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A Machiavellian US in the Middle East

A Machiavellian US in the Middle East

The war in Syria has dropped out of the news, like almost everything else, in a time when the Coronavirus seems to dominate all discourse and reporting. But the regime of Bashar al-Assad continues to strangle its own country. The Russians continue to bomb on his behalf, terrifying civilians and hospitals. The Americans work semi-clandestinely to undermine both the regime and its Russian backers.

There is no sign in the US-Soviet relationship of what was called in the 1970s and 80s détente. The big powers, Russia, the US, the UK and France appear intent on maintaining their interests in the Middle East.

Russia has long been a friend of Syria and has had its single foreign base there since Soviet days. For even longer the US, France and the UK have been a friend of Saudi Arabia and today provide weapons for the Saudi air force so it can support Yemen’s government in its attack on the Houthi rebels, resulting in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Finding a pathway to big power détente in the Middle East seems to be eternally difficult. For those who want to shed some light on how it all works, I refer them to an excellent analysis in the current issue of Harvard University’s International Security by Professor Galen Jackson of Williams College.

Reading this one understands how US Middle East policy in the era of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and their national security advisor Henry Kissinger became totally Machiavellian after Nixon’s resignation.

It raises the question about how Machiavellian it is today. Is the US engaged in undermining Russia so that it can ensure its dominance in the Middle East? Has it been about trying to give Russia a bloody nose in Syria via the firepower of its local allies, which it and some of its NATO allies have provided?

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Will Quiet Middle East Last? Or Is It Lull Before Next Storm?

Will Quiet Middle East Last? Or Is It Lull Before Next Storm?

Across the Middle East, the coronavirus is stirring up both upheavals and more subtle changes from Tel Aviv to Riyadh, little reported and when covered little understood in the Western media.

In Israel, the virus has enabled that master political magician Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pull off yet another spectacular escape as improbable as any in a James Bond or Star Wars movie to remain in power indefinitely.

After matching him in three successive national elections, Blue and White opposition leader, former Army Chief of Staff retired Lieutenant General Benny Gantz finally blinked: Because of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, he agreed to enter into a coalition with Netanyahu leading it for the first 18 months.

This is more than enough time for Netanyahu, a master political infighter and intriguer to splinter Blue and White into fragments. Indeed, Gantz has already done the biggest part of the job for him.

His own top allies in the new party, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid and former Defense Minister and Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon both firmly opposed any agreement to compromise with Netanyahu refused to go along with it. Currently, even Gantz and Netanyahu have not yet finalized their agreement, but Netanyahu has seized the initiative from him. His record in power over the past decade suggests he will not release it easily.

Netanyahu can at least boast that his lockdown has kept Israel relatively isolated from the pandemic. That is not the case in Iran, which boasts close trade and energy ties with China and where the virus has been raging ferociously.

That of course, is also the case in the United States. Extremist US hawks have been gloating – hopefully – that the crisis in Iran might discredit and topple the government there. That seems very unlikely at the moment.

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Iran War Was “Closer Than You Thought”, Trump Admits

Iran War Was “Closer Than You Thought”, Trump Admits

In what the administration has described as an “off-the-record lunch” on Tuesday, President Trump told television anchors hosted at the White House that war with Iran was “closer than you thought,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s an annual tradition for the president to host television anchors from major networks just ahead of the State of the Union address, which was delivered last night.

The private luncheon marks the first time the president gave candid remarks confirming the US stood very close to entering another major war in the Middle East, which was on the heels of the Jan.3 assassination of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and subsequent Iranian ‘retaliatory strike’ on Jan.8 against a US base in Iraq. 

During that time in early January the hashtag WWIII was trending on Twitter, along with countless social media viral memes warning the US stood on the brink of major war with Iran. 

In apparent confirmation that the public’s fears were justified, the WSJ describes further of the president’s off-the-cuff comments:

The president’s comment on Iran came after one attendee asked him how close the U.S. came to going to war with Iran earlier this year, after the U.S. killed a top Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a missile barrage on Iraqi bases housing U.S. and allied military forces. The Iranian strikes didn’t result in any U.S. deaths.

And further, the report notes: 

Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate on why war with Iran was “closer than you thought,” the people said.

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Pipeline or a Pipe Dream: Israel, Turkey Hydrocarbon Conflict is Brewing in the Mediterranean

Pipeline or a Pipe Dream: Israel, Turkey Hydrocarbon Conflict is Brewing in the Mediterranean

Photograph Source: Jay Phagan – CC BY 2.0

Massive natural gas discoveries off the coast of Israel and Palestine are slated to make Tel Aviv a regional energy hub. Whether Israel will be able to translate positive indicators of the largely untapped gas reserves into actual economic and strategic wealth is yet to be seen.

What is certain, however, is that the Middle East is already in the throes of a major geostrategic war, which has the potential of becoming an actual military confrontation.

Unsurprisingly, Israel is at the heart of this growing conflict.

“Last week, we started to stream gas to Egypt. We turned Israel into an energy superpower,” Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, bragged during a cabinet meeting on January 19.

Netanyahu’s self-congratulating remarks came on the heels of some exciting financial news for the embattled Prime Minister, as both Jordan and Egypt are now Tel Aviv’s clients, receiving billions of cubic meters of Israeli gas.

For Netanyahu, pumping Israeli gas to two neighboring Arab countries constitutes more than just economic and political advantages – it is a huge personal boost. The Israeli leader is trying to convince the public to vote for him in yet another general election in March, while pleading to Israel’s political elite to give him immunity so that he can stay out of prison for various corruption charges.

For years, Israel has been exploiting the discovery of massive deposits of natural gas from the Leviathan and Tamar fields – located nearly 125 km and 80 km west of Haifa respectively – to reconstruct regional alliances and to redefine its geopolitical centrality to Europe.

The Israeli strategy, however, has already created potentials for conflict in an already unstable region, expanding the power play to include Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, and Libya, as well as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Russia.

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British Airways Ends All Flights To China As Virus Spreads To Middle East

British Airways Ends All Flights To China As Virus Spreads To Middle East

As the Trump Administration denies plans to shut down all passenger air traffic to China, more airlines around the world are suspending routes, a sign that the coronavirus outbreak could do permanent damage to the industry.

Just hours after the UK Foreign Office warned Britons against traveling to China, British Airways, Britain’s flag carrier, and its second-largest airline in the UK. British Airways operates direct flights from Heathrow to Beijing and Shanghai, but right now, passengers can’t book flights on those lines until Feb. 29. CNN called it “the most drastic action yet by a major airline” in response to the crisis. The decision comes after United Airlines said it would temporarily reduce the number of flights between the US and China.

“We have suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel,” British Airways said in a statement Wednesday.

This comes after United said Tuesday that it had seen a “significant decline in demand” and been forced it to suspend flights from Feb. 1 through Feb. 8 between its US hubs and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In total, 24 round trips have been impacted between Hong Kong to San Francisco and Newark; Beijing to Dulles, O’Hare and Newark; and Shanghai to San Francisco, Newark and O’Hare.

American Airlines, Delta and United all extended change fee waivers through the end of February, while Hong Kong flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it will reduce the capacity of flights to and from mainland China by half or more until the end of March.

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“No, No America” – Mass Protests Erupt In Baghdad Demanding U.S. Troops Withdraw

“No, No America” – Mass Protests Erupt In Baghdad Demanding U.S. Troops Withdraw 

Al Jazeera English is reporting that thousands of Iraqi protesters have hit the street in Baghdad after the influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for a “million-strong” march to demand the withdraw of U.S. coalition forces from the country. 

NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief & correspondent Ali Arouzi said hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across Baghdad on Friday, demanding U.S. troops leave the country and close all military bases and embassies.  

100’s of thousands protest in Baghdad, calling for all US troops to leave Iraq, close all bases & embassies, if they don’t they will be considered an occupying force. pic.twitter.com/C3CqBqpxyD— Ali Arouzi (@aliarouzi) January 24, 2020

Iraqi Prime Minister Presses U.S. to Discuss Troop Withdrawal

Protestors held signs that read “no, no to America” and “no, no to occupation” amid a sea of nationalism and anti-Americanism erupting across the country’s capital. 

Others were heard on loudspeakers blasting the phrase: “Death to America. Death to Israel.”

The presence of U.S. coalition forces in the country has become a hot subject since President Trump launched a drone attack on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killing both, earlier this month near Baghdad International Airport.

The Green Zone, the International Zone of Baghdad and home of the U.S. embassy, has been peppered with rocket attacks since the killing of Soleimani. 

Iraq’s parliament voted to expel all foreign troops, including 5,000 U.S. forces from the country, and asked the government to cancel assistance from the U.S.-led coalition that has been working with the Iraqi Army in the eradication of ISIS. 

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Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, Mad Policies for a Mad World

Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, Mad Policies for a Mad World 

What’s the value of an American life in the age of Donald Trump? If you were judging by the death of Nawres Hamid, an Iraqi-American contractor killed in late December after an American base in Iraq was mortared by a Shiite militia believed to have ties to Iran, the answer would be obvious: enough to risk war. After all, the president cited Hamid’s death in going after that militia and then drone-assassinating Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani. In response to the mortar attack, U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria killed at least 25Iraqi militia fighters and then, as January began, that drone strike near Baghdad International Airport took out a figure who was often considered the number-two man in Iran, as well as its possible future leader. In addition, it killed an Iraqi militia commander and eight otherpeople.

So you might say that the president considers any American death under such circumstances worth not just 35 Iraqis and Iranians, but the possibility of adding in a significant way to America’s forever wars (that he’s long denounced). Of course, you would have to reach a different conclusion if you considered the deaths in early January of an American soldier and two American contractors at an airport in Kenya after an attack by the Somali terror group al-Shabaab. In that case, there was no obvious response at all, not even a comment from the president. And the same would be true of the two dead and two wounded U.S. soldiers whose vehicle recently ran over a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan (deaths immediately claimed by the Taliban). Again, neither a comment nor a response from you-know-who.

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Could ISIS Take Control Over This Large Iraqi Oil Field?

Could ISIS Take Control Over This Large Iraqi Oil Field?

Iraq Oil Field

As always, it’s the fear of sanctions that provides the leverage Trump seeks in this cat-and-mouse game with Iran. And this time, the leverage is over Iraq, which would like to see both American and Iranian forces out of the country, for obvious reasons. 

There is nothing ISIS would love more than this. 

It would also devastate Iraq because the sanctions threatened would include blocking access to Iraq’s U.S.-based account where all the oil revenues are kept. That threat stands if Iraq moves to kick U.S. forces out of the country. 

That would mean victory for Iran (temporarily). Kicking out Iranian forces is not nearly as simple because the line between state and non-state actors is blurred, at best. 

A few weeks ago, a U.S. drawdown of military forces in Iraq was already expected, but that now seems unlikely because of the implications. 

The very military base that Iran attacked following the assassination of General Soleimani was already preparing for a drawdown. 

In addition to the threat of sanctions on oil money, a U.S. withdrawal would likely open the door for an ISIS return.  

What Iraqis Want

There is no consensus on this question, other than the fact that no one wants Iraq to be the proxy battleground between the United States and Iran. 

It’s a fair point, and Iraqis have had a very difficult time enjoying anything close to sovereignty since the fall of Saddam Hussein. 

While the Iraqi parliament has voted for U.S. troops to leave, they do not represent a unified voice. The Sunni elements of parliament did not participate in the vote. Neither did the Iraqi Kurds. 

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After Missiles Fly, Iraq Becomes the Battleground

After Missiles Fly, Iraq Becomes the Battleground

The future of the U.S.’s involvement in the Middle East is in Iraq. The exchange of hostilities between the U.S. and Iran occurred wholly on Iraqi soil and it has become the site on which that war will continue.

Israel continues to up the ante on Iran, following President Trump’s lead by bombing Shia militias stationed near the Al Bukumai border crossing between Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. and Israel are determined this border crossing remains closed and have demonstrated just how far they are willing to go to prevent the free flow of goods and people across this border. 

The regional allies of Iran are to be kept weak, divided and constantly under harassment. 

Iraq is the battleground because the U.S. lost in Syria. Despite the presence of U.S. troops squatting on Syrian oil fields in Deir Ezzor province or the troops sitting in the desert protecting the Syrian border with Jordan, the Russians, Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds forces continue to reclaim territory previously lost to the Syrian government. 

Now with Turkey redeploying its pet Salafist head-choppers from Idlib to Libya to fight General Haftar’s forces there to legitimize its claim to eastern Mediterannean gas deposits, the restoration of Syria’s territorial integrity west of the Euphrates River is nearly complete.

The defenders of Syria can soon transition into the rebuilders thereof, if allowed. And they didn’t do this alone, they had a silent partner in China the entire time. 

And, if I look at this situation honestly, it was China stepping out from behind the shadows into the light that is your inciting incident for this chapter in Iraq’s story.

China moving in to sign a $10.1 billion deal with the Iraqi government to begin the reconstruction of its ruined oil and gas industry in exchange for oil is of vital importance. 

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Russia Conducts War Drill With Hypersonic Missiles Amid Threat Of War In Middle East

Russia Conducts War Drill With Hypersonic Missiles Amid Threat Of War In Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin observed a war drill off the coast of Crimea on Thursday that included the launching of hypersonic missiles, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The ministry’s Zvezda broadcasting service said Russia’s Black Sea and Northern Fleets participated in the military exercise.

Various missiles were fired during the drill, including Kalibr cruise missiles and Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missiles.

More than 30 warships, including the Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Makarov frigate, one submarine, and more than 40 aircraft, including Tu-95MS strategic bombers, Su-30SM fighters, and Su-24M bombers, participated in the drill.  

Two MIG-31K fighters air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missiles while guided missile destroyers launched Kalibr cruise missiles at targets.

Putin observed much of the exercise aboard the Marshal Ustinov missile cruiser.

“The drills have been held successfully,” Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, told Putin on Thursday. 

The drill comes as the US and Iran were on the verge of war earlier this week. Tensions have simmered down but are still elevated after Iran launched missiles at two US bases in Iraq.

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Russia is a military ally of Iran, both countries have conducted military operations in Syria, and in recent times, held maritime war drills.

Washington’s relations with Russia and Iran have deteriorated since the beginning of the Syrian civil war and even more since President Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Russia’s latest military exercise and escalating tensions in the Middle East are certainly indicating that the world is inching closer to conflict.

Gold Just Broke Through A Key Level

Gold Just Broke Through A Key Level

For the first time in more than six years, gold broke through a key level.  Gold surged on Friday due to the geopolitical tensions stemming from the Middle East after the U.S. took out Iran’s top military leader.  During early trading in the early Asian markets, the gold price continued even higher, reaching $1,579.

This morning, gold is trading at the $1,575 level.  It will be interesting to see if gold closes at the end of the day near its high or a low. The key resistance level is $1,550, which gold surpassed by $25.  Here is gold’s monthly chart below (each candlestick represents one month of trading).

If you look at the “Larger View” insert, I have superimposed the candlestick breaking through the Key level.  Unfortunately, Stockcharts.com does not provide a live chart for the metals or commodities.  We have to wait until the close of trading to see the new candlestick price level.  I find this quite odd because they recently added “Live” Crypto Trading charts for Bitcoin and several others.

Regardless, the Gold price finally broke through this level, and for it to remain in a bullish trend in the monthly chart below, it will have to close above the $1,550 (actually $1,560) level by the end of January. If we look at the next chart, the gold price surpassed the high of $1,566 in September:

According to Kitco.com, as of 9:43 am EST, the gold price reached a high of $1,577 and is currently trading at $1,573.  And, if we look at the weekly gold chart, we can clearly see gold breaking through the $1,550 level:

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Iran’s Top Military Commander, Qasem Suleimani, Assassinated In US Airstrike

Iran’s Top Military Commander, Qasem Suleimani, Assassinated In US Airstrike

LIVE FEED:

update2: It’s official — unbelievable as it is  Iraqi state TV moments ago announced the death of Iran’s most senior elite military commander, IRGC Quds Force chief Qasem Suleimani:


BREAKING: #IRAQ OFFICIAL TV ANNOUNCES #IRAN IRGC LEADER QASSEM SULEIMANI IS ASSASSINATED.

ALSO KILLED HEAD OF KATAIB HEZBOLLAH ABU MEHDI MUHANDIS

https://twitter.com/alarabiya_brk/status/1212902092538552320 …https://www. 3,3148:05 PM – Jan 2, 2020


This is the spark that could set the whole region on fire, given Suleimani is Iran’s most important, visible and powerful military leader.

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“US Dominance In Mideast Is Over”: Iran Declares After Joint Drills With Russia & China

“US Dominance In Mideast Is Over”: Iran Declares After Joint Drills With Russia & China

At a moment the US struck five supposedly ‘Iran-linked’ militia bases in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, sending regional tensions soaring, unprecedented four-day long joint naval drills involving Iran, Russia and China outside the Persian Gulf were simultaneously winding down. 

Iran used the occasion of being joined by Chinese and Russian warships in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean to declare that US dominance in the Middle East is now over.

“Today, the era of American free action in the region is over,” naval commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said. “They must leave the region gradually,” he added.

Image source: TASS/The Moscow Times

And now Iran has not only said the drills are set to continue annually upon their close on Sunday, but is inviting other countries to join.

Feeling emboldened by the official participation of the Chinese and Russian navies, Adm. Khanzadi further told semi-official Mehr news agency:

We are seeking to achieve collective security, and for that purpose, we are inviting regional countries to join us[in the drills].

From the start, Iranian officials have touted the joint naval drills as sending “a highly significant message” to the US and their allies, especially given the United States has struggled to attract key European allies to join its own ‘maritime naval mission’ in the gulf to thwart Iran. Instead, Europe has initiated its own mission which leaders have emphasized has nothing to do with the US project. 

Adm. Khanzadi continued, “There is no threat facing the Persian Gulf region except for the presence of foreign forces such as the US, which are endangering the security of this region.” He also said Iran is planning future such drills with regional allies in the Caspian Sea. The weekend’s joint exercises were the first of their kind, and were conducted across an area of 17,000 square kilometers to demonstrate “various tactical exercises”.

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Trump Follows Up On His Promise To Protect Syrian Oil

Trump Follows Up On His Promise To Protect Syrian Oil

Trump

The United States has moved more equipment from Iraq into Syria to boost the protection of the oil and gas fields in eastern Syria currently under the control of Kurdish militia, Turkish media reports.  

A logistics convoy of pick-up trucks, minibusses, ambulances, and 100 rigs filled with fuel oil crossed the Iraqi-Syrian border at Al Waleed on Saturday, according to footage obtained by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

This weekend’s maneuver was the second deployment of the U.S. Army in Syria’s oil provinces this month after the army moved heavy construction equipment and armored vehicles into Syria on December 4 and 5. 

The Kurdish SDF forces control most of Syria’s oil. Before the war, Syria was producing 387,000 barrels of oil per day, of which 140,000 bpd were exported.

In October, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. had taken control of the oil in the Middle East, tweeting that “The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey.”

The President did not elaborate on what he meant by “securing the oil,” but speculations about the President’s statement assume he was referring to the U.S. special forces that have been—and will continue to be—in control of oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzor. Related: Are Energy Stocks Hot Again?

President Trump has vowed to protect Syrian oil fields from ISIS, and the United States may leave 500 troops in northeastern Syria and send in battle tanks and other equipment with the purpose to help the Kurds in the area to protect oil fields that used to be controlled by Islamic State during its so-called caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

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UAE To Host European-Led Naval Mission To Secure Gulf Waters

UAE To Host European-Led Naval Mission To Secure Gulf Waters

France announced Sunday that a proposed European-led mission to patrol the Persian Gulf will be based out of a recently established French naval base in Abu Dhabi, and that the naval patrol will soon go “operational” amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Paris has spearheaded efforts to get the European maritime security mission off the ground, in competition with US efforts at establishing an American-led mission, which Iran and some European allies fear could lead to war, given Iranian leaders have condemned any US efforts to “police” the vital Strait of Hormuz

“This morning we formalized that the command post will be based on Emirati territory,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters in the UAE capital.

A French Rafale-M lands on board the USS George H. W. Bush, via French Navy.

“We hope … to contribute to a navigation that is as safe as possible in a zone which we know is disputed and where there has already been a certain number of serious incidents,” she explained of the French-led mission.

The maritime patrol is expected to start early next year and will involve some ten European and non-European nations.

Parly further condemned the latest Iranian announcements confirming that it is blowing past uranium enrichment limits previously agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal.

The maritime initiative since being first proposed in July has received broad support in Europe, including the UK, following the summer-long ‘tanker wars’ which had resulted in the months-long capture of a British-flagged vessel, later released.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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