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Iraqi Elections: A Loss for the US, an Even Bigger Loss for Iran

Iraq just held its first elections since the defeat of the so called Islamic State. The victory over the terror group was led by Prime Minister Haider al Abadi as he affirmed, “our forces fully control the Iraqi-Syrian border, and thus we can announce the end of the war against Daesh.” This was in December 2017, five months before the elections took place. Prime Minister Abadi had the full backing of the United States, and was commonly known as “our guy in Baghdad.” For Abadi, the US did all it could to strengthen his position, the current administration even went as far as supporting Abadi during the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017 and ignored Kurdish calls to stop the Iranian funded, legalized Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) incursion into Kirkuk, just a week after President Donald Trump designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The US was willing to do anything to keep another Maliki type figure from regaining power in Iraq. US strategy was clear, keep Iraq physically united, keep the Kurds tied to Baghdad, and ultimately weaken Iranian influence.

However, the US missed a key component of Iraqi politics, its devious foe, Muqtada al Sadr. Al Sadr is a Shiite but is also heavily nationalistic and has challenged both Iran and the US. Al Sadr has been accused numerous times by the Pentagon for American deaths during the height of the 2003 war. The Mahdi Army, led by Al Sadr, was the first Shiite militia to target US forces in Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein. At one point, the Pentagon stated, “the Mahdi Army had replaced al Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence.” Muqtada al Sadr himself will not hold the prime ministerial position but will have the ability to appoint one which align with his views.

Al Sadr’s Sairoon (The Marchers) bloc, in alliance with Iraq’s Communist Party and a handful of other parties, composed of both Sunnis and Shiites including a Kurdish faction, was victorious. Iranian backed Fatah Alliance came in second while Abadi’s Al Nasr, despite his victory against the Islamic State and retaining control of the Kurds, established a weak third and Maliki came in fourth. Turnout for the election was at an all-time low, 44.52% compared to 60% in 2014. So, what does this mean for the US?

Although Al Sadr continues his anti-American rhetoric, he is still not Iran. He has transformed himself from a former Iranian ally to nothing short of an Arab nationalist. He has met with Sunni heads of states, including the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in July 2017. If anyone can push Iranian influence out of Iraq, it is al Sadr. This may be enough for the United States’ long term policy in Iraq. But there is one catch, al Sadr demands for the total withdrawal of all US troops in Iraq, now numbering at a little over 5,000. For American policy, the hope still lies with Abadi, a possible coalition with al Sadr may convince him to allow the presence of a small footprint to continue the training of Iraqi forces and play a strategic role against Iran’s continued expansion into Iraq and beyond.

The Fatah Alliance, a pro-Iranian coalition, is backed by the PMF and Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the IRGC who surprisingly lost to Al Sadr. Iraqi’s seem unsatisfied with a strong Iranian presence within their state, and feel they’ve lost their country to the neighboring Shiite theocracy. Nonetheless, Soleimani is dedicated to pressuring the fractured lists in uniting with Iran, strengthening Tehran while undermining Baghdad. The loss comes shortly after the US withdrew from the infamous Iran nuclear deal and recent successful Israeli attacks against IRGC bases in Syria, further isolating the Islamic regime.

The alternative path for the United States in Iraq is to pivot back towards the Kurds in the north. After a feeling of betrayal among the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government and those who voted for the independence referendum, the Kurds are always willing to accept US support. The Kurdish house has been in disorder dating back to the 2017 referendum, and the recent elections proved no different. Mass accusations of election fraud, system hacking, threats, and gun fights in party headquarters quickly ensued. The main faction, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) align closer with al Sadr. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is deeply influenced by Iran, as are the rest of the Kurdish groups including New Generation, Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), Change Movement, and the two small Islamic parties. The alternative path may not have a solid foothold in Baghdad, with only 58 seats but can be reconstructed that the KRG are playmakers once again as they were prior to the referendum. If the US does not strengthen the KRG, Kurds will likely shift towards either Iran or al Sadr.

Despite the United States having major setbacks due to the conflict, it remains a key player. The US invested heavily in Abadi while crippling the Kurds, only to keep a failed state intact. The unpredictability of Muqtada al Sadr may force Abadi on the sidelines to further isolate the United States. Iran, however, suffered the most and will continue to undermine the Iraqi security forces by bolstering the PMF. We may also find Iran resorting to sectarianism to delegitimatize Al Sadr’s unity coalition in the near future.

Originally published: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-iraqi-elections-loss-us-even-bigger-loss-iran/

Photo: Middle East Eye

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The Media Perpetuates Hamas’ Narrative, Supports Terror Group’s Goals

Hamas terrorists, and Hamas-backed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, have initiated violent riots against Israel and attempted to breach the Gaza border, but according to the mainstream media, Israel is aggressively killing innocent “protestors” and children.

Hamas’ “March of Return” launched against the Jewish State that began several weeks ago is a violent attempt to infiltrate Israel, massacre Israelis, and further diminish Israel’s image among the media and international community.

Hamas is using rocks, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and wire cutters as weapons, and have purposely placed children and the disabled in the line of fire. Thus far, Hamas has sent approximately 40,000 people to breach the border with Israel to kill innocent Israeli civilians. Monday was Israel’s deadliest day in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas; Gaza’s health ministry stated that 52 people were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded.

These casualties are a direct result of Hamas inciting its people to kill Jews. Hamas is solely responsible for the violence, while using Palestinians as hostages and human shields. Video footage shows Palestinians with machetes breaking through the border fencer saying, “Oh Jews, we come to slaughter you!”

Furthermore, Hamas member Salah Bardaweil said Wednesday that 50 out of the 62 dead were members of the terrorist organization.  And senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahhar stated, “This is not ‘peaceful resistance.’ Has the option of armed struggle diminished? No. On the contrary, it is growing and developing, that’s clear.  So when we talk about ‘peaceful resistance’ this is deceiving the public.”

The White House correctly held Hamas responsible for the deaths. White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters, “We believe Hamas bears the responsibility.  This is a propaganda attempt.” Shah added that the Trump administration supports Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

The media, however, in its true form, jumped on the opportunity to place the blame on Israel for the casualties, and ignore the facts on the ground. The media refers to the Hamas campaign to kill Israelis as “protests.” An NPR segment inaccurately reported, “Israeli troops killed many people yesterday as they were trying to leave.”

An editorial in The Guardian claims, “It is inexcusable for soldiers of a military, especially those under democratic civilian control, to shoot and kill protesters, almost all of whom were unarmed, and who pose no credible threat.” The examples of misreportingand media bias against Israel are endless.

This is not the first, and likely, not the last time that Israel will lost the PR battle to Hamas terrorists.

While Israel and her supporters around the globe need to create and implement a strategic and coordinated campaign to win the war of ideas, the responsibility also lies with the media to provide accurate and truthful reporting.

Former Ambassador and Deputy Minister Michael Oren, during an interview with CBC radio, was asked, “How do you think that looked to the world yesterday when all those [Palestinian] people were shot dead at their border?”

I think it looked to the world the way Hamas wanted it to look to the world.  You’re doing just what they want you to.  Even your line of questioning is just what Hamas wants, Oren replied. “And, frankly, Carol, you’re complicit in further damage and even deaths of Palestinian kids.

“Because Hamas is going to conclude from listening to this interview that it works,” Oren added. “And people like you in the media will turn around and say it’s great, and Hamas are going to wake up tomorrow morning and do it again. I hope you’re proud of it.”

As Amb. Oren pointed out, the media’s perpetuation of Hamas’ narrative is not only a disservice to Israel and the world at large, but also, ironically enough, harms the Palestinian people who are suffering under Hamas’ rule.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/media-hamas-supports-terror-groups-2881/

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Don’t Let Iran Have Nukes They’ll Use on US, Israel

In response to the recent exposure of 100,000 Iranian nuclear weapons documents by Israel, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, the Washington foundation, went after the real villain in this drama — Israel! Cirincione took to Twitter to charge, “May I just point out that #Israel had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it tried and failed to hide for years. They repeatedly and consistently lied to US officials when confronted with the evidence.” Cirincione then pointed out, “Iran never actually built a single weapon, unlike Israel.”

This Twitter rant is nothing more than sheer stupidity.

Mr. Cirincione really should understand why the U.S. might have a problem with the Islamic Republic developing nuclear weapons, and not so much with Israel producing them. That is because Iran is technically at war with the U.S. Israel is not.

In 1979, the founding year of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranians violated our Embassy and seized American hostages, whom they mistreated. Every Nov. 4, the Iranian regime continues to celebrate a yearly “Death to America” day to commemorate their seizure of the U.S. Embassy and hostages.

In the 1980’s, Iran set up the terror group Hezbollah, which prior to Sept. 11, 2001, had more American blood on its hands than any other terror organization. Hezbollah bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut and twice bombed the U.S. Embassy there. Almost 300 Americans were murdered. (On May 30, 2003, a U.S. Judge found Iran legally responsible for providing Hezbollah, with financial and logistical support for these attacks.)

Also, Hezbollah grabbed U.S. hostages individually, and oftentimes tortured and killed them. In 1996, Hezbollah bombed the Khobar Towers, and killed 17 American servicemen.

Post-2003, Iran provided explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to Iraqi and Afghani terrorists for use against American soldiers. One study says that at least 500 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were directly linked to these Iranian explosives.

In 2011, when the Obama administration was trying to make nice with the Islamic Republic, an Iranian agent plotted to bomb the Saudi Ambassador at a Georgetown restaurant, which would have resulted in mass casualties among U.S. civilians.

After the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), Iran was aggressive in the Persian Gulf. U.S. forces operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz were “approached by Iranian warships and aircraft” on a “nearly daily basis,” according to a Pentagon official. This happened 35 times in 2016, double the amount from the same period in 2015. And in 2017. At one point in time, American sailors were seized and humiliated in a violation of international law.

Iran has had, and continues to hold, American citizens hostage, sometimes under horrible conditions. Currently, Iran has arrested and imprisoned six U.S. persons, Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi, Nizar Zakka (a resident), Reza “Robin” Shahini, Karan Vafadari (a resident), graduate student Xiyue Wang, and (probably) a seventh, Robert Levinson. Other Americans were released for ransom money during the JCPOA negotiations.

Right now, all throughout the Mideast, the Iranians are using the money they gained from the U.S. through the JCPOA to inspire rebellions and mayhem and violence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and to threaten U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and, yes, Israel.

Iran has also jumpstarted its program to test ballistic missiles. On March 8 and 9, 2016, Iran conducted multiple missile tests, and during which it called the U.S. the “main enemy.” Ballistic missiles “only make economic, political, and military sense to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran has not been afraid to support Sunni terror groups too. Iran funds Hamas – annually $60-70 million – and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – annually $70 million. Both organizations have American blood on their hands. Even al-Qaeda got some Iranian assistance; Bin Laden once described Iran as al-Qaida’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication” and Iran has continued this until recently. Iran is supplying and funding weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Iranian leadership continues to refer to the U.S. as “the Great Satan.”

Iranian school textbooks, such as “The Qur’an and Life” (Grade 12, p. 125) prepare Iranian children for an apocalyptic, horrifying, millenarian, military battle against the U.S. and other “arrogant oppressors of the world,” which are ostensibly led by “idolatrous devils.”

Meanwhile, in comparison, Israel has only been a strong friend and ally of the U.S.

Joe Cirincione is a prominent supporter of the JCPOA, so perhaps it is not too surprising that the man is worried that President Trump may follow through with his promises to leave the Iran deal.

But there is no excuse for Cirincione to take leave of his senses; any objective foreign policy observer should understand the difference between a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Israelis, and one in the hands of the Iranians.

Iran might use a nuclear weapon against the U.S. Israel never would.

It is really just that simple.
Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/cirincione-efp-jcpoa/2018/05/08/id/859127/

Photo: Fintastique/Dreamstime

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Syria Gets Us Farther from a Post-War Epoch

The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more. Once again, our computer screens were replete with helpless children, some lifeless and limp, some foaming at the mouth and flinching, some with oxygen masks strapped across their tiny faces.

This attack was the final blow for the last remaining rebels in this Damascus suburb.

This came within a week of President Trump’s pronouncement that “we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

This brings us to the first lesson: Whether or not America wants to enter into a period of isolationism, when we withdraw from the picture the world becomes an infinitely more dangerous place. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when America retreats, all of the moral cockroaches—like Tehran’s mullahs, Syria’s Assad, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdoğan—immediately swoop in to fill the void.

Akin to the period between the two world wars, the American people might say they have no appetite for further military engagement, yet there is something in America’s moral fabric that simply cannot allow atrocities like these to go unanswered. As Winston Churchill once said: “America always does the right thing. After it has exhausted all other possibilities.”

Over the last seven years of the protracted Syrian civil war, the country has been on a slow and steady path towards total implosion. Initially, an alphabet soup of terrorist groups have used this empty playing field, including, but not limited to, Jabat Al Nusra, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham, the IRGC, the Al Quds Force and Hezbollah—many of them proxies for bigger regional players.

Now the big boys are entering the scene, and Syria promises to be the theater in which America and the West might quite soon form a coalition against the regional forces of oppression and their Russian enablers.

The next lesson, therefore, is: If we do not engage ourselves in smaller wars, America might well find itself dragged into a much larger war.

The second major event was the attack on the T-4 air base early Monday morning. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied their involvement, as is characteristic, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his red lines very clear.

On Feb. 10, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone launched from the identical Syrian air base and flown over Israeli territory, he said: “Our policy is very clear. Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty.” He then added that “Iran seeks to use Syrian territory with the expressed goal of destroying Israel.”

Since the singing of the nuclear-trade deal, Iran has used its vastly enriched coffers to empower, embolden and enable its terrorist proxies within the widening Shiite crescent, and has used Syria as part of its ever-widening land bridge stretching from Tehran to Beirut.

This has been enabled by Russia military support. Russia under Putin wants to re-emerge as a world power and has just asked Iran permission to use its air bases in Iran as refueling stations. They have also just vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution to investigate the Syrian chemical attack in Douma.

Which brings us to the final lesson of these recent Syrian events: In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, famously wrote a book titled, The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argues that with the end of the Cold War, we are passing through a period of post-war history, and that we have reached the height of the ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the apex and final form of government.

Democracy might be the best form of government devised, but Russia, though the use of its proxies, has shown that it might want to regress to a period of Cold War alliances. And unfortunately, because sometimes the only way to eradicate pure evil—such as was on display this weekend in Douma—is through the use of military force, we are quite far from a post-war epoch.

Photo: SANA/Handout via Reuters

Originally Published: https://www.jns.org/opinion/syria-gets-us-farther-from-a-post-war-epoch/

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March of Return Nothing More than Terrorists’ Plaything

A version is this was first published in the Washington Jewish Week on April 11, 2018, but it has been updated to reflect more current realities on the ground.

On March 30th, coinciding with the start of Passover, the former and current Hamas Prime Ministers, Ismael Haniya, Yahya Sinwar organized what they called “The March of Return”. Since then, every Friday, there has been a demonstration at the Gaza border. Each week, the demonstrators are getting closer and closer to the actual border with Israel, and each week there are few and fewer demonstrators —the first week they had approximately 30,000 and this week, approximately 3, 000–but they are growing increasingly more violent.

As Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it, “We are fighting an uncompromising battle here, and the other side must understand there is a determined army here”, adding, “Every week there are fewer people, but much more terror activity.”

Although this had been dubbed  by many news outlets throughout the world as a peaceful demonstration,  these two Hamas leaders told their followers to  quote “infiltrate the border”,  and that this will “ mark  the beginning of the liberation of all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” –which encompasses all of Israel

This was not intended therefore, as many media outlets had described it, “ to eliminate the economic suffering in the Gaza Strip”,  but rather,  to eliminate the sheer existence of the Jewish state.

These protestors, many known terrorists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Qassam Brigades, among others came to Israel’s  with the explicit instructions to penetrate through that border into Israel, which would create a security and demographic nightmare for the Jewish state.

Most significantly: They brought wire cutters with them.

The objective was also stated that they would remain there until May 15th, Israeli Independence Day, which the Palestinians and many in the Arab World dub “Nakba Day”, “the Day of the Catastrophe”. May 15this also, (not coincidentally), the day that President Trump and his team have designated for the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. They came with tents, erected to remain there until the 15th.

This “march” was not a peaceful demonstration reminiscent of  the sit ins of Selma Alabama. The protestors sought to storm the border with lethal intent, hurling firebombs, rocks and burning tires at Israeli soldiers. In at least two cases, they fired bullets directly at  Israeli soldiers.

And unfortunately, it has resulted in a number of Palestinian fatalities, who have constantly  been manipulated by  their leaders to despise the state of Israel.

However, considering the inflammatory potential of the situation, the IDF has got to be commended for training their young men and women to act with such amazing discipline and restraint.

It is also important to remember that Gaza is not under Israeli occupation.

In 2005, in a heart-wrenching, politically divisive move, the Israeli government decided to uproot any remnant of a Jewish presence in Gaza and withdrew to the pre-1967 lines, giving the Palestinian people there total independence. Jewish philanthropists actually bought the greenhouses to give to this “nascent Palestinian state.” Some rabbis wanted to leave the synagogues in Gaza, arguing “After all, we all pray to the same God.”

Many of my friends who were for the Gaza withdrawal explained to me, “This will finally prove to the world just how far Israel is willing to go for peace.”

Do you think the world remembers any of this today?

As soon as the blue and white flag was lowered, and the IDF closed the gate, those greenhouses and synagogues, and any other vestige of Jewish life, were all destroyed in a heightened display of hate-infested anarchy and mayhem.

And then in 2007, after a bitter internecine war between Fatah and Hamas, Hamas, an organization that is totally created for the imminent destruction of the state of Israel, took over the Gaza strip.

The result of this magnanimous gesture of the Gaza withdrawal was that over 10,000 missiles have rained down on Israel, provoking Israel to have to fight three wars: Cast Lead in 2008, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, with each successive war the range of the rockets was extended.

By now, the Palestinians in Gaza have missiles that can reach all of Israel’s main population centers. And just in case the missiles do not do the trick, the Gazans have been assiduously digging underground tunnels.

Yet there are many powerful voices in Washington, DC, that have not learned the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal. They want a precipitance withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, or the West bank, and try to delude themselves into thinking that that will solve the problem. They are looking at today’s difficulties with the impasse with the Palestinians, and as difficult as this situation is, many want to seize upon a solution, any solution, not realizing the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal.  These people chose to willfully blind themselves to what their leaders say to their own people in Arabic, and prefer not to entertain the notion that in today’s volatile Middle East, power changes hands very quickly. And assuming that the PA was a peaceful entity, which it most definitely is not-that does not mean that tomorrow Hamas will not be at the helm.

 

 

Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Originally Published: http://washingtonjewishweek.com/45435/march-of-return-nothing-more-than-terrorists-plaything/editorial-opinion/voices/

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The End of the Era of Palestinian Deception

For a quarter of a century, the Palestinian Authority has cynically wrapped itself inside a fig leaf dubbed as the “Peace Process.” The naked truth, however, is that it has been using every means available to incite for, incentivize and reward terrorism. With Friday’s passage of the Taylor Force Act, which aims to deduct payments to Palestinian prisoners and martyrs, fissures are finally emerging in its iron wall of deception.

The phrase “Peace Process” served as an ingenious linguistic sedative, lulling the international community into the dream of a peaceful P.A. The harsh reality is that the objective of the P.A. has never been peace, but the gradual, staged elimination of the State of Israel. The P.A. has been consistently teaching their children that Jews and Israelis are odious, detestable creatures, and their final elimination would be of huge benefit to the Palestinian people, the Arab world and all of humanity.

The Palestinian National Covenant was adopted on May 28, 1963, in which most of the 33 articles invoke an “armed struggle” until “the Zionist entity is totally wiped out and Palestine is liberated.”

Note that this happened four years before the 1967 Six-Day War, so it had nothing to do with the disputed territories that followed that war, and everything to do with the 1948 War of Independence and the sheer existence of Israel.

In April 1996, amid the euphoria of the signing of the Oslo Accords and under much political pressure from the Clinton administration, the Palestinian National Council had a well-publicized vote to discuss whether to “revoke the covenant.” Despite the fanfare, they voted simply to extend the period of time to decide on what to do.

P.A. spokesperson Marwan Kanfani emerged from the meeting, saying: “This is not an amendment. It is a license to start a new, to found a new resolution, a new charter. This is really a vote to form a committee to look into it.”

The committee never was formed; the members never appointed; no meetings were subsequently announced.

Yet the international media was ablaze with headlines of how the P.A. had renounced the charter. Peter Jennings, the anchor of “World News Tonight” began his broadcast with: “They said it couldn’t be done. The P.A. has revoked its charter calling for the destruction of Israel.”

The PNC didn’t convene until 2009, in which Fatah spokesman Nabil Shaath said that “the covenant cannot be changed.” Azaam al Ahmed, another P.A. spokesman said “it [the covenant] will remain as is. It won’t be subject to change. We have the right to practice all forms of national struggle.”

Nevertheless, for decades the world convinced themselves that the P.A. was actually a peaceful entity, the moderate alternative to Hamas.

The P.A. has been playing a dubious game. It had used all means available to systematically indoctrinate  their people to despise and murder Israelis and Jews, using textbooks, children’s  television shows, sporting and cultural events to demonize Jews, to praise the shahid, (“martyr”) and to encourage their youth to follow in this “glorious path.”

As Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch writes, “P.A. libels claim that Israel conspires to infect Palestinians with AIDS, spread drug addiction, conspired and successfully murdered Arafat, and more. The P.A.’s goal has been to inculcate hatred to the degree that fighting and murdering Jews and Israelis will be glorified as heroic self-defense.”

After so many years of this systematic indoctrination, it’s no wonder that murdering Jews and Israelis is seen as a heroic act in the eyes of many Palestinians, and a regnant value of the P.A. In 2015, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said: “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood.”

In defiance of the United States, the P.A. just announced that it will now directly pay the prisoners and the families of “martyrs” to the tune of $355 million a year.

Does this not constitute material support for terrorism?

At least, however, so far as the U.S. Congress is concerned, the gig is finally up.

Photo Credit: Flash90

Originally Published: https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-end-of-the-era-of-palestinian-deception/

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US Lawmakers can still undo a wrong in Afrin, Syria

In an unprovoked attack on American Kurdish allies in Afrin Syria, the Turks have continued a two-month long air and ground campaign with no end in sight. The Kurds have partnered with the international coalition including United States in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, most notably in recapturing Raqqa, the capital of the so called Islamic State.

To the Kurds betrayal is ever so common, the most recent example in Kirkuk as the oil-rich city was given to Shiite militias on a silver platter. A city now outside the control of Iraqi forces and riddled with ISIS once again. Just months later in Afrin, a predominately Kurdish region is being attacked by U.S. NATO partner Turkey.

Prior to the Turkish invasion, Afrin was untouched by the Assad regime and ISIS. It acted as a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Arabs, including Kurdish Yezedi refugees from Iraq. Today Turkey is targeting not only the indigenous Kurdish population in Afrin but Christians and Yezedi minorities as well.

The Trump administration has failed to react to Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive actions against a staunch U.S. ally. The State Department has been cautious, hesitant to step on Erdogan’s toes while Turkey ignores all international laws including a U.N. Security Council cease-fire. But it is not too late for US lawmakers to act on this humanitarian crisis caused by America’s supposed ally. Eight members of Congress have previously signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Ankara, urging to convince Erdogan to stop the incursion due to civilian deaths and injuries.

This was ignored.

Afrin is a humanitarian crisis. As Turkey continues to advance towards the center of the city, the number of civilian deaths will increase. Afrin is a bipartisan cause which demands Turkey to act within international laws and norms. Erdogan has threatened U.S. soldiers in Manbij positioned a little more than a hour away east of Afrin by stating he will “bury and strangle” anyone siding with the Kurds. Erdogan has called on his 90,000 mosques inside Turkey to recite the verse of conquest from the Quran, calling on Jihad aimed at Kurds.

Erdogan is not behaving as an ally of the U.S., but rather is shifting east in partnership with Russia and Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin, soon set to win another term in office, is more than happy to welcome Erdogan into his sphere of influence if it means creating a rift between the NATO alliance.

If Afrin falls, two likely scenarios are to occur. The first is that Turkey will annex the territory. Turkey’s history of failing to return land to its rightful owners is a negative one. Cyprus, an EU partner, has been occupied by the Turks since 1974.

Second, if Erdogan is convinced by the Russians to not annex Afrin, he will be satisfied with forcing the Kurdish population out of their historical lands and allowing the Assad regime to move in, thus legitimatizing the regime furthermore.

It is critical that lawmakers on Capitol Hill fill the void of the administration and the State Department on their failure to act accordingly to Erdogan’s aggressive behavior. The longer the U.S. waits to respond, the more civilians deaths will occur.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/us-lawmakers-can-still-undo-wrong-afrin-syria-2059/

Photo: AFP

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You Cannot Whitewash Away Polish Anti-Semitism

Photo Credit: Alik Keplicz/AP

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was forced last week to deny being a Holocaust revisionist, after suggesting that Jews were complicit in their own genocide.

Referring to a new Polish law making it illegal to say the country has responsibility for the Holocaust, an Israeli journalist and son of Polish survivors asked Morawiecki if he could face prison for recounting how his mother was betrayed by her Polish neighbors.

The Prime Minister replied: “Of course it’s not going to be punishable … to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators.”

Morawiecki’s remarks were a shameful adulteration of history. There were no “Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust. They were victims. The Jewish prisoners who participated in the extermination machinery did so under the immediate threat of death.

The new law, which Polish lawmakers chose to push — on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less — cannot be understood without an appreciation of the context from which it emerged, nurtured by the rise of nationalism in Poland and the tactic support of the populist government, which views itself as the guardian of Polish historical honor.

A dark trend is once again sweeping across the European continent. In Macerata, a small town in Italy, a neo-fascist admirer of Mussolini recently went on a shooting rampage, wounding five men and one woman of African origin. In Austria, a party with neo-Nazi roots now sits in the coalition government. And from Hungary to the Czech Republic, France and Britain, political parties and their supporters are reviving the old blood libel against Jews. Europe’s grip on its bloody past is far from assured.

Of course, Poland’s history with the Third Reich is complex. If the new law were to clarify that the Polish government had no official role in the Holocaust, it would be an accurate reflection of events. Likewise, Poland is right to object to the flippant use of “Polish death camps” to describe Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Majdanek and Chelmno rather than “Nazi death camps inside Poland.”

But in every country under Nazi occupation — Poland is no exception — most of the local population were either silent witnesses to the slaughter or willing participants in the annihilation of Jews.

Take, for example, the role of Polish collaborators. In July of 1941, 1,600 Jews, nearly the entire Jewish population in the village of Jedwabne, were murdered by their Polish neighbors. Some were hunted down and killed with clubs, knives and axes. Most were forced into a barn and burned alive.

The Polish police collaborated with the Germans on many occasions such as in Warsaw, where they remained on duty to control the 50,000 Jews still alive in the ghetto after the liquidation in the summer of 1942.

This is only part of the story. In Poland, complicity and heroism coexist. An important aspect of history that must not be forgotten or minimized is the sacrifice of the Polish Underground State. The organization, which came to the rescue of Polish Jewry, operated from 1939 to 1945 and was subordinated to the Polish government-in-exile.

The Council to Aid Jews codenamed “Zegota,” a unique organization one on a global scale, provided structural and monetary assistance to Jews hiding among the Polish population and those living in ghettos, saving the lives of tens of thousands. Thousands of other Poles sheltered Jews despite the fact they and their entire families faced execution by the Nazis, if they had been caught.

But the selfless act of humanity by a selective group of Poles cannot whitewash the more sinister chapters of Polish history. In Poland, and many other parts of Eastern Europe, historical revisionism is far from a new phenomenon.

The widespread hostility that Jews faced did not die with the defeat of the Nazis. After the closure of World War II, Jewish survivors that returned home were confronted with an anti-Semitism that was terrible in its fury and brutality.

The new communist government in Poland made no mention of the crimes committed against Jews by the Nazis. They, too, were Antisemites. In July 1946, a pogrom occurred in the Polish town of Kielce, resulting in 42 Jews being massacred, an event that Poland’s foreign minister would recognize fifty years later as an “act of Polish anti-Semitism.”

In recent years, things have regressed again. A rise in nationalism has always been bad for the Jews.

Matters were not helped when Poland, over the last decade, lost important public intellectuals who reminded their country of the horrors of the Holocaust with first-hand accounts. Among them Marek Edelman, a Jewish leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a leading figure in the Zegota underground organization.

The so-called “Holocaust Bill”, the new Polish law, promotes the avoidance of historical responsibility and deflects blame, in an attempt to rewrite history in the name of blind nationalism. But the Holocaust cannot be denied, avoided or played down. We are here to remember, educate and speak truth to power.

Originally published: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-viewpoint-poland-holocaust-history-20180302-story.html

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‘Operation Olive Branch,’ A Turkish Invasion of Kurdistan

On January 19, the Russians proposed an ultimatum to the Kurds: Allow Assad to have full authority over Afrin, Syria, or face a Turkish invasion. The Kurds of Afrin naturally rejected the offer, prompting the Russians to withdraw their troops from the enclave. The Turks invaded the very next day.

The dilemma Kurds faced could not be swallowed by the people of Afrin. For Assad to regain additional territory over Syria was not an option, and certainly a foreign entity to rule over historical lands was an unquestionable threat. Kurds feel betrayed by Russia but expect the U.S. to take a more responsible position. Kurdish official Keno Gabriel stated, “Therefore, we hold Russia as responsible as Turkey and stress that Russia is the crime partner of Turkey in massacring the civilians in the region.”

Into the second month, the fighting has been unrelenting. The second largest NATO ally, Turkey, aligned with the so-called Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda-affiliate groups with the permission of the Russians, are fighting the very same Kurds who battled the Islamic State.

Afrin is home to some 1.2 million people, nearly 500,000 of those are internally displaced peoples and refugees who fled from both the Assad regime and ISIS. The United Nations reported an additional 15,000 people have been displaced with over 180 civilians killed and 310 injured. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that “Operation Olive Branch,” the Turkish name of the invasion, will be “complete in a very short time.”

Due to the unexpected length of the operation, the strategy shifted from penetrating deep into Afrin canton within days to establishing a security belt surrounding Turkey’s border. Turkey is now expected to conduct urban warfare, moving towards the city of Afrin.

The role of the U.S.

The Trump administration finds itself in a very difficult position, especially when it comes to Afrin. Although the Kurds are US allies in Syria, organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), there is no U.S. stake in Afrin. Afrin is situated in northwest Syria, while the U.S. is positioned east of the Euphrates river.

Prior to the invasion, Afrin was controlled by the Kurds as it is today, but the airspace is controlled by the Russians and had Russian troops on the ground, which later withdrew. Perhaps the mistake of the Kurds was to not invite some sort of U.S. presence into Afrin earlier.

What sparked the invasion in Afrin was Washington’s call to set up a 30,000 border force with the YPG inside Syria. The Turks deliberately attacked Afrin due to the zero possibility of U.S. confrontation, Afrin was known as a weak territory of all the Kurdish regions in Syria.

The U.S. response has largely ignored Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric by continuing to back the Kurds east of the Euphrates under the SDF. However, Erdogan vows to “strangle” the Kurds regardless of U.S. support.

Erdogan has also threatened to continue his operation beyond Afrin and deep into Syrian territory, specifically Manbij. A region with heavy U.S. personnel and outposts, Manbij is strategic to United States’ long-term goal in Syria. General Joseph Votel, commander of the United States Central Command stated that “withdrawing U.S. forces from Manbij is not something we are looking into,” further angering Erdogan.

Russia’s Role

Russia has aimed to create a rift between NATO, Turkey and the US, a successful strategy so far. Russia only profited from the Afrin attacks by further strengthening its leverage over Erdogan.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s long-term goal is to manipulate Erdogan into shifting towards the East without fully taking responsibility for his actions, and Erdogan has taken the bate.

Russia, after allowing the Turks to invade Afrin, has now allowed Syria regime forces to support the Kurds. This strategy may be an attempt to force Erdogan and Assad to mend ties, further legitimizing the Syrian regime. The biggest losers of Russia’s scheme are the Kurds. Once again, the Kurds are bullied around by more powerful state actors.

Erdogan’s goal

Erdogan’s ultimate goal in Afrin is to push back any Kurdish presence, despite the enclave being predominately Kurdish. A Kurdish-led government near Turkey’s border is viewed as a threat according to Turkey.

Erdogan’s fundamental fear of a successful Kurdish government in Syria is a spill over demand for greater self-rule in southeast Turkey, home to over 15 million Kurds. But there are a number of troublesome outcomes to this Turkish provoked war, such as prolonging the Syrian civil war, derailing a peace solution, giving rise to new Islamic State like groups while creating an uncontrollable humanitarian crisis.

Additionally, Afrin may be a launching point for a Syrian-Turkish conflict backed by Iran.

The Kurds worry that the continued silence on the part of the United States will result in an ethnic cleansing of their lands. Erdogan has promised to replace Kurds with either Turkman’s or Arab Syrian refugees from inside Turkey similar to when he threatened to flood the gates of Europe with migrants.

If the U.S. continues to allow Russia to have its way in Syria, it will undermine its own policy and will force the Kurds to rely on the Assad regime. The U.S. cannot afford to betray their partners in Syria, a sentiment all too familiar with the Kurds.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/operation-olive-branch-turkish-invasion-kurdistan-1777/

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A New Era for the US-Israel Relationship?

Since the historic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by President Trump on December 6, 2017, and the president’s pledge to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, many have suggested that the Israel-U.S. relationship has entered a new era.

Trump expressed his feelings about the renewed relationship between the two countries during a recent interview with Israel Hayom.  In response to the question, “Would you say that our nations are closer than ever before?,” the president stated, “I think they are probably as good as they have ever been.”

Since the beginning of his term, Trump and his administration have demonstrated their unwavering support for our one democratic ally in the Middle East. The administration withheld $65 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) due to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) refusal to engage in peace talks; condemned the PA’s “pay for slay” program, which financially rewards terrorists and families of terrorists held in Israeli prison; and withdrew from the United Nations’ Cultural and Educational Agency (UNESCO), due to its anti-Israel biases. And recent reports claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had unprecedented discussions with the U.S. about Israel annexing Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – although the U.S. subsequently denied having these discussions.

In reference to such claims, Sarah Stern, the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), said, “After a quarter of a century of pretending that they will one day make peace, while the Palestinian Authority continues to incite their people towards terrorism and Jihad, we think it’s a very important move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start talking about the legality of the settlement movement with the White House.”

This administration has taken commendable actions long overdue by the United States, and the president recognizes what many of his predecessors did not – the Palestinian leadership simply does not want peace. The P.A. continues to incite its people to violence, glorify and reward terrorism; demonize Jews and Israel; and refuses to recognize the State of Israel. The Palestinian leadership has been offered generous peace deals numerous times, including in 2000, 2005, and 2008, and rejected each one, instead responding with terror attacks against innocent civilians.

P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas recently stated that the Palestinians would not accept the U.S. as a broker for peace negotiations, calling the U.S. a “dishonest mediator.” Abbas, in response to the president’s Jerusalem announcement, said, “Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of the Palestinian state,” and added that the P.A. will not recognize any previous agreements it made between the U.S. and Israel since the 1990s Oslo Accords.

Now that Israel is preparing its air defense in the North, following what some call a war which began on Saturday between Israel and Iran, it is critical that the U.S. stand by its ally. Iran infiltrated Israeli air space with a drone, which was then intercepted by Israel, in what was Iran’s first direct military operation against the Jewish State. Israel rightly retaliated Iran’s violation of its sovereignty with strikes against Iranian drone installations in Syria. One Israeli F-16 was abandoned by its pilots over Israel, following “massive Syrian anti-air fire,” according to reports.

Following the incident, Israel was met with overwhelming support by the United States. “Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria,” the White House said.

Pentagon spokesman said, “Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people.”

The administration’s record of support for Israel, in words, and more importantly, in actions, is a far cry from the Obama administration’s continuous disrespect towards the Jewish State and Netanyahu for eight years.

The events of the weekend are a reminder to the world that Israel is willing to do whatever it needs to defend its sovereignty. And thankfully, this time around, there is someone sitting in the Oval Office that is willing to stand by her during her time of need.

Originally Published: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/new-era-us-israel-relationship-1568/

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