heroic efforts to rescue others have inspired an online petition to name a destroyer after him. “We got to get to the bottom of this.”

C.I.A. Set Up Secret Back Channel With Syria to Try to Free U.S. Hostage

WASHINGTON — In the early days of the Trump administration, national security officials began exploring ways to free Austin Tice, an American journalist and a former Marine officer believed to be held by the Syrian government. His case has frustrated investigators and diplomats since he disappeared while on assignment nearly five years ago.

White House officials decided, because of the delicacy of the situation, to set up a back channel. Given the deteriorated relations between the United States and Syria, options were limited. So in early February, Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, spoke on the phone with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau intelligence service, a man accused of human rights abuses during the country’s civil war and slapped with sanctions by the United States. The call was the highest-level contact between the governments in years.

Though Mr. Pompeo’s discussion with Mr. Mamlouk prompted further communications that renewed hope that Mr. Tice would be freed, the operation fizzled out after the Syrian government’s nerve gas attack in rebel-held northern Syria in April and the American missile strike in response, according to several former United States officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the efforts to free Mr. Tice remain secret.

The plight of Americans held hostage by reclusive foreign governments has received renewed attention since the death on Monday of Otto F. Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student from Ohio who was arrested in North Korea in January 2016. Many of the most difficult cases involve nations — like Syria — that have no diplomatic relations with the United States, giving American officials little leverage to negotiate. Outreach to Syria by President Trump’s administration shows how far it has been willing to go to secure the release of Americans held abroad.

“Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Daniel R. Russel, an assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

While Mr. Warmbier was put on trial and his family knew he was being held by the North Korean government, Mr. Tice’s case has been a conundrum. The United States believes the Syrian government is holding him, but it has no proof. Syria insists it does not know what happened to him.

“Austin Tice is not in the hands of Syrian authorities, and we don’t have any information about him at all,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told The Associated Press last year.

The Tice family declined to comment, as did the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.

Mr. Tice, a former Marine captain from Texas, left for Syria before his final year in Georgetown Law School. He traveled to the region and had been freelancing for news media outlets when he was abducted in August 2012.

A month later, Mr. Tice appeared blindfolded in a video that shows masked men with assault rifles. Looking scared and disheveled, he uttered a few words in Arabic and then vanished. Former American officials believe that the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria took Mr. Tice and that the video was a crude ploy to blame militants for his abduction.

Mr. Tice in an undated photograph.CreditFamily of Austin Tice, via Associated Press

Despite its antagonistic relationship with the United States, there is ample motive and precedent for the Syrian government to speak with high-level American officials. Before the civil war, there were several such contacts, including one in 2010 between Mr. Mamlouk and Daniel Benjamin, who served as the coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department in the Obama administration.

Even after the war broke out and the United States adopted a policy of pushing for Mr. Assad’s ouster, Syrian officials were open to communicating with Americans, diplomats say.

“The Syrian government would like to reduce the extent of its isolation,” said Robert S. Ford, an American ambassador to Damascus during the Obama administration. “The Syrians are a very supple, nasty group. They’re willing to talk all the time. That’s just how they do business.”

After the election, American officials decided to brief Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, who became the president’s chief strategist, about the efforts to bring Mr. Tice home. Mr. Bannon was dismissive of Mr. Tice, raising questions about why he had gone to Syria in the first place, former officials said.

Still, after Mr. Trump took office, the administration moved forward, resulting in Mr. Pompeo’s phone call with Mr. Mamlouk in which he raised the issue of Mr. Tice. It is not clear what exactly the two men said, but the United States later suggested to Mr. Mamlouk that freeing Mr. Tice would go a long way as the administration shaped its broader Syria policy, according to the former officials.

It seemed like the best chance yet to bring Mr. Tice home. Administration officials began trying to figure out how the Syrians might explain his lengthy disappearance. After the Americans received proof of life, the Syrians would announce they had found Mr. Tice, crafting a narrative to explain his abduction. Mr. Tice would be put on trial for violating the country’s immigration laws and then pardoned by Mr. Assad. After Mr. Tice landed on American soil, Mr. Trump would call Mr. Assad.

But that never happened, and some former diplomats pointed to a comment in March by Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, who said the United States did not view Mr. Assad’s removal as a policy priority. “You pick and choose your battles,” Ms. Haley told reporters, “and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities. And our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Her comments were unusual, former diplomats said. The administration had weakened its negotiating position by giving the Syrian government something it wanted — the president’s tacit approval of Mr. Assad — without demanding anything in return.

“The administration said Assad could stay but got nothing for it,” said James O’Brien, the former special presidential envoy for hostage affairs under the Obama administration. “You only make that statement if you get Austin Tice home.”

Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, at the Capitol in May. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that it was always going to be hard to get Mr. Tice out of Syria but that recent events had made it even harder. “What the regime requires is for us to overlook what they do,” Mr. Tabler said, referring to the gas attack. “That’s a big deal. There is no way the U.S. is going to ignore these actions.”

American officials suspect that Mr. Mamlouk or Brig. Gen. Bassam al-Hassan, an adviser to Mr. Assad, knows Mr. Tice’s whereabouts. Like Mr. Mamlouk, Mr. Hassan has been hit with sanctions by the United States.

Last year, the American intelligence community concluded with moderate to high confidence in a secret analysis that Mr. Tice was alive, based partly on a report that he had been seen at a hospital in Damascus, being treated for dehydration.

Mr. Tice was not the only American held in Syria. Kevin Patrick Dawes, a freelance photographer from San Diego, was abducted in 2012 by government forces. In late 2014, the Syrians acknowledged holding Mr. Dawes, then freed him in April 2016 for health reasons, officials said.

At times, the Russian government, which is allied with Syria, tried to parlay the release of Mr. Tice, Mr. Dawes and others with ties to the United States who were being held in Syria to its advantage. In talks with American officials, the Russians suggested they might be able to help in exchange for the release of Russians imprisoned in the United States. The Americans also floated the idea of freeing a Russian spy for Mr. Tice, but Russian officials did not respond to the offer.

Ultimately, American officials concluded that the Russians did not know where Mr. Tice was or who was holding him.

Several Americans also remain held in Iran, including an elderly father and his son; in addition, a former F.B.I. agent and C.I.A. contractor, Robert A. Levinson, disappeared on the island of Kish in 2007. At least three others are still being detained in North Korea. Officials worry the government there could arrest more.

The momentum to free Mr. Tice came to a halt in April when the Syrian government unleashed the gas attack on its own civilians, killing dozens of men, women and children. In the days that followed, Mr. Trump ordered a strike on a Syrian air base used to carry out the gas attack.

Mr. Trump said in a recent interview that Mr. Assad was “truly an evil person.” The situation only worsened in recent days as the United States shot down a Syrian fighter jet.

Mr. Tabler said the time was not right for a deal over Mr. Tice, who will turn 36 in August. “We’re not there,” he said. “That’s sad for Austin Tice and his family. Everybody wishes that it had been different. That’s just a hard reality.”

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