BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT, SANCTIONS UPDATE

 For those unfamiliar with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign (BDS), it is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonizing Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and refusing Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. For nearly seventy years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. The BDS campaign is thoroughly discussed in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

Celebrating its 12th year, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

Israel sees BDS’s success as a danger and has called up its minions to act.

US Governors, at Israel’s urging, have been competing with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participation in any boycott aimed at illegal Israeli settlements and their products. On US campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticism of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

Now 234 Congressional members are trying to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. The most shocking aspect of this piece of legislation is its punishment.  Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Apparently Senator Cardin did not know exactly what was in his bill, insisting, when interviewed, that it contained no criminal penalties.

In fact, the bill itself makes no mention of penalties. It is in the underlying amended statute where it mentions the $ 1 million dollar fine and the 20-year prison sentence which could be brought in and used, at will, by a judge or prosecutor.

By trying to enact this legislation, Israel and the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) are trying, through congressional action, to preempt a database due to be published by the U.N. that will list companies that are engaged in commerce in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

According to Rabbi Joseph Berman, Government Affairs Manager for Jewish Voice for Peace, “AIPAC is a very effective lobby, and no different in its influence than the National Rifle Association which keeps Congress from passing much-needed gun reform. AIPAC is very much a part of a broken system and they do a very good job at playing that system. They have immense resources and are able to move legislation like this forward.  However, they do not speak for the Jewish community which is incredibly diverse especially when it comes to relationships to and views on Israel-Palestine.”

If its authors and other Congressional members who are supporting this legislation don’t exactly know what’s in the bill why are they supporting it?

According to Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in June 2017:  “Sometimes anti-Semitism is cloaked in rhetoric that profess no bias but suspiciously holds Israel—and by extension the Jewish people—to a different standard than others. There is no greater example than this insidious effort to harm the Jewish state than through BDS. The global BDS movement is a deeply biased campaign aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state, sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly, while all the while practicing a modern form of anti-Semitism.”

The Intercept’s Ryan Grim suggests another reason the bill’s supporters don’t know its content. “The bill is a kind of proxy opposition to BDS. If you have not signed onto this bill, whether you have read it or not, you can be accused by AIPAC of supporting BDS. If you’re not with us, you are against us.”

The irony here is that it does not criminalize all boycotts of Israel. A neo-Nazi group that is driven by explicit anti-Semitism and calls for a boycott of Israel does not fall under this statute.

Again, Roger Grim: “Only if you’re supporting BDS from a pro-Palestinian perspective would the same precise action be criminalized. According to the ACLU, this is the definition of a First Amendment violation because the same acts become criminalized only based on your political motivation for carrying out that act.”

According to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS National Committee: “Israel concluded that its former strategy for fighting BDS was failing so they adopted a new two-pronged strategy that was based on using their intelligence services to spy on BDS activists and try to tarnish their reputation, and by using legal warfare to force legislation through the US Congress.”

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LEBANON’S CIVIL WAR, 42 YEARS LATER

 

Lebanon recently marked the mournful anniversary of the start of its fifteen year-long civil which began in April 1975. Tragically, the Lebanese commemorate the start of their civil war but never its end in 1990, which in theory constitutes the beginning of peace. The problem, of course, is that insecurity, bombings, murders and disappearances continued after the civil war, and still do today.

The dead, estimated at anywhere from 150,000 to over 200,000 have been buried and resurrected by journalists but not by the Lebanese people.

According to Robert Fisk, a journalist writing in The Independent, “Lebanon’s dark past was concluded with an amnesty that effectively ruled all killers innocent and left the families of the dead with neither justice nor comfort.”

Though never acknowledged by Lebanese authorities, there are believed to be around twenty mass graves still untouched in Lebanon. Some of their locations are widely known, one of which is the mass grave of Palestinians murdered during the Sabra-Shatilla massacre of 1982. As I describe the scene in A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War, Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to discover the grave when he entered Sabra-Shatilla immediately after the slaughter. To get a better view of the camp, he climbed onto a huge pile of dirt about ten feet tall. On the way up he slipped and lost his balance. Trying to catch himself, he grabbed hold of what he thought was a dark red rock. It was a man’s head.

In my book The Syrian, which takes place in Syria and Lebanon in 2006, Andrew Sullivan has heard about Lebanon’s disappeared and wants to know more. He is dining with Sonia and Ali, both journalists, when he initiates the conversation.

“Tell me about the disappeared,” Andrew said.

Ali put down his fork and knife. “Seventeen thousand men,” he said, frowning. “That’s how many were disappeared more than twenty-five years ago. The issue is huge. Unfortunately, it’s the elephant in the room—isn’t that what you say in America? —that no one wants to talk about.”

“Why hasn’t the Lebanese government investigated?” Andrew asked.

Sonia explained. “In the mid-90s, Lebanon’s parliament passed an Amnesty Law that exempted all political leaders from prosecution. This crafty piece of legislation gave our illustrious leaders license to bury anything that had to do with our civil war, including the disappeared. One would expect this of the Syrian regime and their Intelligence Czar, but for the Lebanese to put sectarian interests over national and humanitarian interests—it’s outrageous.”

“Bowing to pressure,” said Ali, “the government six years ago finally appointed a commission to look into the disappearances.”

“And it went nowhere,” said Sonia. “They claimed that if a mass grave was found to contain, say five hundred Muslims, then they would need to find the same number on the Christian side in order to avoid sectarian violence.”

“There’s something even more troubling. The commission actually knows the location of several mass grave sites, and these aren’t obscure laces. One is a cemetery in Achrafieh. Apparently, mass graves were also discovered at every reconstruction site downtown during the reconstruction but the evidence was buried as quickly as it was discovered.”

“Other countries build monuments to commemorate their dead and disappeared, a place where bereaved families can come to remember and honor their loved ones,” said Sonia. “Tragically, truth is the first casualty of war, at least in Lebanon.

                Sami Hermez, in his new book War is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon, argues that the amnesty law encouraged the Lebanese to forget their crimes but since the perpetrators of supposed crimes “did not face trial, were not found guilty, and did not have to admit or confess their crimes what were people being called to forget? Politicians could be persecuted at a later date but a violation against innocent civilians was, through an act of pardon, silenced and its status as crime left ambiguous and open to interpretation.”

Wadih el-Asmar, the president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, has spoken of the need for a real work of memory and reconciliation in which the dead could be lifted from the earth in which they had been flung or bulldozed during the war and carefully identified.

Waddad Halawani, who runs the Committee of Families of the Disappeared and of People Kidnapped in Lebanon, argues that “we want only to know their fate and offer them a proper burial site.”

The debate about the mass graves, however, reveals the demons of the past, because to admit their existence is to accept that the war was not an accident but truly a succession of organized and planned crimes.

The war in Syria was not an accidental event either. It was a carefully planned and orchestrated tragedy carried out by Western powers hell-bent on initiating regime change.

And therein is the rub. If there are crimes, whether in Lebanon or Syria, there must be criminals. In Lebanon a national amnesty saved the criminals from persecution. In Syria, Western historians will simply re-write the history of that tragedy, leaving them unaccountable for their crimes against humanity and free in the future to perpetuate the same crimes elsewhere.

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FIFTY YEARS OF ISRAELI OCCUPATION

Quick Facts: 50 Years of Israeli Military Rule

Quick Facts: 50 Years of Israeli Military Rule
Palestinians waiting at an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem. PHOTO: Daniel Bar-On/Haaretz

 

Since militarily occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, during the June 1967 War, Israel has:

  • Destroyed more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and other structures, including agricultural buildings and places of business, because they were built without permission from Israel’s occupying army, which is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

  • Imprisoned more than 800,000 Palestinians using a military court system that human rights organizations have condemned as falling far short of the minimum standards required for a fair trial.

  • Built approximately 125 official settlements on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and official US policy, and more than 100 so-called “outposts,” built with tacit approval from Israeli authorities even though they violate Israeli law. These settlements separate Palestinian population centers from one another and the outside world and sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, making the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories all but impossible.

  • Implanted approximated 650,000 illegal settlers, many of them violent, heavily-armed religious fanatics, onto occupied Palestinian land, including approximately 350,000 in the West Bank and 300,000 in East Jerusalem.

  • Built a wall on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, separating Palestinians from their farmland, schools, places of business, and family and friends.

  • Imposed a permit and checkpoint system severely restricting the movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories and to and from the outside world, making ordinary life difficult for Palestinians and strangling the Palestinian economy. ( According to the UN, in 2016 there were 572 Israeli checkpoints and other obstacles to Palestinian movement in the occupied West Bank, with more than 100 more in the city of Hebron alone.)

  • Imposed a cruel and illegal siege and naval blockade on occupied Gaza, starting in 2006, which amounts to collective punishment of the 1.8 million Palestinians living there.

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THE LEGAL STATUS OF JERUSALEM

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Secretary of State John Kerry

The Dome of the Rock (background) and the Western Wall below. Old City, occupied East Jerusalem.

  • Under international law, East Jerusalem (including the Old City and its holy sites) are not legally part of Israel.
  • Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the US and international community have refused to recognize the sovereignty of any country to any part of Jerusalem in the absence of a permanent Arab-Israeli peace agreement.
  • No country in the world, including the US, has its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.
  • During the June 1967 War, Israel militarily occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. Israel subsequently annexed East Jerusalem after massively expanding the city’s boundaries into the West Bank in a move that has been repeatedly condemned as illegal by the UN and international community.
  • There are approximately 330,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. They can travel inside Israel and vote in municipal elections but endure widespread systematic discrimination from Israeli authorities and face the constant threat of losing their right to live in the city if they travel abroad to study or work.
  • There are approximately 300,000 Jewish settlers living in the expanded boundaries of East Jerusalem in violation of international law and nearly 50 years of official US policy. While Palestinian residents of Jerusalem face discrimination from Israeli authorities in nearly every facet of life, including making it nearly impossible for them to build homes and other structures, Jewish settlers enjoy all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship and are encouraged by the government to steal Palestinian land and push Palestinians out of their homes.
  • In an attempt to separate and isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, Israel has built a ring of settlements around its outskirts. This ring has been reinforced by the wall Israel is constructing, which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice because most of it is built on occupied Palestinian land inside the West Bank and not along Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders.
  • Since 1993 and the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have been forbidden by Israel to enter East Jerusalem without a difficult to obtain permit. As a result, millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are prevented from entering the city to worship at their holy sites, visit family, conduct business, study, or receive medical care.

For more information about East Jerusalem and the West Bank, I direct you to

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

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BDS-ISRAEL’S OBSESSION

Benjamin Netanyahu recently addressed his cohorts at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urging them to defend Israel on the “moral battlefield” against the growing threat of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In Netanyahu’s simple-minded language, support for Palestinian rights and opposition to settlements equates to “delegitimization of Israel.”

The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society. (You can find more information about the BDS movement in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. BDS co-founder is Omar Barghouti.

He was due to travel to the US this month to receive the Gandhi Peace Award but the Israeli government recently arrested him, subjected him to multiple 12-hour interrogation sessions, confiscated his passport, accused him of tax evasion and is also considering revoking his residency permit.

In what was his first public statement since his interrogation began in mid-March, Barghouti condemned Israel’s McCarthyite witch-hunt against him and the BDS movement.

During the past year Barghouti has also been subjected to open threats by Israeli top ministers.

During a “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem last year, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that BDS activists “will know they will pay a price for it.” Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for spearheading Israel’s assault on the global BDS movement, added, “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”

During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for “targeted killing,” or “extrajudicial execution.” Israel is also considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.

The current obsession with BDS reflects a changing political environment for Israel. Israeli agents were able to subvert the human rights community in the 70s and 80s. Israel’s task is harder five decades later. The human rights community is more independent while social media and mobile phone cameras have allowed Palestinians and their supporters to bypass the Israeli gatekeepers. In the past few days alone, videos have shown an Israeli policeman savagely beating a Palestinian truck driver and soldiers taking hostage a terrified eight-year-old after he crossed their path while looking for his toy.

If the concealment of Israeli crimes at source is no longer so easy, the battle must be taken to those who disseminate this damning information. The urgency has grown as artists refuse to visit, universities sever ties, churches pull their investment and companies back out of contracts.

Israel is already sealing itself off from outside scrutiny as best it can by passing a law denying entry into Israel or the Occupied Territories to those who support BDS or “delegitimize” Israel.

These are but the first signs of the repression to come. Israel plans to create a database of Israelis who support BDS to mimic existing spying operations on BDS activists overseas. The information collected will help a “dirty tricks” unit whose job it is to tarnish their reputations.

Why is Israel so fearful of the BDS movement? Officials say the immediate danger is Europe’s labeling of settlement products, the first step on a slippery slope they fear could lead to Israel being called an apartheid state. The inexorable trend was illustrated last month when a United Nations commission found Israel guilty of breaching the international convention on the crime of apartheid.

Last week US supporters of Israel unveiled an online “boycotters map,” identifying academics who support BDS both to prevent them from entering Israel and presumably to damage their careers.

For the moment, the Israeli-engineered backlash is working. Anti-BDS legislation has passed in France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the US. This is precisely how Netanyahu wants to shape the “moral battlefield,” making it a reign of terror against free speech and political activism abroad and at home, leaving him free to crush the Palestinians.

A barrage of threats and repression has done nothing to temper Barghouti’s determination.

“As humans, we need permission from no one to pursue our inherent rights,” he said. “As human rights defenders, no degree of intimidation and bullying can deter us in our passionate, nonviolent resistance to injustice, inequality, colonial slavery and 50 years of military occupation.”

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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NORMALIZATION UNDER OCCUPATION

For the first time since it was first proposed in March 2002 in Beirut, the Arab Peace Initiative is taking center stage again. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.

At the time, Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend that conference in Beirut. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. I was in Israel at the time and literally came face to face with Ariel Sharon’s Merkava tanks as they prepared to invade Ramallah and other villages across the West Bank. That visit, my first of six trips to Israel/Palestine, was the basis for my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The Arab proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in 1967. Its major flaw was its lackluster attitude towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.

It was cautiously welcomed but then quickly overlooked by Washington at the time since Sharon had dismissed it as a ‘non-starter’. Subsequent Israeli leaders have hardly shown any interested either in bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the Arab or the Americans.

Why, then, is this Initiative, originally put forward by Saudi Arabia fifteen years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in the idea of unconditional normalization with the Arab world.

He told the daily Hebrew newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot’ recently that he sees “a real chance that, within five years, Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies.” Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab countries to break Israel’s regional isolation has been paramount in Israeli foreign policy since its inception in 1948. Since then, it has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts and ties with various other governments.

This explains Mahmoud Abbas’ recent reference to the Arab Peace Initiative. It is his way of saying that any normalization between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian channel, and specifically though his leadership in Ramallah.

Israel, however, likes the idea of renewed interest in the Arab Initiative because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to achieve normalization with its Arab neighbors without peace with the Palestinians.

Donald Trump, since his election, has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of a just solution to the crisis by pushing America’s support of Israel to new levels. He has assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel’s right wing, to supposedly broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As recently as a few days ago, Trump’s pick as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was approved by the US Senate. Even in the eyes of some Israelis Friedman is controversial because of his close association with extremist Jewish parties whose goal it is to seize as many Palestinian properties as possible in Occupied East Jerusalem and expel them.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to focus on advancing Israel’s position and standing in the region. For them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective policies.

The Palestinians’ fear is that Trump’s Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine and agree to normal relations with Israel.

Abbas, who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic, he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.

While the US administration may try to re-brand its approach to the conflict, what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals – in other words, normalization under Occupation.

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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SYRIA’S UNENDING NIGHTMARE

 

Syria’s minority population includes approximately 6% Christian, 3% Druze, 14% Alawite, 2% Shiite and 10% Kurdish. Then, there are the Sunnis who represent about 65% of the population, the majority of whom are secular-minded and just as afraid of al-Qaeda and ISIS as are the minority groups. If Bashar Assad were to call elections today, he would almost certainly get a majority of the votes in any free and fair election. That doesn’t mean people like living under a one-party or secret-police state. It just means that the rebel opposition turned to an extremist Sunni discourse that scares the minorities and secularists.

Why then was the US, until recently, so hell-bent on regime change in Syria? The idea of toppling the Assad regime and breaking up Syria into autonomous zones is not, in fact, a new idea. The plan first appeared in an article by the Israeli, Oded Yinon in 1982 entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.” Yinon, like other Israeli leaders after him, believed that for Israel to survive it must become an imperial regional power that “effects the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states.”

Henry Kissinger planed this same scenario for Lebanon post-civil war. It never came to fruition. It was also the plan for Iraq. Instead, we saw the US military’s “shock and awe” show that destroyed the country and contributed to the death of a million people.

After multiple failures, why then is the US so determined to continue on its futile, destructive warpath?

In the sequel to The Syrianthere is a conversation between Nadia and Hassan Jaafar in which they discuss the looming crisis about to befall Syria.

You heard the news,” Hassan said. “the US is funding opponents of the Syrian regime. Assad’s an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. His enemies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the regional Sunni powers. They want Assad out and they’ll use their jihadist proxies to do it.”

“I get that but why now? The Assad family’s been around since the early Seventies. Sure, they’re brutal dictators but so is every other regional player.”

“Apparently Assad rejected a $120 billion, 1,500 mile natural gas pipeline that would have linked Qatar through Syria to the European Union. Instead, he approved a pipeline running from Iran’s side of the gas field to ports in Tarsus and Tarsus and Lebanon, making Shiite Iran the major supplier of energy to the European market, not the Qatari Sunnis.”

It was Iraq replayed, thought Nadia—gas and oil reserves trumping tens of thousands of innocent lives. As a diplomat concerned with human rights she’d seen it all—the senseless slaughter of thousands, the suicide bombings and the sectarian violence.

Hassan didn’t wait for her to comment and so continued. “It’s actually a brilliant plan. The US and its European allies initiate an uprising using their jihadist surrogates. Assad overreacts to the foreign-made crisis, attacks Sunni strongholds held by the jihadists and ignites a sectarian civil war. The US blames Assad, call him a war criminal and demands he step down. They have no choice then but to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis.”

Hassan continued: “And according to a Pentagon report, the US won’t oppose a jihadist move across the Iraqi border from Mosul and Ramada into eastern Syria to form a caliphate because…”

“Let me guess. That’s the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.”

He nodded.

So, why is the US so hell-bent on its destructive warpath? It’s the oil, stupid.

 

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited President Trump last month their public talks centered on a one-state versus a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Their private discussions focused on a green light from Trump to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syrian territory that Israel has occupied since the June 1967 war.

 

Why would the US back an expansion of a war with Israel against Syria and its ally Russia over the Golan Heights, a war that has already cost over 440,000 innocent lives? Oil, huge, recently discovered reserves of black gold in the Golan Heights.

 

Unless there is some very careful thinking we could find ourselves in another war for oil and this one involving Syria, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on the one side and the US and Israel on the other side.

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