Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Utumno, Jun 14, 2014.
Taking Idlib slowly
The Neocons and the pro Zionists are out trying negate the negative information coming out about the OPCW
Democrats pledge sharp turn in US ties with Saudi Arabia
The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is set to take a sharp turn if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020.
At the most recent Democratic primary debate, several candidates advocated rethinking the U.S.-Saudi relationship, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state.
Such a break with a U.S. partner would come after President Trump has resisted congressional pressure to punish Riyadh over issues that have angered lawmakers, choosing instead to cozy up to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I do think that the relationship is in store for change. The real question is how fundamental that change will be,” said Andrew Miller, deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
“I think it is important to understand that the mere fact that this debate is occurring about Saudi Arabia during the Democratic primary and that you have candidates who previously would be much more circumspect in what they said about Saudi Arabia criticizing them so directly is a real sign of the underlying problem for the kingdom and for Mohammed bin Salman,” he added.
“The ground has shifted under their feet, and if there is a new administration, if there’s any administration other than the Trump administration, which seems determined to protect Mohammed bin Salman, I think it’s going to be very difficult for the Saudis to manage that relationship.”
Lawmakers in both parties have been infuriated with Saudi Arabia since its 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
They have also grown increasingly disillusioned with Riyadh as the devastation deepens for civilians in the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen.
In response, Congress has passed resolutions to end U.S. support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen and block a package of emergency arms sales the Trump administration approved for Saudi Arabia.
But Trump vetoed those resolutions and has generally resisted harsh penalties against Saudi Arabia or Prince Mohammed. Trump has argued a U.S. alliance with the Saudis is necessary to counter Iran and protect a significant source of the global oil supply. He has also argued a break in relations would disadvantage U.S. arms manufacturers without helping the region.
But at the Democratic debate this past Wednesday, several candidates painted a picture of a fundamentally different U.S.-Saudi relationship under their leadership.
In answering a question about China, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also condemned the “human rights violations” of the United States “refuel[ing] Saudi jets to bomb Yemeni children.”
Asked about Saudi Arabia, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said “we need a new foreign policy in this country,” adding that “when the president did not stand up the way he should have to that killing and that dismemberment of a journalist with an American newspaper, that sent a signal to all dictators … across the world that that was OK, and that's wrong.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was the lead Senate sponsor of the resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen, mused that he “may have been the first person up here to make it clear that Saudi Arabia not only murdered Khashoggi, but this is a brutal dictatorship which does everything it can to crush democracy, treats women as third-class citizens.”
“And when we rethink our American foreign policy, what we have got to know is that Saudi Arabia is not a reliable ally,” Sanders continued. “We have got to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room under American leadership and say we are sick and tired of us spending huge amounts of money and human resources because of your conflicts.”
Biden, meanwhile, pledged to end arms sales to the Saudis.
“I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them; we were going to in fact make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” he said. "There's very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”
Biden’s pledge goes further than even the policy of his former boss, then-President Obama.
Obama alienated Saudi Arabia by brokering the Iran nuclear deal. But he then offered more military aid such as backing the Yemen campaign and arms sales to assuage the Saudis’ concerns.
Toward the end of his tenure, though, as the war in Yemen worsened and the civilian death mounted, Obama halted the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia – a decision Trump reversed.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Sanders supporter who led the effort in the House to end U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen, said he’s hopeful the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia would change should any of the Democrats win in 2020.
“I believe that the Democratic Party understands that Saudi Arabia has been responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis currently in the world in Yemen,” Khanna said, referring to the war in Yemen. “Khashoggi was murdered because he had the courage to speak out about Yemen. So there will be a fundamental re-evaluation of that alliance in my view no matter who the Democratic president is.”
Miller, deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said there are a number of factors that have led Democrats to this point with the Saudis, from the war in Yemen to Khashoggi’s death to public opinion of the Saudis reaching a “nadir” in the United States.
The underlying reason, though, is Prince Mohammed himself, Miller said.
“It’s going to be very difficult for MBS rehabilitate his reputation and shake off this record of impetuousness, of poor decision-making,” Miller said, using the crown prince’s nickname. “So while there will still be a desire for cooperation with Saudi Arabia on mutual interests, like counter-terrorism, like the flow of oil, you’re just not going to have as close of a relationship given that you have such an unpredictable and such an untrustworthy leader ahead Saudi Arabia.”
Asked about the Democratic candidates’ comments on Saudi Arabia during the debate, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the kingdom’s role as an “important and strategic ally … would not and should not change.”
But, Menendez added, “what the relationship is should change, in terms of understanding that we’re not going to sell offensive weapons if at the end of the day they’re going to violate the rules of international engagement and kill innocent civilians and that they have to change their human rights record.”
While a Democratic president may not go immediately as far as making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” as Biden vowed, Miller said, Prince Mohammed’s inability to take public criticism may push the relationship to that point.
“It’s clear that there are senior Saudi officials who are aware of the problem that exists, and I do think there is some degree of trepidation about what will happen should a Democrat win the presidency in 2020. I don’t see any evidence that Mohammed bin Salman is concerned,” Miller said.
“Even if he does hear that there is a problem with Democrats in particular, I think he has undue confidence in his ability to manage it. I think he believes he is completely capable of managing a Democratic president and preventing any damage to his relationship with the United States," he added. "I think he’s wrong there."
Chemical weapons body defends Syria attack conclusions after leaks
November 25, 2019
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The head of the global chemical weapons organization on Monday defended the agency's conclusion that poison was used in a high profile attack in Syria last year, after leaked documents suggested two former employees doubted some of its findings.
More than 40 people were killed in the April 7 attack in Douma, a town on the outskirts of Damascus that was then held by rebels.
The United States, Britain and France retaliated a week later by firing missiles at Syrian government targets, the biggest Western military action against the Damascus authorities of the eight year war.
Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded in a report released on March 1 that a toxic chemical containing chlorine was used in an attack. The team was not mandated to assign blame for who used the toxic chemical.
However, the Syrian government and its Russian allies have rejected the findings, saying they believe the incident was staged by rebels and no attack had taken place.
On Saturday, anti-secrecy group Wikileaks published an internal email to the former chief of staff at the OPCW in which an unidentified inspector described a report as having been edited to appear more conclusive than the inspectors' findings.
"I am requesting that the fact-finding report be released in its entirety as I fear this redacted version no longer reflects the work of the team," the inspector wrote. An OPCW source told Reuters the June 22, 2018 email was genuine.
OPCW chief Fernandon Arias said the body stands by the findings it published in March this year.
"While some of these diverging views continue to circulate in certain public discussion forums, I would like to reiterate that I stand by the independent, professional conclusions" of the report, he told delegates on Monday.
"The secretariat has, as it always does, considered and taken into account all information submitted," he said.
Douma is expected to be a major theme at the annual conference of the OPCW being held in The Hague this week.
Criticism of the OPCW's findings over the incident have been circulating since reports on pro-Russian and pro-Syrian media outlets cited another leaked internal document by a former OPCW employee named Ian Henderson in May.
Henderson, who helped the OPCW's team collect samples during a field mission to Douma, wrote that two cylinders found at the scene were most likely placed there rather than being dropped from the air.
The Syrian war has split the OPCW, once largely a technical organization, along political lines, with Russia and its ally Syria on one side and the United States, France and Britain on the other.
A United Nations-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) previously carried out the task of assigning blame for chemical weapons attacks, but Russia vetoed a resolution to extend its mandate beyond November 2017.
The JIM concluded in a series of reports that the Syrian military used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons, while Islamic State insurgents had used sulfur mustard gas on the battlefield.
A new agency unit, the Investigation and Identification Team, is looking into who was responsible for the Douma attack, against the wishes of Moscow and Damascus.
Let's go back in time
“WE KNOW WHERE YOUR KIDS LIVE”: HOW JOHN BOLTON ONCE THREATENED AN INTERNATIONAL OFFICIAL
March 29 2018
WHO BETTER TO advise the bully-in-chief, Donald Trump, on when to make war and kill people than another bully? It’s difficult, after all, to avoid the label — that of a bully — when thinking of John Bolton, the former Bush administration official-turned-Fox News pundit who Trump recently picked as his national security adviser.
“John Bolton is a bully,” José Bustani, the retired Brazilian diplomat and former head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told me when I reached him by phone in Paris earlier this month.
There are a number of people who claim to have been bullied or intimidated by Bolton — including Bustani. The latter’s criticisms of the famously mustachioed hawk have been public for many years now, but some of the details of his tense encounter with Bolton at the OPCW have never been reported before in English.
In early 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was putting intense pressure on Bustani to quit as director-general of the OPCW — despite the fact that he had been unanimously re-elected to head the 145-nation body just two years earlier. His transgression? Negotiating with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to allow OPCW weapons inspectors to make unannounced visits to that country — thereby undermining Washington’s rationale for regime change.
In 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had penned a letter to Bustani, thanking him for his “very impressive” work. By March 2002, however, Bolton — then serving as under secretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs — arrived in person at the OPCW headquarters in the Hague to issue a warning to the organization’s chief. And, according to Bustani, Bolton didn’t mince words. “Cheney wants you out,” Bustani recalled Bolton saying, referring to the then-vice president of the United States. “We can’t accept your management style.”
Bolton continued, according to Bustani’s recollections: “You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you.”
There was a pause.
“We know where your kids live. You have two sons in New York.”
Bustani told me he was taken aback but refused to back down. “My family is aware of the situation, and we are prepared to live with the consequences of my decision,” he replied.
After hearing Bustani’s description of the encounter, I reached out to his son-in-law, Stewart Wood, a British politician and former adviser to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Wood told me that he vividly remembers Bustani telling him about Bolton’s implicit threat to their family immediately after the meeting in the Hague. “It instantly became an internal family meme,” Wood recalled. Two former OPCW colleagues of Bustani, Bob Rigg and Mikhail Berdennikov, have also since confirmed via email that they remember their then-boss telling them at the time about Bolton’s not-so-subtle remark about his kids.
Another former OPCW official, then-Special Assistant to the Director-General for External Relations Gordon Vachon, who was in the room for the meeting with Bolton, has confirmed that the Bush administration official implicitly threatened Bustani. The OPCW chief “could go quietly, with little fuss and restraint on all sides and ‘without dragging your name through the mud,’” Vachon recalled Bolton saying, in an email to The Intercept. “I cannot say from memory that I heard Mr. Bolton mention DG Bustani’s children, probably because I was reeling from Mr. Bolton’s thinly-veiled threat to DG Bustani’s reputation.”
I reached out to John Bolton and the White House for a response to these allegations. Rather than issue an outright denial, the White House responded via a press spokesperson that referred me to a section of his 2008 memoir, “Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations,” which deals with Bustani and the OPCW. In the book, Bolton said the U.S. viewed Bustani as a “management disaster” (without mentioning Powell’s praise), but claims to have offered him “a gracious and dignified exit” — if, that is, he went quietly.
To call Bolton’s rhetoric undiplomatic is an understatement. He visited Bustani in his capacity as a top U.S. State Department official, yet his behavior was more thuggish. How on earth can a senior diplomat, representing a democratic government, justify implicitly threatening the children of an international official in order to win a political argument? How is such a person now fit to hold the office of national security adviser — the most senior position in the U.S. government that doesn’t require an election win or Senate confirmation?
“The problem with this man is that he’s so ideological, so brutal; he doesn’t open the door to dialogue,” the former OPCW chief told me on the phone. “I don’t know how people can work for him.”
BOLTON’S HISTORY OF bullying, in fact, is well-documented. Carl W. Ford Jr, the State Department’s former intelligence chief, called Bolton “a serial abuser” of junior employees and “a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.” Testifying before the Senate in 2005, Ford discussed the case of Christian Westermann, the former chief bioweapons analyst at the State Department who had refused to sign off on a speech accusing Cuba of possessing a secret bioweapons program and had been “berated” by Bolton, who “then tried to have him fired.”
Melody Townsel, a former U.S. Agency for International Development contractor, said she was harassed by the short-tempered Bolton, then a lawyer in the private sector, on a visit to Kyrgyzstan in 1994: “Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel — throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman,” she later recalled, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
According to Time magazine, his former boss Colin Powell privately warned Republican senators in 2005, during the confirmation hearings for Bolton’s controversial nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that “he had been troubled by the way Bolton had treated subordinates who did not agree with him.”
Yet the big problem is that Bolton — the “madman,” the “serial abuser,” the “bully” — happens to also be pretty effective at getting things done. This is perhaps what makes him so dangerous. Take the case of Bustani and the OPCW: Bolton succeeded in having the Brazilian removed from his post. Only a few weeks after the U.S. official’s visit to the Hague, the OPCW chief was “pushed out of office” in an extraordinary meeting of the organization’s member countries (and in a decision, incidentally, that an administrative tribunal of the International Labour Organization would later call “unlawful”).
Bolton himself proudly recalled in his memoir how then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., criticized his views while praising his abilities during the 2001 congressional hearings to confirm him as under secretary of state. “My problem with you, over the years, has been, you’re too competent,” Biden remarked, according to Bolton. “I mean, I would rather you be stupid and not very effective.
Now, therefore, is the time to panic; now is the moment to sound the alarm. The bullies have come together. The “ideological” and “brutal” Bolton is about to be given a desk a few feet away from the Oval Office. As national security adviser, he’ll be the first one in the room and the last one out. “Trump is utterly ignorant of the world, prone to making impulsive decisions, and tends to defer to the most forceful voice in the room, especially when it conveys information with confident bluster,” observed Damon Linker in the The Week. “That would give Bolton enormous power to shape policy — which means the power to get the United States to launch big new wars as well as expand the numerous ones we’re already waging across wide swaths of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.”
Is it any wonder, then, that Bustani — who did so much to prevent the threat of conflict and the proliferation of chemical weapons before being ousted by Bolton — believes the latter’s appointment as Trump’s national security adviser could spell “disaster” for the world?
I'm trying to find this one video of Russian bombardment in Syria that looked like the end of the world, it's in this thread but the FB link died and nothing I have seen ever looked like that.
It looked like endless thermobaric and moab type ordnance.
US 'Shock and Awe' looked miniscule in comparison, even the invasion of Baghdad was tiny comparably bombardment wise.
Going to re confirm Israel has lost multiple planes to Syrian AA, Israel as a policy never acknowledges losses unless it's unavoidable.
The U.S. Is Firing Blanks Against a New Iranian Threat
The end of a United Nations arms embargo next year could turbocharge Tehran’s military power.
November 25, 2019
Having played his aces too early on Iran’s nuclear program, President Donald Trump now has only a weak hand against a new threat from the Islamic Republic. The Pentagon is warning that the regime will buy advanced conventional weapons — like tanks and jet fighters — toward the end of next year, when a United Nations embargo ends.
In a compromise linked to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers, the UN agreed that starting in October 2020, the regime could purchase arms it doesn’t produce. Iran is already in talks with Russia to buy Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, T-90 tanks, S-400 air-defense systems and Bastian coastal defense systems. It may also be in the market for Chinese military hardware.
The Trump administration has been trying to rally support for extending the embargo. At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned that allowing the Islamic Republic access to sophisticated weapons would “create new turmoil” in the Middle East.
Pompeo is right: Iran has used its existing military strength and capabilities to prop up the dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to equip Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as proxy militias in Iraq and Yemen. It will likely use new arms to strengthen these groups and menace other states in the region.
But Pompeo can expect no sympathy in the Security Council — and not just because at least two other veto-wielding permanent members, China and Russia, are potential arms suppliers to Iran. By pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear deal against the pleas of the other signatories, the Trump administration may not even be able to count on the support of France and Britain.
The U.S.’s most powerful non-kinetic weapon — economic sanctions — should scare off most arms manufacturers. The real test will come when Russian and Chinese suppliers have to weigh their options between U.S. sanctions and Iranian orders worth billions of dollars.
The sanctions will make it impossible for them to do business in the U.S., and hard to sell to others who want to remain on good terms with the Americans. Sanctions can also be deployed with great effectiveness against executives and officials. Against that, the individuals may have to weigh political pressure from Moscow and Beijing to make the deals.
The best the Trump administration may be able to do is tighten the sanctions that bar the Iranian regime from many financial transactions — and hope that arms manufacturers won’t do business with a regime that can’t actually pay. The U.S. may also have to end waivers on Iranian hydrocarbons exports, to prevent any oil-for-weapons deals.
This will especially infuriate the Chinese, at a time when Trump needs Beijing’s cooperation to get a new trade deal.
How might China and Russia respond? They may have reasons to keep Iran from becoming too strong militarily. Russia is in competition with Iran for influence in Syria, and may not want Assad to have access to Iranian tanks and jets. Beijing might reckon that a more powerful Iran would be more capable of disrupting oil supplies from the Middle East, which are essential to the Chinese economy.
China will not have been reassured by Tehran’s latest stunt to rattle its Arab neighbors: dispatching a flotilla to the coast of Yemen, an unsubtle threat against shipping in the mouth of the Red Sea, just as Iran poses one in the Persian Gulf.
But the worst-case scenario is that China and Russia might create a mechanism to circumvent American sanctions, and challenge the U.S. preeminence in the global financial system. The Europeans have tried that with Instex, a “special purpose vehicle” created to shield their trade with Iran. But it has come to naught, mainly because no European companies dare to run the gauntlet of American sanctions.
Might Russian and Chinese arms manufacturers be more willing to take the risk? Trump and Pompeo can do little more than keep their fingers tightly crossed.
DID AN AMERICAN BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPIST PLAY A ROLE IN THE IMPRISONMENT OF IRANIAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS?
November 27 2019
IN SEPTEMBER 2017, a group of Iranian environmentalists working on Asiatic cheetah preservation with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation felt a pang of alarm. Thomas S. Kaplan, a billionaire precious metals investor then best known for his fine art collection, had just made a surprise public appearance in New York at the annual conference of United Against Nuclear Iran. The Iranian environmentalists were concerned because their group had gotten aid from one of Kaplan’s nonpolitical charities. Now, he was speaking before a group that was extremely hostile to their country.
They were right to be alarmed. Within a few months, several of the group’s members would find themselves behind bars — hit with espionage charges by Iran’s notorious judiciary.
Last week, in a closed-door trial that has been criticized for violating due process standards, eight defendants were found guilty on charges of collaborating with an “enemy state,” according to the Washington Post. Six of the eight were sentenced to between six and 10 years in prison, and sentences for the others remain unclear. The case will now likely head to appeal, where advocates for the environmentalists hope that the verdict will be overturned. In either case, their ordeal seems nowhere near its end: The guilty verdict looks to be just another waypoint in a saga that began two harrowing years ago.
Kaplan’s ties to United Against Nuclear Iran had apparently not been clear to the environmentalists until his 2017 appearance at the conference. Founded in 2008, UANI, as the group is known, is a hawkish advocacy group that led the campaign against the Iran nuclear deal and promotes aggressive U.S. policies toward Iran. Though Kaplan’s ties to UANI were known, they had not been widely publicized. But at the group’s confab in 2017, held at the swanky Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, Kaplan publicly discussed his role as one of the organization’s major funders.
In a short speech introducing a panel of speakers — including former CIA director and U.S. military commander David Petraeus, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, and former U.S.-Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross — Kaplan compared contemporary Iran to the expansionist empires of Persian antiquity. In his remarks, he colorfully described the country as a “reticulated python” devouring the other countries of the Middle East. He further suggested that Iran’s Shiite Muslim beliefs led it to pursue a strategy of “taqiyya,” or religious dissimulation, allowing it to conceal its true imperial aims.
The gathering was a shot across the bow of Iran’s leadership, coming less than a year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to get tough against the Islamic Republic. Appearing at the UANI event was a significant political coming out for a wealthy philanthropist like Kaplan. His support of a group pushing confrontation with Iran suddenly put him at the heart of one of the most sensitive foreign policy issues in the United States. But inside Iran, Kaplan’s speech sowed distress among a group of people who had nothing to do with his high-stakes game of geopolitics.
While the Iranian government bears ultimate responsibility for its actions against the environmentalists, the story of their arrest, detention, and prosecution suggests that political speech made on the other side of the world can have a potentially dangerous ripple effect.
“People do not understand the impact that their reckless words can have on the lives of people on the other side of the world,” said Ramin Seyed-Emami, whose father, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died behind bars shortly after being taken into Iranian custody in the case. “They can do serious harm to people living in very delicate circumstances in Iran.”
AN ORGANIZATION FOUNDED by Kaplan, Panthera supports projects around the world to protect threatened wild cat species. One of Panthera’s many local NGO partners is based in Iran, the small Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Panthera had been providing technical support and advice to the foundation for its work on endangered cheetahs. The environmentalists were said to be in constant touch with Iran’s government about the outside help they were receiving.
Shortly after the UANI conference, however, officials with Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation sent Panthera an urgent letter, first reported by National Geographic and obtained by The Intercept. The letter, sent a few weeks after Kaplan’s speech, expressed obvious concern about Kaplan. “A recent speech and various statements by your Founder and Chairman, Mr. Tom Kaplan and a recent article reiterating same, together with his association with the advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran has caused us much alarm and consternation,” said the letter from Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation Board Chair Mahindokht Dehdashtian to Panthera president Luke Hunter. (Hunter is no longer with Panthera and directed The Intercept’s press inquiry to the group.)
“His allegations about our country are absolutely baseless and his statements are insulting to our country and its people,” the letter continued. “We are very sorry to see personal politics have a negative impact on conservation, but these are unusual times.”
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The comments reflected an obvious attempt by the Iranian environmentalists to distance themselves from a Kaplan-funded organization like Panthera. Sources close to the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter, as well as former employees with the big-cat charity, say that Panthera never responded to their letter.
The environmentalists’ efforts, though, came tragically late. A few months after the UANI conference, in January 2018, Iranian authorities arrested Morad Tahbaz, the founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, along with eight other conservationists.
The Iranian prisoners have become a cause célèbre among environmentalists, Iranian reformers, and opponents of the regime alike. Their story is one of the politicization of environmental issues — where, for instance, poor environmental management is weaponized by foreign adversaries for propaganda purposes. Yet it is also the story of a billionaire at the center of a burgeoning geopolitical storm. Kaplan’s money has traveled around the world and back, and his political and environmental activism appear to have finally collided.
“While I do not know what has exactly happened to the PWHF environmentalists in prison, I suspect they have repeatedly faced one troubling question during interrogations: ‘why does an American Jewish billionaire, who funds an anti-Iran organization care so much about conserving cheetahs in Iran?'” Kaveh Madani, a former deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment and now a fellow at Yale, wrote in a Medium post. “Playing reckless political and security games with the environment jeopardizes the sincere and legitimate actions, and even lives of innocent environmentalists.”
The results have been catastrophic for the imprisoned environmentalists. Seyed-Emami, who held dual citizenship in Iran and Canada, died at age 63 in custody at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison a month into his detention. The government claims the death was a suicide. Shortly after his death, Seyed-Emami’s son Ramin posted a statement to Instagram. “The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” he wrote. “They say he committed suicide. I still can’t believe this.” Others among the group of detained environmentalists have said they faced mistreatment behind bars.
News of the government’s case has only trickled out from Iranian state media, which reported on allegations that the environmentalists had been helping monitor Iran’s covert military sites. Numerous reports on government-affiliated news websites have tried to tie the environmentalists to espionage and speculated about their relationship with Kaplan himself. The government claimed that camera traps set up by the Persian Wildlife members to monitor cheetahs had been used as part of a plot to gather intelligence on secretive missile launch sites in the country.
Cole Burton, a conservationist at Canada’s University of British Columbia, told PRI this August that it is unlikely such low-resolution, motion-triggered cameras, designed to capture the movements of passing animals, would be a useful tool for gathering such information.
Following their arrests, five of the environmentalists were charged with national security offenses by Iran’s judiciary — crimes that could carry a possible death penalty. Their trial was marred by accusations of torture and failures of due process. At a hearing this February, Niloufar Bayani, one of the detained, rejected the espionage accusations and described torture she claims to have suffered in custody. Bayani reportedly told the court, “If you were being threatened with a needle of hallucinogenic drugs [hovering] above your arm, you would also confess to whatever they wanted you to confess.”
LIKE MANY WEALTHY people with a taste for philanthropy, Kaplan’s money is spread around an assortment of charities. According to its website, Panthera supports projects around the world protecting wild cat species from Latin America to China. There is no evidence that Kaplan’s interest in conservationism ever crossed over with his hard-line geopolitics, or that Panthera’s activities have been influenced by its funder’s political leanings. But to the paranoid, authoritarian security services of a government like Iran’s, any connection between a local conservation NGO and an organization like Panthera can easily look like a conspiracy in the making.
The Iranian government has grounds to view Kaplan as a powerful enemy. UANI’s work goes well beyond advocacy against Iran in Washington. The group’s board includes a number of former top officials from intelligence and national security agencies in the U.S. and Israel. And UANI appears to have a working relationship with the American national security state: In 2015, a federal judge threw out a civil lawsuit against the group when the U.S. government intervened to assert state secrets — a highly unusual step in a civil suit between private parties.
Kaplan also rubs elbows with a laundry list of Iran’s geopolitical foes, particularly officials from the Persian Gulf monarchies. In an article published by a United Arab Emirates-owned media outlet this February, Kaplan described the Emirates and its leaders as “closest partners in more facets of my life than anyone else other than my wife.” The New York Times recently noted that that Kaplan — along with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Nicholas Sarkozy — was a guest of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who reportedly funds Panthera, at his annual salon in Abu Dhabi last December.
Panthera itself also has ties to individuals connected with the national security apparatuses of Israel and the United States. The “Conservation Council” listed on Panthera’s website includes David Petraeus, as well as a former official from Israel’s internal secret service, the Shin Bet. Individuals associated with UANI sit on the council, though these affiliations are not listed on the site. Top government officials from the UAE are also listed, including the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, and U.N. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh. In June, Kaplan signed an agreement tying Panthera to an Arabian leopard conservation initiative founded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the online news portal Intelligence Online. In 2018, several months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives close to bin Salman, Kaplan was spotted in the crown prince’s royal box at an automobile race outside Riyadh.
Panthera and Kaplan did not respond to requests for comment about this article. They have never made any public comments about the arrest of their local partners in Iran. UANI did not respond to a request for comment and neither did the Iranian consulate in New York.
Kaplan’s anti-Iran advocacy, meanwhile, has continued apace. At UANI’s September 2018 conference, while the Iranian conservationists languished in jail, Kaplan showed up again. His appearance, dubbed into Farsi by Voice of America’s Persian language service, seemed calculated to provoke. In front of the cameras, Kaplan was presented with a framed Iranian rial, in recognition of his efforts to help devalue Iran’s currency.
An “Any Hope for Nature” campaign poster showing detained environmental activists, from left to right, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
Image: Courtesy Mehran Seyed Emami
THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS’ CASE has become a cause for concern among their colleagues around the world. But the case has also generated anger over the dangerous politicization of environmental issues in Iran and elsewhere. At least one former employee of Panthera, who had contact with the Iranian environmentalists, believes that Kaplan’s decision to mix politics with his environmental interests recklessly endangered Panthera’s local Iranian partners.
“As conservationists, we are focused on our subjects. Regardless of the nature of local governments, we try and work with them to find compromises to get them to enact policies help protect endangered species and the environment,” Tanya Rosen, who worked at Panthera for six years, told The Intercept. “Until recently, nobody really paid attention to the implications of having certain donors.”
During her time at Panthera, Rosen, who headed the organization’s snow leopard program in Central Asia, had contact with the Iranian environmentalists now languishing in prison. She described them as apolitical and passionately immersed in their conservation efforts. Before their arrest, Rosen had been working with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to set up a summit focused on protecting Iranian cheetahs.
“With the wisdom of what we know now, looking back at the board of Panthera, you start wondering, ‘Why didn’t you see it?’” Rosen said. “It’s important to realize that nobody in Panthera, not even senior staff, knew about Kaplan’s involvement with UANI. He never talked about it, he never made any disclosure about it.”
The politicization of environmental issues — especially on Iran — has been a project not just of private donors but state actors as well. In recent years, U.S. and Israeli government officials have been increasingly vocal about Iran’s environmental problems, including air pollution and chronic water scarcity. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video addressed to Iranians impacted by drought. His video also introduced a website designed to offer them tips drawn from Israeli water management practices. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton — both vocal enemies of the Iranian government — have also made a point of highlighting Iran’s environmental crises in their public remarks.
Earlier this year, UANI released an extensive report about Iran’s environment, drawing further political connections to the issue.
Expressions of concern about Iran’s environment, coming from individuals and groups otherwise better known for threatening war with that country, puts local Iranian conservationists in a difficult position. By politicizing environmental issues, Iran’s adversaries have made the environment an area of interest for Iran’s opaque and frightening national security state, an environmentalist targeted by the regime in connection with the Panthera case, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, told The Intercept. Environmental NGOs in Iran, particularly those with foreign ties, now face a heightened danger from security services that are emboldened to view their field as a potential avenue for foreign espionage.
For Rosen, her experience with Panthera and its abandonment of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation activists has left a bitter taste. After the arrests, she left Panthera, explaining that she “could no longer work for an organization that doesn’t care about the safety of their staff or their partners.”
Meanwhile, lingering questions remain about how the reckless behavior of Panthera’s founder may have contributed to the calamity that befell the Iranian conservationists.
“This is not just about someone who dislikes a country,” said Rosen. “It’s about someone who is actively funding efforts to affect that country’s politics, while supporting local environmentalists who had no knowledge of his politics.”
Turkey is flying US-made F-16s to test a top Russian air defense system as Trump keeps getting sidelined by the US ally
Turkey conducted military tests using a Russian air defense system and an American-made fighter jet on Monday, in a move US officials described as "concerning."
Turkish F-16 jets flew over the capital of Ankara as part of a test of the S-400 missile defense system, which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purchased from Russia for $2.5 billion.Turkey conducted military tests using a Russian air defense system and an American-made fighter jet on Monday, in a move US officials described as "concerning."
Turkish F-16 jets flew over the capital of Ankara as part of a test of the S-400 missile defense system, which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purchased from Russia for $2.5 billion.
The purchase scuttled plans for Turkey to acquire the latest-generation F-35 Lightning II jet from the US, due to concerns that the Russian anti-aircraft system could exploit the US's most advanced stealth technology. The purchase effectively nixed plans for Turkey to buy the US's Patriot missile system.
One US diplomat said there was a chance that Russia had the ability to access Turkey's S-400 remotely, and use a potential backdoor to observe on NATO allies, according to Defense News.
US lawmakers threatened to mount a campaign to levy sanctions against Turkey after it received delivery of a second battery in August. The 2017 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act allows Trump to sanction Turkey for conducting business with Russia.
It remains unclear if Trump will impose sanctions against Turkey, NATO's second-largest military after the US. In 2017, Trump described the sanctions act as "seriously flawed" and said he signed it into law "for the sake of national unity."
"Erdoğan is thumbing his nose at Trump, the US [and] NATO, and crossing another red line on S-400s," Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said on Twitter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday told reporters that the tests were "concerning," but added he remained optimistic on resolving the impasse.
"We are hopeful. We are still talking to the Turks, still trying to figure out our way through this thing," Pompeo said.
Despite objections on the S-400, President Donald Trump, who met with Erdoğan on November 13, described his broader conversations with the Turkish president as "wonderful."
This isn't Hezbollah and the news is constantly lying in the west about this, it's surreal to go back and forth and view the west doing what they accuse Putin/Russia/China of.
The flag that guy holds is Amal
Amal is oldest and largest Shia paramilitary, they were mainly supported by Syria prior to Hezbollah's creation.
In 1985 Hezbollah was created by IRGC members and defeated Amal/Syrian allies along with defeating the Southern Lebanese Army which was backed by Israel and was made up of Maronite/Phalangist Christians (Mia Khalifa's family belongs to this group).
Both are allied and support the Progressive Socialist Party
India is for sure not going to last as a nation, it's going to be split into pieces.
Assad: Iran to re-build new cities in Syria
November 27, 2019
The Syrian regime and Iran yesterday agreed and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build new cities and suburbs in Syria.
The MoU was signed during a meeting by the Syrian-Iranian Joint Committee in the field of Public Works and Housing began at the Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development in Tehran. The meeting was attended by the Syrian public works and housing minister, Suhail Abdullatif, and Iran’s roads and urban development minister, Mohammad Eslami.
The move was reported to have aimed at “promoting bilateral cooperation and achieving a qualitative leap in the field of construction and building suburbs and cities as required by the reconstruction phase in Syria.”
“There are many areas and opportunities for bilateral cooperation,” Abdullatif said, adding that the “obstacles to the progress of cooperation must be removed by implementing executive plans for housing and public services projects in Syria.”
The announcement has raised concerns among Syrian activists of what they described as “potential demographic changes” in the war-torn country.
old but neat to watch Turks storm PKK
U.S. military acknowledges allegations of civilian deaths in Afghanistan airstrike
November 30, 2019
KABUL — The U.S. military command in Afghanistan said it is aware of allegations of civilian casualties after an airstrike targeted Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan. The strike was conducted Thursday in Khost province’s Terezayi district along the border with Pakistan, according to the U.S. military statement.
“We are aware of the allegations of civilian casualties and working with local authorities to determine the veracity of these claims,” the statement said, adding that the strike targeted three Taliban fighters.
American forces in Afghanistan have stepped up the air campaign against the Taliban over the past year as the two sides are discussing reopening peace talks to end the war. During a visit Thursday to U.S. service members at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, President Trump asserted the Taliban is ready for a cease-fire, but Afghan and Taliban officials said informal discussions aimed at jump starting the peace talks were still ongoing.
A local lawmaker from Khost, Janmir Zazai, told The Washington Post the airstrike hit a vehicle, but he was unaware of the number of people killed. The Terezayi district is also known as Alisher.
As the American air campaign has intensified in Afghanistan, civilian casualties have increased. This year the United Nations has recorded record numbers of civilians killed and wounded. According to a U.N. tally released in October airstrikes have killed 579 civilians and wounded 306, nearly a third more than the previous year.
In September the United States dropped more munitions on Afghanistan than in any other month since 2010.
Six more countries join Trump-busting Iran barter group
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden sign up to Instex mechanism that sidesteps US sanctions
30 Nov 2019
Paris, London and Berlin on Saturday welcomed six new European countries to the Instex barter mechanism, which is designed to circumvent US sanctions against trade with Iran by avoiding use of the dollar.
“As founding shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex), France, Germany and the United Kingdom warmly welcome the decision taken by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to join Instex as shareholders,” the three said in a joint statement.
The Paris-based Instex functions as a clearing house that allows Iran to continue to sell oil and import other products or services in exchange.
The system has not yet enabled any transactions.
Washington in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the international agreement governing Iran’s nuclear programme and reinstated heavy sanctions against Tehran.
The addition of the six new members “further strengthens Instex and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” the joint statement said.
It represents “a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” – the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal – the trio added.
They insisted Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal “without delay”.
“We remain fully committed to pursuing our efforts towards a diplomatic resolution within the framework of the JCPoA.”
The 2015 deal set out the terms under which Iran would restrict its nuclear programme to civilian use in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.
Since the US pullout, Iran has taken four steps back from the accord.
The latest was on 4 November, when its engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.
US worried Israel may attack Iran to save Netanyahu
November 27, 2019
US and Israeli military officials met on Sunday and discussed the Iranian threat to Israel, an Israeli military source told the Anadolu Agency.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, gave no further details but Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article by Amos Harel revealing the essence of the discussions.
Harel said that Israel and the US discussed guarantees regarding Iran.
The meetings were held in the presence of Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and the Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
According to Harel, Israel is afraid that the US will desert the Iran issue while America is worried Israel may carry out a unilateral attack against Tehran, forcing Washington into a war.
Harel warned that it is impossible to separate the internal Israeli chaos from the Iran issue; in particular with regards to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment and his failure to form a government.
He also underscored the attempts of the new Defence Minister Naftali Bennett to use the short time he has been in office to “score political points”.
President Trump speaks with Israel's Netanyahu about Iran, other issues
Dec 1, 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran and other issues, the White House said in a brief statement.
"The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues," the White House said in an email statement.
Relations between Iran and the United States have worsened since last year when Trump pulled out of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and re imposed sanctions on the country.
Naftali Bennett: We need to boost our campaign in Syria
According to the defense minister, a window of opportunity exists to strike at Iran in Syria.
NOVEMBER 29, 2019
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett looks at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to an Israeli army base in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, November 24, 2019
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in closed talks that a strategic window of opportunity exists that could increase military pressure against Iranian targets in Syria. In Bennett's view, the IDF needs to act more intensively in Syria.
Bennett called his conception of the tactics needed on the northern front, "braking to the exit." He said Iran's military force is still weak, so the danger posed to Israel is lower than it otherwise would be.
According to Bennett, the current policy under which Israel has been operating in recent years, known in the IDF as the "Campaign between Wars", should be changed, in order to harm Iran's establishment in Syria and other regions.
According to Bennett, there is now an opportunity to curb Iran and even cause it to leave Syria. This is in tandem with the US sanctions that are already seriously hurting the Iranian economy.
"If we do not act today and take advantage of the window of opportunity," Bennett argues, "in the more distant future, the risk will be greater, and they will paralyze us because of the military capability that is going to develop. More offensive military action alongside increased US economic sanctions and political pressure, these are the things that could get Iran out of Syria."
Yeah the media isn't gearing the public up:
Iran Says Joint Naval Maneuvers With Russia, China To Start In December
December 01, 2019
The commander of Iran's navy has confirmed that his forces will participate in joint exercises with Russia and China beginning later this year.
Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi on November 30 said the maneuvers will be held in the northern Indian Ocean from December 22 to January 20.
The admiral’s statement did not give a specific location for the maneuvers, although some media reports said they would be in the Gulf of Oman, site of several recent naval incidents and where Western escort missions are active or about to start.
"The aim of those exercises is to ensure collective security and help boost the security in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, where various incidents, including pirate attacks, are taking place," Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted the admiral as saying.
Two days earlier, Khanzadi had said the exercises would take place in the “near future” and that the joint operation would “send a message to the world,” according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.
“A joint war game between several countries, whether on land, at sea, or in the air, indicates a remarkable expansion of cooperation.”
"[The maneuvers] carry the same message to the world, that these three countries have reached a meaningful strategic point in their relations,” he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 2 said the countries were planning exercises designed to train for anti-terror and anti-piracy missions.
The joint maneuvers will come at a time of heightened tensions between the three nations and the West.
Washington and its Middle Eastern allies have blamed Iran for explosions that damaged as many as four ships outside the Strait of Hormuz in May, and then accused Tehran of using mines to attack two oil tankers in June.
Iran has since seized several international oil tankers in actions seemingly designed to assert Tehran's right to police traffic in the strait, which is a conduit for huge amounts of the region's oil exports.
Washington is leading a coalition of naval forces in the Persian Gulf region to monitor and safeguard international shipping from potential Iranian threats.
Meanwhile, France is leading a separate but similar European mission focusing on the western part of the Gulf of Oman, the eastern part of the Arabian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Moscow for its seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and its support of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine battling Kyiv’s government forces.
Meanwhile, China and the United States and its allies are embroiled in several territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Separate names with a comma.