EU economic interests could lead to US being alone in pushing anti-Iranian agenda – – By SPUTNIK (SOTT)

zarif mogherini

© AFP 2018/ HANS PUNZ

The US risks finding itself out in the cold if it continues to push its anti-Iranian agenda, Sputnik contributor Igor Gashkov writes. Calling upon its European allies to sever ties with the Islamic Republic, Washington has failed to take EU economic interests into consideration.

The Iran issue has deeply divided The United States and Europe: while Washington has declared Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, EU member-states continue to invest in the country’s economy, Sputnik contributor Igor Gashkov writes.

“There is an immense difference between Europeans and Americans on this issue,” Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov told Sputnik. “A big contract was signed by Tehran and the French to modernize the [country’s] entire aviation fleet. Paris and Berlin are actively investing in the production of Iranian hydrocarbons. European business has great prospects in Iran, and new sanctions threaten to frustrate cooperation. The interests of the US and the EU are diametrically opposed to each other here.”

According to Gashkov, the United States is ready for a prolonged conflict with Iran. However, to thwart Tehran, Washington needs the EU’s assistance. Addressing NATO members and allies at the Munich Security Conference, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster emphasized the necessity to cut off funding for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was designated as a terrorist organization by the Treasury Department in October 2017.

“When you invest in Iran, you’re investing in the IRGC,” McMaster said, as quoted by Defense News. “And when we look at the biggest trading partners with Iran, we of course see Russia, we see China. But we also see Japan, South Korea and Germany. It’s time to focus business intelligence efforts to figure out who we are really doing business with, and cut off funding.”

Furthermore, Washington has repeatedly threatened to exit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed by Iran, the European Union and the P5+1 group of nations (the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom plus Germany) in July 2015 under the presidency of Barack Obama.

If the agreement is annulled and the sanctions regime against Tehran is resumed, the restrictions will deal a blow not only to the Middle Eastern economy, but also to European states’ business interests, Gashkov noted.

However, in contrast to its European allies, Washington has nothing to lose.

According to the journalist, in the Middle East the US relies on Israel and Saudi Arabia – Iran’s longstanding rivals.

At the Munich conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, while demonstrating what he claimed was part of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel earlier this month: “Do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.”

On February 10, Tel Aviv reported that it shot down an Iranian drone, which was followed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) hitting several military targets in Syria. Once Israeli aircraft crossed the Syrian border, the country’s air defenses opened fire, according to Syria’s state-owned SANA news agency. As a result, an Israeli F-16 fighter was downed.

For his part, Iranian Prime Minister Zarif denounced Netanyahu’s remarks as a “cartoonish circus which does not even deserve the dignity of a response.”

In an exclusive interview with Sputnik, the Iranian foreign minister highlighted the importance of the JCPOA, stressing that “it’s clear that if the US decides to withdraw from the deal unilaterally or break the deal, it will isolate itself, becoming an outsider.”

Zarif underscored that European politicians oppose any revision of the Iran nuclear deal, adding that they “stand for preserving their own interests and agreements within the JCPOA.”

“The international community, except the Trump administration, Israel and two or three Middle Eastern countries, understands that the JCPOA is an international agreement and not a bilateral treaty between Iran and the US,” the Iranian foreign minister emphasized.

Speaking to Sputnik, Irina Fyodorova, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), stressed that the termination of the Iran nuclear agreement would not be in the interest of the EU and Russia.

“Revocation of the nuclear deal poses a danger for the whole world, since it will make it impossible to reach an agreement with North Korea, which has its own nuclear program and problems similar to those of Iran,” she stressed. “And this does not correspond to the interests of either Russia or the EU. In addition, it is important for Europeans to return to the Iranian market, which is promising and growing, while the US is hindering this.”

On the other hand, the termination of the Iran nuclear deal is strategically disadvantageous for the US, the Russian academic noted, adding that therefore Trump’s stance has prompted fierce criticism on the part of the Democrats.

“Washington is now trying to restore its position in the Middle East, but the withdrawal from [the JCPOA] will hardly help [the US to reach this objective]. It will appear that the United States is incompetent: Under one president they conclude an agreement, and under the other they rip it up,” Fyodorova concluded.

Russia joins Damascus’ offensive on terrorist-held East Ghouta – pulverizes defenses with heavy air raids – By Andrew Illingworth -Al Masdar News (SOTT)

russian jet

The Russian air grouping in Syria has officially joined the Syrian Army’s looming East Ghouta offensive, backing up heavy raids conducted by government warplanes against militant position across the region on Monday with many of its own strikes.

Military-affiliated sources report that Russian airpower conducted heavy precision strikes across multiple rebel-held districts east of Damascus city targeting militant tactical positions, gatherings and movements.

As of the last reports two hours ago, Russian jets were still carrying-out raids over East Ghouta.

In particular, it is believed that the Russian combat aircraft have placed considerable emphasis on striking rebel fire support positions (such as anti-tank missile dug-outs and heavy machine gun nests) with precision weapons.

During the past couple of days, opposition sources have claimed that Russian warplanes raided East Ghouta, however all such reports are untrue and it is not until around midnight on Monday to Tuesday that Russian jets started to conduct strikes against militant targets throughout the region.

Comment: As usual, the U.S. is not pleased that Syria and Russia are obliterating terrorist forces in Syria, calling for an “immediate cessation” of the “regime’s” “violations”. In U.S.-speak, killing terrorists is a violation… of something. The U.S. will only ever be pleased if Syria gives up and subjects itself to the rule of fanatic terrorists. Thankfully, that’s not going to happen. Thanks to Russia.

 

See Also:

The US Empire’s disastrous role in Syria has to end – By Jeffrey D. Sachs – Project Syndicate (SOTT)

syria destruction

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That is understandable, because US efforts are in blatant violation of international law, which bars UN member states from supporting military action to overthrow other members’ governments.

Much of the carnage that has ravaged Syria during the past seven years is due to the actions of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. Now, faced with an alarming risk of a renewed escalation of fighting, it’s time for the United Nations Security Council to step in to end the bloodshed, based on a new framework agreed by the Council’s permanent members.

Here are the basics. In 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring, the US government, in conjunction with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel, decided to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though overthrowing another country’s government amounts to a blatant violation of international law. We know that in 2012, if not earlier, President Barack Obama authorized the CIA to work with America’s allies in providing support to rebel forces composed of disaffected Syrians as well as non-Syrian fighters. US policymakers evidently expected Assad to fall quickly, as had occurred with the governments of Tunisia and Egypt in the early months of the Arab Spring.

The Assad regime is led by the minority Alawi Shia sect in a country where Alawites account for just 10% of the population, Sunni Muslims account for 75%, Christians make up 10%, and 5% are others, including Druze. The regional powers behind Assad’s regime include Iran and Russia, which has a naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coastline.

Whereas America’s goal in seeking to topple Assad was mainly to undercut Iranian and Russian influence, Turkey’s motive was to expand its influence in former Ottoman lands and, more recently, to counter Kurdish ambitions for territorial autonomy, if not statehood, in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia wanted to undermine Iran’s influence in Syria while expanding its own, while Israel, too, aimed to counter Iran, which threatens Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria near the Golan Heights, and Hamas in Gaza. Qatar, meanwhile, wanted to bring a Sunni Islamist regime to power.

The armed groups supported by the US and allies since 2011 were assembled under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, there was no single army, but rather competing armed groups with distinct backers, ideologies, and goals. The fighters ranged from dissident Syrians and autonomy-seeking Kurds to Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

While vast resources were devoted to overthrowing Assad, the effort ultimately failed, but not before causing massive bloodshed and displacing millions of Syrians. Many fled to Europe, fomenting Europe’s refugee crisis and a surge in political support for Europe’s anti-immigrant extreme right.

There were four main reasons for the failure to overthrow Assad. First, Assad’s regime had backing among not only Alawites, but also Syrian Christians and other minorities who feared a repressive Sunni Islamist regime. Second, the US-led coalition was countered by Iran and Russia. Third, when a splinter group of jihadists split away to form the Islamic State (ISIS), the US diverted significant resources to defeating it, rather than to toppling Assad. Finally, the anti-Assad forces have been deeply and chronically divided; for example, Turkey is in open conflict with the Kurdish fighters backed by the US.

All of these reasons for failure remain valid today. The war is at a stalemate. Only the bloodshed continues.

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts – in defiance of international law and the UN Charter – to overthrow Assad. While the US vehemently complains about Russian and Iranian influence in Syria, America and its allies have repeatedly violated Syrian sovereignty. The US government mischaracterizes the war as a civil war among Syrians, rather than a proxy war involving the US, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar.

In July 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the end of CIA support for the Syrian rebels. In practice, though, US engagement continues, though now it is apparently aimed more at weakening Assad than overthrowing him. As part of America’s continued war-making, the Pentagon announced in December that US forces would remain indefinitely in Syria, ostensibly to support anti-Assad rebel forces in areas captured from ISIS, and of course without the assent of the Syrian government.

The war is in fact at risk of a new round of escalation. When Assad’s regime recently attacked anti-Assad rebels, the US coalition launched airstrikes that killed around 100 Syrian troops and an unknown number of Russian fighters. Following this show of force, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis disingenuously stated that, “Obviously, we are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war.” In addition, Israel recently attacked Iranian positions in Syria.

The US and its allies should face reality and accept the persistence of Assad’s regime, despicable as it may be.

Comment: The Assad regime is not despicable. Assad has long held the majority support of the Syrian people for the good that he brings to the country. If he were despicable, he would have long ago sold out his country to American imperialists and its corporate overlords and allowed Syria to become another vassal state of the US to have its natural resources taken and its wealth confiscated. That he did not do that shows Assad’s quality as a Syrian leader. The author should be ashamed of calling such a person despicable.

The UN Security Council, backed by the US, Russia, and the other major powers, should step in with peacekeepers to restore Syrian sovereignty and urgent public services, while blocking attempts at vengeance by the Assad regime against former rebels or their civilian supporters.

Comment: Assad has allowed, many times over the years, for terrorists to surrender and face no consequences. There is no reason to be concerned about the Assad government taking vengenance on anyone, especially innocent civilians. It’s rather strange that the author would even consider it necessary to suggest such a thing.

Yes, the Assad regime would remain in power, and Iran and Russia would maintain their influence in Syria. But the US official delusion that America can call the shots in Syria by choosing who rules, and with which allies, would end. It’s long past time for a far more realistic approach, in which the Security Council pushes Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Israel into a pragmatic peace that ends the bloodshed and allows the Syrian people to resume their lives and livelihoods.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

Damascus & Ankara dispute whether pro-Syrian govt forces entered Afrin – By RT

 
 
Forces loyal to Damascus successfully arrived in the Afrin region on Wednesday, Syrian state media says – contradicting statements from Ankara that pro-government troops retreated under Turkish artillery fire.

“New groups of popular forces arriving in Afrin to support the people in confronting… the continued aggression of the Turkish regime,” Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Ankara and Turkish media reports claimed earlier that a pro-Syrian government convoy that attempted to enter Afrin had been forced to retreat after being targeted by Turkish forces.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that an attempt by Syrian forces to enter the region had been stopped, warning that any further such steps would lead to “very serious consequences.”

The statement mirrors previous Turkish media reports on the convoy’s retreat from the northern Kurdish-held region of Afrin, which has been targeted by Ankara as part of its Olive Branch operation against Kurdish militia in Syria. Footage emerged on Tuesday showing a convoy of fighters waving Syrian flags, moving towards the conflict zone.  

“Any step for the benefit of the PYD/PKK in Afrin will be counted as a terrorist act and those responsible will be a legitimate target,” Kalin said during a news conference on Wednesday, as cited by the Turkish Anadolu news agency.

The official said that Ankara and Damascus are not engaged in direct talks, but some messages are being conveyed indirectly via Russia and Iran, which alongside Turkey are the guarantors of the Syrian peace process. However, Turkish intelligence may contact the Syrian authorities under “extraordinary conditions to solve certain issues,” Kalin added.

Turkey’s cross-border operation has been ongoing since January 20 and has “neutralized” a total of 1,780 “terrorists” as of Wednesday, according to the Turkish General Staff. Ankara insists that the offensive is solely aimed at wiping out terrorists, denying allegations that it has targeted civilians.

President Erdogan has repeatedly indicated he would like to expand the offensive and vowed to move into Manbij, where US forces supporting the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are stationed. The issue of US support for Kurdish forces in Syria has become a flashpoint in already-strained relations between Washington and Ankara. At a recent meeting in the Turkish capital, US Secretary Rex Tillerson and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed that bilateral relations were at “a crisis point,” calling the situation around Manbij “a priority” that needed to be addressed urgently.

Damascus has repeatedly condemned the operation as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and accused Ankara of “aggression” against the Syrian people.

 
Reporting what the mainstream media won’t: Follow RT’s Twitter account

All eyes on the Middle East as all-out war between Israel and Iran becomes a greater possibility – By Darius Shahtahmasebi (The Anti-Media) (SOTT)

Middle East war

Over the weekend, Israel used the long-standing adversarial threat of Iran as a pretext to launch a barrage of attacks against targets in Syrian territory. According to the Israeli side, an Iranian drone launched from Syria flew deep into Israeli airspace, which prompted Israel to not only down the drone, but to also target the base the drone was allegedly launched from in Syria.

In turn, Syria activated its air defenses, which saw Israel lose one of its fighter jets soon after. Unhappy with this result, Israel launched a number of retaliatory strikes against Syria’s air defenses, including bases allegedly staffed with Iranian personnel as opposed to Iran’s mere proxy forces. Israel claimed it successfully destroyed half of Syria’s air defenses, and because this is allegedly the first time Israel has actually struck Iranian targets as opposed to Iranian proxies, the weekend’s developments undoubtedly represent an escalation.

We are seeing a renegotiation of the rules of the game with regard to the kind of military activity that each side tolerates in the other,” said Ofer Zalzberg, the senior analyst for Israel/Palestine at the International Crisis Group. “We will see more and more friction between the parties, given that we are seeing more and more this sense that Assad has the upper hand [against Syrian rebels]”, he added.

It’s worth noting that Tehran denied it launched the drone in the first place, stating its forces are in Syria in an advise-and-assist capacity only, yet western media has taken Israel’s claim at face value. Perhaps a drone did violate Israeli territory, but the implication that Iran launched it still requires further proof given the drone almost certainly came from Syria, which has a government and military of its own. Further, a pertinent question worth examining is why Iran would launch a drone into Israeli territory in the first place. As the Atlantic observed:

“The story may well be true. But in the absence of further information, including forensic evidence from the wreckage, one must wonder what would compel Iran to make such an incursion at a time when some in the country are trying to persuade the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal to stand by its side and not cave to the Trump administration’s attempt to torpedo it. This would seem an inopportune moment for provocation.”

Israel has already admitted to bombing Syria well over 100 times since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, and that point alone is enough to turn this debate on its head: Why is it okay for Israel to violate Syria (and Lebanon’s) airspace over 100 times over the course of half a decade while it remains largely unacceptable for Syria to do the same a single time? Surely this double standard cannot sustain a workable and civil international community.

Further, the drone itself was reportedly a surveillance drone. It posed no immediate threat to Israeli life compared to, say, Israel’s sophisticated bombers, which routinely violate Lebanon’s (and now Jordan’s) airspace to take out targets in Syria.

In light of the fact that Anti-Media has warned about rising tensions between Israel, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon multiple times, examining what’s still to come has become a necessity.

“Winter is coming from the north where we have a concrete threat,” Orit Perlov, a social media analyst for the Institute for National Security Studies, told the Jerusalem Post in an interview just days before the Israeli jet was downed in Syria.

VICE believes the situation did not escalate even further following the weekend’s activities primarily because of Russia’s diplomatic intervention, which was aimed at de-escalating tensions between the two rival nations. Haaretz observed that the effect of Russia’s intervention showed “once again who’s the real boss in the Middle East.” Even the Atlantic is calling on Russia to broker the peace between the two countries, stating:

“Moscow may be reluctant to assume a political role it has shown little capacity for playing. But as the dominant power in Syria that controls the skies, it has no choice. Unlike any other actor, moreover, it enjoys good relations with all the main actors: Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian regime. There is no reasonable alternative to Russia as balancing power and mediator.”

However, the New York Times noted that even though Russia controls Syrian airspace, Israel received no warning regarding the alleged drone activity.

Despite Trump’s diehard pro-Israeli rhetoric, the U.S. is nowhere to be seen at a time when Israelis would probably value its American counterpart the most. In an op-ed published on Sunday in Haaretz, Barack Obama’s former ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro noted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was taking a trip through Jordan, Turkey (which is also currently violating Syrian territory), Egypt, Kuwait and even Lebanon – but not Israel.

This reality alone should give some of us hope that at the end of the day, an outright conflict cannot erupt between Iran and Israel without reckoning first with Russia on some level. According to Haaretz, Vladimir Putin intervened during the recent spat and, in a phone call, asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid moves that could lead to “a new round of dangerous consequences for the region.”

Haaretz also believes Russia is concerned about the proximity of the Israeli bombings on sites where Russian soldiers are currently stationed. Given reports are emerging that U.S. airstrikes may have killed a significant number of Russian operatives on the ground in Syria, Russia may be much more irked by the recent developments than first imagined.

Right now, Israel sees the conflict differently. Haaretz stated that Israeli airstrikes were part of what the IDF referred to as the “war between the wars,” designed to undermine Hezbollah’s attempts to empower itself. But the added risk now is the fact that Syria and/or Iran believe they can challenge Israeli airstrikes in the future, meaning one wrong move could catapult the tit-for-tat attacks into something far more extensive.

“We need to prepare ourselves operationally and intelligence-wise for the mounting threat,” Brig Gen Amit Fisher, the Israel Defense Forces chief responsible for the Syrian frontier, told troops on Sunday, according to the Guardian. “The big test will be the test of war.”

The Guardian also noted that the IDF has enhanced its defenses in northern Israel, close to the Syrian border, while the Jerusalem Post cited witnesses who claimed a convoy of missile-defense batteries had moved north.

“That’s the price of war. My assessment is that the incident isn’t over and that we’re now only in a timeout,” Maj. Gen Amiram Levin also told a local radio station, according to the Guardian.

Iran, for its part, has issued equally stern threats.

“The Syrian nation proved this time that it will respond to any act of aggression, as the era of hit and run is over,” Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council said.

“Iran can create a hell for the Zionists,” Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), also allegedly said.

Right now, the concern for Israel is that the Syrian government might try to reclaim the Syrian side of the disputed Golan Heights region, a former part of Syria that was seized and then occupied by Israel. After the conflict erupted in 2011, Syria lost its side of the Golan Heights to armed rebel groups, which have effectively operated under free air support from Israel – but this might change in the not-too-distant future. However, this would put Israel in a worse off position than it was in prior to the conflict, as the over-extension of Assad’s forces means he may have to rely on Iranian proxies like Hezbollah to retake the area for him. If that happens, it is almost certain that we will see Israel further widen its involvement in Syria to combat this alleged threat.

Whether or not this will eventually lead to an all-out war with Iran is still unclear. Last year, a top Israeli general tasked with writing his country’s defense policy admitted that Israel could not take on Iran’s military alone and would have to rely on assistance from the U.S.

According to Ofer Zalsberg, the risk of “full-fledged war, conventional war, between Israel and Iran, is still very low.” Instead, the real risk is that a war between Israel and Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy on the ground, is “increasing by the day,” according to Zalsberg.

The recent spats came at a time immediately after U.S. troops had arrived in Israel for joint military exercises aimed at preparing to defend Israel from a Hezbollah rocket attack.

In September of last year, Israel held its largest military drill in 20 years. It was specifically designed to simulate an invasion of Lebanon to combat Hezbollah.

Darius Shahtahmasebi has completed a Double Degree in Law and Japanese from the University of Otago, with an interest in human rights, international law and journalism. He’s a fully qualified lawyer in two separate jurisdictions, and writes about foreign policy for Anti-Media. Contact Darius: darius.shahtahmasebi@theantimedia.org. Support Darius’ work on Patreon: patreon.com/thetvsleaking

Tehran’s retaliation will ‘level Tel Aviv to the ground,’ Iranian official warns Israel – By RT

Tehran’s retaliation will ‘level Tel Aviv to the ground,’ Iranian official warns Israel
Israel’s capital will be leveled “to the ground” by an immediate retaliatory strike if Benjamin Netanyahu follows through on his threat to attack the Islamic Republic, an Iranian politician has threatened.

Waving a piece of an Iranian drone, allegedly downed over northern Israel last week, the Israeli Prime Minister last Sunday warned Tehran against testing Israel’s resolve. “We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself,” Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Munich Security Conference, after Israeli forces conducted a massive cross-border intrusion into Syria to strike Iranian targets.

The threat seems to have struck a nerve in Tehran. Iranian conservative politician, Mohsen Rezaee, who is also secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, warned that the Islamic Republic stands ready to retaliate and strike Tel Aviv before the Israeli PM even gets a chance to flee the capital.

“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee,” Rezaee told al-Manar news channel on Monday, according to Fars News Agency. “The US and Israeli leaders don’t know Iran and don’t understand the power of resistance and therefore, they continuously face defeat.”

READ MORE: Israel threatens to ‘bite hard’ after downing of its fighter jet in Syria

Tel Aviv has repeatedly warned Iran against meddling in Israeli affairs by supplying advanced missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel also remains very concerned over the foothold the Islamic Republic has in Syria. Netanyahu, who branded the milestone nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers a “historic mistake” and a threat to Israel’s survival, also continues to argue that that the deal is flawed and allows Iran to potentially produce hundreds of nuclear weapons that can strike Israel.

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In-depth analysis: US protecting ISIS to weaken rivals, justify and expand indefinite US occupation of Syria – By Steven Chovanec(Insurge Intelligence) (SOTT)

manbij fighters

Fighters of the Euphrates Liberation Brigade, part of the Manbij Military Council, in Manbij, of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Syrian Democratic Forces recently captured the al-Omar oil fields of Deir Ezzor with support from ISIS

The dominant view of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), Operation Inherent Resolve, is that its fundamental goal is the defeat of ISIS.

And so, in the wake of the routing of ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the core justification for an ongoing US military presence in Syria is ensuring that no post-mortem ISIS insurgency arises.

That the US is unequivocally opposed to ISIS is simply taken for granted.

Yet a closer look at the history of US involvement shows that counterterrorism has been a lesser concern relative to geopolitical and strategic goals. Whenever the goals of expanding territorial control or weakening rivals conflicts with the goal of opposing ISIS, the entity was either ignored or even empowered in pursuit of these more paramount concerns.

In some ways, by providing a pretext for extended military operations on foreign soil, and by helping to diminish the military might of the Syrian regime and its allies, some coalition officials have seen the Islamic State as a potentially beneficial phenomenon to the wider ends of weakening the Syrian state and opposing Iranian influence in the Levant.

Leveraging the Caliphate

In 2015, ISIS executed an unprecedented advance in Syria.

Audio leaks would later surface of then Secretary of State John Kerry explaining that the Obama administration saw this expansion as beneficial to the US position.

Seeing that this could be used to pressure Assad, the threat of state-collapse was something to be “watched” and “managed,” rather than deterred. “We were watching,” Kerry said:

“… and we know that this was growing… We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage – that Assad would then negotiate.”

Yet this was not simply a case of exploiting events that were entirely out of control. At this time, Obama’s regional allies had been conducting major influxes of support to jihadist factions among the rebels, including ISIS, for years in their bid to oust Assad.

US intelligence oversaw and was well aware of these policies. As Kerry’s observations suggest, the motive was that with “Daesh growing in strength”, the US military would be able to “manage” this development while the expansion of ISIS would mean that “Assad would then negotiate.”

This all changed when Russia, in response to the expanding ISIS movement, intervened. With Russia in the game, regime-change looked like an increasingly dwindling prospect.

Awkwardly, Russia was “carrying out more sorties in a day in Syria than the US-led coalition has done in a month,” while also targeting ISIS oil tankers, something the US-led coalition was reluctant to do – to the point that large convoys of oil trucks carrying ISIS oil were able to operate efficiently and in broad daylight.

The embarrassing contradictions of the “anti-ISIS” campaign were becoming difficult to explain away. Instead of being “degraded” or “destroyed”, ISIS was actually expanding during the bulk of the anti-ISIS campaign.

Durham University’s Dr. Christopher Davidson, one of the world’s leading scholars in Middle East affairs, has explained that:

“… the Islamic State was effectively on the same side as the West, especially in Syria, and in all its other warzones was certainly in the same camp as the West’s regional allies.”

Moreover, “on a strategic level, its big gains had made it by far the best battlefield asset to those who sought the permanent dismemberment of Syria and the removal of [the Iran-leaning] Nouri Maliki in Iraq.”

Therefore, the trick for the West was “trying to find the right balance between being seen to take action but yet still allowing the Islamic State to prosper.”

Citing a prophetic 2008 RAND Corporation report, Davidson explains that the “illusory campaign that would eventually need to be waged against the Islamic State” would therefore mainly consist of “the establishment of certain red lines” along a “contain and react approach.” This would “involve deploying perimeters around areas where there are concentrations of transnational jihadists,” while making sure to limit any action to only “periodically launching air/missile strikes against high-value targets.”

In other words, Russia’s intervention essentially called Washington’s bluff. Seeing this, and also seeing Syria increasingly in a position to reclaim those territories that ISIS had been so effective at denying them, it appeared that it was time to start getting serious about putting an end to the Caliphate.

Bombing Syria… Again

In terms of its proven effectiveness at weakening the militaries of Syria and Hezbollah, and of draining the resources of Syria’s sponsors, gaining maximum strategic benefit from Islamic State’s eradication would depend not only upon handing over administration of retaken territories to proxies on the ground, but also on ensuring that its guns were primarily being pointed towards Syria and Iran.

While ISIS was indeed fought on certain fronts where it sat upon lucrative energy resources and vital infrastructure, its fighters frequently operated away from allies and toward the front-lines of rivals.

For example, during ISIS’ 2015 surge, whose “threat” towards the Syrian Army (SAA) was to be “managed” by the US as leverage, they successfully encircled and besieged Syrian forces in Deir Ezzor.

deir ezzor map

© Newsweek
Figure 1. Map of Syria showing siege of Deir Ezzor (circled in blue) as of August 2015.

Deir Ezzor is important strategically because of its concentration of energy resources, housing the country’s single largest oil deposit, the al-Omar fields.

The only effective force fighting ISIS for the West was the Kurdish YPG militias, also called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who were concentrated along the country’s northern borders. Therefore, the US “sphere-of-influence” that was to be carved from ISIS’ decline was geographically limited to the territory adjacent to this region.

Since the important Deir Ezzor resources were therefore “in-reach”, it was imperative that the Syrian Army did not persevere against the Islamic State and find themselves in a position to take them before the US-backed SDF were able to.

rojova manbij map

© Daily Kos
Figure 2. Map of US-backed SDF advances vs. ISIS (yellow) in Syria, from September 2015 to March 2016.

It is perhaps not very surprising that an apparent coalition attack on SAA positions in Deir Ezzor occurred only months after ISIS began besieging the city, killing three soldiers and wounding another thirteen. The US-led coalition bombings effectively assisted the ISIS advance at the expense of Assad’s forces.

While the US vehemently denied responsibility for the attack, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a pro-opposition monitoring group that receives funding from Western governments, the jets that carried out the attack were “likely to be from the coalition.”

While this could admittedly be chalked up to a one-off mistake, it was not the only attack of its kind.

Almost a year later, as the Syrian government was still holding out against the siege, US-led coalition warplanes launched a much larger and sustained attack, dropping over a dozen airstrikes that reportedly killed dozens of Syrian soldiers while wounding at least a hundred others.

The attack was a major boost to the besieging Islamic State, as one British journalist described it: “in the immediate aftermath, Isis swarmed forward and cut the city in half,” further tightening the noose around the SAA while directly threatening their airborne supply-line.

With the facts this time undeniable, and eager to distance themselves from the obvious strategic advantage received, the US admitted culpability but denied it was anything more than a mistake. The media quickly accepted these denials, overlooking major inconsistencies that remained.

For instance, the official report revealed that the US had misled the Russians about the location of the intended strike, ignored intelligence reports saying Syrian soldiers were being targeted, and circumvented normal targeting procedures before the action was taken, downgrading the intelligence requirements needed to launch the strike.

As veteran journalist Gareth Porter pointed out, the “irregularities in decision-making [were] consistent with a deliberate targeting of Syrian forces.”

Another possible explanation pointed towards the open hostility that top Pentagon officials had expressed towards a joint US-Russia ceasefire deal agreed upon days earlier, which collapsed in the wake of the attack. The officials were specifically antagonistic towards requirements of cooperation with the Russian military, therefore displaying motive and ability.

A further possible explanation was provided by the director of Human Rights Watch. Using language not so different than John Kerry’s, and seemingly in agreement with such a strategy, he wrote on his Twitter handle asking: “As US kills 80 Syrian soldiers, is it sending Assad a signal for his deadly intransigence?”

What is certain is that for those committed to weakening Syria’s progress against ISIS in the much coveted northeastern “sphere-of-influence,” the coalition bombings securely tipped the balance of forces against the Syrian Army, who only managed to survive due to Russian air-power.

The strategic dimension of this is that as long as most of Deir Ezzor was occupied by ISIS, and not Syria, the option to retake it remained open. If Syria reestablished its control, taking the area would not be possible for the US-led coalition without a full declaration of war. Within this political dynamic then, the only way to make sure that the area remained “in-reach” of the coalition was by ensuring that the Islamic State remained in control and prevented further Syrian expansion.

And while conventional pundits would routinely dismiss the occurrence of such strategic considerations, they plainly did take place.

The US defense establishment thought-process was best described by the former director of the CIA, Michael Morell. Echoing Kerry’s mindset, Morell said the United States needed “to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria, we need to make the Russians pay a price,” specifically advocating the killing of Iranians and Russians operating in the country to do so. “I want to put pressure on [Assad],” he continued, “I want to put pressure on the Iranians, I want to put pressure on the Russians,” in order to make them “come to that diplomatic settlement.” Importantly, however, this was to be done “covertly,” he said, “so you don’t tell the world about it, right? You don’t stand up at the Pentagon and say, ‘we did this,’ but you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”

Indeed, these were the very possibilities being discussed among the highest policy-planning bodies within the administration.

John Kerry himself requested on multiple occasions that the US launch missiles at “specific regime targets”, in order to “send a message” to Assad to “negotiate peace.” Like Morell, Kerry suggested the US would not have to acknowledge the attacks, but that Assad “would surely know the missiles’ return address”.

Live to Fight Another Day

The strategic benefits afforded from ISIS were perhaps best described by Thomas Friedman. Writing in the New York Times, he explained that:

“America’s goal in Syria is to create enough pressure on Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate a power-sharing accord… that would also ease Assad out of power.”

Therefore, since the Islamic States’ “goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria – plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies… we could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad.”

His assessment was that the US did not want to defeat ISIS straight away, because “if we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria now, we will only reduce the pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah.”

One way was to leave an open corridor for ISIS fighters to escape through, in areas where US-backed forces were battling the group.

This under-reported aspect of Obama’s official policy toward ISIS has quietly been kept in place during the Trump administration.

Prior to the battle in Mosul, top ISIS leaders were reportedly able to flee the city and find their way into Syria. As the battle was waged, regular ISIS units also apparently had open access to a similar escape route.

Sources described seeing hundreds of fighters fleeing Mosul and entering into Syria, heading towards Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. The strategic rationale was alluded to by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, when he told the media “if Daesh were forced out of Mosul, they were likely to go on to Syria.”

The Iraqi commander in charge of the operation would confirm that this indeed had happened. Citing intelligence information he received, the commander said that militants “were fleeing Mosul to Syria along with their families.”

Not long after this, ISIS launched an offensive in Deir Ezzor. The Guardian reported that the fighters breaking through government defenses were “primarily reinforcements coming over the border from Iraq’s Anbar province,” who then “broke through government lines, splitting its territory in half and taking control of the area where the WFP’s [World Food Program] airdrops landed.”

A year later, now during President Trump’s administration, the campaign against ISIS in Tal Afar, Iraq, ended in little over a week. Heralded as a testament to the strength of ISIS’ enemies, it soon became clear that the victory was only made possible by a major ISIS retreat.

In a direct reference to the ‘open corridor’ policy, the Iraqi commander helming the battle told reporters that “significant numbers of fighters were able to slip through a security cordon” and escape. More worryingly, this was made possible because “There was an agreement” with ISIS, according to Major General Najim al-Jobori, between the militant group and Iraqi Kurdish forces. Some of those retreating turned themselves in, while others “fled to Turkey and Syria.”

nyt article

© NYT

The report is notable given evidence, previously reported by INSURGE, that elements of Iraqi Kurdish authorities had ties to ISIS in relation to the facilitation of oil sales.

Later in Syria, the situation came to a head when the Syrian Army marched eastward and finally broke the three-year-long siege in Deir Ezzor, placing the surrounding oil-fields within their reach at a time when the US-backed SDF were also marching closer.

The New York Times would describe how “a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk…

“The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries. Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.”

It was within this context that another agreement was struck ending the battle for Raqqa. The SOHR said it:

“… received information from Knowledgeable and independent sources confirming reaching a deal between the International Coalition and the Syria Democratic Forces in one hand; and the ‘Islamic State’ organization in the other hand, and the deal stated the exit of the remaining members of the ‘Islamic State’ organization out of Al-Raqqah city.”

The SOHR “confirms that this agreement has happened.”

It was later revealed that the agreement included some 50 trucks, 13 buses, 4,000 evacuees and all of the fighters’ weapons and ammunition.

Further information came to light when a high-level participant in the negotiations blew the whistle.

Brigadier General Talal Silo, a former SDF commander who acted as the spokesman for the US’ leading partner in the fight against ISIS, and who has since defected to Turkey, explained that an “agreement was reached for the terrorists to leave, about 4,000 people, them and their families,” all but five-hundred of whom were fighters. He said that a US official had “approved the deal at a meeting with an SDF commander.”

Even more damning, and apparently confirming that specific end-destinations were included within these kinds of agreements, the commander:

“… came back with the agreement of the US administration for those terrorists to head to Deir al-Zor.”

The ISIS evacuees protected under the US-approved agreement were to head towards ISIS-controlled areas “where the Syrian army and forces supporting President Bashar al-Assad were gaining ground.” Here, they would “prevent the regimes advance.” The BBC corroborated this, tracking the convoy to one of these very areas.

Reuters also reported that the front being fought by the Syrian government in Deir Ezzor had “turned into a major base for Daesh militants after the US-backed offensive drove them out of Raqqa.” The deal, in short, directly “boosted the US fight against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” as Newsweek observed.

“According to the Americans,” Brig. Gen. Silo continued, “the regime army could reach Deir ez-Zor in six weeks” at first, “but when the regime army proceeded faster than expected, the US wanted the SDF to begin negotiations with Daesh.” The deal was then endorsed because the US “wanted a swift end to the Raqqa battle so the SDF could move on towards Deir al-Zor.”

Silo also claimed that the US and the SDF had made similar deals on at least 2 other occasions, corroborating a Syrian dissident and human rights activist who earlier claimed that a similar agreement had been reached during the battle for Mosul.

In terms of providing “a swift end to the Raqqa battle” and allowing the SDF to “move on towards Deir Ezzor”, the US-brokered deal proved a success. Just days later the SDF captured the al-Omar fields, the largest and most lucrative Syrian oil deposit.

But according to Elijah Magnier, journalist and war correspondent for the Kuwait-based Al Rai newspaper, after “the United States preceded Russia to the oil and gas Omar oilfield… ISIS then delivered [it] to the Kurds without any resistance.”

Validating this, an SDF spokesperson described how “our forces managed to liberate the fields without notable damages.”

Indeed, according to the SOHR, the “advancement achieved by the Syria Democratic Forces, in which they entered Al-Omar oilfield and took the control of it,” had occurred only “after a counter attack by ISIS [against the SAA], that kept the regime forces away of the outskirts and the vicinity of the field.” It was a tight race though, as “government forces were 2 miles away from the fields” at the time.

The remaining oil-fields and surrounding countryside east of the Euphrates were swept up by the SDF along similar lines, with ISIS voluntarily agreeing to evacuate the areas. SOHR’s sources further clarified “that ISIS prefer[s] handing over the organization-held areas to the SDF instead of handing them over to ‘the Shiite Militia’, in order to prevent the regime forces from advancing towards these area[s].”

As Elijah Magnier reported at the time that:

“US-backed forces advanced in north-eastern areas under ISIS control, with little or no military engagement: ISIS pulled out from more than 28 villages and oil and gas fields east of the Euphrates River, surrendering these to the Kurdish-US forces following an understanding these reached with the terrorist group.”

Furthermore, “this deal was an effective way to prevent the control by the Syrian army” given that “the United States seems determined to hold on to part of the Syrian territory, allowing the Syrian Kurds to control northeast Syria, especially those areas rich in oil and gas.”

Protecting the Pretext

The lines between Russia and the United States were therefore cut in two by the Euphrates; the SDF to the east, the Syrian Army to the west.

As ISIS’ Caliphate reached its final demise, the US established new rules of engagement, announcing it would not allow Syria or its allies to cross into its zone of control.

The US also announced it would continue its occupation of northeastern Syria indefinitely, even after ISIS is gone. The US currently has at least ten small scale military bases set up within the country.

sfd syria map

© mediafire.com/convkey
Figure 3. Map of Northeast Syria showing government-control (red) and SDF-control (light green) as of December 2017.

The overall strategy, according to an analysis by Joshua Landis, a highly-regarded Syria expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma, is aimed at thwarting economic recovery and interconnection within the region, in an attempt “to hurt Iran and Assad.”

The United States’ “main instrument in gaining leverage,” Landis said, are “the Syrian Democratic Forces” and the areas they have conquered in “Northern Syria.” By “denying the Damascus access to North Syria” and by “controlling half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced…

“Keeping Syria poor and unable to finance reconstruction suits short-term US objectives because it protects Israel and will serve as a drain on Iranian resources, on which Syria must rely as it struggles to reestablish state services and rebuild as the war winds down.”

Therefore, by “promoting Kurdish nationalism in Syria,” the US “hopes to deny Iran and Russia the fruits of their victory,” while “keeping Damascus weak and divided.” The US position “serves no purpose other than to stop trade and prohibit a possible land route from Iran to Lebanon,” and to “beggar Assad and keep Syria divided, weak and poor.”

Yet with such an approach in mind, the defeat of ISIS posed a dilemma.

Battling ISIS was the fig leaf under international law that the US relied on to legitimize its military operations on foreign soil without Syria’s consent. With ISIS gone, even this shaky argument does not hold. The US administration was therefore caught between a rock and a hard place.

It is perhaps not a surprise then that the US has, for months, been effectively safeguarding an ISIS contingent pocketed within SDF controlled areas along the northern border with Iraq.

Indeed, the official OIR reports register that virtually no airstrikes have been conducted in this area since at least mid-November 2017, only elsewhere along the eastern banks of the Euphrates, “near Abu Kamal” (see here for easier viewing).

By preventing Russia and Syria from crossing the Euphrates to finish fighting ISIS, and by refusing to attack it in these areas, the US presence has essentially protected the Islamic State from a full territorial defeat in Syria.

In that sense, it is extremely worrying that Defense Secretary Mattis has told reporters that the US will plan to stay in Syria and “keep fighting as long as they [ISIS] want to fight,” because “the enemy hasn’t declared that they’re done with the area yet.”

eir ezzor map

© mediafire.com/convkey
Figure 4. Close-up of ISIS contingent east of the Euphrates (black) not being attacked by US coalition, as of December 2017.

There is also another incentive. Much like the ‘open corridor’ policy, the US has announced “it will not carry out strikes against the militants’ last remaining fighters as they move into areas held by the Assad regime in western Syria.”

This has prompted even US-backed opposition fighters to suspect that:

“… their own side could be allowing small Isis pockets to survive so they can attack and weaken the regime and its main backer in the region, Iran.”

In closing, all of these polices have in one way or another been justified under the need to “protect civilians.”

Yet even within the bounds of official narratives, even if all of what has been presented here is disregarded, this is still problematic, given what Charles J. Dunlap Jr., professor of law at Duke University, has called “the moral hazard of inaction.” Since the end result of these US policies allows ISIS to survive, the notion that they “save civilians” isn’t really valid, since “the ISIS fighters who might have been killed lived on to butcher civilians” at a later time.

Unfortunately, thanks to the evolution of US military strategy, ISIS will continue to have the opportunity to do so.

Steven Chovanec is an independent journalist and analyst based in Chicago, Illinois. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Sociology from Roosevelt University, and has written for numerous outlets such as The Hill, TeleSur, Consortium News, and others. Follow him on Twitter @stevechovanec

The Big Pharma Family that Brought Us the Opioid Crisis – By Sam Pizzigati (MINT PRESS)

Pills persciption pharma OpioidPills prescription pharma Opioid

We’re not talking El Chapo or any of his drug-running buddies. We’re talking about the mega-billionaire family behind one of America’s most profitable drug-industry empires, the privately held Purdue Pharma.

If the devil wears Prada, what do America’s most destructive drug pushers wear? They wear smiles. The drug pushers we have in mind here have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, enough fatalities to decrease overall U.S. life expectancy at birth for the last two years running. Yet no police SWAT teams have pounded down any doors hunting these drug pushers down.

These particular drug pushers have devastated millions of families across the United States. Yet some of America’s most honorable institutions, outfits ranging from Yale University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have spent decades lauding their philanthropic generosity and benevolence.

We’re obviously not talking El Chapo or any of his drug-running buddies here. We’re talking about the mega-billionaire family behind one of America’s most profitable drug-industry empires, the privately held Purdue Pharma.

Last week, flacks at Purdue announced that the company will no longer be flooding doctors’ offices with sales representatives hawking OxyContin, the now-notorious opioid painkiller. This move may be the closest admission of guilt we will ever see from Purdue Pharma — or the patriarchs of the Sackler family that gave it birth.

The roots of Purdue’s criminal profiteering, as Patrick Radden Keefe has chillingly related in the New Yorker, stretch all the way back to three brothers in mid-20th century Brooklyn. All three — Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler — became doctors. All three had an entrepreneurial bent. Arthur had entrepreneurial genius.

Arthur Sackler saw that the pharmaceutical industry of his day had no clue to the marketing magic — and magical profits — that modern Madison Avenue advertising approaches could fashion. He linked the two. His ad agency pioneered tactics that would revolutionize prescription drug marketing.

Stories published in our Daily Digests section are chosen based on the interest of our readers. They are republished from a number of sources, and are not produced by MintPress News. The views expressed in these articles are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.

Pro-govt Syrian fighters begin entering Kurdish Afrin despite Turkish threats – Syrian TV (VIDEO) – By RT

Pro-govt Syrian fighters begin entering Kurdish Afrin despite Turkish threats – Syrian TV (VIDEO)
A convoy of fighters waving Syrian flags has apparently entered the northern Kurdish-held region of Afrin, which Turkey is targeting in a cross-border operation, footage on Syrian state TV shows.

The pro-government fighters were filmed entering the village of Nubul in some 20 pickup trucks. An RT source on the ground has confirmed the movement of troops to Afrin.

A reporter at the scene for Syrian state agency SANA said that the area where the fighters arrived has already been targeted by an attack from the Turkish side.

 
 

Turkish media later reported that an artillery attack on the convoy forced it to retreat.

The deployment comes after a reported deal between Damascus and Kurdish authorities, which sought the involvement of the central government amid a continued fight against Turkey and the militias supported by Ankara.

READ MORE: Turkey will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin in coming days — Erdogan

Turkish officials earlier warned that their forces would lay siege to the city of Afrin if pro-Damascus fighters show up there.

 
 
Reporting what the mainstream media won’t: Follow RT’s Twitter account

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Lebanon – Should it be Devil, Deep Blue Sea… or Russia? – By Andre Vltchek ( New Eastern Outlook)

Author: Andre Vltchek

 

 

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Lebanon, as so often in the past, is facing mortal danger.

Saudi Arabia is putting great pressure on the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a powerful but controversial figure who holds dual nationality – Saudi and Lebanese. Riyadh expects Lebanon to play by its own rules, sidelining Hezbollah, ending Iranian influence in the country, and promoting Saudi business and political interests… or else. It is a clear that foreign aid from the Gulf is increasingly conditional.

Tension with Israel is also mounting. A military conflict could erupt at any moment, with devastating consequences. Between 1978 and 2006, Israel attacked its northern neighbor on five occasions. The last time Israel invaded Lebanon, during the so-called Lebanon War in 2006, at least 1,300 Lebanese people were killed and 1 million displaced.

The Israeli air force is lately, unceremoniously, violating Lebanese air space, flying over its territory on the way to Syria, where it is bombing selected targets, grossly violating various international laws.

To make things worse, Israel has begun building an ugly concrete wall right at the border line, an act which Lebanon views almost as a declaration of war. The Lebanese military received orders to confront Israeli bulldozers and construction crews, if the building of the frontier barrier continues. Both sides are now using intermediaries to communicate, but a confrontation may take place at any moment.

There is also a maritime dispute between the two countries, over an oil and gas rich area, which both countries are claiming as their own. This quarrel is also threatening the fragile ‘peace’ between Israel and Lebanon. Although some would say, what peace, really, if both nations are still technically at war?

Reported by AP, on February 8, 2018:

“Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon’s invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the countries’ maritime border.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon’s exploration tender as “very provocative” and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field ,”which is by all accounts ours.”

His comments drew sharp condemnation from the militant Hezbollah group and Lebanese officials, including Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman’s comments as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects.”

Abi Assi quoted Hariri as saying Thursday that area in the water that Israel is claiming, “is owned by Lebanon.”

A day after the above report appeared, Lebanon’s energy minister said, “the dispute with Israel would not stop Lebanon benefiting from potential undersea reserves in the contentious Block 9.”

An international consortium consisting of three giant oil companies – Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek – is standing by, ready to begin drilling, although Total is increasingly reluctant to participate in the project amidst the Israeli threats.

*

Many in Lebanon feel that their country is literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

For years, war in neighboring Syria has been sending hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border into tiny Lebanon, greatly straining its fragile and inadequate infrastructure. Refugee slums have mushroomed, in the Bekaa Valley, as well as in all the major cities.

Terrorist groups supported by the West and its allies, have spilled over the border, and are operating in the frontier region, while also infiltrating the capital.

In 2017, the Lebanese military, together with Syrian forces and Hezbollah, managed to confront and greatly weaken both al Nusra and ISIS cells.

Hezbollah is the only truly powerful social force in Lebanon, providing assistance to all needy citizens and refugees, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. It is also fighting, determinedly, all terrorist implants operating in the Lebanese territory.

Thanks to the help from both Russia and Hezbollah, the Syrian armed forces managed to regain most of the territory of their country and to come very close to winning the war. The country is now rebuilding and hundreds of thousands of refugees are returning home, including those who have temporarily been seeking refuge in Lebanon.

Sidelining Hezbollah would definitely have a devastating impact on both Lebanon and Syria.

And sidelining, intimidating and antagonizing Hezbollah is precisely what the United States is doing again.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Beirut, and on February 15th, addressed reporters at a press conference:

“It is impossible to talk about stability, sovereignty and security in Lebanon without addressing Hezbollah. The US has considered Hezbollah a terrorist organization for more than two decades now …It is unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government. The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese armed forces.”

Mr. Tillerson made some reconciliatory noises regarding Hezbollah, just a few days earlier, but was loudly criticized by both his regime apparatchiks and by the mainstream media. Promptly, he ‘regained his senses’ and stopped rocking the boat.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States, indeed, treat pro-Iranian Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Israel continuously intimidates Lebanon, claiming that it will not tolerate any Iranian influence in its vicinity. The fact that Lebanon is an independent country, is somehow overlooked. It is expected to ‘behave’, to accept foreign dictates, even if it means going against its own interests.

After all, Lebanon is in the Middle East, which in turn is just the playground of the West and its allies.

*

Most of the Lebanese citizens are indignant. The Israeli air force flying over their country’s territory, attacking Syria, is to them, naturally, something absolutely unacceptable. Being bullied over disputed resources-rich sea territory, as well as the construction of border barriers, is causing great outrage. However, until now, the Lebanese people felt that there was very little they could do, faced with the overwhelming military might of Israel, a country which is determinedly backed by the United States and most of the Western countries.

All this has suddenly changed.

Unexpectedly, although logically, the ‘Russian alternative’ has emerged.

As reported by the Middle East Monitor on the February 8, 2018:

“Russian media sources revealed that on Tuesday Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, instructed the Russian Defense Ministry to begin talks with its Lebanese counterpart to sign a military cooperation agreement between Russia and Lebanon.

The draft agreement to be signed between the parties included the opening of Lebanese ports in front of Russian military vessels and fleets, in addition to making Lebanese airports a transit station for Russian aircrafts and fighters, and the dispatch of Russian military experts to train and strengthen the capabilities of members of the Lebanese army, according to the Russian agency Sputnik.”

This is just a logical continuation of Russian approach towards the Middle East in general, and Lebanon in particular. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement, made public in November 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared:

“Russia invariably supports the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon. We are interested in ensuring that Lebanon is safe, effectively functioning with the participation of all branches of government and with all state structures.”

Lavrov’s remarks came during a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil in Moscow.”

Russia is becoming increasingly active in those countries that have been destroyed or at least crippled by the Western interventions, such as Syria, Libya, now Lebanon and soon, hopefully, Afghanistan. Russian involvement is ranging from diplomatic and economic, to, as has been the case in Syria, military.

A Lebanese intellectual, anonymously, declared for this essay:

“If Russian military comes to Lebanon, then Israeli air force would certainly stop flying over our territory. We would also be able to retain our organizations and movements: particularly those that helped our country to stay united and to survive. Most of the Lebanese people have no bad experience with Russia. We tried many things, many alliances and they failed: we are still vulnerable, exposed. There is no harm in attempting to work with the Russians.”

The West, particularly the United States, is well aware of the mood on the streets of Lebanon. That is why Mr. Tillerson came on an official visit. But he offered nothing new, and what he offered, was rejected. It is clear that his mission was to simply preserve the status quo.

While it is increasingly obvious that the Lebanese people are hoping for something much more dramatic and ‘radical’ – they want their country to be respected, taken seriously. They want their borders to be protected. They want to have their independent foreign policy. They want to decide who is their ally and who is their foe.

Lebanon is tired of being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. And now it is discovering that it actually has other options!

Andre Vltchek is philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He’s a creator of Vltchek’s World in Word and Images, a writer of revolutionary novel Aurora and several other books. He writes especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”
https://journal-neo.org/2018/02/17/lebanon-should-it-be-devil-deep-blue-sea-or-russia/

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