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US protects Syria terrorists from aerial bombardment: Moscow

Press TV – June 26, 2017

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the United States of assisting terrorists in war-torn Syria, saying Washington is protecting the terror groups, including the Takfiri Fateh al-Sham terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, from airstrikes.

The Russian top diplomat, as reported by Lebanon-based al-Manar television network, made the remarks on Monday, during a joint press conference with his Ethiopian counterpart, Workneh Gebeyehu, in Moscow, where they answered questions regarding combating terrorism.

Lavrov added that the US sponsorship of terrorists had recently came into light, when it was revealed that the White House helped Fateh al-Sham terrorists evade aerial bombardment conducted by Moscow and Damascus, without giving further details.

He noted that the alleged move by Washington violated all international conventions and laws, stressing the necessity of eliminating double standards and ambiguous ideas in the fight against terror groups.

Back in May, former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, made similar comments, when he said that Washington had created the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group, another notorious terror organization active in Syria. “Daesh is a US product,” he said.

The ex-Afghan leader added that he had received regular reports of unmarked helicopters airdropping supplies to Daesh militants active on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Lavrov’s comments came some eight days after a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22, which was conducting an operation against Daesh terrorists on the outskirts of the city of Raqqah.

In two other occasions in June and May, US warplanes attacked a Syrian military position near At-Tanf, killing an unspecified number of people and causing some material damage.

Reports say that many Daesh terrorists were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government.

In August last year, US President Donald Trump, then a presidential nominee, said that then US president, Barack Obama, and former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, together “founded” the Daesh terror group.

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq

Returning to Iraq After a Decade in Exile (Part One)

By Louis Yako | CounterPunch | June 23, 2017

It should not be a secret to any independent and conscientious thinker, writer, or journalist that what has been happening in Syria since 2011 is nothing but complex and dirty attempts by multiple regional and global powers to “Iraqize” Syria by other means. But, alas, we have very few writers and journalists not on the payroll of the empire or the oppressive powers in today’s world. With few exceptions, most accounts and narratives I hear from and read by the so-called “journalists” and “experts” about Middle East affairs remind me of Upton Sinclair’s immortal words in his workI, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, where he writes “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

What has been happening in Syria is nothing but an attempt to destroy the Syrian people, institutions, and society in order to restructure them in the image of the imperial, neocolonial players involved in this dirty war. The imperial and neocolonial force in our world today is concentrated in the hands of the few minority who have the American and most of the European political, economic, military, and media machine at their fingertips. In this sense, it is crucial to understand that what is happening around the world as a result of the Euro-American foreign policies is beyond the control of most American and European people at this point. Most Americans and Europeans are as unfree and suffocated as the Iraqi and the Syrian people in stopping this war machine that has caused irreparable damages to all parties affected. The only difference here is that the politically powerless and suffocated Americans and Europeans are not forced to live in refugee camps, which gives many the illusion of “privilege” and “democracy”, and therefore slows down any serious action to do something about what is going on. Yet most of the American people are crushed daily by the oppressive American economic system, working under slavery-like conditions, just to make it one day at a time, while the war machine is grinding millions of lives in different countries around the world, and under different pretexts. After living more than a decade in America now, I have come to accept that most of my fellow American citizens are as powerless as I am in influencing the American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Even more discouraging is that, by pointing out this reality, one is immediately labeled as “un-American”, “anti-American”, or other misleading adjectives and accusations to silence any voices seeking to change this bleak reality. This needs to be challenged by all of us, if we really want better lives and healthier societies.

Today I would like to share with you a “thick description” of how I saw and what I saw in Iraq when I returned to it after one decade in exile in 2015 to conduct a year-long anthropological research for my doctorate degree. I want to paint for you an image of what has become of Iraq, after more than a decade of its invasion, to hopefully give you some important clues as to why the Syrian war has been happening since 2011, and what kind of Syria do the involved neocolonial and imperial players want to create once they finish destroying Syria as we knew. I argue that the road to understanding the future of Syria goes through what has been happening in Iraq. It is the same game, with many of the same players involved. What is happening today has happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow also, unless we take serious steps to stop it.

***

After one decade in exile, I returned to Iraq seeking a better understanding of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. I returned this time as a trained cultural anthropologist to conduct fieldwork on a population that has always had a significant impact on my life and memory—Iraq’s academics. After two previous researches in the UK and Jordan (2013-2014), I decided to spend one academic year in Iraq because I knew that the internally displaced academics trapped inside; those who weren’t “successful” or “fortunate” enough to escape wars and violence through the bottleneck, had so much to say about Iraq. After all, I am a child of wars, sanctions, and political upheavals. I know what it means to be trapped inside and what it means to slip through the bottleneck, without ever truly recovering from the wounds inflicted upon us inside the bottle. I opened my eyes in this world in the 1980s, with the then ongoing Iran-Iraq war. I witnessed much violence and destruction. I saw countless dead bodies during the First Gulf War. The thirteen years of the UN sanctions robbed me of the most beautiful childhood and teenage years. The 2003 invasion of Iraq just barely allowed me to safely finish my undergraduate studies at the University of Baghdad, before I had to eventually leave the country into exile in 2005 to escape death and violence. Because of all these experiences that could take multiple books to fill, I knew that my interlocutors, especially those academics trapped inside, whose lives are strongly tied to and shaped by political upheavals and power relations, had so much to say about the story of Iraq. Before the end of my first week in Iraq in 2015, my personal observations and experiences already started to paint a picture about the story this story was going tell. What I experienced from the moment I was at the airport in Sweden heading to Iraq in September 2015, until the end of the first week in Iraq proved to me that the personal is political and anthropological.

After a long journey with wars, moving, and exile, life has grounded me like coffee beans. My mother used to say that “coffee beans have less value as whole beans.” They must be painfully ground to become this delicious, stimulating, and awakening drink called “coffee”. After ten years in exile, here I was in Stockholm in September 2015 packing my bag to go back to Iraq. I couldn’t believe it was going to happen in less than 24 hours. I was anxious that entire day. I couldn’t sleep or do anything. I went out roaming. I greeted a stranger and had a short conversation. He turned out to be an Armenian in his twenties, thirsty for warm human connection after many lonely, long, and cold Scandinavian winters. He was delighted to meet an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. He invited me for a meal at a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant followed by a walk. It was an ideal way to spend those few hours before heading to the airport. I spoke little. He spent most of the time talking about how much he hated Turkey and the Turks; and how racist the Swedes are towards immigrants no matter how much they like to sugarcoat this fact and claim otherwise.

Towards the end of the evening, the Armenian stranger who was no longer a stranger, asked what I thought about “home” and “exile”, because he had been struggling with these ideas for years in Sweden. I told him that life has taught me that it is possible that things, ideas, concepts, and feelings can have the opposite meaning of what one might see at the surface. It was possible that people can be the opposite of what they claim to be. It was possible that “home” could signify “exile” or the other way around. Laughter may be tears in disguise. Revolutions may be yet other oppressive powers taking the carpet from under the feet of the current oppressive powers. Going to the top of the mountain may not really mean “going up”. It can in fact be a harsh form of falling; just as fame, cheers, and camera flashes have ultimately led to the demise of countless insecure and lonely souls on this planet. In brief, it was possible that everything we are told and taught is the opposite of what we think, or it might be outright false. I told him that I go through life remembering my mom’s oldest advice that “succeeding in an unjust world is the first sign of failure, because it means you’re cooperating with injustice.” I told him that I carry like a talisman around my neck André Gide’s words: “Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. It’s their way of falling.”

My new Armenian acquaintance took an interest in these reflections and asked that we should stay in touch. He walked with me to the door of the apartment building, we said goodbye like two old friends, and he vanished in the crowd as though the whole encounter was nothing but an escaping dream. I thought my year of research wrestling with home, exile, and displacement as some of the most political and politicized concepts of our time had already started in Stockholm.

***

The day was September 11, 2015. The place was Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. The time was an early hour in the morning. I was waiting in a line to check in my luggage into the flight that was going to land me in Erbil, Iraq. After an entire decade, here I was going back to see how the many people, places, and things I left behind had continued their lives (and deaths) in my absence. I reminded myself that just as I was changing in exile, so were all the people and things I left behind in Iraq. I reminded myself that it was going to be an encounter between two changed and constantly changing parties. I had to be prepared that some (or many) images of what Iraq used to be in my head may no longer exist.

The check-in line was long. I started looking at the faces of the people waiting, their looks, their clothes, and their luggage. The guy behind me had his headphones on with a traditional Turkman folklore song from Kirkuk blasting. I could hear the song oozing out of his headphones. It was a song that many of our Turkmen neighbors and friends in Kirkuk used to play at weddings. My ears immediately recognized the words: “beyaz gül kırmızı gül güller arasından gelir…” [White rose, red rose, she comes through roses]. I didn’t particularly like the song as a child, but I did at that moment because it was much more than a song. Time had transformed it into fossilized moments and faces of distant people, places, and moments that I may never see again, except in my daydreams. In front of me in the line there were two Kurdish families. They seemed to have just met at the airport. They were speaking in two different Kurdish dialects (Kurmanci and Sorani). These two groups usually don’t like each other, particularly since the intra-Kurdish struggle in the 1990s. But, I thought to myself, in exile people have no choice. They simply learn how absurd their differences at “home” were compared to what they endure in foreign lands. They learn how to love the remotest things, scents, and traces that remind them of a lost home and a lost life. The husbands were talking about how convenient it was to have a direct flight from Stockholm to Erbil, but they complained that the flight was too early. The wives were discussing the “right” age for children to start articulating their first words. Further down in line I saw a few guys joking and laughing loudly in a Baghdadi Arabic dialect. They were making sarcastic remarks without taking notice of anyone around them. I already felt like I was in a small version of the Iraq I knew and missed so much, though I knew this might not be the case when I arrive. Perhaps, the Iraq I knew is now more accessible in exile than it is possible at home.

Most passengers in the check-in line were Iraqis. Many were Kurds. Some were Arabs. I spotted a few Christian families. I heard two ladies speaking in my mother tongue, Aramaic, with a golden cross hanging around the neck of one of them. I overheard one talking about how a relative, a refugee in Lebanon, had just been accepted to immigrate to Australia. These conversations are hardly foreign to my ears. Before I left Iraq, many people were either talking about leaving or celebrating how some of their friends or relatives had left, hoping they would be next. Most people want to leave without even knowing whether they will ever “arrive” somewhere.

Ironically–or perhaps not–all the passengers had foreign passports in their hands, including myself. I spotted Swedish, Danish, German, and other EU passports. This, too, was hardly surprising to me. The effects of wars and everything that has happened to Iraq and the Iraqi people over the last few decades made the only way an Iraqi could be treated with dignity in Iraq and elsewhere is if they hold foreign—namely Western—passports. A “good” or a “fortunate” Iraqi can almost be defined as someone who holds a western passport. The Iraqi passport is paralyzing. Like its holders, it is a “suspect” in every airport, every checkpoint, and every point of entry. As an Iraqi, one is not welcome anywhere. One is almost questioned to death before allowed entrance to any country. However, one is always welcome to exit any place or port with no questions asked. Every authority and every official thinks they have the right to interrogate an Iraqi without a second thought. Iraqis know well that holding that useless document called an “Iraqi passport” is a curse at this point in history. But, of course, this is hardly the only such case. Most passport holders who come from nations whose people count as “the wretched of the earth” experience different forms of discrimination and exclusion. Some experiences are more severe than others. It is all about power, or lack thereof. Your passport has a power. It is not just a document that helps you pass, it can become a sign of humiliation preventing you from passing. Many Iraqis I know joke about the very words on the inside cover of Iraqi passports stating: “all competent authorities are requested to accord bearer of this passport protection to allow him/her all possible assistance in case of need.” Every place an Iraqi goes to, the opposite of this statement is what happens. These words are just one more example of how things can have the exact opposite meaning of their appearance as with “home” and “exile”, “peace” and “war”, “honesty” and “dishonesty”, and countless other words in different languages. I thought to myself how irritated I have become about my first language, my second language, my third language, and all the languages I speak. Words increasingly don’t mean what they are supposed to mean in all these languages. Languages are increasingly becoming tools for disguising ideas rather than disclosing them. It suddenly crossed my mind that perhaps one day I will be forced to put every single word I write in quotation marks. Nothing means what it is supposed to mean. I dreamt of a day and a world in which everyone means what they say and say what they mean.

When my turn came, the blonde, cordial, female Swedish employee checking passports and handing boarding passes looked at my American passport and asked “I see that you were born in Iraq. Do you have an Iraqi passport?” “No. It is expired,” I answered. She went on, “you know people over there are not crazy about American passports. Let me see your Iraqi passport, even if it’s expired.” She took a quick look, checked in my bag, and directed me to the designated gate. I couldn’t help thinking: why should she care? I am going to Iraq not coming from it. She would care more if the process was reversed, because it is more important to keep Sweden safe than Iraq. What if my passport was fake? What if I was a “terrorist”? It doesn’t matter. Perhaps it is better for “terrorists” to exit Europe than enter and cause problems. Is this why many of them are now in Syria? Moreover, her words were far from accurate. I know many American and Western expats living in Iraq and they love it there. I wondered whether she was fed too much propaganda about Iraq and the region.

***

I arrived in Erbil shortly after 10:30 am. After greeting the friendly Kurd female officer at the passport control in Kurdish, she stamped my passport and here I was officially in Iraq. As I was walking to the baggage claim area in the small and clean airport, I remembered that I had no one from my family or relatives to meet me. My immediate family members had all left Iraq over the last ten years because of the war. My relatives who are left there, from both parents’ sides, are not in that city and I hadn’t announced to most of them that I was coming. I wanted to land in the airport for real before I could surely tell anyone that I was in Iraq.

The only person who was waiting for me in the airport was my American brother-in-law. I wondered what the Swede who checked my passport at Arlanda would have thought about that. My American brother-in-law is a lovely and helpful guy. He came to Iraq after 2003, fell in love with the country, and decided that he would rather live in Erbil than in the U.S. He feels “freer” in Erbil, he often says. He is not alone in this feeling. Many expats I know love “third world” countries. Many don’t mind settling and getting married in them while the locals in these countries are escaping from all directions. The reason is simple: they are treated better than the local citizens in these “third world” countries and even better than the treatment they would receive in their “industrialized” countries in the “developed” world. Again, it is all about power. Who has it and where. Despite my gratitude that he had come to pick me up, I still found this ironic and painful. An American is the only one at the airport to pick me up at what was once my beloved country. It felt as though that complex line between “home” and “exile” was being challenged from the moment I returned to Iraq. I decided, however, that it wasn’t helpful to dwell on this thought. I decided not to let anything spoil my first intimate moments of embracing Iraq’s skies, lands, trees, roses, buildings, streets, faces, scents, and everyone and everything that has been living and growing in my imagination during the past decade in exile.

I spent the first couple of days in Erbil, mostly with my brother-in-law and some of his foreign expat friends who gave me some tips about life there. They shared things they knew better than me because they had been there and I hadn’t. I soon learned about the new malls, the best hotels, the residential buildings where many expats and rich locals live in places with names like the “English village”, the “Italian village”, the “Lebanese village”, and so on. I thought about how in every “third world” country that gets “liberated” from its dictators, the first things that go up are luxurious hotels and residential areas for Western expats and “experts”, along with gated communities from which to administer the newly formed governments in places like Baghdad’s Green Zone. The expats in Erbil also told me about things as simple as where to get a local sim card for my phone, where to get the best haircut, and the costs of basic foods.

I felt alienated on my first night. It was a feeling identical to how I felt on my first night in America ten years ago. I was lonely, thrown into a strange land. I went out that evening in the majority Christian district of Ankawa in the outskirts of Erbil to buy a sim card. It was a hot September evening. As I greeted the seller at the random shop I entered, he paused, stared at me, and asked: “Are you Louis?”  “Yes I am. Wait, don’t tell me who you are. I think I also recognize your face, but I have to add ten years of change to it.” I recognized him. He was one of our old neighbors in Kirkuk. They had to move to Erbil as security deteriorated after 2003. That was a comforting first connection. It made me feel I am less a stranger than I thought. I am still remembered. I still exist. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted more closeness than an old neighbor to feel at home again. I immediately activated my sim card and called my aunt in Duhok, two and half hours north of Erbil. She could sense how sad my tone was on the phone and said, “I will be waiting for you tomorrow…” I went to the bus and taxi station in Erbil the next day to get a taxi and headed to Duhok, the place where I spent the early years of my childhood. A beautiful small city sandwiched between two mountains.

At around 1:30 pm, in the shared taxi heading to Duhok, the passengers were all friendly Kurds. I greeted the driver and the passengers in Kurdish and then started looking out the window to check out the scenery. I heard the two guys next to me saying: “thank God there are no Arab passengers in the taxi. Arab passengers always cause delays at the checkpoints.” As the taxi moved, I started checking out all the new buildings and neat streets in Erbil. It was clear from the old and the new infrastructure that whereas some people have gotten better off, others had gotten worse off, or simply stayed as they were. Infrastructure reveals so much about a place and its culture, politics, and people. The disparities between the poor and the rich neighborhoods in Erbil, in a sense, show that “time” wasn’t ticking at the same pace for everyone. Time wasn’t moving favorably for everyone. Even time is like power in that it moves some people forward, some backward, and some to the sides and the margins. Time also buries some people under the ground. I noticed many unfinished construction and apartment buildings. It looked as though there was an “economic boom” that was abruptly halted by unexpected circumstances made certain parts of the city look like dilapidated ghost towns. As we were exiting Erbil, at every traffic light we stopped, there were poor Syrian or Yazidi women and children begging drivers to buy gum, tissues, and other simple items. Some of these women of different ages ranging from 11 to 30 were so beautiful that it wouldn’t be surprising if they were forced to sell other things to get their meals for the day.

Over time, I discovered that many of the women living in tents and dilapidated and deserted buildings have been selling their bodies to make living. In Erbil’s well-known Christian district of Ankawa, I discovered by talking with taxi drivers, that many beauty salons have been turned into places where buyers (men) park their cars and wait to pick up internally displaced women who escaped ISIS-occupied parts of Iraq and Syria.

***

The driver taking us to Duhok was talking to the front seat passenger about how bad the economy was, there were no salaries for public sector employees, and so on. I understood that the bad economy had suddenly crippled the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Consequently, public sector employees (most people) were only getting salaries every few months due to deep divisions between Kurdistan and Baghdad. I heard some passengers talking about hopefully resolving oil problems with Baghdad soon so that things could improve. Baghdad has been withholding Kurdistan’s 17% share of oil revenues, because the latter has been drilling, extracting, and selling oil through “illegal” contracts with foreign companies without Baghdad’s permission. The Iraqi officials in Baghdad, the passengers explained, told the Kurds that if they want to get their share, they must share what they’re selling from their region with the central government. The refusal of the Kurd officials to abide by this and the fact that many of Kurdistan’s oil searches had been less promising than originally anticipated caused a serious economic problem in the region. This was the main topic the passengers discussed most of the trip.

As the taxi continued driving, I kept looking out the window checking out the many villages and small towns we passed through, as we left Erbil behind. Not much has changed in these villages and little towns, except one could see more “fancy” houses in the villagers’ standards. It was an indication that some individuals have been making a lot of money to renovate or build all these new houses. They looked expensive but also indicated a recently acquired financial capital. I noticed how many spaces that used to be beautiful and green agricultural lands on the way had turned into depressing, ugly, half-finished cement buildings. Furthermore, there was a clear disparity between how extravagant many individual houses looked versus the poor state of  public services like sewage and streets, that were still exactly the same in most places since the Ba‘ath era. During its 35 years in power, the Ba‘ath regime had made serious efforts to modernize Iraq’s infrastructure in cities and villages. The road from Erbil to Duhok was the same since the Saddam years. It was narrow, dangerous, and filled with pit holes that have only worsened over the years. I saw a clear pattern of how most wealth was being used for individual rather than communal interests. These images reminded me of the anthropological literature we studied on “development”. Development looked so much like destruction.

My thoughts were interrupted when we stopped at a checkpoint—there were so many of them—and the officer asked everyone to present their IDs. I presented the only valid ID I had on me, my American passport. As soon as he looked at it, he asked me to get out of the car. He said to the officer next to him in Kurdish, “We need to check this to make sure it’s not a forged passport.” The checkpoint looked like a kiosk that barely had a wood cover on the top to protect them from Iraq’s unforgiving summer sun. I wondered with what they were going to check the “validity” of the passport when they didn’t seem to have any equipment or machines in place. I decided to just talk to them. I spoke in Kurdish and told the officer that I am from the region and I was just back after ten years in America, which is why I don’t have a valid local ID. My IDs had expired. As soon as I spoke in Kurdish and he heard my name, his tone changed 180 degrees, “Welcome home, my dear brother!” I went back inside the taxi and it drove away.

I told the driver the same brief story of why I had no valid local IDs and that I am a local of the region, so this helped for the rest of the trip. He did the talking on my behalf at the other checkpoints and everything went smoothly. I could only imagine how an Arab would feel and be treated when going through all these checkpoints where one could pass just by simply speaking Kurdish or be stranded even if they had valid IDs, but didn’t speak the language. In many ways, the language, the sect, and the ethnicity are the IDs in post-U.S. occupation Iraq–the “new Iraq”. In fact, at many checkpoints, I observed, that they wouldn’t even ask for an ID. The first thing they would do is to profile the person based on their face and language. If it became clear that they didn’t speak the language, they would be stranded and interrogated. I noticed over time that some displaced Arabs had learned what one might call “basic checkpoint Kurdish”. But even that was no guarantee for “passing”. The officers could recognize faces. Arabs or Arab-looking people were to be interrogated and even humiliated. Further, sometimes they would linger with the conversation and by the second or the third question, the Arab’s “checkpoint Kurdish” would become inadequate to carry on a conversation, and therefore create serious difficulties for them. Humans can become sophisticated over time to navigate power and its hurdles, but so does power. It is a two-way street. There is no break. One must keep reinventing themselves in this harsh world of power relations to survive.

My impressions from the first days and before even reaching Duhok was that the “new Iraq” was operating on ethnicity and sect; on language as a metonym for power and disempowerment; and on residency cards as a prerequisite for existence for those not from the northern region, especially Arabs. What all these elements have in common is their resemblance to the pan-Arabist project. In fact, today’s reality is a violently amplified and more intense version of the former pan-Arabism, which one would think was over. It wasn’t over. It was only passed on from some actors to others to implement this new project called “the new Iraq” or “the new Middle East” imposed and facilitated by the American invasion. There was a deep anti-Arab sentiment to the extent that it is a blessing not to be an Arab then and there.

Little did I know that these first observations and encounters from the early days were going to be central for understanding the lives of the internally displaced Iraqis in the region. Little did I know that exile and internal displacement for the interlocutors of my research project were first and foremost an expression of shifting power relations, which had turned them overnight from vital actors in the Iraqi society before 2003 into exiled, internally displaced, disempowered people whose lives are now tied to temporary contracts, residency cards, and living in a permanent state of fear and precariousness in what is supposed to be their own country. My first week in Iraq made it clear that the losses incurred by all Iraqi people are significant and ongoing. Therefore, it is only through tracing these losses from home to exile that we can understand the deeper meaning of these stories. Tracing back the story to “home” is to trace back the story of loss for these people to its early beginnings. The bleak reality of Iraq as a “home” reminded of the last part of a beautiful and sad poem titled “The Fortune Teller” by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabani, in which the fortune teller, speaking about the beloved woman of the man whose coffee cup she is reading says:

You will seek her everywhere, my son

You will ask the waves of the sea about her

You will ask the shores of the seas

You will travel the oceans

And your tears will flow like a river

And at the close of your life

You will find that since your beloved

Has no land, no home, no address

You have been pursuing only a trace of smoke

How difficult it is, my son

To love a woman

Who has neither land, nor home..

Louis Yako is an independent Iraqi-American writer, poet, cultural anthropologist, journalist, and researcher.

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

Trump ignored intel, launched Tomahawks in Syria based on media – Pulitzer winner Seymour Hersh

RT | June 25, 2017

US President Donald Trump ignored reports from US intelligence that said they had no evidence Syria had used sarin to attack a rebel-held town, Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says.

Hersh is most famous for exposing the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War. He also uncovered the abuse of prisoners by US personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In a report published by the German newspaper Die Welt on Sunday, he describes how the Trump administration mishandled the media frenzy after the Syrian bombing of the rebel-held town Khan Sheikhoun in April.

Trump chose to ignore reports compiled by American intelligence and the military that contradicted the prevailing media narrative accusing Damascus of using sarin gas to kill civilians, the report says. Instead, he ordered his military to prepare options for a response, which they did.

The subsequent Tomahawk attack on the Syrian Shayrat Air Base did less damage that the White House claimed, as was apparently intended by the military planners of the operation, Hersh said. The US mainstream media failed to question the government’s narrative of the situation, instead giving Trump what appears to be the pinnacle achievement of his presidency so far.

“None of this makes any sense,” one US officer told colleagues upon learning of the White House decision to retaliate against Syria. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack… the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth… I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.”

Special weapon

Hersh’s report is based on interviews with several US advisers and evidence they provided, including transcripts of real-time communications that immediately followed the Syrian attack on April 4. According to the advisers, the Syrian Air Force’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun targeted a meeting of several high-value leaders of jihadist groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Nusra Front, which has changed its name to Jabhat al-Nusra.

The US was informed of the operation in detail beforehand as part of a conflict prevention arrangement with Russia. The two-way information sharing in place in Syria at the time helped the US-led coalition and Russia-backed Damascus to avoid accidental encounters in the air, protect intelligence assets on the ground, and coordinate with each other when planning missions.

“They were playing the game right,” a senior US adviser is cited by Hersh as saying regarding the pre-mission notice from Russia.

“It was a red-hot change. The mission was out of the ordinary – scrub the sked,” the adviser said. “Every operations officer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA, and NSA – “had to know there was something going on. The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.”

The special weapon used in the bombing was mentioned in Syrian communications collected before the attack by a US ally. The interception was widely reported in the Western media as an indication that Damascus had used a chemical weapon.

“If you’ve already decided it was a gas attack, you will then inevitably read the talk about a special weapon as involving a sarin bomb,” the adviser told Hersh. “Did the Syrians plan the attack on Khan Sheikhoun? Absolutely. Do we have intercepts to prove it? Absolutely. Did they plan to use sarin? No. But the president did not say: ‘We have a problem and let’s look into it.’ He wanted to bomb the shit out of Syria.”

Fertilizers & decontaminants

The target of the Syrian bombing was described as a two-story cinder-block building. According to Russian intelligence, the jihadists used the second floor as a command and control center. The first floor housed a grocery store and other businesses. The basement was used as a warehouse for weapons, ammunition, and goods, including chlorine-based decontaminants and fertilizers.

“The rebels control the population by controlling the distribution of goods that people need to live – food, water, cooking oil, propane gas, fertilizers for growing their crops, and insecticides to protect the crops,” a senior adviser to the American intelligence community told Hersh.

According to a US assessment of the morning airstrike cited by Hersh, the 500-pound Russian bomb triggered secondary explosions. The heat could have evaporated the chemical products in the basement, producing a toxic cloud that spread over the town, pressed close to the ground by the dense morning air.

The scenario is consistent with the accounts of patients who reported a chlorine odor in interviews with Medecins Sans Frontieres. It could also explain the symptoms of nerve agent poisoning that were attributed to sarin, but may have been caused by organophosphates used in many fertilizers, Hersh said.

Meanwhile, US intelligence had no evidence to indicate the presence of sarin gas at or near the Shayrat Air Base, from which the bombing mission was launched.

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the journalist cites a source as saying. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear.”

“Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?” the adviser added.

The Trump Show

The Trump administration quickly adopted the rebel narrative, which accused President Bashar Assad’s government of conducting a sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Top US officials went on to condemn Damascus and accuse Russia of complicity in the bombing. Trump ordered the national defense apparatus to prepare a response within hours of seeing photos of poisoned children on TV, Hersh’s report cites a senior adviser as saying.

“No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt,” the adviser said. “Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.”

“The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity,” he added. “It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit.’”

At a national security meeting at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, Trump was offered four options for responding to the Syrian incident, ranging from doing nothing and to assassinating President Assad, the report said. Eventually, the US president chose to attack the Syrian air base, which Hersh’s source described as “the ‘gorilla option’: America would glower and beat its chest to provoke fear and demonstrate resolve, but cause little significant damage.”

Of the 59 Tomahawk missiles fired at Shayrat, as many as 24 missed their targets because the initial strikes hit gasoline storage tanks, triggering a huge fire and a lot of smoke that interfered with the guidance systems of the following missiles. Only a few actually penetrated the hangars, and these only destroyed nine aircraft that were apparently not operational and could not be moved during the window of opportunity between the US warning of the looming attack and the strike itself.

“It was a totally Trump show from beginning to end,” the senior adviser told Hersh. “A few of the president’s senior national security advisers viewed the mission as a minimized bad presidential decision, and one that they had an obligation to carry out. But I don’t think our national security people are going to allow themselves to be hustled into a bad decision again. If Trump had gone for option three [a massive attack on Syrian military facilities], there might have been some immediate resignations.”

Trump trapped by own mistake

The reaction to the show of force in the US media was probably everything the Trump administration could have hoped for. MSNBC anchorman Brian Williams described the sight of Tomahawks being launched at the Syrian base as “beautiful.” CNN host Fareed Zakaria reacted by saying that Trump finally “became president of the United States.”

According to Hersh, of the top 100 American newspapers, 39 published editorials supporting the bombing in its aftermath, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

Five days later, the White House briefed the national media on the operation and the US response to Russia’s assertion that Syria has not used sarin gas. The Trump administration’s insistence that a chemical attack actually did happen was not challenged by any of the reporters present.

The following US coverage of the situation accused Russia of trying to cover up the alleged chemical attack, Hersh says. The New York Times described “declassified information” released during the press briefings as coming from a “declassified intelligence report,” though no formal report from US intelligence stated that Syria had used sarin, Hersh notes.

“The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser told him. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Read more:

Russian MoD disputes HRW report claiming Soviet chem bomb was used in Syria’s Idlib

US accuses Moscow of ‘sowing doubt’ over narrative of Assad’s culpability in chemical attack

‘Low efficiency’: Only 23 Tomahawk missiles out of 59 reached Syrian airfield, Russian MoD says

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

US faces historic setback in the Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 23, 2017

The bloc of four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia that imposed an embargo against Qatar on June 5 has finally presented their charter of demands. An AP dispatch, lists the 13 demands. The most striking demands include Doha reducing ties with Iran, severing relationships with Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, closing a Turkish military base in the country, and shuttering state broadcaster Al Jazeera and several news outlets.

Interestingly, Qatar is also expected to “consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.” All this means that abject, unconditional capitulation by Qatar only will satisfy its ‘big brothers’ – nothing less. By the way, there is also a timeline to comply – within the next 10 days – or else the demands get ratcheted up.

To my mind, Qatar will have no difficulty to see this is nothing short of a thinly-veiled push for ‘regime change’. The regime’s response can only be that these Arab bigwigs can go and hang themselves.

What happens next? Simply put, the (Sunni) Muslim Middle East is about to split and the historic schism will have profound consequences for regional and international security.

Make no mistake, this latest development also signifies a slap on the face for the Trump administration. Only last Tuesday, US state department warned Saudi Arabia to resolve the standoff without any further delay lest direct US intervention became necessary, doubting the stance taken by Riyadh (which is widely regarded as carrying the imprimatur of the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) and showing broad empathy with Qatar (where the US Central Command is headquartered.) Curiously, the US spokesperson also had alluded to Saudi Arabia’s past involvement in terrorism “whether it’s through terror financing or other means”.

Evidently, Saudi pride has been touched to the quick and Riyadh has taken exception to the US censuring. Without doubt, these demands are a show of defiance at Washington, too. This is all now going to become a protracted crisis in all likelihood, which will seriously debilitate the US’ regional strategies – unless of course Qatar crawls on its knees — and weaken its war against the ISIS.

To be sure, Turkey will take great exception to the Saudi demand that its so-called military base in Doha should be shut down unceremoniously. President Recep Erdogan will see this demand as an intolerable affront to Ottoman legacy. The VOA reported on Thursday that Turkey has been moving food and troops to Qatar in a big way.

Quite obviously, the crux of the matter is that the virus of Arab Spring is hibernating in Qatar and it threatens to become an epidemic someday again, threatening the autocratic regimes in the Middle East. Only Turkey, Iran and Israel are immune to the virus of democratic empowerment. Evidently, Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood are driving the sheikhs crazy in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain and threaten the military dictatorship in Egypt.

The credibility of the US on the ‘Arab Street’ is now irreparably damaged. For President Donald Trump all this becomes a big political embarrassment domestically. (Bloomberg ) It remains to be seen how the US can afford to sustain its belligerent posturing in Syria and Iraq much longer without any regional allies from the Arab world.

The Trump administration’s containment strategy against Iran seems destined to collapse even before its launch and Trump’s pet project of the ‘Arab NATO’ looks a macabre joke. Can the US ever restore its hegemony over the Muslim Middle East? Doubtful. A big slice of modern history of the western hegemony over Arabs is breaking away and drifting toward the horizon. To be sure, Russians are coming!

June 23, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A warrior prince rises in Arabia as the monarch of all he surveys

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 22, 2017

The royal decree of June 21 by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman as the Crown Prince and next in line to the throne is a watershed event in Middle East politics. Such a development has been expected for some time, but when it actually happened, it still looks momentous and somewhat awesome.

For a start, 31-year old MbS, whom many tend to deride as the “warrior prince”, has earned a reputation for being rash in the use of force. The extremely brutal war in Yemen is his signature foreign-policy project. Saudi Arabia, famous for its caution and its glacial pace of decision-making, has changed remarkably since MbS trooped in alongside King Salman to the centre stage of the Saudi regime in January 2015.

Considering King Salman’s age and health condition, MbS is being positioned in advance so that there will be no succession struggle. MbS has been steadily tightening his grip on the key instruments of power through the past 2-year period – national security apparatus and intelligence, armed forces and oil industry – in a grim power struggle with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has now lost the game and is retiring from the arena.

With the vast powers of patronage vested in MbS as the Crown Prince, make no mistake, the winner takes it all. In short, the Persian Gulf’s – nay, Middle East’s – power house is about to get a new ruler who is only 31 and he may lead Saudi Arabia for decades.

The timing of the shift in the power fulcrum cannot but be noted. It is exactly one month since US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia. Trump’s visit revived the Saudi-American alliance, which was adrift during the second term of President Barack Obama. MbS has emerged as the Trump administration’s number one interlocutor in the Saudi regime, superseding Nayef who used to be the favorite of the Obama administration.

MbS has forged links at personal level with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. In a rare gesture, the Prince invited Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump to his residence for a private meal during father-in-law Trump’s visit to Riyadh. So, Saudi-US relations from now onward will be a cozy, exclusive, secretive family affair imbued with a “win-win” spirit – as it used to be in the halcyon days when the Bush family was holding power in the US.

Trump’s visit to Riyadh signalled that Saudi Arabia has regained its stature as the US’ number one partner in the Muslim Middle East. Trump has publicly endorsed the Saudi stance in their standoff with Qatar, which, incidentally, is widely attributed to MbS.

MbS is widely regarded as the mastermind of the tough policy policy to isolate Qatar to make it submissive and has personally identified with the virulently anti-Iran thrust in the Saudi regional strategies. Therefore, MbS’ ascendancy impacts Middle East politics along the following fault lines:

·         The war in Yemen;

·         The standoff with Qatar;

·         The Saudi-Iranian tensions;

·         The nascent Saudi-Israeli regional axis;

·         Situation in Syria and Gaza and/or Lebanon; and,

·         The crackdown in Bahrain.

It remains to be seen whether the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) can be preserved. MbS enjoys personal rapport with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. But other GCC states — Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — will have a profound sense of unease about the “warrior prince” and this may lead to some major realignments in the Persian Gulf.

On the one hand, MbS may advance a normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If that happens, Israel breaks out of isolation and the Arab-Israeli conflict can never be the same again. Again, it is conceivable that MbS may throw the Palestinians under the bus. On the other hand, Iran too may finally succeed in breaching the GCC cordon that Saudi Arabia had erected, which in turn, may somewhat blur the sectarian divide in the Muslim Middle East and bring about a convergence of interests with Qatar and Turkey as regards perceived Saudi hegemony.

MbS is a man in  a hurry. He has radical ideas to transform Saudi society and its economy under the rubric of Vision 2030. He has brought in western-educated technocrats into the governmental apparatus, replacing the Old Guard. How the conservative religious establishment views these winds of change remains the big ‘unknown unknown’ — especially MbS’ management style such as his openness to out-of-the-box thinking, his uniquely public profile in a deeply conservative country, his risk-taking character and his willingness to break conventions.

There is indeed a lot of pent-up disaffection within Saudi Arabia, which makes the period of reform and transition very tricky. The example of Shah’s Iran readily comes to mind. In the ultimate analysis, therefore, the big question is Who is the real MbS?

Clearly, his conduct so far cannot be the yardstick to fathom his personality, since it was primarily a swift, decisive action plan to elbow out the incumbent Crown Prince and take his job. Now that MbS’ actual hold over the levers of power is going to be unchallenged, his priorities can also change. Indeed, there are intriguing sides to his personality – his personal role in forging Saudi Arabia’s working relationships with Moscow, his determination to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil, his appeal to the Saudi youth as the harbinger of “change” and so on. The bottom line is that social and political stability in the country is vital for the success of Vision 2030, in which MbS has staked his prestige, envisaging wide-ranging structural reforms, geo-economic restructuring and the infusion of massive investments.

King Salman’s recent visit to China underscored that MbS understands the potential linkage between his Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, China is highly receptive to the idea, too. Deals worth $65 billion were signed in Beijing during King Salman’s visit. Similarly, MbS has been a frequent visitor to the Kremlin and enjoys some degree of personal rapport with President Vladimir Putin. The OPEC decision on cut in oil production has been a joint enterprise in which Putin had a “hands-on” role. Rosneft has signalled interest in acquiring shares in Aramco when its “privatisation” begins next year, and at the recent meet of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the two countries agreed to set up a joint energy investment fund.

MbS, who is Saudi Defence Minister, has also intensified his country’s military cooperation with Russia and China. A notable project will be the Chinese drone factory to be set up in Saudi Arabia. Again, Russia is in talks currently for the sale of T-80 battle tanks to Saudi Arabia, among other weaponry.

Suffice to say, MbS is quite aware of the seamless possibilities that the multipolar world setting offers. It is useful to remember that MbS is a unique Saudi prince who never attended a western university. He is far from a greenhorn in the world of politics either, having begun as fulltime advisor to the council of ministers in 2007.

Indeed, his trademark is his assertiveness in foreign policies that stands in sharp contrast with the traditional Saudi style, and, which, therefore, looks aggressive. But then, it needs to be factored in that the war in Yemen and the strident anti-Iran outlook are immensely popular in the domestic opinion in terms of the surge of Saudi nationalism. The big question, therefore, will be how he deploys the surge of nationalism — amongst the youth, in particular — in his hugely ambitious plan to reform and modernise the country. Traditionally, Saudi rulers used to derive legitimacy from the approval of the Wahhabist religious establishment. (Read an Al Jazeera write-up on MbS’s profile here.)

June 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resist This: The United States Is At War With Syria

By Jim Kavanaugh | The Polemicist |June 20, 2017

The United States is at war with Syria. Though few Americans wanted to face it, this has been the case implicitly since the Obama administration began building bases and sending Special Ops, really-not-there, American troops, and it has been the case explicitly since August 3, 2015, when the Obama administration announced that it would “allow airstrikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military from any attackers, even if the enemies hail from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” With the U.S. Air Force—under Trump, following Obama’s declared policy—shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace, this is now undeniable.  The United States is overtly engaged in another aggression against a sovereign country that poses no conceivable, let alone actual or imminent, threat to the nation. This is an act of war.

As an act of war, this is unconstitutional, and would demand a congressional declaration. The claim, touted by Joint Chiefs’ Chairman, Gen. Dunford, that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda provides constitutional justification for attacking the Syrian government is patently false and particularly precious. In the Syrian conflict, it’s the Syrian government that is the enemy and target of al-Qaeda affiliates; it’s the U.S. and its allies who are supporting al Qaeda. The authorization to fight al-Qaeda has been turned into an authorization to help al-Qaeda by attacking and weakening its prime target!

Will President Trump ask for a relevant congressional authorization? Will any Democratic or Republican congresscritter demand it? Is the Pope a Hindu?

Would it make any difference? Why should Trump bother? Obama set the stage when he completely ignored the War Powers Act, the Constitution, Congress, and his own Attorney General and legal advisers, and went right ahead with a war on Libya, under the theory that, if we pretend no American troops are on the ground, it isn’t really a war or “hostilities” at all. Which I guess means if the Chinese Air Force starts shooting down American planes in American airspace in defense of Black Lives Matter’s assault on the White House, it wouldn’t really be engaging in an act of war.

It’s impossible to overstate the danger in these executive war-making prerogatives that Obama normalized—with the irresponsible connivance of his progressive groupies, who pretend not to know where this would lead. In 2012, referring to the precedent of Obama’s policies, Mitt Romney said: “I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now.” Following Obama, for Trump, and every Republican and Democratic president, it now goes without saying.

In terms of international law, as an aggressive, unprovoked aggression against a country that makes no threat of attack on the U.S., it is also patently illegal, and all the political and military authorities undertaking it are war criminals, who would be prosecuted as such, if there were an international legal regime that had not already been undermined by the United States.

Syria is now under explicit attack by the armed forces of the U.S., Turkey, and other NATO states. Sixteen countries have combat aircraft buzzing around Syrian airspace under the effective command of the United States, and a number of them have attacked Syria’s army.

Americans, and certainly self-identified “progressives,” have to be crystal clear about this: American armed forces have no right to be in Syria, have no right to restrict the Syrian government from using any of its airspace, or to prevent it from regaining control of any of its own territory from foreign-backed jihadi armies.

The Syrian state and its allies (Iran and Russia), on the other hand, are engaged in the legitimate self-defense of a sovereign state, and have the right to respond with full military force to any attack on Syrian forces or any attempt by the United States to balkanize or occupy Syrian territory, or to overthrow the Syrian government. Whether and how they do respond will depend on their own military/political calculus, about which they have so far been quite careful and restrained. It would be the height of foolishness, as well as arrogance, for Americans to presume they can bully these actors into submission with an infinite series of discrete aggressions, with no sharp counterattack. Unfortunately, the world has not yet seen the limits of American arrogance.

So please, do not pretend to be shocked, shocked, if Syria and its allies fight back, inflicting American casualties. Don’t pose as the morally superior victim when Americans are killed by the people they are attacking. And don’t be preaching about how everyone has to support our troops in a criminal, unconstitutional, aggressive attack on a country that has not threatened ours in any way. American soldiers and pilots executing this policy are not heroes, and are not fighting to protect America or advance democracy; they are the international equivalent of home invaders, and as such are legitimate targets with no claim to “self-defense.” The only heroic act they could do is refuse their superiors’ illegitimate orders to engage in this aggression.

In response to American attacks, the Syrian Army has every right to strike back at the American military apparatus, everywhere. Every casualty of this war, however big it gets, is the ethico-political responsibility of the attacking party – US. The first responsibility of every American is not to “support our troops,” but to stop this war. Right now. Before it gets worse.

It’s quite obvious, in fact, that the United States regime is deliberately making targets of its military personnel, in the hopes of provoking a response from Syrian or allied armed forces that will kill some Americans, and be used to gin up popular support for exactly the kind of major military attack on Syria and/or Russia and/or Iran that the American people would otherwise reject with disgust. Anyone who professes concern for “our troops” should be screaming to stop that.

It’s also quite clear now that the War on ISIS is a sham, that ISIS was always just a pretext to get the American military directly involved in attacking the Syrian army and destroying the coherence of the Syrian state. If the U.S. wanted to defeat ISIS, it could do so easily by coordinating their actions with, and not against, the forces who have been most effectively fighting it: the Syrian Arab Army, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah.

Instead, it’s attacking the Syrian army precisely because it has been defeating ISIS and other jihadi forces, and regaining its own territory and control of its own border with Iraq. The U.S. does not want that to happen. At the very least—if it cannot immediately engender that massive offensive to overthrow the Baathist government—the U.S. wants to control part of the border with Iraq and to occupy a swath of eastern Syria. It wants to establish permanent bases from which to provision and protect jihadi armies, achieving a de facto partitioning of the Syrian state, maintaining a constant state of armed attack against the Damascus government, and reducing Syria to a weakened, rump state that can never present any effective resistance to American, Israeli, or Saudi designs on the region.

This is extremely dangerous, since the Syrians, Russians, and Iranians seem determined not to let this happen. Consistent with his own incompetence and his admiration for tough guys, Trump seems to have abrogated authority to his generals to make decisions of enormous political consequence. Perhaps that’s why aggressive actions like the shoot-down of the Syrian plane have been occurring more frequently, and why it’s not likely they’ll abate. There’s a dynamic in motion that will inevitably lead each side to confront a choice of whether to back down, in a way that’s obvious, or escalate. Generals aren’t good at backing down. A regional or global war is a real possibility and becomes more likely with every such incident.

Though most American politicians and media outlets do not want to say it (and therefore, most citizens cannot see it clearly enough), such a war is the objective of a powerful faction of the Deep State which has been persistent and determined in seeking it. If the generals are loath to back down in a battle, the neocons are adamant about not backing down on their plans for the Middle East. They will not be stopped by anything less than overwhelming popular resistance and international pushback.

The upside of these attacks on Syrian forces is that they wipe the lipstick off the pig of the American project in Syria. It’s a regime-change, nation-destroying war that has nothing to do with democracy or human rights, and everything to do with the anti-democratic, chaos-creating designs of the most nefarious regimes in the region and the world. Everyone—European countries who profess concern for international law and stability, and the American people who are fed up with constant wars that have no benefit for them—can see exactly what kind of blatant aggression is unfolding, and decide whether they want to go along with it.

In that regard, any self-identified “liberal” or “progressive” American—and particularly any such American politician—who spent (and may still spend) their political energy attacking Bush, et. al., for that crazy war in Iraq, and who goes along with, or hesitates to immediately and energetically denounce this war, which is already underway, is a political hypocrite, resisting nothing but the obvious.

June 21, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

UN raises alarm over rise in contacts between Israel troops, Syria militants

Press TV – June 21, 2017

United Nations UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed concerns about a spike in contacts between Israeli armed forces and Syria militants in recent months.

In a report released recently, Guterres warned that the growing interactions between the two sides could lead to escalation and cause harm to members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force deployed to the Golan Heights.

According to the report, UN observers listed 16 meetings between the Israel forces and the Syria militants in the border area, including on Mount Hermon, in proximity to UN outposts in Syria’s Quneitra Province and the Golan Heights, from March 2 to May 16.

“Relative to the previous reporting period, there has been a significant increase in interaction” between Israeli soldiers and individuals from the Syrian side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, “occurring on four occasions in February, three in March, eight in April and on one occasion in May,” the report said.

In its previous report released in March, the UN listed at least 17 interactions between the two sides between November 18, 2016, and March 1, 2017.

The figures show a significant increase when compared with only two such meetings recorded between August 30 and November 16, 2016.

The report said people likely affiliated with the militant groups, some of them armed, arrived at an Israeli outpost accompanied by mules and were greeted by the soldiers.

“In some instances, personnel and supplies were observed to have been transferred in both directions. On all occasions, the unknown individuals and mules returned to the Bravo (Syrian) side,” it added.

The UN chief said such interactions have “the potential to lead to clashes between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.”

“All military activities in the area of separation conducted by any actor pose a risk to the ceasefire and to the local civilian population, in addition to the United Nations personnel on the ground,” he wrote.

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has been providing Takfiri terrorists in Syria’s Golan Heights with a steady flow of funds and medical supplies.

Citing militant commanders and people familiar with Israel’s thinking, the paper said Israel’s “secret engagement” in the war aims to install a buffer zone on the Syrian border with elements friendly to Tel Aviv.

The Tel Aviv regime regularly attacks positions held by pro-Damascus forces in Syria, claiming that the attacks are retaliatory.

The Syrian army has on several occasions confiscated Israeli-made arms and military equipment from terrorists fighting the government forces. There are also reports that Israel has been providing medical treatment to the extremists wounded in Syria.

In April, Israel’s former minister of military affairs Moshe Ya’alon admitted to a tacit alliance with Daesh, saying the terrorist group had “immediately apologized” to Tel Aviv after firing “once” into Israel.

Read more:

Israel secretly aiding Syria militants: US paper

June 21, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Five Takeaways from Iran’s Missile Strike in Syria

Tehran’s strike was targeted at Islamic State but it also puts US bases in the region on notice and exposes the flimsiness of the Trump Administration’s Middle East policy

By M.K. BHADRAKUMAR | Asia Times | June 20, 2017

At its most obvious level, Iran’s missile attack on the Islamic State command centre in the Syrian city of Dier Ezzor on Sunday may be regarded as the demonstration of an extraordinarily innovative military capability.

Iran says it fired six ground-to-ground missiles from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) bases in Kermanshah and Kurdistan provinces, both in Western Iran, and that they “hit the targets in Deir Ezzur with high precision after flying through the Iraqi airspace.”

The footage shows that at least one of the missiles was of the Zolfaqar class and at least one more was of the Qiam class, both indigenously developed missiles. Zolfaqar is the latest generation of Iran’s mid-range missiles. It can hit targets up to 700 kilometres away and is capable of carrying a Multiple-Entry Vehicle payload. Qiam is a surface-to-surface cruise missile.

From all accounts, the missiles hit their target with devastating precision. Simply put, Iran has notified the US that its 45,000 troops deployed in bases in Iraq (5,165), Kuwait (15,000), Bahrain (7,000), Qatar (10,000), the UAE (5,000) and Oman (200) are highly vulnerable.

The Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqueri, said on Monday: “Iran is among the world’s big powers in the missile field. They (read the US and its allies) don’t have the capability to engage in conflict with us at present, and of course, we don’t intend to involve in clashes with them, but we are in permanent rivalry with them in different fields, including the missile sector.”

Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had specifically forewarned Washington last Wednesday that “if the US decides to start any war against Iran, all its military bases in the region will experience insecurity.”

Clearly, the missile strike constitutes a snub to the US Senators who passed a bill on Friday imposing more sanctions against Iran over its missile program. It is also a defiant response to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ill-conceived remark on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran includes “regime change”.

However, there are five other takeaways, all of which have downstream implications.

Wake-up call

For a start, the Iranian leadership seems to have concluded that the strategic restraint exercised over the past 3-4 years since negotiations on the nuclear issue began, is being misunderstood by the Trump team. On Sunday, Khamenei launched a vitriolic attack on US policies.

As Tehran sees it, the Trump team, which lacks experience in international diplomacy, might harbour notions that Iran’s moderation in recent years is a sign of weakness or lack of political resolve on the part of the moderate-reformist leadership of President Hassan Rouhani.

Most certainly, Tehran expects that its iron-fist display on Sunday will serve as a wake-up call to the Trump administration. This finds echo in the words of the influential Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council Mohsen Rezayee, who is also a former IRGC commander: “After four years in office, Tillerson will come to understand Iran.”

Setting a precedent

Two, Iran has created a hugely consequential precedent. Make no mistake, Tehran will hit ISIS again, reckoning it to be “like a wild dog that we can annihilate easily along with its masters.” Of course, this will impact the overall military balance in both Syria and Iraq.

Again, if ISIS can be targeted, why not other extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, some of which might be enjoying covert support from the US or its regional allies?

Quadrilateral cooperation

Three, the fact that Tehran coordinated Sunday’s missile strikes in advance with Russia, Iraq and Syria is an important signal in geopolitical terms and in regional politics. Centered around Baghdad, the quadrilateral mechanism involving these four countries has openly acknowledged that such coordination took place. It didn’t have to do that, but it did so with deliberation.

All-out rivalry

Four, against the backdrop of a series of unfriendly and provocative moves by the US against Iran in recent weeks at different levels, it is a fair assumption that Iran’s willingness to cooperate with the Trump administration on the path to a settlement in Syria is now virtually nil. Equally, it remains to be seen what follows next in Iraq after the liberation of Mosul.

Specifically, an all-out rivalry between the US and Iran can now be expected on the ground for control of the Syrian-Iraqi border and southern Syria. It will be a miracle now if the US beats Iran in the race to take control of the strategic city of Dier Ezzor, which has become an emblematic military front for the latter. Iranian statements claim that the terrorist attacks in Tehran on June 7 were masterminded and executed from the ISIS command center in Dier Ezzor.

US policy adrift

Finally, Washington now has no option left but to accept Russian help to stabilize the “de-confliction” zones in southern Syria bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights. Yet, incredibly enough, the Pentagon chose just this moment to provoke Moscow by shooting down a Syrian jet on Sunday – albeit a few hours ahead of the Iranian missile strike.

Moscow has put the Pentagon on notice that henceforth all American aircraft and flying objects in the Syrian air space will be treated as “targets”. Coming on top of the bizarre policy somersaults over Qatar in the past week, not to mention the fake arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration’s Middle East policy looks adrift, lacking intellectual content and diplomatic acumen.

The veteran ex-CIA officer and Brookings scholar on the Middle East Bruce Riedel pondered aloud last week how an administration so abysmally lacking in talent and diplomatic experience could cope with a first-rate crisis situation such as a war in Gaza or Lebanon.

Of course, in immediate terms, it remains to be seen how the Trump administration handles the Iran sanctions bill given the latest developments. The Iranian Majlis plans to adopt counter-measures vis-à-vis the proposed US legislation, which it regards as a blatant violation of the matrix of understanding reached under the nuclear deal of July 2015.

June 21, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spoiling for a Wider War in Syria

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | June 20, 2017

The U.S. mainstream media’s near universal demonization of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin – along with similar hatred directed toward Iran and Hezbollah – has put the world on a path toward World War III.

Ironically, the best hope for averting a dangerous escalation into a global conflict is to rely on Assad, Putin, Iran and Hezbollah to show restraint in the face of illegal military attacks by the United States and its Mideast allies inside Syria.

In other words, after the U.S. military has bombed Syrian government forces on their own territory and shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday – and after Israel has launched its own strikes inside Syria and after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have financed and armed jihadists to overthrow Assad – it is now up to the Syrian government and its allies to turn the other cheek.

Of course, there is also a danger that comes from such self-control, in that it may encourage the aggressors to test the limits even further, seeing restraint as an acceptance of their impunity and a reason to ignore whatever warnings are issued and red lines drawn.

Indeed, if you follow The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other big U.S. news outlets, perhaps the most striking groupthink that they all share is that the U.S. government and its allies have the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world. Their slogan could be summed up as: “International law – that’s for the other guy!”

In this upside-down world of American hegemony, Assad becomes the “aggressor” when he seeks to regain control of Syrian territory against armed insurgents, dominated by Al Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS), or when he protests the invasion of Syrian territory by foreign forces.

When Assad legally seeks help from Russia and Iran to defeat these foreign-armed and foreign-backed jihadists, the U.S. mainstream media and politicians treat his alliances as improper and troublemaking. Yet, the uninvited interventions into Syria by the United States and its various allies, including Turkey and Israel, are treated as normal and expected.

Demanding Escalation

The preponderance of U.S. media criticism about U.S. policy in Syria comes from neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who have favored a much more ambitious and vigorous “regime change” war, albeit cloaked in prettier phrases such as “safe zones” and “no-fly zones.”

So, you have Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal editorial, which praises Sunday’s U.S. shoot-down of a Syrian military plane because it allegedly was dropping bombs “near” one of the U.S.-backed rebel groups – though the Syrians say they were targeting an Islamic State position.

Although it was the U.S. that shot down the Syrian plane over Syria, the Journal’s editorial portrays the Russians and Syrians as the hotheads for denouncing the U.S. attack as a provocation and warning that similar air strikes will not be tolerated.

In response, the Journal’s neocon editors called for more U.S. military might hurled against Syria and Russia:

“The risk of escalation is real, but this isn’t a skirmish the U.S. can easily avoid. Mr. Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran know that ISIS’s days are numbered. They want to assert control over as much territory as possible in the interim, and that means crushing the SDF [the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces].

“The Russian threat on Monday to target with anti-aircraft missiles any U.S. aircraft flying west of the Euphrates River in Syria is part of the same intimidation strategy. Russia also suspended a hotline between the two armed forces designed to reduce the risk of a military mistake. Iran, which arms and assists Mr. Assad on the ground, vowed further Syrian regime attacks against SDF, all but daring U.S. planes to respond amid the Russian threat.

“The White House and Pentagon reacted with restraint on Monday, calling for a de-escalation and open lines of communication. But if Syria and its allies are determined to escalate, the U.S. will either have to back down or prepare a more concerted effort to protect its allies and now U.S. aircraft.

“This is a predicament President Obama put the U.S. in when his Syrian abdication created an opening for Vladimir Putin to intervene. Had the U.S. established a no-fly or other safe zone to protect refugees, the Kremlin might have been more cautious.”

As senior U.S. commanders have explained, however, the notion of a sweet-sounding “no-fly or other safe zone” would require a massive U.S. military campaign inside Syria that would devastate government forces and result in thousands of civilian deaths because many air defenses are located in urban areas. It also could lead to a victory for Al Qaeda and/or its spinoff, Islamic State, a grisly fate for most Syrians.

Propaganda Value

But the “safe zone” illusion has great propaganda value, essentially a new packaging for another “regime change” war, which the neocons lusted for in Syria as the follow-on to the Iraq invasion in 2003 but couldn’t achieve immediately because the Iraq War turned into a bloody disaster.

Instead, the neocons had to settle for a proxy war on Syria, funded and armed by the U.S. government and its regional allies, relying on violent jihadists to carry out the brunt of the fighting and killing. When Assad’s government reacted clumsily to this challenge, the U.S. mainstream media depicted Assad as the villain and the “rebels” as the heroes.

In 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency, then under the direction of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, warned that the U.S. strategy would give rise to “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria.”

Flynn went further in a 2015 interview when he said the intelligence was “very clear” that the Obama administration made a “willful decision” to back these jihadists in league with Middle East allies. (Flynn briefly served as President Trump’s national security adviser but was ousted amid the growing Russia-gate “scandal.”)

Only in 2014, when Islamic State militants began decapitating American hostages and capturing cities in Iraq, did the Obama administration reverse course and begin attacking ISIS while continuing to turn a blind-eye to the havoc caused by other rebel groups allied with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, including many outfits deemed “moderate” in the U.S. lexicon.

But the problem is that almost none of this history exists within the U.S. mainstream narrative, which – as the Journal’s neocon editors did on Tuesday – simply depicts Obama as weak and then baits President Trump to show more military muscle.

What U.S. National Interests?

The Journal editorial criticized Trump for having no strategy beyond eradicating ISIS and adding: “Now is the time for thinking through such a strategy because Syria, Russia and Iran know what they want. Mr. Assad wants to reassert control over all of Syria, not a country divided into Alawite, Sunni and Kurdish parts. Iran wants a Shiite arc of influence from Tehran to Beirut. Mr. Putin will settle for a Mediterranean port and a demonstration that Russia can be trusted to stand by its allies, while America is unreliable. None of this is in the U.S. national interests.”

But why isn’t this in U.S. national interests? What’s wrong with a unified secular Syria that can begin to rebuild its shattered infrastructure and repatriate refugees who have fled into Europe, destabilizing the Continent?

What’s the big problem with “a Shiite arc of influence”? The Shiites aren’t a threat to the United States or the West. The principal terror groups – Al Qaeda and ISIS – spring from the extremist Saudi version of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. I realize that Israel and Saudi Arabia took aim at Syria in part to shatter “the Shiite arc,” but we have seen the horrific consequences of that strategy. How has the chaos that the Syrian war has unleashed benefited U.S. national interests?

And so what that Russia has a naval base on the Mediterranean Sea? That is no threat to the United States, either.

But what is the alternative prescription from the Journal’s neocon editors? The editorial concludes: “The alternative would be to demonstrate that Mr. Assad, Iran and Russia will pay a higher price for their ambitions. This means refusing to back down from defending U.S. allies on the ground and responding if Russia aircraft or missiles attempt to take down U.S. planes. Our guess is that Russia doesn’t want a military engagement with the U.S. any more than the U.S. wants one with Russia, but Russia will keep pressing for advantage unless President Trump shows more firmness than his predecessor.”

So, rather than allow the Syrian government to restore some form of order across Syria, the neocons want the Trump administration to continue violating international law, which forbids military invasions of sovereign countries, and keep the bloodshed flowing. Beyond that, the neocons want the U.S. military to play chicken with the other nuclear-armed superpower on the assumption that Russia will back down.

As usual, the neocon armchair warriors don’t reflect much on what could happen if U.S. warplanes attacking inside Syria are shot down. One supposes that would require President Trump to authorize a powerful counterstrike against Russian targets with the possibility of these escalations spinning out of control. But such craziness is where a steady diet of neocon/liberal-hawk propaganda has taken America.

We are ready to risk nuclear war and end all life on the planet, so Israel and Saudi Arabia can shatter a “Shiite arc of influence” and so American politicians don’t have to feel the rhetorical lash of the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

June 20, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Illegal Occupation, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet

By Gary Leupp | CounterPunch | June 20, 2017

Former State Department official Nicholas Burns told CNN Monday morning he’s surprised at Russia’s “calm” response to the shooting down of a Syrian government warplane (a Russian built SU 22 jet) in Syrian skies by a US F-18 Super Hornet. Moscow initially merely protested.

The Syrian government says its plane was bombing ISIL forces. (This could be perceived as an unequivocally good act, ISIL being what it is.) But the U.S. says the plane was bombing its proxies, who are themselves battling ISIL around Raqqa with embedded U.S. advisors. These proxies are mainly Kurds who want independence and other forces allied to the U.S. and its Arab allies in a common effort to ultimately topple the Assad regime. And everyone paying attention knows these proxies include forces closely aligned with what used to be called al-Nusra. Forces the U.S. considers friends are considered by Damascus terrorists.

There are differences of opinion on this matter between the government of the aggressor imperialist country and the government of the country being assaulted by a host of foreign forces, and in the cross-hairs of this—what did Martin Luther King call it, so rudely, in 1967?—“greatest purveyor of violence in the world”?

In any case, Assad’s is an internationally recognized regime, as legitimate as the Trump regime, and the U.S. and its allies are plainly violating Syrian sovereignty by their presence. The Russian position is that the Syrian Arab Army (the national army) is the guarantor of Syrian unity and sovereignty, and the alternative is an Islamist regime that would destroy Palmyra, blow up the churches of Damascus, behead children etc.  (This is a rational position.)

The U.S. position has been that the Assad regime, to which army is loyal, is the main problem to be solved. This position requires the curious argument that the Assad regime is what has produced ISIL and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra, Fateh al-Sham), by producing opposition to itself, thus generating Islamist radicalism. (This is an irrational position.)

ISIL (ISIS, the Islamic State) exists because a Jordanian Bedouin guy named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi organized an international jihadi group around Herat, Afghanistan circa 2000. Called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), it was a rival of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose camps were located on the other side of Afghanistan. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Zarqawi relocated to Iraq. The U.S. invasion of Iraq (which recall was based entirely on lies, and produced horrible ongoing destruction and suffering) provided optimal opportunities for jihadis like him. In 2004 he pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and established, as its Iraqi franchise, Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (commonly rendered al-Qaeda in Iraq).

That morphed into ISIL. It spread from Iraq to Syria, and back to Iraq, even as al-Qaeda continues to challenge it for influence and territory. It is a hideous product of U.S. imperialist interventions. In Syria it challenges a government that, however oppressive and corrupt,  would surely be seen as the better alternative by most rational people. But the dominant view in the State Department has been that Assad needs to go. The debate has been over how to effect his ouster, through overt or covert means, and the main practical problem the lack of reliable allies willing to work with U.S. trainers and not defect to the other side after their training.

So on the one hand the U.S. pursues openly an anti-ISIL campaign in Syria (and Iraq), claiming plausibly that the sheer evil of ISIL justifies the drive to destroy it. Who could complain? (The Syrian government points out that any uninvited military presence is a violation of international law.) On the other hand the ultimate intent, which seems unchanged under the new administration, is regime change.

Thus the State Department shapes the cable news coverage to insure that the Assad regime is routinely vilified, assumed to be an evil. The Syrian army is presented, not as the most respected institution in the country, but as the enemy of its people, barrel-bombing them. So if it’s reported that a Syrian warplane was shot down by a U.S. warplane over Syria, what’s the problem?

Expert analysts are explaining that the U.S. was acting in self-defense in shooting down the Syrian plane in Syria. They appear to sincerely believe what they say, and perhaps persuade their audience—even after so many lies have been exposed and you’d think public skepticism at its height.

***

As I write there is more “breaking” news. It appears the Russians, while still “calm,” are also getting firm. The U.S. has gone too far, shooting down the plane of a Russian-allied force in a Russia-allied country. The Russians have consistently appealed to the U.S. to coordinate anti-ISIL, anti-al-Nusra efforts in Syria; a “memorandum on air safety”  intended to prevent mid-air collisions has been in effect since last October, although the U.S. has violated it by bombing a Syrian army position. Now Russia is pulling out and announcing that it will treat U.S. jets in Syrian airspace as “targets.” (Barbara Starr—who you’ve noticed represents the Pentagon on CNN—however says the line’s still open, and there are apparently communications between Russian forces in Latakia and U.S. forces in Qatar.)

The Russian Defense Ministry’s calm statement reads: “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” This is a clear warning to the Trump administration to back off from attacks on state forces in Syria.

Moscow is surely puzzled by conflicting signals from Washington regarding Syria and U.S. foreign policy in general. If there had been some optimism about a joint effort against terrorists in Syria, this incident may destroy it.

Let’s say a S-300 Grumble missile shoots down one of those Super Hornets today. A Super Hornet whose presence is rejected by the Russian-allied Syrian government. A U.S. pilot killed. Massive immediate outrage in this country—about a Russian attack on one of us, wicked just by definition. And it’s official truth that Russia hacked the election. Russia we are told is an adversary. Trump cannot be viewed as a Putin stooge. Retaliation needed, immediately, in a country becoming a free-for-all for Arab, Turkish, Iranian, Russian and U.S. and European intervention.

I think the calm temporary. Iranian missiles are hitting Raqqa in a retaliatory strike on ISIL, which has struck in Iran. Turkey is bombing U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria. The mix of forces that will take (and likely destroy) Raqqa are not clear. A young crazed Kim Jung-un type is in charge of Saudi Arabia throwing money at jihadis in Syria. Hizbollah Lebanese forces and Iraqi Shiite militia forces are fighting the ISIL and al-Qaeda forces with the government. It is a hellish situation that could become much more so.

The people should demand that the U.S. just back off. How can those who generated ISIL kill it?

Trump as I recall suggested during his campaign that the U.S. leave the defeat of ISIL to Russia, or at least to work with Russia against ISIL. He was of course vague, inconsistent, and using a sixth grade vocabulary, but he seemed to want to avoid something like this provocation. One has to ask, who does want it?

June 20, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

All of Saudi Arabia’s moves benefit Israel: Iran’s parliament speaker

Press TV – June 20, 2017

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has slammed Saudi Arabia for working covertly with Israel, saying all Riyadh’s actions in the region serve the Tel Aviv regime’s interests and are to the detriment of Muslim nations.

Larijani made the remarks in a meeting with ambassadors of Muslim countries to Tehran on Monday.

“We have tried hard to make the Saudis understand that their measures are to the detriment of the Muslim Ummah, but they only make harsher remarks every day and engage Muslim countries,” he said.

Larijani further pointed to Saudi Arabia’s “very unpleasant” policies in dealing with regional countries, saying the Saudis exert force in Syria, attack Yemen to make it their own backyard, fuel tensions in Bahrain, and have now targeted Qatar.

“Eventually, all Saudi moves are in favor of Israel,” said Larijani, adding that they want to keep terrorists on their feet and even provide support to some terror groups such as al-Nusra Front.

The top Iranian parliamentarian further warned Muslims “not to be trapped in a bigger plot.”

Iran had obtained documents showing that the Saudis provided Israel with intelligence during the 33-day war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, he added.

“The dependence of some Muslim countries on Israel is catastrophic and a stain of shame, while the Muslim Ummah should be sensitive to the fate of Palestine,” Larijani said.

As a result, he said, International Quds Day is of great importance, expressing hope that Muslims would demonstrate their unity on this day.

The late founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khomeini, named the last Friday of the lunar fasting month of Ramadan as the International Quds Day, which falls on June 23 this year.

The day is commemorated each year by worldwide rallies, with participants voicing their support for the Palestinian nation and calling for an end to the Tel Aviv regime’s atrocities and its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Iranian parliament speaker stressed that the Islamic Republic pursues the policy of creating consensus and unity.

He further thanked the Muslim ambassadors for expressing sympathy over the twin terrorist attacks in the Iranian capital, which killed 17 people and injured over 50 others.

On June 7, gunmen mounted almost simultaneous assaults on Iran’s Parliament and the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini. The Daesh Takfiri terrorist group claimed responsibility for the assaults.

Additionally, Larijani said that the Islamic Republic has been grappling with terrorism for years and in recent years the scourge has affected the Muslim world.

June 20, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

US backs down as Russia targets US aircraft in Syria

By Alexander Mercouris | The Duran | June 20, 2017

Back in April, in the immediate aftermath of the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base, Russia retaliated by switching off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria, which enables these militaries to avoid accidental clashes with each other.

The immediate response to this Russian switching off of the ‘de-confliction’ hotline was a dramatic reduction in US air operations in Syria, as the US air force was forced to scale down its air operations rather than risk a confrontation with the powerful air defence system the Russians have established in Syria.

That this was the case was confirmed by an article in The New York Times dated 8th April 2017, which said the following

The American-led task force that is battling the Islamic State has sharply reduced airstrikes against the militants in Syria as commanders assess whether Syrian government forces or their Russian allies plan to respond to the United States’ cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield this past week, American officials said.

So far, the Russian military does not appear to have taken any threatening actions, such as directing its battlefield radar or air defense systems to confront the Americans, or carrying out aggressive actions in the skies, United States officials said.

But officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning said the commanders needed time to determine whether the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Russian military would treat the American cruise missile strike as a one-time operation that they would not respond to militarily. As a precaution, the Pentagon is flying patrols in Syrian skies with F-22 jets, the Air Force’s most advanced air-to-air fighter……

Some American and other Western counterterrorism officials have said the missile strike could……… make the fight against the Islamic State in Syria more difficult.

“It seems clear that the strikes will complicate our efforts to pursue our counter-ISIS campaign in Syria,” said Matthew Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “In particular, the ability to carry out U.S. airstrikes in Syria in support of the coalition against ISIS requires some degree of cooperation with Russia, which is now in serious jeopardy.”

Other security experts said that much depended on the Trump administration’s next steps, and how the Assad government and its Russian patrons responded.

“U.S. aircraft operating over Al-Tabqah are already ostensibly in range of the Russian S-400 system at the Humaymin Air Base, and we might see Russia deploy more air defense assets to Syria,” Jeremy Binnie, the Middle East editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, said in an email. “But if the U.S. makes no moves to threaten Assad’s position, then they may well accept the punishment and move on.”

William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” offered a similar assessment. (bold italics added)

The words I have highlighted in this article from 8th April 2017 make clear the difference with the situation today.

After weeks of frantic diplomatic activity the US finally managed to persuade the Russians a few weeks ago to switch the ‘de-confliction’ hotline back on.  In response to yesterday’s US shooting down of the SU-22 the Russians have however now once again switched it off.

However this time the Russians have not only once more switched off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline.  They have also done what they did not do in April by saying that this time they will take “threatening action by directing their battlefield radar or air defense systems to confront the Americans”.

That this is so is explicitly confirmed in the statement made public yesterday by the Russian Defence Ministry

As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken.

The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the ministry said.

Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group’s operation in Syria as legitimate targets, the ministry stressed.

Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.

……. the coalition command did not use the existing communication line between the air commands of Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and Khmeimim Air Base to prevent incidents in Syria’s airspace.  We consider the actions of the US command as a deliberate default on their obligations under the memorandum on on preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015. (bold italics added)

In other words, the Russian response to the shooting down of the Syrian SU-22 fighter near Taqbah has been much stronger than was the Russian response to the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.

This is so even though the attack on Al-Shayrat air base attracted massive international media attention, whilst the US shooting down of the SU-22 has attracted very little.

This time however the Russians have announced that they will do precisely the thing which they did not do in April following the US attack on Al-Shayrat air base – and which the New York Times says is very threatening – which is track US aircraft, treating them as targets if they fly west of the Euphrates.

Why have the Russians taken this extraordinary step?

The US claims yesterday justifying the shooting down of the SU-22 aircraft have unravelled.  Even the strongly anti-Assad British based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has confirmed that the SU-22 was not bombing Kurdish forces as the US claims but was bombing ISIS fighters as the Syrians say.

A regime warplane was targeted and dropped in the skies of the al-Resafa area […] the warplane was shot down over Al-Resafa area of which the regime forces have reached to its frontiers today, and sources suggested to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that warplanes of the International Coalition targeted it during its flight in close proximity to the airspace of the International Coalition’s warplanes, which caused its debris to fall over Resafa city amid an unknown fate of its pilot, the sources confirmed that the warplane did not target the Syria Democratic Forces in their controlled areas located at the contact line with regime forces’ controlled areas in the western countryside of Al-Tabaqa to the road of Al-Raqqah – Resafa.

(bold italics added)

Another thing that may have provoked the Russians is that the US has tried to pass off the downing of the SU-22 as caused by Syrian encroachment of an agreed ‘de-confliction area’.

Ja’Din sits approximately two kilometers north of an established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area.

This uses a term – ‘de-confliction area’ – used to describe certain regions of Syria covered by an international agreement reached by Russia, Iran and Turkey in May.

The area where the SU-22 was shot down is not within any of these regions.  Al-Jazeera has provided details of where these four ‘de-confliction areas’, and none of them is close to the territory where the SU-22 was shot down

Zone 1 : Idlib province, as well as northeastern areas of Latakia province, western areas of Aleppo province and northern areas of Hama province. There are more than one million civilians in this zone and its rebel factions are dominated by an al-Qaeda -linked alliance.

Zone 2: The Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in northern Homs province. There are approximately 180,000 civilians in this zone and its network of rebel groups includes al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

Zone 3 : Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside. Controlled by Jaish al-Islam, a powerful rebel faction that is participating in the Astana talks. It is home to about 690,000 civilians. This zone does not include the adjacent, government-besieged area of Qaboun.

Zone 4 : The rebel-controlled south along the border with Jordan that includes parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces. Up to 800,000 civilians live there.Wh

Whilst it is possible that the term “established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area” refers to a term used in some informal agreement between the US and Russia, it seems more likely that the US is trying to unilaterally establish ‘no-go’ areas for the Syrian army, and is using the term ‘de-escalation areas’ to conceal the fact.

If so the Russians will want to put a stop to this practice and this may partly explain the strength of the Russian reaction.

However the single most important reason for the strong Russian reaction is what caused the US to shoot down the SU-22 down in the first place.

As the report from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights shows, the real reason the SU-22 was shot down was because it was supporting a Syrian army offensive to capture the strategically important town of Rusafa from ISIS.

Rusafa lies south east of Tabqah – the main base of the US backed Kurdish militia in this area – and within striking distance of the main highway between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the eastern desert city currently besieged by ISIS.

By capturing Rusafa the Syrian army is now in a position to intercept columns of ISIS fighters who might try to flee Raqqa for Deir Ezzor.

The Syrians and the Russians have in recent weeks complained that the US and the Kurds have been doing nothing to prevent ISIS fighters fleeing Raqqa for Deir Ezzor, and in recent days there have even been reports of movements by Kurdish militia to try to block the Syrian army’s offensive to relieve Deir Ezzor.

The shooting down of the Syrian SU-22 fighter appears to have been intended as a warning to stop the Syrian army from capturing Rusafa, so as to block the Syrian army’s attempt to relieve the pressure on Deir Ezzor.

The Russian warning to the US looks in turn to have been intended to make clear to the US that this sort of interference in the Syrian army’s operations to relieve Deir Ezzor is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The US has heeded the Russian warning. The various statements made by the US and by various US officials today, though full of the usual bluster about the US defending itself and its allies anywhere and everywhere, in fact clearly signal that the US is backing off.

The key words – as my colleague Adam Garrie has said – are those of Colonel Ryan Dillon, chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battle space. (bold italics added)

“Prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria to ensure the safety of aircrews given known threats in the battle space” is code for withdrawal of aircraft from air space where they are at risk of being shot down.

That is what is taking place. Note that Colonel Dillon is careful not to say where the “known threats in the battle space” that are forcing the redeployment of the aircraft are coming from.

The US has no choice. If the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline in April was enough to force the US to reduce sharply its air activity in Syria, the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline and to threaten to treat as aerial targets US aircraft flying west of the Euphrates is a threat the US cannot afford to disregard.

Not surprisingly, shortly before the Russian warning was made public, but probably after it was communicated to the US, the Syrian army captured Rusafa with no further hindrance from the US. Latest reports speak of Syrian army reinforcements flooding into the area.

In the meantime the US is frantically signalling to the Russians its urgent wish to de-escalate the situation. Note for example the markedly conciliatory language of White House spokesman Sean Spicer, and how he repeatedly passed up opportunities to utter words of defiance against Russia or to threaten the Russians with counter-measures during the latest White House press briefing

Q    Thanks, Sean.  How are you responding to this Russian threat to shoot down American planes over Syria?

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously, we’re going to do what we can to protect our interests. And this is something that we’re going to continue to work with — keep the lines of communication open. And ISIS represents a threat to all nations, and so we’ve got to do what we can to work with partners. And we’re going to continue to keep an open mind of communication with the Russians.

Q    So will the U.S. change its flight patterns or behavior in Syria?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to refer — I mean, I think this is a question more for DOD to answer. But I think, obviously, it’s important and crucial that we keep lines of communication open to de-conflict potential issues.

Zeke.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Following up on that — and a second one for you, as well — what would the U.S. government’s response be? Is the White House going to issue a warning to the Russian government if they were to follow through on this threat? It seems that your statement — would that be a provocation or something worse, potentially?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, I think that the escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody. And the Syrian regime and others in the regime need to understand that we will retain the right of self-defense, of coalition forces aligned against ISIS.

Ultimately the situation in Syria is the same as it has been since the US-Russian confrontation in October.

The fact that the Russians have installed a powerful air defence system in Syria incorporating advanced S-400 and S-300VM Antey 2500 missiles means that the US is unable to confront the Russians directly unless it is prepared to risk possibly very serious casualties.

That is an option neither the US military nor the civilian officials of the Obama and Trump administrations are prepared to face. This is because they know the extraordinary dangers such a clash with the armed forces of a nuclear superpower would risk. They also know US public opinion is strongly opposed to the US becoming drawn into such a clash.

What that means is that though the Russians must act carefully so as not to provoke the US into an unnecessary confrontation which would serve no-one’s interests, ultimately it is the Russians who in Syria have the whip hand.

The chess game in Syria is far from over. The game of move and counter-move continues. With the capture of Rusafa the Syrians and the Russians have however just won another important piece.  In the meantime Russia’s warning limits the range of US moves across the Syrian chessboard.

The net result of all these recent moves is that end of the Syrian war may have drawn a little closer.

June 20, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment