Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 31, 2018

Sleuthhound Puppy Takes 'Deep Dive' Into MoA - (Funny)

This is funny.

The Twitter conservation below started when Borzou Daragahi, a main stream scribe and gullible simpleton, asked about Moon of Alabama. He had been made aware of and disliked the head scarf piece which was posted here yesterday. One Jett Goldsmith volunteered to respond.


Jett Goldsmith (left)
Borzou Daragahi @Borzou - 10:36 PM - 30 Jan 2018
Who’s or what’s behind Moonie Alabama?

Jett Goldsmith‏ @JettGoldsmith - 10:48 PM - 30 Jan 2018
Replying to @borzou
Moon of Alabama is an American conservative/quasi-conspiracy theorist forum. It's run by a German Vietnam veteran named Billmon.

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith
Replying to @JettGoldsmith @borzou
Out of curiosity, I dived rather deep into his story a few weeks ago. I found a bunch of articles from mutual friends who served with him in Vietnam, referencing his life. Let me try and find them.

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith
Here we go. Bernhard Horstmann, the founder of Moon of Alabama, is a dual national current resident of Germany who opted to serve in the US Army Corps of Engineers during Vietnam. He's written about at length here. http://www.tombutt.com/pdf/letters%20home.pdf …

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith
Here's Horstmann pictured in 2012 with local Richmond, CA community member Tom Butt, who served with him in Vietnam. Butt later became mayor of Richmond. pic

Moon of Alabama @MoonofA - 11:22 PM - 30 Jan 2018
You made 9 factual claims in the above of which 8 are completely wrong. That's an F.

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith
Though an 89% inaccuracy rate may be correct for the average @MoonofA article, I can assure you, Mr. Horstmann, absent my previously addressed inaccuracies, everything below is quite true and openly verifiable.

Moon of Alabama @MoonofA
Ah! "Bellingcat" quality!
@moonofa is not Billmon, Billmon is not running Moon of Alabama, I am. I am not American, never been U.S. military, never been in Vietnam, never been in Richmond, don't know Tom Butt and am not conservative. Pic isn't of me.

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith
This is rather characteristic, Mr. Horstmann, of someone who would use quotation marks around a term for no discernible reason. Safe to say you're in the rather unfortunate position of being unable to dispute the above 2 separate accounts of your identity without doxing yourself.

Jett Goldsmith @JettGoldsmith - 11:49 PM - 30 Jan 2018
Nor, it seems, are you able to read; roughly half of the claims you've attempted to dispute in your above comment, Mr. Horstmann, were never asserted in the first place.

A screenshot of the above conversation.


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The Twitter profile of Mr. Goldsmith links to an author-page at the notorious amateur sleuthing site Bellingcat.com. It says:

Jett Goldsmith is a journalist from Denver, Colorado. He currently serves as a freelance editorial columnist/essayist for Middle East Eye, and formerly co-founded the investigative reporting and geopolitical analysis outlet Conflict News. He is currently an undergraduate student in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies.

The "editorial columnist/essayist for Middle East Eye" published a total of two pieces for that Qatari/Muslim Brotherhood propaganda outlet. They criticized the Syria policy of Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders for not being bloody enough. The above picture is from his MEE profile. Over the last three years Jett Goldsmith produced a total of nine stilted posts for Bellingcat.com. Some are facile speculation based on the wrong data, others follow the typical scheme of that site: "Putin and/or Assad did it! And here is the pseudo science I use to make up that story." Jett publicly claims that he "co-founded" ConflictNews. That is "total bullshit," says Gissur Simonarson, the founder of ConflictNews. Until May 2015 Jett likely co-edited The View, the student paper of the Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colorado.

One probably has to excuse such an experienced investigative journalist a highly productive writer for making some minor mistakes in his  'deep dive' googling research about this site and its proprietor.

Posted by b on January 31, 2018 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (68)

January 30, 2018

U.S. Runs Headscarf Campaign Against Iran

A U.S. government funded public relation campaign tries to incite women in Iran to break the law. The reporting of the campaign in western media is unproportionate to its effects in Iran. The professional propagandist who runs the campaign on behalf of the U.S. government is introduced as ordinary "women’s rights activist". The larger propaganda scheme and the U.S. government influence in it are willfully ignored.

In June 2017 the CIA created a new "mission center" for attacking Iran:

The Iran Mission Center will bring together analysts, operations personnel and specialists from across the CIA to bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The first visible results of the new center's work was the hijacking of economic protests in Iran at the end of last year. The slogans and symbols used and the specific western media support lets one assume that exile MEK terrorists and monarchist organizations were involved in the affair. The demonstrations immediately turned violent and lost all public backing. They petered out, as predicted, within a few days.

On December 28, the very same day the demonstrations started, this picture made the rounds:


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A woman in Tehran defied the law by taking off her headscarf. The pictures and a video showed that people around mostly ignored the stunt. Only after the photo made the rounds in "western" media, was the woman taken in for questioning but later released. The picture and video was first posted by @masihpooyan:


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The start for the demonstrations and the posting of this campaign picture on the very same day was likely not just a coincidence. The campaign to induce women in Iran to take of their mandatory scarf has been an on-and-off western influence operations since at least 2014. It had been dormant for a while until the very same day regular demonstrations over legitimate economic issues were turned into anti-government riots.

The anti-scarf campaign is run by Masih Alinejad who works for Voice of America's (anti-)Iranian TV program and other U.S. "regime change" media outlets.

The woman is an interesting asset. Her real name is Masoumeh Alinejad but she uses Masih, the Persian language word for "anointed" or "Messiah", as her artist name. She is now 41 years old and lives in New York. She got first noticed as a rabble rousing journalist in Iran. According to a 2009 New Yorker portrait:

Alinejad was a known quantity; in 2005, she was expelled from covering the parliament after she disclosed the salaries of populist deputies who had falsely claimed to have taken pay cuts.

She worked for the Iranian newspaper Etemad-e Melli which was financed by Mehdi Karroubi. (In June 2009 Karroubi lost the Iranian  presidential election against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Karroubi started the Green "color revolution" protests claiming election fraud even though all available pre- and post-election surveys confirmed Ahmedinejad's win. Mehdi Karroubi has since been under house arrest.)

According to Time magazine Alinejad "spent much of 2007 in London studying English". In 2008 Etemad-e Melli published a slander piece of hers against then President Ahmedinejad. She compared his voters to starving fish waiting for bread crumbs. It was soon retracted and Karroubi publicly apologized for it. By then "she had been invited to study English for a year at Oxford", according to the New Yorker. She used that time to make contact with U.S. officials. She wrote a letter requesting an interview with U.S. President Obama:

An official at the U.S. Embassy in London agreed to forward the letter to Washington, and invited her to the Embassy for a meeting. The political officer she met with had a thick file that held all the available English-language press clippings about her. But his manner was “respectful,” she recalls. “He said, ‘We know who you are. You are a tough lady.’”

Her file and the interview must have satisfied the "political officer". Soon after that she received a visa for the United States. Her Wikipedia entry adds:

She was interviewed by VOA, which was shown together with parts of the videos she had made, called ‘A Storm of Fresh Air.’ In 2010 she and a group of Iranian writers and intellectuals established ‘IranNeda’ foundation. After the presidential election in Iran in 2009, she published a novel called ‘A Green Date’.

Alinejad graduated in 2011 with a degree in Communication, Media and Culture from Oxford Brookes University.

She has been working for Voice of America since at least 2013 from London as part of the VoA Farsi language show OnTen.

Her Oxford public relation degree is truly justified. Since 2011 the Guardian quoted or mentioned her some 35 times! That must be a record. Wikipedia names the Iranian-British Bloomberg writer Kambiz Foroohar as her spouse. His Twitter account retweets and promotes his wife's campaign.

In 2014 Alinejad moved to New York and started her first campaign against a public law in Iran which makes it compulsory for women to cover their hair in public. The my stealthy freedom web and social media campaign was supposed to incite women In Iran to take pictures of themselves in public but without a scarf. It was heavily propagandized in various western media. In 2015 she received a prize from the notorious Zionist lobby organization UN Watch. The latest item posted on the first headscarf campaign website is from September 6 2015. It has since been dormant.

Alinejad claimed several times that she was slandered by Iranian media. I have seen no evidence for that claim but would not be astonished to find that an agent working for a foreign government, which is openly attempting to overthrow the Iranian political system, is somewhat disliked in that country.

Since 2015 Alinejad has her own show Tablet on VoA Farsi announced as the "15-min prime time show" that would be "focuses on cultural and social issues involving young people in Iran and the United States." Public contracts show that she receives $85.600 per annum from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. The BBG is running U.S. influence media like Voice of America in English and foreign languages. It is officially controlled by the U.S. State Department.

In February 2017 Alinejad publicly lauded the French right wing candidate Marie Le Pen for rejecting to wear a head scarf while visiting a religious official in Lebanon. She changed her post after being criticized for pandering to far right Islamophobia.

Her public anti-head scarf campaign, dormant since September 2015, was revived via a public relation push in May 2017. It was renamed from "My Stealthy Freedom" to "White Wednesday" The BBC posted a marketing piece about it.

Using the hashtag #whitewednesdays, citizens have been posting pictures and videos of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing as symbols of protest.

The idea is the brainchild of Masih Alinejad, founder of My Stealthy Freedom, an online movement opposed to the mandatory dress code.

Newsweek also published a PR write up. Both pieces claim that the campaign received a great social media response but its official announcement on Facebook shows only 1,400 likes and 316 shares. That is a very meager response. The Reuters PR rewrite says:

Some of the videos, which are subtitled by volunteers, have several hundred shares on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page that has more than a million followers.

Everyone should know by now that the number of followers is not a valid measure. Followers can be bought by the 10,000nds for small money. A video I recently posted on Twitter about U.S. soldiers shooting an Afghan truck driver was retweeted (shared) 900 times, more often than the videos of that greatly promoted anti-scarf campaign. How relevant then can that campaign be?

The main Facebook page of the campaign has some 2,800 "Timeline photos" but only a dozen of those are of women taking off their scarfs in public. The real response in Iran for the campaign is thus completely insignificant. Over the last days some six of probably 50 million women in the Islamic Republic have allegedly taken part in it. The marketing noise in the "western" media about the campaign is in reverse proportion to its effect in Iran.

Ms. Alinejad opposes the political system in Iran. She is working for the U.S. government and runs public relation campaigns which are designed to (a.) defame the Islamic Republic in the "west" and to (b.) raise internal dissent in Iran. The defaming part is working well but the campaign seems to have little response in Iran itself. That is not astonishing. Under the last two presidents social restrictions in Iran have been gradually lifted. [Update: As several people have noted in the comments the authorities in Tehran are no longer prosecuting the lack of a headscarf, but the law that makes them mandatory is still on the books.] The foreign driven anti-head scarf campaign only helps hardliners who see it as undue western influence and call for harsh measures against people falling for it. The campaign is not in the interest of the women in Iran:

“Iranian women have decades of experience in organizing in Iran for change. It is when their movement has been politicized by western feminists, especially those tied to the right, that the situation becomes more dire for them on the ground,” Bajoghli told Newsweek.

All of the above is public information and just a few clicks away. But U.S. media still try to hide the U.S. government connection. The New York Times just published a piece about one of those few Iranian women who reacted to the campaign. Thomas Erdbrink, the Times correspondent in Tehran, writes:

The first protest in December took place on a Wednesday and seemed connected to the White Wednesday campaign, an initiative by Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian journalist and activist living in the United States. Ms. Alinejad has reached out to Iranian women on Persian-language satellite television ...

There are probably 150 Persian language satellite TV stations. At no point does Erdbrink explain that the TV station Alinejad is working for is the U.S. government financed and controlled VoA Farsi. Nowhere does the NYT piece mention U.S. government influence. Instead we get this:

Hard-liners say that foreign intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, have been nurturing protests in Iran
...
The hard-liners have not provided proof to back up their claims.

Erdbrink of course knows that Alinejad is working for VoA. That fact alone evidently confirms that the campaign is driven by a U.S. agency which is specifically tasked to manipulate people in foreign countries. Over the last three years Masih Alinejad has received at least $230,000 in BBG/U.S. government contracts while running her campaign. To then claim that "hard-liners have not provided proof" for their claims of foreign government influence is just laughable. The proof is there for anyone to see.

A Newsweek piece from early January uses a similar obfuscation. It refers to Masih Alinejad as "an Iranian women’s rights activist" without mentioning at all that it is her daily well paid job to create anti-Iranian propaganda on behalf of the U.S. government.

Voice of America has only a small viewership in Iran. The VoA campaign is mostly run on Twitter and Facebook which are both not available in Iran. It can hardly have any significant impact within the country. It is certainly less than its hundreds of mentions in western media let one assume. But it helps to foster a hostile atmosphere in the "western" public against the government and political structure of Iran.

The historian Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi sees an additional, deeper motive for this campaign:

Whatever one’s stance, it’s hard to avoid conclusion that resistances to mandatory hijab in Iran are fetishised in Western coverage because they impose upon such struggles a certain self-image of Western civilisation as “enlightened” and the “saviour of brown women from brown men”.

Another Iranian, not yet working for a U.S. propaganda outlet, posted this response to the anti-scarf campaign:


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Are there any "enlightened saviors" who will sponsor his campaign against the mandatory wearing of pants?

Posted by b on January 30, 2018 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (86)

January 29, 2018

Syria - Neo-Conservatives Demand "Action" - Hope For A Larger War

The U.S. polity and media now acknowledge what we reported on December 21. The U.S. announcement to build up a 30,000 strong PKK army in north-east Syria was a disaster. It prompted Turkey to initiate its attack on YPG/PKK Kurds in Afrin. It threatens do drive it out of NATO and into Russia's open arms. It gives the Syrian government new leverage against the Syrian Kurds.

Under Turkish threats to attack U.S. forces in Syria the Trump administration had to pull back - at least in its rhetoric. Independent of who rules Turkey the country will never acquiesce to an armed Kurdish entity on its southern border. The U.S. should have know this.

This failure of the Trump administration's plan has prompted a new push from neoconservative propagandists for a full U.S. war on Syria and its allies. The lobby shop of the Kagan family, the Institute For The Study of War, had its junior staff pen an op-ed for Foxnews to argue for a new study object:

It's time for Trump to face reality in Syria

The U.S. must rapidly change how it is executing policy in five key areas.
  1. Russian military bases. ...
  2. Acceptance of Bashar al-Assad. ...
  3. Syrian “de-escalation.” ...
  4. The “peace” process. ...
  5. Iran and al Qaeda. ...

The hinted at solutions, couched in vague language, are for 1. nuke them, 2. kill him, 3. stop it, 4. who cares, 5. destroy 'em all:

The U.S. must face reality in Syria. It must recognize the threat Russia poses. It must acknowledge the limits of its current partners on the ground. It cannot put faith in a diplomatic charade. It must implement a real strategy against al Qaeda and Iran. And it must recognize the value of American action over American rhetoric.
...
It will take a long time and a hard struggle to achieve any outcome in Syria that the U.S. should be willing to live with. It is time to focus on it, devote resources to it, and prepare to do so for a long time.

"For a long time" sounds to me like a multi decade occupation of the Syrian battlefield and the adjacent areas. I doubt that any politician who wants to be reelected will vote for that.

A second neocon op-ed, this by Josh Rogin, was posted at Jeff Bezos' blog: Team Trump must match its new rhetoric on Syria with action.

It is not useful to quote the nonsense but here are some of the rhetoric figures it uses:

... the will and leverage needed to lead a solution to the Syrian crisis - defend U.S. interests - confronting the ongoing terrorist threat - Iranian expansion - Bashar al-Assad’s brutal aggression - on-the-ground influence - herculean effort - a contingent that wants to cut and run - a real plan - fundamental flaw - a lack of sufficient leverage on the ground ...

After having set the scene for a massive U.S. occupation of Syria, Rogin claims that "nobody is advocating" a "large increase in U.S. troops". His advice then is to do more of the stuff that evidently just failed: stick to the Kurds, pay some Arab tribes (aka former ISIS), arm rebels (aka al-Qaeda) in Idleb. But then comes the real blopper:

the Trump administration should raise the pressure on Assad, Russia and Iran, including through sanctions, the credible threat of U.S. force and whatever else might persuade them.

Now what please is a "credible threat of U.S. force" against those three countries? And might they have the capability to credibly threat back? Who will win the thermonuclear war over the Tanf desert base in south-east Syria?

A year into Trump’s presidency, his administration is saying the United States has a long-term interest in Syria. The next step is to match those words with action.

I have no doubt that the two op-eds were coordinated. More of this kind will likely come. The common theme is "action" and - while not openly said - they demand a larger U.S. war over Syria. The unmentioned beneficiary of such a war, next to the weapon producing financiers of those writers, would be Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The neoconservative writers and their op-eds should be ignored. But the war on Iraq has shown that there is some serious political power behind them. Now someone in the White House will have to pick up those arguments and try to convince Trump with them. Who will that be and will s/he be successful?

Posted by b on January 29, 2018 at 02:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

January 28, 2018

Robert Parry Has Died

Robert Parry, the classic investigative journalist, founder and editor of the Consortium News website, has died.

This is a huge loss for everyone who has kept some skepticism about the propagandistic media onslaught on our consciousness. Parry's writing was always fact based, well grounded and beyond the usual claptrap. The Iran-Contra stroy, Reagan's October surprise and dozens of other political crimes would have been buried had Robert Parry not dug into them.

In his last post on December 31, An Apology and Explanation, he offered these closing words of his long career:

[A]s the New Year dawns – if I could change one thing about America and Western journalism, it would be that we all repudiate “information warfare” in favor of an old-fashioned respect for facts and fairness — and do whatever we can to achieve a truly informed electorate.

Robert's son Nat Parry, who also writes and edits at Consortium News, gives an overview of Robert's work in his obituary. There was hardly any large political scandal in the last 40 years, that Robert Parry had not reported on. He truly made a difference.

May he rest in peace.

Posted by b on January 28, 2018 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

January 27, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-04 (also Jordan)

Jan 15 - Syria - U.S. Traps Itself, Commits To Occupation, Helps To Sustain The Astana Agreement
Jan 18 - Syria - Tillerson Announces Occupation Goals - Erdogan Makes Empty Threats

A few days later those threats turned out to be not so empty - see below.

Jan 20 - Sundry - Shutdown, Ukraine, Omidyar And Syria

Jan 21 - Syria - Turks Attack Afrin, U.S. Strategy Fails, Kurds Again Chose The Losing Side
Jan 22 - Syria - Some Random Oddities

Jan 23 - Calls Upon" Trickery - How Europe Cheats On Iran's Nuclear Agreement
Jan 25 - Why Europe Must Reject U.S. Blackmail Over Iran's Nuclear Agreement - An Update

Tillerson just said that negotiations between the U.S. on Iran's nuclear deal have started:

“The working groups have already begun to meet on efforts to agree principles, what is the scope of what we attempt to address and also how much we engage Iran on discussions to address these issues,” he said.

Oh my ...

Jan 25 - Who Lost Turkey?" - The U.S.-Kurdish Project In Syria Endangers NATO

There is trouble with another U.S. ally in its war on Syria. Bread prices in Jordan doubled (fr) today after the state removed subsidies. There will be protests and these may developed into something bigger. The country is nearly bankrupt and under severe IMF restrictions. Under U.S. and Saudi pressure Jordan took part in the war on Syria by hosting "rebels", their refuge families and the U.S. "war room". The war cut off the transit traffic from Turkey through Jordan to Saudi Arabia as well as the local commerce with Syria. The Syrian government will only allow regular traffic if it is in control of the border stations. Attempts to achieve that in a truce and to reopen the border with Syria failed over resistance from the "rebels" in south Syria.

The policy of accommodating the Saudis and the U.S. has failed. The war on Syria created huge damage for Jordan for no gain. The Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom is also responsible for the Haram esh-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The Trump administration's move to take the issue of Israel control over Jerusalem "off the table" and the Saudi acceptance of it has seriously de-legitimized the Jordanian king. Jordan is looking to reorientate its foreign policy. It is moving nearer to Turkey and also held talks with Iran. The next step is probably an invitation for the king for a visit in Moscow.

Some Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander has said: "Bush gave us Iraq, Obama gave us Syria and Trump will give us Israel."  Maybe not Israel yet, but Jordan looks like a decent mosaic piece in that larger picture.

Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on January 27, 2018 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

January 25, 2018

"Who Lost Turkey?" - The U.S.-Kurdish Project In Syria Endangers NATO

Back in the 1950s the U.S. political sphere was poisoned by a groundless smear campaign against country-experts in the State Department  who were identified as those who lost China. If the Trump administration proceeds on its current course we may soon see similar accusations. The accused, those "who lost Turkey", will again be the ones who warned of the possibility and not the real culprits.

The Turkish attack on the Kurd held Syrian canton of Afrin (Efrin) is not progressing as fast the Turks had hoped. The infantry component of the operation are Turkish proxy forces in Syria. These Chechen, Uighur, Turkestanis and other Takfiris are cannon fodder in the operations, not a well integrated component of an army.


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The Kurds know their local mountainous territory, are well armed and willing to fight. They can holdout for a while. Politically they will still be the ones who will lose the most in the conflict. The above linked piece noted that the Kurdish YPG/PKK leaders had rejected the Syrian and Russian government offer that would have prevented the Turkish attack. The offer still exists but the conditions will become less favorable as longer the Kurds hold out.

Elijah Magnier just published more details on that offer and analyses the strategic situation:

[T]he US is observing the performance of the Turkish army with interest and wishes to see Erdogan humiliated, broken on the rocks of the Kurds in Afrin. Indeed, the US has delivered anti-tank weapons, already effectively used by the Kurds against the Turkish army (many tanks damaged during the attack on Afrin).
...
The US can’t understand that Ankara is not ready to see a rich and well-armed Kurdish “state” on its borders, disregarding the US’s tempting and generous offer [of a "safe zone" (see below)]. Actually, the US is offering a territory that not only does not belong to the Americans but is actually occupied by the US forces in north east Syria.

The US is one of the losers in this battle, regardless of the results, because Turkey will continue its operations until the defeat of the Kurds, either by military means or if Afrin returns to [Syrian] central government’s control.

I am not convinced that the above prediction will hold. There is still a possibility that Turkey might again change sides and (again) join the U.S. "regime change" efforts in Syria.

This depends on the winner of a conflict within the U.S. military where opposing forces are pulling for the Turkish and respectively the Kurdish side. Should the pro-Turkish side win, Erdogan can be offered a new deal and might be induced to again change sides from his current pro-Russian (pro-Damascus?) position back towards a pro-NATO/U.S. stand. (There is also a tiny chance that Turkey already has a secret back deal with the U.S. administration but I see no indication for it.)

From the very beginning of the conflict in Syria Turkey worked with the U.S., NATO, the Saudis and Qataris, against the Syrian government. It supported the Saudi and U.S. position of "regime change", let ten-thousands of terrorists pass through its borders and delivered ten-thousands of tons of weapons and supplies to the forces fighting the Syrian government. Finally Russia entered the picture, defeated the Takfiris, put harsh pressure on Turkey and offered new economic deals. At the same time the U.S. attempted "regime change" in Ankara and allied with the Kurdish YPG/PKK in Syria and Iraq.

Erdogan, though unwillingly, changed sides and now works with Russia (and Syria) to bring the war to a conclusion. "Regime change" in Damascus has become an unlikely scenario he no longer supports. At the same time he is still willing to invest money and forces to gain something for his failed investment in the war. Taking Afrin to later incorporate it into an enlarged Turkey is one of those plays. He is clearly still aiming for additional territory. The U.S. now offered him some in form of a safe zone in Syria:


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Ilhan tanir @WashingtonPoint - 7:50 PM - 24 Jan 2018
This map being discussed all day on Turkish TVs as Turkey’s planned security zone/safe zone on Syria border.
Reportedly OK’ed by Sec.Tillerson though nobody on the American side confirms it

If the U.S. indeed made the "safe zone" offer - Tillerson did not deny today to have made such - it found a rather cold response:

Washington’s proposal for the creation of a “security zone” along Turkey’s 911-kilometer border with Syria has received a cool reply from Ankara, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urging the U.S. to first take steps to “re-build trust” between the two allies before discussing such military matters.
...
“The U.S. needs to stop delivering weapons to the YPG. It needs to push the YPG to withdrawing from Manbij if it wants to re-build confidence with Turkey … We have to see all these commitments fulfilled,” Çavuşoğlu said.

It is the U.S. supported founding of a Kurdish state-let in north-east Syria which is Ankara's most serious security concern. No "safe zone" will help if the U.S. military continues to build and supplies a Kurdish "border force" that can penetrate Turkey's south-eastern underbelly - now, tomorrow or in ten years. Unless the U.S. stops that project and retreats from the area Turkey will continue to push against it - if necessary by force.

The Turkish people support the fight against U.S. supported Kurds and are willing to pay the price for it. The Kurdish YPK leaders are delusional in their demands and overestimate their own political position. The U.S. can not have both, Turkey as an ally and a Kurdish proxy state-let. It has to decide.

Yesterday President Trump and Erdogan had a phonecall to discuss the situation. It did not help. The White House readout for the call includes some noticeably harsh language:

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria. He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.
...
President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.

The Turkish side denied that such language and these issues were part of the talk:

The White House's written statement differs from the truth discussed between the Turkish and U.S. Presidents' phone conversation on Wednesday, according to Anadolu Agency sources.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, the sources said President Donald Trump did not discuss any concerns 'of escalating violence in Afrin' during the phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
...
The sources also stressed that President Trump did not use the words "destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey."
...
They also said that there was no discussion of the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey.

It is very unusual to dispute the content of such readouts. Is Turkey obfuscating here or did someone in the White House put harsher language into the readout than was actually used in the call?

Trump had in general good relations with Erdogan and the readout language does not sound like him. The Turkish side also added this:

"In an answer to President Erdogan's highlighting request from Washington to stop providing arms to the PYD/YPG terrorists in Syria within the scope of fighting against terrorism, President Trump said the United States are no longer providing PYD/YPG with weapons," the sources added.

Already in November the Turks had said that Trump promised to stop the delivery of weapons to the YPG forces in east-Syria. But the White House was evasive on the issue and the U.S. military Central Command has acted contrary to that promise. If the Magnier report is correct CentCom also delivered anti-tank missiles to the Kurds in Afrin.

I have for some time presumed that are different opinions in the White House and especially in the Pentagon with regards to Turkey and the Kurds. The realist-hawks and NATO proponents are on Turkey's side while the neoconservative "liberal" forces are on the Kurdish side. Yesterday the NYT noted the split:

The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The former director of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, takes the pro-Kurdish position. Linking to the NYT piece above he says:

Richard N. Haass‏ @RichardHaass - 12:00 PM - 24 Jan 2018
Pentagon right; US should be working w Kurds in Syria for moral and strategic reasons alike. A break with Erdogan’s Turkey is inevitable, if not over this than over other differences. Time for DoD to come up with plan to substitute for Incirlik access.

It is not only the Incirlik air-base which is irreplaceable for NATO's southern command. Turkey also controls the access to the Black Sea and has thereby a say over potential NATO operations against southern Russia and Crimea.

In a Bloomberg oped former U.S. Supreme Commander of NATO Stavridis takes a pro-Turkish position:

At the moment, Washington is trying to sail a narrow passage between supporting its erstwhile Kurdish combat partners and not blowing up the relationship with Turkey. But the room for maneuver is closing and a choice is looming. What should the U.S. do?
...
[W]e simply cannot afford to "lose" Turkey.
...
The Turks have a strong and diversified economy, a young and growing population, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century. Yes, U.S. officials can and should criticize Turkish actions where they violate international law or human rights -- but in private, at least at this stage of the situation.
...
[T]he overall U.S. strategic interest lies in keeping Turkey aligned with NATO and the trans-Atlantic community. It would be a geopolitical mistake of near-epic proportions to see Turkey drift out of that orbit and end up aligned with Russia and Iran in the Levant.

It is unclear where in the Trump administration the split between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish positions actually is. (Or is it all around chaos?) On which side, for example, is Secretary of Defense Mattis and on which side is the National Security Advisor McMaster? This clip from the NYT piece above lets one assume that they pull in opposite directions:

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed.
...
That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.
...
But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force.

Discussing NATO relations with Turkey, several western "experts" agree that the current situation damages NATO but not one of them expects that Turkey will leave the alliance:

NATO needs Turkey and cannot afford to push it further into Russia’s arms. Erdoğan also needs NATO. He has overplayed his hand in Syria and in his struggle with the Kurds, and is isolated in the EU. His relationship with Moscow is problematic and he does not want to face Putin without NATO membership. This is an alliance that remains based on real strategic interests and that will continue long after Erdoğan is gone.

Maybe. I am not so sure.

The last thing the EU now wants or needs is Turkish membership. The U.S. instigated a coup against Erdogan and its Kurdish project is threatening Turkey's strategic interest. Trump's continued push to take Jerusalem "off the table" in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is an insult to all Muslims. An increasingly Islamic Turkey will not accept that. Turkey's natural gas supplies depend on Russia and Iran. Russia builds nuclear power stations in Turkey and will deliver air defense systems that can defend against U.S. attacks. Russia, Iran, Central Asia and beyond that China are markets for Turkish products.

Putting myself into Erdogan's shoes I would be very tempted to leave NATO and join an alliance with Russia, China and Iran. Unless the U.S. changes course and stops fooling around with the Kurds Turkey will continue to disentangle itself from the old alliance. The Turkish army has so far prevented a break with NATO but even staunch anti-Erdogan officers are now on his side.

If the U.S. makes a real offer to Turkey and adopts a new position it might be able to turn Turkey around and to put it back into its NATO fold. Is the Trump White House capable of defying the pro-Israel/pro-Kurdish voices and move back to that realist view?

If it can not do that the real answer to the question "Who lost Turkey?" will be obvious.

Posted by b on January 25, 2018 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (288)

Why Europe Must Reject U.S. Blackmail Over Iran's Nuclear Agreement - An Update

The Trump administration has threatened to end the nuclear deal with Iran. In our last post we argued in detail that the attempt of the European 3, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, to soothe Trump by condemning Iran's ballistic missiles is itself a breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

The University of Alabama endorsed Moon of Alabama's legal reasoning :-). Professor Daniel Joyner, author of several books on international law, non-proliferation and the nuclear deal with Iran, responded to the piece:

Dan Joyner @DanJoyner1 - 6:43 PM - 24 Jan 2018
Replying to @MoonofA
Hi, I enjoyed your post and agree with its analysis.
I examined 2231 in a chapter you can download here: Iran's Nuclear Program and International Law: From Confrontation to Accord, Chapter 7
I addressed the missile issue at pg. 240, and reached the same conclusion you do.

Ellie Geranmayeh, a member of the European Council of Foreign Relations (a U.S. aligned institution), is also defending the nuclear deal and warns against endorsing its breach. She argues in Foreign Policy that the Europeans should not soothe Trump but take a strong stand against any U.S. attempt to put Iran back into the bad corner:

Some European officials state in private that the best option is for Europe to muddle through in the hope that Trump will eventually shift his position. But muddling through just won’t do. Trump is likely to continue increasing his maximalist demands unless Europe flexes its political muscle.

In order to protect its economic and security interests, Europe must not only reject Trump’s ultimatum — which would be a kiss of death for the nuclear deal — but also push back. Europe should put in place a viable contingency plan if the United States continues backtracking on the deal and let Washington know it’s ready to use it.

The author puts forward a four point plan which would indemnify European companies which are dealing with Iran but threatened by secondary U.S. sanctions:

Put simply, EU officials must tell Trump: If you fine our companies’ assets in the United States, we will reclaim those costs by penalizing U.S. assets in Europe. This would cause a major trade conflict that the Europeans want to avoid by all means. But the option and the precedent exist.

Pressing Iran on the ballistic missile issue leads to a dead end, and possibly a new conflict that is not in European interest. Europe should  therefore address that issues on a wider, regional base:

[I]n recent months France and Germany have reportedly both pressed for the EU to introduce new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile program. This approach is unlikely to persuade Tehran to negotiate over its missile program. Nor are such steps likely to gain support from China and Russia as the nuclear-related sanctions did. This is especially true now due to rising U.S.-Iranian tensions and increasing Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. A more pragmatic approach would be for the EU to facilitate a dialogue with all regional powers with the goal of limiting the range of ballistic missiles and their transfer under existing international arms control regimes.

Possibly later this week a U.S. delegation will meet with European diplomats to talk about the way forward. Britain, pressed with a Brexit scenario, is probably the most inclined to follow the U.S. line:

“I’d say there was a pretty wide measure of agreement on the European side about the need to look at what Iran is doing on the ballistic missile front and to work out what we can do collectively to constrain that activity and to make a big difference there,” [British Foreign Secretary Boris] Johnson said at a meeting with [U.S. Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson on Monday. “And we think we can do that; we think we can do that together. But as Rex says, it’s important we do that in parallel and don’t vitiate the fundamentals of the Iran nuclear deal, and we’re sure we can do that.”

Johnson and others are wrong with this. There is no reasonable case at all to (solely) address Iranian ballistic missiles when Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. (also Pakistan) all have ballistic missiles pointed at Iran. Tehran will rightfully reject any such talks. Addressing Iran's ballistic missiles in the framework of JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 is a breach of the resolution which had lifted all limits on Iran's missile activities. The only chance to talk about ballistic missiles at all is within a much wider framework.

The EU-3 should follow the advice given by Ellie Geranmayeh and prepare for an economic confrontation with the U.S. over the nuclear deal. It is clearly the U.S. which is in breach of the deal and which rejects the UNSC resolution it had earlier supported.

If the Europeans do not hold up the case, Trump will notice that the EU folds even under mild pressure. He will use that experience to push other cases and will attempt to blackmail the EU over and over again.

The involved politicians should also recognize that opposing Trump is a domestic winner in Europe where his approval rates are at a record low. There will be no lack of backing for harder line policies.

Posted by b on January 25, 2018 at 04:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

January 23, 2018

"Calls Upon" Trickery - How Europe Cheats On Iran's Nuclear Agreement

[An addition to the original piece below was added here: Why Europe Must Reject U.S. Blackmail Over Iran's Nuclear Agreement - An Update]
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The Trump administration wants to abolish the nuclear agreement with Iran. The big European countries want to keep the formal agreement but are actively looking for other reasons, specifically Iran's ballistic missiles, to put new sanctions on Iran. A detailed look into the issue reveals that those European countries are willfully misreading the relevant UN resolutions and mislead the public about their real motivations.

Elijah Magnier just published an excellent piece on the history of U.S. attempts to restrict Iran in the Middle East and to again put it again under its tutelage. He touches on the nuclear deal with Iran and the Trump administration attempts to abolish it. The deal was cosigned by three European countries, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, as well as by Russia and China. Magnier writes:

Iran will not re-negotiate the nuclear deal and relies on Europe to stand firm, confirming its signature and commitment. Europe is in need of Iran because the Islamic Republic is part of the continent’s national security and an advanced guard against terrorism. Europe has had enough of wars [... .]

[The] Iranians and their allies are the partners Europe is looking for, ready to stand back from the US, that faraway continent that is less vulnerable than nearby Europe to terrorism and terrorists.

That assessment of the European position is wrong.

  1. The European governments care about terrorism just as much as the U.S. government does - which means they do not care at all. Remember that the war on Libya, with the help of Qatari paid Takfiris of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was cooked up by the French President Sarkozy and the Britain Prime Minister Cameron a full year before it happened. Ghaddafi was killed, Libya drowned in blood and terrorism thrived. The blow back came in May 2017 when a Libyan Takfiri blew himself up and killed more than 20 people in Manchester UK. No one was held responsible. Instead the Europeans repeat the same scheme in Syria and are still supporting the terrorist assaults against the legitimate Syrian government.
  2. These Europeans want Iran back under a strict sanction regime just like the U.S. wants it. They Europeans do not want to formally break the nuclear agreement. (They might fear that some companies would file for indemnity.) But they are actively looking for ways to circumvent it. They want to provoke Iran into breaking the agreement by claiming that Iran's ballistic missile program is in violation of the nuclear agreement and the relevant UN resolutions. If they use the issue to apply unilateral sanctions or to "snap back" old ones, Iran has little choice but to declare the agreement null and void.

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Some relevant headlines:

These European countries say they are under pressure from Trump to offer something and are therefore taking up the ballistic missile issue:

The strategy could include threatening Iran with targeted economic sanctions if it does not agree to curtail its ballistic weapons arsenal, which the West believes contains longer-range missiles potentially capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

But why would anyone believe that Trump would not just take whatever Europeans offer and simply continue on his path. If Trump wants to break the nuclear agreement the Europeans should let him do so and not risk to add to the damage.

Moreover - the claim that these Europeans are moving against Iran's ballistic missiles because of Trump is deeply dishonest. The same European countries started their campaign about the alleged Iranian ballistic missile violation under then President Obama. As DW reported on March 30 2016(!):

The United States and its European allies have accused Iran of defying a UN Security Council resolution by launching nuclear-capable missiles.

The US, Britain, France and Germany leveled the charges Tuesday in a joint letter addressed to Spain's UN ambassador and UN chief Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, US and European officials said Iran's recent ballistic tests involved missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and were "in defiance of" council resolution 2231, adopted last July.

Iran had launched missiles that were "inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons," the letter said. It called on the Security Council to discuss appropriate responses to Tehran's failure to comply with its obligations.

That 2016 letter itself was based on two lies. As discussed in detail below the UNSC Resolution 2231 (2015) does NOT prohibit any ballistic missile activities in Iran. It especially does NOT prohibit missiles "inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons". It does not even "demand" such. Iran acted as much "in defiance" as someone who rejects an "obligation" to "suck on this" (vid).

As DW correctly noted:

Council diplomats said the case for new UN sanctions on Iran was weak. Moreover, Western officials said that although the launches went against 2231, they were not a violation of the core nuclear agreement ...
...
Diplomats say key powers agree the resolution's language is not legally binding and cannot be enforced through the use of sanctions or military force. But Western nations view the language as a ban and say Iran has a political obligation to comply.

Iran denies its missiles are able to carry nuclear weapons ...
...
[A] rebuke from the Security Council could provide a legal framework for the US and European countries to consider new sanctions against Iran, according to Western diplomats. France has also suggested there could be unilateral European sanctions over Iran's missile launches.

The European claim now that they want to press Iran on ballistic missiles to prevent Trump from ripping the nuclear agreement apart. This claim is obviously false. The same three Europeans attempted to press Iran on ballistic missiles, in circumvention of the nuclear deal, way before anyone but Trump himself dreamed that he might become President of the United States.


Iran's Ballistic Missile Program

Iran has sensible reasons to have a ballistic missile force. During the Iraq-Iran war the Iraqi army launched the War of the Cities on Iran. Five large waves of air raids and dozens of ballistic missiles with conventional and chemical weapon payloads hit Iranian cities and caused several thousands of casualties within the civilian population. Iran had no way to defend against these attacks or to retaliate in kind. As the Wikipedia entry on the War of the Cities linked above notes:

The conflict caused [the] initiation of Iran's missile program by [the] IRGC.

Currently two of Iran's immediate neighbors have medium range ballistic missile capabilities. Saudi Arabia has a ballistic missile force of older Chinese DF-3 missiles as well as newer Chinese CSS-5 (DF-21). Both types have a range of 1,500-2.5000 miles and a payload capacity of up to 2 tons. Pakistan, Iran's eastern neighbor, has a significant ballistic missile force armed with conventional and nuclear warheads. Israel has medium range ballistic missiles, likely nuclear armed, which can hit Iran. The U.S. has, of course, a missile force with global reach.

Three of Iran's main adversaries, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States, have missiles capable of hitting Iran. Iran does not want to repeat the experience of the Iraq-Iran war. Iran will not give up its own ballistic missile force. Those missiles are its only means to deter especially its Wahabbi and Zionist neighbors and the imperial U.S. from using their missiles against Iranian cities. Iran thus rejects any negotiations about its ballistic missile programs but it has put sensible restrictions on its active forces.

Iran's Supreme Leader voluntarily limited the range of Iran's ballistic missiles:

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari [the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard] told journalists that the capability of Iran’s ballistic missiles is “enough for now.” The Guard runs Iran’s missile program, answering only to Khamenei.

“Today, the range of our missiles, as the policies of Iran’s supreme leader dictate, are limited to 2,000 kilometers, even though we are capable of increasing this range,” he said.

The Iranian ballistic missile program is obviously not directed at Europe. Its missiles can not reach any European city. There is no reason for European countries to worry about them. This could change though if Europe acts hostile against Iran.

No European government has yet plausibly explained why Iran's ballistic missile program should be of any more concerns than Saudi Arabia's or Israel's.


What the UN Security Council resolutions say about Iran's ballistic missiles

To understand the legal aspects we have to dip into the history and language of the relevant UNSC resolutions.

Before the nuclear agreement the UN Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted on June 9 2010, restricted Iran's ballistic missile program in a legally binding form:

Acting under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, [the UNSC]
[...] 9. Decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities;

Note the specific description of "missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons".

On July 20 2015 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2231. It endorses the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA or nuclear agreement, which the five permanent UNSC members and Germany had negotiated with Iran.

In the new resolution the UNSC decides under point 7 that ...:

(a) The provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) shall be terminated;

That paragraph lifts all old restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile activities. The limits of UNSCR 1929 (2010) on ballistic missiles no longer apply.

[Excursus - "snap back"]
There is a tricky issue following the above point 7 in para 10 to 15 of UNSCR 2231 under the title "Application of Provisions of Previous Resolutions". The termination of the old resolutions and the sanctions those applied can, under certain conditions, itself be terminated. This is the "snap back" provisions the Obama administration held out against its critics. A National Public Radio piece explained the process:

Here's how it would work: If U.S. officials believe Iran is violating the deal, they would bring the allegation to the Security Council. At that point, sanctions would be imposed automatically — the first unusual twist in the deal. If members of the security council — Russia, China or others — rise to Iran's defense, they can block the new sanctions only by passing a new resolution.

That could be stopped by a U.S. veto. The U.S. is one of five permanent council members — including Great Britain, France, Russia and China — with veto power.

In other words, instead of making sanctions vulnerable to a veto by the five permanent Security Council members, the deal flips that around, and gives the U.S. (or others) power to stop any attempt to block the imposition of sanctions.

To come to the point where the "snap-back" provision apply, the U.S. or other states must only "notify" the UNSC that it found an issues it "believes constitutes significant non-performance of commitments under the JCPOA."

Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has said that such a "snap back" of sanctions, based on dubious allegations, would be considered by Iran as a violation of the nuclear agreement.

The U.S. and the west-Europeans seem to believe that this backdoor to reintroduce the old sanction regime against Iran can be triggered by their lamenting over Iranian ballistic missiles activities. A precise reading of the resolution shows that this is not the case.
[End of the "snap back" excursus]

The new UNSCR 2231 (2015) itself does not mention ballistic missiles at all. But it has two annexes. Annex A is a copy of the JCPOA as adopted in Vienna on July 14 2015 by all JCPOA parties including Iran. Annex B is simply headline "Statement". It accompanied JCPOA but was issued only by the 5+1 states, not by Iran. The exact legal status of the Annex B "Statement" within the UNSCR is not clear (at least to me). But even if we consider it a binding part of the resolution it does not give the legal backing for the current claims against Iran.

The Annex B Statement provides that:

3. Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or [...]

That point 3 in the Annex B is the only item in UNSCR 2231 (2015) that is relevant to Iran's current ballistic missiles.

Thus:

  • UNSCR 2231 (2015) lifts the strict, legally binding provision ("decides") of UNSCR 1929 (2010) against any and all ballistic missiles in Iran.
  • UNSCR 2231 (2015) introduces a new point in an Annex Statement that asks Iran in a legally non-binding way ("calls upon") to limit its ballistic missile activities.
  • There is a significant change of language in the description of the relevant ballistic missiles between the two resolutions. While 1929 (2010) talks about "missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons", 2231 (2015) talks about "missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons".

Some people, like the US Ambassador to the UN and some European ministers, are trying to build on the "calls upon" provision in the Annex B Statement to accuse Iran of legally violating the resolution.

This is nonsense. The UN issued "Editorial Guidelines" for writing resolutions. The "calls upon" phrase is listed as a "common operative verb" distinct from other, much stronger common operative verbs likes "decides" or "demands". The European Institute for Peace notes on UN resolutions that:

[B]inding paragraphs start with “decides” instead of “urges”, “invites” or “calls upon”.

The "call upon" phrase in UN resolutions is non-binding. It is Diplomatese for "pretty please". Saying "No!" to someones "pretty please" is not defying an "obligation". It is not against the "spirit" of anything. Acting against the request expressed in a "calls upon" clause is NOT a violation of a resolution. It can thus not trigger any legal consequences.

In addition to that the change of language in the ballistic missile description from 1929 (2010) to 2231 (2015) acknowledges that there are ballistic missile types to which even the "calls upon" clause does not apply.

The old formulation practically designated all missiles that have a certain lift capacity and allow for a payload size theoretically large enough to hold a nuclear weapon. This first formulation includes, for example, missiles developed to launch satellites into space as well as some conventional short range artillery missiles.

The second, new formulation is much less restrictive. It applies only to missiles which are consciously "designed", i.e. developed and engineered, with nuclear weapon capability in mind. The technical specificity of such a "design" must go beyond the simple provision of a certain lift capacity and payload size like it is used for space launchers or conventional ballistic missiles. Such differentiating and qualifying language as the resolutions use would otherwise make no sense. The authors and legal editors of such resolutions do not use different technical descriptions for the same specific issue.

Iran says that none of its missiles are "designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons." Thus even the non-binding "calls upon" clause does not apply to them.

It is interesting to note that the change on ballistic missiles between the two resolution was made against the will of the Obama administration. As Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East in the Obama administration, recalled:

[W]hen Mr. Obama sought to include a prohibition on ballistic missiles in the Iran deal, or at least extend a previous Security Council resolution banning them, not just Russia and China but even our European allies in the nuclear negotiations refused. They argued that the ballistic missile ban was put in place in 2010 only to pressure Iran to reach a nuclear deal, and they refused to extend it once that deal had been concluded.

All commentators, except the most partisan against Iran, accept the change between the resolutions 1929 and 2231 and see no violation in Iran's ballistic missile program.

But now the Europeans are trying to revert that position. While they try to keep the nuclear agreement intact they now attempt to build up a new case against Iran based on the ballistic missile nonsense.


Conclusions

  • The claim of the three European countries that they now want to press Iran on ballistic missiles only to soothe Trump and to make him stick to the JCPOA is a lie. They used the same irrelevant pressure point in 2016 under the Obama administration.
  • The claim that the ongoing ballistic missile program of Iran is falling under the UNSCR 2231 missile definition is false. There is no evidence that any Iranian ballistic missiles was specifically "designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons".
  • Even if there were such evidence Iran would not be in any legally relevant violation of the UNSCR 2231. The "calls upon" phrase used in the relevant paragraph is non-binding. (The implied assertion that the Annex II Statement is a fully operational part of the UNSCR might also be questionable.)

All the above shows that the Europeans are not honest with regards to Iran. While they want to keep the formal nuclear agreement intact they still want to take hostile actions against Iran and reintroduce or create new sanctions against it. Iran can not and should hope for any support from Europe.

Posted by b on January 23, 2018 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (82)

January 22, 2018

Syria - Some Random Oddities

A tweet:

Asaad Hanna @AsaadHannaa 4:26pm · 22 Jan 2018
Assad army dropped chlorine bombed barrels on Abo Aldhoor military base #Idlib countryside in a big attempt to take control of it.

The above is from an anti-Syrian "Media Adviser, researcher and freelance journalist" previously published or quoted by Al Jazeerah, The Guardian, Business Insider and several other outlets. His twitter account has a "Verified" mark.

There is only a tiny problem with the tweet about the Abu Duhur air base. Since Saturday the base is in government hands. Yesterday the Syrian Ministry of Defense officially announced the full capture of the air base. There are pictures available and videos from a Russian news outlet showing Syrian army soldiers strolling within the base. Meanwhile the fighting has moved several kilometers beyond the base limits. The Syrian Army dropping "chlorine bombed barrels" on an air base that is in the army's hands would be rather curious incident. There are no such reports from anyone else. The claim does not seem to fit reality. Then again - little of what was published from such "activist journalists" ever made any sense.

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Quod licet Iovi ...

Secretary of State Tillerson on January 17:

The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria ... Our military mission in Syria will remain conditions-based.
...
The United States desires five key end states for Syria: ...

... non licet bovi

State Dep. Spokesperson Heather Nauert on January 21:

[W]e urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration [...] We call on all parties to remain focused on the central goal of defeating ISIS.

Today U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis added this gem of imperial self awareness:

We don't invade other countries, in Russia's case -- Georgia, Ukraine. That we settle things by international rule of law, you know, this sort of thing. And so I think that in terms of great power and competition. One point I want to make is we respect these as sovereign nations with a sovereign voice and sovereign decisions, and we don't think anyone else should have a veto authority over their economic, their diplomatic or their security decisions.

So one of the points I will be making just by being there is we respect these countries, and we respect their sovereignty, their sovereign decisions.

---

The delusions the Syrian YPG/PKK Kurds have of their position is truly amazing:

[Sinam Mohamad, a senior official in the YPG-backed Syrian Kurdish administration in northern Syria and] currently in Washington with fellow Syrian Kurdish representative Nobahar Mustafa, said the Syrian Kurdish people expected the United States to declare a no-fly zone over the Kurdish-controlled north, “including Afrin.” Mustafa, who was present at the interview, concurred that Afrin “presents a very real and immediate test of US commitment to their Kurdish partners.” The United States “must and can stop Turkey,” Mustafa said.

That statement is a real head scratcher. The main U.S. operation base in the area is the NATO airbase Incerlik in Turkey. Should the U.S. fly its jets from Incerlik to fight off the Turkish jets over Afrin which also take off from Incerlik? And what about Syrian and Russian air defenses that cover the area? Do the Kurds expect the U.S. to start World War III over their inability to compromise with the Syrian government?

---

Is this diplomatic artistry or are these helpless gestures?

U.S. allied Turkish forces invade Syria to kill and "cleanse" U.S. allied Syrian YPG/PKK Kurds in Afrin. The Trump administration immediately steps in to assure the respective allies of its continued support:

  • Today the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, the U.S. diplomat Rose Gottemoeller, visited Ankara to tell the Turkish allies that everything is fine. The U.S. will stand with them.
  • Today Commander of U.S. Central Command General Votel and U.S. Diplomat Brett McGurk visited Kobane to tell their Syrian YPG/PKK allies that everything is fine. The U.S. will stand with them.

The U.S. also called on ‘both sides for restraint’ after Turkey attacks Afrin.

My hunch is that despite these visits neither the Turks nor the Kurds were happy with their U.S. allies.

---

Bonus:

The New York Times Editors are very concerned. People with lots of money might get undue representation:

On the same day the NYT publishes a 6,000(!) word promo-piece about that cute (Wahhabi infested) sheikdom of Qatar. The headline is rather revealing:

Posted by b on January 22, 2018 at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

January 21, 2018

Syria - Turks Attack Afrin, U.S. Strategy Fails, Kurds Again Chose The Losing Side

After negotiations between Russia/Syria and the Kurds of Afrin had failed, the Russian side made a deal with Turkey. Now Turkey attacks Afrin while everyone else looks aside. The main impetus for this development was the announcement of a U.S. occupation in north-east Syria with the help of the Kurdish YPG/PKK. The occupation strategy is already failing. The Kurds made the false choice. They will be the losers of this game.

We had wrongly predicted that Turkish threats against the Kurdish held north-west area of Afrin were empty:

The threat is not serious:
  • ...
  • Afrin is under formal protection of Russian and Syrian forces.
  • The real danger to Turkey is not Afrin but the much larger Kurdish protectorate the U.S. publicly announced in north-east Syria.

The Turkish threats and its artillery noise have led to counter noise from Syria and more silent advice from Russia. The Syrian government wants to show that it is the protector of all Syrian citizens be they ethnic Arabs or Kurds. Russia is proud of its role as the grown up who is calming down all sides.

Turkey is now attacking the Afrin canton in full force. With help from one George Orwell the operation was dubbed "Olive Branch"


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The Turkish operation to go after Afrin was triggered by two events. The more important one was the U.S. announcement of a permanent occupation of north-east Syria with the help of a 30,000 men strong SDF "border protection force" consisting of mainly Kurds and some Arabs who earlier fought under ISIS. We had noted at that time:

The Turks were not consulted before the U.S. move and are of course not amused that a "terrorist gang", trained and armed by the U.S., will control a long stretch of their southern border. Any Turkish government would have to take harsh measures to prevent such a strategic threat to the country.

The U.S. move was amateurish. It ignored the security needs of its NATO ally Turkey in exchange for an illegal and unsustainable occupation of north-east Syria. Secretary of State Tillerson tried to calm the Turks by claiming that the "border protection force" was not for border protection. Reports from the training ground expose that as a lie:

"This force will be a foundational force to protect the borders of north Syria," proclaimed the announcer at the graduation ceremony.

A second motive for the Turkish operation was the success of the Syrian army in the east-Idleb where "Free Syrian Army" and al-Qaeda Takfiris supported by Turkey were eliminated by Syrian Army attacks.

The now unfolding Turkish operation was preceded by several rounds of negotiations.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies offered the Afrin Kurds to protect them from any Turkish attacks:

Nearly a week ago, [a] meeting between Russian officials and Kurdish leaders took place. Moscow suggested Syrian State becomes only entity in charge of the northern border. The Kurds refused. It was immediately after that that the Turkish Generals were invited to Moscow. Having the Syrian State in control of its Northern Border wasn't the only Russian demand. The other was that the Kurds hand back the oil fields in Deir al Zor. The Kurds refused suggesting that the US won't allow that anyway. The meeting was not exactly a success.

This account was confirmed by Kurdish negotiators:

Aldar Xelil (@Xelilaldar), member of the Democratic Free Society Tev-Dem: “In a meeting Russia proposed to the Afrin Administration that if Afrin is ruled by the Syrian regime, Turkey won’t attack it. #Afrin Canton Administration refused this proposal.”

The Kurds made a counteroffer. They would raise some Syrian flags and give up on the (mostly destroyed) Menagh air force base they hold but they were unwilling to give up any border control:

A translation from the Diken newspaper:

Amberin Zaman talked to Rojava officials Nobahar Mustafa and Sinam Mohammed. They say:
  • Russia aims to weaken the YPG and to turn Afrin over to "the regime."
  • We're still in negotiations with Russia. They said if you turn over Afrin to the regime it will protect you. We refused. We offered to turn over Menagh airbase and some other checkpoints but they refused.
  • We may pull out of Sochi
  • New alliances will be formed with Saudi, UAE, and Egypt.
  • Rojava forces commander General Mazlum and Ilham Ahmed have met Brett McGurk to ask the US to stop the Turkish attacks. This is a test of how reliable an ally the US is.

After the negotiations with the Kurds had failed Syria and Russia, which was the negotiating entity, made a deal with Turkey. Turkey had agreed to a de-escalation zone in Idleb but never proceeded to set up the promised observation posts in the al-Qaeda ruled area. Turkey had supported al-Qaeda. Fighting it directly is against Turkish interests. It is itself too vulnerable as many al-Qaeda fighters have family and friends living within Turkey.

The new deal will give Syria control over most of Idleb in exchange for Turkish control over Afrin (if the Turks can indeed take the area). In parallel to the start of the Turkish operation the Syrian army took the air base Abu Duhur in east-Idleb. It will eliminate whatever is left of al-Qaeda and ISIS in the now closed cauldron. It will then proceed further into Idelb governorate.


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Having Turkey take over Afrin is bad for Syria. The Syrian government clearly dislikes the deal the Russians made in its name. Any agreement with the shifty Turkish President Erdogan will likely not hold for long. But having the Kurds ally with the U.S. in a permanent occupation of the north-east is even worse.

The Syrian government has rejected Turkish claims that it was informed about the attack and officially condemned the Turkish move. But it can do little against it. Its army is depleted and engaged elsewhere. Neither Russia nor Iran would support an open conflict with Turkey.

Turkish media are in full war mode:

Turkish papers this morning:
  • Hurriyet: Our jets hit #Afrin. Turkey’s heart beats as one
  • Sabah: We hit them in their den
  • Haberturk: Iron fist to terror, olive branch to civilians
  • Sozcu: We said we would strike despite the US and Russia. We struck the traitors

Turkey has launched a quite large operation against Afrin. Its air-force is bombarding the area. It is now sending its most modern tanks. The al-Qaeda-"Free Syrian Army" Turkey supports and controls will be its front line infantry that is sure to bleed the most. Afrin is mountainous and it will be a difficult fight. Two Turkish tanks have already been destroyed. The Kurds are well prepared and armed. Both sides will have lots of losses.

Meanwhile the Syrian army and its allies will have time to take over Idelb.

The U.S. is left with a mess. Its strategy for Syria, only announced last week, is already falling apart. Its Central Command rejected any responsibility for the Kurds in Afrin while allying with the Kurds in the east. These are the same people. The Kurdish military commander in Afrin earlier fought in Kobane. Now Turkish planes are taking off from the U.S. build Incerlik air base to bomb the Kurds in the Syrian west while U.S. tanker planes take off from Incirlik to support the U.S. alliance with the Kurds in the east.

The Arab group Jaysh al Thuwar was part of the Arab fig leaf that disguises the Kurdish command over the U.S. supported SDF in the east. It has now turned sides and is back under Turkish tutelage. (UPDATE: This has now been denied. /end-update)  More elements of the SDF will change sides. We can expect "insider attacks" against the U.S. forces who are training them.

The Kurdish command blames Russia for the Turkish attack on Afrin. That is laughable. Syria and the Russians had supported the Kurds throughout the war. They were the first to deliver weapons and ammunition to the Kurds for the fight against the Takfiris. It were the Kurds that changed sides and invited the U.S. occupation. It is the Kurds that announced they would ask for Saudi support.

Just a few month ago the Kurdish project in Iraq failed miserably. The Iraqi government took back all gains the Kurds had made over a decade and the U.S. did nothing to help their Kurdish "allies". Why do the Kurds in Syria believe that their immense overreach will have a different outcome?

Posted by b on January 21, 2018 at 07:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (142)

January 20, 2018

Sundry - Shutdown, Ukraine, Omidyar And Syria

As I am currently somewhat handicapped in writing a consistent piece (possible reasons: the flu, writers block or temporary burnout) I'll restrict this to some short thoughts on recent issues.

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The so called government shutdown in the U.S. is no shutdown. It is political theater that pretends a political divide between the two parties that simply is not there. All the bad stuff - the military operations, the spying on you and me, and of course the payments to Congress and the White House are designated as "essential" and will continue. Only the nicer stuff, services for the common people, will be restricted. Adam H. Johnson wrote about this split the last time a "government shutdown" happened: It’s Not a Government Shutdown. It’s a Right-Wing Coup.

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The Ukrainian Parliament has practically declared the Minsk agreements null and void and decided to militarily "liberate" Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea from the will of the people living there. Just in time the neo-nazi fanatics of the Azov Battalion received a U.S. military delegation and U.S. arms.

The 2015 Minsk II agreement (full text) demanded that the Ukraine creates a new law for the administration of these regions:

Without delays, but no later than 30 days from the date of signing of this document, a resolution has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, indicating the territory which falls under the special regime in accordance with the law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” based in the line set up by the Minsk Memorandum as of Sept. 19, 2014.

Russia is not a party of the agreement. But when the resolution by the Ukrainian parliament was not forthcoming western propaganda falsely blamed Russia for "not fulfilling the Minsk agreement" and the west has since bound the sanctions on Russia to this fake conclusion.

The National Bank of Ukraine announced that an independent accountant found that PrivatBank, then owned by the coup financier and billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy, was plundered of $5.5 billion shortly before it went bankrupt and nationalized by the coup government. In connection with that an IMF loan of $1.8 billion to the Ukraine allegedly went directly into Kolomoyskiy's pockets. How much of this stolen money was paid to U.S. politicians?

While the anti-Trump politicians and media still fret about "Russian influence" on U.S. social media everyone seems to have forgotten that in early 2016 the Ukraine set up a massive troll farm and a Ministry of Truth. Back then even the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine disliked that. If every troll tweeting in Russian or with Cyrillic letters in its name is under the direct command of Vladimir Putin where then are those Ukrainians trolls?

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Back in December I described how the Silicon Valley billionaires Bezos and Omidyar helped the Obama administration to privatize and hide the NSA papers leaked by Edward Snowden. Mintpress now took a deeper look into Omidyar's service to the deep state and his active suppression of financial resources for WikiLeaks.

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The Turkish military has started to bomb the Afrin (Efrin) canton in north-west Syria. "Free Syrian Army" fighters under Ottoman/Turkish flags stand ready to invade it. The canton is held and administrated by YPK/PKK Kurds. Neither I nor Elijah Magnier nor Joshua Landis had expected that Erdogan would really do this. One wonders what deals have been made with Russia and Syria to allow for this invasion.

There was a plausible rumor yesterday that Syria had offered to send its security forces to protect the Afrin area but that the Kurds rejected that. Now Russia and Syria think that the best way to prevent the announced U.S. protectorate of Kurdish held territory in the north-east is to prove to the Kurds that the U.S. is unwilling to protect them and their brethren in Efrin from Turkish attacks. The Kurds had quite good relations with the Russians and to some extend also with the Syrian government. They then changed sides to get U.S. protection with the intent of splitting up Syria and anbing a big chunk for themselves. "Well, here is your payback. Now you will see what your new "allies" are willing to do for you."

I now expect a rather short fight, minor losses of territory to Erdogan's goons and a lot of bloody noses.

Posted by b on January 20, 2018 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

January 18, 2018

Syria - Tillerson Announces Occupation Goals - Erdogan Makes Empty Threats

For a few days now Turkey has threatened to invade Afrin (Efrin), a Kurdish held canton in the north-west of Syria.


Afrin (topographic) bigger
yellow - Kurdish control, grey - Turks, red - Syrian government, green - al-Qaeda

The threat is not serious:

  • Afrin is mostly mountainous.
  • Pictures from Turkey showed (scroll down) the unloading of some tanks near to Afrin but within Turkey. These were old M-60 tanks. They have been slightly upgraded by Israel but can be knocked out by modern Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and certainly by Anti Tank Guided Missiles. (ATMG). These tanks would get slaughtered should they enter the tricky Afrin terrain.
  • There are several tens of thousands of Kurdish fighters in Afrin. They are well armed.
  • Afrin is under formal protection of Russian and Syrian forces.
  • The real danger to Turkey is not Afrin but the much larger Kurdish protectorate the U.S. publicly announced in north-east Syria.

The Turkish threats and its artillery noise have led to counter noise from Syria and more silent advice from Russia.  The Syrian government wants to show that it is the protector of all Syrian citizens be they ethnic Arabs or Kurds. Russia is proud of its role as the grown up who is calming down all sides.

The two real issues the wannabe-Sultan Erdogan has are:

  • the upcoming meeting of Syrian opposition and government parties in Sochi and
  • the U.S. backing of the PKK/YPG terrorists in north-east Syria.

Russia wanted to invite several Kurdish parties, including the YPG, to the big meeting in Sochi. Turkey rejects any official inclusions of Kurds as a distinct constituency. Russia will fudge the issue by inviting certain personalities of Kurdish ethnic who will take part in their 'private capacities'.

The second issue only came up again because of military bombast at CentCom and some uncoordinated and unsound U.S.  policy:

On Sunday, the U.S.-led military coalition battling Islamic State issued a statement trumpeting the creation of the 30,000-strong “Border Security Force.” But the announcement, which triggered Turkish denunciations, caught officials in Washington off guard. On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the coalition’s declaration was misguided—and the Pentagon issued a statement trying to calm Turkish fears.

“This is not a new ‘army’ or conventional ‘border guard’ force,” the Pentagon statement said.

This was not the first time the Central Command in the Middle East acted in a overtly hawkish and bombastic way without considering the wider strategic impact. Turkey is a  NATO member and to announce the installation of a terrorist force to guard a NATO border from the outside is just nuts. For years now the Pentagon has given way too much leash to CentCom and needs to tighten control over it.

The "border guard" force has now been renamed an internal security force which will also make sure that none of the ISIS fighters in the area, which Washington diligently keeps alive in the Syrian east, will escape across the border to  evade their next assignments.

Yesterday Secretary of State Tillerson announced the official "new" U.S. position on Syria. It is essentially a recap of the position the Obama administration had long held and does not make any more sense:

Speaking in a major Syria-policy address hosted at Stanford University by the Hoover Institution, Tillerson listed vanquishing al-Qaeda, ousting Iran and securing a peace settlement that excludes President Bashar al-Assad as among the goals of a continued presence in Syria of about 2,000 American troops currently deployed in a Kurdish-controlled corner of northeastern Syria.

(The real number of U.S. troops in Syria is around 5,000 soldiers plus an equal number of 'contractors'.)

Other listeners detected even wider ambitions :

The United States has five key goals in Syria, Mr. Tillerson said. They are: ensuring that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda never re-emerge; supporting the United Nations-led political process; diminishing Iran’s influence; making sure the country is free of weapons of mass destruction; and helping refugees to return after years of civil war.

These goals are mutually exclusive. Nothing will happen in the UN process in Geneva as long as anyone insists in removing the Syrian President Assad. Al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria are a consequence of U.S. action and (covered) presence in the country. Iran currently has little presence and limited influence in Syria. It would only increase again  should the U.S. try to militarily attack the Syrian government. Refugees will not return as long as the U.S. threatens to again widen the war.

I have yet to read one analyst who believes that the U.S. administration can achieve any of the wishes it announced. It is a hapless policy of "doing something" which will fail when resistance on the ground will ramp up and the political costs of the occupation will become apparent. The YPG Kurds in the north-east, who agreed to their occupation, will be the ones who will have to to bear the wrath. All other parties involved in Syria will hold them responsible.

For now the new announcement and its botched presentation only helped Erdogan to again play to his crowd. None of this will be of much consequence.

Posted by b on January 18, 2018 at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (143)

January 16, 2018

Open Thread 2018-03

The post I worked on today is unsatisfying.

I'll leave you with your own news & views ...

Posted by b on January 16, 2018 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (154)

January 15, 2018

Syria - U.S. Traps Itself , Commits To Occupation, Helps To Sustain The Astana Agreement

The Trump administration policy in Syria is finally coming into daylight. It has decided to permanently separate north-east of Syria from the rest of Syria with the rather comical idea that this will keep Iranian influence out of Syria and give the U.S. a voice in a final Syrian settlement. This move lacks strategical foresight:

The U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State is currently training a force to maintain security along the Syrian border as the operation against ISIS shifts focus. The 30,000-strong force will be partly composed of veteran fighters and operate under the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces, CJTF-OIR told The Defense Post.
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“The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale said.
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Veale acknowledged that more Kurds will serve in the areas of northern Syria, while more Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq.

The SDF and the Kurds are under control of the PKK/YPK, a terrorist organization that is nearly daily fighting and killing Turkish forces within Turkey. The Arabs which ostensibly shall seal the area off from the rest of Syria are most likely tribal forces that were earlier aligned with the Islamic State.

The Turks were not consulted before the U.S. move and are of course not amused that a "terrorist gang", trained and armed by the U.S., will control a long stretch of their southern border. Any Turkish government would have to take harsh measures to prevent such a strategic threat to the country:

Such initiatives endangering our national security and Syria’s territorial integrity through the continuation of cooperation with PYD/YPG in contradiction with the commitments and statements made by the US are unacceptable. We condemn the insistence on this flawed approach and remind once again that Turkey is determined and capable to eliminate any threats targeting its territory.

Russia noted that such a U.S. occupation has no legal basis:

The Russian foreign minister stressed decisions of the kind were taken without any grounds, coming from a UN Security Council resolution, or from some agreements reached during the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.

Syria warned that any Syrian taking part in this move will be in trouble:

The Ministry considered any Syrian citizen who takes part in the US-backed militia as a traitor to the Syrian state and people and will be treated as one, adding that these militias will hinder reaching to a political solution to the situation in Syria.

The U.S.Congress is concerned about this move:

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, David Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, outlined US goals in Syria as finishing off IS, stabilizing northeastern Syria and countering Iranian influence.
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“That won’t pass muster,” committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., interjected.
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Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who initially asked Satterfield the question he declined to answer, expressed concerns that eliminating Iranian influence from Syria entirely was a fool’s errand that could keep US troops tied up in Syria forever.
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Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee, also voiced concern that the Trump administration does not have the necessary legal authorization from Congress to keep US troops in Syria beyond the defeat of IS.

Just two month back, in a phone call with the Russian President Putin, the President Trump seemed to be against such a move:

The Presidents affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character, as defined in UNSCR 2254, ...

The U.S. move comes at the right time for Syria. The Russian, Turkish, Iranian and Syrian agreement of Astana set up a de-escalation zone in Idleb governorate but committed the parties to continue the fight against al-Qaeda. The agreement was in imminent danger of breaking down as Turkey protested against the current Syrian operation against al-Qaeda in east-Idleb. Turkey cooperates with al-Qaeda to keep its options open for a take-over of some Syrian land. It is also concerned about the north-western Kurdish enclave of Afrin which is protected by Russian forces.

But the U.S.move in the east constitutes a greater threat to Turkey than tiny Afrin. The east is more important to Turkey than Idelb in the west. The whole eastern half of Turkey is now endangered by a Kurdish force at its underbelly. The U.S. move increases Turkey's incentive to keep the Astana agreement about Idleb intact and to re-unite with Syria, Russia and Iran against the U.S.-Kurdish alliance. Erdogan, with his usual rage, was clear that he can not and will not let the U.S. move stand:

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Joshua Landis believes that the U.S. has given up on Turkey as an ally and is solely committed to do Israel's and Saudi Arabia's bidding. It is completely concentrated on countering Iran. But there are few if any Iranian troops in Syria and the supply line from Tehran to Damascus is via air and sea and can not be influenced from an enclosed Kurdish enclave. Moreover, the U.S. presence in the north-east is not sustainable.

The north-eastern U.S. held area of Syria is surrounded by forces hostile to it. Turkey in the north, Syria in the west and south, Iraq, with a pro-Iranian government, in the east. It has no ports and all its air-supplies have to cross hostile air space.

Internally the area consists of a Kurdish core but has nearly as many Arab inhabitants as Kurds. The Kurds are not united, there are many who are against the PKK/YPG and support the Syrian government. Probably half of the Arabs in the area were earlier Islamic State fighters and the other half favors the rule by Damascus. What all Arabs there have in common is hatred for their new Kurdish overlords. This all is fertile ground for an insurgency against the U.S. occupation and its Kurdish YPG proxy forces. It will need only little inducement and support from Damascus, Ankara or elsewhere to draw the U.S. presence into a chaotic fight for survival.

Turkey's wannabe Sultan Erdogan has long tried to play Russia against the U.S. and vice versa. He ordered Russian air defense systems which will enable him to withstand a U.S. air attack. At the same time he allowed U.S. ships to pass the Bosporus Straits into the Black Sea and to threaten Russia in Crimea even when the Montreux Convention would have allowed him to restrict their passages. The U.S. now leaves him no choice. Russia is the one force that can help him to handle the new threat.

The NATO bigwigs in Brussels must be nervous. Turkey has the second biggest army within NATO. It controls the passage to the Black Sea and with Incirlik the most important NATO airbase in the south-eastern realm. All these give Turkey leverage that it can use when Russia offers it a decent alternative to NATO membership.

One wonders who in the White House developed this idea. It goes against everything Trump had said about U.S. engagement in the Middle East. It goes against NATO's interests. There is no legal basis for the move. It has little chance of being sustainable.

My guess is that National Security Advisor McMaster (pushed by his mentor General Petraeus) is the brain behind this. He has already proven to lack any strategic vision beyond moving military brigades here and there. What will he do next? Order the CIA to restart arming al-Qaeda aka the "Syrian rebels" who just sent their emissaries to Washington to beg for renewed support? Turkey needs Russia and Russia is fighting those "Syrian rebels". Why should Turkey, which controls the border to Syria, allow new CIA weapons to pass?

It is beyond me how the U.S. expects to sustain its positions in the north-east of Syria. It is hard to understand why it believes that such a position will give it any influence over Iran's commitment to Syria. The move robs it of any political flexibility. It is a trap of its own design.

In the end the U.S. military will have to retreat from the area. The Kurds will have to crawl to Damascus to beg for forgiveness. The strategic shortsightedness of both, the U.S. administration and the YPG leadership, amazes me. What do these people think when they make such decisions?

 

Posted by b on January 15, 2018 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (145)

January 14, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-02

What was behind the false missile attack alarm in Hawaii yesterday. Poynter has some context:

One of the big stories in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Saturday morning was that military "brass" updated island officials on how the military would respond to a nuclear attack from North Korea. Military authorities warned there was a "real" threat.

At 8:07 a.m. Saturday, Hawaiian residents saw a terrifying alert message on their phones.

It took 38 minutes to correct the "mistake". A missile from North Korea would take 32-35 minutes from launch to impact in Hawaii.

But of interest is the newspaper report hyping the "threat" followed by the false alarm. Coincidence? And the "leaking" of the Draft Nuclear Posture Review this week, in which the military demands hundreds of new "small" nuclear weapons to fight North Korea and Russia, is also just a coincidence? Or is all of this part of a public relation campaign designed to increase the acceptance of new nuclear weapons and "limited" nuclear warfare? A preparation for war on North Korea? (Related: Deconstructing the North Korean ‘Threat’ and Identifying America’s Strategic Alternatives (pdf))

Anyway - here are the Moon of Alabama posts of the last week.

Jan 8 - How Mainstream Media Lose Their Reputation - #Fakenews On Iran And Egypt

Jan 9 - Afghanistan - U.S. Special Forces Commit Drive-By Murder (Video)

The reaction to this scoop was quite interesting:

I was criticized for using the word "murder" in the headline even though it is not clear what happened after the gunshot at the truck driver. Well, it is a headline and such have a certain purpose. How do we know this incident did not end deadly? Shooting the driver of a 15 ton truck which is rolling at a decent speed is at least accepting the risk of a deadly accident or even the attempt to cause one. What would a prosecutor accuse the culprit of if such had happened on a U.S. highway?

Only on Friday, after other mainstream media had published about it, did the NYT come out with a piece on the issue. It made several wrong or misleading points. I asked if it was plagiarized from my content as it used several sources that had vanished shortly after I published on January 9. I was told that the NYT had the material since late December but that the piece was held back for unknown reasons. Holding back stuff that lets the U.S.  military or the government look bad seems to be standing NY Times policy.

My tweet announcing my above piece was censored in Germany after someone had contacted Twitter and alleged that its content was illegal. This is a consequence of new law the lunatic social-democratic justice minister Maas had pressed for. Twitter would risk a high fine in Germany if it would not block allegedly illegal stuff. The law is a perfect tool for trolls to suppress any author or content they dislike. (It is also obviously unconstitutional and will soon be discarded by the relevant courts.)

Jan 10 - Syria - Army Gains In Idleb - Insurgents To Challenge Foreign Occupiers

Jan 11 - Syria - Erdogan (Again) Switches Sides - Delivers New Supplies For Terrorist Attacks

Jan 13 - Syria - Volume of Al-Qaeda Propaganda Forecasts Syrian Army Success

Two important Syria pieces by William Van Wagenen had earlier escaped my attention. Both take a long term view back and are well founded, quoting from a large number of media reports. They are:

These are excellent reference pieces one should recommend to people who were deceived on Syria or have not followed the issue at all. Both are recommended readings.

Please use the comments as open thread ...

 

Posted by b on January 14, 2018 at 11:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (109)

January 13, 2018

Syria - Volume of Al-Qaeda Propaganda Forecasts Syrian Army Success

The success of the current Syrian government operations against al-Qaeda in Idleb governorate can be measured by the volume of U.S. propaganda against it. A similar situation occurred when Aleppo was liberated from al-Qaeda's control. Certain U.S. media, (non-)government-organizations and politicians obviously prefer Takfiri al-Qaeda rule in Syria over control by the legitimated secular government.

According to the various streams of such propaganda Idleb is crowded with hospitals, bakeries and little children who all get "barrel bombed" by the nefarious Iranians and Russians while no Takfiri militant can ever be seen.

Amnesty International, which famously begged "NATO: KEEP THE PROGRESS GOING" in Afghanistan, is again on the forefront:

Amnesty International‏ @amnesty - 3:41 PM - 12 Jan 2018
We’re outraged by the attacks on civilians in #Idlib governorate which hosts thousands of internally displaced people from across #Syria. They now have nowhere else to flee to anymore.

The tweet is decorated with a picture of al-Qaeda's first aid mercenaries, the White Helmets, who are paid by the British and other governments and receive propaganda cover from British media.

The overpaid (more than $450,000 pa) eternal leader of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth chips in:

Kenneth Roth @KenRoth - 11:47 PM - 12 Jan 2018
Putin-Assad fooled Great Negotiator Trump into believing Syrian "de-escalation zone" would mean a halt in attacks on civilians rather than just a lull to regroup.

Roth links to a Washington Post editorial which finds that fighting al-Qaeda in Idleb is not in the interest of the United States:

[Trump officials] are playing down the Idlib fighting on the grounds that the area is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups.
...
While extremist groups control a large part of Idlib, Turkey says moderate Free Syrian Army units are involved in the fighting — an assertion that we also heard from several FSA leaders now visiting Washington.
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[I]f the offensive is successful, the result will be the further entrenchment in Syria of not just Russia but also Iran, the Assad regime’s closest ally.

The United States, in short, stands to lose — again — to Russia in Syria.

The Washington Post bureau chief in Beirut adds her half cent by lauding a propagandist for the al-Qaeda death-cult in Idleb as "brave journalist":

Liz Sly‏ @LizSly - 9:06 PM - 11 Jan 2018
This Syrian journalist, standing in an open field while bombs explode all around him, is very lucky to be alive. No flak jacket or helmet. You can barely hear him above the explosions. He and his colleagues are very brave.

The neoconservative WaPo editors picked their idea from the notorious propaganda outlet Institute for the Study of War. When the de-escalation zones where introduced in Syria through negotiations between Russia, Iran, Turkey and the U.S., al-Qaeda and the Islamic State were excluded. Associated Press reported at that time:

[The deal] also calls for the continued fight against IS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al-Sham Front

Al-Qaeda itself denounced any de-escalation agreement and promised to continue fighting.

The ISW recognized that at that time and pointed out that al-Qaeda is the real danger in the deal:

The ceasefire deal will provide Al Qaeda with time and space to further network itself within the opposition, including through local governance and security structures.
...
Syrian rebels have expressed dissatisfaction over U.S. demands to abandon the fight against President Assad and decreased U.S. support to rebels. Al Qaeda will exploit these grievances and attempt to fill the vacuum. Al Qaeda will position itself to eventually spoil the agreement, but will do so in a timeframe that supports its own interests.

That al-Qaeda is the main ruling and fighting power in Idelb, is excluded from the de-escalation deal and tries to break it is now conveniently forgotten. In its newest efforts the ISW even claims that attacks on al-Qaeda violate the de-escalation agreement:

Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime launched a joint operation in northwestern Syria against the al Qaeda stronghold in Idlib Province in November 2017.
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The pro-regime offensive violates the “de-escalation” zone in Idlib Province.

That is an obvious lie. The various UN Security Council resolutions on Syria demand "to eradicate the safe haven [al-Qaeda and ISIS] have established over significant parts of Syria". But the ISW now believes that fighting al-Qaeda is not in U.S. interests:

A pro-regime campaign to seize Idlib Province is not in America’s interest. The extension of Assad’s control produces a corollary extension of Iran’s military footprint and leverage in Syria.
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Neither Turkey nor Russia can deliver an outcome in Syria that supports US interests. The US should help Turkey block pro-regime operations that will cause further humanitarian catastrophe. The US must refrain from accepting either Russia’s diplomatic play or Turkey’s relationship with al Qaeda, however. The US must instead retain freedom of action and avoid the temptation to outsource American national security requirements to regional actors already at war in Syria.

What does that actually say? What action would the ISW or the Washington Post editors like to see? Turkey attacking Syrian and Russian forces in Syria  to prevent further attacks on al-Qaeda? An occupation of al-Qaeda held Idleb by U.S. forces against the will of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia? By what means?

Neither the ISW nor the Washington Post offer concrete advice. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch do not further any idea on how to solve the issue. They seem to prefer that civilians living in Idleb stay under the deadly ruled of religious fanatics who's ideal of "liberated women" (video) are walking black tents.

Thankfully larger scale military action against Syria by either Turkey or the U.S. is now unlikely. The bloody liberation of Idleb governorate from al-Qaeda will proceed. The propaganda wave against it lets one assume that it will be successful. This makes it even less understandable why the above outlets continue with their efforts. What again do they hope to achieve?

Posted by b on January 13, 2018 at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (91)

January 11, 2018

Syria - Erdogan (Again) Switches Sides - Delivers New Supplies For Terrorist Attacks

Turkey, in line with U.S. services, decided to block the current Syrian advance in south-east Idleb. Yesterday an ad-hoc alliance of jihadi "rebels" launched a counteroffensive to stop the Syrian army from cutting off a big chunk of "rebel" held territory in east-Idleb.

The Syrian army attack

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The area of the "rebel" counterattack (green)

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The Turkish and U.S. supplied "rebels" (see below) made a few local advances capturing some 12 villages of the 150 villages the Syrian army had recently liberated. They were soon beaten back. Some 50 Ahrar al-Sham fighters were killed or wounded after they ran into a trap. Some 10 Syrian soldiers have been captured by the enemy. Syrian and Russian air support is very active in the area and the Syrian army is again moving forward.

There is no mention or picture (yet) of al-Qaeda in Syria, currently labeled HTS, taking part in the "rebel" counterattack. Four days ago HTS published photos of its leader Joulini meeting with his military commanders to assess the situation. It looked bad for them. The squabble with other "rebels" increased. Two days ago Jouliani issued a statement that HTS would stop fighting other factions in Idleb to enable all to confront the advancing Syrian government forces. It seems that this was a condition for the renewed Turkish/U.S. support.

The counteroffensive could only proceed because Turkey (again) delivered hundreds of tons of weapons to the jihadis. New supplies of TOW anti-tank missiles, distributed exclusively by the CIA, have also been seen. (Turkey is also again supplying jihadists in Libya. The Greek navy just caught a ship going from Turkey to Libya with 29 containers full of bomb precursors, detonators and other bomb making parts.)

Here are some relevant tweets from the last few hours:

Terrormonitor.org‏ @Terror_Monitor 9:54 AM - 11 Jan 2018
#SYRIA #AlQaeda Affiliate #Uyghur #Jihadi Group Turkestan Islamic Party (#TIP) Releases Pictures Showing Its Fighters Against #SAA In Southern #Idlib. #TerrorMonitor
(pictures attached)

The Uygur terrorists were brought from west-China to Syria on official Turkish passports issued by the Turkish embassy in Thailand. On September 18 2015 al-Qaeda (Nursra, HTS) and the Uyghur jihadist group Turkistan Islamic Party stormed the long besieged Abu al-Duhur airbase and executed 56 Syrian soldier. It is this airbase the current Syrian attack in east-Idleb is aiming at. This time it will be the Uygurs who will lose their lives.

More on the today's events:

Ali Özkök‏ @Ozkok_ - 10:06 AM - 11 Jan 2018
#Turkey supplied Feylaq el-Sham militia with at least six armoured vehicles. This is a major indicator that Turkey also supports the massive counter offensive of rebels and islamists in #Idlib and #Hama against Syrian army and allies! I guess we will see soon some ATGM strikes.

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Carl Zha @CarlZha - 1:36 PM - 11 Jan 2018
Syria: Jihadists launching the counter-offensive against the Syrian government forces in Southern Idlib with APCs, heavy artillery and rockets this morning. APC were provided by Turkey earlier
(video attached)

The Syrian army captured one of the the new armored personal carriers. The various pictures and videos show a variant of the Armored Panthera F9 produced by the company Minerva SPV which resides in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Ali Özkök‏'s remark, "I guess we will see soon some ATGM strikes," was prophetic:

Carl Zha‏ @CarlZha - 1:58 PM - 11 Jan 2018
#Idlib: Syrian Rebel group Jaish Nasr TOW attack on Syrian Army Tank in Maraq Hill this morning. Wonder who provided them with TOW missiles?🤔CIA is suppose to account for all TOW missiles supplied by Saudi 🧐
(video attached)
Carl Zha‏ @CarlZha - 2:38 PM - 11 Jan 2018
#Syria Al Zenki Movement (Jihadist who beheaded a Palestinian child in Aleppo) firing ATGM hitting T72 tank today. Turkish support have been crucial for this rebel counter-offensive against #SAA
(video attached)

There was some early announcement of new Turkish and U.S. supplies by the Gulf propagandist Charles "Jihad" Lister:

Charles Lister @Charles_Lister - 5:58 AM - 11 Jan 2018
Sources - #Turkey has provided new supplies of: - Turkish armored vehicles - SALW ammo - RPGs - Mortars - Grad rockets & launchers - Tank shells & more… … To all major non-#HTS factions, for the express purpose of today’s new offensive vs. #Assad/#Iran/#Russia.

Two days ago Turkey protested to the Russian and Iranian ambassadors against the Syrian army moves in Idleb. According to the deescalation agreement it is Russia and Iran that are responsible for the south-eastern third of the Idleb deescalation zone while Turkey is supposed to control the north-western part. That Turkish part was recently used to attack the Russian bases in Syria though the Russians believe that the attack itself was launched not under Turkish but under U.S. command:

Russia said it held Turkey accountable for the drone attack, calling it a breach of their cease-fire agreement in northern Syria, while Turkey accused Russia and Iran of jeopardizing the entire peace process by launching an offensive to take control of an opposition-held air base in the area.

The Russian Defense Ministry named the opposition-controlled village of Muwazarra in southern Idlib province as the location from which a swarm of at least a dozen drones armed with crude explosives was launched Saturday, attacking the Hmeimim air base and the nearby naval base of Tartus in northwestern Syria. Under the cease-fire deal, Turkey is supposed to restrain opposition forces in Idlib province.
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The [Muwazarra] village remains loyal to the moderate opposition, but military positions surrounding it belong to the Nusra offshoot Harakat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, said another man who lives in the village and did not want his name to be used. The closest HTS base, lying in a valley to the east of the village, was destroyed in a Russian airstrike earlier this week, he said — after the attacks on Hmeimim.
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Many Syrians and also Russians have speculated that foreign intelligence agencies with reasons to provoke the Russians may have helped a local group conduct the attack. “There’s a lot of fishy stuff going on in Idlib — agents running around, and groups working with groups they shouldn’t work with,” [Aron Lund, who analyzes Syria for the Century Foundation,] said. “It’s very, very murky.”

The "rebels" in Idleb also set up a website with 150 pre-scripted tweets about killed children and barrel bombed hospitals which their fans can distribute at will. In the next few days we will hear news of the destruction of at least eight "last hospitals" in the Idleb governorate ...

One wonders what the wannabe-Sultan Erdogan is thinking. He had tried to provoke Russia before by shooting down a Russia jet. Turkey paid a huge price when Russia stopped all tourism and trade with it. A year later Erdogan had to go to Moscow to apologize and to beg for relief. Does he believe that Russia will react less sharply now when he allows attacks on their bases and again supplies their enemies?

What was he promised by the White House or the Pentagon for taking that risk and for again changing sides?

Posted by b on January 11, 2018 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (153)

January 10, 2018

Syria - Army Gains In Idleb - Insurgents To Challenge Foreign Occupiers

While the U.S. seems to have given up on regime change in Syria it is still trying to sabotage the progress of the Syrian government and its allies.

The recent drone attack on the Russian base Khmeimim in Latakia is just one example. Thirteen sophisticated armed drones with a reach of some 100 kilometers attacked the base at the same time as a U.S. electronic warfare plane was circling off the Syrian coast. The attack was unsuccessful. Russia has sophisticated electronic warfare means and hijacked the command over six of the drones. The other seven were taken down by Russian air defenses.

To claim, as the U.S. does, that ISIS or some "rebels" did this is nonsense. ISIS has made short range weaponized drones flown by remote control in line of sight mode. This attack was by autonomous drones using GPS and barometric sensors to find their way to their targets. This is qualitatively on a whole new level. I doubt that Russia will let this go unanswered. Look out for some "mishap" that may soon hit some U.S. troops or interests abroad.

Three significant military operations took place over the last few weeks.


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In the south-west Syrian government troops, in cooperation with local Druze, managed to completely take the area of Beit Jinn next to the Lebanese border and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.


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Al Qaeda elements within the pocket gave up after Syrian troops captured the nearby mountain tops and achieved fire control over the area. They were transported off to Idleb. The northern blue part in the map above is now under government control.

Immediately east of Damascus city the Ghouta pocket, held by various Jihadi groups, has long been a huge problem. Grenades fired from the area can easily reach the center of Damascus. Over the last eight weeks more than 350 civilians in Damascus city have been killed or wounded by such attacks.

Ghouta is controlled by al-Qaeda elements, Ahrar al-Sham and the Saudi financed Jaish al-Islam. In the western side of the area government forces have long held on to a large military base. Two weeks ago elements of Ahrar al-Sham broke an existing de-escalation agreement and attacked the base with a huge force. The third grade troops guarding the facilities had problems defending against the attack and were losing ground. They were encircled and isolated. After a few days government reinforcements lifted the siege on the base and expanded the corridor leading to it.


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It is high time to eliminate the Ghouta pocket. But the area includes densely built-up quarters and a move on it would require a large force and be very bloody. The Syrian government and its Russian supporters seem to believe that the Saudis can be influenced to give up on their Ghouta "rebels". It might then be possible to regain control over the area without an all-out fight.

The third, largest and most importent operation of the last week is a fight in north-Hama and east-Idleb governorate.

When in 2015 Idelb was occupied by U.S. and Turkey supported "rebels" the government held city of Aleppo lost its road connection to the southern core of the country. The Syrian government built a new road through the desert further east to resupply the city. But that road is insufficient for the amount of traffic needed to rejuvenate the now liberated Aleppo.

A direct road connection from Damascus, Homs and Hama to Aleppo is needed passing through al-Qaeda held territory in eastern Idleb. After weeks of preparation by aerial bombing elite Syrian forces attacked from Hama northward towards Aleppo. After breaking through al-Qaeda's defense line they liberated nearly 100 townships and cities. In a new phenomenon local inhabitants of the area evicted the al-Qaeda "rebels" even before SAA troops arrived. These troop are now on the border of the large Abu-al-Duhur airbase which is the most strategic point in the wider area.


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The al-Qaeda forces east of the wedge the government forces drove into Idleb governorate are in immediate danger of encirclement. They have started to flee towards the western parts of Idleb which are still open towards the Turkish borders.

When the new road to Aleppo is secured the government troops will consolidate the pocket east of it. Further operations will then depend on the outcome of the various diplomatic initiatives which are currently worked on.

The U.S. supported forces in north-east Syria still have problems to get a grip on the last ISIS held townships north of the Euphrates. The U.S. special forces have turned several local tribes, which had earlier fought with ISIS, to its side. They are re-training these forces. But the local tribes lack the fighting spirit and motivation to attack their former allies.

In late January Russia will convene a large conference with hundreds of Syrian opposition and government figures to talk about the constitutional changes and elections in Syria. It is not yet sure who will take part in it. One problem are Kurdish organizations which Turkey, as one of the sponsors of the de-escalation process, does not want to see recognized as political entities. Turkey under Erdogan continues to be hostile to the Syrian government and people. Weapons are still flowing through the Turkish border to Jihadis in Idleb and ISIS fighters who flee the country towards Europe can still pass. Turkey covets the Kurdish Afrin enclave in north-west Syria but the current balance of force does not allow it to attack.

In the greater picture (recommended) the Turkish anti-Kurdish occupation in the north-west of Syria and the U.S. pro-Kurdish occupation in the north-east cancel each other out. Neither force can move further without endangering their common NATO interests. Politically and militarily the U.S. is still the biggest threat to peace in Syria.

The U.S. insists on a continuation of the stillborn Geneva process that was once convened by the UN to find a political solution in Syria. It still wants the government under President Assad to leave. People in the Trump administration still hope to gain at the conference table what they could not achieve in seven years of vicious proxy-fighting against the Syrian people. It is unlikely that they will now succeed.

Syria has shown that it has the will and ability to resist U.S. "regime change". The military and its allies will continue to consolidate the current positions. But to free all of its northern parts from Turkish and U.S. occupation is too big of a task for the still small army. This can be more easily achieved by local insurgencies. Syria has battle hardened militia outside of its regular military. These have been trained by and fought with Hizbullah. They can be infiltrated into the occupation zones and make the situation unbearable for the occupiers. Syrian interests in these areas far outweigh those of the occupying countries. While it will take time there is little doubt that -in the end- the people of Syria will win this fight and liberate their country.

Posted by b on January 10, 2018 at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

January 09, 2018

Afghanistan - U.S. Special Forces Commit Drive-By Murder (Video)

Updated below - Jan 11 2018

Additional updated - May 18 2018
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A recent video mashup provided by some U.S. Special Force soldiers in Afghanistan seems to show evidence of a warcrime.

A military truck passes a civilian truck on a paved road at normal traveling speed. A soldier fires directly and intentionally at the driver of the civilian truck without any discernible reason.

This is the relevant two second long cut (repeated 5 times) from a private video mix of scenes taken during the last few months in Afghanistan.

The whole video is 3:09 minutes long and mostly a mashup of juvenile behaving soldiers wasting lots of ammunition on invisible entities in the Afghan landscape. The scene above is from 19 to 21 seconds into the video. Detailed screenshots are below. The whole clip was available on Youtube on January 7. The account which originally posted it and the original video have since been deleted.

There were a total of two videos under the account. The first, relevant one, had the original title:

"Happy Few Ordnance Symphony Combat Footage Afghanistan EXPLICIT (VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED)"

under the URL "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlNoiW94JdE". The original description of the video was:

"Video mashup to Kendrick Lamar's HUMBLE featuring Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan in the most recent combat footage to date against ISIS in 2017."

A request to that URL now brings up a standard Youtube text: "This video is no longer available because the uploader has closed their YouTube account."

A copy of that video is also available under the Facebook account of Engage Armament LLC with a "courtesy of Happy Few" link to the Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/happyfewco/. The copy was posted on January 4 and has currently 2,823,190 "views" and over 30,600 "likes". Another copy is available under the Facebook account of Almanaque Militar posted on January 7 with currently 5.7k "views". That post also links back to the Happy Few Co Facebook account. Several other sides seem to have posted copies of the same video.

The second video of Happy Few Company on Youtube was the one minute long "Happy Few Year Special Operations in Afghanistan Doing Work Helmet Cam Combat Footage" under the URL "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzi61iPdCko". It also no longer available.

Unlisted copies of both videos have now been uploaded here and here.

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Update - May 18 2018

End of May 18 update
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It is the first video that includes the truck scene.

At 19 sec:


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The man wearing the camera on the left side of his helmet rides on top of a military truck (likely a M-ATV). On the left is an open turret mounted on the truck, on the right we see the part of the man holding a rifle M1014 semi-automatic, 12-gauge shotgun with an effective range of 36.5 meters. He wears black gloves. The military truck he is riding on quickly overtakes a civilian white truck on a paved road. The speed of the military truck is an estimated 70 km/h (45 mph), the white truck is driving at some 60 km/h (37 mph). It behaves normally sticking to the right side of the road. Notice that the white truck's windows are undamaged. On the upper right above the white truck we see some red and blue structure.

At 20 sec:


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The military truck is further overtaking the white truck. The driver of the white truck is visible. He has his left hand on the steering wheel and seems to look straight ahead. The right hand is not visible. The gun points directly at the driver.

A split second later:


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The window of the white truck is smashed right in the line where the gun was just pointed and the driver inside of the truck.

Another split second later:


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The smashed window has crumbled further. The military truck overtakes the white truck. 

At 21 seconds:


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The military truck has overtaken the white truck. The shooter has moved the shotgun to the left and upwards. The white truck has continued on its course. The red-blue structure behind it is visible. It is a two story building with the first story painted white and the second story with red columns and blue walls (or windows?). The peculiar building will help to identify the location of the incident.

Here the video makes a hard cut to unrelated scenes. Given the speed of the truck the shot driver -if not outright killed- will have had little chance to bring it to a secure halt.

When one watches the scene documented in the pictures above a gun shot is heard and the weapon in the picture recoils in the very moment the white truck's window smashes. A puff of gun smoke is visible. It seems obvious that this was a hit-to-kill shot by the man wearing the camera on the civilian driver of the white truck.

(Added side remark - a later scene in the video shows this ridiculous Cafepress sticker inside of the M-ATV turret.)


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The uploader of the video on Youtube used the moniker Happy Few Company. An Instagram account under the Happy Few Company moniker still has the video though it is split into four parts. It was uploaded on December 28, 2017 and includes the white truck scene.


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The top page of the account (https://www.instagram.com/happyfewcompany/) describes the owner as:

Happy Few Special Operations Veteran Owned and Operated Apparel Company *apparel and website will be up very soon. Stand by, we appreciate your patience*

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The soldier in the official photo in the second row right is deceased. According to the Washington Post:

Army Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, 34, was killed in Nangarhar province’s Achin district, an area in which U.S. forces have been combating both the Islamic State and the Taliban.
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Golin was a Special Forces weapons sergeant with 10th Special Forces Group, of Fort Bragg, N.C., the U.S. Army Special Operations Command said in a news release Wednesday.

This might give a hint in the group involved in the video production. (h/t Andreas in comments)

The Facebook account with a similar Happy Few moniker is available but the video is not, or no longer, posted on that page.


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On the Facebook page we find a link to HappyFewCo.com which is a shopping site "under construction". The domain was anonymously registered at Twocows Domains Inc on December 16 2017. A @happyfewco Twitter account was registered in December 2017 but has had no interaction.

There is no direct information on who is behind the Happy Few Company accounts or who took the scenes mashed up in that video. The footage seems to be genuine. The relevant civil and military authorities should have no problem to find out who the poster of the original video is. That person can surely help to identify the original videographer(s) and from there the place and time of the incident and the gunman in question. This picture of an unknown soldier, which is the end scene of the video, might also help to identify the culprit. It also gives a (sarcastic) hint of his motive.


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Update (Jan 11 - 4:00am EST):

The issue above has now been reported on by several media outlets. According to these CENTCOM is investigating the case. General Votel gave a statement and Secretary of Defense Mattis has been informed of the case.

Current media reports:

For the record :

The original credit for the above piece goes to M.H.Arsali. I only wrote about the issue after I checked a youtube link I had bookmarked a day or two earlier and found that the bookmarked video had been deleted. That was the starting point of my research. I did not remember though where I had picked up that link in the first place. It now seem that it was from a January 6 tweet by M.H.Arsali which someone had retweeted into my timeline.

Posted by b on January 9, 2018 at 06:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (97)

January 08, 2018

How Mainstream Media Lose Their Reputation - #Fakenews On Iran And Egypt

The "western" media like to rant against fake news. But they are indeed the biggest provider of such.

Yesterday the British news agency Reuters claimed: Iran bans English in primary schools after leader's warning

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has banned the teaching of English in primary schools, a senior education official said, after the country’s Supreme Leader said early learning of the language opened the way to a Western “cultural invasion”.

Kamenei indeed has made such a remark, early learning of a foreign language opens the people to influence through that language. That conclusion is not particular controversial. But has Iran really banned the teaching of English in primary schools? Why would any non-English country teach English in primary school in the first place? And why would especially Iran do so?

Ali Ahmadi, an Iranian analyst, asked the same question:

Who in Iran studied English in primary schools? Nat curriculum calls for English to be taught from 7th grade to graduation.

The British-Iranian journalist Sanam Shantyaei offers her personal experience:

I was in Iran until 5th grade, and I don’t recall being taught neither Arabic nor English (though that’s a long long time ago.) I picked up a little in private tutorials: “the elegant is big. The ant is little.”

Ahmadi confirms:

Yes 7th grade is the norm. They don't even start teaching Arabic usually until 6th grade - except for a little in context of religion classes.

So, according to Reuters, Iran "banned" something from its school curriculum that was not and is not in there. The Reuters piece quotes an Iranian official who does not confirm what Reuters alleges:

“Teaching English in government and non-government primary schools in the official curriculum is against laws and regulations,” Mehdi Navid-Adham, head of the state-run High Education Council, told state television late on Saturday.

The official only confirms that the official curriculum is binding. As English language is not in the official primary school curriculum it can not be taught as part of that curriculum. It is banal statement: "Yes, the relevant regulations apply as the always have applied." How Reuters can construe that into a new "ban" is beyond me.

But as most readers will only skim the headlines and probably the first sentence of such pieces the British agency will have achieved the intended anti-Iranian propaganda effect.

Another piece of fake news is a recent New York Times report about an alleged Egyptian acceptance of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. It is based on some mysterious tapes in which an alleged Egyptian government intelligence agent tells TV moderators what they are supposed to say about Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The story is headlined: Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move

As President Trump moved last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an Egyptian intelligence officer quietly placed phone calls to the hosts of several influential talk shows in Egypt.

“Like all our Arab brothers,” Egypt would denounce the decision in public, the officer, Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi, told the hosts.

But strife with Israel was not in Egypt’s national interest, Captain Kholi said. He told the hosts that instead of condemning the decision, they should persuade their viewers to accept it.
...
“How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” Captain Kholi asked repeatedly in four audio recordings of his telephone calls obtained by The New York Times.

The first hint that this report, or at least the tapes it is based on, are murky is the relatively low rank of the officer. An intelligence captain in Egypt may be responsible for a county or a small city. Briefing of national news entities would surely require some higher ranking person, probably in the rank of colonel. The question "How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah?" is also curious. The differences are huge and obvious in their historic and religious implication. It seems very unlikely that the Egyptian government would ever take such a position.

The NYT lists the following "hosts of several influential talk shows" that were called by the alleged intelligence official: Azmi Megahed, Mofid Fawzy and Saeed Hassaseen. A fourth call went to an "Egyptian singer and actress known as Yousra."

Egyptian sources say that none of the above persons is of particular fame or relevance. The actress is well known but not as TV host or for any political engagement.

The report notes that the audio of the calls:

.. were all provided to The Times by an intermediary supportive of the Palestinian cause and opposed to President Sisi. The origin of the recordings could not be determined.

The tapes were first mentioned by the Muslim Brotherhood TV station Mekameleen TV which is based in Istanbul. But how would the Brotherhood acquire such tapes, if they are real, from the inside of the Egyptian intelligence service? If it had such a source why would it expose it now?

Only one of the people called, Azmi Megahed, confirmed the call to the NYT. The others denied it or could not be reached. The NYT did not find or reach the alleged intelligence captain.

Some calls seem to have happened, but were they really official calls by the Egyptian government entity or a prank?

The NY Times never asks that question. It takes and reports the tapes as real expression of the Egyptian government position and then goes on to speculate from there.

An editorial in Egypt Today checks the NTY claims and finds that only one of four persons therein is an active TV host:

Of those mentioned in the article, Megahed is the only one who currently presents a talk show, which focuses on sports and current affairs in Egypt. Al-Malaf airs on the Al-'Amsa satellite channel.

However, Megahed has promptly rejected these reports.
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[A]fter running a timeline search on Megahed’s stance toward the US’s move on Jerusalem, we found that on December 6, he said, “I am sad that the Arab states did nothing against the US administration’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” On December 11, Megahed on his talk show hailed Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church’s rejection of Trump’s decision.

The Egyptian State Information Service (SIS) strongly rebuked the NYT claims:

[T]he four persons mentioned are Mofid Fawzy who stopped working on TV for years, Parliamentarian Said Hassassein who stopped working on TV for months, Azmy Megahed, and actress Yousra who never presented any talk shows.

The SIS statement also noted that the New York Times story did not provide any evidence that the so-called Ashraf El Kholy is an intelligence officer. Third, the story made claims regarding Egypt's stance on the Jerusalem cause based on these alleged leaks which strikingly contradict the statements and moves on the international scale taken by the Egyptian state, the president, and the minister of foreign affairs.

Peter Cairo, who is an anti-government commentator in Egypt, finds that the NYT report is fake news. The liberal Egyptian exile Nervana Mahmoud, also not a particular friend of the current Egyptian government, agrees:

Folks, Egyptian intelligence is not that dumb to assume an actress like Youssra can change public opinion on Jerusalem

The Muslim Brotherhood TV station in Istanbul is now airing the tapes. But it does not provide any evidence that the alleged intelligence captain exists or of Egyptian government involvement.

Samer Al-Atrush, a journalist in Cairo who writes for AFP and other media, has listened to the tapes:

The recordings aired be Mekameleen of a supposed military intel officer instructing journos and actress to support Trump Jerusalem decision are a bit odd. None (at least the versions they uploaded on youtube) start at the begininng of the calls. You get the sense 2 recipients at least had never spoken to him before and just went along with it. Yousra response was funny, basically: yeah yeah of course we denounce it anyway I'm at a festival whatsapp me. Megahed was Megahed, as anyone who's called him can attest: half listens and half digests what you say, then talks over you. I'm not going to really comment on tone and delivery of caller but let's just say either he's a fraud setting up these people or someone let the intern have a go at shaping opinion on Jerusalem.

The NYT reports the calls on the tapes as evidence for a secret Egyptian government position. But its "hosts of several influential talk shows" turn out not be such. Except of one of the four they have not be on air and have no public influence. How come the NYT did not check that fact? The alleged captain of the Egyptian intelligence does not seem to exist at all and the content of the calls is highly contradictory to the position of the Egyptian government and people.

The report is fake news, based on what is likely the product of a prank caller instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood or an adversarial foreign intelligence service which wants to slander the Egyptian government. Like the fake news Reuters piece it will further undermine the public trust in mainstream media.

Posted by b on January 8, 2018 at 07:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

January 07, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-01

We covered the protests in Iran and the foreign attempts to hijack them for their purpose.

Dec 29 - Iran - Regime Change Agents Hijack Economic Protests

Dec 31 - Iran - Early U.S. Support For Rioters Hints At A Larger Plan

Jan 2 - Iran - Few Protests - Some Riots - U.S. Prepares The Next Phase

Jan 4 - Iran - Europe Rejects U.S. Drive To War

Protests against the fallout of neoliberal policies by the Rouhani government are surely justified. Even Supreme Leader Khamenei supports them. But in late December people chanting "regime change" slogans started to take part. They were obviously pushed from abroad by the MEK, the monarchist and other CIA front groups. The situation changed. Directed through Telegram channels, groups of young rioters tried to take over police stations and to gain access to weapons. The Iranian people saw the dangers therein and did not support such behavior. The original protesters disappeared, their important voice was no longer heard. But for lack of local backing the riots soon died down.

The riots exposed the anti-Iran propagandists and imperial dreamers who believe that there is some significant internal movement in Iran against the Islamic Republic. But a few ten-thousand total protesters are absolutely insignificant when they have no backing from the masses. Still, the U.S. tried to use the riots to expand sanctions against Iran. It was slapped down when it brought the issue up at the UN Security Council.

Jan 1 - NYT Writes Epic Cover For Comey's FBI - Its Sole Source: "Officials Said"

The full Clinton conspiracy against Trump, which was supported by the intelligence services,  has not yet been exposed. But bit by bit more details are coming out. The main stream media are heavily invested in the anti-Trump/anti-Russia narrative and therefore continue to throw smoke bombs.

Jan 6 - Trump Offloads Foreign Policy Problems - Lets EU Grow A Spine

Results of Trump's foreign policy seem to be consistent with his generally isolationist views. Is he playing more clever than it seems?

Upcoming:

  • An update on the military situation in Syria. The Syrian army continues to make significant progress despite the efforts by the U.S., Israel and Turkey to each strengthen their particular variant of Jihadist "rebels".
  • The simmering water war between Egypt and Ethiopia. The issue is existential for both sides. They and their respective allies are currently positioning their troops. There is a high chance that the conflict will suddenly explode.

Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on January 7, 2018 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

January 06, 2018

Trump Offloads Foreign Policy Problems - Lets EU Grow A Spine

The U.S. is more and more isolated in international politics and even Europe is growing some spine and implements an independent foreign policy. U.S. imperialists are miffed but can do little about it. This development may well be part of Trump's plan of "Making America Great Again".

After Trump declared that the U.S. sees Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the UN Security Council as well as the UN General Assembly condemned the move. The U.S. had to veto a UNSC resolution that 14 other members supported.

While the minor protests and riots in Iran are calming down (as predicted here), the U.S. ambassador Haley tried to use them to stage some UNSC verdict against the country. She was rebuffed by several countries including the U.S. allies Sweden and France:

A United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss recent protests in Iran turned into criticism of the United States for requesting to meet on what some member states said was an internal issue for Tehran.

The EU spoke out against any condemnation of Iran. Russia and China repeated Iran's arguments that such internal issues have no place in the UNSC and that a string of much worse riots and police massacres in the U.S. would be more deserving of such attention:

China and Russia -- which seldom like to discuss political protests at the UN -- led a group of countries that said the demonstrations were a domestic affair that didn’t threaten international security and shouldn’t be taken up. China’s envoy said that if Haley’s logic were to be followed consistently, the Security Council should have held hearings after the 2014 racial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in 2011.

France spoke for the EU:

“We must be wary of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have the diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished,” Ambassador Francois Delattre said.

“However worrying the events of the last few days in Iran may be, they do not constitute per se a threat to international peace and security.”

This was a repeat of the fear that President Macron expressed two days ago and which we quoted here. Even U.S. media are now taking note of it:

“The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Macron told reporters, according to Reuters.

It was “a deliberate strategy for some,” he added.

The U.S. attempt to use protests against neoliberal policies of the Rohani government as a step to regime change in Iran has evidently failed.

Trump has threatened to end the nuclear agreement with Iran but his administration is wary of the consequences. The agreement is between a number of countries, not the U.S. and Iran alone, and the UNSC has endorsed it. But Trump also loathes to certify Iran's adherence to the agreement every three month. It keeps the issue boiling and he has no interest in that. The certification is a condition the Republicans in the U.S. Congress had written into law. Trump's solution is not to kill the nuclear agreement but to change the law to relief him of the certification demand:

The Trump administration is working with key lawmakers on a legislative fix that could enable the United States to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

The changes to the U.S. law codifying America’s participation the 2015 agreement could come as early as next week or shortly thereafter, Tillerson said. President Donald Trump faces a series of deadlines in the coming days about how to proceed with an accord he describes as terrible and too soft on Iran.
...
“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson told the AP as he sat in front of a fireplace in his State Department office suite. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

Trump and Congress have no power to change an international agreement. So what would that "fix" be?

One option lawmakers are discussing with the White House is removing the requirement that Trump certify Iranian compliance. Another possibility is changing the law so certification occurs far less often, officials said.

If this is really all that is needed to get Trump off the anti-Iran train it neatly fits the "isolationist" theory discussed below.

But back to the EU position. Trump has reversed a U.S. opening to Cuba but the EU is not following its move. The EU foreign policy chief is currently on the island and rejecting the U.S. stance:

The European Union wants to be a reliable partner for Cuba in the face of the reversal in U.S.-Cuban relations under President Donald Trump, its foreign policy and security chief said Thursday.

Federica Mogherini said at the end of a two-day visit that the EU is a "predictable and solid" partner that can help Cuba manage a political transition and slow, halting economic opening.
...
"We are consistent and we do not have unpredictability in our policies, or sudden shifts," Mogherini said, in a clear dig at Trump's reversal of some elements of President Barack Obama's opening with Cuba.

After Jerusalem and Iran, Cuba is the third foreign policy issue on which the European Union is setting itself in opposition to the United States. After years of marching in lockstep with U.S. policies the change is a pleasant surprise. Two more issue are likely to follow - Syria and Russia. With the German chancellor Merkel still busy to find a domestic coalition to renew her rule, the French president Macron is taking the lead when he now echos what the Syrian president Assad has been saying for 7 years:

Emmanuel Macron @EmmanuelMacron - 4:54 PM - 5 Jan 2018
Ce n'est ni à Ankara ni à Paris qu'on décidera de l'avenir de la Syrie. Le peuple syrien, y compris ceux qui ont fui le régime, devra lui-même décider de son avenir.
[Machine translated from French]
It is neither Ankara nor in Paris that it will decide the future of the Syria. The Syrian people, including those who have fled the regime, should itself decide its future.

Poland was one of the parties which had strongly pressed for regime change in Ukraine. It got its wish fulfilled but now finds that the new Ukrainian rulers are elevating those fascist groups and people who historically were responsible for massacring ten-thousands of Poles. Oops. The sanctions on Russia over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea have cost Germany huge export opportunities. The combination of both of these factors will likely lead to a change in the EU policy towards Russia. While the U.S. delivers new weapons to the Ukraine I predict that the EU will lower its exposure to the issue. Its sanctions against Russia will be eased or circumvented.

The imperial think-tanks in the U.S. are not happy with an independent EU. Here are voices of Brookings, the premier "centrist" lobby and influence peddlers, and of the Washington Institute, part of the Zionist lobby:

Suzanne Maloney‏ @MaloneySuzanne - 7:24 PM - 4 Jan 2018
Suzanne Maloney Retweeted Michael Singh
This is a huge missed opportunity for Europe, both to use their diplomatic & economic leverage for the long-term good of Iran & to demonstrate the possibility and even utility of making common cause with Washington on Iran
Michael Singh‏ @MichaelSinghDC - 7:14 PM - 4 Jan 2018
Regrettable that preexisting gaps between the US and Europe over Iran seem to be widening due to protests - supporting human rights in Iran should be an area of transatlantic agreement

Brookings on Cuba:

Tom Wright‏ @thomaswright08 - 11:02 PM - 5 Jan 2018
Tom Wright Retweeted EU External Action
A real moral failing here. Okay to engage Cuba but should pressure regime to liberalize. Combined with "both sides-ism" on Iran, it's been a terrible week for European foreign policy.

The Europeans may judge that differently.

Trump made loud noise towards North Korea and even boosted that his dick is bigger than Kim Jong-un's schlong. But when North Korea offered a quiet period for the Winter Olympics in South Korea and renewed talks, Trump agreed with the peace seeking South Korean president Moon and let him take up the offer.

Patrick Armstrong and Andrew Korybko see a method behind these developments. Armstrong: Trump Cuts the Gordian Knot of Foreign Entanglements

Trump has little interest in the obsessions of the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd.
...
President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements?

By getting others to untie it.

Armstrong, a former Canadian defense official and Russia specialist, thinks that Trump is taking his extreme positions only to press others to take over and let Trump and the U.S. leave the issue aside. If the EU takes up the Iran issue or Cuba, if Russia engages in the Middle East "peace process" and if South Korea handles the North Korea problem, Trump will be fine with it. There nothing to win in those issues for his core agenda.

Korybko's piece, Trump: Agent Of Chaos (a.k.a. “The Kraken”), presumes that Trump is deliberately creating chaos to better the U.S. position. There is a high chance that this will not work and the U.S. will have to retreat to its hemisphere. Trump knows this but does not care - he can live with both outcomes but may even prefer the retreat to a more isolationist stand.

I do not believe that Trump is as stupid as his enemies portrait him. Trump simply does not explain what he is doing. He is letting everyone guessing, even his own staff. One has to watch what he does, not what he says.

Trump does not care about many foreign issues where the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations were the first to meddle. In his view the various adventures abroad do not further U.S. core interests. If other countries can be pushed into taking these up, the U.S. can leave the issues aside. His position is the opposite of what the usual Washington grown-ups are used to do. That is why they are fighting him down to tooth and nail.

Will Trump survive long enough to successfully pursue this strategy and to make a lasting difference?

Or is the Armstrong/Korybko theory completely wrong?

 

Posted by b on January 6, 2018 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (138)

January 04, 2018

Iran - Europe Rejects U.S. Drive To War

The reaction to the minor protests in Iran drive another wedge between the U.S. and Europe. It exposes the belligerence of the Zionist lobby and its influence in the U.S. media and politics. The issue shows the growing divergence between genuine U.S. interests and the interests of Israel.

Some anti-government demonstration and attacks on public institutions continue in Iran. But, as the graph shows, such protests and riots continue to decrease. Yesterday's events took place in only 15 places while, since December 28, a total of 75 towns and cities had seen some form of protest or incidents. Additional to these several pro-government marches took place yesterday each of which was by far bigger than the anti-government events.


by M. Ali Kadivar - bigger

The violence against public property by some young rioters has alienated the original legitimate protesters who have ample economic reasons to reject the neo-liberal policies of the current Iranian government. The instigating of violence from the outside of Iran, likely due to CIA machinations, has robbed them of their voice.

I had earlier asked:

Why is the U.S. doing this?

The plan may well be not to immediately overthrow the Iranian government, but to instigate a sharp reaction by the Iranian government against the militant operations in its country. ... That reaction can then be used to implement wider and stricter sanctions against Iran especially from Europe. These would be another building block of a larger plan to suffocate the country and as an additional step on a larger escalation ladder.

and:

The administration just called for a UN emergency session about the situation. That is a laughable move ...

Laughable indeed. Other members of the Security Council and the UN Human Rights council have rejected the U.S. plans. It is not the UN's business to insert itself into internal affairs of any country. But even for those who believe that the UN has a right to intervene, the protests in Iran, estimated at no more than 15,000 people at any time and maybe 45,000 in cumulation, are way too insignificant to justify any UN reaction.

The European Union, main target of U.S. plans to again push for sanctions on Iran, has officially rejected any such attempts. The Swedish Foreign Minister said that these are "unacceptable" and that the situation does not qualify for any such move. The French President Macron warned (French) that breaking relations with Iran would lead to war. He was quite explicit (machine translation) about the actors behind such moves:

France has firm relations with the Iranian authorities but wants to keep this link "because what is being done otherwise is that it is surreptitiously rebuilding an 'axis of evil'," said the president.
.,..
"We can clearly see the official speech that is made by the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, which are our allies in many ways, it is almost speech that will lead us to the war in Iran." he added, pointing out without further details that it was a "deliberate strategy of some".

Russia's Foreign Minister warned the U.S. against any interference in Iran's internal affairs.

Meanwhile a Saudi flagship paper, Al Arabiya, is challenging The Onion as it asserts that Iran has called up Hizbullah, Iraqi units and Afghan mercenary to quell the protests.

In a Washington Post op-ed Vice President Pence rants about the Obama administration's alleged lack of reaction to protests in Iran, but announces no reaction by the Trump administration. The Washington Post editors add several op-eds by pro-Zionist lobbyists bashing Iran and blaming Europe for not following Trump's line.

The anti-Iranian Foundation for Defense of Democracies which is financed by an extreme Zionist speculator, is given plenty of space in U.S. papers:

Adam H. Johnson @adamjohnsonNYC - 4:04 AM - 3 Jan 2018
in past 72 hrs radical pro-regime change outfit FDD has had op-eds in NYTimes, Washington Post, NYPost, Politico and WSJ on Iran, repeating in each one the same tired, pro-intervention talking points.
Adam H. Johnson @adamjohnsonNYC - 6:14 PM - 3 Jan 2018
having used up their designated slots in respectable WSJ, WaPo, Politico, and NYTimes for this week, FDD slumming it in Washington Times today. Sad!

The supposedly "centrist" Lawfare blog published a call for handing improvised mines with "Explosive Formed Penetrators" to Iranian protesters. (During the U.S. invasion of Iraq the local resistance made and used such EFPs against the U.S. occupiers. The U.S. military falsely claimed that the EFPs were coming from Iran.) The editor of Lawfare, the notorious Benjamin Wittes, seems to agree with the piece. He, the editor, writes that he never edits anything that is published on his site. His only complain about the piece is that the call to arm rioters in Iran lacks a professed legal reasoning. (One wonders how the Lawfare writers will react when China delivers anti-tank weapons to the next Occupy Wall Street incarnation.)

It is a big campaign in the U.S. that is accompanying rather small events in Iran. The campaign is designed to create the atmosphere for a war on that country. The media give it ample room. But the U.S. is very lonely in these attempts. Saudi Arabia is a paper tiger that does not count and Israel can not move against Iran. The axis of resistance is ready for a great war, says Hizbullah leader Nasrallah. He explains that such a war would be waged deep within Israel.

Stephen Kinzer points out that U.S. animosity against Iran and its government lacks any strategic reasoning:

History decrees that any Iranian government must be strongly nationalist and a vigilant defender of Shiite Muslims everywhere, so the idea that “regime change” would produce a more pro-American Iran is a fantasy. The security of the United States will not be seriously affected by the course of Iran’s domestic politics.
...
In 1980 President Carter proclaimed that any challenge to American dominance of the Persian Gulf would be considered “an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.” He was driven by the global imperatives of his era. Much of America’s oil came through the Persian Gulf, and the West could not risk losing it to Soviet power.

Today there is no Soviet Union, and we no longer rely on Middle East oil. Yet although the basis for our policy has evaporated, the policy itself remains unchanged, a relic from a bygone age.

Kinzer is right on the lack of a strategic argument. But he neglects the influence of the Zionist lobby and its interest to keep the U.S. involved in smashing any potential adversary to its colonial endeavor. Genuine interest of the people of the United States is not what drives U.S. policy and has not been for some time (if ever).

 

Posted by b on January 4, 2018 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (124)

January 02, 2018

Iran - Few Protests - Some Riots - U.S. Prepares The Next Phase

Updated below:
---

The riots and protests in Iran continue for a 6th day. While "western" media claim that the protests are growing I see no evidence for that in the various videos that appear online. The legitimate protests over price rises, failing private banks and against the new neoliberal austerity budget of President Rohani were hijacked early on by rioting gangs. These are obviously coordinated from the outside of the country through various internet applications, especially Telegram and Instagram:

Amad News, a channel on Telegram, appears to have played a pivotal role in the wave of protests. Reportedly administered by exiled journalist Rohollah Zam — a son of a senior Reformist cleric said to have escaped the country after being accused of having links with foreign intelligence agencies ...

Blocking the specific control channels proved to be insufficient:

Special software used to circumvent the government filters could still be downloaded easily. And on Monday, as on other days, there were calls for protests online and on foreign-based Persian-language satellite channels.

The blockage of the internet applications was lifted today.

The original protests over economic issues seem to have died down after President Rouhani confirmed the right to protest, conceded economic problems and promised to take them on. Indeed there are only few new videos of genuine protest marches but an avalanche of videos of rioting, arson and tussling with police forces. The size of the protests are in a few hundred people or less. Counter demonstrations, expressing loyalty for the republic (not noted in "western" media), are bigger in size than the anti-government protests. Since December 28 protests and riots have occurred in a total of 66 cities by now, but only about 30 have been taking place each night. This might point to some planning behind the events. A daily switching of venues might be intended to prevent police preparations.

The groups of rioters are between 30 and 80 people in size with a some bystanders milling around. They seem to follow a flash mob strategy appearing here and there and to vanish again when police appears in force. In some cities rioters attacked police stations, military posts and were even stealing firetrucks. Some of the rioters are evidently trying to get their hands on weapons.

Altogether only a few thousand people, overwhelmingly male youth, seem to be involved. Thousands protest in Israel each week against the corruption of Prime Minister Netanyahoo. On New-Years-Eve more than 1,000 cars in France were set alight by arsonists. None of this is front page news but a few dozen riots in Iran get elevated to a "revolution".

The total death toll of the "peaceful protests" is now some 21 of which (by my count) at least five were policemen killed in attacks by "protesters" and two unrelated civilians who were run over and killed by rioters driving a stolen firetruck. Six rioters were killed when they tried to attack a police station in the town of Qahderijan. The governor there claimed that the attackers were armed with guns.

The same faking of pictures of large demonstrations and "evidence" of government brutality that we have seen with regard to the war on Syria is taking place with Iran. Videos of demonstrations from Argentine and Bahrain are used to claim large demonstrations in Iran. A tweet with the Bahrain video by a "journalist" who claimed it was in Iran has received more than 17,000 re-tweets. Videos from Spain or even movie scenes are purported to show police violence in Iran. A video of a man lying on his back and being cared for is once claimed to show that he has been shot by police while at the same time another propagandists claims that the man had a cardiac arrest after police used a taser on him. There are no signs of wounds or other trauma. The dude probably just passed out.

The terrorist group MEK (NCRI, MKO) "leaked" fake protocols of an alleged government meeting which it claims shows panic over the protests. Allegedly the government fears the leader of the MEK, Marjam Rajavi. The MEK has paid large sums to get support from politicians, including John McCain in Washington and elsewhere. During the Iraq-Iran war it fought against Iran on the side of Iraq. After the U.S. invaded Iraq the MEK was held in special camps under U.S. control. According to a 2012 Seymour Hersh report the U.S. military trained MEK fighters in the U.S. in sabotage and insurgency technics. These people are deeply hated in Iran but feared they are not. Their early engagement in the "protests" via their website and propaganda ops in Iran may point to deeper role in the riots.

The usual neoconservatives in the U.S. media are arguing for "more help" for the "Iranian people". The help they want to offer is designed to worsen their economic situation.

I earlier argued that the larger plan of the instigators of these riots is not aimed at winning a violent "regime change" conflict, but at causing a reaction by the Iranian government which can then be used to press especially Europeans to again isolate Iran. This plan is now confirmed by an op-ed in the Washington Post. Michael Singh of the Zionist lobby in Washington writes:

If the regime resorts to violence anyway, the international response should focus on diplomatic isolation. European and Asian states should reduce their diplomatic ties with Iran and downgrade Iran’s participation in international forums. Sanctions may also have a role ...

Unsurprisingly the neoconned WaPo editors are fully in sync with the lobby:

European leaders, who have been far more cautious, should speak up. ... On Sunday [President Rohani of Iran] recognized that the demonstrators had legitimate grievances and nominally accepted their right to protest. The Trump administration and other Western governments should aim to hold him to those words through diplomacy and the threat of sanctions in the event of more bloodshed.

The rioting at the current level is in no way endangering the Iranian republic. Should some rioters acquire weapons the intensity might change a bit. But unless they receive material and personal support from the outside, like it happened in Syria, the situation will soon calm down. The people of Iran are against such violence and the government has yet to use its manifold capabilities.

I had documented in earlier posts that the Trump administration, in tight co-operations with Israel, long prepared for an intensification of a conflict with Iran. Half a year ago the CIA set up a special office with a high level Iran hawk leading the charge. Last month Trump named another Iran hawk to lead the State Department Middle East section.

Since the Iranian people successfully achieved "regime change" in 1979 the U.S. and Britain have had an adversarial policy against Iran. It has ebbed and flowed in intensity but never changed. Under Trump we will see a rapid increase of hostile actions. The administration just called for a UN emergency session about the situation. That is a laughable move when one considers the size of daily murder the U.S. and its allies commit in Yemen, Syria and Palestine. But the operation that unfolds now is likely just a small part of a larger anti-Iran strategy that has yet to become visible.

Update (Jan 3, 01:00am EST)

I just checked various internet resources for two hours to find new videos of protests/riots of January 2 to 3. There were just a handful and none of them was remarkable. Some short clips of loud screaming of small crowds and light bashing with riot police. The protests and riots are obviously dying down.

This map is by HRA_news a Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). It says "There were protests in at least 11 cities in #Iran on the sixth day".


bigger

Eleven cities is less than half than the thirty cities with protests/riots that were counted yesterday.

Posted by b on January 2, 2018 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (268)

January 01, 2018

NYT Writes Epic Cover For Comey's FBI - Its Sole Source: "Officials Said"

Updated below

In July 2016 the FBI under its director James Comey launched an investigation against the Donald Trump campaign and "Russian influence" on it.

Comey and the FBI is under pressure to explain why they launched this investigation. The assumption has been that the Steele dossier, fabricated by a former British agent hired by the Clinton campaign, was handed to the FBI and led to the launch of its investigation.

If that is true (as it likely is), the FBI and Comey are in deep trouble. The dossier was full of hearsay and abstruse rumors. It was obviously made up and fake stuff paid for by Trump's opponent. To use it to launch an official investigation against a candidate in the presidential election and to get FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign stinks of partisan motives and may well have been a criminal offense.

On Saturday the New York Times came up with a story that is designed to usher the question away and to give cover to the FBI.

The headline already tells the reader what to believe: How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt

See - it wasn't the Clinton paid Steele dossier that triggered the FBI!

The NYT presents a wild story, with epic details and with lots of obfuscation to confuse the reader. At the core is a minor member of the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, who was mostly in London while communicating via email with the campaign staff in the U.S. Papadopoulos advised on foreign policy and tried to build contacts between the campaign and foreign government officials. (He helped to set up a meeting between candidate Trump and the President of Egypt Sisi.)

In the words of the NYT authors:

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

... two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, ...

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.

The claim that the Papadopoulos rumor, detailed extensively in the NYT piece, triggered an FBI investigation does not seem plausible.

A drunk campaign aid of Trump tells some Aussie diplomat that the Russians have dirt on Clinton. He claims to have learned that from some mysterious Professor Mifsud who was trying to set up a Trump-Putin meeting with the hope to profit from the effort. The professor was some kind of imposter. He also allegedly arranged a meeting for Papadopoulos with "Putin's nice". Both of Putin's siblings died at child's age during the World War II siege of Leningrad - he has no niece. Whatever Mifsud claimed was probably not true. (Update: Alexander Mercouris argues that Papadopoulos is making false claims of what Mifsud told him.)

The Australian diplomat heard from a drunk Papadopoulos that some weird professor claimed to have heard from Russian sources that the Kremlin had dirt on Clinton. Two month later the Aussies tell their U.S. colleagues of that claim. It is fourth degree hearsay when it it reaches the FBI:

Once the information Mr. Papadopoulos had disclosed to the Australian diplomat reached the F.B.I., the bureau opened an investigation that became one of its most closely guarded secrets.

Are we really to believe that the FBI opens highly political investigations based on mere drunken rumors? That sounds implausible to me.

In early July 2016 the former British agent Steele had given the first parts of his dossier to an FBI agent in Rome. (Here is a cheat sheet on the dossier and its content timeline.) The dossier at that time included an alleged wild night in the Ritz Moscow which the Kremlin could use to blackmail Trump. It also included a trip one Carter Page had made to Moscow. The FBI opened its investigation after Steele had shown his claims to an FBI agent. But the NYT claims that the Steele dossier was not what tripped the investigation. It claims that a rumor that some Aussie diplomat had picked up from a drunken Trump campaign aid was the decisive point.

On what grounds does the NYT make that implausible claim?

A team of F.B.I. agents traveled to Europe to interview Mr. Steele in early October 2016. Mr. Steele had shown some of his findings to an F.B.I. agent in Rome three months earlier, but that information was not part of the justification to start an counterintelligence inquiry, American officials said.

And there you have it: "American officials said" is all what the NYT has. "American officials" in Washington press parlance, includes members of congress and even their senior staff. "Officials said" that the Steele dossier was not the basis of the FBI investigation but an unrelated  fourth level hearsay.

The revelation that the most important point of the NYT story, which the headline screams as fact, is solely based on "officials say" comes only in paragraph 40 of the 51 paragraph story. One wonders how many readers read that far.

That the claim is implausible is also suggested by an additional fact. The FBI officially interviewed Steele, the author of the Clinton paid dossier, in October 2016. It waited until January 2017 to interview Papadopoulos. If the hearsay from the drunken Papadopoulos was so important that it triggered the investigation - and not the Steele dossier - why did the FBI neglect him that long?

The Saturday NYT story claims that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign, which was tightly supervised by Obama's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, was based on some rumor out of London and not based on the Steele dossier. Its sole source for that is "officials said".

Update: Just last April the NYT claimed that it was the Carter Page trip to Moscow, publicly known but also reported in the Steele dossier, that triggered the investigation:

Ever since F.B.I. investigators discovered in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit an American businessman named Carter Page, the bureau maintained an occasional interest in Mr. Page. So when he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign last year and gave a Russia-friendly speech at a prestigious Moscow institute, it soon caught the bureau’s attention.

That trip last July was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump’s campaign, according to current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials.

Which is it NYT? Was it the Carter Page trip or the blabbermouth of George Papadopoulos that triggered the investigation. Or was it indeed the Steele dossier as Senator Lindsay Graham assumes? - end UPDATE

The long story, dropped over a weekend where few people had time to check the details, is obviously a cover up for the FBI.

At least parts of the FBI and the Justice Department were convinced that they had to do everything and anything to make it impossible that Trump would win the election. They used the fake stories from the Clinton paid dossier to justify an investigation of Trump and to spy on the Trump campaign. This was an obvious attempt by a federal agency to interfere in the election on one side of a presidential campaigns. Heads should role for this. If the Republicans in Congress who are investigating the issue are halfway awake they will further dig into this and expose the culprits.

Then again - why not keep quiet and use similar means during the next election? One wonders how the Democrats will feel about the issue when this table is turned on them.

Posted by b on January 1, 2018 at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)