Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Has Arrived In London



Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Downing Street to meet Theresa May

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in London March 7 for a three-day visit to the United Kingdom as part of his first official overseas tour. 

Mohammed bin Salman, the divisive crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived in London on Wednesday for a three-day state visit. The 32-year-old was greeted at the airport by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, a rare honor for a man not yet head of state.

Later, he will dine with Prince Charles and Prince William — two British royals who are, like him, next in line to the throne, although they hold a small fraction of his political power.

But the pomp and the red carpet notwithstanding, Mohammed’s visit already has turned into a bitter PR battle between those who support the moves he is making for Saudi Arabia and those who call him a “war criminal.”

In some cases, the battle veered into absurd territory, such as when pro-Saudi advertisements were placed next to online articles criticizing the crown prince.

Although Mohammed has pushed through some liberal policies at home — including his dramatic decision to allow women to drive — and he is viewed as a key economic ally for a post-Brexit Britain, his foreign policy is controversial in London.

Notably, the crown prince is the architect of a Saudi-led intervention against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen. Critics say Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate use of force in that conflict has had disastrous consequences for Yemeni civilians, exacerbating what may be the worst humanitarian disaster on earth.

Vans bearing messages of welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are parked in Whitehall in central London on March 7. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/getty Images)

According to U.N. estimates from last year, more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015. More than 3 million people have been displaced, the United Nations estimated, and 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Awkwardly for Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May, Britain is a key military supplier of Saudi Arabia. According to one estimate, sales of British weapons to Saudi Arabiaincreased almost 500 percent, to 4.6 billion pounds ($6.4 billion), after 2015, when the Saudi intervention in Yemen began. Saudi Arabia is now the top destination for British-manufactured weapons.

A poll commissioned by the Campaign Against Arms Trade and carried out by Populus found that 6 percent of the British public supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia; 37 percent opposed Mohammed’s visit to Britain.

Amid this public mistrust, advertisements praising Mohammed’s reforms have been blanketing London — in an apparent bid to woo Britons. The advertisements have appeared on billboards, on taxis, on trucks and in newspapers.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Feels like arriving in – when entering London from the M4 & M40 one is greeted by the “beloved leader” @AEISaudi & the lobby try to turn around the kingdom’s image in a not so subtle way @alekhbariyatv

I count one full-page and three half-page “yay for Saudi Arabia” ads in today’s @FT

AEI Saudi, the firm behind the advertisements, is a consulting business that was registered in Riyadh in 2002. In a blog post, the firm’s founder highlighted the significant changes he has seen in recent years in Saudi Arabia, such as a new inclusion of Saudi women in public life.

“If there is one individual who has been the driving force behind these changes it is ‘MbS’, as he is often known,” wrote Adam Hosier, the British-born founder of the firm. “He has faced resistance of course, both internally and from powers outside the Kingdom, yet he has not faltered.”

But these were not the only advertisements greeting the crown prince. In central London, buses were emblazoned with messages accusing Mohammed of being a “war criminal,” while social media users used hashtags to let the Saudi royal know that he was “not welcome.”

Activists from Avaaz, a global activism group, parked a van outside Parliament and had two figures dressed as Mohammed and May drop off child-size body bags. A sign on the van said May should tell the crown prince: “Stop the slaughter, start peace talks!”

Activists from Avaaz stage a protest outside Parliament timed to coincide with the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in London on March 7. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Save the Children, a London-based charity, also highlighted the plight of children in Yemen by placing outside Parliament a small statue of a child standing in rubble and staring at the sky.

Meanwhile, the Arab Organization for Human Rights in UK has scheduled a protest outside Downing Street, due to start at 5 p.m. local time.

Join us outside Downing Street from 5pm this evening to oppose the Crown Prince and all UK arms sales to his regime. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman begins official UK visit

As ruling party welcomes Gulf royal, protesters and opposition politicians call on prime minister to challenge kingdom.

It is unclear who is winning the PR battle — other than advertising agencies, of course. The pro-Saudi messages were certainly mocked: Some noted that the advertisements looked better suited to a “sleazy gentlemen’s club” and pointed out that online ads praising Mohammed had appeared next to articles about Saudi corruption.

These adverts for the Saudi Crown Prince are everywhere! Even on articles about Saudi corruption in the Guardian. Cc @claytonswisher.

Many of the billboards welcoming the crown prince appeared along the motorways that connect Heathrow Airport to central London — suggesting that Mohammed may have been the intended audience.

Ads praising MBS all along the M4 this morning. Are they targeted at Brits, or at the Crown Prince’s motorcade?

However, the protests outside Parliament seem to have resonated inside Westminster. During the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday afternoon, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and accused May of “colluding” in suspected war crimes in Yemen.

“The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country,” May responded, as opposition lawmakers shouted “shame.”

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of “mansplaining” by the Prime Minister as he raised concerns of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

May later said that she would raise the issue of human rights with the crown prince when she met him and that she had spoken with him about humanitarian concerns in Yemen during a visit to Riyadh in December.

The controversy over Saudi Arabia puts May in a tight spot politically. Britain is looking for bigger trading partners as it leaves the European Union, and broadening its economic relationship with Saudi Arabia would help it do that. The two nations are planning to create a joint Strategic Partnership Council that could lead to Saudi investment of up to 100 billion pounds ($139 billion) in the next 10 years, according to the BBC.

However, the visit is also important for the Saudi crown prince, who is seeking foreign investment as part of Vision 2030, his ambitious plan to reform his country. There are also hopes that the long-awaited public listing of the state oil firm Saudi Aramco might take place on the London Stock Exchange.

Saudi Arabia loosens rules around women driving, gender segregation

As Saudi Arabia tries to shake a conservative image, it’s increasing entertainment events and backing off on gender-based rules in 2018.

Mohammed also is planning to visit the United States, home to the New York Stock Exchange, for an investment-focused visit set to start March 19.

The ‘Coward In Chief’ Calling The Kettle Black


Today I have been hearing some disturbing news from different news outlets about a Police Officer who was stationed at the school where 17 kids were murdered a week ago Wednesday. This Officer was assigned to this school as an ‘SRO’, school resource Officer. Evidently this Officer was outside the school when he first heard the shots being fired yet he waited for four minutes before he went inside. Some people (Mr. Trump) believe this Officer to be ‘a coward’, I am not him so I do not know if the reason he waited was from being a coward or not. Remember Officers are taught to ‘wait for backup’, is this why the Officer waited those four minutes? Put yourself in the Officers place, you hear semi-automatic rifle fire going on inside the school, all you have is a pistol and no bullet proof vest, so do you charge in, or wait for your backup? That would be a hard decision for most folks I believe and I don’t believe that any of us know what we would have done until we are placed in that position. Personally I believe that I would have called the gunfire in and then proceeded toward the gunfire, mainly because I would have known that these are children being shot at, I would have had to have made the sacrifice.


It would be easy for the media to label this Officer (who I read has quit his job) as a coward, I don’t know the whole situation, I was not there and neither were you, nor was President Trump. What made me decide to write this article today was that on the front page of my Google news this morning was our “Coward In Chief” calling this Officer a coward. For Mr. Trump to call anyone a coward is extremely hypocritical. This is the same Mr. Trump who took 6 deferrals from being drafted into the Military during the Vietnam War. His dad got him these deferrals while he was in college, saying he had a bone spur in his foot. Yet this bone spur did not stop him from participating in college sports programs, how odd. Mr. Trump was to much of a coward to even go into something like the Air Force Reserve or the National Guard and he could have gone in as an Officer. Mr. Trump, a man who refused to put on any of our Nations uniforms should never ever be calling someone else a coward. This truly is a case of the Coward calling the kettle black.

Teenager Was Shot 5 Times But Managed to Protect 20 of His Classmates




February 19, 2018

A teenager who was able to save himself and 20 other students is being hailed as a hero as he recovers in the hospital – and he even got a visit from the Broward County Sheriff.

Anthony Borges, 15, slammed the door of a classroom shut so he and others could hide during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was shot five times, but survived.

A GoFundMe account for Borges, which was verified by Sheriff Scott Israel, said the teen was shot in both his legs, left upper thigh bone and back.

‘The Sheriff was honored to visit Anthony Borges,15, in the hospital. Anthony was shot five times. Fortunately, he is recovering, but has a long road ahead with more surgeries needed. Please join us in praying for the swift recovery of Anthony and all others from #StonemanDouglas,” a tweet from the Broward County Sheriff read.

Seventeen students and staff were killed and 13 others were injured in the shooting on Wednesday.


Dozens of Russians Are Believed Killed in U.S.-Backed Syria Attack




American special forces in Manbij, Syria, near the border with Turkey, this month. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

MOSCOW — Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, according to Russian and Syrian officials.

A Syrian military officer said that about 100 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Feb. 7 and 8, but news about Russian casualties has dribbled out only slowly, through Russian news organizations and social media.

Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

The attack occurred in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, a strategic, oil-rich territory that is coveted by the Syrians. Most of the fatalities were attributed to an American airstrike on enemy columns that was called in by American-backed Kurdish soldiers who believed they were under attack.

At no point, an American military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between United States and Russian forces.

Continue reading the main story

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” according to Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the American military. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

The Kremlin — seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States — has sidestepped questions about the episode, even as it faces rare criticism at home over its failure to acknowledge the deaths of Russians in Syria.

It has stressed repeatedly since last Wednesday that no members of the Russian armed forces were killed, and that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were mercenaries.

“We only handle the data that concerns Russian forces servicemen,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We don’t have data about other Russians who could be in Syria.”

The Kremlin said much the same about the nature of the forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, however, claiming they were volunteers and men on vacation, only to admit later that they were regular soldiers.

100 km

President Vladimir V. Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria last December. Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of contract soldiers in Syria whom the Russian government has never acknowledged.

They were deployed both to help keep the official cost down and to avoid reports of casualties, especially with a March presidential election in Russia fast approaching. Even though the Kremlin enacted a law during the Ukraine crisis in 2015 to make battlefield casualties a secret, the funerals for regular soldiers killed in combat need to be more official than those for mercenaries, and are thus difficult to hide.

And some individual Russians have begun speaking out. Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian businessman working in Syria offering security and other services, said he estimated after conversations with associates in several private military organizations that more than 200 Russians might have been killed.

Mr. Ionov said not all those killed were Russian: Some of the paid fighters came from other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. “More than 200 is the current estimate, we cannot know the exact number yet, but most of them were Russian,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Ionov said he was speaking out because he wanted any Russians who were killed to be officially recognized for their sacrifice.

“The truth has to be told,” he said. “If people died, then this should be recognized and respects should be paid to people who fought against terrorists.”

He called on the government to give a fuller version of events, adding, “People are outraged because they want to know the truth.”

Mr. Ionov was not the only one speaking out about Russian fatalities. Aleksandr Averin, a member of the Other Russia nationalist party, confirmed that Kirill Ananiev, a party member who left for Syria about a year ago, had been killed in the airstrike, noting that there were other “substantial losses.”

“I can confirm that Kirill died on Feb. 7 in Syria, near the Euphrates River, as a result of a strike by the American coalition,” Mr. Averin said in an interview, adding that he was aware of “substantial losses” suffered by “paramilitary structures with ties to Russia.” He refused to elaborate.

Another victim, Vladimir N. Loginov, 51, died “in an unequal fight on Feb. 7 in the area of Syria’s Deir al-Zour,” according to a statement published online by his paramilitary organization.

“He died, heroically defending our motherland in the far reaches against the invasion of maddened barbarians,” the group, the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad, said in the statement.


Syrian pro-government fighters, who were reportedly wounded in a United States airstrike near Deir al-Zour, at a hospital in the town. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In another case, Lubava Kocheva, a woman from central Russia, said in a brief online chat that two of her male friends in Syria, Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveev, also died on Feb. 7.

“We don’t know anything, whether they will bring them or not,” said Mrs. Kocheva, 41, referring to the men’s corpses. “This is very difficult and frightening.”

The names of most of the victims identified so far were first reported by the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of Russian investigative bloggers. The exact circumstances of their deaths could not be established by The New York Times.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in the continuing civil war, said none of its servicemen had been involved in the clash and that only 25 pro-government Syrian insurgents were wounded. It took pains to distance itself from the battle.

“The reason for the incident was lack of coordination between the reconnaissance movements of the Syrian insurgents and the Russian operative command,” the ministry said in its statement on Thursday.

The number and exact nature of private Russian security firms operating in Syria is unclear, although there have been persistent reports in the Russian news media that some militiamen who fought on the side of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in eastern Ukraine later deployed to Syria.

The main Russian paramilitary contracting organization is the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it. The group has been operating in Syria in various capacities, including protecting some oil fields, according to multiple reports in the Russian news media. Its relationship with the Kremlin is murky and unconfirmed, but its leaders have reportedly received awards in the Kremlin and its mercenaries are trained at the Russian Defense Ministry’s facilities.

Grigory A. Yavlinsky, a veteran Russian opposition politician who is a candidate in next month’s presidential election, called on Tuesday for Mr. Putin to disclose the number of Russians who had died in Syria.

“I demand an explanation as to why Russian nationals take part in ground military operations in Syria, despite the statements by the president and defense minister that Russian military formations will be withdrawn from this country,” Mr. Yavlinsky said in a statement. “I also think there needs to be a public report about relations with the U.S., as there is a growing threat of an accidental or deliberate direct military clash between Russia and America.”

The official Kremlin stance is that its military deployment in Syria is now centered on two permanent bases, one for Russia’s air force and one for its navy, there by invitation from the Syrian government.


Russian political analysts said that the country’s reluctance to confirm that its citizens had died as a result of a United States-led airstrike was actually a sign that Moscow did not want to further worsen the already fractured bilateral relations with Washington.

“This is a very rare case, where the positions of Russia and the U.S. got closer,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. “No one wants to take steps that will do irreparable damage to the already broken Russia-U.S. relations.”

Correction: February 13, 2018 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly described an account by a Syrian military officer. He said that about 100 Syrian — not Russian — soldiers died in fighting on Feb. 7 and 8.

Israel-Iran Fight Steps Into The Open



No longer shrouded by ‘foreign reports,’ Israel-Iran fight steps into the open

Long-heard warnings of war between Jerusalem and Tehran are poised to become reality – unless someone can stop it

Judah Ari Gross

Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

On Thursday, the International Crisis Group think tank and advocacy firm warned in a new comprehensive report that Israel and Iran (plus its proxies) were barreling toward open conflict in Syria.

Those prescient warnings came true — in part, at least — throughout Saturday morning, beginning shortly before 4:30 a.m., with the violation of Israeli airspace by a drone that the Israeli military says was piloted by an Iranian operator from an airfield that Tehran had taken control of months before, with Syrian permission.

Israeli jets conducted reprisal raids in Syria, during which one of the F-16 fighter planes was apparently hit by shrapnel from an exploding anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel, in what appears to be the first downing of an Israeli plane since 1982.

The aircraft’s pilots bailed out; one of them was seriously injured.

A picture taken in the northern Israeli Jezreel Valley on February 10, 2018, shows the remains of an Israel F-16 that crashed after coming under fire by Syrian air defenses during attacks against ‘Iranian targets’ in the war-torn country. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Air force jets then completed a second set of retaliatory strikes. In the two rounds, the Israeli military said, its aircraft targeted several Syrian air defense systems as well as four Iranian positions in the country.

This was the first time Israel publicly acknowledged conducting airstrikes against Iranian-held locations in Syria, though not the first time it had done so, according to foreign reports.

In the aftermath of the Saturday morning clash, Israeli, Syrian and Iranian politicians released tough, threatening statements aimed at one another. The United States backed Israel’s right to self-defense. Russia called for calm on all sides, but singled out Israel for violating Syrian sovereignty with its strikes, while conspicuously ignoring the Iranian drone’s airspace violation.

The aerial exchange thrust what had previously been a long-simmering but largely quiet conflict into the international spotlight and raised concerns that this bout will be the first of many clashes — and, in the nightmare scenario, the start of a full-fledged war across Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel.

I don’t think it’s the last time we’ll see such an event, but for the time being both sides will restrain their responses

However, the prevailing belief among Israeli defense analysts is that Saturday’s events were not the prelude to open war, but the beginning of an extended period of increased tension, which is liable to see additional clashes.

“I don’t think it’s the last time we’ll see such an event, but for the time being both sides will restrain their responses,” Sima Shine, a career defense official and current senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank, told reporters on Sunday.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) attends a briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) in response to the escalation of tensions along the northern border on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

She added, during the phone briefing organized by the Media Central group, that escalation is in neither side’s best interest.

Amos Yadlin, a former fighter pilot and Military Intelligence chief, described Saturday as the “most significant day of fighting” in what Israel describes as its “campaign between wars,” often referred to in Hebrew by its acronym, Mabam.

“Despite the containment of the incident, the campaign is expected to continue,” Yadlin said.

In its report, released two days before Saturday’s flareup, the Crisis Group laid out how this campaign between Israel and the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis has developed and how it can be prevented from escalating further.

The organization tracks the current tensions to the Syrian regime’s battlefield victories over the past two and a half years, which it has achieved in large part due to support from the Russian military, which has provided significant air power since September 2015.

These have opened the Iran-led axis to shift toward preparing for a future conflict with Israel.

Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation

According to the think tank, Russia is also the only entity able to prevent such a bloody war, having emerged from the Syrian civil war as the region’s sole remaining superpower after the United States dramatically scaled back its involvement in the conflict.

“Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation,” according to the report.

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The group outlines three main issues that need to be addressed: the presence of Iranian and Shiite forces near the Israeli Golan Heights; the construction of Iranian military infrastructure in Syria; and ensuring any clashes that do take place remain confined to Syria.

The Crisis Group has also been working directly with Russia to try to persuade it to accept the role of mediator between Israel, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

“And we are seeing some traction with Russian officials,” Ofer Zalzberg, a senior Jerusalem-based analyst for the group and one of the report’s authors, told The Times of Israel last Wednesday ahead of the document’s publication.

The recipe for disaster

As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad vanquishes the remaining pockets of resistance in the country, the Israeli concern is that his allies — Iran, Hezbollah and Iran-backed Shiite militias — will be freed to focus on establishing positions along the Israeli border from which to antagonize the Jewish state, as well as permanent naval and air bases to bring in more advanced weaponry and conduct attacks.

Israel has designated these issues to be “red lines,” which it will not allow to be violated, and has said it will take military action if they are.

In its report, the Crisis Group warned that if the Iranian axis presses on with these efforts and Israel retaliates in kind, there is significant potential for escalation or even a large-scale war that could destabilize the entire region.

Israeli security forces inspect damage to a house after a Katyusha rocket attack by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, July 15, 2006. (Pierre Terdjman / Flash90)

The military assessments of what a war between Israel and Hezbollah would look like are chilling: Hezbollah launching over 1,000 rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and strategic sites each day, along with attempted infiltrations of Israeli communities along the Lebanese border. Israel conducting wave after wave of airstrikes against Hezbollah infrastructure, which the terrorist group has embedded deep inside civilian areas, ensuring significant noncombatant deaths, as well as large-scale IDF ground force maneuvers in southern Lebanon.

Zalzberg said a major part of the problem is that there are no established “rules of the game” between Israel and Iranian proxies in Syria, as there are in Lebanon, where Israel has been fighting Hezbollah off-and-on for decades.

That means the “rules” will be sorted out through back-and-forth, tit-for-tat clashes like Saturday’s. But this is a perilous path, fraught with opportunities for miscalculation and resulting in unintended casualties on both sides.

For instance, Israeli officials often refer to the “proverbial kindergarten” — the type of target that if hit, even accidentally, would prompt Israeli citizens to demand harsh and swift reprisals. As Iran and Hezbollah lack civilian targets in Syria, their equivalent might be a case of significant casualties from an Israeli airstrike, which would forced them to retaliate.

This is a current concern, following Saturday’s exchange, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog group, reported that at least six pro-regime fighters — including both Syrians and foreign nationals — were killed in Israel’s strikes and that “the death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situation.”

Zalzberg added the potential for escalation in Syria is driven higher by the fact that different sides do not have a clear grasp of one another’s goals and viewpoints, citing a year’s worth of interviews by the Crisis Group with officials in Jerusalem, Tehran, Beirut, Amman, Moscow and Washington.

The report and its authors argue that it is ultimately in Russia’s best interest to avoid an all-out war between Israel and the Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Hezbollah, which would have the potential to completely destabilize the region.

Unlike in the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah when the fighting was primarily limited to northern Israel and southern Lebanon, the view of both Israeli and Hezbollah officials is that the next conflict between the two groups would also include fighting in Syria.

Israeli artillery howitzers fire on Hezbollah targets at the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 18, 2006. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“A massive campaign by Israel will do enormous damage to [Damascus and its backers’] achievements, perhaps even destabilizing the regime itself,” the report noted.

According to Zalzberg, this is not a desirable situation for Russia, as Moscow would like to see Assad regain near-total control over Syria.

The analyst noted that this is at odds with Iran, which wants to see Assad in power, but does not necessarily want to see him becoming too powerful, preferring instead to have Syria controlled by a coalition, similar to Lebanon, so that its Shiite militias could play a more significant role in the country.

Russia and only Russia

Moscow’s active support for Assad and his other main supporters, Iran and Hezbollah, has left Israeli officials decidedly wary of their Russian counterparts.

The Crisis Group report quotes an unnamed Israeli Foreign Ministry official as saying of the Russians, “It’s hard to trust them. They tell us they are not selling weapons to Hezbollah, but we know for a fact that they do. Their policies are cynical. They are not an enticing mediator.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily MAXIMOV/AFP)

Yet there is an understanding among some in Israel that, while not enticing, Russia is the only mediator that has significant leverage over Iran and Hezbollah.

Israel has already had to maintain a close, if uneasy, relationship with Moscow due to its involvement in the region.

After Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jets that had invaded its airspace, Moscow installed an S-400 missile defense system in Syria. With the system, one of the world’s most advanced anti-aircraft batteries, Russia can monitor the overwhelming majority of Israel’s active airspace, including Israeli military flights.

Or, as one Israeli official told the Crisis Group, “A fly can’t buzz above Syria without Russian consent nowadays.”

This came as a shocking blow to the Israeli Air Force, which had, until then, enjoyed aerial superiority in the region, and required Jerusalem and Moscow to set up a hotline to prevent any potential conflicts between the two militaries.

Israel has also worked diplomatically with Russia to secure a buffer zone around the southwestern Syrian border, in which Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shiite militias would not be allowed to maintain a presence.

In this photo released on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government forces stand next to a bus which is waiting to evacuate Syrian rebels and their families from Beit Jinn village, in the southern province of Daraa, Syria. (SANA via AP)

The border area has naturally been of significant concern for Israel, which is loath to see Hezbollah set up military positions along the Golan Heights to join the significant infrastructure it has already put in place in southern Lebanon.

Last month, the Syrian military, with some assistance from Shiite militias, regained control over the area of Beit Jinn, or Beit Jann, which is located just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Israel’s Mount Hermon ski resort.

Though it is currently focused on retaking the area of Idlib in northwestern Syria, this coalition is likely to soon focus its attention on the Quneitra and Daraa regions, near the Israeli border.

Though Israel secured its buffer zone for that area this summer, the Crisis Group report notes that it would be relatively easy for these groups to get around the restriction, “for instance by integrating the fighters into the Syrian army or simply having them don its uniforms.”

The advocacy group argues that before the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis moves toward the southwest, Russia should work to negotiate an agreement between it and Israel.

There is still time for Russia to try to broker a set of understandings to prevent a confrontation, protecting both its investment in the regime and Syrian, Israeli and Lebanese lives

The Crisis Group notes that Israel’s insistence that Iranian and Iran-backed troops stay out of southern Syria will be the most difficult to negotiate, as Hezbollah and the Shiite militias would not be inclined to accept it and could easily cheat by disguising themselves as Syrians.

However, the authors say this could be resolved by getting Russia to agree to prevent Iran from setting up the types of infrastructure most concerning to Israel, like a seaport through which the Islamic Republic could carry out attacks against Israeli natural gas fields, an airport to transport weapons to Hezbollah, or a factory for the production of precise missiles.

“There is still time for Russia to try to broker a set of understandings to prevent a confrontation, protecting both its investment in the regime and Syrian, Israeli and Lebanese lives,” the Crisis Group wrote.


South Korea’s President, Mr. Moon Is Being Played For A Fool!!!



As most folks know, the Winter Olympics are being staged in South Korea right now. South Korea’s President, Mr. Moon appears to be being ‘played’ for a fool by the Kim family of North Korea during these games. There is a small athletic delegation from the North that are participating as we speak. Among the non-athletes of the North’s delegation is the sister of Kim Jung Un, the mass murdering vicious Dictator self-proclaimed ‘Living God’. The out of touch with reality President of South Korea has welcomed the visitors from the North with open arms. Personally I do not have a problem with allowing the athletics from the North to participate, but it should be under their own flag. Mr. Moon decided that instead of South Korean athletics and the Country of South Korea using the South Korean Flag they are using a ‘unification’ flag and allowing the North Koreans to participate as part of a ‘one Korea’ team. Thus many athletics from the South who have spent many years working their selves half to death to make their Country’s Olympic Team got ‘bumped’ off the team so the unqualified North members could take their place. I say unqualified because to become a member of a country’s team you must have gone through many different qualifying events and either winning them or placing very, very high in those contest. The North’s athletics did none of these things, they were just handed the spots by the insistence of the South Korean President. Now if in team events ‘South Korea’ is able to win a metal, North Koreans also get that metal to take back home for Kim Jung Un to brag about.


Enough of the Olympic’s part of this article, now down to the meat of what I am writing to you about tonight. Kim Jung Un’s sister at the direction of her brother has offered President Moon an invitation to visit him in North Korea. The North Korean delegation has been putting on what has been widely referred to as a ‘charm’ campaign this past two months. Mr. Kim of North Korea has widely made it known that he wants the two Korea’s to be ‘unified’, yet the unification is to be under his command with himself as the one and only Leader of the Korean Peninsula. Folks, this is something that the extreme majority of the citizens of South Korea do not want to ever see happen.


What is going on is very obvious. The UN has put a lot of sanctions on the Kim government because of their missile program and the firing of ICBM’s as well as their Nuclear Program that Mr. Kim says he will never ever give up. A ‘show’ of Mr. Kim’s intentions was obvious when the North Koreans asked the South Korean government to give them the fuel that would be needed for the ship the North Korean delegation was going to use to make the very, very short trip to the South. Kim is playing the poor, poor pitiful me song and dance trying to get pity from the South Koreans and from the UN. For years the people of North Korea have been starving to death as the very fat Kim Jung Un who just keeps getting fatter and fatter himself. If Kim Jung Un can get the very liberal President Moon to start sending food and oil to the North, that would be a huge win for Mr. Kim. If Mr. Kim can convince the very liberal and gullible President Moon to break the UN sanctions all together, then Russia and China would do the same. What if Mr. Kim can play sweet toward Mr. Moon and could convince him to throw the American military forces out of South Korea and to quit doing military exercises with the U.S. and to quit allowing U.S. ships to use South Korean Ports. It is obvious that the next thing would be the North Korean Army storming the South Korean’s thus unifying the Peninsula under Mr. Kim’s control. Of course this is if Mr. Kim cannot convince President Moon to do this voluntarily. Let’s all give this ongoing situation about  100 days, lets say until June 1st to see how this all shakes out. Another option of course would be if Mr. Kim gets President Moon up North and lets him know if the two Countries do not unite as one that he (Mr. Kim) will nuke the South ‘off the map’. Lets see what the History Books will be saying about this next 100 days. As a very dear old friend of mine used to say, “we shall see, what we shall see”.

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates


(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presentational grey line

A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

Presentational grey line

Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’



Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’

Arabic daily says high-level team visiting from Moscow came to Jerusalem to discourage action against Iran and Hezbollah

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A delegation of senior Russian security officials visiting Israel this weekreportedly sought to dissuade Jerusalem from striking Iranian and Hezbollah weapons facilities in Syria and Lebanon.

According to the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 news, the purpose of Wednesday’s visit, headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, was Moscow’s desire to discourage Israeli intervention across the border, Channel 10 news reported.

The Russian delegation, which also included deputy ministers, army generals and intelligence officers, held talks with Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat as well as heads of Israel’s National Security Council and top military, defense and intelligence officials.

Patrushev himself met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Iran-backed Shiite militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group away from the border.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah. Foreign media reports have attributed dozens of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria to Israel.

Last week’s visit by the Russian officials came on the heels of Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss Iranian military entrenchment in the region.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

Netanyahu said his meeting with Putin focused on Iran, with the prime minister saying if Tehran continues to try and deepen its influence in Syria, Israel would work to “stop it.”

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will not accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran. Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, Netanyahu said.

Last month, Israel’s envoy to the United Nations said there are 3,000 soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps currently fighting in Syria, and accused Tehran of seeking to turn the country “into the largest military base in the world.”

Danny Danon told the Security Council that Iran controls 82,000 fighters in Syria, including 9,000 members of Hezbollah, 10,000 Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and another 60,000 Syrians.

Danon urged member states not to “allow Iran to continue funding worldwide terror, pursue its dangerous internal arms buildup, and grow its military presence abroad.”


US Navy puzzled by recent behavior of Iranian attack boats



US Navy puzzled by recent behavior of Iranian attack boats


  • The two sides have operated without incident for more than five months
  • In total, there were 14 unsafe and unprofessional interactions in 2017 and 36 in 2016

Washington (CNN)It is a trend that has US Navy officials scratching their heads.

Between January 2016 and August 2017, US warships consistently encountered armed Iranian “fast attack” boats and drones in the Persian Gulf as the two sides routinely accused each other of behaving provocatively.
But after nearly two years of regular “unsafe” or “unprofessional” interactions, the two sides have operated without incident for more than five months — a sudden shift the US Navy is welcoming with cautious optimism.
“We are not going to speculate on the reason for this recent positive trend in interactions, though we hope it will continue in the future,” Navy spokesperson Lt. Chloe J. Morgan, a spokesperson for US Naval Forces Central Command, told CNN in a statement.
“While we consider the decreased incidents in the second half of 2017 to be a positive development, the United States Navy remains vigilant as we continue to operate,” the statement said.
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The Wall Street Journal was first to report the story.
In total, there were 14 unsafe and unprofessional interactions in 2017 and 36 in 2016 — an average of 2.5 such encounters per month over that time period, according to Morgan.
The last incident occurred on August 14, 2017 when an Iranian drone flew in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner” close to a US aircraft carrier in the central Persian Gulf, according to the US Navy.
During that encounter, a QOM-1 drone came within 1,000 feet of US aircraft flying near the USS Nimitz, prompting the US Navy to use an emergency radio frequency in an attempt to call Iranian ground units.
A US defense official told CNN at the time that the US deemed the drone’s behavior unsafe because it did not have any aircraft navigation lights on — an issue that remains a concern for the Navy despite the recent decrease in interactions.
“Even with the decreased incidents, we remain concerned with the increased number of Iranian UAVs operating in international airspace at night without navigation lights or an active transponder as would be expected according to international norms,” Morgan said.
CNN was first to report one notably tense encounter in August 2017 when a US Navy patrol craft fired three warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boat after US officials said it had harassed that patrol craft.
Another US patrol craft and a Kuwaiti Navy ship were also harassed in the incident, which took place in the northern end of the Persian Gulf.
At one point, the Iranian boat came within 200 yards of one of the US Navy boats. When it failed to leave the area after the Navy had fired flares and had a radio conversation with the Iranian crew, the US officials said, the USS Squall fired three warning shots. Following standard maritime procedures, the Navy fired the three shots into the water to ensure the Iranians understood they needed to leave the immediate area.
A similar incident occurred in July 2017 when a US Navy ship fired warning shots at an armed Iranian patrol boat in the northern end of the Persian Gulf, two US defense officials told CNN at the time.
An Iranian boat believed to be operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, approached and came within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt, a US Navy patrol ship, officials said.
The USS Thunderbolt was accompanied by the USS Vella Gulf, which is a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, and two US Coast Guard vessels at the time.
When the Iranians did not respond to any US warnings, the Navy ship then fired warning shots into the water over concerns about the possibility of a collision, one of the officials said.

U.S. Has Issued Its Highest ‘Do Not Travel’ Warning for 5 Mexican States  




Updated: January 11, 2018 11:19 AM ET

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning Wednesday advising Americans to avoid five states in Mexico, putting the regions at the same level of danger as war-torn Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

The level 4 “do not travel” risk is the highest warning and applies to the Pacific coast states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas on the eastern Gulf.

“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread,” the advisory reads.

TIME Graphic by Lon Tweeten

Guerrero has suffered from a long history of violence. In 2014, 43 students were abducted and killed in Guerrero state. Last week, a police shootout left 11 people dead. In the travel advisory, the State Department warns that, “Armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers.”

Criminal organizations also operate heavily in the state of Sinaloa. In 2016, the infamous cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was arrested and extradited, but violence remains in the power vacuum of his drug empire.

Last year, Mexico’s homicide rate was the deadliest on record, according to the Guardian, with 23,101 murder investigations opened.

Mexico overall was given a level 2 warning, which means travelers should “exercise increased caution.” Eleven additional Mexican states received a level 3 warning, meaning “reconsider travel.”

The country’s main tourism destinations — Cancún, the Mayan Riviera, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, and Mexico City — have no travel restrictions, Mexico’s tourism secretariat said in a statement.