My holiday in the ‘axis of evil’

[Admin: My first pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Palestine was to make sure I got to see the Al-Asqa and the Dome of the Rock while they’re still  standing. I traveled everywhere while I could. I continue visiting. You have to catch Palestine between Israeli attacks. I’ve yet to see any action but a few times the actions came between my visits. Like, by a matter of days. You can feel it in the air, beneath the surface of your feet…it’s always eminent. For those who like to live life on the edge I would recommend visiting occupied Palestine! Otherwise, it is the saddest place on earth. I was not laughing.]

March 2008

Dom Joly, Syria

“Nobody ever believes me, but these really are the great destinations you should be going to right now and, in a way, we’ve got George Bush to thank.”

…before doing his best to look friendly out in the desert


Past and present: A Syrian girl uses head and mobile at the same time

Citadel, Aleppo, Syria

Tourist-free tourism: Dom visits the citadel of Aleppo in Syria…

Holidays in the Axis of Evil. It might not sound like your cup of tea but these are currently the ‘hot’ destinations in the Joly household.

I’ve recently been to both Syria and Iran and, say what you like about the foreign policies of Damascus and Tehran, you won’t find a Starbucks, a Gap or a hen party fighting in the street in either of them.

Syria is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I arrived in Damascus, a bustling, exciting city, and spent a wonderful evening wandering the ancient streets and eating in the hidden courtyard of an old Arab house that had been turned into a restaurant.

The following day I headed north and climbed all over the fortifications of the beautiful Crusader castle of Krak Des Chevaliers, totally untroubled by anybody else. The man who issued tickets at the gate was fast asleep and seemed shocked to see a visitor. I found my way through the complicated sets of steps and turrets until I was at the very top, overlooking the surrounding countryside just as the Crusaders would have done 600 or so years ago.

Further north, I wandered the impressive Roman colonnades of Apamea without a single other person in sight. News, however, travelled fast to a local village that there was a ‘tourist’, and a solitary man eventually appeared and offered his services as a ‘guide’. I politely declined and he sauntered off to sit on a distant rock and observe this curious alien creature.

Arriving in Aleppo late at night, I found a bed at the famous Baron Hotel, a place where Lawrence of Arabia once laid his weary head. I necked a couple of stiff gin and tonics at the bar (Syria is not a dry country – the beer there is some of the finest I have tasted and can also, weirdly, be used to wash your hair should you forget your shampoo) and chatted to the barman, Georges, who remembered times when the hotel was full of tourists. He was sad that it was now not what it was and I nodded sympathetically, although secretly I was delighted to be pretty much the only guest, as I was treated like royalty.

Aleppo is a magical city with a beautiful citadel towering above it and a magnificent souk that you can get lost in for hours. Everyone was incredibly friendly and pleased to see me. I lost count of the number of times I was ushered into little shops and had sweet cups of tea pressed into my hands. Whatever the differences of our respective governments, it seems this is of little interest on the Syrian street.

I ended my journey there in Palmyra, an extraordinary town in the middle of the desert. It was once the base of Queen Zenobia, the Syrian equivalent of Boadicea – she fought the Romans to a standstill before they finally overran the place. I stayed in the Zenobia Hotel, right in the middle of the ruins surrounding the town.

Palmyra is breathtaking – a ruined castle sits on a hill overlooking the whole town and there must be three or four square miles of Roman ruins, amphitheatres, colonnades, bath houses and temples. As usual, I had the place to myself – there was talk of a couple of Italian tourists in town but I never saw them.

I think the only time I ever felt remotely threatened was completely my fault. Someone in Palmyra had told me about this salt lake a couple of miles outside town. I decided to pay it a visit and drove out there in my Land Cruiser.

Citadel, Aleppo, Syria

Yellow fever: Brightly coloured mosque domes in Aleppo

When I got there I couldn’t resist trying a bit of ‘desert’ driving and was happily roaring about the place when I heard gunfire. I stopped the car and got out slowly. From my left I could see a man holding an AK-47 running towards me from a tiny hut I hadn’t noticed before. I was terrified. Had I stumbled on some secret military base?

It turned out that the man was paid to look after the salt lake – from what, I never quite got to the bottom of – and he was not impressed with my off-roading all over his charge. He’d fired several warning shots over my vehicle in protest and was now keen to remonstrate.

Fortunately, like most things in Syria, it went better than I could have hoped. I apologised for using his salt lake as a racetrack and he soon relaxed. I don’t think he got many visitors and he appreciated the company. He scuttled off to his little hut and brought back three cold beers which we shared in the shade of my vehicle.

He then saw me staring at his rifle and handed it over to me for inspection. Within a couple of minutes I was firing the thing at our empty beer bottles that my new friend was hurling into the air. You don’t get this type of experience in Magaluf…

We parted the best of friends and I gave him a Pussycat Dolls CD that I happened to have in the car. He seemed more interested in the front cover than the music but I hope it gave him pleasure.

This unusually friendly attitude towards visitors isn’t just found in Syria. A couple of weeks ago I was in Tehran and had the time of my life. Iran really is a ‘dry’ country and I presumed it would be a difficult place to enjoy myself in. Far from it. The Iranians are incredibly hospitable and, without giving away too much, they are also keen home-brewers and so ‘refreshments’ were never a problem.

At first sight, Tehran is not an overly attractive city, although it lies right beneath a huge mountain range and the snowcapped peaks give it a beautiful setting. I was here to go skiing but spent a day wandering around and quickly fell in love with the place.

The Central Bazaar is a hive of industry and a godsend for people-watchers such as me. I took a seat in a coffee shop and watched as porters carrying huge bales of the black cloth used to make the all-encompassing burkas worn by many Iranian women fought their way through the crowds of shoppers.

Tehran, Iran

The Great Satan: Anti-USA messages in the Iranian capital Tehran

A stranger suddenly loomed in front of me and grabbed my hand: ‘Thank you for coming here, thank you… ‘ He was beaming with pleasure and walked on as if it was his job to thank personally every tourist who visited his city.

This seemed to be a common thread, a palpable frustration at the lack of visitors and active encouragement whenever I was spotted. Tehran is a city of museums – unvisited museums. I went to the Carpet Museum, a place that had been set up by the late Shah’s wife, and very impressive it was too. The man at the door was so excited to have a visitor that he insisted on giving me a personal tour.

Later that evening I headed off to a little local restaurant that a friend in London had recommended. I ate fesenjan, an amazing lamb stew with walnuts and pomegranates. Visiting the old American Embassy was a particular joy. Plastered all over the walls surrounding it are bombastic phrases such as ‘The United States is too weak to do anything’ and ‘America will face a severe defeat’. Above the entrance was a sign announcing a ‘Great Satan Exhibition’ but they wouldn’t let me in so I’ll have to catch it when it visits the British Museum.

Every Iranian I met was very embarrassed by these signs of the revolution and couldn’t understand why I would be interested in them. I caught sight of a huge ‘Down with the USA’ painted on the side of a whole block of flats but had to really work to persuade my taxi driver to stop and let me photograph it.

I left Tehran the next day and spent three days in the mountains above, skiing to my heart’s content. The pistes are fabulous and I had a wonderful time. The slopes have recently been de-segregated so everyone was skiing together and it was often hard to remember that I was supposed to be in the Axis of Evil.

I flew home longing to see more of Iran, such as the great desert city of Isfahan or the ruins of Persepolis. Nobody ever believes me, but these really are the great destinations you should be going to right now and, in a way, we’ve got George Bush to thank. For my next trip, I hope to visit North Korea or Libya – my wife fancies Italy but it’s not my bag. I think a weekend in Pyongyang or a leisurely couple of days exploring Leptis Magna is just what the doctor ordered. I’ll send you a postcard … if I can find one.

US-Facilitated Arab NATO Fail

Forming the alliance mainly to confront Iran is an absurd and expensive move– because Iran has never posed a threat to any of the Arab states (nor the world)

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AlwaghtIn 2016, the Wall Street Journal, reported that the US will support an Arabic plan to initiate “Arab NATO”, aimed at confronting what they call the growing Iran influence in the region. Calls for the initiative renewed on Friday, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted a meeting of top Arab diplomats in New York to push forward the plan to establish the NATO-like regional alliance.

The US State Department said in a statement that the participants– foreign ministers from Egypt and Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar– in the meeting had all underlined “the need to confront threats from Iran directed at the region and the United States.”

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Iraqi Sunni and Shiite Muslim tribal leaders protest against the security accord that would allow US troops to remain in Iraq until 2011.

It is important to remember that in truth, despite all of these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by all to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, “Muslims.” The said currant division is manufactured by the west. The Sunni leaders supported by France,UK, Israel, US are only interested in keeping their thrones via the western allies.

Despite that fact that on official occasions Americans say that the main aim behind the Arab NATO idea is to deepen the cooperation with the Arab allies in areas like missile defense, military training, counter-terrorism, and other cases, the major drive behind the attempt is to raise a force to hamper the growing weight of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region.

Donald Trump may boast that he accomplished all of his campaign-time promises and so he is the most successful president to date. But a look at his foreign policy track record to control Iran makes clear that he did not do much but a couple of unilateral measures like scraping the nuclear deal, signed in 2015 between Tehran and the six world powers.

The fact is that Trump’s West Asia policy is running into a firm obstacle of the Iran-led Axis of Resistance. Addressing the challenge, the White House now concentrates on building an anti-Iranian consensus with economic, military, and diplomatic aspects. The Arab NATO initiative to bring the Arab allies under the umbrella of a unified bloc is also definable under this US anti-Tehran strategy.

From another aspect, encouraging the Arab partners to form their own military alliance is linked to Trump’s “America first” policy. Almost every month, Trump picks a fight against the European allies of Washington in NATO asking them to raise their share in the military alliance’s budget. The fights are part of Washington’s push to cut its heavily costly commitments to the international and inter-government treaties.

During his presidential campaign speeches, Trump brazenly said that he wanted the Persian Gulf allies to pay for their protection costs. Therefore, the Arab army is, in fact, an effort by Trump to cut The US costs of securing the Arab allies.

Still, there are additional goals behind the Arab force: Expanding Iranophobia to sell more arms to the regional allies, driving out the Palestinian cause as the Muslim world’s central case, and reducing the sensitivity to the Israeli expansionism by replacing the real enemy of Arabs with the fake one.

The challenges

The plan to create Arab replica of NATO is never new to the US strategy in the region. The US administrations a couple of times took shots to form similar alliances but all of them proved shaky and at the end of the road met their doom. For example, in 2015 Washington formed what was called “Reaction Force” gathering some 40,000 forces from Egypt, Jordan, North Africa, and Persian Gulf Arab states. Its command structure very closely resembled the NATO. The Persian Gulf states funded the effort.

But regional tensions, and mainly the rifts among the member states, made the project a failed one. Moreover, during Trump’s last year trip to Saudi Arabia, dozens of majorly Muslim states convened in Riyadh to form what was called “Islamic NATO.” But the agreement to form it has remained just ink on the paper.

To Saudi Arabia’s frustration, which is representing the US interests in the region and set to head any joint Arab force, even the anti-Yemeni military coalition which took huge money and even bribery in 2015 to form is now falling apart. Washington’s attempt to form a 200,000-troops Arab force for deployment to northern Syria also went nowhere.


The root cause of the US plans failure rests in the disputes hitting the relations of the Arab states. The crisis rocking the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council is the major one at the present time. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on the small emirate for what it called support for terrorism and teaming up with Iran against them. The crisis remains standing to date.

Following Friday’s meeting with Pompeo and other regional peers, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said that a regional alliance envisioned by the US would not work unless the issue of the Saudi-led blockade on Doha was resolved.

“This gathering is important. But we need to address the challenges among these countries,” he said, adding, “The real challenge facing the US-led alliance is to solve the [Persian] Gulf crisis.”

He also complained that the Persian Gulf crisis remained at a “stalemate” and that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was currently in  “a sort of complete paralysis.” 

The Qatari foreign minister further stressed that there had been “no progress” in resolving the dispute with Saudi Arabia.

But forming the alliance mainly to confront Iran is an absurd and expensive move– because Iran has never posed a threat to any of the Arab states– and itself could play as a factor endangering their security. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both among the world’s top military spenders, are stuck in a four-year war waged against Yemen, the impoverished nation with no organized army. They will very likely find it hard to persuade the smaller states like Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman to come on board a military action against Iran as they have normal ties with the Islamic Republic.

The challenges of a military alliance on the ground are much more than they seem in theory and may remain just a plan on paper.

Israeli child sex trafficking ring busted in Colombia

Israel was founded by debased and filthy people. It is maintained by debased and filthy people. These debased and filthy people run the lives of the Palestinian people who are normal folks, but the Western pubic is deceived into thinking it’s the other way around.

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July 31, 2018

The ring is known to locals as “little Israel”.

The bust over the weekend followed months of surveillance. Authorities said that it was one of the biggest operations to combat child sex trafficking and forced prostitution in Cartagena. In a statement, the attorney general’s office described the victims as “real slaves of the 21st century”.

Colombia will ask the United States, Germany and Argentina to extradite alleged sex offenders, the South American country’s prosecution said Monday.

The two Americans, one German and one Argentine allegedly paid for sex with girls under 14 in Cartagena, a popular tourist destination where authorities claimed to have dismantled a child prostitution ring run by Israelis.

The four foreigners are accused of having sought sex with minors and were already put on Interpol’s Blue Notice list that seeks to establish the exact location of the suspected child molesters.

The extradition request, however, is a novelty; never before did Colombian authorities seek the extradition of alleged sex offenders. Alleged sex offenders have previously been expelled from the country.

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Israelis Busted Running Massive Child Prostitution Ring In Colombia

Whether the US, Germany and Argentina will effectively extradite their citizens depends on local authorities that will examine each case individually.

The foreigners could face prison sentences of up to 37.5 years, the prosecution said.

The extradition requests followed a major operation in Cartagena, which has been plagued by sex predators from both Colombia and abroad that seek to exploit children from the Caribbean city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

The US State Department said in 2012 that Cartagena and Medellin had become popular destinations for sex predators.

Both cities have traditionally had lively sex industries that catered locals and have become popular among foreign “mongers” and pedophiles.

Local NGOs and church organizations have been calling for actions against the growing phenomenon of child prostitution for years.

Trump was served legal notice warning of Israeli false flag operation

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This notice, it is pointed out, will be “EXHIBIT 1 in any war crimes investigation and prosecution (past, present, future) relating to this matter.” There are, it is claimed, “national and international legal violations” involved.

In the lead-up to the May 10 skirmish—just after the Trump administration exited the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear agreement—Israeli officials began warning of an impending Iranian attack from inside Syria. Then, within hours of the ensuing firefight, an Israeli army spokesman announced that the elite “Quds Force” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had fired 20 missiles into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after which Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman boasted that “we hit nearly all Iranian infrastructures in Syria.”

May 15 2018

The US President is reminded that he is expected to advise the US Congress, the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court in The Hague  about this legal matter. He is warned “that ‘false flag’ attacks may be used by Israeli agents in order to assign blame to Palestinian factions and escalate the ongoing protests in Gaza and the West Bank into a larger conflict in order to falsely draw the United States and American military personnel into this artificially created conflict.”

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Such an attack, claim those behind the legal notice, “represents a clear and present danger to the citizens of the United States of America, because it may be designed to trigger and escalate American military actions against Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Russia, since these nations are opposed to the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem; and rising tensions already exacerbated by the US withdrawal from the [nuclear deal with Iran].”

The initiation of this impending attack, Trump has been told, will involve a new and higher level massacre of Palestinian civilians protesting against the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Furthermore, the letter serves as “Legal Notice [that] the United States can have no military alliance due to the fact that Israel has no internationally recognized fixed territorial borders which are required to be defined in such an agreement.”

This notice, it is pointed out, will be “EXHIBIT 1 in any war crimes investigation and prosecution (past, present, future) relating to this matter.” There are, it is claimed, “national and international legal violations” involved.

The signatories cite a number of publications as evidence of the seriousness of their claims and warning to the President, and seek legal protection for themselves against “any retaliation, detainment, investigation, sequestration, interrogation, discrimination, imprisonment, torture, financial consequences, or any other negative or prejudicial consequences or actions taken against them.” Indeed, the former government and military officers and officials seek “whistle-blower protection” because they are “fulfilling [their] oaths to the US Constitution.”

America as Israel’s Proxy

Has the puppet master become the puppet?

While proxy relations are part and parcel of Middle East politics, even arrogant superpowers can find themselves exploited, wittingly or not.

Conflicts in the Middle East are often orchestrated from afar, using proxies — the least risky method to fight and win a war. Despite its geopolitical fragmentation, the Middle East is loosely united insofar as any major event in any given locale can subsequently be felt throughout the region. Thus Lebanon, for example, has been a stage for proxy wars for decades.

And it is not just Israel and the United States that have labored to penetrate and further fragment Lebanese society. The intelligence services of various Arab countries, as well as Iran, have used Lebanon as a hub for their invariable interests, the outcome of any conflict — be it internal or external — directly affecting the image and political positioning of this or that country.

Palestinians have often been used as, and in some cases have presented themselves to play the role of, a proxy force. The rationale, in some cases, was personal interest; in others, lack of a platform that would allow them to organize.

In the two most notable instances in which they tried to exert control over their host domains — the cases of Jordan in the 1970s and Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s — the cost was horrendous, leading to unprecedented bloodshed. After Arafat’s forced exit from Beirut in 1982, Palestinians were forced to exchange the physical space they obtained for overt allegiance to various regimes.

Arafat mastered the art like no other Palestinian leader. The supporters of the Oslo Accords argued that the agreement’s key success was freeing the Palestinian political will from pandering to host countries for survival, which proved untrue. A Hamas leader in Syria told me, off the record, during a telephone interview recently: “We have no doubt that Damascus will dump us the moment we are no longer of use, but we have no other option but to play along.”

Proxy politics is strategically significant for it helps take the battle to someone else’s physical space, create distractions and circumvent internal crises. Both Israel and Iran, despite the colossal chasm that separate their political and military intents, are currently involved in such a maneuver.

President Ahmadinejad, backed by or directed by the instrumental forces in his country — Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Supreme National Security Council — is well acquainted with the fact that if Iraq is subdued by U.S. forces, it will be Iran’s turn to bear the brunt of obtrusive U.S. imperial designs, cheered on, if not largely facilitated by Israel’s neo-conservative allies in Washington.

Accordingly, Iran is involved in trying to shape a political milieu in Iraq that will keep the Americans at bay. This is not to suggest that it was Iran, as opposed to the unwarranted American invasion, that engendered the current chaos in Iraq; however, Iran, like other Middle Eastern countries involved in Iraq, wishes to manage and manipulate the outcome to suit its own interests. From Iran’s point of view, this action makes perfect sense.

While Iran’s prime objective is to discourage an American military assault against it, Israel seeks regional hegemony, where it is left only with “moderate” neighbors. According to this vision, conceived and promoted publicly by Israeli leaders and their friends in Washington and emphasized to the point of boring repetition by every relevant U.S. official at every possible opportunity, the Iranian “threat” must be eradicated at any cost.

Israel’s fears of Iran are not nuclear in essence. What worries Israel is that Iran is militarily strong, politically cohesive and economically viable, enough to allow it opportunity to challenge Israel at every turn. The Israelis, as their country’s history illustrates, simply despise such contenders. Israel’s attempt to demolish Gamal Abdel Nasser’s national regime in 1956, only eight years after the establishment of the Israeli state, is a poignant example.

Yet a paradigm shift has occurred since the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago. While the U.S. was the major power that often orchestrated proxy wars through clandestine tactics, as it did in Central America and various parts of Asia, Israel is now adopting a similar scheme. In most instances in the past, Israel managed to sway U.S. administrations to behave according to the misleading mantra: “What’s good for Israel is good for America.” But a clash of interests here is unavoidable. While Israel’s heart is set on a war against Iran, it is elementary knowledge that a war against Iran would bring irrevocable disaster for the United States. Prolonged political hostility with Iran is equally dangerous, for it will further complicate the American task in Iraq.

But Israel is still cheering for war. Former director of Mossad, Uzi Arad, told the British Guardian that: “A military strike may be easier than you think.” He outlined what targets were to be bombed — not just nuclear, but security and economic centers. “Iran is much more vulnerable than people realize,” he stated casually. Arad, like most Israeli officials, wants war, even if such a war would complicate America’s regional involvement and cost it innumerable human lives, notwithstanding a foreseeable large number of dead Iranians. It would matter little to Israel, however, for a chaotic Iran, like a chaotic Iraq, is just another opportunity to be exploited, and another “threat” to be checked off Israel’s security list.

While proxy relations are part and parcel of Middle East politics, even arrogant superpowers can find themselves exploited, wittingly or not.


Slovenia to recognize Palestine as a state next month, others may follow

Luxembourg, Ireland and Belgium considering taking the same step.

According to the report, Slovenian Parliament Speaker Milan Brglez told Palestinian Ambassador Salah Abdel-Shafi last month that Slovenia’s recognition of a Palestinian state was purely a question of timing.

The Channel 10 report said that the Slovenian government decided to move ahead on plans to recognize a Palestinian state a week ago.

A vote on recognition is expected “to be held by the Slovenian parliament’s foreign affairs committee on January 31, followed by a vote of the full parliament in February”.

The Slovenian ambassador in Tel Aviv, Barbara Sušnik, “told The Times of Israel that the issue of recognizing Palestinian statehood has been pending in the country’s parliament since 2014, and is only now coming to a vote”.

Slovenia’s legislative branch, not its executive, “has the last word on foreign policy matters such as recognizing states”.

Read: ‘The world is creating another Palestine’

“Sušnik said it was difficult to predict how the parliamentarians would vote, but hinted that there was a good chance they would seek to assert the Palestinians’ right to self-determination”.

“For the people of Slovenia, the principle of self-determination of nations is very important”, she told The Times of Israel, “because that is how Slovenia became independent 26 years ago, when we exercised the right to self-determination. All nations have the right to self-determination”.

The Channel 10 report “said that Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been trying to recruit Slovenian lawmakers to oppose the move, although expectations are low that the process can be stopped”.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg, Ireland, and Belgium are all, according to the report, considering recognising Palestinian statehood soon.

The Times of Israel also noted a report in French paper Le Monde on Sunday, which said “France is trying to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status at the European Union, stopping short of full recognition of a Palestinian state. The French are reportedly pushing for an EU free trade agreement with the Palestinians, similar to the one signed with Israel”.