CNN anchor Kate Bolduan was flabbergasted after Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) questioned a recent chemical gas attack in Syria, then said it wouldn’t be in President Bashar Assad’s interest to conduct such a strike on his own people.
Bolduan interviewed Massie, a tea party darling and member of the House Freedom Caucus, about the US response to the reported chlorine gas attack on civilians in Syria that killed more than 80 people, including children. Massie voted against an American intervention in Syria in 2014.
“You see the images coming out of Syria and you think the best policy for the United States right now is to do nothing?” Bolduan asks towards the end of the 7.5-minute interview.
Massie cautions that American intervention might make the situation on the ground worse, then notes that “the first casualty of war is the truth.”
“It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in Syria right now,” he continued. “I’d like to know specifically how that release of chemical gas, if it did occur ‒ and it looks like it did ‒ how that occurred. Because frankly I don’t think Assad would have done that. It does not serve his interest, it would tend to draw us into that civil war even further.”
Bolduan can’t contain herself from interrupting, her expression shocked, to haltingly ask who Massie thinks is behind the attack.
“Supposedly the airstrike was on an ammo dump, and so I don’t know if it was released because there was gas stored in the ammo dump or not,” he replied. “That’s plausible; I’m not saying that’s what I think happened…”
Baffled, Bolduan interrupts again to tie Massie to Assad and the Syrian president’s Russian backers.
“You’re more inclined to believe the position of what Bashar Al-Assad is saying and what the Russians are saying right now than more inclined to agree with, believe what your even your colleagues here in the United States believe is true, that this is Assad and what human rights observers over there say is Assad?” she asks incredulously.
“I don’t think it would have served Assad’s purposes to do a chemical attack on his people. So, you know, it’s hard for me to understand why he would do that if he did,” Massie replied.
Still stunned, Bolduan ends the interview.
Massie is most known for his repeated attempts to abolish the US Department of Education, as well as his pronouncement in mid-March that he would change his vote on the much-maligned American Health Care Act from “no” to “hell no.”
The signing of a $3 billion deal on Tuesday between Boeing Company and Iran’s Aseman Airlines on purchase by the latter of thirty 737 MAX aircraft has been possible only with the approval of the Donald Trump administration. An earlier agreement of last December – a whopping deal of $16.6 billion – on purchase by Iran Air of 80 passenger planes from Boeing, which was reached during the Obama administration, also stands unchallenged by Trump.
The 17th century Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric Jonathan Swift once wrote, “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.” President Donald Trump has no love lost for Iran, but then, money appeals to his head – even Iranian money. Trump won’t stand in the way of American companies doing lucrative business with Iran.
The fact of the matter is that there are churnings in the US-Iran engagement. Bloomberg reported this week that Senator John McCain, who has been a leading voice against the Iran nuclear deal, sees nothing wrong with Boeing’s deal. He says,
I have opposed the Iranian agreement and I am not interested in doing anything to help the Iranians but what they’ve done is completely legal. They’ve got the money and it’s not a weapons system, so it doesn’t require any involvement from the Congress.
Now, this was the politician who once famously said, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!” Again, Senator Ben Cardin, who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, says there is little Congress can do to block the plane sale as long as it meets the terms set out in the nuclear deal.
Evidently, the mood in the Congress is shifting, because the $3 billion deal on Tuesday is expected to create or sustain about 18000 jobs in America. According to Bloomberg, Boeing shares rose 0.8 percent to $178.07 at 2:02 p.m. in New York on Tuesday. “The gain was the third largest among the 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”
Meanwhile, US Senate has postponed the bill to impose new sanctions against Iran. Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday that the bill will not move forward for now. The proposed bill enjoys “bipartisan” support and aims at slapping tighter sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles. Corker has given a curious explanation:
We’ve got a Iran sanctions bill that has a number of co-sponsors that wasn’t able to mark up at present because of concerns about how the European Union might react and (Iranian) elections that are coming up.
Now, the stunning part of what Corker implied is that the US is fervently hoping that President Hassan Rouhani will get re-elected in the presidential election on May 19. Clearly, Iranian leadership’s platform to expand relations with western countries has caught the imagination of American elites and they don’t want new sanctions to hurt Rouhani’s chances of victory!
Indeed, what needs to be factored in here is also the testimony by the head of US Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Iran is not attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and that it is abiding by the terms of the deal. The general effectively said that it is untimely to slap additional sanctions against Iran.
To my mind, Tehran senses that the tide is turning. Trump held back from endorsing the anti-Iran tirade by the visiting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince recently. (See my recent opinion piece US-Saudi reset is real but rather unpredictable.)
In an extraordinary interview on Monday with a Persian-language daily, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disclosed that Tehran will exercise strategic patience vis-à-vis Trump administration. Zarif said,
The (Iranian) establishment in its entirety has reached the conclusion that we shouldn’t give them (the Americans) any excuse. This should not be taken to mean that we back away from our plans… but we don’t seek tension.
Importantly, Zarif implied that it is “some regional actors” (read Israel and Saudi Arabia) who are ratcheting up pressure on the Trump administration, “who want to steer the US into adopting policies which leave us with no choice but to contravene it (nuclear deal of 2015).” Any long-time observer of US-Iran relations will take note that such a remark by an Iranian FM would have been simply unthinkable not too long ago.
To be sure, the ground beneath the feet is shifting under the cloud cover of rhetoric. Historically, Iranians have got along far better with Republican presidencies. There is a story that refuses to go away that Tehran had deliberately delayed the release of the American hostages to January 20 1981 so as to time it perfectly with Ronald Reagan’s inaugural – and that this was also what Reagan’s team had preferred through back channels. At any rate, Reagan who had some of the most anti-Iranian rhetoric to his credit while on the campaign trail in 1980, is today remembered better for the infamous Iran-Contra Affair. Trump, by the way, has never hidden his admiration for Reagan as his role model.
JERUSALEM – The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem issued evacuation orders for three housing apartments in the Wadi Hilweh area of the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Wednesday evening, due to fractures and cracks formed at the base of the houses, as Israeli authorities continued work on a tunnel network expected to be used to provide services to Israeli settlers.
According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, the houses belong to Hamed Oweida, Abed Oweida, and Suleiman Oweida.
Sixteen family members, including ten children, reside in the houses.
The Oweida family said that Israeli tunnel-digging under their homes has increased over the past three days, adding that loud noises from the digging would last for several hours, while the family could feel their houses shaking during the construction.
They said that the digging had caused severe damage of fractures and cracks in the walls and the bases of the houses.
The family added that they had called the Israeli police, who had then summoned a municipality team to inspect the houses. After taking photographs and inspecting the damage, an architect for the municipality decided to issue an emergency order for the families to evacuate and seal the houses, saying that it was dangerous to remain inside.
Suleiman Oweida had left his house several days ago after fractures in the walls had become more severe.
The information center said that Israeli authorities were creating a tunnel network for Israeli settlers directly under the Oweida family’s house.
Member of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood committee Ahmad Qarrain said that the Israeli authorities began work under the neighborhood in 2007.
The residents at the time appealed to Israeli courts and were able to halt the construction under their homes for 14 months. However, Israeli courts later issued another order allowing the work to continue on the condition that the digging not endanger the lives of residents.
However, Qarrain said that the digging and work under the houses continued “without any consideration for the safety of residents,” and pointed out that the streets, walls, structures, and houses of the neighborhood have also been fractured and collapsed owing to the tunnel work.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Jerusalem municipality told Ma’an that the municipality had informed the residents that their properties were “unsound and dangerous” out of “concern for their own welfare,” while also being built “without regard for building codes or safety standards.”
The spokesperson added that “claims that the city is attempting to construct underneath this family’s structure are patently false.”
While the year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Israeli government’s colonization project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has accelerated dramatically.
The very existence of Israeli settlements is illegal under international law. It is accompanied by numerous restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population, restrictions that violate their most fundamental rights and deprive them of the conditions that make a decent life possible.
The UN(1), the European Union(2) and the French government(3) have affirmed on numerous occasions and, most recently, in the major resolution of the UN Security Council of 23 December 2016: the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not part of Israel as defined by the 1967 frontiers and are illegal under international law.
These settlements, “which do not cease to undermine a two state solution and to impose on the ground the reality of one state”(5), remain a major obstacle to any resolution of the conflict. The same Security Council resolution also requires [par. 5] that all states, ‘in their relevant dealings’, make a distinction between the territory of the state of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.
The Israeli banking system constitutes an essential tool of the colonization project, and Israeli businesses contribute to the maintenance and development of the settlements. In this context, the principal French financial institutions, in continuing to support Israeli banks and businesses involved in the settlements, contribute indirectly to the maintenance and development of this illegal situation with respect to international law.
Five major French financial groups – BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale, [the state-owned] Banque Populaire Caisse d’Epargne, AXA – manage financial holdings or hold shares in Israeli banks or businesses involved in financing settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and which furnish services vital to the maintenance and development of the settlements – such as housing or factory construction, the provision of telecommunications connections or of surveillance equipment.
Added to that financial involvement, the four largest French banks – in this instance BNP Paribas, Société Générale, LCL (subsidiary of Crédit Agricole) and Natixis (investment bank subsidiary of BPCE) – have granted loans to the total of €288 million for the period 2004-2020 to the state enterprise Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) for a project for two gas-fired power plants(6), while IEC is providing electricity to the illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank.
The French government is responsible at three levels:
1) Obligations under international law (the UN’s ‘protect, respect and remedy’ framework of its Guiding Principles, to not recognize as legitimate a situation created by a grave violation of international law, nor to aid or assist in the maintenance of this situation, and to cooperate to dismantle such situations).(7)
2) An obligation to protect against human rights violations by third parties, including businesses and banks.(8)
3) A particular obligation, as 20 per cent shareholder in Alstom [2004-06, 2014-], to apply rigorous controls when a business is state-owned or state-controlled, even when the state is a minority shareholder.(9) Alstom is the contractor for one of the two gas-fired power plants [partly financed by French banks], as noted above. [Siemens is the contractor for the other plant.]
The signatory organizations of this report have exhorted the French banks and insurance companies to conform to international principles in ceasing all financing of the Israeli colonization project. Numerous financial institutions, public and private, European and American, and pension funds(10) have already taken this step and have disengaged from Israeli entities which support the settlements, in contrast to the French financial institutions targeted in this report. To this day, no French bank has committed itself to cease financing entities which contribute to the development of settlements on Palestinian territory, despite unmistakable infringements on human rights, and in spite of undertakings with respect to human rights of the banks mentioned in this report and their adhesion to one or more directives on a voluntary basis.
The risks of new financing linked notably to the extension of the East Jerusalem light rail by Alstom(11), 20 per cent owned by the state itself, reinforces the urgency of strong commitments. It is not too late to act: the French banks must make commitments in conformity with international law and announce publicly the end of all financial support to entities that facilitate the maintenance and development of the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The signatory organizations request:
To the French banks to:
* withdraw all financing, direct or indirect, from banks and Israeli businesses involved in the development of the settlements;
* commit themselves publicly to no longer finance such entities;
* develop a credible policy aiming to exclude from their operations all businesses involved with the settlements.
To the French state to:
* respect its international obligations, notably those resulting from violations of the imperatives of international law by Israel and those pertaining to the UN’s ‘protect, respect and remedy’ human rights framework.
* pursue all means to prevent any participation or investment of French businesses which contribute to Israeli colonization(12);
* implement the UN’s Guiding Principles with respect to businesses and human rights and to ensure that the corporations under its jurisdiction, including banks, do not prejudice the full realization of fundamental rights in France and abroad;
* supervise respect for the law relative to the duty of vigilance of parent and contracting companies.
* support, at the UN, the process for the elaboration of an international treaty on human rights and transnational corporations and other businesses.
(1) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 11 December 2013: 68/82. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan.
(2) Council of the European Union, Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process, 18 January 2016.
(3) France Diplomatie, Israël/Territoires Palestiniens, Securité, 2 December 2016.
(4) UN Security Council, Resolution 2334, 23 December 2016.
(5) See Resolution 2334 preamble.
(6) Global Trade Review, Germans Back Israel Electric [Corporation], 23 February 2004.
(7) The document here cites Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements, October 2012.
(8) According to the Guiding Principles 11 to 24 of the United Nations. Moreover, note Principle no.7: “Because the risk of gross human rights abuses is heightened in conflict-affected areas, States should help ensure that business enterprises operating in those contexts are not involved with such abuses, including by:(a) Engaging at the earliest stage possible with business enterprises to help them identify, prevent and mitigate the human rights-related risks of their activities and business relationships; [etc.]”.
(9) The Guiding Principles of the UN, and notably Principle no.4, regarding state-owned enterprises: “States should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State, or that receive substantial support and services from State agencies such as export credit agencies and official investment insurance or guarantee agencies, including, where appropriate, by requiring human rights due diligence. … Moreover, the closer a business enterprise is to the State, or the more it relies on statutory authority or taxpayer support, the stronger the State’s policy rationale becomes for ensuring that the enterprise respects human rights.” The UN’s ‘Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises’ had its mandate extended in June 2014. The Working Group has equally highlighted the responsibility of states to take additional measures to guard against infringement on human rights by state-owned or state-controlled businesses.
(10) This is notably the case for the Norwegian government pension funds (2010), the Netherlands’ PGGM pension fund (2013), the Luxembourg FDC pension funds (2014), the Danish Danske Bank (2014) and German Deutsche Bank (2014) and the pension funds of the US Methodist Church (2016).
(11) Pertinent information became publicly available in June 2016, indicating that a commercial agreement had been signed between the Israeli government and the Israeli consortium Citypass and Alstom to extend the Jerusalem light rail network. Alstom and the French government have been contacted and advised by one of our organizations in June and September 2016, and have not denied the existence of this agreement. One might reasonably infer that this contract, of the order of €350 million, will require bank finance. [Resistance against French corporate involvement in this project has a long history.]
(12) In complementing the advice of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, as per fn. (3).
§ From Le Liaison Dangereuses de Banques Françaises avec La Colonisation Israélienne, March 2017. The report was compiled under the auspices of the following NGOs: Al-Haq, AFPS, CCFD -Terre Solidaire, CGT, FIDH, Fair Finance France, LDH, and Union Syndicale Solidaires.
Translated by Evan Jones.
Dirty tricks are like favourite records: play them too much and they get jaded. We haven’t heard about gas attacks in Syria for some time, but now, once again, the media — and, sadly, the Trump administration — is in overdrive about what is claimed to be a gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikoun by the Assad government.
First of all, the use of gas should not be regarded as particularly “evil” in a war that has also seen bombing and shelling of civilian areas as a matter of course, not to mention all the refinements to cruelty that ISIS and their like have introduced. But it is. We get it. Gas is “evil,” and you’re very, very bad if you use it. OK? So, stop!
But this means that gas attacks are also an extremely useful means of propaganda — but only if your opponents are seen to do them. In fact, this negative propaganda effect totally outweighs gas’s military benefits. And, yes, using gas may have military benefits, although in this case it’s hard to see how any possible benefits could outweigh the costs in terms of increasing the level of Western hostility.
An important precedent is the major gas attack, apparently by sarin rockets, that took place in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013 in which from between 350 and 1,400 people died.
Now, horrific as the attack was, there was a certain logic in it that made blaming the Syrian government plausible. The Syrian army was fighting street-to-street, house-to-house, trying to recapture urban territory, which any professional soldier can tell you is a nightmare for soldiers and civilian population alike. A way round this would be to use gas to clear out nests of entrenched opposition to make advances and pacification possible. Not ideal, obviously, but a way to break the deadlock and get a result. So, when the Ghouta attacks happened they at least made sense in a basic military tactical sense.
But any gains in this respect — and there weren’t many, as four years later Ghouta is still held by anti-Assad rebels — were soon outweighed by the negative international and diplomatic backlash, with the Obama and Cameron governments using the “propaganda” value of the attacks to push for military intervention.
Only strong countermeasures by the Russians, who claimed the attacks were false flag attacks designed to prepare the way for Western intervention, and a strong Russian commitment to support Assad, prevented this gas attack — false flag or not — becoming the death knell of the Assad government. Indeed, it is at least highly doubtful (see also here) that the attack was carried out by the Assad government.
Obviously gas attacks are an extremely risky and inefficient option for anyone, but especially the Assad government, so it simply doesn’t make sense that they would do this on purpose now. In fact there are a whole list of reasons why this couldn’t be a willful use of poison gas by the Assad government.
First, there’s the fact that Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters on March 30 that removing Assad was no longer a priority for the US:
You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out…
Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No. What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria…
We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did…Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.
Given this, why would Assad risk the displeasure of the United States by doing something that reinforces the image presented by much of the media that he is a prime candidate for regime change? Why give fuel to Trump’s many critics by putting him in a difficult situation when he has just given you a free pass? On the other hand, if you really want renewed US effort to topple Assad, a false flag gas attack is just the ticket. Trump, under pressure from the media and many Republicans, may decide to change his mind and opt for a military confrontation.
So it’s no surprise that the neocon media immediately concluded that Assad was responsible. Michael Warren, writing in The Weekly Standard, hopes that the attack will change Trump’s policy toward Syria. For Neocon Jonathan Tobin, writing in National Review, it’s certain that Assad did it, and he wants to use this event to go after the neocons’ bête noire, Russia:
The Syrian government dropped a poison-gas bomb on a hospital, taking the lives of dozens, including eleven children. … This is a moment for the president, who is not generally shy about sounding off on his views of the world, to say something that puts the onus on Putin for Assad’s atrocities and makes clear that the U.S. won’t continue to turn a blind eye to the horror there.
Like 9-11, the gas attack is exactly the sort of thing the neocons want in order to panic the US into military intervention by providing a powerful moral rationale. Remember the moral opprobrium attached to Saddam Hussein that was so important in selling the disastrous Iraq war to the American people? Assad’s supposed gas attack on children in a hospital paints him as the epitome of evil.
I’m sure they are encouraged to know the United States is withdrawing and seeking a new arrangement with the Russians. It is another disgraceful chapter in American history and it was predictable.
Sorry, but it seems ridiculous to try to launch a gas attack that kills a few dozen people in a civil war that has already killed between 321,000-400,000 people when it will be condemned by virtually everyone and has been used in the past as a pretext for US involvement. How could such a small-scale attack yield a strategic advantage? How can attacking a hospital and killing children have any military benefit at all?
There’s also the location. Khan Sheikoun is not on the front line. It is well in the rear, at least 10 miles from where the fighting is taking place, and ten miles is an enormous distance in this war where front lines have been moving slowly for years. This is clearly not Assad’s army clearing out an area of entrenched opposition so that they can advance.
So, there is absolutely no clear military rationale behind such an attack. In fact quite the reverse. In terms of negative propaganda for the Syrian government, the location is ideal: an isolated gas attack that harms civilians, but does not significantly endanger or inhibit journalists, allowing the latter to film and highlight the suffering of the former. We are now being inundated with images of dead babies and children writhing in pain—the emotional currency of Fourth Generation Warfare.
So, absolutely zero military benefit and a massive negative propaganda effect for the Syrian government. They would have to be insane to do it.
There are other possibilities. The worst one for the Syrian government would be an unwitting use of a bomb, shell, or rocket containing gas. This is not impossible, as there is always a chance that some gas weapons slipped through the net when the Assad government agreed to clear out its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Another possibility is that a normal bomb, shell, rocket hit an opposition chemical weapons depot. Again there is no reason why this is impossible. Chemical weapons have been in the hands of various sides in this chaotic war.
Then there is the possibility of a false flag. In its favour is the fact that Syria and gas attacks haven’t been at the top of the news agenda for some time, so the shock effect on the uninformed public will be fresh and strong. If it worked in the 2013 attack in getting the US involved, maybe it will work again. Also arguing in favour of a false flag is the fact that the Assad government has been making gains and has been growing stronger for months. In short, they have been on a roll. The last thing they need is to be blamed for gassing civilians, while this clearly favors their opponents who need all the help from the West that they can get. Indeed, Zerohedge notes:
What was lost in all of today’s conflicting narratives is that it was an almost identical alleged chemical attack by Assad in 2013 that got the Obama administration involved in the Syria proxy war in the first place; the motive behind today’s attack is hardly any different.
It is clear then that the most likely explanation for this tragic event is either an accident or a false flag, and certainly not an intentional action by the Assad government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone conversation that it was unacceptable to make “groundless” accusations concerning the alleged chemical weapons incident that took place in Syria earlier this week.
During the phone call initiated by the Israeli side on Thursday, Putin and Netanyahu stressed the importance of boosting international efforts to tackle terrorism, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Both sides “expressed readiness to expand [cooperation] in the interest of assuring stability and security in the Middle East and, first of all, in Syria,” it said.
In particular, Putin “pointed out that it was unacceptable to make groundless accusations against anyone without conducting a detailed and unbiased investigation.”
At least 70 people, including 11 children, were reportedly killed in a suspected chemical incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Iblib province, Syria, on Tuesday. The US and its allies have put the blame on the Syrian government.
Earlier on Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that he was sure Syrian government forces were behind the “chemical weapons attack” in Idlib.
“The two murderous chemical weapons attacks on civilians in the Idlib region in Syria and on the local hospital were carried out by direct and premeditated order of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with Syrian planes. I say this with 100 percent certainty,” Lieberman said.
The defense minister criticized the ‘international community’ for having “zero” reaction to the incident, stressing that “the world needs to take responsibility and, instead of just talking, needs to do something.”
When asked if Russia was somehow involved in the chemical weapons attack, Liberman replied “we don’t know.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Syrian military carried out airstrikes in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, hitting production facilities where terrorists stored chemicals, which were previously used in Iraq and the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has dismissed any accusations that the Syrian Army deployed chemical weapons in Idlib.
It’s impossible that the army – which has been making significant gains in almost all theaters of the Syrian war – would use banned chemical weapons against its “own people” and even terrorists, the minister said.
Things were looking good for days. President Donald Trump had reportedly sent US senator Tulsi Gabbard on a fact-finding mission in Syria and wanted to know if President Assad would cooperate with the US in defeating ISIS. Assad was willing to cooperate with the new American president. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement in Ankara that the US had renounced its desire to remove Assad seemed to mark a major policy shift in the right direction.
French presidential favourite Marine Le Pen was unequivocal in her desire to work with the Syrian government to defeat Takfiri terrorism. France’s Popular Republican Union party (UPR) recently invited journalist Vanessa Beeley to address their election campaign where she delivered an inspiring speech on Syria. Francois Asselineau, the party’s leader, is the most progressive and anti-imperialist candidate in the French election.
For a few days, it seemed as though the tide was turning in favour of peace and good sense. Then, as peace negotiations with the Syrian government were progressing, the Syrian gas saga returned with a vengeance.
If you are new to the topic of Syria, there are a few matters which need to be cleared up here. The country’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad, is democratically elected. He is neither dictatorial nor brutal. All of the “sources” which the mainstream Western media use to write their stories on Syria come from organisations such as the ubiquitously cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). SOHR is neither Syrian nor a human rights organisation. It is a one-man show run by Rami Abdel Rahman, an anti-government exile based in Coventry England. He hasn’t been in Syria for more than two decades. Almost all Western media sources come from this man!
So, the intrepid and indefatigable purveyors of “serious” journalism in France’s Le Monde were busy yesterday doing what they do best: war propaganda. Having implanted the belief in the uncritical reader’s brain through headlines accusing the Syrian government of gassing its own people – this time in Khan Cheikoun in the outskirts of Idlib – according to “the sources”, the real story emerges from the rubble of the aforementioned “sources”: the Syrian Army have intensified operations against “rebels” in the area contiguous to Idlib and Hama in recent weeks.
“The Operation” writes Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthes “which enabled the insurgents to come to at least within 10 kilometres of their aim, was led by the Jihadists of the Fatah Al Sham Front, an emanation of Al Qaida”. So there you have it! Le Monde has just told you once again that the “rebels” and “insurgents” are in fact led by an “emanation of Al-Qaida.
Our governments are supposed to be fighting Al-Qaida, supposed to be protecting us from them. The Syrian government – which NATO admitted in 2013 has the support of the majority of the Syrian people – claims to have bombed a chemical weapons depot in Khan Cheikoun. The information has been confirmed by the Russian military.
Even if you believe Bashar Al-Assad is secretly a devil “killing his own people”, surely the man is intelligent? If he wants to stay in power, getting the United States off his back would be a major help, would it not? So, just days after the United States looked like it was going to work with Assad against ISIS, he just couldn’t resist spraying that gas on innocent children and all the war-weary generals of the Syrian Arab Army are cowering in the barracks, abjectly carrying out every whim of the Damascene butcher and now facing a carpet bombing campaign by NATO! How did such a crazy fool manage to stay in power so long!?
Yesterday morning on France Inter radio station, academic dullards were pontificating about “post-truth”, “fake news” and of course, “conspiracy theories”. Russian media in France is increasingly coming under the spotlight. Some pundits have accused Moscow of destabilising European opinion. But critical minds always seek clarity and the French are a most critically-minded people. The war lobby is howling in Washington and Brussels and a silence of cruel complicity was observed in Western capitals following the terrorist attacks in St Petersburg on Monday. We have been taught to hate Russia.
In the French presidential debates on the 4th of April there were only two candidates the establishment fear: François Asselineau and Marine Le Pen. Of the two, Asselineau is unquestionably superior. Unlike Le Pen, Asselineau wants to leave NATO and not just the Military Command Structures. He wants leave the EU and not just have a time-wasting referendum on it. Asselineau wants to reform the Conseil de Resistance Nationale (the National Council of the Resistance) – the post war council formed by patriots and communists to reconstruct France.
Asselineau’s UPR could be the surprise in this election. No genuine communist could vote for that perfidious caitiff, that execrable little Trotskyite trashbag Jean-Luc Mélenchon! The pseudo-leftist defends wars of aggression as long as they have their UN mandates and ‘humanitarian’ cover. Mélenchon is the incarnation of everything that is putrid and pathetic on the “Left.” In fact, he is not left-wing at all. He is a right-wing demagogue who pipes the far-left tune – another Alexis Tsipras, another Sorosite, fake social-democratic class traitor!
Yesterday morning the republican presidential candidate was drilled by France Inter’s war-monger-in-chief Patrick Cohen concerning the French government’s response to the alleged gassing in Syria. Fillon, who has faced an avalanche of dubious allegations due to his connections with pro-Assad Lebanese businessmen and his desire for peace with Russia, said tellingly that the Syrian leader makes “incredible mistakes”. Fillon seemed to suggest that Assad couldn’t be that stupid and demanded “proof”- to the chagrin of Patrick Cohen!
Trump has now excluded Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. The CIA and Joint-chiefs of Staff are also back in the council. The US Deep State is triumphant and the White House is pushing UN war resolutions against Syria. In France we need a patriotic leader capable of challenging the Empire; we need the National Council of the Resistance. In the aftermath of American populist failure, now is the time to build the European popular front!
The debate about the Syrian chemical attack yesterday and President Trump’s comments during a news conference with the King of Jordan have led to speculation that the US might be readying an attack on Syria.
The speculation stems from the fact that Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said that if the UN Security Council fails to take action over the chemical attack the US might consider taking “unilateral action”, whilst President Trump himself made comments during the news conference that appeared to have the military option open.
Whilst in any international issue the possibility of unilateral military action by the US can never unfortunately be completely ruled out, on balance neither Nikki Haley’s comment nor President Trump’s comment seem to presage military action.
Nikki Haley’s comment was made during a debate in the UN Security Council about the setting up of an investigation to look into the details of the chemical attack. No one questions that such an investigation should take place. The draft Resolution prepared by the Western powers is – as with every Resolution the Western powers have proposed during the Syrian crisis – absurdly unbalanced, effectively blaming the Syrian government for the chemical attack before the investigation takes place. However even this Resolution concedes that an investigation is needed, especially after the relevant UN bodies have said that they cannot themselves say who was responsible for the chemical attack.
The Russians for their part have prepared their own draft Resolution which – far more neutrally – calls for an investigation.
It is difficult to avoid the impression that Nikki Haley’s comment was part of the game of bluff and counter bluff that nowadays regularly takes place in the UN Security Council. Specifically, she appears to have been trying to scare the Russians into agreeing to the Western draft Resolution and to drop their own.
The Russians are most unlikely to be intimidated by this kind of bluff, and having already ruled the West’s draft Resolution out they will almost certainly persist in rejecting it.
As for Donald Trump’s comments, as the entirety of his words during the press conference show, he did not directly threaten unilateral US military action in Syria but made his comments when pressed to say by a journalist whether or not he was considering military action. He declined to give any concrete answer one way or the other, but the clear impression from his comments is that he is not contemplating it.
Overall the impression President Trump’s news conference gave was that Donald Trump’s focus remains overwhelmingly on fighting ISIS – he said far more about that than about the chemical attack in Syria – and that though he does not want to give more ammunition to his domestic opponents by denying the Syrian government’s responsibility for the chemical attack, he tried to shift ultimate responsibility for the likely lack of a US reaction away from himself onto President Obama.
Ultimately the same factors that deterred a US military attack to lift the Syrian army’s siege of eastern Aleppo last autumn remain in place today. The Russian air defence system which was installed in Syria with its S400 and S300 missiles is still there. The US military in the autumn made absolutely clear their deep reluctance to engage this system, and nothing since has happened to change their views.
President Trump more than any other President in recent years looks to the US military for political support. It is even less credible that he will go against their advice than President Obama did.
In light of all this a unilateral US attack on the Syrian military on anything like the necessary scale to affect the course of the Syrian war is extremely unlikely.
Attempts by some members of the Brussels conference on Syria to redraw the agenda and focus on allegations of the Syrian government’s complicity in the suspected chemical attack in Idlib have failed, Russia’s deputy foreign minister has said.
“In what concerns this conference, of course, some tried to redirect it in order to focus attention on the incident that has occurred [in Idlib]. I must say that they failed to achieve that,” said Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s representative at the UN-sponsored international donor conference that was held on April 4-5 in Brussels.
Moscow hopes that the incident will not lead to the derailment of intra-Syrian talks as that would play into hands of those who strive to obstruct the peace process.
“Anything can affect the talks. But we would not like for such incidents to be used by opponents of the negotiation process to disrupt it,” the Russian diplomat said, stressing that it is necessary for the negotiations to be inclusive.
Despite the apparent discord at the conference, its participants were largely united in that there is no alternative to political settlement to the protracted military conflict.
“I would like to note that all spoke in favor of political solution, the majority agreed that there is no military solution,” Gatilov said, as cited by TASS. He added that “practically all hailed” the negotiations in Astana made possible by the mediation of Russia, Turkey and Iran and commended them as “great help” for the Geneva process.
No breakthrough has yet been achieved in the talks, Gatilov said, referring to the latest round of intra-Syrian negotiations that took place in Geneva last week.
“Regrettably, so far it has yielded no practical results but it is not the reason to say that the round failed. Obviously, it is going to be a long process and we had been saying this all the time,” Gatilov said.
The slow progress is due to major differences between the take of the Syrian government and rebels on an array of key issues, he said. The major point of disagreement between the sides is what topic should be given a priority in the talks. While opposition argues that the talks should pave way for a transitional government, the Syrian authorities insist on the preeminence of the fight against terrorism.
On Tuesday, a suspected chemical attack on the hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province claimed the lives of dozens of people, including children. Rebel groups accused the Syrian government of mounting the attack, the claims which the Syrian authorities flatly denied.
Russia has demanded a thorough investigation into the incident, saying it should be led by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. The OPCW will be entrusted with collecting evidence of the attack within the fact-finding mission. The composition of the mission should be subject to approval by the UN Security Council.
In the aftermath of the attack, Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement, saying that the Syrian Air Force on Tuesday bombed a warehouse housing chemical weapons bound for Iraq. The storage facility, which was used to produce and store munitions containing toxic gas, was managed by the rebels. Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov noted that the symptoms displayed by the victims of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun are similar to those shown by civilians who suffered in the Aleppo chemical attack, perpetrated by the militants.
The death of civilians has sparked an international outcry, with some of the Western governments, including the US, backing the allegations put forward by the rebels.
Commenting on the attack, US President Donald Trump said that it was “unacceptable” went “beyond the red line” and made him to rethink his stance on the Syrian government and President Bashar Assad.
In his turn, Vice President Mike Pence blamed the attack on a “failure of the past administration to both confront the mindless violence of the Assad regime and also hold Russia and Syria to account for the promises to destroy chemical weapons,” in an interview to Fox News on Wednesday.
Responding to a question, if Washington sees Moscow also responsible for the attack, Pence stated that Russian must ensure the implementation of the pledge by the Syrian government to destroy all chemical stockpiles, saying that “the time come has come for them [Russia] to keep the word that they made, to see the elimination of the chemical weapons so that they no longer threaten the people in that country.”
“We were told that there were an agreement between Russians and Assad to destroy chemical weapons and that the threat to civilians from a chemical attack had been eliminated, it was not,” Pence claimed.
Russia has tabled a UN Security Council resolution calling for a through investigation of the chemical weapons incident in Idlib Governorate.
Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s acting Ambassador to the UN who has stepped in to fill the position of the late Vitaly Churkin has said,
“… we submitted our short draft resolution, drawn up in a business manner and aimed at conducting a true investigation rather than to appoint the guilty ones until the facts are established”.
The Russian draft resolution proposes to,
“… fully investigate the reports about the incident on the ground under the mandatory condition that the list of investigators will be submitted to the UN for approval and will be geographically balanced as well”
This is in sharp contrast to the US-UK-France co-sponsored resolution which automatically assigned blame to the Syrian government in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. That resolution was vetoed by Russia.
The Russian resolution calls for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group which helped the Syrian government to remove the remains of its chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, to explore this incident.
It also demands that illegal terrorist groups cooperate with investigations, something which may not be possible.
This response is similar to Russia’s reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Donbass by forces loyal to the Kiev regime. At that time Russia called for an investigation rather than a war.
Syria’s foreign minister has dismissed allegations that the Syrian Army had deployed chemical weapons in the city of Idlib, saying the military will never use such weapons against its own people or even terrorists.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem denied claims that the military used chemical weapons in the western city of Idlib. Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Muallem said an airstrike by Syrian military had targeted an arms depot where chemical weapons stockpiles were stored by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants.
He said it’s impossible that the army – which has been making significant gains in almost all theaters of the Syrian war – would use banned chemical weapons against its “own people” and even terrorists.
Asked if Damascus would allow a fact-finding mission into the Idlib incident, Muallem said past experience of similar investigations was “not encouraging.” He also said that he could not predict “the reality of US intentions” in Syria.
Muallem added that such a mission must not be politicized and must start its operations “from Damascus, not Turkey,” apparently referring to the latest statements by Ankara condemning the incident, as well as the fact that some victims were taken to Turkey for autopsy.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, said the Kremlin believes the Syrian military will do its utmost to prevent chemical agents from falling into the hands of terrorists.
“This was indeed a dangerous and monstrous crime, but in our opinion, it would be wrong to point fingers,” Peskov told reporters on Thursday. The Kremlin spokesman said Moscow does not agree with assessments provided by certain Western countries.
“Immediately after the tragedy no one had access to this area, so no one could have hard verifiable data. Consequently, any information which the US side or our colleagues from other countries might have had access to, could not be based on objective facts,” Peskov told reporters.
Though Peskov rejected “hasty assessments” of the alleged use of chemical weapons, he emphasized that there are always disagreements between Moscow and Washington, but mutual discords over the Idlib incident are unlikely to affect “the spirit of our cooperation.”
Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed as “unsubstantiated” statements by US Vice-President Mike Pence that Moscow and Damascus had failed to fulfill their obligations under a landmark 2013 deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenals.
“I wouldn’t use profane language, especially when it comes to the second-most powerful man in the US administration, but I do believe that this is ignorance rather than irresponsibility,” Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the ministry’s Arms Control Department, said.
“The new administration has only recently begun reviewing its policy. Once that’s done, American officials’ statements, I hope, will become more accurate. There is no reason to say the US-Russia agreements [on eliminations Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles] did not work,” Ulyanov stated.
A police officer smashes down the door with a portable battering ram; another one enters, pointing a pistol and strikes several times, a man who, roused by the break in, reached for a baseball bat; yet other police officers point their guns at a child who has already raised his arms: scenes of ordinary “legal” violence in the United States, reported a week ago, with video clips by the New York Times, that talks about the “trail of blood” triggered by these “raids”, carried out by former soldiers, who have been recruited into the police force, applying the same raid techniques that would be applied in raids in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Our mass media shield our eyes from all this. These same media outlets splash on the front page [photos of] the Russian police arresting Alexei Navalni in Moscow for a demonstration that had not been authorized. An “affront to fundamental democratic values” – this is how the US State Department defines it and firmly requires his immediate release and that of the others detainees. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative of Foreign Policy, also condemns the Russian government because “it prevents the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly from being exercised”. Thus, in support of the new champion of “democratic values”, everyone is united in the new campaign launched against Russia in tones that typify the Cold War.
Who is Alexei Navalni? From his official profile, we read that he trained in the US, at Yale University, as a “fellow” (a chosen member) of the “Greenberg World Fellows Program”. This programme was established in 2002, and each year, just 16 individuals with attributes that make them “global leaders” are selected from all around the world. They form part of a network of “leaders globally committed to making the world a better place”. At the moment, this network is composed of 291 fellows from 87 countries, one in contact with the other and all linked to the US centre, Yale.
Navalni is, at the same time, the co-founder of the movement “Alternative democracy”. This is one of the beneficiaries of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a powerful US “private non-profit foundation” which funds, which are even provided by the Congress, openly or under the counter, thousands of non-governmental organizations in more than 90 countries to “advance democracy” . NED, a CIA outlet for covert operations, was and is, particularly active in Ukraine. It was here that it supported (according to what is reported) “the Maiden Square Revolution which crushed a corrupt government which stood in the way of democracy”. The result of the Maiden Square Putsch: an even more corrupt government has come into power. Indeed, its democratic character finds expression in the Neo-Nazis that hold key positions in it.
In Russia, activities of “undesirable non-governmental organizations” are prohibited and this is why NED has not stopped campaigning against the Russian government. Thus NED accuses it of spearheading an aggressive foreign policy to bring within its sphere of influence, states that previously formed part of the USSR. This charge is the foundation of the basis for the US/NATO strategy against Russia. The technique, now consolidated, is that of the “orange revolutions”: gaining mileage on the back of genuine or invented cases of corruption and other bones of dissatisfaction so as to whip up an anti-government rebellion, which will weaken the state from within, while increasing military, political and economic pressure externally. Alexei Navalni’s activities should be viewed in this context. He specialized at Yale as a lawyer, defending the rights of the vulnerable against abuse by the powerful.
 “NED, the Legal Window of the CIA”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Оdnako (Russia) , Voltaire Network, 16 August 2016.
Translation by Anoosha Boralessa