China’s ability to freeze US military capability – By Nick Giambruno International Man (SOTT)

US and Chinese top brass

Last April, President Trump launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria.

He was responding to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government.

It was Trump’s most dramatic military move since he became president. It was also the United States’ first deliberate attack on the Syrian government.

At the exact moment he ordered the strike, Trump was also hosting China’s president, Xi Jinping, for dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort. Xi’s wife was also there.

Trump said:

I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We are now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen. And President Xi was enjoying it. And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded. What do you do? And we made a determination to do it. So the missiles were on the way. And I said: ‘Mr. President, let me explain something to you… we’ve just launched 59 missiles… heading toward Syria and I want you to know that.’

When asked how President Xi responded, Trump claimed: “He paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again.”

The timing of the attack was meant to intimidate Xi and send China a message.

You see, China and Syria are allies. The Chinese give Assad’s government diplomatic, military, and economic support. China has also used its veto power at the UN several times to support Syria.

Essentially, Trump invited President Xi and his wife to his home for dinner. Then, over cake, he bombed one of Xi’s friends.

Trump hoped his hardball diplomacy would encourage China to tighten the screws on North Korea. He also wanted China to make changes in other areas like trade. He explicitly told Xi as much.

However, on closer look, Trump’s Syrian fireworks show was nothing but a hollow gesture. That’s because, without China, Trump would have no missiles to launch at anyone.

The guidance systems on the Tomahawk cruise missiles Trump launched at Syria depend on special materials that China has a near monopoly on producing. Surely, Xi knew this. Though Trump probably didn’t at the time.

And it’s not just the missiles…

If China decided to cut off these special materials, the entire US military would cease to function in short order.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s display of machismo did not impress the Chinese. Nor did it make them change their approach to North Korea.

A few months later, North Korea tested both an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental US and a thermonuclear weapon for the first time. Both might’ve been prevented if China had pushed harder to reign in North Korea.

So eventually – and likely soon – the US government will try to force China’s hand through trade and economic means.

Trump already threatened to cut off trade with any country that does business with North Korea. He was talking about China.

And Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury threatened to kick China out of the US dollar if it doesn’t crack down on North Korea. That would be akin to dropping a financial nuclear bomb on Beijing.

Sure, these seem like exaggerated threats. But it shows Trump’s frustration. It also means trade penalties against China could be imminent.

I think a full-blown trade war is coming soon.

But China has a big card to play. It could restrict access to that special material I just mentioned – the material used to make advanced electronic components, like the Tomahawk cruise missile guidance system.

China has used this strategy before. About six years ago, it restricted exports during a spat with Japan. The supply crunch caused a veritable mania in the special material’s industry.

Almost overnight, the price of this special material went up over 10 times.

Companies in the industry went up many times higher.

The US and China are in the early stages of a trade war. It’s only a matter of time before it escalates. That will probably happen soon. The perilous situation with North Korea guarantees it.

For the rest of the article go here.

Nick Giambruno: Nick is Doug Casey’s globetrotting companion and is the Senior Editor of Casey Research’s International Man. He writes about economics, offshore banking, second passports, value investing in crisis markets, geopolitics, and surviving a financial collapse, among other topics. In short, Nick’s work helps people make the most of their personal freedom and financial opportunity around the world. To get his free video crash course, click here.

Top Ten Signs the US Is the Most Corrupt Nation in the World – By Juan Cole (MINT PRESS)

Rit Picone of Newpaltz, N.Y., carries an American flag upside down as a symbol of protest against the influence of money in politics. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Don’t tell the global South how corrupt they are for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

Those ratings that castigate Afghanistan and some other poor countries as hopelessly “corrupt” always imply that the United States is not corrupt. This year’s report from Transparency International puts the US on a par with Austria, which is ridiculous. All kinds of people from politicians to businessmen would go to jail in Austria today if they engaged in practices that are quite common in the US.

While it is true that you don’t typically have to bribe your postman to deliver the mail in the US, in many key ways America’s political and financial practices make it in absolute terms far more corrupt than the usual global South suspects. After all, the US economy is worth over $18 trillion a year, so in our corruption, a lot more money changes hands.

1. A sure sign of corruption is an electoral outcome like 2016. An addled nonentity like Donald Trump got filthy rich via tax loopholes a predatory behavior in his casinos and other businesses, and then was permitted to buy the presidency with his own money. He was given billions of dollars in free campaign time every evening on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other channels that should have been more even-handed, because they were in search of advertising dollars and Trump was a good draw. Then, too, the way the Supreme Court got rid of campaign finance reform and allowed open, unlimited secret buying of elections is the height of corruption. The permitting of massive black money in our elections was taken advantage of by the Russian Federation, which, having hopelessly corrupted its own presidential elections, managed to further corrupt the American ones, as well. Once ensconced in power, Trump Inc. has taken advantage of the power of White House to engage in a wide range of corrupt practices, including an attempt to sell visas to wealthy Chinese and the promotion of the Trump brand as part of diplomacy.

2. The rich are well placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. The Koch brothers and other mega-rich troglodytes explicitly told Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in 2017 that if the Republican Party, controlling all three branches of government, could not lower taxes on its main sponsors, there would be no billionaire backing of the party in the 2018 midterms. This threat of an electoral firing squad made the hundreds of bribe-takers in Congress sit up and take notice, and they duly gave away to the billionaire class $1.5 trillion in government services (that’s what Federal taxes are, folks, services–roads, schools, health inspections, implementation of anti-pollution laws–things that everyone benefits from and which won’t be there anymore. To the extent that the government will try to continue to provide those slashed services despite assessing no taxes on the people with the money to pay for them, it will run up an enormous budget deficit and weaken the dollar, which is a form of inflation in the imported goods sector. Inflation hits the poor the worst. As it stands, 3 American billionaires are worth, as much as the bottom 150 million Americans. That kind of wealth inequality hasn’t been seen in the US since the age of the robber barons in the nineteenth century. Both eras are marked by extreme corruption.

One sign of American corruption is the rapidity with which American society has become more unequal since the 1980s Reagan destruction of the progressive income tax. The wealthier the top 1 percent is, the more politicians it can buy to gather up even more of the country’s wealth. In my lifetime the top one percent has gone from holding 25% of the privately held wealth under Eisenhower to 38% today.

3. Instead of having short, publicly-funded political campaigns with limited and/or free advertising (as a number of Western European countries do), the US has long political campaigns in which candidates are dunned big bucks for advertising. They are therefore forced to spend much of their time fundraising, which is to say, seeking bribes. All American politicians are basically on the take, though many are honorable people. They are forced into it by the system. The campaign season should be shortened to 3 months (did we really need 2 years to get an outcome in which a fool like Trump is president?), and Congress should pass a law that winners of primaries don’t have to pay for political ads on tv and radio.

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in 2012, soon thereafter French police actually went into his private residence searching for an alleged $50,000 in illicit campaign contributions from the L’Oreale heiress. I thought to myself, seriously? $50,000 in a presidential campaign? Our presidential campaigns cost a billion dollars each! $50,000 is a rounding error, not a basis for police action. Why, George W. Bush took millions from arms manufacturers and then ginned up a war for them, and the police haven’t been anywhere near his house.

American politicians don’t represent “the people.” With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the 1%. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence.


Read more by Juan Cole


4. Money and corruption have seeped so far into our media system that people can with a straight face assert that scientists aren’t sure human carbon emissions are causing global warming. Fox Cable News is among the more corrupt institutions in American society, purveying outright lies for the benefit of the fossil fuels billionaire class. The US is so corrupt that it is resisting the obvious urgency to slash carbon production. Virtually the entire Republican Party resists the firm consensus of all respected scientists in the world and the firm consensus of everybody else in the world save for a few denialists in English-speaking countries. This resistance to an urgent and dangerous reality comes about because they are bribed to take this stance. Even Qatar, its economy based on natural gas, freely admits the challenge of human-induced climate change. American politicians like Jim Inhofe are openly ridiculed when they travel to Europe for their know-nothingism on climate.

4. That politicians can be bribed to reduce regulation of industries like banking (what is called “regulatory capture”) means that they will be so bribed. Scott Pruitt, a Manchurian candidate from Big Oil, has single-handedly demolished the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of polluting industry. This assault on the health of American citizens on behalf of vampirical corporations is the height of corruption.

6. The US military budget is bloated and enormous, bigger than the military budgets of the next twelve major states. What isn’t usually realized is that perhaps half of it is spent on outsourced services, not on the military. It is corporate welfare on a cosmic scale. I’ve seen with my own eyes how officers in the military get out and then form companies to sell things to their former colleagues still on the inside. Precisely because it is a cesspool of large-scale corruption, Trump’s budget will throw over $100 billion extra taxpayer dollars at it.

7. The US has a vast gulag of 2.2 million prisoners in jail and penitentiary. There is an increasing tendency for prisons to be privatized, and this tendency is corrupting the system. It is wrong for people to profit from putting and keeping human beings behind bars. This troubling trend is made all the more troubling by the move to give extra-long sentences for minor crimes, to deny parole and to imprison people for life for e,g, three small thefts.

8. The National Security Agency’s domestic spying was a form of corruption in itself, and lends itself to corruption. With some 4 million government employees and private contractors engaged in this surveillance, it is highly unlikely that various forms of insider trading and other corrupt practices are not being committed. If you knew who Warren Buffett and George Soros were calling every day, that alone could make you a killing. The American political class wouldn’t have defended this indefensible invasion of citizens’ privacy so vigorously if someone somewhere weren’t making money on it.

9. As for insider trading, it turns out Congress undid much of the law it hastily passed forbidding members, rather belatedly, to engage in insider trading (buying and selling stock based on their privileged knowledge of future government policy). That this practice only became an issue recently is another sign of how corrupt the system is.

10. Asset forfeiture in the ‘drug war’ is corrupting police departments and the judiciary. Although some state legislatures are dialing this corrupt practice back, it is widespread and a danger to the constitution.

So don’t tell the global South how corrupt they are for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

Watch | Corruption Perceptions Index 2017

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/oHwW27kLazg?rel=0&showinfo=0

Top Photo | Rit Picone of Newpaltz, N.Y., carries an American flag upside down as a symbol of protest against the influence of money in politics. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, his new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st; he is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan)l He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon; he has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles; His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

© Informed Comment

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.

British Diplomatic Cable Reveals Western Strategy To Disintegrate Syria – By FARS (SOTT)

US president Donald Trump

© FNA
A Lebanese newspaper wrote that it has gained access to an email from the British embassy in the US which reveals Washington’s 5-paragraph plan to disintegrate Syria

The Arabic-language al-Akhbar newspaper wrote on Saturday that the US officials along with their western allies have decided to implement a detailed plan to disintegrate Syria and prolonge the war in the country by continued deployment on the Eastern banks of the Euphrates.

In a somewhat familiar but precise English, Benjamin Norman – a diplomat in charge of the Middle East at the British Embassy in Washington – reports in a confidential diplomatic telegram of the first meeting of the “Small American Group on Syria” (United States, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan), held in Washington on January 11, 2018.

In this five-page TD, he reveals the details of the “Western strategy” in Syria: partition of the country, sabotage of Sochi, framing of Turkey and instructions to the UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura who leads the negotiations of Geneva. A Non Paper (8 pages) accompanies this TD in anticipation of the second meeting of the “Small Group”. It was held in Paris on January 23, mainly devoted to the use of chemical weapons and the “instructions” sent by the “Small American Group” to Staffan de Mistura.

Hugh Cleary (Head of the Near and Middle East Department of the Foreign Office ), Jérôme Bonnafont (Director ANMO / North Africa and Middle East at the Quai d’Orsay), David Satterfield (US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East) and Jordanian Nawaf Tell and Saudi Jamal al-Aqeel attended the January 11 meeting in Washington. The American opened the meeting, stating that a second meeting would be held in Paris on January 23.

David Satterfield confirmed that President Trump has decided to maintain a large US military presence in Syria, despite the victory over the “Islamic State Organization” (Daesh); the cost of this maintenance being set at $ 4 billion annually. He said that this US military presence should prevent any resurgence of Daesh but, above all, to prevent the Iranians from what he called as settling permanently and imposing themselves in the search for a political solution”. Thirdly, he insisted that the first meeting of the “Small Group” should also provide “material and political support for Staffan de Mistura to” consolidate the Geneva process “.

All the participants welcomed this development very positively in order to “make substantial progress in Syria during the year 2018” and “respond to the propaganda of a Russian victory”. Then, the participants insisted on the “Russian desire to achieve a political solution” that was to be used to make the “Small Group” objectives “more operational”.

The United States noted that they would no longer participate in the Astana meetings, having reduced “their participation to a very low level, to emphasize their commitment to Geneva”; in definitive terms, it was decided to “draw a conceptual line on Astana to return to Geneva”. They then felt that so far “Geneva remained a failure, despite the efforts of Staffan de Mistura”. They were very cautious about including the ceasefire in the Geneva talks: “the truth is that we just do not have the ability to prevent the regime from nibbling the pockets of the opposition. remaining in Idlib and East of Ghouta “.

TD reports great progress “made by the opposition over the last few months,” pointing out that “it will still need to be more flexible to ensure that the Regime does not leave Geneva (…) while the Americans do not support the assumption of a transitional government as provided for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 “.

The text adds that “it would still be useful for the opposition to stop agitating this assumption all the time …”. It was also agreed that “the opposition had to be more flexible and stop agitating the bogeyman of a transitional government without changing the final goal of partitioning Syria and leaving Bashar al-Assad.

The French representative – Jérôme Bonnafont – posed the problem of a possible participation of Bashar al-Assad in future elections. David Satterfield responded that “the goal was to create conditions and institutions that would allow elections that Assad could not win.”

Satterfield added that “there is no flagrant reason” to prevent Assad from being a candidate. Under these conditions, it was mainly a question of testing Russia’s intentions, especially so that it could “get the regime to discuss a new constitution, free elections under the control of the United Nations, and the creation of an environment likely to favor these two processes”.

Unrestricted agreement of all members of the “Small Group” meeting to “no longer be satisfied with Lavrov’s honeyed words, in order to put Moscow under pressure”. For Satterfield, it is about getting the Russians to let Assad go, “through meetings of the Security Council and a broad public communication campaign,” believing that the announced re-election of Vladimir Putin positively undermined the Russian position.

One of the conclusions of this first meeting of the “Small Group” is perfectly clear: “to reinvigorate Geneva so that Sochi becomes irrelevant”; France demanding more “transparency on the Russian position”. But it is still not to oppose “frontally” in Sochi “with the advantage of gathering a significant share of the Syrian civil society”, to bring back the “most positive contributions to Geneva, to renew and relaunch this format of Geneva.

The Saudis warned of a “risk of fragmentation of the different opposition groups and asked for help to maintain the cohesion of the opposition.” Satterfield replied that their representatives should “be more involved in finding a political solution rather than enjoy great salaries and long stays in pleasant hotels.” France supported this remark by emphasizing “communication”. In this regard, the British TD makes the following comment: “Unfortunately, the Fifth French Republic is not intended to finance this effort,” British representatives recalling “that the communication of the opposition was funded in the first place by … the United Kingdom “.

David Satterfield then explained that the Turkish opposition to the “Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)” prevented the Kurds from participating in Geneva. While understanding Ankara’s position, he stressed that “we could not ignore a group that controlled a third of Syria (SIC) and took the largest part in the fight against Daesh “.

He explained that “Americans were seeking to establish multi-ethnic leadership in northeastern Syria to dilute the hegemony of the YPG.” On the other hand, it was necessary to impose the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly Kurdish and under American control) in the process of Geneva.

Comment from the TD author: “I understand that the United States will appoint William (Bill) Roebuck, their former ambassador to Bahrain, as the SDF Special Representative. I will follow, but it is worth remembering – according to the separate discussions we had, for example with Fiona Hill – that relations between the United States and Turkey are already bad and unlikely to improve. As a result, Americans are not in the best position to do – solo – the big job with SDF and Ankara.

The objective is clearly defined: “to get Staffan de Mistura to accept in Geneva a tripartite structure incorporating the opposition, Assad and the SDF”.

Moreover, the Deputy Secretary of State indicates that a “Non-Paper – Reviving the Syrian Political Track in Geneva – will be communicated to Staffan de Mistura before the meeting of January 23 in Paris,” in order to put the Russians at the foot of the Wall “. This document includes: “a political road map, the elements of a constitutional reform, the UN election supervision structure and guidelines for the establishment of a peaceful environment”.

For their part, the Jordanians called the session “Small Group” of “meeting publique most secret of all time.” And the author of the TD concludes: “For the moment, we must keep a group consisting only of the United States, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The next to be invited should be Egypt and Germany (for whom we have pleaded). Turkey should also join the group, but the discussion with it may be poisoned by the Kurds, which will make it more difficult to neutralize Astana. It is therefore not urgent to integrate these last three countries.”

The concluding comments of this TD speak volumes about the future of Western strategy in Syria. The three key conclusions underscore “a real reaffirmation of US leadership behind the scenes …”. The second perspective is to “keep the pressure on Russia, even if Russia can not convince Moscow to let go of the regime as we had hoped.” In this regard, “we must continue – what we are already doing – to denounce the horrible humanitarian situation as well as the Russian complicity in the campaign of bombing civilian targets.” Finally, concludes the author of TD, “the Americans told me how much they appreciated our contribution and our support in recent months as they were finalizing their strategy.”

This does not augur a forthcoming crisis in Syria in a context marked by four major developments of the most worrying.

1) The United States has decided to strengthen and diversify their nuclear posture. The Pentagon has announced that it will develop miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons “to adapt to new international threats”. Iranian President Hassan Rohani responded: “How can anyone speak of world peace and at the same time announce that he is developing new nuclear weapons for his main enemies?”

2) NATO Defense Ministers agreed on 14 and 15 February in Brussels on the outline of a new overhaul of the Atlantic Alliance command structures. This “adaptation – the largest since the end of the Cold War”, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is proposed by the US military. It aims to make the Alliance more effective in a high-intensity crisis. Clearly, it is “better to deter and respond to new threats from certain states, first and foremost Russia.”

3) In the aftermath of the destruction of an Israeli fighter in Syrian airspace, and while Israeli police demand the indictment of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for corruption, Tel-Aviv accuses Iran of establishing itself in Syria and threatens to multiply its military operations. This is not the first time that the Israeli prime minister – who refuses to resign – is using the resurgence of regional tension to consolidate his personal power and his alliance with the extreme right of the country.

4) Finally, Washington’s military support for the Kurds in Syria continues to provoke the Ankara era. The crisis of confidence is consumed and the Turkish-American axis is on the brink of rupture. Second NATO contingent, the Turkish army had to accompany the conservative and anti-Western turn after the failed coup of July 2016. Mission has been given to a general with conservative and Islamist tendencies to restructure the derailed Turkish army by the purges. [Description: [​IMG]]

Ultimately, the British TD perfectly reflects the Western strategy in Syria: to sabotage the Sochi peace efforts, to add two new wars to the Syrian crisis: that of the Turks against the Kurds and those of the Israelis against Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. “The Americans have never admitted their military defeat in Syria and do not want to let go and especially their main strategic objective,” said a senior French diplomat, “that of a dismantling of Syria, the type of one who has been driven to Iraq and Libya. Their desire is to arm the Kurds to control the oil areas of eastern Syria in order to influence the political and economic reconstruction of the country. Peace is not for tomorrow.

Comment: See also: ‘Get ISIS and go home’: Trump bucks Pentagon and State Dept. on ultimate US goal in Syria

Russian UN envoy: “Battle for Raqqa didn’t get same outcry as Ghouta” ~ By RT and other Russian Press

 [REPORTS about terrorist attacks on Damascus and its Countryside, and the Syrian Arab Army and Russian Aerospace Forces military response to the terrorist dens in Eastern Qalamun and Ghouta]

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Russian UN envoy:
“Battle for Raqqa didn’t get same outcry as Ghouta”


Mercenary-terrorist gangs fire 70 rocket shells on Medical Surgery Hospital and residential areas in Damascus and Jaramana

[Damascus, SANA, 23/2/2018] – One civilian was killed and 60 others were injured on Friday due to 70 rocket shells fired by the armed groups on the residential neighborhoods of Damascus and its Countryside, in a new violation of the de-escalation zone agreement.

A source at Damascus Police Command said that armed groups fired a rocket shell on Salaheddin area in Rukn Eddin neighborhood in Damascus, killing one civilian and injuring tens others, some of them are in critical situation, in addition to causing severe material damage to public and private properties.

Seven other civilians were injured due to attacks with shells on Bab Touma and Ish al-Warwar, the source said.


Armed groups targeted residential neighborhoods in Damascus with shells:

The armed groups positioned in Eastern Ghouta targeted al-Sheikh Raslan area in Bab Touma neighborhood with a mortar shell, injuring a civilian, while another shell landed in Bab al-Salam area, causing only material damage.

The source added that an attack with a rocket shell by the armed groups positioned in Eastern Ghouta caused massive material damage to the ICU at the Medical Surgery Hospital in Baghdad Street in Damascus, damaging medical equipment in the hospital, cars parked in the area, and surrounding houses.

Earlier, the source told SANA that the armed groups positioned in Eastern Ghouta also fired mortar and rocket shells on the neighborhoods of Mezzeh 86, Barzeh, al-Joura, al-Qaboun, causing material damage to houses and properties.

A source at Damascus Countryside Police Command said that a number of shells landed in al-Assad residential suburb and its vicinity, causing only material damage to properties and infrastructure.

Three shells were landed on al-Homsi neighborhood in Jaramana city, causing only material damage, the source added.

SANA reporter said that units of the Syrian Arab Army have responded to the attacks by targeting the areas from which the shells were launched, inflicting losses upon the armed groups in personnel and weapons.

Material damage due to shelling attack on residential neighborhoods of Daraa

Material damage was caused on Friday when the armed groups fired shells on the residential neighborhoods of Daraa city in a new violation of the de-escalation zone agreement in the southern region.

Speaking to SANA’s reporter, a source at Daraa Police Command said that the armed groups fired a number of rocket shells on the neighborhoods of al-Sahari, Daraa al-Mahata and al-Kashef in Daraa city, causing material damage to citizens’ properties.

A unit of the Syrian Arab Army has responded with appropriate weapons to the areas form which the shells were launched, destroying a number of rocket launching pads.


Terrorists in Eastern Ghouta use civilians as human shields

[Moscow, SANA, Manar al-Freih / Hazem Sabbagh, 23/2/2018] – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the root of the problems in the Eastern Ghouta is the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra and groups affiliated to it which target the capital Damascus with shells, use civilians as human shields, and claim that humanitarian conditions are bad there.

In a press conference with his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Kamilov on Friday, Lavrov said that the terrorists use civilians in Eastern Ghouta as human shields in order to put the blame for any casualties on the Syrian Army and government and present them as parties that violate international humanitarian laws, adding that whoever wants to ensure the human rights of the civilians in Eastern Ghouta should put pressure on the terrorist organizations that exist there.

The Russian minister said that the US-led international coalition doesn’t seem to fight Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organization in Syria, adding that “al-Nusra is not being targeted. We still have no evidence that the US-led coalition considers the Nusra as a target for its military campaign.”

Lavrov also noted that the so called “White Helmets” have repeatedly been caught falsifying information.

He pointed out that the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Syria’s ceasefire (proposed by Kuwait and Sweden) doesn’t guarantee that the terrorists will lay down their weapons, but at the same time, Moscow is ready to back the proposal.

“In order to make this resolution effective — and we are ready to agree on a document that will do so — we propose a formula that will make the ceasefire real and based on the guarantees of the parties that are currently residing in East Ghouta; the guarantees should be backed by the external powers, including those who have influence over the extremist groups that entrenched themselves in the Damascus suburbs,” the minister said.

Lavrov said that the Astana process remains the only barrier that prevents the United States from dividing Syria, noting that these plans, even though they are denied by the US, are being implemented by them east of the Euphrates.

On the agreement on the de-escalation zones, Lavrov pointed out that the Americans do not want to recognize that Russia has played the key role in reaching it, which raises many questions for Moscow, adding that preparations are being made for the meeting between the foreign ministers of the three guarantor states (Russia, Iran, and Turkey) that will be based on UNSC Resolution 2254, which requires respect for the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic and its territorial inviolability.


Syrian Foreign Ministry: “Some Western officials are complicit in the crimes of terrorists against civilians in Damascus and its countryside”

[Damascus, SANA,Hazem Sabbagh, 20/2/2018] – The Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General and the head of the Security Council on the attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups on Damascus and its countryside, killing and injuring dozens of innocent civilians, affirming that terrorist officials and others who provide cover for these terrorists are complicit in these crimes.

In the letter, the Ministry said that armed terrorist groups located in the Eastern Ghouta targeted Damascus city and its countryside on Tuesday February 20th with scores of lethal shells, killing and injuring dozens of civilians as the shells targeted streets, residential neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, public establishments, and even the headquarters of diplomatic missions.

The Ministry said that this grave escalation by the terrorists, who fired more than 45 shells at Damascus in a few hours claimed the lives of six civilians and injured 29 more as of the date of writing these letters, is a continuation of the crimes committed on daily basis by these terrorists against the citizens in Damascus, as they have fired over 1,500 shells during the past seven weeks, killing and injuring hundreds, most of them women and children.

The Ministry noted that these attacks come at a time when some Western officials and others are carrying out campaigns that can only be described as direct support for these terrorists that encourage them to kill and carry out terrorist attacks without fear of being accountable.

The Ministry affirmed that these officials are complicit in the terrorists’ crimes against innocent civilians in Damascus and its countryside, as they are denying the Syrian state’s right to defend its citizens, fight terrorism, and confront those who fund and arm terrorists, adding that this is part of the underhanded conspiracy concocted by those officials around seven years ago, during which all parts of Syria suffered from terrorist bombings and massacres perpetrated by terrorists upon instructions from their masters in the capitals of Western and Arab Gulf states.

Syria affirms that these terrorist attacks will not dissuade it from continuing to fight terrorism, working to restore security and stability, and rebuilding what has been destroyed by terrorists and their partners and backers, the Ministry stated.

The Ministry also said that Syria demands an immediate and stern condemnation by the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General of this terrorist escalation, urging the Security Council to assume its responsibility by taking steps against the regimes and states that support and fund terrorism.

The Ministry concluded the letter by stressing that certain Western states’ prevention of condemning these terrorist attacks by the Security Council would send a message to the terrorists and their supporters to continue their crimes against Syrians and to keep using citizens in the Eastern Ghouta and other areas as human shields and hostages.


Lavrov: “U.S. & allies refuse to amend UN draft to include guarantee militants honor Syria ceasefire”

[RT News, 23/2/2018] ~ Washington and its allies refuse to amend a resolution drafted by the UN Security Council to include guarantees that militants will observe the ceasefire in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Russia is ready to vote for the UNSC draft, but for the proposal to yield real results, it needs “a formula allowing the ceasefire to be made real, and based on the guarantees of everyone in Eastern Ghouta [province in Syria] and beyond.” Moscow’s top diplomat also cautioned that there are no guarantees that the militants will stick to the humanitarian pause instead of a continued shelling of residential areas in Damascus.


© Abdalrhman Ismail


These guarantees should be supported by those who can influence “extremist groups” in Eastern Ghouta, Lavrov stressed, apparently referring to the US-led coalition. At the same time, Washington and its allies do not want to pass any amendment that would place responsibility on itself for the militants’ failure to stop the hostilities, according to the diplomat.

“For now, they refuse to accept an amendment which will place responsibility on them to ensure that the militants give clear guarantees to stop the shelling,” the Russian foreign minister stated on Friday.

Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, has seen a new wave of clashes between Syrian government forces and both rebel and Islamist factions. The latter included Al-Nusra Front, currently known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. Despite the terrorist group remaining a key problem in the area, Russia still has “no evidence that the US-led coalition considers Jabhat Al-Nusra as a real target for its actions.”

Addressing claims of human-rights abuses in Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian government, Lavrov said that many questions had been raised.

The Damascus suburb has recently been described by Western media outlets as the scene of a government-led massacre, with frequent claims that civilians are being deliberately targeted there. On Thursday, the UN Security Council convened for an emergency meeting in New York to discuss to the situation in Syria and Eastern Ghouta, in particular.

The Russian delegation rejected a proposed resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which was submitted by Sweden and Kuwait, as “non-implementable” as “long and hard work with parties to the conflict is needed to bring them together and work out all the details.”


JAYSH AL-ISLAM SHELLS DAMASCUS WITH HEAVY ROCKETS: RUSSIAN WARPLANES RESPOND


[South Front, 23/2/2018] ~ On February 23, a heavy rocket launched by Jaysh al-Islam hit civilian buildings in the Rukn al-Din district in the northern part of the Syrian capital Damascus, according to the Hezbollah media wing in Syria.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that one civilian had been killed and fifteen others had been injured in the rocket attack.

Jaysh al-Islam likely targeted the Rukn al-Din district with a Syrian-made Maysalun unguided artillery rocket. The rocket is a copy of the Iranian Zelzal-2 rocket. Maysalun has a range of 210km and a heavy high explosive (HE) warhead.

Jaysh al-Islam captured several Maysalun rockets from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the Eastern Qalamun region during 2013. These rockets are still stationed in Jaysh al-Islam’s ammo depots in the Petra quarries in the northern part of the besieged Eastern Qalamun pocket, according to Syrian pro-government activists.

Lieutenant Colonel Ali Abdulbagi, Jaysh al-Islam’s Chief of the Staff, posted photos of Jaysh al-Islam’s Maysalun rockets via its official Twitter account on February 22 and openly threatened to use them. The official account of Jaysh al-Islam even retweeted Lt. Col. Abdulbagi threat.


 

In response to the rocket attack, warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted pinpoints airstrikes against several ammo depots of Jaysh al-Islam the Eastern Qalamun pocket, according to Syrian pro-government activists.

Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman, the Ahrar al-Sham Movement and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have shelled the city of Damascus on a daily basis over the last two weeks. According to SANA, four civilians were killed and eighty-eight others were injured in the armed groups shelling during the last 48 hours only.

Aftermath of the Jaysh al-Islam rocket attack on the Rukn al-Din district:

Jaysh al-Islam Shells Damascus With Heavy Rockets. Russian Warplanes Respond (Video, Photos)

“Hezbollah special forces took captive a senior field commander of the terrorists affiliated to Riyadh and two U.S. and French intelligence officers working in the newly-founded joint operations room of Jeish al-Fatah (a coalition of several terrorist groups) in Aleppo in one of the regions controlled by al-Nusra Front in Aleppo”, Majeda al-Haj, a prominent Lebanese journalist, wrote on al-Sabat news website today.

Al-Haj said that

the joint operations room was set up so that the French and US intelligence agents can directly command Jeish al-Fatah terrorist attacks in Aleppo and nearby regions.

She said that

the U.S. imagined that the captured spies would be taken to Lebanon and alerted Tel Aviv to bomb the convoy that was supposedly taking the captive American and French officers, but the convoy that came under the Israeli airstrike was not carrying the captured spies”.

She said that

the US, Israeli and Saudi spy agents in Syria later helped a special team of Al-Nusra terrorists – who received their trainings from Israel’s Mossad secret service in 2012 – to find the place of Hezbollah Commander Badreddin in retaliation for the capture of these officers.

Al-Haj said that

the Al-Nusra team is tasked with finding senior Hezbollah commanders in Syria to assassinate them.

She also pointed out that

the death of several Iranian advisors in Khan Touman was not the result of clashes with Al-Nusra terrorists, adding that the senior officers were killed in an air raid by the US planes that took off from Turkey’s Incerlik airbase and bombed their operation room in Southern Aleppo.

The Lebanese resistance movement’s senior military commander, Mustafah Badreddin, was killed near Damascus military airport in a terrorist attack last week.

After his death, a senior politician disclosed that the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement is planning to launch massive military operations against the Takfiri terrorists in Syria in retaliation for his martyrdom.

“Unique military operations by Hezbollah against Syria’s Takfiri terrorists will be conducted very soon,” Wahib Wahibi told FNA on Tuesday.

He reiterated that Hezbollah’s response to the Takfiri terrorists’ crimes will come within the framework of its counterterrorism operations.

(enphasis and bold added)


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Jaysh al-Islam Shells Damascus With Heavy Rockets. Russian Warplanes Respond (Video, Photos)Hezbollah has captured an American and a French spies in its operations in Aleppo, a prominent Lebanese media source revealed on Saturday, adding that the US, Israeli and Saudi intelligence agents helped Al-Nusra Front to find the place of Hezbollah’s martyred military chief, Mustafah Badreddin, and kill him in retaliation.

“Hezbollah special forces took captive a senior field commander of the terrorists affiliated to Riyadh and two US and French intelligence officers working in the newly-founded joint operations room of Jeish al-Fatah (a coalition of several terrorist groups) in Aleppo in one of the regions controlled by al-Nusra Front in Aleppo,” Majeda al-Haj, a prominent Lebanese journalist, wrote on al-Sabat news website today.

Al-Haj said that the joint operations room was set up so that the French and US intelligence agents can directly command Jeish al-Fatah terrorist attacks in Aleppo and nearby regions.

She said the US imagined that the captured spies would be taken to Lebanon and alerted Tel Aviv to bomb the convoy that was supposedly taking the captive American and French officers, “but the convoy that came under the Israeli airstrike was not carrying the captured spies”.

She said the US, Israeli and Saudi spy agents in Syria later helped a special team of Al-Nusra terrorists – who received their trainings from Israel’s Mossad secret service in 2012 – to find the place of Hezbollah Commander Badreddin in retaliation for the capture of these officers.

Al-Haj said the Al-Nusra team is tasked with finding senior Hezbollah commanders in Syria to assassinate them.

She also pointed out that the death of several Iranian advisors in Khan Touman was not the result of clashes with Al-Nusra terrorists, adding that the senior officers were killed in an air raid by the US planes that took off from Turkey’s Incerlik airbase and bombed their operation room in Southern Aleppo.

The Lebanese resistance movement’s senior military commander, Mustafah Badreddin, was killed near Damascus military airport in a terrorist attack last week.

After his death, a senior politician disclosed that the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement is planning to launch massive military operations against the Takfiri terrorists in Syria in retaliation for his martyrdom.

“Unique military operations by Hezbollah against Syria’s Takfiri terrorists will be conducted very soon,” Wahib Wahibi told FNA on Tuesday.

He reiterated that Hezbollah’s response to the Takfiri terrorists’ crimes will come within the framework of its counterterrorism operations.

 

Jaysh al-Islam Shells Damascus With Heavy Rockets. Russian Warplanes Respond (Video, Photos)Hezbollah has captured an American and a French spies in its operations in Aleppo, a prominent Lebanese media source revealed on Saturday, adding that the US, Israeli and Saudi intelligence agents helped Al-Nusra Front to find the place of Hezbollah’s martyred military chief, Mustafah Badreddin, and kill him in retaliation.

“Hezbollah special forces took captive a senior field commander of the terrorists affiliated to Riyadh and two US and French intelligence officers working in the newly-founded joint operations room of Jeish al-Fatah (a coalition of several terrorist groups) in Aleppo in one of the regions controlled by al-Nusra Front in Aleppo,” Majeda al-Haj, a prominent Lebanese journalist, wrote on al-Sabat news website today.

Al-Haj said that the joint operations room was set up so that the French and US intelligence agents can directly command Jeish al-Fatah terrorist attacks in Aleppo and nearby regions.

She said the US imagined that the captured spies would be taken to Lebanon and alerted Tel Aviv to bomb the convoy that was supposedly taking the captive American and French officers, “but the convoy that came under the Israeli airstrike was not carrying the captured spies”.

She said the US, Israeli and Saudi spy agents in Syria later helped a special team of Al-Nusra terrorists – who received their trainings from Israel’s Mossad secret service in 2012 – to find the place of Hezbollah Commander Badreddin in retaliation for the capture of these officers.

Al-Haj said the Al-Nusra team is tasked with finding senior Hezbollah commanders in Syria to assassinate them.

She also pointed out that the death of several Iranian advisors in Khan Touman was not the result of clashes with Al-Nusra terrorists, adding that the senior officers were killed in an air raid by the US planes that took off from Turkey’s Incerlik airbase and bombed their operation room in Southern Aleppo.

The Lebanese resistance movement’s senior military commander, Mustafah Badreddin, was killed near Damascus military airport in a terrorist attack last week.

After his death, a senior politician disclosed that the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement is planning to launch massive military operations against the Takfiri terrorists in Syria in retaliation for his martyrdom.

“Unique military operations by Hezbollah against Syria’s Takfiri terrorists will be conducted very soon,” Wahib Wahibi told FNA on Tuesday.

He reiterated that Hezbollah’s response to the Takfiri terrorists’ crimes will come within the framework of its counterterrorism operations.

 

Jaysh al-Islam Shells Damascus With Heavy Rockets. Russian Warplanes Respond (Video, Photos)Hezbollah has captured an American and a French spies in its operations in Aleppo, a prominent Lebanese media source revealed on Saturday, adding that the US, Israeli and Saudi intelligence agents helped Al-Nusra Front to find the place of Hezbollah’s martyred military chief, Mustafah Badreddin, and kill him in retaliation.

“Hezbollah special forces took captive a senior field commander of the terrorists affiliated to Riyadh and two US and French intelligence officers working in the newly-founded joint operations room of Jeish al-Fatah (a coalition of several terrorist groups) in Aleppo in one of the regions controlled by al-Nusra Front in Aleppo,” Majeda al-Haj, a prominent Lebanese journalist, wrote on al-Sabat news website today.

Al-Haj said that the joint operations room was set up so that the French and US intelligence agents can directly command Jeish al-Fatah terrorist attacks in Aleppo and nearby regions.

She said the US imagined that the captured spies would be taken to Lebanon and alerted Tel Aviv to bomb the convoy that was supposedly taking the captive American and French officers, “but the convoy that came under the Israeli airstrike was not carrying the captured spies”.

She said the US, Israeli and Saudi spy agents in Syria later helped a special team of Al-Nusra terrorists – who received their trainings from Israel’s Mossad secret service in 2012 – to find the place of Hezbollah Commander Badreddin in retaliation for the capture of these officers.

Al-Haj said the Al-Nusra team is tasked with finding senior Hezbollah commanders in Syria to assassinate them.

She also pointed out that the death of several Iranian advisors in Khan Touman was not the result of clashes with Al-Nusra terrorists, adding that the senior officers were killed in an air raid by the US planes that took off from Turkey’s Incerlik airbase and bombed their operation room in Southern Aleppo.

The Lebanese resistance movement’s senior military commander, Mustafah Badreddin, was killed near Damascus military airport in a terrorist attack last week.

After his death, a senior politician disclosed that the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement is planning to launch massive military operations against the Takfiri terrorists in Syria in retaliation for his martyrdom.

“Unique military operations by Hezbollah against Syria’s Takfiri terrorists will be conducted very soon,” Wahib Wahibi told FNA on Tuesday.

He reiterated that Hezbollah’s response to the Takfiri terrorists’ crimes will come within the framework of its counterterrorism operations.

 

‘Get ISIS and go home’: Trump bucks Pentagon & State Dept. on ultimate US goal in Syria – By RT

‘Get ISIS and go home’: Trump bucks Pentagon & State Dept. on ultimate US goal in Syria
President Donald Trump appeared to dash the hopes of interventionists and contradict his own administration officials, by declaring that US troops’ mission in Syria is limited to defeating ISIS and doesn’t include regime change.

“We’re there for one reason: to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS, and to go home,” Trump said on Friday, during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the White House. “We’re not there for any other reason and we’ve largely accomplished our goal.”

While Trump did not hesitate to call the Syrian government “a humanitarian disgrace,” criticizing Russia and Iran for their involvement, his comments implied the US military also had no business in Syria beyond the ‘ultimate’ goal of defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“Ultimately, there has to be a political settlement,” said Turnbull, noting that Australian troops in the region have been focused on training the Iraqi military and not so much on Syria.

The two leaders were answering a question from a US reporter who wondered what they intended to do about the East Ghouta crisis. The suburb of Damascus is held by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants and has seen heavy fighting over the past two weeks.

Trump’s position might be news to his Cabinet officials, however. US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has been an outspoken advocate of regime change in Syria, is currently championing a Security Council resolution proposing an emergency ceasefire in the area, following the militants’ claims of civilian casualties and atrocities uncritically echoed in Western media.

The resolution’s objective was to blame the Syrian government for the escalation of violence in order to, yet again, promote regime change, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference in Serbia on Thursday. Lavrov added that the militants in Ghouta belong to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda and a terrorist group that is not covered by the ceasefire overseen by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined defeating IS ‒ and Al-Qaeda ‒ as only one of the five goals the US was pursuing in Syria. The others? Curbing Iranian influence and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, ending the civil war and creating conditions for safe return of refugees, as well as ensuring a peaceful transfer to a “post-Assad leadership.”

In Tillerson’s vision, the majority of Syrian people will peacefully vote out President Bashar Assad in a free election. The Obama administration and its allies had repeatedly insisted that “Assad must go,” which the Trump administration has alternately agreed and disagreed with.

In December, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged the presence of almost 1,800 US troops in Syria, and said they will remain there for “as long as we need to.”

Unlike the Russian forces, who are in Syria on the invitation of the country’s officially recognized government, the US forces are operating without any kind of mandate under international law. Some lawmakers have even questioned their continued presence under US law, as the Trump administration continues to rely on authorizations from 2001 and 2002 to use military force (AUMF), passed by Congress to allow President George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism.

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Hey US State Dept, Here’s What Sputnik, RT Are Doing to End the War in Syria – By RT

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017

© AP Photo/ Alex Brandon
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US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has accused Sputnik and RT of bearing “unique responsibility” for the bloodshed in Syria and blamed the Russian media for not doing enough to stop the fighting. Here’s what Sputnik has to say about this claim.

#1: We Reveal Truths the Western Media Doesn’t

Sputnik and RT have been at the forefront of exposing fake news, along with the false flag operations carried out by US and European-backed ‘humanitarian’ groups like the White Helmets, which have unfortunately taken over much of the Western media space in its coverage of the Syrian war.

Without this alternative coverage, who knows – maybe the US and its allies would have built up enough support among the public to intervene in Syria on a massive scale, in much the same way they previously had in Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya in years past? How many of these ‘humanitarian’ interventions have led to anything good, particularly for the ordinary people of these countries? Can Ms. Nauert name even one?

Through its efforts, Sputnik and RT have helped expose the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, to publicize eagle-eyed internet users’ efforts to uncover the White Helmets as the regime change prop they really are and the jihadists’ abuse of children, such as Bana Alabed and Omran Daqneesh, who have been used for propaganda purposes by militants, some of them with direct links to Daesh and al-Qaeda.

READ MORE: Top 3 Most Notorious MSM Fake News Tactics From the Syrian War

#2: We Offer Coverage of the Syrian Peace Process That Western Media and Governments Ignore

Over the last few months, peace talks have been held in Geneva, Astana and Sochi, where Russia, Damascus and other partners have tried to reach a resolution to the Syrian crisis. However, if one were to open up Google and type ‘Syria peace talks’, one would find that most Western coverage of the Russian-supported talks is done in a rather biased and pessimistic way.For example, the recent Sochi talks between the Syrian government and elements of the opposition, which participants themselves have described as a solid, ‘promising’ new step forward for reaching a real and lasting settlement, have been referred to by much of the Western media using phrases and words like as ‘destined to fail’, ‘crumbling’ and ‘divisive.’ 

How did the US State Department respond to the talks? Well, they didn’t, choosing to ignore the Sochi conference altogether and declaring that their “collective focus must remain on the UN-led political process.” And the Pentagon? Its head, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, simply deemed the talks a “failure” without elaborating why.

 
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Alongside a more focused coverage of the peace talks, Sputnik and RT have also been at the forefront of exposing atrocities committed by Islamist militants in Syria against the local population – the same militants that the US State Department has often described as ‘moderate rebels.’ In this way, Russian media is helping to delegitimize such ‘terrorists in sheep’s clothing,’ preventing them from gaining an unearned seat at the negotiating table.

READ MORE: What Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You About Eastern Ghouta

#3: Unlike Some, Russian Media Doesn’t Call for an Escalation of Violence

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sputnik and RT have never called for the escalation of violence in Syria, or any other country in the world for that matter, unlike some well-known current or former figures from the State Department.

To put things another way: instead of accusing Russia-based media organizations of bearing a “unique responsibility” for a conflict that’s entirely outside their ability to control, perhaps Ms. Nauert should focus on the State Department’s own policy in the region and on the responsibility Washington bears in starting the Syrian conflict — and resolving it.

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.

 

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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

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