US authorities have charged a Lebanese businessman with dodging sanctions imposed against him over his alleged financial support to the Hezbollah resistance movement, the Department of Justice has announced.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Kassim Tajideen pleaded not guilty in a federal court in Washington, DC, on Friday.
The 62-year-old billionaire businessman will remain in prison until his next hearing, which is scheduled to be held in the coming week, according to the statement.
He was arrested on March 12 in Morocco after an international warrant was issued by Interpol’s office in Washington, Reuters reported earlier this week.
American authorities claimed Tajideen operated a big company that did business in commodities across the Middle East and Africa. The United States Treasury Department sanctioned Tajideen in 2009, accusing him of having contributed “tens of millions of dollars” to Hezbollah, leaving him shut out from banks with no legal redress.
Tajideen had rejected the accusation and said the news of sanctions in 2009 was a shock.
“I was surprised, as I’d thought America was democratic,” Tajideen said. “A friend called me at midnight to tell me, and woke me up. The next day I saw my lawyer [in Belgium], although he didn’t know exactly what it would mean.”
America’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with the help of US Customs and Border Protection led a two-year investigation that resulted in Tajideen’s arrest and indictment, according to the Justice Department.
Raymond Donovan, a DEA special agent, accused Tajideen of acting as a key financier of Hezbollah.
American authorities said Tajideen evaded the Treasury sanctions by restructuring his company and using a complex web of trade names, which allowed him to continue doing business with US companies.
Last year, the US Treasury added two Lebanese men — Mohamad Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher El Dine — to its sanctions blacklist accusing them of laundering money for Hezbollah.
The Treasury claimed that the men had used a network across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East to help Hezbollah.
In 2015, the Barack Obama administration approved a bill which imposed sanctions against banks that do business with Hezbollah.
Washington accuses the resistance movement of condoning terrorism. However, Hezbollah has been involved in fierce fighting against Daesh terrorists in Syria.
Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s following the Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon.
The movement waged a long resistance campaign against Zionist troops and pushed them out of southern Lebanon in May 2000.
Since then, the group has grown into a powerful military force and has successfully defeated the Zionist regime several times.
Hezbollah has also supported the Syrian army in its fight against the foreign-sponsored terrorists who have been wreaking havoc in the Arab country since March 2011.
Since its inception in 1985, the Islamic resistance movement has been a thorn in the flesh of Israel and its foreign backers, such as the United States.
The Israeli air attacks on Friday near Palmyra in Syria targeting what Tel Aviv claims to be a convoy ferrying weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon – and what Damascus alleges was a calculated act directed against the positions of the government forces fighting the Islamic State active in the region – cannot be regarded as a ‘stand-alone’ event.
On the face of it, the Israeli claim lacks credibility since Palmyra is twice removed from the Syrian-Lebanon border in terms of geographical proximity. Possibly, the Syrian government has a point that the Israelis were deliberately targeting its forces. This explains why the Russian Foreign Ministry called in the Israeli ambassador in Moscow on the same day and sought explanation.
Evidently, some ‘ground rule’ as per the unwritten Russian-Israeli understanding over Syrian frontlines has been breached and Moscow took note. In previous instances when Israel attacked Hezbollah – even assassinating its top commanders fighting on Syrian frontlines – Moscow had looked away. But this time around, it promptly signalled displeasure. It stands to reason that Israel crossed some ‘red line’.
At first, Moscow did not publicise its demarche. But then, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman flew off the handle on Sunday with a belligerent remark that Israel “will not hesitate” to destroy Syria’s air defence systems if that country ever again targeted attacking Israeli jets. It was an illogical statement insofar as Israel insists it can violate Syrian air space but Damascus has no right to defend. Liberman also held a veiled threat saying, “We do not want to clash with the Russians.”
Whereupon, on Monday, Moscow disclosed that it had made a demarche. Curiously, the Israeli ambassador had presented his credentials at the Kremlin only the day before he received the summons. As far as diplomatic practices go – and Russians are seasoned practitioners – Moscow made a strong point.
Interestingly, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Moscow recently with a focused mission to get Russia to dump its alliance with Iran in Syria. From Russian commentaries, it appears he got a short shrift in the Kremlin. (Read a hilarious piece, here, by Israel Shamir.) One likelihood is that Netanyahu showed irritation over the snub. By the way, Liberman is an ethnic Russian Jew.
By making the demarche, Russia inserted itself into what Israel pretended to be a standoff with Damascus, and has warned Israel not to escalate. On the contrary, Israel may have much to be gained through escalation. Consider the following.
Israel is watching with growing despair that Iran has emerged as the ‘winner’ in the Syrian conflict. Israel’s proxies – al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremist groups – are facing defeat. Its plans to create a ‘buffer zone’ in Syrian territory straddling the Golan Heights are in shambles. Israel’s illegal occupation of Golan Heights may come under challenge if Iranian/Hezbollah militia resort to the politics of ‘resistance’.
Israel anticipates that Iran will establish a permanent presence in Syria. There are reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given go-ahead for an Iranian naval base in Latakia, close to the Russian airbase at Hmeymim. If that happens, Iran will be in an even stronger position than before to build up Hezbollah (and Syria and Lebanon) as the bulwark of ‘resistance’ against Israel.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is also emerging as a more capable fighting force after the baptism under fire in Syria. Hezbollah has a massive stockpile of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles – some estimates put the number as 100,000 – targeting Israel, which deterred an Israeli attack on Lebanon for the past ten years. Israel has no answer to the missile threat from Hezbollah. As an Israeli commentator put it,
- Sending special infantry units to search for rocket and missile launch sites on the ground is a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. Israel tried to do this in the second Lebanon war (2006) with no real results. What this means is that the only option left to Israel is an immediate, dramatic and aggressive attack against all of Lebanon’s vital infrastructure, or as Israeli officers and senior Israeli officials have been describing for the past decade, “sending Lebanon back to the Stone Age.”
The catch here is that Hezbollah is not spoiling for a fight with Israel, but it will hit back if attacked. Israel tried repeatedly to provoke Hezbollah, but the latter kept cool, given the overriding priorities of the Syrian conflict where it plays a major role in the ground fighting. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah listed recently that targets in Israel include the ammonia plant in Haifa, the nuclear reactors in Dimona and Nahal Sorek, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems weapons development facilities and so on.
The short point is, Israel is desperately keen to somehow get the US directly involved. Israel will not hesitate to precipitate a US-Iranian confrontation. How far President Donald Trump would play ball with Netanyahu is a moot point. Israel may simply create a new fact on the ground whereby US intervention becomes unavoidable. Russia probably senses that.
Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged after an illegal Israeli air strike on Syrian troops in Palmyra. In his statement, he predictably disregarded international law, but he also made what can only be described as a thinly veiled threat against Russia.
He went on to say,
Just who could ‘everyone’ imply. Could the Israeli leader be threatening Russia?
It seems that he is.
Russia has been a consistent ally of the Syrian Arab Republic in her war against terrorism. Israel, which has been an enemy of Syria since the 1940s, is deeply desirous for regime change in one of the few Arab states left, which still pursues an independent foreign policy, one which is openly pro-Palestine.
As a result of Netanyahu’s provocative remarks, Moscow summoned the Israeli Ambassador to Russia to clarify the remarks. Russia is in a unique position as a power that is an ally of Syria, a traditional friend of Palestine, but also a power that Israel listens to and does not want to overtly upset.
Indeed, Netanyahu was in Moscow just over a week ago. If Israel thinks it is in a position to provoke Russia and threaten Russia into changing its established policy in Syria, they really ought to think again.
One must remain hopeful that the Israeli Ambassador got a stern warning from Russia, something along the lines of, ‘stay out of Syria and stay out of our business in Syria as a legal partner of Damascus’.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in brazen remarks that his regime will continue to conduct military attacks against Hezbollah targets inside Syria, a day after Tel Aviv had to admit airstrikes inside Syrian territory.
Israeli warplanes intruded Syrian airspace on Friday, striking several targets near the ancient city of Palmyra in the central part of the Arab country. The Syrian government said it had fired anti-aircraft missiles at the intruding Israeli jets. It said one warplane had been shot down and another damaged.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the incursion on Saturday, claiming that the strikes targeted weapons shipments to Hezbollah.
“When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it,” he alleged. “That’s how it was yesterday and that’s how we shall continue to act.”
Hezbollah defended Lebanon against Israeli wars in 2000 and 2006. It has helped both prevent and contain the spillover into Lebanon of a terrorist campaign going on in Syria. The resistance movement has also been aiding the Syrian government in its own battle against extremist militants inside Syria.
The Syrian army has called the latest Israeli airstrikes “a desperate attempt” to help the Takfiri terrorist group of Daesh.
Israel, on the other hand, has been contributing to the terrorist campaign in Syria with the strikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian military and by offering medial treatment for the anti-Damascus militants in the Israeli-occupied Syrian territory of Golan Heights.
Last September, an Israeli lawmaker said Tel Aviv was directly aiding the terrorist group formerly known as al-Nusra Front in the Golan Heights.
In a message posted on his Facebook page and quoted by the daily Haaretz, Knesset member Akram Hasoon said Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as the group is currently known, was bombing the Druze village of Khadr in non-occupied Golan with Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Avigdor Lieberman’s support and protection.
The Israeli regime every now and then hits targets inside Syrian territory in strikes that typically go unclaimed. While Netanyahu admitted for the first time in April 2016 that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons for Hezbollah in Syria, the Tel Aviv regime refuses to claim individual attacks.
It was forced to admit the Friday airstrikes, though, because its jets had been attacked by the Syrian military in that incursion.
Aiming for a state on the resistance front
Speaking to Press TV, Richard Becker, an expert with the ANSWER Coalition anti-war group, and London-based journalist and political commentator Richard Millet offered their takes on the Israeli attacks in Syria.
Millet claimed that the air raids had been “an act of self-defense” stopping Hezbollah from using those weapons against Israel. He also alleged that the strikes were “against… the takeover of Syria by Iran.”
Becker, however, said that Tel Aviv sought “to destroy Syria,” which has served as “a frontline state against the practices and policies of Israel, [i.e.] suppressing the Palestinian people and waging war on the Arab people and other people throughout the region.”
“Israel has long wanted to bring about regime change in Syria; and, if they can break up the Syrian state, that’s… seen by them [as being] in their interest,” he said.
“Journalists” who want to write fake news about Venezuela, or about any other country or group that dares to stand up to US imperialism, only need to follow this simple recipe:
- Choose one or more countries/groups opposed to US imperialism
- If available, have a former official, now being paid by the US government, make the accusations
- Season well with doses of “war on terror” and/or “war on drugs”
- Sprinkle with opinions of “experts” who work in DC think tanks or US-funded NGOs
While this looks like a very unsavoury mix, the results last very long and can be reheated with no problems.
This recipe has been used and re-used plenty of times, either by US officials to justify policies or by media outlets. But given how the media critically accepts everything when it comes to foreign policy, there is hardly a distinction to be made here.
A classical example were the fabricated connections made between Chávez/Venezuela and al-Qaeda. Other variants involve dealings with the FARC1, Mexican cartels, and the favourite dance partner is Hezbollah. On one hand, the US’ relation with al-Qaeda is now a bit more complicated, as extremists may get bombed if they are in Iraq but supported if they cross into Syria. On the other, Hezbollah is the biggest obstacle to Israeli hegemony and the colonisation of Palestine. This kind of propaganda is reminiscent of the effort to fabricate connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. Some outlets would even have us believe North Korea was supplying arms to Hamas!
The most recent story involves the newly-appointed vice-president, Tareck El Aissami, who is a perfect ingredient because of his Middle Eastern ancestry. Even though he was born and lived all his life in Venezuela, his parents are Druze immigrants from Lebanon. The storm started with a CNN “story” about the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq selling passports to dangerous people, including members of Hezbollah, who would then use them to attack the US or its allies. This operation was claimed to be directed by El Aissami. This story was directly quoted by Marco Rubio during a renewed push by US lawmakers for more sanctions against Venezuela. These came later from the Department of the Treasury, this time linking El Aissami to Mexican cartels. With a little more effort even the North Koreans might have been added to the party.
All in all, there are many things that do not add up. First of all, there is the issue of Hezbollah plotting terror attacks in the US, but we will not go into detail here. It suffices to say that the evidence of Hezbollah involvement in terror attacks abroad is, at best, very thin. Then there is the sectarian issue. Western media, at the behest of western allies in the Middle East, keep stirring up this supposedly grave Shia threat, with Iran and Hezbollah even conspiring to reshape demographics and create an all-Shia corridor in the Middle East. And yet their man in Venezuela is a Druze. Equally ludicrous are claims that there are Venezuelan training camps in Lebanon and vice-versa. Hezbollah’s main foe is right next door, but somehow it would need training camps halfway around the world! The links to the drug trade presented by the Treasury are equally flimsy, and were picked apart masterfully by Larissa Costas.
The “star witness” of CNN’s expose, Misael López, has since been revealed to be a close associate of Ana Argotti, who is in turn very close to Lilian Tintori and Leopoldo López, the hard-right politician jailed for his role in the violent activities during the 2014 guarimbas that resulted in over 40 deaths. Argotti has defended several members of the opposition charged with violent crimes during this period. As for Misael López, he is also under investigation for alleged sexual harassment and attempting to withdraw funds from the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad.
Elusive cartels and double standards
Another high-profile fake story, followed by sanctions, involved Diosdado Cabello, an important figure in the ruling PSUV and head of the National Assembly at the time. Based on the account of a former bodyguard turned star-witness, now living comfortably in the US, Cabello was accused of being the boss of the elusive Cartel de los Soles. This is supposedly a very important Latin American drug cartel run by the Venezuelan military. The problem is that, unlike the stories we hear of cartels violently making themselves known and marking territory, here we have a drug cartel run from the highest levels of the Venezuelan state operating without anyone really noticing it. It is like the Illuminati version of drug cartels.
Venezuela is often presented as an obstacle in the war on drugs, but the truth is that the main actor in the cocaine trade is neighbouring Colombia, the empire’s best friend and largest recipient of aid in the hemisphere. Any list of officials connected to the drug trade has to start with (former Colombian president) Álvaro Uribe if it is to be taken seriously. We are talking about the country where the para-politics scandal broke, revealing that dozens of elected officials had links to paramilitary groups, the heart and soul of the drug trade. And yet we never hear stories of Colombian politicians or military officials, who cooperate closely with the US military, being involved in illegal activities, nor have sanctions ever been imposed on them.
This double standard is only outrageous if we believe that the war on drugs is actually designed to eradicate the drug trade. Rather, it is supposed to manage it. In fact, drugs have been very useful for US agencies, for instance, to pacify black communities and derail the black liberation movement in the 1970s. Coupled with draconian legislation and harsh sentences, today they serve to feed the very lucrative prison industry. In any case, large amounts of cocaine are consumed in the very place where the drug money is laundered – Wall Street. Even when a massive drug money laundering scheme is uncovered at a major US bank, a mild slap on the wrist and a fine worth a few days’ profit is all that can be expected.
Fake news as background
None of this is intended as an endorsement or an exoneration of El Aissami, Cabello, or anyone else. But these news stories and unproven accusations, as well as others targeting lower-profile officials such as Néstor Reverol, are not meant to prove anything or to lead to any judicial prosecution. They are simply thrown out there and blindly echoed by an uncritical media. They are meant to create background. From now on, whenever Tareck El Aissami appears in the news we will read that he has links to terrorism and the drug trade, and thus whatever he says or does will build on this background.
For the past two decades, Venezuela has been the biggest thorn in the US’ side, a real nuisance in Washington’s “backyard”, striving for an independent course (a “second independence”) and leading the efforts for a regional integration which is not subjected to the interests of the Northern empire. The US responded with its traditional regime-change operation, destabilizing at every turn, funding opposition groups, imposing a de-facto financial blockade on Venezuela, even working to lower oil prices. Their natural allies, the Venezuelan elites, have also been outraged that the country they used to own has been taken away from them, and coup-plotting has become their way of life.
And therefore these fake news stories are pre-emptive justification for a future coup or foreign intervention. Should one of these take place, the media will be ready with plenty of hyperlinks to these fake stories that present Venezuela as a failed, rogue state, connected to terrorism and the drug trade. The coup/foreign intervention would then look like the benign empire saving the world from this threat.
What the empire, the local elites and the media keep underestimating is the power of the masses that were awakened by this project, chavismo, that for the first time sees them placed front and centre. There is now a political conscience, a firm belief that the people should write their own history, and it will take a lot more than fake stories from propaganda outlets to restore Venezuela’s former neo-colonial status. In the words of Chávez:
“Aquí nadie se rinde, carajo!”
(1) While the FARC have been involved in the drug trade, it has mostly been at the lowest levels of the chain, levying a tax on sales of coca crops. Associating them, and only them, to the Colombian drug trade, is incredibly dishonest and exonerates those who profit the most out of it.
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.
Israel bombs Syrian army positions on the eve of peace talks in Geneva
War by any means
Syria peace talks are expected to begin this week in Geneva. And what are the Israelis doing? Bombing Syrian Arab Army positions near the Lebanese border.
Because as we all know, the Israelis are really good at these “ceasefire” things. Especially when they have no business interfering in any way in a conflict:
Minutes ago, an Israeli warplane conducted an airstrike over the western countryside of Damascus, targeting the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) positions in the Qalamoun Mountains near the Lebanese border.
A Syrian Army source told Al-Masdar this morning that the Israeli warplane had crossed into Syria after flying over Lebanon’s ‘Arsal Barrens, where both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) are headquartered in the eastern Beqa’a Governorate. The Syrian Army source added that the specific location of the attack was in the Jard Nalhleh area of the Qalamoun Mountains.
Oh, isn’t that interesting? The Israelis flew over ISIS and al-Qaeda positions — but saved their bombs for the Syrians. Quite telling.
There were no reported casualties.
If Israel admits that it did indeed bomb a sovereign state unprovoked (which is unlikely to happen), it will probably claim that it was targeting “terrorists” such Hezbollah. The problem is that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that Russia thinks Hezbollah has played an important role in defeating ISIS in Syria.
A bit of a diplomatic pickle for the Israelis, no?
Israel doesn’t want to return Syrian land that it stole, so it needs the war in Syria to continue. These airstrikes aren’t too surprising.
Lebanese President General Michel Aoun deemed on Saturday that “the message content of Israel’s Delegate at the United Nations, Danny Danon, poses a threat to Lebanon,” adding that “the international community ought to pay attention to the possible Israeli hostile intentions against Lebanon.”
Speaking before his interlocutors at Baabda Palace this afternoon, Aoun asserted that “any Israeli attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon shall be confronted with the appropriate response.”
The President stressed that “Israel must comply with Security Council resolutions before any other, yet it still refuses to implement Resolution #1701 and the transition from the cessation of hostilities to a ceasefire stage, despite the fact that more than 11 years have passed since the release of said Resolution.”
“Israel still occupies Lebanese territories in the northern part of Ghajar, Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hilltops, while effecting daily violations of the Blue Line and Lebanese sovereignty by air and sea,” Aoun went on to indicate.
“In addition, half a million Palestinians are still forced to stay away from their homeland, hosted by Lebanon in the absence of their right to return to their land and property, which constitutes an act of aggression against Lebanon and its people,” he added.
“This act of aggression falls under the content of Article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives Lebanon and its people the natural right to defend their land,” Aoun underscored.
The President concluded that “Lebanon, which has respected all obligations towards the United Nations and its labor force in the South, views the Israeli message to the United Nations as a blatant attempt to threaten the security and stability enjoyed by the southern towns and villages located within the international area of operations, and therefore, bears full responsibility for any aggression against Lebanon.”
Tehran has rejected a recent ruling issued by Canada’s Ontario Superior Court of Justice against Iran, saying the verdict violates international law.
“This ruling contravenes the basic principles of the legal impunity of governments and their assets, and is unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Sunday.
Justice Glenn Hainey ruled on February 8 that the Islamic Republic had to pay $300,000 in legal costs to those who claim to be victims of Iranian support for resistance groups.
The plaintiffs had sought compensation in the Ontario court under Canada’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. The verdict has given Iran 30 days to pay the sum.
Qassemi said the Islamic Republic has already conveyed its expression of formal protest to the Canadian government and reserved the right to take political and legal measures in that regard.
In June 2016, the same court ordered $13 million in non-diplomatic Iranian assets to be given to three groups of plaintiffs.
The decision was similar to US Supreme Court’s ruling in April 2016 to hand over $2 billion in Iran’s frozen assets to American families of those killed in the 1983 bombing of US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and other attacks.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced at that time that the country had filed a lawsuit against the US with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
Earlier this month, Iran’s Presidential Office said in a statement that the lawsuit had been officially put in motion.
Washington’s seizure of Iran’s assets is against the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights which was signed by the two countries in August 1955 – referred to as the 1955 Treaty – and is “still effective,” the statement added.
The situation with peace talks on Syria is currently “more favorable” for things to really get better in the war-torn country, Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov has said. Obama’s team slowed down the process, but under Trump things might improve, according to the diplomat.
“We are currently in the situation… that is much more favorable to start working on a real settlement of the crisis. We were close to it in September last year, but the Americans failed to implement an agreement which had been coordinated with us earlier, which once more confirmed the Obama’s administration inability to negotiate on many issues,” Russia’s foreign minister said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV.
“They took an agreement, and then couldn’t do anything [within it],” Sergey Lavrov said, adding that “largely because of Obama’s reluctance to have an argument with some countries in the region,” a settlement through the UN’s participation “turned to [result in] zero progress.”
Moscow could no longer rely on such dragging partnerships, Russia’s top diplomat said, adding that a decision has been made to take action in other ways, such as through Russian-Turkish relations.
“We know that Turkey has influenced and continues to influence a very considerable number of field commanders,” Lavrov said, noting that Moscow’s cooperation with Ankara resulted in a ceasefire agreement in Syria in late December last year.
“I want to make it clear: we’ve already said on different levels that we are not trying to undermine UN’s efforts [in resolving the Syrian crisis]. Although our initiative was largely based on [others’] inaction, we understand that many more sides should be involved in peace talks than those currently working on Astana [negotiations],” Lavrov told NTV. There should be more participants both from Syria and “players from the outside,” he added.
Parallel to the Astana peace process, Moscow is preparing for talks under the auspices of the United Nations, the minister said, adding that so far such a meeting has been confirmed for February 20.
Talking of Moscow’s expectations of those talks, Lavrov said that the “whims” of some Syrian opposition groups’ leaders, “especially of those who have long been living outside Syria,” should not be taken into consideration. “If it once again becomes a hindrance to hold UN talks, then the organization’s reputation will be seriously damaged,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, Russia has been actively involved in meetings on Syria in Astana, where talks with the participation of Ankara and Tehran have recently finished. The sides have generally agreed details on cease fire monitoring, the minister said, adding that the agreements reached “will soon be implemented.” Efforts to summon more fighting groups in Syria to join in talks with the Syrian government are also in the works, he added.
Saying that US representatives were present at the first meeting in Astana as monitors, Lavrov confirmed that an invitation has been sent to Washington to take part in the talks once a new team on the Middle East and Syria is formed under the incoming Trump administration.
Moscow is fully aware that relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated with Trump’s arrival in the White House, Lavrov said, but added that Russia “stands for common sense.”
“If US President Trump’s main priority on the international arena is fighting terrorism, then it should be admitted that in Syria not only the Syrian army supported by Russian Air Force are fighting ISIL [Islamic State terrorist group, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also Hezbollah groups supported by Iran [are involved in the anti-terrorist fight],” Lavrov said. “There’s a choice of priorities here.”
The minister added that while Americans are known for their “pragmatic” policies, it “wouldn’t be pragmatic to just precariously exclude Iran from the anti-terrorist coalition.” Russia, on its side, “always treats any country’s stance with respect,” he said, having expressed Moscow’s willingness to discuss any ways to solve the crisis, “even those that absolutely contradict” Russia’s views.
“I am sure that Donald Trump is absolutely sincere when he every time confirms his determination to defeat IS. We are ready to cooperate with him,” Lavrov said, having expressed hopes that cooperation between the Russian and American military in Syria “will soon start to form again.”
Donald Trump needs détente with Russia for precisely the opposite motives to those who oppose him: for the latter, tension with Russia wholly underpins the need for a U.S.-led, global defense posture that can draw on a storied, centuries-old (in the European case), legacy of hostility towards Russia.
The continuance of this global “threat” meme, in its turn, pulls Europe and other pro-Western states into a tighter hug with the U.S. And, last but not least, a globalist defense strategy is an integral component to globalism itself (together with globalist financial institutions, and global economic governance).
At the heart of Trump’s critique of the post-war élites, precisely is the negative impact of globalization on U.S. production, trade and fiscal imbalances, and on the labor market. Trump cites the fact that U.S. industrial capitalism has drastically shifted the locus of its investments, innovations and profits overseas – as the prime example of globalization’s negative effects. To reverse the paradigm, he needs to undo America’s “defense globalization,” which effectively has been the umbrella under which the stealth forces of U.S. financialized globalism, and so-called, “free trade” policies, hide. Détente with Russia therefore, in, and of, itself, would help to dismantle the overarching “globalization paradigm.” This would give the U.S. President a better possibility of instituting a new, more self-sufficient, self-supporting American economy — which is to say, to facilitate the repopulation of the languishing American “Rust Belt“ – with some new, real, economic enterprise.
Détente not only would go a long way to wind back America’s over-extended and often obsolete defense commitments, and to make some of those now-committed “defense” resources newly available for reinvesting in America’s productive capacity needs. But crucially, taking a hammer to the globalized defense paradigm would break down what, until now, has been seen as a homogenized, single, American-led cosmos – into a collection of distinct planets orbiting in a vast space.
This would allow America to cut bilateral trading deals with other states (planets), freed from the need to maintain aloft a global defense “cosmos” primordially dedicated to keeping its “enemy” out, weak and in its own attenuated orbit (with no moons of its own).
President Trump seems to view (even a U.S.-led) global defense “cosmos” as an impediment to his planned transformation of America’s economy: As James Petras has pointed out:
“President Trump emphasizes market negotiations with overseas partners and adversaries. He has repeatedly criticized the mass media and politicians’ mindless promotion of free markets and aggressive militarism as undermining the nation’s capacity to negotiate profitable deals … Trump points to [previous] trade agreements, which have led to huge deficits, and concludes that US negotiators have been failures. He argues that previous US presidents have signed multi-lateral agreements, [primarily] to secure military alliances and bases, [but done so] at the expense of negotiating job-creating economic pacts … He wants to tear up, or renegotiate unfavourable economic treaties while reducing US overseas military commitments; and demands NATO allies [should] shoulder more of their own defence budgets.”
In short, Trump does not particularly want defense solidarity, or even European alliances, come to that. Simply said, such groupings serve (in his view) to inhibit America’s ability to negotiate, on a case-by-case, individual state-to-state, basis – and thus, by using leverage specific to each nation, achieve better terms of trade for America. He would prefer to deal with Europe piecemeal – and not as composite NATO or E.U. “cosmos,” but as the individual recipient (or not) of U.S. defense protection: a negotiating card, which he believes has been inadequately levered by previous administrations.
Remove the “Russian threat” from the game, and then America’s ability to offer – or withdraw – American defense shield becomes a hugely potent “card” which can be used to lever improved trade deals for the U.S., or the repatriation of jobs. In short, Trump’s foreign policy essentially is about trade policy and negotiation advantage, in support of his domestic agenda.
Seen against this background, Russian fears that Trump’s détente initiative cannot be trusted because his true underlying aim is to drive a wedge into the China-Russia-Iran strategic alliance may be misplaced. Trump wants détente with Russia, but that does not necessarily mean that he wants “war” with China. It is not plausible that Trump should want war with China. He wants trade; he believes in trade, but only on “equal” terms – and in any case, China simply doesn’t carry a legacy of China-phobia in any way comparable to the weight and longevity of the Western investment in Russo-phobia. There is no constituency for war with China.
This does not however mean that Russians have nothing to fear, and that Fyodor Lukyanov’s concerns about American wedge-driving, should be dismissed. They should not. But rather the fears, perhaps, should be contextualized differently.
As Paul Craig Roberts, the former Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Treasury, puts it:
“President Trump says he wants the US to have better relations with Russia and to halt military operations against Muslim countries. But he is being undermined by the Pentagon. The commander of US forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has lined up tanks on Poland’s border with Russia and fired salvos that the general says are a message to Russia, not a training exercise [see here] … How is Trump going to normalize relations with Russia when the commander of US forces in Europe is threatening Russia with words and deeds?”
And now we have General Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, and well known as an Iranophobe, saying, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice”:
Statement by the National Security Advisor
“Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants, underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.
“The recent ballistic missile launch is also in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.
“These are just the latest of a series of incidents in the past six months in which Houthi forces that Iran has trained and armed have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels, and threatened U.S. and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea. In these and other similar activities, Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region. Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region…
“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”
Add to that statement the upsurge of violence in eastern Ukraine, most probably intentionally provoked by Kiev, and a botched U.S. military operation in Yemen that killed a Navy Seal, 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki and “numerous” civilians, and one might conclude that the combination of events are just too much of a coincidence.
Paul Craig Roberts further suggests that “the military/security complex is using its puppets-on-a-string in the House and Senate to generate renewed conflict with Iran, and to continue threats against China” to put a spoke in Trump’s wheel:
“Trump cannot simultaneously make peace with Russia and make war on Iran and China. The Russian government is not stupid. It will not sell out China and Iran for a deal with the West. Iran is a buffer against jihadism spilling into Muslim populations in the Russian Federation. China is Russia’s most important military and economic strategic ally against a renewal of US hostility toward Russia by Trump’s successor, assuming Trump succeeds in reducing US/Russian tensions. The neoconservatives with their agenda of US world hegemony and their alliance with the military-security complex, will outlast the Trump administration” [… and Russia knows this].
No Free Hand
U.S. Presidents – even one such as Trump (who has given very few hostages to fortune during his campaign) – do not have a completely free hand in their choice of key cabinet members: sometimes circumstances demand that a key domestic interest is represented.
The endorsement of General James Mattis from the defense and security Establishment, for example, suggests that he has been wished upon President Trump in order to attend to U.S. security interests. Trump will understand that.
The question rather is whether Trump – in his choice of certain senior posts (i.e. that of General Flynn) – inadvertently, has laid himself open himself to manipulation by his Deep State enemies who are determined to torpedo détente with Russia.
Professor Walter Russell Mead in a recent Foreign Affairs article underlines just how deeply contrarian is Trump’s foreign policy. It runs directly counter to the two principal schools of U.S. policy thinking since WW2 (the Hamiltonians and the Wilsonians), who “both focused on achieving a stable international system with the United States as “the gyroscope of world order.” It is, as Walter Russell Mead describes it, a cultural legacy that is deeply embedded in the American psyche. It is doubtful whether Generals Mattis and Flynn, or others in the team, fully appreciate or endorse the full scope of Trump’s intended revolution. True belief, perhaps, is confined to a small circle around the President, led by Steve Bannon.
In any event, whether by external design or “inadvertent” happenstance, President Trump has two key members of his team, Flynn and Mattis, who are explicit belligerents towards Iran (see here on Mattis on Iran. It is however, less extreme, than the explicit manicheanism of Flynn).
Paul Craig Roberts says that “Trump cannot simultaneously make peace with Russia and make war on Iran and China.” That is true. But neither can Trump pursue his war on Islamic radicalism – the principal plank of his foreign policy platform – and in parallel, pursue a Flynn-esque antagonism towards Iran.
Trump will not co-opt Russia as an “aerial bombing” partner in such a regional war, while America is simultaneously attacking the only “boots-on-the-ground” security architecture that now exists in the Middle East capable of confronting Takfiri jihadism: the Syrian, Iranian, Hashad al-Shaabi and Hezbullah armed forces. There is none other.
It seems that President Trump’s weekend phone call to President Putin has quieted some of Russia’s concerns about the direction of America’s foreign policy, according to Gilbert Doctorow, but Rex Tillerson (now that he has been confirmed as Secretary of State) will need to have a serious discussion with Trump and his inner circle, and colleagues Mattis and Flynn, if Trump does not want his discreet dismantling of globalization disrupted by Russo-phobes – or his own Irano-phobes.
This assumes, of course, that Tillerson is not himself at least partly culturally embedded in the zeitgeist of America as the “gyroscope of the world order,” identified by Walter Russell Mead.
The problem for visionaries of any new order is that inevitably they start with such a tiny base of followers who really “get it.” President Putin likely does “get it,” but can he too dare build from such a narrow base? Can Putin convince colleagues? Most Russians still recall the very bad experience of the Yeltsin détente with America. Can Trump and Tillerson pull this together?
Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.
In a recent article, titled “Meet Venezuela’s new VP, fan of Iran and Hezbollah”, The Hill’s Emanuele Ottolenghi profiled the South American country’s new second in command, Tareck El Aissami.
Although El Aissami was appointed vice-president just a few weeks ago, he’s hardly a new face to anyone who has followed Venezuelan politics for a while. He previously served as Aragua’s governor, and also had a stint as interior minister a few years back.
So what’s so special about El Aissami? A lot, according to Ottolenghi, whose piece reads much like the biography of a minor goon from a Schwarzenegger flick, replete with semi-comical claims with the credibility, sophistication and nuance of Ninja Terminator.
Here’s a few highlights:
“Despite the Baathist family background — his father headed the Venezuelan branch of the Iraqi Baath Party — and his Lebanese Druze origins, El Aissami seems to prefer the Islamist Shiite revolutionary Hezbollah and Iran over the Baath’s supposedly secular pan-Arabism.
Like his Islamic revolutionary role models, he used violence to advance his politics.
Opposition figures have accused both El Aissami and Nassereddine of recruiting young Arab-Venezuelan members of the ruling party to undergo paramilitary training in South Lebanon with Hezbollah.
As if this were not enough, El Aissami reportedly facilitated drug trafficking, a crime for which he is being investigated in the U.S.”
In other words, El Aissami is every boogyman and right-wing scapegoat wrapped up in one nice little package, at least based on Ottolenghi’s depiction. He’s a mish-mash of Baathism, Sunni radicalism and Shiite extremism; plus he smuggles coke.
The obvious question is whether any of this is true. For one, El Aissami is indeed one of many suspects in a US investigation into Venezuela’s narcotics trade. We could discuss the politics of this investigation until the cows come home, but what about the juicier claims? For instance, the claim that El Aissami has been accused of sending young Venezuelans to Lebanon to train with Hezbollah, and that he has colluded with “guerrilla movements”?
If we follow the hyperlinks provided by Ottolenghi, we find that these claims were sourced from the Centre for Security Policy (CSP). It sounds credible, but has been widely dismissed by journalists as basically a joke. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Centre for Security Policy is “known for its accusations that a shadowy ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has infiltrated all levels of government and warnings that ‘creeping Shariah,’ or Islamic religious law, is a threat to American democracy”.
“For the past decade, CSP’s main focus has been on demonising Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security,” the Southern Poverty Law Centre stated.
A cursory glance at the CSP’s homepage features ads for books with colourful titles like “CAIR is HAMAS”, “Civilisation Jihad”, “ObamaBomb” and “See No Sharia”. At the time of writing, some of their latest articles included one describing Islam as a “supremacist totalitarian ideology”, and another claiming Iran might already secretly have a “nuclear weapon” (which it doesn’t).
Well, that got weird fast.
So basically, Ottolenghi gets his best material from a website that is so far off the deep end, it has even been banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference.
As a side note, Donald Trump cited a report from the CSP back in 2015, when he falsely claimed one in four Muslims support violence against the US. At the time, the CSP’s claims were widely dismissed as junk.
But hey, that’s just one source – perhaps I’m not giving Ottolenghi’s narrative enough of a chance. Frustratingly though, Ottolenghi’s piece is very light on sources, and he provides no other references for his two most eyebrow raising claims.
Luckily, Ottolenghi is far from the first English language pundit to express this particular point of view on El Aissami. A few years ago, the Gatestone Institute published a piece that reads eerily similar to Ottolenghi’s more recent article. For example, the older piece details how El Aissami supposedly loved Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Ignoring the fact these two political figures espoused totally different and utterly incompatible political ideologies, the Gatestone article did a somewhat better job than Ottolenghi in terms of providing sources for their claims.
This is where things take a turn for the outright bizarre.
So, where did the Gatestone’s critical intelligence on El Aissami originate? According to the reference list they provided, the answer to that question is: Wikipedia and this obscure blog. Following the breadcrumbs, the blogger also provided a reference list for their sources. This list is extremely short for supposedly groundbreaking investigative reporting, and only features four different names: Al Arabiya, MEMRI, Jihad Watch and another blogspot blog called The Jungle Hut.
…. Okey-dokey then.
The trail runs dry over at The Jungle Hut, where there’s nothing more than a dead link and a nice photo of a waterfall. It’s not quite what I was expecting to find, so let’s look at the other two sources. Al Arabiya is Saudi Arabia’s state media outlet, though don’t let that bother you too much; they’ve actually produced some decent stuff in the past. Unfortunately, there’s no links to specific articles, so again, the trail runs dry. The same problem arises when we head to MERMI. Finally, we get to the El Dorado of anti-Islam trash: Jihad Watch, a blog created by the notorious Islamophobe Robert Spencer. For anyone who doesn’t know, Spencer is perhaps best known for co-founding two prominent anti-Muslim lobby groups, Stop Islamisation of America (SIOA) and the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI). Both have been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Spencer also garnered media attention in the wake of the 2011 Norwegian white supremacist terrorist attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik. In his sprawling anti-Muslim manifesto, Breivik cited Spencer dozens of times.
This is where our journey down the rabbit hole ends; with an Islamophobe beloved by one of the worst white supremacist terrorists in recent years. I guess this is what I get for checking people’s sources: a browser history full of links to hate groups, anti-Islam garbage and one nice picture of a waterfall. I didn’t find much credible reporting, but I did learn that El Aissami is hated for one reason above all: he’s got a Muslim-ish sounding name.
You might think I’m being harsh on Ottolenghi.
And you’d be wrong.
Ottolenghi is a long time anti-Iran hardliner, and has authored books with names like “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb”. According to a review of this book over at The Jewish Chronicle, “Ottolenghi’s view that Iran, as an exceptional case, merits exceptional treatment, is perhaps unrealistically rigid. His argument is not helped by the absence from his text of source references by which the reader could cross-check the many, selective quotes he adduces in support of it.”
In other words, making far fetched claims based on no real evidence is something of a modus operandi for Ottolenghi.
Along with having an obvious disdain for the notion of providing sources, Ottolenghi seems like just another pundit with a bone to pick with Islam, and anyone who sounds like they might be Arab, Persian or any other ethnic group he doesn’t like. Ottolenghi’s writings seem better suited to publishers like Jihad Watch, and his presence at The Hill is surprising to say the least.
Unfortunately though, this whole saga is symptomatic of a deeper problem in the media. The fact that an article for The Hill can get away with featuring links to the Islamophobic fake news CSP is emblematic of the dismal state of international corporate media. Islamophobic rants are treated like credible political analysis, and conspiracy crackpots are put on pedestals. It’s a grim state of affairs, but the real question is: how much further will we slide?