The Pentagon was not the only party pressing Donald Trump to keep troops in Syria last year. It turns out the Israeli government and its supporters in Washington were working very hard to get the Trump administration to use America’s military presence there to support an Israeli campaign of airstrikes aimed at threatening war with Iran.
The Israeli strategy was aimed at dividing Russia from Iran and thus putting pressure on Tehran to withdraw its military personnel from Syria. A campaign by a pro-Israel think tank actually succeeded in getting such a policy ready for Trump’s approval last fall—although it was not supported by some Pentagon officials.
The story of the Israel lobby’s latest attempt to capture American policy, recounted here for the first time, reveals just how far Israel was able to reach into the Trump administration before the president personally intervened.
You have to wonder how Netanyahu is going to do this now that Syria has Russia’s S-300 anti-aircraft systems. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
Speaking at the fifth Israel-Greece-Cyprus summit held in the southern city of Beersheba on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to intensify military action in Syria after the White House’s unexpected order for all US troops to pullout out of the country — an effort that’s expected to be complete within months.
“We will continue to act in Syria to prevent Iran’s efforts to militarily entrench itself against us. We are not reducing our efforts, we will increase our efforts. I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the US,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister further revealed he was personally warned in advance that the American pullout was imminent during during phone conversations with President Trump on Monday and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday.
President Trump has made a huge mistake placing all his chips on Saudi Arabia and Mohammad bin Salman in the Middle East. From Alastair Crooke at strategic-culture.org:
“Mr. Trump, nor anyone else in his administration, has announced any conclusions about how Mr. Khashoggi died, or who bears responsibility for ordering the killing”, a Washington Post editorial fulminates. “Instead, they have pretended to be waiting for the results of a Saudi investigation… the obvious problem with that stance is it assumes that Mohammed bin Salman himself is not at the bottom of the Khashoggi plot — though abundant evidence points to the crown prince. In truth, as the administration surely knows, there is no Saudi investigation — only a cover-up operation that has clumsily tried to disguise itself as an inquiry”.
One aspect to this affair is the US domestic issue. The White House is increasingly perceived – as the Washington Post implies – as engaged in a ‘soft’ cover-up of a cover-up. That is to say, the White House is being viewed as so set on keeping MbS in position as lynchpin to Trump’s entire Middle Eastern strategy that the White House and Mr Bolton will try to turn a Nelsonian ‘blind eye’ – or a ‘selective ear’ – to any audio evidence provided by the Turkish government that seems to implicate MbS.
President Trump is keeping his powder dry. He said: “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week … I’m forming a very strong opinion.” But caution on his part might be wise: leading Turkish daily, Yeni Safak, which is close to the Turkish government, and which has been covering leaked details of the Khashoggi investigation day by day, has reported that Maher Mutrib, the Saudi intelligence official who led the 15-man assassination team in Ankara, spoke to Badr al-Asaker, the head of the Crown Prince’s private office, four times directly after Khashoggi was killed (if it was Mutrib who said “tell your boss” to MbS’ chef de cabinet, then the implication is clear). This has not been officially confirmed, but it is possible (and likely) that Turkish intelligence has yet further details to trickle out, piecemeal, to discredit the Saudi ‘line’ each time the kingdom tries to ‘draw the line’ under the case. Erdogan is determined to get MbS’ scalp, it seems.
Benjamin Netanyahu is not going to abandon his good buddy Mohammad bin Salman, any more than Donald Trump will. From Middle East Eye at theantimedia.org:
The Saudi crown prince is the key Arab linchpin of the Trump-Netanyahu deal of the century and shares Netnayahu’s animosity toward both Iran and Erdogan.
For the past month, while governments and media outlet around the world sounded a drumbeat of shock and dismay over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, all that could be heard on the subject from Israel was the sound of crickets. Israeli columnist Ben Caspit said his country’s leadership was avoiding the subject “like the plague.”
It appears no Israeli politician wants to say anything for fear of offending that country’s latest Arab bromantic partner, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Bin Salman, according to many analysts, would have had to have ordered the murder of a figure as prominent as Khashoggi.
Then on Friday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally gave his view on the Khashoggi case, saying it had to be “dealt with” but not at the cost of the stability of Saudi Arabia and the fight against Iran.
In terms of influencing American politics, no foreign nation does so as much as Israel, and it has for years. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
Well, this is going to make the weekend’s political conversations a little more awkward around America.
As the mainstream media (and even the leftist politicians) begin to back quietly away from the “collusion” narrative, they remain increasingly focused on Russia’s “evil” efforts at “meddling” in the US election and “interfering with our democracy,” or some such hysterical phrase.
And that is what makes the comments by mainstay of world-renowned political dissident and liberal-thinking hero Noam Chomsky’s comments in the following interview with Democracy Now so ‘awkward’ for the Trump-hating members of society.
…so, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke.
First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support.
Israeli intervention in U.S. elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done…
I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies – what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015….
Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to – calling on them to reverse U.S. policy, without even informing the president? And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence.
So if you happen to be interested in influence of – foreign influence on elections, there are places to look. But even that is a joke.
I mean, one of the most elementary principles of a functioning democracy is that elected representatives should be responsive to those who elected them. There’s nothing more elementary than that. But we know very well that that is simply not the case in the United States.
Reese Erlich sees little chance of a breakthrough on Syria at the Helsinki summit. From Erlich at antiwar.com:
Russian bombs rained down on towns of southern Syria as an estimated 320,000 civilians fled for their lives. Over the past several weeks tens of thousands walked to the Jordanian and Israeli borders hoping to escape the onslaught.
Rula Amin, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, based in Jordan, told me the displaced people left their homes with few belongings and are sleeping in the desert. “They need shelter, food, drinking water – and mostly, they need protection.”
“We appeal for an immediate cessation in hostilities and for a safe, unimpeded access to the displaced population that desperately needs assistance,” she said.
The crisis began in June when Syrian President Bashar al Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian allies, sought to recapture southern Syria, which has been under rebel control for five years. Russia negotiated the surrender of some rebel groups in early July. It’s not yet clear, according to the UNHCR, whether significant number of civilians can return to their homes.
Five countries are currently fighting in Syria. Russia, Iran, the United States, and Turkey have stationed troops. Israel regularly drops bombs and fires missiles.
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss Syria at their Helsinki summit July 16. The Trump administration is pressuring Russia to reduce the Iranian role in Syria, but will not likely succeed, according to Professor Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
“Iran is there to stay,” he told me. “Russia is not going to kick Iran out.”
A visit to Daraa
To understand the current crisis, let’s go back to 2011 when I reported from the southern Syrian city of Daraa. I tagged along with some Ukrainian TV journalists on an official tour of the city where the uprising had begun. Government minders claimed the Syrian people supported Assad and that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States had instigated the rebellion.
We visited an elementary school where adorable children recited their lessons in unison. Then, seeing the foreign reporters, many began chanting, “Freedom, Freedom,” the slogan of the anti-Assad opposition. Teachers led other students in chanting “Syria, Syria,” to show support for Assad.
The Assad officials blanched as the civil war divisions were on full display for foreign reporters. “The political chasm has reached the schools,” my government translator said. “First graders are now politically motivated.”
For roughly that first year, the Syrian government faced a popular uprising from a broad spectrum of religious and political opposition, part of the Arab Spring. Foreign powers did not create the rebellion, but they were very happy to take advantage of the regime’s lack of popularity to push their own agendas.
Has Trump become a neocon, dancing, like most of them, to Israel’s tune? From Alastair Crooke at strategic-culture.org:
The 8 May US Presidential declaration (on exiting JCPOA) requires of us fundamentally to revise our understanding of Trumpism. At the outset to his term of office, Trumpism was widely understood to be based on three key pillars: That the costs incurred by the US in upholding the full panoply of Empire (i.e. policing the American, rules-based, global order) were just too onerous and unfair (especially in the provision of the defence umbrella) – and that others must be coerced into sharing its cost. Secondly, that American jobs had been, as it were, stolen from America, and would have to be recovered through forced changes to the terms of trade. And thirdly, that these changes would be effected, through applying the tactics of the Art of the Deal.
That seemed, at least, to be clear, (if not necessarily a wholly feasible blueprint). But mostly we thought that the Art of the Deal was about threatening, blustering, and hiking leverage on ‘whatever the counterparty’ – raising tensions to explosive levels – before, at the very eleventh hour, at the very climax of crisis, offering ‘the deal’. And that was the point (then): Yes, Trump would toss verbal grenades intended to upend conventional expectations, take actions to force an issue – but the objective (as generally understood), was to get a deal: One that would tilt towards America’s mercantile and political interests, but a deal, nonetheless.
Maybe we misread Trump’s build-up of America’s already super-sized military. It seemed that it was about potential leverage: something to be offered (in terms of an umbrella to compliant states), or withdrawn from those who would not put their hand in their pocket deeply enough.
But everything changed with Trump’s 8 May statement. It was not just an American ‘exit’ that was mooted, it was full court financial war that was declared against Iran (with ‘terms of surrender’ couched in terms of regime change, and total submission to the US). But this is no longer about how to reach a ‘fairer’, better deal for the US; how to make it more money. Rather the financial system was to be leveraged to destroy another state’s currency and economy. The US military are being super-sized further, to be used: to be able to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on non-compliant states.
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