Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

The appalling test use of the Su-57 on Syrian civilians (& Jewish grandmother sentenced to death in Iran)

February 27, 2018

 

ALMOST SEVEN YEARS OF SIEGE AND STARVATION

[Note by Tom Gross]

I have cited the appalling situation in the bombed, starved and besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on many occasions on this Middle East dispatch list since 2011, and also run dramatic photos, such as this one last year from Agence France-Presse.

In recent days, the plight of the 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta has finally become headline news on media such as the BBC.

Yet the BBC reports this week makes it sound as though the plight of Eastern Ghouta only started a few days ago.

(Eastern Ghouta is the suburb where President Assad killed over 1,400 Syrian civilians using chemical weapons in 2013, leading President Obama to back down from his “red line” warning, and as Obama absented himself, Iran and Russia stepped in. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed since, and millions driven into exile. There have been countless deaths in the last five years in Eastern Ghouta, through enforced starvation, bombing and other means, but the international media has generally ignored this.)

 

BBC AND NY TIMES CONTINUE TO COVER UP FOR IRAN

Even in their reports today, the BBC and other media, while highlighting the Syrian and Russian government role in the murder taking place there, again cover up for the central Iranian role. The Iranian regime is at the heart of directing ground operations around eastern Ghouta (and in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria) through its revolutionary guards and thousands of Shia militia it has formed and sent to Syria.

This media misreporting continues a pattern of downplaying the appalling and worsening human rights abuse by the Iranian government both at home and abroad (led by a president the BBC and New York Times have repeatedly and misleadingly claimed is “moderate”). As predicted, Iran has used much of the billions of dollars handed to them by the Obama-Kerry deal with the regime, to increase its military presence and build bases in Syria and several other Middle East countries.

 

“PUTIN’S GREATER GLORY”

Meanwhile as the rest of the media finally reported on the situation in Ghouta, this past weekend’s international edition of The Financial Times didn’t have one word on Ghouta, but instead continues to denigrate Israel both on its front page political story and in its largest article on its comment page.

Another important aspect not being highlighted in the western media reports on the indiscriminate bombing of Ghouta is the incredible choice by Russia to use its Su-57 stealth fighters, its most advanced new fighter plane. The plane is designed to take out high-value well-shielded military targets defended by multiple anti-aircraft batteries of the kind that don’t exist in eastern Ghouta. Instead Russia’ is testing its new Su-57s by dropping tons of explosives on the civilian population, including hospitals, and schools.

As the Haaretz commentary attached below makes clear:

“There is no other conceivable reason to send the Su-57 to Syria other than for Putin’s greater glory. The family in Eastern Ghouta buried alive by the shock wave released by one of its bombs will never know they were the first-ever civilian target of a stealth fighter – but at least they’ll have provided action footage for Russian television.”

 

Among other recent dispatches on Syria:

In case you’ve lost track… (& Putin’s private army)

 

DUTCH PRIORITIES

The second article below concerns a Jewish grandmother, sentenced to death in Iran for “violating Islamic rules,” but refused asylum in Holland.

Meanwhile, Rasmeah Odeh, a convicted Palestinian terrorist (she murdered two shoppers in a Jerusalem bomb attack) who was deported from U.S. last year, has been invited by Dutch lawmakers to speak in Amsterdam.

-- Tom Gross

 

ARTICLES

SO WHY DEPLOY THEM TO SYRIA?

Putin’s Newest Stealth Fighters Are Nonoperational. So Why Deploy Them to Syria?
By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz
February 26, 2018

“The Russian Air Force doesn’t need the Sukhoi 57 to bomb more civilians in Syria. But on an election year, it looks good on television screens back home”

In times of war, new weapons are often rushed to the front and pressed into service before they have been properly tested. There is little choice, and any operational edge can be critical on the battlefield. The Russian Federation, however, is not fighting a war at present – just a low-intensity conflict in Syria, where its aircraft are indiscriminately bombing rebel enclaves, killing hundreds of civilians weekly. It is beating them into submission so the ground forces of its protégé, President Bashar Assad, and his proxy allies can eventually regain territory.

There is no military justification for Russia to deploy its most advanced and – so far at least – nonoperational stealth fighter jet to Syria. And yet last week Russia sent four Sukhoi Su-57s to its Khmeimim air base in Syria.

The Su-57 first flew eight years ago, in January 2010. And just like other new weapons systems, its development has been long and arduous. From all available information, only 10 flyable prototypes have been produced so far, and deliveries to Sukhoi’s main customer – the Russian Air Force – have yet to take place. With an aerodynamic shape and coated in radar-absorbent materials that greatly reduce its radar cross-section, it is intended to be the first stealth fighter in Russian service.

So why has Moscow taken the unprecedented step of sending four of its valuable prototypes to Syria, disrupting the flight-test program, even before the Su-57 reached initial operational capability (IOC)?

There is simply no military justification for the deployment. Like other stealth fighters, the Su-57 carries its weapons load within internal bays to minimize its radar signature. This limits the number of air-to-ground munitions it can carry (since it will be carrying air-to-air missiles for self-defense), making it ineffective for bombing runs over Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.

On an airstrike mission, stealth fighters are optimized to take out high-value targets defended by multiple anti-aircraft batteries, utilizing their evasive features to penetrate defenses and carry out precision strikes. All these advanced capabilities are superfluous on a routine Russian sortie over Syria, which consists of dropping tons of explosives on hospitals and bakeries.

Rebel groups in Syria have little in the way of anti-aircraft defenses. The best they can muster is a handful of Soviet-era, Strela shoulder-launched missiles with which they have scored some successes against low-flying regime and Russian aircraft. But this has hardly deterred the Russians, who usually bomb from altitudes well beyond the Strela’s range. The Su-57 is hardly necessary against such puny resistance.

Some experts have advanced the explanation that the Su-57 is being deployed in order to train air and maintenance crews, and provide them with combat experience on the new jet. But this hardly makes sense at this stage in the aircraft’s development, before it has even been supplied to squadrons back in Russia. They still lack the most basic knowledge of stealth operations and will need many months, if not years, to acquire the know-how to use these aircraft efficiently overseas.

Another theory raised in recent days – that the Su-57s are to counter another U.S. airstrike against Russian mercenaries in Eastern Syria, such as the one earlier this month where as many as 200 of them are reported to have been killed – is even more outlandish. The United States, should it be confronted, has far superior forces to bear in the region, including its own stealth F-22 fighters; four prototypes, never tested in real-life scenarios, will be no match. The last thing the Kremlin is planning is to risk the humiliation of its most advanced jet being shot down over Syria.

Deploying nearly half of Sukhoi’s prototypes to Syria will not only cause months of delay in the test program, as the flights taking place there will be of little use since they won’t be carried out in the necessary conditions and with calibrated telemetry instruments. It also risks exposing some of the aircraft’s unique capabilities. Every radar system within 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) range of Khmeimim – there are a lot of them, and you can be certain that more were flown out there by NATO over the weekend – will be focused on detecting the Su-57 and acquiring readings of its radar and sensors signatures.

The Su-57 deployment to Syria smacks of the same kind of motivation that made the Russians send their single aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Mediterranean in November 2016. The Russians boasted that in the short time it sailed off the Syrian coast, its aircraft attacked “a thousand targets.” However, Western intelligence services tracking the operation believe the fighter jets on the Kuznetsov’s decks lacked even the range to carry out a single full carrier-based mission – launching from the ship with a bombload and returning there after completion. It was an exercise in public relations with scant military value, and at the cost of two fighter jets that crashed into the sea.

But at least the Kuznetsov is a veteran vessel that should be put through its paces at sea. The Su-57 is still brand new, and exposing it to harm in Syria makes less sense. That is, until you check out Russia’s domestic political calendar.

The Syrian campaign is losing popularity back home and in three weeks the Russians will vote in a presidential election. There’s no way President Vladimir Putin will lose – he has no serious challengers, anyway. But the campaign itself needs rousing images to deliver not just victory but a resounding landslide and a chorus of nationalism befitting a czar. And what better image than Russia’s newest jet bombing the enemy to oblivion?

There is no other conceivable reason to send the Su-57 to Syria other than for Putin’s greater glory. The family in East Ghouta buried alive by the shock wave released by one of its bombs will never know they were the first-ever civilian target of a stealth fighter – but at least they’ll have provided action footage for Russian television.

 

JEWISH GRANDMOTHER WAS SENTENCED TO DEATH IN IRAN

This Jewish grandmother was sentenced to death in Iran. Holland won’t grant her asylum.
By Cnaan Liphshiz
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
February 23, 2018

Convicted of “violating Islamic rules,” 60-year-old Sipora is an illegal immigrant in the Netherlands, but fears immigrating to Israel would endanger her husband back in Tehran.

UTRECHT, Netherlands (JTA) — To the dozens of revelers of this city’s main Purim party, a Jewish grandmother who cooks the event’s annual Persia-themed holiday feast is a rare communal asset.

Since she immigrated to the Netherlands in 2012 from her native Iran, the soft-spoken newcomer has been volunteering with the local Chabad House, preparing delicious traditional dishes with exotic spices, such as saffron-flavored yellow rice and chicken, for Utrecht’s celebration of the holiday.

Her contribution has added prestige to the event, which has been featured in regional and national media thanks to the authentic touch she adds. (After all, the story behind Purim is set in Persia, celebrating the rescue of that country’s Jews from a communal death sentence.)

But only a few of the locals who know Sipora (not her real name) are aware that she is both an illegal alien in the Netherlands and a refugee with a death sentence hanging over her own head in Iran for political offenses.

Sipora, 60, was sentenced in absentia to death by public execution in 2013 by a Tehran court that convicted her of “violating Islamic rules [of the] Islamic Revolution” and “anti-regime activity.” Her crime: running an underground organization that found housing solutions for women with abusive husbands who could not obtain a divorce.

Luckily for Sipora, she had already left Iran a year prior to her sentencing to help with the pregnancy of her daughter — herself a political refugee who has been living in the Netherlands since fleeing her native land in 2010. Sipora’s daughter, Rebecca, fled in connection with her involvement in the making of a documentary film about the fight for democracy in Iran.

“A few weeks after I came to Holland, I called my husband on the telephone. He asked me to go on Skype. I knew something was wrong,” Sipora recalled.

Sipora’s husband of over 40 years, a Jewish building contractor with a heart condition, told her online that Iran’s dreaded secret police were looking for her and other members of her group.

“In that moment I knew there is no going back,” Sipora recalled.

Unfortunately for her, Sipora’s legal troubles back home coincided with a toughening of immigration policies in the Netherlands, where the center-right ruling party is bleeding votes in favor of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom, which favors a shutdown of immigration from Muslim countries.

Rebecca received a temporary residency permit and later citizenship without delay even though she had no death sentence against her in Iran. Meanwhile, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service has consistently declined requests by Sipora two years later. Instead, she is in legal limbo — neither granted asylum nor deported, despite her whereabouts being known to authorities.

The Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service did not reply to a query from JTA about Sipora’s status.

A teacher of Persian who speaks neither Dutch nor English, Sipora lives with her daughter and grandson in relative social isolation and uncertainty. Her eyes well with tears as she explains through an interpreter that she is getting used to the thought of never again hugging her husband.

Yet Sipora has no regrets over helping the abused wives for whom she found shelter — sometimes inside nearly finished apartments constructed by her husband, a building contractor.

“I would do the same thing all over again,” Sipora said. “For all my problems now I have family who care for me. These women have no one, only enemies hounding them, and no rights before the law.”

Following the latest crackdown on alleged opposition activists in Iran, Sipora’s husband told her he is under close watch and unlikely to be allowed to leave the country. This is part of the reason that Sipora does not want to immigrate to Israel, or make aliyah, though she is eligible for it.

“I could leave for Israel tomorrow, but then my husband’s fate is sealed,” Sipora said. “For a Jewish family to flee for Holland is one thing, but if I go to Israel he will pay the price for what will be seen as collaboration with the enemy.”

Even her involvement with Chabad did not go unnoticed in Tehran, Sipora said.

Secret police in 2016 confronted Sipora’s husband with pictures featuring Sipora from the Chabad Purim feast, he told her. They demanded he explain why his wife is “working with a Zionist organization. He answered that she was representing Persian Jewish culture in Holland and that Iran should be proud of it.

Trapped in her predicament, Sipora’s only comfort is being with her 5-year-old grandson and her daughter. But this is no remedy against sleepless nights and a constant sense of foreboding, she said, especially before reporting to Dutch authorities as she must do periodically. She could be deported as an illegal alien at any moment. Sipora’s next appearance before an immigration service judge is scheduled for March 2.

Outwardly, though, Sipora puts on a brave face, according to Erik Veldhuizen, who also volunteers at the Chabad House where Sipora is preparing the annual feast.

“She’s a positive and polite person,” he told JTA. “A few of us are of course aware of her situation, but you’d never know that she’s in dire straits by her demeanor.”

Back home, Sipora is discussing her grandson’s Purim costume options with him as a welcome distraction from the fears and doubts surrounding her.

“Just like in Purim, it will all work out in the end,” her daughter tells her. “It just has to.”

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Why school shootings don’t happen in Israel (& the Polish government’s outrageous lies)

February 21, 2018

Miriam Bergman as a child. She was denounced by Poles and sent to a concentration camp. When Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman mentioned his mother’s fate to the Polish prime minister at the Munich security conference, the Polish PM responded with an anti-Semitic remark.

 

LOW BY INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

[Note by Tom Gross]

Israel is in many respects a liberal country, where much of the population hold the same kind of liberal social attitudes Scandinavians and some Europeans do towards issues such as gay and transgender rights, abortion, capital punishment and gun ownership.

There is therefore much anger in Israel, among both right and left, that in the US, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters wrongly cite Israel as a country which allows easy access to guns.

I first sent out the column below in 2015. It was published on October 7, 2015 following the deadly shooting of students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 3, 2015, and the killing the before that of an eight-year-old girl in Tennessee by her neighbor, an 11-year-old boy, who shot her dead when she refused to let him see her puppy.

In recent days following last week’s Florida school shooting, this 2015 article has been widely shared by Americans opposing the use of Israel as a propaganda weapon by the NRA.

The gun death rate in Israel is low by international standards: about two homicides per 100,000 people in Israel.

Most of those are the result of clan and gang warfare among some of Israel’s Arab minority, where there is a proliferation of illegal weapons, mostly smuggled in from the Palestinian Authority.

 

“POLAND’S PRIME MINISTER GAVE ME A HOLLOW AND BLOOD-CURDLING LOOK”

The second piece below, published yesterday in Israel’s best selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, is by Ronen Bergman, the paper’s military and intelligence affairs correspondent.

While covering security matters at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Bergman tested Poland’s new Holocaust revisionist law, by addressing Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in the Q&A session and speaking about his own Holocaust survivor mother who was denounced by Polish Nazi collaborators and sent to a death camp.

“Would I be considered a criminal in your country for speaking about this?” Ronen Bergman wondered.

In answer to Bergman’s question, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gave what Bergman called a “hollow and blood-curdling look” at him and then claimed that the Holocaust had also been perpetrated by Jews. Israelis from across the political spectrum vehemently denounced the Polish prime minister, one calling his remarks the “most disgusting and evil lie told by the leader of any European country since the Holocaust itself”.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called Morawiecki’s words “outrageous” and said they display a “lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.” Netanyahu has since spoken with the Polish prime minister and again told him that his remarks are “unacceptable.”

AN INTERNATIONAL ORGY OF MURDER

Historians estimate that of the 3.5 million Jews killed on Polish soil (including over one million children) during the Holocaust, 200,000 were murdered either directly or with the help of Poles. The rest were killed by Germans, Austrians, and by the Ukrainian volunteer SS units who did much of the killing at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec extermination camps.

It is true that the proportionate level of participation in the murder of Jews was even higher among Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Croatians than it was among Poles. And it also true that until now there has been an even higher level of cover up and historical distortion by political leaders in those four countries about their central role in the Holocaust (as well as distortion by some politicians in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and elsewhere too). But nonetheless there was a high level of participation by Poles in the Holocaust, just as there were massacres of Holocaust survivors in Poland two years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, forcing most of the remaining Jewish survivors still in Poland in the late 1940s to flee the country to Israel and Germany.

Leading Polish historian Professor Jan Gross wrote in the Financial Times earlier this month: “I’ve read hundreds of survivors’ testimonies, yet I do not recall a single one where the writer has not described an episode of betrayal, blackmail or denunciation on the part of their fellow Polish citizens.”

Of course, the Germans and Austrians were so vilely responsible for the Holocaust that anyone who colluded with them, however enthusiastically, is in a different league. But the Germans are today on the whole honest about their role, which cannot be said of many in other European countries.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

A GRUELING PROCESS, OFTEN TAKING MONTHS OF SECURITY CHECKS AND TRAINING COURSES

Why School Shootings Don’t Happen in Israel
By Yael Shahar
October 7, 2015
Haaretz

Why is it that in Israel – a country surrounded by weapons of war – we don’t see the same gun violence as that which cost the lives of students in Oregon and little McKayla from Tennessee?

I spent most of last Wednesday renewing my gun license. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, owning a firearm in Israel is neither common nor easy. Applying for a license is a grueling process, often taking months of security checks and training courses. Keeping that license requires an investment of time, effort, and money.

In my case, the license was a legacy of many years as a volunteer in the Israel Police sniper unit and later in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. It had been years since I was actively involved in security work, aside from the occasional civil guard patrol. But, given the rather volatile security situation, its considered desirable that those who have the training keep up their proficiency and continue to carry.

And so, on Wednesday morning I drove into the nearest town to get the necessary forms signed by my family doctor, who certified that I’m not taking any medication that might impair my alertness, that I have no history of psychological disorders, and that I’m more or less in my right mind—at least most of the time.

And then it was off to the shooting range. Together with 15 others, I stood in line for half an hour to have my designated self-defense weapon examined, tested for any malfunctions that would endanger myself or passersby. The serial number was matched with the paperwork to make sure the weapon was legally mine and had not been put on any watch lists. Another 40-minute wait (part of it spent in the Sukkah outside the range chatting with an elderly veteran of four of Israel’s wars) and we were ushered into the range for our training session.

The session was conducted by someone whom I had known as an instructor back in my days in the police sniper unit. He went over changes to the laws of owning a firearm: If your weapon is stolen from your house and you cannot prove that a safe was broken open to get at the weapon, then you are a criminal and may do jail time.

And if we ever have to use a weapon in self-defense? You had better be certain that you had no other recourse, that you did what you could to warn the attacker, and that had you not taken action, at least one innocent life could have been lost. And you may still do jail time.

We spent about an hour at practice, refreshing our ability to deal with safety issues and malfunctions, honing our skills. One by one, we were certified as competent and sent out to collect our paperwork, duly stamped and fed into the computer, from which it would go into some government database. The process took up most of the day.

I thought of all this when I read of yet another (reportedly, the 294th this year) mass shooting in the United States—this time at a small community college in Oregon. Four firearms. An attention-seeking, imbalanced, suicidal young man walked into a classroom with four firearms. Police later found five pistols and one rifle at the college, and another three pistols, four rifles, and a shotgun at his home. All the weapons were purchased legally by the shooter or his family members.

And then Tuesday’s headlines tell us that an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee shot and killed an eight-year-old girl, his neighbor, when she refused to let him see her puppy. The boy retrieved his family’s 12-gauge shotgun from an unlocked closet, and fired at McKayla Dyer as she stood in her yard.

There is something seriously wrong about a system where a disturbed young man can acquire deadly weapons as easily as buying a new laptop. Where children can treat firearms as casually as toys.

I live in a country with wars raging on all sides, with failed states collapsing into a primordial stew of hatred and nihilism an hours drive north of me, with suicidal regimes seeking nuclear weapons in order to carry out their expressed goals of obliterating me, my family, and everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis. But for all this, I dont feel as if Im living in a war zone. We know about death and we know about weapons of war, but we don’t fetishize them.

And the United States? A country bounded by friendly regimes and by neutral water. Apparently a nation lacking natural enemies may simply become its own enemy.

 

MORAWIECKI IN MUNICH: “HE STARED AT ME AS IF HE WERE EXAMINING A NUISANCE”

In the name of my mother, the Holocaust survivor
By Ronen Bergman
Yediot Ahronot
February 20, 2018

It was all unexpected and unplanned. Two of the world’s youngest leaders were sitting on the stage at the main conference hall of Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Both are eloquent, sharp and very self-confident speakers.

I listened to the Polish leader talk about economy, energy and other Polish-related issues. He spoke about everything, apart from the issue everyone wanted him to address: The legislation prescribing prison time and a fine for accusing Poland and the Poles of taking part in the Holocaust. This legislation, which has created a major global controversy and sparked a lot of anger in Israel, wasn’t important enough for Morawiecki.

During the question and answer session, I stood up to talk. I wanted to ask a general question about the law, but I was suddenly flooded with memories. My entire family, my late mother and my father and their families, experienced the Holocaust. Few survived. Most were killed. The Holocaust has been hanging over our heads as a big shadow our entire life.

We knew very little. Mother was a very modest person, but the few relatives who survived said she had been recognized as a prodigy at an early age. While in kindergarten, she had already received a special prize from the Polish education minister for “good Polish,” but that’s usually where the story ended. The relatives refused to say anything else, and mother kept silent too. “One day, I’ll tell you more,” she used to say to my sisters and me.

Throughout the years, mother made sure to serve as a separating buffer between the children and the memories from the horrors. All we knew was that grandmother and mother had escaped to the woods, joined the partisans and managed to survive the war. Grandfather, on the other hand, hid in sewage tunnels in his hometown and came out when the Gestapo had withdrawn.

And there was one more thing we always knew, that “the Poles were worse than the Nazis.” It’s something mother occasionally spoke about—the neighbors and parents of acquaintances from class, and the merchants, and those who worked for Jews.

From a historical perspective, I believe mother was wrong. Clearly, the Nazis were the ones who initiated the Holocaust, and they were the ones who built the death camps. But mother knew the Poles and this was her very personal and moral judgment of what had happened. There is no doubt that there were many Poles who risked their lives and saved many Jews. The names of some of them are engraved at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at the entrance to Yad Vashem.

“They all betrayed us and turned us in to the Gestapo,” she said. She and other family members, she told us, had paid a Polish peasant money to hide in his farm. “We were constantly hungry. It was starvation to the brink of death,” she told me. “Although it was forbidden, one day I sneaked in to see if the landlords had anything to eat. They didn’t see me, and then I heard those horrible words. They said they would call the Gestapo the next day to take us too.”

Only years after she died, I found out that the story we knew about the sewage tunnels and the partisans and the meeting after the war was all true—apart from one detail: grandmother and grandfather didn’t know each other before the war.

My biological grandfather escaped with grandmother and mother to the woods. He caught pneumonia there—or was wounded by German fire, there are two versions—and mother and grandmother buried him in the snow with their own hands.

Mother and grandmother, and a few other relatives who survived, spent the rest of the war in the woods, with the partisans.

The man I knew as my grandfather met grandmother and mother after the war. Two lost people in a destroyed world, one of them carrying a little girl with sad eyes. The other, our “Grandpa Yaakov,” lost his entire family in one of the death camps. Two people who searched for comfort and found each other.

When grandmother met Yaakov, they decided to stick to each other. Together with mother, they decided to bury this secret in Europe. They immigrated to Israel in 1949 as one family unit, and told everyone how they had been forced to separate because of the Nazis and how they had met happily after the war.

Mother passed away in 1993, after battling cancer for 15 years. I believe that the horrors from back then, along with her stubborn attempt to serve as a buffer and not to tell us anything, to hold it all inside, not to talk, not to unload, were what eventually killed her.

Why didn’t she tell us she had buried her real father in the snow? “She didn’t want to be subject to anyone’s pity,” a relative of ours concluded when we learned the truth, years after mother’s passing.

While still in Europe, mother swore to never say another word in Polish. And she kept that promise. She was willing to speak German, but Polish? Absolutely not.

I gave a summary of this story on Saturday to the audience at the Munich Security Conference and to the Polish prime minister, who gave me a hollow and blood-curdling look.

“My mother was able to save much of her family because she heard during the night that the neighbors were going to tell that they have Jews in their vicinity to the SS the next morning. If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated, I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this. What is the purpose? What is the message that you are trying to convey to the world?”

When I was done, everyone applauded. Later, I was approached by senior German officials from different government organizations, who thanked me for saying what they are unable to say. But the Polish prime minister was neither confused nor impressed, and didn’t even offer me any sympathy. He is faced by a man with a lump in his throat talking about how his family was exterminated in the Holocaust, and he stares as me at if he is examining some kind of nuisance.

“It’s extremely important to first understand that of course it’s not going to be punishable or seen as a crime to say that there were Polish perpetrators as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian and Ukrainian perpetrators, not only German perpetrators,” he replied.

“There were no Polish death camps, there were no Polish concentration camps. There were German Nazi death camps. The mere fact that we have to explain it today stems from our history. We cannot agree with mixing perpetrators with victims.”

These comments left me flabbergasted. My eyes were filled with tears of pain and rage. I was glad I had at least helped reveal his true colors with my question.

“I believe there is no better closure than what you did today for mother and the score she had to settle with the Poles. It’s a shame she didn’t get to see it,” my sister, Liora Houbara, wrote me after watching the broadcast from the conference.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia


In case you’ve lost track… (& Putin’s private army)

February 16, 2018



The Parkland school shootings on Valentine’s Day were the 30th (or 32nd) mass shooting in the US so far in 2018. In some respects, the NRA seems to me to be as much a danger as any external threat to US citizens, and I find it disturbing that politicians whom I admire in other respects (including Marco Rubio and John McCain) take so much money from the NRA.

US law can be absurd: The 19-year-old murderer was legally allowed to buy guns, but was not allowed to buy a beer for another two years.

On a side note, family friends of shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg (whose smile was said to light up a room) who subscribe to this Mideast list, point out to me that Jaime’s uncle died a few weeks ago as a result of helping 9/11 victims.

This dispatch, however, concerns the ever more dangerous situation in Syria. I have sent so many dispatches on the war in Syria these past seven years that I decided to lead with a photo (in this case a cartoon) about something else -- Tom Gross:

 

IN CASE YOU’VE LOST TRACK…

[Note by Tom Gross]

Syria’s war has entered a new and even more dangerous phase.

Many people have lost interest in the war in Syria. But they shouldn’t. In the space of a week, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign, backed up by an Iranian-orchestrated ground offensive, has massacred hundreds of Syrian civilians in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. As I have pointed out in previous dispatches, 400,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta, remain trapped and many are starving under the Assad-Iranian siege, which the world’s media barely bother to mention. And over two million more Syrians are under the Iranian-orchestrated siege in Idlib province.

 

“THE FIRST TIME A LARGE NUMBER OF ARMED RUSSIAN CITIZENS WERE KILLED SINCE 1920”

At the same time, the conflict is becoming increasingly international. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov sums up the last few days:

The Russian-backed Syrian regime gave free passage through its territory to American-backed Kurdish militias so they could fight against America’s NATO ally Turkey.

The Syrian regime at the same time attacked these American-backed Kurdish militias in another part of the country, triggering U.S. strikes that killed more than 100 Syrian troops and a significant number of Russian military contractors.

In yet another part of Syria, Turkey threatened to attack American troops embedded with these Kurdish forces, prompting a counterwarning of an American military response.

Russia, meanwhile, stood by and didn’t use the vaunted S-400 air-defense system it had deployed to Syria as Israeli bombing raids wiped out as much as half of Syria’s own air defense capabilities.

Moscow also remained determinedly silent over the Russian deaths in U.S. strikes, the first time a large number of armed Russian citizens were killed since 1920.

Let’s see…Russia also lost a military jet (to a missile fired by Syrian rebels who cooperate with Turkey), as did Israel (to a Syrian regime missile), while Turkey had a helicopter shot down (by a Kurdish missile) and Iran a drone (by an Israeli chopper.)

 

PUTIN’S PRIVATE ARMY IN SYRIA

The third piece attached below reveals Putin’s private army in Syria: 3,000 Russians mercenaries under contract to the Wagner group are fighting in Syria, backing up tens of thousands of Iranian-orchestrated foreign Shia militias helping Assad on the ground.

In the fourth and final piece below, Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times:

Two weeks ago, standing on the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights, I wrote a column positing that this frontier was the “second most dangerous” war zone in the world today – after the Korean Peninsula. Your honor, I’d like to revise and amend that column.

Having watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched last week into the stadium together in a love fest; and having also watched Israel shoot down an Iranian drone from Syria, bomb an Iranian base in Syria and lose one of its own F-16s to a Syrian missile; and after U.S. jets killed a bunch of Russian “contractors” who got too close to our forces in Syria, I now think the Syria-Israel-Lebanon front is the most dangerous corner in the world.

Where else can you find Syrian, Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish troops or advisers squaring off on the ground and in the air – along with pro-Iranian Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters from northern Syria; ISIS remnants; various pro-Saudi and pro-Jordanian anti-Syrian regime Sunni rebels and – I am not making this up – pro-Syrian regime Russian Orthodox Cossack “contractors” who went to Syria to defend Mother Russia from “crazy barbarians” – all rubbing against one another?


CONTENTS

1. “As Alliances Shift, Syria’s Tangle of Wars Grows More Dangerous” (By Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall St Journal, Feb. 15, 2018)
2. “Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created” (Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2018)
3. “Putin’s private army in Syria: Officially illegal, the Kremlin denies it, but the evidence is in the numbers” (Haaretz, Reuters, AP, Feb. 15, 2018)
4. “Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It” (By Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Feb. 14, 2018)

 

ARTICLES

SYRIA’S TANGLE OF WARS GROWS MORE DANGEROUS STILL

As Alliances Shift, Syria’s Tangle of Wars Grows More Dangerous
As multiple actors raise the stakes, the potential has grown for a disastrous miscalculation
By Yaroslav Trofimov (Analysis)
Wall Street Journal
Feb. 15, 2018

The Russian-backed Syrian regime gave free passage through its territory to American-backed Kurdish militias so they could fight against America’s NATO ally Turkey.

The Syrian regime at the same time attacked these American-backed Kurdish militias in another part of the country, triggering U.S. strikes that killed more than 100 Syrian troops and a significant number of Russian military contractors.

In yet another part of Syria, Turkey threatened to attack American troops embedded with these Kurdish forces, prompting a counterwarning of an American military response.

Russia, meanwhile, stood by and didn’t use the vaunted S-400 air-defense system it had deployed to Syria as Israeli bombing raids wiped out as much as half of Syria’s own air defense capabilities.

Moscow also remained determinedly silent over the Russian deaths in U.S. strikes, the first time a large number of armed Russian citizens were killed since 1920.

Let’s see…Russia also lost a military jet (to a missile fired by Syrian rebels who cooperate with Turkey), as did Israel (to a Syrian regime missile), while Turkey had a helicopter shot down (by a Kurdish missile) and Iran a drone (by an Israeli chopper.)

If you’ve lost track, welcome to the messy patchwork of foreign-power entanglements that Syria has become as its seven-year war enters a new – and more dangerous phase.

“What’s happening in Syria is a multidimensional conflict at this point,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East security fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “It’s become a fully regionalized conflict, and all the Syrian parties today act as a proxy for someone else.”

With so many actors ramping up involvement in Syria through fleeting alliances of convenience, the potential has grown for a disastrous miscalculation – and for the conflict to expand dramatically and beyond Syria’s borders, even though nobody seems to want it to.

The most obvious flashpoint is the U.S. relationship with Turkey, whose leaders are inflamed by U.S. support for the main Syrian Kurdish militia, known as YPG. The group is close to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an organization that both Ankara and Washington consider terrorist, and that has waged a bloody war on the Turkish state since the 1990s. (U.S. officials draw a distinction between YPG and PKK.)

As Turkish officials make clear in increasingly virulent statements, they are no longer prepared to tolerate American funding and support for their country’s existential enemy. Their immediate target: American forces advising the YPG that are deployed to the northern Syrian town of Manbij, shielding it from an assault by Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to parliament this week after American generals made a high-profile visit to Manbij and warned against any Turkish offensive, pledged to seize the town anyway.

“It’s quite clear that those who say they will respond aggressively if we strike have never had an Ottoman slap,” he thundered.

It might seem unthinkable that Turkish troops would strike American forces embedded with the YPG. Yet as body bags keep coming home from battles with YPG in Syria’s Afrin enclave, the level of anti-American rhetoric in Turkey has turned so high that rational calculations may no longer matter.

“Erdogan backed himself in by talking about going to Manbij so many times, it would be very hard for him to walk it back. If he doesn’t deliver, he will look weak,” said Gonul Tol, head of the Turkish center at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “If the U.S. cannot offer anything to him, the Manbij operation is possible.”

Russia and the U.S., too, are eyeing each other from opposing sides of a Syrian front line as Washington seeks to protect its area of influence, the part of Syria largely east of the Euphrates that YPG and its Arab allies have liberated from Islamic State with American assistance.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime wants to reclaim those territories, and on Feb. 7 sent a battalion-sized column to seize a critical gas plant near Deir Ezzour, east of the Euphrates.

While Russia’s official military didn’t take part in that offensive, hundreds of Russians employed by a private military contractor did. Many of these men previously fought in Russia’s “hybrid war” in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015, and it is an open secret that these mercenaries train at official Russian military bases and that their operations are intimately connected to Russia’s military and intelligence establishment. (Moscow denies official links with these “volunteers.”)

The Feb. 7 American strikes killed at least 11 of these Russian contractors, according to military sources cited by Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper; other Russian reports quoted a much higher number. So far, Moscow has played it down, the Kremlin spokesman saying Russia only focuses on its regular forces and isn’t keeping track of “other Russians who may be in Syria.”

If another deadly contact between Americans and Russians occurs in Syria, that cautious approach may no longer be feasible, warned Pavel Baev, a professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and a former analyst at the Soviet ministry of defense.

“Both sides are pretending that this incident had no importance, and the Russian government keeps denying the huge losses that are impossible to deny,” Mr. Baev said. “This approach may work for now, until something else happens. But the Syrian war is carrying on, and the risk of new uncontrolled developments is growing with every day.”

The issue of casualties – and their impact on policy – is exponentially more sensitive for another military power increasingly embroiled in the Syrian tangle: Israel.

The Syrian air defenses had a rare success in striking an Israeli F-16 jet on Feb. 10, but the plane crashed on Israeli soil, and its crew managed to eject over friendly territory. That allowed the conflagration to die down by the end of the day, once Israel completed a wave of retaliatory airstrikes against Syrian military targets.

It is easy to imagine what would have happened if the F-16 had crashed over regime territory and the pilots were captured alive. By now, the world would likely be trying to deal with a full-scale Israeli-Syrian war.

 

SYRIA’S FOUR-FRONT WAR AND THE UNPRECEDENTED CHAOS IT HAS CREATED

Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created
The Associated Press
February 14, 2018

Within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

***

As Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies push toward final victory and the fight against the Islamic State group draws to an end, new fronts have opened up, threatening an even broader confrontation among regional and world powers.

While large areas of the country have stabilized, giving the impression of a war that is winding down, violence has exploded in other areas with renewed ferocity, killing and injuring hundreds of people in a new and unpredictable spiral of bloodshed. The United States, Israel and Turkey all have deepened their involvement, seeking to protect their interests in the new Syria order.

The recent chaos has been exceptional: within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held enclaves of Eastern Ghouta and in the northern province of Idlib, amid accusations that the Syrian government is once again using toxic agents such as chlorine against its opponents.

In the east, the U.S. military launched rare airstrikes on pro-government fighters following a coordinated assault on U.S.-backed forces accompanied by U.S. advisers. That has increased fears that American troops meant to fight Islamic State militants increasingly are being dragged into the war.

Over the weekend, a battle erupted along Syria’s border with Israel, which shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace before one of its own fighter jets was downed by Syrian air defense missiles. It was the most serious flare-up between the neighbors since fighting began in Syria in 2011.

All this happened while Turkey’s air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria rages on with no end in sight.

“The specter of the world’s worst civil war in decades is becoming demonstrably worse by the week – and even more complicated by the actions of outside forces – creating a perfect storm of chaos and suffering in Syria,” the Soufan Center said in an analysis of the situation.

Here is a look at some of the new and old fronts in Syria’s war:

TURKEY’S WAR ON THE KURDS

Turkey opened a new front in Syria’s nearly 7-year-old war on Jan. 20, launching an offensive against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia in the northwestern enclave of Afrin. It is the latest effort by Turkey to limit Kurdish expansion along its border with Syria and aims to drive out the militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a “terrorist” organization.

The Turkish campaign has strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, which has partnered with the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey’s president is threatening to expand the offensive east, toward the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops maintain bases, while U.S. officials accuse Turkey of hampering the fight against IS with its Afrin operation.

Residents speak of a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation, adding that medical supplies are running low. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says around 80 civilians have been killed so far, along with more than 160 Kurdish fighters. Turkey says it has lost 31 soldiers in the slow-moving offensive.

ASSAD’S WAR ON THE REBELS

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, have in the past two weeks dramatically escalated attacks on two of the largest and most important remaining opposition-held areas, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria and on Eastern Ghouta, a besieged area near the capital of Damascus.

The sprawling region, where rebels launch rockets on Damascus, has been a particular thorn in the government’s side for years, and Assad appears determined to recapture it at all costs.

The recent violence has left hundreds dead and wounded amid relentless airstrikes that have transformed the besieged area into a death trap. In Idlib, the bombardment has hit hospitals and created yet another wave of displaced civilians.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Saturday for urgent international action, saying the past week in Syria “has been one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

The commissioner said the “no-holds-barred nature” of the assault included attacks on nine medical facilities and the death of 277 civilians between Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. There were also reports of the government using toxic agents in residential areas.

In Eastern Ghouta, nearly 400,000 residents are trapped by the violence and a tightening government siege. At least 2 million people live In Idlib, the largest area controlled by the opposition.

ISRAEL’S WAR ON IRAN

The downing of an Israeli fighter jet this weekend by Syrian air defenses suggest yet another frontier in the conflict is opening up, risking a wider and possibly regional conflagration.

Israel, which has struck targets inside Syria more than a 100 times in the course of Syria’s war, with raids often launched from neighboring Lebanon’s airspace, has been warning of an Iranian buildup in Syria for months, vowing to prevent Tehran from building bases near its border. On Saturday, Israel’s military said it shot down an Iranian drone that took off from a base in Syria and infiltrated Israeli airspace. It carried out about 12 strikes targeting Syrian army and Iranian sites in Syria before Syrian air defenses shot down an F-16, marking the first time an Israeli jet was downed since 1982.

According to the Syrian government and its allies, the downing of the Israeli jet signals new rules of engagement in Syria, following more than 100 Israeli strikes that went without any retaliation.

“The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park. This has the potential to turn into a regional war,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

U.S. WAR ON ISIS

The U.S. policy in Syria has always been vague and often inconsistent. But earlier this year, U.S. officials confirmed Washington’s intention to keep troops indefinitely in northern Syria even after the defeat of IS. The U.S. says it seeks to prevent an IS resurgence as well as to counter Iranian influence in Syria.

But as IS shrinks, the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria find themselves caught in a highly unpredictable and shifting battlefield, as demonstrated by an unexpected attack by pro-Assad fighters on U.S.-backed forces who were accompanied by U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour.

The U.S. responded with a deadly barrage of bombs and artillery that U.S. officials say killed about 100 of the attackers. Russian news reports said Tuesday that an unknown number of private military contractors from Russia were among the dead, illustrating the risks foreign forces face on Syria’s crowded battlefields.

Many of the U.S. troops in Syria are operating with local, Kurdish-dominated allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern oil-producing Deir el-Zour region along the Euphrates River. The area had been a stronghold of IS militants until late last year.

But they are competing for control of Deir el-Zour with Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias.

Keeping U.S. forces in areas that Assad’s government hopes to reclaim inherently increases the probability of more clashes.

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of trying to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria.

 

PUTIN’S PRIVATE ARMY IN SYRIA

Putin’s private army in Syria: Officially illegal, the Kremlin denies it, but the evidence is in the numbers
The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015

(This article appeared in Haaretz but is a joint piece by Haaretz, Reuters, AP)

Feb. 15, 2018

A Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday he could not rule out that there were Russian civilians in Syria, but that they had no connection to the Russian armed forces.

Associates of Russian military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province on Feb. 7.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking on a conference call with reporters, said he had no information about any such casualties.

Officially, private military companies are illegal in Russia. Putin himself voiced support for them before, in April 2012, Putin suggested the need for “an instrument in the pursuit of national interests without the direct participation of the state,” continuing, “I believe that it should be considered, thought over.”

The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015, months before Russias two-year military campaign helped to turn the tide of the civil war in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

When Putin went to a Russian air base in Syria on Monday and told Russian troops that you are coming back home with victory, he did not mention the private contractors. Russian troops are expected to remain in Syria for years while the contractors are likely to stay to guard lucrative oil and gas fields under a contract between the Syrian government and another Russian company allegedly linked to a businessman known as Putins chef for his close ties to the Kremlin.

Russia has used such proxies before – in the conflict to help pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014. One Russian commander boasted of working alongside Russian troops who said they were on vacation while fighting in Ukraine.

As of December 2017, the Defense Ministry has refused to say how many of its troops are in Syria, although one estimate based on absentee ballots cast in the Russian parliamentary election last year indicated 4,300 personnel were deployed there. That number probably rose this year because Moscow sent Russian military police to patrol de-escalation zones.

The Russian people are not very enthused by the idea of an empire that would involve their boys coming home in body bags. Theres clearly a lack enthusiasm for this conflict, said Mark Galeotti, senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

The Russian parliament is working on a bill to regulate private military companies, a senior lawmaker said Wednesday after reports that an unknown number of Russian military contractors were killed in a U.S. strike in Syria.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defense committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, said the government needs to oversee private military contractors.

“The state must be directly involved in issues related to the life and health of our citizens,” he said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

 

IN THE SPACE OF A SINGLE WEEK

Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It
By Thomas Friedman (Opinion)
New York Times
Feb. 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, standing on the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights, I wrote a column positing that this frontier was the “second most dangerous” war zone in the world today – after the Korean Peninsula. Your honor, I’d like to revise and amend that column.

Having watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched last week into the stadium together in a love fest; and having also watched Israel shoot down an Iranian drone from Syria, bomb an Iranian base in Syria and lose one of its own F-16s to a Syrian missile; and after U.S. jets killed a bunch of Russian “contractors” who got too close to our forces in Syria, I now think the Syria-Israel-Lebanon front is the most dangerous corner in the world.

Where else can you find Syrian, Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish troops or advisers squaring off on the ground and in the air – along with pro-Iranian Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters from northern Syria; ISIS remnants; various pro-Saudi and pro-Jordanian anti-Syrian regime Sunni rebels and – I am not making this up – pro-Syrian regime Russian Orthodox Cossack “contractors” who went to Syria to defend Mother Russia from “crazy barbarians” – all rubbing against one another?

As The Washington Post pointed out, “In the space of a single week last week, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel lost aircraft to hostile fire” in Syria.

The term “powder keg” was invented for this place. And the term “3-D battlefield” doesn’t even begin to capture its complexity. It is a multidimensional battlefield that requires a quantum computer to sort out the myriad number of actors, shifting alliances and lines of conflict.

But if this story has crept up on you and left you confused as to what U.S. policy should be, let me try to untangle it for you.

The bad news and the good news about the war in Syria is that all the parties involved are guided by one iron rule: You don’t want to “own” this war. This is the ultimate rent-a-war. Each party wants to maximize its interests and minimize the influence of its rivals by putting as few of its own soldiers at risk and instead fighting for its goals through air power, mercenaries and local rebels.

They’ve all learned – Russia from Afghanistan, Iran from the Iran-Iraq war, Israel from south Lebanon, and the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan – that their publics will not tolerate large numbers of body bags fighting any ground war in the Middle East.

Vladimir Putin wants to be able to tell Russians that “Russia is back” as a superpower and that he’s the kingmaker in Syria – but he isn’t putting any Russian soldiers at risk. Instead, Putin is using Iran to provide ground forces and enlisting contractors, like those Cossacks from a private Russian company named Wagner, to fight and die – as dozens did the other day in a U.S. airstrike – on the ground.

Iran, which just witnessed an uprising by its own people, demanding that Tehran spend its money at home, not in Syria, is subcontracting the ground war that Russia subcontracted to Iran to Iran’s proxies – Hezbollah and various Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This way Iran can control Damascus and use Syria as a forward base to put pressure on Israel but pay “wholesale,” not “retail.”

U.S. Special Forces are arming and advising Kurdish fighters from northern Syria to carry out the ground war against ISIS. Turkey is using Sunni rebels to fight the same Kurds. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan all use various Sunni rebels to fight the pro-Iranian, pro-Shiite regime forces, and Israel is using the long arm of its air force.

In 2003 I wrote a column in the run-up to the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein, which I supported, in which I warned: “The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq.”

So in Syria today, the abiding rule is, “You own it, you fix it.” And because no one wants to own responsibility for fixing Syria – a gargantuan project – they all want to just rent their influence there.

There is something very 21st century about this war.

But this is distressing. It means none of the local parties has enough power, resources – or willingness to compromise – to stabilize Syria from the bottom up, and none of the external parties is ready to invest enough power and resources to stabilize it from the top down.

The “good news,” sort of, is that because everyone is so “loss averse” in Syria, it’s less likely that any party will get too reckless. The Iranians and Hezbollah will most likely continue to prod and poke Israel, but not to such a degree that the Israelis do what they are capable of doing, which is to devastate every Hezbollah neighborhood in Lebanon and hit Iran’s homeland with rockets; Israel knows that its high-tech corridor along its coastal plain would be devastated by Iranian rockets coming back.

The Turks don’t want a war with America. America doesn’t want a war with Russia, and the Russians just want to siphon off as much oil as they can from Syria, and use it as a base and an ego booster, without clashing with anyone – because they are much weaker than they look.

Maybe, eventually, the players will get tired and forge a power-sharing accord in Syria, as the Lebanese eventually did in 1989 to end their civil war. Alas, though, it took the Lebanese 14 years to come to their senses. So get ready for a lot more news from Syria.

 

* You can also find other items not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Not one of the Spice Girls: “Without parallel in the contemporary world”

February 14, 2018

If you are part of the family that runs the world’s most oppressive state and locks up much of its own population in slave labor camps, it seems many western journalists will gasp in admiration

 

CONTENTS

1. The cult of celebrity becomes especially dangerous when applied to the Kim dynasty
2. Not one of the Spice Girls
3. Her day job
4. Defending the indefensible: Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and Otto Warmbier
5. “The media should stop fawning over Kim Jong Un’s sister. She’s an emissary of a vicious regime” (By Max Boot, Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2018)
6. “Kim Yo Jong is a Twisted Sister. She holds a key post in Pyongyang’s fearsome and brutal Propaganda and Agitation Department” (By Claudia Rosett, Wall St Journal, Feb. 14, 2018)

 

THE CULT OF CELEBRITY BECOMES ESPECIALLY DANGEROUS WHEN APPLIED TO THE KIM DYNASTY

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is one of an occasional series of dispatches that doesn’t concern the Middle East, though it does concern the media.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become friends with a number of North Korean exiles and dissidents that I’ve met over the years when I was speaking on the Middle East at international human right conferences. The suffering they have described is horrific. (In the past, I have criticized the media, in particular the New York Times, for all but ignoring human rights in North Korea.)

I attach two pieces, one from yesterday’s Washington Post, the other from today’s Wall Street Journal. (Both are by subscribers to this list.) There are extracts first, and then a short note on anti-Israel, pro-North Korean regime western academics and writers.

 

EXTRACTS

NOT ONE OF THE SPICE GIRLS

Max Boot writes:

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the despot Kim Jong Un, is being treated as if she were one of the Spice Girls. A headline blared: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.” One article claimed: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.” Another declared: “They marveled at her barely-there makeup and her lack of bling. They commented on her plain black outfits and simple purse. They noted the flower-shaped clip that kept her hair back in a no-nonsense style.” …

The breathless coverage given to Kim Yo Jong’s visit is not only vapid, it is dangerous and disgusting. This is the modern-day equivalent of celebrating Paula Hitler, Adolf’s sister, or Joseph Stalin’s children, except that Kim Yo Jong is more complicit in totalitarianism than they were.

A UN Commission of Inquiry in 2014 that concluded that North Korea is guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation… The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

 

HER DAY JOB

Claudia Rosett writes:

Ms. Kim, with her freckles and enigmatic smile, is a trained and trusted royal brainwasher for a family regime whose court is built on totalitarian lies. Her admirers in the media ought to be impressed by the professionalism with which she snookered them…

Missing from most of the media coverage was any detail about Ms. Kim’s day job in Pyongyang. In North Korea this kid sister has served under Big Brother as a deputy director of the powerful and omnipresent Propaganda and Agitation Department. She has apparently racked up a record so stellar that last year the U.S. Treasury blacklisted her as a top North Korean official tied to “notorious abuses of human rights.” …

A detailed report published last year by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, described the Propaganda and Agitation Department as playing “a key role in justifying Kim family rule through domestic and external propaganda.” They added that entire families may be punished if one member is suspected of dissent. The aim is to ensure the survival, glorification and total power of the Kim regime and its hereditary tyrant.

That’s the training and family tradition behind Ms. Kim’s visit to South Korea. Her delegation included plenty of backup, such as Choe Hwi, a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department who has been blacklisted by the U.S. (and the U.N.) for human-rights abuses. The Treasury noted that Mr. Choe “has reportedly been responsible for maintaining ideological purity.” Currently he is chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

 

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE: HITLER, STALIN AND MAO, AND OTTO WARMBIER

Tom Gross adds:

Just as plenty of western academics defended Hitler, Stalin and Mao, there are some American and west European professors who defend the North Korean regime – and as I have pointed out, they tend to be the very same ones who are the leading lights of anti-Israel movements on campus.

For example, I wrote in this dispatch about virulent anti-Israel activist Kathy Dettwyler, a professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, who wrote that young American-Jewish student Otto Warmbier, who went on a tourist trip to North Korea while on a study abroad program in China, only be arrested on fabricated charges of taking down a poster, tortured, and returned brain dead last year by North Korea, “got exactly what he deserved”.

In another dispatch last year, I pointed out that North Korea was hosting French Muslim anti-Semitic “comedian” Dieudonné whose “jokes” mock and deride Holocaust victims, and, Franco-Swiss author and director Alain Soral, a former communist who was then kicked out of the French far-right National Front for his repeated extreme anti-Semitism, including saying “Hitler should have finished the job”.


ARTICLES

THE MEDIA SHOULD STOP FAWNING OVER KIM JONG UN’S SISTER. SHE’S AN EMISSARY OF A VICIOUS REGIME

The media should stop fawning over Kim Jong Un’s sister. She’s an emissary of a vicious regime.
By Max Boot
The Washington Post
February 13, 2018

As far back as 1962, the historian and author Daniel J. Boorstin lamented the replacement of real news with the “pseudo-event,” a “synthetic novelty” manufactured by “round-the-clock media,” as well as the replacement of the hero – someone such as Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare or George Washington “who has shown greatness in some achievement” – with the “celebrity,” whom the author described as “a person who is well known for his well-known-ness.” Little could Boorstin have imagined that pseudo-events and celebrities would take over not just our culture but also our politics.

After years of drowning in coverage of Princess Diana, Madonna, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, “The Real Housewives,” Kate Middleton and, of course, the Kardashians, it was only natural that voters would select a reality-television star as president. The cult of celebrity, having already disfigured our domestic politics, is now infecting foreign policy as well.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the despot Kim Jong Un, is being treated as if she were one of the Spice Girls. A headline blared: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.” One article claimed: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.” Another declared: “They marveled at her barely-there makeup and her lack of bling. They commented on her plain black outfits and simple purse. They noted the flower-shaped clip that kept her hair back in a no-nonsense style.”

Poor Vice President Pence. After agreeing to play second fiddle to a third-rate celebrity in the White House, he found himself at the Olympics overshadowed by someone who makes President Trump look like an intellectual and moral giant. The breathless coverage given to Kim Yo Jong’s visit – the first by a member of the royal Kim clan to the South – is not only vapid, it is dangerous and disgusting. This is the modern-day equivalent of celebrating Paula Hitler, Adolf’s sister, or Joseph Stalin’s children, except that Kim Yo Jong is more complicit in totalitarianism than they were.

The United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concluded in 2014 that the North is guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” As the UN experts put it: “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

The report goes on to detail a sickening litany of abuse. To take one example at random, consider the actions of the State Security Department, North Korea’s secret police: “In August 2011, SSD agents arrested the 17-year old son of the witness in Hoeryoung City, North Hamgyong Province for watching South Korean movies. He was so badly tortured that his left ankle was shattered and his face was bruised and grossly disfigured. The SSD only released him after the family raised a large bribe. Shortly after his release, the boy died from a brain hemorrhage from which he suffered as a result of the beatings endured under interrogation.”

Far from making this system more humane, Kim Jong Un has added some perverse touches of his own. He has ordered the executions of his own uncle and half-brother – in the latter case using a weapon of mass destruction (the deadly nerve agent VX) at a busy international airport. He also reportedly had his own defense minister blown apart with anti-aircraft guns for falling asleep during one of his harangues.

None of this is a reason for Trump to preemptively attack North Korea because it is developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the United States. Deterrence and containment are the right way to deal with the North, just as we have dealt with the far bigger threat from Russia for decades. But nor should revulsion at Trump’s saber-rattling lead anyone to go to the opposite extreme and imagine that North Korea is a possible partner for peace.

The only reason Kim Jong Un is reaching out to South Korea – he has offered to host President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang – is to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. The Kim family strategy has remained unchanged since the 1950s: Convince the United States to remove its troops from South Korea, and coerce the South into reunification on the North’s terms. In other words, extend the gulag across the entire Korean Peninsula.

It is pathetic to see so much of the media play into Kim’s evil hands with breathless coverage of his little sister at the Winter Olympics – a “pseudo-event” if there was one.

 

KIM YO JONG IS A TWISTED SISTER

Kim Yo Jong is a Twisted Sister
She holds a key post in Pyongyang’s fearsome and brutal Propaganda and Agitation Department.
By Claudia Rosett
The Wall Street Journal
Feb. 14, 2018

Who is Kim Yo Jong ? “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics,” declared a CNN.com headline. This princess of Pyongyang received a royal welcome from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. He seated her in his VIP box, near Vice President Mike Pence, for the opening ceremony. He hosted her for lunch at the presidential Blue House, where she delivered him an invitation for a summit with Mr. Kim. The resulting Reuters headline: “North Korea heading for diplomacy gold medal at the Olympics.”

Missing from most of the media coverage was any detail about Ms. Kim’s day job in Pyongyang. In North Korea this kid sister has served under Big Brother as a deputy director of the powerful and omnipresent Propaganda and Agitation Department. She has apparently racked up a record so stellar that last year the U.S. Treasury blacklisted her as a top North Korean official tied to “notorious abuses of human rights.” Mr. Kim gave her an alternate seat on his politburo.

In blacklisting Ms. Kim, the Treasury specified that her department “controls all media in the country, which the government uses to control the public.” That’s an understatement. The Propaganda and Agitation Department’s mission is to control not only media but minds – to indoctrinate all North Koreans, at all levels, in the absolute supremacy of Kim Jong Un and his Workers’ Party.

A 2014 report by a special United Nations commission on human rights in North Korea found that “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” That entails a pervasive normalization of evil. Any deviation is suppressed via imprisonment, torture and execution. The commission found the regime carries out crimes against humanity on a scale “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

In a detailed report published last year by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh described the Propaganda and Agitation Department as playing “a key role in justifying Kim family rule through domestic and external propaganda.” They added that entire families may be punished if one member is suspected of dissent. The aim is to ensure the survival, glorification and total power of the Kim regime and its hereditary tyrant.

That’s the training and family tradition behind Ms. Kim’s visit to South Korea. Her delegation included plenty of backup, such as Choe Hwi, a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department who has been blacklisted by the U.S. (and the U.N.) for human-rights abuses. The Treasury noted that Mr. Choe “has reportedly been responsible for maintaining ideological purity.” Currently he is chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

Ms. Kim, with her freckles and enigmatic smile, is a trained and trusted royal brainwasher for a family regime whose court is built on totalitarian lies. Her admirers in the media ought to be impressed by the professionalism with which she snookered them.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Not one of the Spice Girls: “Without parallel in the contemporary world”

If you are part of the family that runs the world’s most oppressive state and locks up much of its own population in slave labor camps, it seems many western journalists will gasp in admiration

 

CONTENTS

1. The cult of celebrity becomes especially dangerous when applied to the Kim dynasty
2. Not one of the Spice Girls
3. Her day job
4. Defending the indefensible: Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and Otto Warmbier
5. “The media should stop fawning over Kim Jong Un’s sister. She’s an emissary of a vicious regime” (By Max Boot, Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2018)
6. “Kim Yo Jong is a Twisted Sister. She holds a key post in Pyongyang’s fearsome and brutal Propaganda and Agitation Department” (By Claudia Rosett, Wall St Journal, Feb. 14, 2018)

 

THE CULT OF CELEBRITY BECOMES ESPECIALLY DANGEROUS WHEN APPLIED TO THE KIM DYNASTY

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is one of an occasional series of dispatches that doesn’t concern the Middle East, though it does concern the media.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become friends with a number of North Korean exiles and dissidents that I’ve met over the years when I was speaking on the Middle East at international human right conferences. The suffering they have described is horrific. (In the past, I have criticized the media, in particular the New York Times, for all but ignoring human rights in North Korea.)

I attach two pieces, one from yesterday’s Washington Post, the other from today’s Wall Street Journal. (Both are by subscribers to this list.) There are extracts first, and then a short note on anti-Israel, pro-North Korean regime western academics and writers.

 

EXTRACTS

NOT ONE OF THE SPICE GIRLS

Max Boot writes:

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the despot Kim Jong Un, is being treated as if she were one of the Spice Girls. A headline blared: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.” One article claimed: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.” Another declared: “They marveled at her barely-there makeup and her lack of bling. They commented on her plain black outfits and simple purse. They noted the flower-shaped clip that kept her hair back in a no-nonsense style.” …

The breathless coverage given to Kim Yo Jong’s visit is not only vapid, it is dangerous and disgusting. This is the modern-day equivalent of celebrating Paula Hitler, Adolf’s sister, or Joseph Stalin’s children, except that Kim Yo Jong is more complicit in totalitarianism than they were.

A UN Commission of Inquiry in 2014 that concluded that North Korea is guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation… The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

 

HER DAY JOB

Claudia Rosett writes:

Ms. Kim, with her freckles and enigmatic smile, is a trained and trusted royal brainwasher for a family regime whose court is built on totalitarian lies. Her admirers in the media ought to be impressed by the professionalism with which she snookered them…

Missing from most of the media coverage was any detail about Ms. Kim’s day job in Pyongyang. In North Korea this kid sister has served under Big Brother as a deputy director of the powerful and omnipresent Propaganda and Agitation Department. She has apparently racked up a record so stellar that last year the U.S. Treasury blacklisted her as a top North Korean official tied to “notorious abuses of human rights.” …

A detailed report published last year by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, described the Propaganda and Agitation Department as playing “a key role in justifying Kim family rule through domestic and external propaganda.” They added that entire families may be punished if one member is suspected of dissent. The aim is to ensure the survival, glorification and total power of the Kim regime and its hereditary tyrant.

That’s the training and family tradition behind Ms. Kim’s visit to South Korea. Her delegation included plenty of backup, such as Choe Hwi, a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department who has been blacklisted by the U.S. (and the U.N.) for human-rights abuses. The Treasury noted that Mr. Choe “has reportedly been responsible for maintaining ideological purity.” Currently he is chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

 

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE: HITLER, STALIN AND MAO, AND OTTO WARMBIER

Tom Gross adds:

Just as plenty of western academics defended Hitler, Stalin and Mao, there are some American and west European professors who defend the North Korean regime – and as I have pointed out, they tend to be the very same ones who are the leading lights of anti-Israel movements on campus.

For example, I wrote in this dispatch about virulent anti-Israel activist Kathy Dettwyler, a professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, who wrote that young American-Jewish student Otto Warmbier, who went on a tourist trip to North Korea while on a study abroad program in China, only be arrested on fabricated charges of taking down a poster, tortured, and returned brain dead last year by North Korea, “got exactly what he deserved”.

In another dispatch last year, I pointed out that North Korea was hosting French Muslim anti-Semitic “comedian” Dieudonné whose “jokes” mock and deride Holocaust victims, and, Franco-Swiss author and director Alain Soral, a former communist who was then kicked out of the French far-right National Front for his repeated extreme anti-Semitism, including saying “Hitler should have finished the job”.


ARTICLES

THE MEDIA SHOULD STOP FAWNING OVER KIM JONG UN’S SISTER. SHE’S AN EMISSARY OF A VICIOUS REGIME

The media should stop fawning over Kim Jong Un’s sister. She’s an emissary of a vicious regime.
By Max Boot
The Washington Post
February 13, 2018

As far back as 1962, the historian and author Daniel J. Boorstin lamented the replacement of real news with the “pseudo-event,” a “synthetic novelty” manufactured by “round-the-clock media,” as well as the replacement of the hero – someone such as Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare or George Washington “who has shown greatness in some achievement” – with the “celebrity,” whom the author described as “a person who is well known for his well-known-ness.” Little could Boorstin have imagined that pseudo-events and celebrities would take over not just our culture but also our politics.

After years of drowning in coverage of Princess Diana, Madonna, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, “The Real Housewives,” Kate Middleton and, of course, the Kardashians, it was only natural that voters would select a reality-television star as president. The cult of celebrity, having already disfigured our domestic politics, is now infecting foreign policy as well.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the despot Kim Jong Un, is being treated as if she were one of the Spice Girls. A headline blared: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.” One article claimed: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.” Another declared: “They marveled at her barely-there makeup and her lack of bling. They commented on her plain black outfits and simple purse. They noted the flower-shaped clip that kept her hair back in a no-nonsense style.”

Poor Vice President Pence. After agreeing to play second fiddle to a third-rate celebrity in the White House, he found himself at the Olympics overshadowed by someone who makes President Trump look like an intellectual and moral giant. The breathless coverage given to Kim Yo Jong’s visit – the first by a member of the royal Kim clan to the South – is not only vapid, it is dangerous and disgusting. This is the modern-day equivalent of celebrating Paula Hitler, Adolf’s sister, or Joseph Stalin’s children, except that Kim Yo Jong is more complicit in totalitarianism than they were.

The United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concluded in 2014 that the North is guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” As the UN experts put it: “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

The report goes on to detail a sickening litany of abuse. To take one example at random, consider the actions of the State Security Department, North Korea’s secret police: “In August 2011, SSD agents arrested the 17-year old son of the witness in Hoeryoung City, North Hamgyong Province for watching South Korean movies. He was so badly tortured that his left ankle was shattered and his face was bruised and grossly disfigured. The SSD only released him after the family raised a large bribe. Shortly after his release, the boy died from a brain hemorrhage from which he suffered as a result of the beatings endured under interrogation.”

Far from making this system more humane, Kim Jong Un has added some perverse touches of his own. He has ordered the executions of his own uncle and half-brother – in the latter case using a weapon of mass destruction (the deadly nerve agent VX) at a busy international airport. He also reportedly had his own defense minister blown apart with anti-aircraft guns for falling asleep during one of his harangues.

None of this is a reason for Trump to preemptively attack North Korea because it is developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the United States. Deterrence and containment are the right way to deal with the North, just as we have dealt with the far bigger threat from Russia for decades. But nor should revulsion at Trump’s saber-rattling lead anyone to go to the opposite extreme and imagine that North Korea is a possible partner for peace.

The only reason Kim Jong Un is reaching out to South Korea – he has offered to host President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang – is to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. The Kim family strategy has remained unchanged since the 1950s: Convince the United States to remove its troops from South Korea, and coerce the South into reunification on the North’s terms. In other words, extend the gulag across the entire Korean Peninsula.

It is pathetic to see so much of the media play into Kim’s evil hands with breathless coverage of his little sister at the Winter Olympics – a “pseudo-event” if there was one.

 

KIM YO JONG IS A TWISTED SISTER

Kim Yo Jong is a Twisted Sister
She holds a key post in Pyongyang’s fearsome and brutal Propaganda and Agitation Department.
By Claudia Rosett
The Wall Street Journal
Feb. 14, 2018

Who is Kim Yo Jong ? “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics,” declared a CNN.com headline. This princess of Pyongyang received a royal welcome from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. He seated her in his VIP box, near Vice President Mike Pence, for the opening ceremony. He hosted her for lunch at the presidential Blue House, where she delivered him an invitation for a summit with Mr. Kim. The resulting Reuters headline: “North Korea heading for diplomacy gold medal at the Olympics.”

Missing from most of the media coverage was any detail about Ms. Kim’s day job in Pyongyang. In North Korea this kid sister has served under Big Brother as a deputy director of the powerful and omnipresent Propaganda and Agitation Department. She has apparently racked up a record so stellar that last year the U.S. Treasury blacklisted her as a top North Korean official tied to “notorious abuses of human rights.” Mr. Kim gave her an alternate seat on his politburo.

In blacklisting Ms. Kim, the Treasury specified that her department “controls all media in the country, which the government uses to control the public.” That’s an understatement. The Propaganda and Agitation Department’s mission is to control not only media but minds – to indoctrinate all North Koreans, at all levels, in the absolute supremacy of Kim Jong Un and his Workers’ Party.

A 2014 report by a special United Nations commission on human rights in North Korea found that “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” That entails a pervasive normalization of evil. Any deviation is suppressed via imprisonment, torture and execution. The commission found the regime carries out crimes against humanity on a scale “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

In a detailed report published last year by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh described the Propaganda and Agitation Department as playing “a key role in justifying Kim family rule through domestic and external propaganda.” They added that entire families may be punished if one member is suspected of dissent. The aim is to ensure the survival, glorification and total power of the Kim regime and its hereditary tyrant.

That’s the training and family tradition behind Ms. Kim’s visit to South Korea. Her delegation included plenty of backup, such as Choe Hwi, a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department who has been blacklisted by the U.S. (and the U.N.) for human-rights abuses. The Treasury noted that Mr. Choe “has reportedly been responsible for maintaining ideological purity.” Currently he is chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

Ms. Kim, with her freckles and enigmatic smile, is a trained and trusted royal brainwasher for a family regime whose court is built on totalitarian lies. Her admirers in the media ought to be impressed by the professionalism with which she snookered them.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

The good news about Gaza you will hear on Al Jazeera but not in the Western media

February 09, 2018


Above, a toy shop and shopping mall in Gaza, as shown in this Al-Jazeera report but not on the BBC or CNN. Al-Jazeera shows footage of bustling, well-stocked glitzy shopping malls, an impressive children’s water park (at 5.25 in the video), fancy restaurants, nice hotels, the crowded food markets, toy shops brimming with the latest plush toys (at 8.39 in the video).

Unlike those typically seen in European and American media reports from Gaza, in the Al-Jazeera video, almost no Palestinian interviewed even mentions Israel. Instead, they point primarily to the internal Palestinian political rift between Hamas and Fatah as being their main concern in terms of their businesses thriving. Israel barely gets a look in.

Meanwhile, as I point out in my article below, if the situation in Gaza is as bad as many Western journalists and diplomats claim, then why is Gaza’s life expectancy (74.2 years) now five years higher than the world average? It is higher than, for example, neighboring Egypt (73 years), and almost on the same level as wealthy Saudi Arabia -- and life expectancy is higher for men in Gaza than in some parts of Britain.

-- Tom Gross

 





 

THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT GAZA YOU WILL HEAR ON AL JAZEERA BUT NOT THE BBC

The good news about Gaza you will hear on Al Jazeera but not in the Western media
By Tom Gross
The Spectator magazine (London)
February 9, 2018

spectator.co.uk/2018/02/the-good-news-about-gaza-you-wont-hear-on-the-bbc

Donald Trump’s election as US president has meant the whole notion of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ is now very much part of a wider conversation. But for decades before the Trump era, more honest or open-minded journalists were aware that some of their colleagues often didn’t tell the whole truth about all kinds of matters, or cherry-picked what they reported. And perhaps no subject has been so misreported as the Palestinian issue.

Western media has often focused on this issue to the detriment of many other conflicts or independence movements throughout the world. The BBC, in particular, has devoted an inordinate amount of its budget and staff to covering the West Bank and Gaza in thousands of reports over the years. But you would be hard pressed to learn from the BBC’s coverage that, despite many difficulties, Gaza’s economy is also thriving in all kinds of ways.

To get a glimpse of that you would have to turn instead to this recent Al-Jazeera report from Gaza, showing footage of the bustling, well-stocked glitzy shopping malls, the impressive children’s water park (at 5.25 in the video), the fancy restaurants, the nice hotels, the crowded food markets, the toy shops brimming with the latest plush toys (at 8.39 in the video). (This video was translated into English by the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute ).

The West Bank also has good quality shopping malls and other prosperous aspects to it. And while, of course, there are also many poor people in Gaza – just as there are poor people in London, New York, Washington, Paris and Tel Aviv – this prosperity among Palestinians is not just for the wealthy. Much of the population enjoys the benefits of it in one way or other. None of this is new. I have written about it several times before, for example, here in 2009 for the Wall Street Journal.

Occasionally, other journalists have too. Peter Hitchens, writing from Gaza for the Mail on Sunday, calls it ‘the world’s most misrepresented location’ and talks of ‘enjoying a rather good café latte in an elegant beachfront café’ and visiting a ‘sparkling new Gaza Mall, and ... eat(ing) an excellent beef stroganoff in an elegant restaurant’.

Hitchens adds, in reference to the oft stated claim that Gaza is under siege: ‘Can anyone think of a siege in human history, from Syracuse to Leningrad, where the shops of the besieged city have been full of Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes, and where European Union and other foreign aid projects pour streams of cash (often yours) into the pockets of thousands?’

But the BBC (which remember is under a legal duty through its charter to be impartial) and most other mainstream media don’t show you any of this other side of Palestinian life. And unlike those typically seen in European and American media dispatches from Gaza, in the Al-Jazeera video, almost no Palestinian interviewed even mentions Israel. Instead, they point primarily to the internal Palestinian political rift between Hamas and Fatah as being their main concern in terms of their businesses thriving. Israel barely gets a look in. What’s more, contrary to widespread opinion, Al Jazeera also shows some women without headscarves in Gaza, including businesswomen.

I am not alone in thinking the BBC is not objective in its coverage. Even Lord Grade, the corporation’s former chairman, has accused the corporation of bias against Israel and said the BBC failed to give viewers ‘the wider context’ about the Palestinians.

This is not true of all BBC output: BBC Arabic will (like other Arabic language media) sometimes report on Gaza’s more prosperous side (see for example, this BBC Arabic report on restaurants in Gaza), in a way that most Western media (including the BBC in English) will not.

Yet many Western journalists (and some diplomats) seem bent on painting a distorted picture of everyday life in Gaza, in what can only be seen as an attempt to portray Israel as some kind of monster-oppressor. (With Israel demonised in this way, no wonder anti-Semitic feelings in Britain are now running at an all-time high).

If the situation in Gaza is as bad as many Western journalists and diplomats claim, then why is Gaza’s life expectancy (74.2 years) now five years higher than the world average? I don’t recall any Western reporter mentioning that life expectancy there is higher than, for example, in neighbouring Egypt (73 years). Indeed, life expectancy in Gaza is almost on the same level as wealthy Saudi Arabia, and higher for men than in some parts of Glasgow.

In recent years, it has been difficult to escape reports of the dire situation in Gaza; former US president and Nobel peace prize laureate Jimmy Carter, for example, told us that ‘the people in Gaza ... are literally starving’. Only three weeks ago, the lead front page story of the international edition of the New York Times contained further warnings about the risk of starvation. Meanwhile, Qatar’s own Al Jazeera is broadcasting analysis of the thriving consumer sector in Gaza’s economy, complete with restaurant owners discussing the expansion of their business to keep up with demand, and shots of plentiful fruit and vegetable markets.

It goes without saying that Israeli misdeeds (like Palestinian ones) should be fully reported on. But not in a way that is so out of context as to lead to a misguided view of the situation. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case, and has, in turn, resulted in bad-policy making among governments in recent years.

More could and should be done to develop Gaza economically. Indeed, last week the Israeli government laid out a plan to help assist in building infrastructure relating to desalination, electricity and natural gas for Gaza. Gaza also has considerable political problems, perhaps less so these days in relation to Israel (Israel withdrew all its troops and settlers from Gaza over a decade ago) and more because of the poor level of governance by Hamas and the intense Hamas-Fatah rivalry. But Gazans are hardly the worst off people in the world. Elsewhere in the Middle East, for example in Yemen, millions of people really are at risk of starvation. So why should the US (or European) taxpayer continue to give Gaza quite so much money to the detriment of other people around the world, including America’s own poor?

At a time when the Trump presidency is finally planning to scale back on the lavish, largely unaccountable US funding of the Palestinians – money which has, in part, been diverted to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, or promote and pay for terrorism – it would be a mistake for European governments (as they are promising) automatically to step in and give more money to the Palestinian Authority. Instead, they should join Trump’s efforts to make this aid conditional on the Palestinian leadership first agreeing to enter peace talks with Israel, which they have refused to do for almost a decade now. A much needed two-state solution would be easier to achieve if the Western media didn’t distort the situation on the ground.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia