Iran

Iran war fever: real or charade?

Trump retreats from military action against Iran after a US surveillance drone is shot down in the Strait of Hormuz. Was the man who destroyed Raqqa and Mosul suddenly concerned with a possible 150 human casualties, as he claimed in his tweet explaining the balk? Or do Washington and Tehran have too much invested in pursuing their common wars against ISIS and other Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq to want the encumbrance of war with each other? (Photo of Global Hawk drone via Wikipedia)

Iran

Orwellian ironies of US Persian Gulf war moves

Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Trump has dispacthed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom’s energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and “sectarian cleansing” in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let’s hope that Trump’s mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)

Planet Watch

Will world war be October surprise?

Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet is preparing to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China, after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea. Meanwhile, NATO is planning to conduct its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, Trident Juncture 2018, along Norway's border wth Russia. This comes as Washington and Moscow are odds over missile deployments, accusing each other of violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Syria

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a “buffer zone” in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a “demilitarized” zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. Meanwhile, a secondary small pocket of rebel control in Syria’s south, where US forces have established a position, is shaping up as a potential flashpoint. US Marines held unprecedented joint exercises with rebel forces in the pocket of al-Tanf, and Russia responded by threatening to attack it—despite the fact al-Tanf is one of the so-called “de-escalation zones” declared last year.  (Photo via EA Worldview)

Syria

Russian naval build-up ahead of Idlib offensive

The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval force in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise would begin on 1 September. It said the exercise would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (Photo: Syria News)

Greater Middle East

Syria endgame: whither Idlib?

With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." This points to a possible carve-up deal, in which the bulk of Syria falls under Assad with Russian protection, Idlib remains under rebel control with Turkish protection, and the northeastern Rojava region will remain a Kurdish autonomous zone under US protection. (Photo: Syria News)

Greater Middle East

Raqqa ‘annihilation’ reveals Kurdish contradiction

A new Amnesty International report accuses the US of "war crimes" in the bombardment of Raqqa, and the virtual "annihilation" of the city. The fact that the US-led bombardment was in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their campaign to take the city from ISIS has contributed to pitting Kurd against Arab and brought northern Syria closer to ethnic war. Ironically (if predictably), now that the Syrian Kurds have served their purpose in defeating ISIS, Washington is about to kick them overboard—just as Assad and Erdogan alike are preparing offensives against them. (Photo: SDF)

Greater Middle East

Syria: gas attacks, air-strikes and hypocrisy —again

Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to a chemical attack, we witness a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The targets were chemical warfare and military facilities, with no deaths or civilian casualties yet reported. "Anti-war" hypocrites who were silent during Trump's massive bombardment of civilians in Raqqa and Mosul, silent during the Assad-Purtin destruction of Aleppo, and silent (at best) over the Douma chemical attack, are now protesting air-strikes on Assad's machinery of death. Such "anti-war" depravity is part of the problem. (Image: Syria Solidarity NYC)

East Asia

Brink looms closer in East Asia maritime theaters

Japan has activated its first amphibious marine unit since World War II, which conducted practice drills to defend the disputed Senkaku Islands from an anticipated Chinese military seizure. Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, with a group of Philippine generals onboard, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, where China is building military defenses on islands claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in anti-submarine drills with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew—the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. (Map via IDSA)

Greater Middle East

Afrin and Ghouta: fearful symmetry

The imminent fall of rebel-held Ghouta to Russian-backed Assad regime forces approaches just after the fall of Kurdish-held Afrin to Turkish-backed rebel forces. As Arab and Kurd are pitted against each other, the Great Powers carve up Syria. But both sides are preparing to advance on Idlib next. Even as Trump talks of getting the US out of Syria, potential builds for a superpower confrontation.  (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Greater Middle East

Tragedy: Rojava Kurds close ranks with Assad

In a political tragedy that bodes more poorly than ever for any eventual return of peace to Syria, Assad regime forces joined the Kurdish militia defending the northern enclave of Afrin from Turkish aggression. This obviously heightens the threat of Arab-Kurdish ethnic war, as the regime continues its savage bombardment of rebel-held Idlib and Ghouta. And with the entry of regime forces into Afrin, there is now risk of NATO member Turkey directly engaging Assad's troops, with obvious threat of international escalation. Of course, with Orwellian irony, Ankara is calling the offensive Operation "Olive Branch."  (Photo: BasNews)

Planet Watch

Doomsday Clock: two minutes of midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic weapons program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions." (Image: misucell.com)