New NATO member backs Macron on troops in Ukraine

The French president was right in his attempt to be “strategically ambiguous” on the issue, Finland’s foreign minister says

French President Emmanuel Macron has done the right thing with his efforts to maintain “strategic ambiguity” to keep Russia guessing whether the collective West may actually deploy troops to Ukraine or not, Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen has said.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Sunday, Valtonen backed the stance taken by France’s president on the deployment of troops to prop up Kiev against Moscow, arguing, however, that there was no pressing need to actually send them in.

“Now’s not the time to send boots on the ground, and we are not even willing to discuss it at this stage. But, for the long term, of course we shouldn’t be ruling anything out,” Valtonen stated.

The ambiguous approach to the issue exhibited by Paris is the right one, as it supposedly keeps Moscow guessing about the extent of the West’s support for Ukraine and about the willingness of NATO countries to actually enter the conflict with Russia, the minister suggested.

“Why would we, especially not knowing where this war will go and what happens in the future, disclose all our cards? I really wouldn’t know,” she argued.

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Another, smaller member of the US-led military bloc, Lithuania, has expressed a similar sentiment, with its PM Ingrida Simonyte also speaking highly of Macron’s purported effort to maintain “strategic ambiguity” with Russia.

“What I liked about two recent announcements of President Macron is that he said that actually why should we impose ourselves red lines when Putin basically has no red lines?” she told FT.

In recent weeks, Macron has repeatedly sent shockwaves throughout the whole US-led bloc, repeatedly making belligerent statements about the prospects of sending troops to Ukraine to fight Russia. The French president first touched on the matter late last month, stating that “we cannot exclude anything” and that the West “will do everything necessary to prevent Russia from winning this war.”

The remarks, which Macron described later on as having been “weighed, thought-through, and measured,” prompted a wave of denial from a vast majority of NATO states and from the bloc itself. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg publicly refuted the idea shortly after Macron’s initial statement, saying that no plans to deploy troops to Ukraine existed. Numerous Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have also denied the existence of such plans.

Store attacked for selling ‘Allah’ socks

The item seen as sacrilegious has caused outrage among Muslims in Malaysia

A Molotov Cocktail was thrown at a KK Super Mart, one of Malaysia’s major convenience-store chains, in a city in the east of the country on Saturday, according to police. The company’s top executives have been charged with hurting religious feelings, after its shops sold socks with Allah, the Arabic word for God, printed on them.

Two-thirds of the country’s population of 34-million are Malay muslims and, in Islam, the association of feet with God is deemed highly offensive. Photos of the controversial socks attracted widespread outrage online during the past weeks, also coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan. 

KK Super Mart, which is Malaysia’s second-largest chain of convenience stores, reportedly found 14 pairs of socks with ‘Allah’ imprinted on them, at three locations of its 881 outlets.

Saturday’s attack on one of its stores occurred in the city of Kuantan. Police said the incendiary device caused a small fire at the entrance and nobody was hurt, according to Reuters. City police chief Wan Mohamad Zahari Wan Busu told the news agency that he believes the attack could be linked to the socks, “but we are still investigating.”

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Another attack occurred last Tuesday, when a bottle filled with petrol was thrown into a KK Super Mart in Perak state, 100 kilometers north of the capital Kuala Lumpur, according to state media Bernama. That device failed to explode and there were no injuries, local newspaper China Press reported.

Last Tuesday, company CEO Chai Kee Kan, who is ethnic Chinese, and his wife Low Siew Mui, a company director, were charged with “deliberately intending to hurt … religious feelings.” Three representatives of the supplier Xin Jian Chang were also charged. All have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they could face up to a year in jail and a fine, or may receive a fine only. The hearing is set for the end of April.

KK Super Mart has apologized for the incident, saying it takes the matter “seriously” and has stopped the sale of the product, and that it has also sued the supplier. The supplier has also apologized, saying the “problematic socks” were inside a stack of thousands of pairs with different designs, which had been ordered from a China-based company.

According to the Star newspaper, KK Super Mart has put on display an apology note at its shops across the country.

The new King of Malaysia Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, in a rare royal rebuke, has called for ‘stern’ action against those found guilty, “whether this incident was intentional or otherwise, whether the socks were imported or produced in local factories.”

UK govt lawyers conclude Israel in breach of humanitarian law – media

British authorities, however, have apparently opted to keep the findings out of the public domain

Lawyers for the UK government have established Israel has been breaking humanitarian law amid its ongoing conflict in Gaza with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a senior Tory is claiming, according to leaked audio revealed by the Observer newspaper on Saturday.

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, made the remarks earlier this month during a Conservative Party fundraising event. “The Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law but the government has not announced it,” Kearns, a former official with the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, who has been pressing the government on the matter, said during the event.

The legal experts’ assessment effectively makes the UK complicit in the Israeli military’s violations, and defense cooperation should have been severed by London immediately after they produced their evaluation of the situation in Gaza.

“They have not said it, they haven’t stopped arms exports. They have done a few very small sanctions on Israeli settlers and everyone internationally agrees that settlers are illegal, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and the ways in which they have continued and the money that’s been put in,” Kearns stated.

During the event, Kearns insisted that she, like the UK Foreign Secretary James Cameron, strongly believes in Israel’s right to “self defense,” noting however that there were legal boundaries for exercising it.

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“The right to self defense has a limit in law. It is not limitless,” she explained, warning that Israel’s approach to handling the escalation may end up putting its own – and Britain’s – long-term security at risk.

The authenticity of the recordings obtained by the Observer appears beyond question, given that Kearns has been rather vocal about her position on the matter. On Saturday, she produced similar remarks as well, once again urging the government to make public its legal assessment of the Israeli actions.

“I remain convinced the government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment, which is the legal determination it has to make,” she stated, arguing that “transparency” was absolutely needed to “uphold the international rules-based order.”

Israel launched the operation in Gaza following an incursion by Hamas militants into the southern part of the country last October. During the attack, over 1,200 people were killed and scores of hostages were taken into Gaza. The Israeli campaign inflicted heavy damage on the Palestinian enclave, causing widespread destruction and leaving at least 32,000 people dead, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The 13-year-old war in Syria holds a warning for Ukraine

Once the US has its claws in a country, it won’t let go easily – and friend or foe, you’ll be left drained and broken

‘March Madness’ is such a NATO thing. The Western military alliance routinely kicks off conflicts in foreign countries during this particular month, most recently Serbia (1999), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), and Syria (2011). In that last case, it took a few years for the US to actually invade, but the sanctions and the covert support of anti-government forces began right away.

Remember Bashar Assad, the Syrian president who simply ‘had to go’, according to everyone from then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and then-Secretary of State John Kerry, to then-Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni Silveri. Whatever happened to Assad, anyway? Turns out that he’s still living a quiet life as president of Syria, and hardly ever finds his name being rolled around in the mouths of NATO’s regime change enthusiasts anymore.

Nearly a decade after mounting a propaganda campaign to support a US-led NATO invasion of the country, the State Department’s special envoy to the conflict, Ambassador James Jeffrey, confirmed in 2020 that the US was no longer seeking Assad’s ouster. Instead, he said, it wanted to see “a dramatic shift in behavior,” evoking Japan’s transformation in the wake of the US dropping a couple of bombs on it during World War II. 

That’s quite the policy shift. But it can be explained in exactly the same way that a guy who lusts after a girl and gets shot down suddenly starts telling people that he was never really into her anyway. The attitude changed because Washington had no choice. It had tried just about everything, and failed.

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The anti-Syrian propaganda, now virtually non-existent, had for years been relentless. We were told that Assad had simply lost control of the country, and that the US and its allies couldn’t risk having ISIS terrorists running around as a threat and trying to establish a caliphate in Syria because Assad simply wasn’t able to stop them. And whenever he did try, he was conveniently accused of humanitarian offenses. So of course, here comes Uncle Sam to ‘help’ get rid of ISIS, and also Assad – totally without any humanitarian issues, because American bombs aren’t like that.

In the process, the CIA and Pentagon spent billions of dollars training and equipping ‘Syrian rebels’, many of whom bailed out to join other jihadist groups, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda, taking their shiny new weapons with them. 

There’s a glaring parallel here with Ukraine, which risks following a similar trajectory with Western involvement and patronage. Even before the current conflict, the CIA-linked Freedom House and others had questioned the extent to which far-right extremists controlled the country. Major Western media outlets were publishing pieces referencing Ukraine’s neo-Nazi problem. So it looks like the same argument could someday be used on Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky – that he’s lost control of the country to extremists. And just like the West trained extremists in Syria under the guise of helping, they’ve done the exact same thing in Ukraine by training and equipping the Azov neo-Nazi fighters.

So what happened to those ‘Syrian rebels’, anyway? Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t want a festering jihadist nest right next door, and knowing exactly who those fighters were ever since a NATO base in Türkiye served as a staging ground for the mission to support them, he ultimately airlifted them en masse (an estimated 18,000 of them) to go fight – and die – in another war that NATO had also kicked off in Libya. So, problem solved. But the move raises a question for Ukraine’s future. What are all the Western-trained neo-Nazis going to do when the dust settles in Ukraine, if Russia doesn’t complete its stated mission of de-Nazification?

Former French intelligence chief Alain Juillet has noted that the terrorist troubles in Syria just happened to arise three weeks after Assad’s selection in 2011 of an Iranian-Iraqi pipeline through Syria, rather than a Saudi-Qatari pipeline. The competing pipeline plans would provide a way for either Iran or Qatar to ship natural gas to Europe from the Iranian-Qatari South Pars/North Dome gas field, thus eliminating the high cost of transporting the gas by tankers. So the impetus for intervention was likely economic, as is typically the case. There’s also little question that the West has always wanted to control Syria as a means of containing Iran. 

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The US has sacrificed a common anti-terror principle to stick it to Putin

Not only did that plan backfire, but spectacularly so. By 2015, then-US President Barack Obama, who at one point weighed conducting airstrikes on the country, was asking Syrian allies Russia and Iran to work with the US to “resolve the conflict.” He stated that “we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.” The US had gone from guns ablaze regime-change mode, to asking ‘pretty please’ permission of Syrian allies Russia and Iran to help them do it. 

Both Iran and Russia had entered the conflict militarily at the request of Assad’s government to help stabilize the country, with Moscow first entering the scene when fighting got too close for comfort to its warm water base for the Black Sea Fleet in Tartus. So basically, Russia was called in to help clean up the mess that the US and NATO had made of the country. And by December 2018, when I asked Russian President Vladimir Putin at his annual press conference whether then-US President Donald Trump was right about ISIS being defeated in Syria, he agreed

So Trump yanked out the US special forces troops who had been deployed to the country, and declared that America would only keep hanging around where the oil was, in Syria’s eastern oil fields. “Our mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the Pentagon chief said, attempting to reframe Trump’s crass admission. Yeah, right – because it’s not enough that ISIS isn’t really a problem anymore. Uncle Sam has to stick around to make sure that they never come back, ever again. Guess there’s no chance of just heading home and kicking back with a few beers and waiting to see if it’s actually going to be a problem in the future? Nope! Not when so much has been invested in establishing an in-country military footprint that just happens to be right on top of the biggest pile of Syria’s natural resources – the kind that have been the topic of CIA intelligence directorate reports since at least 1986. In December 2023, Syrian Oil Minister Firas Hassan Kaddour evoked the plan to “liberate” the oil fields from US occupation.

Peace in Syria was only possible because of Russia helping to eliminate the troublemakers. Has Zelensky considered what his own future might look like if Russia doesn’t actually succeed in doing the same in Ukraine – and that maybe Russia achieving its goals wouldn’t actually be the worst thing that could happen? The Ukrainian president is already being accused of “consolidating power,” by the State Department-backed media, and has canceled presidential elections. If he doesn’t get a handle on the hoodlums, like the ones in the Ternopol regional council busy giving out awards named after famous Ukrainian Nazis to other famous Ukrainian Nazis, then he’s ripe for the Assad treatment. And if he’s too harsh with them, then he risks being accused, like Assad, of undemocratic heavy-handedness. And at the very least, Ukraine ‘winning’ means that Zelensky is going to have to let his new friends hang out and take what they want for as long as they want to – as the Syria case proves. The West lost in Syria and still won’t go home. Imagine if it had actually been able to have free run of the place. Maybe there’s something worse than a Russian ‘win’ for Ukraine: Permanent occupiers who use friendship as a pretext to stick around and suck the country dry.

Netanyahu approves ‘operational plan’ to attack Rafah in Gaza

The operation in the southern Gaza city is needed to “defeat” the Hamas militant group for good, the Israeli PM insists

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated his resolve to launch a new offensive in the southern Gaza Strip, targeting the city of Rafah. The looming operation is absolutely needed to achieve a “victory” over Hamas, he insisted.

The PM revealed he had already approved an “operational plan” for the renewed push into southern Gaza, claiming the Israeli military was prepared for “the evacuation of the civilian population and for the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

“This is the right thing both operationally and internationally,” he stated, apparently referring to the mounting pressure Israel has been facing recently over its actions in Gaza and alleged violations of humanitarian rights during the operation.

“This will take time but it will be done. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there for one simple reason: There is no victory without entering Rafah and there is no victory without eliminating the Hamas battalions there,” he explained.

Netanyahu delivered the remarks in a speech following a meeting with the relatives of Israeli hostages, still presumed to be held by Hamas in Gaza. The PM insisted he has been doing his best to rescue them.

Read more

UK govt lawyers conclude Israel in breach of humanitarian law – media

“Those who say I am not doing everything to return the hostages are wrong and misleading, and those who know the truth and still repeating this lie are causing unnecessary grief to the families of the hostages,” he said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly proclaimed his readiness to attack Rafah no matter what over the past week, after Washington refused to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza last Monday. The US has repeatedly warned Israel against the attack on Rafah, arguing the move would drastically worsen the situation for displaced Palestinian civilians.

Israel launched the operation in Gaza following an incursion by Hamas militants into the southern part of the country last October. During the attack, over 1,200 people were killed, and some 240 were taken into Gaza. The Israeli campaign inflicted heavy damage on the Palestinian enclave, leaving at least 32,000 people dead, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.