Russian Embassy in UK perplexed by statements on ‘persecution of Christians’ in Russia – Society & Culture – TASS

LONDON, February 15. /TASS/. The Russian Embassy in the UK has expressed bewilderment about remarks by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Heather Wheeler who claimed that Christians’ rights were not respected in Russia.

Wheeler made such a statement in the British parliament on February 6, mentioning Russia as part of a debate on the persecution of Christians around the world. She provided neither details nor evidence to substantiate her claims.

“This statement raises eyebrows at the very least. Orthodox Christians make up the vast majority of Russian believers. Hundreds of new churches are being built, and the Russian Orthodox Church plays an active role in discussing socially significant issues. All conditions have been created for freely practicing the religion by followers of other Christian churches,” the embassy’s press officer said in a statement.

“Patriarch Kirill’s meetings with head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, in 2016 were the evidence of the recognition of the revival of Christian spiritual values and the substantial beneficial role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and throughout the world. We know nothing about the issue of discrimination against Christians in Russia being raised at these meetings. Reports by personal envoys of the current OSCE chairperson-in-office on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination make no mention of that either,” the diplomat stressed, adding that “the same is true of the problem of religious and racial intolerance towards representatives of other religions.”

“At the same time, we have to state that the problems of religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, are well known in Britain itself,” he pointed out.

“While declaring their determination to protect the rights of Christians, our British partners are, in actual fact, politicizing the issue, as evidenced by the fact that they refer to China, North Korea and Iran as the main [rights] abusers. We urge London to start cooperation to solve real problems facing Christians, primarily in the Middle East. A lot of work lies ahead, and its results depend on coordinated efforts by many countries,” he said.

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Persecution of Muslims in China and India Reveals Important Facts About Religion and Geopolitics

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India, China and Myanmar are three Asian countries currently engrossed in carrying out physical and cultural genocides on their Muslim populations. While the plight of Rohingya Muslims and Uighur Muslims is well known, the recent introduction of a new law expressly aimed at dispossessing Muslims of Indian citizenship has alerted many to the reality that India’s ruling BJP government sees itself as Hindu first and foremost.

Questions such as “Why aren’t the rich Arab countries saying anything?” have come up, with the implicit inference that Muslim-dominated countries are supposed to stick up for Muslims everywhere in the world. Others have pointed out that despite suffering oppression in some parts of the world, Muslims are also responsible for brutal acts of oppression against other minority groups elsewhere, which allegedly negates the sufferings of the prior group.

In this article, I will pick through these questions and viewpoints with a goal of isolating some useful truths about how religion, geopolitics and human nature constantly interplay and produce much of the world around us.

Oppression is a Matter of Perspective

Which religion is the most oppressed? I like to troll my Christian friends with the image below whenever the topic comes up about some religion or the other allegedly imposing its will at their expense.

The truth is however, that this image could apply to just about every religion on earth. As a general rule of thumb, the only limiting factor on whether or not a religion functions as an oppressive tyranny in a particular jurisdiction is the proportion of the population that practises it there. Similarly, the only thing stopping any religion from being an oppressed and downtrodden identity is whether it is a small enough minority for that to be possible.

While Muslims in India, Myanmar and China are going through untold degrees of horror because of their religious identities, Muslims in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Northern Nigeria are simultaneously visiting very similar horrors on Bah’ai, Shia Muslims, Christians, Budhists and other minorities in those areas. It turns out that the mere fact of belonging to a religious identity does not in fact, confer unrestricted global victimhood.

This point is important because it disproves the notion held by every major religion that its adherents follow a single set of standards and do things in the manner of a global “brotherhood.” In reality, Islam according to a Rohingya Muslim hiding from the Burmese military, and the same religion according to an itinerant herder in Kogi State bear almost no similarity to each other save for the most basic tenets. Environmental factors in fact have a bigger influence on how religions are practised than their own holy books. 

The current antics of India’s ruling BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist support base provide an important case in point as to how this works. Looking at the evolution of Hinduism from a passive philosophy into an openly militant ideology gives an important insight into how religion is in fact, a thoroughly contrived and amorphous set of ideas that can be changed, adjusted, aligned and revised at a moment’s notice in justification of anything at all. 

Hinduism traditionally sees itself as a religion of thoughtful, considered spirituality as against the angry dogmas of its Abrahamic neighbours, but something interesting is happening. Some argue that it started in the days of Gandhi, and some ascribe it to current Prime Minister Nanendra Modi, but whoever started it is a side note. The key point to note is that based on political factors, i.e anticolonial senitment against the British and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by India’s national rivalry with Pakistan, Hinduism has somehow been coopted into the narrative of a jingoistic, monotheistic, mono-ethnic state which is  historical nonsense.

India has always been a pointedly pluralistic society, and in fact the geographical area now known as “India” does not even cover the geographical area of the India of antiquity. That India was a place of Hindus, Budhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and everything in between. Hinduism never saw a problem with pluralism because Hinduism itself is a very plural religion – it has at least 13 major deities. The conversion of the Hindu identity into a political identity movement is a recent and contrived phenomenon first exploited by Gandhi as a means of opposing British colonialism, and now by Modi to oppose the Pakistanis/Muslims – it is a historical falsity.

The creation of Hindu fundamentalist movements like the RSS (which PM Modi belongs to) is something done in response to environmental factors. Spectacles like the RSS march below are evidence of yet another religion undergoing constant and ongoing evolution into whatever suits its purposes.

Something similar happened when medieval Europe turned into colonial Europe and European Christianity transitioned into a peaceful and pacifist ideology after centuries of being a bloodthirsty doctrine. The environmental factors that created the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, book burnings and witch hunts went away with the introduction of an industrial society, and thus the religion too transitioned.

In plain English, what all this means is that nobody actually practises a religion in the pure sense they imagine they do. Everyone who subscribes to a religion merely practises a version of it that is subject to the culture and circumstances of their environment and era. This is directly connected to the next major insight raised by these events.

Geopolitics is all About Self-Interest…Everyone Gets it Except Africa

While anti-Muslim violence has continued apace for years in China, Mynammar and India, the question has often been asked: “Why are the wealthy Arab nations not saying anything?” There is a perception that since the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam and Arabs – particularly Saudis – are viewed as the global gatekeepers of the faith, they must be at the forefront of promoting the interests of Muslims worldwide.

To many, the fabulous wealth and international influence that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE enjoy, in addition to the presence of two of Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Meddinah – in Saudi Arabia, means that they have a responsibility to speak for the global Muslim Ummah and stand up for them when they are unfairly targeted and mistreated. Unfortunately for such people, the wealthy nations of the Arab Gulf region tend to respond to such questions with little more than an irritated silence – and with good reason.

To begin with, these countries are not democracies led by the wishes of their almost uniformly Muslim populations. They are autocracies led by royal families who came to power in the colonially-influenced 20th century scramble for power and influence. Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, is named after the House of Saud, its royal family which came into power in its current form at the turn of the 19th century. The priority of the regimes in these countries first and foremost is self-preservation.

Self-preservation means that before throwing their significant diplomatic and economic weight behind any attempt to help out fellow Muslims, the first consideration is how doing so will benefit them. India for example, is a country that has close diplomatic ties with the UAE, and supplies most of their cheap labour for construction and low-skilled functions. India has even coordinated with UAE special forces to repatriate the dissident Princess Latika when she made an audacious escape attempt in 2018.

What does the UAE stand to gain if it napalms its diplomatic relationship with India by criticising Modi’s blatantly anti-Muslim policy direction? It might win a few brownie points with Islamic hardliners and possibly buy some goodwill among poor Muslims in South Asia, but how much is that worth? The regime and nation’s self-interest is best served by looking the other way, so that is exactly what they will do.

The Saudis make a similar calculation. At a time when they are investing heavily in military hardware to keep up with their eternal rivals Turkey and Iran, and simultaneously preparing for the end of oil by liberalising their society and economy, does it pay them to jump into an issue in India that does not particularly affect them? As the status of their diplomatic relationship with the U.S. remains unclear following the Jamal Khasshoggi incident, are they going to risk pissing off the Chinese because of Uighur Muslims?

In fact self-interest like that mentioned here is the basis of the considerations that underpin all international relations. Well I say “all,” but what I really meant to say was “all except African countries.” It is only African countries that take diplomatic decisions based on little more than flimsy emotions and feelings of religious affinity. Gambia for example, has dragged Myanmar before the UN and filed a genocide case against it on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.

This would be commendable and great were it not that Gambia itself is hardly a human rights luminary, and generally has little business fighting an Asian battle when its own worse African battles lie unfought. The only thing Gambia stands to gain from fighting a diplomatic war that the rest of the world seems unwilling to touch is the temporary goodwill of a few Muslims in Asia and around the world – goodwill that cannot translate into something tangible for it.

To coin an aphorism from social media lingo, you could call it ”diplomatic clout chasing.’

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant

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Iran is considering 13 scenarios to avenge the killing of a top Iranian military commander in Iraq by a U.S. drone attack, a senior Tehran official said on Tuesday as the general’s body was brought to his hometown for burial.

In Washington, the U.S. defense secretary denied reports the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence over nearly two decades of war and unrest.

The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy forces across the Middle East, has prompted mass mourning in Iran.

U.S. and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have also stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the U.S. Congress for legislation to stop U.S. President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.

“We will take revenge, hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman.

Many chanted “Death to America” and waved the Iranian flag.

READ ALSO: Iran threatens to ‘unleash Hezbollah’ in Israel and Dubai

Soleimani’s body has been taken through Iraqi and Iranian cities since Friday’s strike, with huge crowds of mourners filling the streets.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the U.S. action on Friday would match the scale of Soleimani’s killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.

Iran, whose southern coast stretches along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Stait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it could act. Representatives from those forces, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, attended the funeral.

Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional conflict with the United States but assymetric strikes, such as sabotage or other more limited military actions, are more likely.

Trump has promised strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates, although U.S. officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.

Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that U.S. troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave.

“In order to conduct this test, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” it said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there had been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq.

“I don’t know what that letter is,” he said.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a “poorly worded” draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by U.S. forces.

The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 invasion.

On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi’ite groups, passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both sides needed to work together to implement the parliamentary resolution.

Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers.

The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and Tehran said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment, its latest step back from commitments under the deal.

The U.S. administration has denied a visa to allow Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.

“The United States will get the decisive, definite answer for its arrogance at the time and place when it will feel the most pain,” Zarif said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and its timing in a U.S. election year. His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests but has offered no evidence.

U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent. “We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he said.

Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday on events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.

Reuters/NAN

The post ‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant appeared first on Vanguard News.

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‘You Should Ask Mr. Soleimani’: Pompeo Drops Mic When Asked if Impeachment Makes Trump Vulnerable (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

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RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

It was a quick hit except they stayed for almost ten years. Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.

>> Chris: But just this week, the U.S. Deployed 100 Marines to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, plus 752 the region and now another 3500. If the president pulling us out of endless wars in the Middle East or with his action this week did he take a big step back in?

>> Secretary Pompeo: Endless wars are the direct result of weakness and President Trump will never let that happen. We are going to get it right, we’re going to get the force posture right, we are going to get our facilities as hardened as we can possibly get them to defend against what Iran may potentially do, but make no mistake, America’s mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe. Safe from rogue regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran and from terrorist activity broadly throughout the region. Someone’s was it fair to say that while the big strategy is to pull the U.S. Out of endless wars, at least in the short term there could be more of a commitment?

>> Secretary Pompeo: The Obama Administration created an enormous risk to the American people in Iran. This administration is working to reduce that risk.

>> Chris: Some analysts suggest that the impeachment of President Trump has emboldened enemies like Iran and North Korea to think that they can confront him. Do you think that is misguided as it may be, that some of our enemies think that this president is more vulnerable because of the impeachment effort?

>> Secretary Pompeo: You should ask Mr. Soleimani.

>> Chris: I understand that, but he was going ahead before you killed him and the question is do you think that impeachment is emboldening our enemies?

>> Secretary Pompeo: I don’t. I think that our adversaries understand President Trump and our administration will do the right thing to protect the American people everyplace that we find risk.

>> Chris: Secretary Pompeo, thank you. Thanks for coming in on a very busy weekend.

>> Secretary Pompeo: Thank you.

>> Chris: When we come back, Democrats raised questions about the wisdom and legality of the president’s decision to take out Soleimani. We will talk with a top You have a brother in the second battalion? Yes sir. They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack. If you fail, we will lose sixteen hundred men. Your brother among them.

Cross-posted with Mental Recession

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Iran Attacks U.S. Bases in Iraq; MSNBC Spews False Iranian Propaganda, Pelosi Attacks Trump From Party (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

As predicted, Iran has retaliated for the US attack that took out the terrorist Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) sent missiles at two Iraqi military bases used by American forces, al-Asad, and Erbil.

Per the Pentagon

At approximately 5:30 p.m. (EST) on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq.  It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Erbil.

We are working on initial battle damage assessments.

In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners. These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.

As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.

That the missiles were fired from Iran is a major escalation. Usually, their attacks are conducted by one of their proxies and initiate from Iraq.

The White House said President Trump was monitoring the situation and consulting with his national-security team.

Both CNN and Fox are reporting there are casualties on the Iraqi side. No word on American troops

Iran’s Press TV has released a video of the attack:

UPDATE #1 7:40PM Iran’s Press TV reports

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has targeted the US airbase of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq after vowing to retaliate the US assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“Tens of surface-to-surface missiles” were fired at the strategic airbase and the attack was later confirmed by the US officials.

The IRGC has called for a complete withdrawal of US troops from the Arab country, asserting that it would not differentiate between the US and Israel in retaliating against the assassination of the Iranian national hero.

“We warn US allies providing bases for the [American] terrorist army… that any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted,” read the IRGC statement

UPDATE #2 8:00 PM President Trump will address the nation tonight. Fox News has unconfirmed reports that there are no American casualties. This is a key moment for the President. His message to the country and the next steps against Iran may determine the future of his presidency.   

UPDATE #3 8:20 The IRGC says if the US responds by bombing on Iranian soil it will target the cities of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Haifa, Israel, in the third wave of operations.

UPDATE #4 8:30 As Americans were being attacked Nancy Pelosi found time to attack President Trump.

Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 8, 2020

Nancy Pelosi at Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare opening in Navy Yard. pic.twitter.com/OMkVtxeEEk

— Anna Spiegel (@AnnaSpiegs) January 8, 2020

UPDATE #5 8:45 Trump will not deliver address tonight, White House official says

UPDATE #6 9:12 Things at the two bases seem to have calmed down but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Some sources are saying the attack was not as bad as first feared. Pentagon reports there were 15 rockets fired from Iran, four failed. The ten fired at Al-Assad did not directly hit the base. Possibly on purpose so they can say they fired back.  Pentagon is preliminarily saying no American casualties. MSNBC is reporting Iranian propaganda that 13 Americans died.

MSNBC is literally doing the work of the Iranians by airing completely unverified, untrustworthy Intel about US casualties

The Pentagon has not reported on any lives lost

Why would the Media air what is so blatantly Iranian propaganda?

— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) January 8, 2020

CNN is reporting that two missiles hit near Erbil. One missile landed inside the perimeter of Erbil International Airport without exploding, the second missile hit an area 33 kilometers (about 20 miles) west of the city of Erbil without causing casualties.

Iran released the picture below which they claim is the launch of the first missile.

Update #7 10:10pm 

Iraq Foreign Minister said the attack is over for now.

Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.

We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020

President Trump just tweeted “All is Well” and he will address the nation in the morning.

All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020

Per John Roberts of Fox News, the initial assessment is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the al-Asad base not populated by Americans, according to a US military official and a senior administration official. Some in DC believe the misses were intentional. Iran needed to show a response to save face but intentionally did it in a way that would not hurt Americans.

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Ukraine passenger jet crashes in Iran, killing at least 170

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TEHRAN: A Ukrainian airliner carrying at least 170 people crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all on board, Iran state media reported.

The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

“Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, Red Crescent head Morteza Salimi told semi-official news agency ISNA, adding that 170 passengers and crew had boarded the plane.

State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members had boarded the aircraft, which was operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed all those on board the plane were killed.

AFP
People and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. -AFP

“According to preliminary data, all passengers and crew members are dead,” he wrote on Facebook of the Ukraine International Airlines plane, which was bound for Kiev.

The Red Crescent said teams were assisted by soldiers and firefighters in the effort to recover bodies.

“After six o’clock (0230 GMT) this morning we were informed that a passenger plane crashed in the vicinity of Shahriar,” said Shahin Fathi, the head of its search and rescue unit.

“All operational teams were dispatched to the area,” he told state television. “Unfortunately… we haven’t found anyone alive.”

“Everyone is helping so that we can gather all the bodies that have been scattered in a wide area,” said Fathi.

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People walk near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. -AFP

Press TV, state television’s English-language news broadcaster, said the plane went down in the vicinity of Parand, a city in Tehran province.

The crash was likely to have been caused by “technical difficulties”, it reported, citing Ali Khashani, spokesman for Imam Khomeini International Airport.

“The plane caught fire after crashing,” said Press TV.

A video aired by the state media broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire, falling from the sky.

American airline manufacturer Boeing tweeted: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The crash came shortly after Iran said it fired missiles at Iraqi bases in revenge for the killing of one of the Islamic republic’s top military commanders in a US drone strike on Friday.

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One of the engines of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, is seen in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Following the missile strikes, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf after rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq.

“The (FAA) issues Notices to Airmen tonight outlining flight restrictions that prohibit US civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,” it said in a statement.

“The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East.”

Iran launched the missiles after a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a hugely popular figure who headed the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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Emergency workers work near the wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for the assassination and declared three days of mourning following the assassination which shocked the Islamic republic.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the US.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic. -AFP

Airlines
A Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed soon after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport.

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Will there be a draft? Young people worry after military strike | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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For decades, American men over the age of 18 have gone through the ritual of registering with the government in case of a military draft. In recent years, this action has felt more like going through the motions, simply checking a box.

But today, after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, prompting concerns about the possibility of a new war in the Middle East, that oft-forgotten paperwork became a reason for spiking anxiety among many Americans.

“World War III” started trending on social media. Young men suddenly recalled registering after their 18th birthdays, many having done so while applying for college financial aid. One Twitter user posted that he had blocked the account of the U.S. Army, with the (faulty) reasoning that: “They can’t draft you if they can’t see you.”

Interest was so high that it apparently crashed the website for the Selective Service System, the independent government agency that maintains a database of Americans eligible for a potential draft. “Due to the spread of misinformation, our website is experiencing high traffic volumes at this time,” the agency said on Twitter, adding, “We appreciate your patience.”

Here is an explanation of the current military system and what it would take to enact a draft in modern times.

Is there going to be a military draft?

The United States first conscripted soldiers during the Civil War and continued to use the draft in some form on and off through the Vietnam War, said Jennifer Mittelstadt, a professor of history at Rutgers University who has studied the military.

But there has been no conscription since 1973, when the draft was abolished after opposition to fighting in Vietnam. “There was huge support for ending the draft across the political spectrum,” Mittelstadt said.

The modern-day military is now an all-volunteer force, with about 1.2 million active-duty troops.

To change that, Congress would have to pass a law reinstating the draft, and the president would have to sign it, actions that would likely require broad political support.

What is the draft age?

All men from 18 to 25 years old are required to register with the Selective Service System. Many young men check a box to register when getting a driver’s license. Others sign up when applying for federal student aid to attend college.

But just because you have registered does not mean you will be drafted. “Right now, registering for selective service really means nothing about the likelihood of you serving in the current military,” Mittelstadt said.

Joe Heck, chairman of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, a committee created by Congress to evaluate the Selective Service System, put it this way: “Registration is ongoing. A draft would require an act of Congress.”

What are the consequences if you don’t register?

If you do not register for Selective Service as a young man, you can be subject to lifetime penalties. For example, men who did not register cannot receive federal financial aid, and they cannot work for the federal government, Heck said.

To check if you have registered, visit the Selective Service System’s website (once it is up and running again).

Can women be drafted?

No.

Historically, only men have been eligible for the draft. But the question of whether to register women has gained traction in recent years, as women have taken on broader roles within the military.

In 2015, the Pentagon opened up all combat jobs to women. Last year, a federal judge in Houston ruled that excluding women from the draft was unconstitutional.

As part of its work, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is considering whether to expand the registration requirement to include women. The group’s final report, on that and other issues, is expected to be released in March.

Are there arguments for reinstating the draft?

In the 1860s, mobs of mostly foreign-born white workers took to the streets in New York City to protest conscription during the Civil War, burning down buildings and inciting violent attacks against black residents.

A century later, burning draft cards became a symbol of protest against the war in Vietnam.

“I think it’s fair to say that the draft has never been wildly popular,” Mittelstadt said.

But she said there were arguments in favor of a modern-day draft, including the potential to make the military more representative of society. The current all-volunteer force is more likely to recruit people from the working class, she said, with higher percentages of nonwhite Americans serving in uniform.

“I don’t know what it means in a democracy that you let some people fight your wars and everybody is not responsible,” she said. “American citizens are not implicated in the consequences — bodily human life, economically — of war, and they should be.”

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Trump leaving NATO: dangerous for U.S., nightmare for Israel – Haaretz.com

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This article was first published on January 17, 2019

When Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, settled into his office at the Kirya after being sworn in Tuesday, he had a long list of military challenges to plan for: Rockets and tunnels by Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s persistent threatening stance against Israel in Syria, Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

One thing he probably never thought he would have to add to that list was planning for the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. 

The day is almost over, and no one from the Administration has denied the NYT story about Trump wanting to pull out of NATO. Worse, no one from the Administration would dare say he would never do it. Because they know he might.

— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro)

But as he learned from the New York Times, the possibility is very much on President Donald Trump’s mind.

It is no small matter for Israel.

In the first instance, Israel benefits from NATO because of the way it broadens U.S. influence. NATO is an alliance, but it also entails its European members willingly accepting the United States’ leadership position on the continent.

U.S. allies outside the alliance benefit from the association. It has helped earn Israel a seat at the table as a NATO partner, has opened doors to cooperation with non-U.S. militaries, and helps prevent escalatory scenarios in moments of tension between Israel and NATO members, notably Turkey. In a post-NATO world, Israel’s alignment would be with an isolated United States that lacks the multiplying effect of broader Western support.

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But the operational effects could be far more challenging. Israel maintains impressive self-defense capabilities, which will be sustained in any scenario, but its security partnership with the United States, another critical pillar of its defense policy, will be forced to adapt in complicated ways.

The day-to-day relationships between the IDF and the U.S. military are conducted via U.S. European Command. U.S. forces based in Germany are the ones who travel to Israel by the thousands to conduct joint exercises, including those that drill bringing Patriot missile batteries to augment Israel’s domestic capabilities and help defend Israel in the case of a major conflict.  

U.S. Navy destroyers, home-ported in Spain and equipped with Aegis missile defense capabilities, are among the Sixth Fleet’s ships that sail regularly in the Eastern Mediterranean (and make port calls in Haifa) to ensure adequate support for Israel’s defense. U.S. Air Force squadrons based in Italy come to Israel to conduct joint air exercises with the Israeli Air Force. Other U.S. troops sit even closer, at Incirlik Air Force Base in Eastern Turkey.

Remove the United States from NATO – and forward-deployed U.S. forces from Europe, which would certainly follow – and the United States’ ability to respond to a Middle East crisis would be diminished.

Could U.S. support for Israel be shifted and coordinated instead through U.S. Central Command, based in the Persian Gulf? It has been proposed before as an efficiency measure. But Israeli generals have always resisted the proposal. Their worry is that they would find it challenging to enjoy the same level of intimacy they currently have with Europe-based U.S. commanders, with commanders who maintain a similar closeness with Arab militaries. 

True, Israel is closer strategically today with the Arab Gulf states than at any time in its history, because of a focus on the common threat of Iran and the lower priority of the Palestinian issue. But those relationships are a long way from being normalized – and could still backslide.

Israeli security planners are, therefore, still most likely to want to maintain separation between their relationships with the U.S. military and with their Arab neighbors. Having observed the intense friendships formed between Israeli military commanders and their U.S. counterparts based in Europe, I can say that these ties will not be easily replaced.

The broader Middle East would also experience the effects of NATO’s demise in the form of further empowerment of Russia. That is happening already, but losing NATO would turbocharge those trends.

Already, Russia’s brutally decisive intervention in Syria, combined with successive U.S. administrations’ preference to reduce active U.S. military engagements in the region, have led many regional states to explore expanded security ties with Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets more frequently with Putin than he does with Trump, and the IDF and Russian Air Force deconflict their operations in Syria. The leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all close partners of the United States, have visited Moscow and explored acquiring advanced Russian weapons systems in addition to their American-supplied arsenals.

Should Russia decide to exert leverage, such as by constraining Israeli freedom of action against Iranian military targets in Syria, the United States would be ill-equipped to push back.

A U.S. withdrawal from NATO would unmistakably be understood as a major pullback from the United States’s leadership in global affairs. The effect of expanding Russian influence would be felt far beyond Europe and the Middle East.

Military planners are renowned for imagining, and developing options for, every possible scenario. So General Kochavi and his colleagues will find a way to prepare, and put themselves in a position to adapt. But there are certain anchors that any country hopes to maintain, particularly one facing as many threats, and so tied to its American ally, as Israel.

To avoid having to grapple with the nightmarish set of problems that would result from the U.S. leaving NATO, General Kochavi might consider recommending to his Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he use his influence with President Trump to dissuade him from such a dangerous course.

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama Administration. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

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Turkey Converts Historic Church Building into Mosque

The Turkish Council of State has approved the conversion of a historic Greek Orthodox Church into a place of Islamic worship.

The Byzantine-era “Chora” Church was originally built in the early 4th century as a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople. It was later converted to a mosque after the Ottoman invasion of Istanbul.

In 1945, the church was restored and preserved as the “Kariye Museum.” Despite its conversion back to a symbol of Christianity, a lawsuit was later filed by the Association of Permanent Foundations and Service to Historical Artifacts and Environment claiming that the building was a mosque and thus belonged to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation.

The recent decision by the Council of State backs this belief and clears the way for the building to be converted into a functioning mosque, according to International Christian Concern.

“The Kariye mosque… is one of the public immovables belonging to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation,” the council said in a statement, reports the Greek City Times.

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Princeton University describes more about the church’s storied history and religious significance:

Great Revival Sweeping Through Iran As Hundreds Of Thousands Come To Jesus Christ

“Described by Osterhaut as ‘second in renown only to Hagia Sophia among the Byzantine churches of Istanbul’, Kariye Camii [Mosque] attracts much attention because of its rich mosaics and frescoes. The original structure was built by the Holy Theodus in 534 in the reign of Justinian. In the 11th and 12th centuries, it was rebuilt by the Comnenus family and dedicated to Christ (thus the name, Christ in Chora). The structure suffered the great earthquake of 1296 and was later converted into a mosque in 1511 after the Turks conquered Istanbul. Since 1948, the building has been the Kariye Museum, a popular tourist attraction.”

In March of this year, Turkish President Recep Erdogan declared that the iconic Hagia Sophia cathedral, which is also being preserved as a museum transformed into a place of Islamic worship.

“As you know, the mosque was converted to a museum in 1935, as a reflection of the (Republican People’s Party) CHP mentality. We may as well take a step and change that,” Erdogan was quoted as saying, according to the Greek Reporter, prompting outrage from the Christian community.

Many believe that this latest announcement will speed up the process of converting the Hagia Sophia to a full-fledged mosque.

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Historian Dr. Vassilios Meichanetsidis told the Greek Times that the mosque conversions are “a sign of Islamic conquest and supremacy” that have their roots in the Ottoman period and the brutal islamization of the region.

“It was widely practised in the times of conquest and throughout the Ottoman period and thus most of the truly superb Byzantine churches were converted into mosques and suffered serious damages,” assilios added.

“In many ways, the conversions of churches into mosques or museums area part of a genocidal process in which a physical genocide of human beings (Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians/Arameans) has turned into a cultural genocide.”

Offering her analysis of the situation to Faithwire, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, Claire Evans said:

“When reading the New Testament, it is apparent that the history of the Church is built upon the soil of Turkey. The country was first Christian, but the invasion of the Ottomans was followed by the steady erasure of this land’s Christian history. Although modern-day Turkey is constitutionally secular, the current political environment is increasingly Islamic.

The environment reinforces the belief that Christianity is a foreign religion to Turkey, and thus a threat to the nation. Indeed, President Erdogan has built his base around concepts that polarize and deepens an “us versus them” mentality. Historic churches prove a difficult concept for Turkey; many do not realize that their country was first Christian, and that Islam is actually the foreign religion. Turning historic churches, now functioning as museums, into mosques scores political points for a government that finds its identity in the country’s Ottoman history.

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