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US airlifts Lebanese-American accused of torture, murder from Lebanon

MEMO | March 20, 2020

Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, accused of torturing and murdering prisoners while serving in the Israeli-backed south Lebanon army, has been airlifted from Beirut by the US, Senator Jeanne Shaheen announced yesterday.

A US Marine Osprey was seen landing at the US Embassy in Beirut, hours before Fakhoury’s release was announced.

Shaheen said she had spoken with Fakhoury on the phone soon after his release, adding that “anytime a US citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them”.

In a statement later yesterday, US President Donald Trump said that he was “very grateful to the Lebanese government. They worked with [the US]”.

Fakhoury was detained on 12 September when he arrived in the country to visit family after more than two decades.

The former member of the south Lebanon Army has been accused of being the “Butcher of Khiam” over allegations that he oversaw the torture and murder of detainees during his tenure as a prison guard.

Former detainee Abbas Qabalan told local media Naharnet that “not a single person held in Khiam was spared physical and psychological torture”. At least ten people died at the prison while Fakhoury was working there.

The charges against Fakhoury were initially dropped on Monday, when he was acquitted because the alleged offences took place more than ten years ago.

However, a military judge ordered a re-trial after Judge Ghassan Khoury asked the Military Court of Appeals to overturn the acquittal. A court order forbidding Fakhoury from travelling internationally for two months was announced later.

In the wake of Fakhoury’s release, the head of the Military Tribunal Brigadier General Hussein Abdallah announced his resignation from the post this morning, the Daily Star reported.

Abdallah said he resigned “out of respect for my oath and military honour” adding the military tribunal had become a place where “the application of the law equals to the release of an agent of pain”.

Tensions between the US and Lebanon have risen dramatically as a result of Fakhoury’s detention, with Senators Shaheen and Cruz tabling legislation in February which would invoke sanctions against Lebanese officials and associates which are deemed to have been involved in the illegal detention of a US citizen.

The Trump administration have threatened to withhold aid to the country and sanction the Lebanese military.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

Pompeo and Netanyahu paved a path to war with Iran, and they’re pushing Trump again

By Gareth Porter | The Grayzone | March 20, 2020

Though it narrowly averted war with Iran this January, the Trump administration is still pushing for all-out military conflict. The architects of the drive to war, Mike Pompeo and Benjamin Netanyahu, have relied on a series of cynical provocations to force Trump’s hand.

The US may escape the most recent conflict with Iran without war, however, a dangerous escalation is just over the horizon.  And as before, the key factors driving the belligerence are not outraged Iraqi militia leaders or their allies in Iran, but Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long sought to draw the US into a military confrontation with Iran.

Throughout the fall of 2019, Netanyahu ordered a series of Israeli strikes against Iranian allies in Iraq and against Lebanese Hezbollah units. He and Pompeo hoped the attacks would provoke a reaction from their targets that could provide a tripwire to outright war with Iran. As could have been expected, corporate US media missed the story, perhaps because it failed to reinforce the universally accepted narrative of a hyper-aggressive Iran emboldened by Trump’s failure to “deter” it following Iran’s shoot-down of a U.S. drone in June, and an alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facility in September.

Pompeo and John Bolton set the stage for the tripwire strategy in May 2019 with a statement by national security adviser John Bolton citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” implying an Iranian threat without providing concrete details. That vague language echoed a previous vow by Bolton that “any attack” by Iran or “proxy” forces “on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Then came a campaign of leaks to major news outlet suggesting that Iran was planning attacks on U.S. military personnel. The day after Bolton’s statement, the Wall Street Journal reported that unnamed U.S. officials cited “U.S. intelligence” showing that Iran “drew up plans to target U.S. forces in Iraq and possibly Syria, to orchestrate attacks in the Bab el-Mandeb strait near Yemen through proxies and in the Persian Gulf with its own armed drones…”

The immediate aim of this campaign was to gain Trump’s approval for contingency plans for a possible war with Iran that included the option of sending as many as 120,000 U.S. troops into region.  Trump balked at such war-planning, however, complaining privately that Bolton and Pompeo were pushing him into a war with Iran. Following Iran’s shoot-down of the U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, Pompeo and Bolton suggested the option of killing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in retaliation. But Trump refused to sign off on the assassination of Iran’s top general unless Iran killed an American first, according to current and former officials.

From that point on, the provocation strategy was focused on trying to trigger an Iranian reaction that would involve a U.S. casualty.  That’s when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu interjected himself and his military as a central player in the drama. From July 19 through August 20, the Israeli army carried out five strikes against Iraqi militias allied with Iran, blowing up four weapons depots and killing as many Shiite militiamen and Iranian offcers, according to press accounts.

The Israeli bombing escalated on August 25, when two strikes on the brigade headquarters of a pro-Iranian militia and on a militia convoy killed the brigade commander and six other militiamen, and a drone strike on Hezbollah’s headquarters in south Beirut blew the windows out of one of Hezbollah’s media offices.

Netanyahu and Pompeo sabotage Trump and Macron’s attempt at diplomacy

Behind those strikes was Netanyahu’s sense of alarm over Trump toying with the idea of seeking negotiations with Iran. Netanyahu had likely learned about Trump’s moves toward detente from Pompeo, who had long been his primary contact in the administration. On August 26, French President Emanuel Macron revealed that he was working to broker a Trump-Rouhani meeting. Netanyahu grumbled about the prospect of U.S.-Iranian talks “several times” with his security cabinet the day before launching the strikes.

Two retired senior Israeli generals, Gen. Amos Yadlin and Gen. Assaf Oron, criticized those strikes for increasing the likelihood of harsh retaliation by Iran or one of its regional partners. The generals complained that Netanyahu’s attacks were “designed to prod [Iran] into a hasty response” and thus end Trump’s flirtation with talking to Iran. That much was obviously true, but Pompeo and Netanyahu also knew that provoking an attack by Iran or one of its allies might cause one or more of the American casualties they sought. And once American blood was spilled, Trump would have no means to resist authorizing a major escalation.

Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iran Iraqi militias blamed the United States for the wave of lethal Israeli attacks on their fighters. These militias responded in September by launching a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi government bases where U.S. troops were present. They also struck targets in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Pompeo, however, was that none of those strikes killed an American. What’s more, U.S. intelligence officials knew from NSA monitoring of communications between the IRGC and the militias that Iran had explicitly forbidden direct attacks on US personnel.

Netanyahu was growing impatient. For several days in late October and early November, he met with his national security cabinet to discuss a new Israeli attack to precipitate a possible war with Iran, according to reports by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren hinted at how a war with Iran might start. ‘[P]erhaps Israel miscalculates,” he suggested, “hitting a particularly sensitive target,” which, in his view, could spark “a big war between Israel and Iran.”

But on December 27, before Netanyahu could put such a strategy into action, the situation changed dramatically. A barrage of rockets slammed into an Iraqi base near Kirkuk where U.S. military personnel were stationed, killing a U.S military contractor. Suddenly, Pompeo had the opening he needed. At a meeting the following day, Pompeo led Trump to believe that Iranian “proxies” had attacked the base, and pressed him to “reestablish deterrence” with Iran by carrying out a military response.

In fact, U.S. and Iraqi officials on the spot had reached no such conclusion, and the investigation led by the head of intelligence for the Iraqi federal police at the base was just beginning that same day. But Pompeo and his allies, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark A Milley, were not interested in waiting for its conclusion.

A deception brings the US and Iran to the brink of war

The results of a subsequent Iraqi investigation revealed that the rocket barrage had been launched from a Sunni area of Kirkuk with a strong Islamic State presence, and that IS fighters had carried out three attacks not far from the base on Iraqi forces stationed there in the previous ten days. US signals intercepts found no evidence that Iraqi militias had shifted from their policy of avoiding American casualties at all cost.

Kept in the dark by Pompeo about these crucial facts, Trump agreed to launch five airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah and another pro-Iran militia at five locations in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 militiamen and wounded 51. He may have also agreed in principle to the killing of Soleimani when the opportunity presented itself.

Iran responded to the attacks on its Iraqi militia allies by approving a violent protest at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad January 31. The demonstrators did not penetrate the embassy building itself and were abruptly halted the same day. But Pompeo managed to persuade Trump to authorize the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful figure, presumably by hammering on the theme of “reestablishing deterrence” with Iran.

Soleimani was not only the second most powerful man in Iran and the main figure in its foreign policy; he was idolized by millions of the most strongly nationalist citizens of the country. Killing him in a drone strike was an open invitation to the military confrontation Netanyahu and Pompeo so desperately sought.

During the crucial week from December 28 through January 4, while Pompeo was pressing Trump to retaliate against Iran not just once but twice, it was clear that he was coordinating closely with Netanyahu.  During that single week, he spoke by phone with Netanyahu on three separate occasions.

What Pompeo and Netanyahu could not have anticipated was that Iran’s missile attack on the U.S. sector of Iraq’s sprawling al-Asad airbase in retaliation would be so precise that it scored direct hits on six U.S. targets without killing a single American. (The US service members were saved in part because the rockets were fired after the Iraqi government had passed on a warning from Iran to prepare for it). Because no American was killed in the strike, Trump again decided against further retaliation.

Towards another provocation

Although Pompeo and Netanyahu failed to ignite a military conflict with Iran, there is good reason to believe that they will try again before both are forced to leave their positions or power.

In an article for the Atlantic last November, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, channeled Netanyahu when he declared it would be “better for conflict [with Iran] to occur during the current [Trump] administration, which can be counted on to provide Israel with the three sources of American assistance it traditionally receives in wartime,” than to “wait until later.”

Oren was not the only Israeli official to suggest that Israeli is likely to go even further in strikes against Iranian and Iranian allies targets in 2020. After listening to Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speak in late December, Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel reported that the Israeli army chief conveyed the clear impression that a “more serious confrontation with Iran in the coming year as an almost unquestionable necessity.” His interviews with Israeli military and political figures further indicated that Israel would “intensity its efforts to hit Iran in the northern area.”

Shockingly, Pompeo has exploited the Coronavirus pandemic to impose even harsher sanctions on Iran while intimidating foreign businesses to prevent urgently needed medical supplies from entering the country. The approaching presidential election gives both Pompeo and Netanyahu a powerful reason to plot another strike, or a series of strikes aimed at drawing the US into a potential Israeli confrontation with Iran.

Activists and members of Congress concerned about keeping the US out of war with Iran must be acutely aware of the danger and ready to respond decisively when the provocation occurs.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lebanon lodges UN Security Council complaint over Israeli violations

Press TV – March 6, 2020

Lebanon has condemned incessant Israeli violations of its airspace, and filed a complaint at the UN Security Council over serious and numerous breaches of the Lebanese sovereignty and UNSC Resolution 1701.

On Friday, Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Nassif Hitti discussed the latest developments in southern Lebanon as well as Beirut’s commitment to the resolution during a meeting with the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubitsch.

Hitti then expressed his great resentment over violation of Lebanon’s airspace by the Israeli regime.

Syria’s official news agency SANA, quoting an unnamed military source, reported early on Thursday that Syrian air defenses had intercepted Israeli missiles over strategic Quneitra province in the country’s southwest.

“At 00:30 on Thursday our air defense monitored Israeli warplanes coming from northern occupied Palestine toward Saida, and several missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace toward the central area,” the source added.

The missiles were intercepted successfully, he pointed out.

Israel violates Lebanon’s airspace on an almost daily basis, claiming the flights serve surveillance purposes.

Lebanon’s government, the Hezbollah resistance movement and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have repeatedly condemned the overflights, saying they are in clear violation of UN Resolution 1701 and the country’s sovereignty.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire in the war of aggression Israel launched against Lebanon in 2006, calls on Tel Aviv to respect Beirut’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In 2009, Lebanon filed a complaint with the United Nations, presenting over 7,000 documents pertaining to Israeli violations of Lebanese territory.

March 6, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes | , | 9 Comments

Sayyed Nasrallah: Trump’s Two Recent Crimes Usher Direct Confrontation with Resistance Forces

By Mohammad Salami – Al-Manar – February 16, 2020

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah stressed Sunday that the United States of America has recently committed two major crimes, the assassination of the head of IRGC’s Al-Quds Force general Qasem Suleimani as well as the deputy chief of Iraq’s Hashd Shaabi Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis and the announcement of Trump’s Mideast plan.

Sayyed Nasrallah stressed that those two crimes had ushered a direct confrontation with the axis of resistance in Lebanon, calling for forming a comprehensive resistance front against the United States all over the world.

Delivering a speech during Hezbollah’s “Martyrdom & Insight” Ceremony which marks the anniversary of the martyrs Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Sayyed Abbas Al-Moussawi and Hajj Imad Mughniyeh and the 40th day after the martyrdom of General Suleimani and Hajj Al-Muhandis, Sayyed Nasrallah emphasized that in this confrontation with the United States, we have to trust God’s help, keep hopeful for a bright future and challenge our fear.

Sayyed Nasrallah pointed out that the so-called “deal of the century” cannot be described as a ‘deal’ because it refers merely to the plan of the US president Donald Trump’s plan to eradicate the Palestinian cause.

All the Palestinian forces have rejected and may never approve Trump’s scheme, according to Sayyed Nasrallah who considered that this is basic in frustrating the US plan.

Sayyed Nasrallah noted that consistency of stances which reject Trump’s plan is required to frustrate it, adding that the US will is not an inevitable destiny and citing previous cases of Washington’s failure when opposed by resistance.

No one approved the US plan except Trump and Netanyahu, according to Sayyed Nasrallah who underscored the Palestinian, Arab and international rejection of the scheme.

The Hezbollah leader hailed the consensus of the Lebanese political parties which have rejected Trump’s plan, attributing this attitude to the recognition of the dangers of the scheme to Lebanon and the entire region.

Sayyed Nasrallah noted that Trump’s plan affects Lebanon because it grants the occupied Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shuba hills and the Lebanese part of Al-Ghajar town to the Zionist entity, stipulates naturalizing the Palestinian refugees and impacts the border demarcation.

“The spirit of Trump’s plan will be decisive in the issue of demarcating the land and sea borders with occupied Palestine and will affect Lebanon’s oil wealth.”

Sayyed Nasrallah pointed out that what reassures the Lebanese about the rejection of the naturalization of the Palestinian refugees is the consensual attitude of all the parties in this regard, calling for respecting certain groups’ fears related to this issue.

February 16, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lebanon FM: We Categorically Reject Naturalization of Palestinian Refugees

Al-Manar | January 30, 2020

Lebanese FM Nassif Hitti has stressed via Al-Manar TV that Lebanon categorically rejects the naturalization of the Palestinian refugees, but that it supports their right to return to their land.

Hitti denounced the so-called “Deal of the Century”, considering that it infringes on the peoples right to choose their destiny and violates international laws.

“It is unacceptable to tamper with Lebanon’s borders,” Hitti said in a comment on one of the stipulations of the so-called “The Deal of the Century” which denied Lebanon its right to its Israeli-held territories.

The Lebanese to diplomat emphasized that he will convey Lebanon’s stance towards the US ‘deal’ during the meeting of the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo next Saturday.

January 31, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , | 2 Comments

Turkish ships chase Israeli vessel out of Cypriot waters

Press TV – December 15, 2019

Turkish navy ships have intercepted an Israeli research vessel in Cypriot waters, over which Ankara claims jurisdiction, forcing it to leave the area in a move that could negatively impact an ambitious Israeli project to pipe natural gas to Europe.

Quoting unnamed senior Israeli officials, Israel’s channel 13 news reported Saturday that the rare incident occurred two weeks ago when Turkish vessels approached Bat Galim.

Turkish navy officers radioed the Israeli ship and demanded to know its business in the area, and then ordered it to leave. The Israeli vessel had no choice but to comply and depart, said the report.

According to the report, the Israeli ship was conducting research in coordination with Cypriot officials and the Cypriot government.

Over the past year, Turkey has sent military ships as well as drilling ships to search for crude oil in the waters.

Recently, tensions have risen between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus regarding gas fields discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.

In an interview with Reuters in September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Greek Cypriots of trying to deprive Northern Cyprus of its rights.

EU member Cyprus and Turkey have argued for years regarding the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara says Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.

Tensions rose again last month when Turkey signed agreements with Libya on maritime boundaries and military cooperation in the Mediterranean.

Erdogan said the maritime deal with Libya — which maps out a boundary between the two countries in the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean close to the Greek island of Crete — was in line with international law.

Israel’s Channel 13 said tensions could negatively affect an Israeli project to pipe natural gas to Europe. The pipeline is set to pass through Cyprus and Greece’s territorial waters.

According to the report, an Israeli embassy official in Ankara was summoned last week to be warned that the pipeline would require Turkey’s approval since it has to pass through Turkey’s economic waters.

“The Turks are trying to establish themselves as the ones running the show, and that is very worrying,” an Israeli official told Channel 13.

The media in Tel Aviv have reported that the UAE has invested as much as $100 million in an ambitious Israeli project to pipe natural gas to Europe.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Greek Cyprus, has vowed to prevent what it sees as a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots to claim offshore resources. It says some areas of Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under what Ankara calls the territory of the Turkish Cyprus.

The island has been divided into Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern and Greek Cypriot-controlled southern territories since a brief war in 1974, which saw Turkey intervene militarily in response to a Greek-backed military coup on the island to annex Cyprus to Greece.

Greek Cypriots run the island’s government in the south, while Turkish Cypriots have a breakaway state in the north and say offshore resources belong to them, too.

Israel has signed a multilateral deal for the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline Project with Greece, Italy and Cyprus. The European Union also supports the project.

Israel is already locked in a bitter dispute with Lebanon over tapping Mediterranean energy resources.

Last February, Israel described as “very provocative” a Lebanese tender for projects in two of the Arab country’s 10 offshore blocks in the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel itself has long been developing a number of disputed offshore gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea, with the Tamar gas field with proven reserves of 200 billion cubic meters already producing gas, while the larger Leviathan field is expected to go online in the coming months.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nearly One Million Syrian Refugees Return Home Since 2018: Minister

Al-Manar | December 5, 2019

Nearly one million Syrian refugees have so far returned from Lebanon since June 2018, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported on Thursday.

Their return is a result of conveniences provided by the Syrian government, Hussain Makhlouf, the minister of local administration said as quoted by the Syrian paper.

Makhlouf said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered all ministries to provide all necessary help for the returnees to start a new life.

The newspaper, meanwhile, said that as many as 1,400 refugees have returned home over the past few days from Lebanon.

More than one million Syrian refugees are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, while the Lebanese government estimated that the true number of Syrians in the country is 1.5 million.

December 5, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Israeli Minister of Defense to Impose Sanctions on Palestinian ‘Militants’ Abroad

IMEMC & Agencies – December 3, 2019

Israeli Minister of Defense, Naftali Bennett, on Tuesday, issued a written order imposing international economic sanctions on Palestinian militants abroad, The Palestinian News and Info Agency reported.

Hebrew media outlets broadcast Bennett’s decision, pointing out that this move has never been attempted before.

Bennett issued his first order against Jamil Hersh, a member of the Arab Society for Human Rights in London, members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah party will also be sanctioned.

December 3, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | 4 Comments

Hezbollah: US major obstacle to government formation in Lebanon

Press TV – November 22, 2019

Hezbollah calls the US the most prominent obstacle lying in the way of formation of a government in Lebanon, which is direly in need of political stability.

The Lebanese resistance movement’s Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem made the remarks in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

“The first obstruction in the formation of the government is America, because it wants a government that resembles it and we want a government that resembles the Lebanese people,” he said.

US officials had been in direct contact with Lebanese politicians and officials, the official noted, saying, “Let them leave us alone so we can reach an understanding among ourselves. The more they intervene the more they delay the solution.”

The country — where coexistence of various religious sects has turned unity into the leading means of preventing internal strife — would not be rid of its ongoing economic and political woes unless foreign vested interests stopped tugging away at it, Qassem said.

Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri resigned in late October amid nationwide protests against corruption and economic adversity that had begun earlier that month.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked roads leading to the parliament in the capital Beirut, forcing the legislature to postpone what was supposed to be its first session in two months. Heavy clashes were reported later that day between security forces and a group of protesters attempting to make their way into the parliament.

November 22, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 3 Comments

Is the Middle East Beginning a Self-Correction?

By Alastair Crooke | Strategic Culture Foundation | November 18, 2019

“Two years, three years, five years’ maximum from now, you will not recognize the same Middle East”, says the former Egyptian FM, Arab League Secretary General and Presidential Candidate, Amr Moussa, in an interview with Al-Monitor.

Mousa made some unexpected points, beyond warning of major change ahead (“the thing now is that the simple Arab man follows everything” – all the events). And in reference to the protests in Iraq, Moussa says that Iraq is in “a preparatory stage for them to choose their way as Iraqis — emphasizing that “the discord between Sunni and Shia is about to fade away.”

The present regional turbulence, he suggests, is [essentially] a reaction to the US playing the sectarian card – manipulating “the issues of sect and religion, et cetera, was not only a dangerous, but a sinister kind of policy”. He added however, “I don’t say that it will happen tomorrow, but [the discord between Sunnis and the Shi’a fading away], will certainly happen in the foreseeable future, which will reflect on Lebanon too.”

What we are witnessing in Iraq and Lebanon, he adds, “are these things correcting themselves. It will take time, but they will correct themselves. Iraq is a big country in the region, no less than Iran, no less than Turkey. Iraq is a country to reckon with. I don’t know whether this was the reason why it had to be destroyed. Could be. But there are forces in Iraq that are being rebuilt … Iraq will come back. And this phase – what we see today, perhaps this is the — what can I say? A preparatory stage?”

Of course, these comments – coming from a leading Establishment Sunni figure – will appear stunningly counter-intuitive to those living outside the region, where the MSM narrative – from Colombia to Gulf States – is that the current protests are sectarian, and directed predominantly at Hizbullah and Iran. Certainly there is a thread of iconoclasm to this global ‘Age of Anger’, targeting all leaderships, everywhere. In these tempestuous times, of course, the world reads into events what it hopes and expects to see. Moussa calls such sectarian ‘framing’ both dangerous and “sinister”.

But look rather, at the core issue on which practically all Lebanese demonstrators concur: It is that the cast-iron sectarian ‘cage’ (decreed initially by France, and subsequently ‘corrected’ by Saudi Arabia at Taif, to shift economic power into the hands of the Sunnis), is the root cause to the institutionalised, semi-hereditary corruption and mal-governance that has infected Lebanon.

Is this not precisely articulated in the demand for a ‘technocratic government’ – that is to say in the demand for the ousting of all these hereditary sectarian Zaim in a non-sectarian articulation of national interests. Of course, being Lebanon, one tribe will always be keener for one, rather than another, sectarian leader to be cast as villain to the piece. The reality is, however, that technocratic government exactly is a break from Taif – even if the next PM is nominally Sunni (but yet not partisan Sunni)?

And just for clarity’s sake: An end to the compartmentalised sectarian constitution is in Hizbullah’s interest. The Shi’i – the largest minority in Lebanon – were always given the smallest slice of the national cake, under the sectarian divide.

What is driving this sudden focus on ‘the flawed system’ in Lebanon – more plausibly – is simply, hard reality. Most Lebanese understand that they no longer possess a functional economy. Its erstwhile ‘business model’ is bust.

Lebanon used to have real exports – agricultural produce exported to Syria and Iraq, but that avenue was closed by the war in Syria. Lebanon’s (legal) exports today effectively are ‘zilch’, but it imports hugely (thanks to having an artificially high Lebanese pound). All this – i.e. the resulting trade, and government budget deficit – used to be balanced out by the large inward flow of dollars.

Inward remittances from the 8 – 9 million Lebanese living overseas was one key part – and dollar deposits arriving in Lebanon’s once ‘safe-haven’ banking system was the other. But that ‘business model’ effectively is bust. The remittances have been fading for years, and the Banking system has the US Treasury crawling all over it (looking for sanctionable Hizbullah accounts).

Which brings us back to that other key point made by Moussa, namely, that the Iraqi disturbances are, in his view, “a preparatory stage for them to choose their way as Iraqis … and that will reflect on Lebanon too”.

If the ‘model’ – either economically or politically – is systemically bust, then tinkering will not do. A new direction is required.

Look at it this way: Sayyed Nasrallah has noted in recent days that other alternatives for Lebanon to a US alignment are possible, but have not yet consolidated into a definitive alternative. That option, in essence, is to ‘look East’: to Russia and China.

It makes sense: At one level, an arrangement with Moscow might untie a number of ‘knots’: It could lead to a re-opening of trade, through Syria, into Iraq for Lebanon’s agricultural produce; it could lead to a return of Syrian refugees out from Lebanon, back to their homes; China could shoulder the Economic Development plan, at a fraction of its projected $20 billion cost – and, above all it could avoid the ‘poison pill’ of a wholesale privatisation of Lebanese state assets on which the French are insisting. In the longer term, Lebanon could participate in the trade and ‘energy corridor’ plans that Russia and China have in mind for the norther tier of the Middle East and Turkey. At least, this alternative seems to offer a real ‘vision’ for the future. Of course, America is threatening Lebanon with horrible consequences – for even thinking of ‘looking East’.

On the other hand, at a donors’ conference at Paris in April, donors pledged to give Lebanon $11bn in loans and grants – but only if it implements certain ‘reforms’. The conditions include a commitment to direct $7 bn towards privatising government assets and state property – as well as austerity measures such as raising taxes, cutting public sector wages and reducing social services.

Great! But how will this correct Lebanon’s broken ‘business model’? Answer: It would not. Devaluation of the Lebanese pound (almost inevitable, and implying big price rises) and further austerity will not either make Lebanon a financial safe-haven again, nor boost income from remittances. It is the classic misery recipe, and one which leaves Lebanon in the hands of external creditors.

Paris has taken on the role of advancing this austerity agenda by emphasising that only a cabinet acceptable to the creditors will do, to release crucial funds. It seems that France believes that it is sufficient to introduce reforms, impose the rule of law and build the institutions – in order to Gulliverise Hizbullah. This premise of US or Israeli acquiescence to this Gulliverisation plan – seems questionable.

The issue for Aoun must be the potential costs that the US might impose – extending even to the possible exclusion of Lebanese banks from the dollar clearing system (i.e. the infamous US Treasury neutron bomb). Washington is intent more on pushing Lebanon to the financial brink, as hostage to its (i.e. Israel’s) demand that Hizbullah be disarmed, and its missiles destroyed. It might misjudge, however, and send Lebanon over the brink into the abyss.

But President Aoun, or any new government, cannot disarm Hizbullah. Israel’s newly ambiguous strategic situation (post – Abqaiq), will likely hike the pressures on Lebanon to act against Hizbullah, through one means or another. Were Aoun or his government to try to mitigate the US pressures through acquiescence to the ‘reform’ package, would that be the end to it? Where would it all end, for Lebanon?

And it is a similar conundrum in Iraq: The economic situation though, is quite different. Iraq has one-fifth of the population of neighbouring Iran, but five times the daily oil sales. Yet the infrastructure of its cities, following the two wars, is still a picture of ruination and poverty. The wealth of Iraq is stolen, and sits in bank accounts abroad. In Iraq, it is primarily the political model that is bust, and needs to be re-cast.

Is this Moussa’s point – that Iraq presently is in the preparatory stage of choosing a new path ahead? He describes it as a self-correcting process leading out from the fissures of sectarianism. Conventional Washington thinking however, is that Iran seeks only a Shi’i hegemony for Iraq. But that is a misreading: Iran’s policy is much more nuanced. It is not some sectarian hegemony that is its objective, but the more limited aim to have the strategic edge across the region – in an amorphous, ambiguous, and not easily defined way – so that a fully sovereign Iraq becomes able to push-back against Israel and the US – deniably, and well short of all-out war.

This is the point: the end to sectarianism is an Iranian interest, and not sectarian hegemony.

November 18, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cornering and Strangulating Iran Has Backfired on Israel

By Alastair Crooke | Strategic Culture Foundation | November 11, 2019

What happens if the two premises on which Israel and America’s grand Iran strategy is founded are proven false? ‘What if’ maximum pressure fails either to implode the Iranian state politically, nor brings Iran to its knees, begging for a new ‘hairshirt’ nuclear deal? Well …? Well, it seems that Netanyahu and Mossad were so cocksure of their initial premise, that they neglected to think beyond first move on the chess board. It was to be checkmate in one. And this neglect is the cause of the strategic bind in which Israel now finds itself.

Lately, these lacunae in strategic thinking are being noticed. Iran is doing just fine, writes Henry Rome in Foreign Affairs:

“Some analysts predicted that Iran’s friends in Europe and Asia would defy the United States to lend Iran economic help. Others reckoned that the sanctions would send Iran’s economy into a “death spiral,” leaving Tehran the choice to either surrender or collapse. Neither of these predictions came to pass.

“Rather, Iran now enters its second year under maximum pressure strikingly confident in its economic stability and regional position. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other hard-liners are therefore likely to continue on their current course: Iran will go on tormenting the oil market, while bolstering its non-oil economy—and it will continue expanding its nuclear program while refusing to talk with Washington.”

Similarly, the (US) Crisis Group reports that on the eve of the US oil sanctions snapback in November 2018, Secretary Pompeo was asked if Iran might restart its nuclear program. He responded: “we’re confident that the Iranians will not make that decision”. But, Iran did just that: In April 2019 – after the US revoked the sanction waivers that had previously allowed eight countries to import Iranian oil – the Iranian leadership started pushing back.

They are still doing it. “Iran’s responses on the nuclear and regional fronts call into question the core premises of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign … Tehran [effectively] has broken the binary outcome of concession or collapse by instead adopting what it touts as “maximum resistance”. As a result … there can be little doubt that the [US] strategy has fallen short, delivering impact without effect and rather than blunting Iran’s capabilities only sharpening its willingness to step up its [push-back]”, the Crisis Group report concludes.

So here we are: Iran’s “fourth step” in its incremental lessening of compliance with the JCPOA (injecting nuclear gas into the – hitherto empty – centrifuges at Fordo; augmenting enrichment to 5% and unveiling substantially improved centrifuges), effectively tests the very core to the Obama JCPOA strategy.

The Accord was built around a framework that meant Iran would remain at least 12 months away from break-out capacity (the moment when a state can transition into a nuclear weapons’ state). Iran – in these de-compliance steps is inching under that limit, if it is not already under it. (This does not, however, imply that Iran is seeking weapons, but rather that it is seeking a change in western behaviour.)

Yes, Israel – which pushed hard its assessment (albeit, onto a Trump team wholly receptive to this Israeli analysis) of an Iran entering into a death-spiral within one year, under Trump’s maximum pressure – can plead reasonably that its grand strategy was struck by two ‘black swans’. The double ‘punch’ quite evidently has knocked Israel – it is now all at sixes and sevens.

One was the 14 September strikes on the two Aramco plants in Saudi Arabia (claimed by the Houthis), but demonstrating a level of sophistication which Israelis explicitly admit took them wholly by surprise. And the second was the accumulated evidence that the US is in the process of quitting the Middle East. Again, Israel – or at least Netanyahu – never believed this could happen under Trump’s ‘watch’. Indeed, he had built a political platform on his claim of intimate rapport with the US President. Indeed, that did seem at the time to be perfectly true.

Israeli historian, Gilad Atzmon observes, “it now seems totally unrealistic to expect America to act militarily against Iran on behalf of Israel. Trump’s always unpredictable actions have convinced the Israeli defense establishment that the country has been left alone to deal with the Iranian threat. The American administration is only willing to act against Iran through sanctions”.

And the former Israeli Ambassador to Washington put the consequences yet more bluntly under the rubric of The Coming Middle East Conflagration: “Israel is bracing itself for war with Iranian proxies … But what will the United States do if conflict comes?” — by this Oren implies the US might do little, or nothing.

Yes. This is precisely the dilemma to which the Israeli policy of demonising Iran, and instigating ‘the world’ against Iran, has brought Israel. Israeli officials and commentators now see war as inevitable (see here and here) – and they are not happy.

War is not inevitable. It would not be inevitable if Trump could put aside his Art of the Deal pride, and contemplated a remedy of de-escalating sanctions – especially oil export sanctions – on Iran. But he has not done that. After a quick (and wholly unrealistic) ‘fling’ at having a reality-TV photo-op with President Rouhani, his Administration has doubled down by imposing further, new sanctions on Iran. (Friends might try to tell their American counterparts that it is well time they got over the 1979 Tehran Embassy siege.)

And war is not inevitable if Israel could assimilate the reality that the Middle East is in profound flux – and that Israel no longer enjoys the freedom to strike wherever, and whomsoever it choses, at will (and at no cost to itself). Those days are not wholly gone, but they are a rapidly diminishing asset.

Will Israel shift posture? It seems not. In the context of the Lebanon protests, the local banks are becoming vulnerable, as capital inflows and remittances dry up. Israeli, plus some American officials, are favouring withholding external financial assistance to the banks – thus making the banking system’s survival contingent on any new government agreeing to contain and disarm Hizbullah (something which, incidentally, no Lebanese government, of whatever ‘colour’, can do).

That is to say, US and Israeli policy is that of pushing Lebanon to the brink of financial collapse in order to leverage a blow at Iran. Never mind that it will be the demonstrators – and not Hizbullah – who will pay the heaviest price for pushing the crisis to the brink – in terms of a devalued pound, rising prices and austerity. (Hizbullah, in any case, exited the Lebanese banking system, long time past).

Iran, on the other hand, faced with maximum pressure, has little choice: It will not succumb to slow-strangulation by the US. Its riposte of calibrated counter-pressure to US max-pressure, however, does entail risks: It is predicated on the judgement that Trump does not want a major regional war (especially in the lead up to US elections), and also predicated (though less certainly) on the US President’s ability to avoid being cornered by his hawks into taking responsive military action (i.e. were another US drone to be shot down).

So, what do all these various geo-political ‘tea-leaves’ portend? Well, look at Lebanon and Iraq through the geo-political spectacles of Iran: On the one hand, it is well understood in Tehran that there is justified, deep popular anger in these states towards corruption, the iron sectarian structures and hopeless governance — but that is only one part of the story. The other is the long-standing geo-strategic war that is being waged against Iran.

Maximum pressure has not produced a chastened, and repentant Iran? So, now Iranians see the US and Israel resorting to ‘Euromaidan warfare’ (Ukrainian protests of 2013) against Iran’s Lebanese and Iraqi allies. (It was, after all, during President Aoun’s visit to Washington in March, that Trump first warned Aoun of what was coming – and presented his ultimatum: Contain Hezbollah, or expect unprecedented consequences, including sanctions and the loss of US aid).

Fresh sanctions, plus an Euromaidan-type assault on Iranian allies (Hizballah and Hash’d A-Shaabi)? Might we then expect another ‘Gulf surprise’ – in coming weeks?

This tit-for-tat of pressure and counter-pressure is set to continue — Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US, lays it out:

“The conflagration, like so many in the Middle East, could be ignited by a single spark. Israeli fighter jets have already conducted hundreds of bombing raids against Iranian targets in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Preferring to deter rather than embarrass Tehran, Israel rarely comments on such actions. But perhaps Israel miscalculates, hitting a particularly sensitive target; or perhaps politicians cannot resist taking credit. The result could be a counterstrike by Iran, using cruise missiles that penetrate Israel’s air defenses and smash into targets like the Kiryah, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Pentagon. Israel would retaliate massively against Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut as well as dozens of its emplacements along the Lebanese border. And then, after a day of large-scale exchanges, the real war would begin.

“Rockets, many carrying tons of TNT, would rain on Israel; drones armed with payloads would crash into crucial facilities, military and civilian. During the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, the rate of such fire reached between 200 and 300 projectiles a day. Today, it might reach as high as 4,000. The majority of the weapons in Hezbollah’s arsenal are standoff missiles with fixed trajectories that can be tracked and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. But Iron Dome is 90 percent effective on average, meaning that for every 100 rockets, 10 get through, and the seven operational batteries are incapable of covering the entire country. All of Israel, from Metulla in the north to the southern port city of Eilat, would be in range of enemy fire.”

Of course, the claim that Israeli air defences are 90% effective is ‘for the birds’ (Israeli officials would not be in such a panic if it were true). But Oren sets out the course to a region-wide war plainly enough. This is the end to which their Iran strategy has brought them.

And just to recall, this strategy was always a ‘strategy of choice’ – taken for domestic political purposes. Israel’s demonization of Iran did not begin with the Iranian Revolution. Israel initially had good relations with the revolutionary republic. The relationship transformed because an incoming Israeli Labour government needed it to transform: It wanted to upend the earlier political consensus, and to make peace with the ‘near enemy’ (i.e. its Arab neighbours). But Israel then required a ‘new’ villain threatening ‘plucky little Israel’ to keep unstinting US Congressional support coming through: Iran became that villain. And then, subsequently, Netanyahu made his twenty-year career out of the Iranian (nuclear) bogeyman.

Reaping what a long-term strategy of threats and incitement sows …? In one of the most detailed assessments of Iran’s strategy and doctrine across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concludes that Iran’s “third party capability” has become Tehran’s weapon of choice: “Iran now has an effective military advantage over the US and its allies in the Middle East, because of its ability to wage war using third parties such as Shia militias and insurgents”, the report concludes. It has the military edge? Well, well …

And doesn’t this fact help explain what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon today?

November 11, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The ‘War’ for the Future of Middle East

By Alastair Crooke | Strategic Culture Foundation | November 4, 2019

Oh, oh, here we are again! In 1967, it was then the ‘threat’ of the standing Arab Armies (and the ensuing six-day war on Egypt and Syria); in 1980, it was Iran (and the ensuing Iraqi war on Iran); in 1996, it was David Wurmser with his Coping with Crumbling States (flowing on from the infamous Clean Break policy strategy paper) which at that time targeted secular-Arab nationalist states, excoriated both as “crumbling relics of the ‘evil’ USSR” and inherently hostile to Israel, too; and in the 2003 and 2006 wars, it was Saddam Hussein firstly; and then Hezbollah that threatened the safety of the West’s civilizational ‘outpost’ in the Middle East.

And here we are once more, Israel cannot safely ‘live’ in a region containing a militant Hezbollah.

Not surprisingly, the Russian Ambassador in Beirut, Alexander Zasypkin, quickly recognized this all too familiar pattern: Speaking with al-Akhbar on 9 October in Beirut (more than a week before the protests in Beirut erupted), the Ambassador dismissed the prospect of any easing of regional tensions; but rather identified the economic crisis that has been building for years in Lebanon as the ‘peg’ on which the US and its allies might sow chaos in Lebanon (and in Iraq’s parallel economic calamity), to strike at Hezbollah and the Hash’d A-Sha’abi — Israel’s and America’s adversaries in the region.

Why now? Because what happened to Aramco on 14 September has shocked both Israel and America: the former Commander of the Israeli Air Force wrote recently, “recent events are forcing Israel to recalculate its path as it navigates events. The technological abilities of Iran and its various proxies has reached a level at which they can now alter the balance of power around the world”. Not only could neither state identify the modus operandi to the strikes (even now); but worse, neither had any answer to the technological feat the strikes plainly represented. In fact, the lack of any available ‘answer’ prompted one leading western defense analyst to suggest that Saudi should buy Russian Pantsir missiles rather than American air defenses.

And worse. For Israel, the Aramco shock arrived precisely at the moment that the US began its withdrawal of its ‘comfort security blanket’ from the region – leaving Israel (and Gulf States) on their own – and now vulnerable to technology they never expected their adversaries to possess. Israelis – and particularly its PM – though always conscious to the hypothetical possibility, never thought withdrawal actually would happen, and never during the term of the Trump Administration.

This has left Israel completely knocked, and at sixes-and sevens. It has turned strategy on its head, with the former Israeli Air Force Commander (mentioned above) speculating on Israel’s uncomfortable options – going forward – and even postulating whether Israel now needed to open a channel to Iran. This latter option, of course, would be culturally abhorrent to most Israelis. They would prefer a bold, out-of-the-blue, Israeli paradigm ‘game-changer’ (i.e. such as happened in 1967) to any outreach to Iran. This is the real danger.

It is unlikely that the stirring of protests in Lebanon and Iraq are somehow a direct response to the above: but rather, more likely, they lie with old plans (including the recently leaked strategy paper for countering Iran, presented by MbS to the White House), and with the regular strategic meetings held between Mossad and the US National Security Council, under the chairmanship of John Bolton.

Whatever the specific parentage, the ‘playbook’ is quite familiar: spark a popular ‘democratic’ dissent (based on genuine grievances); craft messaging and a press campaign that polarizes the population, and which turns their anger away from generalized discontent towards targeting specific enemies (in this case Hezbollah, President Aoun and FM Gebran Bassil (whose sympathies with Hezbollah and President Assad make him a prime target, especially as heir-apparent to the leadership of the majority of Christians). The aim – as always – is to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and the Army, and between Hezbollah and the Lebanese people.

It began when, during his meeting with President Aoun in March 2019, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo reportedly presented an ultimatum: Contain Hezbollah or expect unprecedented consequences, including sanctions and the loss of US aid. Leaked reports suggest that Pompeo subsequently brought ally, PM Hariri into the picture of the planned disturbances when Hariri and his wife hosted Secretary Pompeo and his wife for a lunch banquet at Hariri’s ranch near Washington at the end of the Lebanese premier’s August visit to the US.

As the Lebanese demonstrations began, reports of an ‘operations room’ in Beirut managing and analyzing the protests, and of large scale funding by Gulf states proliferated; but for reasons that are not clear, the protests faltered. The Army which originally stood curiously aloof, finally engaged in clearing the streets, and returning some semblance of normality – and the Central Bank governor’s strangely alarmist forecasts of imminent financial collapse were countered by other financial experts presenting a less frightening picture.

It seems that neither in Lebanon or in Iraq will US objectives finally be achieved (i.e. Hizbullah and Hash’d A-Sha’abi emasculated). In Iraq, this may be a less certain outcome however, and the potential risks the US is running in fomenting chaos much greater, should Iraq slip into anarchy. The loss of Iraq’s 5 million barrels/day of crude would crater the market for crude – and in these economically febrile times, this might be enough to tip the global economy into recession.

But that would be ‘small beer’ compared to the risk that the US is running in tempting ‘The Fates’ over a regional war that reaches Israel.

But is there a wider message connecting these Middle East protests with those erupting across Latin America? One analyst has coined the term for this era, as an Age of Anger disgorging from “serial geysers” of discontent across the globe from Ecuador to Chile to Egypt. His theme is that neoliberalism is everywhere – literally – burning.

We have noted before, how the US sought to leverage the unique consequences arising from two World Wars, and the debt burden that they bequeathed, to award itself dollar hegemony, as well the truly exceptional ability to issue fiat credit across the globe at no cost to the US (the US simply ‘printed’ its fiat credit). US financial institutions could splurge credit around the world, at virtually no cost – and live off the rent which those investments returned. But ultimately that came at a price: The limitation – to being the global rentier – has become evident through disparities of wealth, and through the incremental impoverishment of the American middle classes that the concomitant off-shoring brought about. Well-paid jobs evaporated, even as America’s financialised banking balance sheet ballooned across the globe.

But there was perhaps another aspect to this present Age of Anger. It is TINA: ‘There is no alternative’. Not because of an absence of potentiality – but because alternatives were crushed. At the end of two World Wars, there was an understanding of the need for a different way-of-being; an end to the earlier era of servitude; a new society; a new social contract. But it was short-lived.

And – long story, short – that post-war longing for ‘fairness’ (whatever that meant) has been squeezed dry; ‘other politics or economics’ of whatever colour, has been derided as ‘fake news’ – and in the wake of the 2008 great financial crisis, all sorts of safety-nets were sacrificed, and private wealth ‘appropriated’ for the purpose of the re-building of bank balance sheets, preserving the integrity of debt, and for keeping interest rates low. People became ‘individuals’ – on their own – to sort out their own austerity. Is it then, that people now are feeling both impoverished materially by that austerity, and impoverished humanly by their new era servitude?

The Middle East may pass through today’s present crises (or not), but be aware that, in their despair in Latin America, the ‘there is no alternative’ meme is becoming reason for protestors ‘to burn the system down’. That is what happens when alternatives are foreclosed (albeit in the interests of preserving ‘us’ from system collapse).

November 4, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 3 Comments