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Netanyahu in Moscow for Victory Day: why did Putin invite him?

Putin’s invitation to Netanyahu was diplomacy not surrender at a time when the Middle East is on fire and war with Iran may be coming

Alexander Mercouris

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News of the recent attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Moscow’s 9th May Victory Day Parade provoked a predictable range of reactions ranging from anger, dismay, denial and – on the part of some of the US’s and Israel’s friends – even a certain amount of gloating.

For an example of the latter, see for example these words by the British historian Niall Ferguson in a lengthy article hailing Donald Trump’s supposed masterstroke in pulling out of the JCPOA.

Economically weak enough to suffer a wave of riots in December and January, the Iranians will not find it easy to withstand the snap-back of sanctions and the roll-back of its forces abroad. And if you think the Russians will help them, you must have missed Binyamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin last week.

By contrast The Saker – normally a supporter of Putin’s – sees the whole episode as disgraceful, and the Israeli missile strike on Syria which also happened on Victory Day, as a humiliation for Putin and for Russia

……Bibi Netanyahu [was] invited to Moscow to the Victory Day Parade in spite of him bombing Syria, a Russian ally, just on the eve of his visit. Once in Moscow, Netanyahu compared Iran to, what else, Nazi Germany. How original and profound indeed! Then he proceeded to order the bombing of Syria for a second time, while still in Moscow. But then, what can we expect from a self-worshiping narcissist who finds it appropriate to serve food to the Japanese Prime Minister in a specially made shoe? The man is clearly batshit crazy (which in no way makes him less evil or dangerous). But it is the Russian reaction which is so totally disgusting: nothing, absolutely nothing. Unlike others, I have clearly said that it is not the Russian responsibility to “protect” Syria (or Iran) from the Israelis. But there is no doubt in my mind that Netanyahu has just publicly thumbed his nose at Putin and that Putin took it. For all my respect for Putin, this time he allowed Netanyahu to treat him just like Trump treated Macron. Except that in the case of Putin, he was so treated in his own capital. That makes it even worse……

…..it appears undeniable that the Zionists have enough power to simultaneously force not one, but two (supposed) superpowers to cave in to their demands. Not only that, they have the power to do that while also putting these two superpowers on a collision course against each other. At the very least, this shows two things: the United States has completely lost its sovereignty and is now an Israeli protectorate. As for Russia, well, she is doing comparatively better, but the full re-sovereignization the Russian people have voted for when they gave their overwhelming support to Putin will not happen…..

The fact that the event took place at a time when the situation in the Middle East has been particularly fraught undoubtedly strengthened those reactions.

Now that the dust has settled a little, it may be a good moment to review what actually happened during Netanyahu’s visit and to judge which if any of these reactions were justified.

Guest of Honour or not?

The part of my article which first reported Russia’s invitation to Netanyahu to attend the 9th May Victory Parade which provoked the strongest reaction was its title, which referred to Netanyahu as being invited to the Victory Day celebrations as “guest of honour”.

Several commentators – including on the thread of the article – seized on the fact that the Kremlin’s announcement of the invitation did not use the words “guest of honour” in order to deny that this was the case.  At its most extreme there were even suggestions that Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow was no more than a working visit which happened to coincide with the Victory Day celebrations.

The optics of the visit however tell a different story.

During the parade Netanyahu was on the podium, flanking Putin on his left whilst the other guest of honour, Serb President Alexander Vučić, flanked Putin on his right.

Netanyahu also flanked Putin on his left when Putin ceremoniously laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden near the Kremlin Wall (Vučić was again positioned to Putin’s right)

Netanyahu also marched alongside Putin during the March of the Immortal Regiment, and the Kremlin press service has released pictures of them together, this time showing Netanyahu on Putin’s right and Vučić on Putin’s left

Netanyahu also attended the official reception in the Kremlin.  Here he is during the reception with Putin and Vučić in a group photograph with a group of Russian soldiers

And here is Netanyahu again with Putin and Vučić during the formal dinner

And here is Netanyahu again, this time talking to Putin during the dinner

Note that Netanyahu, unlike Vučić, was careful to wear a Russian St. George’s Ribbon throughout the ceremonies.

In light of the prominence given to Netanyahu during the Victory Day celebrations I think it is simply impossible to deny that he together with President Vučić of Serbia was the guest of honour.

Why then did the Russians extend such an invitation to him?  Is it – as some argue – because Russia and Israel are in fact allies?

Russia and Israel are not allies

Two countries may be said to be allies if they (1) have a mutual defence or security pact with each other; or (2) share common enemies with each other.

Russia and Israel do not have a defence or security pact with each other.  Neither Russia nor Israel have pledged to come to the defence of the other if either one of them is attacked.  They cannot therefore be allies in that sense.

Do they however have enemies in common?

In recent years Russia has emerged as Syria’s most important ally and guarantor, and is forging increasingly friendly ties with Iran.

It is Syria and Iran which Israel says are its major state enemies.  Yet it turns out that far from being Russia’s enemies they are Russia’s friends.

Israel for its part is a longstanding and close ally of the US – with which it does have a security pact – but which is Russia’s main geopolitical adversary.

Clearly Russia and Israel do not have state enemies in common, so they cannot be allies in that sense either.

Russia and Israel both say that they oppose Jihadi terrorism.

However, Israel (as it admits) has been providing material aid to Jihadi fighters fighting the Syrian government in the Golan Heights even though these are people whom Russia calls terrorists, whist Russia for its part maintains contacts with the Palestinian group Hamas, which Israel says is a terrorist organisation.

It turns out that not only do Russia and Israel not have state enemies in common, but their definition of who is a terrorist is so different as to render it effectively impossible for them cooperate with each other to fight terrorism together.

On the basis of the usual criteria used to define allies – a mutual defence or security arrangement and/or enemies in common – Russia and Israel are not allies.  On the contrary, they are friends of each other’s adversaries.

Are Russia and Israel however allies in any some other less formal sense?

I cannot see how, unless the meaning of the word “ally” is to be stretched so far as to include all states which are on good terms with each other, in which case the word becomes effectively meaningless.

Russia and Israel are clearly not allies, and their relationship should not be described in that way.

Russia did not invite Netanyahu to the 9th Day Victory Parade in Moscow because Russia and Israel are allies.  Any discussion of the invitation based on that theory is therefore wrong.

Russia and Israel are not enemies

If Russia and Israel are not allies, and should not be called that, it is also true that they are in no sense enemies.

I have discussed this on numerous occasions and at great length.

Briefly, with respect to Russia, when Russia did for a period become Israel’s enemy by siding with the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the result was a disaster for Russia

…….no one in Moscow wants to see Russia become embroiled in the Syrian-Israeli conflict, which far predates Russia’s intervention in Syria, and which goes back all the way to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.

When following the 1967 Six Days War the Russians did commit themselves wholeheartedly to one side in the Arab-Israeli conflict – backing the Arabs diplomatically, arming the Arabs intensively, sending a strong military force to defend Egypt in 1970 from Israeli air attacks, and breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel – the result for Moscow was a catastrophe.

The USSR’s large Jewish community became alienated, the USSR found that by making an enemy of Israel it had further poisoned its relations with the Western powers at precisely the time when it was seeking detente with them, and the USSR quickly discovered that its Arab ‘allies’ in whom it had invested so much were both ungrateful and treacherous, so that by 1980 the USSR’s entire position in the Middle East had completely collapsed.

The final straw came after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, when volunteers from across the Arab world rushed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, in a way that they had never shown the slightest indication of wanting to do against Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, the Russians have therefore since the mid-1980s been determined never to become directly involved in any part of the Arab-Israel conflict again.

Thus whilst Russia maintains good relations with the Arab states, and whilst Russia continues to voice support for the Palestinians, Russia has always striven to maintain good relations with Israel as well, and has forged significant economic links with Israel.

As for Israel, it knows that the only country which is even theoretically capable of redressing the military balance in the Middle East in Iran’s and the Arabs’ favour to the point of creating a genuine existential threat for Israel is Russia.

It was after all only during the period of the USSR’s intervention on the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict when – especially during the period 1969 to 1973 – the conventional military balance shifted so far in the Arabs’ favour that Israel faced a serious risk of defeat in a conventional war.

Crucially, the only occasion when Israel lost its regional supremacy against its adversaries in the air was when it found itself pitted against the Soviet military in 1970 when the Soviet military successfully brought Israeli air raids into Egypt west of the Suez canal to a stop as a result of what the Soviets called Operation Kavkaz.

That fact in itself suffices to explain why Israel does not want to make an enemy of Russia.

Russia and Israel are (within limits) friends

If Russia and Israel have strong reasons not to want to be enemies of each other, they also have positive reasons for wanting to be friends.

Jewish immigration to Israel from the USSR and from Russia has created a substantial Russian speaking community in Israel, numbering around 900,000 people out of Israel’s total population of 8.8 million.

In keeping with their large numbers, Russian speaking Israelis now form a substantial electoral constituency, with one of their political leaders, Avigdor Lieberman, being Israel’s Defence Minister.

Though Russian speaking Israelis do not have a single set of views about Russia or indeed about anything else, many of them are proud of their connection to Russia, and are resolute in holding on to the Russian language and to Russian culture.

Many of them also seem to take an active interest in what is happening in Russia, and some of them not only retain links to Russia but are also active there.

The large number of Russian speaking Israelis therefore provides a strong electoral constituency within Israel which tends to support good relations between Israel and Russia.

Netanyahu, whose electoral coalition depends heavily on the votes of Russian speaking Israelis, and whose position as Israel’s Prime Minister depends heavily on the support of Russian speaking Israeli politicians like Lieberman, therefore has a strong political reason to want good relations with Russia.

Looking at the same issue from the Russian point of view, Israel is not only a powerful country, with which it would be in Russia’s interests to be on good terms, but it is also the one important Western ally of the US which has consistently refused over the last decade to join in the mounting campaign against Russia which has had the rest of the West in its grip.

Lieberman put it best in a recent interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, reproduced here by TASS

Israel reveres its relationship with Russia, which has flourished into efficient and transparent cooperation over the past couple of decades, even against the background of tough pressure from its closest partners, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Kommersant.

“For example, as far as the anti-Russia sanctions go, we flatly refused to join them. Many states expelled Russian diplomats not long ago, all due to the standoff regarding the use or non-use of nerve gas and so on. Israel did not join this action. We have a normal relationship with Russia and we comprehend its interests,” he said, adding that Tel Aviv also expects Moscow to “take into consideration our interests in the Middle East.”

Asked why the positions of Russia and Israel vary widely on such issues as the Syrian crisis, he said that Tel Aviv does not seek to pursue tensions with Russia. “On the contrary, we have established a very clear and frank, transparent dialogue with Russia over the past years, whenever we share opinions and even when we do not share opinions,” the minister said. “We do not interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. In my viewpoint, Assad is a war criminal responsible for killing over half a million of his own citizens. Assad, the Islamic State, Al Qaeda (outlawed in Russia – TASS), all radicals, Hezbollah are no different in essence. Nevertheless, we do not intend to interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. What we are not going to accept are any efforts taken by Iran to turn Syria into a foothold targeting us,” he added.

Lieberman acknowledged that Russian and Israeli actions are coordinated in Syria. “There is a phone hotline between Israel’s Defense Forces and the Russian contingent deployed in Syria. We always take into account Russia’s interests in Syria and hope very much that Russia will take into account Israel’s interests related to its security” he stressed.

According to the minister, Israel also bears no threat to Syria’s integrity. “There has been a murderous war for many years there, with at least half a million people dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, and I think the sooner it ends the sooner all of us could breathe easier,” he noted.

In fact the very attendance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Russia’s 9th May Victory Day Parade illustrates the point.

What other prominent Western leader would accept a Russian invitation to attend Russia’s 9th May Victory Day Parade at this time?  Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 the answer is none of them.  The last Western head of government to be offered an invitation to attend the Parade was Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in 2015.  Characteristically, and to the great annoyance of the Russians, he failed to turn up.

Given that this is so, it is not surprising that the Russian leadership should value the continued friendship of Israel – the only member of the Western alliance which still seems capable of conducting a foreign policy independent of Washington’s – and should wish to preserve it.

That by definition requires – as Lieberman says (see above) – a need for Russia to take Israel’s concerns into account.

Having said all of this, it is important to stress that this friendship – real though it is – has limits.

Nothing can alter the fact that Israel is ultimately an ally of the US and is aligned with the West, and that its adversaries in the Middle East are Russia’s friends.

That does not mean that Russia and Israel cannot be friends with each other.  It is a fallacy that countries cannot be friends even whilst they disagree on many issues with each other.

However, it does place a limit on how far that friendship can go, and it also means that the management of relations between the two countries requires careful handling.

No S-300 missiles for Syria

This accounts for Russia’s decision to refuse to supply S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria.

In the aftermath of the recent US missile strike on Syria there was talk that Russia might reconsider its decision to refuse to supply S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria.

I was skeptical.

Recently there has been some discussion in the media about the possibility of Russia supplying S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria by way of response to the recent US missile strike on Syria.

Precisely because the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria has the potential to disrupt Russia’s otherwise excellent relations with Israel – and given that the US strike on Syria was completely ineffective – I personally doubt the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria will take place.

In the event – and to predictable cries of betrayal – the Russians have now confirmed that the supply of S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria will not take place.

This is a logical decision since from a Russian point of view supply of S-300 missiles to Syria at this time would be counterproductive and would make little sense.

The point about the S-300 missile system is that it is (1) a system of such range and power that it could potentially put at risk Israeli aircraft operating over Israel itself; and (2) the failure of the US raid on Syria, and the possible failure of the more recent Israeli raid on Syria, begs the question of whether Syria needs it anyway.

In fact it is very easy to see how the supply of the S-300 anti aircraft system to Syria, far from protecting Syria, might actually be dangerous for Syria.

The Israelis would be bound to see its presence in Syria under Syrian military control as a major escalation and as a challenge to their air supremacy.  The risk would be that they would react to this challenge by planning a major air offensive to destroy it.  In this they would unquestionably have the total support – including the technical support – of the US.

The Israeli air force – if it were to throw all its resources into doing it and if it were backed by the full might of the US – would undoubtedly have the means to destroy whatever limited number of S-300 systems Russia might supply to Syria, even if the Israelis were to suffer some losses in the process.

At that point the world would undoubtedly construe what had happened as a Syrian defeat, and that would almost certainly be the perception within Syria itself.

Syria’s many enemies would be emboldened, Russia would be humiliated, and pressure in the West from the regime change lobby for the sort of all encompassing air offensive against Syria which they have always hankered for would increase.

It is impossible to see how any of this would benefit either Syria or Russia.

Ultimately the only way the Russians can be sure of stopping all Israeli raids on Syria would be if they assumed direct responsibility for the defence of the entirety of Syrian air space themselves.

That is what the Soviets did in 1970 when they came to Egypt’s defence in what the Russians call Operation Kavkaz, but which the Israelis misleadingly call the “War of Attrition”.

However that would pitch the Russians right back to the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict, making them again a direct player in that conflict, forfeiting Israel’s friendship in the process, and risking a repeat of the catastrophe which Russia suffered in the 1970s.

No one in authority in Moscow wants that, and the Russian people certainly do not want it either.

When I previously discussed the possibility of Russia supplying S-300 missiles to Syria I speculated that the Russians – if they were really considering doing such a thing – would give the Israelis assurances that they would retain operational control over the missiles so that they could not endanger Israeli aircraft.

That would however have taken away the whole point of supplying S-300 missiles to Syria in the first place, so wisely, if that idea was ever considered, it has been dropped.

In truth it is impossible to see why the Russians would want to change an air defence situation in Syria which from their point of view is working well.

The Russians have established a powerful air defence system under their own control in Syria.  It includes advanced S-400 and S-300V4 Antey-2500 air aircraft missiles and their associated radar systems as well as shorter range Buk-M3 and Tor-M2 missile systems and the very effective Pantsir-S1 point defence system.

This air defence system is supplemented by the powerful Krasukha-4 electronic warfare system, and is able to call on various electronic reconnaissance aircraft including the Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft, which now routinely operates in Syria.

The Russians have repeatedly made clear to the US, the Israelis and the Turks that this system is ready for use and is there to enforce Russia’s red lines in Syria.

These prohibit (1) attacks on Russian troops or Russian bases in Syria; (2) attacks which threaten the survival of the Syrian government; and (3) attacks which disrupt the Syrian military’s anti Jihadi operations.

The Russians have established hotlines with the US, Israeli and Turkish militaries, enabling them to coordinate with those militaries and to warn those militaries when it appears that those militaries are coming close to crossing Russia’s red lines.

Whenever the US, Israeli or Turkish militaries have in fact come close to crossing Russia’s red lines the Russians have responded forcefully, in some cases by switching off the hotlines.  On three occasions when that has happened it has forced the US and Turkish militaries to limit their air operations in Syria because of fear of action by the Russian air defence system.

Since the US missile strike on Syria in April last year the Russians have also upgraded Syria’s own air defence system.

This has been done without the supply of S-300 missiles to Syria, hugely risky and destabilising as that would be.

Instead it has been done by the radical upgrade of Syria’s existing air defence system, with technical improvements to Syria’s Soviet era systems, a comprehensive retraining of Syrian air defence personnel, and an apparently successful attempt to unify the system and to improve its radar surveillance capabilities.  In addition a number of short range but highly effective Pantsir-S1 systems have been supplied, providing the Syrians with effective point defence against missile strikes on their key facilities.

Russian accounts of the recent US and Israeli raids on Syria suggest that this effort to upgrade the Syrian air defence system has been successful.  Given that this is so, why take the enormous risk of supplying Syria with the S-300?

In summary, supplying Syria with S-300 missiles from a Russian point of view makes no sense, and no one should be surprised that the Russians have decided not to do it.

Almost certainly the Russians are telling the truth when they say that it was not Netanyahu who talked them out of it.  I say this because almost certainly they never seriously planned to do it in the first place,.

As for the talk that they might do it, in retrospect that looks like the angry talk of some Russian officials immediately after the US strike.  Decisions made in anger are repented at leisure and the Russians, knowing this, pulled back when their anger died down.

Though the Russians would not have needed Netanyahu to talk them out of the idea of supplying S-300 missiles to Syria, they did probably make use of his visit to inform him that the supply of S-300 missiles to Syria would not take place.

That of course would have improved the atmosphere of the visit, which from the Russian point of view would have been the one benefit they would gained from this affair.

As for suggestions I have seen that the Russians extracted concessions from Netanyahu in return for agreeing not to supply S-300 missiles to Syria, there is no evidence of that and I am sure it did not happen.

The growing crisis in the Middle East

Why then was Netanyahu invited to come to Moscow at this time?

For the answer to that it is first necessary to look at the fast deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

Since the Russians extended their invitation to Netanyahu the following things have happened in the Middle East in quick succession:

(1) The US has pulled out of the JCPOA and has announced that it intends to impose all encompassing sanctions on Iran.  Moreover the US is making clear that it intends to enforce these sanctions by imposing secondary sanctions on third country companies or businesses – including European companies and businesses – which continue to do business with Iran.  Already the French oil major Total is saying that the US sanctions will cause it to disinvest from Iran unless it is provided with a waiver by the US authorities.

(2) Israel has launched a major air strike on Syria, which gives every impression of having been  intended to defeat the Syrian air defence system the Russians have upgraded there;

(3) The US has transferred its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;

(4) There has been a massacre of Palestinians in Gaza protesting the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and demanding for all Palestinians their right to return to their homeland.

All of this has been happening against a background of increasingly angry rhetoric, including a preposterous comment by Netanyahu whilst in Moscow comparing Iran to Nazi Germany.

Adding to the tension are what look like reliable rumours, which have been – somewhat  unconvincingly-  denied, that a position paper is being circulated within the US National Security Council calling for a US sponsored regime change/’colour revolution’ to be organised by the US in Iran.

It is not difficult to see in all this a drift towards war in the Middle East, and that is what many people are increasingly saying is happening.

No change in Russia’s Middle East policies

A second point to make about Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, is to point out what has not happened in the Middle East following that visit.

There has been no change in Russian Middle East policy whatsoever.

Russia continues to support Syria militarily, with the Syrian military backed by the Russian air force continuing to score advances against Jihadi fighters throughout Syria.  Damascus is now on the brink of being fully secured, and the remaining Jihadi pockets in central Syria have now been almost completely cleared.

Russia continues to be committed to the JCPOA with Iran.  It has rejected US and Israeli calls for the JCPOA to be scrapped and for a new deal with Iran to be negotiated.

Far from scaling down its economic relations with Iran in response to the US sanctions, Russia appears intent on upgrading its economic relations with Iran.  Talks continue to be underway to establish a free trade area between the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and Iran.  The ‘oil for goods’ deal Russia and Iran agreed with each in 2015 remains in effect.

Russia continues to make clear its strong disagreement with the US decision to transfer the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It continues to call for East Jerusalem to be made the capital of a future Palestinian state, explicitly rejecting Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is and can only be Israel’s sole undivided capital.

Russia continues to say that it will only transfer its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the day when it is able to open an embassy to Palestine in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

In addition Russia continues to be strongly opposed to any military action by the US or Israel against Iran.

In no sense has Netanyahu’s visit to Russia brought about any change in Russia’s policy positions in the Middle East.

Russian policy remains consistent in its opposition to recent US and Israeli moves against Iran, and to the US’s regime change policies in Syria (which are supported by Israel).

Russia also continues to support Palestinian ownership of East Jerusalem and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in Palestine.

Russia’s priority: prevent a Middle East war

These two facts – the gathering crisis in the Middle East and Russia’s continued adherence to its well established and unchanging foreign positions – provide the reasons for the invitation to Netanyahu.

The Russians do not want war in the Middle East and are alarmed by the deterioration of the situation there, and are doing what they can to prevent it from deteriorating further.

They do not want war between Israel and Iran in Syria because such a war could rapidly escalate, threatening to drag them in, and putting the future of the Syrian government, which the Russians have worked so hard to save, in jeopardy.

They do not want war between the US and Israel and Iran because that would disrupt their plans to extend the Eurasian institutions into Central Asia, and would risk creating a further zone of chaos and crisis there in a region close to Russia.

They cannot talk to Donald Trump about these matters because the Russiagate scandal has made high level contact between them and him all but impossible.

On the rare occasions when Trump and Putin have talked or met with each other, the result has been uproar and scandal in the US, making meaningful discussions between the two men impossible.

Since the Russians cannot talk to Trump they have no choice but to talk to the other leading player in the anti Iran enterprise, who is at least willing to talk to them, and who is none other than Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

That is why the Russians invited Netanyahu to Moscow.

The talks in Moscow

The Russians have only provided the text of the introductory comments Putin and Netanyahu exchanged with each other when the two men met following the festivities on Victory Day.

By this point the two men would have been physically exhausted after a packed day’s events, making it unlikely that the talks went on for very long, or that they were very detailed.

However we know from things Netanyahu said before the talks that the focus of the talks was the situation in Syria, with Netanyahu raising Israeli concerns about the supposed Iranian build up in Syria, and the supposed need by Israel to counter this supposed Iranian build up there.

That makes it possible, based on the known positions the two leaders have previously expressed, to make educated guesses about what they said to each other during the talks.

Putin would have taken the opportunity to remind Netanyahu of Russia’s red lines in Syria.

I have set these out many times, but for the sake of clarity I will now do so again.  They are

(1) a prohibition on attacks on Russian bases and Russian facilities in Syria, and on attacks which threaten the lives of Russian soldiers in Syria;

(2) a prohibition on attacks which threaten the survival of the Syrian government; and

(3) a prohibition on attacks which disrupt the operations of the Syrian military against the Jihadis the Syrian military and the Russians are fighting.

Contrary to what some people are saying, I think it is most unlikely that Putin would have given Netanyahu any assurances that Russia would act to rein in Iranian activities in Syria.

If Netanyahu asked Putin for such assurances (which I also think unlikely) Putin would almost certainly have told him what the Russians always say when faced with requests for such assurances: Iran and Syria are sovereign states and Russia cannot interfere in arrangements two sovereign states make with each other.

Netanyahu must know Putin sufficiently well by now to know that this would be Putin’s answer if he were ever asked for such an assurance, which is why I doubt a request for such an assurance was made.

However Putin almost certainly did reassure Netanyahu that provided Russia’s red lines are not crossed Russia will not interfere in any Israeli military operations in Syria, including those which Netanyahu says are directed against Iran.

Putin might have used the opportunity to remind Netanyahu that Russia is not a party to the Arab-Israel conflict or to the state of war which has existed since 1948 between Israel and Syria.

However as Netanyahu knows this already, I think that is also unlikely.

In return Netanyahu would have assured Putin that Israel would continue to observe Russia’s red lines in Syria.

As it happens the Israeli raid on Syria on 9th May 2018 did observe Russia’s red lines, showing that the Russian warnings are being heeded.  Talk of this raid being a humiliation for Putin and for Russia is therefore wrong.

The JCPOA would undoubtedly also have been discussed, though the exchanges on this subject would have been short, since Putin and Netanyahu had discussed it previously over the course of a  telephone conversation the two had with each other just days before.

Putin would have reaffirmed Russia’s support for the JCPOA, and would have made clear that Russia remains committed to improving its relations with Iran.

However what look like strategically placed leaks suggest that Putin may have reassured Netanyahu that Russia would not supply “offensive weapons” to Iran.

“Offensive weapons” in this context means weapons like the SU-35 fighter and the Iskander land attack missile which Iran could use to attack Israel from Iranian territory.

An Interfax report timed 13:15 on 9th May 2018 (the day of the talks) says Russian Deputy Defence Minister Fomin confirmed that “Russia [is] not supplying offensive weapons to Iran”.

That almost certainly repeats an assurance Putin gave to Netanyahu during the talks.

Since Netanyahu knows of Russia’s intention to improve its relations with Iran, and would also have known that nothing he could say would change Putin’s mind about that, he was probably satisfied with this assurance.

It would have told him that Russia, despite forging ahead in its relations with Iran, is not going to put Iran in a position where Iran can challenge Israel militarily from its own national territory.

Almost certainly the question of a possible military attack by the US or Israel on Iran was not discussed.

There do not seem to be any plans for such an attack at the moment, and Putin would not have wanted to spoil the mood on what was after all a festive day by talking about a possible attack which may never happen.

However Netanyahu and Israel are under no doubt of Russia’s strong opposition to any such attack.

Russia made known its strong opposition to such an attack a decade ago when the possibility was first floated by hardliners within the George W. Bush administration.  Nothing has changed to alter Russia’s position about that.

In summary, the primary purpose of the talks and of the invitation to Netanyahu was – almost certainly – (1) to give Netanyahu a forceful reminder of Russia’s red lines in Syria at a time of heightened conflict between Israel and Syria and Israel and Iran; and (2) to give Netanyahu a promise that provided Israel exercised restraint and observed Russia’s red lines Russia would not interfere in Israeli military operations in Syria or provide Iran with weapons which Iran could use to challenge Israel from Iranian territory.

Over and above this, with the threat of a war in the Middle East increasing almost by the day, the invitation to Netanyahu keeps open a line of communication to one of the likely parties in that war, should such a war ever come to pass.

That is essential if diplomatic action is ever needed either to prevent that war happening or – if the war cannot be prevented – to prevent the war spreading and to limit the damage it causes whilst preparing the ground for diplomatic action to broker a compromise with the intention of bringing the war to an end.

The need to maintain a line of communication to Netanyahu – meaningful communication with Donald Trump being for the moment impossible – explains Russia’s muted reaction to the recent massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

Many people are very upset by this.  From the Russian point of view the need however to keep a channel of communication open to Netanyahu overrides the rhetorical benefits of a condemnation which can in practice change nothing.

If that seems calculated and cold blooded, then that is because it is.  However it is the tough minded way the Russians conduct their diplomacy.

Why Victory Day?

All of this could have been discussed between Putin and Netanyahu at any time.  Why then did the Russians take the further step of inviting Netanyahu to Moscow on Victory Day?

Undoubtedly one reason was to reassure Netanyahu that despite Russia’s increasingly close relations with Iran Russia continues to place a high value on its good relations with Israel.  It would be difficult to imagine a better or more public way to do that than to invite Netanyahu to attend what has become Russia’s most important and emotionally charged public holiday: the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

However if the invitation was in part a case of extending the velvet glove, it also came with a very public brandishing of the mailed fist.

It would be difficult to imagine a better way to impress on someone like Netanyahu the reality of Russia’s military power than to make them sit through the gigantic military parade Russia now routinely puts on in Red Square every year on Victory Day.

The sight of tens of thousands of perfectly drilled Russian troops – drilled to a level of perfection no longer attainable by any Western army, including the Israeli army – as well as the hugely impressive display of advanced weaponry, including S-400, Buk-M3, Tor-M2 and Pantsir-S1 anti aircraft systems deployed in Syria and the Iskander and Tornado land attack missiles and the SU-35 and SU-34 fighters and fighter bombers also deployed there, tells its own story.

This is the powerful military that is now entrenched across Israel’s border in Syria.  Does Israel want to tangle with it?

Perhaps Netanyahu is oblivious to that sort of warning, or perhaps he is not the sort of man to be impressed by a warning like that.

However with the Middle East drifting into crisis it is very easy to see why the Russians might think differently, and might think that now is a good time for such a warning to be given to him.

Dressing up a warning as a compliment is perfect diplomacy, and by common agreement diplomacy is something the Russians are very good at.

As a matter of fact Netanyahu, despite his belligerent reputation, is a strongly risk averse leader who has so far kept Israel out of wars.

I suspect that he understands the implicit warning he was given perfectly well, and understands fully the enormous risks he and Israel would be taking if they tried to take on Russia.

That is a major constraint on Netanyahu’s and Israel’s behaviour, and the pointed reminder of Russia’s military might Netanyahu was given on Victory Day can only have reinforced it.

Summary

As the situation in the Middle East deteriorates Russia, probably to its own surprise, finds itself at the centre of Middle East diplomacy.

Russia is now the only country able to talk to and influence both sides in the coming conflict: the alliance of the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the one hand, and the so-called “Axis of Resistance” of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and possibly Iraq on the other.

The invitation to Netanyahu is not an act of capitulation, or a sign that Russia is succumbing to Israeli influence.  Nor in my opinion is it some great public relations misstep.

It is the exercise of diplomacy at a particularly dangerous moment in the contemporary history of the Middle East.

The same is true of the other steps the Russians have been recently taking, such as President Putin’s two recent telephone conversations with Turkish President Erdogan, and the latest meeting in Sochi between President Putin and Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad.

Indeed at a time when no else is conducting diplomacy in the Middle East there will be many who think that it is just as well that the Russians are doing it.

This is being said in some surprising quarters.  By way of example, the Financial Times, normally a relentless critic of President Putin and of the Russian government, has recently published an editorial with the extraordinary headline: “The march to another Middle East disaster; Only Putin and the balance of terror stand between Iran, Israel and war“.

This editorial ends with these interesting words

In this far-from-ideal situation, the only country with viable bridges to both Israel and Iran is Russia. Fortunately, President Vladimir Putin is speaking to both sides. Whatever his motives, he looks the stronger for it.

Whether Russian diplomacy really can prevent war from breaking out in the Middle East is debatable.  However even if war does break out that does not mean that Russia’s actions would be wasted.

Positioning Russia where it can talk to both sides in a future war, and where it has leverage over both, might make it possible for the Russians to limit the conflict and to prevent it escalating beyond a certain point.

At the very least it puts Russia in a better position where it can act to protect its own interests.

There is no doubt that much of the ill feeling about Netanyahu’s presence in Moscow on Victory Day stems from a widespread view that Netanyahu is a war criminal and the arch warmonger in the Middle East.

It is doubtful however whether the Russian leadership sees the situation in that way.  From their point of view Netanyahu is the leader of a powerful country, which though a member of the Western alliance and a close ally of the US continues to want friendship with Russia at a time when relations between the West and Russia have become extremely bad.

Netanyahu and Israel are also central players in the Middle East, a region in which Russia is now heavily involved, and where it now has important interests..

For all these reasons the Russians must talk to Netanyahu, both in order to preserve their good relations with him and Israel, and so that they can pursue their own strategies unhindered in Iran and Syria.

In the particular circumstances of the moment Victory Day in Moscow provided the perfect venue to do it, and nobody who studies Russian policy carefully should therefore be surprised that the Russians invited Netanyahu to it.

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The mainstream media does not want you to think [Video]

It is difficult to tell if recent reports like this really represent a realization for the media, but this interview rings true nonetheless.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Several recent stories on Fox, Breitbart, and here on The Duran all address the increasingly obvious bias of the mainstream media with regard to news reporting. We discussed on The Duran how Chris Wallace of Fox News refused to hear details from White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller about why the recently declared National Emergency is in fact legitimate.

This piece revealed that the media is very actively trying to control and direct what information they want the public to hear, rather than truly reporting the news, or interviewing people to get their takes on things, and to perhaps fully interview all sides in a controversy and then let the American public decide for themselves what to think.

This used to exist in more gentlemanly debate programs in some fashion, such as with the TV debate program Point Counterpoint, but now, the bias of the reporter or of the network is the primary operator in determining the outcome of the interview, rather than the information that is available about the story.

This has helped create a news and information culture in the United States that is truly insane. As examples, consider these paraphrased headlines, all occurring within the last few years:

All of these are probably familiar to most readers. Many of them are still repeated and acted on as if they were real. But the articles we linked to behind most of these ledes are examples of the disproof, usually 100% disproof, of these. They are hoaxes, or reports built on circumstantial evidence without any proof, or in the worst cases, pure slander and propaganda.

One reporter for CBS news, 60 Minutes anchor Lara Logan, discussed this in an interview with retired Navy SEAL Mike Ritland, for his own podcast program, which was picked up by the MediaIte website. The video of her interview is quite lengthy but starting at about 02:14:00 there is a particular segment that the MediaIte writers called to attention. We include this segment in the video.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: The video is unrestricted in regards to language and there is some profanity. Parents, please listen first before letting your children watch this video.

A major point Mrs Logan makes here is that 85% of the employ of the mainstream media in the USA consist of registered Democrats. She also speaks forcefully against the use of stereotypes, and suggests the best place to start is actual facts. This means that most journalists are coming into this work with a bias, which is not set aside for the sake of the facts of the story.

Probably the most key point comes at 2:18:20 in the video is how Lara Logan is taught the way to discern whether or not someone in journalism is lying to you:

“Someone very smart told me a long time ago, that, ‘how do you know you are being lied to?’, ‘how do you know you are being manipulated?’, ‘how do you know there is something not right with the coverage?’, when they simplify it all, and there is no gray. There is no gray. It’s all one way.

“Well, life isn’t like that. If it doesn’t match real life, it is probably not. Something is wrong.”

Lara Logan then pointed out the comparison of the mainstream media’s constant negative coverage of President Trump against the reality of his work, that, regardless of one’s own personal bias, it does not match that everything the President does is bad. She also highlighted the point that one’s personal views should not come into how to report a news story.

Yet in our days, it not only comes into the story, it drives the narrative for which the story just becomes an example of “proof” that the narrative is “true.” 

Tucker Carlson talked vividly about the same characteristic on his program Monday night on Fox News.

He points out that the 3,000 yearly shooting in Chicago get very little news coverage, but that is because these are not as “useful” as the Jussie Smollett story is.

This is an example of using an event or a person’s actions to satisfy a politically biased propaganda narrative, rather than report the news.

This is not occasional, as the list of news headlines given above show. This is a constant practice across most of the mainstream media. Probably no one who gives interviews on the major networks is exempt, for even Mr. Carlson often resorts to cornering tactics when interviewing liberals in an apparent attempt to make the liberal look ridiculous and the point of view he espouses to look vindicated through that ridiculousness.

While this is emotionally invigorating for the Carlson fan who wants to see him “eviscerate” the liberal, it is very bad journalism. In fact, it is not journalism at all; it is sensationalism in a nasty sense.

It also insults the viewer, perhaps without them knowing it, because such reporting is the same as telling the viewer “WE ARE IN CONTROL!” and that the viewer must simply go along with the narrative given.

It is very bad when what should be information reporting, policy discussion, or debate becomes infected with this. Ideas, the product of (hopefully) rational and discursive reasoning, are pushed aside by pure emotion and mass sensationalism. Put metaphorically, it is the new look of bread and circuses, keeping the masses entertained while anything else might be happening.

Sometimes the motive for this is not so sinister. After all, we have a 24 hour news cycle now. In the 1970’s we didn’t. And in those times, the calibre of news reported was much higher. Reporting was far more careful. The Pulitzer Prize winners  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did their incredible exposé on the doings of President Richard Nixon under the directorship of the Washington Post editor, which demanded triple-checking of everything, making sure that all information was factual, accurate and genuine. While the story was indeed sensational, more importantly, it was true.

Now we have a lot of sensation, but very little to zero truth. As an example, every one of the ledes linked above is not proven to be true, in fact the truth in many of these stories is the opposite of what the headline says.

This would not be much of a problem if the media lies were not absorbed and reacted on by their readers, listeners and viewers. But the fact is that there are a significant number of consumers of mainstream media news that do react to it. The Covington High School incident showed this in perhaps the most frightening way, with open calls for violence against teenagers and high school students, requested by professionals, people that are supposed to be adults, such as Kathy Griffin, Reza Aslan, and GQ writer Nathaniel Friedman, who called for these kids to be “doxxed”, which as we reported, is an action that can be deadly.

We are in the times where the love of many has gone cold, and all is about expediency and selfishness. While there are a few outlets and a few journalists that still retain interest in recording and disseminating the truth, the reality is that most of what is out there is tainted by the drive for attention and sensationalism.

The media that engages in such behavior is actually hurting people, rather than informing and helping them.

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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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