Imagining Palestine: Cultures of Exile and National Identity – Book Review

January 13, 2023

Imagining Palestine: Cultures of Exile and National Identity, by Tahrir Hamdi. (Photo: Book Cover)

By Jim Miles

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.

(Imagining Palestine – Cultures of Exile and National Identity.  Tahrir Hamdi. I. B. Taurus, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London, 2023.)

In her recent work, “Imagining Palestine”, Tahrir Hamdi has made an intriguing, thought-provoking, and challenging discussion on the idea and reality of Palestine. Imagining Palestine is the ongoing process of remembering and living the ongoing tragedies of the nakba – and keeping alive the culture, geography, and ideals of the Palestinian people. There are two main themes that stand out throughout the ‘imagining’ process: the ideas of exile and the necessity of violent resistance.

Exile

Throughout the discussions of the various Palestinian writers and artists is the recurring theme of exile. Two other terms are used frequently – dispossession and of dispersion. This refers to the physical/geographical displacement of the refugees, internal and external, in the many refugee camps in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan as well as the refugees living farther abroad in many countries around the world. Internal exile includes the many apartheid bantustans, the hundreds of checkpoints, the ‘wall’, and all other Israeli initiatives to limit travel of any kind – medical or agricultural or family – within occupied Palestine (being the whole).

Exile also includes the culture and ideas creating a Palestinian narrative – the attempt by the colonial settler Zionists to eliminate the elements of Palestinian life ranging from the destruction of libraries, and the expropriation of agriculture, to the destruction of the olive trees. Many of the latter are over one thousand years old and represent family, the past, and the future; they highlight both ecological and cultural violence against the Palestinians – a bitter leaf with life-giving properties.

Behind the idea of exile is of course the right of return,

The United Nations General Assembly adopts Resolution 194 (III), resolving that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

The symbols of Palestinians’ right of return are characterized by the deeds to land and the keys to houses stolen or destroyed by the Israeli military during the 1948 nakba. Until all Palestinians are free to return home, those few that do, as discussed by Tahrir, are not truly returnees, but remain in exile within their homeland.

Violent Resistance

As recognized by the writers reviewed in Imagining Palestine, the idea of resistance is paramount, “the colonized must liberate themselves by ‘use of all means, and that of force first and foremost.’”. International law allows for an occupied people/territory to legally resist the occupying/colonizing power. For those imagining Palestine, culture comes first then the resistance struggle – signifying a unity of purpose, an inclusiveness and not a mixture of individualized ideals.

In other words, by dividing the Palestinian people into apartheid regions, into different ‘terrorist’ organizations, into different levels of control superseded by the Palestinian Authority acting as security police for Israel, the Israelis – and factions within Palestine itself – preclude an organizing, organic whole necessary for successful resistance against an occupying force. A “collective national identity” is necessary first before a resistance can be successfully implemented.

As expressed by Tahrir,

“The living heritage of Palestine has been focussed and repurposed for the aim of creating a culture of resistance. To imagine Palestine does not mean to contrive something that was not there, but rather to make possible the very idea of resistance, victory, and liberation…an enabling idea.”

Subthemes

Several other themes occur through Tahrir’s analysis of those Imagining Palestine.

The complicity of Arab regimes is reiterated frequently and although not dwelt upon, it is recognition that the ‘regime’, the leaders of the Arab countries, are more concerned about their own survival than the problems faced by the Palestinians. Platitudes are made, peace treaties are made, official recognition of Israel is given, and still, the Palestinians are ignored. Except….

Except as shown by the recent Football World Cup in Qatar (after the publication of this book), the Arab street is still very much aligned with the Palestinians regardless of their separate governments’ attitudes and actions. Farther abroad from Ireland and Scotland to Argentina and others, solidarity with Palestine is strong at the level of international football – not the organizers, but the fans and the players.

Another subtheme, related to all above, is the vast amount of US support for the Israeli government as well as the influence the US carries over many of the Arab states. Capitalism thrives in this environment: three companies “and others thrive on the ‘always war’ policy of the world capitalist system, which gave birth to slavery and the colonialist enterprise.” A strong (im)moral component enters into this support as well with the combination of the evangelical right wishing for the end times and the antiterrorist rhetoric used mainly to reinforce US attempts at global hegemony (via military support for the US $).

Indigenous rights is another subtheme mentioned throughout the book. In particular, the rights of Indigenous North Americans and South Africans are used in comparison to their similarities to the colonial settler regime in Israel. African Americans, while not ‘colonized’ in the strictest sense, are a product of the capitalist-colonial mindset where the ‘other’ is, at best, property to be bought and sold, and when not useful, to be eliminated in one fashion or another.

Resistance

The recreation and remembering of Palestinian culture in all its forms, and the bringing together of a collective national identity, a living heritage creates an imagined future Palestine as a unitary democratic and peaceful society. The will to resist is alive in many forms and an Imagined Palestine exists, anticipating its liberation as a free, independent country.

NATO Ministers Gather for War Summits… Russia Should Call Their Bluff

January 20, 2023

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The United States and its imperial surrogates think they are putting a gun to Russia’s head. But non other than the NATO powers are the ones who are playing Russian Roulette.

NATO is at war against Russia. There can be no more pretense or illusions about NATO “not being a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, as Western leaders have been absurdly asserting for the past year. NATO missiles, drones and logistics have already been used to strike Russia. And by Russia, we don’t just mean the disputed territories of Crimea and Donbass, but the pre-war territory of the Russian Federation.

This week saw the NATO mania for war against Russia reach a fever pitch. NATO military leaders met in a series of well-publicized meetings in Europe that can only be described as war summits to plan the further escalation of conflict with Russia. The culmination was the gathering at the US Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday, at which pressure is mounting on Berlin to give the go-ahead for the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The meeting was opened by Ukrainian leaders alongside American military commanders demanding tanks and more heavy weaponry.

Laughably, the Americans are prevaricating about sending their M1 Abrams tanks, preferring instead for Germany, Britain, France, Poland, Finland and others to send theirs. The farcical wrangling encapsulates the U.S. colonialist attitude towards European allies who are too supine or stupid to complain. “Go ahead punks, make my day,” as Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry might say.

The U.S. is quite content for Europe to be turned into ashes and rebuild the continental wreck for the purpose of reviving redundant American capitalism, as in the aftermath of previous world wars.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. top military commander General Mark Milley met with Ukrainian counterpart Valery Zaluzhny to oversee the setting up of new training grounds for troops in Poland and Germany. Zaluzhny is an acolyte of the Ukrainian World War Two Nazi collaborator and mass murderer Stepan Bandera. The pairing between Milley and Zaluzhny can hardly be a better illustration of the nefarious nature of the U.S.-led axis pushing war against Russia. Western media don’t report this because its function is to hoodwink the Western public into cheerleading for war.

The relentless mobilization of the NATO bloc under U.S. leadership has finally reached a historic war footing against Russia. We can trace this ideology all the way back to the beginning of the Cold War following the defeat of Nazi Germany, but it certainly has accelerated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, followed by 9/11 and the U.S. imperial notion of full-spectrum dominance, and especially after the ignominious withdrawal of the NATO war machine from Afghanistan in August 2021.

All members of the 30-nation bloc are rushing weapons to the conflict in Ukraine. It is even reported that the United States is drawing down military stockpiles held in Israel and South Korea to augment firepower against Russia. Furthermore, Washington is now considering supporting strikes on Crimea which Moscow warned would be an extremely dangerous escalation towards all-out general war. Virtually all taboos have been shelved it seems, as the New York Times remarked this week.

The Western states appear to be driven by madmen who are willfully pushing the world to the brink of catastrophe. There are now open calls for the defeat of Russia and illogical demands for more weapons to Ukraine as a way of achieving peace. “Weapons are the way to peace,” declared Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s titular leader during the World Economic Forum for assorted global elites in Davos this week. “We have to prevent a stalemate,” intoned Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken and his British counterpart James Cleverly (how misnamed is the latter!).

Meanwhile, American, European and NATO leaders are calling for war crimes prosecutions against Russia.

There seems to be no room for any diplomacy or rationality. The NATO powers are doubling down on reckless demands that Russia is expelled from Crimea and the Donbass. What the NATO powers are really seeking is the defeat and conquest of Russia.

Russia was forced to intervene in Ukraine last February after all diplomatic efforts by Moscow were rejected. The NATO-backed covert war on the Russian people within the artificially created areas of Ukraine – a war that had been raging for eight years following the NATO-orchestrated coup in Kiev in 2014 – had to be put to an end by force. Hence Russia’s military intervention on February 24, 2022.

There is no way that Russia is going to cede the territories that have now become part of the Russian Federation following legally constituted referenda. But the war has been dragged out by NATO’s demonic weaponization and callous exploitation of Ukraine as a bridgehead against Russia. NATO leaders talk about “preventing a stalemate” by sending more weapons to prop up the NeoNazi Kiev regime. It is the United States and European states along with other allies who have striven to create a bloody quagmire in Ukraine in which lives are callously being destroyed.

The stakes are being made incredibly high by the United States and its imperialist minions. Make no mistake. Washington and its NATO stooges have embarked on a war of choice. Russia has every right to take military action against NATO members. Train tracks in Poland delivering Leopard tanks to Ukraine to kill Russian soldiers are legitimate targets. As are British servicemen maintaining Challenger tanks or British ships transporting them. Up to now, NATO has aggressed Russia with impunity. It is time to end the impunity and give Western warmongers pause for thought about their criminal conduct as one of our commentators noted this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this week said that Russia will eventually win the war in Ukraine to vanquish the NATO-backed NeoNazi regime. He was speaking, appropriately, on the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the Nazi siege on Leningrad (St Petersburg).

Other independent international military analysts, including Colonel Douglas Macgregor and Scott Ritter, agree that Russia will prevail in its objectives to render Ukraine demilitarized and remove the NATO-NeoNazi surrogate posing as a national security threat to Russia. The Western media in lockstep with imperialist ideologues have created a propaganda illusion that the Kiev regime can win if only it is supplied with more tanks and missiles. This is fomenting a disaster for Ukraine and potentially for world peace. Russia will not be defeated but the madcap warmongers are raising the stakes to the level of an existential crisis by demanding that Ukraine be made into a “defense line for freedom”.

Moscow again this week warned that if the Western powers insist on pursuing a general war with Russia, then the world is being pushed to the brink of nuclear destruction. This is not a threat. It is simply a statement of fact. Western leaders have become so deranged in their imperial arrogance, self-righteousness and Russophobia, they are beyond heeding sensible warnings. When they declare that war is being waged for the sake of peace and freedom and when diplomacy is vilified as a weakness then there is little hope for an imminent political solution.

The United States and its imperial surrogates have made war all but inevitable from their intransigence. They think they are putting a gun to Russia’s head.

Moscow needs to end this war in Ukraine decisively by eliminating the NATO-Kiev regime. The NATO powers are the ones who are playing Russian Roulette.

“Israeli” Settlers Storm Al-Aqsa Mosque, Perform Provocative Dances

January 20, 2023

By Staff, Agencies

Dozens of “Israeli” settlers stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East al-Quds [Jerusalem], in yet another provocative move against Palestinian worshipers.

Eyewitnesses told Maan news agency that the raid by the radical settlers was carried out under heavy protection from “Israeli” Occupations Forces [IOF] troops. They said the settlers raised “Israeli” flags and performed provocative dances inside the vicinity.

The IOF also deployed troops inside and around the mosque to secure the settlers’ intrusions, said the eyewitnesses.

The IOF also attacked scores of Palestinians, including young men, in the mosque’s courtyards through the Bab al-Amoud area and the Old City. They tried to force the Palestinians to leave the site to allow the colonizers to tour it, leading to protests.

Palestinian resistance movement Hamas called upon Palestinians from all walks of life to mobilize en masse, increase their presence at the mosque’s compound, and protect the sacred site against recurrent incursions by “Israeli” settlers.

“We hail the Palestinian people in occupied Palestinian territories and across the West Bank who stand steadfast against the ‘Israeli’ occupation violations and crimes,” it said in a statement.

Hamas also called on the Arab and Muslim Ummah, along with the free people of the world, to “support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and work toward protecting them against the ‘Israeli’ occupation’s violations.”

On Friday morning, thousands of Palestinian worshipers reached al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Friday prayers in its courtyards amid the strict “Israeli” measures. According to local news agencies, the number of Palestinians attending the prayers reached 75,000.

“Israeli” settler incursions into al-Aqsa Mosque have been on the rise in recent weeks in light of the arrival of a new far-right extremist regime led by the “Israeli” entity’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Such mass settler break-ins almost always take place at the behest of Tel Aviv-backed temple groups and under the auspices of the “Israeli” police in al-Quds [Jerusalem], leading to daily confrontations with Palestinians at the mosque, with many injured, arrested and killed.

The issue has been a major flashpoint between the “Israeli” occupation and Palestinians for decades. It was the epicenter of the 2000-2005 Palestinian Intifada, also known as the uprising.

HOW ELON MUSK IS AIDING THE US EMPIRE’S REGIME CHANGE OPERATION IN IRAN

JANUARY 17TH, 2023

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Alan Macleod

Elon Musk has announced that he is helping to smuggle hundreds of Starlink satellite communications devices into Iran. The South African-born billionaire made the admission on December 26, replying to a tweet lauding female Iranian protesters for refusing to cover their hair. “Approaching 100 Starlinks active in Iran”, he tweeted, clearly implying a political motivation to his work.

That Musk is involved in Washington’s attempts to weaken or overthrow the administration in Tehran has been clear for some months now. In September – at the height of the demonstrations following the suspicious death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the U.S. was “taking action” “to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people” and “to counter the Iranian government’s censorship,” to which Musk replied, “Activating Starlink…”

While this could be understood as a positive step, unfortunately, what Washington means by internet freedom and the free flow of information (as we at MintPress News have covered before) is nothing more than the liberty of the U.S. government to flood foreign countries with relentless pro-U.S. messaging.

Starlink is an internet service allowing those with terminals to directly connect to one of over 3,000 small satellites in low Earth orbit. Many of these satellites were launched by Musk’s SpaceX technologies company. Terminals are, in effect, small, portable satellite dishes that can be used by those in the near vicinity to skirt national government restrictions on communications and get online anywhere at any time.

The process of smuggling Starlinks into Iran has been far from easy – or cheap. Each terminal has cost more than $1000 to purchase and transport, as couriers have charged high premiums on the risky cargo. Nevertheless, some sources have suggested as many as 800 have made it over the border unscathed.

KEEPING UKRAINE FIGHTING

Musk’s Iran operation bears a striking resemblance to his actions earlier this year in Ukraine – another current top priority of the United States. In the aftermath of February’s Russian invasion, Musk garnered worldwide goodwill after declaring that he was “donating” thousands of Starlink terminals to Ukraine in order to keep the country online. However, these were inordinately given to the Ukrainian military and soon became the backbone of its efforts at stalling Russian advances. Ukraine’s hi-tech, Western-made weaponry relies upon online connections, the military using Starlink’s services for everything from thermal imaging, target acquisition and artillery strikes to Zoom calls.

With more than 20,000 terminals in operation, Starlink is, according to Western media, a “lifeline” and an “essential tool” without which Ukrainian resistance would have been broken. The government agrees; “SpaceX and Musk quickly react to problems and help us,” deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov said recently, adding that there is “no alternative” for his forces, other than Musk’s products.

A Starlink Antenna Covered With A Camouflage Net Stands In The Location Of A Unit Of The Armed Forces Of Ukraine
A Starlink antenna covered with a camouflage net in use by Ukrainian fighters in Donetsk, December 2022. Maxym Marusenko | NurPhoto via AP

It soon transpired, however, that Musk’s donation might not have been as generous as first thought. USAID – an American government agency that has frequently functioned as a regime-change organization – had quietly paid SpaceX top dollar to send what amounted to virtually their entire inventory of Starlinks to Ukraine.

In December, Fedorov said that more than 10,000 extra terminals would shortly be heading to his country. It is not clear who will pay for these, but it is known that, two months earlier, SpaceX and the U.S. government were in negotiations about funding for additional devices to be sent to Ukraine.

MUSK AND THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

While the controversial billionaire’s role in American regime change operations and proxy wars might surprise some, the reality is that, almost from the very beginning of his career, Elon Musk has enjoyed extremely close connections to the U.S. national security state.

The Central Intelligence Agency was integral to both the birth and the growth of SpaceX. Of particular importance in the company’s story is Michael Griffin, the former president and chief operating officer of the CIA’s venture capitalist wing, In-Q-Tel. In-Q-Tel was established to identify individuals and businesses that could work with or for the CIA, with the goal of maintaining the U.S. national security state’s technological edge vis-à-vis its opponents.

Griffin was an early believer in Musk, calling him a future “Henry Ford” of the rocket industry. So strong was Griffin’s desire to get the South African on board that in early 2002 (even before SpaceX had been founded) he accompanied him on a trip to Moscow in order to purchase intercontinental ballistic missiles from Russian authorities – a fact that, in today’s geopolitical reality, beggars belief.

Musk’s attempts to buy Russian rockets failed, and for many years, it appeared likely that SpaceX would be a giant flop. In 2006, the company was in difficult financial waters and was still years away from making a successful launch. But Griffin – who by this time was head of NASA – took a huge “gamble” in his own words, his organization awarding SpaceX with a $396 million contract.

Nevertheless, even this giant cash injection was not enough to stop the company hemorrhaging money. By 2008, Musk thought it likely that both SpaceX and his electric vehicle business, Tesla, would both go under. Fortunately, SpaceX was saved again by an unexpected $1.6 billion check from NASA.

Thanks to the government’s largesse, SpaceX has grown into a behemoth, employing around 11,000 people. Yet, its ties to the U.S. national security state remain as close as ever. The corporation’s primary clients are the military and other government agencies, who have paid billions of dollars to have their spy satellites and other hi-tech equipment blasted into orbit. In 2018, for example, SpaceX won a contract to deliver a $500 million Lockheed Martin GPS system into space. Although spokesmen were keen to play up the civilian benefits of the satellite, it is clear that its primary purposes were military and surveillance.

SpaceX has also won contracts with the Air Force to deliver its command satellite into orbit, with the Space Development Agency to send tracking devices into space, and with the National Reconnaissance Office to launch its spy satellites. These satellites are used by all of the “big five” surveillance agencies, including the CIA and the NSA.

This collaboration has only been growing of late. Documents obtained by The Intercept showed that the Pentagon envisages a future in which Musk’s rockets will be used to deploy a military “quick reaction force” anywhere in the world. The Department of Defense has also partnered with SpaceX in order to explore the possibility of blasting supplies into space and back to Earth, rather than flying them through the air, thereby allowing the U.S. to act faster worldwide than ever before.

And in December, SpaceX announced a new business line called Starshield, an explicitly military hardware brand that CNBC reported would be focussed on securing big money Pentagon contracts. The brand’s new motto is “supporting national security.”

Therefore, Musk and his organization can be said to be cornerstones of both the global surveillance program that individuals like Edward Snowden warned us about, and crucial to the United States’ ability to carry out endless global warfare.

IRAN IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Ever since the revolution of 1979 that deposed the American-backed shah, Iran has been a prime target of U.S. regime change. A 2012 report from the National Endowment for Democracy explains that the U.S. is involved in a “competition” to promote color revolutions (i.e. regime change operations) in Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Iran and other countries, while those governments seek to prevent them.

Iran has been the subject of international attention since September and the death of Mahsa Amini. Amini had been detained by Iranian authorities for not wearing a headscarf correctly. Very quickly, Western media began claiming that she had been beaten to death, an accusation that sparked nationwide protests.

Iranian authorities released footage of Amini’s collapse and medical records suggesting that she had an ongoing serious brain condition, and announced they were reviewing their policy of mandatory headcovers for women. Yet even as protests continued, they were overtaken by much more violent confrontations between authorities and Kurdish separatist movements, with Western media not caring to differentiate between them.

Twitter was crucial in drawing the world’s attention to Iran. The platform’s moderators put news of the protests on its “What’s Happening” sidebar, alerting users around the world to them. Pro-demonstration and anti-government hashtags were also boosted across Western countries to a remarkable degree. According to the Twitter Trending Archive, on September 18 alone, there were 1.6 million tweets from American users using the Farsi-language Amini hashtag (#مهسا_امینی). This total was beaten two days later when over 2 million tweets were sent using that hashtag, making it by far the most used in the United States that month.

Mahsa Amini Twitter graph
On Sep. 19, 2022 alone, US-based users supposedly generated 1.6 million tweets in Farsi with the hashtag: #مهسا_امینی (Mahsa Amini).

In Israel, however, the astroturfing was turned up to 11. In just four days between September 21 and September 24, accounts based in Israel sent over 43 million tweets about the protests – quite an achievement, given that only around 634,000 Israelis have a Twitter account – an average of 68 tweets per account.

Musk Kushner
Musk, center, stands next to the very pro-Israel Jared Kushner, left, during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, December 18, 2022. David Niviere | Sipa via AP Images

It is far from clear whether these huge displays of support from Western governments help or harm genuine activists in Iran. What is certain, however, is that Twitter and other big social media companies work closely with the U.S. government in order to advance attempts at regime change. Late last year, for instance, the Twitter Files revealed that the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) had given Twitter lists of dozens of accounts it operated as part of a psychological operations program against Iran, Syria, Yemen and across the Middle East. Twitter aided them in this process, whitelisting those accounts, protecting them from scrutiny and artificially boosting their reach. Many of these accounts, The Intercept reported, accused the Iranian government of lurid crimes, including flooding Iraq with crystal meth and harvesting the organs of Afghan refugees.

This is merely the latest episode in a long history of collaboration with U.S. authorities to destabilize Iran, however. In 2009, at the behest of Washington, Twitter postponed a scheduled site maintenance which would have required taking its platform offline. It did this because the U.S.-backed leaders of a large anti-government protest were using the app to coordinate. Meanwhile, in 2020, Twitter announced that it was partnering with the FBI, and that, at the bureau’s insistence, it had removed around 130 Iranian accounts from its platform.

In addition to the cyberwar, the U.S. government is also prosecuting an economic war on the country. American sanctions have severely hurt Iran’s ability to both buy and sell goods on the open market and have harmed the value of the Iranian rial. As prices and inflation rise rapidly, ordinary people have lost their savings. Even crucial goods like medical supplies are lacking, as Washington’s maximum pressure campaign makes sure to punish businesses that trade with Iran.

Despite this, the U.S. government has been very careful to ensure that big social media companies are not affected by the sanctions and continue to operate inside Iran – a fact that suggests that Washington sees them as a crucial tool in its arsenal. Indeed, even as the State Department was announcing new rounds of sanctions, supposedly in response to Tehran’s handling of the protests, it also revealed that it was taking steps to make sure Iran was opened up as much as possible to digital communications such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

BIG TECH AND BIG GOVERNMENT

On Iran, Silicon Valley has long collaborated with the national security state. After the Trump administration’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, big tech companies blocked any messages of support for the slain statesman, on the grounds that the Trump administration had declared him a terrorist. “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its leadership,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

This ban stood even for individuals inside Iran itself, where Soleimani was overwhelmingly popular. A University of Maryland study found that, even before he was turned into a martyr, more than 80% of the country saw Soleimani positively or very positively, making him the most admired figure in the country. This was because Soleimani and his IRGC were crucial in crushing terrorist groups like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front – a fact that Western media once frequently acknowledged. Yet Iranians were blocked from sharing majority opinions across social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp with other Iranians – even in Farsi – because of the proximity of big tech and big government.

Another indicator of how closely the national security state works with social media is the extraordinary number of former spooks and spies now work in the upper echelons of big tech corporations. Twitter itself is swarming with feds; a June MintPress study found dozens of former FBI agents working at Twitter, most of whom held influential positions in politically sensitive fields such as security, trust and safety, and content moderation. Also present at Twitter were a considerable number of ex-officials from the CIA or the Atlantic Council. Many of them directly left their jobs in government for roles at Twitter, suggesting that either the company is actively recruiting agents, or that the national security state is infiltrating social media in order to influence it.

In Part 7 of the recently-released Twitter Files, journalist Michael Shellenberger built upon this, noting that there were so many FBI agents working at Twitter that they had their own private communications channel on Slack. The former feds even created a translation cheat sheet so that agents could turn FBI jargon into its Twitter equivalent.

The FBI was instrumental in deciding what accounts to suppress and which to promote, sending the company lists of users to ban and demanding Twitter comply with its witch hunt against what it saw as an all pervasive network of Russian disinformation. When Twitter executives replied that, after investigating the FBI’s leads, they could find little to no evidence of a Russian operation of any note, the bureau became exasperated.

Thus, current FBI agents were sending information and orders to “former” feds working at Twitter in an attempt to control online speech worldwide – something that undermines the oft-quoted line that Twitter is a private company and therefore not subject to the First Amendment. It also raises profound national security questions for every other government in the world about whether they should allow a platform that is so obviously controlled by the U.S. national security state and used as a gigantic psychological operation to be available in their countries at all.

Despite this collaboration, the Twitter Files also revealed that the FBI bemoaned Twitter’s relative lack of compliance with their dictates in comparison to other big social media networks. Yet, while Musk himself has very publicly fired thousands of employees, it appears that relatively few of the spooks have been among those losing their jobs. Indeed, when asked point blankly last month “how many former FBI agents are currently employed at Twitter?” he responded with a bizarre non-answer, simply stating, “To be clear, I am generally pro-FBI, recognizing, of course, that no organization is perfect, including [the] FBI,” thereby ducking the question.

Twitter is far from alone in bringing in armies of state officials to decide what content the world sees and does not see, however. Both Facebook and Google have done the same thing, employing dozens if not hundreds of ex-CIA agents to run their internal affairs. Meanwhile, in April, a MintPress investigation uncovered what it termed a “NATO-to-TikTok pipeline”, whereby copious numbers of individuals associated with the military alliance had mysteriously changed careers to work for the video platform.

This relationship between the government and tech is far from new. In their 2013 book, “The New Digital Age,” then Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen (both of whom left top national security state jobs to work for Google), wrote about how companies like theirs were fast becoming the U.S. empire’s most potent weapon in retaining Washington’s control over the modern world. As they said, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.” Indeed, writers like Yasha Levine have argued that Silicon Valley from its very beginning was a product of the U.S. military.

While it remains to be seen what impact sending hundreds of Starlinks into Iran will have, the intention of those involved is clear. Equally plain-to-see is that big tech is not a liberatory force in modern society but is a critical weapon in the U.S.’ regime change arsenal. And while Musk continues to present himself as a renegade outsider, he has a very long history of working closely with the security state. This Iran operation is merely the latest example.

Europe’s gas emergency: A continent hostage to seller prices

January 16 2023

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Europe’s reliance on Russian gas imports has been upended by sanctions against Moscow. With few options for practical alternatives, the continent will remain energy-dependent and financially-vulnerable regardless of who it imports from.
Photo Credit: The Cradle

Mohammad Hasan Sweidan

The 2022 outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine revealed the importance of energy security in bolstering Moscow’s geopolitical power in Europe. The continent, which imported about 46 percent of its gas needs from Russia in 2021, found itself in a vulnerable position as it sought alternative sources.

This presented an opportunity for the US to replace Russia and become the primary supplier of natural gas to Europe at significantly higher prices, resulting in large profits at the expense of its European allies. According France-based data and analytics firm, Kpler, in 2022 the EU imported 140 billion cubic meters (BCM) of liquefied natural gas (LNG), an increase of 55 BCM from the previous year.

Around 57.4 BCM of this amount (41 percent) now comes from the US, an increase of 31.8 BCM, 29 BCM from Africa (20.7 percent) – mainly from Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria and Angola – 22.3 BCM from Russia (16 percent), 19.8 BCM from Qatar (14 percent), 4.1 BCM from Latin America (2.92 percent) – mainly from Trinidad and Tobago – and 3.37 BCM from Norway (2.4 percent).

In 2022, France was the leading importer of LNG in Europe, accounting for 26.23 percent of total imports. Other significant importers included Spain (22.3 percent), the Netherlands (12.65 percent), Italy (11 percent), and Belgium (10.42 percent).

These countries, along with Poland (4.7 percent), Greece (2.9 percent), and Lithuania (2.31 percent), imported over 90 percent of LNG exported to Europe at prices higher than Russian pipeline gas. It is worth noting that upon arrival, LNG is converted back to its gaseous state at receiving stations in Europe before being distributed to countries without such infrastructure, such as Germany.

Switching dependencies

Europe was able to reduce its reliance on Russian pipeline gas from 46 percent to 10 percent last year. This decrease, however, came at a high cost to the economy, as the price of gas rose to $70 per million British thermal units (Btu), up from $27 before the Ukraine war. By the end of the year, the price had fallen to $36, compared to $7.03 in the US.

This price disparity has been hard to stomach. French President Emmanuel Macron went public with his annoyance: “American gas is 3-4 times cheaper on the domestic market than the price at which they offer it to Europeans,” criticizing what he called “American double standards.”

High gas prices have made Europe an appealing destination for gas exporters from around the world, with increased interest from countries such as Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, UAE, Iran, Libya, Algeria, and those bordering the Mediterranean basin, as they either export gas, or possess gas but lack infrastructure.

To replace the cheaper Russian pipeline gas, European countries are being forced to seek out the more expensive LNG. The EU and Britain are working to increase LNG import capacity by 5.3 billion cubic feet (BCF) per day by the end of 2023, and by 34 percent, or 6.8 BCF per day, by 2024.

Can West Asia, North Africa meet Europe’s gas needs?

The West Asia and North Africa region has the potential to partially meet Europe’s gas needs due to its geographic proximity and the presence of countries with large gas reserves and export infrastructure, such as Palestine/Israel, Algeria, and Egypt. However, there are several obstacles that must be considered.

For example, Egypt’s high production costs and increasing domestic consumption limit its export capacity. Additionally, Europe would need to be willing to pay a higher price than the Asian market for Egyptian gas.

Israel, on the other hand, has seen an increase in gas exports to Europe in the first half of 2022 after the pipeline to Egypt via Jordan was restored in March, but it is unlikely to significantly increase exports in 2023 due to factors such as limited export capacity and high domestic consumption. Experts predict that Israel may export around 10 BCM of gas to Europe this year, similar to the amount exported in 2022.

Qatar is the only Persian Gulf emirate that has increased its gas exports to Europe for 2022. This is largely because Persian Gulf countries prefer to sell their gas to Asian markets, where they can garner higher profits due to lower shipping costs and longer-term contracts.

Last year, Qatar took advantage of the significant increase in gas prices to sell part of its shipments on the European spot market. According to the Qatari Minister of Energy, between 10 percent and 15 percent of Qatar’s production can be diverted to this market.

However, it may be difficult for Europe to attract Qatari gas away from the Asian market, especially as China is expected to recover its demand for gas in 2023. In a policy home-goal, western sanctions on Iran, which has the second-largest natural gas reserves in the world, impede the investment needed to increase Iranian production.

No real alternatives

Iran’s lack of infrastructure connecting it to Europe and high domestic consumption also affect its export capacity. According to a report by BP, Iran produced 257 BCM of gas in 2021, of which 241.1 BCM were consumed domestically.

With regards to Algeria, the main obstacle in increasing its gas exports to Europe is political tension with Morocco and Spain that led to the suspension of the Moroccan-European gas pipeline project, which can export 10.3 billion cubic meters of Algerian gas.

In the case of the UAE, despite having the seventh-largest proven natural gas reserves in the world, its production is not sufficient to meet the demands of the local market and it imports a third of its gas consumption from Qatar through an undersea pipeline. European countries are currently in talks with Abu Dhabi to accelerate work on gas projects and increase production.

As for Saudi Arabia, it consumes all of its gas production domestically and does not export any, with a total production of 117.3 BCM in 2021. There are also expectations for a significant increase in the demand for oil and coal in 2023. The World Bank reports that this is due to an increase in European countries’ reliance on these fossil fuels instead of natural gas. This increase in demand will keep oil prices high, allowing Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ members to make large profits.

The dilemma of growing demand

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that global demand for natural gas will increase to 394 BCM this year, driven in part by Europe’s need to diversify its sources of gas away from Russia. And West Asia, with its significant reserves, remains a key region for Europe to tap into for this purpose.

The challenge remains in finding cost-effective ways to transport the gas from the region to Europe, which will necessitate building a pipeline connecting the Mediterranean Basin to the Old Continent.

Failure to do so will result in Europe continuing to pay a high premium for its energy security without achieving true independence. The alternative for Europe is to rely on LNG from the US. This gives Europe almost complete independence from Russian gas, but keeps it weak, obedient, and dependent on American energy supplies.

U.S. Jackals Smelling Blood i.e. a Prohibitively Huge Potential for Profit in the Russian Arctic

January 13, 2023

Source

Natasha Wright

The Russian military industry in 2022 switched to the unprecedented work pace to be able to deliver the needed weaponry for the special military operation. At the same time, the hard work on prospective patterns of armament, which is mercifully not used at present yet.

On 1 December 2022, the President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed the new law pertinent to the internal seas of the Russian Federation, which in practice limits the freedom of navigation and even forbids foreign military and civil ships from entering and seafaring in the Northern Sea route. We shall illustrate the reasons as to why action was put in place and what its consequences may be in the near future. In line with the new amendments to this law in the Northern Sea route, which is 5500 km in length, no foreign military or civil ship nor any other foreign country vessel will be allowed to be present without the prior special permission issued by the Russian Federation. In order that Russia issues an official permit, one needs to submit an official request but there is no guarantee that the permission will be issued within the 90 days. Even the permissions already issued can be revoked at any point. All the foreign ships must navigate in the Russian Arctic region under their own national flag and foreign submarines must navigate on the sea surface only. This literally means the embargo on foreign military presence in the Northern Sea route due to a huge number of military and civil facilities being built there. In introducing special seafaring and navigation supervision and controls, Russia will lessen the environmental risks as well. Yet, from the looks of things, the Americans do not seem to recognize these newly introduced bans. Kenneth Braithwaite, U.S. Secretary of the Navy stated that in accordance with the adopted doctrine, the Pentagon will shortly commence with the routine patrolling of the Arctic in close proximity to the Russian coastline in polar geographical widths so as to impede the Russian advance to the furthermost North or even make them impossible. Does that mean that the Russian American conflict is inevitable in the short run? And what can we expect in that case?

History repeats itself

Before passing these amendments to the law recently, the Russian Ministry of Defence and FSB had made a detailed plan to prevent the provocations in the Northern Sea Route. It is believed that the Americans will try to cause or provoke environmental catastrophes. Routine scouting and regular investigations will be increased so as to prevent these incidents or possible disasters. Weapons of destruction will be deployed and increased patrolling frequency will be in place if needs be and in case the territorial waters are endangered, practical actions will be put to good use for its utmost protection and defense. The incident in the Black Sea, normally referred to as the Black Sea Bumping Incident, which happened in 1988 can help us try to imagine what future incidents these might be like. The Americans at the time during the Cold War did not respect the sea borders of the then USSR even in 1986 near the Crimea when Gorbachev appears to have been there but back then the Soviets only warned that the next incursion would not go unpunished. Sadly, the USA would persistently carry out incursions and dangerously manuouver in the Soviet territorial waters in order to investigate the USSR military facilities but under the pretext of their right of innocent passage.

On 12 February 1988, U.S. cruise ship Yorktown and the destroyer Caron performed a gross violation of the then Soviet territorial waters by merely believing they had the right of exercising innocent passage. The Soviet Patrol ships Bezzavetnyy SKR 6 did not have the permission to open fire but they performed a so-called ‘deliberate crash’ with the uninvited guests regardless of them being of much smaller dimensions by displacement. After being shouldered by the Soviet Mirka frigate class frigate, Yorktown suffered huge damage and complete with the U.S. destroyer Caron left the troubled territorial waters in question. Both U.S. warships stayed on even course afterwards and left Soviet territorial waters for the international ones without further incidents. But anybody with longstanding military experience and expertise could confirm that it must have involved an elaborate chain of command and the decision to engage in this provocative mission was most probably taken at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

For those who tend to think that the Russian seamen are not willing nor ready to repeat this superb bravado, let us remind you that on 12th February 2022, exactly 34 years after the bumping incident in the Black Sea, U.S. nuclear submarine entered the Russian territorial waters in the region of the Kuril islands, in the Russian Sakhalin region, and after ignoring the Russian request to leave the area, Marshal Shaposhnikov Frigate resorted to a number of extreme means and measures, which got the Americans to run for the ‘hills’ in despair. Why were the U.S. ships engaged in a risky penetration of Soviet territorial waters at a particularly sensitive time in the Soviet U.S. relations and why again on the very same date after 34 years? Regrettably, this will most probably not be the last incident of this sort.

Fancy reading about these newest Russian beasts of warfare? 

The Russian military industry in 2022 switched to the unprecedented work pace to be able to deliver the needed weaponry for the special military operation. At the same time, the hard work on prospective patterns of armament, which is mercifully not used at present yet. The most impressive novelties in 2022 are as follows:

In April last year the trial on the newest intercontinental ballistic missile was carried out for the first time RS 28 Sarmat is the Russian strategic rocket system of the 5th generation based in the land silo. It is supposed to replace the obsolete Soviet missiles 36 M 2 Duke. While designing the new rocket, the Russian engineers did not place an emphasis on the maximum weight of its warheads but on the protection against the anti rocket defense devices

Sarmat 200 tonnes in weight equipped with hypersonic warheads, avangarde blocks, which cannot be intercepted by no existent anti air defense system and 18 000 km which makes the attacks on enemies possible from any direction, which complicates the odbijanje napada. It is a known fact that the Russians produce Sarmats in a serial production, which are already in place in the rocket divisions in the Siberian and the Ural regions. In 2022 the additional armament of two rocket divisions was completed with the mobile rocket systems YARS.

The Russian military Navy on 8th July 2022 got a nuclear submarine for special purposes by the name Belgorod. Its main assignment is to transfer nuclear unmanned torpedo Poseydon, which can have both conventional, non-conventional and nuclear charge. Poseydon is the continuation of the work of the academic Saharov from the Soviet hydrogen bomb who used to suggest that these torpedos should be permanently positioned on the bottom of the U.S. East Coast. In case of a war the explosion by way of new bombs a gigantic radioactive tsunami would rise who would literally wipe out the most heavily populated region of the USA off the face of the Earth. Poseydon has one great advantage. It is completely invisible and undetectable because it has an unlimited range of activity because of its nuclear fuel and high velocity of movement. This unmanned device is capable of lying down on the sea bottom and in being so invisible, waiting for the command for any further actions.

At the beginning of October 2022, Belgorod set off on a journey towards the Kara Sea when it vanished from NATO radars and thus caused great disturbance in the main stream media in the West. After two weeks, Belgorod returned to the base. It remains a mystery still where it was and what it did during that time.

Su – 57M

Modernized, multirole fighter Su – 57M performed its first flight on 21 October.

During that successful flight the new cabin equipment was checked and tested and its modernized version has a new engine with the stronger propulsion so as to achieve the desired height and velocity due to which it gained in its end flight range. Its engine has a low thermic perceptibilty, which significantly lowers the possibility of interception. The modernized Su – 57M testing will last for a few more years. In general, Russia is rapidly working on the newest types of weapons and in the given context of this new conflict with NATO the armament process will be at an accelerated speed.

The 2023 War – ‘Setting the Theatre’

January 13, 2023

Source

Alastair Crooke

The China-Russia axis are lighting the fires of a structural insurrection against the West across much of the Rest of World. Its fires are aimed at ‘boiling the frog slowly’

A top US Marine General, James Bierman, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, explained in a moment of candour how the US is “setting the theatre” for possible war with China, whilst casually admitting as an aside, how US defence planners had been busy inside Ukraine years ago, “earnestly preparing” for war with Russia — even down to the “pre-positioning of supplies”, identifying sites from which the US might operate support, and sustain operations. Simply put, they were there,readying the battle space for years.

No surprise really, as such military responses flow directly from the core US strategic decision to actuate the 1992 ‘WolfowitzDoctrine’ that the US must plan and preemptively act, to disable any potential Great Power — well before it reaches the point at which it can rival or impair US hegemony.

NATO today has progressed to war with Russia in a battlespace, which in 2023, may or may not stay limited to Ukraine. Simply put the point is that the shift to ‘War’ (whether incremental or not) marks a fundamental transition from which there is no going back to ab initio — ‘war economies’ in essence, are structurally different to the ‘normal’ from which the West began, and to which it has grown accustomed over recent decades. A war society — even if only partly mobilised — thinks and acts structurally differently from peacetime society.

War is not about gentlemanly conduct… either. Empathy for others is its first casualty — the latter being a requirement for sustaining a fighting spirit.

Yet, the carefully curated fiction in Europe and the US continues that nothing really has, or will ‘change’: we are in a temporary ‘blip’. That’s all.

Zoltan Pozsar, the influential finance ‘oracle’ at Credit Suisse, has already made the point in his latest War and Peace essay (subscription only) that War is well underway – by simply listing the events of 2022:

  • The G7’s financial blockade of Russia (The West setting the battle space)
  • Russia’s energy blockade of the EU (Russia begins setting its theatre)
  • The U.S.’s technology blockade of China (America pre-positioning of sites to sustain operations)
  • China’s naval blockade of Taiwan, (China demonstrating preparedness)
  • The U.S.’s “blockade” of the EU’s EV sector with the Inflation Reduction Act. (The US defence planners preparing for future ‘supply-lines)
  • China’s “pincer movement” around all of OPEC+ with the growing trend of invoicing oil and gas sales in renminbi. (The Russia-China ‘Commodity Battlespace’).

This list amounts to one major geo-political ‘upset’ occurring, on average, every two months — moving the world decisively away from the so-called ‘normal’ (for which so many in the Consuming Class ardently yearn) to an intermediate state of War.

Pozsar’s list shows that the tectonic plates of geo-politics are seriously ‘on the move’ — shifts, which are accelerating and becoming ever more intertwined, yet that still remain far from arriving at any settled place. ‘War’ will likely be a major disruptor (at the very least), until some equilibrium is established. And that may take some years.

Ultimately, ‘War’ does make its impact on the conventional public mindset — albeit slowly. It seems to be fear of the impact on an unprepared mindset that is behind the decision to prolong Ukraine’s suffering, and thus trigger the War of 2023: An admission of failure in Ukraine is seen to risk spooking volatile western markets (i.e. higher interest rates for longer). And frank-talking represents a hard option for a western world — used to ‘easy decisions’, and ‘can kicking’ — to take.

Pozsar, being a finance guru, understandably is focussed in his essay on finance. But conceivably, the reference to Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics and Crashes is therefore not whimsical, but included as a hint to the possible ‘hit’ to the conventional psyche.

In any event, Pozsar leaves us four key economic takeaways (with brief comments added):

  1. War is history’s principle driver of inflation, and the bankruptcy for states. (Comment: war-driven inflation and Quantitative Tightening (QT) enacted to fight inflation, are policies working in radical opposition to each other. Central Banks’ role attenuates to supporting war needs — at the expense of other variables – in wartime.
  2. War implies an effective and expandable industrial capacity for producing weapons (rapidly), which, in itself, requires secure supply-lines to feed that capacity. (A quality which the West no longer possesses, and which is costly to recreate);
  3. Commodities which often serve as collateral to loans become scarce – and with that scarcity, show up as commodity ‘inflation’;
  4. And finally, War cuts new financial channels i.e. “the m-CBDC Bridge project” (see here).

The point needs underlining again: War creates different financial dynamics and shapes a different psyche. More importantly, ‘War’ is not a stable phenomenon. It can start with petty tit-for-tat strikes on a rival’s infrastructure and then — with every incremental ‘mission creep’ — slip along the curve towards full war. NATO is not just mission creeping in its war on Russia, it is mission jogging — fearing a Ukraine humiliation in the wake of the earlier Afghanistan débacle.

The EU hopes to halt that slide well short of full war. It is nonetheless a very slippery slope. The point of War is to inflict pain and attrit your enemy. To this extent it is open to mutation. Formal sanctions and caps on energy quickly metamorphose into the sabotage of pipelines or the seizure of tankers.

Russia and China however, are certainly not naïve, and have been busy setting their own theatre, ahead of a potential wider clash with NATO.

China and Russia can now claim to have built a strategic relationship, not only with OPEC+, but with Iran and key gas producers.

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela account for about 40% of the world’s proven oil reserves, and each of them are currently selling oil to China for renminbi at a steep discount. GCC countries account for another 40% of proven oil reserves — and are being courted by China to accept renminbi for their oil — in exchange for transformative investments.

This is a significant new battlespace being readied — ending Dollar hegemony through boiling the frog slowly.

The contesting party made the initial strike, sanctioning half of OPEC with those 40% of the world’s oil reserves. That thrust failed: the Russian economy survived — and unsurprisingly — the sanctions ‘lost’ those states to Europe, ‘handing them’ over instead to China.

China meanwhile is courting the other half of OPEC with an offer that is hard to refuse: “Over the next “three to five years”, China will not only pay for more oil in renminbi – but more significantly, ‘will pay’ with new investments in downstream petrochemical industries in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC more broadly. It will, in other words, build out the successor generation economy” for these fossil fuel exporters whose energy sell-by date approaches.

The key point here is that in the future, much more ‘value-added’ (in the course of production) will be captured locally — at the expense of industries in the West. Pozsar cheekily calls this: “Our commodity, your problem… Our commodity, our emancipation”. Or, in other words, the China-Russia axis are lighting the fires of a structural insurrection against the West across much of the Rest of World.

Its fires are aimed at ‘boiling the frog slowly’ — not just that of the dollar hegemony, but also that of a now uncompetitive western economy.

Emancipation? Yes! Here is the crux: China is receiving Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan energy at a big 30% discount.Meanwhile, Europe still gets energy for its industry — but only at a big mark-up. In short, more, and occasionally all, product added-value will be captured by cheap-energy ‘friendly’ states, at the expense of the uncompetitive ‘unfriendlies’.

“China – the nemesis – paradoxically has been a big exporter of high mark-up Russian LNG to Europe, and India a big exporter of high mark-up Russian oil and refined products such as diesel – to Europe. We should expect more [of this in the future] across more products – and invoiced not just in euros and dollars, but also renminbi, dirhams, and rupees’ ‘, Poszar suggests.

It may not look so obvious, but it is a financial war. If the EU is content to take the ‘easy way’ out of its fall into uncompetitiveness (via subsidies to allow for high-mark-up imports), then as Napoleon once remarked when observing an enemy making a mistake: Observe silence!

For Europe, this means much less domestic production – and more inflation — as price inflating alternatives are imported from the East. The West taking the ‘easy decision’ (since its renewable strategy has not been well thought through), likely will find the arrangement to be at the expense of growth in the West — a course prefiguring a weaker West, in the near future.

The EU will be particularly hard-hit. It has elected to become dependent on US LNG, just at the moment that production from US shale fields has peaked, with what output there is likely ear-marked to the US domestic market.

Thus, as general Bierman outlined how the US prepared the battlespace in Ukraine, Russia and China and the BRICS planners have been busy setting their own ‘theater’.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like it ‘is’: Europe’s stumble towards calamity reflects an embedded psychology of the Western ruling élite. There is no strategic reasoning, nor ‘hard-decisions’ being taken in the West at all. It is all narcissistic Merkelism (hard decisions postponed, and then ‘fudged’ through subsidy handouts). Merkelism is so called after Angela Merkel’s reign at the EU, where fundamental reform was invariably postponed.

There is no need for thinking-things-through, or for hard decisions, when leaders are held by the unshakable conviction that the West IS the centre of the Universe. It is sufficient to postpone, awaiting the inexorable to unfold itself.

The recent history of US-led forever-wars is further evidence of this western lacuna: These zombie wars drag on for years with no plausible justification, only to be unceremoniously dropped. The strategic dynamics were easier suppressed and forgotten however, when fighting insurgency wars — as opposed to fighting two well-armed, peer competitor-states.

The same dysfunctionality has been apparent in many slow-rolling western crises: Nevertheless, we persist… because protecting the fragile psychology of our leaders — and an influential sector of the public — takes precedence. The inability to countenance losing drives our élites to prefer sacrifice by their own people, rather than see their delusions exposed.

Hence, reality has to be abjured. So, we live a nebulous between-times — so much happening, but so little movement. Only when the outbreak of crisis can no longer be ignored — by even the MSM and Tech censors — might some real effort be made to address root causes.

This conundrum however, places a huge burden on the shoulders of Moscow and Beijing to manage the War escalation in a careful fashion — in face of a West for whom losing is intolerable.

A Moscow meeting shatters fantasies of a Syrian ‘confederation’

January 11 2023

Source

Photo Credit: The Cradle

Malek al-Khoury

The newly-initiated Syrian-Turkish rapprochement talks are headed in Damascus’ favor and the “Turkish concessions” derided by opponents are just the start, insiders tell The Cradle.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already abandoned his dream of “praying in the Umayyad Mosque” in Damascus. But sources say this will be swiftly followed by further concessions that will throw a wrench into the ambitions of Syria’s opposition factions.

An undivided Syria

There will be no “federalism” or “confederation” – western codewords for the break up of the Syrian state – at these talks, but rather a “Turkish-Russian” acceptance of Damascus’ conditions.

For starters, Ankara plans to open the strategic M4 highway – which runs parallel to the Turkish border and connects all the vital Syrian cities and regions – as a prelude to opening the legal border crossings between Syria and Turkiye, which will re-establish trade routes between the two countries.

This move, based on an understanding between Damascus and Ankara, will essentially close the door on any opposition fantasies of breaking Syria into statelets, and will undermine the “Kurdish-American divisive ambition.”

It is not for nothing that Washington has sought to thwart communications between Ankara and Damascus. Under the guise of “fighting ISIS,” the US invested heavily in Syrian separatism, replacing the terror group with “Kurdish local forces” and reaped the rewards in barrels of stolen Syrian oil to help mitigate the global energy crisis.

Now Turkiye has closed the door to that ‘federalization’ plan.

A Russian-backed proposal

The Syrian-Turkish talks in Moscow on 28 December focused mainly on opening and establishing the necessary political, security, and diplomatic channels – a process initiated by their respective defense ministers.

While resolving the myriad thorny files between the two states is not as easy as the optimists would like, it is also nowhere as difficult as the fierce opponents of rapprochement try to suggest.

The Moscow discussions centered on mild, incremental solutions proposed by Russia. The Kremlin understands that the minefield between Ankara and Damascus needs to be dismantled with cold minds and hands, but insists that the starting point of talks is based on the political formulas of the Astana peace process that all parties have already accepted.

On the ground, Moscow is busy marketing satisfactory security settlements for all, though those on the battlefield appear to be the least flexible so far. The Russian plan is to “present security formulas to the military,” intended to be later translated into the integration of forces – whether Kurdish fighters or opposition militants – into the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

This will be achieved via committees led by both Syrian and Turkish intelligence services, a Russian source involved in coordinating the talks tells The Cradle.

Occupied areas of Syria, in 2023

Co-opting the Kurds

The Russian proposals, according to the source, rely on two past successful models for reconciliation on the battlefield. The first is the “Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood model in northern Aleppo,” an area once controlled by Kurdish forces who began to coordinate with the SAA after the sweeping 2016 military operation that expelled opposition militants from the eastern neighborhoods of the city.

The Russian source says that the “Sheikh Maqsoud” model succeeded because of “security coordination,” revealing that “Syrian state security is deployed at the entrances to the neighborhood with checkpoints that coordinate with the Kurdish forces inside – in every way, big and small.” This security coordination includes “arresting criminally wanted persons, and facilitating administrative and service services” in coordination with Damascus.

The second reconciliation model used by Russian forces in Syria succeeded in bringing together the SAA and Sheikh Maqsoud Kurdish militias in a joint military maneuver conducted near the town of Manbij in the countryside of Aleppo last August.

While the Russian source confirms that the experience of “security coordination” between the SAA and the Kurdish forces was “successful,” he cautions that these models need “political arrangements” which can only be achieved by “an agreement in Astana on new provisions to the Syrian constitution, which give Kurds more flexibility in self-governance in their areas.”

Opposition amnesty

A parallel proposal revealed to The Cradle by a Turkish source, approaches ground solutions from a “confederation” angle, anathema to the Syrian authorities. According to him, “Damascus must be convinced of sharing power with the qualified factions of the (Turkish) National Army for that.”

While the Turkish proposal tried to move a step closer to Damascus’ aims, it seems that Russian mediation contributed to producing a new paradigm: This would be based on the tried-and-tested Syrian “military reconciliation” model used for years – namely, that opposition militants hand over their arms, denounce hostility to the state, and are integrated into the SAA.

Turkiye’s abandonment of its “demand to overthrow the regime” applies also to its affiliated military factions inside Syria, as the latter’s goals have dwindled to preserving some areas of influence in the north of the country. This is the current flavor of Turkiye’s reduced “confederation” ambitions: To maintain Turkish-backed factions within “local administrations” in northern areas where Turkiye has influence. This, in return for giving up on Ankara’s political ambition of “regime change” in Damascus and redrawing Syria’s northern map.

The solution here will require amending the Syrian constitution, a process that began several years ago to no avail.

From the Syrian perspective, officials are focused on eliminating all opposing separatist or terrorist elements who do not have the ability to adapt to a “unified” Syrian society.

Therefore, Damascus rejects military reconciliation proposals for any “sectarian” separatist or factional militias. Syrian officials reiterate that “the unity of the lands and the people” is the only gateway to a solution, away from the foreign interests that promote “terrorism or secession” – a reference to the Turkish and American role in Syria’s war.

Reconciliation on Damascus’ terms

There is no “confederation” in the dictionary of the Syrian state, and it is determined to stick hard to the principle of Syrian unity until the end. Damascus is intent on one goal: Reconciliations based on surrendering arms in the countryside of Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, Hasakah, Qamishli, and al-Tanf, which are the areas that are still outside the control of the state.

According to the Turkish source, Syria refused to discuss anything “outside the framework of reconciliations and handing over weapons and regions,” which he says “makes it difficult for Ankara to undertake its mission,” especially in light of the fact that the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front controls large parts of these target areas.

A Syrian source tells The Cradle that the “Qamishli model” of military reconciliation is the closest one that applies to this case: Wherein “the SAA and national defense forces (the majority of which are pro-Damascus Kurds) coordinate fully.”

He makes clear that Damascus has already provided ample self-governance mechanisms for Kurds in the country’s north:

“The (Kurdish-run) Autonomous Administration in Syria already exists. It deals directly with Syria’s Ministry of Local Administration (in Damascus) and has multiple agencies that work through local representative councils to implement government plans in terms of security, tax collection, and services,” and of course it consists of the people of the region – Kurds.

The recent statement of top Erdogan advisor Yassin Aktay may throw a wrench in those works. His insistence that Turkiye should maintain control over the city of Aleppo – Syria’s second most populous, and its industrial heart – did not come out of nowhere.

Ankara considers that its repatriation of three million Syrian refugees should start from “local administrations run by the (Turkish-backed) Syrian National Army (a rebranded version of the opposition ‘Free Syrian Army),” says the Turkish source.

He is referring to Idlib, Aleppo, and their countrysides, and the areas in which Turkiye launched its “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” military operations. These locales in Syria’s north include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo, including Azaz, Jarabulus, al-Bab, Afrin, and its environs.

Turkiye may consider gradually handing over these strategic zones to its allied Syrian militias, he says.

“Call it confederation or not, these areas should be controlled by the Syrian National Army factions instead of the Al-Nusra Front – in order to ensure the safe return of the refugees.”

Steady progress

In short, the Russian mediation to bring Damascus and Ankara closer is moving slowly, but according to the Turkish source, “it is closer to reconciliation because the Syrian Ministry of Local Administration is beginning to take charge of regional affairs after holding new local council elections – in compliance with plans forged in the Astana process.”

Regarding Astana, the Turkish source says, “Let the Syrians treat the Kurdish and opposition areas as one, if the Kurds agree to dismantle their factions and join the Syrian army within a certain equation, the opposition factions will also accept.”

Regarding the complicated geopolitics of Syria’s east – currently occupied by US troops and their proxies – a high-ranking Syrian official who recently visited Saudi Arabia and Cairo, proposed “Arab intervention with the Syrian tribes to disengage tribe members in the Al-Tanf region from the US forces.” But according to the official, this would be subject to “the progress of relations between Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo, and possibly even Jordan.”

A few days ago, a video message was sent by Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani, in which he thundered: “Where are the armies of the Muslims?” It is a topical message from Al Qaeda’s Syria boss, who is angling to maintain his sectarian “area of ​​influence” in northwest Syria – strategic Idlib on the Turkish-Syrian border. Julani’s destructive narrative may be the last barrier to break for Damascus, Ankara, and Moscow to strike a deal on the ground.

WHY IS THE WEST LAMENTING THE END OF ‘LIBERAL’ ISRAEL?

JANUARY 6TH, 2023

Source

By Ramzy Baroud

Even before the new Israeli government was officially sworn in on December 29, angry reactions began emerging, not only among Palestinians and other Middle Eastern governments but also among Israel’s historic allies in the West.

As early as November 2, top US officials conveyed to Axios that the Joe Biden Administration is “unlikely to engage with Jewish supremacist politician, Itamar Ben-Gvir.”

In fact, the US government’s apprehensions surpassed Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by Israel’s own court in 2007 for supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism.

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly “hinted” that the US government would also boycott “other right-wing extremists” in Netanyahu’s government.

However, these strong concerns seemed absent from the congratulatory statement by the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, on the following day. Nides relayed that he had “congratulated (Netanyahu) on his victory and told him that I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond” between the two countries.

In other words, this ‘unbreakable bond’ is stronger than any public US concern regarding terrorism, extremism, fascism, and criminal activities.

Ben-Gvir is not the only convicted criminal in Netanyahu’s government. Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was convicted of tax fraud in early 2022 and in 2000, he served a prison sentence for accepting bribes when he held the position of interior minister.

Bezalel Smotrich is another controversial character whose anti-Palestinian racism has dominated his political persona for many years.

While Ben-Gvir has been assigned the post of national security minister, Deri has been entrusted with the ministry of interior and Smotrich with the ministry of finance.

Palestinians and Arab countries are rightly angry because they understand that the new government is likely to sow more violence and chaos.

With many of Israel’s sinister politicians in one place, Arabs know that Israel’s illegal annexation of parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is back on the agenda; and that incitement against Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem, coupled with raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque will exponentially increase in the coming weeks and months. And, expectedly, the push for the construction and expansion of illegal settlements is likely to grow, as well.

These are not unfounded fears. Aside from the very racist and violent statements and actions by Netanyahu and his allies in recent years, the new government has already declared that the Jewish people have “exclusive and inalienable rights to all parts of the Land of Israel,” promising to expand settlements while distancing itself from any commitments to establishing a Palestinian State, or even engaging in any ‘peace process.’

But while Palestinians and their Arab allies have been largely consistent in recognizing extremism in the various Israeli governments, what excuse do the US and the West have in failing to recognize that the latest Netanyahu-led government is the most rational outcome of blindly supporting Israel throughout the years?

In March 2019, Politico branded Netanyahu as the creator of “the most right-wing government in Israeli history,” a sentiment that was repeated countless times in other western media outlets.

This ideological shift was, in fact, recognized by Israel’s own media, years earlier. In May 2016, the popular Israeli newspaper Maariv described the Israeli government at the time as the “most right-wing and extremist” in the country’s history. This was, in part, due to the fact that far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman was assigned the role of the defense minister.

The West, then, too, showed concern, warned against the demise of Israel’s supposed liberal democracy, and demanded that Israel must remain committed to the peace process and the two-state solution. None of that actualized. Instead, the terrifying figures of that government were rebranded as merely conservatives, centrists or even liberals in the following years.

The same is likely to happen now. In fact, signs of the US’s willingness to accommodate whatever extremist politics Israel produces are already on display. In his statement, on December 30, welcoming the new Israeli government, Biden said nothing about the threat of Tel Aviv’s far-right politics to the Middle East region but, rather, the “challenges and threats” posed by the region to Israel. In other words, Ben-Gvir or no Ben-Gvir, unconditional support for Israel by the US will remain intact.

If history is a lesson, future violence and incitement in Palestine will also be blamed mostly, if not squarely, on Palestinians. This knee-jerk, pro-Israeli attitude has defined Israel’s relationship with the US, regardless of whether Israeli governments are led by extremists or supposed liberals. No matter, Israel somehow maintained its false status as “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

But if we are to believe that Israel’s exclusivist and racially based ‘democracy’ is a democracy at all, then we are justified to also believe that Israel’s new government is neither less nor more democratic than the previous governments.

Yet, western officials, commentators and even pro-Israel Jewish leaders and organizations in the US are now warning against the supposed danger facing Israel’s liberal democracy in the run-up to the formation of Netanyahu’s new government.

This is an indirect, if not clever form of whitewashing, as these views accept that what Israel has practiced since its founding in 1948, until today, was a form of real democracy; and that Israel remained a democracy even after the passing of the controversial Nation-State Law, which defines Israel as a Jewish state, completely disregarding the rights of the country’s non-Jewish citizens.

It is only a matter of time before Israel’s new extremist government is also whitewashed as another working proof that Israel can strike a balance between being Jewish and also democratic at the same time.

The same story was repeated in 2016, when warnings over the rise of far-right extremism in Israel – following the Netanyahu-Lieberman pact – quickly disappeared and eventually vanished. Instead of boycotting the new unity government, the US government finalized, in September 2016, its largest military aid package to Israel, amounting to $38 billion.

In truth, Israel has not changed much, either in its own self-definition or in its treatment of Palestinians. Failing to understand this is tantamount to tacit approval of Israel’s racist, violent and colonial policies in Occupied Palestine over the course of 75 years.

Why BRI is back with a bang in 2023

January 06 2023

As Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative enters its 10th year, a strong Sino-Russian geostrategic partnership has revitalized the BRI across the Global South.

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

The year 2022 ended with a Zoom call to end all Zoom calls: Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping discussing all aspects of the Russia-China strategic partnership in an exclusive video call.

Putin told Xi how “Russia and China managed to ensure record high growth rates of mutual trade,” meaning “we will be able to reach our target of $200 billion by 2024 ahead of schedule.”

On their coordination to “form a just world order based on international law,” Putin emphasized how “we share the same views on the causes, course, and logic of the ongoing transformation of the global geopolitical landscape.”

Facing “unprecedented pressure and provocations from the west,” Putin noted how Russia-China are not only defending their own interests “but also all those who stand for a truly democratic world order and the right of countries to freely determine their own destiny.”

Earlier, Xi had announced that Beijing will hold the 3rd Belt and Road Forum in 2023. This has been confirmed, off the record, by diplomatic sources. The forum was initially designed to be bi-annual, first held in 2017 and then 2019. 2021 didn’t happen because of Covid-19.

The return of the forum signals not only a renewed drive but an extremely significant landmark as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in Astana and then Jakarta in 2013, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.

BRI version 2.0

That set the tone for 2023 across the whole geopolitical and geoeconomic spectrum. In parallel to its geoconomic breadth and reach, BRI has been conceived as China’s overarching foreign policy concept up to the mid-century. Now it’s time to tweak things. BRI 2.0 projects, along its several connectivity corridors, are bound to be re-dimensioned to adapt to the post-Covid environment, the reverberations of the war in Ukraine, and a deeply debt-distressed world.

Photo Credit: The Cradle
Map of BRI (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

And then there’s the interlocking of the connectivity drive via BRI with the connectivity drive via the International North South Transportation Corridor (INTSC), whose main players are Russia, Iran and India.

Expanding on the geoeconomic drive of the Russia-China partnership as discussed by Putin and Xi, the fact that Russia, China, Iran and India are developing interlocking trade partnerships should establish that BRICS members Russia, India and China, plus Iran as one of the upcoming members of the expanded BRICS+, are the ‘Quad’ that really matter across Eurasia.

The new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing, which are totally aligned with Xi’s priorities, will be keenly focused on solidifying concentric spheres of geoeconomic influence across the Global South.

How China plays ‘strategic ambiguity’

This has nothing to do with balance of power, which is a western concept that additionally does not connect with China’s five millennia of history. Neither is this another inflection of “unity of the center” – the geopolitical representation according to which no nation is able to threaten the center, China, as long as it is able to maintain order.

These cultural factors that in the past may have prevented China from accepting an alliance under the concept of parity have now vanished when it comes to the Russia-China strategic partnership.

Back in February 2022, days before the events that led to Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine, Putin and Xi, in person, had announced that their partnership had “no limits” – even if they hold different approaches on how Moscow should deal with a Kiev lethally instrumentalized by the west to threaten Russia.

In a nutshell: Beijing will not “abandon” Moscow because of Ukraine – as much as it will not openly show support. The Chinese are playing their very own subtle interpretation of what Russians define as  “strategic ambiguity.”

Connectivity in West Asia

In West Asia, BRI projects will advance especially fast in Iran, as part of the 25-year deal signed between Beijing and Tehran and the definitive demise of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – or Iran nuclear deal – which will translate into no European investment in the Iranian economy.

Iran is not only a BRI partner but also a full-fledged Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member. It has clinched a free trade agreement with the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), which consists of post-Soviet states Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

And Iran is, today, arguably the key interconnector of the INSTC, opening up the Indian Ocean and beyond, interconnecting not only with Russia and India but also China, Southeast Asia, and even, potentially, Europe – assuming the EU leadership will one day see which way the wind is blowing.

Map of INSTC (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

So here we have heavily US-sanctioned Iran profiting simultaneously from BRI, INSTC and the EAEU free trade deal. The three critical BRICS members – India, China, Russia – will be particularly interested in the development of the trans-Iranian transit corridor – which happens to be the shortest route between most of the EU and South and Southeast Asia, and will provide faster, cheaper transportation.

Add to this the groundbreaking planned Russia-Transcaucasia-Iran electric power corridor, which could become the definitive connectivity link capable of smashing the antagonism between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In the Arab world, Xi has already rearranged the chessboard. Xi’s December trip to Saudi Arabia should be the diplomatic blueprint on how to rapidly establish a post-modern quid pro quo between two ancient, proud civilizations to facilitate a New Silk Road revival.

Rise of the Petro-yuan

Beijing may have lost huge export markets within the collective west – so a replacement was needed. The Arab leaders who lined up in Riyadh to meet Xi saw ten thousand sharpened (western) knives suddenly approaching and calculated it was time to strike a new balance.

That means, among other things, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has adopted a more multipolar agenda: no more weaponizing of Salafi-Jihadism across Eurasia, and a door wide open to the Russia-China strategic partnership. Hubris strikes hard at the heart of the Hegemon.

Credit Suisse strategist Zoltan Pozsar, in two striking successive newsletters, titled War and Commodity Encumbrance (December 27) and War and Currency Statecraft (December 29), pointed out the writing on the wall.

Pozsar fully understood what Xi meant when he said China is “ready to work with the GCC” to set up a “new paradigm of all-dimensional energy cooperation” within a timeline of “three to five years.”

China will continue to import a lot of crude, long-term, from GCC nations, and way more Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). Beijing will “strengthen our cooperation in the upstream sector, engineering services, as well as [downstream] storage, transportation, and refinery. The Shanghai Petroleum and Natural Gas Exchange platform will be fully utilized for RMB settlement in oil and gas trade…and we could start currency swap cooperation.”

Pozsar summed it all up, thus: “GCC oil flowing East + renminbi invoicing = the dawn of the petroyuan.”

And not only that. In parallel, the BRI gets a renewed drive, because the previous model – oil for weapons – will be replaced with oil for sustainable development (construction of factories, new job opportunities).

And that’s how BRI meets MbS’s Vision 2030.

Apart from Michael Hudson, Poszar may be the only western economic analyst who understands the global shift in power: “The multipolar world order,” he says,” is being built not by G7 heads of state but by the ‘G7 of the East’ (the BRICS heads of state), which is a G5 really.” Because of the move toward an expanded BRICS+, he took the liberty to round up the number.

And the rising global powers know how to balance their relations too. In West Asia, China is playing slightly different strands of the same BRI trade/connectivity strategy, one for Iran and another for the Persian Gulf monarchies.

China’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Iran is a 25-year deal under which China invests $400 billion into Iran’s economy in exchange for a steady supply of Iranian oil at a steep discount. While at his summit with the GCC, Xi emphasized “investments in downstream petrochemical projects, manufacturing, and infrastructure” in exchange for paying for energy in yuan.

How to play the New Great Game

BRI 2.0 was also already on a roll during a series of Southeast Asian summits in November. When Xi met with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Bangkok, they pledged to finally connect the up-and-running China-Laos high-speed railway to the Thai railway system. This is a 600km-long project, linking Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border with Laos, to be completed by 2028.

And in an extra BRI push, Beijing and Bangkok agreed to coordinate the development of China’s Shenzhen-Zhuhai-Hong Kong Greater Bay Area and the Yangtze River Delta with Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

In the long run, China essentially aims to replicate in West Asia its strategy across Southeast Asia. Beijing trades more with the ASEAN than with either Europe or the US. The ongoing, painful slow motion crash of the collective west may ruffle a few feathers in a civilization that has seen, from afar, the rise and fall of Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Arabs, Ottomans, Spanish, Dutch, British. The Hegemon after all is just the latest in a long list.

In practical terms, BRI 2.0 projects will now be subjected to more scrutiny: This will be the end of impractical proposals and sunk costs, with lifelines extended to an array of debt-distressed nations. BRI will be placed at the heart of BRICS+ expansion – building on a consultation panel in May 2022 attended by foreign ministers and representatives from South America, Africa and Asia that showed, in practice, the global range of possible candidate countries.

Implications for the Global South

Xi’s fresh mandate from the 20th Communist Party Congress has signaled the irreversible institutionalization of BRI, which happens to be his signature policy. The Global South is fast drawing serious conclusions, especially in contrast with the glaring politicization of the G20 that was visible at its November summit in Bali.

So Poszar is a rare gem: a western analyst who understands that the BRICS are the new G5 that matter, and that they’re leading the road towards BRICS+. He also gets that the Quad that really matters is the three main BRICS-plus-Iran.

Acute supply chain decoupling, the crescendo of western hysteria over Beijing’s position on the war in Ukraine, and serious setbacks on Chinese investments in the west all play on the development of BRI 2.0. Beijing will be focusing simultaneously on several nodes of the Global South, especially neighbors in ASEAN and across Eurasia.

Think, for instance, the Beijing-funded Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, Southeast Asia’s first: a BRI project opening this year as Indonesia hosts the rotating ASEAN chairmanship. China is also building the East Coast Rail Link in Malaysia and has renewed negotiations with the Philippines for three railway projects.

Then there are the superposed interconnections. The EAEU will clinch a free trade zone deal with Thailand. On the sidelines of the epic return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to power in Brazil, this past Sunday, officials of Iran and Saudi Arabia met amid smiles to discuss – what else – BRICS+. Excellent choice of venue: Brazil is regarded by virtually every geopolitical player as prime neutral territory.

From Beijing’s point of view, the stakes could not be higher, as the drive behind BRI 2.0 across the Global South is not to allow China to be dependent on western markets. Evidence of this is in its combined approach towards Iran and the Arab world.

China losing both US and EU market demand, simultaneously, may end up being just a bump in the (multipolar) road, even as the crash of the collective west may seem suspiciously timed to take China down.

The year 2023 will proceed with China playing the New Great Game deep inside, crafting a globalization 2.0 that is institutionally supported by a network encompassing BRI, BRICS+, the SCO, and with the help of its Russian strategic partner, the EAEU and OPEC+ too. No wonder the usual suspects are dazed and confused.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Ghajar: The flashpoint town between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel 

January 05 2023

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Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Firas-al-Shoufi

The story of the town of Ghajar is similar to the story of the Arab Levant region – divided along contentious border lines, then booby-trapped by planting the Israeli occupation state in its midst.

The town, today entirely occupied by Israel, is considered by Syria to be part of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, while Lebanon claims that part of it is Lebanese territory. It is one of the few meeting points on the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian borders.

Why is Ghajar important?

Surprisingly, this small and often-ignored town is subject to two separate UN Security Council resolutions: Res. 242 on the Syrian Golan, and Res. 1701 on southern Lebanon. So what is the importance of Ghajar, and why is this border town part of a major geopolitical struggle?

Whoever gains Ghajar on both sides of the border gains an upper hand in the stealthy military conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon’s resistance movement. This is a geographically elevated area, from which Israeli forces could advance in a future war against Lebanon – or from which Hezbollah can gain visual reconnaissance over vital parts of the occupied Galilee.

Among the thick fog hanging over the occupied village of Ghajar in southeastern Lebanon, the features of the slopes of the Syrian Golan and Mount Hermon appear behind the colorful houses dotting its landscape.

From afar, the town of Ain Qenya looms in the occupied Golan. It is one of five Syrian villages – alongside Ghajar – still inhabited, after tens of thousands were displaced from dozens of farms and villages to the outskirts of Damascus following Israel’s June 1967 occupation of the Golan Heights.

From the Lebanese side, in the village of Wazzani, the huge iron wall built by the Israeli army that surrounds Ghajar from the north is clearly visible. Israel has occupied the entire town intermittently for more than fifty years – and continuously since 2006.

The Israel army built an iron wall inside Lebanese territory to physically separate Ghajar from Lebanon.

Violating Lebanon’s sovereignty

In recent months, the occupation army built, without fanfare, a barbed wire fence along with a semi-circular technical fence around the north of the town in Lebanese territory, which perpetuates the annexation of Ghajar to Israel – in a new violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and UN Security Council Resolutions 425 and 1701.

From the bank of the Hasbani River opposite the Ghajar, it is possible to observe, through camera lenses, active movement in the town on a rainy Sunday morning. Tourists transported in large buses from  Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine enter the restaurants that overlook the western side of the river in Lebanon, before continuing their way south to the Galilee.

“Prior to the recent Israeli elections, the occupation army allowed tourists to enter the town, after many years of banning entry to outsiders following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory in May 2000, and after a series of events the town has witnessed since then,” says Ali Shuaib, field correspondent for Al-Manar TV, who monitors daily the Israeli movements on the border between Lebanon and occupied Palestine.

Commenting on the tourist activity in the town, Hassan Merhej, a resident of the town and a well-known social activist in the Golan, told The Cradle, “The uproar that arose around the town after entry was prohibited, in addition to its charming nature and its view of Lebanon, all push tourists to come. Everything forbidden is desired.”

A prisoner of Israel and geography

Merhej stresses that the town has suffered a lot in the past and still does due to the Israeli occupation and its geographical location. Ghajar, after all, is a living victim of the borders drawn between Lebanon and Syria under the French Mandate, just like many other villages and towns that fell victim to the foreign-imposed artificial borders.

“The northern part of the town, which is the largest and equal to about two-thirds of it, belongs to Lebanon according to the maps known as Bouleh-Newcombe (1923), as well as according to the Blue Line, while the southern part belongs to Syria,” confirms retired Brigadier General Antoine Murad, author of the book “Rights Between the Lines – The Southern Lebanese Border.”

Murad was a member of a technical team affiliated with the Lebanese army that worked on demarcating the “Blue Line” between Lebanon and Israel after the latter’s military withdrawal in 2000. Lebanon has expressed reservations over 13 of its border points.

“In the past, there weren’t many houses in the northern part of the town inside Lebanese territory,” Murad tells The Cradle. “Construction work expanded after the occupation of Ghajar with the Golan Heights in 1967, and increased after the Israeli occupation following the invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978.”

Not far from here, southwest of Ghajar, stands a red Israeli transmission tower called the “40th tower.” It practically constitutes the meeting point between the Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian borders, according to the British-French influence-sharing agreements in the Levant, after the collapse of the Ottoman Sultanate.

The land pitches low in the vicinity of the tower, and there are no Lebanese military sites in sight. But pay attention closely, and one can feel the invisible presence of Hezbollah and its men. “This area is sometimes exploited by Israeli soldiers to infiltrate and breach Lebanese territory,” says a Lebanese security official who asked to remain anonymous.

Part of Syria’s Golan

On 14 December, 1981, Ghajar was one of the villages included in Israel’s decision to annex the Golan Heights and impose an Israeli identity on its residents.

Says Merhaj: “Many of the residents left to the outskirts of Damascus after the occupation in 1967. Only about 350 people remained. They were given the choice between Israeli citizenship, and losing their agricultural lands and leaving them prey to a group of collaborators with the Israeli occupation led by Saad Haddad, an officer who defected from the Lebanese army during the Israeli occupation.

“Nationality,” he insists, “is just a card that was imposed on us. I am a Syrian Arab and I will remain so. All residents of Ghajar and the Golan are Syrians. The occupation will not be able to sever our ties with Syria.”

Historian Ahmed Al-Khatib, a resident of Ghajar and author of several books on the towns of the occupied Golan, told the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar last month that “the Blue Line has gnawed away at vast areas of the village’s Syrian land, estimated at 500,000 square meters, and annexed it to Lebanon.” This increased Ghajar’s Lebanese territory to approximately 1,100,000 square meters.”

The town, in its Syrian and Lebanese parts, remained under Israeli occupation until 2000. “It is true that the occupation army officially withdrew from the Lebanese part, but it remained under the supervision of the United Nations. The Lebanese army, which monitors it from a distance and objects to any advance of the occupation towards it, did not enter it,” explains Murad.

Journalist Shuaib adds: “The Israeli army is still present on the outskirts of the village and is deployed in hidden points. I have seen them many times while I was filming.”

After the July 2006 war and Israel’s reoccupation of part of southern Lebanon, Resolution 1701 was issued to stop hostilities. The Israeli army withdrew from the areas it occupied during the recent aggression, but that did not include Ghajar.

Rather, the Israelis established sites in the north of the town and built a technical fence around it, under the pretext of preventing the town from being used as a corridor for smuggling drugs and weapons from Lebanon, and alleging that Hezbollah might try again to kidnap Israeli soldiers to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners.

Ghajar after the July War (2006)

Since 2006, the occupation of the northern part has been subject to International Resolution 1701 and the southern part to International Resolution 242, which was issued after the 1967 war.

Many initiatives have been put forward to address the problem of Ghajar, which has a population of about 2,800. In 2000, former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud proposed that the entire town be placed under Lebanese sovereignty until Israel withdraws from the Golan, and that the Syrian parts would be returned to Syria.

Israel rejected the proposal. “On that day, the occupation also threatened the residents, warning that they would lose their lands if they accepted the Lebanese request,” Merhej says.

The United Nations also submitted, through UNIFIL Force Commander Claudio Graziano, a proposal for Israeli withdrawal in 2008, a second proposal in 2010, and a third in 2011, all of which included security arrangements for the withdrawal of the occupation army from the Lebanese part.

However, the three proposals did not receive an Israeli response, as Murad mentions in his book. Since then, the demand for an Israeli withdrawal from the town has become folklore in statements by the United Nations, UNIFIL and even the Lebanese government.

UNIFIL spokesman in Lebanon Andrea Tenenti says that “there is no new proposal from UNIFIL. The old proposals are very appropriate, and Israel’s continued occupation of Ghajar is a continuous violation of international resolutions and Lebanese sovereignty. Israel must withdraw immediately.”

In response to a question about what UNIFIL is doing to force Israel’s withdrawal, he answers that “UNIFIL has no powers other than to repeat its calls for Israel to withdraw. The rest is up to the Security Council.”

Murad and Shoaib and the Lebanese security source agree that the best solution to the town’s issue is a complete Israeli withdrawal from it and from the occupied Lebanese territories such as the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba Hills.

“They treat Ghajar as a colony. Israel is mocking two UN resolutions,” says the security source, “but the occupation will end sooner or later.”

While Merhej says, “Unfortunately, the Israeli withdrawal from the northern part only harms the people of the town. Dividing the town makes life difficult for the residents. The ideal solution is to withdraw from the Golan Heights, from Lebanon, and from all the occupied territories.”

Palestinians Can Only Dream of Justice at the ICC as Netanyahu Can’t Wait to Start a War in Gaza

January 5, 2023

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By Martin Jay

One wonders how long we have to wait in 2023 before a new intifada begins, orchestrated entirely by the Israeli government’s dirty work.

Is there anything quite so vomit-inducing than Israel’s new government with Benjamin Netanyahu at its helm? Barely days in office and he’s already frothing at the mouth like a sick dog looking at its next meal, in this case the Gaza Strip. One wonders how long we have to wait in 2023 before a new intifada begins, orchestrated entirely by the Israeli government’s dirty work, which in 2020, broke records with almost 1000 Palestinian homes stolen at gunpoint from humble Palestinians.

Years of neglect by the West, in particular the EU which can’t even make statements condemning Israel’s atrocities have culminated in human rights abominations on a scale once thought unimaginable. Also the Ukraine war. But now Netanyahu gleans in his new role as champion thief and warlord who will almost certainly reign supreme and enamour his political legacy in 2023 by bombing the Gaza strip this year. You could put money on it.

His latest announcement that his new far-right government will impose “sanctions” on senior Palestinian officials, after he slammed a UN decision to refer Israel’s handiwork to the International Criminal Court as “despicable”, adding that Israel is “not bound” by the UN vote.

The planned Israel sanctions are a response to the UN approval of a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to evaluate Israel’s “annexation” policies and the “legal status of the occupation.”

VIP cars, which Netanyahu will ban, gives senior PA officials easy access to Israeli cities, easy passage at Israeli checkpoints, as well as travel through Ben Gurion Airport.

Wives, children and bodyguards of the PA officials, who hold the Israeli VIP cards, are able to pass through Israeli checkpoints without inspection and travel to Jerusalem through the gates of Separation Wall.

A decision on the package of sanctions against the Palestinians is expected to be taken by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister, Yoav Galant, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in coordination with others, Israeli sources reported.

This move is an act of defiance against accountability from the UN and ICC where Western governments have failed to even bat an eyelid. For a few brief days in December, the Palestinians could dream of justice.

If the UN and ICC are serious, Israel’s impunity towards its wholesale looting of Palestinian property, not to mention its brutal treatment of Palestinians themselves, could be curtailed in 2023 as international law might be catching up with the apartheid state.

On December 30th, the UN General Assembly voted to seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Assembly voted 87-26 in favour of the move, with 53 abstentions. Western nations were divided over support for the resolution, but there was virtually unanimous support from the Islamic world, even from Arab states that have normalised relations with Israel, as well as from Russia and China.

Are we reaching a point where countries beyond what we call The West are drawing a line in the sand for Israel’s government? Possibly, given that even Arab countries which signed up to the Abraham Accords backed the decision to take Israel to The Hague. Unfortunately, this unified stance against the Netanyahu government won’t mean so much as its leaders immerse themselves with so much blinded dogma about Palestine and their daily genocide that it is more likely that Netanyahu will throw the lever and start a war again in Gaza just so as to throw up a dust screen for the media to miss the wholesale theft of property which surely will continue. If the UN and ICC are really serious, they will create a legal process though for Palestinians to get their land and houses back through a compensation scheme, rather than just make “tough love” statements condemning Israel. The silence from the EU, in particular the European Parliament, is deafening. How is it that since 2014 — the last time an EU official tried to introduce a labelling scheme for goods made in the occupied territories — that the EU has become mute when it comes to Israel’s own war crimes against Palestinians? Did the Morocco-Qatar bribery ring also extend to white-washing Israel’s human rights atrocities?

The Plan to Carve Up Russia

 JANUARY 5, 2023

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By Mike Whitney

For decades, the idea of dismantling the Soviet Union and Russia has been constantly cultivated in Western countries. Unfortunately, at some point, the idea of using Ukraine to achieve this goal was conceived. In fact, to prevent such a development, we launched the special military operation (SMO). This is precisely what some western countries –led by the United States– strive for; to create an anti-Russian enclave and then threaten us from this direction. Preventing this from happening is our primary goal. Vladimir Putin

Here’s your geopolitical quiz for the day: What did Angela Merkel mean when she said “that the Cold War never really ended, because ultimately Russia was never pacified”?

If you chose (5), then pat yourself on the back. That is the right answer.

  1. Merkel was referring to the fact that Russia has never accepted its subordinate role in the “Rules-based Order.”
  2. Merkel was referring to the fact that Russia’s economic collapse did not produce the ‘compliant state’ western elites had hoped for.
  3. Merkel is suggesting that the Cold War was never really a struggle between democracy and communism, but a 45 year-long effort to “pacify” Russia.
  4. What Merkel meant was that the western states –particularly the United States– do not want a strong, prosperous and independent Russia but a servile lackey that does as it is told.
  5. All of the above.

Last week, Angela Merkel confirmed what many analysts have been saying for years, that Washington’s hostile relations with Russia –which date back more than a century– have nothing to do with ideology, ‘bad behavior’ or alleged “unprovoked aggression”. Russia’s primary offense is that it occupies a strategic area of the world that contains vast natural resources and which is critical to Washington’s “pivot to Asia” plan. Russia’s real crime is that its mere existence poses a threat to the globalist project to spread US military bases across Central Asia, encircle China, and become the regional hegemon in the world’s most prosperous and populous region.

So much attention has been focused on what Merkel said regarding the Minsk Treaty, that her more alarming remarks have been entirely ignored. Here is a short excerpt from a recent interview Merkel gave to an Italian magazine:

The 2014 Minsk Accords were an attempt to give Ukraine time. Ukraine used this period to become stronger, as seen today. The country of 2014/15 is not the country of today….

We all knew that it was a frozen conflict, that the problem was not solved, but this was precisely what gave Ukraine precious time.” (“Angela Merkel: Kohl took advantage of his voice and build”, Corrier Della Sera)

Merkel candidly admits that she participated in a 7 year-long fraud that was aimed at deceiving the Russian leadership into thinking that she genuinely wanted peace, but that proved not to be the case. In truth, the western powers deliberately sabotaged the treaty in order to buy-time to arm and train a Ukrainian army that would be used in a war against Russia.

But this is old news. What we find more interesting is what Merkel said following her comments on Minsk. Here’s the money-quote:

I want to talk to you about an aspect that makes me think. It’s the fact that the Cold War never really ended, because ultimately Russia was never pacified. When Putin invaded Crimea in 2014, he was excluded from the G8. In addition, NATO has deployed troops in the Baltic region, to demonstrate its readiness to intervene. And we too have decided to allocate 2% of GDP to military expenditure for defence. CDU and CSU were the only ones to have kept it in the government programme. But we too should have reacted more quickly to Russia’s aggressiveness. (“Angela Merkel: Kohl took advantage of his voice and build”, Corrier Della Sera)

Global Affairs.org

This is an astonishing admission. What Merkel is saying is that ” the Cold War never ended” because the primary goal of weakening (“pacifying”) Russia –to the point that it could not defend its own vital interests or project power beyond its borders– was not achieved. Merkel is implying that the main objective of the Cold War was not to defeat communism (as we were told) but to create a compliant Russian colony that would allow the globalist project to go forward unimpeded. As we can see in Ukraine, that objective has not been achieved; and the reason it hasn’t been achieved is because Russia is powerful enough to block NATO’s eastward expansion. In short, Russia has become the greatest-single obstacle to the globalist strategy for world domination.

It’s worth noting, that Merkel never mentions Russia’s alleged “unprovoked aggression” in Ukraine as the main problem. In fact, she makes no attempt to defend that spurious claim. The real problem according to Merkel is that Russia has not been ‘pacified’. Think about that. This suggests that the justification for the war is different than the one that is promoted by the media. What it implies is that the conflict is driven by geopolitical objectives that have been concealed behind the “invasion” smokescreen. Merkel’s comments clear the air in that regard, by identifying the real goal; pacification.

In a minute we will show that the war was triggered by “geopolitical objectives” and not Russia’s alleged “aggression”, but first we need to review the ideas that are fueling the drive to war. The main body of principles upon which America’s foreign policy rests, is the Wolfowitz Doctrine, the first draft of which was presented in the Defense Planning Guidance in 1992. Here’s a short excerpt:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.

There it is in black and white: The top priority of US foreign policy “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” This shows the importance that Washington and its allies place on the territory occupied by the Russian Federation. It also shows the determination of western leaders to prevent any sovereign state from controlling the area the US needs to implement its grand strategy.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Russia’s transformation into a strong and independent state has not only put it squarely in Washington’s crosshairs, but also greatly increased the chances of a direct confrontation. Simply put, Russia’s return to the ranks of the great powers has placed it on Washington’s ‘enemies list’ and a logical target for US aggression.

So, what does this have to do with Merkel?

Implicit in Merkel’s comments is the fact that the dissolution of the communist state and the collapse of the Russian economy was not sufficient to leave Russia “pacified”. She is, in fact, voicing her support for more extreme measures. And she knows what those measures will be; regime change followed by a violent splintering of the country.

The United States spends more on defense than the next 11 countries combined

Putin is well-aware of this malignant plan and has discussed it openly on many occasions. Take a look at this 2-minute video of a meeting Putin headed just weeks ago:

“The goal of our enemies is to weaken and break up our country. This has been the case for centuries.. They believe our country is too big and poses a threat (to them), which is why it must be weakened and divided. For our part, we always pursued a different approach; we always wanted to be a part of the so-called ‘civilized (western) world.’ And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we thought we would finally become a part of that ‘world’. But, as it turned out, we weren’t welcome despite all our efforts. Our attempts to become a part of that world were rejected. Instead, they did everything they could– including assisting terrorists in the Caucasus– to finish off Russia and break-up the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Putin

The point we’re making is that Merkel’s views align seamlessly with those of the neocons. They also align with the those of the entire western political establishment that has unanimously thrown its support behind a confrontation with Russia. Additionally, the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Congressional Research Service’s latest report, have all shifted their focus from the war against international terrorism to a “great power competition” with Russia and China. Not surprisingly, the documents have little to do with ‘competition’, rather, they provide an ideological justification for hostilities with Russia. In other words, the United States has laid the groundwork for a direct confrontation with the world’s biggest nuclear superpower.

Check out this brief clip from the Congressional Research Service Report titled Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress:

The U.S. goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia... is a policy choice reflecting two judgments: (1) that given the amount of people, resources, and economic activity in Eurasia, a regional hegemon in Eurasia would represent a concentration of power large enough to be able to threaten vital U.S. interests; and (2) that Eurasia is not dependably self-regulating in terms of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons, meaning that the countries of Eurasia cannot be counted on to be able to prevent, though their own actions, the emergence of regional hegemons, and may need assistance from one or more countries outside Eurasia to be able to do this dependably.”….

From a U.S. perspective on grand strategy and geopolitics, it can be noted that most of the world’s people, resources, and
economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. In response to this basic feature of world geography, U.S. policymakers for the last several decades have chosen to pursue, as a key element of U.S. national strategy, a goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia. Although U.S. policymakers do not often state explicitly in public the goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia, U.S. military operations in recent decades—both wartime operations and day-to-day operations—appear to have been carried out in no small part in support of this goal.” (“Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress”, US Congress)

It sounds a lot like the Wolfowitz Doctrine, doesn’t it? (Which suggests that Congress has moved into the neocon camp.

There are a few things worth considering in this short excerpt:

  1. That “the U.S. goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia” has nothing to do with national defense. It is a straightforward declaration of war on any nation that successfully uses the free market to grow its economy. It is particularly unsettling that China on Washington’s target-list when US corporate outsourcing and offshoring have factored so large in China’s success. US industries moved their businesses to China to avoid paying anything above a slave wage. Is China to be blamed for that?
  2. The fact that Eurasia has more “people, resources, and economic activity” than America, does not constitute a “threat” to US national security. It only represents a threat to the ambitions of western elites who want to use the US Military to pursue their own geopolitical agenda.
  3. Finally: Notice how the author acknowledges that the government deliberately misleads the public about its real objectives in Central Asia. He says: “U.S. policymakers do not often state explicitly in public the goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia, U.S. military operations in recent decades—both wartime operations and day-to-day operations—appear to have been carried out in no small part in support of this goal.” In other words, all the claptrap about “freedom and democracy” is just pablum for the masses. The real goals are “resources, economic activity” and power.

The National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy are equally explicit in identifying Russia as a de facto enemy of the United States. This is from the NSS:

Russia poses an immediate and ongoing threat to the regional security order in Europe and it is a source of disruption and instability globally…

Russia now poses an immediate and persistent threat to international peace and stability….

Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system, recklessly flouting the basic laws of the international order … This decade will be decisive, in setting the terms of …managing the acute threat posed by Russia.. (“The 2022 National Security Strategy”, White House)

And lastly, The 2022 National Defense Strategy reiterates the same themes as the others; Russia and China pose an unprecedented threat to the “rules-based order”. Here’s short summary from an article at the World Socialist Web Site:

The 2022 National Defense Strategy… makes clear that the United States …. sees the subjugation of Russia as a critical stepping stone toward the conflict with China.… The eruption of American imperialism… is more and more directly targeting Russia and China, which the United States sees as the principal obstacles to the untrammeled domination of the world. US strategists have long regarded the domination of the Eurasian landmass, with its vast natural resources, as the key to global domination.” (“Pentagon national strategy document targets China”, Andres Damon, World Socialist Web Site)

What these three strategic documents show is that the Washington BrainTrust had been preparing the ideological foundation for a war with Russia long before the first shot was ever fired in Ukraine. That war is now underway although the outcome is far from certain.

The strategy going forward appears to be a version of the Cheney Plan which recommended a break up of Russia itself, “so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.” Here’s more from an article by Ben Norton:

“Former US Vice President Dick Cheney, a lead architect of the Iraq War, not only wanted to dismantle the Soviet Union; he also wanted to break up Russia itself, to prevent it from rising again as a significant political power…The fact that a figure at the helm of the US government not-so-secretly sought the permanent dissolution of Russia as a country, and straightforwardly communicated this to colleagues like Robert Gates, partially explains the aggressive posturing Washington has taken toward the Russian Federation since the overthrow of the USSR.

The reality is that the US empire will simply never allow Russia to challenge its unilateral domination of Eurasia, despite the fact that the government in Moscow restored capitalism. This is why it is not surprising that Washington has utterly ignored Russia’s security concerns, breaking its promise not to expand NATO “once inch eastward” after German reunification, surrounding Moscow with militarized adversaries hell bent on destabilizing it.” (“Ex VP Dick Cheney confirmed US goal is to break up Russia, not just USSR”, Ben Norton, Multipolarista)

The carving up of Russia into several smaller statelets, has long been the dream of the neoconservatives. The difference now, is that that same dream is shared by political leaders across the West. Recent comments by Angela Merkel underscore the fact that western leaders are now committed to achieving the unrealized goals of the Cold War. They intend to use military confrontation to affect the political outcome they seek which is a significantly weakened Russia incapable of blocking Washington’s projection of power across Central Asia. A more dangerous strategy would be hard to imagine.

U.S. Sanctions Are Killing Syrians and Are a Human Rights Violation

December 22, 2022

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Steven Sahiounie

About 12 million Syrians are facing a deadly winter without heating fuel, gasoline for transportation, and dark houses each evening.

Damascus is now bitterly cold and is soon to be blanketed with snow. About 12 million Syrians are facing a deadly winter without heating fuel, gasoline for transportation, and dark houses each evening without electricity. Aleppo, Homs, and Hama are also extremely cold all winter.

Imagine being ill and having to walk to the doctor or hospital. The ambulances in Syria will now respond only to the most life-threatening calls because they must conserve gasoline, or face running out entirely. Gasoline on the black market costs Syrians an equivalent of 50 U.S. dollars for a tank of 20-liter fuel.

Sanctions against Syria were imposed by the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the Arab League, as well as other countries beginning in 2011. The sanctions were aimed at overthrowing the Syrian government, by depriving it of its resources. U.S.-sponsored ‘regime change’ has failed but the sanctions were never lifted.

For 12 years the U.S. and EU have been imposing economic sanctions on Syria which have deprived the Syrians of their dignity and human rights.

New UN report asks for lifting sanctions on Syria

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Alena Douhan, urged sanctions to be lifted against Syria, warning that they were adding to the suffering of the Syrian people since 2011.

“I am struck by the pervasiveness of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria and the total economic and financial isolation of a country whose people are struggling to rebuild a life with dignity, following the decade-long war,” Douhan said.

After a 12-day visit to Syria, Douhan said the majority of Syria’s population was currently living below the poverty line, with shortages of food, water, electricity, shelter, cooking and heating fuel, transportation, and healthcare. She spoke of the continuing exodus of educated and skilled Syrians in response to the economic hardship of living at home.

Douhan reported that the majority of infrastructure was destroyed or damaged, and the sanctions imposed on oil, gas, electricity, trade, construction, and engineering have diminished the national income, which has prevented economic recovery and reconstruction.

The sanctions prevent payments from being received from banks, and deliveries from foreign manufacturers. Serious shortages in medicine and medical equipment have plagued hospitals and clinics. The lack of a water treatment system in Aleppo caused a severe Cholera outbreak in late summer, and the system cannot be bought, installed, or maintained under the current U.S. sanctions against Syria.

Douhan said, “I urge the immediate lifting of all unilateral sanctions that severely harm human rights and prevent any efforts for early recovery, rebuilding, and reconstruction.”

U.S. sanctions are not effective

In 1998, Richard Haass wrote, ‘Economic Sanctions: Too Much of a Bad Thing’. He cautioned U.S. foreign policymakers that sanctions alone are ineffective when the aims are large, or the time is short. The overthrow of the Syrian government is a massive aim, and the sanctions did not accomplish that goal.

Haass predicted that sanctions could cause economic distress and migration. In the summer of 2015 about half a million Syrians walked through Europe as economic migrants and were taken in primarily by Germany.

There is a moral imperative to stop using sanctions as a foreign policy tool because innocent people are affected, while the sanctions have failed.

The U.S. steals Syrian oil, and will not allow imported oil to arrive

According to the U.S. government, the sanctions on Syria “prohibits new investments in Syria by U.S. persons, prohibits the exportation or sale of services to Syria by U.S. persons, prohibits the importation of petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin, and prohibits U.S. persons from involvement in transactions involving Syrian petroleum or petroleum products.”

There is a waiver that can be requested from the Department of Commerce, to circumvent the sanctions; however, it only applies to sending items to the terrorist-occupied area of Idlib. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria and is the only terrorist group now holding territory in Syria.

On October 22, the media Energy World reported the U.S. occupation forces had smuggled 92 tankers and trucks of Syrian oil and wheat stolen from northeastern Syria to U.S. bases in Iraq. The theft is ongoing and continuous.

The U.S. has partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is a Kurdish militia that has a political wing following the communist ideology begun by the PKK’s Abdullah Ocalan. President Trump ordered the U.S. military to remain to occupy northeastern Syria and he ordered the U.S. soldiers there to steal the Syrian oil so to prevent the Syrian people in the rest of the country from benefiting from the gasoline and electricity produced from the wells.

The Syrian Oil Ministry said in August that the U.S. forces were stealing 80 percent of Syria’s oil production, causing direct and indirect losses of about 107.1 billion to Syria’s oil and gas industry.

Because the Damascus government is deprived of the oil its wells produce, it is forced to depend on costly imported oil, usually from Iran. The U.S. routinely commandeers Iranian tankers, such as the incident recently when the U.S. Navy took a tanker hostage off the coast of Greece on its way to Syria but was eventually released by Greece.

Gasoline shortage

The government has instituted a three-day weekend for schools and civil offices, as well as suspended sports events to save fuel.

Maurice Haddad, Director of the General Company for Internal Transport in Damascus, told the al-Watan newspaper that the government has set stricter diesel quotas, leading to fewer daily bus services.

Athar-Press news website reported that several bakeries in Damascus have had to shut down because of the lack of fuel.

Fuel is needed to generate electricity in Syria, and the lack of domestic or imported fuel means most homes in Syria have about one hour of electricity at several intervals each day, and the amount is diminishing daily.

Sanction exemptions for Idlib and the Kurds only

The only two areas in Syria which are not under the Damascus administration are Idlib in the northwest and the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish region in the northeast. The U.S. sanctions are exempt from sending items to those two places only. But, those two places represent a small number of Syrians in comparison to the civilians across the country, and the main cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Latakia. The U.S. makes sure the people who are against the Syrian government continue to be rewarded with supplies and reconstruction, while the millions of peaceful civilians are kept in a constant state of suffering and deprivation.

THE LIONS’ DEN IS NOT A FLEETING PHENOMENON: ON PALESTINE’S LOOMING ARMED REVOLT

DECEMBER 22ND, 2022

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By Ramzy Baroud

Just when Israel, and even some Palestinians, began talking about the Lions’ Den phenomenon in the past tense, a large number of fighters belonging to the newly-formed Palestinian group marched in the city of Nablus.

Unlike the group’s first appearance on September 2, the number of fighters who took part in the rally in the Old City of Nablus on December 9 was significantly larger, better equipped, with unified military fatigues and greater security precautions.

“The Den belongs to all of Palestine and believes in the unity of blood, struggle and rifles”, a reference to the kind of collective Resistance that surpasses factional interests.

Needless to say, the event was significant. Only two months ago, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz undermined the group in terms of number and influence, estimating their number to be “of some 30 members”, pledging to “get our hands on them (..) and eliminate them”.

The Palestinian Authority was also actively involved in suppressing the group, although using a different approach. Palestinian and Arab media spoke about generous PA offers to Lions’ Den fighters of jobs and money, should they agree to drop their weapons.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships have greatly misread the situation. They have wrongly assumed that the Nablus-born movement is a regional and provisional phenomenon that, like others in the past, can easily be crushed or bought.

The Lions’ Den, however, seems to have increased in numbers, and has already branched out to Jenin, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Balata and elsewhere.

For Israel, but also for some Palestinians, the Lions’ Den is an unprecedented problem, the consequences of which threaten to change the political dynamics in the Occupied West Bank entirely.

As Lions’ Den insignias are now appearing in every Palestinian neighborhood throughout the Occupied Territories, the group has succeeded in branching out from a specific Nablus neighborhood – Al Qasaba – to become a collective Palestinian experience.

A recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) demonstrated the above claim in an unmistakable way.

The PCPSR public poll showed that 72% of all Palestinians support the creation of more such armed groups in the West Bank. Nearly 60% feared that an armed rebellion risks a direct confrontation with the PA. A whopping 79% and 87% respectively refuse the surrender of the fighters to PA forces, and reject the very idea that the PA has the right to even carry out such arrests.

Such numbers attest to the reality on the street, pointing to the near complete lack of trust in the PA and the belief that only armed Resistance, similar to that in Gaza, is capable of challenging the Israeli Occupation.

These notions are driven by empirical evidence: lead among them is the failure of the financially and politically corrupt PA in advancing Palestinian aspirations in any way; Israel’s complete disinterest in any form of peace negotiations; the growing far-right fascist trend in Israeli society, which is directly linked to the daily violence meted out against Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The UN Mideast Envoy Tor Wennesland has recently reported that 2022 is “on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since (…) 2005”. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that 167 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank this year alone.

These numbers are likely to increase during the new term of incoming rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The new government can only remain in power with the support of Bezalel Smotrich from the Religious Zionism Party and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the Otzma Yehudit Party. Ben-Gvir, a notorious extremist politician is, ironically though not surprisingly, slated to become Israel’s new security minister.

But there is more to the brewing armed rebellion in the West Bank than Israeli violence alone.

Nearly three decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians have achieved none of their basic political or legal rights. To the contrary, emboldened right-wing politicians in Israel are now speaking of unilateral ‘soft annexation’ of large parts of the West Bank. None of the issues deemed important in 1993 – the status of Occupied Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, etc. – are even on the agenda today.

Since then, Israel has invested more in racial laws and apartheid policies, making it an apartheid regime, par excellence. Major international human rights groups have accepted and reported on the new, fully racist identity of Israel.

With total US backing and no international pressure on Israel that is worthy of mention, Palestinian society is mobilizing beyond the traditional channels of the past three decades. Despite the admirable work of some Palestinian NGOs, the ‘NGO-ization’ of Palestinian society, operating on funds largely obtained from Israel’s very western backers, has further accentuated class division among Palestinians. With Ramallah and a few other urban centers serving as headquarters of the PA and a massive list of NGOs, Jenin, Nablus, and their adjacent refugee camps have subsisted in economic marginalization,  Israeli violence and political neglect.

Disenchanted by the PA’s failed political model, and growingly impressed by the armed Resistance in Gaza, an armed rebellion in the West Bank is simply a matter of time.

What differentiates the early signs of a mass armed Intifada in the West Bank from the ‘Jerusalem Intifada’, also termed the ‘Knives Intifada’ of 2015, is that the latter was a series of disorganized individual acts carried out by oppressed West Bank youth, while the former is a well-organized, grassroots phenomenon with a unique political discourse that appeals to the majority of Palestinian society.

And, unlike the armed Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005), the ensuing armed rebellion is rooted in a popular base, not in the PA security forces.

The closest historical reference to this phenomenon is the 1936-39 Palestinian Revolt, led by thousands of Palestinian fellahin – peasants – in the Palestine countryside. The last year of that rebellion witnessed a large split between the fellahin leadership and the urban-based political parties.

History is repeating itself. And, like the 1936 Revolt, the future of Palestine and the Palestinian Resistance – in fact, the very social fabric of Palestinian society – is on the line.

The US Captagon Act: Tightening Syria’s siege under new pretext

December 21 2022

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Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Firas Al-Shoufi

Potential new US legislation aimed at curbing Syria’s illicit drug trade is being weaponized to strike at the state and starve its people.

On 15 December, a bill introduced by US lawmakers into the 2023 Department of Defense budget to “Combat the Syrian Regime’s Drug Trade,” passed the Senate, with the support of 83 senators and the opposition of 11.

The Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking And Garnering Of Narcotics Act or the CAPTAGON Act, which passed in the joint congressional committees between the House of Representatives and the Senate, is supposed to become law after US President Joe Biden soon signs the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023.

The bipartisan bill inaugurates a new phase of US pressure on Syria, and is another pretext to increase the siege on the Syrian people, who suffer from extremely difficult economic conditions similar to those they suffered during the famine that the region witnessed during the First World War.

Severe US-imposed sanctions under the “Caesar Act” have contributed to the tragedy of the Syrians, at a time when the country is in the midst of an economic crisis, with the US occupation and the Kurdish Autonomous Administration controlling vast areas of lands rich in oil, gas, and agricultural crops in the east of the country, in addition to the Turkish occupation of other regions.

Further sanctions

Nevertheless, Washington is preparing to impose more sanctions, this time under the pretext of combating narcotics networks manufacturing and smuggling Captagon from Syria across West Asia and perhaps to the US.

Republican Representative French Hill, who first introduced the bill last year, considers the matter a threat to international security and has branded Syria as a “narco-state.” However an anonymous Syrian government source, who spoke to The Cradle believes otherwise:

“The CAPTAGON Act is an American way to impose additional sanctions on the Syrian government and to penetrate more into neighboring countries. The Americans make up many excuses, but the goal is one: to starve Syrian people and bring down the state. This looks like a revenge operation and a way to dominate Syria.”

“They know that when the state weakens, terrorist and criminal groups advance, but instead of helping the Syrian state, they increase its siege,” he added.

The CAPTAGON Act considers “the Captagon trade linked to the (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad regime a transnational security threat, requiring a strategy by the United States Government to disrupt and dismantle the Captagon trade and narcotics networks of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

Disrupting the drugs trade network

The bill demands presenting the required strategy to Congress for review within a period not exceeding 180 days of its approval, provided that the method includes providing support to partner countries of the region that receive large quantities of smuggled Captagon, such as Saudi Arabia.

The lawmakers urge the Biden administration to employ the sanctions effectively, including the Caesar Act, to target drug networks said to be affiliated with the state.

The strategy includes a public communication campaign to increase awareness of the extent of the connection of Damascus to the illicit narcotics trade, a description of the countries receiving or transiting large shipments of Captagon, and an assessment of the counter-narcotics capacity of such countries to interdict or disrupt the smuggling of the highly-addictive amphetamine.

Lawmakers have also called for the strategy to include a plan for leveraging multilateral institutions and cooperation with international partners to disrupt the narcotics infrastructure in the country.

War by other means

Practically, “this strategy constitutes an integrated plan, security, political and economic, to penetrate more into the vicinity of Syria and encircle it and prevent access to raw materials,” according to Syrian researcher Bassam Abdullah:

“The terminologies contained in the law are broad, and lead to American-style solutions: providing security and diplomatic support and cooperation to countries to spy on Syria, targeting individuals and entities with sanctions, exerting economic pressure on Damascus in cooperation with international partners, and launching media campaigns against the Syrian government.”

Abdullah believes that “the aim of this law is to demonize Syria, not to solve the Captagon crisis in which the Americans claim Syria’s involvement, and it is a continuation of the war in other forms.”

The aforementioned Syrian government source pointed out that Washington, “Under the pretext of suspected drug transportation, may use such a strategy to stop shipments of food, oil and raw materials, and to cause more damage to the import and export chains, which are suffering from a significant decline.”

Indeed, other Arab security sources, who have asked to remain anonymous, have revealed to The Cradle that the information circulating between agencies cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Administration indicates that “the raw materials used in the Captagon industry come from China and India, and it is involved in many other industries.”

The issue isn’t Syria’s alone

One Syrian security source informed The Cradle that: “Syria has historically been a transit country. But terrorist and criminal gangs took advantage of the conditions of war for industrialization, promotion, and smuggling. Some of these gangs receive western support and are active in areas under American control.”

He confirms that the government, which is regaining its strength, “is working to strike these gangs, and the Syrian apparatus is making every effort to combat drugs. What we need is help, not more blockades.”

For Abdullah, “Damascus has reactivated its membership in Interpol. If the Americans or others have information, Syria is ready to cooperate. Americans always want to play the role of the world’s policeman who decides and punishes. This is how the unilateral mind thinks.”

He asks: “Does anyone really believe that America wants to combat drugs and not tighten the blockade?”

“Afghanistan is the best model. During the twenty years of the American occupation, what witnessed an increase: wheat cultivation or the cultivation and manufacture of narcotic plants?”

Cooperation, not conflict with Damascus

In March 2021, the Syrian delegate to the UN and other international organizations in Vienna, Hassan Khaddour, declared before the UN Drugs Committee that the illicit narcotics problem in Syria had worsened due to the control of terrorist organizations supported by several countries over some border areas.

He pointed out that this created a suitable environment for the smuggling and trade of drugs, and provided huge financial revenues for financing terrorist groups. The Syrian ambassador asked for international cooperation with Syria, a permanent exchange of information, and providing the Syrian government with technical capabilities, laboratory equipment, and detection devices at the border crossings.

Although the implementation strategy of the latest hostile US legislation against Syria is not yet clear – and whether they include military strikes or security sabotage under the pretext of combating drugs – sources close to the Americans in Beirut say that there are intentions to launch unidentified attacks against drug production sites in Syria.

However, the Syrian security source comments by saying, “This is pure fabrication, because the hostile strikes target the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its sites. The Americans always fabricate lies to justify their aggression, as the Israelis do.”

Is the Pope a Catholic, or Just Another NATO Stooge?

December 17, 2022

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Declan Heyes

Just as Ghana cannot afford an economic Maguire, so also can the Catholic Church not afford a spiritual Maguire at its center, Declan Hayes writes.

Although Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova now claims that Russia accepts the Pope’s apology over his Chechen and Buryat smears and therefore considers the matter closed, it is anything but. Nor, contrary to her conciliatory statement, can there be constructive, useful or meaningful dialogue between Russia and the Vatican, until the Holy See stops being NATO’s moronic cat’s paw.

Zakharova’s outrage and that of her colleagues arose, recall, because of the truly idiotic, uninformed and downright racist comments Pope Francis made about Chechen, Buryat and other Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Although I covered this outrage here at the time, some questions I raised remain unanswered, the chief one being who supplied Pope Francis with his mis-information on the Buryats and Chechens and how does their mis-information disavow my simpler explanation?

That, of course, is like the famous question of asking if the Pope is a Catholic. It is a rhetorical question as I already supplied the answer. As the Vatican has no direct inroads into the Russian High Command, it has no way of knowing what the Chechens and Buryats do or do not do. The Vatican relying on NATO outlets like Gillian Tett for their news is akin to putting the Pope’s neck in a noose; it is idiotic beyond measure.

It is worse than suicidal as it has the Pope, Christ’s Vicar on Earth, failing all three of the sieves of Socrates (the Greek philosopher, not the late and great Brazilian footballer). That is, NATO’s mis-information was palpably untrue, it was malicious and it served no other purpose than to stoke further fuel on the inferno that is Ukraine and, collaterally, to damage the good name of the Pope and of the Catholic Church not only in Russia, but also in Serbia, China and much further afield as well. Not only has it further unnecessarily damaged relations between Russia, Serbia and allied countries, on the one hand, and the Roman Catholic and allied churches on the other but it will create further formidable obstacles to building peace with justice going forward.

This, unfortunately, is not the Pope’s first rodeo. I wrote here on how the Pope held aloft a Ukrainian Nazi flag, as if it was the Host, the body and blood of Jesus, the Pope holds aloft when saying Mass. I wrote here of how NATO have been using the Catholic Church and its Ukrainian sister church in particular as a Trojan horse to destroy Russia since at least the time of Pope John Paul 11. And I wrote here on how Pope Francis, together with the Anglican cult, MI5 at prayer, is helping to undermine not only the Russian Orthodox Church but Christianity itself, most particularly in the Levant whose Christians, God’s own people, are suffering the most terrible hardships along with their Muslim neighbors, hardships I know as a fact the Pope has been repeatedly briefed on, but which he ignores in favor of Zelensky’s rotten, rump Reich.

Pope Francis, fresh from his Buryat blunder, is now urging us to have a lean Christmas and to send the money we save to Ukraine, by which he probably primarily means the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Vatican, that Pope John Paul 11 made a special point of highlighting when he assumed the Papacy, and that is at the center of much of the Nazi allegations levelled at Zelensky’s rump Reich. Although there are undoubtedly many Ukrainians who could do with help, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is to be commended for any good it does, Pope Francis should not have fallen into this further NATO trap.

Yes, there are people of all denominations and none on both sides of the lines in Ukraine who desperately need our help. But equally so, there are untold numbers of innocents in Yemen, in the Levant and further afield who also desperately need our help and Pope Francis is squeezing all of them out of the picture. I have friends, who support minor and largely unsung efforts in the Philippines, in Zambia, in Mexico and in Peru. Supporters of Glasgow Celtic Football Club send money to the poor of Eastern Thailand, thanks to a lovely scheme one of their supporters got going there. Check out Africa’s wonderful Masaka dancers who dance divinely for dimes; is the Pope seriously arguing that these are children of a lesser God? Should all those Peter’s Pence go to funding Olga Zelenska’s wardrobe instead? What utter madness is he talking?

For my own part, I work money to Syrian based Salesian nun Sr Bridget Doody, whom I interview here. Because of sanctions on Syria, I have to go through circuitous routes not only through this site and my own site as well (which I also use to avoid NATO’s censorship of this site).

Sr Doody works at the Italian Hospital in Damascus, which is under the direct auspices of His Holiness,.Pope Francis. Isn’t it odd that I get money from Lutherans, Communists and Muslims for a hospital under the auspices of the Holy Father, while he asks us to scrimp and save for Clown Prince Zelensky and his over dressed wife? What utter madness is this?

Although I enjoy my occasional cups of tea in the Salesian convent in Damascus, whose nuns cannot be praised highly enough, those nuns have criticized me for paying, out of my own pocket, for heart operations to keep little Syrian girls alive as that money, had it been spent on very basic provisions for other children, would have kept many more children alive.

These are the Sophie’s Choices these good nuns, these godly nuns, make day after day, which children to save and which to allow die. I have seen other nuns make the same choices in their orphanage in Smokey Mountain, Manila, as they wrapped their charges not in swaddling clothes like baby Jesus, but, with their nickels and dimes, in discarded newspapers to try to keep their little bodies warm and, therefore, alive. If Our God Lives, He lives in the hearts and souls of those nuns and those they save. And that is a cold and uncomfortable fact.

And, if God is to live in you, you should give whatever spare money you have to the nuns of Syria, to the nuns of the Philippines, to Africa’s Masaka dancers or to the Thai Tims of eastern Thailand, where it will be put to much better use than whatever the Ukrainian Church would get after Ali Baba and Zelensky’s forty thieves take their considerable cuts.

Witness Trócaire, one of Ireland’s biggest Catholic charities. The money they collected from innocent Irish school children they use

d to fund women’s propaganda groups in the ISIS Caliphate of East Ghouta, from where Sr Doody’s convent and all of Damascus was systematically shelled for years on end, until Russia’s General Armageddon helped put an end to all that.

Trócaire is not the only Irish group funding NATO’s Syrian terrorists. GOAL, which became Ireland’s biggest and most corrupt NGO thanks to CIA funding under the directorship of Dublin MEP (and NATO shill) Barry Andrews, poured tens of millions of dollars into Syria’s Caliphates. Is Pope Francis saying we should preference GOAL’s Ukrainian scam over the work of the good nuns of Syria, the Philippines and Palestine, where I met the saintly French nuns of the Bethlehem orphanage (where baby Jesus was born) who, in a beautiful meeting of minds, collect euros from French school children they get to team up as pen pals with their orphaned charges?

White Pope, Black Pope

These godly nuns have, at least, the satisfaction that they do not have to contend with the ungodly morons Maria Zakharova has to swat away like the gnats the Buryats have to contend with in their Siberian summers. If the Catholic Church, with the Pope and the Jesuit order at its helm, is to be something more than a Siberian gnat, it has to radically lift its game so that these great nuns, who do God’s great work in all corners of the earth, can continue to be lights in NATO’s darkness. The Black Pope’s Jesuits, among whose members is the White Pope, Pope Francis, is like so much more of the Catholic Church, a male gerontocracy, who not only won’t move quickly enough with the times but who are being infiltrated and outflanked at all levels by the more nimble footed and infinitely more well funded proxies of MI5 and the CIA. To counter this and to get back on the right track, the Catholic Church must radically reform itself and put sure footed people like Maria Zhakarova in positions so that China’s President Xi might take it seriously. It must, in other words, be as diplomatically and organizationally professional and sure footed as are the Russian and Chinese governments. That is the first step.

White Flag, Black Flag

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis must be familiar with the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the great Basque nationalist, who founded his order and who, with Francis Xavier, their great apostle, made the Jesuits the hallmark of pragmatic professionalism, which were consistent with Loyola’s military training.

In his exercises, Loyola refers to the two standards soldiers rally around in war, our flag, the flag of Christ and that other flag of our enemy, the anti-Christ. Although it is a simple analogy, it is a profound one. One either plays with Team Jesus, Team Good, or one does not.

As a football supporter, who has met Messi and the great Argentinian and Italian teams, Pope Francis has probably seen this video of the Parliament of Ghana laughing at England’s Harry Maguire. Just as Ghana cannot afford an economic Maguire, so also can the Catholic Church not afford a spiritual Maguire at its centrer. When, as is likely, Messi, Mbappe and their teammates once again visit the Vatican to present him with signed shirts and footballs, Pope Francis should raffle those items and give the proceeds to the nuns of Syria, Palestine or the Philippines, the Buryats, the Chechens, the Thai Tims or Africa’s Masaka dancers. Once he gets his selfies with Messi and Mbappe, the Pope should ask the French and Argentine managers for organizational pointers on how to clear out the rot from his own team so that Maria Zakharova and President Xi will regard him and his as solid players for Term Jesus and not as Spiritual Maguires for Team NATO.

CATHERINE PEREZ-SHAKDAM: THE “ISRAELI SPY” WHO “INFILTRATED” MINTPRESS

DECEMBER 14TH, 2022

Source

Alan McLeod

A storm of controversy erupted earlier this year in Iran, after local media outlets announced that a “Mossad spy” and “Israeli infiltrator” had gained the trust of the country’s senior leadership, penetrated into the highest halls of power, and had even been employed as a writer for  Ayatollah Khamenei himself.

Although the stories did not disclose the name of the infiltrator, it was clear that the individual in question was Catherine Perez-Shakdam. Almost immediately, Iranian media such as Press TV and The Tehran Times began silently but furiously removing all her content from their pages. Perhaps most worrying from an Iranian government perspective, Khamenei.ir, Ayatollah Khamenei’s own website, had to delete her articles and disavow her.

Catherine Perez-Shakdam is a French-born journalist and analyst who had married a Yemeni man, converted to Shia Islam and wore a hijab. In her professional life, she penned articles denouncing Israeli and Saudi crimes, lionized armed Palestinian resistance, and supported the Iranian government. She had earlier also been a frequent contributor to MintPress News – a fact that likely bolstered her anti-imperialist credibility.

Perez-Shakdam “came out,” so to speak, in a series of articles published in The Times of Israel, detailing how she was able to “walk right into the belly of the Beast” – i.e. Tehran. “Keen to be let in, I neither argued nor revealed my true motivations. I realized pretty early on that if I was to witness first-hand what it is that the region is really about I’d better blend in and listen,” she wrote. Her choice of language did nothing to douse suspicions that she was a spy in the vein of the Mista’arvim – the notorious intelligence units who spend their lives deep undercover in Arab society, gathering intelligence for Israel.

The articles come off as celebratory; the casting off of a previous identity and the embracing of a new one. “For years I peddled Iran’s propaganda,” she wrote, comparing the country to 1930s Nazi Germany. The Islamic Republic’s “regional expansionism and its obvious hunger for military supremacy”, its “imperial nihilism” and its “contempt for international law,” she noted (without irony), were contributing factors to why she now embraced Israel and had become a committed Zionist.

For her professional life, she had hidden her Jewish origins (she wrote under her husband’s surname, “Shakdam”), but now sings Israel’s praises, even revealing that her child wished to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

SPY WARS

Although she categorically rejects the assertion that she is an Israeli spy, Perez-Shakdam concedes that, prior to her engagement with Iran, she did indeed work for Israeli-American intelligence agency, Wikistrat.

Founded in Israel in 2010 and now based in Washington, D.C., Wikistrat has worked with a host of U.S. government agencies on a wide range of issues to do with espionage, psychological warfare and perception management.

Although technically a private company, its upper ranks are filled with former Israeli government intelligence officers. Chief amongst them is co-founder and CEO Elad Schaffer, whose LinkedIn page notes that he was head of an intelligence desk for an unnamed Israeli government agency. Judging by the agency logo Schaffer used, this organization is very likely to be the notorious IDF intelligence group, Unit 8200. Members and former members are prohibited by Israeli law from divulging their association with Unit 8200. Others, such as Yehonatan Etzion, have moved from Wikistrat into Israeli intelligence.

Another Wikistrat co-founder, Joel Zamel (currently the company’s chairman), also created Psy-Group. Described as a “private Mossad for hire” by The New Yorker, the agency is an Israeli spying firm that operates perception management, influence campaigns, muck raking research and clandestine activities for clients. In 2016, they sought the Trump administration as a client and also approached the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, offering them their services in the fight against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Wikistrat’s council of advisors is a who’s who of senior intelligence community leaders. On the board include ex-acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd; General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA; former national security advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney, John P. Hannah; and disgraced neoconservative war planner Elliott Abrams, who, in 2020, was appointed the president’s special advisor on Iran. It has been widely reported that slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was also secretly working for Wikistrat just before his assassination.

In 2017, Zamel met with the Trump administration and members of the Saudi government for a series of meetings to, in the words of The Daily Beast, hash out a “multi-pronged strategy for eroding, and eventually ending, the current Iranian regime—including economic, information, and military tactics for weakening the Tehran government.” Wikistrat has also published forecasts on the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran.

After working for Wikistrat, Perez-Shakdam wrote for Al-Majalla, an outlet with close connections to the Saudi monarchy. She has written off her involvement with Wikistrat as minimal and justified writing for Saudi government-controlled media, claiming she wanted “to be the change that you want to see.”

But another troubling allegation has never been made public until now. MintPress spoke with a number of sources close to Perez-Shakdam. One said that she approached them, offering them life-changing money in a deal that seemed too good to be true. The source claims Perez-Shakdam offered them thousands of dollars per month in exchange for going to certain precise urban Middle Eastern locations and providing her with photographs and videos of the area, the buildings and the surrounds. Perez-Shakdam supposedly indicated that the money for this was coming from the U.S. Perez-Shakdam strenuously denies these allegations.

A SPY IN OUR MIDST?

How did somebody with this background end up being welcomed in to the top tiers of Iranian society, rubbing shoulders with individuals like General Qassem Soleimani, President Ebrahim Raisi and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

A great part of Perez-Shakdam’s credibility with the Iranians came from the fact that she spent years writing and commenting on Middle Eastern matters for alternative media, such as Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor. Between 2014 and 2017, she also frequently wrote articles for MintPress News, and even lobbied to become a TV and video presenter for this platform.

“She was a regular contributor” MintPress founder and CEO Mnar Adley said. “She reached out to me directly to pitch ideas and asked to be a regular contributor. She had written for a couple of independent media outlets and presented herself as anti-war and a convert to Islam.”

“She was very friendly and responsive to edits. She was pleasant to work with,” Adley added, explaining that this made her feel all the worse,

Just finding out that she could be an Israeli spy made me feel violated because I feel like she used MintPress as a means to get through to people who are sympathetic with Iranians and others who have been victims of U.S. sanctions and constant threats of war…It’s pretty disturbing. Like, who can you trust?”

Perez-Shakdam’s work focussed primarily on Middle Eastern politics, highlighting and exposing U.S., Israeli and Saudi actions in Yemen and across the region. In 2016, for example, she argued that the Saudi attack on Yemen was dictated by the country’s oil interests, writing,

The Saudi-led coalition launched its attack on Yemen, leaving the poorest nation of Southern Arabia to crack and burn under a brutal display of military force while its civil infrastructure is ground to dust…Yemen was literally set on fire so Riyadh could manifest its long-held ambition of an oil monopoly.”

She also presented an extremely radical critique of the world’s economy, regularly leaning on the work of Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin to explain today’s society, concluding that “capitalism require[s] more lands and more resources to fall under the control of its corporations and their owners, which neoconservatism [has] raised to the status of multi-billionaires, while the other 99 percent [is] left to scrounge on leftovers.”

OUR WOMAN IN TEHRAN?

In the end, MintPress ended the relationship with Perez-Shakdam. However, by 2017, she had managed to parlay her work in the alternative press into becoming an important player in Iranian media.

That year, she was granted special access to travel with presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, following him on the campaign trail to the city of Rasht and recording an exclusive TV interview with him. Raisi, already a powerful figure, would lose the election, but would later win the presidency in 2021.

She also contributed to a range of Iranian outlets, including Mashregh NewsTasnim News and Mehr News. Perhaps most notably, however, she became a regular writer for Khamenei.ir, the official website of Iran’s supreme leader. After the scandal broke earlier this year, the organization wiped Shakdam’s content from its website, attempting to save face. Still, at least 18 articles can still be accessed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

Thus, for quite some time, Perez-Shakdam was welcomed into the highest echelons of Iranian society. That a Zionist journalist (and possible intelligence agent) was granted such extraordinary and intimate access to Iran’s most influential figures was a major cause of embarrassment and concern for its security services, who are deeply mistrustful and wary of Western interference. This information was openly available on the internet for those searching for it, meaning that background checks were either botched or non-existent.

A REGULAR PATTERN

Perez-Shakdam has repeatedly ridiculed those who allege she is a spy for Mossad or another Israeli intelligence agency, arguing that they are hardly likely to enlist a non-Farsi-speaking French citizen for Iran operations.

Yet there have been a great many documented examples of foreign-born agents working for Israel and going deep undercover, marrying locals and having children, only later to reveal their true identities to their families. Those families were generally then given the opportunity to flip sides or be left behind. However, those cases primarily involved Iraqi Jews who were trained to pass as Palestinians.

Other similar cases include the agents of the Mista’arvim. Taken from the Arabic term “Musta’arabi” or “those who live amongst the Arabs”, the Mista’arvim are units within the Israeli military, police and intelligence services who operate undercover in enemy states in order to gather intelligence and infiltrate movements. Israeli military intelligence has even held “competitions”, rewarding those who take the photos of the most Palestinians for their facial recognition database.

Another group, the Duvdevan Unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, operates in a similar fashion, embedding itself in enemy populations in order to carry out targeted assassinations.

Modern spy agencies’ work is not all cloak and dagger, however. Much of it centers around cultivating all manner of assets in the world of politics, think tanks and journalism in order to increase their knowledge and influence and to effect public discourse and opinion.

Perez-Shakdam’s explanation for her extraordinary shift in political outlook is that she went through a genuine and profound change based on life experiences and introspection. According to her, she went to Iran purely to satiate her own curiosity. Yet, she was so disillusioned by what she saw and experienced that it caused her to completely reevaluate her worldview. In other interviews, she has noted her daughter was also a catalyst in her conversion, challenging her on religious and political issues and revealing her own intellectual weaknesses.

Shakdam’s daughter also appears to have gone through a similar transition. As late as 2018, social media posts show her celebrating Ramadan. Yet today, she commemorates fallen IDF soldiers and describes herself as a “proud Judean warrior” who will “always be a Jew, no matter what”.

ALL ABOUT THE MONEY?

One source MintPress spoke to cast doubt on the idea Perez-Shakdam was a spy, instead framing her repositioning as an astute career move. Certainly, she is likely earning more writing for The Times of Israel and appearing on the BBC and GB News than in independent media or on Iranian television.

Yet making this transition would require a complete reversal of position. Perez-Shakdam had, for years, publicly condemned Western regime changers on Iran. Writing on the 2017 Iranian protests, for example, she excoriated the biased media coverage in the West. “Rather than objectively report on facts, the BBC took it upon itself to manipulate facts to feed into a predetermined political narrative,” she stated.

Meanwhile, as late as December 2018, she appeared on television and openly praised Hamas for its armed resistance against Israeli occupation. “I think it is important to remember this ability that Hamas has shown to unite all Palestinians, regardless of their political position or religious belief,” she said. These sorts of comments had drawn the ire of pro-Israel groups such as the Middle East Media Research Institute and the ADL, the latter of which had even labelled her anti-Semitic.

But now she has performed an ideological 180° on virtually every key political issue, suggesting Iran is guilty of “crimes against humanity” and repeating allegations that it buys babies from poor mothers to harvest the infants’ organs. In September, she confidently predicted that Ayatollah Khamenei was at death’s door, telling The Daily Express that “It is believed as of yesterday that Khamenei is about to breathe his last.” And last month, in response to the news that the United States and Israel were holding joint drills simulating bombing Iran’s infrastructure, she simply tweeted “hehe”.

Meanwhile, on Palestine, she now warns that if the European Union begins stepping up its aid to the beleaguered nation, Hamas “terror” is likely to increase. And she is comfortable enough to give extended TV interviews to Saudi government-funded media. Perez-Shakdam refused to speak to independent, reader-supported MintPress News, however.

A NEW HOME

Only fueling more speculation about her connections to intelligence was the news this summer that Perez-Shakdam had been appointed as a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a hawkish London-based think tank.

Named after the neoconservative anti-communist senator, the HJS advocates that Western states are the most technologically and morally advanced and that NATO and other Western organizations must project “a global reach” to “assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so” – in other words, advocating regime change.

Unsurprisingly, the HJS is closely connected to the military and intelligence establishments, as well as the U.K. Conservative Party, which it has helped fund. While the HJS’ finances are somewhat opaque, it proudly notes that its top international patrons include:

  • Michael Chertoff, former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
  • R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency;
  • Carl Gershman, longtime president of CIA regime change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy;
  • Jack Shaheed, former supreme allied commander of NATO;
  • Richard Perle, former 1st assistant secretary of defense for global affairs and a chief architect of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions;
  • More Gold, former Israeli permanent representative to the United Nations and foreign policy advisor to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

As the last name on the list suggests, the HJS enjoys something of a revolving door with the Israeli government. In 2011, the HJS’ board was defenestrated and replaced by individuals from Israel advocacy group, Just Journalism. Furthermore, at least two HJS staffers have moved directly from the group to positions within the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The HJS does not hide this relationship. Indeed, an HJS job advertisement for the position of North American Director noted that they were looking for someone who could reach out to the “pro-Israel community.”

The HJS has hosted the Friends of Israel Initiative in London and enjoys a close relationship with the parliamentary group, the Conservative Friends of the IDF, who are one of the signatories of the HJS’ statement of principles. Other organizations hold a dimmer view of the HJS. Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, for instance, has accused it of trying to smear them as “terrorist sympathizers.”

Given these connections, it is perhaps unsurprising that the HJS has taken extremely hawkish positions on Iran, insisting the West must “counter” the Islamic Republic, condemning the U.S./Iran nuclear deal, claiming that Iran possesses a huge influence network across the United Kingdom, and publishing reports assessing Iran’s capability of withstanding drone attacks.

Counting many of the U.K. Conservative Party’s most powerful politicians as friends and associates, the HJS has also influenced the British government’s hard-line foreign policy and domestic treatment of its own Muslim population.

No doubt this legislation was affected by perhaps the HJS’ most controversial figure, Douglas Murray, HJS associate director between 2011 and 2018. Described by some as an “extreme right ideologue” who “spread anti-Muslim vitriol”, Murray is one of the key figures in mainstreaming the “Great Replacement” theory, i.e. that we are in the midst of a genocide of white people, as people of color invade Europe and North America. Murray’s solution to this is that “all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop” and that, “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”

The HJS has certainly opened doors for Perez-Shakdam. She is now a regular on right-wing U.K. television networks such as TalkTV and GB News, discussing what the Western position on Iran should be. In September, she was able to go to the House of Lords to warn about the perils of giving aid to Palestinians. And just last week, she hosted an event in parliament assessing the possibilities for regime change in Tehran.

A MYSTERIOUS CASE

Thus, in just a few short years, Catherine Perez-Shakdam has gone from rubbing shoulders with the Iranian political elite to walking in the halls of power in the United Kingdom. Is she a longtime asset of Western or Israeli intelligence that has now come out in the open, a genuine political convert oscillating wildly from one belief to the next, or a calculating careerist who spotted an opportunity?

All three are plausible, given the facts of the case. Adley, however, suspects Perez-Shakdam did indeed have ulterior motives when working at MintPress, stating,

I believe she used her experience working with MintPress to give herself clout in infiltrating the anti-war movement and to get close to people who are sympathetic with resistance movements in the Middle East. I do feel confident that she is a spy”.

Whatever the truth of the situation, the curious case of Catherine Perez-Shakdam is a reminder to anti-war and anti-imperialist groups, human rights organizations and even progressive media outlets that spies could be among you.

Sophisticated Jerusalem bombing operation is Israel’s new ‘nightmare’

December 13 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

Source

Yousef Fares

Why a highly professional and ‘unsolved’ bombing attack in Al-Quds has triggered Israeli security forces and settlers alike.

On the morning of 23 November, occupied Jerusalem woke up to the sound of a double explosion in the western part of the city. The operation, the first of its kind since 2016, killed two Jewish settlers and injured about 47 others.

Israel’s security establishment immediately imposed strict restrictions on media outlets, preventing any details of the operation from being published, and accused resistance factions Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) of carrying out the brazen attack.

At the same time, the hacker group Moses’ Staff (Assa Musa), believed to be of Iranian origin, published footage of the bombing attack in Jerusalem on its Telegram channel. The hackers claimed to have infiltrated the surveillance cameras belonging to a major Israeli security organization.

Along with the video, there was a Hebrew inscription that said “for a long time we had control over all your activities – step by step, moment by moment.” The video showed the exact moment of the explosion near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station. Moses Staff also claims that it “formatted the hard drive of the camera.”

An upgrade in tactics

According to subsequent Israeli news reports, the perpetrators placed one of the two explosive devices on an electric bike that was parked at a bus station, while the second was placed on a motorcycle. The time difference between the two explosions was a few minutes.

It was later revealed that the two bombs, which contained a large amount of shrapnel and nails, were detonated remotely by a cell phone after the perpetrators left the scene of the operation.

For the Israeli army, this operation is of great concern, not only in terms of the number of deaths and injuries, but also because of the sophistication of tactics adopted by its perpetrators.

The operation would have required discreet reconnaissance, manufacture of small, highly effective bombs, and entry into and exit from the most secure and controlled areas in the occupied territories without any mishaps.

In recognition of these increasingly advanced military tactics, former Israeli police official Aryeh Amnit described the new resistance cells in the West Bank as “a more organized, educated, and professional generation.”

The Israelis also fear that their failure to arrest those responsible, after nearly three weeks of pursuit, will lead to further well-planned and highly-targeted resistance operations.

Revisiting the Second Intifada

Since the early 1990s, following First Intifada tactics that included both suicide bombings and targeted use of explosive devices, these kinds of missions have been the most effective form of armed struggle. The first of these operations was in 1993, carried out by Anwar Aziz of the PIJ.

Bombing operations reached their peak during the Second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada, between 2001 and 2002, during which 88 missions were carried out, causing the death and injury of hundreds of Israelis.

This led to the Israeli army launching Operation Defensive Wall, which aimed at destroying the infrastructure of the resistance factions, and building an illegal separation wall around the cities of the West Bank – allegedly to prevent the infiltration of Palestinian fighters into the cities of the occupied territories, but also extending the occupation’s annexation of what remained of historic Palestine.

This far-reaching and oppressive Israeli operation initially appeared to yield results: between late 2005 and 2015, only 15 bombings took place, and between 2016 and 2022, the resistance was unable to carry out more than two bombings. It appeared that the Israelis had managed to completely eliminate the organized resistance cells that could carry out this type of sensitive operation.

Unsettling the Settlers

Yet November’s Jerusalem operation raises fresh security concerns for Israel’s occupation agenda in the West Bank, specifically in regard to the sudden advancement of Palestinian methods and tools of warfare.

The Hebrew Wala website claims that  Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories have submitted more than 100 police reports about the presence of “suspicious objects” since the Jerusalem bombings. This means, according to Ahmed Al-Madhoun, a researcher on Israeli affairs, that “the operation succeeded in shaking the settlers’ confidence in their army’s ability to provide them with security.”

Madhoun told The Cradle: “With no information about the identity of the perpetrators, the occupation army has launched random arrest operations in East Jerusalem, to cover its impotence in front of a new generation of settlers facing a security threat that it had not seen before.”

According to the Hebrew broadcaster Kan, the perpetrators were residents of areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem, while Israel’s Yamam special force claimed it had managed to arrest one of them. It later became clear that none of these detainees had anything to do with the Jerusalem attack.

A source in East Jerusalem informed The Cradle that the behavior of the Israeli army confirms the validity of the announcement made by the hacker group, Moses’ Staff about compromising Israel’s surveillance equipment.

The source indicated that in normal circumstances, Israel’s military investigators review surveillance camera footage, identify the suspects, and then launch a “hot pursuit” to arrest the perpetrators.

But that didn’t happen this time. After security and forensic officials failed to discover any biological evidence left by the perpetrators – like fingerprints or other physical traces – at the scene of the operation, they resorted to carrying out random arrests of Palestinian civilians.

A new ‘professional’ resistance

Jerusalem-based political analyst Majd Ahmed explains that the behavior of the perpetrators indicates a high level of professionalism.

“After the operation, the occupation authorities imposed a publication ban, and false news was spread about the arrest of one of the attackers, to push the real perpetrators to make a mistake that would expose their identity, such as hiding or trying to travel.”

But those responsible for the attack seem to be living their normal lives. These subtle details confirm that there is superior planning behind resistance ops, and the hypothesis of cooperation between these cells at home and their allies abroad is likely.

This hypothesis is what Israel’s Minister of Internal Security Omer Bar-Lev hinted at immediately after the bombing in Jerusalem, when he said “the attack was complex, suggesting that it was the result of an organized infrastructure.”

Recurring Israeli ‘nightmare’

Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom warned that the Jerusalem operation opens the door to a wave of bombardments similar to those that took place in 2001 and 2002. It further claimed the existence of “an explosives factory capable of producing explosive belts that can be used in commando operations, as happened in the Al-Aqsa (Second) Intifada.”

Political analyst Ayman al-Rafati believes that the Jerusalem operation – highly professional despite overwhelming Israeli security obstacles – confirms that the West Bank resistance has reached an advanced stage of capacity-building.

“We can expect more such operations in the coming months, especially since the resistance cells succeeded in reading the Israeli security mind, and were able to step ahead of it, and put themselves away from security oversight,” he told The Cradle.

Rafati also contends that the resistance’s ability to access Israel’s geographic depth raises this threat to an all-time high. Operations can now move from the West Bank cities that represent Israel’s backyard, to “Israel’s bedroom”itself, which has become “the biggest nightmare for the Israeli security establishment.

Iran: To veil or not to veil

December 09 2022

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Photo Credit: The Cradle

Sharmine Narwani

The explosion of protests in Iran that began in September were not about the Islamic Republic’s “hijab law” specifically, but about the abuses and excesses of the so-called morality police – the Gasht-e-Ershad (also known simply as Ershad, or in English, the ‘guidance patrol’) – against regular Iranian women who were considered to be immodestly garbed.

Public disgruntlement was triggered by the widely-publicized death of Mahsa Amini, who was apprehended by the Ershad and died while in their custody.

Although subsequent video footage released by Iranian police authorities showed that Amini had collapsed herself – likely due to her personal health history, as her official autopsy indicates, and not from alleged “beatings” – Iranians argued that the stress of it all may have triggered that collapse.

In the weeks ahead, protests morphed into riots, and people were killed, both civilians and security forces. Whether the two sides shot at each other, or other, external provocateurs were at play, is not the subject of this commentary.

The question is more where these recent events will take Iran, and whether public sentiment on the hijab will be addressed by the country’s governing bodies – and how.

Iran’s very diffused decision-making centers

Iran is by no means the ‘caricature dictatorship’ often portrayed in western mainstream media. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the final authority on strategic matters, it is a privilege he rarely exercises to counter domestic critics.

As opposed as he was to Iranian nuclear talks with western powers, Khamenei fully permitted the government of former President Hassan Rouhani to proceed with its negotiation agenda, in its desire to normalize economic relations and end Iran’s then-isolation.

There is probably no figure in Iran who has gone on the record as vehemently as Khamenei, warning that the west is never, ever to be trusted, and that Iran’s greatest power lies in its economic self-sufficiency and complete independence from western-dominated global networks.

And yet Khamenei sat back and allowed the Rouhani administration to pursue a policy that completely contradicted his deepest national convictions.

The Supreme Leader’s actions, however, speak to the very real diffusion inherent in Iranian decision-making processes today. There is no single authority in the state. Decisions are either made collaboratively or in heated and often very public disputes that play out in the Iranian media, in parliamentary debates, or behind closed doors.

In essence, Iran has three main power centers today: First, the Supreme Leader and his various state revolutionary organs that include the army, the police force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the millions-strong volunteer Basij forces.

Second, Iran’s government and its state institutions that include the elected president, his cabinet, the country’s ministries, and parliament.

And third, the hawza (seminary) of Qom, Iran’s religious center, which consists of thousands of Shia scholars, authorities, and influencers who impact the interpretation of religion, actions, and behaviors for the Islamic Republic.

All three power centers impact state policy in varying ways, and their fortunes have all ebbed and flowed at different times. Within each of these centers exists a vast network of supporters, institutions, media, economic interests, and influential personalities. They, as in other democratic societies, vie for their perspectives to be taken into account and put into action.

To imagine for a second that a single person or decision-making body can issue a directive on an issue as complex and symbolic as the hijab, is to be absolutely clueless about the intricacy, contradictions, and diversity within the Islamic Republic’s body politic.

A view from the ground

During a two-week visit to Tehran in late November, I noticed significant differences on the ground than in my many previous visits, which stopped in January 2020 due to Covid travel restrictions.

During my last visit to the Iranian capital in 2020, one would occasionally see Iranian women sitting without their hijabs in restaurants. Today, however, the ladies were walking on streets, in malls, at the airport, in traditional bazaars, universities and parks, both uptown and downtown, without the customary head-covering.

What is of utmost importance in the current heated discourse on the Iranian hijab is that this ‘uncovering’ trend did not start in September with the protests. This critical detail goes entirely unmentioned in the western media narrative.

Many Iranian women – in the intervening three years since my last visit – had dropped the headscarf, and the scenes in my photos above have been the norm for years. Did the pandemic help relax the social norms during these years? Nobody I asked had a clear answer. “It just became normal,” was a common refrain.

Today, you can see Iranian ladies – young and old – without a hijab, with a headscarf, and with the more traditional floor-length chador walking together on the same streets; everybody doing their own thing and minding their own business.

It is a fascinating development, because by law in Iran, hijab is mandatory. And yet nobody forcibly implements this law until the Ershad pops back onto the scene.

This is important, because the Ershad is not always there, at all times. While they have been a functioning body since 2006, Iranian authorities appear to only mobilize them at specific intervals: perhaps Qom is getting restless over morality issues, or conservatives are vying for influence over reformists, or there are geopolitical tensions on the country’s borders.

The point is that the Ershad has never been a constant on the streets of Iran, but usually a result of something happening politically somewhere in the country.

Authorities gather to discuss the hijab

Nonetheless, three months of protests and riots later, the issue of the hijab appears to be coming to a head among the Islamic Republic’s competing power centers.

In my personal experience, Iran’s security branches like the IRGC – which operate under Khamenei’s authority – are the least belligerent on the hijab issue. They are focused on foreign infiltration, sabotage, anti-terror operations, and warfare, not on the nitty-gritty of daily life and behaviors.

The hijab is a ‘symbol’ of the Islamic Republic, and symbols – as we have seen in countless hybrid wars conducted in West Asia and beyond – are the first and easiest targets for external provocateurs.

Whether it is changing the colors of the national flag to symbolize opposition, or crafting ditties to replace the national anthem, or encouraging women to whip off their headscarves and videotape it – these are the low-hanging fruit of hybrid warfare.

In a January 2018 interview by a private Iranian publication that has a closed distribution and whose readers are specifically security officials and ‘principalists,’ I was asked about the use of these tools in Syria and Iran. My response, with some length-related edits, is below:

“Symbolic slogans, banners and props are a staple of western-styled ‘color revolutions.’ Iran saw the full impact of these tools in the ‘Green’ movement during the 2009 elections. The use of visual tools (a picture is worth a thousand words) to sum up a theme or aspiration that is instantly understandable to a wide audience – this is basic marketing. People do this in elections all the time, but now these concepts are being effectively utilized in information warfare at a geopolitical level.

The use of the green colonial-era flag in Syria was an easy way to quickly draw a larger number of the Syrian population into the ‘opposition’ tent. Basically anyone who had a grievance with the government – whether political, economic, social, religious – was urged to identify with the protest movement under the banner of this new flag. Syrian activists began to mobilize masses by ‘naming’ Friday protests, using language that sought to craft the opposition’s direction and to slowly Islamize it.

Slogans and props are easy propaganda tricks to employ to draw ‘uncommitted’ members of the population into embracing an anti-government position. Identity tools are an essential component of regime-change operations. You have to delegitimize the existing national symbols in order to craft new ones.

In Iran, the image of the young woman without her hijab swiftly became one of the symbols of the protests on social media. Ironically, the hijab could potentially be viewed as an ‘identity prop’ for the 1979 Islamic Revolution – an easily identifiable symbol which immediately identified a distinct political or religious outlook. As a result, in foreign-backed propaganda assaults on Iran, the hijab will almost always be a target to delegitimize or mock.” (Emphasis mine)

The interview was published alongside a photo of me without a hijab. A few weeks later, I received a message from a top Iranian analyst who is reportedly closely affiliated with the IRGC’s Quds Force. He sent a screenshot of my comments on the hijab, and asked if I had written this. To my surprise, he told me that he fully agreed with my assessment.

On another occasion, Iranian IRGC-backed publication Javan requested an interview along with a translation of one of my Syria articles for a special-issue magazine on the regional Axis of Resistance. Again, they published a photo of myself without the hijab.

Hijab and the state

Simply put, the hijab isn’t a priority issue for Iran’s security sector. They have more important fish to fry. But it is a vital subject for the theologians inside and outside Qom.

And perhaps also for the millions of Iranian women who choose to don it, and don’t want to be bullied out of it, as were their grandmothers in 1936 when then-monarch Reza Shah Pahlavi outlawed the traditional Islamic head covering.

“With the ban on hijab, many women stayed inside their homes for years or left home only in the dark or hidden inside carriages to avoid confrontation with the police who would if necessary use force to unveil them. Even older Christian and Jewish women found the ban on headscarves hard to comply with,” writes Maryam Sinaee – ironically, for Saudi-backed publication Iran International, which runs 24/7 propaganda for Iranian oppositionists nowadays.

These matters aside, Iran’s security leaders have an unusually strong case to put to the clergy today: ‘The hijab, which we respect, has entered the national security realm. Foreign-backed agendas have weaponized the hijab to promote regime-change operations.’ This is not a position the clergy can argue given recent events.

It is probably why Iranian authorities are reportedly considering a host of options to take the threat off the table, including, potentially, the suspension or dissolution of the Ershad, to be replaced by a general program to teach and advise about Islamic modesty across the country, for both men and women.

The Ershad – established under the administration of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – are off the streets now, and have been for many weeks. And the three main Iranian centers of authority are deep in conversation about how to calm residual tensions and address this social grievance among segments of the population.

Interestingly, this development somewhat mirrors that of arch-rival Saudi Arabia across the Persian Gulf, where the “mutawa,” or Saudi religious police, were stripped of their once-unchecked powers and privileges in 2016 by royal decree. Since then, it has become more common to see women publically unveiled and not wearing the traditional black abaya over their regular clothes, despite there never having been a Saudi written law mandating it.

Qom – and many others – will never agree to retract the hijab law. After all, its over-zealous enforcement by the few was what the argument was originally about. Like many laws without teeth that remain on the books of countries everywhere, Iran’s hijab law may experience a similar fate.

But while we can expect a gentler Iranian hand in regard to the hijab, it will be also be accompanied by a merciless de-fanging of those who sought to use this symbol of piety to undermine the state.

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