Next Cold War 4/13/16
Russian and Syrian forces are preparing a major offensive in Aleppo. CIA and the Obama administration, through anonymous sources, threatened to move to “Plan B” if ceasefire fails, including more lethal weapons and MANPADS. Syrian parliamentary elections were held. Saudi King Salman is currently on a long visit to Turkey, including a summit of Islamic states. Soros-backed Avaaz online activist group pushes for direct US intervention in Syria, including a no-fly zone. Ukraine’s prime minister Yatsenyuk resigned and their president Poroshenko is having a very bad month. After a 60 Minutes segment on the “28 pages” withheld from the 9/11 Commission Report, former senator Bob Graham received a call from the White House.
_ The Syrian and Russian Aleppo offensive is expected to start within 10 days, according to Lebanese media al-Mayadeen, and reinforcements from Latakia are pouring in. Syrian PM al-Halaki told visiting Russian lawmakers of the upcoming offensive to liberate Aleppo and a Russian member of the delegation told RIA news agency “Russian aviation will help the Syrian army’s ground offensive operation”. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the truce had collapsed in Aleppo region.
_ Satellite imagery shows that Hezbollah is building a base in Syria near the border with Lebanon. “The base near Qusair, like other anticipated defensive positions in Syria, is part of Hezbollah’s future strategy in the country.”
_ Iran’s deputy foreign minister said the Geneva peace talks will resume Wednesday and are entering a new phase, and Iran is happy to see that a political solution is getting closer. He also expressed concern about the uptick in violence and the activities of “irresponsible armed groups” in Syria in recent days. UN envy Staffan de Mistura visited Tehran earlier this week after a visit with officials in Damascus. Some funerals were held recently for Iranian commandos killed in Syria. There have been casualties among the Syrian army, Iranian and Hezbollah at El-Eiss.
_ Russia’s deputy minister of defense Anatoly Antonov said that although the situation in Syria is “very fragile and very volatile…Russia and all other countries must do their utmost to strengthen this fragile peace, so that no one is able to undermine it […] Enough with war, it’s time to build a new Syria.””
_ In central Syria, the Syrian air force destroyed ISIS largest training camp in southern Deir Ezzour.
_ There is fighting at Yarmouk camp among ISIS, al Nusra, Palestinians.
CIA Threatens Plan B if Ceasefire Collapses
_ Russian state news agency reported, via a Lebanese newspaper, that neither the US nor Russia “wants further escalation in Syria amid truce” but also says there are misunderstandings between the US and Russia, and “Washington’s position toward the Syrian crisis is not aimed at finding a political solution” and their real goal is to delay the negotiations in Geneva and to remove Assad at an opportune time. Neither wants to be blamed for further escalation.
_ Jane’s Defense reported the packing list for an US arms shipment to Syrian rebels which they found on the federal government’s FBO web site in a solicitation for shipment of the arms. Despite the ceasefire, the US is still providing thousands of tons of weapons to CIA-backed rebels and their al Qaeda allies.
_ The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Tuesday that the “CIA and it regional partners” have made plans to give Syrian rebels more powerful weapons and “moderate groups could get antiaircraft weapons if the cease-fire collapses.” Sputnik says this message was “relayed by CIA Director John Brennan and State Secretary John Kerry in private meetings with Russian counterparts.” It’s unclear whether the CIA is referring to the upcoming offensive in Aleppo as a failed ceasefire, an area where the ceasefire is unlikely to hold, though it will hold in other areas.
_ A senior Obama administration official told WSJ “The outside patrons will double and triple down, throwing everything they can into Syria, including much more lethal weaponry.” All the comments were made anonymously and CIA spokesperson Ryan Trapani told Sputnik that it would not provide any comments on these reports.
— RT America (@RT_America) April 13, 2016
_ Former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT that the US government has already decided that Syrian president Assad must be overthrown.
Syrian Parliamentary Elections
_ Parliamentary elections are being held in Syria Wednesday. “The election is going ahead independently of a U.N.-led peace process aimed at finding a political solution to the five-year-long war. The government says it is being held on time in line with the constitution. The opposition says the vote is illegitimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as ‘flimsy facade’ and a ‘sham'”
_ “A top Iranian official, in comments to Iran TV, rejected what he described as a U.S. request for Tehran’s help to make Assad leave power.”
Saudi Royal Entourage Goes to Turkey
_ Saudi King Salman and a large entourage in a visit that is seen as a “key moment for relations between the two leading Sunni Muslim powers.” The visit “even by Saudi Arabia’s extravagant standards” is setting “new records for opulence and paranoia.” The king will be in Ankara with Turkish president Erdogan until Wednesday and then he will go to Istanbul for a “two-day Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit.” Salman and Erdogan are both unhappy with the US and both want regime change in Syria. Salman is expected to “rally the Sunni world behind his leadership” and try to get Turkey and Egypt to reconcile.
_ Al Monitor’s Semih Idiz says Turkey is playing both sides of the Iran vs. Saudi conflict. “Soli Ozel, a lecturer in international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University [said] ‘The Saudis want Turkey as a counterbalance because they mistrust US intentions about Iran. But this expectation in Riyadh is likely to be misplaced.'” Idiz says Turkey is unlikely to “enter any Sunni alliance that appears to be against Iran.” Turkey’s PM Davutoglu visited Iran in March and the two countries have both business interests and a common wariness about Kurdish autonomy.
_ The US evacuated all military dependents from Incirlik air base in Turkey at the end of March and both the US and Israel issued strong warnings about travel to Turkey. The base has been under high security alert since early March. In February, the Saudis announced deployed that their fighter jets would be deployed to Incirlik and the assumption was made that an invasion of Syria was imminent although the Saudis said they were joining the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Israel just issued another warning and told citizens to cancel travel plans to Turkey due to an imminent threat.
_ Haaretz characterizes the Saudi king’s Middle East tour as an attempt to pay “peacemaker, patron, and policeman.” Turkey is also in the process of reconciling with Israel. King Salman is also trying to reconcile Egypt and Turkey.
28 Pages in Declassification Review
_ Former Sen. Bob Graham got a call from the White House on Tuesday from an official who “told him the declassification review of the documents withheld from a report issued by a Joint Congressional Commission in 2003 will soon be completed.” The phone call followed a 60 Minutes report on Sunday about the 28 pages of the report that were classified by the FBI. This doesn’t guarantee that the pages will be declassified, or that they won’t have redactions, but Graham was told that a decision would likely come within one or two months.
Another Call for Direct US Intervention in Syria, So Called “Safe Zone” or No-Fly Zone
_ The large New York City-based “progressive” internet activist organization Avaaz is now calling for direct US intervention in Syria to take down Bashar al-Assad. John Hanrahan said it is “easily the largest and most influential Internet-based, international advocacy organization on the planet. ” Avaaz was launched by MoveOn, Civic Action and Res Publica, in 2007 with significant funding from George Soros and his Open Society Foundations (then called Open Society Institute). Whenever someone signs their petitions they are counted as a member of Avaaz, now 43 million strong. Avaaz campaigned for the US bombing of Libya in 2011 and for the bombing of Syria in the spring of 2015 on the premise of protecting civilians.
Libya’s Unity Government Fractured Already
_ According to Richard Galustian, Libya’s UN Security Council appointed “unity government” (GNA) was transported to Libya via an Italian frigate, then transferred to a Libyan vessel (to disguise the fact that they are being installed by western powers). “But the GNA had fractured even before they were helped aboard the Italian vessel, with two of the nine abruptly resigning, accusing the leadership of being too cozy with Tripoli militias and for their opposition to Gen. Hafter remaining head of the army.” Galustian calls it a soft coup and says it is fracturing Libya and causing a meltdown.
Shoot Down Iranian Missile Tests?
Ukraine PM Yatsenyuk Resigns
_ “Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s stepping down is a mostly cosmetic move in response to the Dutch rejecting the E.U.’s association agreement with Ukraine, a country still locked in political dysfunction, says Gilbert Doctorow.” Robert Parry reviews Yatsenyuk’s ascension to power in Ukraine, beginning weeks before the Maidan coup when Victoria Nuland selected him for the job. The opinion of the Dutch people is particularly relevant to the issue of Ukraine’s relationship with the EU because the Malaysian flight MH-17 that was shot down over Ukraine originated in Amsterdam and 193 Dutch citizens were killed.
_ The Council of Europe’s secretary general warned that the “situation in Ukraine is now very volatile. It is urgent that they establish a new government and even more urgent that they speed up the reform process.”
_ During their weekly Tuesday radio show on Ukraine, NATO, Russia John Batchelor and Stephen Cohen discussed Ukraine’s president Poroshenko’s precarious position right now with threats from ultra-right neo-Nazi national guard threatening to assassinate him if he implements Minsk reforms and the New York Times and Odessa governor Saakashvili attacking him for not implementing anti-corruption reforms. The US-backed Saakashvili threatened to “take matters in our own hands.” Poroshenko lashed out at the New York Times, saying they were doing Putin’s bidding and at the Dutch people for voting no on a referendum for a trade deal between the EU and Ukraine, saying they were not upholding European values. Plus, Poroshenko was fingered for moving wealth offshore to tax havens, via the Panama Papers reporting.
OPEC Revises Estimates for Global Demand
_ At their April meeting in Doha, OPEC revised their estimates for crude oil global demand growth downward by 50,000 barrels per day (BPD) and said there may be further downward revisions. OPEC increased production in March to 32.25 million BPD, a slight increase from February. “The report points to a 790,000-bpd excess supply in 2016 if the group keeps pumping at March’s rate, up from 760,000 bpd implied in last month’s report.” The price and demand for oil has a big impact on geopolitics (obviously). Oil prices rose by ~20% in March but have dropped by 60% since 2014. “Positive market sentiments continue to arise from the output freeze plan being considered by major crude exporters.” This agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC nations has not been finalized. “Media reports on Tuesday suggested that Russia and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest producers, had already reached a deal” which boosted prices. Iran called their last agreement in February “a joke” because of all the loopholes. Iran (an OPEC member) will not freeze output yet as they are still ramping up production after sanctions were lifted. Iraq is in a similar situation. Saudi Arabia will not freeze output until Iran does. The Saudis produce 10 million BPD and Iran 3 million BPD and growing. The OPEC estimate for global oil demand in 2015 was 92.98 million BPD. Their new estimate for 2016 is 94.18 million BPD. The status quo in production will result in a surplus in 2016.
_ Stephen Walt:Obama Was Not a Realist President. If he had been, he might have avoided some of his biggest foreign-policy mistakes.