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November 30, 2018

Seeing Social Decline As A National Security Threat May Change Conservative Policies

Micah Zenko, previously at the Council on Foreign Relations and now at Chatham House, is one of the sane analysts of U.S. security policies.

His tweet was in response to the 2017 CDC report on mortality in the United States. Its key findings include:

  • Life expectancy for the U.S. population declined to 78.6 years in 2017.
  • The age-adjusted death rate increased by 0.4% from 728.8 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2016 to 731.9 in 2017.
  • Age-specific death rates increased from 2016 to 2017 for age groups 25–34, 35–44, and 85 and over, and decreased for the age group 45–54.

Last year was the third year in a row that life expectancy in the United States decreased and mortality increased.

This only happened once before between 1915 to 1918. The cause was the Spanish Flu, which alone killed 675,000 people in the United States, and the 1st World War. That drop in life expectancy was extremely sharp but so was the rise that followed when the epidemic and war were over. The current phenomenon is different.

For a '1st world' country like the U.S. one would expect that life expectancy increases each year because of scientific progress in medicine, a cleaner environment, a reduction of accidents and the absence of large epidemics and war. An increase is what we see in other developed countries. It is only the U.S. that experiences such a decline and that fall does not come from a high level. In the 2015 WHO and UN lists of life expectancy by country the U.S. ranks as number 31 and 43. The new data will likely take it even lower.

The main causes of the current decline are an increase in overdoses from opioids and a higher suicide rates:

Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled. Deaths attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999.
Overall, suicides increased by a third between 1999 and 2017, the report showed. In urban America, the rate is 11.1 per 100,000 people; in the most rural parts of the country, it is 20 per 100,000.

It is not only life expectancy that shows the U.S. as a-not-so healthy country. Maternal and infant mortality also increased during the last decade and are much higher than in other developed countries. All these social indicators describe a society in decline.

Absent of war the only other industrialized country which experienced a long drop in such social indicators was Russia in the early 1990s.

In 1976 Emmanuel Todd, a French anthropologist and demographer, predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, based on indicators such as increasing infant mortality rates. In 2001 Todd wrote After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order in which he analyzed similar trends in the United States and predicted its fall as the sole superpower:

Todd notes some disturbing American trends, such as rising stratification based on educational credentials, and the "obsolescence of unreformable political institutions." Increasingly, the rest of the world is producing so that America can consume.

Todd will surely see the U.S. current health statistics as a confirmation that the fall of the empire is near.

That is the reason why Micah Zenko calls the political indifference to social health "the gravest national security thread".

It was Bill Clinton's 'welfare reform' that systematically impoverished people. The current opioid crises developed under the Obama administration and it did nothing to stop it. Obama 'reform' of the health insurance system shunned the 'public option' which would have given insurance to anyone who can not afford the commercial offers. With many Democrats firmly in the hands of big pharma there is little hope that change will come from their side.

But if the social decline of the United States is viewed in terms of 'national security' then conservatives may start to push the issue.

A sign that this indeed might happen is a piece in the hardcore conservative National Review which recognizes that the decline of life expectancy and the opiate crisis require fundamental policy changes:

One group of well-meaning conservatives believes that taking our eye off the economic-growth ball will lead to ever-more stagnation, while others (like [Oren] Cass) believe we need to create an economy in which more individuals have the chance to be productive, even if that comes at the cost of some GDP growth.
Does more robust funding of, say, worker-training programs seem to be the ticket to address the kind of existential angst evidenced by the slide into opioid abuse? Should we expect the induced labor-supply growth from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to counteract the emptiness met by a bottle or pill jar? Is moralizing about civic society sufficient to rebuild a frayed social fabric that leaves too many isolated and alone?

Alone, none of these is sufficient, but the conversation Cass and others have started seems like a step toward responding to the challenge.

I do not agree with the piece or the Oren Cass book about the American worker, but find it refreshing that U.S. conservatives finally start to see the problems their policies cause and consider changes even with regards to their fixation on growth at all costs. It is the first step on a long road to better social and economic policies.

But will the institutionalized corruption of Congress, what Todd calls the "obsolescence of unreformable political institutions", allow for any change?

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Posted by b on November 30, 2018 at 20:35 UTC | Permalink | Comments (108)

November 29, 2018

This Guardian Fake News Story Proves That The Media Can't Be Trusted

In 2015 the British Guardian appointed Katherine Viner as editor in chief. Under her lead the paper took a new direction. While it earlier made attempts to balance its shoddier side with some interesting reporting, it is now solidly main stream in the worst sense. It promotes neo-liberalism and a delves into cranky identity grievances stories. It also became an main outlet for manipulative propaganda peddled by the British secret services.

Its recent fake news story about Paul Manafort, Wikileaks and Julian Assange aptly demonstrates this. The documentation of it is a bit lengthy but provides that it was a willful fake.

On November 27 the Guardian prepared to publish a story which asserted that Paula Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, had met Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London on at least three occasions. Some two hours before the story went public it contacted Manafort and Assange's lawyers to get their comments.

Assange's Wikileaks responded through its public Twitter account which has 5.4 million followers. On of those followers is Katherine Viner:

WikiLeaks @wikileaks - 13:06 utc - 27 Nov 2018

SCOOP: In letter today to Assange's lawyers, Guardian's Luke Harding, winner of Private Eye's Plagiarist of the Year, falsely claims jailed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had secret meetings with Assange in 2013, 2015 and 2016 in story Guardian are "planning to run".

It attached the email the Guardian's Luke Harding had send.


90 minutes later the Guardian piece went life. It led the front page and also appeared in print.



The first version read:

Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told.

Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.

It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.

Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.

The piece did not include the public denial Wikileaks issued to its 5.4 million followers one and a half hour before it was published.

The Guardian piece came at a critical moment. Currently the U.K. and Ecuador conspire to deliver Julian Assange to U.S. authorities. On Monday special counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort lied to investigators, violating his recent plea deal.

The new sensational claim was immediately picked up by prominent reporters and major main stream outlets. They distributed is as a factual account. It is likely that millions of people took note of its claim.

But several people who had followed the Russiagate fairytale and the Mueller investigation were immediately suspicious of the Guardian claim.

The story was weakly sourced and included some details that seemed unlikely to be true. Glenn Greenwald noted that the Ecuadorian embassy is under heavy CCTV surveillance. There are several guards, and visitors have to provide their identity to enter it. Every visit is logged. If Manafort had really visited Assange, it would have long been known:

In sum, the Guardian published a story today that it knew would explode into all sorts of viral benefits for the paper and its reporters even though there are gaping holes and highly sketchy aspects to the story.

Moreover, the main author of the story, Luke Harding, is known to be a notorious fraud, a russo-phobe intelligence asset with a personal grievance towards Assange and Wikileaks. A year ago an important Moon of Alabama piece - From Snowden To Russia-gate - The CIA And The Media - mentioned Harding:

The people who promote the "Russian influence" nonsense are political operatives or hacks. Take for example Luke Harding of the Guardian who just published a book titled Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. He was taken apart in a Real News interview (vid) about the book. The interviewer pointed out that there is absolutely no evidence in the book to support its claims. When asked for any proof for his assertion Harding defensively says that he is just "storytelling" - in other words: it is fiction. Harding earlier wrote a book about Edward Snowden which was a similar sham. Julian Assange called it "a hack job in the purest sense of the term". Harding is also known as plagiarizer. When he worked in Moscow he copied stories and passages from the now defunct Exile, run by Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames. The Guardian had to publish an apology.

The new Guardian story looked like another weak attempt to connect the alleged Russian malfeasance with Assange and the Wikileaks publishing of the DNC emails. Assange and other involved people deny that such a relation existed. There is no public evidence that support such claims.

Shortly after the Guardian's fake news story went public Paul Manafort issued an unequivocal denial:

“I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him,” the statement said. “I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”

At 16:05 utc the Guardian silently edited the story.


Caveats (here in italic and underlined) were added to the headline and within several paragraphs. No editorial note was attached to inform the readers of the changes:

Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say

It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Why Manafort might have sought out Assange in 2013 is unclear.
Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers initially declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.

One paragraph was added to included Wikileaks' denial:

In a series of tweets WikiLeaks said Assange and Manafort had not met. Assange described the story as a hoax.

At 16:30 utc, under fire from other media and journalists, the Guardian issued a statement:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange's representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

This defensive Guardian claim is, like its story, evidently completely false. Wikileaks publicly denied the Guardian's claims 90 minutes before the story was first published. Manafort asserts that his lawyers had notified the Guardian that the story was false before the Guardian 'proceeded with the story'.

At 21:05 utc a third version was published which included Manafort's denial.

Half an hour later Julian Assange instructed his lawyers to sue the Guardian for libel. Wikileaks opened a fund to support the lawsuit.

A day after the Guardian smear piece the Washington Times reported that Manafort's passports, entered into evidence by the Mueller prosecution, show that he did not visit London in any of the years the Guardian claimed he was there to visit Assange.

The story was completely false and the Guardian knew it was. It disregarded and left out the denials the subjects of the story had issued before it was published.

The Guardian has become a main outlet for British government disinformation operations aimed at defaming Russia. It smeared Assange and Snowden as Russian collaborators. It uncritically peddled the Russiagate story and the nonsensical Skripal claims which are both obviously concocted by British intelligence services. That seems to have become its main purpose.

As Disobediant Media notes (emphasis in the original):

While most readers with functional critical thinking capacity may readily dismiss the Guardian’s smear on its face, the fact that the Guardian published this piece, and that Luke Harding is still operating with even the tiniest modicum of respect as a journalist despite his history of deceit, tells us something bone-chilling about journalism.

It is no accident that Luke Harding is still employed: in fact, it is because of Harding’s consistent loyalty to establishment, specifically the UK intelligence apparatus, over the truth that determines his “success” amongst legacy press outlets. Harding is not a defacement or a departure from the norm, but the personification of it.

Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian writer, makes a similar point:

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: ...

The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

We have previously shown that the Guardian even uses fascist propaganda tropes to smear the Russian people. It is openly publishing Goebbels' cartoons and rhetoric against Europes biggest state. There is no longer any line that it does not dare to cross. Unfortunately other 'western' media are not much better.

Within hours of being published the Guardian piece was debunked as fake news. That did not hinder other outlets to add to its smear. Politico allowed "a former CIA officer," writing under a pen name, to suggest - without any evidence - that the Guardian has been duped - not by its MI5/6 and Ecuadorian spy sources, but by Russian disinformation:

Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists?
Harding is likely a major target for anyone wrapped up in Russia’s intelligence operation against the West’s democratic institutions.
If this latest story about Manafort and Assange is false—that is, if, for example, the sources lied to Harding and Collyns (or if the sources themselves were lied to and thus thought they were being truthful in their statements to the journalists), or if the Ecuadorian intelligence document is a fake, the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad.

The is zero evidence in the Politico screed that supports its suggestions and claims. It is fake news about a fake news story. It also included the false claim that Glenn Greenwald worked with Wikileaks on the Snowden papers. That claim was later removed. 

We have seen a similar pattern in the Skripal affair. When 'western' intelligence get caught in spreading disinformation, they accuse Russia of being the source of the fake. 

Unfortunately no western main stream media can any longer be trusted to publish the truth. The Guardian is only one of many which peddle smears and disinformation about the 'enemies' of the ruling 'western interests'. It is on all of us to debunk them and to educate the public about their scheme.

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Posted by b on November 29, 2018 at 15:23 UTC | Permalink | Comments (91)

November 28, 2018

If The Saudi's Oil No Longer Matters Why Is Trump Still Supporting Them?

Why are U.S. troops in the Middle East?

In an interview with the Washington Post U.S. President Donald Trump gives an answer:

Trump also floated the idea of removing U.S. troops from the Middle East, citing the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw.

“Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel,” Trump said. “Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.”

It is only Israel, it is no longer the oil, says Trump.  But the nuclear armed Israel does not need U.S. troops for its protection.

And if it is no longer the oil, why is the U.S. defending the Saudis?

Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disagrees with his boss. In a Wall Street journal op-ed today he claims that The U.S.-Saudi Partnership Is Vital because it includes much more then oil:

[D]egrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies.

The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the U.S.-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.

Where and when please has Saudi Arabia "managed the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war". Was that when it emptied its jails of violent criminals and sent them to wage jihad against the Syrian people? That indeed 'managed' to push millions to flee from their homes.

Saudi Arabia might be many things but "a powerful force for stability" it is not. Just ask 18 million Yemenis who, after years of Saudi bombardment, are near to death for lack of food.

Pompeo's work for the Saudi dictator continued today with a Senate briefing on Yemen. The Senators will soon vote on a resolution to end the U.S. support for the war. In his prepared remarks Pompeo wrote:

The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse.

What could be worse than a famine that threatens two third of the population?

If the U.S. and Britain would not support the Saudis and Emirates the war would end within a day or two. The Saudi and UAE planes are maintained by U.S. and British specialists. The Saudis still seek 102 more U.S. military personal to take care of their planes. It would be easy for the U.S. to stop such recruiting of its veterans.


It is the U.S. that holds up an already watered down UN Security Council resolution that calls for a ceasefire in Yemen:

The reason for the delay continues to be a White House worry about angering Saudi Arabia, which strongly opposes the resolution, multiple sources say. CNN reported earlier this month that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, "threw a fit" when presented with an early draft of the document, leading to a delay and further discussions among Western allies on the matter.

We recently wrote that pandering to the Saudis and keeping Muhammad bin Salman in place will hurt Trump's Middle East policies. The piece noted that Trump asked the Saudis for many things, but found that:

There is really nothing in Trump's list on which the Saudis consistently followed through. His alliance with MbS brought him no gain and a lot of trouble.

Trump protected MbS from the consequences of murdering Jamal Khashoggi. He hoped to gain leverage with that. But that is not how MbS sees it. He now knows that Trump will not confront him no matter what he does. If MbS "threws a fit" over a UN Security Council resolution, the U.S. will drop it. When he launches his next 'adventure', the U.S. will again cover his back. Is this the way a super power is supposed to handle a client state?

If Trump's instincts really tell him that U.S. troops should be removed from the Middle East and Afghanistan, something I doubt, he should follow them. Support for the Saudi war on Yemen will not help to achieve that. Pandering to MbS is not MAGA.

Posted by b on November 28, 2018 at 20:12 UTC | Permalink | Comments (61)

November 27, 2018

Ukraine - Poroshenko Launched Clash With Russia To Gain Dictatorial Powers - He Failed

The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko's attempted to shore up his approval rate for the upcoming election by provoking a military incident. It was a gamble and it failed.

Three Ukrainian boats, a tug and two gun boats, attempted to sail from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. The Kerch Strait is territorial Russian water since Crimea voted to join Russia. "Innocent passage" is allowed but necessitates following the laws and regulations of the territorial country.

Depth chart - Sea of Azov 
Dark blue - less than 5 meters, light blue - less than 10 meters, white - less than 13.5 meters
shipping channels not shown - bigger

The Ukraine does not accept the decision the people of Crimea and insists that the peninsula is still part of its territory. The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko sent the boats with the order not to coordinate their passage with Russian authorities. The captured sailors confirm that. He obviously wanted to provoke a violent Russian reaction.

The government of Ukraine practically admitted that the mission had nefarious intent:

Ukraine’s state security service says that its intelligence officers were among the crew on Ukrainian naval ships seized by Russia in a standoff near Crimea.

The SBU agency said in a statement Tuesday that the officers were fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy, in response to “psychological and physical pressure” by Russian spy services. It didn’t elaborate, but demanded that Russia stop such activity.

Russia’s FSB intelligence agency said late Monday that that there were SBU officers on board the Ukrainian ships, calling that proof of a “provocation” staged by Ukraine.

The SBU is the incompetent spy service that faked the murder of the Arkady Babchenko as part of a corporate raid.

What is the real reason that its agents were on board of the Ukrainian gun boats?

And why was the crew of the tug armed with heavy machine guns?


A few of the Ukrainian seaman were lightly wounded when the Russian coast guard took a shot at one of the boats.


The gun boats of the Gurza-M class were built on a shipyard that Poroshenko owned at that time. He profited from ordering them. They may be useful for river policing but do not belong at sea.

The Russian coast guard had no problem to disable the ships and to capture their crews. A Crimean court ordered that the sailors will be held for two more month while they face charges over border violations.

In 1988 the U.S. tried to pull up a similar stunt in the Black Sea. Two U.S. Navy ships with spying equipment crossed into Soviet territorial water near Crimea. They got rammed (vid) by Soviet ships and were smart enough to move out before the situation escalated further.

Poroshenko's intent was to provoke an incident that would allow him to present himself as a war-president. Elections are coming up and all polls show him below 10% and far behind two other candidates. He attempted to use the incident to introduce martial law over all the Ukraine.

Martial law would give Poroshenko full control over the country. He would be able to remove any regional or local government, to shut down the political opposition and to censor the media. He would be able to postpone the upcoming elections indefinitely.

Back in July Yulia Tymoshenko, who is leading the polls for the next elections, warned that Poroshenko would take this step (machine translation):

The leader of Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, claims that one of her main competitors in the upcoming presidential election, the incumbent head of state, Petro Poroshenko, is allegedly nurturing a “extremely dangerous plan” to disrupt voting by escalating the war in Donbass and imposing martial law in Ukraine. The politician made such a statement on the TV channel UA: First.

Tymoshenko stated that Poroshenko "does not want" to hold presidential elections in order to "save power", ...

Yesterday Poroshenko tried to scare the parliament into accepting his plans:

“Intelligence data speak of an extremely serious threat,” Poroshenko declared in a televised address on Monday, brandishing a pile of paper, which, he said, was an intelligence report detailing the Russian forces massed close to the border. At a session of the United Nations Security Council called at Ukraine’s request late on Monday, the country’s representative, Volodymyr Yelchenko, claimed the Azov Sea ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk faced invasion.

That is of course utter nonsense. Russia has no interest in launching a war with the Ukraine. There is nothing to gain from it.

The parliament must vote on the introduction of martial law and the opposition parties recognized Poroshenko's stunt for what it was. His plans were rejected. Poroshenko pulled back. Instead of the 60 day long, renewable period of martial law he wanted, he had to settle for 30 days. And that was still not enough:

Rival political parties - former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi’s Self-Help and populist Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party – demanded further concessions. They wanted immediate confirmation, rather than just a promise, that the election will go ahead on March 31. They sought to limit martial law to a number of regions rather the whole country, and they objected to any plans to limit Ukrainians’ constitutional freedoms. Their fear wasn’t just that campaigning would be limited, but that Poroshenko would get near-dictatorial powers.

There will now be a limited martial law but only in those regions that border Russia or the Black Sea. These are the Russian speaking regions which did not vote for Poroshenko in the 2014 elections. The opposition and its foreign backers will hopefully take care that the martial law  use will not get out of hand. There will be a limited call-up of reserve troops, but most of the reservists are to likely ignore it.

With the election date set to March 31 by the parliament Poroshenko has no legal tool to postpone it.

Unless of course he manages to provoke a real war, either with the rebels who are holding the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or with Russia itself. The lunatic warmongers at the Atlantic Council urge him to do exactly that:

Even though Ukraine is outgunned, it does have options. It can undertake operations to break the blockade, though they would likely be fruitless given the forces Moscow has sent there.

Nevertheless, it cannot accept this attack on its sovereignty and integrity passively. Ukraine should give careful consideration to a special operation that might disrupt the bridge that Moscow built over the Kerch Strait that joins Crimea to Russia.

But that’s not all. Ukraine should invite the United States and NATO to send a fleet of armed ships to visit Mariupol, the main city on the Sea of Azov coast and defy Russia to fire on or block NATO from exercising the right to visit Ukraine’s ports. Those ships should be armed and have air cover but be instructed not to fire unless fired upon.

Even Poroshenko is not dumb enough to repeat his failed provocation in the Kerch Strait. The Kerch bridge is guarded. Its pillars are massive because it was build near a fault and has be able to withstand earthquakes. A saboteur unit would have to bring several tons of high explosives to even damage one. To reach Mariupol in the Sea of Azov ships have to cross through the the Kerch Strait. The passage is a very narrow artificial channel with only 8 meter depth. Outside of the channel the water is as shallow as a think tankers thought. Any ship with more than 2-3 meters draft has zero room to navigate there. Russia does not even need boats or airplanes to protect it. A few guns along the coast can easily control the passage. No sane naval commander will try to pass the Strait by force.


Russia already warned warned against further 'reckless' moves and deployed an anti-ship missile system (vid) to the Kerch Strait to make sure that any further provocations there will have deadly consequences.

Poroshenko could start a provocation elsewhere. He could attempt to reconquer the Donetzk airport. But while he might itch for losing more fights, a full blown war is out of question. Kiev's army is low on morale and would be defeated within days.

Poroshenko's rule was catastrophic for the Ukraine. In several cities the central heating and warm water supply is broken. Ten-thousands will have to freeze during the winter, some of them to death. Since Poroshenko came to power millions of able Ukrainian workers have fled or work abroad, most of them to Russia. The most industrialized regions are in firmly in rebel hands. Most of the population is poor, the bureaucracy is utterly corrupt and the country is practically bankrupt.

There will likely be dozens of corruption cases brought up against Poroshenko himself as soon as he loses power. If he is smart he will flee the Ukraine the very day his term ends.

The international reactions showed that Poroshenko is no longer of value. While the russo-phobe Poland and the Baltic countries called for more sanction against Russia the European heavyweights Germany and France urged deescalation and direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. (Sources in Berlin say that Merkel firmly told him to stand down.) The U.S. reaction was delayed and mild. Trump punted the problem to the Europeans.

Pedro Poroshenko will leave the political stage as a despised man. But will also be much richer after he pilfered the Ukrainian state wherever he could. The people of the Ukraine should take their money back before dumping him abroad.

Posted by b on November 27, 2018 at 19:25 UTC | Permalink | Comments (115)

November 26, 2018

Russia Blocks Ukrainian Navy From Militarizing The Sea of Azov - Updated

Originally posted Nov 25: 18:00 utc - Updated below on Nov. 26, 6:00 utc

The Ukrainian government under the oligarch Petro Poroshenko is in election campaign mode. That is one reason why it is launching new provocations against Russia. Yesterday Ukrainian forces reportedly occupied a town within the neutral zone between the government controlled part and the rebel held Donetsk area. Today the Ukrainian navy sent a tug and two small gun boats, recently acquired from the U.S. Coast Guard, Ukrainian build Gurza-M class types, to pass through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov.

When the ships entered Russian waters without announcing their intent, a Russian coast guard ship rammed (vid) and damaged the tug. The two gun boats escaped but did not pass the strait. The pictures show the melee at sea. 



With Crimea back in Russian hands, the Kerch Strait is solely Russian territorial water. The Treaty on the Legal Status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, signed in 2003 by Russia and the Ukraine, provides that military ship entry into the sea is only allowed with mutual consent. Ukraine disputes the status of the sea in an arbitration court. (For a legal discussion of the case see 1, 2, 3.)

The Ukrainian government, urged on by the U.S., wants to establish a new military harbor in the Sea of Azov. Two of its navy ships, a rescue vessel and a tug, passed through the street on September 23. In October the Russian government warned that it will not allow any further militarization of the sea. Some U.S. hawks even want NATO ships to enter the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov has a maximum depth of 7 meters. Typical U.S. frigates have a draft of 10+ meters. What NATO or U.S. ship could even go there? As Russia firmly controls the sole entry point into the sea and can easily attack any ship in the Sea of Azov from within its borders the idea is incredibly stupid.

The Kerch Strait is now blocked by a large cargo ship the Russians anchored under the new Kerch bridge.


The passage is closed and a number of ships are bunched up on both sides.

Pic via MarineTraffic of traffic at 15:45 utc - bigger

The Ukrainian provocation may well be aimed to sour the meeting between President Trump and Putin that is planned for November 30 during the G20 summit in Argentina. It should be more careful. It is quite possible that Russia will block commercial traffic to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol over any further incident. The big loser of this useless provocation would then again be the Ukraine.

Update - Nov. 26, 6:00 utc

The Russian coast guard detained the three Ukrainian ships and their crews in Russian waters. They again illegally attempted to cross from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian side says the two of its seaman were injured.

Since Crimea voted to again become a part of Russia the Kerch Strait is Russian territorial water. Ships can pass the strait but are required to take on a pilot and to undergo inspections if the Russian coast guard demand such. The Ukrainian side understands that these are legal measures. In a report by the U.S. government outlet RFL/RE published in August the Ukrainian side admitted as much:

[The Ukrainian Sea Guard and the squadron's spokesman] Poliakov said that, while Russia's actions are "provocative," because of a controversial 2003 agreement on cooperation and shared use of the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, "everything Russia is doing here is technically legal."

The three Ukrainian ships tried to pass Russian waters without informing Russian authorities and without taking on pilots. Since Russia build the $3.7 billion Kerch bridge which connects Crimea with Russia, U.S. commentators and Ukrainian politicians threatened to blow up the bridge:

“The Kerch Bridge is an enemy’s infrastructure. It connects the occupied territory with the mainland of the aggressor country, that is why it is an enemy’s infrastructure,” Mosiychuk said on air of 112 Ukraine channel.

According to him, “any normal country” in a state of war strives for destroying enemy’s infrastructure. Answering a question whether he personally would destroy the bridge, he said that he would do it if he were the defense minister.

The Russians are understandably careful with any traffic near to it.

Following yesterday's incident the president of the Ukraine Pedro Poroshenko proposed to declare martial law. The parliament will have to decide on that. This is a very convenient move for Poroshenko as it will allow him to move the March 2019 general election date. Poroshenko trails in the polls with some 8% of the total vote.

Russia called for a UN Security Council emergency meeting which will be held at today at 11:00am EST. The passage through the Kerch Strait is again open for civil vessels.

The usual anti-Russian subject in "western" political circles use the incident to demand more measures against Russia. Fronting the effort is the weapon industry lobbying group Atlantic Council:

Anders Åslund, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said: “NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping.”

Such action, Åslund said, “would be in full compliance with the UN Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 and the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits of 1936.”

Anders Aslund is listed as member of the "U.S. & Canadian Cluster" of the secret influence operation by the British Foreign Office describe here two days ago. He is obviously unable to read a map, sea chart, or UN convention. The Ukrainian attempt to pass through the Kerch Strait without Russian consent is a breach of Article 7, 19 and 21 of the UN Law of the Sea Convention (pdf):

Article 7: "Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea."
Article 19-1: "Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law."
Article 21-4: "Foreign ships exercising the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea shall comply with all such [coastal state] laws and regulations and all generally accepted international regulations relating to the prevention of collisions at sea."

There will now be again a lot of noise in the media about the 'nefarious Russians' and new demands for even more useless sanctions. But the legal case is clear. It was the Ukrainian navy that willfully attempted to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through Russian territorial waters without regard to the laws and regulations of the coastal state. Russia was within its full rights to prevent the passage and to seize the Ukrainian boats.

Posted by b on November 26, 2018 at 9:44 UTC | Permalink | Comments (175)

November 25, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-63

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Last night Jihadis in the Turkish-Russian de-escalation zone in Idleb governorate launched gas filled artillery munition into Aleppo city. Some 100 people were hurt with some 30 still being hospitalized. In response to the chemical attack the Russian air force in Syria launched bombing raids against the Jihadi positions and eliminated the threat. It earlier informed the Turkish observers in the area of its intent. This was the first Russian air attack on the de-escalation zone since it was established.

There have been a number of such provocations and skirmishes between the Syrian army and the Jihadis along the demarcation line. The terrorists hope to provoke the Syrian army into an all out attack on the de-escalation area. They hope that the U.S. would then support their side. The all out attack will come, but probably not before next spring.

Turkey was supposed to clean a 15 kilometer strip along the demarcation line from all Jihadi presence and from heavy weapons. It seems to be unable or unwilling to do so. That Russia intervened today can be understood as a warning to the Turks. Either it does its job and controls the Jihadis or Russia will eliminate them.

Over the years various MoA pieces were translated and published in Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German and Russian language. Yesterday's piece about the British government smear campaigns was the first to appear in Turkish. Emre Kose translated it: Çeviri | İngiliz hükümeti Rusya’ya karşı gizli bir karalama kampanyası yürütüyor — Moon of Alabama.

(The general policy is that I welcome such translations if they are a. published without any commercial intent and b. link back to the original piece on this site.)

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 25, 2018 at 18:07 UTC | Permalink | Comments (75)

November 24, 2018

British Government Runs Secret Anti-Russian Smear Campaigns

In 2015 the government of Britain launched a secret operation to insert anti-Russia propaganda into the western media stream.

We have already seen many consequences of this and similar programs which are designed to smear anyone who does not follow the anti-Russian government lines. The 'Russian collusion' smear campaign against Donald Trump based on the Steele dossier was also a largely British operation but seems to be part of a different project.

The 'Integrity Initiative' builds 'cluster' or contact groups of trusted journalists, military personal, academics and lobbyists within foreign countries. These people get alerts via social media to take action when the British center perceives a need.

On June 7 it took the the Spanish cluster only a few hours to derail the appointment of Perto Banos as the Director of the National Security Department in Spain. The cluster determined that he had a too positive view of Russia and launched a coordinated social media smear campaign (pdf) against him.


The Initiative and its operations were unveiled when someone liberated some of its documents, including its budget applications to the British Foreign Office, and posted them under the 'Anonymous' label at
Update - The Integrity Initiative confirms the release of its documents. - End Update

The Initiative is nominally run under the (government financed) non-government-organisation The Institute For Statecraft. Its internal handbook (pdf) describes its purpose:

The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.

It lists Bellingcat and the Atlantic Council as "partner organisations" and promises that:

Cluster members will be sent to educational sessions abroad to improve the technical competence of the cluster to deal with disinformation and strengthen bonds in the cluster community. [...] (Events with DFR Digital Sherlocks, Bellingcat, EuVsDisinfo, Buzzfeed, Irex, Detector Media, Stopfake, LT MOD Stratcom – add more names and propose cluster participants as you desire).

The Initiatives Orwellian slogan is 'Defending Democracy Against Disinformation'. It covers European countries, the UK, the U.S. and Canada and seems to want to expand to the Middle East.

On its About page it claims:

We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.

The now published budget plans show that more than 95% of the Initiative's funding is coming directly from the British government, NATO and the U.S. State Department. All the 'contact persons' for creating 'clusters' in foreign countries are British embassy officers. It amounts to a foreign influence campaign by the British government that hides behind a 'civil society' pseudo-NGO.

The organization is led by one Chris N. Donnelly who receives (pdf) £8,100 per month for creating the smear campaign network.

Chris Donnelly - Pic via Euromaidanpress

From its 2017/18 budget application (pdf) we learn how the Initiative works:

To counter Russian disinformation and malign influence in Europe by: expanding the knowledge base; harnessing existing expertise, and; establishing a network of networks of experts, opinion formers and policy makers, to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.

The Initiative has a black and white view that is based on a "we are the good ones" delusion. When "we" 'educate' foreign national audiences through a secretive government operations it is a legitimate operation. When others do similar, it its disinformation. That is of course not the reality. The Initiative's existence itself, created to secretly manipulate the public, is proof that such a view is wrong. If its work were as legit as it wants to be seen, why would the Foreign Office run it from behind the curtain as an NGO?

The Initiative is not the only such operation. It's applications seek funding from a larger "Russian Language Strategic Communication Programme" run by the Foreign Office. What else is financed through that program's budget?

The 2017/18 budget application sought FCO funding of £480,635. It received £102,000 in co-funding from NATO and the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense. The 2018/19 budget application shows a planned spending (pdf) of £1,961,000.00. The co-sponsors this year are again NATO and the Lithuanian MoD, but also include (pdf) the U.S. State Department with £250,000 and Facebook with £100,000. The budget lays out a strong cooperation with the local military of each country. It notes that NATO is also generous in financing the local clusters.

One of the liberated papers of the Initiative is a talking points memo labeled Top 3 Deliverable for FCO (pdf):

  • Developing and proving the cluster concept and methodology, setting up clusters in a range of countries with different circumstances
  • Making people (in Government, think tanks, military, journalists) see the big picture, making people acknowledge that we are under concerted, deliberate hybrid attack by Russia
  • Increasing the speed of response, mobilising the network to activism in pursuit of the “golden minute”

Under top 1, setting up clusters, a subitem reads:

- Connects media with academia with policy makers with practitioners in a country to impact on policy and society: (Jelena Milic silencing pro-kremlin voices on Serbian TV)

Defending Democracy by silencing certain voices on public TV seems to be a self-contradicting concept.

Another subitem notes how the Initiative secretly influences foreign governments:

We engage only very discreetly with governments, based entirely on trusted personal contacts, specifically to ensure that they do not come to see our work as a problem, and to try to influence them gently, as befits an independent NGO operation like ours, viz;
- Germany, via the Zentrum Liberale Moderne to the Chancellor’s Office and MOD
- Netherlands, via the HCSS to the MOD
- Poland and Romania, at desk level into their MFAs via their NATO Reps
- Spain, via special advisers, into the MOD and PM’s office (NB this may change very soon with the new Government)
- Norway, via personal contacts into the MOD
- HQ NATO, via the Policy Planning Unit into the Sec Gen’s office.
We have latent contacts into other governments which we will activate as needs be as the clusters develop.

A look at the 'clusters' set up in U.S. and UK shows some prominent names.


Members of the Atlantic Council, which has a contract to censor Facebook posts, appear on several cluster lists. The UK core cluster also includes some prominent names like tax fraudster William Browder, the daft Atlantic Council shill Ben Nimmo and the neo-conservative Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum. One person of  interest is Andrew Wood who handed the Steele 'dirty dossier' to Senator John McCain to smear Donald Trump over alleged relations with Russia. A separate subcluster of so-called journalists names Deborah Haynes, David Aaronovitch of the London Times, Neil Buckley from the FT and Jonathan Marcus of the BBC.

bigger - bigger

A 'Cluster Roundup' (pdf) from July 2018 details its activities in at least 35 countries. Another file reveals (pdf) the local partnering institutions and individuals involved in the programs.

The Initiatives Guide to Countering Russian Information (pdf) is a rather funny read. It lists the downing of flight MH 17 by a Ukrainian BUK missile, the fake chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun and the Skripal Affair as examples for "Russian disinformation". But at least two of these events, Khan Sheikun via the UK run White Helmets and the Skripal affair, are evidently products of British intelligence disinformation operations.

The probably most interesting papers of the whole stash is the 'Project Plan' laid out at pages 7-40 of the 2018 budget application v2 (pdf). Under 'Sustainability' it notes:

The programme is proposed to run until at least March 2019, to ensure that the clusters established in each country have sufficient time to take root, find funding, and demonstrate their effectiveness. FCO funding for Phase 2 will enable the activities to be expanded in scale, reach and scope. As clusters have established themselves, they have begun to access local sources of funding. But this is a slow process and harder in some countries than others. HQ NATO PDD [Public Diplomacy Division] has proved a reliable source of funding for national clusters. The ATA [Atlantic Treaty Association] promises to be the same, giving access to other pots of money within NATO and member nations. Funding from institutional and national governmental sources in the US has been delayed by internal disputes within the US government, but w.e.f. March 2018 that deadlock seems to have been resolved and funding should now flow.

The programme has begun to create a critical mass of individuals from a cross society (think tanks, academia, politics, the media, government and the military) whose work is proving to be mutually reinforcing. Creating the network of networks has given each national group local coherence, credibility and reach, as well as good international access. Together, these conditions, plus the growing awareness within governments of the need for this work, should guarantee the continuity of the work under various auspices and in various forms.

The third part of the budget application (pdf) list the various activities, their output and outcome. The budget plan includes a section that describes 'Risks' to the initiative. These include hacking of the Initiatives IT as well as:

Adverse publicity generated by Russia or by supporters of Russia in target countries, or by political and interest groups affected by the work of the programme, aimed at discrediting the programme or its participants, or to create political embarrassment.

We hope that this piece contributes to such embarrassment.

Posted by b on November 24, 2018 at 16:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (141)

November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Trump pardoned this turkey.


Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 22, 2018 at 17:21 UTC | Permalink | Comments (167)

November 21, 2018

Keeping Bin Salman In Place Will Hurt Trump's Middle East Policies

Against the advise from his intelligence services U.S. President Trump decided to leave the effective Saudi ruler, clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, in place. That move is unlikely to help with his larger policy plans.

Bruce Riedel, a (former) high level CIA analyst, long warned of betting on Mohammad bin Salman. Even before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Riedel wrote that Saudi Arabia is at its least stable in 50 years (also here):

The stability of Saudi Arabia is becoming more fragile as the young crown prince’s judgment and competence are increasingly in doubt. Mohammed bin Salman has a track record of impulsive and reckless decisions at home and abroad that calls into question the kingdom’s future.

Riedel warned that the Trump administration, by betting on Mohammad bin Salman, put everything on one dubious card. MbS is unstable and made himself many internal enemies. If King Salman suddenly dies there will probably be a leadership crisis. Saudi Arabia could end up in chaos. U.S. Middle East policy, largely build around MbS, would then fall apart.

The CIA disliked MbS since he replaced Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince. MbN is a longtime U.S. asset with a proven record of cooperation. MbS came from nowhere and the CIA has no control over him. That he is indeed impulsive and reckless only adds to that. That the CIA feared that MbS meant trouble even before the Khashoggi disaster, explains why it sabotaged Trump's attempts to exculpate MbS over the murder of Khashoggi.

While Riedel was writing about the Saudi danger, Jamal Khashoggi, a longtime Saudi intelligence agent who had aligned himself with the wrong prince, went to Istanbul to build the public relation infrastructure for regime change in Saudi Arabia:

Jamal Khashoggi, a prolific writer and commentator, was working quietly with intellectuals, reformists and Islamists to launch a group called Democracy for the Arab World Now. He wanted to set up a media watch organization to keep track of press freedom.

He also planned to launch an economic-focused website to translate international reports into Arabic to bring sobering realities to a population often hungry for real news, not propaganda.

Part of Khashoggi’s approach was to include political Islamists in what he saw as democracy building.
Khashoggi had incorporated his democracy advocacy group, DAWN, in January in Delaware, said Khaled Saffuri, another friend. .. The project was expected to reach out to journalists and lobby for change, representing both Islamists and liberals, ...

Khashoggi's projects were allegedly financed by Qatar but probably also had CIA support.

MbS got wind thereof. He told his private office chief Bader Al Asaker to send his bodyguards to kill Khashoggi. They did so on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But it was a much too large and too complicate mission. They Saudi agents made too many mistakes. They also underestimated the Turkish intelligence service.

The Turks had bugged the Saudi consulate and have records of all phone calls. When they learned from Khashoggi's fiancee, a well connected daughter of a co-founder of Erdogan's AK Party, that Khashoggi was missing, they wound back the tapes and unraveled the story. The killers had made four phone calls to Al Asaker to report back. In one of the calls the mission leader told him: "Tell your boss" that "the deed was done." The Turkish president Erdogan was delighted to receive such a gift. It allowed him to cut his strategic competitor down to size.

The Saudis were too slow to recognize the danger. They came up with all sorts of unbelievable claims over what happened in their consulate. Trump sent Secretary of State Pompeo who told them to find a sufficiently high ranking scapegoat:

The plan includes an option to pin the Saudi journalist’s murder on an innocent member of the ruling al-Saud family in order to insulate those at the very top, the source told MEE.

The Salman clan did not follow that advice. The Saudi prosecutor accused and indicted only minor staff.

Trump fumbled the issue. He clearly did not want to accuse the crown prince. But the CIA preempted him. It went public and accused MbS of having given the order himself.

Despite the CIA assessment Trump continues to defend the relations with Saudi Arabia. In a quite weird statement, dictated by Trump himself, the White House did not exculpate Mohammad bin Salman of the murder, but essentially said "we don't give a fuck!"

The statement on Standing with Saudi Arabia begins with this:

America First!

The world is a very dangerous place!

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”

The Trump statement further makes these points:

  • The Saudis promise a lot of money to us!
  • Some Saudis murdered Khashoggi.
  • They say the dude was a bad guy!
  • MbS may have ordered it. Or maybe not.
  • Good U.S. relations with the Saudis is in the interest of Israel!
  • The Saudis kept pumping oil when I asked them.
  • America First!

The statement does not mention the Saudi King, it only speaks of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is certainly not a whitewash for MbS. Trump shows support for the country of Saudi Arabia, but not for its royal leaders. That is why they will probably hate it.

Trump will get much criticism from the foreign policy borg for burying the case like this. But that criticism is over style, not over substance. U.S. support for bloody dictators is the rule, not the exception.

But that still leaves the concern that Trump bet his whole Middle East policy on his relations with the Saudis. And even as parts of it already fail, he continues to do so.

Trump's priorities in the Middle East are: the 'deal of the century' for Israel, the forging of a united Arab front against Iran, weapon sales, cheap oil and minor issue like financing the U.S. occupation of Syria and ending the unsavory war on Yemen. None of these issues has seen any success.

- Through his son-in-law Jared Kushner Trump wants to arrange the ultimate deal for Israel which consists of disfranchising the Palestinians of any national rights while the Saudis pay them off. That plan failed when Trump, with verbal agreement from MbS, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. King Salman intervened and stopped any further cooperation on the issue. It is doubtful that there will be any more Saudi support for the 'peace plan' at least as long as he lives.

- The Trump administration urged the Saudis to make nice with Qatar to then found a "Arab NATO" under U.S. command. The Saudis rejected that. Qatar supports political Islam in form of the Muslim Brotherhood which the Gulf potentates see as the biggest danger to their rule.

- Trump hoped that the Saudis would buy lots of U.S. weapons. He brags about a $110 billion deal he claims to have made. But final sales this year were only made for $14.5 billion. The Saudis acquired not one big ticket item from the U.S. since MbS rose to his position. This concerns not only the CIA but also the Pentagon and the weapon industry:

Saudi sources said U.S. officials had cooled on MbS not only because of his suspected role in the murder of Khashoggi. They are also rankled because the crown prince recently urged the Saudi defense ministry to explore alternative weapons supplies from Russia, the sources said.

In a letter dated May 15, seen by Reuters, the crown prince requested that the defense ministry “focus on purchasing weapon systems and equipment in the most pressing fields” and get training on them, including the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

- The Saudis increased oil production to keep the markets stable while the U.S. sanctions Iran. But Trump gave waivers to buyers of Iranian oil and the oil price fell from $80 per barrel down to $60/b. The Saudis are furious over this. They need at least $80/b to balance their budget. They will now cut their production:

“The Saudis are very angry at Trump. They don’t trust him any more and feel very strongly about a cut. They had no heads-up about the waivers,” said one senior source briefed on Saudi energy policies.

The Saudis will cut oil production and Trump will have to renew the waivers to buyers of Iranian oil or risk a very high oil price that would hurt the U.S. economy.

- Despite U.S. pressure the war on Yemen still goes on. Yesterday the fighting around Hodeidah port resumed after a few days of lull. Trump will come under more pressure from Congress to finally end the war.

- When asked for a quarter billion for the U.S. occupation of northeast Syria the Saudis coughed up a paltry $100 million.

There is really nothing in Trump's list on which the Saudis consistently followed through. His alliance with MbS has brought him no gain and a lot of trouble.

Trumps main Middle East project is to regime-change Iran in support of Israel. His main campaign sponsor, Sheldon Adelson, demands that. Without a stronger Saudi Arabia and its full support the project is likely to fail.

Why then is he still promoting relations with Saudi Arabia?

Professor Asad Abukhalil, says that Trump's believes that standing with the Saudis gives him leverage:

I feel that Donald Trump wants what is best for his administration. He has somebody, he has Mohammed bin Salman, as he best can have him. He is holding him by the neck. And if he survives, he — Mohammed bin Salman — will be greatly indebted to Trump, and to Netanyahu, because those two stood by him and kept him afloat. And because of that situation, Mohammad bin Salman will be obligated to make so many concessions — political, military, and financial — to the United States, and even to Israel. Some of it would be more direct now. Perhaps he would even visit the Israeli occupation state.

But why would MbS, once absolved, do such? Why should he feel pressured? What actually need would he have to feel "obligated"?

If that is Trump's calculation it is likely wrong. MbS has shown no sign that he will ever follow Trump's orders. MbS is a ruthless man. He will never become the docile poodle Trump needs him to be. That is also the assessment of the U.S. intelligence services.

As Abukhalil continues:

On the other hand, the intelligence agencies, I think, my reading, is that they do not think that Mohamed bin Salman is capable of steering the regime in a direction that is more in the interest of the stability of the regime. As a result they would rather make a change in order to save the regime. They worry that bin Salman is too reckless, and his thinking is ruled too precarious, which endangered American interests in that region.

Gina Haspel, the CIA's director and torture queen, will take her assessment to Congress. There are many furious voices there, who want MbS to go. The Zionist lobby will not be able to buy off each and every one of them.

Even one of Trump's allies, Senator Lindsay Graham, is pushing for a strong punishment. But a private French intelligence outlet claims that Graham's motive is not as pure as it seems:

Regarding Sen. Lindsay Graham and his constant rants against MBS. @Intel_Online explains that "he is Lockheed Martin's man in the Senate" and that the weapon supplier faces huge opposition from the "Salman clan" due to disagreement about technology transfer. The paper goes on in explaining that the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), launched by the PIF, is the state-owned military industrial company that has been refusing the US trade proposals for the past 2 years, because KSA wants technology transfer but the US refuses.

The pressure on Saudi Arabia, and on Trump, will not recede. The CIA will insist to act on its assessment. The military industrial complex will demand real weapon sales. The media onslaught will also continue. The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote, reports today of torture against women activists in Saudi prisons.

Turkey already leaked new details from the recordings it has and threatens to publish more tapes:

The conversations among the murderers, their conversations with Riyadh after committing the murder, dialogues that will prove the crown prince was the one who directly gave the order, perhaps the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egyptian intelligence's role in the incident, and as a matter of fact, information on Israeli intelligence's "expertise" or on the U.S. leg of the murder may be revealed.

MbS announced that he will take part in the G20 summit in Argentina at the end of November. That is a big mistake. Turkey is a also a G20 member. Erdogan might want to use the occasion to play selected parts of the tapes to the attending heads of state, and to the world media. Everyone in attendance would have to distance themselves from MbS. It would be another public relation disaster for Saudi Arabia.

Trump is making a mistake by keeping Mohammad bin Salman in place. He will never get the support from him that he needs for his larger plans.

The U.S. surely has enough leverage to push him aside. If Trump does not do it, others will likely give it a try. The outcome is uncertain. The consequences may well be severe. 

Posted by b on November 21, 2018 at 17:48 UTC | Permalink | Comments (100)

November 20, 2018

U.S. Busts APEC Summit With Tariff Demands - New York Times Blames China

A New York Times report about last weekend's summit in Asia demonstrates how U.S. media misinform their readers about international events.

The recent summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Papua New Guinea failed to come up with a joint statement. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea, who hosted the summit, promised to issue a "chair's statement" instead. None can be found so far on the APEC website. This was the first time since 1989 that no joined 'Leaders' Declaration' was issued.

The reason was a spat between the U.S. and China about a clause the U.S. tried to insert into the joint declaration.

But as the Times tells the story, the failure of the summit was solely China's fault:

At a major international gathering in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, the United States wanted to end with a group statement emphasizing free trade. China objected.

But instead of working out the disagreement through dialogue, Chinese officials barged uninvited into the office of the host country’s foreign minister demanding changes in the official communiqué.
“China doesn’t care if it looks like a boor. If you are a tough guy, you don’t care what others think,” said Hugh White, a former military strategist for the Australian government and author of “The China Choice.”

Such behavior was only surprising because it had been more than 30 years since the world had witnessed such edginess, Mr. White said.

The Chinese deny that the APEC incident happened at all. Mr. White seems to have missed the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks during which the U.S. president and his secretary of state boorishly busted a meeting, held by China, Brazil, India and others, they were not invited to join:

Once they found the makeshift conference room where the meeting was being held, Obama, Clinton, and their aides approached a "commotion" as she describes it — foreign aides and security guards outside the door. According to Clinton, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confronted a Chinese guard. "In the commotion the president slipped through the door and yelled, 'Mr Premier!' really loudly, which got everyone's attention. The Chinese guards put their arms up against the door again, but I ducked under and made it through," Clinton wrote.

Back the NYT's APEC piece:

The American official said the Chinese had taken issue with two portions of the draft communiqué that Washington supported and other members embraced.

One paragraph said the APEC member economies agreed to fight against unfair trade practices. Another paragraph said that members of the group would work together to improve the “negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions” of the World Trade Organization.

The NYT report does not say what the U.S. promoted paragraphs actually said. Nor does it quote any Chinese source. What are "unfair trade agreements"? What WTO changes were asked for? Why are these "improvements". Why is that supposed to be an APEC issue?

The AFP's has a way more informative take of the talks:

"You know the two big giants in the room. What can I say?" said host and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, conceding defeat.
Sources said going into the meeting the United States had pressed for the leaders to issue what amounted to a denunciation of the World Trade Organization and a call for its wholesale reform. That demand was a step too far for Beijing, which would likely get less preferential treatment under any changes.
O'Neill indicated the WTO had been a sticking point in agreeing a joint communique.

"APEC has got no charter over the World Trade Organization. That is a fact," he said. "Those matters can be raised at the World Trade Organization."

The U.S. obviously pressed others to agree to WTO changes.

When China joined the WTO in 2001 its GDP per capita was less than $2,000. It was classified as a "developing country" which gave it some justified privileges. Eighteen years later China's GDP per capita is approaching $8,000. The U.S. GDP per capita is $53,000, while the EU's is about $37,000. China has certainly become more wealthy but it is still not a fully developed country. While the issue is not urgent it will have to be discussed and China is willing to do that.

But the issue that the U.S. pressed for was even more controversial.

AFP continues:

"Business leaders do not want to speak out, but behind the scenes here, they are talking over dinner saying 'how has this happened'?" Denis O'Brien, the billionaire chairman of Digicel told AFP.

"It's a very forced situation, one country is trying to force all the other countries to change tariffs agreed over years," O'Brien said.

What the U.S. actually tries to achieve is not only to break certain privileges China holds.

It wants to justify its punitive tariffs against China and other countries which are illegal under WTO rules. Trump's original plan was going even further. He considered a bill that would allow him to raise tariffs at will without congressional consent:

Nations are prohibited from setting different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements and the established tariff ceiling that WTO members have agreed to.

"It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal," a source familiar with the bill told the outlet but added that Congress would never agree to the bill, describing it as “insane.”
Axios had reported that Trump had asked aides about pulling the U.S. out of the WTO, and said the world had used the organization to “screw the United States.”

The NYT is pointing in the wrong direction when it blames China of the failure of the APEC summit. It was the U.S. that tried to abuse the summit's joint statement by inserting clauses that a. to not belong within the frame of APEC and b. are an attempt to subvert internationally agreed trade rules.

It is certainly not only China that rejects the Trump administrations attempts to change the rule book for international trade that all WTO members have agreed to. The chair of the meeting agreed with the Chinese side in this. Any reference of WTO reform with the aim to change tariff rules is not an APEC issue and should have no place in its joint statement. The NYT readers though, will never learn this.

What the NYT defends as "emphasizing free trade" and as a "fight against unfair trade practices" is the exact opposite. The Trump administration tries to change trade rules so they would allow it to introduce tariffs as it wishes. The Trump administration does not want to "improve" the WTO, it wants to abolish it.  Its measures would destroy free trade.

The Trump administration will not be unhappy about the failed APEC summit. It is actively trying to thwart inner-Asian cooperation. It hopes to induce Asian countries to join its anti-China front. The NYT, it seems, is fully supportive of these moves.

Posted by b on November 20, 2018 at 16:57 UTC | Permalink | Comments (41)

November 19, 2018

Syria - Back In The Arab Fold

Following Syria's military success against its enemies, Arab states which supported the war on Syria are again making nice with it. The United Arab Emirates will reopen its embassy in Damascus. Kuwait and Bahrain will follow. Today a delegation of parliamentarians from Jordan visited Damascus and met with President Assad.

The members of the delegation affirmed that the pulse of the Jordanian street has always been with the Syrian people in the face of the terrorist war against the, as Syria is the first line of defense for the entire Arab region and the victory in this war will be a victory for all the Arab countries in the face of Western projects aimed at destabilizing and fragmenting these countries in service of Israel’s security.

First signs that this was going to happen appeared a few month ago when a Kuwaiti TV personality spoke about the pleasure of visiting an again peaceful Damascus. In June the Foreign Affairs Minister of UAE called the expulsion of Syria from the Arab league a "mistake". In an interview with a Kuwaiti paper Assad said that he had reached "major understanding" with Arab states.

The Saudis though are not yet welcome back in Damascus. They were one of the largest financiers of the Jihadis and will have to pay an equally large price to come back into good standing. Negotiations are ongoing. A formal reentry of Syria into the Arab League can not be far away.

Behind this change is a fear of renewed Turkish ambitions. Not only Saudi Arabia but all the Arab states do not want Turkey to expand and become more powerful. They do not want to see Arab land in Syria under Turkish control. The sole exception so far is Qatar which is allied with Turkey and has Turkish troops on its land to protect it from Saudi imperialism.

The three blocks that form the larger Middle East, Turkey, Iran and the Arab states north of the Red Sea are roughly of the same population size. Each block also represents a religious-political stream with Turkey leading the political-Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, Iran the political-Shia and with the third block consisting of Sunni majority countries with more or less dictatorial rulers. The three blocks compete in their borderlands of Iraq and Syria. The Arabs finally noticed that their attempts to dispose the Syrian government led to gains for Iran and Turkey and put them on the losing site.

For Syria the new Arab position is a very welcome change. While it will certainly not end its alliance with Iran, it will welcome any help against the Turkish ambitions. It also needs investments to rebuild and the rich Gulf states will surely provide some. That will also sabotage  U.S. and European plans to starve Syria of money unless it submits to their will.

Posted by b on November 19, 2018 at 17:33 UTC | Permalink | Comments (63)

November 18, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-61

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

We were first to point out that the NYT's characterization of an old North Korean missile site as "deception" was pure nonsense. Newsweek,,, The Nation and others now also condemned the neo-conned NYT propaganda.

The war let to the loss of Netanyahoo's majority in the Knesset. He is now trying to stall new elections in which he could lose his job.

Trump's Middle East policy is in total disarray. Nothing is working as planned. Netanyahoo will probebaly fall. Saudi Arabia will not make nice with Qatar. There will be no Arab NATO or anti-Iran alliance. MbS is despised but will stay on the job. Yemen is starving. The U.S. is at odds with Turkey over support for the Kurds. Trumps knows and hates this:

The adviser who talks to Trump said: “If the president had his way, he would stay entirely out of the Middle East and all of the problems."

The piece was the first to point out the difference between the Saudi investigation, which put blame on Major General Ahmed al-Asiri, and the names on the U.S. sanction list published at the same time. The Treasury declaration blamed MbS advisor Saud al-Qahtani as mastermind behind the Khashoggi murder, while the Saudis carefully avoided that. We now learn that the person in the U.S. National Security Council who put al-Qahtani on the list was fired:

On Friday evening, Kirsten Fontenrose, the National Security Council official in charge of U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, resigned, administration officials said. The circumstances of her departure weren’t clear. But Fontenrose had previously been placed on administrative leave, according to people familiar with the matter.

Fontenrose had played a key role in the administration’s decision about which Saudis to sanction in response to Khashoggi’s killing, these people said.

I suspect that MbS tried, via Trump's son-in-law Kushner, to save al-Qahtani (and himself). Trump clearly wanted to do that, but Fontenrose blew the plan by pushing for al-Qahtani to be sanctioned. The CIA also sabotaged the planned exculpation of MbS by 'leaking' its judgment about MbS' personal responsibility to the press. (WaPo published the CIA conclusion in Arabic, another point the Saudis will hate.) Trump is furious that the CIA (again) sabotaged his policy:

Asked about reports that the CIA had assessed involvement by Mohammed, the president said: “They haven’t assessed anything yet. It’s too early.”


Other stuff:

Naked Capitalism with a review of Michael Hudson’s new book, And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure, and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year. It digs into the ancient history of debt and forgiveness which is, for obvious reasons, not taught in the neo-liberal 'west':

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualized understanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

Back in July I wrote that there is no Jewish race or Jewish people. There are only followers of the Jewish religion strewn all over the world. Prof. Shlomo Sand makes a similar point and also debunks some other religious fairytales:

The Twisted Logic of the Jewish ‘Historic Right’ to Israel

Our political culture insists on seeing the Jews as the direct descendants of the ancient Hebrews. But the Jews never existed as a ‘people’ – still less as a nation


The UAE/Saudi alliance stopped their latest attempt to conquer Hodeidah port in Yemen. They try to sell that as a humanitarian step. But the attack was failing when their mercenaries ran into a wall of mines and missile attacks. They took a large number of casualties. Videos: 1, 2.



Masha is "Putinesque" and You-know-who uses her to control our children's minds, say British neo-cons and Baltic Russophobes. I say #JeSuisMasha and promise to watch her even more.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 18, 2018 at 15:20 UTC | Permalink | Comments (179)

November 17, 2018

Syria Sitrep - Army Wins Al-Safa Battle - More Troops Move Towards Idelb

Today the Syrian army won the al-Safa battle. Al-Safa is a barren area around an old volcano southeast of Sweida where in July ISIS abducted dozens of hostages. The last of those hostages were freed in a commando raid ten days ago.

With the hostages out of the way the Syrian army could finally use heavy weapons against ISIS which hid in the caves of the al-Safa field. Under heavy artillery cover the troops made good progress (video). Then came three days of unprecedented rain fall. ISIS fighters drowned in their caves and fighting positions. The commander of ISIS in the area, a Chechen, was killed. Those ISIS fighter who were left fled towards the al-Tanf area, which is under U.S. control, and into the desert in east Homs. The Syrian army is now in full control al-Safa.

Map via South Front - bigger

The situation in the U.S. controlled northeast is complicate. The Kurdish YPG/PKK forces the U.S. allied with do not get along with the Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces and vice versa. Isolated attacks on Kurdish SDF units happen each day. It is unknown if these are by ISIS sleeper cells, local Arabs who despise the new Kurdish overlords, or some third party under Turkish direction.

The fight against the ISIS pocket along the eastern Euphrates makes no progress. In the north Turkish artillery sporadically fires across the border and hits Kurdish positions. Turkey also moved thousands of its proxy forces from Idleb and Afrin to the area west of Manbij. The Turkish president Erdogan threatens to take all the Kurdish controlled areas along the Turkish border in northern Syria.

Throughout the war on Syria the Syrian Kurds have shown a lack of political wisdom. They probably believe they can withstand the Turkish army or that the U.S. will come to their help. The Turkish invasion of Afrin demonstrated that both ideas are nonsense. Their only chance to keep their homes is to completely submit to Syrian government control.

Since the launch of the offensive in September the U.S. forces and their Kurdish proxies in northeast Syria made no progress against the ISIS pocket east of Deir Ezzor. The U.S. recently started a serious bombing campaign against the area. But the aim is not necessarily ISIS. The attacks are aimed at 20 armored Humvee vehicles ISIS captured from U.S. proxy forces. The Syrian Observatory reports that these vehicles are tagged:

[A]ccording to what these sources confirmed to the SOHR, this targeting operations come as a result of the seizure of about 20 US Hummer vehicles affiliated to the US forces and the International Coalition, by the “Islamic State” organization in its counterattacks which forced the Coalition’s troops to withdraw from the area and leave the vehicles, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syria Observatory that the vehicles are provided with modern techniques that enable the Coalition’s warplanes, to locate them, thus, they are able to accurately target them, and despite these strikes, the warplanes killed Syrian citizens and others of the Iraqi nationality of ISIS families.

Earlier today at least 40 people, most of them women and children, were killed by such U.S. strikes.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces have moved to the Iraqi border and use artillery to prevent ISIS from crossing into Iraq. They would like to attack into Syria to finish ISIS off, but Baghdad, under U.S. order, is not allowing them to move.

The borders in the southwest of Syria are quiet. The border-crossing with Jordan was reopened but Syria increased the tariffs for Jordanian products and the large export stream Jordan had hoped for is only a trickle. A well deserved punishment for its role in the war. Israel is deterred from further attacks due to the new Syrian air defenses and the new Russian hostility towards Israeli escapades.

The situation around the deescalation zone in Idleb deteriorates by the day. The area is controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Last week a commando raid by Islamist terrorists killed at least ten Syrian soldiers. The Syrian army moved a number of troops towards the area northwest of Aleppo. Something is up, but there is no rumor or report yet of an imminent offensive. It is possible that the complicate fight at the al-Safa volcano held up further moves on Idleb. With al-Safa liberated a limit move into Idleb governorate is likely the next operation.

As Turkey has moved the core troops of its 'Free Syrian Army' proxies from Idleb to the west on Manbij it will probably not protest should the Syrian army attack the al-Qaeda controlled deescalation area. Erdogan could instead use the situation to move against the U.S. supported Kurds in the east.

Posted by b on November 17, 2018 at 17:43 UTC | Permalink | Comments (35)

November 16, 2018

The White House Spat With Jim Acosta Is Not A First Amendment Issue, Julian Assange's Indictment Is One

U.S. media support a questionable First Amendment case when one of the network reporters was rebuked by the White House. They are quiet on another case where the danger to the rights of a free press is much more serious.

On November 9, during a White House press conference with U.S. president Donald Trump, CNN reporter Jim Acosta staged a confrontation. His 'questions' to Trump during the press conference amounted to political statements and personal accusations. The situation escalated when Acosta insisted to make more statement while the president invited other reporters to ask their questions.

The first Acosta statement/question was about the so called caravan of immigrants that traveled through Mexico to the U.S. border. Trump had used it as a boogeyman during the midterm election campaign and had called it an "invasion". Trump answered the question by explaining that he wants immigrants to go through the legal immigration process and to not pass the border illegally. Acosta interrupted Trump's answer and asked a follow up, again in an accusing tone. Trump also answered that second question.

Acosta made another attempt to involve Trump into a political discussion about the issue. The president rejected that by telling Acosta to do his job as reporter while he, Trump, would do his as president. He moved on to the next reporter.

A White House aid got up to fetch the mobile microphone Acosta held in his hand. He more or less pushed her away and tried to ask another question, this time on the "Russian investigation". Trump told him "That's enough. That's enough." Acosta continued to ask. Trump relented and answered the question by saying that the whole "Russia investigation" is a hoax. Acosta tried another question, number five, asking if Trump was worried about indictments in the case. Trump turned away.

Acosta finally gave up the microphone. Trump then told Acosta that he is a "rude, terrible person" and that CNN "should be ashamed" to have him as a reporter.

Trump turned to another reporter to continued the press conference. While the next reporter asked his question Acosta got up again, interrupted the other reporter and again tried to get Trump into a discussion. He failed.

A video of the full exchange is here.

When I watched that segment on that day I found the behavior of Acosta obnoxious and primitive. He, and a few other reporters, did not ask questions to elicit answers, but tried to provoke Trump by making partisan political statements which were only superficially framed as questions. Acosta's behavior was impolite and disrespectful not only towards Trump but also to fellow reporters.

Later that day the White House revoked Acosta's White House 'hard pass' which gives the holder expanded access to the White House. CNN went to court claiming that the revocation violated Acosta's first and fifth amendment rights.

The First Amendment is about free speech. It has nothing to do with a 'right' to enter the White House. Neither does the right to free speech include a 'right' to get invited to press conferences. The Fifth Amendment is, among other things, about due process.

CNN asked the court for a preliminary restraining order against the White House revocation of Acosta's 'hard pass'. It was granted today based on case law related to the Fifth Amendment due process argument. Preliminary orders are not final judgments. They are granted to prevent potential additional damage while a legal case goes on. The court seemed to disagree with the underlying precedence the CNN lawyers had cited:

As [judge] Kelly began to offer his view on the components of CNN's request, he said that while he may not agree with the underlying case law that CNN's argument was based on, he had to follow it.

"I've read the case closely," he said. "Whether it's what I agree with, that's a different story. But I must apply precedent as I see it."

He left open the possibility that the White House could seek to revoke it again if it provided that due process, emphasizing the "very limited" nature of his ruling and saying he was not making a judgment on the First Amendment claims that CNN and Acosta have made.

The judge seems to thinks that the White House was justified but acted in a too chaotic manner when it revoked Ascota's 'hard pass' without citing rules or regulations. It is most likely that the White House will now create such rules pertaining White House access and press conferences. It will then use those to again limit Acosta's access.

I would be fine with that. The news value of White House press conferences has steadily been going down. That's to some part the fault of the White House press secretary. But it is also to a large part the fault of the press corps and the media who do not ask real questions but are unreasonably hostile and seem to be more interested in creating political strife than in facts. Some disciplinary measure may help to change that.

The Trump administration is doing some horrible stuff in dismantling environmental and legal regulations. Its foreign policy is devastating whole countries. Its fiscal policies are catastrophic. There are many good question that could be asked about these issues, but they no longer come up. Instead the press corp, especially the network reporters, play gotcha and use the press conferences for political stunts.

A number of other media organizations supported the CNN case by filing amicus briefs. That is probably a mistake. The legality of Acosta's case is quite dubious. The more the media engages on his site, the more will the White House push back by creating stricter regulations. These regulations, once they are laid out, will be used against all media. If not by this administration then by the next one.

It would also be nice if these first amendment defenders would take up a real first amendment case instead of the phony Acosta issue.

Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, has been indicted by the Justice Department for publishing truthful information about illegal and outrageous behavior of the U.S. government and U.S. politicians.

I don't see any of those who defend the obnoxious behavior of Acosta, taking a first amendment stand in the case against Wikileaks and Assange. None of those media, who all reported on and profited from the material Assange published, has filed an amicus brief to his case. The indictment of Assange is a grave threat to press freedom. Where are the editorials defending him?


Posted by b on November 16, 2018 at 19:43 UTC | Permalink | Comments (116)

November 15, 2018

U.S., Saudis Fight Over Crown Prince Advisor - White House Tries To Appease Erdogan

The chief prosecutor of Saudi Arabia cleared his boss, clown prince Muhammad bin Salman, of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. A number of easily replaceable people were indicted. In a coordinated move the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a number of the people who played a role in the Khashoggi case. There is an interesting difference between the Saudi and the U.S. list of the involved people. Meanwhile the White House is looking for ways to induce Turkey to finally settle the case.

The Saudi prosecutor indicted eleven people and demands the death penalty for five of them. It is not yet known under which article of Saudi law the people were indicted. Death penalties under some articles often end with pardons. Ten other persons are still under investigation.

The story told in the briefing of the Saudi investigation results gives a new version of the events. (No names are given in the briefing. They were added below based on earlier reports.) The briefing says:

  • The former Deputy President of the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), Major General Ahmed al-Asiri, issued an order to the mission leader Maher Mutreb to bring Kashoggi back to Saudi Arabia by means of persuasion or by force.
  • ‏The leader of the mission formed a 15-member team that consisted of three groups (negotiations/ intelligence/ logistics) to persuade and return the victim. Mutreb consulted with the now fired advisor to MbS, Saud al-Qahtani, because Qahtani knew Khashoggi.
  • A forensic expert was included in the team "for the purpose of removing evidence from the scene in the case force had to be used to return the victim."
  • The mission leader contacted a collaborator in Turkey "to secure a safe location in case force had to be used return the victim."
  • "After surveying the Consulate, the head of the negotiation team concluded that it would not be possible to transfer the victim by force to the safe location in case the negotiations with him to return failed. The head of the negotiation team decided to murder the victim if the negotiations failed."
  • The investigation concluded that the crime was carried out after a physical altercation with the victim where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death.
  • The bod was dismembered. Five people carried the parts out of the consulate and one of them later handed them over to a collaborator.
  • One member of the mission put on Khashoggi's clothes, walked outside for a while and disposed them in a trash can.
  • The leader of the mission agreed with the leader of the negotiation team to write a false report which claimed that that Khashoggi had left the consulate.

So far the story the Saudi investigation tries to sell.

It effectively absolve the clown prince. It absolves his media advisor Saud al-Qahtani and MG Ahmed al-Asiri. The leader of mission will probably be sentenced for falsifying his report, while the head of the negotiation team and some of his helpers will take the brunt of the penalties. They are commoners, three or four levels below the top, and of no further value.

The story is of course not believable. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. No low level employee would dare to decided to kill a person of higher interests when the order says to bring the person back alive. Neither the mission leader nor the negotiation team leader would take such a step without consulting with Riyadh.

The murder was clearly planned at a higher level and well before the team landed in Istanbul. One does not bring a person that looks like the victim to make it look like the victim walked out 'just in case' something bad happens. If an abduction is planned one does not bring a 'forensic expert' -who in reality is a well known doctor specialized in autopsies- to 'cleanup' the scene.

The Saudi release was coordinated with the White House. Shortly after the Saudi prosecutor went public, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned several persons under the Global Magnitzky Act over the case:

Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Saud al-Qahtani, his subordinate Maher Mutreb, Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, and 14 other members of an operations team for having a role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The inclusion of al-Qahtani, who was the closed advisor to MbS, is quite interesting. The Saudi investigation tale does not give a him role besides consulting with the mission leader. It even tries to exculpate him by explaining his patriotic motive:

The former advisor met with the leader of the mission and the negotiation team; to share with them information relevant to the mission based on his specialization in media. The former advisor expressed his belief that the victim was coopted by organizations and states hostile to the Kingdom and that the victim’s presence outside of Saudi Arabia represents a threat to national security and he encouraged the team to persuade the victim to return, noting that his return represents a significant achievement of the mission.

The Treasury designation gives him a way more active role:

Saud Al-Qahtani is a senior official of the Government of Saudi Arabia who was part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018. This operation was coordinated and executed by his subordinate Maher Mutreb, and involved participation of at least 14 other Saudi government officials: ...

The sanction designation describes Maher Mutreb as "subordinate" of Qahtani. The Saudi report does not mention any such relation.

This is of interest as one of the tapes the Turks have is of a phone call by mission leader Maher Mutreb with an unnamed person in Riyadh. In the call Mutrab says: "Tell your boss the deed is done":

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

The killer team was set up by Ahmed al-Asiri, but al-Asiri is not mentioned in the Treasury designation, while al-Qahtani is. The U.S. seems to believe that it was al-Qahtani who actually directed the operation and who sent his subordinate Maher Mutreb to lead the mission. Qahtani's one and only boss is clown prince MbS.

Saud al-Qahtani with Mohammad bin Salman - bigger

MbS probably wants Qahtani back in his role as a personal and political advisor. The Saudi investigation puts him in a positive light while the Treasury gives him a leading role. The U.S. seem willing to let MbS stay in his job but it wants to remove Qahtani from his inner circle.

The Trump administration is also actively looking for ways to appease the Turkish President Recep Erdogan. One price Erdogan has long demanded is the head of the Gülen movement, the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims that Gülen was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt against him.

In the late 1990s Gülen was settled in Pennsylvania with a green card the CIA's Graham E. Fuller organized for him. Trump seem to be willing to hand Gülen over to Erdogan:

The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.

The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey's case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said.

The four sources talking to NBC are likely from the CIA out to sabotage Trump's plan. Gülen and his network of schools in Turkey, now closed, and in Central Asia are major deep state assets.

Erdogan has milked the Khashoggi case as well as he could. He still has not published the tapes taken within the Consulate and the recordings of the various phone calls. He will try to use these to get more benefits from the case.

Trump will not be able to hand Gülen to him. The deep state will do its best to prevent that. Another demand Erdogan has is the removal of U.S. support from their Kurdish proxies in Syria. Without U.S. protection for the Kurds he could pursue his plan for annexing the whole northern border region of Syria from the Mediterranean to Iraq. Would Trump willing, and able, to deliver that?

Posted by b on November 15, 2018 at 19:41 UTC | Permalink | Comments (104)

November 14, 2018

Netanyahoo's Likely Fall Destroys Trump's Middle East Strategy

The political upheaval in Israel is a problem for the White House and its Middle East plans.

Today Israel's defense minister Avigor Lieberman resigned and called for new elections. He disagreed with prime minister Netanyahoo over the renewed ceasefire in Gaza.

Netanyahoo had worked towards the earlier ceasefire to split Gaza under Hamas from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas. That split is along the ideological line of the larger split in the Middle East between Qatar and Turkey as the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the absolute rules like the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. Qatar is now financing Hamas in Gaza while the Saudis prop up Abbas.

This splitting up of the Palestinians is an intended part of the Jared Kushner 'peace' plan for the Middle East. The Palestinians shall no longer be recognized as a people but must be splintered into small local groups without a common identity who can then be more easily suppressed.

Lieberman seems to disagree with this plan. He wants to wage war against Hamas and defeat it. Any such attempt would of course reunite the Palestinians. But there is a loud constituency in the Zionist population that supports Lieberman's way.

This photo was taken today shortly before Lieberman resigned. Netanyahoo was not happy about the dilemma he is now in.


He wanted to avoid an early election. His Likud party just lost seats in local elections and he is afraid of a campaign that would play out over Gaza and his 'dovish' stand in the latest conflict.

But with only a two seat majority and an unstable coalition Netanyahoo will have trouble to hold on.

Naftali Bennett, the leader of the rightwing religious Jewish Home party, demands to be made defense minister. Netanyahoo does not want to give Bennet such a high profile job. But Bennett threatens to resign and to bring the Netanyahoo's coalition down if he does not get his will.

Netanyahoo is already the prime minister, foreign minister and health minister of Israel. He will now add the title of defense minister if only for a short time. Elections will likely be held in March.

There are currently some 18 parties and political groups in the Knesset. Netanyahoo's Likud party holds 30 of 120 seats but could easily lose some in a new election. With a smaller base Netanyahoo would have difficulties to build a new coalition and to again become prime minster.

Jared Kushner, the son in law of president Trump, has his 'deal of the century' Middle East plan build on his very personal relation with Netanyahoo and Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. If Netanyahoo is no longer prime minister that plan is even more dead than it already seems to be. The Trump administration has no alternative policy and Kushner is not the one to develop and pursue it.

The common patron and biggest donor of Trump and of Netanyahoo is the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Can he buy Netanyahoo a new premiership? If he can't, and Trump's Israel policy is thereby dead, will he still support Trump in his re-election campaign?

The White House will have to think about that and come up with a plan to support Netanyahoo. What could it do?

As for Lieberman. He is a brash and thuggish man with little political foresight. In 2016 he boosted that he would kill Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, should he become defense minister. Six weeks later he became defense minister.


The website Is Ismail Haniyeh dead yet? has counted the time since Lieberman became defense minister. 2 years, 5 months, 2 weeks and 1 day later the answer is still "No". It is one reason why it is unlikely that he will ever become prime minister.



Lieberman is also a casualty of the "Assad must go" curse.

He joins a number of other prominent politicians who have called for the overthrow of the Syrian president and lost their job while Bashar al-Assad still enjoys his (vid).


Posted by b on November 14, 2018 at 20:23 UTC | Permalink | Comments (110)

November 13, 2018

The Short War With Gaza Exposed Israel's Weakness - Updated

Updated below

Last week a ceasefire was agreed upon between Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel:

The aim of the change, in a plan mediated by Egypt and with money supplied by Qatar, is to provide much-needed relief for Gaza, restore calm on the Israeli side of the border and avert another war.

On Sunday night Israeli special forces broke the ceasefire by invading Gaza under disguise. Such incursions happen quite often but are usually left unreported. The invaders wore civilian clothing and some were cloaked as women. Their cars arrived at the house of a local Qassam commander but suspicious guards held them up. A firefight ensued in which 7 Palestinians and 1 Israeli officer were killed. It is not clear what the intent of the Israeli raid was. A car left behind held what appeared to be surveillance equipment. The intruders fled back to Israel.

It is likely that rivalry within the Israeli government was behind this provocation:

[T]he perception that Israel, by allowing the fuel and cash shipments into Gaza, was paying off Hamas set off acrimonious wrangling between two rival right-wing members of Israel’s security cabinet.

Earlier Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the cash infusion “protection money.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Mr. Bennett of having supported such payments and of having opposed in recent weeks the more aggressive military reprisals against Hamas that Mr. Lieberman favored.
By night’s end Mr. Netanyahu had cut short his trip [to Paris] and was flying back to Israel in response to the Gaza hostilities.

Did Lieberman order the incursion to undercut Netanyahoo ceasefire and his rival Bennet?

Map via - bigger

The breach of the ceasefire by Israel set off another round of tit for tat strikes. A commando unit of Hamas' Qassam brigade launched an attack against a bus that had carried Israeli soldiers to the border. To avoid further escalation the shooter waited until the soldiers were out of the way before hitting it. Only the driver was injured. Then the Israeli air force destroyed the al-Aqsa TV station in Gaza city after notifying the Palestinians of its intent. It also damaged a university building. Rocket volleys from Gaza followed and the Israeli air-force hit several buildings. After 48 hours the ceasefire was renewed.

During the conflict the Palestinian side demonstrated a series of new capabilities:

  • The Palestinian command published a video of the strike against the bus by a Kornet anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). Since it lost dozens of tanks to ATGM attacks in the 2006 war against Hezbullah in Lebanon, the Israeli army is extremely afraid of such missiles. The arrival of these weapons in the besieged Gaza will be a serious concern.
  • The Palestinians also launched over 460 artillery missiles and mortars within 25 hours. This by far exceeds the firing rate during Israel's 2014 war on the Gaza strip. Some of these missiles had a larger range then previous models. Israel's Iron Dome missile defense systems fired some 100 missiles but their accuracy is questionable and teh price high. Each Iron Dome missile costs some $65,000 while a mortar round or rocket costs a few hundred dollar. Many of the Palestinian rockets reached their targets in the Zionist settlements Ashkelon, Netivot, and Sderot.
  • Israel announced only two hits on missile launching cells. It seems that the Palestinians have perfected their camouflage and remote firing capabilities.
  • The rival Palestinian groups in Gaza -Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others- operated under a central command. No group claimed missile strikes for itself. In the past each volley of missiles was followed by a news statement in which this or that group claimed responsibility. This time all groups worked from a common operations room. None released responsibility claims or other information that would help Israel's intelligence.

It was Israel that practically begged to return to the ceasefire. Egypt led the negotiations:

Earlier Tuesday, the Political-Security Cabinet meeting that convened following the escalation in the south came to a halt after seven hours. After hearing the army's and the security establishment's assessments, the cabinet instructed the IDF to continue to operate in Gaza as necessary.

All the officials from the defense establishment who participated in the cabinet meeting — IDF chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the head of the Shin Bet, the head of the Mossad, and the head of the NSC— supported the Egyptian request for a cease-fire.
"If we had intensified the attacks, rockets would have been fired at Tel Aviv," senior cabinet officials said.

Since 15:30 local time today the situation is again quiet and calm. But the squabbling within the Israeli cabinet immediately resumed:

All the ministers— including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister Naftali Bennett—did not object to a cease fire.

Following this report, the Defense Ministry said that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's support of a cease-fire deal were "fake news." The statement said that the Defense Minister's position was consistent and had not changed. Ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Ze'ev Elkin also said they did not support a cease-fire deal with Hamas.

In total 13 people were killed in Gaza and at least 2 on the Israeli side. A Hamas spokesperson accused Lieberman of being responsible for the breach of the ceasefire and demanded that Netanyahoo fires him.

The short conflict demonstrated that:

  • Israel is deterred. It does not want to launch another war on Gaza.
  • The siege of Gaza, by Israel, Egypt and by the Palestinian authority under Mahmoud Abbas, failed. The reputational cost of the siege became too high after Israel killed some 160 Palestinians during weekly protests along the demarcation fence. It had to allow diesel fuel and money from Qatar to reach Gaza.
  • The siege failed to prevent that Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other groups acquired a larger number of missiles and other new capabilities.
  • The Palestinians in Gaza are united. The resistance against the occupation is alive and well.

For decades the Zionist entity was able to attack its neighbors as it pleased. That changed. It no longer dares to step into Lebanon for fear of Hezbullah's reprisal. Syria's western airspace is closed for Israel thanks to the new S-300PMU2 air defense Russia delivered to the Syrian army. Israeli special forces botched their incursion into Gaza and the Iron Dome missile defense proved to be to faulty to protect Zionist settlements. The resistance in Gaza has new capabilities and surprises for Israel should it again attack. 

Israel's newly won "friends" in the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE proved to be unstable and of little value. The Boycott, divest and sanctions movement against the self declared apartheid state has undermined its image. Its lobby has been exposed. Its budget deficit is too high.

The short conflict in Gaza only demonstrated that Israel is weak and that its downward trend continues.

Update Nov 14, 10:00 UTC

Israel's Defense Minister Avigor Lieberman just resigned and called for new elections. He gives the Qatari money which Netanyahoo allowed to go to Gaza and yesterday's ceasefire as reason for his disagreement with Netanyahoo.

Netanyahoo had planned the earlier ceasefire with Gaza to split Gaza under Hamas from the Palestinian Authority under Abbas in the West Bank. Yesterday the Saudis handed another chunk of money to Abbas to counter the money Qatar gave to Hamas in Gaza.

This splitting of the Palestinians is an intended part of the Kushner plan.

Lieberman disagrees with it. He is the super hawkish John Bolton in this game, overtaking Netanyahoo on the far far right.

Netanyahoo wants to avoid an early election. His Likud party just lost seats in local elections and he is afraid of a campaign that would play out over Gaza and his newly dovish stand over the latest conflict.

But with only a two seat majority in an unstable coalition Netanyahoo will have trouble to hold on.

Just as I wrote the above update, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the rightwing religious Jewish Home party, demanded to be made Defense Minister. Netanyahoo will dislike this. He does not want to give Bennet such a high profile job. But Bennett will resign and bring the coalition down if he does not get his will.

Posted by b on November 13, 2018 at 19:52 UTC | Permalink | Comments (102)

November 12, 2018

False Reports In U.S. Media Suggest A Great Deception

The New York Times is lying to its readers about the commitments of an adversarial state. It did not learn a single lesson from its fake reporting that led the Iraq War. It again furthers hostile aggression.


In a piece published today, In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception, the paper lies about North Korea's commitments:

North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.

The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.

There is no North Korean deception. It agreed to dismantle a missile test site, not an operative "launching site", and it agreed to a moratorium of nuclear and missile testing. Nowhere has it made any commitment to stop productions or deployments of missiles.

The Singapore Declaration Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump signed says nothing about ballistic missiles. It agrees on four step to be taken in sequence: 1. establish new US-DPRK relations, 2. build a lasting and stable peace regime in all of Korea, 3. support of the Panmunjom Declaration between North and South Korea, 4. North Korea commits "to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".

There is no public or secret commitment by North Korea to stop its production of ballistic missiles just as there is not commitment by the United States to stop its continuing arms buildup.

There is in fact the opposite. North Korea openly said multiple times that it would increase its ballistic missile capacity. In May 2017 Chairman Kim Jong-un ordered to start mass production of the medium range Pukguksong-2 (Poseidon-2) missile:

[The KCNA state news agency] quoted Kim as saying the Pukguksong-2 met all the required technical specifications so should now be mass-produced and deployed to the Korean People's Army strategic battle unit.

In August 2017 he ordered to increase the production of solid fuel missiles.

Kim visited the North Korean Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defence Science recently, according to a statement from the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“He instructed the institute to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and rocket warhead tips by further expanding engine production process and the production capacity of rocket warhead tips and engine jets by carbon/carbon compound material,” the statement read.

At the beginning of 2018 Kim Jong-un again publicly ordered to expand ballistic missile production. Those were not empty words. By July 2018 the expansion of a known missile factory was visible in publicly available satellite pictures.

Foreign Affairs noted that these were legitimate steps, not deceptions:

This activity does not suggest Kim is being duplicitous or is “cheating.” He never promised to stop producing nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. In fact, quite the opposite. In his 2018 New Year’s Day address, Kim directed North Korea’s “nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry” to “mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.” It is clear now that Kim is following through on what he said he would do.

The NY Times piece peddles a lame analysis of some satellite pictures by the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS, funded by oil, weapons and banks). The analysis only describes one old missile site that was developed over decades and saw no recent changes:

First phase construction of the Sakkanmol base began sometime between 1991 and 1993 using specialized engineering troops from KPA Unit No. 583 [...] The first phase was likely partially completed by September 1999 when it was reported that “27 (Scud missiles) were deployed to the Togol area (Sakkanmol) of North Hwanghae to form a missile regiment.” [...] Beginning about 2004, the construction of an unidentified military facility with administration, barrack, housing, and support facilities began along the valley leading to the Sakkanmol base. [...] Sometime in 2010 to 2011, a second phase of construction activity began at Sakkanmol that included the addition of barracks, vehicle maintenance and storage facilities, greenhouses, and a number of small structures throughout the base.

The CSIS report is about a well established and well known base for short range missiles. The base saw no recent changes. Why is the New York Times making "deception" nonsense out of it if not to sabotage the efforts by the U.S. president to come to peace with North Korea?

There is another deception in the Sanger/Broad piece. It quotes a State Department statement without pointing out that it is an obvious lie:

A State Department spokesman responded to the findings with a written statement suggesting that the government believed the sites must be dismantled: “President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people.”

Nowhere has North Korea made such commitments. Is it the task of the "free press" to repeat the lies offered by the State Department? Is its task to offer its own lies on top of those false statements?

In 2002 the New York Times published dozens of false reports about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No such weapons exited. That reporting led to the catastrophic war on Iraq. The Times scapegoated its reporter Judith Miller to exculpate itself. But as today's report shows it has learned absolutely nothing from it. It is now trying to sabotage the one and only Trump initiative that might lead to a less dangerous world. Achieving peace in Korea is complicate enough. Additional hurdles thrown up through misleading reporting make it more difficult.

Currently the talks between the United States and North Korea are again on hold as the U.S. demands to proceed with point 4 of the Singapore Declaration, denuclearization, before delivering on point 1, 2 and 3 by lifting the current sanctions against North Korea and by signing a peace agreement. The government of South Korea is working to bring the talks back on track.

Peddling satellite pictures of old North Korean bases and deceiving ones readers about its commitments make war on the Korean peninsula more likely. It is not only deceptive but nefarious.


Posted by b on November 12, 2018 at 18:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (67)

November 11, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-60

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Other stuff:

Syria Comment has a good piece on the situation of the Druze in Sweida, south Syria. The fight against the ISIS holdout in the nearby volcanic al-Safa hills was handicapped as ISIS still held Druze women and children as hostages. The Syrian army could not use heavy weapons for fear of killing the them. Last week the last hostages were freed in a commando raid. The battle against ISIS in the southeastern semi-desert can now recommence with full air and artillery support. Then comes Idleb ...


A longread I enjoyed: Cesspools, Sewage, and Social Murder - Environmental Crisis and Metabolic Rift in Nineteenth-Century London. How a change in fertilizer usage and urbanization developed into a social crisis from human waste.


Last week a suddenly stiff shoulder due to a pinched nerve disabled my capability to type. Resting the arm and some mild medication helped. But I also changed the mouse I use from a conventional type to a more ergonomic (and expensive) one. The more natural positioning of the hand is one advantage. The other is the (adjustable) higher resolution that allows me to use a big screen with very little movement. It took a few days to get used to it by I would not want to miss it.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on November 11, 2018 at 16:04 UTC | Permalink | Comments (128)

November 10, 2018

Yemen - Holding Hodeidah Is The Houthi's Last Chance

From last weeks MoA review:

The UAE and its mercenaries have renewed a large attack on Hodeidah. Should they capture it they will control all supplies to the Houthi areas. The Saudis and the UAE seem to use the 30 days Trump has given them for maximum gain.

The attack led by the United Arab Emirates has nearly achieved to surround Hodeidah. The city and its port are the only way left to provide food to some 20 million people living in the capital Sanaa and the northern highlands. Should Hodeidah fall, the Houthi and their allies will have to submit to the Saudis or see their people die of starvation.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which works in Hodeidah, notes:

There is now only one viable overland route from Hodeidah city to Sana'a, and a very high risk that further aerial or land attacks on roads or bridges could sever access roads between the cities entirely, cutting the last remaining supply route for food, fuel and medicine to many of the estimated 20 million Yemenis who depend on imports through Hodeidah to meet their basic needs.

Currently the Houthi try the same tactic that broke earlier UAE attempts to conquer Hodeidah (upper left). They cut the long UAE supply line coming from the south along the western coast over which the attacking force (red) is provided with food, fuel and ammunition. If the latest news is correct they achieved that in two places.

It is relatively easy to interrupt the logistic line for a few hours. It is far more difficult to hold the blocking positions. The landscape along the coast is flat and the UAE proxy forces have tanks, artillery and air support, all of which the Houthi lack. They are mountain infantry fighters and have no means to defend themselves on flat land. They will have to resort to constant surprise attacks in different locations along the supply line to keep the UAE forces off balance. They are somewhat successful (pics) with that. It is not known if they have the manpower and ammunition reserves to maintain such attacks for long.

From the very beginning of the Saudi/UAE war on Yemen the Saudi strategy was designed to starve the highlands into subjugation. Their air attacks were concentrated on water supplies, farms, agricultural factories, fishery and transport routes. They blocked smuggling routes and hindered humanitarian supplies. They took control of Yemen's central bank and willfully induced hyperinflation.

Some smuggled food still reaches the markets in Sanaa but it is now too expensive for most people to buy. The NRC remarks:

The Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB), accounting for food, water, hygiene and cooking fuel needs was revised to YER 73,000 (USD 104) per month last week, reflecting increased costs of more than 40% since July this year. Inflation on the price of essential items, combined with the rapid depreciation of the Yemeni riyal and lack of access to income are among the key factors driving Yemen's worsening hunger crisis.

In a Washington Post op-ed the head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee Mohammed Ali al-Houthi writes:

The blockade of the port city is meant to bring the Yemeni people to their knees. The coalition is using famine and cholera as weapons of war. It is also extorting the United Nations by threatening to cut their funds, as if it were a charity and not a responsibility required under international law and Security Council resolutions.

The United States wants to be viewed as an honest mediator — but it is in fact participating and sometimes leading the aggression on Yemen.

Yesterday the U.S. announced that it would end its refueling of the Saudi planes that bomb Yemen. This means little. The Saudis have their own tanker fleet and by now enough experience to use it. The UAE planes fly from a base in Eritrea and need no refueling. U.S. intelligence support for the Saudis and the delivery of other war supplies continue. There are also U.S. troops on the ground who might well direct the Saudi/UAE attack.

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. tactic of calling for a ceasefire in 30 days while intensifying the fight:

"... Taking into account that Washington is offering direct military support to the coalition units fighting in Yemen, the sincerity of the United States’ statements in favor of the soonest end of the active phase of the Yemeni conflict is called to question," the ministry said.

"So far, everything indicates that the US side is not planning to change its policy in Yemen and the parties to the armed confrontation in that country are still staking on settling the conflict by force," the ministry stressed.

To call for a ceasefire in 30 days and to end the refueling for Saudi planes are fig-leaf moves by the U.S. to distant itself from the willfully caused famine of millions of Yemenis. The U.S. has the leverage to make the Saudis and the UAE stop their attack on Hodeidah. Early October President Trump said himself that the Saudi rulers would not last two weeks without U.S. support. That wasn't an exaggeration.

If the Trump administration really wanted, the war on Yemen would stop tomorrow. Instead it considers naming the Houthi a terrorist organization. That step would be a major escalation that would make any peace talks much more difficult.

The Houthi attacks on the supply line of the attacking forces along the west coast are the last chance to prevent the fall of Hodeidah port, and the imminent famine of millions of people.

I wish them luck.

Posted by b on November 10, 2018 at 19:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (69)