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The announcement last week by the United States of the largest military aid package in its history – to Israel – was a win for both sides.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could boast that his lobbying had boosted aid from $3.1 billion a year to $3.8bn – a 22 per cent increase – for a decade starting in 2019.

Mr Netanyahu has presented this as a rebuff to those who accuse him of jeopardising Israeli security interests with his government’s repeated affronts to the White House.

In the past weeks alone, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has compared last year’s nuclear deal between Washington and Iran with the 1938 Munich pact, which bolstered Hitler; and Mr Netanyahu has implied that US opposition to settlement expansion is the same as support for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.

American president Barack Obama, meanwhile, hopes to stifle his own critics who insinuate that he is anti-Israel. The deal should serve as a fillip too for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party’s candidate to succeed Mr Obama in November’s election.

In reality, however, the Obama administration has quietly punished Mr Netanyahu for his misbehaviour. Israeli expectations of a $4.5bn-a-year deal were whittled down after Mr Netanyahu stalled negotiations last year as he sought to recruit Congress to his battle against the Iran deal.

In fact, Israel already receives roughly $3.8bn – if Congress’s assistance on developing missile defence programmes is factored in. Notably, Israel has been forced to promise not to approach Congress for extra funds.

The deal takes into account neither inflation nor the dollar’s depreciation against the shekel.

A bigger blow still is the White House’s demand to phase out a special exemption that allowed Israel to spend nearly 40 per cent of aid locally on weapon and fuel purchases. Israel will soon have to buy all its armaments from the US, ending what amounted to a subsidy to its own arms industry.

Nonetheless, Washington’s renewed military largesse – in the face of almost continual insults – inevitably fuels claims that the Israeli tail is wagging the US dog. Even The New York Times has described the aid package as “too big”.

Since the 1973 war, Israel has received at least $100bn in military aid, with more assistance hidden from view. Back in the 1970s, Washington paid half of Israel’s military budget. Today it still foots a fifth of the bill, despite Israel’s economic success.

But the US expects a return on its massive investment. As the late Israeli politician-general Ariel Sharon once observed, ­Israel has been a US “aircraft carrier” in the Middle East, acting as the regional bully and carrying out operations that benefit Washington.

Almost no one blames the US for Israeli attacks that wiped out Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear programmes. A nuclear-armed Iraq or Syria would have deterred later US-backed moves at regime overthrow, as well as countering the strategic advantage Israel derives from its own nuclear arsenal.

In addition, Israel’s US-sponsored military prowess is a triple boon to the US weapons industry, the country’s most powerful lobby. Public funds are siphoned off to let Israel buy goodies from American arms makers. That, in turn, serves as a shop window for other customers and spurs an endless and lucrative game of catch-up in the rest of the Middle East.

The first F-35 fighter jets to arrive in Israel in December – their various components produced in 46 US states – will increase the clamour for the cutting-edge warplane.

Israel is also a “front-line laboratory”, as former Israeli army negotiator Eival Gilady admitted at the weekend, that develops and field-tests new technology Washington can later use itself.

The US is planning to buy back the missile interception system Iron Dome – which neutralises battlefield threats of retaliation – it largely paid for. Israel works closely too with the US in developing cyber­warfare, such as the Stuxnet worm that damaged Iran’s civilian nuclear programme.

But the clearest message from Israel’s new aid package is one delivered to the Palestinians: Washington sees no pressing strategic interest in ending the occupation. It stood up to Mr Netanyahu over the Iran deal but will not risk a damaging clash over Palestinian statehood.

Some believe that Mr Obama signed the aid package to win the credibility necessary to overcome his domestic Israel lobby and pull a rabbit from the hat: an initiative, unveiled shortly before he leaves office, that corners Mr Netanyahu into making peace.

Hopes have been raised by an expected meeting at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday. But their first talks in 10 months are planned only to demonstrate unity to confound critics of the aid deal.

If Mr Obama really wanted to pressure Mr Netanyahu, he would have used the aid agreement as leverage. Now Mr Netanyahu need not fear US financial retaliation, even as he intensifies effective annexation of the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu has drawn the right lesson from the aid deal – he can act against the Palestinians with continuing US impunity.

- See more at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net/2016-09-19/palestinians-lose-in-us-military-aid-deal-with-israel/#sthash.fL4Eq28N.dpuf
Does The U.S. Government Really Know Who Hacked Democrats’ Emails?

By Kassia Halcli

October 28, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - " PBS" - The hacking and public release of Democratic campaign and committee emails made the news and a presidential debate, with more leaks expected to come.

This week, WikiLeaks published more emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Nearly 20 batches of campaign emails were released over the last month, in addition to Democratic National Committee emails released earlier this year.

In the final presidential debate on Oct. 19, Clinton said documents released by WikiLeaks were part of Russian espionage on the U.S. She called on Republican candidate Donald Trump to acknowledge the Russia connection and condemn such actions.

“She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else. She has no idea,” said Trump.

“I am not quoting myself. I am quoting 17, 17 intelligence agencies. Do you doubt 17 military and civilian agencies?” Clinton asked.

“Our country has no idea,” Trump responded.

Clinton was citing the Oct. 7 statement from the U.S. intelligence community saying it was “confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions.”

Analysts say, however, that the ability to determine who cyber attackers are, where they’re located and sometimes who ordered their operations is rarely definitive and comes in degrees of confidence.

Beyond the government’s headline assertion that Russia is to blame, “it’s important to parse the public statement pretty closely,” said Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution. “They’re being really careful in their word choice.”

The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security said in a statement earlier this month that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

But that statement does not mean that the U.S. has “direct evidence of senior official-level involvement,” Hennessey said.

Without more definitive statements, it’s difficult for some technical experts to take the government’s word on faith, she and others have said.

“There’s no evidence that this was done by the state itself, only evidence it was done by non-state actors that might be Russian-speaking,” said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of the cyber security consultancy firm Taia Global, referring to the evidence available to the public.

That evidence, which was released by private threat assessment companies rather than official channels, indicates hackers used Cyrillic keyboards and operated during Moscow working hours.

But indicators of identity like timestamps, language preferences and IP addresses “can be manipulated or faked rather easily,” said Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

Trump has a point when he says we can’t know for sure, said Cris Thomas, an information security professional known online as Space Rogue.

“I don’t know what [evidence] they have that couldn’t have been faked,” Thomas said.

Sophisticated attackers have learned how to tamper with the technical indicators to mask their identity, or at least send analysts in the wrong direction.

Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike, hired by the Democratic National Committee to assess its breach, wrote a blog post attributing the hack to two separate Russian-intelligence affiliated groups, Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.

Alperovitch classed both as sophisticated actors, writing on CrowdStrike’s blog that their “tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none.”

Fancy Bear is “very, very good at deception campaigns,” said Brian Bartholomew, who co-authored a report about the deception tactics that complicate attribution.

But, he added, the group has recently seemed “a little more lax” about getting caught.

Carr asked, if these hacks are a ploy by Russian President Vladimir Putin to install what Clinton has called “a puppet” at the helm of a Western democracy, why leave such obvious technical indicators in their wake?

“That’s not even sloppy,” Carr said. “That’s just ignorant.”

“Perhaps [Russia] wanted it traced back to them to show that they’re flexing their geopolitical muscle,” Schwartz said.

Deception, however, “is exceptionally difficult to pull off at the level that is going to withstand the amount of scrutiny the government will put on it,” said Jason Healey, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

Another complicating factor is that the first intrusions into the DNC go back more than a year, well before Trump, purported to be Putin’s favorite candidate, was perceived as having a reasonable chance of winning the Republican Party’s nomination.

To think these hacks were in service of a farsighted, cunning plan designed by the Kremlin is “imputing a level of insight and ability to understand and predict the U.S. electoral system that certainly no one in the United States has demonstrated,” Hennessey said.

A more likely explanation, she said, is that the hackers were conducting low-threshold espionage but ending up finding information that could be opportunistically released.

The U.S. government has swaths of intelligence and the ability to operate beyond laws that constrain private sector threat assessment companies, said Guerrero-Saade.

“As the public, we should really understand that there’s a lot more at play behind the scenes,” Bartholomew said.

Judging by the practice established by its three previous attribution claims, the government is unlikely to release substantiating evidence, in order to guard U.S. sources and methods.

The world of cyber crime “feels like the Wild West, but it’s not to say that nothing can be known,” Guerrero-Saade said.

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