Top Iranian general: World knows US can’t threaten Iran

A leading general in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards lashed out at the US on Saturday, warning that it would be unable to make good on what he said were American threats against the Islamic republic.

“The US statesmen should be very wise and avoid threatening Iran, because the entire world has admitted this fact that the Americans cannot do such a thing,” said Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the chief of the IRGC’s ground forces, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

“Hence, they are unlikely to do such a move because it is unwise,” he added.

The IRGC’s deputy commander for political affairs, Rasul Sanayee Rad, made similar comments on Iranian state TV on Friday, declaring that, “today we are enjoying deterrence, meaning that we have dissuaded the enemy from attack.”

The comments are not unusual for Iranian military chiefs, who routinely deride the US’s military capabilities, but were made in this case in apparent response to a number of hawkish statements recently made by American officials towards Iran, including remarks by US President Donald Trump.

An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S300 missile system during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the start of Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, on September 21, 2016, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/Chavosh Homavandi)

An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S300 missile system during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq, on September 21, 2016, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/Chavosh Homavandi)

Following an Iranian test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in January, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a number of entities involved in Iran’s missile program, with the president warning Iran that it had been “put on notice” and vowing that “nothing is off the table” in terms of a military response to perceived Iranian provocations.

Although the missile test did not violate the 2015 nuclear accord, the US government said such tests are forbidden under a separate UN resolution forbidding Iran from developing nuclear-capable missiles.

Pakpour also said Saturday that the Revolutionary Guards would conduct military drills next week, despite warnings from the US and the sanctions over the previous missile test.

“The maneuvers called ‘Grand Prophet 11’ will start Monday and last three days,” Pakpour told a news conference. He said rockets would be used without specifying which kind.

There has been an increase in tensions between Iran and the US since Trump’s inauguration in January, with the president repeating his criticism of the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers under former president Barack Obama.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to rip up what he termed the “disastrous” nuclear accord with Iran. Since becoming president, he has seemingly walked back his pledge to dismantle the agreement, although he has continued to call it “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”

US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday continued with the administration’s hard line against Iran, telling an international security conference in Munich that Tehran was “the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” He also accused the Iranian regime of working to destabilize the entire Middle East, in part due to the terms of the nuclear deal.

“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [deal], Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” Pence said.

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS KIENZLE)

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Kienzle)

“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel,” Pence said.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of seeking to ratchet up tensions with Iran over its nuclear program in order to distract from what he called the “war of economy” against the Islamic Republic.

“The US wants to divert the Iranian officials’ attention from the real battlefield, that is the war of economy, by repeating the trick of military threat and war; officials should keep vigilant,” Khamenei said Wednesday, according to Fars.

Advertisements

Iraq forces launch operation to retake west Mosul – PM

BAGDHAD, Iraq (AFP) — Iraqi forces launched an offensive on jihadists defending Mosul’s west bank Sunday, in what could be the most brutal fighting yet in a four-month-old operation on the city.

“Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a short televised speech, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation. We are coming, Nineveh, to liberate the western side of Mosul,” he said, referring to the province of which Mosul is the capital.

Federal police and interior ministry forces were expected to start the new phase in the offensive by moving on Mosul airport, which is on the southern edge of the city, west of the Tigris River.

The jihadists have put up stiff resistance to defend Mosul, their last major stronghold in Iraq and the place where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in 2014.

A masked fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries poses for a picture carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle by defensive positions on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

A masked fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries poses for a picture carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle by defensive positions on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. ( AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

After shaping operations around Mosul, it took Iraq’s most seasoned forces — the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) — more than two months to clear the eastern side of Mosul.

After a pause in the operation launched on October 17, federal forces now face what was always billed as the toughest nut to crack: Mosul’s west bank, home to the narrow streets of the Old City.

“West Mosul had the potential certainly of being more difficult, with house-to-house fighting on a larger and more bloody scale,” said Patrick Skinner, from the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.

The streets around the historical centre, which includes the mosque in which Baghdadi made his only public appearance in June 2014, will be impassable for many military vehicles and force government fighters to take on IS in perilous dismounted warfare.

Prior to the offensive that saw IS seize Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland nearly three years ago, the east bank was more ethnically diverse than the west, where analysts believe the jihadists could enjoy more support.

Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries sit in the back of a heavily-armed vehicle carrying a rocket launcher, at a defensive position on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries sit in the back of a heavily-armed vehicle carrying a rocket launcher, at a defensive position on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

– Tougher resistance –

“IS resistance could be greater in this area and it will be harder, but all the more important, to completely clear the networks from Mosul after its recapture,” said Emily Anagnostos, Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

While the federal forces’ attrition is said to be high, IS’s had been undoubtedly higher and commanders have said the jihadists may no longer have the resources to defend east Mosul effectively.

Recent incidents in liberated east point to the difficulty of ensuring remnants of IS have not blended in with the civilian population in a huge city which most residents did not flee ahead of the government offensive.

Aid organisations had feared an exodus of unprecedented proportions before the start of the Mosul operation but half a million — a significant majority — of residents stayed home.

Their continued presence prevented both sides from resorting to deadlier weaponry, which may have slowed down the battle but averted a potentially much more serious humanitarian emergency in the middle of winter as well as more extensive material damage to the city.

Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries prepare defensive positions near the frontline village of Ayn al-Hisan, on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries prepare defensive positions near the frontline village of Ayn al-Hisan, on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are preparing for the offensive retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

“Mosul is going better than we expected, but there are serious dangers ahead,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told AFP.

Residents of west Mosul have reported very difficult living conditions and warned that they were already low on food, with weeks of fighting expected to lie ahead.

IS fighters and Mosul residents remained able to move across both sides of the city during much of the fighting in the east but all bridges across the Tigris have now been dropped and the jihadists in the west are all but besieged.

IS has used civilians as human shields as part of its defence tactics and killed residents attempting to flee, making it both difficult and dangerous for the population to escape.

While specialised units may attempt to throw pontoon bridges across the river to attack from the east, the main initial assault of the upcoming phase in the Mosul is expected to come from the south on the city’s airport.

Army, police, interior ministry and special forces have been gearing up for the push on Mosul’s southern front, with a large concentration of fighters based out of Hammam al-Alil.

Hezbollah said to have obtained ‘game-changing’ anti-ship missiles

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is said to have obtained advanced Russian-made anti-ship missiles, potentially threatening Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and the Israeli Navy’s ability to operate in the area, according to a report published Sunday.

Hezbollah’s possession of the Yakhont missiles was revealed by unnamed Western intelligence officials over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference, where world leaders and defense ministers are meeting to discuss major security issues, according to a report in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth. The reports did not reveal in what forum the revelations were made.

If true, Hezbollah’s possession of the missiles would represent a serious threat to Israeli interests in the Mediterranean; endangering both Israeli commercial vessels sailing in shipping lanes off the Lebanese coast and the ability of Israeli Navy ships to operate in and around Lebanese waters.

Most significantly, the missiles would give Hezbollah the ability to strike Israel’s gas production platforms in the Mediterranean, a threat Israel reportedly intends to counter by installing maritime versions of the Iron Dome missile defense system on naval vessels as part of the Israeli Navy’s efforts to secure the country’s natural gas fields.

An aerial view of the Israeli 'Tamar' gas processing rig 24 km off the Israeli southern coast of Ashkelon. Noble Energy and Delek are the main partners in the oil field, October 11, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

An aerial view of the Israeli ‘Tamar’ gas processing rig 24 km off the Israeli southern coast of Ashkelon. Noble Energy and Delek are the main partners in the oil field, October 11, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Israeli security officials have previously said that advanced missiles such as the Yakhont falling into the hands of Hezbollah would constitute the crossing of a red line, and Israel is said to have targeted at least two shipments of Yakhont systems in 2013 from Syria to Hezbollah. Syria, one of Russia’s closest allies has a large arsenal of the advanced anti-ship missiles.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, a number of airstrikes have been attributed to Israel, reportedly targeting convoys of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, as part of Israel’s policy to prevent the group from acquiring “game-changing” arms, in particular anti-aircraft systems, chemical weapons and other advanced weaponry such as the Yakhont.

In 2014, then defense-minister Moshe Ya’alon dismissed a report published in The Wall Street Journal alleging Hezbollah was in possession of at least 12 Yakhont systems, saying that Israel believes the Shiite terror group “does not have the missiles.”

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah successfully struck an Israeli naval warship off the coast of Lebanon using a Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship missile, killing four sailors.

The attack on the naval vessel surprised Israeli security officials, with an IDF officer telling the Haaretz daily at the time that “we were under the impression that we were operating beyond the range of missiles.”

On Thursday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that Israel was surprised then and would be surprised again in any future conflict. “In 2006 you had intelligence of our ammunition but you were astonished with what you saw after figuring out that you didn’t have enough information. You will be surprised with what we are (now) hiding which could change the course of any war,” he said

The Yakhont, which was a reported range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), would give Hezbollah a significant upgrade over the C-802, which can reach up to a distance of 110 kilometers (68 miles).

Pence: US will ‘never’ allow Iran to threaten Israel with nukes

US Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that Washington was committed to ensuring Iran could never threaten Israel with nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence called Tehran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” and said it continued to destabilize the Middle East.

“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [nuclear deal] Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” he said.

“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel.”

Organizers of the conference had on Friday rearranged the agenda for their Sunday morning sessions, which would have seen Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman share a panel with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Liberman and Zarif were set to be two of four participants in a session entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East?” The Israeli minister stated that he was looking forward to the meeting, saying he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear “exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”

However, organizers cancelled the 9:45-11:05 a.m. session, and replaced it with a series of separate statements, with Zarif now set to speak an hour before Liberman, and another panel discussion in between them, leaving no likelihood of the two men encountering each other.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (Flash90 and AFP)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (Flash90 and AFP)

Pence Saturday pledged an “unwavering” commitment to transatlantic ties, in an emphatic reassurance to allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who pleaded with nations not to go it alone.

Capping a week of whirlwind diplomacy by American officials who have descended on Europe to calm nerves rattled by Donald Trump, Pence underlined the United States’ devotion to its old friends.

“The United States is and will always be your greatest ally. Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he told European leaders including Merkel at the conference.

“The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many, for too long and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance,” he warned, stressing that “the time has come to do more”.

At the same time, he did not go further and threaten, as Trump had done, to walk away if the allies failed to pay their way.

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel leave the room after a photo call prior to a bilateral meeting on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MSC) at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel leave the room after a photo call prior to a bilateral meeting on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MSC) at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

The US, he said, will boost defense spending significantly, “to defend our nation and our treaty allies from the known threats of today and the unknown threats of tomorrow”.

“We will meet our obligations to our people to provide for the common defense, and we’ll continue to do our part to support our allies in Europe and in NATO,” he said.

Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as well as his softer approach towards Russia unnerved Washington’s allies.

But over the past week in Europe, key members of his administration have pressed the message that the United States is not retreating into isolation but remains committed to its global role.

At NATO in Brussels on Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Russia must first “prove itself” and respect international law before there can be any improvement in relations strained to breaking point by Moscow’s Ukraine intervention and annexation of Crimea.

Mattis said the transatlantic bond was “as strong as I’ve ever seen it”, and stressed America remained “rock solid” in support of Article 5 — NATO’s core “one for all, all for one” collective-defence tenet.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Likewise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was cautious in his dealings with Russia.

Following his first sit-down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Bonn on Thursday, Tillerson said the US would cooperate with Moscow but only when doing so “will benefit the American people.”

Exasperated and worried by Trump’s calling into question long-standing foreign policy givens, Europe’s top politicians have warned Washington not to take transatlantic ties for granted.

They work both ways, they said, and benefit the United States as much as Europe.

Merkel on Saturday warned countries not to retreat from the international cooperation which she says is the only way to solve global problems.

“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” she said.

This includes working not only with Western partners, but also with Russia if possible and if Moscow once again respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states such as Ukraine, she said.

She said it was “regrettable” that Europe had not managed to reach a stable relationship with Russia over the last 25 years.

“I will not give up on finding a way for better relations with Russia despite our different views on many questions,” she said, hours before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to address the forum.

US AND ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET TO DISCUSS ‘IRAN, IRAN AND IRAN’

 

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with his American counterpart Gen.James Mattis on Friday in Munich for the first time since Mattis assumed his position as Secretary of Defense.

During the meeting, the two discussed several matters, with Iran first and foremost among them. A statement released by Liberman’s office said that the three central problems facing the two countries and that must be dealt with were “Iran, Iran and Iran.”

Lieberman stated that there is a “need to build a genuine and effective coalition” to deal with the terrorism that Tehran was spreading throughout the world, including the development of ballistic missiles and its continued attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

Israel’s Defense Minister also stated that North Korea and Iran were “two ends of the axis of evil that also includes Hezbollah and the Assad regime and Iran is the common thread.”

Mattis and Liberman agreed that they must act decisively against Iran, Liberman’s office reported.

During their meeting, the two also discussed other security issues related to developments in the Middle East and ways to strengthen cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem in dealing with them.

The two concluded the meeting stating that the two countries are “true allies” and that “they will continue to work together to maintain common interests of the two countries” and agreed to meet again soon.

Liberman and Mattis have previously spoken only by phone.

NASRALLAH WARNS: HEZBOLLAH’S MISSILES CAN HIT ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR REACTOR

 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on Israel to dismantle its nuclear reactor in Dimona on Thursday, warning that it poses a threat to Israel’s existence should it be hit by one of Hezbollah’s missiles.

Nasrallah made a similar threat against Haifa’s ammonia tank last year, saying that a missile hitting the facility could have the affect of a nuclear bomb. Last week, a Haifa court ordered the tank closed, citing the security threat.

 

Speaking in a televised speech commemorating Hezbollah’s slain leaders, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah sees Israel’s emptying of the ammonia tank as a sign that it fears the Lebanese Sh’ite group.

“I call on Israel not only to empty the ammonia tank in Haifa, but also to dismantle the nuclear reactor in Dimona. Our military capabilities will strike Israel and its settlements,” he warned.

Nasrallah also suggested that Israel has been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as US president.

“Trump’s election does not scare us, even if claims that he will give [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu the green light to wage a war on Lebanon turn out to be true,” Lebanese news website Naharnet quoted Nasrallah as saying.

“Israel is continuing to launch threats against Lebanon and speaks of the third Lebanon war and of what it will do during this third war,” Nasrallah stated. ” We’ve been hearing these threats since the end of the July 2006 war. Every other day we hear statements about the third Lebanon war and about the coming vengeance. The new threats are based on the election of Trump, but the policy of the new American administration in the region is not clear,” he added.

The leader of the Lebanese Shi’ite group downplayed the importance of Israel’s superior air force in a potential conflict.

“Aerial war alone cannot decide the fate of the battle and cannot achieve victory,” Nasrallah said. “Had it not been for the Syrian army’s fighting on the ground in Syria, it would not have been able to achieve decisive victory,” he added.

Discussing Wednesday’s meeting between Netanyahu and Trump, Nasrallah said that the prospect of peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was now over.

“After what came out after the meeting between Netanyahu and Trump, I am not exaggerating if I say that yesterday there was a semi-official announcement of the death of the path of negotiations,” he said.

 

Germany says settlement construction could lead to war

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned Thursday that continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank endangers the possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and could lead to war in the Middle East, Reuters reported.

“We are concerned that unlimited construction of settlements will … make a two-state solution impossible and could increase the risks of conflicts in the Middle East, including possible war,” Sigmar Gabriel said during a news conference at a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Bonn, Germany.

Despite being one of Israel’s strongest allies, Germany has taken a more critical stance against Israel of late, particularly in regards to Israeli settlement policy.

On Monday, the Haaretz daily reported that Germany cancelled an upcoming summit in Jerusalem between the Israeli and German governments due to Angela Merkel’s unhappiness with a law passed in the Knesset last week legalizing outpost settlements built on private Palestinian land, as well as the announcement of some 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in January.

The cancellation of the summit followed unusually harsh criticism issued by Germany last week after the so-called Regulation Law was passed, with the foreign ministry saying many Germans who usually “stand firmly by Israel’s side in a spirit of heartfelt solidarity are disappointed” by the passing of this law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

“The confidence we had in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been profoundly shaken,” a statement at the time said.

On Thursday Gabriel also singled out the Regulation Law as being particularly problematic in Germany’s eyes during the news conference. Merkel has not publicly commented on the law.

Gabriel’s remarks came after US President Donald Trump seemed to walk back the US’s long-standing commitment to a two-state solution during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

Trump’s remarks seemed to mark a serious change in US policy, as support for a two-state solution has long had strong bi-partisan support, as well as the backing of the vast majority of the international community.

Despite his remarks, Trump called on Israel to refrain from continued settlement construction during Wednesday’s press conference, telling Netanyahu “I’d like you to hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

In addition to Germany, a number of other countries have sought to reiterate their support for a two-solution following Trump’s remarks, with Britain, France and Sweden all reaffirming their support for Palestinian statehood as part of a final peace deal at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, during which US Ambassador the UN Nikki Haley also said the US “absolutely” supports a two-state solution.

After CIA Micro-Coup, Trump Suddenly Wants Russia To Give Up Crimea, Thinks Obama Was ‘Too Soft’

http://www.renegadetribune.com/cia-micro-coup-trump-suddenly-wants-russia-give-crimea-thinks-obama-soft/
By Brandon Turbeville of Activist Post

Only a day after an apparent micro-coup conducted by elements within the CIA and U.S. intelligence apparatus, it appears that, if the CIA’s goal was to convince President Donald Trump that moves toward rapprochement with Russia would not be tolerated and that forces greater than Trump are in control of U.S. policy, that mission has been accomplished.

Despite a campaign of seemingly more rational foreign policy promises not to start World War Three, on the evening of February 14, mainstream headlines announced that Trump is now claiming that Crimea was “taken” by Russia and that Russia should give the region back to Ukraine.

“President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday. Trump then later tweeted on Wednesday, February 15, “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?”

As is typical, senile warmonger John McCain, who is well-known for abandoning U.S. POWs in Vietnam and supporting every single military action ever put on the table including supporting actual terrorists, joined in a chorus of war fervor, urging Trump to “let’s take a different course together: give defensive lethal assistance to #Ukraine & keep sanctions on #Russia.”

Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign, mere hinting at the fact that the United States under a Trump administration might consider removing the idiotic and aggressive sanctions put in place under Obama, are now directly at odds with his behavior and decisions as President.

Russia is not backing down either, having called on Trump to live up to his more sensible rhetoric on the campaign trail regarding peace and a sane relationship with Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zhakarova, also stated that the question of Crimea will simply not be discussed and is not open for debate. “Crimea is part of the Russian Federation,” she said.

Russian officials also denied the paranoid conspiracy theories of leftist commentators and mainstream media pundits regarding the alleged collusion between Trump’s team and Russian intelligence.

A clear intelligence operation, the Michael Flynn ouster has either provided justification for Trump’s sharp left?/right? imperialist turn against Russia or it was simply a message sent by the intelligence community that Trump has clearly received. If the incident was the former, we are witnessing clever theater being played at a level of complexity heretofore unseen in American politics. If it is the latter, however, Trump must immediately begin to get his intelligence apparatus under control, possibly by indictments of any individuals involved in the monitoring and leaking of Flynn’s phone call. Indeed, these rogue actors should be given all the comforts of Chelsea Manning’s vacated cell.


This article originally appeared on Activist Post.

Russian Actions Seen as Challenging Trump Administration

A secret deployment of a new nuclear-capable missile in apparent violation of an arms control treaty. Russian spy ships lurking 50 kilometers from a U.S. East Coast submarine base while Moscow’s jets buzz an American Navy destroyer in the Black Sea. These actions are being seen by some as a test of how the new Trump administration will react at a time when it faces heat for taking what critics call a suspiciously soft line toward the Russians.

“I don’t think they do these things by accident,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, senior research scientist at The Center for Naval Analyses. “Given the disorder in Washington, they’re just doing some things knowing there will be no reaction.”

Others see a more benign explanation.

“We should not try to read too much into this without more evidence,” said political science professor Brian Taylor at Syracuse University. He told VOA it is not necessarily “part of some coordinated test” by Russia.

The first high-level face-to-face meetings between Russian officials and representatives of the Trump administration are to occur Thursday.

FILE - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, shakes hands with Secretary of Defense James Mattis as Mattis arrives at the Pentagon in Washington, Jan. 21, 2017.

FILE – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, shakes hands with Secretary of Defense James Mattis as Mattis arrives at the Pentagon in Washington, Jan. 21, 2017.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, sits down with Russian General Valeriy Gerasimov in Azerbaijan, a meeting Dunford has sought for months to discuss Syria and Ukraine. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the G-20 meeting in Bonn, Germany.

Treaty violation

It is expected the U.S. officials will raise the alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty caused by the deployment of two Russian battalions armed with the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile.

In Moscow, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia “remains committed to its international commitments, including to the treaty in question.”

Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “testing” the Trump administration. He also said Congress has made it clear Russia’s treaty violations require “a meaningful response.”

FILE - Senator John McCain arrives at a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 31, 2017.

FILE – Senator John McCain arrives at a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 31, 2017.

But “what can the U.S. do?” asked Gorenburg, who also is an associate of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “How do they punish this violation, or do they even punish this violation?”

As for the Trump White House’s view of Russia, “not much is coming into focus due to a rather chaotic transition” while things “are fairly stable on the Russian side,” Taylor, who is writing a book on Putinism, told VOA.

Trump’s distractions

The Trump administration, in power for less than a month, is distracted with other Russia troubles.

Seven members of Congress — three Republicans and four Democrats — on Wednesday called for the right to review any attempt by the president to ease sanctions on Russia, two days after his national security adviser was forced out.

Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was asked to resign after it was revealed he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump was inaugurated.

FILE - National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017.

FILE – National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017.

Flynn’s ouster is a setback for the Russians because his successor is likely to be someone with a more skeptical view of Moscow, in line with the policy of past administrations, predicts Taylor, a specialist on Russian politics.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told a television talk show that he wants a congressional investigation of Flynn and the administration’s ties to Russia.

“The base issue is getting to the bottom of what the Russian interference was and what the relationship was with associates of the Trump effort, and so that is the big elephant in the room that has got to be dealt with in the most appropriate way,” Corker said on the MSNBC cable channel.

Intelligence information leaked to reporters Tuesday indicated that several Trump associates linked to his campaign team and businesses were in repeated contact with Russian intelligence operatives during the presidential race.

A federal investigation is under way to determine whether the Russian government sought to influence the November election, in which Republican Trump emerged as the surprise victor over the Democratic Party nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The president on Wednesday, during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced as “conspiracy theories” any relationship with the Russians, blaming “illegal” news leaks for forcing Flynn out of his administration.

“It’s a criminal act,” Trump said. “And it’s been going for a long time before me. But now it’s really going on.”

Defense Secretary Mattis issues new ultimatum to NATO allies on defense spending

BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued an ultimatum Wednesday to allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warning that if they do not boost their defense spending to goals set by the alliance, the United States may alter its relationship with them.

“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”

The statements came during a closed-doors meeting with defense ministers from other NATO countries and were provided to reporters traveling with the defense secretary to Brussels. It marks an escalation in Washington’s long-running frustration that many NATO countries do not spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product as they have pledged. President Trump often made that point during his upstart run for the White House, at various times calling the alliance “obsolete” while grousing that its 28 members need to pay “their fair share.”

Mattis, a retired Marine general, recalled Wednesday that when he was NATO’s supreme allied commander of transformation from November 2007 to September 2009, he watched as then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO nations that Congress and the American people “would lose their patience for carrying a disproportionate burden” of the defense of allies.

That impatience, Mattis said, is now a “governmental reality.”

“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis said. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do. Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened.”

Currently, just five of NATO’s 28 countries spend at least 2 percent on defense: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the United States. Major members of the alliance that do not include France (1.78 percent), Turkey (1.56), Germany (1.19), Italy (1.11) and Canada (.99), according to NATO figures. Others have pledged to do so but not until 2024.

Mattis said Washington needs the help of other nations already spending 2 percent to urge the others to do so. Those already with a plan to boost spending must accelerate it, and countries without one must establish one soon, he said.

The remarks come as NATO nations confront how to handle Russia following its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia hacked Democratic Party officials during the presidential campaign last year. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned under pressure Monday night as Trump’s national security adviser after revelations that he misled Vice President Pence about secret communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, regarding sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to the alleged hacking.

“Fellow ministers, when the Cold War ended, we all had hopes,” Mattis said. “The year 2014 awakened us to a new reality: Russia used force to alter the borders of one of its sovereign neighbors, and on Turkey’s border [the Islamic State] emerged and introduced a ruthless breed of terror, intent on seizing territory and establishing a caliphate. While these events have unfolded before our eyes, some in this alliance have looked away in denial of what was happening.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sought to downplay any suggestion that Mattis’s message constituted a threat, saying that the United States was simply pressing its allies to live up to their own commitments.

“This is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defense spending,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference after the tough meeting. “This is 28 allies, heads of state, that all were sitting around the same table in 2014, and looking into each other’s eyes and agreeing that we shall increase defense spending.

“I welcome all pressure, all support to make sure that happens,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Lithuania and Romania have pledged to reach 2 percent soon.

Others in the room when Mattis spoke saw his message differently.

“If you pardon my French, we got the message. Pay up or be” pushed, one European diplomat said, using a more vulgar term for what the United States might do to its allies. “If you take him literally, then the message is indeed that there’s no unconditional guarantee of security any more,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak openly about the reaction.

But not every leader felt that the message was a major departure from longtime U.S. policy to ratchet up its allies’ defense spending.

“It’s nothing new, to be honest,” Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said in an interview. “Mattis asked for milestones, so all of us will go home and work on them.”

Public opinion in the Netherlands – which currently spends 1.17 percent of its annual economic output on defense – is in favor of spending increases, she said.

“Public support has increased because it’s a rough world out there and people have noticed,” she said. “Europe and also the Netherlands for way too long were accustomed to peace and American leadership.”

Mattis’s ultimatum could have the largest effect for Germany. If it were to meet the 2 percent bar, it would boost its defense spending to about $75 billion per year, resulting in a military larger than Britain’s. That would be a profound shift for a country that has long had a pacifist tradition that held it back from embracing a global defense presence as great as its economic might.

Mattis’s demands were echoed by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who met head-to-head with the U.S. defense chief before the main NATO conclave. Fallon said that Britain — which spends the second-largest amount on defense in the alliance — is proposing that countries that spend less than NATO guidelines commit to an annual defense budget increase.

“An annual increase would at least demonstrate good faith,” Fallon told a small group of reporters in Brussels. Fallon said that Mattis had underlined a “100 percent commitment” to NATO.

Britain has generally tried to ally itself with the Trump administration as London negotiates an exit from the European Union. But British leaders have urged Trump to maintain his military commitment to NATO and to Europe.