TBR News March 2, 2018

Mar 02 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. March 2, 2018: “A planned new route into Europe for Turkish heroin has been discovered as the result of investigations by European law enforcement agencies, to include Interpol and Europol and the American FBI. An Albanian-based group of professional drug smugglers, operating out of two Albanian ports on the Adriatic and are now planning to off-load the heroin at the small Italian seaports of Marano Lagunare or Ausa Como and move it into the mountains of southern Austria.

This group is part of the so-called “Balkan connection,” the Istanbul-to-Belgrade heroin route. The heroin originates as opium, grown in Afghanistan. As a result of a weak American military presence there, opium growing is now exceeding its pre-American occupation levels.

The new state of Kosovo is considered by European enforcement agencies as the crossroads of global drug smuggling routes. Kosovo is primarily a state of ethnic Albanians and for hundreds of years, Kosovar Albanian smugglers have been among the world’s most accomplished dealers in contraband, aided by a propitious geography of isolated ports and mountainous villages. Virtually every stage of the Balkan heroin business, from refining to end-point distribution, is directed by a loosely knit hierarchy known as “The 15 Families,” who answer to the regional clans that run every aspect of Albanian life.

The Kosovar Albanian traffickers are so successful, says a senior U.S. State Department official, “because Albanians are organized in very close-knit groups, linked by their ethnicity and extended family connections.”

The Italilan ROS agency has been conducting an intense investigation of Albanian drug smuggling and one of their official reports reads: “Albanians from Kosovo …are among the most dangerous traffickers in drugs and in arms. They are determined men, violent and prepared to go to any lengths. They are capable of coming up with men and arms in a matter of hours. They have deep roots in civil society.”

Italian investigators have reported that Italy is the most important base for these organizations and it is precisely in Milan that negotiations between the Kosovar bosses and those of the Tirana – based Albanian gangs take place. And Milan, again, is the theater in which exchanges with our own domestic crime bosses take place.

According to detectives, the “Ndrangheta receives and parcels out some 50 kilograms of heroin every day. And it is precisely by following this drug trail that the detectives have succeeded in discovering a fully fledged organization with ramifications throughout Europe: Groups have been identified that operate in France, in Switzerland, in Spain, in Germany, and in Norway. But the Albanians have a particularly aggressive attitude. On the basis of phone calls that we have intercepted, we have discovered that the drugs are not only a source of wealth but also a tool in the struggle to weaken Christendom.”

The new route, which has been uncovered by a joint international investigative effort, is from Albanian Adriatic ports, up the Adriatic to the Italian ports of Marano Lagunare or Ausa Como through Italy via the A 23, over the Nassfeld Pass into Austria and from there, through Hermagor, to the scenic lake, Weissensee in Carinthia. This lake, which has a number of small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, is perfect for a drug distribution point because it is very private and had only one road, Number 87, which leads from Highway E66 and a direct route to Italy.

The Kosovo smugglers have recently established a connection with elements of Scientology now in the Austrian province of Kärnten. The Scientology group is reported to be FLEXIM Austria GmbH, which through its head, Christian Halper, a German citizen, have targeted the scenic lake as a headquarters. These people have been secretly purchasing property in the Weissensee area and this includes:

  • Hotel Alpenhof, Obernaggl (total about 70 hectares) – about 35 rooms – Hans Zoehrer – 5.5 M Euros:
  • Hotel Fergius, Neusach (only a few square meters of land) – 38 rooms – no price available: http://www.hotelweissensee.at/
  • Hotel Sonnenstrahl, Oberdorf, holiday apartment house (no land) – about 15 apartments – no price available:
  • Private house, Gatschach, near the post office (with over 2,000m² of land) – 1.5 M Euros:
  • Private house, Neusach (with over 2,000m² of land) – 1,8 M Euros:

The Weissensee area is very secluded and peaceful. There is only one road into the lake to the western end and no exit to the east. The lake is the summer destination of more afflunent visitors and in winter, the frozen lake is used for winter sports and the southern slopes, for skiing. The new plan is to buy up as much property as possible so as to be able to fill up the area with German Scientologists who can vote their members into local offices for better control.

Also, the large Alpenhof Hotel has been gutted and is going to be torn down. Its replacement, according to investigative reports, will have large, concealed cellars where the Albanians can repackage the Turkish heroin for transhipment to Vienna and Munich. Other smaller hotels and apartment houses have been selected to house personnel and a computer system designed to break into computers of drug enforcement agencies worldwide and have also been shut down in order to install bunks, armoured doors, electronic surveillance equipment and other unobtrusive security materials. It is interesting to note that the Scientologists hate both the Germans and the Russians who, like the Germans, have basically booted them out of their countries. While one smuggler’s route leads northeast towards Vienna, the other goes north to Munich.

From an already established distribution point located on the Hohenzollern Strasse, the heroin moves north to the German Baltic Sea port of Sassnitz. Once there, it is put onto the MV Translubeca, owned by Finnlines-Deutschland GmbH of Lübeck. Two Scientologists are crew members on this large cargo-passenger vessel, which leaves Sassnitz, DE on Sundays at 8 AM and docks at St. Petersburg, Russia, on the following Tuesday at 8 AM, where the cargo is offloaded and channeled into Russian mob hands.

Hotel Alpenhof

An Overview of Halper-controlled business:

FLEXIM Austria GmbH, is a German-based firm and part of a an organization consisting of  FLEXIM Instrumentation BV in Holland, formed in 2000 and FLEXIM Instrumentation SARL in France , formed in 2003

FLEXIM Austria is designed to handle Austrian, Slovenian and Hungarian “business”

FLEXIM was created from Medon Measuring Systems. The managing director, Christian Halper is supported by Mr. T. Sommer a sales engineer and Mrs. W. Neubauer for order processing. Their headquarters are located at Olbenau, in Burgenland, between Vienna and Graz.

These organizations are under the fiscal and legal umbrella of Monaco-based Quadriga Asset Management, a so-called hedge fund controlled by a former Austrian policeman named Baha

Baha claims to manage assets totaling $1.3 billion from 40,000 clients and is attempting to expand this hedge fund which is alleged to be worth  $5 billion and is claimed to have 100,000 investors to a world-wide presence. Quadriga now has nine offices from Hong Kong to New York, run by 12 directors.

Arpad Deak is the managing director for Quadriga in the United States and deals mainly in financial futures: currency, bonds, and stock indexes as well as commodities such as livestock, metals and grains.

In the U.S. Quadriga claims it has $50 million under management. Baha says he has to educate the market in order to get wider acceptance. Baha intends to open an investment center in New York.

List of European Scientology-Identified Connections

* AllGrund Immobilien ,Heusenstamm, Germany

* AG zur Entlastung von Führungskräft Arni, Switzerland

* Business Success Verkaufs- und Managementtraining GmbH Munich,. Austria,Slovakia and Hungary

* H. Benneck & Partner GmbH Düsseldorf, Germany

* FLEXIM Austria GmbH, Olbenau, in Burgenland, between Vienna and Graz. Hungary, Slowenia

* Kempe Immobilien Börse GmbH and KEMPE Grundbesitz & Anlagen AG Düsseldorf

* Knusperstube Bäckerei GmbH St. Gertraud (Kärnten), Austria

* Krebs Immobilien Fichtenwalde, Germany

* Lidl Dachbewirtschaftung,Gelting, Germany

* Marvan Installateur Vienna, Austria

* Perfect Nails Klagenfurt, Austria

* Gerhard Spannbauer Erfolgsvorträge Planegg, Germany

* Tock Autoscheibenservice Vienna, Austria


Table of Contents

  • Putin’s stunning revelations about new Russian weapons systems
  • Russia has ‘unstoppable’ supersonic nuclear missile that cannot be traced by Western defence systems, says Putin
  • NATO joins Angela Merkel and Donald Trump to voice concern about Putin’s ‘invincible’ weapons
  • Trump’s America: Weaker, divided & losing international prestige – Chomsky to RT
  • Trump causes global outcry with new duties on metals imports
  • Israeli police question Netanyahu in corruption case
  • Netanyahu, the George Wallace of the Middle East
  • The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed
  • War with Iran?
  • Iran vs Israel: Big war unlikely, but troublemaker Trump is wild card
  • Facebook ending News Feed experiment condemned as ‘Orwellian’
  • Equifax breach could be most costly in corporate history

Putin’s stunning revelations about new Russian weapons systems

March 1, 2018

the Saker

If you have not read it yet, please check out Putin’s full address to the Federal Assembly.  What stunned me, and many other, are the new weapon systems Putin has announced.

First, he confirmed that the Sarmat ICBM would replace the old but already formiable SS-18 “Satan”.  Then he turned to new weapon systems:

  • A nuclear powered cruise missile with basically unlimited range
  • A nuclear powered unmanned submersible with intercontinental range, very high speed, silent propulsion and capable of moving a great depths
  • A Mach 10 hypersonic missile with a 2’000 kilometer range (named: Kinzhal)
  • A new strategic missile capable of Mach 20 velocities (named: Avangard)

All of these systems can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads.  Just think of the implications!  Not only does that mean that the entire ABM effort of the USA is now void and useless, but also that from now US aircraft carrier battle groups can only be used against small, defenseless, nations !

Right now I simply don’t have the time to write a full analysis of the stunning, truly tectonic, implications of this announcement, so I will turn to my naval warfare expert friend Andrei Martyanov and repost his initial reaction to just one of these systems:

It Is Official And It Is Over.

While the whole Western media are shaking (incompetence will do this to one) in their boots from Vladimir Putin’s address, where he demonstrated, among many things, new RS-28 Sarmat ballistic missile, behind that revolutionary weapon system, one was almost completely ignored by media. Again, “education” based on catch phrases (such a “nuclear weapon) will do this to one. By far most shocking (albeit inevitable) revelation was deployment of a new hyper-sonic missile Kinzhal (Dagger) to regular service with front line Air Force units in Southern Military District. Mig-31 carries this weapon, I am positive any SU-35 or SU-30SM or SU-34 will be able to do it too. Here is a video and CGI simulation.

The missile is… well, for the lack of better word, is stunning–it is M=10+ highly maneuverable missile with the range of 2000 kilometers. The naval warfare as we know it is over. Without any overly-dramatic emphasis–we are officially in new era. No, I repeat, NO, modern or perspective air-defense system deployed today by any NATO fleet can intercept even a single missile with such characteristics. The salvo of 5-6 of such missiles is a guaranteed destruction of any Carrier Battle Group.

The mode of use of such weapon, especially since we know now that it is deployed (for now) in Southern Military District is very simple–the most likely missile drop spot by MiG-31s will be international waters of the Black Sea, thus closing off whole Eastern Mediterranean to any surface ship or group of ships. It also creates a massive no-go zone in the Pacific, where MiG-31s from Yelizovo will be able to patrol vast distances over the ocean. It is, though, remarkable that the current platform for Kinzhal is MiG-31–arguably the best interceptor in the history. Obviously, MiG-31’s ability to reach very high supersonic speeds (in excess of M=3) is a key factor in the launch. But no matter what are the procedures for the launch of this terrifying weapon, the conclusions are simple:

  1. It moves aircraft carriers into the niche of pure power projection against weak and defenseless adversaries;
  2. It makes classic CBGs as main strike force against peer completely obsolete and useless, it also makes any surface combat ship defenseless regardless its air-defense capabilities.
  3. Sea Control and Sea Denial change their nature and merge. Those who have such weapon, or weapons, simply own vast spaces of the sea limited by the ranges of Kinzhal and its carriers.

I don’t want to sound dramatic and I knew that there were and are always surprises in Soviet/Russian weapons but today’s revelations from the highest podium in Russia about Kinzhal were shocking. The balance of power just shifted dramatically, with it the naval warfare as we knew it is no more. It is OVER!

I can only add that I fully concur with him.  It is indeed set, match and game over for the Empire: there is no more military option against Russia.


Russia has ‘unstoppable’ supersonic nuclear missile that cannot be traced by Western defence systems, says Putin

Country also trialling new underwater drones that can carry nuclear bombs, as well as developing atomic warheads small enough to be delivered on a cruise missile

March 1, 2018

by Oliver Carroll Moscow

The Independent/UK

Russia is developing a series of nuclear weapon systems, including a new supersonic cruise missile capable of overcoming Nato defence systems, Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed.

In a belligerent state of the nation speech delivered to federal legislators, Mr Putin said the weapons are both new and unique to Russia.

He confirmed tests of a new intercontinental ballistic missile complex (ICBM) codenamed Sarmat. Weighing more than 200 tonnes, the system has an increased range over its predecessor, and is able to fly at minimal altitude, he claimed.

“No anti-missile system – even in the future – has a hope of getting in its way,” said the president.

The rhetoric from Mr Putin was not unlike some of the recent boasts by President Donald Trump about the size and capability of the US nuclear arsenal. While Russia has no doubt had the announcement planned for a while, the timing of the remarks appears to be a message to Washington in the wake of the Trump administration’s recently announced plans to develop new nuclear arms and questions about the future of arms-control agreements between Washington and Moscow.

However, the US sought to play down the potential for a new arms race. “We’ve been watching Russia for a long time. We’re not surprised,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.

The White House dismissed Putin’s comments.  “President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied: Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Several major announcements were part of the speech. Russia was developing new underwater drones capable of carrying nuclear bombs, he said. Codenamed Status-6, the drones can travel in deep water “at speeds many times that of current submarines, the most modern torpedos and even the speediest of surface boats.”

On cue, an animation showed the new submarine destroying a Nato-resembling aircraft-carrier strike force and a seaside town. On cue, the audience applauded.

There was more. “Heroic” military developers had delivered a new class of supersonic nuclear cruise missiles. The new missiles had a range “dozens” of times above current models and were capable of flying at unpredictable trajectories and low-altitudes.

“Their ability to move around missile shield intercepts make them invincible for all current and projected anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems,” said Mr Putin.

Cue more animations of destruction, and more applause from the audience.

The US State Department also accused Russia of developing destabilizing nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty obligations, with spokeswoman Heather Nauert saying that Mr Putin’s speech showed Russia had violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

She also criticised an animated video played during his remarks, saying it appeared to depict an attack on the United States.

“It was certainly unfortunate to have watched the video animation that depicted a nuclear attack on the United States,” Ms Nauert said. “We don’t regard that as the behaviour of a responsible international player.”

Igor Sutyagin, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, an international defence and security think tank based in London, suggested the announcements by Mr Putin amounted to little more than “horror stories”.

Issues of production lines, finance and science made many of the technical claims suspect, he said. Most of the technology was not new: “It’s a cheap marketing trip. An old product, new package, with a new price label.”

Mr Sutyagin said: “I’m not sure if he understands what he said about low altitude, but intercontinental ballistic missiles have been flying at low altitude since at least the 1980s.”

The Status-6 underwater drone, meanwhile, went against the “philosophy” of Russian military planning. “You’d lose control over the weapon for approximately one week,” he said. “The Russian thinking about nuclear weapon use is all about keeping tight control of the weapon for as long as possible.”

In the lead up to Mr Putin’s 14th state of the nation address, few commentators anticipated such a dramatic speech. Traditionally, the event has been used to outline domestic policy priorities to his regional henchmen. This year, of course, there was another dimension. With the speech delayed for three months, it had become a central event of the presidential election campaign.

With no major opponent standing against him, Mr Putin is said to be looking at turnout instead. To project the strength of his position to the outside world, he is looking for a significant number of people to head to the polls on 18 March. In the run-up to the address, presidential aides promised it would offer a vision of the future to ordinary Russians. While Mr Putin remains popular among core constituencies, most Russians are now experiencing their fourth year of shrinking real-terms incomes.

True to the promise, Mr Putin spent much of the first hour of his speech focusing on matters of domestic peace. He touched on many of Russia’s acupuncture spots. He made striking promises. He’d halve poverty. He’d double health spending. He’d increase support to parents by 40 per cent. He’d improve ecological conditions. And he’d extend life expectancy by 10 years. Even more remarkable for a president in his 18th year of power were his promises to “increase freedom and democracy” and curtail regulatory pressure on business.

But it was in the second hour, with an abrupt turn to war, that the sparks flew. The simple animations that accompanied Mr Putin’s military presentation, showing east-west trajectories for his new weapons, left little to the imagination. This speech was a bellicose challenge to Russia’s rediscovered geopolitical foe, the United States. It was the sort of gesture that wearied Russian voters tend to enjoy.

Mr Putin said Russia had stepped up military development in response to the 2002 US withdrawal from the treaty on anti-ballistic weapons systems.

“They thought we would never be able to recover economically, militarily, so ignored our complaints,” he said. “They didn’t listen, but perhaps they will listen now.”

The reality of the confrontation was somewhat more nuanced, suggested Mr Sutyagin. American anti-missile shields were “never” intended for use against Russia, since everyone understood the sophistication of Soviet weapons. He said: “The Kremlin knows this too, so why the hysteria? Perhaps it has something to do with the huge losses sustained by Russian mercenaries in Syria last month.”

For political commentator and former Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovsky, writing on social media, it was today, after an absent election campaign, that Mr Putin finally found his purpose.

“Only by telling everyone how he would destroy the world did the old man come alive,” he said.


NATO joins Angela Merkel and Donald Trump to voice concern about Putin’s ‘invincible’ weapons

A speech by President Vladimir Putin detailing new nuclear weapons in Russia’s arsenal has raised fears of a new arms race. NATO has joined Merkel and Trump in voicing concern about the impact of Putin’s words.

March 2, 2018


NATO has joined Germany and the US in condemning recent claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country has developed a new, “invincible” nuclear weapon.

On Friday, NATO Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said: “Russian statements threatening to target allies are unacceptable and counterproductive.” She also reiterated the fact that the alliance would remain vigilant in using its military forces to deter foreign aggression directed at alliance members.

The statement from NATO echoed comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump, both of whom voiced concern about a speech delivered by Russian leader Vladimir Putin on March 1, in which he spoke of his country’s buildup of nuclear weapons, a German government spokesman said on Friday.

“The chancellor and the president are […] concerned about Russian President Putin’s latest remarks about arms developments and their negative impact on international arms control efforts,” Steffen Seibert said in a statement summing up a Thursday phone call between the two leaders.

‘No intention to attack others’

In a state of the nation address on Thursday, Putin said Russia had tested new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile that he described as “invincible.”

The Russian president also warned that his country’s military buildup would be able to cancel out NATO’s amassment of military force on Russia’s borders, though he stressed that Russia did not intend to attack any other country.

Putin’s speech featured an animation that showed missiles striking parts of the United States, a presentation that the US State Department described as “irresponsible.”

The Kremlin has rejected US claims that it is in breach of arms control treaties with its new weapons and denied that the Putin’s speech marked the start of a new arms race.

Call for Syria ceasefire implementation

Merkel and Trump also agreed that the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies should “promptly and fully implement” a recent US Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, Seibert said.

The two leaders called on Moscow to stop participating in the assault on eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb near the capital, Damascus, in which more than 550 people have been killed.

They also demanded that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad should be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons, attacks on civilians and the humanitarian blockade.


Trump’s America: Weaker, divided & losing international prestige – Chomsky to RT

March 2, 2018


While its military and economic clout still knows no competition, the world is no longer America’s playground; and with Trump’s isolationist and aggressive stance, the US surrenders positions internationally, Noam Chomsky told RT.

In an interview with RT Spanish’s “Conversation with Correa” host and Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa, renowned American philosopher and political scientist Noam Chomsky argued that US President Donald Trump’s claims that he is making America greater, stronger and more powerful have absolutely no merit.

“Under Trump, it’s becoming weaker, less effective, it’s internally disintegrating, it’s losing whatever international authority or prestige it had and it’s also moving to destroy the world,” Chomsky said.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the milestone Paris climate accord, which is aimed at fighting climate change, endangers the future life on the planet, Chomsky said, arguing that the US withdrawal from the pledge to reduce its carbon footprint is “the most important policy of the Trump administration by far.”

Here, the United States under Trump has departed from the entire world. Every other country has at least some kind of commitment to addressing this growing and, in effect, imminent crisis. The US alone, under Trump, is aggressively moving to increase the danger, to escalate by the greater concentration on fossil fuels extraction.”

Chomsky called the potential effects of this policy “devastating,” noting that the US is on course to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading fossil fuels producer.

America’s clout on the world stage stems from the age of WWII, from which it emerged economically unaffected and armed with nuclear weapons, Chomsky said. And although its power has been on a steady decline since 1945, and other powers like China have emerged to challenge it, the US – or rather its corporations – still remains an economic powerhouse.

“US power in the international system as a national entity has declined, but, meanwhile, the world has changed under neoliberal globalization and if you look at the ownership of the world, international multinational corporations based in the US have about 50 percent ownership of the world’s economy.”

The US militaristic might is likewise enormous, according to Chomsky. “In military terms, no one else is even close to the US, the US spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined, it’s technologically vastly more advanced.”

Washington does not shy away from an occasional show of force, most recently flexing its military muscle at the North Korean borders. Noting that Trump’s war rhetoric towards North Korea “could materialize very easily,” Chomsky argued that the only feasible approach to breaking the standoff is the “double freeze” plan proposed by China and backed by Russia. The plan, which envisages the halt of the US and its allies’ wargames in the region in exchange for the suspension of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, was rejected by Washington.

Chomsky believes that North Korea, which sees “constant highly-threatening military maneuvers” by America’s most advanced nuclear-capable bombers as a “severe threat,” would agree to a plan that would allow it to pursue its economic objectives. According to Chomsky, the inflated military budget that stalls its economic development is a necessity for North Korea, as it has every legitimate reason to be afraid of a potential aggression from Washington.

“The UN Charter bans the threat or use of force. Threat or use of force – this is a strict violation of the Charter, it’s a crime. This is happening all the time if you look at the history of the United States and North Korea – it’s a very meaningful threat,” Chomsky said. “It’s practically flattened the country back in the 1950s.”


Trump causes global outcry with new duties on metals imports

US President Donald Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminum have met with massive outrage, and have sparked concerns that the measure will distort trade, cost jobs and ultimately lead to a tit-for-tat trade war.

March 2, 2018


After weeks of speculation, Donald Trump on Thursday followed through on his campaign pledge to protect American industries from “unfair” global trade practices as he announced stiff new tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum.

The trade measure, due to come into force next week, was greeted with fury by key US trading allies such as Canada, the EU, Australia and Mexico.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker led the criticism, saying the EU “will react firmly” to defend its interests. “We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk,” he added.

“If the Americans impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, then we must treat US products the same way,” Juncker argued. “I’m not saying we have to shoot back, but we must take action,” he told German TV stations Friday.

The EU’s top trade official, Cecilia Malmstrom, said the bloc would consider imposing its own “safeguard” tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision. In an interview with the Financial Times,  she said officials in Brussels would wait to see the formal announcement of US tariffs next week before taking any action.

Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne responded even more bluntly. “Any tariffs or quotas that would be imposed on our Canadian steel and aluminum industry would be unacceptable [and] would have an impact on both sides of the border,” he told parliament on Thursday.

Australia’s Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said his biggest concern was now “retaliatory measures” by other major economies. “That’s in no-one’s interests,” he told reporters.

Trump has long threatened to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, accusing other countries of dumping and deploying “unfair” trade practices. He’s been particularly critical of China, whose steel producers are being accused of fueling a global steel glut by dumping their subsidized steel on markets worldwide.

Muted Chinese response

The timing of Trump’s announcement was especially provocative for Beijing because its top economic envoy Liu He was in Washington and holding meetings at the White House on Thursday.

China, which accounts for only 2 percent of US steel imports, has previously warned it was ready with countermeasures should the Trump administration deploy tariffs. On Friday, Beijing called on the US administration to “abide by multilateral rules and to make contributions to the trade and economic world order.”

“If other countries follow in the steps of the US, it will harm global trade,” said Hua Chunying, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

The vice secretary-general of the China Iron and Steel Association simply shrugged off Trump’s decision. “The impact on China is not big,” said Li Xinchuang. “Nothing can be done about Trump. We are already numb to him.”

But for South Korea — the third-largest steel exporter to the United States after Canada and Brazil — the trade measure is more threatening.

“For us, the worst case scenario was a 54 percent tariff,” a South Korean trade ministry official who declined to be named told the news agency Reuters. “Still if the option for a global tariff of at least 24 percent is taken, that will still affect our steel exports to the US,” he added.

Asian steelmakers fear the US tariffs could result in their domestic markets becoming flooded with steel products that have nowhere else to go. “We are concerned about how other exporters react, what will happen with steel that cannot be sold to the US,” Vikrom Wacharakrup, Chairman of Iron and Steel Industry Group, Federation of Thai Industries, told Reuters.

Real economy effects

The move to protect American metals producers threatens to raise prices for consumers and businesses that buy goods made with the raw materials. Mickey Levy, analyst with Berenberg Bank said in a note to investors that the tariffs would add uncertainty to business plans in certain industries, for example in the automibile sector,

“Assuming the supplies of US-sourced steel and aluminum are fairly inelastic in the short run, and incorporating disruptions and costs of transitions, business operating costs would rise and business production processes would be less efficient,” he noted, adding that the measures’ impact on the economy would be a decline in American consumers’ purchasing power.

And Tom Porcelli from RBC pointed out that Trump’s jobs argument wasn’t plausible because there were far more US jobs in businesses that pay money to buy steel than there are in businesses that produce it. “There are 415k people employed in primary metal manufacturing and metal ore mining businesses. Yet the folks in downstream manufacturing (ie the consumers of steel) employ 16x (!) as many people,” he said in a note, adding that it was rather obvious that “the winners/losers ratio seems extremely skewed.”

Therefore, the heads of the National Tooling and Machining Association and the Precision Metalforming Association were among many steel users that warned of the damage that could be done by the import duties. They said in a joint statement: “President Trump campaigned on the promise to protect manufacturing jobs but his plan to impose tariffs will cost manufacturing jobs across the country.”

And Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Managers, added: “Tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminium imports will burden US manufacturers with higher costs while our competitors in China, India and Mexico will get a free pass to use the cheapest input materials they can find.”

Economists at Barclays Bank estimated the levies could reduce US growth by as much as 0.2 percentage point this year and inflation by 0.1 point.



Israeli police question Netanyahu in corruption case

March 2, 2018

by Maayan Lubell


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on Friday for the first time in a corruption case that involves the country’s largest telecommunications company, Israel Radio said.

Israeli police confirmed that an anti-corruption unit had questioned the couple for several hours each, but did not say whether the questioning was in connection with the case of Bezeq Israel Telecom.

The case is one of at least four investigations surrounding the four-term prime minister or his associates announced last month, which have put his political survival in jeopardy. In February police recommended that Netanyahu, 68, be indicted for bribery in two other corruption investigations. (For a graphic on investigations of Netanyahu, click tmsnrt.rs/2iE4zAN)

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a“witch-hunt.”

In the Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, authorities allege that the owners of the telecoms firm provided favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife on a news website they controlled in return for favors from regulators.

The company has denied wrongdoing. Police have yet to make a recommendation about charges in the case.

In a video message posted on his Facebook page about three hours after police left his residence, the prime minister said he was confidant nothing would come of the investigations.

Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to the United States on Saturday and to meet President Donald Trump on March 5.

Sara Netanyahu’s lawyer said her questioning took place at a police station near Tel Aviv, while the prime minister was questioned at his official residence in Jerusalem. The lawyer said Sara was questioned under police caution, indicating that she could become a suspect.

Police investigating the case have arrested the controlling shareholder of Bezeq Telecom, Shaul Elovitch, and Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu spokesman, who have both denied wrongdoing. Israeli media reported that they were both also being questioned on Friday.

A representative for Elovitch had no immediate comment and Hefetz’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Shlomo Filber, a confidant of Netanyahu and former director general of the Communications Ministry, has also been arrested in connection with the case. Israeli media have reported that he has agreed to turn state’s witness.


As reports of the police interviews emerged, protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s residence, demanding he step down.

“We want to see Netanyahu go to trial and, if needed, go to jail or go home. Let our people go free from all the corruption surrounding the government and the head of it,” said Shimrit Orr, 72, a writer, from Tel Aviv.

There were a few dozen protesters, singing songs and banging plastic pipes on garbage cans. Some cars beeped their horns in support as they drove by.

A prime minister under investigation cannot, and may not, take crucial decisions,” said Shuki Cohen, 63, an economist from Moshav Arugot.

The right-wing prime minister has been Israel’s dominant political figure for a generation, in power since 2009 and for 12 years in total since 1996. He says that he has done nothing wrong, and has said that he will seek a fifth term in an election due in late 2019.

In the two other cases in which police have already recommended that Netanyahu be charged, the final decision about whether or not to prosecute rests with the Israeli attorney general. That decision could be weeks or months away.

In one of the investigations, known as Case 1000, he is suspected of bribery over gifts, which police say were worth nearly $300,000, from wealthy businessmen.

The other, Case 2000, involves an alleged plot to win positive coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to take measures to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.

So far, partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have stood by him, saying they are awaiting the attorney-general’s next moves. Political analysts say such support could erode if the investigations against Netanyahu intensify.

Netanyahu could also call a snap election to try to stall legal proceedings during the campaign and rally his rightwing power base behind him. Recent polls show Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of other factions in the Knesset.

However, surveys also show that about half of Israelis believe the police over Netanyahu and think he should step down. A third think he should remain in office.

Additional reporting by Sinan Abu Maizer and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Stephen Farrell, Kevin Liffey and Peter Graff


Netanyahu, the George Wallace of the Middle East

Say bye-bye to the “special relationship”

March 20, 2015

by Justin Raimondo,


Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress provoked a storm of controversy that has only increased since his victory in the Israeli elections. It was a blatant attempt to split the US polity and claim the Republican-controlled Congress as what Patrick J. Buchanan once described as “Israeli-occupied territory.” Yet that long occupation may be ending sooner rather than later as the tectonic plates of America’s political landscape – and the globe – shake and shift.

The reasons for this seismic movement are rooted in objective factors that none of the actors in this drama can control, and these are underscored in the radical change, both in content and tone, of Netanyahu’s rhetoric compared to his 2011 peroration before Congress.

Back then, you’ll recall, when the Israeli Prime Minister appeared on Capitol Hill and spoke before our cheering solons, he spoke these words:

“Two years ago, I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples – a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state.”


“I’m willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it’s my responsibility to lead my people to peace.”


“Now, this is not easy for me. It’s not easy, because I recognize that in a genuine peace, we’ll be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.”

This is the face of Bibi the Benevolent, stern but basically a friend of America and an advocate of Western values. But there is another face, which he waited a few years before unveiling, and it isn’t pretty. Speaking in Israel during the recent election campaign, he declared:

“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel. The left has buried its head in the sand time and after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand.”

If Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog are elected, he told a group of “settlers,” “Hamastan B will be established here.” Pledging to continue building “settlements” with money dispensed by gullible Uncle Sam, he hurled his defiance at the Americans, who he claimed were trying – along with the Europeans – to unseat him. The contempt for the West and its values that his words conveyed was underscored by his appeal to right-wing nationalist voters to turn out and vote Likud in order to deflect the efforts of Israeli Palestinians who, he said, were intent on turning out “in droves” on election day in order to defeat him.

Every American President since Jimmy Carter has put the two-state solution at the top of their Middle East agenda, and the hope embodied in the peace process has anchored our “special relationship” with the Jewish state in the rough seas that beset the region. As long as the Israelis remained committed to this principle, they could get away with pretending to be “the only democracy” in their neighborhood, and not the ruthless occupiers of a conquered people. And the Americans went along with this delusion – or, rather, self-delusion – at the behest of the powerful pro-Israel lobby, which was, after all, filled with liberals as well as pro-Likud conservatives, who regularly voted Democratic and played an important role in getting the civil rights movement in this country off the ground.

That is all changed, now, especially with Bibi’s panicked remarks about “droves” of Arabs – Israeli citizens – being “bused in” to vote. Instead of the Churchillian figure adored by the neoconservative right, the Israeli Prime Minister looks more like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. An alliance that was supposedly built on mutually shared “values” is falling apart at the seams.

The growing discord between Washington and Tel Aviv isn’t about the personal antipathy between Bibi and Obama. It’s about the antipathy between the American values of liberal democracy and equality before the law and the religious obscurantism and ruthless militarism of the new Israel – a nation that stands revealed as a modern Sparta, not the Athens we all thought it to be.

In his 2011 address to Congress, Netanyahu averred “We’re not the British in India, we’re not the Belgians in the Congo,” and went on to tout the historic “bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.” “But there is another truth,” he continued:

“The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they’ll be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state.”

Now that this goal has been repudiated, what Netanyahu can no longer evade is the fact that he and his countrymen are the British in India, and the Belgians in the Congo. And as the great Israeli classical liberal Yeshayahu Leibowitz argued, this has been true since the end of the Six Day War, when the Israelis refused to give up the conquered territories and instead occupied them, setting up a giant prison in which the Palestinians were forced to live – and which also imprisoned the occupiers inside an ideological penitentiary from which, at this point, there is no escape.

The walls surrounding that prison have grown higher – and, indeed, have materialized in the physical world in the form of the Wall that separates Israel proper from the land of its Palestinian helots. This same malevolence has taken human form in the rise of Israeli politicians like Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right party advocates a Greater Israel encompassing not only “Judea” and “Samaria” but also a large chunk of Jordan. The same spirit animates Naftali Bennett, the American-born ultra-nationalist whose Jewish Homeland party opposes Palestinian self-determination, supports the “settler” movement, and has successfully competed with Likud for the loyalty of Israeli voters. In order to pull off his electoral coup, Netanyahu had to woo them back with the Wallaceite rhetoric he employed in the final days before the election. Yet both Lieberman and Bennett will no doubt play a major role in the new government – the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

The Israelis have been moving in this direction for a long time, and, although their very effective propaganda operation in this country has done a good job of prettifying it, the ugly reality has now become so apparent that their political leaders no longer bother concealing it. Indeed, they flaunt their bigotry, their hatred, and the power of their American lobby to give Israel a free hand in spite of President Obama’s growing opposition to their goals.

Yet, like Israel itself, the Israel lobby – and by this I mean the Republican party and its shrinking periphery – has locked itself into an ideological box, with little room to maneuver. Unable to defend the indefensible, they find themselves in the same position as the segregationists who tried in vain to hold back the civil rights revolution in the South – i.e. in full retreat. Yes, George Wallace stood at the head of a political movement that seemed impressive at the time, and ran as a third party presidential candidate, but that movement soon collapsed and did not survive Wallace’s death except in various isolated pockets of extremism. It’s no accident that, today, National Review, whose founder and editor William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote editorials arguing against the right of “Negroes” to vote, is today among Israel’s chief cheerleaders, holding up Netanyahu as the ideal political leader they only wish America had.

The ideological and geopolitical tides of change have finally caught up with Israel, even before the demographic wave of Arab births succeeded in overwhelming it. For the simple fact of the matter is that, barring Mike Huckabee‘s ascension to the White House, whoever occupies the Oval Office come 2017 will have to deal with the objective factors that are dissolving the “special relationship.” Israel has chosen to isolate itself from the international community, and unless we want to share that prison cell with Bibi and his successors, the American political class will have to begin distancing itself from a country fast becoming a pariah among nations.

This has already begun to happen, with US officials strongly hinting that Netanyahu’s repudiation of the two-state solution means we’ll have to reconsider our role as Israel’s “shield” in the UN Security Council. And worse – from the Israeli perspective – is soon to come.

The Zionist movement was originally devoted to the principle of “national liberation,” and the principle of self-determination for all peoples, but the internal logic of their program eventually undermined this ideological window-dressing. The Labor wing, devoted to an egalitarian vision of socialism and cooperation between Jewish émigrés and indigenous Arabs, had to give way to a more realistic “revisionist” vision of a Greater Israel that would rise at the Arabs’ expense.

Now the masks have been dropped, and Israel’s true face is there for all to see. Some will look upon it and continue to proclaim its great beauty, or will go to great lengths to explain away and even prettify its flaws – but it’s only a matter of time now before the world turns away in disgust.



The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed

March 1 2018

by Ryan Gallagher

The Intercept

It is one of the world’s most powerful alliances. And yet most people have probably never heard of it, because its existence is a closely guarded government secret.

The “SIGINT Seniors” is a spy agency coalition that meets annually to collaborate on global security issues. It has two divisions, each focusing on different parts of the world: SIGINT Seniors Europe and SIGINT Seniors Pacific. Both are led by the U.S. National Security Agency, and together they include representatives from at least 17 other countries. Members of the group are from spy agencies that eavesdrop on communications – a practice known as “signals intelligence,” or SIGINT.

Details about the meetings of the SIGINT Seniors are disclosed in a batch of classified documents from the NSA’s internal newsletter SIDToday, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published today by The Intercept. The documents shine light on the secret history of the coalition, the issues that the participating agencies have focused on in recent years, and the systems that allow allied countries to share sensitive surveillance data with each other.

The SIGINT Seniors Europe was formed in 1982, amid the Cold War. Back then, the alliance had nine members, whose primary focus was on uncovering information about the Soviet Union’s military. Following the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, the group grew to 14 and began focusing its efforts on counterterrorism.

The core participants of the Seniors Europe are the surveillance agencies from the so-called Five Eyes: the NSA and its counterparts from the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. As of April 2013, the other members were intelligence agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

The alliance – which the NSA sometimes refers to as the “14 Eyes” – has collaborated to monitor communications during major European events, such as the Olympics in 2004 (hosted in Greece), the Winter Olympics in 2006 (hosted in Italy), and the soccer World Cup in summer 2006 (hosted in Germany). Between 2006 and 2007, as part of a counterterrorism operation, the agencies began working on “exploitation of the Internet,” which was described by the NSA as a “huge step forward” for the group, because some members of the alliance had previously been “reluctant to acknowledge there was such a thing as the Internet.”

As of 2010, the agencies were focused on targeting suspected terrorists, sharing intelligence related to piracy in the Horn of Africa, and they were collaborating on the development of new surveillance tools and techniques. According to the documents, the Seniors Europe had its own dedicated communication network called SIGDASYS, through which each agency can share copies of intercepted communications. The group also used a system called CENTER ICE to share intelligence about the war in Afghanistan.

The documents indicate that the Seniors Europe hold an annual conference, each time in a different location. In 2013, for instance, the group gathered in Sweden; in 2011, it met in the U.K; in 2010, in Germany; and in 2009, in Canada. In 2013, the NSA expressed an interest in creating a permanent facility that would host representatives from the Seniors Europe in a joint collaborative space. The NSA discussed the idea with its U.K. counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The British were “all in” on the proposal, according to the NSA. However, from some unnamed members of the SIGINT Seniors, there was “persistent pushback” on the plan.

The NSA thought the facility would be best hosted in the U.K., as this would “be optimal in terms of having the most flexibility in tuning the operation to benefit the Five Eyes.” The agency also suggested the idea of France potentially hosting the unit, but outlined its reservations about setting up the spy hub in continental Europe. “Some European nations may be leery about hosting a facility in their nation,” the NSA noted, partly due to “associated concerns for European human rights laws.” (Both NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, declined to answer questions for this story. GCHQ issued a statement asserting that it adheres to “a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate.”)

The Pacific division of the SIGINT Seniors is younger than the European branch. The NSA formed it in 2005, with the aim of “establishing a collaborative effort to fight terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.” In March 2007, the NSA said that it was in the process of “raising ideas for expanding [SIGINT Seniors Pacific’s] intelligence focus beyond counterterrorism.”

The founder members of the Pacific alliance were the spy agencies from the Five Eyes, as well as South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. By 2013, France and India had joined the Pacific group. The NSA was particularly keen on having India on board as part of a broader U.S. government effort to improve relations with the country, and “felt strongly that India’s participation in multilateral intelligence sharing would help mature its Indian SIGINT agencies as well as provide regional [counterterrorism] expertise.” In March 2008, then-NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander led a delegation of officials – including representatives from Singapore and New Zealand – to New Delhi, where he asked India’s spy agencies if they would like to join forces. Three months later, the Indians accepted.

The Pacific group used a system called CRUSHED ICE to share information. According to an NSA document dated from November 2007, CRUSHED ICE is a secure network that enables sharing of secret intelligence, collected from intercepted communications, about counterterrorism. “The system allows for collaboration by way of voice, binary-file/email exchanges, analysis and reporting, graphics and mapping, communities of interest, collection management, and other applications as needed,” the November 2007 document stated.

For the countries invited to participate in the SIGINT Seniors, there are obvious benefits. They can learn new surveillance techniques from the world’s most powerful spy agencies and at the same time, obtain information about their own countries or regions that they otherwise may have been unable to access. But not all nations who have been invited to join the alliance have jumped on board. According to an NSA document from March 2007, Japan refused to sign up to the Pacific group, expressing concerns that “unintended disclosure of its participation would be too high a risk.”

A downside of SIGINT Seniors is the risk that a partner will mishandle sensitive information. This happened on at least one occasion with India. By the time terrorists had struck Mumbai in a series of attacks in November 2008, the country had been admitted to the Pacific group. The NSA was passing the Indians selected top-secret material, such as interrogation reports and recordings of intercepted phone calls. In the weeks following the Mumbai incident, India began leaking some of the intelligence — “at times it seemed a daily occurrence,” the NSA’s country desk officer complained. The NSA limited the provisioning of top-secret information to India after repeated warnings and meetings left it dissatisfied. Still, the NSA, which had deployed analysts to India, remained hopeful Indian intelligence agencies would “mature … into the partners NSA needs in South Asia.”

The SIGINT Seniors likely remains active today and has probably grown its capabilities in recent years. According to the 2013 “black budget” – a portion of the U.S. federal budget dedicated to secret intelligence-gathering work – the NSA was that year working to bolster both the European and Pacific branches of the SIGINT Seniors, and planned to “expand the level of cooperation on [counterterrorism] and explore other potential areas of collaboration.”


War with Iran?

March 2, 2018

by Christian Jürs

Iran hates the United States and Israel. Iran has atomic weapons and missiles (the Shahab, courtesy of North Korean/Russian technicians) It can easily reach Tel Aviv. It can also reach US troop concentrations in Iraq. Israel is scared shitless. Their pressure groups have leaned on the White House, with a great deal of assistance from Cheney and the Neocons. The actual plan is this: The U.S. has no troops available for an Iranian adventure and the Israelis would rather not lose any warm bodies so…

It has been firmly decided that both Israel and the U.S. will launch a surprise attack against:

1., Iranian missile sites,

  1. Iranian nuclear facilities and
  2. The leadership of Iran located in and around Tehran.

How will this be done? By aircraft attack using U.S. developed “smart bombs” and the so-called “bunker-buster” bombs designed to destroy underground reinforced concrete facilities. We just sent these to Israel. Because of the political ramifications, the Israelis will conduct the main strikes, supported by U.S. aircraft as needed. The aim will be to wipe out any vestige of nuclear weaponry, its delivery system and all the Iranian leaders capable of starting any attacks on Israel (mostly Tel Aviv…too many fellow Muslims in Jerusalem.) Since it would be a problem for Israeli Air Force units to fly round trip from Israel, the solution will be to launch these attacks from U.S. aircraft carriers located in the Persian Gulf area.

The initial attacks will be an early-morning surprise attack launched to coincide with religious services in Tehran’s Muslim mosques with the idea of catching not only the leading Mullahs inside but a large number of their congregations as well. One attack will concentrate on these religious centers and the other will hit both the underground nuclear facilities and identified (courtesy of U.S. satellite shots) missile launching sites. The U.S. will supply observation and radio surveillance aircraft with radar-jamming capacities operating out of Turkey and Italy. The entire attack is scheduled to last no more than one hour with at least three waves of Israeli aircraft utilized. No warning will be given to the Iranians and no declaration of war. The possible deaths of foreign diplomats in the attacks has been discussed and accepted as part of the price. This attack has the full support of the President who wants it launched before the mid-term elections. He can then make a speech to the American people stating that the evil Iranian nuclear weaponry has been destroyed by the Israelis with the full cooperation of his government as part of his heroic war against terrorists.

No U.S. ground troops will be used; Trump will stress that this is a joint U.S.-Israeli anti-terrorist project. Part of the speech deals with ongoing Shiite Iranian physical support of their Shiite brethren in Syria and that by knocking out the Iranian nuclear weaponry, at the same time, they are protecting GIs from ongoing guerrilla warfare.


Iran vs Israel: Big war unlikely, but troublemaker Trump is wild card

March 2, 2018


Despite high tension between Iran and Israel, neither side is currently interested in escalation to a large-scale war. But there is always risk of a ‘black swan’ like the US choosing Iran as a target for an exemplary beating.

The regular exchanges of hostile gestures between Israel and Iran have been more belligerent than usual in recent weeks. A senior figure in Tehran threatened to flatten Tel Aviv and make sure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not survive the bombing. A senior Israeli general mused how good it would be for Israel to kill Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah. US Senator Lindsey Graham warned that Israel was preparing for a new war in Lebanon.

The rhetoric comes on the back of arguably the most serious episode of warfare for Israel and Iran in Syria, a war-ravaged country where the two heavyweights are testing each other’s resolve. Israel shot down what it called an Iranian drone violating its airspace and launched a counterattack, losing one of its fighter jets to anti-aircraft fire.

Could tensions lead to another war in Syria?

The tension is real and dangerous, but should not be interpreted as a preparation for an all-out war, observers told RT. Such a costly endeavor would not be in the interest of either side. “[Iran and Israel] are currently probing each other, but neither seeks war at the moment, especially in Syria,” said Marianna Belenkaya, a Middle East analyst and columnist for the daily Kommersant.

Even the drone incident – which, she believes, is just as likely to have been accidental as a provocation by Iran to test Israel – has been settled to the satisfaction of each one involved. “Israel is happy it has shot down the drone. Iran and Syria are happy they have shot down an Israeli war plane. Each side is left standing where it stood to begin with, and neither sought to escalate it,” she explained.

Israel, so far, has declared some ‘red lines’ for Iran not to cross in Syria, said Irina Fedorova, a senior fellow at the Institute of Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Those include no permanent military bases or weapons depots under the control of Iran, and no Iranian proxy forces less than 50km from the border of Israel. The airstrikes it conducts in Syria are meant to enforce these lines. “Isolated airstrikes will continue, but I don’t believe they would escalate into direct clashes in Syria, even less so a large-scale war,” she said.

Sergey Balmasov, a senior analyst at the Center for Crisis Society, a Moscow-based think tank, is less optimistic. He says the conflict may spiral into larger-scale hostilities. “Just take a look at the situation in 2005-2006, when a really serious escalation resulted in the second Lebanon war. So far, the temperature has not reached a point we saw then. But it is close,” he said.

One factor playing against an escalation in Syria is that Iran has a relatively limited choice of options if it wanted to hurt Israel in response to its Syrian involvement. It could stir trouble in Palestine or Lebanon, but neither is likely to be efficient. Iran itself is too far away from Syria to project military power while Israel is its neighbor.

‘Russia acts as buffer between Israel and Iran’

Another factor is Russia’s presence, the experts believe. Moscow has good relations with both sides in this conflict and is interested into keeping them from clashing in Syria, since such an escalation would undermine Russia’s own policies there.

Russia acts as a sort of a buffer [between Israel and Iran] and so does to some extent the US, which keeps a force in southern Syria and, hence, provides some extra security for Israel,” said Belenkaya.

For Russia, Balmasov agreed, open hostilities between Iran and Israel in Syria “would be an unrequested headache. Israel would say it wants to oppose Iran and would try to undermine [Syrian President Bashar] Assad along the way. Israel is not interested in a strong and united Syria and would rather see it balkanized into territories run by armed gangs that can pose no threat to Israel.”

Iran, for its part, has a lot on its plate in Syria, and confronting Israel directly would stretch its resources. If anything, Tehran wants to have a say in the future of post-war Syria, not use its territory as a launch pad for attacking Israel.

One player that can potentially disrupt the already fragile situation is US President Donald Trump, who may decide that a military campaign against Iran in Syria may benefit his own interests, Balmasov pointed out. Trump speaks as pro-Israeli as can be expected, but has so far refrained from adding any harsh action to the rhetoric, but it may change one day, especially is given good pretext.

“Recent American presidents have each started some serious military campaign at least once in a term. Even the Nobel peace prize winner Obama had a hand in the attack on Libya. So, which country could Trump choose? Attacking North Korea is risky… so he may choose to trample Iran instead,” he suggested.


Facebook ending News Feed experiment condemned as ‘Orwellian’

Company announces end to trial in which professional news posts were removed from users’ feeds in six countries

March 1, 2018

by Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

The Guardian

Facebook will end an experiment that removed professional news posts from users’ News Feed in six countries, after months of criticism that the “downright Orwellian” move was increasing fake news and misinformation on the platform.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, said in a blogpost announcing the change that the experiment had been motivated by “consistent feedback” that people wanted to see more from friends and family and less from media organizations and businesses on the News Feed. Starting in October, the company created a separate feed called “Explore” for so-called public posts in Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia.

The backlash from news organizations in the affected countries was swift. “Facebook doesn’t think about consequences and has no interest at all in what is happening inside its test countries,” wrote the Slovakian journalist Filip Struhárik, one of the most prominent critics of the experiment. In December, Struhárik used CrowdTangle data to show that the experiment was hurting professional media more than fake news.

“You gave us our answer: people don’t want two separate feeds,” Mosseri wrote. “In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn’t actually help them connect more with friends and family.”

Mosseri also acknowledged the criticism that Facebook had acted high-handedly by completely changing the media landscape for six countries without warning or input from stakeholders, stating that the company would be “updating the way we evaluate where to test new products, and how we communicate about them”.

The end of this experiment is separate from changes to the global News Feed rolled out in January that are supposed to more modestly reduce public content and promote “meaningful social interactions”.

“I’m glad that Facebook will end this test and I am even more pleased that Facebook admitted that they made mistakes when they didn’t communicate the test clearly,” Struhárik tweeted on Thursday. “I hope Facebook will have more interest in what is happening inside its test countries.”



Equifax breach could be most costly in corporate history

March 2, 2018

by John McCrank and Jim Finkle


NEW YORK/TORONTO – Equifax Inc (EFX.N) said it expects costs related to its massive 2017 data breach to surge by $275 million this year, suggesting the incident at the credit reporting bureau could turn out to be the most costly hack in corporate history.

The projection, which was disclosed on a Friday morning earnings conference call, is on top of $164 million in pretax costs posted in the second half of 2017. That brings expected breach-related costs through the end of this year to $439 million, some $125 million of which Equifax said will be covered by insurance.

“It looks like this will be the most expensive data breach in history,” said Larry Ponemon, chairman of Ponemon Institute, a research group that tracks costs of cyber attacks.

Total costs of the breach, which compromised sensitive data of more than 147 million consumers, could be“well over $600 million,” after including costs to resolve government investigations into the incident and civil lawsuits against the firm, he said.

Equifax on Thursday reported fourth-quarter profit that topped Wall Street forecasts and disclosed that it uncovered an additional 2.4 million people whose data was stolen in the attack.

Its shares rose nearly 4 percent to $115.82 on Friday on the higher-than-expected earnings. They have lost about a quarter of their value since Equifax disclosed the incident in early September.

Equifax said in September that hackers had stolen personally identifiable information of U.S., UK and Canadian consumers, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses driver’s license and credit card numbers.

That disclosure prompted outrage from politicians and consumer advocates around the world, a string of government probes into company and the departure of top executives.

Equifax warned in regulatory filing on Thursday that further analysis could identify more consumers or additional types of data stolen in the hack.

This year’s costs include technology and security upgrades, legal fees and free identity theft services to consumers whose data was stolen, the company said in a conference call.

(This story corrects fourth paragraph to show that breach compromised data of more than 147 million consumers, not 247 million consumers.)

Reporting by John McCrank in New York and Jim Finkle in Toronto; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Meredith Mazzilli



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