TBR News November 29, 2017

Nov 29 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 29, 2017: “The capacity in humans for self-delusion is astounding. BitCoins are surging upwards, attracting the idiot brigade as a candle does a moth. The Saudis think they are going to rule the Arab world by getting others to annihilate rival Shi’ites and Israel thinks it’s an important world power. What is pushed up without support, always falls and if both Israel and Saudi Arabia somehow bit the big one, peace would descend on the Arab world. Of course if this happened, the American government would have to find another area to meddle in and if they did, like all their other schemes, it would collapse as well.”

Table of Contents

  • MacOS High Sierra bug: blank password lets anyone take control of a Mac
  • A Short History of American Empire
  • The Duplicitous Superpower
  • Israel and Saudi Arabia: New best friends in the Middle East?
  • Israel’s leadership talks up another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon 
  • Rouhani says Saudis call Iran an enemy to conceal defeat in region
  • Up in the Air, Sky High, Sky High!
  • Endgame Iran? Saudi-led ‘Arab NATO’ paves way for regional showdown
  • Bubble trouble? Bitcoin tops $11,000 after $1,000 surge in 12 hours


MacOS High Sierra bug: blank password lets anyone take control of a Mac

Apple working on emergency fix for flaw that allows access to secure preferences with username ‘root’ and subsequent bypass of lock screen

November 29, 2017

by Samuel Gibbs and Matthew Weaver

The Guardian

A serious security flaw found in the latest version of Apple’s macOS High Sierra could allow anyone to access locked settings on a Mac using the user name “root” and no password, and subsequently unlock the computer.

The security flaw, discovered a couple of weeks ago and disclosed in an Apple developer support forum, has been shown to work within the software’s user preferences screen, among other locations. Once triggered, the same combination will also bypass the lock screen of Macs running Apple’s latest operating system.

Turkish software developer, Lemi Orhan Ergin, publicised the flaw on Twitter, calling the bug a “huge security issue”:

Apple said it was “working on a software update to address this issue” and advised users to set a root password to prevent unauthorised access to Mac computers.

The bug does not appear to affect previous versions of macOS, including Sierra, El Capitan or older. It can reportedly be exploited on an unlocked Mac, bypassing security settings and allowing things such as File Vault encryption and the firewall to be turned off. It can also be exploited at the login screen of a locked Mac – even after a reboot – if the bug has been used before, and in some cases remotely if a user has screen sharing enabled.

‘This is really REALLY bad’

The security flaw was originally detailed as a solution to a user login problem on Apple’s developer support forum. A developer called Chethan Kamath, writing under the username chethan177, wrote on 13 November: “On startup, click on “Other”. Enter username: root and leave the password empty. Press enter. (Try twice). If you’re able to log in (hurray, you’re the admin now).”

The solution was then followed by exclaims of surprise that Apple’s software permitted such an action. CoyoteDen said: “Oh my god that should not work, but it does. This is really REALLY bad. Some bug in authentication is ENABLING root with no password the first time it fails!”

Security experts warned that the security hole was both embarrassing for the company and dangerous, allowing anyone with physical access – and in some instances remote access – to a Mac computer to gain full access to user data.

Edward Snowden commented on the bug saying: “Imagine a locked door, but if you just keep trying the handle, it says “oh well” and lets you in without a key.”

Experts also warn against trying out the bug for yourself, as once enabled the flaw can then be more easily exploited even on a locked Mac.

“By testing this vulnerability on your own computer, you’ll end up creating (or modifying) a persistent root user account on your system. The danger here is that, by creating such an account, it will affect remotely accessible services such as Remote Desktop,” Keith Hoodlet, a security engineer at Bugcrowd told CSO.



A Short History of American Empire

Fall 2017

by Jeff Faux

Dissent Magazine

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

by Stephen Kinzer

Henry Holt and Co., 2017, 304 pp.

Toward the end of his history of the domestic conflict over U.S. overseas expansion at the close of the nineteenth century, Stephen Kinzer notes that the winners permanently changed our political lexicon. “Imperialists” became openhearted, visionary “globalists” and “internationalists.” Anti-imperialists became crabby, reactionary “isolationists.” As applied to the United States, the words “empire” and “imperialism” virtually disappeared.

This muddling of the language has made it easier for Americans to misunderstand just what it is that we are doing out there in the world. Thus, in late 2013, at a time when Barack Obama’s foreign policy was widely criticized in the United States as too “soft,” a Gallup poll of around 65,000 people in sixty-five countries showed that the United States was considered the greatest threat to world peace (Pakistan was a distant second).

The story we tell ourselves, of course, is that we are the guardians of the peace, besieged by forces of evil that hate us because of our unique national virtues of freedom, tolerance, and democracy. The possibility that we are being attacked here—in San Bernardino, Orlando, or Boston—because we are bombing there—in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen—lies beyond the current intellectual capacity of our public discourse.

Yet, what word better than “empire” describes America’s role among nations? We have at least 800 acknowledged military installations around the world, the most extensive imperium in history. In 2016, U.S. Special Operations forces—commandos, Navy Seals, Green Berets—were deployed in 138 countries. In many foreign capitals, the most important figure is the U.S. ambassador. We are the globe’s biggest military spenders by far, and sell as many weapons of war as the rest of the world’s arms traffickers combined.

True, we haven’t won a war against a substantial military foe since 1945. But we haven’t had to. Once established, empires do not have to definitively win the wars on their periphery. Rather, the central task is to demonstrate their willingness and capacity to inflict murderous punishment on those who rebel. Since 2001, we have attacked fourteen different countries. Imperialism’s default foreign policy is limited, but endless, war.

Here at home, the authoritarian politics needed to accommodate empire are firmly in place among both the leaders and the led. Congress has long surrendered to the executive branch its constitutional duty to decide whether or not to go to war. At a time when the U.S. electorate holds virtually all other institutions in contempt, the military is revered. A study from Harvard and the University of Melbourne reports that the share of Americans who think that rule by the armed forces would be a “good” or “very good” thing rose from one in sixteen in 1995 to one in six in 2014.

With the election of Donald Trump, the misuse of language to obscure the reality of imperialism has reached new heights. But the practice extends beyond the mindless babble of our infantile president. After he sent missiles to bomb Syria, the front page of the New York Times referred to Trump—global capitalist, defender of dictators, and blustering champion of U.S. military expansion—as an “isolationist.”

Our foreign policy debates—hard power vs. soft power, realism vs. values, military vs. diplomacy, unilateralism vs. multilateralism—do not reflect opposing philosophical ideas on how Americans should relate to the world. They are disputes over the best way to reinforce our self-appointed role of policeman, jury, and judge of the global order. The Democratic cop may have a less belligerent personality than the Republican cop, but both will shoot to kill when their authority is threatened.

Stephen Kinzer, former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has long been one of the few voices reminding Americans of our imperial identity. Over the years he has written a series of accessible and fast-paced histories of the United States’ less-than-benign interventions in other countries’ domestic politics—including the violent overthrow of elected governments in Chile, Iran, and Guatemala.

In his latest, The True Flag, he takes us back to where he thinks it all began—the years 1898 to 1901, when the U.S. political class pushed us off on the quest for global domination.

Up to that point, U.S. foreign policy generally adhered to the Founding Fathers’ proscription against “entangling alliances.” As John Quincy Adams put it, Americans should not be tempted to go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” Otherwise, he feared, although America “might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Dictatress of North America was another matter. By the end of the American Revolution the thirteen colonies had already reached the Mississippi. Jefferson doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase. We subsequently took Florida from Spain, conquered roughly half of Mexico, and continued the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans.

But the geographic logic of Manifest Destiny ran out at the Pacific Ocean. The issue at the end of the nineteenth century was: do we keep going? The debate that followed focused on three successive questions. Should the United States annex Hawaii, whose native government had been overthrown five years earlier in a coup by American settlers reinforced by the U.S. Navy? Should we go to war against the decrepit Spanish Empire? Having won that war, should we renege on our promise to allow their former colonies—Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam—to rule themselves, and instead take them over as U.S. possessions?

Kinzer hangs much of his story on the combative tension between two outsized personalities of the times. Leading the imperialist cause (“yes” on all three of the above questions) was the irrepressible Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt believed that Americans’ destiny was to follow the European imperialists in shouldering what Rudyard Kipling had termed “the white man’s burden”: the duty to impose order and civilization on the lesser, darker breeds, disdained by Roosevelt as “pirates and headhunters.”

In step with Roosevelt’s racist rationale for expansion marched his personal infatuation with the manly, martial virtues upon which he believed America was built. “I should welcome almost any war,” he wrote in 1895, “for I think this country needs one.”

Roosevelt’s most prominent antagonist was Mark Twain, whose wit and satire made him the most popular American personality of the age. Like the founders of the Republic, Twain thought America’s role in the family of nations was to inspire others to democracy by perfecting it at home. He dismissed the “white man’s burden” as sheer hypocrisy, and sympathized with the efforts of people in Asia and Africa to free themselves from colonial rule. After a visit to Hawaii, he wrote that American white missionaries and traders were pursuing a “long, deliberate and infallible destruction” of its native people.

Kinzer presents the argument between Roosevelt and Twain as a struggle for America’s political soul: “These adversaries . . . were deliciously matched. Their views of life, freedom, duty, and the nature of human happiness could not have been further apart.” While Roosevelt considered colonialism a form of Christian charity, Twain pictured Christendom as “a majestic matron in flowing robes drenched in blood.”

The antagonism was personal as well as political. Roosevelt wanted to “skin Mark Twain alive.” Twain considered Roosevelt “clearly insane” and “the most formidable disaster that has befallen the country since the Civil War.”

Roosevelt’s partner in empire-building was another scion of the Eastern establishment, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. In another example of mislabeling, Lodge today is often referred to as an “isolationist” for his later opposition to U.S. membership in the League of Nations. But Lodge was no more of an isolationist than Trump. He opposed the League because he thought it would tie down the United States in its quest for global domination.

These two Republican Brahmins were joined by a Democrat, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, whose nationalist fervor was reinforced by the conviction that war sold newspapers. When the U.S. battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, Hearst, along with fellow penny-press publisher Joseph Pulitzer, falsely blamed the Spanish. The episode illustrated the power of modern mass media to whip up patriotic hysteria in support of U.S. foreign interventions. Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 charge that the North Vietnamese had attacked an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin and George W. Bush’s 2002–2003 claim that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” are recent examples.

The anti-imperialist opposition was also a mixture of class and parties. It included robber baron Andrew Carnegie, labor leader Samuel Gompers, African-American educator Booker T. Washington, social worker and suffragette Jane Addams, ex-president Grover Cleveland, and the legendary Republican Speaker of the House Thomas Reed. It also included the populist three-time Democratic Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan.

Kinzer’s concentration on the stark contrast between the warrior bluster of Roosevelt and the humanitarian wit of Twain is understandable. But his own narrative suggests that two other characters in the drama may have represented political prototypes that better explain the enduring support of our policy class for the imperial project: the Republican Henry Cabot Lodge and the Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

Lodge reflected the merger of military and economic interests that became the foundation of the “realist” conservative position on U.S. foreign policy. As the frontier closed, American businesspeople worried that they would run out of new markets, while Britain, France, and other European competitors were walling off colonies for their own commercial interests. Lodge argued that if the United States annexed the Philippines, its people “would have to buy our goods, and we should have so much additional market for our home manufactures.”

With the evolution of the global corporation, today’s colonialism is more sophisticated. The American empire does not require the direct ownership of colonies. It is much easier and efficient to control other nations by providing bribes, contracts, and weapons to their business and military elites. Still, our military power secures the deals. As a German businessman once said to me, “Never forget, that when General Electric walks in the door here, the Sixth Fleet walks behind it.”

Bryan, perhaps the greatest orator of his time, was an early opponent of colonialism. A speech he gave in 1898 in Omaha against the expansionist agenda turned the anti-imperialist movement from a largely East Coast collection of intellectuals and reformers into a national grassroots campaign. “Is our national character so weak,” he mocked, “that we cannot withstand the temptation to appropriate the first piece of land that comes within our reach?” To annex Spain’s former colonies would add “hypocrisy to greed.”

At one point Bryan even contemplated a formal alliance with his archenemy, the robber baron Andrew Carnegie, against the Treaty of Paris—the deal whereby the United States took control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. “If the richest man in America could unite with the champion of debt-ridden farmers and downtrodden immigrants,” writes Kinzer, “they might together slay the imperialist beast.” But in the end, economic class divisions proved too great. Carnegie—a gold standard man—demanded that Bryan back off his “free silver” crusade. Bryan refused. They went their own ways.

Bryan’s loyalty to populist economics was understandable. Much less so was his subsequent betrayal of the anti-imperialist cause. The climactic moment of the national debate came with the U.S. Senate vote on ratification of the Paris Treaty. Bryan had influence over enough Senate Democrats to defeat it. But a few days before the vote he suddenly announced his support. His defection made the difference. The treaty passed the Senate by one vote.

Bryan later said he had decided that the Treaty was necessary so the United States could teach the former colonies about the institutions of democracy—what we now call “nation-building.” As Kinzer points out, “This was somewhere between naïve and delusional.”

The Republican administration of William McKinley—firmly in the grip of the Roosevelt-Lodge-Hearst confederation—had no intention of bringing either democracy or freedom to these colonies. Indeed, the American takeover was followed by the U.S. Army’s brutal suppression of independence movements in Cuba and, especially in the Philippines, which involved massacre, torture, and horrendous devastation of the countryside. Bryan should have known something like that was coming. Kinzer speculates that Bryan feared that killing the treaty would have cost him support in the 1900 election, which in any case he lost to McKinley and his new running mate, Teddy Roosevelt.

With that election, the bipartisan character of American imperialism congealed. A decade and a half later, Woodrow Wilson brought the United States to the world stage as a full partner in the European-American business of empire. The equally racist Wilson built Roosevelt’s case for the white man’s burden into a messianic vision of America as savior of a sinful world. He presented himself as a reluctant warrior, selling U.S. entry into the First World War as necessary to “make the world safe for Democracy.” In democracy’s name, Wilson criminalized public opposition to the war, arrested thousands, and crushed the domestic socialist movement. To Roosevelt, those who opposed war were sissies. To Wilson, they were traitors.

As became the pattern ever since, Bryan-like claims that the war was being pursued for humanitarian reasons obscured the Lodge-like realities of greed. Urging Wilson on were the Wall Street bankers who had made huge loans to Britain and France that could only be paid back by reparations from a totally defeated Germany. As the novelist John Dos Passos quipped, the war was not so much to make the world safe for democracy, as to make it safe for J.P. Morgan’s loans.

Whether you view Wilson as an idealist or a cynic, his intervention clearly set in motion the dominoes—the Treaty of Versailles, the economic immiseration of Germany, the revanchist reaction and the rise of Hitler—that led to the Second World War. As historian and Dissent editor Michael Kazin has observed, without America’s entry into the First World War, “the next world war, with its 50 million deaths, would probably not have occurred.”

Even if the treaty of Paris had been defeated, of course, it is highly likely that the American policy class would have found another path to global empire. The profit-seeking itch of capitalism, the intoxicating self-righteousness of missionary Christianity, and the masculine appeal of war was too powerful a combination for twentieth-century Americans to resist.

So, empire became its own justification. Might made right, which then rationalized more might. As Bill Clinton’s UN ambassador and, later, Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, famously asked General Colin Powell: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

But empires do not last forever. Already, ours shows signs of overreach. The American model of client colonialism depends on the capacity of Washington to bribe and subsidize enough of the world’s politicians and generals to keep them loyal. But U.S. economic power is eroding. In an increasing number of places, it is the Chinese, not the Americans, who now have the cash.

That our country needs to adjust to a multipolar world has become a cliché among foreign policy pundits. But our bipartisan policy class—fiercely protective of its unipolar privileges—has shown little interest in backing away from its global commitments. The Democratic foreign policy team of Obama-Clinton-Kerry differed with the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team on operational grounds. But from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, they maintained, and arguably extended, U.S. military obligations.

Trump, despite his querulousness about Europe’s insufficient dues to NATO and his admiration for Putin and other shady characters, represents a continuation of the commitment to world hegemony of his predecessors. He has already backed off the protectionist promises he made to working-class voters, and wants to expand foreign arms sales to create “jobs, jobs, jobs.” He is increasing the already bloated defense budget and has loosened the civilian leash on the Pentagon’s power to initiate military action. The danger of a Trump presidency is from the opposite of “isolationism”—an expansion of U.S. aggression around the world.

As the Romans learned, if you build an empire, sooner or later you’ll get a paranoid crackpot for emperor.

But we live on hope. So it is not impossible that having Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button might force a revival of the kind of serious national debate on the United States’ role in the world that we stopped having over a century ago. As Kinzer suggests, we might start by at least using language that accurately describes what we are now doing.

Kinzer’s book helps explain how we got into this mess. The question now is: how do we get out?


The Duplicitous Superpower

How Washington’s chronic deceit—especially towards Russia—has sabotaged U.S. foreign policy.

November 28, 2017

by Ted Galen Carpenter

The American Conservative

For any country, the foundation of successful diplomacy is a reputation for credibility and reliability. Governments are wary of concluding agreements with a negotiating partner that violates existing commitments and has a record of duplicity. Recent U.S. administrations have ignored that principle, and their actions have backfired majorly, damaging American foreign policy in the process.

The consequences of previous deceit are most evident in the ongoing effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. During his recent trip to East Asia, President Trump urged Kim Jong-un’s regime to “come to the negotiating table” and “do the right thing”—relinquish the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Presumably, that concession would lead to a lifting (or at least an easing) of international economic sanctions and a more normal relationship between Pyongyang and the international community.

Unfortunately, North Korean leaders have abundant reasons to be wary of such U.S. enticements. Trump’s transparent attempt to renege on Washington’s commitment to the deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which the United States and other major powers signed in 2015 to curb Tehran’s nuclear program—certainly does not increase Pyongyang’s incentive to sign a similar agreement. His decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, even when the United Nations confirms that Tehran is adhering to its obligations, appears more than a little disingenuous.

North Korea is likely focused on another incident that raises even greater doubts about U.S. credibility. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi capitulated on the nuclear issue in December of 2003, abandoning his country’s nuclear program and reiterating a commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In exchange, the United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and welcomed Libya back into the community of respectable nations. Barely seven years later, though, Washington and its NATO partners double-crossed Qaddafi, launching airstrikes and cruise missile attacks to assist rebels in their campaign to overthrow the Libyan strongman. North Korea and other powers took notice of Qaddafi’s fate, making the already difficult task of getting a de-nuclearization agreement with Pyongyang nearly impossible.

The Libya intervention sullied America’s reputation in another way. Washington and its NATO allies prevailed on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing a military intervention to protect innocent civilians. Russia and China refrained from vetoing that resolution after Washington’s assurances that military action would be limited in scope and solely for humanitarian purposes. Once the assault began, it quickly became evident that the resolution was merely a fig leaf for another U.S.-led regime-change war.

Beijing, and especially Moscow, understandably felt duped. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates succinctly described Russia’s reaction, both short-term and long-term:

The Russians later firmly believed they had been deceived on Libya. They had been persuaded to abstain at the UN on the grounds that the resolution provided for a humanitarian mission to prevent the slaughter of civilians. Yet as the list of bombing targets steadily grew, it became obvious that very few targets were off-limits, and that NATO was intent on getting rid of Qaddafi. Convinced they had been tricked, the Russians would subsequently block any such future resolutions, including against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The Libya episode was hardly the first time the Russians concluded that U.S. leaders had cynically misled them. Moscow asserts that when East Germany unraveled in 1990, both U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher offered verbal assurances that, if Russia accepted a unified Germany within NATO, the alliance would not expand beyond Germany’s eastern border. The official U.S. position that there was nothing in writing affirming such a limitation is correct—and the clarity, extent, and duration of any verbal commitment to refrain from enlargement are certainly matters of intense controversy. But invoking a “you didn’t get it in writing” dodge does not inspire another government’s trust.

There seems to be no limit to Washington’s desire to crowd Russia. NATO has even added the Baltic republics, which had been part of the Soviet Union itself. In early 2008, President George W. Bush unsuccessfully tried to admit Georgia and Ukraine, which would have engineered yet another alliance move eastward. By that time, Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders were beyond furious.

The timing of Bush’s attempted ploy could scarcely have been worse. It came on the heels of Russia’s resentment at another example of U.S. duplicity. In 1999, Moscow had reluctantly accepted a UN mandate to cover NATO’s military intervention against Serbia, a long-standing Russian client. The alliance airstrikes and subsequent moves to detach and occupy Serbia’s restless province of Kosovo for the ostensible reason of protecting innocent civilians from atrocities was the same “humanitarian” justification that the West would use subsequently in Libya.

Nine years after the initial Kosovo intervention, the United States adopted an evasive policy move, showing utter contempt for Russia’s wishes and interests in the process. Kosovo wanted to declare its formal independence from Serbia, but it was clear that such a move would face a certain Russian (and probable Chinese) veto in the UN Security Council. Washington and an ad-hoc coalition of European Union countries brazenly bypassed the Council and approved Pristina’s independence declaration. It was an extremely controversial move. Not even all EU members were on board with the policy, since some of them (e.g., Spain) had secessionist problems of their own.

Russia’s leaders protested vehemently and warned that the West’s unauthorized action established a dangerous, destabilizing international precedent. Washington rebuffed their complaints, arguing that the Kosovo situation was unique. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns made that point explicitly in a February 2008 State Department briefing. Both the illogic and the hubris of that position were breathtaking.

It is painful for any American to admit that the United States has acquired a well-deserved reputation for duplicity in its foreign policy. But the evidence for that proposition is quite substantial. Indeed, disingenuous U.S. behavior regarding NATO expansion and the resolution of Kosovo’s political status may be the single most important factor for the poisoned bilateral relationship with Moscow. The U.S. track record of duplicity and betrayal is one reason why prospects for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through diplomacy are so bleak.

Actions have consequences, and Washington’s reputation for disingenuous behavior has complicated America’s own foreign policy objectives. This is a textbook example of a great power shooting itself in the foot.


Israel and Saudi Arabia: New best friends in the Middle East?

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East.

November 28, 2017

by Kersten Knipp


In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel’s defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how he viewed his country’s relations with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. He did so in an interview with the Saudi Arabian website Elaph. Journalist Othman Al Omeir, who owns Elaph, also has very close ties to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. That newspaper, in turn, is owned by the Saudi king. Thus, Eizenkot had pushed forth into the heart of the Saudi media scene.

Eizenkot explained that Israel was prepared to share information as well as intelligence material with moderate Arab states in order to counter Iran. He answered the question of whether Israel had already shared intelligence with Saudi Arabia by quoting from a letter of intent: “We are prepared to share information when necessary. We have many common interests.” He did, however, make one thing crystal clear: Iran is viewed by Israel as the “greatest threat to the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed a possible reorientation of Israeli-Saudi relations, albeit in general terms, and without directly referring to Saudi Arabia. Speaking at a memorial service on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the death of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu talked of the “fruitful cooperation between Israel and the Arab world.” He declined to go into detail but said he was confident that relations would grow. “This will enable us to continue working toward peace.”

Rhetorical concessions

It appears that both countries are being particularly careful about communicating mutual rapprochement through unofficial channels. The fact that Eizenkot granted Elaph an interview can be seen as evidence of a deliberately defensive PR strategy. Anwar Ashki, a former general in the Saudi army, expressed himself in similar fashion. He emphasized that relations between both countries were only unofficial at this point, when speaking on DW’s Arabic language show Massalya. Yet Ashki also led an Arab delegation visiting Jerusalem in July 2016. There, the delegation met with members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Officially, the talks conducted by both sides were about lending new impulses to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which began in 2002 and is designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Speaking on Massalya, Ashki underscored the fact that he had not been in Israel but rather in Jerusalem, “the capital of the Palestinians.”

Such statements are intended as concessions to broad swaths of the Arab world that must first get used to this new tone after decades of military and propaganda confrontation. Nevertheless, Ashki said that Saudi citizens are ready for rapprochement. The reason for this shift in public opinion is obvious. “It was not Israel that fired rockets at us, it was Iran,” he said. “It is they who threaten our national security.”

Unsettling threat scenarios

Ashki was referring to the latest escalation in the US-backed war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen for the last two-and-a-half years. In early November, the rebels fired rockets on the Saudi capital Riyadh from Yemeni territory. The missiles were intercepted by the Saudi air force. The Saudi government suspects that Iran, which supplied the rebels with rockets, of being behind the attack. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continually ratcheted up diplomatic tension with Iran, positing the country as a threat to the kingdom’s national security.

Israel, too, sees itself threatened by Iran. The Teheran-allied Shiite militia Hezbollah has used its engagement in the war in Syria as an opportunity to push forward into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In September, Israel conducted massive military maneuvers to prepare for the potential of renewed confrontation with Hezbollah.

Impact on the Middle East

It remains to be seen what effect Israeli-Saudi rapprochement will have on the Middle East as a whole. For decades, the Arab world has professed solidarity with the Palestinians. Historically, autocrats like Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have sought to justify their own tyranny by pointing to their enmity towards Israel. Their ceaseless propaganda to that end has left a deep mark on public opinion.

For Qais Abd al-Karim, the deputy secretary general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DLP), such statements by Israel about its new relationship with Saudi Arabia are mainly “media announcements.” Karim told DW they are intended to give the impression “that relations between the two states are developing into an alliance that is itself designed to express a common stance against Iran and its allies in the region.” Adding that, “As long as the Saudi government does not publicly acknowledge this new relationship, there will be no possibility of a normalization of relations with Israel.”


Israel’s leadership talks up another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon 

Risk of conflict with Iranian-backed group given fresh impetus by Israeli, Saudi Arabian and US rhetoric against Tehran

November 27, 2017

by Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem

The Guardian

Israel’s political and military leadership appears to have concluded that a conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah is becoming increasingly likely, despite months of growing warnings that a third Lebanese war would be more dangerous and deadly than the last war in 2006.

The mounting tensions on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon have increased in recent months as Israel has recognised its assumption that Hezbollah – a key ally fighting with the Assad regime – would be chewed up in a protracted Syrian conflict is badly mistaken as the war has turned rapidly in Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

Instead, the Iranian-backed group appears to be emerging from the Syrian war as a battle-hardened and largely conventional military force whose missiles have been heavily resupplied by Tehran despite dozens of Israeli airstrikes on convoys and depots.

Amid threats by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israel would intervene rather than allow Iran or Iranian-backed groups to establish themselves on Israel’s border, the sense of growing risk of conflict has been given added impetus in the recent convergence of Israeli, Saudi Arabian and US rhetoric against Iran.

In Israel, however, the talk of war with Hezbollah has escalated. with top military and political figures detailing the probable shape of a future conflict, and Israel’s then air force chief suggesting that Lebanon could be subjected to a huge aerial bombardment in the opening days of a campaign with civilian casualties highly probable.

“If a war breaks out in the northern arena we need to act with full force from the beginning,” Israel’s outgoing air force commander, Maj Gen Amir Eshel, told the Herzliya conference in June shortly before stepping down

What we could do in 34 days during the second Lebanon war we can now do in 48 to 60 hours. The growth of our strength has not been linear.

“This is potential power unimaginable in its scope, much different to what we have seen in the past and far greater than people estimate.”

Speaking at a ceremony in October, Israel’s combative rightwing defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, suggested that the Lebanese military could also be considered an enemy combatant alongside Hezbollah.

“We’re talking about Hezbollah and the Lebanese military and, unfortunately, this is the reality,” he told soldiers at Israel’s military headquarters, suggesting that the Lebanese army had lost its independence and had become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.

“If war breaks out in the north, we have to open with all our strength from the start,” Lieberman said.

The reality, however, is that despite remarks by Netanyahu in talking up the coincidence of Saudi-led Sunni opposition to Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, the recent bellicose Saudi moves complicate issues for Israel.

Israeli commentators – as well as the former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro – have also warned of the risk of Israel getting sucked into a conflict on Saudi terms.

“It is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon – an Israeli-Hezbollah war,” said Shapiro in an op-ed.

He added: “Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the manoeuvres of their allies who sit in Riyadh.”

Shapiro has not been alone in warning of the risk. The military commentator of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Amos Harel, delivered a similar warning, not least over an unplanned escalation from “a local incident gone out of control”.

“If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides [Israel and Hezbollah], this becomes a tangible danger.”

Other commentators have pointed to Saudi Arabian policy in Syria, Yemen and Qatar that has been as reckless as it has been ineffective, warning an intervention in Lebanon would result in a stronger Iranian influence there.

The reality, as made clear by the head of the Israeli military’s intelligence directorate, Herzl Halevi, in a speech last year is that any conflict in the north with Hezbollah would “not be simple or easy”.

Since the war in 2006 Hezbollah has emerged as the most capable and resilient non-state military actor, with 20,000 full-time and highly trained fighters, 25,000 reservists and upwards of 100,000 missiles, according to estimates.

Recent large-scale Israeli war games suggest too that any conflict could play out in an entirely different way to the last war, with 1,500-2,000 rockets being fired per day and even efforts to infiltrate Israeli communities by fighters crossing the border.

Then there is the wider question of whether a limited war could be contained without bringing in other actors.

Writing in Foreign Affairs in October, Dmitry Adamsky, who teaches diplomacy and strategy at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, asked a question long festering in the background.

“Israeli strategists do not question the likelihood of a war with Hezbollah,” wrote Adamsky. “But they wonder how Russia, which is a comrade-in-arms with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, would respond to such a conflict.”

Finally, if there is one thing mitigating in favour of rhetoric rather than military action, it is the reputation of Netanyahu for being as chronically risk averse as he is fond of making big threats over the years.

Rouhani says Saudis call Iran an enemy to conceal defeat in region

November 28, 2017


BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia presents Iran as an enemy because it wants to cover up its defeats in the region.

“Saudi Arabia was unsuccessful in Qatar, was unsuccessful in Iraq, in Syria and recently in Lebanon. In all of these areas, they were unsuccessful,” Rouhani said in the interview live on state television. “So they want to cover up their defeats.”

The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Iran back rival sides in the wars and political crises throughout the region.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince called the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “the new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with the New York Times published last week, escalating the war of words between the arch-rivals

Tensions soared this month when Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in a television broadcast from Riyadh, citing the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and risks to his life.

Hezbollah called the move an act of war engineered by Saudi authorities, an accusation they denied.

Hariri returned to Lebanon last week and suspended his resignation but has continued his criticism of Hezbollah.

Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia form a line of resistance in the region that has worked toward stability and achieved “big accomplishments”, Rouhani said in the interview, which was reviewing his first 100 days in office in his second term.

Separately, Rouhani defended his government’s response to an earthquake in western Iran two weeks ago, a major challenges for his administration.

The magnitude 7.3 quake, Iran’s worst in more than a decade, killed at least 530 people and injured thousands. The government’s response has become a lightning rod for Rouhani’s hard-line rivals, who have said the government did not respond adequately or quickly to the disaster

Supreme Leader Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has also criticized the government response.

Hard-line media outlets have highlighted the role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful military body in Iran and an economic powerhouse worth billions of dollars, in helping victims of the earthquake.

Government ministries have provided health care for victims and temporary housing has been sent to the earthquake zone, but problems still exist, Rouhani said in the interview.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Editing by Larry King


Up in the Air, Sky High, Sky High!

November 29, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Hezbollah has over 400 missile launch sites for its rockets throughout southern Lebanon. Many rockets are hidden in civilian houses or rural establishments and also in an elaborate underground bunker system.

Long range heavy rockets are moved from their places of concealment to a firing position by one group, placed on quickly-constructed firing platforms by another group while a third group is responsible for launching the missiles.

Hezbollah engineers have constructed hundreds of firing positions.

A crew can rapidly move a rocket to a firing position within minutes of receiving the command to do so.

Due to its constant, and known, aerial observation of suspected launching positions, Israel can attack a launch site but only after a launch

It has been projected that in the event of their launching a massive missile attack on Israel, Hezbollah can maintain a heavy fire for two to three months.

Israeli intelligence, shared with their U.S. counterparts predicts that Hezbollah has the capability of launching upwards of a thousand to two thousand missiles a day.

Israeli intelligence, military and civil, are under the impression that their communications with U.S. agencies are secret.

They are not.

It is known that Hezbollah, through Iran and to some degree, Syria, has received a significant number of Russian-built TOPOL-M II missiles

This missile, with improved GPS guidance systems has a speed of over 15,000 miles per hour, can take evasive action in the event of hostile intercepts and scatters decoys to confuse anti-missile defenses.

The TOPOL-M-II missile is designed to penetrate any anti-ballistic missile shield by combining high speed with a relatively small infrared signature during its boost phase. In addition, they system has decoys (as many as ten carried on a single missile) are, these, coupled with mid-course rapid course change capability make this weapon almost unbeatable.

The missile’s high speed shortens the time it can be reacted to.

The rocket motors were designed for a short, very powerful boost stage so that American developed space-based infrared detection satellites (SBIRS, DSP) have less time to detect and track it.

Its decoys make it hard for radar to adequately track the correct target, and its countermeasures have been upgraded to disrupt infrared tracking systems utilized for mid-course interception.

The missile and reentry vehicles’ ability to dynamically maneuver outside of their ballistic track makes producing an effective kill solution, or even predicting the TOPOL-M II’s target, problematic.

The missile itself is seventy feet long, made mainly of carbon fiber and weighs just over 100,000 lbs at launch. It can reach out to about 6,500 miles. There would be no area of Israel that would be safe. Its three stages are solid fueled, so it can be ready to launch at a moment’s notice, and can remain ready to fire for long periods of time.

The TOPOL-M II’s payload can be as heavy as 2650 lbs, although it usually carriers a single 800 kiloton thermonuclear warhead.

This warhead is fully capable, for instance, of removing a city like Tel Aviv from the map.

It is guided by an on-board inertial navigation system that is coupled with a GLONASS (Russian GPS) interface, giving the giant rocket a circular error probability (CEP) of around 600 feet, which is more than accurate enough for an ICBM.

Not only is the road-mobile TOPOL-M II hard to hit once it is in the air, or at the edge of space for that matter, it is also very hard to find on the ground as they can hide pretty much anywhere. Its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is built in Belarus by heavy military vehicle makers MZKT, features sixteen wheels, and the front and rear pair of axles have independent steering, which is absolutely necessary for navigating the massive TEL on roads that were never built for something its size.

Not only is the road-mobile TOPOL-M II hard to hit once it has been launched, it is also very hard to find on the ground as the system is easy to conceal. Its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is built in Belarus by heavy military vehicle makers MZKT, features sixteen wheels, and the front and rear pair of axles have independent steering, which is absolutely necessary for navigating the massive TEL on roads that were never built for something its size.

The MZKT-79221 is capable off-road

The missile and the TEL are also accompanied by a command and support vehicle, and in some cases a similar long-range communications vehicle for over the horizon connectivity.

Also in the Hezbollah arsenal is a Russian-designed RS-24 ‘Yars’ missile which is even faster than the TOPOL-M II and features an even higher speed.

Through what Israel believes is a solid new relationship with Saudi Arabia, Israel is under the mistaken impression that it can somehow neutralize Hezbollah.

Israel has made many requests of the U.S. to use their long-range bombers to carpet bomb southern Lebanon, as well as Tehran, but the U.S. military has refused to accommodate them.


Endgame Iran? Saudi-led ‘Arab NATO’ paves way for regional showdown

November 27, 2017

by Robert Bridge


Muhammad bin Salman has been kicking up a lot of sand since being made Saudi Crown Prince in June and heir apparent to the throne. Unfortunately, his latest initiative, an ‘Arab NATO,’ promises to be just as successful as his other efforts to date.

If the world escapes the latest brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) with nothing more serious than a regional fender-bender we should count our lucky stars.

In December 2015, MbS, serving as the youngest-ever Saudi defense minister, first trumpeted the idea of a ‘Muslim Alliance’ built along the lines of a NATO-style military bloc. Because the 29-member, US-led military bloc is such a positive role model, right? The Saudi variety called for a pan-Islamic coalition of 41 countries allegedly dedicated to fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Smoldering in the background of this doomed-to-fail project was Yemen, where a civil war continues to rage between multiple players, including not least of all Saudi Arabia, with the assistance of the United States (On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry accused the US of being “complicit, and responsible for” Saudi Arabia’s “crimes against Yemen”).

However, with ISIS largely neutralized in Syria, and Saudi intervention in Yemen creating a humanitarian nightmare, it probably came as little surprise that one of the first duties of the ‘Muslim Alliance’ was to hire the services of Burson-Marsteller, a New York-based public relations firm, to polish the image before putting out the awning. To briefly sum up the work of this international PR firm, Rachel Maddow described it best when she quipped, “When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed dial.”

Today, the group, which now goes by the high-sounding name of ‘Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC),’ has announced a new set of directives that resemble a blood-stained page torn from the George W. Bush playbook.

“Today we start the pursuit of terrorism, and we see its defeat in many facets around the world, especially in Muslim countries… We will continue to fight it until we see its defeat,” MbS told defense ministers who gathered in Saudi Arabia for the military bloc’s summit. “In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries… this ends today, with this alliance.”

It doesn’t take long to see some severe shortcomings with this organization. First, of the 41 official members, none hail from a Shia-dominated government, an oversight that automatically and conspicuously excludes Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This is no small snub, and flies in the face of Riyadh’s assertion that ‘Arab NATO’ is not designed with the likes of Tehran and Damascus in mind, to say nothing of Beirut.

After all, many Shia countries have suffered untold death and destruction at the hands of the terrorist group Islamic State, and others. Thus, if any countries deserve the protection of an anti-terror bloc, it is certainly Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Second, the Saudi proposal comes amid some very trying times for Riyadh. Although it actively advocated on behalf of President Bashar Assad being ousted as Syrian leader, those plans were dashed as Syrian forces, with the direct assistance of Russia and Iran, virtually eliminated IS, practically assuring Assad’s grip on power.

Now Riyadh, obviously insecure despite Tehran’s relatively insignificant incursions in the region, is clearly overreacting, threatening to throw the entire region into turmoil.

This became evident on November 4 when the Saudi crown prince triggered an avalanche of events that began when Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, flew to Riyadh to announce his resignation. The reason was just as strange as announcing it from a foreign capital: “Iran and Hezbollah.”

“I say to Iran and its allies – you have lost in your efforts to meddle in the affairs of the Arab world,” Hariri said, adding that the region “will rise again and the hands that you have wickedly extended into it will be cut off.”

Since making his shock announcement, Hariri, who many Lebanese believed was being held against his will by Riyadh, has gone on a whirlwind tour that saw him pay a visit to French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris before returning to Lebanon – despite his stated fears of being a possible target of “assassination.”

Shortly after Hariri’s arrival in Riyadh, the crown prince arrested 11 princes and a number of diplomats and businessmen, and they are still being detained at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, apparently negotiating for a very expensive release.

Arguably the most disturbing event that tumultuous day, however, came as MbS blamed Iran for a missile that was launched at the outskirts of Riyadh – and reportedly intercepted – from Yemeni territory.

Meanwhile, MbS, has been launching some verbal projectiles against Iran that failed to miss their mark.

The Crown Prince took his offensive against Tehran to the lowest common denominator when he said Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the “new Hitler of the Middle East” in a fawning profile by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work,” bin Salman told Friedman. “We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”

Those astounding comments, which went practically unchallenged by Friedman, came just days after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said, “Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism” in an interview with US television network CNBC.

Finally, it is interesting and not a little worrisome that this Saudi-inspired military bloc is being dubbed the “Arab NATO.” Aside from NATO being guilty of its own series of serious misdeeds, which run the gamut from Serbia to Iraq, and many places in between, it appears MbS’s recent moves are not without some heavy American influence.

For example, just weeks before Hariri got the call to report to Riyadh where he made his dramatic announcement, Donald Trump’s senior advisor, Jared Kushner, traveled to Saudi Arabia for high-level meetings.

According to Foreign Policy, Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has had three trips to Saudi Arabia “since Trump took office.”

If the past behavior of US-led NATO is any indication of things to come, the world has some good reason to be very concerned about this ‘Arab NATO’ and where it will lead us.

Is the goal of Saudi Arabia to use this military bloc to really fight against the scourge of terrorism, or does it have far more dangerous objectives in mind?

The answer is of consequence for every person on the planet.


Bubble trouble? Bitcoin tops $11,000 after $1,000 surge in 12 hours

November 28, 2017

by Jemima Kelly and Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss


LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bitcoin zoomed past $11,000 (£8,185.50) to hit a record high for the sixth day in a row on Wednesday after gaining more than $1,000 in just 12 hours, stoking concerns that a rapidly swelling bubble could be set to burst in spectacular fashion.

After soaring more than 1,000 percent since the start of the year, bitcoin rose as much as 15 percent on Wednesday.

It topped $10,000 for the first time in early Asia trading, before surging above $11,000 less than 12 hours later to reach $11,395 on Luxembourg-based Bitstamp, one of the largest and most liquid cryptocurrency exchanges, and then dipping back below $11,000.

Bitcoin’s rapid ascent has led to countless warnings that it has reached bubble territory. But the warnings have had little effect, with dozens of new crypto-hedge funds entering the market and retail investors piling in. London-based Blockchain.info, one of the biggest global bitcoin wallet-providers, told Reuters on Wednesday that it had added a record number of new users on Tuesday, with more than 100,000 customers signing up, taking the total number to more than 19 million.

The evidence suggests that few of the users are buying bitcoin to use it as a means of exchange, but are speculating to increase their capital.

“What’s happening right now has nothing to do with bitcoin’s functionality as a currency – this is pure mania that’s taken hold,” said Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

“This is very much a bubble that will very much correct itself at some point and people need to be very careful.” Hileman, who last week gave a lecture to the Bank of England on the risks of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, also flagged the risk of the whole market collapsing entirely.

“There’s always the possibility that some fundamental cryptographic flaw that we can’t solve craters the whole space, or that regulators unite and decide this represents systemic risk and actually could trigger the next financial crisis,” he said.


Created in 2008, bitcoin uses encryption and a blockchain database that enables the fast and anonymous transfer of funds outside of a conventional centralised payment system.

It has far outstripped gains seen in any traditional asset classes or currencies this year. It rise accelerated in recent months as exchanges such as the CME Group Inc and the Chicago Board Options Exchange announced plans to offer futures contracts for the cryptocurrency.

Sceptics say it a classic speculative bubble with no relation to real financial market activity or the economy – most famously JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon, who labelled it a “fraud”.

But even Dimon and others who say bitcoin represents a bubble – now the consensus view among mainstream investors – do not deny its price rise could still have further to go.

“It’s got all the shapings of your tulip bubble chart (but) that tells you nothing about where that price line could go depending on the number of people who wish to own it,” Standard Life’s head of investment strategy, Andrew Milligan, said on Wednesday. “Who is to say it doesn’t reach $100,000?”

In some emerging markets, bitcoin had hit well over $10,000 previously. In Zimbabwe, bitcoin traded at $17,875 on Monday. Tuesday’s price in Zimbabwe was not available.

In South Korean exchanges, too, bitcoin was already close to $11,000 or higher early this week.

The fact that bitcoin now provides “exit ramps” from national currencies that were becoming easier to use, Hileman said, could exacerbate any future financial crisis. Coordinated regulatory action might therefore be necessary in order to stave off an “economic calamity”, he said.

Despite its mushrooming value, however, Bank of England Deputy Governor Jon Cunliffe said on Wednesday bitcoin was not big enough to pose a risk to the global economy.

Mike Novogratz, a former macro hedge fund manager at Fortress Investment Group, said in a Reuters Investment Summit earlier this month that mainstream institutional investors were about six to eight months from adopting bitcoin.

Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong, Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore, and Helen Reid and Dhara Ranasinghe in London; Editing by Alison Williams

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