Three of the four boats in the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla have turned back as the flagship Marianne was intercepted by the Israeli military and rerouted to Ashdod port. If Israel was a democracy it would grant this boat safe passage to Gaza.
These activists are peaceful people sailing in international waters, and are attempting to bring aid, and to donate a fishing boat to the people of Gaza, who are at the mercy of one of the most ruthless and sophisticated armed forces in the world. An attempt to stop them while they are in international waters, itself constitutes a breach of international law. Israel commits war crimes which are acknowledged by the United Nations and many human rights organizations. Let’s consider who the real terrorists in this scenario are. It isn’t the people struggling to have a decent quality of life in the most densely populated piece of land in the world. The idea that Palestinians could present a threat to such a powerful state as Israel is simply ludicrous. Israel holds the political, military, and economic power and controls the information narrative.
We should never forget when thinking about the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, that when Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara in 2010, in an act of piracy, they killed nine people with one person later dying from injuries. The authorities have acted as if no crime was ever committed and as if Israel has nothing to answer for. That is state-sponsored violence with complete impunity.
Our boat is the last to set sail. However, we were told Sunday that our boat for now remains in Athens, and is not moving. At the moment, that’s all I can say.
For this reason, at the time of writing, we are preparing to deviate from the original plan and are making alternate plans to reach our ultimate destination. I would like to be specific at this point but cannot say much more than I already have. What I can say however, is that everyone here is motivated by a drive to highlight what is happening in Gaza through peaceful means.
We are being labeled as trouble makers and as agitators who are trying to make trouble for Israel, which of course is always presented as being guilty of nothing.
Past and present parliamentarians from different nations, aid workers, scholars, and journalists do not paint a picture of terrorists. Actually they have a track record of working against terrorists, many of them working in areas of conflict in the past with people who have had their lives torn apart by war.
They say, as they do when anyone tries to reach Gaza that the act in itself is an act of terrorism because the government in Gaza is run by Hamas. Hamas – who were elected and who represent the people.
Whatever one might think of Hamas is irrelevant, unless of course you happen to live in Palestine. Hamas did not bomb hundreds of innocent people last summer including hundreds of children.
The act of trying to prevent some fishing boats being delivered to people who are trapped and who have no freedom of movement is a monstrous one. These activists are unarmed and are 100 percent not a threat to Israel; they are pretty selfless human beings who simply care. If Israel was a democracy it would grant these activists safe passage. Israel however fulfills none of its obligations to the people of Palestine, and so it’s no surprise that it refuses to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis it has created.
What is wrong with equal rights for everyone under a system which treats everyone the same? If it was good enough for South Africa then surely it’s good enough for the rest of the world.
The FF3 coalition is a peaceful campaign absolutely maintaining a policy of nonviolence. It seems pretty clear though at this stage as if Israel is determined to allow no aid through to Gaza, and will continue to act as judge, jury, and executioner towards anyone that dare question or disagree with the colonial settler state.
I hope the brave souls who are on the vessels already at sea make it and that no harm comes to any of them. They do not deserve to have their names dragged through the dirt by a largely ignorant liberal press, and it’s an utter disgrace that many are happy to highlight a humanitarian crisis elsewhere in the world, while Palestine gets pushed to the side-lines. If FF3 serves to highlight any of this then the campaign will have been worth it.
Richard Sudan, is a London based writer, political activist, and performance poet. Follow him on Twitter.
Israeli Middle East commentator Meir Javedanfar and political scientist Kaveh Afrasiabi shared their strongly differing opinions on the latest report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
According to the article there are fears that Israel has been testing radioactive ‘dirty bombs.’ These kinds of weapon are intended to contaminate large areas with radiation, and can potentially have a long-lasting impact on the hit zone.
RT: The report claims Israel has dirty bombs for defense purposes only. Might this include preemptive strikes against countries like Iran?
Meir Javedanfar: Of course the state of Israel has never ever threatened to use any such weapons, Israel doesn’t even admit to having nuclear capabilities; it is something that has been reported only by foreign organizations. All that we understand is that the chances of Israel using such a weapon are almost zero. Israel’s alleged nuclear program is for defensive purposes only…
We [Israelis] are very worried if ISIS one day gets their hands on a dirty weapon they would use it against us, make no mistake. I think it’s very logical to be prepared for such a scenario.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Jew or Muslim; it doesn’t matter if you’re Sunni or Shia – this is an organization which would use such a weapon. You can’t use such a weapon back against them because ISIS leaders don’t care about their own population. So the least you can do is to be prepared.
RT: Do you think these allegations are correct? Do you think Israel is testing dirty bombs?
MJ: All I have is the same report that you’re reading from. If that report is true, Israel would only do this for defensive purposes, because if they do offensive testing of dirty bombs right now, it would carry a very high price for the state of Israel because right now we’re trying to convince Iran to stop its nuclear program. For Israel to go and test such weapons for offensive purposes it would be very counterproductive and very expensive… At the same time this is not about Iran, this is much more about ISIS; this is much more about Jihadi organizations.
RT: Israel is one of the staunchest critics of Iran’s nuclear program. Isn’t that a little hypocritical, if it really is secretly testing dirty bombs?
MJ: …The enemy in question is probably going to be the Jihadi organizations. Even in Israel we don’t think that Israel would use such weapons.
One of the reasons [there is ] this belief why the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks was because it is believed that [Osama] bin Laden was developing biological weapons; he was working on it, or he had plans to work on it. And this was something that they had to stop. And I think that is something that the states of Israel, Russia – and even Iran – have in common- all of us have to be prepared for the day if somebody like ISIS gets its hands on a dirty weapon, we could all be victims.
RT: There is a danger of arms escalation in region. If that is proved that Israel is experimenting with these dirty bombs, some countries might want to do the same thing, mightn’t they?
MJ: It really depends on what you use it for…. This was not aimed at any of our neighbors, we were not threatening anybody, we are not calling for anybody’s elimination, as the Iranian regime is doing to us. But you have to be realistic, this is not simulation.
RT: If this news is proved how, do you think it is going to go down in Iran?
MJ: I think this is something that Iran and Israel have in common: We are both potential victims of ISIS. ISIS is an extremist Sunni organization; so-called Sunni, I’m not sure they are real Sunnis; they are against Shia. When they take over Shia areas they are looting, they are burning, they are massacring and ethnic-cleansing Shia. Once they are finished with the Shias, the way they see it, the next target is the Jews… Both of us have to be prepared for the doomsday scenario… that if one day [ISIS] gets its hands on a chemical or biological weapon, first Iran would be the target, and then the state of Israel.
Kaveh Afrasiabi, political scientist, doesn’t agree with Meir Javedanfar’s viewpoint that the chances of Israel using dirty bombs “are almost zero.”
RT: The dirty bombs are reportedly intended for defense purposes only. Israel has the right to defend itself, doesn’t it?
Kaveh Afrasiabi: Well, so do all the other nations. I respectfully disagree with [Mr. Javedanfar] because you can’t find any nuclear weapons state that publically states that its weapons are for offensive purposes, everybody says it is for defensive. So if Israel detonated these dirty nuclear bombs, it’s in violation of its own commitments and the comprehensive test treaty, to which it is a signatory, although it hasn’t ratified. And I think it is a trial for a bigger test, and Israel is waiting to see the reaction by the international community to see if there is any will to stand up to it, and unfortunately there hasn’t been any. We saw that the US recently blocked the Middle East summit on nuclear disarmament – WMD-free in the Middle East – to appease Israel. A month later we hear this news that Israel has detonated not one or two, but 20 bombs. And I really question the timing of it coming on the verge of the deadline for the nuclear talks in Iran. One wonders if it’s part of ferocious Israeli propaganda effort to torpedo those talks.
RT: Do you think this test poses any real threat to Israel’s perceived enemies in the region?
KA: Of course, if Israel has tested these nuclear bombs, and has the capability to deliver them, as we all know they do, then that poses a clear and present danger to its Arab neighbors and beyond. And I really believe that Israel poses a nuclear threat to Iran and its allies in the region.
RT: If those weapons were being tested in Iran we would probably know what the international reaction would be. What do you expect the international reaction to be to Israel?
KA: This reflects the tremendous double standard that is operative in the international community that consistently turns a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear status and its refusal to allow the slightest inspection of its nuclear facilities. A part of that hypocrisy was demonstrated by the head of the UN’s Atomic Agency, Mr. [Yukiya] Amano, who about a year and half ago praised Israel’s nuclear air force instead of pressuring them to open up these facilities.
I really think that the time has come to stop [treating]Israel with kid gloves and put[ting] it into an exceptional bracket above international law, above proliferation concerns, and so on. At the time when Iran, which is a party to the non-proliferation treaty, has allowed the most extensive inspection of civilian nuclear facilities is under international sanctions and all the related pressures, and even military threat.
So the time has come to stop this hypocritical double standard on the part of the international community, and especially the Western states led by the US, which is the main defender and protector of Israel and its nuclear status.
In order to break the stalemate in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has reportedly started training hundreds of Yemeni tribesmen to fight the Houthis on the ground, while Riyadh continues its bombardment campaign.
“You cannot win a war against the Houthis from the air – you need to send ground forces in, but now there’s a program to train tribal fighters on the border,” a Doha-based military source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
According to another Yemeni official source, some 300 fighters have already managed to return to Yemen after getting Saudi training. They were allegedly sent to the Sirwah district in the central Marib province to battle Houthis in the area. According to the source the newly trained unit managed to push the Houthis back.
Saudi Arabia’s coalition spokesman failed to either confirm or deny the reports.
“We always confirm that we are helping the resistance and the popular groups, the loyal army … but we cannot go into details on where, how, how much,”Brigadier Ahmed Asseri said.
The training received by the Yemeni tribesmen in Saudi Arabia allegedly includes light weapons and tactical advice knowledge. According to another Reuters source, the Kingdom plans to boost deployment of such units to fight the Houthis resistance.
Rhiayad is reportedly gathering all tribal leaders loyal to the ousted president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia, to unite their tribal forces against those of the Houthis.
“Saudi Arabia wants to unite tribal leaders in this meeting but the feeling is that there’s not much hope for that,” a Yemeni source in Riyadh told Reuters. Apparently the tribal delegations seem more concerned battling the jihadi elements in Yemen in addition to the Houthi opposition.
“The Saudis have decided that they are going to intensify the unstable situation by providing arms to an oppositional group, a group that has been traditionally oppositional to the Houthis,” Ajamu Baraka, Middle East expert told RT.
On the ground in Yemen, the Shiite Houthi fighting force and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are in control of central and southern areas.
The fighting is ongoing on a number of major fronts. In Aden, the Houthis are engaging tribesmen who are supported by Saudi-led air forces. In Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, Houthis are fighting the Sunni Islamist fighters. The Houthis and their allies have been also fighting both Islamists and local tribesman in Marib and in Shabwa provinces.
The forces in Yemen which Saudi Arabia is arming can turn jihadi, Baraka says, as they have some “traditional, Whabis, Islamic leanings,” which is the “main ideological, Islamic foundation for Al Qaeda.”
“The only force that is gaining as a consequence of this conflict is in fact Al-Qaeda,” he went on to stress.
Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued throughout the country on Wednesday, targeting Houthi forces in Aden, Saada, Hajja, Taiz, Ibb and Bayda.
The US is boosting its military support for security forces fighting against Islamic State in Iraq. The Republicans have proposed a bill to directly fund militia groups operating in the country, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni irregular forces. If the bill is passed, tribal groups could receive up to $429 million in aid from the US.
The US Republicans’ proposal to fund Peshmerga and Sunni militias in Iraq, if approved, would entrench the country which is already partitioned by war, defense analyst Ivan Eland told RT.
RT: Do you think America’s funding of tribal security forces such as the Peshmerga might encourage further sectarian tension in such a volatile region?
Ivan Eland: Definitely. I think that’s true. Of course the US during its occupation was helping out the Peshmerga, so they were kind of undermining a unified Iraq even back then. But now Iraq basically is partitioned by war and I don’t think we can put it back together again. And so the Republicans are actually facing reality, but certainly this effort to fund individual militias will hasten the effort and entrench already partitioned Iraq.
RT: The bill also requires these security forces to be an independent entity from Iraq, so they can receive the aid separately from Iraqi national forces. What implications could that have on the US-Iraq partnership?
IE: The Republicans are unhappy with the Iraqi government’s dependence on Iran for training its Shia militias, and the Shia militias have been accused of some atrocities against Sunnis. The US doesn’t like Iranian influence in Iraq and so this bill says it funds the Peshmerga and other militias which would be Sunnis, but it also says that [if] the government of Iraq doesn’t [dis]associate itself with the Shia militias; they’ll give even more funds to the Peshmerga and other Sunni militias. So it doesn’t totally go away from the Iraqi government, but it puts a lot of pressure on them to dissociate themselves from the Shia militias which the Iraqi government probably is not going to do.
RT: If the bill does recognize these tribal security forces, they will gain a large amount of aid assigned for Baghdad. How will that affect the ability of Iraqi forces to counter Islamic State’s offensive?
IE: I think the Iraqi forces are already sort of a shell; they cut and ran when the ISIS forces attacked. The Iraqi government is depending on the Shia militias to defend them and they had the greatest role in the campaign to recapture Tikrit. The US Congress – if they pass this bill – will be asking the Iraqi government to remove the only reliable military force it has. The Iraqi armed forces are not reliable. And the Shia militias are the only groups that can adequately, even have a priority, of taking on ISIS.
RT: There are also reports of Kurds recruiting former US military members to fight the terrorist group. Apparently, a dozen Americans have already joined their ranks. What do you think about that?
IE: This may be the US government giving a wink and a nod to this without officially sanctioning it because they want to shore up the Peshmerga against the ISIS fighters and the administration doesn’t really want to do this. Most probably – what the Republicans are suggesting – giving direct aid – because of course implications can lead to the breakup of Iraq officially. Iraq is already broken up on the ground but the administration probably doesn’t want to encourage officially supporting the Peshmerga. So this could be a way of winking and nodding to get more expertise and to help them fight ISIS.
The British Army’s most prominent and decorated counter-insurgent, who helped suppress anti-colonial rebellions in Ireland, Malaya and Kenya, is being sued by the family of a man killed by Irish loyalist paramilitaries in 1973.
General Frank Kitson, now in his late 80s, is accused of negligence, misfeasance in office and breaching Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) over the death in the early 1970’s of Eugene Heenan.
Heenan, a construction worker, was killed in east Belfast after a Loyalist threw a grenade into a packed minibus in which he was a passenger.
Heenan’s widow, Mary, is bringing the legal action against Kitson.
As well as being a career soldier, Kitson drew on his vast experience of irregular warfare to author several books on the subject of counter-insurgency and is held to be one of the leading theorists on the subject.
Solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law, heading Mary Heenan’s legal team, told the Guardian : “This week we have issued proceedings against the MoD [Ministry of Defence] and Frank Kitson on behalf of our clients, the relatives of Patrick Heenan.
“These are civil proceedings for damages but their core value is to obtain truth and accountability for our clients as to the role of the British Army and Frank Kitson in the counter-insurgency operation in the north of Ireland during the early part of the conflict.”
The case hinges on Kitson’s alleged role in the engagement by security forces of local loyalist militias to meet British strategic aims to contain and disrupt republican groups like the IRA.
Winters also cited elements of Kitson’s own seminal work on counter-insurgency, saying that “manipulation of the rule of law, infiltration and subversion” were tactics which were all “core to the Kitson military of doctrine endorsed by the British Army and the British government at the time.”
The Kitson doctrine also inspired the creation the controversial Military Reaction Force (MRF), a Northern Ireland-based unit of urban Special Forces soldier which operated in Ireland during the 1970s.
The MRF has since been accused of carrying out a number of killings – including civilian bystanders.
While former soldier and loyalist paramilitary Albert Baker was given a life sentence for the murder of Heenan, he later claimed to have links with UK intelligence services.
Mary Heenan’s legal team argue Kitson is liable for the death due to the role of his command and influence in the incident which killed Heenan.
The legal action will be the first in a series by families affected by the actions of loyalist militias during the period.
The Kitson case would be the first which attempted to hold a senior officer individually accountable for a death during the Troubles.
In a statement the MOD said: “The Ministry of Defence has received no official notification of this case, nor are we aware of any evidence which would support the allegations.”
Personal details of murdered journalist & ex-MP found posted on Ukrainian ‘enemies of state’ database
Flowers at Ukraine’s Embassy in Moscow after the murder of journalist Oles Buzina in Kiev. (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)
The journalist and ex-MP who were gunned down in Kiev this week were on an ‘enemies of the state’ database – a social media website supported by the aide to Ukraine’s interior minister. The bloggers also have a Twitter account to share ‘successes.’
The volunteer-made website calling itself ‘Mirotvorec’ (Peacekeeper), posts very thorough and comprehensive information on anyone who happens to make the list – journalists, activists, MPs opposing the current Kiev authorities’ policies and rebels fighting against the government in the east. The posts include their addresses, social media account links, a substantial biography and any mentions in the Ukrainian press. There is also labeling involved e.g. “terrorist; supporter of federalization” and other tags.
The website indicates that politician Oleg Kalashnikov’s and journalist Oles Buzina’s details were published on the site no more than 48 hours before both were found dead.
The website has its own social media account, which frequently tweets cryptic messages of “successful missions.”
The website enjoys the support of at least one high-profile Ukrainian official: Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister and a member of the Ukrainian parliament. In one of his Facebook posts, he advised people to post updates to the website.
Praising the work of the website for helping him shoulder the heavy load of information on “terrorists” and “separatists,” Gerashchenko attacks the view that sharing extensive personal information is a breach of privacy.
“Not at all!” he says, citing Article 17 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which states, according to him, that “the defense of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, ensuring its economic and information security is one of the external functions of the state, and is the business of all the people of Ukraine… Everyone who reports a name to the website, or another [resource] is doing the right thing,” Gerashchenko writes.
Below is a video ofUkrainian Interior Minister ArsenAvakov physically assaulting Kalashnikov during a TV show.
The radical Ukraine Insurgent Army (UPA) organization claimed responsibility for Kalashnikov’s and Buzina’s murder. The statement was made in a letter to Ukrainian political analyst Vladimir Fesenko, who says he received it. The letter is presently being investigated by the Ukrainian police.
This week alone has seen at least four killings of opposition figures in Ukraine. It all started on April 13 with the slaying of journalist Sergey Sukhobok – followed by Kalashnikov two days later and Buzina, the day after that – on the 16th.
The latest murder happened last night when another journalist Olga Moroz – the editor-in-chief of the Neteshinskiy Vestnik, a Ukrainian paper. Moroz was found dead in her home, RBK Ukraine reported.
Her body showed signs of a violent death. Some possessions were missing from the apartment, according to police. Although her work is listed among the causes investigated, the police say there are no allegations relating to any complaints of pressure or threats of violence reported by the journalist.
Buzina’s murder has led to strong condemnation from the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic.
“This appalling act is yet another reminder about the dangers associated with journalism as a profession. This killing must be immediately and fully investigated by the competent authorities… My sincere condolences go out to Buzina’s family and colleagues.”
“I reiterate my call on the authorities to allocate all necessary resources to investigate all attacks on journalists,” she said. “There must be no impunity for the perpetrators and the masterminds behind any violence against members of the media.”
The official also commented on the murder of Sukhobok, who was co-founder of a number of online news portals and contributor to several more Ukrainian media outlets. An investigation is underway.
Mijatovic’s comments are the latest in a long string of international condemnation of the alarming rise of media murders.
In February, the European Union called for stricter observance of freedom of speech in the media by all sides in the Ukrainian conflict.
“We continue to condemn and call for an end to attacks on journalists notably in eastern Ukraine, including killings and abductions,” the statement read.
Groups like IS, which could be behind the Bardo Museum shootings, have a long history of collaborating with the West and may have attacked tourists just to maintain their anti-Western façade, says independent political analyst Dan Glazebrook.
RT: Do you think that the Western tourists were targeted on purpose?
Dan Glazebrook: Yeah, I think so. The thing is with ISIS and these groups – they have a long history of collaborating with the West. It’s fundamental to their appeal that they kind of try to present themselves as anti-Western. If you look over the last several years, they’ve been singing from the same song-sheet – whether it’s on Libya, the fight against Gaddafi; Syria, the fight against Assad. We’ve had revelations about fighters’ passage to Syria to go and fight against Assad being facilitated by MI5, by British intelligence. This all came out in the hearings in Mozambique last year. So these guys are on the same page, they are helping to fulfill the West strategic aims of destabilization in the area. … The thousands and thousands people they’ve killed, the vast majority of them have been other Muslims and non-white people. From time to time they have to kill some Europeans and some Westerners in order to maintain this façade of somehow being opposed to the West, whilst they continue to carry out and facilitate the West’s strategic aims.
RT: A large number of Islamic State fighters reportedly come from Tunisia. Why is that?
DG: It was estimated at one point that the actual majority of foreign fighters in Syria were of Tunisian origin, over 3,000… They’ve also fought in Libya; they’ve fought in terrorist campaigns in Algeria. There are many different reasons; part of it is a kind of extremist backlash against the extremist secularism of the previous President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and his predecessor [Habib Bourguiba]. But I think a lot of it is just simply to do with the economics and finances. There is very high unemployment in Tunisia. It is rumored that you can get up to $27,000 a year for going to fight for ISIS… Billions of dollars were put into these sectarian militias to build up these groups by Saudi Arabia and the USA as a bulwark against the resistance axis of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. These billions of dollars are still slushing around.
‘Attack might be publicizing Ansar al-Sharia’s merger with ISIS’
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, also commented on the Tunis museum attack.
RT: No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Who in your view is most likely to be behind it?
Brian Levin: The most likely would probably be Ansar al-Sharia which is a radical Salafist terrorist group which started in Tunisia shortly after the Tunisian revolution in January, 2011. It was formed three months later by a fellow named Abu Ayadh. That is the most likely suspect, although, ISIS affiliates are present in neighboring Libya as well.
RT: Do you think the attackers were pursuing any particular goal with this terrible assault?
BL: Yes, I would think that if it is Ansar al-Sharia or if Ansar al-Sharia is using this to publicize some kind of merger with ISIS – this would be the time and the place to do it. Tunisia, as I said, in an area where ISIS has been exporting its brand of radicalism. That is one thing – Tunisia is Western friendly and it has got a strong economy.
RT: Earlier, a warning for tourists had been issued calling on them not to visit certain areas. Is this kind of attack in Tunisia a rare event and just how dangerous is the country for travelers?
BL: There have been advisories put out about travel to Tunisia. Its biggest industries are in fact tourism and minerals. It is a democratic society and it is Western friendly. Its economy is strong [but] it relies on these exports and tourism. And an attack like this could really hurt the economy in a place where there is fragility with respect to the economic situation. Remember again, Tunisia was the success story of the Arab Spring. This is the time and the place where groups like ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia are trying to make radicalism an imprint there and in the neighboring countries as well.
RT: The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that IS was behind the attack. Do you believe that that is likely?
BL: It could be in a sense to the extent that these actors had the same goal… Ansar Al-Sharia is allying itself with the al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa. The fact of the matter is it very well could be ISIS. ISIS does have an imprint in North Africa. One of the things that ISIS had wanted to do even when it was just AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] back in 2004, they wanted to export their terrorism to places like Jordan, and now has an imprint in places like Libya which neighbors Tunisia.
The government believes strategic threats posed to Britain are not serious enough to merit insulating military spending from budget cuts, according to a report by a top defense think-tank.
The paper by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) centers on the economics of defense under austerity.
It concludes: “The government is not yet convinced that strategic security risks are high enough to justify an exemption for defense from austerity.”
The findings jar with recent statements by politicians and leading generals on the dangers faced by the UK.
In February, the top British officer in NATO – General Sir Adrian Bradshaw – referred to Russia as an “obvious existential threat to our whole being,” while Prime Minister David Cameron has called the rise of the Islamic State a “mortal threat.”
The investigation also indicates Britain is unlikely to meet the symbolic spending of 2 percent of GDP on defense, expected by NATO in coming years, and that thousands of soldiers could be cut irrespective of who wins the general election this year.
It warns that up to 30,000 service personnel could be axed. Given the Royal Navy may be largely exempt from redundancies, to ensure it can crew Britain’s aircraft carriers, the army could be forced to handle 80 percent of the intended reductions.
The report comes at a difficult time for David Cameron who this week faces a rebellion by a number of Tory MP’s over defense cuts.
Last week Bob Stewart, an army colonel turned Tory MP, argued defense is in a “parlous state” and that service chiefs should resign over cuts. He suggested he might step down himself, either as an MP or from the influential Defence Select Committee.
UK allies are also worried. General Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the US Army, recently told the Telegraph he was “very concerned” at the cuts being made to the UK’s armed forces.
He criticized Chancellor George Osborne’s refusal to confirm whether the UK will meet NATO member states’ spending target of 2 percent of respective national GDP.
“What has changed, though, is the level of capability. In the past we would have a British Army division working alongside an American army division,” he added. Cuts mean the US Army now expects Britain to provide only half its previous commitment.
Ukraine’s Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said his radical movement rejects the Minsk peace deal and that their paramilitary units in eastern Ukraine will continue “active fighting” according to their “own plans.”
The notorious ultranationalist leader published a statement on his Facebook page Friday, saying that his radical Right Sector movement doesn’t recognize the peace deal, signed by the so-called ‘contact group’ on Thursday and agreed upon by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia after epic 16-hour talks.
Yarosh claimed that any agreement with the eastern militia, whom he calls “terrorists,” has no legal force.
In his statement, Yarosh claimed that that the Minsk deal is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, so Ukrainian citizens are not obliged to abide by it. Thus if the army receives orders to cease military activity and withdraw heavy weaponry from the eastern regions, the Right Sector paramilitaries, who are also fighting there “reserve the right” to continue the war, he said.
The Right Sector paramilitary organization continues to deploy its combat and reserve units, to train and logistically support personnel, while coordinating its activities with the military command of the Ukrainian army, paramilitary units of the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry, he said.
The breakthrough Minsk agreement was reached on Thursday following marathon overnight negotiations between Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia, and offer hope the fighting in Eastern Ukraine may come to an end. The talks were part of a Franco-German initiative. President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Kiev and Moscow before meeting the Russian and Ukrainian leaders at the negotiating table in Minsk.
Several senior US and French officials, including US Senator John McCain, entered Syria illegally – without proper visas – on separate occasions, thus violating the country’s sovereignty, Syria said in a complaint submitted to the United Nations.
The list of officials also included former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former US diplomat Peter Galbraith, according to a letter dated December 30 cited by Reuters and AFP.
In the letter, Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council to put additional pressure on governments to implement “the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally.”
“Such actions are a blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and of the resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria,” Ja’afari said.
The letter included complaints from “certain journalists and prominent figures” entering Syria illegally, pointing out McCain’s visit to the country in June 2013, as well as Kouchner’s visit in November 2014 and Galbraith’s in December 2014, along with other US political and military leaders.
Former Kuwaiti politician Walid Tabtabai is also mentioned as making an illegal visit in September 2013.
At the time, McCain’s spokesperson only confirmed that the former Republican presidential candidate visited Syria in May 2013 to meet with Syrian rebels.
McCain responded to the complaint by downplaying the accusations, and in turn accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of the “massacre” of his own people.
“It is a sad but unsurprising truth that the Assad regime is less concerned with its massacre of more than 200,000 men, women and children than it is my visit with those brave Syrians fighting for their freedom and dignity,” McCain’s statement said. “The fact that the international community has done virtually nothing to bring down this terrible regime despite its atrocities is a stain on our collective moral conscience.”
According to earlier media reports, McCain crossed into Syria in May 2013 from Turkey with General Salem Idris, who was in charge of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, and stayed there for several hours before returning.
During the visit, the senator met with leaders of Free Syrian Army units in Turkey and Syria.
McCain’s visit created a media storm, especially after a picture surfaced of him posing with allegedly IslamicState-linked jihadists (formerly ISIS/ISIL).
The original claim came from Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who accused McCain of unknowingly meeting with Islamic State fighters.
Among the Senator’s other controversial visits was a trip to Ukraine in December 2013 amid mass anti-government protests. During the visit, McCain met with Ukrainian opposition leaders in the country’s capital of Kiev, voicing his support for the protests, adding that he saw Ukraine’s future with Europe.
Also, back in 2011, McCain visited Benghazi to meet the Libyan rebels, calling them “my heroes.” McCain boldly stated that the fall of the ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would inspire people all over world – including in Russia – which raised eyebrows globally.
“We believe very strongly that the people of Libya today are inspiring the people in Tehran, in Damascus, and even in Beijing and Moscow,” said McCain.
McCain’s travel tendencies landed him on Russia’s black list in March, part of Russia’s retaliation against US-led sanctions. The list bans the Senator along with other individuals from traveling to Russia as well as freezes any of his assets there.
Syria’s government and opposition will hold talks in Moscow on the resolution of the Syrian crisis, advisor to the Syrian president Bouthaina Shaaban told RT Arabic.
Syria and Russia agreed that the “intra-Syrian dialogue will begin in Moscow,” Shaaban told RT Arabic during an interview in Damascus on Thursday.
She elaborated that Damascus has been in consultations with Moscow regarding “the starting point of this dialogue, its objectives, and mechanisms for its implementation, as well as the composition of its participants”.
Prospects for using Moscow as a venue for contacts between the two sides of the Syrian conflict were a focus of talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary General’s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on Thursday, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. During the meeting which took place in Basel, Switzerland the two parties agreed that anti-terrorism efforts are the top priority in the intra-Syrian talks.
Last month Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem for the first top level talks between the two countries since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011. The two discussed “bilateral relations” behind closed doors in the Black city resort of Sochi on November 26, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“The timing of the visit plays an important role. It was the first meeting with President Putin since the beginning of the crisis in Syria. This visit was symbolic and at the same time very productive,” stressed Shaaban.
The president’s political and media advisor explained that during the consultations, Moscow and Damascus agreed on the “principle approaches of stopping this war waged against us.”
“Both parties understand that for the revival of Syria it must put an end to terrorism,” she elaborated.
The social and humanitarian situation in the Arab Republic is “complex”, the Syrian top official noted. She expressed regret that some Arab and regional forces as well as those of “international terrorism” have joined against Syria in the war she believes is “inequitable.”
‘US want twenty years of war to eliminate ISIS? ’
Shaaban criticized the US for its move to create a coalition “outside the UN Security Council and outside the boundaries of international law”. She reiterated Syria’s stance on the US-led airstrike targeting IS militant positions in the Arab nation – that they are an illegal intervention and do not respect the sovereignty of Syria.
She cited President Bashar Assad’s statement that these air strikes fail to provide any tangible result, while the main fight against the terrorists is carried out on the ground.
IS militants – formerly ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿish –have “covert international support that enables to transfer weapons and give financial aid to terrorists,” Shaaban admitted.
High-level experts work for these terrorists she stated questioning from where they came.
“Therefore, in dealing with IS militants we will rely on our own capabilities, a new coalition that is being created between Russia, Syria, and countries” that stick to their statements and promises.
“At the same time, the West, in my personal opinion, pursues other objectives, participating in the [US-led] coalition. The West, above all, is trying to save the US military industry, attracting finances of the Gulf Arab countries in order to save relevant US companies,” she said.
The top official explained that this is the reason “they say that it will take ten or even twenty years to destroy IS militants.”
“… to destroy 30,000 IS militants the US needs twenty years of war?” she questioned.
Syria which has a history amounting to 10,000 years has seen many conflicts and wars, but it will stand, while IS militants and other terrorist groups are bound to fall, Shaaban said.
Who is to blame for the proliferation of extremist groups in Syria? The West often points a finger at Assad and his allies, but two secret US documents tell a different story.
It is difficult to find US officials directly claiming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in league with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but you will find plenty who will allude to it using specious reasoning:
US Secretary of State John Kerry is one of many who have sought to encourage this narrative:
“There is evidence that Assad has played footsie with them (ISIL), and he has used them as a tool of weakening the opposition. He never took on their headquarters, which were there and obvious, and other assets that they have. So we have no confidence that Assad is either capable of or willing to take on ISIL.”
That logic forms the basis of several key arguments used by Syria’s opponents to suggest a covert and symbiotic relationship between the Syrian government and Islamist extremists. They go something like this:
• Assad encouraged the growth of militants to create an either-or dilemma for Syrians who want him deposed, but who fear “what comes next.”
• Assad released militants from prison in 2011 so that they would overwhelm secular moderates.
• Proof of this is that the Syrian Army does not attack ISIL targets.
• Assad has a close history with militants – he sent hundreds over the border into Iraq to join the insurgency against US forces and is now suffering blowback.
But as a global confrontation with ISIL mounts, an entirely different picture has begun to emerge. The US-led coalition’s five Arab Sunni partners are providing little less than fig-leaf cover for airstrike operations. NATO has been unable to wrest – to date – a commitment from Turkey to enforce serious border security to stop militants from crossing over into Iraq and Syria. In recent weeks, Western media has unleashed a flurry of articles pointing to Qatar’s role in funding extremists.
Clearly, America’s Sunni Arab and Turkish allies are approaching the “ISIL Project”’ with something less than enthusiasm.
On Thursday, US Vice President Joe Biden let the cat out of the bag. During a speech at Harvard University, Biden told his audience:
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks… the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
He, of course, failed to mention Washington’s own arming, training and funding activities coordinated with these very same allies. Predictably, Biden was forced to “apologize” for his undiplomatic comments over the weekend.
But just last month, during a hearing in the US Senate for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Senator Lindsey Graham asked: “Do you know of any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL?”
To the surprise of many, Dempsey countered: “I know of major Arab allies who fund them.”
The revelations keep flowing from once tight-lipped Western sources. According to US news reports, current and former officials now say wealthy Gulf donors are the source of early funding:
“These rich individuals have long served as ‘angel investors’ for the most violent militants in the region, providing the ‘seed money’ that helped launch ISIS and other jihadi groups… Former U.S. Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis says the cash flow from private donors is significant now and was even more significant in the early fund-raising done by ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front,” NBC’s Robert Windrem wrote in an article.
And on Saturday, the UK’s former Assistant Chief of the Defense Staff General Jonathan Shaw, who specialized in counter-terrorism and security policy and retired in 2012, told The Telegraph :
“This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education, Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money and that must stop.”
The ‘Assad-has-encouraged-extremism’ argument
Has the Syrian government exploited extremism while at the same time fighting a three-year nationwide military campaign to thwart it? Perhaps. Politics are opportunistic by nature.
But the narrative about Assad encouraging Islamist militancy has always failed to note the historic role of armed Islamists in Syrian “rebellions.”
A US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document that was declassified in 2012 provides a starkly different reading of events leading up to the controversial “Hama massacre” of 1982. It tells a story remarkably similar to events in Syria beginning in early 2011. Here is a montage of quotes from the document:
“In early 1979, encouraged by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood developed a plan to trigger a similar popular revolution in Syria to oust (Hafez) Assad. The massacre of 50 Alawite cadets, on 16 June 1979 at the Artillery School in Aleppo, signaled the start of the MB offensive.”
The Syrian MB regroups for a “new round of fighting” in late 1980, announces the formation of an “Islamic Front”’ and increases cooperation with the Sunni (Baathist) government of Iraq which had helped the MB covertly in 1979-80 to oust Assad.
“The plan, apparently developed by the leadership of the Syrian MB and probably coordinated with Iraq, centered on two complementary actions. The first was a full-scale revolt by the city of Hama, a traditional Brotherhood stronghold and the location of its covert headquarters in Syria. Once this rebellion was unleashed, similar uprisings were to take place in Aleppo, Damascus and other major cities, accompanied by a general strike designed to paralyze Syria…”
“Simultaneously, a sophisticated worldwide propaganda campaign was to be launched supporting the rebellion and emphasizing its victories and the wholesale desertion of Army units to the rebel side. Press releases were to be made in Europe and the US, while propaganda broadcasts against Syria were to be carried by the Phalange-controlled Voice of Lebanon and the Iraqi-controlled Voice of Arab Syria.”
“At least 100 militants were transported from Jordan, where they had taken refuge, into Iraq where they probably received training prior to their movement into Syria… Sometime after this, the infiltration of ‘Secret Apparatus’ militants began from staging areas in Iraq, and to a lesser degree from Turkey, where others had fled. During the interim period, a number of terrorist bombings and shootings took place in Syria to demonstrate the Brotherhood/dissident Alawites ability to strike at the government.”
“As a result of Syrian security actions, the MB was forced to prematurely unleash the Hama rebellion with the hope that it might spark widespread fighting in other cities… The rebellion would also force the Damascus government to become even more oppressive. The Brotherhood leadership believed this would, in turn, cause greater alienation of the Assad government from the Sunni Muslim majority and within the Alawite community.”
“On February 2, following a clash between the MB and Syrian security forces, the loudspeakers atop the mosque minarets in Hama called on the people to begin a Jihad (Holy Struggle) against the government. The appeal also told the people that arms were available at specified mosques. At about the same time, teams of the MB’s ‘Secret Apparatus,’ some in army uniforms, moved to attack preselected government targets in the city.”
“Despite the propaganda reporting, the uprising in Syria had never spread outside of Hama, although some limited bombings had taken place in Damascus and elsewhere… The total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300-400 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’… The Syrian dissidents’ modus operandi will continue to be terrorism, particularly bombings and assassinations.”
WikiLeaks: Syria’s government and terrorism
On February 24, 2010, a Cable classified as ‘Secret’ was dispatched from the US Embassy in Damascus to the CIA, DIA, National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of Homeland Security and a smattering of key US embassies in the Middle East and Europe.
It details the communications between Syria’s General Intelligence Director (GID) Ali Mamlouk who dropped in on a meeting between Syria’s Vice Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad and a US delegation, headed by State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin.
The participants discuss possible future security and intelligence cooperation on issues related to terrorism, particularly on the Syria-Iraq border.
What is notable about this US-framed communiqué is that the American delegation does not take any of the Syrian officials in the room to task for “encouraging and coordinating” the passage of extremist fighters from Syria into Iraq to participate in an insurgency against US forces. This accusation has become a key narrative advanced by Washington in recent years, so why not challenge the Syrians face-to-face when the opportunity is there?
According to the Cable, Benjamin says “the two countries should still work to cooperate on immediate threats facing both the U.S. and Syria, including the proliferation of takfiri groups in the region, such as al-Qaeda, and stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.”
The Syrian response? According to the US Cable:
“Mamlouk said the foreign fighters come from a large number of Arab and Muslim countries and that the Syrians detain ‘large numbers plus their local facilitators.’ As an example, Mamlouk said he handed over 23 Saudis detained in Syria to Saudi Prince Muqrin last year.”
The US delegation even acknowledges the fact that the Syrians have been helpful:
“Benjamin commended Mamlouk on reducing the flow of foreign fighters, while encouraging further progress.”
And the Syrians offer additional cooperation, provided that Damascus takes the lead in these efforts:
“Miqdad interjected that the issue of foreign fighters using Syrian soil is a matter of national security for Syria. ‘We have zero tolerance,’ he said. Miqdad said Syria needs the cooperation of other countries, namely those from which the terrorists are coming. ‘If we can close this circle – with us, you, and other countries – we will succeed,’ he concluded.”
The Cable does reveal some interesting information about Syrian strategies in dealing with terrorism, which Mamlouk says differs considerably from the American approach:
“The GID Director said Syria had been more successful than the U.S. and other countries in the region in fighting terrorist groups because ‘we are practical and not theoretical.’ He stated Syria’s success is due to its penetration of terrorist groups. ‘In principle, we don’t attack or kill them immediately. Instead, we embed ourselves in them and only at the opportune moment do we move.’ Describing the process of planting embeds in terrorist organizations as ‘complex,’ Mamlouk said the result had yielded been the detention of scores of terrorists, stamping out terror cells, and stopping hundreds of terrorists from entering Iraq.
Mamlouk acknowledged some terrorists were still slipping into Iraq from Syria. ‘By all means we will continue to do all this, but if we start cooperation with you it will lead to better results and we can better protect our interests,’ he concluded.”
War of words
The tactics described by Mamlouk explain, in part, why Syrian forces today do not typically launch assaults on terrorist groups unless there is an immediate and direct threat to its military strategy of maintaining control over key areas and disrupting rebel supply lines.
While groups like ISIL are viewed as a security threat, they have not always posed an imminent one.
For the better part of the Syrian conflict, ISIL has not controlled the “priority zones” of the Syrian Army.
Those areas have always been Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and their surrounding countryside (Rif), with Quseir and Qalamoun, Daraa, Tal Kalakh and other border towns playing an important role. When ISIL fighters have been present in those areas, the Syrian Army has fought them – as in Qalamoun and the Damascus suburbs.
In early 2014, pro-opposition writer and researcher A.J. Tamimi questioned in detail accusations of collaboration between the Syrian government and ISIL/al Nusra. Among his many points, Tamimi notes:
“One must ask what the regime would gain strategically by constantly bombing ISIS strongholds in Raqqa province, or ISIS strongholds elsewhere, for that matter, located far beyond the frontlines. As in the wider east of Syria, the regime lacks ground forces to launch an offensive to retake any territory in Raqqa province, and must depend on airlifts from elsewhere to maintain its remaining airbases. Hence, the regime is focusing its airstrikes where it has some real expectations of advancing: most notably in Aleppo city.”
Nevertheless, the Syrian air force did take immediate action when ISIL escalated in Mosul in June, which changed the geopolitical dynamic well beyond the Syrian-Iraqi border. Kerry is misleading when he suggests that Assad will not strike ISIL headquarters: this is about timing and gains from both a military and political perspective – not necessarily a response that trigger-happy Americans can understand.
As for accusations that the Syrians have released militants from their prisons to “populate” ideologically extremist rebel groups that will make Assad look like an angel… You can’t have it both ways – political prisoner releases were initiated to defuse conflict and demonstrate leniency. Were some of these prisoners “extremists” of the variety that man Islamist rebel groups? Almost certainly. But that was the Sunni constituency that the Syrian government was also trying to placate in the early days.
Even today, after grueling “reconciliation” negotiations, the Syrian government is allowing these very rebels to “go free” after they lay down their arms – this, according to volunteers involved in negotiations from Homs to Rif Damascus. What is to stop these same “reformed rebels” from hopping over to al-Raqqa and taking up bigger arms? Should the Syrian government kill them instead? How does one win in a situation like this?
Critics of Syria’s prisoner releases should be reminded of the “Big One” carried out by the Americans in 2009 when they allegedly freed future ISIL ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from an Iraqi prison.
Does anyone have the right to point fingers after that monumental gaff? The fact is – from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, from Turkey to the United States, from Iraq to France – there appears to be plenty of complicity in fueling ISIL and the jihadi phenomenon. Is Syria complicit too? It depends who is asking – and why.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani