(CD) — Critics across the globe are expressing alarm over the “stunning but not surprising” revelation reported by the New York Times on Saturday that, according to 11 American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander, “the Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.”
Some called out the Trump administration for the United States’ record on human rights. American activist and political analyst Ajamu Baraka tweeted, “There are few nations that can lecture other nations on human rights [and] democracy but the one nation that can never lecture anyone is the Unite[d] States of America.”
“Not that it makes a difference for the gangsters making policy in the U.S.,” Baraka added, “but threatening military actions against other states is a violation of U.N. Charter.”
The Times reported that “in a series of covert meetings abroad, which began last fall and continued this year, the military officers told the American government that they represented a few hundred members of the armed forces who had soured on” the presidency of Maduro, who recently survived what his government deemed an “assassination attempt” and has been criticized by human rights advocates and world leaders for the current conditions in his country.
Although “American officials eventually decided not to help the plotters, and the coup plans stalled,” the Times noted that “the Trump administration’s willingness to meet several times with mutinous officers intent on toppling a president in the hemisphere could backfire politically” because the United States has a “long history of covert intervention across Latin America,” and “many in the region still deeply resent the United States for backing previous rebellions, coups, and plots in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Chile.”
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted in Spanish that the Times report “brought to light new and crude evidence” of a coup plot. He added, “We denounce before the world the United States’ intervention plans and help to military conspirators against Venezuela.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a Maduro ally, also responded on Twitter, condemning “Trump’s coup conspiracy” and declaring, “The free countries of Latin America will withstand and defeat any further attacks of the Empire against the peace and democracy in the region.”
Evo Morales Ayma
We condemn Trump’s coup conspiracy by holding secret meetings with Venezuelan military traitors to overthrow our brother Nicolás Maduro. The free countries of Latin America will withstand and defeat any further attacks of the Empire against the peace and democracy in the region
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the Trump administration’s National Security Council, insisted in a statement following the report that “U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged.”
“The United States government hears daily the concerns of Venezuelans from all walks of life—be they members of the ruling party, the security services, elements of civil society, or from among the millions of citizens forced by the regime to flee abroad,” he said. “They share one goal: the rebuilding of democracy in their homeland.”
However, as the Times pointed out, “one of the Venezuelan military commanders involved in the secret talks was hardly an ideal figure to help restore democracy: He is on the American government’s own sanctions list of corrupt officials in Venezuela.”
“He and other members of the Venezuelan security apparatus have been accused by Washington of a wide range of serious crimes,” the Times explained, “including torturing critics, jailing hundreds of political prisoners, wounding thousands of civilians, trafficking drugs and collaborating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.”
While the meetings with Venezuelan coup plotters were just revealed, for more than a year Trump has provoked widespread concern over his reported remarks about Venezuela. In August of 2017, he told reporters, “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option,” which prompted the Venezuelan opposition, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and a chorus of others to warn Trump against any such action.
Ariyana Love is a researcher/writer with The Liberty Beacon Project. She is Directing Middle East Rising & Occupy Palestine TV news channels. Ariyana is a human rights defender and Goodwill Ambassador to Palestine. She is also Chairman of an international foundation promoting humanitarian projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Press TV – Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Pakistan says Baku will not allow Israel to use its airspace or land to carry out a military attack on Iran or any other country.
“AZERBAIJAN HAS BEEN FOLLOWING A POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN THE [INTERNAL] AFFAIRS OF OTHER COUNTRIES,” BAKU’S AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN DASHGIN SHIKROV SAID IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE PAKISTANI DAILY THE NEWSON MONDAY.
THE AMBASSADOR STRONGLY REJECTED RUMORS IN WESTERN MEDIA OUTLETS ABOUT HIS COUNTRY’S READINESS FOR PROVIDING ISRAEL GROUND FACILITIES FOR ATTACKING IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES. “AZERBAIJAN IS MEMBER OF THE ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION (OIC) AND NOBODY SHOULD HAVE ANY DOUBT THAT IT WILL NOT PERMIT THE USE OF ITS TERRITORY FOR COMMITTING ACTS OF AGGRESSION AGAINST ANOTHER OIC MEMBER,” THE AMBASSADOR ADDED.
ISRAEL HAS RECENTLY STEPPED UP THREATS OF CARRYING OUT A STRIKE AGAINST IRAN’S NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES. THE THREATS ARE BASED ON THE UNFOUNDED CLAIMS THAT THE PEACEFUL NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC INCLUDE A MILITARY COMPONENT.
IRANIAN OFFICIALS HAVE REFUTED THE ALLEGATION AND HAVE PROMISED A CRUSHING RESPONSE TO ANY MILITARY STRIKE AGAINST THE COUNTRY, WARNING THAT ANY SUCH MEASURE COULD RESULT IN A WAR THAT WOULD SPREAD BEYOND THE MIDDLE EAST
Earlier this week, Reuters confirmed through two Azeri officers that Israeli forces were in place in Azerbaijan and that the president was weighing options of supporting their attack. That text is now below from Reuters. Their unedited full text is at Addendum I:
REUTERS – YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.
“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Azerbaijan was “caught with their pants down” and is now trying to lie their way out of this.
In an explosive turn of events, Press TV announces Azerbaijan has “turned chicken” after receiving a chastising based on receiving an early distribution of this Veterans Today document through Russian sources.
Additional VT staff were, while at the Pentagon, responsible for drawing up the war plans, not just for the initial invasion of Iran but the American invasion of Azerbaijan, slated for 2008, as part of a Bush administration military takeover of the entire Caspian Basin.
The map for that attack by US troops from Iran is below:
The cover sheet for the War Plans/Exercise Plans is below, a document that contained a full outline for needed capabilities for the successful takeover of all of the former Soviet Republics, beginning with Azerbaijan as seen on the map above.
Today, Azerbaijan announced it would allow Israeli planes to use their air bases to attack Iran. Reuters published the press release from Baku, one originally released in Veterans Today 27 months ago. From Reuters:
BAKU (REUTERS) – ISRAEL’S “GO-IT-ALONE” OPTION TO ATTACK IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES HAS SET THE MIDDLE EAST ON EDGE AND UNSETTLED ITS MAIN ALLY AT THE HEIGHT OF A U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU EXUDES IMPATIENCE, SAYING TEHRAN IS BARELY A YEAR FROM A “RED LINE” FOR ATOMIC CAPACITY. MANY FELLOW ISRAELIS, HOWEVER, FEAR A UNILATERAL STRIKE, LACKING U.S. FORCES, WOULD FAIL AGAINST SUCH A LARGE AND DISTANT ENEMY. BUT WHAT IF, EVEN WITHOUT WASHINGTON, ISRAEL WERE NOT ALONE?
AZERBAIJAN, THE OIL-RICH EX-SOVIET REPUBLIC ON IRAN’S FAR NORTHERN BORDER, HAS, SAY LOCAL SOURCES WITH KNOWLEDGE OF ITS MILITARY POLICY, EXPLORED WITH ISRAEL HOW AZERI AIR BASES AND SPY DRONES MIGHT HELP ISRAELI JETS PULL OFF A LONG-RANGE ATTACK.
An investigation done by independent intelligence organizations made up of former CIA, Army Intelligence and FBI personnel as published on June 18, 2010, discovered a plot between Israel, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan to attack Iran.
At that time, Israeli planes were training in Turkey on terrain meant to simulate Iran. Israel would send over 8 planes at a time and 6 would return. Sources report that two would fly to Azerbaijan where Israel now occupies two former Soviet fighter bases.
Israel was building a secret air force in Azerbaijan. That “secret air force” is now no longer secret, it is public knowledge but few know its history or the threat to world peace this irresponsible act represents.
The bases were supplied through the Georgian port of Poti with cluster and bunker-buster bombs being delivered beginning June 10, 2010. Units of the Russian Navy observed the deliveries and reported the incident to a world press that suppressed the story. The ship delivering the illegal arms were flagged American, the USS Grapple.
In consultation with intelligence operatives, it was found that the USS Grapple had been leased to Germany who had then allowed Israel to use it to deliver bombs to the Black Sea port under American naval identity.
WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED THAT TURKEY, DESPITE WHAT THEY CLAIM IS A HOSTILE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL, HAS ALLOWED OVER FLIGHT BY ISRAELI MILITARY PLANES WHO ARE USING TURKISH AIR SPACE TO RELOCATE TO AZERBAIJAN AFTER A TWO YEAR PERIOD OF DISAGREEMENT.
THIS RELATIONSHIP, NEGOTIATED BETWEEN ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU AND TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN INCLUDES PROVISION FOR TURKEY TO ASSUME PARTIAL TERRITORIAL CONTROL OF A BORDER REGION INSIDE SYRIA.
TURKEY IS PLANNING TO SEIZE THIS TERRITORY AND CALL IT A “BUFFER ZONE” BUT THE “BUFFER” MAY INCLUDE UP TO 30% OF SYRIAN TERRITORY.
Israel and Turkey have agreed to “Balkanize” Syria. However, the roots of today’s announcement were known some time ago.
On June 18, 2010, over two years ago, this columnist released the following information:
“A WEEK AGO, ISRAEL LEAKED TO THE PRESS THAT THEY HAD PERMISSION FROM SAUDI ARABIA TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE TO ATTACK IRAN. THE SAUDI’S QUICKLY DENIED THIS.
THE EFFORT ON ISRAEL’S PART WAS A RUSE TO COVER THEIR REAL PLANS, TO ATTACK FROM THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, CLOSE TO IRAN’S NORTHERN BORDER.
HOWEVER, THE BREAKDOWN IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEY AFTER MISCALCULATING THE RESPONSE TO THEIR FLOTILLA RAID ON A TURKISH SHIP IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS MAY HAVE ENDED THIS OPERATION.
ISRAEL, WHOSE ARMS AGREEMENTS WITH TURKEY MOUNTED TO NEARLY 5 BILLION DOLLARS OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, HAD BEEN TRAINING PILOTS IN TURKEY FOR BOMBING ATTACKS ON IRAN. DURING THESE TRAINING MISSIONS, ISRAEL WAS SMUGGLING AIRCRAFT THROUGH TURKISH AIRSPACE.
SOURCES INDICATE THAT GEORGIA HAS BECOME A MAJOR TRANSSHIPMENT POINT FOR NARCOTICS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE REGION. BOTH A LAND ROUTE THROUGH TURKEY AND INTO NORTHERN CYPRUS AND AIR AND SEA ROUTES DIRECTLY INTO EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA HAVE BEEN CITED.
TURKEY HAD ALLOWED ISRAEL TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE FOR TRAINING BECAUSE THEIR TERRAIN CLOSELY RESEMBLED AREAS OF IRAN THAT ISRAEL PLANNED TO ATTACK. HOWEVER, TURKEY WAS UNAWARE THAT PLANES INVOLVED IN THIS EFFORT WERE BEING RELOCATED TO FORWARD STAGING AREAS IN THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, MAKING TURKEY, TECHNICALLY, FULLY COMPLICIT IN THIS PLANNED ILLEGAL ATTACK.
HELPING COORDINATE THE ATTACK ARE INTELLIGENCE UNITS FORWARD STATIONED IN AZERBAIJAN, UNDER THE GUISE OF TECHNICIANS, TRAINERS AND ADVISORS UNDER THE BROAD ARMAMENTS AGREEMENTS WITH THAT SMALL NATION.
SUPPLY OPERATIONS, MOVING NECESSARY ORDNANCE, MUCH OF IT SUPPLIED BY THE UNITED STATES UNDER AMMUNITION STORAGE AGREEMENTS, IS BEING MOVED THROUGH THE BLACK SEA TO THE GEORGIAN PORT OF POTI, A MAJOR SITE FOR EXPORTING COAL AND MANGANESE ORE.
COVER FOR THE SUPPLY OPERATIONS IS BEING PERFORMED BY THE GEORGIAN COAST GUARD, SET UP BY ISRAEL AND MANNED WITH ISRAELI OBSERVERS. THEIR JOB IS TO KEEP RUSSIAN SURVEILLANCE CRAFT AWAY FROM SUPPLY OPERATIONS UNDER THE GUISE OF A “GAZA TYPE” NAVAL BLOCKADE OF ABKHAZIA, A SEPARATIST PROVINCE SUPPORTED BY RUSSIA.”
REUTERS, IN ITS STORY PUBLISHED TODAY INDICATED CONFIRMED SOURCES WITHIN THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY OF AZERBAIJAN. REUTERS GOES FURTHER:
“YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.
“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”
THAT ALIYEV, AN AUTOCRATIC ALLY OF WESTERN GOVERNMENTS AND OIL FIRMS, HAS BECOME A RARE MUSLIM FRIEND OF THE JEWISH STATE – AND AN OBJECT OF SCORN IN TEHRAN – IS NO SECRET; A $1.6-BILLION ARMS DEAL INVOLVING DOZENS OF ISRAELI DRONES, AND ISRAEL’S THIRST FOR AZERBAIJAN’S CASPIAN SEA CRUDE, ARE WELL DOCUMENTED.
ISRAEL’S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITED BAKU IN APRIL THIS YEAR.
BUT A LEAKED U.S. DIPLOMATIC CABLE FROM 2009 QUOTED ALIYEV, WHO SUCCEEDED HIS FATHER IN 2003, DESCRIBING RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL AS “LIKE AN ICEBERG, NINE TENTHS … BELOW THE SURFACE”.
The unknown factor is Azerbaijan’s ability to withstand a massive and immediate ground assault from Iran. US Army experts on the region indicate that Iran has a “superhighway direct to Baku,” the capitol of Azerbaijan and keystone to the massive Baku/Ceyhan pipeline.
Azerbaijan’s military, 45,000 active duty, a few thousand reserves and an unarmed and untrained inactive reserve of 300,000 veterans is extremely small in comparison to Iran’s military.
A REASONABLE ESTIMATE IS THAT, UNDER THE BEST OF CASES WITH SUPPORT FROM BOTH TURKEY AND ISRAEL, THAT BAKU COULD FALL IN 48 HOURS OR LESS, SHOULD THEY CHOOSE TO PARTICIPATE IN AN UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON IRAN.
Azerbaijan is closely aligned with Turkey. However, they fought and lost a war in the early 1990’s against Armenia. Azerbaijan lost 16% of their territory at that time.
During that war, Azerbaijan turned to Al Qaeda and Chechen forces for support, an act that angered Russia. Azerbaijan is still a “safe haven” for terrorists and is commonly used to transit narcotics from Afghanistan and is a “way station” in human trafficking.
It is believed that an Israeli attack launched from Azerbaijan would unleash an immediate response from Armenia against Azerbaijan. The two nations have been at the verge of hostilities for nearly two decades.
A recent estimate of regional forces paints a very dark picture for Azerbaijan:
SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION, ARMENIA HAS FOLLOWED A POLICY OF DEVELOPING ITS ARMED FORCES INTO A PROFESSIONAL, WELL TRAINED, AND MOBILE MILITARY. IN 2000, CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AND RESEARCH REPORTED THAT AT THAT TIME THE ARMENIAN ARMY HAD THE STRONGEST COMBAT CAPABILITY OF THE THREE CAUCASUS COUNTRIES’ ARMIES (THE OTHER TWO BEING GEORGIA AND AZERBAIJAN.
CSTO SECRETARY, NIKOLAY BORDYUZHA, CAME TO A SIMILAR CONCLUSION AFTER COLLECTIVE MILITARY DRILLS IN 2007 WHEN HE STATED THAT, “THE ARMENIAN ARMY IS THE MOST EFFICIENT ONE IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE”.
THIS WAS ECHOED MORE RECENTLY BY IGOR KOROTCHENKO, A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC COUNCIL, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, IN A MARCH 2011 INTERVIEW WITH VOICE OF RUSSIA RADIO.
CASPIAN OIL SUPPLIES AT RISK
The 1100 mile pipeline is the only outlet for oil from the Caspian basin to outlets on the Mediterranean. A branch of the pipeline services the massive Kirkuk oil fields of Northern Iraq.
The pipeline is owned by a number of companies with BP having a 30 percent stake.
The 25% stake theoretically held by SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan is under Israeli control, as collateral to underwrite Israeli weapons sales.
Israel has an agreement to link to the pipeline through Iraq, a deal negotiated between the Elat Ashkian Pipeline Company of Israel and the US backed Chalabi government that assumed control of Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
It is no longer clear as to whether the current government in Baghdad is still interested in this project.
Additional threats to the pipeline are in Armenia, where it may also be intercepted and in Turkey, where the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, has put the pipeline out of commission many times.
The significance of the pipeline is great in that, even if Iran has no rationale to cut oil supplies through the Straits of Hormuz, it could easily gain control of 5% of the world’s oil output and put all Caspian Basin oil off the market without in any way interfering with free transit of sea-lanes.
Additionally, the transit fees charged for use of the pipeline are a major source of revenue for both Georgia and Turkey, a source that would immediately end.
TWO “WILD CARD” ISSUES ARE RUSSIA AND IRAQ. AS IRAQ’S GOVERNMENT IS NOW UNDER SHIITE CONTROL AND AZERBAIJAN’S RELATIONS WITH, NOT JUST ARMENIA BUT RUSSIA HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY POOR, THE CHANCES FOR THIS MOVE BY ISRAEL TURNING INTO A REGIONAL CONFLICT OR WORLD WAR ARE VERY HIGH.
TAKING INTO ACCOUNT TURKEY’S “HAM HANDED” PLOTTING WITH ISRAEL AGAINST SYRIA AND THEIR ATTEMPTS TO SPREAD INFLUENCE INTO CENTRAL ASIA, THEIR SHORT LIVED POSITION AS A POTENTIAL LEADER IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD HAS CLEARLY TAKEN A “BACK SEAT” TO IRAN, EGYPT, PAKISTAN AND INDONESIA.
Israel’s timetable to attack from Azerbaijan is entirely dependent on the risks their long time but highly secretive ally is willing to accept.
Minimally, Azerbaijan might actually disappear. In a best case scenario, they would lose additional territory to Armenia and suffer total devastation of their oil production and processing facilities and destruction of their armed forces.
FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, THE RESULT, AS EXPECTED, HIGHER GASOLINE PRICES, HIGHER FOOD PRICES AND MORE THREATS TO CURRENCIES ALREADY NEARING COLLAPSE.
Editing: Jim W. Dean
By Thomas Grove
BAKU | Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:46pm EDT
(Reuters) – Israel’s “go-it-alone” option to attack Iran’s nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a “red line” for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.
But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran’s far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.
That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan – notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews – such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.
It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.
Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
“Where planes would fly from – from here, from there, to where? – that’s what’s being planned now,” a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. “The Israelis … would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan.”
That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state – and an object of scorn in Tehran – is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel’s thirst for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.
Israel’s foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.
But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as “like an iceberg, nine tenths … below the surface”.
That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan’s “frozen” conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even Chinaall jockey for influence.
Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
“Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling,” Musabayov told Reuters.
“I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
“We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations,” he added.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel’s occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.
Having also invested in Azerbaijan’s defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit to Afghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.
The Azeri president’s team insist that that will not happen.
“No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation,” said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev’s staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.
Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.
Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.
Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be “landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets”.
A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel’s U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.
There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran’s nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu’s “red line” speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely – for at least a few months.
Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.
A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft “ludicrous” – but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.
The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.
As part of last year’s arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what’s happening in Iran, while we protect our borders,” legislator Musabayov said – a view shared by Azeri former military sources.
Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however – though none believed any deal was yet settled.
The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi’ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.
The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington’s role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.
One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: “There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is ‘officially’. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used.”
The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel’s Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.
With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said – or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.
Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.
Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.
Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.
Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.
Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev’s government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: “We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel.”
However, Israel’s confrontation with Iran may turn out, the arms build-up in Azerbaijan, including recent Israeli upgrades for its Soviet T-72 tanks, may have consequences for the wider region and for the stand-off with Armenia – consequences that would trouble all the powers with stakes in the Caspian region.
“We keep buying arms. On the one hand, it’s a good strategy to frighten Armenia,” one of the former Azeri officers said of the shaky, 18-year-old ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh. “But you don’t collect weapons to hang on the wall and gather dust.
“One day, all these could be used.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
The election of Sally McManus as Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary in March 2017 came with bold rhetoric about the right of unions to break Australia’s unjust industrial laws.
All the usual sucks for the bosses condemned McManus’ “outrageous” statements. But she stood her ground.
Many union activists hoped this was a sign of a new spirit of resistance. They hoped that after decades of workers’ rights being eroded, penalty rates being cut and union membership plummeting, the union leadership had at long last woken up and was going to launch a fightback.
The shameful reality, however, is that the ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign has failed to measure up to McManus’ initial rhetoric. It has instead turned out to be little more than an electoral campaign to get the vote out for Labor, the party which when in government introduced many of the harsh anti-union laws we are now fighting against.
Any decent trade unionist will obviously want to see the Liberals, the loyal servants of big business, driven from office. But that does not mean we should uncritically fall into line behind the ALP.
Labor might claim to represent working class interests. But in office, both federally and at the state level, it has consistently implemented neoliberal, anti-working class policies over the last three decades.
The Hawke-Keating Labor governments slashed wages and crippled the unions under the Prices and Incomes Accord of the 1980s. As a result, workers’ share of national income fell from 60.8 percent to 55.7 percent, while the profit share surged.
Federal Labor privatised the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas and a raft of other government-owned enterprises and prepared the ground for Telstra to be privatised. State Labor governments have also been ruthless privatisers. Many tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, vital public services have been run down and the private owners have been gifted billions of dollars in profits.
Labor in government cries poor when it comes to properly funding the vital public services we need. But it has always been able to find the cash to give billions of dollars in handouts to big business and to increase military spending. And it was Labor that cut the company tax rate from 49 percent to 33 percent.
At a mass Your Rights at Work rally in June 2005, then Labor leader Kim Beazley promised to “rip up” WorkChoices, the Howard government’s hated anti-worker legislation. But in office under prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Labor did nothing of the sort.
Labor’s Fair Work Australia legislation contained only a few token concessions to the unions and was rightly dubbed WorkChoices Lite. Labor could get away with this because in the lead up to the elections, the ACTU had turned the industrial campaign of mass mobilisations against WorkChoices into a vote Labor campaign with a focus on marginal seats.
This shift was epitomised by the abandonment of the campaign’s slogan “Your rights at work: worth fighting for” and its replacement with “Your rights at work: worth voting for”. The unions gave Labor a blank cheque. And once the ALP was in office, the union campaign wound up and Rudd and Gillard were under absolutely no pressure to deliver.
Indeed, they screwed over the very workers whose votes they had depended on to get them their plush ministerial seats. Gillard, supposedly from the Labor left, stridently defended the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission Gestapo in a vile diatribe against construction workers fighting for their jobs and conditions on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in 2009.
The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign is even more electorally focused than Your Rights at Work. The overwhelming thrust of the campaign has been organising street stalls, leafleting, door knocking and phone banking to “change the government”.
For the five by-elections on 28 July, hundreds of union organisers and activists were mobilised to door knock for Labor.
Victorian Trades Hall Council recently held a meeting of 200 union activists in Morwell in the La Trobe Valley. The sole purpose of it was to get people to volunteer to do election-oriented street stalls. Not once throughout the proceedings was the idea of organising in workplaces or challenging the bosses raised.
Most workers in Morwell are understandably and rightly cynical about Labor, so there was no great enthusiasm for doing stalls to re-elect them. The union officials clearly recognised this and did not go on about the supposed merits of Labor. Instead of calling the stalls “vote Labor” stalls they tried to hide behind the façade of them being “change the government” stalls.
Australia’s industrial laws are some of the harshest in the Western world and place incredible restrictions on workers’ right to organise, hold workplace meetings, stand up to “wage theft”, resist bullying supervisors and counter the victimisation of fellow workers.
To organise any form of industrial action, workers have to jump through legal hoops. Yet there are virtually no restrictions on the bosses’ right to sack, stand down, punish, victimise or lock out workers.
So far, Labor leader Bill Shorten has offered to make only minimal changes to these oppressive anti-union laws – laws which, it should be remembered, he helped write during the last Labor government.
As the Rudd-Gillard governments show, there is no guarantee that the few promises Shorten has made, such as to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and to clamp down on sham industrial agreements, will be implemented. Particularly if Labor faces no pressure from the unions via sustained mobilisations of workers.
The bottom line is that we need a totally different strategy from the union leaders’ one of relying on a Labor government to save us. It won’t.
Instead, we need a concerted campaign to rebuild the unions as a fighting force at a grass roots level. Rather than door knocking for Labor, union activists should be attempting to organise fellow workers in their own workplaces and organising non-union workplaces.
Activists need to be finding out what workers’ grievances are with their bosses, signing them up to the union, establishing delegate structures and giving them the necessary confidence and ideas to fight for their rights.
It is only by rebuilding a strong, rank and file-based, fighting union movement that we can have any hope of standing up to the bosses’ attacks and forcing reforms out of any government, whether Liberal or Labor.
Notice the timing of this latest land grab move by right-wing extremists in Israel – just ahead of the much anticipated Kushner-Netayahu “Ultimate Peace Deal” soon to be unveiled to great fanfare in Washington DC and Tel Aviv (but little much elsewhere).
Netanyahu and Kushner working behind closed doors to carve-up what remains of Palestine for Israeli settlers.
The new Israeli law entitled, The “Law for the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria”, allows the state to expropriate Palestinian land on which illegal Israeli settlements were built, has already been deemed as “unconstitutional” by Israeli left-wing groups sympathetic to the native Palestinian Arab population
Palinfo reports…Clearly, this new Likud ‘land heist’ is designed to ensure that Palestinians will remain tangled in legalese and excessive jargon in order to create a permanent stalemate regardless of which way the supposed “peace deal” goes. The law will enable Jewish occupiers to maintain illegal possession of stolen land through a fraudulent ‘legal’ framework that allows the state of Israel expropriate Palestinian land on which illegal settlements were built supposedly “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” and thereby denying the rightful Palestinian landowners of the right to use their own land “until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.” To make it seem ‘fair and balanced’ the law claims to provide a mechanism for paying-off of “compensating” Palestinians whose privately owned land was stolen from them by the state of Israel.
An Israeli newspaper said that the ministerial committee for legislation at the Knesset would study a bill on Sunday that would allow Jewish settlers to acquire land rights in the occupied West Bank.
Members of the Knesset cannot discuss bills and vote them into laws before this ministerial committee, whose members are ministers, approve them for discussion on the floor of the Knesset.
According to Haaretz newspaper, the explanatory notes affixed to the bill, which is sponsored by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), say that the current situation is based on a 1953 Jordanian law, which prevented anyone from buying land in the West Bank unless they were Jordanian citizens or citizens of another Arab country. That law remained in force after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 six-day war.
In the early 1970s, an Israeli way was found to circumvent the law and allow settlers to buy land there through a special order stating that anybody could buy land through a company registered in the West Bank, regardless of who owned the company.
That enabled Jews to set up companies registered in the West Bank and use them to buy land, the newspaper affirmed.
Smotrich’s bill aims to eliminate this disparity and simply state that anyone can buy land in the occupied West Bank. “The fact that an Israeli currently can’t buy land there just because he is an Israeli is unacceptable,” the bill’s explanatory notes said.
Ariyana Love is a researcher/writer with The Liberty Beacon Project. She is Directing Middle East Rising & Occupy Palestine TV news channels. Ariyana is a human rights defender and Goodwill Ambassador to Palestine. She is also Chairman of an international foundation promoting humanitarian projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.
It might seem cavalier for an academically credentialed anthropologist to assert political influence on the population he is supposed to be studying; however, Goette-Luciak’s activities fit within a long tradition.
MANAGUA, NICARAGUA — (Investigation) The Guardian, The Washington Post, the BBC and NPR have assigned an American anthropologist with no previous journalistic experience to cover the crisis in Nicaragua. The novice reporter, named Carl David Goette-Luciak, has published pieces littered with falsehoods that reinforce the opposition’s narrative promoting regime change while relying almost entirely on anti-Sandinista sources.
An investigation for MintPress reveals that Goette-Luciak has forged intimate ties to the opposition, and has essentially functioned as its publicist under journalistic cover. Having claimed to work in the past as an anthropologist and “human rights defender,” Goette-Luciak operated side-by-side with activists from a U.S.-backed opposition party known as the Sandinista Renovation Movement, or MRS. As we will see in this investigation, U.S. government-funded organizations have supplied the MRS with millions of dollars worth of election assistance, and continue to fund its activists by funding their NGO’s and social media training.
Goette-Luciak now lists himself as “director of investigations” for an obscure outlet called Radio Ciudadana that was founded a month before the chaos erupted last April. That outlet’s founder, Azucena “Chena” Castillo, is an outspoken member of the MRS party who has devoted herself to the government’s overthrow. Goette-Luciak’s social-media profile reveals intimate ties to numerous MRS leaders and, in a recently deleted podcast interview, he has described his own work to encourage indigenous opposition to the Sandinista front.
Media outlets like the Guardian, NPR and The Washington Post feign objectivity before their readers, presenting themselves as arbiters of truth in an era of fake news. However, in countries where Washington is pushing regime change, these same outlets have dispatched a corps of writers to embed with U.S.-backed opposition elements, provide them with publicity, and sell their goals back to the American public.
Goette-Luciak is one of clearest embodiments of the disturbing trend.
Western media versus the Sandinistas
Goette-Luciak vaulted suddenly into the world of journalism after student-led protests erupted last April 18 in Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega had announced a set of tax increases to keep the public pension system solvent, triggering mass protests that quickly transformed into a full-scale attempt at regime change.
Within days, violent elements had taken over university campuses and were setting up roadblocks around the country to paralyze its economy.
While American officials condemned killings and abuses by the Nicaraguan government, scores of Sandinista members and national police officers were murdered by opposition gunmen; hundreds more were kidnapped, tortured and abused; and institutions affiliated with the government were destroyed.
Almost as soon as the Sandinista-led government defeated the coup attempt in July, it became the target of a sustained campaign of attacks in Western media. A raft of articles portrayed Ortega, the former guerrilla leader, as a reincarnation of the bloodthirsty, U.S.-backed dictator he had deposed, Anastasio Somoza. The opposition, meanwhile, was painted as a collection of peaceful protesters gunned down for supposedly demanding democracy.
The death and suffering experienced by average Sandinista members was whitewashed across the board, and the role the U.S. played in laying the groundwork for the coup was dismissed as “fake news.” In Washington, the media campaign propelled a push in Congress for crushing sanctions targeting Nicaragua’s previously productive economy.
Many Western reporters have embarked on short regime-change fishing expeditions guided by opposition activists from one anti-Sandinista source to the next. But Goette-Luciak had been in the country all along, and he stayed after the violence subsided. This provided him with special value to publications like the Guardian, which were apparently hungry for more on-the-ground reporting painting the Sandinistas as uniquely evil and unqualified to govern.
Misinformation in the service of the opposition
On September 7, Goette-Luciak published an article in the Guardian claiming that the country had been brought to a virtual halt by a general strike by the anti-government Civic Alliance umbrella group. His co-author was Caroline Houck, a staff correspondent for the website Defense One, which leverages ad revenue from the arms industry to “provide news, analysis and ideas for national security leaders and stakeholders.”
The Nicaraguan-born activist Camilo Mejia highlighted several pieces of misinformation contained in the article. Contrary to the claim that the Civic Alliance interrupted the country’s economy with its general strike, Managuan marketplaces were bustling that day and commerce proceeded as usual. As Mejia noted, the opposition had only managed to close the high-end businesses that supported its regime-change agenda.
Goette-Luciak and Houck published extensive quotes from Ana Margarita Vijil, falsely describing her as “national director of the outlawed Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).” In fact, the marginal MRS had not been “outlawed;” its candidates had garnered a pitiful 1.3 percent of the popular vote in the last election, which is below the legal threshold to qualify to run as a political party.
The authors then quoted Vijil claiming that, “[w]ith 200 political prisoners and [new] murders every day, this strike is just one more sign that nothing is normal here in Nicaragua.” What Goette-Luciak and his co-author failed to mention was that those recent murders have consisted largely of Sandinista supporters. The recent murder victims include Lenin Mendiola, an FSLN militant and son of two revered Sandinista historical figures, Benigna Mendiola and Bernardino Díaz Ochoa.
But the most striking omission by Goette-Luciak was of his relationship with his source and her party, which has enjoyed direct support from the U.S. government. Below, the two can be seen together at a conference in an image that highlights their mutual affinity.
Vijil is the former president of the MRS, or the Sandinista Renewal Movement. She has served as a fellow of the Central American Leadership Initiative at the Aspen Institute, a hub of neoliberal thought funded by the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among others.
Just before the coup erupted in April, Vijil was in Washington for a “high level executive meeting,” according to Yaser Morazan, an MRS activist whose “Agente de Cambio” initiative and social-media training have been sponsored by USAID — an arm of the U.S. State Department — and the U.S.-funded Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas (IEEPP). Three weeks before the coup, Morazan posted a selfie outside IEEPP’s office promising a series of “surprises” and pledging his secrecy about them.
For his part, Goette-Luciak has been connected with the MRS most directly through Azucena Castillo, a prominent party activist whom he lists as his employer at Radio Ciudadana.
Goette-Luciak did not respond to an emailed request for an interview.
The best ex-Sandinistas the U.S. could buy
Goette-Luciak appears to have inherited his affinity for the MRS party from his father, Ilja Luciak, an academic who focused his research on Central America and served for several years as the chair of political science at Virginia Tech.
In an interview with an obscure travel website called the Edge of Adventure, Goette-Luciak credited his father with inspiring his interest in Nicaragua. He described him as a “Marxist” who was inspired by the Sandinista revolution that unfolded during the 1980’s. But according to his academic CV, Luciak’s work on Nicaragua has been backed by European foundations, the European Commission, and USAID.
In his book After the Revolution: Gender and Democracy in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, Luciak wrote sympathetically about the female former Sandinistas who helped lead the MRS party’s crusade against Ortega.
His son, Goette-Luciak, channeled the purist sensibility of the MRS in his interview with Edge of Adventure:
As a leftist, I was intrigued by where the Sandinista revolution — which to me was a very utopian idealistic revolution and a great example of potential social change for Latin America — where it had gone awry.”
The MRS was established to expose and exacerbate the supposed failings of the Sandinista front. Founded in 1994 by ex-Vice President Sergio Ramirez and a collection of ex-FSLN militants — most of them from more affluent, educated backgrounds than common Sandinistas — the party’s disruptive agenda made it a natural candidate for assistance from Washington.
In 2006, the MRS and the U.S. government plotted to prevent Ortega’s election. A September 6, 2006 U.S. embassy cable — revealingly entitled, “MRS: We Want To Bring Ortega Down” — laid out some of those plans. Authored by U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli, the cable described a meeting between the ambassador and Israel Lewites, the nephew of MRS presidential candidate Herty Lewites, who had just died from a heart attack.
Trivelli confirmed direct U.S. government support for the MRS election campaign, noting that 30 percent of its election observers had been trained by the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded, Republican Party-run soft-power organization overseen by then-Sen. John McCain.
“The MRS intends to have at least two people per voting table […] on election day, but they need funds to feed and transport the fiscales and other helpers,” Trivelli stated.
In all, the U.S. government contributed a whopping $12 million in 2006 towards “election technical assistance, outreach, and observation” in Nicaragua’s 2006 election. In other words, it spent two dollars for every Nicaraguan citizen to defeat Ortega.
A separate leaked diplomatic cable detailed a meeting during that election campaign between MRS co-founder Dora Maria Tellez and the ambassador, Trivelli. Foreshadowing the coup that unfolded this year, Tellez told U.S. embassy officials that “the MRS will warn the FSLN that if it steals the election, the MRS will ‘take to the streets,’ opining that this is the ‘only kind of message Ortega understands.’”
The MRS ultimately failed to prevent Ortega’s victory and wound up reaching out to the U.S. again as its domestic support base collapsed. In 2016, the MRS’s Vijil joined a delegation to lobby in Washington for the Nica Act, a bill proposing crushing sanctions on her country.
On Capitol Hill, Vigil posed alongside a cast of U.S.-backed activists and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a neoconservative Cuban-American Republican who was the main author of the sanctions bill.
Two years later, MRS activists were at the forefront of the coup attempt that sought Ortega’s removal. Several participants in the protests this April who later turned against the opposition described witnessing MRS leaders providing truck loads of supplies for opposition forces occupying university campuses.
While the MRS performed its historic role as the knife in the FSLN’s back, it supplied Western media with a cast of English-speaking voices demanding regime change in the name of supposedly progressive values. Its most prominent voice was Gioconda Belli, an affluent U.S.-based poet and professional former Sandinista, who took to mainstream U.S. outlets to paint Ortega as a murderous dictator, as she has done for years. (Belli’s brother, Humberto, is a Catholic priest affiliated with the far-right Opus Dei cult and a client of the militantly anti-abortion American tycoon Tom Monaghan).
Then there was Goette-Luciak (seen above with Belli), who functioned on the ground as the MRS party’s publicist in photo-journalistic attire.
A “dual use” anthropologist
Prior to the unrest that swept across Nicaragua last April, there was little record of Goette-Luciak’s presence as a writer or journalist. He had written one piece for NPR on how Nicaraguans were not as happy as the World Happiness Report said they were.
His co-author, Carlos Salinas Maldonado, was a writer for the opposition magazine Confidencial, which is funded by the U.S. government’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Open Society Foundation.
In his byline, Goette-Luciak described himself as “an anthropologist in Managua.” He was listed in conference papers as a graduate student at the University of Virginia around that time, focusing his work on the Rama-Kriol and Miskito populations of Nicaragua’s eastern coast.
These indigenous groups have been at loggerheads with the Sandinista movement since the civil war in the 1980’s, when the CIA cultivated them as U.S. allies. Ronald Reagan made the relationship a centerpiece of his administration’s Cold War crusade when he declared in a 1985 speech, “I am … a Miskito Indian. I too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.”
The indigenous North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua remains a key target for U.S. influence, as Washington seeks to exploit the simmering conflict between its local population and the leftist government in Managua. Leaked diplomatic cables demonstrate efforts by the U.S. embassy to cultivate anti-Sandinista sentiment in the area by working to facilitate human-rights complaints by former CIA-backed Contra fighters against FSLN leadership.
In 2013, the Ortega government announced plans by a Chinese magnate to construct a canal through his country, presenting a direct threat to U.S. control over shipping lines in the western hemisphere and prompting an outcry from the U.S. embassy. Soon, an anti-canal movement emerged in the countryside as one of the main drivers of anti-Sandinista sentiment. The campaign against the canal poured fuel on the fire of the coastal indigenous population’s long-simmering conflict with the government.
Though Goette-Luciak described himself in his bio as an “anthropologist in Managua,” he later revealed that he was working among the Miskito population and with the Rama-Kriol communal government to stimulate opposition to the Sandinistas.
“I worked on informing the indigenous community of their rights at a time of crisis, when the government was attempting to depict to the international audience consent among the indigenous population for the sale of their land,” Goette-Luciak said in an interview this year with The Edge of Adventure.
It might seem cavalier for an academically credentialed anthropologist to assert political influence on the population he is supposed to be studying; however, Goette-Luciak’s activities fit within a long tradition. As author David Price illustrated in several book-length studies on what he called “dual use anthropology,” many American anthropologists were supported during the Cold War by private foundations and even the CIA to conduct activities on behalf of their government. More recently, the Pentagon weaponized the field of study through programs like its Human Terrain System, which lured newly graduated anthropologists with lucrative salaries to assist U.S. military counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is no evidence that Goette-Luciak is an asset of the CIA or any other U.S. agency. However, his advancement of Washington’s divisive political objectives during the course of his ethnographic fieldwork represented a fairly clear example of dual-use anthropology.
Selective stories from the front lines
In his interview with Edge of Adventure, Goette-Luciak cited the killing of Angel Gahona — a reporter he described as his “neighbor” in the city of Bluefields in southeastern Nicaragua — as his inspiration for moving into the field of journalism.
Gahona was killed while delivering a Facebook live report during an anti-government protest. He was shot while filming a bank that had been looted, and unidentified men could be seen in the shadows of the bank moments before Gahona was hit. This prompted some observers to allege that he was killed by professional criminals for filming them while they took advantage of the chaos to rob a bank.
Though the government arrested two suspects in the killing, Gahona’s family blamed the national police for deliberately targeting him in retaliation for his coverage of alleged police abuse. Goette-Luciak presented these allegations and accusing the government of a cover-up in his first article for the Guardian on May 29.
Goette-Luciak also described to the Edge of Adventure having witnessed the so-called Mother’s Day Massacre, where several demonstrators commemorating those who had already died in the unrest were killed on May 30.
The bloodshed that took place that day remains a source of heated contention. Violence had erupted across the country, with the opposition opening fire on a Sandinista caravan in the city of Esteli, killing one and wounding dozens. Opposition vandals burned the leftist Radio Ya station for the third time as well as parts of Managua’s Metrocentro complex. Videos show opposition gunmen opening fire that day on the streets of Managua and toting weapons near the Mother’s Day march. The opposition and Western media placed the blame squarely on Sandinista-affiliated elements for sniping into the crowd of marchers, but have yet to produce clear evidence proving their case.
Speaking to the Edge of Adventure, Goette-Luciak conceded that he had left the march and was several blocks away drinking a beer when the shooting began. He said he returned after he heard shooting and described the deaths as the result of targeting killings by Sandinista paramilitaries.
“I witnessed two deaths…” he told Edge of Adventure. “A young man standing a few yards from me was hit by a bullet in the head, and standing behind him, what I saw was the back of his head explode like a watermelon that got dropped.”
Hours after the violence, a ferociously anti-government network known as “100% Noticias” published a grisly photo of a man supposedly killed by government forces whose brain was spilling out of his skull. The image was soon exposed as a fake and has since been deleted. In fact, it depicted a death from a separate conflict and had been taken years before.
Though Goette-Luciak said he had taken photos of the march, he has yet to publish any of the killings he said he witnessed.
In a separate incident this June, Goette-Luciak appeared momentarily in a highly disturbing video filmed by 100% Noticias. He could be seen taking photos of a mob of opposition thugs in the act of kidnapping and beating an aging Sandinista member they had found squatting on a local oligarch’s abandoned property. Oddly, Goette-Luciak published no photos of the incident and did not report on it.
The Radio La Ciudadana outlet where Goette-Luciak is listed as “director of investigations” contains sparse evidence of journalistic production: a section on the site marked as “investigations” is empty; the photos section contains 15 images Goette-Luciak captured on Mother’s Day, where he claimed to have witnessed two murders: a grand total of three news stories are featured on the site. Radio La Ciudadana was founded by Azucena “Chena” Castillo, an MRS party activist who has also worked as director of the USAID-funded outlet Radio Universidad.
The only other record of Goette-Luciak’s photojournalism existed at the Edge of Adventure website, which had published about 20 images he captured — one of which depicted him posing with an opposition gunman. The Edge of Adventure is a little-known media site founded by Adam Asher Wattenbarger, a self-styled travel journalist who is listed as an executive at the right-wing, Christian-oriented Salem Media Group.
This month, Goette-Luciak fell under sustained criticism from Sandinista supporters on Facebook for his one-sided coverage of the country’s political crisis. Many accused him of operating as a U.S. intelligence asset. The Edge of Adventure promptly deleted its podcast interview with him and scrubbed most of his photos from the site.
Goette-Luciak then began cleaning up his own Facebook page, deleting his selfies with MRS party leaders.
Objective journalistic promoters of the “resistance”
Earlier this summer, Goette-Luciak was in the thick of the most intense fighting between opposition gunmen and Sandinista-aligned forces. It was in Masaya, a city where the opposition had seized and cordoned off entire neighborhoods in an attempt to declare a junta.
As I found when I visited Masaya a month later, the opposition had waged a campaign of terror against Sandinista supporters, burning their homes, kidnapping, beating, torturing and even killing them, while laying siege to the local police station. In one of the most gruesome incidents, an unarmed community police officer named Gabriel Vado was kidnapped by opposition gunmen, dragged to death from the back of a truck, and torched on camera while slumped before a roadblock.
There was virtually no mention of the opposition’s ongoing campaign of terror in Goette-Luciak’s June 23 report for The Washington Post, which he co-authored with Houck of the arms industry-funded Defense One. Instead, Goette-Luciak painted the gunmen as valiant resistance fighters and promoted their call for the U.S. to send them heavy weapons: “Several asked a reporter whether President Trump would send support to the resistance,” he wrote.
To be sure, Goette-Luciak was far from the only Western media figure to embed with the armed opposition in Masaya and trumpet its gallantry. Some of the most overtly pro-opposition messaging arrived courtesy of a reporter named Tim Rogers. An American who spent years publishing news of interest to the local emigre and tourist population, Rogers emerged this year as a ferocious promoter of the armed opposition.
In Masaya, Rogers seemed to throb with admiration for the masked gunmen manning the barricades.
While characterizing the opposition as “an unarmed population,” Rogers glorified the lethal weaponry they deployed from behind the roadblocks. Goette-Luciak’s now-deleted photo gallery at the Edge of Adventure demonstrated that the gunmen not only toted homemade mortars, but assault weapons and handguns as well.
Masaya siempre valiente! This is how an unarmed population defended itself today against an invading horde of heavily armed Huns. Pretty fucking heroic stuff. Masaya is like none other. #SOSNicaraguahttps://t.co/d1DX8Ba1s7
Like Goette-Luciak, Rogers’ cheerleading for the armed opposition was rewarded with bylines in mainstream publications from Public Radio International andThe Atlantic, where he claimed Nicaragua was a “failed state” that was undergoing “democratic renewal” thanks to the push for regime change. He was ultimately hired as the Latin American editor of Fusion, a website owned by the Israel-American oligarch and Democratic Party mega-donor Haim Saban. There, Rogers produced a viral propaganda video likening the Sandinista movement to ISIS.
The out-of-the-blue emergence of figures like Goette-Luciak and Rogers as correspondents for legacy Western publications can not be viewed as an aberration or mistake. In Nicaragua, as in so many other countries targeted with regime-change operations, outlets like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post seem to demand on-the-ground coverage that reinforces the regime-change agenda.
And so they credentialed opposition publicists as journalists, instilling in them the illusion of their own professionalism. “I think I’ve come to realize the value of objective and impartial journalism,” Goette-Luciak said in his Edge of Adventure interview, “and I no longer consider myself as an activist for or against any particular cause.”
Top Photo | Carl David Goette-Luciak poses with an opposition gunman in the city of Masaya, Nicaragua. Photo | Edge of Adventure
The two latest developments in Moscow – the Defense Ministry’s report that placed full responsibility for last week’s downing of a Russian plane over Syria on Israel, and the announcement of the transfer of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the Assad regime – shouldn’t surprise anyone in Israel except maybe a few foolish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu can’t make the problem disappear.
Russia suffered an embarrassing blow when Assad’s anti-aircraft fire shot down the plane, and it still has widespread interests to promote in Syria. It was quite clear that the affair would lead to a Russian condemnation of Israel and to demands of Israel. The bottom line still depends on Putin, who initially sufficed with a cautiously worded statement the day after the incident. For the time being it seems the result of the Russian steps will be a significant restriction of Israel’s freedom of action over Syria.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Monday that his country would supply Syria with S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russia, he said, would also activate electronics preventing the activation of satellite tracking systems along Syria’s coast, making it harder for Israel to conduct airstrikes. And Russia will equip Syrian anti-aircraft units with Russian tracking and guidance systems to prevent mishaps in which Syria downs Russian aircraft.
The transfer of S-300 missiles to the Syrians, along with even more advanced systems (like the S-400) that the Russians are deploying near their bases in Syria’s northwest, don’t constitute a total barrier to Israeli attacks. According to foreign media, the Israel Air Force has trained for missions in which Israeli jets must contend with S-300 batteries – which the Russians sold to Cyprus and are now in Greece’s hands. It’s reasonable to assume that the air force can figure out how to reduce the risk when facing these systems.
In April, after an American attack and a number of Israeli attacks, Moscow announced that it would sell the S-300 systems to Syria, but it didn’t follow through. This time the Russians seem more determined to follow through, though it’s doubtful the weapons will be delivered in two weeks as promised by Shoigu, and it could take the Syrians a while to learn to operate the technology.
The test for Israeli-Russian relations is sure to come soon when a new intelligence warning pops up about an Iranian attempt to smuggle arms into Lebanon on a route near the Russian bases in northwestern Syria. Because Iran is determined to continue with its arms shipments to Hezbollah, and Israel has insisted on its right to attack such shipments, Jerusalem is bound to face a dilemma: Should it attack once again near the Russians and risk further exacerbating the crisis and even the downing of an Israeli plane?
Russia’s announcement of the decision to supply the S-300s and its report Sunday on the circumstances of the downing of the Ilyushin plane underscore one point. Moscow can’t accuse the main culprit responsible for the incident – its ally, the Assad regime. (It’s amazing to see that blame for the Syrian anti-aircraft forces doesn’t even appear in the Defense Ministry’s official statement.)
It was therefore clear from the beginning that the responsibility would be placed on Israel. It’s also interesting that all the blame is directed at the Israeli military, which the Russians accuse of being unprofessional or “criminally negligent, at the very least.” The Israeli political leadership isn’t mentioned except for one general claim about Israel’s alleged dangerous offensive policy in Syria.
The Russian inquiry seems dubious; some of its claims are odd. For instance, the Russians say Israel gave them a warning of only one minute (it’s surprising that Israel hasn’t stated the real time lag, which was much longer). According to experienced Israeli pilots, the claim that the Israeli jets hid behind the Russian intelligence-gathering plane is unreasonable and not in keeping with accepted operational practices.
The accusation that Israel deceived the Russians about the location of the planned attack also seems illogical. According to Russia, the IAF informed it about an attack in northern Syria, while the attack occurred in western Syria. Latakia is in northwest Syria, as a quick glance at a map reveals. And because the military coordination has been working successfully for three years now, during which hundreds of Israeli attacks have taken place, it’s hard to believe that the two sides haven’t yet cleared up some basic terminology.
The Russian announcement accuses Israel of ungratefulness in light of Moscow’s steps on behalf of Israeli interests such as keeping Iranian forces from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. (The Russians say they’ve kept them 140 kilometers [87 miles] away, while actually it’s 85 to 100 kilometers, a buffer zone that doesn’t include Damascus, where Iranian soldiers remain.)
In recent years, Russia has been caught lying or spreading disinformation about its role in a number of incidents, the most recent being its involvement in the U.S. presidential elections, the poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. So it’s hard to believe that anyone but Syria and Iran will adopt the Russian version of last week’s events.
But it’s unlikely that this will matter. Moscow has the last word on the plane affair. It seems Putin waited for an Israeli blunder to put Jerusalem in its place.
This isn’t the end of an era for Israel’s military operations in Syria, where it has conducted hundreds of attacks in the north over the past six years. But for now, it appears the situation on the northern front won’t return fully to the conditions before the Russian plane was shot down.
Israel has operated freely in northern Syria for years thanks to the combination of offensive actions and good diplomatic relations with the Russians. Mostly, Israel acted shrewdly, achieving many of its goals.
But in recent months Israel has displayed excessive confidence in Syria. It’s unlikely that the Russians were happy with the Israeli military’s announcement this month that it had conducted more than 200 attacks in Syria since the beginning of last year. It seems Jerusalem hasn’t fully grasped the implications now that the Assad regime, with the help of the Russians, has regained control of most of the country, including the region bordering Israel.
Israel isn’t a superpower and isn’t invincible. It will have to take into account Russian considerations and maybe even adapt its offensive model. Senior defense officials say they ascribe great importance to the latest incident. Those who still claim that this is just a mild shudder on the wing must be so busy defending Netanyahu’s image that they’re no longer capable of analyzing reality objectively.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s plummeting popularity received another blow this week with the continuing scandal of an ex-bodyguard who was given elite access to Élysée Palace – even though he had no professional background in the state security services.
What’s more, Macron’s personal security minder, Alexandre Benalla, is accused of impersonating a police officer while beating up two protesters during a May Day rally in Paris earlier this year.
The thuggish behavior of a top Macron aide raises questions about this president’s ethics and politics. It conveys a disturbing image of fascist street brawling entering the very seat of French government.
Benalla has since been dumped from his post as Macron’s bodyguard over the scandal which has become dubbed “Benalla-gate”.
But the affair reinforces growing public anger over what they see as Macron’s self-inflated presidential style. He is increasingly seen as arrogant, aloof, and unaccountable, with delusions of grandeur.
Ironically, the former Rothschild investment banker, with his youthful “fresh face”, was elected in May 2017 on the back of his much-hyped self-proclaimed mission to renew French politics. Macron (40) even started a brand new political party, En Marche, which was billed as transcending “old” Left-Right rigidities and renovating French democracy.
The president’s honeymoon period with the French public has long worn off. His much-touted social policy reforms are seen as draconian cuts in workers’ rights and public services for the benefit of the wealthy. He has even gained the moniker, “president of the rich”.
On several occasions, Macron has shown a galling elitist conceit, such as when he publicly berated a protesting teenager to “show respect”, or when he floated the idea of bestowing a new formal title of “first lady” to his 25-years-senior wife, Brigitte (65), thus attempting to turn the French parliamentary republic into an American-style executive power.
Recently, when he was challenged by an unemployed gardener about lack of jobs in that profession, Macron haughtily told the young man to try his hand at laboring in building construction. His lack of empathy provoked a public outcry over what appeared to be a “let them eat cake” attitude.
This week, the president’s former bodyguard was summoned by the French Senate to answer questions on his exact relationship with Macron. The enquiry could go on for weeks.
But what the Senate hearings point to is a growing frustration with Macron’s self-styled majesty as a leader who sees himself above reproach. He has often talked about how his presidency is aimed at “restoring France’s greatness”, and seems to have a penchant for addressing parliamentarians beckoned to the Versailles Palace, as if they are his subjects.
His former appointment of Benalla (27) as personal bodyguard raised eyebrows. It smacked of political favoritism towards a personal friend. Benalla has no professional background in the French police or military which is the normal career path for someone appointed to be the president’s top security official. It is said that the former bodyguard’s only experience in security work was being previously employed as a bouncer in a nightclub. How he came to know Macron is an intriguing question, and it is this relationship that lawmakers want to find out about in their ongoing questioning.
Their relationship became a scandal when Benalla was videoed by May Day protesters beating up a man and woman on the streets of Paris earlier this year, while demonstrating against Macron’s social reforms. In the video, Benalla is seen wearing a police helmet and an armband purporting to identify him as a member of the police force. He is also seen viciously punching the man on the head and stomping on his stomach as he fell to the ground. It appears to be a shocking display of gratuitous, sadistic violence.
One can only imagine how Western news media would explode with sensational front page headlines if, somehow, a similar event took place in Moscow, in which an aide to President Putin was filmed being involved in assaulting protesters. You would never hear the end of that in Western media.
Why President Macron’s personal security guard would take time off to go to a rally and beat up protesters is a troubling question. Did Benalla get some perverse pleasure from his violent conduct? It is also a serious offense under French law to impersonate a law enforcement officer, which could result in a prison conviction.
When French media finally identified Benalla from the amateur video footage in mid-July, the accusation was then leveled at Macron of engaging in a cover-up. Hence the term “Benalla-gate” was coined.
Macron at first ignored the furore in typical supercilious mode. Under mounting public pressure, he then eventually broke his silence. Though he reacted in a petulant manner as if the media were picking on him, which only served to underline the perception that this president views himself as some kind of regal figure above the fray of “commoners”.
Bizarrely, Macron riposted to the media questions about Benalla’s seeming privileged employment with a sarcastic quip: “He’s not my lover!”
Was it a Freudian slip? It’s not the first time that Macron’s sex life has been rumored to be secretly gay.
During the presidential campaign, Russian news media carried a report quoting French political opposition sources claiming that Macron’s private life was more nuanced than his marriage to a much older woman suggests. Macron then hit back defensively, accusing Russia of interfering in the French election, based on one throwaway gossip story.
Whatever the precise relationship is between Macron and his rogue bodyguard, one thing does seem clear however. This president has a Napoleon complex, or perhaps a Bourbon Sun King complex. He seems to think exceedingly highly of himself, as being a ruler who is above the rule of law and public accountability.
Just over a year in office, the supposed squeaky-clean Emmanuel Macron is showing himself to have the whiff of the same old corruption that has marred so many of his predecessors in Élysée Palace.
With Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria and its support of militant groups in Idlib, it was to be expected that the Syrian Army offensive in the region would be postponed until a compromise was reached between Erdogan and Assad’s allies, as I explained earlier. Russian president Vladimir Putin held talks with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan, for the third time in less than a month, in Sochi on September 17th. They agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib; later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed to journalists there would not be a large military operation in the province.
According to Russian diplomatic sources who spoke with Al-Watan newspaper, the Russian-Turkish agreement will be implemented in three stages:
The first stage will go into effect by mid October to create a 15 to 20 km weapons-free zone along the contact line between militant groups and government forces. All radical groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra/Al Qaeda will have to leave this zone, which will be patrolled jointly by Russian and Turkish military units.
In the second stage the heavy weapons will be collected from the region until November 10 and the militants will leave civilian areas.
In the third stage, lasting to the end of this year, state institutions will resume activities in Idlib.
Notice that for the completion of all three stages, the cooperation of militant groups is necessary. This is the point that may result in the partial or complete collapse of the demilitarization efforts – but that is not necessarily a failure.
South Frontreports that pro-militant sources claim that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the coalition affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria) and some other groups, including the Islamic Turkistan Party (composed of die-hard Uyghur Muslims from China) have rejected the agreement. (It was originally reported that Jaish al-Izza, a Free Syria Army group, had also rejected it, but now that appears to be incorrect). Furthermore, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation warned after the Putin-Erdogan meeting that the White Helmets and members of Al-Nusra were still preparing a false-flag chemical attack to blame the Assad government. This is not surprising; after all, Syria is dealing with jihadi factions – literally terrorists – not with a mix of “moderate rebels” and a few bad apples as the Western narrative insists. By definition, terrorists are uncooperative to say the least, especially when asked to give up their weapons and let the state do its job.
If the information on the reaction of the terrorist groups is correct, the Turkey-sponsored and FSA-affiliated Jabhat al-Wataniya al-Tahrir (aka the National Front for Liberation) and Jaish al-Izza would be the only parties potentially willing to go along with the plan. In fact, Putin and Erdogan never expected or intended to make deals with groups everyone recognizes as radical – particularly with Al-Nusra, which was singled-out by Putin at the Sochi press conference, while Erdogan vowed to “clear these territories of radical elements”. Therefore, in the context of Idlib, when we hear Russia or Turkey discuss ‘moderate rebels’, they mean Turkish proxies.
Before the latest Sochi summit, Erdogan demanded a political solution to the situation in Syria, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, when in reality he had three objectives:
To salvage the forces in the area loyal to Turkey.
To minimize the amount of refugees and jihadists crossing the border into Turkey.
To retain as much influence on the future of Northern Syria as he could.
Clearly, Putin understood that Turkey would not simply leave the region of its own accord, and thus the Idlib offensive would have risked a dangerous direct confrontation between states. So he agreed to proceed via the ‘political route’, fully aware that Turkey would then have to commit to join the fight against groups officially recognized as terrorists – even those Turkey directly or indirectly supported in the past – while pulling the reins on its proxies or even turning its guns against those who rebelled. Furthermore, Turkey takes another step towards Russia, Iran and Syria, and away from NATO and its machinations in the Middle East. Ultimately, the crucial point of the agreement is not how many militants will give up their weapons or not, but that Turkey is now on board with the liberators of Syria. One could say that Putin ‘gently coaxed’ Erdogan into doing the right thing.
Lose The Match, Knock Over The Board
Of course, there is another advantage to calling off a major offensive in Idlib: It makes it harder – though not impossible – for Western countries and their allies to protest, threaten, and retaliate against some imaginary war crime, and for terrorists to stage an attack on civilians, inviting such retaliation.
Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.
Some geopolitical players bent on war seem to have taken the news hard enough to make significant mistakes. There are a number of observers – including an advisor to Erdogan – who believe that Israel’s latest insanely criminal stunt, which resulted in the downing of a Russian Il-20 military plane and the death of 15 Russian servicemen, was a response to the Sochi agreement reached a few hours earlier. Indeed, there are barely any coincidences in politics, although we must not forget that on the same day (Monday, September 17th) the Russian Ministry of Defense presented evidence countering the Dutch report on the MH17 flight tragedy over Ukraine – a non-negligible event that may have inspired Machiavellian Israeli minds to distract the public from such data.
The tragedy of the Russian Il-20 was the product of typical duplicitous, cowardly Israeli military ‘strategy’. While on an illegal and unprovoked bombing operation against government targets in Syria – of which the Russian MOD was notified with less than a minute’s notice – four Israeli F-16 fighter jets flying at low altitude “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region… The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” an MOD statement said. The reaction of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu was bitter:
“The blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side,” the Russian minister said. “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”
Evidently, the Israelis were intentionally looking to cause trouble for the Russian military. However, judging by the amount of time they took to officially respond to an angry Russia, it appears they miscalculated and did not expect that a Russian aircraft would be lost, nor did they expect Russia blame them. This was Israel’s big mistake: Russia is likely to forcefully make difficult or even obstruct any future Israeli operations in or above Syria. Putin’s words about boosting the safety of Russian personnel in Syria and taking “steps that everyone will notice” point in that direction.
A bad situation was made worse when an arrogant Israeli response finally came. No apologies were offered; all Russia got was an expression of “sorrow” and much blaming of third parties:
There is another interesting fact to this story, that seems to be rapidly slipping out of media reports. The French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” was in the region at the time, and according to the Russian MOD, several missile launches were detected from that ship. At what were those missiles aimed? What role did the French Navy play in Monday night’s bombing of Syria and/or the loss of the Russian Il-20?
With diplomatic skill, Putin again managed to solve the ‘Turkey problem’ in Syria – at least for now. Unfortunately, it will be much harder to fix the ‘Israel/NATO problem’. The discourse and behavior of neocons and zionists shows that they have no interest whatsoever in a stable, prosperous Syria – or in a peaceful Middle East. While commenting on US politics, Putin once observed that is “difficult to have a dialogue with people who confuse Austria and Australia”. We could add that it is even harder to reason with people who confuse war with peace and truth with lies.
Andrés Perezalonso has been a contributing editor for Signs of the Times in both its English and Spanish versions since 2007. He holds a PhD in Politics, an MA in International Studies, a first degree in Communication, and has a professional background in Media Analysis. He thinks that understanding world events is not unlike detective work – paying attention to often ignored details and connections, and thinking outside of the box. He was born and raised in Mexico and currently resides in Europe.
The tragedy with Il-20, shot down over the Mediterranean Sea in Syria, will require additional explanations from Tel Aviv. Israeli pilots in the current situation acted unprofessionally, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova believes, saying:
“For my part, I believe that the Israeli pilots, as a result of whose actions a threat was created and the Russian aircraft was killed, – this is evidenced by the data of our military experts – behaved at least unprofessionally. I want to say that it’s embarrassing to hide behind those who provide including your safety, and, fulfilling your duty, can not deviate from the bullet, which is not addressed to you, ”
According to the diplomat, new data on the crash of the Russian military aircraft will be received in the very near future and will be made public. “The tragedy that took place on September 17 will require additional investigations and, of course, clarification from the Israeli side.” I am sure that they will follow in the near future,” Zakharova summed up.
The Russian Il-20 was shot down on September 17 by a missile from the S-200 air defense complex in Syria, in response to a raid by the Israeli Air Force. As a result of the tragedy, 15 Russian servicemen were killed. According to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Israeli pilots, under the cover of a Russian aircraft, put him under fire. The effective reflecting surface of the IL-20 is an order of magnitude larger than the Israeli F-16, so the Syrian missile fell into the Russian aircraft.
FRN has determined that France is also a likely culprit, however given that French foreign policy in the region, especially under Macron, is largely determined by Israel and Gulf Monarchies, the general Russian claim that ‘Israel is ultimately responsible, even if indirectly’ in fact may be more true than skeptics have hitherto believed.
Comment: The Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman stated on Thursday morning that the ‘unprofessional’ Syrian military was to blame for shooting down the Russian aircraft off the coast of Latakia on Monday evening.
“The plane was shot down by irresponsible and unprofessional Syrian air defense personnel who fired when (our) air force jets had already returned to Israeli territory,” Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio.
While “actual” Iranians face social media bans, countless bots and anti-government accounts belonging to the US-backed former terror group, MEK, have been permitted to run rampant across Twitter and other platforms.
TIRANA, ALBANIA – Iran is once again being subject to double standards as part of an ongoing effort to deprive it of access to media platforms where it can influence audiences overseas – in this case, on Twitter.
The effort has seen hundreds of Iranian accounts allegedly tied to Iranian pro-government “propaganda” efforts subject to a massive cull across platforms owned by Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc., and Google parent company Alphabet Inc.
Those purged from the platforms include profiles, channels, and accounts belonging to Iranian nationals who have been accused of involvement in alleged “coordinated manipulation” of information related to Middle Eastern events and ”divisive social commentary.”
On YouTube, this has included accounts belonging to media entities owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the state media corporation that operates such channels as the English-language PressTV and Spanish-language HispanTV.
Watch | Al Jazeera on Albania’s Iranian Regime Change Bot Factory
Yet while “actual” Iranians face bans from social media, countless bots and anti-government accounts belonging to U.S.-backed opposition groups posturing as the “Iranian people resistance” have been permitted to run rampant across the web.
Last month, nearly 800 accounts based in Iran were suspended by Twitter for allegedly violating the network’s policies, per an investigation alongside “industry peers” that allowed the social media giants a better “understanding of these [Iranian] networks.” Twitter hasn’t been forthcoming about the methods it used to investigate the networks tied to such alleged “Iranian interference,” but users including patriotic university student SeyedMousavi7 and Press TV journalist Waqar Rizvi were among those suspended.
SeyedMousavi7 was banned from Twitter after a major censorship campaign claiming he is part of a “propaganda ring.” He’s actually a student from #Iran and came to discuss politics just like everyone else. When it comes to voicing opinions, he says the platform is rigged. pic.twitter.com/StSI8caMp7
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Zarif directly addressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a tweet aiming to highlight the contradiction:
Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an ‘influence op’. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up ‘regime change’ propaganda spewed out of DC? #YouAreBots”
Another tweet by Iranian legislator Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi addressed to the Twitter chief said:
You suspended my official account as MP of Iran for my violation of not determined twitter rules, but why you have not blocked bots of MEK in Tirana, a group that killed 17000 Iranian people, used to prop up ‘regime change’ propaganda? #YouAreBots”
The tweet followed a report by Al Jazeera English which detailed how monitors and researchers were able to pinpoint a sharp uptick in a trend of actual social media manipulation.
The Wizard Behind the “Resistance” Curtain – Maryam Rajavi and the MEK Cult
The report connected the growing phenomenon to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a cultish group of Iranian exiles that was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2012 and have been based in a camp outside the Albanian capital, Tirana, since the U.S. began openly backing it in 2013.
The group has long enjoyed the backing of the Iranian government’s enemies, ranging from toppled dictator Saddam Hussein to Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hiding behind various front groups like the France-based “parliament-in-exile,” The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the MEK has sought to depict itself as a representative, democratic coalition that speaks for all of Iran’s religious, ethnic, and political groups proportionately” and is committed to a secular, pro-market, and free Iran.
The group has paid a number of top Trump administration officials to speak at its functions and echo its calls to enact a “regime change” in Tehran, including former New York City Mayor and top White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, among a long list of U.S. lawmakers and officials.
Yet the group, which have also been described as “skilled manipulators of public opinion,” are said by ex-members to tolerate little internal dissent and are seen by many as little more than a well-funded, mafia-style cult commanded by self-styled “Iranian President-in-Exile” Maryam Rajavi and backed by her friends across Western and Gulf capitals.
Some who escaped the MEK and remain stranded in Tirana spoke to Al Jazeera and described the manner in which the cult orchestrated what appeared to be a trending wave of support for the group and its anti-regime message toward the end of last year, when Iranians took to the streets to protest adverse economic conditions largely caused by a mixture of domestic legislation and intense pressure by Washington.
Much of this trend was clearly fueled by bots – accounts that are often fraudulent and behave in an automated fashion, amplifying messages through swarm-like behavior such as retweeting, liking, and republishing videos and articles posted alongside hashtags such as #FreeIran and #IranRegimeChange.
In many cases these trends – which sought to focus, variously, on the plight of Iran’s national or religious minority groups ranging from Kurds to Christians, women’s rights groups, and dissidents –grew as a direct result of work by MEK members toiling away in an Albanian troll farm to boost their group’s online propaganda.
Former MEK militant Hassan Heyrani told the outlet:
Overall I would say that several thousand accounts are managed by about 1,000-1,500 MEK members … It was all very well organized and there were clear instructions about what needed to be done.”
Another former “keyboard warrior,” Hassan Shahbaz, added:
Our orders would tell us the hashtags to use in our tweets in order to make them more active … It was our job to provide coverage of these protests by seeking out, tweeting and re-tweeting videos while adding our own comments.”
Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.
Journalist, writer and scholar Azadeh Moaveni told Al Jazeera that the 2016 election of former real estate mogul Donald Trump, who surrounded himself during his campaign with a range of zealous anti-Iran and pro-Israel hawks, was a turning point in such anti-IRI media operations.
“Once it became clear that there would be heightened hostility with Iran, there was a profusion of new accounts, anonymous accounts who were single-mindedly and purposefully going after people who wrote about, talked about Iran with nuance,” she noted.
Whether the report, or Iran’s demands, will have any impact on the continued backing of MEK by Iran’s opponents remains yet to be seen. In the last year alone, a bevy of U.S. figures including late Senator John McCain, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, and various senators have visited the Rajavi cult’s compound in Albania as U.S. rhetoric against Iran’s “regime” has escalated and the U.S. has unilaterally withdrawn from the six-party Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear accord.
In the meantime, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook have squirmed as the same U.S. lawmakers have sought to crack down on alleged Russian and Iranian “interference” online.
Without a doubt, the troll farms of the MEK will remain an important weapon in the arsenal of those seeking to manufacture the illusion of widespread anti-government fervor in an Iran under the gun of economic sanctions, media terrorism, and the low-intensity warfare of sustained “regime change” efforts.
Top Photo | Iranians surf the Internet at a cafe in Tehran, Iran, Sept, 17, 2013. Ebrahim Noroozi | AP
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.
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