How Dare Israel Blow Up Hamas Tunnels That Are In Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

A mourner reacts as Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants hold their weapons during the funeral of their comrades killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2017. —AFP
A mourner reacts as Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants hold their weapons during the funeral of their comrades killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2017. —AFP

Tensions rose on Tuesday after an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnelfrom the Gaza Strip killed seven Palestinian militants in one of the deadliest incidents since a devastating 2014 war.

The seven men, from the armed wings of Gaza’s rulers Hamas and allied group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were killed on Monday when Israel blew up the tunnel it said had crossed into its territory and was intended for attacks.

They were being buried on Tuesday in their respective neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya appeared at a funeral in central Gaza attended by a few thousand people, witnesses said, while senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Hayya spoke at one in the southern part of the strip.

“(Hamas) knows how to manage the conflict with the enemy and how to get revenge and strike at the time and place that hurts the enemy,” Hayya said, according to a statement.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to carry out attacks.

Israel said it had been monitoring the digging of the tunnel for an unspecified length of time and was forced to act after “the grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

It said the operation was carried out on the Israeli side of the border and stressed it was not seeking a further escalation.

No tunnel opening had been found on the Israeli side of the border. It had come from the vicinity of the city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, Israeli’s military said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday his country would “not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty, on our people, on our land, whether from the air, from the sea, from the ground, or below the ground”.

“We attack those who seek to attack us.”

Sensitive moment

The operation comes at a sensitive time, with rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas pursuing a reconciliation accord aimed at ending their 10-year rift.

Hamas is due to hand over control of the enclave’s borders to the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday under the deal mediated by Egypt and signed on October 12.

It is due to return the Gaza Strip to full PA control by December 1.

Both Haniya and Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah spoke of ensuring the reconciliation pact remains on track.

“The response to this massacre… is to move forward towards the restoration of national unity because the enemy realises our strength is our unity,” Haniya said.

Senior PA official Mustafa Barghouti accused Israel of trying to disrupt the reconciliation bid.

Separately in the West Bank on Tuesday, Israeli forces opened fire on a “suspect” vehicle, killing one Palestinian and wounding another, Israel’s army and the Palestinian health ministry said. There did not appear to be any connection.

Hamas forces have used tunnels in the past to enter Israel and carry out attacks, but discoveries of those stretching into Israeli territory since the end of the 2014 war have been rare.

In April 2016, Israel’s military said it had located and destroyed a tunnel extending from the Gaza Strip into Israel in the first such discovery since the 2014 conflict.

First test of unity

An Israel army spokesman said on Monday that Israel used advanced technology to locate the tunnel but declined to elaborate.

The army has been seeking to build an underground wall surrounding Gaza that would block such tunnels, among other methods it has been developing.

Israeli leaders have been keen to show they are addressing the threat of tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

A state inquiry in February accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top army brass of being unprepared for the tunnels used by Hamas during the 2014 conflict.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since a near civil war with Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, in 2007.

Since then they have fought three wars with Israel, while Gaza’s two million citizens have suffered as Israel has blockaded the strip.

Egypt’s border with the enclave has also remained largely closed in recent years.

Wednesday’s scheduled handover of the border crossings is a first key test of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal.

Israel has said it will reject any unity government that includes Hamas if the group does not disarm and recognise the country, among other demands.

During the 2014 war, 32 tunnels were discovered, including 14 that extended into Israel, according to a UN report on the conflict.

The devastating conflict killed 2,251 Palestinians, while more than 10,000 were wounded and 100,000 were left homeless.

On the Israeli side, 74 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers.

225,000 Hungarian Holocaust Victims Identified

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Yad Vashem identifies 225,000 Hungarian Holocaust victims

The Holocaust museum’s specially trained team pored over pages of records, mapping forgotten victims no one cared to document on the way to their deaths

Hungarian Jews were marched down Wesselenyi Street in the heart of Budapest's Jewish Quarter, on their way to be deported to Auschwitz. (Bundesarchiv Bild)

Hungarian Jews were marched down Wesselenyi Street in the heart of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, on their way to be deported to Auschwitz. (Bundesarchiv Bild)

Born in Budapest in 1937, Chayim Herzl remembers being taken by his mother Eugenia to visit his father Reuven Salgo at a labor camp outside the city in 1943.

“My hand was small, and I was able to pass some food to him through the fence. That was the last time I saw him,” said Herzl.

He lost his mother in early 1945 when men from Hungary’s Arrow Cross took her  from their safe house outside the ghetto, organized by diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, while he hid under the bed.

Having lost his father at age six and mother at eight, Herzl has only fleeting memories of his parents. Now, thanks to a comprehensive decade-long project to collect names of Hungarian Holocaust victims, completed in a collaboration between Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum Yad Vashem and funded by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, Herzl has regained something he calls, “indescribably priceless” — information.

Through the project, Herzl learned that his father died just days before the end of the war in a POW death march, after having been forced into a labor corps in the Hungarian army fighting on the Eastern front. Beyond that, he now has a document with his father’s signature. The signature, his father’s orthographic fingerprint, is the only piece of his father’s writing Herzl owns.

“Through the efforts of Yad Vashem’s Names Collection project in Hungary, I was finally able to find a sense of closure in knowing what happened to my father. Finding a document containing his signature is evidence to the world that my father lived and a testimony to the tragic fate that befell him and so many Hungarian Jews,” said Herzl.

“The job is not yet complete: My mother, from the day she was taken from me, has vanished from the face of the earth and remains among the undocumented. I know that Yad Vashem is committed to leaving no stone unturned in the effort to identify as many Holocaust victims as possible,” Herzl told The Times of Israel.

Chayim Herzl (Salgo) was born in 1937 in Budapest, Hungary, the only child of Reuven (Rudolf) and Eugenia (Geni) Salgo, née Herzl. (courtesy Yad Vashem)

Ten years ago, approximately 40 percent of Hungarian victims were identified after the advances made by Holocaust historian and Holocaust survivor Serge Klarsfeld. Klarsfeld in the 1980s launched the Nevek Project, gathering names from lists of prisoners of forced labor and concentration camps during WWII. Due to funding and bureaucratic issues, he abandoned his project.

Building on Klarsfeld’s Nevek Project, Yad Vashem-trained historians have added some 225,000 victims’ names over the past 10 years of intensive research. This major project was funded by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah and supported by the late French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, who served as its first president. On Thursday, Yad Vashem hosted an event that included a special tribute to Veil.

“Simone Veil saw special importance in the collection of names of Hungarian Jews. She witnessed firsthand the arrival and extermination of Hungary’s Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was important to her that their identities be memorialized and therefore decided to support this important initiative,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.

But the scope of Yad Vashem’s Names Collection project goes well beyond identifying Jewish Hungarian victims. It is, to date, the largest project Yad Vashem has undertaken and represents a holistic approach to collecting information and documents that far surpasses previous efforts.

“This is the most successful project that Yad Vashem’s Archives has undertaken. The holistic approach of the project has become a model for other endeavors we are currently promoting in the name-gathering process, in particular the Polish Names Project, and we hope that with the continued support of the French Foundation we will achieve similar results to those we obtained in collecting names of Jewish victims from Hungary,” said Shalev.

In addition to Poland, which has signed a cooperation agreement with the institution, Yad Vashem is implementing the information-gathering model it founded in Hungary to its names recovery efforts in the territories of the former Soviet Union and the Balkan States.

In conversation with The Times of Israel Thursday, Dr. Alexander Avram, director of the Hall of Names and the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, explained the project’s procedures and resonance.

Eugenia (Geni) Salgo, née Herzl, mother of Chayim Herzl (Salgo). (Courtesy Yad Vashem)

Unlike the initial goals of the Nevek Project of attaching a name to every victim, the Yad Vashem project “has revealed part of their individual stories, and in some cases, for the first time was able to connect a rare photograph with the name of the faceless murdered,” said Avram.

The intensive work began in 2007 and was conducted under the leadership of three Yad Vashem historians who trained a staff of some 20 researchers who were on-the-ground in Greater Hungary: Hungary, Slovakia, parts of Romania, Serbia, and Transylvania. Through special diplomatic agreements forged with the Hungarian government in 2005 and 2006, said Avram, the researchers were granted full access to all state archives for this specific project.

“It is not easy in these countries to find documentation about the Holocaust and Jews,” said Avram. “They are no key words for catalogues; there is no archive in Europe that has a topic ‘Holocaust’ and catalogues for this or for Jews.”

The team pored over archive material from all sorts of offices — including the Ministries of the Interior, Defense and Agriculture — “page by page, to map those documents important to Jews and the Holocaust,” he said. The important pages were scanned and sent to Yad Vashem, which is in the process of uploading the pages into its database.

The team, trained by Yad Vashem, must be fluent in Hungarian, and have skills in German, Romanian, Serbian and other languages of the region to decipher the handwriting of the pre-World War II documents.

In December, the intensive research collection is finishing, but the team will continue to decipher documents to add more names and stories into the database.

“In our database we have 4,700,000 names of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. That means that more than 1 million who are not identified,” said Avram. Whereas in central and western Europe some 95% of the victims documented as Jews were arrested, sent to transit camps, and then on to death camps, in eastern Europe there is less of a paper trail.

A Hungarian Jewish woman and young children walk towards the gas chambers in Auschwitz. (Budesarchiv Bild)

Although he said the teams of researchers at Yad Vashem will continue to document victims, it is important to note, said Avram, that the teams have “exhausted most of the easy sources, and now look for names scattered in less unexplored sources where they will sometimes read a book of 500 pages to reach four or five names.”

“We are focusing our efforts in the countries where we have a more significant gap in names of victims,” said Avram. In Hungary, for example, although there were organized transports, “nobody cared to register the names of the Jews on the transports,” he said.

Like the case for Herzl, who discovered his father’s fate through the Yad Vashem project, Avram hopes to find more than mere monikers for the remainder of the victims.

“We can sometimes build a personal story. Previous attempts were to document names of victims; in this project we are trying to go further than that,” he said, and transform the name into a person.

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Israel-Hezbollah war is inevitable, sure to be devastating

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel-Hezbollah war is inevitable, sure to be devastating — defense experts

International High Level Military Group paints grim picture of potential conflict between Jewish state, Iran-backed terror group, and what, if anything, can prevent it

Soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90/ File)

Soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90/ File)

A war between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group is inevitable, though not necessarily imminent, and will be unavoidably bloody for both sides, according to an assessment by a number of former generals from around the world, known collectively as the High Level Military Group.

In an extensive report, published Wednesday, the organization details both the IDF’s and Hezbollah’s reorganization in the 11 years following the Second Lebanon War, the last time the sides engaged in all-out combat with one another. The High Level Military Group (HLMG) also describes the strategies each side will use in the apparently approaching war, as well as the potential pratfalls of those plans.

“Hezbollah doesn’t want a conflict to break out at present, given it is still seeking to consolidate its gains in Syria and continue preparations in Lebanon. However, its actions and propaganda suggest that it considers its ability to fight a war with Israel as a given,” according to the report.

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher, May 22, 2010. (AP/Hussein Malla)

“The timing of such a conflict is likely to be determined by miscalculation as much as decision-making in Iran and Lebanon.”

The group said that should such a war break out, it will likely be “more violent and destructive than the previous ones,” due to the improvements that both sides have made to their respective military capabilities in the interim.

The report, “Hezbollah’s terror army: How to prevent a third Lebanon war,” offers limited recommendations for avoiding such a conflict, instead painting it as a war waiting to happen.

The retired generals and defense officials from the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Colombia, India, and Australia who make up the HLMG also express significant criticism of the United Nations for its “evident severe failure” to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a dereliction that they credit with exacerbating the situation.

The former military leaders found that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeeping mission is not enforcing the aspects of Resolution 1701 that are meant to keep armed non-state actors like Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

The 76-page report, which is based on interviews solely with Israeli representatives during a fact-finding mission, comes to many of the same conclusions as those of Israeli defense officials. In preparing the assessment, the HLMG did not meet with Lebanese, Hezbollah, or UN officials.

Yet the High Level Military Group maintains that its assessments are “based purely on the accumulated military and strategic experience of its members.”

Colonel Richard Kemp speaks at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, June 29, 2015 (courtesy UN Watch/ Oliver O’Hanlon)

The HLMG, which includes a former chairman of the NATO military committee, a former chief of staff of the Italian army, a former US ambassador-at-large on war crimes, a former director-general of the Indian Defense Intelligence Agency and the outspoken Israel supporter Col. (res.) Richard Kemp of the British military, was created by the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group founded by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar in 2010 to fight an “unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel.”

This is not the group’s first foray into Israeli security. In December 2015, the organization also released a report that defended the IDF’s actions during the previous year’s Gaza war, finding that the army had abided by the rules of armed conflict and even surpassed them.

Hezbollah is all grown up

Hezbollah was founded in 1985, three years after the start of the First Lebanon War. It was created with Iranian support, and began killing Israeli soldiers stationed in IDF outposts in southern Lebanon with anti-tank missiles, improvised explosive devices, and small arms fire.

Over time, however, the group grew from a terrorist nuisance to a full-scale nemesis with significant sway in domestic Lebanese politics. What was once a two-bit terrorist group now represents the benchmark by which the IDF measures its preparedness.

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah watch a video screening of a speech by the group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, to mark the 11th anniversary of the end of the 2006 war with Israel, in the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon, August 13, 2017. (AFP/Mahmoud ZAYYAT)

In its report, the former generals and defense officials describe Hezbollah as being “widely considered to be the most powerful non-state armed actor in the world.”

As the Lebanese terrorist group has taken part in the fighting on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it has gotten stronger through combat experience and improved access to advanced weaponry from its benefactor, Iran.

“Hezbollah has the political clout of a government, the firepower of an army and the strategic approach of a terrorist organization,” according to the report.

Israel believes that Hezbollah maintains a force of approximately 25,000 full-time fighters — 5,000 of which underwent advanced training in Iran — with another at least 20,000 fighters in reserve units.

A Hezbollah armored vehicle sits at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The terrorist army boasts of possessing attack drones, air defense systems, armored personnel carriers and even tanks. It is also believed to have the Yakhont shore-to-sea missile, with which it can threaten Israeli Navy ships.

But its weapons of choice are missiles and rockets, which it has been amassing and improving, with Iranian assistance, at a fantastic rate.

Hezbollah is believed to possess between 100,000 and 150,000 projectiles, most of them short range. Israeli officials assess that in a future war, the terrorist group would be able to sustain a firing rate of over 1,000 missiles per day.

Increasingly, the IDF believes, the group has been focusing on making its missiles more precise so that it can direct attacks to key Israeli strategic sites.

Israeli explosives experts inspect a Hezbollah rocket after it landed in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, August 9, 2006. (Max Yelinson /Flash90)

“Thus, not only has the sheer numeric scale of the threat increased exponentially, but the lethality is greatly increased on account of larger payloads, range and higher targeting accuracy,” the HLMG wrote in its report.

Israel has been working to counter that threat through advanced missile defense systems like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow. But military officials regularly stress that these batteries will not provide perfect, hermetic protection.

On the defensive side, Hezbollah has been embedding itself in the southern Lebanese civilian population “for tactical advantage (making the IDF hesitate to attack) and strategic advantage (using images of civilian harm to delegitimize the IDF),” according to the report.

The HLMG said that Hezbollah “transformed almost every Shiite village in the country’s south into a military asset.”

Inside and under those villages, Hezbollah is believed to have prepared extensive fighting positions from which it could confront the more powerful IDF.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has also threatened that the terrorist group would not be fighting alone, but would have the support of Iran-backed militias in Syria and other fighters from across the Middle East. This which would force the Israeli army to fight on two fronts or even more, if Hamas in Gaza joins in the conflict as well.

Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah gather in the southern town of Nabatiyeh on May 24, 2015 (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

But the terrorist group has another advantage: the Israeli citizenry is unaccustomed to and unprepared for sustained conflict.

A man inspects the damage to a house following a rocket attack by terrorists from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli town of Yehud, beside Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 22, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Policymakers expressed concerns about how prepared the Israeli public is for the level of devastation that would be wrought in a major military clash with Hezbollah,” the HLMG wrote.

“Younger Israelis are less familiar with the threat of direct attack than older generations, and Israel’s success in neutralizing less sophisticated rockets fired from Gaza may have led to inflated expectations of its capacity to intercept the volume of rockets likely to be fired by Hezbollah.”

The IDF’s nothing to scoff at either

While Hezbollah’s arsenal contains “more rockets than many European armies,” according to the HLMG report, Israel’s military is considered by many analysts to be the most powerful in the Middle East.

Israel’s first two F-35 stealth fighter jets on their maiden flight as part of the Israeli Air Force on December 13, 2016. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Israel is equipped with the most advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and is widely assumed to be a nuclear weapons power,” the retired generals and defense officials wrote.

“Statistical data available for 2014 suggests that the IDF has 410,500 active frontline personnel, 3,657 tanks, and 989 aircraft.”

Israel has also dramatically improved its intelligence on the terrorist group in the 11 years since the Second Lebanon War, an important development, as a severe shortage of accurate information has been blamed for causing many of the conflict’s failures.

By combining the overwhelming military force at its disposal and the intelligence required to direct it, the IDF would seek to end a future war quickly, before the Israeli home front would sustain heavy casualties.

“However, as a potential conflict progresses, it will become harder for Israel’s military superiority to translate into battlefield victory,” according to the HLMG.

In their report, the former generals wrote that Israeli officials told them they expect there to be “thousands of casualties in Lebanon, many of whom will be civilians despite the IDF adhering to the highest standards of the Law of Armed Conflict.”

Conspicuously, while the High Level Military Group provides a general estimate of Lebanese casualties, it offers no such assessment of Israeli civilian deaths, beyond saying that the number is “likely to far exceed previous conflicts.” (There were 50 Israeli civilian deaths in the 1982 Lebanon War, and 46 in the 2006 conflict.)

Hezbollah is Lebanon, or is it?

One of the lingering questions in the High Level Military Group’s report is how Israel perceives the country of Lebanon, if it is fundamentally intertwined with Hezbollah or distinct from it.

“During the HLMG fact-finding, it was clear that an intense policy debate in Israel’s upper echelons increasingly sees some senior voices making the case that a conflict should probably be conceived as including the state of Lebanon as an adversary,” the former generals wrote.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky)

For instance, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been leading the charge that the two cannot be separated and that Lebanese national infrastructure should also be counted as a legitimate military target in a future war.

This was not the case in the 2006 Lebanon War, when the IDF’s policy was to differentiate between Lebanon and Hezbollah, but developments inside the Arab country could change that.

In its report, the HLMG noted an “increasingly symbiotic relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces,” which is believed to include intelligence sharing, as well as material cooperation.

Lebanese soldiers sit atop an armored personnel carrier in the eastern town of Ras Baalbek on August 21, 2017, after returning from fighting against Islamic State. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

“Israel shared evidence with the HLMG that suggests that at least some military equipment which the LAF receives from international patrons, including the United States, ultimately finds its way into the hands of Hezbollah units,” the retired generals wrote.

However, some analysts, who are not cited in the HLMG document, make the case, against the view of Bennett and other Israeli officials that Lebanon is Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is Lebanon.

One of these is David Daoud, a researcher analyst for the United Against a Nuclear Iran think tank and advocacy group, who argues that by attacking Lebanese national infrastructure, Israel could end up helping Hezbollah by proving to the Lebanese population that the terrorist group is, as it claims, the country’s defender against the “Zionist regime.”

Peacekeepers with their hands tied behind their back

The HLMG puts significant focus on the role and failures of UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

The international force is generally seen by Israel to be feckless and incapable, or at least unwilling, to take serious action against Hezbollah’s force build-up, while in Lebanon the group is perceived by many as being a shill for the IDF.

A Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper drives an armored vehicle in the Lebanese town of Adaisseh, near the border with Israel, on January 19, 2015. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

UNIFIL’s activities in southern Lebanon are dictated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which, among other things, calls for no non-state armed forces to occupy positions south of Lebanon’s Litani River.

According to the HLMG, the United Nations force understands Resolution 1701 “in a very narrow sense with regards to the authority to search for weapons in Lebanon and curtail the activity of armed groups.”

A new and improved mandate is required to address the situation

Israel, and now the HLMG, argue that this mandate should be interpreted more broadly, which would allow UNIFIL to curb Hezbollah’s efforts to prepare for war by actively preventing the terror group from possessing weapons south of the Litani, with force if necessary.

“A new and improved mandate is required to address the situation,” according to the report.

What else can be done?

Beyond granting UNIFIL broader powers, the High Level Military Group offers scant advice for preventing a future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

What advice is offered is relatively vague, with no specifics to implement or mention of its feasibility. The main recommendation is to address not Hezbollah, but its patron.

“The international community must take actions to curtail Iran’s activities, raise the cost of its behavior and engage in efforts at deterrence,” the group wrote.

In terms of Hezbollah specifically, the High Level Military Group calls for Western nations to cease distinguishing the terror group’s political and terrorist wings.

The international community must take actions to curtail Iran’s activities

The former generals and defense officials also encourage the United States to make any future aid arrangements with Lebanon contingent “on a plan to strip Hezbollah of its de facto status as the leading force in the country.”

More generally, the HLMG calls for the West to “strongly support Israel in its efforts to de-escalate the tensions.”

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Iran Recruits Afghans to Defend Assad, their Numbers Are a ‘Military Secret’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Iran Recruits Afghans to Defend Assad, their Numbers is a ‘Military Secret’

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 – 08:15
Syrian pro-regime forces hold a position in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed district, on December 12, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)
Kabul – London – Asharq Al-Awsat

Fleeing grinding poverty and unemployment, thousands of Afghan Shi’ites have been recruited by Iran to defend the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

“For me it was just about money,” Shams, a former fighter, told Agence France Presse.

Hurman Rights Watch says the Iranians refuse to provide accurate figures, but estimates there are nearly 15,000 Afghans fighting for Fatemiyoun.

Shams, a 25-year-old member of the Hazara ethnic group, went to Syria twice in 2016 to fight in a conflict that has now been raging for more than six years.

“I went there (Iran) because I was jobless and it was a way to get money for my family,” said Shams.

“My idea was to find a job in Iran. I had no plan to go to fight in Syria but after a month of being jobless I decided to go.

“They were encouraging us saying ‘you will be a freedom fighter and if you return to Iran alive you can stay with a 10-year residence permit’.”

Afghan Shi’ites are given 1.5 million toman (about $450) to register at a recruitment center for the Fatemiyoun, Shams said. Once they have signed up they receive three million toman a month, a fortune for many poor Afghans.

Shams’ first mission was in June 2016 in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he was assigned to protect a barracks for two months.

He went back to the country in September and was deployed to Aleppo, where he was given his first AK-47 after receiving rudimentary weapons training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

On the front line of the battle between ISIS militants and Al-Nusra Front group, Shams said he found himself caught up in an intense and deadly battle.

“In Aleppo we faced an ambush — out of 100 fighters we lost almost all of them. There were 15 of us left alive,” Shams said.

“The bodies were sent back to Iran and the families in Afghanistan held funeral ceremonies in mosques without a coffin or grave.”

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, estimates more than 760 Afghans have been killed in Syria since September 2013.

The number of Afghans fighting for the Fatemiyoun is a “military secret,” said Ramazan Bashardost, a Hazara member of parliament in Kabul.

“They are used by the Iranian government, which treats them like slaves,” he said.

“The sorrow, pain and hunger of the people is not a major concern of the Afghan government,” he added.

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost?

 

It is not easy to choose a starting point from the anneals of time when the subject matter is the Ancient City of Racca Syria. Here in the U.S. we tend to think that something from the 1800’s is old and something pre Columbus is ancient history. I chose to start this article in the year of our Lord 639 A.D.. Think about it for a moment, this is more than 1,000 years before the birth of George Washington.

 

I am not going to try to turn this article to you into some type of a history lesson. To be able to catch the essence and history of Racca would take Albums, not paragraphs. In 639 an Islamic Army took the city. Folks, that’s 1,378 years ago. This tidbit of information is for those who are new to the subject as this event happened 1,137 before the Americans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Folks, Racca was on the “World Heritage Site” list. Racca was a huge piece of human history, now it is gone. Now, what do the teachers of these next few generations teach to these children? What is their History now? I guess their history will have to be broken into the ‘before Revolution, and after Revolution’ segments. What horrible history we leave onto our children as each generation only gets harder on those entering it. How can some deny that depression is the young with no hope of survival and the old who quietly await their own death?

 

Since Christ walked the Earth 2,000 years ago I wonder, how many people have died within 10 square miles of the city of Racca? Just in this past 6+ years, how many? Folks this is sickness, this is madness, how much blood must be spilled? The sad answer to this question is, there is no end, some are simply enraged with hate. The latest emblem of this hate is called ISIS, Daesh and a few other local names. Racca was the Capital City of ISIS new Caliphate, now it is not. Now the (SDF) (Syrian Democratic Forces) backed by U.S. Special Forces have taken control of all of Racca.

 

My question to you today is simple, have you seen the before and after pictures of cities like Racca Syria where Culture had flourished over about 1,400 years? World Heritage Site folks, now it is but rubble. Now that ‘our’ forces who control Racca are anti Syrian Government, how do things get any better here? The Kurdish people who are spear heading this ‘SDF’ have already been back stabbed by the American government once this week on their voting issue. Now, for the Americans to continue to be involved they would have to come into direct contact with the Syrian government forces and the forces of Russia, Iran and even Iraqi soldiers. So, we leave this pile of rubble over to the Syrian Government without a fight and request that our Kurdish ‘Friends’ do the same, without a fight, or the U.S. will desert the Kurdish people once again, leaving them to be slaughtered by the Syrians, Russians and Iranians.

 

Whom ever comes out the Ruler of this region of the world ‘Racca’, has no chance of being what it was before 2010, ever. The beauty it once had is gone, now it is only in memories and old pictures. So folks, now what? I believe that the end result is that Racca will remain as part of Syria for the foreseeable future. Yet even if Russia, Iran the E.U. or even the U.S., became Landlords of the Racca area, how do you rebuild it now? Your people need jobs, the Governments must step up with trillions of dollars to rebuild their own infrastructure from the ground up. They must employ their citizens, have them doing the rebuilding of their own homes, their won businesses, their own Stores. The rest of the world cannot ignore the great chance for investment, even if it is only available to companies of Islamic Culture. Then I still ask you, the people who care about Racca and who can afford to, please try to help the people who have been stuck there for the past few years. To my way of thinking Racca should be at least as important to the Islamic Nations as Puerto Rico would be if decimated by a powerful Hurricane. What this means to the people and what it means to a government is normally two different Creatures aren’t they? For any quality of life to exist there again, all sides who care will be working together for the good of all, or they with will die together, by the thousands. So, is there hope, for rebuilding Racca? We shall see what we shall see is what a good friend used to say. Today’s time is tomorrows history.

 

 

 

 

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘WAGINGNONVIOLENCE.ORG)

 

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis

Members of Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico picket the White House in March of 1965. (Claridad / Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

This week, as Puerto Ricans feel once again like a White House afterthought, it is hard not to conclude that Puerto Rico matters to Washington only when mainland political and business leaders need to conscript the island itself for some larger financial or military purpose.

Consider the impact of Vietnam War policy on Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new Ken Burns documentary and Hurricane Maria, the headlines have us talking simultaneously about Vietnam and Puerto Rico for the first time in 50 years. Today, few Americans remember the impact of the Vietnam War on Puerto Rico. Yet the war struck the island with the force of a political hurricane, tearing at Puerto Rico’s social fabric, raising the same questions of colonialism that are again in the news in the wake of Maria, and fueling its independence movement.

Not unlike Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis, the Vietnam War brought into sharp relief the island’s unequal status as a territory of the United States, particularly after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in 1965. Draft-age men in Puerto Rico were subject to the Selective Service Act and called for induction into the U.S. military — even though they had no representative in the Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and even though many did not speak English.

A political cartoon published by Claridad in August of 1968.

As a result, Puerto Rico’s independence movement quickly condemned the war and called for widespread draft resistance. In July 1965, Claridad, the newspaper of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico, or MPI, published its first antiwar and anti-draft column, stating: “Because Puerto Rico is an American colony, Puerto Ricans are obligated to serve in that country’s army, are used like cannon fodder in imperialist wars carried out against defenseless peoples, wars in which Puerto Rico has no interest.”

One week later the MPI called on Puerto Ricans to resist the draft and condemned American aggression in Vietnam as a guerra sucia — a “dirty war” — against “the heroic people of Vietnam.” In response, students for the first time protested outside the Selective Service’s offices in San Juan.

Soon, the MPI likened its own quest for independence with that of the United States’ enemy in Vietnam. As reported in Claridad, the MPI “expressed its full solidarity with the National Liberation Front in its just fight for independence from North American imperialist dominance” and called on the United States to honor the 1954 Geneva Accords, to withdraw from Vietnam, and “guarantee the independence and neutrality of all of Indochina.”

For the MPI, the draft represented a “blood tax,” a “taxation without representation” that Americans aware of their own revolutionary heritage should have understood. Independentistas pointed to the composition of local draft boards (which were called “juntas” in Spanish) as proof. According to Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey, draft boards were “little groups of neighbors,” best suited to look out for America’s sons. But the MPI complained that the local boards were made up of “members of the richest families, statehood proponents … members of the Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange, Citizens for State 51 and other fiends” who “funneled” the poor into the military. These draft board members were Puerto Rican mandarins, agents of the colonizers.

An image published in the Fall of 1970 by the U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners.

In 1965 and 1966, long before a coordinated draft resistance movement took shape stateside, 33 members of MPI and two others refused to be inducted. Prosecutors indicted them promptly. When they went to trial in federal court, the proceedings were conducted in English — which often meant that some of the best Puerto Rican lawyers were unavailable — and if one wanted to appeal a conviction, the appeal was heard 2,700 miles away, in Boston, also in English.

In August 1966, the first Puerto Rican draft resistance case, that of Sixto Alvelo Rodriguez, came to trial. Alvelo won support not only from the MPI — which enlisted the radical New York law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard for his defense — but also from mainstream supporters who formed Comite de Defense Sixto Alvelo. More than 200 students signed a statement in support of Alvelo, pledging that they, too, would refuse induction. In September, the court asked Alvelo’s draft board to re-induct him (it never did) and dismissed his case and all other MPI draft resistance cases.

The independence movement interpreted the court’s ruling as a major political victory. The MPI speculated that Alvelo’s case revealed “one of the most tyrannical manifestations of our colonial subjugation” and that Washington had backed down in the face of the threat of thousands of induction refusals in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans attending the Fifth Annual Youth Conference of the Pro Independence Movement in Santurce on January 21, 1967. (Claridad / El Mundo, Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

At the same time, however, the Selective Service continued to call Puerto Rican men for induction, and support for the draft resistance movement continued to go mainstream. On Mother’s Day in 1967, Puerto Rican mothers organized a protest against the draft in San Juan. The Puerto Rican Bar Association passed a resolution in 1968 calling for the exemption of Puerto Ricans from compulsory U.S. military service, and one year later, the Puerto Rican Episcopal Church passed a resolution at its Diocesan Convention condemning both the war and the conscription of Puerto Ricans.

Federal prosecutors ultimately indicted more than 100 Puerto Rican men, most of whom were convicted. On the day that Edwin Feliciano Grafals — a 26-year-old MPI member who described himself as a “nonreligious conscientious objector” — became the first Puerto Rican draft resister convicted since World War II, students at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras burned down the campus ROTC building. Six weeks later, 10,000 Puerto Ricans marched through San Juan protesting against the draft. “This is the time to decide; you’re either a Yanqui or you’re a Puerto Rican,” MPI leader Juan Mari Bras told the crowd. “Not one more Puerto Rican should convert himself into a criminal by fighting against the Vietnamese people.”

In the end, Puerto Rico’s draft resistance did not end the Vietnam War nor did it win independence. But it did help to prevent further escalation of the war in 1968, and it brought many Puerto Ricans both to the antiwar movement and to the cause of independence. Moreover, draft resistance in Puerto Rico combined with draft resistance throughout the United States to compel the Nixon administration to introduce a draft lottery and, ultimately, end conscription altogether.

Protest against the draft in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States worked because it targeted an institution that few could defend as fair. Today, with the federal government seemingly unable to deliver post-hurricane relief to Puerto Rico in a manner equal to its assistance in Texas and Florida, we have yet one more example of discrimination against a people who right now need only compassion, sympathy and generous aid.

The devastation of Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis (a crisis rooted in mainland lending policies) has now been compounded by natural disaster. It is in moments like these when, as during the Vietnam War, the second-class treatment of Puerto Rico by Washington is most obvious. The island itself has been treated as a conscript by successive U.S. governments for more than a century, for far too long.

The question is how islanders will respond to Washington this time. Will they protest? If so, what form will the protest take? Now may be a good time, in fact, for Puerto Ricans (and for the rest of us) to look to the island’s resistance to the Vietnam War as a model worth following. Fifty years later, it is worth remembering the place of Puerto Rican draft resisters in the American tradition of dissent. And it is worth remembering its place in a tradition of resistance to American colonialism. By escalating protest against the war and by risking their own freedom, Puerto Rican draft resisters kept alive the notion that resistance is a valid mode of citizenship.

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100 Years Since Her Execution, Was Mata Hari a Sexy Spy or a Sexy Scapegoat?

(I FOUND THIS ON GOOGLE PLUS, THOUGHT THAT SOME OF YOU MIGHT LIKE IT SO I RE-BLOGGED IT OVER HERE FOR YOU.)(Terry Westbrook Lienhert)

 

FEMME FATALE

100 Years Since Her Execution, Was Mata Hari a Sexy Spy or a Sexy Scapegoat?

At nearly every turn, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod made the wrong choices. Yet she managed to create a persona that continues to dance on the crowded stage of popular culture.

PARIS—Her name lives on a century after they stood her in front of a firing squad on Oct. 15, 1917, and watched her die: Mata Hari, treacherous spy, devious liar, a wicked woman to the core. Or was she something else entirely? Was she isolated and vulnerable, spinning an identity and a living from illusion and sexuality, little more than a victim of male bias and scapegoat for military failure?

Nothing about Mata Hari was simple and clear, not then, not now. Rising from the ambiguity are a thousand legends and interpretations, each projecting onto her a tale of their own, in books and films, now even on Twitter and Facebook. Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, a middle-class Dutch divorcée from Leeuwarden, died, but Mata Hari, femme fatale and exotic dancer, has become eternal. She might consider that her greatest success.

“Mata Hari and Madame Zelle MacLeod are two completely different women,” she wrote in a June 5, 1917, letter to Captain Pierre Bouchardon, the military judge investigating her case, which is part of the Mata Hari dossier held at the Service Historiques de la Défense archives outside Paris. “Today with the war, the passport, I am obliged to live and sign Zelle, but that woman is not known to people. As for me, I consider myself to be Mata Hari.”

“At 16, she had an affair with the 51-year-old headmaster. She was expelled; he continued his career.”

If it weren’t for her obsession with money, her fame might have been short-lived, her name obscure to us today. But she had found herself alone and empty-handed more than once, and it had marked her deeply. Add to that obsession a lifelong pattern of poor decisions and woeful attachments, landing in the middle of cultural and national strife, and the fate of Mata Hari seems nearly a tale foretold.

When she was 13, her fairly successful father declared bankruptcy and abandoned the family, her mother suffered a breakdown, and Margaretha was left to care for three younger siblings. At 16, placed in a teacher-training school, a path to earning a living, she had an affair with the 51-year-old headmaster. She was expelled; he continued his career. It was perhaps her first lesson that in the wake of scandal, the woman takes the blame. She walked right by it.

In 1895, she found a husband. According to A Tangled Web, the latest Mata Hari biography by British archivist Mary W. Craig, Rudolf MacLeod was a 39-year-old lieutenant of Scottish descent in the Dutch colonial service, posted in today’s Indonesia. In order to advance in rank, he would need a wife, but as he had syphilis, permission to marry would be denied. He sneaked around the rules, advertised in a local newspaper and was answered by 18-year-old Margaretha Zelle. She agreed to marry him six days after they met. She got more than she bargained for.

Within three years, they had two children, a boy and a girl, and a disintegrating marriage in an isolated outpost of central Java. MacLeod drank, gambled, kept mistresses, and worst of all, he beat her, violently and regularly.

For distraction, she watched the Javanese servants dance in the garden, soon learned the sinuous, sensuous moves, and danced with them. The family was transferred to North Sumatra, and within a month, the children fell ill, and the boy died, at age 2. MacLeod raged; she stayed out of his way, and learned new dances. In 1902, they were sent back to the Netherlands, where she filed for divorce, based on abuse.

“She was a harbinger of a new style of dancing and expression that would come to define the Belle Epoque.”

Given custody of their daughter, but receiving none of the court-appointed support from MacLeod, Margaretha began frequenting houses of ill-repute. MacLeod had her followed, and took their daughter away from her. She moved to Paris, broke and alone, tried modeling, acting, and finally dancing. Her big break came in 1905 when Emile Guimet asked her to perform at his Musée Guimet, before an elite audience, and the press raved about the seductive Javanese dancer in breastplates and headdress, filmy veils and discreet bodystocking, just a glimpse away from nudity. She took the stage name Mata Hari, Malay for “eye of the sun.”

She was a harbinger of a new style of dancing and expression that would come to define the Belle Époque. Those were the years when Vaslav Nijinsky danced in tights, with a sensuality never before seen at the Paris ballet, in Afternoon of a Faun, while barefoot Isadora Duncan launched modern dance, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” upended the idea of music composition. Mata Hari was part of the creative excitement, and parlayed her reputation for exotic sensuality into finding wealthy lovers to support her in grand style.

When her husband’s second marriage ended in divorce, she tried to get custody of her daughter, but her lifestyle encouraged the court to consider MacLeod the more stable household. Both her children likely were infected at birth with syphilis; her daughter died in 1919, at age 21, of a cerebral hemorrhage, according to Craig. At the time of her arrest, Mata Hari had among her toiletries a mercury-based ointment, the only treatment then available for syphilis symptoms. Both the disease and the treatment could cause brain damage: Was she affected?

Mata Hari was highly paid for her dancing, but entirely profligate in her spending. She gave a series of performances at the Olympia in Paris in autumn 1906, for a fee of 10,000 FF ($50,000 today). She also was named in the first of a series of lawsuits for unpaid bills, for 12,000 FF in jewelry she ordered, but did not cover. This would become a habit. As soon as she had some money, she threw it at clothes, furs, jewelry, carriages. She believed that creating a successful illusion of beauty and mystery did not come cheaply.

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“I am a dancer, and after the war, I may be obliged to take theater engagements in Berlin or Vienna, as in Paris. I am not married. I am a woman who travels a great deal. I am to be excused for losing the notion of money,” she wrote in late May to the French judge. “Sometimes I lose, sometimes I win.”

The gamble she took in 1915 would turn out to be of the highest stakes, although she did not realize it until nearly the end. She was living in Berlin in the summer of 1914, waiting for a performance scheduled for September at the Metropol Theater, entertaining several lovers, including the chief of police. The eruption of the war in August took everyone by surprise, but as a foreigner in Berlin, it also froze her bank account and confiscated her goods. Among them were furs that she later said were worth 80,000 FF. That was a loss she would not let go.

In her own words, she was an international woman. She spoke several languages, she traveled around Europe constantly, she had lovers in every country, it seemed. With the advent of war, borders were secured, passports required, questions asked. Ambiguity and mystery were no longer assets, but instead brought her rapidly to the attention of the authorities. She was a woman with no fixed home, no husband, no steady source of income.

“I am not married. I am a woman who travels a great deal. I am to be excused for losing the notion of money.”

“I should have realized before leaving but I thought things were like the year before, and unfortunately, everything has changed,” she wrote on July 6, to her maid in the Netherlands. “People are meaner, difficulties and formalities are insurmountable. Traveling has become an impossibility for a woman like me.”

Her prolific sex life also made her vulnerable to charges of treason. At that time, sexuality outside the norm—and the excess of Mata Hari’s affairs shocked even somewhat-liberal France—was considered to reflect the whole of a person’s moral character. With war, the focus was on patriotism. For a woman whose primary support came from her sexual relationships, it was not an enormous leap for the authorities to believe that she might sell her country as well. And nearly all of Mata Hari’s lovers were military officers. The investigating judge of the Third Military Court of France, Captain Bouchardon, listed them in his report on the case: a Dutch colonel, a Belgian commandant, a Russian captain as main lovers, but also passing through officers from Montenegro, Italy, two from Ireland, three or four English, and at least five French.

“I like officers,” she responded when he questioned her. “I have liked them all my life. I would rather be the mistress of a poor officer than of a rich banker.”

The crux of the case against her was that she took 20,000 FF from the German consul in Amsterdam in the summer of 1916, when French soldiers were dying at a rate of some 40,000 a month under German artillery barrages at Verdun. She admitted that the consul asked her to spy for him, and swore she did not do it. She took the cash, dumped the invisible ink, and moved to Paris. It was revenge for losing her furs, she insisted through five months of interrogation.

“Mata Hari saw an opportunity to recompense herself, that is all,” she wrote in the June 5 letter to Captain Bouchardon. “But I beg you to believe me. I have never committed an act of espionage against France. Never. Never.”

There was another payment though, 5,000 FF, that came to her through a man suspected of being a German agent. And then the French intelligence services got copies of German telegrams describing the movements of their Agent H-21, actions and contacts that matched Mata Hari’s to the minute and the letter. She suggested to Bouchardon that the Germans were playing with them, trying to distract them from finding an actual agent at work. In fact, the telegrams were sent in a code the Germans most likely knew was broken, according to A Tangled Web.

Bouchardon asked repeatedly in interrogations about the 20,000 FF payment. What had she done with it? “During my stay in France from June to December 1916 I must have spent 15 to 16,000 FF, but I cannot be precise because I never count. I put the 20,000 from [the German consul] toward debts I had in Holland, especially those resulting from a lawsuit by my upholsterer,” she said, according to the June 12 transcript.

Bouchardon and his team did not accept her cavalier attitude toward money. “We have investigated quite a few espionage cases,” he said, according to a transcript of a June 1 interrogation. “We know the German prices and we can tell you that, in relation to their usual fees, that seems a colossal sum.”

There was the money, and then in December 1916 an incriminating meeting with the German military attaché in Madrid. Mata Hari was arrested in February 1917, and put on trial in July. A panel of seven military judges took two days to find her guilty and sentence her to death; an appeal and plea for clemency both were rejected. She was kept at the Conciergerie prison during the trial; a previous occupant to await trial there was Marie Antoinette. “The situation of a foreign woman like me is extremely delicate at this time in France,” she wrote on July 6 to her maid in the Netherlands.

Bouchardon brought a priest and two nuns to the prison to get her before dawn on Oct. 15. She put on a black cape trimmed with fur, a black felt hat, and black heels, according to a news story filed by Henry Wales of the International News Service. They drove her to Fort de Vincennes, east of Paris, and stood her in front of a post. She declined a blindfold, and stared evenly at the 12 soldiers as they fired.

Fort de Vincennes today houses the archives of the Service Historique de la Défense, including her 1,300-page dossier (accessible online here). Mata Hari was one of 126 persons executed for espionage by France during the First World War; at least two others also were women, caught out by a female double-agent. (Purported photographs of Mata Hari’s execution are from a film re-enactment; no pictures were taken at the time.)

Mata Hari’s life was over, but her fame had only begun. In 1931, she was portrayed by screen goddesses Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, in films based loosely on her story. Hundreds of books have been published, biographies, novels, historical fiction, non-fiction, erotica, even a comic-book series. She has a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, and videos on YouTube. Mata Hari restaurants and bars are sprinkled across France and Germany. She even has an exhibit for this centennial of her death, at the Fries Museum in her hometown, Mata Hari: the myth and the maiden, from Oct. 14 through April 2018.

At nearly every turn, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod made the wrong choices. She did not learn the lessons that were offered or pick up on the clues that were given, until it was too late. Yet she managed to create a persona that continues to dance on the crowded stage of popular culture. Mata Hari may or may not have been a spy, but she remains a legendary figure.

(Playing Nuclear War Game With A Game Show Host As Prezz?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Donald Trump is treating a potential war like a reality show cliffhanger

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump hosted his top military brass and their spouses for dinner at the White House on Thursday night. The group posed for a photo. Then this exchange with reporters happened:

Trump: “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”
Reporter: “What’s the storm?”
Trump: “It could be … the calm, the calm before the storm.”
Reporter: “Iran? ISIS? What storm, Mr. President?”
Trump: “We have the world’s great military people in this room, I will tell you that. And uh, we’re gonna have a great evening, thank you all for coming.”
Reporter: “What storm, Mr. President?”
Trump: “You’ll find out.”
What. The. Hell. Is. Happening.
To be clear: Trump didn’t have to say anything. Reporters shout questions at these photo-ops all the time. Presidents ignore them all the time. So he did this on purpose. He wanted to say this — so he did.
And then he did it again! On Friday afternoon, at another photo op, a reporter asked Trump what he meant by his comments Thursday night. According to the pool report, Trump winked and said “you’ll find out.”
Now as for what he said: When you say “maybe it’s the calm before the storm” when surrounded by the top military leaders in the country, it doesn’t take much of a logical leap to conclude there is some sort of military operation in the offing.
That’s especially true when you have two situations — North Korea and Iran — that appear to be coming to a head.
In regard to North Korea, Trump tweeted last weekend that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” — the latest verbal provocation between Trump and the North Korean dictator. That rhetorical back-and-forth comes amid Kim Jong Un’s repeated testing of missiles and refusal to stop his nuclear program.
When it comes to Iran, Trump is expected next week to “decertify” the Iranian nuclear deal crafted by President Barack Obama. Trump has been a longtime critic of the deal, insisting that Iran had not kept up its end of the agreement. (The decertification process will allow Congress 60 days to adjust the pact.)
Which situation was Trump talking about with his “calm before the storm” remark? Both? Neither? We don’t know, because Trump wouldn’t say.
That, too, was on purpose.
Why? Because the bulk of Trump’s experiences directly before running for president was as a reality TV star and producer. (In truth, Trump has been performing in a reality show of his own making for his entire life.) And, in that role, the goal is always to stoke drama, always do everything you can to keep people watching — through the commercial, through the hour, through to next week’s episode. Cliffhangers are the best way to do that — stoking speculation, reversing expectations and, above all, ensuring people feel compelled to just keep watching.
“Dallas” fans in the 1980s spent months waiting to find out who shot J.R. “Game of Thrones” fans waited with bated breath to find out whether Jon Snow was alive or dead.
Stay tuned! Who knows what will happen next!
Or, in the words of Trump on Thursday night, “you’ll find out.”
The thing is: The stakes of a reality TV show are roughly zero. The stakes of diplomacy with rogue nations pursuing nuclear weapons are incredibly high.
What’s not clear at the moment is whether Trump understands that difference. Whether he gets that by saying things such as “maybe this is the calm before the storm,” he is flicking at the possibility of an armed conflict — and the world is paying attention.
The “does he know what he’s doing or is he just doing it?” conundrum sits at the heart of virtually every move Trump has made as a candidate and now as President. What’s more dangerous with this latest loose talk, however, is that even if Trump is just saying things to hype up the drama rather than to warn of an actual impending military action, he (and we) have no way of knowing if Iran, North Korea or any other potential target understands that.
This is no reality show. And Trump isn’t the producer, controlling all the players. His words — whether he means them as a tease, a threat or something in between — can have very real consequences.
Does Trump get any of that? We’ll find out.

Hate And Fear For Villagers Living Near The ‘Line Of Control” (LOC)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

An unending ordeal for Kashmiri villagers on ‘live’ Indo-Pak border

Villagers barely two to three kilometers away from the zero line and in the direct line of fire have witnessed maximum number of skirmishes and casualties.

INDIA Updated: Oct 05, 2017 08:10 IST

Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Hindustan Times, Allah/Arnia
Villagers say the tender minds of children, getting exposed to bloodshed and deaths at a young age, are left with a permanent scar.
Villagers say the tender minds of children, getting exposed to bloodshed and deaths at a young age, are left with a permanent scar.(Nitin Kanotra/HT File Photo)

More than 45,000 people across 42 villages and the most-populated border town of Arnia on Indo-Pak border in Jammu and Kashmir see themselves as sitting ducks for Pakistani artillery.

Some of the villages in Arnia sub-sector of Jammu district that witnessed skirmishes from September 13 to September 23 are barely two to three kilometres away from the zero line and are in the line of direct fire.

Guns on either side of 198-km long Indo-Pak international border fall silent intermittently, but villagers are sceptical of the fragile peace and live in a constant fear.

The two nuclear neighbours had agreed to a ceasefire in November 2003 but that now lies in tatters, as different parts of the line of control and the International Border whistle to the sound of mortar shelling. The arc has widened but Arnia remains in the constant gaze of Pakistan.

Artillery horror

Chuni Lal, 63, a marginal farmer in Allah village, who lost his wife Ratno Devi, 50, on the intervening night of September 16 and 17 to a Pakistani mortar, recounts the spine-chilling horror.

“Pakistan was raining mortars that night. All of us… my wife, two married sons, their wives and my six grand-children had huddled inside a room. Electricity had snapped after a mortar hit transmission lines. Around 2 am I shifted to an adjoining lobby as it was hot and sultry inside the room. Around 2.30 am my wife and daughter-in-law (Rajni Devi) came to lobby and had just opened the door when a mortar exploded with a deafening sound in our verandah. My wife’s left ankle was blown away and she suffered serious injuries in her abdomen too. Rajni was also bleeding profusely.”

Read more

Lal sought a neighbour’s help, who drove his car for nearly two hours to shift Lal, Ratno Devi and Rajni Devi to a hospital in Jammu city where Ratno died.

Besides Ratno Devi, a BSF jawan Brijendra Bahadur was killed and over a dozen villagers were injured in Arnia in Pakistani firing that began on September 13.

Lal’s two sons Om Prakash, 46, and Subhash Chander, 40, work as labourers and do petty jobs to support the family.

Traumatised children

Subhash’s wife Rajni Devi, who had suffered serious injuries, along with her two daughters Mamta, 15, Janvi, 13, and son Nitish, 9, have been living in a relative’s house in a safe village, away from Pakistan’s firing range and away from their school as well.

Pakistan had rained 82 mm and 120 mm mortars — battalion level low trajectory weapons — on hapless villagers.

“The children are traumatised from what they saw that night. They don’t want to return home and we also are apprehensive of this fragile peace. Death stalks us all the time but we don’t have any option” says Subhash.

Grim future

Forget children’s education, the people in the border belt of Arnia are deprived of a normal life, says Subhash.

In Arnia sub-sector, the state government has shut 33 government schools with a total enrolment of around 1500 students within five km radius of the border.

Read more

Fifty-year-old Gopal Dass, a small farmer in Allah village says, “Education is important, rather indispensable in present times but how could our children pursue it in such a hostile and uncertain atmosphere?”

Dass divulges another aspect of the shelling. “At very young age these children get exposed to loud explosions, bloodshed and deaths. It leaves a permanent scar on their tender minds but then who cares for the children of a lesser God?”

HT came across a group of small children aged between 5 to 12 years at Pindi Charakan village.

When asked why they weren’t in their schools, six-year-old Tannu replied, “Pakistan bomb chalata hai na. School band hain. Humko chupna padta hai. (“Pakistan bombs us. Schools are closed. We have to go into hiding during shelling).”

Farming hit hard

Another farmer Rattan Lal, 63, says, “While a family (of Chuni Lal) has been ruined, unexploded shells are still lying in the agricultural fields. The farmers are still not going to their fields because you never know when Pakistan starts firing at us. They cannot be trusted. Initially, heavy shelling destroyed our paddy crop, especially in the fields beyond barbed fence (towards Pakistani territory), and now out of fear, we are not able to irrigate whatever is left.”

Lal, like several other villagers, feels that they are caught in a Catch-22 situation. Farming, by and large, is the major source of livelihood in the border areas.

Thoru Ram, 56, informs that though there has been no firing since September 23, the BSF as a precautionary measure, was not allowing farmers to go to their fields beyond the barbed fence.

“Farmers on other side (in Pakistan) are also not coming to their fields,” he says.

7,000 people, one bunker

Allah village with a population of 7,000 has only one bunker where an optimum of 30 people can take refuge during shelling.

The villagers dubbed it a cruel joke as water seeps in and fills almost half the bunker during monsoons. “It turns into a pool of water and is of no use. The government has spent Rs 5 lakh on it but it would have been far better and practical had the government constructed individual bunkers in the houses of the villagers,” says Thoru Ram, 56.

“When mortars are being rained, how could one think of reaching one corner of the village to get into the bunker? I think government of the day should apply some mind,” he mocks.

In Rajouri district, hundred bunkers are being constructed while the state government has submitted a proposal to the Centre for constructing 621 community bunkers at a cost of Rs 6 lakh each and 8,197 individual bunkers at a cost of Rs 2.40 lakh each.

Pakistan’s arc of fire

Since May 1, when Pakistani Border Action Teams killed and beheaded two Indian soldiers — JCO Paramjit Singh and BSF head constable Prem Sagar — in Krishna Ghati (KG) sector of Poonch district, there has been no let up in Pakistani firing and shelling in Rajouri and Poonch border districts.

In Nowshera sector of Rajouri, incessant Pakistani shelling triggered migration of over 4,000 villagers to six relief camps in Nowshera town in May.

Pakistan also opened other fronts along the international border in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts from August onwards.

“It has been a pattern of the enemy (Pakistan). During summers when there is no snow on the mountains and passes, Pakistan tries to push terrorists via LoC in Poonch and Rajouri districts and in winters their focus shifts to international border in Jammu region, usually Hiranagar, RS Pura, Arnia and Ramgarh. In the process they adopt all ploys of opening unprovoked fire on our posts and then flaring up the situation by targeting villages,” says a senior Army officer.

A police officer said that Arnia, the largest border town of the state just three km from the border is a soft target for Pakistan. The town has a population of nearly 20,000.

“They (Pakistan Rangers) are known for targeting hapless villagers and they know it is thickly populated,” the officer adds.

However, defence officials say there are other reasons, which can’t be shared in public domain.

Two Years on, the Stakes of Russia’s War in Syria Are Piling (Op-ed)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes in Syria, plunging Russia into a civil war that had already been festering for four years.

Moscow intervened in Syria vowing to fight Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups banned in Russia. Its objective was to transform its relationship with Washington and Brussels by disarming an imminent threat to the West after it had hit Russia with sanctions for the Kremlin’s “adventures in Ukraine.”

Days before the airstrikes began, Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a united front against international terrorism, framing it as the modern equivalent of World War II’s coalition against Hitler.

But two years later, Russia’s hopes of winning concessions in Ukraine for its campaign against Islamic State have come to very little. Putin’s strategic alliance with the United States never materialized.

Russia, however, has met two less lofty goals. One was to rescue the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, from the inevitable defeat at the hands of an armed Sunni rebellion.

Moscow leveraged its ties with Iran, another regime ally, to deploy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Syrian rebels. This allowed Moscow to send a modest ground force to Syria — artillery and some special operations forces — without a large footprint.

Russia helped Assad recast the civil war and the popular uprising against his regime as a fight against jihadi terrorists by focusing its airstrikes over the last two years on moderate Syrian rebel groups, while paying little attention to Islamic State.

This rendered the conflict black and white — a binary choice between Assad and jihadists. It allowed Moscow to sell its intervention as support for Syria’s sovereignty against anarchy and terrorism. Russia made clear that it saw the path to stability in the Middle East as helping friendly autocrats suppress popular uprisings with force.

At home, the Kremlin sold its Syrian gambit as a way of defeating terrorism before it reached Russian soil. Russia, after all, needed to prevent Russians and Central Asians who joined Islamic State from returning home to wreck havoc at home soil.

Moscow was also able to use Syria as a lab for its newest weaponry.

By workshopping newly-acquired precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. Showcasing military prowess, while keeping casualties figures low — some 40 Russia servicemen died in Syria — it was able to win public support at home for the intervention.

But perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower which is capable of projecting force far from its own borders.

Andrei Luzik / Russian Navy Northern Fleet Press Office / TASS

While Moscow may have been offended by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissive description of Russia as a “regional power,” it impressed Arab leaders with its unwavering support for Assad, which was important at a time when U.S. commitment to allies’ security and the stability in the region was in doubt.

Moscow’s backing of Assad ensured it had channels with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, despite their support for Syrian rebels. It was even able to convince the Gulf to wind down its support for the opposition as a Russia-led victory for the regime became inevitable.

Russia’s alliances with Jordan and Egypt proved useful in setting up direct lines to armed opposition groups to reach de-escalation agreements. And even as it fights alongside Shia Iran, Moscow has avoided being drawn into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states.

Russia’s most stunning diplomatic coup was to change Turkey’s calculus in the war from a proxy adversary into a major partner in securing the decisive victory in Aleppo. Through the Astana process, Russia alongside Turkey wound down fighting with moderate rebels.

Russia’s victory in Syria was helped by Washington’s decision not to immerse itself into Syria and a war by proxy with Russia. Instead, the U.S. focused its military operations on defeating Islamic State in eastern Syria.

Now, with de-escalation in western Syria, regime forces and Russian airpower are turned to defeating Islamic State, which has brought them into contact with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing from the northeast as part of their offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

The potential for a U.S.-Russia kinetic collision in Syria with unpredictable consequences is escalating. This highlights the looming endgame in Syria and the choices Moscow and Washington will have to make moving forward.

Washington needs to decide whether it wants to stay in Syria for counterinsurgency operations to prevent the re-emergence of Islamic State. It may also decide to block Iran from establishing the “Shia land bridge” from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.

But this entails supporting the SDF and helping them control sizeable real estate northeast of the Euphrates river and blocking regime forces and Russia from advancing east.

Moscow needs to decide whether it wants to be dragged into Assad and Iran’s strategy of ensuring a complete military victory in Syria and preventing the opposition from exercising any autonomous self-rule. That could see Russia pulled into a nasty proxy fight with the Americans.

Two years after Russia intervened in Syria, the war may be winding down. But the stakes for Moscow and Washington are stacking.

The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

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