IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN ISRAEL’S AGREEMENT WITH EMIRATES AND BEIRUT’S PORT EXPLOSION?

Suppose the August 4th explosion at Beirut’s port and the agreement between Israel and the Emirates were linked. Suppose that Israel intended the port of Haifa to be the port of entry for the Emirates and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. For this to happen, Israel would have to destroy Beirut’s port, then blame Hezbollah for the attack. Suppose Israel had already begun to plan its attack on Beirut’s port back in March 2005 when it signed an agreement with China, specifically with the Shanghai International Port Group, with the stipulation that the overhaul and modernization of Haifa’s port be completed by early 2021.

Until August 4, 2020, Beirut’s port was not only the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean, it was also the confluence of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, a role Israel has long coveted. Ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948, Haifa’s port has played a secondary role to Beirut’s. The Arab boycott of the Jewish community in Palestine predated the formal establishment of Israel and this contributed to Haifa’s secondary status. By 1950, the boycott was extended to keeping all Israeli products out of Arab countries, further sealing Haifa’s fate. The boycott only became a thing of the past when Israel signed the recent agreement with the Gulf states.

The Gulf states import practically everything from heavy construction equipment to trucks and cars to food and sanitation products from Europe. Until August 4th, all these goods came through Beirut, the preeminent capital of commerce and finance for the Middle East. Since 1943, when it declared its independence, Beirut’s port has been the lifeline of the Lebanon’s economy furnishing Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. This suggests two possible scenarios. Israel only intended to destroy the port, not the city itself, and was unaware that the Lebanese government had confiscated thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate from an abandoned ship that had limped its way into Beirut’s harbor in 2013 and been improperly stored. Or, Israel knew of the material stored at the port and did not care what it destroyed so long as Haifa was elevated to its rightful place as the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean. 

The Lebanese government, forced to resign a week after the blast, officially attributed the incident to negligence but Lebanon’s president acknowledged the port’s destruction could have been the result of an attack by outside forces. Residents throughout the city saw and heard military aircraft flying overhead moments before the explosion. According to Asia Times, unnamed Western officials claimed that Western reconnaissance craft were in the skies above the Lebanese coast at the time of the blast. A US Central Command official told Asia Times that the cause of the first fire/explosion was still an unanswered question, adding that there is no actual evidence to support or confirm the blast was caused by ammonium nitrate, and that other alternatives were quite possible.

Despite eye-witness accounts of Western aircraft sighted during the explosion and a long history of Israeli attacks and daily Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, the US, Israel and their regional allies have all vigorously campaigned to pin the port blast on Hezbollah, even though there is no evidence linking Hezbollah to the explosion. In fact, the Lebanese resistance group would have everything to lose if it were involved.

Following the explosion, anti-Hezbollah groups, supported by the US, took over Lebanese government buildings and called for Beirut to demilitarize, an obvious demand for Hezbollah to lay down its weapons and end its fight against Israel which illegally occupied south Lebanon for twenty-two years (from 1978 until Hezbollah finally expelled them in 2000).

US Secretary of State Pompeo has portrayed his country as the noble protector of Lebanon but at the same time has threatened to impose more aggressive sanctions on Lebanon if it does not immediately expel Hezbollah from its government. The IMF has also refused to aid Lebanon at the request of the US government, which holds de facto veto power over the organization, until Hezbollah is removed even though it has thirteen duly elected members in the Lebanese parliament and enjoys not only the support of its fellow members but the majority of Lebanese.

The pro-Israel lobby group the American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted on August 9, five days after the port explosion, that international assistance to Lebanon “must be conditioned on the long-promised, long-avoided disarmament of Hezbollah,” something Hezbollah has refused to do, claiming its military power is Lebanon’s only deterrent to another Israeli attack. 

AJC has made it clear that Western aid will be hung over Lebanon like a sword of Damocles (an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power), adding that, “Unless the malignant role of Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah, is addressed there will never be meaningful change for the people of Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, as millions of Lebanese civilians suffer, financial analysts expect the US and Israeli campaign of economic warfare and maximum pressure to continue for the foreseeable future.

ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL

Few geopolitical hot spots are more complicated than the Middle East but renewed hostilities involving both the Levant and nomads from the Eurasian steppes, could be the exception. Deadly clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fighting over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh involves Turkey, Russia, Iran and Israel.

The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, held by Armenia, declared independence in 1991 shortly after the fall of the USSR but it was never recognized by the international community. Between 1988 and 1994 the Azerbaijani Army fought the Armenians over this republic, killing thirty thousand and wounding one million. A cease-fire was finally declared in 1994 with Nagorno-Karabakh entering the gray area of a “frozen conflict.”

In 1993, the UN approved no less than four resolutions demanding Armenia withdraw from what was deemed to be roughly twenty percent of Azerbaijani territory. This is the core of Azerbaijan’s rationale for fighting against what it sees as a foreign occupation army.  Armenia insists these resolutions are null and void because Nagorno-Karabakh (population 150,000) harbors an Armenian-majority population (90%) that wants to secede from Azerbaijan. In September 2020, Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s strongman, in power since 2003, launched a de facto war on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Historically, Nagorno-Karabakh (also called Artsakh) is one of three ancient provinces of Armenia, rooted in the 5th century B.C. and finally established in 189 B.C. Based on DNA samples, the Armenians claim they have been settled in Artsakh for at least 4,000 years.

Nagorno-Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1923. That set the stage for the future powder keg to inevitably explode especially since there was no Azerbaijan nation-state until the early 1920s. Historically, Azerbaijan was a territory in northern Iran. Azeris were well integrated within the Islamic Republic so the Republic of Azerbaijan actually borrowed its name from their Iranian neighbors.

Azerbaijan hatred of Armenians is a major concern in this conflict. Because of Azerbaijan’s military strength, Armenians fear a massacre. Next year marks one hundred years since the genocide against the Armenian people. An Azeri assault, if one were to take place, would be a sorrowful reminder of those tragic days. Since September 27th, when the righting resumed, at least three hundred people have already been killed. 

A Middle East-Eurasian conflict would not be complete without the added wrinkle of oil and gas. Two key gas pipelines pass through the conflict zone. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude pipeline is Azerbaijan’s main oil artery to world markets. The South Caucasus gas pipeline supplies Turkey and European countries. Azeri and Armenian forces are engaged on the “line of contact” between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. This is about 30-40 km. from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude pipeline and South Caucasus gas pipeline.  The fighting comes amid preparations for the start of gas exports to southeast Europe from the second phase of Azerbaijan’s BP-led offshore project. Exports to Europe will put Azerbaijan on the map as a truly international gas supplier.

Azerbaijan owes its military strength to Israel. In the last two weeks alone, four Azeri plans have flown directly from Baku to Uvda air base in southern Israel, the only Israeli airport from which plans loaded with explosive material are allowed to take off. Azerbaijan has purchased weapons from Israel to the tune of $5 billion including Israeli-made M095 cluster munitions. Cluster bombs, often referred to as area weapons, are designed to open in mid-air and disperse smaller submunitions called bomblets. They have been scattered on the Armenian residential areas of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital. Mossad, meanwhile, has Bottom of Formestablished a station in Azerbaijan, serving as the “eyes, ears and a springboard” for monitoring Iran.

Azerbaijan has also prepared an airfield that would assist Israel in case it decided to attack Iran. The Iranian nuclear archive that was stolen by Mossad agents in Tehran two and a half years ago was smuggled to Israel through Azerbaijan. Israel’s aerospace industries, Elbit, Rafael and other smaller companies are selling Baku just about anything despite the fact that Azerbaijan is considered one of the worst countries in terms of democracy and freedom. This includes artillery, missiles, naval vessels, intelligence equipment and a large number of drones. As far back as 2012, Israel was already granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan though a series of behind-the-scenes political and military understandings. It was assumed these bases would be used in Israeli air strikes against Iran over its nuclear program and any other tensions with Iran Israel deemed “a threat to its national security.”  

All of this interfaces with the fierce competition between Shi’ite Iran and Turkey for regional hegemony. The same bizarre pattern of behavior characterized by the Kremlim in Syria, with Vladimir Putin assisting the regime of Bashar Assad and the Iranians, while providing Israel with “silent encouragement” for carrying out air strikes against Iranian positions. To add to the confusion, Mossad and Turkish intelligence cooperate with each other, with Israel’s defense industries selling arms to Turkey for billions of dollars.

The dismantling of the strategic alliance between Turkey and Israel was a systematic and deliberate process, begun by Erdogan a decade and a half ago and yet Israel has not used this opportunity to fulfill its historic duty to recognize the Armenian genocide. At the same time that Erdogan started distancing himself from Israel, Azerbaijan and Israel grew closer. It soon became clear that the two countries had set up a strategic alliance centered on their mutual hostilities towards Iran. Baku is also Israel’s top oil supplier, providing forty percent of its annual consumption, while Israel is the sixth-highest importer of Azerbaijani oil.

Until recently, Azerbaijan saw President Putin’s Russia as a hostile force trying to undermine its pro-Western policy while supporting neighboring Armenia in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. In early October, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev suddenly began praising Moscow, saying, “Azerbaijan and Russia are two neighboring friendly countries which are developing together and are ready to face world challenges.”

With the possibility of prolonged military operations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, could a shift in this conflict from a multilateral framework involving the US and France to a regional one mean that both Russia and Azerbaijan no longer consider the West a relevant player in their backyard and are willing to implement their own security strategies in the South Caucus? As for Russia and Turkey, are they engaged in what can best be described as competitive competition, the South Caucasus only one region, along with Syria and Libya, were this competition is most intense? Stay tuned.

THE SYRIAN WAR: CULTIVATED AND MARKETED BY THE WEST

According to Grayzone’s Ben Norton, Western government-funded intelligence cutouts trained Syrian opposition leaders, planted stories in media outlets from BBC to Al Jazeera, and ran a cadre of journalists. A trove of recently leaked documents entitled HMG Trojan Horse: From Integrity Initiative to Covert Ops around the Globe: Part 1: Taming Syria produced under the auspices of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office show how UK government contractors developed an advanced infrastructure of propaganda to stimulate support in the West for Syria’s armed opposition.

Virtually every aspect of the Syrian opposition was cultivated and marketed by Western (UK-US) government-backed public relations firms, from their political narratives to their branding, from what they said and where they said it. The leaked files reveal how Western intelligence cutouts played the media like a fiddle, carefully crafting English and Arabic language media coverage of the war on Syria to churn out a constant stream of pro-opposition coverage. US and European contractors trained and advised Syrian opposition leaders at all levels, from media experts to the heads of the parallel government-in-exile. These firms also organized interviews for Syrian opposition leader on mainstream outlets such as BBC and the UK’s Channel 4.

More than half of the stringers used by Al Jazeera in Syria were trained in a joint US-UK government program called Basma, which produced hundreds of Syrian opposition media activists. Western government PR firms not only influenced the way the media covered Syria, they also produced their own propagandistic pseudo-news for broadcast on major TV networks in the Middle East, including BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Orient TV.

These UK-US funded firms functined as full-time PR flacks for the extremist- dominated Syrian armed opposition. One contractor called InCoStart, said it was in constant contact with a network of more than 1,600 international journalists and “influencers,” and used them to push pro-opposition talking points. Virtually every major Western corporate media outlet was influenced by the UK-US government-funded disinformation campaign from the New York Times to the Washington Post, CNN to the Guardian, the BBC to Buzzfeed.

According to journalist Sharmine Narwani, all Western wars have been fought with imagery and disinformation. The US government calls it propaganda and accuses the Russians of doing it, but the US does it better than anyone else. It is literally the main tool in America’s military kit. Otherwise, the American people would never accept the never-ending wars. There used to be laws forbidding the US government from propagandizing the American people but the Obama administration undid many of those legal barriers.

All the firms listed in the leaked files were contracted by the British government, but many also were running “multi-donor projects” that received funding from the governments of the US and other Western European countries. Many of these Western-backed opposition groups in Syria were extremist Salafi-jihadists. Some of the UK government contractors whose activities were exposed in the leaked documents were supporting Syrian al-Qaeda afiliate Jabhat al Nusra and its fanatical offshoots.

In an excerpt from Robert Reuel Naiman’s book “Wikileaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath,” he showed, in the case of Syria, that regime change has been a long-standing goal of US policy; that the US promoted sectarianism in support of its regime-change policy, thus helping lay the foundation for the sectarian civil war and massive bloodshed that we see in Syria today. Wikileaks cables suggest that the US goal as early as December 2006 was to undermine the Syrian government by any means possible. In public, the US was opposed to “Islamic extremists” but in private it saw the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presene of Islamist extremists as an opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase.

According to the US Special Forces Unconventional Warfare manual, propaganda is fundamental to US efforts to maintain hegemony. Everything starts and ends with “scene setting” and “swaying perceptions” to prepare a population to support invasion, occupation, drone warfare, “humanitarian interventions,” rebellions and regime change. It was no different in Syria.