Archive | April 4th, 2015

Hawks Fume As World Celebrates Iran Deal As ‘Victory For Diplomacy Over War’

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‘Peace won. War lost. It’s as simple as that.’
Iranians celebrate on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, Thursday, April 2. (Photo: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)Iranians celebrate on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, Thursday, April 2. (Photo: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Though a final deal won’t be sealed until later this year, the framework agreement announced in Lausanne, Switzerland on Thursday between Iran and the P5+1 nations is having reverberations across the world—offering hope of rapprochement, peace, and better days ahead for those who support it and heckles and frowns from those who appear to think that a continued stalemate and endless sanctions, or possibly war, are the better path.

As Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, writes in an op-ed at The National Intereston Friday morning: “Peace won. War lost. It’s as simple as that.”

“Make no mistake,” Parsie continued, “the framework agreement that was announced yesterday is nothing short of historic. A cycle of escalation has been broken – for the first time, Iran’s nuclear program will roll back, as will the sanctions Iran has been subjected too.”

As regular Iranians were reportedly celebrating in the streets and in their homes and President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the foreign ministers of the other nations were receiving widespread praise for the diplomatic accomplishment, hawkish forces were quickly—and unsurprisingly—making public their objections to the deal.

In a phone call with Obama following the announcement of the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu let it be known he continues to be “vehemently opposed” to any deal with Iran.

“This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu said later in a statement. “It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war.” Notably, Israel (though it remains undeclared) is the only country in the Middle East thought to have a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Meanwhile, before the ink was dry on the framework agreement (read the text of the document here), Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel will vote on a measure he has proposed which would stipulate congressional approval of any deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Such a move has long been seen as a way to sabotage the diplomatic effort, but Corker insisted he would call for a vote as soon as members return from Easter recess.

Called the ‘The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,’ the legislation would require any final agreement with Iran to be submitted to Congress for a 60-day review period before congressionally-mandated sanctions on Iran could be waived or suspended by the president.

Corker’s legislation has support not only from his Republican colleagues, but also from a powerful array of hawkish Democrats, including: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D- Indiana), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

While foreign policy experts from around the world praised the deal—with many expressing surprise by just how much Iran was willing to offer in exchange for sanctions relief and an end to economic isolation—House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the deal that would provide a reduction of Iran’s nuclear capacity and strict monitoring of its atomic activities an “alarming” development.

However, according to Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine and UN weapons inspector, the predictable opposition to the deal with Tehran is coming from the very same people who led the U.S. people into war with Iraq in 2003.

“The high-profile criticism coming from Israel and Congressional Republicans,” Ritter writes, “channel the most extreme examples of the last weapons of mass destruction (WMD) witch-hunt — involving Iraq — which culminated in a war that killed thousands, cost trillions, and destabilized and further radicalized a region of the world essential to international prosperity. Armed with the knowledge that the case against Iraq’s WMD was, at best illusory and, at worst, a complete fabrication, Americans should be hesitant about accepting at face value claims of Iranian nuclear malfeasance that are unsustained by fact and are at odds with history.”

And for Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, the agreement reached this week should be seen as a “huge victory for diplomacy over war.”

Offering her analysis on Foreign Policy In Focus, Bennis explained that while both sides gave much during the negotiations, it’s clear that Tehran made that largest concessions. She writes:

Tehran accepted that U.S. and EU sanctions will not be lifted until after the UN’s watchdog agency verifies that Iran has fully implemented its new nuclear obligations — which could be years down the line. It agreed to severe cuts in its nuclear infrastructure, including the reduction of its current 19,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium to just over 6,000.

Tehran also consented to rebuild its heavy water reactor at Arak so that it will have no reprocessing capacity and thus cannot produce plutonium. Its spent fuel will be exported. The Fordow nuclear plant, moreover, will be turned into a technology research center without fissile material. And crucially, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to conduct unannounced inspections.

In return, the United States and its partners — the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China — agreed that the UN resolution imposing international sanctions on Iran would be replaced by a new resolution that would end those sanctions but maintain some restrictions.

Bennis was hardly alone in concluding that what was achieved in Switzerland is groundbreaking and goes well beyond what was previously thought possible.

“I’m wildly impressed by it,” Jacqueline Shire, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Iran, toldMiddle East Eye. “This is Iran saying it is opening the doors and lifting its hood, letting people look inside. But then Iran gets to walk away with dignity intact because they keep an enrichment program, 6,000 centrifuges is nothing to sneeze at.”

When it comes to those opposing the deal, Bennis urges for the “partisan posturing of right-wing militarists and neoconservative ideologues” to be ignored so that those who want to see a more peaceful and stable Middle East can be allowed to let the fruits of diplomacy grow. If the framework agreement can hold—and ultimately a final deal completed—she writes, the stage would be set “for an entirely new set of diplomatic relationships and alliances in the Middle East.”

As Ritter concludes, “When it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, the world would do well to take a different path than that chosen for Iraq, and let inspections, not bombs, do the work of disarmament.”

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Death Sentences Up, Executions Down In 2014

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Governments worldwide sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014.
The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown with the witness gallery behind glass at right, in Walla Walla, Wash. (AP Photo)

UNITED NATIONS  – Governments worldwide sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014; judgements which have been condemned by rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s annual Death Sentences and Executions report, released Wednesday, documented a 28 percentuptick in death sentence judgements compared to 2013.

“This increase was largely due to sharp spikes in death sentences in Egypt and Nigeria, where courts imposed mass sentences against scores of people in some cases,” the report outlined.

There were 509 death sentences recorded in Egypt and 659 in Nigeria, up from 109 and 141 respectively.

Many of these sentences came in response to terrorism threats. Pakistan, which had placed a six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstated capital punishment after the attack in December 2014 at a Peshawar school, where terrorists killed 145 people including 132 children.

People in at least 55 countries were sentenced to death in 2014.

Actual executions decreased in number, with 607 recorded executions in 2014 representing a 22 percent fall compared to the 778 recorded in 2013.

In launching the report at United Nations headquarters in New York, Amnesty International’s Renzo Pomistressed the reported numbers were a bare minimum, due to difficulty in collecting accurate numbers.

“For sure, these are significantly underestimated from the real figures,” Pomi said.

“We have no data from China, because the numbers are considered a state secret.”

Amnesty stated that “thousands are executed and sentenced to death [in China] every year” but that secrecy makes the actual numbers “impossible to determine.”

“We call on China to be more transparent on its use of the death penalty,” Pomi said.

He said Amnesty condemned government use of death sentences in an attempt to solve crime problems, saying such attempts are “deceiving the public” and are often used “to cover inefficient systems.”

After China, Iran was said to be the world’s next most prolific executioner, with 289 executions; however, Amnesty stated at least 454 more were not acknowledged by authorities. Saudi Arabia carried out at least 90, Iraq at least 61, and the United States of America recorded 35 executions.

While executions dropped in 2014, Pomi expressed alarm that death sentences were widely being imposed for less serious crimes, such as drug crimes, adultery, blasphemy and robbery.

“The concern is the death penalty is being imposed not for the most serious of crimes, but for crimes that don’t fit in this category,” he said.

“The death penalty often discriminates against the poor and ethnic minorities. There have been grossly unfair trials and evidence extracted under torture, thereby increasing the risk of executing people innocent of the crime for which they have been condemned.”

Amnesty believes almost 20,000 people worldwide were under death sentences at the end of 2014.

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US Increases Involvement In Saudi War Against Yemen

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The announcement couldn’t be worse timed, coming after a three day span during which Saudi planes killed scores of civilians in a pair of attacks on a dairy and a refugee camp in northern Yemen.
Image result for President Barack Obama meets new Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz PHOTO
President Barack Obama meets new Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.

In a move that Pentagon officials are describing as just a “deepening” of their military involvement in the Saudi attack on Yemen, they have announced military aircraft from Centcom will begin aerial refueling operations for Saudi planes currently bombing the nation.

The announcement couldn’t be worse timed, coming after a three day span during which Saudi planes killed scores of civilians in a pair of attacks on a dairy and a refugee camp in northern Yemen.

Though the US has tried to downplay its involvement in the war, officials confirmed that US surveillance planes have been flying over Yemen and providing the Saudis with intelligence for their airstrikes, which isn’t an appealing role considering how bloody and unpopular those strikes have been.

The US had previously been so loathe to admit their military involvement in the Saudi war that some outlets have assumed the US to be opposed to the conflict, and that the Saudi invasion is being done over the objections of the US.

It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Saudi Arabia, like other US allies in the region, has more or less carte blanche to do whatever it likes, and the indications are that the US has not only backed the war but helped orchestrate it.

No clearer indication has their been than the announcement from the Obama Administration earlier this week that they were ending curbs on military aid to Egypt, another nation involved in the war, with an eye toward providing them more warplanes to attack Yemen with.

The ousted dictator, who Egypt and the Saudis intend to reinstall, was put in place primarily at the urging of the US in the first place, and his January resignation caused them no end of annoyance. While Saudis have denied this being a “proxy war,” it seems very much that they themselves are the American proxy in the conflict.

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Time Is Running Out For I$raHell Special Place In America’s Heart

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“I think this U.S. policy of protecting Israel on the nuclear issue is not guaranteed, and it’s not necessarily permanent under any circumstances,” Cohen, an expert on Israel’s nuclear program, tells MintPress.

Since 1969, Israel has enjoyed a unique and unprecedented position with the United States, especially with regards to the former’s nuclear weapons cache.

Indeed, while other countries like India, Pakistan and most notably Iran have faced intense scrutiny over their nuclear programs, Israel has had information on its own nuclear capabilities, including a weapons program, hidden from the public eye and U.N. nuclear agency inspections.

But this special arrangement may be coming to an end, Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” tells MintPress News.

“This is only speculation. I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow. But I think for the long run it may happen,” Cohen said.

Israel’s nuclear weapons program was recently brought back into the news spotlight upon the publication of a 386-page report from 1987 that purportedly revealed new information about the country’s capabilities.

Much ado about nothing

Grant Smith, founder of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy Inc., wrote on his website late last year about a September lawsuit in which he was the plaintiff. The suit states that he was requesting that the Department of Defense (DOD) release an unclassified 1987 document containing information about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Smith’s website describes the document as a “DoD report on American affiliates of Israeli entities engaged in clandestine nuclear weapons research and development.”

Several news organizations have jumped on this narrative. The National included an opinion piece that stated, “A quiet shift occurred recently when the US defence department released a previously classified 1987 report on Israel’s nuclear research.” Likewise, William Greider blogged at The Nation, “After five decades of pretending otherwise, the Pentagon has reluctantly confirmed that Israel does indeed possess nuclear bombs.”

However, this narrative is misleading. Cohen says he’s had the report for some 20 years.

Cohen is the author of two books about Israel’s nuclear weapons history, and he teaches a course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey entitled “Israel and the Bomb.” Indeed, he is one of the foremost scholars on the issue.

“I think the people who publically distributed this originally unclassified document made a big fuss about something which is almost nothing,” Cohen said. The report even states that it’s unclassified in bold-faced print on its cover.

He also says that it is not based on any U.S. government intelligence sources, nor does it propose that it is.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, agrees with Cohen’s assessment. Lewis recently posted a rundown of a history of the report in Arms Control Wonk, in which the publisher of the report, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a federally-funded nonprofit corporation that conducts research and prepares reports about U.S. national security issues, announced its publication in 1988 and how to order it. Lewis also references the instances since 1988 in which the report has been mentioned in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, and a couple of books.

If it’s not a top-secret report, then what is is?

In March 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan announced a new defense program, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Also known as the “Star Wars” program, the aim of the SDI was to protect the U.S. from nuclear weapons deployed by the Soviet Union.

It would achieve this by investing in research and development of on-the-ground weapons systems and space-based weapons that avert intercontinental ballistic missiles. Reagan said, “I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.”

The U.S. recruited partners in order to implement the program. The IDA report was produced for the DOD to assess the capabilities of companies in Israel and other NATO countries — specifically, Italy, France, then-West Germany and the United Kingdom — to participate in the SDI program and other NATO initiatives.

“At the time the U.S. was looking [for partners] that could help among NATO states and allies, such as Israel, in terms of work for this very large program, ‘Star Wars,’ and the Israelis were boosting their capabilities to do things, especially in the areas of laser,” Cohen told MintPress.

The U.S. hired IDA and sent a team to conduct an assessment in Israel because the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 1986 on Israel’s participation in the SDI.

The report is not focused on “American affiliates of Israeli entities engaged in clandestine nuclear weapons research and development,” as Grant Smith suggests.

US knowledge of the bomb

Israel's Sorek nuclear reactor center near the central Israeli town of Yavne.
I$raHell Sorek nuclear reactor center near the central Israeli town of Yavne.

Unlike Iran, and even India and Pakistan, where the U.S. has put out every possible piece of information regarding those countries’ nuclear capabilities, the U.S. has maintained unprecedented secrecy when it comes to Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

“The United States does not only not share it [information about Israel’s nuclear program] with the public, but it doesn’t share it with many of its own people,” Cohen said. It is a highly hush hush issue even within the U.S. government, he explained.

It has not always been this way, though. Washington has been aware of Israel’s nuclear weapons program since the late 1950s, during the end of the Eisenhower administration, according to Cohen.

“The United States discovered in 1960 that Israel has this secret nuclear complex under construction at Dimona,” said Cohen. (Details about this complex were revealed decades later by a former Israeli nuclear technician and whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu. He shared pictures and explanations of plutonium production with the British press in 1986, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction.)

The Kennedy administration was perplexed by Israel’s nuclear developments, and pressured Tel Aviv to open Dimona to inspections. President John F. Kennedy even threatened total isolation of Israel if it did not open up the facility. Israel capitulated, and the U.S. started visiting the site but was unable to inspect the weapons facilities.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to fight over Israel’s nuclear weapons program. By the time he left office in January 1969, “Israel … already had the bomb,” said Cohen.

This is when the most seminal moment in U.S.-Israeli nuclear relations occurred. On Sept. 26, 1969, there was a one-on-one meeting between then-President Richard Nixon and     then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, in which a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was initiated. That policy has been upheld by every U.S. administration since.

In a 2014 report, Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists,estimated that Israel has up to 80 nuclear warheads.

Hypocrisy of the West

Despite the misconceptions surrounding it, the IDA document is important because it has ignited discussion about Israel’s very real and unsafeguarded nuclear weapons program at a time when Iran has agreed to “the most robust and intrusive” inspections regime ever negotiated in history. This is a program that by all accounts and measures has not even been weaponized.

Press coverage of the report reflects the hypocrisy of the international community, namely Western countries, in providing a balanced narrative of nuclear non-proliferation. On that topic, Cohen told MintPress, “It means that you have problems with Israel.”

“Israel is not covered by any agreement. Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has said nothing about its program,” he explained.

I$raHell nuclear weapons policy

The Israeli government has an official policy of ambiguity with regards to its nuclear weapons program, and the U.S. is complicit in maintaining this position. In 1963, then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said at a meeting in the White House, “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.” To this day, that is the extent to which Israel has referred to its nuclear weapons program.

In a report compiled in October 2012 by the Arab Institute of Security Studies, Marc Finaud, a former French diplomat, offered his interpretation of this policy. He suggested that it meant Israel would only reveal existence of its nuclear weapons “as a response and in case another state of the region became a nuclear-weapon state.” Finaud is currently a senior program advisor in the Emerging Security Challenges Program at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a foundation dedicated to promoting peace.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a loose conglomeration of states including Iran and 16 other nations that are not officially aligned with a major power or part of a multilateral military alliance, have long condemned Israel’s nuclear weapons program. NAM has also demanded that Israel accede to the NPT, and meet requirements established by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani commented on Israel’s program at the United Nations in September 2013:

“The Movement calls upon all Nuclear-Weapons states to ratify related protocols to all treaties establishing such [nuclear weapons-free] zones… Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join there too without any further delay. Accordingly, all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the IAEA comprehensive safeguards.”

Rouhani is the current secretary general of NAM.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 487, passed in 1981, calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards.

In September 2014, 18 Arab states submitted a resolution to the IAEA at its annual meeting condemning Israel’s nuclear arsenal and calling for Israel to join the global anti-nuclear weapons treaty. The text stated “concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities,” calling on Israel “to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.” The resolution was rejected in a 58-45 vote.

Shifting sands

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Netanyahu said the world must unite to `stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror'. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah listen.
Zio-Nazi Prime Minister Benjamin Naziyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Netanyahu said the world must unite to `stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror’. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah listen.

Cohen says it’s “appropriate” to ask whether U.S. support for Israel, “including on the nuclear issue,” will continue indefinitely.

“In my opinion, not necessarily,” he said.

He argues that American efforts to create a nuclear accord with Iran have pushed Israel to extremes in terms of its special relationship with the U.S.

This was made clear in recent months, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented speech to the U.S. Congress in March in which he blatantly attempted to convince lawmakers of the Obama administration’s wrong-headed policies with regards to Iran.

Netanyahu is also believed to have had a role in orchestrating the letter written by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 47 other Republican senators, warning the Iranian leadership not to trust a deal with the current U.S. administration.

“I can see a situation in which patience with Israel under Netanyahu will go so short and so thin that the United States would be willing to reconsider even that old deal with the Israelis on the nuclear issue,” Cohen said.

“I think this policy of protecting Israel on this issue is not guaranteed,” he concluded, “and it’s not permanent under any circumstances.”

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Campaign Watchdog Groups Funded By Soros, Others, File FEC Complaints Against Key Candidates

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The process of determining the nominees and candidates remains beholden to vested financial interests, and excludes 99.5% of the American populace.
Image result for Tea party conservatives Sen. Ted Cruz, photo
Tea party conservatives Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, walk to a Senate meeting.

Two campaign finance watchdog groups have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, charging that three Republicans and one Democrat are soliciting campaign contributions for a Presidential run in contravention of FEC regulations.  The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy21 assert that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum and Martin O’Malley are raising funds in excess of individual limits, opening campaign offices and hiring staff, and even publicly stating that they are running for President.  According to the CLC statement, “the candidate contribution limits kick in as soon as a person begins raising and spending money to determine whether they’re going to run for office. Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker appear to be violating federal law.”  None of the candidates have issued any financial disclosures.

Democracy21 President Fred Wertheimer explains:

“While they travel around and act like candidates, talk like candidates, fundraise like candidates and build presidential campaign organizations like candidates, they have pretended not to be candidates.  Indeed, they claim they are not even testing the waters to decide whether to become candidates.  This is absurd.”

FEC regulations require the establishment of exploratory committees to “test the waters” of the likely success of a Presidential bid, accept donations, and conduct polling and other campaign research.  These committees are limited to accepting donations under $2,700.00 from individuals, and are barred from accepting corporate or union contributions.    The four candidates named, however, are aggressively campaigning by establishing campaign offices, traveling to fundraisers, and appearing as keynote speakers for interest group events.  Michael Falcone of ABCNews writes, “Once you’re a candidate, you’re bound to federal campaign-money restrictions, and you can’t solicit donations over the $5,200 limit if that money will be used to support your candidacy. But until then, you can get away with a little bit more.”

Jeb Bush, for instance, has appeared at 7 high profile fundraisers raising over $1 Million so far.  His SuperPAC, Right to Rise PAC, will not have to disclose any of its donors until July, unless Bush officially declares his bid for the Presidency.  Scott Walker, as well, has opened a campaign office in Iowa, a location previously occupied by Michelle Bachmann in her late campaign run.  Both candidates have repeatedly told news outlets of their intentions to be President.  Yet neither they, nor many of the other 16 candidates have officially declared.  “Jeb Bush is reportedly aiming to raise more than $50 million for his super PAC. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has opened an office in Iowa and is raising millions for a political group he created in January. Rick Santorum’s own aide is referring to him as a ‘candidate.’ These individuals are ‘candidates’ under the law,” says Paul Ryan of the CLC.

During this period, undeclared candidates are, according to the FEC complaints, raising exceptional amounts of money without the scrutiny of financial disclosures.  Allie Brandenburger, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush,said: “We are fully complying with the law in all activities Governor Bush is engaging in on the political front. If Governor Bush engages in any ‘testing the waters’ activities, they will be paid for appropriately under the law and reported at the required time.”  Paul S. Ryan states, in an interview, that the “absurd” sums raised go far beyond reasonable contributions and expenditures.

“We don’t have a hard set number for [reasonable contributions].  Certainly a few hundred thousand, a million dollars, certainly strikes me as a reasonable amount.  50 million?  No way.  Types of activities historically that have been associated with testing the waters means travelling a little bit, meeting with some folks, to discuss your possible candidacy.  That type of activity doesn’t take millions of dollars.  It takes thousands.  It’s absurd.”

Essentially, the “candidates” are courting the 0.5% of the US population to receive their financial vote, supporting their runs.  This monetary vote nominates the potential candidates that the remainder of the population has the opportunity to vote for, without full democratic participation of the general public.  “It’s about raising funds for excessive travel.  To hiring and paying staff.  While claiming that they are not testing the waters,” Ryan stated.  “To put it bluntly, it’s absurd.”  Carley FiorinaHillary Clinton, who Ryan termed “the Elephant in the room” and many others are engaged in this campaign for contributions, however, having stated that they are only “testing the waters” and receiving small contributions, these candidates appear in line with FEC regulations.  “That’s what Lindsey Graham did.  That’s what Ben Carson did.  Jim Webb.  They made clear their intentions to explore a presidential run.  They are complying with the law that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and others are openly flouting.”

The Campaign Legal Center may be testing the waters, here, as well.  The CLC receives substantial fundingfrom, among others, the Brennan Center for Justice, Democracy Fund, Open Societies Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts and the Rockefeller Family Fund.  Their ties to Big Oil,

George Soros and Warren Buffet raise significant questions about the dark money flowing through the CLC, and whether or not these FEC complaints are politically motivated.  Ryan states emphatically, “definitely not.”  He explains, “You’ve asked to the extent that our funders are involved in these complaints I’ve told you and factually correct representation that we’ve had no conversations with our funders about these complaints.  Speculate as you will, but facts are facts.”  Democracy21 maintains similar funding connections.

Nevertheless, The Fifth Column has already reported on dark money and lobbying expenditures of George Soros and the Koch Brothers delivering returns on investment.  Whether Keystone XL, Ukraine, or public opinion swaying statistics from the Pew Trusts based on questionable methodology, TFC has shown how the contribution heavy weights are able to affect change through legislation, the courts or through the work of think tanks and watchdog groups.

The Koch Brothers have recently flouted their interest in funneling $900 Million into the 2016 elections.  To do so, they are looking to expand their reach and partnerships.  The Brennan Center and Pew Trusts are part of those new relationships.  When asked about Koch Brother support, Ryan stated, “We wish we could get Koch Brothers money, but neither of our organizations can get Koch brothers money.”  Perhaps not directly, but the Koch Brothers are notorious for laundering money through various organizations.  While Ryan asserts that these complaints and a white paper published in January are independent projects, such legal actions certainly help to discredit some candidates, while boosting others.

On the issue of Keystone, alone, we know that both the Koch Brothers and Soros stand to profit substantially.  Koch Industries owns the refineries that will be used, and Soros Fund Management owns a prominent stake ofTransCanada, the company that is to build the pipeline.  Funders like the Annenberg Foundation report significant endowments and contribution, but submit blank 990s to the IRS, with registered financial advisors in Greece, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands.  While much of the Annenberg’s income stems from bonds and treasuries, individual donors are concealed.  Others, like the Pew Trusts or the multiple Rockefeller Family Foundations listed, of course, all exist because of oil fortunes.  Even if the Koch Brothers and Soros don’t agree on who should become President, they may certainly agree on who they do not want to become President.  With ongoing conflicts in oil rich regions like UkraineSyria and Yemen set to be high profile campaign issues, these major donors have a direct interest in who is nominated.  If the candidate field can be narrowed to a mutually agreeable set in this early fundraising phase, then the American public will be voting for Soros and the Koch Brothers to win no matter who becomes President.

Ted Cruz, for instance, has already declared his candidacy.  Cruz, while doing well in fundraising, cannot compete with Jeb Bush and his long family connections, or Walker, who is supported by the Koch Brothers,Billionaire Paul Menard, and the Bradley Foundation.  Lower fundraising targets for Cruz grant easier access to the oil barons and billionaires.  With the cost of access, then, being lower to a more impressionable candidate, then eliminating Bush becomes advantageous for both Soros and the Koch Brothers.

While the CLC and Democracy21 complaints to the FEC rightly hold candidates accountable for their absurd levels of fundraising, the financial support for these organizations raises its own questions about how American elections operate.  The process of determining the nominees and candidates remains beholden to vested financial interests, and excludes 99.5% of the American populace.  “Speculate as you will, but facts are facts.  We are just as prone to file complaints against democrats when they engage in behavior that we believe to be illegal,” Ryan defends the CLC and its filings.  While factually accurate, it still highlights the exclusion of the majority of the electorate from the electoral process and the base corruptness of the system itself.  As more complaints are forthcoming, we will have to wait to see whether or not the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy21 help to clean up the corruption in the American electoral system, or whether or not they are helping to pick the winners for their funders.

Here is an introduction to the Campaign Legal Center.

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Iran Deal: A Possible Crossroads to Peace

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Exclusive: The Zionist-Zio-Wahhabi alliance and the American neocons are furious over the framework agreement for a peaceful settlement to the Iran nuclear dispute, but the deal gives hope to people who see the need to end the perpetual wars that have roiled the Middle East and deformed the U.S. Republic, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The April 2 framework agreement with Iran represents more than just a diplomatic deal to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. It marks a crossroad that offers a possible path for the American Republic to regain its footing and turn away from endless war.

Whether that more peaceful route is followed remains very much in doubt, however, given the adamant opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Sunni Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich sheikdoms. On Thursday, Netanyahu continued his denunciations of the deal — saying it would “threaten the survival of Israel” — and no one should underestimate the Israel Lobby’s power over Congress.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his team of negotiators meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team in Switzerland on March 26, 2015. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry and his team of negotiators meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team in Switzerland on March 26, 2015. (State Department photo)

But the choice before the American people is whether they want to join a 1,300-year-old religious war in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shiites – with Israel now having thrown in its lot with the Sunnis despite the fact that Saudi Arabia and its cohorts have been supporting Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists.

Despite blame also falling on Iran and the Shiite side in this sectarian conflict, the Iranians have emerged as the most effective resistance to Al-Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks killing some 3,000 Americans, and to the Islamic State, which has engaged in – and franchised out to other extremist groups – the practice of chopping off the heads of Americans, Christians, Shiites and other “apostates.”

Though the Saudi royal family and other Sunni princes around the Persian Gulf deny that they support Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, few knowledgeable people believe them, since the jihadists follow Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist fundamentalist teachings and have consistently served Saudi interests as the frontline fighters in the Sunni-Shiite conflict. [See Consortiumnews.com’s The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]

Preference for Al-Qaeda

Plus, Saudi Arabia and Israel have made clear that they would prefer the Sunni fighters, even Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to prevail over governments and other forces linked to Iran. The Saudi-Israeli alliance has provided real military assistance to these Sunni jihadists.

For instance, the current Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen (who practice a form of Shiite Islam) has served to bolster Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including aiding in a prison break that released scores of hardened Al-Qaeda militants. A source familiar with the Yemeni conflict told me that the Saudis also are giving Al-Qaeda weapons supplied by Israel.

In the Syrian civil war, senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail over President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Assad’s relatively secular government is seen as the protector of Shiites, Christians and other minorities who fear the vengeful brutality of the Sunni jihadists who now dominate the anti-Assad rebels and have absorbed the U.S.-trained “moderates” into the extremist ranks.

In September 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites. “The greatest danger to Israel is by the [Shiite] strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview.

“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

In June 2014, Oren expanded on this Israeli position. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

This Israeli preference has extended into a tacit alliance with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria, with which the Israelis have what amounts to a non-aggression pact, even caring for Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and mounting lethal air attacks against Lebanese and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military fighting Nusra forces.

Netanyahu himself has played down the danger from the Islamic State (or ISIS) when compared to what he claims is the greater Iranian threat. In his March 3 address to a cheering and hooting U.S. Congress, Netanyahu depicted ISIS as a minor annoyance with “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.

He claimed “Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. … We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”

But Netanyahu was engaging in hyperbole at best. Of those four capitals cited, Iran took none by force; no invasions had occurred. In the case of Syria and Iraq, Iran has been helping the established governments withstand assaults from the Islamic State and, in Syria, Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front as well.

In Iraq, the only reason there is a Shiite-dominated government is because President George W. Bush invaded in 2003 and deposed the Sunni-dominated government of Saddam Hussein. In Lebanon, Iran is merely allied with one element of the government, Hezbollah.

The Yemeni Civil War

Regarding Yemen, Netanyahu and the Saudis have sought to portray the conflict as a case of Iranian “aggression,” but those claims border on the ludicrous. The Houthi rebels, who have gained control of several large Yemeni cities including the capital Sanaa, follow an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as Zaydism, but it is relatively close to Sunni Islam and has peacefully co-existed with Sunni Islam for centuries.

The Houthis also deny that they are agents for Iran, and Western intelligence services believe that Iranian support has consisted mostly of some funding. Former CIA official Graham E. Fuller has called the notion “that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia – as trumpeted by the Saudis” a “myth.” He added:

“The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons — just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State.”

In other words, the alarmist rhetoric from Netanyahu and the Saudis about the Houthis is hyped. And the Obama administration’s decision to assist the Saudi air strikes inside Yemen, including some attacks that have inflicted heavy civilian casualties, would seem to be undermining the U.S. goal of combating Islamic terrorism by strengthening Al-Qaeda.

Helping the Saudis kill Yemenis also contradicts the high-blown U.S. rhetoric denouncing Russia for intervening in a civil war in Ukraine, on Russia’s border. One can only imagine the fiery U.S. rhetoric if Russia launched air strikes against the neo-Nazi militias and other Ukrainian forces fighting on behalf of the U.S.-backed Kiev regime.

In Ukraine, when elected President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia to escape a violent coup on Feb. 22, 2014, the Obama administration cited Yanukovych’s departure as proof that he had vacated his office, thus justifying the appointment of a new president without the bother of following Ukraine’s constitution. Ukrainians who resisted Yanukovych’s ouster were deemed “terrorists” and any subsequent intervention by the Russians to protect the ethnic Russians under assault was decried as “aggression.”

Yet, when ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration took the opposite position: Hadi’s departure was not proof that he had vacated his office but rather justification to bomb the Yemenis who had replaced him even if that helped actual terrorists in Al-Qaeda – another case of what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Hope for the Republic

However, more significant for Americans is that the diplomatic agreement between world powers and Iran to tightly restrict its nuclear program to ensure that it’s for peaceful purposes only is that the deal repudiates the calls for war from Netanyahu and leading American neoconservatives. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Publishes Call to Bomb Iran.”]

Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities could cause a massive human and environmental catastrophe, unleashing radiation on civilian populations and possibly making large swaths of Iran uninhabitable. That might serve the Saudi-Israeli interests by forcing Iran to focus exclusively on a domestic crisis of the first order.

Thus, Iran might be unable to assist the Iraqis and the Syrians in their desperate struggles against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Ambassador Oren might get their preference and see Sunni jihadists hoisting the black flag of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State over Damascus, if not Baghdad.

But such a victory, with its attendant slaughter of innocents and the prospects of new terrorist attacks on the West, would almost surely force whoever is the U.S. president to recommit hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to remove Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State from power. It would be a war of vast expense in money and blood with little prospect of American success.

Beyond the death of many U.S. soldiers, there would be an equally certain death of the American Republic, since the United States would have to become a fully militarized state dedicated to perpetual war. That might please — and profit — the neocons but it would be a tragedy for those Americans who believe in constitutional principles and democratic ideals. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.]

That is why the framework agreement with Iran offers a hope, albeit perhaps a thin one, that the United States can now separate itself from the endless war demands of Israel and Saudi Arabia – and chart a course home to a more peaceful harbor where our constitutional system might have a chance to repair.

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I$raHell Risks UN Isolation As US Tensions Worsen

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The US is no longer guaranteeing to veto I$raHell resolutions at the UN.
Image result for President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu PHOTO
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddle during their joint news conference in Jerusalem, Israel, 2013.

Having gone out of his way, during the course of his reelection campaign, to alienate the Obama Administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has to face the danger of isolation at the UN.

Violating umpteen UN resolutions on any given day, and overtly violating the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of occupied territory, Israel has long relied on US vetoes to avoid any serious repercussions at the UN Security Council.

That veto may no longer be guaranteed, at this point, though US officials are being a bit coy about exactly where they stand. Former officials say the US position on future UN Security Council resolutions will depend heavily on the language.

The increasing political nature of US-Israeli ties mean that any non-veto will provoke outrage among Republicans, though the administration can probably get away with it more easily if the resolution itself is comparatively moderate.

That might not be too hard. UN Security Council resolutions on Israel have long been carefully moderated to try to coax the US into accepting a call for a peace deal they’ve claimed to support at any rate. Historically, that’s not mattered, as the vetoes come as a matter of course. Now those resolutions may be seen as practice for a serious round of serious resolutions.

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Zio-Wahhabi Rat’s Capture Main Border Crossing With Jordan

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Zio-Wahhabi RAT’S and Zio-Wahhabi from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front have captured the only functioning border crossing with Jordan.
Jabhat al-Nusra, wave their brigade flag.
Zio-Wahhabi Jabhat al-Nusra, wave their brigade flag.

Zio-Wahhabi RAT’S and Zio-Wahhabi RAT’S from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front have captured the only functioning border crossing with the Zionist Kingdom of Jordan and three nearby military posts, prompting government bombing raids on the area, activists said Thursday.

The capture of the Nasib crossing — a crucial gateway for the Syrian government — is the latest in a series of setbacks for President Bashar Assad’s forces in the past week. Zio-Wahhabi led by the Nusra Front seized the government-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria and a major town, Busra Sham, in the south.

Zionist puppet Jordanian regime closed the Nasib crossing Tuesday night for security reasons, as Zio-Wahhabi RAT’S  clashed with Syrian forces on the other side. The rebels seized the crossing within 24 hours.

On Thursday, a plume of thick, black smoke was seen billowing from the Syrian side of the border with Jordan, as Syrian warplanes struck the area. An Associated Press cameraman said dozens of trucks were stranded on the Jordanian side and customs officials have been prevented from going to their offices.

Zio-Wahhabi Ahmad al-Masalmeh, said rebels completed “combing” operations in the area along the border early Thursday, adding that government forces withdrew in the direction of the nearby Sweida province.

Syrian state TV, however, quoted an unnamed military official as saying that government forces have regrouped near the crossing and taken “positions in new military points.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement later saying that any use of the Zio-Wahhabi-held crossing “will be considered illegitimate.” The ministry said Syria closed the crossing after the Zionist puppet regime of Jordan took a similar step on Wednesday.

Nasib is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a major gateway for Syria’s government and for Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian traders and merchants.

Al-Masalmeh said three armed factions spearheaded the offensive that captured Nasib and the nearby border guard posts known as 62, 63 and 67. He added that the Syrian government still controls a post known as the “Amman Brigade” east of Nasib.

The Britain-based Mossad MI6 Observatory for ‘Human Rights’, said helicopter gunships attacked rebel positions in the area early Thursday.

In Damascus, a Palestinian official said Islamic State fighters were expelled from Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp south of the capital, hours after they stormed it from the nearby neighborhood of Hajar Aswad. The infiltration marked the extremist group’s deepest foray yet into the Syrian capital.

Khaled Abdul-Majid, secretary of the follow-up committee of the Damascus-based allied Palestinian factions, told The Associated Press that reinforcements reached the Palestinian faction called Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, which was battling the extremist group in the camp.

“There are now intermittent clashes between Hajar Aswad neighborhood and the southern edge of Yarmouk camp,” he said.

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What’s Really Driving Zio-Wahhabi-Led Attacks On Yemen?

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(AP Photo/SPA). In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, left, walks with Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman as he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Yemen's Shii...
Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, left, walks with Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman as he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, March 26, 2015.

On March 25, King Salman decided to engage the Saudi military against the Houthis of Yemen, after the latter marched on Aden, the capital of the former South Yemen, where former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had sought refuge after escaping from house arrest in February.

The Saudi intervention in Yemen came with the support of a broad Arab alliance — Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, I$raHell and Egypt — plus Pakistan, as well as foreign powers including the United States and the European Union. Its stated goal is to re-establish stability in the region and address the security threat which the Houthis had come to represent.

Salman made his position clear on March 27, when he announced, as reported by The Independent: “A Saudi Arabia-led alliance is willing to wage a military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen for as long as it takes to defeat the Iranian-backed group that has forced the country’s president to flee.”

Speaking at a press conference, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir confirmed that Saudi Arabia, alongside ten other countries, launched a military operation in Yemen against the Houthis, rebel tribal faction organized under the leadership of Abdel-Malik al-Houthi.

“At the time Ambassador Al Jubeir already warned that the ongoing airstrikes will involve other military assets, leaving the door wide open to a potential ground invasion,” said Ali al-Amad, a leading figure of Ansarallah, the Houthis’ political arm, to MintPress News.

“Saudi Arabia took it upon itself to declare war on Yemen, arguing national security, claiming to want to restore Yemen’s legitimate president, Hadi, to the presidency in a bid to safeguard Yemen’s democratic transition, when really it seeks only to assert its imperialistic ambitions upon the Arabian Peninsula,” he added.

Sheikh Mabkout Nahshal, a tribal leader from the northern Yemen province of Hajjah, who in the space of four years saw his country teeter on the verge of civil war more times than he cares to admit, told MintPress that this war Riyadh is waging against the Houthis and, thus, against Yemen has nothing to do with Hadi, democracy or national security — or, at least not Yemen’s national security. It’s about oil and geopolitical maneuvering.

“Al Sauds have always viewed Yemen as a threat to their hegemony, both militarily and geostrategically. Ibn Saud actually told his sons that for Al Saud to survive in the region, Yemen would have to be tamed,” Nahshal said. “This war is about restoring control over a Saudi colony, this war is about putting Yemen’s freedom under lock and key.”

“Everything else, all these talks of sectarianism and democracy, legitimacy and national security, are shiny lies thrown out at the public to hide the truth.”

Indeed, nothing is ever really as it seems in Yemen. The country is a complicated maze of intermixing political interests, sectarian ambitions and geostrategic realities, where world powers are engaging in a bitter fight for control over oil access and resources.

“The new battleground of this Great Game world powers never stopped [playing], Yemen has become the region’s new frontline. What we see unfold in Yemen is the new oil rush, a bitter battle for control over the world oil route Bab al-Mandab. The fact that a nation finds itself caught in the middle of such ambitions is of no consequence to Al Saud,” Ahmed Mohamed Nasser Ahmed, a Yemeni political analyst and former member of Yemen’s National Issues and Transitional Justice Working Group at the National Dialogue Conference, told MintPress.

The NDC was a transitional dialogue process held in Sanaa from March 18, 2013 to Jan. 24, 2014, as part of the 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered transition of power initiative. It created a space for all Yemeni delegations to negotiate and engineer Yemen’s transition of power and set the terms of constitutional change.

As Yemen breaks under a barrage of bombs, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a senior spokesman for the Houthis, opened up to MintPress on what he believes is the war which will define the region for decades to come.

Yet in order to understand how Yemen found itself the object of Saudi Arabia’s aggression and why Hadi, the Yemeni president who resigned in January and has fled twice, has called for a broad attack by foreign powers, one must dissect the political myth that Yemen is struggling under the weight of Western propaganda and a Saudi-fuelled sectarian narrative.

Speaking at the Arab League summit in Egypt on March 28, Hadi rejected U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar’s cease-fire proposal, instead making the case for a more intense military incursion in Yemen until, as he put it, “the Houthi gang surrenders, withdraws from government institutions and gives up arms.”

Yemen 101: A crash course in Yemeni politics

While it is always difficult to reduce a country’s political history and ambitions to just a few lines, especially a country as complex as Yemen, current events boil down to a conflict between the Houthis and Hadi. Behind those two sides rests a quandary of overlapping interests, opposing political entities, regional fault lines and wild personal ambitions.

From 1994 to 2011 Yemen was ruled by two main bodies: the General People’s Congress, led by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Islah, a political party which serves as an umbrella for several Sunni radical groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Saleh ruled uncontested over a united Yemen following the unification agreement signed in 1990 and the failed Southern Separatist Movement in 1994, Islah acted as a buffer and counter-weight to the GPC, which operated under the strict patronage of Saudi Arabia.

As Ahmed, the Yemeni political analyst, explained, “Riyadh used Al Islah to control Saleh and keep his power in Yemen in check. The whole point of Al Islah was to keep Yemen in a semi-state of control and dependence. Al Islah was the perfect medium for that — Al Saud’s Wahhabis and Salafis used Al Islah to spread their influence across Yemen, slowly reshaping both its political map and its religious demography.”

“Under Al Islah’s influence Zaidism became a target. Clerics began to push the sectarian card and ever so insidiously Yemen began to be defined along sectarian lines. Religion became politicized and the seed of war was planted,” he continued.

Zaidism is the oldest branch of Shiite Islam. About 40 to 45 percent of Yemenis are Zaidi Muslims. “Hardly a minority one can dismiss or refuse to acknowledge,” Abdel-Salam, the Houthis’ spokesman, noted.

This political order or political patronage by which Saudi Arabia managed to remain in control of Yemen was disturbed by the Arab Spring in 2011. As Yemenis rose in condemnation of Saleh’s rule, Islah began to assert itself as the country’s political, tribal, religious and financial powerNeither Saudi Arabia nor its allies, including the U.S., were keen on allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to rise to such political heights in the region, especially not after the Egyptian experiment.

Thus, plans for Islah’s demise were set into motion. Marwa Osman, a lecturer at Lebanese International University in Beirut, explained that to destroy the very party it helped prop up and sponsor for three decades, Saudi Arabia envisioned a plan to exploit internal political and tribal tensions to allow Al Saud’s will to manifest in the impoverished nation.

“Al Saud played the Houthis against Al Islah in the hope that the Houthis, backed by former President Saleh, would actually neutralize the Muslim Brotherhood and in doing so weaken its own political traction in the country,” Osman told MintPress.

“This once obscure tribal faction from northern Saada was allowed to advance unchecked against the tribal might of Al Islah, as it played into Al Saud’s short-term plan for the region and Yemen: the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Saud never expected the Houthis to become as powerful and popular as they did. It is their unexpected play against Hadi and their meteoric rise to power in the country which has led to this war — that, of course, and the fact that the Houthis happen to be both Shia and on good terms with Iran,” she continued.

The Houthi connection

YemenMembers of the Houthi Shiite group watch a televised speech by the leader of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, as they attend the annual Eid al-Ghadir festival in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014.   Photo: Hani Mohammed/APMembers of the Houthi Shiite group watch a televised speech by the leader of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, as they attend the annual Eid al-Ghadir festival in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014.   Photo: Hani Mohammed/AP

This rebel group which fought five wars against the Saleh regime from 2004 to 2009 came onto Yemen’s political scene in 2014, when its leader, Abdel Malik al-Houthi, decided the group would become the vessel of Yemen’s discontent and a flagship of popular power.

Just as Yemen began to revert back to its pre-revolutionary torpor, its officials keen to secure their places at Yemen’s new power table, the Houthis descended from their ancestral highlands to demand that the people’s wishes and calls for democratic reforms be implemented on the ground, per the National Dialogue Conference resolutions.

“The Houthis intervened in Yemen not in the name of the Houthis, but in the name of the people. We made clear from the beginning that our agenda was a popular agenda. We came to exert pressure on Hadi because Hadi stopped listening to the people. We came because we refused to let the people of Yemen suffer the fate we endured for decades under the boots of the MB and its acolytes,” said Abdel-Salam.

“The people of Yemen came to the streets in their hundreds of thousands in 2014 to call on the government to negotiate an acceptable political timetable and put the country on the right institutional and political track. We played by the rules of democracy, Hadi chose to play Al Saud’s game. Hadi chose to put Saudi Arabia’s interests over that of his people. That is a choice he will have to live with,” he added.

Because of their appartenance to Zaidi Islam, the Houthis were automatically labelled pro-Iran, or, as Hadi called them last month, the stooges of Iran.” Though there is no denying that the Houthis are allies of Iran, this is not to say that the Houthis are Tehran’s proxy in the peninsula. Saying the Houthis are puppets, Osman warned, is dangerously reductive and short-sighted.

“The Houthis turned to Iran for support as early as 1994 because Iran was the only one in the region willing to offer support. It is as simple as that,” Osman said. “By looking at the Houthis’ military arsenal you will find their weapons come not from Iran but Yemen’s black market, [a black market which] is flowing with U.S. weapons.”

 

King Salman goes for the jugular: Bab al-Mandab

A Yemeni man carries a box of ammunition he took from a military depot in Aden, Yemen, Friday, March 27, 2015. Shiite rebels, known as the Houthis, has seized the city since Wednesday. Looters have then taken weapons and ammunition from two abandoned army camps. (Yassir Hassan/Associated Press)A Houthi man carries a box of ammunition he took seized a military depot in Aden, Yemen, Friday, March 27, 2015.

As the Houthis secured their hold over Yemen’s capital Sanaa, exerting ever more pressure on Hadi over the reforms they wished to see implemented, like oil subsidy reforms and a new federal composition, resentment over the Houthis’ power play gained traction both at home and elsewhere on the peninsula.

As Hadi appeared ever more a shell of a president, a man without power and a man without a party since Saleh forced him out of the GPC in November, Saudi Arabia hatched a plan to bring Yemen back into Riyadh’s fold.

Capture

“Yemen was coming out from under Al Saud’s thumb. The Yemenis were reclaiming their future. So King Salman went for the jugular and decided to destroy Yemen’s hope for a democratic future. He unilaterally decided that he would obliterate Yemen and rid himself of a dangerous contender in the region while securing control over the world oil route,” explained Mojtaba Mousavi, an Iranian political analyst and editor in chief of Iran’s View, told MintPress.

“The Saudis, with the blessing of the United States, have moved against Yemen to reclaim control over the very strategic and very crucial Bab al-Mandab. Should the Houthis, an ally of Iran, control the strait, then the peninsula would de facto fall under the sphere of influence of the Islamic Republic, and this is something the Saudis will never tolerate, at least not without a fight,” he continued.

Bab al-Mandab is one of the seven “choke points” in the worldwide delivery of oil. The Bab al-Mandab strait separates the Arabian Peninsula from East Africa and links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Most ships using the waterway have come from, or are going to, Egypt’s Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. This contributes about $5 billion a year to the Egyptian economy and gives the country a large degree of control over the world’s major oil route.

Indeed, Bab al-Mandab is of absolute importance when it comes to the stability of the world oil market, and Riyadh is determined to exert control over it, or at least over the government which oversees its — hence its desire to see Hadi restored at the helm in Yemen.

“Looking at the sheer size of this Arab coalition against this one country in the peninsula it is clear that Yemen represents more of a threat to the kingdom [Saudi Arabia] than ISIS does. Hundreds of planes have been committed to this war on Yemen. Ask yourself how many were sent to fight ISIS radicals in Syria and Iraq, and then you will understand what story the public is not being told,” Mousavi noted.

As Yemen strains under the violent and unprecedented aggression toward its sovereignty under cover of a justification which even the United Nations is finding difficult to articulate, Saudi Arabia could be endangering its own institutional survival.

Speaking in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the Arab League summit on March 28, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Saudi-led coalition to exert restraint toward Yemen and return to the drawing table. “Negotiations — facilitated by my Special Envoy Jamal Benomar and endorsed by the Security Council — remain the only chance to prevent long, drawn-out conflict,” he asserted.

Yet his calls for moderation were answered by additional rounds of bombing over Yemeni cities.

Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert on Middle Eastern political-military affairs, warned in an analysis for the Brookings Institution:

“Saudi Arabia remains the leader of the Arab world, an important American ally, and one of the most important oil producers in the world. But it is also a country with significant internal challenges, financial problems, and now a dramatic shift in government power as a result of the death of King Abdullah and the accession of King Salman. The Kingdom lacks the military capacity to intervene decisively in Yemen, and if it tries by sending in large numbers of ground troops, the most likely outcome would be a debilitating stalemate that will drain Saudi military resources, financial reserves, and political will. It could also easily enrage key segments of the populace: some furious that after spending so much on defense the Kingdom has so little capability, others equally enraged that so much money is being wasted on a senseless quagmire in Yemen instead of being spent on critical domestic problems.”

“Don’t write off Yemen just yet”

Indeed, while the Houthis and its allies in Yemen remain vastly under-equipped to fight the Saudi-led coalition, Yemen’s history is full of stories of mighty empires coming to break their heads on the mountains of the fiercely independent nation. The Ottomans, for example, learned the hard way that Yemen, no matter how poor or fragmented, is not easily subdued.

“While Saudi Arabia has gathered around its throne and its billions of petrodollars a broad coalition of monarchies and arguably Arab dictatorships against the Houthis of Yemen, such actions could actually serve a catalyst of unification. Regardless of their political disagreements and sectarian resentment toward the Houthis, Yemenis have already begun to rally behind those rebels, keen to defend this land they call home against any foreign army,” said Mousavi.

Sheikh Nahshal, the tribal leader, warned that the world’s propensity to underestimate Yemen’s capacity for military retaliation and Arab leaders’ insistence on targeting civilians in their desire to bring the Houthis to their knees will only further enrage the Yemeni people.

“Hadi is the most hated person in Yemen right now. Regardless of what happens now, this man will never rule over Yemen. He called on foreign powers to kill his countrymen,” Nahshal said. “Can Yemen forgive and forget? I think not! As far Al Saud is concerned they are awakening Yemen’s dragon by killing our children. There have been talks of taking the fight to Al Saud.”

“Who knows,” he continued. “Al Saud’s regional enemies could team up and bring war to Riyadh. Don’t write off Yemen just yet, we are the fighters of Arabia.”

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Iran, Hezbollah: Are They Threats To The US Or Not?

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Iran and Hezbollah have been removed from the terrorism section of one U.S. security assessment report, but another report continues to frame them as a major threat.
Participants sit in an anti-extremism conference in the city of Qom, 78 miles (125 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Shiite and Sunni clerics from about 80 countries gathered in Iran's holy city of Qom to develop a strategy to combat extremists including the Islamic State group that has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Zoheir Seidanloo)
Participants sit in an anti-extremism conference in the city of Qom, 78 miles (125 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Shiite and Sunni clerics from about 80 countries gathered in Iran’s holy city of Qom to develop a strategy to combat extremists including the Islamic State group that has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria.

WASHINGTON — Iran and Hezbollah have been removed from the terrorism section of an unclassified report presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee by National Intelligence Director James Clapper.The Feb. 26 report, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” devotes its terrorism section mainly to the spread of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as the so-called “threat to the West” highlighted by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January.

Just last year, both Iran and Hezbollah were included in the terrorism section of the security assessment as entities that “continue to directly threaten the interests of U.S. allies.”

While Iran has been removed from the report’s terrorism section, U.S. policy and propaganda regarding the Islamic Republic and its objectives have not shifted. The report’s section on Iran states: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is an ongoing threat to US national interests because of its support to the Assad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities, and pursuit of its nuclear program.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is only mentioned once in the 25-page report’s brief summary pertaining to Lebanon. The report states that the resistance group is facing attacks by ISIS along the Lebanon-Syria border.

Yet a separate report issued in February by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency includes both Iran and Hezbollah in its terrorism section. The report states, “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and Lebanese Hizballah are instruments of Iran’s foreign policy and its ability to project power in Iraq, Syria and beyond.”

As the U.S. continues to indulge in obscure rhetoric, with one report contradicting the other, Hezbollah’s Deputy Chief Naim Qassem reserved harsh words for the U.S. and its coalition claiming to target ISIS.

“We hear the world wants to confront ISIS because it represents takfiri terrorism. Who created ISIS? Those who want to fight [ISIS] are the ones who raised and funded ISIS,” Qassem said on March 13 in Beirut, as reported by Lebanon’s Daily Star.

Qassem also spoke about the role of Gulf countries in funding ISIS, as well as Israel providing medical treatment to wounded ISIS members.

Iran’s PressTV reported on March 16 that Tehran had ruled out military intervention in Iraq and Syria but pledged defense and humanitarian aid as part of its efforts to combat ISIS.

“America’s goals are completely opposed to our goals”

Hezbollah has been designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the U.S. State Department since 1997. Hezbollah was formed in 1982 in response to Israel’s colonial expansion in the Middle East and has refused to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, thus rendering its resistance a valid focal point of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle.

The European Union followed the United States’ lead in 2013, declaring Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization. The distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing and its political leadership, however, made it possible for EU countries to maintain political ties with the group’s political leadership.

Lebanon opposed the EU’s decision, and countries including Spain and Italy expressed reservations. But the move was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated that Hezbollah “has imposed terrorist rule in wide sections of Lebanon, has converted them into an Iranian protectorate and is stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets there.”

The current nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 (the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, plus Germany) and Iran, as well as efforts to counter ISIS, may have contributed to the slight shift in U.S. foreign policy which led to the removal of both entities from the terrorism section of the intelligence report.

Ahead of the March 31 deadline for a deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly spoke with with British Prime Minister David Cameron over the phone, stating: “We are acting in the national and international interest and we should not lose this exceptional opportunity.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif indicated progress with regard to the discussions, but didn’t provide much detail. “Technical and political solutions to the issues that were stumbling blocks have been found,” Zarif wrote in a Facebook post, as reported by Sputnik on March 21.

That same day, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei clarified that the negotiations with the U.S. “are solely on the nuclear issue and nothing else.”

“In the regional issues, America’s goals are completely opposed to our goals,” Khamenei told a crowd in northeastern Iran.

Indeed, U.S. goals in the region have been clearly manifested through its agenda of forcing regime change and arming militias. This strategy ensures the uncontrollable spread of arms, permanent turmoil and continued colonization in the Middle East. Iran, on the other hand, has opposed U.S. and Israeli interference — even aiding Hamas in developing more powerful missiles which were used as part of Palestinians’ defense during Operation Protective Edge.

 

Israel’s ire — and its own nuclear revelations

While the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have been widely hailed as positive, Israel has once again expressed its ire against a possible framework and the removal of sanctions as part of the negotiations with Iran. Iran is targeted by U.S., U.N. Security Council and EU sanctions, based on allegations that the country is attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons.

An anonymous Israeli official lamented to the Times of Israel the possible forthcoming deal, asserting that Israel’s security concerns were not being addressed. “The deal is bad because of its readiness to remove sanctions without any America demand from Iran to stop the terror,” the official said.

It is worth noting, though, that Israel’s criticism is coming on the heels of the Pentagon declassifying a 1987 document on Israel’s own nuclear program. The Department of Defense document, “Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations,” provides detailed descriptions of Israel’s military technology and nuclear infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s. According to the report, Israel’s nuclear development research laboratories were “equivalent to our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.”

The report is the first document to establish knowledge of Israel as a nuclear power — a status which the settler-colonial state has been careful to leave to speculation throughout the decades, even after information was leaked by former Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu in 1986.

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