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November 23, 2017

Give Thanks To MoA

It is Thanksgiving. It will soon be Christmas. Please consider to give some thanks, or a Christmas present, to this site.

Moon of Alabama publishes original content, stuff that is hard to find elsewhere. It provides fact checked no-nonsense writing on a (nearly) daily basis. The site is free. It has an open and lively comment section. It is the full-time effort of this single person.

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The growing readership of the blog and your feed back keep me going. But I also need to eat and pay rent. Thus every donation to this Poor Poet, be it $5, $50 or $500, is welcome and needed. A recurring contribution or institutional sponsorship would be great.

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Thanks!

Bernhard aka b.

Posted by b on November 23, 2017 at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Syria - This U.S. Occupation - Or "Presence" - Is Unsustainable

[It takes time and effort to write such analyses. Please consider to support their publication.]

The U.S. is now occupying north-east Syria. It wants to blackmail the Syrian government into "regime change". The occupation is unsustainable, its aim is unattainable. The generals who devised these plans lack strategic insight. They listen to the wrong people.

The Islamic State no longer holds any significant ground in Syria and Iraq. What is left of it in a few towns of the Euphrates valley will soon be gone. Its remnants will be some of several terror gangs in the region. Local forces can and will hold those under adequate control. The Islamic State is finished. This is why the Lebanese Hizbullah announced to pull back all its advisors and units from Iraq. It is the reason why Russia began to repatriated some of its units from Syria. Foreign forces are no longer needed to eliminate the remains of ISIS.


Map by Southfront - bigger

In its UN Security Council resolutions 2249 (2015) for the fight against ISIS the UNSC was:

Reaffirming its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unity of all States in accordance with purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter,
...
Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, ... on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL ... and entities associated with Al-Qaida ... and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;

There is no longer any "territory under the control of ISIL". Its "safe havens" have been "eradicated". The task laid out and legitimized in the UNSC resolution is finished. It is over. There is no longer any justification, under UNSC Res 2249, for U.S. troops in Syria or Iraq.

Other legal justifications, like an invitation from the legitimate governments of Syria and Iraq, could apply. But while Syria has invited Russian, Iranian and Lebanese forces to stay in its country it has not invited U.S. forces. These are now illegally occupying Syrian land in the north-east of the country. The Syrian government explicitly called it such.

(One wonder how long it will take the sanctimonious European Union to sanction the U.S. for its egregious breach of international law and for violating the sovereignty of Syria.)

According to official documents more than 1,700 U.S. troops are currently in Syria. The publicly announced number is only 500. "Temporary" forces make the up the difference. (Overall U.S. troop numbers in the Middle East have increased by 33% over the last four month. The numbers doubled in Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. No explanation has been given for these increases.)

The U.S. troops in Syria are allied with the Kurdish YPG. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the internationally designated Kurdish terrorist organization PKK. Only about 2-5% of the Syrian population are of Kurdish-Syrian descent. Under U.S. command they now control more than 20% of Syrian state territory and some 40% of its hydrocarbon reserves. This is thievery on a grand scale.

To disguise its cooperation with the Kurdish terrorists, the U.S. renamed the group into the "Syrian Democratic Forces" (SDF). Some Arab fighters from east Syrian tribes were added to it. These are mostly former foot-soldiers of ISIS who changed sides when the U.S. offered better pay. Other fighters were pressed into service. The people of the Syrian-Arab city Manbij, which is occupied by the YPG and U.S. forces, protested when the YPG started to violently conscript its youth.

New troops were added to the SDF during the last days when ISIS fighters escaped from the onslaught of Syrian and Iraq forces in Abu Kamal (aka Albu Kamla aka Bukamal). They fled northwards towards YPG/U.S. held areas. Like other ISIS fighters the U.S. helped to escape their deserved punishment these forces will be relabeled and reused.

The Russian Ministry of Defense accused the U.S. of blocking the lower airspace over Abu Kamal while its Syrian allies were trying to liberate it. For eight days Russian high flying long range bombers had to come all the way from Russia to provide support for its troops on the ground. In a recent TV speech the leader of the Lebanese Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, accused the U.S. troops in Syria of providing drone intelligence to ISIS in Abu Kamal. ISIS used it to shell Syrian and allied forces. Several high officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in such attacks. Nasrallah also said that the U.S. used electronic warfare measures to disable the radios of the attacking force. He said that it rescued fleeing ISIS troops. Nasrallah's accusations are consistent with reports from the ground. (The U.S. and its allies also continue to supply other terrorist groups in north-west and the south-west of Syria.)

Neither Nasrallah nor the IRGC will forget those misdeeds. The operation commander of the IRGC, General Quasem Soleimani, recently reported to Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei:

All these crimes have been designed and implemented by US leaders and organizations, according to the acknowledgement of the highest-ranking US official who is currently president of the United States; moreover, this scheme is still being modified and implemented by current American leaders.

The U.S. has changed its rule of engagements and unofficially declared a no-fly zone for Russian and Syrian planes on the east side of the Euphrates. It says that it will attack any force that crosses the river to pursue ISIS. It is openly protecting its terrorists.

Ten days ago the U.S. Secretary of Defense General (rtd) Mattis announced U.S. intentions to illegally occupy Syria:

The U.S. military will fight Islamic State in Syria “as long as they want to fight,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, describing a longer-term role for U.S. troops long after the insurgents lose all of the territory they control.
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“We’re not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has traction,” he added.
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Turkey said on Monday the United States had 13 bases in Syria and Russia had five. The U.S-backed Syrian YPG Kurdish militia has said Washington has established seven military bases in areas of northern Syria.

A report in today's Washington Post is more specific. The fitting headline: U.S. moves toward open-ended presence in Syria after Islamic State is routed:

The Trump administration is expanding its goals in Syria beyond routing the Islamic State to include a political settlement of the country’s civil war ..
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With forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies now bearing down on the last militant-controlled towns, the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria could be imminent — along with an end to the U.S. justification for being there.

U.S. officials say they are hoping to use the ongoing presence of American troops in northern Syria, in support of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to pressure Assad to make concessions at United Nations-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
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An abrupt U.S. withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival — an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally.

To avoid that outcome, U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northern Syria — where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF against the Islamic State — and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas.
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“By placing no timeline on the end of the U.S. mission . . . the Pentagon is creating a framework for keeping the U.S. engaged in Syria for years to come,” [said Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.]

Even the propaganda writers at the Washington Post admit that there is no longer any justification for a U.S. presence in Syria. The U.S. intent is to commit blackmail: "to pressure Assad to make concessions". The method to do so is military "presence". There is no way that Syrian government and its people will give in to such blackmail. They did not fight for over six years to give up their sovereignty to U.S. intrigue. They will call the U.S. bluff.

No military handbook includes "presence" as a military mission. There are no rules for such an undefined task. The last time the U.S. used the term was in the early 1980s during the civil war in Lebanon. The task of U.S. troops stationed in Beirut was defined as showing military "presence". After such units and naval forces of the U.S. interfered on one side of the civil war, an aggrieved party took revenge against the U.S. and French military stationed in Beirut. Their barracks were blown up, 241 U.S. and 58 French soldiers died. U.S. military "presence" in Beirut ended.

The U.S. military "presence" in Syria is likewise doomed.

The U.S. alliance with the YPG/PKK pushes Turkey into an alliance with Russia, Iran and Syria. Several thousand Turkish soldiers and civilians have died due to PKK attacks. Last week Russian transports planes crossed through Turkish air space on their flights from Russia to Syria. This was a first. The U.S. had urged its NATO allies, including Turkey, to prevent such flights and Russian planes had to take the longer route through Iranian and Iraqi air space. Due to the U.S. alliance with the YPG and for many other reasons Turkey feels alienated from the U.S. and NATO. It is moving into the "resistance" camp.

The northern border between Turkey and Syria is thus closed for U.S. supplies to its forces in north-east Syria. Towards the west and south Syrian forces and their allies prohibit any U.S. supplies. Iraqi Kurdish territory to the east is for now the only way for a land supply route. But the government in Baghdad is allied with Iran and Syria and it is pushing to regain control over all the border posts of Iraq, including those still held by the Kurds and used by the U.S forces. Several Iraqi militia who fought ISIS under Iraqi government command have announced their hostility to U.S. forces. The Iraqi government may try to reign them in but they will hardly vanish. The U.S. land supply route through Iraqi-Kurdish areas can thus be closed at any time. The same goes for any air space around Syria's north-east.

The north-east of Syria is surrounded by forces hostile to the U.S. On top of that many Syrian people in the now occupied north-eastern Syria continue to be loyal to the Syrian state. Syrian, Turkish, Iranian and Hizbullah intelligence are working on the ground. There are lots of local Arabs hostile to Kurdish overbearance. The U.S. bases, outposts and all its transports in the area may soon come under sustained fire. While Russia said that it will not intervene against the U.S. allied SDF forces, many other entities have motives and means to do so.

The mission of the 1,700+ U.S. troops in north-east Syria is undefined. Their supply routes are unsecured and can be blocked by its enemies at any time. The local population is largely hostile to them. All of the surrounding countries and entities have reasons to attain the end of any U.S. presence in the area as soon as possible. It would require a ground force that is at least ten-twenty times larger to secure the U.S. presence and its communication and supply routes.

The presence is as useless and unsustainable as the southern U.S. presence at al-Tanaf.

Trump had spoken out against such occupation and interference in the Middle East:

The U.S. president [..] campaigned on a pledge to avoid getting sucked into intractable conflicts.

The military junta that controls Trump and the White House, (former) generals McMaster, Kelly and Mattis, are not acting in the interest of the United States, its citizens and troops.

They are following the call of the Zionist Jewish Institute for National Security of America which is pushing for a war on all Iran related entities and interests in the Middle East. JINSA advertises its huge influence on the higher U.S. officer corps. It is not by chance that a recent speech at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington described The U.S. Military as a Zionist Organization. But like other such wish-wash, it fails to explain why unquestioned support for a colony of east-European racist in west Asia is of "American interest".

The military mission of the U.S. occupation force in north-east Syria is undefined. It positions are not sustainable. The aim this "presence" is said to have is unattainable. There is no larger concept into which it fits.

The generals ruling the White House may be tactical geniuses in their fields. They are neophytes when it comes to strategy. They blindly follow the siren call of the Lobby only to again wreak the U.S. ship of state on the cliffs of Middle Eastern realities.

Posted by b on November 23, 2017 at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

November 22, 2017

Support This Poor Poet!

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A recent BBC Breaking "Exclusive" showed how the U.S. and its proxy forces made a deal with the Islamic State. Under U.S. supervision hundreds of ISIS fighters in Syria were allowed to leave the besieged Raqqa. This site reported the *breaking* news when it happened, a full month earlier than the BBC.

Moon of Alabama provides news and analysis which mainstream media cover late, or not at all. That's not an easy feat. This site is free. It offers information which is hard to find elsewhere. It offers original thought and no-nonsense writing on a (nearly) daily basis. It has an open and lively comment section. It is the full-time effort of this single person.

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The growing readership of the blog and your feed back keep me going. But I also need to eat and pay rent. I have little other income. Thus every donation to this Poor Poet, be it $5, $50 or $500, is welcome and needed. A recurring contribution or institutional sponsorship would be great.

Transaction costs are smallest when you send cash or a check. You can also use a bank-wire transfer. Send email to MoonofA @ aol.com for the necessary details.  (They as the same as before.) You can use a credit card or other means when you donate through the PayPal button below.

Thanks!

Bernhard aka b.

Posted by b on November 22, 2017 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Google Does Evil

Up to about 2006 or 2007 Google provided an excellent search engine. It then started to prioritize and present more general results even where one searched for very specific information. It became cumbersome to search for and find details. The situation has since further deteriorated.

The Google News search is now completely useless. It delivers the main stream media trash without showing divergent views or opinions. What is the use of a search result page that links to twenty sites with the same slightly rewritten Associated Press story?

Google's algorithms now amount to censorship. Since August it downgrades websites that offer alternative views to the left of the pack. Searches that earlier led to the World Socialist Web Site or to Media Matters no longer show these sites, or show them way down the result pages. Traffic to these sites collapsed.

This week Google announced that it will censor RT.com, the website of the international Russian TV station: Google will ‘de-rank’ RT articles to make them harder to find – Eric Schmidt. Schmidt, the CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet, claims that he is "very strongly not in favor of censorship.” That is a laughable. Intentional downgrading a website that has relevant content IS censorship. Down-ranking means that less people will find and come to the site. Its content will have less viewers. It will be censored out of the public perception.

The original Google algorithm used the number of links to one site as a measure for its relevance. It was reasonable. In 2004 Google's founder proclaimed:

“Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating … We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.”

Back then the motto of Google was "Don't be evil". When its new parent company Alphabet was launched that motto was discarded.

Google has become a prime cooperator and contractor for U.S. intelligence services. The private data it collects from it users is fed the dark-site's databases.

But its new evilness is not restricted to data. The company ran a campaign against homeless people near its headquarter in Venice California (video). Google conspired with other tech-giants to keep the wages of its engineers down.

Since its beginning Google had some intimate connections with U.S. intelligence services (Long read: part 1, part 2). The relation is a two way street. Google Earth and its map products were, for example, originally created by U.S. intelligence services. They were given to Google for practically nothing. Google makes profits from advertisements within those products. It is providing special versions back to the intelligence people. One can only speculate how much of its user data comes with those versions.

Google's smartphone operation system Android collects users’ locations even when location services are disabled. There is no technical reason to do such. There is no reasonable explanation from Google why it does so.

Google early on sold out to the Democrats. Eric Schmidt is a Clinton/Obama acolyte. During the Obama administration Goggle's staff had at least 427 meetings at the White House. Emails from the letterbox of Clinton advisor Podesta, published by Wikileaks, show how Schmidt offered to promote Clinton even a year before she launched her campaign. Google paid staff helped her to organize.

Maybe Google was just buying goodwill with the White House to protect itself against the various anti-trust lawsuits it is engulfed in. It will do anything to avoid regulation of its monopolistic position and to protect its highly profitable business.

It is now, like other internet companies, under pressure to support the war party in creating a new Cold War with Russia. The "de-ranking" of RT.com show that it is willing to do so. It is degrading the quality of its product in exchange for political good-will from warmongers.

The best and most benign search engine available now is DuckDuckGo. Its quality is as good as Google's once was.

I recommend to use it as the standard and to avoid Google and its products wherever possible.

It is evil.

Posted by b on November 22, 2017 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

November 21, 2017

Russia In Syria - Military 'Failure' Sets Off Intense Diplomacy

Western media predicted that the Russian military campaign in Syria would end in `failure`. That - presumably - has been achieved (not). Now follows a push of diplomatic efforts to settle the war.

In September 2015 the "west" prepared for an open military aggression on Syria. The purported aim was to fight ISIS and to stop the migrant flow into Europe. The real aim was "regime change". Russia stepped in by sending its cavalry to Syria:

The U.S., Britain, France and others announced to enter Syrian skies to "fight the terror" of the Islamic State. Russia will use the same claim to justify its presence and its air operations flying from Latakia. Simply by being there it will make sure that others will not be able to use their capabilities for more nefarious means. Additional intelligence from Russian air assets will also be helpful for Syrian ground operations.

The Obama administration was surprised by the Russian (and Iranian) intervention. It had no sensible means to counter it. The administration and the U.S. commentariat tried to hide this impotence by predicting that the Russian campaign would fail.

Obama himself led the pack:

“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House on Friday ...

As reminder, and for your amusement, an incomplete list of the then published "Russia fails" nonsense:  

In October 2015, in the mid of the above propaganda onslaught, the presidents of Russia and Syria met in Moscow. It was a warm meeting despite the NY Times groundless efforts to portrait it as "chilly". The plans were laid for the military efforts to regain the country. They were successfully implemented. Russia's "quagmire" in Syria turned out to be a Well Designed Campaign.

The U.S. tried its best to hinder Syrian and Russian progress in the war. But despite Obama's unrelenting efforts, the Syrian alliance managed to regain control over Aleppo, Palmyra, Deir Ezzor and most of the south-east. The borders to Lebanon and Iraq are open and secured. Russian pressure turned Turkey around. Local ceasefires were arranged in over 2,500 towns and hamlets. The Islamic State is defeated. The Syrian army is again fully equipped and a fearsome force.

Yesterday the Syrian President Bashar al Assad again met President Putin. Assad remarked:

I am very glad to have this opportunity to meet with you two years and several weeks after Russia launched a very successful operation.

Over this period, we have achieved major success both on the battlefield and on the political track. Many regions in Syria have been liberated from the terrorists, and the Syrians who had to flee from these regions can now return there.

After several hours of talk Putin introduced Assad to Russia's military leaders. He noted:

As you know, we will hold a trilateral meeting here in Sochi. However, I would like to say that conditions for a political process could not have been created without the armed forces, without your efforts and the efforts and heroism of your subordinates. This goal has been achieved thanks to the Russian Armed Forces and our Syrian friends on the battlefield. Thank you for this.

Since 1945 the U.S. military has, arguable, won no war. (No, Grenada does not count.) Russia demonstrated in Syria how it is done. This must be food for thought to "western" staffs.

Yesterday's meeting was the launch event for the main diplomatic campaign to end the war. Today Putin held phone conservation with U.S. President Trump, the Saudi King, the Emir of Qatar, the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Israel. Tomorrow he will meet President Rouhani of Iran and President Erdogan of Turkey. In parallel a meeting of high military officials of the Syrian-Russian alliance takes place. Saudi Arabia is cleansing the "High Negotiations Committee (HNC)" opposition group it supports. The uncompromising head of the HNC, Riyad Hijab, was fired. The groups meets in Riyadh on November 22. On November 28 another round of talks under UN supervision will be held in Geneva. Russia is planning to host a gathering of about 1,300 Syrians representing the revamped opposition on December 2.

Syria's will to fight, the reliability of its allies and Russian military competence have turned the war around. The Putin-Assad meeting in Sochi sets the foundations for a lasting peace.

There are remaining challenges: Al-Qaeda still controls Idleb governate, Israel protects Jihadi groups along the Golan heights, 1,700 U.S. soldiers and their Kurdish proxy forces try to establish themselves in north-east Syria. The Zionist lobby is pressing in Washington to prolong the war. It will take another year or two, and require more fighting, to overcome these issues. But the conditions to solve the remaining problems are now clearly in place. The diplomatic push by Russia and Syria will find solutions for many if not most of the unsettled problems.

The U.S. commentariat was wrong in predicting a failure of the Russian military campaign. It will continue to sow doubt over Russia's diplomatic efforts. It will try to hinder and denigrate Syria's progress in regaining full sovereignty over its land and people. 

No longer should anyone fall for such bullshitting.

Posted by b on November 21, 2017 at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (89)

November 20, 2017

The Saudi System And Why Its Change May Fail

The Saudi clown prince Mohammad Bin Salman is an impulsive tyrant. But what accounts for his urge to purge the country of any potential competing power center Why does he run a such an activist foreign policy? The answer might be Iran. Not Iran the country, but Iran the system.

Since the U.S. war on Iraq the sclerotic Saudi Arabia continuously lost standing in its region. The Iranian model gained ground. A decade later the authoritarian Arab systems were challenged by the so called "Arab spring". While the movements in the various countries -as far as they were genuine- have failed, they were a warning sign for things to come.

Saudi Arabia reacted to the challenges by moving away from a sedate, consensual run family business towards a centrally controlled, supercharged tyranny. The move allows for more flexible and faster reactions to any future challenge. But it also increases the chance of making mistakes. To understand why this endeavor is likely to fail one needs look at the traditional economic and social system that is the fabric of the country. The fate of the Hariri dynasty is an example for it.

Since Salman climbed the throne he has moved to eliminate all competition to his rule. The religious establishment was purged of any opposition. Its police arm was reigned in. First crown prince Murqrin was removed and then crown prince Nayef. They were replaced with Salman's inexperienced son. Economic and military powers were concentrated in his hands. During the recent night of the long knives powerful family members and business people were detained. The Wall Street Journal reports of a second arrest wave. More higher ups have been incarcerated. This round includes senior military commanders and very wealthy business people.

 

As the prison for the arrested VIPs, the Ritz-Carlton hotel, is fully booked, the next door Mariott is now put to use. Qualified staff was hired to handle the prisoners:

As many as 17 people detained in the anti-corruption campaign have required medical treatment for abuse by their captors, according to a doctor from the nearest hospital and an American official tracking the situation.
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The former Egyptian security chief, Habib el-Adli, said by one of his advisers and a former Egyptian interior minister to be advising Prince Mohammed, earned a reputation for brutality and torture under President Hosni Mubarak.

After the torture reports spread due to employees of local hospitals, a medical unit was established in the Ritz itself.

My assertion in earlier pieces, that one motive of the arrest wave was to fleece the prisoners, has been confirmed. The arrested rich people are pressed into "plea deals" in which they give up their assets in exchange for better treatment and some restricted kind of freedom. The aim is to "recover" up to $800 billion in so called "corruption" money. Thousands of domestic and international accounts have been blocked by the central bank of Saudi Arabia. They will eventually be confiscated. But Saudi billionaires have long been looking for ways to park their money outside of the country. The accounts which were blocked are likely small change compared to their total holdings in this or that tax haven. Historically the recoveries of such assets is problematic:

Asset recovery programs never really go quite to plan. They are beset by obstacles -- most often in the form of wealth squirreled away offshore and political infighting over wealth seized onshore.

Most likely, Saudi Arabia will obtain a sliver of these assets -- say in the tens of billions of dollars -- a useful, but temporary, gain. What happens after that depends on how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman re-sets relations with business.

The financial success of the MbS raids will be small. The financial damage he causes with his jihad against his own family members will be significant. It ruins his plans for attracting foreign investment:

“Half my Rolodex is in the Ritz right now. And they want me to invest there now? No way,” said one senior investor. “The wall of money that was going to deploy into the kingdom is falling apart.”

One can not steal money from some people and then expect other people to trust assurances that such could never happen to them. MbS's big plans for Neom, a $500 billion artificial city financed by foreign investors, will fall apart.

 

To accuse princes and high officials of "corruption" is a fancy excuse. "Corruption" is how business is done in Saudi Arabia. It is tightly connected to the traditional ruling system. The king and his son are trying to change both:

Foreign investors tend to enter the Saudi market via partnerships with established business franchises or princes as they seek to exploit their domestic clout to navigate a complicated bureaucratic landscape.

The same goes for any state tender. To contract for building a road or public housing a company will have to find a prince or high official with the necessary clout. To get a tender signed it will have to promise, or pay upfront, a share of the expected profits. When the job is finishes it will need to come back to its protector to get its bill paid. No money will flow for the delivered work unless another bribe is handed over. Contracts are calculated with 40% on top to compensate for these necessary lubricants.

The systems works. The Saudi State has enough money to compensate for such distribution. The system is only problematic when a contractor delivers shoddy work, but can still bribe his patron into accepting it. Drainage man-hole covers in Saudi streets without the necessary drainage tunnels below them are a well known and despised phenomenon.

 

Rafic Hariri, the father of the Lebanese premier minister Saad Hariri, built a construction empire in Saudi Arabia by paying the right people. He knew how to work within the  system. He was also a capable manager who ran his business, Saudi Oger, well. He was also the Saudis man in Lebanon and did his best to fulfill that role.

His son Saad never got a grip on the business site. By 2012, seven years after Rafic Hariri had been assassinated, the family business in Saudi Arabia ran into trouble:

Almost a year ago, the Saudis began keeping an eye on Hariri’s company, which reeked of corruption. Several high-ranking officials – some close to Saad Hariri – were accused of theft and extortion. But Hariri could not find a solution to the crisis, nor was he able to restore the confidence that the company lost in the market.

So he began a major pruning operation, laying off lower-level employees without any indication of objections to their job performance. The dismissals did not even spare Saudi nationals, leading to widespread dissent.
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The Saudis once treated the company with care, providing it with contracts in the region’s biggest oil economy. Now, the company is suffering from internal disputes and theft. It became closer to a scrapyard for the Kingdom.

Saad Hariri had the wrong contacts, bribed the wrong people and delivered shoddy work which made his company an easy target. He also failed to be a reliable Saudi asset in Lebanon. There the Shia Hizbullah gained in standing while the Sunnis, led by Hariri, lost political ground.

The Hariri company took up large loans to finance its giant construction projects for the Saudi government. But by 2014 oil prices had fallen and the Kingdom simply stopped paying its bills. It is said to own $9 billion to the Hariri enterprises. Other Saudi constructions companies, like the Bin Laden group, also had troublesome times. But they were bailed out by the Saudi government with fresh loans and new contracts.

No new contracts were issued to Hariri. No new bank loans were available to him and his bills were not paid. The Saudis demanded control over Lebanon but Hariri could not deliver. In July, after 39 mostly successful years, Saudi Oger went out of business. The Hariri family is practically bankrupt.

Hariri's two youngest children, 16 and 12 years old, are kept hostage in Saudi Arabia. After the recent trip to Paris his wife also returned to Riyadh. The French President Macron had intervened and Hariri was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia. But Macron failed (intentionally?) to free him from Saudi influence. Hariri's financial means and his family are under control of the Saudi tyrant. He is not free in any of his political, business and personal decisions.

Hariri is pressed to now drive a political hardline against Hizbullah in Lebanon. He knows that this can not be successful but his mischievous Saudi minder, the Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer, does not understand this. His boss, MbS, believes that the whole world can and should be run the same way he wants to run his country.

 

Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker has long observed how business is done in Saudi Arabia. He had portrait the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. His recent observations at a nightly desert picnic explains how the wider al Saud family used to run the country:

It was almost midnight when the prince held a Majlis, a traditional Bedouin ceremony in which tribesmen come to pay their respects and ask for charity. A line of men in white robes and red-and-white Arab headdresses stretched into the darkness. One by one they approached, removing their sandals, bowing and handing him pieces of paper. Some recited poetry. The prince scribbled on each cover sheet and put the papers on a stack.

Saudi Arabia used to run on such patronage:

Saudi society is divided by tribe, region, sect, degree (or nature of religiosity), and class. Although these various groups are only rarely organized in formal structures outside of the state, many developed special connections with specific state bodies, turning the sprawling state apparatus into constituencies of sorts.
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Middle East expert Steffen Hertog has aptly described how the Saudi state emerged in the oil era: leading princes carved out structures they could dominate; state institutions worked in silos and coordinated poorly; and networks of beneficiaries, contractors, and influence brokers populated various bureaucracies. The Saudi state expanded rapidly into an uncoordinated group of what Hertog goes so far as to call “fiefdoms.”

High up princes take care of lower ranking ones. Each has common folks, clans or whole tribes he is supposed to take care of. Obedience is bought by controlling the "social" spending that trickles down through this pyramid. The princes make their money by having their fingers in, or "taxing", all kind of state businesses. It is this money that sponsors their luxurious life as well as the benefits they distribute to lower folks. This was never seen as corruption as it is understood in the west. For decades these tribute payments were simply owned to the princes. They had a birth-right to them.

MbS "corruption" ride is destroying that system without him having a replacement. Saudi Arabia has been run as a family business. Decisions in recent decades were taken by consensus. Every part of the family was allowed to have its cash generating fiefdom and patronage network. The rule of King Salman and his activist son are trying to change that. They want to concentrate all business and all decisions in one hand. But what will replace the old system?

 

Mohammad bin Salman's view of the world is that of Louis XIV - "L'etat, c'est moi" - I am the state. In his own view MbS is not just a crown prince or the future king of the state of Saudi Arabia. He, and he alone, is Saudi Arabia. He is the state. He let this view known in an interview with the Economist in January 2016:

[W]e have clear programmes over the next five years. We announced some of them, and the rest we will announce in the near future. In addition to this, my debt-to-GDP is only 5%. So I have all points of strength, and I have the opportunities to increase our non-oil revenues in many sectors, and I have a global economic network.

As I remarked at that time:

The young dude not only thinks he owns the country, he actually thinks he is the country. He has debt-to-GDP, he has ten million jobs in reserve, he has all women of Saudi Arabia as productive factor and he has scary population growth.

Does the guy understand that such an attitude guarantees that he personally will be held responsible for everything that will inevitably go wrong with his country?

Saudi Arabia and its state apparatus have for decades been build on an informal but elaborate system of personal relations and patronage. MbS expects that he can take out one part of the system, the princes and businessmen, and the rest will follow from that. That he will be the one to control it all.

That is a doubtful endeavor. The ministries and local administrations are used to do their business under tutelage. Eliminating the leadership caste that controlled them will not turn them into corruption free technocracies. Seeing the exemplary punishments MbS hands out at the Ritz the bureaucracies will stop working. They will delay any decisions out of fear until they have the okay from the very top.

Ten-thousands of tribal and clan leaders are bound to and depend on the patronage system. The hundreds of people who sought audience with Alwaleed bin Talal at the desert picnic will turn whereto? Who will take up their issues with higher authorities? Who will provide them with hand outs and the "trickle down" money they depend on?

Another target of Mohammed bin Salman's activities have been the religious authorities. Some critical sheiks have been incarcerated, others are held incommunicado. The Salman "revolution from the top" extends into their judiciary role:

Historically, Saudi leaders have propounded the view that the sharia is the country’s highest law and the overall legal system operates within its bounds.
...
the domination of the religious establishment in law is ending. The king and crown prince are clearly favoring (and fostering) religious figures who repudiate some long-standing official views.

Bin Salman is purging the religious establishment, the military, the competing members of the families, the business people and the bureaucracy. He wants to run the state on his own. He demands the right to review any decision in the legal, business and foreign policy realm. He has authority to punish people responsible for decisions he dislikes. Under his system any personal initiatives will become extinct.

The country is too big for one person to control. MbS can not take all decisions by himself. No large system can work like that. The people will soon become unhappy with his centralized and unresponsive control.

That centralization does not work well is already visible in his failing foreign policy. MbS wants to be seen as the indisputable "leader of the Islamic world". His hate for everything Iran originates there. The Iranian system of a participatory and democratic Islamic state is a living alternative to the autocratic model he wants to implement in Saudi Arabia. The western model of a "liberal democracy" does not adapt well to the historic social models that are prevalent in the Middle East. But the Iranian system is genuine and fits the local culture. It is the sole competition he fears. It must be destroyed by any means.

But all his attempts to counter Iran (even where it was not involved) have been unsuccessful. Saudi interventions in Yemen, Qatar, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have been disastrous. Over the weekend the Arab League delivered the usual criticism of Iran but decided on nothing else. Half of the Arab League states, including the powerful Egypt, are not willing to follow the aggressive Saudi course. Mohammed bin Salman's grand scheme of using Israel and the U.S. to fight Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iran itself is unraveling.

The Saudi response to the competition of the Iranian system is a move towards more authoritarian rule. This is hoped to allow for more agile policies and responses. But the move breaks the traditional ruling system. It removes the sensible impediments to impulsive foreign policies. It creates the conditions for its very failure.

Posted by b on November 20, 2017 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (82)

November 19, 2017

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2017-42

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Nov 13 - Yemen - Having Lost The War Saudis Try Genocide - Media Complicit

No progress has been made towards lifting or breaking the total Saudi blockade. There are new rumors of an imminent attack of Saudi proxy forces on the capital Sanaa. All earlier attacks failed miserably.

Nov 14 - Revealed - Saudis Plan To Give Up Palestine - For War On Iran

Has anyone seen other English language sites pick up the Al-Akhbar report? I continue to believe that it is true and important to understand the ongoing issues.

Nov 15 - The Non-Coup Coup In Zimbabwe

A new tick-tock report of the preparations and execution of the non-coup coup is here. China and South Africa were informed and had agreed to an unbloody internal regime change. The U.S. was in the known but not involved. Action was planned for mid December when Mugabe was expected to lift his former mistress "Gucci" Grace into the leading position. It was pushed forward when Mugabe fired his (coup plotting) vice-president.

An unofficial account of the leading party in Zimbabwe tweeted today:

ZANU PF @zanu_pf - 3:49 AM - 19 Nov 2017

We have recalled president Mugabe, he is no longer the president of ZANU PF. May he leave with grace.

Nov 16 - Syria Summary: The Idlib Battle Comes Into Sight

At noon local time today the last ISIS held city, Abu Kamal (aka Albu Kamal, AlBoukamal) in east-Syria, was declared liberated. Remaining ISIS fighters fled northwards across the Euphrates into areas controlled by the U.S. proxy force SDF. They will be relabeled and reused. An unimpeded road drive between Beirut in Lebanon and Tehran in Iran is again possible.

Nov 17 - NATO Adds To Turkey's Chagrin

Erdogan aligned media assert now that the subject of the troublesome NATO exercise in Norway was an attack on Turkey. The issue stays hot.

Nov 18 - Is Satire "Fakenews"? - How Fact-Checkers Peddle Snake-Oil

A fitting New Yorker cartoon on the issue:

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Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 19, 2017 at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (89)

November 18, 2017

Is Satire "Fakenews"? - How Fact-Checkers Peddle Snake-Oil

Since the issues of alleged "fake news" and "Russian influence" have cropped up, several media institutions highlight their public fact-checkers. Social media companies hire them to filter "fake news" from their content.

Traditional fact-checkers within a newsroom considered the veracity of the pieces their own reporters wrote up. They corrected factual mistakes before those were printed or aired. The new crop of fact-checker is testing the veracity of claims made other media outlets and public entities.

The Tampa Bay Times's PolitiFact is one of the oldest and biggest of these organizations. It was founded in 2007 and has offices in several states. Like all such entities it has a certain political flavor. Thus the supposedly neutral fact-checking site PolitiFact gets fact check by a site named PolitiFact Bias.

Last week Amy Sherman wrote an important piece for PolitiFact. Facebook users had pointed her to this month old report about a military court case:

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant facing charges of desertion, walked out of a military courtroom during a pre-trial hearing Monday and has not been seen since approximately 10:35 AM, prompting a statewide manhunt for the missing soldier.

Sources inside the courtroom say that Bergdahl took only a half-full Camelbak and a long hunting knife with him as he calmly made his way to the exit during his own lawyer’s remarks to the judge regarding a possible plea deal.
...
Pentagon leadership is offering an unusual reward for information on Bergdahl’s whereabouts: $25,000 or seven Guantanamo detainees, depending on the credibility of the information.

The fact-checker applied the best of her abilities to debunk the assertions of the above piece:

"Bowe Bergdahl wanders off during court-martial," said the October headline in Duffel Blog.
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Facebook users flagged the post as being potentially fabricated, as part of the social network’s efforts to combat fake news. This story is fake.
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We rate this headline Pants on Fire.
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Multiple news outlets including the AP reported that Bergdahl entered a plea of guilty during the Oct. 16 hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He didn’t wander off during his hearing.

"I understand that leaving was against the law," Bergdahl testified.

(Liar Liar) "Pants on Fire" is the worst rating on PolitiFact's truthiness scale.

But something is wrong with "fact-checking" when such rating is applied to satirical content. For those brain-dead folks who do not recognize satire in the hilarious screwiness of its content the Duffel Blog's About page provides it in very clear words:

Everything on this website is satirical and the content of this site is a parody of a news organization.

Each and every story the well known Duffel Blog ever published is "fake news". It is the essence of its existence. Satire is "fake news" and the anti-thesis that we need to synthesize with the thesis of "real news" to then develop new insight. It increases our knowledge and understanding. It is also fun.

One may laugh about a fact-checker rating satire as "fake news" but such ratings have serious consequences. PolitiFact is working with Facebook to flag "fake news" on its (a)social network.

When PolitiFact ratings influence the way Facebook displays or handles information, then satirical news will no longer be ranked out of view of most Facebook users. Indeed user may be blocked or kicked off the network for spreading "fake news" when they post links to Duffel Blog pieces. Facebook and others automate such processes. When PolitiFacts labels something as "fake news" the consequences can be serious and may hit immediately.

How does satire fit into such the very confined concept of "fake news"? And what about "conspiracy theories"? Are they"fake news"? Here is a list of 58 historic cases of alleged "false flag" attacks. In most of these cases the "conspiracy theorists" turned out to be right. Governments committed the attacks under a false flag, blamed them on their enemies and used them to influence the public. People who were doubtful when these government assertions were made were labeled "conspiracy theorists". But what was really "fake news" - the governments' claims or the opinions of those who did not believe them? How would PolitiFact have judged them?

What is "fake news" when a UN report asserts that the Syrian government used Sarin in Khan Sheikhun but can not explain why - according the same report - 47 of the casualties were hospitalized before the alleged incident happened?

To label something "fake news" is a subjective judgement. Fact-checkers claim they can discern whether something is true or not. Schrödinger's cat can explain why that might be a problem.

Fact-checking does not provide truth. It claims objective judgement but can not provide such. At most it compares sources and assigns a higher credibility to some of them over others. The choice of the preferred source is subjective. Moreover fact-checking limits speech and thought. Fact-checking provides censorship.

The fact-checking by PolitiFact and other such outlets is a manipulation tool in the hands of those who finance and promote such sites. Truth is rarely absolute. What is regarded as truth can change over time. A year on today's real news may turn out to have been fake all along. The "fake news" conspiracy theory of today may be proven correct by tomorrow. Satire, parody and sarcasm are "fake news" by their definitions. They may still carry real news within them.

No society should give any authority or regards to sites like PolitiFact. They are snake-oil salesmen. They peddle absolute truth when, thankfully, none exists.

Posted by b on November 18, 2017 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

November 17, 2017

NATO Adds To Turkey's Chagrin

There has long been speculation about a Turkish good-bye to NATO.

The U.S. and its military proxy organization in Europe are doing their best to further such a move:

The image of Atatürk was displayed as a target during the drill at NATO’s Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway held between Nov. 8 and Nov. 17, while a NATO soldier posted defamatory words about Erdoğan on the social media.

Atatürk is the founder of the secular Turkey. He was designated as "target" during a desk-top drill. NATO's Joint Warfare Center is not a low level school but an elite officer training institution led by a Major-General. The 40 Turkish soldiers who attended the training course were immediately ordered back home.

Secularists in Turkey have long suspected NATO as promoting "moderate Islamists". That belief is not without factual ground. U.S. President Obama allied with the Muslim Brotherhood during the so called "Arab Spring". But the second incident at the very same NATO institution points to a more comprehensive anti-Turkish position:

A Kurdish-origin Norwegian officer signed up to a social networking website within NATO, using a fake account in the name of President Erdoğan and sharing posts against the organization.

To vilify the Turkish secularist hero Atatürk and its Islamist President Erdogan in related occasions is a comprehensive move against the whole country.

NATO's political spokesperson Jens Stoltenberg, a Norwegian politician, apologized for the incidents. It will soothe no one.

A comparable incident happened in 2006. U.S. Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters published a map with redrawn borders of Middle East in the Armed Forces Journal. The map showed a "Free Kurdistan" and Turkey cut to half its size.

The map was then presented by an American colonel at the NATO’s Defense College in Rome while Turkish officers were attending. An uproar ensued and the U.S. had to apologize.

In July 2016 parts of the Turkish military attempted a coup against Erdogan. Turkish jets which attacked the capitol Ankara had launched from the U.S. and NATO base in Incirlik. When the attempt failed several NATO countries granted asylum to Turkish officers who did not want to return to their home country.

After the failed coup Turkey decided to buy Russian air defense systems. The move makes sense. The alternative U.S. systems are suspected to be ineffective against attacking U.S. planes and missiles. The Russian S-400 systems is designed to counter threats from U.S. weapons.

Turkey is a partner in the U.S. F-35 fighter jet program. It has plans to purchase one hundred of them. Now the U.S. Air Force suggests that the deal could be restricted:

If Turkey moves forward with its buy of a Russian air defense system, it will not be permitted to plug into NATO technology, and further action may be forthcoming that could affect the country’s acquisition or operation of the F-35, a top Air Force official said Wednesday.
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Analysts worry that Turkey operating both the S-400 and F-35 together could compromise the jet’s security, as any data collected by the air defense system and obtained by Russia could help expose the joint strike fighter’s vulnerabilities. For a platform like the F-35, whose major strengths are its stealth and data fusion capabilities, that would be a disaster.

[The deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, Heidi] Grant, agreed that a S-400 acquisition creates issues for Turkey’s use of the F-35.
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Her comments echoed those of Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s military committee. In October, Pavel said that Turkey is free, as a sovereign nation, to make its own decisions in regards to military procurement, but will face “consequences” if a S-400 buy goes through.

Buying a Russian air defense system is not unprecedented for a NATO state. In 1997 Cyprus bought Russian S-300 systems, ironically to defend against Turkish jets. The Cyprus Missile Crisis ensued and the weapons ended up in Greece where they also serve to keep the Turks away. Greece also flies U.S. made jets.

In Syria the U.S. is arming, training and fighting together with the YPK, a sister organization of the Kurdish PKK which is pursuing a guerilla campaign against the Turkish army and state.

The personal disparaging of Turkish politicians by NATO, U.S. involvement in a coup attempt, restrictions on weapon buys and U.S. cooperation with Turkey's enemy are amounting to an open affront. 

It is obvious that NATO is no longer a reliable ally for Turkey. This view is independent of who holds the Turkish presidency. The strategic situation would not change if Erdogan would be replaced by some secular nationalist figure.

Turkey fields NATO's second biggest army. With more than 80 million people it is a large emerging military and economic power. It controls the Bosporus and thereby access to the Black Sea. It has influence in the Balkans as well as in the Central Asian "Stans". It is a crossing point for major energy pathways including the new Russian TurkStream pipeline which will deliver Russian gas to south-Europe.

The is little that hinders Turkey from leaving NATO and from joining a tacit alliance with Russia. Russian fighter jets are as good as the U.S. designed F-35. Even Turkey's economic interests seem to be better aligned with Russia's than with north-Europe or the United States. The voices in Turkey that demand a realignment are gaining ground. The editors of the Erdogan friendly Daily Sabah write:

The U.S. is not the enemy, but neither is it acting like a friend. Its actions are against Turkey's interests as well as its own. Now is the right time for Turkey to formulate its own independent regional policy.

Russia and Iran with their sounder anti-Daesh and counterterrorism policies need to be at the center of measures Turkey will implement from now on. After all that's happened, one thing is certain: The U.S. should definitely be kept out of Turkey's regional policy concerns.

The Zionist lobby in the U.S. has long argued to kick Turkey out of NATO. Such a separation may indeed come true. But it would be Turkey that would leave NATO and not the other way around. The effects would be quite different than those expected a decade ago.

Posted by b on November 17, 2017 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

November 16, 2017

Syria Summary: The Idlib Battle Comes Into Sight

There have been few significant movements during the last weeks. The war on Syria slowly grinds towards its end. The political tussle continues as ever. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis made a curious announcement of plans he can not fulfill.


General Situation on November 3 - bigger

Our last Syria summary looked at the situation around the last refuge area of the Islamic State near the Syrian-Iraqi border:

The twin-cities of Abu Kamal (al-Bukamal) in Syria and al-Qaim in Iraq are ISIS' last urban refuge. The cities are on the south site of the Euphrates with the important border crossing between them. Coming from the east Iraqi government troops retook the al-Qaim crossing today. They now control the border and are breaking into the city proper. Syrian government forces approach Abu Kamal from the north-west and from south-east.
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The U.S. proxy forces north of the Euphrates announced that they had taken several oil-fields north of the river and were also progressing towards Abu Kamal. The Syrian government and its allies fear that the U.S. [is trying to take] Abu Kamal itself. It could then claim to have control over the border crossing towards Iraq and severe that important line of communication. A race is on to prevent that.


Situation on November 10 - Abu Kamal is at the bottom right of the map - bigger

For a few days it seemed that Syrian government forces were easily winning the race. Coming through Iraq, troops moved deep into Abu Kamal and found it empty. They prematurely declared victory but had been deceived. ISIS used tunnels to move undetected into well prepared positions and attacked them from the rear. The Syrian forces were badly mauled and had to retreat.

Since then more troops have arrived and are now ready to launch an all out attack. Coming from Russia long range bombers hit ISIS positions. The U.S. is trying to make such support more difficult by claiming an "air corridor" over the city:

Russia on Tuesday accused the United States of providing de-facto cover for Islamic State units in Syria
..
Specifically, the Russian Defence Ministry said the U.S. air force had tried to hinder Russian strikes on Islamic State militants around Albu Kamal.

In October, after the U.S. made a deal with ISIS fighters to evacuate Raqqa, it had escorted foreign ISIS fighters towards Abu Kamal:

He says the convoy went to the countryside of eastern Syria, not far from the border with Iraq.
...
From the cab of his truck, Abu Fawzi watched as a coalition warplane flew overhead, dropping illumination flares, which lit up the convoy and the road ahead.

Abu Kamal is now well defended with the most ferocious ISIS troops inside. They have nowhere to go. It will be difficult to dig them out of their positions. Meanwhile the U.S. SDF proxy forces north of the Euphrates move further towards the area.

But the whole SDF concept is in trouble. The U.S. proxy forces are led by Kurds. They need local Arabs to take the remaining areas north of the Euphrates but the Arabs do not want to fight under Kurdish command. Talal Silo, the SDF spokesperson, just defected to Turkey. With such allies any semi-permanent U.S. position in Syria is further in doubt.

 

East of Damascus a mix of militant groups, including Al-Qaeda, are still holding the area of East Ghouta. Last month a propaganda campaign (implausibly) claimed that people in the surrounded area were starving. On October 30 a large Red Cross convoy was dispatched from Damascus and delivered supplies to East Ghouta. Twelve days later the militants in East Ghouta launched an attack on the surrounding Syrian army positions. At the same time they fired salvos of missiles and mortars into the capital and killed several civilians there. People there are wondering how the militants managed to acquire fresh ammunition.

The aim of the terrorists (green) is to cut off and capture a Syrian army base (red) that protrudes into the area. A Syrian general was killed during their attack, the militants capture some positions (blue) and vicious fighting is ongoing. It may take a week or two to defeat these attacks and to regain the lost positions.

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The U.S. and Russia agreed on a deconflicting area in the south-west of Syria, next to the Golan heights and the Jordan border. There is a significant ISIS contingent near the Golan height which is protected by Israeli artillery. Israel claimed that the new deconflicting agreement will forbid Iranian led groups or Lebanese Hizbullah forces to come near to the area. Russia denied that any such restrictions are part of the deal. When the right time comes ISIS and other militants in the area will be fought down by whatever group in the Syrian government alliance is available. It does not matter how much Netanyahoo is howling about "Iran". Israel is not in a position to launch any significant attack and will not be allowed to have any say on the issue.

 

In the north-east of Syria Al-Qaeda and its allies are still holding Idleb governate and Idleb city. As soon as the Syrian army operations at Abu Kamal are finished, Idelb will become the main battlefield. Already troops were put into position for an all out attack. Probing moves on several axes were launched to disperse the al-Qaeda fighters over a wide area. Several towns were liberated in a move towards the Ad Duhur area.


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Over the next six month Idelb governate will be at the center of the war. Al-Qaeda, which rules the area, is not willing to give up without a fight. They are Takfiri terrorists. There is nothing to negotiate with them.

The Syrian government position is now better than at any other point of the war. It can concentrate experienced forces and it has the full support of significant allies. Syria's external enemies have mostly given up. It is unlikely that al-Qaeda will have and significant new supplies or support. I expect the fighting for Idleb province to be intense but relatively short.

 

U.S. Secretary of Defense General Mattis has announced that he wants to stay in Syria:

The U.S. military will fight Islamic State in Syria “as long as they want to fight,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, describing a longer-term role for U.S. troops long after the insurgents lose all of the territory they control.
...
He also stressed the importance of longer-term peace efforts, suggesting U.S. forces aimed to help set the conditions of a diplomatic solution in Syria, now in its seventh year of civil war.

One wonders if Mattis has cleared the issue with his president. It is wishful thinking. Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Russia are against any residual U.S. troops in Syria. The U.S. has absolutely no right to be in the country. That its troops were so far allowed to operated there, was conditioned on the fight against ISIS. When ISIS has lost the last area it still holds, that fight will be over and the U.S. will have to leave. The rest of ISIS will be nothing more than a defeated guerilla movement on the run which the Syria government can easily hold down and eventually destroy.

Preparations have already been made to fight the U.S. troops in Syria should they not move out on their own. Local cells have been prepared in the north-east to attack U.S. forces wherever they move. The U.S. public does not support the hostile occupation of another Arab state. With all surrounding countries against a U.S. stay, Mattis' announcement is clearly of an unsustainable endeavor. Sec Def Mattis will have to climb down from his position. He is another example for the inability of military men to grasp a bigger political situation.

 

Large parts of Syria and its cities were damaged or destroyed by the war against its sovereignty. But destroyed cities can and will be rebuild. The wounds will heal. This picture of some devastated street in east-Aleppo exemplifies the hope and will of its people. Ahmed is back and reopened his shop. Five years on these streets will again be full of life.


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Posted by b on November 16, 2017 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

November 15, 2017

The Non-Coup Coup In Zimbabwe

Yesterday's coup in Zimbabwe is of global interest. The country is one of the few that have long resisted the colonial "western" attempts to control its mineral and agricultural riches. Such coups are often driven by the CIA or other "services". But there is no evidence yet that this is the case here. Local rivalry is for now the more plausible explanation.

Since 1980, when Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain, the country is ruled by Robert Mugabe. He has run an anti-colonial and socialist policy. Unfortunately his economic policies, together with "western" sanctions and currency manipulations, have devastated the country's economy. In 2000 Mugabe ousted some 4,000 white farmers who had owned and ran large estates. In a sweeping land reform the farms were split into plots and redistributed to local people. Agricultural productivity tanked and has since not fully recovered. A deep economic crisis with high unemployment ensued.

Mugabe is now 93 years old and apparently frail. There has long been infighting over his succession. Mugabe's wife "Gucci" Grace Mugabe and her children are well known for being exceptional corrupt and prodigal when it comes to their personal amenities. On November 5 Grace Mugabe asked her husband to be named as his successor.

On November 6 then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 73-year-old lawyer and veteran of the liberation wars, was ousted after a conflict with Grace Mugabe. Mnangagwa allegedly planned [long backgrounder] to form a unity government with the opposition and to bring back some of the white farmers. It is claimed that he has British backing but that the U.S. and the EU oppose him.

The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party is split in its loyalties to these two persons. The G40 "youth-wing" is following Grace Mugabe while the old guards of the party despise her.

Yesterday the military moved into the capital Harare. At 4am this morning Major-General Sibusiso Moyo appeared on TV and announced that it has taken control. It denies that coup has taken place. In a statement the military "guaranteed" Mugabe's safety and said that it was only targeting "criminals" around him. Mugabe and his family have been put under house arrest. There has been so far no fighting and no visible public opposition to the "non-coup coup". Traffic and life in the capitol appears to be normal (vid).

According to the African editor of the partly Soros funded IRINnews:

Obi Anyadike @Enugu62 5:02 AM - 15 Nov 2017

This is all to do with stopping Grace Mugabe from taking over. The assumption is the military will keep Robert Mugabe on ice. Purge those around him. Bring back ex-VP Emmerson Mnangagwa from South Africa. And have him anointed at the ZANU-PF congress in December.

Your host has not followed the developments in Zimbabwe diligently enough to reliably predict the consequences of this development. Please use the comments to add your knowledge to the above wrap-up.

Posted by b on November 15, 2017 at 04:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (91)

November 14, 2017

Revealed - Saudis Plan To Give Up Palestine - For War On Iran

The tyrants of Saudi Arabia developed a plan that sells away Palestine. They see this as necessary to get U.S. support for their fanatic campaign against their perceived enemy Iran.

An internal Saudi memorandum, leaked to the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar, reveals its major elements. (Note: The genuineness of the memo has not been confirmed. In theory it could be a "plant" by some other party. But Al-Akhbar has so far an excellent record of publishing genuine leaks and I trust its editors' judgement.)

According to the memo the Saudis are ready to give up on the Palestinian right of return. They forfeit Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem and no longer insist of the status of a full state for the Palestinians. In return they ask for a U.S.-Saudi-Israeli (military) alliance against their perceived enemy on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf.

Negotiations on the issue were held between the Saudis and the Zionist under the aegis of the United States. Netanyahu and Trump’s "shared personal assistant, wunderkind Jared Kushner", is the point men in these negotiations. He made at least three trips to Saudi Arabia this year, the last one very recently.

The Saudi operations over the last month, against the internal opposition to the Salman clan as well as against Hizbullah in Lebanon, have to be seen in the context and as preparation of the larger plan. To recap:

  • Last week the current front-man of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, was ordered to Riyadh. There he was told to accept whatever will be presented as U.S. peace plan or to resign. He was urged to cut all Palestinian ties with Iran and Hizbullah:
Since the warnings, which could threaten the new Palestinian unity agreement signed by Fatah and the Iranian-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian media displayed a rare degree of unity in recent days by coming out against Iran.
  • On November 6 a letter by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahoo to Israeli embassies was intentionally "leaked". In it Netanyahoo urges his diplomats to press for full support for the Saudi plans in Lebanon, Yemen and beyond. On the same day Trump tweeted:
Donald J. Trump‏ @realDonaldTrump - 3:03 PM - 6 Nov 2017
I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing....

(The tweet was heavily promoted by Saudi Twitter bots.)

  • The Saudi tyrant abducted the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, and declared war on the country. The purpose of this move is to remove or isolate Hizbullah, the Shia resistance of Lebanon which is allied with Iran and opposes the Saudi plans for Palestine.
  • On November 11 the New York Times reported on the U.S. drafting of a "peace plan" but provided little detail. The chance for such a plan to succeed was described as low.

The left-wing Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar has obtained a copy of the plan (Arabic) in form of a memorandum by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir to the Saudi clown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (English machine translation):

The document, which is being unveiled for the first time, proves all that has been leaked since President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia last May on the launch of US efforts to sign a peace treaty between Saudi Arabia and Israel. This was followed by information on the exchange of visits between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, the most important being the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to the Zionist entity.

The document reveals the size of concessions that Riyadh intends to present in the context of the liquidation of the Palestinian issue, and its concern to get in return the elements of power against Iran and the resistance, led by Hezbollah.

The Saudi foreign ministry memo starts by laying out its strategic perspective:

To face Iran by increasing sanctions on ballistic missiles and reconsidering the nuclear deal, the Kingdom has pledged in the strategic partnership agreement with US President Donald Trump that any US-Saudi effort is the key to success.
...
Saudi Arabia's rapprochement with Israel involves a risk to the Muslim peoples of the Kingdom, because the Palestinian cause represents a spiritual and historical and religious heritage. The Kingdom will not take this risk unless it feels the United States' sincere approach to Iran, which is destabilizing the region by sponsoring terrorism, its sectarian policies and interfering in the affairs of others.

The Saudi paper describes the issues and process steps towards a deal in five points:

First: The Saudis demand a "parity of the relationship" between Israel and Saudi Arabia. On the military level they demand that either Israel gives up on its nuclear weapons or Saudi Arabia is itself allowed to acquire such.

Second: In exchange Saudi Arabia will use its diplomatic and economic power to push through a 'peace plan' between Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries along the lines that the U.S. will lay out. Within such a peace plan the Saudis, according to the memo, are willing to make extraordinary concessions:

  • The city of Jerusalem would not become capital of a Palestinian state but be subjected to a special international regime administered by the United Nations.
  • The right of return for Palestinian refugees, who were violently expelled by the Zionists, would be given up on. The refugees would be integrated as citizens of those countries where they currently reside.
  • (No demand for full sovereignty of a Palestinian state is mentioned.)

Third: After reaching an agreement of the "main principles of the final solution" for Palestine between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. (Israel), a meeting of all foreign ministers of the region would be convened to back these up. Final negotiations would follow.

Fourth: In coordination and cooperation with Israel Saudi Arabia would use its economic power to convince the Arab public of the plan. The point correctly notes "At the beginning of normalizing relations with Israel, normalization will not be acceptable to public opinion in the Arab world." The plan is thus to essentially bribe the Arab public into accepting it.

Fifth: The Palestinian conflict distracts from the real issue the Saudi rulers have in the region which is Iran: "Therefore, the Saudi and Israeli sides agree on the following:

  1. Contribute to counter any activities that serve Iran's aggressive policies in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's affinity with Israel must be matched by a sincere American approach against Iran.
  2. Increase US and international sanctions related to Iranian ballistic missiles.
  3. Increase sanctions on Iran's sponsorship of terrorism around the world.
  4. Re-examination of the group (five + 1) in the nuclear agreement with Iran to ensure the implementation of its terms literally and strictly.
  5. Limiting Iran's access to its frozen assets and exploiting Iran's deteriorating economic situation and marketing it to increase pressure on the Iranian regime from within.
  6. Intensive intelligence cooperation in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking supported by Iran and Hezbollah."

The memo is signed by Adel al-Jubeir. (But who were the 'advisors' who dictated it to him?)

The U.S. plan for peace in Palestine is to press the Palestinians and Arabs into anything Israel demands. The Saudis will agree to that, with minor conditions, if only the U.S. and Israel help them to get rid of their nemesis Iran. But that is impossible. Neither Israel nor the U.S. will agree to a "parity of relationship" for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia lacks all elements to become a supreme state in the Arab Middle East. Iran can not be defeated. 

Iran is the at the core of the Shia constituency and at the core of resistance to "western" imperialism. Shia and Sunni aligned populations in the Middle East (ex Egypt) are of roughly equal size. Iran has about four times the number of citizens the Saudis have. It is much older and cultured than Saudi Arabia. It has an educated population and well developed industrial capabilities. Iran is a nation, not a conglomerate of desert tribes like the desert peninsula under al-Saud. Its geographic position and resources make it unconquerable.

To defeat Iran the Saudis started proxy-wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and now Lebanon. They needed foot soldiers to win these wars. The Saudis hired and sent the only significant infantry they ever had at their disposal. Their hordes of al-Qaeda and ISIS fanatics were defeated. Tens of thousands of them have been killed on the battle fields in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Despite a global mobilization campaign nearly all the potentially available forces have been defeated by the local resistances on the ground. Neither the colonial settler state nor the U.S. are willing to send their soldiers into battle for Saudi supremacy.

The grant plan of the Trump administration to achieve peace in the Middle East is high on hopes but lacks all the necessary details. The Saudi's promise to support the U.S. plan if the Trump administration is willing to fight their nemesis Iran. Both leaderships are hapless and impulsive and both of their plans have little chance of final success. They will be pursued anyway and will continue to create an enormous amount of collateral damage. The Zionist entity feels no real pressure to make peace. It is already dragging its feet on these plans and will try to use them to its sole advantage.

Posted by b on November 14, 2017 at 05:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (162)

November 13, 2017

Yemen - Having Lost The War Saudis Try Genocide - Media Complicit

Fakenews:

From the last link:

Saudi Arabia reacting to UN famine warnings says ports in Yemen it controls will reopen for aid deliveries. Riyadh shut them down last week after a missile attack blamed on Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The above headlines are false. The Saudi government announced the re-opening of some Yemeni ports and airports. All of these are in the south and under control of Saudi proxy forces who are fighting the Houthi-Saleh alliance in north-west Yemen. Some 70% of the population lives in the north-western areas which will continue to be under an extreme blockade. The most important port in their area is Hodeida which will stay closed. Back in March the U.S. Pentagon tried to get control of the port. But fighting for it would have destroyed the piers and thereby the supply route for some 20 million people. The most important airport is in Sanaa. The Saudi/U.S./UK alliance blocks even UN flights with medical supplies from using it.

The Saudis now "request" the UN to send an expert commission to Riyadh to "discuss" procedures for future control of the ports that are not held by its proxies. Such a process will take weeks if not months. The Saudis will, like the Pentagon earlier, demand total control over the ports which their opponents will of course not give. Any such fighting will only worsen the situation.

Thanks to local smugglers some food and other goods will still be able to pass through the blockade. But these will be way too few and too expensive for the vast majority of Yemenis. When the recent blockade was announced, food and gas prices in Yemen doubled overnight. Public service employees have not been paid for more than 15 months. People simply can no longer afford to keep their children alive:

In Sana’a, Nor Rashid sold her family’s cow to pay for the transport costs to get her four year-old daughter, who weighs 16lbs, to the city’s feeding centre in Al-Sabaeen hospital. She has other children who are also sick but she cannot afford to pay for the medical care if she brings them in for treatment too. “It’s because of the lack of government wages,” she said. “Usually we go to the person in the village with a wage to ask for help and borrow money if someone needs to go to the hospital. But since the wages stopped we have no support.”

The UN warns, rightly, that the blockade is causing a mass famine. This famine is not a side effect of the war - it is a weapon:

To starve Yemeni civilians is an overt act by Riyadh, enraged by a humiliating failure to achieve a Saudi military victory.

The media claim that only 10,000 civilians have been killed in the two and a half years of the war. The number is laughable. Neither the UN nor others have published any detailed account. The 10,000 number seems to be plugged from hot air.  Compare, for example, the dates and content of these two reports:

Al Jazeerah - 31 Aug 2016: UN: At least 10,000 killed in Yemen conflict

The United Nations has significantly revised the estimated death toll from Yemen's 18-month civil war to up to 10,000 people
...
Speaking from the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said the new figure was based on official information from medical facilities in Yemen.

Al Jazeerah - 17 Jan 2017: Death toll in Yemen conflict passes 10,000

The United Nations' humanitarian aid official in Yemen has said that the civilian death toll in the nearly two-year conflict has reached 10,000, with 40,000 others wounded.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Jamie McGoldrick said that the figure is based on lists of victims gathered by health facilities ...

The same low number is claimed by the same official in August and in January while a devastating war has been ongoing throughout that time frame. That does not make sense. To provide a cynic laugh attack, or out of stupidity, the later Al Jazeerah report says:

The announcement marks the first time a UN official has confirmed such a high death toll in Yemen

Up to July 2017 the U.S.-Saudi coalition had flown more than 90,000 air-sorties over Yemen. Most of those will have involved weapon releases. Are we to believe that only 10,000 civilians have been killed by all these bombs and the additional artillery, sharpshooters and suicide attacks? That would be inconsistent even with western reports of the  known mass incidents during the war. 100,000 dead civilians caused by the war so far is a more likely number than the never changing 10,000.

On November 1 a Saudi bomb attack killed at least 29 people in a busy market in Saada. The Yemeni missile launch against the airport of Riyadh on November 4 was in response to that deadly Saudi attack. The Saudis claim that these Yemeni missiles are from Iran and the U.S. military is, without providing evidence, supporting that fairy tale:

[R]emnants of [the missile] bore “Iranian markings,” the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday.

"The Saudis found a sticker on the wreckage. It said Made in Iran."

In a video message the former Yemeni president explained that these missiles were from the large stash he bought before the ongoing war broke out.  According to IHS Janes these missiles are of North Korean origin (pdf) and were modified by the experienced Yemeni army missile forces.

In concert with Saudi propaganda's curious claims now pop up in U.S. media. Suddenly Afghan Shia fighters (Fatemiyoun) or Hizbullah from Lebanon are said to be fighting in Yemen. These claims make no sense. Explain, for example, the geography in this recent New York Times piece:

Not only did Iran send smaller units of the Fatemiyoun to cross Syrian borders and fight in Yemen, ...

How and why would Afghan Shia, who do not speak Arabic, enter the blockaded Yemen? There are millions of unemployed Yemenis in the besieged areas. They hate the Saudis. The Houthi surely have no lack of foot-soldiers.

In yesterday's TV interview the kidnapped Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri insinuated that he would be released by the Saudis if Hizbullah ends operations in Yemen. AP summarized:

[Hariri] singled out Hezbollah’s involvement in Yemen as the main cause of the kingdom’s ire.

But there is no reasonable evidence at all that any Hizbullah are in Yemen. In 2015 a Saudi diplomat claimed to "have reports" of Hizbullah trainers in Yemen without providing any of them. In 2016 the Saudi state owned Al Arabia TV posted a short video of which it claims that it shows a Hizbullah trainer teaching Houthis. No date or place or other information about the recording was released. In the two and a half years of the war on Yemen no reports from the ground emerged of any Hizbullah involvement or of wounded or killed Lebanese or Iranian or Afghan fighters.

The Houthis are no Hezbollah and they are not stooges of the Iranian government. Their alliance with Yemeni army troops loyal to former President Saleh gives them tactical and technical capabilities. Their weapons are either from old stocks or purchased from the large weapon markets in Yemen. The dealers buy these weapons from the groups the Saudi employ and generously equip and supply. Those Saudi controlled forces are the main suppliers of their designated enemies.

The Saudis are starving a whole country - with avid support of the "humanitarian" western world. The UN bureaucracy and leadership was bought off and is complicit. The Saudi tyrant kidnaps and blackmails the Prime Minister of a third country. All this because he fails to overcome the barefooted Houthi fighters in Yemen against which he started a senseless war. The Saudis invent Iranian involvement and the media avidly repeat their claims without any evidentiary support.

Literally millions are in imminent danger of dying. Meanwhile greedy "western" politicians are ass-kissing the Saudi freak of a clown prince and his senile father. They support whatever lunatic claim the Saudis make about their perceived enemies.

The next time you see one these creatures please punch its face.

Posted by b on November 13, 2017 at 09:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (56)

November 12, 2017

Open Thread 2017-41

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Nov 7 -Defeated Elsewhere, Saudi Tyrant Declares War On Lebanon

The quasi kidnapping of Saad Hariri has been reported in detail by Robert Fisk in The Independent, David Ignatius in the Washington Post and by a team of Reuters reporters. It is undeniable that Hariri is held against his will and was pressed to resign. Neither Trump nor Macron nor Merkel will be able to defend that. With the kidnapping MbS has achieved something everyone thought to be impossible. He made Saad Hariri likable.

Tonight Hariri will be interviewed in Saudi Arabia by a reporter of his own Future TV station. The interviewer will use a Saudi camera crew. She is also a parliament candidate for Hariri's party and on the Saudi payroll. The President of Lebanon has warned of believing anything Hariri says while he is in Saudi Arabia and under duress.

Nov 9 - Priti Patel Resigns - Israel Lobby Mourns The Loss Of A Valuable British Asset

It was too obvious that Patel was a tool of the Israel lobby. Many other politicians in "western" polities are similar tools, but better at hiding it.

Nov 10 - Saudi Arabia - This "Liberal Reformer" Is An Impulsive Tyrant

The stars are slowly turning against MbS. Only paid lobbyist still speak of him as a "liberal reformer". The kidnapping of Hariri seems to have broken the camels back. A real Bedu would have avoided that.

Nov 11 - Trump Points To Falsehoods In "Russian Hacking" Claims - Media Ignore What He Says

Trump makes one point every reasonable men should be able to agree to. Curiously it is the very one point on which the borg is united in fighting him.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 1:18am · 12 Nov 2017

When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!

Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 12, 2017 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (70)

November 11, 2017

Trump Points To Falsehoods In "Russian Hacking" Claims - Media Ignore What He Says

Each day we get more "Russian influence" and "Russian hacking" claptrap. Like this from the once honorable Wired which headlines:

Here's the first evidence Russia used Twitter to influence Brexit

Russian interference in Brexit through targeted social media propaganda can be revealed for the first time. A cache of posts from 2016, seen by WIRED, shows how a coordinated network of Russian-based Twitter accounts spread racial hatred in an attempt to disrupt politics in the UK and Europe.

Interesting, enthralling, complicate and sensational ...
                                                    ... until you get down to paragraph 14(!):

Surprisingly, all the posts around Brexit in this small snapshot were posted after the June vote.

"Russian-based Twitter accounts" influenced the Brexit vote in the UK by tweeting affirmative AFTER the vote happened.

"Russian agents" influenced the U.S. election by buying irrelevant Facebook ads - 25% of which were never seen by anyone and 56% of which were posted AFTER the election.

During a flight of his recent Asia tour U.S. President Donald Trump held a press gaggle on board of the plane. Part of it were questions and answers about the alleged "Russian hacking" of the U.S. election.

There is no public transcript available yet but the Washington Post's Mark Berman provided a screenshot of some relevant parts:

Mark Berman @markberman - 6:20 AM - 11 Nov 2017

Full comment from @realDonaldTrump again questioning the US intel community conclusion that Russia meddled last year

Note that the three (not four, not seventeen) U.S. intel agencies Berman talks of did not come to "conclusions" as he claimed. They delivered an "assessment" (pdf) - their word - an estimate or judgement based on observation of behavior and other vague data. Its Annex B points out:

Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.

In the gaggle transcript attached to Berman's tweet Trump talks about his short encounter with the Russian President Putin in Hanoi:

Q: When did you bring up the issue of election meddling? Did you ask him a question?

A: Every time he sees me he says he didn't do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, I didn't do that. I think he is very insulted by it, ...
...
He says that very strongly and he really seems to be insulted by it he says he didn't do it.

Q: Even if he didn't bring it up one-on-one, do you believe him?

A: I think that he is very, very strong on the fact that didn't do it. And then you look and you look what's going on with Podesta, and you look at what's going on with the server from the DNC and why didn't the FBI take it? Why did they leave it? Why did a third party look at the server and not the FBI? You look at all of this stuff, and you say, what's going on here? And you hear it's 17 agencies. Well its three. And one is Brennan. And one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They're political hacks. So you look at it, and then you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey. Comey's proven now to be a liar and he's proven to be a leaker. So you look at that. And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently say he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.

Trump gets it. He knows the weak points of the propaganda claims of "Russian hacking": Podesta and the fake Steele dossier, the DNC server, the lack of any FBI investigation of the alleged hack, the NYT's long false insistence on the '17 agencies' assessment, the "political hacks" who fitted their claims to the Obama/Clinton narrative.

But neither the Washington Post nor the NY Times or others mention the crucial points Trump spelled out in their write-ups of the gaggle. There is no word on the DNC email server in them, nor of Podesta. Instead they create a claim of "Putin says and Trump just believes him". They do not name the facts and questions Trump listed in support of his position. Taking up the valid questions Trump asked would of course require the news outlets to finally delve into them. We can't have that.

Trump is not the brightest bulb and he is not well informed. I dislike nearly all of his policies. But he understands that the "Russian hacking" narrative is false and is carried forward by lunatic political hacks and hostile media who want to push the U.S. back into a cold, or maybe even hot war with Russia, China, Iran and probably everyone else.

Posted by b on November 11, 2017 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (88)

November 10, 2017

Saudi Arabia - This "Liberal Reformer" Is An Impulsive Tyrant

It is becoming more difficult to hide the mess the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman creates. The propaganda about the "liberal reformer" is too inconsistent with his obviously tyrannical behavior.

The clown prince of Saudi Barbaria practically abducted the Prime Minister of Lebanon, blackmailed him to resign and holds him since under house arrest. This is an unprecedented attack on the sovereignty of Lebanon and all other countries. Yet the U.S. and some European leaders cowardly pretend that Saad Hariri is free to go where he wants:

A French official says that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has told foreign ambassadors that he is not a prisoner in Saudi Arabia, where he has been holed up since an unusual resignation announcement.

An official in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Friday that the French and U.S. ambassadors in Saudi Arabia met with Hariri, and that Hariri "says he is not a prisoner, the (Saudi crown) prince says he is not a prisoner."

Macron paid a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday night and met with the crown prince, notably about rising tensions in Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

Hariri may not be "a prisoner" but he is as free to leave his current residence as Julian Assange in free to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Macron did not even meet with Hariri but slipped over into the United Arab Emirates. There an unexpected sale of two French corvettes was signed. The president of the UAE, Mohammed bin Zayed, is the mentor of the Saudi clown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Macron took the thirty pieces of silver and let Hariri and Lebanon hanging.

It is obvious that Hariri did not travel to Saudi Arabia last Saturday with the intent to resign from his job:

Hariri had scheduled meetings in Beirut on the following Monday – with the IMF, the World Bank and a series of discussions on water quality improvement; not exactly the action of a man who planned to resign his premiership.

The unofficial version of Hariri's meeting with the U.S. and French ambassador is diverging from the one above:

Mr. Hariri, a dual citizen of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, met the ambassadors of Britain and the European Union and the chargé d’affaires from the American Embassy on Wednesday and Thursday at his Riyadh residence. Other Western diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that those envoys, too, came away with the impression that he could not speak freely.

Even the State Department spokesperson lets slip that Harairi is not free to go:

"We have seen him. In terms of the conditions of him being held or the conversations between Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Hariri, I would have to refer you to the government of Saudi Arabia and also to Mr Hariri's office."

Hariri's own political party in Lebanon has united with its enemy Hizbullah and the Christian President Aoun in a call for Hariri to come back and explain himself to the Lebanese people:

“The return of the head of the Lebanese government, the national leader and the head of al-Mustaqbal Movement Saad Hariri is necessary to restore respect for Lebanon's balance at home and abroad, in the framework of full respect for the Lebanese legitimacy represented in the Constitution and the Taef Accord and in respecting the Arab and international legitimacies,” said Mustaqbal in a statement issued after an emergency meeting for its parliamentary bloc and political bureau.

The Saudis have told their citizens in Lebanon to leave the country. Its allies Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain have followed suit. There have been some four such orders during the last five years and the move is in itself not significant. Should the Saudis start to block the Gulf money flow to Lebanon or take other measures the economic damage in Lebanon could be quite larger If the Gulf states expulse Lebanese workers the economic damage to Lebanon would be huge. But these Lebanese workers are the people who actually run the businesses in the Gulf states. Without the 160,000 Lebanese book keepers and managers the Saudi economy would probably collapse.

The similarities with the idiotic Saudi campaign against Qatar is obvious. The Saudi made an impulsive hostile move without having thought through the second or third step. He soon found himself out of ammunition but had left no way out to solve the issue without losing face.

The French and other countries' cowardliness towards the clown prince extends to the starving of Yemen. UN flights with immediately needed medical supplies and food have been blocked by Saudi authorities. The ports for food shipment are blockaded. UN officials warn of an imminent massive famine and are begging everyone to intervene. But nothing has been heard from Macron or any other "western" politician.

Meanwhile the Saudi tyrant's purge of all potential internal competition continues. Some 500 people have been arrested with the higher ups being held in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The hotel has now been "booked" until the end of January. But its 300 rooms are too few to hold the growing pile of rich trash. The Mariott hotel next door has now also been booked by the Saudi authorities. Regular guests were told to leave. A sure sign that the purge campaign will continue.

One important aspect of the purge is the open robbery that is part of it. Everyone arrested is accused of "corruption". This in a country where taking a share of every state contract is seen as an inherited right of the ruling class. The Wall Street Journal reports that the people around MbS expect to steal up to $800 billion in assets from the ultra rich businessmen and princes they have now under their control. They will probably need the money to keep the country afloat:

[E]ven a portion of that amount could help Saudi Arabia’s finances. A prolonged period of low oil prices forced the government to borrow money on the international bond market and to draw extensively from the country’s foreign reserves, which dropped from $730 billion at their peak in 2014 to $487.6 billion in August, the latest available government data.
...
The central bank sent a list of hundreds of names to lenders, asking them to freeze any accounts linked to them, according to people familiar with the matter.
...
As a precautionary measure, authorities have banned a large number of people from traveling outside the country, among them hundreds of royals and people connected to those arrested, according to people familiar with the matter.

Who will be willing to invest even a penny in Saudi Arabia after such a shakedown? There is no rule of law and there are no reliable courts. Everything depends on the whim of one man. The shakedown of the rich might bring some money into MbS coffers but all his huge projects and investment plans will now lack the necessary sponsors.

Trump had voiced full support for the Saudi moves. But it is obvious that such a purge and the external adventurism will not have a happy ending. Secretary of State Tillerson is finally rowing back Trump's grandstanding. He cautions MbS about the handling of his prisoners:

“It’s my understanding that they’re characterizing these as not really arrests at this point but they’re presenting people with evidence of what they think the wrongdoing is to see if there’s a willingness to want to make things right.”

It raises a few concerns until we see more clearly how these particular individuals are dealt with,” Tillerson added.

On Lebanon Tillerson warns Israel of any intervention. He takes the Lebanese side in the Hariri discussion. He does not recognize the compelled "resignation":

The United States was watching the situation [with Hariri] “very carefully,” supporting “the legitimate government of Lebanon” and “asking other outside parties to stay out of it,” he added.

If he’s going to step down, as I understand it, he needs to go back to Lebanon to make that official. I‘m hopeful that if that is still his intent to leave that he’ll do that so that the government of Lebanon can function properly,” Tillerson said.

The two steps on Lebanon and on the internal purge seem too impulsive to be part of a greater plan. They begin to look like the other "adventures" MbS started in Qatar and Yemen. Aimless campaigns in which the second and third order effects eventually turn against the aggressor. In all these cases the long term damage to Saudi Arabia will be huge.

Any day now the clown prince will become king of Saudi Arabia. In theory he could then rule for 50 years. But his country is unlikely to survive another five years of such impulsive and tyrannic behavior. Chances are that one his guards will be merciful enough to solve the problem with a single bullet.

Added:

As another example of MbS' impulsiveness re-consider this episode. In 2016 Salman spontaneously bought a used motor-barge for $550 million (€500m):

While vacationing in the south of France, Prince bin Salman spotted a 440-foot yacht floating off the coast. He dispatched an aide to buy the ship, the Serene, which was owned by Yuri Shefler, a Russian vodka tycoon. The deal was done within hours, at a price of approximately 500 million euros (roughly $550 million today), according to an associate of Mr. Shefler and a Saudi close to the royal family. The Russian moved off the yacht the same day.

The boat had been constructed since 2007 and launched in 2011. Its price then was $330 million (€300m)

The $330 million mega-yacht, which is reputedly owned by Russian vodka titan Yuri Scheffler, was spotted off the coast of Venice, California.

After five years of use its the fair value was probably two-third of the original price. MbS paid 250% of the actual value because he wanted the boat right then and there and because he could. A thirty year old, who has never worked to make money, wasted $330 million on an impulse buy. Money that would rightfully belong to the people of the Arab peninsula. The same dude now claims to care about "corruption".

Posted by b on November 10, 2017 at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

November 09, 2017

Priti Patel Resigns - Israel Lobby Mourns The Loss Of A Valuable British Asset

A British Minister of Hindu heritage was fired after it emerged that she secretly met Israeli officials in Israel and elsewhere without informing the Foreign Office. Back in Britain she then tried to arrange additional finances for Israel's arming of al-Qaeda in the Golan heights. The affair shines light on the nefarious influence of the Israel lobby on British politics.

Priti Patel was International Development Secretary, responsible for British aid to various countries and organizations. She is a Thatcherite Conservative, a vocal supporter of Britain's exit from the European Union and of Hindu fascism in India:

She has been a strong cheerleader of the Narendra Modi government, publicly praising a number of its policies including demonetisation.

In August Patel went on a "family holiday" to Israel. Instead of enjoying the beach she met dozens of Israeli officials from Prime Minister Netanyahoo down to the heads of Zionist aid organizations. She was shepherded by one Lord Polak, a long time Israel lobbyist in British politics. Polak accompanied her to every meeting. None of these were disclosed to the British Embassy, the Foreign Office or Downing Street. Cabinet rules demand that all such meetings are coordinated and briefed through these official channels.

Stuart Polak is a major character in Zionist lobbying in Britain:

Ennobled by David Cameron two years ago, Lord Polak is a veteran of Westminster’s corridors of power. He has taken literally hundreds of Tory MPs to Israel over the years, educating them about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and securing their support in parliamentary votes and the public arena.

Under his guidance, CFI became the biggest lobbying group in Westminster, holding lunches for 700 guests, making countless Downing Street visits, and developing contacts throughout Israel and the Middle East.

Polak fled when the media tried to question him about his Israel visit arrangements for Patel.

One of Patel's meetings was at an army hospital in the Israel occupied Syrian Golan heights where the Israeli military patches up al-Qaeda Jihadis which were wounded while fighting the Syrian government. Only last week the Israeli army in the occupied Golan supported a murderous attack of al-Qaeda Jihadis on the Syrian Druze village of Hader in the Quneitra area. The Jihadis in the Golan are surrounded by Syrian government forces. Their only supply line is through Israel occupied land. Druze in Israel who protested against the attack were arrested.

Back in Britain Priti Patel asked her department to move British aid money from Palestinian causes to the Israeli military operation in the occupied Golan. (Funny how the Guardian in its wrap-up fails to mention that point ...)

Additionally to her busy holiday, Priti Patel had two other meetings with Israeli officials which she similarly did not disclose.

When it became clear yesterday that Priti Patel's behavior would cost her her job, the British Zionist lobby launched a rescue attempt. Based on anonymous sources  the Jewish Chronicle claimed that Prime Minister May had been informed about two of the meetings and had ordered Patel to not disclose them:

Number 10 instructed Development Secretary Priti Patel not to include her meeting with the Israel foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on 18 September in her list of undisclosed meetings with Israelis which was published on Monday, the JC has learned.

Downing Street immediately denied the claim and no other source backed it up. The blackmail attempt failed. The Jewish Chronicle also was at the forefront of the slander campaign that tried to smear the British labor leader Corbyn as anti-semite.

The Independent notes about the Patel affair:

[T]here is another point about all those meetings which Patel helpfully, if belatedly, detailed in her apologetic statement on Monday: their remarkable one-sidedness. Patel heads a department which has a long history of humanitarian and development funding for Palestinians. Indeed she has taken a close interest in that funding, going so far as to announce a review last year which has already resulted in notable cuts of some £17m. This includes, to the widespread dismay of NGOs, cuts in funding to Gaza, where humanitarian and economic conditions are generally agreed to be at their direst ever.

Cutting aid money to a devastated Gaza while handing it to the Israeli occupation army that supports Takfiris fighting Syria is beyond the already extreme British Zionist sculduggeries.

Prime Minister May is herself a strong Zionist. She recently celebrated the Balfour declaration in which, a hundred years ago, the British empire promised land it did not own to a people that did not exit at the cost of the owners and inhabitants of that very land. That promise, handed to a very influential Jewish banker, opened new credit lines for the British war against Germany. It also reinforced lobbying efforts in the U.S. for entering the war on the British side. May asked the British people to feel "pride" for the treacherous paper and completely ignored the devastation it caused for the Palestinian people:

The Israelis will be celebrating – and why not, for it set Britain’s seal on the future Israeli state in Palestine. Perhaps Israel would not have been created without it. But the fearful suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian refugees which was to follow in the coming years suggest that the Balfour letter – through its very wording – was certain to create a terrible wrongdoing which to this day curses the place we used to call the Holy Land.

In January AlJazeera broadcasted an in depth investigation on the Zionist lobby in Britain. It proved that the lobby is directed by and its slander campaigns run from Israel's embassy in London.

Peter Oborne and James Jones just published a long paper on The pro-Israel lobby in Britain. They find:

The Friends of Israel groups in the House of Commons have firmly established themselves in the interstices of British political life. Their heavy presence at party conferences is taken for granted, their lunches and dinners an ingrained part of the Westminster social scene, the donations a vital part of the political financing. An environment now exists where MPs and ministers feel cautious about criticizing the foreign policy of the Israeli state, wary of opening themselves to criticism on the home front.
...
While this pro-Israel lobbying is lawful, it is emphatically not transparent. We have shown in this pamphlet that journalists very rarely declare their [Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre] funded trips to Israel. We have also shown how patterns of donations from [Conservative Friends of Israel] members to Tory candidates are sometimes opaque.

Indeed, the financial structure of the CFI as a whole is obscure.
...
A similar observation applies to other pro-Israel pressure groups. While BICOM’s work is entirely legitimate, it is by no means transparent. They never declare, for example, which journalists go on trips and who they meet.

Oborne and Jones also find that the Israel lobby does not reflect the opinion and values of British Jews. It is an extremely right-wing syndicate arranged to disguise its sources of money and the foreign interests involved in it.

The Zionist lobby in Britain is vicious. It operates in the dark and hides its financing. This affair removes the curtain it uses to hide its malicious influence. It does not welcome the disinfecting sunlight this affair shines on it and is mourning the loss of its valuable asset.

Priti Patel has been removed as a minister but is still a conservative Member of Parliament. The new revelations about her and the sinister powers influencing her will hopefully convince the British voters to finally kick her out.

Posted by b on November 9, 2017 at 06:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (99)

November 07, 2017

Defeated Elsewhere, Saudi Tyrant Declares War On Lebanon

The Saudi clown prince Mohammed bin Salman is purging all potential internal resistance and solidifies his dictatorial position. (The move includes a huge money grab. All assets of those accused of corruption are confiscated by the state which, in Saudi Arabia, is the tyrant himself.) The internal consolidation of power is the prelude for a larger external venture.

At the same time as the internal purges proceed, MbS implements an extremely aggressive foreign policy agenda targeted at Iran and its allies. Having been defeated in Iraq and Syria and at stalemate in Qatar and Yemen the Saudi ruler decided to try his luck in Lebanon. The Saudi declares war on Lebanon and will put enormous economic and political pressure on it. But all of that will be to no avail. The war will only cause Lebanon to move deeper into the "resistance" camp an join its forces with Syria, Iran and Russia.

(The recap below is mostly an accumulation of sources. My own analysis will follow in a later piece.)

The Saudi plans are well coordinated with the United States and have the full support of the Israeli government. The point man in the Trump administration for all Middle East issues is Trump's son-in-law (and arch Zionist) Jared Kushner. He made three trips to Saudi Arabia this year, the last one very recently. The Washington Post's David Ignatius brown noses:

[L]ast month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.

A week ago the Saudi minister (and extremists) Thamer al-Sabhan called for toppling Hizbullah and promised "astonishing developments". Friday night the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri was ordered back to his home-country Saudi Arabia and pressed to read a resignation statement on a Saudi TV station. None of his advisors in Lebanon knew that this was coming. It is claimed that Hariri did not voluntarily resign and is now under house arrest. There is even a Free Hariri Clock counting the hours, minutes and seconds of his ordeal. The Lebanese President has not accepted the PM's resignation and demands that Hariri returns to Lebanon. We called the resignation The Opening Shot Of The Saudi War On Hizbullah.

On Saturday the Saudi ruler engaged in the night of the long knives and arrested all his potential internal competition.

In the same night a missile launched by Houthi/Saleh forces in Yemen hit near the airport of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Such missile attacks are in retaliation for the intense two years of Saudi bombing of Yemen which by now probably killed more than a hundred-thousand people. While this was likely unrelated to the other events it added to the general anti-Iranian narrative the Saudis propagate. The Saudis claim that Yemeni missiles are of Iranian origin and launched by Iranian specialists. Iran denies this. Weapon experts at IHS Janes refute that claim:

Burkan-2 missile launched by Houthis is Scud derivative and is unlike variants made by Iran or DPRK.

The Houthi in Yemen are supported by elements of the Yemeni army under command of the former Yemeni President Saleh. The Yemen army has for decades owned and used variants of Scud missiles. It is unlikely that it needs help to modify and launch these.

The Saudis nominally support Yemeni forces under Saleh's successor Hadi. The former(?) President of Yemen Hadi is, like the former(?) Prime Minister of Lebanon,  held under house arrest in Saudi Arabia. The former(?) Palestinian President Abbas, long beyond his legal term, was also summoned to Riyadh. One wonders if he will ever return.

Yesterday the Saudi Minister Thamer al-Sabhan declared war on Lebanon:

Saudi minister of Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against Saudi Arabia because of what he described as aggression against the Kingdom by the Iran-backed group Hezbollah.

“We will treat the government of Lebanon as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia due to the aggression of Hezbollah,” he said in response to the recent decisions taken by the Lebanese government.
...
The Saudi minister said that Hariri and the Lebanese government would not accept the positions of Hezbollah militia, stressing that talk about forcing Hariri to resign lies to disperse Lebanon.

“Lebanon is kidnapped by the militias of Hezbollah and behind it is Iran,” he said.

It seems crazy that the Saudis would open another front in their chaotic war against presumed Iranian influences. Their forces were defeated in Iraq and Syria. Their wars on Yemen and Qatar are in a stalemate. Each of their moves has led to an increase of Iranian influence and power. It is hard to understand why they would want to repeat that experience in Lebanon. It is even harder to understand why the U.S. and Israel support that losing move.

Donald J. Trump‏ @realDonaldTrump - 3:03 PM - 6 Nov 2017

I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing....

The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahoo activated his diplomats to lobby for the Saudi position:

Barak Ravid @BarakRavid - 12:11 PM - 6 Nov 2017

1 \ I published on channel 10 a cable sent to Israeli diplomats asking to lobby for Saudis\Hariri &against Hezbollah
2 \ The cable sent from the MFA in Jerusalem to all Israeli embassies toes the Saudi line regarding the Hariri resignation
3 \ The Israeli diplomats were instructed to Demarch their host governments over the domestic political situation in Lebanon. Very rare move
4 \ The cable said: "You need to stress that the Hariri resignation shows how dangerous Iran and Hezbollah are for Lebanon's security"
5 \ "Hariri's resignation proves wrong the argument that Hezbollah participation in the government stabilizes Lebanon", the Cable added
6 \ The cable instructed Israeli diplomat to support Saudi Arabia over its war with the Houthis in Yemen
7 \ The cable also stressed: "The missile launch by the Houthis towards Riyadh calls for applying more pressure on Iran & Hezbollah". END

There is no common border between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia but there are many economic relations. The Saudis have for years sponsored Sunni clans in Lebanon. Many Gulf Arabs have invested in Beirut. It is their preferred vacation destination. Lebanese companies provide many services within the Gulf countries.

There is little the Saudis can do militarily hurt Lebanon. They might want to move their Al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters from Syria to Lebanon but that will require Turkish cooperation. Even those forces would be no match for Hizbullah as it is deeply anchored within the population of Lebanon.

The Saudis will, like with Qatar, use economic means to squeeze Lebanon. It is quite obvious that such measures will mostly hurt their own constituency in Lebanon. How does that change the situation to their advantage? Analysts agree that the Saudi measures will in fact hurt. But they will also increase Hizbullah's, Iran's and Russia's influence.

Elias Muhanna‏ @QifaNabki - 1:36 PM - 6 Nov 2017

Short of outright war, how might Saudi Arabia put pressure on Hizbullah? (THREAD) 1/
A Saudi minister has announced that the very existence of Hizbullah in the Lebanese govt amounts to a declaration of war. 2/
Short of attacking Lebanon (which Hizb Sec-Gen Nasrallah scoffed at over the weekend), what could Saudi do? 3/
Saudi Arabia might issue a list of demands to the Lebanese govt, similar to what it did with Qatar. 4/
Demands might include: Hizbullah must not be in the government; must disarm; cease all military activities beyond Lebanese borders. 5/
Unless demands are met, KSA could freeze relations w/ LB, close its own borders to LB business, cease all support of LB institutions. 6/
Saudi Arabia wields a huge amount of power over Lebanon; probably more than it does over any other country besides Bahrain. 7/
With this hard-line policy, it sends the signal to Iran that Hzb has grown to be too large and too dangerous. 8/
Hizbullah's weathered such storms b4 when Israel made threats to hold the Leb govt accountable. 9/
But thumbing nose at Israel w/ Arab world behind you is different from staring down Saudi blockade. 10/

Another analyst, who long lived in Lebanon, has a slightly more positive view. (edited for readability):

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 7:50 PM - 6 Nov 2017

Saudi Arabia is preparing a war against Lebanon: hitting finance first, blocking air traffic exchange, inviting other Arab countries to follow.
Saudi Arabia is bulling Lebanon and is expected to gradually escalate procedures:
Lebanon will have to turn towards Syria for its economy/travel and towards Russia as the USA is turning a blind eye.
Qatar and Iran will support Lebanon's economy: a new front and solidarity against Saudi Arabian bulling will be created.
Saudi Arabia (wrongly) believes it can lead the Middle East: USA made the same mistake before and that brought Russia in.
Saudi Arabia never had a clear foreign policy, is unaware of diplomacy and is adopting a tribal mentality: with me or against me.
Because @realDonaldTrump has no clue what ME policy is and accepts anything Saudi Arabia is doing more instability is expected.
Israel doesn't need to act against Hezbollah or #Lebanon, Saudi Arabia is doing the job on its behalf.

The question is: how long can Saudi Arabia hold internally and regionally? Even if not for long, ME is so unstable today ...
When Saudi Arabia says: "'Lebanon is hijacked by Hezbollah and Iran, Saudi will treat Lebanese gov as an enemy of its state" it means that KSA is at war.
But Saudi Arabia is presenting Hezbollah as a kind of" superpower" and/or a "state" to stand against, magnifying it.
The same style is usually used by Israel before taking action against #Hezbollah: Saudi Arabia is copying the rhetoric.

Bahrain, Emirates will have to join Saudi Arabia sooner or later to show KSA is not alone: expect fresh accusations.
Arabs have wealth in Lebanon, proprieties and business, all may be soon affected by Saudi Arabia's belligerent attitude.
Saudi Arabia seems to enjoy unlimited support: money is powerful, sure. But learn from Syria and the 6 years of war.
Saudi Arabia wants to see a Lebanese government without any Hezbollah minister.
Hezbollah's influence in #Lebanon doesn't emanate from the presence of a couple of ministers.
Saudi Arabia wants for Hezbollah to pay the price of its effective role in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, in the defeat of ISIS.
Saudi Arabia wants also to protect the tens of thousands Al Qaeda still in Idlib and it wants to deprive Iran from its arm.
"Defeating" Hezbollah would leave Lebanon unprotected from Israel and pave the road to an Arab official relationship with Tel Aviv.

Even if PM Hariri leaves Saudi Arabia, to Beirut, his family remains behind and he can never go against Saudi will.
The return of Hariri to Lebanon won't solve the problem but will give more background to the events: no big deal.

Posted by b on November 7, 2017 at 03:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (175)

November 06, 2017

Open Thread 2017-40

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

October 29: UN On Khan Sheikhoun - Victims Hospitalized BEFORE Claimed Incident Happened

A rather laughable report about an obviously faked incident.

October 31: How General Kelly's Attitudes Reflect the U.S. of A

Stories about generals, and the U.S. of A, as enlightened defenders of humanity are fairy tales.

November 1: Is The "Moderate Al-Qaeda" Set To Target Hizbullah?

We anticipate that the Saudis have devious plans for Lebanon.

November 2: Neocons Push Dubious Paper To Allege Iran - Al-Qaeda Connection

The CIA pushes an likely fake paper to reinforce animosity against Iran.

November 3: Syria Summary - ISIS Loses Control Of Its Last Urban Refuge

The Islamic State is gone. The Saudis and the U.S. lost their war on Iraq and Syria.

November 4: Lebanon - Hariri's Resignation - The Opening Shot Of The Saudi War On Hizbullah

The starting signal for the Saudi Lebanon operation.

November 5: Saudi Arabia - This 'Night Of The Long Knives' Is A Panic-Fueled Move

The clown prince robs his peers and breaks the ruling consensus in his country.

Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 6, 2017 at 05:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (102)

November 05, 2017

Saudi Arabia - This 'Night Of The Long Knives' Is A Panic-Fueled Move

Yesterday the ruling Salman clan in Saudi Arabia executed a Night of the Long Knives cleansing the state of all potential competition. The Saudi King Salman and his son Clown Prince Mohammad bin Salman initiated a large arrest wave and purge of high ranking princes and officials. Part of this internal coup was the confiscation of huge financial estates to the advantage of the Salman clan.

The earlier forced resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is probably related to the last night's events. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahoo endorsed the resignation. This guarantees that Hariri will never again be accepted in a leading role in Lebanon.

In Saudi Arabia eleven princes, including sons of the deceased King Abdullah, more than thirty former and acting ministers as well as the heads of three major TV stations were taken into custody or put under house arrest. The National Guard Commander Prince Mitieb Bin Abdullah was relieved from his post and replaced with Prince Khalid Bin Abdulaziz al Muqrin. The National Guard was the last intelligence and security power center held by the Abdullah branch of the al-Saud family.

An earlier purge in July had dethroned the former Crown Prince Nayaf and replaced him with the young Mohammad Bin-Salman. Then the Nayef branch of the al-Saud family was removed from all power centers. The Abdullah branch followed yesterday. The purged officials were replaced with stooges of the ruling Salman clan.

The Salman branch of the current king and clown prince has now eliminated all of potential internal competition. This goes against the consensus model that had been the foundation of the Saudi family rule over the last century. Tens of thousands of clans and people depended on the patronage of the removed princes and officials. They will not just sit back as their fortunes evaporate.

One effect of the purges will be the concentration of Saudi wealth in the hands of the Salmans.

One of the arrested persons is the allegedly sixth richest man of the world, Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal (video). He has (had?) an estimated net-worth between $18 and $32 billion. Al-Waleed had publicly clashed with U.S. President Donald Trump. (Al-Waleed is (was?) the largest shareholder of Citygroup which selected Barack Obama's cabinet before receiving a huge government bailout.) Another casualty is Bakr bin Laden, brother of Osama Bin Laden, chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group and fifth richest man of the country.

Official pretext for the purge are corruption allegations going back to 2009. This financial subterfuge will allow the ruling Salmans to confiscate the wealth of the accused. The total haul of this raid will amount to dozens of billions of dollars. A new anti-corruption committee was installed under Clown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It has dictatorial powers and can freeze and confiscate whatever financial assets it deems worth its attention:

It may take whatever measures it deems necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases and take what it considers to be the right of persons, entities, funds, fixed and movable assets, at home and abroad, return funds to the state treasury and register property and assets in the name of state property.

The events in Lebanon and Riyadh would have been impossible without U.S. approval and support. In late October Trump's son in law and senior adviser Jared Kushner made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia. In a tweet yesterday Donald Trump, sworn to the Wahhabi orb, named the price for his consent and cooperation:

Donald J. Trump‏ @realDonaldTrump - 12:49 PM - 4 Nov 2017

Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!

A primary listing of Aramco oil conglomerate at the NYSE will give the U.S. government regulatory and legal authority over the most valuable company of the world.

Also last night Yemeni forces fired a medium range missile from north Yemen towards Riyadh airport. The well targeted 1,000 kilometer (660 miles) shot is impressive and unprecedented. The Saudi air-defense near the airport, U.S. Patriot systems manned by contractors, launched four interceptor missiles (video) towards the incoming Yemeni projectile. The Saudis claim that one of the interceptors hit the target. A uprising smoke column was seen from the airport (video). It is not possible to say if it was the result of the original missile or of an interception.

That the Saudi capital can be hit will come as another shock to many Saudis. It discourages investment in Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni missiles, fired by the original Yemen army under former president Saleh, may have their origin in Iran. But they could also be older ones Yemen had purchased elsewhere decades ago. The Saudis will surely blame Iran without explaining how such missiles could be smuggled through their tight blockade cordon around the resistance held country.

The missile launch is unlikely to be related to the Hariri resignation or to the purge in Riyadh. It takes days for the Yemenis to prepare such a missile and its launch. It is presumably in retaliation for Wednesday's devastating Saudi air attack on an open market in the northern Saada province of Yemen. According to Yemeni sources more than 60 people were killed. After the missile launch on Riyadh Saudi jets again bombed the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Since the incapacitated King Salman took the throne in Riyadh his ruthless 32 year old son Mohammad bin Salman has taken control of all branches of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi launched a war on a defenseless Yemen and supported al-Qaeda, ISIS and other "rebels" against the Iraqi and Syrian governments. He split the Gulf Cooperation Council by attacking Qatar. After a stalemate in Yemen and Qatar and losing in Iraq and Syria he has now initiated a war against Hizbullah in Lebanon. None of these bloody initiatives has achieved its aim of weakening the influence of the perceived enemy Iran. All of them helped Iran to consolidate its position.

The financial position of the Saudi state is in disarray. To the applause of the western claque Bin Salman announced the economic, social and religious liberation of Saudi Arabia. But little, if any, of the grand promises have been delivered.

Yesterday's purge can be perceived as a panic-fueled move. All of Bin Salman's endeavors have failed. The successful targeting of Riyadh's airport only underscores this. He is under pressure but unable to deliver. The internal resistance to him is growing.

When Hitler initiated the Night of Long Knives against the socialist part of his party he was on an upward trend of his political power. The country was at peace, its international standing was growing, the economy surged and the majority of the people endorsed him. Bin Salman's remake of that night comes while his initiatives fail. It is doubtful that the consolidation he seeks will be equally successful.

Posted by b on November 5, 2017 at 06:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (139)

November 04, 2017

Lebanon - Hariri's Resignation - The Opening Shot Of The Saudi War On Hizbullah

Update (Nov 5, 3 am): After publishing the piece below the Saudi rulers initiated a "house cleaning" in Saudi Arabia. Many princes and businessmen were arrested. The new development wll be covered in another piece later today.
---

Four days ago we asked: Is The "Moderate Al-Qaeda" Set To Target Hizbullah?. The implied answer in that piece was "Yes, the war is coming to Lebanon."

Today the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri resigned with a statement issues from Saudi Arabia on the Saudi Arabian TV station Al Arabia (video). This is the opening shot of the war.

The Saudi-Israeli-U.S. axis will lose this war while Iran and Russia will win from it.

Earlier this week the extremely sectarian Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan had threatened Hizbullah in Lebanon and announced surprises:

Firebrand Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan on Monday called for “toppling Hizbullah” and promised “astonishing” developments in “the coming days.”
...
Referring to his Sunday tweet about the Lebanese government, the minister said: “I addressed my tweet to the government because the Party of Satan (Hizbullah) is represented in it and it is a terrorist party. The issue is not about toppling the government but rather that Hizbullah should be toppled.”

“The coming developments will definitely be astonishing,” al-Sabhan added.

While the fighting in Syria and Iraq was ongoing, Lebanon was kept at peace. With the wars ending Lebanon is again the place where proxy fights are carried out. In mid October Joseph Bahout predicted this development:

Regionally, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria as a place where they could defy and bleed Iran. A renewed desire to reverse their regional fortunes could lead them to try regaining a foothold in Lebanon. The Gulf states, Israel, and the United States do not want Iran to reap the benefits of a victory in Syria. If ever they seek to rebalance the regional relationship with Tehran in the Levant, the only place to do so would be Lebanon, despite the many risks that would accompany such an effort.

In such an event, and despite its reticence to jeopardize its Lebanese sanctuary, Hezbollah could have no choice but to accept such a challenge, especially if there is an Israeli component to it.

Lebanese politics are regulated by a complicate agreement. The Sunni camp, financed by the Saudis, holds the position of Prime Minister. The position of the President is held by the Christian former general Michel Aoun. The position of Speaker of the Parliament is held by the leader of the Shia Amal movement Nabih Berri. Two month ago Berri had proposed elections to a new parliament before the end of the year. An election would likely diminish the Sunni position.

Saad Al-Hariri was put into the prime minister position after a long quarrel in Lebanon that had reignited when Saad's father Rafic Hariri, the former PM, was assassinated. Hizbullah was accused of that assassination but an Israeli plot seemed more likely.

The Hariri family made its money as owner of Saudi Oger, a construction company in Saudi Arabia. The Hariris have Saudi passports. Business has gone bad under Hariri junior. In July Saudi Oger closed shop and the former billionaire family is rumored to be bankrupt. The Saudi rulers sponsors them.

Hariri had recently assigned a Lebanese ambassador to Syria. Yesterday Hariri was visited in Beirut by Ali Velayati, a top advisor of the supreme leader Khamenei of Iran. The Saudis did not like either. Thamer's plan was set into motion. They sent a private jet and hauled Hariri to Riyadh. There the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman gave Hariri his resignation statement (written by Thamer?) to be read by him on Saudi TV.

Irony alert: The Lebanese PM (with a Saudi passport) resigns on order of Saudi Arabia, in Saudi Arabia, on Saudi Arabian TV. In his Saudi written resignation statement (excerpts) he accuses Iran of foreign meddling in Lebanese politics.

(Hariri also suddenly claims that there was an assassination planned against him in Lebanon. This is nonsense. The Lebanese internal security organization says it has no knowledge of such a plot. Hariri needs an excuse to stay away from Lebanon and from the wrath of his followers. Saudi media are trying to create some fantastic story from that assassination claim. But there is nothing evident to back it up.)

The resignation of Hariri is intended to provoke a constitutional crisis in Lebanon and to prevent new parliament elections. The further Saudi plan is likely to evolve around these elements:

  • The Trump administration will announce new sanctions against Hizbullah and against Lebanon in general.
  • The Saudi government will slip some of its al-Qaeda/ISIS proxy fighters from Syria and Iraq into Lebanon (possibly via Turkey by sea). It will finance local Lebanese terror operations.
  • There will be new assassination attempts, terror attacks and general rioting by Sunni extremist elements against Christians and Shia in Lebanon.
  • The U.S. will try to press the Lebanese army into a war against Hizbullah.
  • Israel will try to provoke and divert Hizbullah's attention by new shenanigans at the Lebanese and Syrian border. It will NOT start a war.

The plan is unlikely to succeed:

  • The Lebanese people as a whole have no interest in a new civil war.
  • The Lebanese army will not get involved on any specific side but will try to keep everyone calm.
  • Sanctions against Hizbullah will hit all of Lebanon, including Sunni interests.
  • A new Sunni prime minister will be found and installed, replacing the resigned Saudi puppet.
  • Russian and Iranian economic interests will find a new market in Lebanon. Russian companies will engage in Lebanese gas and oil extraction in the Mediterranean and replace U.S. involvement.

The miscalculated Saudi/U.S./Israeli plan against Hizbullah can be understood as a helpless tantrum after their defeat in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi troops have, against strong U.S. protest, cleared ISIS from border areas with Syria. Some Iraqi militia have crossed the border and are helping Syrian troops to take the last ISIS controlled settlement of Abu Kamal. This will finally open a direct road from Syria to Iraq and beyond. The U.S. had planned to take Abu Kamal with its Kurdish/Arab proxy forces in the area and to block that line of communication. The Syrian government forces are racing against that. For the fourth day in a row Russian Tu-22M3s long range bombers have supported the fight with large raids flown directly from Russia. Hizbullah re-injected thousands of its fighters. This massive force will overwhelm ISIS defenses. Syria will win the race and the fight.

The Saudi sponsored Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been suffocated and its existence has ended. Some elements of it will continue as a desert terrorist group - nasty but with little overall effect.

Iraq has regained its national sovereignty. It defeated ISIS, the Kurdish encroachment on Arab territory and all attempts to reignite a civil war. The fighting in Syria against al-Qaeda, as well as Turkish, Israeli and U.S. interference, will continue for another year. But it is very likely that the strong alliance of Syria, Iran, Russia and Hizbullah will win this fight. Syria is damaged but will survive as a whole and independent country.

The now launched war on Hizbullah and thereby Lebanon will likely have a similar outcome.

In their manic attempts to push back against perceived Iranian (and Russian) influence the Saudis and the U.S. have enabled Iran (and Russia) to gain better and more secure standing that they could ever have hoped to achieve otherwise. Why the Saudis think that their new adventure in Lebanon will have a different result is beyond me.

Posted by b on November 4, 2017 at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (110)

November 03, 2017

Syria Summary - ISIS Loses Control Of Its Last Urban Refuge


bigger

Today the Syrian Arab Army liberated the city of Deir Ezzor from ISIS. The last resistance ended over night. The remaining ISIS fighters tried to flee north across the Euphrates towards the area held by U.S. proxy forces. Most of them were not successful in their attempts. It will take another few days to remove the remaining improvised mines in the city and to secure the ammunition and weapons ISIS abandoned.

For five years a contingent of some 5-7,000 Syrian soldiers and policemen had held a part of Deir Ezzor city first against Jabhat al-Nusra and then against ISIS. They secured the life of some 100,000 civilian inhabitants. Many soldiers and civilians died. Despite intense attempts and U.S. air support ISIS did not manage to dislodge the Syrian government forces. Only two month ago a serious SAA attempt to relief the city from the outside was launched. It went remarkably well. The defense of Deir Ezzor and its relief deserve an epic novel.

With Deir Ezzor cleared the supply lines of the Syrian army are secured and the push along the Euphrates towards the last urban area held by ISIS can proceed.


bigger

The twin-cities of Abu Kamal (al-Bukamal) in Syria and al-Qaim in Iraq are ISIS' last urban refuge. The cities are on the south site of the Euphrates with the important border crossing between them. Coming from the east Iraqi government troops retook the al-Qaim crossing today. They now control the border and are breaking into the city proper. Syrian government forces approach Abu Kamal from the north-west and from south-east. These forces still have to cross some 30 kilometers of desert area. ISIS had prepared strong defense lines and the SAA progress was slower than hoped. During the last three days the Russian air force has flown a strong bombing campaign against those ISIS lines. The Lebanese Hizbullah has re-injected several thousand fighters into Syria to push the campaign. The Iraqi and Syrian forces are tightly coordinating and will move together to take Abu Kamal during the next two or three days.

The U.S. proxy forces north of the Euphrates announced that they had taken several oil-fields north of the river and were also progressing towards Abu Kamal. But there was little if any fighting. Instead the U.S. is bribing the local tribes in the area with Saudi money. These tribes had earlier sworn allegiance to ISIS and were part of its forces. When they switch sides the U.S. claims to be in control of the land they hold. The Syrian government and its allies fear that the U.S. is currently trying a similar stunt with the whole city of Bukamal itself. It could then claim to have control over the border crossing towards Iraq and severe that important line of communication. A race is on to prevent that.

Two reliable journalists, Ibrahim Al Amin of Al-Akhbar and Elijam Magnier of Al-Rai report (auto-translated) that a high level CIA official recently visited Damascus to inquire about missing U.S. intelligence agents. The official asserted the U.S. has no design for permanent bases in Syria and is only there to defeat ISIS. The official did not say how many additional years "defeating ISIS" would take.

Damascus is extremely suspicious of any U.S. design on Syria and will not let down its guard. The senior U.S. intelligence official was not received by higher Syrian government officials. Damascus demands an open diplomatic exchange with Washington.

The Iraqi government has reestablished its rule over the country. It insists on its national sovereignty and central control of the country. The Kurdish region in the north will have to agree with Baghdad's central control over the borders and foreign relations. If it does not submit the Iraqi Kurds will find themselves in a war with the Iraqi army which they are sure to lose. Baghdad will not be open to Iranian or U.S. control.

The Syrian government is likewise determined to regain control over the whole country. There will be no Turkish, Kurdish, Jordanian or Israeli zones but one Syria. The war will continue until that is achieved. Russian suggestions of a federation of the country have been rejected. Moscow reportedly accepted that position.

The situation in other parts of Syria has changed little over the last few weeks. The Turkish forces in Idleb have hunkered down in defensive position around the Kurdish area of Efrin. Syrian government forces prepare for, but have not yet launched, a wider Idleb campaign to dislodge the al-Qaeda forces currently controlling the governate. The Kurdish forces in the north-east have been told to peacefully move back to their original areas. Should they not do so, in futile hope of continued U.S. support, they will be attacked and defeated by the Syrian state and its allies.

2017 has seen the end of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. 2018 will see the end of al-Qaeda in Syria. 2019 will hopefully be the year that the Kurdish expansion and all foreign designs on Syria will have been defeated.

PS:
A small anecdote reflects the end of the "moderate rebels" propaganda scheme. A U.S. trained Syrian opposition movie director recently faked an assassination attempt on himself. He wanted to blame the Syrian regime and to gain more money for future propaganda fake productions. The Guardian and other #fakenews outlets had fallen for it: Syrian film-maker making prison torture movie survives 'assassination attempt'. It was all a stunt like most of the stuff the "rebels" produced. It seems that such work, which for years was sold as unassailable "truth" to western audiences, has finally found a proper end.

Posted by b on November 3, 2017 at 05:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (66)

November 02, 2017

Neocons Push Dubious Paper To Allege Iran - Al-Qaeda Connection

The anti-Iran powers in the U.S. again try to smear Iran as allied with al-Qaeda. The accusations will be used to justify further hostilities against the country.

Suddenly an anonymous, and likely fake, document appears and is prominently launched into the public circulation. To provide plausibility for the publishing the new CIA director Mike Pompeo ordered his staff to release additional data allegedly found in Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

These "new" papers were first released to the neoconservative anti-Iran lobby Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Among the "hundred thousands" of pages a mysterious 19 page document is claimed to prove Iranian collaboration with al-Qaeda. The way the release was handled and the prominence put on this one specific paper indicates that the now released stash was "spiked" with this document to initiate hostilities against Iran.

We have been here before. Fake documents produced by the CIA and neo-conservative think-tanks were used to allege that Saddam Hussein was buying Uranium in Niger (copy below). False claims were made that Saddam had contacts with the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack in New York.

Former CIA Career Analyst Ned Price explains the politics behind the new release:

Ned Price‏ @nedprice - 6:30 PM - 1 Nov 2017
  • @CIA released what it claims are the final public files from Bin Laden’s lair. I’m all for transparency, but this isn’t about that.
  • In Jan, DNI, which led the declassification effort, released what it said was the final tranche of Bin Laden files. Link
  • The DNI-led review was overseen by career intel officials, who concluded that, w the Jan files, all those of public interest were released.
  • But a funny thing happened when CIA Director Pompeo came into office. I’m told he re-launched a review of the files.
  • In doing so, he took officers away from important missions to pore—and re-pore—over the millions of documents.
  • How can we be sure this was a CIA effort? Unlike previous releases, today’s files are hosted on CIA.gov, not the DNI site.
  • He said as much at the gathering of a conservative group, @FDD, opposed to the Iran deal in September. Link
  • As luck would have it, CIA provided an advance copy of today’s files to @LongWarJournal, this group’s publication. Link
  • The ploy is transparent despite the fact that the newly-released documents don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.
  • What’s not as transparent are the motives of Pompeo, the administration’s leading and most influential Iran hawk.
  • Remember Cheney on @MeetThePress, pointing to Atta’s supposed Prague meeting w Iraqi officials? It was a key element of the march to war.
  • History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme. Need to remain vigilant to ensure Pompeo isn’t able to write it.

The CIA's outlet for these papers, the FDD, writes about the cache:

The CIA is releasing hundreds of thousands of documents, images, and computer files recovered during the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
...
The CIA provided FDD’s Long War Journal with an advance copy of many of the files. It will take years for experts and researchers to comb through this treasure trove of information. However, we offer some preliminary observations below.

It is astonishing, and quite suspicious, that the FDD immediately 'found' one very specific document out of "hundreds of thousands which will take years to comb through". This one specific document allegedly 'proves' that Iran is in cahoots with al-Qaeda:

The files provide new details concerning al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.

One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. The author explains that Iran offered some “Saudi brothers” in al Qaeda “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.” Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran. But the author of the file, who is clearly well-connected, indicates that al Qaeda’s men violated the terms of the agreement and Iran eventually cracked down on the Sunni jihadists’ network, detaining some personnel. Still, the author explains that al Qaeda is not at war with Iran and some of their “interests intersect,” especially when it comes to being an “enemy of America.”

This very document is the sole one in the stash FDD now uses to insinuate cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda. Other Bin Laden documents that were included in earlier releases provided the exact opposite. In 2012 Reuters headlined: Documents show tense al Qaeda-Iran relationship:

Al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran’s government has been fractious at best and openly antagonistic at worst, according to documents confiscated from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan and made public on Thursday.

The one new document that now changes the old assessment by 180 degree is of course the one the right-wing Telegraph and other outlets immediately point out: Trove of Bin Laden documents reveal Iran's secret dealings with al-Qaeda.

But how come that an assessment from a "senior jihadist" received by Bin Laden is anonymous? How does FDD know that the author is "senior"? Why doesn't he have a name?

The alleged "senior jihadist" paper wants us to believe that Iran offered al-Qaeda “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon"? That is ludicrous. Al-Qaeda always had an anti-Shia ideology and agenda. It is not plausible that the Shia majority Iran would ask the Shia organization Hizbullah to train the anti-Shia killer gangs of al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda is an enemy of Iran. After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 some al-Qaeda members and their families fled towards Iran. They had no other place to go. All of them were immediately detained or put under house arrest. A deal was likely made in which al-Qaeda promised to refrain from attacking Iran while Iran would keep these hostages unharmed. The al-Qaeda members were not "guests" in Iran. In its yearly Country Reports on Terrorism the U.S. State Department notes:

Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.

In 2015 Iran released some al-Qaeda members in exchange for an Iranian diplomat al-Qaeda had taken hostage in Yemen. That is not the record of a friendly relation.

The 19-pages document is not plausible. It was obviously produced and prominently launched for a specific political purpose. It contradicts earlier released papers as well as the historic record.

Professor Max Abrams notes:

Max Abrahms @MaxAbrahms - 4:05 AM - 2 Nov 2017
  • The regime change playbook plays on American fears of Salafist terrorists by claiming the target-leadership supports them.
  • For Saddam it was that he supported Al Qaeda. For Assad it was that he supported ISIS. For Iran it will increasingly stress Al Qaeda ties.

Add to that the equally implausible claims that Russia is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. (With what? Rusty AK-47s?)

It seems likely that the "never-before-seen 19-page document" with "a senior jihadist’s assessment" was written up in Langley or Tel Aviv. It was then put into the stash of the now released Bin Laden files to give it a somewhat plausible origin. FDD was specifically pointed to that very document to bring it into public circulation.

This is clearly reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney regime's campaign against Iraq in which faked documents claimed that Saddam was buying Uranium from Niger and that he had contacts with the perpetrators of 9/11. The release of this document is primitive warmongering propaganda.

So primitive indeed that many will fall for it. 


---
Update:
Others are equally suspicious of this release.

Ankit Panda at The Diplomat asks: Was the bulk release of Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad data trove an act of transparency or something else?

Professor As'ad AbuKhalil, the Angry Arab, notes a lot of auspicious issue in a released document the CIA called the Bin Laden journal. Of the document discussed above he writes:

Then there is that 19-page document (unsigned) and it is ostensibly is a document showing ties between Iran and Al-Qa`idah. This one is the hardest to believe. The document does not make sense: at several points it talks about Iranian regime being very pragmatic and another point it talks that the enmity between US and Iran is very real and not fake. But this last contention is totally against all the beliefs of Islamists (of the various kind) who are convinced that the US and Iran are allies under the table. The paper also alleges that Iran offered to send Al-Qa`idah members to train at Hizbullah camps in Lebanon. This is clearly a fabrication and shows a clumsy effort to implicate Iran in a relations with Al-Qa`idah. But why would Iran need to send Al-Qa`dish fighters who are allegedly in Iran already to Lebanon to train? Why not train them there in Iran? Also, the document itself then says: that Iranian governments arrested all of them and they had to go into hiding. This document in particular clearly is fabricated--I venture--and I don't know who wrote it. It also struck me as less religious in tone than what we normally read form those quarters.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif jumps in:

Javad Zarif‏ @JZarif - 7:29 PM - 2 Nov 2017

A record low for the reach of petrodollars: CIA & FDD fake news w/ selective AlQaeda docs re: Iran can't whitewash role of US allies in 9/11

Posted by b on November 2, 2017 at 07:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

November 01, 2017

Is The "Moderate Al-Qaeda" Set To Target Hizbullah?

Since 2011 two propaganda campaigns have attempted to sell al-Qaeda in Syria as "moderate". The purpose was to justify the arming and cooperation with al-Qaeda to eliminate the secular Syrian state.  Recently a third "moderate al-Qaeda" wave has been launched. A possible purpose is to use al-Qaeda in a new war on Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The first wave occurred in October 2013. We wrote about it in Your Moderate Cuddly Homegrown Al-Qaeda. The New York Times, the Washington Post and various other outlets depicted al-Qaeda in Syria, which was operating together with U.S. supported "moderate rebels", as tempered and less harmful than the Islamic State organization ISIS. Meanwhile the "moderate rebels" allied with al-Qaeda were engaged in sectarian massacres against any Syrian non-Muslim. (The media has always whitewashed that part of the rebels' record.)

Two years later a second pro al-Qaeda campaign was launched. Qatari and Israeli lobbyists tried to sell al-Qaeda as a force that could be used to fight ISIS and the Syrian government. The neoconservative General Petraeus promoted an U.S. alliance with it.

Both campaigns muddied the waters but were not completely successful. Al-Qaeda in Syria, under its various names and alliances, continued to be officially recognized as terrorist group. But hidden from mainstream reporting the CIA armed it by providing freely to the Free Syrian Army rebels who were allied with it.

In May 2016 the Wahhabi paid anti-Syrian propagandist Charles Lister still had to ask the "moderate rebels" to better hide their allegiance with al-Qaeda. The same Charles Lister is now engaged in the third attempt to whitewash al-Qaeda into some moderate entity. Lister is claiming that the latest renaming of al-Qaeda/Jabhat al Nusra/Jabhat Fateh al-Sham into Hayet Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) was a serious step away from al-Qaeda's global leadership and ideology towards a local moderate position:

While still a jihadist group seeking the creation of local Islamic Emirates as future components of a global caliphate, HTS bore virtually no loyalty or allegiance to al-Qaeda or Nusra.
...
A groundless and frequently conspiratorial debate isolated to the distant Washington, D.C., beltway claimed the evolution of Nusra-to-JFS-to-HTS was merely a ploy to fool the West.

Unfortunate for Lister the fake "moderate" HTS does not agree with his claims:

HTS leaders themselves say the initial AQ break was a ruse. ... Nusrah’s leadership sold the al-Qaeda split internally on the grounds that it was basically false.

The Lister piece seems coordinated with a pamphlet from the Pentagon think-tank RAND (also published in Foreign Affairs) which again sells al-Qaeda as "a moderate alternative":

It remains unthinkable to most that the term “moderate” could ever be applied to an affiliate of the group responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. But al Qaeda's Syrian franchise has quietly emerged as the less extreme alternative to ISIS within the jihadist universe. And that could spell a situation, at least in the long term, in which al Qaeda begins to resemble the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

The comparison with Hizbullah is laughable. Hizbullah is a local Lebanese group founded to fight against the Israeli occupation of its country. It is currently engaged in Syria to protect Lebanon from attacks of al-Qaeda and the like. Hizbullah never seriously engaged outside of that role. It refrains from sectarian strife and unlike al-Qaeda does not have an expansive ideology. Al-Qaeda and its "rebel" affiliates continue to strive for a global emirate and brutally oppose any person and entity that does not follow their Salafi/Wahhabi rules. To depict these groups as similar is not sound analysis but sets the stage for a "fair" confrontation between them.

Turkey has recently negotiated and allied with al-Qaeda to position its army against the Kurdish enclave Efrin in north-west Syria. The Turkish troops were escorted by al-Qaeda/HTS towards their positions. Officially Turkey continues to oppose al-Qaeda in any form. Its active co-operation with al-Qaeda received no negative coverage or condemnation from "western" media. It is expected that Turkey will later use al-Qaeda in Syria to justify an continued occupation of the country:

Ankara’s troops entered the northern Syrian city of Idlib – following an understanding with al-Qaeda – without any clash. This indicates that Turkey has not ended its role within Syria or the role of al-Qaeda: Ankara is expecting to play the al-Qaeda card when its forces will be asked to withdraw from Syria.

The campaign to whitewash al Qaeda was also joined by the Syrian "rebel journalist" Moussa al-Omar who reports from northern Syria that he fails to find any al-Qaeda at all. The current propaganda wave trivializes al-Qaeda in Syria and prepares for further cooperation with it. But the CIA is no longer arming the "rebels" and has no further immediate purpose for al-Qaeda.

What then is the operational aim behind this?

A hint may be in a recent announcement by the Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan who is well known for his extreme sectarian positions. The U.S. envoy McGurk recently introduced Thamer to the eastern Syrian tribes who were allied with ISIS until they were bought off to act as U.S. auxiliaries. Shortly thereafter Thamer visited Lebanon:

Firebrand Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan on Monday called for “toppling Hizbullah” and promised “astonishing” developments in “the coming days.”
...
Referring to his Sunday tweet about the Lebanese government, the minister said: “I addressed my tweet to the government because the Party of Satan (Hizbullah) is represented in it and it is a terrorist party. The issue is not about toppling the government but rather that Hizbullah should be toppled.”

“The coming developments will definitely be astonishing,” al-Sabhan added.

Nicholas Noe reliably reports from Lebanon. He warns of an upcoming campaign:

Nicholas Noe‏ @NoeNicholas Oct 30

Strong pessimism over this next stage here in Lebanon 4 Syria+Leb. Little hope of draw down/stabilization. New+deeper conflicts on the way
It looks very likely that the major conflict some of us have warned of for a while, w/ Hezbollah as primary target but huge effect, is near.

Hizbullah can only be fought by a force with a strong ideology that nonetheless is acceptable to the outside world. Fighting Hizbullah is a long pursued aim of the Saudis. Earlier Saudi proxy forces in Lebanon failed because they lacked the right mindset and support. A "moderated" al-Qaeda, transferred through Turkey via sea to Lebanon, would be the adequate tool for a renewed anti-Hizbullah campaign.

Posted by b on November 1, 2017 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (44)

 
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