U.S. Has Seen Chemical Weapons Activity in Syria, Pentagon Says (LOL….)

WASHINGTON — President Trump has drawn a new red line for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, with American officials describing preparations at a Syrian air base for a chemical weapons assault as they sought Tuesday to bolster Mr. Trump’s threat to deter an attack.

But the administration elaborated little on the president’s unexpected, 87-word statement a night earlier that warned that Mr. Assad would “pay a heavy price” if he again released toxic gas on rebel-held territory, leaving lingering questions in Washington and in the Middle East about Mr. Trump’s intentions in Syria.

American officials have declined to rate their level of confidence about whether a chemical attack is imminent or to say whether the administration has pursued diplomatic channels to stop it. Military officials, who were initially caught off guard by Monday night’s White House statement, would not discuss what options they were considering. Conversations with allies about the chemical weapons intelligence have been kept largely secret.

In previous administrations, debates about how best to deter atrocities have played out publicly around the world. President George W. Bush took months to argue his case — later proved to be flawed — about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. President Barack Obama offered detailed explanations about his deliberations on how to respond when Mr. Assad used chemical weapons to kill 1,400 people in 2013.

On Tuesday, White House officials said only that Mr. Trump’s statement spoke for itself.

That silence added to the uncertainty about whether a new military confrontation with Syria was looming just two months after Mr. Trump fired dozens of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian base, Al Shayrat airfield, after a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens.

Mr. Assad’s government vigorously denied the accusation of preparations for an attack, calling Mr. Trump’s statement a provocation. And in Russia, a close ally of Syria’s, a senior lawmaker accused the United States of using the declaration about chemical weapons to plan an attack on Syria.

As if to punctuate his contempt for the Trump administration’s warning, Mr. Assad visited a Russian air base near Latakia in the western part of the country on Tuesday, accompanied by Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the Russian military’s chief of staff. The Syrian news media, which reported the visit, distributed a video clip of Mr. Assad climbing into the cockpit of a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 parked at the base, where Russia has conducted many of its bombing operations to support the government’s side in the six-year civil war.

شاهد بالفيديو .. الرئيس الاسد في قاعدة حميميم العسكرية الروسية Video by الاعلام الحربي المركزي

In Washington on Tuesday, American officials explained only briefly what had prompted the White House effort at deterrence. Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that what looked like active preparations for a chemical attack had been seen at Al Shayrat. One Pentagon official said an aircraft shelter at the base that had been hit by an American Tomahawk missile in April was being used for the preparation.

Monday’s statement caught military officials by surprise, with one at the United States Central Command, which oversees combat operations in the Middle East, saying at the time that he had “no idea” what it was referring to.

The highly classified nature of the intelligence — and the likelihood that it involved information provided by an American ally — kept the assessment and the potential administration response closely held, two American officials said.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Tuesday that relevant agencies, including the Pentagon, the State Department, the C.I.A. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, had been involved in issuing the statement. But White House officials repeatedly declined to provide details about the timing or content of the deliberations.

“Not going to comment further,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in response to several emailed questions.

An American defense official said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had been aware of the movements at Al Shayrat and that the White House statement was coming.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson “was aware of” the White House statement and had informed his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, on Monday morning about the American concerns, said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman. But she said she could not share evidence of the Syrian preparations because it was “an intelligence matter.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration had briefed him before the White House issued its statement. But he declined to comment on what had caused the concern that Syria might be readying a chemical strike.

“If further use of chemical weapons can be discouraged, I think that’s worthwhile,” Mr. Schiff said in a telephone interview.

Neither White House nor Pentagon officials said an attack, or retaliation, was imminent in Syria, where the United States is backing Syrian fighters combating Islamic State militants on an increasingly complex battlefield.

“The Department of Defense remains focused on operations to defeat ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “Nevertheless, the continued brutality of the Assad regime and his use of chemical weapons presents a clear threat to regional stability and security, as well as the national security interests of the United States and our allies.”

The United States has closely monitored the Syrian air base since the Pentagon carried out the cruise missile strikes in April, using a combination of satellite imagery, electronic signals intercepts and on-the-ground spying.

In recent days, American and allied intelligence agencies detected activities at the base that were consistent with how the Syrian military prepared for using chemical weapons in the past, including preparation of aircraft and munitions. French officials said that during a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Trump talked with President Emmanuel Macron about the need to work toward “a common response” to any chemical attack in Syria.

In Damascus, Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that the government did not have chemical weapons. He accused the White House of releasing the statement to pave the way for a “diplomatic battle” against Syria at the United Nations.

Officials in Russia called the accusations “unacceptable.”

“I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons could be used,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Mr. Assad’s only regional ally, also rejected the Trump administration’s warning, describing it as a ploy.

“Another dangerous U.S. escalation in Syria on fake pretext will only serve ISIS, precisely when it’s being wiped out by Iraqi & Syrian people,” Mr. Zarif tweeted.

Mr. Trump has taken a different approach to the use of chemical weapons in Syria than Mr. Obama did. After the 2013 attack, Mr. Obama declined to strike the Syrian government, despite having declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line.” Instead, he agreed to a deal, proposed by Russia, for the government to dispose of its chemical weapons stockpiles and manufacturing capabilities.

But American officials suspect that Syria kept some of its means to produce chemical weapons.

“What’s driving this is that Assad is so short of manpower that when he goes on the offensive out east, he’s tempted to use chemical weapons and other strategic weapons elsewhere to prevent territorial loss,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Impending False Flag in Syria


Russia, The People’s Republic of China, Iran and Syria today are on Red Alert as they brace for an imminent U.S inspired False Flag op’ in Syria. Hundreds may die, be maimed and made homeless in a U.S backed attack on Syrian civilians.

As in all such events, without evidence or independent inquiry, this atrocity will be blamed by U.S friendly mainstream media on Syria’s armed forces. Consequently, the U.S will use this false flag operation as an excuse to invade and destroy Syria’s elected democracy.

Nikki Haley, United States’ Ambassador United Nations, shows pictures of Syrian victims of chemical attacks as she addresses a meeting of the Security Council on Syria at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Washington DC’s intention is the same as that of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; to install a regime compliant with Israeli policies and ambitions. The added bonus is that Russia will be humbled and ousted from the region; at least, this is the intention.

Russian First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation’s Council Committee on Defence and Security, Frants Klintsevich, says, “The U.S is preparing a new attack on the positions of the Syrian troops, this is clear. A new cynical and unprecedented provocation is being prepared.”

Is the senator right? His opinions are being taken seriously by the Russian, Chinese and the Iranian high command. The pro-Syria alliance, which could include North Korea, are now preparing for a hot war with the U.S and NATO forces. Within days this conflagration could consume the Mediterranean and Gulf regions. Unless contained the conflict could spread and be quickly become out of control.

If Russia feels that its western regions are vulnerable, and they are, NATO forces in Europe will be quickly neutralised. The First Deputy of the Russian Defence Committee: “It is high time to remind London of the vulnerability of its territory, which could be literally wiped off the face of the earth.”

A full scale retaliatory attack by Russia and Iran on U.S forces stationed in the Gulf and Mediterranean could sufficiently humble Washington DC. However, a mutually assured destructive (MAD) war could result as America goes down in flames taking all else with it.

American forces in the Gulf and Mediterranean regions, its European Union bases, could suffer casualties worse than those experienced during the entire Vietnam conflict in which 56,000 Americans lost their lives.

Senator Frants Klintsevich says the imminent U.S attack ‘would be passed off as a chemical attack’ and could be followed by a U.S strike ‘on a (Syrian Army grouping) that is on the verge of a constructive solution of the situation.’

Dmitry Peskov

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejects Washington’s claim to having “identified potential preparations for a chemical attack by Syrian government forces and ready to respond to it.”

Peskov says: “We heard about this statement. We do not know what the basis is for it. And of course we categorically disagree with the ‘another attack’ wording.”

The U.S has such a long history of false flag ignited conflicts it has been admitted that such is to be considered ‘business as normal’.



The White House said on Monday it appears the Syrian government is preparing for another chemical weapons attack and it warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducts such an attack.

The White House statement said preparations by Syria were similar to those undertaken before an April 4 chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians and prompted President Donald Trump to order a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.


Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria in April in reaction to what Washington said was a poison gas attack by Assad’s government that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denied it carried out the attack.

The strike was the toughest direct US action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.

US officials at the time called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the US role in the Syrian war.

The United States has taken a series of actions over the past three months demonstrating its willingness to carry out strikes, mostly in self-defense, against Syrian government forces and their backers, including Iran.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Twitter: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Since the April military strike, Washington has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia and even shot down a drone threatening US-led coalition forces. The US military also shot down a Syrian jet earlier this month.
Trump has also ordered stepped-up military operations against the Islamic State militant group and delegated more authority to his generals.

Liberman: No plans to attack Syria, but we won’t ignore provocation

Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman said Monday that Israel has “no intention of launching a military operation” against Syria or rebel groups operating within it even as tensions have spiraled in recent days.

Speaking at the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, Liberman rejected predictions made by some in Israel’s political echelon that the next conflict with either Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south is just around the corner.

“If you read the newspapers it seems that we have many prophets predicting a hot summer,” the defense minister said. “Let me be clear once again: We have no intention of initiating a military operation, neither in the north nor in the south.”

But Liberman said that despite the military establishment’s hope for calm on Israel’s borders, it will not tolerate any provocations, even accidental fire that spills over from a neighboring conflict.

“We won’t hold back if necessary and when needed we will respond with all our might,” he said, adding that Israel will not allow Syria to become a base for attacks against Israel.

“Anyone that wants to turn Syria into an Iranian base against Israel should think again. We will not allow Syria to become another front against Israel,” he said.

In the past three days there have been three incidents of errant shells landing in Israel. The IDF has responded with force, targeting Syrian army installations, which Israel holds responsible for all incidents originating from Syrian soil.

Around 10 mortar shells from Syria struck the Golan Heights on Saturday, prompting an Israeli response that reportedly killed two Syrian soldiers. On Sunday, several more projectiles hit Israel in what the army said was spillover fire from fighting between regime forces and rebels.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria after projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the Israeli Golan Heights on June 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

The IDF on Sunday again responded to the errant fire, confirming it targeted a Syrian military vehicle. Arabic media reports said five people were injured in the Israeli raid.

Earlier Monday the IDF said that stray fire from Syria reportedly hit a United Nations peacekeeping position in the Golan Heights. No injuries were reported. The army launched searches following reports that two mortars had landed on the Israeli side of the frontier, but no signs of shelling were found.

Instead, “heavy machine gun bullet holes were identified in a UNDOF post near Zivanit, adjacent to the border,” the army said.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

Syria responded Sunday to Israel’s strikes with its own warnings

“The general staff of the Syrian army warns of the dangers of these aggressive actions and holds the Israeli enemy responsible for the grave consequences of these repeated actions, despite any excuse there may be,” the Ynet news site quoted the Syrian military as saying.

The Syrian general staff also published photos of at least three men it said were Syrian soldiers killed in Israeli strikes. It did not provide a date or any other information on when they were killed.

Also on Sunday, Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij visited troops in southern Syria to mark the end of the Ramadan monthlong fast where he vowed the regime would continue fighting until it conquers “every morsel of the homeland.”

Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in March 2011, but has over the years acknowledged that it helps treat wounded Syrians who arrive at its border, and provides some of them with humanitarian assistance.

It has also claimed a number of airstrikes in Syria it says were meant to prevent terror group Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry from Iran via Damascus. Israel has repeatedly confirmed that it was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s arms smuggling operations in Syria and its buildup of capabilities on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Syria Will ‘Pay a Heavy Price’ for Another Chemical Attack, Trump Says

WASHINGTON — The White House said late Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price” if one took place.

In a statement from his press secretary, President Trump said that Mr. Assad’s preparations appeared similar to the ones that Western intelligence officials believe were made by the Syrian government before chemical attacks in April that killed dozens of Syrians, including children.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” the White House statement said. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Several military officials who were reached late Monday said they had been caught off guard by the White House statement, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, referred questions to the White House. Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said, “We are letting the statement speak for itself.”

But Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, made clear that the United States was taking the latest threat seriously. “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people,” Ms. Haley tweeted late Monday.

The message appeared designed to set the stage for another possible military strike by Mr. Trump. After Mr. Assad allegedly used chemical weapons in the spring, the American military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the air base his government had used to launch the attack.

After Mr. Trump struck the air base, American officials said he had been deeply shaken by graphic photos of Syrian children gasping for breath and dying as a result of the chemical weapons they accused Mr. Assad of using.

“What happened in Syria is truly one of the egregious crimes, and it shouldn’t have happened,” Mr. Trump told reporters then. “And it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

It was unclear Monday evening what evidence the American government had of preparations for another, similar attack. But the statement from the White House said it appeared that a new chemical weapons attack “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

Neocons Jews Cheer As Trump’s Military Escalation in Syria Risks Kicking off Global War

Donald Trump campaigned (inconsistently) on a pledge to pursue a foreign policy that broke with the interventionist orthodoxy in Washington. He even correctly notedthat past U.S. “foreign interventions unleashed ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

Given the persistent hypocrisy and myriad contradictions in his campaign, it may come as no surprise that just over five months into his presidency, Trump has abandoned any pretense of resisting imperial wars. The president is now pursuing a classically militaristic approach that is strikingly similar to what his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had called for.

Trump’s hawkishness is most apparent in Syria, where his administration has ramped up U.S. military aggression and might be hurtling towards a direct confrontation with Iran and Russia.

Colin Kahl, a former top U.S. Middle East policy official under Obama who is by no means an anti-war stalwart, recently warned that the country is on “the path to quagmire, a possible clash with Russia and the war with Iran some in Trump’s administration (and outside think tanks) want.”

Numerous U.S. attacks near a military base at a border area in southeast Syria called al-Tanf risk pushing the conflict into what could well become a global war.

It is looking more and more like the U.S. is also reviving goals to divide Syria on sectarian religious and ethnic lines, in order to weaken the government and its close ally Iran.

The Carnegie Middle East Center, a centrist Pentagon-funded think tank, has even acknowledged that the Trump administration is more than willing to deprioritize the fight against ISIS to do so.

Meanwhile, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike are rejoicing at the Trump administration’s belligerence. In an article in Foreign Affairs, the notorious Iran-contra figure Elliott Abrams applauded Trump for his “surprisingly standard foreign policy.” He wrote admirably, “This is not a revolutionary administration. The broad lines of its policy fit easily within those of the last few decades.”

Abrams, a posterboy for neoconservative war hawks, served as a top foreign policy official in the administrations of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Although he was criminally convicted of misleading Congress over the Iran-contra scandal, in which the U.S. smuggled cocaine and sold weapons to far-right death squads in Latin America, he went on to join Bush’s State Department, where he became an architect of the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Given Abrams’ record, his celebration of Trump’s policy on the Syrian-Iraqi border is one of the most chilling signs of how dangerous the escalating U.S. military intervention could be.

Rapid escalation against Iran and Russia

The tensions in Syria erupted May 18 and carried through to June 20. In this month, the Trump administration carried out three attacks on Syrian government-allied forces, destroyed two Iran-made drones and shot down a Syrian army warplane — the U.S. Air Force’s first air-to-air engagement in 18 years.

These incidents came in the aftermath of the U.S.’ launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase on April 6, which destroyed some 20 percent of the government’s planes, according to the Pentagon.

When the Trump administration downed a Syrian aircraft on June 19, Russia warned it will begin to consider U.S. planes as “targets.” The next day, U.S. officials accused a Russian aircraftof “provocatively” and “rapidly” flying toward an American spy plane and buzzing it within just five feet. (The Russian defense ministry denied the claims and said it was the U.S. spy plane that made “a provocative turn toward” its aircraft.)

In the meantime, the U.S. has quietly deployed more troops to southeast Syria, where it has also for the first time sent long-range rocket launchers known as high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, which can fire missiles up to nearly 200 miles away. Though the U.S. claims to be operating within a “deconfliction zone,” where it is training a band of rebels, it is reportedly operating more than 100 miles from its de facto base.

‘Mad Dog’ is calling the shots — and wants war with Iran

President Trump has effectively handed over power to the Department of Defense to set his foreign policy and carry out major operations without his approval. “What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump declared in April. “We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.” A White House official told the Los Angeles Times that this policy has enabled the military to take a “more aggressive approach.”

The generals are in charge, while Trump golfs at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (known by the moniker “Mad Dog,” which he earned while presiding over the razing of the Iraqi city of Fallujah) and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, another former four-star general, are calling the shots. They are supplemented by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, an ex-general, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Naturally, the Pentagon’s go-to solution to foreign-policy problems has been even greater military force. It is presently moving to send 3,000 to 5,000 new troops to Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been waging a war for 16 years that has brought only misery, destruction and death to the country’s weary people.

The defining characteristic of the Trump administration’s foreign policy from the beginning has been virulent aggression against Iran. Mattis has for decades depicted the country as public enemy number-one.

This staunch anti-Iran posturing is a key reason for the Trump administration’s record-shattering $110 billion arms deal with the draconian Saudi absolute monarchy. While Iran is pouring resources into the fight against ISIS, the Trump administration seems more intent on ramping up tensions with Iran than squashing the genocidal Salafi-jihadist group.

De-prioritizing the fight against ISIS

A report by the Carnegie Middle East Center, an influential U.S. government-funded think-tank, noted that the U.S. does not want ISIS to be defeated if Iran and its allies, the Syrian government and Hezbollah, are the ones to do it.

In the final paragraph of a research report, the Carnegie Middle East Center’s senior editor Michael Young observed, “the greatest paradox, one nobody in Washington will mention, is that in the greater game between Iran and the U.S., the Americans do not want the Islamic State in Deir Ezzor to be defeated by anyone but themselves—certainly not by Tehran’s allies.”

The report added: “[the U.S.] seeks to expand its sway along the Syrian-Iraqi border, which is unacceptable to Iran. No wonder. The standoff in southeastern Syria only really makes sense if we assume that Washington also intends to hinder Iranian moves and gain leverage that potentially allows it to shape a political endgame in the Syrian conflict.”

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of which the Middle East Center is a part, is hardly an anti-war bastion. It is funded by the U.S. government, along with other American allies and large corporations. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency provided huge funds to the think tank, according to its annual report, along with the U.K. Department for International Development, the Ford Foundation, the Japanese embassy, and the foundation of British-Syrian billionaire Asfari, a top funder of the Syrian opposition.

The Trump administration’s three attacks on Syrian government-allied forces in southeast Syria took place near al-Tanf, a critically important region along the Syrian-Iraqi border. The U.S. has created a base at al-Tanf, where it is training Sunni militants as a supposed proxy force against ISIS.

If the Syrian government retakes this strategically significant area, its ally Iran will have a land path from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon that leads straight through the cities of Baghdad, Ramadi, Damascus and Beirut, reestablishing the so-called Axis of Resistance against American empire and Israeli aggression. The U.S. and its Sunni allies are hellbent on preventing this scenario from taking form.

In order to weaken Iran and the Syrian government, it seems that the Trump administration is intent on reviving the imperial dream of dividing Syria along sectarian lines. The spearhead of its divide-and-conquer policy is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Syrian militia comprised primarily of Kurdish fighters whose situation is precarious at best.

‘The risk of sliding into a big war is rising’

The dangers of the Trump administration’s policy spiraling into a hot war with Iran or even Russia can hardly be underestimated. And the threat festers while conspiracy-minded Democrats obsessively depict Russia as a foreign bogeyman controlling Trump’s every move.

A former top foreign policy official in the Barack Obama administration has candidly acknowledged these perils, noting that Trump’s policy in Syria bears striking similarities to the kind counseled by neoconservatives and liberal interventionists over the years.

“Watch Syria. The risk of sliding into a big war is rising,” warned Colin Kahl in a series of tweets on June 19.

During the Obama era, Kahl served as deputy assistant to the president and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. While in government, he supported the Syrian armed opposition, like so many of his colleagues. These days, however, Kahl is faced with the dire consequences of direct American intervention in Syria, and he is terrified of what he sees.

“The days of the [anti-]ISIS campaign happening in strategically marginal parts of Syria are over. The two halves of the Syrian war are merging,” Kahl wrote.

When pressured by Charles Lister, an analyst who has long lobbied for U.S.-led regime change in Syria and who works for the Middle East Institute, a think tank funded by the U.S. State Department and Gulf monarchies, Kahl replied, “My personal view? We shouldn’t be at Tanf. We set up an Alamo we now have to defend.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump’s supporters touted his flirtations with anti-interventionist rhetoric to increase his appeal. Trump played off this perception to cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate contrasted with Hillary Clinton, who even the New York Times (which endorsed her) acknowledged was the most hawkish candidate in the race.

But some warned from the beginning that Trump was inconsistent and contradictory: he would criticize the Iraq war one moment and in the next, insist he would have perpetually occupied the Middle Eastern nation and stolen its oil. He condemned the disasters created by past U.S. military intervention, yet declared he would intentionally kill the family members of extremist Islamist militants (a war crime).

More than 100 days into the Trump era, the president has set the U.S. on the course for another disastrous conflict, this time with two of the most powerful militaries in the world. As Trump disengages from his administration’s foreign policy and gives the military free rein, the hawks who would welcome such a scenario are filling the void.

Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

C.I.A. Set Up Secret Back Channel With Syria to Try to Free U.S. Hostage

WASHINGTON — In the early days of the Trump administration, national security officials began exploring ways to free Austin Tice, an American journalist and a former Marine officer believed to be held by the Syrian government. His case has frustrated investigators and diplomats since he disappeared while on assignment nearly five years ago.

White House officials decided, because of the delicacy of the situation, to set up a back channel. Given the deteriorated relations between the United States and Syria, options were limited. So in early February, Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, spoke on the phone with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau intelligence service, a man accused of human rights abuses during the country’s civil war and slapped with sanctions by the United States. The call was the highest-level contact between the governments in years.

Though Mr. Pompeo’s discussion with Mr. Mamlouk prompted further communications that renewed hope that Mr. Tice would be freed, the operation fizzled out after the Syrian government’s nerve gas attack in rebel-held northern Syria in April and the American missile strike in response, according to several former United States officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the efforts to free Mr. Tice remain secret.

The plight of Americans held hostage by reclusive foreign governments has received renewed attention since the death on Monday of Otto F. Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student from Ohio who was arrested in North Korea in January 2016. Many of the most difficult cases involve nations — like Syria — that have no diplomatic relations with the United States, giving American officials little leverage to negotiate. Outreach to Syria by President Trump’s administration shows how far it has been willing to go to secure the release of Americans held abroad.

“Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Daniel R. Russel, an assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

While Mr. Warmbier was put on trial and his family knew he was being held by the North Korean government, Mr. Tice’s case has been a conundrum. The United States believes the Syrian government is holding him, but it has no proof. Syria insists it does not know what happened to him.

“Austin Tice is not in the hands of Syrian authorities, and we don’t have any information about him at all,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told The Associated Press last year.

The Tice family declined to comment, as did the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.

Mr. Tice, a former Marine captain from Texas, left for Syria before his final year in Georgetown Law School. He traveled to the region and had been freelancing for news media outlets when he was abducted in August 2012.

A month later, Mr. Tice appeared blindfolded in a video that shows masked men with assault rifles. Looking scared and disheveled, he uttered a few words in Arabic and then vanished. Former American officials believe that the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria took Mr. Tice and that the video was a crude ploy to blame militants for his abduction.

Mr. Tice in an undated photograph.CreditFamily of Austin Tice, via Associated Press

Despite its antagonistic relationship with the United States, there is ample motive and precedent for the Syrian government to speak with high-level American officials. Before the civil war, there were several such contacts, including one in 2010 between Mr. Mamlouk and Daniel Benjamin, who served as the coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department in the Obama administration.

Even after the war broke out and the United States adopted a policy of pushing for Mr. Assad’s ouster, Syrian officials were open to communicating with Americans, diplomats say.

“The Syrian government would like to reduce the extent of its isolation,” said Robert S. Ford, an American ambassador to Damascus during the Obama administration. “The Syrians are a very supple, nasty group. They’re willing to talk all the time. That’s just how they do business.”

After the election, American officials decided to brief Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, who became the president’s chief strategist, about the efforts to bring Mr. Tice home. Mr. Bannon was dismissive of Mr. Tice, raising questions about why he had gone to Syria in the first place, former officials said.

Still, after Mr. Trump took office, the administration moved forward, resulting in Mr. Pompeo’s phone call with Mr. Mamlouk in which he raised the issue of Mr. Tice. It is not clear what exactly the two men said, but the United States later suggested to Mr. Mamlouk that freeing Mr. Tice would go a long way as the administration shaped its broader Syria policy, according to the former officials.

It seemed like the best chance yet to bring Mr. Tice home. Administration officials began trying to figure out how the Syrians might explain his lengthy disappearance. After the Americans received proof of life, the Syrians would announce they had found Mr. Tice, crafting a narrative to explain his abduction. Mr. Tice would be put on trial for violating the country’s immigration laws and then pardoned by Mr. Assad. After Mr. Tice landed on American soil, Mr. Trump would call Mr. Assad.

But that never happened, and some former diplomats pointed to a comment in March by Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, who said the United States did not view Mr. Assad’s removal as a policy priority. “You pick and choose your battles,” Ms. Haley told reporters, “and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities. And our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Her comments were unusual, former diplomats said. The administration had weakened its negotiating position by giving the Syrian government something it wanted — the president’s tacit approval of Mr. Assad — without demanding anything in return.

“The administration said Assad could stay but got nothing for it,” said James O’Brien, the former special presidential envoy for hostage affairs under the Obama administration. “You only make that statement if you get Austin Tice home.”

Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, at the Capitol in May. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that it was always going to be hard to get Mr. Tice out of Syria but that recent events had made it even harder. “What the regime requires is for us to overlook what they do,” Mr. Tabler said, referring to the gas attack. “That’s a big deal. There is no way the U.S. is going to ignore these actions.”

American officials suspect that Mr. Mamlouk or Brig. Gen. Bassam al-Hassan, an adviser to Mr. Assad, knows Mr. Tice’s whereabouts. Like Mr. Mamlouk, Mr. Hassan has been hit with sanctions by the United States.

Last year, the American intelligence community concluded with moderate to high confidence in a secret analysis that Mr. Tice was alive, based partly on a report that he had been seen at a hospital in Damascus, being treated for dehydration.

Mr. Tice was not the only American held in Syria. Kevin Patrick Dawes, a freelance photographer from San Diego, was abducted in 2012 by government forces. In late 2014, the Syrians acknowledged holding Mr. Dawes, then freed him in April 2016 for health reasons, officials said.

At times, the Russian government, which is allied with Syria, tried to parlay the release of Mr. Tice, Mr. Dawes and others with ties to the United States who were being held in Syria to its advantage. In talks with American officials, the Russians suggested they might be able to help in exchange for the release of Russians imprisoned in the United States. The Americans also floated the idea of freeing a Russian spy for Mr. Tice, but Russian officials did not respond to the offer.

Ultimately, American officials concluded that the Russians did not know where Mr. Tice was or who was holding him.

Several Americans also remain held in Iran, including an elderly father and his son; in addition, a former F.B.I. agent and C.I.A. contractor, Robert A. Levinson, disappeared on the island of Kish in 2007. At least three others are still being detained in North Korea. Officials worry the government there could arrest more.

The momentum to free Mr. Tice came to a halt in April when the Syrian government unleashed the gas attack on its own civilians, killing dozens of men, women and children. In the days that followed, Mr. Trump ordered a strike on a Syrian air base used to carry out the gas attack.

Mr. Trump said in a recent interview that Mr. Assad was “truly an evil person.” The situation only worsened in recent days as the United States shot down a Syrian fighter jet.

Mr. Tabler said the time was not right for a deal over Mr. Tice, who will turn 36 in August. “We’re not there,” he said. “That’s sad for Austin Tice and his family. Everybody wishes that it had been different. That’s just a hard reality.”



Russia wants to increase cooperation with Israel regarding Syria, and would like Jerusalem to use any influence it has to get opposition groups there to lay down arms and enter negotiations, Konstantin Kosachev, a senior Russian parliamentarian, told The Jerusalem Post.

Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, was in the country on Tuesday and Wednesday with Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, for meetings with the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In a late night interview Tuesday in his Jerusalem hotel, Kosachev said that Russia’s intervention and actions in Syria serve the interests of other countries in the region, including Israel.

“If there will be violent regime change in Syria, we are sure that the new regime will not be democratic at all, but rather someone like Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and that will certainly have a negative influence on all of Syria’s neighbors,” he said.

Asked if Israel – which has reportedly bombed arms depots or convoys in Syria on the way to Hezbollah – is acting against Russia’s interests in the country, Kosachev said, “I wouldn’t say that, but I would like to see closer cooperation.”

He said he would like to see more cooperation in the spheres of “information sharing,” regarding what is happening inside Syria: the organizations acting there, and the groups with whom it is possible – and impossible – to negotiate with. Kosachev said he would like to see this type of cooperation with the US as well.

Furthermore, he said, it is “no secret” that Israel has contacts with moderate Syrian opposition groups, and could perhaps help to convince them to lay down arms and join negotiations based on the UN Security Council resolutions. He said he was speaking about this in his capacity as a politician and not as an “intelligence operative.”

Regarding the redlines that Israel has set in Syria – that no game-changing arms be transferred to Hezbollah, nor any permanent Iranian presence be established – Kosachev said that while he understands Israel’s concerns and recognizes that it has the right to defend itself, he cannot accept that it has the right to “interfere or be the regulator of relations between countries.”

As to Israel’s demand that Iran be prevented from establishing a permanent presence in Syria, he said Israel is talking about relations between two UN member states, “and therefore I can’t accept Israel saying that this ‘is not acceptable.’ I can accept them saying that ‘we are very concerned, and something must be done about it.’”

Asked whether Russia can indeed prevent an Iranian presence on Israel’s borders, he said, “We are not interfering in bilateral ties between countries.” Kosachev said that the situation in Syria would look a lot better had all the nations involved in the conflict abided by international law.

“Today, Russia is the country acting in accordance with international law, and is there at the invitation of the legitimate government,” he said. “Russia is working with other countries in the region to reach a ceasefire to calm down the situation, and the countries we are working with are Iran and Turkey, with the agreement of Syria – in accordance with international norms.”

Kosachev denied that Russia was in Syria to preserve the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“We do not have the right to say what the government will be in Syria, and no one but the Syrian people can do that,” he said. “We are sure that outside interference in Syria can cause additional instability in that region and lead to situations similar to what exists in Iraq and Libya, something that will certainly strengthen the international terrorist organizations.”

Kosachev said Russia was willing to cooperate with any state to fight terrorists in Syria and solve the conflict, “on the condition that we will deal precisely with these issues, and not regime change.”

He rejected the characterization of recent developments in Syria – the US downing of a Syrian plane, Iran’s firing of missiles there, Russian threats to down US planes – as “a mess.”

“A mess is what happened in Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011,” he said. “Thanks to determined Russian actions in Syria, that country is not a mess.”

The Russian foreign policy expert acknowledged that there was a risk of direct confrontations with the US in Syria, but said, “This is not our choice, and our military men are doing everything to prevent that eventuality.”

Kosachev and Ozerov’s quick visit and meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is the second installment of an enhanced discourse instituted last year aimed at “strengthening the dialogue” between parliamentarians. Kosachev said this type of communication allows for a closer degree of cooperation than merely reciprocal meetings from time to time by parliamentarians. And it is a mechanism that Moscow has only with a few other parliaments around the world, such as with France.

The discussions with the Knesset committee, including a trip with its chairman Avi Dichter to the border with the Gaza Strip, focused on two areas, he said. The first was the region, including Syria and Iran, and the second was bilateral relations.

Coalition forces shoot down Iran-made drone in Syria

WASHINGTON — A US warplane shot down an Iran-made drone operated by pro-regime forces in southern Syria early Tuesday, officials said, the second such incident in less than two weeks.

The US-led coalition said in a statement that an F-15E Strike Eagle jet destroyed the Shaheed-129 drone around 12:30 am local time northeast of the Al-Tanaf garrison, which is close to the Jordanian border.

“It displayed hostile intent and advanced on coalition forces,” the statement read.

Coalition troops were working in the area alongside local forces who are being trained to fight the so-called Islamic State group.

A US military official told AFP the drone was “on a run toward our folks to drop a munition on them,” so the coalition shot the unmanned aircraft down in self defense.

In this undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, in Islamic State group-held territory, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group ride tanks during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. (Raqqa Media Center via AP)

Al-Tanaf, on the key highway connecting Damascus with Baghdad, has been menaced by a surge of Iran-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Coalition forces use the area — just northeast of the Jordanian border — as a training and staging area for attacks against IS.

The incident has similar hallmarks to a June 8 shoot-down, when a US F-15 destroyed a pro-regime drone after it dropped what turned out to be a dud bomb near US-backed local forces.

It also comes after an American F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet shot down a Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber Sunday in northern Syria as it “dropped bombs” near the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance fighting IS.

“Hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated,” the coalition statement read.

The downing of the regime jet led Moscow to say it would sever a vital hotline it uses to communicate with the US coalition to avoid mishaps in Syria’s increasingly crowded and complicated battle-space.

Iran launches missile strike into Syria in response to Tehran attacks

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Sunday it launched missiles into eastern Syria targeting Islamic State militants in response to a June 7 attack on Iran’s parliament and a shrine in Tehran. The hardline paramilitary force also warned that it would similarly retaliate against anyone else carrying out attacks in Iran.

The launch of surface-to-surface medium range missiles into Syria’s Deir el-Zour province comes as Islamic State militants fleeing a US-led coalition onslaught increasingly try to fortify their positions there.

Israel’s Channel 10, quoting an Israeli intelligence source, said the missiles were Iranian Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,200 kilometers (800 miles).

Sunday’s assault marked an extremely rare direct attack from the Islamic Republic amid its support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a hard-line paramilitary force, has seen advisers and fighters killed in the conflict.

Media reports said this marked the first time Iran had fired missiles as an act of war since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Activists in Syria said they had no immediate information on damage or casualties from the strikes, launched from Iran’s Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces. Social media was awash in shaky mobile phone footage from those areas, allegedly showing the missiles rise in an orange glow before heading toward their targets.

A Guard statement carried on its website said many “terrorists” were killed and their weapons had been destroyed in the strike.

Footage of the moment ‘s IRGC fires missiles targeting terrorists in  of .

The Guard warned Islamic State militants and their “regional and international supporters” that similar retaliatory attacks would target them as well if another assault in Iran occurs.

Activists in Syria did not immediately have information about the Iranian-claimed strikes. Deir el-Zour is home to both Islamic State militants and civilians.

Five Islamic State-linked attackers stormed Iran’s parliament and a shrine to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on June 7, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 50.

That attack marked the first to hit Iran, shocking its residents who believed the chaos engulfing the rest of the Middle East would not find them in the Shiite-majority nation.

Iran has described the attackers as being “long affiliated with the Wahhabi,” an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. However, it stopped short of directly blaming the kingdom for the attack, though many in the country expressed suspicion Iran’s regional rival had a hand in the attack.

The attack also came as emboldened Sunni Arab states — backed by US President Donald Trump — are hardening their stance against Iran.