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Is MBS now looking for war? If so will it be against Hezbollah in Lebanon or against Qatar?

Rumours of Saudi military strike against Iran’s Middle East allies Hezbollah and Qatar sweep the Middle East

Alexander Mercouris

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Reports from the Middle East that an extraordinary Arab League Summit is being convened at the instigation of Saudi Arabia, supposedly to discuss “Iranian interference” in the region, come alongside growing rumours that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s volatile de facto ruler, is planning a military strike against those in the Middle East whom he can come to see as Iran’s allies: Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Gulf state of Qatar, which is currently under Saudi blockade.

Such a military strike would be in character with the wilful behaviour Muhammad bin Salman has been exhibiting since he burst on the Middle East’s political scene following the accession of his father King Salman in January 2015.

Muhammad bin Salman is believed to have played the decisive role in the disastrous decision by Saudi Arabia to invade neighbouring Yemen in March 2015, and he is also widely and almost certainly credited with being the person who was behind the Saudi decision earlier this year to impose the blockade on Qatar.

With reports of Saudi F-15 fighters flying over Saudi bases, most speculation centref on a possible Saudi air strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon as a follow-up to the Saudi enforced ‘resignation’ of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

A Saudi air strike on Hezbollah however faces an obvious obstacle.  The most direct line for Saudi F-15s to launch a strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon would be across Iraq and Syria.

Iraq – which is becoming increasingly aligned with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – would presumably refuse the Saudis permission to send their F-15 fighters through its air space for such a purpose, and Syria undoubtedly would.

Muhammad bin Salman might be reckless enough to send his F-15s across Iraqi and Syrian air space regardless, trusting in the fact that the Iraqi and Syrian air forces and air defence systems are unlikely to be able to intercept them.

However it would be a gamble, especially in the case of Syria which does operate advanced anti aircraft missile systems independently of the Russians, and which might be actually capable of shooting Saudi Arabia’s F-15s down.

The alternative would be to launch the air strike from bases in Turkey, Jordan or Egypt.

However Turkey – currently on bad terms with Saudi Arabia after siding with Qatar in the quarrel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia – would probably not agree, whilst an air strike from Jordan would have to overfly Israel which would need Israeli permission, something which despite the de facto alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia might still be controversial with Islamist feeling in Saudi Arabia,

That leaves Egypt as the only obvious choice for a Saudi air strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Whilst that is possible, and the planned Arab League summit meeting in Cairo might be intended to provide cover for it, it would mean Saudi F-15s would have to cover a considerable distance over the Mediterranean sea to reach Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.

That is a type of operation the Saudi air force has never done before and of which it has no experience.

Moreover the Saudis would have to consider that their F-15s would be continuously tracked en route from Egypt to Lebanon by the Russians, who have advanced radars in Syria and with their Mediterranean fleet that would enable to do this.

Whilst the Russians would be extremely unlikely to shoot the Saudi F-15s down, they might give Hezbollah a tip-off, which would give Hezbollah time to prepare.

Assuming that the Saudi F-15s did finally get to Lebanon it is not clear what they would achieve there.

Lebanon is a country which is being almost continuously bombed by the Israeli air force, an air force immeasurably more powerful than that of the Saudis.

Nearly all this Israeli bombing targets Hezbollah, which has therefore long since learnt to prepare itself for bombing.  As it happens Israel’s bombing has never injured Hezbollah to any significant degree, and an intensive month long Israeli bombing campaign against Hezbollah in 2006 actually left the movement stronger.

It is impossible to see what damage the Saudi air force could realistically hope to do to Hezbollah which the far more powerful Israeli air force has not tried and failed to do previously, making the whole exercise look both expensive and pointless.

Whilst Muhammad bin Salman comes across as an impulsive and wilful individual, one must assume that there are people within the Saudi air force who are pointing this all out to him, and are advising him that an air strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon would be both extremely complicated and militarily pointless.

If Muhammad bin Salman really is intent on making trouble for Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon – as seems to be the case – then his obvious course is not through an over-complicated and militarily pointless air strike but through stirring up the profound sectarian differences that constantly beset  Lebanon.

Unfortunately because of the depth and extent of Lebanon’s sectarian divisions this is a policy which has a real prospect of success, and the current visit of Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch to Saudi Arabia – where he is supposed to meet with Saad Harari – suggests that this is precisely the route Muhammad bin Salman is taking.

After all doing so would be consistent with previous Saudi policy, which has always been to try to exploit sectarian differences to achieve political goals, as for example in the undeclared war Saudi Arabia has waged against President Assad of Syria.

Whilst with someone as volatile and unpredictable as Muhammad bin Salman it is never possible to be sure, my own view is that if he really is intent on war then the more obvious target is not Hezbollah in Lebanon but Qatar, which is a tiny country with a border with Saudi Arabia which is easy for Saudi Arabia to attack and which because of its small size in the event of a Saudi attack would be incapable of defending itself.

I discussed this possibility back in June when the Saudi blockade of Qatar was first imposed.  I pointed out then that the blockade of Qatar looked very much like it was intended to set the scene for an armed invasion

Whilst I do not know this for a fact, I think it is at least possible that Saudi Arabia’s breaking of diplomatic relations and the land and air blockade it imposed on Qatar were intended to be followed up by a ground invasion of Qatar.

Such an aggressive step would be very much in character for Saudi Arabia’s volatile de facto leader Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In a follow-up article written shortly afterwards I discussed this possibility in more detail

…….there has to be a risk that rather than be humiliated by climbing down or having his ultimatum exposed as a bluff Prince Mohammed bin Salman might decide instead to double down further, and do what Saddam Hussein did in 1980, which is launch a ground invasion of a small but rich neighbouring Arab country which is daring to defy him.

After all like Saddam Hussein he already has form.  Just as before attacking Kuwait in 1990 Saddam Hussein had previously in 1981 attacked Iran, so in March 2015 – just weeks after his father became King – Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the prime instigator of the disastrous Saudi intervention in Yemen.

If Prince Mohammed bin Salman really does order an attack on Qatar then there is a serious danger that the situation could spiral out of control.

In the event the invasion which I feared in June never happened, either because it was never planned or because Muhammad bin Salman was talked of it by the other Saudi Princes or by the US, or because he was deterred by the strong statements Turkish President Erdogan made at the time which seemed to hint that in the event of a Saudi attack on Qatar Turkey would come to Qatar’s rescue.

I will here state my view – which is broadly the same as the Moon of Alabama’s – that it was internal criticism within Saudi Arabia following his failure in June to bring Qatar to heel which provoked Muhammad bin Salman into launching his purge.

Now however with talk of war in the Middle East growing, an article has appeared by Paul Cochrane on Consortium News which speculates that a Saudi invasion of Qatar may be on the cards again

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Washington D.C.-based consultancy Gulf State Analytics, posits that Qatar could be brought under Saudi Arabia’s umbrella by force to seize the country’s huge gas reserves, the third largest in the world.

Who knows, black swan events do occur, and the global powers would vocally oppose such a move but likely not exercise military intervention a la 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. troops based in Qatar would just stay in their base; the Trump administration has signalled it has sided with Riyadh, even though the State Department has been more nuanced towards Doha. As for the Turks and the Iranians, they would not want to be brought into a conflagration with Riyadh and the ATQ. That really would tear the MENA apart.

Ultimately, there’s not much to stop a Saudi gas grab. There’s not much desire internationally for yet another Middle Eastern military “adventure” following the debacles in Iraq and Libya, while nobody’s lifted a finger against Saudi Arabia for its war against Yemen. As long as Qatari gas exports remain uninterrupted, the global powers might readily accept a change of management.

The point in this article about the possibility of Saudi Arabia seizing Qatar’s huge gas reserves being a strong incentive to launch an invasion is an important one.

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 was largely caused by his urgent need for money to rebuild Iraq’s economy and shore up his regime following the massively costly Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Muhammad bin Salman, with his Homerically ambitious and hopelessly unrealistic Saudi Vision 2030 project to finance at a time when Saudi Arabia is short of funds because of the oil price fall, is potentially also someone on the lookout for money.  As I pointed out in my recent article discussing Muhammad bin Salman’s purge, the money he has seized from the Saudi princes and their followers he has rounded up is nowhere near enough.  The temptation to add to Saudi Arabia’s resources by seizing Qatar’s huge oil and gas wealth must therefore be very strong.

Whether a Saudi invasion of Qatar would be as risk-free as Paul Cochrane’s article suggests is however another matter.

The two strongest military powers in the region – Iran and Turkey – back Qatar.  It is not inconceivable that in the event of a Saudi invasion of Qatar they may feel they have no choice but to come to Qatar’s rescue.

If so that would bring the crisis in the Gulf to stratospheric levels, with the US caught in the middle in a war between two sets of US allies: Turkey and Qatar on the one side versus Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Gulf states on the other.

The fact that the US has its single biggest Middle East military base in Qatar, that Iran would side with Turkey and Qatar in such a war, and that Qatar – as the country under attack – would have international law on its side, would make the problems the US would face in the event of such a crisis even worse.

Given all these risks one would assume that US diplomacy would be doing all in its power to warn Muhammad bin Salman against such a reckless venture.

Sadly, it seems US diplomacy in the Middle East is asleep at the wheel,  There is no sign of any diplomatic move by the US to get Muhammad bin Salman to restrain himself, which given the dysfunctional state of US policy in the wake of the Russiagate scandal is unsurprising.

The situation in the Middle East is extremely tense as the fallout from the Russian-Iranian victory in the Syrian war, the recent Iraqi victory over the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the emergence in Saudi Arabia of Muhammad bin Salman, transform the region.

We may have some anxious days ahead.

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Macron pisses off Merkel as he tries to sabotage Nord Stream 2 pipeline (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 177.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss an EU compromise for Nord Stream 2 where EU member states, the EU Parliament, and its Commission will give the bloc more oversight on gas pipelines, with one caveat…the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia will not be threatened by the new regulations in the agreement.

Macron pushed hard to have the new regulations include (and derail) Nord Stream 2, an action which annoyed Angela Merkel, who eventually got her way and delivered another blow to Macron’s failing French presidency.

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Via The Express UK

Angela Merkel hit back at Emmanuel Macron over Russia and Germany’s pipeline project, declaring it would “not be a one-sided dependency”. The German Chancellor explained that Germany will expand its gas terminals with “liquified gas”. Speaking at a press conference, Ms Merkel declared: “Do we become dependent on Russia because of this second gas pipeline? I say no, if we diversify. Germany will expand its gas terminals with liquefied gas.

“This means that we do not want to depend only on Russia, but Russia was a source of gas in the Cold War and will remain one.

“But it would not be one-sided dependency.”

Via DW

The EU parliament and its Council are set to adopt new regulations on gas pipelines connecting the bloc members with non-EU countries, the EU Commission announced early on Wednesday.

The upcoming directive is based on a compromise between EU member states and EU officials in Brussels. The bloc leaders agreed to tighten Brussels’ oversight of gas delivery and expand its rules to all pipelines plugging into the EU’s gas distribution network.

“The new rules ensure that… everyone interested in selling gas to Europe must respect European energy law,” EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in a statement.

For example, owners of pipelines linking EU and non-EU countries would also be required to allow access for their competitors. Brussels would also have more power regarding transparency and tariff regulations.

Russian ambassador slams US

Brussels has repeatedly expressed concern over the controversial Nord Stream 2 project which would deliver Russian gas directly to Germany through a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Many EU states oppose the mammoth project, and the US claims it would allow Moscow to tighten its grip on the EU’s energy policy.

Berlin has insisted that the pipeline is a “purely economic” issue.

Speaking to Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung daily, Russian ambassador to Berlin, Sergey Nechayev, slammed the US’ opposition as an attempt to “push its competition aside” and clear the way for American suppliers of liquefied gas.

“It’s hard to believe that a country that is destroying the rules of free and fair trade, that is imposing import tariffs on its competition, that is flying slogans like ‘America First’ on its flags and often threatens biggest European concerns with illegal sanctions, is now really concerned about European interests,” the Russian envoy said in remarks published in German on Wednesday.

Last week, France unexpectedly rebelled against the project, but Berlin and Paris soon reached a compromise. Thanks to their agreement, the latest deal is not expected to impede the ongoing construction of Nord Stream 2.

Citing sources from negotiators’ circles, German public broadcaster ARD reported that the deal left room for Germany to approve exceptions from the EU-wide rules.

According to the EU Commission, however, exceptions are “only possible under strict procedures in which the Commission plays a decisive role.”

The Gazprom-backed pipeline is set to be completed by the end of the year.

 

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UK Defence Secretary looking for a fight with both China and Russia (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 87.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s idea to deploy hard power against China and Russia, starting with plans to send Britain’s new aircraft carrier to the tense sea routes in the South China Sea.

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“Britain’s Gavin Williamson places Russia & China on notice, I’m not joking,” authored by John Wight, via RT

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is itching for conflict with Russia and China. He’s not mad. Not even slightly. But he is stupid. Very.

Unlike former fireplace salesman Gavin Williamson, I am no military expert. But then you do not need to be one to understand that while Britain going to war with Russia and China might work as a video game, the real thing would be an exceedingly bad idea.

So why then in a speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute in London, did Mr Williamson’s argument on the feasibility of the real thing elicit applause rather than the shrieks of horror and demands he be sacked forthwith it should have? This is a serious question, by the way. It is one that cuts through British establishment verbiage to reveal a country ruled not by the sober and doughty political heavyweights of years gone by, but by foaming fanatics in expensive suits

Placing to one side for a moment the insanity of the very concept of Britain deploying hard power against Russia and/or China, the prospect of fighting a war against two designated enemies at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Not satisfied with that, though, Mr Williamson is actually contemplating a conflict with three different enemies at the same time – i.e. against Russia, China, and the millions of people in Britain his government is currently waging war against under the rubric of austerity.

“Today, Russia is resurgent,” Mr Williamson said, “rebuilding its military arsenal and seeking to bring the independent countries of the former Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine, back into its orbit.”

For Mr Williamson and his ilk a resurgent Russia is a bad thing. Much better in their eyes if Russia, after the Soviet era in the 1990s, had remained on its knees as a free market desert; its state institutions in a state of near collapse and tens of millions of its citizens in the grip of immiseration. Yes, because in that scenario Western ideologues like him would have had free rein to rampage around the world as they saw fit, setting fire to country after country on the perverse grounds of ‘saving them’ for democracy.

As it is, he and his still managed to squeeze in a considerable amount of carnage and chaos in the years it did take Russia to recover. The indictment reads as follows: Yugoslavia destroyed; Afghanistan turned upside down; Iraq pushed into the abyss; Libya sent to hell.

By the time they turned their attention to Syria, intent on exploiting an Arab Spring that NATO in Libya transformed into an Arab Winter, Russia had recovered and was able to intervene. It did so in concert with the Syrian Arab Army, Iran and Hezbollah to save the day – much to the evident chagrin of those who, like Gavin Williamson, prefer to see countries in ashes rather than independent of Western hegemony.

As to the facile nonsense about Russia trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine back into its orbit, both countries happen to share a border with Russia and both countries, in recent years, have been used by the UK and its allies as cat’s paws with the eastward expansion of NATO in mind.

It gets worse though: “The Alliance must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us. Such action from Russia must come at a cost.”

“Provocations,” the man said. Since British troops have been taking part in exercises on Russia’s doorstep, not the other way round, one wonders if Gavin Williamson wrote this speech while inebriated.

It is Russia that has been on the receiving end of repeated provocations from NATO member states such as the UK in recent times, and it is Russia that has been forced to respond to protect its own security and that of its people where necessary. Furthermore, not only in Russia but everywhere, including the UK, people understand that when you have political leaders intoxicated by their own national myths and propaganda to such an extent as Britain’s Defence Secretary, danger ensues.

The most enduring of those national myths where London is concerned is that the British Empire was a force for good rather than a vast criminal enterprise, that Britain and America won the Second World War together alone, that Iraq had WMDs, and that international law and international brigandage really are one and the same thing.

Perhaps the most preposterous section of the speech came when Mr Williamson tried to fashion a connection between Brexit and Britain’s military strength: “Brexit has brought us to a moment. A great moment in our history. A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.”

Reading this, you can almost hear Churchill turning in his grave. Britain’s wartime prime minister had such as Gavin Williamson in mind when he famously said, “He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of the vices I admire.”

Mr Williamson obviously misread the memo talking up not the opportunity for increased conflict with China after Brexit but trade.

This was not a speech it was a linguistic car crash, one that will forever command an honoured place in compendiums of the worst political speeches ever made. As for Gavin Williamson, just as no responsible parent would ever dream of putting an 10-year old behind the wheel of car to drive unsupervised, no responsible British government would ever appoint a man like him as its Defence Secretary.

In years past, he would have struggled to find employment polishing the brass plate outside the building.

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The Birth Of A Monster

The banking establishment welcomed the Fed with open arms. What gives?

The Duran

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Authored by David Howden via The Mises Institute:


The Federal Reserve’s doors have been open for “business” for one hundred years. In explaining the creation of this money-making machine (pun intended – the Fed remits nearly $100 bn. in profits each year to Congress) most people fall into one of two camps.

Those inclined to view the Fed as a helpful institution, fostering financial stability in a world of error-prone capitalists, explain the creation of the Fed as a natural and healthy outgrowth of the troubled National Banking System. How helpful the Fed has been is questionable at best, and in a recent book edited by Joe Salerno and me — The Fed at One Hundred — various contributors outline many (though by no means all) of the Fed’s shortcomings over the past century.

Others, mostly those with a skeptical view of the Fed, treat its creation as an exercise in secretive government meddling (as in G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island) or crony capitalism run amok (as in Murray Rothbard’s The Case Against the Fed).

In my own chapter in The Fed at One Hundred I find sympathies with both groups (you can download the chapter pdf here). The actual creation of the Fed is a tragically beautiful case study in closed-door Congressional deals and big banking’s ultimate victory over the American public. Neither of these facts emerged from nowhere, however. The fateful events that transpired in 1910 on Jekyll Island were the evolutionary outcome of over fifty years of government meddling in money. As such, the Fed is a natural (though terribly unfortunate) outgrowth of an ever more flawed and repressive monetary system.

Before the Fed

Allow me to give a brief reverse biographical sketch of the events leading up to the creation of a monster in 1914.

Unlike many controversial laws and policies of the American government — such as the Affordable Care Act, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or the War on Terror — the Federal Reserve Act passed with very little public outcry. Also strange for an industry effectively cartelized, the banking establishment welcomed the Fed with open arms. What gives?

By the early twentieth century, America’s banking system was in a shambles. Fractional-reserve banks faced with “runs” (which didn’t have to be runs with the pandemonium that usually accompanies them, but rather just banks having insufficient cash to meet daily withdrawal requests) frequently suspended cash redemptions or issued claims to “clearinghouse certificates.” These certificates were a money substitute making use of the whole banking system’s reserves held by large clearinghouses.

Both of these “solutions” to the common bank run were illegal as they allowed a bank to redefine the terms of the original deposit contract. This fact notwithstanding, the US government turned a blind eye as the alternative (widespread bank failures) was perceived to be far worse.

The creation of the Fed, the ensuing centralization of reserves, and the creation of a more elastic money supply was welcomed by the government as a way to eliminate those pesky and illegal (yet permitted) banking activities of redemption suspensions and the issuance of clearinghouse certificates. The Fed returned legitimacy to the laws of the land. That is, it addressed the government’s fear that non-enforcement of a law would raise broader questions about the general rule of law.

The Fed provided a quick fix to depositors by reducing cases of suspensions of their accounts. And the banking industry saw the Fed as a way to serve clients better without incurring a cost (fewer bank runs) and at the same time coordinate their activities to expand credit in unison and maximize their own profits.

In short, the Federal Reserve Act had a solution for everyone.

Taking a central role in this story are the private clearinghouses which provided for many of the Fed’s roles before 1914. Indeed, America’s private clearinghouses were viewed as having as many powers as European central banks of the day, and the creation of the Fed was really just an effort to make the illegal practices of the clearinghouses legal by government institutionalization.

Why Did Clearinghouses Have So Much Power?

Throughout the late nineteenth century, clearinghouses used each new banking crisis to introduce a new type of policy, bringing them ever closer in appearance to a central bank. I wouldn’t go so far as to say these are examples of power grabs by the clearinghouses, but rather rational responses to fundamental problems in a troubled American banking system.

When bank runs occurred, the clearinghouse certificate came into use, first in 1857, but confined to the interbank market to economize on reserves. Transactions could be cleared in specie, but lacking sufficient reserves, a troubled bank could make use of the certificates. These certificates were jointly guaranteed by all banks in the clearinghouse system through their pooled reserves. This joint guarantee was welcomed by unstable banks with poor reserve positions, and imposed a cost on more prudently managed banks (as is the case today with deposit insurance). A prudent bank could complain, but if it wanted to use a clearinghouse’s services and reap the cost advantages it had to comply with the reserve-pooling policy.

As the magnitude of the banking crisis intensified, clearinghouses started permitting banks to issue the certificates directly to the public (starting with the Panic of 1873) to further stymie reserve drains. (These issues to the general public amounted to illegal money substitutes, though they were tolerated, as noted above.)

Fractional-Reserve Free Banking and Bust

The year 1857 is a somewhat strange one for these clearinghouse certificates to make their first appearance. It was, after all, a full twenty years into America’s experiment with fractional-reserve free banking. This banking system was able to function stably, especially compared to more regulated periods or central banking regimes. However, the dislocation between deposit and lending activities set in motion a credit-fueled boom that culminated in the Panic of 1857.

This boom and panic has all the makings of an Austrian business cycle. Banks overextended themselves to finance the booming industries during America’s westward advance, primarily the railways. Land speculation was rampant. As realized profits came in under expectations, investors got skittish and withdrew money from banks. Troubled banks turned to the recently established New York Clearing House to promote stability. Certain rights were voluntarily abrogated in return for a guarantee on their solvency.

The original sin of the free-banking period was its fractional-reserve foundation. Without the ability to fund lending activity with their deposit base, banks never would have financed the boom to the extent that it became a destabilizing factor. Westward expansion and investment would still have occurred, though it would have occurred in a sustainable way funded through equity investments and loans. (These types of financing were used, though as is the case today, this occurred less than would be the case given the fractional-reserve banking system’s essentially cost-free funding source: the deposit base.)

In conclusion, the Fed was not birthed from nothing in 1913. The monster was the natural outgrowth of an increasingly troubled banking system. In searching for the original problem that set in motion the events culminating in the creation of the Fed, one must draw attention to the Panic of 1857 as the spark that set in motion ever more destabilizing policies. The Panic itself is a textbook example of an Austrian business cycle, caused by the lending activities of fractional-reserve banks. This original sin of the banking system concluded with the birth of a monster in 1914: The Federal Reserve.

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