SOURCES

I write about the Middle East because it is an area of the world I am passionate about and know very well. After three books of nonfiction, I recently began writing fiction because it gave me the opportunity to incorporate current events, some of which have personally touched my life while living in Beirut and turn them into page-turning thrillers. I was able to properly research both The Syrian and Damascus Street because I had trustworthy sources, journalists who are the finest in the business, and have been for years, who are not owned by corporate media. They now write for online services like Consortium News, Information Clearing House and Grayzone whose major source of income comes from individual donations. Once such journalist, Patrick Lawrence, recently interviewed Sharmine Narwani, whose work is distinctly thorough and honest amid a sea of collapsed professional standards and abandoned ethics. Her pieces, written for a variety of publications, consistently reflect her hard work, particularly on the ground in Syria in places few dared go. She is eye-wide open and refreshingly beholden to no national interest or media slant.

Having witnessed the Syrian war from start to finish, she now casts it in a usefully broard context. “The Syrian conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World War III,” she said. “The world wars were, in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.”

This is what Narwani sees out in front of us, now that the Western powers’ latest regime change operation has failed.

“My trips took me to places in May and June 2011 in the weeks before the battle for the south of Syria began. I visited Daraa, Suweida and Qunetra, the three southern governorates most critical to the upcoming battle. It was fascinating. It dispelled a number of myths about the conflict. One of these was the discovery that al-Qaeda was smack in the middle of the fight in Daraa, indistinguishable from Western-supported militant groups in all the main theaters. Another shocker was when I interviewed former al-Nusra and Free Syrian Army fighters near the Lebanese border. They told me their salaries had been paid by the Israelis for the entire year before they surrendered, around $200,000 per month from Israel to militants in the town of Beit Jinn alone in southern Syria.”

Among other things she discussed in her conversations with Patrick Lawrence were the reforms that President Assad passed, reforms that the international community decided to ignore.

“Since 2011, Assad has issued decrees suspending almost five decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings. This was a big deal, as other Arab leaders were doing the opposite in response to their uprisings. Other decrees included the establishment of a multi-party political system, term limits for the presidency, the suspension of state security courts, prisoner releases, amnesty agreements, decentralizing down to local authorities, sacking controversial political figures, introducing new media laws that prohibited the arrest of journalists, and provided for more freedom of expression, investment in infrastructure, housing, pension funds, establishing direct dialogue between populations and governing authorities, setting up a committee to dialogue with the opposition, many of whom turned down the offer.

“These reforms were far-reaching and significant. So much carnage could have been avoided had they been given the time and space to take hold. You could feel these reforms unfolding in Damascus by early 2012. I would call up opposition figures on their mobile phones, go to their homes, talk to regular folks about politics. I could even access Twitter and Facebook in Syria, platforms that had been banned for years.”

Patrick Lawrence asked Sharmine about proportionate response to violence, something Assad was roundly accused of doing. “Let’s be clear here. Between March and June 188, Syrian soldiers were ambushed, many of their heads cut off. Nobody can dispute this. I have their names, ages, ranks, birthplaces, everything.”

She continued, “So, you ask about proportionality, and to that I would simply ask: What if there were armed men in Washington who killed a few cops in the last week of December? In January, these unknown shooters began a campaign of ambushing American servicemen coming and going from their bases around the D.C. area. Then, in March over 100 soldiers were killed in a single day, half with their heads cut off. What would be the proportionate response in this case?”

Sharmine’s exceptional interview with Patrick Lawrence is a must-read. The name of the article is The Secret History of America’s Defeat in Syria,

Both the Syrian and Damascus Street can be purchased here:  Amazon

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WHEN I WAS CIA DIRECTOR

 When I was the CIA director, we lied, we cheated, and we stole.” – Mike Pompeo

On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked. Though an investigation into the incident had only just begun, Pompeo announced his assessment that the Iranians were guilty. His use of the word “assessment” was all-telling. In the US judicial system, an assessment does not require proof. And as his pal in the Intelligence community, John Brennan, recently boasted, “We don’t do proof.”

Recall that back on May 13 four oil tankers had been damaged in the same area. The United States blamed Iran without any evidence alleging, on the basis of a grainy, blurry video, that an Iranian navy boat had been seen removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship, even though the Japanese owner disputed any evidence of mines.

To understand the full story, we need to go back to Trump’s announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran. The Iranians condemned America’s illegal demands and said that no other country could take its share of the oil market.

 The Trump team claimed that what Iran meant was that they would sabotage any oil tanker going through the Strait of Hormuz. However, Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters –the Strait of Hormuz.

While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state, in this case Iran, can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of those ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, because the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent.”

Given Iran’s rights under UNCLOS, it makes no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion against it to favor Trump and his warmongering advisors – Pompeo and Bolton.

But tankers were blown up.

Enter NOPEC – No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act. In February, the House passed a bill that would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices.

The Saudis threatened to drop dollar for oil trades to discourage US from passing the NOPEC bill.  The Saudi threat came on the heels of the UAE which cautioned that if such a bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.

After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration official assured the world at large that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market. This announcement did not please the Saudis. On April 29th, their Energy Minister made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not rush to boost oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian oil.

After the second attack on the oil tankers, however, the Saudis changed their mind and agreed to raise their oil production. Once the oil market was satisfied there would be no oil shortage, and the price stabilized, the US resumed its pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil.

But then there was the second tanker incident on June 13th and the US once again blamed Iran and discouraged the international community from cooperating with Iran. But hidden from the headlines was the fact that the hike in the price of oil, or at best a stabilizing of price, would signal relief to US shale oil producers. Plummeting oil prices would have harmed or bankrupted US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.

So, in the words of Pompeo: “We cheat. We lie.” And we will continue to blame the enemy.

 

 

Israel’s Role in the 2016 US Election

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]

People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]

American lawmakers have summoned a British security consultant to probe Israel’s role in alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election, which has been the subject of a two-year long FBI investigation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking an interview with Walter Soriano, director of London-based security firm USG Security, to discuss what, if any, role Israel may have played in attempts to manipulate the 2016 election.

The committee, which oversees the work of the US Intelligence Community, sent a letter to Soriano for a voluntary, closed-door interview to discuss documents dating back to June 2015. The letter obtained by Politico, is said to be more than just a “fishing expedition”. The committee members are said to be keen on getting a deeper insight into the role other countries may have played in hacking US elections. It’s believed that they are interested in speaking with Soriano because of his connections to high profile people.

A source told Politico that the committee is “surprised by how connected he seems to several people of interest.” They are also interesting in questioning Soriano over communications with Israeli private intelligence firms.

READ: Time to stop the external manipulation of ‘what Palestinians want’ 

Up till now US officials have been reluctant to cast their eyes in the direction of Israel in any probe related to interference by a foreign country. While “Russiagate”, as it’s known, has dominated the Trump presidency, Israel is often cited as a more obvious case of meddling by a foreign country.

Renowned American intellectual Noam Chomsky pointed this out earlier this year in an interview. “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done,” said the veteran author pointing to Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to humiliate former President Barack Obama by speaking to Congress, with overwhelming applause, that was noted for the 26 standing ovations during a 39 minute speech.

Controversial pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, which many say should be registered as a foreign-agent in Capitol Hill, has been caught on tape boasting of its influence in Washington.

While it would be an extremely unlikely turn of event to see Israel come under any serious investigation by the committee, the role of Israeli firms in meddling in elections across the globe has become a serious concern. Last month elections in several African, Asian and Latin American countries were targeted by a disinformation campaign. Social media giant, Facebook traced these accounts to Archimedes Group, a private company based near Tel Aviv.

Facebook announced that it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts with a combined following of 2.8 million users for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. The Israeli group’s activities were focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

  • The online world has become a major battle ground for Israel. Last month it launched a massive recruitment drive to support the country’s online propaganda campaign. The new initiative, which would see the government funding pro-Israel groups overseas, was unveiled by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a government arm set up to combat the global rise of pro-Palestinian activism and Israel’s poor global image.

BOLTON’S NEW STRTEGY FOR SYRIA

 

According to Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, Bolton and Pompeo’s ‘new’ strategy for Syria looks virtually identical to what the US is already doing: destabilizing Syria wherever it can in the interests of stymieing Iran. Interestingly, the new strategy ignores the hitherto declared US policy of seeking a ‘transition away from Assad.’

I created a scene in Damascus Street where the new US Ambassador-Designate to Syria boasts about what the US has in mind for Syria. Whle it was written almost two years ago, it is still amazing accurate.

“Our objective is to undermine Assad’s ability to govern the country without physically removing him from office.”

“Why not just remove him from office? Wasn’t that your original goal?”

“Turns out the Syrian people support him. And it isn’t just the Alawites. He also protects the interests of Christians and Druze. His army supports him, too, and a large percentage of those troops are Sunni. So, the goal now is to render him irrelevant. We deploy jihadists to capture and hold large sections of the country and make it impossible for the central government to control the state.”

“That’s a tall order.”

“Not really. Our plan breaks the country into disconnected enclaves, each ruled by an al-Qaeda affiliate.”

“And you expect this to be done by a bunch of head-chopping jihadists?”

“They are the fodder who will lead the charge. When their job is done, we will send in our Special Forces to do the heavy work, and then initiate a country-wide no-fly zone.”

President Trump recently suggested that he wanted to withdraw the 2,000 or so US troops now stationed in northeast Syria. Whether the US finally withdraws even some of these troops, the precise number hardly matters when the sole role of the troops is to act as a tripwire should Assad have the temerity to try to restore law and order to the area illegally occupied by the US.

If anything, the US is raising the stakes. Bolton and his new henchman, James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, drafted a letter to Trump recently urging him to pass into law a new strategy for Syria. Four hundred mindless members of Congress signed the letter, no questions asked because it was supported by Israel.  What the media neglected to mention about the recent Jeffrey appointment was his job at The Institute for Near East Policy, an American Israeli Policy Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cutout, where he led its anti-Iran policy.

The core aim of Bolton and his team now appears to be to foment a new rebellion by squeezing Syria economically, while continuing the strategy for destabilizing the country, a hallmark of Bolton and Pompeo, unrepentant neocons, whose ultimate goal is war with Iran, regardless of crtain world-wide consequences.

Damascus Street is available for purchase here: Amazon

DOES MIKE POMPEO THINK WE ARE IDIOTS?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iran and al-Qaeda are collaborating demonstrates either a profound ignorance about the Middle East, or full-blown arrogance because he assumes his audience is at best ill-informed, or worse, idiots.

According to Pompeo, “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaeda. Period. Full stop. The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to al Qaeda is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda. They have permitted al-Qaeda to transit their country.”

Pompeo’s assertion evokes memories of George W. Bush’s false claim that al-Qaeda had links to Iraq. Bush Administration officials and Iraqi exiles, hell-bent on creating casus belli, even claimed that bin Laden and Saddam, both Sunnis, might have cooperated in planning the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The same officials distorted intelligence about a supposed Iraqi terrorist training facility and an offer to bin Laden of safe haven in Iraq, neglecting to mention that bin Laden had rejected the offer.

Mr. Pompeo, most Americans, in spite of their corrupt mass media networks, understand the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni. The schism between the two occurred centuries ago and to this day the two remain enemies. It is only thanks to repressive regimes in the Middle East that we have not witnessed, until now, violent clashes between the two sects.

Most Americans also understand that Iran is a Shiite nation while Saudi Arabia is primarily Sunni, and that the latter accuses the former of being infidels. Saudi Arabia is the state sponsor of Al-Qaeda which is 100 percent Sunni. As seen across Syria, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have killed tens of thousands of Shiites simply for being Shiites so the idea that Iran and al Qaeda could possibly be collaborating is ludicrous.

Mr. Pompeo, it is time you learned a bit more about the Middle East. Might I suggest you go on Amazon and order a copy of both The Syrian and Damascus Street.

 

WHY IS CONGRESS SO EAGER FOR MORE WAR?

 According to Ben Norton’s article in The Grayzone entitled Bipartisan Thirst for More War, 400 members of Congress from both parties want to intensify the eight-year war in Syria so as to weaken Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. They suggest a three-pronged “Syria strategy” that would augment our support for Israel and help maintain its qualitative military edge, and increase pressure on Iran, Russia and Hezbollah.

I will address the issue of Hezbollah first because I talk about its role in Lebanon and Syria in my book Damascus Street. Hezbollah is a home-grown resistance movement born out of an illegal twenty-two-year Israeli occupation of large swaths of south Lebanon which began in 1973. Hezbollah eventually forced Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000.  Not only was this action an affront to Israel’s military deterrence, it was something Israel has never forgotten and the reason it demanded the United States declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. As with anything Israel asks of the US, it obliged and so designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization, with the other Anglo lackeys (Australia and the UK) quickly following suit. Over the years, Congress has blamed Hezbollah for just about anything it didn’t like in the Middle East, not least of which was the killing of 241 US servicemen in the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. When this occurred, Hezbollah had not yet been formed and so could not have carried out such an atrocity. A reference to the State Department website states that “terrorists” carried out this attack with no mention of Hezbollah. In blaming Hezbollah for anything amiss in the Middle East, Congress is simply carrying out Israel’s orders just as they are doing now by calling for war with Iran, something Israel has long sought even though its own intelligence services have said Iran poses no threat to Israel.

On behalf of Israel, the US government also repeatedly demands the Lebanese government dismantle Hezbollah. Army Commander General Joseph Aoun recently affirmed this was out of the question. He said that Hezbollah was a basic Lebanese component and the political agreement in the country is to regard Hezbollah’s weapons as a means to defend Lebanon in the face of Israeli aggression. This is valid concern since Israel has invaded Lebanon five times.

As to Iran and Russia, they are both fighting alongside Syria’s internationally recognized government which sits at the United Nations, and which has requested their support, unlike the United States which is illegally occupying parts of Syria and working alongside the very terrorist entities who are striving to weaken and dismantle the Syrian government.

The Congressional letter to President Trump claims the “region has been destabilized by the Iranian regime’s threatening behavior,” adding that “Russia’s destabilizing role only complements that of Iran,” and that “Hezbollah now poses a more potent threat to Israel as well.”

The  goal of regime change in Syria, which I discuss in great detail in both The Syrian and Damascus Street, was to destroy Syria so as to weaken Hezbollah and Iran to appease both Israel which wants Hezbollah destroyed and Saudi Arabia that considers Iran, a primarily Shiite nation, a challenge to its regional dominance and a supporter of terrorism when, in fact, it is Saudi Arabia who supports and finances ISIS and associated groups in Syria.

In 2013, Russia, the ever-convenient culprit, oversaw the successful dismantlement of President Assad’s chemical weapons facilities thereby depriving then President Obama of an excuse to bomb Syria. Since that time, and in the absence of government-controlled chemical weapons, Syria has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons on its people despite strong evidence that points the finger at ISIS. Recently, and with no evidence, the Trump Administration has again accused Syria of using chemical weapons. This claim comes just when the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian ally are moving to clear the country of the last-remaining anti-government militant stronghold in northeast Idlib province. These are not “moderate rebels” our compromised mass media would have us believe but are internationally outlawed Al-Qaeda networks and myriad offshoots. The idea to weaken Russia, Iran and Hezbollah is really about hampering the Syrian-Russian offensive from routing the terrorist enclave plaguing Syria.

Having an enclave in Syria not under government control is a convenient way for the US to ensure that Syria never fully recovers from an eight-year war that the US and its allies orchestrated.

This book is available for purchase here: Amazon

MARK LAMONT’S COMMENTS

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion while allowing very lively debate within that spectrum.” — Noam Chomsky

On November 29, CNN fired Professor Mark Lamont Hill, a prominent academic, author and activist for having the audacity to step outside the spectrum of what is considered acceptable discourse on Israel and Palestine.

It was the words “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea,” that stirred the controversy. Yet, Michelle Goldberg, a columnist at the New York Times was allowed, without comment or controversy, to say that opposing Israel and calling for a binational Israeli-Palestinian state is legitimate.

 

Hill’s statement suggests that the only solution to the conflict, i.e. a bi-national state, is a single united country that gives equal rights to all its citizens from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Valley, regardless of what side of the border they are born in, or what faith they practice, all living in a symbiotic relationship of good will and basic human rights.

 This runs contrary to the narrowly acceptable public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which remains a fixation on the notion that a two-state solution is the only possible solution. If the past 70 years have proven anything, it is that walls and borders and discriminatory laws, which are all necessitated by a two-state solution, are not the answer.

 

Perhaps it was not Hill’s words, per say, that led CNN to fire him, but rather the result of the “Palestinian exception to free speech movement—the widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy across the United States, conducted by a number of Zionist organizations whose financial contributions sway heavily with Congressional members and this administration.

This does not mean that Israel is never criticized or discussed in the mainstream media. It is just that when it is, the criticism needs to fit neatly into one of two pre-packaged positions. On the one side, we have the Donald Trump-Netanyahu camp that blames the Palestinians for all of Israel’s woes. On the other, the Democratic Party-liberal Zionist camp that acknowledges Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians but excuses it under the mantra of “well-intentioned” justifications.

The fact that Mark Lamont Hill was fired for advocating a bi-national state says more about his critics than it does about him.

A more in-depth discussion of this issue can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.

The book can be found here: Amazon

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