Doolittle Raiders

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They once were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States . There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history.   The mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.

Now only four survive.

After Japan ‘s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor , with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.

Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried — sending such big, heavy bombers from a carrier.

The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing.

But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.
And those men went anyway.

They bombed Tokyo , and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed.

Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia .

The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.

Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid; “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”

Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson , Arizona , as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider.

Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.

Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.

There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.

As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February,
Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.

What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.

The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts … there was a passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that, on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that emblematizes the depth of his sense of duty and devotion:

“When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home, he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for three years until her death in 2005.”

So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.

The events in Fort Walton Beach marked the end. It has come full circle; Florida ‘s nearby Eglin Field was where the Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission. The town planned to do all it can to honor the men: a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner and a parade.

Do the men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice? They don’t talk about that, at least not around other people. But if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach this week, and if you should encounter any of the Raiders, you might want to offer them a word of thanks. I can tell you from firsthand observation that they appreciate hearing that they are remembered.
The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date — some time this year — to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of them.

They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets.
And raise them in a toast to those who are gone.

 

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Assad musters large Syrian-Hizballah-Iraqi force to recover forward Golan position opposite Israel

The Syrian army’s 90th Brigade’s loss of its forward Golan position at Tel Al-Ahmar to rebel forces including al Qaeda’s Nusra Front was Bashar Assad’s most humiliating military setback in the past year. Situated on the Israeli border, it is the key to the Golan town of Quneitra which faces Israeli army positions on the other side. To recover this strategic position, Assad has mustered a combined Syrian-Hizballah-Iraqi Shiite expeditionary force, the recipe for most of his victories against rebel forces in the past year.

DEBKAfile military sources also disclose that for the capture of Tel Al-Ahmar, the rebels for the first time deployed units the size of battalions, drawing 350 fighters from ten local militias from southern Syria and elements of al Qaeda’s Jabhat al Nusra. Among them too were local Syrian fighters trained by American instructors at a camp deep in the desert of southern Jordan. This was the trainees’ first taste of combat inside Syria.

Our military sources add that the battle for the Golan key point was the first rebel operations that was professionally planned, organized and executed. They used heavy 120mm mortars to pound their target into submission.
Iraqi Shiite fighters are pouring into Syria in a swelling stream to join Assad’s expeditionary force for the Golan. Most are believed to be members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq under the command of Abu Mahdi Mohandes, the deputy of the Iranian Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

In his speech on Friday April 4, Hassan Nasrallah said that henceforth his Hizballah fighters would strike Israel from their positions on the Syrian Golan.

This confronts Damascus with a difficulty. The Syrian army is legally constrained from deploying tanks and armored vehicles for operations against the rebels under the Syrian-Israeli 1974 ceasefire agreement which ended the war of attrition following the Yom Kippur war. This agreement restored 5 percent of the plateau to Syrian control provided it was incorporated in a demilitarized zone to the east and policed by UN peacekeepers.

But on Tuesday evening, April 8, the Syrian air force bombarded the rebels holding Tel al-Ahmar, with Iranian-made explosives in breach of that agreement. The response to that violation poses Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz with some major decisions:

1. Should the Syrian Army be allowed to drive the rebels from Tel al-Ahmar?

2. To achieve this, Syrian forces would have to use heavy weaponry, a further violation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement with Israel. How many violations can the IDF tolerate?

3. Should Israel permit hostile foreign troops, such as the Lebanese Hizballah and the Iraqi Shiites,to  take up positions on its northern border?

4. How will the IDF deal with the almost inevitably spillover of battles, explosions and bombardments taking place in this tiny area into Israel?

5. Will Israel continue to provide medical care for wounded rebels in the battle for Tel al-Ahmar? If so, Israeli medical teams and hospitals may find they are treating jihadis associated with Al Qaeda.

Israelis living in the north and trippers to favorite resorts there had better not expect the coming eight-day Passover festival to pass quietly.

US races headlong for final nuclear deal with Iran – irrespective of program’s military dimension

Iran and the six world powers embarked Tuesday, April 8, on two days of negotiations in Vienna for a final and comprehensive nuclear accord, with both the US and Iran resolved start drafting the document for resolving the long-running dispute in mid-May. DEBKAfile reports that in its haste for progress, the Obama administration has set aside consideration of the Iranian nuclear program’s military dimensions. As a senior Israeli security official put it: “The Americans are ready to take Tehran’s assurance that its program is purely peaceful at face value.”
Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday, April 7 in a brief comment that what concerns Israel is that the negotiations have not so far addressed Iran’s nuclear weapons program or delivery systems – a reference its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
DEBKAfile’s sources note that “concern” was an understatement of Ya’alon’s views following his falling-out with Washington for his outspoken remarks on US policies both on Iran and the Middle East peace process.

His comment also paled compared with the sharp exchanges between Israel’s defense chiefs and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, during his three-day visit last week. Those exchanges brought to the surface the profound US-Israeli differences on the state of Iran’s nuclear program and the scope of its threat.
When he visited Riyadh on March 28, President Barack Obama tried to reassure Saudi King Abdullah that “the United States would not accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran.”

Gen. Dempsey too sought to allay Israel’s fears about the final nuclear accord under discussion between the six world powers and Iran.
Neither Riyadh nor Jerusalem was convinced. They agreed to couch their rift with Washington diplomatically as “tactical differences.” But the Saudis and Israelis also agreed to continue working together on the Iranian nuclear question.
No sooner had Obama departed Riyadh and Dempsey Jerusalem, than a US spokesman issued an upbeat  statement that no second interim nuclear accord would be necessary after the one signed last November, and there was no bar to getting down to drafting the final accord document and have it ready for signing by July 20.
This optimism seemed to have no visible rationale, but the Iranians saw their chance of a fast deal for major sanctions relief.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif endorsed this tight timetable when he arrived in Vienna Tuesday: “We will finish all discussions and issues this time,” he said, “to pave the ground for starting to draft the final draft in Ordibehesht (an Iranian month that begins in two weeks).”

Washington also brushed aside the warning heard form Russia’s senior negotiator Sergey Ryabkov that Moscow might “take the path of counter-measures” on Iran if pushed too far on Ukraine. On arrival in Vienna, he said stiffly that Russia not involved in the Iran talks “to please the Americans or Iranians” but because it “meets the national interest” to find a solution. But, he added, Russia has no special expectations from this round of talks.

The standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine cast a heavy cloud over the Vienna meeting. But Washington refused to be put off its diplomatic stroke by this impasse, or even the mammoth $50 billion barter deal  Moscow and Iran are near closing for Iran to sell Russian 550,000 barrels of oil per day in lieu of various Russian goods, including foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.
US spokesmen first denied knowledge of this transaction, which once it goes through will undermine the sanctions and oil embargo the US and Europe have imposed on Iran as a lever to curtail its nuclear weapons drive. Then, on Tuesday, Western sources at the Vienna session said it was not feasible because Russia and Iran had no direct pipeline connections across the Caspian Sea.
However, DEBKAfile’s sources mooted another option: Moscow could leave the oil it procures in Iran as a strategic Russian reserve, available for resale to a third party.

The opening session in Vienna saw US and Iranian positions far apart on the key issue of the quantity of low-grade enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to produce. The Americans want this quantity curtailed to prevent Iran stockpiling sufficient material for a short hop to weapons-grade for a nuclear bomb. Iran maintains its right to enrichment as endorsed in the interim accord concluded with the six powers last November.

Our military sources say that the argument is irrelevant, because it does not take into account the low- and high-grade enriched uranium the Iranians are keeping concealed as part of their military program.

US arms Syrian rebels with first heavy weapons, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missiles – raising war stakes

Two Syrian rebel militias judged moderate in Washington have in the last few days taken delivery and begun using – mostly in the Idlib region – the first advanced US weapon to be deployed in more than three years of civil war, DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal. It is the heavy anti-tank, optically-tracked, wire-guided BGM-71 TOW, which is capable of piercing 500mm thickness of Syrian tank armor and Syrian fortifications at a range of 4 kilometers. Armed with this weapon now are Brig-Gen. Abdul-Hila al Bashir, the new commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is headquartered at the Golan town of Quneitra, and Jamal Maarouf, head of the rebel Syrian Revolutionary Front fighting in the north.

The appearance of this advanced missile radically alters the balance of strength on the Syrian battlefield. It also denotes a striking change in Obama administration policy, which hitherto flatly resisted every demand to provide Syrian rebel groups with the heavy arms essential for them to have any chance of standing up to Bashar Assad’s superior military strength.

Our sources report that in the last few days, the new weapons are being airlifted in through two routes: the southeastern Turkish town of Diyarbakir on the Tigris, and the giant northern Saudi King Faisal Air Base at Tabuk near the Jordanian border.
US Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, arranged during his visit to Israel last week for the Netanyahu government to waive a standing agreement between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel, whereby Saudi Air Force F-15 fighters are not stationed in Tabuk given its proximity to Israeli air space.

Dempsey explained that they were needed as air cover for the American transports flying the new weapons in via Saudi, and the convoys ferrying them onward from the Saudi base to their destination in southern Syria through Jordan. Stationed at the Tabuk air base too is a squadron of French fighter jets.

The route from Turkey to Syria runs through the “Kilis Corridor”, which is a narrow rebel-controlled strip 40 kilometers long from the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep up to the big Syrian town of Aleppo.

From his headquarters at Quneitra, opposite IDF positions on the Golan, Gen. al Bashir commands most of the Syrian forces fighting Bashar Assad’s army in the south.

Maarouf and his Syrian Revolutionary Front operate from a base in the southern Turkish town of Antakya.

In the last of his recent press interviews on April 2, Maarouf disclosed that some of the Front’s operations against the Syrian army were carried out in conjunction with al Qaeda’s Jabhat al Nusra.
Our military sources report that Syrian tank armor is not thick enough to withstand the BGM-71 TOW rockets. To save his tanks, Assad has shifted the brunt of his anti-rebel operation to heavy air force bombardments, which claim a heavy toll among civilians.

Washington is therefore confronted with its next decision about whether to give the rebels sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons as well.
According to our sources in Washington and Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov obtained from US Secretary of State John Kerry a commitment, when they met in Paris last week, not to supply the rebels with hand held anti-aircraft missiles.

Options for Mid East talks: Carrying on, interim deal, or a turn to the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian bloc

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, nearing 80, has proved time and again in the last two decades that he will never put pen to paper on an accord for ending the dispute with Israel. If he really wanted an independent Palestinian state, he could at any time have followed the path to self-determination chosen by David Ben Gurion, when he declared Israeli statehood on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv. Had Abbas (known mostly as Abu Mazen) formally convened an assembly of Palestinian community and institutional leaders at the Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah and proclaimed statehood, there would have been very little Israel could have done.
But that is not his way and never has been, because for him Palestinian independence is no more than an abstract slogan which must never come to earth.

In 1995, Abbas and the dovish Israeli politician Yossie Bailin jointly drafted a document, which later carried their names, offering  a formula for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute – except that he never signed it. He couldn’t bring himself to this commitment, because it conflicted with his fundamental principles and put his political survival at risk.
Today, too, the rise of a Palestinian state would end Abbas’s career as Palestinian leader. He holds sway over the six West Bank towns which passed to Palestinian Authority control without a legal mandate. The last Palestinian elections in 2006 gave his Fatah party only 48 seats compared with 76 netted by the rival Hamas.

Israel, the United States and Europe therefore respect as their legitimate Palestinian partner for peace negotiations a figure who is unelected and whose rule is buttressed by seven Palestinian security battalions, which America and Europe agreed to bankroll to the tune of $2 billion, after the cutoff of Arab aid. Another three battalions are due to be added to the force.

So Abu Mazen keeps up the masquerade of striving for Palestinian independence and staying in the talking shop for two purposes: It keeps him in power by dint of international recognition, and donations continue to roll in to feed his corrupt regime and cover the payroll of his security force.
Not much is left to trickle down to the ordinary Palestinian family.

To buy a small measure of street credibility, Abbas must show the people that he is the only leader able to force Israel to release Palestinians from long prison sentences. He achieves this by making this his price for not walking away from the table
So long as the money flows in and Palestinians are sprung from Israeli jails, no voices are raised in circles that count in Ramallah against the corrupt practices eating away at the regime.

Abbas therefore ranted and raved when Israel’s cancelled the fourth batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners due to be released March 30, to punish him for sending applications to 15 UN agencies and conventions for membership to bypass the negotiations. Israel also hit back at Abbas with a threat of sanctions – some directed against his personal business interests.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s hard work as would-be peacemaker was not just thrown back in his face but drew criticism at home from his colleagues in the White House and State Department. He tried Thursday to speak to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in what was described as a desperate bid to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The US Secretary rebuked both the two leaders equally for engaging in “tit-for-tat” tactics, but he knew exactly which side had caused the rupture. Kerry must by now realize that Abu Mazen’s history of withdrawing from any fruitful dialogue for peace made this outcome inevitable. Had he gone for interim accords, which he never considered, rather than final solutions, he might have bought a few years’ lull in the dispute, although this too would have come apart over the same Palestinian dynamic.

In the past, Abu Mazen had to contend with only one effective dissenting voice. It came from his bitter rival, Mohammed Dahlan, who ended up quitting his comfortable berth on Palestinian Authority and Fatah councils in Ramallah and going into exile. There, too, he landed on his feet.
Some 30 years younger that Abbas, Dahlan has been a persona non grata for Israel as former Gaza strongman and innovative terrorist.

He is problematic on at least three more counts:

1. Seven years ago, he extracted from the US government a huge sum – estimated at $1 billion – for promising to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas rule. He never delivered and refused to refund the money.

That is one US count against him. In addition, he has thrown in his lot with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and their offensive against Obama administration Middle East policies.
2.  Because of his unbridled criticism of Mahmoud Abbas and calls for his removal, Dahlan is on the run from his enemies who have sworn to destroy him.
3.  Dahlan has managed to win the sympathy and patronage of powerful Gulf rulers. With their help, he established himself three months ago in Cairo within the Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi’s inner circle of advisers on the Palestinian question. This explains why Abbas gives Cairo a wide berth.
The Palestinian renegade gained this position through the influence of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is one of El-Sisi’s most generous bankers and who stands at the forefront of the Saudi-UAE life-and-death campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The talk of Ramallah this week was not the breakdown of talks, which surprised no one there, but interest in the way the Palestinian fate could be profitably drawn into the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian war on the Muslim Brotherhood and its offspring Hamas – away from the American ken.

Abbas’s rival Dahlan is shaping up as facilitator.

This trend appears to have been picked by some Israeli government and intelligence circles, judging by a comment heard from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Wednesday, April 2, during an office party on Passover Eve. He remarked that the ball is now in the Palestinian court. “Irrespective of the negotiations, Israel has found an attractive political horizon in such places as the Arab oil emirates and Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding: “If Abu Mazen is willing to follow us in that direction, fine. If not, we don’t need him.”
This comment suggested that Israel has thoughts of linking up with the emerging Saudi-Egyptian-UAR bloc and bringing the Palestinian issue on board.  Whether or not these thoughts crystallize into hard policy, they hint at an alternative Israeli approach to the Palestinian question.