Russia’s Navy Establishes Permanent Presence in Mediterranean Sea – By Peter KORZUN – (Strategic Cultural Foundation)

Russia’s Navy Establishes Permanent Presence in Mediterranean Sea

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a naval standing force, including warships with Kalibr long-range land attack cruise missiles, will be permanently deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. The statement was made at a meeting with top military officials and defense industry leaders that took place in Sochi on May 16. One of the missions is delivering strikes against terrorist targets in Syria. 102 expeditions of ships and submarines are planned in 2018. The force will go through intensive training.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet has become a much different force in comparison to what it was just three years ago. Since 2015, the year the operation in Syria was launched, it has received 15 new ships, including two frigates and six conventional submarines armed with Kalibr cruise missiles. With S-400 and S-300V4 air defense systems, Krasukha-4 electronic warfare systems and shore-based anti-ship Bastion batteries deployed on the Syrian coast, the ships in Eastern Mediterranean operate in a relatively safe environment. Kalibr missiles have already been fired from frigates and submarines at terrorist targets in Syria.

Last July, a 15-strong Mediterranean Task Force was established to be based out of Tartus, Syria’s leased naval facility. The ships provide a buffer on the southern flank of NATO. Russia needs to counter aggressive activities of the bloc in the region, including the Black Sea. Maintaining robust presence in the Mediterranean is the best way to defend Russia’s Black Sea borders.

All southern Europe, including such NATO military assets as Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, Combined Air Operations Centers in Larissa, Greece, and in Poggio Renatico, Italy, Headquarters Allied Land Command and Air Power Command in Izmir, Turkey, NATO Incirlik air base in Turkey, Graf Ignatievo and Bezmer air bases in Bulgaria used by US Air Force as well as a lot of other key NATO defense infrastructure sites happen to be within the range of Kalibr missiles installed on the platforms patrolling the Mediterranean Sea. They’ll all be knocked out with first salvos in case a Russia-NATO war starts.

The Fleet’s operations are not limited to the Black Sea basin and the Mediterranean. It is on the way of transition from a green-water naval formation to a blue water force, demonstrating the Russian flag as the ships move beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal on the way to the World Ocean.

The establishment of permanent naval presence in the region can be explained by a number of rational calculations. The Mediterranean Sea is Russia’s only exit to the open ocean for the Black Sea Fleet. The permanent presence is a logical step in view of Russia’s growing political influence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Foreign Ministries are not the only ones to shape external policy. Any port call is a diplomat mission, providing an opportunity for official meetings and public diplomacy, with the events covered by media. Take the famous German Kiel Week or Kieler Woche in German, the biggest annual maritime festival and international forum visited by about three million people coming from all over the world. Warships from many countries are an important element of the event. Ships also take part in the Irish maritime festival at Drogheda Port. Russian frigate The Shtandart, a replica of the man-of-war built by Peter the Great in 1703, will visit Drogheda on June 10-11 this year.

The naval visits reflect foreign policy trends. In 2017, Russian ships made 46 port calls to drop anchor at 28 ports of 27 countries worldwide. The list includes five Western or West-friendly states: Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Japan and South Korea, which account for 19% of the countries visited by Russian ships. Nine (33%) of the states on the list belong to the Asia-Pacific region, with other 13 (48%) situated in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The 81% vs.19% ratio illustrates Russia’s rebalancing from the “collective” West toward other countries and power poles. The Russian Navy also conducted six international exercises, demonstrating its global presence and power projection capability.

The growing trade brings to the fore the task of sea lanes’ protection. Russia has longstanding economic ties with many Mediterranean states, including Greece, Libya, Cyprus, and Algeria. The relations include defense cooperation.

US Navy deployments in support of ballistic missile defense are viewed as provocative moves to downgrade Russia’s strategic nuclear capability. With Russia’s continuous presence in the region, Aegis ships as well as aircraft carriers become sitting ducks for state-of-the art anti-ship missiles.

Like it or not, the Mediterranean Sea has ceased to be a “NATO Lake” dominated by US 6th Fleet. American vessels don’t own these waters anymore. As a great power, Russia has its own interests in the region and it has a powerful naval force permanently deployed to defend them.

How Democracy Ended – By Eric Zuesse (Strategic Culture Foundation)

How Democracy Ended

What killed democracy was constant lying to the public, by politicians whose only way to win national public office is to represent the interests of the super-rich at the same time as the given politician publicly promises to represent the interests of the public — “and may the better liar win!” — it’s a lying-contest. When democracy degenerates into that, it becomes dictatorship by the richest, the people who can fund the most lying. Such a government is an aristocracy, no democracy at all, because the aristocracy rule, the public don’t. It’s the type of government that the French Revolution was against and overthrew; and it’s the type of government that the American Revolution was against and overthrew; but it has been restored in both countries.

First here will be discussed France:

On 7 May 2017, Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France with 66.1% of the vote, compared to Marine Le Pen’s 33.9%. That was the second round of voting; the first round had been: Macron 24.0%, Le Pen 21.3% Fillon 20.0%, Melenchon 19.6%, and others 15%; so, the only clear dominator in that 11-candidate contest was Macron, who, in the second round, turned out to have been the second choice of most of the voters for the other candidates. Thus, whereas Le Pen rose from 21.3% to 33.9% in the second round (a 59% increase in her percentage of the vote), Macron rose from 24.0% to 66.1% in the second round (a 275% increase in his percentage of the vote). In other words: Macron didn’t just barely win the Presidency, but he clearly dominated both rounds; it was never at all close. But once in office he very quickly disappointed the French public:

On 11 August 2017, Le Figaro bannered (as autotranslated by Google Chrome) “A hundred days later, Macron confronted with the skepticism of the French”, and reported that 36% were “satisfied” and 64% were “dissatisfied” with the new President. 

On 23 March 2018, Politico bannered “Macron’s approval ratings hit record low: poll” and reported that, “Only 40 percent of the French population said they have a favorable opinion of Macron, a drop of 3 percentage points from last month and 12 percentage points from December, while 57 percent said they hold a negative opinion of the president.” 

On 22 April 2018, Europe 1 reported that 44% were “satisfied” with Macron, and 55% were “dissatisfied” with him; and that — even worse — while 23% were “very dissatisfied” with him, only 5% were “very satisfied” with him.

So, clearly — and this had happened very quickly — the French public didn’t think that they were getting policies that Macron had promised to them during his campaign. He was very different from what they had expected — even though he had won the Presidency in a landslide and clearly dominated both rounds. That plunge in support after being elected President required a lot of deceit during his campaign.

Second, is US:

The situation in the US was very different in its means, but similar in its outcome: it was a close election between two candidates, each of whom had far more of the electorate despising him or her than admiring him or her. Neither of the two candidates in the second round was viewed net-favorably by the public. The key round of elimination of the more-attractive candidates, was in the primaries; and, after that, it became merely a choice between uglies in the general election. Any decent (or even nearly decent) person had already been eliminated, by that time. Consequently, the ultimate winner never had the high net-favorable rating from the US public, that Macron did from the French public.

America’s system of ‘democracy’ is very different than France’s: Throughout the primaries-season — America’s first round — the most-preferred of all candidates in the race was Bernie Sanders, who, in the numerous one-on-one polled hypothetical choices versus any of the opposite Party’s contending candidates, crushed each one of them except John Kasich, who, throughout the primaries, was the second-most preferred of all of the candidates (and who performed far better than did Trump did in the hypothetical match-ups against Clinton). In the hypothetical match-ups, Sanders beat Kasich by 3.3%, whereas Kasich beat Clinton by 7.4% — that spread between +3.3% and -7.4% is 10.8%, and gives a pretty reliable indication of what the Democratic National Committee threw away when rigging the primaries and vote-counts for Hillary Clinton to win the Party’s nomination. Sanders beat Trump by 10.4%, whereas Clinton beat Trump by 3.2%. That spread was only 7.2% in favor of Sanders over Clinton; but, in any case, the DNC cared lots more about satisfying its mega-donors than about winning, when they picked Clinton to be the Party’s nominee. (Ms. Clinton’s actual victory over Mr. Trump in the final election between those two nominees turned out to be by only 2.1% — close enough a spread so as to enable Trump to win in the Electoral College (which is all that counts), which counts not individual voters but a formula that represents both the states and the voters. Sanders would have beaten Trump in a landslide — far too big a margin for the Electoral College to have been able to go the opposite way, such as did happen with Clinton. This fact was also shown here and here. That’s what the DNC threw away.) 

Hillary Clinton received by far the biggest support from billionaires, of all of the candidates; Sanders received by far the least; and this is why the Democratic Party, which Clinton and Barack Obama (two thoroughly billionaire-controlled politicians) effectively controlled, handed its nomination to Clinton. On 7 June 2016, the great investigative journalist Greg Palast headlined and documented “How California is being stolen from Sanders right now”, and four days later a retired statistician’s review of other statisticians’ statistical analysis of data from all of the primaries and caucuses, reaffirmed their findings, that the Democratic nomination had been stolen by the Democratic National Committee, and he concluded that “the whole process has been rigged against Bernie at every level and that is devastating even though I don’t agree [politically] with him.” A more detailed study was published on 1 August 2016, titled “Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries”. Basically, what had happened is that the most-preferred of all the candidates got deep-sixed by Democratic Party billionaires, who ultimately control the DNC, just as Republican billionaires control the RNC. The US Government is squabbles between billionaires, and that’s all. That’s what’s left of American ‘democracy’, now.

On 12 August 2016, Julian Assange noted: “MSNBC on its most influential morning program, Morning Joe, was defending Bernie Sanders. Then Debbie Wasserman Schultz [head of the DNC] called up the president of MSNBC. Amazingly, this is not reported in the US media. It is reported in the US media that they called up Chuck Todd who’s the host of Meet The Press. Something much more serious is not reported — that Debbie Wasserman Schultz herself personally called up the president of MSNBC to apply pressure in relation to positive coverage about Bernie Sanders on Morning Joe.” That was typical of what went on.

Hillary Clinton’s favorable rating, by Election Day, was 40.3%, her unfavorable was 55.3%. Donald Trump’s favorable was 39.8%, unfavorable was 53.4%. Bernie Sanders, as of the end of the primaries on 29 June 2016, was 50.8% favorable, 39.6% unfavorable, and it has been getting steadily better afterward. But the suckered Democratic Party voters (the ones who were counted, at any rate) voted slightly more for Hillary than for Bernie. Even despite Sanders’s having had support from few if any billionaires, he almost won the Democratic nomination, and that’s remarkable. He might actually have received more votes during the primaries than Hillary did, but we’ll never know.

So: America is a dictatorship by the billionaires. And this means that it operates by fooling the public. France is similar, though it achieves this via a different way. And, in both countries, deceit is essential, in order to achieve its dictatorship. Fooling the public is now what it’s all about, in either case. Democracy can never be won by fooling the public; because fooling the public means removing the public’s ability to control the government. So, calling such a nation a ‘democracy’, is, itself, deceiving the public — it’s part of the dictatorship, or else support of the dictatorship.

In former times, this system was rationalized as ‘the divine right of kings’. Now it’s rationalized as ‘the divine right of capital’. But it’s also become covered-over by yet another lie: ‘democracy’. This is a ‘democratic’ aristocracy; it is an ‘equal opportunity’ aristocracy. In it, each citizen has ‘equal rights’ as every other citizen, no matter how wealthy. It’s just a castle of lies. And its doors are actually open only to the few richest-and-well-connected.

Here, a former CIA official tries to describe how the American dictatorship works — the enforcement-part of the system, and he does (even if only by implication) also touch upon the financial sources of it. Starting at 1:07:35 in that video, he discusses his personal case: why he could no longer tolerate working for the CIA. But his description of how he, as an Agency official, saw the system to function, starts at 3:45 in the video. Key passages start at 12:45, and at 20:15. Maybe any American who would email this article to friends who don’t understand how the system functions, will come under increased US surveillance, but that CIA official’s career and family were destroyed by what the system did to him, which was lots worse than just surveillance. Remarkably, he nonetheless had the courage to persist (and thus did that video). However, when one sees how politically partisan (and so obtuse) the viewer-comments to that video are, one might be even more depressed than by the account this former CIA official presents. But, even if the situation is hopeless, everyone should at least have the opportunity to understand it. Because, if the aristocracy are the only people who understand it, there can’t be any hope for democracy, at all.

Putin is an Excellent Warrior: ‘The Saker’ isn’t just wrong, he’s Irrelevant – By Russell Bentley (SOTT)

“The greatest warrior is not he who wins every battle. The most excellent warrior is he who wins without fighting.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 600 B.C.

Putin with Gun

I have read The Art of War many times, and you can bet that Vladimir Putin has too. I found the quote above to be the most important maxim in that masterpiece, and I think Putin would agree. And when the “fighting” could potentially lead to the 3rd World War and the extinction of Humanity, then to avoid fighting becomes as important as avoiding defeat, because the 3rd World War is a war no one will win. Once it starts, we all lose. And so far, it is Putin who has prevented the war from starting.

The recent criticism of Vladimir Putin for “betraying” Syria or the Donbass Republics or even Russia itself is as impudent as it is misguided, and it comes from the usual collection of armchair warriors and self-styled pundits who actually seem to think they know more about geopolitics than Vladimir Putin does.

They seem to fail to understand that war requires sacrifices, as well as deception, and that perhaps all may not be exactly as they think it is. They also fail to understand that preventing war sometimes requires distasteful compromises. These self-appointed critics and “strategists” should look at the results of Putin’s work, rather than be confused by their amateur interpretation of how he accomplishes it. And they should keep in mind the fact that Putin’s objectives may not be the same as their own, and that it is always easy to talk when you have no skin in the game.

Let’s start with the recent words of “The Saker”, aka Andrei Raevski, an alleged “Pro-Russian analyst” who is “personally bitterly disappointed” by the nomination of Dmitri Medvedev as Prime Minister. He goes on to quote a comment he read on Youtube – “Putin betrayed the people, we didn’t vote for Medvedev”. While the second part of the comment is technically correct, it is the parliament, not the people, who votes for or against the President’s nominee, the “Putin betrayed the people” lie is straight off the Strelkov/Suchan/5th column troll farm.

Note that The Saker doesn’t actually say it himself, but by quoting an anonymous comment off Youtube, he does actually say it himself, and then our illustrious analyst goes on to say he is “afraid” it’s going to be a “very widely shared feeling”. As he himself shares it as widely as he can. It is not a feeling shared by those with any sense or any skin in the game, but perhaps among some of the credulous naifs who read and believe his drivel.

There are a number of legitimate explanations for Medvedev’s appointment, but The Saker “doesn’t buy any of them”. Or apparently even understand any of them. He then goes on to claim the appointment pours fuel on the fire of rumors that Putin will cave in on Syria and/or Donbass, even as he pours fuel on the fire of those rumors by spreading them himself.

He claims to be aware (as “we all” are) of “alarmist rumors circulating all over the internet about this for many days”, and goes on to say the nomination will strengthen these “very dangerous” rumors, even as he spreads and strengthens them himself. Is it treachery or idiocy? Either way, it’s anti-Russian propaganda by a White Russian immigrant who lives in the USA, and pretends to support Russia’s battle against US hegemony.

A calm and rational examination of the facts shows the above interpretation of Medvedev’s appointment to be baseless, melodramatic fear-mongering. The fact is, the Prime Minister, whose actual official title is “Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation”, serves at the pleasure of the President, and can be fired and replaced at the President’s discretion. The President may himself chair meetings of the Cabinet, may give obligatory orders to the PM, and may revoke any act of the government. The term “Prime Minister” is strictly informal and is actually never used in the Russian Constitution, federal laws or official documents.

The President has complete control of the PM. Putin is the immensely popular President, Medvedev is the unpopular PM who Putin appointed and can fire at any time. No need for fear or bitter disappointment. Or abject misinterpretation. What better way could Putin have to keep Medvedev on a short leash than to have him as PM under these conditions?

I am no fan of Medvedev or his oligarch clique, but Putin’s appointing him doesn’t mean that he is either. There is a well-known quote that is from the book The Godfather – “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” The simple interpretation of this quote is “know your enemy”, but the much more profound meaning is that you don’t want your enemies to know that you are enemies. This vital distinction may be lost on some Russian voters, Youtube commenters and self-styled analysts who think they are qualified to advise and criticize the former KGB Colonel and current President of the Russian Federation, but I am quite certain that Putin himself understands it perfectly. So, only a fool or a liar would say “Putin betrayed Russia” by appointing Medvedev.

Comment: In short, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”. In fact, it worked well for Putin during the last 18 years of rule, even as a prime minister under Medvedev’s presidency. During this time, Putin transformed Russia from failing state to “Superpower”.

Sergey Kurginyan (the only Russian I trust and admire as much as Putin) pointed out that Putin has six years to complete the monumental tasks he has set for Russia, and realistically, he needs the Medvedev Bloc’s help. Their report card comes out two years from now. If they help, they stay, if they don’t, they get booted, all Russia sees it, and Putin sill has four more years to install a new team of oligarch hunters, and to do some hunting himself. And if you haven’t heard of Kurginyan or want to know where he stands on other huge questions facing Russia, check out this clip where he breaks down who Gorbachev really was, and what he was all about. His analysis is cutting. He’s no liberal, no bourgeois reformer.

If Putin did not betray Russia, what about Syria and the Donbass Republics? The quick, simple and obvious answer is that the fact that they still exist proves that he continues to support them and has not betrayed them in any way. The idea that Syria or the Republics could have survived without Putin’s support is laughable, and only an idiot could put forth such a proposition. Yet some do. They say that Putin has “betrayed” Syria by not responding to recent provocations and that Russian forces should have attacked US forces that are illegally in Syria after the US attack in which Russian contractors were killed.

The story about “500 Russians killed” is a lie. There were about 100 soldiers killed by the US air attack, mostly Syrian Army, with about 15 to 20 Wagner contractor/advisers. And unlike the various keyboard commandos who called for the start of WW3 over the incident , I actually know what happened. A friend of mine was there, and I have seen the video. Yes, it was a treacherous and underhanded attack by the US, knowing there were Russians among the Syrian soldiers, but this provocation is not worth risking a real world war over, is it? What kind of imbecile could possibly think it would be?

The same goes for Trump’s impotent and ridiculous missile attacks, and Israel’s as well. Yes, all these attacks were “allowed” by Russia, but Russia told both the US and Israel where they were, and were not, allowed to shoot, and both obeyed the Russian mandate. The cost of the attacks for the US was far greater than the destruction they imposed on Syria, and the Israelis probably just barely broke even. Enough Pyrrhic victories like these, and the US and Israel will defeat themselves. And Putin will stand aside and allow them to. He will win without fighting.

Of course, the Russians are fighting in Syria, against ISIS and other Western terrorist proxies, and they are winning. The US and Israeli attacks are absolutely meaningless in regards to the final outcome of the war, so why should Putin escalate? Putin and the Russian military have drawn their lines in the sand, and it is clear the US and their allies understand and respect them. If they are foolish enough to cross them, those who now call for war will soon be begging the Russians for peace. Yes, soldiers were killed, but they were not Russian soldiers or Bashar al Assad. And getting killed is a risk every soldier must face. It’s part of the job, and sometimes they must even be sacrificed. That too is part of the job. This is sometimes hard for keyboard commandos and those who have never been soldiers to understand. And they should refrain from commenting on things they don’t understand.

As for Putin’s “betrayal” by inviting Netanyahu to Moscow, yes, a rather disgusting sight considering Israel’s recent actions, but a very shrewd move, not “stupid” or a betrayal.

There’s a difference between bad optics, and bad moves. Bad optics can be a bad move, but there’s much more to reality than optics – much more than meets the eye. This is so basic, the expression itself is currency.

No doubt Netanyahu standing beside Putin made Trump, Poroshenko and Netanyahu nervous. Yes, Russia has again put the S-300 delivery to Syria on hold, but the sale and delivery of S-400’s to Turkey is still on schedule. Think about Erdogan calling for all Muslim countries to unite against Israel.

Erdogan truly is a megalomaniac, with dreams of being a new Salahudin and leading the ME, and a war against Israel makes him exactly that. And I doubt he’s forgotten about the US engineered coup attempt against him, and where Fetullah Gulen lives. But Turkey doesn’t even need the S-400’s. It’s still in NATO, so basically bulletproof from Israel, even from their nukes. Because if Israel gets into a shooting war with Turkey, it invokes Article 5, and either NATO has to go to war against Israel, or NATO falls apart, because if the US and EU NATO members don’t defend Turkey, how can they trust each other?

Either way, Putin wins without fighting. The more you think about it, the more you like it!

The same applies to those who say Putin “betrayed” Donbass. Take my word for it or figure it our for yourself. After four years of war, the Republics still stand.

While we certainly do have our problems, life has gotten better in every measurable way, and continues to, just as it has gotten continually worse in Ukraine. If not for Putin’s support, we would have been attacked and overwhelmed long ago. Putin has said these exact words – “If the Ukraine army overruns Donbass there will be a genocide of ethnic Russian people. We will not allow that.” What do you think he means, “We will not allow that”? I know, the people here know, the Ukrops and US military knows, and so far, they have not been suicidal enough to try it. Putin will never betray Donbass.

I’d bet my life on it. In fact, I do bet my life on it. Millions of us here do. And we know it. We respect and appreciate it. We are still here because he is with us. As long as the Republics exist, we are winning. Time is on our side, and just like NATO, the Kiev junta and Ukrop Nazis will eventually consume themselves. The Republics too, can win without fighting.

There are few men in history, much less alive today, who have the courage, the honor and the true genius of Vladimir Putin. Those who call themselves “pro-Russian” and use the words “Putin” and “betrayed” in the same sentence only prove themselves, without exception, to be either fools, or liars and traitors. Remember the lesson Girkin (“Strelkov”) taught us here in Donbass. A false comrade is a real enemy. As for the fools, they are not just wrong, they’re irrelevant. They blow wind about actions they don’t even understand. The dog barks, and the caravan moves on. What matters is the results. And the results speak for themselves. Things have gotten better in Syria, Donbass and Russia itself ever since Putin came along, he hasn’t betrayed anybody, and he’s not going anywhere till the job is done.

The job is to protect Russia, and protecting Syria and Donbass does protect Russia. It also prevents World War Three. And preventing World War Three protects us all. So far, Vladimir Putin has done it, and done it well. He is refusing to escalate, minimizing violence as long as his red lines are not crossed. And those lines have not yet been crossed. It is important for those who live under the regimes that make provocations and call for war to do whatever they can to prevent their governments from going too far and crossing those lines. We should all give Vladimir Putin a hand in trying to prevent World War Three. If we win without fighting, we all become most excellent warriors.

Comment: See also:

Letter from Iran: Mr. Trump, you have been served – By Pepe Escobar (THE SAKER)

GOLDENTRIANGLE-RUSSIAIRANCHINA

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

Top officials, including former CIA officers, Pentagon officials, US Army officers and former diplomats demand explanation of Israeli actions

By Pepe Escobar May 19, 2018 11:57 AM (UTC+8)

In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump, with copies to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council, four top former officials at the highest level of the US government have given him legal notice about his duty to advise the US Congress, the ICC and the UNSC, among others, about Israel’s actions coinciding with the “70th anniversary of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.”

The letter is signed, among others, by former CIA operations officer Phil Giraldi; former Pentagon official Michael Maloof; former US Army officer and State Department coordinator for counterterrorism contractor Scott Bennett; and former diplomat and author of Visas For al-Qaeda: CIA Handouts That Rocked The World, Michael Springmann.

Maloof, Bennett and Giraldi, as well as Springmann and this correspondent, were among guests at the 6th International New Horizon conference in the holy city of Mashhad, eastern Iran. The top themes of the conference’s debates were Palestine and the Trump administration’s unilateral exit from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

As Maloof and Bennett separately confirmed to Asia Times, the letter was written by Giraldi and Maloof at an airport lounge as they were waiting for a flight from Mashhad to Tehran, where it was presented at a press conference this past Tuesday. This correspondent was on a reporting trip in Karaj. We all reunited on Thursday at Mashhad’s airport. The press conference in Tehran was virtually ignored by US corporate media.

Visas for the visiting Americans were an extremely delicate matter debated at the highest levels of the Iranian government between the Foreign Ministry and the intelligence services. In the end, the visitors, under intense scrutiny by Iranian media, ended up finding a huge, eager audience all across Iran.

A new psyops in the making

The letter signatories make a direct connection about Israeli actions that may trigger “and escalate American military actions against Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Russia since these nations are opposed to the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem; and rising tensions already exacerbated by the US withdrawal from the JCPOA.”

President Trump is also served legal notice that the letter “will be included as evidence in all matters relating to the US Embassy move to Jerusalem/Al Quds and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The letter is to be listed as “exhibit 1 in any war crimes investigation and prosecution (past, present, future) relating to this matter, at all times.”

As Bennett told Asia Times, the main concern is that according to his military sources the current, volatile situation may establish the preconditions for “a new psyops campaign.”

Trump has been served legal notice – pursuant to 18 US Code 4, and 28 US Code 1361 – of “national and international legal violations.” The letter also doubles as “a legal notice to the American people” – and is established as legal protection “against any retaliation, detainment, investigation, sequestration, interrogation, discrimination, imprisonment, torture, financial consequences, or any other negative or prejudicial consequences or actions.”

Moreover, “any action taken against the undersigned will be interpreted as a violation of the following; 18 USC 242 (conspiracy to deny/violate constitutional civil rights); 42 USC 1983, 1984, 1985 (civil action for rights violations); 18 US 2339A (providing material support to terrorists).

The letter may also be interpreted as an olive branch; apart from requesting full whistleblower protection, the signatories offer themselves to fully debrief the President as well as Congress.

The letter is copied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

There has been no White House response so far.

Considering the US embassy transfer to Jerusalem; the unilateral abrogation of the JCPOA followed by a declaration of economic war against Iran; the new narrative on the DPRK — as in there’s only our deal, or you will be destroyed like Libya; not to mention the treatment of whistleblower Julian Assange, the prospects for a fruitful dialogue remain bleak.

US Complicity in Gaza Massacre – By Strategic Culture Foundation

US Complicity in Gaza Massacre

The horrendous bloodshed this week in Gaza is directly related to US President Trump’s controversial decision to relocate the American embassy to the contested city of Jerusalem.

The US bears responsibility in large part for the atrocity in which more than 60 unarmed Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli military. This was a cold-blooded massacre.

Thousands of others were maimed from live fire. An eight-month-old baby girl, Layla Ghandour, was among the victims after she died from asphyxiation from tear gas fired at the protesters.

Washington’s shameless defense of Israel’s brutal use of lethal force as “restrained” and its subsequent blocking of an independent UN inquiry into the mass shootings only compound Washington’s culpability in the massacre. A massacre which threatens to add further tensions to an already combustible region.

The question is how much of US complicity was a deliberate calculation by Washington to provoke widespread violence, not just in the occupied Palestinian territories, but in the wider Middle East?

Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was implemented despite international warning that the move violated global consensus that Jerusalem should be a shared capital between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Trump’s decision recklessly snubbed Palestinian rights by symbolically siding with Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its “undivided capital”.

Not only that but the US embassy move was pointedly scheduled to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s foundation as a state on May 14, 1948. The date is also marked by Palestinians as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, when millions of Palestinians were forced from their homes and ancient land by Israeli settlers.

Such a move by the Trump administration was bound to exacerbate already heightened Palestinian grievances after decades of injustice against their right to statehood and their right to return to ancestral homelands. Some 70 per cent of Gaza’s two million residents claim to be refugees who demand the right to return to their homelands in what is now Israeli-occupied Jerusalem and elsewhere in the modern state of Israel.

Trump’s blatant partisan intervention on the side of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory flies in the face of UN resolutions and international consensus which views Palestinians as having an inalienable claim to statehood. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory has expanded without relent despite countless UN resolutions condemning such expansion as illegal.

At least one thing is incontestably clear now. Washington’s role in the decades-old conflict no longer has the pretense of being “an honest broker” or “neutral mediator”. For decades, the US has tacitly sponsored Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. It is 25 years since President Bill Clinton oversaw the Oslo Peace Accords. Today, the so-called peace process is dead and Palestinians are further than ever from realizing their right to a state in coexistence with Israel.

Trump has made it clear that as far as the US is concerned there is no peace process, that there is no “Two State Solution”.

It is telling that Palestinian leaders no longer recognize the US as a mediator. The US is part of the ongoing problem of an illegal colonialism against Palestinian people. Israeli governments are not interested in finding an honorable peace settlement. Their tacit position seems to be one of relentless conquest and driving the remaining Palestinian population out of the entire land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

What is the solution? It seems now that the only decent arrangement is for a One State Solution to be striven for, in which all the people of the Holy Land are entitled to share equal rights. However, that is something that is anathema to the Israeli leaders who want only to create a solely Jewish state.

The international community must face up to the illusion of a Two-State Solution. The world must somehow muster the political will to advocate for the rights of Palestinians to live in the land which was formerly known as Palestine.

For seven decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the source of ongoing conflict in the entire Middle East. Without a proper, just peace settlement that recognizes and delivers on the rights of Palestinians the region will continue to be wracked by violence.

Washington’s brazen and reckless intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be recognized now as an incendiary role. The US has forfeited any claim to be a mediator. It is a malevolent actor.

Israel’s project of conquest is part and parcel with the wider US ambition to control the Middle East for its imperialist designs. America is not some benign player as its mythical image-making would pretend.

The mass murder this week in Gaza in conjunction with the US giving its stamp of approval to Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory is a fitting proof of Washington’s real role in the Middle East. Washington cares not a jot for democracy or peace in the region. It is motivated entirely by hegemonic control for American imperial power.

Chaos and conflict is the fuel for American presence and control. Dispossession of Palestinians goes hand-in-hand with Washington’s strategic planning to balkanize and destroy states. We have seen this nefarious policy with regard to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. Washington needs Israeli conquest in the same way it needs a cluster of other client despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab dictatorships. To crush indigenous democratic rights in order to project its power interests, chiefly for the huge oil wealth of the region, as well as for denying perceived global rivals from gaining influence, especially if that influence might be more progressive.

The US is hellbent on keeping the Middle East in turmoil and conflict. Forget about lofty claims of “democracy building”. Washington’s power relies on creating war and bloodshed. The Project for a New American Century, and other neocon strategy documents, have long prescribed this very policy of creative-destruction, in hoc with Israel, as a formula to consolidate US power, no matter the cost in millions of innocent lives.

Washington’s callous and criminal disregard for Palestinians is a piece of its strategy for mayhem. The renewed confrontation with Iran is also testimony to this pernicious policy.

The cynicism of the US is staggering. This week at the UN, the American ambassador Nikki Haley walked out when the Palestinian envoy, Riad Mansour, began his address to the Security Council about the atrocity in Gaza. For months, Haley has been denouncing Syria, Russia and Iran over alleged violations. Yet she had not the conscience to listen to how Israeli troops butchered unarmed Palestinians in cold blood.

Haley’s rank hypocrisy is closely matched by Western mainstream news media. Their saturated coverage and hysterical distortions over Syria blaming the Assad government and Russia for alleged atrocities was in stark contrast to their muted response to the US-backed cold-blooded murder in Gaza this week.

The criminal arrogance of the US and its complicity in mass murder was exposed this week. It was an object lesson on how the US is not a force for good, as it so often proclaims. Rather, it is evidently a force for destruction in the interests of its own selfish imperialist designs.

“50 Hamas members” claim does not justify Gaza massacre – By Maureen Clare Murphy-Rights and Accountability (Electronic Intifada)

Palestinian women cheer next to the Gaza-Israel boundary fence east of Gaza City on 14 May. Mohammed Zaanoun ActiveStills

Israel has generated global outrage by picking off demonstrators – holding flags, slingshots, stones and incendiary kites, using burning tires, mounds of sand and improvised gas masks as defenses against heavily fortified soldiers armed with US-made Remington M24 sniper rifles – during weeks of protest in Gaza.

Now Israel is trying to spin away the damage by claiming that many of those killed were members of Hamas, and therefore deserved to die.

But as international law experts and international officials have stressed, the political affiliation of those killed on Monday is irrelevant when it comes to the legality of Israel’s actions.

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured during the Great March of Return protests. Only one Israeli, a soldier, has reportedly suffered an injury, a minor one, in the context of the protests.

The disparity in casualties – and the photos and videos showing Israeli forces firing on protesters, medics and journalists who pose no conceivable danger – speak for themselves.

As Amnesty International documented in recent weeks, “Eyewitness testimonies, video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured while posing no immediate threat to the Israeli soldiers.”

In most of the fatal cases analyzed by Amnesty International prior to last Monday’s massacre, “victims were shot in the upper body, including the head and the chest, some from behind.”

Canadian emergency doctor Tarek Loubani told The Electronic Intifada Podcast he was shot in the leg when everything was quiet around him: “No burning tires, no smoke, no tear gas, nobody messing around in front of the buffer zone. Just a clearly marked medical team well away from everybody else.”

An hour later, a paramedic who was part of his team, and who had rescued Loubani, was himself shot and killed.

Gaza’s medical system – already on the brink of collapse before the influx of thousands of injuries comparable to that of a war situationurgently requires millions of dollars worth of drugs and medical supplies, as well as additional emergency personnel, as a result of this new crisis.

“For many, especially those who lost a loved one, who will now suffer a permanent disability or who will need intensive rehabilitation, the impacts of recent violence will be felt for months and years to come,” United Nations humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick stated on Thursday.

Israel has meanwhile been triaging the damage done to its international standing. It too may feel the impact of the violence for years to come.

A top Israeli military spokesperson acknowledged its public relations disaster during a briefing with the Jewish Federations of North America this week.

The spokesperson granted that the crisis was borne of the deadly violence that Israel warned it was prepared and planning to use both before the launch of the Great March of Return on 30 March and before Monday’s protests.

Both the bloodshed and the global backlash against Israel were preventable and predictable.

Seeking to deflect calls for accountability, Israel’s professional spin doctors have been pushing a video clip in which Hamas official Salah Albardaweel claims 50 of those killed on Monday belonged to the Islamist group.

The video has proven a major PR coup for Israel.

Israel’s military and political leadership have sought from the beginning to portray the Great March of Return as a Hamas stunt exploiting civilian protests as a cover for “terror” activities which pose an existential threat to Israeli communities near the Gaza boundary.

Israel seeks to obscure the reality that the Great March of Return is a popular mobilization that includes the participation and leadership of Palestinians of all political stripes who seek an end to the siege and to exercise their right to return to lands just over Gaza’s boundary from which their families were expelled 70 years ago.

Seven of Monday’s fatalities were children.

Several of those killed on Monday were buried in Hamas’ green flag, but not all. Fadi Abu Salmi, a double amputee, was shrouded with the flag of Islamic Jihad. Ahmad al-Adaini was buried in the flag of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

This was a point made by veteran French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin.

“On the Palestinian side, Hamas is presenting itself as victorious, that is to say it has annexed the dead, who most probably overwhelmingly did not belong to Hamas,” Enderlin told French television on Thursday. “Moreover, we did not see many Hamas flags during these demonstrations.”

“Doesn’t change the rules”

Whether or not Albardaweel sought to inflate Hamas’ role in the protests, the political affiliation of those killed on Monday is irrelevant when it comes to the legality of Israel’s actions.

“It doesn’t matter whether the victims were members of Hamas or not,” Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth stated on Thursday.

“Israeli snipers, entrenched behind two substantial fences, had no right to use lethal force … against anyone unless as a last resort to stop an imminent lethal threat.”

Calling the dead “ ‘terrorists’ doesn’t change the rules,” Roth added.

“This wasn’t a war where combatants were shooting at each other. It was a protest, where law enforcement rules apply.”

This is a central claim by human rights groups regarding Israel’s conduct more generally: that irrespective of the political affiliation of any of the organizers or participants, the demonstrations along Gaza’s eastern perimeter are a civilian matter of law enforcement governed by the framework of international human rights law.

Israel claims the Gaza protests and its crackdown on them are “part of the armed conflict between the Hamas terrorist organization and Israel.”

It prepared for the demonstrations “as it would for a military operation,” according to Al Mezan and Adalah, two Palestinian rights groups petitioning the Israeli high court over the use of lethal force against Gaza protesters.

Israel “invents” law

In response to the challenge from the two Palestinian organizations, as well as another petition submitted by several other human rights groups, the Israeli government told the high court: “Hamas has been leading a new tactic of terrorist activity under the cover of ‘national commemoration events’ and ‘popular protests.’”

The Israeli government claims, as summarized by Al Mezan and Adalah, “that the careful planning of the events included the use of tire-burning allegedly to conceal attempts to infiltrate Israel, and the use of Molotov cocktails to damage the border fence and the Israeli military.”

The state argues that the makeup of the protests “were unusual in their size and in the intensity of their threat,” “occasionally” posing a threat to Israeli civilians.

Israel says that its forces were prepared for a massive breach of the boundary fence and “execution of attacks by terrorist cells,” and that the threat “may be caused by a single person or a crowd.”

Thus Israel argues that “the legal framework that regulates the opening of fire is the laws of warfare,” or international humanitarian law.

It claims to be operating from a hybrid of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, stating: “The complex nature of the events require, within the laws of warfare, distinction between the opening of fire within a paradigm of hostilities … and the opening of fire within a paradigm of law enforcement.”

Adalah and Al Mezan counter that such a paradigm “does not exist as an established body of law and has been invented by Israel in an attempt to justify greater leeway to use lethal fire than provided for in the regular paradigm of law enforcement.”

Eliav Lieblich of the Tel Aviv University law school has written that “the international legal source” for this paradigm put forth by the state “is unclear,” adding that “the very few sources cited by the government do not support its existence.”

One apparent source, the International Committee of the Red Cross, has slammed Israel for distorting a Red Cross legal report in order to justify its open-fire policy.

On Monday, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that the ICRC “strongly disagreed” with Israel’s interpretation of its legal analysis and had “forwarded its reservations to the Israeli authorities.”

“Completely baseless”

Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard told Haaretz that “the huge number of casualties we have seen in recent weeks is a direct result of [Israel’s] legal thesis, which is completely baseless.”

He added: “It contradicts the most fundamental principles of laws governing the use of force, which adhere to the formula that endangering the lives of civilians can only be done to defend life – and nothing else.”

Sfard is among the lawyers representing human rights groups petitioning the high court, the first major review of the Israeli military’s classified open-fire regulations in decades.

“Diplomacy, external pressure and internal moral backbone have all failed here, and I hope the judiciary will not,” Sfard said.

But Israel’s high court has long championed policies towards Palestinians that violate international law.

Tel Aviv University’s Lieblich points out that “The court refrained from making any decision before the tragic events of 14 May, and a final decision might be rendered only after this particular episode of violence ends.”

UN votes for international investigation

Israel’s ambassador stated during a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday that “The loss of life could have been avoided had Hamas refrained from sending terrorists to attack Israel under the cover of the riots, while exploiting its own civilian population as human shields.”

“It is Israel, certainly not Hamas, which makes a real effort to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians,” Aviva Raz Shechter stated.

Israel’s argument failed to persuade the Human Rights Council against adopting a resolution to establish an international commission of inquiry into recent events in Gaza.

Only two countries – the US and Australia – voted against the measure. Fourteen others abstained, including countries like the UK which have called for independent inquiries into the killing of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza. Twenty-nine states voted in favor.

Dozens of human rights groups and civil society organizations had urged the Human Rights Council to launch an inquiry ahead of the special session.

“The Israeli judicial system has demonstrated that it is unable and unwilling to ensure accountability for such serious crimes according to international standards,” nearly 100 groups stated earlier in the week.

Meanwhile the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court expressed “grave concern” over the deteriorating situation in Gaza on Wednesday.

The court launched a preliminary examination into potential war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2015.

“Any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to the office’s legal scrutiny,” the prosecutor stated. “This applies to the events of 14 May 2018 and to any future incident.”

 

US Embassy Move Tears Last Fig Leaf Off of Long-Standing US-Israeli Designs for Palestine – By Steven Chovanec (MINT PRESS)

A relative of a Palestinian killed during a protest on the border with Israel mourns over his body in a morgue in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 14, 2018. Israeli soldiers shot and killed dozens of Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday. It was the deadliest day there since a devastating 2014 cross-border war and cast a pall over Israel's festive inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

The Embassy move made by “a strong America” was also a “recognition of the truth” of a longstanding Israeli policy, now fully endorsed and legitimized by U.S. unilateralism, of taking over and colonizing East Jerusalem, which began immediately following its seizure by Israel in 1967.

It is our right to transfer the Arabs … The Arabs should go!”

Yosef Weitz, leading Zionist figure, director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), 1940

The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.”

David Ben-Gurion, 1937

The main thing is, first and foremost, to hit them hard. Not just one hit… but many painful [hits], so that the price will be unbearable. … To bring them to a state of panic that everything is collapsing … fear that everything will collapse … The world will say nothing. The world will say that we are defending ourselves.”

– Current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, 2001

GAZA — (Analysis) While Israel claims “security” and “defense of its border” to justify the recent mass murder in Gaza, the historical record of Israel’s founding fathers and government planners paints a different picture entirely. Aware that an “injustice was unavoidable” for their state to be established, the early Zionist settlers adopted a position of pure hegemony towards the Palestinians — which continues to this day. They had to be “shown the power of Israel” through the “use of force” until they were “compelled to concede” and “submit” to Israeli rule.

Yet, according to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the recent move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem marks the start of “the journey to peace,” with “a strong America recognizing the truth.”

“What a glorious day!” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the event, telling Trump “You have made history.”

Indeed — while legitimizing Israel’s colonization of Jerusalem, as well as the massacre in Gaza only miles away, all while proclaiming a dedication to “peace” and “truth” — the event perfectly encapsulates what the U.S. really means when it speaks of “peace,” and the “truth” of what policy towards the Palestinians really looks like.

 

The “peace” of settler-colonialism

Displaced refugees in 12 camps in the Gaza area. June 2, 1949. (AP Photo)

The Embassy move coincided with the 70th anniversary of the forceful expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population from their homelands by European immigrants and the settler-colonialism that created the state of Israel on top of it.

Describing the situation in 1918, Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion explained:

There is no solution to the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. … And we must recognize this situation. … We as a nation want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.”

Albert Hourani, a distinguished historian at Oxford, in 1946 further explained that “no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the first.” Chaim Weizmann, soon to be the first president of Israel, agreed. According to a contemporary chronicler:

[Weizmann was] the first witness who has frankly and openly admitted that the issue is not between right and wrong but between the greater and lesser injustice. Injustice is unavoidable and we have to decide whether it is better to be unjust to the Arabs of Palestine or the Jews.”

This premeditated injustice is the reason Palestinians refer to Israel’s birthday as the “Nakba” — Arabic for “catastrophe.” It denotes the time when they were brutalized by Zionist settlers who justified their actions based upon past injustices committed against them by someone else, as an abused child justifies growing up to become the abuser of their own children.

The Embassy move made by “a strong America” was also a “recognition of the truth” of a longstanding Israeli policy, now fully endorsed and legitimized by U.S. unilateralism, of taking over and colonizing East Jerusalem, which began immediately following its seizure by Israel in 1967.

In the declassified record, we find that, as early as 1971, CIA analysts were describing how Israel was “undertaking a number of programs within the city that are clearly designed to make Israeli control irreversible.” Israel’s position that it sought full control of all of Jerusalem — “adopted immediately following the 1967 war” — was evidenced as “the Israelis have continued to make it abundantly clear [that] they have no intention of giving up control of the city.”

Read |  The declassified CIA memo on Jerusalem

 


This is significant, the CIA analysts noted, because “the status of Jerusalem constitutes a stumbling block on which the entire peace effort could founder.” The Israeli actions therefore have “further complicated the issue” and ensured that achieving peace would be impossible, as indeed it was.

During all of this, the U.S. continuously voiced its dedication to “peace” and diplomatic resolution.

Carrying on the tradition, Trump on Monday said to the embassy ceremony that the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement,” at the same time the U.S. was legitimizing a decades-long occupation of Jerusalem that effectively nullified any slim hope that might have remained for a negotiated settlement.

Trump’s brash actions are really just a more honest face displaying what the U.S. and Israel have always pursued: full Palestinian capitulation and submission. The legitimate grievances of the indigenous population are irrelevant; what matters is the rule of force. “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must,” as Thucydides’ old maxim goes.

 

A “Glorious Day” in Israel; a massacre in Gaza

As Israel was celebrating its “glorious day,” the happy faces of wealth and privilege of the U.S. and Israeli elite were juxtaposed to an Israeli massacre in Gaza only miles away, in a squalid ghetto filled with resentment and despair.

The Palestinian refugees living in Gaza (70 percent of its population) have endured 12 long years of imprisonment and blockade within one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Denied basic human rights such as freedom of movement, Gaza is essentially a “giant open prison camp,” as former British Prime Minister David Cameron described it. According to former Israeli National Security Council Director Giora Eiland, it is the “biggest concentration camp on earth.”

The enclave’s infrastructure is in collapse, due in part to repeated Israeli aggressions, colloquially referred to as “mowing the lawn” by the Israeli military. The last campaign saw the deaths of over 2,300 Palestinians — nearly 70 percent of whom were civilians (as per UN report) — at Israel’s hands.

Israeli officials explained their reasons for imposing the siege. It is meant to keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse,” to make sure that it is “functioning at the lowest level possible” short of tipping it over the edge into a “humanitarian crisis.” That way, Israel wouldn’t have to allow “residents of Gaza to live normal lives,” as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted.

Another facet of being “totally subject to the decisions and policies of the Israeli government,” as Israeli human rights groups describe living in Gaza, is having over 90 percent of the water contaminated and “unfit for human consumption.” Since over half of Gaza’s population is under 18 years old, this means that “innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink,” as explained by Harvard political economist Sara Roy, the foremost academic expert on Gaza.

Palestinians in Gaza are trapped within an unremitting state of humiliation and agony.

Indeed, in 1948, Israeli government experts assessed that the Palestinian refugees would either have to assimilate elsewhere or they “would be crushed, … some of them would die and most of them would turn into human dust in the waste of society, and join the most impoverished classes in the Arab countries.”

Instead of standing idly by, Palestinians living in Gaza have decided to protest against their abuse. They decided to set up tents near the fence and gradually and peacefully move closer, in assertion of their internationally recognized right to return to the homes they were displaced from, in what is now Israel.

Israeli officials from the highest military and political echelons responded by deploying uniformed snipers to the fence with orders to shoot live ammunition against the demonstrators, regardless of their being unarmed or peaceful. The result was a bloodbath.

On Monday alone, Israel orchestrated “the highest number of both fatalities and injuries” since the protest began, killing at least 60 Palestinians, including eight children (one girl) and a health worker. 2,770 others were injured, 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 others in critical condition.

Altogether, since March 30, 104 Palestinians have been killed, 12 of whom were children, while a staggering 12,600+ have been injured. No Israelis have been killed, with only one soldier being “lightly wounded.”

In short, Israel has been orchestrating a massacre, a “horrific slaughter” of “senseless violence” and “unabated brutality against civilians” meant “to stifle civil unrest,” which “has nothing to do with defense,” as U.S. Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) wrote in outrage.

Because of Israel’s calculated policy, reads a statement by the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner:

it seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press personnel, first-responders, bystanders, and [anyone] at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.”

 

The reason for the slaughter: Submitting to Israeli rule

Palestinian medics raise their hands while walking towards an Israeli sniper nest near the border with Israel to evacuate injured protesters, May 15, 2018 (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Putting official justifications and rhetoric aside, the real reasons for the carnage are not hard to understand.

As the early Zionists understood, an “injustice was unavoidable” if their project was to succeed. The founding of Israel was thereafter based on the rejection of the injustice at its inception, on its “right to exist.”

The abused Palestinians, who naturally reject having their homes stolen from underneath them, must, therefore, be crushed and forever prevented from exercising self-determination, from becoming strong enough to push their legitimate grievances.

The basic characteristic was described by Ben-Gurion just before the country’s founding. He testified before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine that his approach to the Palestinian Arabs would be one of pure hegemony, where he would “tell them, here is a decision in our favor. We are right. We want to sit down with you and settle the question amicably. If your answer is no, then we will use force against you.”

The reason for this attitude, according to historian Charles D. Smith of the University of Arizona, was that, in Ben-Gurion’s mind, “the Arabs denied Israel’s right to exist,” so, therefore “they had to be shown the power of Israel time and again until they were compelled to concede.”

In other words, “Once they learned that opposition to Zionism was futile, they would ultimately accept it and submit to Jewish rule.”

Faced with peaceful demonstrations opposing the misery of Israeli rule, demanding the right to return to the homeland that Israel claims for itself, Israel, therefore, responded by “using force against you” since “your answer is no” to the question of submission to Israeli designs.

The protesting Palestinians “would be crushed” and “some of them would die” until they accepted their fate of being relegated to “the waste of society” in “the most impoverished classes in the Arab” world; they “had to be shown the power of Israel … until they were compelled to concede.”

Despite this inhumanity, the protesters have offered an inspiring display of courage and strength. To refrain from taking up arms or launching rockets in the face of such relentless brutality and carnage, to protest for their just right to a life of dignity and freedom when they know that it will likely cost them their very lives and limbs, is an awe-inspiring demonstration of self-sacrifice and commitment to justice.

For us in the United States and the West, Palestinian sacrifice must not be in vain. It is our responsibility to stop our government(s) from enabling this horror, lest our foot-dragging and inaction carry on for so long that “most of them … turn into human dust in the waste of society,” right before our very eyes.

Top Photo | A relative of a Palestinian killed during a protest on the border with Israel mourns over his body in a morgue in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, May 14, 2018. Israeli soldiers shot and killed upwards of 50 protesters during mass protests along the Gaza border. It was the deadliest day there since a devastating 2014 cross-border war and cast a pall over Israel’s festive inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. (AP/Dusan Vranic)

Steven Chovanec is an independent journalist and analyst based in Chicago, Illinois. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Sociology from Roosevelt University, and has written for numerous outlets such as The Hill, TeleSur, MintPress News, Consortium News, and others. His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @stevechovanec.

Netanyahu in Moscow for Victory Day: why did Putin invite him? – By Alexander Mercouris

Putin’s invitation to Netanyahu was diplomacy not surrender at a time when the Middle East is on fire and war with Iran may be coming

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9, 2018. Russia marks the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / MAXIM SHIPENKOV
 

News of the recent attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Moscow’s 9th May Victory Day Parade provoked a predictable range of reactions ranging from anger, dismay, denial and – on the part of some of the US’s and Israel’s friends – even a certain amount of gloating.

For an example of the latter, see for example these words by the British historian Niall Ferguson in a lengthy article hailing Donald Trump’s supposed masterstroke in pulling out of the JCPOA.

Economically weak enough to suffer a wave of riots in December and January, the Iranians will not find it easy to withstand the snap-back of sanctions and the roll-back of its forces abroad. And if you think the Russians will help them, you must have missed Binyamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin last week.

By contrast The Saker – normally a supporter of Putin’s – sees the whole episode as disgraceful, and the Israeli missile strike on Syria which also happened on Victory Day, as a humiliation for Putin and for Russia

……Bibi Netanyahu [was] invited to Moscow to the Victory Day Parade in spite of him bombing Syria, a Russian ally, just on the eve of his visit. Once in Moscow, Netanyahu compared Iran to, what else, Nazi Germany. How original and profound indeed! Then he proceeded to order the bombing of Syria for a second time, while still in Moscow. But then, what can we expect from a self-worshiping narcissist who finds it appropriate to serve food to the Japanese Prime Minister in a specially made shoe? The man is clearly batshit crazy (which in no way makes him less evil or dangerous). But it is the Russian reaction which is so totally disgusting: nothing, absolutely nothing. Unlike others, I have clearly said that it is not the Russian responsibility to “protect” Syria (or Iran) from the Israelis. But there is no doubt in my mind that Netanyahu has just publicly thumbed his nose at Putin and that Putin took it. For all my respect for Putin, this time he allowed Netanyahu to treat him just like Trump treated Macron. Except that in the case of Putin, he was so treated in his own capital. That makes it even worse……

…..it appears undeniable that the Zionists have enough power to simultaneously force not one, but two (supposed) superpowers to cave in to their demands. Not only that, they have the power to do that while also putting these two superpowers on a collision course against each other. At the very least, this shows two things: the United States has completely lost its sovereignty and is now an Israeli protectorate. As for Russia, well, she is doing comparatively better, but the full re-sovereignization the Russian people have voted for when they gave their overwhelming support to Putin will not happen…..

The fact that the event took place at a time when the situation in the Middle East has been particularly fraught undoubtedly strengthened those reactions.

Now that the dust has settled a little, it may be a good moment to review what actually happened during Netanyahu’s visit and to judge which if any of these reactions were justified.

Guest of Honour or not?

The part of my article which first reported Russia’s invitation to Netanyahu to attend the 9th May Victory Parade which provoked the strongest reaction was actually its title, which referred to Netanyahu as being invited to the Victory Day celebrations as “guest of honour”.

Several commentators – including on the thread of the article – seized on the fact that the Kremlin’s announcement of the invitation did not use the words “guest of honour” to deny this was the case.  At its most extreme there were even suggestions that Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow was no more than a working visit which happened to coincide with the Victory Day celebrations.

The optics of the visit however tell a different story.

During the parade Netanyahu was on the podium, flanking Putin on his left whilst the other guest of honour, Serb President Alexander Vučić, flanked Putin on his right.

Netanyahu also flanked Putin on his left when Putin ceremoniously laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden near the Kremlin Wall (Vučić was again positioned to Putin’s right)

Netanyahu also marched alongside Putin during the March of the Immortal Regiment, and the Kremlin press service has released pictures of them together, this time showing Netanyahu on Putin’s right and Vučić on Putin’s left

Netanyahu also attended the official reception in the Kremlin.  Here he is during the reception with Putin and Vučić in a group photograph with a group of Russian soldiers

And here is Netanyahu again with Putin and Vučić during the formal dinner

And here is Netanyahu again, this time talking to Putin during the dinner

Note that Netanyahu, unlike Vučić, was careful to wear a Russian St. George’s Ribbon throughout the ceremonies.

In light of the prominence given to Netanyahu during the Victory Day celebrations I think it is simply impossible to deny that he together with President Vučić of Serbia was the guest of honour.

Why then did the Russians extend such an invitation to him?  Is it – as some argue – because Russia and Israel are in fact allies?

Russia and Israel are not allies

Two countries may be said to be allies if they (1) have a mutual defence or security pact with each other; or (2) share common enemies with each other.

Russia and Israel do not have a defence or security pact with each other.  Neither Russia nor Israel have pledged to come to the defence of the other if either one is attacked.  They cannot therefore be allies in that sense.

Do they however have enemies in common?

In recent years Russia has emerged as Syria’s most important ally and guarantor, and is forging increasingly friendly ties with Iran.

It is Syria and Iran which Israel says are its major state enemies.  Yet it turns out that far from being Russia’s enemies they are Russia’s friends.

Israel for its part is a longstanding and close ally of the US – with which it does have a security pact – but which is Russia’s main geopolitical adversary.

Clearly Russia and Israel do not have state enemies in common, so they cannot be allies in that sense either.

Russia and Israel both say that they oppose Jihadi terrorism.

However, Israel (as it admits) has been providing material aid to Jihadi fighters fighting the Syrian government in the Golan Heights even though these are people whom Russia calls terrorists, whist Russia for its part maintains contacts with the Palestinian group Hamas, which Israel says is a terrorist organisation.

It turns out that not only do Russia and Israel not have state enemies in common, but their definition of who is a terrorist is so different as to render it effectively impossible for them cooperate with each other to fight terrorism together.

On the basis of the usual criteria used to define allies – a mutual defence or security arrangement and/or enemies in common – Russia and Israel are not allies.  On the contrary, they are friends of each other’s adversaries.

Are Russia and Israel however allies in any some other less formal sense?

I cannot see how, unless the meaning of the word “ally” is to be stretched so far as to include all states which are on good terms with each other, in which case the word becomes effectively meaningless.

Russia and Israel are clearly not allies, and their relationship should not be described in that way.

Russia did not invite Netanyahu to the 9th Day Victory Parade in Moscow because Russia and Israel are allies.  Any discussion of the invitation based on that theory is therefore wrong.

Russia and Israel are not enemies

If Russia and Israel are not allies, and should not be called that, it is also true that they are in no sense enemies.

I have discussed this on numerous occasions and at great length.

Briefly, with respect to Russia, when Russia did for a period become Israel’s enemy by siding with the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the result was a disaster for Russia

…….no one in Moscow wants to see Russia become embroiled in the Syrian-Israeli conflict, which far predates Russia’s intervention in Syria, and which goes back all the way to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.

When following the 1967 Six Days War the Russians did commit themselves wholeheartedly to one side in the Arab-Israeli conflict – backing the Arabs diplomatically, arming the Arabs intensively, sending a strong military force to defend Egypt in 1970 from Israeli air attacks, and breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel – the result for Moscow was a catastrophe.

The USSR’s large Jewish community became alienated, the USSR found that by making an enemy of Israel it had further poisoned its relations with the Western powers at precisely the time when it was seeking detente with them, and the USSR quickly discovered that its Arab ‘allies’ in whom it had invested so much were both ungrateful and treacherous, so that by 1980 the USSR’s entire position in the Middle East had completely collapsed.

The final straw came after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, when volunteers from across the Arab world rushed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, in a way that they had never shown the slightest indication of wanting to do against Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, the Russians have therefore since the mid-1980s been determined never to become directly involved in any part of the Arab-Israel conflict again.

Thus whilst Russia maintains good relations with the Arab states, and whilst Russia continues to voice support for the Palestinians, Russia has always striven to maintain good relations with Israel as well, and has forged significant economic links with Israel.

As for Israel, it knows that the only country which is even theoretically capable of redressing the military balance in the Middle East in Iran’s and the Arabs’ favour to the point of creating a genuine existential threat for Israel is Russia.

It was after all only during the period of the USSR’s intervention on the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict when – especially during the period 1969 to 1973 – the conventional military balance shifted so far in the Arabs’ favour that Israel faced a serious risk of defeat in a conventional war.

Crucially, the only occasion when Israel has lost its regional supremacy against its adversaries in the air was when it found itself pitted against the Soviet military in 1970, when the Soviet military successfully brought Israeli air raids into Egypt west of the Suez canal to a stop as a result of what the Soviets called Operation Kavkaz.

That fact in itself suffices to explain why Israel does not want to make an enemy of Russia.

Russia and Israel are (within limits) friends

If Russia and Israel have strong reasons not to want to be enemies of each other, they also have positive reasons for wanting to be friends.

Jewish immigration to Israel from the USSR and from Russia has created a substantial Russian speaking community in Israel, numbering around 900,000 people out of Israel’s total population of 8.8 million.

In keeping with their large numbers, Russian speaking Israelis now form a substantial electoral constituency, with one of their political leaders, Avigdor Lieberman, being Israel’s Defence Minister.

Though Russian speaking Israelis do not have a single set of views about Russia or anything else, many of them are proud of their connection to Russia, and are resolute in holding on to the Russian language and to Russian culture.

Many of them also seem to take an active interest in what is happening in Russia itself, and some of them not only retain links to Russia but are also active there.

The large number of Russian speaking Israelis therefore provides a strong electoral constituency within Israel which tends to support good relations between Israel and Russia.

Netanyahu, whose electoral coalition depends heavily on the votes of Russian speaking Israelis, and whose position as Israel’s Prime Minister depends heavily on the support of Russian speaking Israeli politicians like Lieberman, therefore has a strong political reason to want good relations with Russia.

Looking at the same issue from the Russian point of view, Israel is not only a powerful country, with which it would be in Russia’s interests to be on good terms, but it is also the one important Western ally of the US which has consistently refused over the last decade to join in the mounting campaign against Russia which has had the rest of the West in its grip.

Lieberman put it best in a recent interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, reproduced here by TASS

Israel reveres its relationship with Russia, which has flourished into efficient and transparent cooperation over the past couple of decades, even against the background of tough pressure from its closest partners, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Kommersant.

“For example, as far as the anti-Russia sanctions go, we flatly refused to join them. Many states expelled Russian diplomats not long ago, all due to the standoff regarding the use or non-use of nerve gas and so on. Israel did not join this action. We have a normal relationship with Russia and we comprehend its interests,” he said, adding that Tel Aviv also expects Moscow to “take into consideration our interests in the Middle East.”

Asked why the positions of Russia and Israel vary widely on such issues as the Syrian crisis, he said that Tel Aviv does not seek to pursue tensions with Russia. “On the contrary, we have established a very clear and frank, transparent dialogue with Russia over the past years, whenever we share opinions and even when we do not share opinions,” the minister said. “We do not interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. In my viewpoint, Assad is a war criminal responsible for killing over half a million of his own citizens. Assad, the Islamic State, Al Qaeda (outlawed in Russia – TASS), all radicals, Hezbollah are no different in essence. Nevertheless, we do not intend to interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. What we are not going to accept are any efforts taken by Iran to turn Syria into a foothold targeting us,” he added.

Lieberman acknowledged that Russian and Israeli actions are coordinated in Syria. “There is a phone hotline between Israel’s Defense Forces and the Russian contingent deployed in Syria. We always take into account Russia’s interests in Syria and hope very much that Russia will take into account Israel’s interests related to its security” he stressed.

According to the minister, Israel also bears no threat to Syria’s integrity. “There has been a murderous war for many years there, with at least half a million people dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, and I think the sooner it ends the sooner all of us could breathe easier,” he noted.

In fact the very attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Russia’s 9th May Victory Day Parade illustrates this point.

What other prominent Western leader would accept a Russian invitation to attend Russia’s 9th May Victory Day Parade at this time?  Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 the answer is none of them.  The last Western head of government to be offered an invitation to attend the Parade was Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in 2015.  Characteristically, and to great annoyance of the Russians, he failed to turn up.

Given that this is so, it is not surprising that the Russian leadership should value the continued friendship of Israel – the only member of the Western alliance which still seems capable of conducting a foreign policy independent of Washington’s – and should wish to preserve it.

That by definition requires – as Lieberman says (see above) – a need for Russia to take Israel’s concerns into account.

Having said all of this, it is important to stress that though this friendship – real though it is – has limits.

Nothing can alter the fact that Israel is ultimately an ally of the US and is aligned with the West, and that its adversaries in the Middle East are Russia’s friends.

That does not mean that Russia and Israel cannot be friends with each other.  It is a fallacy that countries cannot be friends even whilst they disagree on many issues with each other.  However, it does place a limit on how far that friendship can go, and it also means that the management of relations between the two requires careful handling.

No S-300 missiles for Syria

This accounts for Russia’s decision to refuse to supply S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria.

In the aftermath of the recent US missile strike on Syria there was talk that Russia might reconsider its decision to refuse to supply S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria.

I was skeptical.

Recently there has been some discussion in the media about the possibility of Russia supplying S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria by way of response to the recent US missile strike on Syria.

Precisely because the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria has the potential to disrupt Russia’s otherwise excellent relations with Israel – and given that the US strike on Syria was completely ineffective – I personally doubt the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria will take place.

In the event – and to predictable cries of betrayal – the Russians have now confirmed that the supply of S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria will not take place.

This is a logical decision since from a Russian point of view supply of S-300 missiles to Syria at this time would be counterproductive and would make little sense.

The point about the S-300 missile system is that it is (1) a system of such range and power that it could potentially put at risk Israeli aircraft operating over Israel itself; and (2) the failure of the US raid on Syria, and the possible failure of the more recent Israeli raid on Syria, begs the question of whether Syria needs it anyway.

In fact it is very easy to see how the supply of the S-300 anti aircraft system to Syria, far from protecting Syria, might actually be dangerous for Syria.

The Israelis would be bound to see its presence in Syria under Syrian military control as a major escalation and as a challenge to their air supremacy.  The risk would be that they would react to this challenge by planning a major air offensive to destroy it.  In this they would unquestionably have the total support – including the technical support – of the US.

The Israeli air force – if it were to throw all its resources into doing it and if it were backed by the full might of the US – would undoubtedly have the means to destroy whatever limited number of S-300 systems Russia might supply to Syria, even if the Israelis were to suffer some losses in the process.

At that point the world would undoubtedly construe what had happened as a Syrian defeat, and that would almost certainly be the perception within Syria itself.

Syria’s many enemies would be emboldened, Russia would be humiliated, and pressure in the West from the regime change lobby would increase for the sort of all encompassing air offensive against Syria which they have always hankered for.

It is impossible to see how any of this would benefit either Syria or Russia.

Ultimately the only way the Russians can be sure of stopping all Israeli raids on Syria would be if they assumed direct responsibility for the defence of Syrian air space from attack by Israel.

That is what the Soviets did in 1970 when they came to Egypt’s defence in what the Russians call Operation Kavkaz, but which the Israelis misleadingly call the “War of Attrition”.

However that would pitch the Russians right back at the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a direct player, forfeiting Israel’s friendship, and risking a repeat of the catastrophe which Russia suffered in the 1970s.

No one in authority in Moscow wants that, and the Russian people do not want it either.

When I previously discussed the possibility of Russia supplying S-300 missiles to Syria I speculated that the Russians – if they were really considering doing such a thing – would give the Israelis assurances that they would retain operational control over the missiles so that they could not endanger Israeli aircraft.

That would however have taken away the whole point of supplying S-300 missiles to Syria in the first place, so wisely, if that idea was ever considered, it has been dropped.

In truth it is impossible to see why the Russians would want to change an air defence situation in Syria which from their point of view is working well.

The Russians have established a powerful air defence system under their own control in Syria.  It includes advanced S-400 and S-300V4 Antey-2500 air aircraft missiles and their associated radar systems as well as shorter range Buk-M3 and Tor-M2 missile systems and the very effective Pantsir-S1 point defence system.

This air defence system is supplemented by the powerful Krasukha-4 electronic warfare system, and is able to call on various electronic reconnaissance aircraft including the Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft, which now routinely operates in Syria.

The Russians have repeatedly made clear to the US, the Israelis and the Turks that this system is ready for use and is there to enforce Russia’s red lines in Syria.

These prohibit (1) attacks on Russian troops or Russian bases in Syria; (2) attacks which threaten the survival of the Syrian government; and (3) attacks which disrupt the Syrian military’s anti Jihadi operations.

The Russians have established hotlines with the US, Israeli and Turkish militaries, enabling them to coordinate with those militaries and to warn them when it appears that they are coming close to crossing those red lines.

Whenever the US, Israeli or Turkish militaries have in fact come close to crossing the red lines, the Russians have responded forcefully, in some cases by switching off the hotlines, forcing the US and Turkish militaries to limit their operations because of fear of action by the Russian air defence system.

Since the US missile strike on Syria in April last year, the Russians have also upgraded Syria’s own air defence system.

This has been done without the supply of S-300 missiles to Syria, hugely risky and destabilising as that would be.

Instead it has been done by the radical upgrade of Syria’s existing air defence system, with technical improvements to Syria’s Soviet era systems, a comprehensive retraining of Syrian air defence personnel, and an apparently successful attempt to unify the system and to improve its radar surveillance capabilities.  In addition a number of short range but highly effective Pantsir-S1 systems have been supplied, providing the Syrians with effective point defence against missile strikes on their key facilities.

Russian accounts of the recent US and Israeli raids on Syria suggest that this effort to upgrade the Syrian air defence system has been successful.  Given that this is so, why take the enormous risk of supplying Syria with the S-300?

In summary, supplying Syria with S-300 missiles from a Russian point of view makes no sense, and no one should be surprised that the Russians have decided not to do it.

Almost certainly the Russians are telling the truth when they say that it was not Netanyahu who talked them out of it.  I say that because almost certainly they never seriously planned to do it in the first place,.

As for the talk that they might do it, in retrospect that looks like the angry talk of some Russian officials immediately after the US strike.  Decisions made in anger are repented at leisure, and the Russians knowing this when their anger died down pulled back.

Though the Russians would not have needed Netanyahu to talk them out of this idea, probably they did confirm to him during the visit that the supply of the S-300 system to Syria would not take place.

That of course would have improved the atmosphere of the visit, which from the Russian point of view would have been the one benefit they would gained from this affair.

As for suggestions I have seen that the Russians extracted concessions from Netanyahu in return for agreeing not to supply S-300 systems to Syria, there is no evidence of that and I am sure it did not happen.

The growing crisis in the Middle East

When then was Netanyahu invited to come to Moscow at this time?

For the answer to that, it is first necessary to look at the fast deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

Since the Russians extended their invitation to Netanyahu the following things have happened in the Middle East in quick succession:

(1) The US has pulled out of the JCPOA and has announced that it intends to impose all encompassing sanctions on Iran.  Moreover the US is making clear that it intends to enforce these sanctions by imposing secondary sanctions on third country companies or businesses – including European companies and businesses – which continue to do business with Iran.  Already the French oil major Total is saying that the US sanctions will cause it to disinvest from Iran unless it is provided with a waiver by the US authorities.

(2) Israel has launched a major air strike on Syria, which gives every impression of having been  intended to defeat the Syrian air defence system the Russians have upgraded there;

(3) The US has transferred its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;

(4) There has been a massacre of Palestinians in Gaza protesting the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and demanding for all Palestinians their right to return to their land.

All of this has been happening against a background of increasingly angry rhetoric, including a preposterous comment by Netanyahu whilst in Moscow comparing Iran to Nazi Germany.

Adding to the tension are what look like reliable rumours – which have been somewhat  unconvincingly denied – that a position paper is being circulated within the US National Security Council calling for a US sponsored regime change/’colour revolution’ to be orchestrated by the US in Iran.

It is not difficult to see in all this a drift towards war in the Middle East, and that is what many people are increasingly saying is happening.

No change in Russia’s Middle East policies

A second point to make about Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, is to point out what has not taken place in the Middle East.

There has been no change in Russian Middle East policy whatsoever.

Russia continues to support Syria militarily, with the Syrian military backed by the Russian air force continuing to score advances against Jihadi fighters throughout Syria.  Damascus is now on the brink of being fully secured, and the remaining Jihadi pockets in central Syria have now been almost completely cleared.

Russia continues to be committed to the JCPOA with Iran.  It has rejected US and Israeli calls for the JCPOA to be scrapped and for a new deal with Iran to be negotiated.

Far from scaling down its economic relations with Iran in response to the US sanctions, Russia appears intent on upgrading its economic relations with Iran.  Talks continue to be underway to establish a free trade area between the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and Iran.  The ‘oil for goods’ deal Russia and Iran agreed with each in 2015 remains in effect.

Russia continues to make clear its strong disagreement with the US decision to transfer the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It continues to call for East Jerusalem to be made the capital of a future Palestinian state, explicitly rejecting Israel’s claim that undivided Jerusalem is and can only be Israel’s capital.

Russia continues to say that it will only transfer its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the day when it is able to open an embassy to Palestine in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

In addition Russia continues to be strongly opposed to any military action by the US or Israel against Iran.

In no sense has Netanyahu’s visit to Russia brought about any change in Russia’s policy positions in the Middle East.

Russian policy remains consistent in its opposition to recent US and Israeli moves against Iran, and to the US’s regime change policies in Syria (which are supported by Israel).

Russia also continues support Palestinian ownership of East Jerusalem and th establishment in Palestine of an independent Palestinian state.

Russia’s priority: prevent a Middle East war

These two facts – the gathering crisis in the Middle East and Russia’s continued adherence to its well established and unchanging foreign positions – provide the reasons for the invitation to Netanyahu.

The Russians do not want war in the Middle East and are alarmed by the deterioration of the situation there, and are doing what they can to prevent it.

They do not want war between Israel and Iran in Syria because such a war could rapidly escalate, threatening to drag them in, and putting the future of the Syrian government, which the Russians have worked so hard to save, in jeopardy.

They do not want war between the US and Israel and Iran because that would disrupt their plans to extend the Eurasian institutions into Central Asia, and would risk creating a further zone of chaos and crisis there in a region close to Russia.

They cannot talk to Donald Trump about these matters because the Russiagate scandal has made high level contact between them and him all but impossible.

On the rare occasions when Trump and Putin have talked or met with each other, the result has been uproar and scandal in the US, making meaningful discussions between the two men impossible.

Since the Russians cannot talk to Trump they have no choice but to talk to the other leading player in the anti Iran enterprise, who is at least willing to talk to them, and who is none other than Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

That is why the Russians invited Netanyahu to Moscow.

The talks in Moscow

The Russians have only provided the text of the introductory comments Putin and Netanyahu exchanged with each other when the two men met following the festivities on Victory Day.

By this point the two men would have been physically exhausted after a packed day’s events, making it unlikely that the talks went on for very long, or that they were very detailed.

However we know from things Netanyahu said before the talks that the focus of the talks was the situation in Syria, with Netanyahu raising Israeli concerns about the supposed Iranian build up in Syria, and the supposed need by Israel to counter this supposed Iranian build up there.

That makes it possible, based on the known positions the two leaders have previously expressed, to make educated guesses about what they said to each other.

Putin would have taken the opportunity to remind Netanyahu of Russia’s red lines.

I have set these out many times, but for the sake of clarity I will now do so again.  They are

(1) a prohibition on attacks on Russian bases and Russian facilities in Syria, and on attacks which threaten the lives of Russian soldiers in Syria;

(2) a prohibition on attacks which threaten the survival of the Syrian government; and

(3) a prohibition on attacks which disrupt the operations of the Syrian military against the Jihadis the Syrian military and the Russians are fighting.

Contrary to what some people are saying, I think it is most unlikely that Putin would have given Netanyahu any assurances that Russia would act to rein in Iranian activities in Syria.

If Netanyahu asked Putin for such assurances (which I also think unlikely) Putin would almost certainly have told him what the Russians always say when faced with requests for assurances like that: that Iran and Syria are sovereign states and Russia cannot interfere in what arrangements two sovereign states make with each other.

Netanyahu by now knows Putin sufficiently well to know that this would be Putin’s answer.  That is why I doubt the request for such an assurance would have been made.

However Putin almost certainly did reassure Netanyahu that provided Russia’s red lines are not crossed Russia will not interfere in any Israeli military operations in Syria, including those which Netanyahu says are directed against Iran.

Putin might have used the opportunity to remind Netanyahu that Russia is not a party to the Arab-Israel conflict or to the state of war which has existed since 1948 between Israel and Syria.

However as Netanyahu knows this already, I think that is also unlikely.

In return Netanyahu would have assured Putin that Israel would continue to observe Russia’s red lines in Syria.

As it happens the Israeli raid on Syria on 9th May 2018 did observe Russia’s red lines, showing that the Russian warnings are being heeded.  Talk of this raid being a humiliation for Putin and for Russia is therefore wrong.

The JCPOA would undoubtedly also have been discussed, though the exchanges on this subject would have been short, since Putin and Netanyahu had discussed it previously over the course of a  telephone conversation the two had with each other just days before.

Putin would have reaffirmed Russia’s support for the JCPOA, and would have made clear that Russia remains committed to improving its relations with Iran.

However what look like strategically placed leaks suggest that Putin may have reassured Netanyahu that Russia would not supply “offensive weapons” to Iran.

“Offensive weapons” in this context means weapons like the SU-35 fighter and the Iskander land attack missile which Iran could use to attack Israel from Iranian territory.

An Interfax report timed 13:15 on 9th May 2018 (the day of the talks) says Russian Deputy Defence Minister Fomin confirmed that “Russia [is] not supplying offensive weapons to Iran”.

That almost certainly repeats an assurance Putin gave to Netanyahu during the talks.

Since Netanyahu knows of Russia’s intention to improve its relations with Iran, and would also have known that nothing he could say to Putin would change that, he was probably satisfied with this assurance.

It would have told him that Russia, despite forging ahead in its relations with Iran, is not going to put Iran in a position where Iran can challenge Israel militarily from its own national territory.

Almost certainly the question of a possible military attack by the US or Israel on Iran was not discussed.

There do not seem to be any plans for such an attack at the moment, and Putin would not have wanted to spoil the mood on what was after all a festive day by talking about a possible attack which may never happen.

However Netanyahu and Israel are under no doubt of Russia’s strong opposition to any such attack.

Russia made known its strong opposition to such an attack a decade ago when the possibility was first floated by hardliners within the George W. Bush administration.  Nothing has changed to alter Russia’s position about that.

In summary, the primary purpose of the talks and of the invitation to Netanyahu was – almost certainly – (1) to give Netanyahu a forceful reminder of Russia’s red lines in Syria at a time of heightened conflict between Israel and Syria and Israel and Iran; and (2) to give Netanyahu a promise that provided Israel itself exercised restraint Russia would not provide Iran with weapons which Iran could use to challenge Israel from its own territory.

Over and above this, with the threat of a war in the Middle East increasing almost by the day, the invitation to Netanyahu keeps open a line of communication to one of the likely parties in that war, should it ever come to pass.

That is essential if diplomatic action is ever needed to prevent that war happening, or if it cannot be prevented, to contain it and to broker a compromise after it has begun.

The need to maintain a line of communication to Netanyahu – meaningful communication with Donald Trump being for the moment impossible – explains Russia’s muted reaction to the recent massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

Many people are very upset by this.

From the Russian point of view however the need to keep a channel of communication open to Netanyahu overrides the rhetorical benefits of a condemnation which can change nothing.

If that seems calculated and cold blooded, then that is because it is.  However it is the tough minded the Russians conduct their diplomacy.

Why Victory Day?

All of this could have been discussed between Putin and Netanyahu at any time.  Why then did the Russians take the further step of inviting Netanyahu to Moscow on Victory Day?

Undoubtedly one of reason was to reassure Netanyahu that despite Russia’s increasingly close relations with Iran Russia continues to place a high value on its good relations with Israel.  It would be difficult to imagine a better or more public way of doing that than to invite Netanyahu to attend what has become Russia’s most important and emotionally charged public holiday: the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

However if the invitation was in part a case of extending the velvet glove, it also came with a very public brandishing of the mailed fist.

It would be difficult to come up with a better way to impress on someone like Netanyahu the reality of Russia’s military might than to make him sit through the gigantic military parade Russia puts on in Red Square every year on Victory Day.

The sight of tens of thousands of perfectly drilled Russian troops – drilled to a level no longer attainable by any Western military, including the Israeli military – not to mention the hugely impressive display of advanced weaponry, including S-400, Buk-M3, Tor-M2 and Pantsir-S1 anti aircraft systems deployed in Syria, as well as the Iskander and Tornado land attack missiles and the SU-35 and SU-34 fighters and fighter bombers, which are also deployed there, tells its own story.

This is the powerful military that is now entrenched across Israel’s border in Syria.  Does Israel want to tangle with it?

Perhaps Netanyahu is oblivious to that sort of warning, or perhaps he is not the sort of man to be impressed by a warning like that.

However with the Middle East drifting into crisis it is very easy to see why the Russians might think differently, and might think that now is a good time for such a warning to be given.

Dressing up a warning as a compliment is perfect diplomacy, and by common agreement diplomacy is something the Russians are very good at.

As a matter of fact Netanyahu, despite his belligerent reputation, is a strongly risk averse leader who has so far kept Israel out of wars.

I suspect that he understands the implicit warning he was given perfectly well, and understands fully the enormous risks he and Israel would be taking if they tried to take on Russia.

That is a major constraint on Netanyahu’s and Israel’s behaviour, and the pointed reminder of Russia’s military might Netanyahu was given on Victory Day can only have reinforced it.

Summary

As the situation in the Middle East deteriorates Russia, probably to its own surprise, finds itself at the centre of Middle East diplomacy.

Russia is now the only country able to talk to and influence both sides in the coming conflict: the alliance of the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the one hand, and the so-called “Axis of Resistance” of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and possibly Iraq on the other.

The invitation to Netanyahu is not an act of capitulation, or a sign that Russia is succumbing to Israeli influence.  Nor in my opinion is it some great public relations misstep.

It is the exercise of diplomacy at a particularly dangerous moment in the contemporary history of the Middle East.

The same is true of the other steps the Russians have been recently taking, such as President Putin’s two recent telephone conversations with Turkish President Erdogan, and the latest meeting in Sochi between President Putin and Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad.

Indeed at a time when no else is conducting diplomacy in the Middle East there will be many who think that it is just as well that the Russians are doing it.

This is being said in some surprising quarters.  By way of example, the Financial Times, normally a relentless critic of President Putin and of the Russian government, has recently published an editorial with the extraordinary headline: “The march to another Middle East disaster; Only Putin and the balance of terror stand between Iran, Israel and war“.

This editorial ends with these interesting words

In this far-from-ideal situation, the only country with viable bridges to both Israel and Iran is Russia. Fortunately, President Vladimir Putin is speaking to both sides. Whatever his motives, he looks the stronger for it.

Whether Russian diplomacy really can prevent war from breaking out in the Middle East is in fact debatable.  However even if war does break out that does not mean that Russia’s actions would be wasted.

Positioning Russia where it can talk to both sides in a future war, and where it has leverage over both, might for example make it possible for the Russians to limit the conflict and to prevent it escalating beyond a certain point.

At the very least it puts Russia in a better position where it can act to protect its own interests.

There is no doubt that much of the ill feeling about Netanyahu’s presence in Moscow on Victory Day stems from a widespread view that Netanyahu is a war criminal and the arch warmonger in the Middle East.

It is doubtful however whether the Russian leadership sees the situation in that way.  From their point of view Netanyahu is the leader of a powerful country, which though a member of the Western alliance and a close ally of the US, continues to want friendship with Russia at a time when relations between the West and Russia have become extremely bad.

Netanyahu and Israel are also central players in the Middle East, a region in which Russia is now heavily involved, and where it now has important interests..

For all these reasons the Russians must talk to Netanyahu, both in order to preserve their good relations with him and Israel, and so that they can pursue their own strategies unhindered in Iran and Syria.

In the particular circumstances of the moment Victory Day in Moscow provided the perfect venue to do it, and nobody who studies Russian policy carefully should therefore be surprised that the Russians invited Netanyahu to it.

 

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Trump uses NATO to police ‘disloyal’ Europeans – By Finian Cunningham (RT)

Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
 
Trump uses NATO to police 'disloyal' Europeans
The growing rift in the transatlantic alliance is set to blow wide open after US President Trump used a top-level meeting with NATO this week to blast Germany and other European members for being “disloyal”.

Sounding like a Mafia don, Trump warned that such NATO members “will be dealt with”.

Speaking in the Oval Office, along with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump resorted to his usual gripe about “unfair burden sharing” of military spending in the alliance.  The US president has long rebuked other NATO members for not meeting the alliance’s spending target of 2 per cent of national economic growth.

Turning to former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg, Trump said with menacing tone: “I think you will be able to handle the ones that aren’t [spending enough], right?

But Trump raised the rankle stakes even higher by insisting that NATO members which are lagging in their purported annual contribution are “not loyal”.

Praising seven members of NATO that do reach the 2 per cent military spending target – he named Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Greece and Britain – Trump said: “Some countries are loyal, some countries aren’t.”

In particular, the president turned his ire on Germany for what he claimed was a “long-standing shortfall” in financial contribution to NATO. But it was what Trump said next that gave his tirade against Berlin and other “low spending” NATO members a sinister edge.

In addition to that, they’re [Germany] buying massive amounts of gas from Russia. Paying billions and billions of dollars. Something we will discuss.”

Think about that. NATO has been intensifying warnings of Russia as a security threat to Europe. It has recently upped the ante by implementing a policy of “Enhanced Forward Presence” whereby increased NATO deployments along Russia’s western frontier are taking on a more offensive capability.

In this anti-Russia outlook, NATO is fully reflecting what the Trump administration has been articulating in several policy papers, labeling Russia, along with China, as a greater threat than terrorism.

In short, Russia is an enemy, despite Trump’s contradictions over Russiagate and his oft-stated desire to “get along with Russia”.

So, if Russia is the enemy, what does that say about Germany “buying massive amounts of gas” from Russia?

This refers, of course, to the Nord Stream project of Gazprom piping natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe via Germany. Berlin, with the strongest economy in Europe, is arguably the main beneficiary of the Russian fuel supply. It is significant that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is the chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG, a company that belongs to Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas producer.

Trump is smearing Germany, in essence, as sleeping with the enemy. And when you append that “transgression” with the lack of “loyalty” due to NATO military spending, well then you have a traitor in your ranks.

The Donald is all about coercing other nations to bail out the US economy. He twists inherent US economic problems of trade deficits and debt into allegations that other nations are “taking advantage of us”. We see this with regard to China and Europe over trade tariffs.

The same goes for the US and its relations with the 29-member NATO alliance. Trump has continually browbeaten other members to spend more on military to “take the burden off America”. But America’s colossal annual military budget of over 3 per cent of its gross domestic product GDP (over $700 billion) is not due to US generosity or chivalry towards allies. It is more to do with the inherent US addiction to the military-industrial complex for sustaining its economy.

Trump has repeatedly chided European members of NATO for not allocating more to military financing. For years, Germany’s annual defense budget has been around 1.1-1.2 per cent of its GDP. If Germany were to hit its NATO 2 per cent target it would almost double the country’s military spending to some $90 billion a year.

Lurking in Washington’s calculation is this: the extra massive expenditure would increase sales of US-made warplanes, helicopters and warships to Europe. In other words, Trump wants Germany and other European members of NATO to raise spending in order to bail out the US economy.

In order to put even more squeeze on Germany and others, Trump is now using NATO as a policing mechanism. Countries not raising contributions, according to arbitrary US measure, are “disloyal”. By way of emphasizing perfidy, Trump is referring to normal trade relations with Russia as somehow a sign of “treason”.

In his Oval Office meeting with Stoltenberg, Trump also cited Iran and its alleged spread of terrorism across the Middle East as another challenge for NATO.

Again, the same insidious logic of fingering “disloyal” NATO members applies.

After Trump axed American participation in the Iran nuclear deal last week, the European Union has sought to close ranks to support the accord. The EU summit this week in Bulgaria declared that European companies doing business with Iran must be shielded from US sanctions reimposed on Tehran.

European Council President Donald Tusk denounced the Trump administration for its “capricious assertiveness”. He quipped too that “with friends like this who needs enemies?

Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission chief, also hit out at Washington’s interference in EU foreign relations, saying “we will not negotiate with a Damocles sword hanging over our heads”.

But, according to Trump’s definition, evidently transferred to NATO, Iran is an enemy state which must be confronted by the alliance. “Everywhere there is terrorism and instability, Iran is behind it,” said Trump, with Stoltenberg seated beside him.

As with trading with Russia, that means European members of NATO which continue to pursue investments and business in Iran are “collaborating” with the enemy.

The Trump administration is thus using its geopolitical prejudices and NATO as a form of leverage on European nations, in particular the strongest, Germany.

If Germany can be browbeaten into submitting to Washington’s interests, and bailing out its economy, then the rest of Europe will likely follow suit. Some 20 other members of NATO do not currently hit their 2 per cent spending target, including France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria.

Here’s the rub though for the American bully. Already, Europe has hit new levels of exasperation with Trump’s domineering attitude. His unilateral disregard for Europe’s strategic interests has been demonstrated over and over, from ripping up the Paris Climate Accord to reckless intervention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Trump’s broadside to the Iran nuclear deal and high-handed threats of economic retribution for Europe doing business with Iran has rebounded to inflict damage on the so-called “transatlantic partnership” – the relationship between Washington and Europe that has prevailed for seven decades since the Second World War.

The US-led NATO alliance has always served as a US instrument for keeping Europe aligned with Washington’s strategic priorities.

However, it is clearer than ever that Washington is using the alliance to subjugate Europe, Germany in particular, to its interests, even when that means Europe being disadvantaged, whether in commercial relations with Russia, Iran or whomever.

Perhaps the US-led military alliance needs a name change: the North American Tyranny Organization.

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Putin & Assad hold ‘extensive’ talks in Sochi, discuss political settlement – Kremlin – By RT

Putin & Assad hold ‘extensive’ talks in Sochi, discuss political settlement – Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has held a meeting with the Syrian leader Bashar Assad in Sochi, the acting presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The two leaders conducted “extensive” negotiations, he added.

As the two presidents talked about the conditions that would facilitate the peace process development, the Syrian leader said that he had decided to send a delegation to a committee tasked to rewrite Syria’s constitution, which was championed by the UN.

The agreement on the creation of the constitutional committee was one of the major results of the Sochi peace congress held in January this year. The participants of the congress agreed on January 30 to set up the constitutional committee in Geneva, and to hold democratic elections in Syria.

At that time, Moscow said it expected the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to take practical steps to implement the decisions taken at the Sochi Congress, and to actively participate in the drafting of a new constitution for Syria. The three countries, who brokered the Sochi Congress, Russia Iran and Turkey vowed to fully support the UN and de Mistura in the implementation of its outcomes.

The Constitution Commission is expected to comprise some 150 members including the delegates from those groups who did not attend the Sochi gathering in January.

During the Thursday meeting, the two leaders also discussed the necessity to intensify humanitarian efforts in Syria as well as the issues related to economic recovery of the war-torn country, Peskov said. Putin also congratulated Assad on “significant advance in fighting against the terrorist groups” on the Syrian territory.

In late April, it was reported that the Syrian authorities had struck several agreements with the rebel armed groups in the Homs and Hama provinces as well as in liberated Eastern Ghouta. The militants were allowed to travel to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib. In exchange, some 5,000 people besieged by the armed groups in the towns of Kefraya and al-Foua’a were released. Earlier, the Syrian Army also recaptured the al Qadam neighborhood located southeast of Damascus.

READ MORE: Damascus, militants reach deal to evacuate armed groups from Homs area

Meanwhile, the Syrian forces are also still engaged in heavy fighting against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists in the camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus. Yarmouk, a former Palestinian refugee camp which was captured by the extremists back in 2015, is the last IS stronghold near the Syrian capital. Up to 2,000 terrorists are believed to be encircled there.

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