Friday, February 21, 2020

Turning human rights into a bad joke - Evelyn Gordon

by Evelyn Gordon

The UN anti-Israel blacklist asserts that the most basic essentials – food, water, transportation, communication – raise "particular human rights concerns." But if every human activity is a "human rights concern," then nothing is.

If you want to understand just how outrageous the UN blacklist of businesses operating in Israeli "settlements" really is, forget for a moment about its anti-Israel bias and its warping of international law, important though these issues are. Instead, simply evaluate it on its own terms, as a compilation of companies engaged in "activities that raised particular human rights concerns."

So what horrendous activities do these 112 companies engage in? Well, there are several supermarket chains, which sell groceries to both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, Golan Heights and east Jerusalem. There are several fuel companies, which operate gas stations where both Israelis and Palestinians fill up their cars.

There are several bus and rail companies, which provide public transportation used by Israelis and Palestinians alike. There are phone companies (cell and landline) that provide general communications services. There are banks, which provide basic banking services. There's a water company, which provides potable drinking water and sewage solutions.

There are also several foods and clothing manufacturers, like General Mills, Angel Bakeries and Delta Galil, whose crime seems to consist of nothing but the fact that their cereals, bread, and underwear can be found on supermarket shelves in the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem.

In short, almost all the companies on the blacklist simply provide the most fundamental human necessities – food, water, transportation, communication. Some of these are defined by the United Nations itself as inalienable rights: Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone" has a right to "food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services"; there's no asterisk saying "except for settlers." Others, like transportation and communication, aren't considered rights, but they are considered positive goods in any other context.

In contrast, the United Nations couldn't find a single company engaged in "captivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets" or "practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints" – something that might actually raise human-rights concerns. And only three were involved in providing "surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, the wall and checkpoints directly linked with settlements," which at least sounds sinister if you don't realize that such equipment is merely intended to prevent terrorists from slaughtering children in their beds (see the Fogel family, Hallel Ariel and many others).

To realize how absurd this list is, try a simple thought experiment. Syrian and Russian soldiers have been slaughtering civilians in Syria on an almost daily basis for nine years now; the death toll is more than half a million and counting. But does anyone think the supermarkets that sell these soldiers food or the water company that supplies their bases with running water are engaged in "activities that raised particular human rights concerns"? Of course not; we believe that even the worst murderers are entitled to food, water, and clothing. That's precisely why all countries provide such basics to criminals in jail.

Human-rights violations used to refer to grave crimes like murder, rape, and ethnic cleansing. But now, along comes the UN Human Rights Council and says that actually, even the most essential human activities – food, water, transportation, communication – raise "particular human rights concerns." This turns the very idea of "human rights concerns" into a bad joke: If every human activity is a "human rights concern," then nothing is.

But the absurdity doesn't end there. In a press statement accompanying the blacklist, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote, "While the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises' involvement in them." Or in plain English, the activities in question aren't illegal, nor are businesses violating international law by engaging them (since I'm analyzing the document strictly on its own terms, I'll ignore its mischaracterization of the settlements themselves as illegal).

Hitherto, human-rights violations have been illegal under both international law and the legal codes of all Western countries (think murder, torture or rape). But it's impossible to criminalize every ordinary human activity. That's precisely why, as legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich has noted, international law doesn't actually prohibit doing business in occupied territory – a position repeatedly upheld by European courts.

But now along comes the United Nations and says that actually, many things can be perfectly legal despite raising "particular human rights concerns." So go ahead and violate human rights to your heart's content.

There has been a lot of concern among Israel and its supporters that the blacklist will lead to boycotts and sanctions on the included companies. That's one reason for the wall-to-wall condemnation it has elicited in Israel (the other being its patently discriminatory targeting of Israel; somehow, the United Nations hasn't bothered publishing blacklists of companies operating in occupied northern Cyprus, occupied Western Sahara or any other occupied territory). Even the most left-wing of Israel's Jewish parties, the Labor-Gesher-Meretz joint ticket, assailed the list's publication unequivocally (to the dismay of Israel's radical leftists).

Yet precisely because most of the targeted companies are basic service providers, the economic impact will likely be small. Most of these companies neither export and nor attract much foreign investment. And since their businesses depend almost exclusively on selling or providing services to Israelis (and Palestinians), the only way to boycott them would be for the boycotters to actually move to Israel.

Rather, the real danger comes from the way this blacklist cheapens the very idea of human rights. According to the UN Human Rights Council, there is effectively no difference between mass murder and selling groceries; both raise "particular human rights concerns." That's a standard that no minimally moral human being could take seriously. It turns "human rights concerns" into a laughingstock, and thereby undermines respect for all human rights, even the genuine ones.

And, as always, the biggest losers will be all the people worldwide suffering murder, torture, rape and other genuine abuses. For their cries will be drowned out by the din of the UN's lofty crusade against supermarkets and gas stations.

Reprinted with permission from

Evelyn Gordon


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A brief look at Bernie Sanders' double standards regarding Israelis and "Palestinians" - Sally Zahav

by Sally Zahav

And this guy could be president?!

A good friend, Dr. Carolyn Tal, sent me her exasperated comments regarding an article in Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) entitled "Sanders calls Israeli government 'racist'" by Elad Benari.

Her comments, lightly edited:
And this guy could be president?! It’s not just the Jewish anti-semitism that drips from him, it’s also the utter lack of awareness of the dynamics of the situation and the subtleties involved – although sadly, he is not alone in that. The so called Palestinian leader and government are incredibly racist, their articulated intention to have their future state Jew-free, [emphasis added] and the way they educate their youth to see an entire people (Jews) as ‘sons of apes and pigs’ are only two of numerous examples. And yet, Sanders believes we should be pro-Palestinian, without a word of criticism about the racist Palestinian governing bodies (which would require awareness, being informed). Wonder how he would explain the different ways he relates/doesn’t relate to these two governing bodies…
And here is the article to which she referred:

Sanders calls Israeli government 'racist'

Republican Jewish Coalition blasts presidential hopeful who called Israeli government racist: Outrageous.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) on Wednesday responded to remarks made by Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during a CNN town hall in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening.

In response to a question on how US-Israel relations would look under his administration, Sanders replied, "To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel."

Sanders further said, “What American foreign policy has got to be about in the Middle East is bringing the Israelis, bring the Palestinians together under the banner of justice. We have the wealth to do it. It cannot just simply be that we’re just pro-Israel and we ignore the needs of the Palestinian people. We’ve got to pay attention to both.”

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in response, “Sanders says he supports the Israeli people, just not their democratic government. As it happens, the policies that Sanders calls racist are supported by all the major contenders to be the next Israeli prime minister and by the vast majority of Israeli voters, because they defend the basic national security needs of the Jewish state.”

“It is outrageous that a mainstream US political party candidate for president would call the Israeli government racist. It’s especially ironic to hear that from Sanders, who has chosen virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic individuals to represent him as surrogates in his campaign and who has been endorsed by a Who’s Who of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic personalities,” added Brooks.

“Start with surrogates Linda Sarsour (who described herself as ‘an unapologetic pro-BDS, one-state solution supporting resistance supporter’) and Amer Zahr (who tweeted: ‘Describing defenders of Israel as 'scumbags,' 'pigs,' and 'bastards' is not necessary. 'Zionist' is sufficiently insulting"). Then there are the endorsements from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), whose anti-Semitic comments are well documented.”

Brooks noted that “[t]his is not the first time that Sanders has called Israel’s government ‘racist.’ In an April 2019 CNN town hall event, Sanders said of the peace process: ‘[The] goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right wing, dare I say, racist government.’"

“Last year he ‘dared’ to say it. This year, he said it and received applause from the CNN town hall audience.”

“This is just another example of the deepening and deeply troubling alienation between the Democratic Party and Israel,” concluded Brooks.

Sanders has repeatedly criticized President Donald Trump’s policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and has argued that the US policy must be pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israel.
Sanders has come under fire for his statements against Israel, most recently when he told the J Street conference that the US should redirect its aid to Israel and give it to Gaza instead, while calling the Israeli government “racist”.
Sally Zahav


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Palestinians must bring more to table than a sympathy plea - British MP - Tovah Lazaroff

by Tovah Lazaroff

“I came away thinking that they [the Palestinians] are absolutely not going to let this be a moment of opportunity, – that is what was frustrating and disappointing to me," Crabb said.

British Conservative MP Stephen Crabb is seen near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)
British Conservative MP Stephen Crabb is seen near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain

The Palestinians must show they are serious about peace by seizing the “Deal of the Century” as a vehicle for progress rather than rejecting it on the presumption that the international community has endless patience for their plight, visiting British Member of Parliament Stephen Crabb told The Jerusalem Post.

“The understanding we are coming to is that the Palestinians have to bring something more to the table than just a plea for sympathy and cash. There has to be a pragmatic decision to talk the language of peace and to engage in a genuine and real process,” said Crabb who chairs the British parliamentary group Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

“Patience is running out,”  Crabb added.

He visited the region with a small delegation of CFI parliamentarians to meet with Israelis and Palestinians as a way of furthering their knowledge of the conflict.

On Wednesday the group visited Ramallah, Rawabi and Jericho, where they met with PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat. They discussed US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which was unveiled in January. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, which offers Israel 30% of the West Bank and most of Jerusalem. They want a plan based on the pre-1967 lines, which would place all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem within the final borders of their future state.

The United Kingdom has welcomed Trump’s efforts while holding to its acceptance of a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines. 

After meeting with CFI parliamentarians, Erekat tweeted: "We discussed the prospects of peace and security, [and] regional developments, in light of [the] Trump/Netanyahu annexation plan. I have reiterated State of Palestine's firm position towards the Two State Solution (Palestine and Israel) on 1967 line.”

In an interview with the Post on Wednesday night at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Crabb said he was disappointed by the meeting.

“I went there wanting to see if there was a glimmer of opportunity: a glimmer of hope from Dr. Erekat,” Crabb said. 

Irrespective of whether the Palestinian Authority agrees or disagrees with Trump, it should “at least recognize that there is a moment here not to be missed, which is a moment to begin another round of serious discussions,” Crabb claimed. 

Instead, “I came away thinking that they [the Palestinians] are absolutely not going to let this be a moment of opportunity, that is what was frustrating and disappointing to me," he said.

THIS IS Crabb’s sixth trip to Israel since becoming an MP in 2005, and he has met with Erekat three or four times already. 

“For some of my delegation it was their first experience with Saeb Erekat; it was a cold blast of what the default Palestinian position is, really,” Crabb said.

“It underscored to me just how dug in the Palestinian leadership is when it comes to not just the Trump plan, but any talk of a serious peace negotiation,” he said.

“I remember Saeb saying to me three years ago: the same analysis of the problem, the same blame being apportioned to different international actors and of course to the Israelis,” the MP said.

Erekat played “very strongly the card of wanting the sympathy of the international community to the plight of Palestinians,” Crabb recalled of the meeting. 

"Back home in the British parliament, there is no shortage of sympathy for the Palestinians... There is broad understanding of the humanitarian problems that Palestinians face in the West Bank and especially so in Gaza,” Crabb explained.

Still, he said, “talking from the perspective of a British politician that wants to be good friends with Israelis and good friends with the Palestinians” – and as “a politician that believes in the two-state solution” – something more is needed. 

British politicians “have become quite frustrated with the lack of progress,” Crabb said.

“I was thoroughly expecting Dr. Erekat to reject the Trump proposals. My own government has not endorsed those proposals per se – that is in line with many members of the international community,” he said. But “whether Erekat likes it or not, President Trump is president of the United States, and the US is a big stake holder in this,” he explained.

"We don’t want this opportunity to be missed. The plan that was published: It’s not perfect and it’s not going to be the final document, but at least let it be something that brings the players around the same table for a discussion,” he said.

The British parliamentarian said he was particularly moved by the young Palestinian entrepreneurs he met in Ramallah who are missing out on the economic opportunities that peace would offer them. 

“They want what is rightfully theirs, which is a place in the 21st Century and the 21st Century economy,” he said.

Crabb explained that he had not considered the possibility that Israeli plans to annex settlements would come to fruition in their entirety, if at all. He was clear in his opposition to new Israeli settlement activity.

“The British government’s position has remained consistent on this," the MP said. "They regard settlements as illegal and have consistently spoken out against the creation of new settlements. That is the official top-line position of the British government.” 

Certain politicians, officials and ambassador privately accept that when it comes down to a final deal, “there will need to be a lot of pragmatism around where the lines get drawn,” he said, adding that some of the settlements would likely become part of Israel’s final borders in a final-status arrangement.

THE CFI delegation arrived on Sunday and leaves on Friday. It also took time to explore Israel’s security situation, including taking a trip to the Golan.

Crabb tweeted a video statement from the Golan Heights against Hezbollah's actions on the Lebanese and Syrian borders with Israel.

“We are hearing about [Hezbollah’s] objective of trying to create a second front on the Syrian border. That can only mean bad things for Israel and bad things for the people of Syria." 

Hezbollah is “a threat to the people of Israel. And right under the nose of the international community, they have embedded themselves hundreds of thousands of rockets on the Lebanese border," Crabb said in his video message. "You can see they are trying to do the same on the Syrian border.” 

In his conversation with the Post, he also expanded on his belief that Iran posed a regional threat. 

The United Kingdom is one of six signatories to the 2015 Iran deal, which the US abandoned in 2018. The UK, along with France and Germany, has worked to salvage the deal.

Crabb said he disagreed with his government’s position on Tehran, which holds that “rapprochement with Iran and reestablishing diplomatic ties would lead to Iran becoming a more responsible international player.”

This has not proven to be true, as Iran only really responds to significant pressure, he said. The Iran deal gave Tehran a “free pass” to carry on with damaging activities in the region.

“The nuclear deal did nothing to encourage Iran to desist from encouraging terrorist movements and undermining legitimate governments across the region,” Crabb said. “If we are going to revive any kind of nuclear deal, I would want to see a much broader deal that locks Iran into commitments to dial down those [regional destabilizing] activities.”

Tovah Lazaroff


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Coronavirus research ‘breakthrough’: US scientists announce creation of atomic map of virus - Agence France-Presse

by Agence France-Presse

The mapping is an important step toward developing a vaccine and treatments

US scientists announced on Wednesday that they had created the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells, a critical step toward developing a vaccine and treatments.

It came as the death toll from the Covid-19 illness jumped past 2,000, almost all of them in mainland China, where 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed since it first emerged in late December.

The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first studied the genetic code of the virus made publicly available by Chinese researchers and used it to develop a stabilised sample of a key part called the spike protein.

They then imaged the spike protein using cutting-edge technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, publishing their findings in the journal Science.
The 3D atomic scale map, or molecular structure, of the 2019-nCoV spike protein. Photo: Handout via AFP
The 3D atomic scale map, or molecular structure, of the 2019-nCoV spike protein. Photo: Handout via AFP
“The spike is really the antigen that we want to introduce into humans to prime their immune response to make antibodies against this, so that when they then see the actual virus, their immune systems are ready and loaded to attack,” said University of Texas scientist Jason McLellan, who led the research.

He added that he and his colleagues had already spent many years studying other members of the coronavirus family including Sars and Mers, which helped them develop the engineering methods required to keep the spike protein stable.

Their engineered spike protein is itself being tested as a potential vaccine by the NIH.

The team is sending the map of its molecular structure out to collaborators around the world so they can improve it by making it provoke a greater immune response.

The model can also help scientists develop new proteins to bind to different parts of the spike and prevent it from functioning, to treat those already infected. These are known as antivirals.

“This is a beautifully clear structure of one of the most important coronavirus proteins – a real breakthrough in terms of understanding how this coronavirus finds and enters cells,” said virologist Benjamin Neuman at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, who was not involved in the work.

“The structure shows that although the spike is made of the three identical proteins, one flexes out above the rest, effectively giving the virus a longer reach,” he said.

A useful aspect of the structure for vaccine development is that it maps out the size and location of chains of sugar molecules the virus uses in part to avoid being detected by the human immune system, added Neuman.

Cryogenic electron microscopy uses beams of electrons to examine the atomic structures of biomolecules that are frozen to help preserve them.

Three scientists credited with developing the technology were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

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Agence France-Presse


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Sanders names daughter of Muslim Brotherhood leader as Virginia campaign co-chair - Kyle Shideler

by Kyle Shideler

Her role on the campaign appears to be a Sanders gesture to a more powerful political constituency

The daughter of a radical Islamist operative is a state co-chair of presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Sanders named Abrar Omeish, daughter of Libyan-born jihadist sympathizer Esam Omeish, as a co-chair of his Virginia campaign on February 18.

On her own merits, the 24 year-old Abrar Omeish is of little political consequence. She is the youngest person to ever hold office in the state, having been elected in 2019 to the Fairfax County School Board. Her role on the campaign appears to be a Sanders gesture to a more powerful political constituency: the well-organized radical Sunni Islamist networks across the United States.  Abrar Omeish’s father is former president of the Muslim American Society, a group identified by federal prosecutors as the “overt arm” of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.

The elder Omeish is best known in Virginia state politics for having been removed from a Virginia Immigration board by then-governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, after a video surfaced of Omeish endorsing violent jihad against Israel.

Esam Omeish also served on the board of Dar al Hijrah mosque, a Falls Church, Virginia-based mosque with a long history of ties to terrorism finance. Omeish has also been accused of links to terrorism by a Libyan parliamentary security committee. He is a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Advancing what her father started

The younger Omeish appears to have followed in her father’s footsteps, including in affiliating with Muslim Brotherhood groups. She has been noted for close ties to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) an Islamist think tank once raided by federal law enforcement over ties to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraising. Abrar served as president of the Muslim Brotherhood-founded Muslim Students Association while at Yale University, participating in an effort to deplatform Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an author and former Muslim who campaigns for women’s rights.

Abrar Omeish is not the first Muslim leader with Islamist ties to serve as a surrogate for the Sanders campaign but is another example of the growing political alliance between Islamists and socialists.
Perhaps Sanders’ most famous surrogate is New York-based Islamist activist Linda Sarsour, who was expelled from the Women’s March following controversy over her antisemitism. Others include Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both of whom have faced repeated controversies over antisemitic and inflammatory remarks and Islamist ties, have also endorsed Sanders. Sanders was also one of only two candidates to attend the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), another Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization. In 2017, Sanders’ surrogate Sarsour used the ISNA stage to call for a “jihad” against Donald Trump.

Well-organized cadre for voter mobilization

Sanders’ Muslim outreach efforts may be paying off. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations have run the most effective get-out-the-vote campaigns among ordinary Muslims in America for more than two decades, usually in concert with “progressive” Democrats and small but effective socialist organizing committees. In Iowa, where Sanders finished first, the Vermont Senator picked up significant numbers of delegates at Iowa mosques serving as satellite caucus locations.

One of Sanders’ other Virginia co-chairs is the state’s only openly Democratic Socialist, Delegate Lee Carter. While Virginia has a Muslim population of about 200,000 (roughly 2%), the population is most heavily concentrated in the Democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia where Sanders’ Virginia co-chairs are located, including Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties, where the Muslim percentage of the population approaches 5%.

While it is unclear how Muslim voters in Virginia will turnout, EmgageUSA, an Islamist political advocacy group with ties to Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, claims that Muslim voter turnout in Virginia reached nearly 70% in the 2016 general election. If true, Muslim voter turnout in Virginia was significantly better than Muslim voter turnout nationally, which Pew polls put at roughly 44%.
Whether Sanders’ strategy will be effective or not remains to be seen. A Monmouth poll currently puts Sanders tied with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg ahead of Virginia’s March 3 Super Tuesday primary. But Sanders has certainly staked much on the belief that siding up to Islamist leaders will deliver Muslim voters, and victory.

Kyle Shideler is the Director and Senior Analyst for the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy where he conducts research and analysis on domestic threats to the U.S. homeland with an emphasis on the doctrines which fuel terrorism


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Home Front Command: Cyber-terror the greatest threat since 1948 - Arutz Sheva Staff

by Arutz Sheva Staff

Commander of Home Front Command warns Israeli ability to respond militarily could be paralyzed by cyber-attacks which freeze entire cities.

Major General Tamir Yadai, the commander of the IDF Home Front Command, warned Thursday that the Israeli home front may be exposed to cyber-attacks during wartime and that the threat of cyber-terrorism could be the greatest threat Israel has faced since 1948.

"Looking at the civilian front, I am not sure that all the factors are equally prepared and the weak links in the chain should be looked at," Yadai said at the local government conference MUNI EXPO 2020 in Tel Aviv.

"The threat posed to the State of Israel today is greater in its magnitude than it has been from 1948 to the present," Yadai warned. "We have to understand that the perception on the other side has also changed and the scope of the attacks is steep, in terms of its quantity, weight and strength of their accuracy. The challenge has become multidimensional."

"This is not the same nuisance [cyber-attacks] that we encountered during Operation Protective Edge or the Second Lebanon War. It is a threat that has the ability to significantly interfere in some places and even paralyze functions in the home front. In the past we could separate the home front from the front lines, but today such a separation is meaningless," he added.

He elaborated on the threat: "When we kill a commander in the Gaza Strip, Tel Aviv can also be brought to a standstill for several hours. Therefore, due to this close relationship, no one will go to maneuver in Lebanon or Gaza and will certainly not worry about extending the time of the fighting if he does not think the home front is functioning properly."

"To a large extent, the home front's ability to function is the insurance policy of the attack. It will not be easy to make the victory so obvious if the home front is not strong enough," the general said

Arutz Sheva Staff


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ANALYSIS: Turkey now technically at war with Russia and Syria - Yochanan Visser

by Yochanan Visser

Turkish troops shell Syrian army positions while Russian air force bombs Turkish positions in Idlib, Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan                                                                                                                                                Reuters

A week after Israel National News reported that Turkey was on a crash course with Russia over Syria the parties are now at war technically speaking.

This happened after talks between a Turkish delegation and the Kremlin in Moscow about the worsening crisis in northeast Syria and the imminent threat of a new Turkish invasion in Syria over the Idlib Province, which is home to a range of Sunni Islamist groups supported by Turkey, broke-down.

The Turkey-backed Islamist militias in Idlib are on the verge of defeat after the Iranian-Russian-backed pro-Assad coalition rapidly advanced in the last rebel stronghold and even surrounded Turkish observation posts which were set up to monitor a 2018 de-escalation agreement between Russia and Turkey that failed miserably.

After the new talks between Russia and Turkey broke down Turkish autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch a new incursion into Syria, a promise he kept this time around.

"If the countries that we are in negotiations with do not do what needs to be done in Idlib, then we will do it ourselves. For the time being, we do not see the result that we want from these talks. We are fully prepared for our own operation in Idlib, it's only a matter of time we can start at any moment. This is a vital operation for us," Erdogan said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Turkish troops with heavy weapons entered northern Idlib as Turkish artillery heavily shelled Syrian army positions while the Russian air force bombed Turkish positions in the same region.

Within a few hours fifty Syrian soldiers or members of Iranian-backed Shiite militias had been killed while Turkey lost only two soldiers. The Turks and their Islamist allies also destroyed five tanks and four armored vehicles belonging to the pro-Assad troops.

The fighting again drove Syrians from their homes and roughly 900.000 people are now camping out in the region along the Turkish border in freezing cold weather because Turkey - that has already absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees - closed down all border crossings in the region.

The Turks and their Syrian allies stormed the town of Nairab, tried to force the pro-Assad coalition to abandon their control over the important M4 highway and attempted to end the siege of five Turkish observation posts in northeast Idlib.

Turkey has now 7.000 soldiers on the ground in Syria who are in the possession of 2.000 armored vehicles and 70 tanks.

The Russians only have military advisers, warplanes and anti-aircraft batteries such as the S-300 and S-400 systems at their disposal but could quickly deploy soldiers to Idlib if needed.

Chances that this will happen are low, however. Moscow could team up with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which until now were in the orbit of the US military.

Semyon Baghdasarov, the director of the Center for the Middle East and Central Asia, told the state-controlled Russian paper Pravda he expects that Russia will demand that Assad closes a deal with the Kurdish YPG militia.

Baghdasarov also advises Russian President Vladimir Putin to start supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and to increase support for Kurdish Marxist and Leninist groups.

The Russian Middle East expert even advises the pro-Assad coalition to carry out a similar incursion in Turkey in response to Erdogan’s aggression.

For the Syrian Kurds this could be a win-win situation after the US army effectively abandoned the SDF and is only patrolling in some areas along the Turkish border while safeguarding the oilfields in eastern Syria so that the SDF won’t be deprived of the income of oil exports.

Now that Assad needs help against the Turks, who have a far better and larger army than the Syrian dictator has, a deal with the Kurds about recognizing some form of autonomy in the Rojava cantons would scuttle Erdogan’s plan to end any form of Kurdish autonomy along the Turkish border.

Erdogan is already in a difficult position after a series of miscalculations that cost him the sympathy of a large number of Sunni Islamist Syrian rebels who are now doing the Turkish strong bidding in the Libyan war where Turkey is also meddling.

The decision to ship these rebels to Libya where they are fighting on the side of the UN recognized government against the Libya National Army of Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Russia and uses Russian mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked Wagner company, is now negatively influencing the rebels’ fighting capabilities at home in Idlib.

Erdogan has now turned to US President Donald J. Trump with whom he spoke on the telephone on Wednesday.

The hotheaded Turkish strongman reportedly asked Trump for the delivery of the Patriot anti-missile system now that his relations with Russia are rapidly deteriorating, according to Bloomberg.

Turkey’s recent overtures to Moscow resulted in the sale of the Russian S-400 missile and anti-aircraft shield but they haven’t become operable yet.

In a statement the Turkish Foreign Ministry later denied that Erdogan had requested the delivery of the Patriot system apparently to save his face now that he has isolated Turkey even more.

Relations between Turkey and Russia were already cooling down before Erdogan ordered the new incursion in Syria.

Anti-Russian rhetoric in the state-controlled Turkish media is increasing while Russia recently re-imposed a ban on the import of agricultural products from Turkey.
Yochanan Visser


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Greek Islanders Want Their Life Back - Burak Bekdil

by Burak Bekdil

"We want our islands back... We want our lives back!!!" — Posters across Greece's northeast Aegean islands.

  • "We want our islands back... We want our lives back!!!" — Posters across Greece's northeast Aegean islands.
  • The owner of the beautiful tavern... "recollects how the 'refugee business' works... the distance between the Turkish mainland and Lesbos is shortest here (just five miles): "It's 1,500 euros per person and one boat takes up to 60 persons. One boat's turnover is thus 90,000 euros if it travels once a day."
  • At Moria, the largest camp on the island of Lesbos, 19,000 refugees presently seek shelter at a facility with a capacity of 2,840 people.
  • In 2016 Ankara and Brussels reached a deal in which the EU committed six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in migrant assistance and a more liberal visa regime for Turkish nationals in return for Turkey stopping migrants from crossing. The deal has not stopped the refugee flow from the Turkish coast. Turkey claims that so far, only about $2 billion has been paid.

"Theloume piso ta nisia mas..., Theloume piso ti zoi mas!!!" echo poster slogans across Greece's northeast Aegean islands, inviting locals to debate the poisoning refugee catastrophe: "We want our islands back... We want our lives back!!!". Pictured: The town theater in Mytilini, capital of Lesbos island, bedecked with a protest banner. (Image source: Burak Bekdil)

Locals are angry. So are the migrants. Tens of thousands of migrants have illegally landed here, on the islands of Greece, since 2015. Some leave, some stay but most wait to be "processed' in the hope of finding their ways into Europe's richer countries, such as Germany.

"Theloume piso ta nisia mas..., Theloume piso ti zoi mas!!!" echo poster slogans across Greece's northeast Aegean islands, inviting locals to debate the poisoning refugee catastrophe: "We want our islands back... We want our lives back!!!" Lesbos, an island situated on the easternmost corner of Europe and neighboring Turkey, is one of the victims that once was a paradise.

There is always the lighter side of things. A tavern owner recalls a 2015 dialogue with a Syrian migrant who had just disembarked from the rubber boat that carried him to a faraway corner of Lesbos after a perilous journey. The refugee arrives at the tavern and, in broken English, asks: "Tell me, quick, where does the train leave for Germany?"

Vangelis Stelianou, the owner of the beautiful tavern "H Mouria tou Myrivili" in Skala Sykamineas at the northern tip of Lesbos, recollects how the "refugee business" works, based on his conversations with hundreds of migrants who usually arrive at the doorstep of his eatery because the distance between the Turkish mainland and Lesbos is shortest here (just five miles): "It's 1,500 euros per person and one boat takes up to 60 persons. One boat's turnover is thus 90,000 euros if it travels once a day."

"Usually the Turkish coast guard boats accompany illegal boats to the shores of Lesbos and leave," Syelianou says, pointing to an August 29, 2019 photo he took, showing half a dozen or so illegal boats just off Skala Sykaminea and a Turkish coast guard boat just behind them.

At Moria, the largest camp on the island of Lesbos, 19,000 migrants are presently seeking shelter at a facility with a capacity for 2,840 people. The total population of Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos, is about 29,000. The result is frustration.

On February 4, Lesbos residents barged into the government office that regulates Aegean and island policy to demand a response from Athens to overcrowding at the Moria camp. "I'll admit that I am not optimistic," Northern Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris told reporters after a meeting with residents. The previous day, Greek police in Mytilini had clashed with protesters as they sought to prevent a march of some 2,000 migrants from the camp in Moria from reaching the capital Mytilini.

"It's up to the Turkish government," said one local. "They are deliberately using the migrant card as a bargaining chip with the European Union." In 2016, Ankara and Brussels reached a deal in which the EU committed six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in migrant assistance and a more liberal visa regime for Turkish nationals in return for Turkey stopping migrants from crossing. The deal has not stopped the refugee flow from the Turkish coast. Turkey claims that so far, only about $2 billion has been paid.

In October, Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, vowed to send millions of (more) refugees to Europe if EU countries did not back his proposal to settle them in a Syrian "safe zone." Shortly before that, Erdoğan had threatened the EU with sending "3.6 million refugees (which Turkey hosts) your way". With that threat, Erdoğan is not only imposing Turkey's "nuisance value" on the EU but is also addressing an increasingly angry Turkish population over Syrian migrants. A 2017 survey by Istanbul's Bilgi University revealed that more than 85% of Turks favored the repatriation of migrants residing in Turkey.

What to do? Apparently, there is little to be optimistic about. In an interview with the author, former Greek ambassador to Turkey Ioannis Corantis said:
"It is safe to assume that the flow of refugees -- be they political or simply economic migrants -- will continue unabated, as long as Turkey uses them as a means of pressure on Greece and the EU, in order to promote its own agenda, taking into account the obvious difficulties the Greek authorities have in countering the inflow of migrants through the sea border between the Greek islands in the Aegean and the Turkish mainland."
Corantis also said he thinks that a realistic solution to the problem should consist of two pillars. The first would consist of a set of legislative and executive measures in Greece -- some of which are being already implemented -- in order to improve border controls at sea, speed up procedures for the examination of asylum requests and thus the expulsion or repatriation of all those who see their application denied, heavy penalties for people-smugglers, and a well-organized public information campaign in the countries of origin about the fate of their nationals would be refugees.

The second pillar would consist of an overall settlement agreement between the EU and Turkey -- leaving aside the now infamous and totally ineffective EU-Turkey declaration of March 16, 2016 -- by which EU member states would commit themselves to receive directly, and not through Greece, specific numbers of refugees according to previously agreed criteria. "In exchange," Corantis concluded, "literally, Turkey should receive a financial compensation, as she has already."

Greek islanders want their islands -- and lives -- back. Sadly, they will not have them back any time soon.

Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.


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Bloomberg botches his chance to stick it to Bernie on 'communism' - Monica Showalter

by Monica Showalter

At the Democratic debate, Bloomberg had one job: To take out Sanders. He blew it.

Michael Bloomberg was treated like the skunk at the garden party at his Democratic debate debut, but missed his opportunity to spray the one guy he needed to to reach the top of the heap.

Sure, there's an entire fading clown car to take on, but it was Bernie Sanders, the real frontrunner with a double-digit poll lead, that he needed to knock out. 

He didn't.

Here's the New York Post's account of Bloomberg's reply to some bloviating by Bernie about the wonders of socialism:
“I can’t think of a way to make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said during Wednesday night’s primary debate in Nevada.
“This is ridiculous. We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it just didn’t work.”
Sanders replied that that was "a cheap shot," something he's always gotten away with when the press or voters have asked him the same thing. Did Bloomberg nail him on that canard in hot pursuit? Nope. Yet that was where he could have made gains. He had one job, to take out Sanders, and he blew it.

Because Sanders's dishonest reply really did need some kind of interrupting retort from Bloomberg.

Far from that 'communist' epithet being a cheap shot, Sanders in fact has been the first one out there to praise any socialist regime - whether it was Nicaragua's Sandinistas, Cuba's Soviet-satellite system, or Venezuela's "Bolivarian revolution." He's always been on the ground supporting those guys, and disavowing them when they failed. He's never spent time in Denmark, his supposed role model now. It's always been the hellholes he's gravitated to and praised. He's still got stuff up on his website quoting others who praise the Venezuelan hellhole. He has yet to call any of these places dictatorships or support any measures against their depredations. 

Worse still, he's the guy who got the congratulatory notes from the Soviet embassy when he won his first elected office --- back in the day when the KGB courted stooges. Did Bloomberg bring up Sanders's Soviet honeymoon? Who on earth would choose the USSR as the place for their honeymoon, viewing the workers' paradise as a better place for romantic lovebirding than some real paradise like the Bahamas or Hawaii? Why didn't he make Sanders squirm on at least that? He also could have brought up that Denmark's leaders have angrily disavowed any comparison of their democracy to Sanders' Soviet-style plan.

Bloomberg didn't have the cojones to go after any of this. He let Elizabeth Warren gasp "whoa" at his first shot, then let Bernie have the final word with "cheap shot" when in fact, in Bernie's case, there's nothing cheap about it, he has a willing Marxist background that ought to send chills into the minds of voters. Castro, Chavez, Lenin, Pol Pot all promised figurative Denmarks as they took power. It didn't work out that way at all.

It's was especially annoying because Sanders, in fact, has always gotten off easy from the other Democrats. The fading remnants of the Democratic clown car have always been in awe of him because of his youth and grassroots support, something they've envied and hoped to scarf up after Sanders presumably dropped out. In previous debates, they were positively deferential to him. "Wouldn't a Bernie endorsement be great after he drops out? Better not be too mean to him." 

In doing this, Bloomberg failed to reach the moderate and independent voters he wanted that might have propelled in into the lead.

Guess who gets them now? That's right, President Trump, not Bloomberg. Bloomie could have had them by offering up some frank talk about socialism and taking on Bernie but he didn't. That leaves him the sad role as just another fish in the barrel at the Democratic garden party, not a guy who's got his eye on the prize, first by strategically knocking out Sanders with a Sistah Souljah moment, and then focusing on scarfing up the indies and moderates. As a result of that missed chance, they now have every reason to go for Trump. 
Thanks, Mini.

Monica Showalter


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‘Breathtaking’ ancient discoveries in Israel - ILTV


Israeli researchers unveiling half-a-decade of their work at an incredible Canaanite temple from the 12th century BCE in southern Israel.



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