War Pressure Builds as Iran and Israel Each Vow to Respond to Other’s Escalations – by Elliott Gabriel (MINT PRESS)

Iranian army troops march during a parade marking National Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, April 18, 2018. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

“This is the first time in seven years that the Israelis have deliberately killed Iranian revolutionary guards … Attacking T-4 airport is a pivotal incident in the history of the region that can’t be ignored.” — Iranian Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah

TEHRAN, IRAN – Iran has no intention of letting Tel Aviv get off scot-free after the Israeli military struck an alleged Iranian air-defense system at the T4 base in Syria earlier this month, according to a senior military official in Tehran who promised that the Islamic Republic “cannot remain indifferent” to escalations by Israel, the U.S. and its allies.

The comments come in defiance of repeated Israeli threats that any Iranian retaliation for the attack will be met with a devastating and disproportionate response, including the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani issued the warning prior to his departure to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Sochi, Russia. Shamkhani noted:

When a regime assumes the right to violate another country’s airspace in a planned move and also target forces fighting with terrorism, it should have definitely considered its consequences and retaliatory reactions.”

 

Tel Aviv’s ongoing intervention in Syria

The Israelis have expressed anxiety over Iran’s participation in the Syrian conflict on the side of the country’s government, claiming that Tehran is using its presence there to consolidate its regional power and place a “noose” around Israel. Among other accusations, Tel Aviv claims Tehran has built various GPS-guided missile factories in the country, is supporting militia who are encroaching on Israeli-occupied land in the southwest, and controls around 82,000 fighters who are in the country fighting alongside the Syrian Army.

Highlighting Tel Aviv’s insecurity about regional developments, officials have openly said that the consolidation of Iran’s “hegemony” in Syria poses a threat far greater than the Islamic State group (ISIS) or the Jihadist groups that form the bulk of Syria’s anti-government opposition, causing the Israelis to ramp-up direct support to opposition groups in Southwest Syria.

Israeli occupation forces seized the strategic 500-square-mile Golan Heights from Syria in its expansionist war of 1967 prior to outright annexing it. Amid intense military activity in the Syrian region of the Golan over the past several years of civil war, the Israelis have periodically attacked Syrian military targets in the Damascus-controlled portion of the Heights. The two countries have remained in a technical state of war for over five decades.

The Israelis have also acknowledged carrying out other air raids on government targets, including a power plant, arms caches and the alleged assets of Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah — a longtime Iran ally that has won impressive past victories over Israeli occupying troops and invasion attempts, heightening Tel Aviv’s angst and issuance of threats to launch devastating war on neighbors.

On early Monday, April 9, two Israeli F-15 jets launched eight missiles at Syria’s T-4 airbase near Homs, claiming the lives of Iranian military personnel, including a top senior officer in Iran’s developing aerial drone program, Colonel Mehdi Dehghan.

The Israelis had previously accused Iran of using the base to launch an Iranian Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) drone that penetrated Israeli airspace and was allegedly carrying “explosives” in a bid to carry out “an act of sabotage.” While the drone was shot down, the event sparked a debate in the ranks of the Israeli establishment about their preparedness in the face of the “drone threat.”

“This [February incident] is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy,” a senior Israeli military officer told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman earlier this month. “This opened a new period.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Israelis had also tracked an Iranian plane flying a Tor surface-to-air missile system from Tehran to the Homs base and were keen on preventing the system from being set up.

This month’s attack on the T-4 base was met by a furious reaction by Moscow: the Russian Defense Ministry quickly outed the Israelis as the culprits in the attack while other officials demanded clarification for the attack. The ministry said:

Two F-15 planes of the Israeli army hit the airbase between 03:25 am and 03:53 am Moscow time [0025 GMT and 0053 GMT] with the help of eight missiles controlled remotely from Lebanese territory, without entering Syrian air space.”

Iranian Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah blasted the attack as a strategic miscalculation that would force Israel to finally face Iran:

This is the first time in seven years that the Israelis have deliberately killed Iranian revolutionary guards … Attacking T-4 airport is a pivotal incident in the history of the region that can’t be ignored … All those thousands of terrorists in Syria do not concern the Israelis, while they have every kind of weapons; however, they are afraid of just few revolutionary guards there”

 

When Push Comes to Shove…

Since launching their attack, the Israelis have spared no effort to play up Iranian promises of retaliation as potentially meaning Iran and allies like Hezbollah will attempt “to strike at Israeli and Jewish targets outside the region,” as analyst and former Brigadier General Shimon Shapira forecast.

Tel Aviv frequently accuses Iran and Hezbollah of seeking to commit “terrorist attacks” on Israeli civilian targets far from the theater of conflict, yet officials for both parties have denied that they would fight back in such a manner.

Last Friday, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Vice Commander Hossain Salami reminded the Israelis that their air bases are “within reach” of Iran’s military and could be targeted at any time. The next day, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that his organization has “the ability, the power and the missiles to hit any target in Israel.”

Now that Russia is threatening to send an S-300 ground-to-air defense complex to Syria in the aftermath of U.S.-led coalition attacks on Syrian military targets, the Israelis are growing increasingly nervous that their window for attacking Syrian targets with impunity may be shrinking fast.

Judging by Iranian officials’ words, the country has reached its limits and isn’t willing to continue accepting further aggressive attacks from the Israelis. Shamkhani noted:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has paid a considerable price in order to establish regional stability and fight against Takfiri terrorism. Therefore, it cannot remain indifferent to the worrying increase of destabilizing measures by the U.S., the Zionist regime [Israel], and some of their regional allies.”

Top Photo | Iranian army troops march during a parade marking National Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, April 18, 2018. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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.

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.

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Gold Leaving US Vaults: Signs of Upcoming Currency War and Armed Conflict – By Peter KORZUN (Strategic Culture Organisation)

The Turkish government has made the decision to repatriate all of its gold reserves that are currently housed in the US Federal Reserve System (FRS). Overall Turkey was storing 220 tonnes, valued at $25.3 billion, in the US, which it repossessed on April 19, 2018.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toughened his stance against the US dollar (USD), declaring that international loans should be made in gold instead of the American currency. Ankara is seeking to reduce dependence on the US financial system. The gold’s homecoming was partly prompted by the US threats to impose sanctions if Turkey goes through with the signed deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

This is a dramatic move reflecting an international trend. Venezuela repatriated its gold from the US in 2012. In 2014, the Netherlands also retrieved its 122.5 tonnes of gold that were stored in US vaults. Germany brought home 300 metric tonnes of gold stashed in the United States in 2017. It took Berlin four years to complete the transfers. Austria and Belgium have reviewed the possibility of taking similar measures.

Few people believe the US Treasury’s assurances that the 261 million ounces (roughly 8,100 tonnes) in official gold reserves that are stored in Fort Knox and other places are fully audited and accounted for. The Federal Reserve has never been fully and independently audited. The pressure for a full, independent audit of all US gold reserves has always been resisted by the government and in Congress. Nobody knows if the gold is really there. What if the vaults turn out to be empty? It’s wiser to bring your gold home while you can, rather than to just keep on wondering.

The gold bars that the US claims to hold are of low purity and do not conform to international industry standards. Even if the US has the amount of gold it claims to have, most of it would not be acceptable for trading on the international market. While other countries are pulling their gold out of the FRS banks, Russia and China are boosting their reserves, creating gold-backed currencies for themselves and thus moving the world away from the dominance of the USD.

The US dollar’s status as the global reserve currency has been called into question. It faces some tough competition. The tariffs introduced by the US administration as an instrument of coercion against other countries are failing to bolster the greenback, which may soon face headwinds. An international currency war looms as a possibility. This makes investors look for other options. Indeed, why should other countries rely on a US dollar that is not backed by gold or anything but “the good faith and credit of the American worker,” when America itself is not trusted internationally?

For instance, the Chinese yuan is going strong. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are considering the prospects for making payments in their national currencies. Iran has recently announced it is switching from the dollar to the euro as its official reporting currency. Russia and China have a currency swap agreement that avoids settlements in the USD.

The quest to reduce dependence on the dollar was provoked by the ongoing use of sanctions as a political weapon, a kind of foreign-policy tool of choice. Even America’s closest allies are threatened by these restrictive measures. The recent attack on the Nord Stream 2 gas project is a good example. It’s only natural for other countries to be looking for ways to resist the US policy of twisting arms. Using alternative currencies and bringing gold home are ways to do that.

America has always opposed such efforts. Any methods would do. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, was toppled and killed after he came up with the idea to introduce a golden dinar to be used as an international currency in the Middle East and Africa. Iran has recently banned the use of the USD in trade. It refuses to sell its oil for the US currency. President Trump is likely to kill the Iran deal in May, provoking Tehran into reviving its nuclear program.

An armed conflict with Iran might be much closer than generally believed. The nuclear deal has been honored, to everyone’s satisfaction but to Washington’s chagrin. Iran undoubtedly has no military capability that would be a threat to the US. It has never been responsible for any terrorist acts committed abroad or things like that. But it has done something unforgivable in the eyes of the US. It has threatened the USD. That’s what Washington cannot accept, because if it does not support the dollar, there will be problems financing the US government’s huge federal debt. A war with Iran would eliminate the largest non-USD oil exporter. One thing leads to another. The gold repatriations are a precursor to a currency war and armed conflict. That’s what drives US foreign policy.

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City beneath city: RT films massive network of militant-built tunnels under Syria’s Douma (VIDEO) – By RT

https://www.rt.com/news/425149-douma-underground-militant-tunnels/video/5ae0c540dda4c8d75f8b45fe

 
 
The Syrian military has been combing through a vast network of tunnels built by jihadists in Douma, not far from Damascus. RT Arabic filmed vehicles easily fitting in the passages and asked locals how the militants treated them.

Located 15 meters deep under the surface, the massive tunnels are supported by metal pillars and are paneled with some sort of liner plates, creating a subway look. They stretch for kilometers under the town, located in the area of eastern Ghouta, forming an entire city beneath the city.

To complete the set, the tunnels are equipped with electricity, parking lots and workshops. They are so big that a minivan could easily move through them, as seen in the footage. The military discovered that the tunnels were specifically used to stockpile machinery and vehicles.

The militants forced the locals to build the tunnels for them by starving the people, who refused to work, Douma residents told RT. “They starved us, they harassed us,” one man said, adding that the extremists also made captives and civilians work on the tunnels. “They [the militants] would not feed those, who refused to work,” he said.

READ MORE: Moscow slams western media ‘disinformation campaign’ about OPCW experts being denied entry to Douma

The Russian military said they found a chemical laboratory operated by militants in central Douma soon after the city’s liberation. The facility, located in the basement of a residential building, had some sophisticated equipment, including an industrial chemical reactor, which the military said was used by the jihadists to create toxic agents. Vast stockpiles of various chemicals were also found in the laboratory.

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US ‘May Provoke Conflicts in Latin America’ Amid UNASUR Row – By SPUTNIK

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Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay decided to leave the South American bloc last week, and this is a huge step back for the whole region, political analyst Sonia Wiener believes.

The decision of six Latin American countries to temporarily leave the Union of South American nations (UNASUR) jeopardizes regional integration, encourages interstate conflicts and puts at risk the protection of natural resources, Sonia Wiener, a political scientist from the University of Buenos Aires, told Sputnik.

“It is no coincidence that the decision is made during Bolivia’s presidency in the Union,” the researcher noted.

“This disintegration will not only hamper the development of the regional identity and the unity of the countries of the region, but also weaken territorial sovereignty, cooperation and protection of strategic natural resources […],” she added.

READ MORE: Russian Diplomat Slams ‘Destructive and Irrational’ US Policy Toward Venezuela

According to Wiener, the withdrawal of the six countries from the bloc “creates the ground for foreign interventions, in particular, by the United States and Great Britain, what is exactly happening now in the region.”

“I’m afraid that the US can provoke interstate conflicts in Latin America and then try to resolve them by military means, because war is business,” the analyst warned.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay decided to suspend their membership in the South American bloc on April 20.

The move was prompted by the fact that the bloc, according to the governments of these countries, has been inefficient due to grate differences in positions of its members and subsequent inability to find a consensus.

The idea of replacing the US contingent in Syria with Saudi troops is doomed to failure – By DMITRY MININ ( Strategic Culture Foundation)

The idea of replacing the US contingent in Syria with Saudi troops is doomed to failure

 

The White House has had a hot new idea – to leave Syria but also stay there at the same time by deploying an Arab contingent to US military bases, primarily from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). So to Arabize one of the bloodiest wars of our time in keeping with the bitter memory of Vietnamization. 

It seems that the plan was worked out during the almost month-long stay of Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in America. And the plan’s existence was announced on 17 April by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, during a joint press conference with the UN secretary general, António Guterres. Following the missile attack on Syria, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, reiterated that President Donald Trump still wants an early withdrawal of US troops from the country. The introduction of a Saudi contingent in their place seems to Washington to be in the interests of the United States. And the US government has not just suggested to Saudi Arabia that it replace the American contingent, but to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well. They would take a back seat to the Saudis, however. There is also talk of these regimes providing money to rebuild Syria’s destroyed north. It seems they wouldn’t just be counting on military force, but on “buying” the local population as well.

It does raise a question, of course: have the Americans asked the Syrian government or its own allies – the Kurds and, at the very least, Turkey, Russia and Iran – about the desirability of such a replacement? No, of course they haven’t. Even while withdrawing, the US is unable to forget about its “exclusivity”. For many reasons, however, the idea of replacing Americans with Arabs is doomed to failure.

That Damascus will resolutely resist the proposed reoccupation of its territory by the forces of a “fraternal country” is obvious. It can only lead to more fighting and a rise in regional tensions. Almost as well-equipped as the Americans, the Saudis will never be a worthy opponent of the battle-hardened Syrian army. They have already shown what they’re capable of in the endless war in Yemen, where barefoot Houthis are inflicting one embarrassing defeat after another. Riyadh’s intention to fight a “decisive battle” against Iran on foreign soil will not be realised, either. With its ally Iraq behind it, Tehran would soon have the advantage.

All in all, not a single one of Syria’s neighbours is in favour of the arrival of Saudi troops to replace the Americans except Israel. Iraq is categorically against the idea, since it wants to avoid having to deal with an upsurge in fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites on its borders. Turkey has no need for the Saudis either, because they would undermine its influence in the Ankara-controlled area of northern Syria. Suffice it to say that the nearly 30,000 troops now under Turkey’s wing from Eastern Ghouta, which was recently liberated by government troops, have been on Riyadh’s payroll for the entire war. Turkey has every reason to fear that Saudi Arabia will use these and other groups to assert its dominance over the area. Libya is also against the appearance of Saudi Arabia on the Syrian stage, fearing that clashes between Sunnis and Shi’ites will move to within its own borders. Even Jordan, which is dependent on Washington and London, is weary of the initiative. As a pragmatic politician, King Abdullah II of Jordan has a good idea of all the possible negative repercussions of such an undertaking. 

The proposals have also been criticised by Egypt, which has completely ruled out its involvement in their realisation. Mohammad Rashad, a senior official in Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, expressed himself in no uncertain terms: “The Egyptian Armed Forces are not mercenaries and cannot be leased or ordered by foreign states to deploy in a certain area.” Rashad continued: ““This is not acceptable. No one should dare to direct or give orders to Egypt’s army.” The statement is an indirect response to an appeal by the US president’s new national security advisor, John Bolton, to the head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Abbas Mustafa Kamil, inviting Cairo to be involved in the project.

Just as many problems await the Saudis in and around the area of their proposed location. To begin with, the Kurds from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who control the area with the help of the US will certainly not welcome their arrival. It would mean the Kurds giving up control of the local Arab population in favour of the incoming contingent and losing most of the power they have won. It is quite possible that the Americans are secretly pushing for a scenario in which, as well as Arabization, there will also be a “dekurdization” of northern Syria, but at someone else’s hands. Then it would seem as if they are not betraying the Kurds, while calming Arab national feelings and ironing out differences with the Turks at the same time. Don’t think that the Kurds will remain passive bystanders in this situation, however. Chances are they will occupy the vacated US bases and refuse to let anyone in. It is even possible they will finally realise that, in the current situation, the most sensible course of action to resolve the Kurdish national question would be an alliance with Damascus. For the time being, Damascus is prepared to extend the rights of Kurds, but should they find themselves on the losing side later on, their window of opportunity will gradually close. 

And for Saudi Arabia, a direct clash with the Islamic State (IS), which, according to the official version, is the terrorist group that the Saudis must go to Syria to fight, could prove fatal. The truth is that many of the IS militants still fighting in Syria are mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and their ability to indoctrinate their fellow countrymen should not be underestimated. It could happen that any direct contact between the Saudi contingent and IS militants will eventually extend the latter’s influence to the Kingdom, something that the Islamic State has long dreamed of. In the countries of the Persian Gulf, there are already some who think it would perhaps be better to hire Sudanese nationals, Pakistanis or some other poor souls for the operation.

The new plan for America to save face in the Middle East is just as chimerical as all of America’s previous attempts at a global reorganisation of the region. The outcome of Arabization will not be any better than the outcome of Vietnamization was all those decades ago. And this will continue to be the case until Washington starts taking into account the positions of all interested parties, including Damascus.

105 hits in Syria? Not likely, says Russia & shows fragments of missiles downed in US-led strikes – by RT

105 hits in Syria? Not likely, says Russia & shows fragments of missiles downed in US-led strikes
The Russian Defense Ministry has shown fragments of missiles said to have been fired in the US-led April airstrikes in Syria. The hole-ridden remnants disprove the claim most of the 105 missiles hit their targets, it said.

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry held a media briefing to present its analysis of the missile attack on three sites in Syria by the US, UK and France on the night of April 13. It said evidence on the ground, including missile fragments, holes made by the warheads and damage to the targets, could positively confirm only 25 successful hits, calling the US claim of 105 missiles reaching their targets dubious.

Many of the missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defense, the ministry said, adding that some of the better-preserved fragments would be studied by Russian military engineers working on improving its anti-aircraft systems. Journalists have also been shown a collection of fragments with annotations to identify them as part of US and European missiles collected in Syria after being shot down.

The prime target for the night attack was said to be a research center northeast of Damascus, which Western nations claimed was a crucial part of Syria’s alleged chemical weapons industry. The center was targeted by 76 missiles, according to the Pentagon report on the operation. The Russian Defense Ministry said it could confirm only 13 hits and that, if one were to believe the Western report, the relatively small site should have been struck by eight tons of military-grade explosives. The damage caused is far less than one would expect from such a bombardment, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of operations in the Russian general staff, pointed out. 

 Of the remaining 63 missiles, 46 are presumed intercepted by the Syrian air defense, the report said. The number is based on data collected from the weapon systems and the fragments collected in the five areas, where the interception took place. Rudskoy added that some of the missiles appear to have failed to reach their target due to a technical malfunction rather than interception, something which posed a threat to nearby residential areas. Two projectiles, a Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile and a precision air-launched missile of a model not named by the ministry, were found in relatively undamaged condition and transported to Russia for further study, he said.

Rudskoy said the results of the attack on two other sites – military depots located near the city of Homs – were similar. One was reported as having been hit by 22 missiles, of which Russia could confirm only seven, with most of the damage done to auxiliary buildings rather than the depot targeted. The other was targeted by seven and hit by two missiles, the report said. The Syrian air defenses intercepted 20 missiles in the area, the general said, adding that most of the advanced weapons fired by the ad hoc coalition were nullified by Soviet air defense systems designed some four decades ago.

The Russian military has repeatedly said it was baffled as to why the US and its allies would target a site near Damascus, which they supposedly believed to be full of chemical weapons. If that were true, the release of the toxin from the damaged compound could have claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives, Rudskoy pointed out.

The ministry also showed off some of the weapons surrendered by militant groups as part of evacuation agreements with the government. The latest addition to the growing arsenal includes 28 tanks and 23 tactical missiles of the SCUD family, Rudskoy said. The militants also surrendered Western weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, he added.

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US violating intl law by breaking into Russian consulate in Seattle – embassy – By RT

US violating intl law by breaking into Russian consulate in Seattle – embassy
The US government is violating international law with its decision to break into Russia’s locked consulate in Seattle, the Russian embassy in Washington said in a statement.

What we see now is a gross violation of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Convention on Consular Relations,” commented Nikolay Pukalov, the head of the embassy’s consular department. “The Russian side did not agree on stripping diplomatic status from our property in Seattle and did not give permission to American officials to enter our territory.”

The spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, called the development “a hostile takeover” of the compound by the US.

The diplomatic building was evacuated earlier this week due to an order from Washington, which expelled 60 Russian diplomats and told the embassy to shut down the Seattle consulate in retaliation for the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain.

After the diplomats left on Tuesday, they locked the building. US officials on Wednesday broke into the compound.

The closure of Russia’s Seattle consulate was the latest in a string of diplomatic mission reductions taken by both sides over the past years. The pretext for this particular expulsion was the British accusation that the Russian government ordered an assassination of a former double agent. London failed to provide any public proof of the allegation and instead launched an international campaign to punish Moscow, finding a most eager participant in Washington.

The US claimed that the 60 diplomats it expelled were Russian spies and that the consulate in Seattle was heavily used for espionage purposes. Similar justifications were used when Washington ordered the shutdown of Russian missions in San Francisco and New York in September 2017.

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Part of Historic Uruguayan Stadium Turf to Be Sent to Russia for 2018 World Cup – By SPUTNIK

Football. Training session of FC Bayern

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MONTEVIDEO (Sputnik) – Some turf from the Centenario stadium in Uruguay, where the first FIFA World Cup was held in 1930, will be sent to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russian Ambassador to Uruguay Nikolai Sofinsky told Sputnik.

“This is a very symbolic event, very significant for us, because the whole world knows about the great history of this stadium — Estadio Centenario,” Sofinsky said Tuesday.

During the ceremony, a small section of the turf was handed over to Sofinsky by Uruguay’s Under Secretary for Sport Alfredo Etchandy in order to be sent to Russia.The pieces of Centenario’s pitch are expected to be placed in the stadiums that will host matches of the upcoming tournament.

Russia will host its first FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15. The matches will take place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, and Sochi.

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France’s Macron, the Saboteur with a Savior’s Mask – By Finian CUNNINGHAM (Strategic Culture Foundation)

France’s Macron, the Saboteur with a Savior’s Mask

French President Emmanuel Macron has a ruthless streak of ambition that should make democracy-seeking people shudder.

On an official state visit this week to the United States, Macron was posing as the “polar opposite” to President Trump, and the “standard-bearer of liberal centrism in the West”, according to the Washington Post.

Ironically, too, he presented himself last week – yet again – as the “savior of Europe” with a major address Tuesday to the European Union parliament in Strasbourg.

The Strasbourg address was only four days after the French leader unleashed a joint bombing blitzkrieg on Syria along with the US and Britain.

As if to add further mockery to his virtuous pretensions, while Macron was regaling the EU parliamentarians with grandiose visions of democracy, his own country is crippled by nationwide industrial strikes fighting against his plans to demolish workers’ rights.

At age 40, Macron is the youngest elected French president and currently one of the youngest EU leaders, along with Austria’s Sebastian Kurz (31).

Kurz is among the European zeitgeist of populist politicians whom Macron would deprecate as “regressive” owing to the Austrian Chancellor’s independent nationalist policies.

The French leader’s youthful appearance and apparent zest for “democracy”, however, belie a very old and darker tendency towards authoritarianism and contempt for democracy.

Macron had the brass neck last week to lecture some 750 EU parliamentarians about “defending democracy”. His speech in the Strasbourg parliament was littered with empty platitudes, like challenging “authoritarianism with the authority of democracy”.

Admittedly, the French president did not get a free ride while in Strasbourg. As he spoke from the podium, several lawmakers held up placards reading “Hands of Syria”.

What Macron has lots of is appealing image and liberal-sounding soundbites. He is also deft at posing as some kind of progressive. But not far from the surface is a ruthless, anti-democratic authoritarian elitist.

Paradoxically, in his Strasbourg address, he theatrically conjured up a drama of existential crisis in Europe, claiming that the 28-nation bloc was facing a “civil war” between liberal democracy – of which he presumes to be a standard-bearer – and the rise of “populist authoritarianism”. The latter refers to nationalist political leaders like Austria’s Sebastian Kurz and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban who recently won his third re-election.

Macron would like to present people like Kurz and Orban and their anti-immigration policies as the bête noire of Europe who are destroying the social fabric and unity of the bloc.

As the New York Times reported: “Macron said the EU is in a battle between the liberal democracy that shaped the postwar vision and a new populist authoritarianism that stifles dissent and cares little about the rule of law.”

Hold on a minute. “Cares little about the rule of law”? This spiel was uttered by someone who had just bombed a sovereign country, Syria, on the back of baseless claims about a chemical-weapons incident that in all probability did not even take place.

Macron was also a minister in the government of his predecessor Francois Hollande, which began bombing of Syria in 2014 without a mandate from the UN Security Council.

Whatever about Austria’s Kurz or Hungary’s Orban and their brand of nationalist politics one thing to be said in their immense favor vis-à-vis Macron is that neither of those two leaders is bombing sovereign nations.

Later last week, the French president visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Again, he puffed up his peacock feathers as the “savior of Europe” by calling for the embrace of “liberal values” of “sovereignty, rule of law, democracy and peace”.

One suspects that Frau Merkel is growing weary of the wheedling French leader, whose ambitions of being the top European politician have seen him sidling alongside US President Trump in an attempt to sideline Germany as the strongest EU nation.

Macron is a charlatan. He is shameless in his mendacity.

His image-making of a reformist, progressive European visionary is a mirror of vanity and pretentious ideals. Macron deprecates populist politicians like Orban, Kurz and others by setting himself up as some kind of noble opposite in the same way as he uses Trump as a foil for his supposed “centrist liberalism” – whatever that means.

The truth is that Macron, in reality, is a much more dangerous authoritarian than Orban and his ilk could ever be.

As well as his shocking disregard for international law in the April 14 missile barrage of Syria, Macron has the temerity to lecture about authoritarians who “stifle dissent”.

Days after this utterance, hundreds of baton-wielding French police launched a dawn raid last Friday on a university in Paris to break up a peaceful student sit-in protest.

The students have joined millions of French workers and unemployed who have taken to the streets and college campuses to stop Macron ripping up employment rights.

Macron euphemistically calls his plans “reforms”. But the way millions of French citizens see it, the overhaul of the labour code is a full-frontal attack on democratic rights. Those rights have been won by workers over decades to help make capitalist economics relatively civilized. Now Macron, in the service of big business and international capital, wants to shred French workers’ rights.

How Macron got elected last year is a curious question. Prior to his election, the former Rothschild investment banker had never held an elected position in his life. He was drafted into the former Hollande government  (2012-2017) as economics minister by way of political appointment, not through the ballot box.

Macron’s presidential mandate is dubious. Many French voters abstained from the election last April-May because they didn’t want to vote for Marine Le Pen of the Front National owing to her party’s fascistic history. Arguably, Macron got elected by default.

But it seems clear that within a year of having been in office, he has managed to unite French citizens in militant opposition to his anti-democratic “reforms”.

Macron’s florid rhetoric about European “renewal” is pretentious piffle.

The cardinal problem with Europe is the void in democratic representation of citizens. Governments and politicians are looked upon with contempt because democratic needs are chronically neglected. Public investment and services are waning, workers’ rights are being trampled on, pensioners are being neglected, wars are pursued by a few without any justice, because politicians are too often serving the agenda of big business, capital and militarism overseas.

There seems to be no democratic accountability to the majority of the 500 million citizens living across the EU. This dysfunction is due to self-serving elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron. He is the personification of bankrupt bourgeois Western politics. That is, pandering to capitalist and imperialist tendencies of the ruling class, while also having the brass neck to paint himself as a “savior”.

Macron is a saboteur of European democracy. The rise of populism across Europe is not some extraneous phenomenon, which people like Macron condescendingly disparage. It is a backlash to charlatans like Macron who have a far more dangerous streak of authoritarianism than the people whom he affects to deplore.

European democracy is endangered precisely because of politicians like Macron who cloaks himself with the rhetoric of being a savior.

Russia’s air defenses destroy targets heading towards Khmeimim in Syria – By RT

Russia’s air defenses destroy targets heading towards Khmeimim in Syria
Russian air defenses have intercepted and destroyed several aerial targets heading towards the country’s Khmeimim airbase in Syria late on Tuesday, a military spokesman said.

“After the fall of dark, the means of airspace control at the Russian Khmeimim base detected small-sized aerial targets of unknown origin in the distance from the airfield,” the airbase spokesman said. “All of the targets were destroyed by the antiaircraft fire means of the Russian airbase.”

There were no casualties as result of the incident, with the base returning to routine operations, he added.

According to an unconfirmed report by the South Front“analytics and intelligence” website, the Russian airbase was attacked by two drones armed with projectiles, which were launched by one of the militant groups from northern Latakia or the southern Idlib province of Syria. The website also shared footage, which it said showed the Russian air defenses at Khmeimim airbase in action.

In mid-January, Russian air defenses thwarted a drone attack targeting both the Khmeimim airbase and a port site in Tartus. The terrorists launched 13 crude-looking unmanned aircraft, which the Russian military said contained arms and technologies beyond those the militants could come up with on their own. All the aircraft were intercepted and captured by Russian troops by means of radio control.

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