Chemical Fabrications: East Ghouta and Syria’s Missing Children

April 13, 2015

In my earlier articles – see appendix on the end – I claimed that there’s little dispute that a chemical agent was used in an Aug. 21st 2013 attack outside of Damascus – and probably on a smaller scale before that – but there is a reasonable doubt if the Assad regime used sarin gas in this operation. The CW attack nearly led to U.S. military intervention against Syria. From my perspective this case should not be forgotten as it is a good example about media war and can be repeared as e.g. as false flag operation in other theatres.

It might be possible that US did not implemented planned military intervention against Syria as its political leadership knew first that Syrian rebels had chemical weapons, second it knew that Al Assad regime maybe not used CW in Damascus August 2013 and third that Syrian opposition might on the end not be better alternative than Al Assad.

However now Prof. Tim Andersson his comprehensive analysis – Chemical Fabrications: East Ghouta and Syria’s Missing Children – reblogged here below:

A Syrian refugee child sits at an abandoned school in the Wady Khaled area, northern Lebanon

The dirty war on Syria has involved repeated scandals, often fabricated against the Syrian Government to help create pretexts for deeper intervention. Perhaps the most notorious was the East Ghouta incident of August 2013, where pictures of dead or drugged children were uploaded from an Islamist-held agricultural area east of Damascus, with the claim that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons to murder hundreds of innocents. The incident generated such attention that direct US intervention was only averted by a Russian diplomatic initiative. The Syrian Government agreed to eliminate its entire stockpile of chemical weapons (Smith-Spark and Cohen 2013), maintaining that it had never used them in the recent conflict.

Indeed, all the independence evident on the East Ghouta incident (including evidence from the US and the UN) shows that the Syrian Government was falsely accused. This followed a series of other false accusations, ‘false flag’ claims recorded by senior nun Mother Agnes (SANA 2011), a shamefully biased investigation into the Houla massacre (see Anderson 2015) and failed or exposed attempts to blame the Syrian Government over Islamist group killings, for example at Daraya and Aqrab (Fisk 2012; Thompson 2012). The Islamist groups’ use of chemical weapons was mostly dismissed by the western powers, and that dismissal has been reflected in most western media reports. However, because the chemical weapon claims have been repeated for years, public perceptions seem to have little reference to facts based on evidence. After a little background, let’s consider the independent evidence on the East Ghouta incident, in some detail. Arising from that evidence we are led to another serious crime of war, the fate of the dead or drugged children portrayed in those infamous images.

1. Chemical Weapons in Syria

Chemical weapons are a crude relic of an earlier era, such as the trench warfare of a century ago. They have no utility in urban warfare, where an army hunts armed groups amongst streets, buildings and civilian populations. No real utility, unless a ruthless party wants to create a general panic. In the case of the Syrian Arab Army, their conventional weapons were far superior to such crude weapons and their urban warfare training, often done in Iran, had the aim of rooting out terrorist groups, building by building (al Akhras 2013). A stockpile of chemical weapons had been kept as a deterrent to Israel, which holds nuclear weapons; but there had been no proven use of them in recent decades.

By mid 2013 the war had turned in favour of the Government. Although parts of Aleppo and some parts of eastern Syria were held by various Islamist groups, the Army had secured the major populated areas in western Syria and had closed much of the armed traffic across the mountainous Lebanese border. Along the borders with states which backed the Islamists – Turkey, Israel and Jordan – there were regular incursions, but they were always beaten back by the Syrian Army. Over May-June 2013 the Army, backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, took back the city of Qusayr, south-west of Homs, from a combination of the Farouq Brigade and Jabhat al Nusra, including many foreigners (Mortada 2013).

In this context anti-government armed Islamist groups were accused of using chemical weapons. The main foreign support group for the Syrian Islamists, Jabhat al Nusra, were reported to have seized a chemical factory near Aleppo in December 2012 (Gerard Direct 2012). Then in March the Syrian Government complained to the UN that sarin gas had been used in a major battle with the Islamists at Khan al Assal, west of Aleppo. The Syrian news agency SANA reported that terrorists had fired a rocket ‘containing chemical materials’, killing 16 people and wounding 86, soldiers and civilians. The death toll later rose to 25 (Barnard 2013). The Muslim Brotherhood-aligned British-based source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, along with other anti-government ‘activists’, confirmed the casualties but insinuated that the Syrian Army might have used the weapons and ‘accidentally’ hit themselves (Barnard 2013). Western media reports mostly elevated the Islamist counter-claims to the level of the Government’s report. In April 2013 Jabhat al Nusra was reported as having gained access to chlorine gas (NTI 2013).

About Khan al Asal, a 19 March statement from Syria’s UN Ambassador, Bashar al Ja’afari, said that ‘armed terrorist groups had fired a rocket from the Kfar De’il area towards Khan Al Asal (Aleppo district) … a thick cloud of smoke had left unconscious anyone who had inhaled it. The incident reportedly resulted in the deaths of 25 people and injured more than 110 civilians and soldiers who were taken to hospitals in Aleppo’. The following day the Syrian Government ‘requested the Secretary-General to establish a specialized, impartial independent mission to investigate the alleged incident’ (UNMIAUCWSAA 2013: 2-3).

Almost immediately following this, from 21 March onwards, the governments of the USA, France and Britain (all of which were by then directly or indirectly supporting the Islamist groups) began to add a series of incidents, claiming the use of chemical weapons in Syria (UNMIAUCWSAA 2013: 2-6). Washington repeatedly claimed there was ‘no proof’ the ‘rebels’ were responsible for chemical weapon use. They sought to turn the accusations against the Syrian Government.

However, in an interim statement in May, UN investigator Carla del Ponte said she had testimony from victims that ‘rebels’ had used sarin gas (BBC 2013). Then in May, Turkish security forces were reported to have found a 2kg canister of sarin, after raiding the homes of Jabhat al Nusra fighters (RT 2013). In July Russia announced it had evidence that Syrian ‘rebels’ were making their own sarin gas (Al Jazeera 2013).

Despite dissatisfaction over the Houla inquiry the previous year (see Anderson 2015), the Syrian Government invited UN inspectors to visit the Khan al Asal attack site. Details were organised and the UN’s Special Mission finally arrived in Damascus on 18 August 2013. The Mission ‘intended to contemporaneously investigate the reported allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Khan Al Asal, Saraqueb and Sheik Maqsood’, that is three of the 16 reported sites, ‘which were deemed credible’. However, ‘after the tragic events of 21 August 2013’ the UN Secretary General directed the group to investigate that incident ‘as a matter of priority’ (UNMIAUCWSAA 2013: 7-8). The East Ghouta incident and claims of mass gassing derailed the initially planned investigations. Despite the implausibility of the Syrian Government launching a chemical weapons attack, just as it had invited UN inspectors in Damascus, the Islamist claims succeeded in gaining world attention.

2. The East Ghouta Incident

The main armed Islamist group which controlled the area, the Saudi-backed Islamic Front (Liwa al Islam), blamed the Government for gassing children. Photos of dozens of dead or injured children were circulated. Supporting the ‘rebel’ accusations, the US government and the Washington-based Human Rights Watch blamed the Syrian government. Human Rights Watch said it had ‘analyzed witness accounts of the rocket attacks, information on the likely source of the attacks, the physical remnants of the weapon systems used’, and claimed the rockets used were ‘weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces’ (HRW 2013a). Much the same was said by the US Government. Close links between the two should tell us that this was more collaboration than corroboration. A group of Nobel Prize winners would later accuse Human Rights Watch of running a ‘revolving door’ between its offices and those of the US government (Pérez Esquivel, and Maguire 2014).

The New York Times backed the US Government claim ‘that only Syrian government forces had the ability to carry out such a strike’ (Gladstone and Chivers 2013). The paper claimed vector calculations of the rocket trajectories indicated they must have been fired from Syrian Army bases in Damascus (Parry 2013). Yet studies at MIT quickly showed the rockets to have a much shorter range than was suggested. The NYT retreated from its telemetry claims saying, while ‘some argued that it was still possible the government was responsible’, new evidence ‘undermined the Obama administration’s assertions’ about the rocket launch points’ (Chivers 2013; also Parry 2013). The final MIT report was more emphatic, concluding that the rockets ‘could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the ‘heart’, or from the eastern edge, of the Syrian Government controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013’ (Lloyd and Postol 2014).

While western media outlets mostly repeated Washington’s accusations, independent reports continued to contradict the story. Journalists Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh reported direct interviews with ‘doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families’ in the East Ghouta area. Many believed that the Islamists had received chemical weapons via Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the gas attack (Gavlak and Ababneh 2013). The father of a rebel said his son had asked ‘what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry’. His son and 12 other rebels were ‘killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha’ (Gavlak and Ababneh 2013). A female fighter complained they had no instructions on how to use chemical weapons. A rebel leader said much the same. Many of those interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government (Gavlak and Ababneh 2013).

Next a Syrian group, ISTEAMS, led by Mother Agnes Mariam, carried out a detailed examination of the video evidence, noting that bodies had been manipulated for the images and that many of the children appeared ill or drugged (ISTEAMS 2013: 32-35). The videos used ‘artificial scenic treatment … there is a flagrant lack of real families in East Ghouta … so who are the children that are exposed in those videos? (ISTEAMS 2013: 44). All reports came from ‘rebel’ controlled areas. The medical office of the area claimed 10,000 injured and 1,466 killed, 67% of whom were women and children; while the Local Coordinating Committee (an FSA linked group) said there were 1,188 victims; but videos showed less than 500 bodies, by no means all dead (ISTEAMS 2013: 36-38). Even more striking was the subsequent absence of verified bodies. ‘Eight corpses are seen buried. [The] remaining 1,458 corpses, where are they? Where are the children?’ (ISTEAMS 2013: 41). A ‘rebel’ spokesperson claimed that ‘burials took place quickly for fear the bodies might decompose as a result of the heat’ (Mroue 2013).

The ISTEAMS report suggested a possible link with a large scale abduction of children in Ballouta, Northern Latakia, just two weeks prior to the East Ghouta incident. ‘We refer also the list of the victims of the invasion of 11 Alawite villages in Lattakia the 4th of August 2013, where 150 women and children were abducted by Jobhat Al Nosra’ (ISTEAMS 2013: 43). The report said: ‘the families of some adducted women and children … recognise their relatives in the videos’, and called for an ‘unbiased’ investigation to determine the identity and whereabouts of the children (ISTEAMS 2013: 44). Later reports noted that the children abducted in northern Syria had been held in the northern town of Selma (Martin 2014; Mesler 2014), with one alleging the armed groups had drugged those children to create a video, sending it to East Ghouta to be uploaded (Mesler 2014). If this were true, those children were never in the East Ghouta.

At the end of 2013 a Turkish lawyers and writers group issued a substantial report on crimes against civilians in Syria. A particular focus was the responsibility of the Turkish Government, which was backing the ‘rebel’ groups. The report concluded that ‘most of the crimes’ against Syrian civilians, including the East Ghouta attack, were committed by ‘armed rebel forces in Syria’. The Saudi backed group Liwa al Islam, led by Zahran Alloush, was said ‘by several sources to be the organization behind the chemical attack (Peace Association and Lawyers for Justice 2013).

North American veteran journalist Seymour Hersh interviewed intelligence agents and concluded that Washington’s claims on the evidence had been fabricated. Al Nusra ‘should have been a suspect’, he said, ‘but the [US] administration cherry picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad’ (Hersh 2013). President Obama cited as evidence the Syrian Army’s preparation for a gas attack and ‘chatter’ on the Syrian airwaves at the time of the incident. However Hersh said he had found ‘intense concern’ and anger amongst agents over ‘the deliberate manipulation of intelligence’. One officer said the attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’ (Hersh 2013). The White House backgrounder combined facts after the event with those before. Hersh concludes that the White House ‘disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to [wrongly] claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons’ (Hersh 2013).

The UN special mission on chemical weapons returned to Syria in late September and investigated several sites, including East Ghouta. They decided to investigate seven of the initial sixteen reports (UNMIAUCWSAA 2013: 10). This Mission was not briefed to determined responsibility, but rather to determine whether chemical weapons had been used and what had been the results. In a December 2013 report they reported that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, and specifically ‘against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August … in Khan Al Asal on 19 March 2013 against soldiers and civilians … in Jobar on 24 August 2013 on a relatively small scale against soldiers … in Saraqueb on 24 August 2013 on a small scale, also against civilians … [and] in Ashrafiah Sahnaya on 25 August 2013 on a small scale against soldiers’ (UNMIAUCWSAA 2013: 19-21). Notice that on three of these five occasions chemical weapons were used against soldiers. Logically those attacks came from groups were fighting soldiers, not from government forces. A later report for the Human Rights Council (February 2014) noted that the chemical agents used in Khan-Al-Assal attack ‘bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in al Ghouta’; however they could not determine the perpetrator (HRC 2014: 19). The independent evidence was overwhelming and inescapable: chemical weapons had been used in East Ghouta, but the charges against the Syrian Army were fabricated.

East Ghouta chemical weapons incident (August 2013): significant reports
Source/report/evidence Method and conclusion
Carla del Ponte (UN) Pre-East Ghouta: ‘Rebels’ believed to have used sarin gas in North Syria
Various news reports Pre-East Ghouta: ‘Rebels’ (al Nusra) arrested in Turkey with sarin gas
‘Syrian Rebels’ and associates 1,300+ killed, including children, from Government CW shelling (however only 8 bodies are publicly buried)
Human Rights Watch The CW used were only in possession of the SG
New York Times Telemetry evidence links attacks to SG bases (later MIT studies force NYT to modify this claim)
Lloyd and Postol (MIT) Rockets used had limited range and could not have been fired from suggested SG positions.
Gavlak and Ababneh (MINT Press) CW had been supplied by Saudis to ‘rebel’ groups, some locals had died due to mishandling
Mother Agnes / ISTEAMS Images were contrived, no social context, only eight people buried – who are the children?
John Mesler (NSNBC) Parents identified children in photos as those kidnapped in Latakia, two weeks earlier
Seymour Hersh (LRB) Interviewed US officials. Intelligence was manipulated to blame President Assad, false claims used.
Turkish lawyers and writers group (PALJ) Saudi backed ‘rebel’ group Liwa al Islam believed to be responsible.
UN Dec 2013 report on CW attacks in Syria CW were used in East Ghouta; three of five CW attacks were ‘against soldiers’ or ‘against soldiers and civilians’
HRC Feb 2014 report chemical agents used in Khan-Al-Assal attack ‘bore the same unique hallmarks’ as those used in East Ghouta

Independent evidence came from Syrian, Jordanian, Turkish and US sources, and from a United Nations team. Further, many of the displays of children were not reliably linked to East Ghouta. Nor is there independent verification of who those children are and what happened to them. The weight of evidence proves this was another ‘false flag’ incident, designed to attract deeper foreign intervention. The scale of independent reporting which undermines claims against the Syrian Government stands in contrast to the open self-publicity of ‘rebel’ atrocities such as beheadings, public executions, truck bombings, mortaring of cities, bombing of hospitals and destruction of mosques and churches. The fact that the Syrian Army strongly contests civilian atrocity claims (the treatment of captured fighters is another matter), while many of the ‘rebel’ groups publicise their own atrocities against civilians, sets a distinct background to these controversies.

3. Chemical Fabrications and Syria’s Missing Children

After the East Ghouta incident, Islamist groups supported by a range of anti-Syrian governments kept up their accusations, while covering up their own exposures. Jabhat al Nusra claimed the chemicals they were caught with in Turkey were ‘not for making sarin gas’ (Today’s Zaman 2013). Yet video evidence from south Syria showed al Nusra using chemical weapons against Syrian soldiers (Turbeville 2014). In July 2014 barrels containing sarin were reported as discovered in parts of ‘rebel-held Syria’ (RT 2014). Then in 2015 Iraqi Kurds reported the al-Nusra breakaway group ISIS using chemical weapons (Solomon 2015; Ariel 2015). Kurdish fighters seized chlorine canisters after a suicide bomb attack which left them ‘dizzy, nauseous and weak’ (Akbar 2015).

Anti-Syrian ‘activists’, plus US-based NGOs such as Avaaz, the Syria Campaign and The White Helmets, also repeated and extended their accusations, while urging a Libyan styled ‘no fly zone’ (NFZ Syria 2015; White Helmets 2015), clearly intended to topple the Government in Damascus. By 2014 there seemed little chance that would happen. Such one-sided campaigns seemed unlikely to do much except help extend the killings. In April 2014 Al Jazeera accused the Syrian Government of using chlorine gas (Baker 2014), while anonymous activists’ accused the Syrian army of a poison gas attack (Mroue and Lucas 2015). In neither case was there any independent verification. Counter-campaigners exposed the financial and political links between Washington and a range of US-based ‘civil society’ groups like Avaaz (Morningstar 2014; Sterling 2015). Nevertheless, media channels repeated the initial claims of the East Ghouta incident, as though they were fact, oblivious to the evidence. An April 2015 article in the UK Guardian, for example, claimed in its backgrounder that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons and ‘killed up to 1,400 people in August 2013’ (Black 2015).

The smokescreens around chemical weapons have effectively derailed reasonable public discussion about the war in Syria, at least in western circles; and perhaps that was the point. It is sad, though, that reasonable discussion of the evidence should matter so little. Further, the constant stream of fabrications have certainly aggravated and helped prolong the violence. Islamist militia carry out their crimes with relative impunity, often blaming them on the Syrian Government.

Another crime has been buried by the chemical fabrications: the fate of the children kidnapped in Ballouta. Even Human Rights Watch reported this crime (HRW 2013b), if not the link to the children said to have been injured or killed in East Ghouta. This mass kidnapping was just one of many by the Islamist groups. The victims are held for ransom, for prisoner exchanges, or simply slaughtered because they are thought be from pro-government families. The latter was the case with Alawi families in the Aqrab massacre (Thompson 2012), while a failed prisoner exchange was behind the Daraya massacre (Fisk 2012).

However in the East Ghouta incident, several sources (ISTEAMS 2013; Martin 2014; Mesler 2014) now link the Ballouta children to the photos of the dead or drugged little bodies said to be in Ghouta. That is, their images may have been uploaded from East Ghouta but the bodies were never there. While some of those kidnapped were released in a 2014 prisoner exchange, many are still held; and this is said to be why many families in north Syria have not yet more publicly identified their children. The want to see them released. Western media sources continue refer to ’1,400′ dead, without names, but only eight bodies are known to have been buried. In the fog of war, Mother Agnes Mariam has been right all along to insist on names and details of people killed, and not just a recital of numbers, as though these killings were a cricket match. Back in September 2013 her ISTEAMS group posed one of the most most vital questions of this whole affair: ‘Eight corpses are seen buried’. [The] remaining 1,458 corpses, where are they? Where are the children?’ (ISTEAMS 2013: 41).

Notes:

Al Akhras, Samir (2013) Interview with this writer, Damascus, 24 December

Al Jazeera (2013) ‘Syria rebels made own sarin gas, says Russia’, 10 July, online: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/20137920448105510.html

Anderson, Tim (2015) ‘The Houla Massacre Revisited: “Official Truth” in the Dirty War on Syria’, Global Research, 24 March, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/houla-revisited-official-truth-in-the-dirty-war-on-syria/5438441

Ariel, Ben (2015) ‘United States ‘concerned’ about ISIS use of chlorine gas’, Arutz Sheva, 17 March, online:http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/192730#.VSJJc5MY6q4

Akbar, Jay (2015) ‘More evidence emerges of ISIS using chemical weapons as Kurdish fighters seize chlorine canisters after suicide bomb attack that left them ‘dizzy, nauseous and weak’’, 15 March, Daily Mail, online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2995150/More-evidence-emerges-ISIS-using-chemical-weapons-Kurdish-fighters-seize-chlorine-canisters-suicide-bomb-attack-left-dizzy-nauseous-weak.html

Baker, Graeme (2014) ‘Syrian regime accused of chlorine gas attacks’, Al Jazeera, 17 April, online:http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/04/syrian-regime-accused-chlorine-gas-attacks-201441703230338216.html

Barnard, Anne (2013) ‘Syria and Activists Trade Charges on Chemical Weapons’, New York Times, 19 March, online:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?pagewanted=all

BBC (2013) UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’’, 6 May, online: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22424188

Black, Ian (2015) ‘Former ambassador attacks Cameron’s ‘arrogant’ Syria policy’, UK Guardian, 8 April, online:http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/07/former-ambassador-attacks-camerons-arrogant-syria-policy

Chivers, C.J. (2013) ‘New Study Refines View of Sarin Attack in Syria’, New York Times, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/middleeast/new-study-refines-view-of-sarin-attack-in-syria.html

Eva Pal (2014) ‘Talk with Lilly Martin and Steven Sahiounie, part 1’, YouTube, May 10, online:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc2HRk42O-w

Fisk, Robert (2012) ‘Inside Daraya – how a failed prisoner swap turned into a massacre’, 29 August:http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-inside-daraya–how-a-failed-prisoner-swap-turned-into-a-massacre-8084727.html

Gavlak, Dale and Yahya Ababneh (2013) ‘Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack’, MINT PRESS, August 29, online: http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

Gerard Direct (2012) ‘Syria: jihadist al-Nusra Front seizes chemical factory near Aleppo’, 9 December, online:http://gerarddirect.com/2012/12/09/syria-jihadist-al-nusra-front-siezes-chemical-factory-in-allepo/

Gladstone, Rick and C.J Chivers (2013) ‘Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas’, New York Times, 16 September, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/world/europe/syria-united-nations.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1387381766-55AjTxhuELAeFSCuukA7Og

Hersh, Seymour M. (2013) ‘Whose Sarin?’, London Review of Books, Vol. 35 No. 24, 19 December, 9-12, online:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

Hersh, Seymour M. (2014) ‘The Red Line and the Rat Line’, London Review of Books, 36:8, 17 April, pp 21-24, online:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

HRC (2014) ‘Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/25/65, 12 February, online: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx

HRW (2013a) ‘Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria’, Human Rights Watch, Washington,10 September, online: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/09/10/attacks-ghouta

HRW (2013b) ‘You Can Still See Their Blood’, Human Rights Watch, Washington, 11 October, online:http://www.hrw.org/node/119675/

ISTEAMS (2013) ‘Independent Investigation of Syria Chemical Attack Videos and Child Abductions’, 15 September, online:http://www.globalresearch.ca/STUDY_THE_VIDEOS_THAT_SPEAKS_ABOUT_CHEMICALS_BETA_VERSION.pdf

Lloyd, Richard and Theodore A. Postol (2014) ‘Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013’, MIT, January 14, Washington DC, online: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1006045-possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.html#storylink=relast

Malas, Nour (2013) ‘As Syrian Islamists Gain, It’s Rebel Against Rebel’, Wall Street Journal, 29 may, online:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323975004578499100684326558.html

Martin, Lilly (2014) in Deena Stryker ‘The Hidden Australia/Syria Story’, Op Ed News, 22 December, online:http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Hidden-Australia-Syria-by-Deena-Stryker-Children_Community_Death_Government-141222-294.html

Mesler, John (2014) ‘Combating the Propaganda Machine in Syria: The ‘Moderate Opposition’, the Children from Ballouta, and the Sarin Gas Attack on Eastern Ghouta’, NSNBC, 10 October, online: http://nsnbc.me/2014/10/10/combating-propaganda-machine-syria/

Morningstar, Cory (2014) ‘Syria, Avaaz, Purpose and the art of selling hate for empire’, Wrong Kinds of Green, 17 September, online: http://wrongkindofgreen.org/tag/white-helmets/

Mortada, Radwan (2012) ‘Syria Alternatives (II): no homegrown solutions’, Al Akhbar, 13 June, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/syria-alternatives-ii-no-homegrown-solutions

Mortada, Radwan (2013) ‘The Battle for Qusayr: Decisive Victory or War of Attrition?’, Al Akhbar, May 21, online:http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/15864

Mroue, Bassem (2013) ‘Syrian forces bomb area of alleged chemical attack’ USA Today, 22 August, online:http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/22/syria-attack/2683855/

Mroue, Bassem and Ryan Lucas (2015) ‘Activists accuse Syrian military of deadly poison gas attack’, 17 march, online:http://news.yahoo.com/group-syrian-attacks-may-amount-war-crimes-074128323.html

NFZ Syria (2015) ‘Call from Syria: London march 26th April’, 4 April, online: http://www.nfzsyria.org/

NTI (2013) ‘Syrian militants have access to chlorine gas: plant owner’, 1 April, online: http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/syrian-militants-have-access-chlorine-gas-plant-owner/

Parry, Robert (2013) ‘NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis’, Global Research, 30 December, online:http://www.globalresearch.ca/nyt-backs-off-its-syria-sarin-analysis/5363023

Peace Association and Lawyers for Justice in Turkey (2013) ‘War Crimes Committed Against the People of Syria’, December, online: http://www.wpc-in.org/sites/default/files/documents/war-crimes-committed-againts-the-people-of-syria.pdf

RT (2013) ‘Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists – reports’, 30 may, online: http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/

RT (2014) ‘‘Abandoned’ barrels containing deadly sarin seized in rebel-held Syria’, 8 July, online: http://rt.com/news/171076-two-sarin-barrels-found-syria/

SANA (2011) ‘Mother Agnes Merriam al-Saleeb: Nameless Gunmen Possessing Advanced Firearms Terrorize Citizens and Security in Syria’, Syrian Free Press Network, 19 November, online: http://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/mother-agnes-merriam-al-saleeb-nameless-gunmen-possessing-advanced-firearms-terrorize-citizens-and-security-in-syria/

Smith-Spark, Laura and Tom Cohen (2013) ‘U.S., Russia agree to framework on Syria chemical weapons’, CNN, 15 September, online: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/14/politics/us-syria/

Solomon, Erica (2015) ‘Iraqi Kurds claim ISIS used chemical weapons’, Financial Times, 14 March, online:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6e69cfca-ca78-11e4-8973-00144feab7de.html#axzz3WW8sO2k1

Turbeville, Brandon (2014) ‘New video evidence points to al-Nusra chemical attack against Syrian soldiers’, 5 May, Online:http://www.activistpost.com/2014/05/new-video-evidence-points-to-al-nusra.html

Stack, Liam and Hania Mourtada (2012) ‘Members of Assad’s Sect Blamed in Syria Killings’, New York Times, December 12, online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/world/middleeast/alawite-massacre-in-syria.html?_r=0

Sterling, Rick (2015) ‘Humanitarians for War on Libya’, Syrian Free Press, 5 April, online: https://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/report-44442/

Thompson, Alex (2012) ‘Was there a massacre in the Syrian town of Aqrab?’, 14 December: http://blogs.channel4.com/alex-thomsons-view/happened-syrian-town-aqrab/3426

Today’s Zaman (2013) ‘Detained al-Nusra members say chemicals not for making sarin gas’, 13 September, online:http://www.todayszaman.com/national_detained-al-nusra-members-say-chemicals-not-for-making-sarin-gas_326332.html

UN (2013) United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, December, online: https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf

UNMIAUCWSAA (2013) ‘Final report’, United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, 12 December, online: https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf

White Helmets (2015) ‘It’s time to stop the bombs’, March, online: https://www.whitehelmets.org/

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Original article by Tim Anderson [GlobalResearch 12/4/2015]

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Appendix: Some of my own articles about Syria:

Syria Updates: The New Islamic Front And Whodunnit III
Syria Chemical Weapons Attack – Whodunnit II
Demolition Of CW Stockpiles Is Only Contributory Factor In The Syria War
The Four-stage Plan For Syria – Can It Work
Whodunnit in Syria
Syrian Rebels Admit Chemical Attack In Damascus???
Syria: From War To Dissolution With Help Of Media


Iran Nuke Deal And Israel

April 4, 2015

 

israel_iran_nuclearAfter 18 months of negotiating, Iran has come to a preliminary agreement – on 2nd Apr. 2015 – with China, Russia, France, UK, US and Germany (P5+1) on Tehran’s nuclear program. Niw the framework agreement is made but the negotiations for a final deal will continue through June 30th 2015.

In brief according the Iran nuke deal Iran’s stockpile and enrichment capacity will be limited and all nuclear-specific financial and economic sanctions against Iran will end. Officially Israel is against the agreement but there is also other opinions existing.

original

The framework deal

Here are the specifics of the preliminary deal:

  • The UN would end all previous resolutions sanctioning Iran, and would incorporate other restrictions for an agreed-upon time, according to Thursday’s announcements.
  • To build a nuclear bomb, uranium needs to be enriched to about 90 percent. The 3.67 percent agreed by Tehran means it would be practically impossible for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, but would allow it to use nuclear material for peaceful purposes.
  • Uranium is the key ingredient necessary in order to operate a nuclear program. Once it has been enriched, it can be used to generate power or create a nuclear weapon. According deal Iran to cut the amount it keeps from 10,000kg to just 300kg
  • Iran cuts centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104, with 5,060 for enrichment Uranium stockpiles.
  • Iran’s nuclear facility at Fordow will be converted to a nuclear technology and nuclear physics center. The facility at Arak will be repurposed as a heavy-water research reactor that will not be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
  • Inspections – IAEA will have access to all Iran’s nuclear facilities
  • Sanctions – Iran will see sanctions lifted. Sanctions introduced against Iran have had a devastating effect on its economy. Areas such as oil and gas have been affected, while Tehran’s finance sector was also hit. This made it difficult for to trade on the world market, while areas such as Iran’s aviation industry suffered, as they were unable to get spare parts from the US and the West. Once sanctions are lifted, it will be a massive boost to Tehran’s economy as it will increase trade and see new investment into the country.

Risks?

  • Given the political situation in U.S. there is risk that U.S. Congress will not ratify the deal nor remove sanctions or that the new President, government and Congress will cancel the whole possible final deal.
  • There is also risk that Iran will continue to develop nuclear weapons and/or Israel will make air-strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities anyway.
  • There are now 12 sanctions in effect that target Iran’s energy O&G sector. And there are 20 sanctions that target the country’s financial sector, rendering it extremely challenging to conduct any transactions with Iran. The tentative deal neither outlines which specific sanctions will be removed first, nor the sequence in which they will be rescinded.
  • Even if a final accord is reached by June 30, it will take months before weapons inspectors arrive, assess and report on whether Iran is compliant with the accord. Consequently, it is very likely that this could delay the unleashing of Iranian oil into the global market for anywhere from six months to a year or more.

original (2)

Israeli reactions

Israel opposes the terms of the framework agreement, because it allows Iran to retain some infrastructure that could be used for producing nuclear arms if Iran chooses to violate the framework’s terms. In recent months, this issue has clouded U.S.-Israel relations. Israel will not accept an agreement that allows Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and it demands Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period,” Netanyahu said in what could be interpreted as a threat to act against Iran. (Source: VirtualJerusalem )

In Israel there is also other opinions about the Iran nuke deal. Ron Ben-Yishai, the senior military analyst for Israel’s most mainstream newspaper, Yedioth Aharonot, penned a column early Friday morning in which he said the deal was better than expected. Urging caution going forward, Ben-Yishai said that if the current framework reflects the final agreement, “even Israel could learn to live with it.” “We could not have achieved a better outcome even if Israel, the United States, and other countries had carried out military strikes on the nuclear sites in Iran,” Ben-Yishai.

Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid wrote that Israel will have a hard time fighting the agreement, the comprehensiveness of which caught many in Jerusalem by surprise. “In contrast to the messages conveyed in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Congress, the Israeli government’s public position over the last two years and the Pavlovian response that came out of Jerusalem on Thursday night, the framework agreement is not a bad deal at all,” Ravid wrote.

 

There is Jews in Iran too

“We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless, bloodsucking Zionists.” (Ayatollah Khomeini )

The beginnings of Jewish history in Iran date back to late biblical times. Persian Jews have lived in the territories of today’s Iran for over 2,700 years, since the first Jewish diaspora when the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V conquered the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel (722 BC) and sent the Israelites (the Ten Lost Tribes) into captivity at Khorasan. In 586 BC, the Babylonians expelled large populations of Jews from Judea to the Babylonian captivity. Jews who migrated to ancient Persia mostly lived in their own communities. The Persian Jewish communities include the ancient (and until the mid-20th century still-extant) communities of Iran.

Yusef Abad synagogue Tehran

Yusef Abad synagogue Tehran

At the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there were approximately 140,000–150,000 Jews living in Iran, the historical center of Persian Jewry. About 95% have since migrated, with the immigration accelerating after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the population dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000. Today the figure is some 8.000-25.000. There might be discrimination of Jews in Iran but on the other hand Jews in Iran are formally to be treated equally and free to practice their religion.

Iran’s Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and there is even a seat in the Iranian parliament reserved for the representative of the Iranian Jews. Maurice Motamed, a former Jewish Iranian parliamentarian states that in recent years, the Iranian government has allowed Jewish Iranians to visit their family members in Israel and that the government has also allowed those Iranians living in Israel to return to Iran for a visit. Today Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools; it has two kosher restaurants, an old-age home and a cemetery (Source and more e.g. Wiki )

 

My view

If the latest Iran nuke deal will realize and even implemented I think it will be a win-win solution for most of stakeholders with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia. This said especially when asked what is the alternative? From my perspective all alternatives – war, air-strike to facilities or more sanctions – are worse. Iran has spread its nuclear facilities across the country and underground so airstrikes probably don’t delay Iran’s nuclear programme more than planned deal. To Iran agreement lets continue its research and gives it the benefits of nuclear energy as well the benefits of nuclear medical research and gives good change to develop Iran’s economy with wider international cooperation.

 How-Israel-can-strike-Iran-

Appendix 1: Interpretation

Here is a link to the text of the agreement that was presented by the EU.

Here is the text published by the White House. There is different interpretation between these versions.

As was pointed by Iran’s foreign minister. 

Here the larger background and details on Wikipedia.

 

Appendix 2: My earlier articles about Iran nuke:

Iran Nuke Deal Enables The Détente

End Game Approaches on Nuclear Iran

Iran’s nuclear program at the crossroads

Read also:

Iranians And Israeli Instead Of Israel Vs. Iran

 

 

 


Battlefield Yemen – Democracies In Action

March 29, 2015

“If there the offensive develops to be a ground invasion, the Yemenis will prove that their country is the invaders’ graveyard,” (Sayyed Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi)

On Wednesday (25 Mar. 2015), Saudi Arabia announced a launch of a military operation against the Houthis, who currently control large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Saudi attack is targeting Shiite Houthi rebels who are embroiled in a vicious civil war with the majority-Sunni-run Yemeni Government. Houthi militants have reportedly captured large stocks of weaponry from Yemen military sites. Saudi Arabia has reportedly deployed 100 fighter aircraft and 150,000 troops for the operation, Saudi allies have promised at least 100 fighter aircrafts more and U.S. logistical and intelligence support.

Yemen3

The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh. Yemen is the last example about the hypocrisy of Western powers especially if the case is compared to reactions related to Ukraine.

Background

Yemen has a population some 25 million and, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula , bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, Red Sea to the west and Gulf of Aden to the south. The Republic of Yemen was created in 1990 when North and South Yemen united. 53% of the Muslim population is Sunni and 47% is Shi’a. Among Yemen’s natural and cultural attractions are four World Heritage sites.

_81933609_yemen_houthi_controll_624_v7Instability and large-scale displacement, as well as weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, have hindered development in the poorest country in the Middle East. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East.

During last years in Yemen has been fighting between the state and the Houthis in the north; separatist unrest in the south; frequent attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and power struggles between tribal and military factions. By 2009, Saudi Arabia had joined the Yemeni army in attacking Saada – the Houthis’ stronghold – just across its southern border. In 2010 a joint Saudi-Yemeni military campaign was going on in the country’s war-weary north where Sana’a and Riyadh forces were engaged in a fierce fighting against the Houthi fighters.

The Houthis, who accused the Sunni-dominated Sana’a government of discrimination and repression against Yemen’s Shia minority, were the target of the army’s off and on attacks before the central government launched an all-out fighting against them in early August 2010. Same time Yemen’s southern provinces came the scene of U.S. air strikes which Washington claims to be aimed at uprooting an al-Qaeda cell operative in the Persian Gulf state. The political crisis in Yemen started in 2011 when Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country since 1978, finally signed away his presidency in favor of his Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, a fairly weak figure who lacked a significant support base, either in politics or the military.

In August 2014, Houthi rebels swept down from their stronghold in the mountains, demanding economic and political reforms. In September, they seized key state installations in Sanaa. The militants forced the country’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government to resign and dissolved the parliament in the first weeks of 2015. Hadi was under house arrest in Sanaa before he fled to Aden in February, quickly disavowing his resignation. Now Yemen’s fugitive President Hadi has arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
yemen_control-1
On 20th March 2015 suicide bombers attacked two mosques in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 126 people and wounding many others. Worshippers were attending noon prayers at the Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques when at least four attackers struck. The mosques are used mainly by supporters of the Zaidi Shia-led Houthi rebel movement, which controls Sanaa. Islamic State (IS), which set up a branch in Yemen in November, said it was behind the attacks. Yemen is the base of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a powerful offshoot of the jihadist militant group that has carried out similar suicide attacks on Houthi supporters. However, now it seems that IS is also gaining ground in the country. Houthi militia members seized the military airport in Taiz on March 22 without any resistance from Yemeni military forces. Taiz is the third largest city located in the heart of Yemen and the gateway to south Yemen and Aden. (Source: Al-Monitor )

The local players

Yemen is home to what Western intelligence analysts consider to be the most dangerous franchise of al-Qaeda. AQAP stands for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance formed in 2009 between violent Yemeni and Saudi Islamists. In 2000 al-Qaeda suicide bombers rammed a boat full of explosives into a billion-dollar destroyer, the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. Today the danger of AQAP is based to its international reach. For example it is claimed AQAP to be behind the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Earlier AQAP has successfully smuggled viable bombs onboard aircraft on international flights (e.g. cases of sc. “underpants bomber” and smuggled bombs hidden in printer ink toner cartridges on US-bound cargo planes).

a-metastasizing-al-qaeda-implications-to-us-counterterrorism-policy-19-638

The Houthis are members of a rebel group, also known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism. Houthis are a large religious group comprising about one-third the population of Yemen and they ruled North Yemen under a system known as the imamate for almost 1,000 years until 1962. The Houthis are also benefiting from increasingly overt support from forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still has influence in the Yemeni military.

Islamic State (IS), which set up a branch in Yemen in November and is also gaining ground in the country.

U.S. involvement

For U.S. Yemen is important for two energy related issues: one is Yemen’s geopolitical location as one of the world’s most important oil transport routes and the other is undeveloped – some say one of the world’s largest – petroleum reserves in the territory. The U.S. Government Energy Information Agency states that “closure of the Bab el-Mandab could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa. The Strait of Bab el-Mandab is a chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.” In addition to its geopolitical position as a major global oil transit chokepoint, Yemen is reported to hold some of the world’s greatest untapped oil reserves.

The United States quietly opened already in 2008 largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen. Citing an unnamed former top CIA official, the New York Times wrote that then Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country. At the same time, some of the most secretive special operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counter-terrorism tactics, the report said. The Pentagon will be spending more than 70 million dollars over the next 18 months, and using teams of special forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels, the paper noted. Without doubt, the military-industrial complex has a stake in expanding areas to be exploited for oil as well as protecting U.S. oil sources. This is good news to the weapons industry.

There is similar U.S. involvement now in Yemen as it was earlier in Ukraine where various U.S. agencies had their role in Kiev’s coup d’etat. In Yemen e.g. USAID has funded a $3.58 million project to create a secession movement. Project was implemented mainly in Aden as south Yemen is strategically important for Western powers.

The US embassy last month closed its operations in Sanaa after the Houthis took command of the capital, leading to a situation where two rival governments in the north and south are competing for power.

Today U.S is officially backing Saudi attack to Yemen as one can note from White House statement :

In response to the deteriorating security situation, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government… The United States coordinates closely with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on issues related to their security and our shared interests. In support of GCC actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.

Sayyed Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, the leader of Yemen’s Ansarullah movement, said that the criminality and evil forces target all the Yemenis and their public facilities. In a televised speech, Sayyed Houthi asserted that the Saudi-US aggression on Yemen is unjustifiable, noting that the Saudi regime has always funded the plots which destabilze the regional countries. Sayyed Houthi considered that the offensive serves the Israeli and American interests. Saudi Arabia aimed at causing divisions in the various states in the region, yet the Yemeni people frustrated its plots and defeated its terrorist agents, according to Sayyed Houthi. Sayyed Houthi asserted that the Yemeni people relies on Holy God to face the Saudi-Led aggression, noting that Riyadh bets on the US role in the region. (Source: SyrianFreePress )

saudiyemin

Regional battleground

Yemen is a battleground between Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia. Houthi sources also reported they have been promised a year’s supply of crude oil from Iran and a new power plant. Direct air service between Tehran and Sanaa began in February. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) experts are advising the Houthi forces. Against this background, the success of the Houthis is seen as a blow to Saudi interests (and for that matter, American interests) and a boost for Iran. The Saudis also fear the Iranians with Iraqi help may try to stoke tensions and violence in Bahrain next.

In February 2015, a delegation of the Ansarullah movement visited the Russian capital, allegedly offering lucrative oil contracts and trade agreements, predominantly in agriculture. The delegation also included several political parties sympathetic to Ansarullah, including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress. They promised to let Russian energy companies explore the oil-rich Marib province, which the parties said “they would likely control soon.” In reality, however, Russians view the current crisis in Yemen as systemic and long-standing. In this respect, Moscow is not disillusioned about the real prospects of its own presence in the country, economic or otherwise. (Source: Al-Monitor )

Summary: In the fact the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war is going on in Yemen.

My view

The irony now is that Yemen has went into a civil war pitting the Shia Houthis – suspected of being backed by Iran – against Sunni tribes backed by al-Qaeda and U.S. has in fact now forced to fight for al-Qaeda. If that doesn’t seem absurd enough so in Iraq, U.S. is helping Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitaries fight the Islamic State but in Yemen, U.S. is helping the Saudis fight Iranian-backed paramilitaries. Same time U.S. is at final stage to make deal with Iran about their nuclear program much to chagrin Saudi Arabia, the main U.S. ally in Arab world.

The foreign military intervention in Yemen is a clear-cut violation of international law, in particular of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which bans the use of force in relations between states. The unilateral action of Saudi Arabia and its allies is not in any way justified as act of “collective self-defence”. Instead it is interference in a civil war on the side of one party to the conflict, and it will make the domestic conflict even worse.

From my perspective Yemen is last example about hypocrisy displayed By Western powers.  When U.S. backed coup ousted President Yanukovych it was praised as victory of democracy over corrupt society. When corrupt President Hadi was ousted in Yemen so West still suooorts him and even Saudi-led bombing against the people.  One can only imagine what kind of outcry had followed if Russia had started bombing campaign  against Kiev.  So in the world of double standards only politics, money and power matters as usual.

hypocrisy1

 

 


Balkans and Geography of Turkish Stream

March 22, 2015

 

ONLINE JOURNAL 21.03.2015 | 00:00
Pyotr ISKENDEROV
Strategic-Culture.org

Balkans and Geography of Turkish Stream

Russia’s Stroytransgaz has announced that it will build a gas pipeline across (FYR) Macedonia, which could eventually be used as part of a route to supply Europe with Russian gas via Turkey. Macedonia will have its own source of energy. Today the country has energy dependence indicator of 47, 9 percent – the second largest after Croatia (52%). The importance of the pipeline going across Macedonia is immense. It will become the key component of all-Balkans energy system linked to the Russia-Turkey joint Turkish Stream project on the construction of gas route leading to Central and South Europe.

According to Stroytransgaz, the 96.6 km (60 miles) Negotino-Klecovce gas pipeline will cross Macedonia from near the Greek border in the south up to the vicinity of the Serbian border in the north. Stroytransgaz will build 61 km of the link by June 2016.

gasovod

At the moment, Macedonia receives gas from Russia via Bulgaria and Romania as part of the transit through Ukraine (pipe string N8). The existing pipeline has a capacity of 800 million cubic meters a year – not enough to satisfy the needs of the Balkans. The pipeline may be out of operation as early as 2019 when Russia plans to stop using this route, or, even earlier, in case of Ukraine’s further disintegration.

Gasprom and its Turkish partners want to finish the construction as early as they can. Gazprom’s CEO Aleksey Miller said, «Our priorities – to study the route’s options in Turkey, to define the location of the landfall facilities, gas delivery points for Turkish consumers and border crossings between Turkey and Greece».

There is an intriguing collision here. Nature and geography are the factors to facilitate Macedonia’s becoming the key transit country in the Balkans. There is an alternative route going through Bulgaria and Serbia. But Moscow does not see Bulgaria as a partner to trust. Serbia imports all the gas it consumes. Russia accounts for 95% of its supplies. Belgrade faces political problems. It has to prove itself as a reliable partner to become part of the emerging energy system in the Balkans.

caucase-turquie-en

Turkish Stream has the same capacity as South Stream. It can carry up to 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually to Europe with 16 billion remaining in Turkey and 47 billion going farther to the Balkans. It’s enough to satisfy all the requirements. The main obstacle is the gap between the Serbia’s ruling elite on the one hand, and the interests of Serbian people on the other.

No matter Western and many Serbian media outlets have launched an anti-Russian and anti-Gasprom campaign, there is a growing understanding in Serbian society of the reasons South Stream was cancelled. According to a poll conducted in late 2014-early 2015, 39, 8% of Serbs believe the United States is behind the cancellation of South Stream while 20,2% put the blame of the European Union. Only 6, 5% believe that it was Russia’s fault. 2, 4% of respondents think that Bulgaria was responsible because it’s not fully independent while taking decisions on energy and other issues.

Bulgaria mainly, and to lesser extent Serbia, failed to act on their own being too much subject to foreign influence. Today Turkey imports around 70% of oil and gas it needs, its consumer demand is to increase 40% by 2020. Turkey wants to become a key energy hub. It takes part in talks on all the projects under consideration related to new routes going to Europe, no matter some of them are subject to competition. The availability of resources defines energy geopolitics. It makes the Russia’s position be on solid footing.

Of course, Macedonia presents some risks due to internal political instability and the emergence of Albanian factor. The West’s intention to frustrate the Russia’s plans is obvious. There are grounds to believe that the recent round of political confrontation in Skopie was incited by the West. The events have all the making of «color revolution» inspired from outside. But one way or another, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia have to think about their energy needs. Common reason makes them realize that close cooperation with Russia meets their interests. All planned and existing energy routes go to the region from the East, not from the West. Liquefied gas tankers from Qatar or Algeria don’t drop anchors Belgrade, Sophia or Skopie.

 

 


Knesset 2015: Post-Election Notes

March 20, 2015

1425070416233Israeli voters gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a resounding victory in Tuesday’s [17th Mar. 2015] election, despite pre-election polls showing him trailing the Zionist Union. The Zionist Union won close to the total it had been predicted by pollsters, and its  24 seats is more that Labour and Livni’s Hatnua won separately in 2013 (21). However PM Netanyahu’s Likud secured a decisive victory with 30 Knesset seats. Polls before election as well even exit polls differed vastly from the final figures.

Sure the Israeli left did better than it has done in almost a generation but it was not enough. One part of leftist campaign was sc V15 – Victory in 2015 – project of the One Voice group. The project was accused of being operated and funded by anti-right groups abroad, which gave the group money to set up an organization that would cause Netanyahu to lose. The group denied that it was representing foreign agents, and the Likud sought to have the group shut down, unsuccessfully.

Netanyahu picked a fight with a sitting U.S. president and declared there will never be a Palestinian State. The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and his boast that he will continue building in east Jerusalem were signs of his new hard-line approach. Netanyahu was able to surge in the last few days, following even a racist campaign that warned right-wing voters of a “left-wing government backed by the Arabs.” The warnings worked and moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days which pushed him from 19 percent in the polls before the election to 23 percent on election night and cemented his position as the leader of Israel’s right wing. Other right-wing parties were losers – Bennett and the settlers dropped to eight seats in the exit polls from 12, Liberman dropped five, and the far-right Yahad party didn’t even make it in.

As result Israel’s Prime Minister should be able to put together a ruling coalition of center-right parties that is more manageable than his last majority. PM Netanyahu’s nasty campaign alienated major parts of the public in Israel and abroad he put himself in a diplomatic corner e.g with U.S. and EU. The fact that Netanyahu openly campaigned on his opposition to Palestinian statehood means that now he is backed by a majority of Jewish/Israeli voters. Related to U.S PM Netanyahu will need to decide what to do if and when a deal about Iran does go through.

Results

 

Party
Votes
%
Seats
+/–
 
984,966
23.40
30
+12
 
786,075
18.67
24
+3
 
443,837
10.54
13
+2
 
370,850
8.81
11
–8
 
315,202
7.49
10
New
 
283,559
6.74
8
–4
 
241,200
5.73
7
–4
 
215,083
5.11
6
–7
 
211,826
5.03
6
–1
 
165,292
3.93
5
–1
 
125,106
2.97
0
New
 
47,156
1.12
0
0
 
Arab List
4,537
0.11
0
New
 
3,429
0.08
0
0
 
We are all
friends
Na Nach
2,502
0.06
0
0
 
1,977
0.05
0
New
 
Hope for Change
1,519
0.04
0
0
 
Economy Party
1,050
0.02
0
0
 
Flower Party
943
0.02
0
New
 
941
0.02
0
0
 
886
0.02
0
0
 
Living with Dignity
562
0.01
0
0
 
503
0.01
0
0
 
Democratura
243
0.01
0
New
 
223
0.01
0
0
Invalid/blank votes
43,869
1.04
Total
4,253,336
100
120
Registered voters/turnout
5,881,696
72.36
Source: CEC

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Israel’s Central Election Committee, out of a total of 5,878,362 eligible voters 4,253,336 participated in Tuesday’s election or 72.3 percent of the electorate. The final election turnout was 4.6% higher than in the previous election and the highest since the 1999 elections, which saw a 78.7% turnout. Furthermore, the electoral threshold for any party to participate in the next Knesset was 136,808 votes with 33,482 votes to equal one mandate. The election resulted in a record number of women (28) being elected to the Knesset.

The new government

President Reuven Rivlin tried before elections to facilitate a Likud/Zionist Union coalition government, however both parties have ruled this option out. There is in theory also a possibility to centre-left government with ZU, Arab list, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s centrist party. The winner isn’t the party with the most votes, but the one that can unite several smaller parties together into a governing coalition. In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister even though the Likud came in second on Election Day. However I think that now these alternatives are unrealistic.

President Rivlin intends to begin meeting the heads of elected Knesset parties on Sunday [22nd Mar. 2015], to receive their recommendations over who should form the next government. This is the first stage in the coalition building process and will almost certainly result in Rivlin inviting Netanyahu to build a coalition. Netanyahu will then have an initial four-week period to complete the process. Netanyahu has already contacted Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni and Ya’akov Litzman, plus Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. A coalition including all of these parties would guarantee a 67 seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Widespread media speculation suggests that Kahlon will become Finance Minister and incumbent Moshe Ya’alon will remain Defence Minister. Naftali Bennett will be appointed either Foreign Minister or Justice Minister. Avigdor Lieberman wants a senior role, but his negotiation position is weak with his Yisrael Beitenu party having secured just 5 seats. Senior Likud MKs including Gilad Erdan and Yuval Steinitz will also expect to be rewarded with prestigious ministerial positions. Meanwhile, Shas leader Aryeh Deri looks likely to become Interior Minister, a job he has previously held, while United Torah Judaism may be rewarded with the health portfolio.

 Israel-Poll_wednesday

Peace process?

Without any commitment to a two-state solution and Netanyahu’s boast that he will continue building in occupied east Jerusalem may increase pressure – not least from Europe – for moves towards sanctions against Israel.

However in his first post-election interview (with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News), Prime Minister Netanyahu backed off his opposition to a Palestinian state. Binyamin Netanyahu has retracted his pre-election statements, according to which he would not allow a Palestinian state to be established. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Netanyahu said Thursday [19th Mar.2015, AR] in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I haven’t changed my policy.” Netanyahu said his earlier comments were a reflection of changing conditions on the Palestinian side, pointing to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s pact to form a unity government with Hamas, which Israel, the U.S. and most European countries consider a terrorist organization. “I’m talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,” Netanyahu said Thursday, insisting that he would support a demilitarized Palestinian state under a plan that would ensure Israel’s security. (Source: Virtual Jerusalem )

After earlier reports said that the Palestinian Authority was considering suspending all security cooperation with Israel in the wake of Binyamin Netanyahu’s reelection, the PA officially announced Wednesday night that it was hoping to renew talks with Israel, regardless of who was Prime Minister. Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, the PA’s official spokesperson, said that the PA has “no interest in the disposition of Israel’s Prime Minister. The only thing we are interested in from any Israeli government is the recognition and acceptance of the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.” At a press conference in Ramallah, Abu-Rudeineh said that acceptance of the two state solution was the only basis of negotiation with Israel. (Source: Arutz Sheva )

images8OFOQO83In my opinion a two-state solution is possible. The final status agreement has been very close at least since Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings/agreement/plan (1995) where nearly all issues were agreed. The Olmert proposal (2008) was probably the last serious try. (both plans can be found from my document library )

My conclusions

My forecast is that if centre-right wing government continues after elections so nothing will change in peace process, the same is if there will be Likud/Zionist Union coalition government. If centre-left government will be established there might be a slight chance to go forward. In this case there is no need to start everything from the beginning as Mrs. Livni was participating to long negotiations during Olmert’s time. If peace negotiations don’t start or they fail again so there always is another option : unilateral actions; e.g. Israel could annex main settlements from West-bank inside the security fence and return to negotiations about other than so solved border issue when both parties feel need to make a long term deal. Not so bad option anyway from my perspective.

One key aspect with peace process is that historically Likud remains the only party to have withdrawn from Israeli territories – first from Sinai in 1982 under then-prime minister Menachem Begin as part of the peace agreement with Egypt and in 2005, under then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, it unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

The optimist side of me would like to compare situation now with situation ten years ago. Ariel Sharon was war hero know about his hawkish attitude and his position was strong. After this election PM Netanyahu has now a strong mandate and he could make similar brave decisions and broke deal with Palestinian Authority based two-state solution and -67 armistice line – with land swaps to annex main settlements behind security fence to Israel. Remains to be seen if this optimism will be Utopian – I hope not.

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Knesset 2015: Forecast

March 15, 2015

1425070416233On 17th March will Israel have voting for new Knesset and it seems to be creating very interesting scenarios for future.  Last polls show that now there is a real possibility to replace PM Netanyahu with centre-left option.  Centre-right Likud is losing elections to Zionist Union which is a new combination of Isaac Herzog’s Labor party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah.  When PM Netanyahu made decision about early elections he or most analysts hardly were supposing so big change.  It remains to see if possible win of Zionist Union is enough for centre-left led government which could boost Israeli-Palestinian peace process to new track. 

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According to the last polls Zionist Union is getting 24-26 Member of Knesset while the ruling Likud only 21 or less and its right-wing ally Habayit Hayehud 11-12 MKs. A new center-right party – Kulany – with its popular leader, ex-Likud minister Moshe Kahlon might get nine MKs and the secular populist party Yesh Atid 12-13 seats..   

Yisrael Beiteinu is now in the danger zone as FM Avigdor Lieberman’s party barely crosses the electoral threshold and will get only four-five seats if any.  By contrast, both Meretz and Yahad have improved their positions, exceeding the electoral threshold and getting five-six seats.   The religious parties tend to be keeping their positions.  Following the raising of the electoral threshold the main Arab parties – Balad, Hadash, the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ta’al and the United Arab List – agreed to run on the same list in the election, this Joint List, could increase turnout amongst Arab voters to 56%, 10% higher than in the 2013 elections. However, the more hardline northern branch of the Islamic Movement opted to boycott the elections, along the Abnaa el-Balad (Sons of the Village) movement. One interesting detail is that Kadima party is not running in this election at all.

 

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One should make note that the margin of error in Israeli polls is quite high – some four per cent up or down. However if the winner is ZU so there is a huge challenge to form new government – actually putting together a coalition will be very difficult. Herzog would have to persuade parties like Meretz and Yisrael Beiteinu to sit together, and convince one or more Haredi parties to cooperate with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. Arab parties probably prefer centre-left government more than other alternatives. 

As sources I have used e.g following election pages:  JStreet, Haaretz,  Bicom.

Peace process

Solving Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on top of the agenda in this elections .  However the new government will have its impact to peace process to one way or other.  In infograph below there is positions of parties related to main issues of Israeli-Palestianian conflict.  Credits for the figure belong to  MEMO –Middle East Monitorille.

Infograph can be downloaded from here!

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My forecast is that if Zionist Union can form the new government there will be improvement with Israeli-Palestinian peace process based on two-state solution.  If Herzog and Netanyahu create unlikely joint government so probably nothing new with this issue will be invented.  If the new government is right-wing dominated so then there is possibility that Israel will carry out some unilateral actions such as officially annex main settlements to Israel.

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From History: “Beilin – Abu Mazen Plan”

March 8, 2015

 

Image result for beilin abu mazen documentIn 1993,  under the direction of Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) held secret negotiations with Israel’s then–Deputy Foreign Minister, Yossi Beilin.  The negotiations gave birth to the “Beilin–Abu Mazen Understandings,” (or Beilin-Abu Mazen plan or Beilin-Abu Mazen document) the first-ever draft of a final status agreement.

Beilin had worked as a journalist and as a lecturer in political science before going into politics in the mid-80’s. He quickly established himself in the Labor Party’s Young Guard as a militant moderate and as an advocate of equal rights for Israel’s Arab minority and reconciliation with the Palestinians.Right at the beginning, Beilin went straight to Arafat (while he was still in Tunisia) to ask him to join in an effort to work out principles for a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat agreed and delegated the job to his closest advisor, Mahmoud Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen.

From the democratic point of view Yossi Beilin’s action was questinable.  Behind the backs of an elected prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin) and foreign minister (Shimon Peres), a deputy cabinet minister over a period of two years held fateful talks with the national enemy. The agreement was negotiated in secret in Oslo and Stockholm by a team of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, under the supervision of Beilin for Israel, and of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) for the Palestinian side and was finalized in October 1995. 

Yossi Beilin returned to get the approval of Prime Minister Rabin.    However, by the time Beilin had returned to Israel, Yitshak Rabin had been assassinated by Yigal Amir. Shimon Peres was unwilling to go forward with the agreement, and likewise, apparently, Abu-Mazen was not able to find support for it on the Palestinian side. However, many of the ideas contained in this agreement were carried forward to other negotiations, and are reflected in draft agreements regarding refugee status and Jerusalem, as well as status of the settlements and the principle of territorial exchange.

But when the document was leaked to the press, Abbas tried to distance himself from it and to minimize its importance. The document was never formally published and never adopted by the Israelis or the Palestinians. PLO officials disavowed its existence, but the proposal found its way into circulation. Although the proposal was never completely accepted, some of the ideas presented in it were thought to be good compromises in resolving certain issues in final status negotiations later on.

  • Borders: Israel will withdraw to the 1967 armistige line/borders, except for certain territorial exchanges (land swaps).  Israel would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Settlements: Israelis remaining within the borders of the Palestinian State would be subject to Palestinian sovereignty and Palestinian rule of law. They would be offered Palestinian citizenship or could choose to remain as alien residents
  • Jerusalem: Related to Jerusalem one Municipality would be maintained in the form of a Joint Higher Municipal Council, with two (Israeli and Palestinian) sub-municipalities. The Palestinian boroughs would be under Palestinian sovereignty; the Israeli boroughs under Israeli sovereignty.  The Western part of the city, would be the capital of Israel, called “Yerushalayim”; the Arab Eastern part would be the capital of Palestine, called “al-Quds”.
  • Refugees: Whereas the Israeli side acknowledges the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the war of 1947-1949. It further acknowledges the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the Palestinian state and their right to compensation and rehabilitation for moral and material losses. In turn, the Palestinians would give up their right of return to Israel proper and instead encourage Palestinian refugees to settle in the new Palestinian state.

 

Follow-up

In January 1997, Beilin and Michael Eitan, a Likud Member of Knesset, announced that they had arrived at a set of guiding principles for Israel’s negotiating position in the final status talks, quite similar to the reported details of the Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan. The Beilin-Eitan Agreement was released as the Likud-Labor consensus on a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. Neither the Likud nor Labor leadership has endorsed the Beilin-Eitan plan.

At Camp David in 2000  Israel practically proposed the Beilin-Abu Mazen formula to the Palestinians. It was a little less on the settlements, a little more on Jerusalem. Afterward, in the months following Camp David, Israel went much further and proposed n enhanced version of the Beilin-Abu Mazen formula to the Palestinians.

At Taba, Israel offered the Palestinians a super-enhanced version of Beilin-Abu Mazen, but even the super-enhanced version could not bring home the Palestinians.

 

Conclusion

Beilin and Abu Mazen managed to produce what seemed to be the first solid evidence that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is soluble. They  had drawn up Documents solemnly declaring that no serious problem stood in the way of a peace treaty with the Palestinians – not Jerusalem, nor Jewish settlements in the territories, nor the Palestinian demand for a right of return for their refugees. The document shows what the real back channel work can achieve.

The text below – as well in my document library – is unofficial, but is believed to be substantially correct. It is believed that in addition, there may have been informal letters exchanged concerning the status of Jerusalem and other matters that were not made public.

“Beilin – Abu Mazen document” – Framework for the conclusion of a final status agreement between Israel the PLO – Non-UN document (31 October 1995).

 


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