Rise And Kill First! Israel Strikes Iranian Military and Militia Targets in Syria

If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth

Rise and kill first is adapted from a saying in The Babylonian Talmud, quoted above, that provides the self defense justification if someone breaks into one’s home to kill them. It is also considered to be an unofficial motto, at least, of Israel’s security services, specifically its assassination teams. Which is also the focus and title of Ronen Bergman’s excellent history of Israel’s targeted assassination program. So it should be no surprise that Bibi quotes it in his tweet from earlier today announcing Israeli strikes against Iran’s Quds Force, other Iranian military and militia elements, and, based on some reports, Hezbullah militia elements. It is Bibi’s way of trying to ground what he is doing in Judaic law, which lends an element of religious warfare to today’s strikes, as well as within Israel’s history of striking before it can be struck. And I have no doubt that the Iranians received both of the messages Bibi was transmitting with the final sentence in that tweet.

The closeness of today’s strike to Israel’s upcoming election has not gone unnoticed by Bibi’s unauthorized biographer Anshel Pfeffer.

I’ve seen references on social media that Israeli drones have been brought down over Beirut by Hezbullah, but it isn’t a trusted source so take it as RUMINT for the time being. Noga Tarnopolsky has reported that the Israeli Air Force is flying extended/extra combat air patrols and that the Iron Dome missile defense system has been activated in the north of Israel, including the Golan Heights.

As was the case the last several times that Netanyahu ordered strikes, remember he is both the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, the question will be whether for the time being these are one and done strikes or they begin a pattern of either Iranian-Israeli tit for tat and escalation or if cooler heads prevail. Given that Bibi is fighting not just for his political life, but to be able to leverage his control of the Israeli government to make the investigations into him and the charges against him go away, I would expect to see more strikes. Especially because the Iranians know this. And they know they can provoke him into attacking to prove he’s the best choice in the upcoming Israeli elections to keep Israel safe. The Quds Force commander, Major General Qassem Suleimani, is the best strategist indigenous to the region. I think he’s trying to goad Bibi into overreacting. Into doing something so over the top, so strategically risky that it backfires and blows back not just on Bibi, but also on Israel and Bibi’s US patron: the President. If this is, indeed, Suleimani’s strategy, then it is a risky one. But also one for the potential for great reward.

This could, and likely will, get much worse before it gets better.

Open thread.

The 24th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre

On July 11, 1995 Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs led by Ratko Mladic. In the days and weeks prior to the Serbs taking the city, approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically killed, including those trying to flee the city and into and through the woods and forests to reach safety from the Srebrenican Massacre. Muslims fleeing the city sought refuge with the UN Peacekeeping contingent from Holland. Rather than protect them, the Dutch turned them over to Mladic’s forces. The men and boys were separated and massacred, while the women and girls were distributed by Mladic’s forces throughout the region.

The Srebrinican Massacre was the worst mass killing in Europe since the end of World War II and the Holocaust. The remains of many, if not most of the victims of the massacre were never found, identified, and or returned. Over a thousand Bosnian Muslims are still considered missing. Today, on the 24th anniversary, they were able to return the remains of 33 newly identified sets of remains.

More remains are found every year.

Unfortunately, in 2019, many of the Bosnian Serb officials, especially those aligned with Russia, continue to deny the massacre and the larger genocide it was a part of. Instead they continue to push the same dangerous, racist, exclusionary, and eliminationist rhetoric that their predecessors used in the 1990s.

Although the mass killings were branded genocide by international courts, Serbian and Bosnia Serb officials refuse to use the term. They did not send official delegations to the commemoration on Thursday.

Nenad Popovic, an openly pro-Russian minister in Serbia’s government, said in a statement that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica and Serbs will never accept to be stamped as genocidal people.”

He said Serbia should rethink its goal of becoming a European Union member because of such claims.

Open thread.

Watching the Disinformation Being Made and Distributed III: Seth Rich Edition

Yesterday we went through the map and off the looking glass for a tour of the convoluted information pathway used to create a rooted in conspiracy theories, largely evidence and fact free rebuttal intended to proactively protect the President as a result of the recent arrest and indictment of Jeffrey Epstein. This followed our expedition into the dank meme infested murky waters at the beginning of July regarding Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks and behavior during the congressional delegation visit to tour detention facilities for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers on the southern border. This morning, Yahoo News Michael Isikoff broke the news, ahead of a podcast dedicated to the topic, that it was Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, that created the conspiracy theory that Seth Rich was murdered on orders of Secretary Clinton* in retribution for stealing the DNC emails and leaking them.

What is not surprising in Isikoff’s reporting is the information pathway for this disinformation campaign to influence American public opinion by muddying the waters around Russia’s undeclared hybrid war and active measures campaign against the US and to negatively influence American attitudes towards Secretary Clinton. (emphasis mine)

In the summer of 2016, Russian intelligence agents secretly planted a fake report claiming that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton, giving rise to a notorious conspiracy theory that captivated conservative activists and was later promoted from inside President Trump’s White House, a Yahoo News investigation has found.

Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony “bulletin” — disguised to read as a real intelligence report —about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case. That was just three days after Rich, 27, was killed in what police believed was a botched robbery while walking home to his group house in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., about 30 blocks north of the Capitol.

Yet in a graphic example of how fake news infects the internet, those precise details popped up the same day on an obscure website, whatdoesitmean.com, that is a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. The website’s article, which attributed its claims to “Russian intelligence,” was the first known instance of Rich’s murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.

The Russian effort to exploit Rich’s tragic death didn’t stop with the fake SVR bulletin. Over the course of the next two and a half years, the Russian government-owned media organizations RT and Sputnik repeatedly played up stories that baselessly alleged that Rich, a relatively junior-level staffer, was the source of Democratic Party emails that had been leaked to WikiLeaks.It was an idea first floated by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who on Aug. 9, 2016, announced a $20,000 reward for information about Rich’s murder, saying — somewhat cryptically — that “our sources take risks.”

At the same time, online trolls working in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Internet Research Agency (IRA) — the same shadowy outfit that conducted the Russian social media operation during the 2016 election — aggressively boosted the conspiracy theories. IRA-created fake accounts, masquerading as those of American citizens or political groups, tweeted and retweeted more than 2,000 times about Rich, helping to keep the bogus claims about his death in the social media bloodstream, according to an analysis of a database of Russia troll accounts by Yahoo News.

So where did the information flow once it was created, injected into the information domain, and then amplified and reamplified? Through the usual suspects of extreme right conspiracists, the alt-right and other white supremacists, the far fringe of the conservative social media and digital news media ecosystem, surrogates of the President. And from there to Fox News, conservative talk radio, and political commentary and then the mainstream news media jumped on it because it was news that Sean Hannity was hammering this insane conspiracy theory over and over, night after night. (emphasis mine)

The “Conspiracyland” podcast traces the spread of the conspiracy theories about Rich. From their origins as a Russian disinformation plant, the bogus theories about his murder emerged as a persistent theme on alt-right websites and then were fanned by right-wing conspiracy entrepreneurs such as Alex Jones of Infowars and Matt Couch, the founder of an Arkansas-based group called America First Media, which bills itself as “the leading investigative team in America in the Seth Rich murder.

Along the way, the idea that Rich was murdered in retaliation for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks was championed by multiple allies of Trump, including Roger Stone. The same day Assange falsely hinted that Rich may have been his source for DNC emails, Stone tweeted a picture of Rich, calling the late DNC staffer in a tweet “another dead body in the Clinton’s wake.” He then added: “Coincidence? I think not.”

Within months, the Rich conspiracy story was also being quietly promoted inside Trump’s White House. Questions about whether the White House pushed the conspiracy theories about Rich have been raised periodically over the last two and a half years — and were consistently denied by White House officials. But the Yahoo News investigation uncovered new evidence that the false claim that Rich was the victim of a political assassination was advanced by one of the White House’s most senior officials at the time.

“Huge story … he was a Bernie guy … it was a contract kill, obviously,” then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon texted to a CBS “60 Minutes” producer about Rich on March 17, 2017, according to some of Bannon’s text messages that were reviewed by Yahoo News. (Bannon did not respond to requests for comment.)

The conspiracy claims reached their zenith in May 2017 — the same week as Mueller’s appointment as special counsel in the Russia probe — when Fox News’ website posted a sensational story claiming that an FBI forensic report had discovered evidence on Rich’s laptop that he had been in communication with WikiLeaks prior to his death. Sean Hannity, the network’s primetime star, treated the account as major news on his nightly broadcast, calling it “explosive” and proclaiming it “might expose the single biggest fraud, lies, perpetrated on the American people by the media and the Democrats in our history.

Among Hannity’s guests that week who echoed his version of events was conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow. Although neither he nor Hannity mentioned it, Sekulow had just been hired as one of Trump’s lead lawyers in the Russia investigation. “It sure doesn’t look like a robbery,” said Sekulow on Hannity’s show on May 18, 2017, during a segment devoted to the Rich case. “There’s one thing this thing undercuts is this whole Russia argument, [which] is such subterfuge,” he added.

In fact, the Fox story was a “complete fabrication,” said Sines, who consulted with the FBI about the Fox News claims. There was “no connection between Seth and WikiLeaks. And there was no evidence on his work computer of him downloading and disseminating things from the DNC.”

We’ve got the following pathway: Russia’s SVR creates the conspiracy theory, it then dumps it through a cutout website where it’s picked up by far right conspiracist and alt-right social media, specifically twitter. RT and Sputnik, which are Russian state controlled news media intended to propogandize Americans and non-Russian audiences in Europe, then reports on it. And Julian Assange promotes it, which further obscured both the GRU’s hacking of these emails and his role as a Russian intelligence asset in disseminating them. From there the conspiracy theory is amplified by the Russian intelligence service adjacent Internet Research Agency bankrolled by “Putin’s Chef” and Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Proghozin. The IRA trolls and bots keep the conspiracy alive where it is picked up by Alex Jones and from there it makes its way to Hannity and Fox News, after a quick detour through Roger Stone, who has a show on Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Once with Hannity it is picked up and reported on as news by the mainstream media and then weaponized in the President’s defense by his new, though not disclosed at the time, defense attorney Jay Sekulow.

What we’re getting, bit by bit, is a network map of the information networks being used to influence Americans. While some of the nodes and links within the information networks may vary a bit from influence operation to influence operation, overall it is the same network that is being weaponized. And a lot of the people in it are Americans targeting other Americans. Sometimes for political gain. Sometimes for profit. Sometimes for the Lulz. And sometimes for all of those reasons.

Nine days ago it was to smear Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez as a tool for distracting from the real issue: that the US is detaining undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and children separated from their parents in concentration camps. Yesterday it was to create a reasonable sounding, but almost completely fact free prebuttal regarding the President’s longstanding personal friendship with Jeffrey Epstein in light of Epstein’s recent arrest and indictment for sexually trafficking minors. Today we are given a tour of the information network that created and spread the conspiracy theory that Secretary Clinton had Seth Rich murdered as punishment for him stealing the DNC emails. These three examples will not be the only disinformation campaigns that will be revealed. Nor will they be the only ones to leverage this information ecosystem to influence Americans. And they will not all be produced, aided, and abetted by Russia. Other state and non-state actors, including Americans, will continue to weaponize information to influence Americans and America for their own purposes. Until or unless the US government, or failing that, the Democratic candidates and their campaigns, create a viable and effective counter-influence strategy and deploy it operationally, all Americans are at risk from this information warfare.

Open thread!

* As can be seen in the Roger Stone quote in Isikoff’s report, it was easy to weaponize the Seth Rich conspiracy because Republicans and conservatives have been explicitly stating and implicitly implying that Secretary Clinton has been running a 40 plus year operation to murder anyone who crosses the Clintons. According to this larger conspiracy theory, that was pushed into the American information ecosystem during the investigation of Vince Foster’s suicide by Congressman Burton (R-IN) and his lead congressional investigator David Bossie, who went on to be one of the President’s deputy campaign managers, Secretary Clinton killed Foster as she had killed others who had gotten in the way of her or President Clinton’s political, social, and/or economic ambitions. If this conspiracy theory was accurate, WHICH IT IS NOT!!!!!, Secretary Clinton would be the most prolific female serial killer in history. WHICH SHE ISN’T!!!!

The War Con Is On


I’m sure that the situation with Iran isn’t your central focus, but I wanted to share an important insight into the current issue – Iran having passed the allowed threshold for storage of low-level enriched Uranium. If I’m incorrect, I’m sure either Adam or Cheryl will pop in.

So Iran announced, and the IAEA annnouced, that Iran had passed the threshold Monday this week. And this sounds scary, it sounds like that pesky Iran is being bad again, and will have to be taught a lesson, now doesn’t it? Well that’s the thing – this is a manufactured event and I’ll explain how. And it just kills me that no media I’ve heard, read, or seen has bothered to explain this development in context that is so badly needed.

Iran was allowed, under the agreement, to store up to 300 kg of lightly-enriched Uranium, while the rest that it produced was to be sold and shipped to overseas buyers. This agreement held, and Iran kept to it, selling it to European and Russian interests. But once the US backed out of the deal and re-leveled sanctions, this forced the other signatories to choose to either support us, or be wrapped up in severe sanctions for trading with Iran. Of course they chose to work with us and cut Iran off while, at the same time, working on some “third way” plan to keep the Iran economy from going into the pits and all the side-effects that would create. So far, this effort to find a way around the sanctions has failed to materialize.

Well, the problem regarding enriched Uranium is that, as Iran warned a few weeks back, since no one is buying that enriched Uranium that their nuclear program legally produces because of the sanctions, their stockpile is quickly building up. They don’t want it, they’d love to sell it, but that market is closed by the sanctions. So our sanctions are now causing Iran to violate the agreement.

It is my understanding (and Cheryl or other experts are welcome to jump in and explain or contradict, etc.) that, in order to stop producing this excess enriched Uranium, they would need to shut down one or more reactors, and they aren’t willing to cut off a major source of already-limited electricity in order to not cross a threshold defined in an agreement that no other signatory is following. So they won’t stop producing this low-level enriched Uranium, and since they can’t sell the output, the stockpile keeps growing.

So the deal is kaput, and there is now casus belli for the US to strike. I hope today’s “emergency” and the big “pro-US” speech on Thursday with all the martial trapping isn’t the start of a new horror.


A Tale Of Two Red Lines

Let’s get this out of the way first: President Donald Trump didn’t actually say the words “red line.” In fact, he, his National Security Advisor, and his Secretary of State say so many different things that it can be hard to tell whether there are red lines, let alone where they are.

In August 2012, President Barack Obama explicitly laid down a red line to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria: Move chemical weapons around, and we will strike. A few days later, Assad brutally killed over a thousand people in Ghouta with sarin. Congress and allied nations were reluctant to back a military strike in response. But then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered another response: Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention and give up its stock of chemical weapons and the means to make more.

It might seem that disarming Syria of chemical weapons was an appropriate punishment for their use after an ulitmatum was issued. No longer would they have that set of tactics available. The benefit to the rest of the world is obvious – ending that form of brutality and the threat to other nations in the region. Missile strikes could never have done that.

Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limited Iran’s nuclear program to a greater degree than for other signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He then imposed additional economic sanctions on Iran, in contravention of what had been agreed. A number of small provocations then ensued, and Trump and his advisors threatened war, only to rescind the threat at the last minute. This action is being compared broadly to the 2012 actions.

Let’s look at the comparison in more detail.

In August 2012, a civil war was in progress in Syria. The United States was involved, but not as a primary actor.

The recent provocations against ships have been relatively small and ineffective. They were likely carried out by Iran or its proxies, but the evidence made public is less than conclusive. A military attack on Iran would be disproportionate.

Obama’s clearly stated objective was to end Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. A military strike would have limited that capability, but would not have ended it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has presented to Iran a list of 12 demands to Iran that no country could accede to, short of defeat in war. Trump has said that all he wants is for Iran not to build nuclear weapons. It is not clear how a limited strike against Iran would further these demands.

When presented with an alternative to military action that would be more effective in reaching his objective, Obama changed direction.

Trump and his aides have presented four or five explanations for his change of direction. We have no way of knowing the truth.

Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was mostly removed and the ability to make more curtailed. Assad seems to have retained a small amount of sarin, which he has used in attacks since the disarmament. He has also used chlorine, a dual-use chemical that is regulated differently. Equivalent attacks with sarin would have been much more deadly.

It’s too soon to judge the effect of Trump’s action.

Obama was excoriated for not holding to his red line. Much of the US foreign policy establishment puts great stock in military action and was disappointed that Obama chose chemical weapons disarmament over missile strikes. The commentary on Trump’s action has been much more moderate, but there is some warning about threats and confidence. For example,

Many reasons are possible for the more moderate response. Perhaps we have become accustomed to Trump’s bluster without followthrough. Perhaps the situations are different enough that the response is justified. And perhaps Obama, by taking a more effective and peaceful route, broke the attraction of violence.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.