Was Pepe Escobar Duped By A Foreign Spy Agency Into Spreading Fake News About Russia & Israel?

There are reasons to suspect that Pepe’s Asian source might either be Iranian or under Iranian influence, with the goal behind his fake news – both his viral tweet and all that came before it – being to discredit Russia’s balancing faction in order to aid the pro-BRI one with a view towards influencing its foreign policy formulation.

The Tweet That Everyone’s Talking About

Top Alt-Media influencer Pepe Escobar went viral over the weekend for tweeting that “a very high level intel source” from Asia told him that Russia shot down a nuclear-armed Israeli F-35 over Jordan that was planning to carry out an EMP attack against Iran.

After experiencing considerable pushback, he then clarified that “I am just a messenger”,

adding in yet another tweet that “I now have TWO separate, definitive confirmations from TWO ultra high level intel sources from TWO separate Asian nations.”

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter applied his decades-long expertise to debunk this sensational claim in two tweets that expose the technical holes in this scandalous story.

X user “Korobochka” also published an insightful thread that discredited Pepe’s claims from a complementary angle.

Nevertheless, Sharmine Narwani from The Cradle insisted under one of Ritter’s threads that Russia really did intercept the Israeli nuclear-armed F-35,

and she also hinted that Pepe shared the source’s identity with her.

The “Pepe Phenomenon”

The reason why some didn’t instinctively dismiss his tweets is because of his closeness to influential Russians and their state institutions, which lends credence in their mind to anything that he says. He met Lavrov on two occasions in the past two years in what’s shaping up to be an annual tradition. Pepe also moderated a session at the Multipolarity Forum that was hosted by the International Russophile Movement in late February. Afterwards, he then set off to Sochi to address the World Youth Forum.

Pepe’s other accolades include attending the Valdai Club’s yearly meeting last October where President Putin made his traditional appearance, visiting the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok the month prior, and conducting two interviews in just as many months with Eurasian Economic Union Minister of Integration and Macroeconomics Sergey Glazyev in what’s shaping up to be yet another annual tradition. Pepe also has a show at Sputnik Brasil and sometimes appears on top Russian political talk shows too.

No foreigner outside the former Soviet Union has ever been granted such privileged access by Russia, which is why it appeared to observers that influential Russians and state institutions were presenting Pepe as the “voice of Russian insiders” and “foreign face of Russian soft power”. They placed their trust into him with the expectation that he wouldn’t ever betray it by creating a global scandal about Russia. Regrettably, that’s precisely what he did with his viral tweet, which didn’t occur in a vacuum.

Pepe’s Recent History Of Unsubstantiated & Provably False Claims

Prior to this weekend’s scandal, he claimed that Russia provided “intel” to Iran for facilitating its retaliation against Israel after the bombing of its consulate in Damascus, later imagining in a piece for The Cradle that this and standard diplomatic contacts mean that “Russia has Iran’s back” against Israel. This piece here explained how those unsubstantiated allegations preconditioned the public to believe Mehr News’ subsequent fake news about President Putin “hailing” Iran’s attack against Israel.

Readers should keep this precedent in mind since it’ll be returned to later, but now it’s time to draw attention to Pepe’s related history from last year. This piece here hyperlinked to five of his false claims about Russia from October onward that include it planning to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza with Turkiye, determining that Israel is an enemy, preparing to pivot towards Palestine, smuggling arms to Hamas under cover of humanitarian aid, and prosecuting Israel for war crimes. None of that happened.

He also claimed in a piece for Sputnik in August that “India, for a series of very complex reasons, was not exactly comfortable with 3 Arab/Muslim members (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt)” joining BRICS, but “Russia assuaged New Delhi’s fears.” This was discredited weeks later though after India launched the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) alongside those first two Arab/Muslim countries. The pattern at play is that Pepe makes unsubstantiated and provably false claims about Muslim countries.

With Great Influence Comes Great Responsibility

Whether it’s alleging that Russia provided “intel” to Iran ahead of its attack against Israel, everything that he claimed about Russia and Gaza never coming to fruition, or India’s provably false discomfort partnering with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he’s been far off the mark time and again. Whether he made these claims up or was fed them by his sources, the fact of the matter is that his work isn’t anywhere near as credible as Russia’s heavy promotion of it made many observers expect that it would be.

Nevertheless, precisely because of his closeness to influential Russians and their institutions that led to his reputation as the “voice of Russian insiders” and “foreign face of its soft power”, many among the Alt-Media Community (AMC) have the impression that they speak through him. Even when he’s wrong, a lot of his followers assume that it was “for the right reason” as part of some “5D chess master plan”. This perception was reinforced when he admitted in his earlier cited tweet that “I am just a messenger”.

Even though he explicitly said in his viral tweet that Russia was “NOT” the source, some might still think that it was for the abovementioned reasons. In any case, the point is that he’s now inextricably connected to the Russian expert and policymaking elite after their heavy promotion of him over the past year. This means that him making false claims about its actions pertaining to extremely sensitive issues like shooting down a nuclear-armed Israeli F-35 risks discrediting his prestigious contacts by association.

Here’s What Might Have Really Happened & Why

Therein might lie the motivation behind why his “unimpeachable source” who he trusts “a billion per cent” told him something that Ritter discredited from his position of authority. Simply put, this “ultra high level intel source” might have wanted to discredit his prestigious contacts in Russia, whether on their own initiative for malicious reasons, at the request of the foreign spy agency that they represent, or at the behest of a third party’s spy agency (whether out of solidarity or after being compromised).

It’s unclear whether the same source is responsible for Pepe’s provably false claim that India was uncomfortable partnering with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, his five claims about Russia and Gaza that never happened, and/or what he wrote about Russia providing “intel” to Iran for its attack on Israel. All that’s known for sure is that he has a documented history of making unsubstantiated and provably false claims about Muslim countries that preceded what he sensationally wrote about Russia and Israel.

It therefore wouldn’t be surprising if the same person set him up to write his viral tweet and then someone from that same network of sources falsely corroborated it because they too have an interest in discrediting his prestigious Russian contacts for either of the previously mentioned reasons. That would explain why he’s been so wrong about so many important claims from August onwards, but it doesn’t account for why Russia continued promoting him, which deserves some further elaboration.

Russia’s Pro-BRI & Balancing Factions

It can’t be known for sure, but the “Pepe Phenomenon” of him becoming the first foreigner outside the former Soviet Union to ever be honored with such privileged access to its elite might be attributable to the emergence of a distinct policymaking faction within Russia over the past two years. This group believes that the return to Sino-US bi-multipolarity is inevitable so Russia should thus accelerate China’s superpower trajectory as revenge against America for all that it’s done to their country since 2022.

Their “friendly rivals” believe that Russia shouldn’t risk potentially disproportionate dependence on China, however, and should instead continue relying on IndiaMuslim countries, and Africa to serve as a counterweight to it for midwifing trimultipolarity and then complex multipolarity (“multiplexity”). This established faction can be described as balancers while their emergent rivals can be described as pro-Chinese or better yet pro-BRI since they share China’s worldview but aren’t nefariously influenced by it.

The pro-BRI faction’s modus operandi appears to be working through think tanks and the media to cultivate the perception that Russia’s pivot towards China is already in effect with the expectation that it’ll then become a fait accompli for policymakers once their counterparts react according to this view. In practical terms, they present Russia as “the ultimate good guy” from the view of Western dissidents and the Global South, which correlates with the West’s view of it as the “ultimate bad guy”.

Trying To Rebrand The “Axis Of Evil” As The “Axis Of Virtue”…

What US Speaker Mike Johnson describes as the “Axis of Evil” between Russia, China, and Iran, which doesn’t objectively exist but has long remained among the most popular AMC fantasies, is spun as a fait accompli by the pro-BRI faction’s “fellow travelers” and rebranded as the “Axis of Virtue”. It’s worthwhile mentioning in this context that Pepe also claimed that China passed along “intel” to Iran ahead of its attack against Israel, and he also said that it has the Islamic Republic’s back too.

Of arguable relevance, Narwani claimed in one of her tweets defending Pepe’s viral fake news that his allegation (whose veracity she takes for granted) “suggests the strategic military relationship between the RIC alliance is way more advanced than suspected”, which aligns with this narrative. What discredits everything though is that nothing leaked to American or Israeli media before Congress voted on more aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan the day after even though it would have advanced their cause.

Johnson introduced his new “Axis of Evil” narrative that Wednesday, Russia supposedly shot down Israel’s nuclear-armed F-35 on Friday, and then Congress voted on those three aid packages on Saturday. It’s therefore unthinkable that neither the US nor Israel wouldn’t have leaked even a distorted version of Pepe’s claim before then if there was even a shred of truth to it since circulating anything of the sort in the run-up to the vote would have legitimized funding these three proxy wars in perpetuity.

…Carries With It The Immense Risk Of Discrediting Russia

This is yet another logical argument against his sensational story apart from the authoritative technical ones shared by Ritter and the complementary arguments from “Korobochka”. What’s so worrying though is that the viral nature of the fake news that Pepe’s “ultra high level intel source” had him launder into the global information ecosystem means that it could soon be exploited for that purpose. After all, Pepe is inextricably connected with the Russian expert and policymaking elite, so it could be spun as credible.

That’s not to say that it will be, but just that the risk remains, as does the related one of discrediting his prestigious contacts by association. The pro-BRI faction that’s speculated to be behind the “Pepe Phenomenon” might consider this scandal and any larger one as warned about above to be a positive development if it reinforces the false perception of Russia, Iran, and China being “strategic military allies” as Narwani incorrectly described them as. They might thus not distance themselves from him.

Even so, Russian institutions as a whole would still be discredited if this false claim becomes embedded in the public’s imagination, and it could contribute to creating the perceived fait accompli that the pro-BRI faction wants in order to tip the balance of policymaking influence away from their balancing rivals. The larger consequences of their competition were explained here and here, which can be summarized as “losing” India and becoming China’s “junior partner”, thus completely reshaping global geopolitics.

Was Pepe Duped By Iranian Intelligence?

Having explained the larger context within which Pepe’s viral fake news about Russia and Israel was introduced into the global information ecosystem as well as the tangible consequences that it could entail if it dupes foreign policymakers, it’s now time to wonder who might have planted this story. While China stands to gain the most if Russia’s pro-BRI faction elbows out their balancing rivals to become the new formulators of their country’s foreign policy, the case can be made that Iran is actually behind this.

For starters, Pepe’s unsubstantiated claim about Russia and China providing “intel” to Iran ahead of its attack against Israel advances the Islamic Republic’s strategic messaging interests by falsely presenting those two as its military allies, which could be meant to deter the US and Israel from large-scale attacks. His five claims about Russia and Gaza that never happened laid the groundwork for this by falsely presenting Russia and Israel as enemies, thus preconditioning people to believe Pepe’s viral fake news.

As for his provably false claim about India being uncomfortable partnering with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, those latter two are still viewed with suspicion by Iran despite its Chinese-mediated rapprochement with the first last spring and subsequently improved ties with the second afterwards. Iran therefore has understandable reasons for trying to sow the seeds of distrust between them and India, with an additional motive being to drive those two apart so that India invests more in Iran instead of in the Gulf.

Wrapping It All Up

What his pattern of unsubstantiated and provably false claims about Muslim countries has in common is that the artificially manufactured narrative that emerges from each advances Iran’s strategic messaging interests in one way or another. Accordingly, there are reasons to suspect that Pepe’s Asian source might either be Iranian or under Iranian influence, with the goal behind his fake news – both his viral tweet and all that came before it – being to discredit Russia’s balancing faction in order to aid the pro-BRI one.

To be absolutely clear, this is educated conjecture based upon the factual and circumstantial evidence that was presented in this piece, and it shouldn’t automatically be assumed as implying that the Iranian state as a whole was behind this scandalous information operation if that country is indeed responsible. Rather, it might very well just be an enterprising faction of its military or intelligence services that’s doing this on their own prerogative in pursuit of what they sincerely believe to be Iran’s national interests.

All that can be known for sure is that Ritter’s authoritative arguments discredit Pepe’s viral tweet from a technical perspective, the fact that no leaks emerged in the run-up to Congress’ aid package vote despite this being in the US and Israel’s interests discredits it from the circumstantial one, and Pepe’s history of making unsubstantiated and false claims harms his credibility. His admission to just being a “messenger” and his boast about “ultra high level intel sources” also suggest that he could be easily manipulated.

Concluding Thoughts

Pepe’s reputation took an unprecedented hit after this fiasco, and the collateral damage is that he risks discrediting his prestigious Russian contacts by association, or at least those institutions that they represent in the event that the pro-BRI faction that speculatively patronizes him applauds what he did. China won’t gain anything unless this tangibly helps the pro-BRI faction supersede the balancing one, but Iran already benefits from so many people imagining that Russia is its “strategic military ally”.

In spite of the present outcome compellingly making it seem like Iran is behind this – not to mention the previously cited evidence in support of this educated conjecture, Pepe’s trips to the Islamic Republic, and his long-running affiliation with its national media – someone else might still be responsible. It’s unlikely that he’ll burn his source even though they just burned him, but even if he did, his track record of false claims means that folks shouldn’t automatically believe him if he finally spills the beans to “save face”.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Alternative World.

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