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Tuesday, July 30

I'll return Monday August 5

Until then, best regards to all
Pundita 

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Monday, July 29

Yes, 1930's Depression-era America was a very tough place


While racing around the internet looking for more news on the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival I was struck by the above photo posted at BlitzLift, one of those websites where you have to click through a page at a time to get the whole story. At least the women in the photo weren't skeletons; I've seen photos of skeletal Americans during that era. Hunger, even starvation in 1930s America was rampant. Yet today it's so hard to imagine what it was like. These photos can help remind us of what must not be forgotten. 

From the introduction to the BlitzLift photo gallery:  
Never Before-Seen Photos of the Great Depression
At the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to document the country in order to gain support for government programs. Several photographers were commissioned, resulting in over 180,000 photos.
The catalogue has been maintained by the Library of Congress, but it wasn’t until recently that the photos became digitally searchable. The following is a small collection of these never before seen photos.
[...] 
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Sunday, July 28

Please send SouthFront money so they'll remove the damn sign

Ten dollars, five euros, it doesn't matter, just please send them money. They're in really bad shape this month. If you look at the top of the website it shows that their monthly minimum budget is USD 4,700.  All they've collected for July so far is 1,925 USD.

There are little signs on the right side of the website that you can click to directly send dollars or euros through Paypal.  

Some of their reporting is original, I should note, and they do their own translation work. They put a lot of effort into the website and it shows; it's among the top English-language websites for news on the Syrian War. So why are they always scrounging for money? People can be strange; if it's for free they'll take it. 

And no the SouthFront crew does not work for the Russian government or any government. My guess is that they're European students, although some might be Russian and British -- and the voice for their latest video sitrep is definitely American. It's about time some Americans got involved in helping them. 

Anyhow, they are perpetually broke on account of they insist on having a professional website with professional videos they produce from scratch, so they do fundraising every single day.

They produce different videos but about 5 days a week they crank out really good Syrian War video situation reports, which they post at their blog and YouTube. Not only that, they accompany their videos with the text.

For a while, they had a heck of a time with YouTube, which yanked their videos every time somebody from MI6 or IDF or wherever complained they contained offensive content. Yes well, war is offensive.

And while they are pro-Russian regarding the Syrian War (so am I) over the years I have read criticisms at SouthFront about the way the Russians are conducting the war. 

Trust me in this, these people are on the level. Kindly send them money. Better still, subscribe so you can send them the price of a Starbucks Cafe Mocha Grande every month. But right now they're hysterical. I know this because it's the first time they've put something like this at the top of the website. So I just want to see the sign taken down; it's annoying me:


All right; here's their latest Syrian War sitrep video -- by the way, you can follow SF on Telegram. (From their YouTube channel, which you can subscribe to): 

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – JULY 26, 2019: RUSSIAN, SYRIAN WARPLANES RAIN HELL ON MILITANTS IN WESTERN ALEPPO


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DIPLOMATS RECOMMIT TO SAVING IRAN DEAL, OPPOSING US SANCTIONS

Loaded for bear

"Fu said all sides expressed strong opposition against the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the U.S., especially the extraterritorial application of the sanctions."

Good, very good. 

The Associated Press via Trib Live
July 28, 2019 - approx. 6:45 PM ET

VIENNA — Diplomats from Iran and five world powers recommitted Sunday to salvaging a major nuclear deal amid mounting tensions between the West and Tehran since the United States withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions.

Representatives of Iran, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union met in Vienna to discuss the 2015 agreement that restricts the Iranian nuclear program.

“The atmosphere was constructive, and the discussions were good,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi told reporters after the meeting ended.

“I cannot say that we resolved everything” but all the parties are still “determined to save this deal,” he added.

Fu Cong, the head of Chinese delegation, said that while there were “some tense moments” during the meeting, “on the whole the atmosphere was very good. Friendly. And it was very professional.”

Both diplomats said there was a general agreement to organize a higher-level meeting of foreign ministers soon, but also that preparations for such a summit needed to be done well. A date has not been set.

Iran is pressuring the European parties to the deal to offset the sanctions President Trump reinstated after pulling out. The country recently surpassed the amount of low-enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile and started enriching uranium past a 3.67% limit permitted, to 4.5%, saying the actions could be reversed if the Europeans came up with incentives that compensated for the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Iran’s recent moves — which it defends as permissible after the U.S. withdrawal — are seen as a way to force the others to openly confront the sanctions. Araghchi told reporters in Farsi after the meeting that Iran would continue decreasing its commitments until the Europeans meet its demands.

Experts warn that a higher enrichment level and a growing uranium stockpile narrow the one-year window that Iran would need to have enough material to make an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but that the deal prevented.

So far, Iran’s exceeding of the agreement’s stockpile and uranium enrichment ceilings have been seen as violations likely to prompt the European signatories to invoke a dispute resolution mechanism. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched at a level of 90%.

Both of Iran’s actions were verified by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In recent weeks, Iran broke past the limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, but did not say by how much. The nuclear accord has a stockpile limit of 300 kilograms. However, it also permits Iran to enrich uranium and export it, as it has to Russia in past years.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday that the country has enriched 24 tons of uranium since it reached the 2015 nuclear deal with the other countries and the EU.

Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state TV as saying Iran “did not enrich 300 kilograms of uranium, but enriched 24 (metric) tons of uranium,” or what is nearly 53,000 pounds.

At the Sunday meeting, Fu said, the Europeans urged Iran to come back to full compliance and Iran urged the European Union, France, Britain and Germany to implement their part of the deal.

Fu said all sides expressed strong opposition against the unilateral imposition of sanctions by the U.S., especially the extraterritorial application of the sanctions. They also voiced support for China’s efforts to maintain normal trade and oil relations with Iran, Fu added.

In addition to trade with China, Iran is especially keen on the activation of a barter-type system set up by the Europeans that would allow the continent’s businesses to trade with Tehran without violating the U.S. sanctions.

Araghchi said the European system was “not functioning yet, but it is in its final stages.”

In the meantime, Iran has taken increasingly provocative actions against ships in the Gulf, including seizing a British tanker and downing a U.S. drone. The U.S. has expanded its military presence in the region, and fears are growing of a wider conflict.


[Pundita note: No mention of British provocations in the Strait, eh?]

A Royal Navy warship arrived Sunday in the Gulf to accompany British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the HMS Duncan will join the Frigate HMS Montrose in the Gulf to defend freedom of navigation until a diplomatic resolution is found to secure the key waterway again.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani penned an open letter to new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that was published on the president’s website Sunday. Rouhani extended congratulations and said he hoped the diplomatic ties between their countries would be stronger under Johnson’s leadership.

Rouhani said he hoped Johnson’s “only one visit to Tehran” while serving as U.K. foreign secretary in 2017 and now his tenure as prime minister lead to a “further deepening of bilateral and multilateral relations.”

Under the provisions of the 2015 accord, signatories provided Iran with economic sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on the country’s nuclear program. Trump withdrew the U.S. and put sanctions on Iran back in place, saying he wanted to negotiate a better agreement.

The U.S. sanctions have had their intended purpose of hurting Iran’s economy while highlighting the inability of the Europeans, as well as Russia and China, to keep their commitments.

At the same time, Europe is under pressure from the U.S. to abandon the Iran nuclear accord entirely and is also being squeezed by Iran to offset the ever-crippling effects of American economic sanctions.

[END REPORT]

Trump boots DNI Dan Coats

From the following report, a great observation:
Vince Houghton, the historian at the International Spy Museum, says Coats deserves high marks in one key area.
"He's been someone who is willing to tell the truth, even if the main consumer, and that's the president of the United States, does not like what he has to hear," Houghton said.
But, he added, to be successful in Coats' post [and all others as well], you have to do more than simply provide the unvarnished truth.
"I don't care how good you are at presenting accurate information to your primary consumer, if your primary consumer is ignoring you, and not willing to listen to the conclusion of the intelligence community, then the job is not being done," Houghton said.
Advice to frame and hang on the wall.

I chose the NPR (National Public Radio) version of the reports on the changeover because the Liberal/Leftist news outlet is not a Trump friendly, and so NPR could be relied on to give a frank view of Coats' departure from the White House. 

For those who claim Trump doesn't pay attention to his job, note that NPR reports he attends intelligence briefings most weekday mornings.   

As to Trump's many firings of people in national security/foreign policy positions -- a commenter at SST noted during the presidential election campaign that if Trump got elected, he would act in the manner of a CEO and simply fire his way to the best team for him. Yes. Often you really cannot tell what you've appointed until after you've studied the appointees in action. 

Some of Trump's appointees stayed much longer than I expected but that was because every effort had been made by powerful factions in 'official' Washington to hamstring Trump with the baseless charge that he was a Russian agent.  


Dan Coats, Who Challenged President Trump, Is Ousted From Top Intelligence Job
By Greg Myre
July 28, 2019 - 4:53 PM
NPR

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, one of the last remaining survivors of President Trump's original national security team, will leave the administration on August 15, the president said in a tweet on Sunday.

The president said he will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to replace him. Axios reports that Trump "was thrilled by Ratcliffe's admonishment of former special counsel Robert Mueller in last week's House Judiciary Committee hearing."

"A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves," Trump said. He added, "I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country."

Coats, in contrast, doesn't say much in public. But when he has commented, he has often been at odds with the man who appointed him — President Trump.

At a 2018 summit between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president questioned whether Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

Coats took a highly unusual step by issuing a blunt statement on behalf of the U.S. intelligence community:

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

In a rare interview, Coats spoke with NBC's Andrea Mitchell in July 2018. In mid-conversation, she informed him of a breaking news report that the White House had invited Putin to Washington.

Clearly taken by surprise, Coats jokingly asked her to repeat it. She did.

"OK. That's going to be special," Coats said, prompting laughter from the live audience.

Behind the scenes operator

A former Republican senator from Indiana, Coats, 76, is known for his avuncular manner that once prompted a colleague to dub him the Mr. Rogers of the Senate.

Coats operated mostly behind the scenes as director of national intelligence, a position that oversees the country's 17 intelligence agencies.

Yet this low-key approach did not prevent Coats from being drawn into the recurring clashes between Trump and the intelligence community.

Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, shortly after Trump declared that North Korea and its nuclear program was no longer a threat.

"We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Coats said.

Around the same time, Trump also said the Islamic State had been completely defeated.

But at that Senate hearing, Coats said: "While we have defeated the caliphate, with a couple of little villages left, we should not underestimate the ability of terrorist groups, particularly ISIS."

Afterward, Trump met with Coats and other senior intelligence leaders, and was asked about their remarks that contradicted the president's statements.

"They said they were totally misquoted. It was taken out of context. I'd suggest that you call them. They said it was fake news," Trump said.

Coats was never seen as close to Trump, though they met often. Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel were regulars at the president's intelligence briefing, held most weekday mornings at the White House.

And by serving more than two-and-a-half years in his job, Coats outlasted most everyone else in the president's inner circle of national security and foreign policy advisers.

Trump has already parted ways with two national security advisers, two homeland security chiefs, a defense secretary, a secretary of state and a U.N. ambassador.

The only survivor from Trump's original team is Mike Pompeo, who began as CIA director and is now secretary of state.

Vince Houghton, the historian at the International Spy Museum, says Coats deserves high marks in one key area.

"He's been someone who is willing to tell the truth, even if the main consumer, and that's the president of the United States, does not like what he has to hear," Houghton said.

But, he added, to be successful in Coats' post, you have to do more than simply provide the unvarnished truth.

"I don't care how good you are at presenting accurate information to your primary consumer, if your primary consumer is ignoring you, and not willing to listen to the conclusion of the intelligence community, then the job is not being done," Houghton said.

A new focus

During Coats' tenure, the intelligence community has shifted its focus from radical Muslim groups like ISIS and al-Qaida and spent more time on large, state rivals.

Coats said the U.S. should concentrate on what he called the "big four."

"China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran – all of which pose unique threats to the United States and our partners," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in January.

Coats was also an advocate of stronger election security, though he worked for an administration that's been criticized for not doing enough to safeguard against possible interference.

In one of his final acts, Coats named Shelby Pierson, a veteran of the intelligence community, to serve in a new position as the overall head of election security efforts.

"Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority," Coats said.

[END REPORT]

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"Five incredible facts about India’s fast-growing economy"

RT has the eye-popping list, published today.  

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MbZ and the death of Khalid al-Qasimi




Arab Paper: Son of Sharjah Emir Killed by MbZ

FARSJuly 27, 2019 - 2:53
TEHRAN (FNA)- The 39-year-old son of the emir of Sharjah Khalid Al Qasimi was killed by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, a Lebanese paper reported.
The Arabic language al-Akhbar newspaper quoted informed sources as saying on Saturday that Khalid al-Qasimi was killed upon bin Zayed's order in a complicated operation planned several months ago.
The murder happened after security reports provided to Mohammed bin Zayed said that the assassinated prince had contacts with the Saudi security apparatus, which acts under the command of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. [aka MbS]
The sources said that the murder was done to send the message that Abu Dhabi can control contacts between the UAE princes and Saudi Arabia and warn other [Emirati] princes to avoid secretive ties with Riyadh.
Khalid Al Qasimi, the 39-year-old son of the emir of Sharjah [a UAE state], was found lifeless in his bathroom in his Sussex home earlier this month, and London police said his death is being treated as unexplained.
[...]
I find it preposterous that MbZ had Khalid assassinated, and it would take a boatload of vetted information to persuade me to even consider the possibility that Khalid had secretly worked with a Saudi security agency.

Khalid was an artist -- fashion designer and architect. He was was profoundly anti-war, and strongly against the conflicts that have ripped up the Middle East. He was also the only surviving male heir of his father's royal house. And he was a very shrewd businessman. I cannot imagine such a person sticking his neck out to deal secretly with a government that he must have despised.  

And surely the sentiment was returned from the Saudi side given that Khalid represented the secularized hybrid Westernized-Arab Muslim that is anathema to Saudi Wahhabism.  


Khalid was very obviously a great example of Emirati and Muslim religious and cultural tolerance, all of which MbZ has gone to lengths to promote. Why, then, would he kill off such a great asset to his government?   

As to the "unexplained circumstances" of Khalid's death: from unnamed sources probably in the ambulance crew and/or police that discovered Khalid's body, it's likely that he died the same way that his older brother did -- from heroin.  (Or maybe a combination of heroin and another drug.)  But it's just because signs point to drugs killing off the emir's only surviving male heir that I can see the British government tactfully dragging its feet about announcing the cause of death if the emir requested silence.  

The accusation against the de facto ruler of the UAE comes on the coattails of the widely publicized belief that the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, MbS, was personally involved in the plot to murder a Saudi expat journalist (Jamal Khashoggi). And the accusation against MbZ was published within days of the bombshell report in the New York Times that made clear of the division that had opened between the two rulers about their war in Yemen.

When I add in the great disenchantment with Saudi Arabia that has settled in among Westerners, with Khashoggi's murder the final straw, I would be more willing to believe that al-Akhbar bought and published a Saudi-concocted lie about MbZ than I'd believe he murdered Khalid al-Qasimi.  

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Saturday, July 27

I sense a disturbance in the Force

What could it be? It's not the massive insect invasion in Las Vegas; those are grasshoppers that haven't mutated into their locust form, so they aren't stripping the palm trees or anything else. They're just a nuisance, brought on by unusually heavy rains in the region, and soon they'll move on. 

No, it's something else.  Let me see if Drudge has spotted anything; he's the global village doomsayer.  [taptaptap]  Here's a headline at Drudge:


TRUMP: BALTIMORE 'FAR WORSE' THAN BORDER
'RODENT INFESTED MESS'

Tell us something we don't already know, Mr Trump.  But that's not a disturbance in the Force; that's Democratic Party control of American big cities.  

Now what's this?:

 MYSTERY: Snake-like UFOs seen across USA...

Space Force?
 

Okay, I'll bite. Oh wait, it's the U.K. Daily Star. Somehow I don't think this story is what I'm looking for. Let's see what else.


Just the usual doom and gloom at Drudge today. Let's check Sputnik. Oooh. Cool pix:

 Bennu asteroid

A huge space rock with the surprisingly positive name 2019 OK that whizzed by the other day has been likened to other near-Earth incidents that are already part of history – the Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908, and the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013. There were no confirmed fatalities, but the effects could be felt well beyond the atmospheric blast. 
It appears that a large asteroid just snuck up in us, and astronomers were hardly aware of it. [...]
Well, that could qualify as a disturbance in the Force but if I sensed the flyby only today, my Disturbance Sensor needs adjustment.

All right I might as well throw in the towel and see what FARS has dug up today:

Afghan Vice President: Saudi Arabia Promoting Wahhabism in Afghanistan's Training Centers

The Saudis will never give up; they'll never change, and with the Soviets long gone from Afghanistan, the excuse 'The Americans Made Us Do It' has run out of steam. But I'm not sure that Vice President's statement, upsetting as it is, rises to the level of a new Disturbance in the Force, and besides, what the Saudis are up to in Afghanistan is not new or even recent.

What else is FARS reporting today?    

Official: ISIL Terrorists Target Iraqi Forces with Advanced US-Made Weapons. Check. 


Arab Paper: Son of Sharjah Emir Killed by MbZ. Wait a minute. Why would MbZ kill such a valuable asset? Could this report be the disturbance in the Force? Next post. Stay tuned.  

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Monday, July 22

Breaking News: Hell freezes over

Where are my smelling salts? But it's not the New York Times that's the biggest problem; it's the British government. By the way, MI-6 discovered that it was the Russians who were responsible for Iran seizing a British oil tanker. But of course it was the Russians. First they jammed the GPS tracking system on the Stena Impero. Then they slipped LSD into the captain's coffee. Then they switched the ENTER and EXIT lane signs for the Strait of Hormuz and told the captain to ignore all the ships sailing out of the ENTER lane. 

Hell freezes over? New York Times wants closer relationship with Russia, congratulates Trump
22 July, 2019 - 14:53

Graham Dockery, RT
RT


The New York Times’ editorial board, fresh from peddling anti-Russia conspiracies for two years, has made a remarkable about-turn. Now the paper wants closer relations with the Kremlin, all to thwart China’s ambitions.

‘Russiagate’ has maintained an iron grip on American political discourse for two years now, even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report cleared President Donald Trump of conspiring with the Kremlin to steal the 2016 US election. In the media, the public has been treated to nightly conspiracy theories and bizarre connect-the-dots articles claiming to prove collusion; and lawmakers have crafted ever more draconian sanctions bills against Russia and have slotted opposition to Russia into their campaign messages.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing have looked to each other, holding joint military exercises and upping their trade volume to more than $100 billion in 2018. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently announced plans to build a new, 2,000km-long highway linking Europe and China, while President Vladimir Putin has been mulling connecting Russia’s Northern Sea Route with China’s Maritime Silk Road, an ambitious global trade route linking China with ports in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

The idea of closer Moscow/Beijing cooperation clearly worries the New York Times’ editorial board. In an op-ed published on Sunday, the board wrote that “President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China” – itself a remarkable compliment from a paper that ran op-eds titled “Donald Trump Hates America,”and “Trump is Racist to the Bone” in the last five days.

The board then suggested that the US could strengthen its cooperation with Russia in space exploration and Arctic cleanup – areas untainted by ‘Russiagate’. In addition, new arms control treaties could be a step towards geopolitical cooperation between the two rival superpower.

All valid and worthy points, but from the New York Times? Yes, we’re talking about the same newspaper that last year called Trump a “treasonous traitor” ahead of his meeting with Putin in Helsinki. Instead of seeking rapprochement then, the paper argued that Trump should “be directing all resources at his disposal to punish Russia.”

We’re talking about the same New York Times that dubbed Trump “Putin’s Lackey” and released a mocking video detailing a ‘love story’ between Trump and Putin, laden with homoerotic overtones and culminating in a tongue-locking kiss between the two leaders. It’s funny because they’re gay, see?

The piece surprised many, like pundit George Szamuely, who wrote that Washington has “demonized Russia and blamed it for every problem besetting [the] US,” while the Times “has for years berated Trump for advocating this perfectly sensible policy, at times suggesting that he was doing so only because he was Putin's agent and a traitor to the United States.”

Bear in mind that the Times’ editorial board does not hold the same opinions as its revolving cast of op-ed writers. Still, for a newspaper whose writers almost unanimously despise the US president, Sunday’s op-ed represents a shocking repudiation of two years of anti-Russia, anti-Trump static.

Perhaps the outlet that often voiced the ideas of the American establishment has finally realized that the ‘Russiagate’ horse is too long dead for another flogging? Or maybe the Times saw it’s time for a new kind of politics: the politics of Detente. Either way, the change is a surprising one.

Graham Dockery is an Irish journalist working for RT since March 2018

[END REPORT]

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The Saudi-Emirati divide is older than the Yemen War

Photo: Reuters/Johnathan Ernst


The divide between Saudi Arabia and the UAE became very clear to outsiders when the UAE signaled it was doing a major drawdown of its troops in Yemen. This told the Saudis that they could no longer depend on the highly-trained Emirati troops for muscle -- anywhere. I think that's the overriding reason King Salman asked Trump to station several hundred troops in Saudia Arabia. I think Russia's Sputnik thinks so too.  

The above photograph was taken at the Arab Islamic-American summit on May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. That's Jordan's King Abdullah II on the right in the front row; he's standing next to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is standing next to President Donald Trump. The man with the serene smile standing on Trump's other side is Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Zayed al-Nahyan, popularly known as MbZ, who is the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. That's the man King Salman is looking at as President Trump speaks.  

Sputnik dredged up the two-year-old photograph to accompany their July 20, 2019 report headlined US Secretary of Defence Authorizes Military Personnel, Resource Deployment to Saudi Arabia.

The problem is that the Saudi and Emirati governments are so opaque that observers have to piece together what's really happening between the two from a patchwork of news reports about, say, their actions toward crisis situations in Libya and Sudan. But in my July 17  post, UAE's major move against forces of darkness by promoting Sufism, I stressed that the divide between KSA and UAE while not very broad at this point is very deep; it can't be sealed over because it goes to the heart of the struggle for Islam's soul.

MbZ is no angel, although I think Middle East Eye, which positively detests him for his strong anti-Muslim Brotherhood stance, has a tendency to demonize him. But all you have to do is read through Wikipedia's listing of his initiatives to know that he is genuinely dedicated to elevating Islam to a major force for religious tolerance. His government's promotion of Sufism in Syria is just one indication of this.

However, the Saudi-Emirati divide is much older than events in the past few years suggests; in fact, it is existential. 
[...]
When the UAE came into existence in December 1971, Riyadh achieved its objective of excluding Qatar and Bahrain from the new federal state. Tremendous Saudi pressure forced the UAE to sign the 1974 Treaty of Jeddah that ceded claims to the Khor al-Udaid inland sea that linked it to Qatar. Riyadh refused to recognize the UAE's independence until its president, Zayed bin Sultan, signed the treaty under duress although the UAE has not yet ratified the treaty. 
When UAE head Khalifa bin Zayed took office in 2004, he visited Riyadh and demanded the treaty's abrogation, ushering in an explosive crisis between the two states that took six years to subside.
Emirati officials viewed the hostile Saudi behavior as another siege: Since its creation, the Emirate has had to grapple with formidable security challenges from both its Arab and Iranian neighbors and has been overburdened with territorial disputes from the beginning. Iran seized the Abu Musa and Lesser and Greater Tumb islands; Oman established its sovereignty over Buraymi Oasis while Saudi Arabia completed the UAE's diminution by cutting it off from Qatar.
Early on, Zayed bin Sultan had serious doubts whether the new federal entity could survive. In the words of two observers of the Gulf:
Because the UAE was a relatively small state, its leaders recognized that defending the country's security from both internal and external threats depended on skillful management of diplomatic relations with other countries.
Saudi efforts to prevent the UAE from becoming a competitor in the GCC have succeeded despite the UAE's soft power. Thus, for example, in December 2004, Riyadh vetoed a Qatari-UAE plan to construct a causeway to link Abu Dhabi and Doha without having to travel through Saudi territory.
[...]
The passages are from "Un-Brotherly" Saudi-Emirati Ties by Hilal Khashan for the Spring 2018 edition of Middle East Quarterly. Kashan is a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. I consider his entire analysis to be a must-read for Americans trying to make sense of present Middle Eastern conflicts. 

One of the advantages Middle Easterners have in their dealings with Washington is that they know Americans are very poorly informed about the region, despite a large number of news reports about U.S. involvement in conflicts in the Middle East. The war reporting tends to contextualize events around how Americans want to view the conflicts. That's a valid consideration for Americans, but it edits a great deal out of what is actually happening and ignores background that is key to understanding events.

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Of course Iran wants war

The perception among many Western analysts is that the Iranians are determined not to play the 90-pound weakling but they really don't want war. Yes, they do, if the choice is between being bombed to death or starved to death. 

So it is folly for the U.S. and its allies to keep piling on, in the belief that this will persuade Tehran to clutch at straws. 

What could be done is give Tehran assurances that are outside the American-Western orbit. For example, it would help if Riyadh started treating the Shiites in Saudi Arabia as if they were human beings. There is plenty of room for the Saudis to make concessions without fear of being overthrown by Saudi Shiites in cahoots with Tehran. 

Better treatment of the Shiites would be more than a message to Iran's leaders; it would be evidence that the Saudis are willing to be an honest negotiator over issues that keep both nations at loggerheads. That would really mean something to the Iranians. 

As to assurances from the West -- the Iranians are justified in considering those just more hot air.   

********

Sunday, July 21

If Stena Impero was going the wrong way and had its GPS tracker off --

This story has been out there for many hours and has been covered by several news outlets; I set it aside because there was just no way to tell whether it was true, especially with the propaganda goo flying thick and fast from all quarters. But to my knowledge, the British have yet to publicly dispute Iran's claim. 

If that tanker was indeed going the wrong way as it started to enter the Strait of Hormuz and had its GPS tracker turned off and refused to heed warnings from the Iranian Navy -- at the least, the shipping company would have a lot of explaining to do. At worst, the British government could be accused of staging an outright provocation. 

The following CNN report doesn't mention the warnings, which I've seen in at least one other report. But if the tanker just kept going despite a warning(s) -- that was really all the Iranians needed to justify boarding the tanker because its maneuvers were a clear and active danger to other shipping traffic.

I fear this entire incident is a lesson on the perils of knee-jerk actions taken before anyone has had time to get a handle on just what happened. 

12:32 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019
Iran says UK tanker wrongly used exit lane to enter into Strait of Hormuz
From CNN’s Sara Mazloumsaki in Atlanta
CNN
[includes video of Iranian Navy seizing the tanker]

Iran says the British-flagged Steno Impero tanker was using the exit lane to enter into the Strait of Hormuz, almost colliding with other vessels, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

According to IRNA, Iranian General Ramazan Sharif said the vessel was being escorted by the British Royal Navy when it "violated maritime rules and regulations" by sailing into the Strait of Hormuz in the wrong direction.

The Iranian Navy seized the tanker at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran’s Hormozgan province, the General went on to say, according to IRNA.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported the UK vessel was in "contravention of international regulations" by sailing into the Strait of Hormuz in the wrong direction and switching off its GPS tracker.

The tanker "was entering the Strait from the southern route which is an exit path, increasing the risk of accident," Tasnim news, an outlet close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported.

[END 12:32 CNN UPDATE IN THEIR LIVE-BLOGGING OF THE INCIDENT]

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Count how many times Sputnik wrote "reportedly" in this short Syrian war report

Everybody outside Syria who's trying to learn what the Syrian and Russian militaries are up to right now regarding the Syrian Army's Great Idlib Offensive, which has been set to launch any day now for over a year, is going nuts. This includes Reuters and Associated Press. But now even Sputnik -- that's a Russian state news outlet -- doesn't know what the hell is going on. Even FARS doesn't know. That's the Iranians. They spend their time now translating Syrian war news reports from 'Arab press' and Sputnik Arabic. 

As for Syrian's state-run news agency, SANA -- oh forget them. Two weeks after a big military operation they announce it. Okay, sometimes they come through if you can read their Arabic version. But everyone is relying on a very few on-the-ground observers for English-language news who are still willing to talk to reporters. Thus, this howler from Sputnik; why did they even bother to publish it? Actually, I know why: everybody on the planet who follows the Syrian War is yelling at them for news. So, reportedly:

Syrian Air Defences Thwart Hostile Targets in Hama's Masyaf - Reports
00:43 22.07.2019 (updated 00:54 22.07.2019)
Sputnik
[emphasis mine]

Syrian air defenses on Sunday repelled the hostile attack in the northwestern city of Masyaf in Hama province, Reuters reported, citing local media. There have been reportedly no further details available.

Earlier in July, the Syrian army reportedly launched bombardment of several Nusra Front positions in Hama and Idlib provinces in retaliation for attacks on Hama villages. A number of terrorists' positions and rocket launch pads were reportedly destroyed in the operation.

The terrorists have reportedly increased the frequency of shelling of the Syrian provinces of Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia. They were also attempting to attack Syrian army positions in the region. The government forces have responded by attacking terrorists in Idlib.

Most of Idlib is reportedly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of Islamic terror groups led by al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. There are reportedly 30,000 militants, including foreign mercenaries, in the region.

Earlier on Sunday, the Syrian army reportedly repelled an attack by the Nusra Front terrorists on its positions in the Qasabiyeh village in Idlib's southern countryside, recently retaken by the government forces. Terrorists used suicide bombers and several armored vehicles to carry out the attack but were repelled by the Syrian army units, the SANA news agency stated. 

The military killed several terrorists and destroyed their equipment, the media outlet added.

[...]

****
Let me see if SouthFront and Al-Masdar News have been able to scrape together some news. All right, here's something from SouthFront, but as for "very soon" regarding the Idlib ground offensive, I think the RU and SY governments are waiting for the Astana Process to kick off again in early August followed by a summit in Turkey -- I guess between Iran, Russia, and Turkey. 

It's still called the Astana Process even though the Kazakhs finally got around to naming their capital city but it's still at the same gorgeous hotel as the earlier confabs. They want to see what excuse the Turks come up with this time for not cleaning large numbers of terrorists out of Idlib. Which, if done -- reportedly -- should have mooted the RU-SY full-scale attack on Idlib. 

Meanwhile, President Trump got in on the act -- reportedly -- telling Putin at the G20 summit to please go easy on Idlib. See how easy he would go if Kansas was overrun by terrorists.

SouthFront
July 21, 2019

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has deployed additional reinforcements along several frontlines in the northern Hama countryside.

Pro-government sources revealed on July 21 that the reinforcement consisted of hundreds of troops from the army’s 5th Division as well as dozens of battle tanks, Infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers.

Syrian Military Capabilities, a pro-government Facebook page, shared a video showing a part of the reinforcements, which arrived in the last two days.

The deployment of these new reinforcements comes as the tension in northern Hama mounts. Earlier today, the SAA repelled another large attack by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its allies.

[Video]

With the apparent failure of all peaceful solutions, the SAA may resume their ground operations in Greater Idlib very soon.

[Syrian War Sitrep July 21 - Map]

[END REPORT]

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Saturday, July 20

Now the Spanish are accusing the Americans of tricking the British into impounding an Iranian tanker

Well, they're not outright accusing the U.S., just pointing the finger of blame, which is as much an accusation. See Simon Tisdall's How Trump’s arch-hawk lured Britain into a dangerous trap to punish Iran: "With the seizure of a supertanker off Gibraltar, distracted UK government was set up by John Bolton as collateral damage." 

His piece is based in part on a news report in Spain's El Pais newspaper, which cited official sources. 

The British are of course complete victims in the mess, poor dears. [flipping a pen into the air] 

I can't take much more of this. I'm going on vacation. Goodbye. 

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Friday, July 19

US Navy disables Iranian spy seagull. Iran impounds Leeds Castle.

Yes of course it survived being shot down
Iranian seagulls are tough.


Yes of course it survived being towed to Iran
Leeds Castle is used to water


Now how much longer will this crap continue? Until the propagandists run out of breath or the U.K. and its go-fers in the American government finally manage to gin up a shooting war against Iran at the behest of Gulf Arab governments. 

But the longer it continues, the larger the percentage of people who won't believe a damn thing said by the American and British governments about Iran, Russia, or anything else for that matter. This is the consequence of endless conflicts: They generate massive amounts of propaganda goo, and now a great many people are sick of being slimed.    

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Russian bombshell uses her boobs to complete bottle cap challenge

All the news that's fit to print, Sputnik-style. Yes of course there's video. 

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In the Middle East Trump is the proverbial boiling frog

Photo of very upset tribal elders


I think the Iranian military, which really does know what is going on Syria and Iraq, is smugly watching the Trump Administration progressively get more tangled up by conflicts in the Middle East.

If you had the patience to wend through the reports in my previous post, you came, at the end, to the story of Arab tribal leaders in al-Akidat and al-Bakareh tribes in eastern Deir Ezzur strongly opposing the dismissal of the head of the Deir Ezzur Civil Council by Kurdish militias in control of the region, who replaced him with one of their own. The leaders are so upset by this turn of events that now they're busy organizing a "popular resistance" to the U.S. forces in Syria because of said forces' support of said Kurdish militias.

But, as I noted at the very end, there's more to the situation than a cursory glance reveals. From a July 17 FARS report  (don't fidget):
[...]
Al-Watan newspaper reported that al-Jamel tribe in Eastern Deir Ezzur has issued a statement to emphasize its opposition to the appointment of SDF-affiliated Ahmed al-Khabil as the Sheikh of al-Bakir tribes in Eastern Deir Ezzur and the head of Syria's military democratic council.
Al-Jamel tribe has referred in the statement to the terrorist acts by the SDF in Eastern Euphrates region, and said that it does not recognize al-Khabil who has been appointed with the support of Saudi Minister for Persian Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan and the terrorist militias as the Emir of al-Bakir Sheikhs.
Other Syrian tribes had also earlier stressed their opposition to al-Khabil's appointment.
[...]
If you ask why in the Sam Hill the Saudis got involved in this tempest in a teapot, well, it has something to do with Saudi opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, which backs the Brothers, and Erdogan's support for both. So naturally, the Saudis are backing the Kurds in this particular situation. But they are also realizing that they were short-sighted to make war on Assad, who is no friend of the Muslim Brotherhood or Erdogan for that matter.  

To cut a story, it's actually a pretty big teapot. In fact, it's a kettle. 

Donald Trump has unwittingly landed in the role of the frog in a kettle of slowly heating water. He has so many advisors focused on so many different agendas in the Middle East that he's only slowly become aware that his plans for extricating the United States from the region are being killed.

See also: "Turkey responds to Saudi Arabia's actions in E. Syria. Here we go;" July 13, 2019,  Pundita 

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US has a tiger by the tail with Syrian Democratic Forces

The making of a "popular resistance"


"Residents of Hasaka have accused the SDF of retaliatory measures against farmers who refrain from giving their wheat to them, saying that the SDF sets fire to their farms."

The following report is the latest among several similar ones I've seen during the past year which describe the SDF acting badly toward Arab civilians in Eastern Syria. But the U.S. still keeps supporting the SDF with military aid  -- a sore point with Turkey given that the majority of SDF fighters are Kurds that Anakara deems terrorists. 

Whether or not they're terrorists, they've certainly worn out whatever welcome they had among Arabs who supported their fight against Islamic State in Syria. The SDF has retaliated in several ways, creating a tit-for-tat conflict with the Syrian Arabs that keeps escalating.  

All this has fallen back on the United States; Arabs in the region have become vociferously anti-American just because of U.S. support for the SDF and many have turned to Syria's government for help.   
   
US-Backed SDF in Eastern Syria Prevent Civilians' Interactions with Damascus
July 18, 2019

FARS

General-Director of Syria's Grains Committee Yousef Qassem said on Thursday that the SDF in Hasaka does not permit the Syrian farmers in the region to sell their wheat to the government centers in Syria.

The Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper quoted local sources in Deir Ezzur province as saying that residents of Hasaka have accused the SDF of retaliatory measures against the farmers who refrain from giving their wheat to them, saying that the SDF sets fire to their farms.

A number of civilians were killed in Hasaka recently in an extensive fire in vast areas of the province's farmlands.

Sources noted in June that several civilians were killed and wounded in SDF and US attacks, and said that the entire regions under the SDF control in Hasaka and Deir Ezzur provinces were the scenes of popular protests against the presence of occupying forces there.

The Arabic-language Al-Khabour News Website reported that the SDF in Hasaka province prevented civilians from leaving the regions under their control for safe regions controlled by the Syrian Army.

The SDF fighters also asked for the payment of a sum of about 100,000 Syrian liras from any vehicle trying to leave the SDF-controlled region for Hasaka.

[END REPORT]

Not only has the situation escalated, but it's also gotten increasingly tangled for Americans. From the July 18 Syrian War sitrep at FARS:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian tribes are working to form a Popular Resistance against the occupying US Troops in Eastern Syria, the Arabic-language media outlets said on Wednesday.
Deir Ezzur
The Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper quoted local sources in Eastern Syria as saying that a meeting has recently been held between tribal leaders and the elderly as well as head of Deir Ezzur Military Security Committee and the province’s governor Abdelmajid al-Kawakebi and Syrian Army’s backup forces. [above photo]
The sources noted that participants in the meeting discussed issues such as forming popular resistance forces against occupying American forces in Deir Ezzur and al-Jazira region of Syria and ways to confront these forces.
Meantime, the Arabic-language Arabi al-Youm pointed to acute differences between Arab tribes in Eastern Deir Ezzur with the US-backed militants, and said that the tribal leaders of al-Akidat and al-Bakareh tribes in Eastern Deir Ezzur strongly opposed the Kurdish militias’ decision to dismiss head of Deir Ezzur Civil Council and replace him with their own forces.
[...]
But here the plot thickens because the Saudis are involved. If you ask how this happened, it's a long story. They're all long stories in the Middle East.  

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Thursday, July 18

Verified: Hourly massive Russia air attacks across N.W. Syria including Idlib

I don't think this is the first of Russian airstrikes across the region, but it's the latest of several signs that the SAA is nearing a long-planned major offensive in Idlib. I think the U.S. view of Turkey's activities in Syria has changed markedly in recent days, which is working in the Syrian government's favor with regard to Idlib. 

Ankara going ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400s has put Erdogan on thin ice with the Trump administration. Things are now at the point where yesterday the Pentagon issued a public warning to Turkey not to attack U.S. troops in N.E. Syria in retaliation for U.S. imposing sanctions for the S-400s. The Pentagon knows Erdogan would have to be mad to order any such action, so I think the warning is yet another sign of a shift in U.S. views of Turkey's actions in Syria.

Russian Air Force launches massive attack over northwestern Syria
Al-Masdar News
July 18, 2019

"These strikes by the Russian Air Force come at the same time that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is preparing to storm the militant-held areas in the Al-Ghaab Plain area of both Hama and Idlib."

BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:20 P.M. local time) – The Russian Air Force has launched their biggest attack of the month in Syria this week, targeting several areas across the Latakia, Idlib, and Hama governorates.

According to a military source in the Hama Governorate, the Russian Air Force has been launching hourly strikes over the northwestern region of Syria, inflicting heavy damage on the jihadist defenses.

Among the targets for the Russian Air Force are the Idlib Governorate cities of Jisr Al-Shughour and Khan Sheikhoun.

These aforementioned cities have a large presence of jihadist rebels from factions like Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Turkestan Islamic Party.

The Arabic-language version of the Sputnik News Agency reported this morning that the Russian Air Force had destroyed at least a half dozen militant bases and ammunition depots in the Idlib Governorate.

These airstrikes by the Russian Air Force come at the same time that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is preparing to storm the militant-held areas in the Al-Ghaab Plain area of both Hama and Idlib.

[END REPORT]

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