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Two Israeli warplanes carried out strikes on Syrian airbase – Russian MoD

RT | April 9, 2018

Two Israeli F-15 fighters targeted Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday. The jets fired eight guided missiles, but five of them were shot down before they hit the airfield.

In a statement on Monday, the Russian military said: “Two Israeli Air Force F-15 jets fired eight guided missiles at the T-4 airfield.” The Israeli aircraft did not enter Syrian airspace and launched the strikes while flying over Lebanon.

“Syrian air defense units have shot down five guided missiles,” the military said, but confirmed that three of the missiles “reached the western part of the airfield.”

Lebanese Armed Forces have also confirmed that Israeli fighter jets and a reconnaissance plane violated the country’s borders and remained in Lebanon’s airspace for about ten minutes. Israel’s aircraft were flying over Lebanon’s northern areas as well as over the sea, it said.

As a result of the strike, there were several “martyrs [killed] and wounded” among Syrian soldiers, SANA news agency reported, without specifying the number of casualties.

Three Iranian troops were killed in the Israeli airstrike on Sunday night, state news agency FARS reported later on Monday. The “Zionist attack in Homs” took the lives of Seyyed Ammar Moussavi, Mehdi Lotfi Niasar and Akbar Zavar Jannati, it said, publishing photographs of the soldiers.

The Israeli embassy in Moscow refused to comment on the Russian Defense Ministry’s report, Alex Gandler, the diplomatic mission’s press attache, told Sputnik. Asked about the Russian military’s statement, an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said he had no immediate comment, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Citing its own correspondent, Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen channel said earlier on Monday that an Israeli reconnaissance aircraft was airborne during the attack on the Syrian base. The missiles crossed Lebanese airspace over Keserwan and Bekaa, heading towards Syria, according to the broadcaster.

The missile attack took place on Sunday night in Syria’s Homs governorate. State news agency SANA reported there were several “martyrs and wounded,” but did not disclose the exact number of casualties. The report also said that the US was “probably” behind the attack, although Washington denied any complicity in the strike.

“At this time, the Department of Defense is not conducting airstrikes in Syria,” the Pentagon told Reuters in a statement. “However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable.”

France, which was also suspected of being involved in the attack, denied any responsibility for the military strike, AFP reported on Monday.

The strike on the T-4 base came shortly after Western powers accused the Syrian government of orchestrating an alleged chlorine attack in the militant-held town of Douma. The chemical incident was reported by the White Helmets, a controversial group repeatedly accused of having ties to terrorists.

Commenting on the unconfirmed gas attack, US President Donald Trump denounced the “mindless” atrocity, which he described as a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever.” He also accused Russia and Iran of bearing responsibility for the incident, due to their support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Washington and Paris have already held telephone talks, during which Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron decided to oppose Russia at the upcoming United Nations Security Council meeting, which is being convened to discuss the Douma incident. President Macron previously signaled that Paris might consider unilateral actions, including a military strike, if chemical weapons were ever used in Syria again.

The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced allegations regarding the chemical attack, calling them a “continuous series of fake news” and “baseless speculation.” It noted that Moscow had already warned about a false-flag chemical attack being prepared in recent months. Damascus also rejected the accusations, with the Syrian Foreign Ministry pointing out that similar allegations emerge every time the Syrian Army makes advances in its fight against terrorists.

READ MORE: 

Red Crescent found no trace of previous ‘Ghouta chem attack’ used by US to blame Damascus & Moscow

April 9, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump challenges the Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | April 5, 2018

Three is company. But if the trilateral dialogue format in international diplomacy seldom produces concrete results, that is because it cannot be sequestered from external influences. Besides, the three participants are bound to have specific interests and priorities. The long-awaited Turkey-Russia-Iran trilateral summit in Ankara on April 4 has been no exception.

The summit didn’t end as a damp squib but its outcome has been measly. Three reasons can be attributed to this. First and foremost, the US President Donald Trump might have been responsible.

The Ankara summit’s main agenda was Syria, but Trump’s “very-soon” remark in Ohio last Thursday introduced a strategic ambiguity into the Syrian situation. And he deepened the ambiguity further on the eve of the summit by stating on Tuesday at a meeting at the White House that he wanted to immediately withdraw US forces from the war-torn country, arguing that the US had already won the battle against the Islamic State.

Trump said, “I want to get out — I want to bring our troops back home. It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS.” Trump literally barged into the Istanbul tent and hijacked the mind of the three presidents.

What is the Syria that Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani would discuss – a Syria with open-ended US military presence or a Syria denuded of the Americans? That is now the big question.

Pentagon and White House split on what to do?

Even then, it is very unclear whether Trump himself is free to make up his mind. A former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford framed the paradigm this way: “I have a feeling that there are divided counsels within the Pentagon, definitely in the White House (regarding US troop removal from Syria). Trump sincerely wants to get out since it’s what he campaigned on, but whether he’ll be allowed to by elements of the ‘deep state’ is the question.”

The good thing is that there could be elements within the Pentagon who too aren’t necessarily happy about an open-ended military presence in Syria without a clear-cut objective. The military mind cannot focus well when there are gnawing doubts.

Second, the disclosure (by the Kremlin first) that Trump has invited Putin to the White House has opened a vista of new possibilities. What if a joint Russian-American peace initiative in Syria gets revived? Trump now becomes a “stakeholder” in a Syrian settlement.

On the contrary, if the trilateral Russian-Turkish-Iranian dialogue on Syria (known as the Astana process) has gravitas today, it is mainly due to the Trump administration’s retrenchment from the Syrian peace process. The dalliance that the Obama administration (secretary of state John Kelly) kept going with the Kremlin (foreign minister Sergey Lavrov) has petered out and what remains today is the military-to-military “deconfliction” mechanism between the US and Russia to ensure that they don’t shoot at each other in Syria.

But, if Trump and Putin breathe new life into a Russian-American joint enterprise to choreograph a Syrian settlement, the Astana process gets relegated to the backburner. Participants at the Ankara summit agreed to hold the next meeting in Astana in mid-May, but much water might flow under the bridge by then.

Decision on Iran deal due by May 12

Third and finally, the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains the “known unknown.” Trump is due to make a decision on the Iran nuclear deal by May 12. And the geopolitics of the Middle East could change dramatically, depending on what he decides to do – especially if Trump were to pull the US out of the JCPOA.

The conventional wisdom is that changes at the US State Department and the National Security Council presage a more hawkish US foreign policy toward Iran. But there are weighty arguments too as to why Trump may not sound the death knell of the JCPOA and opt instead to simply give the nuclear deal a fresh lease of life, as he has done twice already.

To be sure, depending on the state of play in US-Iranian relations, the geopolitics of the Middle East could change and Syria is the theatre where this could see visible impacts in the near-term. So it was notable that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t go for Trump’s jugular at the Ankara summit. Iran also refrained from pushing any fresh initiatives and seemed more or less happy with a passive role – biding its time and brooding, as it were.

Given the above, what did the summit actually achieve? For a start, trilateral dialogue is always primarily a statement. What emerges from yesterday’s summit on the Bosporus is that the western influence in Syria (and the Levant) is inexorably on the wane. The summit underscored that the three countries intend to reinforce their influence in Syria.

Having said that, while the summit flagged the intention of the three countries to deepen cooperation, they also have divergent goals. For instance, the Turkish priority was that Russia and Iran continued to acquiesce with its military operation. Erdogan stated at the joint press conference, “Turkey will not stop until all regions under PYD/PKK (Kurdish militia) control, including Manbij, are secured… Turkey values Russia and Iran’s solidarity with its Afrin operation, we will establish grounds for peace in Afrin.” Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin neither nodded agreement nor dissented.

The single most important outcome of the summit where all three countries have shared interest is in their forceful affirmation of the unity and territorial integrity of Syria and their rejection of “all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combatting terrorism.”

The bottom line is that Russia, Turkey and Iran have a strong convergence of interests in the termination of the US military presence in Syria. Paradoxically, here again the Trump factor comes in. Their brittle alliance faces an existential threat if Trump somehow realizes his dream of bringing the US troops in Syria back home “where they belong.”

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US expects India to engage Pakistan in Kashmir talks

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 4, 2018

The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US State Department Alice Wells is visiting India on April 3-6. This is strictly not a ‘bilateral event’, but Ambassador Wells’ discussions with senior Indian government officials are expected to cover “regional and global issues”, according to the US state department announcement. Presumably, Afghanistan will be on top of the agenda of discussion.

Ambassador Wells has emerged as the Trump administration’s key interlocutor on the Afghan problem. A career diplomat, low-key but very effective in the absence of turf rivalries, she is able to galvanize the search for a political process in Afghanistan in such a short period of time. Ambassador Wells has succeeded in building up a good rapport with the Pakistani officials who are in a position to make or mar her project. During her extraordinarily open-ended visit (for “several days”) to Pakistan last week, Ambassador Wells was received by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Ambassador Wells’ consultations in Delhi come at a sensitive juncture. For, no matter what the Pentagon commanders might like, President Donald Trump wants the war to end before his campaign for a second term begins and Ambassador Wells’ task is cut out for her. Delhi must understand that this is not a routine visit she is undertaking for an exchange of views with think-tankers and officials on the sidelines of the US-India-Japan trilateral taking place today. In fact, the trilateral is the sideshow.

The Taliban is tiptoeing toward the negotiating table and Ambassador Wells’ persuasiveness and diplomatic skill has made all the difference. (For the uninitiated, let me introduce to them her masterly briefing on March 9 at the US Institute of Peace in Washington – Signs of Hope for Afghan Peace Talks.)

The traffic on the diplomatic track has become dense lately since the meeting in the White House in Washington between Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the US Vice-President Mike Pence on March 17. The international conference in Tashkent on March 26-27 has served the purpose of generating a modicum of regional consensus. The Russian daily Kommersant reported quoting “sources” that although no formal invitation was extended to the Taliban to participate in the conference, “at the last minute, they expressed a desire to come to Tashkent.”

Be that as it may, Taliban was surely eavesdropping outside the conference hall and would have noticed from the Tashkent Declaration that there is not a single voice in the international community that disapproves of the Afghan government’s unconditional offer of peace talks. Ambassador Wells proceeded to Kabul after the Tashkent conference and then moved on to Islamabad last Thursday.

Interestingly, Pakistan handed over a “terror dossier” to Kabul last Thursday containing evidence of terrorist sanctuaries on Afghan soil. It is a veritable action plan for the Afghan side and their American mentors as to what Pakistan expected them to do by curbing the terrorist activities from bases within Afghanistan. And, four days later, The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Janjua, accompanied by the Director General Military Operations Maj Gen Shamshad Mirza and other senior officials travelled to Kabul for downstream talks. These talks are expected to prepare the ground for the visit by Prime Minister Abbasi’s visit to the Afghan capital on April 6. (Abbasi is proceeding from Kabul to China on a 3-day visit.)

We may expect Abbasi’s visit to Kabul on Friday to be a watershed event. It is entirely conceivable that in a not-too-distant future the Taliban may announce its formal response to the Afghan government offer for peace talks. The coming days and weeks, therefore, are of critical interest.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government announced on Sunday the dates for the long-delayed parliamentary elections and the first-ever local council elections – October 20. Of course, there is a big question mark about the feasibility of holding elections in Afghanistan in the prevailing circumstances with roughly half the country contested by insurgents.

On the other hand, it is the Taliban’s participation in these elections that can make a world of difference, giving them the legitimacy they badly need and providing the country’s democratic process the traction that it never could really acquire in the past decade or more. The US’ allies are extremely keen that the political legitimacy of the Afghan political system is enhanced. The speech made by the European Union foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Tashkent conference was particularly notable for being a stirring call to the Taliban to rise to the momentous occasion in their country’s history.

Suffice to say, any Pakistani-Afghan consensus to put a moratorium on cross-border terrorism will be a major development. The US is actively promoting it. So is China. Pakistan can be expected to reciprocate. But we aren’t quite there, yet.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the US government-funded media organ, that Islamabad and Washington are yet to find “common ground” on a range of issues. Faisal didn’t specify the problem areas, but it stands to reason that a principal one will be Pakistan’s tense relations with India.

Quite obviously, we should anticipate that the Trump administration hopes to bring India on board. Put differently, the Trump administration’s “regional approach” for Afghanistan demands that India-Pakistan tensions do not complicate the path of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Wells is likely to meet with the Foreign Secretary and NSA Ajit Doval while in Delhi. Significantly, on the eve of Ambassador Wells’ departure for India on Monday, the US state department amended its designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba, identifying Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir as LeT affiliates, making it impossible for them to register as political parties in Pakistan.

Clearly, the Trump administration hopes that Delhi will appreciate this as friendly gesture, underscoring that Washington is receptive towards India’s genuine concerns in regional security. It doesn’t need much ingenuity to figure out that Ambassador Wells would also have taken Pakistani officials into confidence that capping the political ambitions of Hafeez Saeed can be an important confidence-building measure at this point.

Now comes the big question: How does India respond to the totality of the emergent situation surrounding Afghanistan? Sadly, the explosive violence in Jammu & Kashmir just at this juncture will make things very difficult for Delhi to rise to the occasion and optimally align the Indian foreign policies with the broader trends leading toward peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the bottom line is that India is a stakeholder. Clearly, a leap of faith is needed. The Modi government would chaff at the very idea of holding talks with Pakistan, facilitated by Washington and under close US monitoring, when the 2019 poll is sailing into view.

But in politics and diplomacy, there may be moments when drinking from the chalice of poison is necessary – to borrow the memorable words of Iran’s Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an analogous situation in his country’s contemporary history when he allowed himself to be persuaded to agree to a ceasefire against the Iraqi aggressor who had bled his country white in the 8-year war (1980-1988.)

Given the complete policy breakdown in Jammu & Kashmir, what is the alternative? And, the crisis in J&K is only deepening; the wounds are threatening to turn gangrene.

April 4, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 3 Comments

A Trump-Putin summit is just what’s needed

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 2, 2018

The Chinese commentators consistently paint a pessimistic outlook for the troubled relations between Russia and the West, which no doubt form a crucial template of Beijing’s foreign policy. China is a “stakeholder” in the tensions between Russia and the West. Beijing must be acutely conscious that there has always been a significant (albeit not influential currently) school of opinion in the West, including in the United States, that a rapprochement with Russia will make sound long-term strategy to effectively contain China’s rise, which must be the West’s top priority.

Nonetheless, a news analysis by Xinhua with a Moscow dateline has simply gone overboard in making some hasty conclusions about the state of play in the backdrop of the Skripal spy case that has suddenly invaded the centre stage of Russia’s ties with the West:

·       With the inertia of the sanctions spiral going on, Russia and the West are expected to continue the hostility in the diplomatic sphere and even expand it to other areas that are more painful for both sides in the foreseeable future.

·       Although the question hanging over the spy-poisoning attack remains unanswered, one thing is for sure: Russia’s reputation has been damaged in the eyes of the international community while the alliance between the United States and Europe has been consolidated… It is widely expected that the tensions between Russia and the West will not ease off anytime soon. 

Is the state of play so hopeless? Xinhua has exaggerated. Things look gloomy but are not beyond salvation. Russia’s tensions with the West are actually not so serious as China’s own tensions with the West. But then, China is much smarter than Russia in its diplomacy in finessing these tensions. China also has the advantage that it was not a Cold-War adversary of the West in the sense in which the former Soviet Union got pitted in the “bipolar” world. China did splendidly well to exploit the rivalry between the US and USSR.

Russia is the main target today, because it is also the only power that has the capability to maintain global strategic balance and it has an ideological position with regard to the US’ hegemony, which it is determined to uphold no matter the costs involved — although Russia is not a communist country any more. Besides, Russia is not like any other country. It is a European power historically, culturally, economically and politically. And Russia’s habitation and name in a common European home profoundly impacts the US’ transatlantic leadership role.

China being an Asiatic country can run with the hare and hunt with the hound – making the best of both worlds by keeping a quasi-alliance with Russia while also on parallel track going in top gear to tap into the western markets to get fatter and richer. China’s supreme advantage is that it lacks any ideology (other than nationalism and self-interests). Russia takes a principled stance but China keeps its head under the parapet if its interests are not affected. If the tensions run high in Russia’s relations with the West, China is its beneficiary.

However, Russia’s tensions with the West over the Skripal case are more complex than what Xinhua has reported. It is discernible that European countries have been reluctantly dragged into the Skripal case. (Blood is thicker than water, after all.) The big question is how far the US collaborated with Britain. In my assessment, the jury is still out.

There are unanswered, unanswerable questions. The most important thing is that the Skripal case might have got dovetailed with the “anti-Trump” project of the Washington establishment. In particular, was this the swan song of Lt. Gen. HR McMaster (who was expecting dismissal for the past several weeks)? Is it a counterattack by the “Deep State” to keep Trump off balance just when he began making moves to put together a new team in his cabinet with a view to force his will on foreign policies?

Has there been an orchestrated (Anglo-American) attempt involving the intelligence agencies to force Trump’s hands? How much is the Skripal case entangled with the campaign over Trump’s “collusion” with Russia? Most important, where exactly does Trump himself stand in all this?

To my mind, Trump is not seeking confrontation with Russia, and if anything, his phone call to British PM Theresa May might have had a salutary effect on London, which has since noticeably piped down on the Skripal file. Read the White House readout of the phone call, here. There is no trace whatsoever here that Trump is traveling on a path of confrontation with the Kremlin.

In fact, neither Trump nor Vladimir Putin wants this “to be going beyond hysteria over diplomacy” – to borrow words from Xinhua. Trump has always had great conceptual clarity in his mind that it is China – and not Russia – that is the US’ real adversary.

Any longtime observer of Russian-American relations would know that most of the time things are never really what they’ve appeared to be on surface. The two big powers are greatly experienced in navigating through choppy waters. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that TASS has just at this juncture highlighted the prospect of a summit between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Given the longstanding media culture in Moscow, it is inconceivable that the state news agency would have carried such a report on its own volition reflecting on the Kremlin leader. There is, for sure, some very serious “signaling” going on.

April 2, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

China becomes Trump’s indispensable partner

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 29, 2018

On Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador to the United States briefed the National Security Council in the White House regarding the visit by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Beijing. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later expressed cautious optimism that in their estimation, “things are moving in the right direction” and the meeting in Beijing between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping was “a good indication that the maximum pressure campaign (on North Korea) has been working.” She said:

  • You saw him (Kim) leave for the first time — since becoming the leader of North Korea — for that meeting. And we consider that to be a positive sign that the maximum pressure campaign is continuing to work. And we’re going to continue moving forward in this process in hopes for a meeting down the road.
  • Certainly we would like to see this (end-May meeting between Trump and Kim). Obviously this is something of global importance and we want to make sure that it’s done as soon as we can, but we also want to make sure it’s done properly. And we’re working towards that goal. As we’ve said before, the North Koreans have made that offer and we’ve accepted, and we’re moving forward in that process.

Trump himself gave thumbs-up. He tweeted: “For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”

Evidently, Beijing transmitted some extraordinarily hopeful tidings. The remarks by former US state secretary James Baker (who still remains an influential voice in the conservative spectrum) praising China’s role suggests that Beijing is moving in tandem with the Trump administration. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Baker said:

  • “I think it’s too bad that there wasn’t some way that we could work with the Chinese to achieve this, this result of denuclearization of the peninsula. China is the only country in the world that really has any influence, significant influence on North Korea.”
  • “I would have sent some high-level envoy to Xi Jinping, the president of China, that the Chinese trust and have confidence in. And I would have said, ‘Look, you don’t like what’s going on in the Korean Peninsula. We don’t like what’s going on. Why don’t we cooperate to stop it?”
  • “We, the United States, will support any government you (China) install in North Korea, provided they repudiate the acquisition or maintenance of nuclear weapons. We will trade with that government, we will establish diplomatic relations, we will execute a peace treaty ending the Korean War. Your (China’s) job is to put a government in place there that is different than this government.” (See the video of the interview.)

There is great poignancy here in these remarks because Baker had played a key role under President Ronald Reagan (Trump’s role model) negotiating the end of the Cold War in the 1980s face to face with Mikhail Gorbachev.

China has positioned itself brilliantly as the facilitator-cum-partner-cum-ally-cum-friend – depending on who its interlocutor on the Korean Question happens to be. Xi deputed politburo member Yang Jiechi as his special envoy to visit Seoul to brief the South Korean leadership, even as preparatory talks for the inter-Korean summit in April were scheduled in the DMZ in Panmunjom. Evidently, Yang had a hand in the positive outcome today at the Panmunjom meeting where there is agreement to schedule the inter-Korean summit on April 27. (here and here)

Quite obviously, there are processes today that are beyond the US’ control. Again, the US’ number one ally in Northeast Asia – Japan – has been marginalized. No one set out from Beijing to brief Tokyo. Inevitably, there are conspiracy theories. The London Times newspaper resuscitated today the hackneyed thesis that China is driving a wedge between the US and South Korea. But that seductive conspiracy theory underestimates that China is, in actuality, playing for far higher stakes in its rise on the global stage as a great power.

To be sure, history is in the making. If, as Baker says, the US is willing to normalize with North Korea and conclude a peace treaty to bring the Korean War to a formal end, the raison d’etre of continued US military presence in South Korea (on which there is significant local opposition already) becomes unsustainable. That impacts the overall US power projection in Asia. Again, if the North Korean problem is resolved peacefully, can the Taiwan Question be far behind?

Equally, China must know that there is no quick fix to the North Korean problem and it suits China to leverage the US’ critical dependence on its cooperation for the long haul – which in turn can stabilize the Sino-American relationship itself and open a new era of big-power relationship based on trust, mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s core interests, which Beijing has been assiduously seeking.

On the other hand, Trump is well aware that if he can swing a deal on North Korea, it will significantly boost his re-election bid in 2020. Wouldn’t China know it, too? (Read my column in The Week magazine recently – The art of the Korean deal.)

March 30, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Expect from the ‘Second Most Dangerous Man in Washington’

By Philip M. GIRALDI | Strategic Culture Foundation | 29.03.2018

It is fairly simple to understand what the appointment of John Bolton as the Trump Administration’s National Security Advisor is all about. First of all, as there is no congressional approval or confirmation process involved, the announcement made last week, which is being criticized from all sides, is not really subject to debate. Bolton is the new Advisor and will serve at the will of the president. One might note, however, that he is the third Advisor in fourteen months, so the position itself has in practice turned out to be a death sentence for those who have been bold enough to seek it.

Bolton is in place because his belligerent worldview coordinates very well with and validates that of the president, though it remains to be seen if that will translate into action. Trump’s harsh rhetoric has so far not produced a new war, though there are plenty of threats being flung about regarding Iran and North Korea, and there have been some unfortunate incidents in Syria and with Russia. But so far Donald Trump has, if anything, been more moderate than Hillary Clinton would likely have been.

John Bolton has been praised by some in the media in the false belief that he represents a “bad cop” in the administration who will free up Trump to act as the “good cop” in dealing with world problems. That is a fanciful analysis as the Administration is already well represented in “bad cops” in UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Another argument is that the White House sorely needs a shake-up of the National Security Council, which Bolton will head, because it is not aggressive enough in supporting US interests. It is a ridiculous argument as Bolton has never represented actual US interests. His guiding principle is that Washington should bomb everyone who is even remotely a threat and if someone is not a threat and merely an irritant, bomb them anyway.

Bolton’s appointment was based on good chemistry with Trump, who knows virtually nothing about what is going on in the world, but it also derives from demands made by the president’s major financial backer, Israeli-American casino multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson has funded various ventures launched by Bolton and is his patron. For Adelson, US foreign policy is all about Israel, a reality that is reflected in those who are expressing their enthusiasm for the Bolton appointment: Israel’s government, the Israel Lobby in the United States, and the media that reflexively supports anything that is perceived as being beneficial for the Jewish state.

Bolton, described as “the most abrasive American diplomat of the twenty-first century,” is a frequent contributor to the media, so his views on what must be done are pretty well defined. It can be expected that he will continue to support any and all efforts to end the nuclear agreement with Iran and bring about regime change, to include support of the totalitarian terrorist-cult Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), which has for many years been paying him to speak at their rallies. To reduce Iranian regional influence, he favors “reconstructing” Iraq and Syria.

John Bolton also believes that Russia’s alleged interference in American elections was an “act of war.” He thinks that negotiations with enemies are useless and recommends preemptive attacks by US forces to end the actual or potential weapons of mass destruction threat coming from North Korea and Iran. He further believes that the United Nations is a dangerous anachronism and that leadership of the entire world, when necessary, should be exercised by the United States based solely on American interests.

Not surprisingly, Bolton is hardcore pro-Israeli and has been associated with virulent Islamophobes like Pamela Geller. He wants to end the problem posed by potential Palestinian statehood, which he describes as a ploy to strangle Israel, by allowing Jordan to take control of some bits of the West Bank, Egypt to resume control of Gaza, and the Israelis to absorb what is left for its settlers.

Conservative columnist George Will describes Bolton as the “second most dangerous man in Washington,” the most dangerous being his boss. The New York Times in a lead editorial observes that “There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made… indulging his worst nationalistic instincts.”

I would add that Bolton is particularly dangerous because he is a well-educated ideologue who sounds credible. He is, unfortunately, exactly the type of advisor that an ignorant president would find convincing. Therein lies the danger.

March 29, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump approves 20 million dollars for subversion against Cuba

Radio Rebelde | 2018-03-26

US President Donald Trump approved over the weekend a 20-million-dollar fund to support subversive actions against Cuba.

The move, which is commonplace as part of the permanent US’s anti-Cuba policy, came in after Trump himself had proposed to eliminate such funds in May 2017. The money dedicated to subvert internal order in Cuba is part of the US budget for fiscal 2018.

Despite large cuts by the White House to funds destined to the State Department, the USAID and foreign assistance programs for this year, Washington did not hesitate in allocating the large sum of money also destined by previous US administrations to undertake subversive programs in Cuba under the so-called promotion of democracy projects.

Since 1996, when the Helms-Burton Law was adopted, Washington has used public funds for anti-Cuba programs. The Obama administration proposed 20 million dollars annually for those aims from fiscal 2009 to 2016. Add to these the funds destined to maintain subversive radio and TV transmissions plus the money to fund penetration and intelligence actions.

March 28, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

Maduro: Spain’s Persecution of Catalan Leaders ‘Shameful’

teleSUR | March 27, 2018

After five Catalan pro-independence leaders were arrested Saturday, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro slammed the Spanish authorities over persecution of the Catalan leaders and people simply for independence aspirations.

“What’s happening in Spain is shameful, Catalan politicians jailed only for their ideas… whether or not you agree with these elected lawmakers’ ideas, their persecution is an embarrassment,” Maduro warned in a speech during an international meeting on African decendents rights in the region in Caracas Saturday.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has criticized Venezuela’s government on several occasions, calling it a “dictatorship” and played an important role in the European Union’s decision to levy economic sanctions on Venezuela over what Brussels calls Maduro’s “brutal decisions.”

In an interview this January Rajoy even talked about political prisoners in Venezuela, saying all he wants is for them to be able to go to the streets all while his government is cracking down on Catalan leaders and politicions for purely political reasons.

The Venezuelan leader stressed that unlike the U.S., Spain and the EU, his government was not meddling in the internal affairs of Spain but “outraged that they persecute people just for their ideas.”

At least nine pro-independence politicians and members of Catalan’s civil society groups are currently in jail for rebellion, a crime punishable with up to 30 years in prison. In total 25 Catalans will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience for their participation in the Oct.1, 2017 independence referendum.

Rebellion charges are controversial because the crime requires the use of violence; last year’s Catalan independence referendum was a peaceful civic action. The Spanish State Attorney’s office had argued violence was exercised by pro-independence activists and politicians on Sept. 20, 2017, when they surrounded several Catalan government buildings to prevent the Spanish Civil Guard from entering.

Pro-independence leaders like Jordi Turull, the new candidate for regional president, former ministers Josep Rull, Raul Romeva and Dolors Bassa and former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, are the latest prisoners in Madrid’s crackdown against pro-independence forces in Catalonia since the referendum.

Pro-independence sentiments are widespread in Catalonia and have grown after Madrid brutally repressed Catalans who went to the polls to cast their vote last year. The election resulted in Catalonia’s declaration of independence. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by removing Puigdemont and calling for a snap election, which pro-independence parties and politicians won.

In this context the Venezuelan president called on social movements and humanity “to fight against political persecution and political prisoners in Spain, and to accompany the people of Catalonia in their right to democracy and freedom.”

Animosity between Catalonia and Madrid is rooted in Catalan republicanism and rejection of monarchic rule. The Spanish crown was restored by former dictator Francisco Franco (1936-1975) who banned Catalan language and led a brutal persecution against Catalan republicanism.

Today, in Spain writing a song against the crown or burning an image of the royal family can land a person in jail.

March 28, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Poll Shows More Britons Favoring Brexit Than Keeping Northern Ireland

Sputnik – March 27, 2018

Opinion surveys have shown British attitudes becoming increasingly fragmented and polarized, with radically different views about the country’s future.

A poll commissioned by the London-based LBC Radio station and published on March 26 has shown that a greater proportion of the British population support prioritizing the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union than retaining Northern Ireland as part of the UK. The survey was conducted over two days from March 21 to 22.

​36 percent of the 1,630 adults in Great Britain said Brexit was of chief importance to them, with 29 percent giving priority to the union with Northern Ireland and 22 percent said that neither was of any importance to them. Residents of Northern Ireland itself were not included in the poll.

Brexit negotiations between London and Brussels have brought an unprecedented level of concern over how to preserve the unity of the UK, as Ireland has threatened to veto an agreement that creates a hard border with the UK and the Democratic Unionist Party which shares power with Theresa May in London has refused to back any separate status for Northern Ireland that might weaken its links to the rest of the country.Northern Ireland, like Scotland and London, voted to remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum, with at least 56 percent backing the Remain campaign. Despite also backing Remain, the DUP has since come to support the UK leaving the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, so as to keep the country bound to London.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the decades-long period of conflict known as The Troubles in 1998, the question of whether the country remains united with Britain or joins with the Republic of Ireland must be made solely by the people of Northern Ireland.

March 27, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Who wants to kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?

By Ramzy Baroud | MEMO | March 19, 2018

On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Hamdallah was visiting Gaza, through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a perpetual Israeli siege since 2006.

The Prime Minister’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah – led by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank – and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh, in Gaza.

Although reconciliation efforts have, for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups led to a breakthrough in Cairo last October. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) institutions.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program.

And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.

But who is Rami Hamdallah?

Hamdallah, 60, was chosen by Abbas to serve in the current post in June 2013, despite the fact that he was not a member of Fatah. He took over from Salaam Fayyad who served for six years, focusing mostly on state-building in a region that is still militarily occupied by a foreign power.

Hamdallah, though not a particularity controversial figure, has been a follower of Abbas and committed to his agenda. He is a political moderate by Palestinian standards, and it was through his strong ties with powerful Fatah figures like Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Tawfik Tirawi – who served under late PA leader, Yasser Arafat, and Abbas respectively – that allowed him to claim the post and keep it for nearly five years.

Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”

Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans, and all Palestinians, that respite is on the way.

Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit.

Abbas’ party, too, moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas, 83, has opened up intense rivalry among those who want to succeed the aging leader.

Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who was shunned by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power.

The United States and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the current status quo as long as possible.

Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies per se, but for what he represents, as the moderate leader capable of achieving a long term understanding with Hamas.

Killing Hamdallah also means ending or, at least, obstructing the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.

Hamas’ main enemy in Gaza are the Salafi Jihadist groups who are unhappy with Hamas’ politics and what they see as a too moderate style of Islamic governance.

Of course, there are those in Fatah, including Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations, but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion.

It would make no sense for Hamas to kill Hamdallah. The group has worked tirelessly to engage the PA, as life in Gaza has become truly unlivable.  Their leadership and reputation has suffered as a result of the failed efforts to end the siege.

Moreover, as Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”

Hamas, in turn, accused the Israel intelligence of the assassination attempt. The group’s spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, claimed that “same hands” that gunned down Mazen Fakha in March 2017 and Tawfiq Abu Naim in October are behind the attempt on Hamdallah’s life. He was referring to Israel, of course.

The timing of the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy was quite interesting as well, as it came barely a few hours after a meeting at the White House regarding Gaza. The meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis.

“The Palestinian Authority, furious over the Trump administration’s actions in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, and cutting aid for Palestinian refugees, refused to attend,” reported the New York Times.

One, however, should not underestimate the seriousness of the remaining disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.

Perhaps the main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

But these disagreements are hardly strong enough reason to kill Hamdallah, the last hope for an end to the rift and easing the blockade on Gaza.

Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’”

While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.

See also:

Hamas calls on Fatah to wait for findings on Hamdallah incident

March 20, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Operation Mongoose and North Korea

By Jacob G. Hornberger | FFF | March 15, 2018

In reporting on President Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, the New York Times made a remarkable admission:

Mr. Pompeo has consistently taken one of the most hawkish lines on dealing with Pyongyang. He appears focused on regime change as the one sure way to resolve the North Korean problem. This week, he told Fox News that “never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk, where their leadership was under such pressure.” The United States, he says, should make “no concessions” in any negotiations.

Unfortunately, while many U.S. officials would look upon that paragraph nonchalantly, it actually goes a long way to explain why North Korea embarked on a program to acquire nuclear weapons.

To understand the import of the point that the Times makes about Pompeo, it is helpful to examine a top secret document of the U.S. national-security establishment, a document that was kept secret from the American people for more than 40 years. In fact, the only reason that we are able to see it now is because of the JFK Records Act, which mandated that the Pentagon, CIA, and other federal agencies release to the public all their records relating to the assassination of President Kennedy. This particular document wasn’t released until 1998.

The document related to Operation Mongoose, which was a top-secret regime-change plan of the U.S. national security establishment, one intended to oust the communist regime in Cuba, headed by Fidel Castro, and replace it with a pro-U.S. dictatorship, similar to the Fulgencio Batista regime that Cuban revolutionaries ousted from power in their 1959 revolution.

Keep in mind one important factor: Although Cuba was ruled by a communist regime, it never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It also never assassinated anyone in the United States. And it never committed any act of sabotage in the United States.

Nonetheless, that top-secret document starts out with the following sentence: “The U.S. objective is to help the Cubans overthrow the Communist regime from within Cuba and to institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace.”

Live in peace? The Cuban regime was living in peace with the United States. It simply wasn’t bowing and kowtowing to the United States and following its orders on how things were going to operate inside Cuba. That’s what the Pentagon and CIA considered not “living in peace” with the United States. That’s why they wanted to effect regime change in Cuba. It’s, in fact, why they are still dead set on regime change in North Korea.

Among the methods employed to effect regime change in Cuba was the infliction of massive economic suffering among the Cuban populace. The document even refers to this as “economic warfare.” That’s what the U.S. embargo was (and is) all about. The idea was that when the Cuban people were suffering enough, perhaps even dying, they would oust the Castro regime and replace it with a pro-U.S. regime. It’s also what the sanctions against North Korea are all about.

Needless to say, there was no concern expressed for the Cuban people suffering or dying from the embargo. They were considered a means to an end.

In fact, many years later, we saw this same phenomenon in Iraq, when U.S. officials were killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with their sanctions on that country. Their indifference to that suffering was reflected by what the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright publicly stated — that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.” By “it” she meant regime change in Iraq.

Sabotage of Cuban industries was another method to bring about regime change. One idea was to introduce a corrosive element in locomotive fuel. Much more ominous, given the increased likelihood that people would die, was a plan to introduce corrosive elements into Cuban jet fuel.

The document also refers to other U.S. actions to foment dissent and revolution against the Castro regime, to be followed by U.S. military action to assist them.

Unmentioned in the document was the top-secret assassination partnership that the CIA had entered into with the Mafia without the consent or knowledge of President Kennedy, whose brother Robert was, at the same time, prosecuting the Mafia in federal court for criminal activity. The CIA’s notion was that it wielded the legitimate moral and legal authority to murder anyone who it deemed was a threat to U.S. “national security.” The Mafia, of course, was chagrined that Castro had nationalized the Mafia’s casinos in Havana and put an end to its lucrative (and illegal) U.S drug import business, much of which operated through Cuba.

That top-secret Operation Mongoose, regime-change document is dated January 8, 1962.

There is another top-secret document that came out in the 1990s thanks to the JFK Records Act. It was dated March 13, 1962. That document detailed Operation Northwoods, which called for plane hijackings and terrorist attacks on American soil carried out by U.S. agents secretly posing as Cuban communists. The idea was to provide President Kennedy with an official (and false) pretext for attacking and invading Cuba and effecting regime change there. It was unanimously endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To his everlasting credit, Kennedy rejected the plan, earning him ever deeper enmity from his national-security establishment. (See FFF’s ebooks JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne and Regime Change: The JFK Assassination by Jacob G. Hornberger.)

The Cubans invited the Soviets to install nuclear weapons later that year, in October 1962. While U.S. officials have long described the missiles as “offensive,” the Cuban position was actually quite defensive: If — and only if — you attack and invade us, we will defend ourselves with our Soviet-provided nuclear weapons.

Fortunately for the United States and the world, President Kennedy ended up “blinking” by agreeing not to invade Cuba (to the deep anger and rage of the Pentagon and the CIA, which were pressuring him to attack and invade during the entire crisis). Given that the threat of invasion was over, the Soviet Union, in turn, removed its nuclear missiles from Cuba.

Does anyone think that North Korea hasn’t familiarized itself with Operation Mongoose, Operation Northwoods, the CIA-Mafia assassination partnership, and these particular documents that were kept secret for more than 40 years? They know what the U.S. national-security establishment is up to in Korea. They know what the New York Times has pointed out about CIA Director’s Mike Pompeo’s desire for regime change in North Korea. They are not stupid. They know that nuclear weapons are the best way to deter against a U.S. regime-change operation in North Korea.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

Venezuelan Opposition Protests Proposed UN Electoral Observer Mission

Venezuelanalysis | March 13, 2018

Caracas – Supporters of Venezuela’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition marched on the headquarters of the United Nations in Caracas Monday to protest the possibility of the international body sending an observer mission to monitor the country’s upcoming May 20 elections.

In a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the opposition alleged that an observer mission would “give a veneer of legality to an [electoral] process that lacks it.”

Last month, the Venezuelan electoral authorities formally invited the UN to send an observer mission to monitor the upcoming elections as part of an agreement negotiated between the government and the MUD, which the latter ultimately refused to sign. The UN is yet to confirm whether it will send a delegation in May.

Following the breakdown of internationally-mediated talks, the main opposition coalition announced it would boycott the presidential elections – which were then set for April 22 – claiming the date and electoral guarantees were inadequate to ensure a free and fair contest.

However on March 1, several smaller opposition parties led by former Lara Governor Henri Falcon broke ranks with the MUD and signed a deal with the ruling United Socialist Party and its leftist allies moving the presidential election to May 20 and hold municipal and state legislative elections on the same day. Although the agreement featured various safeguards previously demanded by the MUD during talks – including observers from the UN and other international bodies, equal access to media, and an ample window for voter registration – the anti-government coalition dismissed the deal as a “farce” and vowed to go ahead with its boycott.

Turnout in Monday’s demonstration was, nonetheless, small in number, particularly in comparison to the mass protests organized by the MUD to demand early presidential elections last year, which frequently concluded in deadly acts of violence perpetrated by hardline anti-government groups.

The march was organized by the newly formed “Free Venezuela Broad Front” (FAVL), which includes the parties of the MUD alongside the Fedecameras business lobby, representatives of the Catholic and evangelical churches, several university student and professor organizations, as well as a group of ex-government loyalists led by former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

Taking to Twitter Saturday, President Nicolas Maduro criticized the call for electoral boycott and rejection of UN observers from sections of the opposition.

“Why so much contradiction? What do they [the MUD] want? I want the secretary-general to send a strong commission of observers,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Maduro’s principal rival, Henri Falcon, was in New York Tuesday, where he was reportedly meeting with UN officials.

Himself a former Chavista, Falcon was expelled from the MUD last month after he registered his candidacy in violation of the coalition’s boycott.

While center-right pollster Datanalisis has reported that over 70 percent of Venezuelans intend to vote in the upcoming elections, Falcon and other opposition leaders remain concerned about low turnout among their ranks.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the opposition’s new Broad Front denied the organization was promoting abstention.

“We are not partisans of a policy of abstention. Of course, we think that as things are now, one cannot vote, because we want to vote to truly choose and not give the appearance of legality in the country that doesn’t exist,” explained Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, who was secretary general of the MUD between 2009 and 2014, during an interview with Globovision Tuesday.

However, the former MUD leader did not indicate that the FAVL would encourage its supporters to vote for Falcon.

On the contrary, he suggested that the opposition candidate could abandon his presidential bid.

“I don’t at all rule out that Falcon renounces his candidacy, withdraws from the process when he confirms what we, his friends, have told him… that it’s not a real election,” Aveledo added.

The FAVL has called for nationwide protests against the May 20 elections for this coming Saturday.

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments