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Israel’s raid on Syria (DISCUSSION & ANALYSIS)

Israel’s raid appears to have been intended to disrupt the ongoing offensive against ISIS but has provoked a powerful response.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Russians have now formally confirmed earlier media reports that following the Israeli air raid on Syria on Friday the Israeli ambassador in Moscow was called in to the Russian Foreign Ministry to be handed a stern lecture and a stiff protest.

Moscow’s confirmation of the Russian protest to Israel, and the fact that the Israeli ambassador was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry within hours of the raid taking place, shows how seriously the Russians are treating this incident.

What is most interesting – and worrying – about this incident is not whether or not an Israeli aircraft was shot down.  The Syrians regularly claim to have shot down Israel aircraft, and the Israelis equally regularly deny this was the case.  The Syrians have provided no evidence of any Israeli aircraft being shot down, and it is unlikely one was.

Rather what is worrying about this incident is that the Syrians claim that the air raid targeted Syrian military facilities near Palmyra – deep inside Syria – and that the Syrians were sufficiently concerned about the air strike that they in turn attempted to shoot the Israeli aircraft down whilst they were flying over Israeli territory.

To understand what happened it is necessary to piece together the facts of the incident to the extent that the limited information available makes that possible.

The first report of the incident was provided by the official Syrian news agency SANA, whose report reads as follows

According to a statement by the Command, the four Israeli aircrafts violated the Syrian airspace in al-Breij area through the Lebanese territories at 2:40 am.

The Israeli warplanes targeted a military site near Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs, said the Army’s Command, confirming that the Syria air defense forces confronted the enemy’s aircrafts and shot down one of them inside the occupied territories, hit another and forced the other two to withdraw.

“This blatant Israeli act of aggression came as part of the Zionist enemy’s persistence with supporting ISIS terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” the statement read.

From this report it appears that the Israeli aircraft did not penetrate deep into Syrian territory.  Rather it seems that the Israeli aircraft slipped across the border, almost immediately launched their missiles against their target, and then turned back home.

Probably the most accurate account of the Israeli aircraft movements during the raid is provided here

According the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at 2:34 AM four Israeli jets flying at low altitude entered Lebanese airspace from the Mediterranean over the south Lebanese village of Al-Abbassiyeh. Though the LAF claims the jets turned back to Israel shortly afterwards, it appears they may have actually continued flying towards northeastern Lebanon. From there, according to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the jets entered Syria at 2:40 AM over the village of al-Bureij – across the border from northeastern Lebanon – and, using stand-off missiles, targeted a Syrian army position in the direction of Palmyra. Other pro-Assad sources claimed that nearby Beqaa Valley residents heard explosions at a target between the Lebanese border and Damascus. Though the Israeli army acknowledged – for the first time – that it had carried out the strike, it did not reveal any information on its targets.

The stand-off missiles the Israelis would have used would have been either Popeye missiles or – more probably – longer range Delilah cruise missiles, which undoubtedly do have the range to reach targets near Palmyra from the al-Bureij area.

The Syrians appear to have retaliated by launching S-200 (“SAM-5”) missiles at the Israeli aircraft after the raid as the aircraft were returning home to their bases.

The Syrians seem to have waited until the Israeli aircraft had recrossed the Lebanese border back into Israel before launching their missiles.  The SANA report clearly says that the air defence missiles were launched at the Israeli aircraft whilst they were over “occupied territory”, which might mean the West Bank or the Golan Heights, but more likely is intended to mean Israel itself (Syria has still not recognised Israel and officially considers the whole of Israel to be occupied Palestinian territory).

The Israelis claim that one of the Syrian air defence missiles launched at their aircraft was itself shot down by an Israeli Arrow-3 missile.

There is again no evidence of any Syrian missile being actually shot down, and as several people have pointed out, using an air defence missile designed to protect Israel from missiles launched at ground targets in order to shoot down an air defence missile launched unsuccessfully at an aircraft, on the face of it makes little sense.

If the Israelis did launch one of their Arrow-3 missiles at a Syrian S-200 missile that was attempting to shoot down one of their aicraft, then that suggests that they misidentified the Syrian missile, which in turn also suggests that they were taken by surprise and did not expect the Syrian response.

That a missile strike of some sort did take place over Israeli territory is however confirmed by eyewitness reports

A sonic boom could be heard in parts of Israel and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, sirens sounded in the Jordan Valley.

Clearly neither the Syrians nor the Israelis are being entirely forthcoming about what happened, but that this was an extremely serious incident is of no doubt.

The Israelis regularly carry out air strikes in Syria.  It is however a long time since they have launched a strike so deep into Syria as Palmyra.

The Israelis have not admitted that the target of the strike was near Palmyra.  However they have not denied it either, and unofficial reports from Israel suggest the target of the strike was in fact Syria’s Tiyas or T4 air base, which is located in the general area of Palmyra.

The Syrians in turn, though they make regular claim of having shot down Israeli aircraft overflying their territory, have not attempted to shoot down Israeli aircraft flying over Israeli territory for a very long time.  That they attempted to do so in this case, essentially ambushing Israeli aircraft as they were returning to their bases after the raid, shows both their anger at the raid and the significant recent increase in their capabilities, with the Syrians now able to track Israeli aircraft inside Israeli controlled territory after they complete their missions.

The Russians for their part have never been known to call in the Israeli ambassador over an Israeli air raid in Syria at any time since Russia began its intervention in Syria in September 2015.  That they have done so in this case shows how seriously they are treating this incident.

Lastly, the blustering response from the Israelis, with Netanyahu issuing thinly veiled warnings to Moscow and the Israelis bragging about their ability to destroy Syria’s air defences and threatening to do so “without the slightest hesitation”, suggests that they are rattled, and that they have been taken by surprise and are alarmed by the Syrian and Russian response.

The key to explaining this incident is the probable target of the raid: Syria’s Tiyas or T4 air base.

Contrary to some claims, the Tiyas air base has never been captured by ISIS or by any other Jihadi group, though ISIS did unsuccessfully attempt to capture it following its temporary capture of Palmyra last December.

Tiyas is one of Syria’s biggest air bases, and was the base from which the Syrian army launched its counter-offensive which recaptured Palmyra a few weeks ago.  Tiyas is now providing critical support to the ongoing Syrian military offensive against ISIS, whose ultimate objective appears to be the relief of the besieged eastern desert city of Deir Ezzor.

Unofficially, the Israelis always claim that their air strikes in Syria are intended to prevent weapons supplies to Hezbollah.  In this case unofficial claims are circulating in Israel that the air strike was intended to stop a handover of Scud missiles at the Tiyas air base by Syria to Hezbollah.

This is on the face of it extremely unlikely.  There are no reports of Hezbollah fighters present in any number near Palmyra or at the Tiyas base, or of them being involved in the ongoing Syrian military offensive against ISIS.  It is anyway unlikely that the Syrians would use the Tiyas air base – close to the front line in the fight against ISIS and far away from Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon – in order to supply Scud missiles to Hezbollah.  If the Syrians really were transferring such powerful weapons to Hezbollah, a far more likely place for them to do it would be Damascus.

A far more natural explanation for the Israeli raid is that it was intended to disrupt the ongoing Syrian army offensive against ISIS, which relies heavily on smooth operation of the Tiyas air base.  This after all is what the Syrian military is quoted by SANA (see above) as saying was the reason for the raid

“This blatant Israeli act of aggression came as part of the Zionist enemy’s persistence with supporting ISIS terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations.”

There have been persistent reports throughout the Syrian war that Israel would prefer a Jihadi victory or even an ISIS victory in Syria to the restoration of the Syrian government’s full control over Syria.

The Syrian government’s major regional allies are Iran and Hezbollah, which Israel has come to see as its major enemies, so the possibility that Israel might wish to see the Syrian government defeated is not in itself unlikely.  Possibly rather than an outright Jihadi victory, which might cause Israel serious problems in the future, what some tough minded people in Israel want is an indefinite prolongation of the war, so as to tie down the Syrian military, Hezbollah and Iran, preventing them from challenging Israel.

If that is indeed the thinking of some people in Tel Aviv, then it would explain the raid on the Tiyas air base.  It would however be an astonishingly reckless and cynical thing to do, to support an organisation like ISIS in order to disrupt the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

Of course there is a widespread view that it was precisely in order to disrupt this alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah that the Syrian war was launched in the first place.   Whether or not that is so, and whether or not Israel had any part in that, the Israelis now need to reconsider their stance.  On any objective assessment their tactic of providing discrete backing to ISIS and to the other Jihadi groups fighting the Syrian government is achieving the opposite of Israel’s interests.

Instead of weakening or breaking the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, the Syrian war has made it stronger, with Iran and Hezbollah both coming to Syria’s rescue, and Iraq increasingly cooperating with them in doing so.  The result is that Iran’s influence in Syria has grown stronger so that there is now even talk of Iran establishing a naval base in Syria, whilst Hezbollah is probably stronger than it has ever been before.

The Syrian military is also becoming significantly stronger, with the incident of the raid showing that technical help from Russia has now made it possible for the Syrians to track and intercept Israeli aircraft over Israeli territory.

The Syrian war has also caused Russia to intervene in Syria, making Russia a de facto ally of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

The result is that Russia is now busy establishing a massive air defence and military base complex in Syria, which for the first time has brought a military superpower with far greater technological and military resources than Israel’s own close to Israel’s border.

The result is that for the first time in its history – apart from the brief period of the so-called War of Attrition (‘Operation Kavkaz’) of 1970 – Israel’s military dominance in the region of the region is being seriously challenged.  Already there are reports that the Russian air defence system in Syria is too advanced for the Israelis to defeat, and that the Russians have the ability to track every single Israeli aircraft that takes off in Israel itself.

Lastly, the Russian protest to Israel on Friday shows that the Russians are prepared to speak up for Syria if it is being attacked or threatened.

Perpetual military confrontation with its neighbours is not the solution to Israel’s security problems.  Nor is the attempt to conjure up a witches’ brew of Jihadi terrorist groups in order to disrupt or destabilise them a good idea, whilst an outright alliance with groups like ISIS – however discretely it is done – is frankly a deeply immoral and appalling idea.

It is to be sincerely hoped that following the incident on Friday there are some cooler heads in Israel that are able to see this.

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Russia and China Are Containing the US to Reshape the World Order

China and Russia are leading this historic transition while being careful to avoid direct war with the United States.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Fortunately the world today is very different from that of 2003, Washington’s decrees are less effective in determining the world order. But in spite of this new, more balanced division of power amongst several powers, Washington appears ever more aggressive towards allies and enemies alike, regardless of which US president is in office.

China and Russia are leading this historic transition while being careful to avoid direct war with the United States. To succeed in this endeavor, they use a hybrid strategy involving diplomacy, military support to allies, and economic guarantees to countries under Washington’s attack.

The United States considers the whole planet its playground. Its military and political doctrine is based on the concept of liberal hegemony, as explained by political scientist John Mearsheimer. This imperialistic attitude has, over time, created a coordinated and semi-official front of countries resisting this liberal hegemony. The recent events in Venezuela indicate why cooperation between these counter-hegemonic countries is essential to accelerating the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar reality, where the damage US imperialism is able to bring about is diminished.

Moscow and Beijing lead the world by hindering Washington

Moscow and Beijing, following a complex relationship from the period of the Cold War, have managed to achieve a confluence of interests in their grand objectives over the coming years. The understanding they have come to mainly revolves around stemming the chaos Washington has unleashed on the world.

The guiding principle of the US military-intelligence apparatus is that if a country cannot be controlled (such as Iraq following the 2003 invasion), then it has to be destroyed in order to save it from falling into Sino-Russian camp. This is what the United States has attempted to do with Syria, and what it intends to do with Venezuela.

The Middle East is an area that has drawn global attention for some time, with Washington clearly interested in supporting its Israeli and Saudi allies in the region. Israel pursues a foreign policy aimed at dismantling the Iranian and Syrian states. Saudi Arabia also pursues a similar strategy against Iran and Syria, in addition to fueling a rift within the Arab world stemming from its differences with Qatar.

The foreign-policy decisions of Israel and Saudi Arabia have been supported by Washington for decades, for two very specific reasons: the influence of the Israel lobby in the US, and the need to ensure that Saudi Arabia and the OPEC countries sell oil in US dollars, thereby preserving the role of the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

The US dollar remaining the global reserve currency is essential to Washington being able to maintain her role as superpower and is crucial to her hybrid strategy against her geopolitical rivals. Sanctions are a good example of how Washington uses the global financial and economic system, based on the US dollar, as a weapon against her enemies. In the case of the Middle East, Iran is the main target, with sanctions aimed at preventing the Islamic Republic from trading on foreign banking systems. Washington has vetoed Syria’s ability to procure contracts to reconstruct the country, with European companies being threatened that they risk no longer being able to work in the US if they accept to work in Syria.

Beijing and Moscow have a clear diplomatic strategy, jointly rejecting countless motions advanced by the US, the UK and France at the United Nations Security Council condemning Iran and Syria. On the military front, Russia continues her presence in Syria. China’s economic efforts, although not yet fully visible in Syria and Iran, will be the essential part of reviving these countries destroyed by years of war inflicted by Washington and her allies.

China and Russia’s containment strategy in the Middle East aims to defend Syria and Iran diplomatically using international law, something that is continuously ridden roughshod over by the US and her regional allies. Russia’s military action has been crucial to curbing and defeating the inhuman aggression launched against Syria, and has also drawn a red line that Israel cannot cross in its efforts to attack Iran. The defeat of the United States in Syria has created an encouraging precedent for the rest of the world. Washington has been forced to abandon the original plans to getting rid of Assad.

Syria will be remembered in the future as the beginning of the multipolar revolution, whereby the United States was contained in military-conventional terms as a result of the coordinated actions of China and Russia.

China’s economic contribution provides for such urgent needs as the supply of food, government loans, and medicines to countries under Washington’s economic siege. So long as the global financial system remains anchored to the US dollar, Washington remains able to cause a lot of pain to countries refusing to obey her diktats.

The effectiveness of economic sanctions varies from country to country. The Russian Federation used sanctions imposed by the West as an impetus to obtain a complete, or almost autonomous, refinancing of its main foreign debt, as well as to producing at home what had previously been imported from abroad. Russia’s long-term strategy is to open up to China and other Asian countries as the main market for imports and exports, reducing contacts with the Europeans if countries like France and Germany continue in their hostility towards the Russian Federation.

Thanks to Chinese investments, together with planned projects like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the hegemony of the US dollar is under threat in the medium to long term. The Chinese initiatives in the fields of infrastructure, energy, rail, road and technology connections among dozens of countries, added to the continuing need for oil, will drive ever-increasing consumption of oil in Asia that is currently paid for in US dollars.

Moscow is in a privileged position, enjoying good relations with all the major producers of oil and LNG, from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, and including Iran, Venezuela and Nigeria. Moscow’s good relations with Riyadh are ultimately aimed at the creation of an OPEC+ arrangement that includes Russia.

Particular attention should be given to the situation in Venezuela, one of the most important countries in OPEC. Riyadh sent to Caracas in recent weeks a tanker carrying two million barrels of oil, and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has taken a neutral stance regarding Venezuela, maintaining a predictable balance between Washington and Caracas.

These joint initiatives, led by Moscow and Beijing, are aimed at reducing the use of the US dollar by countries that are involved in the BRI and adhere to the OPEC+ format. This diversification away from the US dollar, to cover financial transactions between countries involving investment, oil and LNG, will see the progressive abandonment of the US dollar as a result of agreements that increasingly do away with the dollar.

For the moment, Riyadh does not seem intent on losing US military protection. But recent events to do with Khashoggi, as well as the failure to list Saudi Aramco on the New York or London stock exchanges, have severely undermined the confidence of the Saudi royal family in her American allies. The meeting between Putin and MBS at the G20 in Bueno Aires seemed to signal a clear message to Washington as well as the future of the US dollar.

Moscow and Beijing’s military, economic and diplomatic efforts see their culmination in the Astana process. Turkey is one of the principle countries behind the aggression against Syria; but Moscow and Tehran have incorporated it into the process of containing the regional chaos spawned by the United States. Thanks to timely agreements in Syria known as “deconfliction zones”, Damascus has advanced, city by city, to clear the country of the terrorists financed by Washington, Riyadh and Ankara.

Qatar, an economic guarantor of Turkey, which in return offers military protection to Doha, is also moving away from the Israeli-Saudi camp as a result of Sino-Russian efforts in the energy, diplomatic and military fields. Doha’s move has also been because of the fratricidal diplomatic-economic war launched by Riyadh against Doha, being yet another example of the contagious effect of the chaos created by Washington, especially on US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Washington loses military influence in the region thanks to the presence of Moscow, and this leads traditional US allies like Turkey and Qatar to gravitate towards a field composed essentially of the countries opposed to Washington.

Washington’s military and diplomatic defeat in the region will in the long run make it possible to change the economic structure of the Middle East. A multipolar reality will prevail, where regional powers like Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran will feel compelled to interact economically with the whole Eurasian continent as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The basic principle for Moscow and Beijing is the use of military, economic and diplomatic means to contain the United States in its unceasing drive to kill, steal and destroy.

From the Middle East to Asia

Beijing has focussed in Asia on the diplomatic field, facilitating talks between North and South Korea, accelerating the internal dialogue on the peninsula, thereby excluding external actors like the United States (who only have the intention of sabotaging the talks). Beijing’s military component has also played an important role, although never used directly as the Russian Federation did in Syria. Washington’s options vis-a-vis the Korean peninsular were strongly limited by the fact that bordering the DPRK were huge nuclear and conventional forces, that is to say, the deterrence offered by Russia and China. The combined military power of the DPRK, Russia and China made any hypothetical invasion and bombing of Pyongyang an impractical option for the United States.

As in the past, the economic lifeline extended to Pyongyang by Moscow and Beijing proved to be decisive in limiting the effects of the embargo and the complete financial war that Washington had declared on North Korea. Beijing and Moscow’s skilled diplomatic work with Seoul produced an effect similar to that of Turkey in the Middle East, with South Korea slowly seeming to drift towards the multipolar world offered by Russia and China, with important economic implications and prospects for unification of the peninsula.

Russia and China – through a combination of playing a clever game of diplomacy, military deterrence, and offering to the Korean peninsula the prospect of economic investment through the BRI – have managed to frustrate Washington’s efforts to unleash chaos on their borders via the Korean peninsula.

The United States seems to be losing its imperialistic mojo most significantly in Asia and the Middle East, not only militarily but also diplomatically and economically.

The situation is different in Europe and Venezuela, two geographical areas where Washington still enjoys greater geopolitical weight than in Asia and the Middle East. In both cases, the effectiveness of the two Sino-Russian resistance – in military, economic and diplomatic terms – is more limited, for different reasons. This situation, in line with the principle of America First and the return to the Monroe doctrine, will be the subject of the next article.

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Nearly assassinated by his own fighters, al-Baghdadi and his caliphate on its last legs (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 178.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how the Islamic State has been rapidly losing territory over the last two years in Syria and Iraq, due to efforts by Russian and Syrian forces, as well as the US and their Kurdish allies.

The jihadist caliphate has lost most of its forces and resources, leading it to go into hiding.

Al-Masdar News is reporting that Daesh* leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly attacked in a village near Hajin by some of the terrorist organisation’s foreign fighters in an apparent coup attempt, The Guardian reported, citing anonymous intelligence sources. Baghdadi reportedly survived the alleged coup attempt, with his bodyguards taking him into hiding in the nearby desert.

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Meanwhile European leaders are shocked at US President Trump’s ISIS ultimatum. Via Zerohedge

After President Trump’s provocative tweets on Sunday wherein he urged European countries to “take back” and prosecute some 800 ISIS foreign fighters as US forces withdraw from Syria, or else “we will be forced to release them,” the message has been met with shock, confusion and indifference in Europe. Trump had warned the terrorists could subsequently “permeate Europe”.

Possibly the most pathetic and somewhat ironic response came from Denmark, where a spokesperson for Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said Copenhagen won’t take back Danish Islamic State foreign fighters to stand trial in the country, according to the German Press Agency DPA“We are talking about the most dangerous people in the world. We should not take them back,” the spokesperson stressed, and added that the war in Syria is ongoing, making the US president’s statement premature.

Germany’s response was also interesting, given a government official framed ISIS fighters’ ability to return as a “right”.  A spokeswoman for Germany’s interior ministry said, “In principle, all German citizens and those suspected of having fought for so-called Islamic State have the right to return.” She even added that German ISIS fighters have “consular access” — as if the terrorists would walk right up to some embassy window in Turkey or Beirut!

Noting that the Iraqi government has also of late contacted Germany to transport foreign fighters to their home country for trial, she added, “But in Syria, the German government cannot guarantee legal and consular duties for jailed German citizens due to the armed conflict there.”

France, for its part, has already agreed to repatriate over 130 French Islamic State members as part of a deal reached in January with US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are holding them, after which they will go through the French legal system. However, French Secretary of State Laurent Nuñez still insisted that the west’s Kurdish allies would never merely let ISIS terrorists walk out their battlefield prisons free.

“It’s the Kurds who hold them and we have every confidence in their ability to keep them,” Nuñez told French broadcaster BFMTV on Sunday. “Anyway, if these individuals return to the national territory, they all have ongoing judicial proceedings, they will all be put on trial, and incarcerated,” he said, in comments which appeared to leave it up to others to make happen.

And representing the Belgian government, Justice Minister Koen Geens charged Trump with blindsiding his European allies with the demand, which included Trump underscoring that it is “time for others to step up and do the job” before it’s too late. “It would have been nice for friendly nations to have these kinds of questions raised through the usual diplomatic channels rather than a tweet in the middle of the night,” Geens said during a broadcast interview on Sunday, according to the AFP.

Meanwhile in the UK the issue has recently become politically explosive as debate over so-called British jihadist bride Shamima Begum continues. The now 19-year old joined Islamic State in 2015 after fleeing the UK when she was just 15. She’s now given birth in a Syrian refugee camp and is demanding safe return to Britain for fear that she and her child could die in the camp, so near the war zone.

Conservatives in Britain, such as Interior Minister Sajid Javid have argued that “dangerous individuals” coming back to the UK from battlefields in the Middle East should be stripped of their British citizenship. He said this option has already been “so far exercises more than 100 times,” otherwise he also advocates prosecution of apprehended returning suspects “regardless of their age and gender.”

Identified as French nationals fighting within ISIS’ ranks, via Khaama press news agency

The UN has estimated that in total up to 42,000 foreign fighters traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS — which appears a very conservative estimate — and which includes about 900 from Germany and 850 from Britain.

SDF leaders have previously complained about the “lack the capacity” for mass incarceration of ISIS terrorists and the inability to have proper battlefield trials for them. Recent estimates have put the number of ISIS militants in US-SDF battlefield jails at over 1000, though Trump put the number at 800 in his tweet.

However, even once they do return to Europe it’s unclear the extent to which they’ll be properly prosecuted and locked in prison by European authorities.

For example, another fresh controversy that lately erupted in Britain involved a 29-year old UK woman who traveled to join ISIS, and was convicted for membership in a terrorist group upon her return to Britain. She was jailed on a six year sentence in 2016, but is now already walking free a mere less than three years after her conviction.

 

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‘End of free speech’: Maffick CEO, host slam Facebook’s unprovoked ‘censorship’ after CNN report

This is because of the political content that challenges the US wars. It is absolutely an act of censorship.

RT

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Via RT…


Facebook blocking several pages operated by Maffick Media is nothing short of outright censorship, the company’s CEO Anissa Naouai said, after a US-funded think tank pointed them out to CNN for a ‘hit-piece’.

The actions of the social media giant, which suspended the accounts of In the Now, Soapbox, Back Then and Waste-Ed last Friday without providing any explanation or even contacting the company that ran the pages, is nothing but a simple attempt to get rid of dissenting voices critical of Washington’s policies, Naouai told RT.

It is blatant censorship. What else can you call it?

Unexplained ban

The ban came literally out of the blue even though Maffick did not violate any existing Facebook regulations. “There is no rule that you have to post anything about your funding or personal funding. No one does it, not any of the US-sponsored outlets,” Naouai said. However, that was apparently the stated reason for the blocking as a Facebook spokesperson said the social media giant wanted the pages to become more transparent by disclosing their funding and “Russian affiliations.”

Facebook never contacted Maffick Media directly, though. In fact, it did not even answer the company’s emails and stayed conspicuously silent about the ways that would allow the accounts to be reinstated. “We have not heard a word from Facebook and it has been over three days now,” Naouai said.

The whole situation makes one think that the suspension is in fact connected to the pages’ popularity as well as their critical stance towards US policies, the Maffick CEO said. “We have hosts that talk about things that are not allowed to talk about on other networks like CNN,” she explained.

“If a video that says that gets hundreds of thousands of views on a page that has millions of views, people [in Washington] start to notice that and they get upset. I believe that is why we were targeted: because of our success and because of, as CNN said, high quality of our videos,” Naouai added.

The Maffick CEO also assumed that a recent piece on the US-sponsored coup attempt in Venezuela might have become a trigger for this drastic measure taken by Facebook. “There is a very … divisive and obnoxious policy taking place right now against Venezuela,” she said, “we do not know if this was the segment that triggered [the suspension] but the timing is convenient.”

“When someone calls out what is happening in Venezuela as a blatant coup it ruffles the feathers of think tanks that spent millions if not billions of dollars to persuade [the audience otherwise] and lobby their interests.”

‘Interrogation’ by CNN

Some details of this whole case may indeed seem odd. Just about an hour after the pages were blocked, CNN published a report on the issue as if they broke the news. “CNN knew that we were going to be blocked before we did,” Naouai said, explaining that, when she found out her company’s pages were suspended, CNN had already published its piece.

Weeks before the blocking, CNN sought to interview some freelancers working with Maffick in an apparent attempt to “dig up some dirt,” Rania Khalek, the American host of Soapbox – one of the video shows Maffick ran on Facebook – recalled.

When the company’s leadership “got wind of it” and offered CNN an interview, it all ended up with a 45-minute “interrogation” loaded with “unethical” questions that “almost any other media organization would even think to answer.”

It felt like a police interrogation: very invasive questions about Maffick and our editorial policies. It was clear that they were doing a hit-piece.

“A CNN journalist repeatedly asked me about my political viewpoints. He was in complete disbelief that I have editorial control over my scripts. He could not understand how it was possible,” Khalek, who was one of those, who gave the interview to CNN, said.

Maffick Media assumed that CNN might in fact pressure Facebook into blocking the accounts. “It is a very competitive market existing in a very political atmosphere that is toxic right now in the US,” Naouai said.

Loophole for state censorship?

CNN itself admits in its piece that it did not just stumble upon the Facebook pages in question independently. Instead, this issue was brought to its attention by the Alliance for Securing Democracy – a part of the German Marshall Fund. This fund is a think tank, which is financed by the US and German governments and has such people as Michael Morell, the former CIA deputy head, and Jacob Sullivan, former Vice President Joe Biden’s top security aide, on its advisory board.

Now, CNN, which stepped on a slippery slope by scrutinizing other media outlets’ funding, had to go to some extraordinary lengths to persuade its audience that the Alliance for Securing Democracy “does not receive any funding” from the German Marshall Fund, while still being a part of it at the same time. However, all these facts just added a new layer to the story.

“You have this US-funded think tank prompting CNN to pressure Facebook to ban our pages. That is an act of censorship,”Khalek said. She thinks the whole scheme was used to circumvent the First Amendment banning the US authorities from directly censoring free speech. “So, they use a middleman to pressure private companies to censor us,” she added, calling it a “legal loophole.”

‘Beginning of an end’

Regardless of who is really behind the ploy, Facebook banning some media pages without any explanation sets a tremendously dangerous precedent, Maffick Media believes. “We had a verified page, which had billions of views, just disappear from online without any kind of comment, any kind of requirement, without breaking any rules. That is unprecedented,” Naouai said.

You have Facebook dictating what people can and cannot see and judging what is good content and bad content. And it is all based on the accusations and criticism coming from a government-funded outlet. If Facebook does it to us, it can do it to anyone,” Khalek warned.

This is because of the political content that challenges the US wars. It is absolutely an act of censorship.

The US establishment apparently seeks to suppress the outlets that “offer a platform to alternative voices that can speak out against US wars and the corporate control over our government in a way that you just do not hear in our corporate media,” the Soapbox host believes.

However, if the social media giant and the likes of it will just continue to randomly block media resources while having “no grounds” to do so, it could create very serious problems for society, Naouai believes.

That would be the beginning of an end of free speech.

 

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