Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) continued its operations in the city of Daraa. HTS forces are attacking the remaining Syrian Army points in the northern part of Al-Manshiyeh and the nearby areas. On April 19th, HTS claimed that it had managed to destroy a tank and a heavy rocket launcher belonging to the Syrian army in the al-Sajna district north of Al-Manshiyeh. HTS also used an explosive house to target the remaining Syrian Army positions in Al-Manshiyeh.
The US Special Operations Forces reportedly carried out an air landing in three sites in the ISIS-held area in eastern Syria last Monday night. US forces landed in the area of the Maizala Dam, the desert town of Granig, and the surrounding area of the T2 in Al-Tanf in the Al-Mayadin desert, according to local sources.
On April 19th, ISIS announced in Deir Ezzor mosques that US troops had evacuate spies who used to work in the area. If true, this would be the fourth time during this month alone in which the US has evacuated spies from the ISIS-held areas.
Pro-militant sources have announced that so-called opposition forces have created a new militant group, the Eastern Shield Army (or the Al-Sharqiyah Shield Army) in order to capture Qamishly, Haskhah, Deir Ezzor, and Raqqah. The Al-Sharqiyah Shield Army will fight the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and ISIS. The group also released a video showing a few poorly armed fighters during what appeared to be a military training exercise.
Meanwhile, another militant alliance is being set up in order to consolidate military control in the province of Idlib, in northern Latakia and in western Aleppo, Al Jazeera English reported, citing its own sources in the Free Syrian Army. The newly formed militant alliance will allegedly be funded by the so-called “Friends of Syria”, in other words, the United States, the EU, Turkey, and Gulf monarchies. It is stated in the report that the newly formed alliance will fight the Syrian government and will not fight Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda). Indeed, nobody is surprised with this decision. So-called moderate opposition groups backed up by the Friends of Syria are well known friends of al-Qaeda. It’s interesting to note that it is also stated in the al Jazeera report that in January of 2016 the CIA pressured some militant groups in order to force them to ignore the Astana talks backed up by Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), predominantly consisting of members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has created a “civilian council” to rule the Syrian city of Raqqah after its expected liberation from ISIS terrorists. The announcement took place after a meeting in the SDF-held town of Ain Issa located north of Raqqah.
These developments clearly show that foreign sponsors of various factions involved in the war are increasing their activity in Syria ahead of the expected division of spheres of influence after the collapse of ISIS.
Now, the key question is what areas will the sides really control after the fall of ISIS. An important competition will take place for gas and oil fields in the countryside of Palmyra and Deir Ezzor.
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UK Drone Killings: PM must Publish Intelligence Committee Report
Soon after it had been re-constituted in the new parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued a statement in October 2015 saying that an investigation into the drone strikes in which British nationals were killed was an “immediate priority”.
Fifteen months later, in December 2016, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) put a short note on its website saying that it had handed over its report, UK Lethal Drone Strikes in Syria, to the Prime Minister after completing its inquiry and expected a redacted version would be published in the New Year. Four months later we are still waiting.
While the Joint Human Rights Committee (JHRC) undertook a more general investigation into the policy and legal basis of British forces using armed drones for targeted killing (their report was published in May 2016), the ISC inquiry looked much more specifically at the UK drone strike targeting Reyaad Khan, as well as the involvement of the UK in further targeted drone strikes against British citizens including Junaid Hussein and Mohammed Emwazi in Syria.
However, at the Liaison Committee in January 2016, where the Chairs of the main select committees have an opportunity to directly question the Prime Minister, it emerged that the ISC would not necessarily have access to all the intelligence that led to the strikes in which UK drones were involved. It appeared that the Committee was barred from seeing military intelligence from “current operations” and the sticking point was whether the strikes on Khan and others were still part of “current operations”.
Andrew Tyrie, Chair of the Liaison Committee stated after the meeting:
“On the basis of today’s evidence, the intelligence and security committee will not be able to do a thorough job. The prime minister should reconsider his decision to prevent the ISC from looking at information on the military aspects of the drone strikes. Unless he permits this, the ISC will be incapable of providing reassurance to parliament and the public that the strikes were both necessary and proportionate.”
Dominic Grieve MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee
Soon after the meeting, the Chair of the ISC, Dominic Grieve wrote to the Harriet Harman stating that while
“it has taken rather longer than we had hoped to finalise the scope of our Inquiry and to reach agreement on the disclosure of material to the Committee…. I can now say that we have reached agreement and this had been confirmed in a letter from the Prime Minister…”
While the exact scope of the inquiry has yet to emerge, in the January 2016 letter to Harman, Grieve wrote:
“Where the ISC can bring a unique contribution to Parliament collective oversight of this policy is in its statutory power to access highly classified material and its ability to examine the intelligence which led to the decision to conduct the operation. How serious and imminent was the threat and what would have been the consequences of inaction? What intelligence was there regarding the viability or otherwise of actions, including possible arrest and other disruption options?”
A serious and imminent threat?
The imminence and seriousness of the threat from Khan, Hussein and others is at the heart of the issue. In February this year, the Sunday Times reported that some intelligence officials had opposed the drone strike on Khan as he did not pose an imminent threat. The paper reported:
An intelligence official opposed to the strike said that while Khan had gone on to become a poster boy for Isis and a prolific Twitter user who acted as a propagandist, there was no evidence that he posed an imminent threat.
“The imminence related to inspiring attacks around the world but there was not a specific attack to pin them down,” the source said.
“Many intelligence officials were opposed to the extrajudicial killing, not because we’re opposed to defeating Isis but because we weren’t convinced that drone strike reached the legal threshold.”
Another intelligence official familiar with the “discussion and debates” in the lead-up to the attack said several officials from MI5 and GCHQ had questioned the imminence of the threat posed by Khan.
The legal basis for the drone strike of self-defence is spelt out in article 51 of the UN charter. The “Caroline principles” state the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment of deliberation”.
As well as intelligence officials, it seems that RAF officers too expressed disquiet about the attack. In November 2015, The Telegraph reported that there had been a “serious debate” among serving RAF officers about the policy shift that had led to the strike on Khan.
While it seems from media reports that Khan and others sought to inspire attacks against UK citizens, it is far from clear whether this reached the threshold to launch a pre-emptive strike under international law. This is perhaps why that the UK Attorney General, Jeremey Wright, argued in a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in January 2017 that it was necessary to re-define the understanding of ‘imminence’ in regard to self-defence, to enable the expansion of the ability to undertake pre-emptive armed attacks against potential threats.
It was also notable that the Attorney General argued that the UK has the right, as a last resort, to use lethal force against those who, as Wright put it “inspire, enable or direct attacks” from overseas. Those three activities are individually very different, and combining them in this way alongside the notion that evidence of an actual and specific attack is not necessary is extremely disturbing.
As we have argued for some time it seems that advent of armed drones is lowering the threshold for the use of armed force. The UK would not have sent piloted aircraft into Syria so soon after Parliament had specifically restricted the use of force against ISIS to Iraq. Yet within six weeks, British drones were being sent across the border into Syria to support US strikes. Their presence in Syria – on operations beyond that authorised by Parliament – enabled a decision, clearly opposed by some, to carry out the targeted killing of British citizens on questionable legal grounds.
Although it is unlikley the ISC’s report will seriously challenge the Government’s position – and will no doubt be redacted – it should shine some much needed light on this important issue and spark a renewed debate on the legality and efficacy of drone targeted killing. It will be particularly helpful if the report indicates how the UK National Security Council handled the intelligence and made its decision to launch a lethal strike. It’s high time the report was published.
Lawsuit Warns $234 Billion In Aid To Israel Violates US Law Against Supporting Secret Nuclear States
First published in August 2016
A lawsuit warns that U.S. aid to Israel violates a law meant to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, even as the United States prepares to increase the already massive Israeli aid program.
Filed Aug. 8 by Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, or IRMEP, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit alleges that U.S. aid to Israel violates two amendments to the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, known as the the Symington and Glenn Amendments, which collectively ban support for countries engaged in clandestine nuclear programs.
In the lawsuit, Smith alleges that violating these amendments means that Israel has received approximately $234 billion in illegal aid since the passage of the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976.
The lawsuit reads:
“This lawsuit is not about foreign policy. It is about the rule of law, presidential power, the structural limits of the U.S. Constitution, and the right of the public to understand the functions of government and informed petition of the government for redress.”
U.S. foreign policy is in sharp focus right now, as President Barack Obama prepares to sign off on a record-breaking aid package that would add to the $3.1 billion in annual military aid that Israel already receives.
Despite the U.S. government, and a compliant mainstream media, raising the alarm about the supposed dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, Israel possesses dozens of nuclear weapons — with some reports indicating the Jewish State possesses over a hundred — while showing no sign of halting its development of more.
And the WikiLeaks archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails suggests this is unlikely to change after November, with the potential future president heavily invested in maintaining Israel’s claim to a near monopoly on nuclear power in the Middle East.
Israel’s dangerous ‘nuclear ambiguity’
The IRMEP lawsuit argues that Israel’s policy of official secrecy on its nuclear weapons program perfectly fits the definition of the 1976 Export Control Act, and that the U.S. government broke the law through its “failure to act upon facts long in their possession while prohibiting the release of official government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, particularly ongoing illicit transfers of nuclear weapons material and technology from the U.S. to Israel.”
Smith wrote that the U.S. offers material support to Israel’s nuclear program while helping suppress information about the program. He continued:
“These violations manifest in gagging and prosecuting federal officials and contractors who publicly acknowledge Israel’s nuclear weapons program, imposing punitive economic costs on public interest researchers who attempt to educate the public about the functions of government, refusing to make bona fide responses to journalists and consistently failing to act on credible information available in the government and public domain.”
This policy of secrecy goes by many names, he noted.
“These acts serve a policy that has many names all referring to the same subterfuge, ‘nuclear opacity,’ ‘nuclear ambiguity,’ and ‘strategic ambiguity.’”
Although long denied by both American and Israeli politicians, Israel’s nuclear program was first revealed by whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 16 years in prison for sharing secret details of the program with Britain’s Sunday Times in 1986, and has been repeatedly arrested for continuing to publicly speak out.
Although the program is still not officially acknowledged, a November report by the Institute for Science and International Security suggested the Israeli government has amassed enough material to create at least 115 nuclear warheads. That would put Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey, on nearly equal nuclear footing with India and Pakistan.
Writing in 2011 for antiwar.com, Sam Husseini noted that some estimates put the number of warheads as high as 400.
Regardless of the actual number, the warheads are real, and they represent a real danger to regional stability.
“These weapons pose a real—not a potential or an imagined—threat to millions upon millions of people in and beyond the region,” Husseini wrote. “So do nuclear weapons held by other countries, but at least they are acknowledged.”
And unlike every other country in the Middle East, Israel refuses to sign the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty of 1970. The country has even reportedly shared its nuclear technology, as Matt Peppe noted in January 2015 in MyMPN, MintPress News’ reader submission blog. He wrote:
“Israel has not only amassed its own nuclear arsenal, but also exported nuclear technology and capabilities abroad. Not to just any country, but to the racist, pariah state of apartheid South Africa — surely the most despicable regime of the last century other than possibly Israel itself.”
WikiLeaks: Sec. Clinton helped Israel maintain ‘nuclear monopoly’ in Middle East
At least some respected figures in the U.S. government have voiced concerns over the Israeli nuclear program, at least according to the WikiLeaks archive of thousands of emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
In an August 2010 email to Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, an American journalist who worked as an aide to President Bill Clinton, shares a Haaretz interview about the Israeli nuclear program, adding comments of his own about the need for Israel to end the secrecy and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Blumenthal wrote:
“Another idea, don’t know if it can be made to work: How to introduce Israel entering the NPT and ending its nuclear ambiguity, which is its state policy, but which itself is the model for Iran now. Can this issue be used profitably in negotiations, a wild card, as it were? Can options be developed on whether it can, how it might work, potential effect on peace process? Israel’s nuclear ambiguity policy is certainly a big issue coming given Iran.”
While Blumenthal suggests that Israel’s nuclear program may serve as inspiration for Iran’s nuclear development, there’s actually little evidence that Iran ever intended to construct nuclear weapons, much less use them to threaten Israel. In June, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, told Al-Jazeera that Iran was not an “existential threat” to Israel, although he also refused to acknowledge the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons. And leaked diplomatic cables show that, behind the scenes, Mossad agents contradicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alarmist views of Iran’s nuclear program by admitting that Iran’s nuclear material was not pure enough for use in nuclear weapons rather than for civilian energy generation. The cables go on to show that Iran was never interested in creating nuclear weapons.
Watch “Ex-Israeli spy chief: Iran isn’t an existential threat” from Al-Jazeera English:
Halevy’s testimony stands in contrast to Clinton’s own statements on Iran. Despite last year’s landmark deal to scale back Iran’s nuclear program, the Democratic Party nominee called for new sanctions against Iran, claiming the country was still a threat to regional peace.
In reality, maintaining Israel’s power while undermining its rivals like Iran and Syria was a key part of Clinton’s strategy as secretary of state, and something likely to carry over into her potential presidency. In May, the Center for a New American Security, a neoliberal think tank, published “Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order,” which in many ways could serve as a “blueprint” for military strategy under Clinton.
Although the report emphasizes conventional (rather than nuclear weapons), the authors write: “[I]t is important for a new administration to make absolutely clear that the U.S. commitment to the security of the State of Israel is unshakable now and in the future.”
And an unclassified case file published by the State Department in 2001, and found in the WikiLeaks archive of Clinton’s emails, suggests U.S. support for so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria is actually designed to prop up Israel at the expense of Syria and Iran.
“The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad,” it reads. “Bringing down Assad would not only be a massive boon to Israel’s security, it would also ease Israel’s understandable fear of losing its nuclear monopoly.”
In light of the Aug. 9 anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, it’s important to remember that the U.S. is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in war, even going so far as to use them on civilian areas of Japan.
Clinton, as a servant of the U.S. government and its military-industrial complex, seems set to continue America’s policy of determining who has access to nuclear technology, despite the hypocrisy inherent in that stance, as Robert Fantina noted in an October 2015 report for MintPress News.
“Its lethal nuclear history isn’t stopping the U.S. from strutting across the world stage today, deciding which countries can (Israel) and can’t (Iran) have nuclear weapons,” Fantina wrote. “The fox, having usurped the power over the henhouse, decides which other foxes can enter and which are forbidden.”
Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist from Austin, Texas and Staff Writer for MintPress News, Kit O’Connell’s writing has also appeared at Truthout, the Texas Observer, and The Establishment.