I recommended back in November that the WhiteHelmets should get an Oscar on account of their acting abilities

Not sure about Nobel prize but the White Helmets certainly deserve a Hollywood Oscar

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

There is little doubt that the mid-February Netanyahu/Trump love fest at the White House further dampened already dim Palestinian hopes for a sustainable peace based on a political compromise. The biggest blow was Trump’s casual abandonment of the two-state solution coupled with an endorsement of a one-state outcome provided the parties agree to such an outcome, which as so expressed is a result almost impossible to suppose ever happening in the real world. Israel would never agree to a secular one-state that effectively abandons the Zionist insistence on a Jewish state with deep historical roots and biblical validation. The Palestinians would never agree to live in such a Jewish one-state that essentially abandoned their long struggle to achieve national self-determination, thereby gaining liberation from the last major remnant of the colonial era.

With geopolitical bravado suitable for the real estate magnate that he remains, despite the presidential trappings of his formal role, Trump also vaguely promised to negotiate a grand deal for the region that evidently reached beyond the contested territory of Palestine so long locked in conflict, and thus encompassed neighboring countries or possibly the whole region. It is easy to speculate that such murmurings by Trump were not welcomed in either Jordan or Egypt, long favored by rightest Israelis as dumping grounds for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such added ‘political space’ is attractive from an Israeli perspective, both to ensure that Israel maintains a comfortable Jewish majority if the one-state solution were ever forcibly implemented by Israel. At the same time the prospect of population transfer would allow Israel to achieve a higher degree of racial purity, a feature of the dominant Zionist imaginary long before Israel became internationally recognized as a state.

An inflammatory part of this new political environment is the accelerated expansion of the existing network of unlawful Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestine. Although near unanimously condemned in Security Council Resolution 2334 last December, Israel responded by defiantly announcing approval of thousands more settlement units, endorsing plans for an entirely new settlement, and by way of a Knesset initiative provocatively legalized settlement ‘outposts,’ 50 of which are distributed throughout the West Bank in direct violation of even Israeli law. It is possible that the Israeli Supreme Court will heed anticipated judicial challenges to this latest move, and eventually void this Knesset law, but even if this happens, the passage of such a law sends a clear message of iron resolve by the political forces currently steering Israeli policy never to permit the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

In these circumstances, it becomes incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to show the world that it is still alive, and it currently has few ways of doing this. Given these realities it would seem a no brainer for the PA to light up the skies of public awareness of the Palestinian plight by vigorously demanding justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC). After all there is a wide consensus on the global stage that all the settlements, and not just the outposts, are in violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These settlements have for decades served as a major obstacle in the search for a satisfactory diplomatic solution of the conflict. Of course, it would be naïve to expect Israel to comply with an adverse judgment of the ICC, or to participate in such a proceeding in ways other than by challenging the competence of the tribunal, but a favorable outcome would still be of great value for the Palestinians. It would cast Israel in an unfavorable light in relation to the UN, international law, and world public opinion, and undoubtedly encourage the further development of the already robust global solidarity movement.

Yet, despite these circumstances that makes the ICC seem such an attractive option, a PA decision to take this path is far from obvious. The former Foreign Minister of the PA and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Nasser al-Kidwa, effectively dismissed the ICC option by calling it ‘complicated’ without any further explanation, leaving the impression that the costs of taking such a step were too high. However, the issue is not yet settled as mixed signals are emanating from Palestinian leadership circles. For instance, the PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, in contrast to Kidwa, minced no words in his insistence that the ICC investigate “the colonial settlement regime.”

It seems useful to speculate on why there should be this ambivalence among Palestinian leaders. After all, international law, international public opinion, and even most European governments are all supportive of Palestinian claims with regard to the settlements. Israel remains more defiant than ever, and shows every sign of further expansion, possibly with an eye toward soon unilaterally declaring an end to the conflict, a move that Washington might find temporarily awkward, but in the end, acceptable. At the core of this debate about recourse to the ICC is the tricky question as to whether deference to the muscular vagaries of geopolitics serves Palestinian interests at this time.

Recourse to the ICC: Pros and Cons

The argument favoring recourse to the ICC is almost too obvious to put forward. It would back Israel into a corner. The Netanyahu government is certain to react with anger and concrete expressions of hostility to any such move by the PA. Such a reaction would be widely seen as a convincing confirmation of Israel’s vulnerability to any impartial test as to whether its settlement policies meet the minimum requirements of international law. And most importantly for the PA it would demonstrate that despite recent political disappointments the Ramallah leadership was prepared to embark upon a controversial course of action that displayed political courage, including a willingness to endure expected vindictive acts of retaliation.

Recourse to the ICC would play well with the Palestinian people, especially those living under occupation. They experience daily tensions with violent settler groups and see no future for themselves absent confrontation with Israel. If the PA chooses such a course, it would help restore support for the flagging claims of the PA to serve as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the global level. This is turn could lead finally to durable arrangements of unity as between Hamas and Fatah, which would raise confidence levels that the Palestinians were prepared for this latest, difficult stage of their national movement.

The arguments against going to the ICC are somewhat more elusive. There is no doubt that Palestine, recognized by the UN as a state now enjoys the jurisdictional qualifications to participate in ICC proceedings. What is less clear is whether the ICC would be responsive, and able to circumvent technical obstacles, such as finding suitable Israeli defendants. During its 15 years of operation the ICC has been very reluctant to be pro-active except in Africa, and even there it has been recently stung by an intense pushback by African governments and the African Union. The ICC has been reluctant to stir up political opposition in the West, which would certainly occur as soon as the ICC launched a full investigation of Palestinian grievances against Israel.

There is also the reverse problem of ICC action that might disappoint the PA. To appear balanced, the ICC would probably extend its investigation to include allegations relating to indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. It could then decide that a strong case of probable criminal responsibility attributable to Hamas existed, while allegations against Israel failed because of the inability to establish criminal intent. Although a setback for the PA, such an outcome at the ICC would be internationally criticized as contrary to reasonable interpretations of international law, and be widely regarded as a reflection of political pressures exerted by Washington.

Likely, the PA is most inhibited by the ‘lawfare’ campaign being waged by Israel and the United States. Already during the Obama presidency there was Congressional legislation terminating financial assistance to the PA in the event of any recourse to the ICC. Since Trump these warnings have escalated, including the total suspension of financial aid, the closing of the PLO offices in Washington, and threats to put the PLO and Fatah back on the US list of terrorist organizations. It is evident that the PA is taking these unseemly threats seriously.

There are also PA fears that any ICC initiative would induce Israel to move more quickly toward closure with respect to the underlying conflict, annexing most or all of the West Bank. Such a reaction would both be in keeping with Israel’s tendency to respond disproportionately to any formal action directed at the legality of its policies and practices. Israel is particularly sensitive about war crimes charges, and vows extraordinary measures should any of its citizens be so charged. Now that Netanyahu can count on unconditional support in the White House and the US Congress it would not be surprising to see him use the occasion of an ICC initiative to proclaim Israeli sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine.

Conclusion

In light of the above, it seems almost certain that the PA will not act take advantage of the ICC option any time soon. The PA is likely to adopt a posture of neither/nor; that is, neither explicitly ruling out recourse to the ICC, nor activating the option. This reflects the reality that the PA is caught between the rock of US/Israel bullying tactics and the hard place of an increasingly restive Palestinian population, being acutely reminded of its ordeal by the grim realization that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation.

The United States posture, although somewhat more belligerently pro-Israel as a result of the Trump presidency, is really nothing new except in style. Even during the Obama presidency the US opposed every attempt by the PA to rely on international law or the UN to advance its national struggle. Instead of welcoming the use of law rather than weapons, the US Government castigated efforts of Palestine to gain membership in the UN System or to seek even symbolic relief for its grievances in international venues. This turn against international law, as well as against the UN, is clearly a signature issue for the Trump presidency, and not just in relation to Palestine, and this is not good news for the world. ­

This article was originally published on the author’s blog. A version was also previously published in the Middle East Eye

 

 

israel’s chemical war on Palestine

Study: ‘Israel is Poisoning Palestine’ and Children Are First Victim

 

Poisonous gases sprayed on Palestinian farms and their effects appearing on the crops. (Mohammed Asad, MEMO, file)

Palestinians in the West Bank are facing serious human rights violations and increasing food insecurity as a result of the use of toxic pesticides in illegal settlements, a fact-finding mission, cited by MEMO, has revealed.

A joint research project carried out by the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN) and the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) found that the occupied West Bank contains highly hazardous pesticides, which are banned by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Half of the pesticides used within the areas under the PA’s jurisdiction are illegal, and five tonnes of them have been confiscated since 1995, according to the findings.

Dr. Meriel Watts, who took part in preparing the report, warned that the Israeli policies of control prevent the PA from restricting the trade and use of these pesticides.

 

“It is unacceptable that the PA, with one of the tightest pesticide registration and compliance systems, including not allowing pesticides that are banned in their country of origin, is thwarted at every turn by the Israeli authorities who knowingly facilitate the entry of banned highly hazardous pesticides into the occupied West Bank.”

The Palestinian residents, particularly children, living in villages and cities near Israeli chemical waste-producing settlements are exposed to contaminated soil and drinking water, and mosquito-borne, respiratory and eye diseases, the report added.

To highlight the issue on a global scale, the organisations launched an online petition entitled “Stop Poisoning Palestine” on World Social Justice Day, 20 February.

British Foreign Policy and the UK Weapons Trade

British Foreign Policy and the UK Weapons Trade

By Matthew JAMISON | Strategic Culture Foundation | 24.02.2017

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By Matthew JAMISON | Strategic Culture Foundation | 24.02.2017

Back in the halcyon days of the election of the first Labour Government in Britain in over 18 years, the New Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook expounded a radical shift in British foreign policy making, declaring that the Labour Government of Tony Blair would put human rights at the heart of it’s foreign policy with an «ethical dimension». This was quickly christened by the British media as New Labour’s «ethical foreign policy». Questions were raised at the time how a country with such a large weapons export industry could conduct an ethical foreign policy and that question is as pertinent today as it was back in 1997. In his party conference speech, the first as British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, paid ritual homage as many British Foreign Secretaries have before him, to his belief in human rights and reflected that: «After a long post-war period in which the world was broadly getting more peaceful the number of deaths in conflict has risen from 49,000 in 2010 to 167,000 last year».

Sadly, Britain has contributed to many of these deaths. According to a study carried out with official UK Government figures by the Independent newspaper, Britain is now the second largest exporter of arms around the world, and according to Freedom House since 2010 has sold weapons to 39 of the 51 countries ranked by Freedom House as «not free». What is even more disturbing is that out of the 30 countries ranked on the British Government’s own human rights watch list, the British Government authorizes the sale of weapons to 22 of those. Indeed, according to statistics from the UK Government’s own Trade and Investment body the UK has sold more weapons on average over the last ten years than Russia, China and France combined. All exports of British manufactured bombs, bullets, weapons and other munitions must be signed off and approved by UK Government Ministers with licenses granted.

Most of these arms are sold to Middle Eastern regimes, which have serious human rights issues, if one were to apply the standards the UK Government sets on human rights. In 2016 alone Britain sold over 3 billion pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. It is odd how the British Government which constantly lectures other countries on their human rights records can sell weapons of mass destruction to regimes like the Saudis who carry out routine be-headings and lashings of their own citizens as part of their penal code; subject women to severe restrictions such as forbidding them to drive; provide funding to Madrassas that indoctrinate and radicalise young Muslims in the ways of jihad etc. The list of human rights violations could go on. But the British Government, despite wrapping itself in the language of human rights, feels very comfortable within its own «ethical conscience» in allowing shipments of British manufactured BL-755 cluster munitions to be used by the Saudi Government in its war in Yemen. Unexploded remnants of cluster munitions have proved deadly for Yemenis, killing or injuring at least 85 civilians, including children.

Since March 2015, the UK Government has approved £3.3 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, yet in November, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office concluded, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, that there was no «clear risk» of serious Saudi breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The British Government has continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite the Saudi Government’s vastly different approach and record regarding human rights which is incompatible with the British Government’s professed commitment to «universal human rights» and the problems that emanate from Saudi Arabia regarding Islamist extremist terrorism and radicalisation such as the fact that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers where from Saudi Arabia and the emerging information that certain sections of the Saudi Government may have been complicit in the funding and training of the 9/11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia is not the only regime that does not conform to the UK’s own professed beliefs and standards in human rights that the British supply dangerous and destructive weapons of death to.

The UK Government sells arms to Bahrain which has used British arms to quell internal dissent; Burundi, which is being investigated by the UN for human rights violations and The Maldives, which in 2015 jailed its former President, Mohamed Nasheed, for 13 years following what critics said was a politically motivated show trial. The UK Government has also authorised the sale of massive amounts of arms to Egypt despite the coup against the democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi and the violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that followed. The British Government approved licences for the sale of £7.7bn of arms in 2015 alone. Then there have been weapons scandals in the past involving the British Government and the UK arms industry. There was the shocking Arms-to-Iraq affair of the 1990s when it came to light that the British Government had endorsed and advised on the sale of arms by British companies to Iraq, then under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Ironically, some of these British made and exported weapons to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been used by the Iraqi regime during the first Gulf War of 1991.

All of this raises serious questions regarding how the British Government can profess to on the one hand be a force for human rights and run a foreign policy based on «universal human values», upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law and yet on the other hand maintain a massive arms trade of deadly weapons around the world, arming regimes that are the exact opposite of what the British Government professes to believe in and defend when it comes to human rights. At the heart of the British Government’s position on «human rights» is hypocrisy when examined within context of UK arms sales. The British Government maintains a saintly image of itself and believes its own rhetoric that it is a great force for «universal human rights» around the world despite the contradictions in its policies and behaviour and that the British have higher standards and more noble beliefs than other cultures and countries when in reality this is not the truth. What the British Government hates above all else is to have its self-image shattered and exposed for the two-faced hypocrisy that it is. They are unable to effectively answer the inconsistencies and contradictions of their rhetorical image on the one hand and the reality of their behaviour, policies and practices on the other when confronted with reality. It is high time for the British Government, if is serious about its rhetoric on human rights, to scale back its domestic weapons export industry.

USA’s double game in Iraq, pretending to fight terrorism but instead aiding them

Iraq: US Forces Trying to Evacuate ISIS Commanders from Tal Afar

ISIL

After photos surfaced in the media displaying US forces assisting ISIL terrorists, Javad al-Talaybawi said that the Americans are planning to take ISIL commanders away from Tal Afar that is under the Iraqi forces’ siege.

In the meantime, member of Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Commission Iskandar Watut called for a probe into photos and footages displaying US planes airdropping aid packages over ISIL-held regions.

Watut further added that we have witnessed several times that US planes dropped packages of food stuff, arms and other necessary items over ISIL-held regions, and called on Iraq’s air defense to watch out the US-led coalition planes.

Eyewitnesses disclosed on Wednesday that the US military planes helped the ISIL terrorists in Tal Afar region West of Mosul.

“We saw several packages dropped out of a US army aircraft in the surrounding areas of the city of Tal Afar in Western Nineveh province and six people also came out of a US plane in the ISIL-controlled areas,” the Arabic-language media quoted a number of eyewitnesses as saying.

Tal Afar city has been under the siege of the Iraqi volunteer forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) for about two months now and the efforts by the ISIL terrorists to help their comrades besieged in Tal Afar have failed so far.

The news comes as the Iraqi army had reported that the US air force has been helping the ISIL terrorists in areas controlled by the terrorist group.

The Iraqi army says that the US army is trying to transfer the ISIL commanders trapped in areas besieged by the Iraqi army to safe regions.

الصراخ التركي بوجه إيران للتفاوض وليس للحرب

الصراخ التركي بوجه إيران للتفاوض وليس للحرب

فبراير 25, 2017

ناصر قنديل

– يستعيد الكثيرون مع الكلام التركي العدائي العالي السقوف ضد إيران مشهد حلف بغداد في الخمسينيات الذي ضمّ تركيا وإيران الشاه وحولهما عراق نوري السعيد وباكستان بوجه صعود جمال عبد الناصر بدعم أميركي، ويرون تركيا والسعودية و«إسرائيل» والأردن أركان حلف إقليمي جديد يذهب للتصعيد نحو إيران بغطاء أميركي، بعدما استعاد صعودها مشهد صعود عبد الناصر، ويفترض هؤلاء سيناريوات الحرب ضمن هذه التقديرات.

– السعي الأميركي الذي تقوده الـ»سي آي أي» لحلف إقليمي بوجه إيران موجود منذ أيام الرئيس باراك أوباما ولا يزال، لكن امتلاك هذا الحلف ومعه أميركا فرص التحرك كانت أفضل قبل ثلاثة أعوام، عندما جاءت الأساطيل الأميركية ولم تكن روسيا قد جاءت إلى سورية، ولم تكن السعودية قد تورّطت في اليمن، ولا كانت تركيا قد دخلت أزمتها مع واشنطن حول تسليم الداعية فتح الله غولن والقوى الكردية المسلحة شمال سورية. وقبل حلّ هذه العقد لا يملك هذا الحلف قدرة تتخطى الكلام السياسي، ويصير الرهان على التصعيد العسكري في سورية يستدعي التساؤل عن ماهية جديد هذا الحلف بعد هزيمته في حلب، رغم كل الفوارق لصالحه فيها قياساً بكل معركة مقبلة؟

– التفاوض لعقد صفقة مع إيران هدف مشترك تركي سعودي يتفادى ظاهرياً استفزاز روسيا، تقف أميركا وإسرائيل لتشجيعه إذا تضمّن إضعافاً لدعم إيران لحزب الله. والتصعيد يهدف لتشكيل محور مفاوض يتمكن من تعزيز صفوف مكوّناته وعدم الدخول لمفاوضات منفردة، تركية إيرانية وسعودية إيرانية. والعنوان هو عروض لتطبيع العلاقات تقدم تحت ضغوط اتهام إيران بمدّ نفوذها وزعزعة استقرار دول كالبحرين واليمن ودعم قوى معارضة فيها، والتمدّد في كل من سورية والعراق، لمقايضة التطبيع بتنازلات يتمنّى السعودي والتركي الحصول عليها من إيران، وهي تنازلات يسعى إليها كل من الأميركي و«الإسرائيلي».

– في زمن الضعف الأميركي عن صناعة استراتيجية واضحة بعد ارتباك الرئيس الجديد في مواجهة ممانعة المؤسسة الأميركية العسكرية والمخابراتية والدبلوماسية والإعلامية لسياساته الخارجية، قرّرت تركيا انتظار واشنطن لحين نضوج تفاوضهما على بندي، غولن والأكراد، وقامت بتغطية هذا التموضع المعاكس لمسار أستانة، بالتموضع على ضفة مشتركة مع السعودية تقبض ثمنها مالاً وسياسة، عنوانها التصعيد ضد إيران، بما يجنّب تركيا أزمة جديدة مع روسيا، تحت عنوان مقايضة إيران بالتخلي عن قوة حلفائها، وفي مقدمتهم حزب الله بالانفتاح عليها، وربط التعاون في الحرب على الإرهاب بتسهيل إيران لتسويات تحفظ جماعة تركيا والسعودية في الخليج، بمشاركة شكلية للقوى المقاومة هناك، وتحقق مشاركة وازنة لجماعة تركيا والسعودية في سورية والعراق، وورقة القوة المعروضة للمقايضة هي التلويح بخطاب الفتنة المذهبية.

– سبق لإيران وحتى لروسيا وقبلهما لسورية القول بوضوح: إن وجود حزب الله في سورية ليس موضوع تفاوض، وإن التعاون ضد الإرهاب مصلحة مشتركة لدول العالم والمنطقة، ومن شروطه توفير مقوّمات نجاح الحرب وليس توزيع مغانم وأثمان على المشاركين سلفاً لضمان مشاركتهم، وكل مسعى تصعيدي لبلوغ تفاوض هذا عنوانه يعني بلوغ طريق مسدود، فهل تنفجر المواجهة حرباً شاملة تركية سعودية «إسرائيلية» بوجه إيران، أو حرباً يقودها هؤلاء مجدداً في سورية؟

– لن يحدث شيء من هذا. ليس لنقص في الرغبات بل لنقص في القدرات. وقد جرى اختبار الأكثر في ظروف أفضل، وكانت حلب وكانت الهزيمة، لكن تعطيل مسار أستانة في سورية سيعني طبعاً عودة إمساك زمام المبادرة للجيش السوري في الميدان، مع عودة اصطفاف الجماعات المسلحة وراء جبهة النصرة، فإلى شهور ينتظر فيها أردوغان ترامب، على مائدة المال السعودي، يبيعه أوهاماً، ويحسم فيها الجييش السوري المزيد، قبل أن تنضج جولات تفاوض ومسارات، كما من قبل كذلك من بعد، والخط البياني يتكفل بقول الباقي مما لم يقله الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين لبحارته عن عزمه مواصلة القتال إلى جانب سورية لحماية أمن روسيا، رضي من رضي وغضب من غضب، وأن أمن موسكو لا يزال من أمن دمشق، بعملية تسوية سياسية ومن دونها.

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Is World War 3 on the Way?

NATO troops preparing for war game exercise in eastern Europe

NATO troops preparing for war game exercise in eastern Europe

Is World War 3 on the way? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s a question I have pondered a number of times in a number of posts dating back over the past three years. I will ponder it again here.

As before when I have put up posts of this nature, a number of disturbing signs point to increased cause for concern, but before I get to these, let me show you a video. It’s one featuring David Icke, which I posted nearly three years ago, in July of 2014, in a post which I entitled “The Vortex.” It was one of the first posts I ever put up basically speculating on the possibility of a coming war.

In the video interview, Icke talks about a prediction made way back in the late 19th century–a prediction by Albert Pike of three world wars in which “political Zionism” would play a role. In the third war, the entire world would be drawn into a “vortex” of chaos centered around a war between political Zionism and Islam, and Icke puts that prediction into the context of events playing out in the Middle East, including the rise of ISIS, which at the time (in the summer of 2014, when Icke gave the interview) had only just appeared upon the world stage.

Icke exhibits a remarkable amount of prescience, not only with regard to the rise of ISIS and the role it would come to play in the Middle East wars (which would have been hard to predict in 2014), but also with regard to Russia being drawn into the conflict in Syria (the interview was done more than a year before Russia formally sent troops into the country). Perhaps most important, however, are his words regarding the world political and financial powers, including the US government, who are funding ISIS:

“These people are sheer, undiluted evil, and people need to understand that, otherwise they will reject that anyone could do what they are doing and kill and maim and slaughter so many people. They can do it because they have no heart, they have no empathy, they have no emotional compassion, and thus mayhem is their currency, and they have no emotional consequence. They are not like us, so don’t judge what they’ll do by what you would do, because it ain’t the same thing.

Wise words, and the point he is making–that evil, pure evil–does indeed exist, is an important one to remember. And now on to the latest somewhat unnerving indications of where things may be headed.

***

According to a report here the US is now considering sending more troops to Syria:

More US troops may be needed in Syria to speed up the campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), the top commander for the Middle East has stated, specifically referring to the push to liberate Raqqa.“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” General Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters, as quoted by CBS News.

He said local forces being supported by the US “don’t have as good mobility, they don’t have as much firepower, so we have to be prepared to fill in some of those gaps for them,” noting that such support may involve additional fire support capability and “a variety of other things” to help “offset some of the gaps.”

The report also offers the following placatory note…

Votel stressed, however, that Washington is not considering sending US troops to take over the fighting, and that the strategy developed during the Obama administration of keeping local forces at the forefront would remain unchanged.

…but of course similar statements are made at the outset of each new troop buildup in each new war the US gets involved in. And the same report also includes this…

Lieutenant General Townsend revealed over the weekend that the 450 American advisers working with the Iraqis in Mosul had moved closer to the front lines in order to stay in touch with Iraqi commanders as they advanced on the city.

The US has about 500 Special Operations troops in Syria. If American military presence were to be expanded, additional troops could come from conventional combat units, the New York Times reported. However, Votel stressed that he would not recommend deploying large combat formations.

“We want to bring the right capabilities forward,” he said. “Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.”

In addition to the above, you can also go here to access an RT video that includes commentary from former Pentagon official Michael Maloof, who points out that bringing in conventional troops and heavy equipment will require still more troops just to handle the logistics of transport and the setting up and maintaining of bases, all of which becomes a “slippery slope.”

***

As the US contemplates deploying these “conventional combat units” into Syria, additional US troops–lots of them–have already begun to be deployed to Eastern Europe along Russia’s borders. An article at Newsweek gives some insight into the extent of this. The author devotes much of the piece to demonizing Russia and Putin, but then offers the following information about NATO troop deployments:

As a response to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, NATO has plans to send four 1,000-troop-strong battalions toward Russia’s borders; one for each of the three Baltic countries, and one for Poland.

Additionally, NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force comprises about 5,000 troops. The unit is meant to “respond to emerging security challenges posed by Russia, as well as the risks emanating from the Middle East and North Africa,” according to a statement on NATO’s website.

Overall, the U.S. has about 35,000 military personnel in Europe, including two Army infantry brigades. To deter Moscow, the U.S. has recently deployed an additional heavy brigade to Poland, comprising about 3,500 troops and 87 tanks, as well as a unit of 500 troops to Romania.

The U.S. also has troops in Ukraine conducting a training mission for Ukraine’s armed forces.

“The U.S. has restated its commitment to NATO and Article V, and Russia should recognize that those security guarantees remain rock solid,” Kochis said. “Any deviation only invites aggression and miscalculation.”

NATO’s eastward deployments are still just a fraction of Ukraine’s military buildup near Russia’s border, underscoring how the overall military balance of power in Europe has shifted since 2014 due to Russian aggression.

Ukraine now has about 60,000 combat troops, supported by heavy artillery and armor, forward deployed to the Donbas—Ukraine’s embattled southeastern territory on the border with Russia. That’s a force of 60,000 combat troops near Russia’s border that wasn’t there

***

Trump’s new pick to fill the role of national security advisor is Lieutenant General Herbert R. McMaster, who apparently is something of a Russophobe. McMaster replaces Gen. Michal Flynn, who was friendly toward Russia but who was basically hounded out of office by the media. Here is what former CIA Offficer Philip Giraldi has to say about McMaster:

“He [McMaster] regards Russia as ‘the enemy’ and apparently believes falsely that Moscow has been the aggressor in Georgia and Ukraine,” Giraldi said. “He wants to forward deploy more US forces to Europe to deter Russia.”

And on the subject of Iran:

“While [McMaster] is hostile to Iran he does not share the intense hatred of that country exhibited by Flynn,” he said.

And here is what NPR says regarding McMaster’s appointment:

Trump’s announcement of McMaster was met with widespread acclaim by the Washington national defense establishment, including from people who are not particular fans of Trump’s.

The Trump non-fans who are in love with McMaster include John McCain…

Lt Gen HR McMaster is outstanding choice for nat’l security advisor – man of genuine intellect, character & ability http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=22A583B0-4B7A-417A-BE94-C70D54FE0B26 

Giraldi adds an additional point on this:

“He [McMaster] is much loved by the neoconservatives with Bill Kristol and John McCain gushing over the appointment, which should give one pause.”

So score another one for the media and the deep state. They have replaced Flynn, who posed somewhat of an obstacle to war with Russia, with McMaster, who likely will grease the skids.

***

Recently Russia Insider published an article about four Russian servicemen who were killed in Syria when a radio-controlled bomb targeting a Syrian military convoy exploded. Curiously the attack took place on February 16, the same day that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had their first meeting–a meeting which has been described as “awkward” and in which Tillerson ordered that the press be removed from the room. The piece raises the possibility that the attack may not have been carried out by ISIS, and that Tillerson may have already been informed of it (or possibly even had inside knowledge it was going to occur) at the time of his meeting with Lavrov. Here is an excerpt from Russia Insider. Those interested might wish to go and read the full article:

Sunni terrorists dream of killing Russian special forces or military advisers. Why would any militia or terrorist group in Syria execute a successful operation like this, and then not immediately claim responsibility? And again, as far as we know, we’re still waiting for someone — anyone — to say they were responsible for the attack.

Please correct us if you think we’re being unreasonable, but doesn’t this seem odd to you? The Russians might consider the deaths of these soldiers a state secret — but we’re positive ISIS wouldn’t.

Our second point is a bit more nuanced. But we still think it’s an interesting coincidence: February 16 was the same day that Sergei Lavrov met with Rex Tillerson for the first time in Germany.

According to Bloomberg, it was an “awkward first encounter”…

***

As if all of this isn’t worrying enough, Trump publicly vowed on Thursday that the US would work to maintain its nuclear supremacy over all other nuclear powers in the world. “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he said.

***

Recently writer Finian Cunningham published a couple of interesting articles, one entitled “Western Russophobia in Psychotic Phase,” published February 22, and an earlier piece, “Insanity of NATO 2.0 for Mideast,” published February 16. The earlier piece deals with Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump and discussions that have been held between the two leaders on the possible formation of a military alliance against Iran that would involve the US, Israel and certain Sunni Arab states. The latter would include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. Basically what is being envisioned is a NATO-type alliance, only set in the Middle East, or “NATO 2.0,” as Cunningham refers to it. You can go here to read a Times of Israel report on the discussions that have been held on the subject. Given the distinguished “cast of characters” that would be involved with this alliance, should it come into being, one cannot help wondering: would the coalition’s raison d’être be in effect to combine the resources–financial, military and otherwise–of its various members in the support of ISIS?

Below is an excerpt from Cunningham’s commentary:

The bitter irony in all this is that the real danger to Middle East peace is not Iran, but rather is Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land, as well as Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Arab monarchies funding Islamist terror groups.

The six-year [war] that has ravaged Syria largely stems from an externally driven covert war for regime change against the Assad government which is an ally of Russia and Iran. The war in Syria has been instrumented by proxy jihadist mercenaries, including Al Qaeda-linked terror groups, which are funded, armed and directed by the US, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

Israel is also believed to have played a covert role in fomenting the regime-change war in Syria, working in collusion with the US and Saudi Arabia. That war has been stymied due to the military intervention by Russia and Iran over the past year.

Saudi Arabia has a long, despicable history of fomenting Wahhabi terror groups going back to the 1970-80s when it funded the precursors of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to fight the then Soviet-backed government. Saudi Arabia has traditionally supplied the money and weapons while the American CIA and Israeli’s Mossad provided the military logistics and intelligence. The awarding last week of Saudi spy chief Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef by CIA director Mike Pompeo was seen by some critics as a particularly nauseating testimony of this nefarious relationship.

The very idea of this US-led axis in the Middle East now setting up a formal alliance along the lines of NATO is a harbinger of ramped up conflict in the region. And especially given the stated purpose of such an alliance being dedicated to “contain Iran”.

The US-led NATO alliance in Europe has already plunged relations with Russia into deeper hostility. The ongoing build up of NATO forces on Russia’s border – allegedly to contain Russian aggression – has stoked fears that a nuclear war could be precipitated.

NATO continually claims to be a force for stability and defense – whenever any sane-minded observer can see that the opposite is true, inciting tensions in Europe and Russia to levels not seen since the heyday of the Cold War.

The same manic double-think is being replicated in the Middle East with the latest American plans to form a NATO 2.0 with Israel and terror-sponsoring Arab monarchs.

In the most recent piece, Cunningham discusses the “fake, unethical journalism that has become a staple in Western media,” coming to the conclusion that Russophobia is no longer a “random prejudice” in Western countries, but instead has reached the point where it has become “endemic” and “pathological,” essentially amounting to a “collective psychosis.”

When such propaganda becomes a systematic form of public discourse then it can be said that the mindset has moved dangerously beyond a condition of reprehensible Russophobia, to one of collective psychosis.

And this affliction among Western states seems to be worsening. The appointment by US President Donald Trump this week of Lt General HR McMaster as his National Security Adviser was greeted with applause among hawkish lawmakers in Congress.

The cause for their celebration is because McMaster is seen as having staunch “anti-Russian views” – unlike his ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn, who reportedly wanted to restore friendly relations with Moscow.

McMaster’s appointment marks a “100 per cent threat to Russia,”said Franz Klintsevich, the First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security.

Klintsevich added that “Washington’s Russophobia is increasing, not weakening.”

Not surprisingly given the relentless anti-Russian “news” saturating Western media, a new Gallup poll found that favorability among ordinary Americans towards Russia has plummeted. Four years ago, some 50 per cent of Americans had a friendly view of Russia. Now, the figure is down to 28 per cent.

Assuming the poll results reported by Gallup are genuine and not faked for propaganda purposes (a possibility that should not be discounted), what it suggests is that despite the media’s plummeting credibility, the lies are still taking hold in large segments of the population. A major concern at this point has to be a false flag attack designed to ignite a war with Russia–possibly in the form of a staged attack upon US troops in Syria or the Baltic states. Were a number of US troops to die in an attack that could be blamed upon Russia, the case for war would be made.

So what is the motive for all this? Why are these people trying so hard to start a war with Russia? I think Icke puts his finger on it in the video above. The idea all along has been to create a global government that would replace sovereign, independent states. What is happening in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and elsewhere is not random. “None of it has been random,” says Icke.

“It’s part of this long term plan to take over the world by creating enormous chaos–to which they can offer the order out of the chaos–their order, their new world order,” he adds.

***

A week ago I posted a commentary entitled “We Are Living in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era.” The article dealt with a remark by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, made at last weekend’s Munich Security Conference, in which the official, noting that harmony among nations could be achieved by advancing justice and practicing “modesty,” asserted, “If everyone adopts that approach, we could overcome the period of post-truth fast and resist information wars imposed on the international community.”

For many of us, at least those of us who come from a Christian background, the idea that a “post-truth” era has overcome us–and the realization that the lies being told by the media are “endemic” and “pathological,” as Cunningham puts it–brings to mind, perhaps invariably, the words of Jesus in John 8:44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

It’s a verse that seems to be gaining a lot of traction these days. A search using the key words “John 8:44” turns up more than 2 million results on Google and a staggering 38 million on Bing. Jesus, here in this passage from John’s Gospel, is speaking to a group of Jews, who, in verse 31, are identified specifically as “the Jews who had believed him.” Odd, you might think, that he would speak such words to those who had believed in him, but I’m guessing these were Jews who were looking for a warrior messiah, a divinely-designated belligerent who would lead them in a revolt against Rome–the same Jews who, once it became apparent this was not his mission, would turn against him and call for his crucifixion. This in fact becomes clearer and more plausible as you read through the verses leading up to verse 44. Here, starting with verse 31, is how the exchange transpires:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Their comment that they have “never been slaves of anyone” may sound curious. After all, was not Judea under Roman occupation? Technically speaking yes, but the reality is the Jews were given so much leeway to run their own affairs that you could almost say it was a case of the Jews occupying the Romans rather than the other way around. Jews were allowed to have their own courts, legislative body, and tax collection system, yet at the same time they were also granted full citizenship rights as Roman citizens.

These were privileges not granted to any other peoples living under Roman occupation, and they applied not only to Jews in Judea, but to those living in other Roman-ruled areas as well such as Alexandria in Egypt–where a large community of Jews also resided. These extra privileges granted to the Jews of Alexandria eventually led to strife between the Jews and the native Egyptians. At the same time there were also tensions between Jews and the Greek citizens of Alexandria as well–all of which led eventually to the famed Alexandria Riots in the summer of 38 AD–an event which became one of the first pogroms against Jews in recorded history and which I portray in my most recent novel, The Memoirs of Saint John, part II.

But to return to our passage in John chapter 8. In the next verse, Jesus replies to the Jews “who had believed him” that they were indeed slaves–not to the Romans but to their own sins…

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would[c] do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Here they speak boastfully, elevating themselves from the offspring of Abraham to the offspring of God himself. It is an expression of supremacy and “chosenness,” and an expression also of rebellion. These may well have been Zealots, that is to say they may have come from a party of Jews known by that name and who were somewhat similar in outlook to the Pharisees, only more extreme. The Zealots got their start in 6 AD when a man named Judah the Galilean led a revolt against the Roman census that had been decreed at that time. In Judah’s view, Jews were bound by no law other than the law of God–a view which seems rather prevalent today in Israel.

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

And so yes, today we find ourselves living in a “post-truth” era–one which perhaps, in a manner of speaking, has been building toward this point for the last 2,000 years.

This may sound strange to you, but actually I think we are blessed to be living in the times we are living in. Yes, it is a time of darkness in which the forces of pure evil reign supreme over much of the world. But it is also a time in which the Holy Spirit comes to us and strengthens us.

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