The squalid charade in the US Senate over the nomination of a Supreme Court judge and the comic opera performance by President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly are deeply embarrassing for many Americans — but far from all Americans, because substantial numbers support the flawed Court nominee and strongly endorse Trump’s arrogant and malevolent insults to so many nations. They relish confronting and menacing those who dare to disagree with them.
Trump’s threats against Venezuela were in line with similar intimidating remarks he made about North Korea at last year’s UN Assembly, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a similar reversal this time round. He also threatened Venezuela last year, and he’s maintained the offensive, in all meanings of the word. In 2017 he declared that President Nicolas Maduro’s government was strangling the country through “faithfully implemented” socialism and vowed to help the Venezuelan people “regain their freedom, recover their country and restore their democracy”. In New York on September 25 he said it would be easy for the Venezuelan military to launch a coup d’état and impose regime change, which was a direct threat to the country’s sovereignty. His encouragement of revolution followed his announcement to the Assembly that “I honour the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honour our sovereignty in return.”
But Trump is telling — ordering — many countries how to live and work, and has no respect whatever for customs or beliefs that do not fit with his confused and distorted view of how the nations of the world should conduct their affairs. He contradicted his statement about all nations having the right to do as they wish by calling on the UN to “resist socialism and the misery it brings to everyone.”
He has no idea that India, a country on which he heaped praise during his bizarre UN tirade, has a Constitution that begins, “We, the people of India [resolve] to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens” the tenets of “justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.” But that is a minor example of absurd contradiction in Trump’s erratic approach to the world. As pointed out in a Newsweek column, “Even in his choice of countries worthy of praise, America’s president signalled values set at odds with erstwhile American ideals… His praise of reforms undertaken by Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince omitted the severe crackdown on human rights activists in what remains a theocratic, absolute monarchy. His singling out of Poland and Israel as thriving democracies left many perplexed, given each country’s recent and well-documented struggles with democratic governance.”
That puts it mildly, because Israeli soldiers continue to kill unarmed Palestinians, and the lurch of Poland to extremism is not just perplexing but most disturbing for Europe. As observed by Professor Laurent Pech of the UK’s Middlesex University, “Poland is no longer a state governed by the rule of law… In essence, Poland’s so-called ‘judicial reforms’ are not reforms at all but rather a set of deliberate systemic attacks on the independence of the Polish judiciary.” But it isn’t surprising that Poland is backed enthusiastically by Trump, because it is one of Washington’s best customers for vastly expensive weapons and probably not least because it wants to have a US military base named Fort Trump, and is prepared to spend 2 billion dollars building it.
It is unlikely Iran would ever want to construct a Fort Trump, in view of the fact that the US president relished insulting the Tehran government and told the General Assembly that “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbours or borders or the sovereign rights of nations” which is nonsense, but not as risibly absurd as his declaration that “Iran’s neighbours have paid a heavy toll for the agenda of aggression and expansion.”
Iran’s neighbours are Afghanistan to the east and Iraq to the west, and they have paid a heavy toll after being invaded by the United States military, because they have been reduced to chaos. Both are warzones and have become havens for the lunatic extremists of Islamic State. In Iraq in 2017, as recorded by Human Rights Watch, “Iraqi and US-led coalition forces bombarded civilian objects including homes and hospitals in ISIS-held areas. They have fired inherently imprecise ground-fired munitions, including mortars, grad rockets and Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munitions into densely populated civilian areas. In addition, aircraft have dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects on these areas. By the coalition’s own admission, its aircraft have unintentionally killed at least 624 civilians.”
Just who is sowing death and destruction in Iraq?
On September 26, the day after Trump’s UN pantomime, the New York Times reported the UN as recording that in Afghanistan “the number of civilians killed by Afghan and American airstrikes is rising… 21 civilians were killed in two airstrikes last weekend.” and that “after the release of the United Nations statement, an airstrike on Tuesday in Kunduz Province killed three more people, a 45-year-old woman and two teenage girls, according to Sher Mohammed, the husband of the woman who died.” The UN Mission said that in the first six months of 2018, airstrikes killed 149 people and injured 204, a 52 percent increase from the same period last year.
Afghanistan is paying a heavy toll for the US agenda of aggression and expansion.
Washington continues to sow death and destruction around the world, and it is apparent that Trump is intent on domination. His belligerent policy on Iran, however, may not be simple to pursue, as the European Union, China and Russia disapprove of the unilateral US sanctions designed to cripple the Iranian economy which were imposed on the spurious grounds that the nuclear accord signed in 2015 is in some way threatening to the US. They intend to support the agreement, and it is heartening that, at last, the most important countries in the world are getting together to show Trump that he can’t have it all his own erratic way.
Press TV – Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Pakistan says Baku will not allow Israel to use its airspace or land to carry out a military attack on Iran or any other country.
“AZERBAIJAN HAS BEEN FOLLOWING A POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN THE [INTERNAL] AFFAIRS OF OTHER COUNTRIES,” BAKU’S AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN DASHGIN SHIKROV SAID IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE PAKISTANI DAILY THE NEWSON MONDAY.
THE AMBASSADOR STRONGLY REJECTED RUMORS IN WESTERN MEDIA OUTLETS ABOUT HIS COUNTRY’S READINESS FOR PROVIDING ISRAEL GROUND FACILITIES FOR ATTACKING IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES. “AZERBAIJAN IS MEMBER OF THE ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION (OIC) AND NOBODY SHOULD HAVE ANY DOUBT THAT IT WILL NOT PERMIT THE USE OF ITS TERRITORY FOR COMMITTING ACTS OF AGGRESSION AGAINST ANOTHER OIC MEMBER,” THE AMBASSADOR ADDED.
ISRAEL HAS RECENTLY STEPPED UP THREATS OF CARRYING OUT A STRIKE AGAINST IRAN’S NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES. THE THREATS ARE BASED ON THE UNFOUNDED CLAIMS THAT THE PEACEFUL NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC INCLUDE A MILITARY COMPONENT.
IRANIAN OFFICIALS HAVE REFUTED THE ALLEGATION AND HAVE PROMISED A CRUSHING RESPONSE TO ANY MILITARY STRIKE AGAINST THE COUNTRY, WARNING THAT ANY SUCH MEASURE COULD RESULT IN A WAR THAT WOULD SPREAD BEYOND THE MIDDLE EAST
Earlier this week, Reuters confirmed through two Azeri officers that Israeli forces were in place in Azerbaijan and that the president was weighing options of supporting their attack. That text is now below from Reuters. Their unedited full text is at Addendum I:
REUTERS – YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.
“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Azerbaijan was “caught with their pants down” and is now trying to lie their way out of this.
In an explosive turn of events, Press TV announces Azerbaijan has “turned chicken” after receiving a chastising based on receiving an early distribution of this Veterans Today document through Russian sources.
Additional VT staff were, while at the Pentagon, responsible for drawing up the war plans, not just for the initial invasion of Iran but the American invasion of Azerbaijan, slated for 2008, as part of a Bush administration military takeover of the entire Caspian Basin.
The map for that attack by US troops from Iran is below:
The cover sheet for the War Plans/Exercise Plans is below, a document that contained a full outline for needed capabilities for the successful takeover of all of the former Soviet Republics, beginning with Azerbaijan as seen on the map above.
Today, Azerbaijan announced it would allow Israeli planes to use their air bases to attack Iran. Reuters published the press release from Baku, one originally released in Veterans Today 27 months ago. From Reuters:
BAKU (REUTERS) – ISRAEL’S “GO-IT-ALONE” OPTION TO ATTACK IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES HAS SET THE MIDDLE EAST ON EDGE AND UNSETTLED ITS MAIN ALLY AT THE HEIGHT OF A U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU EXUDES IMPATIENCE, SAYING TEHRAN IS BARELY A YEAR FROM A “RED LINE” FOR ATOMIC CAPACITY. MANY FELLOW ISRAELIS, HOWEVER, FEAR A UNILATERAL STRIKE, LACKING U.S. FORCES, WOULD FAIL AGAINST SUCH A LARGE AND DISTANT ENEMY. BUT WHAT IF, EVEN WITHOUT WASHINGTON, ISRAEL WERE NOT ALONE?
AZERBAIJAN, THE OIL-RICH EX-SOVIET REPUBLIC ON IRAN’S FAR NORTHERN BORDER, HAS, SAY LOCAL SOURCES WITH KNOWLEDGE OF ITS MILITARY POLICY, EXPLORED WITH ISRAEL HOW AZERI AIR BASES AND SPY DRONES MIGHT HELP ISRAELI JETS PULL OFF A LONG-RANGE ATTACK.
An investigation done by independent intelligence organizations made up of former CIA, Army Intelligence and FBI personnel as published on June 18, 2010, discovered a plot between Israel, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan to attack Iran.
At that time, Israeli planes were training in Turkey on terrain meant to simulate Iran. Israel would send over 8 planes at a time and 6 would return. Sources report that two would fly to Azerbaijan where Israel now occupies two former Soviet fighter bases.
Israel was building a secret air force in Azerbaijan. That “secret air force” is now no longer secret, it is public knowledge but few know its history or the threat to world peace this irresponsible act represents.
The bases were supplied through the Georgian port of Poti with cluster and bunker-buster bombs being delivered beginning June 10, 2010. Units of the Russian Navy observed the deliveries and reported the incident to a world press that suppressed the story. The ship delivering the illegal arms were flagged American, the USS Grapple.
In consultation with intelligence operatives, it was found that the USS Grapple had been leased to Germany who had then allowed Israel to use it to deliver bombs to the Black Sea port under American naval identity.
WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED THAT TURKEY, DESPITE WHAT THEY CLAIM IS A HOSTILE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL, HAS ALLOWED OVER FLIGHT BY ISRAELI MILITARY PLANES WHO ARE USING TURKISH AIR SPACE TO RELOCATE TO AZERBAIJAN AFTER A TWO YEAR PERIOD OF DISAGREEMENT.
THIS RELATIONSHIP, NEGOTIATED BETWEEN ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU AND TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN INCLUDES PROVISION FOR TURKEY TO ASSUME PARTIAL TERRITORIAL CONTROL OF A BORDER REGION INSIDE SYRIA.
TURKEY IS PLANNING TO SEIZE THIS TERRITORY AND CALL IT A “BUFFER ZONE” BUT THE “BUFFER” MAY INCLUDE UP TO 30% OF SYRIAN TERRITORY.
Israel and Turkey have agreed to “Balkanize” Syria. However, the roots of today’s announcement were known some time ago.
On June 18, 2010, over two years ago, this columnist released the following information:
“A WEEK AGO, ISRAEL LEAKED TO THE PRESS THAT THEY HAD PERMISSION FROM SAUDI ARABIA TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE TO ATTACK IRAN. THE SAUDI’S QUICKLY DENIED THIS.
THE EFFORT ON ISRAEL’S PART WAS A RUSE TO COVER THEIR REAL PLANS, TO ATTACK FROM THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, CLOSE TO IRAN’S NORTHERN BORDER.
HOWEVER, THE BREAKDOWN IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEY AFTER MISCALCULATING THE RESPONSE TO THEIR FLOTILLA RAID ON A TURKISH SHIP IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS MAY HAVE ENDED THIS OPERATION.
ISRAEL, WHOSE ARMS AGREEMENTS WITH TURKEY MOUNTED TO NEARLY 5 BILLION DOLLARS OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, HAD BEEN TRAINING PILOTS IN TURKEY FOR BOMBING ATTACKS ON IRAN. DURING THESE TRAINING MISSIONS, ISRAEL WAS SMUGGLING AIRCRAFT THROUGH TURKISH AIRSPACE.
SOURCES INDICATE THAT GEORGIA HAS BECOME A MAJOR TRANSSHIPMENT POINT FOR NARCOTICS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE REGION. BOTH A LAND ROUTE THROUGH TURKEY AND INTO NORTHERN CYPRUS AND AIR AND SEA ROUTES DIRECTLY INTO EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA HAVE BEEN CITED.
TURKEY HAD ALLOWED ISRAEL TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE FOR TRAINING BECAUSE THEIR TERRAIN CLOSELY RESEMBLED AREAS OF IRAN THAT ISRAEL PLANNED TO ATTACK. HOWEVER, TURKEY WAS UNAWARE THAT PLANES INVOLVED IN THIS EFFORT WERE BEING RELOCATED TO FORWARD STAGING AREAS IN THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, MAKING TURKEY, TECHNICALLY, FULLY COMPLICIT IN THIS PLANNED ILLEGAL ATTACK.
HELPING COORDINATE THE ATTACK ARE INTELLIGENCE UNITS FORWARD STATIONED IN AZERBAIJAN, UNDER THE GUISE OF TECHNICIANS, TRAINERS AND ADVISORS UNDER THE BROAD ARMAMENTS AGREEMENTS WITH THAT SMALL NATION.
SUPPLY OPERATIONS, MOVING NECESSARY ORDNANCE, MUCH OF IT SUPPLIED BY THE UNITED STATES UNDER AMMUNITION STORAGE AGREEMENTS, IS BEING MOVED THROUGH THE BLACK SEA TO THE GEORGIAN PORT OF POTI, A MAJOR SITE FOR EXPORTING COAL AND MANGANESE ORE.
COVER FOR THE SUPPLY OPERATIONS IS BEING PERFORMED BY THE GEORGIAN COAST GUARD, SET UP BY ISRAEL AND MANNED WITH ISRAELI OBSERVERS. THEIR JOB IS TO KEEP RUSSIAN SURVEILLANCE CRAFT AWAY FROM SUPPLY OPERATIONS UNDER THE GUISE OF A “GAZA TYPE” NAVAL BLOCKADE OF ABKHAZIA, A SEPARATIST PROVINCE SUPPORTED BY RUSSIA.”
REUTERS, IN ITS STORY PUBLISHED TODAY INDICATED CONFIRMED SOURCES WITHIN THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY OF AZERBAIJAN. REUTERS GOES FURTHER:
“YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.
“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”
THAT ALIYEV, AN AUTOCRATIC ALLY OF WESTERN GOVERNMENTS AND OIL FIRMS, HAS BECOME A RARE MUSLIM FRIEND OF THE JEWISH STATE – AND AN OBJECT OF SCORN IN TEHRAN – IS NO SECRET; A $1.6-BILLION ARMS DEAL INVOLVING DOZENS OF ISRAELI DRONES, AND ISRAEL’S THIRST FOR AZERBAIJAN’S CASPIAN SEA CRUDE, ARE WELL DOCUMENTED.
ISRAEL’S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITED BAKU IN APRIL THIS YEAR.
BUT A LEAKED U.S. DIPLOMATIC CABLE FROM 2009 QUOTED ALIYEV, WHO SUCCEEDED HIS FATHER IN 2003, DESCRIBING RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL AS “LIKE AN ICEBERG, NINE TENTHS … BELOW THE SURFACE”.
The unknown factor is Azerbaijan’s ability to withstand a massive and immediate ground assault from Iran. US Army experts on the region indicate that Iran has a “superhighway direct to Baku,” the capitol of Azerbaijan and keystone to the massive Baku/Ceyhan pipeline.
Azerbaijan’s military, 45,000 active duty, a few thousand reserves and an unarmed and untrained inactive reserve of 300,000 veterans is extremely small in comparison to Iran’s military.
A REASONABLE ESTIMATE IS THAT, UNDER THE BEST OF CASES WITH SUPPORT FROM BOTH TURKEY AND ISRAEL, THAT BAKU COULD FALL IN 48 HOURS OR LESS, SHOULD THEY CHOOSE TO PARTICIPATE IN AN UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON IRAN.
Azerbaijan is closely aligned with Turkey. However, they fought and lost a war in the early 1990’s against Armenia. Azerbaijan lost 16% of their territory at that time.
During that war, Azerbaijan turned to Al Qaeda and Chechen forces for support, an act that angered Russia. Azerbaijan is still a “safe haven” for terrorists and is commonly used to transit narcotics from Afghanistan and is a “way station” in human trafficking.
It is believed that an Israeli attack launched from Azerbaijan would unleash an immediate response from Armenia against Azerbaijan. The two nations have been at the verge of hostilities for nearly two decades.
A recent estimate of regional forces paints a very dark picture for Azerbaijan:
SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION, ARMENIA HAS FOLLOWED A POLICY OF DEVELOPING ITS ARMED FORCES INTO A PROFESSIONAL, WELL TRAINED, AND MOBILE MILITARY. IN 2000, CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AND RESEARCH REPORTED THAT AT THAT TIME THE ARMENIAN ARMY HAD THE STRONGEST COMBAT CAPABILITY OF THE THREE CAUCASUS COUNTRIES’ ARMIES (THE OTHER TWO BEING GEORGIA AND AZERBAIJAN.
CSTO SECRETARY, NIKOLAY BORDYUZHA, CAME TO A SIMILAR CONCLUSION AFTER COLLECTIVE MILITARY DRILLS IN 2007 WHEN HE STATED THAT, “THE ARMENIAN ARMY IS THE MOST EFFICIENT ONE IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE”.
THIS WAS ECHOED MORE RECENTLY BY IGOR KOROTCHENKO, A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC COUNCIL, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, IN A MARCH 2011 INTERVIEW WITH VOICE OF RUSSIA RADIO.
CASPIAN OIL SUPPLIES AT RISK
The 1100 mile pipeline is the only outlet for oil from the Caspian basin to outlets on the Mediterranean. A branch of the pipeline services the massive Kirkuk oil fields of Northern Iraq.
The pipeline is owned by a number of companies with BP having a 30 percent stake.
The 25% stake theoretically held by SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan is under Israeli control, as collateral to underwrite Israeli weapons sales.
Israel has an agreement to link to the pipeline through Iraq, a deal negotiated between the Elat Ashkian Pipeline Company of Israel and the US backed Chalabi government that assumed control of Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
It is no longer clear as to whether the current government in Baghdad is still interested in this project.
Additional threats to the pipeline are in Armenia, where it may also be intercepted and in Turkey, where the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, has put the pipeline out of commission many times.
The significance of the pipeline is great in that, even if Iran has no rationale to cut oil supplies through the Straits of Hormuz, it could easily gain control of 5% of the world’s oil output and put all Caspian Basin oil off the market without in any way interfering with free transit of sea-lanes.
Additionally, the transit fees charged for use of the pipeline are a major source of revenue for both Georgia and Turkey, a source that would immediately end.
TWO “WILD CARD” ISSUES ARE RUSSIA AND IRAQ. AS IRAQ’S GOVERNMENT IS NOW UNDER SHIITE CONTROL AND AZERBAIJAN’S RELATIONS WITH, NOT JUST ARMENIA BUT RUSSIA HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY POOR, THE CHANCES FOR THIS MOVE BY ISRAEL TURNING INTO A REGIONAL CONFLICT OR WORLD WAR ARE VERY HIGH.
TAKING INTO ACCOUNT TURKEY’S “HAM HANDED” PLOTTING WITH ISRAEL AGAINST SYRIA AND THEIR ATTEMPTS TO SPREAD INFLUENCE INTO CENTRAL ASIA, THEIR SHORT LIVED POSITION AS A POTENTIAL LEADER IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD HAS CLEARLY TAKEN A “BACK SEAT” TO IRAN, EGYPT, PAKISTAN AND INDONESIA.
Israel’s timetable to attack from Azerbaijan is entirely dependent on the risks their long time but highly secretive ally is willing to accept.
Minimally, Azerbaijan might actually disappear. In a best case scenario, they would lose additional territory to Armenia and suffer total devastation of their oil production and processing facilities and destruction of their armed forces.
FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, THE RESULT, AS EXPECTED, HIGHER GASOLINE PRICES, HIGHER FOOD PRICES AND MORE THREATS TO CURRENCIES ALREADY NEARING COLLAPSE.
Editing: Jim W. Dean
By Thomas Grove
BAKU | Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:46pm EDT
(Reuters) – Israel’s “go-it-alone” option to attack Iran’s nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a “red line” for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.
But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran’s far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.
That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan – notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews – such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.
It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.
Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
“Where planes would fly from – from here, from there, to where? – that’s what’s being planned now,” a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. “The Israelis … would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan.”
That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state – and an object of scorn in Tehran – is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel’s thirst for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.
Israel’s foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.
But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as “like an iceberg, nine tenths … below the surface”.
That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan’s “frozen” conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even Chinaall jockey for influence.
Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
“Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling,” Musabayov told Reuters.
“I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
“We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations,” he added.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel’s occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.
Having also invested in Azerbaijan’s defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit to Afghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.
The Azeri president’s team insist that that will not happen.
“No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation,” said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev’s staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.
Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.
Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.
Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be “landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets”.
A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel’s U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.
There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran’s nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu’s “red line” speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely – for at least a few months.
Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.
A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft “ludicrous” – but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.
The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.
As part of last year’s arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what’s happening in Iran, while we protect our borders,” legislator Musabayov said – a view shared by Azeri former military sources.
Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however – though none believed any deal was yet settled.
The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi’ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.
The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington’s role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.
One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: “There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is ‘officially’. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used.”
The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel’s Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.
With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said – or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.
Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.
Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.
Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.
Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.
Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev’s government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: “We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel.”
However, Israel’s confrontation with Iran may turn out, the arms build-up in Azerbaijan, including recent Israeli upgrades for its Soviet T-72 tanks, may have consequences for the wider region and for the stand-off with Armenia – consequences that would trouble all the powers with stakes in the Caspian region.
“We keep buying arms. On the one hand, it’s a good strategy to frighten Armenia,” one of the former Azeri officers said of the shaky, 18-year-old ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh. “But you don’t collect weapons to hang on the wall and gather dust.
“One day, all these could be used.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
Russia has decided to send to Syria its S-300 VM system and has started delivering the Krasukha 4 radar systems jammer and other related military equipment. These installations indicate the low level of relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv. Israel’s capacity to destroy the new Russian system in Syria is not at issue. Israel may find a way to do so. Nevertheless, any such move will be a direct challenge to Russia’s superpower status.
Russia has repeatedly shown strategic patience: when two of its planes were shot down (first by Turkey in 2015), when the US launched 59 cruise missiles above its head, and when the US bombed Syrian positions and Russian contractors in Deirezzour. The latest of many Israeli provocations risks making Russia look weaker than it is. In this way, Israel has forced Russia to make an aggressive response.
The Russian decision to deliver these advanced missiles system, capable of neutralising any enemy target with a range of 200 km, doesn’t mean Syria will start operating them tomorrow and will thus be able to hit any jet violating its airspace and that of Lebanon. Russia is known for its slow delivery and will have to be in control of the trigger due to the presence of its Air Force in the air together with that of the US coalition.
Israeli arrogance pushed president Vladimir Putin to come out of his comfort zone in taking this decision. The Russian command expressed its anger bluntly when describing Israel as “highly ungrateful”. It seems Russia has helped Israel extensively during the years of its presence in Syria (since 2015) at the expense of the “axis of the resistance”, including Syria. Russia’s goal has been to keep a balance between this axis and its relationship with Israel.
Russia’s quandary is the difficulty of maintaining such a balance in this complicated conflict. The US has taken a clear stand behind Israel. Russia was also trying to align itself with Israel, despite the fact that Tel Aviv – a military state with a government – is not interested in balance. Israel’s most recent behaviour amounts to downgrading and mocking Russia’s position as a superpower.
Israel’s politico-military leadership was not embarrassed to inform Russia only one minute before its attack on the Latakia warehouse manufacturing spare parts of the Syrian M-600, the equivalent of the solid fuel precision missile Fateh-110. Moreover, Tel Aviv misinformed Russia’s Hmaymeem coordination centre, claiming that the Israeli attack would come from the east. The Russian command instructed the IL-20 to move west and land at the airport to avoid being caught in a crossfire. But the Israeli F-16 jets arrived from the west and not the east, leading to the downing of the IL-20 and the death of the 15 Russian servicemen.
Russia’s efforts at a balanced position have met with Israeli abuse. President Assad told his Russian homologue – during their last conversation – that Israel, under the pretext of hitting Hezbollah arms convoys, is destroying the Syrian army’s infrastructure, preventing it from recovering. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been undermining Putin in punishment for the neutral stand the Russian president has been trying to adopt.
Israel’s aggressive posture led it into a tactical mistake. It is now faced with a strategic crisis as its condescension pushes Putin to arm Syria further. But the most serious decision is not the long-delayed delivery of the S-300 VM but the decision to close Syrian airspace and prevent any hostile jet from violating it. In this regard, Russia may not be able to avoid direct confrontation with the US, whose forces (including the UK and France) are occupying the al-Tanf crossing between Syria and Iraq as well as the province of al-Hasaka and part of Deir-ezzour.
The S-300 VM can protect the Syrian coast, including Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. This would be enough to protect the Syrian government and the Iranian presence in the Levant. This would in turn definitely push Israel to escalate, and even to use its F-35 stealth fighters to avoid being intercepted by the Syrian air defence system. But this would be yet another direct challenge to Russia.
The “Axis of the resistance” is watching from afar and has decided not to intervene in order to avoid any involvement with Putin’s decision. They see his move as positive and a first step away from the Russian president’s neutral stand. The move is accordingly unwelcome to “ungrateful” Israel.
The Russian decision wasn’t born from the void but from cumulative Israeli actions to cripple the Syrian army’s capability when Russia has been trying to rebuild it. Putin’s decision goes beyond the relations of Israel and Moscow. There is a regional-international war going on in the Levant. All weapons are being used in the Syrian-Lebanese-Iranian theatre with the exception of outright nuclear bombs.
The “Axis of the resistance” is watching carefully and reaping benefits from US and Israeli mistakes. However, the last chapter in this war has not been written. Syria will ultimately be left with al-Hasaka and al-Tanf to liberate, both occupied by US forces. The Syrian war remains full of surprises, and dangers may multiply at any moment.
The election of Sally McManus as Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary in March 2017 came with bold rhetoric about the right of unions to break Australia’s unjust industrial laws.
All the usual sucks for the bosses condemned McManus’ “outrageous” statements. But she stood her ground.
Many union activists hoped this was a sign of a new spirit of resistance. They hoped that after decades of workers’ rights being eroded, penalty rates being cut and union membership plummeting, the union leadership had at long last woken up and was going to launch a fightback.
The shameful reality, however, is that the ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign has failed to measure up to McManus’ initial rhetoric. It has instead turned out to be little more than an electoral campaign to get the vote out for Labor, the party which when in government introduced many of the harsh anti-union laws we are now fighting against.
Any decent trade unionist will obviously want to see the Liberals, the loyal servants of big business, driven from office. But that does not mean we should uncritically fall into line behind the ALP.
Labor might claim to represent working class interests. But in office, both federally and at the state level, it has consistently implemented neoliberal, anti-working class policies over the last three decades.
The Hawke-Keating Labor governments slashed wages and crippled the unions under the Prices and Incomes Accord of the 1980s. As a result, workers’ share of national income fell from 60.8 percent to 55.7 percent, while the profit share surged.
Federal Labor privatised the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas and a raft of other government-owned enterprises and prepared the ground for Telstra to be privatised. State Labor governments have also been ruthless privatisers. Many tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, vital public services have been run down and the private owners have been gifted billions of dollars in profits.
Labor in government cries poor when it comes to properly funding the vital public services we need. But it has always been able to find the cash to give billions of dollars in handouts to big business and to increase military spending. And it was Labor that cut the company tax rate from 49 percent to 33 percent.
At a mass Your Rights at Work rally in June 2005, then Labor leader Kim Beazley promised to “rip up” WorkChoices, the Howard government’s hated anti-worker legislation. But in office under prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Labor did nothing of the sort.
Labor’s Fair Work Australia legislation contained only a few token concessions to the unions and was rightly dubbed WorkChoices Lite. Labor could get away with this because in the lead up to the elections, the ACTU had turned the industrial campaign of mass mobilisations against WorkChoices into a vote Labor campaign with a focus on marginal seats.
This shift was epitomised by the abandonment of the campaign’s slogan “Your rights at work: worth fighting for” and its replacement with “Your rights at work: worth voting for”. The unions gave Labor a blank cheque. And once the ALP was in office, the union campaign wound up and Rudd and Gillard were under absolutely no pressure to deliver.
Indeed, they screwed over the very workers whose votes they had depended on to get them their plush ministerial seats. Gillard, supposedly from the Labor left, stridently defended the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission Gestapo in a vile diatribe against construction workers fighting for their jobs and conditions on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in 2009.
The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign is even more electorally focused than Your Rights at Work. The overwhelming thrust of the campaign has been organising street stalls, leafleting, door knocking and phone banking to “change the government”.
For the five by-elections on 28 July, hundreds of union organisers and activists were mobilised to door knock for Labor.
Victorian Trades Hall Council recently held a meeting of 200 union activists in Morwell in the La Trobe Valley. The sole purpose of it was to get people to volunteer to do election-oriented street stalls. Not once throughout the proceedings was the idea of organising in workplaces or challenging the bosses raised.
Most workers in Morwell are understandably and rightly cynical about Labor, so there was no great enthusiasm for doing stalls to re-elect them. The union officials clearly recognised this and did not go on about the supposed merits of Labor. Instead of calling the stalls “vote Labor” stalls they tried to hide behind the façade of them being “change the government” stalls.
Australia’s industrial laws are some of the harshest in the Western world and place incredible restrictions on workers’ right to organise, hold workplace meetings, stand up to “wage theft”, resist bullying supervisors and counter the victimisation of fellow workers.
To organise any form of industrial action, workers have to jump through legal hoops. Yet there are virtually no restrictions on the bosses’ right to sack, stand down, punish, victimise or lock out workers.
So far, Labor leader Bill Shorten has offered to make only minimal changes to these oppressive anti-union laws – laws which, it should be remembered, he helped write during the last Labor government.
As the Rudd-Gillard governments show, there is no guarantee that the few promises Shorten has made, such as to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and to clamp down on sham industrial agreements, will be implemented. Particularly if Labor faces no pressure from the unions via sustained mobilisations of workers.
The bottom line is that we need a totally different strategy from the union leaders’ one of relying on a Labor government to save us. It won’t.
Instead, we need a concerted campaign to rebuild the unions as a fighting force at a grass roots level. Rather than door knocking for Labor, union activists should be attempting to organise fellow workers in their own workplaces and organising non-union workplaces.
Activists need to be finding out what workers’ grievances are with their bosses, signing them up to the union, establishing delegate structures and giving them the necessary confidence and ideas to fight for their rights.
It is only by rebuilding a strong, rank and file-based, fighting union movement that we can have any hope of standing up to the bosses’ attacks and forcing reforms out of any government, whether Liberal or Labor.
Notice the timing of this latest land grab move by right-wing extremists in Israel – just ahead of the much anticipated Kushner-Netayahu “Ultimate Peace Deal” soon to be unveiled to great fanfare in Washington DC and Tel Aviv (but little much elsewhere).
Netanyahu and Kushner working behind closed doors to carve-up what remains of Palestine for Israeli settlers.
The new Israeli law entitled, The “Law for the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria”, allows the state to expropriate Palestinian land on which illegal Israeli settlements were built, has already been deemed as “unconstitutional” by Israeli left-wing groups sympathetic to the native Palestinian Arab population
Palinfo reports…Clearly, this new Likud ‘land heist’ is designed to ensure that Palestinians will remain tangled in legalese and excessive jargon in order to create a permanent stalemate regardless of which way the supposed “peace deal” goes. The law will enable Jewish occupiers to maintain illegal possession of stolen land through a fraudulent ‘legal’ framework that allows the state of Israel expropriate Palestinian land on which illegal settlements were built supposedly “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” and thereby denying the rightful Palestinian landowners of the right to use their own land “until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.” To make it seem ‘fair and balanced’ the law claims to provide a mechanism for paying-off of “compensating” Palestinians whose privately owned land was stolen from them by the state of Israel.
An Israeli newspaper said that the ministerial committee for legislation at the Knesset would study a bill on Sunday that would allow Jewish settlers to acquire land rights in the occupied West Bank.
Members of the Knesset cannot discuss bills and vote them into laws before this ministerial committee, whose members are ministers, approve them for discussion on the floor of the Knesset.
According to Haaretz newspaper, the explanatory notes affixed to the bill, which is sponsored by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), say that the current situation is based on a 1953 Jordanian law, which prevented anyone from buying land in the West Bank unless they were Jordanian citizens or citizens of another Arab country. That law remained in force after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 six-day war.
In the early 1970s, an Israeli way was found to circumvent the law and allow settlers to buy land there through a special order stating that anybody could buy land through a company registered in the West Bank, regardless of who owned the company.
That enabled Jews to set up companies registered in the West Bank and use them to buy land, the newspaper affirmed.
Smotrich’s bill aims to eliminate this disparity and simply state that anyone can buy land in the occupied West Bank. “The fact that an Israeli currently can’t buy land there just because he is an Israeli is unacceptable,” the bill’s explanatory notes said.
Ariyana Love is a researcher/writer with The Liberty Beacon Project. She is Directing Middle East Rising & Occupy Palestine TV news channels. Ariyana is a human rights defender and Goodwill Ambassador to Palestine. She is also Chairman of an international foundation promoting humanitarian projects in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The two latest developments in Moscow – the Defense Ministry’s report that placed full responsibility for last week’s downing of a Russian plane over Syria on Israel, and the announcement of the transfer of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the Assad regime – shouldn’t surprise anyone in Israel except maybe a few foolish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu can’t make the problem disappear.
Russia suffered an embarrassing blow when Assad’s anti-aircraft fire shot down the plane, and it still has widespread interests to promote in Syria. It was quite clear that the affair would lead to a Russian condemnation of Israel and to demands of Israel. The bottom line still depends on Putin, who initially sufficed with a cautiously worded statement the day after the incident. For the time being it seems the result of the Russian steps will be a significant restriction of Israel’s freedom of action over Syria.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Monday that his country would supply Syria with S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russia, he said, would also activate electronics preventing the activation of satellite tracking systems along Syria’s coast, making it harder for Israel to conduct airstrikes. And Russia will equip Syrian anti-aircraft units with Russian tracking and guidance systems to prevent mishaps in which Syria downs Russian aircraft.
The transfer of S-300 missiles to the Syrians, along with even more advanced systems (like the S-400) that the Russians are deploying near their bases in Syria’s northwest, don’t constitute a total barrier to Israeli attacks. According to foreign media, the Israel Air Force has trained for missions in which Israeli jets must contend with S-300 batteries – which the Russians sold to Cyprus and are now in Greece’s hands. It’s reasonable to assume that the air force can figure out how to reduce the risk when facing these systems.
In April, after an American attack and a number of Israeli attacks, Moscow announced that it would sell the S-300 systems to Syria, but it didn’t follow through. This time the Russians seem more determined to follow through, though it’s doubtful the weapons will be delivered in two weeks as promised by Shoigu, and it could take the Syrians a while to learn to operate the technology.
The test for Israeli-Russian relations is sure to come soon when a new intelligence warning pops up about an Iranian attempt to smuggle arms into Lebanon on a route near the Russian bases in northwestern Syria. Because Iran is determined to continue with its arms shipments to Hezbollah, and Israel has insisted on its right to attack such shipments, Jerusalem is bound to face a dilemma: Should it attack once again near the Russians and risk further exacerbating the crisis and even the downing of an Israeli plane?
Russia’s announcement of the decision to supply the S-300s and its report Sunday on the circumstances of the downing of the Ilyushin plane underscore one point. Moscow can’t accuse the main culprit responsible for the incident – its ally, the Assad regime. (It’s amazing to see that blame for the Syrian anti-aircraft forces doesn’t even appear in the Defense Ministry’s official statement.)
It was therefore clear from the beginning that the responsibility would be placed on Israel. It’s also interesting that all the blame is directed at the Israeli military, which the Russians accuse of being unprofessional or “criminally negligent, at the very least.” The Israeli political leadership isn’t mentioned except for one general claim about Israel’s alleged dangerous offensive policy in Syria.
The Russian inquiry seems dubious; some of its claims are odd. For instance, the Russians say Israel gave them a warning of only one minute (it’s surprising that Israel hasn’t stated the real time lag, which was much longer). According to experienced Israeli pilots, the claim that the Israeli jets hid behind the Russian intelligence-gathering plane is unreasonable and not in keeping with accepted operational practices.
The accusation that Israel deceived the Russians about the location of the planned attack also seems illogical. According to Russia, the IAF informed it about an attack in northern Syria, while the attack occurred in western Syria. Latakia is in northwest Syria, as a quick glance at a map reveals. And because the military coordination has been working successfully for three years now, during which hundreds of Israeli attacks have taken place, it’s hard to believe that the two sides haven’t yet cleared up some basic terminology.
The Russian announcement accuses Israel of ungratefulness in light of Moscow’s steps on behalf of Israeli interests such as keeping Iranian forces from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. (The Russians say they’ve kept them 140 kilometers [87 miles] away, while actually it’s 85 to 100 kilometers, a buffer zone that doesn’t include Damascus, where Iranian soldiers remain.)
In recent years, Russia has been caught lying or spreading disinformation about its role in a number of incidents, the most recent being its involvement in the U.S. presidential elections, the poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. So it’s hard to believe that anyone but Syria and Iran will adopt the Russian version of last week’s events.
But it’s unlikely that this will matter. Moscow has the last word on the plane affair. It seems Putin waited for an Israeli blunder to put Jerusalem in its place.
This isn’t the end of an era for Israel’s military operations in Syria, where it has conducted hundreds of attacks in the north over the past six years. But for now, it appears the situation on the northern front won’t return fully to the conditions before the Russian plane was shot down.
Israel has operated freely in northern Syria for years thanks to the combination of offensive actions and good diplomatic relations with the Russians. Mostly, Israel acted shrewdly, achieving many of its goals.
But in recent months Israel has displayed excessive confidence in Syria. It’s unlikely that the Russians were happy with the Israeli military’s announcement this month that it had conducted more than 200 attacks in Syria since the beginning of last year. It seems Jerusalem hasn’t fully grasped the implications now that the Assad regime, with the help of the Russians, has regained control of most of the country, including the region bordering Israel.
Israel isn’t a superpower and isn’t invincible. It will have to take into account Russian considerations and maybe even adapt its offensive model. Senior defense officials say they ascribe great importance to the latest incident. Those who still claim that this is just a mild shudder on the wing must be so busy defending Netanyahu’s image that they’re no longer capable of analyzing reality objectively.
BERLIN, September 14. /TASS/. Russia has information where the terrorists assemble drones in Idlib and it will be eliminating these underground workshops, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting of the German-Russian forum on Friday.
“We have intelligence information where drones are assembled in Idlib from components smuggled there,” he said. “As soon as we get such information, we will be eliminating such underground workshops that make lethal weapons.”
“What some describe as the beginning of a Russia-supported offensive by the Syrian army is malicious distortion of facts. Both the Syrian forces and we merely react to hit-and-run raids from Idlib,” Lavrov said. “It is very hard to detect drones with ordinary air defense weapons. Many of them are made of wood and cannot be seen on radar screens.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on September 5 that two Russian frontline bombers Sukhoi-34 wiped out a Jabhat al-Nusra (outlawed in Russia) workshop in Idlib, where militants assembled attack drones and kept in store ammunition for them.
In the early hours of September 4, air defense systems of the Hmeimim air base shot down two drones the militants hand launched. Both drones were eliminated far away from the base. Over the past month 47 drones have been shot down or neutralized in the area of the Russian base.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s plummeting popularity received another blow this week with the continuing scandal of an ex-bodyguard who was given elite access to Élysée Palace – even though he had no professional background in the state security services.
What’s more, Macron’s personal security minder, Alexandre Benalla, is accused of impersonating a police officer while beating up two protesters during a May Day rally in Paris earlier this year.
The thuggish behavior of a top Macron aide raises questions about this president’s ethics and politics. It conveys a disturbing image of fascist street brawling entering the very seat of French government.
Benalla has since been dumped from his post as Macron’s bodyguard over the scandal which has become dubbed “Benalla-gate”.
But the affair reinforces growing public anger over what they see as Macron’s self-inflated presidential style. He is increasingly seen as arrogant, aloof, and unaccountable, with delusions of grandeur.
Ironically, the former Rothschild investment banker, with his youthful “fresh face”, was elected in May 2017 on the back of his much-hyped self-proclaimed mission to renew French politics. Macron (40) even started a brand new political party, En Marche, which was billed as transcending “old” Left-Right rigidities and renovating French democracy.
The president’s honeymoon period with the French public has long worn off. His much-touted social policy reforms are seen as draconian cuts in workers’ rights and public services for the benefit of the wealthy. He has even gained the moniker, “president of the rich”.
On several occasions, Macron has shown a galling elitist conceit, such as when he publicly berated a protesting teenager to “show respect”, or when he floated the idea of bestowing a new formal title of “first lady” to his 25-years-senior wife, Brigitte (65), thus attempting to turn the French parliamentary republic into an American-style executive power.
Recently, when he was challenged by an unemployed gardener about lack of jobs in that profession, Macron haughtily told the young man to try his hand at laboring in building construction. His lack of empathy provoked a public outcry over what appeared to be a “let them eat cake” attitude.
This week, the president’s former bodyguard was summoned by the French Senate to answer questions on his exact relationship with Macron. The enquiry could go on for weeks.
But what the Senate hearings point to is a growing frustration with Macron’s self-styled majesty as a leader who sees himself above reproach. He has often talked about how his presidency is aimed at “restoring France’s greatness”, and seems to have a penchant for addressing parliamentarians beckoned to the Versailles Palace, as if they are his subjects.
His former appointment of Benalla (27) as personal bodyguard raised eyebrows. It smacked of political favoritism towards a personal friend. Benalla has no professional background in the French police or military which is the normal career path for someone appointed to be the president’s top security official. It is said that the former bodyguard’s only experience in security work was being previously employed as a bouncer in a nightclub. How he came to know Macron is an intriguing question, and it is this relationship that lawmakers want to find out about in their ongoing questioning.
Their relationship became a scandal when Benalla was videoed by May Day protesters beating up a man and woman on the streets of Paris earlier this year, while demonstrating against Macron’s social reforms. In the video, Benalla is seen wearing a police helmet and an armband purporting to identify him as a member of the police force. He is also seen viciously punching the man on the head and stomping on his stomach as he fell to the ground. It appears to be a shocking display of gratuitous, sadistic violence.
One can only imagine how Western news media would explode with sensational front page headlines if, somehow, a similar event took place in Moscow, in which an aide to President Putin was filmed being involved in assaulting protesters. You would never hear the end of that in Western media.
Why President Macron’s personal security guard would take time off to go to a rally and beat up protesters is a troubling question. Did Benalla get some perverse pleasure from his violent conduct? It is also a serious offense under French law to impersonate a law enforcement officer, which could result in a prison conviction.
When French media finally identified Benalla from the amateur video footage in mid-July, the accusation was then leveled at Macron of engaging in a cover-up. Hence the term “Benalla-gate” was coined.
Macron at first ignored the furore in typical supercilious mode. Under mounting public pressure, he then eventually broke his silence. Though he reacted in a petulant manner as if the media were picking on him, which only served to underline the perception that this president views himself as some kind of regal figure above the fray of “commoners”.
Bizarrely, Macron riposted to the media questions about Benalla’s seeming privileged employment with a sarcastic quip: “He’s not my lover!”
Was it a Freudian slip? It’s not the first time that Macron’s sex life has been rumored to be secretly gay.
During the presidential campaign, Russian news media carried a report quoting French political opposition sources claiming that Macron’s private life was more nuanced than his marriage to a much older woman suggests. Macron then hit back defensively, accusing Russia of interfering in the French election, based on one throwaway gossip story.
Whatever the precise relationship is between Macron and his rogue bodyguard, one thing does seem clear however. This president has a Napoleon complex, or perhaps a Bourbon Sun King complex. He seems to think exceedingly highly of himself, as being a ruler who is above the rule of law and public accountability.
Just over a year in office, the supposed squeaky-clean Emmanuel Macron is showing himself to have the whiff of the same old corruption that has marred so many of his predecessors in Élysée Palace.
According to Al Mezan, a human rights group based in Gaza, Israeli warplanes launched two missiles at a group of protesters late Monday night when they approached the boundary fence east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
The bodies of Naji Abu Assi, 16, and Alaa Abu Assi, 19, were recovered by Palestinian medics hours later. “Both had shrapnel injuries on various parts of their bodies and one of them was torn to pieces,” Al Mezan stated.
Around 140 Palestinians have been killed during demonstrations along Gaza’s eastern boundary since the launch of the Great March of Return series of protests on 30 March.
Those killed during the protests have included nearly 30 children, as well as two journalists and three paramedics, and three persons with disabilities, according to Al Mezan.
Some 5,500 have been injured by live fire during the protests, including 900 children.
Amnesty International has said it has not found any evidence of protesters posing a threat to the lives of soldiers behind the fence that would justify the use of deadly force.
The protests, which have been held every Friday since their launch, have increased in frequency in recent days. Protests have been held on weekdays “and include naval marches and night sit-ins near the separation fence – activities which do not threaten the life or safety of Israeli soldiers,” Al Mezan stated.
The protests are calling for an end to Israel’s blockade on Gaza, now in its 11th year, and in support of the right of refugees to return to their original lands and property on the other side of the Gaza boundary fence.
Two-thirds of Gaza’s population of two million are refugees.
“We will continue”
“We will continue our peaceful marches to fulfill our demands and liberate our lands,” one protester says in this video:
“مستمرون في مسيراتنا السلمية حتى تحقيق مطالبنا وتحرير أراضينا”.. الشبان يوجهون نداءً للوقوف مع غزة وكسر الحصار عن شعبها في جمعة “كسر الحصار”. pic.twitter.com/ntCZyVrJnd
The young man urges leaders in the Arab world, whom he accuses of complicity with Israel, to stand with the Palestinian people in Gaza resisting the siege.
Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the Hamas movement in Gaza, said on Friday the ongoing protests show the world “how the Palestinian people on their land are a model of giving, loyalty, sacrifice and the service of humanity.”
خلال مشاركته في مسيرات جمعة “كسر الحصار”.. رئيس المكتب السياسي لحماس بغزة يحيى السنوار: “هذه المسيرات انطلقت لتحقيق هدف شعبنا في فك الحصار”. pic.twitter.com/UfASnamlUM
Occupation forces are said to be operating under orders to use live fire against Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons, which have landed in southern Israel in recent days.
Collective punishment threat
The head of COGAT, the bureaucratic apparatus of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, said that collective punishment measures would be used against the general population in Gaza.
Apparently referring to naval protests held earlier this week, Kamil Abu Rukun stated that “The Hamas terror organization is using fishermen and forcing them to participate in riots.”
Abu Rukun said that the Israeli military would “use an iron fist” against such “rioters” and would reduce the permitted fishing area from 6 to 3 nautical miles off the Gaza coast.
Under the 1993 Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Gaza’s fishing zone was supposed to extend 20 nautical miles out from shore. But Israel has never allowed this and the furthest Gaza’s fishers have been able to sail has been 12 nautical miles out.
Over the past decade, Israel has reduced the permitted fishing area to 6 nautical miles, and sometimes less, and has frequently fired on fishing boats.
Israel has killed eight fishers since 2000, according to Al Mezan.
With Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria and its support of militant groups in Idlib, it was to be expected that the Syrian Army offensive in the region would be postponed until a compromise was reached between Erdogan and Assad’s allies, as I explained earlier. Russian president Vladimir Putin held talks with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan, for the third time in less than a month, in Sochi on September 17th. They agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib; later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed to journalists there would not be a large military operation in the province.
According to Russian diplomatic sources who spoke with Al-Watan newspaper, the Russian-Turkish agreement will be implemented in three stages:
The first stage will go into effect by mid October to create a 15 to 20 km weapons-free zone along the contact line between militant groups and government forces. All radical groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra/Al Qaeda will have to leave this zone, which will be patrolled jointly by Russian and Turkish military units.
In the second stage the heavy weapons will be collected from the region until November 10 and the militants will leave civilian areas.
In the third stage, lasting to the end of this year, state institutions will resume activities in Idlib.
Notice that for the completion of all three stages, the cooperation of militant groups is necessary. This is the point that may result in the partial or complete collapse of the demilitarization efforts – but that is not necessarily a failure.
South Frontreports that pro-militant sources claim that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the coalition affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria) and some other groups, including the Islamic Turkistan Party (composed of die-hard Uyghur Muslims from China) have rejected the agreement. (It was originally reported that Jaish al-Izza, a Free Syria Army group, had also rejected it, but now that appears to be incorrect). Furthermore, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation warned after the Putin-Erdogan meeting that the White Helmets and members of Al-Nusra were still preparing a false-flag chemical attack to blame the Assad government. This is not surprising; after all, Syria is dealing with jihadi factions – literally terrorists – not with a mix of “moderate rebels” and a few bad apples as the Western narrative insists. By definition, terrorists are uncooperative to say the least, especially when asked to give up their weapons and let the state do its job.
If the information on the reaction of the terrorist groups is correct, the Turkey-sponsored and FSA-affiliated Jabhat al-Wataniya al-Tahrir (aka the National Front for Liberation) and Jaish al-Izza would be the only parties potentially willing to go along with the plan. In fact, Putin and Erdogan never expected or intended to make deals with groups everyone recognizes as radical – particularly with Al-Nusra, which was singled-out by Putin at the Sochi press conference, while Erdogan vowed to “clear these territories of radical elements”. Therefore, in the context of Idlib, when we hear Russia or Turkey discuss ‘moderate rebels’, they mean Turkish proxies.
Before the latest Sochi summit, Erdogan demanded a political solution to the situation in Syria, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, when in reality he had three objectives:
To salvage the forces in the area loyal to Turkey.
To minimize the amount of refugees and jihadists crossing the border into Turkey.
To retain as much influence on the future of Northern Syria as he could.
Clearly, Putin understood that Turkey would not simply leave the region of its own accord, and thus the Idlib offensive would have risked a dangerous direct confrontation between states. So he agreed to proceed via the ‘political route’, fully aware that Turkey would then have to commit to join the fight against groups officially recognized as terrorists – even those Turkey directly or indirectly supported in the past – while pulling the reins on its proxies or even turning its guns against those who rebelled. Furthermore, Turkey takes another step towards Russia, Iran and Syria, and away from NATO and its machinations in the Middle East. Ultimately, the crucial point of the agreement is not how many militants will give up their weapons or not, but that Turkey is now on board with the liberators of Syria. One could say that Putin ‘gently coaxed’ Erdogan into doing the right thing.
Lose The Match, Knock Over The Board
Of course, there is another advantage to calling off a major offensive in Idlib: It makes it harder – though not impossible – for Western countries and their allies to protest, threaten, and retaliate against some imaginary war crime, and for terrorists to stage an attack on civilians, inviting such retaliation.
Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.
Some geopolitical players bent on war seem to have taken the news hard enough to make significant mistakes. There are a number of observers – including an advisor to Erdogan – who believe that Israel’s latest insanely criminal stunt, which resulted in the downing of a Russian Il-20 military plane and the death of 15 Russian servicemen, was a response to the Sochi agreement reached a few hours earlier. Indeed, there are barely any coincidences in politics, although we must not forget that on the same day (Monday, September 17th) the Russian Ministry of Defense presented evidence countering the Dutch report on the MH17 flight tragedy over Ukraine – a non-negligible event that may have inspired Machiavellian Israeli minds to distract the public from such data.
The tragedy of the Russian Il-20 was the product of typical duplicitous, cowardly Israeli military ‘strategy’. While on an illegal and unprovoked bombing operation against government targets in Syria – of which the Russian MOD was notified with less than a minute’s notice – four Israeli F-16 fighter jets flying at low altitude “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region… The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” an MOD statement said. The reaction of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu was bitter:
“The blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side,” the Russian minister said. “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”
Evidently, the Israelis were intentionally looking to cause trouble for the Russian military. However, judging by the amount of time they took to officially respond to an angry Russia, it appears they miscalculated and did not expect that a Russian aircraft would be lost, nor did they expect Russia blame them. This was Israel’s big mistake: Russia is likely to forcefully make difficult or even obstruct any future Israeli operations in or above Syria. Putin’s words about boosting the safety of Russian personnel in Syria and taking “steps that everyone will notice” point in that direction.
A bad situation was made worse when an arrogant Israeli response finally came. No apologies were offered; all Russia got was an expression of “sorrow” and much blaming of third parties:
There is another interesting fact to this story, that seems to be rapidly slipping out of media reports. The French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” was in the region at the time, and according to the Russian MOD, several missile launches were detected from that ship. At what were those missiles aimed? What role did the French Navy play in Monday night’s bombing of Syria and/or the loss of the Russian Il-20?
With diplomatic skill, Putin again managed to solve the ‘Turkey problem’ in Syria – at least for now. Unfortunately, it will be much harder to fix the ‘Israel/NATO problem’. The discourse and behavior of neocons and zionists shows that they have no interest whatsoever in a stable, prosperous Syria – or in a peaceful Middle East. While commenting on US politics, Putin once observed that is “difficult to have a dialogue with people who confuse Austria and Australia”. We could add that it is even harder to reason with people who confuse war with peace and truth with lies.
Andrés Perezalonso has been a contributing editor for Signs of the Times in both its English and Spanish versions since 2007. He holds a PhD in Politics, an MA in International Studies, a first degree in Communication, and has a professional background in Media Analysis. He thinks that understanding world events is not unlike detective work – paying attention to often ignored details and connections, and thinking outside of the box. He was born and raised in Mexico and currently resides in Europe.