BEIRUT, LEBANON (9:45 A.M.) – The Venezuelan military has deployed more S-300 air defense missiles to a key airbase south of Caracas, the Image Sat International reported on Sunday.
According to Image Sat, the Venezuelan armed forces activated their S-300 missiles after completing their military drills in February.
As shown in the photo below, Image Sat reveals through their satellite imagery the additional S-300 missiles that have been deployed to the Captain Manuel Rios Airbase in the Guarico state of Venezuela:
In addition to activating their S-300 missiles, the Venezuelan Armed Forces received a major boost on Sunday when the Russian Air Force and their military personnel arrived inside the country.
It remains unclear how active the Russian military is going to be in Venezuela, as despite the protests and sporadic violence, there has been really no real attempt to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro did state on Saturday that his government foiled an assassination plot by the Venezuelan opposition recently; however, no details were given.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad [Twitter]
March 25, 2019 at 11:52 am
During a visit to Pakistan on Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad described Israel as a “state of robbers”, the Safa news agency reported.
“We are not against Jews but we cannot recognize Israel because of [its] occupation of Palestinian land,” Mahathir said during a three-day visit to Pakistan.
He stressed that his country enjoys friendly relations with every country in the world except Israel. “You cannot seize others’ lands and form a state. It is like a state of robbers,” he said.
Mohamad’s remark came one day after US President Donald Trump’s decision to recogniseIsrael’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, which were followed by Israeli calls for similar recognition of its annexation of the occupied West Bank.
Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, offered to set up a covert assassination programme targeting senior Taliban leaders during a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year, Middle East Eye has learnt.
Bin Zayed made the offer during Pompeo’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on 12 January amid disagreements between the pair over the progress of peace talks between US and Taliban negotiators.
According to a source with detailed knowledge of the meeting, bin Zayed told Pompeo that Washington risked allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the “backward, bearded bad guys” and proposed hiring mercenaries to kill Taliban leaders to weaken the group’s negotiating position.
Pompeo was visibly taken aback by the offer, but said nothing, the source said.
The United Arab Emirates has previously supported US efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, and hosted a first round of face-to-face negotiations between the two sides on 20 December last year in Abu Dhabi.
But bin Zayed is understood to have been frustrated that subsequent rounds of talks were moved to Doha, the capital of Qatar, at the Taliban’s insistence.
According to MEE’s source, bin Zayed also warned Pompeo that withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan risked turning back the clock to 2001, prior to the US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
The US hopes that a negotiated deal with the Taliban, which continues to battle Afghan government and international forces, could allow it to start withdrawing some of its 14,000 troops still in the country before the end of 2019.
Bin Zayed suggested instead organising and funding what he described as a “Blackwater-style” operation to “wage an assassination campaign against the first-line leadership of the Taliban” in order to prevent it from achieving its chief political demands, the source said.
Blackwater was the private security firm founded by Erik Prince which was hired by the CIA in 2004 to run covert operations involving the locating and killing of al-Qaeda operatives.
US officials acknowledged the existence of the programme in 2009 but said that no operations were ever conducted.
Blackwater gained notoriety over its activities in Iraq where several of its contractors opened fire on unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007, killing 14 people and injuring 17 others.
Prince later settled in Abu Dhabi and was subsequently hired by bin Zayed to build a mercenary army in the UAE to confront potential worker or pro-democracy uprisings.
Former Yemen allies furious as UAE assassination campaign exposed
The UAE also sent foreign mercenaries to fight as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where it ran an assassination programme targeting leaders of Al-Islah, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In October last year, Abraham Golan, a Hungarian-Israeli security contractor, revealed details about the assassination programme to BuzzFeed News.
The UAE hired former special forces soldiers to carry out the missions, Buzzfeed reported.
“I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition,” Golan said.
Al-Islah said in August last year that nine of its leaders had been murdered since 2015. They are among at least 27 clerics killed, often in drive-by shootings, in the southern city of Aden and surrounding areas by unidentified militias in the same period.
A member of the group told MEE in October that he believed bin Zayed was behind the killings.
‘Killing and talking’
“I believe that Mohammed bin Zayed convinced [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman to fight the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen,” said Al-Islah’s Mohammed Abdulwadood. “The latter approves all UAE steps in Yemen.”
Bin Zayed has nonetheless maintained close contacts with Al-Islah leaders, who he hosted for talks in Abu Dhabi in November.
MEE’s source described bin Zayed’s proposal to target Taliban leaders even as peace talks were ongoing as a replica of the one deployed against Al-Islah leaders in Yemen.
‘Any threat… will eliminate the present chance for peace and will create irreparable mistrust’
– Taliban spokesperson
“It’s the same tactic: killing and talking,” he said.
Taliban officials are understood to be aware of bin Zayed’s proposal to assassinate the group’s top leadership.
But a Taliban spokesperson in Doha told MEE that he could not comment on the authenticity of the claim.
“Any threat and blackmailing whatsoever and from anywhere will eliminate the present chance for peace and will create irreparable mistrust,” he said.
The government of the UAE has been publicly supportive of US negotiations with the Taliban, with the official WAM news agency reporting after December’s talks that further rounds would also take place in Abu Dhabi “to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process”.
But the next two rounds of negotiations – a six-day meeting in January described by Pompeo on Twitter as “encouraging”, and further talks over 16 days in February and March – were moved to Doha, where the Taliban has maintained a political office since 2013.
Pompeo is said to have pushed back despite bin Zayed’s displeasure, telling him that the move had happened at the request of the Taliban, and that the US side was less interested in the venue than in achieving a ceasefire.
The US negotiating team is headed by Zalmay Khalilzad, who wrote on Twitter following the end of the last round of talks on 12 March that “the conditions for peace have improved”.
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad
(1/4) Just finished a marathon round of talks with the Taliban in #Doha. The conditions for #peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides.
“It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” Khalilzad wrote.
Bin Zayed was also upset at US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December that he would pull all 2,000 US troops out of Syria, MEE’s source said.
At the time of his meeting with the crown prince, Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, were taking part in a nine-nation tour of the region to reassure allies jittery at the prospect of a sudden US withdrawal from Syria.
Two days earlier, in a keynote speech in Cairo, Pompeo had vowed to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria.
But his speech, framed as an assault on Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, was also read as an implicit row back of Trump’s announcement in December that all US troops would leave Syria in 30 days. The announcement prompted a clash with Turkey and the resignation of Jim Mattis, Trump’s defence secretary.
Pompeo declared in Cairo that “when America retreats, chaos follows.”
Bin Zayed reinforced the same message to Pompeo. He told the US secretary of state: “You are leaving Syria to be under Iranian and Turkish influence and that will bring everyone back. They will act against your acts and our interests.”
Bin Zayed held out a carrot. He said that if the US changed its mind, the United Arab Emirates would be prepared to fund the cost of keeping US troops in Syria from its own budget.
The State Department declined to comment when contacted by MEE. MEE also asked the UAE government to comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
CARACAS – The Russian Defense Ministry has sent An-124 military transport aircraft, IL-62M jet airliner and more than 100 troops to Caracas, against the backdrop of growing tensions between Venezuela and the United States.
Citing its sources, the Defence Blog reported that Chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces Col. Gen. Vasily Tonkoshkurov also arrived with the Russian troops.
Reports suggest the cargo plane arrived in Venezuela from Moscow through Syria.
Photos of the 2 RuAF airplanes that landed in Caracas today. An IL-62 and an AN-124#Venezuela#Russia
Growing discontent in Venezuela, fuelled by hyperinflation, power cuts and food and medicine shortages, has led to a political crisis.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has declared himself interim president following large protests, galvanising opponents of current socialist President Nicolás Maduro.
Mr. Guaidó has been recognized as leader by more than 50 countries, including most in Latin America and the United States. Mr. Maduro, who still has the support of China and Russia, accuses the opposition of being part of a US-orchestrated coup.
At least 40 people are believed to have died since 21 January and the UN has warned that the situation could spiral out of control.
More than three million Venezuelans have fled their country over recent years, blaming hunger, lack of medical care, rising unemployment and violent crime.
Defence Blog reports the emergence of a large number of the Russian military is the desire of Moscow to show their determination to Trump administration. Moreover, it quoted some sources as saying that a new Russian military base may appear in Venezuela in the near future.
“A broken” and “haunted” man was the Telegraph’s description of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair following the release of the Iraq War report. What I saw was a good ‘poor little me’ act performed to perfection in an attempt to salvage remnants of his reputation. “I didn’t lie or deceive,” he emphasized over and over with teary eyes while still insisting that “The world is better off without Saddam”.
He quotes from an Iraq Survey Report to the effect that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was poised to reconstitute his Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes as soon as sanctions were lifted – yet another twisting of the truth from the master manipulator.
Firstly, how would inspectors know the secretive Iraqi leader’s future intentions? Secondly, Charles Duelfer, who headed the Bush administration’s investigations of Iraq’s weapons status, told Congressional committees that Saddam’s ability had “progressively decayed” and inspectors found no evidence of any efforts to restart the nuclear programme.
Blair maintains that the 11 September attacks changed the culture. He says he was afraid that Iraq’s WMD would fall into the hands of terrorist groups, notwithstanding that there were no terrorists in Iraq pre-2003.
The Chilcot report was no establishment whitewash like its predecessors. This time, the blame for Iraq’s ruin was laid squarely at the former prime minister’s feet although the intelligence services and the gung-ho Ministry of Defence, which left soldiers without appropriate vehicles and body armour, did not escape censure. But it did stop short of tarring Blair as a liar in spite of his dodgy dossiers; one listed from a student’s 12-year-old thesis published on the internet.
There was another crucial omission. It failed to pronounce the war as “illegal” even though former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan did not hesitate to do so in September, 2004 when he said the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council or the UN’s charter.
There are armies of lawyers scrutinizing the report’s 6,000 pages so as to build a case against him, but it will be a mammoth challenge.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has announced it will not investigate Blair’s decision, which it maintains is outside its remit. Blair’s lucky he is not African, or “even worse” an Arab. If he were, that remit would undoubtedly be stretched to accommodate. A UN supported special tribunal is also out; it would be vetoed by the US and Britain in the Security Council.
Blair deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars, together with his American buddies former President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Minister of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, the wars architects. Invading Iraq was on their to-do list from the get-go, along with several other Arab countries.
Blair admits that Bush’s aim was regime change in Iraq and that he was on board. In one of his now declassified notes to the US President he says the war’s goal is to bring about “the true post-cold war world order”, a statement smacking of neoconservative doctrine.
If the truth be told they knew full well that Iraq had destroyed its chemical and biological weapons in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. The former head of Saddam’s Republican Guard and his son-in-law Hussein Kamel Al-Majid confirmed exactly that to Western intelligence agencies when he defected to Jordan in August 1995. Dr David Kelly, a weapons expert, died in mysterious circumstances shortly after exposing holes in Number Ten’s case for war.
Blair’s admission that regime change was the underlying goal is a hot potato. Forcible regime change is illegal under international law and violates the UN Charter. This is why they cherry-picked intelligence to suit and launched a propaganda war against ‘evil’ Saddam, who they armed with chemical weapons during the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war and gave him a wink and a nod to invade Kuwait via the US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie.
They destroyed a functioning country on false pretexts. Blair’s missives to Bush indicate the pair was waiting anxiously for Saddam to slip up so they could pounce. A massive troop contingent was waiting in the wings. Bush was itching to deploy it in theatre.
UN weapons inspectors asked for more time but, with or without a new UN Resolution, rightly blocked by France and Russia, Bush was champing at the bit. He was getting tired of his British poodle’s continual yapping at his heels demanding UN resolutions and an Israel-Palestine roadmap that ultimately led nowhere. He was ready to go it alone and gave his sycophant across the pond an opportunity to opt out with no hard feelings. But Blair had pledged in a 2002 memo to stand with Bush whatever.
This neo-imperial gang terrorized Iraqis with ‘Shock and Awe”, hanged Iraq’s president, dismantled its army and purged its civil service of Baathists. They are responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of over two million and for the eruption of sectarian hatreds.
They compounded their crimes with their failure to plan for the day after, leaving vacuums of governance that were speedily filled by Shiite militias, Al Qaeda and its ‘Islamic State’ offshoot, which wrapped its tentacles around Syria and many other Arab countries. And they were warned that weakening Iraq would unleash its Iranian neighbour and make the way clear for the implementation of its geopolitical regional ambitions.
They threw the first stones in the pond against the advice of Middle East specialists who correctly predicted the ripples inherent in the removal of an iron fist from Iraq. Europe is paying the price in terms of terrorist attacks and hordes of Iraqi and Syrian refugees knocking on its doors. Several commentators are even pointing fingers at Blair for triggering the British public’s hostility towards the political class and mistrust of officialdom.
In short, Bush, Blair and their cohorts are criminals with blood-stained hands who should be made an example of to deter others, especially the Trumps of this world who shoot first and ask questions later. But do not hold your breath!
The question that bugs me is why Iraq when the country did not have sufficient food and medical supplies and presented no threat?
On the other hand, Tehran was believed to be developing nuclear weapons, was building up its military capacity and its mullahs never stopped spewing messages of hate directed at the United States as well as threats to Israel. Not only has Iran not been targeted by the United States, it has been rewarded for its years of clandestine nuclear development with the cessation of economic sanctions while its president is courted by European capitals.
Together and separately, Bush, Blair and US President Barack Obama have upset the fragile regional balance of power leaving Sunni states more vulnerable than they were when Saddam’s Iraq was a powerful bulwark protecting Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states from Iran’s territorial ambitions. Was this intentional all along? Is the bolstering of Iran to the detriment of Saudi Arabia and Gulf States America’s set in stone foreign policy objective? Obama has been critical of Saudi Arabia suggesting the Kingdom must learn to share the neighbourhood with Iran!
We must never forget what was done to Iraq still bleeding from the fallout to this day. It is imperative that we know exactly who is with us and who is against us. GCC leaderships should demand honest and transparent answers from our western friends not confined to mere words.
I have been warning about the potential of US-Iranian détente or some sort of Grand Bargain in my columns for many years. For many the idea was alien, even laughable. They are not laughing now.
Our allies must prove which side of the fence they sit; they can begin with an official recognition of ‘the Arabian Gulf’ based on the fact that the coastlines of Gulf States around this body of water are 85 per cent longer than Iran’s. If they refuse to comply with this comparatively minor request, we will know where we stand.
As Aesop wrote, “A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other and we then know how to meet him.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, but its shadowy leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” is still at large.
With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.
Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain a mystery. He appeared in public only once, in 2014. Since then, many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
He is among the few senior ISIS commanders still at large after two years of steady battlefield losses that saw the self-styled “caliphate” shrink from an area the size of Britain to a tiny speck in the Euphrates River valley.
Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network — he was described as “irrelevant for a long time” by a coalition spokesman in 2017 — al-Baghdadi’s capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq.
But so far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds.
In the last days of ISIS, as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces zoned in on the last slice of territory held by the militants in eastern Syria — a couple of villages and farmlands near the Iraqi border — the possibility remained that al-Baghdadi would turn up there. Several hundred ISIS leaders and hardcore fighters, many of them Iraqis, made a last stand in the enclave before surrendering.
The last pocket, in the eastern village of Baghouz, was declared liberated on Saturday after weeks of fighting. During the siege, civilians streamed out of the pocket and surrendered — estimated at more than 30,000, mostly family of ISIS. But there has been no sign of al-Baghdadi.
“The Coalition is not holding him nor do we know where he is,” U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told The Associated Press.
Mohammed Kheder, co-founder of the Sound and Picture group which documents ISIS, said the last time al-Baghdadi was spotted in the area was about 15 months ago, citing sources on the ground and the testimony of the people who left the area.
In Twitter posts, Kheder’s group has said it cannot rule out the possibility al-Baghdadi was detained long ago — “especially since many of American airdrops and night operations targeting ISIS leaders along the Iraqi border have not been disclosed by the coalition.”
Iraqi intelligence officials believe al-Baghdadi is hiding somewhere in the desert stretching across the Syrian-Iraqi border, using tunnels to move around.
“He does not use any communication equipment or internet to avoid detection by coalition planes,” a senior intelligence official said. “When he wants to see someone from the organization, they are brought to him individually in cars that stop around two hours away from where al-Baghdadi is, and then they are brought to him individually on motorcycles.”
Another official, a colonel, said the Americans recently targeted some of al-Baghdadi’s closest people, including his personal bodyguard Khaled al-Saudi — known as Khallad — who was killed last week near the area of al-Baaj along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Khallad’s wife was arrested. Another close aide to al-Baghdadi was also recently killed and his wife captured, the colonel said, adding that the Americans believe such targets will soon lead them to al-Baghdadi. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to share intelligence information.
Al-Baghdadi’s only known public appearance on video was on June 29, 2014, when he appeared as a black-robed figure to deliver a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri in which he urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.