Thursday, July 19, 2018

Food Stamp Use Remains High Long After The Recession

The economy is growing and unemployment is decreasing, but one thing hasn’t changed since the Obama era and that is historically high levels of food stamp use. While enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is down from its 2013 peak, participation in the program is near levels that were last seen just after the end of the Great Recession.

Government figures show that SNAP enrollment fell to 39.6 million in April, which is near 2010 levels. USDA tables show that the enrollment in the program reached its height in 2013 at 47.6 million. Prior to 2008, SNAP enrollment was below 27 million.

SNAP is available to families below 130 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that works out to $2,665 per month or $31,980 annually.

In the aftermath of the recession, the Obama Administration increased welfare state programs dramatically. In 2012, CNN admitted that “spending on income-based programs, such as food stamps, has increased by one-third to $900 billion under Obama” after Newt Gingrich called Obama the “food stamp president.” Part of the post-recession growth was due to states expanding eligibility for SNAP, which led to more enrollees and increased costs. In 2016, the New York Times reported that states were returning to pre-recession eligibility requirements.

Another reason that SNAP enrollment is still higher than pre-recession levels is that many workers who left the work force never returned. Despite recent drops in the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate is still far below 2008 levels. The rate has not yet changed from the Obama era levels despite the growing economy.

House Republicans have proposed stricter work requirements to further trim food stamp rolls. The SNAP provisions in the 2018 farm bill have led to a significant dispute between the House and Senate. The two chambers have not yet agreed on a final version of the bill.

Food stamp usage is declining, but it may be years before it returns to pre-recession levels, assuming it ever does. The Trump Administration’s trade war could very well lead the economy into a new recession that increases SNAP enrollment once again.


Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Democrats Have A YUGE Fundraising Advantage Over House Republicans

One of the big questions of 2018 is whether the Democrats hoped-for “Blue Wave” will materialize this November. President Donald Trump’s unpopularity has not necessarily translated into a boost for the Democrats, however. Generic party preference polls have been up and down with Republicans even leading at times. New Federal Election Commission data shows that donors are already voting with their wallets and it paints a bleak picture for the GOP.

Politico analyzed FEC filings for the second quarter and found that Democrats in 56 House districts outraised their Republican opponents. In 16 cases, House Republicans finished the quarter with less cash on hand than their Democrat challenger while there were no cases in which House Democrats had less money than their Republican challenger.

In battleground districts, many contested due to retiring Republicans, more than two dozen Democrats led the Republican in fundraising. In 19 of these tossup districts, the Democrat had more cash on hand than the Republican.

In all, 22 Democrats running in Republican districts raised more than $1 million over the past three months, a difficult accomplishment for challengers, many of whom are relatively unknown. These Democrats received large one-time contributions from liberal organizations such as Daily Kos and Swing Left in addition to donations from online sources, Democrats around the country and donors within their districts. Only three Democrats earned more than $1 million purely from their own donors.

While several sitting Republicans raised more than $1 million, other GOP incumbents are lagging. Among the vulnerable incumbents are Dana Rohrabacher in California and Dave Brat of Virginia.

The Democrat fundraising advantage is partly offset by large donations to the Republican super PAC that is backing House candidates. The Congressional Leadership Fund received a record $51 million in the second quarter to add to the more than $70 million already in the bank, but many analysts argue that the lack of giving to specific Republican candidates points to a problem at the district level.

The Republican fundraising picture is looking worse than the Democrats in 2010 prior to the Tea Party wave. In the second quarter of 2010, 44 incumbent Democrats trailed Republicans in fundraising and eight Republicans had more cash on hand than their incumbent opponent. In that election, Republicans gained 60 House seats.

Campaign money does not necessarily translate into votes. In past races, Democratic fundraising has not always helped their candidates win the seat. For example, in 2017 Democrat Jon Ossoff set fundraising records for a special election in Georgia, but ultimately lost the election.

Nevertheless, campaigns flush with cash have an easier time getting out their message and motivating voters. In local races, name recognition can count for a lot and campaigns with money can blanket the airwaves and street corners with the candidate’s name and picture. Campaign contributions are also a measure of the level of support for a candidate.

“From a money standpoint, it’s scary. From a turnout perspective and what all this money means for intensity [in November], that’s even scarier,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster who focuses on House races.

“This is shaping up to be the Democratic equivalent of the 2010 Republican year, and a lot of these members have never seen this or run in a cycle like it before,” Bolger added. “But the list of outraised candidates is getting longer, not shorter.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund’s executive director, Corry Bliss, said that the PAC money will blunt the Democratic advantage, but seemed to acknowledge that some Republican seats will be lost.

“Those who are not willing to help themselves should not complain when outside support does not come their way,” Bliss said.

Chris LaCivita, a Republican consultant agreed that the fundraising problems spell trouble for Republican incumbents despite the Republican advantage in PAC money.

“If you allow yourself to be outraised, then you are inviting trouble,” LaCivita said. “In a midterm election with your party in power, trouble generally equates to defeat.”


“These guys need to wake up and take a look in the mirror and decide — do they want to be reelected?” he added.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Why Trump’s Russia Retraction Falls Flat

Scarcely more than 24 hours after his triumphant press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump walked back some of his criticism of American intelligence agencies. Trump’s comments had been rebuked by many Republicans and been ridiculed around the world.
During their joint press conference, President Trump answered a question about Russian hacking during the 2016 election, saying, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the [hacked DNC] server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties.”
By Tuesday afternoon, President Trump was backtracking, saying that he “realized there is some need for clarification.”
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " the President said, explaining that he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " he said. "Sort of a double negative."
There are several problems with this explanation. First, the furor should have been immediately apparent to the presidential staff. It should not have taken 24 hours to make such a simple correction.
Just a few hours before the retraction, Trump tweeted that the meeting with Putin was “even better” than his “great meeting“ with NATO. Only the “Fake News” saw it differently, Trump said. If the problem was a simple misstatement, a quick tweet could have resolved the issue much earlier.
https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1019225830298456066?s=21
Second, the retraction fails to address the other equivocations from President Trump. In the same answer, Trump began by falsely claiming that the FBI had not examined the hacked servers from the DNC then compared Putin’s denial with the claims of US intelligence.
“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, Trump said. “My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”
Trump then riffed on Hillary’s missing emails, saying again that Russia could probably find them before returning to the theme that Putin’s denial was as convincing as what he heard from US Intelligence.
“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump continued. “And what he did is an incredible offer; he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Trump claims that he misspoke on one phrase, but what he said was consistent, not only with the rest of the press conference, but also his message of the past few years. Trump has expressed admiration for Putin for years and has denied that he believes Russia was involved in hacking the election since 2016.
Finally, there was another tell that indicated Trump’s lack of sincerity. In another passage of his retraction, Trump added an unscripted remark that indicated what he really thought.
”I have a full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies," Trump said. "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place — could be other people also."
“Could be other people also."
With those weasel words at the end of the sentence, the president negated almost everything that had come before. The evidence points toward Russia. Either the president believes the evidence or he believes Vladmir Putin. Who he actually believes is obvious.
President Trump does not back down often. The only other instances that come easily to mind are his abortive flip-flop on gun control and a series of flips on immigration, most recently backing down on family separations. These instances show that the president has the political instinct to retreat from unpopular positions, especially when his base begins to crack. His Russian retraction seems to be another political retreat rather than any real reversal of opinion.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, July 16, 2018

What The Mueller Indictment Really Says

By now most Americans have heard about last week’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. While some details of the indictment have been reported in the media, the entire 29-page document is available online and contains surprising details about Russia’s clandestine operation to subvert American elections.

The first count of the indictment is conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. The indictment describes how multiple units of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, conducted large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.” Two units, 26165 and 74455, are specifically mentioned.

The indictment describes how the GRU, beginning in March 2016, hacked volunteers and employees of the Hillary Clinton campaign. By April, the attacks had extended to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. The attacks included the theft of emails and documents, covert monitoring and implanting malware.

By June, the GRU officers had begun to publicly release the stolen documents online using false personas. Among the accounts used by the Russians were “Guccifer 2.0” and “DC Leaks” and the website of “Organization 1,” publicly identified as Wikileaks.

The indictment goes on to say that the defendants, who are listed by name, used spearphishing techniques to penetrate the internet security of the Clinton campaign. Using emails that spoofed Google notifications and emails that appeared to come from other campaign staffers, the Russians stole internet credentials and emails from “numerous individuals associated with the Clinton campaign.” The spearphishing attacks continued throughout the summer and targeted both Democrat operatives and a third-party contractor.

The indictment references “Victims 1 and 2.” One of the victims has been previously publicly identified as John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign. Podesta became a spearphishing victim in March 2016 after he clicked on a fake email that spoofed a communication from Google.

In addition to the phishing attacks, the Russians also hacked the DCCC and DNC computers beginning in March 2016. The GRU then planted malware called “X-Agent” on the Democrat computers that allowed them to monitor computer activity and steal information. The hackers could even take screenshots of the computer activity of DNC employees. The stolen information was then transferred to servers in Arizona and Illinois that were leased by the GRU.

Once they had access to the Democrat computers, the Russians stole files related to opposition research and strategy for the 2016 election. The indictment notes that on April 15, 2016 the hackers searched Democrat computers for the words “Hillary,” “Cruz” and “Trump.” They also copied a folder titled “Benghazi investigations.” At that point, the Republican primary was a three-way race between Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

In May 2016, the Russians hacked a Microsoft Exchange server used by the DNC. The hack resulted in the theft of thousands of additional emails.

After the thefts, the Russians attempted to cover their tracks by deleting event logs and computer files on the compromised computers in May 2016. Despite these efforts, the DNC became aware of the hacks about the same time.

When the DNC became aware that their networks were compromised, they hired a third-party cybersecurity firm to identify the intruders and mitigate the damage. The indictment refers to this company as “Company 1,” but the firm was previously identified in the press as Crowdstrike.

As Crowdstrike cleaned the computers, the Russian hackers fought back and tried to maintain access. At one point, the hackers mimicked DCCC fundraising page and used stolen credentials to redirect donors to their own site.

Crowdstrike was able to remove X-Agent from the DNC computers, but the Russians successfully attacked again in September 2016. This time the hackers gained access to DNC networks through a cloud computing service. The hackers used this breach to steal analytical data from the DNC.

Preparations to release the stolen information began in April 2016. The dcleaks.com URL was registered through an anonymous service on April 19 using the same email address that had sent the spearphishing email to Podesta. The stolen documents were posted on the DC Leaks site operated from June 2016 through March 2017. The site received more than one million page views.

In addition to the stolen Democratic emails, the DC Leaks site also posted stolen Republican documents. The Republican hack occurred in 2015 and predated the 2016 Republican primary. There is no indication that the Russians targeted the GOP during the 2016 campaign season.

DC Leaks was promoted on a Facebook page run by fictitious accounts. There was also a DC Leaks twitter account. The DC Leaks twitter account was run from the same computer as another Twitter account that promoted the #BlacksAgainstHillary hashtag.

On June 14, 2016, the DNC announced that it had been hacked by the Russian government. The indictment says that the hackers created Guccifer 2.0 in response. Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker, but was linked to the Russians via internet searches for terms that appeared in Guccifer’s posts before they were published. The indictment also notes that the stolen information and financing records between the Russian hackers and Guccifer overlapped.

The indictment also says that Guccifer sent stolen documents to other individuals. In August 2016, Guccifer received a request for stolen documents from “a candidate for the US Congress” and sent back stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent. The candidate has been identified as Brian Mast, a first-time candidate in Florida who is now a congressman. The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2017 that Aaron Nevins, a Republican consultant who worked for Mast, had received stolen data from Guccifer. Rep. Mast denies knowledge of wrongdoing.

On August 22, 2016, Guccifer also sent stolen DNC documents about Black Lives Matter. The reporter is not identified, but the content of the leak was discussed on Snopes.com at the time.

Guccifer also had contact with a “person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.” This “US person” is Roger Stone, a Trump campaign advisor who left the campaign in August 2015. Stone admitted in August 2016 to being in contact with Guccifer and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. In a tweet on August 21, Stone said, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” More than a month later, on October 7, Wikileaks released the first stolen emails from John Podesta.

Counts two through nine are for aggravated identity theft from eight unidentified victims. The sources of the theft were personal email passwords in four cases and DCCC network passwords in the other four.

Count 10 is money laundering. This deals with transactions in numerous currencies including US dollars and bitcoin that were used by the hackers to finance the operation.

The eleventh count is conspiracy to hack into protected computers that dealt with the administration of US elections in order to steal voter data and other information. The indictment states that the hackers stole personal information about 500,000 voters in July 2016 from a state that public sources identify as Illinois.

The Russians also hacked an election software company identified as “vendor 1” in the indictment. This company is apparently VR Systems of Florida. The Intercept reported last year that the GRU had breached security at VR Systems based on an NSA report leaked by Reality Winner.

The attacks didn’t stop there. Numerous state and country election entities were attacked in the final days of the campaign. The indictment specifically mentions several counties in Georgia, Iowa and Florida.

While the indictment falls short of offering evidence of illegal collusion, it is interesting to note that the indictment mentions “failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016.” This seems very close to the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016. This meeting and any follow-ups are likely to be investigated by the special counsel team.

It is also obvious from the indictment that Russian efforts in the 2016 were a one-sided affair. There was no known hack of the Republican Party after Donald Trump ascended to frontrunner status. Every leak that the Russians posted was calculated to hurt the Clinton campaign.

Roger Stone would also seem to be a likely focal point for the Mueller team. At this point, it isn’t clear whether Stone broke the law or passed any information from Guccifer to Trump campaign officials, but it seems likely that Mueller would want to ask Stone and his associates those questions.

The bottom line is that while President Trump and Rudy Giuliani talk about “witch hunts,” Robert Mueller and his team are quietly digging. Despite claims that the Mueller probe is dragging out too long, Mueller seems to be making rapid progress. The indictments of the 12 GRU officers, which seem purposefully timed to throw a cloud over the Trump’s meeting with Putin, are likely just the tip of the special counsel’s case. It makes one wonder what else Robert Mueller knows, but has yet to tell.


Originally published on The Resurgent

Ben Sasse Tweets About Putin

The big item on the agenda for today is the face-to-face meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting in Helsinki, Finland comes three days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and the US election infrastructure in 2016.

In advance of the meeting, polling shows that Russia and Putin have become more popular in the US. Since the 2016, despite revelations about Russian cyberattacks, there has been a “reset” of opinions about the country, primarily among Republicans. Gallup recently found that the share of Republicans who view Moscow as an ally has doubled since Donald Trump took office. Perhaps that is why Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse felt compelled to take to Twitter to educate the public about Mr. Putin.

Sasse has recently reappeared on Twitter after a self-imposed hiatus that has lasted most of this year. The Trump-sized tweetstorm on the senator’s popular Twitter account began with the questions, “Exactly who is Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader our president is about to meet with in Helsinki? And what does he want?”

“It’s a complicated question. But here’s what we do know,” Sasse continued.

“Putin is a murderer. He has ordered the assassinations of political adversaries and used outlawed chemical weapons to do it.  He oversees Russian military units that shot down Malaysian flight 17 and murdered almost 300 civilians.

“Putin is a crook and a liar.  He has broken almost every agreement he has signed with the United States, including on Syria and Ukraine. He has become one of the world's richest men through embezzlement and stealing from his own people.

“Putin is an enemy of America. He sees us as his main enemy and is engaged in ongoing attacks on our nation through information warfare and hacking our infrastructure.  It’s not just that he messed with our election in 2016; he attacks us regularly, and will again in 2018.

“Remember, Putin ordered the influence operations that have been exposed in the most recent indictments, did not hesitate to invade Ukraine and Georgia, organized a coup in Montenegro, funded xenophobic political parties across Europe, and crippled Estonia with cyberattacks.

“No matter how much Putin flatters the President, he is a KGB thug who jails political opponents, encourages/orders the murder of Russian dissidents and defectors at home and abroad, and who directs a military that bombs women, children, and the injured in hospitals in Syria.”

The Sasse tweetstorm abated with advice for President Trump. “I don't think President Trump should be dignifying Putin with this meeting,” Sasse said. “When Reagan met with Gorbachev, he did so from a position of strength & moral clarity about the evil empire that the Soviet Union was, and w/ a clear purpose to end the Soviet Union's threat to the US.”

“President Trump should have only one message for Putin tomorrow,” Sasse concluded. “Quit messing with America.”

But Sasse wasn’t completely finished yet. President Trump, who has yet to condemn the Russian cyberattacks on the US addressed in the indictment, tweeted this morning, it was to attack the “Rigged Witch Hunt” rather than the Russian assault on the foundation of American democracy.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” the president tweeted before his historic closed-door meeting with the neo-Soviet ruler.

“A better thing, Mr. President, would be to declare: ‘Russia is the enemy of America and our allies, and we will expose and respond to their continued cyber-attacks against our nation,’” Sasse replied.

Welcome back to Twitter, Sen. Sasse. We have missed your outspokenness and honesty over the past few months.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Republicans Vote Against Trump’s Anti-Gun Judicial Pick


While Brett Kavanaugh has been getting most of the attention, President Trump has also been making other judicial appointments to lower courts. While most of these appointments have been lauded by conservatives, one such appointee was just confirmed with a majority of Republicans voting “no” due to the judge’s hostility to free speech rights and the Second Amendment.

Mark Jeremy Bennett was confirmed to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals with the help of Democrats, who supported him unanimously. The vote in favor of Judge Bennett was 72-27 with only Republicans dissenting. Among the “nos” were Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

At issue were Bennett’s opinions on the Second Amendment and the landmark Citizens United ruling. Bennett believes in a limited interpretation of the Second Amendment in contrast with the Supreme Court’s Heller decision that affirmed an individual right to keep and bear arms. Bennett also supported same-sex marriage as a legal right prior to the Obergefell decision.

Bennett was one of five state attorneys general who signed a brief in support of the District of Columbia’s gun ban that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“We think that a decision that the Second Amendment prohibits strict gun-control laws is just wrong,” Bennett said at the time.

Bennett, who was formerly the attorney general of Hawaii, received rave reviews from the same liberals who opposed most of Mr. Trump’s appointments. He also took criticism and harsh questions from Senate Republicans.

“You took positions, taking a very narrow view of what the First Amendment protects,” Sen. Cruz said during Bennett’s confirmation hearings in April per the Washington Times.

“It is very refreshing to me and not only truthful in my view for Mr. Bennett to say a judge’s experience can come into play. I just want to point that out because we have had many nominees that didn’t express that view,” countered Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The Alliance for Justice, a liberal group that has opposed President Trump’s judicial picks, also endorsed Bennett. Dan Goldberg, the group’s director, said that the Trump Administration consulted with Hawaii’s senators, both Democrats, before making the appointment.

“When you have meaningful, real consultation — real negotiations — you end up with mainstream, non-ideological attorneys,” Goldberg said.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network normally endorses President Trump’s picks, but had no comment on Bennett. Several pro-Second Amendment groups urged senators to vote “no,” however.

“In spite of Bennett’s reliably left-wing leanings on these and virtually every other issue,” said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel to the Gun Owners of America, “Trump and weak-kneed Republicans seem inclined to reward him with a promotion and pivotal seat on one of the country’s most important courts.”

The traditional Republican view has been that any president, Republican or Democrat, is entitled to any qualified judicial nominee that he wants. The question is why a Republican president would want to nominate someone like Mark Bennett.


Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

US Poised To Become Top Oil Producer

Thanks to the fracking and shale oil revolutions the United States is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that US oil production will surpass 11 million barrels per day by 2019. The US is currently the third largest oil producer behind Russia (10.5 million barrels per day) and Saudi Arabia (10 million barrels per day).

“In 2019, EIA forecasts that the United States will average nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil production per day,” Linda Capuano, Administrator of the EIA, said in Bloomberg. “If the forecast holds, that would make the U.S. the world’s leading producer of crude.”

After declining for decades, US oil production began to surge in 2015. By November 2017, the US was producing more than 10 million barrels per day for the first time since 1970. As production rose, Congress repealed the 40-year-old ban on exporting US oil in 2015. Current forecasts show that the US could become a net exporter of oil and gas by 2022.

At the same time, it was producing more oil, the US was also using less. In 2017, US oil consumption fell for the first time in five years per Bloomberg. The decline was attributed to a number of factors that included more efficient vehicles, urban population growth than led to less driving, technology reducing the need for face-to-face meetings and an aging population that is leaving the workforce.

Nevertheless, there are a few speed bumps on the road to energy independence. Limited pipeline capacity from Texas’ Permian Basin means that production may start to slow in the area later this year. American refining capacity has also not increased with the surge in crude oil production. Oilprice.com reported that in June US refineries were running at more than 97 percent capacity.

Despite increasing oil production, the Energy Information Administration does not predict relief at the pumps for US drivers. The agency forecasts gas prices to average near their May 2018 peak for the next two years due to unrest in Venezuela, sanctions on Iran and OPEC production limits.

Published on The Resurgent



New War Threat Looms For Israel

The Syrian civil war has been bloody and seemingly endless, but one positive aspect of the infighting among Syrian factions is that Israel’s border with the hostile Arab regime has been quiet. As the Iran-backed Syrian government forces solidify control over much of the country that fragile peace may be coming to an end.  

Bloomberg reports that Syrian rebels now have only two major strongholds left in the country. Thanks to Russian intervention – and a lack of interest from both Barack Obama and Donald Trump in aiding opposition forces – it seems that the rebels’ days are numbered. Once the regime eliminates its domestic enemies, it is likely that it will turn its focus toward Israel once again.

At the height of the war, Israel used friendly relations with rebel groups to create a buffer zone near the border. The Israelis reportedly supplied rebels with aid, medical help and money for weapons and salaries. They also provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees camped along the border. The assistance also helped boost Israel’s image with its Arab neighbors.

“We were brainwashed for decades to hate Israel,” said a resident of southern Syria, who declined to give his name, after being treated for shrapnel wounds at Israel’s Galilee Medical Center. “I now see that my enemy isn’t Israel, but the people who came and destroyed our village.”

There have been a number of Israeli airstrikes against targets in Syria during the past few years, including a recent attack on Syria’s T-4 airbase, home to Iranian units, but now things seem to be heating up on the ground as well. Last weekend, a mortar shell from Syria exploded in the buffer zone between the two countries. Israel responded with artillery fire. This morning Israel shot down a drone that entered its airspace from Syria.

Haaretz notes that the final rebel holdouts are likely to occupy the southern part of Syria near the Golan Heights on the border with Israel. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War of 1967 and has occupied them ever since. The two countries agreed to disengagement lines in 1974.

Israel reportedly gave the Assad regime and Russia the green light for operations against rebels in southern Syria provided that Iranian forces were kept away from the border. This agreement seems to have been honored only in part since Iranian and Hezbollah forces were spotted taking part in the fighting in Daraa, the city in southwestern Syria where the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

The immediate problem is that Syria will not be able to root out rebel fighters from the Golan Heights without intruding into the disengagement zone. Incursions without Israeli approval could lead to expanded fighting.

“Any Syrian soldier who enters the buffer zone endangers his life,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Bloomberg. “We are not prepared to accept any Iranian presence in Syria.”

But Iran is unlikely to leave post-war Syria easily and their Russian allies are unlikely to press them. Putin’s influence with Iran may be limited and he has little incentive to push too hard. Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu may offer Putin relief from US sanctions in exchange for help against Iran.

It is possible that Iran will sit out the campaign against the rebel fighters near the Golan Heights and wait for an opportunity to insert themselves into the area to act against the Israelis directly. Iran’s ultimate goal of destroying Israel seems clear.

Last month, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said, “Today an international Islamic army has been formed in Syria, and the voices of the Muslims are heard near the Golan. Orders are awaited, so that… the eradication of the evil regime [Israel] will land and the life of this regime will be ended for good. The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.”

If there is a bright spot, it is that the Sunni Arab countries in the region are no more enamored with the Iranians than the Israelis are. Saudi Arabia and Iran have already engaged in proxy wars in other countries such as Yemen and Qatar.

The Syrian civil war is winding down, but expanded Iranian influence in the region and Iranian soldiers near the Israeli border may mean that the stage is already set for the next war. Where the fighting for the last decade has been largely contained within Syria’s borders, the next Middle East conflict could be a regional war, the likes of which has not been seen for decades.


Originally published on The Resurgent