A former executive of an Israel-based defense contractor has pleaded guilty for his role in schemes to defraud a multi-billion dollar US program to finance foreign military purchases, the US Department of Justice announced in a press release on Monday.
Yuval Marshak entered his plea to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of major fraud against the United States in US District Court in the state of Connecticut, the release explained.
“This conviction is the result of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) ongoing effort to identify and investigate fraudulent activity targeting the Department of Defense and its programs that support America’s national security and foreign policy objectives,” DCIS Northeast Field Office acting special agent in charge Leigh-Alistair Barzey stated in the release.
According to court documents, Marshak carried out three separate schemes between 2009 and 2013, in which he falsely certified that all items sent to Israel had been made in the United States, as required by law, the release noted.
Marshak also falsely claimed that no commissions had been paid, when a company in Connecticut that was controlled by a relative received undisclosed payments, according to the release.Two US companies have already settled charges with the Justice Department in connection with the FMF contracts.
Earlier this year, the New Jersey-based defense contractor Octal Group agreed to pay $460,000 in fines and restitution for covering up an agreement with Marshak.
A second company, Hale Products, Inc. paid more than $60,000 and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation.
In addition to fines, Marshak faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for wire and mail fraud charges, ten years for major fraud against the US government and 20 years for international money laundering.
On Wednesday, the United States once again accused Russia of violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an allegation repeatedly denied by Moscow.
Speaking in Congress, a senior US general said that Russia has allegedly deployed prohibited cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,000 kilometers.
“We believe that the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty,” Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee.
The general added that by deploying prohibited missiles, Moscow poses a threat to “NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.”
In mid-February, American senators also submitted legislation to toughen Washington’s stance on the INF Treaty, presuming funds for active defense measures and a retaliation strike. Moreover, the proposed bill would also enable transfer of INF missile systems to US allies.
Commenting on the allegations, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament’s defense committee, said that Russia has not violated the agreement.
“Russia strictly observes the agreement signed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, despite the fact that, according to our evaluations, the agreement was not in the interests of the USSR and then Russia. In particular, it should be taken into account that the US has deployed missile systems and missile defenses in several European countries,” Ozerov said.
Moscow and Washington have occasionally exchanged accusations of violating the INF Treaty. From time to time, Washington’s claims sound absurd; for example, calling to expand the treaty to include the RS-26 Yars-M mobile missile system, which possesses an operational range of 6,000-11,000 km.
The system, which has nothing to do with short-range and medium-range missiles, is expected to enter service with the Russian Strategic Forces in 2017. The missile is believed to be imperceptible for existing and advanced missile defenses.
“Probably, the US is concerned with its own exposure to a retaliation strike by the Russian Strategic Forces, rather than the security of its European allies. As a result, Washington has been engaged in complicated maneuvers, including inflating the mythical ‘Russian threat,’ strengthening NATO, expanding it to the east and accusing Russia of violating the INF Treaty. At the same time, the US continues to deploy its missiles across Europe,” Russian journalist and political commentator Alexander Khrolenko wrote in a piece for RIA Novosti.
According to the author, all of the above further contribute to the familiar American trend of resolving “geopolitical tensions by force” bypassing international law and the UN Security Council.
“However, there cannot be ‘shock and awe’ for Russia efficiently countering the pressure from the US and NATO. Probably, Washington’s allegations against Moscow [over INF Treaty violations] are only a façade for aggressive plans,” Khrolenko suggested.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is an indefinite agreement signed between the US and the Soviet Union in 1987. It came into effect on June 1, 1988.
The treaty prohibited the production, testing and deployment of ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, with ranges of 500-1,000 km (short-range) and 1,000-5,000 (medium-range). It also banned all launchers and ground-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500 km.
By summer 1991, the USSR eliminated 1,846 missiles systems, while the US – 846 systems.
A longtime standoff between Washington and Moscow in the mid-1970s resulted in the creation of advanced missile target seekers, including laser and infrared systems. They guaranteed an unprecedented accuracy of a missile strike. In 1974, the US codified its limited nuclear war doctrine in the national nuclear strategy and began upgrading its forward bases’ missile defense system for European allies.
In 1977, Moscow responded with upgrading its arsenal of heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles with scattering warheads and deployed RSD-10 medium-range missiles to the Western border.In 1983, the NATO Council decided to deploy 572 Pershing II missiles to Europe. The missile had a flight time to the target of 6-8 minutes.
Finally, a compromise was reached in 1987 between the US and the USSR, after years of negotiations.
The deployment of US Mk-41 launchers to Poland and Romania was a major violation of the INF Treaty. Those systems can be used for launching Tomahawk medium-range missiles.
Currently, the guidance system of the Pershing II is used in the Hera target missile, which can be qualified as a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile. The Pentagon continues missile defense tests and intensifies the development of heavy attack drones and cruise missiles.
“The US says that the modernization of its nuclear triad is not aimed at a new arms race. However, such efforts should have a practical goal. And if they are directed against Moscow the US should consider the modernization of Russia’s nuclear potential,” Khrolenko concluded.
An official visit during the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration could be another nail in the coffin of the British Monarchy
You know that awful feeling of doom when bad news makes your blood run cold? It’s happened to me at least four times already this year,
- when Theresa May invited Trump on a state visit to the UK when he’d been in office only five minutes and clearly ought to be on probation for at least two years;
- when the British Government announced it was going to whoop it up for the centenary of the Balfour Declaration;
- when the British Government announced it had invited Israel’s chief criminal Netanyahu to those Balfour celebrations; and
- when news came the other day that a member of the British Royal Family might break precedent and formally visit Israel later this year.
That fourth one had the Times of Israel crowing with delight. Its report succeeds in portraying Prince Charles as the perfect stooge while Boris Johnson is having a bad hair day as usual. Such a visit would, of course, legitimise Israel as an illegal occupying power and destroy the last shred of British credibility in the Middle East and indeed the rest of the civilised world. But that counts for nothing among the bird-brains that run our country.
Let’s remember how this Balfour lunacy began, Arthur Balfour (later Lord Balfour) being British foreign secretary at the time and a Zionist convert.
His Declaration of 1917 – actually a letter to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild – pledged assistance for the Zionist cause with total disregard for the consequences to the native majority in the land the Zionists had targeted: Palestine.
Calling itself a declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, it said: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities….”
Balfour also wrote: “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land.”
The “running sore in the East” and how it turned septic
Obviously there was opposition. Lord Sydenham warned: “The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country may never be remedied. What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.”
Well, we know now, a hundred years on.
So what was behind it? I like the account of Jewish businessman Benjamin Freedman who gave a speech at the Willard Hotel, Washington, in 1961. He told his audience that Britain, in WW1, was in dire straits thanks to the success of the German U-boats. She was alone, almost out of ammunition and on the edge of starvation. Germany offered peace terms, and while Britain chewed it over the Zionists of Germany (representing the Zionists of Eastern Europe who wanted an end to the Czar) came to London and said: “We will guarantee to bring the United States into the war as your ally, to fight with you on your side, if you will promise us Palestine after you win the war.” And that was the bargain Britain struck, in October 1916, overturning earlier pledges to the Arabs for their help.
And having done their bit, the Zionists wanted a ‘receipt’ – written confirmation of Britain’s pledge. Hence Balfour’s infamous ‘declaration’ in November the following year, a grubby note addressed to Lord Rothschild promising to pay off the Zionists with land that wasn’t Britain’s to give.
When the war was over a large delegation of Jews attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. According to Freedman, who was there, when the Great Powers carved up the losers’ territories – German and Ottoman – the Jewish delegation claimed Palestine, producing Balfour’s promissory note.
In August 1917, while the Palestine deal was still being discussed but before Balfour issued his Declaration, Lord Montague penned an important memorandum to the British Cabinet. Montague, only the second Jew to serve in a British cabinet, was Minister of Munitions in 1916 when, said Freedman, Britain was running out of ammunition. He wanted to place on record that in his opinion the policy of the British Government was anti-Semitic because it would provide a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world. “Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom,” he said. He assumed that Zionism meant that Mahommedans and Christians were to make way for the Jews and that Jews would be put in all positions of preference.
Montague argued that there was no such thing as a Jewish nation, and he was well aware of the unpopularity of the Jewish community. “We have obtained a far greater share of this country’s goods and opportunities than we are numerically entitled to…. Many of us have been exclusive in our friendships and intolerant in our attitude….”
As for the Balfour Declaration itself he felt the Government was carrying out the wishes of a Zionist organisation “largely run by men of enemy descent or birth”. Furthermore, he said, “I would be almost tempted to proscribe the Zionist organisation as illegal and against the national interest.” His message to Lord Rothschild was that the Government should help Jews in Palestine enjoy liberty of settlement and life on equal terms with inhabitants who hold other religious beliefs, but go no further.
The insane Declaration was followed 30 years later by another monstrous betrayal when the Great Powers pushed the United Nations into cruelly partitioning Palestine, again without consulting those who lived there. Worse still, the UN did nothing to halt the Jewish terror spree and land grab that followed. Justice groups are now saying it’s time the British Government, which accepted the mandated responsibility for the Holy Land up to 1948, had the good manners to admit its part in the catastrophe and say sorry for the needless damage and suffering caused to Palestinian Arabs who once considered themselves Britain’s allies. That would be a reasonable starting point for dealing with the horrendous situation today.
Celebrating Balfour amounts to praising the thieves for keeping what they stole. Those who cannot stomach such a cowardly betrayal of Christian and Arab communities in the Holy Land may consider signing a petition addressed the the Queen’s private secretary asking that she does not travel to Israel at this time. It points out that the situation vis-à-vis Palestine is regarded by the Foreign Office as “unfinished business” and a royal visit would not only add insult to injury to the Palestinians but embroil Her Majesty in a controversy that could damage the international standing of the British Monarchy.
The time for the Royal Family to start being nice to Israel is when Israel starts being nice to its Palestinian neighbours, honours its obligations under the UN Charter, ends its illegal occupation and shows proper regard for international and humanitarian law.
And not before.
What do you call an organization that teaches children an exclusive religious or ethnic nationalism and promotes war and other forms of violence to get its way?
Many people would say an extremist group or a right-wing cult. Many people would think we were talking about something like the Ku Klux Klan.
But while the KKK did have a youth corps where children were taught “patriotism” and “Christian values,” but weren’t “brainwashed” – in the words of one “imperial wizard” – we are talking about a group the Canada Revenue Agency finds worthy of awarding tax-deductible status for “charitable” donations.
The Jewish National Fund would also deny “brainwashing” children, but there is no doubt it tries to convince young minds of its exclusivist worldview.
JNF Montreal recently organized a “tree-a-thon” with the stated aim of restoring lands damaged by last year’s forest fires in Israel. Participants were promised “great prizes, great food, great fun,” and students were told they could “earn community service hours.”
The registered “charity” offers various youth education initiatives promoting Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. JNF Canada’s website boasts of how it helps young people “forge an everlasting bond with the land of Israel.”
The JNF has long promoted an expansionist vision of the “land of Israel” – a term that can be found on the Blue Boxes that it uses in fundraisers.
Maps on JNF Blue Boxes distributed in recent years encompass the occupied West Bank. The first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, depicted an area reaching from the Mediterranean into present-day Lebanon and Jordan.
Blue Boxes – tins for collecting money – are the mainstay of JNF youth outreach. Over the last century millions of them have been distributed around the world.
An official description explains: “Since its debut in 1901 as JNF’s official fundraising pushke [collection box], the Blue Box has represented JNF and its efforts to develop the land and roads, build communities, strengthen agriculture and create water reservoirs in Israel. It is also a vehicle for educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”
While youth pursuing “community service” sounds benign, the JNF is, in fact, a racist, colonial institution that has no place in the 21st century. An owner of 13 percent of the land in Israel and with influence over much of the rest, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens who make up one-fifth of the state’s population.
According to a United Nations report from 1998, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”
For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In 2009, JNF Canada’s then head Frank Wilson explained, the “JNF are the caretakers of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”
In addition to racist land-use policies, JNF Canada lobbies for war.
As well as being a former defense minister, Mofaz was in charge of the Israeli military from 1998 to 2002. In that capacity, he oversaw the brutal oppression of the second intifada, including a series of attacks on the main cities in the occupied West Bank.
In 2007, the JNF sponsored a cross-Canada speaking tour by Zeev Raz, a colonel who led Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor and who has subsequently worked for Israel’s arms industry. The aim of the tour was to build momentum for an attack against Iran.
“Sanctions against Iran are not effective,” Raz argued. “Sanctions are too vulnerable to cheating. The only solution to the Iran problem is for there to be an effort of the US and other forces to invade Iran from the ground.”
JNF Canada has described 2016 as “our best year yet.” More than $21 million was raised.
Similar to other formerly powerful, but now discredited, institutions, the JNF seeks to convince vulnerable young minds of its racist worldview.
It’s time to free the children and abolish the JNF. Or at least revoke its tax-deductible status.
JERUSALEM – Five Palestinians said they were pulled from their vehicles, violently assaulted, and detained by Israeli forces at a checkpoint in occupied East Jerusalem, after returning home from southern Israel where they had attempted to welcome home their relative who had just been released from Israeli prison.
Moussa Darwish was set to be released from Ktziot prison in the Negev region on Sunday after completing a 12-year sentence, but the newly freed man found Israeli intelligence officers waiting for him outside the prison, who immediately redetained him.
Israeli forces prevented the group of family and friends from approaching Darwish, after they had traveled from Issawiya in East Jerusalem and arrived to the prison.
They were notified that Darwish had been taken to Israel’s Russian Compound detention center back in West Jerusalem for interrogation. After several hours, Israeli forces again released Darwish.
However, Darwish’s friends and relatives — Ahmad Darwish, 52, Ibrahim Darwish, 42, Mansour Darwish, 28, Muhammad Ubeid, 25, and Saeb Dirbas, 23 — said that upon their return to Jerusalem, their three vehicles were “ambushed” by Israeli forces who had set up a flying checkpoint at the entrance to the city.
In an interview with Ma’an on Wednesday, Mansour Darwish, the former prisoner’s cousin, said that their group encountered a crippling traffic jam caused by the checkpoint.
“When we tried to pass the checkpoint, our cars were stopped one after the other. Without even asking for our IDs or driving licenses, they made us step outside, and officers from the Israeli police special Yasam unit started to beat us violently — and we had no idea why.” … continue
Introduction: US militarism expanded exponentially through the first two decades of the Twenty-First Century, and was embraced by both Democratic and Republican Presidents. The mass media’s hysteria towards President Trump’s increase in military spending deliberately ignores the vast expansion of militarism, in all its facets, under President Obama and his two predecessors, Presidents ‘Bill’ Clinton and George Bush, Jr.
We will proceed in this essay to compare and discuss the unbroken rise of militarism over the past seventeen years. We will then demonstrate that militarism is an essential structural feature of US imperialism’s insertion in the international system.
Vast increases in military spending have been a constant regardless of who was President of the United States, and regardless of their popular campaign rhetoric to curb military spending in favor of the domestic economy.
Under ‘Bill’ Clinton, the war budget increased from $302 billion in 2000 to $313 billion in 2001. Under President George W. Bush (Jr.), military spending jumped from $357 billion in 2002 to $465 billion in 2004, to $621 billion in 2008. Under President Obama (the ‘Peace Candidate’), military spending soared from $669 billion in 2009 to $711 billion in 2011 and then apparently declined to $596 billion in 2017. Currently, the newly installed President Trump is asking for an increase to $650 billion for 2018.
Several observations are in order: Obama’s military budget in 2017 excluded spending in several ‘Defense-related’ departments of government, including a $25 billion increase for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program. Obama’s total for military spending for 2017 adds up to $623 billion or $30 billion less than Trump’s proposal. Moreover, Obama’s military spending for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is not listed in the annual budget proposals, included the cost of US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and numerous other countries and had skyrocketed during his term. Indeed, Obama’s eight years in office exceeded George W. Bush’s military spending by over $816 billion dollars.
President Trump’s proposed increase in military spending is in line with the Democratic President’s trajectory – contrary to the claims of the mass media. Clearly both Republicans and Democrats have massively increased their reliance on the US military as the driving force of world power. While Obama’s 2017 budget included $7.5 billion for ‘ISIS operations’ (an increase of 50%) and $8 billion for cyber warfare and (counter) terrorism, the largest increase was for stealth warplanes, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, clearly aimed at Russia, China and Iran. The Navy and Air Force got three quarters of the budget.
Under Obama, the US escalation of weaponry was not directed at ‘terrorist groups’ but, instead, at Russia and China. Washington has been intent on bankrupting Russia – in order to return it to the vassalage of the pre-Putin decade. The CIA – Obama – and the Republican Party’s ferocious campaign against Trump is based on his overtures toward Russia. The centerpiece of the decades-long US quest for uni-polar domination now depends on stripping Trump of his power and appointments, which in part or whole, are seen as undermining the entire structure of US military-driven imperialism as had been pursued by the previous four administrations.
Trump’s increase in military spending is apparently intended to be a ‘bargaining chip’ in his plan to expand US economic opportunities – cutting deals with Russia, renegotiating trade with China, East Asia (Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea) and Germany, all of which comprise the bulk of the US trillion-dollar annual trade deficit.
Trump’s repeated setbacks, the constant pressure on his appointees and the toll inflicted by the mass media on every aspect of his persona and personal life, even in the face of a historic increase in the stock market across the board, indicates a deep division among US oligarchs over power and ‘who governs’. Not since the onset of WWII have we witnessed fundamental cleavages over foreign policy. Previous conceptions of partisan debates are out of date. The financial press (the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal ) is openly aligned with the militarists, while the financial marketers on Wall Street support Trump’s pro-business domestic policies and conciliatory overtures to Russia and China. Most of the propaganda mills, dubbed ‘think tanks’, with their stables of academics, ‘experts’, editorialists, and liberal and neoconservative ideologues promote military aggression against Russia. Meanwhile, the populist social media, grass roots Trump supporters, domestic manufacturers and the nation’s Chambers of Commerce press for domestic tax cuts and protectionist measures.
The Army is pro-Trump and favors his concept of regional wars for economic gains. In contrast, the CIA, the Navy and Air Force, which benefited significantly from Obama’s lopsided war budgets, pursue a policy of global military confrontations with Russia and China and multiple wars against their allies, such as Iran, regardless of the devastation such a policy will have on the domestic economy.
Donald Trump’s concept of imperialism is based on exporting products and capturing markets while attracting multinational corporation capital back to the US for re-investing their profits (currently over one trillion held overseas) in the domestic market. He opposes economic and military alliances that have increased US trade deficits and debt in contrast to the previous administrations of militarists who accepted crippling trade deficits and disproportionate US spending on military intervention, bases and sanctions against Russia and its allies.
President Trump’s goal of making Western Europe pay a greater share of NATO (and thus reduce Europe’s dependence on US military spending) has been rejected by both political parties. Every one of Trump’s small steps toward improving relations to Russia has aroused the ire of the uni-polar military imperialists who control the leadership of the Democrats and the Republicans.
Militarist imperialism has offered a few tactical concessions to Russia’s allies – the unstable agreements with Iran and Lebanon and the flimsy peace accords in Ukraine. At the same time Washington is expanding its military bases from the Nordic-Baltic regions to Asia. It threatens support for military coups in Brazil, Venezuela and Ukraine.
The strategic purpose of these bellicose moves is to encircle and destroy Russia as a potential independent counter-weight to US global dominance.
President Trump’s initial policy has been to build ‘fortress America’: Increasing the military budget, building up police and military power along the Mexican border and within the oil rich Gulf States. Trump’s agenda would strengthen the military in Asia and elsewhere in order to enhance the US’ economic bargaining position in bilateral negotiations with the aim of enlarging its export markets.
The United States is witnessing a deadly confrontation between two sharply polarized imperialisms.
Militarism, the established form of US imperialism is deeply entrenched within the permanent state apparatus. This includes the 17 intelligence agencies, the propaganda departments, the Air Force and Navy, as well as the high tech sector and the commercial capitalist elites who have benefited from foreign imports and foreign low cost skilled labor at the expense of US workers. Their record is one of disastrous wars, lost markets, declining wages, deteriorating living standards and the relocation of well-paid jobs abroad. At best, they have secured a few, weak vassal regimes at an enormous cost.
The Trump regime’s attempt to fashion a strategic imperialist alternative revolves around a more nuanced approach: He seeks to use military power to enhance the domestic labor market and secure mass support for overseas economic intervention.
First and foremost, Trump realizes that Russia cannot be isolated from its markets in Europe and defeated by sanctions. This led him to propose negotiating a global agreement for large-scale trade deals, which would favor US banks, oil, agriculture and upscale industries. Secondly, Trump supports ’social imperialism’, whereby US exports markets, based on local US industries, labor and banks, would lead to higher wages and profits for American businesses and workers. US imperialism would not depend on costly and failed military invasions, but on overseas ‘invasions’ by US industries and banks who would then return their profits to the US for investment and further boost the stock market already stimulated by his stated plans for deregulation and tax cuts.
President Trump’s transition to this new imperial paradigm faces a formidable adversary which has so far succeeded in blocking his agenda and threatens to overthrow his regime.
From the beginning, Trump has failed to consolidate state power, an error which undermined his administration. While his election victory gave him the Office of the Presidency, his regime is only one aspect of state power, which is vulnerable to immediate erosion and ouster by the independent coercive and legislative branches, intent on his political demise. The other government branches are filled with holdovers from the Obama and previous regimes – and are deeply committed to militarism.
Secondly, Trump failed to mobilize his elite supporters and mass base around an alternative media. His ‘early morning Tweets’ are a flimsy counter-weight to the concentrated mass media attack on his governance.
Thirdly, while Trump moved successfully to secure international support with Japan and England, he backed off from dealing with Russia– which will be central to undermining his imperial adversaries.
Fourthly, Trump has failed to connect his immigration policies with an effective new program of domestic employment and he failed to expose and capitalize on the draconian anti-immigrant policies waged under the Obama administration, during which millions were imprisoned and expelled.
Fifthly, Trump failed to clarify the link between his pro-market economic policies and military spending and how they are linked to a totally different paradigm.
As a consequence, the success of the liberal-neo-conservative militarist assault on the new president has put his central strategy in retreat. Trump is under siege and on the defensive. Even if he survives this concentrated onslaught, his original conception of ‘re-making’ American imperial and domestic policy is in tatters and the pieces will blend the worst of both worlds: Without expanding overseas markets for American products and a successful domestic jobs program, the prospects are for President Donald Trump to revert to overseas wars and usher in a market collapse.
The selection of Lt. General H. R. McMaster as Trump’s new National Security Advisor to replace Michael Flynn appears to be the coup de grâce to Trump’s efforts to achieve rapprochement with Russia. McMaster has received profuse praise from all types of mainstream figures: conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. McMaster’s expressed hostile view of Russia is the fundamental reason for this celebration since Michael Flynn was noted, and condemned for, his Russia-friendly attitude and connections. McMaster has stated that Russia’s goal is “to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.” McMaster sees Russia as being among a number of enemies that threaten the U.S. He maintains: “Geopolitics has returned, as hostile, revisionist powers—Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—annex territory, intimidate our allies, develop nuclear weapons, and use proxies.” McMaster describes this conflict in Manichean terms. “We are engaged today, as General George C. Marshall’s generation [World War II and the Cold War] was engaged, against enemies who pose a great threat to all civilized peoples.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who is likewise widely praised in the mainstream, also considers Russia to be an enemy that needs to be staunchly opposed. Although Rex Tillerson was considered to be friendly toward Russia in his capacity as Exxon Mobil CEO, he has expressed more critical views of Russia since he was selected for the position of Secretary of State. Moreover, he has been largely absent from any role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
But what about Iran? Trump, during his presidential campaign, depicted that nation as a major threat to the United States and insisted that the nuclear agreement with Iran was “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Flynn held an even more hostile view toward Iran, which he presented in his recent book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, that was co-authored by the notorious neocon Iranophobe par excellence Michael Ledeen. It would seem, however, that Flynn’s departure will not make the administration’s stance toward Iran more favorable.
Mattis has been ultra-hawkish on Iran. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on April 22, 2016, Mattis said that Iran was “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” contending that Iran’s hegemonic goals had not changed since the Islamic regime came to power in 1979.
Mattis maintains that Iran is using the turmoil of the Islamic State to achieve its goals: “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief. Iran is not an enemy of ISIS. They have a lot to gain from the turmoil in the region that ISIS creates. And I would just point out one question for you to consider: What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One, and it’s Iran. Now, there’s got – that is more than just happenstance, I’m sure.” In short, Mattis cryptically implies that Iran is even cooperating with ISIS. Since ISIS kills Shiites and Iran is playing a major role in fighting ISIS, this conspiracy theory would seem to be something out of Alice and Wonderland, though this was also held by Flynn and Ledeen, but they are regarded as rather flaky.
Mattis continued that “as the commander in CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command, August 2010 to March 2013] with countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, every morning I woke up and the first three questions I had . . . had to do with Iran and Iran and Iran. . . . Their consistent behavior since 1979 through today shows no sign of changing. . . . They’ve increased the flow of arms . . . into Saudi Arabia, explosives into Bahrain, and arms into Yemen. In fact, in the last three months— February, March and April — the French Navy, the Australian Navy, and the U.S. Navy have all seized arms shipments each month . . . . [but] the idea that we’re catching all the arms shipments, that’s a flight of fantasy.”
Mattis advocated a militant U.S. policy in the Middle East, which would consist of amplifying what it already has been doing. For instance, he stated that “in the region we work with our partners in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council],” which is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It should be noted that all these countries are autocracies of one degree or another and some—such as Bahrain–face serious internal opposition. Thus, working with these countries means helping to prop up the existing regimes, which the U.S. has already been doing to some extent. Also, it might mean that the U.S. would be more involved in the Sunni-Shiite war which has little to do with American interests. This would entail the continuation and expansion of U.S. military support for the Saudis’ bombing and naval embargo of Yemen, which is causing a major humanitarian catastrophe with a significant proportion of the population facing starvation. And, private groups within Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, if not those governments themselves, have been the principal backers of radical jihadis—including, at times, ISIS—who have served as those countries proxies in the war against the Shiites. Objective observers would almost certainly discern that it is the Sunni-controlled members of the GCC who have been far more involved in destabilizing the Middle East than has Shiite Iran. Nonetheless, with his focus on Iran, Mattis also advocates a “very robust” U.S. naval presence in the region, cooperation with allies in a missile defense, and an increase in funding for intelligence on Iran, which would also involve closer cooperation with the spy agencies of America’s regional allies.
It was Mattis’ obsession with Iran as head of CENTCOM that ultimately caused President Obama to force his retirement in 2013. However, while Trump, during the campaign, said that his “[n]umber one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Mattis has taken a moderate view toward the nuclear accord. Although critical, he maintains that the U.S. should continue to honor the agreement while emphasizing that it is strictly an arms control deal, which does not imply rapprochement with Iran. He compares it to the arms control agreements the U.S. made with the Soviet Union during the Cold War where the U.S. would continue to treat it as an enemy.
As alluded to earlier, McMaster also sees Iran as a significant American enemy, though he does not appear to be so monomaniacally hostile toward it as does Mattis. McMaster contends that Iran “has been fighting a proxy war against us since 1979.” In his view, Iran is “applying the Hezbollah model broadly to the region, a model in which they have weak governments in power that are reliant on Iran for support, while they create militias and other groups outside of that government’s control that can be turned against that government if that government takes action against Iranian interests. You see this, I think, to a certain extent in Iraq.” He holds that if “we pull the curtain back on it,” we would see “Iranian subversion and the use of pressure on the [Iraqi] government to ensure that that government remains wholly sympathetic to Iranian interests. And this is an effort, I think, to retard many of the reforms that would try to build back into the Iraqi government and security forces a multi-sectarian population that would have improved legitimacy, and that would lead eventually to the consolidation of security gains as we continue the campaign against ISIL.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump talked about jettisoning America’s broad global strategy that has militarily entangled the country in wars and alliances that do not serve its own vital interests. Instead, he said he would pursue an American First strategy that would focus on what benefitted the U.S., but he did not show how taking a harder stance toward Iran could possibly fall into this new paradigm. It seems incongruous.
It should seem obvious that the reason Iran is opposed to the United States has much to do with the fact that the United States has acted as its enemy. Moreover, as will be pointed out shortly, throughout the 20th century, Iran has been victimized by the great powers. In the United States, it is often maintained that Israel deserves special treatment because of the past victimization of Jews. For example, this has been used to justify the very creation of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians and the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. foreign policy experts should, at the very least, recognize that Iran’s recent history of victimization would shape its view of international affairs. It is especially odd that purported military scholars such as Mattis and McMaster do not evince this knowledge. “Know your enemy” is a maxim derived from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a famous work on military strategy that the two generals would be expected to have read. And maybe they do know about Iran’s past but realize that expressing knowledge of inconvenient history that militates against the current mainstream narrative can prevent one from having a successful career, something they wish to maintain despite their mainstream media reputations for “speaking truth to power,” reputations they would be apt to forfeit if they pushed the envelope too far.
Let us now look briefly at the history of Iran. As in other Third World countries, Iranians, who have a proud heritage extending back to the ancient world, do not want to be dominated by outside powers, and this feeling is quite intense because during the 20th century, their country had been treated as a pawn by the great powers. It had been controlled by Britain and Russia from the latter part of the 19th century through World War I, and because of wartime deprivations caused by those two occupying powers, lost a large percentage of its population. According to historian Mohammed Gholi Majd: “World War One was unquestionably the greatest calamity in the history of Persia, far surpassing anything that happened before. It was in WWI that Persia suffered its worst tragedy in its entire history, losing some 40% of its population to famine and disease, a calamity that was entirely due to the occupation of Persia by the Russian and British armies, and about which little is known. Persia was the greatest victim of WWI: no country had suffered so much in absolute and relative terms. . . [T]here are indications that 10 million Persians were lost to starvation and disease. Persia was the victim of one of the largest genocide [sic] of the twentieth century.”
Similarly, Iran was occupied by Britain and the Soviet Union during World War II. And the U.S. played a significant role in the coup that overthrew the legally-established Mossadegh government (Mossadegh was appointed not elected as is often claimed) in Iran in 1953 and essentially made Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi the autocratic ruler of Iran. Even assuming the most benign American motivation—that American policymakers were motivated by the fear of a pro-Soviet Communist takeover rather than by the ambition to acquire oil—would not make Iranians feel better about their country being used as a pawn by an outside power once again. Furthermore, the U.S. influence over Iranian politics during the rule of the Shah was so palpable that most people considered him an American puppet. Given Iran’s historical experience, it is quite natural that Iran fears the American empire and would like a reduction of its influence in the Middle East, just as the young United States wanted to keep the European powers away from the Americas, a view which was embodied in the Monroe Doctrine.
America’s backing of the Shah’s rule certainly contributed to the anti-American revolutionary rhetoric put forth by the Islamic regime after the 1979 revolution. This revolutionary stance especially resonated with the region’s Shiite minority and thus engendered fear among the Sunni ruling elites.
Fear of an internal Shiite revolt in Iraq—one Middle East country where the Shiites were in the majority—along with the desire to take advantage of the revolutionary chaos in Iran to grasp some of its territory motivated Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to launch an attack on Iran on September 22, 1980. After initial success, Iraq was soon put on the defensive. Fearing that Iran might defeat Iraq, the United States, although officially neutral, was providing substantial support to Iraq by the mid-1980s, which included military intelligence and war materiel. And the United States deployed in the Persian Gulf its largest naval force since the Vietnam War, the purpose of which was purportedly to protect oil tankers, but which engaged in serious attacks on Iran’s navy.
Significantly, the U.S. also played a role in Iraq’s use of illegal chemical weapons. U.S. satellite intelligence facilitated Iraqi gas attacks against Iranian troop concentrations. Moreover, Washington allowed Iraq to purchase poisonous chemicals, and even strains of anthrax and bubonic plague from American companies, which were subsequently identified as key components of the Iraqi biological warfare program by a 1994 investigation conducted by the Senate Banking Committee. The United States also prevented or weakened UN resolutions condemning Iraq for using chemical weapons. It should be stressed that although Iran has rhetorically advocated the overthrow of other regimes and provided some military aid to groups that take such positions, its greatest military involvement (other than the defensive war with Iraq) has been to counter offensive moves by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikdoms. Thus, Iran has become militarily involved in Iraq to help the Iraqi government defend itself from the ISIS military juggernaut, which, at least initially, had been bankrolled by wealthy private sources in, and very probably the governments of, Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf sheikdoms, especially Qatar. If the Iranians had not become extensively involved in the defense of Iraq, it is quite conceivable that Baghdad would have fallen to ISIS.
Iranian aid to the secular Assad regime in Syria also should be classified as defensive. For three decades, Syria has been Iran’s most valuable ally in the Middle East. Although many in the West portrayed the revolt against Assad’s Baathist dictatorship as a fight for democracy, from early on radical Sunni Jihadists—who seek the establishment of an Islamic caliphate based on sharia law–have proven to be the most effective fighters. And Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar and other oil-rich Gulf sheikdoms, have been supporting these anti-democratic rebels from the outset.
The removal of the Assad regime would be a serious blow to Iran’s security. Assad’s Syria has provided a conduit for arms from Iran to Hezbollah. With Iranian arms, Hezbollah plays a critical role in Iran’s strategy to deter, and if necessary, retaliate against an Israeli attack on it. Obviously, Israel would prefer that Iran not have this capability.
Currently, in Yemen, Iran is providing some support for the Houthis, who champion the Zaidi Shiites against the Sunni forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. To avoid any false interpretations here, it should be pointed out that Zaidi Shiism is quite different from that of the Iranian variety. Zaidis make up one-third of the population of Yemen and had lived under their own rulers in mountainous North Yemen for almost 1,000 years until 1962. Since that time they have engaged in several rebellions to regain autonomy. It should be added that the Houthi rebels also have been supported by units of the Yemeni army that remained loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power during the Arab Spring. That President Hadi, the recognized head of Yemen, is some type of democratic, or even the legitimately-elected, head of state, is highly questionable, however. As Dan Murphy wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, “Saudi and the US insist that only Hadi is the legitimate ruler of Yemen, that legitimacy drawn from a 2012 single-candidate referendum that gave him 99.6 percent support.”
Houthi victories in what was essentially a civil war brought a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni states to engage in bombing attacks on the Houthis, claiming that they were Iranian proxies whose victory would expand Iranian power in a strategic region of the Middle East. The U.S. has been actively supporting the Saudi war coalition against Yemen, being engaged in such activities as refueling Saudi warplanes and working with them in selecting targets in a bombing campaign that has so far killed thousands of civilians. The Saudis and their allies have also maintained an air and sea blockade officially aimed at curtailing arms shipments to the Houthis, but also stopping goods vital for civilians. All of this has contributed to a humanitarian crisis.
However, it is not apparent that the Houthis are proxies of Iran or that Iran has the intention or capability of allowing them to achieve an all-out victory in Yemen. While Iran undoubtedly provides the Houthis some types of military aid, this would have to be quite limited since it has not been easy to detect. Moreover, much of the weaponry used by the Houthis has been provided by high-level military supporters of ex-President Saleh who had access to government supplies.
Also, in 2015, Iran presented a four-point plan to end the conflict that called for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, dialogue, and the formation of an inclusive national unity government. This was rejected by the Yemeni government of President Hadi and the Saudis (with whom the U.S. concurs) who essentially demanded that before any peace talks take place the Houthis must disarm and turn over to the Hadi government all the cities that they have taken. Obviously, such a de facto surrender by the Houthis would eliminate their bargaining position and thus would not [only] fail to address any of their grievances but likely lead to their suffering retribution for rebelling. In short, the Iranian effort in Yemen does not appear as an effort to achieve dominance of the country but rather an effort to restrain the expansion of Saudi power outside its borders.
As Trita Parsi and Adam Weinstein summarize their article, “Iranian Hegemony Is a Figment of America’s Imagination,” “Exaggerating the military or ideological power of Iran may serve the goal of pushing the United States to take military action against Iran. But a singular focus on Iran — while deliberately ignoring the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and their spread of Salafism — will neither provide stability for the Middle East nor further any of Washington’s other interests in the region.”
In sum, Iran is acting no differently than a country of its size, power, security interests, and historical experience would be expected to act. However, there is no apparent reason that Iran would be a threat to American interests, even if these interests are viewed from the traditional foreign policy establishment’s globalist perspective. Some of Iran’s key concerns harmonize with those of the United States, such as maintaining the flow of oil to the industrial world (which has been hindered by American-instigated sanctions) and combating Sunni jihadist radicals (ISIS and al-Qaida) who threaten regional stability. This convergence of interests has been recognized by leading figures in the American traditional foreign policy establishment, which was exemplified in the study, Iran: Time for a New Approach, produced by a Council of Foreign Relations-sponsored task force in 2004. The task force [which] was co-chaired by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA director Robert M. Gates (who would become Secretary of Defense in December 2006) advocated dialog and incremental engagement with Iran.
Also, in 2006, Congress created an independent, bipartisan commission called the Iraq Study Group, which was co-chaired by President George H. W. Bush’s close associate and former Secretary of State James A. Baker and by former Democratic Congressman Lee H. Hamilton. On Iran, the Iraq Study Group advocated rapprochement rather than destabilization and regime change, as had been sought by the neocons who had held sway in the George W. Bush administration. Iran and Syria were to be made integral partners of an international Iraq Support Group, which would work for the stabilization of that country.
Although alternatives to an anti-Iran policy have been made in the past, which would better reflect a real America First policy, Trump, unfortunately, holds an opposite position–that the U.S. needs to take a more belligerent stance–and in this he has been reinforced by Mattis and McMaster. And while the mainstream media anathematizes almost everything else Trump proposes, it sees little wrong with his Iran policy. This makes it apparent that a significant portion of the neocon agenda has become the mainstream position on U.S. Middle East policy, but this is an issue that cannot be dealt with in this already lengthy article.
 “Harbingers of Future War: Implications for the Army with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster,” May 4, 2016, Center for Strategic and International Studies, https://www.csis.org/analysis/harbingers-future-war-implications-army-lieutenant-general-hr-mcmaster
 Jenna Lifhits, “McMaster on the Role of Education and Values in America’s Military Strategy,” Weekly Standard, February 21, 2017, http://www.weeklystandard.com/mcmaster-on-the-role-of-education-and–values-in-americasmilitary-strategy/article/2006918
 Carol Morello and Anne Gearan, “In first month of Trump presidency, State Department has been sidelined,” Washington Post, February 22, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-first-month-of-trump-presidency-state-department-has-been-sidelined/2017/02/22/cc170cd2-f924-11e6-be05-1a3817ac21a5_story.html?utm_term=.cac7b42072d9
 “The Middle East at an Inflection Point with Gen. Mattis,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 22, 2016, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/event/160422_Middle_East_Inflection_Point_Gen_Mattis.pdf
 “Middle East at an Inflection Point.”
 “Middle East at an Inflection Point.”
 Mark Perry, “James Mattis’ 33-Year Grudge Against Iran,” Politico, December 4, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/james-mattis-iran-secretary-of-defense-214500
 Carol Morello, “Iran nuclear deal could collapse under Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/iran-nuclear-deal-could-collapse-under-trump/2016/11/09/f2d2bd02-a68c-11e6-ba59-a7d93165c6d4_story.html?utm_term=.25b38bdfd668
 “Harbingers of Future War.”
 Mohammed Gholi Majd, Persia in World War I and Its Conquest by Great Britain (Lanham,MD: University Press of America, 2003), pp. 3-4.
 Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988,” Iran Chamber Society, http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/united_states_iran_iraq_war1.php; Jeremy Scahill, “The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet,” Common Dreams, August 2, 2002, http://web.archive.org/web/20131021234920/http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0802-01.htm; Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid, “When Iraq Was Our Friend,” Accuracy in Media, October 15, 2002, http://www.aim.org/media-monitor/when-iraq-was-our-friend/; Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” Washington Post, December 30, 2002, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2002/12/30/us-had-key-role-in-iraq-buildup/133cec74-3816-4652-9bd8-7d118699d6f8/?utm_term=.e28029f4b093
 Trita Parsi and Adam Weinstein, “Iranian Hegemony Is a Figment of America’s Imagination,” Foreign Policy, January 25, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/25/irans-proxy-wars-are-a-figment-of-americas-imagination/
 Adam Baron, “What We Get Wrong About Yemen,” Politico Magazine, March 25, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/yemen-intervention-116396.html#.VTu2RSFViko; “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?,” BBC, March 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423
 Dan Murphy, “Reducing Yemen’s Houthis to ‘Iranian proxies’ is a mistake,” Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2015/0402/Reducing-Yemen-s-Houthis-to-Iranian-proxies-is-a-mistake-video; Laura Kasanof, “Yemen Gets New Leader as Struggle Ends Calmly,” New York Times,” February 24, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/world/middleeast/yemen-to-get-a-new-president-abed-rabu-mansour-hadi.html
 Matt Schiavenza, “Saudi Airstrikes Intensify Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis,” The Atlantic, April 22, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/saudi-airstrikes-intensify-yemens-humanitarian-crisis/391203/ ; Thalif Deen, “Blood Money? After Bombing Yemen, Saudis offer $274 mn. in Humanitarian Aid,” Informed Consent, April 23, 2015, http://www.juancole.com/2015/04/bombing-saudis-humanitarian.html
 Gareth Porter, “Houthi arms bonanza came from Saleh, not Iran,” April 23, 2015, Middle East Eye, http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/houthi-arms-bonanza-came-saleh-not-iran-1224808066
 “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?,” BBC, October 14, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423 ; “Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year, according to American officials familiar with intelligence around the insurgent takeover,” Huff Post Politics, April 20, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/20/iran-houthis-yemen_n_7101456.html; Dan Murphy, “Reducing Yemen’s Houthis to ‘Iranian proxies’ is a mistake,” Christian Monitor, April 2, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2015/0402/Reducing-Yemen-s-Houthis-to-Iranian-proxies-is-a-mistake-video; Steven Inskeep talks with Robin Wright, “Is There Evidence That Yemeni Rebels are Backed By Iran?,” NPR, March 27, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2015/03/27/395698502/iran-saudi-proxy-war-touches-on-other-issues; Jason Ditz, “Kerry Endorses Saudi War as Long as Houthis Resist,” Antiwar.com, April 24, 2015, http://news.antiwar.com/2015/04/24/kerry-endorses-saudi-war-as-long-as-houthis-resist/
 Parsi and Weinstein, “Iranian Hegemony Is a Figment of America’s Imagination”
The March 1 report by the United Nations’ “Independent International Commission of Inquiry” asserted that the bloody attack on a humanitarian aid convoy west of Aleppo City on Sept. 19, 2016, was an airstrike by Syrian government planes. But an analysis of the U.N. panel’s report shows that it was based on an account of the attack from the pro-rebel Syrian “White Helmets” civil defense organization that was full of internal contradictions.
The U.N. account also was not supported by either the photographic evidence that the White Helmets provided or by satellite imagery that was available to the commission, according to independent experts. Further undermining the U.N. report’s credibility, the White Helmets now acknowledge that rockets they photographed were not fired from Russian or Syrian planes but from the ground.
Like last December’s summary of the U.N.’s Headquarters Board of Inquiry report on the same incident, the Commission’s report described the attack as having begun with “barrel bombs” dropped by Syrian helicopters, followed by further bombing by fixed-wing planes and, finally, strafing by machine guns from the air.
The March 1 report did not identify any specific source for its narrative, citing only “[c]ommunications from governments and non-government organizations.” But in fact the U.N. investigators accepted the version of events provided by the White Helmets chief in Aleppo province as well as specific evidence that the White Helmets had made public.
The White Helmets, which are heavily funded by Western governments and operate only in rebel-controlled areas, are famous for using social media to upload videos purporting to show injured children and other civilian victims of the war.
Last year, a well-organized campaign pushed the group’s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and a Netflix film about the group won an Oscar last month. The United Nations and the mainstream Western news media have frequently relied on White Helmets accounts from war zones that are not accessible to outsiders. But the White Helmets’ officials have pursued an obvious political agenda in support of opposition forces in Al Qaeda-dominated zones in Aleppo and Idlib where they have operated.
On Sept. 19, immediately after the attack on the aid convoy, the chief of the White Helmets organization in the Aleppo governorate, Ammar al-Selmo, presented a dramatic narrative of a Russian-Syrian air attack, but it was marked by obvious internal contradictions.
At first, Selmo claimed in an interview that he had been more than a kilometer away from the warehouses where the attack occurred and had seen Syrian helicopters dropping “barrel bombs” on the site. But his eyewitness account would have been impossible because it was already dark by the time he said the attack began at about 7:15 p.m. He changed his story in a later interview, claiming that he had been right across the street at the moment of the attack and had heard the “barrel bombs” being dropped rather than seeing them.
Selmo insisted in a video filmed that night that the attack began with Syrian helicopters dropping eight “barrel bombs,” which are described as large, crudely constructed bombs weighing from 250 kg to 500 kg or even more. Citing a box-shaped indentation in the rubble, Selmo said the video is showing “the box of the barrel bomb,” but the indentation is far too small to be a crater from such a bomb.
Selmo continued the account, “Then the regime also target this place with cluster bombs two times, and also the aircraft of the Russians target this place with C-5 and with bullets,” apparently referring to Soviet-era S-5 rockets. The White Helmets photographed two such rockets and sent it to media outlets, including the Washington Post, which published the picture in the Post story with credit to the White Helmets.
But Hussein Badawi, apparently the White Helmet official in charge of the Urum al Kubrah area, contradicted Selmo’s story. In a separate interview, Badawi said the attack had begun not with “barrel bombs” but with “four consecutive rockets” that he said had been launched by government forces from their defense plant in Aleppo province – meaning that it was a ground-launched attack rather than an air attack.
In an email response to a query from me, Selmo retracted his own original claim about the S-5 rockets. “[B]efore aircraft’s attack on the area,” he wrote, “many land to land missiles attacked the place coming from the defense factories which [are] located in eastern Aleppo [east of] the city, regime controlled area. [T]hen aircraft came and attacked the place.”
But such a rocket attack from that “regime controlled area” would not have been technically possible. The Syrian government defense plant is located in Safira, 25 kilometers southeast of Aleppo City and even farther from Urum al-Kubrah, whereas the S-5 rockets that the White Helmets photographed have a range of only three or four kilometers.
Moreover, the Russians and Syrian government forces were not the only warring parties to have S-5s in their arsenal. According to a study of the S-5 rocket by Armament Research Services consultancy, Syrian armed opposition forces had been using S-5 rockets as well. They had gotten them from the CIA’s covert program of moving weapons from Libyan government stockpiles to be distributed to Syrian rebels beginning in late 2011 or early 2012. Syrian rebels had used improvised launch systems to fire them, as the ARS study documented with a picture.
Significantly, too, the explicit claim by Selmo that Russian planes were involved in the attack, which was immediately echoed by the Pentagon, was summarily dismissed by the U.N. panel report, which stated flatly, without further explanation, that “no Russian strike aircraft were nearby during the attack.”
Yet, despite the multiple discrepancies in the White Helmets’ story, the U.N. investigators said they corroborated the account of the air attack “by a site assessment, including analysis of remnants of aerial bombs and rockets documented at the site, as well as satellite imagery showing impact consistent with the use of air-delivered munitions.”
The U.N. Commission’s report cited a photograph of the crumpled tailfin of a Russian OFAB-250 bomb found under some boxes in a warehouse as evidence that it had been used in the attack. The White Helmets took the photograph and circulated it to the news media, including to the Washington Post and to the Bellingcat website, which specializes in countering Russia’s claims about its operations in Syria.
But that bomb could not have exploded in that spot because it would have made a crater many times larger than the small indentation in the floor in the White Helmet photo – as shown in this video of a man standing in the crater of a similar bomb in Palmyra.
Something other than an OFAB-250 bomb – such as an S-5 rocket — had caused the fine shrapnel tears in the boxes shown in the photo, as a detail from the larger scene reveals. So the OFAB bomb tailfin must have been placed at the scene after the attack.
Both U.N. imagery analysts and independent experts who examined the satellite images found that the impact craters could not have come from the “aerial bombs” cited by the Commission.
The analysis of the satellite images by United Nations specialists at UNITAR-UNOSAT made public by the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Coordination on March 1 further contradicts the White Helmet account, reflecting the absence of any evidence of either “barrel bombs” or OFAB-250 bombs dropped on the site.
The U.N. analysts identified four spots in the images on pages five and six of their report as “possible impact craters.” But a U.N. source familiar with their analysis of the images told me that it had ruled out the possibility that those impact points could have been caused by either “barrel bombs” or Russian OFAB-250 bombs.
The reason, the U.N. source said, was that such bombs would have left much larger craters than those found in the images. Those possible impact points could have been either from much smaller air-launched munitions or from ground-based artillery or mortar fire, but not from either of those weapons, according to the U.N. source.
A former U.S. intelligence official with long experience in analysis of aerial photos and Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon analyst, both of whom reviewed the satellite images, agreed that the spots identified by UNOSAT could not have been from either “barrel bombs” or OFAB-250 bombs.
The former intelligence official, who demanded anonymity because he still deals with government officials, said the small impact points identified by the U.N. team reminded him of impacts from “a multiple rocket launcher or possibly a mortar.”
Sprey agreed that all of those impact points could have been from artillery or mortar fire but also noted that photographs of the trucks and other damaged vehicles show no evidence that they were hit by an airstrike. The photos show only extensive fire damage and, in the case of one car, holes of irregular size and shape, he said, suggesting flying debris rather than bomb shrapnel.
Sprey further pointed to photographic evidence indicating that an explosion that the U.N. Commission blamed on a Syrian airstrike came from within the building itself, not from an external blast. The building across the street from some of the trucks destroyed by an explosion (in Figure 9 of a series of photos on the Bellngcat website)
clearly shows that the front wall of the building was blown outward toward the road, whereas the rear wall and the roof were still intact.
The photograph (in Figure 10) taken from inside the remains of that same building shows the debris from the blast was blown all the way across the street to the damaged truck. Sprey said those pictures strongly suggest that an IED (improvised explosive device) had been set in the house to explode toward the trucks.
In embracing the Syrian-air-strike narrative — although it falls apart on closer examination — the U.N. “Commission of Inquiry” thus fell into line with the dominant Western political bias in favor of the armed opposition to the Syrian government, a prejudice that has been applied to the Syrian conflict by U.N. organs since the beginning of the war in 2011.
But never has the evidence so clearly contradicted that line as it has in this case – even though you will not learn that by reading or watching the West’s commercial news media.
Gareth Porter is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
An Israeli minister says “life in Lebanon today is not bad” compared to Syria, adding Tel Aviv should target civilians in a future war with the country and send it “back to the Middle Ages.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has said all aspects of life in Lebanon must be targeted in a future war with Hezbollah, because the resistance movement is now an important part of the Lebanese people.
“Today, Hezbollah is embedded in sovereign Lebanon. It is part of the government and, according to the president, also part of its security forces,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Bennett as saying on Sunday.
The daily referred to statements made a month ago by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun who ruled out outside pressures to disarm Hezbollah.
“As long as Israel occupies land and covets the natural resources of Lebanon, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up to Israel, [Hezbollah’s] arms are essential,” Aoun said.
“The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out,” Bennett said.
“Life in Lebanon today is not bad – certainly compared to what’s going on in Syria. Lebanon’s civilians, including the Shia population, will understand that this is what lies in store for them,” he added.
Bennett said heavily targeting civilian infrastructure, along with additional air and ground action by the Israeli troops, will shorten the campaign as it will accelerate international intervention.
“That will lead them to stop it quickly – and we have an interest in the war being as short as possible,” he said.
Bennett’s approach is not new for the Israeli officials. In 2008, the head of the Israeli army’s Northern Command, who currently serves as the army’s chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, presented the “Dhahiya doctrine.”
This picture shows the aftermath of Israeli bombing of residential buildings in Dhahiya in southern Beirut in August 2006.
It referred to Israel’s heavy bombardment of the densely-populated Shia quarter in southern Beirut in the 2006 war because buildings in the neighborhood were identified with Hezbollah.
Haaretz said Hezbollah was able to launch more than 1,000 rockets into Israel in a single day of fighting, leaving Tel Aviv with either no or limited solution to confront them.
Bennett said hunting rocket launchers during a war is almost impossible, adding Hezbollah has learned to deploy them in a more sophisticated manner, thus the regime must hit civilian targets.
“If Hezbollah fires missiles at the Israeli home front, this will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages,” he said.
Bennett served as a reserve officer and commanded an elite unit sent deep into southern Lebanon to find Hezbollah’s rocket-launching squads during the second Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, which ended after 33 days.
Many Israeli leaders admitted that the war marked a defeat for Tel Aviv, dealing another serious blow to its military’s myth of invincibility.
Last week, Israel’s Minister of Military Affairs Avigdor Lieberman said at a Knesset committee meeting that the Lebanese army was now “a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah fighters are currently helping Syrian troops confront Takfiri terrorists and prevent the conflict from spilling over into Lebanon.
In a series of interviews with Lebanese media last month, President Aoun said Hezbollah operations “complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them.”
“They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense,” he said.
Last week President Trump significantly escalated the US military presence in Syria, sending some 400 Marines to the ISIS-controlled Raqqa, and several dozen Army Rangers to the contested area around Manbij. According to press reports he will also station some 2,500 more US troops in Kuwait to be used as he wishes in Iraq and Syria.
Not only is it illegal under international law to send troops into another country without permission, it is also against US law for President Trump to take the country to war without a declaration. But not only is Trump’s first big war illegal: it is doomed to failure because it makes no sense.
President Trump says the purpose of the escalation is to defeat ISIS in Raqqa, its headquarters in Syria. However the Syrian Army with its allies Russia and Iran are already close to defeating ISIS in Syria. Why must the US military be sent in when the Syrian army is already winning? Does Trump wish to occupy eastern Syria and put a Washington-backed rebel government in charge? Has anyone told President Trump what that would to cost in dollars and lives – including American lives? How would this US-backed rebel government respond to the approach of a Syrian army backed up by the Russian military?
Is Trump planning on handing eastern Syria over to the Kurds, who have been doing much of the fighting in the area? How does he think NATO-ally Turkey would take a de facto Kurdistan carved out of Syria with its eyes on Kurdish-inhabited southern Turkey?
And besides, by what rights would Washington carve up Syria or any other country?
Or is Trump going to give up on the US policy of “regime change” and hand conquered eastern Syria back to Assad? If that is the case, why waste American lives and money if the Syrians and their allies are already doing the job? Candidate Trump even said he was perfectly happy with Russia and Syria getting rid of ISIS. If US policy is shifting toward accepting an Assad victory, it could be achieved by ending arms supplies to the rebels and getting out of the way.
It does not appear that President Trump or his advisors have thought through what happens next if the US military takes possession of Raqqa, Syria. What is the endgame? Maybe the neocons told him it would be a “cakewalk” as they promised before the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Part of the problem is that President Trump’s advisors believe the myth that the US “surge” in Iraq and Afghanistan was a great success and repeating it would bring the victory that eluded Obama with his reliance of drones and proxy military forces. A big show of US military force on the ground – like the 100,000 sent to Afghanistan by Obama in 2009 – is what is needed in Syria, these experts argue. Rarely is it asked that if the surge worked so well why are Afghanistan and Iraq still a disaster?
President Trump’s escalation in Syria is doomed to failure. He is being drawn into a quagmire by the neocons that will destroy scores of lives, cost us a fortune, and may well ruin his presidency. He must de-escalate immediately before it is too late.