US joins first air assault ‘behind enemy lines’ against ISIS in Syria

Washington (CNN)Fighters in Syria have begun a major ground offensive, backed up by US forces, to retake a vital dam near Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS, a US official told CNN Wednesday.

The attack also included an unprecedented air assault involving US helicopters landing behind enemy lines — flying about 500 local US allies and coalition military advisers across the Euphrates River and Lake Assad so they could attack the ISIS-controlled dam and neighboring town and airfield from the south.
“This is the first time we have conducted an air movement, air assault, with the Syrian Arab Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces,” Col. Joseph Scrocca, a coalition public affairs officer, said. On a call with reporters from Baghdad Wednesday, Scrocca called the air operation a “daring assault behind enemy lines.”
Scrocca would not say how many troops were involved, but a military source said about 500 troops were airlifted behind enemy lines. The attack was backed by US Marines firing M777 howitzers and close air support, including airstrikes carried out by Apache helicopters.
But ISIS remains in control of the area after the attack, and weeks of tough fighting could remain, Scrocca said.
“We believe there are foreign fighters there, probably in the hundreds,” he said. “The (Syrian Democratic Forces) and our partners there are facing a pretty heavy fight — that’s what makes this type of operation so daring. I think we were lucky we caught ISIS by surprise. They are still reacting to this maneuver.”
Tabqa Dam is located 25 miles west of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital, and supplies electric power to a wide area of Syria, according to the US. The area has been under ISIS control since 2013.
Retaking the dam is considered a vital step toward further isolating the area around Raqqa and eventually recapturing the city.
The dam and surrounding terrain is a key military asset because it’s “critical for the isolation of Raqqa and the next step toward an annihilation of ISIS in Syria,” but the dam’s destruction “could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis,” Scrocca warned.
US Marines equipped with artillery arrived in northern Syria earlier this month with the goal of accelerating the capabilities of the US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces there.
The Pentagon and Marine Corps declined to confirm the deployment because of security concerns in the region. They also declined to specify the exact location of the forces or how many are there.
A similar deployment last year near Mosul, Iraq, involved several hundred Marines equipped with artillery guns to provide covering fire for advancing forces.
The US believes the pressure on ISIS in Raqqa is working. A US official told reporters on March 8 that intelligence indicates some ISIS leaders and operatives continue to try to leave the city.
There is also US intelligence that indicates the city is laced with trenches, tunnels, roadside bombs and houses and buildings wired to explode, the official said. If correct, it indicates that the US has likely been able to gather intelligence from both overhead surveillance aircraft and people on the ground.
However, the official also noted that “Raqqa will probably not be the final battle against ISIS,” and added that the group still has some personnel dispersed in areas south and east of the city.
ISIS could have as many as 4,000 fighters in Raqqa, according to very rough US estimates, the official said. Since November, the terror group has lost some 3,400 square kilometers around Raqqa, in a wide arc north of the city.



Contradictory reports, most of them unconfirmed and unofficial, have emerged in recent days regarding Israeli-Russian understandings over the war in Syria. The reports follow Jerusalem’s admission that its warplanes last Friday attacked missiles being transfered via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The rare admission, which was contrary to the traditional Israeli policy of ambiguity, of neither confirming nor denying past strikes, triggered a chain of events in which, just hours after the attack, Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was urgently summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry and asked to provide explanations.

Media reports suggested that President Vladimir Putin, who is the sponsor and savior of the Syrian regime, expressed anger, while Syria’s ruler, Bashar Assad, boasted to Russian lawmakers that Putin had promised to rein in Israel. Israeli commentators wrote that the operational freedom hitherto enjoyed by the Israel Air Force is over.

Judging from statements by Israeli leaders and military commanders over the past two days, it seems they are not seriously worried.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to China, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot remained undeterred, delivering, more or less, the same message to the effect that Israel will continue pursuing its national security interests and defend its redlines in Syria.

Israeli policy is noninterventionist, with three exceptions. One is that the IDF retaliates from air and land whenever shells and rockets hit on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, regardless of whether it was targeted intentionally. Another is the establishment of terrorist networks near the Israeli border; attempts to do so have resulted in the assassination of Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah commanders. The third and most important exception is the occasional bombing, without admission, of convoys carrying and warehouses storing long-range, accurate missiles sent from Iran via Syria that are destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since 2013, some 20 such incidents have been recorded by the media based on Syria’s official statements and rare Israeli claims of responsibility.

Since Moscow deployed its forces in Syria 18 months ago, Israel added another factor to the equation; it reached understandings with Russia in order to know each other’s interests and avoid mistakes and even dog fights between their two air forces. These understandings are formulated in the creation of direct lines of communication between the intelligence and air forces of the two countries, and are known as a “deconflicting mechanism.”

The unrattled reaction by top political and military brass indicate that they know better, especially Liberman, who is considered to be close to and have a good understanding of the Putin administration. It is very likely that Putin is playing a two-sided game – he understands the Israeli concerns and interests, but when Israel confirms that it has attacked Syria, he has no choice but to publicly denounce it.

However, on top of the understandings with Russia and the redlines, there is now one more important Israeli interest – to prevent the deployment of Hezbollah or Iraqi-Shi’ite militias sponsored and guided by Iranian officers near the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights.

The recent success of the Assad regime and expected defeat of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria make this scenario more and more possible. Iran and Hezbollah hope to be positioned on the border and thus threaten to open a second front alongside Lebanon against Israel in case of a future war.
Israel is committed to stop this, either by reaching another understanding with Putin, and through him influencing Assad, Iran and Hezbollah in that direction, or, as a last resort, by force.

Closer US-Russia ties uncertain as Tillerson plans trip

WASHINGTON — With Russia-tinged investigations swirling around his administration, President Donald Trump has yet to fulfill a campaign pledge of closer cooperation with Moscow. A planned trip by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Russia could test if detente proves anything more than talk.

In a move alarming U.S. allies, Tillerson plans to skip a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Belgium next month, according to U.S. officials. The top American diplomat almost always attends such gatherings, and Tillerson will follow up his absence in Brussels by traveling to Russia’s capital shortly afterward.

The juxtaposition of the trips — one taken and one avoided — has reinforced concerns about America’s commitment to NATO, which Trump has repeatedly fueled by dressing down allies as deadbeats who aren’t paying enough for their own defense and who take U.S. help for granted.

Trump will take part in a meeting of NATO heads of state in Brussels on May 25, the White House announced Tuesday. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president looks forward to discussing “issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.”

As far as the U.S-Russia relationship, Trump has yet to make any major steps as president to bring the two nations closer together.

As a candidate, Trump opened the door to potentially rolling back the sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, a move Democrats and Republicans in Congress oppose. But as president, Trump has tamped down such suggestions as long as Russia fails to live up to its various commitments to end the fighting in Ukraine.

His administration also has resisted Russia’s calls to join forces against the Islamic State group in Syria, where the former Cold War foes have long backed opposing sides in a civil war. The Pentagon is continuing only what it calls U.S.-Russian “deconfliction” contacts, designed to ensure their forces don’t accidentally collide on Syria’s crowded battlefield and contested skies.

But Trump’s biggest roadblock to a new Russia approach may be the political realities at home.

In a remarkable public disclosure Monday, FBI Director James Comey said the bureau is investigating whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russian officials as Moscow sought to sway the U.S. presidential election. Several congressional committees are also investigating, ensuring the allegations of Russian meddling — and questions about Trump campaign collusion — stay in the spotlight for months to come.

Trump has denied any collaboration between his campaign and Russia. As a candidate, he spoke frequently of his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and said improving relations with the traditional U.S. adversary would be positive. He argued that Russia shared America’s goal of defeating IS extremists.

That’s about as far as the new relationship has gone.

“Tillerson will need to publicly outline what he hopes to accomplish when he visits Moscow and what is the basis for U.S. policy toward Russia,” said Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The prospect of Washington and Moscow teaming up, given Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, has sent chills through much of Europe. Candidate Trump exacerbated concerns by calling NATO “obsolete” and suggested the U.S. might not defend allies if they aren’t paying enough for collective defense. As president, Trump has insisted the U.S. is fully committed to NATO.

Few are convinced. Western diplomats and some U.S. lawmakers expressed alarm Tuesday with Tillerson’s decision to skip the upcoming NATO meeting and travel shortly afterward to Russia. Some Europeans see the decision as a U-turn from Vice President Mike Pence’s pledges about safeguarding the alliance in Munich last month.

While other NATO countries send their foreign ministers — who include an ex-prime minister, top parliamentarians and several former defense chiefs — to Brussels, the U.S. will dispatch Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving as the State Department’s No. 3 official. (The No. 2 slot of deputy secretary is among dozens of unfilled posts.)

“We’ll take care of the representation. This is something to be worked out, no problem,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Tuesday.

The State Department wouldn’t provide details Tuesday about the purpose of Tillerson’s trip to Russia or whom he would meet there.

Spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson’s schedule would not allow him to attend the NATO meeting, saying the U.S. proposed alternative dates. He didn’t elaborate, but Trump is expected to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a highly anticipated meeting around the same time.

In any case, Tillerson is meeting with almost every NATO country’s foreign minister in Washington this week, officials said. Yet that gathering is focused on fighting the Islamic State, not on NATO’s key concern: Russia.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2-ranked House Democrat, said Tillerson was sending a “dangerous signal to our allies and adversaries.”

“Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not done anything to merit such engagement,” Hoyer said.

Netanyahu denies Russia told Israel to halt airstrikes in Syria

BEIJING — Russia has not changed its policy on coordination with the Israeli air force in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, denying reports that Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in the war-torn country and vowing to continue attacking weapons convoys.

“It’s simply incorrect to say the Russians are changing their policy toward us,” he said.

The report on Russia changing its stance came after an Israeli airstrike on Friday to which Syria responded by firing anti-aircraft missiles at the departing Israeli warplanes. The Israeli strike reportedly nearly missed a Russian asset and Moscow summoned the Israeli envoy following the exchange.

Netanyahu said that he told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 9 meeting that Israel will continue to thwart attempts by Iran and its terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah, to smuggle advanced weapons to Lebanon via Syria.

“My policy is consistent, and this is also what I told Putin,” the prime minister said during a visit to China. “We will not allow Israel to be attacked from Syrian territory and we will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weaponry of those entering Syria — Hezbollah — to the extent that we detect it.”

Netanyahu said Israel was targeting Iranian attempts to move advanced arms within Syria, and that he had told Putin as much during their Moscow sit-down.

“It’s our policy to strike at the convoys of sophisticated weaponry, and the Iranians continue with them. We will continue to attack whenever the Iranians smuggle advanced arms. Therefore we need this personal connection [with Putin], which is important for Israel’s national security,” Netanyahu said.

“If there’s intelligence and operational feasibility, we strike, and so it will continue,” he told reporters in his Beijing hotel as he wrapped up the official part of his three-day visit to Chinese capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Israel reportedly launched several attacks on targets in Syria in recent days, one of which on Friday nearly hit Russian troops stationed in the area. Less than 24 hours later Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to note its protest. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer grants Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.

Israel officially acknowledged one strike on Syrian territory.

Israel does not inform the Russian forces stationed in Syria ahead of attack there, out of fear for the Israeli pilots, according to an Israeli source.

“It’s not simple. We are very careful not to hit whoever is not supposed to be hit,” Netanyahu told reporters travelling with him in China.

The Israeli-Russian process to prevent an accidental clash, in which officials from both sides ensure that each others’ forces do not get in each other’s way, requires constant maintenance, he added. “I am not traveling to Moscow simply to chat,” he said.

The Israeli military said its aircraft on Friday struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the jets. One incoming missile was shot down by an Arrow defense battery, while two more landed in Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.

The army said the Arrow was deployed — a first for the system — against the Syrian surface-to-air missile because the projectile “behaved like a ballistic threat.”

The Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

Syria complained to the United Nations secretary-general and to the director of the UN Security Council calling the Israeli attacks a violation of international law and of Syrian sovereignty.

The Syrian army said the Israeli strikes were conducted to support “[Islamic State] terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” a statement read.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.

U.S. Army Readies Next Generation Of Laser Weapons For Testing And Deployment
By Nicholas West

Controlling the electromagnetic spectrum constitutes the future of warfare, and defense contractors continue to rapidly develop new weapons.

Mega defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, has been leading the way in developing solid-state lasers that can be employed by a range of military vehicles including ground, sea and air-based systems. As noted by Defense One, advancements in hybrid engines and propulsion systems permit modern war vehicles to produce the needed electricity demands to increase the power of laser systems.

The videos below demonstrate the power of previous prototype systems which can be seen first as an anti-rocket laser system called ADAM, then as the ATHENA system burning through a truck engine in seconds … from more than a mile away. ADAM was a 10-kilowatt fiber laser, whereas ATHENA operates at 30 kilowatts of energy as a solid-state system.

Now Lockheed is announcing that they have nearly doubled the capability of the ATHENA system into a 58-kilowatt truck-mounted system that could be ready for testing within a matter of months, and would also be adaptable to other military vehicles:

Credit: Defense One/U.S. Army

The new laser puts 40 percent of available energy into its beam, which is considered very high for solid-state lasers. … The new laser will “upgrade the capability of that truck by a factor of five at least,” [Robert] Afzal said today on a call with reporters.

It’s an important breakthrough for solid-state, combined-beam fiber lasers. Unlike the chemical lasersthat the military was experimenting with decades ago, solid-state lasers require no volatile chemicals to produce high-powered beams. A combined-beam fiber laser operates a bit like a prism, pulling together different beams of light and squishing them into one. The more fiber optics you add, the more energy you get out the other end. That allows you to vary the size for different applications.

Last October, Afzal said that Lockheed was exploring putting fiber lasers onto the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force is looking to build lasers onto fighter jets through its recently announced Self-protected High-Energy Laser Demonstration, or SHIELD, program. U.S. Special Operations Command is also looking to deploy a laser on an AC-130J gunship within a year.

Afzal was optimistic that the Lockheed Martin laser could help meet all of those needs: “The core of this technology, and our demo validates this, this technology is scalable. We can go up or down in power, go smaller or larger.” Source

As nation after nation becomes wired for war and neutralizes then surpasses one another, new weapons must be developed to maintain military supremacy. This is the nature of military conflict as it becomes one endless problem-reaction-solution loop that only serves to benefit those who are invested in each of the three components.

Image Credit: Sputnik News

Nicholas West writes for and where this article first appeared.



Syrian President Bashar Assad warned Israel on Monday that his country has a right to defend its borders.

“Defending our borders is our right, and it’s our duty, not only our right,” he told Russian reporters in Damascus according Russian news site Sputnik.


Assad also told Russian parliament members, who paid an official visit to the capital on Monday, that he was counting on Moscow to prevent Israel from attacking his country in the future.

“We are counting on Russia to prevent a conflict with Israel,” Assad was quoted as saying by several Russian media outlets.
Interfax also quoted him as saying that “Damascus counts on Russia to take a role in order to prevent Israel from attacking Syria in the future.”

The Syrian president also told the officials that he was supportive of a Russian proposition to help reach an agreement in its country, that is still in the throes of its bloody civil war as it has been for the past six years.

Russian website LifeNews reported that Assad also said that the current support Syria has been receiving from Russia sufficed, but that he was confident that Damascus could easily receive additional support from Moscow if the need arose.

By openly alluding to a future conflict with Israel, Assad has, for the first time, officially reacted to the recent escalation between Israel and Syria.

He spoke after Syrian government forces fired an anti-aircraft missile at Israel Air Force jets during an air-strike last Friday to halt the flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah near Palmyra. By openly referring to a conflict with Israel, Assad, for the first time, has officially reacted to his country’s recent escalation with Israel.

This was the most serious incident to take place between the two countries since the Syrian Civil War first started in 2011.

On Friday, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to defend the air-strike. According to media reports, the strike occurred very close to Russian troops.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday denied a report in the Russian news agency Interfax that Koren had been summoned for the second time to speak with Russian officials.

On Sunday night, Syria envoy to the UN Bashar Jaafari spoke about the strike on Syrian TV. According to Ynet, he said Russia had sent Israel a clear message of displeasure and that it wanted Israeli to stop its air-strikes against Syrian rebel forces fearing it would cause an escalation of hostilities.

Israel and Russia have a mechanism in place so that any defensive Israeli air-strikes against Syria would not put Russian troops in harm’s way.

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Hussam Edin Aala condemned the IAF strike, and warned that with such actions Israel was supporting terrorism.
“The military aggression by Israel inside Syrian land on the 17th of March is proof of the support Israel provides to terrorist groups,” Aala said in Geneva on Monday. “This aggression for us is a violation of the charter of the United Nations, international law and UN Security Council resolutions. It is a great threat of international peace and security.”
Israel has said the air-strike was necessary to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. It is concerned by the actions of both Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, particularly near the Golan Heights border.
“When we detect attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and feasibility to carry out an operation, we will work to prevent it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.

At the UNHRC, however, Aala alleged that Israel was helping the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. The group is fighting the Syrian government forces, but also has ties to al-Qaida.
Separately, Aala also attacked Israel for treating wounded Syrians in its hospitals.
“It [Israel] wants to give a humanitarian face to the way it has treated terrorists from al-Nusra in Israeli hospitals,” he said.
He further called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which it recaptured from Syria in the Six Day War.

The UNHRC is expected to pass a resolution at the end of this week that echoes those calls. It does so at every session.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, and during his trip to Washington last month, Netanyahu asked the Trump administration to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, particularly in light of the Syrian civil war.

Russia says US missile systems in Asia a risk to regional security

TOKYO (AP) — Russia views US missile defense systems being deployed in northeast Asia as a threat to regional security, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said following talks Monday with Japanese officials in Tokyo.

Strategic concerns, both in northeast Asia and elsewhere, including Syria and Ukraine, were among a wide range of regional and global issues addressed in the one-day talks among foreign and defense ministers from Japan and Russia.

The two sides said they agreed to keep working toward resolving a longstanding territorial dispute that has prevented the countries from forging a peace treaty officially ending their World War II hostilities. They also joined in urging North Korea to refrain from “provocative actions” and to abide by United Nations resolutions demanding an end to its nuclear and missile testing.

The talks in Tokyo were the two countries’ first “two-plus-two” meeting of foreign and defense ministers since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Illustrative: People watch the news showing file footage of North Korea's missile launch at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea on February 12, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP)

Illustrative: People watch the news showing file footage of North Korea’s missile launch at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea on February 12, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP)

Earlier this month, North Korea fired four missiles, of which three landed inside Japan’s territorial waters.

The US and South Korea have agreed to install an advanced anti-missile system as a defense against North Korea. The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, has angered both Russia and China. Russia also objects to US missile defense systems in Japan.

“The US global ballistic missile defense poses a deep risk to the security of the region,” Lavrov said. He said it was crucial to avoid upsetting the balance in the region and setting off an even greater arms buildup that could lead North Korea to step up its own military expansion.

Lavrov said the installation of the THAAD system was “a response completely out of proportion” to the threat from North Korea. He accused the US of “pumping arms into the region.”

Lavrov also called for approaches that might encourage North Korea to engage in dialogue with its neighbors.

Lavrov met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held talks with his Japanese counterpart, Tomomi Inada. The four ministers then held combined talks on international and bilateral issues.

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, second right, and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, right, attend a joint news conference with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, their meeting in Tokyo, Monday, March 20, 2017. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP)

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, second right, and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, right, attend a joint news conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, their meeting in Tokyo, Monday, March 20, 2017. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP)

Japan and Russia last held “two-plus-two” talks in November 2013. Meetings were shelved after that due to the crisis in Ukraine, as Japan joined sanctions against Moscow.

As expected, the Tokyo talks did not yield a breakthrough on conflicting Russian and Japanese claims to islands just north of Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets — that came under Russian control in the closing weeks of World War II.

But the countries discussed possible visa-free travel between Hokkaido and the area. They also are working toward joint development of fisheries, tourism and other areas that might help bridge the gap.

“I believe this joint development will become an important step to create an appropriate environment for resolving a peace treaty,” Lavrov told reporters.

Russia has been eager to enlist Japanese help with development of energy and other industries in its Far East.

But while Monday’s talks yielded an agreement to keep talking, Japan has concerns over Russia’s installment of surface-to-ship missiles on Etorofu and other military activity elsewhere on the disputed islands.

The territorial issue has lingered since World War II, but disputes between Japan and Russia date back much further, to the 19th century, when the Russian and Japanese empires fought for domination of northeastern China, then known as Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula.

Japan’s victory in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war hobbled Russia’s expansion in the Far East and was the first significant triumph of an Asian country over a European nation. A treaty brokered by the US enabled Tokyo to claim territories that were later regained by Moscow after Japan’s World War II defeat in 1945.

Israel will continue to defend its citizens, says UN envoy in response to Syria threats

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon hit back at the Syrian envoy to the world body on Monday, calling him hypocritical for describing Israel’s airstrike Friday on a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syrian territory as a “terrorist operation” while boasting of Syria’s retaliatory missile attacks as a game-changer.

“It is the peak of hypocrisy for the ambassador of a regime that massacres its own people to level such accusations at us,” said Danon in a statement early Monday.

“Israel will continue to defend its citizens and will act against any attempt to harm them,” he vowed.

In an early Friday morning operation, Israeli jets hit an arms transfer meant for Hezbollah near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the planes. One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system. It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, right, listens to speakers during a meeting of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations Friday. The General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the Syrian crackdown. (photo credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bashar al-Jaafari (right) at the UN General Assembly at the United Nations (AP/Kathy Willens)

Speaking on Syrian state TV on Sunday, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the Syrian response was “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again],” according to a translation cited in Ynet.

“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” he said.

The comment emphasized the escalating tensions between Damascus and Jerusalem in recent days and came hours before Israel reportedly carried out a number of strikes overnight Sunday-Monday, including on yet another Hezbollah weapons convoy.

Syria media reported early Monday that Israeli jets took out a number of targets near the Lebanon-Syria border. The reports have not been confirmed.

This came hours before an Israeli drone strike reportedly killed a member of a Syrian pro-regime militia on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems for targeting the Israeli aircraft during the bombing run Friday.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.

Israeli officials have warned of the possibility Hezbollah and Iran could attempt to set up a base to attack Israel near the border with the Israeli Golan Heights.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow, where he asked the Kremlin to make sure Iran does not gain a foothold in the area.

Israel has also repeatedly vowed to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring any advanced weaponry and several strikes on such convoys over the years since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 have been attributed to Israel. Jerusalem has also claimed several of the raids, including Friday’s.

“Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise,” Liberman said Sunday.

“The Syrians must understand that they are held responsible for these arms transfers to Hezbollah and that if they continue to allow them then we will do what we have to do.”

North Korea Warns: “If A Single Bullet Is Fired We WILL Nuke The United States”
by Mac Slavo of SHTFplan

With tensions heating up on the Korean Peninsula after North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un fired several test missiles into Japanese-controlled territory, and following President Trump’s deployment of Navy Seals whose sole purpose will be to decapitate the leadership of the communist state, Un issued a shocking warning on Sunday.

If even a single bullet is fired, says Un, his country will immediately initiate a nuclear attack on the United States.

In a statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said: “The Korean People’s Army will reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to ashes with its invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads and reliably defend the security of the country and its people’s happiness in case the US and the South Korean puppet forces fire even a single bullet at the territory of the DPRK.”

In an earlier statement U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointedly told North Korea that the policies of previous U.S. administrations, which allowed the North Koreans to achieve the nuclear bomb, have ended and that the United States will be pursuing a new strategy to disarm its long time adversary.

Noting that no option is off the table, Tillerson demanded North Korea cease pursuit of all nuclear programs:

Let me be very clear… the policy of strategic patience has ended… we are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures… all options are on the table… North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economic prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.


We have repeatedly warned that North Korea could be the trigger for war that could see a dozen or more countries in conflict should President Trump no longer pursue the failed policies of patient diplomacy taken by his predecessors George Bush and Barack Obama.

Statements from Tillerson, and the North Korean response threatening outright nuclear war show that the situation in the region is escalating. 

And though most Americans have gotten used to the rhetoric and inaction of North Korea, the Trump administration’s approach could be a global game changer with severe consequences.

It is not that difficult to envision a scenario in which President Trump takes military action involving more than a single bullet in response to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile tests.

In that scenario, Kim Jong Un may take things to the next level, which could see the launching of nuclear tipped ballistic missiles or even Super EMP weapons designed to disable the U.S. power grid in one fell swoop.

While we hold out hope for world peace, we encourage concerned Americans to prepare for any possibility, especially as it relates to nuclear or radiological fall out:

  • Have an emergency plan to get out of major cities: They will be the primary targets. If rhetoric turns to reality, you should be ready to exit metropolitan areas immediately.
  • Minimize Radiation Intake: In case of a nuclear or radiological event, the Department of Homeland Security recommends countering the effects of radiation poisoning by supplementing your diet with an FDA-approved thyroid blocker.
  • CBRN Respiratory Protection: An attack with Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear weapons of mass destruction is more probable today than anytime in the last 50 years. Protective tactical gas masks and NBC rated filtration systems can mean the difference between life and death in a nuclear emergency and the hours that follow.
  • Nuclear Fallout Body Protection: In addition to protecting your thyroid and respiratory system, nuclear fall out can have deadly effects on the skin. Nuclear, Biological and Chemical full body suits are a necessity should you find yourself out in the open or trying to escape from a city.

[Renegade Editor’s Note: I personally would not spend money preparing for a nuclear emergency, except if I had lots of extra money.]

Should North Korea or another adversary opt for a more strategic strike, such as detonating a single EMP-based nuclear weapon directly above the central United States, it could take down our entire power grid.

Experts have warned that such an attack could revert the United States back to the 1800’s, a scenario that could lead to the deaths of some 90% of the U.S. population within one year due to starvation, disease and violence.

This kind of disaster requires longer-term planning and stockpiling of essential supplies like emergency food, potable water and personal defense armaments.

The rhetoric from world leaders suggests a lot of things can go wrong very quickly. Prepare for the possibility today, because even one second after the event will be too late.

This article originally appeared on SHTFplan.

Rezekne, Latvia, Frets About Trump NATO Stance, War With Russia


REZEKNE, Latvia — Elina Zujane’s hometown is no stranger to war. Now she fears President Donald Trump may spark another.

“Of course we worry about it. Come on, it’s our country,” says the 21-year-old marketing student while having lunch in her college’s gray-walled cafeteria. “If something does go wrong, we are really near to Russia so we will be the first ones to find out.”

Zujane lives in Rezekne, a Latvian town of around 30,000 people that is located just 23 miles from the Russian border.

On the shifting frontier between East and West, Rezekne has served as history’s battleground for at least 1,000 years. It has been destroyed and rebuilt by everyone from German knights in the 13th century to the warring Nazis and Russians who flattened it during World War II.

Once part of the Soviet Union, Latvia gained membership of both NATO and the European Union since the turn of the century.

These alliances convinced many Latvians that their old masters in Moscow would never dare cross the border again.

That was until Trump started to give mixed signals on his commitment to NATO, calling it “obsolete” and suggesting he would not protect smaller allies such as Latvia unless they upped their military spending.

Some people in Rezekne worry that Trump’s rhetoric, as well as his warming relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, could embolden the Kremlin to try to interfere or even invade.

This could have grave consequences, not just for the local population but for the future of NATO and perhaps even the concept of West itself.

“I think Trump doesn’t care about us,” says 20-year-old law student Dagnija Volodjko, who, like her friend Zujane, also studies at the Rezekne Higher Education Institution. “The idea of something happening with Russia does worry me because it could happen at any time … It would be so easy. Three seconds and they would be here.”

Volodjko and Zujane are among dozens of local residents interviewed by NBC News during a recent visit to the town.

Image: Elina Zujane and Dagnija Volodjko
Elina Zujane [left] and Dagnija Volodjko sit in the cafeteria of the Rezekne Higher Education Institution. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

Many Western analysts say these two students are not wrong in their assessment of the Russian threat to the Baltic states, which also include neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.

They worry that after its intervention in Ukraine, Russia could next turn its attention to the Baltics.

This international focus often means the region is often talked about like a chess piece, something to be used as geopolitical bargaining chip between the White House and the Kremlin. In fact, the Baltics have a combined population of more than 6 million — men, women and children directly affected by Trump’s next move toward his NATO allies.

This is the standoff from Rezekne’s perspective.

‘We Are Like a Coin, We Have Two Sides’

Taking the train from the Latvian capital of Riga, visitors pass through three hours of snow-encrusted forests before reaching this remote outpost.

Woodland and lakes surround this patchwork of mostly Cold War-era buildings, which appear to have sprung up at different stages from the rubble of the 1940s.

Image: Rezekne's Zeimulis youth center
Rezekne’s Zeimulis youth center. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

Dirty snow-slush cakes the roads, yet to be salted after the day’s flurry. And like the rest of the country, whose highest mountain wouldn’t eclipse the spire of New York’s Chrysler Building, Rezekne’s white-blanketed terrain is relatively flat and unremarkable.

It’s a town of complex histories, demographics and perhaps even allegiances. The population is divided evenly between Latvians and Russians — people who define their ethnicity as Russian and speak the Russian language.

This Russian community is far from rare in the Baltics, with many people sent here during Soviet times to work in the region’s factories.

But it’s not just the residents; the town itself appears to have one foot in the Western-facing present and another in its Soviet past.

A drive down its main street showcases an impressive college, a modernist concert hall, a youth center, and a recently landscaped park along the Rezekne River — all paid for with EU money. But a detour reveals crater-sized potholes and rusting factories, empty since local manufacturing collapsed with the communist era.

Image: Former petroleum facility
A former petroleum facility on the outskirts of Rezekne, Latvia. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

It’s still inextricably linked to its old overseer. Latvia is a major trading partner with Russia, and Rezekne’s economy has been hurt by U.S. sanctions slapped on Moscow over its involvement in Ukraine.

The town has an unemployment rate of more than 16 percent and the average wage is just 460 euros a month (around $495).

“We are like a coin, we have two sides,” explains Vjaceslavs Dubovskis, a 33-year-old businessman who co-owns a local telecoms company. “Our relationship with Russia has potential. But there is also an element of threat.”

Image: Vjaceslavs Dubovskis
Vjaceslavs Dubovskis Birgit Puve / for NBC News

While many people here claim that Latvians and Russians get along, other residents disagree. They say there is an unmistakable tension, usually manifesting itself in drunken fights at parties or eye-rolling at hearing the Russian language in shops.

Most locals seem to agree that the Latvian government isn’t helping the situation.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the newly independent nation said people had to pass a Latvian language and history test to gain citizenship. This means that even today some 250,000 people, mostly Russian-speakers, are still classed as “non-citizens,” unable to vote or get certain public-sector jobs.

In Rezekne’s Dzetta market, a dense, indoor labyrinth of cheap, imported clothes, this policy is a sore point.

“All of us working here are Russians and it’s a problem,” says Svetlana Filsa, a 61-year-old woman who runs a handbag stall. “Because of these rules, it’s getting harder. Not all of us speak Latvian so we are worried about work.”

And it’s not just the Russians who feel alienated. Many people in this part of Latvia identify themselves first and foremost as “Latgalians,” originating from Latvia’s historical region of Latgale (pronounced “Lat-guh-luh”).

Around 100,000 people speak Latgalian, but the Latvian government only classes it as a regional dialect. This infuriates some Latgalian-speakers, who say it’s a language in its own right. They complain it has been marginalized by politicians in the more affluent capital.

“I feel angry about the treatment of Latgalian, of course,” says Arnis Slobozanins, a 32-year-old local musician. “We’ve been betrayed and I think this betrayal is dangerous.”

Slobozanins believes the government’s treatment of Russians and Latgalians provides the perfect excuse for Moscow to meddle. Like in Ukraine, Putin could intervene on the grounds that he is protecting a threatened Russian diaspora.

“Some pro-Russian people might use the mistreatment of Latgale as a hook, you know? As an excuse,” he says, adding that “if Russia came and tried to invade Latgale I think there would be people who would welcome them.”

He adds: “We can’t really rely on NATO, we can’t really rely on anybody else, just ourselves.”

Although he is Latgalian, 19-year-old student Aris Sperga is one of those who would welcome more influence from Russia.

Image: Aris Sperga
Aris Sperga smokes a cigarette with his cousin outside a nightclub in Rezekne. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

“We are ready for war. We know that some day it will come to Latvia and it will mean a battleground for us,” Sperga says. He claims that the Latvian government “really doesn’t care about us” and for that reason he would rather “support Russia than NATO.”

In any case, he says, “Trump will never protect us.”

‘Russia Is Not an Aggressor’

Not everyone in Rezekne thinks conflict will return to their community.

All of the local Russians who spoke with NBC News say that while they look back fondly at their Soviet childhood, they think an intervention by Moscow is unlikely. Though many support Putin, they deny the allegation that they would act as a fifth column and welcome an invasion.

Viktor Solovjov is a 39-year-old auto-parts salesman who speaks with NBC News in his old-fashioned office block. After a terrifyingly bumpy elevator ride up to the fourth floor, he cheerfully insists everyone drink a large shot of vodka followed by a chunk of rye bread. It’s just past noon.

Image: Viktor Solovjov
Viktor Solovjov Birgit Puve / for NBC News

“Russia is a very friendly and peaceful nation but it has an unfair reputation. Russia is not an aggressor,” he says. “Russia is not interested in making aggression for the Baltic states.”

He also describes Trump as “a great president” — far from the only Russian in Rezekne to speak positively about America’s new leader.

Ludmila, a 50-year-old Russian who runs a market stall, agrees Russia wouldn’t be interested in invading.

“Russia doesn’t need us because we are a small country,” she says, declining to give her last name. “Russia has it all and they don’t need Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania so I’m not afraid at all.”

Her stall is one of several dozen that form a daily market in Rezekne’s old town. It’s all corrugated metal sheds and cardboard boxes laid out in the dirty snow, their proprietors selling everything from balls of cotton wool and fake leather boots to illegal Russian cigarettes and Soviet memorabilia.

Image: A local butcher in Rezekne's market
A local butcher in Rezekne’s market. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

“If there is a conflict, it won’t be because of Trump or Putin, it will be because of the relationships in the country,” says 36-year-old butcher Vladimir, who’s half Russian and half Latvian but doesn’t want to give his last name.

“Someone could ignite these ethnic groups, the Latvians and Russians,” he adds, before swinging a large ax above his head and bringing it down on a pig’s foot resting on a giant wooden block. But he doesn’t think this “someone” will be the Russian government.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Rezekne Mayor Aleksandrs Bartasevics agrees.

“We feel that we are very safe here and we are not threatened,” says Bartasevics, who is Russian. He chooses to focus on Trump’s comments that have been more reassuring to NATO. “There were some rhetorical things that he was speaking about but actually he hasn’t changed at all,” the mayor says.

It’s not just Russians who are calm about their close proximity to the border.

Image: Maria Godtevq and Tatiana Makarova
Maria Godtevq, a 73-year-old retired nurse, walks her dog with her friend, Tatiana Makarova (right), on Rezekne’s main street. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

“I like Trump and I hope he will be peaceful with Russia,” says Tatiana Makarova, a 73-year-old retired engineer and ethnic Latvian. “I don’t think Putin is interested in the Baltics. He doesn’t need it. We are just neighbors.”

Dubovskis, the local businessman, says that “of course, it’s a possible scenario” that Russia might interfere — but he only puts the likelihood at around 1 percent.

These people aren’t persuaded by the counter-argument that Putin might have all sorts of reasons for wanting to expand his sphere of influence.

The Russian president’s popularity spiked following his annexation of Crimea and has stayed above 80 percent ever since. (By comparison, Trump’s approval rating was 44 percent after about one month in office — a record low for a new president.) Many Russians seem to like their leader’s self-styled image as a man who can restore their diminished country to its former glory.

Even if Putin did invade, others in Rezekne still have faith in NATO’s protection of their country.

“Who knows if war could happen again, but I hope not,” says Gunars Strods, 51, an associate professor at Rezekne Higher Education Institution. “We still trust in NATO’s common security system. We still trust it.”

Back at the market, one Latvian is unconvinced.

“Putin is not good. He’s a killer, and he’s our neighbor 20 miles away,” says 47-year-old Andris Sondors, who sells memorabilia including badges of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. “Of course we’re nervous but we’ve lived next to Russia for 800 years and know what they’re like only too well. If they invade I will go and live in the forest.”

Image: Andris Sondors
Andris Sondors Birgit Puve / for NBC News

‘This Storyline Is Disturbingly Familiar’

What worries people like Sondors is Russia’s past.

In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea and allegedly started to support separatists fighting a civil war in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s stated reason for intervening in Crimea was that he wanted to protect the region’s ethnic Russians from mistreatment by Ukraine’s West-leaning government.

Many worry that Putin could make the same argument for the Baltics, where ethnic-Russians make up around a quarter of the population in Latvia and Estonia and around 6 percent in Lithuania.

Personnel involved in Russia’s covert presence in Crimea became known as “little green men” — a phrase everyone in Rezekne seems familiar with.

“Like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been, at best, unevenly integrated,” according to a report last year by the RAND Corporation, a think tank based in Santa Monica, California. “This storyline is disturbingly familiar.”

Image: Map of Rezekne in the Soviet Union and then NATO
Rezekne has found itself on a fluid frontier. NBC News / Sam Petulla

This fear has seen NATO send more troops to the Baltic-Russian front line than at any point since the Cold War. U.S. officials say their number is dwarfed by a similar build up on the Russian side — and unsurprisingly both sides blame each other for the escalation.

But Russia would not necessarily have to launch a full-scale war.

Other NATO-watchers predict that Putin could launch a “hybrid war” — implanting pro-Moscow activists to foment local ethnic tensions, and deploying personnel in unmarked military fatigues, whose connection to Russia could be denied by the Kremlin.

This would be a stern test for NATO: retaliate against Putin’s aggression and risk a nuclear conflict over a country many Americans have never heard of, or do nothing and undermine the founding principles of the alliance, leaving other nations at risk.

Arguably, Rezekne is already a victim of Moscow’s subtle tactics.

Many Russians here exclusively watch channels beamed in from Moscow, ignoring the lower-quality Latvian stations.

“A lot of people who live here watch TV that comes from Russia,” says Strods, the associate professor. “It’s propaganda and all part of the hybrid war.”

Image: Rasma Zaharenko at Rezekne's dog shelter
Rasma Zaharenko at Rezekne’s dog shelter. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

“There’s this huge propaganda from Russia that says, ‘Everything is great our country,’ but anyone who watches other types of TV knows it’s only OK in the big cities like Moscow,” adds Rasma Zaharenko, a 24-year-old project manager for a local IT company who also volunteers at a local animal rescue center.

She’s right in that Latvia has a higher GDP per-capita than its larger neighbor. But the information war may have had more profound consequences.

“Some people in the really remote countryside think the president of Russia is also the president of Latvia — really,” says Guntis Rasims, a 32-year-old local politician and a project manager with several local non-governmental organizations. “They live in this media so much that they don’t even know who is the president of Latvia.”

The Scars of History

If Rezekne were sold out as part of some geopolitical deal, it wouldn’t be the first time.

In the days before World War II, the Nazis and Soviets signed a pact of non-aggression in which they agreed to carve up Europe into two spheres of influence. They decided Latvia would be under Soviet control.

But the Nazis quickly went back on this, invading the Soviet Union and seizing control of Rezekne. This eastern offensive famously failed, and when the Red Army pushed back they bombed Rezekne into the dust, destroying some 70 percent of its buildings.

Like much of the region, the period also saw the annihilation of Rezekne’s Jewish population.

That legacy of destruction lives on today.

The town has rebuilt, but much of its residential architecture is a mishmash of crumbling Cold War-era housing blocks, dilapidated cabins, and scruffy brick homes. The main street is modernizing, but the mayor says that this face-lift has only come in the past decade.

Image: Rezekne's Zanzibar nightclub
Rezekne’s Zanzibar nightclub. Birgit Puve / for NBC News

Their history still raw, many Latvians are looking to the White House for some reassurance.

“I think Trump wants everything to be great in America but he doesn’t care about Europe and he doesn’t care about us,” says Justine Kitija Smeltere, a 20-year-old bartender at a local nightclub called “Zanzibar” — perhaps an ironic nod to Latvia’s often freezing weather.

“I’m really afraid of Russian interference,” she adds. “It’s very close to the border and I don’t want to be the first participant of World War III.”