UPDATED: U.S. – Russia – Turkey to secure Syria. Iran forced out.

1-31-2017 – UPDATE:  “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.”

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 Iranian and Shiite forces positioned in Aleppo, as well as Hizballah units in all parts of Syria. This order has so far been obeyed. It followed the Trump-Putin deal for joint action in Syria, which has caused alarm in Tehran.

« Breaking News »

Russian heavy bombers again strike Deir ez-Zour to break ISIS offensive 

DEBKAfile January 31, 2017

Six Tu-22M3 long-range Russian bombers went into action again over the eastern Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour Monday, to break the back of the fresh offensive ISIS launched last week (first revealed by DEBKAfile on Jan. 28) to seize parts of the key town and air field still in Syrian government hands. The Russian defense ministry reported that the “precision strikes targeted and destroyed two ISIS command centers, weapons and ammunitions depots and jihadist manpower”

Sukhoi-30SM and Sukhoi-35S fighter jets from the Khmeimim air base provided protection for the Russian bombers.

The first Russian Tupelev bomber strike last week at Deir ez-Zour, an important Syrian oil center and ISIS link to Iraq, was escorted by US Hornets, also the first Russian-US joint operation of the Trump administration.

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Syria stands on the threshold of dramatic changes that will directly impact on the strategic and military situation along the Syrian borders with Israel and Jordan, DEBKAfile reports exclusively.

They derive from a deal struck this week by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish US, Russian and Turkish security zones in Syria. This scheme will transfer military control of the country to those three powers. Each of them will be responsible for a zone whose borders will be defined and agreed upon by Washington, Moscow and Ankara.

As part of this arrangement, all forces from the Iranian military, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah will be required to leave Syria.

The US military is to have two security zones – one covering the entire area east of the Euphrates River up to the Iraqi border including Kurdish areas (see attached map). This arrangement will partly resurrect the accord reached in late 2015 by US President Barack Obama and Putin, for the division of Syria into areas of influence. All territory east of the Euphrates was allocated to the US, with Russia taking responsibility for all areas west of the river until the Mediterranean coast. .

Under the new deal, the Turkish area is to stretch about 650 kilometers along the entire Syria-Turkey border and extend between 35 and 50 kilometers into Syrian territory up to Al-Bab, the town where the Turkish military is engaged in its third straight month of fighting for its capture from ISIS.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the overriding change on the ground will be the establishment of a second US security zone adjacent to Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan. It means that the approximately 7,500 US special operations forces troops currently in Jordan will be shifted northward into southern Syria.

Russia had originally planned to deploy Syrian military, pro-Iranian Shiite militia and Hizballah forces in battles for the capture of land around the cities of Derra and Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan. That plan has been dropped and will be superseded by the deployment in southern Syria of US troops accompanied by Jordanian special forces and Syrian rebels, trained by American instructors in Jordanian military camps.

READ DEBKA

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Feb. 16, 2017: President Tiger eats herd of deer.

  • RUSH: I just want to characterize this press conference. It started off with the acknowledgment of the new labor secretary, whose name is Acosta. And then the president literally spelled out what he was doing. Let’s grab audio sound bite number 24. Here is his opening and explaining what he’s doing, what the purpose of the press conference was.
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THE PRESIDENT: I’m making this presentation directly to the American people with the media present, which is an honor to have you this morning because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve.

Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, DC, along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people, tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it to find out what’s going on because the press honestly is out of control.

RUSH: And he continued on that theme, and people that were watching this were no doubt cheering because it’s absolutely true. And he gave an example. And it turned out to be the example that I opened the program with. I’m at home last night, and I get this news alert from the Wall Street Journal. And it says that intelligence officials have considered Donald Trump to be so out of touch and so dangerous, they’re gonna stop sharing intelligence with him! And I looked, I said, “Well, this is a coup! This is a silent coup if this is true.” And I believed this. It’s the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud.

I’m a student of the Drive-Bys, and I thought, “Man, this is… This is…” I started… You know, a couple of people that I respect, I fired off notes. “Did you see this? What do you think about this?” I had some discussions. And I get in here this morning and I find out that the whole thing was bogus, that there are intelligence people throughout the history of our country who do not share intel with the president because it’s bad, because it’s not worth anything! The Wall Street Journal took something that happens all the time and shaped it and made it look like it’s brand-new, unprecedented, because Trump is so dangerous and unhinged and bad that they can’t afford to share the intel with him.

And the underlying theme was, “We can’t let Trump see the intel because this guy is working with Russia, and he and Russia worked together to undermine our election.” They continue to have that narrative as what’s driving all of their approach to Trump. Everything they’re doing is rooted in that. Trump’s illegitimacy is rooted in a fake narrative that does not exist and did not happen, that the Russians affected the outcome of the election with the assistance of Donald Trump.

And that’s the rubric under which that news alert happened last night so Trump addressed it today and mentions how it’s just totally wrong and fake news and a disservice to the American people who read it. And he gave a couple of other examples, citing the New York Times. He did all of this, however, with good cheer. He wasn’t nearly as animated and quasi-angry as I am about it. He was, in fact, soft-spoken and measured. He came across as nonpartisan as you can in a political sense. But it was classic, and he just called them out. He called CNN out throughout this press conference as hate-filled and strangers to the truth, unable to report the truth, focused on not just disagreeing with him but hating him, and how this is a disservice to the American people.

One of the reporters from CNN, a guy named Jim Acosta — this was classic — stood up.The whole thing was classic ’cause Trump’s on one stage and they’re in another. And they’re in that room… Folks, you have to understand: They’re in that room to destroy him today. He announced a press conference. They’re in that room to destroy him, whether they want to admit it or not. And there were three or four questions today that I heard that left no doubt that’s what the purpose was.

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Despite everything he had said today, they asked these insolent questions, “Did you ever talk to Russia during the campaign?” Trump said (paraphrased), “How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t know anybody in Russia! I didn’t talk to anybody in Russia! We didn’t talk about…” He was just going on and on, but they kept asking the questions, because that’s all they’ve got. And they’ve got nothing there. The stories I have in the Stack today clearly state that there is no evidence.

These intel people trying to undermine Trump have had to admit that there is no evidence that, A, the Russians had anything to do with the outcome of our election or, B, Trump was working with them on it to undermine Hillary Clinton. And yet that continues to be the narrative that is fueling the press in their pursuit of Donald Trump. So the CNN guy stands up and effectively asks — I’m paraphrasing Jim Acosta — “Don’t you think…? Don’t you think that these routine attacks of yours on the press and on the media undermining the First Amendment by calling what we’re doing ‘fake news’?

“Aren’t you doing a terrible disservice to the Constitution and to the American people by criticizing the media?” And there it was. Sure as I’m sitting here watching, there it was. They can sit here all day and not just criticize. They can try to destroy people. They can — using whatever power they think they have been granted by the First Amendment — go out and literally destroy people. Let Trump criticize the way they do their jobs, and all of a sudden it’s a constitutional crisis. Well, how about Obama trashing me all the time?

How about Obama trashing Fox News all the time? Was that not a threat to the First Amendment? No, they applauded that. They still do applaud that. They join in the attacks on Fox News — and, more often than not, they join in attacks on me, too. But they want you to believe that they are this watchdog and that they’re holding truth to power, that they’re holding powerful people accountable. They’re not doing anything of the sort. The press has gotten to the point where they need a watchdog, and it turns out that Trump is the watchdog!

Trump is the guy holding them accountable.

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Trump is the guy calling them out. I’ve never seen anything like this today. I have never seen it. We have wanted Republican presidents all of my life to deal with these people this way, and the only thing we ever got was Spiro Agnew. We’ve not seen anything like this, and Trump did it with an air of confidence and self-assuredness. He was not nervous at all. He was having fun with them. He was toying with them. It’s like if you got a cat. You know how you get these little laser pointers and you have a little kitten or a cat and the cat goes nuts chasing the light? It will run into a wall. That’s what I was watching here today. It was just… It was fantastic, and the American people are gonna eat this up.

Now, I said yesterday on this program that what I thought Trump could do to recapture and regain control of the narrative here, if you will — of the agenda — is simply focus on the domestic agenda. Just get in gear and very publicly start talking about repealing Obamacare, tax reform, building the wall, immigration reform. All of it. Just go full speed at it, and in the process keep people who voted for him on his side and they won’t care about whatever these efforts are that the press is engaging in with the intel community to undermining him.

And make no mistake. And he called this out. He accused Obama of running the shadow government. He accused Hillary Clinton and George Soros of being the people paying for people to show up and protest things. He held nothing back! He ridiculed Hillary Clinton for being in part of a deal that gave up 20% of our uranium supply and for having that cheap little red reset button when she became secretary of state. And each time he mentions Obama. He mentions… He didn’t say “shadow government” but he said, “Our opponents are doing what they can.”

He called all of this fake news. He was on spot with all this. You know, it’s hard to say. You get caught up in the moment. But this was one of the most effective press conferences I’ve ever seen. The press is gonna hate him even more after this, don’t misunderstand. When I say “effective,” I’m talking about rallying people who voted for him to stay with him. He made a point (paraphrased), “What chaos? You people are reporting chaos here. We’re not in chaos! We’re a well-oiled machine. We got one of the smoothest running machines in the history of machines.

We got one of the best administrations in the history of administrations,” and he rattled off the achievements they’ve had here that the media’s not reporting ’cause they’re so focused on whether or not Trump worked with Russia to screw Hillary out of the presidency. He’s reassuring his people he’s on top ever and nothing’s changed, and everything that he campaigned on he is doing. All he’s doing is fulfilling campaign promises. And of course the Democrats don’t like it, and of course the media doesn’t like it, but it isn’t gonna stop him.

RUSH

********

Sorry media — this press conference played very different with Trump’s supporters

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Barnum & Bailey is folding its tents this year. After all, how could the circus possibly compete with Donald Trump?

The president proved once again that he is the greatest show on earth. Lions and tigers and elephants are kids’ stuff next to his high wire act.

Next time, the White House ought to sell popcorn.

Amid feverish reports of chaos on his team and with Democrats fantasizing that Russia-gate is another Watergate, Trump took center stage to declare that reports of his demise are just more fake news.

Far from dead, he was positively exuberant. His performance at a marathon press conference was a must-see-tv spectacle as he mixed serious policy talk with stand-up comedy and took repeated pleasure in whacking his favorite pinata, the “dishonest media.”

“Russia is a ruse,” he insisted, before finally saying under questioning he was not aware of anyone on his campaign having contact with Russian officials.

Trump’s detractors immediately panned the show as madness, but they missed the method behind it and proved they still don’t understand his appeal. Facing his first crisis in the Oval Office, he was unbowed in demonstrating his bare-knuckled intention to fight back.

He did it his way. Certainly no other president, and few politicians at any level in any time, would dare put on a show like that.

In front of cameras, and using the assembled press corps as props, he conducted a televised revival meeting to remind his supporters that he is still the man they elected. Ticking off a lengthy list of executive orders and other actions he has taken, he displayed serious fealty to his campaign promises.

Sure, sentences didn’t always end on the same topic they started with, and his claim to have won the election by the largest electoral college margin since Ronald Reagan wasn’t close to true.

Fair points, but so what? Fact-checkers didn’t elect him, nor did voters who were happy with the status quo.

Trump, first, last and always, matches the mood of the discontented. Like them, he is a bull looking for a china shop. That’s his ace in the hole and he played it almost to perfection.

The immediate impact of his performance is likely to calm some of the jitters among Republicans in congress and supporters elsewhere, especially after the beating he took in the last few days.

On Monday night, Trump suddenly removed Gen. Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, over circumstances that still are not entirely clear. And on Wednesday, his nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, withdrew after Republicans said he didn’t have the votes to be confirmed.

Combined with courts blocking his immigration and refugee order, unflattering leaks of confidential material from intelligence agencies and numerous demands for investigations into any Russian connections, Trump’s fast start suddenly hit a wall.

Just three weeks into his term, Democrats, in and out of the media, smelled blood. Many already were going for the kill.

They won’t get it, at least now. Trump bought himself time yesterday.

Yet those determined to bring him down won’t give up, and the insidious leaks of secret material suggest some opponents are members of the permanent government who are willing to use their position and the media to undermine him.

Indeed, the most serious leaks seem to vindicate a warning that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer made in early January after Trump criticized leaders of the spook agencies.

“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told an interviewer. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

That incredible statement reflects what a dangerous game rogue agents are playing. The world is on fire yet the president is the target of partisan revenge in his own government. It’s a scandal and it’s outrageous, but it’s a fact that Trump must confront.

Finding the leakers and prosecuting them, which he promises to do, is part of the solution.

Another part comes Saturday, when Trump takes his solo act to Florida for a massive public rally. It’s smart for him to get out of Washington and soak in the enthusiasm of the populist movement he leads.

He should do it regularly, and also hold smaller, town-hall style forums where ordinary citizens can ask him questions in more intimate settings. Any way he can speak directly to the American people and hear from them democratizes his presidency and reduces the power of big biased media and the Washington establishment.

Yet the only sure and lasting way to keep ahead of the lynch mob is by producing results. Success will be Trump’s savior.

And nothing says success like jobs, jobs, jobs. Getting the economy to reach lift-off speed is essential so it can deliver the good-paying jobs and prosperity that he promised and the nation needs.

While Republican honchos in congress say they’re getting ready to move on tax cuts and replacing ObamaCare, nothing will happen without presidential leadership. That means Trump’s fate is in his own hands and he must keep himself and his White House team focused on delivering an economic revival.

If he does that, the lynch mob will be left holding an empty rope.

READ THE NEW YORK POST

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The decision by all Senate Democrats to reject Betsy DeVos marked a new low for the flailing party.

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The Democratic Party has lost its mind — and its soul

History was made Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

But the necessity of Pence’s vote reflected another kind of history, too: The decision by all Senate Democrats to reject DeVos marked a new low for the flailing party.

Democrats claim to stand for the poor, immigrants and nonwhites. Yet given a chance to actually support someone who is dedicated to improving education for all America’s children, especially those trapped in failing urban schools, the Dems said no, hell no.

Joined by two Republicans, they stood in the schoolhouse door to block vital change, casting their lot with teachers unions that fear reform the way a vampire fears garlic.

Throw away all the subtexts and subterfuge, a defense of the rotten status quo is the only explanation for the bid to block DeVos. The teachers unions pulled the strings, and the political puppets danced to their masters’ tune.

DeVos survived because President Trump is determined to deliver a government that shatters the insiders’ perks and privilege and opens the door to new ways of doing things. In education, that means giving more parents the power of school choice and taking power away from the union establishment.

Millions of children, most poor and many black and Latino, are forced to attend failure factories that rob them of America’s promise. While family breakdown is a prime culprit, the social contract requires society to do its best to compensate.

And there is no question that charter schools, vouchers and other experiments offer the best hope for bringing fresh ideas and progress to educational deserts.

DeVos, a passionate crusader for excellence in the classroom, is just one of the Trump nominees Democrats tried to block in their insane attempts to destroy his presidency before it gets started.

No president has ever had so few cabinet members confirmed at this late date, just as no president has been confronted with such open talk of assassination and impeachment.

Speaking of which, have you heard a single Democrat decry the talk of assassination? Have you heard a single Democrat denounce the violence carried out by so-called protesters?

The answers are no and no because Dems see the riots and threats of violence as legitimate expressions of disapproval — and convenient for their purposes. Their contribution to the “resistance” started when 70 Democrats boycotted Trump’s inauguration and many senators boycotted confirmation hearings and votes. Maybe they’ll soon throw rocks through windows.

The madness was on full display Monday night when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer boasted in a tweet from outside the Capitol that “While the GOP is pushing a vote on Betsy DeVos, the people are rallying outside. We’re with them.”

Think of that: The Democrats’ leader walks out on his job to play the role of a man of the people in a staged demonstration. This is a party that has lost its mind, as well as its soul.

Read it all @ THE NEW YORK POST

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President Trump warmly welcomes PM Netanyahu to the White House

Trump & Netanyahu agree: Israel-Gulf peace first

DEBKAfile Special Report
February 15, 2017, 9:30 PM (IDT)
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“One state, two states, I like this state,” Donald Trump joked, turning to visiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they addressed a wide-ranging, friendly news conference Wednesday, Feb.15, at the White House, ahead of their face-to-face talks.

Trump reacted positively to Netanyahu’s proposal to broaden the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a regional effort as a “very important” new idea “on a broader canvas” which he believed could succeed. Netanyahu said that the regional fears of Iran also presented an opportunity for cooperation against the Islamic State and radical Islamic terror.

DEBKAfile reports that these sentiments reflected agreement in principle between Trump and Netanyahu to seek an Israeli peace accord with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates as the lead-in to negotiations for an accord with the Palestinians. Egypt, Jordan and Turkey with whom Israel already has normal relations would jump in later. This deal fits in with the US plan reported more than once on these pages for a regional peace between the Sunni Arab nations and the Jewish State.

Some of the spadework may have been performed by CIA Director Mike Pompeo who paid a secret visit to Ramallah Wednesday morning for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, after trips to Ankara and Riyadh, following which Turkey upgraded its diplomatic mission in Israel

This plan was the fulcrum for the president to push back against the two-state solution advocated by the Obama administration as the cure for the conflict. It remains to be seen if this plan takes on life outside the White House and in the region’s capitals.

Trump realistically called on Israel to “hold back settlements,” show flexibility and make compromises for a peace deal. He urged the Palestinians to “get rid of hate starting in the schoolroom.” Whatever the Israelis and Palestinians agree to in direct talks – one state or two – “I will accept,.” he said, adding “I believe we will have a deal that is better than many Israelis think.”

In answer to a question on settlements, Netanyahu replied that he did not believe they were the core of the conflict and the issue could be addressed in peace negotiations. With regard to a two-state formula, the prime minister said this was a label and he preferred to deal in substance. An independent state was contingent on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, giving up incitement to violence and Israel remaining responsible for security up to the Jordan River. “Do we want another failed state, another terrorist state?” he asked.

Netanyahu commended the US President for pledging that Iran must never, ever obtain a nuclear weapon and stressed that its missile program was a threat – not only to Israel and the region, but to America due to the ICBMs under development and Iran’s plans for a nuclear arsenal.

President Trump greeted the Israeli leader with stress on the “unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel” their cooperation against violence and terror and shared values in respect of human life. He said that his first sit-down with Netanyahu as president would be the first of “many productive meetings.”

The president made the exceptional gestures of welcoming Netanyahu and his wife Sarah at the door of the White House, with the First Lady at his side. The couples exchanged warm embraces.

Melania Trump took a seat beside Sarah Netanyahu in the front row of the news conference. They were joined by Ivanka and Jared Kushner, who holds the post of special adviser to the president.

Netanyahu ends his Washington visit Thursday after meeting Vice President Mike Pence and leaders of Congress.

READ DEBKA

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“Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats”

America’s spies anonymously took down Michael Flynn. That is deeply worrying.

by Damon Linker

The United States is much better off without Michael Flynn serving as national security adviser. But no one should be cheering the way he was brought down.

The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America’s democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.

Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result.

“Finally,” they say, “someone took a stand to expose collusion between the Russians and a senior aide to the president!”  It is indeed important that someone took such a stand. But it matters greatly who that someone is and how they take their stand.

Members of the unelected, unaccountable intelligence community are not the right someone, especially when they target a senior aide to the president by leaking anonymously to newspapers the content of classified phone intercepts, where the unverified, unsubstantiated information can inflict politically fatal damage almost instantaneously.

The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?

President Trump was roundly mocked among liberals for that tweet. But he is, in many ways, correct. These leaks are an enormous problem. And in a less polarized context, they would be recognized immediately for what they clearly are: an effort to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin.

This doesn’t mean the outcome was wrong. I have no interest in defending Flynn, who appears to be an atrocious manager prone to favoring absurd conspiracy theories over more traditional forms of intelligence. He is just about the last person who should be giving the president advice about foreign policy. And for all I know, Flynn did exactly what the anonymous intelligence community leakers allege — promised the Russian ambassador during the transition that the incoming Trump administration would back off on sanctions proposed by the outgoing Obama administration.

But no matter what Flynn did, it is simply not the role of the deep state to target a man working in one of the political branches of the government by dishing to reporters about information it has gathered clandestinely. It is the role of elected members of Congress to conduct public investigations of alleged wrongdoing by public officials.

What if Congress won’t act? What if both the Senate and the House of Representatives are held by the same party as the president and members of both chambers are reluctant to cross a newly elected head of the executive branch who enjoys overwhelming approval of his party’s voters? In such a situation — our situation — shouldn’t we hope the deep state will rise up to act responsibly to take down a member of the administration who may have broken the law?

The answer is an unequivocal no.

In a liberal democracy, how things happen is often as important as what happens. Procedures matter. So do rules and public accountability. The chaotic, dysfunctional Trump White House is placing the entire system under enormous strain. That’s bad. But the answer isn’t to counter it with equally irregular acts of sabotage — or with a disinformation campaign waged by nameless civil servants toiling away in the surveillance state.

As Eli Lake of Bloomberg News put it in an important article following Flynn’s resignation,

Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do. [Bloomberg]

Those cheering the deep state torpedoing of Flynn are saying, in effect, that a police state is perfectly fine so long as it helps to bring down Trump.

It is the role of Congress to investigate the president and those who work for him. If Congress resists doing its duty, out of a mixture of self-interest and cowardice, the American people have no choice but to try and hold the government’s feet to the fire, demanding action with phone calls, protests, and, ultimately, votes. That is a democratic response to the failure of democracy.

Sitting back and letting shadowy, unaccountable agents of espionage do the job for us simply isn’t an acceptable alternative.

Down that path lies the end of democracy in America.

READ “THE WEEK”

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UPDATE 2/17 — President Trump’s goal is to knock the Ayatollahs off their pedestal as the leading Middle East power

Su-24 warplanes buzzed the USS Porter destroyer in the Black Sea.

Overlaying US President Donald Trump’s extraordinary, hour-long skirmish with reporters Thursday, Feb. 16, was bitter frustration over the domestic obstacles locking him out from his top security and foreign policy goals. Even before his inauguration four weeks ago, he had arranged to reach those goals by means of an understanding with President Vladimir Putin for military and intelligence cooperation in Syria, both for the war on the Islamic State and for the removal of Iran and its Lebanese surrogate Hizballah from that country.

But his antagonists, including elements of the US intelligence community, were turning his strategy into a blunderbuss for hitting him on the head, with the help of hostile media. Thursday, in a highly unconventional meeting with the world media, he tried to hit back, and possibly save his strategy.

That won’t be easy. The exit of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, the prime mover in the US-Russian détente, sent the Kremlin a negative signal. The Russians began unsheathing their claws when they began to suspect that the US president was being forced back from their understanding. The SSV 175 Viktor Leonov spy ship was ordered to move into position opposite Delaware on the East Coast of America; Su-24 warplanes buzzed the USS Porter destroyer in the Black Sea.

Before these events, Washington and Moscow wre moving briskly towards an understanding. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources disclose that the Kremlin had sent positive messages to the White House on their joint strategy in Syria, clarifying that Moscow was not locked in on Bashar Assad staying on as president.
They also promised to table at the Geneva conference on Syria taking place later this month a demand for the all “foreign forces” to leave Syria. This would apply first and foremost to the pro-Iranian Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias brought in by Tehran to fight for Assad under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers, as well as Hizballah.

Deeply troubled by this prospect, Tehran sent Iran’s supreme commander in the Middle East, the Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, to Moscow this week to find out what was going on.

Flynn’s departure put the lid on this progress. Then came the damaging leak to the Wall Street Journal, that quoted an “intelligence official” as saying that his agencies hesitated to reveal to the president the “sources and methods” they use to collect information, due to “possible links between Trump associates and Russia.. Those links, he said “could potentially compromise the security of such classified information.”

A first-year student knows that this claim is nonsense, since no agency ever share its sources and methods with any outsider, however high-placed.

What the leak did reveal was that some Washington insiders were determined at all costs to torpedo the evolving understanding between the American and Russian presidents. The first scapegoat was the strategy the two were developing for working together in Syria.

Defending his policy of warming relations with Moscow, Trump protested that “getting along with Russia is not a bad thing.” He even warned there would be a “nuclear holocaust like no other” if relations between the two superpowers were allowed to deteriorate further.

It is too soon to say whether his Russian policy is finally in shreds or can still be repaired. Trump indicated more than once in his press briefing that he would try and get the relations back on track.

Asked how he would react to Russia’s latest provocative moves, he said: “I’m not going to tell you anything about what responses I do. I don’t talk about military responses. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea,” he stressed.

At all events, his administration seems to be at a crossroads between whether to try and salvage the partnership with Russia for Syria, or treat it as a write-off. If the latter, then Trump must decide whether to send American troops to the war-torn country to achieve his goals, or revert to Barack Obama’s policy of military non-intervention in the conflict.

Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis treated relations with Moscow with kid gloves in his debut appearance before the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, Feb. 16. “We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level,” he said, then added: “But our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground.”

Later that day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in another first diplomatic encounter by a Trump appointee, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Bonn on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting. He too laid stress on finding common ground between Washington and Moscow.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the relations will quickly roll downhill without a strong hand to haul them back. It is up to Donald Trump to show whether or not he is capable of breaking through the siege clamped down on him by his enemies and save his key foreign policy goals. His next moves are being watched very intently in many parts of the world, especially in Middle East capitals. Governments in Tehran, Riyadh, Ankara, Damascus, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Jerusalem are bracing to jump either way.

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Coming Trump-Putin-Erdogan deal rumbles thru ME

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 11, 2017


The NBC report that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considering making President Donald Trump the “gift” of turning over former NSA analyst Edward Snowden is part of a much broader scheme that is already sending tremors through the Middle East. Snowden won asylum in Moscow after leaking secrets to journalists four years ago. The Trump administration appears to have leaked the rumor about the US leaker, seen by some Americans as a whistleblower, as a trial balloon in the secret give-and-take maneuvers afoot between the two presidents and a third, Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, over a trilateral pact for leading the war to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

When Trump talked on the phone to Erdogan last Tuesday, Feb. 7, he was told that America’s extradition of Turkish opposition leader Fatullah Gulen was a sine qua non for any deal. Erdogan has accused Gulen, who lives in exile in America, of orchestrating the failed military coup against him last July and the plot for his assassination. Gulen denies he had any hand in the coup.

Erdogan made it clear to the US president that if he wants Turkey as a partner for fighting terror, Gulen’s party, whose FETO party he insists is a terror organization, must be included in that heading

  • Trump promised to examine Turkey’s Gulen dossier, which would have to stand up in a US court as sufficient grounds for extradition. Four days later, on Friday, Feb. 10, the new CIA Director Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara on his first foreign trip, to discuss plans for cooperation in Syria. He was also handed the Gulen dossier.

The Trump administration then extendied this trade-off by a bid to gain the extradition from Moscow of Edward Snowden, whom the president has called a “spy” and a “traitor.” This would count as a gesture by Putin for promoting the three-way pact for their joint Middle East ventures.

From Ankara, the CIA director continued to Riyadh to see about harnessing the Saudis to those ventures.

Trump was deadly serious when he vowed that “The United States will swiftly and completely destroy the Islamic State – ISIS.” He is proposing to embark on a herculean task that calls for a coalition of several armies and whose consequences are unforeseen. When George W. Bush set out to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq 11 years ago, he never imagined he was creating fertile soil for the rise of the equally menacing Islamic State. Therefore, the mission to destroy ISIS can’t stop there. The combatants must be ready to sustain a massive long-term military presence in the Middle East to make sure that a new bane does not raise its head.

  • Trump has also set his would-be partners a stiff price for their pact. It was signaled by the news report that his administration is contemplating branding Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and its intelligence and operational arm, Al Qods, a terrorist organization. In addition to their combined war on ISIS, the US president is adamantly demanding that his designated allies come together to rid Syria, Iraq and Yemen of Iran’s military presence. This would require the overwhelming military presence in the Middle East of the combined might of the US, Russia, Turkish, Saudi and Egyptian armies.

His goal is to knock the Islamic Republic off its pedestal as the leading Middle East power set up by Barack Obama and his secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, in eight years of strenuous diplomacy and the outlay of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will therefore be bursting through an open door if he tries delivering a lengthy harangue to Trump on the threats posed by Iran and Hizballah when he begins a visit to Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 15. He would do better to ignore the counsels of the pundits and advisers at home who have not yet caught up with the new president in the White House, or grasped the scale of the earthquake Trump and Putin are preparing for the entire region.

Netanyahu will find the US president fully conversant with the Iranian threat to Israel. But he will also need to understand that there is a new way of doing business in Washington:

1. Trump sets his own order of priorities and will not be swayed by Israel.

2. He will always demand a quid pro quo for his cooperation.

3. He will get straight down to brass tacks, namely, a direct question: What are Israel and the IDF prepared to contribute to his prime objective of destroying the Islamic State?
The prime minister will no doubt reply that Israel already contributes intelligence and other forms of assistance to the international war on Islamist terror. However, he will almost certainly find that this does not satisfy his host, who will ask for more direct Israeli military involvement in the campaign against ISIS.  Trump will point to the precedent of 2006, when Israeli special operations officers and soldiers took part in the fighting in Iraq.

Since the president intendeds for Saudi, Emirates and Egyptian troops to join his campaign against ISIS, he envisages their armies fighting shoulder to shoulder with the IDFand so providing an opening for diplomacy towards am Israeli-Arab peace accord.
Trump is holding in abeyance for a number of weeks his decision about transferring the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, he will expect to come to terms with Netanyahu on a US-Israel formula for the future of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, just as the late Ariel Sharon struck a deal with Bush.

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Russia Considers Returning Snowden to U.S. to ‘Curry Favor’ With Trump: Official

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President Trump’s sharp warning on Friday, Feb. 3 – Iran “playing with fire”

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Yemen shapes up for US-Iran military clash

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 5, 2017

US special operations forces in Yemen

US special operations forces in Yemen

Eight armies are fighting for dominance in Yemen, a country of 25 million inhabitants: The Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents, together with a breakaway force, are battling the army loyal to President Abdulrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which is supported by Saudi, Egyptian and UAE military forces and their hired legion of Colombian mercenaries.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) elements, most acting as advisers to the Houthi rebels, intervene actively from time to time. Last October, they conducted missile attacks on US vessels on the Red Sea from shore batteries. In response, the US Navy on October 9 and 12 knocked out those batteries and the radar stations that were manned by IRGC teams.

Tehran countered by deploying to Yemen long-range Shahed 129 drones carrying Sadid-1 rockets and sowing sea mines around the international Bab Al-Mandeb Straits.

US President Donald Trump’s sharp warning on Friday, Feb. 3, after just two weeks in office, that Iran was “playing with fire” and the fresh round of sanctions he clamped down were galvanized by Iranian aggression in Yemen and the Red Sea as much as by its ballistic missile test.

And indeed, the deployment of the USS Cole destroyer to the strategic Red Sea Straits of Bab Al-Mandeb on the same day turned the compass needle toward the potential arena, should the escalating tension between the US and Yemen explode into a military encounter, such as a US special operations force going into Yemen to strike IRGC targets.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Trump administration would find this battleground expedient out of six considerations:

1. It would enable the US to keep the confrontation within controlled limits, by claiming it was acting against the Houthi insurgents in Yemen – not a directly attack Iran.

2. If Iranian Revolutionary Guards “happened” to be caught in the fire, Washington would ask what they were doing in Yemen, when Tehran denied its intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

3. Iran would not necessarily be compelled to hit back directly so long as the US avoids direct attacks on its soil.

4. It would provide serious support for the Saudi and UAE armies, whose armies’ entanglement in the Yemen conflict is deepening without their making real headway against the Houthis. President Trump would show Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo, that he is on their side in the fight against Iran.

5. Iran is capable of coping with the regional armies ranged against the Houthi rebels, but any substantial US military intervention might force Iran to reconsider its support for the Yemeni insurgency.

6. The Russians are not involved in Yemen and any US intervention can be kept quite separate from the Trump administration’s evolving political and military partnership with Moscow in Syria.

By the same token, Washington is keeping its hands off Libya, where last week, the Russians began sending military advisers to assist the American-Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who controls large parts of the eastern oil-rich region. The planes which fly the advises in are carrying Hafter’s wounded men out to hospitals I Russia.

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