Archive for the ‘Trump and Syria’ category

Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent

March 13, 2017

Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent, DEBKAfile, March 13, 2017

After the breakup of defeated Syrian rebel groups, who were forced to leave the northern town and head for neighboring Idlib, hundreds of rebels remained and refused to lay down arms. Instead, they joined Al Qaeda and have made the Islamist terrorist group the most powerful independent rebel force still fighting in northern Syria as well as in the surrounding areas of the main towns, including Damascus, Homs and Hama.

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The main thrust of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria ordered by the Trump administration is still ahead, but ISIS forces did not wait in their Raqqa stronghold for the axe to fall. They moved southeast into the Deir ez-Zour region, where they are beating back Hizballah’s elite Radwan Battalion, which has just been deployed there.

But meanwhile a new-old menace has raised its head: Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliates which are seizing upon the mounting upheaval in the Syria for a fresh wave of terror. Saturday, March 11, two bomb explosions killed 74 pilgrims, most of them Iraqi Shiites, on a visit to an ancient cemetery in the Old City of Damascus. The second explosion was delayed so as to hit full on the Syrian police and rescuers rushing to the scene.

The same Al Qaeda branch planned and perpetrated the large-scale terrorist attack on Syrian government military facilities in the town of Homs on Feb. 25. Two generals were among the scores of dead troops.

Counterterrorism experts are warning US President Donald Trump to tread very carefully in the offensive he is preparing to launch against ISIS in Syria, since this organization’s defeat may well open the door to an Al Qaeda comeback in full and deadly spate to the Syrian arena.

This is what happened in the wake of the Russian-led Syrian victory in Aleppo in January, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources note. After the breakup of defeated Syrian rebel groups, who were forced to leave the northern town and head for neighboring Idlib, hundreds of rebels remained and refused to lay down arms. Instead, they joined Al Qaeda and have made the Islamist terrorist group the most powerful independent rebel force still fighting in northern Syria as well as in the surrounding areas of the main towns, including Damascus, Homs and Hama.

On Jan. 26, Al Qaeda announced its merger with four smaller factions under another new brand name, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization). The new outfit attracted many new recruits who had never before been attached to Al Qaeda.

Hashim al-Sheikh aka Abu Jabir, who fought the Americans in the Iraq war under Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, was named leader of the new Islamist terror alliance. Reputed to be a skilled war tactician who never gives up, his appointment attracted another wave of Syrian rebel fighters.

Al Nusra’s first commander, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, has meanwhile reappeared as head of a group calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Joulani has tried claiming he operates independently of Al Qaeda, although in fact he follows the orders of Ayman Al-Zawahiri to the letter and, according to some sources, is secretly working hand in glove with Hashim al-Sheikh.

An additional source of Al Qaeda’s renewed strength comes from the success of the combined Russian-Iranian-Hizballah forces to smash all the Syrian rebel groups who once fought the jihadist organization. Their disintegration has left Zawahiri’s following in Syria without effective adversaries. But it has Its Achilles heel too in the turf wars among the Syrian branch’s component groups – especially in the northern Idlib Province.

According to our military sources, the Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah commanders are together weighing an operation for taking control of Idlib. However, there too, if the Syrian rebels, who are fugitive from other fronts, are driven east or the south, Al Qaeda may again turn out to be the winner..

Therefore, even if President Trump and his generals are resolved to focus fully on a military operation to capture the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa – which has meanwhile emptied out of fighter – it is essential to detach enough fighting strength for dealing with the resurgent Al Qaeda. Failing to do so would leave the US forces at the Raqqa front vulnerable to attack from the rear by Al Qaeda, as the Russians and Iranians have found since they conquered Aleppo.

US troops land in Syria to launch Raqqa operation

March 8, 2017

US troops land in Syria to launch Raqqa operation, DEBKAfile, March 8,  2017

According to our sources, President Donald Trump decided, after consulting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, that the US army would go it alone in the Raqqa offensive together with a single local force: the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

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EXCLUSIVE:  DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment have arrived in Syria for the Trump administration’s first direct military operation in Syria: the long-delayed offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State. The plan was put before the US, Russian and Turkish chiefs of staff who were getting together for the first time on Tuesday, March 7, in the Turkish town of Antalya, as revealed earlier on this site.

Rangers Regiment troops, which will spearhead the Raqqa attack, flew in from Fort Lewis air base, Washington, to the US air facility in Rmeilan, near the Syrian Kurdish town of Hasaka, equipped with light Striker tanks. More tanks and heavy equipment reached the Syrian base overland from Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to our sources, President Donald Trump decided, after consulting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, that the US army would go it alone in the Raqqa offensive together with a single local force: the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The SDF is composed of 45,000 fighters of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and 10,000 Arab tribesmen, most belonging to the north Syrian branch of the Shamar.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of Staff, and Gen. Hulusi Akar, Turkish army chief, were conferring in Antalya when the Rangers landed in Syria.

DEBKA Weekly, which comes out on Friday, March 10, will provide the background leading up to the US president’s decision to go for Raqqa.

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US armored column at Manbij to block Russians

March 6, 2017

US armored column at Manbij to block Russians, DEBKAfile, March 6, 2017

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

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The Pentagon announced Tuesday, March 6, that a US armored convoy was deployed around the disputed northern Syrian town of Manbij, and in an unusual move, released a video depicting the convoy and its men.

A US military spokesman tweeted that the US deployment was a deliberate action taken to assure that forces within the US-led coalition deterred aggression and kept the focus on defeating ISIS.

Affirming that the US-led coalition was aware of the location of Russian-backed Syrian forces, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.

“They are certainly aware of where we are, and we are aware of where they are. There is no intention between the two of there being any conflict against any party other than ISIS.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the US armored force landed in the middle of a complicated crisis around the important town of Manjib, ever since a mixed Kurdish-Syrian Arab force captured it from ISIS last year with US air and military support.

A few days ago, the Kurdish YPG militia handed over some of the villages and military positions around the town to Russian and Syrian army units, as we revealed in an article (Monday, March 5) on ramped-up Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria, in the absence of American moves.

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

Our military sources reveal that the Russian units assigned to Manjib consist mainly of a Chechen commando brigade brought over by Moscow three months ago.

Our sources added:  Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump phoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu while he was being questioned by the police at his residence. That call almost certainly dealt with the possibility of a US-Russian military clash in Manjib, two days before Netanyahu sets out of Moscow for talks with the Russian president.

Iraq hits ISIS in Syria – with Russia, without US

February 25, 2017

Iraq hits ISIS in Syria – with Russia, without US, DEBKAfile, February 25, 2017

If indeed President Donald Trump gave a quiet nod to the four-way Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi military partnership for fighting this enemy, it would signify the start of US-Russian cooperation for the war on Islamic terror in the Middle East and mean that the two powers were running local forces hand in hand.

But if the Iraqis chose to work in conjunction with Moscow and Tehran, cutting America out, that is a completely different matter. It would indicate that President Vladimir Putin, having noted Trump’s difficulties in lining up his team for a deal with Moscow – and the opposition to this deal he faces from his intelligence agencies – had given up on the US option and was going forward in Syria and Iraq with Tehran instead.

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The Iraqi air force Friday, Feb. 24, conducted its first ever bombardment of the Islamic State in Syria. The target was the southeastern town of Abu Kemal near the Iraqi border, to which ISIS has removed most of its command centers from its main Syrian stronghold in Raqqa. Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahseen Ibrahim stated that Baghdad had coordinated the attack with Moscow, Damascus and Tehran using shared intelligence.

When he was asked if the United State military was involved, he said he did not know.

Likewise, in referring to the Abu Kemal attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi said: “We are determined to follow the terrorism that is trying to kill our sons and our citizens everywhere.” He made no mention of the United States, despite ongoing US support for the Iraqi army’s long offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS.

This omission is of pivotal importance for the future of the war on the Islamic State and America’s involvement in that campaign.

If indeed President Donald Trump gave a quiet nod to the four-way Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi military partnership for fighting this enemy, it would signify the start of US-Russian cooperation for the war on Islamic terror in the Middle East and mean that the two powers were running local forces hand in hand.

But if the Iraqis chose to work in conjunction with Moscow and Tehran, cutting Ameica out, that is a completely different matter. It would indicate that President Vladimir Putin, having noted Trump’s difficulties in lining up his team for a deal with Moscow – and the opposition to this deal he faces from his intelligence agencies – had given up on the US option and was going forward in Syria and Iraq with Tehran instead.

The Iraqi prime minister’s actions in this regard must have been critical. He may be playing a double game – working with the US commander in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, for the capture Mosul from the jihadis, while at the same time, using Russian and Iranian partners on other anti-ISIS fronts.

DEBKAfile’s military and counterterrorism sources say that in any event the Iraqi air strike presented a major affront to President Donald Trump’s avowed determination to fight radical Islamic terror to the finish. Its timing is unfortunate: Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are due Monday to submit the review the president commissioned from the Pentagon on policy planning for Syria and the war on terror. Trump’s foreign policy address to Congress is scheduled for the next day.

If the Pentagon’s recommendations hinge on the enlistment of regional military strength for the campaign against ISIS, then Moscow will be seen to have snatched the initiative first.

There are more signs that the war on ISIS may be running away from Washington. The Trump administration has made it clear that it objects to any role for the Turkish army in the offensive to capture Raqqa from ISIS. However, on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, after hailing the victory of the Turkish army over ISIS in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab, announced that Turkey was planning to lead an operation for the recovery of Raqqa, in cooperation with… France, Britain and Germany, after holding consultations with their representatives. America was not mentioned.

Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei: ‘Our Elite Was Lucky With Obama. He Was A Rather Weak President… Trump Could Apply Very Strong Pressure… And Within A Very Short Time’

February 10, 2017

Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei: ‘Our Elite Was Lucky With Obama. He Was A Rather Weak President… Trump Could Apply Very Strong Pressure… And Within A Very Short Time’, MEMRI, February 10, 2017

The Russian media outlet Fotanka.ru published a long interview by Irina Tumakova on events Russian lawmakers should anticipate in 2017 with one of the most influential and highly quoted intellectuals, Professor Valery Solovei.[1]In the interview, Solovei stated that Russia will witness “the start” of a “very serious political crisis in 2017,” which will last for about three years. He further explained that the political crisis will be characterized by the “growing incapacity of the state power to make decisions”, and implement them. “And at the same time it’s the increase of mass discontent; the society refuses to trust this power. And the refusal gathers strength. I think this process will take two or three years. But it will start in 2017. And the presidential election of 2018 will be an important, maybe even critical, stage of this crisis,” Solovei stated.

According to the Russian intellectual, Russian President Vladimir Putin may for run for the presidency in 2018. However, a constitutional reform would allow Putin to retire from the presidency but retain control. In a previous interview with Russia’s daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Solovei reported about a large-scale constitutional reform in the works that will reduce the Russian presidency to implementing primarily ritualistic and representative functions, but will confide real power to the hands of the head of the State Council. “A post that Putin, naturally, will assume,” Solovei added. At the moment, the State Council is a consultative and extra-constitutional organ, this is the reason why a constitutional reform would be needed.[2]

Commenting on U.S.-Russia relations, Solovei said that Moscow can offer Washington to “to untie the Syrian knot”, and to put pressure on North Korea. However, he added that “Americans don’t care about Russia,” since “they are busy with their own problems.” Solovei stressed: “And if they decide that we are their problem, they will exercise pressure. In the meantime, we are trying to pretend that we are not a problem for them.” Solovei also warned that contrary to U.S. former president Barack Obama, who “was a rather weak president in the sphere of foreign policy,” U.S. President Donald Trump could apply “very strong pressure” on the Russian elite, within “a very short time.”

Below are excerpts from the interview with Solovei:[3]

znakcom-709673-890x591-1Valery Solovei (Source: znak.com)

Solovei: ‘The [Russian] Authorities Cannot Offer… The Society Any Positive Prospect, In Any Sphere Of Life’

Q: “What political events of 2016 do you consider important enough to impact 2017?”

Solovei: “Last year was not very rich in political events. One cannot claim that the State Duma election, especially in the way it was conducted and its results, was important or in any way fateful. More memorable are the events of the end of the year. Such as minister [Alexey] Ulyukaev’s arrest[4] or Alexei Navalny’s declaration that he was planning to run for the office of president of the Russian Federation.[5] That’s why I think that when historians evaluate 2016, they will not measure its abundance in events but rather the trends that were formed during this year. First and foremost, it is the start of gradual politicization of the Russian society. It is not clearly seen to the naked eye, but I think that it in 2017 it will already be quite clear.”

Q: “How does this politicization manifest itself?”

Solovei: “Our state interferes in all spheres of life, including private life. It is even interested in who sleeps with whom and in what way. When it starts intruding everywhere, it produces growing resentment. The resentment will sooner or later spread into the area of politics. Because any matter where the authorities interfere becomes a matter of politics by definition.  It is not unique to Russia, but is a worldwide phenomenon: any issue where the powers interfere immediately becomes a political issue. If the authorities interfere everywhere, they are the ones turning any issue into politics.”

Q: “Why do they do that?”

Solovei: “Out of fear. They want to control everything. They think that if they are in total control, there will be fewer unexpected developments. But in this way, they provoke mounting resentment and aggression in people.”

Q: “That is, the opposite effect is achieved?”

Solovei: “Precisely. And some people are even beginning to realize that. Characteristically there are already attempts to call [Culture] Minister [Vladimir] Medinsky to order, to try and avoid politicization of culture. Because we used to have culture. For example, you didn’t want to know anything about politics, it was all esthetically disagreeable to you. Suddenly, you realize you cannot visit an exhibition or go to a concert anymore, because there are some church banner waving, anti-Maidan militia units there. Because minister Medinsky starts telling you how to evaluate certain historical events. And the minister is a state official. And this causes strong resentment.”

Q: “The second half of 2016 was relatively quiet. Putin, in his address to the Federal Assembly was peacefulness itself.[6] Is this a manifestation of the fact that certain things have gotten through to the authorities?”

Solovei: “No, it’s a manifestation of the fact that [first deputy chief of chief of the Presidential Administration, Sergey] Kiriyenko has received an instruction to patch up relations with masters of culture.[7] But the machine has been put in motion. It has strong momentum, you cannot just stop it. What is the easiest job for the law (or lawlessness) enforcement bodies? Catching those who like or repost social network posts. They will register a crime solved, and they don’t even have to sweat for it, it’s enough to join [the Russian social network] VKontakte.”

Q: “Politicization of society is one trend. What are others?”

Solovei: “The authorities cannot offer the people, the society any positive prospect, in any sphere of life. This ‘peacefulness’ you’ve noticed in the presidential address is easily explained: he has nothing to say. Simply nothing about what is actually troubling people.”

Q: “Previously, when those in power had nothing to say, they explained to us that it was all the fault of ‘our Western partners’.”

Solovei: “No, earlier, from 2003 to 2014, Putin had something to say because the economic situation was not bad, despite the crisis of 2008-2009. People had hopes for the future. And they would invent and construct what was missing in their heads. They knew that we were in the upward trend. And as long as we are in the uptrend, those in power may be forgiven many things.”

Q: “But I meant the explanations after 2013.”

Solovei:Then, for two years, from 2014 to 2015, the authorities kept explaining to us that greatness comes with a price. But the problem is that you can’t feed people with greatness. And this propaganda of greatness stopped being effective long before now – a year ago, at the turn of 2015-2016. And now the president has nothing to say. When will we see the light at the end of the tunnel? He cannot even tell people when the tunnel will end. This creates apprehensions in people – even those who don’t think about it (and those are the majority). People get the feeling that this crisis is here for a long time that the authorities cannot offer any solution. Accordingly, they cannot feed us the stability spiel any longer. What kind of stability is it when life gets worse and worse? Incomes decrease. Two years ago the president said: you need to be patient for two years – and then everything will be OK.”

Solovei: ‘The Official Forecasts Predict 15-20 Years Of Poverty’

Q: “Two years have passed, and the situation is not as dire as it seemed.”

Solovei: “Yes, but the official forecasts predict 15-20 years of poverty.”

Q: “How many of the 86% of the population see these forecasts?”

Solovei: “They don’t have to see them. People feel. Many things that people are unaware of, that they don’t reflect upon, they sense instinctively. And they react by their behavior. Why do people spend less money? Not only because their income has decreased. They have some savings. But they feel instinctively – this crisis is serious. And the state sees this. And it says: so, you don’t want to give your money to us – then we’ll take it from you. We will introduce entry fee into the city, entry fee into courtyards, we will pull the money out of your pockets.”

Q: “This is definitely something people don’t like at all.”

Solovei: “That’s what I’m talking about: the state offers nothing, gives no hope, and wants to take from you. This produces resentment. And it all started to become apparent in 2016.”

Q: “In what way will this discontent and this politicization manifest themselves?”

Solovei: “They are already apparent. For example, the so-called urban activism is on the rise. There are more and more organizations in Moscow that defend the rights of hoodwinked stakeholders and car owners and protest against infill construction. I know that the same is happening in other large cities. This movement is not political in and of itself. It pursues no political goals. It just says: let us live normally, let us have a say in the decisions on issues that are relevant to us. People are just protecting their interests.”

Q: “Has this reached the level where people don’t care what to protest against as long as they can give vent to their frustration?”

Solovei: “No, people are not making a stand against anything. They say: we don’t want this or that because it decreases our income, makes our lives worse, negatively affects the urban environment. They do not make any political demands; they do not say it’s all because of Putin or United Russia. But sooner or later, it will come to that.

Q: “How can this happen? There are those who understand this, but most people, as I understand from my talks with them, have to have this connection explained to them.”

Solovei: “There’s no need to explain anything! Or to raise political consciousness. People will get to it themselves. They cannot change anything because such is the nature of power. And if such is the nature of power, sooner or later you find yourself faced with a dilemma: either I go on suffering or I make a stand against this power. And there are always 3-4 percent of people who say: we will no longer tolerate this. This is quite enough. You don’t need 86 percent. These figures – 86%, 14% – mean nothing for politics. They matter in voting only, not in mass public politics. Because 86% always sit at home, whereas 14% may actually take to the streets.”

Q: “But the people in power are no fools, they must be aware of this.”

Solovei: “Firstly, let’s not overestimate their intellectual capabilities. The power in Russia, like everyone else, acts on the principle of ‘as long as everything’s quiet – thank God’, the people have swallowed this until now, so they’ll continue to do so, and somehow it will go away. And if it does not – we have law enforcement agencies. But the problem is that there are no law enforcement agencies. It’s all a giant sham.”

Q: “What about the National Guard?”

Solovei: “What about it? There is no National Guard. It was meant to be some sort of elite unit. But as it turned out, it was not elite at all. Moreover, the efficiency of police has decreased abruptly. The National Guard consists of the same former policemen whose lives have become much worse. When they joined the National Guard, they lost some of their income. They are taxpayers, just like everybody else, but the authorities demand more from them, and the people are not very fond of them. Their lives are no picnic. So it all hangs by a thread.”

Q: “What happens if this thread snaps?”

Solovei: “It can still hold on. You know, it’s always like that in Russia: there is nothing temporary that could not be turned into a permanent fixture. A building is about to fall down – let’s reinforce it with piles. There is a crack in the wall – let’s put some wallpaper on it, it’ll hold the wall together.”

Q: “The appointment of Kiriyenko to the post of deputy head of the presidential administration, in charge of domestic policy, is it one of those ‘patches’?”

Solovei: “No, there are other reasons behind it. And not only political ones. Simply put, a certain group wanted to remove Kiriyenko from Rosatom [State Atomic Energy Corporation], take Rosatom under its own control. And Kiriyenko did not want to leave. Nevertheless, Putin trusts him personally and values him highly. Kiriyenko was picked, firstly, for the election campaign, and, secondly, for the constitutional reform. And there are several versions of this constitutional reform that are being prepared under his supervision.”

Q: “What do they want to change in the Constitution?”

Solovei: “To redistribute authority in state government bodies and create new government bodies. The most well-known part of what they discussed is the establishment of the State Council, a competent state authority. It is not the only variant, there are several of them, but it does not mean all of them will be implemented. Or any of them. Because the National Guard experiment has turned out to be most unsuccessful, and this curtails the implementation of the reform. There are preparations for it, to be sure; maybe the preparations are over already. In the same way, the economic reform is being prepared. Putin gave the assignment– and it’s under preparation. First, it was [former Minister of Finance Alexey] Kudrin who was responsible. Now they are speaking about some integrated governmental program, into which Kudrin’s ideas will be incorporated. There are already several versions of reform lying in the basements of the [Russian Prime Minister’s] White House, but it does not mean anything.”

Q: “Political protests, constitutional and economic reforms – how come everything grows, ripens, but does not actually come to fruition?”

Solovei: “It can all go on for quite a long time at a slow pace. And then, one day at an ugly moment and for someone else perhaps a gorgeous moment it can all explode.  A weak spot will reveal itself, and – after all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Solovei: ‘I Do Not Rule Out The Possibility That [Putin] Will Not Run [For The Presidency In 2018]’

Q: “Should we fear it in 2017?”

Solovei: “Nobody can tell you that. I believe that we will see the start of a very serious political crisis in 2017. I’d like to emphasize – only its start. The crisis itself will last for about three years.”

Q: “What do you mean by the words ‘political crisis’? What will it look like?”

Solovei: “It is a growing incapacity of the state power to make decisions, and what’s more – to implement them. And at the same time it’s the increase of mass discontent; the society refuses to trust this power. And the refusal gathers strength. I think this process will take two or three years. But it will start in 2017. And the presidential election of 2018 will be an important, maybe even critical, stage of this crisis.”

Q: “Can you already tell who will run for presidency in 2018?”

Solovei: “I can’t even tell whether Putin is going to be a candidate. He is getting ready for the elections, but it has not been finally decided yet.”

Q: “He said recently that he was very tired and that he would like to travel but the president’s job does not let him.”

Solovei: “He said it twice over the past two months, which is not typical of him. So, I do not exclude the possibility that he will not run.”

Q: “I will ask the pet question: if not Putin – who then?”

Solovei: “Dmitry Medvedev. He is the most suitable candidate.”

Q: “And how do you evaluate Navalny’s chances?”

Solovei: “If he can work out the right message to give to the country, he could have a good chance. He has the social networks, the population of large cities that he can win over… I think his chances are underappreciated. If he approaches it in a competent and sensible way, he can challenge Putin. And even defeat him.”

Q: “Medvedev or even Navalny – will Putin simply retire and travel?”

Solovei: “I don’t think so. This is what the constitutional reform is about: to let him retire but retain control. But nothing is decided yet. Any decision in Russia, especially now, is put off till the last moment.”

Q: “What do you mean by the ‘last’ moment?”

Solovei: “When you can no longer delay the decision, you have to make it. That is, you had to make it yesterday, so you’ll make it today. Because you always count on the chance that the circumstances will change for the better. By the way, it was Putin who started it. This hope that fate may throw you a surprise: oil prices will go up, Brexit, Trump will be elected president, etc.”

Q: “How can Trump’s election affect Russia? Watching the news, one gets the impression that his victory in the U.S. is Russia’s new national holiday, as if a new ‘good supervisor’ was appointed instead of evil Obama.”

Solovei:Such is the Russocentric character of our propaganda; it shows that the entire world revolves around Russia. Everybody thinks only about how to do it harm, all that’s going on should be seen from our point of view. Of course, it is not so. But there is a chance to come to an agreement and weaken the sanctions. There’s a chance – it does not mean everything is settled, but it is possible. With Hillary Clinton it would hardly be possible. But with Trump you can talk, which is good for Russia. Or, more precisely, for its authorities.”

Q: “Why for the authorities?”

Solovei: “Because, firstly, it would relax the grip of the economic vise. Secondly, it would remove the American pressure on the elite – which is what it is really afraid of. By the way, our elite was lucky with Obama. He was a rather weak president in the sphere of foreign policy. Any strong American president, like Ronald Reagan, or even Trump, could apply very strong pressure on our elite – much more powerful than the pressure it is experiencing now. And within a very short time.

Q: “Maybe, this is what Trump will do? Contrary to all the rejoicing in the Russian press, the team he has formed could not be described as great lovers of Russia.”

Solovei: “That is true. But that depends on whether we can come to an agreement. Americans don’t care about Russia; they are busy with their own problems. And if they decide that we are their problem, they will apply pressure. In the meantime, we are trying to pretend that we are not a problem for them.”

Q: “It is clear what we want from America. But Trump is a businessman. What can we offer in return, in what can we interest him?”

Solovei: “We can’t offer much, but we do have something. We can offer to untie the Syrian knot, we can participate in it together. We can offer to put pressure on North Korea, although here we are not as strong as, say, China.”

Q: “And that’s it?”

Solovei: “I think so, yes.”

Q: “Isn’t it too little to exchange for Crimea and sanctions?”

Solovei: “Nobody in Russia can possibly hope that the Crimea issue will be resolved! And after all, the most serious sanctions were applied against us not because of Crimea, but because of Donbass. Especially since the sanctions can be, in fact, watered down without announcing their removal. Which is what we hope for: that if we reach an agreement on Syria, we will then be able to come to an agreement on sanctions.”

Q: “In the beginning of our conversation you mentioned Ulyukaev’s arrest as an important event of 2016. In what way can it draw attention to itself in 2017?”

Solovei: “Actually, Ulyukaev’s arrest is the third trend what was formed in 2016. Not an event, but a trend. And a very important one: transformation of punitive measures into a mechanism for controlling the economy and politics. This is the meaning of repressive crackdowns: they must be illogical. So that people would be afraid. Imagine: you are under threat, but you don’t understand the logic behind it. Will you be eager to work? You will hardly try very hard if you know that any initiative on your part serve as the basis for launching a criminal investigation.”

Q: “Are they trying very hard now?”

Solovei: “At least they work. But the risk of persecution decreases their efficiency. It gets harder and harder to make decisions and ensure their implementation. That’s why it is yet another trend that will bring about the political crisis.”

Q: “I believe there were conversations similar to ours in early 1916; at that time, Lenin said that there would be no revolution in his generation.”

Solovei: “To be precise, he said it in January 1917. Three weeks before the revolution in Russia started. But no revolution in the world history has ever been predicted. I wrote an entire book about revolution [titled ‘Revolution! The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Struggle in Modern Times’], which is very popular, especially in the State Duma. You can spend an evening telling people that ‘everything is peaceful in Baghdad’ [reference to a popular movie and song], and the next day you’ll find yourself in a revolutionary country.”

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[1] The conversation was conducted by journalist Irina Tumakova.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6698, Russian Daily Mk.ru Removed Interview With Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei Predicting That ‘It Is Not Unlikely That [Putin] Will Have To Be Absent From The Public Spotlight For A Few Months’, December 2, 2016.

[3] Fotanka.ru, January 4, 2017.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6685, Russia This Week – November 13-20, 2016, November 20, 2016.

[5] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6756, Echo Of Moscow Interviews Russia’s Anti-Corruption Crusader Navalny Following His Announcement That He Will Run For President In 2018, January 26, 2017. This week a Russian court in a retrial found Navalny guilty of corruption charges, and the guilty verdict, even it does not involve jail time, will disqualify him from running. Themoscowtimes.com, February 8, 2017.

[6] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6704, Russia This Week – November 27-December 8, 2016, December 8, 2016.

[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6698, Russian Daily Mk.ru Removed Interview With Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei Predicting That ‘It Is Not Unlikely That [Putin] Will Have To Be Absent From The Public Spotlight For A Few Months’, December 2, 2016.

Israel’s inaction in Syria may open Golan to Iran

February 7, 2017

Israel’s inaction in Syria may open Golan to Iran, DEBKAfile, February 6, 2017

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given “diplomatic priority” to stressing the perils posed by Iranian-sponsored terrorism and its nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, and placed them at the top of his talks with British premier Theresa May in London Monday, Feb. 6, and with President Donald Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.

But it stands to reason that their national security and intelligence experts have advised the US president and the British premier that Netanyahu has been firmly advised up to the present day to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict by the IDF high command and his past and present defense ministers, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon.

Israel therefore stands to be excluded from the practical deliberations ongoing for Syria’s future. Jordan in contrast has stepped forward as the key Middle East player in the pacts and military understandings shaping up between the US, Russia and Turkey for throwing Iran out of Syria.

Jordan’s King Abdullah swallowed his pride and took the initiative of flying to Washington last Thursday, Feb. 2, to buttonhole President Trump. From their brief conversation, he became the first Middle East ruler to win a green light from the US for an air strike against the ISIS ally, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army, which occupies the triangle formed by the Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli borders. Israel has never attacked this force in the five years since it moved into that part of southern Syria.

DEBKAfile”s military and intelligence sources disclose that Abdullah informed Trump that the air strike would take place under the supervision of the US, Russian and Syrian commands, making it the first instance of US-Russian support for a Middle East army’s action against ISIS in Syria.

And so, on Saturday, Feb. 4, six Royal Jordanian Air Force F-15 fighters and five drones bombed seven Khalid Ibn al-Walid positions. This air strike most probably heralded more bombardments to come. Jordanian commando units are also likely to mount raids, in concert with the Syrian rebel militias they have trained, to seize the ground occupied by ISIS’ offshoot.

And on the diplomatic front, the US President authorized Jordan’s attendance at the Syrian peace talks that are ongoing under Russian sponsorship at the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Jordanian delegation was deputized to act on America’s behalf to monitor the process for determining the future of Syria.

This move came a week after the British prime minister was urged by Trump to fly straight to Ankara after their talks in Washington in search of a military collaboration deal for Syria between the UK and Turkey.

The onset of Jordan’s military action in Syria has pumped up to seven the number of foreign armies involved in that country’s conflict: Russia, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, pro-Iranian Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Lebanese Hizballah, US forces, the Turkish Army and now Jordan.

Synchronously with the Jordanian air strike in southern Syria, President Bashar Assad announced that its launch makes it possible for Syrian civilians who fled from the Islamists to start returning to their homes, starting with the Quneitra region of the Syrian Golan. He was talking about 30,000 refugees.

It is obvious to anyone familiar with the Syrian scene that this population shift is an open invitation for thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members and Hizballah terrorists to take the opportunity of stealing into the Golan, in the guise of returning refugees.

Israel, aside from providing an intelligence service on Syria to coalition forces, finds itself left out of any say in the currently evolving peace process. While ISIS may be rooted out of this border area at some point, the Netanyahu government’s military inaction risks exposing the Golan to another attempted incursion by Iranian and Hizballah forces by covert means.

The diplomatic prioritization of the Iranian threat, coupled with talks with US president Trump and deals with Russian President Putin, amount to a policy that has gone bankrupt for Netanyahu and his security chiefs. The powers who will determine what happens next in Syria are bound by military cooperation and action. Because Netanyahu’s rhetoric about the perils posed by Iran is not backed by military action, Israel has no influence on coming events, and faces the very real risk of being faced with an Iranian presence on its northern doorstep.

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements

January 31, 2017

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements, DEBKAfile, January 31, 2017

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The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria.

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

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An order to remain stationary was issued Thursday night, Jan. 26, by the Russian Commander in Syria Lt. Gen. Alexander Zhuravlev to the high commands of the Syrian army and of the Iranian and Shiite forces positioned in Aleppo, as well as Hizballah units in all parts of Syria. Gen. Zhuravlev, acting on instructions from Moscow, prohibited any movement by those forces out of their current positions as of noon local time.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the order banned the opening of new battlefronts anywhere in Syria and the movement of Syrian air force units between bases.

This order has been obeyed to date.

The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria. There was no mention of penalties for disobedience, but the tone was peremptory. The three army commanders did not need reminding that the Russians are capable of using their electronic warfare systems to disrupt unauthorized military movements, jam their communications, and withhold fuel, ammo and spare parts to create havoc in their armies.

lieutenant_general_alexander_zhuravlev_120Russian Lt. Gen. General Alexander Zhuravlev

Moscow has never resorted to extreme action of this kind in previous Russian military interventions in Middle East lands.

The decision was taken shortly after the Kremlin was notified that US President Donald Trump had agreed to join forces with President Vladimir Putin in Syria.

Since then, the Trump administration has kept all dealings with Moscow over Syria under a cloak of secrecy, including the outcome of President Trump’s first phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. All other concerned parties, such as Israel, have been left groping in the dark about what happens next.

The Russian standstill order in Syria came shortly before the US presidential decree that barred Iranians from entering the United States (along with the nationals of six other terror-prone Muslim countries)

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

In his opening remarks, Foreign Minster Mohammed Zarif Javad said: that Iran and Russia “need to have far more extensive relations,” and “few countries in the world have relations as deep and historical as Iran and Russia.” This sounded like an appeal to Moscow for protection against the new US president. It most likely fell on deaf ears. Putin is fully engaged in promoting his new relations with Donald Trump.