Next Cold War Roundup 9/13/16
US and Russia reached a deal on Syria for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and later military cooperation and a roadmap for political transition. The Syrian government accepted the deal while the major opposition rebel groups rejected it, issuing some demands to secure their agreement. The ceasefire officially began on Monday evening. Details of the deal are trickling out, the White House is publicly doubting Russia, privately arguing among themselves, and in response Russia wants to publish the (withheld) text of the deal.
Al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups launched an offensive in the Golan Heights region against the Syrian military, allegedy with air support from the Israeli air force. The Syrian military claims that their air defense shot down an Israeli fighter jet and a drone. The Israeli military denies the shootdown but confirms recent airstrikes on Syria.
Kurds report that ISIS fighters are fleeing the Turkish border offensive in Syria and joining al Qaeda groups in Aleppo. BBC interviewed surrendering rebels in Daraya who say they joined due to financial hardship and the revolution is a lie. In Ukraine, Stephen Cohen says that Pres. Poroshenko has unilaterally changed the terms of the Minsk deal.
Israel Bombing Syrian Military During Al Qaeda Golan Offensive, Syria Claims Shootdown
_ This story is heating up. There are reports today (Sep. 13) that Syria has begun to retaliate for the Israeli air force (IDF/IAF) strikes on the Syrian military, and that an Israeli plane and drone have been shot down by the Syrian air defense. Israel admits to bombing inside Syria but denies that their plane and/or drone was shot down, and claims they are retaliating for errant shells that came over the border but left no damage.
_ Recent events:
- Sep. 8: Israeli air force struck the Syrian army in the northern Golan Heights.
- Sep. 10: Haaretz reported a “projectile” landed in the Israeli controlled side of the Golan Heights 3 times in a week and the Israeli military retaliated by firing across the border at a Syrian army target.
- Sep. 10: “Arab reports on social media” claimed the Israeli military was helping the Syrian rebels fighting Syrian government forces in northern Golan Heights and the Israeli air force struck the Syrian army last Thursday and Sunday.
- Sep. 11: Syrian Druze in “occupied Golan Heights “staged a protest “in response to Israel’s continued support of the jihadist rebels in Syria.” Al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham launched a large offensive in the “predominately Druze village of Hader” during which the Israeli air force allegedly provided air support.
- Sep. 12: Israeli lawmaker, MK Akram Hasson, said al Nusra (aka Fateh al-Sham, aka al Qaeda) is bombing the Syrian Druze village of Khadr “with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s support and protection.” On Facebook, Hasson claims that Nusra is advancing in an area near the Golan Heights where the Israeli Defense Forces “had previously bombed Syrian positions” and now Nusra is holding those positions and receiving “logistical and medical assistance it’s getting from Israel.”
- Sep. 12: An anonymous “senior Israeli military source” told Haaretz that the fighting “in the area between northern Quneitra and the Hermon” has escalated in recent days but Israel is staying out of it and “avoiding contact with the extremist Islamist group.”
- Sep. 12: Al Masdar News reported that al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham launched a new offensive in the Golan Heights against the Syrian army and a military base, in an area they had attacked over the weekend, but the latest offensive was much larger.
- Sep. 12: A video was released of a call between an al Qaeda commander and an Israeli reporter, with al Qaeda begging for military support, aid, and attacks on Syrian forces.
- Sep. 13: Syrian military command issued a statement that they responded to an attack by the Israeli air force “in the countryside of the southern Quneitra province at 1 am” and shot down an Israeli plane “to the southwest of Quneitra” and shot down an Israeli drone “to the west of Sa’sa’ town in the southwestern countryside of Damascus.”
- Sep. 13: The Israeli military said they “attacked a Syrian army position” at 1 a.m. “in the countryside of Quneitra province” because a “stray mortar bomb struck the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.” They denied that their plane or drone was shot down, but said that 2 surface-to-air missiles were launched from Syria.
_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier reports, from inside sources, that there is a “big game going on” and even if the missiles did not take down the planes, Syria is say “we are ready to retaliate.” His source in Damascus claims that Syria is operating under new rules of engagement and will retaliate to stop Israel’s “overt support to al Qaeda.” Magnier said Damascus asked Russia to find out if Israel intends to support the rebels in Golan, and Russia asked Damascus to stand down until they talk with Israel. Russia then agreed to use their own air force against al Qaeda in southern Syria near the Israeli border. Magnier also cites a high level source in Damascus saying Russia was aware that Syrian air defense was using missiles to intercept the Israeli air force and it was meant to send a message.
Kerry Grilled for 5 Hours by National Security Officials While Negotiating Teams Waited
_ After many hours of negotiation on the US-Russia deal on Syria on Friday (Sep. 9) night, Karen DeYoung reported from Geneva that closing the negotiating session was delayed by the Americans. During that delay, Sergey Lavrov told reporters it took five hours for Kerry to get an answer from Washington (during which time Lavrov delivered vodka to the media after the Americans ordered pizza for them).
“[…] by several hours of consultations between Kerry and senior national security officials in Washington […] Final approval from Washington came after Kerry spent hours late Friday on a secure conference video with top national security officials in Washington, some of whom — particularly in the Pentagon — have disagreed with proposed coordination of counterterrorism airstrikes with Russia.”
_ Foreign Policy published an article about the “suspicions at the Defense Department, CIA, and State Department” over the ceasefire deal and the military cooperation with Russia and how “an internal debate is now tearing through the Obama administration.”
Details of US- Russia Deal Withheld, US Questioning Russia’s Credibility
_ Lavrov said there are 5 documents associated with the deal and most of the details will be withheld so that terrorists won’t know about attack plans. On Sep. 13, Lavrov said he wants the full terms of the deal to be made public today after White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, questioned whether Russia would hold up their end of the deal.
_ As most US-backed rebels are rejecting the deal and also rejecting the targeting of al Qaeda, the Syrian government said they support it, the White House spokesman Josh Earnest, in a press briefing on Sep. 12, attempted to frame the situation as a Russian failure to deliver, and if they don’t, the US won’t deliver the military cooperation that they are “quite interested in”. He said that “Russian credibility is on the line” and based on our experience “we’d have some reasons to be skeptical that the Russians are able or are willing to implement the arrangement consistent with the way it’s been described.”
_ Some officials at the Pentagon and State Dept. don’t trust Russia or the deal and the “new plan to potentially forge deeper ties with Moscow comes as unwelcome news” and they fear being accused of supporting Assad. On Monday, John Kerry said the plan still has a chance to work and military commanders say they are ready to carry out the agreement. Both sides claim that the other side used the last ceasefire to regroup.
_ The military cooperation will involve negotiating target lists and will have to agree on targets before strikes go forward, according to Kerry. Anonymous officials said only target information will be shared, not intelligence sources and methods.
_ In addition to the US and Russia, in a room together, cooperating on target selection, “representatives from about 11 other nations” will be present and will participate.
Change to Terms of US-Russia Deal
_ On Sep. 12, AP reported that John Kerry said the Syrian forces could do strikes “against al-Qaida-linked group despite the cease-fire,” with US and Russia approval. When the deal was announced, one of the terms was no Syrian air force activity in areas where rebels were located.
_ The State Dept. spokesman later corrected Kerry, saying the deal “makes no provision whatsoever for the U.S. and Russia to approve strikes by the Syrian regime, and this is not something we could ever envision doing.”
Rebel Conference; Rejection of Deal; Ahrar al-Sham
_ At a Middle East Institute event on Sep. 9, former Amb. Ford and Brookings fellow Charles Lister, both of whom maintain contact with rebel groups, predicted that the “moderate” rebel groups would not separate from al Qaeda, according to Gareth Porter.
_ A leader from the US-backed Ahrar al-Sham Syrian rebel group, Ali Abu Umar, gave an Eid Greetings speech on video, during which he rejected the US-Russian deal. Former UK military and law enforcement counter-terrorism expert, Charles Shoebridge, notes that it’s not the Russian-backed Assad government but the US-backed “moderate” rebels who are rejecting the US-Russia deal. Brookings Institute Charles Lister reported from one of his rebels sources that the speech was not a rejection of the deal.
_ Brookings Institute Charles Lister reported that there was a meeting of Syrian opposition rebel groups on Sunday, Sep. 11, to discuss the terms of the US-Russia deal. Lister reported that all groups active in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama had already sent a letter to US envoy Ratney, “demanding details & condemning US posture” and also demanding “guaranteed enforcement mechanisms for truce violations & additional protective measures for the opposition long-term.”
_ Lister reported that Turkey sent a message to the rebel meeting offering incentives and guarantees if they accept the deal, after which the rebels “issued a series of demands & clarifications to the US” before they would accept the deal. They gave the US and Turkey 48 hours to respond and demanded a ceasefire on them during that period. They object to the targeting of al Nusra.
_ Journalist Hala Jaber reported on Sep. 12 that Ahrar’s latest statement ‘blasted’ the US-Russia ceasefire deal and “pledge to keep fighting to the last bullet & fighter.” Ahrar welcomes the humanitarian aid but refuses to be tied to the ceasefire. Ahrar rejects the targeting of Nusra or any group fighting against the regime and says it’s a double standard to target Nusra and not target the militias fighting on the Syrian government side. Jaber said the same statement was released “with signatories of all other main rebel/jihadist groups” and the deal was also “rejected by the FSA.” They say that the deal will damage the “revolution” and allow the “regime” to make territorial and political gains, and has no provisions to hold the “regime” accountable for violations of the ceasefire. It sounds like all rebels groups have outright rejected the deal, which leaves John Kerry in a terrible position.
_ Ahrar al-Sham reportedly launched an offensive alongside al Nusra in the Golan Heights minutes after the official ceasefire began. Journalist Lizzie Phelan in Aleppo said “what ceasefire?” as a mortar landed on the government-held side of Aleppo city after the ceasefire began. Leith Abou Fadel, a pro-Syrian coalition war correspondent and editor at Al Masdar News said: “One thing is abundantly clear about this ceasefire: the west has no control over the opposition. So why are they negotiating with Russia?”
_ There is some question about whether Syrian coalition forces will actually retreat from Castello Road to form the agreed upon demilitarized zone. Al Masdar said they spoke to the Syrian “Tiger forces” who said it would not happen.
_ Sometimes ceasefire agreements don’t take hold immediately. It looks like both the US and Turkey are working to try to convince the rebel groups to comply. It’s not clear if their other sponsor countries are doing the same, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In our last roundup, we reported on the document released by the Saudi-backed High Negotiating Committee just last week, with their plan for a political transition, in which Bashar al-Assad steps down.
_ Gareth Porter explains that the “the crucial question is what the Obama administration intends to do about the ties between its own military clients and Al Qaeda in Aleppo and elsewhere in the northwest” in his Consortium News article, “Al Qaeda’s Ties to US-Backed Syrian Rebels.”
Syria Ceasefire Begins, Sundown on Monday
_ An hour before the ceasefire was set to begin (per war correspondent Elijah Magnier), Russia said the US had not provided any al Nusra targets and the “war against the terrorists” would continue. The so called “moderate” opposition rebel groups were supposed to separate themselves from al Nusra by sundown on Monday. Instead, they held a meeting on Sunday night and issued their own set of demands, and wanted 48 hours of ceasefire on them, which, based on this announcement from Russia, was not granted.
_ Statement from a Russian senior military official: “Today from 7pm [local time] the cessation of hostilities is being resumed across all the territory of Syria,” but he said Russia would “continue to carry out strikes against terrorist targets”.
_ The Saudi-backed opposition umbrella group, High Negotiating Committee (HNC), insisted, via an anonymous representative, that the largest rebel groups have accepted the deal: “but there will be a lot of harsh reservations and observations regarding the whole package. But as a final takeaway, we do agree.” Statements from one of the largest groups, Ahrar al-Sham, contradict that statement.
_ The US-Russia deal covered all parties to the war except ISIS and al Nusra, who would become the only targets after the deal went into effect. Russia was responsible for getting the Syrian coalition to abide by the terms agreed upon and Kerry was responsible for getting the rebels to do the same, but they did not comply.
_ Several hours after the ceasefire began, the Syrian Observatory via Reuters reported that “calm is prevailing” in most of Syria, with the exception of fighting in the southwest, near the Golan Heights.
_ On Tuesday, Sep. 13, during a live Russian Ministry of Defense briefing with a satellite link to a Russian officer and a Syrian officer on the ground near Castello Road in Aleppo, the soldiers come under rebel fire. They start ducking and finally flee with the cameraman, but only after their commander orders them. The Russian military said the “so called moderate opposition” have violated the ceasefire 23 times since it began, yesterday.
Assad Speech in Daraya
Syrian Pres. Assad was filmed driving himself, to ‘perform Eid Al-Adha prayers’ and then on a walking tour, in the bombed out town of Daraya, where a truce was negotiated and carried out last week. He then did an interview and drove himself away at the end in a modest car . On Twitter, “Ehsani2” provides the key points of the speech, which he says is a “reflection of the way Syrian leadership see the current state of affairs,” in a series beginning here:
- “My trip here today is a message to those who bet against Syria”
- Tells his enemies he will regain every inch of Syria
- Asks all Syrians to opt for a truce/reconciliation deal (like the fighters in Daraya did)
Asks who benefited from destroying Syria
- Asks all “nationalists” to return home to the “mother state”
- To paid fighters he vowed that the army would bring security regardless of internal or external pressure
- “Assad finishes by stating army efforts to bring peace & security back will be driven by the country’s constitution, which obliges the army to do so. Assad’s talk today is consistent with the notion that he views every armed group as insurgent that the State is obliged to defeat per the constitution.”
Operation Euphrates, Where Did ISIS Go?
_ In an interview with Scott Horton on Sunday, Gareth Porter talks about the mystery of where ISIS is fleeing to as the Turkish military and Turkish-backed rebel groups clear them out of the border area. Porter said that the Kurds are claiming ISIS fled to Aleppo, into the hands of the al Qaeda groups, as per Henri Barkey, specialist on Turkey at the Wilson Center, speaking at a Middle East Institute event on Sep. 9.
_ On the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, a BBC journalist, Mark Lowen, livestreamed via Periscope from the Syrian town of Jarablus after being brought there by Turkish officials. On the eve of Eid, civilians and members of the Free Syrian Army rebel group were out and about in the town center. The BBC journo said it was an amazing tranformation and the people seem happy. The Periscope broadcast allows live comments or the sending of “hearts” (which can also be seen when the broadcast is viewed later) and there were many. So at least there is peace in Jarablus, for the holiday.
BBC Report From Daraya: Rebel Fighters Said FSA Paid Them, This is Not a Revolution
_ BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reported from Syria and spoke to rebel fighters who came out of Darayya. One of them was outspoken and said:
“We had to be fighters […] because we didn’t find any other job. If you want to stay inside you need to be a part of the FSA [Free Syrian Army, the group that has closest relations with the West]. Everything is very expensive. They pay us $100 a month but it is not enough. All this war is a lie. We had good lives before the revolution. Anyway this is not a revolution. They lied to us in the name of religion. I don’t want to go on fighting but I need to find a job, a house. Everything I have is here in Muadhamiya.”
_ The fighter reportedly also said “We only joined because FSA paid us. They lied to us,” just before the “All this war is a lie.” But as of Friday, Sep. 9 at 9:30pm Eastern, that part of the statement was removed, or the translation was changed by the BBC with no editor’s note. Interestingly, a Twitter user named “Syricide” had expressed surprise that the BBC had not censored the quote.
“And in Kiev, Poroshenko unilaterally reversed the order of steps required to implement the Minsk Accords to end the Ukrainian civil and proxy war by declaring that returning control of Ukrainian’s Eastern border with Russia to Kiev had to be the first step of implementation, not the final step as spelled in the Minsk agreements. In effect, Poroshenko’s announcement betrayed German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande, who had brokered the Minsk agreements and, unless Poroshenko relents, is the end of the only existing option for negotiating an end to the Ukrainian conflict. It is hard to imagine that Poroshenko took this step without the permission of the Obama Administration, and of Vice President Biden in particular, who has been in charge of the ‘Ukrainian project’ at least since 2014.”
CIA Director Brennan on ISIS
_ CIA director John Brennan, at the Intelligence and National Security Summit on Sep. 8, said (video @ 30:00): “I think ISIL [Islamic State] will remain a presence inside Iraq and Syria for quite a while.” Brennan also emphasized the flow of the remaining ISIS fighters back to their home countries and all the members of the panel talked about the importance of global intelligence sharing and it’s the “key to a successful counterterrorism strategy.”
War and Elections
_ Anne Appelbaum at the Washington Post lays out a completely unhinged, numbered bullet point conspiracy theory scenario, about how Putin will rig the US elections to get Trump elected, then changes her mind and says he’ll rig it for Hillary, to create chaos in America.
_ Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist involved with chronic traumatic encephalopathy and concussion cases in the NFL, announced on Twitter that maybe Hillary is being poisoned by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and the Washington Post reported it: “The man who discovered CTE thinks Hillary Clinton may have been poisoned.”
_ Robert Parry: “The Existential Madness of Putin-Bashing.” Parry reminds that all of this demonizing “stops a rational debate about U.S.-Russia relations and pushes the two nuclear powers toward an existential brink.”
_ Zaid Jilani at The Intercept: “Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisers Are a “Who’s Who” of the Warfare State.”
_ Israel Shamir at Unz Review: “Is Putin a Lousy Dancer?”Shamir believes the “campaign against Putin’s Russia mirrors the campaign against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” and tha the rampant anti-Russian propaganda all across western media may be preparing the “Western populace” for a preemptive nuclear strike on Russia, which neocons believe “they can destroy Russian missiles by a sudden nuclear first strike” and win a nuclear war. Shamir says this is why Pres. Obama is proposing a No First Use nuclear policy.
_ Phil Giraldi at Unz Review: “It’s All About Russia.” An energetic rant by Giraldi about Hillary Clinton and her latest neocon endorser, Paul Wolfowitz, who are “all bottom feeding out of the same gravy boat” of war profiteering and in the process, creating a real danger to national security.
_ Scott Beauchamp at The Atlantic: “Why Clinton’s Iraq Apology Still Isn’t Enough.”
Analysis and Opinion
_ CJ Werleman in Middle East Eye: “After 9/11: America may be safer but the rest of the world pays the price.”
_ In an analysis by UPI/The Arab Weekly, “Israeli military chiefs” are preparing for a new war with Iran and Hezbollah who, they claim, are trying to establish missile bases in the Golan Heights. The private intelligence firm, Stratfor, claims that if “Assad manages to stay in power, he will likely have to surrender control of the Golan to Iran and Hezbollah to threaten Israel.”