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New Reports Suggest Libyan Warlord Khalifa Haftar is Working with Mossad

The stench of the CIA and its covert operations in oil-rich Libya has long followed General Khalifa Haftar. But now another intelligence organization is being tied to the controversial military officer as accusations of extensive dealings with the Mossad are being levied against him by an Israeli journalist, who claims that Haftar met with members of the Israeli outfit in Cairo from 2017 to 2019.

It is not the first time Haftar has been linked to the apartheid state. In 2017, the General reportedly coordinated with the Israeli Defense Forces IDF to bomb military positions of the so-called Islamic State inside Libya. Two years earlier, in 2015, the Jerusalem Post published an account from an unnamed Arab newspaper asserting that Haftar planned to meet Israeli officials during a visit to the capital of Jordan and struck a deal with them to exchange oil and arms for help in his push for power.

The latest claims of Haftar’s Israeli links also involve the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is said to have mediated the meetings between the commander of the Libyan National Army and two Israeli assets named by the anonymous source as Ackerman and Mizrachi. The source, in fact, dates Haftar’s connections to the Jewish state as far back as 2011 when the Israeli Air Force ostensibly coordinated with the Libyan strongman to target jihadist groups who had flooded the country in the wake of Gaddafi’s U.S.-sponsored murder.

Adding to the intrigue are parallel claims that Iran – Israel’s sworn enemy in the region – has also been providing Haftar with military aid in his campaign to topple the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, running counter to official reports coming out of Iran declaring its support for the GNA. These accusations are coming from none other than the Israeli envoy to the UN, who accused Tehran of supplying advanced weapons systems to Haftar, calling it a “grave violation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015),” which attempts to halt the “supply, sale or transfer of arms” from Iran.

 

Allies in the desert

Iran, for its part, denies these allegations. In a joint press conference held by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu last month, Zarif stated that Iran wanted to “have a political solution to the Libyan crisis to end the civil war” and both reiterated their support for the GNA. Iran contends that Haftar’s main allies, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are Iran’s enemies and it would, therefore, make no sense for them to support him in any way, as this would only increase the influence of the Gulf states in the region.

But the turmoil in Libya coupled with its immense deposits of oil and strategic geopolitical significance make Haftar a magnet for a plethora of interests vying for some measure of influence over whichever faction ends up assuming control of the country. Indeed, there is practically no country with any precedent in Libya that has not been caught trying to gain Haftar’s favor or better.

At the top of the list is the United States. When Haftar betrayed the man he had helped put in power back in 1969, it was in Langley, Virginia – a stone’s throw away from CIA headquarters – where Haftar resided for two decades, plotting the overthrow of the “Brother Leader.” So it is perhaps not too surprising that a man known to be an asset of the only superpower operating in the region would attract the favor of more than one suitor, in spite of any differences between them.

 

Israel’s interest

What is undeniable, however, is Israel’s burgeoning intention to build stronger alliances with Sunni states like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – all of whom are strong supporters of General Haftar. In addition, Israel has historically cultivated relationships with African despots and helped execute coups throughout the continent. Both during the conflicts that bring them to power and once installed, these authoritarian regimes help to put Israel among the top ten arms dealers in the world.

The more successful Israel is in currying favor with the Gulf states and its Arab partners, the less need there will be for any pretense to hide its role in the ongoing reconfiguration of the Middle East and Africa. In June, the deputy prime minister of the eastern Libya-based government, Abdul Salam al-Badri, was reported to have sought the support of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that Libya has “never and will never be enemies of Tel Aviv.” For the moment, such open gestures of friendship with the apartheid state are still too distasteful to be uttered in public, and al-Badri was forced to deny the report after his remarks caused an uproar in Libya.

Feature photo | Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar at the Parliament in Athens, Greece, January 17, 2020. Costas Baltas | Reuters

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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List of Targets Leaked: Israel Fears Worst in ICC War Crimes Investigation

When International Court of Justice (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed last December that the Court has ample evidence to pursue a war crimes investigation in occupied Palestine, the Israeli government responded with the usual rhetoric, accusing the international community of bias and insisting on Israel’s ‘right to defend itself.’

Beneath the platitudes and typical Israeli discourse, the Israeli government knew too well that an ICC investigation into war crimes in Palestine could be quite costly. An investigation, in itself, represents an indictment of sorts. If Israeli individuals were to be indicted for war crimes, that is a different story, as it becomes a legal obligation of ICC members to apprehend the criminals and hand them over to the Court.

Israel remained publicly composed, even after Bensouda, last April, elaborated on her December decision with a 60-page legal report, titled: “Situation in the State of Palestine: Prosecution Response to the Observations of Amici Curiae, Legal Representatives of Victims, and States.”

In the report, the ICC addressed many of the questions, doubts and reports submitted or raised in the four months that followed her earlier decision. Countries such as Germany and Austria, among others, had used their position as amici curiae – ‘friends of the court’ – to question the ICC jurisdiction and the status of Palestine as a country.

Bensouda insisted that “the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza (“Occupied Palestinian Territory”).”

However, Bensouda did not provide definitive timelines to the investigation; instead, she requested that the ICC’S Pre-Trial Chamber “confirm the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,” an additional step that is hardly required since the State of Palestine, a signatory of the Rome Statute, is the one that actually referred the case directly to the Prosecutor’s office.

The April report, in particular, was the wake-up call for Tel Aviv. Between the initial decision in December till the release of the latter report, Israel lobbied on many fronts, enlisting the help of ICC members and recruiting its greatest benefactor, Washington – which is not an ICC member – to bully the Court so it may reverse its decision.

On May 15, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned the ICC against pursuing the investigation, targeting Bensouda, in particular, for her decision to hold war criminals in Palestine accountable.

The US slapped unprecedented sanctions against the ICC on June 11, with President Donald Trump issuing an ‘executive order’ that authorizes the freezing of assets and a travel ban against ICC officials and their families. The order also allows for the punishing of other individuals or entities that assist the ICC in its investigation.

Washington’s decision to carry out punitive measures against the very Court that was established for the sole purpose of holding war criminals accountable is both outrageous and abhorrent. It also exposes Washington’s hypocrisy – the country that claims to defend human rights is attempting to prevent legal accountability by those who have violated human rights.

Upon its failure to halt the ICC legal procedures regarding its investigation of war crimes, Israel began to prepare for the worst. On July 15, Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported about a ‘secret list’ that was drawn up by the Israeli government. The list includes “between 200 and 300 officials”, ranging from politicians to military and intelligence officials, who are subject to arrest abroad, should the ICC officially open the war crimes investigation.

Names begin at the top of the Israeli political pyramid, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his current coalition partner, Benny Gantz.

The sheer number of Israeli officials on the list is indicative of the scope of the ICC’s investigation, and, somehow, is a self-indictment, as the names include former Israeli Defense Ministers – Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; current and former army chiefs of staffs – Aviv Kochavi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and current and former heads of internal intelligence, the Shin Bet – Nadav Argaman and Yoram Cohen.

Respected international human rights organizations have already, repeatedly, accused all these individuals of serious human rights abuses during Israel’s lethal wars on the besieged Gaza Strip, starting with the so-called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.

But the list is far more extensive, as it covers “people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking military officers and, perhaps, even officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts.”

Israel, thus, fully appreciates the fact that the international community still insists that the construction of illegal colonies in occupied Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the transfer of Israeli citizens to occupied land are all inadmissible under international law and tantamount to war crimes. Netanyahu must be disappointed to learn that all of Washington’s concessions to Israel under Trump’s presidency have failed to alter the position of the international community and the applicability of international law in any way.

Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that Tel Aviv’s postponement of its plan to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is directly linked to the ICC’s investigation, for the annexation would have completely thwarted Israel’s friends’ efforts aimed at preventing the investigation from ever taking place.

While the whole world, especially Palestinians, Arabs and their allies, still anxiously await the final decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Israel will continue its overt and covert campaign to intimidate the ICC and any other entity that aims to expose Israeli war crimes and to try Israeli war criminals.

Washington, too, will continue to strive to ensure Netanyahu, Gantz, and the “200 to 300” other Israeli officials never see their day in court.

However, the fact that a “secret list” exists is an indication that Tel Aviv understands that this era is different and that international law, which has failed Palestinians for over 70 years, may, for once, deliver, however a small measure of justice.

Feature photo | Israeli soldiers work on tanks in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights near the border with Syria, not far from Lebanon border, July 28, 2020. Ariel Schalit | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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A “Brazen Giveaway” GOP HEALS Act is a $30 Billion Bonanza for the Pentagon

On Monday the Senate GOP released their outline for a new $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. A successor to March’s CARES Act, the 177-page document, named the HEALS Act, includes no funding for hazard pay, the Postal Service, state and local governments, nutrition assistance, or help for uninsured or underinsured Americans, but incorporates a $29.4 billion bonanza for the Pentagon.

The package is presented as a necessary measure to help the country fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far caused the deaths of nearly 153,000 Americans. But it appears that the GOP had a very different enemy in mind when writing some parts of it. “To prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically and internationally,” the bill (pp. 35-38) allocates $686 million for the purchase of extra Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, $650 million for A-10 Warthog fighter-bombers, $720 million for C-130J transport planes, $283 million for AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and $1.068 billion for P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft.

It is not just the Air Force that will benefit from the new bill; it also includes $41.4 million for Raytheon missiles, $260 million for a new Navy fast transport ship, $250 million for amphibious shipbuilding programs and $375 million for armored combat vehicles. Most of these military spending requests are ones that had previously been subject to cuts in February as the Trump administration moved Pentagon money around to fund construction of the border wall. The plan also allocates (p. 11) $1.75 billion to the FBI for the design and construction of a huge new facility in Washington, D.C.

 

“Amphibious ships don’t feed hungry children”

The new HEALS Act, which differs both in scope and its recipients from the $3 trillion Democrat-backed Heroes Act, which President Trump has promised will be “dead on arrival.” Unsurprisingly, Democrats have condemned the new plan. “The bill contains billions of dollars for programs unrelated to the coronavirus, including over $8 billion for what appears to be a wish-list from the Department of Defense for manufacturing of planes, ships, and other weapons systems,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. “The bill provides nothing to address the long lines at food banks and shortchanges education and childcare, but we can shore up the defense industry? I am at a loss for words.” “Amphibious ships don’t feed hungry children,” added House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY).

Yet Democrats have supported other sections of the bill, particularly that to do with cutting unemployment benefits. While providing a second $1,200 check, the HEALS Act also reduces unemployment payments from $600 to $200 per week, although in the long term it would move to a system where the government would pay up to 70 percent of a worker’s pre-COVID wages, a setup that most of Europe opted for in the beginning. “Look, it’s not $600 or bust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), claiming that a weekly $600 check serves as a disincentive to many to start working again.

The proposed act also ensures that businesses and other entities have near blanket immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits coming from customers and employees. “Mitch McConnell’s new coronavirus ‘relief’ proposal is an utter disgrace. It somehow manages to make the pandemic and economic pain even worse,” wrote consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, labeling it a “brazen giveaway” to big business and the military.

 

A lack of popular support

Far from wishing to increase spending, a poll conducted earlier this month showed that the majority of Americans (including 69 percent of Democrats) supported Bernie Sanders’ proposal to cut the $740 billion Pentagon budget by ten percent, using the savings to fight the coronavirus and the impending housing crisis it is causing. Yet Democrats in both the House and Senate joined with the GOP to vote down the idea. The $74 billion in savings, the National Priorities Project calculated, would have been enough to end homelessness, pay for 2 billion COVID-19 tests, create one million green energy jobs, or hire 900,000 extra school teachers.

The U.S. military budget rivals that of the rest of the world combined, with the majority of federal discretionary spending already going on warfare. Earlier this month, Congress and the Senate passed Trump’s massive $740 billion military bill, an increase from previous years. Yet it seems too much can never be enough for defense contractors. While it is far from clear how attack helicopters and cruise missiles will help during a pandemic, it is not hard to see who will benefit from the new bill and whose interests are really being served.

Feature photo | Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, speaks to a NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan advisor during a visit to meet Afghan National Army soldiers at Kabul Military Training Center Jan. 16, 2011. Ernesto Hernandez Fonte | DVIDS

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Big Tech Giants are Forcing Their Way into America’s Public Health System

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a Big Tech lobby group has just launched a “working group” called the Public Health Tech Initiative (PHTI) to explore the ways in which technology can help in future pandemics. The coalition of companies that form part of the “broad coalition” include tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft, transnational behemoths like Philips, as well as U.S. pharmaceutical retail chain CVS Health.

Rene Quashie, VP of Digital Health for CTA says that the goal of PHTI is to “accomplish what the government has been so far unable to do: develop a unified strategy for deploying technology in a public health emergency.” To this end, PHTI has placed a former CMO for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Dr. Alexander Garza as co-chair of the new organization, alongside Microsoft’s recently-appointed Global Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Rhew.

Rhew, ranked 31st in Modern Healthcare magazine’s 50 “most influential clinical executive leaders,” holds six patents” related to clinical decision support systems and the interoperability and integration of data in electronic health records (EHRs)” and was Samsung’s CMO and VP/GM of B2B Healthcare. He holds a BS in Computer Science and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan and began his professional career at the RAND corporation as a Healthcare Consultant.

 

Links to the Vatican

Garza currently serves as CMO for one of the largest hospital networks in the country, SSM Health. A Catholic non-profit healthcare system with 11,000 providers based out of St. Louis, MO, SSM Health made national headlines in 2012 after siding with the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Madison, Wisconsin who decried rules contained in the Affordable Care Act compelling companies to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. A statement from SSM Health, which owns St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, expressed the institution’s disappointment “with the contraceptive mandate in the rule, as it will force organizations like ours to go against our conscience and the explicit teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Rhew also has ties to the Vatican as a recurring guest speaker and panelist at the “Unite to Cure” conference, a global event that seeks to bring together “the world’s thought leaders across all disciplines to engage in a powerful conversation about the future of medicine,” organized by the Stem for Life Foundation (SFLF) – a subsidiary non-profit of the Cura Foundation – and the Fondazione Scienza e Fede – STOQ, a Vatican City organization that “oversees a pooling of resources and initiatives, lectures and academic programmes between the Pontifical universities and the scientific community.”

The cellular therapies promoted at the conference have come under fire by the broader scientific community and have resulted in lawsuits from the DoJ and the FDA calling for the shutdown of cell therapy clinics. The conference’s 2018 edition, where Rhew discussed the benefits of “virtual reality (VR) [and] implantable devices” was lambasted by the press for its less-than-credible panelists, which included quasi-medical personalities and self-help gurus like Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, and Northwestern University stem cell scientist Richard K. Burt, whose work has come under intense criticism by the FDA.

 

COVID market share

In March, Dr. Alexander Garza warned St. Louis residents not to become “complacent” amid falling numbers of COVID hospitalizations, declaring that “this won’t be a return to pre-COVID times.” Garza was brought in to Obama’s DHS at “the height” of the Swine flu epidemic of 2009. In a 2012 interview, Garza foreshadowed the COVID-19 lockdowns when asked about historical precedents for pandemics that threatened national security. “You would see a lot of the same things we saw with H1N1 but to another degree,” said Garza regarding the implementation of policies to mitigate a potential scenario of that sort. “There were some folks advocating closing schools,” he continued, “canceling public events, quarantining folks who were exposed, limiting travel to unexposed areas.”

Arlington, Virginia-based CTA includes executives from AT&T, Sony, Facebook, IBM, Google among many others on its Board of Industry Leaders and is the host of the largest annual technology trade show in the world, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where the biggest tech companies reveal their upcoming products and services. The 2021 edition will be an online-only event, citing COVID-19 pandemic concerns. The organization is not disclosing many details, except to say that it will be a “highly personalized… immersive experience.”

The Public Health Tech Initiative looks to be an attempt by tech industry partners to shape the conversation surrounding the emerging pandemic-induced tech opportunities in the health sector, with a particular focus on how these relate to minorities and POC – perhaps their largest market segment considering the COVID-19 infection data in the U.S. In addition to the creation of the PHTI working group, which also includes the Health Innovation Alliance (a lobbying group pushing for industry-friendly telehealth legislation), the CTA has recently started an investment fund to provide seed money to “venture firms and funds that in turn invest in women, people of color and other underrepresented entrepreneurs.”

Feature photo | Ivanka Trump, right, smiles at the crowd after being interviewed by Gary Shapiro, left, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, during the CES tech show, Jan. 7, 2020, in Las Vegas. Ross D. Franklin | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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Just Like With Healthcare, Democrats Offer Half-Hearted Measures to Impending Eviction Crisis

The best defense against a raging pandemic that has already claimed over 152,000 American lives is simply to stay home. But even this could soon become impossible for millions, as the United States is facing an impending eviction crisis of “biblical proportions,” according to the Housing Rights Initiative. Earlier this week, the federal moratorium on evictions expired, meaning the nation’s 12 million renters are now at risk of losing their homes. Renters tend to be poorer, many of whom are among the 52 million that have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of extending the eviction ban, top Democrats, including California Sen. Kamala Harris and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), proposed their own solution to the crisis: new money for a fund to help renters faced with eviction access legal representation. “We must take bold, urgent action to affirm that right and protect the millions of families facing housing instability,” said Pressley, as the bill was introduced yesterday.

Liberal outlet Vox presented the move as a “lifeline” to millions and a stroke of political genius. Yet others saw it differently. “Is this a joke?” responded The Intercept’s Aída Chávez on Twitter, suggesting that she saw the plan as pathetically weak non-solution to an impending crisis. “What if they just… introduced a bill to stop them from being evicted in the first place,” asked another user. Judging from reporting, this appears not to have occurred to them.

pic.twitter.com/uWb91GnEre

— Black Lives Matter (@AlexRigsTheGame) July 28, 2020

Harris, who is the prohibitive favorite with bookmakers to become Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick come November, has a history of proposing piecemeal reform rather than bold solutions. According to a poll conducted last September, 58 percent of Americans, including nearly three-quarters of Democrat voters support making college free for all and totally eliminating outstanding student debt, a position advocated by Bernie Sanders. Harris, however, proposed instead to cancel up to $20,000 of debt only for Pell Grant recipients who start a business in a disadvantaged community and maintain that business for at least three years. “When you look at the requirements, it’s hard to imagine more than a handful of people would ever qualify for it,” said Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project.

The reaction to Harris’ proposal from the Democratic base was much the same as that to Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s (D—MA) recent statement that “Not a single patient should be forced to fight off medical bankruptcy in the midst of a global health pandemic without a lawyer by their side,” many feeling that he could have just stopped talking six or even 14 words sooner.

Republicans have put forward their own new coronavirus stimulus package that includes billions for the military and the FBI but nothing for hazard pay, nutrition assistance, uninsured Americans, or for state and local governments. While it does include a second $1,200 check, it also cuts unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans from $600 to $200 per week. Environmental justice group 350.org described the plan as a “disgraceful offering” from the GOP. “As unemployment skyrockets, this bill would cut off much of the support offered thus far to everyday people struggling to make ends meet. We won’t let Congress pass a giveaway to wealthy corporations while leaving our communities out to dry without a fight,” they wrote in a statement.

But Democrats have made pains to stress that they agree with the Republicans on the need to reduce unemployment benefits, even as there are no signs of a significant economic recovery in the short to medium term. “Look, it’s not $600 or bust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), claiming that a weekly $600 check serves as a disincentive to many to start working again. He did not dwell on what that said about American wages. In fact, the U.S. offer to the unemployed has been particularly stingy, in comparison to similar countries. For example, Western European countries like France, the U.K., Ireland, and Germany simply pay between 60 and 84 percent of newly unemployed workers’ pre-pandemic salaries. Meanwhile, businesses in New Zealand have had little problem finding generous financial sponsorship from their government. New Zealand has an unemployment rate of around 4 percent, compared to the U.S.’ 11 percent

The Democratic Party is also at odds with its base on healthcare, a key issue during a global pandemic. 85 percent of Democratic voters support Medicare for All. But the Democratic National Committee blocked its inclusion in the party’s draft platform, voting it down, 125-36. The party is now facing a quiet internal revolt just three weeks from the National Convention.

Between a worsening pandemic, the threat of eviction, and a reduction in unemployment benefits, it appears that millions of Americans are in for a tough fall.

Feature photo | A view of a poster saying Cancel Rent Cancel Mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic on May 18, 2020 in Brooklyn Borough of New York City. John Nacion | STAR MAX | IPx

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Antitrust Hearings Delayed as Tech Giants Push Ahead with Ruthless Market Dominance

The much-anticipated antitrust hearing originally scheduled for Monday, July 27 has been moved to Wednesday for the ostensible purpose of allowing members of Congress to pay their respects to recently deceased Rep. John Lewis.

The hearing, which is to feature the testimony of big tech CEOs Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Sundar Pichai is supposed to wrap things up for the House Judiciary Committee’s year-long investigation into “anti-competitive behavior in the tech sector.” The Committee is supposed to release its findings later this summer or in the fall, on the eve of the presidential elections.

Much has been made about the “major concession” or “breakthrough negotiations” regarding the mere presence of these high-powered chief executives at the hearing, which underscores the very problem facing the country and the world over the excessive influence these corporations wield over our lives. Whether the robber barons of our time will be physically present or simply chime in via a Zoom video chat has yet to be determined. Perhaps they’ll each make use of their own proprietary video-conferencing apps to attend remotely.

The Committee’s investigation has been called the “most sweeping congressional probe to date,” though that is not saying much considering the complete lack of regulatory oversight of these mammoth companies, who have been allowed to operate virtually unfettered over the last 20 years.

Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are said to be in the crosshairs of the Congressional investigation, but even the communications between the company CEOs and lawmakers about their testimony before the Committee reveal the true pecking order. Jeff Bezos, for instance, responded to the Senate’s request by conditioning his presence: “Of course,” the letter addressed to the Committee stated, “we will need to resolve a number of questions regarding timing, format, and outstanding document production issues, all necessarily framed by the extraordinary demands of the global pandemic.”

Other CEOs, like Tim Cook, responded with similar caveats to the provision of documents and other evidentiary material requested by the Congressional body. A letter from Apple’s attorney called the Committee’s demands “highly unusual and burdensome” and expressed doubts that its corporate secrets and “other competitively sensitive information would be withheld from its many competitors,” essentially accusing the government of preemptive corporate spying.

 

Unfair practices

Just one week ago, in the span of 24 hours, Jeff Bezos increased his net worth by $13 billion dollars. The obscenity of such an immense jump in wealth underscores the growing disparity between the uber-rich and regular people, who are in the midst of an ongoing economic catastrophe and millions of whom are facing the prospect of losing their homes in the coming months as federal government handouts run out.

Meanwhile, the tech giants are using every dirty trick at their disposal to increase their riches and power to a level seen only in the days of John D. Rockefeller… or Caligula. Their ability to manipulate markets and near-total control over modern-day communications makes their power virtually unassailable.

Examples of the types of activities Congress will have to curtail abound. Amazon, for example, used its own venture capital firm to attract startups who shared details about their products and services only to see Amazon launch their own versions. The $200 million Alexa Fund would purchase stakes in companies like Nucleus – which made a video communication device for the home – to gain access to the startup’s plans. Eight months after their “investment” in Nucleus, Amazon would launch the “Echo Show,” which directly competed with Nucleus’ product.

This is a pattern Amazon has been shown to engage in with regularity, but it is not alone among the tech giants. Facebook also has a history of doing the exact same thing, while Apple has exploited its mobile application monopoly through its “iOS App Store,” which erects high bars of entry for third-party developers through onerous fees and rules described by some developers as a “Kafka-esque nightmare.” Meanwhile, Apple puts no such barriers in the way of its own apps.

 

More than economics

The problem doesn’t end at unfair market practices, however, since the power these companies now wield by virtue of the wholesale transformation of society and economy into a digital environment, means these giant corporations have a stake in practically every human activity as defined in the 21st century.

The race to “connectivity” has placed the Apples and the Googles of the world in a position of near-limitless power, which – on certain levels – far exceeds the judicial mechanisms that exist to curtail it. “When you connect all of society, you connect all of society’s problems as well,” says tech research scientist, Benedict Evans.

In a recent article about tech regulation, Evans points out that the tech industry embodies all the complexities that were present in previous regulatory battles against large industries, such as banking or the airline industry. But, not only do tech companies present a far larger sample of complexity, the timeframe in which we, as a society, must deal with the implications of this reality is immeasurably more compressed. Evans quotes an old colleague who “liked to say that software is eating the world.” He agrees that, in fact, it did eat the world. But, also reminds us that regulation can only go so far in reigning in these new monopolies because they cannot ultimately solve the enormous social issues that their unrestrained existence up to this point has already caused.

Feature photo | This combination of 2019-2020 photos shows Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, July 29, 2020, the four Big Tech leaders facing antitrust hearings in front of Congress by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Pablo Martinez Monsivais | Evan Vucci, Jeff Chiu | Jens Meyer | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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US Threatens European backers of Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, NATO in DC’s Crosshairs

The U.S. is starting to fret about the imminent completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the second of two underwater gas pipelines running from the Russian Baltic city of Ust-Luga to Greifswald, Germany, and has begun issuing informal threats of repercussions to companies who are backing the nearly-finished project. 

According to unnamed sources, at least a dozen American officials from three separate departments held video conference calls with European contractors working on the pipeline, while U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo reportedly warned private European backers of “risk[ing] the consequences” of continuing their support for the key energy infrastructure project.

Several European energy concerns, such as France’s Engie, Germany’s Wintershall Dea and Uniper and Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell have indirect financial ties to the massive $11.7 billion-dollar underwater oil pipeline being constructed by Russia’s partially state-owned Gazprom, which will double Russia’s oil export capacity to Europe and seriously infringe on Atlanticist designs over the old continent.

Only six percent of the 1,200-mile pipeline remains to be laid in Danish waters, which is stalled due to U.S. sanctions against the European contractors working on that particular stretch. However, Denmark has recently circumvented the sanctions by licensing different vessels, and construction is set to resume by September.

Gazprom CEO, Alexei Miller disregarded claims that U.S. sanctions would stop the project from being completed, and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the pipeline would be commissioned before the end of this year. The completion of the Russian pipeline would mean a practical end to the viability of American LNG exports to Europe; a fate the U.S. has been trying to avoid since the project’s beginning in 2012.

 

US economic warfare

On July 15, the U.S. State Department updated its public guidance on sanctions against Russia and singled the pipeline project, imposing “sanctions on “a person” that “knowingly” invests in Russian energy export pipelines, or that sells Russia goods, technology or services for such pipelines where certain monetary thresholds are met.”

The revised Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) reverses previous stipulations, which contained explicit exemptions for any pipeline projects that were signed before the sanctions were made law. Nord Stream 2 falls within this category and given that the investment threshold for triggering sanctions is relatively low, practically “any significant work done to advance the Nord Stream II pipeline” could be at risk of being targeted by U.S. economic warfare.

The potential ramifications of the new guidance are significant in light of Germany’s clear interest in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project as well as their recent ascent to several key leadership roles within NATO and the EU. Tensions between the U.S. and Germany regarding the Atlanticist organization – punctuated by Trump’s intention to withdraw U.S. troops from the Teuton nation – have started to rise as a result of the pipeline’s unique potential to diminish American influence over its European partners.

 

The end of NATO

German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, admitted that the relationship between his country and the U.S. while remaining cordial, was now “complicated.” Meanwhile, a member of the German Bundestag (parliament), Christian Schmidt, called for the resumption of talks surrounding the inclusion of Russia into NATO; a topic that was last seriously considered in the 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Such rhetoric coming from a key U.S. ally in Europe and a vital NATO member could be the canary in the coal mine for an eventual trade war between the U.S. and the EU. In addition to Schmidt, who was Germany’s Minister of food and agriculture and the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, a group of German MPs have outright stated that the revised CAATSA targeting the Nord Stream 2 project was nothing less than a “threat to European sovereignty.”

America’s unilateral strategy of economic aggression against its traditional allies in Europe is facilitated by its position as the number one trading partner of Europe and its second provider of goods and services after China. But the pressure to bow down to Washington’s dictates is starting to fray the boundaries of diplomacy and the threat of an actual trade war between the U.S. and Europe is becoming a strong possibility.

Even the Atlantic Council, a U.S.-controlled think tank for NATO policy, is beginning to question whether the military alliance “will still be relevant in the future” in a recent article recapping a debate similarly titled “Is NATO still relevant?.” The panelists were mostly of the same mindset when it came to the diminishing importance of the post-war Atlanticist alliance from the American perspective and making the argument that it no longer served U.S. “defense needs.”

Participants stressed China’s preeminent role as America’s new main antagonist and expressed skepticism over NATO countries’ willingness to provide any “military assistance” in U.S. efforts to contain China. “I don’t dislike NATO,” said Chicago University Professor, John Mearsheimer, “but we live in a completely different world. For most of my life, Europe was the most important area of the world. That’s no longer the case. The distribution of power has changed. Asia is the area that really matters the most to the United States today. The question is, what can Europe do [about China]? What can NATO do? My argument is it can do hardly anything. We have to wake up and smell the coffee.”

Feature photo | Tubes are stored in Sassnitz, Germany, to construct the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from Russia to Germany, Dec. 6, 2016. Jens Buettner | DPA via AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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Amid Escalating Tensions, US Warships Sail Just Miles off Coast of China

A U.S. warship and military aircraft were spotted traveling southwest from Japan towards China yesterday afternoon, in what some fear is a growing escalation of aggression towards Beijing. A Boeing P-8A Poseidon (hex code AE68A2), an anti-submarine aircraft appeared to be working in conjunction with the anti-submarine destroyer the U.S.S. Rafael Peralta, patrolling as close as 41 nautical miles from China’s maritime boundary, almost in sight of the city of Shanghai.

Earlier in the day, an Air Force Northrop Grumman E-8C reconnaissance plane (hex code AE1492) and a Navy Lockheed Martin EP-3E (hex code AE1D8A) reconnaissance aircraft surveilled China’s Fuijanese coast, the latter coming within 58 nautical miles of its boundaries before turning back. Today, the EP-3E was back, this time going west, following the coastline of China’s most populous province, Guangdong. The moves are believed by Chinese experts to be information gathering operations, attempting to track the positions of Chinese submarines and to pinpoint Chinese coastal defenses as the United States increases the tension on Beijing.

US Navy P-8A operating near #Shanghai, with USS Rafael Peralta sailing underneath, July 26.
Might be a joint-operation? pic.twitter.com/vm7REvY14U

— SCS Probing Initiative (@SCS_PI) July 26, 2020

The U.S. military is currently conducting extensive wargames with Japan and Australia in the Philippine Sea, aimed at better training those involved for a future war with China. Those wargames do not appear to be a part of the maneuvers off of China’s coast. Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently accused the People’s Liberation Army as “continuing its aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas,” stating that the U.S. was there to “deter against coercive [Chinese] behavior.”

The United States is also beginning to sever diplomatic relations with China. Last week, the Trump administration ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close, claiming it was a hub of spying activity.  Diplomats and embassy staff were jeered and heckled as they left for the final time, The Guardian reporting that American officials forced entry to the building, potentially a serious breach of international law. In retaliation, China ordered an American consulate in Chengdu to close. Going further, Florida Senator Rick Scott recently claimed every Chinese citizen in the U.S. is a Communist spy, arguing that foreign students should be treated with extreme suspicion.

American policymakers increasingly see China as a threat to U.S. hegemony. In 2011, the Obama administration announced its so-called “Pivot to Asia,” an attempt to encircle China with military bases in an attempt to crush it. This has been continued by Trump, who has consistently portrayed China as a U.S. enemy. The Pentagon’s 2021 budget calls for a move away from the Middle East and a focus on East Asia as America’s “priority theater.” The government has also attempted to shift both domestic and international blame for the COVID-19 pandemic onto China, Trump missing no opportunity to call it the “Wuhan China Virus.” The president has even committed the U.S. to leave the World Health Organization over its refusal to comply with censuring China.

While there has been no active fighting, the online information war is already raging. Last month a U.S.-funded think tank managed to convince Twitter to delete over 170,000 accounts sympathetic to China and its government, while the government is also considering outright banning the popular (Chinese-owned) video app TikTok. “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News.

The negative media coverage appears to have had a profound impact on public opinion. Just nine years ago, Americans’ views on China were strongly favorable, but a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that a record 66 percent of the country now hold negative opinions about the country, only a quarter continuing to hold China in high regard.

Can you imagine the absolute freakout that would take place if the Chinese military was operating this close to New York, off the US coast?

The US engages in these dangerous provocations against China on a weekly basis, but it is China that is always painted as the "aggressor". https://t.co/KzBJdaJhXf

— Ajit Singh (@ajitxsingh) July 26, 2020

While the activities of the U.S. military are noteworthy and potentially inflammatory, they are not unique. Indeed, only last month, it launched a similar operation off the coast of Venezuela. Describing it as a “freedom of navigation operation,” the U.S.S. Paul Nitze sailed within almost 12 nautical miles of the Venezuelan coast, accompanied in the sky by a Boeing RC-135W reconnaissance plane, with some postulating that the move was an attempt to gain information on the country’s coastal defenses in the light of an oft-rumored possible invasion, something President Trump reportedly stated would be a “really cool” thing to do.

In 2016 former senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon said that “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years…there’s no doubt about that.” While anti-war activists everywhere will hope otherwise, recent events suggest he may have been on to something.

Feature photo | In this photo provided by U.S. Navy, Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class James Benzel, from Louisville, Ohio, assigned to the Saberhawks of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron, signals an MH-60R Sea Hawk to disengage its rotors on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as USS Mustin (DDG 89) steams alongside in South China Sea, July 9, 2020. Erica Bechard | U.S.Navy via AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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United Tesla Company: Widespread Condemnation of Elon Musk’s Bolivia Coup Comments

Multibillionaire Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk once again proved that he does not know how to keep silent. After being challenged on Twitter about his alleged involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Evo Morales in Bolivia last November, Musk responded, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Although he later deleted his statement, he doubled down on his stance, tweeting “Congratulations to the people of Bolivia!” on Morales’ ouster.

The pushback to Musk’s apparent confession that he was intimately involved in the violent overthrow of a foreign government and its replacement with a far-right dictatorship was swift. “I’ve been silently fuming about this ever since he tweeted it. It just chokes me up with so much rage I can’t think of anything to say about it. I write for a living and I am still completely without words for this,” wrote independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone. “All oligarchies are composed of trash, but there does seem to be something special about this one,” said writer Justin Podur. Assistant editor of The Grayzone Ben Norton agreed, tweeting, “The fascist Bolivian coup dictatorship has already invited billionaire imperialist Elon Musk to exploit the country’s lithium reserves. When this capitalist oligarch brags “We will coup whoever we want,” take the fascist criminal at his word.”

Paulo Drinot, summed up the event, describing it as the “United Tesla Company.” Drinot, a Professor of Latin American History at University College, London, is referencing the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’etat, where the United Fruit Company, now known as Chiquita, conspired with the U.S. government to overthrow President Jacobo Arbenz, chiefly because the popular leader had initiated land reform that was hurting the company’s bottom line, ensuring the country would return to being nothing more than a banana republic.

Musk’s comments seemed to confirm what many had been saying since the coup took place. Barely 24 hours after the events, Indian academic and writer Vijay Prashad wrote that they “cannot be understood without a glance at the nation’s massive reserves of this crucial mineral.” Morales himself labeled his ouster a “lithium coup d’etat” last year. The former president, who was forced to flee to Argentina or face a lifetime in prison, said that Musk’s words were “more proof that the coup was due to Bolivian lithium; and two massacres as a balance. We will always defend our resources!”

The Bolivian people are organising to take back control of the lithium that the US-imposed regime is trying to give to Elon Musk. pic.twitter.com/df5rYMNgsW

— Ollie Vargas (@OVargas52) July 25, 2020

Musk’s company, Tesla, relies on lithium batteries for its electric vehicles. Bolivia is right in the center of the Lithium Triangle” — a region high in the Andes mountain range where over half of the world’s known deposits of the metal lie. With the world beginning to transition away from fossil fuels, the need for energy storage devices is expected to grow exponentially. Morales, a resource nationalist, had for a long time seen lithium as the way forward to industrialize and improve the country’s economy, hoping to keep the technology and profits from battery generation inside Bolivia. Musk’s plans to open a car plant in Brazil and use cheap Bolivian lithium had hit a snag with the defiant president refusing to give him a sweetheart deal. Morales’ successor, the military-backed Jeanine Añez, immediately began privatizing the country’s key resources, and there is widespread speculation that such a deal is imminent after Añez’s running mate in the now-suspended 2020 elections asked Musk to build a factory inside the country.

This is the third time that the far-right Añez administration has postponed the elections due to concerns over the coronavirus, leading many to speculate that no election is forthcoming, particularly because Morales’ Movement to Socialism Party is way ahead in the polls. Morales was elected Bolivia’s president in 2005. A popular and stabilizing force in the often volatile nations, his programs managed to reduce poverty by half and extreme poverty by three quarters, increasing the (inflation-adjusted) per capita GDP by 50 percent in his 13 years in office. Unlike rulers that had come before him, he came from the country’s indigenous majority and was previously a poor farmer and leader of a peasant’s union. He managed to turn the country around primarily through nationalizing its key resources and using the profits to fund social programs. He was among the most vocal critics of U.S. imperialism in the world and, together with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva was one of the key leaders of Latin America’s so-called “Pink Tide,” a continent-wide movement aimed at countering imperialism worldwide.

While the South African billionaire’s words certainly appear damning, he has a long history of making inflammatory statements and trolling others online, which cast some doubt on what he said. In May, he tweeted that Tesla’s stock price was “too high” in his opinion, leading to an instant reduction of over $80 per share in value. He also called Vern Unsworth, a British diver rescuing Thai boys trapped in a cave a “pedo,” after he brushed off Musk’s supposed attempts to help as a useless “P.R. stunt.” For someone so closely connected to the notorious Jeffrey Epstein, it is perhaps not best practice to call other people pedophiles. Musk has been photographed alongside Epstein’s partner Ghislaine Maxwell, and reportedly gave him a private tour of his California SpaceX facility. Epstein also reportedly set Musk’s brother up with his girlfriend.

While the Tesla billionaire’s latest comments are certainly incriminating, it is unlikely that there will be any legal ramifications, as the United States continues to be in full support of the coup. Like with the Epstein case, there are precious few ways to hold the powerful to account if the U.S. government is not interested in pursuing the matter.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump meets with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, center, and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon during a meeting with business leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 3, 2017. Evan Vucci | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post United Tesla Company: Widespread Condemnation of Elon Musk’s Bolivia Coup Comments appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel Rolls Out Dystopian Cyber Espionage Award for US-Backed Digital Saboteurs

A “mastermind in the field of cyber espionage” will be awarded a lifetime achievement by the state of Israel in September. The “Israel Defense Award” ceremony is slated to take place in the residence of President Reuven Rivlin, himself a former member of the IDF’s intelligence corps, Haman, which is tasked with “collecting, disseminating, and publishing intelligence information.” In addition, prizes will also be handed out to members of three secret cybersecurity projects developed by Mossad, the IDF, the Shin Bet and MAFAT (Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure) that have made a “long-standing contribution to national security and for initiating many technological solutions”, not to mention the forging of close ties to the U.S. National Security state.

The identity of the “legendary” Israeli spy who is slated to receive the official commendation has not been revealed and has only been referred to as “Aleph“; said to be in his forties and well-known both in Israeli and American intelligence circles. He is described as a “phenomenon” of the cyber field who turned down a lucrative career in the tech industry in order to serve the national interest. The mystery-man was credited with creating a “significant part” of the work in Israeli cybersecurity by an unnamed acquaintance.

Current Israeli Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister, Benny Gantz announced the winners and heaped praise on Israel’s “human capital,” whose work proves that there are “no borders in the war on Israel’s security.” Indeed, this statement by the IDF’s former chief of staff can be corroborated by taking a look at the corporate partners who are a part of the winning projects; the first of which is a joint collaboration between the Israeli national intelligence agency, Mossad, the Rafael Company, the Israeli Air Force and a new IDF Intelligence Unit 9900, which “provided the IDF with unique capabilities” and “technological breakthroughs.” The Rafael Company, (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.), is also involved in the second project to be recognized by the Israeli state, along with Elbit Systems. Both of these companies have major cybersecurity contracts outside of Israel and the U.S., in particular

 

Critical infrastructure

Elbit Systems received a contract from the U.S. government last year to build an “integrated” surveillance system across the Arizona-Mexico border spanning over 200 linear miles. They have since deployed dozens of “sophisticated” cameras on towers along the border and have also secured multi-million dollar contracts to equip an unnamed Southeast Asian navy’s ships with their AI-enabled technology for “complex reconnaissance missions.”

The Rafael Company, meanwhile, is a major player in international weapons systems development and is the principal creator of the “Iron Dome” anti-missile technology through a  subsidiary company, mPrest. The Iron Dome software is currently running on “critical infrastructure systems” in the United States and has been a recent subject of concern for the U.S. military, who refused to integrate the software into its air defense systems after the Israeli company failed to provide the source code, resulting in the loss of a $600 million-dollar contract for the Tel-Aviv-based company.

The Rafael Company subsidiary, nevertheless, has partnered with several American utility companies, providing “mission-critical monitoring” services to sectors of the U.S. power grid. mPrest’s “System of Systems” has been integrated by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern Company – the second-largest utility company in the United States – and others. The New York Power Authority (NYPA) entered into a partnership with the Israeli company in 2017 to deploy their technology in a number of utility plants across the state.

In the official statement issued by Gantz announcing the prize winners, he gave special attention to the fact that their work “was done in secret,” while President Rivlin lauded the “long nights, days, weeks and months of exhausting and grueling work” put forward by the recipients of the Eliyahu Golomb award, named after the commander and chief architect of the Haganah (the Defence) militia – a paramilitary organization that would eventually become the IDF after the founding of the Jewish state and progenitor of terrorist organizations like Irgun and the Stern Gang.

 

Old collaborators

The history of the Haganah provides a unique look into the permanent relationship between certain U.S. interests and the state of Israel, dating back to its gestation period during the British mandate of Palestine, as well as a direct link to Israel’s present-day cybersecurity technology apparatus through a young RCA engineer from New York, Dan Fliderblum, who was recruited by the Zionist guerilla to set up a “network of secret radio transmitters in Palestine” to protect their illegal arms smuggling operation. Fliderblum would later change his name to David Avivi and pioneer the Isreali electronics industry.

At the time, an organized crime association comprised of the Sicilian and Jewish mafias, often referred to as “Murder, Inc.” controlled the Port of New York. Meyer Lansky, as leader of the New York crime families, was approached by Haganah operative and close aid to Ben-Gurion, Yehuda Arazi, to help move weapons to Palestine. Arazi was an underground agent who had been doing Ben-Gurion’s bidding throughout Europe for years and was sent to the United States by the future first Prime Minister of Israel to procure heavy armaments, including “aircraft, artillery pieces, tanks [and] antiaircraft guns.”

Jewish mobsters in the United States would henceforth play a pivotal role in obtaining and providing financial and other resources to the Haganah. Notorious Jewish gangsters, like Bugsy Siegel, Longy Zwillman, and Moe Dalitz, met with another Haganah agent every week in 1946 in the back of a Los Angeles restaurant to arrange or deliver money to finance the ongoing war in Palestine.

The extent of the mob’s involvement in these operations came to light when the FBI seized a B-25 bomber obtained by the “syndicate” was forced to return to Newark by bad weather, causing the entire shipment of aircraft, which included twenty AT-6 airplanes, to be confiscated.

As for the man whose name dons the prize Israel will award its undisclosed cyber-tech heroes in a few months’ time, it was his arguments in favor of a “much more extensive and orderly defensive force,” that convinced Ben-Gurion to move ahead with the creation of the IDF and, along with it, the establishment of less suspect partnerships that wouldn’t hinder the social advancement of the Jews involved, like the case of Miami mob figure Sam Kay, who it is claimed, was motivated to aid the Haganah’s arms-smuggling operation to “clean up” his own image and help his daughter marry up.

 

The candidates

The partners of today’s IDF-linked tech initiatives read more like a blue-chip investment portfolio than a police rap sheet, but the scope of the crimes dwarf those that occurred in the days of jukeboxes and trench coats. The myriad cybersecurity, AI, and IoT startups emerging out of Israel’s state-funded organizations have extensive ties to Fortune 100 companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and many others. The vast majority of these startups originate in military outfits like Unit 8200, which has been the center of offensive cyber warfare technology like Stuxnet, co-developed with the United States to take down an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010, among other covert operations and initiatives.

While Israel won’t reveal the names of the winners selected for the Israel Defense prize awarded every year for the past six decades, we can take a few educated guesses as to who might have been some of the finalists. People like Lior Div come to mind; founder of a cybersecurity company called Cybereason, which has been running simulations on behalf of the U.S. government of a foreign-hacked 2020 general election. The table-top exercise predicted dozens of dead Americans, hundreds injured, and an election that never happens.

Div fits the age-range given for the winner of the lifetime achievement award but would be eliminated from consideration if we take the claim seriously that the recipient shied away from the millions he could have made in the private sector. Lior Div’s company is currently valued at just over $1 billion and his own net worth can be assumed to be near that, at least.

There are other potential nominees, such as Amit Yoran, who certainly fits the bill of an individual who is “known in [the Israeli] and the American intelligence community” as reported in several pieces about the mysterious “Aleph.” Yoran fits the age profile, as well, and as former Cybersecurity chief at DHS has the credentials to be recognized in both the halls of the Mossad and CIA’s Langley headquarters. But, he too has thrown his hat into the private sector many times and is currently CEO of a cybersecurity firm called Tenable, which offers solutions to address “vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in your modern IT environment.”

If lifetime achievement is the true criteria, then former head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, might be considered as the potential candidate that could claim that a “not insignificant part of [Israel’s Defense] work was created by him personally due to his special talent.” Pardo served under Bibi Netanhayu’s brother, Yoni’s military command, and has been a member of Israel’s top brass for a very long time. Pardo once described Mossad as a “criminal organization with a license.” But, far from a critique, Pardo followed his controversial statement by admitting it was “the fun part.”

Feature photo | Israel’s Electric Corp vice president, Yasha Hain, second left, and Ofir Hason, watch a cyber team work at the ‘CyberGym’ school in the coastal city of Hadera. Dan Balilty | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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Friends of the IDF Lobby Group Secures Forgivable US COVID Loans for Israeli Soldiers

A non-profit organization that “that provides for wellbeing of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)” was awarded a $2.5 million forgivable PPP loan by the (Small Business Administration) SBA. The Friends of Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) is the only organization “authorized to represent the IDF across the United States and Panama” where they claim to operate 20 regional offices, with a P.O. Box in New York.

The FIDF’s loan was filed under the category of “religious organization” in the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan data, despite the NPO being listed as a Y12 organization under the IRS’ NTEE classification system for non-profits: a “Mutual/Membership Benefit Organization,” which (in the case of FIDF) raises funds for issues relating to “foreign affairs and national security,” according to the tax-exempt organizations database published by ProPublica.

The FIDF is the largest donor organization to the IDF and its CEO, 33-year IDF veteran Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, receives an annual salary of over $1 million. Klifi served as Netanyahu’s military secretary before retiring in 2010 and working as a security consultant, specializing in “national security and strategic planning for governments and agencies worldwide.” He was appointed to the top post of the FIDF in 2014. Questioned about the untoward “bonuses” of half a million dollars he was given by the NPO, Klifi justifies it by asserting that he “manages to raise three times as much as the second largest organization” and claims the job is one that “nobody is enthusiastic about,” despite perks like flying business class as a part of his contract.

The New York-based 501c3 organization raises the vast majority of its average annual haul of $113 million (over the period of Klifi’s tenure) through extravagant gala events and functions attended by major celebrities like Barbra Streisand, Larry King and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. Last October, the FIDF National Gala raised “a record” $37 million from top NY real estate leaders. “A Night of Heroes” featured a delegation of 20 IDF soldiers and several high profile guests. Klifi delivered a speech in which he called the IDF “an extraordinary force of humanity. Guided by its official ethical code, the Spirit of the IDF, which holds human life above all else.”

 

Charity for Murder

The IDF’s track record of holding “human life above all else” is laughable, at best. What Klifi calls an “extraordinary force for humanity” has engaged in a litany of human rights abuses and extrajudicial murder against the Palestinian people over decades and is the prime agent of Palestinian oppression by the Israeli state.

From aiding the wholesale dispossession of Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers to killing children with targeted headshots, the Israeli Defense Forces are anything but a boon for humanity. A timeline counting back to the year 2000 compares the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed since the Second Intifada began in that year. The tally shows the true mission of IDF in the world and exactly what the FIDF’s mission to “provide hope, purpose, and life-changing support for [IDF] soldiers” really entails.

In May, the U.S. Senate approved a $38 billion-dollar package for Israel’s Defense establishment, allocating $3.8 billion a year over the next decade to “upgrade most of Israel’s fighter aircraft, improve its ground forces’ mobility and strengthen its missile defense systems.” The largest military assistance deal in American or Israeli history co-sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, however, seems to have stalled in the U.S. Congress.

 

Petty Cash

Fortuitously for Israel, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021 was just passed in the Senate on Thursday – a virtual carbon copy of the House version – that includes the go-ahead for $3.3 billion to Israel based on the same (Memorandum of Understanding) MOU, which delineated the original $38 billion-dollar aid proposal.

The Pentagon’s $740.5 billion NDAA passed by an overwhelming majority of 86-14 and, in addition to the billions slated for Israel’s defense systems like the Iron Dome, it also sets aside millions for joint U.S.-Israeli public-private partnerships to develop “innovative medical projects primarily aimed at detecting and treating the coronavirus.” Furthermore, the Act calls for the establishment of a “US-Israel Operations Technology Working Group” to focus on battlefield technology and other Israeli grant programs.

With such massive windfalls of U.S. tax-payer cash for Israel’s war machine, it’s no wonder that Meir Klifi-Amir would display such condescension over challenges to his outsized salary and bonuses as chief executive of the Friends of Israeli Defense Forces NPO. “Petty people want to make headlines,” he complained. He would have “returned to Israel a long time ago,” he exclaimed, if it wasn’t for the “tremendous pressure” he is under to remain here and raise “three times as much as the second largest organization.”

Feature photo | In this Nov 26, 2015 photo, members of the Israel Defense Forces pose for a photo for social media. Twitter | @IDF

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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US-Backed Coup Gov’t in Bolivia Suspends Elections for Third Time

Amid a rapidly worsening COVID-19 pandemic, Bolivia’s coup government has once again suspended much-anticipated elections that were due to be held on September 6. This is the third time the administration of Jeanine Añez has postponed them because of the virus, setting a new date for October 18.

The move has drawn condemnation from both left and right, but for different reasons. MintPress’ Ollie Vargas, who covered events from inside the country since last year’s November 10 coup, was dismayed, announcing:

Bolivia’s unelected coup regime has extended it’s illegitimate power by canceling elections once again. When we get to October they’ll invent another reason to postpone, then another, till they’ve found a buyer for the lithium & other natural resources. This is a dictatorship.

Former President Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party agreed, stating that “The de facto government wants to gain more time to continue the persecution of social leaders and against MAS candidates. It’s yet another form of persecution. That’s why they don’t want elections on September 6.” Meanwhile, coup leader Fernando Camacho rejected the new date, demanding elections be scrapped altogether, a position shared by the far-right Santa Cruz “Civic Committee.”

Morales was reelected in October for another five year term. A popular president, he reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by three quarters, while increasing the (inflation-adjusted) per capita GDP by 50 percent in his 13 years in office. He managed this primarily through a series of nationalizations of the country’s key industries and by expelling the predatory International Monetary Fund (IMF) from Bolivia. But in November, the military and police intervened, demanding he resign. Today he lives in exile in Argentina. Nevertheless, the latest polls show that the MAS candidate Luis Arce, who served as Morales’ finance minister, would win the election outright on the first ballot if it were held today. Arce accused Añez of using the pandemic as a pretext to extend her rule.

 

From popular mandate to elitist candidate

A little-known senator from a party that received only just four percent of the vote in October, Añez was handpicked by the military to become the new president. A strongly Christian conservative who described the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic,” she arrived to take her new place in government clutching an oversized bible. She enjoyed the support of the country’s elite, the U.S. government, and the entire spectrum of corporate media, who cheered the events as they happened. The new administration immediately began to suppress and criminalize dissent, including massacring protesters who objected to the takeover. Despite leading in the polls, the MAS have been suppressed, with many of their leaders jailed or facing dubious charges. Morales himself faces life in prison for “terrorism” if he sets foot in his country again.

Bolivians burn effigies of Jeanine Anez and other officials in the US-backed coup gov’t during a protest in La Paz, July 14, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Añez has also overseen the selling off of the country’s national resources, including in the hydrocarbon industry, and has completely reoriented its foreign policy to align with the United States. She has also begun working with the IMF, taking out a $327 million loan in April. The U.S. government strongly backed Añez from the beginning; three days after the coup the State Department released an official communiqué “applauding” her for “leading her nation” through a “democratic transition.”

The stated reason for the postponement of the elections is the country’s continued inability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Salvador Romero said the move was necessary to keep Bolivia’s hospitals and cemeteries from collapsing under the strain of the increased deaths. “This election requires the highest possible health security measures to protect the health of Bolivians,” he said. One reason why the country’s medical system is under such pressure is that Añez expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors working primarily with the country’s poorest people, leading to closures of hospitals and health clinics. While Bolivia has officially reported 65,000 cases and 2,407 deaths, some believe those figures could be an underestimate. This week, police said they recovered 420 dead bodies from streets, vehicles and homes in La Paz and Santa Cruz. In June, Añez herself tested positive for COVID-19.

In response to the delayed elections, Bolivian trade unions have given the government 72 hours to reverse the decision, threatening “indefinite mobilizations” to restore democracy. Thus, it appears that even after eight months of constant political struggle, tensions could be about to be increased once again.

Feature photo | A woman wearing a face mask and shield against the spread of the new coronavirus walks past soldiers in riot gear standing on a sidewalk during quarantine, in La Paz, Bolivia, May 11, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Homeland Security Justifies Invasion of Portland by Claiming Shields and Gas Masks are Weapons

Far from restoring order, the arrival of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Border Patrol in Portland, Oregon has only heightened tensions, with agents attacking and arresting protesters nightly. DHS’ Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli took to social media yesterday to share images of items confiscated from demonstrators.

“Here is a shield and a couple of gas masks from a rioter arrested in Portland. Not a sign with a slogan that someone expressing their first amendment rights might carry, but preparations for violence. Peaceful protester? I don’t think so,” he wrote. Evidence that demonstrators were using inherently defensive items like shields and gas masks to protect themselves from tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper balls appeared not to convince many to drop their support of the movement. “‘The steps you take to protect yourself from the violence I perpetrate against you are the evidence that you deserve that violence’ is rarely articulated quite so plainly. At least not in public,” replied Angus Johnston of Hostos Community College (City University of New York).

Here is a shield and a couple of gas masks from a rioter arrested in Portland. Not a sign with a slogan that someone expressing their first amendment rights might carry, but preparations for violence. Peaceful protester? I don’t think so. pic.twitter.com/0Re1V129ge

— Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli (@HomelandKen) July 23, 2020

The DHS justifies its invasion of Portland — over the objections of city and state officials — on the grounds that it is protecting federal property, particularly the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, which has become a venue of intense struggle. “Simply put, we need to make sure [it is] not burned down, as rioters have tried to do for weeks. That’s our mission,” it stated. Yet it is far from clear whether the DHS has the legal remit to do so. Its own website notes that its mission is “striving to prevent future [terrorist] attacks against the United States and our allies, responding decisively to natural and man-made disasters, and advancing American prosperity and economic security long into the future,” none of which would be covered by protesters graffiting federal property. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the government and the DHS for their actions.

Despite this, Cuccinelli has promised to expand the use of federal troops or police nationwide, including into a number of Democratic-run cities. “This is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country,” he told NPR.

 

Fears over live ammo and violence against the press

Local elected officials appear far more concerned about the violence of the feds than of any damage protesters have done. The city’s mayor, Ken Wheeler, has repeatedly demanded federal agents leave the city immediately. Instead, they gassed Wheeler himself when he joined the demonstrations.

What I saw last night was powerful in many ways. I listened, heard, and stood with protesters. And I saw what it means when the federal government unleashes paramilitary forces against its own people. It is unconscionable and un-American. We are all committed to change – this must stop so the work can move forward,” he wrote.

Wheeler also raised concerns over unconfirmed reports that agents had been authorized to use live ammunition. Despite Wheeler and many other Oregon representatives’ opposition to the President’s moves, demonstrators themselves have criticized the mayor for failing to rein in his own police force, who have been no less aggressive. Despite a judge banning the use of tear gas, earlier this month, police broke the court order and declared a riot, using flashbang grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Portland has seen 52 attacks on journalists since the nationwide protests against racist police violence began in late May, Minneapolis being the only city recording more. Not counted among the 52 is the case of MintPress contributor Wyatt Reed. Late Wednesday night, federal agents shot him in the face with pepper balls, injuring his eye. Last night, he was also hit in the knee and the hand. “For the record I was sitting by myself, well away from anyone else & nowhere near any of more militant demonstrators when these “specially trained” federal agents shot me directly w chemical weapons projectile,” he tweeted.

The current protest movement was sparked by the viral images showing the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Since then they expanded to every state in the union and to other nations. One recent Morning Consult poll found that 23 percent of police officers said they held “very” or “somewhat favorable” views of white supremacy, by far the highest proportion of over 100 identifiable groups the survey asked. President Trump has opted to confront the protests head on, rather than make concessions. If shields and gas masks are now considered weapons, it appears likely that more government escalation is on the cards for Portland.

Feature photo | Federal officers use tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on July 22, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Noah Berger | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Tech Giants Eye Lucrative Rent Market as End to Eviction Moratorium Could Leave Millions Homeless

In a ‘normal’, pre-pandemic economy, a number roughly equal to the population of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania – or about 3.7 million people – are evicted every month in the United States, according to Matthew Desmond, principal investigator of Princeton University’s “Eviction Lab” project, which tracks evictions throughout the country and produces the first nationwide eviction database.

But, come Friday, July 24, those numbers could rise precipitously should the moratorium on evictions, included in the CARES Act be allowed to expire. The legislation afforded renters with a 120 days’ grace period from “fees, penalties, or charges in relation to nonpayment of rent” and barred landlords from filing eviction notices of any kind during that period.

The situation facing low-income communities is exceedingly harsh when considering the endemic economic disparity that characterizes cash-poor communities with scant access to any sort of financial resources or affordable credit. Studies on wealth inequality have shown time and again how excessive rent burdens can leave families on the brink of homelessness over relatively minor, unexpected emergencies like a simple car repair or a doctor’s visit.

A “semi-permanent renter class” has developed among poor African Americans, in particular. 1 in 11 people who fall into this demographic face eviction every year. For the rest of the United States, the rate is 1 in 20. African American communities and other communities of color are the most vulnerable to the approaching deadline, which not only opens the door for the resumption of eviction filings but also brings potentially large bills of fees and penalties, which the CARES Act allowed to accrue for 120 days.

 

A broad crisis

So far, few lawmakers have come out against the end of the moratorium despite the uncertainty and great potential for popular unrest this is likely to cause. Some cities like Houston have already lifted the eviction freeze leading many in the legal profession to expect a “tsunami” of eviction filings. The prospect of homelessness looms large over working families living on incomes under $40K a year; 40 percent of which lost a source of employment in March, according to Shamus Roller of the National Housing Law Project.

Milwaukee and Cleveland are two of the cities most at risk, with a 40 percent jump in eviction rates from their typical level at this time of year. The American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Evictions revealed that a staggering 28 million homes are at risk of coming under eviction orders due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emily Benfer, who chairs the ABA committee is also the co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard put out by the Eviction Lab.

In an editorial published Wednesday by NBC News, Benfer called for a “long-term solution to housing precarity and its disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx families” and warned that without “robust government intervention” the “avalanche of evictions” will take a heavy toll on entire communities. She predicts renters will suffer increasing levels of distress as unemployment benefits are cut off and reopened courts begin hearing thousands of pending evictions.

Benfer decried the Trump administration’s attempts to eliminate fair housing rules, that were set up to push back against “longstanding discriminatory housing practices,” echoing her partner at Eviction Lab, Matt Desmond, who contrasted the plight of African American and Latino renters with white American families who are “buffered” from the looming eviction crisis by virtue of most of them owning their own home.

In her concluding paragraph, Benfer asserted that we must “define our post-pandemic reality” and suggested that the government subsidize the housing market in toto while a new paradigm takes shape.

 

Public and Private Motives

Anti-eviction demonstrations are starting to sprout up around the country with organizations like the Cancel the Rent movement and Kansas City Tenants stage protests against the imminent expiration of the moratorium. Some state governments, like Andrew Cuomo’s office, are taking the initiative to implement rental assistance programs.

The federal government is joining the chorus through U.S. Representative, Ilhan Omar’s “Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020,” a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Talib and 27 others, which calls for the effective annulment of rents and mortgages due for the (undefined) period of the Covid-19 pandemic and proposes the creation of a Landlord Relief Fund for property owners to recoup their losses.

Parallel to this and largely under the radar, however, the private tech sector is moving into position to swoop in and take advantage of the impending housing crisis. Just as news of a mysterious virus was breaking late last year, Facebook invested $1 billion for the construction of 20,000 new affordable housing units in California, following Google’s lead which had made the exact same commitment a few months earlier. Apple more than doubled Google’s and Facebook’s investment, combined, when it put down $2.5 billion for the same cause.

On the occasion of Facebook’s investment, California governor Gavin Newsom declared that the “State government cannot solve housing affordability alone” and praised the public-private partnership for advancing the fight against “economic inequality and restoring social mobility.”

Feature photo | People from a support organization for immigrant and working class communities unfold banners, including one advocating rent cancellation, on a subway platform in the Queens borough of New York during a vigil memorializing people who died from coronavirus. The pandemic has shut housing courts and prompted authorities around the U.S. to initiate policies protecting renters from eviction, May 21, 2020. Bebeto Matthews | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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Anti-Diplomacy: Danny Danon Ends Five Year Legacy of Israeli Hasbara at the UN

The United States is Israel’s best friend and ally in the world. It contributes over $10 million a day in no-strings-attached military aid despite the fact that Israel’s human rights record, according to the State Department’s own admission, is deeply problematic and contravenes U.S. law. The U.S. has dropped out of or defunded a number of United Nations organizations, including the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, UNRWA, all for the sake of Israel.

Danny Danon – who once criticized Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, a hawk’s hawk, for his “leftist feebleness” – just completed a five-year stint as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, bringing his own political flourish to the job.

Back in 2015, when Danon was first appointed, Israel expert Jonathan Cook observed, “Danon’s posting is part of a discernible pattern of recent appointments by Netanyahu that reflect a growing refusal to engage in any kind of recognizable diplomacy. Confrontation is preferred. Danon can be expected to barrack, abuse and alienate fellow ambassadors at the UN in New York.”

Cook’s prediction was right on the money.

 

Danny Danon: the early years

Before his UN appointment, Danon already showed great promise as a combative promoter of Israeli exceptionalism. That exceptionalism was on display in May 2010, when Israel killed nine Turkish citizens aboard a humanitarian aid ship en route to Gaza (a tenth victim later died). The ship, one of six in a flotilla, was in international waters when Israeli commandos attacked it in an attempt to prevent humanitarian goods from reaching Gaza. Turkey demanded that Israel apologize and a young Danny Danon, then a member of parliament, complied. “We are sorry that, due to the [Israel Defense Forces’] over-cautious behavior, only nine terrorists were killed,” said Danon.

In 2012, Danon served as chairman of Israel’s Deportation Now movement, an effort to remove tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees that had entered Israel in search of asylum. He declared at a rally,

The State of Israel is at war! An enemy state of infiltrators has been established within the State…We have to put an end to this, expel all the infiltrators before it is too late… The infiltrators are a national plague…”

Danon holds a poster at a UN security press conference in 2015. Loey Felipe | UN

In June 2013, Danon advocated for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank with no regard for the indigenous Palestinians that live there (a plan that is taking shape today):

The Jewish people are not settlers in the West Bank, but Israel will make the Palestinians settlers and Jordan will be the one taking control over Palestinians and that’s it.”

That same month, he expressed indifference to both international law, in this case regarding illegal settlement building, and Israel’s reputation when he declared to the Times of Israel, that “[the] international community can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want.”

 

2014: “We must not be humiliated”

The next year, Danon landed a position in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet as Deputy Defense Minister. He lasted just over a year before his brusque manner got him in trouble.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was on its seventh day of an air invasion of Gaza. Its mission: to stop Hamas rocket fire (up to that point, projectiles from Gaza had caused 27 Israeli deaths in 13 years).

In its week-long air assault, the IDF had killed 185 Palestinians. No Israelis had been killed, and Israel had accepted a ceasefire. However, Danon criticized the Israeli government for going too easy on Hamas – especially for its delay in starting a ground offensive – and for buying into a ceasefire too soon.

We must not be humiliated. We must correct the mistake of the cabinet decision from this morning [to accept the ceasefire] and allow the army to do what it must… with Hamas we must speak in a language it understands.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly fired him.

Danon released a statement that read in part, “I did not agree, and won’t agree, to this spirit of leftist feebleness by the prime minister, and I won’t sell out my ideology for an office and a driver.”

The ceasefire fell through, and two days later, Israel began a ground invasion of Gaza. By the end of the seven-week conflict, 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were dead.

Danny Danon was temporarily unemployed, but his career as a public servant was far from over: Netanyahu brought him back five months later as Minister of Science, Technology, and Space; the next year, he was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations.

 

2015: “Stop making excuses”

In the UN, Ambassador Danon hit the ground running. In his first speech to the General Assembly, he attacked the entire body for what he considered an ongoing and utter mischaracterization of the Israel-Palestine situation:

Let me make one thing clear – this is not a cycle of violence. These are simply unprovoked attacks against Israelis for no reason other than the fact that they are Jews living in their historic homeland…”

The UN must end its usual practice of calling on both sides to show restraint, and state clearly: there is one side that is instigating a wave of terror.”

Stop making excuses for the Palestinians, and start holding them accountable.”

 

2016: “Shame on you!” and “BDS has infected the UN”

In April 2016, the UN Security Council debated a possible resolution to call on Israel to halt the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Ambassador Danon went off-script, addressing the Palestinian Ambassador, Riyad Mansour:

Danon: Shame on you for glorifying terrorism!

Mansour: Shame on you for killing Palestinian children!

Danon: I condemn all acts of terrorism’: one sentence you cannot say. Shame on you for that.

Mansour: Let my people be free! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! You are an occupier.

The next month, Danon played host to a conference called, “Building Bridges Not Boycotts,” in the United Nations headquarters. The summit sought to counter recent bad press: the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had mandated a database, which was finally published in February of this year, of companies doing business in illegal Israeli settlements. The list could be used to boycott the companies, most of them Israeli, as a form of economic pressure to stop the construction of illegal settlements.

Danon displays what he called a Palestinian “terror doll” during a 2016 press conference at the UN. Cara Anna | AP

The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement – a campaign that addresses Israel’s violations of international law in its treatment of the Palestinian. The nonviolent campaign is modeled after the South African anti-apartheid movement. Israel and the U.S. describe BDS as anti-Semitic and an attempt to delegitimize Israel.

During the conference, Ambassador Danon declared to his audience,

[BDS] has already infected the UN. When the UN opens its doors to BDS, we have to respond. This is a battle we must fight, and it is a battle we will win.

To those who boycott Israel, who want to see an end to the Jewish state; to those standing outside the UN right now screaming hateful anti-Semitic slogans against Israel: you will never win.

Our people have overcome every enemy. We stand strong; we stand together; and we  will defeat you, once and for all.”

 

2018: “Wretched collaborator,” “morally bankrupt”

In October 2018, the UNSC had a guest, one Hagai El-Ad, Director-General of B’tselem, a highly respected Israeli human rights organization. B’tselem’s goal is to document human rights violations in the Israeli-occupied territories. As part of a debate on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Bedouins, El-Ad reported on his findings, describing Israel as a state “founded on supremacy and oppression.” Ambassador Danon retorted,

You’re a wretched collaborator…IDF soldiers guard you, and you came here to defame them. Shame on you.”

In November 2018, Israel clearly undermined a ceasefire with Hamas by infiltrating Gaza. The incident ended with seven Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead. Hamas retaliated by firing rockets toward Israel, killing one; Israel then killed seven more Palestinians.

The UN Security Council met to discuss the situation, but could not agree on a response.

Some UNSC members blamed Israel for the flare-up – Danon accused them of being “morally bankrupt”; others diplomatically called for restraint on both sides, to which Danon proclaimed, “there is no such thing as both sides.”

 

2019: “The Bible is our deed,” “Palestinian surrender,” and more

In April 2019, Ambassador Danon – himself a secular Jew – waved a Bible in the air and declared, “This is the deed to our land.”

From the book of Genesis; to the Jewish exodus from Egypt; to receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai; to the gates of Canaan; and to the realization of God’s covenant in the Holy Land of Israel; the Bible paints a consistent picture. The entire history of our people, and our connection to Eretz Yisrael, begins right here…”

Danon holds a Bible aloft during a 2019 UN Security Council meeting. Photo | Israeli Embassy

In June, Danon published an editorial in the New York Times, “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?” In it, he criticized the Palestinians’ rejection of Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century – a “peace” plan that eliminates all hope of justice and self-determination and acquiesces to Israeli colonization. Danon concluded that Palestinian resistance,

[exposes] the uncomfortable truth about the Palestinian national identity: It is motivated not by building a better life for its people but by destroying Israel.”

In December, in what turned out to be one of his final acts of “diplomacy,” Danon announced that he’d be introducing a resolution in 2020 – one that would recognize the Jewish refugees circa 1948. He was referring to the estimated 850,000 Jews who had been exiled from Arab countries and Iran around the time that Israel was created, forced out by the Muslim majorities in those countries, angry that Jews had colonized the homeland of the Palestinians. Danon insisted, “Every time the U.N. talks about the refugees of Israel’s war of independence, they speak only of the Palestinian refugees.

The fact is there were two populations of refugees, and we must not allow that fact to be forgotten. Not only because we must honor those who lived through it, but because we must learn from it.”

He said he hoped to pass a resolution to formally recognize these refugees:

Israel took in these refugees and integrated them into our society. The international community on the other hand ignored them and built corrupt institutions that only serve so-called Palestinian refugees.”

But the State of Israel will give voice to the truth and correct the historical injustice by putting an end to the deafening silence on the part of the international community.”

 

2020: One more for the road

Ambassador Danon’s resolution recognizing Jewish refugees never materialized. He did leave a parting gift, though: an interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur, riddled with problematic and controversial statements: “I represent not only the people of Israel, I represented [sic] the Jewish people in the U.N.”

We [Jews] do have biblical rights to the land. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, or Jew — you read the Bible, you read the stories of the Bible — it’s all there.

This is our deed to the land. That’s biblical.”

When asked about Israel’s plan to begin formally annexing parts of the West Bank, Danon replied, “You cannot annex something that belongs to you. When you annex something you do it from a foreign territory. I do not know from whom we are annexing it…”

Danny Danon’s confrontational style of “diplomacy” grew from his belief that the United Nations carries a grudge against him and all Jews. In fact, the UN created Israel, and in return, Israel made promises – none of which it has kept. In 2015, Jonathan Cook noted, “Danon’s appointment…indicates the extent to which the Israeli right has abandoned any hope of persuading the international community of the rightness of its cause – or even of working within the rules of statecraft.”

[Israel] has no place for negotiations or compromise [and] wants only to tell the world that it is wrong and that Israelis don’t care what others think…”

Based on that job description, Mr. Danon certainly discharged his duties.

Feature photo | Israel United Nations Ambassador Danny Danon listens to a correspondent during a news conference about Israel’s violent crackdown on Palestinian protests at the Gaza border, May 15, 2018, at U.N. headquarters. Bebeto Matthews | AP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.

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Could a New Palestinian-Israeli Prisoner Exchange Be in the Works?

For the first time since the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is signaling its willingness to engage in negotiations regarding the release of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by resistance groups in Gaza. But will another prisoner exchange similar to that of October 2011 follow anytime soon?

On July 9, Palestinian and Israeli media reported on an Israeli government communication sent to the Palestinian group, Hamas, through an intermediary. It included an Israeli offer to swap the bodies of Palestinians held in Israel in exchange for the bodies of the two soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Alternatively, Israel is offering the release of some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons, so long as they have “no blood on their hands”,  an Israeli reference to Palestinian prisoners who have not taken part in direct attacks that may have led to the killing of Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Hamas and others quickly dismissed the Israeli proposal as a non-starter for a serious negotiation. The Palestinian group had already indicated that it will not negotiate any prisoner exchange deal with Israel until the latter releases scores of Palestinian prisoners who were re-arrested in the months and years following the 2011 exchange.

What was then termed by Israel as the ‘Gilad Shalit deal’, saw the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for securing the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian fighters near the Gaza-Israel fence in 2006.

However, even while Palestinians were still celebrating the return of hundreds of their loved ones, Israel began re-arresting many of the newly-released prisoners under various pretenses, rendering the entire exercise futile.

Moreover, Israel began quickly replenishing its prisons with new arrivals, from various Palestinian factions, genders, and age groups.

In the 2011 exchange, Israel also refused to release senior Palestinian political figures from Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Islamic Jihad and other groups. This decision had derailed negotiations for months, and was understood as Israel’s way of wanting to hold on to many prominent Palestinian figures as bargaining chips for future negotiations.

These figures include Fatah’s most popular leader, Marwan Barghouti, PFLP leader Ahmad Sa’adat, among others.

In 2014, Israel also re-arrested Nael Barghouti, from his home in Kobar, near Ramallah, making him the longest-held Palestinian prisoner in Israeli prisons. Barghouti is a particularly important bargaining chip for Israel.

It must be said that the reason that Israel is quite generous in these prisoner exchanges is not due, as some claim, to the notion that Israel values the life of its citizens to the extent that it is willing to exchange them with a disproportionately large number of Palestinians.

If that logic was correct, why does Israel then transfer its own citizens, including children, to dangerous and highly-militarized illegal West Bank Jewish settlements?

If Israel truly values the lives of its citizens, it would have, long ago, dismantled the illegal settlements and tried, in earnest, to reach a just peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership.

Instead, Israeli leaders, who often trigger wars for their own political benefits, as Netanyahu has done repeatedly in the past, use prisoner exchanges also as a means to garner positive political capital and favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu, whose image has been significantly tarnished due to his ongoing corruption investigation and trial, is laboring to distract from his own personal woes by diverting attention elsewhere. Now that his illegal annexation of West Bank land scheme has been postponed, he is in desperate need of another battle that would present him as some kind of hero in the eyes of Israelis, especially his right-wing constituency.

Aside from the bodies of the two soldiers, two Israelis, Avram Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who had allegedly crossed the fence into Gaza by mistake, are also held in the Strip. Future TV footage of two coffins, draped by Israeli flags, along with two other Israelis being set free, would certainly prove to be a huge boost for the embattled Israeli leader.

Palestinian groups in Gaza understand this well. They also know that an opportunity of this nature might not present itself again for years. Therefore, they are keen to ensure a future prisoner exchange satisfies three major points: first, the release of all re-arrested prisoners since 2011; second, the release of as many Palestinians as possible out of the over 5,000 currently held in Israeli prisons; and, finally, the release of top Palestinian prisoners representing the various PLO and Islamic factions.

The latter point, in particular, is quite significant, because the traditional rivals, Hamas and Fatah, have been actively pursuing a politically united front in the face of the imminent Israeli annexation of nearly 30% of the West Bank. The release of top Fatah leaders, such as Marwan Barghouti, for example, shall have immense positive impact on Palestinian public mood, especially among Fatah supporters, boosting the unity talks like never before.

Israel, of course, will do its utmost to prevent Palestinians from unifying their political ranks but, considering the fact that Palestinians are holding four Israelis in Gaza, the cards are not entirely in Netanyahu’s hands.

This is not to suggest that Palestinian groups are not feeling the pressure as well. The families of thousands of imprisoned Palestinians are desperate for some good news regarding their loved ones, especially as health conditions among prisoners are deteriorating due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

On July 9, Saadi al-Gharably died at Kaplan medical center, due to what Palestinian prisoners advocacy groups describe as ‘medical neglect’. Later, prisoner Kamal Abu Wa’ar, a cancer patient from the Jenin area, was tested positive for COVID-19 disease.

Various signs indicate that a prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian groups is drawing near. The question is, will Netanyahu unleash his winning political card now, or will he wait till later, when he needs it most?

Feature photo | Laila, mother of Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi, waits for her son to be released as part of a prisoner exchange outside of Shita prison near Afula , northern Israel, Dec. 23, 2013. Ariel Schalit | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Could a New Palestinian-Israeli Prisoner Exchange Be in the Works? appeared first on MintPress News.

As Congress Blocks Defunding the Pentagon, Here Are Ten Things We Could Have Spent the Money On

The majority of House Democrats joined with the Republican colleagues yesterday in voting down progressive legislation that would have cut the Pentagon budget by 10 percent ($74 billion) and used the money to fund healthcare, housing, and education for the poorest Americans.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, sponsored by Barbara Lee (D–CA) and Mark Pocan (D–WI) was soundly defeated 93-324, with 139 Democrats joining all 185 voting Republicans in rejecting the idea. Despite the defeat, Pocan vowed to continue pushing an anti-war agenda. “We will keep fighting for pro-peace, pro-people budgets until it becomes a reality,” he said. Democrats who voted against the military budget cuts received over three times the contributions from the defense industry as those who voted for the reduction. Earlier today, the Senate also voted down the proposal.

BREAKING: A House vote to cut the Pentagon by 10% just failed 93-324.

But this is the first time in decades that Congress has considered a significant cut to Pentagon spending.

The military-industrial complex will fall. We will end our addiction to endless, costly wars. pic.twitter.com/LigzB9XtVJ

— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) July 21, 2020

The result will no doubt disappoint the majority of Americans as well. A poll conducted last week by Data for Progress found that 56 percent of the country supported the idea to defund the military and use the money to fight COVID-19 alleviate the growing housing crisis. Democrat-voters supported the plan by 69 to 19 percent, with Republicans also backing it, by 50 to 37 percent. The proposal is hardly a radical shift; the military’s budget has increased by around 20 percent under President Trump alone, reaching near-historic highs.

The National Priorities Project, a part of the Institute for Policy Studies think tank, put together a list of ten better uses for the $74 billion than giving it to one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. This included:

  1. Housing every one of the United States’ over half a million homeless people.
  2. Creating more than one million infrastructure jobs across America, especially in many of the most economically depressed locations.
  3. Conduct two billion COVID-19 tests, or six tests per person (44 times as many as has already been done).
  4. Easily close the $23 billion funding gap between majority-white and majority non-white public schools.
  5. Fund free college programs for more than two million of the poorest American students.
  6. A revolution in clean energy. $74 billion could create enough solar and/or wind energy to meet the needs of virtually every American household.
  7. One million well-paid clean energy jobs, enough to transition most dirty industry workers into renewables.
  8. Hire 900,000 new elementary school teachers, or nine per school, creating a golden age of education.
  9. Send a $2,300 check to the more than 32 million currently unemployed people across the country.
  10. Purchase enough N95 masks for all 55 million essential workers to use, one per day, every day for a year, with change to spare.

Ashik Siddique of the National Priorities Project told MintPress that he was disappointed with the results, but that he was hopeful for the future:

It’s important to note how quickly the political landscape is shifting around this issue. This is the first time in decades that Congress has seriously considered reinvesting away from Pentagon spending. Just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine getting even 93 votes in the House and 23 in the Senate — or nearly 40 to 50 percent of the Democratic Caucus — to cut the Pentagon budget by 10 percent, as they did this time.

That sets up a much stronger baseline to work from next year — especially since the budget caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 will expire, giving Americans the chance to more deeply transform this country’s militarized agenda in a way that has not been on the table for decades.”

Siddique’s figures demonstrate just how much money is spent on war and what could be possible in the United States if there was a paradigm shift away from bloated military spending. The U.S. military budget is by far the largest in the world, rivaling that of all other countries combined. More than half of all discretionary spending goes to the Pentagon, with the U.S. spending far more per capita on weaponry than comparable countries. Yet even the $740 billion defense bill does not tell the full story, as it does not include the costs of nuclear weapons (borne by the Department of Energy), nor many veterans’ pensions.

In February the Pentagon announced its fiscal year 2021 budget request, in which it signaled a move away from the Middle East as its primary focus, towards that of Russia and China. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared the Asian Pacific region to be the U.S.’ new “priority theater.” There appears to be no partisan split in foreign policy, with both Democrats and Republicans viewing China as an increasing nemesis. In recent weeks Donald Trump and Joe Biden have accused each other of being in Beijing’s pockets while ratcheting up the tensions with the world’s most populous country.

Like with the cut to military spending, however, the political elite’s opinion varies radically with that of the general public. When polling group Pew asked what was the number one international threat to America, the spread of infectious disease was by some way the top answer. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been cutting health budgets, including attempting to slash funding for the Center for Disease control. Internationally, he has also committed the U.S. to leaving the World Health Organization, a move that is sure to wreak havoc internationally and undermine cooperation against future worldwide health threats.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump, right, looks over a helicopter with United States Military Academy Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, prior to a commencement ceremony on the parade field, at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., June 13, 2020. Alex Brandon | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As Congress Blocks Defunding the Pentagon, Here Are Ten Things We Could Have Spent the Money On appeared first on MintPress News.

Anger Over Israeli Decision to Demolish Palestinian COVID-19 Hospital Ahead of Deadly Second Wave

The Israeli decision to bulldoze a newly built COVID-19 field hospital and testing center in Hebron in the West Bank yesterday has been roundly condemned by activists, rights groups and organizers. “Because demolishing a COVID-19 testing center is totally the best way for Israel to be spending funds right now,” wrote female-led antiwar group CODEPINK, “Seriously, this obsession with destroying Palestine, even at the expense of Israeli coronavirus funding, is sick.”

3 days ago, Israeli Occupation Forces delivered a demolition order to a Covid-19 clinic/testing center at northern entrance Hebron City. The clinic was supported by Hebron municipality.
Hebron is hardest-hit Covid area in oPT.
This morning, Israeli forces demolished the clinic. pic.twitter.com/Lv9QBR1DUp

— Jalal (@JalalAK_jojo) July 21, 2020

Around $250,000 had been raised to fund the new center, which was being built in the memory of the grandfather of 35-year-old engineer Raed Maswadeh, whose family donated the land for that purpose. Masawadeh’s grandfather had recently died from the coronavirus himself. Maswadeh told journalists from Middle East Eye that Israeli soldiers had been watching its construction for months without saying anything. Then, last week they were told to produce building permits for the field hospital (something virtually impossible to receive from the Israeli government), otherwise, it would be destroyed.

Tayseer Abu Sneineh, mayor of Hebron, was outraged. “We are in the midst of a global crisis…This is an emergency situation, you would think they would show some empathy, or give people some leeway, but they are not interested in that,” he said. “This shows clearly that Israel doesn’t care about Palestinian lives…They can’t even give us our basic rights to healthcare so we can treat our people from the coronavirus.”

The lack of a response from Western governments angered many. Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, complained that there was “not a word” from the European Union on the bulldozing of the emergency hospital. “Do not let the EU launder its complicity and support for Israeli war crimes with crumbs of charity thrown at Palestinians,” he added.

The coronavirus situation in the region appears to be spiraling out of control. Having seemingly successfully managed the outbreak, Israel has unmistakably hit a second wave of infections, far worse than what had come before. At the height of the epidemic in early April, the country was averaging around 600 new cases per day. Yesterday, 2,039 Israelis tested positive for the coronavirus. Palestine is similarly losing its grip on the situation; with 57 of a total of 64 deceased Palestinians dying in July. Yesterday, Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations’ Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned that the dramatic increase in cases could have perilous consequences for the region, calling for new, “extraordinary measures” to fight the virus’ spread. The destruction of health clinics was presumably exactly the opposite of what he intended.

While perhaps shocking, Israel’s latest move did not surprise many knowledgeable onlookers. In March, Israeli forces did the same thing to a new field hospital in the West Bank community of Khirbet Ibziq, bulldozing buildings and confiscating medical supplies and construction materials. “As the whole world battles an unprecedented and paralyzing healthcare crisis, Israel’s military is devoting time and resources to harassing the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, that Israel has attempted to drive out of the area for decades,” wrote local human rights group B’Tselem, “Shutting down a first-aid community initiative during a health crisis is an especially cruel example of the regular abuse inflicted on these communities, and it goes against basic human and humanitarian principles during an emergency.”

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government recently announced plans to formally annex up to a third of Palestine, including much of the fertile Jordan Valley, the breadbasket of Palestine. Based on Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s so-called Deal of the Century, the plan would put over 70,000 extra Palestinians under full Israeli jurisdiction. The United Nations’ High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has declared the annexation plans both “illegal” and “disastrous.” Dr. Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American journalist recently told MintPress that people in the West Bank are “already under complete Israeli control and all movement and all freedoms are already curtailed for Palestinians,” but that the Trump-Netanyahu plan would make the situation even worse. “It will be the last nail in the coffin in the so-called peace process,” he warned.

Feature photo | Israeli police advance on Palestinian protesting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Beita near Nablus, July 18, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Anger Over Israeli Decision to Demolish Palestinian COVID-19 Hospital Ahead of Deadly Second Wave appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel Leaking Evidence of Its Involvement in Covert Iran Bombing Campaign that Threatens to Spark a Wider War

Israel is believed to be behind several recent acts of sabotage against Iranian civilian and military infrastructure, including a hospital, that have taken the lives of at least 19 people and has further disrupted an economy already in the throes of a devastating downturn brought on by a global pandemic and crippling economic sanctions.

Leaks emerging out of Israel have identified the apartheid state as the rouge actor wreaking havoc on Iran. Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, was outed by a political rival as the source of anonymous leaks linking Israel to the conflagration at a Iranian nuclear facility. A different story had made the rounds earlier when an unknown “Iranian dissident group calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs” reportedly contacted the BBC to take credit for the blast and claimed that it was part of an “ongoing campaign of sabotage against Iranian strategic sites.” But, neither the story nor the group’s existence were ever confirmed.

The first in a string of recent fires and explosions took place on June 25 when a “huge” blast took down a power plant in Shiraz, east of Tehran, and caused an extensive blackout in several parts of the nation’s capital. Two more military sites believed to house nuclear and missile production facilities on the eastern edge of Tehran were also attacked over the course of these last few weeks and just two days ago, on July 19, a new explosion rocked a power station in Iran’s Isfahan Province in what is also believed to be the work of Israeli cyberattacks, bringing the total of military and civilian sites targeted to eight.

The most high profile incident occurred on July 2, when the Iranian nuclear site in Natanz was targeted in a cyberattack which caused an explosion at the underground facility, reportedly “set[ting] back the Iranian nuclear program by two months.” The attack was egregious enough to elicit an unusual statement from the Iranian state news agency, blaming Israel and the U.S. directly for the incident.

With these attacks, Israel intends to provoke a belligerent response by Rouhani’s government, while also seeding a narrative of cyber warfare as the next theater of global combat, which perfectly dovetails with Israel’s burgeoning partnership with the U.S. National Security state to build a juggernaut of mass surveillance.

 

Exhibit A, B and C

The precedent for Israeli cyberattacks on Iran is strong. Perhaps the most salient example is U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet project, a computer virus developed in tandem with the U.S. and an “elite” Unit 8200 team, led by Lior Div – an Israeli software engineer who went on to found a company called Cybereason, which has been running doomsday cyberattack scenarios for the upcoming 2020 U.S. elections.

The project was first authorized by the Bush administration and involved the recreation of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, according to “experts” at Israel’s Dimona complex. It was carried out a decade ago at the same facility targeted in early July. The comparable “complexity” of the covert operation has led many familiar with the matter to the conclusion that Israel was also behind the latest round of sabotage on Iran’s underground nuclear facility.

Only six years later, a cyberwarfare program code named “Nitro Zeus” was developed in the early days of the Obama administration as a backup “in case the diplomatic effort to limit its nuclear program failed and led to a military conflict.” The operation was intended to take down Iran’s air defenses, power grid, and communications systems, but was “shelved” after the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) was signed. In tandem with Nitro Zeus, “American intelligence agencies” were busy making separate plans to disable the Fordo nuclear enrichment site through a cyberattack. The project was intended as a follow-up to the program code named “Olympic Games,” which included the Stuxnet virus, as well as the Flame malware, that attacked computers running Windows operating systems.

Given this robust history of cyber warfare against Iran by the U.S. and Israel, consensus has been quick to build around the idea that these same actors have, in fact, been behind all of the recent attacks in Iran. Furthermore, according to NSC member, Eric Brewer, it’s enough that the Iranian leadership believes that it is the case. “Given that these [attacks] are hitting all across Iran at military and civilian locations”, he stated, “that is going to cause Iran’s threat perceptions to spike.”

 

Israel’s trump card

Barely two days into 2020, the Trump administration assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and set the stage for a relentless campaign of provocation against the Middle Eastern nation that has persisted until today. The patently illegal hit job on one of Iran’s top military leaders was a textbook application of Israel’s so-called Octopus Doctrine; brainchild of Israeli Defense Minister, formerly Education Minister, Naftali Bennet, who once stated that the world could be living with conflict in the Middle East for 100 years.

The doctrine entails murdering “Iranian advisers and officials who direct and support proxy forces in other countries.” Trump’s willingness to do the bidding of Israel’s policy of aggression should come as no surprise and is the reason Netanyahu and company are trying to take advantage of the most Israel-friendly administration in American political history, putting as much pressure as possible on Iran, which is presently reeling with unemployment rates hovering around 35 percent and a large informal service sector that is languishing under coronavirus-imposed lockdowns. The conditions for catastrophic civil unrest in Iran haven’t been this ripe since the CIA-sponsored overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh seventy years ago.

The seeding of a cyber warfare narrative has been coming from virtually every corner of the Israeli state. Tamir Pardo, former head of Mossad, recently claimed that the COVID-19 outbreak would unleash a “global scale crisis on three fronts: medical, social, and financial” and that “cyberwars” would be the method of choice for cash-strapped nations looking for “cheaper solutions” at “state level, between companies, and between criminal organizations.”

As is the case with many former Mossad and IDF personnel, Pardo is currently part of a cybersecurity company called XM Cyber, which offers the very services the cyber warriors he envisions will need to plan out their offensive or defensive operations. “Whoever finds a remedy or vaccine for Covid-19 will become a major target for attackers”, Pardo asserts, predicting the emergence of “cyber conflicts between political and commercial adversaries” in a kind of cybernetic dog-eat-dog future.

 

A matter of cyber convenience

In May, a purported Iranian cyberattack on six Israeli water treatment plants that was ostensibly foiled by Israeli “cyber” authorities took place. Stories were circulated in the aftermath about how the attack “could have sickened hundreds,” despite the fact that no evidence of an attack of any kind was ever produced. Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet pushed for a “strong” response, which eventually manifested as a cyberattack targeting Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port terminal in Bandar Abbas on the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Another supposed cyberattack on Israel’s water system took place on July 17. Israeli officials claim that “two attacks were aimed at agricultural water pumps in the Upper Galilee and infrastructure in the centre of the country,” and while no culprit was named, it is implied that Iran carried out these attacks, as well. Israeli media has been propagating this narrative since the first ostensible cyberattack on the water processing plants, which – like the last one – resulted in no damage deeming it a “significant escalation by Iran and a crossing of a red line.”

The head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate warned on that occasion that we were just seeing “the beginning” and that a “cyber winter is coming.” Other, more “moderate” Israeli voices, like Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies, and a former head of IDF military intelligence, have looked approvingly upon this shift in focus for Israeli policy. “According to foreign sources, it appears that the prime minister focused this week on Iran rather than [his plan for West Bank] annexation,” he tweeted last Friday, adding that this was the very policy the veteran of the Yom Kippur war has been recommending.

“If Israel is accused by official sources”, he continued, “then we need to be operationally prepared for the possibility of an Iranian reaction (through cyber, firing missiles from Syria or a terror attack overseas).”

The drumbeat for war with Iran seems to be intensifying as 2020 reaches its halfway point and the narrative that cyberattacks are to play an inciting role in the coming conflict is being drilled into the collective mind. The U.S. and Israel are committed to exploiting invisible and unverifiable “attacks” on systems, which they themselves have built and sold to the world with backdoors to the very technology they claim are the target of “malicious actors”, who also happen to be in the way of their global interests.

Iran, for its part, is comfortable stating that “the Iranian government does not engage in cyberwarfare”, as Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN, told the Washington Post. We can take his word for it, or trust the claims of Israeli cybersecurity firm ClearSky, which “closely tracks Iranian hacking activity” and has put forward unsubstantiated accounts of Iranian hacking of U.S. pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences Inc. The choice may be one between war and peace.

Feature photo | The scene of a mysterious explosion at the Sina At’har health centre in the north of Iran’s capital Tehran. Photo | Amir Kholousi ISNA

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Israel Leaking Evidence of Its Involvement in Covert Iran Bombing Campaign that Threatens to Spark a Wider War appeared first on MintPress News.

As US Courts Release Inmates amid COVID-19, Palestinian Political Prisoners Are Still Persecuted

The Holy Land Foundation case, on which I based my book “Injustice, The Story of the Holy Land Foundation,” included five defendants, all of whom were wrongfully charged and wrongfully convicted. The five, Mufid Abdulqader, Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Abdulrahman Odeh, and Mohammad Elmezain, were targeted because they were Palestinian Muslims. The U.S. government, along with the government of Israel, Zionist organizations in the United States, and the witnesses that helped the prosecution are all complicit in the crime of keeping these men in prison.

 

Trying to prevent a tragedy

Fearing that his deteriorating health conditions and advanced age make him a candidate for contracting COVID-19, a motion for modification of sentence based on extraordinary and compelling reasons was filed for Mohammad Elmezain on June 5, 2020. The government opposed the motion and June 23, 2020, Judge Sam Lindsay of the Northern District of Texas denied the motion.

The court arguments rely on false claims made during the Holy Land Foundation trial and ignore the severity of the health conditions of Elmezain.

The court claims it “does not downplay Defendant’s recent mini-stroke, physical limitations, and chronic medical conditions—diabetes, hypertension, arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, numbness in his hands, high cholesterol, back pain, and a continuous skin rash—or discount that being confined in a prison makes it more difficult for him or any prisoner to follow official precautions for social distancing and handwashing while in custody. Defendant has failed, however, to provide sufficient grounds for compassionate release. He does not establish that his conditions are sufficiently severe, have an end of life trajectory, and diminish his ability to provide self-care.”

Furthermore, it ]makes the outlandish claim that:

Defendant, however, apart from his physical limitations, good prison record, and participation in educational programs, he offers no evidence of his rehabilitation efforts or any attempt to confront the primary motive for his offense, specifically his ideology of persistent violence.”

Miko Peled poses with Mohammad Elmezain at California’s Terminal Island Federal Prison. Photo | Miko Peled

 

Mufid Abdulqader

A short while after the court’s decision regarding the fate of Elmezain, Mufid Abdulqder, another of the Holy Land Five Foundation defendants, tested positive for COVID-19. When I heard the news, my first thought was that if anything happens to him, if God forbid he does not recover, not only would the U.S. government and the judge in the case be to blame, but the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the entire Zionist apparatus in the United States would be responsible. My second thought was, how much can a good man suffer and still maintain his humanity.

Mufid is a tall man with broad shoulders and a keen sense of humor. “I work out two and a half hours every day, and I take only one day a week to rest,” he told me during one of my visits. He lets his gray beard grow long and he has his hair cropped very short, giving him a slightly wild and mischievous look. He is in his early sixties and has great plans for the future. “I plan to be fit and rich when I get out,” he explained, “if you don’t set goals and take care of yourself, no one will do it for you.”

Miko Peled poses with Mufid Abdulqder at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Photo | Miko Peled

Each time we met we would sit together and talk for hours, not feeling the time pass. From time to time, I would get us some snacks from the vending machine and we would eat and go on talking. He is a great storyteller and even though he is only a few years older than me, his life is rich with stories which he shares generously. In fact, once I got to know Mufid, it became obvious to me that generosity was one of his strongest characteristics.

 

A political prisoner

Mufid Abdulqder, like the rest of the Holy Land Foundation Five, is an inmate in federal prison because he is Palestinian and Muslim, and was targeted for political reasons. Had he been any other nationality or religion he would be a free man. As he and I sat in the visitation room of the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, he told me about his life and his family in Palestine. His family is from the town of Silwad, where his family home still stands. I visited the town and saw the house myself. Silwad is set on a hill and it has some of the finest views in all of Palestine.

Mufid Abdulqader’s family home in Silwad, Palestine. Photo | Miko Peled

Mufid’s brother is the former head of Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mash’al. My book provides a detailed report of how and why Mufid ended up in prison, but suffice it to say that when the U.S. government needed to demonstrate that it was “fighting terrorism,” the Holy Land Foundation was an easy target, and Mufid, although he was not part of the organization and only volunteered from time to time, was targeted because of his family connections.

 

COVID-19 in prison

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Mufid has been actively writing and warning about the risks to himself and other inmates. Here are a few excerpts from his emails:

Today is Friday, 6/26 and things got worse than before.  So far we have a minimum of 12 inmates as of right now who have tested positive for the CPVID-19 [sic].  I hope and pray  that I will not catch the COVID-19 virus.

July 1, 2020:

Today is my birthday and I am 62. We have so far well over 100 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and 3 staff.  The virus is spreading like fire and who knows who will be next.  There is no social distancing for 270 inmates in a building using the same bathrooms, sinks, showers, phones, computers.  Each 5 live in a room no bigger than 8X6.

He then added the following plea:

Please call, e-mail, write, text MLFA.  Call Khalil and tell him to tell Charlie (my attorney) to file an emergency motion with the court for me for home confinement.  Over 50 inmates in the past 3 months have been successful with getting out as the judges see that the BOP is not doing enough and the judges are releasing inmates with 10 and 15 years left on their sentences.  I have already served 12 years and the most they can keep me in prison is 4 more years.  Time is running out.  I don’t want to come out dead after serving 12 years on political charges.

Mufid

July 5, 2020:

Hi Everyone,

It bears down on me…I can’t breath.  I am holding on for life, suffocating under the crushing anxiety of this invincible enemy called COVID-19.

July 8, 2020:

Yesterday the results of the test came back.  I have COVID-19.  I was moved from my building to another building where everyone has the virus.  So far I would say close to 500 inmates do have the virus.  BOP just moves you from one spot to another and hopes that you will be ok and you will beat the virus.  Over 102 inmates so far have died from the virus.

I am ok and I will make it Insha Allah.  I am in a room with 12 other inmates who have it and one of them is coughing uncontrollable all night long and they gave him Advil.  Keep me in your prayers.

Mufid

July 10, 2020:

To all honorable human beings who stand for a free Holy Land Palestine, Jerusalem and my beloved great hometown of Silwad I want you to know that I do have the COVID-19 and  I do have symptoms such as coughing, chills, runny nose/congestion, shortness of breath, diarrhea and I am fighting every second of my life and winning Insha Allah.

July 17, 2020:

As of today Friday as reported by channel 8 ABC local TV station at 5:30 PM . Seagoville prison has 1077 inmates infected at a rate of 74% of all inmates with one staff death.  Scary!!!!!

Mufid

A poster from the campaign for Mufid Abdulqader’s early release

In an interview that Mufid’s daughter Sarah gave to the Coalition for Civil Freedoms, she mentions the appalling conditions and lack of care for the inmates by the Bureau of Prisons. “These people have families, and while my dad is innocent, even the others, are they not human beings, do we not need to care for them?” she asked.

The answer is that the lives of inmates in America do not matter. The prison system in the United States is created to punish inmates and then to continue to punish them throughout their incarceration. It is a cruel and unusual system and should be abolished.

As of the writing of these words, a motion for compassionate release has been filed on behalf of Mufid. The government has fourteen days to respond.

Feature photo | Miko Peled poses with Mufid Abdulqder at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2015. Photo | Miko Peled

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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