Canary Mission has exploited its anonymity to smear college students with impunity. The Grayzone has obtained documents identifying the owner of the malicious anti-Palestinian organization’s web domain.
By Hamzah Raza and Max Blumenthal
Since it first registered its website in February 2015, Canary Mission has been a source of mystery and menace. Dedicated to blacklisting students involved in Palestine solidarity activism, intimidating them and denigrating their public reputations, Canary Mission’s administrators have gone to great lengths to conceal their identities. The secrecy has enabled them to target legally defenseless students – who are mostly members of minority and immigrant groups — with total impunity.
Now, the Grayzone can identify a key figure behind the malicious blacklisting operation. He is the owner of Canary Mission’s domain name and a wealthy lawyer who is a fervent supporter of Israel. According to documents provided to the Grayzone, his name is Howard David Sterling.
Sterling has said that it his life’s mission to increase foreign investment in Israeli healthcare companies. Having worked extensively in Israel’s medical and hi-tech sector, he sees investment in the country as a means of ensuring American support for Israel. He has published several videos on YouTube highlighting what he sees as Israel’s “impossible” medical breakthroughs.
In an interview with the Jewish National Fund’s IsraelCast, Sterling stated that, “People will protect their pocket books. And if they have shares in Israeli companies, they are going to want to protect their pocket books by protecting Israel.” Other major Israel lobby operatives featured on the JNF’s podcast include Jacob Baime, who is Executive Director of the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC). Adam Milstein, a California-based Israeli-American hedge fund director who is among the top funders of the ICC, sits on Baime’s board of directors.
Josh Nathan Kazis, a correspondent for the Jewish Daily Forward, reported that the ICC’s Baime hired a professional consultant to battle a divestment resolution at Ohio State just a month after Canary Mission registered its website. It was the first known instance of the Israel lobby hiring political professionals to battle the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement on campus.
Two months later, the Israeli government appointed Gilad Erdan as Minister of Strategic Affairs, transforming the outfit into the military-intelligence apparatus’s main base of operations against the global BDS movement.
Sterling is a previously unknown figure whose ties to the ICC and other pro-Israel organizations are not firmly established. And that might be why Canary Mission’s website, which thrives off of anonymity, is registered under his name.
Calls by the Grayzone to the phone number associated with Sterling’s registration form were not answered.
The Israel on Campus Coalition supports Canary Mission
The Sterling-owned Canary Mission website has had such an inflammatory effect that it generated controversy even within Zionist circles. The American Jewish Congress has condemned the organization, while the Anti-Defamation League backed away after initially issuing support, referring to Canary Mission as “Islamophobic and racist.”
But the ICC has consistently stood by Canary Mission. The ICC brings together some of the lobby’s most hardline organizations, from the Zionist Organization of America to the David Project to the right-wing Christians United for Israel.
The ICC’s 2016-2017 annual report endorsed Canary Mission, referring to it as a “strong deterrent against anti-Semitism and BDS activism.” Baime, the Executive Director of the ICC, has been an avid defender of Canary Mission.
Sources who have viewed an unreleased Al Jazeera investigative documentary series about the Israel lobby have told the Grayzone that the series identifies the operatives who conceived and today direct Canary Mission. Al Jazeera has refused to air the documentary since falling under pressure from the lobby and its supporters in Congress.
Since its advent in 2015, Canary Mission has been one of the most pernicious weapons of the Israel lobby. Today, the Sterling-owned website contains profiles of nearly 2000 students and over 500 college professors considered enemies of Israel. The site was created with the stated aim to expose those who “promote lies and attacks on Israel and the Jewish people” so that “the public is better informed.“
In practice, this means that those who overly support the Palestinian cause are publicly defamed through the publication of personal dossiers containing inaccurate, misrepresented, and/or out-of context statements. By raising the stakes of Palestinian solidarity activism, the website intends to act as a deterrent to students considering Palestinian solidarity activism — particularly those from marginalized communities like immigrants and people of color.
The case of a Palestinian-American law student named Ahmad Aburas provides a particularly disturbing portrait of Canary Mission tactics in action. While Aburas was enrolled at Seton Hall Law School, Canary Mission contacted school administrators to suggest that statements he made on social media expressed support for terrorism. Seton Hall then called the FBI, Aburas was taken out of class and subjected to interrogation by federal agents over his political views.
One Facebook status that Canary Mission singled out related to Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza, where Israel killed 551 Palestinian children in Gaza and destroyed some 100,000 homes. Amid the atmosphere of despair, Aburas took to Facebook to declare, “We are all RESISTANCE ! We are all #hamas ! We are all HUMAN.”
Aburas maintained that he was challenging the Israeli propaganda that targets every Palestinian as a member of Hamas, not expressing any ideological affinity with the organization or its military resistance. Yet none of this mattered to Canary Mission, which branded him as a terrorist sympathizer and deliberately triggered his FBI interrogation. “Canary Mission is an alt-right Zionist website created to put an end to Palestinian political opinions. Through false information and hostile tactics, Canary Mission intimidates pro-Palestinian organizers and activists,” Aburas said.
A co-author of this investigation, Hamzah Raza, also experienced the Israel lobby’s culture of intimidation while part of Vanderbilt’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. There were multiple occasions when members of the David Project, an affiliate of the ICC, inquired about the student organization’s budget, took notes on laptops at the back of meetings, and even attempted to record its events. When Canary Mission created a profile on Raza, he was shocked at the level that the Israel lobby’s intimidation tactics had gone to. The website compiled 67 images of him and stated that he “supported terrorists, demonized Israel, and spread anti-Israel propaganda.”
Anonymity has allowed Canary Mission to carry out its McCarthyite tactics with impunity. But as this Grayzone investigation demonstrates, members of this high-tech goon squad can not hide their faces forever. Accountability is coming.
Hamzah Raza is an alumnus of Vanderbilt University who has contributed to the Grayzone Project since its inception. Follow him on Twitter at @Raza_Hamzah
Filmed inside the Capitol, this Grayzone special explores the National Endowment for Democracy, a taxpayer funded organization that has interfered in elections, mobilized coups, and orchestrated public relations campaigns against nations that resist Washington’s agenda.
By Max Blumenthal
On June 13, 2018 the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy presented its 2018 Democracy Award to a collection of Korean activists who aim to topple the communist government of North Korea.
The event was timed to coincide with President Donald Trump’s peace summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-Un. The ceremony appeared to be the opening shot of a massive public relations effort aimed at stifling normalized relations with North Korea.
I covered the ceremony because these organizations are doing precisely what Congress accuses Russia-funded media outlets and troll farms of doing in the United States. They interfere in other countries’ politics with foreign money. The only difference is they do it openly, and in the name of spreading freedom.
Founded in 1983 by then president Ronald Reagan, the National Endowment for Democracy became an international vehicle for the neoconservative agenda. Its founding cadre were Cold War ideologues who were, like so many early neoconservative operatives, former Trotskyists who once belonged to the Social Democrats USA party.
Over the years, the NED and its partner organizations have weaponized civil society and media against governments that stand in the way of right-wing, free market parties and corporate interests.
Heavy payouts for anti-DPRK testimony, often with embarrassing results
Among the groups honored at the NED gathering was the Unification Media Group. They foment internal opposition to the North Korean government through shortwave radio broadcasts.
Also on hand was a collection of defectors. These activists are responsible for much of what the West believes about North Korea and its human rights record. While many tell harrowing tales of escape from political repression, others have been exposed as serial fabricators lured by hefty sums of cash.
In 2017, South Korea quadrupled the payout for testimony from North Korean defectors to a whopping $860,000. The bounty has incentivized colorful accounts of sadistic — and unusually creative — human rights abuses.
According to one defector, a crowd of 10,000 was forced to watch the execution of 11 musicians for the crime of viewing porn. He said the musicians were shot with anti-aircraft guns, then run over with tanks. Another defector claimed female prisoners were raped and then forced to hand their babies over to be used as food for hungry guard dogs.
That same year, news of the defection of 13 North Korean waitresses provided a boost to Pyonyang’s opponents
But recently, the waitresses’ manager admitted to tricking the women into leaving under pressure from the South Korean intelligence services. The scandal is now under UN investigation.
A separate UN investigation accusing Kim Jong-Un of crimes against humanity was marred by fabricated testimony from defectors like Shin Dong-hyuk, who confessed to inventing parts of his story.
Testimony to US Congress by another defector, Kwon Hyuk, who claimed to have witnessed live human experimentation in North Korean prisons, helped drive the passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act in 2004. But Kwon too was unmasked as a fabulist and quickly disappeared from the public eye.
The right-wing network behind Korea’s celebrity defector
Yeonmi Park is maybe the most famous North Korean defector. She emerged on the international scene at the One World Summit in 2014 with a heartrending tale of escape through China.
But key parts of Park’s story at the summit differed from previous testimony she had delivered.
One of the many inconsistencies in Park’s story was documented by journalist Mary Ann Jolley, who reported that Park initially claimed she had escaped through China with her mother and father.
At the One World Summit, however, Park’s interviewer claimed that she trekked through China with only her mother, who was raped by a Chinese broker — adding an entirely new dramatic piece to her narrative.
All along, Park was profiting from her fame, earning $12,000 and up for speeches, and receiving critical backing from a libertarian political network that included the for-profit Freedom Factory and the Atlas Foundation.
She was also made a media fellow by the Oslo Freedom Forum, an operation run by Venezuelan-American oligarch Thor Halvorssen that weaponizes human rights in the service of neoconservative foreign policy objectives.
The campaign nearly brought the Koreas to the brink of war, as the North threatened to retaliate against the launch of balloons into its territory containing messages denouncing its leader. South Korea’s government also condemned the balloon launch, while peace activists and local residents on the border attempted to block it.
Park played a starring role in the imbroglio, drumming up support for Halvorssen’s crusade among Silicon Valley powerbrokers.
The destabilizing operation prompted Mike Bassett, a former reconaissance soldier at the Korean Demilitarized Zone and ex-information warfare officer, to describe Park as an instrument of well funded elements hostile to peace on the Korean peninsula. He wrote that her “change in narrative warrants serious scrutiny because that narrative changed as a result of a political and economic agenda rather than a genuine desire to inform the public about the best way to liberate North Koreans from oppression.”
Despite being criticized for changing her narrative again and again, Park returned to the national stage this June thanks to the New York Times, which featured her in an inflammatory viral video aimed at undermining the Trump-Kim summit during which she compared North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to Adolph Hitler.
The neoconservative New York Times columnist Bari Weiss also pointed to Park’s largely discredited narrative to attack the peace summit, writing that Park herself had been raped on her way through China. Yet Park never even made this claim. Fortunately for Weiss, her editors at the New York Times opinion section had not bothered to conduct even a cursory bit of research on the defectors she cited.
The Transitional Justice Working Group, an NED grantee, is responsible for delivering some of these testimonies to the West.
At the NED ceremony, we met the group’s director, Hubert Younghman Lee, who emphasized the importance of American backing: “I’d like to express our sincere gratitude to bipartisan support, and also US congresspeople and US citizens especially. We are doing this work with US citizens’ tax [dollars].”
As with many high profile defectors, information delivered to Western media by South Korean intelligence has often proven unreliable, and provoked some embarrassing media updates.
In 2016, Western media filled with reports that North Korea had executed General Ri Yong-gil. However, General Ri turned up alive days later.
Three years before, Western media buzzed with reports that Kim Jong Un had executed his ex-girlfriend, Hyon Song-wol, by firing squad. Months later, Hyon appeared alive as ever, performing her music on North Korean television.
So this begs the question: is North Korea populated by zombies who rise from the dead? Or is a US-funded influence operation cultivating opposition to engagement with North Korea by relying on often unreliable sources with dubious agendas?
During the NED ceremony, Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi recalled a trip she took to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. “When we saw the people in Pyonyang — the blank faces, the brainwashing that went on — the poverty of spirit I saw exceeded the poverty [of] any place in the world.”
Pelosi then claimed that locals were executed on the spot for unauthorized corn consumption. “They would get shot if they just took one corn on the cob, one husk of corn,” she claimed.
Pelosi was among a bipartisan cast of lawmakers on hand to pay homage to the NED. They included Republican representatives like Ed Royce and Pete Roskamp, as well as Democrats like Rep. Julian Castro and Stephanie Murphy.
Though the NED was hailed by Congress as a politically benign entity advancing democracy and human rights, its record tells a different story.
Sowing chaos, spreading instability, and opening markets
The NED’s first success was the defeat of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua’s 1990 elections, replacing it with the neoliberal party of Violeta Chamorro.
Since then, the NED’s advanced US interests in countless countries: it helped swing a Russian election for Boris Yeltsin in 1996, it drove a failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002, it orchestrated a successful one in Haiti in 2004, and another one in Ukraine in 2014, which paved the way for neo-Nazis to move into the mainstream.
Philip Agee, the late CIA whisteblower, described the work of the NED as a more sophisticated version of the old-fashioned covert operations that Langley used to engineer. “Nowadays, instead of having the CIA going around behind the scenes and trying to manipulate the process by inserting money here and giving instructions secretly and so forth, they have now a sidekick, which is this National Endowment for Democracy, NED.”
Agee’s words were openly confirmed by Alan Weinstein, a former Trotskyist and founding member of the NED. Weinstein told the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly twenty-five years ago by the CIA.”
Since then, NED funding has almost quadrupled. In the past four years alone, the organization has directed at least 4 million dollars into parties and media outfits in Nicaragua.
That prompted an NED funded publication — the Global Americans — to boast of the role the group played in “laying the groundwork for change” in Nicaragua, where violent protests attempted to topple the country’s elected president, Daniel Ortega. The article went on to say that “it’s becoming more and more clear that U.S. support has helped play a role in nurturing the current uprisings.”
Uyghur “re-education camp” allegations against NED target China
Another top target of NED and its Washington partners is China.
The US has worked closely with Uyghur Muslims, an ethnic minority group that has faced discrimination at the hands of the Chinese government. As the confrontation with Beijing deepens, the US has attempted to use Uyghurs as a bargaining piece to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing.
At the ceremony, I met Omer Kanat, chairman of the World Uyghur Congress — a group funded almost entirely by the NED.
“The Chinese authorities have put more than one million Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is very similar to concentration camps,” Kanat claimed to me.
He said that his organization, a top NED grantee, had supplied much of the information the US government and Western media rely on about the alleged camps.
Indeed, along with the US-funded Radio Free Asia, which Kanat used to work for, Kanat’s US-funded Uighur Congress is responsible for widely reported claims that as much as one tenth of the Muslim population of China’s Xianjing province has been placed in re-education camps.
The numbers of Uighurs said to be housed in these camps vary wildly, from 120,000 to 500,000 to a million. And the sources invariably boil down to US-backed media like Radio Free Asia.
Western analysts concede that testimonies from actual camp prisoners is rare. One of the few detailed testimonies arrived through an anonymous source.
Kanat himself conceded that he did not know how many people were in the alleged camps, and that he was relying on “Western media estimates” to make his claim of one million.
The disturbing but still-unverified allegations about Uyghur re-education camps have added momentum to a new Trump national defense doctrine that singles out China as a top American adversary. With help from pundits like late night comedian John Oliver, who also echoed the claims of US-government backed sources on Xianjang, Washington appears to be hoping that a carefully crafted PR campaign will reverse Americans’ generally favorable attitude towards China.
Making Mongolia neoliberal
The NED has also turned up the heat on China by interfering in its neighbor’s elections.
Back in 1996, the International Republican Institute (IRI) — an NED partner group — helped propel right-wing libertarian parties to victory in Mongolia, dealing a death blow to the country’s socialist tradition and driving record levels of economic inequality.
At the NED ceremony, I spoke to an IRI staffer, Alexander Moree, who presented the group’s work in Mongolia as a blueprint for a post-communist North Korea. “So we took a group of defector-scholars over to Mongolia to study their transition,” Moree explained to me. “So Mongolia’s transition, if you don’t know, it was a peaceful democratic transition, there was no fighting, there was no revolution. But it developed a successful free market economy with peaceful elections without any dramatic turnover of power. It’s more of an island of democracy in Asia, and that’s more the model we want to encourage the North Koreans to pursue.”
“So like, transitioning from a socialist economy to a free market economy is paramount?” I asked him.
The meddling machine McCain built
The IRI has been led for years by Senator John McCain, who turned the group into what the New York Times called “a revolving door for lobbyists and out-of-power Republicans that offers big donors a way of helping both the party and the institute’s chairman.”
Carl Gershman founded the National Endowment for Democracy. He’s neoconservative activist with roots in Trotskyism. Today, Gershman still embraces the ideology of permanent worldwide revolution.
But with peace looming on the Korean peninsula, Gershman was forced to reassure his grantees that their work for regime change would not become irrelevant.
“There is some concern among the activists that the focus on the nuclear issue today will reduce pressure for human rights in North Korea and maybe even reduce support for the kind of work that is being done by the organizations that we have honored this evening,” Gershman said. “I want to assure our friends that NED’s support is solid.”
In the Longworth hallway outside of the NED event, I asked Nancy Pelosi if she thought the US government should stop funding organizations that seeking regime change against North Korea if it signed a peace treaty with the South. “I don’t know if that’s what they do,” Pelosi responded, referring to the NED and regime change, “but I do know they promote human rights where ever they [are].”
I then asked if she considered NED activities to be the same sort of foreign meddling Russia is accused of carrying out in the US. “I’m not going into any hypotheticals,” she said, dismissing the issue out of hand.
America remains obsessed with the specter of Russian interference and Moscow’s supposed active measures against our political system. But at the same time, official Washington celebrates its own taxpayer funded meddling machine as an engine of “democracy promotion.” Does the American public know what’s being done with its money, and will there ever be a public debate on the consequences of Washington’s regime change efforts?
Para un resumen de la historia de trabajo de Mary Ellsberg con las agencias del gobierno de los Estados Unidos promoviendo activamente el cambio de régimen en Nicaragua y su participación con elementos tóxicos que promueven una campaña similar de desestabilización contra Siria, vea la nota del editor que sigue a esta pieza.
Hay tanta información errónea en los principales medios corporativos sobre los recientes acontecimientos en Nicaragua que es una pena que el artículo de Mary Ellsberg para Pulse haya sido agregado a él con una crítica aparentemente izquierdista. Ellsberg afirma que los artículos recientes, incluso de este sitio web, a menudo “pintan una imagen de la crisis en Nicaragua que es peligrosamente engañosa”.
Desafortunadamente, su propio artículo hace precisamente eso. Analiza la situación completamente desde la perspectiva de aquellos que se oponen al gobierno de Daniel Ortega mientras blanquea su comportamiento malévolo y minimiza los niveles de apoyo de los Estados Unidos en los que han confiado. Su pieza es una descripción incompleta de lo que sucede en el terreno, ignorando muchos hechos destacados que han salido a la luz y que han quedado obsoletos por los acontecimientos recientes.
La siguiente es una breve respuesta a los puntos principales de Ellsberg de alguien que vive en Nicaragua y ha observado la situación directa e íntimamente.
The Sandinista Renovation Movement (Movimiento Renovador Sandinista – MRS) is the intellectual, left-sounding arm of reactionary politics in Nicaragua. Its popular base is minuscule, but it has been adept at courting Western support.
By Max Blumenthal and Nils McCune
On a recent episode of my Moderate Rebels podcast with Ben Norton, I asked Nils McCune about the role of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (Movimiento Renovador Sandinista – MRS) party in marketing the recent coup in Nicaragua as a progressive popular mobilization.
McCune, a longtime resident of the Nicaraguan city of Tipitapa, has worked closely with the country’s rural campesino movement and observed the coup from the ground. He is also an astute observer of the country’s politics and history.
Below is audio of our discussion and a transcript of McCune’s comments on the MRS, its collaboration with right-wing elements inside Nicaragua, and its importance in selling the coup to the Western liberal-left.
Mary Ellsberg’s latest is a collection of tropes and distortions with little connection to the current reality. A longtime resident of Nicaragua who witnessed the coup from the ground responds.
By Charles Redvers
For a summary of Mary Ellsberg’s history of work with the US government agencies actively promoting regime change in Nicaragua, and her involvement with toxic elements advocating a similar destabilization campaign against Syria, see the editor’s note that follows this piece.
There is so much misinformation in mainstream corporate media about recent events in Nicaragua that it is a pity that Mary Ellsberg’s article for Pulse has added to it with a seemingly leftish critique. Ellsberg claims that recent articles, including from this website, often “paint a picture of the crisis in Nicaragua that is dangerously misleading.”
Unfortunately, her own article does just that. It looks at the situation entirely from the perspective of those opposing Daniel Ortega’s government while whitewashing their malevolent behavior and downplaying the levels of US support they have relied on. Her piece is an incomplete depiction of what is happening on the ground, ignoring many salient facts that have come to light and which have been outdated by recent events.
The following is a brief response to Ellsberg’s main points from someone who lives in Nicaragua and has observed the situation directly and intimately.
The post-election despair of Pakistan’s Western-oriented elites echoes the American establishment’s moral panic over Russian meddling.
By Junaid S. Ahmad
The fever-pitched aura around this year’s elections in Pakistan was for good reason: a palpable feeling of transition from the old to the new was in the air. Meanwhile, the Western mainstream (and alternative) media, as well as much of the native elite English media, advanced an atmosphere of hysteria and moral panic at what they called “Pakistan’s dirtiest elections” ever. We were told to believe that the Pakistani military, which undoubtedly has been involved in the political life throughout the country’s history, indeed directly ruling the country directly for half of its history, was the sole factor for which the corrupt and ruthless politicians of the two parties, who believe it is their birthright to play a game of musical chairs with each other, looting and plundering as much as possible before they are removed and get their next turn – were rejected in these elections.
Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), or the “Movement for Justice,” the political party of the iconic cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, has swept this year’s national elections. They are the single largest political party in the country’s National Assembly, the unquestioned victor as the party that will continue to govern the province of KPK in the Northwest of the country (PTI governed the province for the past five years), and has even made inroads in Pakistan’s major city of Karachi, where they have displaced the once all-powerful Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which operated in a semi-fascist, mafioso-style, with rampant intimidation, ransoms, and murders. The MQM ran the streets and political life of Kararchi since their inception in the 1980s. MQM’s declining fortunes was of course facilitated by a relatively popular demand that the Pakistani military come to the city and deploy rangers to ‘clean up’ the vigilantes of the MQM. The bulging urban youth of Pakistan’s financial heartland seemed to have voted for PTI en masse.
Imran Khan, who founded his PTI political party in 1996, had developed an impeccable reputation in both his leadership of Pakistan’s cricket victory in the World Cup of 1992, as well as his widely-respected social welfare activities in the country, including a cancer hospital for the poor in the name of his late mother. But Khan made a sharp turn in his life, and decided that to truly transform Pakistan, structurally and systemically so that the same rut does not keep reappearing with different (dynastic, feudal, or clan) names, political engagement was essential. Though there are other smaller political parties, including provincial ones as well as a few national religious parties, the national civilian political life of the country has been dominated by two political parties: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family, formed amidst the anti-military dictatorship mass popular movement in the late 1960s, on the one hand, and the Sharif family – who effectively were created out of thin air by the rightwing Zia-ul-Huq military dictatorship. The Sharifs and their Pakistani Muslim League (PML) was established by the military high command to counter and undermine the renewed anti-dictatorship opposition emerging from the PPP.
In war torn areas across Syria, a series of reconciliation deals overseen by the secret fixer of Damascus, Khaled al Ahmad, has given residents a respite from the bloodshed.
By Rania Khalek
This is part 2 of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria. You can read part 1 here.
BEIRUT, LEBANON – Since the Syrian government’s reconquest of its southernmost regions, only two zones remain outside its control. Turkey still occupies parts of Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo in the northwest of the country, relying on proxy militias including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which has changed its name several times. Meanwhile, the US and its allied Kurdish militias occupy the northeast. Khaled al Ahmad, Assad’s secret emissary introduced in part 1 of this series, seems to have played a key role in influencing the final outcome in the latter region.
According to American officials, a series of meetings al Ahmad convened with Kurdish leadership in Moscow last year convinced the Kurds to adopt a more conciliatory posture towards Damascus. American officials who had been working with the Kurds had also pushed them towards pragmatism, urging them to reach their own agreement with the Syrian government to avoid the fate of the rebels of southern Syria, who were abandoned by their foreign sponsors ahead of their defeat in June 2018.
When Trump announced in March 2018 that he wanted to withdraw from Syria “very soon“, it became clear to Kurdish negotiators that they needed to plan for the day after. The Americans told them to see the statement the US issued to the southern rebels, which bluntly informed them that “you’re on your own,” as a message to the Kurds as well.
How a nearly unknown businessman named Khaled al Ahmad became Damascus’ secret liaison to the West and quietly dealt Syria’s grinding war to a close.
By Rania Khalek
This is part one of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria.
BEIRUT, LEBANON – After seven years of grinding war, the Syrian government has achieved victory. According to current and former international officials and diplomats as well as UN officials, credit or blame for the Syrian government’s recent victories in East Ghouta and then in the south — along with the tacit acceptance these sweeping military successes received — can be placed on one man.
He is Khaled al Ahmad, a Syrian government emissary and businessman who masterminded the Syrian government’s reconciliation strategy. Al Ahmad is the secret diplomat who has exerted exceptional tolls of energy building bridges with the enemies of Damascus. Despite his central role in bringing one of the worst conflicts since World War Two to an end, he remains almost totally unknown in international media and has scarcely been discussed even among expert Syria observers.
Bashar al Assad’s victory was made clear by the middle of July of this year, when multiple Israeli outlets confirmed that Israel’s government was cooperating with Russia to facilitate the return of Syrian forces and UN observers to the pre-2011 border with the occupied Golan Heights. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself stated that he had no objection to Assad’s rule while his defense minister even allowed for the possibility of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These statements were met with embarrassed silence by the Syrian government and its allies like the Lebanese political party and militia, Hezbollah, but they marked a striking shift in Israeli policy.
With Russian support, Syrian armed forces initiated a march to the southern borders of Jordan and Israel this July. The operation turned out to be a cakewalk. This success followed the recapture of East Ghouta and northern Homs, themselves relatively easy taken compared to the grinding battles of previous years. The reassertion of Syrian government authority over the south has as its final target the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and full restoration of the pre-2011 situation in the south. The US has not objected, and in fact, has even sent a message to its former anti-Assad proxies in Syria informing them that they were on their own. Israel and Jordan, for their part, made it clear they had no objections either, as long the operation was strictly Syrian, with no visible Iranian or Shia militia role in the battles.
The battles in this phase were limited and not as brutal as they have sometimes been elsewhere. Many towns or rebel groups were not involved in the fighting and others quickly agreed to deals. This may have surprised some observers unfamiliar with the events that took place on the ground in 2015 and 2016, when tens of deals were struck secretly with rebel groups in the south. These deals helped thwart the 2015 Southern Storm operation launched by rebels when one of the main factions called Ababil Horan betrayed its allies. It was through this process that al Ahmad laid the foundation for the end of Syria’s war.
Seven years after NATO allied with Islamist insurgents and violently overthrew Libya’s government, plunging the oil-rich North African nation into a hellish chaos from which it still has not recovered, we are learning more and more about the disastrous blowback this war later unleashed back at home.
What this Guardian article did not disclose is that the British government is even further implicated in this massive scandal.
Grayzone Project editor Max Blumenthal reported immediately after the May 22, 2017 suicide attack how Abedi’s father had fought in the al-Qaeda-linked extremist militia the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has extensive ties to US and UK intelligence agencies and had been used to try to assassinate Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi.
Daniel Ortega claims his Sandinista government has just defeated a US-backed coup. In a candid and lengthy discussion with me in Managua, he discussed the violent unrest and the factors behind it.
By Max Blumenthal
Since the sudden outbreak of protests and violence last April, an uneasy calm had fallen over Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista government have claimed victory over what they call a coup attempt, but they now face condemnation from the US and its allies, who accuse them of unleashing lethal violence against peaceful protesters.
I spent much of July inside Nicaragua, speaking with supporters of the government and their opponents. I learned that Washington’s narrative of a despised dictator mowing down unarmed demonstrators wasn’t exactly accurate. Across the country, I observed widespread support for Ortega and the Sandinista movement. It also became apparent from the moment I arrived that Western media had covered up the brutality of the opposition, as well as its anti-democratic agenda.
In the midst of what seemed to be a misinformation campaign reinforced by right-wing members of Congress and the Organization of American States, I approached the Nicaraguan government for a chance to hear Ortega’s side of the story. He agreed, granting me one of his first interviews in eleven years.
Here are 13 takeaways from our wide-ranging discussion on July 25 in Managua: