Archive | August 12th, 2018

U.S.-BACKED SAUDI ZIO-WAHHABI AIRSTRIKE ON FAMILY WITH NINE CHILDREN

NOVANEWS
A boy looks at dust raising from the site of air strikes in Saada, Yemen February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma - RC17EDCF7290
Top photo: A boy watches as a cloud of dust rises from the site of airstrikes in Saada, Yemen, on Feb. 27, 2018.Photo: Naif Rahma/Reuters
U.S.-BACKED SAUDI AIRSTRIKE ON FAMILY WITH NINE CHILDREN SHOWS “CLEAR VIOLATIONS” OF THE LAWS OF WAR

SHORTLY BEFORE 10 P.M. on the night of May 14, more than a dozen members of the Maswadah family, including nine children, lay sleeping in tents in the shadow of a cliff in Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada. The nomadic family had been eking out a living raising sheep and doing farm work in the region most heavily targeted by the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led bombing campaign that began in 2015.

Unbeknown to the Maswadahs, Royal Saudi Air Force drones had been hovering for 45 minutes over their dwellings at the edge of the wide plain walled by mountains. Saudi duty officers more than 550 miles away watched the family’s tents on their screens, along with two “hot spots” likely created by the body heat of people and animals inside.

What happened next in the Saudi war room is described in a U.S. intelligence report seen by The Intercept. The minute-by-minute account of a single airstrike provides a small yet detailed window into the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, showing how officers in charge of daily air raids are ignoring their own procedures aimed at minimizing civilian casualties. Specialists in international humanitarian law say the incident described in the document shows “clear violations” of the laws of war.

The duty officers monitoring drone feeds in the Joint Forces Command National Defense Operations Center in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on the night of May 14 saw the Maswadahs’ tents, but observed “no personnel or vehicles visible, nor any other intelligence information about the location,” according to the report.

Saudi officers monitoring drone feeds saw the Maswadahs’ tents, but had no “other intelligence information about the location” before ordering the strike.

The Saudi brigadier general in charge on May 14 wasn’t present in the operations center, so the duty officers called him twice to describe the target.

At 9:25 p.m., the absent general issued the order to strike the tents. The RSAF, which was monitoring the site separately, added its own recommendation to strike. “At 2156, an unknown coalition aircraft released a single GBU-12 on the target,” notes the document, referring to a 500-pound, American-made precision-guided bomb that was dropped at 9:56 p.m., less than 50 minutes after the Saudis first caught sight of the tents.

It is not clear whether the aircraft that fired the munition belonged to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which lead the coalition fighting in Yemen, or to a partner nation such as Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, or Sudan. Morocco reportedly withdrew its fighter jets in April.

Abdullah Maswadah, 40, a farmer and father of the nine sleeping children inside the tents that night, told The Intercept that he was awake and outside the square fabric shelters trying to avoid mosquitos when the bomb dropped. Fortunately for his family, the missile failed to hit its intended target. The American-made munition missed the family’s tents, which had been donated by the Red Crescent, “by about 30 meters,” according to the intelligence report. Maswadah estimated that it landed 10 to 15 meters from where his children slept along with his wife, her parents, and her sister on sponge mattresses next to bags of clothes.

“I rushed to my tent and [the tent] had fallen on the kids. Some woke in panic, screaming and crying, and some were still asleep.”

“I rushed to my tent and [the tent] had fallen on the kids,” Maswadah said. “Some woke in panic, screaming and crying, and some were still asleep.” He moved his relatives out into the open and wiped the dust from their faces. All had survived unharmed, likely because the sides of the tents had been reinforced with stone walls.

As preparations for a second strike unfolded in the Saudi operations center, “multiple personnel, to include at least 1 female and 4 children, exited the tent and fled towards a road,” according to the document. The second strike was then aborted.

The coalition and U.S. Central Command did not respond to questions from The Intercept. But the intelligence report includes what appear to be comments from an American intelligence analyst attempting to summarize key takeaways from the misguided strike.

The attack was “an indication of failure to follow proper procedure even though safeguards are in place,” the analyst wrote, without stating what those safeguards were. “The Saudis failed to corroborate the target with additional intelligence sources or weigh the lack of time-sensitivity with the decision to strike immediately.”

Yet, in an apparent attempt to throw a positive light on the near-fatal fiasco, the analyst pointed out “the obvious desire to avoid civilian casualties and do the right thing indicated by the very real distress that was felt [by the Saudis] after they realized civilians were present.” About 15 minutes after the attack, a senior Saudi officer “expressed extreme displeasure that the strike had been ordered due to the lack of intelligence information justifying it,” the report notes. Many Saudi officers “were visibly distressed at the near-miss of a civilian casualty event. They also privately admitted failing to follow their own procedures, which were put in place to prevent incidents like this from occurring.”
A man is seen at the site of an airstrike that destroyed the Community College in Saada, Yemen April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Naif Rahma - RC1B18DAE900

A man stands at the site of an airstrike that destroyed the Community College in Saada, Yemen on April 12, 2018. Civilian locations continue to be targeted, as human rights organizations and others have repeatedly claimed since the start of the coalition air campaign. Photo: Naif Rahma/Reuters

THE SAUDI OFFICERS’ FAILURE to take any precautions to avoid civilian injury or death was a clear breach of customary international humanitarian law, as was the failure to verify the target, experts said. “Beyond viewing the tents and the hot spots, if no intelligence was ordered to determine if these were military targets, then this is definitely a violation of the principle of precaution. This is the obligation to take all necessary measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to minimise incidental loss of civilian life,” said Ioannis Kalpouzos, an expert on the laws of war at City Law School, University of London.

Potential U.S. complicity in violations of the laws of war is more relevant than ever.

Though the U.S. is not known to have used its own fighter pilots and attack aircraft in Yemen, it is more directly involved in the coalition’s air war than it has been in any other foreign-led bombing campaign in modern history. As the intelligence report shows, the U.S. maintains a significant presence in the Saudi operations center. It also sells munitions and aircraft to the coalition and provides maintenance, training, targeting assistance, and mid-air refueling for fighter jets carrying out bombing runs.Potential U.S. complicity in violations of the laws of war described in the report is more relevant than ever. The U.S. reportedly increased its role in selecting targets for coalition airstrikes soon after the May 14 attack.

In mid-June, the coalition launched a major military offensive against Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, which, along with the surrounding area, was home to 400,000 people. That assault has relied heavily on airstrikes from coalition fighter jets flown by American-trained pilots, armed with American-made missiles, and refueled in the air by U.S. planes. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the expanded U.S. role in target selection is meant to “minimize the number of civilian casualties and the harm to critical infrastructure” in the Hodeidah operation, which the United Nations humanitarian chief in Yemen has said could put 250,000 lives at risk. Some 47,230 households have so far been displaced from the governorate as a result of the fighting.

Yemeni men inspect the damages at a factory allegedly targeted by Saudi-led coalition's  airstrikes in the Red Sea town of Hodeidah on July 27, 2018. (Photo by ABDO HYDER / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ABDO HYDER/AFP/Getty Images)

Yemeni men inspect the damage at a factory allegedly targeted by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Hodeidah on July 27, 2018. Photo: Abdo Hyder/AFP/Getty Images

In May, the Trump administration asked Congress to review the proposed sale of 120,000 precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In June, Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has the power to limit such sales, toldSecretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that he could not currently support the continued sale of U.S. PGMs – the same type used in the May 14 strike on the Maswadah family’s tents – to the coalition because of concerns over their potential use against civilians.The intelligence report offers a devastating counterclaim to the U.S. and U.K. arguments for increasing the sale of PGMs, or “smart bombs,” to the coalition as a means of preventing civilian injury and death. Suppliers of PGMs and their political proponents claim that smart bombs, rather than unguided “dumb bombs,” are the primary way to avoid civilian harm. On its website, Raytheon – the largest manufacturer of PGMs in the U.S. – boasts that its PGMs are “avoiding casualties. Reducing risk. Minimizing collateral damage. … [O]ur precision weapons are meeting the mission — hitting the target and nothing else.” That didn’t happen in the May 14 strike, which may have missed the Maswadahs’ tents because of “elevated terrain between the weapon and the target,” according to the U.S. intelligence report.

Moreover, the efficacy of PGMs or any other weapon depends largely on the quality of the targeting. Although the U.S. has killed plenty of civilians in bombing raids across the Middle East and South Asia in recent years, the events that unfolded in the Saudi operations center on the night of May 14 differed from U.S. airstrike protocol in at least one key way: the apparent absence of legal advisers in the Saudi decision-making process.

In a U.S. campaign, lawyers from the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps would usually, though not always, be expected to be involved in deciding whether to order a strike, according to a former U.S. Air Force officer who asked not to be identified because of his ongoing work in the region. Several military lawyers are available 24 hours a day for such consultation, the former officer said. It remains unclear what, if any, legal advice commanders in the Saudi-led coalition seek before carrying out airstrikes.

Concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen prompted the U.S. to suspend the sale to Saudi Arabia of kits to convert “dumb bombs” into “smart bombs,” but the Trump administration quickly reversed that policy.

In December 2016, at the end of the Obama administration, concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen prompted the U.S. to suspend the sale to Saudi Arabia of guided munitions kits to convert “dumb bombs” into “smart bombs” or PGMs, though crucial mid-air refueling of coalition fighter jets continued.

But the Trump administration quickly reversed that policy. In June 2017, the U.S. approved an estimated $750 million in flight and technical training to the Royal Saudi Air Force. In announcing the proposal, the Defense Department said that the training would “include such subjects as civilian casualty avoidance, the law of armed conflict, human rights command and control, and targeting.” A week later, U.S. senators voted to resume PGM sales to Saudi Arabia, approving the sale of more than $500 million in precision-guided munitions.

The sale closely followed President Donald Trump’s visit to the kingdom, his first official foreign visit as president. While there, he boasted of a deal with the Saudis that he claimed would be worth up to $350 billionover the next 10 years, including $110 billion in arms sales. The Obama administration concluded $115 billion worth of defense sales with Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2016.

The intelligence report shows, however, that 11 months on and over three years into the coalition’s aerial bombing campaign in Yemen, civilians are still being unlawfully targeted, as human rights organizations, a U.N. panel of experts, humanitarian aid agencies, and the European Parliament have repeatedly claimed since the start of the coalition air campaign.

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C) upon arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on May 20, 2017, followed by First Lady Melania Trump (C-R). / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, center, upon arrival in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

THOSE CALLING FOR the suspension of PGM sales to the coalition arguethat selling weapons that will be used to target civilians means that the U.S. “is green-lighting the killing of innocent civilians,” as well as exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in a country where more than 8 million people are “a step away from famine.”“The U.S. and U.K. have justified continued weapons sales to Saudi Arabia based on the coalition’s purported ‘improvements’ — that they will tighten their rules of engagement or credibly investigate strikes that have already occurred,” said Human Rights Watch Yemen researcher Kristine Beckerle. “These promises are empty, these assurances fatally flawed. Whatever changes the coalition has made to its targeting practices, if any, have not prevented the coalition from bombing a wedding, a cholera treatment center, and a range of other civilian targets just this year.”

Saudi Arabia has denied numerous reports of mass civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes and alleged violations of the laws of war, including the bombing of hospitalscivilian gatherings, and civilian infrastructureoften with U.S.-made munitions. The coalition says it has carried out its own internal investigations into some 70 airstrikes. In nine cases, the coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team acknowledged fault but blamed guidance systems, pilot error, or erroneous intelligence. This week, the JIAT announced the findings of five additional investigations, stating that no violations occurred.

SANA’A, YEMEN – JUNE 25: People search for survivors under rubble of a house after it was destroyed by an airstrike of the Saudi-led coalition, that killed eight members of one family, and injured 15 others on June 25, 2018 in Amran province north Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

People search for survivors under rubble of a house after it was destroyed on June 25, 2018, by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that killed eight members of one family and injured 15 others in Amran province north of Sana’a, Yemen. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

A February 2017 judicial review case brought by the London-based organization Campaign Against the Arms Trade argued that weapons sales to Saudi Arabia should be suspended because the Arms Trade Treaty, ratified by the U.K. in 2014, states that if there is “a risk of any serious violation of international humanitarian law,” arms exports should not be authorized. The U.K.’s High Court ruled against the group last summer, finding that there was no “real risk” of “serious violations” in such sales, and that the U.K. secretary of state’s decision to continue selling weapons to Saudi Arabia “was not irrational or unlawful.” An appeal on the ruling is expected to be heard later this year.Although it’s unusual for new evidence to arise in such proceedings, Paul Clark, an international law expert and barrister at Garden Court Chambers in London who is not involved in the CAAT case, said The Intercept’s reporting “might count as new evidence” that could justify a new application to the High Court or submission as part of the appeal.

“If evidence of this type had been available at the time of the High Court decision, it should have impacted on the question of whether the secretary of state made a rational decision,” Clark said. CAAT declined to comment, saying that it had been advised not to speak about the pending appeal.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense’s own “Tracker” database, which collates but does not investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the coalition in Yemen, listed 356 potential breaches as of July 4. Of those, 42 occurred between December 2017 and March 2018.

INTERNATIONAL LAW REQUIRES states to investigate war crimes by their militaries and “fairly prosecute” those responsible, notes Human Rights Watch’s Beckerle. Yet on July 10, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued an unprecedented “noble royal order pardoning all military men … of their respective military and disciplinary penalties” in the war in Yemen.

“The Saudi King’s recent sweeping pardon for soldiers involved in Yemen fundamentally and outrageously undercuts the already deeply flawed coalition investigative mechanism,” Beckerle told The Intercept. “The pardon is almost certain to embolden coalition officers still fighting in Yemen, given the clear message it sends: Don’t worry — no consequences.”

“The pardon is almost certain to embolden coalition officers still fighting in Yemen, given the clear message it sends: Don’t worry — no consequences.”

According to the London-based nonprofit charity Action on Armed Violence, 72 percent of civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen from 2015 to 2017 were caused by air-launched weapons. In May, coalition airstrikes were responsible for 73 percent of civilian casualties in Yemen, with 26 percent caused by shelling from Houthi rebels – the coalition’s enemy, according to AOAV, which advocates to reduce global armed violence.

The events of May 14 continue to haunt the Maswadah family. The children and other relatives have moved into caves, which they view as safer than tents. “I can feel death now when I hear the sound of fighter jets,” said Abdullah Maswadah, who, because of the move, is now a half day’s travel from his work as a farm laborer. “The kids burst into tears when they hear the sound [of planes].”

Posted in USA, Saudi Arabia, YemenComments Off on U.S.-BACKED SAUDI ZIO-WAHHABI AIRSTRIKE ON FAMILY WITH NINE CHILDREN

Gaza: Armed Gestapo Drone Killed Four Boys Playing on the Beach in 2014

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A CONFIDENTIAL REPORT by Israeli military police investigators seen by The Intercept explains how a tragic series of mistakes by air force, naval, and intelligence officers led to an airstrike in which four Palestinian boys playing on a beach in Gaza in 2014 were killed by missiles launched from an armed drone.

Testimony from the officers involved in the attack, which has been concealed from the public until now, confirms for the first time that the children — four cousins ages 10 and 11 — were pursued and killed by drone operators who somehow mistook them, in broad daylight, for Hamas militants.

The testimony raises new questions about whether the attack, which unfolded in front of dozens of journalists and triggered global outrage, was carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life and without proper authorization. After killing the first boy, the drone operators told investigators, they had sought clarification from their superiors as to how far along the beach, used by civilians, they could pursue the fleeing survivors. Less than a minute later, as the boys ran for their lives, the drone operators decided to launch a second missile, killing three more children, despite never getting an answer to their question.

Suhad Bishara, a lawyer representing the families of the victims, told The Intercept that Israel’s use of armed drones to kill Palestinians poses “many questions concerning human judgment, ethics, and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Remotely piloted bombers “alter the process of human decision-making,” Bishara said, and the use of the technology in the 2014 beach attack “expands the circle of people responsible for the actual killing of the Bakr children.”

Just hours before the attack, on the morning of July 16, 2014, the public relations unit of the Israel Defense Forces had been promoting the idea that the live video feeds provided by drones enabled its air force to avoid killing Palestinian civilians.

The PR unit released operational footage, apparently taken from the screens of Israeli drone operators, which documented how three Israeli airstrikes had been called off that week because figures, identified as civilians, had appeared close to targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

Those images were released one week into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, a 50-day offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza in which Israel would eventually kill 1,391 civilians, including 526 children.

Later that same day, at about 3:30 p.m., an Israeli Hermes 450 surveillance drone hovering over a beach in Gaza City transmitted images of eight figures clambering from the strand onto a jetty.

A small shipping container on the jetty had been destroyed by an Israeli missile the day before, based on intelligence indicating that it might have been used by Hamas naval commandos to store weapons. Some analysts have questioned that intelligence, however, since there were no secondary explosions after the structure was hit and journalists staying in nearby hotels reported that no militants had been seen around the jetty that week.

The Israeli military police report reviewed by The Intercept documents what happened next. After one of the figures on the jetty entered the container that had been destroyed the previous day, an Israeli air force commander at the Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv, ordered the operators of a second drone, which was armed, to fire a missile at the container.

AS MY COLLEAGUES Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke reported in 2016, although the Israeli government maintains an official stance of secrecy around its use of drones to carry out airstrikes, hacked Israeli surveillance images provided to The Intercept by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed an Israeli drone armed with missiles in 2010.

Speaking privately to a visiting American diplomat after Israel’s 2009 offensive in Gaza, Avichai Mandelblit, who was the country’s chief military prosecutor at the time and now serves as its attorney general, acknowledged that two missiles that injured civilians in a mosque had been fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, according to a leaked State Department cable.

One reason that Israel might decline to acknowledge that its drones have been used to kill Palestinian children is that such information could complicate sales of its drones to foreign governments. In June, the state-owned company Israel Aerospace Industries signed a $600 million deal to lease Heron drones to Germany’s defense ministry. That deal was initially delayed by concerns from German politicians that the drones, to be used for surveillance, could also be armed. The same state-owned company has also sold drones to Turkey, a strongly pro-Palestinian nation, which has nonetheless used the Israeli technology to bomb Kurds in Iraq.

The Israeli military police report on the 2014 strike seen by The Intercept offers the most direct evidence to date that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza. Testimony from the drone operators, commanders, and intelligence officers who took part in the attack confirms that they used an armed drone to fire the missile that slammed into the jetty, killing the person who had entered the container, and also to launch a second strike, which killed three of the survivors as they fled across the beach.

According to the testimony of one naval officer involved in the strikes, the mission was initially considered “a great success,” because the strike team believed, wrongly, that they had killed four Hamas militants preparing to launch an attack on Israeli forces.

Within minutes of the two strikes, however, a group of international journalists who had witnessed the attack from nearby hotels reported that the victims torn apart by the missiles were not adult militants but four small boys, cousins who were 10 and 11 years old. Another four boys from the same family survived the attack, but were left with shrapnel wounds and deep emotional scars.

Harrowing images of the children running desperately across the beach after the first missile had killed their cousin were quickly shared by a Palestinian photographer, an Al Jazeera reporter and a camera crew from French television.

A brutal image of the immediate aftermath captured by Tyler Hicks of the New York Times, one of the journalists who witnessed the attack, made the killing of the four boys, all of them sons of Gaza fishermen from the Bakr family, reverberate worldwide.

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Maybe it’s the fact that I walked on that beach—and have a small child that makes this photo so devastating.

The French TV correspondent Liseron Boudoul, whose report that day included distressing video of the boys running along the beach before the second strike, noted that she and other witnesses to the attack were unclear where, exactly, the missiles had come from — although initial speculation centered on Israeli naval vessels seen just offshore.

THE SECRET TESTIMONY from the Israeli military personnel involved in the attack establishes for the first time that the drone operators treated the jetty as a free-fire zone on the mistaken assumption that it was off-limits to anyone but militants.

After images of the attack prompted widespread outrage, Israel’s army conducted a review of the mission and recommended that a military police investigation into possible criminal negligence be conducted. The testimonies collected by the military police from the strike team were included in a report presented to Israel’s military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, 11 months after the boys were killed.

Efroni did not release the testimonies, but did make a summary of the report’s findings public on June 11, 2015, when he closed the investigationwithout filing any charges. Israel’s chief military prosecutor decided that no further criminal or disciplinary measures would be taken, since the investigators had concluded that “it would not have been possible for the operational entities involved to have identified these figures, via aerial surveillance, as children.”

Efroni did not explain why that was impossible. Two days before the strike in question, Israel’s military PR unit had released another video clipin which drone operators could be heard deciding to halt strikes because they had identified figures in their live feeds as children.

Adalah, also known as the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has spent the past three years fighting on behalf of the families of the boys — Ismail Bakr, 10; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11 — to have the decision not to prosecute the soldiers overturned by an Israeli court.

Much of that time has been spent waiting for Israel’s attorney general, Mandelblit, to simply reply to appeals filed by Adalah and two Gazan rights groups, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

In February, Adalah said in a statement that Israel’s own investigation “revealed that the Israeli military did not take any measures to ascertain whether the targets on the ground were civilians, let alone children, prior to intentionally directing the attacks against them.”

Bishara, one of the Adalah lawyers representing the boys’ families, told The Intercept in a telephone interview that the Israeli investigation of the killings, in which the military cleared itself of wrongdoing, was flawed in several ways. To start with, the testimonies were only collected by the military police four months after the incident, and only considered what could be seen of the beach through the drone cameras. No testimony was taken from the international journalists who witnessed the attack, and the accounts of Palestinian witnesses, including written affidavits from boys injured in the strikes, were discounted.

Wall Street Journal video report filed on the day of the attack by Nick Casey, a correspondent staying in a hotel close to the jetty, cast doubt on the Israeli intelligence that designated the site a Hamas compound. Casey’s report, which featured images of the first young victim’s mangled body being taken from the jetty, explained that “no one knew why this place had been bombarded; there have been no Hamas attacks from here and no rockets that we’ve seen.”

When the Israeli authorities closed the case in 2015, Alexander Marquardt, a former ABC Jerusalem correspondent who had also witnessed the attack, disputed the finding that the jetty was sealed off from the beach, arguing that it was open to civilians.

ACCORDING TO THE testimony seen by The Intercept, one of the officers involved in the missile strikes told investigators that when he saw one of the figures entering the destroyed container, he had checked with an intelligence officer to be sure that only militants could enter the compound before opening fire.

However, the chief intelligence naval officer, a woman identified only as “Colonel N.” in the report, testified that since the entrance to the area was unguarded on the day of the attack, it was not closed to civilians.

Although the copy of the report reviewed by The Intercept includes redactions, there is no indication as to why this apparent discrepancy between the two testimonies was ignored when the decision to close the investigation was made.

One of the officers also testified that although the site was surrounded by a fence when the intelligence estimate was made before Operation Protective Edge began, the fence could have been destroyed in the previous day’s attack, leaving the jetty open to the public.

One soldier told investigators that according to “dozens” of statements from Gaza fishermen, the local population was aware that the jetty was a Hamas compound. The source of this claim is unknown, however, and a lawyer who has worked on the Adalah appeal told The Intercept that there was no evidence to support it in the parts of the report the army was obliged to share with the victims’ families.

Everyone involved in the strike, including the air force officer who coordinated the attack from Palmachim air base, told investigators that even though they had a live video feed of the area during the attack, “we couldn’t tell they were children.”

The testimonies also reveal a crucial moment when the attack could have been halted, but was not. After the first missile was fired at the shack, killing one of the boys, and the other children ran out to the beach, the attack team requested clarification about how far onto the beach they were permitted to fire.

The attack team radioed a superior officer, asking where, exactly, the area designated a closed military zone ended. They wanted to know if there was a point at which they could no longer shoot at the fleeing figures, as they approached an area of beach umbrellas and tents used by civilians.

When they received no response to that query, the attack team fired a second missile at the fleeing children, about 30 seconds after the first strike, which killed three of the boys and wounded at least one more of their cousins.

One naval officer, who took part in the life-and-death decisions, testified that to the best of his recollection, they had launched the second missile while the fleeing figures were still inside what they took to be a closed military compound, but the missile had landed after the fleeing figures were already outside it, on the beach.

The air force officer who coordinated the strikes told investigators that he had previously been in charge of “hundreds of attacks,” but this incident remained “engraved” in his memory because the intelligence that the strike team was given was a 180-degree difference from the facts on the ground.

Adalah, which filed an updated appeal in the case in May and is still waiting for a response, also noted that the Israeli authorities have refused to let lawyers for the families see any of the video from the two drones recorded during the attack.

Without seeing that video, it is impossible to say whether or not the drone operators should have been able to tell that their targets were children, but Eyal Weizman, an Israeli architect who has investigated drone strikes, has argued in the past that the optical resolution of drone cameras might not be nearly as high as military commanders claim.

After previously analyzing drone surveillance video of suspected Islamic State militants in Iraq, Weizman said it was only possible to tell that the figures were carrying weapons, and that one of them was a child, by studying their shadows. That identification was only possible, he said, because the video was “taken either very early or very late in the day.”

Since there would be no long shadow in aerial images recorded earlier in the afternoon — like those of the boys playing on the beach in Gaza that July day at around 3:30 p.m. — Weizman observed that high-resolution images selectively released by military commanders to justify airstrikes “could skew our understanding of how much can be seen by drones and how clear what we see is.” Most of the footage “that is continuously harvested by drones,” Weizman said, is “far more ambiguous.”

Asked this week about Israel’s policy of refusing to acknowledge the use of drones in lethal strikes, Weizman suggested that one reason might be connected to international law. “An important aspect of Israel’s deniability of drones is to do, I believe, with an unresolved legal problem,” Weizman wrote in an email. “The combination of distributed action — several participants remotely involved in the action — and the gravity of the act of targeted assassination.”

Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, told The Intercept that Israel’s use of armed drones was something of an open secret, but since the technology did not yet cut humans out of the decision-making process, the military commanders who ordered the strikes, and the drone pilots who executed them, were no less responsible for killing the boys than if they had been flying over the beach in a jet or a helicopter at the time.

El-Ad also pointed to a 2016 report his group produced on the failure of Israel’s military to conduct thorough investigations of the killing of civilians in Gaza: “Whitewash Protocol: The So-Called Investigation of Operation Protective Edge.”

“The various specific delays, gaps, failures in the so-called investigation are all part of that broad systematic way to eventually close the files, while producing all this paper trail which may look from the outside as a sincere effort,” El-Ad said. “It’s all totally routine.”

A spokesperson for Israel’s military did not respond to repeated requests to comment on the secret report before publication. After The Intercept published this information, a spokeswoman sent a statement which ignored a direct question about the use of an armed drone in the attack and reiterated the military’s position that the botched attack “was examined thoroughly and comprehensively” and no wrongdoing was discovered. The statement noted that the Israelis “targeted figures who were believed to be Hamas operatives,” and presented the disputed intelligence that the children had entered “a military compound belonging to the terrorist organization’s naval force,” as fact.

“The investigation further revealed that the strike was carried out according to standard procedures, as the forces took various precautionary measures to prevent harm to civilians, however there was an error in identifying the persons in the compound,” the army statement said. “The error was deemed reasonable considering the circumstances of the operation, the chaos and the dangers involved in ongoing war. Accordingly, in 2015, the investigation was terminated and the case was closed without any further legal action taken.”

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, GazaComments Off on Gaza: Armed Gestapo Drone Killed Four Boys Playing on the Beach in 2014

As Critics Warn Trump Sanctions Could Spark ‘New War in Middle East,’

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As Critics Warn Trump Sanctions Could Spark ‘New War in Middle East,’ EU Vows to Uphold Iran Nuclear Deal

The National Iranian American Council denounced the U.S. president’s move to impose new sanctions on Iran as “a dangerous gambit that pits the U.S. in opposition to the rest of the world.”

Activists participate in a protest in front of the White House October 12, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

With new economic sanctions against Iran by the Trump administration about to go into effect as part of its ongoing effort to undermine international diplomacy and “foment unrest” in the country—a campaign critics say heightens the risk of “a new war in the Middle East“—the European Union (EU) on Monday issued an unequivocal joint statement denouncing the sanctions and reaffirming its commitment to upholding the Iran nuclear accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump violated in May.

“Preserving the nuclear deal with Iran is a matter of respecting international agreements and a matter of international security.”
—European Union

Calling the Iran deal—officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a “key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture,” the EU declared, “Preserving the nuclear deal with Iran is a matter of respecting international agreements and a matter of international security.”

“The JCPOA is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian program remains exclusively peaceful, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 11 consecutive reports,” the joint statement reads. “The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions is an essential part of the deal—it aims at having a positive impact not only on trade and economic relations with Iran, but most importantly on the lives of the Iranian people.”

In addition to its statement opposing the Trump administration’s sanctions—which are just the first wave of penalties the U.S. is expected to unveil in the coming months—the EU announced that it will be enforcing a so-called Blocking Statute aimed at nullifying the effects of Trump’s sanctions on European countries engaged in “legitimate business” with Iran.

“Considering the dramatic consequences for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the Trump administration should not be given free reign to plunge the United States into a confrontation with its closest allies and partners.”
—National Iranian American Council

In a memo outlining the implications of Trump’s unilateral sanctions, which are set to officially go into effect at midnight on Monday, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on Monday said the move to reimpose trade penalties on Iran is “a dangerous gambit that pits the U.S. in opposition to the rest of the world—including the U.S.’s closest partners and allies—and risks re-invigorating nuclear proliferation efforts in Iran.”

Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of pursuing nukes, even if Europe and Iran’s efforts to uphold the nuclear accord fail.

“Considering the dramatic consequences for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” NIAC concluded, “the Trump administration should not be given free reign to plunge the United States into a confrontation with its closest allies and partners. In this case, Congress should assert its own prerogatives in the realm of foreign policy and resume U.S. compliance with the JCPOA, including, but not limited to, the continued lifting of U.S. sanctions as obligated under the nuclear accord.”

Posted in Middle East, USA, IranComments Off on As Critics Warn Trump Sanctions Could Spark ‘New War in Middle East,’

TOTAL INVASION OF THE PRIVACY OF EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET ‘Video’

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BILL BINNEY SPEAKING IN THE NETHERLANDS IN 2017

“THE NSA TRACKS THEM AND THE CIA WHACKS THEM”

Bill Binney, the NSA’s former technical director, a whistle blower, and American hero explains the details of how the NSA’s total surveillance works.

Good news and bad news…

Bad news: It really is total surveillance. The eavesdrop and

Good news: The people who operate the system are idiots.

They collect so much data, they’re literally buried in it. Therefore, unless they target you specifically, your information is so deeply buried for all practical purposes it’s private.

Bad news: There’s no end to their idiocy and treachery – and it does NOTHING to keep people safe.

Takeaways:

“Given power over others, people use it.”

“No country in the world has any control of their intelligence agency.”

“When you join the intelligence agencies with the police you have a secret police. In Germany, they called that the Getapo. In East Germany they called in the Stasi. I called the NSA the “New Stasi Agency.”

Bad news: There’s no end to their idiocy and treachery – and their system does NOTHING to keep people safe.

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US Is Now Allied With al-Qaeda in Yemen

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‘US Is Now Allied With al-Qaeda in Yemen’: AP Reveals American-Backed Saudi Coalition Forged Deals With AQAP Fighters

New investigation reveals the coalition “cut deals” with extremist fighters

A man walks on rubble of a building destroyed in airstrikes carried out by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition hours after the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths departed Sana’a on June 06, 2018 in Sana’a, Yemen.

A man walks on rubble of a building destroyed in airstrikes carried out by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition hours after the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths departed Sana’a on June 06, 2018 in Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

As the United States continues to fuel Yemen’s worsening humanitarian crisis, and boast that it’s targeting al Qaeda in the impoverished nation (AQAP) with airstrikes, new reporting reveals that the U.S.- and U.K-backed Saudi coalition waging a bombing campaign there is recruiting al Qaeda fighters to join its ranks, and paying off the extremists to leave areas.

Soon after the Saudi-led coalition, with the United Arab Emirates being a key partner, began its bombing campaign in Yemen against the Houthi rebels in 2015, it was reported that al Qaeda militants were fighting on the same side as the Saudi militia to defeat the Iran-linked Houthis. The new Associated Press investigation, however, reveals that the coalition has made “secret deals with al-Qaeda fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash.”

Beyond that, the “coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaeda militants,” APfound, based on on-the-ground reporting including interviews with members of al Qaeda, tribal mediators, Yemeni security officers, and militia commanders.

The earliest such deal took place in the spring of 2016 when “thousands of al-Qaeda fighters … pull out[ed] of Mukalla,” a port city. From AP:

The militants were guaranteed a safe route out and allowed to keep weapons and cash looted from the city—up to $100 million by some estimates—according to five sources, including military, security, and government officials. […]

Coalition-backed forces moved in two days later, announcing that hundreds of militants were killed and hailing the capture as “part of joint international efforts to defeat the terrorist organizations in Yemen.”

A similar deal took place soon after in the province of Abyan. Again, the fighters would not be targeted with drone strokes as part of the deal, which also included a provision for hundreds of al Qaeda fighters the join the ranks of the UAE-backed Yemeni force there.

“There is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants,” AP reported, yet the U.S. does provide the coalition with key military assistance including air refueling and intelligence.

Responding to new investigation on Twitter, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said, “This is what the U.S. gets when its foreign policy is not based on its national interest, but driven by transactional deals with Arab allies who in turn have no problem allying with Al-Qaeda. Through Saudi & UAE, the U.S. is now allied with al-Qaeda in Yemen.”

Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told AP, “It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” and dubbed the coalition’s war on al Qaeda largely a “farce.”

The latest reporting sheds new light on the failed war on terror, as fighters in what’s called al Qaeda’s most dangerous branch are leaving areas unscathed and with greater money resources. It also follows Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) warning last year that, in the eyes of Yemenis, the coalition’s anti-Houthi bombing campaign “is seen as a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign. And so the long-term effect of this is that we are radicalizing potentially millions of Yemenis against the United States.”

The plight of Yemenis suffering the catastrophic fallout of the proxy war, meanwhile, remains largely ignored by corporate media and most mainstream outlets.

Posted in USA, YemenComments Off on US Is Now Allied With al-Qaeda in Yemen

Nazi regime: Ethnic Cleansing Croatia

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Israel’s “Stamp of Approval” of Europe’s Largest Post-WWII Ethnic Cleansing. Croatia

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Back in February, we warned about the prospect of Israel selling F-16s to Croatia, a state in which WWII revisionism and Holocaust denial are running rampant, and memories of the Nazi puppet Independent State of Croatia are routinely glorified. In the meantime, that has become a done deal. But there is more. Not only will Israel sell half a billion dollars worth of fighter jets to Croatia, but on August 5, three Israeli F-16s, crewed by Israeli pilots, took part in a parade to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the “Operation Storm,” in which more than 2,300 Serbs were killed, including more than 1,200 civilians, among which more than 500 women and 12 children, and which forced the exodus of a quarter million Serbs from their ancestral homes in this former Yugoslav republic, reducing their numbers from the pre-war 600,000 to fewer than 190,000 today.

As the Serb civilians retreated, Croatian fighter planes bombed and strafed the refugee columns, killing many, even those that had already crossed into neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H). Some of the refugees were met by Croatian mobs hurling rocks and concrete at them. Compiling accounts from various, mostly Western news reports, Gregory Elich put together a harrowing account of the Croatian military operation, with full US and NATO support:

“A UN spokesman said, ‘The windows of almost every vehicle were smashed and almost every person was bleeding from being hit by some object.’ Serbian refugees were pulled from their vehicles and beaten. As fleeing Serbian civilians poured into Bosnia, a Red Cross representative in Banja Luka (B-H) said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. People are arriving at a terrifying rate.’ Bosnian Muslim troops crossed the border and cut off Serbian escape routes. Trapped refugees were massacred as they were pounded by Croatian and Muslim artillery… The Croatian rampage through the region left a trail of devastation. Croatian special police units, operating under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, systematically looted abandoned Serbian villages. Everything of value – cars, stereos, televisions, furniture, farm animals – was plundered, and homes set afire. A confidential European Union report stated that 73 percent of Serbian homes were destroyed. Troops of the Croatian army also took part, and pro-Nazi graffiti could be seen on the walls of several burnt-out Serb buildings.

Massacres continued for several weeks after the fall of Krajina, and UN patrols discovered numerous fresh unmarked graves and bodies of murdered civilians. The European Union report states, ‘Evidence of atrocities, an average of six corpses per day, continues to emerge. The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilated… Serb lands continue to be torched and looted.’

Following a visit in the region a member of the Zagreb Helsinki Committee reported, ‘Virtually all Serb villages had been destroyed…. In a village near Knin, eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body was male or female.’”

Croatia’s then president, notorious WWII revisionist Franjo Tudjman, triumphantly celebrated the expulsion of the Serbs and the fact that they “disappeared… as if they have never lived here…

But this did not much faze Israeli officials playing their own version of the Art of the Deal. On August 5, 2018, as the Croatian daily Vecernji list gleefully announced,

“Operation Storm has at last been given the stamp of approval of its allies – the USA. and Israel,” adding that the overflight by Israeli F-16s carrying the Star of David represented a “symbolic act of international recognition of the ethical soundness of military operation Storm,” which Croatia had been seeking “since August 1995.”

Obviously, half a billion dollars buys quite a lot these days, Star of David and all, even for Holocaust deniers.

In a statement to the Times of Israel, Serbia’s ambassador in Tel Aviv said that his country was “deeply disappointed about the participation of Israeli pilots and fighter jets,” stressing that Operation Storm was a “pogrom” and “the biggest exodus of a nation since the Second World War,” and that Israel’s participation in Croatia’s victory celebration “is not a friendly gesture toward Serbia.”

On the other hand, according to the same report, Brigadier General (Ret.) Mishel Ben Baruch, head of the Israeli defense ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, said that it was “an honor to be able to participate” in the 23rd anniversary of Operation Storm. In addition, the Israeli embassy in Belgrade defended the participation of its warplanes in the celebration, stating that it was “entirely connected with the announced purchase” of the planes, that it carried “no political elements or any connection to the historic relations between Serbia and Croatia,” and that the “solid friendship” between Israel and Serbia “will never be jeopardized in any way.”

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dachich was, however, not impressed, referring to the participation of Israeli jets as “immoral to their own people, the Jewish people, because so many Jews had perished in the Jasenovac [death camp], and the Croatian regime relativizes the Jewish victims,” adding that he “could not understand” the presence of the Israeli flag at the celebration, and that it would be a “mark” that the Israeli state would henceforth carry.

The Belgrade Jewish Community issued its own statement, saying that the celebration of Operation Storm was “neither the time, the place, nor the destination for Jewish pilots,” that “Jews remember their horrible suffering from World War II, when, just like the Serbs, we were victims of a terrible pogrom,” and that “absolutely no concession should be given, not even a thousandth of a millimeter, to the rehabilitation of either that or, unfortunately, the present-day glorification of the ‘success’ of Croatian soldiers.”

Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, tweeted the following just before the event:

“Very upset that Israeli AirForce jets will be flying in event to mark “Operation Storm” during which Croatia expelled 250,000 Serbs from their homes in Croatia. Until today no foreign country has ever participated!!”

Ironically, just days before the Israeli pilots joined in the celebration of Croatia’s “final solution” to its Serbian problem, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid an official visit to Croatia and, during a visit to the notorious Nazi-era death camp, Jasenovac, often referred to as “Croatia’s Auschwitz,” urged Croatia to “deal with its past… and not to ignore it,” (not so) subtly referring to, as Zuroff put it in a recent Jerusalem Post column, Croatia’s “failure to sincerely and honestly confront” the crimes of its Nazi-collaborating Ustasha movement and regime, which “has plagued Croatia since it obtained independence” in 1995.

Strangely, instead of continuing to hold Croatia to account, the Israeli government and armed forces have chosen to legitimize that country’s glorification of slaughter and ethnic cleansing, built on a foundation of Holocaust relativization and WWII revisionism. While helping fortify modern Croatia’s foundations, Israel’s leaders have just managed to shake their own.

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Counter-Terrorism and Russia’s Military Campaign in Syria (2015-2018) ‘Video’

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Detailed summary of military and political developments in Syria since the start of the Russian military operation (2015-2018)

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We bring to the attention of our readers South Front’s detailed documentary on Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

Introduction

The Russian military operation in Syria is nearing the end of its third year. Since 2015, Moscow has been employing its air power, military advisors and diplomatic resources to defeat a multitude of terrorist groups, to support the legitimate Syrian government, and to promote a peaceful dialogue across the country, thereby creating the framework for a diplomatic settlement of the conflict on the international and regional levels.

Russia’s capabilities of providing military supplies to Syrian government forces and humanitarian aid to the local population, have both played an important role in establishing Russian forces as an influential and reputable power within Syria, which can play the role of a mediator among various factions on the ground in the war-torn country. In comparison, all other foreign powers involved in the conflict are forced to rely on a limited number of proxy forces, which have often proven to exhibit a harsh attitude toward, and competition with their counterparts and competitors.

On the other hand, this situation puts restrictions on Moscow’s actions in some spheres, because it must balance its public and formal positions to push forward the promoted political settlement while pursuing Russia’s own national security and political goals simultaneously.

Starting Point

To put Russian actions in Syria and the Middle East in general in perspective, one should think back to what the situation was like on the eve of the direct Russian intervention in the conflict. At that moment, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda – Jabhat al-Nusra (now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) – and other radical militant groups, often branded in the mainstream media as the moderate opposition, as well as ISIS, were engaged in an increasingly successful offensive against the Syrian government on multiple frontlines. Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies were at the gates of Damascus, in control of large parts of northern, western and southern Syria, as well as multiple areas within the government-held areas, including about a half of the city of Aleppo, often described as the second Syrian capital. At the same time, ISIS’ self-proclaimed Caliphate was rapidly spreading throughout the eastern and northern parts of the country. The terrorist group was in control of a major part of the Syrian oil resources, the strategically important cities of Deir Ezzor and Raqqah, and controlled a sizeable border with Turkey.

The US, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries of the so-called civilized world were either providing direct and indirect supplies or assistance to Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies in an effort to overthrow the Assad government. The US-led coalition against ISIS achieved little success in combating the terrorist group and destroying its infrastructure. The so-called Caliphate had clearly expanded its territory and power since the coalition’s formal establishment on June 13, 2014. ISIS’ oil business was on the rise with illegal oil flows streaming throughout the region and even reaching the broader international market.

The mainstream media and think tanks were publicly forecasting that the Damascus government would fall by the end of 2015, or in the best-case scenario would be able to consolidate its control over the coastal areas. These same western establishment disseminators of information warned that such a coastal statelet would soon turn into an Iranian client pseudo-state after the dissipation of Syria. Iran has invested a significant amount of resources and troops in the conflict and even convinced Hezbollah to join it on the side of the Damascus government. Nonetheless, these efforts were not enough to shift the balance of power in favor of the Assad government.

All of these forecasts appeared to be doomed to failure on September 30, 2015 when warplanes and attack helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces started pounding militants across the country, irrevocably shaping the course of the conflict. Units of the Russian Special Operations Forces arrived to direct airstrikes, to conduct reconnaissance missions, and a host of other classified missions deep behind the enemy’s lines. Behind the scenes, Russian military advisers started planning and directing offensive operations and kicked off a long and complicated process of transforming the Syrian Army and pro-government militias into a force capable of defeating the terrorists and to liberate the country.

Additionally, the Russians started expanding and fortifying their Khmeimim airbase and the naval facility in Tartus. Later, Russian military police, combat engineers and the Navy also played an increasing role. Throughout the conflict, Russia-linked private military contractors entered the game providing security to key energy infrastructure facilities in the liberated areas and serving as assault troops in some key battles.

The regional power with its economy “in tatters” [Obama sic] appeared to be capable of projecting power, providing assistance and highly professional military advising, and large-scale counter-terrorism missions in a key global region approximately 1,482 nautical miles from the Black Sea Fleet based at Sevastopol, Crimea to the Tartus naval facility in Latakia, Syria.

One of the key reasons behind the Russian decision to launch its operation in Syria was the very logical concern over growing security threats from terrorist groups near Russia’s southern borders and the possibility that some powers could use terrorist groups in the larger, ongoing geopolitical standoff. Russia has already had to struggle with this reality in the Caucasus regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia starting in 1994. Brought largely under control in 2009, Russian security forces continue to battle Islamic insurgents in these regions.

The Syrian-Iraqi battleground is located approximately 450 km from the border of the former USSR. Russian has been a target of terrorism perpetrated by radical Islamist groups for decades. Considering the rapid growth of ISIS in 2014, some Western actors would like to see the expansion of this entity or other quasi-state terrorist structures into Russia’s South Caucasus or the border area with the Central Asia. Thus, Moscow found common ground with the governments of Iran, Syria and Iraq and even the leaders of Hezbollah, all of whom were also concerned with the growth of highly organized and ideologically motivated Sunni terrorism in the region. These factors led to the creation of the Russian-Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah alliance and the establishment of a HQ in Baghdad for joint intelligence-sharing cooperation and anti-terrorism coordination between these nations. The alliance was de-facto formed and the Baghdad HQ was established immediately after the start of the Russian military operation in Syria in late September.

Goals, Forces and Facilities

The Russian operation pursued the following goals:

Military

  • To defeat ISIS and other radical militant groups like Jabhat al-Nusra;
  • To eliminate experienced members of these terrorist groups, which had traveled to Syria from Southern Caucasus and the Central Asian republics. It was determined that these elements returned home, they would pose a threat to Russian national security;
  • To prevent a Libya-like scenario in Syria. Thus, it was needed to destroy the established terrorist infrastructure, which would allow terrorist group to use the country as a rear base for terrorist attacks across the globe;
  • To strengthen the Assad government and its military forces. This would not only be accomplished by resupply of weapons and munitions, but a ground-up reeducation in modern warfare tactics, starting at the small unit level, and building to advanced operations involving multiple large formations employing the  full spectrum of combined arms warfighting practices.

Political

  • To defend and promote the positions of Russia in the Middle East and in the Eastern Mediterranean;
  • To assist the central Syrian government to remain in power and to allow it to start restoring sovereignty and law and order to the country;
  • To create conditions on the ground under which the less radical elements of the opposition would have no choice but to join and participate in the political process.

Economic

  • To defend and promote the interests of Russian companies in the region;
  • To defend and promote the economic interests of the Russian state, including a direct and indirect control of the transit of energy resources, in the region.

Obviously, Moscow had to expand its own military infrastructure at the facilities in Tartus and the Khmeimim airbase, and to ensure the security of the deployed forces. Russian attack helicopters additionally used airbases in Shayrat, Homs, Tiyas and Damascus as advance airfields. As a beneficial consequence of direct participation in the conflict, the Russian Federation gained the opportunity to test its more modern weapons systems under real combat conditions and to provide personnel with combat experience. Even tough Russia was employing a relatively small combined task force to achieve the aforementioned goals throughout the course of the operation, this force of soldiers, battle hardened and educated on the modern field of battle, would provide a core cadre full of invaluable experience and leadership.

Air Forces

When the operation started, the Russian Aerospace Forces deployed at least 50 aircraft, including Su-24M attack aircraft, Su-25SM attack aircraft, Su-30SM fighter jets, Su-34 fighter-bombers and Mi-24 attack helicopters with transport capabilities and Mi-8 military transport helicopters. This air group was reshuffled several times depending upon the situation on the ground and the tasks and objectives pursued by the Russian leadership. At different stages of the conflict, it also included Su-35S multi-role air superiority fighters, Su-27SM multirole fighters, MiG-29SMT air superiority fighters and Ka-52 and Mi-28N attack helicopters. Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers were employed from airfields in southern Russia.

Two Su-57 fifth generation stealth fighter jets passed combat tests in Syria in February 2018. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, at least one Su-57 used an advanced air-launched cruise missile to target militants. The decision was recently made to approve the first serial production run of twelve of these advanced aircraft.

A deeply modernized Su-25SM3 attack aircraft, which incorporates the Vitebsk-25 EW system, avionics, and weapon control systems with an L-370-3S digital active jamming station, was also spotted at the Khmeimim airbase. The L-370-3S can use an enemy radar emission to locate their azimuth and determine the radar emission type, as well as suppress the signal in different frequency ranges. It also possesses protective measures against various missiles.

The A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, Il-20M1 electronic, radar reconnaissance aircraft and Tu-214R electronic surveillance aircraft were another component of the Russian “reconnaissance-strike complex” keeping control of Syrian airspace and detecting troop and supply movements on the ground as well as locating militant commanders, headquarters, weapon depots and other key infrastructure by detecting their electronic communications’ signature an locating its source. Russia has been developing a number of advanced electronic warfare, surveillance and command and control aircraft over the past two decades.

On a tactical level, Russian servicemen used a high number [about 100] of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of different types; Orlan 10, Forpost, Orion, Dozor-100, Eleron-3, and the Pchela-1T to conduct reconnaissance during combat operations and to monitor ceasefire areas across the country.

Units of the Naval Infantry, the Mechanized Infantry, the Special Operations Forces and the Military Police have provided strong zonal security for the Khmeimim and Tartus infrastructure from the very start of operations. Particularly, servicemen of the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet have been involved in this task. T-90 main battle tanks have been also deployed to bolster the security posture of these forces in very real terms.

Air Defense

The Russian military has significantly increased air defense capabilities of its grouping deployed in Syria after a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border on November 24, 2015. This incident forced Russia to deploy its advanced S-400 long-range air defense systems to protect its facilities and forces. Russian forces in Syria are also protected by the following systems:

  • S-300V4 anti-ballistic missile system
  • Tor M2 surface-to-air missile system
  • Buk-M2E self-propelled, medium-range surface-to-air missile system
  • Osa highly mobile, low-altitude, short-range tactical surface-to-air missile system
  • S-125 Pechora 2M surface-to-air missile system
  • Pantsir-S1 self-propelled combined short to medium range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system

Krasukha-4 and other electronic warfare systems are also an important component of the Russian forces’ air defense capabilities. According to some experts, these systems were employed during two US-led missile strikes on Syrian government forces in 2017 and 2018, and were likely an important factor behind the questionable success of these US attacks.

Additional air-defense capabilities have been provided by the Russian naval task group deployed in eastern Mediterranean. These capabilities depend on the composition of the group. For example, theSlava class guided missile cruisers Moskva and Varyag, which have been deployed as part of such task groups in the past, are equipped with the S-300F Fort long-range surface-to-air missile system.

Naval Forces

The naval task group deployed also increased the anti-ship capabilities of the Russian operational force in Syria, allowing it to protect itself from hostile warships. In November 2016, the Russian military officially announced that it sent K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile systems to Syria. This anti-ship missile system is designed to engage surface ships, including carrier strike groups, convoys and amphibious assault ships.

The Russian naval force involved in the conflict was in its strongest shape in the period of November 2016 to January 2017 when the Kirov class nuclear-powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov and two Udaloy class anti-submarine destroyers were deployed along with a number of smaller support vessels. This group significantly expanded air-defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities of the Russian forces. Mig-29KR/KUBR and Su-33 jets attached to the Admiral Kuznetsov also took part in the aerial operation against militants in the country, carrying out 420 combat missions and hitting 1,252 targets, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. On the other hand, Admiral Kuznetsov’s air wing lost a MiG-29K jet and a Su-33 jet during the Syria deployment, because of technical faults during the aircraft arrested-recovery process. This highlighted problems and limitations of the Russian naval aviation at its current stage of development and maturity. Importantly, the most valuable asset involved in both of these accidents, the pilots, were rescued by the vigilant recovery teams of the naval task force.

Warships of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Sea Fleet also participated in the campaign carrying out Kalibr cruise missile strikes on ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra targets, mainly weapon depots, headquarters, and other high value, hardened targets. Although western mainstream media tried to downplay the significance of Kalibr cruise missile strikes from both surface warfare vessels and submerged submarines, these attacks very clearly illustrated the success of the Russian defense industry in producing high tech cruise missiles, as well as the Russian military’s proficiency at utilizing them.

Ground Forces

According to the official version of the Russian leadership, the ground campaign was limited to the following:

  • Troops of the Special Operations Forces to direct airstrikes, conduct reconnaissance and other unspecified missions behind the enemy’s lines;
  • Another group of servicemen employed to train Syrian forces and fulfill the role of military advisers embedded with Syrian units on the battle field;
  • Servicemen of the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria participated in directing the reconciliation process, participate in negotiations with local communities and leaders of militant groups and carry out humanitarian operations;
  • Units of the Military Police to provide security and assist in restoring law and order in the liberated areas. Some military police servicemen are also tasked with guarding the Russian military facilities and assisting in providing humanitarian aid to the local population;
  • Combat engineers to participate in demining of key liberated areas across the country.

Besides these tasks, there were at least two more components of the Russian military forces deployed in Syria. The first is were elements of conventional and rocket artillery systems. Units of apparent Russian origin armed with 2A65 Msta-B 152 mm howitzers and TOS-1A Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower systems have been spotted a number of times, located in frontline positions in key sectors supporting the main effort of offensive and defensive operations. For example, in February 2016, CNN filmed an artillery detachment armed with Mstab-B howitzers near Palmyra. The detachment was guarded by an armored group, which included a few T-90 main battle tanks and BTR-82A armored personnel carriers. The crews appeared to be Russians.

The second component and open secret, is the participation of Russian and Russia-linked private military contractors (PMCs) in the conflict. According to available data, these PMCs served as storm troops in a number of key battles against ISIS, such as in Deir Ezzor and Palmyra, work as artillery support units, and are involved in guarding the liberated gas and oil infrastructure in central Syria. There is no official data as to how many Russia-linked PMCs are currently deployed in Syria. According to some experts, the total is roughly 2,000.

Syria Express

In conjunction with direct military intervention, Russia boosted military aid to the Damascus government and its allied forces. To accomplish this, Russia established an aerial and naval logistics supply network that came to be known as the “Syria Express”. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and sanctioned pro-government factions have been supplied with military equipment, including armored vehicles and battle tanks, artillery guns, multiple rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and other needed arms and munitions. It’s widely known that Moscow even provided a limited number of T-90 main battle tanks, TOS-1A Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower systems and Uragan multiple rocket launcher systems. The Syrian military has also received Pantsir-S1 air defense systems and materiel support needed for the maintenance of its aircraft and air defense systems.

At least 17 vessels of various types are involved in providing military supplies to Syria via the maritime route (Tartus-Sevastopol- Novorossiysk). It is interesting to note that at critical stages of the conflict the Russian military made use of non-military vessels. Analysts stressed that this proved that Russia lacks significant sealift capacity and has a very limited number of landing craft and amphibious ships that can be dedicated to providing supplies to Syria. The Russian Navy has been slowly remedying this obvious shortcoming by building larger amphibious warfare vessels of larger displacement in recent years.

Military Developments

In the period from September 30, 2015 to June 9, 2018, Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, participated in multiple battles against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and their allies. All of them can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Operations to stabilize the situation and to prevent the fall of the Damascus government;
  2. Operations to defeat the most influential terrorist groups – ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra – in central, eastern and northern Syria;
  3. Operations to liberate multiple militant-held pockets within the government held area.

In late September, 2015 Syrian forces were spread among different areas of operation, their communications were overstretched and operations were poorly planned and coordinated. At the same time, weapons, munitions, equipment and recruits were flowing to militant groups in Syria through Turkey. The Russians had to assist the SAA in dealing with all of these issues.

The general course of the conflict can be separated into the four stages.

Northern Latakia, Homs, Palmyra

At the outset, or first stage of the campaign, the provinces of Latakia, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor and the Damascus countryside became the main areas of close operational support provided by the Russian military to the SAA, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and other pro-government factions. In Deir Ezzor, the key task of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Arab Air Force was to provide supplies and fire support to a garrison of the provincial capital besieged by ISIS and to prevent the fall of the city. This goal remained relevant until 2017 when the siege was broken.

In the province of Latakia, Russian forces propelled an advance of the SAA along the M4 highway, allowing government forces in the period from October 2015 to August 2016 to reassert control over the province. The SAA, the NDF and other pro-government factions significantly shortened the militant-held part of the Syrian-Turkish border, culminating in the capture of the strategically important town of Kinsabba. The front in northern Latakia was stabilized and the threat of a Jabhat al-Nusra-led offensive on the Syrian coast was neutralized. The Russian Su-24 warplane was shot down by the Turkish Air Force during this very advance. Ankara did not desire a Syrian government restoration of control over the country’s border, as Turkey’s political elite were benefiting greatly from illicit trade across the border, as well as providing the free flow of reinforcements and resupply of militants operating in Syria.

An additional offensive was opened in the province of Aleppo from October 2015 to December 2016 when government forces engaged the Jabhat al-Nusra-led bloc north and southwest of the provincial capital, and ISIS east of it. Government forces lifted the two-year-long ISIS siege of the Kuweires military airbase, expanded a buffer zone west of the Khanasir Highway, the main supply line to the government-held part of Aleppo city, and cut off the key supply lines heading from the Turkish town of Kilis to the militant-held part of Aleppo city. Thus, the SAA and its allies divided the militant-held areas in northern and western Syria into two separate enclaves. This advance also predetermined the future of Aleppo city.

Small scale military actions were conducted in northern Hama from October to December 2015. In this area, the Syrian-Iranian-Alliance achieved limited gains in comparison to the developments in Latakia and Aleppo. Pro-government forces advanced along the M5 highway and west of it, outflanking a group of militant-held towns and villages, including Kafr Zita and Lataminah. Subsequent militant counter-attacks resulted in little gains and the frontline was more or less stabilized.

Amid successes in western and northern Syria, government troops carried out a series of advances on ISIS positions in the province of Homs. On March 27, 2016 they liberated the ancient city of Palmyra. A few days later, on April 3, another important city, al-Qaryatayn, was also liberated. ISIS forces in central Syria were forced to withdraw to the desert. During the following month of June, the SAA, the Desert Hawks and other pro-government factions made an attempt to reach and capture the town of Tabqa from ISIS advancing from the direction of Ithriyah; however, they overstretched their logistical lines and were forced to retreat, suffering casualties after a series of ISIS counter-attacks.

One of the key factors behind the success of the SAA and its allies was a massive air campaign carried out by the Russian Aerospace Forces. Russian aircraft not only provided close air support to government troops, but also contributed significant efforts to destroying infrastructure of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS striking their convoys, gatherings, weapons depots, HQs and other facilities deep behind the actual frontlines, attacking targets in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Raqqah. ISIS’ oil infrastructure and oil convoys were among the most important targets of the air campaign. Thus, the Russian military undermined one of the terrorist group’s key financial resources.

Aleppo City, Western Ghouta, Northern Hama, retreat from Palmyra

The Russian-led operation against militants entered its second stage in June 2016 following the collapse of a US-Russian deal aimed at establishing a ceasefire regime in the war-torn country. Under the terms of the deal, Jabhat al-Nusra, other al-Qaeda-linked groups and ISIS were excluded from the ceasefire regime. However, so-called moderate opposition groups were not able to separate themselves from their terrorist affiliates. These groups often even shared the same facilities and positions on the frontlines with Jabhat al-Nusra units. Thus, the ceasefire became impossible. The situation was especially complicated in the city of Aleppo, a section of which was controlled by the Jabhat al-Nusra-led bloc.

With the collapse of the attempted ceasefire, the SAA’s campaign to retake Aleppo took place from June 25, 2016 to December 22, 2016, ending with the government’s liberation of the entire city. During the summer phase of the campaign, the SAA and its allies advanced in the Mallah Farms area and cut off the Castello Road, the only supply line to the militant-held, eastern part of Aleppo. Then, government troops repelled all militant attempts to break the siege. Especially fierce clashes took place in the area of al-Rashidin in October and November. A battle of attrition was waged on the encircled militants and during the final phase of the advance, militants lacked weapons and supplies to counter government advances, while the SAA effectively used its advantage in military equipment, manpower and firepower. Humanitarian corridors were also opened to allow civilians to withdraw from the combat area.

On December 13, a local ceasefire agreement was reached between the opposing sides and by December 22, all remaining radical members of the militant groups and their relatives surrendered all their heavy weapons and withdrew to the militant-held part of Idlib via an open corridor. The deal ensured that further civilian casualties, inevitable in the urban warfare, would be avoided. The city of Aleppo, also known as the industrial capital of Syria and the second-largest city in the country was finally liberated.

In addition to regular troops of the SAA and the NDF, the operation involved all elite factions of the Syrian military and Iranian-backed forces including the 4th Armored Division, the Republican Guard, the Syrian Marines, the Tiger Forces, the Desert Hawks, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Liwa al-Quds, Lebanese Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. The Russian Special Operations Forces and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also participated. According to reports, over 25,000 pro-government fighters were involved. About 15,000 militants from various factions deployed inside and around the city opposed them.

Neither side provided official information regarding the casualties they sustained. According to estimates by various sources, up to 1,500 government fighters were killed in the battle. In turn, about 2,000 militants were killed. The number of injured militants remains unknown. Furthermore, Jabhat al-Nusra and its allied groups expended a large portion of their unguided rocket and anti-tank guided missile arsenal over the course of the fighting, and lost a large number of armored vehicles as well. A key objective of the operation was the evacuation of civilians via opened humanitarian corridors. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, over 150,000 civilians were evacuated from the combat area during the operation.

It is interesting to note that a naval group led by the Kirov class nuclear-powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy and heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov were deployed in close proximity to Syria during the battle for Aleppo. According to some experts, the addition of these powerful vessels to the Russian task group involved in the operation, especially considering their defensive capacities in anti-air warfare, provided a significant deterrent to any decision by Washington to intervene, thus avoiding a direct confrontation between the US-led coalition and the Syrian government when the conflict was passing its crucial turning point.

There were two more important factors that impacted the situation in Aleppo:

  • a Jabhat al-Nusra-led offensive on government positions in northern Hama;
  • an ISIS offensive on the ancient city of Palmyra.

Both of these attacks took place during the key stages of the battle for Aleppo. Thus, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra de-facto united their efforts in attacking the SAA and its allies along different fronts, in an attempt to draw crucial Syrian military manpower and effort away from its operation to liberate the strategic city. The Jabhat al-Nusra-led advance in northern Hama started on August 29 and lasted until November 6. This attack was actively supported by Jund al-Aqsa, which in 2017 merged with ISIS, as well as other so-called moderate opposition groups. Using surprise effect and suicide bombers, militants broke the NDF’s defense and captured a number of villages. In September, October and early November, fierce clashes continued. By November 6, the SAA, the NDF and their allies had been able to reverse the militants’ gains and to stabilize the front.

ISIS launched its attack on Palmyra on December 8 and captured the city by December 10. The terrorist group had captured the ancient city amid fierce clashes with the SAA and the NDF. On December 11, government forces launched an unsuccessful counter-attack to re-capture the city. On December 12, ISIS units started a large-scale advance to capture the Tiyas Airbase west of Palmyra. Terrorists carried out multiple attempts to capture the airbase, but were not successful. They were equally unsuccessful in efforts to cut off the road between the airbase and the city of Homs. On December 22, the frontline stabilized.

According to available data, ISIS concentrated up to 5,000 militants for the December advance. The government’s positions were defended by about 3,000 fighters, including units of the SAA, Hezbollah, Liwa Fatemiyoun and later the Tiger Forces. They were backed up by Syrian and Russian air support. According to pro-government sources, over 600 ISIS members were killed in the clashes. Pro-ISIS sources claim that over 300 pro-government fighters were killed.

During the months of October and November, prior to the pivotal victory in Aleppo, the SAA also carried out a successful operation in the Damascus countryside, liberating the militant-held sector of Western Ghouta. Government forces broke the militants’ defense and in late November forced them to accept a reconciliation agreement. A significant number of militants and their families departed to the militant-held territory of Idlib. Many combatants and their families chose to remain in the area and settled their legal status with the Syrian government, under the supervision of security forces.

The Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance achieved important victories liberating the city of Aleppo and the Western Ghouta region of Damascus, but lost Palmyra. This was a major PR loss, and was actively seized upon by the mainstream media to slam the Russian-backed anti-terrorist campaign in Syria. The Western mainstream media made every attempt to overshadow the many successes of the campaign by highlighting the setback in Palmyra.

Palmyra Retaken, Wadi Barada, Eastern Aleppo, Western Qalamoun, Deir Ezzor city, eastern Syria desert

The third stage of the Russian military operation in Syria started immediately after the liberation of Aleppo. Over 25,000 pro-government fighters previously involved in the Aleppo battle were free for further operations across the country. The fall of Palmyra forced the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance to alter their strategic planning in light of this setback. The following goals and priorities were identified and agreed upon:

  1. to secure and restore order in the liberated city of Aleppo;
  2. to retake Palmyra from ISIS;
  3. to purge ISIS in wide areas in the eastern regions of both Aleppo and Homs provinces and, if this proved possible, to lift the ISIS siege of the city of Deir Ezzor;
  4. to deal with multiple militant-held pockets still existing within the government-held regions, either achieved by military means or through safe passage and relocation agreements.

A military operation to take back Palmyra began on January 13, 2017 from the direction of the Tiyas Airbase, at that time still being besieged by ISIS. Units of the SAA, the Tiger Forces, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Hezbollah, the Republican Guard and the 5th Assault Corps spent a month clashing with ISIS along the Tiyas-Palmyra highway and re-entered the ancient city for the second time on March 2. On March 4, Palmyra was fully secured.

The advance was marked by very active Russian involvement, including the participation of PMCs, the Russian Aerospace Forces and a significant effort by Special Operations Forces. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, ISIS lost over 1,000 militants killed or wounded in the ensuing struggle, along with 19 battle tanks, 37 armored fighting vehicles, 98 pickup trucks armed with heavy weaponry and 100 other vehicles. The heavy casualties suffered by ISIS during the battles for Palmyra and their failed advance on the Tiyas airbase, set the conditions for further operations against the terrorist group in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert, as well as in the eastern part of Aleppo province.

From January through June, government forces forced ISIS terrorists to retreat along a wide front in eastern Aleppo, leading to the liberating of the Jirah Airbase, Deir Haffer, Maskanah and a number of other points. By the middle of June, the SAA advanced into the southern periphery of the province of Raqqah. This caused great consternation in the mainstream media and led to a growth of tensions with the US-led coalition and its proxies. On June 18, an F/A-18 Super Hornet from the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22M4 south of the town of Tabqah, which was then occupied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a Kurdish dominated coalition of armed groups backed by Washington. The Su-22M4 was supporting the SAA’s anti-ISIS operation in the area. The US claimed that the warplane was posing an imminent threat to the SDF, and was shot down in an act of self-defense. Regardless of efforts of both ISIS and the U.S. led coalition and its proxies on the ground, the SAA established control over the key junction of Resafa, thus securing the Ithriyah-Resafa road and cutting the SDF off from any advance into central Syria.

From May to September, government forces carried out another offensive against ISIS, this time in central and eastern Syria. They liberated the entire desert regions north and south of the Homs-Palmyra highway, and reached the border with Jordan, both northeast and northwest of the area of At-Tanf. During the course of the operation, US-backed proxies branded as elements of the Free Syrian Army, miraculously appeared in the area and attempted to oppose the advance of the SAA in eastern Syria. These attempts proved unsuccessful.

During the advance, the Syrian military carried out the first air assault operation since the beginning of the war. On August 11, units of the Tiger Forces, led by Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, landed behind ISIS defensive positions at an administrative boundary line between the provinces of Homs and Raqqah. The operation immediately led to the capture of two settlements and added fuel to the general SSA advance in the area. Up to 30 ISIS members were killed in the ensuing clash.

Despite all of these advances, the issue of allowing a US-led coalition military garrison on the Baghdad-Damascus highway, in the area of At-Tanf, remained unresolved. Washington showed its readiness to use force to keep the highway closed to the Syrian government, carrying out airstrikes on pro-government forces there [for example on May 18]. The US-led coalition declared a 50-km wide zone of responsibility around At Tanf, stating that US military forces were deployed there to fight ISIS in the region; however it soon became apparent that ISIS seemed to be able to freely operate within this zone of protection. The US had set up a de-facto exclusion zone, where ISIS militants could seek refuge, regroup and strike at will, all the while protected by a US enforced no-fly zone.

On July 23, government forces advanced on ISIS positions along the Palmyra-Sukhna-Deir Ezzor highway with the aim of capturing Sukhna. They reached the town in late July and established full control over it on August 5. On August 27, the SAA and its allies launched an offensive to break the ISIS siege on the city of Deir Ezzor. On September 5, the siege was lifted from the western portion of the city. On September 9, government troops broke the encirclement of the Deir Ezzor airport. All ISIS counter-attacks were repelled.

According to pro-government sources, the multi-pronged advance against ISIS that led to the liberation of central Syria and lifted the siege of Deir Ezzor involved over 50,000 pro-government fighters from various factions. About 3,000 ISIS members were reportedly killed or injured. The SAA and its allies lost up to 1,000 troops, according to pro-opposition sources. The city of Deir Ezzor was fully liberated from ISIS on November 17, after about a month of urban clashes.

Additionally, a military operation to retake the eastern bank of the Euphrates was launched. The SAA liberated the town of al-Mayadin on October 12 and the town of al-Bukamal on November 19. ISIS was effectively defeated in the area, its self-proclaimed Caliphate had collapsed.

During the same time period as the above mentioned developments, the SAA carried out three additional military operations in western Syria.

  • In the period from December 23, 2016 to January 29, 2017 government troops established control over the entire area of Wadi Barada in the province of Rif Dimashq. A part of the area was liberated thanks to a reconciliation agreement reached between the government and more or less moderate members of local armed groups. The liberation of this area allowed the SAA to secure the supply of water to Damascus.
  • From July 21 to August 15, the SAA, Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army carried out a coordinated operation against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and ISIS in the western Qalamon area on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The entire border between the two countries became free of terrorists.
  • From October 7, 2017 to February 13, 2018 the SAA and its allies reclaimed a great deal of land in northeastern Hama and eastern Idlib, killing over 1,000 members of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant groups. The government advance in western Idlib showed that even in this most militant of enclaves, which has been controlled by an assortment of opposition and terrorist groups since the early years of the war, the militants were increasingly unable to win in a head-to-head engagement with the SAA.

Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk Area, Eastern Qalamoun, Rastan Pocket

By the late winter of 2018, the Russian military operation in Syria entered its fourth stage. At this stage, the Syrian military had to deal with the remaining militant-held pockets within the majority government-held areas and to keep security and order in the recently liberated areas, especially the city of Deir Ezzor and in the Euphrates Valley.

A military operation against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, code-named Operation Damascus Steel, took place in the period from February 18, 2018 to April 14, 2018. The operation involved about 25,000 fighters from the SAA, the Tiger Forces, the Republican Guard, Liwa al-Quds, the NDF, the 4th Armored Division, the 5th Assault Corps and other pro-government factions. This force, backed by Russian Special Operations Forces troops, faced about 15,000-18,000 members of local militant groups. Government troops split the militant-held pocket into two separate parts and then cleared the two newly formed pockets one after another. As in many previous cases, local reconciliation agreements played an important part of the success of the operation.

The operation was not undermined by the alleged chemical attack in the town of Douma, which took place on April 7, nor the missile strike on Syrian government targets by the US, the UK and France carried out on April 14. The US led missile strikes exerted no real military or political pressure on the Syrian government, nor their allies engaged in the operation to finally retake the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus. The assertions by the U.S. and its allies on the floor of the UN assembly that claimed that the Syrian government had perpetrated a poison gas attack on Douma proved inconclusive, if not totally improbable.

During the clashes, about 550 militants were killed and about 1,200 members of militant groups surrendered to the SAA. According to pro-militant sources, government forces lost up to 600 fighters. The mainstream media and pro-militant outlets also claimed that “thousands” of civilians died during the operation, but this number has never been verified.

An operation against ISIS in the Yarmouk refugee camp area in southern Damascus was carried out between April 19 and May 21. Palestinian pro-government militias, like Liwa al-Quds and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, played a significant role in the operation. The Syrian military forced members of non-ISIS militant groups to accept a reconciliation deal, thus securing the area east of Yarmouk, and carried out a large-scale multipronged advance on ISIS positions. ISIS members in the area were lacking in military equipment, supplies and anti-armor capabilities. By the end of May, the entire southern Damascus area had been secured. According to Russian, Syrian and Iranian state-run media, all ISIS members had been eliminated. Nonetheless, sources on the ground have stated that at least some ISIS members and their families – about 1,600 persons, were allowed to withdraw from the area via an opened corridor after they had surrendered all heavy weapons in their possession.

Two more victories were achieved by the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance in eastern Qalamoun and the area of Rastan:

  • Militants in Rastan accepted a surrender agreement on May 2, surrendering their weapons and leaving the area by May 16. About 11,000 members of militant groups and their families left Rastan and nearby settlements and relocated to the militant-held parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces via an open corridor.
  • On April 17, militant groups accepted a surrender agreement in eastern Qalamoun. Under the agreement militants surrendered their weapons and were granted the opportunity to leave the area or to settle their legal status. The Syrian military restored full control over the area on April 25. It is important to note that eastern Qalamoun militants surrendered a large number of heavy military equipment, including battle tanks, anti-tank guided missiles, rocket launchers and other weapons. Using such a large arsenal they may have been able to resist the SAA advance for a notable amount of time. When weighing their options with full knowledge of the many recent SAA victories over the past year, they chose to surrender.

By June 2018, the SAA and its allies had liberated a large part of the country, including the cities of Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, the entire countryside of Damascus, and had liquidated the many pockets of opposition that had existed in the government-held portion of the country. ISIS’ self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria had been taken apart in a series well planned and decisively executed military campaigns.

On June 18, the SAA and its allies launched a military operation to clear southern Syria of both ISIS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and to re-establish control of the Syrian-Jordanian border. Previously, Damascus, assisted by Russian advisers, made a number of attempts to implement a reconciliation agreement in the area allowing members of relatively moderate opposition groups to surrender their weapons and settle their legal status. All these attempts were sabotaged by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its supporters. Thus, a military solution was implemented. Within the next month, the SAA liberated the entire Daraa countryside and set conditions to combat ISIS east of the Golan Heights.

From July 21 to July 31, the SAA also cleared the ISIS-held pocket east of the Golan Heights. However, the security situation in the area still remains complicated and additional security measures are needed to prevent terrorist attacks there.

When the southern Syria issue is finally resolved, the SAA and its allies will turn their gaze upon the province of Idlib. Turkey, which has recently increased both its influence and presence there, has no justification for attempting to preserve Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or any of its many affiliated militant groups in the face of Syrian military intervention. The Erdogan government will have to find a way to either reconcile and divorce itself from the internationally recognized terrorist group, or somehow continue maintaining a relationship with it, while honoring the framework of the agreements reached by Syria, Turkey, Russia and Iran in the Astana format. The answer to this question will become more apparent only when the SAA begin military operations against militants in Idlib sometime in the near future.

Results of the military operation

The Russian Defense Ministry provided a comprehensive report on the results of its military operation in Syria in late 2017. The report stated that by November 7, 2017, 54,000 members of militant groups, 394 battle tanks and over 12,000 pieces of weaponry, vehicles and other equipment had been eliminated in Syria. An estimated 4,200 of the eliminated militants were from Russia or countries bordering it. During that same period, warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out over 30,000 combat sorties, and executed 92,000 airstrikes. This amounted to an average of 100 combat sorties and 250 airstrikes on a daily basis. Attack helicopters carried out a total of approximately 7,000 combat sorties.

Warplanes from the Admiral Kuznetsov carried out 420 combat sorties, 117 of them at night, hitting 1,252 targets. The Russian Navy carried out ten missile strikes on militant targets, employing at least 70 Kalibr cruise missiles. The first combat usage of Kalibr missiles in Syria was on October 7, 2015, only a week after the start of the military operations within the war-torn country.

Russian sappers deployed in the country removed over 100,000 mines and IEDs and continue to operate across the country. They have employed the Uran-6 mine-clearing robotic systems, OKO-2 ground-penetrating system and other modern equipment. To date, about 1,000 Syrian sappers have been trained by their Russian counterparts and the training program is ongoing.

Russia has played an important role in the logistics and maintenance support of the SAA, both in general and on an operational level. According to the Defense Ministry, Russian specialists are actively involved in assisting the Syrian military in maintaining and recovering military equipment. While most of this activity remains unpublicized, it’s known that in 2015 the Russians restored a tank-repairing plant in the city of Homs. The plant is currently operated by the Syrian government.

Additionally, Russian specialists and officers contributed to the improvement of Syria’s air defense capabilities, while providing both maintenance support to air defense systems and radars and training to Syrian officers. In April 2018, the Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing a source in the Russia Defense Ministry, that Russia had delivered at least 40 Pantsir-S1 short to medium range defense systems to Syria over the past few years.

In the period from late September 2015 to August 2017, Russian specialists carried out over 3,000 ordinary maintenance activities and over 25,000 activities linked to maintenance of Russian weapons and equipment deployed in Syria. Additionally, the Russian military tested over 600 types of weapons and equipment, including MiG-29SMT air superiority fighters, Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jets and BMPT-72 Terminator tank support combat vehicles.

Two Su-57 fighter jets passed combat tests in Syria in February 2018. According to the defense ministry, one of the jets used advanced air-launched cruise missiles against militant targets.

On December 22, 2017, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that a total of 48,000 Russian service members took part in the Syria military campaign. He added that 14,000 of these service members received state awards.

Casualties and material loses of the Russian military

From the start of the military operation on September 30, 2015 through June 20, 2018, the Russian military lost 93 servicemen in combat and non-combat incidents. Of these, 39 of them died on March 6, 2018 when an An-26 transport aircraft crashed near Khmeimim Air Base, because of a supposed technical malfunction. Combat related deaths claimed the lives of 43 Russian servicemen and specialists.

A total of 14 aircraft, excluding UAVs, were lost by the Russian military according to official sources. This number includes:

Russian Military Campaign in Syria 2015-2018

Separately, it should be noted that 92 people died in a crash of a Russian Defense Ministry Tupolev Tu-154, which was heading from the city of Sochi to Khmeimim airbase. The plane crashed into the Black Sea on December 25, 2016. The passenger list included 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble choir, 8 crew members, 7 soldiers, 9 journalists, the Director of the Department of Culture for the Russian Ministry of Defense and three civilians.

Comparing Russian losses to that of the US Air Force and US Navy in operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to conclude that Russia suffered higher losses in aircraft during the same period. One reason for the imbalance is that Russia is behind the US in UAV technologies and does not operate unmanned combat aerial vehicles. The primary reason must be attributed to the difference between the approaches implemented by the Russian Aerospace Forces and the US Air Force. The US has either engaged ground targets from a high altitude while using guided munitions, or via unmanned armed UAVs. By contrast, although Russian combat aviation conducted many airstrikes from high altitude via guided munitions, the majority of airstrikes by Russian aircraft were conducted at low altitude. Russian use of traditional close air support, where combat aviators work in close communication with forward air observers embedded with units on the front line, or even behind enemy lines, while attacking at low altitude resulted in a higher probability of aircraft loss, but resulted in higher target accuracy and better results. The heavy use of attack helicopters in the CAS role by the Russian Aerospace Forces proved greatly effective in providing accurate and lethal air support to allied units engaged in combat in both open terrain and urban areas.

There is no confirmed data on casualties among Russian and Russia-linked PMCs. If one believes in all of the speculations spread by the mainstream media and monitoring groups, this number should be not less than 1,000-1,500 dead and wounded. The problem is that reasonably substantiated reports, which include at a minimum the name, date or location of death of individuals engaged in such employment, exist only for about 30 individuals.  According to most military analysts, the real number of Russian PMC casualties is closer to two or three hundred.

Chemical weapons and missile strikes

Additionally, it is important to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in the conflict and the actions of the US-led bloc in response, using these attacks as justification for overt military action. There were two widely covered cases of alleged chemical weapons usage over the past 3 years:

  • Khan Shaykhun
  • Douma

An alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib province, took place on April 4, 2017. The incident occurred in the militant-held area, deep behind the frontline, amid a rapidly developing and successful operation conducted by the SAA against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in northern Hama. According to pro-militant sources, mostly the Western-backed militant-linked organization known as the White Helmets, at least 74 people were killed and over 550 were injured. The White Helmets and others claimed that chemical weapons were dropped by a warplane of the Syrian Air Force. The US, UK, France, Israel and a number of other countries immediately accused the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack. The Syrian government, Russia and Iran described the attack as a staged provocation and called on the international community to carry out an independent and transparent investigation of the incident.

On April 7, ahead of any investigation, the USS Porter guided missile destroyer launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian Air Force’s Shayrat Air Base in the province of Homs. According to the US Central Command, the missiles “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars”. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the strike had resulted, “in the damage or destruction of fuel and ammunition sites, air defense capabilities, and 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft. The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest.”

Syrian warplanes resumed their operations from the airbase a few hours after the US strike. The Russian Defense Ministry described the “combat effectiveness” of the attack as “extremely low” adding that only 23 missiles hit their intended targets. According to existing visual evidence, 10 Syrian aircraft were destroyed: three Su-22, four Su-22M3, and three MiG-23ML. According to some sources, the number of targeted aircraft could be up to 15; however, sources at the airbase have said that most of the destroyed aircraft had been already damaged or out of service.

According to Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, “Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line”. There is no doubt that Moscow informed the Syrians who had withdrawn most of their assets from Shayrat Air Base prior to the strike. This could explain why no real damage was incurred from the strike. International investigators have never visited Khan Shaykhun nor Shayrat Air Base.

A year after the Shayrat missile strike, on April 7, 2018 an alleged chemical attack took place in Douma, in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. The incident allegedly occurred in the militant-held area, behind the frontline, amid a rapidly successful operation of the SAA against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman. By April 7, the SAA had liberated most of the area and had already forced Jaish al-Islam, which had controlled Douma, to accept a surrender agreement.

The White Helmets once again became the main source of the information on the alleged casualties. According to pro-militant sources, from 48 to 85 people were killed and over 500 were injured in the alleged attack. They claimed that a helicopter of the Syrian Air Force had dropped chemical weapons. The US, United Kingdom, France, Israel and a number of their usual allies immediately accused the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack. Once again, the Syrian government, Russia and Iran described the attack as a staged provocation and called on the international community to carry out an independent and transparent investigation of the incident.

On April 14, ahead of any investigation, the US, the UK and France carried out coordinated missile strikes on government targets in Syria. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that this attack was a “decisive action to strike the Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure”. According to the Pentagon, the US, the UK and France launched 105 missiles at the alleged “chemical weapons” facilities of the Assad government:

  • 66 Tomahawk cruise missiles;
  • 20 Storm Shadow/SCALP EG air-launched cruise missiles;
  • 19 AGM-158 JASSM air-launched cruise missiles.

The Pentagon alleged that all the missiles hit their targets:

  • 76 missiles hit “Barzah Research and Development Center”;
  • 22 missiles hit “Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site”;
  • 7 missiles hit “Him Shinshar CW Bunker”.

According to data provided by the Russian Defense Ministry:

  • 22 US, French, British missiles hit their targets;
  • 46 missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defense systems covering the capital of Syria and the nearby airfields at Duvali, Dumayr, Blai, and Mazzeh;
  • 20 missiles were intercepted in three areas within the zone of responsibility of Syrian air defenses of Homs;
  • a number of missiles failed to reach their targets due to apparent technical reasons.

The Russians also revealed wreckage of the intercepted missiles and displayed at least one unexploded Tomahawk cruise missile. The ministry of defense added that two unexploded missiles (a Tomahawk and a high-accuracy air-launched missile) had been recovered and delivered to Russia from Syria. Russia also carried out its own investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma and stated that its results showed that the attack was a staged provocation. Russian specialists also found and interviewed people, doctors and alleged victims filmed by the White Helmets in a video allegedly showing the aftermath of the chemical attack.

On April 27, Russian and Syrian officials as well as witnesses of the alleged chemical attack participated in a press conference in The Hague. The event was entitled “Presentation by the representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation with direct participants of the fake video produced by ‘White Helmets’ on 7th April 2018, in the Hospital of Douma”.  The data provided during the press conference debunked the Western-backed version of the events. Russia brought 17 witnesses of the incident, as well as Douma hospital staff members to The Hague. OPCW technical experts interviewed only 6 of 17 witnesses.

Both the Khan Shaykhun and Douma incidents developed via similar scenarios with the US-led coalition carrying out cruise missile strikes on the basis of claims from militants without conducting any investigation. In the both cases the actual effectiveness of the US-led missile strikes were much less than the Pentagon had claimed. Some assert that both military actions appeared to be more of a PR campaign conducted by the Trump administration meant to make the president appear tough on Russia.

Other military experts link the high rate of missile intercept and technical failure to assistance provided by the Russian military deployed in Syria. While air defense systems of the Russian military group in Syria were not employed directly, Russian air defense forces likely provided the Syrian military with vital operational data and targeted the incoming missiles with their own electronic warfare capabilities.

Reconciliation, Humanitarian and Security Operations

The cases of Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, the Rastan pocket and other regions demonstrated that Russia’s leadership appeared to be aware of both the limits of the country’s power and of what can be accomplished using solely military means. Almost immediately after the start of the anti-terrorist campaign in Syria, Russian forces started participating in humanitarian operations across the country. The Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides, headquartered at the Khmeimim Air Base in the Syrian Arab Republic, is the main force carrying out humanitarian operations and promoting reconciliation efforts.

The Centre was established on February 23, 2016, four days ahead of the first Russian-US backed ceasefire [started on February 27, 2016], which was designed to cease hostilities and to separate moderate opposition from the many terrorist groups operating in the country. The ceasefire failed, because of the inability of the US-backed militant groups to separate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra. Nonetheless, since then the Centre has become one of the key factors influencing the ongoing resolution of the conflict. There are 5 main organization units of the Center:

  • a group engaged in analysis and planning;
  • a group of negotiators;
  • a group dedicated to cooperation with foreign organizations;
  • a group for informational support;
  • a group focused on providing humanitarian aid.

Servicemen of the Center played a key role in reaching withdrawal or reconciliation agreements with militant groups in such areas as Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, Wadi Barada and Rastan. On almost a daily basis, the Center provides bulletins providing info on its activities and the military situation in the region. Thanks to the work of the Centre, over 2,500 settlements have joined the ceasefire regime by June 2018. The number of armed formations that have joined the ceasefire regime is 234.

Humanitarian corridors were also established at the contact line between the militant-held part of Idlib province and the government-held area. These corridors allow civilians to leave the area controlled by militant groups. Russian specialists also established mobile units which they use to provide medical aid to civilians. In general, about 300 people receive medical help on a daily basis.

Units of the Russian Military Police have been spotted in Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Rastan and other areas where reconciliation or withdrawal agreements have been reached with militants. The goal of these units is to monitor implementation of the agreements and to assist Syrian forces in restoring law and order in the liberated areas.

International Reaction and Propaganda

Since the very start, Russian military actions in Syria have faced strong criticism from the mainstream media and governments of the US-led bloc. Opponents of the Russian military operation have used and continue to use the following theses:

  1. The conflict in Syria will be a second Afghanistan for Russia;
  2. The key goal of the Russian military operation is to combat the moderate opposition, not ISIS or al-Qaeda (also known in Syria as Jabhat al-Nusra);
  3. Russia supports the bloody Assad regime, which has no legitimacy and is hated by the entire population;
  4. Russia participates in indiscriminate bombings of targets and uses unguided, conventional “dumb” bombs thus causing a high degree of civilian casualties;
  5. Russian forces suffer casualties on a constant basis but the Kremlin is hiding them;
  6. The Russian Defense Ministry is an unreliable source of information in comparison to the Pentagon or the US Department of State or even to such “independent” organizations as the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, the White Helmets and Bellingcat.

These claims are especially interesting, because they exploit the audience’s lack of information about the conflict and mix facts with exaggerations or even outright lies. While the Russian side is also far from being innocent in promoting a one-sided version of the story, the US and its allies have a much larger and better funded media conglomerate by which to spread their propaganda. Mistakes of the Russian Defense Ministry in the coverage of its military operation in the country also played their own role.

Three examples of such high profile public speaking mistakes:

  • On November 14, 2017 an official page of the Russian Defense Ministry released fake photos [old photos from Iraq and a screenshot from a video game] to illustrate a statement on interaction between the US-led international coalition and militants of ISIS. Later, the defense ministry said that a civil employee attached the wrong photos to the post and the incident was under investigation; however, no details on the result of this investigation were provided.
  • In the third part of Oliver Stone’s Showtime special “The Putin Interviews” broadcasted from June 12 to June 15, 2017 Putin took out a cellphone to show Stone a clip of how Russian aircraft were striking militants in Syria. The video that appeared was US gun camera footage originally filmed in Afghanistan in 2013.
  • On October 24, 2017, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that since the start of the operation in Syria, 503,223 km2 were liberated from terrorists. The problem here is that Syria’s total area is about 185,180 km2. Shoigu’s figure is 2.71 times larger than the entire country as it existed before the conflict.

One could describe these incidents as probable acts of informational sabotage. Putin does not use a personal cellphone, so some person had to have prepared the video beforehand. A Defense Ministry staffer provided Shoigu with the grossly incorrect figure, and someone released obviously fake photos via the defense ministry’s social media page. Were these very amateurish mistakes, or calculated sabotage? It is most probable that all of these cases are the result of the gross negligence or low quality of work of some middle to low level staffers involved in providing informational support concerning Russia’s military actions in Syria.

Only a small portion of the Russian Defense Ministry’s statements can be found on its website. Content demonstrated during press conferences – maps, photos and detailed information – is not translated into English and is not uploaded to the official ministry website after press conferences. The Russian mainstream media, such as Sputniknews and RT, do not attempt to cover all of the facts and details revealed during the press briefings. Thus, a major part of the audience, especially an English-speaking audience, remain uninformed about key facts and evidence provided. This situation is another factor allowing the Western mainstream media, pundits and experts to ignore the key arguments of the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance and to push their own narrative.

Two major examples of this:

On April 25, 2018 Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy held a press briefing providing details on the results of the April 14 US-led missile strike on Syria. Colonel General Rudskoy demonstrated a presentation that included maps with locations and details of the missile interceptions and multiple photos of the intercepted missiles with comments explaining what they illustrated – all in Russian. Some vestiges of the intercepted missiles were also showcased during the press conference.

None of the content demonstrated by Colonel General Rudskoy was uploaded online following the press briefing. None of the content demonstrated was translated into English and covered in detail by RT, Sputniknews or any other Russian mainstream English-language media outlets. Even a detailed photo-report showing the vestiges of the intercepted missiles demonstrated during the press conference can hardly be found in English reporting of the event.

On April 26, 2018 Syrian and Russian officials held a press conference in The Hague. As previously stated, it was entitled “Presentation by the representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation with direct participants of the fake video produced by ‘White Helmets’ on 7th April 2018, in the Hospital of Douma”. The press conference included a detailed overview of the results of the Russian-Syrian investigation of the April 7 incident in Douma with photos, videos, and statements from experts and eyewitnesses. None of the content demonstrated during the 2 hour press conference was uploaded online. No comprehensive coverage of the entire story, including facts and details, provided during the event appeared in the Russian mainstream media’s English language reporting.

As a result, the Western mainstream media was able to ignore these events and Western officials denounced them as propaganda stunts, while not addressing any of the facts or evidence provided by the Russian side, demonstrating the sad fact that if something does not exist for the English-speaking audience, it does not exist at all. Another failure of the Russian media is the unclear opinion expressed regarding the status of PMCs involved in the conflict. Private military companies and mercenaries are illegal in Russia, at least officially; however, such entities do exist and their members have been participating in the conflict for quite some time.

Here is an example how the MSM and U.S. officials exploit this official ambiguity:

On February 8, 2018 the US-led coalition released a statement saying that on February 7th it had struck “pro-regime forces” attacking “Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters” in the Euphrates Valley. According to local sources, the US strikes hit pro-government forces in the area between the village of Khasham (controlled by the government) and the CONICO gas facility (controlled by the SDF). Pro-government forces, supported by some PMCs, were allegedly trying to recapture the gas facility from the SDF.

The Pentagon stated that the strikes were defensive. The Russian side said that the US had attacked local militias carrying out operations against ISIS cells. However, the difference in these claims is not the most interesting part.

Almost immediately after the first reports of the US strikes, western MSM outlets started releasing reports based on anonymous sources that stated that between 100 and 300 “pro-Assad fighters” were killed by the strikes. A few days later, once again relying on anonymous sources, 100 to 300 allegedly killed “pro-Assad fighters” morphed into 100 to 300 killed “Russian fighters” – i.e. PMCs. Some “experts” and outlets even claimed that this number was much higher, in the realm of 600 killed.

The story developed further on April 12, when Michael Pompeo, then the CIA director recently nominated to be US State Secretary, claimed that the US had killed “a couple hundred Russians”. On April 20, US President Donald Trump provided his own statement based on the same story, claiming that there was a direct engagement between US and Russian troops in Syria and “many people died in that fight”.

This entire story demonstrates how a clear media forgery could reach the wide international audience and start being repeated as a fact. Since February 7, when the strikes took place, there has been zero evidence that can confirm any major casualties among Russian PMCs in this incident. 300 or 600 killed Russians in Syria is not something that can be hidden; however, no photos or videos of the bodies, names or any other evidence has ever been presented. The analysis of open data made by both pro-Syrian and pro-US analysts has concluded that 5 Russians may have reportedly died during the week when the US strikes took place. However, no details regarding the nature of their deaths are available. Sources in the SAA and other pro-government formations also deny any such casualties among Russian PMCs.

On February 14, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that five “presumably Russian citizens” could have been killed in Syria and described reports about “mass” casualties among the Russians as fake news.  The MSM has continued repeating the “300-600 killed Russians” story for almost half a year now. The narrative works because there is no official data on Russian PMCs in Syria. The MSM can effectively repeat a story which has no factual basis, while claiming that the Kremlin is hiding hundreds of casualties, because the Russian government continues to maintain a position of strategic ambiguity regarding the issue of Russian PMCs’ activities in Syria.

The Russians forgot to create their own army of NGOs and activist groups that would be able to oppose a media campaign run against them by the White Helmets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Bellingcat and other organizations that claim impartiality, but are funded and promoted by the US and its allies. Only the many hard-won military victories on the ground allowed the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance to compensate for the many setbacks faced in the information war being waged by the US-led bloc and its massive media arsenal.

Diplomacy

During the time the operation in Syria was being conducted, Russia was acting amid growing sanctions pressure and tensions with the US. Despite this, Russia has appeared to be capable of changing the course of the war and imposing its own diplomatic formats to work towards and achieve a political solution to the conflict.

The table below provides a look at state and non-state actors involved in the conflict in terms of their relations with Russia:

Russian Military Campaign in Syria 2015-2018

Initially, the Russians made two early attempts to negotiate a semblance of an agreement with the US in order to establish a wide-ranging ceasefire across Syria and to separate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorist groups – Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies. The first deal was announced on February 22, 2016. It took effect on February 27, 2016. However, by July 2016, it had appeared that the US and its allies were not fulfilling their part of the agreement. The separation of moderate militant groups from terrorist groups had also failed. Furthermore, Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies used this time, with assistance from their foreign backers, to re-group and re-supply their forces in preparation for the battle of Aleppo.

The second attempt was made on September 10, 2016. The ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia started on September 12. Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and other terrorist groups were once again excluded from the cessation of hostilities. At the very same time, the battle of Aleppo entered its final stage. Jabhat al-Nusra-led forces were fiercely fighting the SAA in the city and were not going to obey any terms of the agreement, seeing this as a de-facto surrender. On October 3, the US announced its withdrawal from the deal accusing the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance of violating it.

Both of these cease-fire initiatives collapsed, because the sides had pursued very different and divergent goals. The US saw these ceasefires as a tool to interrupt a series of victories by the SAA across the country and to prevent the Assad government from liberating the city of Aleppo. It appears that the Russian side genuinely hoped to launch a bilateral cooperation with the US to de-escalate the conflict, to separate the opposition from the terrorists and to create conditions to deliver a devastating blow to Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.

Meanwhile, Turkey made attempts to normalize relations with Russia. After the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 jet in Syria on November 24, 2015, Moscow deployed additional forces to Syria, broke contact with the Turkish military and imposed painful economic sanctions on Ankara. By June 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the rest of Turkish leadership had come to the conclusion that they had to restore economic and military cooperation with Russia. Ankara appeared to be drawing into Russia’s sphere of influence, at least as far as working on mutually beneficial end to the conflict.

In December, Turkey, Iran and Russia announced that they were launching a new format of negotiations on the Syrian conflict, which would be held in the Kazakh capital of Astana. The first round of the Astana talks took place on January 23 and 24, 2017 involving the Syrian government and a reasonably constructive element of the Syrian opposition. Turkey, Iran and Russia participated as the guarantor states.

During the fourth round of the Astana talks in May 2017, Moscow, Ankara and Teheran signed a memorandum on the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria that included the militant-held parts of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, the Rastan pocket in northern Homs, the Eastern Ghouta region and the area near the Syrian-Jordanian border. ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies were excluded from the agreement. This time around the agreement worked, because the guarantor states did not pursue contradictory goals. The situation improved and conflict in a significant portion of the country was de-escalated, while operations against radical militant groups were able to continue.

Considering that the Geneva peace talks soon discredited themselves, proving useless as a format of effective change on the ground in Syria, the Astana talks became the main diplomatic format influencing the many parties involved to resolve or deescalate the conflict. Technically, the US and Israel were excluded from negotiations on the situation in central, western and northwestern Syria. There are two main formats of Russia’s contacts with the US and Israel:

  • Contacts in order to avoid direct engagement between Russian and Israeli forces and between Russian and US forces;
  • Contacts between Israel and Russia over the situation in southern Syria, close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

While Israel remains capable of carrying out airstrikes on separate targets in Syria, making loud diplomatic statements and threatening to employ any measures in order to combat Iranian forces in Syria, it has very few real options to influence the strategic situation in Syria at this point. From 2015 to 2018, the Israeli position in the conflict worsened significantly. The Assad government has remained in power and the Iranian presence in Syria, both politically and military, has increased.

On February 10, 2018, the Syrian military shot down an F-16I fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force which was engaged in targeting government positions or assets in Southern Syria. This is the first case of Israel losing a combat aircraft to an enemy combatant since 1982. Despite the increased number of Israeli strikes over the past two years, their effectiveness has decreased and the Syrian air defense forces have begun to respond more actively.

The current situation in southern Syria also shows how Russia limits Israeli actions through diplomatic channels. Tel Aviv has repeatedly stated that any SAA advance in the area is unacceptable, because it would lead to further deployment of Iranian forces there. However, the SAA operation there has been launched without any response, possibly because Russia has helped to limit or prohibit Iranian involvement. Throughout the conflict, the attitude exhibited by Russian diplomacy has been close to that of the Iranian leadership. While Russia and Iran had joint military goals in many respects, there were notable differences in their diplomatic attitudes, most notably their respective attitudes towards Israel. These differences of opinion may lead to changes in the status of their cooperation in resolving the conflict once the overt military phase has ended.

Conclusion

In military terms, the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance must continue to pursue the following goals:

  • To eliminate the remaining ISIS cells operating in the central Syria desert;
  • To increase pressure on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the provinces of Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo in the framework of the de-escalation agreement reached during the Astana talks.

The Russian Special Operations Forces and the Aerospace Forces will continue providing support to government forces in their key operations against terrorists. Nonetheless, the direct involvement of Russian forces will decrease, while negotiators on the ground and on a higher diplomatic level, will play an increasingly important role. The defeat of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the province of Idlib will require at least a limited coordination with Turkey and a large-scale humanitarian operation to evacuate civilians from the area controlled by the terrorist group.

In turn, the US will continue working on establishing independent governing bodies that will aim to manage the areas held by the coalition and the SDF and that will be hostile to the Assad government. This effort is obstructed by a complicated situation in the coalition-occupied areas, because of the tensions between the Kurdish-dominated SDF and the local Arab population. Indeed, Kurdish SDF units have already complicated relations with US-backed Arab armed groups, which are also a part of the SDF.

At the same time, US-Turkish relations will continue to experience friction over US military support to Kurdish armed groups, which are the core of the SDF. Ankara describes these groups as terrorist organizations. Continued US support for armed Kurdish groups may further increase the likelihood of improved Russian-Turkish relations and greater cooperation between Ankara and Moscow in how deal with resolving the Syrian conflict. Ankara will continue to pressure Washington to abandon its Kurdish proxies at every turn, and every US attempt to avoid this reality faces will be met with another Turkish move to boost economic and military cooperation with Russia.

Furthermore, Russian-Turkish relations are being strengthened by major joint economic and military deals, including the TurkStream gas pipeline, the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and the S-400 air defense system deal. These cooperative economic and military arrangements will continue to increase tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The successful military operation in Syria has undoubtedly boosted the Russian role in the Middle East region in general, allowing it to act as a mediator in conflicts between nations. Moscow actively cooperates with Teheran supporting the Assad government and combating terrorism in Syria. At the same time; however, Russia has been able to leverage its reputation as the global power that is willing and capable of working with other regional players, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in order to settle the conflict in Syria, thus avoiding a large-scale escalation or even a wider war in the region.

Through its campaign in Syria, Moscow promoted its economic interests. President Bashar al-Assad and other officials have repeatedly stated that Syria is going to grant all the contracts on restoration of the country’s infrastructure to its allies – i.e. Iran and Russia. Russian companies are already participating in the energy projects, both oil and natural gas, in the country and are preparing to expand their presence in the country. Syria will be able to rebuild after a devastating war and Russia will increase its economic and political power in the region, while further securing economic benefits for its citizens at home.

The operation also contributed to Russia’s national security. As it was noted in the start of this video, Russia has always been a target of terrorist activity of various radical groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda. Some Western state actors have endorsed at least a part of this activity. It is notable that no major terrorist attacks have been carried out inside Russia since 2015. Russian forces eliminated a large number of militants in Syria who were members of terrorist groups originating in its Southern Caucasus regions created in the post-USSR era. This is already proving to be a major blow to the remaining cells of these groups hiding in Russia, because they have lost their most experienced and ideologically motivated members in Syria. The expansion of Russian military infrastructure, including naval and air bases in Syria, shows that Moscow is not going to withdraw from the country in the near future. Russia will continue its efforts to defeat terrorism and to settle the conflict using a variety of military and diplomatic measures.

Posted in Middle East, Russia, SyriaComments Off on Counter-Terrorism and Russia’s Military Campaign in Syria (2015-2018) ‘Video’

‘Sick of Media Lies’: Thousands Protest BBC Broadcaster Bias

NOVANEWS

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A viral campaign calling out the BBC for alleged media bias and a lack of impartiality whipped up a huge Twitterstorm as citizens recounted examples of the state broadcaster’s prejudice under the hashtag #BBCswitchoff.

The campaign, organised to highlight the publicly funded broadcaster’s perceived bias against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, began at 6pm to coincide with the TV station’s news program.

Malcolm Tucker #BBCswitchoff@_MalcolmTucker_

Time, to call time on the .

In light of the last successful twitter storm; let’s apply that people power to boycotting the bias this Thursday.

August 9th from 6pm

Switch off, retweet –
and share stories of BBC Bias

Spread the word this

  • View image on Twitter

RedRobin ? #JC9@BlogRedRobin

How does that feel @BBCNews? 13 million active twitter users, you can barely scrape 5 million for your flagship ‘news’ program the News at 10. We are still trending number 1 and we reached no 4 GLOBALLY. That’s a reach of 330 million twitter users.

Tatty bye! ?

Thousands joined in on the protest, catapulting #BBCswitchoff to the top trending hashtag across the UK Thursday evening.

British citizens used the opportunity to voice their frustration with BBC editorial decisions, laying down accusations of bias against the broadcaster on a number of topics, including its coverage of Corbyn, the NHS, the Yemen civil war, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Dr Lauren Gavaghan

@DancingTheMind

Dear @BBCNews

I am keen to know more about why you pay controversial “charity” IEA to come on @BBCNewsnight in front of millions & speak about how badly the NHS is doing & how it requires an “overhaul.”
Could you tell us more?http://youtu.be/FZXB14-soSg 

CHPI@CHPIthinktank

REVEALED: The BBC have made payments to the Institute of Economic Affairs since 2010 Why? What for? How much? The BBC won’t tell us. Big questions about Beebs editorial policy and its relationship with @iealondon @GeorgeMonbiot @paulmasonnews @aljwhite @drphilhammond

David Morgan@DavidWestcross

The amount of bloodletting and carnage that the BBC are prepared to ignore in line with their neo liberal agenda is quite astonishing. The Yemen and Gaza for example.

Corbyn supporters condemned accusations of anti-Semitism engulfing the Labour party and pointed out how the BBC’s treatment of Corbyn differed greatly from its coverage of Islamophobic comments made by former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Dallo #JC9 #VoteWillsman@dallo100

When Corbyn is (falsely) accused of antisemitism the BBC invites his ‘enemy’ to comment. Boris Johnson writes open racist & Islamophobic comments, the BBC interview Johnson’s ‘friends’ for comment

Nadeem Ahmed@Muqadaam

The amount of smears and biased reporting the BBC has peddled on Jeremy Corbyn is astonishing. Having said that, the BBC have failed. Every time BBC smear Corbyn, Labour memberships increase and Corbyn does well in polls.

Julie Harrington #JC9 ?Yes 9 ?@celtjules66

The BBC has shamelessly failed the majority of the British people,by whitewashing the policies of the vile government, and trying to brainwash them into thinking a decent politician is an Anti Semite. The BBC lie daily ??

Others claimed that the BBC was legitimising far-right viewpoints and marginalising socialist voices.

Hasan Patel?@CorbynistaTeen

I’m taking part in the because our media is playing a part in enabling the far right by legitimising their views on air and we cannot stand by and watch fascism become mainstream again.

Laura C #FBPE@smilinglaura

And one last thing before I turn in, @BBC : for those of us who still tune in very occasionally, we’re sick to death of seeing Farage, so please stop consulting him every time Brexit is mentioned, which is quite frequently. Thank you

Dallo #JC9 #VoteWillsman@dallo100

The BBC is a revolving door for right wing (so-called) journalists. Could anyone name ONE Socialist working for the BBC political programmes?

Many Twitter users said they had once been loyal viewers of the broadcaster but were now switching off for good, accusing the organization of being a mouthpiece for the Tory government and failing to hold those in power to account.

Tom Pride@ThomasPride

On the left is a screenshot of a Tory campaign slogan during the last election campaign.
On the right is a headline from the BBC during the same campaign.
The BBC is literally, word-for-word using Tory Party HQ slogans as their headlines.
And GETTING AWAY WITH IT.

Helen Nonny No@NonnyHay

I’m switching off – not just today but every day. We don’t need lies, propaganda and sad stories about donkeys. We need cutting edge, honest, investigative journalism at its best. We do not get this at the BBC @bbclaurak . We have had enough.

Cliff Brown@CliffBrownNcl

I’m afraid with some sadness I must agree with the analysis that the BBC has become increasingly the mouthpiece of the Tory party and even defender of the far right.

Judi Sutherland #FBPE@judi_sutherland

I’ve supported the because @BBCNews can no longer do “balance”. You cannot balance information with misinformation, facts with unicorns, truth with lies. You can’t run political debate on who can provide the most sensational “box office” drivel. Grow up, Auntie.

Laura C #FBPE@smilinglaura

Dear @BBC, this is difficult to ignore . I’ve always been a great fan of yours and I bet many others on here were too. But your fear of challenging those in power has lost us. My advice: switch over to @Channel4News and take a look at what real journalism is.

While the impact of the campaign was evident on Twitter, HSBC whistleblower Nicholas Wilsonquipped that they would never know if the BBC reported on the viral Twitterstorm.

Mr Ethical

@nw_nicholas

Will BBC report that is trending at number one? We’ll never know.

Mr Ethical

@nw_nicholas

Will BBC report that is trending at number one? We’ll never know.

Posted in UKComments Off on ‘Sick of Media Lies’: Thousands Protest BBC Broadcaster Bias

Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal

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The following is entirely from open online sources that I have been finding to be trustworthy on these matters in the past. These sources will be linked-to here; none of this information is secret, even though some details in my resulting analysis of it will be entirely new.

It explains how and why the bottom-line difference between Donald Trump and Barack Obama, regarding US national security policies, turns out to be their different respective estimations of the biggest danger threatening the maintenance of the US dollar as the world’s leading or reserve currency. This has been the overriding foreign-policy concern for both Presidents.

Obama placed as being the top threat to the dollar, a breakaway of the EU (America’s largest market both for exports and for imports) from alliance with the United States. He was internationally a Europhile. Trump, however, places as being the top threat to the dollar, a breakaway of Saudi Arabia and of the other Gulf Arab oil monarchies from the U.S. Trump is internationally a Sunni-phile: specifically a protector of fundamentalist Sunni monarchs — but especially of the Sauds themselves — and they hate Shia and especially the main Shia nation, Iran.

Here’s how that change, to Saudi Arabia as being America’s main ally, has happened — actually it’s a culmination of decades. Trump is merely the latest part of that process of change. Here is from the US State Department’s official historian, regarding this history:

By the 1960s, a surplus of US dollars caused by foreign aid, military spending, and foreign investment threatened this system [the FDR-established 1944 Bretton Woods gold-based US dollar as the world’s reserve currency], as the United States did not have enough gold to cover the volume of dollars in worldwide circulation at the rate of $35 per ounce; as a result, the dollar was overvalued. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson adopted a series of measures to support the dollar and sustain Bretton Woods: foreign investment disincentives; restrictions on foreign lending; efforts to stem the official outflow of dollars; international monetary reform; and cooperation with other countries. Nothing worked. Meanwhile, traders in foreign exchange markets, believing that the dollar’s overvaluation would one day compel the US government to devalue it, proved increasingly inclined to sell dollars. This resulted in periodic runs on the dollar.

It was just such a run on the dollar, along with mounting evidence that the overvalued dollar was undermining the nation’s foreign trading position, which prompted President Richard M. Nixon to act, on August 13, 1971 [to end the convertibility of dollars to gold].

When Nixon ended the gold-basis of the dollar and then in 1974 secretly switched to the current oil-basis, this transformation of the dollar’s backing, from gold to oil, was intended to enable the debt-financing (as opposed to the tax-financing, which is less acceptable to voters) of whatever military expenditure would be necessary in order to satisfy the profit-needs of Lockheed Corporation and of the other US manufacturers whose only markets are the US Government and its allied governments, as well as of US extractive industries such as oil and mining firms, which rely heavily upon access to foreign natural resources, as well as of Wall Street and its need for selling debt and keeping interest-rates down (and stock-prices — and therefore aristocrats’ wealth — high and rtising). This 1974 secret agreement between Nixon and King Saud lasts to the present day, and has worked well for both aristocracies. It met the needs of the very same “military-industrial complex” (the big US Government contractors) that the prior Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, had warned might take control of US foreign policies. As Bloomberg’s Andrea Wong on 30 May 2016 explained the Nixon system that replaced the FDR system, “The basic framework was strikingly simple. The US would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.”

This new system didn’t only supply a constant flow of Saudi tax-money to the US Government; it supplied a constant flow of new sales-orders and profits to the military firms that were increasingly coming to control the US Government — for the benefit of both aristocracies: the Sauds, and America’s billionaires.

That was near the end of the FDR-produced 37-year period of US democratic leadership of the world, the era that had started at Bretton Woods in 1944. It came crashing to an end not in 1974 (which was step two after the 1971 step one had ended the 1944 system) but on the day when Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981. The shockingly sudden ascent, from that moment on, of US federal Government debt (to be paid-off by future generations instead of by current taxpayers) is shown, right here, in a graph of “US Federal Debt as Percent of GDP, 1940-2015”, where you can see that the debt had peaked above 90% of GDP late in WW II between 1944-1948, and then plunged during Bretton Woods, but in 1981 it started ascending yet again, until reaching that WW II peak for a second time, as it has been ever since 2010, when Obama bailed-out the mega-banks and their mega-clients, but didn’t bail out the American public, whose finances had been destroyed by those banksters’ frauds, which Obama refused to prosecute; and, so, economic inequality in America got even more extreme after the 2008 George W. Bush crash, instead of less extreme afterward (as had always happened in the past).

Above 90% debt/GDP during and immediately following WW II was sound policy, but America’s going again above 90% since 2010 has reflected simply an aristocratic heist of America, for only the aristocracy’s benefit — all of the benefits going only to the super-rich.

Another, and more-current US graph shows that, as of the first quarter of 2018, this percentage (debt/GDP) is, yet again, back now to its previous all-time record high of 105-120%%, which had been reached only in 1945-1947 (when it was justified by the war).

Currently, companies such as Lockheed Martin are thriving as they had done during WW II, but the sheer corruption in America’s military spending is this time the reason, no World War (yet); so, this time, America is spending like in an all-out-war situation, even before the Congress has issued any declaration of war at all. Everybody except the American public knows that the intense corruptness of the US military is the reason for this restoration of astronomical ‘defense’ spending, even during peace-time. A major poll even showed that ‘defense’ spending was the only spending by the federal Government which Americans in 2017 wanted increased; they wanted all other federal spending to be reduced (though there was actually vastly more corruption in military spending than in any other type — the public have simply been hoodwinked).

But can the US Government’s extreme misallocation of wealth, from the public to the insiders, continue without turning this country into a much bigger version of today’s Greece? More and more people around the world are worrying about that. Of course, Greece didn’t have the world’s reserve currency, but what would happen to the net worths of America’s billionaires if billionaires worldwide were to lose faith in the dollar? Consequently, there’s intensified Presidential worrying about how much longer foreign investors will continue to trust the oil-based dollar.

America’s political class now have two competing ideas to deal with this danger, Obama’s versus Trump’s, both being about how to preserve the dollar in a way that best serves the needs of ‘defense’ contractors, extractive firms, and Wall Street. Obama chose Europe (America’s largest market) as America’s chief ally (he was Euro-centric against Russia); Trump chose the owner of Saudi Arabia (he’s Saudi-Israeli centric against Iran) — that’s the world’s largest weapons-purchaser, as well as the world’s largest producer of oil (as well as the largest lobbies).

The Saudi King owns Saudi Arabia, including the world’s largest and most valuable oil company, Aramco, whose oil is the “sweetest” — the least expensive to extract and refine — and is also the most abundant, in all of the world, and so he can sell petroleum at a profit even when his competitors cannot. Oil-prices that are so low as to cause economic losses for other oil companies, can still be generating profits — albeit lowered ones — for King Saud; and this is the reason why his decisions determine how much the global oil-spigot will be turned on, and how low the global oil-price will be, at any given time. He controls the value of the US dollar. He controls it far more directly, and far more effectively, than the EU can. It would be like, under the old FDR-era Bretton Woods system, controlling the exchange-rates of the dollar, by raising or lowering the amount of gold produced. But this is liquid gold, and King Saud determines its price.

Furthermore, King Saud also leads the Gulf Cooperation Council of all other Arab oil monarchs, such as those who own UAE — all of them are likewise US allies and major weapons-buyers.

In an extraordinarily fine recent article by Pepe Escobar at Asia Times, “Oil and gas geopolitics: no shelter from the storm”, he quotes from his not-for-attribution interviews with “EU diplomats,” and reports:

After the Trump administration’s unilateral pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), European Union diplomats in Brussels, off the record, and still in shock, admit that they blundered by not “configuring the eurozone as distinct and separate to the dollar hegemony”. Now they may be made to pay the price of their impotence via their “outlawed” trade with Iran. …

As admitted, never on the record, by experts in Brussels; the EU has got to reevaluate its strategic alliance with an essentially energy independent US, as “we are risking all our energy resources over their Halford Mackinder geopolitical analysis that they must break up [the alliance between] Russia and China.”

That’s a direct reference to the late Mackinder epigone Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, who died dreaming of turning China against Russia.

In Brussels, there’s increased recognition that US pressure on Iran, Russia and China is out of geopolitical fear the entire Eurasian land mass, organized as a super-trading bloc via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), [and] the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), is slipping away from Washington’s influence.

This analysis gets closer to how the three key nodes of 21st century Eurasia integration – Russia, China and Iran – have identified the key issue; both the euro and the yuan must bypass the petrodollar, the ideal means, as the Chinese stress, to “end the oscillation between strong and weak dollar cycles, which has been so profitable for US financial institutions, but lethal to emerging markets.” …

It’s also no secret among Persian Gulf traders that in the – hopefully unlikely – event of a US-Saudi-Israeli war in Southwest Asia against Iran, a real scenario war-gamed by the Pentagon would be “the destruction of oil wells in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. The Strait of Hormuz does not have to be blocked, as destroying the oil wells would be far more effective.”

And what the potential loss of over 20% of the world’s oil supply would mean is terrifying; the implosion, with unforeseen consequences, of the quadrillion derivatives pyramid, and consequentially [consequently] of the entire Western financial casino superstructure.

In other words: it’s not the ‘threat’ that perhaps, some day, Iran will have nuclear warheads, that is actually driving Trump’s concern here (despite what Israel’s concerns are about that matter), but instead, it is his concerns about Iran’s missiles, which constitute the delivery-system for any Iranian warheads: that their flight-range be short enough so that the Sauds will be outside their range. (The main way Iran intends to respond to an invasion backed by the US, is to attack Saudi Arabia — Iran’s leaders know that the US Government is more dependent upon the Sauds than upon Israel — so, Iran’s top targets would be Saudi capital Riyadh, and also the Ghawar oil field, which holds over half of Saudi oil. If US bases have been used in the invasion, then all US bases in the Middle East are also be within the range of Iran’s missiles and therefore would also probably be targeted.)

Obama’s deal with Iran had focused solely upon preventing Iran from developing nuclear warheads — which Obama perhaps thought (mistakenly) would dampen Israel’s (and its billionaire US financial backers’) ardor for the US to conquer Iran. Israel had publicly said that their concern was Iran’s possibility to become a nuclear power like Israel became; those possible future warheads were supposed to be the issue; but, apparently, that wasn’t actually the issue which really drove Israel. Obama seems to have thought that it was, but it wasn’t, actually. Israel, like the Sauds, want Iran conquered. Simple. The nuclear matter was more an excuse than an explanation.

With Trump now in the White House, overwhelmingly by money from the Israel lobbies (proxies also for the Sauds) — and with no equivalently organized Jewish opposition to the pro-Israel lobbies (and so in the United States, for a person to be anti-Israel is viewed as being anti-Semitic, which is not at all true, but Israel’s lies say it’s true and many Americans unfortunately believe it) — Trump has not only the Sauds and their allies requiring him to be against Iran and its allies, but he has also got this pressure coming from Israel: both the Big-Oil and the Jewish lobbies drive him. Unlike Obama, who wasn’t as indebted to the Jewish lobbies, Trump needs to walk the plank for both the Sauds and Israel.

In other words: Trump aims to keep the dollar as the reserve currency by suppressing not only China but also the two main competitors of King Saud: Iran and Russia. That’s why America’s main ‘enemies’ now are those three countries and their respective allies.

Obama was likewise targeting them, but in a different priority-order, with Russia being the main one (thus Obama’s takeover of Ukraine in February 2014 turning it against Russia, next door); and that difference was due to Obama’s desire to be favorably viewed by the residents in America’s biggest export and import market, the EU, and so his bringing another member (Ukraine) into the EU (which still hasn’t yet been culminated).

Trump is instead building on his alliance with King Saud and the other GCC monarchs, a group who can more directly cooperate to control the value of the US dollar than the EU can. Furthermore, both conservative (including Orthodox) Jews in the United States, and also white evangelical Protestants in the US, are strongly supportive of Israel, which likewise sides with the Arab oil monarchs against Iran and its allies. Trump needs these people’s votes.

Trump also sides with the Sauds against Canada. That’s a matter which the theorists who assert that Israel controls the US, instead of that the Sauds (allied with America’s and Israel’s billionaires) control the US, ignore; they ignore whatever doesn’t fit their theory. Of course, a lot doesn’t fit their theory (which equates “Jews” with “Israelis” and alleges that “they” control the world), but people whose prejudices are that deep-seated, can’t be reached by any facts which contradict their self-defining prejudice. Since it defines themselves, it’s a part of them, and they can never deny it, because to do so would be to deny who and what they are, and they refuse to change that. The Sauds control the dollar; Israel does not, but Israel does the lobbying, and both the Sauds and Israel want Iran destroyed. Trump gets this pressure not only from the billionaires but from his voters.

And, of course, Democratic Party billionaires push the narrative that Russia controls America. It used to be the Republican Joseph R. McCarthy’s accusation, that the “commies” had “infiltrated”, especially at the State Department. So: Trump kicked out Russia’s diplomats, to satisfy those neocons — the neoconservatives of all Parties and persuasions, both conservative and liberal.

To satisfy the Sauds, despite the EU, Trump has dumped the Iran deal. And he did it also to satisfy Israel, the main US lobbyists for the Sauds. (Americans are far more sympathetic to Jews than to Arabs; the Sauds are aware of this; Israel handles their front-office.) For Trump, the Sauds are higher priority than Europe; even Israel (who are an expense instead of a moneybag for the US Government) are higher priority than Europe. Both the Sauds and Israel together are vastly higher. And the Sauds alone are higher priority for Trump than are even Canada and Europe combined. Under Trump, anything will be done in order to keep the Sauds and their proxy-lobbyists (Israel) ‘on America’s side’.

Consequently, Trump’s political base is mainly against Iran and for Israel, but Obama’s was mainly against Russia and for the EU. Obama’s Democratic Party still are controlled by the same billionaires as before; and, so, Democrats continue demonizing Russia, and are trying to make as impossible as they can, any rapprochement with Russia — and, therefore, they smear Trump for anything he might try to do along those lines.

Both Obama and Trump have been aiming to extend America’s aristocracy’s dominance around the world, but they employ different strategies toward that politically bipartisan American-aristocratic objective: the US Government’s global control, for the benefit of the US aristocracy, at everyone else’s expense. Obama and Trump were placed into the White House by different groups of US billionaires, and each nominee serves his/her respective sponsors, no public anywhere — not even their voters’ welfare.

An analogous example is that, whereas Fox News, Forbes, National Review, The Weekly Standard, American Spectator, Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Breitbart News, InfoWars, Reuters,and AP, are propagandists for the Republican PartyNPR, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The New Republic, New Yorker, New York Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Salon, are propagandists for the Democratic Party; but, they all draw their chief sponsors from the same small list of donors who are America’s billionaires, since these few people control the top advertisers, investors, and charities, and thus control nearly all of the nation’s propaganda. The same people who control the Government control the public; but, America isn’t a one-Party dictatorship. America is, instead, a multi-Party dictatorship. And this is how it functions.

Trump cancelled the Iran deal because a different group of billionaires are now in control of the White House, and of the rest of the US Government. Trump’s group demonize especially Iran; Obama’s group demonize especially Russia. That’s it, short. That’s America’s aristocratic tug-of-war; but both sides of it are for invasion, and for war. Thus, we’re in the condition of ‘permanent war for permanent peace’ — to satisfy the military contractors and the billionaires who control them. Any US President who would resist that, would invite assassination; but, perhaps in Trump’s case, impeachment, or other removal-from-office, would be likelier. In any case, the sponsors need to be satisfied — or else — and Trump knows this.

Trump is doing what he thinks he has to be doing, for his own safety. He’s just a figurehead for a different faction of the US aristocracy, than Obama was. He’s doing what he thinks he needs to be doing, for his survival. Political leadership is an extremely dangerous business. Trump is playing a slightly different game of it than Obama did, because he represents a different faction than Obama did. These two factions of the US aristocracy are also now battling each other for political control over Europe.

Posted in USA, IranComments Off on Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal

The Unpleasant Truth About the 1941 Parachuting of Rudolf Hess in England

NOVANEWS
Part I
 

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Even though a vast majority of the population admits the saying that history is written by those who win the wars, most are unwilling to question its core and rather choose to accept that what they’re being told by their government controlled education and mainstream media reflects reality.

We have to keep in mind that our knowledge of the Second World War was mostly redacted by American and Western historians that carried over time a deeply fake idea of reality. In an ironic way, this makes of history a very interesting and lively subject today, since this overall incomprehension of WW2 allows a researcher to solve in July 2018 an event like the parachuting of Rudolf Hess in England on May 10th 1941, which has remained an event shrouded in mystery for 77 years.

Its complexity and huge historical ramifications make it the most interesting enigma that we have left from the worst war that the world has ever known. If the event didn’t hide vital information, the British government would’ve revealed a long time ago its classified documents on the matter. For Hess’ landing in England isn’t a simple war spy flick, it’s actually at the heart of the shaping of our world. And Rudolf knew it. Upon his initial arrest, the Nazi first claimed that his name was Alfred Horn, then after his transfer in the hands of the British military, he finally revealed his real name and added: “I have come to save humanity.”

What actually happened?

Image on the right: Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess around 1934

Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess around 1934

By 1941, Rudolf Hess had just been ranked by Hitler as the Number Three in the Third Reich hierarchy and bore the title of Deputy Fuhrer. Hess had been amongst the first to embrace Hitler to lead the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; he had participated in the 1924 failed Munich Putsch that sent him along with his beloved leader in the Landsberg prison, where they wrote Mein Kampf together, or Hitler’s guidebook for the future of Germany and the rest of Europe. He was arguably the most devoted and loyal friend Hitler ever had. Hence, the parachuting of this very high ranked Nazi in England in the midst of WW2 is not to be taken lightly under any circumstance. Hess had to carry a message of the outmost importance that could not be transmitted over a telephone line, a telegram, or any other form of communication that could be intercepted by intelligence agencies that were all on full alert 24/7 all over Europe in 1941.

“Official” history had to create a well-crafted narrative to hide the real purpose of this mission. So, it says that Rudolf Hess got a Messerschmitt Bf 110, learned to pilot the plane in a few weeks, then flew to England by himself, was able to escape most radars by flying at a very low altitude towards Scotland, but then was spotted by the DCA in Scotland and jumped off his plane wearing a parachute and was later arrested by the British police. Some have disputed this version of the flight, saying that Hess was not in command of the plane that parachuted him, and even that the plane had been escorted by the Royal Air Force in the last stage of the flight since Hess was expected by a few insiders. Whatever the truth is on this first Act, fact is that he landed with a sore ankle on British soil on May 10th 1941. This is where the plot thickens, since hereafter, every ally authority at the time judged that the essence of his mission was not to be revealed to the public. In fact, had he not landed on a farm 10 miles from his intended target on the Duke of Hamilton estate, we would have never heard of the story.

Rudolf Hess

Many historians and journalists have leaned over the table as if facing a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit the pieces to make some sense of the crazy Hess trip to England. If you’re amongst the few people still interested in history and you’re looking for some information on the matter, Wikipedia and multiple other mainstream narratives loosely reflect what we learn in schools. One explanation simply says that Hess had suddenly gone mad and tried to escape the fate of Germany on a solo flight. Others claim that Hess sought to win Hitler’s favors back by negotiating a truce with England on his own initiative. There is also the wild theory that Hess was trying to use the British monarchy to oust Churchill of power.

Different theories will range all the way to the most popular version of an official mission under the order of Hitler that needed to negotiate peace with England before he attacked the Soviet Union, which would come the next month on June 22nd 1941. In almost every theory, historians agree that Hess had chosen to meet the Duke of Hamilton, an influential member of the Anglo-German Fellowship Association, since there is overwhelming evidence that the Royal Family was in favor of the Nazis and wanted peace with Germany, as opposed to Churchill who posed as the great Nazi slayer. Most of the theories will end by saying that neither the Duke of Hamilton, nor Churchill, nor anyone holding a high-profile position accepted to meet Hess, before he was sent in prison after saying what he had to say. And whatever that was, Hess had forgotten about it by the time he was prosecuted in Nuremberg after the war, since timely amnesia got ahold of his suddenly failing brain.

If any of the aforementioned theories held any truth, Hess would have never suffered amnesia since they all bear their good share of political correctness and the British government would have no reason to keep the Hess files secret. Any of these versions could have been released to the public, since they became over time different explanations of the Hess journey in our history books. But the roots of most theories hold no logical ground and don’t even make sense, since it was Germany that was attacking England and not the other way around. Therefore, if Hess was really looking for a truce, he only needed to talk to Hitler. And if Adolf himself wanted peace with England, he just had to do nothing at all.

That sudden Nuremberg amnesia might be the reason why Rudolf died at 93 eating daily steaks and lobsters, gardening flowers and watching TV in the golden and comfortable Spandau prison in Germany, instead of sharing the fate of most of his fellow Nazis whose lives ended at the end of a rope at the conclusion of the Nuremberg trials in 1946. Here again, the cloud of mystery around Hess has created an aura of doubt upon his official death by suicide that many swear was the murder of an invalid elder that knew too much and was ready to confess.

Defendants At Nuremberg Trials

01 Jan 1946, Nuremberg, Germany – The defendants at the Nuremberg Nazi trials. Pictured in the front row are: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel and Ernst Kaltenbrunner. In the back row are: Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, and Fritz Sauckel.

Well, the truth about Hess in England is so much more interesting than anything mentioned above and is a master key to the full understanding of the stakes and objectives of WW2, which is why it was always hidden under the murky shadows of a historical enigma. And his mission was so important that we can now fully appreciate why such a high-ranking Nazi official was ordered to execute it.

Historical speculation

To confront the spectrum of narratives that our official history offers, especially in the case of an event that took place 77 years ago, independent researchers have to mostly rely on logical speculation, because of the lack of access to precious documentation that is kept confidential in locked vaults, usually for national security reasons. In the case of the Rudolf Hess trip to England, everything has been up to speculation, since no official reason or explanation was ever given by the British authorities. Every theory that has become mainstream and accepted over time is threaded over pure speculation and has absolutely nothing to substantiate it. Some were articles written by journalists at the time who claimed they had insider information that could never be verified, while other explanations were backed by simple made-up and fake information.

The example of an alleged letter written by Hess that he had left for Hitler, saying that he was making this trip on his own will, has to be ranked with the rest of the propaganda. A 28-page report was discovered by Matthias Uhl of the German Historical Institute Moscow in the State Archive of the Russian Federation. The document was written in February 1948 by Hess’ adjutant Karlheinz Pintsch, whom eye-witnessed Hitler’s reaction when he learned that the Deputy Führer had parachuted in England. According to Pintsch, Hitler was not the least surprised, nor angry, and had full knowledge of the plan(1). Thus, a whole range of theories can be brushed away, since Hitler obviously had ordered the mission himself. Those theories only hold ground when facts are disregarded, which is often how mainstream media works.

We have to accept that only one theory is right, but also that this theory won’t have much hard evidence to back it up until classified documents are released to the public. Therefore, the objective is to find the most likely. We have to rely on logical analysis, but above everything, circumstantial evidence might shed a magical ray of light and reveal the truth. I will apply this system on:

(A) The importance of Hess in the hierarchy and the will to keep his mission secret to the rest of the world.

(B) The timetable of the events of WW2: what happened before and after, and the impact that the mission had over the behavior changes of different nations.

I have come to a definitive conclusion that has never been verbalized before. In fact, no one was even close to the truth. But it’s the only one that stands the scrutiny of cross-examination of circumstances. At the base, the initiative of a secret underground mission outside official channels of communication, for such an important Nazi, raises a most crucial question: why was Germany trying to hide this meeting from the rest of the world?

To be continued.

*

Working both as a TV documentary director and journalist for 25 years, Sylvain Laforest published in 2016 La Déprogrammation (in french only) about media disinformation, and his second book Wars and Lies will come out in 2018 with the Progressive Press label.

Posted in Germany, UKComments Off on The Unpleasant Truth About the 1941 Parachuting of Rudolf Hess in England


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